Simple Dal for Winter Nights

It’s February, and you just spent an hour driving home from work in a treacherous ice storm. You’re cold and tired, and there’s not much food in the house. What do you do?

Here’s what we did: ad libbed from an already-easy dal recipe. This requires a bit of time but very little effort, and the results are warming, comforting and satisfying (not to mention gluten-free and vegetarian). This is our version, but you can throw in some vegetables or whatever you’ve got around the house. This serves 2, with some leftovers.

Simple Dal

Throw into a pot:

1/2 lb lentils (use your favorite kind)

1 1/4 pint water

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, broken up a bit but not chopped

about 1 tbsp chopped ginger

1 cinnamon stick

large pinch of turmeric

Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Then add:

Juice of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of cayenne

Simmer for 5 more minutes.

In a small pan, heat about 3 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil. Add:

pinch of black cumin

pinch of regular cumin seeds

pinch of asafetida

Let it sizzle for a few seconds, then stir into the dal.

Serve with rice. That’s all there is to it. By the way, this process will leave your dal studded with tender, sweet pieces of garlic.

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Eggs Moghlai

This is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking, the cookbook that inspired me to start this blog. The recipe is a fancy, rich dish- most Moghul dishes we in the US are exposed to are ‘royal’ recipes. There are two versions in this cookbook, one with chicken as the protein and one with hard-boiled eggs. Since eggs don’t need to be browned first and then simmered until they’re tender, the egg version is a whole lot quicker.

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Six Month Anniversary Dinner: Fall Spiced Pork Chops with Spinach and Apple; Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes

Sarah and I celebrated our six-month anniversary of marriage with a nice dinner and some wonderful home-brewed beer made by Sarah’s best friend Kara, which we aged for six months.

I was inspired by Ida Mae’s Bruncherie to do a fall pork chop dish. Theirs is applewood smoked but I do not have a smoker, so I had to improvise a bit. Earlier in the day we went to the Headhouse Market and bought two thick grass fed pork chops, some apples, heirloom tomatoes, some raw milk Parmesan cheese and some spinach.

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Chana Masala with Bhaturas: Vegetarian Indian Goodness

My friend Diana is in town for a couple of days, and I promised her a vegetarian feast.  There’s nothing she loves more than Indian food, so I broke out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and made this chana masala for her and our friends Peter and Cat.  It turned out really well, and was less difficult than I expected.  It was spicy without being overpowering, and the lemon really gives it a fresh, tangy taste. 

(Incidentally, I realized about five minutes before my guests arrived that we were out of lemons– Joe used them all making lemon curd!  We only have small corner markets in my neighborhood, none of which carry produce, and I don’t have a car.  Fortunately, the neighborly folks at Ida Mae’s Bruncherie, reviewed here, spotted me a lemon!)

Chana masala, for those who haven’t tasted it, is a vegetarian dish of chickpeas simmered with onions, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices.  It’s topped with lemon juice, tomatoes and chopped onion and served with fried bread– in this case, bhaturas.  My friend LeftyProf gave me a real-deal recipe, from his best friend’s mom in Delhi, but when I raced home from work and started cooking, it emerged that we didn’t actually have all of the ingredients!  So I’m going to try that this weekend, and last night I made Madhur Jaffrey’s bhaturas instead.  Props to Peter for doing an excellent job deep frying these– I’m excited to have successfully produced another new (to me) Indian bread!  Read on for the recipes.

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Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake

Before you ask: no, I’m not Jewish.  (I get that a lot.)

I have, however, been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful Jews who have kindly included me in a few of their traditions.  I’ve always been fascinated by Jewish traditions and the ways they’ve been adapted and kept alive in different ways by diverse groups all over the world.  Jewish holiday foods, in particular, are rich in history and lore.  They’re also amazingly rich in flavor, and this honey cake is an excellent example.  Foods made with honey are a tradition at Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing sweetness in the new year.  I got this recipe from Recipezaar.com. 

I used local honey, eggs and flour and locally roasted coffee, so I’m thinking this is my second entry in the September Philadelphia Eat Local Challenge.

Honey Cake

1 cup honey (I used Lancaster county wildflower honey)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup strong coffee

In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the wet stuff, alternating with the coffee; beat well. Put into one greased 9″x13″ pan (or, alternatively, three 8″ square pans). Bake at 325F– 90 minutes for the large pan, 60 minutes for the three smaller pans.

I found that this cake rises a lot more than you might expect, and then falls during the course of baking.  This resulted in some batter around the edges of the pan that burned slightly.  I’d also recommend putting parchment paper in the pan instead of relying on greasing alone– this is, after all, a honey cake, with all the stickiness that implies.  Also, be sure to keep an eye on it while it’s baking– 90 minutes is a long time, and ovens and pans vary.

The flavor of this cake is very dark and deep; it’s not a ton of cinnamon but the end result is definitely a spice cake.  It’s a little sticky and fairly rich, and it goes really well with coffee at breakfast.  And in allergy-friendly Jewish tradition, it’s dairy-free!  Enjoy, and happy new year.

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Five-Spice Grilled Swordfish Steaks with Cherry Tomatoes; Palestinian Olive Oil

It’s been hot in Philly this week, so we decided to go for a light, easy and healthy meal.  This one’s really very simple.

We got swordfish steaks from Trader Joe’s.  I rubbed them with Chinese five-spice powder.  (Those are cinnamon, cloves, anise, nutmeg and mace– all ‘warm’ spices.)   Then we grilled them over hardwood charcoal for four minutes on each side.  We also had some nice ripe local cherry tomatoes, so Joe skewered those and added them to the grill.  As a side dish, we also made our two leftover aloo ki-tikiya (potato patties) in the cast iron pan.

I was very happy with this dish– swordfish is a robust fish that can take some spices without getting overwhelmed, and the warm spices were especially delicious on the charred grill-mark bits.  The spiced skin was also crispy and delicious.  And the tomatoes were really ripe and juicy.  Good, simple summer food.

Also, I just got a tip from a friend about something that combines good food with a good cause– Playgrounds for Palestine, a charity group that sells Palestinian olive oil.  As their site puts it,

The majority of Palestinian farmers use traditional methods in caring for the olive tree. Palestinian olive oil is mostly organic, naturally extra virgin, not processed. The Palestine Fair Trade program supports and encourages the traditional caring methods which produce the highest quality oil and best flavor. The program does not accept oil other than from the indigenous tree under natural care.

Olive oil connoisseurs around the world favor Palestinian olive oil. It offers full flavor texture that is very tasty. While Italy is one of the highest producers of olive oil, Italian olive oil connoisseurs are among the highest European importers of Palestinian olive oil.

And the money goes to build playgrounds for children in the Occupied Territories.  The olive oil is currently only available in the Philadelphia area, but they plan to offer nationwide shipping next month.

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Asian Spiced Tuna Steaks with a Black Bean and Red Wine Butter Sauce

Joe: We bought some nice tuna steaks at the Reading Terminal Market and I decided to try something new. This recipe is a variation of a recipe from Ming Tsai. He uses fermented beans and serves the steaks on a bed of potato salad. I used regular black beans and did a presentation where I layed strips of tuna steak on deep fried potato slices.

First I cut a potato very thinly. I fried the slices in some canola oil until they were nice and brown. Drain and set aside.

I ground three tablespoons of peppercorns (assorted if you have them), a tablespoon each of black cumin, cumin and coriander seeds and a teaspoon of chili powder in a mortar and pestle. Salt the tuna, and then coat in the spice mixture and set aside.

Slice one shallot and some ginger. Heat a small pot or saucier over med to med high heat. Add the shallots, ginger, a half cup of red wine of your choosing, a quarter cup of black beans, salt and pepper. You want to reduce the wine completely. After the wine is about gone, pour in a quarter cup of cream. When the cream comes to a boil remove from the heat to a blender. Blend on high. Add 3/4 pound of cold butter in one inch slices until the sauce is smooth. You can keep this warm in a double boiler.

Put a small amount of canola oil in a pan and get the pan very hot. Saute the steaks until the spices turn brown. You are looking for a nice crust and medium rare inside.

To serve, cut the steaks on a bias. Arange the potato slices on the plate and put a slice of tuna on each potato. Drizzle sauce on the tuna and on the plate.

Sarah: This was a tasty dish, and beautifully presented. I think the spice crust was a bit much– it tended to overwhelm the tuna. This probably would work better with a thicker tuna steak– ours was only about an inch thick, which makes it hard to get a nice sear and still be rare inside, and I think that a higher ratio of tuna to spices would balance the flavors better. Amazing sauce, though!