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stir fry is a great because it’s quick and easy to make with any number of ingredients. also, it incorporates two very fun things: stirring and frying.

stir fry was to be my dinner tonite but, unfortunately, i napped through dinner time. i decided to make it anyway so i’d have a savo(u)ry lunch tomorrow. of course, there are many different versions of stir fry, and you can make it to your taste, but here’s mine. i won’t bother to include exact measures of each ingredient i used because i never pay attention and so i don’t know. use your good judgement and you’ll be fine.

  • half a decently-sized eggplant
  • a handful of mushroom
  • some broccoli
  • two scallion stalks
  • some celery stalks
  • celery heart (keep this separate from the more plebeian stalks)
  • garlic (3 cloves?)
  • some sort of chili pepper, i used half a jalapeno
  • salt
  • sesame seeds
  • basil
  • vegetable oil
  • soy sauce
  1. cube the eggplant.
  2. keep the eggplant in a bowl, lightly salt and mix, keep to the side.
  3. chop everything else up.
  4. pour off any water that comes out of the eggplant
  5. cover the eggplant in a little bit of oil, mix.
  6. leave the kitchen, turn on some music.
  7. heat oil in your pan or walk (high).
  8. once the oil is about as viscous as water and is just beginning to steam, add the garlic, chili pepper, basil, scallion, and sesame seeds.
  9. cook, stirring attentively, until the sesame seeds pop.
  10. add the eggplant and stir so that everything is well mixed.
  11. cover the pan and lower the heat to medium.
  12. every now and then stir the mixture and check on the eggplant. i like to continue this until the smallest pieces of eggplant are just becoming soft all the way through.
  13. add the celery and mushrooms.
  14. add a few splashes of soy sauce.
  15. mix and cover again.
  16. wait the same amount of time as the previous cover cycle.
  17. add the broccoli, mix, cover.
  18. give it two more mixing cycles.
  19. eat.

you can also separately boil rice and add it in. i would increase the initial amount of oil added and then add the rice between steps 13 and 14 and also increase the amount of soy sauce splashed.

i chose the times above (after gathering much empirical data, clearly) because i like my eggplant to be soft and squishy; the broccoli juicy and crisp. if you have another vegetable texture preference, you can adjust the cooking time accordingly.

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In this week’s Minimalist Column in the New York Times, Mark Bittman writes about yogurt cheese, or, in other words, strained yogurt. Strained yogurt! I started straining yogurt once I moved to Bombay because sour cream and Greek yogurt were difficult to find. We (and many families in India) make yogurt , or dahi, every morning with leftover milk and yogurt culture. With so much yogurt in our house I realized that using the strained, thick version of it is a wonderfully healthy way to incorporate the creamy taste of sour cream or mayonnaise without the additional calories and fat. After making it a few times, I also realized how much easier it was to let yogurt drip in my kitchen for a few hours than to brave the Bombay traffic for a trip to the grocery store to hunt for a product, like sour cream, that it probably didn’t carry.

We strain yogurt at least once a week for our recipes- I use it as a substitute for mayonnaise for coleslaw dressings; as a substitute for sour cream; in my beet tzatziki and eggplant tzatziki, and to make a creamy chipotle mayonnaise for Mexican food. Strained yogurt is also the main ingredient for Shrikhand, one of my favorite Indian desserts, a spiced saffron yogurt. It’s also delicious eaten plain, or with a drizzle of honey, or with some fruits.

strained yogurt, or "yogurt cheese"

Mark provided a recipe for an eggplant dip using strained yogurt which was similar to my eggplant tzatziki recipe– the difference being that he mashed the roasted eggplant and mixed it with the strained yogurt, while I kept my roasted cubes of eggplant whole, and gently folded them into a mixture of the strained yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and dill for a thick and creamy eggplant salad.

To make Sour Cream from Strained Yogurt:

1. Tie up yogurt in a thin cloth (you could use a cheesecloth but we just use a cloth that has the woven density and thickness of a handkerchief) and suspend it somewhere. We tie the yogurt in a ball in the middle of the cloth and then tie the other ends of the cloth to a cabinet handle. Place a bowl underneath the suspended yogurt to catch the water, which you can freeze for later use.

2. After a couple of hours, untie the cloth and empty out the now thicker yogurt into a bowl. Add a few squeezes of lime or lemon juice and viola- a healthy sour cream that I’ve used in baking recipes and for Mexican meals.

To make Chipotle Mayonnaise from Strained Yogurt:

1. Follow step 1 in the above recipe to strain the yogurt.

2. Then add the adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers, lime juice, and the tiniest pinch of salt and sugar. Mix well and serve alongside Mexican food.

Mark says he doesn’t save the water, or whey, that drips down from the yogurt while it’s straining but we freeze ours, and then add it into soups that require broth or water for a protein kick.

The  next strained yogurt recipe I aim to try is Labneh, which I think involves mixing yogurt with salt before tying it up and then straining it for 12 hours instead of 2. We don’t get cottage cheese in India but I’m hoping homemade labneh will satisfy that craving.

Other strained yogurt posts on The Gourmet Cartographer:

Saffron Shrikand (spiced saffron yogurt, an Indian dessert)
Coleslaw with Strained Yogurt Dressing
Beet Tzatziki
Eggplant Tzatziki

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pumpkin muffins

Every so often, I find a miniature orange pumpkin in Bombay. In America I used to buy these pumpkins only as fall decoration, but here, after I stop gazing at them adoringly, I boil them for puree. India is not the land of tinned pumpkin, so each baby pumpkin must be first treasured, then plundered. I freeze the puree until inspiration- or craving- strikes, like this morning, when I rolled out of bed thinking there would be nothing better than a pumpkin muffin for breakfast.

Out came the box of frozen puree and off the shelf, my Dorie Greenspan cookbook. She writes, in Baking, From My Home to Yours, “I’ve got a penchant for pumpkin.” So do I, Dorie. So do I. From Dorie’s recipe, I omitted the raisins as I’m not fond of discovering them in pastries, omitted the sunflower seeds she uses for topping, lessened the sugar, and ground my walnuts instead of chopping them, because while I like the nutty flavor, I don’t like interrupting the soft texture of muffins for knobbly pieces of walnut.

These lightly spiced pumpkin muffins remind me of a fresh fall day, of crunching through a pile of leaves to reach the bright warmth in a patch of sunlight. With Bombay on the precipice of the sauna it calls summer, I can, bite by bite,  transport myself to another season on another continent.

Pumpkin Muffins
adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of all spice powder
1 stick (8 tbsp;, 4 oz., 113 grams) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup minus 2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup ground walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray 12 molds in a regular size muffin tin, or fit the mold with muffin liners, or use a silicone muffin pan or muffin holders (I used the latter) which don’t need greasing.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

3. With a hand mixer in a large bowl (or with a stand mixer, should you be lucky enough to have one), beat the butter at medium speed until soft. Add both the sugars and continue to beat until light and smooth. One by one add the eggs, beating for a minute are the eggs are incorporated, then add the vanilla. Lower the mixer speed and mix in the pumpkin and buttermilk. With the mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients in a steady steam, mixing only until they disappear. To avoid overmixing, you can stop the machine early and stir any remaining dry ingredients into the batter using a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

4. Bake for about 25 minutes (mine took only 20) or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the muffins to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, then carefully remove each one from its mold and finish cooling.

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On Sunday, we came back from spending eight days in a cold mountainous region in north India. The trip was to celebrate our first anniversary, which we did by a bonfire, with red wine and pumpkin soup and mushroom risotto and lemon tarts, under a sky crammed with stars. And then, a few days later, after a one hour walk, a nine hour car ride, a seven hour train ride, and two hour flight, we emerged back into Bombay and a sky cushioned with clouds.

The city, being kind, decided against assaulting us with brash sunlight.

On our drive home, we looked up recipes for dinner. We wanted to eat noodles, but our usual peanut sesame noodle extravaganza, with its delectable sauces and oils was too rich after breakfast and lunch in Delhi. We were looking for a healthier dinner, and the recipe we found- Heidi’s (101 Cookbooks) “Slurp-tastic Herb Noodles,” in which noodles swim in a spiced, herb-laden coconut broth, was light, satisfying, and came together in under an hour.

We made a few changes to Heidi’s recipe. We used red curry paste instead of green, added scallions, a tablespoon of sugar, and one green chile to the coconut broth to give it more of the spicy-sweet kick that we like, and towards the end we blanched spinach in the broth so we could have a one pot vegetable and noodle meal.

Red Curry Noodle Soup
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

serves 2

4 ounces soba noodles, or another, thin pasta
1 cup coconut milk
scant, 1 Tbsp. red curry paste
1 1/2 cups lightly flavored vegetable broth (we used the water leftover from straining yogurt in place of the vegetable broth, as it’s full of protein and has a mild, milky flavor)
salt, to taste
1 cup scallions, white part diced, green stems cut into rounds
1 green chile, chopped (optional)
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 handfuls chopped spinach
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped basil
pinch of crushed red chile flakes

1. Cook the noodles according to directions on the package and divide between two bowls. If using soba noodles, drain with cold water after cooking.

2. In a large pot, bring 1/4 cup coconut milk to a simmer, stir in the red curry paste so there are no lumps, then add the rest of the coconut milk and the vegetable broth.

3. Add the white diced scallions, green chile, red chile flakes, and sugar, and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

4. Taste for salt, then add the spinach and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro, basil and green rounds of scallion.

5. Ladle the coconut curry over the noodles. Add additional cilantro if desired, and for more heat, some srirachra sauce or chile sauce.

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Oh, toppings. Something about seeing a list of toppings makes my eyes gleam. I tend to want too many. On a veggie burger I want caramelized onions and a sharp cheese and mushrooms and pickles and jalapenos. On an ice cream sundae I want walnuts and hot fudge and strawberries and whipped cream and broken bits of oreo cookies. Basically, I convince myself that if I choose just the right combination of toppings, I’ll have the most fabulous dish ever. Or, maybe I’m just greedy.

fresh excess

This worries Hrishikesh. At Indigo Deli, where we sometimes have lunch, the prices of toppings are ludicrously expensive relative to the cost of a burger, and usually add up to be more than the veggie burger itself. At Brightlands, the pizza toppings are similarly priced. So I limit myself to two, (ok, sometimes three), toppings per dish.

But when I’m making pizza at home, I can have as many toppings as I like. What fun, and what freedom. Hence this excessively topped pizza, which was indeed fabulous.

(more…)

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DSCN8981

A week ago, a dear friend from my study abroad semester emailed me asking if I could post the recipe for these blueberry scones I had made and gifted her last summer in New York. So I set out the ingredients this morning, substituting dried cranberries for the blueberries because (correct me if I’m wrong?) I don’t think you get blueberries in Bombay and strawberry season is over.

DSCN8982

Uday, our live-in domestic help (he’s 26) peered over my shoulder. He’s a really bright kid and always curious about what I’m making and he likes to stand behind me as I take pictures so he can observe how I handle the camera. Despite my aversion to the cook (who was at my mom-in-law’s this morning) and the idea having staff members at all, I really don’t mind Uday. He laughs at my Hindi (for a while he spoke to me in Gujarati, thinking I would understand it better, which I did but I then I got confused because I didn’t know he knew Gujarati…) and is not terribly annoying, like the cook.

DSCN8985

Anyway, today, as I was starting, Uday asked, in Hindi, “What are you making?”
I said, “Scones!” and pointed to the picture in my cookbook.
“Ah, biscuit,” he nodded.
“Ha, biscuit,” I replied. These scones, which are especially lovely when eaten warm, do, in fact taste like biscuits. I think it’s because they barely have any sugar- just two tbsp. I can’t remember what I did last summer, but today I followed the recipe and found that I could barely taste the sugar; the sweetest pieces were those with the crunchy top crumb, on which I sprinkled brown sugar. If you like your scones almost biscuit-like, then follow the recipe exactly. But if you wouldn’t mind them sweeter, then double the sugar to 4 Tbsp. Otherwise, this recipe is absolutely perfect. My dough was neither too sticky nor too dry, and the ready scones were fragrantly soft. -Another thing, though: I would use fresh berries, preferably blueberries. My cranberries taste just fine but fresh berries are juicy and dried berries are, well, shriveled.

DSCN8991

After Uday and I peeled the scones from the pan, I told him to put the plate of them on the dining room table. We both stood admiring  them for a few minutes. Then he asked, “You’re not going to take a picture?” “Ha, ha” (yes, yes) I replied, and went to get my camera.

Blueberry (Cranberry) Scones
adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea

Makes 12-15 scones

3 1/3 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 handful wholewheat flour or corn flour (optional, I used wholewheat)
2 verp heaped Tbsp. baking powder
2 (or 4 if you want your scones to be somewhat sweet) heaped Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
110 g (or scant 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing
2 handful blueberries (or dried cranberries but I recommend fresh berries)
2 eggs
about 1 1/4 cup whole, 2% or soy milk
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C or 400 degrees F and grease baking tray with butter.

Sift the plain flour into a bowl and add the whole wheat/corn meal if using.

Mix in the baking powder, sugar and salt and then add the butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs.

Mix in lemon/orange zest and then add tue blueberries and mix well.

Beat one of the eggs in a measuring cup and then add enough milk till you have 1 1/4 cups.

Make a well in the middle of the flour (still in the bowl) and pour the liquid inside. Using a fork, work the dry ingredients into the wet; then finish mixing by hand but be careful not to overwork the dough- just lightly bring everything together. The dough should be firm but softish and not at all sticky. If it is too dry, add a little more milk and if it is too wet, add some flour.

On a lightly floured surface, pat (I patted) or roll the dough into a solid shape, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Using a 2 inch cutter (I used my 1/2 cup for the cookie cutter, just turning it upside down and pressing it into the dough), cut the dough into rounds and place them on the greased baking tray so they almost tough.

Beat the remaining egg and use to glaze the tops of the scones.

Sprinkle with brown sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

The scones might stick together so take them gently apart when they have cooled a little.

Serve warm with cream (I ate mine plain).

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During these hot days, I just want to eat salad (and ice cream, always). While one can usually find wilted iceberg lettuce from the convenient street bhaji-sellers, obtaining leaves that taste like something, such as rocket (arugula), involves planning a trip to Crawford Market, a giant food warehouse of sorts, or going to one of the new grocery stores like Reliance Fresh or Nature’s Basket. However, in Bombay, I usually only go to grocery stores for specialty items like mustard or dried mushrooms because produce is much fresher from the street stalls and Crawford market. Anyway, with the impending monsoon, eating uncooked greens is not so advisable, so to assuage my appetite I turned to…lentils.

DSC_1128

I love the lentil salads my parents used to make, with the olive-colored puy lentils that look like little gemstones, but I have no idea where to find them here. So I turned to something we always have in our Mumbai home- Massoor Dal, or red dal, which, by the way, turns yellow after it cooks. Instead of boiling the dal into a hot soup, I cooked the lentils in the pressure cooker until they were just done. While they cooled, I prepared the minty cumin and lime dressing. I added the cubed beets I had boiled earlier to bulk up the lentils, coated them both in the dressing and there I had it- my lively Bombay version of lentil salad, refreshing, red and earthy.

Lentil Salad with Beets and Minty Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette
adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 cup red lentils, boiled/pressure-cooked until just done
2 beets, boiled, chopped

for the dressing:
1 garlic clove, smashed
zest of 2 lemons
2-3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. chopped scallion
1 Tbsp. mint
1 green chile, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt

Put the cooked lentils and boiled, chopped beets in a medium bowl. Combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette and let stand for 15 minutes. Pour it on top of the lentils and beets and mix well. Enjoy!

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