These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. My two favorite cuisines are Mediterranean (in all of its forms) and Indian. Both share a wonderfully brilliant use of spices and are vegetarian-friendly.
I have also found that the two can often complement one another and I use the bread from one or the salad from the other when I am putting together a meal. And if you just go easy on the cayenne and other hot peppers, I have also discovered that they can be very kid-friendly.
Vegetarian vs. Vegetarian-Friendly
In my house we are all omnivores. Of course, we each have our pet peeves, but basically we eat everything and think that all food is sacred. Over the years, I have hosted many people for holidays and other dinners. I have had to deal with food allergies, kashrut, vegetarians, vegans and just plain-old picky eaters. But at least one of the side dishes presented here likely will appeal to someone on that list. And while I enjoy putting together an entire Indian meal, these sides are equally good with just about any roast meat, chicken or fish or as part of a vegetarian or vegan meal.
Recipe for Chana Dal Khichadi (Rice with Yellow Split Peas) from Flavors of India by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
Yield: 4 Servings
1/4 cup yellow split peas
3/4 cup short grain brown rice
1 Tablespoon Canola oil or butter
5 whole cloves
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh green chili, seeded and chopped (If you don’t want the heat but just the color, use a sweet green or red pepper)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 cups of water
Look through the chana dal (Yellow Split Pea) and remove any pebbles or grains. Mix the dal with the rice and rinse well and then drain.
In a medium pot with a cover, heat the oil or butter over a low temperature. Add the whole cloves, chopped garlic and pepper. After 2 minutes the cloves will begin to swell and release a wonderful fragrance. Immediately add the washed dal and rice and stir for 5 minutes.
Add the salt and turmeric and stir through for another 3 minutes. Now add the water and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 45-50 minutes until both grains are soft and the water is almost entirely absorbed. If there is still water after 50 minutes, uncover the pot, turn the heat up a bit and continue cooking. (The time may be more than this depending on the actual dal used and the kind of brown rice.)
Cucumber Salad, North Indian Style from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey
3 cups Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne or Aleppo pepper (Aleppo Pepper is not as hot as cayenne but lends zing.)
1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
10 fresh mint leaves, chopped or chiffonade
Thinly slice the cucumbers. If they are a bit thick, then cut the cucumber in half lengthwise first so that you end up with half moons.
Toss the cucumbers with the remaining ingredients. Adjust the seasonings. This salad can be made immediately before serving. The longer it sits, the more it “pickles.”
Spinach Raita (Yogurt and Spinach Dip)
Yield: 4 servings
2 Tablespoons Canola or EVOO plus more for drizzling
1/4 teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds
1 small clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
5-6 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 cup plain yogurt (I used a Bulgarian yogurt but almost any plain yogurt will do)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or Aleppo pepper)
Pour the oil into a medium to large frying pan and set over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (it only takes about 30 seconds), add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds and then add all of the spinach. I like to use tongs for this next part. Stir the spinach around and cook for 5 minutes. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix it through. Turn off the heat and remove the spinach to a strainer set over a bowl.
When the spinach has fully drained, coarsely chop it up and set aside.
Put the yogurt in a serving bowl and whisk it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the cayenne or Aleppo pepper. Just before you are ready to sit down, mix through the drained and chopped spinach mixture. Drizzle with a little EVOO.