Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka halwa)

Indian Cuisine

To say that I have been doing some Indian cooking lately is like saying that I picked up a granule of sand on the beach. Indian cuisine dates back over 5000 years and each region has its own traditions, religions and culture that influence its food. Hindus tend to be vegetarian and Muslims tend to have meat dishes, although pork is forbidden. Indian food has been influenced by Mongolian, Persian and Chinese cuisine, among others. It is rich and varied and I love it.

While I have done some Indian cooking before, I had only made Kheer as a dessert. I was intrigued by what I had read about Halwa – not to be confused with the Middle Eastern halva.

Like semolina cakes in the Middle East, there is no one single recipe for making Halwa. They all share the same basic ingredients of carrots, ghee, sugar, cardamom and a dairy milk, but the quantities, cooking times and additions make each one unique. And probably each Indian family believes that their version is the best. One thing that they all have in common is patience.

This is not a difficult recipe but like Indian rice pudding (Kheer), it takes time and almost constant stirring to end up with an amazingly velvety, fragrant and utterly satisfying treat. Make this when someone is around that you want to share a nice long chat with while you stir. It is so worth it.

While I think this is a perfect dessert anytime of the year, in India, it is especially relished during Diwali and the colder, wetter months. It is the perfect comfort food.

In order to come up with this version, I read at least 4 different recipes from Indian and vegetarian cookbooks and watched over 6 YouTube videos. Some versions were made with sweetened condensed milk and others were cooked down to form almost a cake-like consistency that was cut into little diamond shapes. I’m sure that they are all wonderful and I’d be happy to eat any of them. However, this version is my amalgam of what I believe to be the best halwa and one that made my husband incredibly happy. Okay, it made ME incredibly happy too! It won’t disappoint.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

6 cups peeled and finely shredded slim carrots (DO NOT use large, thick woody carrots. They are fine for soup and feeding horses, but will not have the sweetness and tenderness needed here.)

3-4 Tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

3/4 cup raw or granulated sugar

About 1.25 cups of whole milk (Exact amounts are not essential. Pour in enough to almost but not quite cover the carrots. You can always cook this longer if you added a bit more than you had intended.)

1/4 cup half and half (or additional whole milk) mixed with about 1/8 teaspoon of saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped blanched almonds

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cashews

3 Tablespoons raisins (preferably golden/Sultanas)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom

Directions

In a large, preferably non-stick skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of the ghee. Add all of the carrots and mix through. Add up to an additional Tablespoon of ghee, if needed to coat the carrots.

Cook over a low heat, stirring FREQUENTLY for 40-45 minutes. This is tedious but necessary to prevent burning and to get the carrots to a velvety texture.

Now add the milk and half & half mixture and stir through. Add the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and mix through. Cover the pan and on low heat, cook the carrots for 20-25 minutes more. Stir OCCASIONALLY. You want to cook until the milk is just absorbed but the carrots are not dried out

While the carrots cook, melt the remaining ghee in a small skillet and lightly cook the nuts, raisins and remaining cardamom. You just want the raisins to swell and the nuts to release their oils. Set aside.

Uncover and add the sugar and mix through. Now add the nuts and raisin mixture and stir through. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes more. The resulting mixture is incredibly moist, velvety and unctuous. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature. This is quite rich and satisfying and 3-5 ounces per person is more than enough. While the halwa does not need any garnish, you can add a little lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving.

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Indian Side Dishes with Something to Please Everyone

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Dal is a cornerstone of Indian meals. They are wonderful with lamb and chicken or as part of a healthy vegetarian meal. And while I truly love Indian food, I have to be honest – it doesn’t make the most compelling photographs. Don’t be put off by that. The flavors in this dal are rich and smoky and yet mellow all at the same time. It’s very easy to make and if you get into South Asian or Middle eastern cooking, all of the ingredients will become staples in your kitchen as they are now in mine. Make the full amount since left-overs will not go uneaten.

I highly recommend the cookbook linked below. It is full of step by step instructions and photos so that even a novice cook can make successful meals.

Smoky Yellow Split Peas from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Yield: About 6 cups

Ingredients

1 pound Yukon Gold or russet potatoes

1 cup split yellow peas

4 cups of water

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2-4 dried red cayenne chilies (like chili de Arbol), stems discarded

1 Tablespoon whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 medium tomato, cored and diced

1.5 teaspoons Kosher or sea salt

2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. Place the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to prevent them from darkening.
  2. Place the split peas in a 4 quart saucepan. Smoky Yellow Split Peas1Add water to cover and rinse the peas, rubbing them gently between your fingers. Remove any debris that may be lurking (pebbles or the odd skin of the pea). Drain the peas and repeat until the water runs clear. Then add the peas to 4 cups of water in the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. White foam should rise to the surface. Using a spoon, remove the foam and discard it.
  3. Drain the potatoes and add them to the peas along with the turmeric. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes or until the peas are tender and the potatoes are cooked. Smoky Yellow Split Peas2
  4. In a small skillet, add the chilies, coriander and cumin Smoky Yellow Split Peas4Smoky Yellow Split Peas3and toast the spices over medium high heat, tossing them occasionally until the chilies are blackened and the coriander seeds are reddish in color. Everything will smell smoky and aromatic. Transfer the spice blend and the tomatoes into a blender and puree.
  5. Once the peas and potatoes are cooked (there will be liquid remaining in the pot), add every bit of the tomato and spice paste to the pot. Stir through. This can be made ahead to this point. Stir in the salt.
  6. Increase the heat to medium high and allow the dal to boil vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle and the dal to thicken. You can use the back of a wooden spoon to smush some of the potatoes and yellow split peas for an even thicker sauce. Garnish with cilantro when serving.

Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Lamb shanks with chickpeas1

We love lamb and lamb shank is my favorite cut of meat. Its slow cooking works perfectly with all kinds of pulses and I especially enjoy it with a mixture of beans and some kind of dried fruit with lots of spices. I developed this dish using my experiences cooking both Moroccan and Indian foods and it turned out to be a huge success – perfect for a cold winter night. All it required was some plain Basmati rice, but feel free to add some salads or yogurt accompaniments. I made enough for two with extra chickpeas, but it easily could be increased to serve more. If I had made side dishes (I was lazy that night) my lamb shanks actually were large enough to have fed 4 people (well maybe not if one was my son!) if the meat was taken off the bone to serve. All of my spice measurements are approximate. I tend to be generous when I am actually measuring – never using a level measure when cooking as opposed to when I bake. Just go with it.

Lisa’s Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas

Yield: 2-4 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

Ghee, Grapeseed or Canola oil (or a combination)

2 large lamb shanks (mine happened to have been “frenched”)

1/4 cup besan or gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 large onion sliced (or one medium)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

4-5 large garlic cloves

2 teaspoons ginger paste or grated ginger

Generous 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

12 -14 whole pitted prunes

About 1.5 cups chicken stock

Directions

  1. Drain the chickpeas. Place in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add 4 cups of water or stock and 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil uncovered. When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and allow to cook for 45 minutes. Any remaining liquid will be used in the final dish. I cooked the chickpeas in the Dutch oven I intended to use for the entire dish so I had one less pot to clean. I love to cook but I’m less excited about cleaning. The chickpeas can be prepared ahead or they can be used immediately.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. This could also be made on top of the stove, but I used the oven.
  3. While the chickpeas are cooking, take your lamb shanks and using a sharp knife, make several deep slits in the meaty parts. Take slivers of garlic and push them into the slits.
  4. Place the besan flour in a shallow dish large enough to hold the lamb shanks or place in a heavy duty plastic bag. Add salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste. Mix through. Add the lamb shanks one at a time and lightly dredge them in the mixture. There will be left-over flour but do not discard it. Nothing is wasted. In a heavy-duty skillet (I like cast iron), brown the lamb shanks on all sides in your choice of oil(s). I used a mixture of ghee and grapeseed oil because they have a high burn factor.  I used about a quarter of a cup of oils; it will all get used.
  5. When the lamb shanks are nicely browned, place them in a Dutch oven along with the chickpeas and their liquid, tamarind paste, cinnamon sticks and prunes.
  6. In the pan used to brown the lamb shanks, add the onions and any unused garlic (chopped) to the remaining oil. If necessary, add some additional oil so that everything is lightly coated and won’t stick to the pan. Cook the mixture until the onion just begins to brown. Then add all of the spices and the left-over flour mixture. Stir for about 3 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Be careful not to burn the mixture.

    Add everything to the lamb and chickpeas and gently stir through. Now add the chicken stock. Cover the casserole and place in the oven. Cook for one hour. Then carefully uncover the pot (watch out for steam!) and turn the lamb shanks. I did not need to add any further liquid, but if your mixture looks dry, add a little more stock. Re-cover the pan and cook for one hour more. Lamb shanks with chickpeas2This can be made ahead and gently reheated. Serve over plain Basmati rice or serve with naan. Lamb shanks with chickpeas

Punjabi Chana Dal

Punjabi chana1 (2)

According to WikipediaCultural appropriation is a concept in sociology, dealing with the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.[1] Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture. This is a hot-button issue these days, particularly on college campuses. While I generally try to stay away from terribly controversial topics in this blog, I want to say that especially where food is concerned, this is complete bollocks. If I were limited to cooking and eating foods which were theoretically only within my cultural competency, I would likely die of boredom or worse. So I say “guilty as charged” that when it comes to food – and jewelry – I practice cultural appropriation and am proud of it.

This dish is a wonderful example of a basically humble food (the chickpea) that is elevated to an incredibly flavorful and satisfying dish. It is eaten as a snack by itself or with Basmati rice as part of a meal. If you are vegetarian, just add a vegetable dish and if you are an omnivore, it is wonderful with grilled meats or chicken. It can be garnished with a dollop of yogurt or eaten as is. This dish is not vegan because traditionally it is made with ghee (clarified butter), which is how I make it, however, if you wished to keep it vegan, using a neutral-flavored vegetable oil should work. It can be made ahead and gently reheated when you are ready to serve it.

Punjabi Chana Dal from the Flavors of India by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff and tweaked by me   

Yield: 6 servings, although if I’m eating it the recipe only serves 3!

Ingredients

1 cup whole dried chana (chickpeas or garbanzo beans) The chana is a little smaller and softer than the garbanzo, but either would work.

1.5 teaspoons Kosher salt

2 Tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

1/2 cup peeled onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger (I use the stuff in a jar)

1/4 teaspoon each: garam masala, ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste (optional)

Juice of one lemon or more, to taste

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional garnish)

Directions

  1. Soak the chana overnight in 3 cups of water.
  2. When the chana has finished soaking, drain and rinse them. Place 4 cups of water in a 4 quart pot and bring to a boil, adding 1 teaspoon of the salt. When the water has come to a full boil, add the drained chana. Allow the water to return to the boil. Then lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook the chana for 45 minutes.
  3. Drain the chana into a colander over a bowl. You will be using some of the reserved liquid later.
  4. Place the ghee in a large frying pan with a lid over low heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and stir until the onions just begin to brown. Then add your spices and the additional 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir through for about 1 minute. Now add the well-drained chana and mix through the spices and onion mixture. Saute for 7 minutes. The smell will drive you crazy – it is sooooooooooooo good.
  5. Now add 1.5 cups of the reserved chana cooking liquid. Stir through. Raise the temperature to high to bring the mixture to a full boil. Cook uncovered for 2 minutes.  Punjabi chana4 
  6. Now cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes. Most of the cooking liquid should have been absorbed and the chana are tender but not mushy. [I have never had to add more liquid or cook the chana for longer, but depending on the chickpeas that you used it could take a bit longer to cook. If necessary, add a few more tablespoons of the reserved liquid and cook for another 10 minutes to get the chana to the right consistency.]  Punjabi chana8
  7. Add the fresh lemon juice and enjoy.Punjabi chana5

Karhi, a Yogurt Sauce

Karhi2

This is a wonderfully fragrant heated yogurt sauce. The chickpea flour not only keeps the yogurt from curdling when heated but it adds a nutty flavor and extra nutrition, which is especially great for those following a vegetarian diet. The sauce is poured over rice or eaten with whole-grain flat-breads.  There are regional varieties and I look forward to trying them all. It is also enjoyed by meat-eaters and I served it with Lemony Ground Lamb with Mint and Red Lentils with Ginger. (See previous recipe)

Karhi, a Yogurt Sauce from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey and halved by me

Yield: About 1 quart

Ingredients

6 Tablespoons chickpea flour

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt with acidophilus

3 Tablespoons EVOO or Canola oil

3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

3/4 teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds (I used brown)

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

2 dried hot red chilies

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

8 fresh curry leaves, chopped (I bought these online and keep unused leaves in my freezer, which I pull out as needed.)

3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Put the chickpea flour in a large bowl. Very slowly add 1/2 cup of water, beating with a whisk as you do so. Keep beating until there are no more lumps.
  2. Add the yogurt and whisk until smooth. Add another 2 cups of water, gradually, whisking as you go.
  3. Pour the oil into a 3 or 4 quart pot and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the seeds and the chilies. As soon as the seeds begin to pop, add the turmeric and curry leaves. Stir once and add the yogurt mixture. Stir with a whisk.
  4. Add the salt. Keep stirring with a whisk until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes.  IMG_3996

 

Red Lentils with Ginger

Red Lentils with Ginger1

I am watching so many Indian movies these days, that now when I see an American show it sounds strange to my ears. I have become a big fan of the classic style Bollywood film, but also have seen many of the newer films like Dangal, Neerja, and Pink, which have little to no dancing but a very strong story, especially about woman power. Having always enjoyed Indian food, these movies are only making my cravings more immediate. Dal is a staple in the Indian diet whether you are a vegetarian or a meat-eater. If you have never eaten dal before – or even if you have – this recipe will make you a believer. It is a wonderful side dish or can become more of a main course served with rice and other vegetarian dishes.

Red Lentils with Ginger from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey

Yield: 4-5 servings

Ingredients

3 large cloves of garlic, crushed in a garlic press

1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger (Make your life easier and buy this already prepared in a jar.)

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 Tablespoons EVOO or Canola oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 cup finely diced tomatoes (I actually used canned this time and it was wonderful)

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained (skinless masoor dal – these are split red lentils and are readily available in Indian markets and online)

3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter (optional, but I used it)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. Mix together the garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, cayenne and turmeric.
  2. Pour the oil into a wide pan (I used a 10-inch pan with 3-inch sides and a lid) and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, put in the onions and fry until the edges begin to turn golden.
  3. Add the spice mixture and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. If you are using canned tomatoes, cook for about 2 minutes. If using fresh tomatoes, cook until the tomatoes have softened.
  4. Add the red lentils and 3.75 cups of water and the salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover the pan partially and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  IMG_3988
  5. After 45 minutes, add the butter, if using and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.

 

IMG_3992 (2)

 

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Koli Soup

My niece and nephew and I divide all of the Jewish holiday celebration dinners and since most holidays are over multiple days, this makes hosting more manageable, especially since we all live in apartments with limited space. For Rosh HaShana I agreed to host the first night and my niece and nephew did the second night. They wanted to make brisket (which was wonderful) and so I happily decided on lamb for my dinner. In keeping with my love of most things Indian, I decided to make lamb biryani as a main course along with a delicious lentil dal. Jews were living in India since at least the 12th century as reported by a Spanish traveler, Benjamin Tudela. The Jews he came across were in Cochin, and were one of three Jewish groups living in that southwest city on the Arabian Sea. Known as “Black” Jews, they lived in a joint family system, much like conservative Hindu families, that was seen as a way to protect the very young and very old. For more on Cochin Jews check out this article in Wikipedia or on My Jewish Learning.

Koli Soup was often made for Shabbat and while not spicy hot or particularly exotic looking, it is quite aromatic and seasoned in a way that is surprising to Western tastes. My sister, who professes to not like Indian or spicy food, nevertheless loved this soup.

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli) from Sephardic Cooking by Copeland Marks and tweaked by me

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups of water

1 whole chicken with extra fat discarded

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick “coins”

1 medium potato (I used a Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into large dice

1 large, ripe tomato, coarsely chopped (do not bother peeling it)

About 1 cup of cauliflower florets

2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced (with leaves if you have them)

a handful of chopped, Italian flat-leaf parsley

a handful of chopped fresh cilantro

5 whole cardamom pods (Green or Black)

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)

6 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

2 bay leaves

4 whole allspice

6 whole black peppercorns

10 curry leaves (If you have them. They can be bought online fresh through Amazon and then frozen. DO NOT substitute curry powder!)

Directions

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a pot that is large enough to hold everything. Add the chicken and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the top before covering.
  2. After 30 minutes, add all of the other ingredients and cook, covered on low heat for 45 minutes. Allow the soup to cool. The soup can be made ahead up to this point and gently reheated when you are ready to serve.
  3. When the soup is cool enough to handle, remove the chicken and take the meat off of the bones, discarding the skin and bones. Return the meat to the pot.
  4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup and either add the parsley and cilantro to the pot or garnish each bowl with the fresh herbs as you ladle it out. IMG_3647

 

Bismati Pullao

IMG_3576

This Bismati pilaf would be a delicious accompaniment to many Indian meals or a side for grilled meat or fish. I used it to accompany Kashmiri Spiced Lamb (See previous recipe).

Bismati Pullao from Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine

Yield: 4-6 servings (Can be doubled)

Ingredients

1.5 cups Basmati rice

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

2-inch piece of cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

1/2 cup raw cashews (or pistachios)

1/2 cup seedless golden raisins

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Soak the rice in cold water to cover for about 30 minutes. Then drain well through a sieve.
  2. Heat the oil or ghee in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onions and saute until the onion becomes translucent and softens. Add the well-drained rice, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, saffron, cashews and raisins and stir for 2 minutes, coating everything with the onions and oil or ghee.  IMG_3567
  3. Add 3 cups of cold water to the pot along with the salt. Bring to a boil, cover tightly and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and fluffy and all of the water is absorbed. (The cooking time will depend on the brand of rice and how long it soaked prior to cooking.) Stir through with a fork and serve.

 

 

Spiced Kashmiri Lamb (Kashmiri Gosht) and Bismati Pullao (Pilaf)

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Over the past year I have become a HUGE Bollywood fan – and Netflix made me do it! If you have never watched a Bollywood movie, it takes a bit of getting used to but I highly recommend it. Salman Khan, my heart be still! And the women. There is a joyousness in these films, that is sometimes hard-won, but the journey is worth going through 3 hours (or more at times) of all of the ups and downs of the characters. While I began my Bollywood journey with older films, you might want to start with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the story of a mute Pakistani child lost in India and the Indian man of pure heart who is determined to return her to her family despite the considerable dangers for him involved in crossing the border illegally. My husband cried for at least half of the movie. And for those who might want a bit more of an action film, try Kick. The music and dancing is contagious and while typically silly at times, there is enough action for two Mission Impossible movies as well as a deeper message. And for a smaller movie there is Queen about a young bride-to-be rejected at the alter who goes on a journey of self-discovery and finds her inner strength and independence. Or you could choose a retelling of King Lear in Baghban. I found it refreshing that so many of the films carried a deeper message that promoted family, women’s empowerment, inequality in healthcare and education for poor and orphaned children and the need to tolerate religious divisions in society.

So what does this have to do with food? Well as followers of this blog know, I have always loved Indian food. But now I am even more excited about making it at home. So I have been going through my cookbooks and online to search out the best Indian meals to make at home. (And I have been buying up Indian jewelry on eBay and watching online videos to watch how Kareena Kapoor applies kohl to her eyes…) This meal comes partly from a cookbook by the film director Ismail Merchant, famous for movies like Remains of the Day, Howards End and my personal favorite, A Room With a View. Apparently he enjoyed cooking for cast members and friends and this cookbook was a by-product. Since I generally search out several versions of a recipe before attempting it for the first time, I ended up going with a different version for the lamb that I found online. However, at Merchant’s suggestion, I served it with a Bismati  Pullao (Pilaf) (See recipe which follows.)

Spiced Kashmiri Lamb (Kashmiri Gosht) from Mallika Basu and Bismati Pullao from Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine

Yield: 4-8 servings, depending on how many sides or other dishes you are serving

Ingredients

6 Tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cubed

2 large onions

8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed through a garlic press or minced

2 bay leaves

3 black cardamom pods (I only had green pods so used those)

2-inch cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1-inch ginger, peeled and crushed or grated or 1 Tablespoon fresh, ground ginger that you buy in a jar

2 large tomatoes

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon paprika or Kashmiri chili powder

1 teaspoon hot chili powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

Salt to taste

Handful fresh coriander (cilantro)

Directions

  1. Peel and slice the onions finely.
  2. Next, bring the oil to medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. When it is hot, toss in the whole spices, and as they sizzle up, add the sliced onions with a pinch of salt and sauté for about 15 minutes until golden. If the onions start getting stuck to the bottom of the pan, add a little hot water and scrape off. IMG_3569
  3. Then, mix in the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Roughly chop the tomatoes and toss them in. Cook this masala paste for about five minutes, stirring regularly. When the tomatoes start to disintegrate, mix in the coriander, fenugreek, paprika (or Kashmiri chili) and chili powder. Add half a cup of hot water and keep stirring. As the water cooks off, lower the heat to a simmer, add another cup of hot water and cook for another five minutes.
  4. At this point you will see oil oozing out of little pores in the paste. Bring the heat to medium high again, and stir in your lamb chunks. Mix the paste into the meat well, browning it for a good five minutes until it’s well coated. Then add enough hot water to cover the lamb pieces, cover and cook for half an hour then take the lid off and cook for another half an hour uncovered.
  5. Stir in salt and garam masala to finish, simmering for the last 10 minutes until you have a rich, dark, moist lamb curry.  Garnish your Kashmiri Gosht with chopped fresh coriander if using and serve hot, with Basmati rice and a thick dal of your favorite lentil. IMG_3583