Category Archives: Sides

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: SEV PURI

Perhaps it is a generational symptom, or hazard, to experience times in one’s life that are later identified as having felt “like a movie.”  If serendipity, luck, or chance has played a large part, making one’s day unusually perfect or delightfully surprising, then “it was like a movie.”  If terrible things have taken place, things no one could have foreseen, things one feels one might not make it through, then “it was like a movie,” also.

Nearly everything about the summer of 2006 occurs, for me, like a movie.  This may well be the case because all of it is showcased, projected up on the screen of my mind, as if it happened to someone else.  As if it had been written, the frighteningly complete alignment of feeling and form, sure to please even the most exacting director.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for whatever hand laid out the minutiae of our lives that summer.  But living life like a movie will throw you off balance after a while.  “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

From one morning in Mumbai, a particularly cinematic recollection.  My father and I went out for a walk, just the two of us, traveling down the rickety elevator of his sister’s flat and out into the street.  We worked across a few busy streets to the Five Gardens, where paths are reserved for pedestrians.  The gardens are really more like well-shaded parks gated off from traffic.  Of course, everywhere you turn in Mumbai is a veritable garden; given the hothouse climate, all manner of flowers and greenery grow.

Each of the five gardens contains a different buzz of activity—a rousing game of cricket underway on one dusty circle, some quiet games of chess between old men under the shade of palm trees. At that point in my life, I aspired to be one of those people who can eat street food.  I had read Bourdain, I bought into the romance of late nights, authenticity, and machismo.  I believed him when he says that you don’t really know a place until you eat what everyone who lives there is lining up to eat on some random street corner.  And I was willing to sacrifice some nights of peaceful sleep for a stomach of iron and some really good noodle bowls—I just hadn’t had much of a chance.

In between trips to India, I only made one trip outside of the States—a college jaunt to Amsterdam, where the bragging rights for eating street food are not nearly as high as, say, Thailand or Japan.  I did, however, take the liberty of consuming several cones of warm European frites with spicy mayonnaise in the wee hours of the morning, which I still crave when I am up very late and have been drinking.

I also remember, very distinctly, watching my father stand in the middle of an open market in Mexico and risk his life (and my mother’s wrath) to eat fish tacos.  I was dying to take a bite myself, but I was only ten and, at that point in my life, unable to defy her.  More than a decade later, on that morning walk, I jumped at the chance to eat recklessly with my dad, to eat away from my mother’s watchful eye, to join my father in a little subversive act,  just one moment of defiance to make up for all of those years I placed myself unabashedly on my mother’s “side.”

With the paper rupees in my father’s wallet, we feasted on watermelon, mango, coconut milk straight from the fruit, and shared a crunchy helping of sev puri.  The Indian food smorgasborg, sev puri is a classic street food, a weird, delicious concoction of spicy cooked potatoes, raw onions, the option of boiled moong beans (they taste like mild peas but are a little more toothsome), and drizzles of dhania (cilantro) and imli (tamarind, my favorite) chutnies atop a bed of salty, crunchy chips and twigs made from chickpea flour.  Served in a big, Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon, our snack was well worth the risk of intestinal distress, as well as my mother’s dismay, though we managed to keep the secret together, and I am spilling it now.

Sev Puri falls under the large umbrella of Chat, or snacks, along with its cousins bhel puri and pani puri.  As with most iconic food, there is much variety in the method and lively debate about just what constitutes true sev puri and what does not.  This version has been honed to my tastes, of course, but also to the ease and convenience of a lazy but satisfying pantry meal or an answer to the question “what should I feed all of these people who have suddenly appeared at my house?”  Stored properly, the dry ingredients will keep in your pantry for months, the chutneys freeze well, onions & cilantro are cheap, and if you’re like me, you always have a random handful of potatoes hanging out somewhere, waiting to be cooked.  Am I right?


SEV PURI

You can (and should feel free to) add tomatoes, a drizzle of yogurt, roasted chickpeas, sprouted mung beans, chopped Serrano or other peppers, even diced mango to your sev puri.

For the bottom/crunchy layer of this snack, you’ll need to acquire a bag of packaged sev (fried bits of chickpea flour) and one of flat puris (small flatbreads, also fried).  Your local Indian grocery may have a bagged “sev puri mix” with these two pre-combined—just ask.  If you don’t use these up the first time, they’ll keep in the pantry if well-sealed in plastic bags.

for the potatoes:

2 lb. red new potatoes
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
squeeze of lemon

Boil the potatoes whole until soft and easily pierced with a fork.  Cool, then peel and chop into half-inch chunks.  Toss with the spices and mix well.  Check for salt & taste but keep in mind that you’ll be adding many layers of flavor so you don’t want the potatoes to be overbearing.  Set aside until ready to serve.

for the dhania (cilantro) chutney:

2 bunches cilantro
2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1/3 cup of peanuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds (if salted, decrease the amount of salt you add to the chutney)
1 jalapeño, seeded if you like
¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
water

To prep the cilantro, wash it thoroughly and chop off the bottom portion of the stems.  If you like, you can pick off the leaves and discard all stem pieces, but I honestly don’t find this is necessary—just cut off the tough ends.

Process all ingredients in the blender, adding water until you reach your desired texture; I like mine just shy of smooth.

for the imli (tamarind) chutney:

Many people make imli chutney with dates or jaggery (palm sugar), but I learned from my mom to use apple butter instead and I think it’s way delicious-er.

1 cup apple butter*
½ cup tamarind paste
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
water

Combine all ingredients except water in a small saucepan.  Heat on low, adding water to thin the chutney.  Cook until the ingredients are incorporated, checking to be sure the flavors are balance.  The chutney should be sweet, with a hint of fire and strong “pucker” from the tamarind.  If you want more of any one flavor, add the corresponding ingredient.

Cool before storing in the fridge and freezer.  Be mindful that the chutney will thicken, so you may need to thin it again before serving.

* If you can get your hands on homemade apple butter, do.  Otherwise, it’s easy to find in the “peanut butter & jelly” aisle of your supermarket.

for the assembly:

I like to arrange the components along a counter or table so each person can assemble his/her own.  In the bottom of a bowl, add a heap of sev and a few puris, breaking up the latter with a spoon or fork.  Throw on some potatoes, then onions if you like, then cilantro if you like, and generous drizzles of one or both chutneys.

KALE CHIPS

With the deadly back-to-back combo of Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Presidents’ Day, & Mardi Gras, you might have overdone it the last few days.  Fear not—I have vegetables for you.  Vegetables you’ll actually WANT to eat.

The season of Lent begins in earnest at the exact moment Mardi Gras (known to the church-going as Shrove Tuesday) ends.  While an abstemious season might not sound so appealing, the Episcopalian schoolgirl in me appreciates the opportunity to reflect and scale back.  Blame it on the way I was raised, but I actually look forward to giving something up for Lent.

In the past, I’ve done without chocolate, meat, desserts, Diet Coke, and gossip.  This year, I’m saying goodbye to alcohol for forty days—so long, margaritas, au revoir glasses of red wine, bye-bye beer.

What I appreciate about this discipline is that it forces some thoughtfulness into my daily life.  During Lent, I have to work around the commitment I’ve made; I have to remind myself why I made the commitment in the first place.

For the past few months, Jill and I have been consciously working to integrate many more servings of vegetables into our regular diet.  Seriously, when you look at the recommended amount of green (or purple) things one is supposed to eat in any given day, it’s kind of shocking.  Shocking how rarely I meet those guidelines, that is.


Until kale chips came into my life.  You’ve probably read about or at least seen these guys dancing around lots of blogs in the last few months, and I had, too, but somehow it took my stubborn self entirely too long to try them.  I pray you won’t make the same mistake.

These damn things are so good they even passed the muster of my “fry everything!” Louisiana-in-laws.  In the words of my friend John, “You just can’t understand how KALE could taste this good.”  It’s true.  These chips are now a regular in my kitchen, and whether I’m serving them to company or just for me and Jill, they disappear quickly.  I know you won’t believe me until you try it yourself, but you can get the crunch & salt factor of potato chips without having to fry anything and with the satisfaction of, well, eating a vegetable.

Whether you’re giving up an indulgence for Lent, or are just tired of salad, I urge you to give these pretty kale chips a whirl.  Just don’t blame me if they leave you dumbfounded.

KALE CHIPS

This basic recipe calls only for salt, but you’re certainly welcome to add other seasonings—garlic powder, Creole seasoning, pepper—but they lack nothing as-is.

Prepping the kale takes a little work, but once you’ve done that, the chips are incredibly simple to make.  If your grocery store sells pre-washed & bagged kale, feel free to cheat!  I usually prep two bunches at once, storing the washed and dried leaves from one bunch in a Ziploc bag for future use.

ingredients:

1-2 bunches kale*
olive oil
salt

oven: 400˚
pan: baking sheets

Cut or tear the kale leaf off of the middle rib, then cut or tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces.  Rinse the kale thoroughly in a sink full of cold water, then transfer into a colander to drain.

If you have a salad spinner, employ it here.  If not, proceed straight to towel-stacking, which goes something like this:

On a clean kitchen counter, spread out a very absorbent kitchen towel.  Line it with some paper towels.  Top the paper towels with a few handfuls of kale leaves, distributed evenly into one layer.  Place more paper towels on top of the kale, then another kitchen towel on top of all that.  Repeat.  Stack until the kale’s all hidden away, then press down lightly on the towel stack.  Let the kale sit for 5-10 minutes.

[My method may seem extreme, and yes, it’s a little time-consuming, but having very dry kale leaves makes a big difference when it comes to getting your chips crunchy.  Patience, grasshopper.]

Unwrap the kale and shake it into a big bowl (unless you’re reserving some of it for future use).  Drizzle a few tablespoons of oil over the kale, then toss to coat.  You don’t want to drown it, just barely cover each piece.

Spread the kale out onto two baking sheets—if you’re cooking two bunches at once, you’ll need to work in batches.  Salt the kale just before you slide it into the oven.

Bake for10-12 minutes, or until the edges of the kale pieces have become crinkly and any remaining moisture has left the leaves.  Serve warm.

Due to the inconsistency of ovens, please watch your kale closely!  You might want to try the chips first on lower heat, to prevent burning.

*I’ve used both flat (Tuscan) and curly kale, but prefer the latter.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE

This recipe is much more Indian-inspired than actually “Indian.” It’s not some old-country recipe the secrets of which my mother has passed down to me, but rather an idea I got out of a Cook’s Illustrated magazine a few years ago. There isn’t really anything authentic about it, in fact, and so it might not at all belong in the “food of my people” category, but you know what? It’s cheap, it tastes delicious, it’s easy to make, and it got me to actually EAT CAULIFLOWER.

A strange and lovely, flowery, blooming, cruciferous vegetable. Oddly photogenic, pretty good for you. Generally overcooked or masked by a tragic cheese sauce. Oh maligned cauliflower, redemption is near.

When I was a kid, I hated cauliflower. H-A-T-E-D it. Gobi, in Hindi, was one of my dad’s favorite things to eat: pickled, stuffed into paranthas (griddle breads), even raw. Oh how I used to gag and fuss in that dramatic way little kids do when it was even suggested to me that I might eat some.

But like so many other palate-changing moves that come in adulthood, I at some point found myself eyeing the vegetable in the grocery store, tilting my head and thinking “Hmmm…” and now I will eat plates and plates of this stuff, warm from the oven, with a little naan at hand. Cauliflower, my new best friend.

This happened with olives, too, in graduate school. As a little girl, I remember plowing through those tiny cans of black olives, balancing each one on the top of my index finger before popping it in my mouth. But I suppose I overdosed on olives because, from age 6-24, I was not interested. Yick, yeesh, yuck, ew.

But then, one magical night at my friend Cara’s tiny graduate school apartment, which she kept impeccably and impossibly decorated, I sat drinking through a couple of bottle of cava with my two best friends, faced with a dreamy Spanish-inspired spread of almonds, figs, prosciutto, Manchego, & you guessed it! Big, fat, luscious olives. Once anathema to me, they suddenly glistened like jewels and I found myself downing them one after another, briny revelation.

I’m not sure how these transformations happen, if something one day becomes unlocked in our brains or our stomachs, if the tongue has a mind of its own which it can change at will, if as we age and smell new things and live in new places and with new people, we shift, glacially, towards things that had once seemed impossible.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

So here’s the thing: curry powder isn’t so much an authentic Indian ingredient. It isn’t even a consistent ingredient, seeing as how it’s actually a BLEND of spices. Therefore, the quality, taste, & heat of curry powders can vary widely, so it’s an ingredient where I suggest you go for quality: McCormick’s has a fine enough grocery-store accessible version; I’m currently using Penzey’s medium hot bottle.

All of that being said, I’m dying to try this same method with halved brussels sprouts—another often-hated vegetable I have grown to love. The caramelization that comes when roasting brings out a nuttiness in the sprouts and I think the flavors of the yogurt sauce would nicely offset their inherent bitterness.

ingredients:

1 head cauliflower
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ T curry powder
salt

pan: two large baking sheets or roasting pans, lined with foil
oven: 400˚

Remove any leaves from the cauliflower and trim the stem so it’s flush and the head will sit upright on a cutting board. Using a large knife and caution, cut wedges in the cauliflower about ½-inch thick all the way around, leaving as much stem intact as possible. The idea is to create cauliflower pieces which will lie flat on either side.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil & curry powder. Distribute the cauliflower equally between the two baking sheets or roasting pans, then drizzle with half of the oil. Sprinkle the cauliflower with salt, then flip and do the same on the other side.

Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove baking sheets so you can flip the pieces over and roast the other side. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is as tender as you want it (test with a fork). I like mine quite short of mushy, with a bite to it still.

If the pieces become too brown while cooking, simply cover with more foil. Serve when warm, with yogurt sauce.

for the sauce:

1 cup yogurt
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 T lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. curry powder
salt
canola oil

Heat just a tiny bit of oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onions until very soft. Remove from heat and sprinkle the curry powder atop the onions, stirring to mix.

Combine the yogurt, onion mixture, citrus juice, & cilantro in a bowl. Stir thoroughly, then taste-test, adding a pinch of salt if you like.  Spoon over the warm cauliflower.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: ACHAR

I don’t really speak Hindi.  It is the only way, and I mean this truly, apart from melodrama it may connote, it is the only way in which I feel at all like a failure in life.  I can understand a great deal of Hindi when spoken to, I know my colors and numbers and (of course) food items, but I can’t really form sentences on my own in order to respond back.  The alphabet I recognize, and I can sound out words phonetically but my vocabulary isn’t so great and my writing ability is limited to signing my own name.

I can hear my mother: “I know, I know, we screwed up big time!”  My one big wish, that they had taught me when I was a baby.  They didn’t because they thought it would be best. Raising a child period seems scary enough to me, let alone raising one in a completely foreign country.  My parents feared that difference would haunt me, that I would be teased, encumbered by an accent.  For them, their voices were the main channels through which they encountered resistance, were flagged as “other.”

And so English was my first language.  It fact, it was the only language they spoke to me, around me, for a long time.  By the time I was old enough to wish for bilinguality, to request that my parents start speaking in Hindi around the house, they were rusty, throwing in English words where their vocabularies had gone soft.  I believe I was in college by the time I figured out that my father was actually trilingual (Punjabi), my mother an impressive quad (Punjabi, Urdu).  No need to worry about this daughter assimilating: I’m an all-American, English-only speaker.

I took one semester of Hindi in college, and struggled through the whole thing.  Perhaps it was the case of a naturally gifted student bucking up against something, for once, not coming naturally.  Perhaps I thought, of all things, this should.  I’ve also always been so totally intimidated by other Indian kids, to tell the truth.  Like they are part of some club I just don’t belong to.  They watch the movies, they have spent multiple summers in India, they hang out almost exclusively with other Indians.  They knew much more of the language than I did.  Me?  I took a geeky, dead language (Latin) in high school and have a terrible ear for accents and intricacies.  Thank goodness I took that class pass/fail.  Needless to say, I did not go back for Hindi 102.

A few years later, I put in a good effort with a set of those ubiquitous Rosetta Stone CD-ROMs before my parents and I traveled to India, doing well enough to make my three weeks there a fertile time for my brain to absorb everything I heard. I found myself laughing at jokes, having mostly understood them, and even dreaming in Hindi for weeks after we got back.  Dreaming in another language is one of the most sublime things I have ever experienced, as if the gods had favored you: my child, you are authentic now.

But it didn’t last.  My father died, and somehow the desire to work on my Hindi died with him.  Losing him only highlighted how much I wish I spoke this language, how inadequate I feel not knowing it, how utterly defeated I am by the whole thing.  I find that I am ashamed, worried I seem like a fraud, such a white girl parading around in brown skin.  At some point, I’m just going to have to accept that I may never speak Hindi the way I want to—which might free me up to actually make a concerted effort to learn it instead of wishing I could just magically go back in time and learn how.

What I can do is cook the food.  And, for now, that is a kind of language in and of itself.

GAAJAR, GOBI, & HARI MIRCH ACHAR
(CARROT, CAULIFLOWER, & JALAPEÑO PICKLE)

This is, I’m afraid, one of those Indian recipes which calls for ingredients you probably don’t have on hand.  They can, however, be easily acquired at any Indian grocery store or good spice purveyor.

Though this recipe is for a pickle, there’s no reason you can’t eat it like a sabji (vegetable dish), especially if you are a fan of spice.  Otherwise, serve it alongside other Indian dishes as a condiment or with storebought papadum or other flatbread/cracker as an excellent appetizer.

spices:

1 ½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 ½ tsp. whole coriander
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. anise seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

Toast the spices in a small saucepan or toaster oven (set on low) for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant.  Cool the mixture a bit before grinding to a powder.

vegetables:

4 large carrots, peeled & cut into ¼ -inch slices
1 cup cauliflower florets
3 jalapeño peppers, sliced ½-inch thick

Place the vegetables into a heat-safe colander.  Pour 4 cups boiling water over them to soften/sterilize.

to make the achar:

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. garlic powder
salt
asafetida (optional)

Heat the oil over medium in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the turmeric and a few sprinkles of asafetida, if using.  Heat the spices and oil for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and toss in the vegetables.  Pour in the masala (spice) mixture, adding the garlic powder and a small palm-full of salt.

Toss everything to coat, adding in the lemon juice and a splash of hot water if you need more liquid.  In cold weather, you can jar the achar and leave it outside to sit overnight.  In warm weather, refrigerate immediately.

Achar will keep well-sealed, for 4-6 weeks.  Shake the jar before serving.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: VEENA’S CHEX MIX

Please forgive me for lapsing with my posts this week, but to make it up to you, I’m letting ya’ll in on a coveted family secret: the recipe for my mom’s incredibly addictive Chex Mix.

Often surfacing around the holidays, this stuff has long been a staple at holiday parties & in college care packages, one of the many things my mom makes which always forces the question, “Oh my god, did you put crack in this?”

I tried my hand at this goodness for the first time the other night and was pleased to find that I was able to replicate her magic pretty easily in my own kitchen.  In a few days, I get to see my mom, spend my twenty-seventh birthday with her and Jill, eat through Thanksgiving, even sleep late if I wish.

There are many, many things, both big and little, for which I am grateful, but today I’d like to acknowledge you, reader of this blog.  Little did I know when I launched this blog just over six months ago that I would “meet” so many kind and generous folks, that so many of you would be interested in what I have to say about food and living joyfully in the world, that many of you would be willing to share your stories, ideas, recipes, & genuine enthusiasm with me.

Thank you.  It has been, and continues to be, a privilege.

VEENA’S CHEX MIX

½ box each, corn & rice chex cereal

1 cup assorted nuts and/or pretzels

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

1 T each: garlic powder, dried chives, & dried parsley

1 tsp. each, salt & black pepper

oven: 235°

In a large metal bowl, toss together the cereal, nuts, and/or pretzels.  In a separate and much smaller bowl, stir together the melted butter, Worcestershire, and spices.

Pour the butter mixture over the cereal, using a spatula to make sure all the pieces are evenly coated.  Bake the mixture in the bowl for an hour, stopping to stir every fifteen minutes.

After an hour, turn off the oven and let the mixture sit overnight.  Store the mixture in an airtight container—it will keep well for several weeks.

FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: CARAMEL CORN

Various ways I know I got it right:

•    Jill goes back for seconds
•    My students pay attention
•    It smells the way my mom’s version does
•    Courtney says “oh yes MA’M!”
•    I have no trouble falling asleep
•    Someone asks “Did you put crack in this?”

caramel corn

I actually read a story some years ago about a restaurant in Japan; it had a cult following, lots of regulars, did fine business.  The thing was, no one could really articulate why the restaurant was so popular.  Was it their unique culinary offerings?  Homey atmosphere?  Friendly owners who knew your name & order as soon as you walked in the door?

Nah. It was liquid opium, trace amounts of which the kitchen laced into all of the food, as discovered by the Japanese health inspector.

There aren’t any illegal substances in this caramel corn but it’s so good you’d swear there were.  Make it for weekend munching, mail it to your favorite serviceman or woman, take it along to work as a sweet afternoon snack.  Be warned, though, if you should chose to share it, there won’t be any left for you.

CARAMEL CORN

What I especially like about this recipe is that the caramel isn’t fussy; no candy thermometer necessary here.  When the mixture starts to get dark, take it off the heat.  It’s really that simple!

8 cups plain popcorn*
1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, macadamias, peanuts, etc.)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
¼ cup clear Karo (corn) syrup
½ T vanilla
plan or sea salt

Combine popcorn & nuts in a large bowl (one that will clean easily).  Prepare two baking sheets by either greasing or lining with parchment.

Melt the butter, then add sugar and Karo syrup.  Stir regularly until the mixture comes to a boil.  Turn down the heat and watch the mixture, stirring occasionally until it takes on a caramel color (10-12 minutes).

Remove the caramel mixture from heat, then stir in the vanilla with a heat-proof spatula.  Pour the mixture into the bowl of popcorn & nuts, stirring vigorously until coated (much as you would when making Rice Krispie treats).

Spread the popcorn mixture onto the two baking sheets, then sprinkle generously with salt for a lovely flavor contrast.  Let  the corn harden before breaking into clumps.   Enjoy right away or store for up to a week in an airtight container.

*It’s not required to pop your own popcorn, but it’s so blazing easy, cheap, & delicious, shouldn’t you?

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: SPICY PEPITAS

I’m not supposed to be writing this, really.  Dave is going to yell at me.

pepitas side view

Today I am at home from school on doctor’s orders, and I am supposed to be resting my hands, arms, & wrists as much as possible while waiting for the course of oral steroids I started this morning to kick in.  I have the best PCP/internist in the world, and her office staff deftly fit me in for an emergency appointment after things got so bad that it hurt to hold open a book.

Amazing the things you take for granted, right?  That I can go through my life grading vocabulary tests, typing reply emails to parents, scribbling notes in a journal, mincing garlic for dinner, and not feel anything but perhaps a little tired at the end of the day.  To be a generally healthy, able-bodied human being, I’ve realized over the last few days, is to be profoundly spoiled.

I would say more, but I really oughn’t.  I’m going to do my best today to stay away from my computer, phone, & cutting board (which are, of course, the trifecta of inanimate objects that receive the majority of my attention) and come up with creative, non-injuring-to-the-hands-arms-or-wrists ways to spend my time.

The hypothesis my doctor’s currently testing is that my tendon sheaths are extremely swollen and pressing on the nerves in both wrists, causing pain in both hands and along the forearms.  The plan: five-day course of steroids and some sexy wrist-splint-wearing at night.  Hopefully, Plan A will suffice and we won’t be moving onto Plan B: visit the neurologist.

In the meantime, I feel lucky to have the most generous folks taking care of me…Courtney, who offered to drive me to Costco and be my concierge this afternoon, so that I don’t have to pick up any large items or push them in a cart.  The aforementioned Dave (my best guy friend in the world), who invited me out for delicious pizza and wine dinner last night, then scolded me for texting later in the evening.  Usually it is I who confiscates his Blackberry at the table, but for now we may have to switch roles on that one.

Jill has been nothing but sympathetic and will have to carve our Halloween pumpkin; no doubt she’s up for the task.  We still have one of the little guys you see below leftover from last weekend, when I made my own pumpkin puree (now safely tucked into the freezer) and toasted up these spicy pepitas.

pumpkins with garland

If you plan to do some carving this weekend (ohandIthinkyoushould), be sure to save your pumpkin’s seeds and toast them up in the oven for a crunchy, addicting, perfect-with-a-cold-beer snack.

Happy Halloween, ya’ll!

SPICY PEPITAS

There are infinite variations on the theme here—once you’ve got the method down, feel free to play it up with spices.  I’ve done an Indian version (cumin, coriander, red chili), a Mediterranean one (oregano, smoked paprika, garlic), and just plain ole salt.

For the version below, I basically rummaged through my spice cabinet and had fun sprinkling little bits of this and that.  They got the “OMG did you put crack in these?” thumbs up I so enjoy hearing.

ingredients: pepitas from above

1 ½ cups raw pumpkin seeds, washed & dried well
2-3 T butter or vegetable oil*
2 T honey or brown sugar (the former yields a “wetter” finished product)
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. chipotle powder
¼ tsp. cayenne

sea salt

oven: 350°
pan: foil-lined baking sheet

Combine all ingredients but sea salt in a small bowl.  Toss to ensure that each seed is well-coated.

Spread the pumpkin seeds into an even layer on the baking sheet.  Toast for 12-15 minutes or until the seeds become fragrant but not overly brown.

Cool just a tad before eating, but they are so delicious warm!  Store in an airtight plastic container for up to a week.

*If you use butter, the pepitas will be more flavorful but will also become rancid more quickly, so be careful.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: STUFFED MUSHROOMS

This is one of those “back pocket” recipes; an easy-to-make, hard-to-mess-up crowd-pleaser you keep on hand and whip out when you need something tried and true.  Oh stuffed mushrooms, you have never failed me:

stuffed mushrooms
Mushrooms are an ingredient I tend to buy more of as the weather cools.  Their rich earthiness  seems right, somehow, for fall.  I’ve made these junior stuffed mushrooms many times, for dinner parties, Thanksgiving, and football Sundays, of course.

The best thing about ‘em?  You can pre-make everything ahead of time, leaving the stuffed mushrooms on a foil-covered broiler pan in the fridge until ready to bake off.  They’re also relatively cheap to make (especially if you go vegetarian) and still work with all kinds of variations: use couscous instead of breadcrumbs, add in sautéed peppers for a kick, substitute green onions for regular ones.

Though the little ones are most fun for a party or get-together, stuffed portabellas are wonderful for a weeknight dinner, since you can prep them the night before.  One of my favorite stuffings for big ‘shrooms: chorizo, wild rice, celery, & bell pepper.

At the moment, I’ve got a lot in my back pocket (both literally & figuratively):

-stewing over logo designs (!) for the new-and-improved BJG website I hope to debut in early 2010…printable recipes?  You asked for them, you’ll get them!

-joyous celebration that a cold-ish front seems to finally be coming through Texas

-a final grocery list to attend to, along with a million details and “to-dos” before 45 (count them, forty-five) people descend on our house tomorrow night for the annual Carroll/Mehra Diwali Party!

I hope to share a lot more about the party with you next week; our amazing photographer Sonya will be here, documenting every dish and celebratory moment. Look for lots of photographs, details, & a recipe or two on Tuesday.

We are excited, busy, and hopeful that it will not rain.  Most importantly, I feel grateful to have the resources and time to gather the people I love around me and feed them large quantities of food.

I’ll catch ya’ll on the flip side!  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

STUFFED MUSHROOMS
The recipe here allows you to make both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions in the same batch.  If you want to do meaty mushrooms only, go ahead and cook the sausage with the onions & stems.

ingredients: stuffed mushrooms curvy

2 packages white mushrooms, cleaned
1 white onion, chopped finely
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup plain breadcrumbs, store-bought or homemade
grated cheese of your choice (Parmesan, cheddar, Italian mix)
herbs de Provence
butter
olive oil

optional: one link of a sausage of your choice (I used mild Italian)

Remove stems from the mushrooms, reserving a little less than half.  Trim & chop the stems finely, adding them to the onions & garlic.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, combine 3 T each of the butter & olive oil.  Let sit over medium heat until the butter is foamy, then add the chopped vegetables.

Sauté the mixture until translucent, then remove from heat and toss in the breadcrumbs.  Combine the mixture so the breadcrumbs are “wet.”

Fold in about a ¼ cup of cheese.  Season with 1 tsp herbs de Provence, then stop to taste for flavor & salt, making adjustments if needed.

In a separate pan, crumble and brown the sausage.  Reserve it for later—after you’ve stuffed the vegetarian mushrooms, mix the sausage into the remaining filling and stuff the other half.

Place the mushrooms on a broiler pan or baking sheet.  Stuff each mushroom with a small spoonful of filling (of course, bigger mushrooms will take more), mounding the filling just a bit at the top.

At this point, you can cover the mushrooms with foil and stash in the oven.  When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°.

Bake the mushrooms for 12-15 minutes until cooked through.  If you’d like a little crunch, you can turn on the broiler for just a minute or two, but watch the mushrooms carefully!

Serve warm.

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A FAREWELL TOAST

The food world has been loudly buzzing since Monday’s shocking announcement of the Gourmet magazine shut-down. All day yesterday and into today, foodies, bloggers, industry professionals, and (former) Gourmet employees have vented, ranted, mourned, and waxed nostalgic on Twitter and other forums. (I’m no exception.)

Really, I’m not qualified to say much about the closing of the magazine except that I’m surprised and will miss it terribly. Gourmet helped shape me (and many a budding foodie, I’m sure), shaping my aesthetic, building my culinary vocabulary, and offering me exposure to various cuisines and the cultures behind them. I’ve never been much of a magazine subscriber, since there seems to be much more fluff than substance out there, but Gourmet was one I have been happy to pay for. So, even though I had originally scheduled this simple fig salad for today’s post, I just had to tack on a little farewell toast to Gourmet, featuring a cocktail from—of course—last October’s issue. Here’s to you, Gourmet, with many thanks.

champagne toast

FRENCH 75 COCKTAIL

serves 6-8

As you may already know, my honey is rather fond of sparkling drinks; I am rather fond of gin. This drink is the marriage of our alcoholic worldviews in a glass!

I think this would make an excellent substitution for mimosas at a brunch, or pair nicely with a birthday cake/celebratory dessert. They’re also pretty tasty just on their own.

ingredients:

a third of a cup (1/3) sugar

a third of a cup (1/3 ) water

½ cup gin (I used Hendrick’s)

3 T fresh lemon juice

1 bottle well-chilled Champagne

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool, then add the gin & lemon juice. Chill the syrup until cold.*

To assemble the cocktails, pour 2 T of gin mixture into each glass. Slowly top off with Champagne.

[I rimmed my Champagne glass with some coarse sanding sugar, but the original recipe recommends you garnish with lemon zest—a candied version would be nice, too!]

*Gin syrup can be made ahead & chilled.

FALL FIG SALAD

More of an idea than a recipe, I owe the inspiration for this salad from my Shaila Aunty, who grows beautiful green figs in her Memphis backyard. She’s not actually my aunt; she’s one of the many men and women from our close-knit Indian community who raised me as one of their own.

I can’t adequately express how much or how many ways I admire my Aunty—she’s a passionate philanthropist, wife, parent, & friend, possesses an incredible talent for painting, reads prolifically, and is an excellent cook. She has loved and supported me since before I was born, and she taught me to put figs in my salad.

Figs are almost assaultingly sensual and luscious; I love how they look atop a bed of mixed greens. Since several varieties are still in season, fig salad can be a great counterpoint to roast chicken or other fall dish. If you decide to add prosciutto, though, you could serve large bowls of the salad alongside a vegetable soup with some crusty bread.  Leftover figs?  Serve them for dessert over vanilla ice cream.

ingredients: zoomed in fig salad

mixed greens

figs, quartered

Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

chopped pecans (I used candied, but you could use plain)

optional: prosciutto

dressing: balsamic vinaigrette–you could use pre-made or make your own, like I did.  Any chance to use my fig-infused balsamic!  But you could also try this method for quickly infusing your own (just substitute “fig” for “strawberry” in the recipe).

Set the quartered figs atop a salad bowl full of greens. Scatter generous handfuls of pecans over the bowl, then top with fat shavings of cheese. If using prosciutto, snake the strips through the salad before dressing it.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: ONION RINGS

My mother, she’s a very wise woman.  When I was still rather young, she impressed on me the importance of my someday finding a partner who loved onions (and garlic) as much as I did.  “Otherwise, they won’t want to kiss you.”*

raw red onion

You see, I love onions.  I love them raw, I love them sautéed, I love them caramelized, baked, roasted, fried, pickled…well, you get the picture.  In all of their pungent, tear-inducing, breath-polluting glory, onions hold a prominent place in my culinary heart.

Growing up in an Indian household, as I did, onions (or piaj) were a regular feature on the table, raw and sliced thinly as an accompaniment to rice, daal (lentils), dahi (yogurt), and kheera (cucumber).  I learned to love the wet bite of onion as a foil for spicy, complex dishes, a way to slice through grease and access the tastebuds.

Quickly, I started eating my piaj with a lot of other, non-Indian things: pizza, hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese.  I know.  Some of you are out there gagging (like blog photographer Sonya, who is no fan of the raw onion), but hopefully even the biggest onion-skeptic can appreciate these:

fried onion rings
Behold the onion ring, a thing of beauty!  It comes in many variations (shoe-string, tempura-battered, jumbo-sized, etc.) but like most fried stuff, even a bad onion ring is a tempting one.

I’ve been an onion ring connoisseur for a long time, often preferring them (gasp!) to French fries when eating out, but had never tried to make them on my own until a few months ago.  Needless to say, in a household where I am lucky to have met & settled down with a fellow-onion-lover*, they were a hit.

Jill proclaimed them the best onion rings she’d ever eaten.  And girlfriend’s from Louisiana, so she knows her fried foods.  These are, I admit, a little bit labor-intensive.  But hot damn!, they are worth it.

ONION RINGS

These rings, as you can see, do not sport a heavy jacket of batter.  Rather, they’re lightly coated and extremely crisp.  I use a three-layer breading: flour first, then buttermilk, then cornmeal/breadcrumbs.  The secret is using one hand for the buttermilk step and the other hand for the last step.  If you don’t, things will become gummy realllll fast.  Be sure to have everything set up before you begin!

ingredients:

1-2 red onions (more if you’re feeling extra-ambitious)
flour
buttermilk or regular milk
yellow cornmeal
Panko breadcrumbs (look for them in Asian/Japanese aisle)
Tony’s or another all-purpose seasoning
Salt & pepper

A fair amount of Canola or peanut oil

Pour oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches 2-3 inches up the sides.  Heat on medium high while prepping the onions.

Peel the onions and cut off the ends, discarding.  Slice carefully into thin (¼-inch) rounds.  Separate out into individual rings, then place in a large Ziploc bag.

Dump between ½ – 1 cup of flour in the bag, depending on your quantity of rings.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.

You’ll need two wide and shallow bowls.  In one, pour in the (butter)milk.  In another, mix equal amounts of cornmeal and breadcrumbs.  Add 1 tsp. of Tony’s seasoning and stir to distribute evenly.

Now, for a trick: drizzle a small amount of buttermilk into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture, then rake through it all with a fork.  This will create small clumps which, when fried, will equal extra-crunchy goodness.

Part One: seal the Ziploc bag with the onions and flour inside, then shake the heck out of it, coating all of the rings.

Part Two: Transfer between 4-5 rings (depending upon the size of your bowls) to the buttermilk mixture.  Muddle them around with your LEFT HAND to get them wet.

Part Three: Transfer the same rings into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture.  Press down with your RIGHT hand to coat one side, tossing some of the mixture up and around to all sides.  Don’t worry if the rings aren’t totally coated.

Part Four: Fry away!  Your oil should be hot and shimmery at this point, not smoking.  (Remove from the burner to cool if it is.)  Test your oil with a single ring—the oil should immediately bubble around it.

Add a small handful of rings when the oil is ready, keeping an eye on the heat.  If the onions brown too quickly, turn the heat down.  After a few batches, though, you may very well need to turn the heat up to compensate for loss of heat.

Fry the onion rings in batches, approximately 2 minutes on each side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and serve hot.  They’re excellent plain, but also go nicely with ketchup, Sriacha, aioli, ranch, etc.

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