Monday, May 17, 2010

9 Veggies, 1 Soup, 1 Salad

After returning from a weekend camping trip, on which our food stores typically consist of pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage, buns, Goldfish, Pop-tarts and pistachios, I noticed that I still had a ton of produce that might have been fun to bring along had our cold storage space not been mostly taken up by beer.

So…on hand I had a few beets, a trimmed bunch of mustard greens, one small head each of broccoli and cauliflower, spring onions, a few tomatoes, one cooked, husked and chilled ear of corn and a couple of carrots. Since I’m not able to cook every night of the week and didn’t want to spend all Sunday afternoon in the kitchen making several things to be consumed during the week, I took the easy way out and threw everything into a soup pot with a few cups of water and some partially cooked chana dal (dried split chick peas, available at Indian grocery stores). Here's what it looked like.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in how much sweetness the beets added to the mix. Given the chance to do it all over, I think I would have nuked and then chilled the diced beets and then used them in a spinach, corn and feta salad served as part of a soup-and-salad combo. I might have also added a can of tomato paste or sauce for additional thickness and flavor. That said, here’s the soup-and-salad that I did end up making and what I used:

Corn and feta salad

This recipe is based on a cold side dish I used to enjoy at the now-defunct Birds on a Wire restaurant, located on Devine St. in Columbia until 2008 or 2009. Since the food was generally mediocre and the service worse, the only reason I really have for missing them is that I never learned how to make their black bean cake. Here’s a take on their corn and feta salad:

One ear fresh corn, baked with husk on and chilled
3-4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
green onions from one bulb of spring onions or one small bunch, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lime juice
pepper to taste

Once the ear of corn has chilled, peel off the husk and cut off the kernels with a serrated knife and discard the cob and husk.

Place the corn kernels in a mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and stir until blended. Spoon onto small plates and serve. (Serves 2-3)

Indian Sambhar-style mixed vegetable soup
For most of my Indian cooking, credit needs to be given to Alamelu Vairavan, whose Healthy South Indian Cooking** book I found in the book shop of the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2006. None of her sambhars, not even her Mixed Vegetable Sambhar (p. 175), actually call for this many veggies. However, given the consistent list of spices, I figured the basic configuration would allow for additions and substitutions.

4 cups water
1 cup (dry) chana dal*, pre-soaked for one hour
salt to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons urad dal*
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds*
2 large carrots, peeled and diced into ¼ inch cubes
4 small beets, peeled and diced into ¼ inch cubes
4 spring onion bulbs, chopped
1 head of broccoli (stems removed), chopped
1 head of cauliflower (stems removed), chopped
1 bunch mustard greens (12-15 large leaves), chopped into bite-size pieces and washed in several changes of cold water
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 tbsp sambhar powder* (like a mild curry powder)
Cayenne pepper to taste
*Can be purchased in Indian grocery stores.

Drain and rinse pre-soaked chana dal. Boil 4 cups of water in a 2-quart saucepan and add chana dal plus 1 tsp salt and turmeric. Cook covered for 20-30 minutes or until soft.

Heat the canola oil in an 8 qt pot over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, add mustard seeds and urad dal. Cover pot and cook until mustard seeds pop and urad dal turns golden brown.

Add carrots and beets, stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add spring onions, stir and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add broccoli and cauliflower, stir and cover for another 2-3 minutes.

Add cooked chana dal with their water and about 4 cups more water. Add tomatoes and mustard greens, pushing the greens down into the water with a large spoon. Stir in sambhar powder and cayenne (and more salt if needed), lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 more minutes or until mustard greens have wilted.

Unsolicited testimonial: Steve was polite. To my pleasant surprise, given how seldom he eats corn by choice, he actually seemed to like the corn and feta salad. This ear of corn wasn’t especially sweet, so the kernels provided texture and just enough sweetness to complement the scallions and feta. Comments for the soup included “it’s pretty good” and something about each bite bursting with vitamins. Again, I found the beets to be a bit out of place in this soup because of the sweetness they added. Thankfully, they did not (at least not until the leftovers sat in the fridge overnight) discolor every other ingredient as I’d feared – just a few of the onions and carrots they cooked with in the beginning. Had I left out the beets, Indian spices and about half the greens and added tomato sauce and some Italian herbs, this actually would have made a great vegetarian minestrone. Will definitely make this again – just not the exact same way.

**Vairavan, A. and Marquardt, P. Healthy South Indian Cooking. New York: Hippocrene, 2001. ISBN 0-7818-0867-7

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