Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Kitchen of Indian Delights

So little time for cooking these days, what with the crazy hours I've been working at the hospital, but somehow I manage...
Before rediscovering some of the Indian recipes that I love but haven't made in a while, I had one more go at gyros on Tuesday, this time using mushrooms.   Since I ran out of Greek seasoning mix the last time I made gyros, I had to whip out my Greek cookbook and figure out an approximation.  It turned out to be as simple as salt, pepper, garlic, coriander and finely chopped onion.  The recipe in the book also called for a little bit of allspice and savory, which I don't have, but I found that the mushrooms did just as well with the seasonings I did have.

Yesterday (my only day off this week, boo) I made a couple of Indian dishes in hopes of getting through the next couple of days on leftovers.  One was a batch of Bell Pepper and Tomato Rice with Cashews, and the other was Zucchini Kootu.  Both recipes are in Healthy South Indian Cooking (see Books, Links, Blogs for biblio reference) and are totally vegan.  Recipes follow this colorful, texturific photo!

Bell Pepper and Tomato Rice with Cashews:
1 cup basmati rice (brown rice works too)
5 oz. frozen lima beans
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
2 small pieces of cinnamon stick (or just sprinkle on some ground cinnamon)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup onion, sliced lengthwise
1 cup tomato, diced
1 green chili pepper, finely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped green bell peppers
1/2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cashew halves/pieces

Cook whatever rice you're using according to the package instructions and let cool for 15 minutes so that it's not sticky when you stir in the rest.

Cook the lima beans in just enough water to cover and 1/4 tsp turmeric until they are tender (10 minutes?), then drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a frying pan or large saucepan over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add the cinnamon, bay leaf, fennel and cumin.  Brown briefly, just enough to bring out their aroma, then add the onion, tomato and chili and saute for one minute.

Add the bell pepper, lima beans and remaining turmeric and mix well.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until bell pepper starts to become tender (3 minutes?).  Stir in the curry powder and salt.

Add cooked rice to the mixture and stir until blended.  Stir in cashew halves and serve.

Zucchini Kootu:
1/2 cup toor dal
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
4 to 6 curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 green chili pepper, chopped
3 cups diced zucchini
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered coconut

Boil two cups of water and add toor dal and 1/4 tsp turmeric.  Reduce heat and cook until dal mashes easily with a fork (about 30 minutes; no need to mash it all, just make sure it's cooked to a "creamy" consistency).  Add water as needed until the dal is done cooking.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  When it's hot, but not smoking, add asafoetida and curry leaves.  (This is very important when using asafoetida, because if it's added to a pan that's too hot, it could smoke you out of your kitchen.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way.)

Add mustard seeds and urad dal and cook, covered, until the mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden.

Add onion, chili pepper and the remaining turmeric and stir.  Add the zucchini and ginger and blend well with the other ingredients.

Add the toor dal plus 1/2 cup of warm water (any water leftover from the cooking is fine), cumin and salt.  Stir well, cover and cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the coconut powder, stir and remove from heat.

I was glad that the zucchini dish was relatively mild when I served it last night, because it seemed like a heavy seasoning blend might have clashed with that of the rice dish.  However, when I had the leftover zucchini for lunch today as a pita filling, it seemed a little bland all by itself.  The simple solution?  Stir in a little salt and cayenne pepper before nuking.  Easy, delicious lunch, and I still have some of the rice for when I get home from work tonight!

If you don't hear from me again before the weekend's over, have a safe and happy 4th!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Zucchini gyros and spinach and yellow squash salad

I was originally going to pick up some mushrooms for the gyro recipe, but I still had the zucchini picked last week and no ideas.  Plus, it seemed like there would be protein enough in the feta cheese and tzatziki sauce (yogurt, finely diced cucumber, dill, salt and white pepper), so I chopped up the zucchini instead and sauteed it in olive oil and then seasoned it as heavily as I could with the last bit of Cavender's All-Purpose Greek Seasoning that I had.  You can't see the zucchini in the photo, but it's on the pita beneath the tzatziki.  The tomato that went on this is the first one we've used from the backyard this year! 

I was all over this recipe from the July issue of Food and Wine when I saw that it called for yellow squash, but I had just enough spinach in the fridge for two side salads and figured I'd use that rather than go to the store for the Little Gem lettuce or (more likely) hearts of romaine.  I just used canola for the toasted walnuts because that's what I had, and the dressing I made was my usual Greek-style vinaigrette (salt, pepper, dried Italian herbs, lemon juice and olive oil).  As it turned out, Steve didn't want the squash on his salad, so I reserved a little bit of the chopped tomato for his salad. 

So, by using one zucchini, one cucumber, one yellow squash and the last of the spinach for tonight's dinner, I'm now down to two squash and one head of broccoli in the fridge!  There's also plenty of leftover tzatziki in the fridge, so I'll probably either make pitas with it again tomorrow or enjoy it as a topping or side dish for an Indian dish or something else that's warm and heavy on spices.

Until next time...sow what you reap, and reap what you sow!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cleaning out the fridge two meals in a row

When I woke up yesterday morning and poured my customary glass of orange juice, I couldn't help but notice the accumulation in the produce drawer:

Luckily, yesterday was a day off (my typical work "week" now being mostly long weekends), so I decided to cook for both lunch and dinner.

For lunch, the zucchini "moussaka" dish from the July 2004 issue of Food and Wine.  They don't seem to have the recipe on their website anymore, so here's a link to one of the times I made it last summer.

Ingredients from the backyard: three yellow squash (instead of zucchini), one green pepper (instead of the onion I didn't have), parsley and mint.

From the store: two tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, a can of tomato sauce (instead of tomato paste), 3/4 cup dry couscous and the rest of the seasonings (garlic, etc.).

The nice thing about this recipe is that it's so easy: I got started around 12:30, including chopping, and it was done and ready to eat by 1:00.  Steve had some as well, and I got to enjoy the leftovers today for lunch.

Later, after a few pages of the book I'm reading and a nice, long nap, dinner time was suddenly around the corner.  No problem - I've got this!

Dinner was spinach risotto-stuffed red peppers and an Al Amir-style salad on the side.

From the store: two large red bell peppers (99 cents each at Bi-Lo), spinach, arborio rice, parmesan...pretty much everything for the peppers.  For the salad: tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

From the backyard: cucumbers, parsley and mint for the salad.

For those who don't live in the Columbia area, Al Amir is a Mediterranean restaurant that serves a salad that's pretty much like tabbouleh minus the bulghur wheat.  It's a very cool, refreshing summer salad that's easy to make and delicious - especially if you're using fresh, sweet cucumbers from the backyard or fresh from a local farm.

And here's what we ended up with!

So, while I did make a sizeable dent in the produce selection pictured above, I still have one zucchini, one yellow squash and some of the spinach in the fridge, plus the head of broccoli that Steve picked up when he went grocery shopping at the end of the day.  So, in the next day or two I'll figure out what I'm going to do with them...

Stay cool, everybody.  If you live in Columbia city limits and get any significant rainfall (like on Monday night), do me a favor and send those storm clouds to the northeast after a few minutes.  We could use an inch or three up here!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soup and salad night

I'm a couple of days late with this post but very happy to report that nearly half of the veggies and herbs in Thursday night's soup and salad dinner came from the backyard!  From the store, a big handful of baby spinach, an onion, a tomato and about eight red baby potatoes.  Oh, and feta cheese and lemon juice.  From the garden, a bunch of radish tops, three radishes, two cucumbers, about fifteen oregano leaves, seven or eight basil leaves and another seven or eight lemon balm leaves. 

I'd been looking forward to making this radish greens soup for a while but wanted to wait until I already had the potato and onion before pulling up the one bunch of radish greens remaining.  The radishes were mostly non-performers this time due to overwatering (go figure - they got as much water as the first bunch that did fine), but the greens were all perfectly usable.  So, when Steve brought home the potatoes and onion one day this week, I decided that the moment had arrived and I went to it, substituting veggie broth for the chicken broth.  Also, earlier in the week he had picked a cucumber or two along with the squash and zucchini that are going off gangbusters in the garden, so I figured that a tomato and some fresh herbs and a homemade Greek lemon-oil dressing were all that I'd need to complete a Greek cucumber salad like the one featured here.

I used said handful of spinach because the recipe called for two bunches of radish greens and I only had the one.  Plus, the spinach in the fridge wasn't getting any younger, and I knew that I wanted to use up all eight of the baby red potatoes because I didn't have any other ideas for them and I wanted to soup to be equally potato-y and green or slightly in favor of the greens, which necessitated supplementation of the radish greens. 

The end result  A nice, light dinner for a hot evening!

It's going to be another hot one.  Please do a rain dance for veggie gardens across the Southeast today!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Zucchini and yellow squash moussaka

Steve took care of my vegetable garden while I worked 12-hour shifts all weekend, so when I got home Sunday night, I saw two cucumbers, three crookneck squash and a zucchini that he had seen fit to pick when he went out to water the garden that morning.  A week earlier, he had bought four zucchini that were still in the fridge this morning, so I decided to take all the zucchini and yellow squash on hand and make a bigger-than-usual batch of moussaka.  Here's one of the slices we had for dinner:

I make it with zucchini more often than I blog about it, but the last time or two it came out a big, mushy disappointment.  The problem with using zucchini instead of eggplant is that it contains more water, so even if you salt the slices and then pat them dry before baking them, more liquid comes out of them in the oven and there's nothing else to absorb them.  Until now: I decided to give it another try after stumbling upon this blogger's tip about putting down a layer of breadcrumbs before each layer of zucchini.  I skipped his suggestion about grilling the zucchini slices because it's summer and I just don't wanna.  My placement of the yellow squash and zucchini was pretty haphazard-looking in terms of the colors, but I did manage to layer complimentary shapes together so that they covered the layer beneath.

For the red sauce (the base of which was a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes), I used lentils instead of meat, as per usual, then peeled, shredded and sauteed three carrots that I had no other use for.  Since I also have a bunch of fresh herbs growing in the backyard, I also picked, chopped and threw in about 15 fresh basil leaves, 20-25 fresh oregano leaves, 5 sprigs of thyme and one sprig of rosemary.  I also had a random jalapeno that was looking a little long in the tooth, so after donning a pair of disposable gloves, I chopped that finely and added it to the sauce as well.  Salt and nutmeg to taste.  This made for a more complicated sauce than usual, but I really wanted to use up all the ingredients I could, just like when I make lasagna.

Into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, uncovered.  Let it rest for an hour before cutting into it, and at the risk of copyright infringement...bam!

Steve and I each had a helping like the one above and four remain, so we'll be enjoying leftovers for the next couple of days.  I'm glad I had today off, since it took about two hours for the whole thing to come together (not counting the time in the oven and cooling afterward).  Whatever I make next will probably be simpler.  Until then...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lemon balm pesto stuffed shells

As I mentioned last time, my lemon balm plant was getting pretty overgrown before I went out there with a measuring cup and removed all the big leaves until I had two fairly packed cups.  I went back inside as soon as that task was completed, since summer's already here and it's too hot mid-afternoon to spend more time outside than necessary, and promptly washed off the lemon balm and made lemon balm pesto.  This recipe was the inspiration, but I ended up making it more like a traditional pesto by adding a quarter cup of pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste.  A few days later (yesterday, in fact), I picked up some jumbo shells, crushed tomatoes and ricotta at Publix and made stuffed shells using the lemon balm pesto. 

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic baker, especially when it's hot outside, but this was every bit as tasty as my best-ever lasagna (the vegan one) and much easier to make since no layers are involved.  I now also have a favorite brand of crushed tomatoes - Dei Fratelli.  I never would have expected there to be a difference between brands of crushed tomatoes, and I generally buy the store brand or whatever's cheap.  Well, the Dei Fratelli ones were thick enough that I could have used them as the main ingredient in a lasagna sauce without having to cook it down for an hour and make a big mess on the stove, splatter guard or no splatter guard.  But I digress...

Again, the lemon balm stuffed shells recipe at the site above, where the pesto recipe came from, was the basis for last night's dinner, but I used more like one cup of the pesto (one recipe, not a double batch) and a 15-ounce container of ricotta plus another half-cup or so of grated parm.  I skipped the onion because I didn't have any.  And I didn't exactly use an entire box of the shells - maybe 30 out of 36 shells went into the pot, and I still had six left over when I ran out of the stuffing.  Oh, well - 24 stuffed shells filled my 13 x 9 inch baking dish along with the red sauce (half the can of crushed tomatoes, 4 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste and about two teaspoons of dried thyme from the backyard) that I poured over it to keep the shells from drying out.  No foil, just in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Nice and lemony!  Between the lemon balm and the thyme, this turned out to be a very brightly-flavored dish even without using lemon juice or zest.  Plus, since it doesn't take that long to bake and the pesto and even the pesto-ricotta mixture can be prepared ahead of time, it's a relatively easy dish to make after a long day at work.  Just do some prep work ahead of time, come home and cook the shells, stuff 'em, pour some sauce over the top and in the oven they go!  They also make fantastic leftovers.

It's a hot one out there...stay cool everybody!