Posts Tagged ‘vegan’

For all I know, it’s ‘palak pakora.’ Pakora was suggested by the letter home to parents as a buffet food for the school Eid party. This surprised me, as I think of parkora as Hindu, but the chick pea fritter extends throughout the subcontinent, and I believe that everyone eats them. Ashamedly, I have no idea what ingredients might make a pakora more typical of Bangladesh or of Pakistan rather than Tamil-Nadu, so I made them as I always do. I expect that vegetarian pakora was suggested by the school because it neatly skips the issue of halal, which might vex the non-Muslim parents, and thereafter by extension the Muslim parents, too.

Pakoras are very quick and simple. For these I sifted besan (gram, chick pea) flour with a little ground cumin and cardamon, pinches of salt at bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). I then made a paste with water, and stirred in chopped spinach, cilantro, diced red onion and green chili (not much, these were for the kiddies). I promptly deep-fried them by the tablespoon-full in sunflower oil and drained them on towel. My son dips them in yogurt. I like them with lime pickle in oil.

Otherwise, I’ve been absorbed in the markets these past weeks, watching the Fall of the Empire. I buy the FT every morning and it’s out-of-date by lunch. I hang on Robert Peston’s every word, and am consequently tickled to anticipate every calamity by twelve hours. Months ago I found rights issues fascinating (for all the good it did those banks…), but they look ho-hum these days, with half the high street evaporating and Iceland slipping beneath the North Atlantic in a hiss of leverage. I wonder if I’m too old to learn Mandarin…


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Kisiel (or kissel) is a pan-Slavic dessert, served either warm or chilled, the texture of which typically falls between a soup and a pudding. A traditional kisiel is made of a sour fruit, and Belarusians have a well-developed appreciation for the sour (eg. rye bread, soured cream, saurkraut). For the holidays, here is the simplest cranberry pudding, quick and easily made the day before if you like. The balanced sweet-sourness of a kisiel is a refreshing change from all those creamy holiday desserts, as it concentrates on the tart flavour of cranberries, the quintessential holiday berry. That said, this kisiel would love some sour cream or creme fraiche stirred into it, and perhaps a pinch of powdered cinammon dusted over, too.

There is very little to say about this pudding, technically. As it cools the percieved sweetness will change, so if it seems too sweet when warm rest assured that this will dull with chilling. Conversly, if you’d like to serve your kisiel warm you might like to reduce the sugar, too. What will change much less with cooling is its thickness. A classical kisiel has a rather fluid set, more fluid than western-European puddings, and I suspect that the incredible pectin level of the cranberries does as much of the setting as the potato starch (it is also true that available pectin levels change as fruits ripen, so any particular batch may give results that are a little more or less firm). But on any occasion what you see hot in the saucepan is essentially what you’ll get: the kisiel will thicken some more as it cools, but not much. If you would like it thicker, heat it back to a simmer add another 1/2 Tbsp of starch slurry in water, and see if you like that better. This recipe is for a simple naked cranberry pudding, so use the best ones you can find. To jazz-it-up, the aforementioned creams and cinammon would be nice, and a contribution from an orange would be lovely, too.

Belarusian Cranberry Pudding (Kisiel)

20 Minutes; serves four

hot water
3/4 lb fresh cranberries
3/4 cup cup sugar
1 Tbsp potato starch (may substitute 1 1/2 Tbsp corn or tapioca starch)
1 tsp sugar

1. Put the kettle on the boil. Don an apron; cranberry stains are stubborn.
2. Pick through your cranberries for rotten ones and give the cleaned bunch a rinse. Place them in a small saucepan with 3/4 cup water, bring to the boil, and simmer for ten minutes to pop them all open.
3. Mash the cranberries with a potato masher in the saucepan. Strain through a sieve, pushing the pulp around with a spoon. When it has mostly drained, rinse the pulp with 1/2 cup of hot water. Repeat. Scrape off the underside of the sieve.
4. Return the strained juice to the saucepan and heat to dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar in it. Stir as you heat to a simmer.
5. Make a slurry of the potato starch with 1 Tbsp room-temperature water. Stir the slurry into the cranberries and keep stirring as you heat to thicken.
6. Grind the 1 teaspoon of sugar in a mortar. Pour your pudding into serving vessels (via a funnel, perhaps) and sprinkle the sugar lightly on top to foil its attempt to skin-over. Chill and serve.

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burficapp.jpgWe have come upon the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of Deepavali (or Diwali, or Divali), the Festival of Lights, and that means candies! Most Asian traditions do not normally close meals with dessert, but rather sweets and puddings are reserved as feastday treats. Burfi (or barfi or barfee) is a type of fudge popular throughout India, made of a sugar syrup, nuts and/or a flour, perhaps with a dairy enrichment, and seasoned with local spices. Coconut burfi (called thengai burfi in Tamil), both vegan and dairy, is popular in the south, and is typically seasoned with cardamon or saffron, sometimes thick with cashews or pistachios (lovely green colour). Here I provide two nut-free recipes, the first vegan and the second with dairy. The dairy-free burfi is sweetly crystaline with spicy, lemony cardamon. The milk fudge is buttery and floral with saffron. Neither is for diabetics.

Most burfi recipes written by Indians insist on fresh coconut, and I’m sure that is the more authentic ingredient, but I’ve tried both fresh and dessicated for each of these recipes, and I recommend dessicated for both. The cardamon recipe as written below only works well with dessicated coconut because I use the simple sugar syrup technique familiar to Western candymakers. Without getting too technical, the late addition of fresh coconut will dilute the sugar syrup too much with its moisture and inhibits its ability to set properly. Some similar recipes that I’ve read do start by driving the moisture off of the freshly grated coconut on the stovetop, but this still introduces an uncertainty, and in a way just brings us back to the dessicated coconut in the bag. And while there is more subtlety and avocado-like flavour in fresh coconut, I think that subtlety is lost in the end when making highly seasoned burfis like these, with lots of cardamon and lots of saffron. The biggest difference in my experience is texture: the fresh coconut makes a chewy fudge and the dessicated a flaky one. So while the saffron burfi recipe is more intuitve and does not require a candy thermometer (although it is more efficient to use one), I still don’t think that it is necessary to kill a live coconut for it. Personally, I need a very good reason to undertake the extraction of meat from that hairy little rock; it is even less fun than killing artichokes.

These recipes each make a very small batch of fudge. By “serves four,” I mean that four adults have a piece or two and then it’s gone, not sitting on the counter the next day tempting people away from their best intentions. I made mine in a ceramic loaf pan, and the long rectangular shape helped me to cut them in the traditional diamond shape, although it did leave a lot of little half-pieces, too. I really do recommend seeking out cardamon and saffron, but if you can’t find them, I might suggest allspice and (1/8 – 1/4 tsp) nutmeg, respectively. Happy Deepavali!

Crystalline Cardamon Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dessicated shredded coconut (fresh is too wet)
1/2 tsp cardamon (seeds from about 6 green pods, ground in a mortar)

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in water and stir to dissolve it. Clamp on your candy thermometer and keep heating until the thread stage when the temperature reads 112-115C, about ten minutes. Feel free to stir.
3. Stir in the coconut and the cardamon. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
4. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

Creamy Saffron Coconut Fudge (Thengai Burfi)

Twenty minutes plus two hours setting; serves four

butter for greasing
1/2 tsp saffron threads (a big pinch)
1 Tbsp warm milk
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (fresh or dessicated)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp milk

1. Butter a bread loaf pan, as if you were making a short loaf. Place it in the freezer.
2. Put the saffron to steep in the tablespoon of warm milk in a little cup or pan, and keep them warm if you can.
3. In a small saucepan over medium flame heat the sugar in the milk and stir to dissolve it. Stir as bubbles come, then become so numerous the height of the syrup is doubled, keep stirring until it becomes nice and thick. This description is fairly imprecise, but you are not yet at any critical juncture, so don’t stress. However, if you have a candy thermometer, then go just to the softball stage, about 115C.
4. Once the temperature is attained, or you feel the syrup is pretty sticky, stir in the coconut, and when it is well-combined melt in the butter.
5. Keep stirring, scaping away all over, as this mixture thickens. It will start to pull away from the sides – keep stirring. When it starts to pull away from the bottom, too, and the coconut shreds start to look distinct in the syrup, turn off the heat and stir in the warm saffron milk. Quickly rinse out your little cup or pan with the teaspoon of milk to get all the goodness out, and stir that in, too.
6. Turn it all into the loaf pan.
7. Leave the candy to cool and set on the counter. Cut with a buttered steak knife before it is completely cool.

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In the south of India it is customary to pour a soup called a rasam over your rice toward the end of a large meal. The Tamil community in India resides largely in the very south and they are great drinkers of these soups, which are usually hot and spicy and made slightly tart with tamarind, tomato, lemon, or lime. Not all rasams are made thick, but when they are it is usually through the very gentle disentegration of toor dal, red lentil. Unlike lentils of other hues, red lentils fall apart entirely in tens of minutes of cooking, giving the soup a consistency something between that of broth and that of curry. Like most common soups, a family’s rasam will be some hybrid of a chefs specialty and whatever is on hand that day. Variations can be broad; in a curious cross-cultural adventure, rasam managed to spawn the not-very-similar English mulligatawny soup.

Anyone familiar with the cuisine of India knows that when it comes to spices the cook is spoilt for choice. The rasam that I have choosen to make features three distinct flavourings that are very common to cooking in the south. The first is asafoetida, a plant resin with a yellow colour and (when used sparingly) a sulfurous odor similar to allium. (Be warned that while asafoetida is usually sold ground with rice flour it can be mixed with wheat flour instead, so if it matters, read your labels and choose your brands.) The second spice is slightly bitter brown mustard seed, which is great fun: rather than grinding them, one heats them in a little oil until the seeds go pop, pop, pop! Finally, a handful of dried curry leaves (so hard to describe, nothing else tastes like the gentle warmth of curry leaves) go into the final seasoning. It is for the sake of the curry leaves that I go easy on the souring tamarind in this recipe, as I find that too much sourness somehow cancels-out the curry leaves. If unavailable one could substitute lemon juice for tamarind and add it off-heat at the end, but all of these flavourings can be found in an Indian grocer’s, especially if his or her custom is from the south.

This soup would be plenty tasty served the occidental way, alone in a bowl at noon. For a more traditional approach, serve over rice and perhaps a dab of melted ghee, in the company of the usual suspects: curries, chutneys, yogurts, popadums. We like it with a hard English apple cider (the hotter our meal, the sweeter our cider).

Tamil Red Lentil Soup (Rasam)

40 minutes; serves four

1 cup red lentils, washed
4 cups water
three whole cloves garlic
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
1/4 tsp tumeric
3 dried bird’s eye chilies
12 black peppercorns
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 Tbsp dried coconut
3/4 cup good canned tomatoes
1 Tbsp tamarind paste
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
handful of dried curry leaves (maybe 18 or so)

1. In a large saucepan place the lentils and water and heat to a boil. Skim the scum. Toss in the garlic cloves, asafoetida, and tumeric and simmer until the lentils have fallen apart, about 25 minutes.
2. In the meantime, place the chilies, peppercorns, cumin and coconut in a small heavy frying pan and toast them over low heat with stirring until the coconut turns brown. Remove to let cool.
3. Dice the tomatoes. If your tamarind is still on the stone, soak it off with some agitation (fingers are best) in a little water.
4. Once the lentils have collapsed, fish out the garlic cloves and add the tomatoes, tamarind and salt. Grind the toasted spices in a grinder or a mortar and add them, too. If the soup is too thick for you, add a little water. Too thin, simmer a little longer.
5. In that little frying pan add oil and mustard seeds and heat gently. When the seeds start to pop add the curry leaves and swirl them around for a minute to extract some of their flavour into the oil. Add this final seasoning (it’s called a tarka, by the way) to the soup. Taste for salt.

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gallopinto.jpgGallo Pinto is the speckled rooster, the omnipresent beans-and-rice dish for Nicaraguans, a comfort of every day, sometimes at more meals than one. Nextdoor, the Costa Ricans have a speckled rooster of a different colour, made with black beans, but the red rooster belongs to Nicaragua. Unlike a pilaf, the rice in this dish is cooked on its own before meeting the other ingredients, much like a Chinese stir-fried rice, and this makes the texture of the final product easy to control. The flavour of this version of beans-and-rice is deep, round and nutty; nuttiness is a wonder of lightly seasoned beans.

Millions of Nicaraguans will eat gallo pinto today, no doubt expressing a host of variations on the core recipe. Personally, I think this dish is best kept simple, so where one certainly could add so many regional spices, I just use bay and garlic, lots and lots of garlic. The ratio-of-consensus in traditional recipes comes in at 6 cloves of garlic for every cup of dry beans. so to that I defer. I admit there is much personal preference in this: I find that if any bean dish is complicatedly seasoned, the round flavour of the bean disappears entirely. Besides, I can’t imagine that any dish made daily in a household, a dish made to accompanying everything else, should be terribly complicated. Because the beans need to spend mellowing-time with the garlic, and because canned beans are never as purely flavoured and often mushy to boot, it is worth cooking your own from dried. Where I would have preferred to use the small Mexican red bean, I had to use kidney beans because they are far easier to find in the UK. Kidney beans are larger, and so they make for a clunkier photo, but they are still mesoamerican beans, and still delicious.

For breakfast, serve with sour cream and a cup of good coffee. Later on in the day, gallo pinto complements a fruity Nicaraguan stew.

Nicaraguan Red Beans and Rice (Gallo Pinto)

90 minutes, including 75 minutes simmering; serves four

1 cup dried red beans (Mexican or kidney), soaked all day or all night
1 dried bay leaf
6 cloves garlic
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced

1. Drain the beans, place them in a saucepan, and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil and skim the foam. Toss in the peeled garlic cloves and simmer them together, uncovered, until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 75 minutes (if your beans are older it will take a little longer).
2. About forty-five minutes into the bean-simmering, rinse the rice grains several times and cook as per usual.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and saute the onion gently until soft and golden.
4. When the beans are tender, drain them, reserving the liquid. Remove the garlic and bay.
5. Add the beans to the sauteed onion and stir. Add the rice. By the spoonful, add just enough reserved liquid to colour and moisten the rice, but not so much to cause clumping and goopiness. Easy does it.
6. Salt to taste.

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eba.jpgNative to tropical South America, cassava grows well in similar climates elsewhere, and it is eaten as a staple starch throughout west Africa. In Nigeria, shredded cassava is fermented, dessicated and roasted to produce a coarse-grain flour called gari (or garri). This process has two aims: to produce a starch that is light-weight, flavourful, and can be stored for long periods, and to rid the raw cassava of its toxic cyanogenic glucosides, lest diners risk cyanide poisoning. Dried gari is reconstitued with hot water and worked into a thick smooth sourdough called eba. The eba are presented rolled into balls that can be depressed with the thumb to produce a kind of edible spoon for hot soup or stew. Dried cassava is not itself very strongly flavoured (think of tapioca), but the fermentation and roasting of the gari provides a surprising complexity in the eba that complements the very hot chilies found in Nigerian cooking. During reconstitution the vineagry character of the eba is quite pronounced, as the hot water wakes-up the fermented starch and water vapour carries the odor upwards, but at room temperature this inherent sourness is much more subtle. West-African grocers usually stock gari in small bags along with their other flours.

The recipe could not be simpler. Use eba to accompany a west-African soup.

Nigerian Cassava Dumplings (Eba)

Five minutes; serves four

1 cup gari
2 cups boiling water

In a large bowl stir the boiled water into the gari with a wooden spoon. It will initially be soupy, but within seconds start to thicken significantly. Keep stirring/beating it until it is a smooth opaque dough, the constistency of play-dough. Form into eight golf-sized balls with your hands.

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urap.jpgThis version of urap has a complex mix of flavours an unusual almost-crunchiness. The cuisine of Java is typically sweeter and less hot than that of many of its neighbours, but this dish does have some heat to it, via a few seeded red chilies. For good presentation and interesting mouthfeel it is important to cut the vegetables evenly and not subsequently overcook them. If you substitute haricort vert for snake beans watch the steaming time even more closely. I strongly recommend seeking out that strangely knobbly galangal root, which many Asian grocery’s carry fresh, because it provides a more complex aroma, sweet and lemony. And watch for water everywhere! Let the steamed vegetables steam-off the last of their clinging moisture and press, press, press the hydrated coconut. A soggy salad is no fun. Speaking of disappointment, do not chill the final product, or you will find it a shadow of its former self. What I find most remarkable about this dish is how is looks and tastes of the sea, with no seafood in it whatsoever.

Serve with cold water, or a gerwurztraminer.

Mixed Vegetables dressed with Javanese Coconut (Urap)

30 minutes; serves four

4 oz carrot, cut 1/8″ X 1/8″ X 2″ matchsticks
4 oz bean sprouts, brown tails removed
4 oz snake beans, cut in 2″ lengths (may substitute haricort vert)
1/2 cups dessicated unsweetened coconut
1 galangal root, smashed with a mallet until it splits
2 red chilies, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp palm sugar (may substitute brown sugar)
1/2 tsp Maldon salt (may substitute 1 tsp salt)
2 tsp lime juice

1. Set a kettle of water to boil, for the coconut and the sprouts
2. Steam the carrot until barely tender, about five minutes. Shake off any droplets you can.
3. Steam the beans until barely tender, about three minutes Shake off any droplets you can.
4. Place the coconut and galangal in a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave for ten minutes.
5. Place the sprouts in a strainer and pour the rest of the hot water over them.
6. Remove the galangal root, strain the water from the coconut, and press out all the moisture that you can.
7. Grind the chilies, garlic, sugar, salt and lime juice in a mortar. Mix with the coconut. Taste for salt and acid.
8. Toss the vegetables with the dressing, and serve.

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