Surprisingly Vegetarian

okra

My mother never had to make my brother and me, eat our vegetables. She just had one simple rule when it came to food — if it doesn’t go down to your stomach, it goes straight down the garbage.

She only had to enforce that rule once, and only once, in our lifetime. And we grew up fussing over everything but food.

As far as I remember, the first time I pushed away a plate of veggies, I was well into my second semester of college. Well, because Gujarat, being the only “vegetarian” state of the country, had served up vegetables, plate after plate, sweet, savory and prepared in a thousand ways, for the entire time throughout my first semester. And I finally cracked.

I would refuse to eat lunch and dinner the Mess served up. I would seek out places that served non-vegetarian fare and eat-out almost everyday. The rest of the time, I survived on fruits. I figured it would balance out all the greasy chicken biryanis that I’d stuff myself with every other day. That routine for a whole month and my friends got tired of my constant hankering for chicken or fish or mutton (I even by-passed eggs). Their irritation was fair considering the fact that they had spent one entire month cringing and wrinkling up their noses every time a waiter placed my order on the table. They got used to it (I made sure of that), after a few heated debates on the age-old issue of herbivore vs. carnivore, and once they realized that I wouldn’t eat at any place labeled “100% Veg” in bright green.

But I’ve never been off vegetables officially, especially okra and aubergines and especially when I’m at home.

Okra and aubergines are exceptions. Shallow fried okra smeared with a pinch of turmeric, salt and dry mango powder would win lunch with me hands down over any version of chicken tandoori. Okra was all I used to eat, all throughout my last year of college. And every time any relative extends and invitation to his/her place, I know they’ll have aubergines dipped in chickpea batter, deep-fried and sitting pretty in tissue-lined baskets for me.

Most of India being vegetarian by religion, it is difficult to constantly establish what a raging carnivore I can be. It’s just easier to shut up and stuff yourself with everything on your plate. Especially if Mom’s watching.

Saying that, I have included below, the recipe for a mixed vegetable prep quite popular in Bengali households— simple and easy even for complete novices.

Indian Mixed Veg

Mixed Veg

What You Need:

  • 1 cup of chopped cauliflower
  • 1 cup of pumpkin cut into cubes
  • 1 cup of long green beans
  • 1 up of chopped cabbage leaves
  • 1 green banana, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of mustard oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 dry red chili
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
  • 2 cups of water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

How-To:

  • Make a spice mix with 1 tablespoon of water, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds. Stir well to remove lumps.
  • Heat oil in a wok or skillet.
  • Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dry red chili and bay leaves and stir till the seeds start crackling.
  • Quickly add in all the vegetables and coat them well with the hot oil.
  • Pour in the spice mix along with 1 cup of water. Mix well and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat or till the veggies are soft and boiled through. Add more water if and cook for another 10 minutes if necessary.
  • Season with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon (optional), according to taste.
  • Boil off the excess liquid on high heat.
  • Serve with steamed rice or flatbreads.

veg

An Old Friend

Being completely honest would help here, I think. I might be a raging carnivore, but I have a strange relationship with potatoes.

They feature in every one of my happy memories. From home, hostel, college and now. (It really has nothing to do with how I’m surrounded by resolute but tolerant vegetarians.)

I don’t need to tell anyone how staple this vegetable happens to be and how frequently and purposefully it is a part of Indian cuisine. Fish curries and mutton patties. Grated and deep-fried to perfection. Aloo dum and aloo pakoras. Sauteed with cumin and coriander or curried with peas in a tomato gravy. Well, the list goes on for miles.

Back home (Kolkata), potatoes are a must in most fish curries. Most.

A very spicy potato curry (which was more water than vegetables) was one of the very first things I learnt to cook. Nobody ate it. It was too spicy. My first try at making fries at home was a disaster too. I was stingy with the vegetable oil and was left with brown curled-up wedges which would disintegrate into ash-like substances on touch. I know.

I continued to be in love with potatoes, and never got tired of trying something new with them, burnt pots and pans aside. My friends and I spent Holi every year roasting purple sweet potatoes on an open-fire till their skins burst open revealing deliciously sweet, meaty insides. Just a sprinkle of salt and we would settle down munching contentedly. My brother and I still go crazy about breakfasts which would include Mum’s famous “french fries’ sandwiches” – just deep-fried potato wedges with turmeric and salt, fried till golden, with a sprinkle of chaat masala on top, sandwiched between two pieces of generously buttered white bread! We have a name for it — Heaven.

I just don’t like looking at them. They somehow, in a very sarcastic manner, seem to remind me of…me.
I don’t know…maybe its the shape, or the skin….or maybe even the green stuff that grows on the older ones.

And now, I’ve started hiding behind them literally. I use them to mask a badly made dish. I run to something potato when I need something quick to feed seven hungry mouths within a short notice. I serve a side of it when I doubt the sufficiency of available cooked rice. Baked in their jackets, boiled and cooled and pealed in peace, golden fried in sesame oil or mashed up, potatoes will always have a special place in my life.

The weather in Mumbai has been a let down for quite sometime now. Humid and irritatingly hot. We’re still waiting for the rains to bring in the smell of freshly wet earth, lush greens and the characteristic nip in the air. And waiting for my brother’s arrival. His finals took a toll on him and he’s dropping by to vacation in Mumbai. My precious stash of chocolates is in danger. And I’m not even thinking of  how much fruit I’ve to buy.

He also happens to be very fond of potato wedges in a hot chili-garlic sauce.

chili garlic potato

Chilli Garlic Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 medium-sized potatoes, sliced into wedges
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 4 big cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Half a ginger, slivered
  • 2 tablespoons of dark soy
  • 2 tablespoons of red chili sauce
  • 1 whole green chili, deseeded (slit the chili and scrape out the seeds, but leave ’em in if you want the dish to be super spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree (you could use tomato ketchup which would add a little sweetness to the dish)
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine vinegar (any other type will do too, honestly)
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped coriander to garnish (optional)

How-To:

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a wok.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, slit green chili and onions and fry on high heat till the onions start to brown at the edges.
  • Add the potatoes and toss to coat well with the oil.
  • Reduce heat to low and cook for a minute.
  • Meanwhile mix the soy, chili sauce, tomato puree (or ketchup), vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Stir till the sugar dissolves.
  • Add this mixture to the potatoes. Toss well. Conduct a taste check and season accordingly with salt and pepper.
  • Cook covered, on low heat till the potatoes are cooked through, soft and can be cut in half easily with a fork.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped coriander, sprinkle freshly ground pepper on top and serve.

chili garlic potatoes

My kitchen at 7:00 A.M.

…is an unusually quiet place to be.

Soft sunlight through the shady panes, breezy drafts from the adjoining terrace garden, the odd vegetable lying around, empty Martini bottles stacked in a corner from the party last night and the subtle sizzle of portobello mushrooms cooking in cream and mozzarella.

Bucatini pasta with Portobello Mushrooms, Aubergine and Martini
No, I haven’t gone completely crazy yet. But I admit I’m on a quest to use up all the alcohol that we have at home, mostly left over from parties. Generally speaking, I love my pasta best with wine.

This recipe uses Martini (Rossi).

What you need:

Bucatini pasta (I was cooking for two, so I used a big handful, about 100-120gms)

– 100 ml Martini & Rossi (you could substitute with Vermouth….or better yet, WHITE WINE)

– Half a cup of portobello mushrooms, sliced finely

– Half a cup of chopped aubergine (egg plants, brinjal, baingan, etc..)

– 2 tablespoons of good quality unsalted butter

– 2 spring onions, chopped (a better substitute would be red onions)

– 8 cloves of garlic, smashed (try using a side of your kitchen knife)

– 1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

– 200 ml of fresh cream

– Half a teaspoon of dried oregano

– Half a teaspoon of dried basil

– 150-180 gms of mozarella (try not using the “rubbery” type), chopped into “melt-able” cubes

– Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes (depends on how hot you like it…)

– 1 teaspoon of sugar

– Salt to taste

– 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

– Freshly chopped parsley

Directions:

Boil three cups of water and a measely teaspoon of salt in a deep bottomed pan. Add the pasta when the water boils. Cook for 11-15 minutes.

– Before straining the pasta, keep aside a cup of the starchy water it boils in, to be used in the sauce later.

– Strain the pasta and run cold water through it.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the onions, garlic and peppercorn and saute till the onions turn translucent.

– Add the mushrooms and aubergine. Cover and cook on low heat till the veggies soften.

– Pour in the alcohol and add sugar. Stir well. Cover and cook for another minute before adding the rest of the ingredients (except salt, olive oil and parsley) slowly.

– Cook on low heat till the chesse has melted completely and the cream starts to bubble up slightly.

– Do a taste check and add salt accordingly.

– Pour in the water, saved from the cooking pasta. and stir well.

– Cook for another five minutes.

– Combine the pasta and sauce well. Sprinkle olive oil and chopped parsely. Mix well.

– Eat.

My Get-Well Food

Its been a long week. The flu did not worsen like I had thought it would, thankfully. The cold is still giving me a hard time though. The good thing that has come out of all this is, I have had about 16 cups of yellow lentil soup soup with two dozen pieces of mini-naan over the span of the last seven days. No, seriously.

I remember, Amanda’s (from Konosur) comment on the stuffed peppers, about an Indian flat bread or naan recipe. I guess I was waiting for a bout of influenza to finally get off my bum to blog about it.

The naan has Central Asian origins, resembles a pita but softer, in India its a North Indian staple.

Naan (makes one large or 4 bite-sized ones):

Half cup plain white flour

– Half a teaspoon baking powder

– 1 teaspoon of sugar (naan is more sweet than savory)

– A pinch of salt

– 1 tablespoon white oil

– 2 tablespoons of milk

– 1 egg, beaten

– Chopped parsley, or chopped coriander, or sesame seeds or nigella seeds

Pre-heat the oven to maximum heat. Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together. Mix the oil, milk and half the beaten egg well and add this to the flour mixture. Pour this into the center of the flour and knead adding water if necessary to form soft dough. Grease a bowl with a few drops of oil and roll the dough around in it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let rest in a cool corner for about half an hour. Roll out the dough in an elliptical shape. Stud the surface with the coriander/parsley/nigella seeds/sesame seeds. Brush the top lightly with the remaining egg. Prepare the baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes or till the naan’s puffed up and golden brown. Serve with a hot lentil soup.