Cooking Class: India via Oakland

30 May

Every few months, my friend Dana asks that we do a cooking class together. I have no teaching credentials–cooking or otherwise–but I enjoy cooking, Dana enjoys cooking with me and my husband (and sometimes another friend) enjoy showing up for the grand finale: eating. Everyone leaves happy and my student is good about cleaning along the way. Cooking class has no particular structure; it usually involves drinking wine and making something Dana wouldn’t usually tackle at home. Sometimes I remember to throw in an instructional tidbit, such as: add garlic after the onions have been cooking for a bit so you don’t burn the hell out of your garlic and have to throw the whole thing out. Other times I just focus on that delicate balance of making sure the wine drinking doesn’t get in the way of injury-free chopping. Either way, we get a good dinner at the end and no one can argue with that.

Sometimes Dana has special requests but our last class was chef’s choice.  I had a cauliflower on its last legs from our CSA box and a yearning to try a chickpea date masala recipe I saw in the New York Times Magazine last fall, so I landed on Indian. I didn’t go for any particular region–really it was more of my interpretation of Indian though I did plan to follow the chickpea recipe faithfully and that came from an Indian restaurant in Vancouver. I am not remotely Indian–not even a teeny-tiny bit. I am Romanian/Polish Jewish on my mother’s side (think: kugel, babka, parts of the animal I think even meat-eaters would be grossed out by) and pilgrim (from the not-so-spicy lands of Holland, England and Scotland) on my father’s side.  True, Romanian cooking is a bit more colorful and if I really stretched, I could attribute my affinity for eggplant to my heritage, but bottom line: mustard seeds and chilies do not run through my blood.

Family history aside, I did grow up in a house of adventurous eaters and my parents broke free of the shackles of calf’s foot jelly and pot roast to expose us to the spice and color of more interesting (in my perspective) cuisines. Indian was high on our list, particularly after I stopped eating meat and fish  in 1993 in Eastern Pennsylvania. Eastern PA in the early 90s was not veggie friendly. It was all about meat, meat and more meat, and maybe some potatoes. Pig stomach dinners sold out in a flash. School sports banquets featured delicacies like salad with bacon dressing, filling (bread mixed with mashed potatoes) and as mentioned,  and lots and lots of meat. Lest I sound too harsh on the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, I will admit here in public that I love gefilte fish. I can’t honestly say that gefilte fish is any more sophisticated or delicious than filling but it’s a holiday thing and it’s really pretty good with a ton of horseradish. But I digress. Point is: I was a vegetarian in a land of pork and my savior was the Indian restaurant. Along with the Lebanese restaurant we sometimes frequented, it was the one place where I was guaranteed to find more than salad.

Although I’ve loved to eat Indian since that time, for years I was afraid to cook it.  It was a bit mysterious and intimidating and I thought it was better to just go out and have it done right. But given how veggie friendly it is, I decided at some point that I had to dive in. I took baby steps, starting with lentil dishes and have been gingerly exploring new territory. Sometimes I’ll use recipes and other times, I’ll just use some Indian spices and make things that while are likely not authentic, work for me.

For our cooking class the other week, I chose:

  • Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup–completely made up
  • Chickpea Date Masala–taken from an Indian restaurant and presumably authentic
  • Spinach with Ginger & Garlic–just a slight Indian twist on standard sauteed greens
  • Curry Rice Krispie Treats–taken from a cocktail book and completely unauthentic but also completely addictive

Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup (i.e. how to get rid of a cauliflower on its last legs)

Note:  Despite still being intimidated by Indian cooking, I am now the proud owner of several Indian cookbooks. I often see recipes call for asafetida and when I finally saw it in a spice shop, I was thrilled and immediately bought a bag and then nearly as immediately, forgot where I saw it used and what I was meant to do with it.  Apparently it adds an onion-like flavor and it seemed appropriate here but I think you could easily leave it out. This serves about 4-6 people.

1 head cauliflower, chopped into small pieces

1 onion, diced

2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1-2 green chilies, minced

Few cloves garlic, minced (vary depending on how much you like garlic)

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

Pinch asafetida

4 c light veggie broth (I used Imagine’s No-Chicken Broth)

1 can coconut milk

Salt to taste

1/2 cup cilantro, roughly choped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1) Saute chopped onion and mustard seeds until onion is golden

2) Add garlic, ginger and green chilies and  saute for 1-2 minutes (be careful not to burn the garlic)

3) Add cumin,coriander and asteofedia and a pinch of salt, toast slightly

4) Add cauliflower and coat with spices, cook about 1 minute

5) Add broth and coconut milk, simmer, covered for 25 minutes or until cauliflower is soft

6) Blend soup with an immersion blender or in a standing blender

7) Season with salt and add lemon juice and cilantro.

Make ahead if possible–it will taste better.

Chickpeas in Star Anise and Date Masala

This recipe was published in the New York Times Magazine last November. It comes from Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver, BC. It serves about six.

3 15-ounce cans chickpeas (or 11/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked)

2 black cardamom pods

13cup neutral cooking oil, like canola

1 medium-large Spanish onion, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 1/2tablespoons tomato paste

9 dried dates, pitted and chopped

4 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp ground cayenne, or to taste

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

2 whole star anise, or 13 tsp ground

1)  Drain the chickpeas and set aside in a nonreactive bowl.

2) With a knife, lightly crack the cardamom pods. Peel the shell to release the seeds and collect them in a small bowl. Discard the shells. With a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle, crush the seeds (you can leave them whole if you don’t mind biting into them) and set aside.

3) In a medium pot set over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the onions and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to brown. Stir in the garlic and sauté for a minute or so, until it, too, has softened. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato paste. Add the cardamom and all remaining ingredients and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes.

4) Add the chickpeas and 1/2 cup or more of water, enough to make them less than dry. Heat the mixture, stirring occasionally to incorporate the flavors, and keep warm until serving.

Eat Your Greens (with Chilies Ginger)

In my opinion, there’s no better accompaniment to a meal than a big bowl of sauteed dark leafy greens (think spinach, chard, kale, broccoli rabe, etc). Greens can go American, Italian, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern… you name it. Plus, they’re quick, easy and healthy.  For our Indian-inspired meal, I added mustard seeds, chilies and ginger. This can serve 4-6 on the side or you could eat the whole thing by yourself if you really want to be big and strong.

2 lbs spinach (I used baby spinach here but you could use regular spinach or substitute another green)

1 thumb sized piece ginger, minced

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 green chili, minced

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp canola oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tbsp butter

Salt to taste

1) Heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and when hot, add the mustard seeds

2) Once the mustard seeds start popping, add the garlic, ginger and chilies

3) Saute your aromatics for about 1 minute and then add the spinach, in batches

4) Turn the spinach until it’s coated with the oil and aromatics and cook until just wilted

5) Add the lemon, butter and salt to taste

Curried Rice Krispie Treats

I got this recipe from a Food and Wine compilation book of the best cocktails and bar snacks of 2008. I’d always wanted to make these Rice Krispie treats but never got around to it. The only problem with these is that despite living in the Bay Area and being confident of being able to find vegetarian marshmallows (since you can find veggie bacon, veggie kielbasa, vegan mac and cheese, etc), I came up short handed. Admittedly we only went to one store so next time, I’ll broaden my search.

3 tbsp butter

4 c. mini marshmallows

1 tbsp curry powder (recipe says  mild; I used the Madras curry powder I had in the house and it was great)

6 c. Rice Krispies

1/2 c. salted sunflower kernels

1) Butter or spray a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan and set aside

2) Melt the butter in a large saucepan (a wok also works)

3) Add the marshmallows and stir until melted

4) Stir the curry powder into the melted marshmallows

5) Add the Rice Krispies and sunflower kernels and stir well

6) Press the mixture into the pan and cool until firm


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