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Ras el Hanout Butternut Squash and Chickpea stew

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Trade Joe’s (my favorite grocery store) had a pack of 4 spice mixes that caught my eye the other day, called Spice Route. The spices and spice mix combos were all from the Meditteranean region- African and Middle Eastern. I love spices and have been wanting to try out spice mixes used in the different parts of the world- so I picked up a pack of 4 for myself. The 4 spice mixes included were- Ras El Hanout, Zhoug, Sumac and Pilpelchuma. Don’t the names have a ring to them? To me they all sound ver royal! I already had a box of Dukkah, also from Trader Joes in my pantry. So for my first meal with the spices, I decided to make a Butternut Squash and Chickpea stew with Ras El Hanout and Sauted Zucchini with Dukkah and Sumac.

Ras El Hanout is a North African spice mix, with the name translating to “Head of the shop”. The shop owner can decide what to put on this spice mix and can often have 20 items. Trader Joes Ras El Hanout has coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin seeds, spearmint, ginger, allspice, long pepper, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves, mace and rose petals.
What You Need

For the Stew
– 2 cups of cubed butternut squash
– 1 tbsp of olive oil
– 1/2 cup of quinoa/ cous cous
– 1 can chickpeas
– 4 cups of water
– 1.5 tsp of Coorg Vinegar or tamarind concentrate
– 2 minced green chiles
– 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
– 1 tsp of coriander powder
– 1 tsp of turmeric
– 1.5 tsp of Ras El Hanout
– salt and pepper to taste

For the Sauté
– 1 cup of cubed Zucchini
– 2 tsp of olive oil
– 1/2 tsp of chile flakes
– 1 tsp of Dukkah
– 1 pinch of sumac

How It’s Done
1. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker pan
2. Add the Turmeric, coriander powder and Ras el Hanout till fragrant. Be careful not to burn the spices
3. Add the ginger and chiles and cook for a few seconds
4. Add the butternut squash and mix to coat evenly with the spices
5. Add the cous cous or quinoa, mix and add the water and vinegar/tamarind and mix it all together with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the cooker and let cook for 10 minutes, till you hear the steam rise. Reduce heat and continue cooking for 5 more minutes. Turn off heat. It continues cooking till the steam is released. Open carefully after the steam is released.
6. While the stew is cooking in the pressure cooker,you can start Making the sauté.
7. Heat a pan with the oil, and then add the zucchini to it. Let the zucchini get a char by not stirring for a few minutes. Then stir.
8. Add the Dukkah and red chili flakes and stir and let cook till the zucchini is cooked yet crunchy. Sprinkle it with the sumac, mix.
Serve the stew and stir fry garnished with chopped chives or green onions if you like. The sweetness of the butternut squash is perfectly balanced with Ras El Hanout and Coorg vinegar, which also adds a tang to this dish. The sauted zucchini is a perfect crunchy accompaniment- try it!

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Almond Milk

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I did a juice cleanse a couple of months ago. Before doing it , I was apprehensive- what if I can’t follow through with it? I love food – can I do without solid food for three days? Would I be to able to sustain? After all the doubts, I have to say, I really liked it. I now enjoy those cold pressed vegetable juices that I wouldn’t even look at before, but my absolute favorite is Almond Milk. In a cleanse, almond milk is your final drink (barring elixirs) for the day. It was made with raw almonds, vanilla, Himalayan salt, filtered water and coconut water. I drink a version of it every day for breakfast now. After reading up many blogs on how to make almond milk at home, I created my own recipe, which has more than just almonds :-)

What You Need

  • 1 Pound Raw Almonds
  • 0.5 cup Tender coconut meat/pulp
  • 8 cups of Coconut Water
  • 1 Vanilla bean
  • 1/2 Cup dates
  • Salt, a pinch per batch

How its Done

  1. Soak almonds for 8-10 hours in water. The longer you soak, the more the almonds sprout, increasing their nutrition. Discard the soaking water – that contains all the toxins that are released from the almond skins
  2. De-pit the dates and cut the vanilla bean into pieces to add to the multiple batches.
  3. Working in batches, add soaked almonds, coconut pulp, vanilla bean, dates, salt and coconut water to a grinder, and grind away till the contents emulsify (Note: you will need a blender/grinder that can handle nuts and grains)
  4. Pour into a cheesecloth (or a nutmilk bag – I find the cheesecloth works perfectly) to filter the pulp from the milk and squeeze all the milk out.

Now, the almond milk I had during my cleanse did not have dates in it and yet was sweet and that is because of the fresh coconut water that is used. Dates are optional, however, I like the rich sweetness they bring – you can also use agave syrup. If possible, use fresh tender coconut water. Zico and other packaged coconut waters will do, and you will see the difference in flavor.  Adding the coconut pulp/meat gives the milk a silky, rich taste. Its a filling, satisfying and completely delicious drink to start your day. Try it…

Madras Crackers

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For those of you who have not tried Almond Milk with coconut water, you are missing one do the most satisfying beverages out there. This has been part of my breakfast routine for a whole now, and I love it! After reading on how home made is better than store bought, I made it at home a couple of times. While home made tastes delicious, it leaves behind a lot of almond pulp. Typically, the almond pulp is dried in the oven and can be used for all recipes calling for almond flour. Most recipes out there are either cake or cookie recipes and I found some for crackers as well. One of G’s favorite snacks is a Madras specialty called “thattai”, a crispy fried cracker made with rice and lentil flour. Of course, I wanted to make a baked almond flour version of this treat.

What You Need
– Almond Flour ( dried almond pulp) 2 cups
– Coconut oil 4 Tblsp
Gunpowder (not the shooting kind :-) , its a spice mix used in South India as accompaniment to Rice and Lentil cakes and crepes) 1/4 cup
– Urad dal 1/2 cup
– Curry leaves – a handful
– Roasted gram dal- a handful ( optional)
– Flaxseeds 1 Tblsp
– Water 3 Tblsp
– Milk/water- enough to bind, pull the dough together
– Salt and pepper to taste

How It’s Done
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Dry roast the urad dal till fragrant and powder well in a grinder.
3. Mix the ground powder, almond flour/dried pulp, gunpowder, curry leaves cut into small pieces and the roasted gram. Add salt and pepper and mix
4. Grind the flaxseeds in the 3 Tblsp of water, and mix with the dry flours and start combining it all. Add milk/water in small batches and mixing till the dough forms a smooth ball. Cut this into two.
5. Put each ball on a parchment sheet, cover with another parchment sheet and roll it out as thin as possible. Remove the top parchment sheet and cut into squares or diagonals using a knife or pizza cutter.
6. Slide the parchment with the rolled dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, check for cripiness, flip and bake a little longer till crispy. Keep an eye so these don’t burn.

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These baked crackers taste exactly like their fried cousins, and are gluten free and low carb. Now between being fried and using almond flour, I would think the amount of fat in these is about the same, although the almond flour version has unsaturated fats. I made 50 pieces and each piece is about 42 calories, with less than 2 grams of carbs. Not bad, huh?

 

Sour Beef Salad ( Saures Reindfleisch)

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Last fall, we went on a motorcycle road trip across Italy. Italy is beautiful, and a road trip is the best way to really experience the country. North eastern Italy is endowed with the best of nature, every corner surprises you with breathtaking view of lush orchards, expansive lakes and imposing mountains. We were riding south towards Bergamo, when we decided to stop for dinner, quite randomly taking the exit for the town of Kastell Bell, in Sud Tyrol. The first place we saw as we entered town was a farmhouse,Hofschank Angerguter Keller. A Hofschank is a farmhouse that serves South Tyrolean fare with ingredients grown on the farm. Now, I am not a big meat eater, especially beef, but will try all food, usually preferring vegetarian. When I asked our waitress, what she would recommend she said, the sour beef salad is a Sud Tyrolean staple that one has to try. So I said, why not! When the plate arrived, it looked a bit like Beef Carpaccio, except the beef was cooked. Very thin slices of beef were the bed on which were onions and cherry tomatoes, dressed in tangy vinaigrette. It was the. Most sublime plate of beef I’ve ever eaten, and for someone who usually doesn’t finish a full plate of meat, I got pretty close on this one. The meat melted like butter in my mouth and the vinaigrette added a perfect tang.

I’ve been trying to recreate that plate since I got back and the last one was quite close. It’s a simple enough recipe with German and Austrian origins. Here’s my version

What you need
Beef
– Lean Beef Chuck – 2 pounds
– Onion- 1/2
– Leek – 1
– Carrots – 2
– Celery – 2 stalks
– Peppercorns- a few
– Bay leaf – 1
– Water – enough to cover the beef
– Salt
– Green Chillies – 2

Salad vegetables
– Onion – 1
– cherry tomatoes – 1/2 a cup

Dressing
– Pumpkin seed oil or olive oil – 4 Tblsps ( pumpkin seed oil has a wonderful nutty, buttery flavor)
– White wine vinegar- 1 Tblsp
– Salt and pepper to taste

How it’s done
– Wash the beef chuck and place in a Dutch oven with enough water to cover the meat
– Cut the onion in half with peel and char on a cast iron skillet. Add to the beef and water
– Cut the rest of the vegetables and add to the pot along with the peppercorns and the bay leaf as well as enough salt
– Bring the pot a boil, skimming any residue from the meat. Once boiling, simmer for 3 hours.
– Take the beef out of the broth and cool. It will be easier to slice when completely cooled and refrigerated. I refrigerated overnight.
– The broth is delicious and can be used for soups and other gravy based dishes. The veggies can be eaten or discarded.
– When you’re ready to assemble the salad, slice then onions into thin strips and cut the tomatoes into half. I also added son Persian cucumbers, but it’s not necessary
– Combine the dressing ingredients and emulsify. Mix some with the onions and tomatoes.
– Slice the beef as thin as possible. If you have a mandolin, that will work perfectly ( I don’t. So my slices were not super thin)
– Place the slices fanned around the plate, pour the dressing evenly over the slices and let marinate for at least 30 minutes. Top with veggies and serve.

The simmering in the vegetable filled stock let the beef soaks in the essence of all the vegetables and spices, making the meat soft and delicious. The pumpkin seed dressing enhances the flavors and elevates this simple dish.

Southern Pao Bhaji Casserole

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What in the world is “Southern Pao Bhaji Casserole”, you say? Well, it just brings together two very popular dishes in two continents. Pao Bhaji is a humble Indian street food favorite, that originated as a light lunch for the mill workers in Bombay. Pao, from Portuguese, means bread, and bhaji from Marathi ( Bombay’s local language) means vegetables. Here’s an interesting video that shows how this dish is made at a street food vendor in Bombay.
Coming back to my dish then…I wanted to make elevate the humble pav bhaji for a dinner party I was having, and the theme of the menu I had decided on was global. Cornbread is the simplest and heartiest bread I know of, and the sweetness would go very well with the complex layers of the Indian bhaji, I thought. With that hunch,I went about making the dish. So here goes the recipe:

What you need

For the bhaji

  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into small pieces
  • 2 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced
  • 1 small golden potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup of green peas
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tblsp of minced ginger
  • 4- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tblsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp Asafetida
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tblsp kasuri methi ( dried fenugreek leaves)
  • 2 tblsp Pav Bhaji masala
  • 1/4 a jalapeño, minced
  • Juice of a lime
  • 2 tsp of chili powder or cayenne
  • 1/2 a stick of butter
  • 2 tblsp cooking oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Water as needed

For the cornmeal pao

 

  • 1 1/2 cup of cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • 4 tblsp of olive oil or melted butter
  • 3 tsp of baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 2 Tblsp of chopped cilantro

How Its Done

  • Prep the vegetables- mincing, grating, dicing as needed. Don’t Bother separating the cauliflower florets;just cut them into small pieces. Remember, the bhaji is an amalgamation of all the veggies in a soft, mushy consistency
  • Put the potatoes and cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl with 1/2 a cup of water and a pinch or so of salt and cook till the veggies are softened and can be mashed
  • Heat o il in a pan
  • Add the asafoetida, and let cook for a minute
  • Add the grated onion and let brown
  • Add the minced ginger and garlic, and cook till the raw smell goes away
  • Add turmeric and coriander powder and let the spices become fragrant
  • Add the bell peppers and let soften; about 7-10 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes, stir, cover and let cook till the juices are released, then absorbed and the mixture starts to stick to the pan
  • Add some water to prevent the sticking and mix
  • Now add the mashed potato-cauliflower mix, and peas and mix and mash
  • Add the pav bhaji masala, jalapeno, chile powder, salt and pepper to taste, mix and mash; add some more water if needed to continue the cooking, so all flavors meld together. About 10 more minutes

Now add the lime juice and half the butter. Mix and turn off heat. Bhaji is ready. You can make the bhaji ahead and also eat this with a toasted slice of bread, and stop right here. However, if you’re patient, and make the cornbread topping, you will be glad you did!

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit
  • For the cornbread topping, whisk the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs, buttermilk and oil, and incorporate into to dry ingredients, just enough that everything is well mixed. Add the cilantro and mix. Do not overwork this.
  • Let the mix rest while you prepare the bhaji in an ovenproof dish. Butter the dish and spread the bhaji. Distribute the remaining butter on top of the bhaji.
  • Now add dollops of the cornbread topping.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or so till the bread is golden, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean

Enjoy! The sweet cornbread contrasts and balances the spicy bhaji to make one überly satisfying meal – a definite crowd-pleaser. I barely had any leftovers!

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