Monday, February 26, 2007

recipes from a cumin junkie

pomegranate seeds, unrelated

Considering that I was on a two year extended Indian cooking kick before I started this site, I find it odd that I have included but one Indian-spiced recipe in the time since. I’m not sure if others do this, but I tend to go in and out of food crazes — currently, the absolutely only thing I want to eat after the gym is tofu pad thai, which doesn’t sound so horrible until you consider that I hit the gym three times a week, and no doubt reverse its effects just as often. I’ve gone through similar phases with poached eggs (atop anything), dinners of asparagus and roasted tiny red potatoes (only), dumplings, and for two torturous months of Alex’s life, a certain Belgian Endive and Grain Mustard salad of Nigella Lawson’s I fiended for, even first thing in the morning.

red split lentils with cabbage

The Indian cooking bender was no different. What I loved was that you would take the simplest ingredients and render them into hearty, filling and unbelievably healthy dishes, and blow your expectations of lentils out of the water. Their fiscal smarts also cannot be overlooked. Once we’d bought the six or seven spices we continually came back to, we’d stand flabbergasted at the register as our lentils, cauliflower, potatoes and peas came to a mere $5 — and created leftovers that were as good if not better than they were the first day. But the real Indian food addiction was those spices; once they got under my skin (and permanently stained several cooking implements), I couldn’t stop itching for more of them. I became, excruciatingly enough, a cumin seed junkie.

indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes

Two dishes from Sunday night brightly display cumin seed’s prowess. The former is actually the first Indian recipe I cooked for us; it was a undeniable hit and I’ve come back to it more than a dozen times since. I could eat it for days, and this week, with any luck, I just might. The second is from a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t used more often in the two years I’ve owned it. I hadn’t liked the first recipe I’d tried from there, and avoided its space on the bookshelf since. Well, this nonsense was kicked to the curb Sunday night, because the red lentils and cabbage are phenomenal, and I might just cut off this entry right now so I can get to scooping up the leftovers. Eerily, this is a gym night — might it be good enough to rescue me from Pad Thailand, and perchance, bounce my logged gym hours back into the progress zone?

cucumber scallion raita

Why the gratuitous pomegranate picture? When hunting through the fridge this weekend in search of food to apply eyes to, inspired by Amy Sedaris’ Craft Challenge, (what? I have hobbies!) I found this sad rock of a pomegranate Alex bought months and months ago, but when I opened it up, it looked as bejeweled and stunning as new. Also, as delicious.

Red Split Lentils With Cabbage (Masoor dal aur band gobi)
Madhur Jaffrey, Indian Cooking

Serves 4 to 6

200 grams (1 1/4 cups) red split lentils (masoor dal), picked over, washed and drained
1.2 liters (5 cups) water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into fine slices
225 grams (1/2 pound) cored and finely shredded cabbage
1 to 2 fresh, hot green chilies, finely sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium tomato, peeled (ahem, Deb did not peel her tomato) and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger

Put the lentils and water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that collects at the top. Add the turmeric and stir to mix. Cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, turn heat down to low, and simmer gently for 1 1/4 hours. Stir a few times during the last 30 minutes.

When the lentils cook, heat the oil in a 20 to 23 centimeter (8 to 9 inch) frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 3 to 4 seconds. Now put in the garlic. As soon as the garlic pieces begin to brown, put in the onion, cabbage and green chilies. Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes or until it begins to brown and turn slightly crisp. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat under the frying pan.

When the lentils have cooked for 1 1/4 hours, add the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, the tomato and ginger to the pot. Stir to mix. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add the cabbage mixture and any remaining oil in the frying pan. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.

Simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cabbage is heated through.

Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Gourmet, February 2004

1 (1 3/4-lb) head cauliflower, cut into 3/4-inch-wide florets
1 1/4 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, including seeds
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and place a shallow baking pan on rack. Preheat oven to 475°F.

Toss cauliflower and potatoes together in a bowl with 3 tablespoons oil, cumin seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes.

While vegetables are roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.

Makes 4 side-dish servings.

Cucumber Scallion Raita

1/4 cup finely chopped English (seedless cucumber)
1 thinly sliced scallion
3/4 cup yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt



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