keito potato


Eating in Pahurat, Bangkok’s Little India
July 2, 2013, 4:00 am
Filed under: Food-Focused Travelogues | Tags: , ,

I spent in a month in Thailand during my break for Chinese New Year.

While doing research on where to eat in Bangkok’s Little India, called Pahurat, I came across this post about a cafe in Pahurat called Toney’s.  The food blogger said it was a little tricky to find because it’s out in the middle of an alley, but utterly delicious and cheap.

Toney's cafe in Pahurat

When we found the cafe, there was no sign for the restaurant, but I recognized it easily from the blogger’s video.  The menu had the name “Toney’s” and confirmed that we were in the right place.  We were so grateful to know about this place, and ate there twice while in Bangkok.  Most of the dishes were familiar Indian dishes, but the photos on the walls were of Nepal, and the cooks told us they were from Burma.

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This dal is topped with a sliver of fermented butter, which quickly melted.  The flavor of the butter was rich and reminiscent of a strong cheese.

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An aloo gobi (potatoes with cauliflower).  The potatoes were cut into long slices instead of cubes, and the sauce was spicy and complex with lots of ginger.  This might have been my favorite dish there.

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This saag paneer was just lovely, but when I showed the photos to some of my Chinese students later, they said it looked awful, like something they would see on the ground.  Their loss.

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Shahi paneer, which is cheese with a royal tomato-butter sauce.  Exquisite.

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A dry spicy potato dish.

Chana potato

Chana (chickpeas) with potatoes.  Simple and delicious.

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making roti

Here the cooks whipped up a fresh batch of roti (flatbread) for us.

me in Pahurat

M + A

My friends Molly and Andrew were blissed out after a feast.  Chai is a perfect way to relax after an overwhelmingly-delicious Indian meal, even on a hot day.

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Toney’s cafe is right next to a canal, where we saw large monitor lizard swimming.  The manager at the the next-door cafe located on the canal bridge told us that monitor lizards like to swim under her cafe because they give the lizards clumps of rice to eat.  I actually saw 4 monitor lizards on my Thailand trip!

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Baingan ka Shahi Bharta — Indian Creamy Mashed Eggplant with Peas
February 13, 2012, 11:39 am
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: ,

This is one of my favorite Indian recipes, and is in regular rotation at my house.  The luscious texture comes from roasting the eggplant whole.  It’s simple to pull together for a weeknight, and I made a triple-batch yesterday for a church potluck.   I tend to make it on the spicier side, but the recipe has a sliding scale for the chilies.

The recipe comes from Neelam Matra’s cookbook 1,000 Indian Recipes.  It was considered to be the best recipe in the cookbook by Food and Wine.  Instead of chopping the onions, I puree the onions in a food processor with the garlic and chilies to make a smooth paste before sauteeing.  Making a paste with the aromatics in this way is a common technique with other Indian recipes, and it allows you to focus on the texture of the soft eggplant, without pieces of onion getting in the way.  I also puree the tomatoes as well.

BAINGAN KA SHAHI BHARTHA

1 large oval-shaped eggplant (about 1 pound)

1 large onion

1 large clove garlic

1-3 fresh green chilies

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1 large tomato, or the equivalent of canned tomatoes

1 cup frozen peas

1/4 cup heavy or light cream (half-and-half)

METHOD

Poke a hole in the eggplant with a fork or knife.  Place it on a small baking sheet, and roast the eggplant under the broiler in the oven.  Broil it for about 10 minutes on 2 sides.  Pull it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes until it’s cool enough to handle.  Cut a long vertical slit down the side, and scoop out all of the eggplant flesh with a spoon.  Discard the purple skin, but be sure to save all of the roasting juices.

Slice the onion, garlic, and chilies.  Puree them in a food processor until finely minced, or in a a smooth paste.  This will make the final dish smoother.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan.  When hot, add the onion mixture, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Mix in the coriander, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, paprika, and salt.  Stir for 1 minute.

Chop or puree the tomato.  I generally puree it with a hand blender until smooth.  You may want to grate the tomato with a large-hole cheese grater for a more rustic texture.  Add the tomato to the pot, and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Mix in the mashed eggplant and the peas.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Mix in the cream, and cook 1 minute.



Potato Coconut Curry
January 19, 2012, 5:31 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , ,

Madhur Jaffrey says, “I love this dish with an irrational passion.”  The first time I made this potato-coconut curry I easily understood the attraction.  When coconut is cooked with garlic, cumin, and turmeric, the scent is intoxicating and unusual.

This was one of my favorite dishes to cook in college.  My roommates usually requested this curry or the Mediterranean Lemony Potato Stew.  Both recipes come from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, which was one of the two cookbooks I owned in college.  Both are still favorites of mine.

The original recipe calls for fresh coconut, but I almost always use dried, unsweetened coconut.  Fresh coconut has a fun chewy and silky texture, but it takes some time and effort to break open a coconut.  If you use dried coconut instead of fresh, check the packaging to make sure it is unsweetened, and doesn’t contain sugar.

This is an extremely simple curry to pull together.  It takes about 10 minutes to prepare (and less if you don’t peel your potatoes), and 45 minutes to simmer.  Other than the coconut, the ingredients are staples you probably have in your pantry.  Turmeric and cumin are more common in Western kitchens than, say, fenugreek or ajwain!   This is one of those dishes in which you add ingredients to the hot saucepan in a quick procession, seconds apart from each other — so be efficient by preparing and measuring the ingredients before heating the stove.

POTATO COCONUT CURRY

3 medium-size boiling potatoes (about 1  1/4 lb)

6 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 whole dried red chili

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1  1/2 cups grated coconut (dried and unsweetened, or fresh)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds

2 teaspoons salt

1  1/4 pounds diced tomatoes, fresh or canned (16-20 ounces)

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

METHOD:

Peel the potatoes (I used white potatoes with delicate skin, and didn’t peel them).  Cut into a 3/4-inch dice and put into a bowl of cold water.  Mince the garlic.  Measure the coconut and whole cumin seeds.  In a small bowl, combine the turmeric, ground cumin, and salt.

Heat the oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.   When hot, put in the minced garlic.  Stir for about 5 seconds.

Now put in the red pepper and the cumin seeds.  Stir for another 3 seconds.  The garlic should brown lightly, the red pepper should darken, and the cumin seeds should sizzle.

Lower the heat to medium, put in the coconut and stir around for about 15 seconds (I often stir for around 1 minute to toast the dried coconut a little).

Drain the potatoes in a colander.  Add them to the saucepan, as well as the turmeric, ground cumin, salt, tomatoes (including the juices in the can), plus 1  1/2 cups water.  

Bring to a boil.  Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  Stir gently every 7-8 minutes or so to prevent sticking.  Put in the sugar and vinegar.  Stir again and cook, uncovered, for 1 minute.



Mustard Green Saag Paneer
January 8, 2012, 7:35 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: ,

Saag paneer is an Indian dish consisting of a pool of soft spinach stew studded with cubes of firm paneer cheese.  The spinach is “saag” and the cheese is “paneer.”  This traditional dish is improved with the revolutionary addition of mustard greens, as well  a thoughtful balance of spices.  I made this mustard green saag paneer twice over the holidays because my family kept requesting it.

I am sometimes cautious about ordering saag paneer in restaurants because the flavor can be bland when prepared for timid American palates.  However I was fortunate to discover this perfect and vibrant recipe in Raghavan Iyer’s cookbook 660 Curries, which is also the source of the fabulous and spicy version of muttar paneer that I shared over the summer.  Not only is the spice blend here lovely, but Iyer’s insight to add mustard greens makes the dish more pungent and flavorful.  This is a wonderfully enjoyable way to eat your greens.

For those of you unfamiliar with paneer, it’s a dense Indian cheese that holds its shape when folded into hot curries.  It is often pan-fried before being added to curries (although many Indian restaurants cut corners by tossing in small cold cubes).  You can find paneer in Indian groceries, and some Arab markets in my area carry it as well.  When I visit Indian groceries, I often buy several packages of paneer, and store it in the freezer so that I always have it on hand.  If you freeze yours, remember to thaw it before using.  If you are unable to find paneer in your area, the greens in this dish are so delicious that you could easily enjoy it without the paneer.  Alternatively, you could substitute the paneer for big chunks of steamed potato, which would create a delicious “saag aloo.”

MUSTARD GREEN SAAG PANEER

6-8 ounces fresh spinach leaves

1 large bunch mustard greens

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

3 cloves

cardamom seeds from 3 green cardamom pods

1 dried red chile

1 medium onion

6 medium-size garlic cloves

2-inches of ginger

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1  1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

14-18 ounces paneer cheese

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

METHOD

Soak the spinach leaves and mustard greens in a large bowl of cold water.  Let them sit a few minutes to soak which will loosen any dirt clinging to the leaves, then pull out the leaves.  Finely chop the spinach and mustard greens.  One way to easily chop the large mustard green leaves is to stack about 5 large leaves on top of each other.  Roll them up like a cigar, then thinly slice the roll.  This technique of slicing a “cigar” of stacked and rolled leaves is called “chiffonade.”  At this point, you can easily chop the leaves more finely.  Repeat this stacking, rolling, slicing, and chopping process with the rest of the leaves.

Make the spice blend by combining the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, cardamom seeds, and dried red chile in a coffee grinder or spice grinder.  If you are using a coffee grinder, you will probably want to wipe the grinder before and after with a damp paper-towel.

Prepare the paneer by cutting it into inch-size cubes.  

Pan-fry the paneer in a wide skillet with about 1/4 cup or less of oil.  Rotate the cubes to fry on all sides until the color is honey-brown.  This will take about 7-10 minutes.  Let them drain on a paper-towel.

Slice the onion.  Roughly chop the garlic cloves.  Slice the 2-inch piece of ginger into long slices.  

Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry until the onion is light brown, 8-10 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat, and stir in the spice mixture you made in the grinder, plus the turmeric.  The heat from the onion should be just right to lightly cook the spices without burning them.  

Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor.  Add the tomato paste and 1/4 cup of the water.  Puree to create a smooth paste.  Return the paste to the skillet.  Pour the remaining 3/4 cup water to the blender or food processor, and whir the blades to wash it out and capture the remaining paste.  Add this to the skillet as well.

Place the skillet over medium heat.  Pile handfuls of the greens into the skillet, cover it, and let the steam wilt them.  Stir, and repeat with the remaining greens.  Once they are all wilted, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are broken down to a sauce-like consistency and are olive-green in color, 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the salt, garam masala, paneer cubes, and cream.  Continue simmering the curry, covered, stirring occasionally, until the cheese and cream are warmed through, 5-8 minutes.



Mutter Paneer
October 6, 2011, 8:30 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags:

Indian Green Peas with Pan-Fried Cheese

Finally a mutter paneer recipe that is spicy and assertive enough for my table.  I have to admit that in the past I had grown to avoid this classic dish, because restaurant versions are so bland.  Luckily I recently discovered this recipe which demands a serious amount of fresh chiles and ginger.

I found this recipe in Raghavan Iyer’s heavy tome of a cookbook called 660 Curries.  Over the past few months, this cookbook has captured my heart.  Not only are its options inexhaustible, but each recipe I’ve assembled has been surprisingly phenomenal.  I promise to share other recipes soon (like his sensational mustard-green-saag paneer and his fresh corn with curry leaves).

For those of you unfamiliar with paneer, it’s a dense Indian cheese that holds its shape when folded into hot curries.  It is often pan-fried before being added to curries (although many Indian restaurants cut corners by tossing in small cold cubes).  You can find paneer in Indian groceries, and some Arab markets in my area carry it as well.  In a pinch, I confess that I’ve substituted the salty haloum cheese from Cyprus.  It was unorthodox, but tasty.

This recipe is so addictive that you might want to double the recipe, and share leftovers with friends all week.

MUTTER PANEER

1 small red onion, coarsely chopped

3 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 1  1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide, and 1/8 inch thick)

3 large garlic cloves

2 fresh green chiles (Thai, cayenne or serrano), stems removed, but seeds intact

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 bay leaf

1 Cup tomato sauce, canned or homemade

2 tablespoons garam masala

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt

1  1/2 Cups frozen peas (no need to thaw)

1/4 Cup heavy whipping cream (or half-and-half)

8 ounces paneer

1/4 cup canola oil for frying the paneer

METHOD:

1. Combine the onion, ginger, garlic, and chiles in a food processor, and pulse until they are minced.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle in the cumin seeds and bay leaf, and cook until the cumin sizzles, turns reddish brown, and smells nutty, 5-10 second.  Immediately add the minced onion blend and stir-fry until it is light reddish brown, 5-7 minutes.

3.  Stir in the tomato sauce, garam masala, and salt.  The sauce will quickly start to bubble up and splatter, so lower the heat to medium.  Simmer the sauce, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until some oil appears on the surface and around the edges, providing a glistening sheen, 5-10 minutes.

4.  Pour in 1/4 Cup water and add the frozen peas. 

Cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peas are tender and olive green in color, 8-10 minutes.

5.  In the meantime, prepare the paneer.  Cut the paneer into 1-inch cubes.  To pan-fry them, heat 1/4 cup canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the cubes in a single layer and cook, turning them occasionally, until all sides are honey-brown and crispy, 7-10 minutes.  Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

6.  Fold the cream (or half-and-half) and paneer into the peas. 

Cover the pan and simmer, occasionally stirring gently, until the cream and cheese have warmed through, about 5 minutes.

7.  Remove the bay leaf and serve.



Spinach Dal Soup with Lime
August 8, 2011, 7:30 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

A clean, earthy,vibrant, and restorative soup.  This makes an intriguing first course for an Indian meal, and can also stand on its own for a healthful supper.  This evening I ate two bowls of it in the backyard. 

I adapted this soup from a dal recipe in Yamuna Devi’s cookbook, The Best of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine.  I have doubled the amount of spinach which I have  proclivity to do.  I also have substituted lime juice instead of lemon, and have quadrupled the amount of the juice.  You are welcome to serve this over rice, but because of its thin consistency I prefer to eat it straight as a soup.

A small amount of asafoetida powder gives this soup an intoxicating twist.  You might need to visit an Indian deli/grocery to find it. Be forewarned that when you unscrew the lid of the jar, the raw asafoetida powder will smell a little weird.  But relax: once the asafoetida cooks, its weirdness will calm down, and dissolve into the soup as merely assertive and interesting.

This soup calls for split “mung” (or “moong”) dal, which is apparently the most popular dal in Northern India.  If you can’t find split mung dal nearby, you can easily substitute normal orange lentils.  I’ve done that substitution a few times in a pinch, and it works fine.

SPINACH DAL SOUP WITH LIME

2/3 cup split mung dal

6  1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon turmeric

1  1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1  1/2 teaspoons grated ginger

quick dollop of olive oil or vegetable oil

1 lb. fresh spinach (Yamuna Devi uses 1/2 lb.)

1  1/4 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon asafoetida

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne

juice of 1 lime (roughly 2 tablespoons)

METHOD:

Sort, wash, and drain the mung beans.  Place them in a heavy saucepan, along with the water, turmeric, ground coriander, grated ginger, and a quick dollop of olive oil.  Stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 1 hour.  The dal should be soft and fully cooked.

While this is cooking, roughly chop the spinach.  I admit that I rather enjoy getting out my big Chinese cleaver and chopping a huge pile of spinach.  The movement feels as soft as cutting marshmallows, and works well to calm the nerves.

When the dal has cooked for an hour, off the heat, uncover, and add the salt.  Beat with a wire whisk or hand-held immersion blender.  Add the fresh spinach, cover and boil gently for 5-8 minutes more.

Have your cumin, asafoetida, and cayenne measured out so that you’ll be able to work quickly.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan or skillet over moderate to moderately high heat.  When it is hot, pour in the cumin seeds and fry until they are brown.  Add the asafoetida and cayenne, and fry for just 1-2 seconds more.  Then quickly pour the fried seasonings into the soup.  Cover immediately. 

Let the seasonings soak into the hot dal for 1-2 minutes.  During this time, juice the lime.  Add the lime juice, and stir.  Taste for salt.  I often add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon more salt at the end, but it’s safer to start with less, and work up to what you need.



“Khatte Chhole” Sour Indian Chickpeas
July 24, 2011, 10:02 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Visually, this dish looks like a simple chickpea stew, but its lemony and gingery fragrance is assertive and intoxicating.  This is Madhur Jaffrey’s attempt to recreate her childhood memories of the intensely-flavored chickpeas sold as street food in Indian bazaars.  As I write this, I notice that the other Indian pulse recipe I’ve shared on keitopotato so far is also lemony — my lemon dal.  As a native Californian, I guess it’s natural that I’m drawn to lemony recipes.

I own several of Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbooks, but when I lived in London I discovered this slim, older paperback called Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking.  This sour chickpea recipe quickly became a favorite, and I made a batch of it probably every other week while I lived in London.  Before I started keitopotato, I typed out and emailed this recipe to various friends and family.  It’s finally time to post it here and share it with a wider circle.

This recipe calls for using dried chickpeas.  Canned chickpeas simply won’t work here because their texture is too soft.  Dried chickpeas give this dish a firmer and more defined texture, and are much cheaper than the canned ones.  They’re easy to use as long as you plan ahead and let them soak overnight.

 

INGREDIENTS

2  1/4 cup (350 g) chickpeas

7  1/2 cups  (1.75 litres) water

2  1/2 teaspoons salt

1 fresh, hot green chili

1 tablespoon finely grated ginger

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 medium onions

2 medium tomatoes

1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons garam masala

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

METHOD

Pick over, wash, and drain the chickpeas.  Soak the chickpeas in  7  1/2 cups of water for 20 hours. 

Put the chickpeas and their soaking liquid into a large pot and bring to a boil.  As they come to a boil, a white foam will emerge on the surface.  Skim off the foam with a ladle. 

Cover, lower the heat, and simmer gently for an hour and a half, or until chickpeas are tender.  Strain the chickpeas and save the cooking liquid. 

Finely chop the green chili.  Grate the ginger.  In a small bowl or teacup, combine the chili, ginger, lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Mix well and set aside.

Finely chop the onions.  Finely chop or puree the tomatoes.  Heat the oil in a heavy, wide pot over medium-high flame.  When hot, add the chopped onions.  Stir and fry for 8-10 minutes, or until the onion bits develop reddish-brown spots.  Add the tomatoes.  Continue to stir and fry another 5-6 minutes.

Put in the coriander, cumin, and turmeric.  Stir and cook for about 30 seconds.  Now put in the drained chickpeas,  1  3/4 ( 400 ml) of their cooking liquid, 2 teaspoons of salt, the garam masala, and cayenne.  Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.  Cover, turn the heat to low, and cook very gently for 20 minutes.  Stir a few times during this period.

Add the lemon mixture to the chickpeas.  Stir again to mix.  Serve hot or lukewarm.