Category Archives: Vegetarian

Red Lentil Curry/Dal, South Indian Style

This is my absolute number one red lentil dal and I’m particularly proud to share my enthusiasm with you because it’s my own improvisation, based on typical ingredients of certain South Indian dishes I have recently learnt to cook (you’ll see big similarities with this Egg Curry). I have no idea if red lentil curry is popular in the South and, if yes, if it’s even seasoned this way, but I fell in love in this version with lighter, sharper flavours, so different from all the red lentil dals I know.

I love red lentils for their taste but also because they are quick to prepare (they don’t require soaking, in case you have never cooked them). Therefore, in my short Indian cooking experience I have tested several red lentil dal recipes from cookery books I otherwise appreciate a lot, but always with the feeling something was wrong with the seasoning. A couple of weeks ago I decided to do it my way, first with a small batch. I used very few ingredients, but only those I’m nowadays crazy for. The result was so good, I did the same with the remaining lentils and froze in several single portions (this is how i discovered red lentil curry is fantastic defrosted too!).

If you feel lazy (I often do) and don’t feel like preparing a second protein dish, you can add some pieces of chicken breast (or tofu, paneer, boiled eggs…) together with lentils and thus obtain a very filling one-pot meal. (You might notice the lentils above were cooked with chicken). I’d freeze the dal without additional proteins and then add them while it’s being reheated.

TIPS: You can cook the lentils in water well in advance (even several days before) and then taking the part you need, prepare the final dish.

Both unseasoned cooked lentils and the final dish freeze very well. If you are in a hurry, defrost them in a microwave up to the moment when it’s possible to transfer them to a pan and then reheat, covered (his is what I do most of the time). I usually add chicken or eggs when the dish is already boiling.

Curry leaves are best when fresh or frozen (dried ones are practically without scent and are very unpleasant to eat, while the fresh ones are edible, contrary to bay leaves). They can be bough in Indian or Sri Lankan shops but also online (I know certain people grow them commercially in the US). If you don’t find them, skip them because there is no substitute. The curry will be very good without them too.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish, especially if served with a vegetable side-dish, pickles and a carb source, such as rice, chapatti or simply bread):

200 g dry red lentils

400 ml (about ) water or stock

2 tablespoons oil (I’ve used coconut oil)

3-4 small Western shallots or 1 big onion, finely sliced

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

10-15 fresh curry leaves

2 medium-hot fresh green chillies (or more, if you want it hotter), sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cm (about 3/4 in) fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped

2 medium tomatoes or 100 ml canned tomatoes, chopped (you may skin the fresh ones, but it’s not necessary)

1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot chilli powder (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garam masala

coriander leaves

First cook the red lentils until soft, adding water if necessary (check often the water level).

It should take about 20-30 minutes.

You should obtain a mushy, not very appetising-looking thick gruel-like stuff.

If it’s too soupy, increase the heat and the excess water will evaporate.

In the meantime start preparing the final dish in a frying pan.

Warm some oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start popping, quickly add the shallots (or onions), green chilli and curry leaves.

Stir-fry at medium heat until the onions become golden and softened.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for one minute.

Off the hob add the chilli powder and the turmeric and stir well.

Place back on the hob and add the tomatoes.

Stir-fry until the tomatoes thicken (about 1 minute).

Now finally add the cooked lentils, the garam masala, give the whole dish a good stir add salt and pepper to taste. (If you have made lentils beforehand, cover the pan and wait until they are well heated).

Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves.

South Indian Egg and Onion Curry

Are you an egg lover? Do you tend to add twice – or thrice – as much onions as written in recipes? If you have answered “yes” to both questions, then you’ve come to the right place! In this Indian curry onions are not just a typical seasoning but, once softened, they act like a thick sauce or maybe even as a second main ingredient… If you are used to what I’d call a “mainstream abroad version of Indian cuisine”, you will also be surprised by the sharpness and freshness of the flavours I have found in other South Indian dishes.

This recipe is based on a video published by Mina Street Food channel (on Youtube it’s called Grandma’s Village Style Egg Curry) Videos are not my favourite source of new recipes, but I loved this one and quickly got addicted to the whole series of an older lady’s cooking sessions, which feature an ancient outdoor cooking method and a cutting tool I was mesmerised by (or rather by the dexterity with which the lady uses it).

The video didn’t list the ingredients, not to mention the amounts, but for me it has made the whole dish even more attractive! Once I started to cook what I hope is at least similar, it was one of those rare moments in my Indian cooking experience where I had a total freedom! I don’t know how close my result was to the genuine south Indian dish (especially since I’ve also also slightly modified what I saw, for example adding coconut milk…), so if you want to see the genuine recipe, check the video to see Grandma cooking sensational “village-style” Indian food!

TIP: Curry leaves make this dish very special, since they are a typical ingredient of South Indian cuisine. There is unfortunately no substitute for them. If you don’t have fresh curry leaves (sold in Indian or Sri Lankan grocery shops), skip them. My experience with dried ones is very bad (practically tasteless), so I cannot advise them. If one day you stumble upon fresh curry leaves, freeze them. They are totally acceptable preserved this way.

If you don’t have curry leaves, you might be interested by this Egg Molee which doesn’t require any and which is even easier than this curry:

Egg Molee

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish served with some pickles/vegetables and rice or Indian bread):

4 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

2 big onions or 8 big shallots, finely sliced

4-6 medium-hot fresh green chillies (sliced horizontally or lengthwise, if they are short)

2 big garlic cloves, crushed

about 2 cm fresh ginger, grated

about 20 curry leaves

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons powdered medium hot chilli (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala 

fresh coriander leaves

(50 ml coconut milk+50 ml water)

Heat the oil in a big pan.

Add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop (it takes 30 seconds to 1 minute), add the onions, the chillies and the curry leaves. Stir-fry for ten minutes at medium heat.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for two more minutes.

Now add the turmeric and the powdered chilli and stir-fry for several more minutes.

If you wish, you can now add 50 ml of coconut milk+50 ml water to make the dish creamier, but it’s not necessary.

Now add the shelled eggs and continue frying, delicately turning them until the onions soften completely.

Finally sprinkle with some garam masala, give the dish a final stir and serve with fresh coriander leaves on top.

 

Financiers (French Almond and Butter Mini Cakes)

This was one of earliest recipes on my blog. Some time in 2011. It seems an eternity…. The photograph screamed for an update, so when I made another batch last week, I took new photographs and thought I’d write about the financiers once more. I took this decision also because I have recently read on a blog that financiers were time-consuming and nothing really special in taste. I found this really surprising and wondered if fussy difficult recipes were circulating among food bloggers…. I didn’t look into the details of this blogger’s recipe but mine, coming from a more than reliable French source (Leçons de cuisine de l’école Ritz-Escoffier ), is all but difficult to the point where I knew it by heart after maybe only three baking sessions! Actually, it takes about fifteen minutes to prepare the batter (no electric mixer, no kneading, no rolling), there are only five ingredients  and it takes only 15-20 minutes to bake. As for the “nothing really special”, it’s of course a question of personal taste, but even though I crave sweets very rarely these days, I find financiers quite exceptional: they might look like ordinary little sponge cakes, but they are much more sophisticated. They contain hardly any flour, but lots of powdered almonds instead, a generous amount of browned “hazelnut” butter, egg whites… they are incredibly light and literally melt in one’s mouth. I hope I have convinced you to try them at least once!

Contrary to what most people think, at the beginning financiers didn’t have a gold ingot shape, but they had an oval form. Produced since the Middle Ages by the French nuns of the Visitation of Mary, they were not called financiers and had an oval form. Then, for a certain time they were forgotten and around 1890, Lasne, a Parisian confectioner, revived the recipe. Since his shop was close to the stock market and financiers were his regular clients, he named the cakes “financiers” and transformed their form into the one recalling a gold ingot, probably thinking they appealed more to his clients. I find the muffin shape cuter than the lingot, so I always prepare financiers in muffin forms.

TIPS/WARNING: Do not even try to use a different flour (for example wholemeal) or sugar replacement (and never brown sugar!) or skipping the butter…. It will result in vaguely almond-tasting muffins. I have made financiers at least 50 times in recent years (my husband is a big fan and they are quick to make…) and I was once faced with a shortage of each of these: white sugar or white flour or butter. Every time the result was awful. The only thing this recipe stands well is cutting down on sugar’s amount and this is what I’ve been doing since the beginning because we don’t like too much sugar.

I have posted also a financiers with raspberry recipe here. I think raspberries taste wodnerful with almonds, but I guess you can add any fresh fruits you like (but not too many, otherwise the cakes might get soggy!).

Some pastry chefs make pistachio financiers, but I’ve never tried this variation, so I’m not sure if one adds the same amount of powdered pistachio…

If you don’t find powdered almonds (or they are very expensive), buy ground white (peeled) almonds and sift them through a sieve. This is what I always do (then you can use the remaining ground bigger bits of almonds in other less delicate sweets).

BEWARE! You might be convinced (I was too!) that something labelled as “almond flour” would be perfect here… I have recently noticed online products labelled in English as “almond flour” are in reality ground almonds… For this recipe you must use almonds powdered to a point where they resemble almost wheat flour, so if you realise you have coarser product (which frankly should be labelled as almond meal or simply ground almonds), sieve it.

Click here for some ideas of using the remaining egg yolks.

Preparation: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients (6 muffin shaped financiers or 12 mini-muffin shaped):

50 g powdered almonds (not ground but powdered; see the TIP & “BEWARE” above)

70 g caster sugar (I sometimes add 60 g sugar only, but it depends on your sweetness level preferences)

50 g butter

2 egg whites

1 heaped tablespoon white wheat flour

a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare the “beurre noisette” (lit. hazelnut butter): heat the butter in a pan on a low heat and observe the milk solids, which will separate at the bottom. When they become light brown (hazelnut colour), put the pan aside.

In the meantime combine the egg whites, the sugar, the almond powder, the pinch of salt and the flour in a big bowl. Add gradually the butter, mixing with a spoon (no need to use a mixer or a food processor!).

Pour the mixture into greased – with butter – muffin forms (or other small cakes forms) 2/3 of their height.

Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until light to medium golden.

Let them cool down before taking out of the forms.

 

Indian Short-Term Fridge Chilli Pickles

If you think these pickles look and sound familiar, you are right: this is exactly the same recipe I posted seven months ago. I didn’t include it in my previous preserving post (My Favourite Summer Savoury Pickles) because it is unique. When I first made it – and shared with you my enthusiasm – it was the middle of winter, the chillies were imported from a warmer continent and not half as good as local seasonal produce, nonetheless these Indian pickles were so extraordinary I promised myself I would write about them once more when chilli season arrives.

Now that I have tested several chilli varieties, I find these pickles the best with jalapeños because they stay relatively crunchy throughout weeks and of course because jalapeños are highly aromatic and delicious!, so if you have a chance to test this recipe with jalapeños, I urge you to do so.

Although I have already grown chillies on my balcony, I was particularly thrilled this year to pick my own balcony-grown jalapeños. They aren’t sold fresh anywhere in my city, so the only way to get them was to sow them and grow on my own. Maybe they don’t look as perfect and as plump as those grown outdoors, but they are absolutely delicious. The photo of this very first harvest was taken a month ago and I’m so happy to have been able to pick a similar amount every single week since then! Obviously every week a new small batch of Indian pickles is started!

This recipe was inspired by two sources: a recipe found in  Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another one, from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi).

Even though both sources are Indian, these pickles taste fantastic in sandwiches, on toasts, in salads and they give a nice fiery kick to every dish from all around the world. One of my favourite ways to have them is with crisp Finnish bread, on top of a thick layer of fresh goat cheese…

TIPS:

If, once your jar is empty, you are left with some thick spicy brine, don’t throw it away! It’s fantastic mixed with mayonnaise or as a salad sauce or as an addition to a vinaigrette sauce. (I have tested only these three options but I’m sure it can be used in other ways too). I don’t advise reusing it for a new batch of fresh chillies.

Chillies have different heat levels and some are ridiculously mild (at least for me), so even if you cannot handle fiery food (and for example jalapeños are out of question), you can still prepare these pickles with mild chillies because the spices here don’t contain chilli powder. You can also look for thin-skinned sweet peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces. What makes these pickles fantastic is the aromatic, spice-loaded brine, the heat comes after (of course for us, chilli lovers, both are important!).

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green chilli is the best for pickling. (And I second it, green jalapeños being the best!). Apart from the different, fresher taste, I wonder if green chillies don’t stay firmer when pickled.

I have noticed that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world (at least online), so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and which adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles making them really special).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste here… but you can use also for example peanut oil.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish). Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as “dangerous” as fenugreek (in my opinion).

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film (or simply a plastic bag), so that no unwanted bacteria or insect gets inside.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat. (At this point you can transfer them into a smaller container or jar).

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

I eat them quite quickly, but sometimes I have two batches at the same time, so I have noticed they stay delicious and unspoilt in the fridge for several weeks.

 

Sri Lankan Tangy Aubergine Curry (Kathirikai pirattal)

I used to say the best aubergine dishes can be found in Indian cuisine, but after discovering this Sri Lankan curry, I am no longer sure… I know this plate doesn’t look particularly attractive, but believe me, it’s one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever eaten. It’s rich in spices, light,  but slightly creamy, the aubergines are still a bit firm and the tamarind’s presence gives this typical addictive tangy twist I love, particularly in the summer. As for the big fat slices of garlic…. all I can say is I’ll put twice as much of these next time!

This recipe comes from the beautifully edited Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa. It’s a rather recent buy, but until now everything I have cooked from this book was absolutely delicious and, contrary to what I used to think, every dish had something different from what I would recognise as Indian cuisine(s), in both flavours and techniques. This being said, the good news is that if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have already all the necessary spices in your kitchen, since most Sri Lankan seasoning ingredients are the same (apart from pandan leaves, for example, but these don’t appear everywhere).

This curry tastes best now, when aubergines are in season, and even though the word “curry” might make you think it’s a heavy, calorie-loaded dish, actually it’s quite light and summery because – and it’s a recurrent element in this book – the sauce is rather “thin” (and of course you can reduce, just like I did, the amount of coconut milk) and also thanks to its tanginess I consider perfect for hot weather. As always, I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts and the procedure, so make sure you check the original and discover this wonderful cuisine through the recipes presented by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa

TIPS: As I have mentioned, if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have all the necessary dry ingredients to prepare this dish.

Tamarind can be found in practically every Asian grocery (I’ve seen it in a Vietnamese shop, an Indian shop and a Thai shop) or bought on internet. Don’t skip it and don’t think it can be easily replaced with lime for example (at worst you can of course put some lime juice at the end, but you will obtain a tangy dish without the tamarind’s distinct flavours).

You can buy tamarind in a block that dissolves in hot water or a ready to use tamarind pulp in a jar. I prefer the dried block because it tastes better and keeps literally for years in the fridge. A piece of the block must be placed in boiling water and, after 15 minutes you have to strain it, squeezing well the solid parts. The tamarind pulp in a jar doesn’t keep forever (I had to throw away half of the jar once) and it’s not as tangy as the “juice” made from the pulp. It’s quicker to use though. I have no idea what is the pulp equivalent in this dish (or any dish I make), so I can only advise adding it gradually and adjusting the taste to your preferences.

If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, skip them. Dried curry leaves are tough (impossible to eat afterwards, while they are supposed to be eaten, unlike bay leaves, for example) and lose the majority of their aroma. Curry leaves freeze very well, especially if vacuum packed or very tightly wrapped in plastic film, but I’ve never seen them frozen in shops… so if you get hold of them, freeze them in small portions tightly wrapped or, even better, vacuum packed. If you live in the US: I’ve seen some people grow curry leaf trees and sell fresh leaves on internet.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side-dish):

2 medium Western aubergines our 6-7 small Asian (long ones)

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (I have used black)

a small handful of picked fresh curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 small medium-hot green chillies (found in Indian or Sri Lankan shops) or other green medium-hot chilies

3 big shallots or 1 big onion

8 medium garlic cloves

5 cm square of tamarind block dissolved in 200 ml (about 3/4 cup) hot water and strained (see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder (or more/less); I have used 2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder which is not very hot but has a beautiful red colour

salt to taste

100 ml (about 3 1/2 oz) coconut milk (I have used recently 60 ml and it was delicious too)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces (while cutting put the pieces into a bowl filled with water, so that they don’t change their colour too much).

Cut the chillies lengthwise and then horizontally (in half or more, depending on the length; you should obtain 2, max 3 cm pieces/roughly 1in pieces).

Slice thickly garlic cloves (I have cut each into 4-5 thick slices).

Cut the shallots into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergines at medium heat until they are slightly browned.

Take them off the pan and put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil into the same pan and stir-fry mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves, the cumin and fenugreek seeds.

After 1 minute add the green chilli, the shallots and stir-fry them at medium heat until the shallots are soft and start browning.

Now add the garlic and stir-fry for one more minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the powdered spices and mix well.

Pour the tamarind water and the coconut milk and let all simmer until 1/3 of the liquid evaporates (or until the sauce is thick enough for you; I preferred it rather thick/dry).

Finally, add the aubergines, season the curry with salt and give it a good stir.

Warm up for about five minutes.