Category Archives: Vegetarian

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

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).

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…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

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, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

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.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

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.

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).

Indian Aubergine with Sesame, Tamarind and an Egg

indian_sesame_aubIn which part of the world do you look for inspiration when looking for new aubergine recipes? For me India is a definite number one (Japanese cuisine comes in second position), so whenever in search for new aubergine ideas, I usually start with this part of my culinary library, especially if I have a new cookery book to play with! The recipe I chose contains a generous amount of sesame seeds, not what I’d expect in an Indian dish. Moreover, the presence of tamarind announced a slightly tangy dish… The result is fantastic, but the sesame seeds transform the other – less surprising – ingredients to the point where, I must admit, I’d never guess the origins of this dish. As a lazy cook, I simply topped it with a poached egg and had it with bread, transforming it into a delicious, creamy full one-bowl meal. The dish was memorable because it was the first time – I think – I had an excuse to sprinkle an Indian dish with my beloved roasted sesame seeds!

The new book I’ve mentioned above is Fresh India, a second recipes collection by Meera Sodha. I love her Made in India, but I hesitated a lot before buying this one because it is vegetarian. I am an avowed pisci- and carnivore, so I was worried it might even be vegan… but when I saw eggs are also featured here (luckily there’s Amazon’s “look inside” option), I was relieved. The pages are of course filled with meatless dishes (but I already visualise those topped with an egg, enriched with sliced chicken breast or shrimp…) and, most of all there are some mushroom and egg-including recipes that don’t need any other proteins, even for me.

This aubergine dish comes from Anhdra Pradesh, apparently known for a combination of tangy and fiery flavours. As usually, apart from the addition of an egg, I have transformed the recipe, for example replacing half of the sesame seeds with white sesame paste (I was afraid my blender wouldn’t transform the sesame into a smooth paste and I was right : the result was creamy with some tiny bits of sesame seeds). In short, whether you are a vegetarian or just an Indian cuisine fan, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Fresh India and check the original recipe for this delicious aubergine dish.

TIPS: Don’t skin your tomatoes. It’s absolutely unnecessary and mixed skins add more flavours anyway.

If you find poaching difficult, you can fry the egg too.

If you don’t own a “magical” Indian blender and aren’t sure if yours will crush sesame seeds to fine powder, add half sesame seeds and half sesame seed paste or grind the seeds in a spice/coffee grinder. By the way, if you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly recommend buying a cheap coffee grinder you shouldn’t use for coffee (cheap ones have blades and not burrs and cuts coffee instead of properly grinding it). It’s perfect for freshly ground spices and the difference is huuuge!

The recipe suggests serving this dish with cracked wheat and yogurt. I haven’t tested either, but,  maybe because of the poached egg, the dish was great simply served with bread.

I suggest warming up your individual bowls in the oven (at the lowest temperature; don’t go above 50°C if they aren’t heatproof) before serving this dish. It might take some time before fried/poached eggs are ready and this way your aubergine dish will keep warm for longer.

Preparation: 1h – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 3 as a side dish or 2 as a main course  with a poached egg):

2 medium aubergines/eggplants, cut into 3 cm thick sticks

1 medium onion (I have used two big shallots)

fresh mint or coriander leaves (or chives/green onion)

1 tablespoon oil (I have used coconut fat)

(toasted white sesame seeds)

(yogurt)

Sauce:

2 medium tomatoes (or 1/3 small can of tomatoes)

2 heaped teaspoons white sesame seeds or 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame seeds + 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame paste (see the TIPS)

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a block of tamarind and hot water)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder (I have used here Kashmiri chilli)

Place the sauce ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until light brown.

Add the sauce and, when it’s warmed, the aubergine pieces and about 1/2 glass of water (they will absorb water, so the sauce must be more liquid).

Simmer, covered until the aubergine pieces are soft.

Add water if necessary.

Heat the water for poached eggs.

Divide the aubergine dish into individual bowls.

Poach 3 eggs, one by one, and place on top.

Sprinkle with chopped mint and, if you like, toasted sesame seeds.

 

Raita (Yogurt Sauce/Dip) with Pomegranate Seeds and Mint

pomegranata_raitapI thought this colourful raita might be like a ray of sunshine after a week of horribly cold rainy weather. The funny thing is that as soon as I prepared it, the sun really went out and suddenly the day felt like an extension of summer… so my roast chicken dinner felt particularly joyful. In spite of its summery appearance, this it is definitely an autumnal dish: here pomegranates are abundant (in full season from what I read, though of course imported) and, when it comes to fresh herbs, they still thrive on my balcony, so I am still able to pick fresh mint every day.

This delicious version of raita is one more jewel from Made in India: Cooked in Britain by Meera Sodha. As soon as I made it, I ranted once more about the boring almost identical choices in every Indian restaurant I went to in my area… but luckily I have wonderful cookery books and time to cook! Anyway, it’s the first time I added pomegranate to yogurt and I loved it! It can be served just like any raita (i.e. with Indian dishes), but it’s also fantastic with simple roast chicken, any kind of wrap and any heavy and/or fiery dish (such as my previous recipe, Spare Ribs in Guchujang), since it’s particularly mild and refreshing. I didn’t really look at Meera Sodha’s exact ingredients’ amounts, so I invite everyone to check the recipe in its original source.

TIPS: The recipe calls for dried mango powder (it’s available in Indian shops and on internet; I bought it from Amazon in UK), but I think you can easily replace it with tamarind juice.

Do not skip the tiny amount of sugar! It does add an additional flavour to the tangy raita.

If you are afraid of splashing pomegranate juice all around the kitchen, fill a big bowl with cold water, cut the pomegranate into 4 or two pieces and then tear it up under the water, taking out the seeds. The yellowish “skins” will float at the surface and thus will be easy to remove. All you need to do afterwards is straining the seeds.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

seeds from 1 small pomegranate (or 1/2 big one)

1 natural unsweetened full fat yogurt (125 ml/about 4 oz)

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

1/2 flat teaspoon dry mango powder

a pinch of powdered cumin (the best taste is obtained with freshly toasted whole seeds, which are then ground just before being used)

1 heaped tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Combine all the ingredients, taste and adjust the flavours, if needed. Chill for one hour (or not, if in a hurry) and serve.

Do not prepare it a day before: mint becomes soggy and spoils the whole raita.

 

Tomato, Cucumber and Pomegranate Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

pomegranate_salad_It’s got colder in recent days and lower temperatures reminded me of the upcoming end of tomato season. I’m preserving it for the winter (preparing especially my beloved Indian chutney) and I eat raw ripe sweet tomatoes every single day, sometimes even twice, trying to enjoy them as long as they last. Last week this side dish was added to my favourite duo (Tomato and Shiso Salad and Indian Tomato Salad) and I cannot get enough of its various textures, flavours and scents, all in just one bowl.

This is a vague interpretation of a tomato salad and probably also inspired by other cold dishes from Persiana. Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond by Sabrina Ghaynour, a wonderful book I was offered by a friend. As an avowed carni- and piscivore I was surprised to realise a rare phenomenon : vegetable dishes stayed most firmly engraved in my memory after leafing and leafing through it. The presence of pomegranate is also particularly visible, so, as someone who has been buying it quite rarely, I suddenly feel very inspired and plan to include it in many dishes. Persiana has also made me buy a bottle of pomegranate molasses and though it’s the only dressing/sauce I used in this salad, it was just perfect, just like the author said. I felt no need even for salt or pepper! Another product to play with in the upcoming months!

In case you wonder what else to do with ripe, delicious, end-of-season tomatoes….

Indian Tomato Salad

Indian Tomato Salad

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

Indian-Style Tomato Chutney

TIPS: Pomegranate molasses are simply thickened pomegranate juice, so if you buy it, read well the ingredients. If anything else (apart from pomegranate juice) appears (for example sugar), it’s not the real thing.

Emptying a pomegranate is not obvious at first. Until now the best tip I have found is cutting through the fruit in half and emptying it submerged in a bowl of water. The yellowish skins will float at the surface and thus will be easy to remove. Beware! Pomegranate juice stains clothes!

Preparation : about 10 minutes (if you have emptied your pomegranate)

Ingredients (serves two-three):

seeds from 1 small pomegranate

1 small cucumber (or 1/4 of a long cucumber) 

3 medium very ripe tomatoes

1/2 – 1 small red onion

kernels from 3-4 walnuts

a generous splash of pomegranate molasses

(fresh mint)

Cut the cucumber and the tomato into chunks.

Slice the onion finely (I have used a mandolin).

Chop the walnut kernels roughly.

Arrange all the ingredients in a bowl.

Add the pomegranate molasses and serve.

(This salad keeps quite well in the fridge for at least 24 hours though it’s best freshly made).

 

Indian Tomato Salad

tomato_saladpI was going to write about a completely different dish, but this salad turned out so fantastic, I had to tell you about it while ripe delicious tomatoes are still sold at markets because, as simple as it may seem, this is one of these rare dishes where average-tasting tomatoes just won’t do. The few other ingredients are there just to highlight the sunny, end-of-summer ripe tomato flavours.

I found this recipe in Meera Sodha’s Made in India, Cooked in Britain, a fantastic book I’ve already cooked from several times and recommend to every Indian cuisine enthusiast. This dish is a very precious addition to my growing list of easy and quick Indian dishes. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity; as I’ve mentioned above, if you use ripe, good quality tomatoes, you’ll discover a sophisticated and addictive side-dish you’ll never get tired of (I made it twice in one day!). Since I happened to have fresh green chilli peppers, I have used them instead of chilli powder to make the result even more refreshing. I’ve also changed the ingredients’ ratio, so make sure you check the original in Meera Sodha’s book.

For those who don’t like fiery dishes, here is another tomato salad I’m crazy for:

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Preparation: about 10 minutes+at least one hour in the fridge

Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish):

3 medium ripe tomatoes (not too soft)

1 medium shallot

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small green chilli (preferably not as hot as bird’s eye)

salt

leaves from 4 sprigs of coriander

Cut the tomatoes (don’t peel them!) into 0.5 cm/about 0.2 in cubes and place into a bowl.

Chop the shallot and the chilli.

Add olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Give the salad a stir and place for at least one hour into the fridge.

Sprinkle with coriander leaves just before serving.