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Samosa Pie

The other night I was in a particularly crave-y mood. I wanted meat and potatoes meets spice. I happened to remember these Wholly Wholesome pie crusts I picked up from Whole Foods and the samosa pie was born.

When I was preparing it it felt totally wrong, like a terrible bastardization of traditional cuisine. It was going to be a dirty little secret. No one needed to know. Then we ate it and it blew me away. Maybe it’s because I was so hungry and crave-y..but maybe not because it tasted just as mind-blowing the next day.

If you think about it it’s not to different from a samosa, the pastry is just arranged a little differently. Maybe I’m rationalizing but you have to try it. Not only is it super tasty but it was so easy to prepare.

Samosa Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 lb grassfed beef (this is just what I used - you can of course use conventional)
  • 1 medium sized potato diced into very small cubes
  • 1/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 1 cm or 1/2 inch knob of ginger finely diced or mashed (optional - I forgot to do this but I think it would have made it better)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp curry powder (optional - I grabbed the curry powder instead of the turmeric so ended up with both.)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (optional but recommended - the seeds add so much dimension)
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • cayenne to taste
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Take pie shell out to defrost.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 F / 220 C
  3. Dice the potato and put it to boil in a pan with enough water to just cover it, that way when the potatoes are boiled you can pour the whole contents of the pot into the beef mixture. The starchy potato water will thicken into a gravy.
  4. Sauté the onion with the cumin seeds (if using) on very low heat until softened and aromatic.
  5. Increase heat to medium and add the beef. Break it apart as it cooks so it's smooth and even.
  6. When the beef is evenly broken apart add the potatoes with potato water and the peas.
  7. Cook just until any remaining liquid has reduced into a nice thick gravy.
  8. Pour contents of pan into pie shell. For me the recipe was enough to fit into one pie shell. I also put my pie shell onto a cookie sheet before filling to make it easier to move into the oven.
  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes until edges are slightly golden.
  10. If you can wait (unlike those of us with no impulse control) give it about 10-15 minutes rest before cutting in or the beef filling will ooze out everywhere and you won't be able to cut pie like pieces out of it.

Butter Chicken With Love

I followed the NY Times Butter Chicken recipe by Tom Sifton, which can be found here. I tried not to deviate from the recipe too much. Making it was a pleasure from start to finish. The strong and subtle aromas wafting out of the kitchen were reward in themselves. The taste was what I expected but much more. Homemade butter chicken can have noticeably more complex flavours than take out if you cook with patience and love.

We are so rushed in our daily lives. For many of us, cooking has become a chore that we try to hurry through. When you cook in the moment the process of cooking becomes a pleasure and the final result will show that you’ve taken your time. It isn’t a hyperbole to say that the secret ingredient in this dish is love.

I like the layout of the recipe itself as well. The side by side ingredients and steps make it easier to follow. I also really appreciate that the ingredients are listed in order of appearance, and not in order of grocery category (i.e. dairy, produce, meat etc).

A note on chicken. Probably the most important step in this recipe is cutting the chicken into nice looking, even sized cubes…or something approximating a cube. Doing this may take a little longer than you’re prepared to invest  but it will pay off.

Obviously, start with fresh ingredients. There’s a crucial step between grocery store and cooking that needs attention: your fridge. Keeping a clean and well organized fridge keeps your food fresher for longer. Foods stored in the fridge take on each others smells. If your fridge smells bad, everything in it will smell bad if you really pay attention.

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Which brings me to another crucial point: smell. Smell your garlic. Slow down and really get in there. Smell it with the peel on, smell it with the peel off. Smell everything. Get intimately acquainted with your food. When you treat the ingredients patiently and with high regard, they will shine in the final dish.

I try to always start with whole spices. The smell of freshly ground whole spices is a totally different world from even the freshest pre-ground spices. If you don’t believe me, crush some cumin or coriander and smell. They have so much more dimension and depth.

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I used a marble mortar and pestle. Cumin is particularly hard to crush and I have to admit I lost my patience a little bit with this step. Still, I resisted the temptation to pull out my magic bullet and pulverize these seeds into oblivion because I knew that not only would it change the flavour of the cumin, it would also show disregard for the process.

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It was worth it, if only for these pictures alone. There’s something timeless and universal about crushing spices. The smell, of course, is transcendent but its also the connection with the cooking. The feeling that you’re doing something that human hands across the world have done for probably millennia.

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Take your time cutting the onion, even if it stings your eyes. My method is to cut in half, then cut evenly spaces lines into each half, rotate 90 degrees and repeat.  Be mindful and totally in tune with your knife blade, cutting precise and even lines. Use your senses. Listen to the subtle sounds of knife through onion.

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I think the recipe called for fresh but this was all I had. I crushed two of them by hand and set aside. I didn’t wash my hands and then I touched my face. Be careful.

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Unlike the recipe calls for, I added the cumin seeds to the ghee first as is common in many Indian recipes (I think they call it blooming the spices.) I heated them until they started lightly popping, and then I added the diced onion. The smell was…like nothing else I’ve ever smelled in my kitchen before.

You can serve with plain basmati or add a little bit of subtle flavour, like a tsp of turmeric and the seeds of two cardamom pods. The cardamom seeds should be shiny and very dark, not grey or ashen looking. For the basmati, add 1 cup of rice and 2.5 cups of water to a pan along with a sprinkle of salt and any flavourings you’re adding. Stir lightly. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low until the water level has reached the rice. Cover and continue cooking for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave undisturbed until ready to serve. Don’t uncover.

I used ghee and almond oil to cook the chicken. I had frozen homemade chicken stock that I added to deglaze. I cooked the chicken in two batches, adding the finishes first batch to the pot of sauce and then when the second batch was ready I poured the contents of the sauce pot back into the cast iron skillet. I simmered lightly for another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Goan Coconut Curry & Butternut Squash Soup with Langostino Tails

I spent a lot of my formative years in Toronto, where I gained an appreciation for diversity that’s had an enduring impact on me. Toronto is a mecca of multiculturalism. You can find food from all over the world in various parts of the city: Greek town on Danforth, Korean in K-town, Little Italy and Corso Italia on College and St. Clair, Portugal Village at Dundas West, Japanese & Hungarian in the Annex, Polish in Roncesvalles, Latin American in Kensington Market, all kinds of Caribbean all over the place, at least two Little Indias and about six Chinatowns. What a mouthful…but that’s not all. Toronto is also a haven for regional cuisine. Toronto’s ethnic communities are really proud of their regional diversity and the city certainly encourages diversity to flourish. So if you wanted, say, SicilianAssamese, or Hunan cuisine, you could find it.

Beyond an appreciation for the international (which I have in excess at times) Toronto also imparted an appreciation for regional diversity. When I was growing up I met a lot of South Asians but very few of them were Goan. The Goans I did meet were really proud of being Goan and I always felt like they had an aura of uniqueness around them. That brings me to this meal. One of my goals with Cristina’s Kitchen is to learn about different cultures through food and of course, I especially like delving into the nuances of regional cuisine.

You can learn a lot about the different geographical and cultural influences of a culture just by looking at ingredients. For example, Goan cuisine is characterized by a lot of coconut fish curries, due to the fact that it’s in a coastal area, but what’s more interesting is that it also has significant Portuguese influence from 400 years of colonialism. There are Goan/Portuguese samosas (chamuças), chorizo (chouriço), and feijoada.

P1140498The spices used in Goan cuisine are in different proportions from other curries. There’s much more of a focus on coriander and cumin. The spice paste is fairly simple overall, especially in comparison to others I’ve made (like Indonesian Beef Rendang – that was super complex). It’s onion, garlic, ginger, chilies and ground turmeric plus toasted and ground coriander and cumin. Simple no? The toasting and grinding of your own spices may seem tedious and unnecessary but I promise it makes a difference…and the smell of fresh ground coriander is a life experience in and of itself. P1140494For this recipe I adapted the spice blends used in two recipes for Goan Fish Curry and Goan Fish Stew. Granted, the use of butternut squash may not be authentic but the seasoning is close. All I did was sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger along with the butternut squash. Once it was aromatic I added the chili, toasted and ground dry spices and turmeric and then blended with coconut milk in a food processor. I didn’t have dried Kashmiri chilies per the recipes I used for reference so I substituted sweet paprika not cayenne because they’re meant to add flavour rather than heat. I also didn’t have fresh green chilies so I sprinkled in some cayenne at the end to get the spice level to where I wanted.

P1140536I added 350 grams / 12 oz of cooked langostino tails (from Trader Joe’s) for protein because that’s what I had but you can substitute with shrimp or even veggies. You can also up the amount of langostino or shrimp to 450 grams / 1 lb.

Overall it’s really simple and definitely doable on a weeknight. The butternut squash and coconut milk base with langostino tails make for a tasty, nutritious, and hearty meal that also looks really lovely and feels very sophisticated. I like to think of it as a fall inspired take on traditional Goan cuisine.  More than that, making Goan food made me feel like I’d been let in on a secret…on the reason for that aura of uniqueness and pride amongst the Goans I’ve met. Few things compare to the feeling of getting closer to another culture by making their food. That was definitely the best part of this meal.

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Ingredients

1 large butternut squash, cooked and cubed

1-2 TBSP coconut oil or ghee for cooking

1 medium red onion, finely diced

4 cloves of garlic, mashed or minced

2 inch (5cm) piece of ginger, mashed or minced

4 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

4 dried kashmiri chilies or substitute 1 TBSP sweet paprika

1 can natural unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups of water

1 green chilli, finely diced (or substitute ground cayenne to taste)

Salt to taste

350 – 450 grams / 12 – 16 oz cooked langostino tails (or substitute same amount of cooked shrimp)

2 TBSP chopped cilantro + more for garnish

Method

 Bake butternut squash. I baked mine whole at 400 F / 200 C for about 45 minutes. You can peel, seed and before or after baking – it’s up to you. Also, this step can be done the day before or way in advance and frozen if you’re a meal prep aficionado.

Heat oil or ghee in a skillet on medium-high heat.

Add onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté until aromatic and soft – about 8 minutes. Increase heat, add butternut squash and continue sautéing another 5 minutes or so to develop the flavours.

While sautéing, start another smaller skillet on medium heat and add the dried chilies (if using) and the coriander and cumin seeds. Heat gently for about 5 minutes or until aromatic. Grind in a mill or with a mortar and pestle.

Add the ground seeds, dried chilies (or paprika), turmeric, and coconut milk to the skillet and mix.

Pour all ingredients into food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

Return soup to a pot over medium-high heat. Add two cups of water and mix until incorporated.

Add the green chilies (or cayenne) as well as salt to your taste. I used about 2 tsp each of cayenne and salt.

Add cooked langostino tails (or shrimp) and cilantro. Mix, head tot your preference, then serve garnished with more cilantro.

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Harvest Biryani With Chickpeas, Dried Cranberries & Pepitas

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Earlier this week I wrote about cooking with Fall flavours beyond pumpkin spice. There’s literally a world of flavours out there that we don’t associate with Fall nearly enough. Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines perfectly represent the richness and abundance of Fall. After all, what says Fall more than spices and long slow cooking methods?

This harvest biryani really brings out the tastes of the season. It’s rich and aromatic, perfect with seasoned meat or vegetables. The chickpeas and pepitas add great variety and texture, while the dried sweetened cranberries add juicy pops of sweetness and beautiful ruby tones. Don’t they look like little jewels?

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Once it’s assembled it only takes about 15 minutes to cook. I served it with ras el hanout rubbed boneless chicken thigh and I think dinner was ready in about 40 minutes total. Really quick for such an aromatic meal. Traditional accompaniments are lemon wedges and yogurt or raita. I splashed a bit of lemon juice, a dash of cumin, and some chopped cilantro into goat milk yogurt for a quick cool side. A bit of fresh chopped cilantro on the rice as a garnish provides a bright counterpoint to the spices and really brings out more complex flavours.

I think of biryani more as a cooking method than an actual dish.  Traditional ingredients used to make biryani are so varied. It can be made with a lot of different of spices, meats and vegetables and still be called biryani. At its origins biryani is simply a stewed and seasoned rice dish. I think what makes it unique is the cooking method.  Rather than being boiled the seasoned rice is steamed in a sealed container. I used a heavy bottomed pot that I sealed tightly with aluminum foil, a plate and a bowl on top of the plate (to weigh it down). I’ve made biryani before in both a pressure cooker and a dutch oven with the same results so feel free to use any of these options as long as you create a tight seal that won’t let any steam escape.

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Ingredients

1 cup of basmati rice

2 cups of water

1/2 yellow onion, sliced finely into thin rings

2-3 TBSP of oil or ghee for frying

1 can cooked chickpeas, drained

60 grams / 2 oz sweetened dried cranberries (mine were quite large so I rough chopped them into smaller bits)

1/2 tsp salt (more to taste)

60 grams / 2 oz pepitas

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cardamom

2 cups of water

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Method

Rinse rice and add to a pot of salted water

While water is coming to a boil, heat oil or ghee in a pan

Fry the sliced onion on high / medium-high heat until browned (you’re aiming for crisp brown not translucent so try not to crowd the onions in the pan)

Remove onions to a paper towel lined plate to drain

As soon as the rice comes to a boil immediately remove from heat and strain

Put rice in a bowl and mix with the chickpeas, cranberries and salt

Heat another small saucepan and quickly dry roast the pepitas, turmeric, and cardamom (this is optional but it really adds flavour)

Add the pepitas, turmeric and cardamom to the bowl and mix well

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Pour 2 cups of water into your heavy bottom pot, dutch oven, or pressure cooker

Using a large spoon gently put the rice onto the liquid

Top with the fried onion

Seal tightly and cook for 15 minutes on medium-high heat

When finished remove from heat and let sit sealed for another 10 minutes so the steam absorbs

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with yogurt or raita

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Gajar Halwa Gummies With Carrot, Cardamom & Raw Honey

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A few months ago when we were doing whole30 I started reading up on a lot of different health foods. As it turns out gelatin has a really devoted following both for its health benefits and for the variety of things it can do from a culinary standpoint. I ordered some Great Lakes Unflavored Beef Gelatin, which has a reputation for being the best (mostly because it’s grassfed). I was so excited to experiment with my new gelatin but then I got caught up with other things and didn’t end up using it until yesterday. There are a lot of really cool recipes for gelatin gummy candies on pinterest. These are some of my favourites:

Sour Watermelon Gummies 

Sweet n’Sour Hibiscus Ginger Gummies

Green Juice Detox Gummies

I really liked the idea of a veggie gummy and started thinking of recipe combinations. I had some carrots and a juicer so I knew I could make a carrot juice that would take the gelatin quite well. My first thought was carrot ginger but that seemed…not very exciting.

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I also had some raw honey from Romania given to us by my in-laws. I started to think of ways I could combine carrot with honey. I remembered a sweet South Asian dessert made with carrot. Gajar Halwa is a North Indian carrot pudding usually made from a sticky sweet combination of grated carrot, sugar, milk, and cardamom. That seemed like a perfect combination, minus the dairy and sugar. I made them from carrot juice, gelatin, raw honey, and cardamom.

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Despite being cold and gelled, the resulting gummies have a beautiful aroma and remind me a lot of actual gajar halwa. The best part is that they’re really healthy. The heating process is gentle so the carrot and honey preserve a lot of their beneficial properties, like antioxidants and enzymes.You’ll feel better for having eaten these natural candies – and isn’t that what food should always do?

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Also, they’re really easy to make. All you need is some gelatin, a silicone mould, and about 15 minutes. This recipe made a bit more than 36 gummies so I used the rest to make this sort of avant-garde egg-yolk looking giant gajar halwa gummy. If you wanted to you could also mould them in actual ramekins and serve them as dessert.P1120202

 

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Ingredients

1 cup carrot juice
1/4 cup raw honey
3 TBSP gelatin
1/4 tsp cardamom (preferably not decorticated because for some reason it’s just more fragrant)
pinch of salt

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Method

Gently heat the carrot juice on low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes (until you can tell it’s warm-hot but before it’s even close to boiling)
Once the carrot juice is heated, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it in an even layer over the surface of the juice.
Wait one minute and then whisk it in. Continue whisking on gentle heat until the gelatin has dissolved.
Remove from heat and mix in the honey, cardamom, and pinch of salt.
Pour into silicone mold and refrigerate at least one hour.
When you’re ready to eat, gently pop the gummies out. Keep refrigerated.

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PS: If you’re always wondering what you can do with leftover juicer pulp like I am, try making these curried carrot & quinoa cakes.

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They’re perfectly crisp and taste amazing. I would juice just to have pulp to make them.

 

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Curried Carrot & Quinoa Cakes (made with juicer pulp)

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Have you ever noticed the taste of your own cooking becoming too familiar?  It happens to me often. I first noticed it when Bogdan made butter chicken one night in late winter this year. We were in the middle of our first whole30 and experimenting with making different recipes compliant. One of our favourites was butter chicken with coconut milk instead of dairy and riced cauliflower instead of basmati. I made it quite often. It was a quick, warming, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for cold February weeknights. I don’t remember why but that particular night Bogdan decided he would make it. Bogdan can cook, he just doesn’t do it very often so I wasn’t expecting the level of flavour development he achieved in his 30 minute stint in the kitchen. When I took the first bite I was blown away by the flavours.The dish was bright, fragrant, and captivating. I ate, quietly mesmerized. I couldn’t figure out how he had made a familiar dish so exciting. It was like a jolt. A reawakening. A reminder of why I do what I do. Why food is at the centre of it all.

That experience made me realize that when one cooks, they leave a signature that makes the food their own. That probably sound obvious but even so it’s definitely taken for granted. It has little to do with following recipes and everything to do with personal style. That’s why nothing will ever taste like mom’s cooking. It’s the same reason my own cooking often starts becoming too familiar. I know my own cooking. I know my own methods and can usually anticipate how something will taste. That’s why I was so floored when I tasted these curried carrot and quinoa cakes. For a recipe I came up with to make use of juicer pulp (after making carrot juice gajar halwa gummies) these were phenomenal.

Knowing every step and ingredient can take some of the magic out of that first bite but that was definitely not the case here. These cakes have a perfect crisp crust enveloping the mouth-watering interplay of herbs and spices in an unexpectedly meaty filling. Writing this is making me want to make them again tonight. As I told Bogdan last night through mouthfuls of carrot and quinoa “I would juice just to make these.” On that note, I did use juicer pulp to make them and I know some people might not have juicers. I haven’t tried it but I think you could replicate this effect if you grated carrot and then squeezed out the liquid with some cheesecloth.

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It’s a lot of work but I would do it for these cakes. They’re that good. Again, I haven’t tried it so this isn’t a recommendation but if you really want to have them then this might be a good way.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups / 600 mL carrot pulp
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup diced cilantro
3 cloves of garlic (mashed)
1 cm x 1cm cube of ginger (mashed)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cardamom
pinch of cinnamon
5 TBSP ghee for frying

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Method

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
Form mix into either large (burger sized) or smaller falafel sized patties.
Heat ghee in a non-stick pan on medium heat.
Once heated, place patties in pan without crowding. Fry on medium heat uncovered for 5-7 minutes. The idea is to form a crust on the bottom. If the heat is too high they’ll burn instead of crisping.
Once a crust has formed (you can usually tell if they’re easier to pick up with a spatula) then flip and cook on the next side for another 5-7 minutes.
Best served hot with a spicy raita.

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Also for anyone wondering, the chilies in the pictures aren’t in the actual recipe (though you could add them if you wanted to) they were used in the raita I made to go with the cakes. I’ll try to get that recipe posted soon too.

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