Thursday, April 26, 2007

Makkai Palak

Makkai Palak
Originally uploaded by g_food.
Second time's the Charm

It prolly sounds really wierd to everyone (particularly since I am a vegetarian).....but I have not had much experience dealing with *fresh* veggies. Of course I eat veggies ....but *fresh* eating happens in India. And there, I do not have to deal with the cleaning, cutting, storage etc of the veggies. In the US, till now I have not had the time or the money to buy (particularly) fresh greens. The boxed spinach and frozen methi were good enough.......especially since I was cooking for 5-8 people.

But now I do have the money (time is debatable). A few months ago I bought a bunch of delicious and beautiful chard. Stupefied by the beauty I quickly rinsed and sauted it. The flavor...the smell.....the grits of dirt in my mouth! It was horrid! Still, I have tried to get over that and made 'Makkai palak' (Corned Spinach) with farm-fresh spinach. Only this time I remembered that farms (and hence the greens) have dirt and that I need to remove it.

So I used the great Alton Brown's trick --- wash the sink *thoroughly*, fill it with ice cold water, dunk the spinach and let hang out with occasional stirrings. Then drained the sink and ran the greens under running water for a full 5 mins, rubbing vigorously with my hands...........Excessive, I know......but realise that I have been burnt!

So here is a recipe (with due credit to Lalitha who provided crucial inputs).


2-3 cups ---------------------very very washed, roughly chopped spinach (thawed if using frozen)
1 inch -------------------------ginger root
2-3 cloves -------------------peeled garlic
1 -------------------------------Bay leaf
1 stick ------------------------Cinammon
3-4-----------------------------Big cardamom
3-4----------------------------Green chiliies, washed and 'tail' removed

Method: Put all the above in a deep pot and put just enough water so that half the spinach is covered. Turn on the heat to medium-high and let come to boil. let the boil continue for 5-8 minutes. The lesser the water you can use, the better.

Turn off the heat and cool a little bit. Then dunk a hand blender into the same pot (deep sides useful now!) and puree away. I have also used the plain old blender for this. However, this takes away the texture of the spinach too much for my liking. But its still *totally* edible.

Once pureed, put the puree on a low flame (same pot). Add the corn. Season to taste.

In the meantime:
1/4 ----------------------------red Onion, chopped
1/2 inch----------------------ginger, cut into long, thin strips
1/2 cup-----------------------Frozen corn, thawed
1/2 tsp-----------------------Cumin seeds
1/4 tsp-----------------------Red chili pwd
1/4 tsp-----------------------Garam masala
1 tsp--------------------------Oil

*Heat oil in a small pan. Sputter the cumin seeds, saute the onion for 3-4 minutes.
*Add the red chilli powder and ginger. Swirl around. Pour this over the spinach-corn mixture.
*Sprinkle the garam masala....and some lemon juice.

Ready to eat! with sides of turmeric rice and a simple zuchinni curry

What would I have done different? Well, before puree'ing I wanted to fish out the dry spices (cinammon, cardamom). I really should have put them in a cloth bundle (or tea infuser) to save some time.

I was watching Emeril the other day and he demonstrated a really great way to clean leeks. Made me think that one of the intimidating (bok choy!) things about using fresh (and unfamilar) veggies is that you dont know
a. how and what part to wash?
b. which part to use? and for what?

I realise that this sounds very stupid. But it is true for me. So it would be great if we can share ways and methods to clean, cut and store fresh veggies as well as recipes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pasta Bechemel

Pasta Bechemel
Originally uploaded by g_food.
To Long breaks, New beginings, Less Dishwashing and Emeril - I have conquered my Waterloo!

Hi folks! Its been a long time since I posted anything. I was a regular reader and commentor during this time. But somehow, posting effort. So I thought it would be better to wait until I was ready.

Whats been happening in the meantime? Tons and tons of cooking and exploring new territory. In fact I conquered one of my cooking Waterloo's -- white sauce. Thanks to Emeril for providing the inspiration and THE trick to get good Bechamel sauce everytime.

It began as a simple evening meal (which I also wanted to eat for a light-ish lunch). So I boiled some pasta and made some sauce. Excited by the success (!) I completely forgot about the vegetables. Routed around in the fridge for veggies (peppers, mushroons, zuchinni and garlic)......oh no! I would need another pot to saute them!

Inspiration in the form of an oven. I decided to roast the veggie in the oven and now I am not sure whether I will ever saute them again. So here's how it goes.


Red bell pepper--------------half, long slices
Mushrooms ------------------ 1 big portabella, long slices
Zuchinni ------------------------half, long slices.
Garlic ----------------------------3-4 cloves
And anything else you fancy. I tried this with red onions and that worked great too.

Lay out some foil on a baking tray. Put in the veggies, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Hold the foil like a sack and give a few shakes to distribute everything evenly. Then unfold the foil flat on the baking tray, put veggies in one layer. Pre-heated oven 400F, 10 minutes (sometimes 15). Thats it.


Milk+cream --------------- half cup (in any ratio that you want, can be 1:0)
AP Flour -------------------2-3 big spoons
Olive oil--------------------half tsp
Bay leaf -------------------1

1. Set the milk-cream mixture on low heat on one burner with the bay leaf in it.

2. On another burner, put the olive oil and the AP flour, and keep stirring the flour. Now according to Emeril, the time you do this varies with the kind of sauce you want. A 'blond' Bechamel roux will need 2 sips of wine/beer/water to get done (while the duration is a bottle of beer for a gumbo).

3. Now grab a WHISK -- nothing else will do. Steadily pour the warm milk-cream mixture into the flour, whisking continuously. Once fully incorporated you have ---------Bechamel!!!!

Put together:
Mix the sause with cooked pasta and your oven broiled veggies. Season carefully since you already seasoned the veggies. Some fresh basil and you are good to go.

FAQ: So WTF was it so hard for G to do all these years?
Ans: After many many trials with this method, I think there are 2 keys tips. First, the temperature of the milk-cream should be similar to that of the flour. If not............LUMPS! Secondly, only a WHISK can be used to make this. Believe me, a wide variety of kitchen instruments were tried and none worked. This was the first time that I had an actual, legit excuse to buy one more kitchen thingie!

Btw, the creation was so good that I was able to circumvent my natural tendency to "Indianify" -- no cumin, dry red chillies, green chilliesm Maggie hot and sweet etc.

My exploration has now taken me into Oriental territory. Inspired by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries (as well as by the bottle of MSG that I smuggled in from India), I have been trying out Chinese dishes.

Oh and btw, MSG..........not so bad. Latest research says so, NYT said so and Mom (scientist) said so.