Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chickpea Curry

Chickpeas make hearty and tasty vegetable. Highlighted with lots of roasted cumin. The roasted cumin is divided in half, with first half added early to base to lend flavor, and second half added to finish to lend aroma.

1/2 onion chopped
1 medium plum tomato chopped
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic crushed and sliced thin
1/2 inch ginger grated
2 tsp cumin seed ground
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander seed ground
1/2 tsp red chili pepper ground
1/8 tsp salt
1 can chickpeas drained
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp black peppercorn ground
handful fresh coriander

To roast spice, in saucepan preheated with medium heat, roast the cumin seeds until aroma, 30-60 sec. Remove from heat immediately and pour from pan into small bowl to cool. After cool, grind to coarse powder in spice grinder, 10 sec. Also separately grind coriander seeds and red chili pepper.
To make the base, in small saucepan brown onion, 10-20 min. Can save time by browning onions in batches and using saved brown onions. Add tomato and cook, 3 min. Allow the tomato to saute, not boil. Add water, garlic, ginger, 1/2 roasted cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chili pepper, and boil 2-3 min. Water keeps garlic from burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. With stick blender, puree the tomatoes into gravy.
Now for the main ingredient, the chickpeas. Add chickpeas and bring to boil, cover and simmer 5 min. Mash 2 tbsp chickpeas and stir.
To finish, add garam masala, 1/2 ground roasted cumin, black pepper and fresh coriander and stir.

Green Pea Rice Pilaf

Rice dish that gets flavor from brown onions and spices. Especially easy if you make brown onions in batches. Just add some fresh or frozen peas.

1 cup brown rice soaked
1/2 onion chopped
1 cup water
1/4 cup peas
1 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice

Prepare by soaking brown rice, 2 hrs. Wash and drain.
In saucepan, brown onion, 10-20 min. Brown onions should be moist with most of moisture removed, so they neither add nor subtract water to the rice. (Cumin seed is a simple substitution for garam masala.)
To rice cooker, add rice, onion, peas, spices and water. Start cooking, 35-45 min. Salt to taste.
Drizzle lemon juice to taste and fluff with fork.

My Indian Cooking Roadmap

One of my goals in learning Indian Cooking was to learn proper use of spices, which I knew Indian Cusine used to make tasty dishes, in many cases vegetarian. I started with rice dishes, because rice appeared to the the main starch, and probably the most basic and easiest to cook. Next I was led to lentils, which cooked similar to rice, by my cookbooks. The last and hardest dishes to get right were curries.
So I've grouped and ordered recipes into:
  • Rice dishes
  • Lentil dishes
  • Curry dishes
These dishes also make up meals. Any meal with just one dish gets boring, no matter how tasty. A lentil soup serves as an appetizer, a rice dish serves as the main starch, and a curry dish serves as a vegetable side.

So meals look like:
  1. Lentil (soup, appetizer)
  2. Rice (starch, main)
  3. Curry (vegetable side, over rice or with flat bread)
While I think of rice and flat bread as the nutritional center, the curry is usually the real star. A few other dishes like chutney condiments, snack and deserts round out the taste and texture palette.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cooking Without Oil

Most Indian recipes use cooking techniques with oils. Is it possible to cook Indian cuisine without oil? If it is possible, does it taste good? Traditional Indian cuisine is generally slower cooking, and tastes just as good with the flavors from whole plant ingredients and flavor bases, which slowly combine and release their naturally packaged macronutrients including natural oils, without adding any processed and packaged oils.

Why are oils commonly used? Oils are commonly used in pan frying to avoid sticking, to use high heats to cook faster, and to carry flavors. Each of these is just a convenient technique for a cooking problem and result, but none of these is the only way to get the desired result. Historically oils would have been both expensive and prone to spoilage. Preference is matter of choice, and while one choice is convenience, another choice is quality and simplicity. My preferred technique uses the flavors and tastes from ingredients in their fresh and whole natural packages, going a bit slower, and emphasizing quality. Let's look at each problem and how to get the desired results.
  1. Avoid Sticking: To avoid sticking, use a non stick pan, lower the heat, and deglaze with a splash of water. All three of these avoid the burning and sticking that using oil also prevents. Which gets used depends on circumstances. Often I use regular saucepans to brown onions, or mix flavor bases, stocks and gravies.
  2. High Heat (Browning): To brown vegetables, especially onions, just go low and slow. Browning takes heat, dryness and alkalinity, but not necessarily high heat. You get dryness when the surface moisture of your vegetable is vaporized. Then the outside starts to brown. Cutting smaller and thinner helps evenly dry and then brown your vegetables. If you must go hot and fast, use a non stick pan. Alkalinity is usually fixed by your vegetable ingredients, but you can, for example, add baking soda to onions to increase alkalinity and brown onions faster. Don't bother, it adds nothing to flavor.
  3. Carry Flavor: To carry flavor just use water or vegetable purees. All whole plants also contain some oils that are released into sauces. Add ingredients like spices early to the base to allow flavors to absorb and mix. Moisture carries flavor better into dry ingredients like grains and pulses.
So packaged oils are not needed, and you get truer flavors by using lowering the heat, go low and slow, deglazing, using a non stick pan, and using water or purees to carry flavor. Common packaged vegetable oils like soybean, canola and olive do not add authentic flavors to Indian cuisine, and flavors from mustard and peanut can be had just by using whole mustard seed and peanuts.

To summarize the methods to cook without oil:
  1. Use non stick saucepans particularly for higher heats.
  2. Lower heat and go slow to brown.
  3. Use vegetable bases and water to carry flavor. 
You can see putting these methods to use in the examples of toasting spices, browning onions and vegetables, and making stocks and soups.

Spices: Use medium-high heat, with non stick pan. Toast the spices in the non stock pan, then set aside to cool and grind. Then mix the ground spices into stock, soup or gravy, where water and moisture, not oil, infuses and spreads the flavor. Recipes commonly fry spices and herbs using oil. Note you can not grind oily spices. So this usually means keeping duplicate powdered spices in the pantry. I prefer to toast whole spices first, to dry and enhance flavor, then grind whole spices into mix or powder. When discussing spices, I mean the whole dry spices that store well, not fresh herbs. Most herbs are more delicate and should be simmered at lower heats. For example, garlic can easily burn and become bitter. Herbs don't get toasted and instead are add to the moist flavor base.

Onions: Use low heat and go slow. Recipes commonly fry onions at high heats to brown them faster. If you're not working as short order cook, brown your onions low and slow. They don't burn as easily. You can also brown a couple of onions in batches that keep refrigerated for up to 3 days, which really cuts cooking times.

Vegetables: Use medium heat and non stick pan to roast and brown the outside of vegetables, like potatoes and sweet peppers. Use a tight fitting clear lid for keeping steam and keeping an eye on the vegetables, sometimes adding a spash of water. Lightly brown the outside of vegetables before adding to dishes like curries.

Stocks and Soups: Use liquids to carry the flavors. Add whole or ground spices, brown onions and roasted vegetables directly to water in cooking stocks and soups. Stocks and soups are are easy to cook without oil. Stocks and soups often cook dried ingredients, like rice and pulses. Water moisture makes this possible, not oil. When the dried ingredients absorb water, they both absorb the flavor and give back to the flavor of the stock and soup.

For more details, see my recipe tips for Toasting Cumin and Browning Onions.