Monday, November 14, 2011

Rice and Lentils

There are many variations on rice and lentils from India through the Middle East. Onions and carrots make the base, and are both native to the region. The spices here are simple, just cumin and coriander, bay leaf, and a pinch of turmeric and salt.

1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 carrot, chopped small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin, ground
1/2 tsp coriander, ground
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp turmeric
3/4 cup brown rice, soaked
1/4 cup lentils, soaked (whole brown or red lentils)
1/2 lemon juice

Prep: Soak lentils & rice.
Base: Brown and saute the onion & carrot. Result should be moist, not wet. This base gets added to the rice and lentils, along with spices, and it's flavor gets absorbed.
Main: Mix veggie base, ground spices, rice & lentils in pot or rice cooker, with water. Bring to boil, then simmer covered, 20-30 min, then remove heat, and continue steam covered, 10-15 min.
Finish: Adjust taste with lemon juice and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Recipes are both copies and examples. The written recipe should exactly copy the kitchen. Followed exactly, you should get the same result. Followed loosely, you can improve on the result. You can vary ingredients by season and by what’s on hand, adding or removing, and adjust for taste.

However, recipes are shorthand instructions for cooking. They are brief summaries. They leave out details. Instructions typically use shorthand keywords like roast, saute, simmer and boil, and assume the reader understands these terms. Keeping the recipe short lets the cook see the idea of the recipe, and follow without getting lost in text. Recipes are made of ingredients and directions.

Because a recipe is only a brief summary, it’s necessary to detail elsewhere common ingredients (pantry section), along with substitutions and preparation, and common kitchen techniques (kitchen section), along with tips and troubles. Sometimes these make good sidebars.

Ingredients are listed in the order used. This gives a clue about timing. This makes the recipe easier to follow. Switching between recipes for multiple dishes, I often find myself asking, “Where am I?“ and “What’s next?” Ingredients that take longer to cook are typically started first, and ingredients that cook quickly are typically finish last.

I divide my ingredients by their function in a dish, and then divide my instructions into steps to match. Recipes can be thought of as layers, with each layer adding complexity to a dish.

  • Base: Ingredients that are chopped small, largely invisible, slow cook or cook the longest, break down, or are blended. These are the supporting actors in the dish. Onions are a common base. Many European dishes start with an onion-carrot-celery base. Note the Indian pantry usually doesn’t include celery (bitter green), but often uses the spice fenugreek (bitter spice).
  • Spice: Tiny but flavorful ingredients that enhance flavor, adding a layer of complexity. Usually added to season the base. Since the base is often slow cooked, these can be whole spices and whole dry herbs. This is the orchestra in the dish. Usually not mentioned. Many Indian dishes use garlic and ginger  (both hot herb), and cumin (pungent and slightly hot spice) and coriander (earthy spice). Garlic-ginger is often a paste, and cumin-coriander is often a spice mix.
  • Main: Feature ingredients. Chopped larger, visible, lightly cooked or steamed. These are the leading actors in the dish. Usually the base of the dish name.
  • Finish: Small and flavorful ingredients that would over cook or disappear if added earlier. Often herbs, which are best fresh, and powdered spices. They adjust and garnish the dish. By adding at the end, they stay somewhat separate, adding a final layer of taste and aroma. Fresh cilantro leaves are a common herb (bitter herb) and lemon or lime a common (sour agent). Garam masala (hot spice mix: cumin-coriander, hot chili and cinnamon-clove) is a common powdered spice mix finish.

These functions describe the common pattern for stove cooked vegetable and water soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

I prefer recipes from scratch. So everything is open and following recipes I can learn taste and seasoning. Everything is whole spices, roasted and ground fresh, and fresh herbs and citrus, chopped and mixed. I can always substitute a mix, jar or can. This will make a recipe have a few more ingredients, as a veggie broth is listed by ingredient, and a spice mix is listed by ingredient, and a sauce is listed by ingredient. Prepared broths, spice mixes, mixed vegetables, and jar sauces have their place, and can make a quick and easy version of a recipe. But prepared products hide their ingredients. Reading labels is often like game of cat and mouse. Whole ingredients, salt, sugar, oil, preservatives? Labels do order ingredients by volume, but don’t provide quantities, and multiple flavors are often hidden under the single term spices.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rice Lentil Soup

Rice lentil soup is traditional breakfast (kitchari).

1 cup brown rice, soaked
1/2 cup green dal, soaked
2 cups water (or more)
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp salt

Simmer until rice and lentils soft and mushy. May require extra water.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Coconut Rice Soup

This is a simple soup, lightly flavored. Leftover cooked rice is broken up and cooked as soup. The base is shallot-garlic-ginger which makes a light broth if water and no extra broth is added. Medium grain rice is slightly sweeter than long grain. Coconut is added for slightly richer flavor.

2 shallots, sliced thin
1 tsp garlic, sliced thin
1 tsp ginger, sliced thin
1 cup water or light broth
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup medium grain brown rice, cooked
2/3 cups water
1/8 cup shredded coconut, soaked (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice

In saucepan at medium heat, covered, sweat shallots, ginger and garlic, 5-10 min.
In food processor or blender, mix cooked rice and enough water to mix. Use a few short bursts to break rice, but don't puree.
Add rice mixture to saucepan, add enough water or light broth to make soup, and salt, and bring just to boil.
Add coconut and lemon juice to taste.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rice Pancakes

Pancake batter require a full day and night preparation. But once the batter is prepared, pancakes cook quickly. Traditional pancakes soak and grind rice and lentils, then ferment the batter. Spices are mixed into the batter. The ratio varies for rice to lentils between 2:1 (brown rice) to 5:1 (white rice.) Ingredients vary, with different variety of rice and lentils, and different spices. Size and thickness vary, from pancake thickness to paper thin crepes.

Preparation: 24 hours
Cooking: 6-8 minutes

1 cup medium grain brown rice, soaked
1/4 cup whole black lentils, soaked (urad dal)
1 cup water, soaking
1 cup water, grinding (as needed)
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (option)
2 tbsp chickpeas (option)
1/8 tsp salt
1 banana or other fresh fruit

Soak: Soak rice and lentils separately, 4-6 hours (morning.)
Grind Batter: Drain and reserve excess soaking water. Grind lentils separately to very fine paste, soft and foamy. Grinding lentils separately fine makes fluffy pancakes. Grind rice and fenugreek seeds to fine grain, smooth. Add reserved soaking water as necessary to thin batter. Batter should be thick, but pour easily from ladle, or through fingers. Batter thickens with ferment.
Ferment: Set room temperature or warmer, loosely covered, 6-8 hours (overnight.)
Grind Spices: Grind fenugreek seeds and mix spices, fenugreek and salt, into batter. (May also wet grind whole spices with lentils or rice.)
Cook: Blend fermented batter and spices. Add water to adjust thickness. Preheat non-stick pan to medium heat. (I prefer light non-stick omelet pan.) Water drops added spatter. Batter should be room temperature. Pour or ladle batter into flat rounds of desired size. 1 ladle makes 5 inch pancake, light brown (not golden brown.) Bubbles appear, then pop or subside, and change color. Turn with spatula. Cook to golden brown. Remove to plate and serve hot. (Between pancake batches, wipe clean hot pan with damp towel or sponge.)