Thursday, September 26, 2013

Savory carrot halwa

At an Indian restaurant, I noticed something on the dessert menu called "carrot halwa". Intrigued by the idea of a carrot-based dessert, I looked it up as soon as I got home. As per the Wikipedia page:
Gajar Ka Halwa (Hindi  : गाजर का हलवा ) (sometimes known as Gajrela, Carrot Halwa or gajar ka gajerela) is a sweet dessert pudding associated mainly with the state of Punjab in India & Pakistan. It is made by placing grated carrot in a pot containing a specific amount of water, milk and sugar and then cooking while stirring regularly. It is often served with a garnish of almonds and pistachios. The nuts and other items used are first sautéed in ghee, a South Asian clarified butter.
Sounds tasty. But, I also didn't really see the need for tons of added sugar. Carrots, raisins, and coconut all have a nice natural sweetness. What I ended up making is more of a side dish that I would serve in similar situations to a sweet potato casserole. I served it with grilled pork chops that I had seasoned with salt, pepper, and curry powder.
I used powdered coconut milk, but I am certain that it would be just as good with canned coconut milk instead. Also, I bought some nice sweet carrots from the farmer's market. I think that good carrots are pretty key to keeping this dish unsweetened. I used a combination of pistachios and almonds, but feel free to use only one or the other, or substitute chopped cashews.

CARROT HALWA
Serves about 8 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 lbs carrots
  • 3 Tbs (30 grams) golden raisins
  • 1 Tbs ghee or coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbs pistachio kernels, roughly chopped
  • 1 oz unsweetened powdered coconut milk OR 1 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2-1 tsp cardamom seeds, powdered (use 1/2 tsp for a subtle flavor, a full teaspoon if you really like cardamom)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Peel or scrub the carrots. Shred them using a box grater or the shredding disk on a food processor.
  2. Melt the ghee or coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the raisins, almonds, and pistachios. Saute until the nuts and raisins are lightly golden brown. Do NOT burn! Add the cardamom and stir for a couple seconds until fragrant. Add the shredded carrots and stir well to combine.
  3. If using powdered coconut milk, add a cup of water; otherwise, add the canned coconut milk. Cover, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. If using powdered coconut milk, stir it into the carrot mixture.
  5. Pack the carrot mixture into an 8x8 pan and let cool. Cut into 16 squares. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Quick Ethiopian curry bowls


Typical serving of Ethiopian food; photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
I love the flavors of Ethiopian food, but because of their meal structure, I basically had to give up Ethiopian restaurants except as an occasional treat. For the uninitiated, Ethiopian food is generally small piles of sautes (called tibs) and stews (known as wat) served with tons of thick injera pancakes. Instead of silverware, you use the pancakes to scoop up bits of cooked food. So it's very much a grain flour based meal, with tiny tidbits of protein. I still love the spices they use, so the only solution is to make my own: my proportions with their flavors.

This is a formula rather than a highly-specific recipe. The idea is that you can use these steps turn whatever animal protein and veggies you have around into a spicy Ethiopian curry. See, I had to order two ingredients that most American households don't typically keep around. I probably wouldn't buy them just for a single recipe, but for Ethiopian-style food on demand, I'll happily place an order. Alternately, you can easily make either yourself.

The first ingredient is niter kibbeh, a spiced version of ghee (clarified butter). I picked it up from Pure Indian Foods. The other ingredient is berbere, a spicy Ethiopian curry powder, albeit it may be more analogous to Southwest-style chili powder than curry. I bought it from Penzeys since I had to place an order anyway. This too you can make yourself. Alternately, if you don't care for spicy food you can substitute turmeric. The flavor will be completely different, but it is an authentic way of making milder Ethiopian dishes.

I'm pretty psyched to have this stuff around, and I'm excited to try it with different meat and veggie combinations!


QUICK ETHIOPIAN CURRY BOWLS
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 Tbs niter kibbeh
  • Half a red onion, thinly sliced
  • 8-12 oz cooked meat, such as ground beef or lamb, cubed chicken, or a shredded leftover roast
  • 3-4 cups quick-cooking vegetables. I used 2 cups of collard greens and 2 cups of cauliflower, both steam-sauteed ahead of time. Other great choices would be baked sweet potato, steam-sauteed carrots, cabbage, or string beans, or raw shredded kale.
  • 1 can diced tomatoes in juice, preferably fire-roasted
  • 1-2 tsp berbere. I used 2 tsp which I enjoyed but it was nose-runningly spicy so be warned. Or substitute 1 tsp turmeric for a different but mild flavor.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: 1 or 2 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges

DIRECTIONS
  1. Melt the niter kibbeh in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and saute until translucent.
  3. Add the berbere or turmeric and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds.
  4. Add the meat and vegetables and stir to thoroughly combine.
  5. Add the tomatoes with their juice, bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce heat to low. Serve immediately if you'd like, or cover and simmer longer to meld the flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste before serving.
  6. If desired, top with hard boiled egg wedges for something that resembles doro wat!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Eggplant, red pepper, & roasted garlic dip

I'm a huge fan of veggie-based dips and sauces. Since I love eggplant, baba ghanoush is one of my favorites to serve cold. However, I think it tastes kind of funky if it gets warm or hot. This presents a problem for me at lunch time. See, my staple packed lunch is to stick a couple different veggies (often pre-frozen) plus some cooked protein in a microwave-safe container, then cover it with some kind of sauce and nuke the whole thing when I'm ready to eat. So I'm always looking for interesting sauce options that incorporate vegetables and still taste good after a trip in the nuker.

This was inspired by ajvar, a Balkan red pepper relish, which I discovered via The Clothes Make The Girl. My ingredients are virtually identical but the proportions and preparation are different. From what I understand, ajvar has more pepper than eggplant, is rough-textured like salsa, and has quite a bit of olive oil. This is more of a peppery baba ghanoush. I also streamlined the process by using roasted red peppers from a jar. I've served it cold with veggie dippers (it's awesome with snap peas and jicama sticks), and also hot (I used it instead of baba ghanoush in this recipe and brought it to work for lunch!).

EGGPLANT, RED PEPPER, AND ROASTED GARLIC DIP
Makes about 1.5 lbs

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 8 oz jar roasted red peppers, drained (I eyeballed half a 16 oz jar)
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Minced fresh parsley, mint, or basil (optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Roast the garlic; I used the crock pot as per this recipe. Alternately, preheat oven to 350 F. Slice off the top of the head of garlic, drizzle on the olive oil, then wrap tightly in foil, twisting at the top. Bake for an hour and let cool.
  2. Heat oven to 500 F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork. Roast for about an hour or until wrinkly and soft, turning it halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and let cool thoroughly.
  3. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides into the bowl of a food processor, discarding the skin. Squeeze the cloves out of the roasted head of garlic into the food processor with the eggplant and add the peppers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and olive oil. Pulse until dip-able but still a bit chunky.
  4. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using, and serve. It will keep for a little over a week in the fridge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Slow cooker pot roast with chunky vegetable braise

Taking a camping trip the first week of September was a strange thing. When I left it was summer, but I emerged from the woods to find that the world is now in full-blown fall mode. I'm actually pretty excited to switch gears for fall foods. Today, Fox News Magazine did a story which included my recipe for avocado ice cream, and you can't get more summery than avocado + ice cream. With that as my last vestige of summer foods, I'm ready for hearty greens, squashes, chili, stews, soups, warm spices, and of course everything pumpkin!

On our camping vacation, we road tripped through northern California as well as Oregon. Our camp sites ranged from amateurish car camping to remote sites to which we needed to bring our own water. Here's a short video clip of the latter:



Prior to that, we spent a night at Crater Lake and had dinner at the restaurant there. I ordered pot roast as it was basically the only thing on the menu that wasn't pizza, sandwich, or pasta. As I was eating it, I asked myself out loud about three times, "Why do I never make this??". It's so simple and tasty, plus it's an easy one-pot meal with veggies. I decided to make it at home, of course using my crock pot. I kept experiencing temptation to gussy it up somehow but I restrained myself and stuck with a simple, classic dish.

Some points about this recipe, in bulleted form:
  • You want to use a cheap, fatty cut for this, as it's a LOT more forgiving in terms of keeping the meat juicy and tender. I used a grass-fed chuck roast.
  • I never sear the roast before slow cooking it. It smokes up the kitchen and dirties an extra pan, which to me defeats the simplicity and convenience of a crock pot. I just made sure that no veggies sat on top of the roast, so it naturally formed a nice crust as it cooked.
  • I intentionally did not give amounts for the seasonings, as I think that measuring, mixing, and rubbing spices is often the most annoying part of a recipe. Sometimes I need that precision, but for this, shaking everything onto the meat worked great.
  • I add NO LIQUID! Since it's covered in the crock pot, no moisture evaporates, so even without added liquid I got plenty of gravy. Adding broth or similar would have created a soup.
  • Keep the veggies in large chunks, since it cooks for a while and small pieces would virtually dissolve. Feel free to add whatever root vegetables you like. In addition to carrot, celery, and onion, I added a rutabaga cut into 8 wedges (for me) and purple potatoes (for the husband; they taste like white potatoes but are packed with antioxidants!). Parsnips, celery root, kohlrabi, golden beets, and sweet potato are all good choices, and thick green beans stand up nicely to crock potting as well.

SLOW COOKER POT ROAST WITH CHUNKY VEGETABLE BRAISE
Serves about 6

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 chuck roast or other cheap fatty cut, anywhere from 2-5 lbs
  • 1 head of celery
  • 1 bunch of carrots (about a pound)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bulb garlic (optional, if you want roasted garlic with your pot roast. But why wouldn't you??)
  • Root vegetables of choice, cut into large chunks (optional, more info in recipe description)
  • Salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Sweet paprika
  • Dried marjoram (feel free to substitute your favorite dried herb, such as basil, thyme, oregano, or rubbed sage)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Prep your veggies: separate the celery into stalks, chop off and discard the leaves and white bottoms, then cut the stalks crosswise into two or three pieces. Peel or scrub the carrots and halve them crosswise or leave them whole if they are small. Peel the onion and slice it into thick rings. Slice the top off the garlic. Prep any other veggies accordingly.
  2. Arrange the onion slices down the center of your crock pot with the other veggies in bunches toward the sides. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Season the roast generously on both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and dried herbs. Lay it in the crock pot on top of the onion and other veggies.
  4. Cook for 7-8 hours on low.
  5. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Slice it, preferably using an electric knife to prevent the slices from shredding. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Use a turkey baster or ladle to scoop out the meat juices. I transferred it to a degreasing pitcher, though if you leave it in the refrigerator the fat will congeal on top and can easily be removed. Pour a bit of the reserved juices over the meat slices to keep them moist. Serve now, or reheat later!
  6. I always just serve it with the juices from the slow cooker. However, if you want a thicker gravy, just combine a tablespoon of arrowroot or tapioca flour with 2 tablespoons of warm water. Bring the pan juices (grease skimmed off) to a boil on the stove, stir in the arrowroot or tapioca slurry, and boil for about a minute until thickened.

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