Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Holy Pancake

It is a pancake with a hole in the middle of it!

It is called Adai or Dal Dosa, an Indian pancake. Last Sunday, I decided to try another type of dosa which is made of Lentil, Bean, and Grain: White Gram Lentil(Urad Dal), Yellow Split Pea (Chana Dal), and Jasmine Brown Basmati rice. It is not as thin as crepe but not as thick as American pancake, more like a Korean pancake, so I call it a pancake.

Throughout my Indian cooking this week, I realized that I am using the combination of lentils, beans, and grain all the time. I think it is a smart way of cooking vegetarian dishes, since you know, I got this question all the time from non-vegetarian friends: ‘Where do you get your protein?’ I learned something from the South Indians, they know where to get their protein. Maybe because vegetarianism has been a way of life for thousands of years in India so they know how to include protein in almost every dish.

I had to soak the lentil, bean, and grain in water and then ground them into a coarse batter. I also added some Indian spices, chilies, and lots of chopped cilantro into it. The dough was much thicker than American pancake batter, more like a muffin batter, so I had to spread it round with a spatula on a hot cast iron skillet. The Indian way is to use your hand but I was not going to sacrifice my pretty fingers to the hot skillet, knowing that I am a novice. According to the recipe, I need to make a 1/2–inch hole in the middle of it. ‘What’s the hole for?’ my husband asked since he has never eaten a pancake with a hole in the middle of it. It is to put 1 teaspoon of oil in the middle of the hole so the oil can spread to the sides of the pancake and the bottom while it’s cooking, to make it crispy. I made it like that for my husband but I opted not to add the oil for mine.

According to the recipe, this pancake is scrumptious to be eaten with butter (we use Earth Balance, of course) and powdered jaggery (a natural Indian vegan sugar) on top. My friend, Val, gave me jaggery a few weeks ago in the form of cubes that I crushed into powder. I chose not to add Earth Balance too, to be in a lower fat diet. My husband did eat it with both and it was indeed scrumptious!

The picture above displayed the pancake served with Earth Balance on top and Tomato Rasam (soup) and powdered jaggery on the side. Both recipes were taken from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India .

Nutrition Facts (without the oil and Earth Balance):
Nutrition (per serving): 148.5 calories; 11% calories from fat; 2.1g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 200.8mg sodium; 197.0mg potassium; 26.9g carbohydrates; 3.6g fiber; 2.4g sugar; 23.3g net carbs; 6.1g protein; 2.4 points.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sinfully Delicious!

By the title of this post, you probably thought that I made a double fudge chocolate cake and have gone off the Weight Watcher's wagon, right? Wrong! I actually made dosa which is an Indian thin crepe dish. Dosa in Indonesian language (my native) means SIN. That's right, so you can imagine how so amused I was when a South Indian restaurant opened near our house called Dosa Place. Yeah, a SINFUL PLACE!

It was indeed a sinful place by the way we devoured dosas, sambars, bajjis, pakoras, and vadas in this restaurant, no wonder I have to pay for it now. Their dishes are so delicious. I haven't met anyone who doesn't like dosas. The restaurant is not 100% vegetarian but Indians really know how to cook vegan/vegetarian dishes because I believe vegetarianism was born in India thousands years ago. Their South Indian Specialties in their menu are mostly vegans.

Dosa is usually filled with spicy curried potatoes (called masala potato) and accompanied by sambar and chutneys. Sambar is a spicy thick soup and chutney is a sauce condiment. There are so many different type of sambars and chutneys that if I explain them all in details, this blog will be quite long.

There are many different dosas too. The most favorite one that people order in the restaurant is Masala Dosa. But I have to be different than anyone else, I guess, my favorite one is Rava Dosa which is a lacy thin crepe made of cream of wheat (farina), rice flour, wheat flour, and spices.

Well, if we live 3 minutes from Dosa Place and 20 minutes from Little India where we can go to many different 100% vegetarian South Indian restaurants, why do I bother to make it at home? The answer is lower fat. Yes, those restaurants use a lot of oil that their food tend to be greasy. I am trying to loose weight but I love ethnic dishes. My challenge is to make it at home as good as the restaurants' with lower calories.

I started by searching and buying Indian cookbooks and found a few that seems to be everyone's favorites. Here are the two that I bought and enjoyed (my in-laws gave me a xmas gift certificate to shop at Amazon, yahoo!): Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking and Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India. Then, I tried their recipes by cutting down the amount of oil in the recipe to 1 to 2 teaspoons.

The Rava Dosa was served with Small Onion Sambar (homemade)and Indian Mango Pickle(store bought). The filling was Spicy Potato Filling(homemade). I didn't make any chutney. Honestly, mango pickle was not a good choice as a condiment for dosa, chutney should be better.

To make dosas, Indians use a tawa or dosa griddle which is a cast iron flat griddle. If you google 'dosa griddle', it will return with many results to buy from low to high prices. The cookbooks say that a cast iron frying pan will do. I am glad since I don't want to buy yet another gadget for the kitchen. It works really well with my good old cast iron frying pan.

The trick to make this dosa is to dribble or splash the batter onto a preheated cast iron griddle. That's what makes the lace or holes on the crepe. The batter has to be very thin like a crepe batter so you can dribble it or splash it. It was FUN! It took me a while to get the correct technique but with patience I conquered it. I may not be hired as a chef at Dosa Place but I am good enough to impress 2 people: my husband and me. I cooked one side for several minutes until the bottom is brown and crispy, then, flip it and cook the other side for several minutes.

This dosa is best eaten right away since it is crispy and will soften when it cools off. Unfortunately, the cook(me!) had to stand by the stove making this delicious dish while the husband sat on the dining table devouring it. No fair! Now you know that it is well worth it to pay a few dollars at Dosa Place, at least for me. But honestly, I enjoyed the challenge. This dosa is pretty darn good and we really had a delicious SINFUL weekend!

Credits: Spicy Potato Filling and Rava Dosa (Cream of Wheat Crepes with Green Chilies and Ginger)recipes are from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, page 156 and 159. Small Onion Sambar(Vengaya Sambar) recipe is from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine from South India, page 2.

Rava Dosa's nutritional facts with 2 tsp. oil:
Nutrition (per serving): 54.2 calories; 18% calories from fat; 1.2g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 374.5mg sodium; 79.8mg potassium; 9.9g carbohydrates; 0.6g fiber; 1.1g sugar; 9.3g net carbs; 1.3g protein; 1.1 points.

Spicy Potato filling nutritional facts with 2 tsp. oil:
Nutrition (per serving): 168.3 calories; 8% calories from fat; 1.6g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 622.6mg sodium; 830.8mg potassium; 35.7g carbohydrates; 4.6g fiber; 5.6g sugar; 31.1g net carbs; 4.8g protein; 2.7 points.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where is Punjab?

I own Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking Cookbook for a while but really never look at it much nor cook from it. Lately, I had discussions with Bryanna about several Indian cookbooks since I want to cook more Indian dishes. My husband’s favorite cuisine is Indian and as much as I cook other cuisines that’s the cuisine I cook the least. I took this cookbook out from my bookcase and perused it in the last few weeks as bedtime readings. I was interested in this particular one recipe: Punjab Five-Jewel Creamed Lentils (Panch Ratan Dal) because it seems so easy to make.

The author doesn’t really use 5 different lentils and beans but anyone can just add 1 more type of lentil or bean. The word ‘creamed’ can be misleading that this dish contains milk or yogurt but it doesn’t. She also uses the term ‘spice-perfumed butter’ but there is no butter or ghee in the recipe. So, it is completely VEGAN.

It was very easy. I made a few changes in the cooking method and used much less oil to accommodate my low-fat diet. I also made it easier by using my pressure cooker. I did it in a flash! Really! I started cooking at 6 pm and the dish was ready at 6:30 pm, the time my husband arrived home from work (he always comes at the perfect time for dinner).

We both LOVE this dish! It was very filling and satisfying. The spices were so mild that I thought this must be a North Indian dish. It almost taste like an American lentil or bean dish with a bite of cayenne but flavorful. South Indians would use more spices in their dish other than just cumin seeds. We were wondering where is Punjab? Like all techies will do, my husband fired up the laptop and googled it. It was a North Indian District! I guess just like where we are in the US, the Indian people in Northern states eat milder dishes than the people in the Southern states.

My changes are in italics:

Adapted from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking
Serve 8

Panch ratan means "five jewels." The classic recipe calls for five varieties of lentils and beans to be combined and flavored with cayenne, cumin, and turmeric. The five seasonings and herbs that always flavor this dal are onion, garlic, ginger, chilies, and coriander. I have omitted the green chilies in this recipe as, together with cayenne, the dal tends to be quite hot. If you like a very hot taste, add 4 chopped green chilies to the recipe. Also, in place of yellow lentils and Indian yellow split peas, I use supermarket-variety yellow split peas, which taste like a cross between the two. Panch ratan dal is delicious and filling. It goes beautifully with brean and rice alike.

For cooking the lentils:1 cup yellow split peas (supermarket-variety)
1/2 cup split white gram beans (urad dal)
1/4 cup split yellow mung beans (moong dal)1/4 cup red lentils (masar dal) I used toor dal or pidgeon peas1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coarse salt, or to taste I used 1.5 tsp6-8 tbsp light vegetable oil I used 2 tsp
2 medium-size onions, peeled and sliced thin
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated or crushed fresh ginger
3 medium-size tomatoes, sliced into 3/4-inch-thick wedges

For the spiced-perfumed butter:
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 whole green serrano chilies, chopped3-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
  1. Pick, clean, wash, and cook the lentils(dal), using a pressure cooker with 4 1/2 cup of water and the 1/2 tsp turmeric. Pressure cook for 5 minutes on high and then follow by the quick release method. See notes below for conventional method.
  2. Add the salt to the lentils, keep the lentils on a very low simmer while you are preparing the following steps.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly, until they turn light brown(15-18 minutes). Add a bit of water to prevent the onions to stick to the pan.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger, and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the tomatoes, and fry, turning them carefully and shaking the pan, until they look slightly browned and cooked (about 5 minutes). Add a bit of water if it becomes dry and to prevent the tomatoes to stick to the pan.
  5. Pour the entire content of the pan over the dal and gently stir to mix. Continue simmering the dal while you make the spice-perfumed butter.
  6. Wipe clean the frying pan and place it on medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of the oil. When it is hot, add the cumin seeds. When the cumin turns dark brown (about 12 seconds), add the green chilies, cayenne and paprika. Immediately pour the entire contents of the pan over the dal, scraping the mixture out with a rubber spatula. Stir a few times, just to streak the dal with the spice-laced butter. Serve sprinkled with paprika and coriander
Notes: The dals can be purchased in any Indian market. To cook conventionally without the pressure cooker, it will take 25-40 minutes before the dals become soft.
Nutrition Facts(with my changes): Nutrition (per serving): 211.0 calories; 8% calories from fat; 2.1g total fat; 0.0mg cholesterol; 447.1mg sodium; 581.5mg potassium; 36.7g carbohydrates; 9.6g fiber; 5.6g sugar; 27.2g net carbs; 13.2g protein; 3.6 points.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What's Pho Dinner?

My husband always asks me 'What's for dinner?' For once this time, I answered PHO which is pronounced FOR? (you have to sing it like asking a question 'fuh?' according to my Vietnamese friend).
Vietnamese Pho noodle soup is traditionally made with beef. I veganized it and made it with TVP slices, beefy style. The most important aspect in making noodle soups is the broth. It has to be a tasty broth. I have been searching for good vegan Pho recipes and googled it but finally created the recipe myself by veganizing a traditional recipe I found in the Internet:  Recipe Source for non-vegetarian pho. We can order Vegetarian Pho from nearby Vietnamese Vegetarian restaurants(living in Southern California, we are blessed with many ethnic veg restaurants) but I always wonder if I can make it at home and found out that it was not hard at all. In fact, I didn't have to boil beef bones with marrow for hours like the original recipes. The vegetarian version can be made in a flash (especially if you have a good pressure cooker)!
The aroma of boiled parsnips and star anise is another story. I usually do not cook with parsnips and star anise. My husband said that it smelled "Pho-ooey!" and I was getting worried of how it will turn out. However, the final result was GREAT! The combination of parsnips, mushrooms, onions, gingers, shallots, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in the broth is surprisingly delicious and the smell was not that bad after it was done cooking. I thought the broth was better than the restaurant version myself but I am bias since it is my own cooking. My husband as a critical judge claimed that it was GOOOOD and forgot about the pho-ooey smell.

Vegan Pho Noodle Soup

2 large onions
6 cloves shallots
4 oz whole ginger (about 2 large)
16 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
8 whole star anise
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 medium parsnips (about 1.5 lb total)
Better than Bouillon No Beef Base for 8 cups water
4-6 oz TVP slices, Japanese beefy style (1 pkg) or beefy seitan strips
6 oz oyster mushrooms, optional
1/4 cup vegetarian fish sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce or Toyomansi
12 cups water

1 lb rice noodles for pho (1/4 inch wide)   1/2 medium onions   1/2 cup cilantro sprigs   1 1/2 cups bean sprouts   1 bunch fresh mint leaves   1 bunch fresh Thai basil leaves

Chili Garlic sauce or Sriracha hot sauce   Vegetarian Hoisin sauce   Freshly ground black pepper   Lime wedges from 1 lime

Charring the vegetables:
  1. Peel the outer layer of the onions but not all the way, leave the last layer of the onion skin. Then, cut them in halves. Take each half and stud it with 4 whole cloves. There will be 4 halves studded with 16 whole cloves.
  2. Pound the whole ginger (unpeeled) with something heavy like a pestle or the back of a cleaver, two or three times. Leave the skins on the shallots but rub them with paper towels to clean the outer parts.
  3.  I use my oven broiler on high to bake the onion halves studded with cloves, smashed ginger roots, whole shallots on oiled baking pan. Turn them over after 10 minutes. Keep turning until most of the surface are charred. This process takes about 30 minutes depending on how hot your oven is. They don't have to be all blackened and charred but the onions and shallots should become soft. Let them cool and set aside. At this point, they can be refrigerated in a container.
Preparing Pho Broth: 
  1. Dissolve the bouillon paste in 12 cups hot water in a large soup pot or a 7-quarts pressure cooker pot.
  2. Take out some of the blackened skins of the onions, ginger, and shallots. Put them into the prepared broth.
  3. Wrap the star anise, cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns in a cheesecloth and then tie it tight with a string. Put this spice bag in the broth pot too.
  4. Peel the parsnips and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Put them into the broth pot. Boil this mixture for at least 1 hour. The faster method is to pressure cook them on high pressure for 30 minutes (this is what I did). Then use the quick release method when it is done.
  5.  Get another large pot ready and strain the ingredients that were boiled in the broth by using a colander or cloth. I throw away all the parsnips, onions, ginger, shallots, and the spices.
  6. At this time, add the 1/4 cup vegetarian fish sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce. I found that I didn't have to add salt since the bouillon paste is salty enough.
Preparing ‘meaty’ and topping ingredients: 
  1. While the broth is cooking, reconstitute the TVP slices in warm water (don't need to do this if using beefy seitan). Soak the rice noodles in warm water. Wash oyster mushrooms and tear them apart in large pieces. Slice the 1/2 medium onion very thin and soak them in warm water (to remove their strong juices). 
Drain the TVPs. Put them in the prepared Pho broth and simmer until they are soft, about 20-30 minutes. If using oyster mushrooms, put them in the last 5 minutes since they cook quickly. Preparing the raw vegetables and herbs:  
Wash the bean sprouts thoroughly and then drain them in colander. Wash the mint and basil leaves thoroughly and then drain in a colander. Cut the mint and basil leaves from the stalks. Serve them raw on top of a serving plate (see picture above).

Assembling the noodle bowl: 
  1. Boil 8 cups of water and throw in the soaked rice noodles and let it boil again, then drain quickly. Do not overcook the rice noodles which is done quickly in 2 to 3 minutes. It is not like pasta.
  2. Divide the drained noodles among large bowls. Drain the thinly sliced onions and divide them and put them on top of the noodles.
  3. Ladle the hot and boiling Pho broth with the TVP slices/beefy seitan strips and mushrooms on top of the noodles and serve them immediately with cilantro sprigs on top and the raw vegetables and condiments on the side. Tips: the broth needs to be boiling hot before you laddle it on the noodles.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Aromatic Journey

A good way to start my blog is to talk about shopping for spices. I just love spices. A friend told me about Penzey spices and I ordered from them via on-line twice. Their spices are fresh and seem to be stronger than the regular supermarkets'. I found out that Penzey opened a store in Torrance about 7 weeks ago. What an opportunity to check it out! Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to smell the spices instead of just looking at them in the catalog or website?

I was able to convince my husband to go with me last Saturday. I promised him good smells and a new vegan culinary experience at the end of this journey, as a reward. The plan was to visit the Penzey Store and then eat dinner at House of Vege (about 8 miles from Penzey). We have never eaten at House of Veg so this is a new culinary experience. My husband is a good navigator while I am good at following his directions (I told him "That's why I brought you with me, honey, cause you can get us there and then home!") We were able to find the store with no problem.

Oh, boy, I feel like a kid in a candy store. But in this case I was a cook in a spice store. Same difference! I just could not decide where to begin. The store was simple, not fancy like William Sonoma, but organized. It is divided into sections like Spice A-Z, Baking, Herbs, Jars, Gift Boxes, etc. We didn't notice the time as we opened one jar to the next and brought it close to our nose. I felt that I needed to slow down right away because smelling a spice to the next so quickly was really confusing my nose.

After spending more than 1 hour, my husband claimed 'My nose is tired, let's go!' I managed to buy Smoked Spanish Paprika, Sate seasonings, Cumin, Star Anise, Medium Hot Chili Powder, Poppy Seeds, Thyme, Pure Wasabi, and Natural Wasabi with Pure Wasabi in it. The most expensive purchase was Pure Wasabi for $12.49 for a .7 oz small jar. I didn't want to buy it but my husband insisted. He said that he had never tasted pure wasabi before. Do you know that when you eat sushi out there or buy wasabi powder in the market, it is not a REAL wasabi? Pure Wasabi, apparently, is really expensive. I am going to make sushi in the next few weeks so I decided that it will be a chance to try out a pure wasabi. We will let you know if it is worth it.