Friday, July 28, 2017

Making Fish Palatable to a Non Fish Eater

My husband has never liked fish. 

He has managed to eat things like "fish and chips," where there is more greasy breading than actual fish, and he is more apt to leave chunks of fish on the plate and eat every last morsel of the greasy, fried breading. Getting him to eat plain fish on a plate has always been near-hopeless. It must be disguised in some way, so the flavor is not prominent.
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

And on to the next difficulty...

My husband has never liked cauliflower. 

Nor broccoli, nor cabbage except under very particular circumstances. He doesn't like radishes, or mesclun greens or parsnips or even carrots all that much... and the list is long. He has eaten some of these. The circumstance is generally very particular. Raw cabbage is totally out. He hates sauerkraut, and even more hates the home-fermented sauerkraut I have made.

But back to cauliflower. Some time ago, I was on a diet and tried making cauliflower "mashed potatoes." Real mashed potatoes, or potatoes served almost any way at all, EXCEPT if they have skin, are on the absolute "yes" list. He tolerated the pureed cauliflower, but didn't necessarily go so far as to say he liked it. 
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

He has been having some pretty severe health issues over the last half year, and now it is becoming imperative that his diet expand into more healthy realms. And I have, so far,  managed to get him to eat salmon and cod. Again, he does not say he "likes" the meal, but that it is "okay." 

Yesterday, I wanted to make some beautiful haddock fillets for lunch, and was wondering how I could sneak in some cauliflower. I figured the only possibly way would be to shred the cauliflower and make it part of the scenery, so to speak. I found a recipe for fish in "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal. It called for a marinade using tamarind and coconut milk. I love both of these, and while my husband loves the flavor of coconut milk (but won't eat coconut!), he doesn't really know much about tamarind, outside of the fact that it does go into many Indian dishes I have made. As for flavor, he is unaware.

I looked through the cookbook to see what might be done with cauliflower, and in general, it seemed that I could possibly get by if I added grated cauliflower (of late, it is often called "cauliflower rice") and other veggies to the recipe for the fish, since it would have a fair amount of liquidy sauce to it. And since runny sauces are another thing my husband dislikes, I thought if it was thickened up with vegetables, it might - just - work. It did, and with flying colors. The recipe is so extremely flavorful, I could have easily eaten the whole pan full myself, but I was good and shared 😇 - and he did actually say the words: "I really like this!"

I did follow the recipe from "My Indian Cookbook" fairly closely, up to the point where I added all the vegetables. In all, I added 1 cup of grated cauliflower, ½ cup of red bell pepper, ½ cup of tomatoes and ½ cup of frozen peas. This is in addition to the whole onion called for in the recipe. So we had over 4 cups worth of vegetables altogether that were split between us for lunch. Granted, coconut milk is high calorie, but all the remaining ingredients were not. So it all balances out. And it tastes so very, very good.


Tamarind Pods
Tamarind Pods
Tamarind is a souring agent in many Southeast Asian and Indian foods and it also is used extensively in Caribbean cooking. I learned to use it to make a refreshing beverage while living in Guatemala. It is every bit as refreshing as a good homemade lemonade on a hot day. Tamarind pods grow on trees. The pods have a brittle shell and very dense, sticky, sour "fruit" inside that encloses black, shiny seeds. Using tamarind pods is simple enough: remove as much of the brittle shell as possible, along with loose fibers (seen in the photo at right), and soak the sticky insides in water for about a half hour or more. To make a sauce, simply squeeze and rub the softened fruit in the water, remove as many seeds as possible, then press through a larger holed strainer. It can be a very thick sauce or a very thin and runny sauce. For this recipe, a slightly thicker sauce is best.

I used 4 tamarind pods for the recipe, and my sauce was a little thinner than I wanted, but it can always be cooked down in the recipe.

Our local Walmart store is now carrying whole tamarind pods, and we are not in a large city at all. Granted, there are quite a few orientals up here. Tamarind pods are also found on Amazon. If you prefer, tamarind is often sold in a compressed "cake." The brittle shells are removed and the sticky insides are pressed together into a block and sold. Some packages say they are seedless, but do not take that for granted! To use this kind of compressed cake, simply cut off a chunk and soak it in water as for the fresh pods and proceed the same way.

Other Ingredients

Some other ingredients that some may not have in their pantries are things like brown mustard seeds or dried coconut milk powder. Again, Amazon to the rescue. Some groceries carry brown mustard seeds. If not, white mustard seeds can be substituted. Cumin seeds and coriander seeds are generally available in groceries, as well as cans of unsweetened coconut milk. My preferred brand is Thai Kitchen. 

Curry leaves are also used in this recipe, and while they give a slightly citrus-like flavor and aroma, there is no real substitute. These are also available on Amazon. I ordered fresh curry leaves (Ajika brand) and they arrived beautifully fresh and green. I promptly placed the bag into a zip-top freezer bag and placed them in the freezer. They turn black in the freezer, but regain some green color if left out to thaw. Remove one stem or a few leaves as called for in a recipe and return the remainder to the freezer.

The fish I used was haddock, but cod is also excellent for this recipe (and for my finicky husband's palate). It is very white and very mild and flakes beautifully when cooked.

Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

Serves 2
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables
Fish in Coconut Tamarind Sauce with Vegetables

2 white fish fillets such as haddock, halibut or cod

4 tablespoons tamarind sauce (see above)
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
¾ teaspoon garam masala
- pinch of salt
1½ tablespoons coconut milk powder
- pinch cayenne
2 - 3 tablespoons cooking oil
¾ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
5 curry leaves, torn in small pieces
1 green chili pepper, slit down one side
1 onion, chopped finely
1 cup finely grated cauliflower
1 clove garlic, minced
½-inch fresh ginger, minced
½ cup red bell pepper, chopped in small pieces
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- pinch black pepper
salt, to taste
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup frozen peas

Combine the marinade ingredients in a container that will hold the fish. Add the fish to the marinade and ensure all sides of the fish are covered with marinade. Set aside for about 30 minutes, while preparing the rest of the dish.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add in the mustard seeds, curry leaves and the whole green chili pepper. Toss in the oil until all the mustard seeds pop. Add in the onion and cauliflower and cook, stirring, until the onion and cauliflower develop some brown spots. Add in the garlic and ginger and cook until the raw smell disappears. Add in the bell pepper and tomatoes and cook until mostly dry. Remove the fish fillets from the marinade and set aside.

fry onion & cauliflower - add pepper and tomatoes - cook - set fish aside
fry onion & cauliflower      -      add pepper and tomatoes             -             cook             -                set fish aside
Pour the marinade into the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add in the cumin seeds, black pepper and salt and stir. Let this mixture simmer to break down all the vegetables, about 10 minutes, then stir in the second ½ cup coconut milk. Now, add the fish to the pan and nestle it in the sauce. Continue cooking until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Timing will depend on the thickness of your fillets.
add marinade to skillet        -     cook about 10 minutes        -       add fish to pan       -      cover the fish with the sauce

Once the fish is cooked, add in the peas and allow to cook until the peas are heated through, about 3 minutes. Serve with rice, if desired (I used red rice), or serve in a bowl as for stew. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.    

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Turnips and Peaches

Turnips and Peaches make a very disparate title. I realize this. I am going into two recipes, hence the radically different subject matter.

Recently, I made falafel for the first time and we fell in love with them. I sort of made things in reverse order though. I got the idea for falafel, and only after that process got started did I think about pita breads, which I didn't have at the time of eating the first falafel. So I made pita breads a couple of days afterwards, and we got to stuff the pita pockets a trifle more authentically.

Another thing was shown in many places online where falafel recipes were given, and that was Turnip Pickles. So many places with photos of falafel, served in pita breads with garnishes of tomato, yogurt sauce and other things, also showed photos of a hot neon pink condiment that I finally realized was Turnip Pickles.

And here I have a confession. I do not like turnips. I have tried, over the years, to keep an open mind, but somehow, they just taste bitter, and I do not enjoy them. When living in Guatemala, I learned to like a lot of things I had never liked or eaten in my youth at home. At age 20, I went to Guatemala, determined to learn to like the foods, to learn the culture and just generally learn to fit in. While I learned to love most of the foods served, including coffee, cauliflower, radishes and a host of things I had never heard of before, turnips just never passed the threshold of acceptance, much less enjoyment.
Turnip Pickles
Turnip Pickles

I've used turnips. VERY infrequently, in a soup recipe that uses all root vegetables and their greens. Sometimes I use rutabaga, sometimes turnip. All together in the soup, and mixed with things I do like, such as carrots, parsnips and beets, the turnips just sort of blend in, and I tolerate them. I really like the earthiness of the soup, so I make it about once a year. 

And this brings me back to the concept of turnip pickles. I looked at the photos online and waffled. Finally I just made up my mind and bought ONE turnip. I figured I would give the recipe a try. What was the worst that could happen? I wouldn't like them and I wasted a few ingredients? Plenty of ingredients get wasted when I buy something and then just never get around to using it. So I went ahead.

The recipe I found and scribbled onto a piece of paper, was partly specific, partly optional. I figured I would easily be able to go back and find it, to give credit. IF, that is, I liked the pickles. And guess what? I absolutely LOVED these turnip pickles! Finally, at age 67, I found a turnip recipe that I can eat with enjoyment. I went online to look for the recipe. I found more than 20 variations on the theme, but none - not even one of them - is the one I scribbled down. So, whoever had this recipe online, forgive me. I love the recipe. I added spices to my own taste. I didn't have a fresh beet (which gives the beautiful neon pink color) but had some plain, cooked beets. The color in my turnip pickles is not quite as vibrant as most seen online, but close enough. The color is just pretty, and in no way necessary. The pickles are crunchy, tangy and marvelous. The recipe I used is this:

Turnip Pickles
Turnip Pickles

Turnip Pickles

Makes about 1 quart
2 medium turnips
2 or 3 slices raw beet
½ red onion, sliced
¾ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup water 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 bay leaf 

Peel the turnips and slice them however you prefer. Some slice them about ¼-inch thick and then in quarters, some slice them into sticks. Set them into a saucepan with the slices of beet. Add in all the remaining ingredients, bring just to boil, then pack into a jar. Refrigerate, once cooled.  Allow the pickles about 3 days to develop their color and flavor.

On to the Peaches

My sister-in-law loves peaches. I love peaches too, but not in the all consuming way she does. If there is a recipe involving peaches, Sherri is all about it! For her birthday recently, I made dinner for her; whatever she wants, I make for her birthday dinner each year. In past, she has asked for me to make Peach Crisp. I love my apple crisp recipe and it is just so good I call it "Best Apple Crisp, Ever." If the photo (in my link) does not inspire, I beg pardon. It is the most exceptional recipe. However, when substituting peaches for the apples in the recipe, the mixture stays runny, too juicy by far, and the topping, which should be crunchy, remains soggy. I have made this for her at least twice in past, and I have not been at all pleased with how it came out, though Sherri professed to truly love it
Peach Crisp
Peach Crisp

So when Sherri asked me to make Peach Crisp for dessert on her birthday, my heart kind of sank a little. But I would make it, no matter what. That's what she wanted. I sat and thought about the recipe a little bit. I thought about apples - in the sense that they tend to thicken on their own, because of their pectin. Peaches, on the other hand, have no natural pectin, so they stay runny unless thickened. So, why not thicken them? I went to look at recipes for peach pie. Every recipe I own seems to call for canned peaches. I wanted to use fresh peaches. Drat. Thickeners, to my mind, would either be tapioca or cornstarch. Since neither Sherri nor her brother (my husband) like tapioca, then cornstarch was going to be the choice.

The other thing was that with apple crisp, I use nutmeg and cinnamon as the spices. To me, cinnamon is not the best flavor for a peach dessert. I thought about spices, their flavors, and what might go well with peaches. I came up with a combination of nutmeg, ginger and allspice. 

What an absolutely delightful Peach Crisp it turned out to be. The flavors were exceptional. The best of all was that the peaches were thickened, so the topping got nice and crisp. It was a most exceptional Peach Crisp, indeed. And this is what I did:

Best Peach Crisp, Ever

Makes one 8 x 8-inch pan
Best Peach Crisp, Ever
Best Peach Crisp, Ever

4 cups peeled, sliced fresh peaches
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg, whisked slightly with a fork

⅓ cup melted butter

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray with cooking spray an oven-proof 8 x 8-inch pan.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the peaches with the cornstarch, sugar and spices. Toss well to combine and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour in the whisked egg, and with a fork, quickly mix and toss, creating a sort of streusel-like mixture. If all the dry ingredients are not moistened, this is not a problem.

Have the melted butter ready, and combine the second set of the spices in a small bowl.

Mix the peaches once more, to distribute the sugar and cornstarch, then pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the peaches. 
Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the top of the streusel, then lightly sprinkle on the reserved spices. 

Bake the Crisp for about 35 minutes, or until the topping is golden and crisp, and the peach mixture is bubbling up the sides in places. Serve warm. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.   

Monday, July 17, 2017

Untangling Indian Dals and Other Terminology

Anyone who has tried to understand which "dal/dahl/daal" is which, will find there is a surfeit of misinformation abounding on the web. While looking through my cookbooks, and some recipes online, I have come across differing names for some of the lentils, beans, dals and other legumes. When trying to find them to buy, there is even more confusion. There are a lot of different lentils and beans and seeds that are used in Indian cooking. I do not propose that I am a total expert, but I have spent a lot of time on this subject, researching to try and get to the root of which is which, and what names the varying lentils and beans may be called by, in order to use the proper one when using a recipe.
My Indian Cookbook by Amandip Uppal
My Indian Cookbook by Amandip Uppal

My search came down to a crunch about a week ago, when I decided to try making "Tadka Dal," a recipe right out of the cookbook called "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal (found on Amazon, here). I was given this book by friends, and at first I thought how very simple some of the recipes seemed. Most Indian recipes look forbidding, with the vast array of ingredients, spices and other flavoring agents. This is why I have amassed an amazing array of spices over the years, and a fair bit of knowledge in how to use them. Amandip Uppal's recipes, the ones I have tried, to date, have been really delightful. Her Naan bread is so amazingly soft, I found it hard to believe. So when I decided to try this recipe for Tadka Dal, I ran into a snag, since I was missing one of the "dals" called for. I set about remedying that situation right away, but in the meantime I made it with just two of the three dals called for. It was delightful. But then I wished I'd had the third, missing dal, to have tried it out for flavor.

Okay, What is Dal, Daal or Dahl?

Dal is the term used to denote any split, peeled lentil, bean or other dried legume. If the particular lentil, bean or dried legume is left whole, it is not called "dal.

Dal is also the term for a thinner, slightly soupy dish cooked from these split, peeled, lentils, beans or other dried legume, as well as whole cooked legumes. Confusing, as I said! I created a table, which is large, but hopefully will help unravel some of the confusion. I am sorry if some of the type is rather small, but it is a large table.
Table of Lentils  Peas and Dals
Table of Lentils  Peas and Dals

Not all Chickpeas are Created Equal

Another thing came out of my search to identify some of these lentils, beans, peas and other legumes. I had not realized that when an Indian recipe called for "besan" flour (which I knew was chickpea flour), it did not mean the kind of chickpeas / garbanzo beans we in the U.S use for hummus. Instead, there is a much smaller "chickpea" called Desi Chickpea / Kala Chana / Bengal Gram / Black or Brown Chickpea. With that many names for one single kind of chickpea, it is no wonder there can be massive confusion. Once this small Desi Chickpea is peeled and split, it is called Chana Dal, Desi Channa Dal or Split Yellow Gram! Good gracious! And it is this little split and peeled Desi Chickpea that is generally used to make the "besan" flour, but until just a couple of days ago, I did not know this.
Brown Desi Chickpeas vs Garbanzo Beans for size
Brown Desi Chickpeas vs Garbanzo Beans for size

I came upon this little fact when I tried following a recipe for some Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes (also from "My Indian Cookbook," by Amandip Uppal) made with besan. I thought "I have dried chickpeas/garbanzos, and my grain mill will grind them into flour - no problem." So when I went to make the breads, the recipe called for something like 5 tablespoons of water. At that point, there was absolutely no way this mixture was the soupy mixture the recipe showed it to be - something like crepe batter. After adding about 7 or 8 more tablespoons of water, it finally approached the right consistency. And it was after this that I read that if using regular chickpea (kabuli channa) flour, that you would need a lot more water to get the right consistency. Aha! Now that I know, I also have the split, peeled Desi chickpeas, so I can make proper "besan" flour.

Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes from "My Indian Cookbook"
Carrot & Chickpea Pancakes from "My Indian Cookbook" - also called Besan Chilla (or Besan Puda)

Terminology Difficulties

The next thing I came across that had me stumped for a bit is the term "Tadka," sometimes also called "Tarka." 

I have read a lot of recipes that have this term applied to it. And I have found recipes for various lentil, or lentil combination dishes that are all called "Tadka or Tarka Dal." Okay. So, why, if the lentils are different, and the other ingredients vary radically from one recipe to another, are they all termed Tadka Dal? 
My Dal Fry or Toor Dal with Tadka
My Dal Fry or Toor Dal with Tadka

I made that recipe from "My Indian Cookbook" (mentioned above), that Amandip Uppal called Tadka Dal, using two of the three types of lentils called for. It was wonderful. Once I ordered the remaining dal that I had not owned (Toor Dal, or split, peeled pigeon peas), I felt that I would like to make something with just these split peeled pigeon peas alone, to gauge the flavor. I found a recipe using just Toor Dal on for something called "Dal Fry." I made it, and was instantly enchanted by the flavors. I ate it for lunch, and after the veritable orgy of flavors in my mouth, I stopped to think: "Hmmm. Looking back, it seems that the ingredients for the Tarka Dal of a few days previous, and this Dal Fry were remarkably similar. What?" I got out both recipes to compare, and aside from one recipe calling for three different dals, and the other calling for only the one, the remaining ingredients were nearly identical! So what in the world is the difference? How can they be the same?

My first thought was that "Fry" in the title "Dal Fry" is a purely English word. So, what would this recipe be called if not for the word "fry?" I went hunting online, and finally figured out the problem:

Tadka, Tarka (or Chaunk or Dhungar) means fried flavoring agents.

These various dals, whether little Masoor Dal (red lentils), Toor Dal (split peeled pigeon peas), Desi Channa Dal (split, peeled Desi chickpeas / brown Desi chickpeas) or other, when these are cooked in water, have very little flavor of their own. It is far easier to cook them without salt, so they will absorb water more quickly, leaving one with a pot of well cooked, possibly mushy lentils (often a desired state) with little to no flavor. The Tadka comes in when adding flavors to this resultant mush to give it flavor. This "Tadka" can be as simple as a few kinds of spice such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds and maybe a Garam Masala, fried in some ghee and then added to the cooked lentils, along with salt, for flavor. It can be as complex as you wish. The recipe from used quite a lot of things, first frying mustard and cumin seeds, adding onion, garlic, ginger, curry leaves, and on and on, creating quite an excellent mixture, that was then added to the cooked, mushy, bland pigeon pea mixture.
My Tadka Mixture bfor Toor Dal

The result was nothing short of amazing, in my book. This recipe was so good that I said to my husband that I could eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner! My husband liked it, but said he wouldn't go quite as far as I would, such as eating it for breakfast! Yet, I have done just that, for the past two mornings. I - LOVE - this dish. And I really love the flavor of the Toor Dal. Despite all the added flavors, it was quite distinct from the Tadka Dal of those few days prior, despite having nearly the same flavoring ingredients. Before this dish, my most absolute favorite dal dish was one made with Masoor Dal, the little "red" (more like orange/salmon color) lentils. This new dish totally eclipses that first one, and that says a lot.

I changed very little in the "Dal Fry" recipe from Veg Recipes of India (click the link for that recipe). I had read elsewhere that more often amchur powder is used in place of the lemon juice called for in the recipe. Amchur is dried green mango powder, used often as a souring agent, sometimes alongside tamarind, another souring agent. I used amchur rather than lemon juice and slightly less chili powder, because if my husband was going to taste it, he cannot abide anything so hotly spiced. 

Another Misleading Bit of Information

When looking for Toor Dal, and sometimes Chana Dal, many people said they were the same as yellow split peas. NOT.
Yellow Split Peas - Split Desi Chickpeas - Split Pigeon Peas
Yellow Split Peas, left - Split Desi Chickpeas (Chana Dal), middle - Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal), right

Yellow split peas (split peas would be termed "matar dal") take far longer to cook at upwards of 2 hours (with no advance soaking) and are a fair bit larger than Chana Dal (split brown chickpeas / Desi chickpeas) or Toor Dal (split pigeon peas), both of which can take about a half hour of cooking, with no pre-soaking.

A note on many recipes calling for lentils: In my experience to date, while most Indian recipes call for the use of a pressure cooker (which I do not own), I truly cannot quite grasp why a pressure cooker is necessary. It barely takes a half hour, even without pre-soaking any of these split lentils/peas/beans to cook through. Many of the small ones, like the little red lentils (masoor dal) take about 15 to 20 minutes. What I do is set the lentil to cook in plain water first. Get it to a boil, reduce heat, then cover and let cook - and then I proceed with any measuring, chopping and frying called for in the recipe. Once that is taken care of, the lentils are generally cooked through. It's all about timing and organization. 

I truly hope that this blog may help some who are new to these terms and the many and varied legumes. I have been experimenting with Indian cooking for nearly 20 years now, and have myriad Indian cookbooks and such an abundance of spices unique to Indian cooking that they warrant a whole, dedicated drawer of their own. I love the foods, the spices and flavors that come of combining so many and varied ingredients. India is a whole world unto its own, and has such varied cultures just among their own states. I am endlessly fascinated with their culture and their foods. I taste something new, such as the Toor Dal with Tadka, and I feel like I just ate the best comfort food, ever. Despite a Slovak background, when I eat Indian foods I feel like I've come home.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.