Saturday, June 17, 2023

Black Eyed Peas Indian Style

I cannot believe I'm heading on a year of no posts. Still, hoping this will be of interest. 

In all of my life, despite trying all sorts of foods from all over, I have never once tried to make black-eyed peas. I believe i tasted them once, as part of "Texas Caviar" served at a function I was attending. In that mixture, the whole thing was stellar, but I could not pick out one flavor on its own. 

Alsande Tonak, Black-Eyed Peas, Curry
Alsande Tonak or Black-Eyed Pea Curry

Then, rooting around the internet for Indian recipes, I cam upon one called Alsande Tonak, a recipe from Goa. I cannot now place where I found this recipe, yet there are many of them out there to peruse, should you be a "comparison cook," like me. 

I promptly went out and bought some black-eyed peas to try out this recipe, and it was a hit with both my husband and I.


So many Indian recipes call for using (as in the recipe I used to create my own) 12 or 13 dry red chilies in making the masala, then another teaspoon of hot red chili powder later on. If this is your thing, more power to you! 

While I do like some heat, I would never tolerate that over abundance of a good thing. My poor husband would likely perish at the first taste. He's not one for chili heat at all. So, under this restriction, I scaled back the whole red chilies to 1 and eliminated the chili powder later. 

About the Masala**

Most masalas require toasting each spice separately first, and setting them to cool, then grinding. This masala is going to be toasted later, so the first part can be avoided. Secondly, the masala is more than is needed for the recipe, so you will have some left for another time. Or, double the remainder of the recipe and use all this amount of masala.

About the Coconut***

The very best is having fresh coconut in this recipe. Many supermarkets these days do carry it in the freezer section. Those in my area do not, so I get frozen bags of it when I go to the Indian grocery.

But if you have no access to fresh coconut, use unsweetened dry coconut, about 1/4 cup, and add it to the spices to grind for the masala, then use it as directed for the masala.

Alsande Tonak

(or Black-Eyed Pea Curry) 

Alsande Tonak, Black-Eyed Peas, Curry
Alsande Tonak
Black-Eyed Pea Curry

1/2 pound black eyed peas, soaked overnight
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion or shallot, chopped
2 cups water

3 whole cloves
1-inch cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 dried red chili, de-seeded, broken, for less heat
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 - 3 petals of a star anise
2 teaspoons white poppy seeds, optional
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 small onion or shallot, chopped
3 - 5 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup frozen grated fresh coconut*** (see above)
3 - 4 teaspoons of the Tonak Masala** (see above)
1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

Drain the soaking water from the black-eyed peas. Put them in a pot with  the tomatoes, onion / shallot and water and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. They should be quite soft. If not, cook a little longer. 

Meanwhile, make the masala: Take all of the whole spices and grind them to a powder, then add to the powder the turmeric and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the cooking oil and cook the onion until just golden. Add in the garlic for a minute or so and stir. Add in the grated fresh or frozen coconut and continue to cook, stirring until the coconut is golden. Add in the 3 or 4 teaspoons of the reserved masala and cook, stirring until the masala is well heated through. Add the contents of the pan to the cooked black-eyed peas along with the salt and mix well. If they need more liquid, add more water, then cook until heated through, and serve with roti or rice.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Chickpea Curry with Mango and Coconut

There are many, even in my own family, who do not care for chickpeas / garbanzo beans. For some it's texture related. For others, just plain dislike. I am not among those. I love chickpeas, whether in a salad, as hummus, as a dessert (Garbanzos en Dulce), in Indian mixtures like Channa Masala, or most ways I have encountered them. When a new recipe comes along, I sit up and take notice. 

mango, curry, coconut milk, chickpeas, garbanzos
Mango Coconut Chickpea Curry

Again this time it was from that I came across a recipe that comprised some of my favorite flavors, ticking so many boxes that I saved the recipe. Again, as with my previous post on some of her muffins, I change a few things to reflect my way of doing things. I completely understand where VeganRicha was coming from with her ingredients, because it makes the recipe more accessible to someone without a complete stock of Indian spices and other flavoring agents (unlike me). For her recipe of Mango Curry Chickpeas, please click on the link, which should take you right to that recipe page. 

tamarind, concentrate, prepared tamarind
One of the Brands I've Used
Richa uses ground cinnamon, cayenne and whole cloves. I used a small, 1-inch piece of stick cassia (the thick kind of stick), Kashmiri chili powder, and skipped the cloves, instead using crushed coriander seeds. I added in freshly ground pepper as well, and instead of a bay laurel leaf, which is what is known here in the US as bay leaf, I used a tej patta / tamal patra leaf, which is the Indian "bay leaf." These two have not much of anything in common, the tej patta tasting more of cinnamon than of bay laurel leaf. Toward the end of her recipe, she uses a couple of teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice to balance out the sweeter flavors. Instead I used tamarind concentrate from the Indian grocery nearby. It is an already prepared version, in runny form, just as if you'd taken the time to soak the tamarind pods, soften all the flesh, then strain it of all the seeds and fivers to make the preparation from scratch. A real time saver!

None of these changes are huge, just my own preferences. Please check out Richa's original recipe before proceeding with mine.

Another thing about the recipe is using mango puree. I never buy

mango, coconut milk, chickpeas, garbanzos, curry
 Mango Coconut Chickpea Curry

mangos in a can or mango puree or even mango juice. I prefer to eat fresh mangoes any day. Yet as Richa states, truly ripe mangoes are hard to come by, so making ones own puree may not yield the hoped-for flavor / sweetness results. However, my son and his wife were visiting over the weekend past and we all went to Patel Brothers Indian Grocery in Chandler, to stock up on some things. Not being Indian, I did not realize we were coming up to Diwali. The place was aswarm with people! But, what fun! I love saris, and had the opportunity to see so very many beautiful ones that day as many sari-clad ladies roamed the store. I complemented each one as I saw them! 

Back to the mango, my son loves mango, and he does buy mango juice, so he purchased a large-ish carton of "Alphonso Mango Juice." When he drank a glass of it, it looked awfully thick, but hey, I wasn't drinking it. It was also the most deep orange in color.  And, they accidentally left it in my fridge when they left to go home, too far away to come back for it.

It was far sweeter than was necessary for this recipe, but with everything else in the recipe, it was toned down a good bit, and I added a little more of the (very tart) tamarind extract at the end than is called for. It was the most heavenly tasting curry, ever!

Mango Coconut Chickpea Curry

Serves 3 to 4

Makes about 3 to 4 servings
Mango, Coconut milk, Chickpeas, garbanzos, Curry
Mango Coconut Chickpea Curry

1 medium onion, chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
3 - 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons coconut oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1- inch cinnamon stick
1 s
mall tej patta leaf
½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Garam Masala
¼ - ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder
1¼ cup coconut milk
¾ cup mango puree
¼ - ½ teaspoon salt, or as needed
1½ cup cooked chickpeas, or canned, drained
2 - 3 teaspoons tamarind concentrate, or use lime juice
- cilantro, for garnish

Prepare the onion, ginger and garlic and set aside. Heat a skillet until quite hot and add in the cumin and coriander seeds with the cinnamon and tej patta leaf and stir quickly, until fragrant; a few seconds. Do not burn. Add in the onion, mix well and sauté until golden, then add in the garlic and ginger and stir for 1 to 3 minutes to take away the raw smell. Stir in the Kashmiri chili powder (or cayenne, to taste), ground black pepper and garam masala, until fragrant.

Stir in the coconut milk, mango puree and tamarind, then add in the chickpeas and mix well. Taste for salt before adding; chickpeas from a can may be salty enough already. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes to meld flavors. Serve garnished with cilantro.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Muffins so Very Delicious and Low Fat

Muffins are really good. Still, I generally prefer biscuits or scones. Once in a while, I see a recipe and think I might try it, then somehow, it just doesn't happen. 

A few nights back, I was looking through Facebook, and came on a recipe for Turmeric Carrot Muffins with Chia & Coconut, from VeganRicha. Just the title alone had me riveted, right there, because each ingredient in the title is one I use regularly, and love. If you are vegan, or must be gluten free, please check out her recipe by clicking on the link to her recipe, above.

muffins, breakfast, bread, carrot, turmeric, ginger, chia, coconut
Turmeric Carrot Gingerbread Muffins

Okay, I looked up the recipe and saved it, and apparently my subconscious mind percolated and filtered through the recipe all night and into next day and finally I sat to think it through with my conscious mind. First off, I am not vegan, or vegetarian. Secondly, I don't have to be gluten free. So, I could make the recipe without those strictures, making it more a regular muffin recipe. I opted to use eggs. If milk was needed I would use it instead of a nut milk or coconut milk (I absolutely love coconut milk, but didn't want to open a can to use only a half cup!).

As it all turned out, I changed a lot of things. I truly didn't deviate much from the spirit of the recipe. I used almost everything in the recipe as stated, but changed amounts. 

  • I used a tiny bit more oil, but added a little snack cup of applesauce. 
    muffins, breakfast,  bread, ginger, turmeric, coconut, carrot, chia
    Turmeric Carrot Gingerbread Muffins

  • I opted to not use maple syrup, as it is expensive and I can never tell by taste that it is even in a recipe like this. I waffled between using honey or agave syrup, then switched to molasses. 
  • Mixed spices were in the original recipe, and cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg mentioned as possibilities. I changed this to cardamom and ground ginger. 
  • I used a fair bit more fresh ginger than called for as well, as I truly love ginger. 
  • As the recipe called for coconut milk and lemon juice, I changed that to buttermilk, thereby eliminating the lemon. Lemon would bring acidity up to work with the baking soda, but buttermilk will as well.
  • I used more flour, as I was adding both eggs and applesauce, so it was 2 cups of flour total. I used 1 cup of a mixture of barley and buckwheat flour, and the other cup plain all-purpose flour. If preferred, use all purpose flour for the whole 2-cup amount, or substitute whole wheat or other whole grain flour for part of the whole amount. In another attempt, I may use a bit of wheat bran as a part of the two cups of "flour."
I will caution that this recipe needs initial prep work, in that there are so very many little amounts of things to be measured out. I got out all my little cups I use for measuring out sets of spices and things (I save the little 1/2-cup applesauce snack containers for this type of use) and set out all the individual dry ingredients (mixed spices, raisins, coconut, chia, sugar, and the freshly grated ginger). I set the finely grated carrots in a bowl (Richa's recipe calls for blending carrots and other wet ingredients together, but I see no need for extra dirty utensils).

Ultimately, having used extra fresh ginger as well as adding dry ground ginger, along with the molasses, made these smell like the most heavenly gingerbread as they baked. All the extra textures and flavors, while not eclipsed completely, do give great texture. Carrots always make cakes moist, and that works here as well. These are exceptional muffins, and exceptionally good. Thank you Richa, for such an amazing combination!

Turmeric Carrot Gingerbread Muffins

Makes 12 muffins
muffins, breakfast, recipe, carrot, turmeric, coconut, chia, ginger
Turmeric Carrot Gingerbread Muffins

1 cup all purpose flour (130 grams / 4.6 ounces)
1 cup whole grain or other flour, or simply use all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons chia seed (32 grams / 1.15 ounce)
1/4 cup sugar or palm sugar (41 grams / 1.4 ounce)
1/4 cup raisins or chopped dates (34 grams / 1.2 ounce)
1/4 cup dry, unsweetened coconut shreds (18 grams / 0.65 ounce)

1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon dry, ground ginger

2 carrots (155 grams / 5.25 ounces), finely grated
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup plain applesauce
2 tablespoons sunflower oil or coconut oil
1-inch fresh ginger, finely grated (15 grams / 0.55 ounce)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons each chia seed and shredded coconut for topping, optional

muffins, recipe, breakfast, carrots, chia seed, coconut, turmeric
Turmeric Carrot Gingerbread Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease, or spray with cooking spray, the wells of a 12-well muffin tin. Set aside.

This is easiest to first measure out all the little ingredients and have at hand, "mise en place." A personal choice, but recommended.

In a medium mixing bowl, place all the dry ingredients together, plus the spices and stir together.

In another bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and stir well to combine, then pour all the wet into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or silicone spatula until no dry ingredients remain. Fill the muffin tin wells equally - the mixture is very generous. Separately, sprinkle some of the coconut for topping over each portion of batter, then repeat with chia seed.

Bake the muffins for 12 to 15 minutes. Test with a toothpick, as for cakes, at about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes before trying to remove from the tins. (Muffin papers may be used, if preferred.) After 10 minutes, the muffins will release from the tins with very little coaxing. Set them aslant in the wells to continue cooling. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze some in zip-top freezer bags for another time.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Lentils Shine in a Dish Called Mujadara

I like lentils. Liking lentils in the first place, may - or may not - preclude some from liking this dish. 

I had heard of Mujadara. I just never researched it to find out what, exactly, it was. I am not at all sure how or why I missed out on this meal, but I surely do wish I'd found out sooner, because it is one amazingly flavored dish. 

Mujadara, rice, lentils, onions, thnic, Middle Eastern, Lebanese

Mujadara is a Lebanese / Middle Eastern concoction of lentils and rice. Rice can be substituted with bulghur. Lentils and rice are pretty bland fare, on their own. They need a lot of help in the flavor department. I believe what interested me the most when reading the recipes online - particularly the ones written by Lebanese or other Middle Eastern bloggers - is the near lack of any flavorings beyond a little cumin - and a whole boatload of onions. These onions are sauteed until very, very dark; far darker than the norm. These deeply caramelized, nigh on to burnt (but not quite) onions are what provide the absolutely heavenly flavor to the otherwise not too exciting lentils and rice. 

Every cook has their own way of making a thing. Every cook has their own reasoning as to why it should be that way. I have absolutely no argument on method, and depending on the outcome, I may change a method to suit my own lifestyle. And at my age, I look for the simplest way, the fewest steps, the least cleanup possible. I have ranted on that subject here before, so I won't go into it again. But, when it requires three or four different pots or skillets to make one meal, I look immediately  to how that can be simplified. 

cookbook, Lebanese, ethnic, Maureen Abood
Maureen's Cookbook
Maureen Abood, a Lebanese-American lady I have been following for years on her blog, Facebook and with her cookbook called "Rose Water and Orange Blossoms," has recipes amazingly easy to understand. When dealing with an unknown culture, it helps to have someone both knowledgeable in the foods themselves, but also articulate enough to translate that into descriptions that clarify to a person not of that culture. I have some go-to Indian blogs that have fantastic recipes. Some though, assume that one knows what one is doing and so the recipes require some trial and error. And errors happen way too easily, when one "assumes!"

Ultimately, Maureen's recipe is the one that gave me the clearest idea of the whys and the wherefores of making Mujadara, though I had read about 8 recipes online and had already scribbled down two versions of what I thought I would do. 

What is Mujadara?

As mentioned above, Mujadara is a dish of lentils and rice (or bulghur), made with a surfeit of deep, dark, caramelized onions. The onions completely make this dish. Do not stint on the onions. In fact, in one blog, this admonition was followed by the fact that her relatives used twice the amount used in her recipe!

Whenever I research a recipe from a culture that is not mine, I try and stick to recipes from people of that culture. They would certainly know better what it is that makes a dish. Reading recipes from other sources not of the culture, where a slew of additional flavors are added in, either as enhancement or compensation, well, this is, IMHO, trying to change the culture, and there I try instead to remain a purist. 

In all the recipes written by a Middle Eastern (by background and culture, no matter where they live), there were - besides salt and water - just 5 main ingredients: lentils, rice (or bulghur), lots of onions, oil for sauteeing the onions (usually olive oil) and cumin. Period. Amounts may vary. Methods may vary. Ingredients did not vary. 

👀I did opt to parboil the lentils in a separate pan, for the one simple reason that it is best not to salt the lentils while they cook, as this toughens their skins and makes a longer cooking time. 

Ultimately, my Mujadara, though it takes a little while to make, was so very worthwhile. The flavors were sublime. My husband will tolerate lentils, if in the right application. He loved this dish nearly as much as I. I heartily recommend it to anyone. Vegetarians will love it for its complete protein. It is great accompanied by a simple salad, or tomatoes, or a tomato and cucumber salad. Of course, meat to accompany is fine. A dollop of Greek yogurt, or as I used, tzatziki, is also a great flavor combo. 


Mujadara, lentils, rice, Lebanese, Middle Eastern, ethnic, vegetarian

Serves 8 as a side dish

1 cup brown lentils
1 cup long grain or basmati rice
4 cups water, divided
4 medium onions, divided (more, if desired)
2 - 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Begin with the onions, as these take time. Chop three of the onions. Heat a goodly sized skillet over medium to medium low heat. Add in half the olive oil to heat and then the chopped onions. Stirring often, saute the onions until they are well past simple caramelization, and on into the realm of almost burnt. Sprinkle the salt over the onions while cooking as this helps draw moisture. The darker the onions, the better the flavors in the dish. Towards the end of cooking, add in the  cumin.

onions, saute, garnish, dark caramel
Dark Sauteed Onions for Garnish
Once the onions are almost ready, place 2 cups of the water and the lentils into a medium saucepan. Cover and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes. The lentils are just parboiled at this time. Add the contents of the pot, with any liquids remaining, to the onions in the large skillet. Add in the remaining 2 cups of water and the rice. Stir, bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Time for approximately 20 minutes. Leave the lid on and remove the skillet from the heat. Let steam for an additional 10 or 15 minutes if there is time. 

While the lentils and rice cook, heat another, smaller skillet and add the remaining olive oil. Cut the last onion into long slivers or rings and again, saute these until very deep dark in color. Once they are dark enough, pour them out onto paper toweling to absorb excess oil, and to crisp up a bit. Once the Mujadara is ready to serve, use these onions to garnish the dish.

Serve with a salad, a Shirazi salad (cucumber, tomato and onion), sliced tomatoes, a dollop of labneh, plain Greek yogurt, or tzatziki, some mint sprigs or cilantro, and this meal is fit for a king.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Individual Cheesecakes Cute as Can Be

These perfect little individual cheesecakes were made to serve at a special dinner for some friends. Every, single thing about them was perfect: flavors, appearance, texture, and the bonus was that they came out of the little ramekins just perfectly. Better results could not be hoped for. 

Matcha green Tea, green tea powder, cheesecake, individual cheesecake
Black Sesame Matcha Individual Cheesecakes

While they were perfect, and have stayed in my mind ever since, I haven't returned to them. Why? Well, there is really no huge valid excuse at all really. The biggest thing was that I ran out of Matcha Green Tea powder and haven't replaced it. 

Even longer ago, I had made Matcha and Black Sesame Muffins, and they were delightful. It was this combination, the green and the black flecks together are quite striking, that made me want to do something else with it. 

Using Matcha Green Tea

green tea, Matcha, higher quality
Matcha Green Tea Powder

Using Matcha green tea powder can be tricky, only in the sense that depending on the quality, the color may be the brightest of lime green (higher quality, more flavor, higher price), or a very dull green, or even a very pale green (lower quality, less flavor, lower price). The dull green was what was used in both the muffins and the cheesecakes.

With less flavor and color, more is needed to achieve even the least bit of color in a baked good. This alters the dry ingredient contents upwards, with the possibility of a dry outcome, whether dry muffins or a very stiff and dry cheesecake. 

Using higher quality Matcha will give a lot of color, but when it comes down to the facts, Matcha is very bitter. Too many people will not automatically love this bitterness, so a fine line is walked when making something like these recipes. Too much of a good thing and they may not be at all well-received. 

Some of this bitterness in a baked item can be mitigated by using more sugar, yet breakfast muffins are not meant to be sweet as a cupcake (though far too many are), and too much sugar will alter a cheesecake's consistency as well. 

An idea on that score is to dissolve the green tea powder in just enough hot water to make a smooth paste. In this way, the texture of either recipe would not be significantly altered. It also would afford the ability of actually seeing how much color is being added. The final baked goods will never be that same color, but it at least gives a clue. 

Aside from the issue of Matcha, having some in the first place, and then all these other considerations, these little cheesecakes are no difficulty to make. The mixture is a straightforward style, black sesame is available in many stores nowadays. While black sesame is not much different in flavor than the white, they do give visual interest. So, on with the recipe:

Black Sesame Matcha Individual Cheesecakes

Makes about 6 (6-ounce) 
or 8 (4-ounce) servings

matcha green tea powder, cheesecake, black sesame
Black Sesame Matcha Individual Cheesecakes
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon lime zest, finely grated
½ cup white sugar
2-3 tablespoons Matcha Green Tea powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

- Extra sugar, for dusting
- Butter for greasing

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease six (6-ounce) or eight (4-ounce) ramekins with butter. Dust them with sugar, tapping out excess. Set the ramekins into a roaster pan that can hold water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Heat a large kettle of water and keep hot.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and green tea powder. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add in the sugar mixture and lime zest and beat gently, just to combine. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating gently until incorporated, then add in the sour cream and fold in the black sesame seeds.

Fill the ramekins of choice with the mixture. Set the roaster pan into the oven and carefully pour in the hot water around the ramekins to about halfway up their sides. Bake the cheesecakes 20 minutes for the smaller ones or 25 minutes for the larger ones. The centers should be a bit jiggly. Remove the pan from the oven and set the ramekins aside to cool. Chill the cheesecakes completely, refrigerated, before unmolding.

To unmold the cheesecakes, run a knife around the edges. They should start to spin a bit in their molds. Set a plate over top of the mold and invert the ramekin over the plate until the cheesecake comes loose onto the plate. Serve with a twist of lime and/or a dollop of whipped cream.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Good Golly it's Gumbo

Long before ever visiting Louisiana, and later actually living there over the Y2K times, I had heard of Gumbo, as well as Etoufee, Jambalaya and a lot of other dishes, not all of which I really associated with Louisiana. Red beans and rice I'd had in Guatemala as a very young newlywed expat. maybe these were not the Louisiana-spiced version, but the concept was there. Boudin rouge or boudin noir are a sausage made with blood as part or most of its ingredients, but I had eaten those in Guatemala as well, under the name Moronga or Morcilla. Not a banana fan at any time, Bananas Foster never held any interest whatsoever. And long, long before ever learning that bread pudding was pretty much Louisiana's state dessert (according to me, anyway, as it was found in every single restaurant), I had been making and loving bread pudding.

When it came to hearing about Gumbo, I heard about okra as an ingredient, and I am absolutely not an okra fan. Thus, Gumbo held no interest. I like tomatoes, tomato sauces, spaghetti sauces, but there are times I just cannot abide them. At least my stomach seems to completely rebel at times, and then sometimes not. Etoufee, mainly tomato-ey red in color, was not high on a list of things I wanted to try. 

chicken, andouille sausage, file powder, gumbo, soup
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

And then, we moved to Louisiana. Just north of Lake Ponchartrain, there were an amazing assortment of the best eating establishments all grouped so closely near to one another that you could barely toss a stone without hitting one, and we frequented them, almost all, in a constant rotation. My husband will not touch seafood, and not even fish. This is a mental allergy mind you, not a physical one. But as Louisiana cuisine is really all about fish and seafood, crawfish being absolutely huge there, there were many restaurants that had no meat on the menu, and some with a whole lot of truly stellar gourmet seafood dishes available, and with one lone hamburger plate on the menu, generally served with coleslaw (which my husband will not eat) and fries. They truly are not catering to the meat lover diet.

Exploring Gumbo Flavors

As we began exploring food in our new home area after we moved there, I was excited to taste this Gumbo I had heard and read about. I was willing to overlook okra, if the dish was good enough. And I had a couple samplings that were passable, for sure. But it was down in New Orleans proper, that I first had a small bowl of File Gumbo. Being a complete neophyte in the Gumbo world, I had asked the waitress what was the difference. she explained that Okra Gumbo used the okra as a slight thickening agent, whereas File Gumbo used File powder as it's slight thickening agent. Obviously okra has its own flavors as well, as does file powder, but I wasn't aware of that, then. 

➤File powder is nothing more than the powdered leaf of sassafras. It is generally

file powder, sassafras, sassafras leaf
File Powder
available in the spice aisle. This flavoring agent should never be added to the pot, but only stirred in at table. If cooked, it can become stringy.

On tasting the little bowl of File Gumbo, I was suddenly aware that this was amazingly good! Oh my, was it good! And then I went on a search. In each and every restaurant, I tried at least a small bowl or cup of Gumbo, just to see the range of flavors, and just how good, good can be. 

While living there, I never even attempted to make Gumbo. More often than not, the Gumbo in restaurants contained crawfish or shrimp. At the time I still wasn't aware of why I was swelling so much all the time, so I blithely ate my way through crawfish, shrimp, crab, blue crab, lobster and a lot of other shellfish. Now, sadly, I have long been aware of my intolerance for those most wonderful foods. Sigh.

roux, cooking oil, flour, mahogany color

Making Roux

Moving away from Louisiana, as all good things must end one day, I longed for Gumbo. As I set about learning what made a good Gumbo, I learned about roux. While I had made roux plenty of times, in preparation for a gravy, those were always a very blond roux, just cooked enough for the raw flour taste to be gone, but not for color. In Louisiana, there is ROUX. Pronounced, "ROO." And this is one not to be messed with. Every young girl must learn the way to make a proper roux, or you will not ever attain a proper gumbo. And this roux must be cooked until "mahogany colored." This requires constant attention to the pot, or the roux will burn. This disaster cannot be repaired, and the only solution is to begin again. This process of cooking oil and flour to a mahogany color can take 15 minutes or it can take an hour, completely dependent on the skill and ease of the one making it. If unskilled, as I was the first time, it took an hour over medium or medium low heat. Over a higher heat, and a lot of quick stirring, it can be accomplished in much less time, but without this very dark roux as a base, the gumbo will not be right. 

holy trinity, onions, green pepper, celery
Holy Trinity added to Roux

The next important thing to know is that many, if not most, dishes in Louisiana are based on the flavors of the 'holy trinity, a phrase coined by chef Paul Prudhomme. This trinity is a combination, in equal parts, of chopped onion, green pepper and celery. These should be prepped and ready, as they are the first addition to the Gumbo pot, once the roux is ready. 

Andouille sausage, pronounced ahn-DOO-ee, in Louisiana, is generally very highly spiced, with a strong chili kick. For the unwary, this can be a shock. The Andouille found in other areas of the country is but a poor relative, in comparison. I've used Aidell's brand, as I can tolerate the salt levels, though it is not spicy hot. 

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

Serves 8 to 10
gumbo, soup, chicken, andouille sausage, roux, file powder
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

½ cup shortening or oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 whole chicken, cut up
2 - 4 Andouille sausages, sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon dried oregano flakes
¾ teaspoons dried basil leaves
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon ancho powder or cayenne
6 cups water or stock
Salt & pepper, to taste

File Powder, for serving

MAKE ROUX: In a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, melt the shortening or oil over medium heat. Add in the flour and stir continually with a wire whisk until the mixture becomes a deep mahogany brown. This can take from 10 minutes to half hour, depending on your heat setting. Do not scorch the roux or you will need to begin again. Set aside, off the heat.

ASSEMBLE GUMBO: In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil and sauté the onions, green pepper, celery and garlic until softened, about 10 minutes. Add to the pot with the roux. Dry the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides in the skillet, then remove them to the pot along with the sliced Andouille, all the spices, chili powder and water or stock. Add in about 1 teaspoon of salt, to start, and some freshly grated black pepper. Stir well, then cover and cook on very low heat for an hour, or until the chicken is very tender. Once the gumbo has cooked, check for seasoning and adjust as needed. Leave chicken on the bone, or remove the skin and bones, if preferred, returning the chicken meat to the pot. Serve with a scoop of rice. Serve File Powder on the side. Use 1 to 3 teaspoons per serving, to taste.

NOTES: If using shrimp or crawfish, add these in to the pot only about 5 to 7 minutes before ready to serve, to just cook through. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Bran Muffins are a Very Old Favorite

Long, long before bran and fiber became a health food, I loved bran muffins. Kellogg's® All-Bran® was common in our house when I grew up, and I recall my Grandma eating it as well. Of course, as a child, I didn't grasp what the reasoning was for this cereal, but I liked it. Even better though, were the bran muffins. No matter what, I have loved bran muffins.

Despite that, I hadn't eaten them or made them in a very long while, back when I started this blog back in 2012. And it wasn't until 2014 that I received all the bread cookbooks that started my journey into coaxing flavor from whole wheat, and not yet for another year or so that it came to be that I had a lot of accumulated bran at my disposal. I had long ago stopped eating cereal of any kind but oatmeal, so I wasn't keeping the All-Bran cereal at home, either. Many of the new bread recipes called for sifted whole wheat flour. As I was grinding my own wheat berries, for even better flavor (read more about why, here), some needed only the largest of bran flakes sifted from the flour, resulting in varying amounts of bran leftover. 

muffins, breakfast, bran, raisins, walnuts, fiber
Bran Muffins with Raisins and Walnuts

It was still quite some while of accumulating bran that I reasoned, "I can make Bran Muffins!"

Once I finally sat down to create a bran muffin recipe, first looking into recipes all over online at the time, to compare what was done, read comments about them and such, I cobbled together a plan. And it was still a while before I got to the point of making them. I cannot recall why it took so long to actually get around to making them, except for the fact of a whole lot of things happening in my life back then. Once I did, I made them quite a few times, and quickly ran out of all the accumulated bran I had stored, and once again I lapsed. 

I did include the recipe in my Newsletter, which is now defunct, so once more I am placing it here to keep.


Bran Muffins with Raisins and Walnuts

Makes 12 muffins
muffins, bran, breakfast, raisins, walnuts, fiber
Bran Muffins with Raisins and Walnuts

1 cup wheat bran 
1½ cups whole wheat or whole Kamut flour 
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt)
½ cup raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts 
¼ cup sugar, or palm sugar 
¾ cup milk
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup molasses 
2 tablespoons cooking oil of choice
2 large eggs, beaten lightly

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or spray with cooking spray the wells of a 12-well muffin tin, or line wells with muffin papers Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the first 8 dry ingredients and stir them together, ensuring the raisins are all separated from one another for even distribution. The raisins may be substituted with dates, if preferred.

Separately, whisk together the milk, applesauce, molasses, oil and eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Quickly, scoop the batter into the prepared muffin wells, dividing the batter evenly between the wells, and pop the tin into the oven on a middle rack for about 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.

Remove the tin from the oven and set aside for 5 to 9 minutes, at which time the muffins will release quite easily from the tin. Serve warm, preferably with butter, for a treat any time.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, continuing my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.