Friday, June 29, 2018

A Wonderful Chutney Recipe

I am not Indian, nor do I have any direct link to India in any way. But, I just love Indian food. I continually try out new recipes, and search and research to find what is common to an area. India is a large country with wide ranging climates, so foods eaten up in the northeast of the country will reflect the cooler climates, particularly in the foothills of the Himalayas, whereas southern climes feature fish, coconut and lots of chilies. 

Palak Paneer
Palak Paneer
When Indian food began creeping into America, the most popular type of food featured was in Mughlai style from the northern areas of India. This style was born out of the Mughul reign and was prominent in the royal households. Mughlai cuisine features lots of bread (roti) varieties, such as naan, parathas, and chapatis, among others, and many rice based dishes such as pulao or biryani. Sauces made rich with spices and nuts make many curries a delight to eat, vegetable dishes and things like Palak Paneer (creamed spinach with paneer cheese) are common (and found on nearly every Indian buffet I have frequented) and Garam Masala is the main spice mixture. Saffron is used widely, Ghee is used very often, dried fruits are used in many dishes. Amchur (dried green mango powder) is used as a souring agent.
Chapati - Paratha - Naan
Chapati - Paratha - Naan

Back some 15 or 20 years, few in the US seemed to know much about anything so exotic as Garam Masala, and while I had seen and tasted paratha and chapati, it was naan breads that seemed to take everyone's taste buds by storm. Nowadays, most groceries carry Garam Masala in little spice jars as a matter of course, and naan breads are available fresh or frozen. We've advanced far beyond Chicken Tikka. All those years ago, I lamented the lack of ingredients to make some of the recipes I wanted to try, and still, at that time, north Indian cuisine seemed to be all-encompassing. Little did I know!

It wasn't until about 10 years ago that my husband and I went to an Indian restaurant while on vacation, and as I perused the menu, saw some things I was unfamiliar with. Our server asked what kinds of things I liked to eat, and when I mentioned some that were particular favorites, he asked if I had never tried southern Indian cuisine. I asked what that meant - what is different? He laughed and said just about everything! I asked him to suggest something for my meal then, and he did, and it was delightful, though at this remove I cannot recall what it was. But that was the very first time I encountered an indication that all Indian food was not that northern Indian Mughlai style. It was still many years until I found enough of recipes and information to educate myself a bit more on southern Indian cooking.

Tamarind Pods and Curry LeavesMeanwhile, I have learned that southern Indians prefer lots of lentils and dal dishes, Idli and crepe-like dosas and appam, which are (still) on my list of things to try (instead of parathas, chapatis or naan). Lentils, dal or other soupy style dishes are most common, and are also breakfast fare. Many dishes are made in a very thin soup style, rather than the richer, thickened sauces of the north. Other oils are used for cooking, and mustard oil is common. Tamarind is a common souring ingredient, and curry leaves are often used in dishes.

Last year, I read Padma Lakshmi's book, "Love, Loss and What We Ate." I have
S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney
My S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney
seen Padma Lakshmi on some travel shows and always thought her exotically lovely. I never watched Top Chef, as we never got that channel, but that kind of show does not at all interest me. Knowing Padma was Indian, though not anything more than that, I delved into her book with interest, as I do with any reading material on India. Happily, throughout the book, she talks of her childhood and the things she ate, growing up in Tamil Nadul, furnishing recipes for many of the dishes she describes. I busily scribbled down the recipes that called my attention. One that I made was something she called Kanchanomer Tok. If I misspelled what she wrote, I apologize. It is a mango chutney or "pickle," which appears to generally not be cooked, but packed into a jar and put in the sun, normally. Padma's recipe did cook the chutney, briefly.

I somehow still had a half jar of that chutney left tucked in a back corner of my fridge, when I made an Indian meal for the three fishing buddies that came to stay at our place last week. One of the guys was most particularly taken with that chutney (his palate may be more Indian-aware, as he has Indian neighbors, and opportunities to sample!), and when the meal was done, he kept serving tiny portions more of that chutney and eating it with my naan bread. I finally told him to please just finish it off, as it was really time to start a new batch. He gladly complied! So now, with no chutney left, I felt it was time to look over the recipe and try it again. 

Mango Chutney British Style
Mango Chutney British Style
One thing about this particular chutney / pickle, is that it is supposed to be made with green mangoes; actual green mangoes, so green that the fruit is crisp and the skin is often left on the fruit when making this chutney. In the US, short of living somewhere where mangoes grow, getting mangoes that green is not really an option. I look for the hardest mangoes available in the stores, but they are rarely completely green in color, being blushed with red already. Still, making do with what I have, the past year's attempt was very good, though very different than the northern Indian / British style Mango Chutney I had made in past. 

Panch Phoron Spices
Panch Phoron Spices
For starters, southern India uses a spice combination called Panch Phoron, sometimes called Bengali 5-Spice. The seeds are all left whole, instead of ground, as with Garam Masala. Where Garam Masala has "sweet" spices mixed in, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves, Panch Phoron does not, instead using mustard seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, nigella seed and fenugreek seed. This makes for a completely different and more pungent flavor profile. 

When researching Kanchanomer Tok, I found almost no mention of this mixture coming from anywhere other than Bengal, and the spelling has so many variations it is hard to keep track. Kanchan Aamer Tok. Kancha Aam er Tok. Kancha Amer Tok. Kanchan Amer Tawk. You get the picture! But apparently, it is made in other areas than Bengal, since Padma is from Tamil Nadu. In looking at the recipe, I chose to do a couple of things differently.
S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney
S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney

Since the mangoes I was using are far from the very green ones called for, I added in both lime zest and juice to add a sour note. I added in some ginger, though I saw it used in only one recipe I saw online. Some recipes I read used only brown mustard seeds, and some used Panch Phoron, as did Padma. Some added in more chili, some less. This time, since this chutney will not quite do for my husband's palate anyway, I added far more chili to the mixture. This is, of course, always optional. Some people used hing / asafetida, and others do not. Sugar is used, though usually jaggery. Brown sugar may be substituted. Though sugar is used, it is still not of the type of sweetness as of my former Mango Chutney. Some people add in a lot of water, making it a soupy mixture, and others use very little, if any. So, finally, here is what I did:

S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney
S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney

S.E. Indian Green Mango Chutney

Makes about 2 - 2½ cups 

1¾ pounds green mangoes
1-inch piece fresh ginger, cut in tiny julienne
1 lime, zest and juice
¼ teaspoon black salt (or regular salt)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon hot pure chili powder, or cayenne
1 tablespoon mustard oil, or other cooking oil
1½ teaspoons Panch Phoron
1 dried red chili pepper, whole
½ teaspoon asafetida, optional
¾ cup jaggery, palm sugar, or brown sugar

Wash and peel the mangoes. Slice off the flesh and cut into long strips, or into small cubes, as desired. Place in a bowl along with the ginger, lime zest and lime juice. Sprinkle on the black salt, turmeric powder and hot chili powder (NOT the chili powder used for making chili con carne). Stir and set aside while preparing the remainder of the recipe. 

Fruit - Spices - Mixing
Fruit - Spices - Mixing
In a skillet over medium high heat, add the mustard oil. Allow the mustard oil to come to smoke point before adding the Panch Phoron. If using regular cooking oil, do not bring it to smoking point, but add in the Panch Phoron as soon as the oil is hot. Allow the seeds to splutter and crackle. A lid may be needed to prevent them popping out all over the stove. Once the crackling has subsided, add in the asafetida and the whole red dried chili pepper and stir briefly. Pour in the mango mixture and stir. Add the palm sugar and stirring constantly, let the mixture boil and cook quickly for 5 to 7 minutes. The mango will have softened slightly and the sugar will be completely dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a very clean glass jar and seal. Once cooled, store in the fridge. My first batch lasted perfectly for about a year, though this is probably not recommended. 

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, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue 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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Different Kind of Potato Salad

It seems I have barely gotten around to trying anything new on the recipe front. So much stress has been present in other areas of my life, that sometimes it is all I can do to make some old tried and true recipes and have done with it. Not that there is anything wrong with the old tried and true, but it makes for scant blog posts.
Lamb Curry - Indian Rice & Cabbage - Rhubarb Pecan Coffeecake
Lamb Curry - Indian Rice & Cabbage - Rhubarb Pecan Coffeecake

Last week on Monday our friend Rich arrived with two fishing buddies, both of whom have visited in past. They are fun to be around, so that part is good, and they love to eat, so that is also good, for someone who loves to cook to please people. The guys went out at 7 in the morning and returned around 4:30 PM for the first three days. They did catch some fish, and ceviche was planned, in that eventuality. Meanwhile, I had my hands full with cooking dinners to feed four guys and me. Plus desserts. The first night I had made a lamb curry recipe; Curried Lamb with Peas. With the curry, I made Indian Cabbage and Rice, using brown rice to add a little fiber with the cabbage. I had some Naan breads in the freezer and pulled them out and everything went, with the guys practically licking the serving bowls. I had bought rhubarb at the Farmers' Market, so I made Rhubarb Pecan Coffeecake for dessert, and there was very little of that 9 x 13-inch pan worth left! I had substituted all but ½ cup of whole grain Kamut Khorasan flour for the amount called for in the recipe, and no one noticed, so I got a little extra fiber and whole grain goodness in there without difficulty. 
Gumbo - Chocolate Beet Cake - Cream Cheese Icing
Gumbo - Chocolate Beet Cake - Cream Cheese Icing

On Tuesday morning, I had absolutely nothing at all planned for dinner, and was starting to panic, trying to think of what I could make. I ended up making Chicken & Andouille Gumbo, with white rice on the side. I would  have preferred to make whole brown rice, but didn't have enough and didn't want to take the time out to run to the store. That recipe makes a very large pot, so even with everyone serving themselves second helpings, we had Gumbo leftover. That night I made my Chocolate Beet Cake, revised for dessert, frosting it with Cream Cheese Frosting. I used Kamut Khorasan flour in the Chocolate Beet Cake, revised recipe also, and it was delicious that way. The guys made a very serious dent in that cake too, though there was enough for the next night's dessert.
Lamb Burgers with Greek Olive Tapenade
Lamb Burgers with Greek Olive Tapenade

Day Three I made Lamb Burgers, served with my usual Greek Olive Tapenade. The big difference in the burger recipe is that ever since making them in mini size for last year's wine tasting event, I had grated the feta and added it to the burger mixture before grilling. This worked so well that this is how I do it now, and it is so much better and easier. 
Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad
Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

For a side dish to go with the Lamb Burgers, I did actually create a new salad side dish. Not a salad in the sense of "greens" but I used roasted sweet potatoes as a base and added in things as I thought of them. I wanted to use some leftover grilled corn kernels, and black beans, since they make a great contrast. I wanted to use a vinaigrette and no mayo. Into the vinaigrette I added some odd mixtures, but it all came out tasting wonderful. For crunch, I went for celery, red bell pepper and scallions. It came out colorful and absolutely delicious, and the guys polished all that off too. And it all happened so fast I totally forget to take any photos! That was no hardship though, so I made another batch that my husband and I have been enjoying for these past couple of days on our own. 

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad
Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad
Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

Serves 6 

1½ pounds sweet potatoes
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 teaspoon Curry powder or Garam Masala
½ teaspoon salt
dash pepper
1 cup roasted/grilled fresh corn kernels
¾ cup red bell pepper, small chunks
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, well rinsed and drained
½ cup chopped scallions
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped cilantro (or parsley, if preferred)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into about 1-inch cubes. Toss the cubed sweet potato with the olive oil and salt, then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly before combining.

Place all the vinaigrette ingredients into a medium mixing bowl (one that will hold all the salad, ultimately) and whisk until combined.  Add in the slightly cooled sweet potatoes, and all the remaining ingredients and toss well. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

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, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue 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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Sonoran Style of Beef Stew

The Sonoran desert region, encompassing the state of Sonora in Mexico, Baja California, mush of southern Arizona and some of lower California, is a sizeable area, and with a lot of the Southwestern flavors to the food. When thinking of southwestern food, it is not all the Tex-Mex stuff that has gotten so common (Hot dogs??? Really???). There are foods and flavors that come of long standing in those desert regions. 
Sonoran Style Beef Stew
Sonoran Style Beef Stew

Pumpkins and squash, beans of many types, peppers of all description, corn, tomatoes, tomatillos sweet potato, nopal cactus; these are commonly known in Sornora, Mexico, and have been used to comprise much of the traditional cuisine. Spices and herbs are also quite specific, things like Mexican oregano, thyme, cilantro, epazote, annatto seed, chili powders, cloves, coriander, cumin, and "Mexican cinnamon" (or true cinnamon), cacao, vanilla and other more exotic spices. 

Pueblo Pumpkin Stew
My Pueblo Pumpkin Stew

Some years ago, my sister sent me a recipe from Eating Well called Pueblo Pumpkin Stew. The flavors are just absolutely amazing, and I have made that stew many times. It is really pretty as a picture and hearty, despite being meatless. Today, thinking about what to make for dinner, I just went to look at what I had in the freezer for meat, and came up with stew meat. My husband loves stew and so do I. I got the meat out thinking to use it in one of my common stews, but on the way up the stairs, the recipe for Pueblo Pumpkin Stew popped into my head, and my mind took off, thinking of how to incorporate those flavors into a beef stew. 

First off, I felt that pumpkin or squash (in this case I used both) should be in the stew. Beans of some kind, tomatoes. Peppers. I used both the mild chopped green chilies along with a bell pepper instead of the Anaheim chilies called for in the Pueblo Pumpkin Stew. I wanted corn to be represented also, but not sweet corn. Instead I used a couple of tablespoons of Maseca, the dry mix that is used to make corn tamales, mixed into some water and added in. What an amazing boost to the flavor!  

As for spices, I wanted to run with a mixture that was truer to the Mexican desert than using Garam Masala as was called for in the Pueblo Pumpkin Stew. Granted, most of the spices in Garam Masala are also common to those used in Sonora, but not necessarily all, and there are some not at all common in the Indian spice panoply, such as annatto or cocoa. I decided to concoct a spice mixture that would encompass those flavors I was looking for in a spice mixture and came up with this:

Sonoran Spice Mix

Annatto Seeds
Annatto Seeds

Makes almost ½ cup

2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
2 tablespoons ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground Mexican cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground annatto powder
2 teaspoons ground ancho powder

Stir together well and store in a glass jar in a cool dark place. Use 1 to 3 teaspoons as needed for flavor.


I thawed my stew meat and got started making the stew, which simmered at very low heat (220 degree oven) for a few hours. I may not have needed that many hours, but I had a doctor appointment and needed something I could leave in the oven without worry. There is not a lot of hot spiciness to this dish. Should that type of heat define "Mexican cooking" then by all means add in hot chilies to your heart's content. This is the recipe for what I created:

Sonoran Style Beef Stew
Sonoran Style Beef Stew
Sonoran Style Beef Stew

Serves about 6

1 large or 2 medium onions
1 tablespoon olive oil for frying, more if needed
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound beef stew meat, in 1-inch cubes
2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or squash (or use ½ to 1 can pumpkin puree)
1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
3 small (4.5 ounce) cans chopped green chilies
1½ cups fresh peeled squash (butternut, buttercup, kabocha) in ½-inch dice
1 green bell pepper in 1-inch squares, about 1½ cup
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Sonoran Spice Mix) see above
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Maseca, dissolved into 1 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can white beans, well drained and rinsed

Have ready a large, oven safe, heavy stew pot with lid. Preheat oven to 220 degrees, or adjust to whatever will keep a very low simmer.

Heat a large skillet and add in the oil. Halve the onions, then slice across about ¼-inch thick, then cut across the half-rounds once. Saute the onions in the hot skillet, tossing occasionally, until they start to brown. Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more.

While the onions are sauteeing, add to the stew pot the pureed pumpkin/squash, the fresh squash chunks, tomatoes, chopped green chilies, bell pepper, thyme leaves, Sonoran Spice Mix and salt. When the onions and garlic are done, add them to the pot. 

Add half the meat to the hot skillet and brown on all sides quickly, then add to the pot, and repeat with the remaining meat. Stir together, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 2 hours, checking for liquid levels. Add water only if needed.

Remove the pot from the oven and set the lid aside. Stir in the Maseca and water mixture and the drained and rinsed beans. Stir well, cover and bake for another hour at least. 

As with most stews, this is great served immediately, but will also benefit from reheating.

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, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue 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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Sweet Potatoes and Cornmeal

I know that these two ingredients sound like there should be a savory outcome, though that wasn't my idea. And, for once, it appeared to be a pretty novel idea. 

Most of the time, when I sit thinking about what I would like to try, despite how unusual the combinations may seem in my mind, I will find on hunting online that it is not a new idea at all, but one that hundreds of people have already done before. This just says to me that the combination is a sound one, and reinforces my belief that there is really nothing new at all. 
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake

Tweaking an existing recipe can result in something totally new. Sometimes new is better, but sometimes not. That is what experimentation is all about. It is rare for me to make a recipe just "as is." I can't help myself. The reason is often simply just that maybe an ingredient doesn't appeal and I take flavors into a different direction. In this particular case, there was only one recipe I could find for a cake made with sweet potato and cornmeal. It seemed unusually long and complex, with too many tiny amounts of things I don't keep on hand, like a tablespoon each of apple juice and orange juice. 

One tablespoon. 



Anyway, when I first gave thought to sweet potato and cornmeal together in a cake, I knew:
  1. I wanted it to be a tube cake
  2. I wanted about half and half cornmeal and all-purpose flour
  3. It would be a heavy cake, sort of pound cake style
  4. I thought of using a glaze instead of other icing
When looking at ingredients in some other cakes of this type, a lot of oil is used. I know whether it is butter or oil, it is fat. I first went with the idea of using olive oil, but then switched to coconut oil when I thought of using coconut milk for the liquid and orange extract for the flavoring. I felt that orange and coconut would be a nice combo. I did lower the amount of oil and used applesauce for part of it, to conserve a few calories (but who am I kidding?). I thought of whether to use 3 or 4 eggs, finally going with four, since it is a heavy cake. How much sweet potato? I had two of them, and weighed them before peeling. They came to just barely over one pound. I peeled them and cooked them in salted water, drained them and put them through a ricer (though mashed would have been fine), and measured out 1½ cups. There was just a little left, which I ate for lunch.😀 

Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake
Something else that occurred to me, going with a somewhat tropical theme (coconut oil, coconut milk and orange extract) was using fresh ginger. I've never used fresh ginger in a sweet application, though I use it all the time in savory. Why is that? So I got out my ginger root. 

The idea of a glaze - didn't quite go as well as I had wanted, because I thought the glaze would penetrate the cake more than it did. In the pan, hot from the oven, while some glaze did penetrate, it left the top of the cake so sticky that once it came out of the pan and onto the plate slightly off center - there was no budging it! It was there to stay. Since I had glaze left, I drizzled it over the partially cooled cake, and it looked far prettier.

All in all, the ingredients came together easily, the cake baked perfectly, came out of the pan just right. But then, I had some sort of stomach flu all day yesterday, so I could not even think of tasting it. 😨 My husband was happy though, and that is always good! Today I gave it a taste, and I am happy as well. It has a very pronounced flavor of cornmeal. I love cornmeal, and that is why I wanted to use it half and half with the flour. If you cannot think about "cornmeal" and "sweet," in the same sentence, then this cake would not be for you. For myself, I am very pleased with it.

Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube cake
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake
Sweet Potato Cornmeal Cake

¾ - 1 pound sweet potatoes
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup coconut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup applesauce (or another half cup of coconut oil)
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons orange extract
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1½ cups yellow cornmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cane or corn syrup
⅓ cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1½-inch chunks. Place the sweet potato chunks in a small pan and just barely cover with water. Add a teaspoon of salt and bring to boil. Lower heat and cook until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the sweet potatoes, then mash or rice. Measure out 1½ cups of the puree and place into a mixing bowl. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With cooking spray, grease a 10-inch tube pan, then sprinkle with flour to coat well. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together well and set aside.

To the sweet potatoes, add in the sugar, coconut oil, applesauce, coconut milk, ginger and extracts and stir well to blend. Add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring to completely incorporate before adding the next.

Stir in the dry ingredients a third at a time, allowing all the flour to be mixed in before adding in the next third. Once all the ingredients are mixed, pour the batter into the prepared tube pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for approximately 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack or a plate and drizzle with the glaze. 

GLAZE:  Before the cake is done baking, make the glaze. Stir together the granulated sugar with the cane (or corn) syrup and buttermilk to combine. Bring the mixture to boil, then lower the heat and add the ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about 5 or 6 minutes. Let cool slightly before using to glaze the cake.

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, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue 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 and sign up for my Newsletter.