Roasted Cauliflower Bisque

I’m back from another brief hiatus. In what feels like a blink of an eye, winter has snuck up on us here in the east coast. The sun goes down so early which means it is a gloomy drive back home. There is nothing better than a warm and creamy bisque that hits the soul satisfying spot! The natural creaminess of cauliflower  is the perfect base. Roasting it adds great nuttiness which is an ideal combination with garlic and thyme.

1 large head of cauliflower
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tbsps butter, unsalted
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup light cream
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chives, snip using scissors into 1/4 inch pieces
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the cauliflower into flowerets (1-inch pieces) . In a large non-stick baking sheet spread out the cauliflower, garlic, and onions evenly.  Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, coat and toss gently. Roast for 35-45 minutes, until golden. Check once at the 30 minute mark and then add additional 5-10 minutes according to doneness.

In a soup pot, melt butter and add the bay leaf.  Mix in the roasted cauliflower mixture along with the salt and toss together gently.

Add the vegetable stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes over medium heat. The mixture will be thick, so add in the cup of water and mix well. Discard bay leaf and puree the mixture using a hand blender until smooth.

Stir in cream, cracked black pepper and thyme. Heat soup over moderate heat for 5 minutes until re-heated through. Serve warm with chives and a dash of cayenne pepper. The cayenne is optional, adjust according to your heat preference.

Lentils

Lentil/Dal is a common ingredient in the Indian kitchen and an essential source of protein in a vegetarian diet. Of course not to forget, they are basically just delicious.

You will see many references to various kinds of dals in my recipes. As a response,  I have received a few queries over time about the various kinds and their names. This post is a glossary that will hopefully come handy when you go lentil shopping!

‘Lentil’ is a generic term used for one particular family of legumes – also commonly known as ‘Dal’ in Hindi and ‘Paruppu’ in Tamil.  Also in the Legume family are green peas, chick peas, kidney beans, black eyed peas, soy beans and peanuts.

The words Dal and Lentil are interchangeable, but in the US there seems to be a distinction. The most commonly available kind is the green or puy lentil and everything apart from this is called “split peas” or “Dal”.  The problem is there are many varieties of “yellow split peas” or Dal. It is not one universal ingredient. So let’s go on a little trip through Dal Land….

This is the green lentil.

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

This is probably the most commonly used lentils when you search for recipes. Perfect for soups and even makes a great ingredient for a veggie burger.

Now to the common varieties of Indian Dals-

Indian Dals can be classified into two, whole dals and split dals. Every variety of dal comes in both forms.

The next distinction is yellow, white and pink dals.

There are three common kinds of split yellow dals -

Channa Dal (aka Bengal Gram Dal)

Toor/Tuvar Dal (aka Red Gram Dal)

Moong/Mung Dal (aka Green Gram Dal)


As you probably noticed all three are technically split yellow peas, but have subtle differences in look, yet vast differences in flavor, method of cooking and texture.

Channa dal is the most robust and round – It holds its shape well and is perfect for soups.

Toor dal is shaped similar to the channa dal, but is much thinner and flatter. Commonly used in stews and curries. Also typically cooked soft and used to thicken stews.

Moong dal  is petite, flat. Much smaller even than the toor dal, more oval shaped. It is quite delicate and cooks very easily. Usually hard to make this hold its shape, purees easily.

Another variety of Moong is in its whole form. It is green in color because of the husk around it. When you split it open, you will see the yellow lentil inside. Commonly used to make a savory batter for a common Indian breakfast pancake called Pesarattu. It can also be treated like chickpeas or kidney beans, where you soak it overnight and cook in water the next day sauteed with onions, spices etc.

Whole Moong/Mung dal

The next kind is the white dal. Available commonly as split or whole dal.

Urad Dal (aka Black gram dal)

The split variety is commonly roasted in oil and used as garnish because it adds a nutty crispy bite to dishes. (look up recipes from my ingredient list).  Another use is to soak it in water and blend it to make a savory batter for a particular type of south indian fritters called Vadai.

And lastly the pink dal -

Masoor Dal (aka Red Lentils)

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

While the masoor is whole, it has a greenish/brown skin. But for cooking, we often use the split masoor pink kind. When cooked it resembles the moong in texture and color.

These are pretty much most commonly used dals you will find in most vegetarian/Indian cooking. Please feel free to comment or contact me with any questions.

Spinach and Lentil Soup

Here is a simple yet delicious soup that highlights the classic spinach and lentil combination. Instead of using plain vegetable broth, I made my own version infusing it with a combination of indian spices that gives this dish an exciting complexity.

2 bags baby spinach (8 cups)
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup moong aka mung dal (green gram dal), washed until there is almost no muddled water that washes out
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
3 tbsp coriander seeds
3/4 tsp red chilli powder (this gives a slight undertone of heat at the back of your throat. This is optional)
zest from one lemon
juice from one lemon
1/2 tsp + 1 1/2 tsp salt

Heat 8 cups of vegetable broth over medium heat in a dutch oven. Add cumin and coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf. Let the broth come to a boil and drop the heat to medium and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and pour the spiced broth back into the dutch oven.

In the meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed pan add the cup of washed/soaked moong dal along with 2 cups of water, turmeric powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring this to a boil over high heat. Then drop the heat to low and cook covered with a lid for 25 minutes. Keep checking on it every 5-10 minutes to make sure the water doesn’t overflow and the dal is cooking in a simmering boil. If the water is boiling over through the covered lid, then leave the lid very slightly open to let some of the steam escape. Adjust heat accordingly and complete cooking the dal completely.

Using a blender, puree the spinach in batches. You may need a few tablespoons of liquid to make a smooth puree. Use the spiced broth rather than plain water, it will add a lot of flavor. Pour the pureed spinach back in along with the spiced broth. Add the remaining salt and chilli powder. Mix evenly and bring this to a boil over medium heat.

Simmer the soup for 15 minutes until the spinach is cooked and goes from a bright green to a darker color. Now add the cooked lentils into the soup, mix well and let simmer for 15 more minutes. Add 1 tbsp of lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Let it simmer for 10 more minutes and turn off the heat.

Check if you need more seasoning. Serve with crispy croutons. It’s easy to make your own croutons – just cut the edges of any bread you have, spray it with butter spray and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes, flip over and toast 5-6 more minutes on the other side. Carefully watch the bread, it can easily burn.

Garlicky Roasted Red Pepper Ravioli

This dish came about from one my favorite party dips made with roasted red peppers, garlic and cream cheese. Using those flavors to make a tangy, spicy and creamy roasted red pepper sauce worked perfectly with simple cheese ravioli. Apart from being really simple to put together, this dish is so flavorful that it’s almost hard to believe it can be made in under 30 minutes!

1 pound cheese ravioli (I bought fresh ravioli)
1/2 cup cream cheese
4 indian green chillies (this makes the dish spicy. Use 2 serrano peppers or 1 jalapeno to make the dish milder)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch of scallions (green onions) , discard an inch from the bottom including the roots
4 red peppers, fire roasted (you can store bought or roast your own)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cilantro, washed
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp + 1 tsp salt
zest from one lemon
3 tbsps capers, roughly chopped

Pulse blend together garlic, scallions, green chillies and cream cheese. Add 1/2 cup cilantro, cumin powder, 1 tsp salt and roasted red peppers. Blend completely to make a smooth sauce. No extra water is needed since the red peppers tend to render liquid. I like to make my own roasted peppers. I use tongs to hold the peppers with its top stem and roast over a gas flame. Keep turning them evenly until you see evenly charred skin. Let them cool completely. Simply scrape the skin off with a towel, you should be left with a perfectly roasted soft pepper.

Pour the sauce into a skillet and gently warm the sauce over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp chopped cilantro, 1 tsp salt, zested lemon and chopped capers.

Simmer the sauce over medium heat for 10 minutes. In the meanwhile bring a large pot of salted water over high heat to a rolling boil. Drop the ravioli in the water and cook for 3-5 minutes until done. the ravioli will float to the top when done. Drain the pasta and drop into the simmering sauce.

Serve hot with some fresh bread. Not only is the best part the cheesy ravioli with the tangy sauce, but using the bread to scoop off leftover sauce is simply heavenly.

Tofu and I

I wanted to write a little note on Tofu, specifically on how I feel about it.  As a vegetarian, it is about time that I addressed this :)

Tofu has become the unofficial face of vegetarianism. How do I feel about that? Read About Me.

As much as I will keep working towards creating more diversity in Vegetarian cooking, I do want to point out that I am not against Tofu! I actually love it.

My whole point of diversity in vegetarianism is not about cutting off using any ingredient. It is about incorporating everything in interesting ways. I like to incorporate Tofu into my meals not as substitute for meat, but as an ingredient in itself respecting it for what it offers.

Tofu is delicious – there I said it. Now I know this is going to throw meat-itarians everywhere into a tizzy but to every one who dismisses it as bland – don’t blame the ingredient; it’s what you do with it. Sure Tofu is bland when in its raw form, but isn’t most meat and even a few vegetables? Would you eat just boiled chicken or boiled cabbage?

Tofu is the food equivalent of a sponge, which makes it a creative cook’s dream. There are infinite ways of using it and infusing flavors into it.

My previous recipe and ones to come in the future will hopefully be a start to show off of this wonderfully versatile ingredient; Of course always using vegetables, herbs, spices, grains and lentils all along.

Stir Fried Garlic Tofu Noodles

Some of my favorite weeknight dinners are simple stir fried dishes. This version came about simply with ingredients I had in my fridge, combined with my love for singapore noodles. With garlic, ginger and turmeric as base flavors, this stir fried noodle is a great way to incorporate tofu into your meals.

8 oz rice noodles (approx.220 grams)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
2″ piece ginger, peeled
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5 indian green chillies (makes this dish spicy. substitute with 1 serrano to make it mild or feel free to leave out chillies all together)
3/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
4 cups fresh baby spinach, washed
2 cups sweet corn (I used frozen, can be substituted with fresh)
14 oz extra firm tofu  (you could also used super firm tofu)
handful of fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp canola oil

Cube the fresh tofu into 1″ pieces and place between dry towels and gently squeeze any excess moisture out. Make sure you don’t break the pieces.

In a pan heat one tbsp canola oil over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the tofu to the hot oil. Make sure you stand away and drop the pieces in gently, facing away from your body. There will be some spluttering. Let cook for 3 minutes. Gently move the tofu around and get an even light brown on them. Remove the tofu onto a paper towel using a slotted spoon and let them rest.


Add the remaining tbsp of oil to the leftover oil in the pan and heat over medium heat. Finely chop ginger, garlic and chillies together. Add the cumin, coriander and turmeric powders to the oil and fry for 20 seconds and then add the chopped garlic, ginger and chillies. Fry over medium heat for 2 minutes.

Add thinly sliced red onions and sautee for 7-8 minutes until the onions are cooked and start slightly browning. Add 4 cups of spinach along with a tsp of salt. Mix well and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. The spinach will wilt and give out a bit of water which should help you scrap any spices in the bottom of the pan and create a unified aromatic base for our noodles.

Add the frozen corn with the remaining tsp of salt, mix well and cook covered for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Uncover, increase the heat and cook another 5 minutes. Add the pre-sauteed tofu to the corn mixture and toss together gently. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes which will allow the tofu to soak in all the flavors of the vegetables and spices. Add almost all of the chopped cilantro with a little saved to add just before serving and turn of the heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a few drops of oil to the water and then drop the rice noodles in it. The oil will keep the noodles from sticking to each other when cooked and drained. Cook the noodles according to your package instructions. Mine took just about 3 minutes. Drain the noodles, let sit for a minute to make sure all the water is drained.

Add the noodles to the vegetable-tofu mixture and toss together gently. Use tongs to separate the noodles and mix well to make sure all the spices, vegetables and color mix evenly.

Sprinkle the reserved fresh cilantro on top and serve warm.

Aaloo Palak

This recipe is very special and one of my favorites. I am thrilled to share my simple , easy to follow recipe of this traditionally  slow cooked laborious process, all without compromising on an ounce of flavor.

My home made version is not doused with cream and butter which often is the reason for flavor in many restaurants. I like to rely on the natural taste of the ingredients and add to the deliciousness with perfect combination of spices and stay away from the cream.

Much like for me,  this will quickly become one of your favorite weekend meals.

1 pound of baby potatoes, boiled and peeled (around 10-12)
3 bags of baby spinach (about 12-13 cups of fresh spinach)
1 large red onion, peeled and diced
3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
3 green chillies (substitute: 1 serrano)
3 cloves
1/2 inch stick of cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsps salt
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander powder
3 tbsps cilantro, washed and finely chopped
In a large saute pot, melt 2 tbsps butter and add the oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the cumin seeds and just when it starts turning light golden brown,  add chopped onions. Keep sautéing on medium-high heat until the onions are golden brown, around 10-12 minutes. Drop the heat to low.

In the meantime, using a blender, make a puree of roughly chopped tomatoes, garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. No extra water needed since the tomatoes will lend a lot of water.

Add this pureed tomato mixture to the simmering onions. Make sure you are on low heat, there will be some spluttering. Mix well and let cook covered for 15 minutes until the tomato puree and spices are cooked and infused together with the onions and cumin.

Uncover and let the tomato sauce simmer on low heat. In the meanwhile, puree the baby spinach in a blender with few tsps of water. You will have to do this in batches. Make sure the spinach is a puree and not too watery. It is raw spinach at this time.
Add the pureed spinach to the simmering tomato sauce. Mix well and let simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, while mixing every 10 minutes. You will notice a change from a bright green to a darker and earthier green as an indication of being done.

Add salt, coriander powder and garam masala. Mix well, add the halved cooked baby potatoes to the spinach sauce. Let simmer over medium heat for another 20 minutes. Check for seasoning, sprinkle cilantro and turn off the heat. Tastes great with any indian bread or basmati rice.

I like to serve this the day after because the baby potatoes have more time to absorb all the flavors. Tastes quite divine!