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Green Tomato Pakoras

30 Sep

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Well, it happened. I’ve been wearing boots for the past week—a very rainy week, I might add—which can only signal that summer is officially over, and it’s time to buckle down and prepare our nests for the long, grey days of autumn and winter. And spring. And part of summer. But who’s counting?

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In anticipation of our summer plans that would keep us away from home for most of July and August, we planted a rather modest vegetable garden this year. Our main garden component was tomatoes, and we were able to harvest a really nice crop after our return, which made for a lovely welcome back home. The tomato plants were still going strong as of about a week and a half ago, but with the cold weather sitting on top of us, it is obvious that the plump green tomatoes holding onto each vine have absolutely no chance of ever ripening. This, of course, is not a bad thing, particularly if you are as big of a fan of green tomatoes as I am.

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I wanted to experiment with more ways to enjoy green tomatoes (aside from the ubiquitous—and delicious—fried green tomatoes), so, as I am wont to do when faced with a challenge, I turned to my Indian roots in the name of experimentation. It took me about five seconds to realize that my crop of green tomatoes was practically begging to be drenched in a spicy besan batter and pan fried into golden and crisp green tomato pakoras. I’ve made a few types of pakoras over the years, and I have to admit, I think these right here are my hands down favorites. In addition to using besan (chickpea flour) in the pakora batter, I added a bit of rice flour for an added lightness and crispness, and, in the interest of pumping up the mild flavor of the green tomatoes, I added a finely diced chile to the batter. The end result is nothing short of dreamy. With a stash of green tomatoes to keep me company, it almost makes me not so sad that summer has come to a close.

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Last Year: Homemade Multigrain CrackersCheddar Apple Cornmeal Bread, and Apple and Toasted Oat Cookies with Penuche Frosting –is anyone else noticing that all of these recipes practically scream “AUTUMN!”?

Green Tomato Pakoras

¾ cup besan (garbanzo bean flour, also called gram flour)

½ cup rice flour

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 small chile, finely minced, seeds removed if you are concerned about spiciness

3 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

¾ to 1 cup water

3 to 4 large to medium-sized green tomatoes, sliced into rounds

vegetable oil

ghee (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together besan, rice flour, dried spices, chile, cilantro, and salt. Stir the grated ginger into ¾ of a cup of water, then slowly whisk the water into the besan mixture. You want your pakora batter to be thicker than pancake batter, but not so stiff that it clumps over the tomato slices. If your batter seems to thick, slowly whisk in the remaining ¼ cup of water until the batter lightens up a bit.

In a large, heavy skillet (cast iron works very well here) set over medium high heat, pour in about ¼ inch of vegetable oil, or a mixture of vegetable oil and ghee. Heat the oil until a pinch of batter dropped into it immediately begins to sizzle.

Using your fingers (seriously, don’t even bother with tongs or a fork here—fingers just work so much better), coat three or four tomato slices at a time in the besan batter. Gently place the tomato slices in the hot oil. They should sizzle and bubble immediately. Cook the tomato pakoras for about 3 minutes on each side, give or take, until the batter is deep golden brown and quite crisp. Remove tomato pakoras to a wire rack lined with a double layer of paper towels.

Serve pakoras warm or hot, with chutney or raita.

Serves 4 to 6 people as an appetizer.

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Aloo Gobi Parathas

13 Jun

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As I may have mentioned before, my son does not like Indian food. Because of this, every Indian item I make tends to be focused on an effort to get my kid to at least taste it, and, in hope, want to eat more. Futile? Perhaps. But, believe it or not, when it comes to introducing my kid to the food of my ancestors, Indian food is the safer road to travel, being as though I am half Indian and half Scottish, and it seems much kinder to introduce parathas to an innocent child rather than force upon him the culinary horror that is haggis. Sheep’s lungs and liver boiled inside its own stomach, or flatbreads filled with potatoes and cauliflower? Parathas it is!

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The interesting conundrum about making Indian food for a child lies in the fact that Indian food is generally rich with spices and very particular flavors, and many children are instinctively put off by this. While it is not as though my kid will only eat pasta and baby carrots, he is definitely hesitant when it comes to the fragrant spices of an Indian dish. My only course of action in this situation is to tone down the spice quotient in recipes while also testing out ways to make them more appealing to the eating desires of a first grader. Because naan is always such a hit with children, it seemed only natural that parathas were next in line to be tested.

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The dough for these parathas could not be simpler. A mixture of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and water, the dough requires little more than mixing, kneading, and resting, which leaves you a nice window of time to cook up the potato and cauliflower filling. I may be alone in feeling this way, but the next step—the rolling, folding, and rolling again—is one of my favorites.

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The rhythm of constructing each paratha while one simultaneously cooks on the stove is almost soothing to me, and there is nothing quite so satisfying as fortifying the work with a snack of fresh, hot paratha, working in bites in between rolling, turning, and cooking. Gently spiced cauliflower and potatoes folded into crisp flatbread is almost impossible not to love. Almost. Unless you are my son, in which case you will take a single bite of a paratha then turn away briskly, robotically intoning, “Don’t like it.” Alas, what one rejects, another embraces. None for him, but more for me. It’s not an entirely bad situation in which to be.

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Last Year: Multigrain Sandwich Bread and Chocolate Coconut Marble Cake

So many more Indian dishes can be found in the archives!

Aloo Gobi Parathas (Indian Flatbreads Stuffed with Potatoes and Cauliflower)

Dough:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough

1 teaspoon salt

¾ to 1 cup water

Filling:

1 medium potato (about 8 ounces)

½ a head of medium-sized cauliflower, cut into florets (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for cooking parathas

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 small jalapeno or other chile, finely minced (remove seeds and ribs before mincing to tone down the heat)

½ teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flours with salt. Stir the flour mixture while slowly pouring in the water. The dough should need not quite the full cup of water in order to come together as a cohesive dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for around five minutes, until smooth and supple. If you are using a stand mixer, mix the dough together with the dough hook, then, when the dough comes together, knead for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, until the dough is quite smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is resting, make the filling.

Boil the potato, still in its jacket, until it can be easily pierced through with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool. Steam the cauliflower florets until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large skillet or wok set over high heat, add the vegetable oil and swirl it around until it covers the pan. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about 20 seconds, until they begin to pop and sputter. Lower the heat a tad, add the turmeric and garlic, and stir until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, peel the skin off of the boiled potato, and add it, along with the slightly cooled cauliflower, to a large bowl. Mash the cauliflower and potato together using a potato masher or, if you have strong forearms, a fork.

When the onions have become soft and slightly browned, add the chile and stir to combine. Add the mashed potato and cauliflower mixture, sprinkle with salt, and continue to stir and cook until the mixture is completely combined. The filling should be quite soft, and only slightly tinged with brown in places. Remove the filling to the bowl in which you mashed the potato and cauliflower. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.

While the filling is cooling, prepare the paratha dough. Cut the dough in half, then into 8 pieces. Use your hands to flatten each piece into a disc. Coat each disc with a light dusting of flour. On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll each disc into a rough 8-inch round, setting aside and covering each circle as you roll it out. Do not turn dough over while rolling.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling over one half of a dough round. Fold the bare half of the dough round over the filling, then fold in half to make a quarter-round wedge shape. Lightly pat the wedge flat, then gently roll it into a rough 8-inch round. Do not turn rounds over while rolling. Some filling will most likely sneak out the sides, but that is all right. Repeat with remaining dough rounds.

To cook the parathas, have ready a small bowl of vegetable oil of melted ghee. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil or ghee, and tip the skillet to coat it as much as possible. Lower the heat under the pan to medium-high, and place a paratha, top down, in the skillet. Cook for almost a minute, then turn the paratha over. Brush the surface of the paratha with a bit of vegetable oil of melted ghee, and cook for another minute and a half. Turn paratha over once more, and continue to cook for an additional 30 seconds, until the paratha is well spotted with brown patches on both sides. Remove to a plate, and cover to keep warm. Cook the remaining parathas in the same manner, adding another tablespoon or so of oil or ghee to the skillet in between each paratha.

Makes 8 parathas.

Street Food in India

7 Jun

Chef and activist Daniel Klein traveled all over India sampling various types of street food. Lucky for all of us, he filmed his trip and compressed it into a video that comprises a single day of eating Indian street food, from north to south. This short film is so gorgeous, I could just cry.

When I was in India, my cousins very much wanted to take me and my brother on a tour of Delhi street food vendors. My cousins had big plans to completely destroy our palates with the spiciest food they could find. Sadly, both my brother and I ended up getting sick, so we had to cancel the food tour.

(Side note: As it turned out, my brother and I had malaria. Boy, was that an interesting development.)

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