Tag Archives: garam masala

Cookbook Challenge #2 – Quinoa Pilaf

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I brought Isa Chandra’s Appetite for Reduction cookbook to work with me and read through it as I had my morning cup of coffee. I ended up looking at her recipe for cranberry-cashew biryani and knew I needed to make it.

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However, as much as I love her recipes and love that in this cookbook everything is 400 calories or less per serving, I wanted to change the recipe to fit my taste buds better.

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My sister and I were emailing each other all day talking about recipes, our mom’s recipes, cooking and planning my visit to Chicago in March (hooray!). I told her about this recipe and how I wanted to change it to fit my dietary needs. She reminded me that “biryani” is actually all spice. It does not usually have dried fruit in it, and I wanted to use some kind of dried fruit. So we both realized what I wanted to make, was really a pulao or pilaf.

The biggest changes I made were the cooking process in general, using quinoa over Basmati rice to help keep it low-carb for me, and using dried apricots instead of cranberries.

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garam masala made fresh

If you didn’t know, apricots and cumin are two of the most yummy flavors when combined. Next time you make a curry dish with cumin, add a little dried apricot in there – your world will change completely.

This dish turned out amazing. How do I know that? When REB got home from class and had it for dinner, he said, and I quote, “Whole Foods should have this in their hot bar.”

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This is how I know this recipe is a keeper. And how I know he’s a keeper too ;)

Quinoa Pilaf
 
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A low-carb twist on classic Vegetable Pulao that uses Indian spices, mixed vegetables and dried fruit. Adapted from Isa Chandra (and my mom)!
Author:
Recipe type: vegan, vegetarian, main dish
Cuisine: Indian, vegetarian, vegan
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1½ cups frozen mixed vegetable blend (my blend has carrots, peas, green beans and corn kernels)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (I make mine fresh, but you can use store bought)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup unsalted whole cashews, toasted
  • Cilantro (optional garnish)
Instructions
  1. In a rice cooker or medium pot, cook quinoa according to packaging instructions. I used ¾ cup quinoa, with 1½ cups water in my rice cooker.
  2. Add the chopped dried apricots directly to the quinoa so they cook together — the quinoa took about 20-25 minutes to cook in the cooker. May take longer on stovetop.
  3. When the quinoa is cooked, pour into a bowl and set aside
  4. In a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil.
  5. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, cover the pot with a lid and let the seeds start to pop.
  6. Next add the minced garlic and grated ginger and cook for one minute.
  7. Add the frozen mixed vegetables, garam masala, turmeric, salt, red pepper flakes and stir well for one minute.
  8. Add the tomato paste and water and stir.
  9. Cover the dish and let it come to a boil and reduce so the curry is slightly thickened and most of the water is gone- about 3-5 minutes.
  10. While the curry is boiling away, toast the cashews in a small, dry pan until golden
  11. When the curry has reduced, add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir well to combine all the flavors. Give it a taste and adjust your spices if needed.
  12. Toss in the toasted cashews.
  13. Serve immediately with pickle, chutney or additional curry dish.
  14. Optional garnish: chopped cilantro

 

After doing the math, I found that this recipe was only 229 calories per serving, almost 5g of fiber and almost 8g of protein. I think next time I might add some garbanzo beans or mushrooms to up the ante on the protein.

What are some of your favorite cookbook recipes?

Spicy, Smokey, Sweet Roasted Chickpeas

The best thought I had on Thursday, was knowing that Friday was around the corner. I can’t wait for the weekend. I feel like the work weeks are busier than they need to be. So much so, I find myself getting to work before 8, sometimes before 7:30 and working until almost 5 or past that. It’s not like I should complain.

I really do love what I do. But when you’re in meetings almost all day, every day, it’s hard to get the actual work done! I’m lucky to have an amazing team that keeps things going and moving forward when I’m not around. I’m sure I’d be 8479374938 times more stressed if that wasn’t the case.

So when I finally did leave the office, and then took my 25 minute bus ride home, I was beat. I fed the pups, laid down on the couch and this happened.

But shortly after that, the chickpeas happened. I wanted nothing more than to have the worst kind of snack in the world (read: ice cream, chips, chocolate, anything!) but we don’t have those types of things in the house (except Skinny Cows, but wasn’t in the mood for that). So I made the roasted chickpeas and it was the perfect snack.

I’ve made roasted chickpeas a million times before and they’re usually savory with rosemary and sea salt, salt and black pepper, sriracha and franks red hot…and you get the point. I still need to try making sweet ones, but this time, I wanted a blend of it all because I couldn’t decide between spicy and sweet.

So Triple S was born: spicy, smokey and sweet.
•Spicy and smokey was the garam masala. I make my own, but you can also buy it already made. I made a small batch of garam masala but without the cardamom so it was more smokey with the cumin and coriander.
•Sweet came from the cinnamon and brown sugar. A beautiful combination.

And all was right in the world. At least for the day anyway.

Spicy, Smokey and Sweet Roasted Chickpeas
 
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Author:
Recipe type: snack, appetizer
Ingredients
  • 1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed and dried
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala (homemade or store bought)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F
  2. Drain, rinse, dry the beans and put in a small bowl
  3. Add olive oil, garam masala and brown sugar.
  4. Toss well
  5. Spread onto a baking sheet in single layer.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, tossing after 20 minutes.
  7. Chickpeas are done when they are toasted and crispy.

How To Make Garam Masala

Garam masala is the one spice mixture you need for Indian cooking. Store-bought doesn’t cut it for me. Call me high maintenance, but you can’t skimp on good flavor and spice!

I make a lot of curries and most every recipe,  if not all of them, requires 1 tablespoon (I like my curries spicy!) of this incredible spice. This is actually a combination of six different spices ground together into a fine powder.

Up until now, my mom made the masala for me because she makes huge batches and loves to share. But now I’m a grown up, so making it at home is super simple and now I’m going to let you in on the secret of how to make it!

Now, you could use the old fashioned method of making your own masala with a mortar and pestle. However, that isn’t ideal if you want to make big batches, like I did tonight.

This guide will show you how to make your own at home! It’s super easy and believe me, once you make it, you won’t ever buy store-bought again.

What you’ll need:
•2 tablespoons black cardamom seeds
•2 tablespoons whole peppercorns
•2 tablespoons cumin seeds
•2 tablespoons coriander seeds
•1 cinnamon stick
•2 whole dried red chilies

You also need a grinder. Like I said, you could use a mortar and pestle, but a coffee grinder would be a better choice. My mom actually has two: one for grinding coffee, and one for spices. Great investment.


Beautiful sight isn’t it? These are the spices you’ll need to make this masala. There are many variations to this recipe and I’m sure you can find them all online, but this is what my mom uses. So by default, this is what I use ;-) It’s all relative (ba-dum-bum pssh!)

Let’s talk about those spices in detail, shall we?


Coriander seeds are little tan seeds, which add a super strong, pungent taste to your masala.


Whole peppercorns don’t need any explanation. They’re spicy and necessary.


One whole cinnamon stick. This is going to add a spicy-sweet flavor to the masala. Don’t worry, you won’t use the whole thing (that would be WAY too overpowering), but this will add just a hint of sweet spice in the background. I guess kind of like nutmeg, but not as mild.


Whole dried red chilies. Yum! These will add such a kick. There is no such thing as “mild” garam masala, so don’t skimp. Add the heat.


Cumin seeds add a lovely smokey flavor to the masala. It’s not quite spicy, but it’s not bland either. I can’t explain it, except that it’s wonderful. Cumin seeds are used a lot on their own in other curries.


And finally we have black cardamom seeds. Cardamom is a very distinct spice used a lot in Indian cooking. Most people know cardamom as one of the main ingredients in Chai. That kind is the green pods, but these black seeds are used in garam masala. The more you know.

So those are the spices! They’re lovely and don’t fret. They aren’t as expensive as you might think. Most Indian grocery stores sell them in decent-sized bags for between $3-7. And believe me, they’ll last a long time, so it’s well worth your money.

To prepare the garam masala, you simply dry roast all these ingredients in a skillet over medium heat for 15 or so minutes.


Dry roasting is essential when making this. This will release all the oils in the spices and will create and incredible depth of flavor.


Every few minutes, lift the skillet off the heat and swirl it to stir the spices around. You want to dry roast the ingredients for up to 15 minutes, or until the air is aromatic. And believe me, you’ll know when it’s done.


Once it’s finished, turn off the stove and place the skillet on a cool burner. Let it cool completely (5-10 minutes) before you grind it.


Remove the cinnamon stick from the skillet and if you have a mortar and pestle, break it up and place only a few pieces back into the spice mixture. So basically what I did was roast the cinnamon to infuse the flavors into the skillet and then only using a little bit of it in the actual mixture so that it’s not overpowering. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just use a rolling pin or anything hard to help break up the stick. Save the rest of the cinnamon, too! You can use it in another dish or grate it over tea or cider.





Once the spices have cooled, you can take a little bit at a time and grind it down to a fine powder as shown above. Do this until the entire mixture is a fine powder.


The end result is this amazing little spice mountain of decadence. Store it into an jar or air tight container and it’ll keep for up to 6 weeks! You only need to use about 1/2 a tablespoon at a time when you add into your curries. Unless you’re me. Then you’ll be adding 1 tablespoon or more for that heat.

So that wasn’t too hard, right? The hardest part is finding all the spices, but once you get them, it’s smooth grinding from there.

Mattar tofu

I make a lot of Indian curries. There is one that REB absolutely loves, called mattar paneer. However, I don’t make it that often since it’s pretty much the most unhealthy thing one could eat. Paneer is a type of cheese, similar to feta, but it’s really bad for your health. Not only that, but this dish also has sour cream in it, which in large consumptions, also not that great for the figure.

I made a variation of the dish last night and substituted tofu for the paneer. It worked like a charm. I couldn’t cut out the sour cream, but using light, or fat-free works just as well. I’m sure you could even use milk instead of cream. However, the sour cream adds a tang that sort of brings the whole dish together.

If you do want to use paneer, you can buy a frozen block from any Indian grocery stores. Some even come already cut up into cubes for your convenience. If you want to make your own paneer, that’s not too hard either, but it takes a lot of time since…well, you’re making cheese from scratch. Ha.

Maybe I’ll post something on how to do that another time. Let’s make some curry though!

What you’ll need:
•1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil (1/2 for the tofu, 1/2 for the curry)
•1 1/2 cups firm tofu, cut into cubes
•2 cups pureed Roma tomatoes (maybe not pureed, but chopped up pretty finely)
•1/2 cup chopped onion (not pictured)
•1 tablespoon grated ginger
•1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (don’t need a lot in this dish!)
•1/3 cup fat-free or light sour cream
•1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (not pictured)
•1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
•salt to taste
•2 curry leaves
•1 cup frozen peas
•1/2 cup water (not pictured)
•1/2 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (not pictured)

Let’s talk about the garam masala. I’ve mentioned it once before I’m sure, but it’s the most common spice used in almost every Indian dish. It’s essential, it’s fragrant, it’s delicious. You make it by simply dry roasting several spices and then grinding them to a fine powder. I’ll have to make another post one day about how to make garam masala from scratch.
But for now, I have a mom who loves me dearly and made me this entire jarful of garam masala.
It’s OK to be jealous. Buying store-bought masala will never compare to the depth of spice and flavor of doing it yourself.

OK, enough spice-talk, let’s get cooking…

Start by preparing your ingredients, and puree or roughly chop two Roma tomatoes. I love Roma tomatoes. They’re tangy, juicy and de-li-cious! I have a mini food processor for this kind of task. You could just as easily use a blender to help you out, too. Or, if you don’t have either, warm up the tomatoes in the microwave for a few seconds, then use your hands to smush them. Yes, smush is a word. Use it. It works.

Put 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a shallow skillet or frying pan and wait for it to get screaming hot. Then, carefully place the tofu pieces (or paneer if you do want to use that) into the pan. It should start sizzling! Cook the tofu for about 4 minutes or until golden brown.

Like so. I had two batches I had to pan-fry, but they each took about 4 minutes for each side to get brown. Once of the tofu (or paneer) is cooked, transfer them to a plate with a little sprinkling of water on the bottom. This will help keep the tofu (or paneer) moist while you continue cooking.

In a saucepan, heat the other 1/2 tablespoon of oil and let it heat up a bit on medium-high.

Add the onions and the turmeric. Let them cook about 2-3 minutes (shouldn’t take long if your pan is hot!)

Next, add the garlic (very little!) and the tomatoes. You can also grate the ginger at this time. Give it a good stir and let it cook another 5-7 minutes. The juice from the tomatoes will help create a gravy, or masala as we call it.

Once that’s cooked a bit, stir in the sour cream. The color will turn a lot lighter and at this point you can add some salt (1/4-to-1/2 teaspoon). Also, add in your garam masala.

Add in the frozen peas and raise the heat a bit, since the peas (being frozen) will cool the down the dish. Add in the water (not more than 1/2 a cup). Cover and let the curry come to a boil.

Once it’s come to a boil, remove the lid and add in your tofu (or paneer).

If you are using paneer and not tofu, you must be careful not to break apart the paneer when stirring it into the dish. Since I used firm tofu, it was pretty good at holding its shape.

Add in the curry leaves and the tamarind concentrate. Tamarind concentrate is used in the tamarind chutney when eating samosas. It also adds a tang and burst of flavor when added to any curry dish. You don’t need a lot, since the flavor is so strong. Another bonus is that it helps to thicken the curry.

Cover the pan and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Give your curry a taste. You may need to add more garam masala, ginger or salt depending on how spicy you want your dish to be.

Serve it hot over cooked basmati rice.

Nomlicious. Enjoy!