Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sweet Chile of Mine

I am re-posting this as an entry for No Croutons required, May 2010, hosted by Lisa.

I recently blogged about the terrific Chile I had at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle. So naturally when I got home I wanted to recreate it for my family, but didn't know how to make it taste different from regular Rajma chaawal, apart from the accompaniments. Thankfully I found a great recipe in Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Feasts. I made it a couple of weekends ago when we had some close friends over for dinner. I didn't want to make a typical Indian meal with half a dozen dishes and spices, because it was really too hot to live that weekend. So we had my mom's yoghurt-paneer dip with crudités and hummus with pita bread as appetizers during drinks, followed by Spanish almond-grape chilled soup:

Middle Eastern tabbouleh and Mexican Chile for dinner. The cocoa powder adds a lovely, smoky depth to the flavour of the Chile, so it was a densely flavourful main course in contrast to the light, fresh flavours of the soup and tabbouleh.We had planned to serve a fruit salad with melon and mango for desert but we and our friends were too stuffed by that point.

The Chile was a breeze to make, and I served it with sides of sour cream and salsa.

Kidney beans – 1 cup, soaked for 8 hours and then cooked or cooked using the Quick-soak method
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Cocoa powder – 1 tbsp
Red chili powder – 2 tsp
2 onions, finely chopped
3-4 garlic pods, crushed
200 ml tomato puree
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Cheddar cheese, grated – 1 cup

Heat the oil and add in the cumin and coriander powder. When they start to brown, add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn pale brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the mixture turns thick.

If you want to assemble it the way the Diner did, top the Chili with the cheddar cheese and bake in a 220 degrees C oven for about 10-15 minutes until the cheese melts and just starts turning brown.

Serve with sour cream ( we don't get it here so I mixed sour yoghurt with cream and whipped the two together until it was thick and tasted like sour cream) and simple salsa – tomatoes and onions finely chopped with green chilies, coriander leaves and lime squeezed in and salt to taste.

The nice thing about this Chile is that you can eat it for days – served on toast or good crusty bread or as is, heated through or cold from the fridge…

This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair 11, begun by Susan, hosted this time by Taste with the eyes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Red, white and green...

...Was the theme for the royal foodie joust this month. And with the weather here touching 45 degrees c last week, I couldn't help but remember our wonderful vacation two years ago in Santorini…we landed during a freak spell of cold, driving rain in May, and wondered what kind of beach vacation this would be. But once it cleared up we had an amazing time, marveling at the beautiful white colour of buildings (A's theory was that they were regularly daubed with Greek yogurt) and the blues of church domes, the sky and the water. We also had amazing food – delicious, low calorie, incredibly healthy and flavourful and just perfect for hot weather.

I decided to do more than reminisce and to recreate at least some of the culinary flavours of Greece tonight in my kitchen. So at long last I experimented with the perfect summer salad – watermelon, with feta topped with crushed mint. A splosh of balsamic vinegar and the bite of thinly sliced red onion just accentuated the flavours more and left us feeling fulfilled and cooled down in this hot climate.

Conversely enough, the red of the watermelon looks cool despite the weather, perhaps because of the remembered juiciness, while the cool white of the feta reminded me of an incident in Santorini, where we had seen far-off snow-clad peaks...or so we thought until we drew closer and realised it was a hilltop covered with snow-white houses! And the green of the crushed mint and its fragrance add just that little spring in one's step, that light touch of freshness...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Steelhead Diner

Last week I was in Seattle on business. Luckily our meeting wound up by 3:00 pm, leaving us lots of free time to walk around and explore the city. Seattle, particularly the downtown area, is pretty compact and easy to get around on foot, unlike many other American cities. We quickly changed into casual clothes, and especially for me and V, flat shoes as opposed to the stilettos we had worn in the morning on our way to the meeting and rued heavily while on the so-called 10 minute walk to the meeting from our hotel, armed with ton-weight of laptop.

It was fun to wander around and we quickly found our bearings as we headed down to the famous Pike's Place Market, famous for its fresh produce. Much of the produce was stuff that dad and I didn't really appreciate, i.e. fresh seafood, though V had fun posing with a giant crab. But the flower section was beautiful with the most stunning riot of colour from newly bloomed tulips. There were lots of interesting artsy craftsy stalls with jewellery, stuffed toys and the like at one end, as well as some fabulous black and white photographs of Seattle, which however were quite expensive.

We wandered across the waterfront all the way to a deck-ey area which opened onto Puget Sound which was beautiful and also got a concerted glimpse of Seattle's skyline. By this time we were pretty hungry but unfortunately most places down by the water seemed to have almost nothing vegetarian on offer, apart from bread and mashed potatoes. Dad and I wanted a proper meal so we split off from the rest of the group and wandered back over near Pike's Place, where we remembered seeing lots of restaurants.

The Steelhead Diner was right opposite the Sur La Table store, and we remembered having passed by so we stopped on the off-chance that they might have something to offer. We asked the hostess and she said they have an awesome vegetarian Chili. By this time, Dad and I were both tired out as well, so we thankfully agreed and were lucky enough to get a table by the windows, which offered a lovely glimpse of the sun setting over Puget Sound.

We ordered two small cups of the Chili, one side of mashed potatoes and asked for a glass of white wine and some beer to cool ourselves down. The Chilean wine was very nice, crisp with a fruit edge, and Dad liked the dark beer they served. The Chili was going to be a first for us and I was curious to see how it would be different from Indian Rajma. The drinks came with some lovely bread served with butter partially softened in an olive oil + fresh coriander sauce, which was incredibly flavourful and which I've got to try out asap at home.

We enjoyed the lively music, the wonderful view and the buzz of action, while savouring the bread.. The restaurant was clearly very popular, and lots of people came in as the evening turned into night. By the time we left, around 9:00 pm, the restaurant was packed. In fact, the next night when V and I went back for dinner, we couldn't find a free table and had to have our meal sitting at the bar, it was so full.

The chili looked awesome. They served it topped with Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and some pico de gallo. Dad and I dug in cautiously and then wholeheartedly after the first bite. The mixture of flavours just exploded in our mouths – the spicy Chili offset by the bland sour cream, the warmth of the cheese broken by the piquant salsa – it was like a symphony playing on our tastebuds. The cup of chili finished all too quickly. While there was some similarity to Rajma, the overall mix of flavours was quite different and a welcome difference, too.

The mashed potatoes came drowning in butter and while it tasted great, dad and I could only have so much before we were feeling sated.

We ended the meal with a rhubarb sorbet, since neither of us had had rhubarb before. It was a lovely, tart, fresh-tasting sorbet and the colour was just so intensely saturated that it was a treat for the eyes as well.

The service at the diner was fabulous, with the waitress very helpful in guiding us regarding the size of the portions and on what mixture to order, being very attentive as to when we needed something. The bill for a wonderful meal for two came to an affordable $ 46.50 + tip.

Steelhead Diner

1st Avenue and Pine,

Seattle, WA

Persian Inspiration

The weather's been hot enough here lately to remind anyone of the Sahara – it was 45 degrees Friday. So hardly surprising that we didn't feel like having the usual suspects of dal and sabzi for dinner over the hot, hot weekend. In fact, the kiddos and I had an inebriated-type long 3 hour nap Saturday afternoon, in celebration of the awful weather. So when it came to figuring out what we wanted to eat for dinner this weekend, I definitely leaned towards lean cuisine. Suddenly I remembered couscous which, while not a husband favourite, does qualify as a light meal. We had had a really lovely meal of what I then thought was cous cous last week in Seattle – on reflection I figured it was probably bulgur wheat, but the thought of couscous inspired me.

I had planned to make hummous over the weekend, so I decided I wanted to give my cous cous a middle-Eastern flavour. But it was too hot to look through cookbooks so I had me a mini-brainstorm. What flavours truly went with Middle-Eastern? Hmmm…mint, for one. Pomegranates would add a Persian touch…and somehow the thought of Persia has always enthralled me…Pistachios would add crunch and further the connection. Lime…

It was really fun improvising this cous cous, and I realized that cous cous is going to get added to my mental list of 'foods I like cooking because I get to be creative'. It turned out really well too, and had that zing of freshness that a hot weekend like this one really needed in a meal. The pomegranates added a lovely burst of tart sweetness to offset the strong mint flavour and the crunch of pistachios was a lovely addition. With this and some litchi icecream for dessert, we had a wonderful summer dinner.

250 gm couscous

Water (enough to cover the couscous and 1 inch over)
Handful mint leaves

Handful coriander leaves

1-2 Snake gourds, diced
Juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size and juiciness)
Half cup pomegranates
Half cup pistachios, lightly toasted/ dry roasted in a frying pan
1 onion, julienned
Salt to taste

Add the water to the couscous and let it soak in for about 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff it up once the couscous has absorbed all the water. Meanwhile, finely mince the mint and coriander leaves. Add the herbs, the onion, snake gourds ( like long, crisp cucumber), the pomegranates and the lime juice to the couscous. Make sure the lime is juicy – the ones I used were very tart and flavourful but not juicy and so the couscous was a little drier than I would have liked. Add salt to taste, mix and fluff up with a fork again. If you like a touch of spice, add zatar mix or just a touch of paprika. Chill for about half hour and serve, with pomegranate juice on the side, to add more Persian-ness to the meal.

How's that for this weekend's herb blogging # 182, hosted by Chris.