Thursday, March 28, 2013

Taking Requests

No stories today, just a few recipes -- demands from friends, really. I'm such a pushover.

Mom's Aloo Bhaji (Potatoes with Mustard Seeds and Turmeric)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

If you don't have access to curry leaves, leave them out in step 2 and add a handful of chopped cilantro in step 4. 

4 medium-to-large Yukon Gold, red, or white (waxy) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” chunks
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves (or substitute 2 TB chopped cilantro at the end)
1 whole, dried red chili (such as Arbol)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
1 TB lemon or lime juice

1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil along with mustard seeds over medium-high heat. When the seeds start to pop, throw in curry leaves and chili. Add turmeric and sauté for a few seconds. Add the potatoes and 1/2 tsp salt and toss around.

3. Add 1/4 c water, turn heat to medium-low and cover. Allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add another 1/4 c of water if the mixture gets dry before the potatoes are cooked.

4. When the potatoes are tender, taste for salt. Add lemon or lime juice along with cilantro, if using, and mix. Serve hot.

Saag Paneer (Indian Cheese with Spinach)
Serves 4 as part of an Indian meal

1 batch paneer (see first instruction)
2 bunches of spinach or 1 bunch spinach and 1 bunch mustard greens
2 TB canola oil, divided
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced or grated gingerroot
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
¼- ½ tsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp salt
1 finely diced tomato, or 1 c canned diced tomato

1. Get hold of paneer: you can do one of three things to acquire paneer.
  • You can buy it at an Asian store ready made. Pat it dry with paper towels, cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
  • You can take ricotta cheese, put it in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl until much of the liquid drains out, and then squeeze it out in the cheesecloth by twisting and flatten it into a disk. Place on a cutting board with a plate on top, topped with a weight (like a heavy cast iron pan or something) for 10 minutes or so. Now unwrap the ricotta and you can cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
  • You can make your own (easy peasy): Place 2 quarts whole milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, add 3 TB lemon juice or white vinegar and turn the heat down to low. You'll see the milk curdle, with greenish whey separating from white curds. Empty the pot into a cheesecloth-lined colander (or use a clean tea towel) and when cool enough to handle bring the corners of the cloth together and twist tightly so that the most of the whey drains from the paneer. Lay the bundle, with the top still tightly twisted, on a cutting board you've placed in the sink, top with a plate and a weight for about 5 minutes. Now unwrap the paneer and you can cut it into 1/2" cubes and use it.
2. Optional (but nice) step: In a nonstick frying pan, heat 1 TB canola oil. When shimmering, add the cubes of paneer. Allow to sit until they form a bit of a crust, then turn. When the cubes are golden brown on two or three sides, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate. Reserve.

3. Wash greens and chop roughly. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens, along with 1/4-1/2 c water (start with the smaller amount) and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the greens are wilted but still a bright emerald. Remove to a bowl; after it's cooled for a few minutes roughly purée in a food processor.

4. Wipe out the skillet and heat 1 TB canola oil over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds; when fragrant, add onion and sauté until golden brown. Add garlic and ginger and stir. Add cumin, coriander, red chili, garam masala, and ½ tsp salt. Sauté for a few minutes. Add tomato and stir. Allow the mixture to cook at a lively simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomato liquid has been absorbed; this will take 5-10 minutes.

5. Add the puréed greens and allow to simmer on low heat with the spice mixture for 5 minutes until the flavors have melded. Add cubed paneer and allow to heat through, another 3-5 minutes. Taste for salt -- it will need some. If you have time to make this a bit in advance, the paneer will absorb more flavor; you can reheat it when you're ready to eat. Serve hot.

Eggplant, Tomato and Chickpea Salad with Cilantro Dressing
Serves 6

This isn't Indian, but it's got a lot of flavors that would make it ideal for a variety of meals: Latin, Indian, North African, etc. In the summer, take some of the dressing and use it to marinate 2 lbs of firm white fish (halibut, swordfish, sea bass, etc.) and grill along with the eggplant; serve alongside the salad.

1. In a blender or food processor, combine the following ingredients: 1 c cilantro leaves and stems, chopped, 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped, 4 garlic cloves, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1/4 ts cayenne (red chile) pepper, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 TB lemon juice, 3 TB olive oil.

2. Take two medium eggplants and cut into 1/2" slices. Place on a foil-lined cookie sheet, brush both sides of each slice with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place under a hot broiler until browned and softened. (If it's the season, you can do this outside on the grill.)

3. When cool enough to handle, chop eggplant into 1" pieces. In a bowl, combine with 1 c halved cherry tomatoes, 1 c cooked chick peas, cilantro mixture, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature (not cold). 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eating Like Your Great-Grandmother

The big news this week on the food-and-healthy-eating front was the release of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine proving something that's been long suspected: that a Mediterranean style of eating, rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, legumes, fish, and red wine can reduce heart attack and stroke in people at risk for those diseases. Throw in some whole grains, stinky cheese, and yogurt, and remove most red meat and sugar, and you've got a recipe for health. Not weight loss, but health -- and that's what's important, right? What fun! All the good things that I know I should be eating -- and, frankly, love eating -- are now to be consumed guilt free! And with relish! With gusto and with pleasure!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Curating Your Larder

I'm an art historian. I worked my way through grad school as a curatorial assistant at museums in New York City, and when I graduated I started teaching in a curatorial studies program. I've even tried my hand at curating art a couple of times, and I teach classes on curating as a form of framing knowledge. I know from curating, even though I've never called myself one.

Lately, though, I feel like the only person in the world who doesn't; the word has spread like a virus. It's bandied around to mean something as basic as "chosen" or "selected" or just "put together," as if those words weren't quite enough to describe the expertise with which the choosing or selecting or putting together was effected. And no longer is art the object of this attention: anything can be curated now. We hear about curated content on websites, curated collections on, curated tumblrs of cute kitten photos, curated dinner parties. My favorite use recently was a flyer from the Whitney Museum, inviting me to "curate" my membership by ticking off one of two available choices. I am glad to know I am not nearly the only person who's come to hate the new popularity of the word; even The Atlantic hates it, enough it was included it in their list of 2012's worst words, along with "legitimate rape" and "butt-chugging": "I must say that no Internet buzzword irked me more this year than curate," explains The Atlantic Wire's Richard Lawson. "It's a reappropriated term that used to mean something good — putting lovely and interesting things in a museum! — but now denotes a technique of cobbling together preexisting web content and sharing it with readers/followers/whomever. In other words, linking to things. It's an awfully highfalutin term for something that many of us do every day, on Facebook and Twitter. Sharing links isn't some special skill or trade, but self-described curators, who rose to great power in 2012, are effectively asserting that it is."