Friday, May 28, 2010

Vegetable Caviar (Roasted Eggplant & Pepper Dip/Salad)

Eggplant Caviar on Toasted Pita With Arugula and Roasted Cherry Tomato

This colorful and nutritious veggie caviar is very easy to make; once you chop all the ingredients, the oven does the rest of the work. I was trying to clean out the fridge prior to going away for a few days and chopped up all the veggies available to make this dish. It got such rave reviews that it has become a regular at our home. Roasting produces an amazingly succulent result that is equally at home as a side dish, salad, or starter in an Italian or Indian setting.

6 - 8 Side Dish Servings


1 large Globe or 2 big Japanese Eggplants, diced
3 medium Zucchini, diced
1 Each Red, Green, Yellow, and Orange Bell Peppers, diced
1 large Red Onion, diced
1 clove Garlic, minced (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp Red Pepper flakes (to taste)
2 Tbsp fresh Thyme leaves, chopped
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 pinch Turmeric
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large Ripe Tomatoes, diced (Optional)
3 Tbsp fresh Basil, chopped

2 Tbsp fresh Basil, torn coarsely


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Prepare a large rimmed baking sheet by coating it lightly with cooking spray or olive oil.

Place all the veggies in the baking pan; add salt, turmeric, thyme, chili flakes, olive oil and stir well to coat.

Place pan on the bottom rack of the oven and roast the veggies for about 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned. Stir gently every ten minutes or so during baking to insure that all the veggies cook evenly.

If using tomatoes, stir them in after 30 minutes or the eggplants are soft and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes or until soft.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Mix in the chopped basil leaves.

Place on a serving dish and sprinkle the torn basil on top.

Lovely served cool or cold, it is just as wonderful served warm or at room temperature with good crusty bread, wholegrain crackers, warm chapati or toasted pita bread wedges. Also delicious served with Yogurt Rice or plain rice and Simple Dal.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Home Grown Greens/Herbs - Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

This year I am experimenting with growing! I have grown different herbs and lemongrass has been one of great joy. A little investment in time and effort has given fabulous dividends enjoyed not only by me and my family, but all of my friends too! Lemongrass is very easy to grow. I grew mine from the purchased stalks; I kept them in a jar of water to keep them fresh and lo and behold! they rooted very quickly. They have been planted in the garden and are growing beautifully. Lemongrass can be purchased as seedlings from a nursery and apparently you can grow it from seeds also. They are quite decorative as well as functional - can be grown in a pot or in the ground.

Native to Asia, Lemongrass thrives in warm climates; I am not sure how hardy they are in temperate zones. They do well in most mild winter areas. The one downside to lemongrass is that the edges of the leaves are razor sharp; so be careful when harvesting or working around it - I highly recommend wearing long garden gloves to protect your arms as well as hands.

Although most species are primarily grown for the essential oil for use in perfumes and soaps, some are highly valued in cooking as well as for their medicinal qualities. Lemongrass is used in Ayurveda and in other Asian medicine systems. It is used medicinally in myriad ways: to cool fevers; aid digestion, assuaging flatulence, cramps, and colic; alleviate menstrual cramps, inflammations, and pain; as an expectorant; in reducing cholesterol; and last but not least as an aromatic herb in cooking.

Of all the many species of lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus is the one best suited for cooking. It is known as "inji pullu" (ginger grass) in Tamil and Malayalam. I love the refreshing intense citrus flavor they impart to Teas, Rasam, and Asian style soups and curries. I am experimenting and learning to incorporate it in more dishes; the flavorful lemongrass rasam was a huge success. Lemongrass tea is absolutely delicious hot or cold - Paji can attest to that wholeheartedly; he only guzzles down a couple of quarts of it daily! As he sips from his tall glass of the iced tea, he waxes poetic and says "drinking lemongrass tea is like drinking cool, mellow sunshine"! And what do you know, Tara shares the sentiment and said exactly the same words!

I use the outer leaves of lemongrass for tea and use the tender inner stalks for cooking - nothing wasted! Of course the whole stalks can be used for making tea also. Some people find the flavor of lemongrass a bit strong; I have used mint and ginger along with it to mellow out its flavor but still obtain the health benefits. Lemongrass can also be chopped and dried for later use. Just wash, chop into small pieces, spread on a clean towel to dry in a cool area like the kitchen counter or on a table until completely dry and store in clean airtight jar.

Simple Lemongrass Tea

1 stalk or a few outer leaves of lemongrass, chopped
1 quart (4 cups) fresh water

Bring the water to a brisk boil; turn off heat.

Stir in lemongrass and cover. Let steep for a few minutes - about 5 to 10 would be sufficient.

Enjoy your cup of 'mellow sunshine' hot or cold, sweetened or not. Cheers!

Lemongrass and Ginger Tea: Follow the directions for simple lemongrass tea above but with the addition of 3 or 4 thin slices of Fresh Ginger or more.

Home Grown Greens/Herbs: Arugula (Rocket)

Arugula or Eruca sativa is another herb/green that pays back abundantly for a little investment in time and effort. Arugula probably originates from the Mediterranean region and is called many names such as rucola, ruka, rocket, etc. It is an easily grown annual plant and one whiff or taste of the leaves will tell you that it belongs to the Brassica family along with cabbage, broccoli, mustard, etc. The peppery leaves, pale and pretty purple-veined cream colored flowers as well as the immature seed pods are edible either cooked or raw. The young leaves are milder; as the leaves mature, their flavor intensifies but are still tasty cooked as heat renders them mild. It is absolutely fantastic in sandwiches, pizza, pasta, pesto, and of course salads.

I love Arugula for its many qualities - the peppery leaves, the abundant harvests, the ease with which it grows, etc. It freely self-seeds so that once you plant it the first time, you will not have to plant it again. If you don't want them to naturalize, you will have to collect the seed pods before they burst. The seeds can then be planted exactly where you would like them. I am not so diligent to collect the seeds on time and find them growing everywhere which I don't mind at all. You can always pull out the young plants and transplant them. Although they are supposed to be annual, my plants from spring were still going strong in our mild climate in winter. I was going to pull them out as they looked a bit scraggly in the fall, but decided to just cut them back. I am glad I didn't pull them out because I harvested lots of leaves and flowers throughout winter.

Arugula is quite at home in the various cuisines of many countries around the Mediterranean. Here are a few recipes using this wonderful herb: Lemony Rice Salad, Pasta With Roasted Vegetables, Rainbow Salad, Autumn Gratin, Roasted Veggie Sandwiches, etc.

Home Grown Greens/Herbs: Sweet Potato/Yam Leaves (Ipomea batatas)

I like the idea of having something growing so that I can pick a few leaves to add freshness as well as nutrition to the day's menu. Sweet Potato/yam (Ipomoea batatas) leaves are very easy to grow and absolutely delicious; for clarification of the name yam, check here. It is another dark green leafy veggie that you can add to your repertoire of home grown leaves. Whether you get heart-shaped or deeply divided leaves, the plant is quite handsome as a potted plant.

All one needs to grow the leaves is a sweet potato; there are two methods that can be used for growing it:
  1. Place the whole potato in a dark cupboard and leave it undisturbed for a few weeks; it will sprout in its own time. You will see vines sprouting out.
  2. Place the potato in a jar of water and wait for it to sprout; soon roots and vines will start to grow.
Choose either method (or both) and once sprouts start to grow, you can plant the whole potato with the vines attached in a large pot and watch the vines grow. Sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family; one would realize that when the beautiful flowers appear - mine had lovely lavender ones.

Although the greens are very delicious as well as nutritiious, they don't get the attention or love, because most people have no idea that sweet potato leaves are edible let alone that they even have leaves! with a  and less bitter taste than kale or chard.

Sweet potato leaves/greens are powerhouses of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and riboflavin; way more than the sweet potatoes themselves. Nutritionally speaking, this makes the softer textured greens similar to spinach. Use them anywhere you might use spinach; sweet potato leaves have none of the astringent quality of spinach at all.

I grow sweet potatoes specifically for their delicious leaves and not the roots as they require lots of space and time; also the roots are readily available but the greens are not :D. Although most supermarkets don't carry sweet potato greens, I have seen them (and purchased) them from farmers markets and Asian markets. I find that growing my own is easy enough to assure me of a crop when I want it. I harvest the older leaves and growing tips and let the new ones keep growing for the next crop.

Sweet potato leaves taste similar like spinach. So I use them just like spinach; I have steamed, stir fried, sautéed, or added the leaves to soup and they turned out great in every case. They are very mild and lend themselves to all sorts of possibilities. One of the simplest yet tastiest way is to sauté them with a little hot chile, garlic, in a tiny touch of olive oil just until they wilt; the remaining heat in the pan completes the cooking. Add a little tamari or soy sauce and you would have a dainty dish of succulent greens! Try them in any curry, soup, Asian dishes, ThoranAloo Palak, etc. 

Homemade Vegetable Broth/Stock

Making a good vegetable stock is not only easy, it is economical too. It is great for making flavorful soups such as Stone Soup and casseroles like Risotto. All one has to do is to collect all the clean vegetable scraps for a couple of days from whatever veggies are used - peels from potatoes and carrots, trimmings from celery, leeks, and zucchini, tomato pieces leftover from making sandwiches or salad, mushroom, spinach, parsley and other herb stems, corn cobs, etc.

Strong veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc are not used for making broth as their flavors tend to be overpowering or unsavory although Linola often uses cauliflower stalks and core. Once you have about a quart or more of scraps, proceed with making the stock. If you don't have any scraps, not to worry - go ahead and chop up a couple of carrots, celery ribs, etc and add to the rest of the ingredients.

About 2 quarts


Assorted vegetable scraps
1 each - onion, garlic, carrot
1 small potato (optional)
1 tsp whole Black Peppercorns
1 Bay Leaf
a few herb sprigs - parsley, thyme, sage
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 pinch Turmeric


Gather all the clean scraps in a large stock pot; the veggies should be chopped small so that all the nutrients can be drawn out into the broth.

Add the crushed garlic, chopped carrot and onion, herb sprigs and the bay leaf.

Add the Sea Salt, peppercorns, and the turmeric. Add 2 quarts of water to cover the veggies.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat so that the stock is just simmering. Cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour.

When cool enough to handle, strain through a fine strainer and discard the pulp. Set aside the stock to cool if not using right away. If it is not going to be used within a couple of days, it should be frozen for later use.

Celery, Leek & Potato Soup

A very simple and soothing soup that is very satisfying too whether you make it cheesy or not. Pat K. introduced the cheesy version of this luscious soup to us a long time ago. I have long since lost the piece of paper with the recipe but who needs it when it is indelibly etched on my brain? Pat prepared it with onions, celery and potatoes and served it with freshly baked carrot muffins and a Waldorf salad - I still remember the taste - yummy!

I make this soup often with leeks instead of onions plus a few zucchinis too without any cheese or milk. You are not limited to using just these veggies; use any veggies you like. Now the big question is: do you want it with or without cheese - vegan or not - which one? Either way you end up with one delicious soup!

Here is my vegan version; you can make it cheesy if you wish. Of course you can use non-dairy milk and cheese and have it cheesy while still keeping it vegan. Reduce the amount of water to 3 cups; add 3 cups of milk with 1 Tbsp of all purpose flour mixed in, and 8 oz. grated Cheddar type Cheese as directed.

6 Servings


3 medium Leeks
1 stalk Celery (6-7 ribs)
2 large Potatoes (Russet type is best)
2 zucchinis (optional)
6 cups Water
1 tsp Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 cup Parsley, finely chopped
4 Tbsp fresh Chives or Garlic Chives, finely sliced
Earth/Smart Balance (Butter Substitute), for serving (optional)


Wash well all the veggies and drain and dry well.

Halve the leeks lengthwise and slice into thin semicircles.

Separate the ribs of celery, trim the ends, and slice thinly.

Peel the potatoes if necessary and cut into 1" cubes.

Trim the ends off the zucchinis and slice thinly.

Combine all the veggies with the water and the salt and bring to a boil.

Turn heat down and simmer until veggies are tender and soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Puree the soup so that there are no big chunks but it still has some texture. Using an immersion blender makes this task quite simple. If you are opting for the cheesy soup, omit this step.

(Add the milk mixture, bring to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the cheese if you are making the cheesy soup at this time.)

Add a little hot water if the soup is too thick; but not too much because this soup should be on the thicker side rather than thinner.

Stir in parsley and freshly ground pepper, cover and let rest for a few minutes.

Serve hot with a generous sprinkle of chives and additional freshly ground pepper as desired.

A small pat of Earth or Smart Balance (healthy butter substitutes) on each serving is a welcome garnish. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Basic Baked Polenta (Italian Cornmeal Mush)

Polenta is really plain cornmeal upma without the seasonings! The coarsely ground cornmeal is traditionally cooked on stove-top similar to the Indian Upma. Until corn was brought from the New World, Italians did not have cornmeal and used wheat, farro, chestnuts, etc instead. After the European exploration of the Americas, corn as well as potatoes and tomatoes have become integral parts of not only Italian cuisine but others word-wide.

Baked polenta does away with all the relentless stirring of the traditional method as well as the burnt food if you are not diligent. You will want to make it a part of your repertoire of dishes to enjoy often once you try it. Enjoy creamy soft polenta with savory toppings or cool, cut and savor grilled, baked or broiled. Directions for both the soft type and the slices are given below.

Polenta is coarse cornmeal; although polenta is preferable, regular cornmeal (ground finer) may be used for making polenta. Polenta made with regular cornmeal will be thicker and heavier with a finer texture. Polenta and regular cornmeal (yellow or white) are available in most markets.

This recipe is an adaptation of one found in the Essential Vegetarian Cookbook and makes a nicely seasoned polenta suitable for serving with savory sauces or toppings. The recipe as given below is vegan and gluten free. 

6 Servings

Basic Polenta Ingredients:

1 cup Polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 cups water
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 Pinch ground Red Pepper (Cayenne)
1 small bunch Flat Leaf Parsley (about 1/4 cup)
3 or 4 sprigs fresh Thyme
1 sprig Sage
1 or 2 sprigs fresh Marjoram
Freshly ground Black Pepper

For Serving:
Your favorite sauce/stew 
a small handful Basil, torn, for garnishing


Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine salt, red pepper, water and the cornmeal in a 2 or 3 quart (liter) oven proof casserole.

Bake the cornmeal mixture for 1 hour uncovered.

Stir thoroughly; bake for 30 minutes more.

While the polenta is baking, strip the leaves from the herb sprigs; chop them finely.

Remove from the oven, stir in the chopped herbs, freshly ground pepper and oil, cover and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Serve hot with Peperonata, Mushroom Ragout, curries or stews, other favorite sauces or toppings garnished with the basil. Enjoy!!

Polenta slices:

Prepare polenta as above but with only 3 cups of water.

Prepare a rimmed baking pn/sheet by lightly oiling it or spraying with a cooking oil spray. Choose a small or large pan/sheet depending on the thickness of the polenta slices you want.

Spread the polenta in the prepared baking sheet and set aside until completely cool.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Cut the polenta into squares, triangles or circles.

Brush the pieces with a little olive oil and broil, grill, or brown in a skillet.

Serve hot with your favorite sauces, curries, or toppings. Enjoy!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Potato -Tomato Korma (Potato Stew With Coconut)

Potato-Tomato Korma is one of Paji's favorite curries and one of his mother's recipes. It is spiced in typical Kerala style with coconut, cumin and black pepper. It is delicious served with rice, pongal, dosas, puris or other Indian breads, etc.

Although Paji's mom made it only with potatoes and tomatoes, it is equally delicious when other mild vegetables such as chayote squash (variously known as Buddha's Hand squash, mirliton, vegetable pear, chow chow, or Bangalore kathirikai), cauliflower, etc are substituted for one of the potatoes. Fleshy Roma tomatoes would work nicely in this recipe.

4 - 6 Servings


2 Potatoes, preferably russet type
4-6 ripe Tomatoes
1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 tsp uncooked rice
1 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Black Peppercorns
2 hot Green Chilies
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
1 sprig fresh Curry leaves, minced
2 tsp Coconut oil (optional)


Cut the potatoes into long thick pieces.

Cut the tomatoes into thick wedges.

Make a slit on the blossom end of one chili.

Place the potatoes, tomatoes and the chili in a pan with a cup of water, salt and the turmeric.

Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until veggies are tender.

While the veggies are simmering, finely grind the coconut, chili, rice, cumin seeds and black pepper using just enough water as needed using a blender.

Add the ground mixture to the veggies; rinse the blender container with a few spoonfuls of water to extract all of the coconut and spices and add to the korma.

Stir well and bring to a boil again. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the curry leaves and coconut oil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Serve hot. Delicious - Enjoy!