Friday, July 30, 2010

How To Make Home-Made Paneer Cheese

There is no substitute for fresh home-made paneer especially for making Indian cheese-based desserts such as Channa Payesh, Ras Gulla, Ras Malai, etc or the quite popular savory dishes called Palak (spinach) and Mattar (peas) Paneer. Paneer can also be used in place of ricotta cheese. Making fresh paneer is not difficult at all; one just has to plan ahead and start the process a day or two ahead so that the paneer is recipe ready.

The science of making paneer is pretty simple; heat and an acidic agent are utilized to denature and coagulate most of the proteins from the milk. Milk is heated first and lemon/lime juice or citric acid are used to coagulate the protein. Vinegar could also be employed for curdling the milk but it leaves behind its flavor which quite ruins the delicate taste of the paneer in my opinion.

When the curds (paneer/milk protein) are strained out, the fluid left is called whey. The whey is still nutritious and can be used in cooking and baking. I recall that when we were ill with fevers or flu as children, we were given warm sweetened 'whey water' as it was easier to digest than whole milk.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

2 quarts/liter milk
1 or 2 lemons/limes

Method:

Heat the milk slowly in a large sauce pan until quite hot.

Turn the heat down and stir in the juice of 1 lemon or lime without any pulp.

Keep stirring and heating and the proteins will coagulate into small lumps.

If the whey is still milky, add more of the lemon/lime juice while stirring until the whey becomes clear.

Turn off the heat and let cool for about 20 or 30 minutes.

Line a colander or strainer with a large muslin like cloth and set it over another container large enough to catch all of the drained whey without overflowing.

Pour the curds and whey into the cloth lined colander very carefully and let it sit until most of the whey has drained and the curds are cool.

Set aside the whey for cooking/baking or discard it.

Loosely tie the cloth and set the colander over a bowl, cover, and set it in the refrigerator to drain well - this might take several hours or overnight.

At this point you can decide whether to make a slab for cutting the paneer into pieces or not.

If you want to make a slab, flatten the cloth covered paneer and set it on a plate and put a heavy object on top and leave for several hours for it to set.

If you are not making a slab, just scrape off the paneer from the cloth and proceed according to the recipe.

Once the paneer is ready, remove from the cloth, and keep it chilled in a covered container until ready to use.

Paneer will stay fresh for a few days in the refrigerator.

Sweet Potato (Yam) Soup

Baked, roasted, boiled - sweet potatoes/yams are good and good for you whichever way they are prepared. Here is a wonderful way to eat them in a soup. Leftover plain roasted/baked sweet potatoes can also be used to make this soup - if using leftovers, stir in after the dal is cooked.

Mung dal adds body and protein to the soup and cooks quickly too. Blanch the tomatoes by immersing them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, cool, peel and strain out the seeds for a luxurious touch. The red pepper, sambar powder and lemon/lime juice perfectly balance the sweetness of the yams.

6 - 8 Servings

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1 Onion
2 ribs Celery
1 medium Carrot
1 cup Split, skinless Mung beans (yellow Mung Dal)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
2 large tomatoes, chopped
4 cups water or Vegetable Broth
1 Tbsp Sambar Powder or to taste
5 medium Sweet Potatoes (yams), peeled and cubed
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
Plain Yogurt/Sour Cream to serve
Lemon/Lime wedges/juice to serve
Freshly ground Black Pepper to serve

Method:

Sort the mung dal for any debris; wash well.

Wash all the veggies and drain well.

Prepare soffrito: Finely chop the onion, celery and carrot.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot and add the red pepper flakes and soffrito veggies with a healthy pinch of salt and cook stirring often over low heat for about 10 minutes, until they are golden. Sprinkle a few tsp of water if the veggies dry out.

When the soffrito is golden, add the mung dal, salt, tomatoes and stock/water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the sweet potatoes with the sambar powder and simmer gently until the dal and sweet potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.

Add extra broth or boiling water if the soup is too thick.

Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro and add lemon/lime juice if you like.

Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt/sour cream if you wish.

Pass lemon/lime wedges and freshly ground pepper to season according to individual taste.

Snow Ball Cookies (Cardamom Scented Almond Cookies)

I call these dainty cookies Snow Balls because they look exactly like little balls of snow. Not too sweet, they are still rich and delicious treats for special occasions or just any time really. Snow Ball cookies are wonderful little treasures quickly and easily made. The last couple of times I made them after the guests had already arrived - in fact I had the guests roll them into balls. The cookies baked while we had our dinner and were offered as part of the the dessert menu with steamy cups of Masala Chai.

Snow Ball cookies can be made with your favorite nuts; almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, or peanuts. Use vanilla essence with pecans, hazelnuts, and peanuts. I have used butter; but one could use a good quality margarine to make this a vegan treat.

Ingredients:

1 cup Almonds
2 to 4 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Almond extract
3 or 4 pods Cardamom
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter (1 stick)
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 cup Whole Wheat flour
1/2 cup Powdered Sugar (for coating)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Crush the cardamom pods lightly and take out the seeds; discard the shells.

Place the cardamom seeds and the sugar (the first two ingredients) in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and whirl until cardamom seeds are ground.

Add the nuts to the processor bowl and whirl until they are coarsely ground.

Add butter, salt, the vanilla or almond extract and the flour and process just until the dough comes together.

If the dough is too soft, gather it up on a sheet of plastic wrap and chill for about 20 to 30 minutes. Chilling firms up the dough and makes it easier to handle.

Form the dough into small balls (about 1/2" in diameter) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes; the bottoms of the cookies should be lightly browned.

Cool well and roll in the powdered sugar to coat.

Any leftovers (I have not had to deal with that yet ;-P) may be stored in an airtight container for a few days.

Peppery Potatoes (Roasted Potatoes With Black Pepper)

Another yummy potato dish from Paji's mom - very simple but very delicious! It is perfect with any type of rasam or Sambar.

4 Servings

Ingredients:

2 large Potatoes (baking types, like Russet)
1 Tbsp Oil/Ghee
1 tsp whole Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

Method:

Scrub and wash the potatoes well; cut them in thick wedges.

Heat the oil/ghee in a kadai (Indian Wok); add cumin seeds and stir until slightly browned and fragrant.

Stir in the black pepper and stir well.

Add potatoes, turmeric and salt and mix well.

Cover and cook until potatoes are tender and slightly browned.

Cook uncovered for a few minutes until potatoes are fully cooked and nicely browned.

Serve hot.

Home Grown Greens/Herbs - Gongura (Hibiscus subdariffa)

Gongura plant
Gongura, Roselle, or Hibiscus subdariffa is another wonderful herb/leafy green to grow at home. The leaves have a tart lemony taste similar to sorrel and are used in dals and chutneys especially in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh - famous for Gongura Chutney. The dried calyxes or sepals are perhaps better known as Jamaican Sorrel, Flor De Jamaica or Mexican Hibiscus tea and are used to make delicious beverages in Jamaica, Central America, Mexico, Egypt and many African countries - more about that another day, another post.

In addition to being so useful, it is also a lovely plant. The the red stems and buds, strikingly beautiful divided leaves with red veins and stems (petioles), and the pale yellow flowers touched with a faint blush are quite distinctive and ornamental.

I grew mine from the stems from a bunch purchased at a grocery store. I was actuually trying to keep them fresh in a jar of water and lo and behold! they had rooted very quickly. They can be grown from seeds as well as stem cuttings. The plants thrive in warm weather but do not tolerate cold very well. So the plants or cuttings should be moved indoors before cold weather sets in.

Use gongura as you would sorrel in your favorite recipes; it lends its unique tangy citrus-y taste to them. Here are a few suggestions to try: Thogayal, Mung Bean StewSai Bhaji, Lemony Dal, and Mor Kootu.

Puli Thogayal (Tamarind Chutney With Coconut)

Here is a tangy chutney to spice up a simple meal! You can make it mild or as hot as you like by adjusting the number of the dry red chilies. It is a classic thogayal (thick chutney) that usually accompanies mild curries or dals like Molakootal, Molagushyam, or Simple Dal. Sauteed sorrel or gongura leaves may be used instead of the tamarind. Other tasty additions are fresh garlic cloves or sauteed onions.

Puli Thogayal is wonderful mixed with hot steamed rice, with roti or toast, in sandwiches, etc. Puli means tamarind or sour and the 'l' is pronounced as in 'pole' and not as in 'peel'.

Ingredients:

1 tsp oil
2 Tbsp Chana Dal
2 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 Tbsp Whole Coriander Seeds (Dhania)
1/4 tsp Whole Fenugreek Seeds (Methi)
1 pinch Asafetida
2 or more Dry Red Chilies, to taste
1" ball Dry Tamarind Pulp
1/2 cup Fresh Coconut, grated or chopped
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or to taste

Method:

Heat the oil in a small pan and add the dals, seeds, and chilies; break the chilies, shake out and discard their seeds if you like a mild thogayal. Cook stirring until fragrant and lightly browned.

Add the coconut and stir cook until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes.

Let cool slightly and stir in asafetida. Cool to room temperature.

Place all the ingredients in a blender container and process into a smooth paste using just enough water to make blending feasible.

Remove and store in a clean covered container/jar. The Puli Thogayal will stay fresh for a week or so.

Serve at room temperature or cold. Delicious served with Yogurt Rice.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Boats & Roll-ups With Goat Cheese

Roasted Vegetable Roll-ups are a delicious and healthy appetizer/snack; they could also make a nice side dish or a light lunch. They are very easy to make especially if you have a pesto or chili-tomato sauce on hand. They can be prepared a day or two ahead of time but allow them to warm up to room temperature on the day of serving. Some people recommend salting the eggplant to draw out bitterness; I don't find it necessary. If you wish though - just lightly sprinkle a little salt over the slices and put aside for about half an hour, rinse and blot dry with paper towels before proceeding with the recipe. The veggies may also be grilled or browned on a griddle.

Serves 4 - 6
Allow 2 pieces of each type of vegetable per person.

Ingredients:

2 Red or Orange Bell Pepper
1 Japanese/Chinese Eggplant
1 or 2 Zucchini
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
6 Tbsp Pesto or Chili-Tomato Sauce
4 to 6 oz. Fresh Goat Cheese
2 Tbsp toasted Pine Nuts
1 small bunch Fresh Basil
Lime wedges to serve

Method:

Preheat oven to 450 F. Prepare a baking sheet by coating lightly with a little of the oil.

Cut each bell pepper into wedges, slice the eggplant and zucchini into 1/8" slices. You should have about 12-16 wedges of pepper and about the same number of slices.

Place the veggies in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Brush them lightly with the oil and sprinkle a little salt.

Bake until softened and bottoms are slightly browned - about 5 minutes; Flip over the slices to brown the other side for a few minutes. The cooking times may vary slightly as different ovens tend to vary too. You may need to roast the veggies in batches. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Position the pepper wedges so that they form a little boat. Brush the tops of all the veggies with a little of one of the sauces and place a basil leaf on top.

Divide the goat cheese and pine nuts among the veggies and place on top of the basil.

Roll up eggplant and zucchini to enclose the cheese; pepper does not need any rolling. Place on a serving platter.

Drizzle the rest of the sauce over all and sprinkle with the rest of basil sliced into a chiffonade.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Pass the lime wedges to squeeze over individual servings. Enjoy!

Citron, Etrog, or Esrog (Citrus medica)

I was very fortunate to receive a grand gift of a citron (Citrus medica) which is an enormous citrus fruit. It was my first encounter with this citrus giant. Aside from knowing that it grew in the Mediterranean region and was valued by the Romans of antiquity, I had no idea on its usage. I also had heard that it is used ceremonially for Jewish holidays but my Jewish friends had no idea how to incorporate it into any recipes; they had only seen it being used ceremonially to "just parade and wave around" according to Brett and Wendy :D.

Citron at the top
Lower row from left: Lime, Meyer Lemon, Regular Lemon


Since Citron is a rare acquisition, I took a lot of pictures of it. I included the regular lemon (thick rind), the Meyer lemon (thin deep gold rind), and a Tahitian/Persian lime for comparison. At the time I did not have Key limes which are about half as big as the Tahitian limes.

Longitudinal sections
What does one do with citron anyway? I cannot imagine anyone throwing it away. Since it is a close relative of the various types of citrus fruits I have met, I decided to make Indian style hot and spicy pickles with it ;D. Just then, idea #2 popped into my head - perhaps it could also be made into a sweet preserve!

Cross sections
Now, I had 1 citron and 2 ideas; since it was large enough, I divided the citron to make both the recipes. I made hot citron pickles according to the Lemon pickle recipe. For the sweet preserve, I layered the chopped citron with sugar and honey.

Citron has very thick fragrant but somewhat bitter rind with very little flesh; it has plenty of seeds though. As you can see from the pictures, this particular specimen had a tiny amount of flesh. Since it was pretty much on the dry side, I used the juice from all the lemons and limes that I had cut up for making the pickles and preserves. Both the ideas worked well and I got some tasty pickles and preserves too :P. The preserves are great stirred into a cup of hot or iced water. Delicious!!

Basic Pesto (Basil Sauce With Garlic)

I have posted recipes for Cilantro Pesto and Pistachio Pesto but not the basic pesto thinking that everyone would be familiar with it already. But since some have asked for the basic pesto recipe, here it is.

Ingredients:

2 cups Fresh Basil leaves, packed
2-4 fresh Garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
About 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Pine Nuts
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese (Optional)

Method:

Place the garlic in the food processor bowl fitted with the metal blades; process until garlic is chopped.

Add the salt and pine nuts and process until the nuts are minced.

Put in the basil leaves and replace the lid. Start the processor and slowly pour about half of the olive oil through the top opening while the motor is running.

Add the cheese if using and process until it is thoroughly incorporated.

Scrape the pesto into a clean jar and add enough olive oil to cover completely.

Refrigerate any unused portion.

Delicious stirred into pasta, soups, and spread on bread, etc.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Home Grown Greens/Veggies: Chayote Squash (Sechium edule)


Chayote squash is a wonderfully versatile vegetable delicious in salads, curries, kootu, soups, or casseroles. Pronounced "chay-yo-tay", it is also called Bangalore/Seeme kathirikai, chow-chow, etc in India and vegetable pear, Buddha's Hand squash, christophene, choko, mirliton, etc in other countries. Natives of Central America, chayotes belong to the cucurbit family which includes cucumbers, melons, and squashes.

Although the chayotes themselves are available pretty much year-round, the leaves are not available for purchase. So in my quest for edible leaves (don't mind a few fruits too :}), I have been trying to grow it for years but alas have not succeeded yet in establishing it outside. Every time I have planted it outside, the whole thing is gone overnight without a trace in a disappearing act. I am determined to find a way to get past the chayote thief, oh yes.

The best time to start growing chayote is probably just before spring so that as soon as the weather warms up it can be planted outside. When purchasing the veggies for growing, look for mature ones with the beginnings of growth in the wider blossom end - you will see the seed sticking out a bit like the tongue of a child completely absorbed in what s/he is doing - as this will speed up the process. The seed cannot be cut out for growing from the rest of the veggie - it will decompose; it will work only if it is kept whole. Set them up like in the picture in a jar of water or over soil in a pot where the blossom end is just touching the water/soil. The soil should be barely moist and not at all wet. Soon you will see roots/vine starting to grow. Chayotes can also be kept in a cool dark cupboard (without placing them in water or soil) until they start sprouting. Once the vine is a few inches long, it can be planted in the ground or in a large pot. Hopefully you will not encounter a chayote thief :D in your garden. Eventually the vegetable itself will shrivel up and fall off after giving its energy to the new plant. Keep the plant in a sunny spot and give it a trellis to climb. The plant should start flowering and fruiting once the plant is growing vigorously.

Once established it could take over the garden (so I have heard). I have seen it growing vigorously in other gardens. Pick the fruits while still young for best flavor. The leaves, young tips, and tendrils are used in soups and stir-fries; apparently even the tubers can be harvested after the plant has established itself and matured. Usually the vines die off in the winter but grow back when the weather warms up in the spring; keep the roots well mulched to protect them from freezing.

Chayotes can be used to make Aviyal, Molakootal, Olan, Upperi, Mor Kootu, raita and salads. They have a wonderful texture and hold their own without getting mushy like the summer squashes when cooked in water. Their seeds are edible as well - just chop it right along with the rest of the squash and cook. The young fruits can be eaten raw in salads such as Carpaccio.

Oats Pongal (Steel-cut Oats & Mung Dal Porridge)

Oats Pongal is a hearty and delicious alternative to pongal prepared with rice. It is just as easy to prepare especially using a pressure cooker as the traditional pongal. What could be better than combining two ingredients rich in heart-healthy fiber? Both oats and mung dal are rich sources of fiber and the combination of oats and dal provides a hearty rib-sticking meal.

4 Hearty servings

Ingredients:

1 cup yellow Mung dal
1 cup Steel-cut Oats
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Whole Black Pepper, or to taste
1 Tsp Ghee or oil

Method:

Toast the dal in a dry skillet until slightly golden and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Rinse the toasted dal well and drain in a sieve.

Toast the oats in the dry skillet lightly.

Place the oats, rinsed mung dal, salt and the turmeric in a 3 quart pan with 6 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer gently for 30 - 40 minutes or until soft. Stir occasionally to make sure the bottom does not burn. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.

Coarsely grind the cumin seeds and pepper together.

Heat the ghee in a small pan and add the ground spices and cook until fragrant.

Pour the spiced ghee into the pongal, mix well and serve hot.

Pongal is wonderful just as is but any accompaniments such as raita, chutneys, curries, etc are welcome additions. Enjoy!

Homegrown Greens/Herbs: Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Plain green leaves of Sorrel (in the foreground) happily growing with Red Chard

Sorrel or French sorrel is a wonderful herb and does well in a pot or in the ground. It has a lovely acid flavor that works well in salads, soups and curries. For those who love Gongura, sorrel is a fabulous alternative as it is available quite readily as plants or seeds in most nurseries. It is a perennial plant that tolerates some cold weather and is available year around in mild winter areas. Harvest leaves by carefully breaking off the stems from the base.

Tender young leaves can be added to salads. Add a few leaves of finely chopped sorrel to soups, dals, or kuzhambus to add a delicious piquancy. I like to chop them finely so that the leaves can mix in thoroughly in whichever dish they are added because they turn a dark olive green upon heating. Try cooking the leaves in: Mung Kuzhambu, Mor Kuzhambu, Mor Kootu, etc.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I See Red, Red Cabbage! (Really Red Cabbage & Beet Salad)

This week I see red everywhere - food that is :-)! Since I have a humongous red cabbage sitting in the fridge waiting to be eaten, I thought I would make some salad with it. Perhaps Waldorf salad with apples and walnuts. Or I could make a really red salad with beets, fennel, and capers. A rainbow salad! Or a spicy Indian relish salad. Or may be a warm slaw with the Bengali spice mix "panch phodan" = "five poppers". So many possibilities ....... so little cabbage ...... :-).

Whichever of the above recipes you choose, you will be rewarded with a yummy salad/slaw loaded with nutrients - especially anthocyanins. For info on anthocyanins, click here. These recipes guarantee chewy/crunchy satisfaction while filling the tummy with wholesome and flavorful food.

Here is a recipe for Really Red Cabbage & Beet Salad: This salad is fabulous after a couple of days if you can wait that long :P.

4 - 6 Servings

Ingredients:

1 small Red Cabbage, shredded
1 Medium Beet root, Shredded
1 small bulb Fennel, thinly sliced
1 tsp prepared Mustard, Dijon type
Sea Salt to taste
1 - 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar, or to taste
Freshly ground Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Capers
Lime or Lemon Juice to taste
1/4 cup Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped
More Parsley for garnish

Method:

Combine the mustard and vinegar in a large bowl and stir vigorously.

Add salt, black pepper and oil and stir until thoroughly combined.

Whisk in the oil until emulsified.

Stir in all the veggies, capers, chopped parsley and a squirt of lemon to brighten the flavors.

Mix well and let sit covered for about 30 minutes for the flavors to develop.

Stir well again and serve garnished with more parsley. Enjoy!

An Ode to Beans, Glorious Beans (How To Cook Dried Beans)

Beans are perhaps one of the most overlooked foods even though they are probably the most cost effective foods known to man! Legumes are versatile super foods which make great additions to our diet as they are powerhouses of good nutrition and good taste. They are readily available everywhere and can be stored for long periods without any special equipment like freezers or refrigerators. The benefits of beans are as numerous and varied as the number of types of beans - let me count the ways :D. I will try my best to list as many as I can.

Congenial gifts of bounteous beans
Nature-cooked into glorious grains;
Conjured by her the riches so held
Pretty and plumb in their various shells.
Nurturing all with fiber and more
Filling us with good health to the core;
With antioxidants, anthocyanins,
Bringing sweet healing to cure evermore.
And still more, with iron and vitamins galore
Without any fat ne'er cease to amaze;
Oh, eat them daily as never before
Our cups runneth over, our palates rejoice!
Everyone knows that beans pack plenty of protein. In addition to protein, they also contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and perhaps most importantly huge amounts of heart-healthy fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Fiber is crucial in contributing to a feeling of fullness and satisfaction by providing bulk, in maintaining cardiovascular health, and overall health by moving waste materials out of our bodies promptly and regularly. Beans are probably one of the tastiest sources of fiber. Regular consumption of beans have been shown to reduce cholesterol significantly. They are also good sources of antioxidants and anthocyanins (especially the rich colored ones) which protect and heal various organ systems in our bodies as well as prevent many types of cancers.

Plant proteins are gentler on our kidneys - research has proven this fact beyond a doubt. They have a low glycemic index which means that beans do not cause sharp spikes in blood sugar levels which is great for everyone but particularly people with blood sugar disorders such as hypoglycemia or diabetes. Beans are good sources of calcium and iron too. Beans have more usable protein than animal flesh pound for pound or gram for gram - and, this is a big and - beans give you the benefit of protein without the saturated fats, cholesterol and worst of all, inherent harmful bacteria, contaminants, and chemicals such as antibiotics and hormones present in even lean flesh. They contain little or no fat and so make great additions to no-fat or low-fat diets.

Beans contain varying amounts of amino acids; some lower than ideal amounts. But not to worry :-), this is easily remedied by eating a varied diet - combining the beans with cereal grains and/or a little nuts and seeds which amazingly are perfectly complementary to each other! So, if you include a variety of beans, cereals, nuts and seeds in your diet along with dark leafy greens, you will get all the protein you need and then some (and oh yes, you don't have to eat them together at every meal either). Mm, there is nothing so delicious and satisfying like a bowl of rice and beans! People have been successfully combining legumes and cereals for eons in famous combos such as these: rice/roti and dal, kichdi, pongal, risi e bisi, casamiento, dirty rice, etc, beans and corn tortillas, beans and pasta, couscous, etc.

All beans - fresh and dried - belong to the legume family as do lentils, various types of peas and peanuts. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors from the tiny green mung beans to the colossal white Lima or Gigantos. There are black, red, white, green, yellow and brown and even multicolored beans from the vastly popular chickpeas of hummus and falafel fame, most common green/yellow split peas, and the exotic many-colored Anasazi or scarlet runner beans. Best of all, most are readily available and very inexpensive especially if you cook them yourself which is not at all hard to do - just follow the directions given below. A pressure cooker will not only cut cooking time drastically but also save a great deal of fuel too - "win-win" any way you look at it. Slow cookers and Instant Pot work also. Yeah! Go Beans!!

Beans are beloved in many countries In Asia, the Americas, and around the Mediterranean - the Indians, Mexicans, Central Americans, Italians, Greeks, Turks, and Spaniards, all have their way with them. Most people are familiar with the delicious Bajjis/Pakodas, Hummus, and Edamame served as appetizers. One could not imagine Mexican meals served without re-fried beans or Frijoles. In many Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, beans are often made into an amazing array of desserts too numerous to go into here. More than any other cuisine, Indian cuisine is perhaps where beans really shine - you will find a bazillion recipes for an enormous variety of legumes coaxed into succulent salads, lip-smacking snacks, savory soups, incredible entrees, sensational side dishes and delectable desserts. Beans probably got their leading roles there from the long tradition of vegetarianism or just plain good-eatarianism!

In the face of all this information, my motto is to eat at least one type of legume a day :D - I firmly believe that a bowl of beans a day will keep the blahs away. If you are new to eating dried beans/peas, and wonder where to begin or are worried about digestion, start out slowly by eating small quantities of the smaller or split ones - two or three times a week. You will discover that the more often you eat beans, the quicker your body becomes accustomed to digesting them. In India legumes are typically cooked with cumin, ginger and/or asafetida to combat gas problems. Also, soaking the beans will eliminate the harder to digest compounds that dissolve in the soaking water which will be discarded before cooking. Some people recommend adding a couple of pinches of baking soda to the soaking water - I don't - we don't need any more sodium in our diet. There are endless recipes for beans in all the major cuisines of the world and everyone has their favorites from bland to smoking hot dishes; here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Initially, sprouted beans are a great addition to any diet as the sprouting process renders all the complex proteins and sugars easily digestible. Make your own (it really is a fun science project for people of all ages :}) or buy commercial beansprouts available in most markets. Try them in salads, stir-fries, steamed, etc. Here are a few recipes to get you started: Sprout salad, Sprout Snacks, SundalCorn Cakes, Fried Rice, Mung bean stew, and Vegetable Adai.

Next, add the easily digestible lentils, split/skinless dals/beans/peas. In India, red lentils and mung beans (especially the split, skinless yellow ones) are considered very easy on the system and are part of the repertoire of comfort/convalescent foods prepared for young children, people with delicate systems, and those recovering from an illness. Split beans/peas lend themselves to pancakes, salads, soups, and sides. Try: Lentil Salad; Adai, Dosa or Pesarat (pancakes); Kichdi, Pongal, Red Lentil Soup, Stone Soup, Rasam, Mung Dal Soup, Split Pea soup, Simple Dal, Molagushyam, Lentil & Veggie Stew, Olan, Sambar, etc.

Finally, once your digestive system becomes acclimatized, go right ahead and eat as many kinds as often as you like! Try different types of beans for their hearty textures, beautiful colors and delicious tastes. They are great in refreshing salads, delicious dips, hearty soups and bountiful stews. Here are some recipes to try:  Mediterranean Chick Pea SaladBlack Bean Salad, Hummus, Frijoles Mexicana, Vegetarian Chili, Mung and Kidney bean Stew, Chole, etc, etc.

Basic Directions for cooking beans:
  • I like to cook a pound or more at a time so that there is extra for another meal - it saves time, energy and money :-}. Cooked beans freeze amazingly well and are great to have extra on hand.
  • Choose the bean/lentil you want to cook; sort and pick over and discard discolored or damaged beans, little pebbles, clods of dirt etc.
  • Wash well - discard any floaters - and add plenty of water so the beans are submerged.
  • Soak or not? Soaking has the benefit of ridding beans and cereal grains (all seeds from plants) of ridding them of excess phytic acid and phytates which might interfere with mineral absorption - especially important for those who eat a plant based diet.
  • Soaking beans is not absolutely essential but beneficial: first and foremost, it reduces cooking time. Secondly, soaking removes some of the hard to digest compounds present and reduces or eliminates flatulence. If the beans are small or split, generally they cook quite fast and do not require soaking but I do anyway as it eliminates the afore-mentioned phytic acid and other compounds. Small/split beans need only soak for a short time, like 30 minutes or so.
  • Soaking whole beans : there are two ways of soaking - long soak or quick-soak. The long soak is just that; my prefered method. Soak the beans in plenty of fresh water - most beans will double in volume when hydrated so a large container is necessary. Cover and let sit for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. To quick soak, bring the washed beans with water to cover to a good rolling boil and turn off the heat; cover, and allow to soak for 1 or 2 hours before proceeding. Quick soak works but does not have all the benefits of the long method.
  • Drain the soaked beans, rinse and cover with fresh water to cover by about an inch or so.
  • Bring the beans to a good rolling boil and reduce the heat.
  • Add flavorings (given below) of your choice.
  • Simmer the beans stirring occasionally until tender - this might take an hour or so depending on the particular bean and also their age. Alternately use a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time. Typically old beans take a lot longer to cook than a fresher crop. Add additional water if the beans dry out.
  • Add salt and simmer for another 15-30 minutes - for salads the beans should be well-cooked but not mushy; for mashing or making soups, they can cook a bit longer.
  • Allow the beans to cool in their cooking liquid for a few minutes; remove and discard flavorings.
  • If you are using them in a salad, season them while still warm so that they absorb all the flavors better. Mashing them while still hot gives you a better result also.
  • Beans freeze very well. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooled beans into freezable containers or bags. Seal, label, and date them. Typically I like to freeze 2 cup portions so that they freeze/thaw quickly and are perfect amounts. If using freezer bags, flatten them and stack them in the freezer to save space.
  • Do not throw away any bean broth - the Aqua Faba - it still has food value plus the dissolved fiber! Use the broth in soups, stews, casseroles, and baked goods.
Flavorings: For better tasting beans, you can add herbs and spices while the beans are cooking to infuse them with lots of flavor. Add the herbs and spices singly or in your favorite combination depending on your recipe. Remove and discard the flavorings especially the bay leaves after the beans are cooked and cooled.
  1. A clove or two of garlic and/or a small onion
  2. One or two whole dried Red peppers or fresh hot green chilies
  3. A couple of sprigs of sage
  4. A sprig or two of the herbs, i.e., oregano, thyme, parsley, etc based on your recipe
  5. One or two bay leaves
  6. One or two sprigs of Epazote (a Mexican herb) or a tsp (dry)
  7. Fresh ginger slices
I usually add green or red chilies to pinto beans; sage, garlic and/or other herbs to various beans depending on the recipe; and ginger and/or red or green chilies when cooking for Indian recipes. Enjoy!!

I know that this post is really long but one cannot say enough good things about the goodness of beans. Thank you all for reading through and I hope that you will enjoy the many benefits of beans for years to come. Bon Appetit!

Red Lentil Soup (Mercimek Corba)

It is no wonder that many cuisines use legumes - they are economical as well as healthful for everyone, very tasty and satisfying. Legumes also are full of fiber - both soluble and insoluble - which helps in keeping our digestive system working in good order in addition to controlling cholesterol. Even the plants themselves are good for the earth in more ways than one: the plants make oxygen as all plants do in addition to producing wonderful food, fix nitrogen in the soil (leguminous plants are famous for this), and the plant material after harvest makes good compost. Legumes are a gift that keep on giving!

Lentils belong to the legume family; lentil soups are classics in many cuisines and this particular one is often served for breakfast, lunch or dinner in countries around the Mediterranean. We enjoyed this one in many of the cities in Turkey; it is pronounced "merchimek chorba" - you are right, here the c is pronounced as ch! With some fresh crusty bread and a green salad, this soup fills the bill in style!

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 Cup Red Lentils (Masoor dal)
1 large Onion
1 clove fresh Garlic
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes or to taste
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large Carrot, shredded
1 or 2 ripe Tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tsp Cumin seeds, freshly ground
1 cup loosely packed fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 Lemon, for serving

Method:

Clean, wash and drain the lentils.

In a large soup pot heat the oil and add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper flakes. Cook stirring until the onions are translucent adding a sprinkle of water to keep the onions from sticking.

Stir in the lentils, 3 cups of water or vegetable broth, and the carrots. Bring to a boil, turn heat down so the soup is just simmering.

Simmer the soup partially covered for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add the tomato and the ground cumin and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes or until lentils and veggies are soft.

The soup may be served as is or pureed - if you choose to puree, do retain a little bit of texture.

Stir in the parsley.

Stir in lemon juice or pass wedges for each diner to add according to taste.

Serve hot.

Afiyet Olsun!