Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hiatus: Autumn Allergies

I'm taking a short break from the blog, namely because I'm sneezing. Outside of work, I'm spending my time on antihistamines in a horizontal position. Sleep is wonderful. Be back soon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life with Brian

It was a little more difficult to get out of bed this morning. It's raining, kind of grey outside, and a little cooler than usual. I am happy it is autumn, but because this summer was so enjoyable, I am sad to see it end. However, when I finally managed to fill up my gardening pot to water my plants, I discovered something wonderful. Brian, my basil plant, is thriving! Yes, I do name my plants; I think that's an entirely different post altogether.

Brian was given to me as a cutting by my work colleague, who has managed to nurse Brian's mom for four years! She warned me that he may not actually sprout, but he did. I replanted him into a bigger pot and have watered him consistently. Currently, a couple of Brian's stems are not green - ie they are not functional - yet the plant keeps growing. Brian is currently my most successful plant; although given my black thumb, it's amazing that all four of my plants are still alive. The situation reminds me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which Francie Nolan is in awe of her neighborhood foliage, which manages to grow through all types of weather, urbanization patterns, and negative treatment, just like herself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Night with Rupen Rao

I spent this evening at Simply September, Simply Indian, a cooking class hosted by Whole Foods. Our teacher this evening was Mr. Rupen Rao of Simply Indian, LLC. Check out his website if you have a chance; he has tons of easy-to-follow recipes.

Because this was my first cooking class ever, I had no idea what to expect. The Whole Foods store near my house is enormous and looks like it has plenty of space, but I still didn't bet on each student having his/her own cooking station. I was right, but instead, the format of the class was excellent in terms of facilitating group discussion and Q&A.

Mr. Rao featured a few dishes: kaddu ka shorba (masala pumpkin soup); matar hoosal (Marathi-style green peas curry); dahl murg (yogurt chicken); and kesaribath (sweet saffron rice). Below are images from the evening:

The kaddu ka shorba was my favorite of all the dishes! Slightly sweet with a nice kick of garam masala. Mr. Rao mentioned that any autumn or winter gourd would suffice for this soup.

The dahi murgh was very spicy. Mr. Rao advised using bone-in chicken thighs for optimum flavor. Though the chicken was marinated in yogurt, the final product did not taste of anything resembling yogurt. He mentioned that yogurt tenderizes meats, and this chicken was no exception; it completely melted in my mouth.

The matar hoosal was very easy to prepare, and I think it would taste perfect with some red chilis thrown in for heat. The secret ingredient in this dish is amchur, or dried mango powder.

Kesaribath is a sweet rice prepared with ghee, or clarified butter (butter without water). If you plan on creating this dish, be certain you boil it long enough for the rice to cook completely.

Mr. Rao mentioned a few helpful tips:

1. Thicker oils, like olive oil, burn faster than its canola or vegetable counterparts.
2. Red onion is preferred to white onion in Indian sabzis (curries).
3. Always use the stalk of the cilantro plant; the stalk contains the most flavor.
4. When preparing Indian sabzis, always add your spices in whole form to heated oil, then add onion and crushed spices. If you add crushed spices directly to hot oil, they will burn rather quickly.
5. Yogurt-based marinades can be replaced with papaya paste if preferred.
6. DO NOT USE LOW FAT OR FAT FREE dairy products in Indian recipes. They simply add too much water to each dish.
7. Do not replace milk products with cream in all of these recipes; that will affect the cooking process. Specifically, the kesaribath will not cook thoroughly if cream is used instead of milk.

All in all, a very enjoyable Tuesday night activity. Can't wait for the next one; Mr. Rao already promised murgh makhani.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Risotto: A Rice Among Pastas

The weather switched overnight from hot and humid to autumnal and windy here in DC. In my efforts to eat with the seasons, I'm working to create hearty, nutritious dishes as winter approaches. Growing up with mother who lived for years in Roma, pasta was a staple in our household. Risotto, however, was something I didn't have the pleasure of sampling until I went to college. While scrummaging around for healthier versions of risotto, I came upon a recipe for barley risotto.

Barley is a whole grain which contains all eight essential amino acids. Like other grains, there are many strains of barley: two row, six row, and hulled. For cooking, I've found the easiest type of barley to work with is pearl barley, which has the hull and bran removed. Barley - unlike arborio rice (which is used to make traditional risotto) - has a much lower glycemic index, which means it takes longer to digest, keeping its diner fuller for a longer period of time.

My first autumn run to the farmers market yielded a beautiful butternut squash and a bunch of beets. After a lengthy conversation with a farmer, I learned that I can use beet greens as a substitute for spinach in any recipe. With these items and knowledge in tow, I embarked on this fabulous dish, which was served recently at a going-away party for my friend Felix, who moved back to Spain a couple of weeks ago.

Serves 5-6

1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 quarts organic vegetable broth, divided into three
2 quarts water, divided
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pearl barley, raw
beet greens collected from 1 bunch of beets
1/3 cup goat cheese

1. Coat butternut squash cubes in 1.5 tbsp olive oil. Roast in the oven at 350* for 20-25 minutes.
2. In a small pot, boil 1/3 of vegetable broth with rosemary for 10 minutes.
3. In a large pot, saute onion and garlic with remainder of olive oil.
4. When onion mixture is golden, add pearl barley and saute for a few minutes.
5. Crank heat up to high and add rosemary andvegetable broth mixture.
6. When the liquid has evaporated, add the second 1/3 of vegetable broth and remainder of water.
7. When the liquid has evaporated, add the final 1/3 of vegetable broth and remainder of water.
8. When the majority of remaining liquid has evaporated, add in the butternut squash and stir gently.
9. Reduce heat to medium.
9. Taste to see if the barley is cooked.
10. Stir in beet greens until they are wilted.
11. Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese.
12. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green beans paliya

While wandering around farmers' markets this summer, I've seen a lot of beans. So many that it's overwhelming. There are regular green beans, yellow wax beans, borlotti beans, and my personal favorite, the cranberry bean.

After doing some digging, I uncovered the following. The cranberry bean is somewhat related to its aesthetic cousin, the borlotti bean. Cranberry beans are also not related to cranberries, but rather are named after the fruit due to their brownish-reddish-pinkish color. These beans were among the first cultivated beans in North America (all the credit goes to the Aztecs and Incas). Through the wonders of globalization, they traveled from North America to Italy around the 1500s, where they were promptly planted, celebrated, and renamed "borlotti." Of course, due to differences in climates, these two beans are not the same and do indeed taste a little differently.

The most interesting - and kind of heartbreaking - aspect of this bean is that when cooked, it loses its pink coloration in favor of a muted brown.

After some consideration, I decided to forgo cooking experiements (aka disasters) with the cranberry beans and settled on some beautiful, traditional green beans. My initial instinct was to make minestrone, but our summer days were still experiencing 80* of heat. Instead, I settled on preparing a super easy green beans curry. Using fresh beans means spending a little more time in the kitchen, but if you choose to use frozen French green beans, this dish will go from the stove to your dining table in 15 minutes flat. Pair with parathas, chapatis, or even wheat tortillas if you don't have time to fuss around with shopping for South Asian breads. I've included a recipe with frozen beans below; the only adjustment necessary when using fresh green beans is to boil them until cooked yet crisp before doing anything else.

Green Beans Paliya
Serves 3-4

16 oz. packet of frozen French green beans
1-2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
A few dried red chilies
1 pinch asofoetida/hing
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp channa dal
1 tbsp split black gram dal
2 tbsp frozen coconut, dessicated


Heat oil on high heat in a large saucepan.
Add mustard seeds and heat until they sputter.
Add both dals, the chilies, asofoetida, and turmeric to the oil.
Stir to avoid burning!
Once the dals look golden-brown, add the frozen beans.
Cover with a lid and stir once in awhile to make sure the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Once the beans have cooked, add salt and stir in coconut.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Preview: the best is yet to come!

Here's a little look at what is coming this week:

Clockwise from top left: green beans curry; barley risotto with butternut squash, beet greens, and goat cheese; smoked chipotle peppers; homemade baked corn tortilla chips with watermelon-peach salsa; brie, tomato, caramelized onion and basil panini; blackberry-peach compote; tomato bruschetta; chocolate peanut butter whoopie pie

Intermission has ended!

Life at the koppakabana has been busy as of late, which is why I haven't updated the blog in awhile. My sincere apologies to all of you readers! I will be updating with numerous recipes over the next few days, so brace yourself!

Food and nutrition worthy items of note include:
*purchasing a watermelon and figuring out what to do with it as I live by myself!
*a bon voyage dinner party for a dear friend who is now trouncing around Germany
*some thoughts on running, fitness, body image, and integrated wellness
*ruminations on the role of nutrition in addressing abuse
*experiments with heirloom tomatoes!
*a recent roadtrip across North Carolina for the NC Apple Festival, a quick drop-in at a Moravian bakery, and blueberry picking in the Blue Ridge mountains

To whet your appetite, here's a sneak preview of the Apple Festival. The contraption below is a mini-doughnut machine. Lovely O's of dough drop into a chute of oil. As the dough blobs travel down the chute, they are flipped twice and eventually wind up on a drying rack, where they are doused with apple-cinnamon sugar. YUM!