Roasted tomato and garlic soup

Tomato soup is one of those things on the list of “Oh, I thought I didn’t like that,” which has gotten shorter and shorter as I’ve gotten older.

For years I despised tomato soup, because I thought it all tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, which always tasted tinny on my tongue and then itched in my throat going down.

My Dad liked it though, and our little cat at the time, Truffles, would lap it furiously out of her bowl the instant the bowl was put on the floor (she would coat the wall in orange splatter, unable to wait until it cooled even slightly to dive in), so we always had cans of it in the pantry. I preferred Cream of Mushroom, but I was in the minority.

You don’t need beautiful tomatoes for this; the ruddy, ugly, sort of soft or bruised ones are fine. The secret to good tomato soup is to roast the tomatoes first. Though around here that isn’t such a secret – a friend at work pointed out that roasting is my go-to technique for just about every ingredient. It sounds like I might be a bit predictable. But anyway. Roast the tomatoes. And the garlic. Use too much garlic. This is the future, and we’re okay with that now.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

(Serves six)

  • 5 medium field tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 3 heads of garlic plus three cloves, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Quarter tomatoes, and line up in the pan. Scatter the peeled cloves from three heads of garlic over top. Drizzle olive oil over the contents of the pan, and sprinkle about a teaspoon of coarse salt over as well. Roast for 90 minutes to two hours, until tomatoes have withered and garlic is deeply golden. (This step you can do in advance; I like to roast a lot of tomatoes and garlic and stick them in freezer bags for easy weeknight dinners during the winter.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add three remaining cloves of garlic. Sauté onion until translucent, then add pepper, pepper flakes, and oregano, stirring to coat. Add tomatoes and garlic to the pot, scraping any solids that remain in the pan into the pot. Stir.

Add stock, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until later garlic cloves have softened. Purée using an immersion blender. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed, then add basil and parsley and purée again. Add water to thin to desired consistency, if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil.

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

In our early twenties, my friend Theresa and I shared a basement suite east of Commercial Drive and a tendency towards excess. It was a dark, damp little place last renovated in the early eighties by someone with a preference for shades of brown, but it was cheap and close enough to public transit and places we liked to go. The living room wall featured a cutout with a long fluorescent tube light at the top that was probably meant for displaying art, but it had a ledge just wide enough for a single liquor bottle, and long enough for maybe thirty.

We wheeled an old TV stand in next to the bar and stocked it with shakers and shot glasses and swizzle sticks and hula dancer figurines and felt pretty good about our lives. The kitchen had a place to hang stemware, and we filled it with our mismatched collection of cups and glasses. Every evening after work we’d have cocktails, the alcohol equivalent to swamp water, and we’d feel like fancy ladies as we sipped mango Malibu and peach schnapps out of plastic martini glasses.

But fancy cocktails weren’t our only bad habit. We were too similar to survive together for too long – though I suspect that if she’d never moved to Australia we’d still be together making bad choices in basement suites, probably sharing a set of kidneys – and one could easily convince the other that what anyone else would consider a bad idea was actually the best idea ever, like washing the kitchen floor with ammonia AND bleach (double the cleaning power!) or buying six Filet-o-Fish sandwiches with extra tartar sauce and a full slice of cheese at midnight because we were going to eat them anyway and it would save us another (inevitable) trip out and while we were at it maybe we needed apple pies too. We invented fourth meal but never thought to trademark it.

One of the ways we enabled each other to do incredibly self-destructive awesome things was by claiming that whatever we were doing was in the name of health. At the time, Theresa was a vegetarian except for fish and pepperoni, and I was just beginning to get really excited about fibre. Theresa would go on long runs, and I would go to boot camp because I was too lazy to exercise unless I paid for it and would only go out of guilt at having spent the money. Because we had our health in mind intermittently, sometimes we would stock up on healthy things, either at Costco or at our parents’ houses when one of our moms was cleaning out her pantry and wanted us to take crap away. One of our kicks was dried fruit, which made an excellent snack for a vegetarian and a fibre enthusiast.

Somehow we came to possess about a kilogram of dried apricots. One evening, in our pajama pants and holey sweatshirts with nothing to do and no desire to go out, we put on a movie and made the healthy choice to snack on dried fruit instead of Cheetos or Zesty Doritos, probably because one or the other of us had exercised and did not want to derail those efforts right away. Theresa brought out an opened zip-top bag of dried mango slices and a plastic bag of dried cranberries, and I found the apricots. Over the two hours the movie played, we ate the entire bag of dried apricots and most of the other fruit, which seemed like a good idea at the time because all that fruit fibre was bound to do good things for us.

Theresa is a scientist, but somehow she didn’t foresee what it might do to us. Over the next two or three days we both learned a valuable lesson, and that is that fibre is a finicky friend, and that very easily you can take the relationship too far.

I cried.

Years later, I still approach apricots with trepidation. I buy them only a handful at a time (and rarely dried), because there is safety only in a certain number, but all I know is that the number is low. And yet I still love them. I have never been good at knowing when to give up on a thing.

In the years between then and now, I have learned a little bit about balance. Maybe one apricot is okay. Maybe with a bit of protein, and a touch of sweetness. Maybe, like peach schnapps, apricots are not a meal but rather a snack that can be enjoyed in moderation.

Roasted apricot with cottage cheese

(Serves one.)

  • 1 or 2 apricots, halved
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • Pat of butter, dotted over cut sides
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 8 roasted whole almonds, chopped
  • Honey, to taste

Heat oven to 300°F.

Place apricot in a small baking dish, sprinkle with cinnamon, and then dot with butter.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until soft and lightly browned.

Spoon cottage cheese into a bowl. Place roasted apricot halves over top, sprinkle with almonds, and drizzle with honey.

This is great for breakfast or for a snack before bed. If you don’t like cottage cheese, this is also quite pleasant with yogurt.

Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches.

Zucchini is back! And early tomatoes, among other things, and my fridge is full of all the edible colours and I am delighted. I’ve started buying large amounts of things to turn into freezer meals for when I no longer have the energy to feed myself or the ability to reach the stove, which should happen right around the end of the harvest season. I am in the process of assembling zucchini parmigiana in foil containers (no dishes!), and had extra bits, and thought they’d be quite excellent in sandwiches.

For the sandwiches, I fried the zucchini instead of roasting it, and used leftover marinara sauce. You can make it fresh, if you like – I quite like this one from Smitten Kitchen with a bit of fresh basil – or you can use whatever you have hanging around in your fridge or pantry. Something simple with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs should do just fine. Any plain sandwich bun will do, and whole wheat would probably be nice.

These smell fabulously summery, and in spite of their crispy fried bits and garlic-toasty top half, they’re pretty light. The tomatoes and basil play well with the breaded zucchini, and there is just the tiniest bit of spice from the Tabasco and red pepper flakes. They would be excellent with cold beer or red wine, and beg to be eaten on a patio in the sunshine. Maybe your Meatless Monday is warm and summery? We had to make do with pretend as it’s been damp and grey around here, but these certainly brightened our moods.

Zucchini parmigiana sandwiches

(Serves six to eight.)

  • 8 buns, such as Kaiser or Calabrese
  • 1 lb. zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds (about 24 pieces)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
  • 1 cup panko
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Provolone
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 16 basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice buns in half horizontally and set aside.

Whisk together eggs and Tabasco. Combine panko with lemon zest, and stir to combine. Dredge zucchini slices first in egg, then in bread crumbs. Fry in a large pan over medium-high heat, in grapeseed or olive oil, until golden, 90 seconds to two minutes per side.

Place on a plate lined with paper towel and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

Preheat oven to broil.

In a small bowl, mush together butter, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper (taste and adjust seasonings as desired). Divide equally between the eight buns, spreading on the top half only. Place on a large baking sheet.

Place zucchini slices, two to three per bun, on the other half of each bun. Top with two tablespoons each marinara sauce and provolone, and place on the same baking sheet as the top halves.

Place under broiler and cook until cheese has melted and the buttered half has turned golden, two to three minutes.

Finish each sandwich with fresh tomato slices and basil leaves. Serve hot, with lightly dressed greens on the side. Enjoy!

 

Corn and asparagus salad

As of about 1:30 p.m. last Friday, it is now summer on the west coast and I am wearing a sundress and remembering my thighs now that they are not prevented by denim or Lycra from rubbing together.

Finally, things I’ve been waiting a year for are in season again, and the sun is warm into the evening so we can garden after work or enjoy a fizzy drink or two and a tomato salad on a patio somewhere and be social. I bought this season’s first zucchini on Sunday. I picked strawberries in the sunshine on Saturday. On Friday I ate corn in a park beside a marina.

My Dad trimmed his garlic plants this weekend and sent me home with a wealth of stinky, curly green stalks with which to make pesto and salads until the garlic oil ekes from our pores and our coworkers beg us to eat anything else. And corn has begun to appear in the markets, just as the last of the frozen stuff has hardened into an iceberg that smells like freezer and deserves to be thrown out.

So for this Meatless Monday, dinner came together in a fifteen-minute frenzy of blanching, chopping, and tossing, and it was cool and bright-tasting, with lemon and tomatoes, and basil, and piquillo peppers from a jar in the fridge and those pungent, fabulous garlic scapes.

There would have been a handful of Parmesan cheese thrown in at the end but I was in such a rush to eat that I forgot. No matter. It’s just fine sprinkled on after, and it’s just fine without if you want to keep things vegan. It would also be wonderful with grilled scallops or spot prawns, or maybe halibut, but you can do that some other night.

Corn and asparagus salad

(Serves four as a main dish, six as a side.)

  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 large cobs corn (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 diced piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes or scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Blanch asparagus in a large pot of boiling water. Cool in an ice water bath until cold.

Scrape corn from cobs into a large bowl. Add tomatoes, peppers, shallot, garlic scapes, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Add asparagus.

Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, basil, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper together. Taste, adjusting balance as needed. Pour over salad. Toss to coat.

Serve immediately.

And then I fell into the couch and ate watermelon salad until none remained.

Sometimes I have no idea where the time goes. My nightstand is still littered with evidence of Paris and the suitcase which still features the Air Canada tags from my trip in May is still on the floor. Not long after I got back and sort of unpacked we stuffed the suitcase with summer clothes and light formal wear and drove six hours to Osoyoos, a small town in the Okanagan – wine- and rattlesnake-country, for those unfamiliar with the region.

Where Vancouver was rainy and bleak, Osoyoos was hot and sunny, and the dry desert air was a rare treat for my hair, which cannot be worn down most of the time as disco is dead and there is no place for big blonde disco hair in my day-to-day life. I ate ice cream and we got suntans on the beach and beside the pool at the resort where we were staying for Nick’s youngest sister’s wedding. For some reason, theirs was the only grey day while we were up there.

We’ve been back two weeks and the suitcase hasn’t moved from its spot on the bedroom floor, and I’m pretending that it’s still there because the cat loves it. She has claimed it as her own personal chaise, and she stretches her furry little body diagonally across it, chewing the zipper pull on one corner and batting at the pull on the other end with her back paws.

In the time between trips and in the time since we’ve been back, there were the playoffs, and hockey games every two days for weeks and weeks. Nick aged thirty years during the Vancouver-Boston series, and his liver grew three sizes. He raged quietly as Vancouver gave up so many goals, and raged outwardly as we watched our city implode in the aftermath of Game 7. Our reaction to the end of it all has been relief.

There were other things. Nick’s sister and brother-in-law and their little girl were in town, so we attended events in their honour and then fed them a feast, and the youngest sister celebrated her wedding a second time at home, with a larger guest list, and I made the food, anticipating 80 guests. The result is that I am tempted to call our whole apartment a loss and walk away; there is icing on the living room rug and bits of dried blini batter stuck to the cat and weird smells coming from behind the freezer where I dropped and then couldn’t find several dozen blueberries and at least four pieces of pineapple.

In all of this, I have been moving slower and slower as it becomes more and more apparent that this is not a beer belly slung over the top of my jeans. I have been measuring the transition of my belly button from innie to outie, and it looks like it should complete its journey within the week.

My pants don’t fit and I want to violently devour every watermelon I see. I almost cried because a store was out of cantaloupe, and threw a fit in a different store because they had no canned orange segments. Nick said something about hormones, so I punched him. Extremely personal and very unsolicited questions, observations, and advice are now arriving in earnest. And while they have never lacked the appreciation they deserve, my boobs and what I do or do not intend to do with them are suddenly everyone’s business. The correct answer to such probing questions does not seem to be “I’m planning on only feeding the little raptor Diet Coke so it doesn’t get fat.”

It should not have come as a surprise how many people do not have a sense of humour about babies.

It will be a boy baby, by the way. Who, at the moment, compels me toward melon and leaves me ravenous for cans of fruit cocktail, who seems to want an endless supply of Hawkins Cheezies, pulled pork sandwiches, avocados, icy Cherry Coke, and cold pieces of summer fruit.

To keep things interesting, I’ve devised the following salad, which makes it possible to incorporate melon into dinnertime. It’s Meatless Monday friendly, and you can eat it on a bed of greens if you feel like it. I prefer watermelon for this.

Savoury fruit salad

(Serves four as a side dish)

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. sriracha
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Salad:

  • 2 cups diced watermelon
  • 1 long English cucumber, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, honey, and lime juice. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, cucumber, avocado, mango, scallions, and cilantro. Toss with dressing, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve cold.

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings.

I have a lot of opinions lately, though Nick is quick to point out that they are not opinions as much as they are hormonal outbursts. I have evaluated the pros and cons of keeping him and at this point it seems like his potential future usefulness trumps his “helpful” suggestions so for now, he lives.

Though many of my opinions have been unsavoury and not appropriate to share under “if you don’t have anything nice to say” guidelines, at least one has been food-related and that opinion has been that rhubarb is fantastic and it ought to be mixed with vanilla bean at my earliest opportunity.

Today, just such an opportunity presented itself.

What follows is a recipe for rhubarb stew with dumplings; I used the last of my frozen raspberries to stretch the rhubarb (I thought I had more than I did), and it turned out to be the correct move. I’ve suggested one half cup of honey because I like my rhubarb tart, but taste as you go; you might like yours sweeter.

It’s not a beautiful dish – it’s the kind of thing you might serve after a weeknight family dinner, or for breakfast when you have more time in the morning. But it’s tasty. Dumplings are always tasty.

Rhubarb-raspberry stew with dumplings

(Serves four to six.)

Fruit:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. rhubarb
  • 1 lb. frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Dumplings:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, combine rhubarb, raspberries, honey, vanilla bean seeds, and salt. Allow raspberries to melt, then bump heat up a notch or two and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently for about ten minutes. Rhubarb should soften and begin to break down. Return heat to medium.

Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Add milk and butter to form a soft dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dough into the hot fruit mixture; you should end up with about eight dumplings. Place a lid firmly over the pot, and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, with ice cream.

Paneer with greens and chickpeas.

If you’ve recently returned home from Paris to find your diabetic husband has eaten nothing but brisket sandwiches from the BBQ place down the street since you’ve been gone, your home full of needy pets and their molted winter fur, and your own digestive system in distress, you’ll relate to this sudden need for the nourishing simplicity of stewed greens. While they simmer, you can toss out all those little containers he left behind that contain just a strand or two of coleslaw and maybe run a vacuum over the floors or the cat. If your jaw is still sore from all that ravenous mastication of so much perfect French meat, this dish will ease your suffering – you don’t have to chew too hard.

Also it includes cheese. Which, if you are harbouring some variety of Space Dinosaur, means that you are addressing all of your needs in one dish and will not have to run out to the market later in the evening for a hunk of medium orange cheddar and some saltines to quell any mad cravings you might be experiencing. In your absence, he ate all the cheese.

Sometimes there’s a lot going on, you know?

Anyway.

This dish is an adaptation of Palak Paneer, one of my favourite things in the whole world which requires only the effort of finding paneer, which in Vancouver is no effort at all, or of making it. The recipe is loosely based on one I’ve made a few times from India Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant, which is a resource that I insist you get if you like to make Indian food – it’s worth it’s (dense) weight and (slightly pricey) price, even if all you do is read it and look at the gorgeous photos. The dish is generally made with spinach, but I like to throw it together with whatever’s on hand; a mix of greens is lovely and also very healthy.

Paneer with greens and chickpeas

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 lbs. greens, such as chard, spinach, kale, or collards
  • 2 tbsp. mustard oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 14 oz. can chickpeas
  • 1 lb. paneer, cubed
  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews, toasted

There are two ways you can start the greens, and I like both ways. You can either blanch them in boiling salted water and then purée them in a blender or food processor, or you can put them dry into the blender or food processor. If you use the blanching method, you will end up with creamy greens; if you go dry, the final product will have a bit more texture. Both ways are good, so I’ll leave that part up to you. Process greens and then set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, sauté fenugreek seeds for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeño peppers, cumin, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.

Add greens and diced tomatoes, and reduce heat to medium. Let simmer for ten minutes, adding water as needed (if you processed your greens without blanching, you may need somewhere around a cup of water) to soften the greens. Add cilantro.Taste, adjusting seasonings as required.

Add chickpeas, paneer, and cashews, cook until paneer is warmed through, about two more minutes. Serve over rice with a dollop of plain yogurt.

And stay tuned – more on Paris later! Get super excited for strawberry season.

Mexican minestrone.

If there seem to be a lot of soup recipes on this site, it’s because we seem to have more bouts than we ought to of not taking good care of ourselves. Nick’s belly aches and his glucose levels are all over the place and I am eating grapes and Cheerios as if either is sufficient nourishment all on its own. So we have soup to feel good when we have been bad, and generally, it works.

Of course, as I write this I am snarfing down a bowl of bunny-shaped pasta and cheese that came from a box and that is organic, and I believe I am meant to pretend that it being organic somehow makes it less bad for me than conventional boxed macaroni and cheese. I don’t call this eating because I am ingesting it in a manner that more closely resembles inhalation.

There is shame in this, and I am grateful that few can see me. I am tucked into a corner of the couch while I write, ignoring the incessant groaning and play-by-play analysis of the hockey game by a team of grown-up boys in my living room as they in turn ignore me. If this game is anything like the last one, it will last four hours and emotionally devastate them. But I digress, as that is not important, at least to me. What matters here is that yesterday I had a nourishing bowl of soup, and it contained vegetables and I was better for it. I hope the effects are lasting.

The soup is something like minestrone, or maybe pozole, and it tastes sort of like salsa and Mexico. It’s best if you chop all your veggies to about the same size. It’s an easy vegan recipe, though I’ve made it with chicken and chicken stock and it was not harmed by the addition of meat. It is very hearty. Serve with avocado or a dollop of sour cream.

Mexican minestrone

(Serves four to six.)

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced sweet potato
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 5.5 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 28 oz. can hominy, rinsed
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro

In a large pot over medium-high heat, sweat onion, carrot, celery, sweet potato, and garlic until the colours have brightened, two to three minutes. Add jalapeño, cumin, chipotle powder, oregano, and pepper, and stir to coat.

Add vegetable stock and tomato paste, and bring to a gentle boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, until sweet potatoes have softened.

Add hominy, diced tomatoes, black beans, and red bell pepper. Stir in lime zest and juice, and then taste. Adjust seasonings and add salt as needed. At the last moment, stir in a handful or two of cilantro; chop additional cilantro for serving.

And, because it makes me so happy, here’s my favourite photo of the week.

Guest post: Vegetable pulao and fruit lassi.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Sandy of mango on an apple. Sandy and I were a year apart at the same high school, and somehow reconnected after ten years, despite a distance of 3,400 kilometers, via the Internet. She’s now travelling India and having grand adventures, and graciously offered a recipe from a cooking class she took along the way. I’m making this tonight for Meatless Monday.

***

On our year off to find the cure for quarter-life crisis, we began in India where in addition to sightseeing and avoiding cow poop, we took a cooking class in Udaipur at Shashi’s Cooking Classes. We learned lots of Indian cooking methods for rice, naan, and curries, plus how to make a delicious cup of masala chai. Check out mango on an apple to see more of our trip so far!

DSC_4769In keeping with the theme of cooking healthy and staying low-GI, I thought the vegetable pulao would be great here, along with a nice fruit lassi to finish off the meal.

Pulao means more vegetables, less rice. Biryani, on the other hand, means more rice, less vegetables. The vegetables used in this recipe are flexible – use what’s in season, but make sure to include something crunchier in texture, like cabbage, to give the dish more personality.

Vegetable pulao

  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 shallots, sliced*
  • 2 tsp. dry anise/fennel seeds
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 cauliflower, sliced into long strips
  • 1/4 small cabbage, sliced julienne
  • 1 carrot, sliced julienne
  • 1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. chili powder, to taste
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 generous pinch of turmeric
  • 1 generous pinch of garam masala
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water, depending on the vegetables you choose
  • 3 small firm tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp. cashews, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sultana raisins, soaked in water for about 5 minutes before using so they’re nice and plump
  • Salt to taste

*Shashi used red onions, but they were really small and flavourful, so I’d suggest using shallots if cooking this in North America

DSC_4721  DSC_4725
DSC_4726  DSC_4728

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan until hot, and then add anise seeds and onion. Cook until onions become translucent and start to caramelize.
  2. Add in the sliced vegetables and green onions, chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and garam masala. Correct with salt to taste.
  3. Add the water, stir, and then cover and let simmer for about five minutes.
  4. Add in the chopped tomatoes, stir well, and simmer for another five minutes.
  5. Once the vegetables are cooked through (not necessarily mushy, but if you like softer vegetables, give it a little longer), add in rice and combine.
  6. Add in the cashews and raisins, toss together, and correct again with salt.
  7. Serve with freshly chopped cilantro and perhaps a bit of grated cheese if you have some on hand.

DSC_4729After a meal in India, with all the spicy tastes lingering in your mouth, the best dessert is often a lassi. Lassi in India is a milky drink, although depending on the fruit used, sometimes it is a bit more like a smoothie. The best kind of lassi we found was plain, sweetened, and sold in terra cotta cups that you throw out when you’re done!

Fruit Lassi

  • 1 cup pureed fruit (banana and mango are typical choices in India, and I think peach, when in season, would be delicious as well)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Pinch of cardamom powder, or open up two cardamom pods and crush the seeds between your fingers and a little bit of granulated sugar
  • 2 – 4 tbsp. of milk or water, depending on the thickness you’d like, the thickness of the yogurt you use, and the fruit in question

Whisk everything together, and serve. If you’re feeling extravagant, top with one tablespoon of finely shredded coconut.

Asparagus.

We’re getting to that glorious time of year when one does not need a recipe, because the ingredients speak for themselves, and they insist upon little more than olive oil, garlic, a sprinkle of chilies, the smallest squish of lemon, and a poached egg. Asparagus has just begun to appear; soon, fiddleheads will beg for the same treatment, and then later on, so will green beans. A pound of asparagus, or one large bunch, will make enough for dinner for two.

There are no drawbacks to allowing your vegetables to insist in this way, because it is an almost instant meal – 15 minutes, maybe, depending on how long it takes your water to boil. You will boil your asparagus in salted water for three minutes, and then you will pull them out of the water and drop them into a hot pan already sizzling with olive oil, garlic, chili peppers, and the zest of half a lemon. Toss your asparagus in the hot oil, 30 seconds, and then squish half a lemon over the whole thing. Serve with polenta and a poached egg. Chewy, crusty bread on the side with a generous smear of butter will tie the whole thing together beautifully.

And you will feel at ease upon sitting down to this, because it is the unfussy food of spring, and it is time for it at last.