20 June 2008

Bhindi Masala

Why don't more people here in the US like okra? It's such a tasty vegetable. It has so much personality; it's so sturdy and quirky. Growing up, I only ever tasted it fried (that's how we roll down South, you know), and then later I got into making this Martha Stewart version that was stewed with tomatoes. But now that I eat so much Indian food, the stewed version tastes "dead," as my husband would say. Not enough masala. V loves a version of okra that's covered in spices and besan and then fried, but I like to do bhindi masala because it's healthier.

We were going to be teaching an Indian cooking class tomorrow but it got canceled because there aren't enough people in town during the summer who sign up for classes. The class is going to be rescheduled for the fall, but we'll have to change the menu because I'm trying to teach seasonal recipes with ingredients that can be found locally. That means that we won't be teaching bhindi masala this year. However, I can post the recipe here!

Our local international grocery has locally-grown veggies, and the okra is gorgeous right now. We've made it twice recently. Make sure you buy okra that's firm and unblemished. You can find it at regular grocery stores at exorbitant prices (seriously--I saw it for 4.00 a pound the other day), so I recommend an international grocery. Also, don't use frozen. It gets slimy and it doesn't taste as good.

Bhindi Masala

1 pound fresh okra, washed, dried, stem end cut off, and cut in half lengthwise
2 tbs olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, very finely diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small green chile, minced (optional)
3/4 - 1 tsp red chile powder, or to taste
1 tsp khatai (dried mango powder)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
kosher salt, to taste
14 ounces tomato puree, or equivalent amount of finely diced fresh tomato
1 tbs garam masala

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil and then add the onions. Cook until the onions are light golden-brown and translucent. Add the green chile and stir for a minute. Add the red chile, khatai, coriander, turmeric, and salt and stir for a minute so the spices can blend with the onion and get toasty.

Lower the heat to medium and pour in the tomato and stir to blend. Cook for a few minutes so that the gravy thickens. You can add a half cup or so of water, then stir and cook a little while longer until it thickens a little again--I think this helps the flavors become more intense.

Stir the okra into the gravy, then put a lid on the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the okra is tender. Add the garam masala and stir to blend, then serve the bhindi hot with chapatis or rice.

12 June 2008

Here's to You, Here's to Me, Friends We Shall Always Be

When I started grad school in 2003, I met the other women who were in my program and they all seemed like interesting, fun, intelligent women with whom I had a lot in common. At first, I was a bit fatalistic about making friends with them though—I had only had two lasting female friendships up until that point, and our English master’s program was only two years long, after which point I figured we’d all be moving away from this little town. “What’s the point?” I asked myself. “It’s not like we’re going to be friends for more than two years anyway.” But I took that leap of faith and made friends with them, and five years later I’m so glad I did.

My grad school girlfriends and I formed a tight-knit group, hanging out at a local bar with the English grad students’ association, eating great food together at each others’ houses, and sitting and gossiping in our offices between meetings with our students or when we stayed late to write papers. Several of us got married during or immediately after grad school, and we held wedding showers (and one at-home wedding) for which I always made a rich chocolate ganache cake. We took day trips to Warm Springs to “take the waters” and stopped for picnics and antiquing along the way. After our graduate program was over, a few of us moved away, but a small core of us remained here. We started an email listserv to keep in touch and continued to hang out as often as we had time to do so.

Now one of us, S., is moving away because her husband is starting law school in another city about 3 hours away. Although we’re still close enough to visit, it feels like the end of an era.

Last week, S., B., and I went to see the Sex and the City movie. I think we couldn’t have picked a better activity for the waning days of S’s time here. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (despite the negative reviews) because of its depiction of a group of four close-knit friends. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte stuck with each other through good times and bad. They were fast friends even when the men in their lives were unreliable jerks, but they also were there to celebrate when one of them found love. That’s the true love story of the movie—not their relationships with their boyfriends or husbands—their lasting relationships with each other.

After (admittedly clich├ęd, but delicious) cosmopolitans at our old watering hole, I bid my friends goodnight with a hug and went to meet my husband nearby. I kept thinking about the movie and my “Grad Gal” friendships, and also about my very dear friend K. who now lives in California. A bit tipsy, I called K and left her a message telling her that I’d seen the movie that night and that I missed her. An hour later, she called me back to say that she’d also seen the movie that night, and that she missed me too! What serendipity.

I can't believe that so many women buy into the misogynist idea that it's not as good to have female friends, that it's somehow cooler to be "one of the guys" and a badge of honor to have more guy friends than women friends. My strong friendships with K, with the Grad Gals, and with my other women friends have been so important to me--they have sustained me. I'm sad that we're all beginning to go our separate ways, but I know that no matter what we'll stay in touch and stay friends for many years to come.

03 June 2008

Gajjar ka Halwa

After my last two baking disasters, I figured I should post something that I know I'm good at cooking: gajjar ka halwa. It's a wonderful carrot pudding that my husband and I both love. We make it fairly regularly, and it was also served at our wedding in India, just swimming in ghee. I don't remember all the food from our wedding, but the gajjar ka halwa stands out in my mind.

You can make this recipe anywhere along the spectrum from low-fat and low-sugar (using skim or low-fat milk and less butter and sugar) to high-fat and high-sugar (whole milk, more butter or ghee, lots of sugar). V. thinks it tastes the best if it has a lot of sugar in it, so consider the 1 cup in the recipe as a jumping-off point.

Gajjar
ka Halwa

2 pounds of carrots, peeled and shredded fine in the food processor
2/3 gallon whole milk (or enough to cover the carrots)
1 cup sugar (more if needed, to taste)
6 green cardamom pods
½ cup raisins
¼ cup assorted crushed nuts (cashews, pistachios, almonds)
generous pinch of saffron
3-4 tablespoons butter or ghee

In a large saucepan or large deep skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the shredded carrots and stir for a couple minutes. Pour in the milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots become extremely tender and the milk has been mostly absorbed, at least an hour.

Remove the outside of the cardamom pods and crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add to the halwa. Add the sugar, raisins, nuts, and saffron. You can taste it at this point and see if it needs more sugar or cardamom. Continue to simmer for about 15 minutes so the flavors can blend. Halwa tastes best if it is simmered on very low heat for 3-4 hours, time permitting, but you can serve it as soon as the milk is absorbed and it has a pudding-like consistency. Serve warm or cold—it tastes great either way!

02 June 2008

6 Things Meme

Heh, I like the word "meme." Ok, I got tagged by the blogger Blue for this "6 things" sort of game. I'm new to this so bear with me. The theme is "six unspectactular quirks" about yourself. These are the rules:

-Link the person who tagged you.
-Mention the rules in your blog.
-Tell us about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
-Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
-Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.

So...6 unspectacular quirks about myself:

1. I've dyed my hair for years, but now I'm miserably trying to let it get back to its natural color so that it can be healthier. It's very brassy right now.
2. I play the flute in a German oompah band.
3. I'm a huge public radio nerd and do some radio announcing on the side.
4. I like to lick the salt off of peanut shells, dirt be damned.
5. I like beer mixed with tomato juice.
6. I'd rather be really hot than really cold (or cool, actually). As a result, there's constant wrangling over the thermostat when my husband and I are in the car.

I'm tagging Appalbrandy, Raag, Mumbaiwala, Cagey, Gleemonex, and...hmm. I'd rather not tag someone that I don't really know, and I haven't been getting around the blog world that much yet. Can I break that rule? I hope the meme police don't get me, heh!

I'm formulating my next blog post to have a recipe that I've made a million times and I know can't be a failure like the last two. Stay tuned...

01 June 2008

Aaaargh!! And gaaaah!!!


This post was supposed to redeem my baking skills, but alas, it was not to be. I was going to write about how I made this retro cake (Watergate Cake) in my vintage Harvest Gold Bundt pan, and carried it to my grad school friend's party in my 1940s tin cake carrier, blah blah blah.

On the spectrum that has Erma Bombeck on one end and Martha Stewart on the other, I've always considered myself to be more on the Martha Stewart end of things. Well, I'm feeling decidedly Erma Bombeck after last night's fiasco.

One of my grad school friends, B, hosted a yard party at her house last night, and for days I've been talking about how I was going to bring a Watergate Cake (a pistachio cake along the lines of last summer's Watergate Salad). So yesterday afternoon I made the cake and icing and had it in my tin cake carrier. I was super excited to bring it to the party. So when my husband and I pulled up in the driveway, I got out with the cake carrier and almost immediately when I got out of the car--the cake carrier's handle came off and the whole thing went tumbling to the ground. Luckily it fell upside down, so the cake was still edible, although it looked like the mess in the picture with this post.

Well, a glass of wine or five later, no one cared that the cake looked like crap. It still tasted good, at least! There was lots of other excellent food at the party too. We had a really lovely evening lying on the lawn with blankets and pillows. I hope the rest of the summer is as nice as last night and Friday night (picnic at Mountain Lake, where the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed).

Just don't call me Erma.

WATERGATE CAKE
(courtesy of Ann on the cooking email list I'm on)


1 pkg. cake mix, yellow or white
1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding
1 c. oil
3 whole eggs
1 c. Canada Dry Club soda
1 c. pistachios (chopped very fine)

Mix cake mix, pudding, eggs, oil, club soda and nuts together. Blend well and beat 4 minutes. Grease and flour Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes. Turn out on plate and when cool, frost with icing.

WATERGATE ICING:

1 box instant pistachio pudding
1 1/4 c. cold milk
1 (8 oz.) container Cool Whip

Blend all together and beat until light and fluffy. Spread on cake. Store in refrigerator.