08 August 2009

Sarson Saag

Most summers, I can't wait until Saturday to hit the local Farmers Market. This year, though, we've been going to the Amish produce auctions ourselves and by Saturday, the last thing I want to see is more produce... But this week everyone is away, it's miserably hot, and I had nothing else to do, so off I went.

Although there was nothing there I really needed, I was talking to the organic farmer there and felt a bit guilty. Normally I buy a fair bit from him and this year I've likely spent less than $2 total, so I went ahead and bought some mustard greens and a cucumber from guilt.

It was 96F today and not cooling off by dinner, so I wanted to make a pressure cooker dish with the greens. I looked up the times online and saw a recipe for something called Sarson ka Sag, which is an Indian dish. Before I was vegan, I loved saag paneer made with spinach and paneer, but had never heard of 'sarson'. As I looked at more and more sarson saag recipes, it became clear that every Indian mother and grandmother had their own version of this dish, so I figured I'd do my own variation with what I had in the house and using all the other recipes as inspiration. Many of the recipes supplement the mustard greens with another green, so I thought it would be a good time to use up some frozen spinach in the freezer as well.

Amazingly enough, it was excellent, and was the first dish I've had in months where I've actually allowed myself to have a small second serving. It is meant to be eaten with naan bread, but I had already pressure cooked some brown rice for part of the dog's dinner, and decided to eat it on that instead. Next time I make it, I'll brown some cubes of tofu to add more texture to it, and give me a visual replacement for the old paneer I used to eat.

My pressure cooker requires at least 1 c of liquid to pressurize, so my cooked greens ended up with more liquid than I wanted, After I blended it up. it was tossed into a skillet on low heat to simmer a while to reduce the liquid.

Using fresh turmeric and fresh ginger makes a big difference in the quality of the flavors. Fresh turmeric might be difficult to find but it is totally unlike dried turmeric. I order my fresh turmeric online here and keep it frozen until I need some. Then, I scrape the skin off with a knife and use a microplane to grate it while still frozen. Turmeric stains everything, though, so use gloves.

Sarson Saag

1 bunch of fresh mustard greens, cleaned and torn into pieces
1 10 oz box of frozen spinach
2 Tbs canola oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 pinch of asafoetida (optional, see not below)
1 tsp ground yellow mustard (or black mustard seeds)
1 Tbs cumin seed
1 Tbs coriander seed
1/2 Tbs red pepper flakes (like you put on pizza)
1 finger fresh turmeric (or 1 tsp dried ground turmeric)
1 finger fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 c water with a vegetable boullion cube dissolved in it
1 tsp sea salt
1 medium tomato, diced

Get all the ingredients ready before starting.

Put the pressure cooker on 'brown' and wait until it is hot.

Add the oil and onion and cook for a minute until the onion starts turning clear.

Add the dry spices and cook for one minute.

Add the 3 fresh spices and cook for another minute.

Add the water and all the greens. Pressure cook for 5 minutes at 10 pounds pressure.

Release pressure according to your manufacturers recommendations.

Dump the mixture into a large blender, add salt, and blend until well blended but not a soup. Note- blending hot liquids can cause the top of the blender to blow off violently. Either allow the mixture to cool, or, if you know how, remove the middle cap in the lid, cover it with at least 4 layers of dish cloth, and carefully blend with your hand on top.

If the mixture is very liquid, add to a skillet and simmer for 5 minutes until the liquid is reduced.

Mix in the diced tomato and serve.

Note: asafoetida is a resiny, stinky spice used in Indian cooking. It smells terrible raw, but adds a subtle flavor when it's cooked that cannot be replicated with anything else. You can find it in good spice store and online but its not likely your local supermarket will have it. When you use it, use it sparingly and keep it wrapped in several levels of plastic bags to avoid smelling up the other spices you have. One small container will probably last you for decades.

06 August 2009

Gluten Free Summer Pasta Bonanza

I love Top Chef. Although most of the contestants can be pretty annoying, there is also so much creativity and passion there that it is great fun to watch. During the summer doldrums, Bravo is showing Top Chef Masters which is like a quick elimination series of fairly well-known chefs. I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't want to go up against Michael Chiarello, Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. (I'd gladly go against Art Smith as long as he couldn't serve fried chicken...)

This week's episode had the chefs catering a lunch for Zooey Deschanel. Apparently she is not only an actress, but also a singer in a band and had just returned from a tour. She is both vegan and gluten-free, and the chefs had to work around that to develop their dishes. They seemed to equate this with being in one of Dante's circles of hell...

Most of the dishes looked pretty good, and the vegans seemed to enjoy them. But, for once, this is one challenge where I think I could've placed, even if not won, the competition. The chefs had $300 for about 15 people. Instead of $20 a plate, I wanted mine to be less than $5.

I used baby zucchini, small patty pan squash and eggplant for my main veggies. You can obviously use whatever you like or have on hand. The final touch is some grated Cheezly Mature White Cheddar vegan 'cheese' which is gluten free. If you do not have a gluten restriction, Cheezly cheese with artificial bacon bits is a terrific topper for this dish. Sheese also makes an amazingly good blue cheese alternative that would be great on this dish but you'd need to check if it is gluten-free.

Quinoa linguine should be available in most health food stores or organic markets. I got mine online from Barry Farms.

Gluten Free Summer Pasta Bonanza

1 large red bell pepper
2-3 sweet banana peppers
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 handful of cherry tomatoes per serving
Sliced veggies, about 1 1/2 cups per person: eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, etc
1 medium onion, sliced thick
2-3 cloves of garlic peeled
4 oz quinoa linguine per serving
olive oil
1 oz Cheezly Mature White Cheddar 'cheese' grated
1 - 2 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, tarragon, etc)

Light your grill and preheat it. Start the water boiling for the pasta.
When the grill is ready, lightly coat your vegetables with oil and grill until they have grill marks and are tender. The tomatoes should be tossed in a grill-proof pan with oil and the garlic and grilled in the pan to catch all their juices.

Remove the veggies to a chopping board.
Peel the peppers and discard the tough skins and seeds.

Add pasta to the water and cook about 6-7 minutes, and drain.

Meanwhile, add the tomato, sweet banana peppers, garlic, onion and half the red bell pepper to a blender. Add 1 Tbs of olive oil and 1/2 tsp of salt and blend until it is fairly smooth.

Chop the grilled veggies into chunks or strips.

Drain pasta and toss in a bowl with some of the tomato-pepper sauce.

Place the coated pasta on the serving platter and top with the veggies. Sprinkle with the grated vegan cheese, if desired. Toss the chopped herbs over the top and serve.