Vegetable Curry with Sri Lankan Spices

My eldest daughter declared last week that she will henceforth be a vegetarian. While I am not prepared to convert the entire household, I've been doing my best to cook meals that are mostly meatless. It's forced me to go a bit out of my comfort zone and I've been scouring my cookbooks for new and interesting vegetarian recipes that will satisfy the whole family. This one, a vegetable curry dish, was really yummy. It's a definite keeper. I found it in the cookbook Fields of Greens which contains recipes from the Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.

The recipe makes what is essentially a vegetable stew, and should be served over basmati rice. A recommended accompaniment is a mango and papaya chutney. I made it with only mangoes because frankly I'm still deciding whether or not I truly like papaya...

Begin the chutney first, because it is supposed to sit for 1-3 hours before serving in order for the flavors to blend.

You will need:

1/4 small red onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 4 limes
1/4 cup sugar
3/8 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
3 pinches ground cloves
3 pinches cayenne pepper
1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (having omitted the papaya, I used 2)
1 papaya, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Bring a small pot of water to boil and drop in the onion for 30 seconds. Drain the onions, then immediately combine with the vinegar in a bowl. Combine the lemon juice, sugar and spices in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes to make a light syrup. Mix the fruit together with the onions, then pour the syrup on top and stir.

Now, to start the curry, mix together the following spices:

1 tsp cumin seed
2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1/2 tsp black mustard seed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Toast the spices for 1-2 minutes over low heat in a dry, small skillet, stirring often until they become aromatic. Then grind them together with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1 16-oz can tomatoes, chopped) with 1 1/2 cups cold water, 1 tsp salt, 2 tablespoons of giner, and 1 tablespoon of the mixed spices. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 15-20 minutes.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add 1/4 tsp salt. Blanch 1/4 lb (about 2 cups) sugar snap peas in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon, rinse them under cool water, and set aside.

Then use the same pot of boiling water to blanch 1/4 lb (about 1/2 cup) of freshly shelled peas, again for just a couple of minutes, drain, rinse, and set aside.

Chop 1 yellow onion finely, then heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for about 7-8 minutes, until soft.

Add to the pan:

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, cut in half lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick on a diagonal
1 lb new potatoes, cut into halves, quarters or 1-inch pieces if large

Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Next, add:

1/2 small head of caulifower chopped into florets
1 medium zucchini, cut in half and sliced 1/2 inch thick on a diagonal
And, the remaining toasted spices

Saute for 5 minutes, until just heated through

Add 1 1/2 cups canned coconut milk and the tomato mixture. Simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook some basmati rice. When it is done, add the snap peas and English peas into the stew, and serve it alongside the rice and the mango chutney. The rice may be tossed with toasted cashews if desired, good for some extra protein.

I love stews... this was sooooo yummy. Highly recommended!


Carrot Flan and Wild Rice with Lentils

The recipes that I am about to post probably will not become standards in our household, however I think they are worthy of a post anyhow. Every one of our 3 children liked this meal which is a success in its own right, plus it was really unique, totally vegetarian and probably not too shabby in terms of total protein content and vitamins.

I combined two recipes from two different sources: one is a "carrot flan" that I got off a French e-mag that I subscribe to, and the other is a wild rice and lentil recipe from Epicurious.com.

If you are making these together, I suggest starting with the wild rice, as it takes the longest to cook. I forgot to take a photo of this step, but first you will boil 2 1/2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan, then add 1 cup wild rice, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 45 minutes. When the rice is done you will drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, insert 2 whole cloves into half an onion, peel 1 carrot and halve it lengthwise, peel two garlic cloves, and halve one celery stalk lengthwise.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add the vegetables, and saute for about 10 minutes. At this point you may add 4 ounces of chopped pancetta and saute for another 5 minutes as called for in the recipe, but I omitted it. Otherwise, it wouldn't be vegetarian :)

Add 1/2 cup of French green lentils and stir for a minute. Then add 1 3/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes. I didn't cover the lentils as the recipe says, because all that water needs to go somewhere...

Meanwhile, you may start your carrot flan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel 200 grams (nearly half a pound) of carrots, and chop a bunch of parsley. Define a bunch? ... you know, really as much as you feel like chopping :-D In my case, not much:

Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 ounce grated Emmenthaler (or Swiss, or Gruyere) cheese, 200 centiliters of heavy cream (somewhere between 3/4 cup to 1 cup), and some salt and pepper.

Divide the carrots and parsley evenly between 4 ramekins (or 5 small, if you're stretching this recipe to serve a family of 5 like me...) Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Invert onto a plate, and serve alongside the lentils and rice, which have been combined and gently reheated, and the large aromatic vegetables removed.

Et voila! A thoroughly unique vegetarian meal :)

(P.S. The author of the carrot flan recipe says that you can use this recipe with just about any vegetable, zucchini, for example, or cherry tomatoes rather than the carrots.)


Croquettes Baked in Lemon Juice

If you read my polenta recipe below and wondered what you could possibly do with a pound of sirloin that you used to make a sauce yet did not eat, here is one possible answer: Crocchette al Limone, also credited to Giuliani Bugialli from The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. The breaded beef croquettes are fried and then briefly baked in lemon juice, and are very tasty and not too difficult to make.

Start with your cooked beef, 10 sprigs of Italian parsley and 2 large cloves of garlic. Using a food processor, grind up the meat, garlic, and leaves of the parsley into a very fine mixture.

Then cut the crusts off of 4 pieces of white bread.

Bring 1 cup of milk to a boil and add the bread to the pan, stirring for about 7 minutes to form a cooked paste.

Combine the meat mixture with 3 large eggs, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, freshly grated nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Next add the cooled bread/milk paste and mix very well.

You will need some bread crumbs to coat the croquettes. Bugialli stresses that the quality of bread crumbs is very important here, should be made from "first-class bread, unflavored, and slightly toasted". I made mine from a good baguette and toasted them in a pan on the stovetop.

Heat 1 quart of vegetable oil (2 parts corn oil to 1 part sunflower oil is recomended) to 375 degrees, as well as your oven. Spread your bread crumbs out on a plate and shape about 2 tablespoons of your meat mixture into a ball, flattening it as you press it gently into the bread crumbs.

When all the croquettes are ready, fry them a few at a time until lightly golden all over, about 1 minute.

Drain the croquettes on paper towels.

Squeeze the juice from 4 large lemons.

Arrange the croquettes in a single layer in a glass or crockery baking dish. Pour the lemon juice all over them, sprinkle on a little salt, and bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.

Serve immediately. We garnished ours with parsley and hard-boiled eggs.

Polenta with Mushroom Meat Sauce

The school year has begun, and now instead of lazy impromptu meals at the end of a summer's day we are shifting to meals that inspire the family to gather at the table together, to feel the warmth and comfort of reconnecting while we share stories from our day. With this in mind I went searching for a new recipe that would evoke just that kind of sentiment: a comfort food with deep earthy notes, soft and warm textures... This Polenta con Tocco di Funghi alla Genovese (credit to Giuliano Bugialli, Bugialli's Italy) is one such meal.

Start with 1 oz of dried mushrooms (Bugialli calls for porcini only, but I used a mix including porcini as well as black trumpet and some other wild varieties). Soak the mushrooms in lukewarm water for 30 minutes, then strain the soaking liquid very well and reserve it for the sauce. Clean and chop the mushrooms.

While the mushrooms are soaking, you can begin your other prep. You will need 1 lb of canned imported Italian tomatoes. Cut them in half.

Finely chop 1 medium red onion, 1 medium carrot, and the leaves from 15 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley.

Next, tie 1 lb of boneless top sirloin in one piece into a cylinder, like a salami. Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil along with 1/4 cup sweet butter in a deep pan or casserole over medium heat. Add the meat to the hot oil and butter, and lightly brown it all over.

Remove the meat and add the chopped onion, carrot and parsley to the pan along with 1 cup dry red wine. Cook about 10 minutes, or until the wine evaporates.

Next, sprinkle 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour over the vegetables and mix very well.

Add the tomatoes.

Then add the mushrooms, and add the meat back to the pan. Pour in the strained soaking water from the mushrooms as well as enough chicken or meat broth to cover everything, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

After 2 hours has passed, remove the meat and save it for another preparation. The meat in this dish is not actually consumed but lends its essence to the sauce. Pass the contents of the pan through a food mill.

Reduce the sauce in a pan over medium heat until it becomes rather thick.

The sauce will be served over a polenta, which you should begin to prepare anywhere from 20-60 minutes before the sauce is done, depending on which type of polenta you have purchased. The recipe calls for long-cooking coarse stone-ground polenta but I could only find instant polenta at the store.

To make the polenta, first finely chop 4 oz pancetta along with 2 fresh sage leaves. Also chop one more red onion (not shown).

Melt 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup sweet butter in a saucepan or a sautoir over medium heat.

When the butter is melted, add the onion, pancetta and sage. Saute for 3-4 minutes.

Add 3 cups chicken or meat broth or cold water to the mixture and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add your polenta, mix very well, and keep stirring until the polenta reaches a boil. The instant polenta will be done right away, but the long-cooking polenta will need to be stirred for up to 45 minutes until it is done. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the polenta topped with the sauce, some grated parmesan cheese and some chopped parsley.

Mmmm... so good!



About 8 years ago or so I started making a chicken ravioli recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook on pasta. It became one of my standards, something I could usually throw together from the ingredients I had on hand if I didn't know what else to make for dinner, and a darn good way to use up all those chicken breasts that I don't really want but have left over from making stock! I never deviated much from the recipe until the other day; I had a little wave of inspiration and decided I wanted to make the chicken ravioli with a bit of an earthy twist, so I added some bacon and black summer truffles and a bit of gruyere cheese along with the usual parmesan. It was a nice little change. The point in all of this is that ravioli is a very flexible dish, perfect for experimentation, and limited only to a cook's imagination!

Below I will show you the steps I took when I made ravioli this past Monday, but I invite you to not just duplicate it, but use it as a springboard for making your own unique creations. Just a month ago I used the filling from the Alain Ducasse stuffed summer vegetables for making a ravioli. You can use anything you desire just as long as it's not too wet I guess!

So, for my most recent creation, I first made a mirepoix as I usually do for my chicken ravioli, mixing equal parts chopped onion, carrot and celery and sauteeing in butter. Once you get this going, fill a big pot with water to get it boiling so it will be all ready for the ravioli.

Then I fried up some bacon

and then drained it on some paper towels to take away the grease.

I mixed the bacon in with the mirepoix, adding some chopped black truffles and chopped leftover roasted chicken, as well as some gruyere and parmesan cheeses.

All of this was chopped even more finely before mixing in a little beaten egg to bind it together.

Then I moved on to making my dough. Three eggs to two cups of all-purpose flour will make roughly one pound of pasta. Make a well in the center of your flour and crack the eggs into the well.

Mix together with a fork until the ingredients are well-blended.

Knead until smooth.

Roll long, thin sheets of dough through a pasta machine, taking the dough to the very last setting. I roll a quarter pound of dough at a time, so before I roll I cut my ball of dough into four equal pieces. Make sure your work surface is well-floured to prevent the dough from sticking. I do it all on a long sheet of parchment paper, which makes the eventual transfer to the pot of boiling water much easier!

Evenly space your filling, maybe a little over a tablespoon per "square", to begin forming your ravioli.

Next I dab a little water or egg white around the exposed dough, and then place a new sheet of dough on top, or sometimes I fill half the sheet and then fold the other half over. The water or egg white helps the top sheet of dough to adhere to the bottom sheet so that the ravioli will not separate during cooking.

Next the ravioli squares are cut using a pastry wheel.

Now they are ready to be boiled, which takes only a few minutes.

Serve topped with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.

Buon appetito!