Niloufer Ichaporia King's Parsi Tomato Chutney

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So, er, this is awkward, since I already told you about a tomato jam in August. And, er, yes, you're right, tomato season is all but over. (Not entirely, but almost.) But I kind of need you to forget all about that other tomato jam and the fact that the tomatoes at the market are dwindling fast. Forget about all that right away. Today. Now.

Because a few weeks ago I made a tomato chutney from this book by way of The Traveler's Lunchbox and, it's the most curious thing, I haven't been able to stop spooning it out of the jar since. It is quite something. I mean, who eats chutney from a spoon? This is not the kind of thing I am usually in the habit of doing. Just so we're clear. But this is no ordinary chutney, no.

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This tomato chutney makes my mouth glow on the inside, which is a most wondrous feeling. And it tastes incredible, like a tomato come to life in the middle of an Indian jungle, though I am biased, it's true: you could coat a tomato in tar and I'd probably still want to eat it.

Let me try to describe it at least. Imagine a tomato, all fresh and succulent, cooked down into jamminess with fiery bits of ginger and garlic and rust-colored cayenne. There are raisins, for a little extra sweetness, and cloves and cinnamon, too. But then there's a big glug of vinegar that straightens everyone's collars out and makes your mouth pucker with pleasure. Between the vinegar and the cayenne and all that fresh ginger and garlic, the chutney is incendiary, in the best possible way. 

I could almost guarantee that you will find yourself hoarding it, instead of giving it away as you might think you would after lining up all your neatly-filled crimson jars just after filling them. It's the one thing in my pantry that I can't part with. Not yet.

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I like putting it on a cold chicken sandwich, for example. Or dolloping it next to a piece of plain, sautéed fish to goose it up a little. I've eaten it with sharp cheddar on nice bread for a lunch that lingered in my mouth long after I finished. And it's brilliant with eggs, scrambled or fried. Best of all is chopped into homemade egg salad. Good night!

But like I said, I've also eaten it straight from the jar, which I'm a little embarrassed to admit, but you know, sometimes it's just best to be honest about this kind of thing.

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Whatever you decide to do with it, the point is: make it. Today. Now. Before the very last plum tomatoes have gone.

And if they already are gone, forgive me, kind reader, for winding you up. It was cruel of me, I know. To make it up to you, maybe I could even send you one of my jars? Maybe. Let me think about it. I'll get back to you.

Niloufer Ichaporia King's Parsi Tomato Chutney
Source: The Traveler's Lunchbox
Makes about four 8- to 10-ounce jars; recipe can easily be doubled

3 pounds (1.5 kilos) ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger (about one 2.5-inch/6-cm-long piece)
1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 cup (75 to 150 grams) raisins (optional)
2 cups (400 grams) turbinado sugar
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 small cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt

1. Open a window or two in your kitchen. Place all the ingredients in a heavy nonreactive pot and, over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring well. Continue to cook, stirring every five to seven minutes (more frequently towards the end of the cooking time), until the chutney has the consistency of a soft jam, about an hour. Be careful not to scorch the chutney.

2. While the chutney is cooking, sterilize four or five glass jars and lids in boiling water or a hot oven. When the chutney has finished cooking, ladle it carefully into the clean jars and quickly screw on the lids. Turn the jars upside-down to cool. If you plan to eat the chutney within a few weeks of making it, there's no need to can it; simply keep it in the fridge.


Julie Sahni's Bihari Green Beans Masala

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Things improbably gone missing in the move:

1. One tiny All-Clad skillet bought in a super-deal at Broadway Panhandler when it was still over in Soho and that was my trusty seed-toasting, meal-for-one-making, butter-melting companion for many years. This feels only barely replaceable. I'm pretty bereft. How on earth did my little soufflé dishes, my tea cups and espresso spoons, my ceramic trivets and my antique canisters all make it over, but this little darling didn't?

2. An entire set of ivory-handled flatware. Well, forks and knives. To be fair, not as essential as it sounds since I'd had the good fortune of being given my grandmother's silver a few years ago. But still, where could it be? An entire set? When I can't sleep at night, I think about it. Is it still in some old apartment that I didn't comb over obsessively enough? Is it in a shipping container on the high seas? Is it off living the life of Riley in grass skirts on a tropical island with an endless supply of fresh coconuts?

3. A jar of ground coriander. Huh? A half-roll of Saran-Wrap made it over (don't ask). A nearly empty jar of dried summer savory from Penzey's made it over, too. (Seriously, don't ask). But this, a brand-new jar, fragrant and much, much needed, didn't?

A skillet, flatware, ground coriander. Is this some kind of message from the other side? Am I supposed to be understanding something about what's gone missing? 

I know. That's a lot of questions for a Wednesday morning.

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I discovered the loss of the ground coriander and the baby skillet in the midst of making dinner the other night, which, as you probably know, is not the best time to realize you don't have something that you were pretty darn sure you had. So sure you didn't even check. Still, Julie Sahni's recipe for green beans in a simply spiced coconut sauce had needled its way into my head and was sitting there, setting off fireworks, until I got to cooking and it didn't really matter, until dinner was done - whole coriander subbed in for ground, a little pot used for toasting almonds instead of my skillet - and gone.

Yes, done and gone. That's about how fast it was to both cook the meal and eat it. For those of you still afraid to cook Indian food because of the time you think it takes, and the complicated list of ingredients, I've found your recipe. This dish took less than 15 minutes to cook, and only a few minutes more to prep. And the ingredients are all easy to source, especially if you live in a country that sells more than just basil in the herb section of the grocery store (ahem, Germany).

We gobbled up the whole dish in an unseemly amount of time, white rice soaking up the delicious sauce. "Delicious!" was exclaimed. "So good!" was declared. Plates, dear readers, might even have been licked. The only Indian food I've had since coming to Berlin in December were takeout meals in London and New York, go figure. So I suppose eating politely and demurely was going to be off the table anyhow.

And even better than the speed and ease with which this was cooked, was the fact that the green beans can be replaced with cauliflower or eggplant, among other vegetables, and the idea of soft, yielding eggplant stewed away in this creamy, velvety sauce is enough to make me forget about any skillet, ground spice or flatware I ever possessed and dream only about the future.

Bihari Green Beans Masala
Serves 2 as a main course with rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or light olive oil
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a 3-quart sauté pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook, stirring, until light golden. Remove from heat and transfer almonds to a plate or bowl; set aside for garnish.

2. Add onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, chili pepper flakes and salt to the unwashed sauté pan, and return to medium heat. Sauté until the onion is tender and begins to fry, about 4 minutes.

3. Add coconut milk and green beans. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 6 minutes.

4. Sprinkle beans with lime juice, and toss lightly. Transfer to a warmed serving dish and garnish with almonds and cilantro. Serve with plain cooked rice or roti flatbread.


Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's Chana Punjabi

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I have been rendered mute by a chickpea. (Can you say mute when you mean your ability to type?) To be more specific, a jumbo can of chickpeas simmered for close to an hour in a thick, spicy tomato sauce spiked with jalapeño and lemon juice and finished with fresh cilantro (two nights in a row, people - can you believe it?). Mute, I tell you. All I can think to tell you is that I loved this dish, I loved it, and I will make it again and again until the end of time. Who cares that the only Indian take-out place near us stinks? I will never need them again. Who cares that times are tough and money is short? This recipe costs barely anything to make. Who cares that the world has too many people that eat too much meat? I would gladly never eat meat again.

Chana punjabi, I think I love you.

This recipe comes from Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, who runs darling little Lassi in the West Village and has a way with Indian food that makes me weak in the knees. It is simple: you make a quick tomato sauce, with ginger and garlic and jalapeño and warm spices (garam masala, you make my heart sing), then puree it into a creamy mass. Into that go the drained, rinsed chickpeas (canned! hurrah!) which stew and stew in their sticky, gorgeous sauce while you do other things, like daydream about moving to India. In the last 20 minutes of cooking, bang a pot of rice on the stove and you're pretty much set for the best dinner you'll have all week. (Aren't I presumptuous? What do I know about what you've been eating?)

Apparently, this is meant to serve four people. I answer that by dissolving into bright peals of laughter. Four? Are you serious? Barely even two. We had to settle for a salad after we scraped the pot clean like a pair of Dickensian orphans, and let me tell you that never has a salad been so resented. Next time I'm doubling this recipe. In fact, you should go ahead right now and double the ingredients you'll need to buy to make this yourself - don't even bother making just one batch.

Chana Punjabi
Serves 2

1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and add onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

2. Purée mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and place over medium heat. Add paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

3. Cover and simmer until sauce is thick and chickpeas are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir pan about every 10 minutes, adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro, adjust salt as needed and serve with cooked rice, if desired.


Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Two Lentil Stew

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I have three minutes to write this post before I fall asleep on the couch and I don't want to break NaBloPoMo right in the very first week, for Pete's sake. Give me seven days at least. The emotion and the nerves from the past few weeks, wait, months, wait, oh hell, years seem to have finally caught up with me and I am staggeringly tired. Plus, do you know what I discovered today? My Very First Gray Hair, growing impudently out of my right temple. Didn't it know I had an agenda of reaching my 31st birthday proudly sporting the same hair color I had on my 30th birthday?

It's all a little much.

So before I nod off with my laptop humming away on the tops of my thighs, let me tell you quickly about the first thing I cooked with the sack of chana dal that my dad brought when he came to visit a few weeks ago. I found a recipe in this brilliant cookbook that has you combine a whole rainbow of Indian dals into a spicy stew.

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I didn't have all those dals in my pantry, so I made do with some red lentils and the aforementioned chana dal (the recipe is originally called five-lentil stew) and it was simply lovely. I simmered the lentils until tender in spiced water, dyed yellow from turmeric, then cooked tomatoes and onions with garam masala and cumin until thick and sticky.

The tender legumes are folded into the spiced tomatoes and what results is comforting and homey and spicy without being painful and nutritious and wonderful. The kind of thing that becomes a meal staple also because the sum total of all the ingredients in this stew probably equaled $0.78. We ate the stew in wide bowls for lunch along with - wait for it - homemade chapatti. Homemade by me! A high point of the weekend, for sure, because I am a dork and the dough arts fascinate me.

Oh, you want to see one of those chapattis? But then I'm going to have to tell you all about how to make them and how cool they are and how easy, too, and like I said, I'm falling asleep, but okay, here you go:

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Two Lentil Stew
Serves 4

Dal:
3/4 cup chana dal
1/2 cup red lentils
5 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Spice blend:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped (about 2 large cloves)
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 large tomatoes, chopped, or 3/4 can diced tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1. Rinse the dal.

2. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the dal and lentils, stir, and bring back to a boil. Then remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 2 hours.

3. Add the turmeric and cayenne to the legumes and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until tender, approximately 35 minutes.

4. 15 minutes before the dal is ready, begin cooking the spice mixture: heat the oil in a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and garlic and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cumin and garam masala and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes and salt, and cook until the tomatoes have been reduced, approximately 10 minutes.

5. Add the tomato mixture to the dal, stir well and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more to blend the flavors. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve hot in one large bowl or in individual-sized bowls with chapatti.


Madhur Jaffrey's Baked Cod in Yogurt Sauce

I'm starting to feel discouraged. The forces of food politics, nutrition and food safety, and environmental responsibility are feeling insurmountable these days. First, I've spent far too much time lately parsing the various charts on fish, trying to find some overlap. The fish we eat can't have too much mercury, but it also has to be fished sustainably. The people worried about mercury have one chart, the people worried about overfishing and stock depletion have another chart, and I, the concerned consumer, am lost in the middle.

And then there's the debate about Bisphenol-A. We don't drink much out of plastic bottles, so we're okay on that front, but people, we probably go through 5 cans of tomatoes a week. (As for beans, this spurred me to place a long-awaited-and-dithered-about 4-pound order for dried beans with Rancho Gordo, which has me - dork that I am - quite excited.) A question that came to me in the night as I was wondering about how to circumvent the liners of tin cans was: if the leaching Bisphenol-A in those cans is potentially cancerous, but the lycopene in the canned tomatoes is so cancer-preventing, won't those two cancel each other out? Do I have a doctor/medical researcher in the audience? Anyone?

Because my alternative right now is to drive into the city to Buon Italia this weekend and buy 24 units of bottled tomatoes and store them in our closet, like paranoid schizophrenics. (Yes, I briefly contemplated buying 50 pounds of tomatoes this summer and processing/bottling them myself, but then decided that sort of lunacy can only go so far before it threatens to swallow me whole. I've got exactly 2 square feet of counter space, folks. So, no to that.)

Sigh.

Meanwhile, we're also trying to eat less meat and more vegetables. Our CSA hasn't started up yet and the Greenmarket is just barely green right now, with expensive baby lettuces the only springtime option at the moment. Our recent tax bill makes those kinds of purchases somewhat outside the realm of daily possibility, but the alternative - rotting, limp, and pallid produce at our local grocer - isn't much better. Then, of course, the moment I start to complain about this I want to punch myself squarely in the face, because food shortages are looming the world over, not to speak of general impoverishment and hunger, and am I really whingeing about the fact that we have abundant food that's not entirely up to my (picky, though I prefer to say exacting) standards at our disposal?

Sigh and double sigh.

I'm not quite sure how to tie this neatly into a quick report on a wonderful fish bake I made from Jill Santopietro's fantastic round-up of recipes with yogurt, except that it was while trying to figure out what to substitute for Madhur Jaffrey's haddock (according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, it's to be avoided, though hook-and-line caught haddock is okay) that I really started getting frustrated. Cod is a good substitute for haddock in terms of taste and texture, and it's low in mercury, but if it's wild-caught and/or from the Atlantic, then it's a bad choice in terms of sustainability. I tried to engage the fish guy at Whole Foods who mostly just looked bored, and ended up taking my chances with the cod they had on display.

This is a lovely, simple recipe - you fry up a few onions and then layer plump, white fillets of fish on top of them in a baking dish before topping the fish with a thick, creamy coat of spiced yogurt that looks and feels as lush as cake frosting. A pass in the oven renders the fish incredibly moist and tender, while the yogurt topping subtly infuses the fish with exotic warmth. If you're afraid of cooking fish, this is the dish for you. If you're afraid of cooking Indian food, this is the dish for you. If you're afraid of spending more then 15 minutes on prep work for dinner, this is the dish for you. The original recipe has you pour off and reduce the watery liquid exuded from the fish after baking and then enrich that sauce with butter, but I skipped that step, simply pouring off the watery juices and serving the yogurt-topped fish with rice and some steamed broccoli.

Ben and my mother, visiting from Europe, couldn't stop telling me how good it was and I'd have to agree. It was a wholesome, hearty meal that at least temporarily assuaged my anxiety about feeding myself and the ones I love safely and well. Don't worry if you don't have Greek yogurt at your disposal - just use regular whole-milk yogurt that you first drain in a thin-meshed sieve for an hour or so. (Oh, and if you're wondering, the fish, despite being delicious, was also absolutely hideous to photograph. I tried, I really did, but posting the results of that particular photo shoot would have done more harm than good, I think.)

Cod Baked in a Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/8-inch slices
2 pounds thick fillets cod
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cubed (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. When hot, add the onions and cook over medium until translucent, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Cut the fish fillets crosswise into 2-by-3-inch pieces and lay them over the onions.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, cumin, coriander, garam masala, cayenne and ginger. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Pour sauce over the fish, tucking some under each piece. Cover with foil and bake until the fish is just cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Pour the liquid from the baking dish into a small saucepan; keep fish warm. (The sauce will look separated.) If you'd like to make an extra sauce, bring the sauce to a boil and reduce it by half. Remove from heat. Whisk in the butter, a few cubes at a time. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pour over the fish.


Amanda Hesser's Butternut Squash Curry

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You know, after yet another birthday and yet another turn of the new year, thoughts turn - reliably - to uncomfortable questions such as "why exactly don't I own any real estate yet?" and "what exactly do I do to end up with less savings than any of my peers who choose to live outside of this city?" and "how exactly is living paycheck-to-paycheck in New York City affecting my future and the future of my unborn children (who actually belong in an entirely separate conversation that I am doing my best to ignore, thank you very much)?" and furthermore, "is it, this fantastic city, worth feeling sometimes as though I am forfeiting security and stability for the continued, vibrant experience of being a New Yorker?"

I'm sure I don't have to explain that the whole point of uncomfortable questions is that you often know the answers to them, you just don't feel like accepting them. But so that this doesn't devolve into some kind of Luisa confessional, I'll get to the original point I was attempting to make, namely that all of these questions end up being beside the point when you consider the glorious temple that is Kalustyan's and the fact that living in New York is precisely what allows you, on a whim, to stroll there after work so that you can pick up a bag of fresh curry leaves, a sack of patna rice, herb drying tips from the kindest shopkeeper around, and a renewed sense that living in New York is pretty fantastic no matter how much anxiety it induces.

Did your ears prick up around curry leaves? This was my first time encountering them and I can say unequivocally that, with one whiff of their nutty, complex fragrance (that has absolutely nothing to do with curry powder), I have been bewitched. You will, too! And don't worry, Kalustyan's has mail-order service.

The recipe is a few years old and comes from a piece by Amanda Hesser on gussying up Thanksgiving leftovers in the New York Times Magazine. Trust me when I tell you that this recipe should not be put aside until Thanksgiving rolls around. Go out now to buy yourself a butternut squash and make this right away. I cut my squash in half and then again lengthwise before roasting it in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. The orange flesh caramelized and intensified its sweetness. I mashed up the hot squash with softly cooked onions and spices before folding in an alluring melange of mustard seeds, the aforementioned curry leaves, a little red chili or two, and a handful of unsweetened coconut flakes.

The squash is lusty and sweet, delicately floral from the curry leaves, coconut, and mustard seeds, pleasingly hot with pepper, and entirely difficult to stop eating. Luckily for those of us with resolutions, there's no reason to. With a pile of fluffy patna rice and some steamed broccoli for good measure (an ethnically dubious food pairing, I know), this is pretty virtuous stuff. It also seems to cure hysteria about financial worries and advancing age. Maybe it's those curry leaves?

Speaking of which, I've got quite a few left over and no recipes for them of which to speak. Dear readers, any suggestions?

Butternut Squash Curry
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon lightly crushed cumin (I used 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 cups baked, braised or mashed butternut squash
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 red chili
10 curry leaves
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
Salt

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Stir in the turmeric, cumin and cayenne and cook for 1 minute. Fold in the squash and warm gently.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a small saute pan. Add the mustard seeds, chili and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to pop, stir in the coconut off the heat. Fold into the squash, and season with salt.