Kumror (Pumpkin) Chokka

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Fall is my favorite time of the year the slight nip in the air, the smell of pine, festivities everywhere and fall vegetables, I love every one of them! Chokka in bangla means a spiced dish of vegetables cooked almost dry. Kumror Chokka is a traditional bengali dish that is made using Pumpkins, potatoes and chickpeas.While traditionally this dish is made during the summer months, I make this in fall, with fresh Pie Pumpkin or Butternut Squash from the local farmers market. Serve it with Porotha or Puri and its just perfect of cold evenings.

This dish was very popular in my maternal grandparents house. Story goes that when ever my grandparents argued about something, my granddad would step out and comeback home with a Pumpkin as peace offering. And my grandmother would make this, their favorite dish and they would laugh about their disagreements over a meal. Love Birds!

This and a few other bengali recipes will call for Paanch Phoron for tempering. It is a combination of Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds and Nigella Seeds in equal proportion. 

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 Pie Pumpkin or Butternut Squash, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium sized potato, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 3-4 green chile pepper
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp Paanch Phoron
  • 1-2 dried red chilli pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnishing
  • 1 tsp ghee (optional)
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Process:

  1. Heat oil in a Wok on medium heat, add paanch phoron and dried red chilli pepper. Sauté till aromatic.
  2. In the mean time muddle together ginger, garlic and fresh green chile pepper with a pestle
  3. Add the potatoes, muddle spices, turmeric and salt to the now aromatic temper. Sauté for 4-5 mins.
  4. Add butternut squash/pumpkin and chickpeas, mix them in. Cover and cook till vegetables are done (tender) around 10-12 mins.
  5. Let the vegetables char a little at the bottom.
  6. Remove from heat, fold in the thin charred crust.
  7. Garnish with ghee, garam masala and chopped cilantro.

 

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Badhakopir Ghonto (Cabbage Ghonto)

IMG_4045Health benefits of Cabbage are endless and its a vegetable for which we should make space in our plates on a regular basis. I cook cabbage often and in various ways, but I have noticed that this is one preparation that has converted even cabbage haters to cabbage likers. Its a favorite among my Non-Bengali and Non-Indian friends. Every single time I have served this, it has been a hit. To me its special because it brings back memories of school days and sharing lunch boxes, especially one of my best friend who always claimed rights on this.

A few days after our wedding H and I were grocery shopping, I reached for the cabbage and immediately heard him say “I don’t like cabbage baby”. I just responded with ‘But I do’ and bought it nonetheless. Same evening I cooked this. He tasted some and since then he likes cabbage. I like eating it with rice/quinoa and Bhaja Moonger Dal with a squeeze  of lemon juice, H likes it with paratha. IMG_4057

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 20-25 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sized cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large potato, cubed
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 4-5 fresh green chile pepper, slit
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne or red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp ghee + 1 tsp for garnish
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnish

Process:

  1. In a heavy bottom pan, heat the ghee over medium heat. Add bay leaf, cumin and caraway seeds.
  2. When the tempering starts spluttering and you can get the aroma, add the potatoes. Saute for 2-3 mins, till they get a little fried.
  3. Add cabbage, mix it in, then add ginger, cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric and salt. Mix everything in, sauté for 3-4 mins.
  4. Add tomatoes and the green peas, fold them in. Cover and cook, stirring on regular intervals. Cabbage and tomatoes leave enough water to cook the vegetables, but if you think its not enough add a bit of water. Remember this is a dry dish, so if you add too much water, you will need cook longer.
  5. Check for doneness by cutting one of the pieces of potatoes. If the potatoes are fully cooked, turn of the heat. Add the ghee, garam masala and sugar. Mix it in. Garnish with Cilantro.

Serve with rice and dal or chapatis.

Bhaja Moonger Dal (Moong Dal)

 

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Bhaja in bangla means fried. Moong dal is first roasted with the tempering giving it a nutty aroma and its characteristic flavor and then cooked till mushy. Every Bengali household has their own version of this dish, this was how my Dida (maternal grandma) cooked it. Growing up we called it Didar dal to differentiate it from my Thama’s (paternal grandma) version. This was usually cooked on days in the year where the menu had to be Niramish (Vegetarian) and served with rice and Badhakopir Ghonto (Cabbage Ghonto).

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Moong Dal is one of the healthiest lentils with high content of fiber, minerals, proteins and Vitamin C, and a very low calorie count. Essentially its a dieters best friend! Its also light and easy to digest making it really good recovery food. Now add in some ginger, turmeric, flavors from the tempering of spices, carrots and green peas, and you have a wholesome and delicious lentil stew that you can enjoy as is or with some rice or quinoa. This is one of my go-to recipes for those days when I have long working hours and limited time to cook and need something light to eat.

Time for Prep: 5 mins     Time to Cook: 20-25 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup yellow mung dal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4-5 green cardamom
  • 7-8 cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp ghee/ oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnish
  • 1 tbsp grated coconut for garnish (Optional)

Process:

  1. In a soup pan, heat ghee over medium heat. Add bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and caraway seeds.
  2. When the tempering starts spluttering and you can get the aroma, add the moong dal. Saute for 2-3 mins, till they get a little fried.
  3. Add carrots, mix it in, then add ginger, turmeric and salt. Mix everything in, sauté for 3-4 mins.
  4. Add the green peas, fold them in. Add water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally till the dal is mushy. Add more water if needed, depending on whether you like dal to be runny or thick.
  5. Turn of the heat and sugar. Mix it in. Garnish with Cilantro.

Serve with rice or chapatis.

Notes:

  • You can use a pressure cooker instead of a soup pot. Just remember that moong dal cooks very quickly.

 

Mast-Mast Chorchori or Shaager Chorchori (Bengali Vegetable Stir-fry)

IMG_4035Bengali cuisine is known for its spread of confectionaries and sweet delight, but is not limited to it. According to Wikipedia it is the only cuisine in the Indian-Subcontinent which has been traditionally developed as a multi-course meal, quiet similar to the modern structure of continental food. I am not sure about the ‘only’ part, but it sure is a multi course meal. A typical meal is geared towards a balanced meal and incorporates a lot of vegetables. It starts with a dish made of something bitter to serve as a palette cleanser, followed by a Shaag (leafy green vegetables), then comes the Dal accompanied with a Bhaja (fried vegetable) or Chorchori (stir fry) or both, then Macher Jhol (Fish), chatney, Doi (yogurt) and finally a dessert. Served with rice. And within this nutrition packed diet lies the secret behind the good skin and good hair bengali women are famous for.

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I grew up in a nucleus family with two working parents, so every day meal was not this elaborate. However, a non-elaborate meal still included Dal, Shaag, Bhaja or Chorchori, Maacher Jhol and Doi. When I got married, my South-Indian husband thought (Still thinks) I was crazy to cook so much for a single meal. I changed my habits a little and now cook a minimalistic meal of Dal, Rice, Shaag and a side of vegetables. Yes, that is minimalistic in my book!

Making this takes care of my serving of vegetables and Leafy greens in one dish! Plus it is delicious. This is one of my very favorite side dishes and my entire life I have called it ‘Mast Mast Chorchori’. Traditionally Eggplant (Brinjal) is one of the main ingredients in this dish and if your not allergic to it (Like I am!) I recommend adding some, apparently it tastes better.

This and a few other bengali recipes will call for Paanch Phoron for tempering. It is a combination of Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds and Nigella Seeds in equal proportion. 

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 4 servings    Level: Easy

One important thing to keep in mind before you start prepping, this dish is a medley of hard and soft vegetables all cooked together, while chopping keep that in mind and adjust size accordingly. Also the green is added right at the end. 

Ingredients:

  • The vegetables
    • 1 medium size potato, chopped
    • 1 bunch red radish (10-12), chopped (keep the greens)
    • 1 medium sized carrot, chopped
    •  1/2 butternut squash chopped (traditionally pumpkin is used)
    • 1/2 acorn squash, chopped (optional)
    • 1 yellow beet, chopped (optional)
    • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 3-4 green chile pepper, slit
  • 2-3 cups of mixed greens, roughly chopped

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The picture above shows approximate quantity of greens, its a dinner plate heaped with greens. I used a combination of the greens from the radish, baby spinach, baby kale, collard greens and broccoli rabe. Traditionally only spinach  is used.

  • 1 tbsp Paanch Phoron
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ghee (optional)
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Heat oil in a Wok on medium heat, add paanch phoron and celery seeds. Sauté till aromatic.
  2. Add all vegetables (except the greens), turmeric and salt. Sauté, cover and cook till vegetables are done (tender) around 12-15 mins.
  3. Add the green and mix slightly. Cook till the greens wilt. Don’t overcook the greens, this dish is suppose to be dry, overcooking the green will make them release too much water. (Also its healthier)
  4. Remove from heat and add a spoon of ghee at this point if your using it.
  5. Serve with rice or enjoy it as is.

Note:

  • If you want to add some protein in to it, shrimp or scallops is the way to go. Cook the them separately and mix it in before you add the greens.
  • The biggest chunk of effort for this dish is the chopping. To save time use frozen chopped vegetables. I buy my produce from the local farmers market on Sunday Mornings (benefits of living in California). Once I am back I spend a couple hours chopping, bagging and freezing. I have high quality ziplock bags labelled that i rinse and re-use. That way during the week when I actually cook, it’s easy and I don’t have to clean up everyday.

Roasted Cauliflower and Harissa Soup

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A few days back, during the holidays in December, I found myself in Asheville, NC. After hours of walking around from gallery to gallery taking in the local art scene and a tour of the famous Biltmore Estate in slight drizzle I found myself craving for some warm soup. So we walked into this lively restaurant. Everything in the menu sounded delicious, but I didn’t bother looking through the menu as soon as I read ‘Roasted Cauliflower and Harissa Soup’. I love cauliflowers and Harissa is by far my favorite condiment. As luck would have it, they had ran out of just that item from their menu and since then I have been craving for it. I did eat a delicious spread of southern delicacies.. Brisket with a side of collard greens and a glass of Bourbon.

So here’s my version of the soup, hope you enjoy it as much as H and I did.

Its healthy, flavorful, vegetarian and something that will warm you up.

For a recipe for homemade Harissa click here.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 45 mins     Yield: 4 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into smaller florets
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp for garnish
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp sherry or sauterne (optional)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp potato flour (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Harissa + 2 tsp for garnishing.

Process:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F (230C) or if you have a toaster oven, use that.
  2. Place cauliflower in a roasting pan/baking tray, drizzle olive oil and add salt, pepper and Harissa. Toss and coat.
  3. Roast cauliflower until golden brown and tender, around 30-40 mins.
  4. In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 mins. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 mins and lower heat. Add the wine (if using) and caramelize the onions in low heat, 12-15 mins, stirring occasionally.
  5. Sprinkle the potato flour over the onions and stir to coat.
  6. Slowly pour in the broth, whisk until all of the flour is dissolved.
  7. Add the roasted cauliflower and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  8. Puree soup.
  9. Return to the sauce pan and heat over medium flame, until its heated through.
  10. Serve garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and Harissa.

Notes:

  • I like to caramelize onions in low heat, it does take longer but it brings out the sweet flavor of onions. If your in a rush, you can sauté onions in medium high heat and hasten the process.
  • Addition of Sherry/Sauterne is optional, I like adding them because I like the contrast of the sweetness of the onions combined with the wine in contrast to the lingering spice of the Harissa.
  • I used Potato Flour to just make the soup thicker, its optional. You can do without it or use corn starch or cream instead.

 

Summer Squash and Lentil Stew

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Fall is my favorite season! The change of hue in leaves and the blue of the sky, the nip in the air, warm ciders, the festive feel around. With the chill also comes cravings for fresh warm food. My menu is usually dominated by parathas, stews and soups. Farmers market at this time of the year is all about squashes, pears, apples and cauliflower, so is most of the food I cook.

Fall is also the busiest time of the year for my artist career, prepping for the holiday season and my goal with cooking is to make wholesome quick meals. This is just that.

I used summer squash, you can get creative and use other vegetables too. This recipe calls for shallots, simply because I like how they punch in a lot of flavor and integrate easily and cherry tomatoes for the sweetness. You can use 1 regular onion and 1 regular sized tomato instead. The wine and vinegar is optional. The wine add a sweet fruity flavor and the vinegar a sourness that I like, but if you don’t have it handy don’t let that stop you from trying this, a pinch of sugar and some lemon juice will also work great!

I cooked the Lentil and Squash separately because the cooking time of the two is different. If you cook them together, all the squash will become mushy and pasty.

This goes great with Baguettes, rice, pulao or Quinoa Cakes.

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Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 35 mins     Yield: 4-6 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (or any cooking oil you prefer)
  • 3-4 shallots, finely diced
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup sherry (optional)
  • 2 cups french green lentils, rinsed and soaked for 30 mins
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar (optional)
  • 2 cups summer squash, chopped
  • 2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved or 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
  • 6-7 basil leaves, rolled into a bundle and cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Process:

  1. Cooking the Lentil:
    1. Heat 2 tbsp oil in large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, 1 tsp cayenne and salt.
    2. Sauté until softened, about 3-4 mins. Add the wine and sauté till the onions begin to caramelize, around 4-5 mins more.
    3. Add the lentils, green peas and chopped carrots, stir them in and sauté for 2-3 mins.
    4. Add water, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender. Around 20 mins.
  2. Cooking the squash:
    1. While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tbsp oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, summer squash, 1 tsp cayenne and salt. Cook till tender.
  3. Once the lentils are cooked add the sherry vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  4. Putting it together:
    1. Add the cooked summer squash to the lentil and start it in (Or)
    2. In a bowl fist ladle in the lentil, then top it with the squash.
  5. Garnish with basil leaves.

Quinoa Cakes

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Quinoa has been a staple grain in south america for centuries. But in recent times it has become increasingly popular around the world with its nutty flavor and high nutritional value. This is one of my favorite ways to cook quinoa and perfect for fall evenings when there is a little bit of chill in the air and all you want to eat is something warm and something snacky or as husband likes to say ‘Chakna’.

I have served this at brunches, as appetizers and as part of the main course. And its been a hit all around. In this instance I used a boiled potato to bind the quinoa dough but you can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten), see notes for instructions.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins     Yield: ~8 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cumin, roasted and ground
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3-4 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 medium sized potato, boiled and mashed.
  • Oil

Process:

  1. Cooking the Quinoa:
    1. Rinse the quinoa first always, this helps wash away the bitter coating. Make sure to use a fine mesh strainer.
    2. Heat a sauce pan, melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, add the quinoa and sauté for a couple mins. This really brings out a slight nutty flavor.
    3. Add salt and 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper, 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 10- 15 mins in low heat or till all of the water is absorbed by the quinoa.
    4. Turn of the heat and let it sit for 5-10 mins to let it cool down.
  2. Making the Cake Dough:
    1. Heat a griddle, dry roast 2 tsp of cumin, until you smell the aroma. Transfer to a work surface and using a rolling pin roll over and roughly crush the roasted cumin.
    2. Combine the cooled quinoa, salt, cayenne, roasted  and ground cumin, cilantro, fresh green chili and the mashed potato.
    3. You should have a slightly moist dough.
  3. Cooking the Quinoa Cake:
    1. Heat a skillet or griddle pan, lightly oil it. Take around 1/4 cup of the quinoa mixture and form into a ball.
    2. Flatten it into a pancake around 1/4 inch thick.
    3. Place on hot griddle and cook, flip and cook until golden brown on both sides . Takes around 5 mins.
    4. Remove from pan and serve warm.

Notes:

  • I used potatoes here as a binding agent for the quinoa and that made it easy to shape the cakes with hand.
  • You can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten) instead of the potato. In that case you will have a slightly wet mixture. So take around 1/4 cup and make it into a ball. Place it on the greased hot skillet and using a spatula flatten it into a pancake about 1/4 inch thick.
  • This is a vegetarian version, but I have made this by adding chopped cooked shrimp to the quinoa mixture to indulge by seafood cravings.
  • You can also add chopped carrots, grated beet roots etc..,. to the mixture. Have fun experimenting!