September 20, 2023
Originating in ancient Egypt and brought to India by the Persians, naan is one the most popular flatbreads in India. For hundreds of years, it was the part of the decadent cuisine of royal households that did not extend to their subjects. Even today, naan is not commonly found in homes as they are made in large tandoors; barrel shaped wood or charcoal fired clay ovens heated to over 600 degrees F. Restaurants are where most folks go to get naans as home ovens are not common in India. Here in the west, if you have a pizza stone or a hot surface to put bread on, you can make naans at home. Taking a page out of my own book, I adapted the royal naan recipe from Masala to give this bread a thick fluffier consistency yet kept the spirit of a naan intact. I added plums, onions, and seasonings on top. Serve it with yogurt tossed with cumin and black pepper, bean spreads, flavored oils, or ghee as a starter or to accompany a hearty stew.
September 18, 2023
This summer, I decided to start a small vegetable and flower garden in my backyard. I planted tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and fennel, most of which, despite a summer of almost no rain, grew into healthy plants. I hovered over them like a new parent, moving them around to get the right amount of sun or shade. Some, like delicate herbs did not survive the harsh heat but the star of the garden turned out to be two innocuous looking amaranth plants a farmer at the weekend market persuaded me to buy. The drought resistant amaranth grains have been cultivated for millennia by the Aztec and certain parts of Asia and I have often bought the red tinged amaranth greens at Indian or Asian markets. The little plants blossomed quickly into tall gangly stalks, spread their seeds and I now have a mini amaranth farm in my backyard, bursting with bright green leaves, just waiting to be picked. Knowing the power of eating greens, daily, I look for ways to add it to my meals from stirring it into a curry, dal, salad, or a pilaf.
So, here is an amaranth pilaf made with another interesting high fiber grain, millet. Millet is very commonly eaten in India, whole in pilafs and stews or ground into rotis. A few weeks ago, I discovered a special variety called ‘Kodri’, very popular in Gujarat, the state in India where I grew up. It cooks fast, is easy to digest, high in protein and rich in phytochemicals. The Indians believe it helps control blood sugar and other related conditions. But the real reason to eat it is that it is so delicious, it may be good enough to replace white rice!
September 11, 2023
There are few fruits quite as glorious as a ripe black mission fig. Historians believe that figs are as old as humankind and the drought resistant fig tree is one of the first plants to be cultivated during ancient times. While one can prepare jams and chutneys from fresh figs, this often does injustice to their ripe beauty. The best way to enjoy a fig is as a dessert, simply sliced and drizzled with honey or chocolate or as an appetizer with minimal seasoning. Here are figs dipped in melted butter and rolled in sesame seeds and nuts. The butter can be seasoned with salt, red chile or finely minced herbs of your choice. This recipe may be simple but biting into this luscious buttery sesame crusted fig is a luxurious experience. Just eat it as it or place it on warm toast or over marinated greens.