May 29, 2023
An edible berry of a plant native to South and Central America, the Aztec word tomatl is the original derivative for the word tomato that once started out as a tiny wild fruit. An immensely popular vegetable across cultures and a rich source of umami flavor, the tomato has however, also been the victim of rampant genetic modifications to make it bigger, more abundant on the vine, give it color variations and resistant to bugs. At the time, I paid little attention to the richly red tomatoes my mother would use in cooking but on trips in recent years, I notice how deeply flavorful tomatoes are in India. While in New York, I also grew to appreciate the famous New Jersey tomato that appears in farmer’s markets across state lines late July and August, which many swear is the best tomato in America.
In Houston however, the local fresh tomato season is no more than 2 to 3 months and heralds the end of spring and the beginning of summer. For the past few weeks, I’ve been gleefully picking out giant yellow, orange, and red heirloom tomatoes from Good Thyme Farms and dropping them in dals and curries or in salads and sandwiches. Most of them have ripened on the vine and are packed with flavor. Trying to mimic a tomato soup we enjoyed at a cardamom farm while in India earlier this year, I made a new version every few days until I arrived at one that gave me the satisfaction the one in India did. A few small spoons of aromatic spices elevate the soup; the cardamom adds a sweet aroma and the coriander a lemony flavor to accentuate the tomato. Enjoy it warm or chilled.
May 27, 2023
A few days ago, I overheard a friend say that pho is his all-time favorite go to food, be it for celebration, comfort, or sickness. I can understand why, chicken soup is beloved around the world and the Vietnamese pho is particularly delicious with its rich broth and infusion of aromatic herbs. But it got me thinking that chicken soup is also like a blank canvas that can take on the flavors of all regions of the world from Tuscany to Chengdu to Kerala. India is not a country of soups however there are umpteen aromatic soup like lentil and vegetable stews and curries, usually eaten with rice or such.
Here is a soup inspired by the coast of Kerala using cardamom and black pepper native to that region. Like most curries, this soup tastes best a few hours later or the day after when all the flavors have had some time together and mellowed out. The most flavorful bones to use for soup are chicken feet, which until recently, were only available in Asian grocery stores. Coconut milk adds a touch of creaminess, and the ginger adds a sharp bite. If you have leftovers, freeze it and it will make for a wonderful meal a few months down the road.
May 17, 2023
Sugar free or gently sweetened sweets have become arguably one of the most requested things at bakeries and restaurants, at least in urban settings. I understand why. Sugar, practically a drug that many of us are addicted to, is something we all need less of. A touch of sweetness is also something we also crave, a quick muffin in the morning, a cupcake with an afternoon tea or a good piece of chocolate after dinner. Alternately, an element that we all do need more of is dietary fiber via grains like wheat bran, millet, and sorghum, which are abundant in fiber. There is also plenty of fiber in fruits and vegetables and given that local blueberries are in season, I incorporated both the elements, less sugar, and more fiber into a muffin. Maple syrup takes the place of sugar and wheat bran adds the fiber. They are super easy to make – whisk the wet ingredients, then add the dry, pour and bake. A sprinkle of sugar on top is a tiny indulgence but feel free to leave this out.