Monday, September 29, 2008

Millennium Cooking Class: Indian Summer

Above: Poori: Brown Rice Salad with Quince, Cucumber, Pistachio and Radish in a Sumac Vinaigrette; Black Lentil-Coconut Curry; Sicilian Eggplant and Sweet Pepper Salad with Mint.

This Sunday, I enjoyed another fantastic vegan cooking class at Millennium with uber-chef Eric Tucker. The theme was Indian summer produce, so lots of chiles, along with a wide range of transitional seasonal produce from tomatoes to fresh beans to squash.

The class is made up of 10 enthusiastic students who break into 2 groups of 5 and prepare variations of planned dishes. While there's an element of competition between the two groups, the set-up creates an enjoyable team cooking approach, with two assistants (this weekend Thomas and Veronica) and Chef Eric to guide and enlighten.

One thing I really love about the classes is that using your brain, creativity, and intuition is strongly encouraged. If you're an absolute beginner, fear not, you'll get detailed explanations of ingredients and how to work with them . If you have some experience and express your own ideas, interests, and suggestions, Chef Eric immediately adapts to your level and starts throwing questions your way "taste this...what do you think is missing here? what do you want to do with this?" And this happens amid a fair amount of kitchen chaos and the need to meet a deadline (the dinner crew shows up at 3:30 pm).

The highlights of the class for me were the black lentil-coconut curry and the delicious Chick pea socca pizza dough (gluten-free).

Chef Eric has graciously allowed me to reproduce the easy and incredibly tasty black lentil-coconut curry recipe (see the end of this post). This was an on-the-fly recipe I made with Eric's guidance. You just have to try this one! It's a crowd pleaser!
Below are the chickpea socca dough pizza's. The dough is simply chickpea flour, a little EVOO, salt and water and a little sauteed rosemary with garlic mixed in. We had a wide range of toppings including cashew cream cheese, tomatoes, fresh herbs, smoked onions, sauteed horseradish greens, grapes, chanterelles and matzutake mushrooms:

Honestly, I think I like the socca pizza dough better than regular pizza dough and (to my total surprise) my 8 year old had some and was, "'s soooo good!".

Oven-roasted tomato jam:

White Bean Gratin with Pine nut toasted bread crumbs:

Indian roasted Okra and Tomato (cooked under the broiler to dry the okra and avoid that gelatinous aspect so few appreciate in okra).

And a sumptuous dessert of super-moist apple-pumpkin-roasted pineapple upside down cake with pineapple-coconut sorbet with candied chiles:

Links to previous posts on Millennium cooking classes:
  • Southern Comfort Cooking Class

  • Spring Cooking Class

  • Fall Harvest Cooking Class

  • Chiles Class

  • Tomatoes Class

  • Black Lentil Coconut Curry:
    2TBS grape seed oil
    1 large white onion, finely chopped
    1 chile (seeded and finely chopped), serrano or cayenne (control the heat by removing the membrane ribs)
    1/3 cup ginger, peeled & finely chopped
    1/4 cup chopped garlic
    1 TBSP whole coriander seed
    1 TBSP cumin seed
    12 fresh curry leaves, whole
    1 TBSP black mustard
    4 cups black lentils (precooked)
    3 pinches of salt
    2 cups coconut milk
    RCP, sauteed in oil for 30 seconds, as needed to adjust heat
    2 TBS chopped cilantro leaves
    Chat masala to garnish

    Heat the grape seed oil in a pan and add saute the onion and ginger. Add the chile and saute for 2 minutes. Add the spices and saute for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the curry leaves and cook 1 additional minute. Add the precooked black lentils and salt, stir to coat, and cook 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and cook until it starts to thicken 4-5 minutes. Taste for heat and, if not hot enough, saute RCP in oil for 30 seconds and add to mixture. Add the chopped cilantro leaves at the end and adjust for salt.

    Serve in a bowl, topped with Chat masala.

    Serves 10 as a side, 5 as a main with poori or nan.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Tamale-Stuffed Mini Peppers

    Aren't these adorable?

    They were delicious too! OK - here's a really easy, cheater's recipe:

    I gently grilled the deseeded mini peppers over the stove top. I used one of those grill pans with all the little holes, because the peppers are too small to do on my gas stove (kept falling off). Just grilled gently until lightly blackened. Took a Donna's kids corn tamale and cooked in the microwave. Took it out and mashed it with grated cheddar. Stuffed the mix back into the peppers and put them under the grill with a drizzle of EVOO for 2 1/2 minutes. Added the tops back for looks!

    They were lovely and made a meal along with some guacamole, salsa and chips.

    Cute and easy!

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Burger with Roasted Heirlooms

    Now that's an amazing veggie burger! Topped with gently roasted heirloom tomatoes (kindly donated by a work colleague), with EVOO, white balsamic, salt and pepper.

    Aren't they lovely?

    They were also amazingly sweet (I ate the extras plain - they were like candy!)

    I piled this burger high with red onion, gherkins, a little ketchup, a dab of mayo, and a few thin slices of roasted yellow zucchini. It looks so huge in this picture, I almost can't believe how quickly it was gone!

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    Burrata over Heirloom Tomato & Cucumber Salad

    Working for an Italian chef, this year I discovered a fabulous new Italian cheese: Burrata. While not good for my waistline or my pocket book, this cheese is really an incredible treat. I enjoyed this for dinner over an heirloom tomato, cucumber, and red onion salad dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

    Burrata comes in a ball and the outside is a stringy fresh mozzarella and the inside is a combination of mozzarella and cream. When you break open the mozzarella shell (no toughness here), the creamy inside flows out. It's really amazing!

    For an excellent description, see this page at Mangia Bene Pasta. I got mine at A. G. Ferrari and it was perfectly fresh. I bought some at Whole Foods a few weeks ago and it was already off. According to my source at A.G. Ferrari, it lasts 5 days in the fridge.

    (Warning: Like most mozzarellas, Burrata uses rennet to curdle the warm milk. If you only enjoy rennetless cheeses, this one isn't for you.)

    Previously, I've enjoyed Burrata on top of baguette slices, but it was so good with my delicious heirloom tomato salad (the tomato was so sweet and perfect) that I ended up skipping the baguette. I garnished my salad with kalamata olives, but with one bite realized that they overpowered the wonderfully fresh, mild flavor of the cheese and the tomato salad. A nice mild and meaty cerignola olive would be a great improvement.

    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    Eggplant Curry with Thai Kettle Rice Cakes

    This late night photo really doesn't do this delicious eggplant curry justice. It was awfully good and, no those aren't rice krispies on top, those are crumbled fresh Thai Kettle Rice Cake.

    I'm not a big rice cake fan, but after a taste of these amazing fresh rice cakes at my local farmers market, I was hooked. $4 for four large cakes, but they are an amazing treat. They really melt in your mouth!

    Here's a close-up so you can see how delicate they are:

    And, bagged with the label (in case you're a local and want to find out how you can try them!).

    The eggplant curry was based on a recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I recently borrowed this from the library, and it took me only a few brief moments to decide to order my own copy. I'm not a big fan of the massive, comprehensive cookbook, and I almost never buy cookbooks without beautiful photographs of the food (no photos in this book), but this one just has such a lot to offer. More than simply lots of recipes (and variations), the book also has tips, ideas, and instructions on technique. This would be a perfect gift for a fledgling vegetarian, but also has a lot to offer for veterans.

    Anyway, back to the eggplant curry...

    This was very simple and I really kept the amount of oil down (1 1/2 tsp). It, therefore, didn't have the indulgent oily richness of many restaurant eggplant dishes and the eggplant maintained some of it's fluffy texture. I used only the smallest amount of light coconut milk also, so the result was dry rather than creamy, but it packed a lot of taste. I thought about adding smoked tofu, but decided it would be better with a lighter, fluffier tofu and smoked was all I had. A few salty peanuts were added for protein.

    Eggplant Curry with Crumbled Rice Cakes:

    1 large chinese eggplant, sliced, then each slice cut into quarters
    1 1/2 tsp canola oil
    1 large garlic clove, minced
    1 inch cube of peeled ginger, cut into tiny dice
    1 tsp garam masala (or curry powder)
    sea salt
    1/4 cup light coconut milk
    chopped cilantro (1-2 TBS, or as desired)
    Thai Kettle rice cakes or serve over rice

    Salt the eggplant and leave in a colander for 30 minutes.

    Heat the oil in a pan and fry the garlic for 1 minute over medium low heat. Add the ginger, cook about 30 seconds, then add the garam masala. Add the eggplant and cook for 6- 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt and coconut milk and cook an additional 6-8 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro right at the end.

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Spinach and Lentil Curry

    I've been salivating for Indian food ever since I picked up India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide from the library. This is a definite purchase item. Gorgeous photographs and I want to try every recipe! This is a rare recommendation.

    This recipe is an adapted version of the book's Palak Dal (Gujarati-Style Spinach and Lentils). I have to admit, I've made many Indian dishes, but none with spinach. Palak Paneer (spinach with Indian cheese) is the best-known Indian spinach dish, but this cookbook has a number of interesting new spinach variations. And because the spinach is pureed in a blender or food processor, it works for those who don't like that succulent spinach teeth-squeaky characteristic.

    I made the following modifications:

  • I added diced potato to make it more of a meal

  • I used yellow lentils instead of split mung beans

  • I added a pinch of ground cumin and a pinch of ground corriander

  • I added 1/4 cup fresh pureed cilantro to the spinach

  • I added 5 pinches of sea salt

  • I cut the 2 fresh small green chilis to 1/2 large jalapeno chile, deribbed (next time I'd use a whole one as it was a little too mild for me, but this is up to personal taste - recipe adjusted for this.)

  • The spinach adds a freshness to this dish, but the spinach flavor is extremely mild, so it's a great recipe even for those who aren't really into spinach. I followed the recipe quantities and would say this makes two hearty portions. The original recipe is for the sauce base and says it serves four with a vegetable stir fry.

    Spinach & Lentil Curry:

    2 - 2 1/2 cups water
    3/4 cup yellow lentils
    3 small potatoes, diced
    5 oz spinach
    1/4 cup cilantro leaves
    1 pinch sea salt
    1 TBS sunflower seed oil of ghee
    1 large garlic clove, minced
    1/2" cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
    1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, deribbed, and chopped
    1 pinch mustard seeds (I used yellow, but black if you have them)
    1 pinch cumin seeds
    1 pinch ground cumin
    1 pinch ground coriander
    juice of half a lemon (essential)
    4 pinches of sea salt

    Rinse the lentils and add to a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes, then add diced potatoes. Simmer an additional 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain excess water.

    In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 TBS sunflower oil. Toast the garlic, mustard seeds, cumin seeds for 1 minute. Add the ground cumin and coriander. Cook another minute and turn off heat.

    In a blender of food processor, blend the spinach, 1/2 TBS sunflower oil, fresh coriander, and a pinch of salt until pureed.

    After draining the water from the lentil mix, add the toasted spices and pureed spinach/coriander. Add lemon juice and salt to taste (I added 4 pinches).

    An after-thought was that this dish would benefit from a creamy spoonful of raita (plain yogurt, grated cucumber, salt, pepper, ground cumin). This was good alone, but for a more substantial meal, serve over rice or with nan (Indian bread).