India: Coconut Chutney Challenge

Coconut Chutney, New Delhi Hotel Style

The best coconut chutney I’ve ever had was in our hotel in New Delhi. Perhaps it was because I was jet-lagged, or perhaps I was just happy to have some “real” food after traveling for over 30 hours, but the coconut chutney I ate with my first breakfast in India made an impression on my taste buds. Upon my return to Canada I was determined to re-create it and, after a lot of trial and error, I think this is it! Plain and simple. White and delicious, even though I have to make it with desiccated coconut rather than the grated fresh coconuts found in Delhi.

To get the maximum level of enjoyment from this chutney I recommend that you go on a long journey involving 3 flights and 8 hours in Frankfurt airport, then cover yourself with a thin layer of dust, deeply inhale some smog, have a cold shower and eat this with freshly steamed idli or dosa.

  • 1 tbsp split, skinned urad dhal (it should look white, not black)
  • 1 ½ cups grated fresh or desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 – 1½ cups water, as needed

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Makes about 1 cup. Best eaten on the day it’s prepared, but can be kept overnight in the fridge.

  1. Cook the urad dhal in a small frying pan over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until very lightly browned. Transfer to a small blender.
  2. Put the coconut oil in the pan over a medium heat and add the coconut, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds and salt. Stir for 1-2 minutes or until the coconut is warm and just a few pieces are slightly browned. Transfer to the blender.
  3. Add the water and process until well mixed but not completely smooth.

India: Bean there, done that!

Last year the hubby and I took a trip to India with a small adventure travel company, touring mainly around Rajasthan. We ate some meals in local homes, visited artist co-operatives and saw more palaces, forts and temples than you can imagine. In Jaipur we saw elephants being used to transport tourists up the long, steep, winding stone path leading to the Amber Fort. Our group made the journey on foot – and it was hard work – stopping from time to time to get our breath back under the pretense of admiring the view. Someone asked our guide why we were walking when there were elephants available. I really liked his answer. “Elephants are not supposed to walk on stones up to forts. These elephants are not treated well. They are worked hard and hit with a stick if they are too tired and want to stop. Our tour company does not support such cruelty”. Everyone agreed, and on we went, wiping the sweat off our brows with our Indian shawls.

amber (Copy)Two days later we found ourselves in a camp not far from the border with Pakistan. Every now and again fighter jets flew over, shattering the otherwise total stillness of the desert. We rested for a while on our camp beds, sweating in the afternoon heat, then headed out to meet our guides for a camel safari out into the desert. With thoughts of the Jaipur elephants in my head, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The camels, all chewing in what appeared to be a contented manner, were lined up waiting for us. They looked strong and healthy, obviously well cared for and well fed. Our guides ranged from small boys to wizened old men, and they were among the few we met in India who didn’t speak much English. They’d spent their entire lives living in the desert plains, and now made a living catering to tourists. I know that some people will frown deeply and cry “animal exploitation!” at this point, but I climbed on a camel and headed off into the desert to watch the sun set over the dunes. We journeyed for about half an hour before stopping somewhere in the dunes and dismounted. The camels sat down and relaxed while our guides  lounged around and chatted amongst themselves. Our group held an impromptu sand-dune race while waiting for the sun to set, with one representative from each of our countries – India, England, Northern Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. We all expected our local rep to win, but our police lady from Australia beat them all. We then settled on the sand, occasionally moving to get out of the way of dung beetles, and watched the sun sink over the desert landscape. It was a truly magical experience.

camels (Copy)Our evening meal in the desert camp was the usual fare of breads, yellow dhal, and an assortment of meat or dairy dishes which I couldn’t or wouldn’t eat. There was an additional dish of something which looked like twigs in a spicy sauce. I asked our guide if it was something I could eat. “Yes”, he said. “It’s desert beans” so, after getting confirmation that it was dairy-free, I took a sizable helping. I thought it would be a pleasant relief to eat something other than yellow dhal or eggplants, but as I sat there chewing on the twig-like beans in a focused manner I realised how wrong I had been.

Since getting home, I’ve played with green beans of the Canadian variety and served them alongside chick pea or lentil curries, and nobody has asked me if I accidentally cooked some twigs I found buried in the snow. The flavour takes me back to the deserts of India and makes me smile.

Rajasthan Desert Beans

If you don’t use refined oils, cook the spices briefly in 2 tbsp of boiling water instead of the coconut oil, stirring constantly so they don’t stick and burn.

  • 2 tbsp oil (I like to use coconut oil)
  • 2 pinches asafoetida (hing)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4  tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp crushed dried red chillies, or to taste
  • 4 cups green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the hing and stir round then add the cumin seeds, garam masala, salt, coriander, mango powder, turmeric and chillies. Fry briefly then stir in the green beans, fresh coriander and raisins. Mix well. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how soft you like your beans. Serve hot.

If you want a more authentic experience, scour your local Indian grocery store for dried desert beans. Soak them in water for 8 – 10 hours then drain and rinse well. Boil in plenty of water for 2 minutes then drain before using in the recipe.They will be twig-like.

DesertBeans (Copy)After eating this dish, retreat to your tent under the stars and lie on your camp bed dreaming of your adventures. Get up well before dawn, eat a hearty breakfast of dhal and rotis then head off on the next step of your journey, pausing to watch the sun rise over the desert. And maybe pray that the next place you stop at, unlike all the previous hotels and camps, has both a shower and hot water.

Karen 🙂

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I’m a Two-Faced Vegan

I recently had the pleasure (!) of spending time in the company of someone who turned out to be totally two-faced, which upset me greatly. As I sat in front of my laptop, metaphorically picking at old scabs and feeling betrayed, I flicked through photos I’ve taken of food. In case you haven’t worked it out yet – I love cooking. It makes me happy. Suddenly I started to smile. I may not personally be two-faced (what you see is what you get, much to the annoyance of some people) but my cooking certainly is! There were two distinct voices popping up on my screen. One said “I really can’t be bothered. Throw it in a pot and be done with it” while the other voice crooned “Nothing is too much trouble when creating a meal”. Some dishes used cans and pre-mixed spices. Others were multi-item meals, with everything made from scratch. Some looked like they were thrown together by a total slob, others were prepared to be placed before royalty. Two faces. Two types of delicious food.

It surprises me when people say they don’t have the time to cook veg#n meals, obviously assuming that each one takes a tremendous amount of thought and effort. But in reality it’s so easy to replace meat with non-meat items and basically continue to eat the same way as before. I recently spent a week in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in the UK, where we would co-ordinate our efforts to feed both the omnivores and me with minimal effort. Roast potatoes, roast veggies and lamb for them. The same for me but with the lamb replaced by vegan patties. On another day they had salmon, cooked in the oven. I threw some marinade (it was a thai salad dressing I found in her cupboard) on tofu and cooked it at the same time. One day they had new potatoes, corn, veg stir fry and steak. I had the same with Linda McCartney’s veggie sausages instead of steak. Being vegan took no more effort than eating meat. And it was a lot cheaper. One night I cooked something that I would eat at home, preparing it to feed a crowd when Alan’s sister and family were with us. I used canned chick peas, a pre-mixed curry blend, canned coconut milk and a blob of tomato paste to knock up a chick pea curry. It was served with potatoes fried with spinach and garlic. Very little effort, low cost and a very tasty little (if kinda sloppy looking) meal 🙂

Other quick and easy ideas for dinner include:

  • Spaghetti bolognaise using veggie grounds instead of meat. Top with grated vegan cheese if you want.
  • White kidney beans, mushrooms and green peppers cooked in a jar of pasta sauce on top of rottini.
  • Veggie burger on a bun, with all the usual trimmings
  • Grilled faux chicken breasts (yes, they do exist!) topped with salsa and served with a baked potato and salad

This photo below was our dinner on Monday. I arrived back in Canada on Sunday and hadn’t gone shopping. It was rice noodles in vegan stock (using a stock cube) with Chinese picked veggies (from a jar), a tomato I found lurking somewhere and general Tao vegan chicken (from a bag in the freezer). Throw it all in a pan, boil it up and eat.  Hot, filling and delicious, with the bare minimum of effort.

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The other face of my vegan cooking takes itself a bit more seriously. Home made tofu. Curries made using multiple packets of spices. A multi-item Ethiopian platter (see last week’s blog for details). When people are coming round for dinner things usually ramp up a notch, especially if they are taste-testing recipes for me. We eat a huge variety of dishes until we can’t eat any more, and then try to fit in a dessert. It takes planning, time and effort, and if we ate this way all the time I think I would go mad. But sometimes its fun to spend time in the kitchen creating a meal. Last night this is what we had:

  • Home made tofu served 2 ways
  • Edamame, daikon (white radish), pepper and mushroom salad
  • Futo maki made with white rice, enoki mushrooms, cucumber and pepper
  • Futo maki made with brown rice, rolled in edamame-wasabi puree and panko then fried until crispy, stuffed with sweet potato, yellow pepper and cucumber
  • Miso soup (from a packet on this occasion – look for vegan ones without bonito)
  • Stuffed tofu skins

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It took less time than you might think – the tofu took 15 minutes. The rice cooked itself in the rice cooker. I stuck to a small number of veggies and didn’t do any fancy chopping. But it certainly took longer than opening a can of beans 🙂

So the next time someone says “I don’t have the time to be cook veg#n food”, ask them what they think a vegan meal looks like. They might not be aware that vegan meals have two faces!

Whatever you decide to cook this week, enjoy it. Perhaps you could try something new, quick, tasty and healthy. Maybe even something vegan….

Karen 🙂

Accepting the Ethiopian Challenge!

One of the Facebook groups I belong to, which is full of the loveliest people ever, issued a challenge to its members to create a vegan meal based on the cooking of Ethiopia. I’ve never been to Africa, and I’ve only once been to an Ethiopian restaurant, which unfortunately gave me a nasty case of upset insides. But I’m always up for a challenge so I decided to give it a go. I reached for my old cookbook “The World in your Kitchen”, which I bought when it first came out way back in 1999, and started my quest for tasty nosh. I found a page with scribbled writing on it, showing that I’d already made the dish at some point in the past. Ethiopian lentil wat. Bring it on! I then reached for Marcus Samuelson’s  book ” Soul of a New Cuisine”, knowing that he had a version of injera which, while not vegan, used a method which didn’t involve letting batter ferment for 3 days. Call me a wimp, but I don’t really like my house smelling of fermentation. I also didn’t like it smelling of rotting vegetables when my eldest did a science fair project years ago….but that’s a (rather rancid) story for another day. I’ve made injera before using both the long and short methods, playing with different types of flour. Teff flour gives the most authentic flavour if my one trip to an Ethiopian restaurant is anything to go by, but I prefer wheat flour with a dash of lemon juice. Obviously this isn’t an option if you’re gluten intolerant, but since my gluten-free son isn’t here at the moment I can indulge in a wheaty treat or two 🙂

I know that a meal of lentils and bread is quite adequate and very filling, but I wanted more so I added a dish of greens to go with it. And then I thought….what about a faux chicken wat? I bet I could knock one of those up pretty quickly! And so it continued. We’ll be eating the left-overs for days, which is great because I’m all cooked out!

A traditional drink in Ethiopia is honey wine, but I replaced it with a little white number from France. Not to sweet, but full bodied and easy to drink. Hubby and I are not big dessert-eaters so we wrapped it all up with a nice cup of coffee, taking the non-traditional route of adding soy milk.

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Success!!! I’m looking forward to the next challenge, wherever it may be. Why don’t you have some fun in your kitchen this week? Try the recipes here, or pop off on a culinary adventure to your dream destination. If you’re not a veg#n why not challenge yourself to go without any animal products for a whole day? Be creative and have some fun.

Karen 🙂

Ethiopian Lentil Wat (Modified from The World in your Kitchen by the New Internationalist)

  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils, washed thoroughly and any stones removed
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tbsp oil (preferably groundnut)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chilies (or cayenne powder)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • pinch ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground fenugreek (methi)
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Simmer the lentils gently in the water for 20 or until tender. Partially cover the pan and watch them carefully – they have a nasty habit of boiling over as soon as they think you’re not looking! Or maybe that’s a problem unique to me….. I find soaking them in cold water for 30 minutes before cooking helps reduce the foaming.

When the lentils are almost ready, fry the onion in the oil over a medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic, vinegar and spices along with 2 tbsp water. Cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t burn.

Mix the spices into the cooked lentils and add salt to taste. Cover and leave over a low heat for 10 minutes for the flavours to mingle.

Faux Chicken Wat

  • 2 tbsp oil, preferably peanut
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 6 cloves (crushed if you prefer)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (3 -4 cups)
  • 4 faux chicken breasts
  • 2 1/2 cups vegan chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp lime juice

Fry the garlic, onion, spices and salt in the oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onion softens. Add the sweet potatoes and faux chicken. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the lime juice then remove the faux chicken and cut into bite-size portions before returning it to the wat. Serve with grains or injera – it will be quite runny. And when you reheat your left-overs the next day it will taste even better.

Quick Vegan Injera (Modified from Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelson)

  • 2 cups wholewheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice and left to thicken for 5 minutes
  • 3 – 4 cups club soda (the batter should be thin)
  • 2 tbsp oil, preferably peanut

Mix together the flours, baking soda, salt, thickened soy milk and half the club soda.Stir well to create a smooth paste and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining club soda. Pour a small amount of oil onto a griddle or flat-bottomed frying pan over a medium heat. Pour 1/2 cup of batter (or as needed to create a thin layer) into the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Cover and cook for another 30 seconds or until the batter is firm. Remove from the pan and keep warm while you cook the other injera.

Ethiopian-ish Greens

Chop up the greens of your choice and saute in 2 tbsp spiced coconut oil. Add salt to taste.

To knock up a batch of spiced coconut oil, add the following spices to 2 cups of coconut oil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Check on it regularly – you don’t want the spices to burn. Allow to cool then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. I suggest doing this in small portions as it’s quite hard when it sets!.

Spiced Coconut Oil

  • 2 cups coconut oil (measured while solid)
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (methi)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil