Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Muligatawny Soup Minus Meat: Hey, it's still Lent for some of us

Muligatawny soup is one of those fusion foods that fused so long ago that it took on its own life. A 19th Century British soup, it is derived from the Indian cuisine that the British enjoyed so much in their favorite colonial territory, the "Indian Raj". Muligatawny was made with lamb or chicken, lentils, and the sorts of spices that cooks in India combined to make some of their curries. And for very British reasons that I can't fathom, the soup contained apples. The origin is the South Indian "muligatuny", or "pepper water" in Tamil (the language that also gave us the word curry), a thin vegetarian lentil broth which is served as an accompaniment and moistener with rice and savory snacks and which can be quite fiery with black and red pepper and strangely fragrant with asafoetda or "hing". The Anglo-Indian muligatawny is fairly distant from this, usually somewhat thick and with meat.

Given how far this fusion wandered from both Indian and English cuisines, I have few qualms about pushing it further. Although I make a chicken or turkey-based muligatawny for our family deli in Athens, Donderos' Kitchen, I also make a purely vegetarian version (in that respect closer to the Indian original) but have worked in one of my favorite vegetables, sweet potato, which is not at all Indian or British. The lentils are there, the little red "Egyptian" lentils, or "masoor dal" in Hindi, giving protein and body to the soup. (These lentils are readily available at health food and at Indian shops.) The spices are the sort used in Tamil cooking (of which I ate a lot during those years in Malaysia) minus the odiferous asafoetida which I like but which is not to everyone's taste.

The occasion recently to make this soup was the challenge to prepare another tasty, nourishing, as well as purely vegetarian (read "vegan") lunch dish in the middle of Lent for my wife Christina's midday staff meeting at St. Bartholemew's Episcopal Church, where she is a Deacon. Here's my recipe.

Sweet Potato Muligatawny Soup Tim

Soak 1-1/2 cups red lentils in boiling water while preparing the next ingredients.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
Place sweet potatoes on roasting pan and sprinkle then mix with salt, pepper, and oil. Roast about 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until tender and starting to brown. Break up the chunks with a fork or potato masher.

Chop 1 large onion finely in Cuisinart (do not purée) or by hand. Then in a large soup pot, fry the onion in a little canola oil, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile finely chop:
3 large cloves garlic
1-1/2 inches fresh ginger sliced paper thin before chopping
Add to Cuisinart and chop:
1 carrot (ends off but not peeled)
1 small bell pepper, cored
2 small or 1-1/2 large apples, peeled and cored

Add the chopped ingredients to the onions and fry the mixture, adding just enough canola oil so as not to stick, until translucent and just beginning to brown. Stir in and fry briefly:
2 large bay leaves
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed (you may need to get whole fennel seeds and grind or finely chop them)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Add 8 cups water and simmer a few minutes. Add 1/2 (18-ounce) can coconut milk plus the soaked lentils, drained, and simmer until becoming tender and breaking up, adding more water, if needed, to keep from getting too thick. STIR FREQUENTLY SO THE LENTILS DO NOT STICK TO BOTTOM OF POT.

Add 1 cup crushed tomato, the roasted sweet potato and any pan drippings, and 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer 10 minutes. Skim off foam and excess oil. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt as needed.

Stir in 1-1/2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice plus 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro as soup is transferred to serving bowl.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Irish Soda Bread for St. Paddy's Day Tea

For a baking class on "breads of the world" I will be doing at our deli in Athens Monday with a troop of Girl Scouts who are working on a merit badge, I researched something I've made before and always found intriguing: Irish Soda Bread. When I had the "real" thing years ago, at a mission convent of Irish nursing nuns in the mountains in western Cameroon, Sr. Joan Russell, a nurse midwife, called it "brown bread". Apparently in the north of Ireland it is also called "wheaten" bread. I had it warm and slathered with butter and fresh cheese and accompanied by Irish whisky, sipped neat (hey, the good Sisters were Irish -- and their post-partum mothers were always given a full glass of Guiness Stout, provided free by the caseload by the Guiness Brewery). The bread and whisky (note no "e" in whisky from Scotland and Ireland) were for "tea" and enjoyed seated in front of a stone fireplace with a crackling fire in the nuns' home on a misty chill late afternoon. It was hardly the weather you expect in West Africa, nor the food, nor the company.

The real peasant soda bread is simple, made with whole wheat and white flour, oatmeal (optional), salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. (Irish flour was low in gluten, being light for baking but also not so good for yeast-raised breads.) The leavening action is from carbon dioxide bubbles released by the interaction of lactic acid from the buttermilk and the bicarbonate of the baking soda. Traditional soda bread has no shortening or sweetening, but can have some currants or raisins in it, in which case it can be called "spotted dog". Thus the bread is simple, requires no yeast, and could have been quickly made in the Irish countryside with readily available ingredients, and baked in a 3-legged iron pan nestled in the embers of the fire with some additional hot embers on the iron lid to bake the top. The bread is best warm, either just after baking or, if eaten later, toasted.

So here is the recipe I will use with the girl scouts. When tested last night and for breakfast this morning, it was a bit dense but tasted great, with a delicious wheaty taste and no soda aftertaste. I used stone-ground whole wheat flour and the South's secret baking ingredient, White Lily flour, made from soft winter wheat -- the flour that makes biscuits light.

Irish Soda Bread Tim

2 cups whole wheat flour, preferably stone ground
2 cups plain flour (White Lily or other soft flour preferred)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
About 2 cups buttermilk

Combine the flour, oats, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add enough buttermilk to form a soft dough, but do not over mix. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead the dough very lightly and do not overwork or bread will develop gluten and become tough.

Shape into one large or two smaller rounds and place on a greased baking tray. Flatten the bread a little and cut a deep cross in the top of the round. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F for 20-30 minutes until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Eat while still warm with butter or with butter and jam!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto for Isabella's Birthday

Heading into her first birthday, Isabella, the youngest in our family, sampled the artichoke antipasto before it was completed and baked. And loved it. But what she had was closer to a purely artichoke spread or dip, rather than the cauliflower and artichoke baked version with cheese. So here is the "original", which is a dish I developed a few years ago and have taught several times for my Evening At Emory international cooking classes.

I’m not sure this earthy dish actually corresponds to an Italian antipasto, but if it does not, it certainly is consistent with one. More important, it serves extremely well at the beginning of an Italian meal, or at the buffet table, scooped onto warm crusty bread. It's especially good in cold weather. Like Isabella's birthday today in Boston.

Hot Artichoke-Cauliflower Antipasto Tim

2 cauliflower flowerets, about 2/3 cup
1/2 scallion (green onion), green part only
1 small clove garlic
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts (not the marinated type)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
5/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or 3 squirts hot pepper sauce
Large pinch nutmeg
3/4 cup half and half or light cream
3 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Minced parsley for garnish
French or Italian bread or low-salt crackers for serving

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Using a food processor, finely chop the cauliflower, scallion, and garlic. Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts and add them to the food processor. Add the mayonnaise, salt, oregano, black and red pepper, and nutmeg. Chop the mixture finely. Add the half and half or cream and the grated cheese. Pulse to mix well.

Spread the mixture about 1-inch deep in an ovenproof serving dish. Sprinkle the top with paprika. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until bubbling and beginning to brown. (Warm the bread in the oven after turning off the heat.)

Serve the artichoke antipasto hot or warm, sprinkled with minced parsley. Spoon or spread onto pieces of warm bread or crackers.