Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Curried Chickpeas: Chana Masala or Chole

As Lent kicks in, today being Ash Wednesday, vegetarian dishes seem right to me since I grew up in the "old" Catholic days. Though a full carnivore, I particularly enjoy vegetarian cooking. The most extensive meatless cuisine, and one of the most delicious, is certainly Indian.

Chickpeas, kabuli chana in Hindi, are a classical legume of Central Asian origin that have also been eaten in the Middle East and southern Europe for millennia. They have the typical good attributes of legumes -- protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, low cost, easy storage, and delicious flavor.

Here's one of the classical North Indian chickpea curries. Most commonly called "chole," the richest variety is also called "chana masala." Most of the many versions I have tasted contain both tomato and some sort of dairy ingredient, yogurt, thickened milk, or even cream. Sometimes there is a hint of sweetness.

This recipe serves six, and should be accompanied either by white rice, preferably Basmati rice (see blog entry of 1/26/08), or by naan or other flat bread, warm. A raita (see blog entry of 4/25/08) or plain yogurt make a good condiment.

Chickpea Curry (Chole or Chana Masala)

2 large onions
4 tablespoons butter plus 4 tablespoons canola oil
4 large cloves garlic
1-1/2 inches fresh ginger
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper or cayenne
4 tomatoes, fresh, or 1-1/2 cups canned
1/2 cup plain yoghurt
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzos)
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish

Chop onions coarsely or slice thinly lengthwise. In large low-sided pot, over medium heat fry the onions in butter and oil, stirring frequently until translucent and beginning to turn golden, 10 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, finely mince garlic and ginger (thinly sliced before mincing), or pound them to a paste in a mortar. Chop tomatoes. When onions are ready, add garlic and ginger and fry gently 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove pan from heat and add spices. Return pan to stove and fry gently, stirring constantly, about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add chopped tomatoes, and stir and fry mixture several minutes until tomatoes start to break down.

Beat yoghurt lightly and add to pan. Simmer until mixture bubbles and starts to thicken, several minutes. Add water and salt. Simmer several more minutes.

Meanwhile drain and rinse chickpeas. Add to curry mixture along with sugar. Let simmer several minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream. Add a little water if too thick. Taste a chickpea plus a little sauce, and add salt if necessary. Simmer several more minutes.

Turn off heat and allow curry to sit, covered, at least 20 minutes to season. Or cool, and refrigerate up to several days. To serve, reheat, if cooled. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Serve in a low bowl, garnished with chopped cilantro leaves. Accompany with rice or Indian bread or warm pita bread.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Latin American Fruit-Cheese Turnovers (Pasteles de Guyaba y Queso)

While unfamiliar to US tastes, the Latin American combination of guava and cheese is classical. Sweetened guava paste slices are served with cheddar cheese as both a snack and a dessert in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The combination of the tangy preserved fruit and mellow cheese also makes a great filling in buttery crusted or puff-paste turnovers many places in South America. We make these, with popular success, at our deli in Athens, and when served as a coffee snack or dessert for Latino-themed catering, they are well received and ordered again many times.

The recipe below is for a crust made at home, though not complicated. An alternative is to buy commercial puff paste and cut it into squares, fill with guava paste and cheese, fold over into triangular turnovers, glaze them and bake them.

The recipe makes 10 large turnovers.

Guava-Cheese Turnovers: Latin American Pasteles de Guyaba y Queso

3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (3/8 teaspoon if using unsalted butter)
2 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) cold butter (lard was traditional)
1 whole egg
1 egg separated
Ice and water
Granulated sugar for topping

If using a food processor, in the container fitted with a metal blade combine dry ingredients by pulsing several times. Cut butter into 1-inch chunks and add to flour mixture. Pulse briefly a number of times, until mixture resembles cornmeal but still has visible bits of butter. Remove to large mixing bowl. If making by hand, mix dry ingredients in bowl and cut in butter with a pastry knife or two table knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a large measuring cup, place whole egg plus white from second egg (putting second egg yolk in a small bowl). With a fork, beat egg and egg white until well combined, then add ice plus water to reach 2/3 cup. Stir. Make depression in flour mixture in bowl, and with a table knife, fluff flour while slowly adding about half a cup of the egg mixture. Lightly lift and combine mixture with knife, adding a little more egg mixture as necessary to moisten flour and until a ball starts to form. Do not make it overly wet. Gently knead and fold dough on a floured board about 7 to 8 times, shaping into a rough square. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate while preparing filling.

1/4 pound mild cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 lb cream cheese or Mexican fresh white cheese, queso blanco
1/2 pound guava paste (available in long cakes or in cans in Mexican and Latino sections of supermarkets or in Latino grocery stores), or substitute guava jam or other fruit jam

Combine cheeses. Divide mixture into 10 portions. Cut guava paste into 10 pieces.

Assembly: Using a fork, beat egg yolk with 1-1/2 tablespoons water in a small bowl to make egg glaze. Set aside. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut pastry dough into two pieces, one a little smaller than the other. Beginning with smaller piece, shape it into a square on a floured board, and roll it out into a thin square a little larger than 10 inches on a side. Turn crust over several times as you roll it, dusting more flour under it. With pastry knife trim away the edges so as to have an even 10-inch square. (Add trimmings to the unrolled dough.) Cut the square into four square pieces.

On each square place one portion of cheese mixture in an oval on one half of the pastry toward one corner (to fold crust into a triangle shape), leaving a margin of about an inch. Place a piece of guava paste (or 1 rounded tablespoon jam) into the cheese on each square. With fingers or a brush, moisten edges of pastry with egg glaze. Carefully fold pastry over filling so edges meet, forming a triangle, and press edges together gently. Place turnover on a cookie sheet which has been oiled or has baking parchment paper on it. Using a fork, seal edges together, flouring the fork between pressing into edge of the crust. When turnovers are sealed, with fingers or brush spread some egg glaze over the top. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Stick the fork into the top of each turnover and twist gently so a small steam vent is created.

Now take other piece of dough plus the scraps, and shape into a rectangle. As before, roll out evenly but this time into a large rectangle 10 inches wide and 15 inches long. Even out edges, and cut into 6 4-inch squares. Make turnovers as for the first batch. Two cookie sheets will be needed for the baking.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Exchange upper and lower cookie pans in oven part way through baking. Let cool.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sautéed Kabocha Squash: Delicate with a little cream

I'm only now coming to appreciate kabocha squash. Previously I perceived it just as a less sweet, starchier, and harder-to-peel substitute for butternut, my favorite. If not fully ripened and cured, the squash can be bland. But then, so can butternut. What I'm beginning to recognize is that kabocha has a delicacy of flavor that butternut does not. And as much as I enjoy butternut, I may be overdosing on it after the winter cooking.

Kabocha is the Japanese "pumpkin," introduced to that country in the 16th century by Portugese sailors. All pumpkins and squashes originated in the Americas. Grown extensively in California and Mexico, most kabocha are shipped to Japan, where, among its other uses it is common in vegetable tempura.

The recipe I'm showing emerged from an effort to make a winter squash dish for my granddaughter Isabella, who will be coming to visit tomorrow. She adores squash, and requested it (along with meatballs and broccoli). The dish was designed as a contrast to the meatballs and spaghetti with red sauce. The sweetness of the squash seems to need a little tartness to heighten the flavor, which is why I finish the dish with a little vinegar or lemon juice. The squash can be dusted with grated Romano or Parmesan, along with the spaghetti and meatballs.

Since this is a side dish, I am not suggesting wines to pair with it. The recipe serves six as a side.

Sautéed Kabocha Squash with White Wine and Cream

1 medium kabocha squash (1-1/2 to 1-3/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon butter
2-inch sprig fresh rosemary
Large sprinkle of black pepper
Small pinch of grated nutmeg
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup half-and-half cream or 1/4 cup each milk and cream
1/2 teaspoon wine vinegar or lemon juice

Peel and split squash and scoop out seeds. Cut flesh into 3/4-inch cubes. Fry over low heat with oil and butter in large non-stick frying pan. Stir frequently, and cover pan after the first 5 minutes so squash partially steams. Sprinkle with salt several times to season the squash as it cooks. Part way through the cooking, add rosemary, pepper, and nutmeg.

When squash is tender, add wine, stir and cook it down to nearly dry. Add half and half or cream and milk. Stir and fry until it thickens. Stir in the vinegar or lemon juice. Check seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Remove rosemary.

Winter Squash baked with Béchamel and Gruyère (Gratin de Potiron)

French cuisine, especially from the south of France, includes many wonderful and varied “au gratin” vegetable dishes. The common denominator in general seems to be baking with Gruyère cheese and oiled or buttered breadcrumbs. Pumpkin au gratin (made with butternut or kabocha squash, which have a flavor similar to the flattened French pumpkin), can be the vegetable dish in a wintertime dinner, or the starter course, or the lunch dish when accompanied with warm crusty baguette. Swiss Gruyère is the best, but American gruyère or Jarlsberg will work well. The dish can be prepared ahead and baked half an hour before dinner.

The recipe serves six as a luncheon or principal dish, or will serve more as a side dish. A light to medium-bodied red wine, such as a Beaujolais or Rhône wine (from the area that the dish originated), or Chianti, or Spanish Garnacha pair well. But so will a mildly sweet Reisling, which will pick up the sweetness of the squash.

Winter Squash baked with Béchamel and Gruyère (Gratin de Potiron)

1 medium butternut or kabocha squash (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
3/8 teaspoon salt for squash plus 3/4 teaspoon for sauce
2 cups (loosely packed) grated Gruyère, other Swiss cheese, or Jarlsberg (1/4-1/3 pound)
1-1/2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
2-1/2 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups whole milk plus 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon white or black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs moistened with 1-1/2 teaspoons melted butter or olive oil plus a sprinkle of salt

Set oven for 400 degrees.

Peel squash, split it, and scoop out seeds. Cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Steam it 5 minutes or until just tender. Test for doneness with a fork or tooth pick. Drain. Place in an attractive casserole dish large enough to make a single layer. Sprinkle it with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix pieces around. Distribute both grated cheeses evenly over top.

Prepare béchamel sauce: In heavy pan over medium-low, heat butter or oil with flour. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring. With whisk, mix in milk and cream, raise heat a little and continue to whisk until sauce comes to a boil. Let simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus pepper and nutmeg. (If vegetable is still being steamed, let sauce cool, whisking it from to time to time so that a skin does not form.)

When vegetable is prepared and cheeses on it, spoon sauce evenly over top and mix it in just a little. Finish by sprinkling on the moistened and salted breadcrumbs.

Bake in middle of oven until sauce is bubbling and surface begins to brown, about 20-30 minutes. Serve hot. Or the baked dish can be cooled, refrigerated, and re-baked just long enough to heat through.