Monthly Archives: May 2012

Ghee 101 – making delicious clarified butter

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Ghee 101 – making delicious clarified butter

Ghee or clarified butter is a big part of South Asian cuisine.  It has such amazing flavor that a little goes a long way.  I’ve tried making ghee at home but it never seems to taste or smell like the amazing stuff we get back home (meaning the “homeland” of course).  In Bangladesh, there is a famous brand called “Baghabari Ghee” with a picture of a Royal Bengal Tiger on the label.  It’s famous flavor is renowned .  Every time I went home for a visit I would try to sneak a few jars of the stuff back with me.  I even tried to bribe my relatives who were going home to get me some ghee.  They would look at me in disbelief.  Really of all the things I could request someone bring back on a long journey and it’s ghee?  That’s a foodie for you.  I’m well-known for trying to schlep food in luggage.  One time I had curried Hilsa fish in my carry-on luggage (this was before the TSA liquid restrictions) and it exploded all over everything.  The WHOLE plane smelled like Bengali Hilsa Fish.  I tried to look innocent and blend, which is hard to do on a flight from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho because I was the only brown person on the plane.  Flight attendants were walking back and forth sniffing the air and saying things like, “do you smell that?” or  “what is that smell?”

For years, my attempts at making ghee seemed a waste of time since I couldn’t tell the difference between the ghee or just regular butter.  Why bother if the flavor is not improved?  The whole idea behind a good ghee is to remove the milk protein from the butter leaving behind a nutty unclouded liquid.  My problem was that I was not heating it long enough at a low enough temperature.  The trick here is to use a heavy bottomed pan like a cast iron dutch oven or something similar and heat the butter for 20-30 minutes and to add curry leaves halfway through the process.  It’s also important NOT to stir the melted butter but to let it simmer unaided.  This helps to separate the milk proteins properly.  The curry leaves add a depth of flavor that I was missing all these years.  I have to say that this ghee smells and tastes even better than the famous “Baghabari Ghee”.  That’s one less thing that I have to hide in my luggage.

Melt butter over low heat

Heat for about 15 minutes before adding curry leaves to the melted butter

Heat another 15 minutes or so and when the liquid is clear with proteins separated in the bottom of the pan, take out the curry leaves

Strain out the proteins

The strained liquid should look clear with a nutty brown color

Ghee

How to make Ghee

1 pound unsalted butter

4-5 curry leaves

In a heavy bottomed pan melt the butter and let it simmer over very low heat.  Do not stir but keep an eye on the butter, when small brown chunks begin to appear on the bottom of the pan and the top part of the butter looks pretty clear (about 10-15 minutes) add curry leaves and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes.  When the top layer of butter looks light brown and very clear, take out the curry leaves and strain ghee through a fine mesh strainer into a mason jar.  Don’t throw away the brown protein bits.  Save them  to make Ghee Laddoos, a sweet treat made with the leftover protein (we don’t like to throw anything away).

Add chickpea and all-purpose flour along with sugar to the milk proteins leftover from making ghee

Ghee Laddoos

Ghee Laddoo

1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

In the same pan the ghee was made,  heat the browned leftover milk protein with 1/4 cup chickpea flour (Besan) and 1/4 cup of All-Purpose flour and 1/4 cup sugar.  Cook over medium heat  until everything is a nutty brown color and the sugar has incorporated well.  Roll into small balls and enjoy.

Indonesian style chicken

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Indonesian style chicken

Bollywood movies are always these  epic musicals with really good looking people who play the lead.  They are three hours of unreality with usually 6 song and dance numbers.  I was riveted to a recent one because it was dubbed over in Mandarin.  An incredibly unlikely combination. The high-pitched Mandarin speaking voices did not match any of the actors or actresses and added a crazy dimension to the already melodramatic movie.  The mix reminded me of Indonesian food (I always think about food).  What I love about Malaysian, Singaporian and Indonesian cuisine is that it is a fantastic fusion of South Asian flavors traditionally seen in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan with more East Asian influences.  The results I think are phenomenal.  The movie….not so much!

Spices at a glance

Saute the onions with coriander, chili powder, ginger and garlic for about 5-7 minutes before adding lemongrass, lime leaves and cinnamon sticks

Add chicken and cook (for 8-10 minutes)

Add coconut milk and water and cook an additional 20-25 minutes, covered.

Let cool for 15 minutes before serving

Indonesian style chicken curry

Indonesian style chicken curry

2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp red chili powder

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3 thai chilis, kept whole

1 piece fresh ginger – 1 inch, peeled and thinly sliced

4 tbsp vegetable oil

5 kaffir lime leaves

4-6 sticks cinnamon

1 stalk lemon grass

5 boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks

3/4 tsp salt

2 cups coconut milk

1 1/4 cup water

In a large saucepan heat oil and saute onions coriander, chili, garlic and ginger over low heat.  Cook, stirring frequently for 5-7 minutes.  Add lime leaves, cinnamon, whole chilis and lemongrass.  Cook stirring occasionally for about 2 more minutes until all the flavors are released.  Increase the heat to medium and add the chicken and cook turning once until golden brown about 8 minutes.  Stir in one cup of coconut milk and 1 1/4 cup water and salt.  Simmer, stirring occasionally until chicken is tender about 20-25 minutes.  Add remaining coconut milk and cook for 2 minutes.  Let cool for about 15 minutes before serving with plain rice or Coconut Fried Rice.

Coconut Fried Rice – Delicious anytime!

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Coconut Fried Rice – Delicious anytime!

This Coconut Rice is super tasty and originates from the Southern part of India.  Most places that grow coconut has some kind of a coconut rice recipe.  Jamaicans have a coconut rice recipe where the coconut milk is used directly with the rice and it’s a rich, sweet rice.  Marshall Islanders make shredded coconut and white rice balls that are very popular and eaten with savory foods even though the rice balls are quite sweet tasting.  The tastes, styles and flavors are as varied as the locales coconuts are grown in.  I really enjoy this South Indian version because it has a wonderful crunch not only from the nuts but from the lentils that are stir fried .  The toasted coconut adds depth, texture and tastes heavenly.  This rice is very versatile.  I’ve paired it with Indonesian style chicken or with Chicken satay or to make my “Caribbean style rice bowl” (recipe to follow soon).  Hope you like it!

Split Black lentils (Urad daal), yellow lentils (Bangla Chana daal)

Saute chilies, lentils, mustard and cumin seeds in hot oil for a few minutes

Add cashews and desiccated coconut and stir fry until coconut is toasted and light brown in color

Add rice toss and serve

Coconut Rice

4 cups cooked rice (I used Basmati rice, any long grain rice will work)

2 cups desiccated unsweetened coconut (finely shredded)

4 dried red chilis

1 tablespoon split Urad daal (black lentils)

1 tablespoon Bangla Chana daal (yellow lentils)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/3 cup raw peanuts or cashews

3 tbs oil

In a wok or large skillet heat the oil and add the lentils, mustard, cumin seeds, salt.  Stir fry for a few minutes until flavors are released.  Add the nuts and stir fry another minute or so then add coconut and cook about 2 minutes.  Coconut will start becoming toasted and start smelling wonderful. Add the  rice and stir fry gently to incorporate.  Serve warm.  Great as a leftover by itself or with other dishes.

It’s Chicken Satay time!

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It’s Chicken Satay time!

I am doing a shout out to my former student “Nate”. He mentioned several times in class how much he loves to grill and I promised him some Indonesian/Thai inspired food…. so here it is Nate!! Not only are these Chicken Satays very quick and easy to do, they are high in flavor and low in fat.  Perfect accompaniment for our summer workouts.  (I should mention that we’re almost done with our first week of P90x and Insanity and I’ve lost 1 1/2 pounds so far….13 1/2 to go!).

I should mention that I always prefer to use chicken thighs over chicken breast because they have a lot more flavor and they are a lot cheaper too.  You can buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs or you can easily de-bone the chicken thighs at home.  All you need is a sharp knife and the ability to cut along the edges of the bone and you’re done!!

The secret to this dish of course is the sauce.  I love how this sauce turns out.  I could eat it by the spoonful but then I’d have to work out some more.  Please do use the Sweet Soy Sauce instead of the regular soy sauce.  If you must use regular soy sauce then choose the low sodium kind and use only 1/8 cup otherwise your sauce will be very salty.  This is great as an appetizer or a main dish served with Coconut Fried Rice and a fresh crunchy salad.  We also ate other veggies dipped in the sauce along with our chicken!

Place all the ingredients for the sauce directly into the pan and heat over medium heat

Divide the sauce, one for dipping and the other for basting!

Place chicken skewers on grill and cook for 6-8 minutes turning over once.

Baste during the grilling process with the sauce

Serve with the reserved sauce

Chicken Satay with peanut sauce

Chicken Satay

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into strips

1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or you can grind up some peanuts) – I like chunky

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup sweet soy sauce

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, minced

scallion, diced (for garnish)

In a saucepan place all ingredients except chicken and scallion.  Cook over medium heat until sauce is bubbly.  Take off heat and cool sauce.  Divide sauce into two parts.

Cut chicken into 1″ inch long strips and thread onto skewers.  If using bamboo skewers make sure you soak them before hand so they don’t burn and fall off.  Spray chicken with non-stick cooking spray and place on hot grill (about 300-350 degrees) cook for 6-10 minutes covered,  turning once.  Baste with half of the sauce (make sure the dipping portion is never in contact with the raw chicken) during the grilling process and serve with remaining sauce garnished with sliced scallions.   The sauce is also fantastic for dipping carrots, cucumbers and other fresh veggies as well.

10 Minute Tilapia Curry

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10 Minute Tilapia Curry

People in Bangladesh eat a LOT of fish.  Especially fresh water fish.  Fish are such a commonly eaten item, we even use it in colloquial language  – for instance if you’re inviting someone over for a casual meal you say, “come on over, we’re just having bhaat maach (fish and rice)” – it’s our equivalent of a backyard BBQ.  Because fish are available all year long, we have a lot of different ways of cooking them. Most of the fish usually enjoyed in Bangladesh are not available here, so I make do with whatever fresh water fish I can find.  Tilapia is just such a fish.  Tilapia is mild (no fishy taste here) and when filleted, it cooks very quickly.  I came up with a “Bosa Maach” recipe for Tilapia or Swai fillets.    “Bosa Maach” literally translated means “Sitting Fish”. All the spices are mixed with the fish in the pan then covered and cooked with no stirring, letting it “sit” in the resulting gravy.  This is especially helpful for Tilapia or Swai fillets since they are so tender, they tend to break easily if overly handled or stirred.  From start to finish, it literally takes 10 minutes to have this dish completed.  I made it last night before leaving the house in a hurry to teach a class.  I even had time to spare.  It was the perfect accompaniment to the Quinoa and Lentil salad.

Place all ingredients in a 10-12″ skillet

Mix everything together, cover and cook over medium heat for 6 minutes

After 6 minutes of cooking, gently flip the fish over and add water. Cover and cook another 3 minutes

Tilapia curry

10 Minute Tilapia Curry

4 Tilapia Fillets, cut in halves

1 small bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

1/2 can diced tomatoes

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp red chili powder

2 tsp garlic and ginger paste (I keep a 1:1 ratio of garlic and ginger blended in the fridge in a mason jar)

1 tbsp mustard oil

3 tbsp canola oil

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Wash the fish fillets and cut them in half lengthwise.  In a 12″ skillet, place the fish and all the other ingredients and mix together gently with your hands.  Cover and place over medium heat for 6 minutes.  Uncover and gently flip fish over and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water depending on how much gravy you desire.  Cover and cook another 3 minutes.  Serve with curried quinoa and lentil salad or plain white rice.

“Curried” Quinoa and Lentil Salad

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“Curried” Quinoa and Lentil Salad

I need (and want) to lose 15 pounds by the end of June.  These 15 pounds have crept up on me like evil terrorists bent on a sneak attack.  My new policy is not to negotiate with terrorists!  I’m currently on my third round of P90X and my daughter Onjoli and her friend Katie are doing Insanity, both intense beachbody workouts.  I have promised to cook more innovative, high protein, low fat and tasty foods throughout the summer.  It’s a mother-daughter epic bonding extravaganza.  My husband, frightened by the prospect of eating salads and yogurt mentioned that he’d like to vote for food that is hearty and not “chick food”.  I have a lot of people to please, including myself.  I came up with this salad in my quest for “buffness” to go with my 10 minute Tilapia curry.  It was a wonderful dinner full of flavors, textures and a ton of lean protein.  I’m saving the leftovers for lunch!

Lentils and Quinoa

The herb lineup: Mint, Cilantro and Chives

Whisk together the dressing ingredients

Chop all the ingredients and add them to the quinoa and lentil mixture, along with the chopped herbs.

Curried Quinoa and Lentil Salad

Curried Quinoa and Lentil Salad

1 cup quinoa, uncooked

1 cup brown lentils, uncooked

2 tsp salt

1 ripe avocado, diced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup toasted cashews

2 mangoes, diced

1 english cucumber, diced

2 tbsp chopped cilantro

2 tbsp chopped mint

1 tsp chives, chopped

Dressing:

1/3 cup olive oil

1 lemon, zest and juice

1/4 tsp red chili powder (you can add a bit more since the quinoa and lentils soak up extra heat)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp honey

Wash Quinoa and lentils and soak in some water for about 1 hour.  Drain and add 4 cups of water and salt. Bring to boil in a medium saucepan, reduce heat and cover.  Cook about 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed and quinoa and lentils are tender, rinse with cold water and place in a large bowl.  Add vegetables and  mangoes to the quinoa and lentils.  Whisk together all the dressing ingredients and pour over salad.  Toss together and chill before serving with 10 minute Tilapia Curry or enjoy it by itself as a great salad!

Pizzas on the grill

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Pizzas on the grill

It’s (almost) summer time and that means lots of cooking on the grill.  I really enjoy using the grill to cook during the warmer weather because it keeps the house cooler and I love how everything tastes when they are grilled.  I decided to make pizzas on the grill.  It’s one of my fast go-to grill dishes because everything can be cooked outside without any prep in the “house” kitchen.  All you need is a grill basket for vegetables so smaller pieces don’t fall through and you’re good to go.

I have been using the no-knead artisan bread for my pizza crusts because they turn out beautifully and this bread dough is a dream.  You mix the thing up with a wooden spoon and stick it in your fridge, it’s sooooo easy! I usually have some in my fridge ready to go (each batch can keep in the fridge for almost 2 weeks).  The toppings for these pizzas are as varied as the person making them.  I hope you try some out and go crazy with the toppings.  When my basil is full-grown, I plan to make  home made mozzarella and have Margherita pizzas on the grill.  What’s not to love?

Place all the veggies on the grill basket on the grill to cook

Place pizza dough with a little olive oil on both sides directly on the grill and cook covered for 3 minutes

Flip crust over, top with veggies and chicken (or shrimp) if desired and a little mozzarella and parmesan cheese, cover and cook another 3-4 minutes. Enjoy!

Pizza on the grill

Pizza crust – No knead artisan bread

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or fresh mozarella

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Fresh cracked pepper

kosher salt

Cherry tomatoes cut in half (about 1 cup)

Assorted vegetables: red onion, bell peppers, zucchini, eggplants etc.

If using chicken breasts, cut into strips and marinate in a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar,salt, garlic and thyme and throw it on the grill to cook.

Cut vegetables into strips and the cherry tomatoes into halves.  Toss with salt, fresh cracked pepper, basil and olive oil and place in grill pan on the grill and let it cook.

Take a small portion of the dough and roll it out fairly thin (about 1/4 inch thick) and pat it lightly with olive oil on both sides.  I like to make it personal size – so about 6-8 inches “circles” or whatever shape they turn out to be. When vegetables are cooked, place  pizza directly on the grill and close the lid for 3 minutes (grill should be on high heat, 600 degrees or so).  Flip the dough over so the cooked side is on top and place some of the grilled cherry tomatoes on the dough along with other veggies and chicken (if using).  Sprinkle a little cheese (go easy)  less is better.  Close the lid and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Pizza should be done with the cheese melted and the crust wonderfully crunchy and smoky.