Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!
I’ve always believed that using freshly ground spices elevates a meal, even everyday food, so I blend whatever combo a recipe calls for almost daily. My trusty Secura grinder stays on the countertop, at attention. However, this daily grind is not always the best option, especially now, when we are all working from home and eating multiple meals a day. Slaving, even for a few hours, in the kitchen is a thing of the past.
However, I wasn’t really enthralled by what I found in the supermarket or at my local Indian store. Buying a jar of McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun seasoning or Shan’s Chana Masala was anathema. How long had it been sitting there, I wondered? When we peruse supermarket spices, do we really think about freshness in the real sense of the word?
My best bet was to buy from a company with the shortest supply chain possible—ideally, one that sources spices straight from their origin and sells them directly to the consumer. Freshly ground, small-batch spices and blends with clarity of flavor and no additives. To my surprise, I didn’t really find too many places selling them, but I did find a renewed interest in single-origin spices. Individuals that had formed small companies with a strong commitment to social and economic equity, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting the just treatment of farmworkers and food pricing that provides the farmers with a livable income. Once I tasted these, I was hooked! Flavorful, fresh, high-quality spices…now there’s no looking back.
So, during this holiday season, a very different one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to make the evening feel special for you and your family. Whether it’s a Zoom dinner with friends or a nice sit down with the people you live with, here are some recipes that are quick and easy showstoppers.
Roasted Cauliflower Soup
- 1 large head of cauliflower chopped into small pieces
- 1 yellow or red onion, diced
- 2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 small red or Yukon gold potatoes diced
- 1 ½ cups vegetarian or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil (I have used Amy Riolo Selections Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup milk
- toasted walnuts or cilantro, for garnish
- Roast the cauliflower by tossing it in olive oil and baking for 20 mins or till the edges turn golden brown.
- In a skillet melt butter and olive oil. Add the onions, sauté till translucent. Add diced carrots and potatoes and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Add the broth.
- Add 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Blend with an immersion blender. (I save some chopped cauliflower pieces and add after the soup is blended.)
- Garnish with toasted walnuts and cilantro.
Black Pepper Tofu
- 1 packet extra firm tofu drained and pressed to release all the water
- oil for shallow frying
- corn or rice flour to dust the tofu
- ½ stick of butter
- 10/12 small shallots, thinly sliced
- 8 fresh red chilies thinly sliced (I have used Diaspora Co.’s heirloom Sannam Chillies)
- 12 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
- 3 tbsp sweet soy sauce, kecap manis (or make your own by boiling 1 cup of regular soy sauce with ½ cup of brown sugar)
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 4 tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 5 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns (I have used Burlap & Barrel’s Ea Sar black peppercorns)
- 16 spring onions, cut into thin angled matchsticks
- Start with the tofu. Cut into thin cubes and toss them in corn flour or rice flour. I use a combination of both, I find the rice flour gives it a nice crunch. Shallow fry or air fry till they are crispy and golden on all sides.
- In a separate pan, add butter. Once it melts, add the shallots, chilies, garlic, and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat till they turn soft.
- Add the soy sauces, caster sugar, and crushed black pepper. Stir to mix.
- Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Stir in the spring onions.
Inspired by the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
- 1 cup dry chana (chole)
- 2 tea bags (earl grey or any black tea that you have)
- Salt (to taste)
- 4/5 cloves whole cardamom
- ¼ tsp Baking soda
- 5 cloves
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons of Chana Masala (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie’s blend)
- ½ tsp Black salt (kala namak)
- 2 tablespoons Tamarind puree (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie)
- ½ cup Tomato puree
- 1 onion pureed
- 3 tsp ghee
- ½ teaspoon ajwain seeds
- ½ teaspoon jeera seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ tsp chili powder
- 3 green chilies
- 2 tablespoons of julienned ginger
- Soak the chole in water overnight till they double in volume.
- Add them to your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Add the tea leaves, salt, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves.
- Cook the chole over high heat for about 5 whistles, or 14 mins in IP. Once done allow the pressure to release naturally.
- Once the pressure is released open the cooker and remove the tea bags and all the other whole spices. Discard.
- Strain the chole, mash them a bit. Make sure to keep the water, we will use it as it is very fragrant.
- In a pan heat some ghee, add the ajwain and jeera seeds, once they crackle add the tomato puree and the pureed onion. Cook for a few mins till the raw smell is gone.
- Add the Chana masala, tamarind pulp, and 1 cup of the reserved water.
- If you want some more gravy in the chole then add another ½ cup of water and cook on high flame for 2-3 minutes.
- In a small pan oil, once hot add the finely chopped garlic and green chilies. Be sure to watch carefully as garlic burns very fast.
- Once the garlic turns golden brown, add the red chili powder and cook for another 30 seconds.
- Pour this tadka over the chole. Garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro. Serve Hot.
3 Ingredient Almond Cookies- Flourless almond butter cookies
- 1 cup Almond Butter (I use homemade)
- 6 tbsp sugar
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten (to make it eggless: reduce the sugar and add half a banana)
- In a medium bowl, mix the almond butter, sugar, and egg until well combined.
- Take a small cookie scoop or a large tablespoon and spoon the mixture 1 inch apart onto baking sheets.
- Flatten the mounds with the tines of a fork, making a crosshatch pattern on the cookies.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins.
Easy Lemon Cookie
Makes 12 large or 16 small
- 18.25 ounces lemon cake mix
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon
- powdered sugar for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, lemon juice, and zest until well blended.
- Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or up to an hour
- Form dough into small balls and roll them in confectioners’ sugar till lightly covered.
- Line a cookie sheet with greased parchment paper. Place balls an inch apart.
- Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy.
Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: [email protected]