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Simon Says

shbooksI was very fond of Simon Hopkinson’s books, Roast Chicken And Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, before I ever cooked from them. I just have a weakness for smaller books, on heavy paper and nicely bound, perhaps with tasteful small illustrations, but no garish color photographs. And when such a book comes with blurbs from food luminaries such as Nigella Lawson and Deborah Madison, as does Roast Chicken And Other Stories, I simply cannot resist. I not only bought these books for myself, but also gave several copies away as gifts. But until recently, I had no idea whether or not these were actually good cookbooks. Now, after cooking from these two books and Simon Hopkinson’s vegetarian cookbook, The Vegetarian Option, I can affirm that these are not only pretty books, but also have some good recipes.

rcThe problem for me, though, with Roast Chicken And Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, is that both books are very meat oriented. The books are arranged alphabetically by section, with each section focussing on a particular ingredient. To give as idea of what the vegetarian is up against, of the 40 sections of Roast Chicken And Other Stories , thirteen feature meat and seven feature fish or seafood, and the remaining 20 sections, although highlighting a non-meat ingredient, still have plenty of meat recipes, and sometimes only meat recipes. I was making my task of finding recipes even more difficult by deciding to cook vegan recipes.  Nevertheless, I did find recipes that I could use. All the recipes were enjoyable, although none were truly stunning. Let us first consider recipes from Roast Chicken And Other Stories.

pickendive“Pickled Endives” (page 91) are simple enough to make. The pickling liquid is just vinegar, spices, and a lot of sugar (I used slightly less than in the written recipe). You simmer the vinegar mixture for half an hour, then pour over the sliced endive. These are refrigerator pickles, and can be stored in the refrigerator for a month or so. This is as good away to eat endive as any, but these pickles were not the taste sensation that some of my previous pickle tries were.

Roulade before rolling

Roulade before rolling

For a very attractive company dish, try “Roulade of Peppers and Eggplant” (page 150). This recipe is a little fussy to make, and the taste is not overwhelming, but the roulade slices on a plate look very impressive. To make the roulade, you first fry slices of eggplant. Then you make a layer of eggplant on some spread-out plastic wrap, sprinkle on some garlic, then add a layer of roasted red peppers and a layer of basil leaves. Carefully using the plastic wrap to shape, you roll this all up into a firm cylinder and put in the refrigerator overnight. You will need a sharp knife to slice the roll the next day so that you don’t squish everything.

cocosoupshI did stray from the vegan approach when I made “Cilantro and Coconut Soup” (page 45), since this soup uses fish sauce and cream. The soup itself consists of a broth flavored with, among other things, lemon grass and cilantro. After straining, the broth is combined with fish sauce, coconut milk, and cream. I was not going to use the cream at first, but without the cream the soup tasted too salty and harsh. With the cream it was transformed: tasty and a little mysterious. [Go to the recipe.]

potshSimon uses a lot of olive oil in “Roast Potatoes with Olive Oil, Rosemary, and Garlic” (page 163), which I do not think is strictly necessary. He also uses lots of garlic, which is what makes this dish somewhat magical. He precooks two pounds of russet potatoes in water, then adds the potatoes and whole cloves from two heads of garlic to one cup of hot olive oil and rosemary sprigs, then roasts all of this in the oven. He uses a 450º oven, but I was afraid that the oil might catch on fire, so turned the temperature down to 425º. After they are cooked, you drain off most of the oil; I think using less oil in the first place would still have yielded good, maybe even better results. The potatoes were good, but the garlic cloves were wonderful! I tried not to be too obvious with my attempts to snag as many garlic cloves as possible when I was serving myself these potatoes.

rc2The sequel, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken, does not at first glance seem to be as meat filled; only 13 of the 47 sections have meat, fish, or seafood as the featured ingredient. But the other sections still have plenty of meat recipes, and vegan recipes are few and far between. Still, there were a few good offerings to be found.

pickpears“Pickled Pears” (page 182) are quite similar to the pickled endive; the only significant (and obvious) difference is that pears are used instead of endive. Ginger and star anise are still floating around in the very sugary vinegar picking liquid. I think that all the sugar works better with the pears. The pears also made a more satisfyingly crunchy pickle. Simon tells us to wait a week before using the pears, but I munched on them after a day and served them after only a couple of more days. [Go to the recipe.]

lentilcurrysh“Spinach and Coconut Dal” (page 82) is a standard issue dal, but that is still exactly the sort of food that I like. This recipe uses red lentils, which are readily available without having to visit an Indian grocer store, and also have the advantage of cooking to a mush in a very short time. The dal is combined with all the predictable spices, as well as coconut milk, and spinach. Simon says to serve with naan or pita bread; I served it with brown rice (inappropriately short-grained).

cabbageshI have made cabbage before, in the cooked to death style, that transcended its lowly cabbage nature, and so I had high hopes for “Stewed White Cabbage with White Wine, Thyme, and Juniper” (page 45). Alas, there was nothing transcendental about this cabbage. It wasn’t bad, it was just cabbage, despite the white wine. Since I like cabbage and noodles so much these days, I may enjoy more what is left of this cabbage mixed with noodles.

appleshOne of the appeals of veganism is that it should lead to better health and weight loss. However, if one practices veganism by consuming Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, one will neither achieve health nor weight loss. It is a bit of a mystery why this stuff tastes as good as it does with its hydrogenated cottonseed oil instead of butter. Since I was trying to be vegan, this is what I used instead of some homemade puff pastry or good frozen butter puff pastry to make “Tarte Fine aux Pommes” (page 9). The tarts consist of sliced apples mixed with some lemon juice and sugar, spiraled on puff pastry rounds. Simon uses butter also, but instead of butter, I brushed the tops of my tarts with apricot preserves. These could not help but be good, and I gave my guests the option to deveganize by serving whipped cream.

vegoptAs mentioned, I liked these two books when I first got them, but even before cooking from them, it was obvious how meaty they were. Thus I was very happy to see The Vegetarian Option when it appeared on bookstore shelves. This book is still on bookstore shelves: a stack has been sitting, copies unbought, on the remainder shelves of our local Barnes and Noble for almost a year. I am not sure why this book was not more popular. It is a solid vegetarian cookbook, with the color photographs that spoiled cookbook consumers want. The recipes are not too complicated, and range from good to great. This book is also arranged by ingredient, but not with the randomness that alphabetizing bestows; instead, ingredients are lumped into larger sections of types of ingredients: vegetables, herbs, pasta, and so on. I found lots of inviting dishes in this book, which quite made up for the dearth of possibilities in the other two books.

relishh“Mario Batali’s Almond & Jalapeño Relish” (page 99) was well received by my guests, but I was not impressed. The recipe was simple enough that I assumed that it just had to be good: process almonds, jalapeños, a red onion, olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of sugar until you have a chunky not-quite purée. My problem was that this relish wasn’t very exciting. It didn’t taste like much of anything. With five ounces of jalapeños, the only way that I can explain this is that the peppers themselves must have been strangely mild and without any flavor.

caponatashSimon’s “Caponata” (page 106) is a little different from other caponatas that I have had in that it is essentially tomato-less, with only a dab of tomato paste. All the other ingredients are there, though: eggplant, celery, onion, peppers, raisins, capers, and olives. Like all caponata, this was yummy, and I think it makes sense to do without tomatoes if perfect tomatoes off the vine in one’s own backyard do not exist.

beetshThe prize recipe of this cooking session was “Beet Jelly with Dill & Horseradish Cream” (page 130). The beet jelly is simplicity itself: cooked beets are grated, then simmered in stock with a little bit of sugar for ten minutes. The beets are then drained out, and the now brilliant pink stock is jelled with agar flakes. I used jaggery instead of the superfine sugar mentioned in the recipe, since jaggery adds a subtle, delicious, and otherwise unobtainable flavor. I initially thought that I would have liked the jelly to be more jelled, but when I finally ate some, I found its semi-jelled state to be quite satisfactory. I skipped the horseradish cream, and just served this with a dollop of horseradish. Beets and horseradish being, perhaps, a flavor combination put together in the last few minutes of the sixth day of Creation (along with the first tongs), horseradish alone was all that was needed to craft this recipe into the perfect first course. [Go to the recipe.]

Ichilish made the almond and jalapeño relish in order to decorate “Chili con Carnevale” (page 103), as suggested by Simon. Perhaps because the relish disappointed, this chili did also. The chili was made with bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, and standard vegetarian chili ingredients. I decided that it was not worth the work to chop up vegetables and measure ingredients when instead I could open six cans and a jar and get a much better chili.

barleyshWhen I was planning my menu, it was not clear how successful it would be, so I searched for a recipe that was not too unusual and that would fill people up if they did not care for the other offerings. Thus I made “Baked Barley ‘Pilaf’ with Provençal Vegetables” (page 176). The combination of vegetables from sun-drenched Provence and barley, a staple of Tibetan cuisine, and with Russia the main producer of this grain seemed somewhat improbable, but workable. This dish turned out not only edible, but ended up being my favorite of the hot dishes I served, and a dish that I am now appreciating as leftovers.


Coconut Soup

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, Roast Chicken And Other Stories

2 cups vegetable stock
2 inch piece of unpeeled ginger, roughly chopped
6 scallions
4 dried hot red peppers
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
½ cup cream

Simmer the stock, ginger, scallions, peppers, lemongrass, and garlic for 30 minutes. Add the cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, and coconut milk, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Strain, add the cream, reheat, and serve, or let the concoction steep for a while, then strain, add the cream, reheat, and serve.


Pickled Pears

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken

4 large, firm pears
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup taragon vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
2 star anise
1 inch piece unpeeled ginger, sliced
4 cloves

Peel, core, and thinly slice the pears. Combine with the lemon juice. Simmer the vinegar, sugar, anise, ginger, and cloves, covered, for 30 minutes. Let the vinegar cool for another 10 minutes, then pour it over the pears. Stir the pears for the first few hours until they are all under liquid. Store in the refrigerator and eat over the next month.


Beet Aspic

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson, The Vegetarian Option

1 pound beets
3 cups stock (Better than Bullion recommended)
1 teaspoon sugar (jaggery recommended)
4 heaping teaspoons agar flakes
Prepared horseradish, for serving

Cook the beets, either in the oven or in water on top of the stove: about 45 minutes in a 400º oven, or 45 minutes in simmering water to cover. When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel and grate. Add the grated beets and the sugar to 2 cups of the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the grated beets out of the stock. Dissolve the agar in the remaining 1 cup of stock, then combine stocks. Put the beet liquid in a smaller bowl, and place the smaller bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water; stir as the beet liquid cools. When it starts to thicken, pour it into individual serving containers; I made five servings from t his amount of beets and stock. Put in the refrigerator to finish jelling. Serve with horseradish.

Indian Food from California

caindianFor some mysterious reason I associate Sukkot with Indian food. There is something autumnal about Indian food, and I do appreciate the freedom to be able to heat up saucy food, unlike on Shabbat. Thus, in this what-we-ate-in-the sukkah post, we once again examine Indian food. Having previously looked at Indian cookbooks from Michigan, we now look at two Indian cookbooks from California. One is a lavish self-published book, the other a restaurant cookbook.

entI became aware of Komali Nunna’s cookbook, Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen from my brother, who had come across this cookbook at a book fair, bought it, and was happy with the recipes that he tried. Komali, along with her photographer and designers, has produced a rather too beautiful coffee table cookbook that just happens to have excellent recipes. The book is a menu type cookbook, with themed menus (“Barbeque Party” or “Moghul Banquet”), regional menus, menus for Indian festivals, and menus for American holidays. This is not my favorite cookbook format. In addition to the food photographs, this book has lots of Bon Appétit-style pictures of affluent Southern Californians enjoying themselves at Komali’s entertainment events. Here at Cookbook Cornucopia, we are much scruffier than Komali’s guests, so trying to reproduce one of her parties would have been a lost cause right from the start. But I was very successful in picking recipes from different menus that appealed to me.

beetcucI usually do not find many salads of the type that I like to put out before the hot food in Indian cookbooks, but the “Beets-Cucumber Salad” (page 290) from Komali’s book is exactly the sort of salad recipe that I like. For this salad, beets and cucumber are combined with a honey-mint-ginger dressing. I used yellow beets instead of red beets since I like the taste better, and was making the salad in advance and did not want the beets to turn everything pink. For the mint, I used the peppermint outside our back door instead of the more common spearmint. The peppermint had a very interesting numbing effect at first that faded after a day or two.

badpickleThe one recipe failure from this book was “Pickled Cauliflower, Turnips, and Carrots” (page 213). The vegetables are blanched and, when cool, added to a pickling liquid of oil, vinegar, spices, sugar, ginger, and garlic. Komali says to use malt vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I used the malt vinegar, which I think was the first problem with this recipe; I do not think that the malt vinegar contributed a very good taste. The second problem was the half cup of coarsely ground black mustard seeds. Although black mustard seeds are possible my very favorite Indian flavoring, a half cup was just too much. Furthermore, the coarse grind was not a good idea. With a different vinegar and fewer mustard seeds, though, this might have made a good pickle. The turnips were a surprisingly successful ingredient.

palakPalak Paneer is one of the great dishes of the world. I like it any which way, from the frozen Amy’s version, to the best Indian restaurant versions. The only way I don’t like this dish is with tofu substituting for the paneer, a problem if I ever decide to embrace veganism. Still, some versions are better than others, and in my search for recipes to make myself, I never found one that was quite perfect until I came across Komali Nunna’s version (page 214). Her spices are just right, and the spinach sauce is faintly flavored with tomato. I am inclined to deviate from her recipe in the amount of paneer: I love fried paneer, so I usually use more. [Go to the recipe.]

chickpeass“Khatte Chole (Sour Chickpea Curry)” (page 100) is as good an Indian chickpea dish as any. Komali makes this curry with canned chickpeas, and I was feeling lazy, so I did too (although I expect that this dish would have been even better had I cooked my own chickpeas). All the usual suspects appear in the ingredient lineup: onion, ginger, chilies, cumin, coriander, tamarind, tomatoes,… . I just served these chickpeas with rice, but according to Komali, some type of bread would be more appropriate.

peppersssThe “Stuffed Bell Peppers” (page 278) are stuffed with a mashed potato mixture and topped with buttered bread crumbs. The amount of stuffing is not enough for four peppers, let alone the six peppers called for in the recipe. The bread crumbs were an annoying distraction. Despite these complaints, I like the idea of using potatoes as a pepper stuffer, and the potatoes themselves were very nicely flavored.

inddatec“Khajoor Guja” (page 200) is a wonderful recipe for fried date pastries. The crust is a simple flour, salt, oil, and water mixture, and the filling combines dates with coconut, pistachios, sugar, and cardamom. I used only half the sugar called for in the recipe, and the filling was still more than sweet enough. These cookies were completely irresistible when fresh, and even after a couple of days when the crust was no longer crisp, they were still very good. Let us note that these cookies are completely vegan.

ajWithout going to my shelves to count, I feel that I have dozens of cookbooks just like Lachu Moorjani’s Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India (although in fact there might be fewer than half a dozen): Indian cookbooks with color illustrations on thick paper with restaurant recipes. The main reason I pulled out this particular book is that the author’s restaurant is in California; Berkeley, to be precise. Also, before becoming a restaurant owner, Lachu was an engineer. I like to think that coming to the world of food as a second career is a good sign, indicating a true love of food (although I suppose in some cases, the first career just didn’t work out). The book is a menu cookbook, with menus from different regions of India. This I totally ignored, and just picked the recipes that looked appealing. This is not a vegetarian cookbook, but is certainly vegetarian friendly. I liked everything I made from this cookbook, and would like to explore it further (but first I have to get through a few more of the other Indian cookbooks).

caulbeanThe phrase “mixed vegetables” bring to mind flavorless frozen combinations of corn, beans, and peas that I would put on the table when first learning to cook. But “Sabzi Rangarang (Mixed Vegetables in Spicy Sauce)” (page 89) is completely different. The vegetables are not that unusual: potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and green bean; but combined with the sauce form a dish unknown to the tables of my childhood.

urudI have a good recipe for urud dal in a cream sauce, but Lachu’s “Urid Daal” (page 201) seemed like another good treatment for urud dal, this time vegan. The flavors are not complicated: cumin, tumeric, tomato, tamarind, and cilantro, and so this is a very easy dish to prepare. But the taste is great, and I did not miss the cream at all.

indeggp“Baingam Bharta (Pureed Roasted Eggplant with Onions, Tomatoes and Spices)” (page 50) was just wonderful, although I think I would have liked it a little less spicy hot. Although definitely Indian, this eggplant dish is quite similar to some Middle Eastern eggplant dishes. Lachu recommends cooking the eggplants on top of a gas stove, directly over burners; I expect an outdoor grill would also work to impart the desired smoky flavor to the eggplant. I took the alternate path and cooked the eggplant in a hot oven, forgoing the smoky flavor, but making less of a mess, and without having to supervise constantly the process.

indfcocochutney“Masala Vadai (spicy Lentil Cakes with Coconut Chutney)” (page 154) are best described as Indian falafel. Like the best falafel, these are made by first soaking dried beans (urud, toor, and chana dal, instead of chickpeas), then grinding with onions and other flavorings (with these, cilantro, hot green pepper, and ginger), and finally frying in hot oil. When fresh, these were delicious, especially with the coconut chutney, and were still really good a few days later. The main ingredients of the chutney are coconut, cilantro, and tamarind paste. I had to add more water to the chutney in order to get a consistency that I liked. [Go to the recipe.]

peanutchutneyWhen I was collecting recipes to make from this cookbook, I was not sure that I would like the coconut chutney, and so also made “Peanut Mint Cilantro Chutney” (page 165). In addition to the named ingredients, this chutney has tomatoes, tamarind, and hot peppers. This was a much more liquid chutney than the coconut chutney. Both were excellent, non-sweet condiments, but I think I actually liked the coconut chutney a little more.


Palak Paneer

Adapted from Komali Nunna, Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen

1 pound paneer
1 pound spinach
¼ cup oil
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 red onion, chopped
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon amchoor
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1½ teaspoons salt
8 ounces tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon milk
¼ teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Cut the paneer into cubes and fry in some ghee until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Thoroughly rinse the spinach and remove any thick stems. Roughly chop. You may also use packaged baby spinach, and the sauce will still be great, just not as great.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, possibly the same skillet in which you fried the paneer, after wiping it out. Add the bay leaf and cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to brown, add the onion, ginger, and garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes, then add the cayenne, tumeric, amchoor, and fennel seeds. Cook and stir for a few more minutes, then add the salt and tomatoes. Cook for about 4 minutes, then add the spinach and cook another 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and whiz this spinach mixture in the food processor. You don’t want complete smoothness, so stop whizzing while there is still some texture left. Ypou could also use an immersion blender. Return the spinach to the skillet and add the paneer. Stir in the sugar and milk. Taste to see if you want more salt.

Heat a spoonful of ghee in a small pan and add the garam masala to the ghee. Pour this over the spinach. Stir in the cilantro.


Indian Falafel with Coconut Chutney

Adapted from Lachu Moorjani, Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India

½ cup toor dal
½ cup urud dal
½ cup chana dal
4½ cups water
2 serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
½ bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
2 inch piece ginger, chopped

¼ cup urud dal
½ cup unsweetened coconut
2 serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 inch piece ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon asafoetida

Pick over the dal, then soak it in the water for 2 to 4 hours. Drain, then put in the food processor with all the rest of the ingredients except for the oil. Pulse until the beans are ground into a paste.Heat an inch or so of oil in a pan. Form the bean paste into walnut sized balls and fry until golden on all sides. The oil should be hot enough so that the ball start to sizzle when you put them in the oil. Drain on paper towels. Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to do this in batches, adding more oil if necessary.

To make the chutney, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a small pan, add the urud dal, and cook until the dal is golden. Add the dal, coconut, chilies, cilantro, ginger, salt, and tamarind paste to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until puréed. Add water to achieve your desired consistency.

Heat a little bit of oil in the small pan. When hot, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and asafoetida. When the mustard seeds pop, add to the chutney.