Monday, December 27, 2010

Chick pea and coconut curry with sweet potatoes

I love my pressure cooker.  It makes a great bean or lentil soup in a fraction of the time it would take to cook conventionally, and can cook a clod into submission in minutes rather than hours.  But, I find that for cooking beans and bean stews, rather than soups, it can be dicey.  They can easily get pressured into a pap, and you need to cook them with too much liquid for the result to be a thick stew, rather than a soup, if that is what you want.

There is an interesting looking recipe for chick peas cooked with sweet potatoes and coconut milk in Lorna Sass's Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure.  However,  I found the pressure cooker version of this too liquid, and the sweet potatoes tended to dissolve into a puree, which is something my wife doesn't like.   I substituted a vegan Thai curry paste for the curry power (many curry pastes are made with fermented shrimp) and added some lemongrass, for a more Thai flavor.  I also reengineered Sass's recipe for conventional cooking, and the consensus was that it is a keeper:

Chickpea and coconut curry with sweet potatoes

  • 1 pound dried chickpeas (or 2 large cans)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (coconut oil is actually very nice here)
  • 2 large shallots, sliced
  • 2-4 cloves sliced garlic (if my mother isn't coming to dinner)
  • 1 tablespoon Thai-style red vegan curry paste (if you don't care about the shrimp you can use any kind;  if you can't find it, you can use curry powder  -- the dish will be good, but just not quite as good)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, rinsed trimmed and dried outer leaves removed if necessary, and cut into two inch pieces
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire-roasted)
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk (light is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's amino's or soy sauce
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1-2  sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice

  1. If using dried chick peas, pick over for any stones, rinse, and soak 8 hours or over night. Alternatively, you can quick soak them by boiling them for 1 minute and then setting them aside, covered for an hour or two.
  2. Drain and rinse the soaked chick peas. Put them in a 3- to 4-quart pot, cover with water by about one inch and bring to the boil.  Skim off the foam if there is any, turn the heat down to medium, and simmer until just a bit firmer than you like.  It is hard to predict the time, but depending on the age of the chickpeas, how fast they are cooking, and how long they soaked, it should take between 25 and 45 minutes.   (You can do this beforehand -- they will keep several days in the fridge or frozen for months.)  
  3. If you are using the cans, just drain and rinse well.
  4. While the chick peas are cooking, heat the oil on high in a medium nonstick skillet, add shallots, salt lightly and cook until they begin to brown.  Add garlic if you are using and stir a few times.
  5. Turn heat to low, add curry paste, and cook another minute, stirring. Add lemongrass and cook for a few seconds.
  6. Add the tomatoes and half of the cilantro, turn heat to high, and cook for about 5-8 minutes until it turns into a sauce.
  7. Add coconut milk, and simmer on medium low until it thickens.  Add the Bragg's aminos or soy sauce.
  8. Add the sauce mixture to the chick peas, stir in the sweet potatoes, and cook until the peas and potatoes are done to your liking, about 20 minutes.
  9. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and serve with rice and lime wedges, and with a hot sauce like sambal oelek for those who want it.
  10. This is a vegetarian main dish for four or a side for eight to ten. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monitoring blogs, and squash with tahini.

I am still trying to get my hands around the kind of monitoring and analytics that you can do with a blog, and I continue to be intrigued.  Part of this is being a data and information junkie.  Part may just be nosiness. After all, I spent much of my professional career as a archivist, which includes reading other peoples correspondence. (It's really nothing like The Lives of Others.  Really.)  It is more the thrill of human connection.

In the past few weeks, I saw that a reader from Austin, Texas spent a considerable amount of time on the site, most likely reading my post on Mexican/Syrian-Jewish style brisked in response to a query looking for "mexican brisket."  I hope that this reader tried this recipe and was not disappointed, since, although I am very proud of it, it is not a typical Mexican dish.  I have also noticed, for example, that someone, or some people from Glasgow, Scotland visit my blog with some regularity.   They must be disappointed that I haven't posted anything new for over three weeks. At least I hope that they are.

I have lots of reasons.  Life got busy.  Cooking got monotonous in an effort to fight the Thanksgiving to New Year bulge.  Most importantly, I have found myself cooking from recipes already on the blog or using cookbook recipes and not modifying them enough to make them worth posting.  (If I substitute short ribs for lamb shanks in a stew with quince, chestnuts and pomegranate juice, add some Indian spices, etc., should I really bother posting?)   One new dish that  I did make was a room temperature appetizer of pan-roasted winter squash with tahini.  I used to a be a confirmed squash hater, and the one day a number of years ago I made a spicy Bengali squash dish with chili, mustard seeds, and coconut from Bharti Kirchner's (tragically out-of-print) The Healthy Cuisine of India: Recipes from the Bengal Region, and I was a convert.  It was a revelation when the squash wasn't drowned in maple syrup or brown sugar. 

So, for my Glaswegian readers, and anyone else waiting on the other end of the ether for a recipe, here is;

Winter squash with tahini

  • 2 cups winter squash cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I like butternut, red kuri, or kabocha here)
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • sugar if needed
  • tahini sauce:  1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, coarse salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, up to about 1/4 cup water
  • handful chopped flat leaf parsley, to taste

  1. Heat olive oil, a spoon or so, in  medium nonstick skillet, on medium heat.  Add squash cubes and salt lightly. 
  2. Cook on medium-high heat, tossing or stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and well caramelized.  If it doesn't have a nice, rich taste, sprinkle a little sugar on it, less than  a teaspoon, toward the end of cooking. Remove to a bowl when done.
  3. Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce:  Make the tahini sauce: smash the garlic with coarse salt to make a puree, and stir in the tahini.  Stir in the lemon juice.  The tahini will become very stiff.  Dribble in the water, a few drops at the time.  The sauce will stiffen some more, and then loosen to the texture of a thick cream. It is hard to tell exactly how much water you will use, but it is usually approximately equal to the amount of tahini, or a little more. The sauce should be on the thicker side, but still pourable.
  4. Pour the sauce over the squash.  Mix in parsley when cool.
  5. Serve with warm pita bread.