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Home Plate

Home Plate: Warm up your winter with spicy Indian food

  • Poori. <br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Poori.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Home Plate:  Mustard greens and paratha.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Home Plate: Mustard greens and paratha.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Poori with spicy lentils.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

    Poori with spicy lentils.

    Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

  • Poori. <br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Home Plate:  Mustard greens and paratha.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor
  • Poori with spicy lentils.<br/><br/>Hillary Nelson for the Monitor

There’s something about Indian food that I find especially appealing in winter. In particular I love India’s spice-scented purees, full of warming ginger, garlic and hot peppers, whether made of protein-rich legumes or stewed winter vegetables. Especially if there are hot flat breads alongside, to serve as edible spoons.

The first recipe is a good example of a technique that works well with all sorts of what Indians refer to as “dal” – the great variety of beans and lentils (many of them split and skinned for faster cooking) that provide protein in a country where much of the population is vegetarian.

The dal is cooked in a quantity of water along with some flavorings, such as turmeric and garlic until very soft. Meanwhile, a flavorful saute of oil, spices, peppers, herbs and alliums is prepared. At the last moment, the legumes are tempered with this mixture and then mellowed further with the addition of butter or ghee (clarified butter). Finally, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and lime juice is used to brighten the flavors.

The second recipe, a spicy puree thickened with polenta, is a great way to use whatever cold-hardy greens you can find at your local farmers market. Feel free to substitute kale, collards or chard for the spinach and mustard greens. The puree is delicious served over rice or alongside a rich grilled fish, like salmon.

Finally, I’ve included a basic flatbread recipe, with two variations. The first, poori, a light-as-air balloon of bread, will amaze your friends and family. There are three tricks to perfect poori. First, roll the rounds out with an even thickness. Next fry them in a small pot – that way you don’t need too much oil and it’s easy to maintain the proper temperature. And third, use a wooden spoon to push the poori down under the oil, which makes it puff spectacularly.

The second bread has a filling of spicy potatoes that is thin enough to almost miss, but which creates two distinct layers and gives the paratha a lovely flakiness. I like this bread paired with the mustard and spinach puree – the starchy-sweet taste of potatoes provides a nice counterpoint to the sharp flavor of the mustard greens.

Indian-spiced Red Lentil Soup

2 cups red lentils

2 tablespoons grated ginger

2 tablespoons grated garlic (about 4 large cloves)

1∕2 teaspoon turmeric

6 cups water

3 tablespoons cooking oil (sunflower is good)

2 teaspoons cumin seed

2 medium red onions

4 serrano or other small hot green peppers, cut in half, stems removed

2 dried thai or other small hot dried red peppers, stems removed

2 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt (or to taste)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

1 small bunch cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped

2 limes, sliced into quarters

Place the lentils in a soup pot and rinse them in several changes of cold water, until water is no longer cloudy. Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric and 6 cups of water and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to keep at an even simmer and cook until the lentils are very soft, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring so they don’t burn, until they have browned a bit and have begun to pop. Add the onions, the halved serranos and the whole dried red peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have begun to brown and the skin on the peppers has browned and blistered in spots.

Stir the onion mixture into the lentils along with the salt and butter. Serve immediately, topped with chopped cilantro and with lime quarters on the side for diners to add lime juice as desired.

Serves 8.

Mustard Greens, Spinach and Polenta

2 tablespoons cooking oil (sunflower is good)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons grated garlic (about 4 large cloves)

2 serrano chiles or other fresh hot green chiles, stems removed

2 dried thai or other hot dried red chiles, stems removed

1∕2 pound fresh mustard greens, washed well and chopped

1∕2 pound fresh spinach, washed well and chopped

2 cups of water

1∕4 cup uncooked corn polenta

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt (or to taste)

small bunch of fresh herbs, such as mint, cilantro and dill, washed and coarsely chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

juice from 1 or 2 limes (to taste)

plain yogurt (for garnish, optional)

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat, then add the cumin seeds and let them cook until they turn brown and begin to pop. Add the garlic, ginger, and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns golden and the peppers have browned and blistered in spots.

Stir in the mustard greens, spinach and water and bring to a simmer, stirring now and then. Cook for about five minutes, then puree in the bowl of a food processor, in a blender or using and immersion blender.

Stir the polenta and salt into the puree, bring to a low simmer and cover. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is cooked.

When done, stir in the chopped herbs, butter and lime juice. Serve hot garnished with yogurt if desired.

Serves 8.

Basic Flat Bread Dough

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups unbleached white flour

1 teaspoon salt

1∕3 cup oil (sunflower or olive oil are good)

1¼ cups water (may need a little more)

Toss the flours with the salt to blend in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and rub the flour between your palms until the oil is incorporated. Add the water and mix well with your hands until you have a rough ball of dough.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead well, adding a little more water if necessary (this will depend on the flour you use).

The dough should wind up a little soft, but not sticky and should be quite smooth. This will probably take about 10 minutes.

When the dough is properly kneaded, slick a little oil over its surface, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.

It may also be refrigerated for up to two days before using.

Poori

1∕2 Basic Flat Bread Dough recipe

flour for rolling

oil for frying (sunflower works well)

Divide the dough into 16 pieces and roll them into round balls. Flatten each ball on a lightly floured counter and roll them out into 5-inch rounds.

Heat about one and a half inches of oil in a small, heavy pot just a little wider than your poori (I use an enameled cast iron pot about 7 inches in diameter). The oil is ready when it reaches 325 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, wait until the oil is rippling on the surface, then slide in one of the poori. If the oil is hot enough, the poori will begin to bubble and puff.

Use a wooden spoon to push the edges of the poori under the oil; this should cause the poori to puff like a small balloon. Don’t worry if it doesn’t puff perfectly – it will still taste good. As you practice, you will get the hang of it and your pooris will improve.

When one side has browned, carefully flip the poori and brown the other side. Use a slotted spoon to lift it from the oil and place it on a sheet tray lined with paper towels to drain. Cook all the poori in the same fashion, adjusting the oil temperature if necessary up or down. The poori are best served hot, but leftovers are good if reheated.

Makes 16.

Potato Paratha

1∕2 recipe Basic Flat Bread Dough

2 small potatoes, peeled and boiled until tender and mashed

1 tablespoon oil (sunflower is good)

1∕2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small onion, peeled and minced

2 serrano or other small hot green chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1∕2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

oil for cooking

Heat the oil in a skillet, then add the cumin seeds. Cook them until they become brown and begin to pop. Add the onions and peppers and saute until the onion softens. Add the mashed potato and salt then cook for another minute. Remove from the heat, stir in the cilantro and set aside to cool.

Divide the dough into 16 balls, then flatten them on a well-floured surface into discs about 4 inches wide. Flatten about a tablespoon of the potato mixture in the center of half of the discs, but leave the edges of the discs uncovered. Place a round of plain dough over each of the rounds with potato on them, then seal the edges of the rounds by pressing them with your fingertips.

On a well-floured surface, roll the rounds out carefully to about 7 inches in diameter, trying not to allow any holes to form in the dough. If any holes do form, try to pinch them shut.

Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat; brush the skillet lightly with oil if necessary. Cook the paratha one at a time until covered with brown spots on the bottom, then flip and cook until the other side is covered with brown spots. Adjust the heat as necessary. Cook all the paratha the same way and serve hot, cut into triangles, if desired.

Makes 8.

Legacy Comments1

Another spectacular contribution from Ms. Nelson!

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