24 September 2011

Indian Rice Casserole

A while ago I vowed not to venture into Indian cuisine because it requires so many spices and special ingredients—no fresh curry leaves around here, I'll tell you!  But recently I stumbled across an old Vegetarian Times recipe for an "Indian" casserole and I was delighted to learn that all you need to make something Indian is whole mustard seeds, fresh ginger, and cumin.

Okay, so maybe this casserole is Indian-lite.  Yet I'll admit that there is something about the feel of whole toasted spices mixed into creamy rice that texturally echoes rice from my favorite Indian restaurants. This casserole is homey, comforting, soothing, and delightfully mild. Also, as trendy places like to say, IT'S A SNAP!  Lately, work has been smiting me in a biblical way, but this recipe doesn't ask for much except for a somewhat annoying shopping list (where have all the dried currants gone?). So I actually managed to pop the casserole in the oven and still have energy to clean up afterwards.

The original recipe was written in a rather intimidating way and demanded both a 6-quart Dutch oven and expensive garnishes. My version is simpler and cheaper. Plus it goes really well with Pumpkin Bisque and crisp autumn apples.

If you happen to have cumin seeds, add them with the mustard seeds instead of later with the onions.
If you have celiac disease, use a mild gluten-free broth like those by Imagine.

Indian Rice Casserole

2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
2 Tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 1/4 Cups vegetable broth (or 2 Cups broth plus 1/4 Cup water)
1 Cup basmati, jasmati, or Thai jasmine rice. Or any long grain white rice, I guess.
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 Cup dried currants
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into small thin matchsticks
optional: a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before serving

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a tall soup pot over medium high heat. Add mustard seeds and immediately cover. After about 30 seconds the seeds will pop like popcorn! Turn off the heat and put the seeds in a small bowl for later.
  3. Add the other teaspoon of oil to the pot. Heat it up. Add the onions and ginger and sauté for 6 minutes. 
  4. Add everything else. Stir and turn off the heat.
  5. Pour everything into a medium-sized casserole dish or donabe (see image above). Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Serve at once, or let sit in the 'fridge all night.
Serves 6 courteous guests or 3 starveling, rude guests.

17 September 2011

Vegetarian Korean: Japchae

Way back when I lived in Berkeley, I frequented an inexpensive Korean restaurant on Telegraph St. called Berkel Berkel, which sounds like the Korean onomatopoeia for boiling water (i.e., bubble bubble).  Every menu item arrived accompanied by complimentary banchan (tiny sides like kimchi, namul, and bokkeum) and refreshing iced barley tea. For vegetarians the menu offered few options. Nevertheless the two vegetarian entrees often drew me back, zombie-like. One dish was bibimbap; I plan to attempt it... later. The other, japchae, is probably the mildest dish Korea ever invented.

The joy of japchae comes from the chewy, slithery texture of the sweet potato noodles (dang-myeon), also called glass noodles. They don't have any flavor so you'll need the right sauce. Stir-fry these noodles with colorful vegetables and thick, chewy slabs of tofu then sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve steaming hot.

I used a recipe posted by Nick Kindelsperger of Serious Eats, switching out the beef for sautéed tofu. Our spinach spoiled so I omitted it. The texture was great, but Kindelsperger's simple sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce and brown sugar didn't flavor the dish enough. Also, the stir-fry swam with grease; that's my fault because I forgot to measure the canola oil. 

I judge this recipe a good start toward developing a satisfying japchae dish but it needs sexing up. Ginger and rice wine vinegar show up in other japchae recipes, but Kindelsperger's flavoring actually seems kind of standard—a recipe from a Korean restaurant in the New York times practically replicated it. George and I agree that the japchae at Berkel Berkel was much better than the one I just made, so we'll just have to fool around a bit on our own. I think one thing Berkel Berkel did differently was to serve this with rice which seems counter intuitive, but just pretend it's a stir-fry with rice and you'll see why it makes sense.

Updates later, suggestions welcome!
(I'm thinking of trying Ellie Won's recipe next)

08 September 2011

Vegetarian Korean: Kimchi Quesadilla

My odiferous obsession with Korean cooking continues! I have been on a severe Korean craving streak for about a month now. George traveled in South Korea for a week and longs to return, but when he entered the house today he wrinkled his nose and asked "What's that terrible smell?"

"Oh, it's kimchi!" I replied brightly. "I made a kimchi quesadilla." George looked pretty dubious and went to hide in a room with windows and a fan. Probably Koreans don't tend to toast and then microwave their kimchi within the space of ten minutes. But that's what I did because I invented a new dish! A quick Internet search revealed to me that others have also recently invented this dish. One recent traveler to South Korea reported that even in the Birthplace of Kimchi many restaurants are adding mozzarella cheese to various traditional dishes. I am on the CUTTING EDGE. Instead of mozzarella, I used cheddar, and I just think the flavor of a good sharp cheddar holds up better against kimchi. But please do what you want.

I used Napa cabbage kimchi, but maybe radish kimchi would taste even better. And crunchier.

Kimchi Quesadilla

1 flour tortilla or wrap (I used multi-grain whole wheat because I am hard-core)
some slices good sharp cheddar
some fresh cabbage kimchi

Tortilla plus cheese topped with kimchi. The microwave works way better than the toaster because kimchi doesn't respond well to toasting. On the other hand, in the microwave the tortilla gets pretty soft and a big soggy. A midway solution would be to toast the tortilla and cheese, crisp it up nice, then add pre-microwaved hot steaming kimchi and fold the whole thing together.

Oh so good.
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