Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer 2012 - Making peace with sweet peas

Peas and green bean seeds are planted in my garden every year no matter what. Nothing like shelling fresh green peas. I have never seen fresh peas in their pods in any grocery store, maybe occasionally in a farmer's market but that is it.

Peas are cool weather plants and by the first day of summer most of the harvest is done. In our part of the world the seeds can go in as early as March since sweet peas I hear can tolerate mild frosts. I usually get to it in the ground or in pots by early April. The peas are mature by the official first day of summer.

Though I religiously sow peas every year some years all I have seen are the leaves and some years a few beautiful flowers. This year was an exception even with a scorcher of a Spring. I got about a cup and a half of shelled peas which is a lot for my garden and very unusual.

One year we had a mystery visitor gnawing the leaves and buds and we ended up with no pea pods that year. Some years the seeds were sowed a little later in the season and the summer was upon us before the peas could mature. Peas cannot tolerate extreme heat and humidity.

I followed advice of a garden columnist and planted tomato and okra seeds beneath the peas plants. By the time those seeds were sprouting the pea harvest was done and the container could be used productively without a gap.

After a frustrating few years this spring all the planets seemed to have been aligned so I got to enjoy some fresh garden peas. I had 6 plants to be exact. I am going to sow a few more in Fall when the climate is suitable again.

Besides the weather which is important, loose soil with organic matter is what is required for healthy growth. Besides that the plant does not require any special care.

Go ahead and give them a try.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chard Leaves and Potatoes in a mustard sauce

A few days ago on the news I heard about the recent opening of 'Panera Cares' in Chicago. The concept is similar to Karma Kitchen in California which I thought was a neat idea.

Fresh Chard leaves from the garden

Panera Cares has no prices just suggested donations. This way people who cannot afford can still enjoy some good food by the extra donation from others or volunteer their time at the restaurant for vouchers which go towards purchase. This is great way to provide affordable food in a struggling community isn't?.

Dijon Mustard

This does not necessarily mean I am fond of Panera food or anything like that. I have had their soups and muffins and that was a while ago. One recent experience was at work. On our free bagel days at work they switched from the usual bagel place to Panera. Panera bagels tasted a lot different softer, less chewey, more buttery and a lot sweeter. Sweet bagels and for someone like me with a sweet tooth was a treat. But to eat sweet bagels everyday? Not sure.

Have you had a Panera bagel? Chocolate chip bagel, yes they have those too.

Now on to the recipe,
Like us if you shop in Costco you are bound to make a purchase however careful you are of something in quantities that is more than what your family needs especially of a condiment that cannot be used quickly. One such purchase we made no DH made, I never do things like that ;) was of Dijon Mustard. Like everything else from Costco it usually mean not one but two bottles. Besides occasionally using it in a sandwich there wasn't much use for it till DH to atone (not really but I'd like to think that) found a recipe for spinach with mustard sauce which was not that bad, in fact it was good.

Cooked Potatoes

The next time he did a variation with Chard leaves and added a few potatoes and this was delicious with some steamed rice. So the next time he made the dish I decided to record it for posterity.

We had some fresh beans and peas from my garden so decided to use those. You can also used green bell pepper which has been diced to 1/2 inch pieces which he did the first time he made it.

Chard Leaves and Potatoes in a Mustard Sauce
1. 2-3 cups of fresh Chard leaves (or Spinach leaves) washed and chopped rougly
2. 1/2 cup of chopped onions (any onion will work)
3. 4 cloves of garlic minced
4. 4-5 red chilies split and seeds removed
5. 2 green chilies slit
6. 1/2 cup of green beans and peas (optional) or green bell pepper
7. 2 potatoes scrubbed and boiled to just about done
8. 1/2 tsp black pepper
9. 1 1/2 -2 tbsp mustard (I used Grey Poupon Dijon mustard)
10. salt to taste
11. 1 tsp oil

1. In a wide mouthed saute pan heat the oil and add the onions, red chilies and green chilies and saute till the onions start to turn a slight brown. Add in the garlic and saute for a minute more.
2. In the meantime par boil the beans till they are cooked. Also cook the potatoes whole till they are 3/4th cooked. Cut them into 1-2 inch dice and coat them with the black pepper and set aside.
3. Add the chopped greens to the sauted onions and let them start to wilt.
4. To this add the cut potatoes and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
5. Now add the mustard , give a good mix and let it cook for 4-5 minutes or a bit more till the potatoes are cooked fully.
6. Taste and add more salt if required.

Serve on top of steamed white rice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cabbage Stir Fry with Eggs - for Wraps and Rolls

What do you all think about New York City mayor Bloomberg's proposal to ban the sale of soda cans that are more than 16oz? It is a step in the right direction methinks.

While libertarian and less government types will jump up and down and claim this is another example of government overreach. Well nobody likes regulations of any kind but with our runaway portion sizes and lack of personal responsibility with anything related to food and especially junk food and the ever increasing astronomical health care costs what else is the answer?

Food companies are not capable of policing themselves neither do they care about the health of the population they serve. They are far more interested in profits and pleasing Wall Street to keep their stock prices high. The more cheap sugar and salt they can push into their unhealthy products and the less you know about them the better it is for them. Sky rocketing obesity rates, childhood diabetes and health care costs are all not their problems.

Heck they do not pay any taxes so just consider for a minute who is footing the bill to pay for the treatment of people with diseases that are food related and who are not able to afford health insurance?

We all know how hard it is to control portion size. I am sure every one of has tried and failed at some time or other. God knows I have a lot of times. More than any extreme diet or exercise portion control is what keeps you on a healthy weight curve. We all know of instances when we have run through a full bag of chips/cookies, tubs of ice creams without realizing how much has been consumed. Isn't it better that these things are not available in sizes that are vastly disproportionate to what is deemed enough?

The thing about Capitalism that I don't understand is, a private enterprise(by which I mean anything other than the government) is free to do anything even criminal activity to increase profits but the government is not allowed to regulate through law/tax to protect the health of it's citizens?

If you have reached this far I bet you are interested in the recipe. This is one of those quick and nothing special kind of recipes but one that will surprise you when eaten in a combination that is different from the way it is usually done. I prepare this stir fry often to pair with rice and sambhar/curry, adding egg was introduced by my MIL. I don't add the egg every single time though.

Last night I paired the stir fry with chapatis in a roll and it was like they were made for each other. Give it a try and you will know. I would think it can be used in a filling for a sub, roll or any Indian bread. You can have a dipping sauce on the side but that is purely optional. Nothing fancy the dipping sauce can be some yogurt whisked with any Indian pickle or chili sauce.

Cabbage Stir Fry with Eggs
1. 1 small cabbage thinly shredded (about 3 cups)
2. 6-8 green chilies chopped into small rounds and remove the excess seeds that drop out (adjust to taste)
3. 1/4 cup of chopped red onions
4. 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
5. 1 tbsp of split urad dal
6. seasonings : cumin seeds
7. 2 eggs
8. salt to taste
9. 2 tsp of oil

1. In a wide mouthed saute pan heat the oil and add the urad dal and when it starts to brown add the cumin seeds, followed by the green chilies and onions. Saute till the onions are nicely cooked and so are the green chilies (see note). Add the grated ginger and cook for a couple more minutes.
2. Add the shredded cabbage and let it cook till it gets soft (takes about 10-15 minutes). Always use medium heat so the cabbage does not dry out. I like the cabbages soft, if you like it a bit crunchier reduce the cooking time. Half way through add the salt and let cook till it is completely cooked.
3. Crack open the eggs into a bowl and whisk it. Now make a well in the saute pan and add the eggs and let it cook for a few minutes.
4. Now mix the egg with the rest of the cabbage and let the egg cook completely. The cabbage should be coated with the eggs.
5. Place a couple of table spoons of the cabbage stir fry on a chapati, drip a few drops of pickle and roll the chapati.

1. As the cabbage stir fry is going into a wrap it is going to be hard to pick out the chilies so cook them as crisp and as well as possible.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mint and more Mint - What to do?

My front garden patch is overrun by mint plants while the deer take a keen interest to the other plants they leave the mint, lavender and other herbal plants alone. End result my herb garden has shifted to the front. I can't seem to eradicate the mint completely ever since they took root a decade and half ago so I have learned to live with them.

Overflowing with mint

Early summer is the time when the mint leaves are in abundance, fresh and absolutely marvelous to look at. The thing is there is only so many mint leaves that can be used.

Leave them like that for a few more weeks the mint plants will start to flower and the leaves become mature and start to dry out. Though the mint leaves are available fresh and cheap now, the deal is in the winter months these very same mint leaves will start to cost a fortune and if I don't have any in my freezer it will be all my fault.

Harvested mint

So here is what I do, June and early July I start to collect more leaves than I will need for cooking. To pick, wash and store all in one go is daunting like every other monotonous task. Instead I do it incrementally. If I have collected 2 full gallon bags of leaves they are plenty and last through Winter and Spring.

Getting washed

I started my first collection today. Later in the season(late summer and fall) there aren't as many leaves on the plant I just get enough for making chutney and the occasional briyani.

Drained of the water

I have learned over the years that late summer harvesting of leaves is a much more tedious process than in the early summer months. The quality of the leaves collected now are far superior.

Packed for the freezer

Some recipes with mint,
1. Coriander Mint Chutney - Kothamalli Pudina thuvayal
2. Baby Potatoes in a spicy mint coriander sauce
3. Spinach and mint lentil fritters - Paruppu Vadai with spinach and mint
4. Quick and Easy Mint Rice

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Puffed Rice Snack ( Pori with onions, tomatoes and boiled peanuts)

Are you the type who goes to the doctor regularly or are you the type that visits the doctor only when you have no other choice? I belong to the second category. I grew up in a house with 2 doctors and hence visiting a doctor who is not family feels like a chore. For those of us who fall into the second category there is research on our side. If you are curious here is the link.

Even with insurance where my premium was fully covered by my employer visiting the doctor regularly was never my forte. Now that we are on a high deductible plan as we are both self employed, it makes most sense to visit the doctor only when required. We are also very careful about our healthcare expense asking as many questions as required regarding the various line items that appear on the bill. You'd be surprised if you start paying attention to those details. Nothing like an informed customer.

A small effort to bring down the skyrocketing healthcare costs lies perhaps in being more involved in our own health care expenses. When the insurance company pays for the expenses there is no real need to pay attention to the costs. We are more aware of the various costs involved in a treatment as it comes out of our pockets. HSAs (Health Savings Account) are a good thing for anyone in our situation.

Going to the doctor less means eating right and leading an active life. Now on to the recipe,

I used the puffed rice bought from the Indian grocery store, if you are not able to get those the Puffed Rice breakfast cereals also work fine. I usually make this spiced puffed rice but it takes a little bit of time. This one on the other hand is almost instant.

Puffed Rice Snack (with onions, tomatoes and boiled peanuts)
1. 2-3 cups of puffed rice
2. 1/4 cup of red onions chopped fine
3. 1 cup of raw peanuts (see note:) (optional)
4. 2 cucumbers peeled and diced
5. 2 tomatoes diced
6. handful of coriander leaves chopped
7. 1 tsp of red chili powder
8. juice from 1 lemon or lime
9. a few pinches of salt

1. Boil the raw peanuts and set aside
2. Mix the onions and lemon juice and let it sit for 20-30 minutes (see note:)
3. To the onions add the tomatoes, cucumbers if using, coriander leaves, chili powder and salt and mix it well
4. Take some puffed rice, add couple of table spoons of the onion - tomato mixture and some boiled peanut, mix and serve.

1. Use roasted peanuts in place of boiled peanuts or skip it altogether.
2. Mango salsa can be used, skipping the peanuts.
3. I like to let the onions sit in the lemon juice to take off the raw edge as I am not fond of raw onion taste.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What did you eat for breakfast Yesterday?

I saw this article on NYTimes India blog, India, What Did You Eat Yesterday?

Read through the interview with a bunch of folks from all social stratas. One common theme is they all seem to eat much better than ahem we do in America.

No overload of sugar in the morning for breakfast which tends to cause acute hunger mid-morning and leads to snacking and that leads to ... well you know where.

Indulge me please, What did you eat for breakfast yesterday and again this morning?

I had some oatmeal with yogurt and mango pickle yesterday and this morning -- banana peach smoothie and an omelette with two slices of whole wheat toast.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Orange Lemonade Recipe

Is Your Supermarket Chucking Foods Before They Expire?, saw this article on Mother Jones magazine website and my thoughts turned to my attitude towards 'Sell by' and 'Use by' dates on food packages.

I grew up in India were refrigerating cooked food for more than a day at least back then was unheard of. Vegetables were in the crisper for a couple of days maybe. We mostly used our senses - noses, tongues and hands to detect if fruits, vegetables, milk or any food for that matter has gone bad.

I still carry that technique to detect freshness of food even with the plethora of dates on most packaged food products. Though I ignore the dates to figure out if they are spoiled I definitely use these dates to buy stuff from the store especially the quick perishables like meat, milk etc., but once they land in my pantry or refrigerator I generally use my nose to tell if they have to be thrown away.

I am actually glad when something goes bad as opposed to them staying the same even after a good couple of weeks. Makes me wonder if these unspoilable food are real food but that is a story for another day.

I know and have seen people throw away perfectly good food because the dates on the packages say otherwise and are on or near the expiry date.

What is your attitude towards these dates on food products?

Moving on to the recipe,
I am on not terribly fond of orange juices. I rarely buy them and never reach for them unless I have no other choice. Those are the times when I want to avoid the donuts but want something sweet. The metallic taste of most store bought orange juices is what I do not like about it.

Freshly squeezed orange juices on the other hand tastes like well how fruit juice should taste fresh and sweet. It was no wonder that when I saw some orange lemonade at my favorite Amish Lancaster Dutch market I could not resist picking it up. It doesn't hurt that they usually make the juices on the premise and does not have any additives.

When the half gallon we bought ran out we set out to make our own. Simple recipe but delicious as they come. My dear friend and her kids were visiting and I tested the juice on them. While my friend found the juice a tad sweet, the kids liked it. So control the amount of sugar you add or skip it altogether.

Orange Lemonade Recipe
1. Juice from 6 medium sized lemons
2. Juice from 6-8 Oranges (see note)
3. 1/4 cup of sugar (half this amount should suffice)
4. 3 cups of water

1. Mix in all the ingredients, refrigerate.
2. Add ice cubes just before serving.

1. I strained out the pulp (of course you can eat this later) but leave it in if you like it that way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mango Sorbet Recipe

Summer days in the DC area come with humidity, heat and bugs. Today is one of those unusual days with a cool breeze, zero humidity and no bugs - perfect for leisurely walks, outdoor activities and such.

This mango sorbet might not be something that you will be reaching out for on a day such as this one but on the other hand on a normal DC day this sorbet will come in quiet handy.

This sorbet was made with canned mango pulp but with the mango season on hand it can be made with fresh mangoes.

Mango Sorbet
From Canned pulp
1. 1 30oz can of mango pulp (see note)
2. 1/2 cup of fresh mangoes sent through a blender and roughly chopped (as small or as chunky as you want)
2. juice from one small lemon (3 tsp worth)

From fresh Mangoes
1. Ripe juicy mango pieces enough to make 3 cups of pulp + maybe 1/2 cup of water (about 8-10 mangoes)
2. 1 cup of sugar (adjust accordingly)
3. 3 tsp of lemon juice

1. In an ice cream maker combine the mango pulp and lemon juice and let it set for about 25 minutes.
2. Scoop and freeze for another of couple of hours before serving.
3. If not using an ice cream maker freeze and every couple of hours break the crystal and let set again. Do this for 3 times and then freeze.

1. If using canned mango pulp do not add any extra sugar.