This is how you know I am a noob with regards to Indian cuisine.
Ever since besan chilla entered our lives, we have been enamoured by chickpea flour. I’ve used it in dairy-free vegan quiches, pakoras, malai koftas, and smeared inside a delicious collard roulade. Rob even used it to make cookie dough truffles to woo me.
The entire time, we’ve called it beh-sahn. Like it was French.
However, it turns out we’ve been wrong. It sounds just like “basin”. Bay-sin.
So here I am with another besan recipe. This time, I stuffed it into long red Sheppard peppers. I’ve done stuffed peppers before, filled with bulgur, tomatoes, mushrooms and raisins, and always used the largest bell peppers I could find. The thicker the flesh, the better for keeping its shape after being roasted in the oven.
But this time, I
tortured myself. just kidding! The long and slender red peppers were recently available and I grabbed as many as I could carry (a common sighting when red peppers go on sale). This time, I decided to fill them with a fragrant besan paste spiced with almonds, cumin, coriander and amchur.
The hardest part was removing the seeds without cracking open the entire pepper, but most of the peppers have few seeds anyhow. Once you slide in the filling, you are laughing. Quicker than stuffed peppers, this was easy with the fast-cooking of the besan along with a simple pan-fry (with adjunct steaming) of the peppers.
PS. The original recipe suggested using banana peppers, but I like this version with the sweetness of the red pepper. Feel free to add more heat with more chile flakes, as this was not that hot.
PPS. Am I alone? How do you pronounced besan?
Most people probably roll their eyes when they hear you have dietary restrictions. I know my food choices can be a pain in the butt for some people but imagine combining it with other allergies and restrictions? I have a friend with a severe allergy to sulphites, another friend who won’t eat nightshades and beans and I recently met someone with some crazy diet for interstitial cystitis and I could only remember her telling me she eats no spices. I love trying to find meals we can enjoy together, though. I think the worse was when I was trying to find common meals I could share with my grandfather who needed a low potassium, low salt, and low cholesterol diet. The low potassium part made it the most challenging since he couldn’t eat any whole grains, beans, nuts or seeds which are my protein sources. Meal planning is like a fun puzzle for me although others probably find it a headache.
Recently I was asked to suggest meals fit for entertaining. Not usually a problem, because I keep a list for myself in case I forget. However, there was a caveat: no garlic, no onions, no leeks, no shallots, no green onions (no alliums). I know there are multiple reasons to avoid them (including those who are doing the FODMAPS thing), but they continue to be a staple in my diet. More than just aromatics, they have a lot of health benefits, too.
Never daunted by a special diet request, I mustered up a few suggestions (Raw Zucchini Alfredo, Raw Tacos skipping the onion in the salsa, Thai Tempeh Wraps with a Mango Ginger Sauce, Sushi Salad Bowl with Avocado and Asparagus, among others with minor modifications). In the end, Ellen made my
Vanilla Sweet Potato and Kale Curry and it received high praises from her and her guests (YA!).
The request planted a seed in my head, though. What kinds of meals are naturally free from alliums? I know some people just don’t like chopping garlic and onion, and some Indian recipes call for asafoetida as a substitute. Thus, I looked through my Indian bible, 660 Curries, and while I didn’t pick a recipe with asafoetida, I picked one without onions and garlic.
Cooking without the typical aromatics meant we needed flavour from elsewhere: loads of savoury spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, all the good spices Indian curries are made from. The special spice, this time, was amchur/amchoor (mango powder).
I’ve used amchoor before in chaat masala used with Malai kofta and a warm chickpea and mango salad. It is made from dried green mangoes, conferring a sour tangy flavour, not unlike vinegar or lemon juice. Since I substituted tomato passata for fresh tomatoes, this is a very pantry-friendly recipe when you run out of even the most basic perishables (onions, garlic and lemons) and don’t feel like going grocery shopping when it is snowing in April (!). The cilantro does perk it up, but not necessary.
Anyways, in essence, you are making chickpeas cooked in a nicely flavoured tomato sauce. No fuss, you simply simmer then away for a while as you tend to something else. Like most curries, they make fabulous leftovers and I ended up enjoying them overtop fresh green spinach as a quasi salad.
Do you feel overwhelmed or welcome the challenge of dietary restrictions?
For some ingredients, I do a little happy dance every time we empty a container and put it to rest. White flour, please, I do not need you. Pasta, I loved you once before, but not now. Some ingredients just do not need to be replenished and those we celebrate empty containers!
Other foods have become staples. If we run out, I feel a bit antsy.
On the weekend, I inadvertently finished the last of our tamarind concentrate while making this salad. I also realized that we are awfully low on chickpea flour, due to Rob’s (healthy) weekend obsession with Besan Chilla. We also have no nondairy milk left.
These ingredients can be a challenge to find at reasonable prices, so I feel compelled to restock my pantry before we move. I know, terrible idea. We have hired movers, so it couldn’t be too bad, right? Actually, with my collection of beans and cookbooks, I am slightly worried that the 2 movers won’t be enough. Anyhow, before we move, I plan on fortifying our stocks. We will have tamarind and chickpea flour once again.
Now about this salad: It is a light yet hearty Indian-spiced chickpea salad from 1000 Indian Recipes that I first spotted on Lisa’s blog. Her high praise for 1000 Indian Recipes was one reason I picked it up, despite my embargo on new cookbooks. Lisa described this as a great salad for those not used to fiery hot dishes, which sounded right up my alley. Here, the chickpeas are mixed with sweet and creamy mangoes, sweet and sour tamarind, and tart and sweet pomegranate arils doused in a savoury dressing with ginger, tamarind and chaat masala. Cilantro, used both cooked and fresh, adds a brightness to the dish.
It was refreshing to break free of my typical Indian curries and savour such a nicely balanced salad.
I am pretty proud of myself for eating through my cupboards. I ate my last carrot and wondered whether I could hold out for a month until we moved to replenish them. Completely foolhardy. We’re moving within Toronto, so there’s no reason to be completely devoid of food. So I bought more carrots.
Then I spotted this recipe for mouth-watering malai kofta, Indian veggie meatballs in a creamy curry sauce, that seemed perfect for guests. I immediately decided they would be perfect for our Indian Easter – a company-worthy dish. Leanne’s recipe called for chaat masala which I didn’t have. Having disappointed myself by buying curry powder, I was adamant to make my own version. While there are many versions of chaat masala, my newest cookbook, 1000 Indian Recipes, had an intriguing recipe using amchur (mango powder), mint, black salt, cumin and asafoetida. It also included ajwain, citric acid and tamarind powder… of which I had none. Currently living so close to Little India, instead of shunning new purchases, I decided to use this as a time to harness my Indian spice prowess.
While looking for cheap hazelnuts, we scoured Little India for our new spices. Ajwain and citric acid were easily located but tamarind powder was nowhere to be found (I also checked out Bestwin and Sunny’s). Sadly, I also discovered what a treasure-trove BJ’s Supermarket is. While it has always been Rob’s go-to place for a variety of rotis, naans, parathas, etc as well as Indian spices, I also discovered it stocks Kombucha (from Crudessence!), has reasonably priced Mary’s crackers ($3.99/box) and a wide assortment of reasonably priced Stash teas ($2.99/each). Almond Breeze is also regularly priced at $1.69. Who would have known? Of course, I only discovered this a month prior to moving away.
Undeterred by my lack of tamarind powder, I made my chaat masala with it omitted. This was probably the first time I could honestly say my house smelled like curry. I blame the ajwain since it is the newbie!!
When deciding what to make for our guests, I liked Leanne’s strategy of making this partially in advance and then throwing the rest of the sauce together just prior to serving. We ended up making it all the same day, so that works too. This is more involved than the other curries I’ve made because you need to make the kofta, but this was very well received by everyone. The flavours were complex and delicious with big vegetable “meatballs”. Baked, not fried. The sauce was creamy without being heavy. While you could simply omit the chaat masala from the malai kofta, I liked the extra depth of flavours imparted likely from the black salt, ajwain and mint.
While still delicious and enjoyed by all, my meatballs were a bit more mushy than I had anticipated. I substituted sweet potatoes for regular potatoes but I don’t think that changed much. I am not sure if I underbaked them, or overcooked the veggies beforehand. My only exposure to koftas in restos have been heavy and dense fried balls, that I figure are filled with ground nuts and coconut. These are veggie-based and lighter. Rob assured me he’s had kofta like these before. I also used my food processor for the sauce, but since we used cashews as the creamy portion, next time I would use my Vitamix for a smoother consistency. I just didn’t want to dirty yet another container at that moment. Soaking the cashews could also help, so I added that into the directions.