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?
It may be a good thing that Sunny and I live further apart.
I won’t get into as much trouble with my grocery shopping.
You see, we needed to get more chickpea flour and tamarind. No better excuse to head out to Sunny’s one last time. I scope out my weekly meals based on the produce that is on sale. I knew oyster mushrooms were on sale, so I planned to make mushroom dal. Green beans were also on sale, so I had planned a meal for that, too. I still meander through the produce section to see what else is available, though.. and that’s when I get into trouble.
Unadvertised specials: Two bunches of broccoli for $1. Huge collards for 79c/bunch. Hard-to-find green mangoes were spotted. So. Hard. To. Resist. I am weak against fresh, cheap veggies. I succumbed. I contained myself, though, when I saw a huge amount of mixed baby greens on sale for $3 (it must have been a bag of 20 lbs, I kid you not), though. My weekend menu gets turned upside down. Now I am not entirely sure what I want to make.
In the end, I made the sushi roll edamame collard wraps earlier in the week with the collard greens. By the end of the week, I wanted to try something cooked instead. Continuing on my current Indian kick, I turned to 660 Curries and I was shocked to find a recipe using collards: Roulade of Collard Leaves with a Tomato-Mustard Sauce! Collard leaves are used to envelope a savoury chickpea flour batter, drizzled with a tomato-mustard sauce. The authentic Indian version uses taro leaves but Iyer insists that collards are a nice, if somewhat chewier substitute. My curiosity was piqued instantly.
My Indian repertoire consists mainly of bean-based curries, so it was nice to try something completely different. This is an appetizer, but it is hearty enough to be a main meal if you eat enough. Here, you make a delectably savoury filling based on chickpea flour spiced with coriander, cumin, chile flakes, ginger and tamarind. Please stop to taste the filling, it is very good. Just don’t eat too much of it because it is then thinly spread overtop collard leaves. With around one tablespoon of batter per leaf, I had my doubts whether this would all stick together in the end. You stack 4 collard leaves on top of each other and tightly roll it together and secure it with a toothpick (or string). Next, your collard roll is steamed until tender and the chickpea batter is cooked. After a bit of cooling, you slice them, then pan-fry them until brown with mustard and cumin seeds and then briefly stew them with some tomato and cilantro to create a quasi-sauce. Dust with some coconut and you have some seriously flavourful collard bites. The collards are meltingly tender, the chickpea filling so tasty and the nibbles are eerily creamy. The extra flavour from the tempered spices make this sing. My tomato-mustard sauce never really delivered, as I may not have had a big enough tomato, but the little smattering of tomato-cilantro was nice in moderation.
I know it seems so complex, but it is fairly simple to make. I’d bust this out for my next Indian fest, though, as it is best when fresh and very impressive, while still pretty easy to make. Iyer says these can be prepared in advance and frozen, which would be a delicious treat to have stored for a rainy day.
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.
This is another dish we test-drove before our Indian Easter feast.
Pakoras are veggie-based fritters common across South Asia and are a popular snack or appetizer in India. Walk into any store in Little India, and you will see them: 2 for $1, although I have no clue who would want to buy cold deep-fried snacks. Lemon Cilantro Pakoras is a recipe from Tess, so we knew it would be scrumptious. However, we wanted to figure out how to make them without deep-frying. Here, we mix finely chopped cauliflower and onions in a lemon-cilantro-cumin studded chickpea flour batter. Akin to a souped up chilla, in ball form, oozing with lemony cilantro goodness. Like naan, these tasty fritters are best fresh, warm straight from the oven.
I will admit that we didn’t do a double-blinded randomized control trial for this cooking experiment. We made the batter and cooked them 3 different ways: a) in my aebleskiver pan; b) in a non-stick skillet; and c) baked on a silpat. The hardest part was keeping the pakoras together as we cooked and flipped them, so we also did a batch with extra chickpea flour on the skillet. I took photos of each version, but they kind of looked the same, so I will spare you the repetition.
I will get right to the unanimous verdict:
Baked pakoras for the win!
First of all, they were definitely the easiest: smush into a ball and bake. Although I flipped them half-way while baking, and then dusted with some oil, they are fairly hand’s off: no need to tend to them over the stovetop, roll them about, fiddle with additional oil, etc. Secondly (although most important), they tasted the best. The extra oil needed for the aebleskiver pan didn’t help them not stick and definitely made them taste heavier. The silpat was also easier to clean. Rob and I both preferred the lighter, refreshing taste from the baked pakoras. Out of everything we served at Easter, this was also the unanimous dish loved by all (including my hard-to-please father).
I feel like a real gourmand telling you all about pakoras, but the truth is I had no clue was a pakora was until last weekend. Rob, my resident Indian cuisine connoisseur, assured me this tasted authentic and better than what he has eaten at restaurants. He liked these more because they were lighter and healthier. Considering these are basically chopped up veggies slathered in a chickpea flour batter, they seem like a quick, guilt-less snack to me! We enjoyed them with tamarind and mango chutneys, but cilantro chutney would be paired with them more often.
Another note, I wanted to give a shout-out to Justa who recently tagged me with a Sunshine Blog Award as an Inspirational Blog. Her description of my blog had me nearly in tears:
This blog is my secret obsession. I’ve spent so much time over there I almost feel like a stalker! Janet is Vegan and while Mr. Foodie and I sometimes struggle to get a day’s worth of veggies, we are trying to eat more meatless meals and more healthily. Her blog is amazing to me and often intimidating but I don’t let that stop me. I read it like I’m studying a book, probably because I can’t pronounce half the stuff she makes and have no idea what the ingredients are so I end up googling them and learning so much about new foods and food combinations. She also provides lots of links to other blogs so the amazing food journey never seems to end. If you want to learn more about healthy recipes this is a good place to start.
I am thrilled to know I have been able to keep her inspired to try new ways of incorporating veggies into her meals. Part of why I blog is because I hope to inspire others with easy, healthy cooking and connect with other like-minded people. I also post about my cycling adventures because cycling was a big positive change in my life two years ago. I went from walking 30 minutes a day to/from the subway as my only exercise to building myself up to bike 361 km over 2-days last summer. Even though I now go to the gym regularly and have returned to biking to work, I still don’t consider myself athletic! There is something magical about biking: anyone can do it with a proper bicycle.
I don’t consider myself to have any innate athletic skills (I am possibly the most non-athletic person), nor do I have any special skills in the kitchen. My secret to capturing kitchen bliss is to know what I like, push myself in new directions to keep things interesting, maintain a well-stocked pantry and use fresh ingredients whenever possible. I love trying out new recipes but usually tweak them to my tastes.
I am still learning how to do the cycling thing better, but my tips are: a) wear a good helmet to protect your head; b) ride a comfortable non-cruiser bicycle; c) use a good lock so your bicycle doesn’t get stolen; d) incorporate cycling into your daily activities; e) padded cycling shorts + chamois butter are essential for long rides; f) gradually build up distance to cycle the long rides, taking breaks as you need them and g) have no shame in using your granny gear (ie, your lowest possible gear) for the big hills.
I have been honoured with a few other blogger awards, and had planned to do a dedicated post gushing over my favourite bloggers akin to my favourite cookbooks post. I will save that for another day, though. In the meantime, try out these healthy pakoras and let me know what you think. Don’t let the wacky name intimidate you.
While in NYC, I ventured to the Greenmarket Farmer’s Market at Union Square. As I drooled over the fresh produce (there were the most beautiful bundles of kale), I had to find my dinner. I ended up buying a farinata to go. The farmer told me it was one of his most popular items. Unlike my socca, which was a thin chickpea pancake with toppings, this was a thick slab of a crustless chickpea tart (almost an inch or more thick) with the toppings integrated right into the farinata itself. It wasn’t my best meal. In fact, it was my meal low-light since it was rather dry and crumbly. However, it inspired me to make something even better upon my return back home.
I bookmarked Ricki’s quizza (a chickpea flour-based quiche-pizza hybrid) this summer and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for: a thick slab of pie, creamy instead of dry, filled with my favourite veggies. Rob continues to experiment with the Besan Chilla, the Indian Chickpea Pancakes, and throws all sorts of vegetables into the batter (baby bok choy, red pepper, carrot, etc) and even kimchi. Quiche is equally adaptable to a multitude of fillings.
I went with Mediterranean flavours when I adapted Ricki’s recipe: zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach spiced with garlic, rosemary, basil and oregano. Plus, with a nod to the Besan Chilla, I added black salt for an egg-like taste. Next time, I may add some olives or caramelized onions, too.
I love how versatile chickpea flour can be be. In the Besan Chilla, you have a pancake texture, with the socca it is more firm and here, you definitely have a creamy consistency. Definitely better than the farinata from the market. Plus, I can easily make this at home while cleaning out the vegetable odds and ends. Definitely a win-win situation.
Next up on my chickpea flour to-try list: Candle 79′s Chickpea Crepes.
This is being submitted to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Kiran, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekend, to this month’s Breakfast Club featuring eggy breakfasts and to this month’s Bookmarked Recipe.
I am having a hard time renaming some of my dishes.
Banana Scramble: I felt Banana Peanut Butter Chia Super Pancake was more accurate
Raw Vegan Raspberry Cheesecake: Better named the delicious birthday Raspberry Dreamcake (yes, I preferred Sarah’s name)
Lentil Mango Picadillo: Greek to me, so it was renamed Latin-Spiced Mango Lentil Salad (kind of boring, though?)
Lightened Up Protein Power Goddess Bowl: Rechristened as Warm Lentil, Bulgur and Vegetable Skillet with a Lemon-Tahini Sauce
I swear, vegan food does not need to be a recreation of something dairy or meat-laden. It can just be. Wonderful, in all its glory. Nameless.
While exploring our new neighbourhood, Rob and I discovered new ethnic grocery stores, including a few that carried black salt or kala namak. More pink than black, this salt has been infused with sulfur, rendering an egg-like taste when used in cooking.
We immediately made Besan Chilla (also known as cheela or pudla), which technically is an Indian chickpea-based crepe or pancake. However, I first spotted the recipe on Julia’s blog where she called it a chickpea flour omelette. Omelet or pancake? Rob and I disagreed. The only thing we agreed on was that it was delicious.
Analogies work well when trying to convey a new concept, and for me, these reminded me of a savoury pancake. Too thick for a crepe, too pancake-like to be an omelet. We stuffed the chickpea flour-based pancakes with savoury spices (ginger, garlic, onion, turmeric, chili flakes) as well as vegetables including tomato and spinach. Broccoli stems work great, too! Really, pick your favourite veggies ad run with it. The addition of black salt conferred an egg-like taste, which is why this could be described as something similar to an omelet.
Rob can whip up a mean omelet. An egg-based one, though. He did not feel that this version warranted being christened as a vegan omelet, as is. He has vowed to tinker with the recipe, to make it more akin to a traditional omelet.
Until then, I couldn’t wait to share the recipe with you because it was really tasty just the way it is. Whatever name you want to attach to it. Besan Chilla, it is for now, with the wonderful black salt. Wonderful for breakfast, or as a light lunch. Mix things up with your favourite spices and vegetables. Serve as is, with chutney on the side, or as a side to a more complete meal with Indian dishes.
I’ll take it one word at a time.
Ottolenghi: Yotam Ottolenghi is a British chef that writes The New Vegetarian column in The Guardian. He pushes the concept of traditional cooking, incorporating his Middle Eastern background to today’s best dishes. He has two popular cookbooks: Ottolenghi and Plenty.
Socca: A thick, heavier French chickpea flour crepe. A rustic dish that is supposed to be eaten with your hands.
Pissaladière: A French pizza-like appetizer without tomato sauce or cheese. Instead your dough is typically topped with sautéed onions, garlic, olives and anchovies.
Putting this all together, with Ottolenghi’s twist on the two traditional recipes, we have a light meal with a thick chickpea pancake as the base for lovely caramelized onions and oven-roasted tomatoes. I first spotted this recipe in his cookbook, Plenty, but a slight variation is also posted through The Guardian. In the cookbook, there is more chickpea flour and 2 whipped egg whites are added to the batter. I didn’t feel like fiddling with extra egg whites, so I stuck to the recipe online. David Lebovitz also has a socca recipe and a key point he makes is to rest the batter over 2 hours before you start to bake it. I have added that to the recipe as well.
The result of this is a thick, hearty yet still kind of light, nutty pancake that is smothered with silky caramelized onions with a hint of thyme and topped with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes. I liked how the flavours complemented each other so well. My gripe, though, now that I am making all my weekday meals on the weekend is that the leftovers are subprime. Definitely not bring to work kind of leftovers. I can manage some semblance of the original deliciousness if I pop it back in my oven for a few minutes to perk up. But that only works at home.
As well, I had a bit of difficulties making the pancakes. I usually use a non-stick frypan but this recipe calls for a smaller pancake, made in a smaller frypan. My smallest frypan isn’t nonstick, so my socca stuck a few times. Still tasted great, though. Next time, I may default back to my non-stick frypan even if that means the pancakes/crepes will be bigger.
November is special in many ways. Of course, there is Remembrance Day. For some, it is a month to grow a moustache in support of raising funds for prostate cancer research (aka Movember). For others, it is a celebration of vegan food through almost daily blogging (aka Vegan MoFo).
I am neither a vegan, nor a vegetarian, nor do I plan to write 20-30 posts this month about vegan food. In fact, most of my vegan recipes are serendipitous as I search out healthy recipes. But I figured I’d pay homage to Vegan MoFo by posting vegan-friendly dishes all month. So far, so good (and I bet you may not have noticed they were vegan!).
In fact, I wanted to take things a bit further by going where few non-vegans have gone before: making vegan “meat”.
Yes, I made my own homemade sausages… without any meat!
And it was fun!
Adapted from Viva Vegan, you mix and knead together vital wheat gluten and some chickpea flour with some vegetable broth and olive oil and a ton of flavourings: tomato paste, garlic, cumin, coriander, Mexican oregano, chili flakes, smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, and if you like it hotter throw in some cayenne and peppercorns.
I am not particularly familiar with chorizo, so I can’t say how close these are to the real deal. They were a bit soft right out of the oven but firmed up slightly after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. They were scrumptious, though! Little dumplings bursting with flavour. Nearly entirely filled with protein, at that.
I added them to the Brazilian Potato-Kale Soup and it definitely brought it to the next level. I was fishing out the chorizo for each bite. It was delectable.
Bring on the homemade (vegan) sausages!