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Feb 2010 05

This bright yellow pilaf, embellished with a constellation of crunchy mustard seeds and toasted cashews, is a staple dish in many Indian households. Adding the lemon juice at the end gives the rice a fresh, sharp flavour. It also gives you the option of turning any plain leftover rice you have on hand into a colourful, festive side dish in minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may substitute lime juice and zest for the lemon – lime rice is equally authentic in the realm of Indian nosh.

You will need:

2 c. basmati rice
2 3/4 c. water
½  tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
pinch turmeric
¼ c. unsalted cashews
¼ c. lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

In a medium-sized pot, bring the water and salt to boil. Meanwhile, rinse the rice well in cold water, until the water no longer appears cloudy. Add the rice to the boiling water, cover, then turn the heat down to low. When the water has been absorbed (about 20 minutes), turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork.

In a larger pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and mustard seeds, stirring continuously – they should shimmer enthusiastically in the oil. When the seeds begin to crackle, whisk in the turmeric, then remove the pot from the heat so as not to burn the nuts. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest, then add the cooked rice and toss to coat. If you’d like, stir the chopped cilantro into the rice just before serving.

Serves 4

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Feb 2010 05

In thumbing through cookbooks — or searching online — for exotic Indian food, you will no doubt come across many curry recipes that would make the hair of any Indian, myself included, stand on end. So I felt it necessary to warn you all about the vast array of impostor curry recipes out there: the mere act of adding curry powder to something does not transform it into a curry!

Here’s the thing. You can’t make an authentic, true curry without your base aromatics: onion, garlic and ginger. Without those, your curry will be bland and will taste 1-dimensional. It’s like making an Italian tomato sauce without shallots, garlic and olive oil – no self-respecting Italian would do it! Cumin is also vital to a good curry – cumin is to curry what basil is to marinara sauce. Got it?

So with those 4 things – onion, garlic, ginger and cumin – you can punch up any old curry recipe and turn it into something that would impress even your Indian friends!  What follows is a recipe for a tomato-based vegetable curry.

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Chickpea Curry

You will need:

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 cups water
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1½ tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp garam masala (also available at Indian groceries)
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds (or ½ tsp mustard, in a pinch)
1 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 green chilies, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, until the onions are soft and golden. Add all of the spices, ginger, garlic and salt. Stir-fry the mixture for a minute.

Add the chickpeas and 1 cup of water, and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, and green chilies, and allow them to cook together for about a minute. Add another cup of water and simmer the mixture until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Serve over basmati rice and with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, if you like.

Serves 6, as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Feb 2010 05

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve got no idea about Polynesian cuisine, but these little tropical kebabs make me feel like I’m basking in the sun on a paradisiacal island far, far away from slushy Toronto. I make these when I’m tired of gefilte fish and I want to serve something festive and a little spicy as the first course for Shabbos dinner or lunch. Besides being aesthetically attractive, they are easy to make – and that, to me, is the biggest draw. You can use any type of fish you like, provided it won’t fall apart when cooked; my favourite is Chilean sea bass for its rich, buttery texture. And you can cook the fish any way you like – blitz it on the barbecue, under the broiler, or just bake in a really hot oven – it doesn’t matter. The point is that, once cooked, it’s only a matter of brushing the fish once more with the stickily sweet, sour and spicy marinade, then rolling them in a pretty combination of coconut and black sesame seeds. Sometimes I switch things up by encrusting the fish with chopped cashews instead – I’ve found that either option yields delicious results.

You will need:

8 small bamboo skewers
12 oz (340g) skinless boneless fish, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 ½ tbsp honey
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
¼ c. water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Salt to taste
½ c. unsweetened flaked coconut
¼ c. black sesame seeds.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, whisk together the honey, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, garlic, ginger, chilli and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about half. Set it aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place the bamboo skewers in a dish of water to soak for at least 5 minutes – this will prevent them from burning in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Thread the fish onto the skewers – you’ll want 3 or 4 pieces for each. Using a pastry brush, brush the fish on all sides with the cooled marinade, and line them up on a baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes per side, or just until cooked through.
Tear off a large square of wax paper and combine the coconut and sesame seeds in a pile at the centre. Alternatively, you could do this in a large rectangular container. When the fish has cooled, brush it again on all sides with the remaining marinade, then roll the skewers in the coconut/seed mixture so that the fish is encrusted evenly. I like to serve these, 2 skewers for each guest, on a bed of basmati rice.
Serves 4 as a first course
© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

Pakoras are those tasty little spiced fritters consisting of vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried –sort of the Indian answer to tempura. They can be made with individual whole chunks of veggies (cauliflower, onions, eggplant) or you can concoct a “mixed” pakora by combining several different shredded vegetables.  The flour used in the batter is actually not flour at all, but dried chickpeas ground into a powder. It is called besan, and is used quite frequently in Indian cuisine.

You will need:

½  c. besan (chickpea flour)
½ tsp salt plus extra to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cumin
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
½  c. plus 1 tbsp water
1 Yukon gold (a.k.a. yellow-flesh) potato
1 large onion
vegetable oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl, whisk together the besan, ½ tsp salt, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and cumin. Whisk in the water, beating well to form a smooth batter – it should be roughly the consistency of pancake batter, and should coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the cilantro, and set aside.
Grate the potato (medium or large-sized grate).  Finely chop the onion, so that the pieces are roughly the same size as the bits of potato. Toss the potato and onion together, then add them to the batter.
Heat the oil in a wok or a large heavy-bottom skillet – you want it to be about 1 cm deep. To test the oil temperature, drop in a small cube of bread – if it shimmers in the oil and browns in roughly 30 seconds, the oil is hot enough. Scoop little tablespoonfuls of the veggie mixture from the batter (if you’re using larger chunks of vegetables, simply pull out individual pieces), and carefully slip them into the oil. Fry them in small batches of about 3 or 4 at once, turning, until the pakoras are a healthy golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the pakoras onto a plate lined with paper towels, allowing them to drain. Immediately sprinkle the hot pakoras with a bit of salt, and serve at once.

Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

Fall is pumpkin season, but don’t let some false sense of recipe purism prevent you from making this curry with butternut squash, sweet potato, or even organic carrots. The point is to choose a vegetable that you love, dice it up, and stew it in a broth of spiced coconut milk until tender. Creamy coconut-based curries are aromatic and decadently rich (and thus, high in calories). The amount of coconut milk you add depends on how strong a flavour you want. So, while this recipe may seem to call for a lot of spice, bear in mind that the coconut milk will soften & dilute these spices significantly. At any rate, feel free to experiment and find the spice-to-coconut milk ratio that you like best.

You will need:

1 small pumpkin, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, diced
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp (or to taste) salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp chili flakes
1 c coconut milk
1.5 c water
1 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Begin by heating the oil and softening the onions in a saucepan over medium heat. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic, ginger, salt, and all of the spices, stirring. Dice the pumpkin and add it to the pan, stirring to coat the pumpkin with the spice. Add the coconut milk and water to the pumpkin, along with the shredded coconut. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.

Garnish the curry with fresh cilantro and serve at once with basmati rice.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

I’ll let this dish speak for itself, save to mention that it has become an exceptionally popular add-on to my Shabbos meals, and is an easy, tasty option for Passover. In greater quantities it can stand alone as a main dish, when served alongside a mound of plain basmati rice – though I much prefer the cutesy presentation of the little lettuce boats, which give a crisp, refreshing contrast to the richness and sharp heat of the lamb.

You will need:

1 lb (450 g) ground lamb
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
2 red chillies, chopped (or 1 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. peas
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 head iceberg lettuce, or romaine heart

To prepare the lettuce, simply tear off the leaves, selecting the most boat-shaped leaves as your receptacles for the lamb. To further perk them up, after washing, submerge the leaves for several minutes in a sink full of very cold water, then drain well. They should be curved, crisp, and cold. Set aside (preferably in the refrigerator).
In a wok or a large pot, heat the oil on medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are soft and golden. Add the chillies, salt, ginger, and garlic, and stir well.
Increase the heat to high. Add the lamb and stir-fry for about 10 minutes, or until it is cooked through and most of the water has evaporated. Add the peas and tomatoes, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the mixture cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  Stir in most of the cilantro.
To serve, simply scoop the hot lamb into the lettuce cups, arrange them on a platter, and sprinkle over the remaining cilantro.

Serves 4-6, as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009