September 21, 2014

Indian Pantry Must-Haves

I recently started a group on Facebook called Indian Plant Based Whole Food Junkies and one of the questions asked almost within the first couple of days of the group's inception was "What are the most essential items in an Indian Pantry?" .. so by popular demand, here's a list. I've listed most of the ingredients I have in  my pantry and marked them as Essential, Useful and Occasional.


Ajwain (Carom seeds) (O)
Bay Leaves (U)
Black Pepper and Black peppercorns (U)
Cardamom, Black (U)
Chat Masala (U)
Chilli Powder (U)
Cinnamon (sticks or ground) (U)
Cloves (whole or ground) (U)
Coriander (Cilantro) Seeds (whole or ground) (E)
Cumin Seeds (whole or ground) (E)
Fennel Seeds (O)
Fenugreek Seed (O)
Garam Masala (U)
Mango Powder (Amchoor) (O)
Mustard Seeds (U)
Nigella or Onion Seeds (O)
Nutmeg (U)
Pomegranate Seeds (O)
Poppy Seeds (O)
Saffron (O)
Sesame Seeds (O)
Star Anise (O)
Turmeric (E)
Salt (E)

Dry Pantry:

Chickpea Flour (U)
Dried and/or Canned Beans, all varieties (E)
   Kidney Beans
   Pinto Beans
   Chick Peas
   Black Gram (Dark Chick Peas)
   Black Eyed Peas
Dried Lentils (Whole, Split and Skinned varieties) (E)
   Arhar (Toor) Dal
   Chana Dal
   Masoor Dal
   Mung Dal
   Urad Dal
Garlic (E)
Onions, preferably red (E)
Rice, Basmati, Brown or White (E)
Tamarind Pods or Paste (U)
Tomatoes, Canned (diced, paste, sauce) (U)
Whole Wheat Flour (for home-made bread) (U)

Refrigerator or Freezer:

Cilantro Leaves (U)
Coconut Flakes (U)
Coconut Milk (O)
Curry Leaves, fresh or frozen (O)
Ginger, fresh (E)
Ginger-Garlic Paste (U)
Mint Leaves (U)
Tomatoes (E)

September 17, 2014

Mushroom Vindaloo

The mere mention of Vindaloo, Xiacuti, Ambotik, Cafrael, Sorpotel will send many an Indian into a 'vacation state of mind' ... !! Summer vacations spent on the beaches of Goa allowed many of us to sample in its unique Portugese-Inspired cuisine. Suffice to say .. it always brings back good memories. 

Vindaloo is derived from the Portugese dish Carne de vinha d'alhos, a pork dish made with wine and garlic as the main elements. In Goa, the red wine was substituted with the cheap and locally available palm vinegar and Red Kashmiri chillies were added along with several other local spices to make Vindaloo. While meat-based preparations are marinated in the vindaloo spice paste overnight, this is not necessary for vegetables and this dish, like most of my other recipes, is made in less than 30 minutes.

Prep Time: 30 min 

Ingredients (Serves 4):
  1. 2 x 12oz Packs of Sliced Mushrooms (about 3 cups)
  2. 1 cup frozen peas
  3. 1 Medium Red or Yellow Onion, diced. 
  4. 5-6 Dried Red Chillies
  5. 2 x 1" pcs of Cinnamon
  6. 1 tbsp Cumin Seeds
  7. 1 tbsp Coriander Powder (or Coriander Seed)
  8. 1 tsp Turmeric
  9. 6-8 Cloves
  10. 2 inch piece of fresh Ginger
  11. 1 tbsp Minced Garlic, or 4-5 fresh cloves
  12. 4 whole Green Cardamoms
  13. 1 tsp whole black pepper corns
  14. 1/4 cup Malt (or White) Vinegar
Directions for Vindaloo Paste: 
In a small blender or food processor, mix red chillies, cinnamon, cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, cloves, ginger and garlic and vinegar and blend to a smooth paste. This magic in a jar vindaloo paste can be used on any number of dishes and can be adapted to any taste. Use less red chilli peppers if you prefer a milder taste. Add more vinegar if the paste is too dry while grinding. A little extra won't hurt the flavors. You can also make up a big batch of paste, freeze in an ice cube tray and store the frozen cubes for future use.  

Line a skillet with water and saute onions until translucent. Add a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking. Once the onions are done, add the whole green cardamoms and black pepper corns and saute until the cardamoms pop open with the heat and steam, adding a splash of water or vegetable broth, as needed. After a couple of minutes, add Vindaloo Paste, mix well and add vegetables. Turn heat to medium and toss everything together. Saute for a few minutes to allow flavors to blend and the spices to cook. Then add a cup of water or vegetable broth. If you want your dish soupier, add more water to obtain the desired consistency. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve over steamed rice, or with thick bread for sopping up the curry. 

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving): Calories 110 (Fat Calories 12)
Total Fat 1.3 g; Carbohydrates 19.3 g; Fiber 6.1 g; Sugars 6.2 g; Protein 8.5 g

If you liked this recipe, be sure to check out my Recipe Index for more Whole-Food, Plant-Based, No-Added-Oil recipes. You can also like Rugrat Chow! on Facebook. Thanks!

August 13, 2014

.. for the love of a Masaaldaani!

A Masaaldaani, or a Spice Box, is an essential part of Indian cooking and after many years of looking for the right (and reasonably priced) one, I finally am the proud owner of my very own Masaaldaani! My sister, bless her heart, will question my sanity at my excitement about a new spice box. Its just a silly old spice box she'll say ... what are you? Pregnant and tied to the stove? ... But the fact of the matter is that for both of us .. a Spice Box evokes memories of childhood days spent in the kitchen watching my mom fill the house with some delectable aromas. 

A traditional Masaaldaani is a round, stainless steel container that holds 7 or 9 small bowls for individual spices. Each one holds one's most commonly used and traditional Indian spices. The ultimate combination depends upon the region of India one might have grown up in. In Southern India, you might see split skinless urad dal (black lentils) and mustard seeds, while in the North, you might see Cardamom seeds and black peppercorns. They are usually small containers (mine is about 7 inches in diameter) and have a solid or glass-topped lid. Because most lids aren't completely air tight, spice boxes only hold enough spices to last a few days. Long term storage in a spice box is not advisable because they do lose aromatic essential oils when stored in open containers. The advantage however, of a Masaaldaani, is that it saves you from hunting for your favorite spices when you're ready to cook.

Traditional spice boxes can cost anywhere from $50 to $100 range at Indian Grocery stores. I've seen a few that cost that much and looked like they would break if I breathed on them wrong. I found mine for $10 at World Market and I knew I had to bring it home with me. It is sturdy, hammered steel, has a glass-window in the lid and is just the perfect size for me with its 7 compartments. I've started out mine with what I think are my favorite spices .. and I may switch some out as time goes on ... So what's in my Masaaldaani today?
  1. Salt .. because one needs to feel the salt as you dust it on your dishes. And no one can estimate salt with a spoon, or with a shaker. 
  2. Turmeric .. with its lusty ochre color is right next door. It is used to flavor and add color. It is a plant product (ginger family) and it is considered to have immense antioxidant powers. 
  3. Deggi Mirch .. has a bold red color and is right next to the turmeric. It adds color and flavor without much heat.
  4. Coriander Powder (Dhania) .. is the brownish powder on the other side of turmeric. It is the dried ground up seeds of the cilantro plant. This is a sweet, slightly tangy spice that adds depth and texture to Indian dishes.
  5. Black Peppercorns .. are used to add a ton of flavor and warmth to North Indian Dishes such as kormas and pulaos. They include all the essential oils offered by ground pepper, but often without the heat because the oils are trapped inside the peppercorns. 
  6. Cumin Seeds .. are an essential ingredient in Indian as well as Mexican cuisine. They add a distinctive and somewhat strong flavor with a warm perception on the taste buds due to the essential oils .. such as cuminaldehyde. Cumin seeds make a killer tortilla soup ;)
  7. Cloves and Cardamoms .. offer the same benefits as black peppercorns. Warmth on the tongue and their own distinctive flavors. These last 4 ingredients are the main ingredients of Garam Masala. 

Armed with this baby, I can cook up pretty much any Indian dish. Let the Hunger Games begin .. and may the odds .. be evahh in my fayvah!! :)

Be sure to check out my Recipe Index for Whole-Food, Plant-Based, No-Added-Oil recipes and my Herb & Spice Fact of the Day page for information about individual spices. You can also like Rugrat Chow! on Facebook. Thanks!