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!

August 5, 2014

BBQ Portabello Mushrooms (& Tofu)

You've heard it all before. I started a new job 6 months ago. It's 45 miles away in the city and requires me to commute between an hour to an hour and 15 minutes one-way to get to work. Also, I'm responsible for getting an entire new department up and running in the next 12 months. Suffice to say, it leaves very little time for my favorite pastime - food blogging! As I've mentioned over the last few months, I've resorted to the tried and true recipes I've devised over the last few years. Rice pilafs, beans, breads, pastas ... baked potatoes with toppings! That's the usual fare. But its summer and everyone is grilling. I love the smokey smell of foods off the grill. However, there are only so many Black Bean and Boca burgers one can eat before they start to get really old ... really soon. 

This post goes put to one of my husband's business acquaintances. Ms. Kelly Lazar is an avid follower of my blog and she recently mentioned to my husband that she missed my regular postings. So although I can't promise to be as consistent as I used to be .. I'll try to do more than just post pictures on Facebook. Here's a super-easy recipe - perfect for quick summer meals. 

Prep Time: 10-15 min (or more if you marinate)

Ingredients (Serves 2):
  1. 2 Large (3-4") Portabello Mushrooms (~4 oz each)
  2. Half of a 14 oz Block of Extra-Firm Tofu*
  3. 4-6 tbsp of your favorite BBQ Sauce
  4. 1 tbsp Minced garlic
  5. Kosher Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Pre-heat grill to between Hot to Medium-Hot. The purpose here is to sear both the tofu and the mushrooms which will prevent sticking. Remove stems from mushrooms and brush with a damp paper towel to remove any dirt. Place each mushroom on its belly and sprinkle Kosher salt, freshly crushed pepper and some minced garlic on the gills. Press tofu between 2 paper towels to remove excess water (use heavy cans to weigh down the top to squeeze out the excess). Slice into 2 thick steaks. When the grill is ready, place both items on the hottest part of the grate (place mushrooms gills-side-up). Sear tofu on one side, turn and place on a different hotter part of the grate to sear that side as well. Grill 8-10 min total until the edges of the tofu begin to get crispy and the mushroom shrinks in thickness and girth (its hard to overcook either of these items). Turn mushroom only once towards the end so that all the salt and garlic juices have a chance to seep into the mushroom as it cooks from the underside. Just before they're ready, brush your favorite BBQ sauce on both sides (I use Stubb's or Rudy's which are both available in grocery stores nationwide). Allow excess sauce to burn off (this adds to the smoky flavor). Serve immediately and watch 'em disappear! 

* If you're trying to maintain a no-soy or a low-fat diet, skip the tofu altogether. Almost all the fat in this dish is from tofu. But so also is most of the protein (see nutrition information below). I love both foods so I have no problem consuming the fat in tofu :) 

Note: Marinating both pressed tofu and mushrooms for 4-6 hours in a gallon ziploc bag will help bring out the flavors. I'd recommend splashing both with a good balsamic vinegar. Place in the fridge and turn occasionally. 

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving - Mushrooms Only): Calories 61 (Fat Calories 2)
Total Fat 0.2 g; Carbohydrates 13.1 g; Fiber 1.8 g; Sugars 7.1 g; Protein 3.1 g

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving - Mushrooms & Tofu): Calories 176 (Fat Calories 54)
Total Fat 6.0 g; Carbohydrates 21.1 g; Fiber 2.2 g; Sugars 12.6 g; Protein 12.9 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!