Creamy Cilantro Rice

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I love risotto but so far, all my attempts at making it have not been entirely satisfactory. By which I mean the rice did not end up creamy enough, the entire affair had a bit too much bite in it and I spilled a ladle of stock on myself and got burned. On the whole, it’s a process that requires patience and dedication which I’m sure I will acquire in spades someday. But till then, I have discovered a cheat – a shameless, should-I-even-be-talking-about-this cheat that will probably send any Italian chef worth his salt into palpitations. I called it cilantro rice, to avoid any accusations or unfair comparisons but it’s basically a poor-chef’s-version of risotto.

The base, of course, is white rice (I used Basmati – poor, poor Italian chefs) but I pre-steamed it until it was about three minutes away from being done to perfection. Then, it is topped with an explosion of flavors – fresh, minced cilantro, which adds a herby brightness; pureed spinach, lending it an earthy tone; heaps of garlic, because I am obsessed like that; white onion for sharpness; judicious sprinklings of pepper; a bit of stock for body and cream because – well, cream.

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All of this flavorful goodness is stirred in through the steaming, fluffy rice and then cooked in a covered pot for about five minutes. This is about the right amount of time – it all comes together nicely but the rice isn’t overcooked.

I sort of loosely based this recipe on a version of mint rice my grandmother makes, but keeping in mind the consistency of risotto. So I was pretty surprised that it vaguely resembles an actual Mexican dish called arroz verde. The texture is pretty different, but it looks absolutely delicious so this is probably worth a shot as well.

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Ingredients

1 cup white rice

500 g spinach

200 g cilantro

1 white onion, chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup cream

1/2 cup vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Steam the rice for about 10-15 minutes. It should be just a couple of minutes away from being fully cooked, with a slight bite.

Finely chop the white onion and mince the cloves of garlic. Puree the spinach and cilantro together and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, shallow pan and sautee the garlic and red pepper flakes until slightly brown. Add the onion and cook till it turns soft.

Add the pureed spinach and cilantro, cover and let it cook for 4-5 minutes. Then add the rice and the stock. Stir for about 3-4 minutes, until the rice absorbs the stock and is fully cooked. Then add the cream, salt and pepper and sautee for another 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Baked Eggplant

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I have been an absolutely awful person, I know, with no sense of dedication or commitment since I haven’t updated a recipe since August (August! I KNOW). In my defense, I’ve had a ton of things going on – college applications, and work and all these little freelance projects (including an absolutely amazing research project in Tanzania, where I spent two weeks. And yes, I did get my teeth into some Tanzanian food and yes, I will be blogging about it soon). I’ve been cooking and out of sheer habit, I’ve been taking photos as well. But when it comes to actually sitting down and keying out a post and then adding the pictures and clicking the ‘Publish’ button, I’ve been inexcusably lazy.

Still, I hope to make it up with this recipe – an absolutely delicious and painfully easy baked eggplant affair, which is loosely based on this concoction from one of my favorite food bloggers. I grew up with a strong aversion to eggplant and anything that looked, smelled or tasted like it, but I’ve recently come to like it – which I take as a strong sign that I have finally, irrevocably grown up. In fact, I’m pretty sure the first piece of eggplant I liked was a lot more emotional for me than, say, paying rent for the first time or my first job.

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Either way, this recipe takes time to come together but it isn’t labour intensive. It takes time because to get a really creamy, stuff-of-the-gods texture, you need to roast eggplant slowly and gently for the better part of an hour, preferably slicked over with olive oil and some herbs. When it’s done, it should be like a little purple cup of cream – rich, delicious, eggplant-y cream that begs to have a spoon dug into it immediately.

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Then, to make it even better, you heap that eggplant with hung curd that has minced raw garlic stirred through; chopped up tomatoes and jalapenos that have been tossed in lemongrass essence; and a final drizzle of olive oil just so that it doesn’t come across as too healthy (who are we kidding?).

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Ingredients (serves 2)

For the eggplant:

1 large eggplant

1 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of rosemary

Salt as needed

For the curd topping:

200 g curd (the fresher the better)

4 cloves of garlic, minced (this is for the garlic enthusiasts – you can cut it down if you don’t want too much sharpness)

Pinch of salt and white pepper

For the tomato topping:

1 large tomato, chopped fine

1 tbsp chopped jalapeno

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp lemongrass essence

Method:

Prepare the eggplant first: you need to slice it in half, slice a hatched pattern into the open sides with a knife and then rub salt on to it. Cover it and set it aside for half an hour. This sucks out an trace of bitterness from the eggplant.

While the eggplant is resting, hang the curd and let the excess whey drip off.

Wash the salt off the eggplant and brush it with olive oil. Sprinkle the rosemary on top. Place it upside down on a greased baking tray, and bake away at 160 C for 45 minutes to an hour. When it’s done, there should be some caramelization on the surface but the flesh should be tender and creamy. Keep aside to cool a little.

Squeeze out any excess whey from the curd, and then stir in the minced garlic, salt and white pepper.

Toss the tomatoes and jalapeno in a combination of olive oil, lemongrass essence and a pinch of salt. You can add other herbs or flavorings according to your personal taste.

Assemble the eggplant just before serving – scoop the yogurt over the open end, and then a generous heaping of the tomato topping over this. Eat immediately and then lick your fingers for a prolonged period of time.

(Another option is to mince some mint leaves and add it to the yogurt – I tried this later, and it was absolutely lovely).

Oven-Roasted Leek

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Forgive me, for I know this dish does not look good.

It is not sleek, shiny or pretty in any way. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess. I tried all kinds of different ways to assemble it so that it didn’t look like a pile of random stuff on a plate, but to no avail – a pile of random stuff it is.

But in my defence, it is a delicious pile of random stuff.

Because really, while it is difficult to make any combination of mashed potatoes and stock look good, it’s also very difficult to get them to taste bad. Add a few different textures and flavors to the dish and it’s definitely a winner.

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Here, the potatoes and stock form a warm, versatile base. The potato is creamy and flavored through with a spoonful of pumpkin-seed oil, but you could really use anything with it – minced garlic and olive oil, or mushrooms sauteed in butter come to mind. It isn’t ground too fine, so it still has chunks and a bit of bite.

The star of the show here is really the leek. It’s cooked in two ways – whole stalks dipped into a bowl of rich vegetable stock and roasted in the oven along with a few cloves of garlic. A few leftover bits are chopped really fine and crisped in hot butter and pepper as a spicy sprinkling for the finish.

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The whole thing is doused with a bit of stock and topped with an egg. Really – tell me that won’t be delicious.

The nice thing about this dish is that it’s so easily adaptable according to personal tastes. The mashed potatoes can be flavored differently or even switched for scrambled eggs (with chives, maybe?). Vegetable stock can be swapped for something meaty, and pretty much all vegetables taste good when they’re roasted in stock. I’d recommend you keep the egg, but really, anything goes.

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Oven Roasted Leek

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

4 large potatoes

2 tbsp cream

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp pepper

2 tbsp pumpkin-seed oil

3 cups of vegetable stock

3 cloves of garlic

5 large leeks

4 eggs

Salt to taste

Method

Peel the potatoes, tip them into a pan of hot water and bring to boil. Leave them on till they’re soft and falling apart. Salt them and then mash them with the cream and one tablespoon of softened butter. Once it’s mashed (you don’t want it too fine), stir the pumpkin-seed oil through.

Pour the stalk into a shallow dish. Mash the cloves of garlic and add them in, as well as 4 of the leeks. Bake at 170 for 10 minutes. The leeks should be soft but firm when they’re out.

Chop the fifth leek very finely. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a pan, add the pepper and then fry the chopped leek until crisp right through.

To assemble, first spread a layer of the mashed potato on the plate. Add the roasted leeks and spoon some stock over it. Top with an egg (poached or fried, according to your liking) and then sprinkle some of the crisped leek over it.

Eat before anyone has the chance to take any pictures.

Broccoli and Sausage Spaghetti

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I haven’t really featured any meat on this blog yet, and for a very good reason: I’m a vegetarian.

And what’s more, I’m one of those weird vegetarians who was born into a family of meat-eaters and rejected the idea – not because I’m all for hugging animals, but because I simply don’t like the taste.

The other day, though, I had a few friends over for dinner (obviously to show off my new-found skills in the kitchen) and was told quite clearly that while they were very fond of me, there would have to be meat.

So here’s the problem: since I’ve never cooked meat, I don’t know what to do with it. Sure, I could scour the internet for recipes but the bottom-line is that I would probably have no idea to tell when it was cooked through. Even worse, since I don’t eat it, I can’t really taste the recipe while it’s on the stove or just out of the oven to check whether the seasoning et all is alright. Really, I have no idea what to do with meat.

So I made this spaghetti.

If there’s one thing I learned in college (from a bunch of perpetually-drunk teenage girls who were always hungry) it’s that if you can’t cook meat, you can still make something pretty amazing with sausage. Sausage is forgiving. There is practically no way to go wrong with this. And the sausage in this spaghetti came pre-infused with cheese, garlic and chives so I figured there was absolutely no chance in hell I’d mess this up.

Normally, assumptions like that end up with me curled up in a fetal position on the kitchen floor, crying and covered in flour and dried bits of egg. But this time, irony decided to be nice to me. I never tasted the spaghetti but was told (on good authority) that I could heave a sigh of relief – it was good.

Broccoli and Sausage Spaghetii

Ingredients

250 g pre-packaged spaghetti 

1 broccoli

16 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp of butter

6 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp crushed red chilli flakes

1 cup grated cheese of your choice (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

For the spaghetti:

Tip the spaghetti into a large bowl, fill to the brim with water and add a generous handful (yes, I said handful) of salt.

Crush two garlic cloves into the bowl

Bring to a boil and then simmer it till it’s done. It should take between 10 and 15 minutes. Pull out strands to taste, so that you’ll know when you want to take it out – this recipe will probably be better with more of a bite.

Once it’s done, drain the water, add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss it so each strand is coated. This will prevent the spaghetti from turning into a sticky, congealed mass that looks like white brain. Set aside.

For the broccoli:

Chop off the florets and soak them for a minute.

Tip them into a pan and fill with water till all the pieces are covered. Add two teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil.

Let it simmer until the broccoli has turned bright green and softened a little (around 5 minutes). Then, take out the florets and drain them.

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In a wok or large skillet, heat two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil until very hot. Finely chop five cloves of garlic and fry till soft and brown. Then, add a tablespoon of red chilli flakes and the broccoli. Saute it for a while, then add some salt and cover it.

The broccoli will start to bleed water as soon as it’s in the pan. Cook it till all the water has evaporated, turning it around so the florets get evenly browned. When it’s done, sprinkle some more salt on it and keep aside.

For the sausage:

Chop the sausage into bite sized chunks.

Repeat what you did with the broccoli: same amount of butter, olive oil, garlic, red chilli flakes and salt. Cook until the sausage is brown (but what do I know?). 

For the sauce:

The sauce I used was a traditional aglio olio recipe: heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in the wok, add 4 cloves of chopped/crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of dried red chilli. In a few minutes, the garlic will turn crisp and the oil would have absorbed all the delicious flavours.

Finally:

Toss together the spaghetti, broccoli and sausage with the aglio olio sauce. You might want to add more salt; you’ll definitely want to add the crushed pepper. If you want a little more fat in the dish (since all that butter and olive oil wasn’t enough), grate some cheese over it and toss again.

 

 

 

Spinach, Mushroom and Egg Bake

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Let’s be perfectly honest: is it possible to go wrong with a combination of spinach and mushroom? When they are sauteed in a delicious amount of butter and seasoned with garlic paste? And then baked to crispy, rich perfection?

The answer is no.

It is, however, possible to make it even better – with eggs.

I saw this recipe when I was looking around for a side dish to make for a Sunday lunch and I was infatuated at first glance. Yes, infatuated. There is no other way to describe my reaction to this powerfully seasoned, deliciously buttered bake. The best thing about the recipe is it is so ridiculously easy to make. I literally spent about fifteen minutes on it (while popping out for cocktail breaks with my family and friends and snacking on appetizers) and everyone loved the result.

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This is a slightly altered version of the recipe:

Spinach, Mushroom and Egg Bake

Ingredients

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500 g spinach, washed

250 g mushroom, washed and sliced thin

1 onion, chopped

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp of garlic paste

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 cup fresh cream

3 eggs

Method

Cook the washed spinach in a wok with a bit of water. Keep turning it over so that the leaves cook evenly. In about five minutes, it would have wilted down to around 1/4 of its prior volume.

Tip it out of the wok, drain it and then chop finely.

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Brown the butter in a pan and add the garlic paste. Once it sizzles, add the chopped onion and saute till the pieces turn transparent. Then add the sliced mushrooms and salt. Cook till the mushrooms have browned and soaked up the butter and then add the chopped spinach.

Stir in the cream and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Grease a baking dish and spoon the spinach-mushroom mixture into, pressing down with a spatula so it’s packed densely. With a ladle or teaspoon, make three sockets and crack an egg into each. Sprinkle the pepper evenly over each egg.

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Bake at 180 C for 10-15 minutes. When it’s done, the egg yolks should still be creamy.

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Penne with Vodka Sauce and Truffle Oil

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If I were asked to rank my top three favorite food ingredients, the list would be something like this:

1. Cheese

2. Truffles

3. More cheese

The funny thing is that, knowing my love for cheese, most of my friends are surprised that truffles are included in this list. But the truth is that I love the flavor of truffle; I’ve had fresh white Alba truffle only once (in Paris and yes, it was ridiculously expensive) and loved it. Since then, I’ve sadly come to accept the fact that my wallet won’t allow me to shave truffles on to every pasta, soup andburger I ever eat; largely, this is because I discovered truffle oil.

To be fair, truffle oil doesn’t capture the exact depth of flavor that a truffle has; but it comes damn close. Smoky woodiness? Check. Subtle nuttiness? Check. Intense, orgasmic flavor that I can literally pour into a spoon and slurp down neat? Check.

Most people prefer truffle oil on simple, light meals to allow the flavor to really shine. This works, yes; but I’ve also realized that I love a little drizzle of truffle-flavoured deliciousness on richer foods. A fried egg with a dash of truffle on the yolk and some chopped chives, for instance, is heaven. So is a creamy mushroom risotto that, when drizzled with truffle oil, takes on the texture and taste of the Food of the Gods.

I also like the combination of truffle and tomato, which is why I decided to cook up this penne dish this weekend. The vodka sauce has a sharp flavor from the combination of lots of garlic and two generous tablespoons of vodka. It’s filling, but isn’t very rich which makes it a good choice for a summery weekend meal. And the best part is that it’s the most no-nonsense dish ever; it literally requires flinging a bunch of things into a pot, covering it and then leaving the kitchen to give yourself a manicure.

Penna with Vodka Sauce and Truffle Oil

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Ingredients

1 pound of dried penne

4 tbsp olive oil/chilli garlic oil

4 large tomatoes

2 large onions

8 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp vodka

1 tbsp oregano

1 tbsp dried thyme

1 tbsp crushed red chilli

Boil around 500 m of water with a small fistful of salt and put the penne into this. Lower the flame, cover it and let it cook. You can check every 5 minutes or so to judge how much longer it’ll take. When the pasta is cooked with a little bite to it, strain it and drizzle a tablespoon olive oil on it to keep the pieces from sticking together.

Dice the onions, tomato and garlic and grind them in a food processor with a pinch of salt and pepper till they form a pulp.

In a separate pan, heat two tablespoons of oil and then add the oregano to it. Once it becomes hot, add the tomato-onion-garlic pulp and a cup of water. Cover with a lid, make sure the flame is low and then go do your nails.

In about fifteen to twenty minutes, come down and check on the sauce. It should have become a bit more pulpy and much redder in colour, but the tomato will still have a slightly raw taste. Now, add the vodka, the crushed chilli and the dried thyme and if it’s a little to dry, a bit more water. Stir it for a minute, then cover and let it simmer. It should take another five minutes for the sauce to finish cooking – you’ll know when you taste it. The predominant flavors, other than the tomato, should be the garlic and the bite of vodka. Garnish with some crushed chilli and thyme.

When serving, spoon the sauce over the pasta, shave some cheese (parmesan and cheddar both work according to me, but I’m really not a cheese expert) on it and then drizzle a bit of truffle oil over the entire thing. Each bite will be a delicious cocktail of rich garlic and vodka with the soft saltiness of the cheese, and the smokiness of the truffle oil pulling everything together.

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