Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal Curry + Nourishing Spinach Broth

The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate.  He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past.  The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank.  Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.

Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.

Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one

Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet).  Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn.  Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass. 

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In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to.  They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day.  Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes.  There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.

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He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars.  The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen.  There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.

Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home.  Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning.  It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment.  And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.

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Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry

Get:

2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Salt
Lemon juice
Boiling water
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces

Make:

Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.

In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant.  Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender.  Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked.  Drain and reserve the water.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.  When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients.  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water.  Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp.   Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed.  Cook, covered,  until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).

Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving.  Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.

Nourishing Spinach Broth:

Get:

The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Make:

Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins.  Add salt only if needed after tasting.  Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly.  In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds.  When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Notes:

Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Garam Masala and Coconut

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An airport meal is a ritual of mine every time I embark on an international trip.  I look forward to that time, after all charms and pleas are unleashed on the person behind the check-in desk to let those extra three kilos through without charge.  After that, toiletries in plastic snap-lock bags are placed in trays, boots and belts are removed, then awkwardly pulled on again, carry-ons are hauled onto security belts and the whole juggling act is carried out whilst waving the passport and boarding card at officials every step of the way.  Finally, when documents are put away carefully and bags are reassembled, there is a simple pleasure in sitting down, catching one’s breath and either hashing out a plan for the trip to come or reflecting on the adventure that was.

I am aware that when it comes to culinary let-downs, airport food is a close second to that on the flying machines themselves.  Food in that in-between land is always overpriced, limited in variety and invariably disappointing.  Bread that is slightly stale after spending the day in an overly air-conditioned environment.  Muffins that are similarly cold and dry.  Slices of ham that are dehydrated around the edges.  Scrambled eggs that can be lifted en masse from the plate.  Sandwiches whose cost might feed a small African nation for a day.

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I know all this, yet I always try and make time, between that madness of the security gates and the departure gates, to sit, reflect and have a meal at the airport.  On the way to Florence, I sat at Sydney airport and nutted out that feeling I always have when I am starting on a trip.  That niggle, like a tiny stone in a shoe, that I have forgotten something.  So I sat, stared at the ascending planes, gathered my thoughts, and dissected the niggle.  I sipped my medicinal coffee and chewed on my grilled (plastic) cheese sandwich, remembered what I had forgotten and realised with relief that it was something I could live without.  Just like that, I tipped the stone out of my shoe.

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It’s been a few days of pizza and pasta now, and this at about the point when I begin to crave something of home.  To me, Italian food comes only second to Indian food.  I love its simplicity- a toothsome pizza base, a well simmered sauce and a handful of basil, and it is at its best.  But after a few days, I do crave a vegetable or two, preferably home-cooked in Indian spices.  Green beans, stir-fried the South-Indian way or in this simple curry would do just fine.  Or this ivy gourd and coconut stir fry.  Or these brussel sprouts, rubbed with garam masala and coconut oil, then roasted until they are slightly sweet.  Tender but still offering some resistance against eager teeth.  Interspersed with chewier coconut.  These sprouts would do very well against my current carb overload, but would also make an amazing side dish, or a main meal with a couple of poached eggs on top.

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Roasted Garam Masala Brussel Sprouts

Feeds 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

Based on Ina Garten’s recipe in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Get:

600g brussel sprouts
1/2 cup shaved coconut (use shredded if you can’t find this)
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted
3 tsp garam masala
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Cut the stems off the brussel sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise.

In a large roasting pan, toss all the ingredients using your (clean) hands, rubbing the spices into the cut surfaces of the sprouts.

Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing in the pan every 10 mins, until the sprouts are crisp-edged, tender inside, but still holding together and a little chewy.

Squeeze lime juice generously over it before serving.

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Mum’s Green Mango and Coconut Rice (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

My summer holidays were often spent in a way that my parents thought best combined the two elements of being an Indian family in Australia.  It was a time before the teenage years descended on me with all their accompanying awkwardness.  Before that phase where the parentals were mortifyingly embarrassing, no matter what they did.  Anything they did that was too typically Indian would make me want to crawl under the nearest table and any attempts on their part to be more Aussie would be met with a roll of the eyes.  During those teenage years, they really couldn’t win.

Green Mango 1

But this was a time before all that adolescent angst set in, when this marrying of cultures was just part of life. We would drive to caravan parks in seaside towns, often with two or three other families from our community.  We stayed in a string of mobile homes that never went anywhere and splashed around in the pool while our mothers cooked and our fathers ate Bombay bhuja mix with their beers.

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The smell of barbequing meat would waft past us from the Australian families with whom we were sharing the park.  Our mothers would wrinkle up their vegetarian noses in disgust and set about cooking a good Indian meal using the impressive toolkit of ingredients they had packed into the cars.  Lentils were cooked, rice micro-waved and spices blended, the scents mingling with that of cooking meat, chlorine and sunscreen.

There was often some sort of South Indian bread- fluffy steamed idlis with chutney, or dosas made from batter that had fermented perfectly in the warm car.  Otherwise there would be the semolina based upma or some sort of flavoured rice dish such as a puliogare, lemon rice or this green mango and coconut rice.

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Luckily all the teenage angst eventually gave way.  Anything else would be a real pity as there is nothing remotely embarrassing about this flavourful, slightly tart rice dish that is a favourite in this Indian family.

Mangoes are in season now and although the ripe fruit are undeniably delicious, there is much you can do with the raw green version readily available in markets and ethnic grocers.  For this dish, try to choose greener, less ripe mangoes as the more tart they are, the better.  The crunch of the peanuts and roasted dhal adds something special.  If you are allergic to peanuts but tolerant of others, try using cashews.

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Mum’s Green Mango and Coconut Rice

Feeds 6-8

Get:

1  & 1/2 to 2 green mangoes, peeled and flesh finely grated (the greener the better!)
2 cups uncooked basmati rice
2  & 1/4 cups water

For the spice paste:
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 dry red chillies
Generous pinch asafoetida
1 cup fresh shredded coconut (I use frozen)
Any bits of mango that you could not grate
1-2 tbsp water

For the tempering:
1/4 cup cooking oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp channa dhal
1 tbsp urad dhal
1/2 tsp turmeric
Generous pinch asafoetida
10-15 curry leaves
3/4 cup small peanuts (available in Indian stores)

Salt, to taste

Make:

Cook the rice.  This can be done by placing 2 cups of rice in a rice cooker with 2 1/4 cups of water and cooking according to the rice cooker instructions.  Alternatively, you could place the rice and water in a large microwave dish and cook uncovered for 11 minutes, then covered for 2 minutes.

In a large non-stick saucepan, roast the fenugreek seeds until fragrant.  Grind the seeds in the spice grinder or food processor, then add the other spice paste ingredients and grind to a smooth paste.  Add a little more water if necessary.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and temper the mustard seeds on low heat.  Once they have popped, add the dhals, turmeric and asafoetida.  Fry until the dhals are a golden brown and then add the curry leaves, covering the pan immediately.

Once the curry leaves have crisped, add the peanuts.  Ensure the heat is on low and fry the peanuts, stirring gently until they are a golden brown colour.  This should take 5-7 minutes.

Add the spice paste and warm through for a minute or so.

In a large mixing bowl, fluff up the warm rice with a fork.  Add the grated green mango, spice paste/peanut mix and about 3 tsp salt to start.  Toss through gently to coat the rice in the other ingredients.  Taste and add more salt if needed.

Serve on its’ own or as a side dish to curries.

Note:
Green mangoes, the spices, dhals, small peanuts and frozen shredded coconut are all available at Indian grocery stores.

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