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Posts tagged ‘ginger’

dark chocolate & pear torte

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…


A chocolate torte with pears…

and a dollop of gingered whipped cream.


I came upon this gluten-free flourless, deep dark chocolate torte, baked with the pear of song, and knew it was destined for you.

Simple…and well, sort of heavenly…


Dark Chocolate & Pear Torte

(8 to 12 servings)

1 cup butter (2 sticks, salted)

7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (see NOTE)

1 cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1½ cups toasted and finely ground almonds (see NOTE)

1 firm-ripe pear (Comice are wonderful here!)


Powdered sugar, for dusting

Fresh Ginger Whipped Cream, for serving (recipe follows)



NOTE:   To toast the nuts: Spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350F oven for 5 to 8 minutes or until they start to brown. Allow to cool and then grind finely in a food processor. I used toasted ground almonds…but you could just as well use pecanswalnuts or hazelnuts.

NOTE: This might be an occasion to splurge and buy an extra-special chocolate – though of course it’s not necessary. Guittard is such a chocolate. I used the bittersweet.


Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat; brush some of the butter onto the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Lower the heat beneath the butter and add the chocolate, stirring slowly until the chocolate has melted.

Remove from the heat and transfer the butter chocolate mixture to a medium-sized bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

Whisk in the eggs – one at a time – until completely incorporated. The batter will be smooth and glossy. Stir in the ground nuts until well-blended. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the mixture to your buttered springform pan.

Peel, core and quarter the pear, from stem to base. (Using a melon baller to remove the core will help maintain the pretty appearance.) Slice each quarter in half, and then in half again (4 slices/quarter.) Fan the pears around the batter to form a wreath. Bake until the pears are tender and the center of the torte is set, about 40 (to 45) minutes. Set the springform pan on a wire rack to cool completely.

Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the pan and release the pan’s ring. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving with the whipped cream.


recipe for gingered whipped cream follows…

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a dark Italian and a pink lady

Hah! So that got your attention? : )   (Not bait & switch, I promise –  I’ll explain in a moment. )

I love foods that dance in the mouth! Several years back I determined that I was going to concoct a   r.e.a.l.l.y.   fine chutney of my own. The result is here….and, though normally possessed of a fair amount of humility which would prohibit me from admitting such a thing – turns out, this truly is a really fine chutney! (As well as a fine & saucy dancer!)

If you haven’t formally met, let me introduce you to Chutney. (For those of you who’ve had the pleasure, just keep talking amongst yourselves. I’ll be back with you in a moment.) Chutney is a condimentmeant to go with things, to enhance their flavors, to excite and intrigue the palate. It can be made with all sorts of ingredients, but almost always with some sort (or combination) of fruits. That’s the sweet of it. (Well, there’s generally sugar too, because we’re about to make a preserve and sugar helps.) Then there’s the spicy of it – you might taste warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, allspice, star anise, cardamom, pepper, hot chilies, etc etc. And there’s the sour of it – maybe a combination of vinegar, lime, lemon. Frequently there will be a bit of onion and garlic too, but you might not know it once it’s all cooked down. A touch of salt to round all the flavors out to fullness. And then it’s cooked for a good while as all the flavors mingle and the ingredients soften to jam.

What use would you then put your chutney to? OH! You’d dollop a spoonful atop virtually any Indian dish or curry… put it with meats, or poultry (chicken and turkey love it!)…put it on a sandwich (heaven!)…put it with soft, creamy cheese (try goat!) or a salty hard cheese, on bread or crackers, on your scrambled eggs, on roasted vegetables, or on cold salmon. Honest to goodness, it’s addictively seductively aromatically pungently delicious! And you’ll find no shortage of uses for it!

{breathe………..}     So! you were wondering about the Italian and a pink lady, right? Quite simple, really, and not nearly as exciting as you might have hoped… this here sexy little chutney is made of Italian plums (sometimes called Italian “prunes” not dried out though, of course!) and Pink Lady apples. And because a very good friend and I will be collaborating on some rather scrumptious (mostly vegetarian) Indian dishes this coming season, I wanted to be sure you had plenty of really fine chutney on hand.

In the finished jars of chutney you’ll see pieces of brilliant apple, golden raisins plumped, thin sticks of golden ginger, little dark dots of currants, bits of lemon rind, all floating in a sea of plum.

Below I’ll give you the instructions for canning this chutney, though it’s just as fine to simply cook, pop in jars and freeze. You don’t need to use the Italian plum (that small one with the grey purple skin and the golden fruit inside) though it’s a fantastically delicious one. (I think it’s the best to cook with.) But use any you like…and they don’t all need to be fully ripe either. Pink Lady apples are really wonderful cooked…they hold their shape and their flavor is outstanding. But again, use any that holds up well to cooking. I used a whole lemon. Yes, peel too. Trust me on this one. Everything but the very center pulp and the seeds.

The next several posts that will be coming out over the remainder of the week will be fairly straight forward…probably a little less photography than usual. I’ll explain the (exciting) reason why very soon. So with no further delay, here it is,

The Sweet/Sour Love Affair of an Italian and his Pink Lady


Spree’s Plum Apple Chutney

  • 4 cups Italian Plums
  • 1 cup Apple
  • 2½ – 3 cups light brown sugar (we like the lesser amount)
  • 1 onion (I used red for this one)
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1 fat clove garlic
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup currants
  • ½cup raisins (gold are nice)
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 oz fresh ginger, julienned (½ cupful)
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preparing the ingredients:

Plums – wash, remove the stone and cut in approximately ½-inch pieces

Apple – Peel, core and cut into approximately ½-inch pieces

Onion – chop medium

Garlic – mince

Lemon – (organic is best since you’ll be using the peel) wash, removing seeds & center-most white part, cut into approximately ¼-inch pieces

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plum crazy

You have no idea how much I’ve missed you, but I’ve missed you like crazy. These 14 weeks of dust and rubble, hammer and nail, paint and stone have drug along their path like a tired old tortoise at times. Forced to slow down and follow the tortoise – I was to learn there was no passing lane – I tried to cultivate patience and grow extra gratitude for the many kindnesses and the pretty views along the way. I had ample opportunity to practice releasing expectations of what my days might bring, and yet at times I would forget, and fail, and feel myself a disappointment. I thought I could post more along the way, but simply put, I couldn’t. I thought I could at least follow fellow-bloggers who I’ve grown so fond of. But not even that. Once or twice my forehead met the brick wall. But over and over again I was taught, let go, be gentle.

I know Life isn’t through with lessons on this score because, when all is said and done, I barely got a passing grade, and that only because my teacher kind of liked me.  {smile}

I’m back, for real this time. We have one new kitchen and two new bathrooms. Even the repairs to our little cabin ~ where we had a flood (of sorts) and a fair share of damage ~ is nearly done. The dust is swept, the windows are washed. The workmen and women have all gone on to other jobs, leaving behind a grateful (and humbled) heart.

I’ll be resuming my trips to Farmers’ Markets and will post the subsequent vegetable and fruit recipes on Wednesdays. I have new Spreenkles to share. Several new takes on pizzas. A chutney, a jam. A soup . a cake . a drink.  And at last I can catch up on some reading! For the next several weeks there will be a fairly steady stream here at Spree, and so far I see no lumbering tortoises on the horizon.

~ ~ ~

We have a plum tree growing out back. The bugs love the leaves and make lace of them, and yet still a crop of plump plums is left for us late summer. Our dogs are plum crazy and love to forage for the fallen ones, though this makes them rather difficult to live with (if you catch my drift) so we always try to beat them to the punch.

Our plums aren’t quite ripe for the eating yet, but I’ve found many varieties at the market that are. Black-skinned, dusty iris or nearly magenta, insides pure gold to deep blushing pink. Have you tasted plucots, (or pluots) that hybrid between a plum and an apricot? You should. The produce man, with honey juices dripping from his knife,  sliced off a piece of his favorite for me. My basket soon was brimming with the colors of Monet’s garden, on their way to becoming jam, fragrant with ginger and warm spices.

Plum Plucot Jam with Ginger & Spices

fills approximately 2 pint jars – possibly 2½ – or 5 half-pint jars

  • a total of 4 pounds ripe plums & plucots* – pitted and diced
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons strained fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice

* Or use all plums if you like – a mix of varieties is nice, but a majority of black plums with deep scarlet flesh will make for the most beautifully colored jam

NOTE: If you prefer to make a freezer jam, you can ignore the canning steps and simply fill your jars with cooked jam, allow to cool, and then place in the freezer.

Sterilize the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot.  Place a small plate in the freezer (to be used for testing readiness of the cooked jam later.) Put the flat lids of the jars in a heatproof bowl and set aside.

Place the diced plums and plucots, along with sugar, in a wide 6- to 8-quart pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, then continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Pour the contents of the pot into a colander set over a large bowl and stir the fruit gently to release the juices into the bowl.

Pour the juices back into the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Stirring frequently, boil until the syrup is reduced and thick, 10 minutes or so more.

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noodled & tangled Thai salad

Oh what a tangled web we weave

when first we practice to conceive

a noodled salad of garden things

kitty-kimboed together,  dressed with zing!

Once scattered with nuts it’s declared as  g o o d

Pray tell – who then shall make it – for

clearly, easily, anyone could!


by Wilma Shakespoon


Today’s Wegetable Vednesday offering:

An entire vegetarian meal, loaded with raw fresh vegetable goodness, textured and colorful, brimming with citrusy, nutty & Thai chili flavors, tossed into a bed of cushiony yakisoba noodles.

This recipe can be endlessly adapted to whatever is fresh and overflowing from your garden, or whatever inspires you at the produce stand. (Maybe you’ll add slivers of sweet or snow peas, or thinly sliced cabbage or radishes. Or you might decide to even replace the cherry tomatoes with red grapes. You could also add cubes of fried tofu or cooked chicken breast  if it pleases you.)  The dressing you will love,  just as it is.

Noodled & Tangled Thai Salad

Serves 4 as a meal

Simply cut the vegetables into sticks as thin and long as you can, or use a mandolin which will make quick & neat work of it.

  • 1 package of yakisoba noodles
  • 1½ cups very thinly sliced matchstick carrots (or grated into long slivers)
  • 1½ cups zucchini (prepared as carrots above)
  • ½ red bell pepper, cut into match-sticks
  • ½ – 1 cup Jicama (grated into long pieces)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes (cut in half if large)
  • 4 tbsp (¼ cup) Peanut Lime Dressing  (recipe follows)
  • ½ English cucumber thinly sliced or thinly matchsticked
  • chopped toasted unsalted peanuts
  • lime wedges
  • chopped or torn cilantro

Prepare the noodles as you like – if dry, you can either boil and simply strain, or strain and then quickly stir fry in a touch of oil (sesame or coconut are good…just go light.)  OR, if you’re using pre-cooked Yakisoba noodles, quickly stir fry. Noodles can be warm or room temperature or chilled. All are equally good.

Place cooked noodles in a large, shallow serving bowl or platter.

Pile the carrot, zucchini, jicama, red bell pepper and cherry tomatoes (and/or any other vegetables) on top the noodles and drizzle with dressing. Toss.

Garnish with the cucumber, peanuts, lime, and cilantro.

You may want to drizzle with drops of sriracha sauce if you love the heat, and some might like an additional bit of tamari or soy. But most, including kids, will like it just as it is.

This dressing is delicious… Read more

a dinner for lovers

Yesterday’s post explained why this is what’s for our Valentines dinner…it’s quick and easy to prepare, colorful, pretty, sensuous, light in the stomach, delicious in the mouth. Tomorrow morning I’ll lay out a schedule for how to get it from kitchen to table in under an hour. That will be easy as pie if you just spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes of light prep work the night before. (Tomorrow or Sunday will also bring another option for dessert.)

~ ~ ~

A reminder of the menu:

To whet (& wet) the Appetite:

Passion Fruit Cocktails for Two

Stacked Crab Bistro Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette


Seared Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

oh-so Forbidden Rice


a sweet multitude of options

~ ~ ~

A very little time spent prepping the vegetables the night before will make this dish a breeze.

Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger

  • ½ pound sugar snap peas
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil (I love toasted sesame oil for this, but not necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • ¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, (stems removed & discarded) – sliced
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons ginger, thinly sliced & sliced again into matchsticks
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce or Tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon cooking sherry
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

Wash the snap peas and remove their strings, if any. Put a pot on to boil, add salt. Have a colander in the sink and a bowl of ice-water close by. When the water comes to a boil, add peas. Cook for only 1½ to 2 minutes. (You want peas to be bright green and crispy, nearly tender.) Empty into colander. Transfer peas to bowl of ice water for one or two minutes to cool. Remove from water. Place in a clean kitchen towel, and roll and pat to dry. (At this point you can put them in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator if you’re preparing ahead.) Otherwise set aside as you prepare the other ingredients.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice fairly thinly. Cut the ginger into tiny “matchsticks”.  (Whether you opt for 1 or 2 tablespoons is entirely dependent on your love and tolerance of spicy warm ginger.) Thinly slice the shallots.

Heat the canola and sesame oils in a good-size skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add the shallots and, stirring constantly, cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the ginger. Stirring constantly, cook about 30 seconds, then add mushrooms, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. They’ll have begun to release some of their liquid and have started to sizzle. Raise heat to medium-high and add the peas. Stir occasionally, allowing peas to be touched by bits of brown. Add the soy sauce and cooking sherry, deglazing the pan of brown bits. (Taste for salt, adding a bit more soy if needed.) Add a pat of butter, stir to melt and glisten the peas and mushrooms. Serve.

Printer-friendly version of the sugar snap peas, click here.

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Ever hear of forbidden rice? It’s the deepest darkest shade of purple – like aubergine. Royal purple. With all its brilliant color (phytochemicals) it’s rich in antioxidants. (The stuff that protects our cells from free-radical damage.) It’s a whole-grain, even more nutritious than its brown cousin, but cooks in only slightly more time than its white relative. (About 30 minutes.) I suppose it was chosen for this menu for obvious reasons. How can one not be a little tempted – at least intrigued – by what’s labeled forbidden? It got its name in ancient China when it was grown and harvested and fed to only the Emperor. Anyone caught with purple grains between his teeth was summarily executed. Well, perhaps I’m playing loose with the facts there, but it makes a rather dramatic story. And a great introduction for a side dish for lovers. (It’s not on every market’s shelf, but some of the better-stocked markets will carry it. It costs more of course, but it’s not prohibitive…a small bag will make enough rice to feed 8 to 10 and cost about $5.00.)

oh-so Forbidden Rice

(will serve 4)

  • 1 cup forbidden rice
  • 1¾ cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • optional: 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon (I like Better than Bouillon – concentrated, natural good flavor)
  • chives, finely chopped

Bring water to boil, add salt, butter and bouillon (if using.) Add rice, stir, return to boil, then lower temperature to simmer. Cook on simmer for 30-35 minutes. (My simmer took 35.) Turn the heat off and allow pan to sit for 5 minutes or so before removing the lid. Fluff rice with a fork. Return the lid if not serving immediately. Before serving sprinkle with chopped chives.

Printer-friendly version of the rice, click here

~ ~ ~

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where do you look for sunshine?

When rain in Seattle or Portland makes national news, you know things are about as bad as they get here. Standing water on freeways, drains unable to keep pace with the deluge,  stretches of highway closed, even a few small towns along rivers evacuated. We get grey days, and mostly gentle (and occasionally incessant) rain here, but not monsoons that turn umbrellas inside out and flood boots with the rain that falls fast down our jackets.  I was hydroplaning down the freeway about 10 miles an hour below speed limit, heading toward a long (and long-overdue) coffee date with a dear friend. Carolyn had been out of town for more than a month and I’d missed her. I was thinking of her sunny self as I tried to see through the waterfall that was my windshield. I was thinking too about where it is we go looking for sunshine when our eyes and skin are hungry for it.

Carolyn and I sat drinking our large steamy cups of chai, catching up with the parts of each other’s lives we’d missed. And then, from beneath the table she brought out a canvas banana with a zipper along one side. “Bananagrams,” she said. “You’re going to love it!” She spilled the tiles onto the table, and we turned them over, letters face-down,  as she explained how the game is played. Carolyn was right of course, my friend knows me. From here on out, along with my camera, Bananagrams go where I go.

~ ~ ~

Not long ago I’d visited a fellow-blogger  – Violets and Cardamom – and was struck by her pretty mango lassi.  It was lovely.

Today, I winged my own with several changes. Knowing the deliciousness of the pairing of mango, coconut, ginger, lime, cardamom and banana, it was a simple matter to drop them into a blender, whir them up, pour them out, and stick a straw into a glass of gleaming sunshine.

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chai for two, & two for chai

We read the other day that locally-based Tazo Teas will be pulling up stakes and leaving Portland for a colder and damper clime. (I know, you thought that not possible. Portland gets such a bad rap.)  We’ll still be able to buy their teas of course, but we’ll be sorry to see them go. Having Tazo in our backyard is a bit like a blanket thrown over the back of the couch, or a delicious book on the nightstand – a bit of a comfort –  there, should you need it. The building that houses Tazo is striking in its simplicity, spare in its details, but rich, warm and inviting. Is there something subliminal in its design that makes one suddenly crave a steaming fragrant cup of tea? Wait here, I’ve got just the ticket!

I’m not claiming to be an expert, not by any stretch, but I did learn from one. My friend Amit from Delhi taught me how chai was made in their kitchen back home and I’ve been making it in ours ever since. It’s very simple to do and I predict you’ll never go back to those cartons of chai after tasting this one. Take ten minutes of your time before you sit down to address your holiday cards, or wrap your gifts, or pay your bills. If your attitude is running a bit sour, you might try chai. A hug around your heart, held in a steamy pot. (I know. Ridiculous you say. But only because you haven’t tried it yet.)

For those who’ve never enjoyed the treat that chai is – imagine steaming milk (cow’s milk, soy, rice, coconut – whatever your preference) – into it fragrant cardamom, allspice, freshly ground pepper and grated fresh ginger root – allow it all to steep so that the milk itself is imbued with all the fragrance and warmth these spices impart – then the tea (black or green or a combination of the two) for the last 3 minutes. Strain and serve. Warm your hands, warm your soul.

(And though I’ve strongly advocated for your chai to be served steaming hot, I can tell you that over ice in the summer, it’s refreshingly delicious and wonderful!)

Chai for Two

  • 2 cups milk (I’ll use any milk, but for chai I think soy might be my personal favorite.)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root (see NOTE)
  • sugar to taste (see NOTE)
  • 2 teaspoons tea (see NOTE)


Into a medium saucepan, over low heat measure the milk of your choice and water. Add allspice, cardamom, freshly-ground pepper. Grate the ginger, measure and add. Bring the pot slowly to just steaming, stirring frequently. (Don’t allow soy, rice or coconut milk to boil as it will separate which is never pretty.) Turn heat to lowest setting or turn off entirely. Spill the tea(s) over the steaming milk. Stir once then leave undisturbed for 3 minutes. (After 3 minutes, the bitterness of the tea leaf begins to leach into your brew.)

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the chai of its solids.

This will cool it off some, so return to the pot and gently rewarm. (Again, careful not to boil.)

~ ~ ~

Serve steaming. Or chill, and serve over ice.

See below for NOTES on Ginger, Sugar and Tea. Read more

Asian slaw in ginger-lime vinaigrette

(and a word on seared ahi tuna…)

The other night, Zack came for dinner. He’s a hungry guy, a college student living on his own now. When he comes home to eat, we like to feed him well (which in no small part means: plenty.) One of his favorite things (and we know he’s not fixing this in his own kitchen) is seared ahi. He got an especially good piece this time and the “boy” was sitting satisfied (licking his whiskers) when his plate was cleaned. The thing about searing ahi is this: it happens quickly and it’s got to quickly make its way to the plate to be enjoyed hot. That doesn’t allow for portraiture … not around here anyway. So I’ll simply tell you how I fix it and leave you to conjure the images and the incredible tasty tenderness of it all.

Start with sushi-grade ahi, about 1-inch thick. I like to coat it with a layer of sesame seeds (either white or black,) patted in well…it’s quite beautiful, there’s no possibility of the ahi sticking to the pan, and I seem to get the very best sear on it this way. Put a cast iron skillet on the burner, turned to medium-high. Allow the pan to become searing-hot. Add a drizzle of sesame oil, swirl to coat the skillet, then quickly drop in the tuna.  Sear for 1 to 2 minutes undisturbed (time depends on thickness of the cut, the heat of your pan and how rare you like it – most love it very rare); flip and sear the other side. In very little saucers, serve wasabi and tamari sauce for dipping. For each of us in our family, this is one of our very favorite meals! We served it this time with white basmati rice scattered with black sesame seeds – and the following slaw, which, thankfully, stood still long enough (just barely) to be caught in a photo:

 fresh, clean and bright vegetable confetti tossed in a savory vinaigrette that balances between tart and sweet and gingery-warm. 

Asian slaw with red cabbage, red pepper, snow peas & carrot in ginger-lime vinaigrette

  • ½ head of red cabbage (3 to 4 cups)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 or 2 handfuls snow-peas
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (black are pretty)

Finely slice the cabbage and red pepper. Either shred or match-stick cut (in 2-inch lengths) the peeled carrot. Wash the snow-peas and remove their strings. Slice thinly lengthwise. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan on the stove, medium to medium-low heat for maybe 5 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Don’t allow to smoke. Toss with the following –

Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (½ of an extra-juicy lime)
  • 1 Tablespoon raspberry vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup (or slightly more to taste)
  • 1½ teaspoon finely-minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil (amazing stuff)
  • 3 Tablespoons canola or other light oil

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Indian red bean curry – rajmah

Installment 2 in the series – we can feed another… 

My very good friend Amit was born and raised in Delhi, India. He tells me  how much time he would spend outdoors as a boy, running long distances, playing hard with his friends and his brothers, from morning until the hot sun was nearly down. Here he is, on the left, with his mother Anjana and his middle brother Moni, resting in a field of nasturiums at the end of a long day of play.

But something else was happening while Amit was growing up a boy in India. He was paying close attention to what his mother was doing in the kitchen. I know, because to eat at Amit’s house today is a treat, a sumptuous, sensuous, exotic and deeply satisfying treat! Even the simplest of meals feels like a feast at Amit’s house. He moves around his kitchen with ease and a deep but relaxed concentration, spooning spices from their metal tin, peeling and finely slicing ginger, roasting seeds in a pan on the stove. It takes but a few minutes of watching him at work in the kitchen and smelling the aromas rising before you know that the meal you’re about to be served is well on its way towards being amazing.

~ ~ ~

I told Amit that spree was doing a series on beans and rice dishes and the reasons why. (See rice & beans.) I asked if he’d share something his mother had cooked while he was growing up – something he’d loved then and brought with him when he moved to the States. He readily volunteered today’s recipe.

As often happens, we pick up the recipes of our parents and adapt them to our changing tastes and ideas about food and what we expect from it. Amit has made a couple changes to the recipe below, but we have first his mother Anjana to thank. This was a dish she was eating growing up a girl in India (seen here with her brother) –  long  before it came to be one of Amit’s very favorite dishes.

pressure cooker was used for this recipe. It makes very short work of cooking with dried beans, and cooking your own dried beans from scratch is always a more flavorful alternative to canned.

No Pressure Cooker?  – it can also be made using a simple soup pot,  though it will take somewhat longer…or, if you’re in need of getting dinner on the table a bit faster, canned beans (likely pinto) would be a good option. Keep in mind though that cooking the beans with these wonderful spices really is the secret behind a fabulous dish of beans!

See bottom of post for serving suggestions, which include rice and raita (an Indian yogurt sauce)

Red Bean Curry – Rajmah

  • 2 cups dried light red beans, preferably soaked overnight in water that covers by 3 inches (See NOTE on variety of beans to use) – if using canned beans, 3 cans should do
  • 3 to 4 large ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 Tablespoon peanut oil (or grapeseed oil – any oil with higher smoking point)
  • fresh ginger root    (3 thin slices 1-inch x 2-inch each, then cut into narrow strips)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 Tablespoon garam masala (a wonderful Indian spice blend)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 jalapeño pepper coarsely chopped (if you prefer a spicier dish, finely dice it)
  • 6 – 8 whole cloves
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons tamarind paste – I like 2 (find in Asian section of the market – see photo at bottom – if you absolutely can’t find, add fresh lime juice to taste)
  • salt – to taste
  • cilantro ½ to 1 whole bunch, washed well and chopped, stems included
  • 6 to 8 green onions, sliced

NOTE:  You can use a variety of red beans for this recipe: pinto, Anasazi, Borlotti or any other of the “cranberry” beans. You could also use kidney, but they are a bit less “creamy” than others just named, and a bit gummier too.

~ ~ ~

Soak beans overnight in enough water to cover by 3 inches. Discard the soaking water.

Cut long thin (longitudinal) strips from the ginger. Add peanut oil to the pressure cooker (or soup pot) on medium or medium-low heat. Add cumin seeds. Amit says to fry until they “chit-chit”  which is the sound they’ll make as they approach doneness and are dancing around the bottom of the pan. Turns out, that’s a pretty good guide!  Once the cumin has begun to chit-chit, add the julienned ginger and fry until it’s turned a light brown.

Add the diced tomatoes. (I’ve only had this recipe a very short time, and already I’m making my own little changes. I almost always like to add to a dish that has cooked tomatoes, some freshly-cut ones towards the end so that their beautiful color and brightness is present. Therefore, I reserved a 4th medium tomato for that purpose here, cooking for only 2 minutes or less when the dish was nearly ready to serve.) Add the spices – turmeric, garam masala and coriander. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes.

(You will not believe the aromas filling your kitchen! Exquisite I tell you!)

Add very coarsely chopped jalapeño. (If you want the dish more spicy, finely chop the pepper. Want it less spicy? Add it later in the cooking process.)

Add the beans along with 2½ cups of water. (This will create a stew-like consistency. If you’d prefer something a bit soupier, you can add 3 cups of water instead. Turns out that I needed 3.) Add also the whole cloves at this time. Bring the pressure cooker to full pressure and then cook for 15 minutes.

(OK, here’s where a bean dish can go terribly wrong. : ) I cooked for 15 minutes and sampled a couple beans at that time. Not exactly rock-like. Back to the stove. Cooked an additional 7 minutes, figuring they needed at least half again as much time as they were originally given. In the end, my beans required a full 25 – 27 minutes in the pressure cooker. I’ve included a note at the bottom of the post that helps explain. I’d advise that you not take it for granted that your beans will be finished in 15 minutes – though they COULD be!)

Cool down the pressure cooker – then put it back on the burner on medium heat. Add the tamarind paste and stir to mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.  (Be sure NOT to add salt to un-cooked beans! Their tough little skins will never soften if you do!)  Heat thoroughly, then remove from the burner and allow it to sit with the lid on while you prepare the rice. (Or keep warm on the lowest possible setting on your stove.)

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This bean dish goes beautifully atop or alongside white or brown basmati rice or your favorite pilaf. Garnish with torn cilantro and sliced green onions.

Also very delicious served with Raita – in fact I consider it a must. It’s just the right amount of cool and fresh to balance the deep aromas and warmth.

Quick how-to: Thin yogurt with a tiny bit of water. Dry-roast cumin seeds in a pan. Grind coarsely. Add to yogurt along with salt. (Especially Himalayan Pink Salt, naturally.)

Amit also suggests a salad of kale, pomegranate seeds and apple slices, tossed in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lime juice and salt. Allow the kale to sit for a while in the dressing in order to soften and for the various flavors to marry.

A few notes on beans:

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tomato ginger preserves

what to do with all these tomatoes?

I spent last week with dear Ali and her little ones while her husband was away. Our mutual love of food and cooking always has us scheming about what fascinating and wondrous things we’ll cook up when we have these extended days together. This time it was going to have to center around the tomatoes that were threatening to riot in her garden if we didn’t do something, quick. I’d brought with me a recipe clipped from our local Oregonian for tomato ginger preserves.  I’d never had such a thing before, so already it was fascinating. Ali agreed. In fact, we both liked the sounds of it so much, and we had tubfuls of tomatoes, so we thought we’d just sextuple the recipe and get a start on Christmas! Well, we did that, and the results, though quite tasty, were slightly less than the perfection we’d imagined. Undeterred, I tried again when I got home – this time, a single batch. And it was glorious! Sweet, slightly hot, mysterious, and gorgeous!

So what do you do with such a jar? How about crostini with a smear of ricotta and a dollop of these preserves on top? How about on eggs? Or with crackers and manchego cheese? How about on a chicken or turkey sandwich? (Or on a BLT.)  How about as an accompaniment to salmon? How about with roast chicken? Or roasted vegetables? I even saw a recommendation for tomato preserves as a topping for savory French toast. I’m not a fan of catchup, but for this sweetly spicy condiment, I will sing the praises all night long!

For those of you interested in following the tomato saga, stay tuned. We didn’t stop at…

Tomato Ginger Preserves

makes 2 cups

  • 1 pound Sungold or other cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half (see NOTE)
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • pinch salt
  • sterilized container(s)
  • optionalcrushed red pepper flakes, if you like a little extra heat

NOTE: a combination of different-colored tomatoes proved especially pretty

Put all the ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. You want the tomatoes to be tender, but still hold their shape. This will take from 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes into a sterilized pint jar – or 2 smaller jars or other heatproof container. (In the process of transferring the tomatoes to the container, some of the cooking liquid will have also made its way there; so, being careful not to burn yourself, drain the liquid from the jar back into the saucepan.)

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