Happy September! It's the last day of healthy vegetarian cooking! It's been quite the adventure this past month, walking staight past the meat case, playing with all kinds of edible plants and legumes. It's working pretty well on the diet front, I am weighing in at 132.9 as of this morning, which means I reached the goal of 132.2 to133.2 that I set for myself at the begining of the month. I hope to keep going, though maybe at a slower pace, until I get back down to the wedding weight of 129. I have carefully gone through the archives of this blog and more clearly tagged the low cal recipes as Diet, and the Vegetarian recipes, so that they are easier for you, my wonderful readers, to find if you are looking for such recipe ideas in the future.
I have a very exact cookbook wish list. Very exact, and a little expensive. They range from the Ad Hoc at Home to out of print stuff, from the newest most in-fashion food to the forgotten vintage recipes. Every once in awhile I do sweeps of NY bookstore The Strand to see if I can pick up one of these cheap, and recently I made two big scores.
Ever since Julia Child became the one to democratize French cooking and bring it to the states, people like to figure out who is the "Julia Child" of other sections of cooking, which usually means "wrote the best and most complete cookbook on the subject." I've been hunting for the cookbooks of two such women, Marcella Hazzan, otherwise known as the Julia Child of Italian cooking, and Julie Sahni, the Julia Child of Indian cooking. The comparisons do not hold up that well, as Julia Child was an American who learned to cook French and brought it back with her, these women actually represent the cultures they are teaching you about. They are, however, the women with the most complete cookbooks, and that meant I wanted them.(Funny side note, this isn't just a cooking thing. I recently took an exercise class with the "Indian Jane Fonda". Good class! A lot of dancing.)
The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking I will have to tell you about later, I haven't cooked from it yet. August was, after all, the month of healthy vegetarian cooking, and I kept drooling over the meat sauces. There probably were some healthy recipes in there, but I kept flipping straight to roasts and heavy cream and lots of butter. Don't worry, these recipes are coming. While I have been searching for Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking for quite awhile, that was not the book I stumbled across this past month. Her follow up, Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking stared back at me from the Strand's shelf. I was reading it by the time I was on the subway.
I haven't played much with Indian cuisine since last year's attempt at Chicken Tikka, but now that I own the spices, I notice them cropping up in more and more recipes. Full on Indian cooking might not be hugely popular, but its influence is being found everywhere. Food Network even finally found itself a chef who knows what curry is, though it took them a competition show to do it (Congrats to Aarti Sequeira by the way!) Digging through the book, there were certainly recipes that felt like they would be a bit challenging, or too spicy for my somewhat weak pallate. Finally I stumbled across a recipe that would be more mild, and perfect for a certain Fall fruit now tumbling out of my farmer's market. Pumpkin and Split Peas with Camphor Basil. Will gave me a dubious look as we walked home. "You are going to cook a pumpkin?"
It's true, my previous pumpkin cooking has all been:
A. Using canned pumpkin, and
Butternut Squash Lasagna of last October. Things have changed a bit since then though. For one, Will and I are much better with knifes. For another, I am much better with planning. As my beloved friend Stef was going to be in town on Monday night (an Indian food addict if I ever saw one) I made a very wise decision, I chopped the pumpkin on Sunday night. This was not nearly the warfare I had experienced with the butternut. Will split the thing down the center for me, as I tend to have a bit less muscle. I was going to attack it with a peeler, but cutting the skin off with very shallow knife cuts was a much more efficient and less maddening process. Then I scooped it out (reserving the seeds for toasting) and diced down into 1 inch pieces, which I stored in Ziploc containers in my fridge. The whole process probably only took 20 minutes, and that was 20 minutes I didn't have to spend while cooking the next day.
Unfortunately, despite a trip to our local Patel Brother's grocery, I could not locate Camphor Basil. It is a more bitter basil that's not easily found in the states, which Ms. Sahni recognizes by offering a substitution of Sweet Basil and Star Anise. I did not have Star Anise, but I did have Anise seeds on hand, so I worked with that. The results were still delicious, so I stand by my alteration.
Pumpkin and Split Peas with Basil
Adapted Slightly from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking
- 1 cup yellow split peas
- Pinch turmeric
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups of water
- 2 pounds pumpkin (you can substitute butternut squash if needed) cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup water
For the spice-perfumed ghee
- 5 tablespoon ghee (if you can not get this in your area, Alton Brown has a recipe for it here)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger
- 2-4 hot green chilies, finely diced
- 1/3 cup packed fresh basil, then take the leaves and cut into 1/4 inch wide shreds
Put the split peas, turmeric, bay leaves, onion and anise seeds in a deep pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
Add the pumpkin pieces along with 1 cup water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and continue cooking, covered, for 20 more minutes. Turn off heat. Transfer to a serving dish or individual bowls.
Pour all of it over the pumpkin-split pea mixture. Mix with a fork just once or twice to streak it with the spice-perfumed butter. Serve immediately.
OK, so ghee, if you didn't know, is basically clarified butter. And that's a good bit of butter. Therefore, this might not be the healthiest of all of my recipes this month. But it was yummy. Stef ate 2 bowls kinda yummy. The serving suggestion Julie Sahni makes in the book is to pair this stew with an Indian bread, she suggests a Kale Bread that is in another part of the book, but as this was a weeknight meal I wasn't about to bake some bread too but that's the luxury of living in Little India. I popped some frozen Garlic Naan in the toaster oven and presto, side dish.
This dish was a bit on the heavy side especially as it was 90 degrees out, but with fall ready to kick down our door I can see this being a repeat recipe on a chilly fall day. It will be a nice vegetarian distraction, because right now I'm jonesing to get my hands on some meat. I want to roast it, saute it, stick it in a pasta sauce, I am ready to resume my carnivorous kitchen. Just as soon as the temperature drops out of the 90's so I can turn my oven on. Come on Fall, I'm waiting...