Monday, January 28, 2013

Curried Cabbage (Cabbage Sabzi)

Cabbage Sabzi
A few months ago I signed a cookbook deal with my publisher for my upcoming book; "Silk & Spice; Recipes from the Silk Road for the Mindful Vegetarian" due out in Spring 2014. As you may have gathered, the book is an ode to my ancestral ties to the Silk Road. You can read more about that in the About Me page and my family history.

Since many of the recipes are from my childhood, and most have been modernized to suit my vegetarian lifestyle, my publisher asked me to include photos of my family around food. Old photos, of course. So I plumaged my parents old photo albums scouring for photos. One of the photos was of my Indian nanny growing up, Morris. May seem bizarre that I had a male nanny, but he was not my full time caretaker. Morris primarily took care of my grandfather who lived in Japan. When my grandfather, known as Bobosh, would come to visit us in NY, Morris would come and stay with us for a few months.

When I looked at the photo of Morris, standing so proudly like a dutiful soldier, I was pulled back to my memories of him growing up in NY. Morris was a small, dark man that resembled Gandhi, except he had more hair, wore clothes (and not a diaper like Gandhi) and had a little mustache.

Morris, was a sweet, quiet Indian Christian with Hindu principles, who was vegetarian. The interesting story behind how my parents met Morris is quite astonishing.

When my parents got married over 60 years ago, they lived in Bombay (Mumbai). One night, in the middle of the night, my mother got up from her sleep and walked into the backyard. She saw a little family living there, like the way nocturnal animals do. They simply needed a place to sleep and found refuge in my parents quiet backyard, without my parents realizing it for years. Until..... that one night.

Sleeping in the backyard were three cousins: Morris, who would later be my Bobosh's caretaker and my nanny; Paul, who would later be my father's bookeeper and Cornelius, who would later be the housekeeper and most of the time DRUNK!

My mother accosted these young very skinny men and somehow, in typical Zina (my mother's name) fashion they became employed. I can tell you that these kinds of stories happened hundreds of times to my parents. If there is one thing I appreciate about them is that they are open to all opportunities and cultures.

As a child, I remember Morris helping my mother cook all the traditional Bukharian dishes which consisted of meat, in spite of him being a vegetarian. He cooked meat like nobody's business. How?.... I have no idea.

Typically the help in my parents house would eat the food that was being prepared, but Morris could not eat any of the food. He would quietly make a simple vegetarian Indian dish for himself, while he was stirring my mother's pots.

The one dish I remember Morris cooking for himself was this Curried Cabbage. I am not sure why I recalled this dish out of all the foods he prepared. I think because when I was a kid, I was thinking at the time, who eats cooked cabbage as a meal? As a child, I suppose those kinds of foods were unthinkable to me. Now.... it's the norm!

So here is the Curried Cabbage that Morris made and has become one of my favorite dishes. First off, it's so easy to prepare as this humble cabbage gets transformed into a delectable dish flavored with fresh coconut and some hot chile. A food fit for a Hindu Prince.

Cabbage Sabzi
1 head cabbage, Finely chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 Green Chili, finely chopped

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/4 cup Freshly grated coconut

1/4 cup Coriander, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Sea Salt, to taste
 1.  Wash the finely chopped cabbage in salt water and then soak for 5 minutes to remove any debris and bugs.
2.  In a saucepot, heat coconut oil over medium heat and add the mustard seeds and wait until they splutter. Then add the green chilie, curry powder, and turmeric powder. Add the cabbage and mix well. Cover it with lid and let it cook in its own juices for about 15 minutes or until the cabbage becomes transparent.
3.   Once cooked, add the grated coconut, cilantro, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Serve with a side of Basmati rice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spaghetti Pomodoro without the Spaghetti (Spaghetti Squash with Fresh Tomato Sauce)

If you are like me, and probably like the rest of the west, you LOVE spaghetti with fresh homemade tomato sauce and fresh melted mozzarella and a drizzle of Parmesan. You would think that such a simple dish is a no brainer to find in any Italian restaurant, but actually it is. It is extremely rare to find really good pasta and homemade sauce- even in the finest Italian restaurants. I am not saying all.... but most are just not great.

The trick is you have to go to a place that makes their own pasta (impossible for your Gluten Free foodies) and fresh sauce, not some store bought commercialized can junk.

My father's two sisters live in Italy and growing up so did my mothers' sister, so I would visit Milano more times that you probably take the subway. Every night, we had pasta, and not too much variation from pasta pomodoro. Seems like the Italians like simple spaghetti and tomato sauce and that's it! Every night!

I remember how much I loved it and how I did not gain weight and neither did anyone in my family who ate pasta regularly. There must be something in their wheat (not Industrialized) and the way they just whip up some sauce from fresh tomatoes, that are so fragrant, I could wear it as perfume. Or maybe, just maybe- they are happy to eat. Eating is a joyous event. I never hear anyone talk about their weight and the fear of gaining weight from pasta.

In any event, I digress... Today's post is NOT about Spaghetti Pomodoro, as you may have been able to tell from the photos. Sorry for all the foreplay. It's about, the next best thing.... Spaghetti Squash with Pomodoro. No fat, made at home and really good. You can cut chunks of fresh mozzarella onto the spaghetti squash and bake for 10 minutes. Then for extra richness, add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce

Yields: 2 servings


Spaghetti Squash

Tomato Sauce
1 pound Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoon olive olive oil
Small onion
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot
1/2 stalk of celery
Sea salt, to taste
Slivers of fresh basil, to finish

Directions for the Spaghetti Squash

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Place the halves cut side down, in a roasting pan. Pour a little water around them and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Do not allow to burn- cover with foil if necessary.

Directions for the Tomato Sauce
  1. Peel your tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch.
  2. Coarsely chop your tomatoes on a cutting board.
  3. Finely chop the onion, and mince the carrot, celery and garlic.
  4. Heat your olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, until they just start to take on a little color, about 10 minutes. I really like to concentrate their flavor as much as possible. Add your tomatoes and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer. Simmer your sauce, stirring occasionally. At 30 minutes, you’ll have a fine pot of tomato sauce, but at 45 minutes, you might just find tomato sauce nirvana: more caramelized flavors, more harmonized texture.
  5. Season with salt and serve. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Best Shakshuka (Sunny side eggs in Fresh Tomato Sauce)

When you think of Sunday brunch, what images conjure up in your mind? Pancakes, eggs and some kind of bread?? Pancakes are a large part of the American Sunday breakfast/brunch. The carb thing is like a blob that takes up more space then you anticipate, and you wobble around Sunday in a daze. No wander Sunday football  exists, so that men can just sit around in a euphoric carb bomb like Al Bundy with hand in pants.  If you want to try something lighter and more tasteful, then try the quintessential Middle Eastern breakfast, Shakshuka.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in much of the Middle East, Shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, often spiced with cumin and traditionally served up in a cast iron pan is the breakfast of choice. I suppose they make do with their local, ripe tomatoes and  cage free eggs. No bread is needed for this dish, but you may just want to mop up the sauce with a pita (gluten free bread).

When I am feeling extra hungry I add some broad beans to the dish and a tickle of feta cheese. Try it, it will not disappoint and is so filling. My husband found this recipe online and modified it a bit. We garnished it with a side of spinach leaves, chummus, cherry tomatoes and baby grapes for a little punch.
Happy Husband Enjoying Sunday Brunch

Shakshuka (Sunny side eggs in Fresh Tomato Sauce)

Serves 5-6


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili powder (mild)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste-- HOT!)
Pinch of sugar, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
5-6 eggs
1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep, large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Saute onion for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant.Your nostrils wont let you down.
  2. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes until softened.
  3. Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended. Add spices and sugar, stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce. At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce.
  4. Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. I usually place 4-5 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook "over easy" style on top of the tomato sauce.
  5. Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn't reduce too much, which can lead to burning.
  6. Garnish with the chopped parsley, if desired and serve. 

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