Monday, December 29, 2008

Aloo Paratha and Aloo ka Mattar

So a couple of nights ago I made my first rotis. I was surprised at how incredibly easy it was! I was motivated to make them because I brought a dozen back from the States, and we discovered that my boyfriend really likes them. The thought occurred to me: "He's gonna eat all my rotis. I'm not going to have any left!"

And so, even though I'd always been intimidated in the past at the idea of making my own, I did so.

They came out ok. I decided to use only wheat flour and water, so they were a little brittle and definitely could've used some salt. But they made me brave, by coming out ok and tasting decent. Thus, tonight I felt up to making something a step up: aloo paratha.

This is a roti, basically, with spiced potatoes mixed into the dough before it's cooked. And lucky everyone, today I'll basically be posting 4 recipes: basic spiced potatoes, Aloo ka Mattar, basic roti dough, and Aloo Paratha.

First I made the spiced potatoes.

Spiced Potatoes
(I used 1/2 for the paratha, 1/2 for dinner):


4 small potatoes
1 t cumin seed
1 t black mustard seed
1 chili
1 t tumeric
1 t cumin ground
1 t coriander ground
salt to taste
1 t chopped ginger
1 clove garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped
2-3 T oil (I used sunflower)
Fresh cilantro (1 handful)


Cut the potatoes into cubes, peeling if desired. Boil the potatoes till very soft (soft enough to mash). Drain and set aside for the moment. In a pan, heat the oil, and sautee the onions. When they become translucent, add the chili, ginger and garlic. Stir, sautee a little less than a minute. Now push all the stuff in the pan to one side, and let the oil pool on the other side. I like to position the pan such that the oil side is over the flame/heating element and the onions etc. side is cooler. Dump the spices into the pool of hot oil. You should be able to hear them cooking, and smell them becoming fragrant. Cook for about 30 seconds, then stir everything together in the pan. Add in the potatoes and stir well, mashing with a wooden spoon as you do it. Chop the cilantro, and mix it in too. You can now turn off the heat and salt to taste. Reserve a little less than 1/2, about 1/3 for the paratha. The rest you can eat, or you can make more paratha dough and use it all. I used the remaining to make aloo ka mattar (potatoes with peas), recipe to follow. Or you could just eat this by itself! Or use it to stuff samosas ... hm, that sounds like a future post! ;-)

Aloo ka Mattar


Spiced Potatoes from above (you can use a portion, or all of them. I used about 2/3.)
1/2 a medium sized tomato
1 c frozen green peas
1 T oil (I used sunflower)
Salt to taste


Heat the oil in a pan. Chop the tomato. When the oil is hot, drop the tomato in it. It will sizzle and make the skin wrinkle. When the tomatoes begin to get soft, add the peas and the potatoes. Stir all together. You may have to add more salt to taste. We ate this with fried eggs, it was tasty.

Just before we ate, I prepared the basic roti dough, so it could rest during dinner:

Basic Roti Dough


1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c white wheat flour (all purpose flour)
Sprinkling of salt
Drizzling (about 2 t) of vegetable oil
water (no specific amount, depends)


Put the flours in a bowl with the salt. Mix well. Drizzle the oil uniformly, then begin to pour in water into the center of the mound of flour a little at a time, stirring as you pour it, stirring from the inside out. It will be sticky on your hand at first, stir in more of the flour. If there's not enough water it'll be crumbly. Add water, stirring/mixing the dough with your hand until it's not sticky, but not crumbly. You should have a silky ball of dough. Knead it a bit. The dough should start to spring back when you lightly push it with your finger. Let it sit in the bowl covered with a damp towel for 30 minutes at least. This isn't to make it rise like other breads, but to make sure the flours absorb the water. This is the basic dough! This can probably make about 6-8 rotis. To make them, split the dough into balls of equal size. Roll out with a rolling pin until they're about 8 inches in diameter. I do this one at a time. When I have the first rolled out, I put it on a very hot pan. I just use a large concave non-stick skillet (kinda wok-like, but not as sharply sloped at the sides). The roti will start to puff, which is fine. When brown spots start to appear on the bottom, flip the roti and cook the other side (about a couple of minutes each side). When it was cooking, I usually roll out the next one, so it's ready to go into the pan when the other one comes out. The one that's ready I put on a plate, and smear all over with butter (helps make it tasty and pliable). Continue till done.

Aloo Paratha


Spiced Potatoes from above
Basic Roti Dough from above
extra flour, about 1/2 to 1 c


Take your big ball of roti dough, roll it out into a big circle. Sprinkle a bit of flour, add the potatoes in the center, sprinkle a bit more flour, then fold the dough over the potatoes, closing the ball up well. Now roll the whole thing out again, as before, this will well distribute the potatoes. They are wet, though, and will make the dough a bit more sticky, so add flour to it as needed, to make it silky, not sticky, in texture again. Roll it into a ball. Now you have a ball of dough with potatoes well mixed in. Separate into 8 equally sized balls. Heat a pan, as described above for rotis. Roll out one ball at a time, you will need to dust the board and the ball itself with flour, likely. Roll till 6-8 inches in diameter, place in the hot pan, and cook both sides as directed above. Transfer to plate when finished and spread each side with butter.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: The parathas came out really well. I like the mix of whole wheat and white flours. You may use more white flour, or all white flour if you like for rotis, but parathas really benefit from the whole wheat. I think it's good, because they're traditionally a travel food, so they should provide tons of nutrients! You can eat them with some yogurt, or a raita, or by themselves. Rotis are better for curries and dhals because they're plain and don't distract from the flavor of the dish. Adding some fat (oil) to the roti dough makes them pliable, I find. I like my breads not very salty, but my boyfriend wants me to add more salt next time. To each their own, I guess. Rotis are also delicious with butter and sugar, or dipped in mango puree that's been mixed with some whole milk. That is a great breakfast! (So is roti crisped up a bit in the toaster or a skillet, served with eggs!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sour Cherry Rice

Tonight I made this rice in an attempt to duplicate one of my favorites from a Persian restaurant in Dallas. It came out really tasty, but it just needed a little more lemon juice and some chopped fresh dill added in at the end. But I'm posting what I did:

Sour Cherry Rice

Main Ingredients:

1/2 glass of uncooked white basmati rice (about 1/4 c)
1 glass water (important ratio is 2 parts water to 1 part rice)
about 1/4 c (a small handful) of dried sour cherries (I get mine at Whole Foods in the bulk foods aisle)
one VERY small onion (or about 1/2 of a regularly small one)
1 clove of garlic
Salt to taste
1 T oil (I used sunflower seed oil)
Squeeze of lemon


1 black cardamom pod
2 small green cardamom pods
2 whole peppercorns
1 "petal" of a star anise
1 small bay leaf
2 whole gloves
1 tsp. of cumin seeds


Wash the rice well, then set it aside. Have the water ready to pour into your saucepan. In the saucepan, warm the oil. When it shimmers, add the onion, chopped, fry till golden brown (careful not to burn!) and stir in the garlic, minced. Push the onion-garlic mix to one edge of the pot, and let the oil pool on the other side. Add the spices (except bay leaf) into the oil. The oil should be hot enough that you can hear a quiet sizzle. Once you can smell the fragrance of the spices (about 30 seconds), stir everything in the pot together, add the rice, let the whole thing lightly fry for another 30 seconds or so, and then add the water, cherries and bay leaf, salt and a squeeze of lemon. Let the rice gently boil until it's just almost dry, then remove from heat and let sit covered for about 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. If your rice is still a little too wet, you can pop it in the microwave for a few minutes, or gently cook it on the stove, stirring, until it's drier.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: I thought this was really tasty, and a good approximation of the rice at the restaurant. Theirs is a little drier and fluffier than mine came out, and also less pink (from the cherries). Probably they add the cherries in just at the end, and they get kind of plumped from the steaming rice, but aren't cooking with it. Chopped fresh dill would've been great, but I didn't have any.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cheap but Good: Convenience Food Make-Overs

I generally try to cook things from scratch, but being a busy college student, sometimes I need to open a box and have a meal ready in 20 minutes or less. Usually--for myself and others in the same position--that means something like Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, or canned soups. That's also because these items aren't really very expensive; but there's a way to make them even cheaper, tastier and better for you.

The solution is really simple: add a bunch of other stuff, and by "stuff" I mean veggies. If you choose the right ones, it's cheap, and it makes more food so you get more leftovers, and hence more meal for your money.

Some ideas:

For mac and cheese, I like to mix in an equal amount of cooked frozen peas. I love frozen peas, so I buy a huge bag of them and it's very inexpensive. By doing this, I double the volume of the meal for much less money. I don't find that I need any extra cheese sauce, but if you do, then try stirring in a couple of tablespoons of sour cream.

For Ramen, there are a lot of options. Again, I often add the peas. :-) But thinly sliced cabbage is also very good. Cabbage is definitely not an expensive vegetable, and slicing it very thin means it cooks quickly. One of my favorite ways to enhance Ramen: I start with my favorite flavor, Beef and Black Pepper (I think beef flavor works best for this particular flavor combo). I put the water in the pot, add the cabbage, a few mushrooms and an onion also thinly sliced. I stir in the seasoning packet. I let the water come to a simmer. You'll need to use more water than usual if you want to maintain the same soup consistency, because you're going to be increasing the amount of "stuff" in the pot. If you prefer soup with less broth, maybe you don't need to adjust. When the cabbage is just soft (about 10 mins) bring the water to a boil, and then add the noodles and about a cup of frozen peas. Give it a stir, then turn off the heat. I don't like the noodles overcooked, so I let them sit there for 3 mins before eating. Usually just the seasoning packet isn't enough. I add extra salt, pepper, maybe a little soy and chili sauce. But I get easily 3 times the amount of food from one soup packet.

For canned soups (although making your own is cheap, tasty and fun, it's not really fast) you can add extra veggies, cooked rice or noodles, and then keep it's consistency by adding broth or water.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Beet Raita (Shakunder ka Raita)

This is a tasty yogurt salad that's a nice twist on the classic cucumber raita. If fresh cucumber and beet isn't available in the winter time, skip the cucumber and use canned beets.

Shakunder ka Raita


1/2 English cucmber
1 small onion
2 small beets
1/2 c plain yogurt
small bunch fresh cilantro
1/2 t ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste


If using fresh beets, boil them until tender, and then rinse under cool water, peeling the skins off. Allow them to cool completely. Cut them into circles and then cut the circles into half. If using canned beets, drain them well, and (they usually come already in circles) cut into half moons. Cut the cucumber into half moons (slice into rounds and cut into half). Slice onion into thin semi-rings. I think it's nice texture-wise if everything is kind of the same shape. Whisk together the yogurt, the cumin and the fresh cilantro (chopped). Stir in the vegetables, and then salt and pepper to taste. The beet will turn the raita a lovely pink color.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: This salad (like all raitas) for me is especially good in the summer time with kabobs straight of the grill. But since the yogurt is so cooling and soothing, this is a perfect side dish for any spicy curry, or biryani, or even for something non-Indian, like plain grilled meats (or baked meats, or pan fried). If you want the raita to be spicier, then you can add a chopped serrano chili.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheap but Good: Canned Tomatoes

This post is early because I'll be very busy with work the next couple days, but I have some time now.

Let's start by acknowledging this: I love a delicious, fresh tomato--in the summertime. They never taste as good in the winter, that's my main complaint, but they're also (usually) much more expensive! This July I was paying 2.95 euro a kilo for some of the most gorgeous tomatoes I've ever seen in a store, in a bounty of varieties. Now the price is closer to 5 euros a kilo, and for tasteless, dull, homogeneous light red orbs.

That's in France: I'm back in the states for a week, and I noticed that here the price is more consistent. I haven't actually tried one of these winter tomatoes yet, but I remember from my time living here that they were not good.

So what to do? Many recipes that may otherwise be cost-efficient, like pastas with sauces, and various soups, require some amount of tomato, and are perfect for wintertime.

My solution is to substitute canned tomato products. Tomato juice, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes--all these have been starring in my winter cooking. If you keep your eyes open for them, you can sometimes find a really good deal, too. I bought recently about five 765 g cans of peeled whole Italian tomatoes; they were on sale for 82 euro cents a piece! I use these in the following dishes on the site:

Sweet and Sour Schi
Eggplant Dhal
Cheese Fondue (They're not in the posted recipe, but adding one or two chopped tomatoes to cheese fondue can be very tasty.)
Borsch (Uses tomato paste, in the recipe I posted. I've before used chopped canned tomato or crushed tomato when I didn't have paste. Or you can use a combo of both.)

Some other applications that I haven't posted (yet):

-Many other soups, including plain, simple and tasty tomato soup
-Meat curries
-Tomato Sauce for Pasta

I would say that you can safely replace fresh tomato for canned in any recipe that will actually cook the tomato. Some things, which call for the fruit to be eaten raw, are better saved for summer. It leaves something to look forward to, don't you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008


I made a big batch of this tasty Russian beet soup before I left, and left it in the fridge for the boyfriend. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, isn't it? :-) Every cook has his/her own version of this, so don't be afraid to try someone else's! Mine's quite basic, but I love it anyway. And so does someone else!



*For stock:
*2 beef short ribs
*1 onion
*1 carrot
*bay leaf

1/4 small head of cabbage
3 small potatoes
1 carrot
3 small cooked beets
sunflower oil and butter for frying (a tablespoon or two of each)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of vinegar
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste (I use roughly somewhere between the two)
salt to taste


*Start by making stock. I use my handy 3 quart pot for this (and for everything). Use a bigger one if you want more stock; I end up with about 2 quarts of quite rich stock. Place the ribs your pot with an onion peeled and halved, a carrot halved and a bay leaf. Add water (I add as much as my pot will take) and bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until meat is soft. Fish out the onion and discard; fish out the carrot and eat it. :-) Remove the meat; take it off the bones and cube it, removing any huge globs of fat. Salt the broth to taste.*

If you already have stock, begin to warm it. For veggies, start with the cabbage; shred it. Cut the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes (I peel them first). Bring the stock up to a boil, then add the cabbage and potatoes. Grate the carrot and beets. 20 minutes after the cabbage and potatoes were added to the stock, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the beets. You can add broth from the pot if it's too dry. After the beets sautee about 10 minutes, add the sunflower oil and carrots (my boyfriend's mom fries them separately, carrots in oil, beets in butter. I mix it all together and it's fine). Sautee another 10 minutes. Now add the tomato paste and the sugar and vinegar (I stir them together first in a small glass). Stir well and sautee another few minutes. NOTE: If at any point during the sauteeing the mixture is too dry and may burn, add stock! Now, add the mixture in the frying pan to the pot with cabbage and potatoes and stock. Also add the cubed meat. Let it all cook together for a few minutes, then taste and add salt as needed.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: the best way to serve this is with a generous dollop of sour cream, and chopped dill and parsley scattered over the top! Also have some rye bread on the side. Delicious! You can make the stock beforehand; if you want to take the fat from the stock, just put it in the fridge overnight. The fat will rise and solidify and you can just scoop it off the next day. My boyfriend would be horrified if I did this, though. :-) You can play with the flavor by adding more/less vinegar and/or sugar; I find that the amount listed here works pretty well. You can also use lemon juice instead of vinegar, and experiment with adding a mix of crushed tomatoes, or chopped tomato, and tomato paste. For vegetarian borsch, leave out the meat and use a vegetable stock. For fast borsch, you can use boxed stock (I've used chicken with decent results) and just follow all the directions (except you won't have meat).

Food in America

So, it isn't a recipe, but this is a food related post.

I came back home (to the States) for a visit starting on Thursday, after having lived in France for the past 7 months. French food is DELICIOUS, but naturally, there were some American foods that I missed. Surprisingly, a lot of them are fast food/restaurant food, which I never ate very often at all when I actually lived here.

I came here with a list of foods to buy and bring back, and a list of restaurants I wanted to go to. Now, after just being here a few days, several are crossed off, not because I've gone there and eaten the food/bought it, but because I've realized that my palate has changed and there are certain things that I don't want anymore. Also there are certain things (peanut butter and marshmallows, brownies) that I've been able to find or recreate in France in the past couple of weeks.

Here's what I've eaten so far being here, and what I've thought about it:

-Thursday: A reuben sandwich in Newark airport. It was great, but I had to take half the cheese off of it. The fries were disgusting! They were so different from the crispy French ones I'm used to now; they were so doughy!

-Friday Lunch: I had some refried black beans that I made, and some microwaved plantains (Goya brand). They satisfied most of my craving for Mexican/Latin American food.
-Friday Dinner: We went to an Indian chaat place. I had some pani puri, some dahi wada, some masala dhosa, and for dessert, gajar halva and rasgulla. The dessert was ok. The pani puri and dhosa were dissapointing, the dahi wada was the best dish (yogurt was good, the wadas were not). It was something I had been CRAVING, but I realize now that after India, no chaat in America will ever compare. A dissapointing realization.

-Saturday Lunch: We went to a new Vietnamese restaurant. I had very decent eggrolls and spring rolls, and the best pho I've ever eaten!
-Saturday Dinner: It was a religious holiday at my dad's mosque. I am no longer an observant muslim, so I didn't attend, but I joined my family afterward for the food (at my dad's request, I'm not freeloading here). It was biryani made with mutton or goat (I think mutton), and a really tasty salad (yogurt, beets, onion, cucumber and cilantro). The cake afterwards was tasty, just white cake layered with cream and fruit. The beverage was milk with tapioca pearls and rooh afza (sharbat). The sharbat was fantastic, as was the salad and cake. The biryani was ok. My portion had too much masala, not enough rice. The mutton was fatty and mostly bones.

-Sunday Dinner: My dad made steak, and my mom made mashed sweet potatoes, sauteed spinach and sauteed mushrooms. I feel bad saying it ... but tonight was when I realized I've become a much better cook than my parents. Things were mostly poorly seasoned and overcooked. :-( Sorry parents!

Things still to eat on my list: some good tex-mex, some more southwestern mexican food, my favorite thai restaurant, chik-fil-a, a burger from this place by my university, some lemon-chicken soup from this one Greek restaurant, sushi from my favorite sushi place and this one Persian restaurant. Out of all of them ... I think that only the sushi and the Greek place, maybe the tex-mex, will be disappointing. I've taken a few things off my list: Quizno's and Subway (which for some reason I was craving), several things that Mom makes that I can now make too. I think there were others, but I already deleted those so I don't remember!

In general I think the food in France is much better quality. I bought expensive organic eggs here, and they don't compare in color or taste to the cheapest ones in France. But there are some things that just AREN'T in France, like good cheddar cheese. I had a cheddar cheese pretzel today and it was great. Only in America: German pretzel, English cheese. :-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cheap but Good: Chana

This is a very easy Indian recipe. It's perfect for winter: warming, cheap, good the next day, hearty. It's nice and spicy too!



1 large can garbanzo beans
2 small onions or 1 large one
1 t cayenne pepper
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
2-4 T oil
about 5 cups of water
salt to taste


Open your garbanzo beans, and drain them and rinse them well. Set aside. Sautee chopped onion in about 2 T of the oil. Let them get really nice and brown (but not burned). If you don't let them caramelize, this will have almost no flavor. So be patient. When they're ready, push them to one side of your pot. Pool the oil on the other side by tilting the pot a little. You may need to add a bit more oil if the onions have soaked almost all of it up. Ok, put the pot back on the burner now, and dump your spices into the oil pool (not on the onions). Let them fry for about 30 seconds, and then stir everything in the pot together. Dump the beans into the pot, and stir them well. Let that cook for about a minute, then add the water. Allow it to come to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. It can cook longer if you want, but should cook at least 30 minutes for nice soft beans. Add salt to taste. You can also add a bay leaf when you add the water.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: This is perfect with a loaf of French bread ... soft on the inside, crusty on the outside. And soup + bread makes for a pretty darn cheap meal. To make the soup more or less spicy, you can change the amount of spices in it. The important thing is the ratio: 1 part cayenne pepper to 3 parts chili powder and 3 parts cumin (ground).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cheap but Good: Don't buy flavored yogurt!

I'm always kind of wary about buying things that come in portable, individual packages, when I have several small plastic containers at home. I also don't like to buy flavored stuff if there's a plain option available, unless there's a flavor I really like.

So, I don't ever buy flavored yogurts. Instead, I buy a 1 kilo tub of delicious plain yogurt, and take it to work in a small 1 cup container. I can make it taste different by adding nuts, honey, dried fruits, or fruit jams/jellies. These are things that I have on hand anyway, for snacking and breakfast.

This is also great because then I can use the yogurt in savory applications. I can serve it with rice and dhal, or make a sauce to go with kebabs. I can use it in a salad. If I had bought vanilla or strawberry, I couldn't, and would have to buy twice as much--one plain, one flavored. This would make a lot of it go to waste.

When I was in the States, I compared the prices of individual cups of yogurt, and the plain ones were 10 cents per cup cheaper! Besides that, in the large (cheaper) tubs the available flavors are usually only plain or vanilla.

So, I don't buy flavored, or individual cups, of yogurt. The only exception for this is that I sometimes treat myself to cups of Wallaby Mango Lime flavored. It's so good, and the consistency is more like kefir.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spicy Eggplant Rolls

These are a really tasty and simple appetizer. I had them in Ukraine this summer at someone's dacha (countryside home).

Spicy Eggplant Rolls


1 eggplant
1 T oil
1/4 c flour
sprinkling of salt
1 tomato
1 bunch of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
2 T mayonnaise


Cut the eggplant into long thin strips. I do this by cutting it top to bottom in half, and then each half into half (top to bottom again), progressively until I have eggplant slices (cross sections of the whole veggie) that are about 1/4" thin. I then cut those in half to make 2 strips from each cross section. Sprinkle with salt on each side, and toss in a plastic bag with the flour so it coats them lightly. Pan fry the strips in the oil on medium-high heat until soft and golden brown on both sides. Set aside on paper towels to drain and cool slightly. Dice the garlic finely, and cut the tomato into strips that are about the same length as the width of the eggplant strips. Rough chop the parsley. To make the rolls, take a fried eggplant strip, spread with a little mayo, sprinkle a little of the garlic over that. Put a couple of the tomato pieces at one end, then roll up. Stand it up like it's a piece of sushi, then sprinkle parsley over the top. Complete procedure for all eggplant strips.

Serving Suggestion and Notes: For thicker slices of eggplant, you may need to use a toothpick to keep them rolled up. For thinner slices (or if you can cram a bunch of rolls into a bowl) it's not necessary. These are really tasty, they're kind of a summer food, which I'm missing. They were so good on a hot summer day, eating in the backyard of a house near the sea.