Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jeera Aloo

I have been so busy these past few weeks that it has indeed been difficult to find time to post. But, I'm back with another recipe, super-simple yet super-scrumptious. If you're Indian, you will undoubtedly know and love the classic jeera aloo. I had some leftover baby potatoes that I wanted to finish up, so I decided that hot jeera aloo would make a perfect main dish for the cold, rainy night I was facing. Mild, yet flavorful, this easy-to-make dish never fails to please. Though traditionally enjoyed with roti, I honestly love to eat jeera aloo all by itself, maybe with a bit of salad, for a hearty and satisfying meal. Just don't leave out the butter!! Potatoes always taste so much better with a bit of butter. Then again, what doesn't? :)

6 baby potatoes
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 onion
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. red chilli powder, or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1.5 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. butter

Wash and pressure cook the potatoes until they're soft and cooked through but still hold their shape. Quarter them, and leave the peel on. Heat olive oil in a pan. On medium heat, add the cumin seeds. When they begin to darken and give off a strong aroma, add the fennel seeds. After a few seconds, when the fennel seeds begin to give off a strong aroma, add the onion and saute until tender and transluscent, but not brown. Add the coriander powder and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes along with salt, butter and enough water to cover them about halfway. Cover the pan, and let the water come to a boil. Reduce the heat, and let the mixture simmer until most of the water has evaporated and you are left with a very thick gravy. About midway, add the red chilli powder as per your preference.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Kitchen at Last: Red Lentil-Cauliflower Soup

I just had a truly wonderful weekend here in Paris. I finally moved into a more permanent housing situation where I have access to a functioning kitchen. To boot, I absolutely love my new arrondisement. Life here is quite calm, but, filled with numerous markets that sell top-quality produce, as well as high-quality fromageries and pâtisseries, the 17th arrondisement is perfect for a food-lover such as myself, and I am so excited to live here now.
Without a doubt, the highlight of my weekend consisted not only of attending a lecture given by, but also meeting in person none other than Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini. Apart from writing Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris, in which she discusses the array of restaurants, cafés, salons de thé, boulangeries, pâtisseries, fromageries, etc., also the book which excited me more than anything else about spending a year in Paris, Clotilde herself, through her extremely successful, professional-calibur food blog, served as a source of tremendous inspiration to me in starting my own food blog. It is through meeting and learning from people such as her that I really seek to build and expand my own culinary knowledge, particularly in a place such as Paris. Indeed, meeting her during this year in Paris was one of my major goals, and I am so lucky and fortunate to have been able to meet her so early on in my stay. Thank you again, Clotilde, for serving as a source of continued inspiration.
Finally, can anyone guess the other great thing that happened this weekend? Well, it's probably quite obvious anyway, but I started cooking again!!! Yes, yesterday I cooked both lunch and dinner for myself, and I really felt as though I were in Heaven! I spent Sunday morning wandering through the 17th arrondisement, and I returned home with a head of very fresh cauliflower and some red lentils. Yesterday actually proved quite chilly, so I decided to concoct an Indian-style soup for dinner using those two ingredients, as well as some coconut milk I had lying around, as the shining stars. Wow, it turned out incredibly flavorful and delicious! I really liked the flavor of the coconut milk mixed with such spices as fennel and cumin; the mé
lange resulted in a warm, comforting one dish meal perfectly suited to a cold night. One word, I did not puree the soup as I do not currently have food processor, and honestly, I really enjoyed it chunky. However, if your prefer, feel free to puree it to the consistency of your liking.

Red Lentil-Cauliflower Soup (Serves 3-4):
1/2 head cauliflower, washed and chopped into medium-sized florets
1/2 onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. coriander powder
2 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. garam masala
3/4 tsp red chilli powder, or as per your heat preference
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup dry red lentils, and thoroughly washed and drained
2 tbsp. powdered toasted almonds
1/2 cup water

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel seeds, and wait until they begin to give off a fairly strong aroma, but not until they brown. Add chopped onion, and sautee until tender and transluscent. Add the garlic, and cook for one more minute, before it begins to brown. Add the tomato sauce along with the cumin, coriander, and garam masala, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then, add the chopped cauliflower and drained lentils along with coconut milk, water and salt. Add more water if needed to cover the mixture. Let the mixture come to a boil, and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely cooked. About five minutes before the soup finishes cooking, add the powdered almonds and red chilli powder. Taste (be careful because it will be extremely hot!), and adjust seasoning as needed. Savor warm with a nice hunk of baguette or any other bread you enjoy.

Day Trip to Champagne(Revised)

Ok, so everyone knows that France is famous for its food-its fresh, flavorful artisanal breads, over 400 types of cheese, chocolates and a myriad of pastries ranging from simple fruit tarts to religieuses filled with salted butter caramel. But of course, France also takes great pride in her high-quality wines and champagnes. Therefore, a yearlong sojourn in France would simply be incomplete without making a concerted effort to learn more about this integral element of French life and culture. Thus, my friends and I set out last week to the Champagne region of France, specifically Epernay and Reims, to visit the production sites of some of the highest quality champagnes in France. In Epernay, we visited the caves Moët-Chandon, while in Reims we toured the cellars of Martel, both producers of incredible champagne. I learned a tremendous amount about the production process and history of various champagnes, and now I understand much more about the difference between the range of champagnes from brut(very dry) to demi-sec(the sweetest kind) :) I consider myself truly fortunate to have taken this trip and further enlightened myself on yet another aspect of the rich French culture. Of course, each tour ended with a tasting. In Moët-Chandon, we sampled Impérial, while in Martel, the staff presented us with three different types-my favorite of which was an Ernest Rapeneau brut. We also tasted a dessert champagne called Ernest Rapeneau carte bleu, a demi-sec. I found it to be too sweet for my taste, though. But the visit was truly worthwhile and very enjoyable with the great company of friends. Also, in Reims, I ate my first tartine here in France, and it was absolutely delicious. A tartine simply consists of toasted bread topped with usually vegetables of some kind and melted cheese. The kind I ordered came topped with ratatouille and melted mozzarella cheese. As if that were not enough, I ordered what I though would be a scoop each of salted-butter caramel and strawberry ice cream; what I got instead was a giant sundae(which I didn't even think one could find in France) smothered with whipped cream and toasted almonds, accompanied by a fudgy brownie. It was certainly delicious(as is all the ice cream I have tasted here thus far), although I barely managed to finish the ice cream, let alone the entire sundae! Take a look below!

Impérial from Moët-Chandon
A Glimpse of the Cellar at Martel in Reims

Tartine with Ratatouille in Reims
The Obnoxious yet Delicious Brownie-Caramel Sundae

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

L'As du Falafel

Ok, so maybe not traditional French fare, but strolling through the streets of Paris, one will inevitably encounter a plethora of falafel/schwarma restaurants and/or stands. Falafel ranks right alongside crepes, croissants and ice cream among the popular street foods of Paris. And for good reason-falafel in Paris, I have found, tends to be of good quality and taste, and it makes for a nice change to the usual baguette and cheese sandwiches that people often consume for lunch on the go here. During this past month here in Paris, I have sampled the falafel sandwiches in at least five different restaurant/delis, and I have never been disappointed. However, one in particular draws me back again and again and again. You have probably heard of it-yep, L'As du Falafel!! Everyone I spoke to before coming to Paris insisted, "Treat yourself to the delectable patisseries, but make sure not to miss L'As du Falafel, wherever else you go!" Well, my first attempt to L'As du Falafel fell on a Saturday. I set out on my second day in Paris with the intention of indulging in both L'As du Falafel and Berthillon ice cream before returning back to my hotel. Little did I know that a restaurant so popular with tourists would actually be closed on a Saturday! Yep, believe it or not, L'As du Falafel is closed both Friday and Saturday! But L'As du Falafel is open on Sunday, when many other restaurants and eateries in Paris are closed. Anyway, I next made a trip out to L'As du Falafel on my first day of classes. I was elated to discover that I can walk from my classes in the Marais to the restaurant in under ten minutes. Needless to say, L'As du Falafel has truly earned it fame. I will never be able to eat falafel in the U.S. again! Wow, the falafels themselves were extremely fresh, warm, crisp, perfectly cooked, and of course, full of flavor. The sandwich itself is truly one of a kind. It consists of a huge, warm pita pocket, layered with fresh cabbage, tomato and grilled eggplant, all smothered in a tahini-yogurt sauce, the perfect cooling accompaniment to the warm falafel. I always spoon generous amounts of the spicy red chilli sauce furnished on the side. This sandwich is nothing but savory heaven!! Wow, I dragged my friends back the very next day-it was really that good!! In fact, we have made it a Tuesday tradition to visit L'As du Falafel for lunch, followed by a dessert from Aux Desirs de Manon, a nearby patisserie that has become one of my all-time favorites!. Not that we need anything at all after that amazing sandwich, but as the French would say, "C'est par gourmandise." If you ever find yourself on the streets of Paris, do not hesitate for a second to stroll over to the Marais for a wonderful, memorable meal at L'As du Falafel. Of course, the Marais is wonderful area, but even if not, L'As du Falafel would without a doubt merit a special trip to the quarter. Hope you ascend to the heavens soon!

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