Friday, January 30, 2009

Baked Samosas

I love samosas, but I definitely do not love deep-frying, so for those who share a similar fear of the messiness, perils, waste of oil, etc. involved in deep-frying, these baked samosas offer a perfect solution!

The story of how it even occurred to me to make samosas is rather long and winding. You see, I have a sort of New Year's resolution to start cooking from a wider variety of cuisines and particularly to cook more food from various Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Since I absolutely adore Indian food, it seemed like a good place to start, and so I went out and bought myself a lovely Indian cookbook.

Though the recipe I used for these samosas does come from the cookbook (with a few tweaks by me, including the baking vs. deep-frying bit), they were sort of an accident. I had originally been drawn to a recipe for grilled Paneer Tikka, which involved making paneer, stuffing the paneer cubes with mint coriander chutney and then grilling them. Well, I slaved over that recipe which required me to make not one, but two masalas (a masala is a complex spice mixture), the chutney, the marinade, and the paneer, and when it came time to take my paneer out of the refrigerator to stuff it, I discovered, much to my dismay, that instead of being a nice firm block of cheese, my paneer was a soggy, mushy mass that was not likely to go into cubes, support any sort of stuffing, or stay on a skewer.

Sooo, I ended up just sort of mixing everything together (it still tasted good), but, and this is the point of the whole story, I ended up with a lot of leftover mint coriander chutney, and my cookbook happens to recommend serving mint coriander chutney with not just Paneer Tikka, but also with samosas!

So, to use up my chutney, I made these lovely samosas, and they were much easier and much more satisfying to make than the Paneer Tikka, though both dishes tasted wonderful.

If you do not cook a lot of Indian food, you will probably need to buy some special spices for these - since the time I bought my Indian cookbook, my spice collection has at least doubled! I definitely recommend buying the spices though because without them, the food doesn't really taste like Indian food anymore, and it's suddenly just mashed potatoes and peas, which isn't very exciting at all.

For the dough:
About 200 g pastry flour
50 g softened butter (or ghee if you want to be really authentic)
A small spoonful of salt
A small spoonful of ajwain (carom seeds), which my cookbook describes as tasting like a mixture of caraway and thyme. The cookbook suggests using thyme if you can't find any ajwain, but if you have a Whole Foods near you, the Spicely line of spices carries it along with tons of other interesting spices (and yes, I do have an unfortunate tendency to stand in front of the spice selection trying to convince myself that I do not really need to buy vanilla beans and saffron threads, while other shoppers grumblingly push past me)
Cold water

For the filling:
2 smallish yellow potatoes or 1 large one
About half a cup of peas, pre-cooked if frozen
A couple spoonfuls of oil
A small spoonful of salt
A small spoonful of cumin
A small spoonful of ground red pepper
A small spoonful of ground turmeric
A larger spoonful of ground coriander
*My cookbook's recipe also calls for mango powder and green chili, but I can't find mango powder anywhere, and the green chilis I've seen at this time haven't looked particularly appealing

Begin by making the dough. Crumble or cut the butter into the flour, mix in the salt and ajwain, and then mix in the water, a bit at a time, until you have a nice firm dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator for half an hour.

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. Peel the potatoes, and bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, salt it, and add the potatoes. Let the potatoes cook until soft enough that you can stick a fork right into the center, about 20-25 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.

When the potatoes are done, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. If using frozen peas, add the peas to the boiling water and let them cook about 5 minutes. While the peas are cooking, mash the potatoes up until there are no large chunks.

Drain the peas and add them to the potatoes, along with the oil, salt, coriander, turmeric, red pepper, and cumin. Mix everything up and let cool.

After the half hour is up, take the dough out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 360ºF / 180ºC. Divide the dough into two sections, keep one section wrapped up, and roll out the first section. It should be quite thin when rolled out. Cut the dough into circles about the size of a fist. I use a small bowl turned upside down to trace circles in the dough, which I then cut with a knife because the bowl is not sharp enough to cut the dough. Any sort of a jar or cup will work for this.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough circles on the parchment paper. Spoon the filling onto the circles, making sure not to put on too much (it's always tempting to try to stuff the samosas as full as possible, but this often results in them breaking, filling oozing out etc. while they're baking, which is not much fun). Fold one end of the circle over the filling and then the other end, to make a sort of triangular shape. Pinch the dough together all around to make sure the samosa is completely closed up.

Repeat with the second half of the dough, pulling together any scraps left over from circle-cutting to make a few final circles.

When the oven is hot, put the samosas in and let bake about 10 minutes, until crust is a golden brown. Let cool slightly and serve warm with dips, chutneys, yogurts of your choosing!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Roasted parsnips

I don't think I had ever consciously eaten a parsnip before making these, but after hearing my mother and grandmother rave about them, I decided I had to try some myself and now I'm wondering why you (or at least I) hear so little about them and see them so rarely at restaurants - they're amazing!

Really, you barely need to do anything to them, and you get this delicious sweet, starchy, nutty cross between a carrot and a potato, but even better. And as a bonus, they're in season when almost every other good vegetable is out of season! So if you, like me, have never eaten a parsnip before, then I advise you to go out as soon as possible and buy a few! Though there are some more elaborate parsnip recipes out there, these were so good simply roasted that I don't know if I'll ever get around to trying out any other way of preparing them!

Parsnips (I'd say 1 per person, but it depends on how many other dishes you'll be having)
Olive oil or butter

Preheat the oven to about 375º F/190º C. Peel the parsnips and chop them into pieces of roughly equal size. If the parsnips are more mature, they will likely have a woody core in the center, which you will need to discard.

Lightly coat a baking sheet in olive oil/butter. To coat the baking sheet with olive oil, I pour the olive oil into a little bowl and use a pastry brush to spread it over the baking sheet. This saves me from using too much olive oil, and it comes in handy for the next part.

Spread the pieces of parsnip out on the baking sheet. Mix the olive oil/butter (if you are using butter you will need to melt it first) with the salt, pepper, and thyme. Using a pastry brush, coat the parsnip pieces with the olive oil mixture on both sides.

Once the oven is preheated, put in the parsnip and let bake roughly half an hour, checking to make sure the pieces don't burn. After about 15 minutes, take the baking sheet out of the oven, turn the parsnip pieces over with some tongs, and return the parsnip to the oven to finish baking.

Serve nice amd warm! I served the parsnip here with some red kuri squash mixed with walnuts and dried fruit that I had left over from another day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cucumber Yogurt Salad

I was a very picky eater as a kid, which made meal preparation a rather tricky task for my parents, especially considering that my brother, who was generally pretty accepting of various foods, absolutely refused to eat cheese (which was one of the few foods I would eat of course). However, whenever my mom made this salad, my brother and I would both happily eat it all up and even ask for seconds!

I tried to make it once in Italy, and this led to my discovery of the fact that nobody in Italy seems to know what dill is, nor can it be found in any major supermarkets or open-air markets. I finally managed to track down a jar at a strange foreign foods/health foods store that I came across completely by chance while wandering down a street near the Navigli district. That jar, with it's labeling of 'Aneto' is the one I still have and use, though of course if you have access to fresh dill then you should definitely use that!

Ingredients (makes enough for 1 large dish or for 2 people to split as a side to other dishes):
1 medium cucumber
250 g plain yogurt
Olive oil
Lemon juice
A spring of parsley

Wash the cucumber and peel if necessary (depends on the variety of cucumber). Chop lengthwise and then chop each half into thin slices. Combine cucumber and yogurt in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and then add a pinch of salt, the mint, and the dill. Mix everything well. Wash the parsley and chop it into little bits. Sprinkle the parsley over the salad and serve immediately or let chill a bit and then serve.

I added some Israeli/Levantine couscous to my salad to round out the meal, but the salad also works well as an accompaniment to heartier dishes, particularly when they are spicy!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pizza with potatoes and olives

Potato is not something you usually see on pizza here in the U.S. - at least, I've never seen it, though I have friends who claim they have, so I suppose it does exist somewhere in the country. In any case, it's definitely not as common here as it is in Italy, where, after my initial surprise, I soon got used to the sight of pizza with cubes or, more frequently, thin strips of potatoes on top.

I never actually tried pizza with potatoes while I was living there, partly because I was still a bit suspicious of the idea, and partly because my normal lunch spot served a version of pizza with potatoes and brie, and I'm not particularly fond of brie.

However, I was back in Italy over the holidays, and I took advantage of the opportunity to eat many many pizzas, one of which (well two largish slices of one), eaten on a particularly cold day outside the train station in Bologna, was a pizza with potatoes and olives. I think it was the freezing weather that caused me to order it - something about warm potatoes on pizza just seemed incredibly appealing that day in a way it never had before! And it turned out that all my previous hesitation about eating potatoes on pizza was unwarranted - the pizza was delicious. And so of course, I had to try it on my own back at home, which brings us to the recipe for one very tasty pizza with potatoes and olives!

For the dough:
150 g bread flour (though I usually use at least some whole wheat flour, I thought that a pizza with whole wheat flour and potatoes would just be too much, so I stuck with plain white flour for this one)
A spoonful of sea salt
1/2 package active dry yeast
A spoonful of olive oil
Warmish water

For the toppings:
Half a can of tomatoes in their juice. If they're in season, of course, fresh tomatoes are fine - in either case, I strongly recommend using San Marzano tomatoes. I was able to find several cans that had been imported from Napoli, and they are wonderful, so get them if you can!
A dollop of triple-concentrated tomato paste*
A spoonful of salt
A small spoonful of sugar
About 50 g pizza mozzarella
1 potato
5 or 6 black olives
Olive oil, if desired

*An Italian friend and fellow pizza-maker gave me this tip about adding the triple-concentrated tomato paste to the sauce to make it extra flavorful. Unfortunately, I don't know if you can find the stuff here in the U.S, so if you can't get it, just use double-concentrated. In Italy, you can buy the triple-concentrated paste at the supermarkets (the brand is Mutti), so I made sure to get myself a tube on my most recent visit!

About an hour and a half before you plan to eat your pizza, make the dough. Dissolve the yeast in a small amount of tepid water and let sit until activated (a sort of film should form on top). Pour the flour into a large bowl and make it into a fountain-shape with a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt around the edges. Pour the yeast-water mixture into the middle of the flour, along with the olive oil, and start to mix the flour together with your hand, incorporating flour from the sides of the well. Add the water a bit at a time, until the dough forms a not-too-sticky mass that separates from the edges of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for about ten minutes, until the dough resists when you push down on it. When the dough is ready, spread a bit of olive oil on the inside of a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball, and place the ball in the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm non-drafty place, like a closet or under a bed, for an hour.

If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven and preheat the oven to approximately 500º F/250º C. If you don't have a baking stone, just preheat the oven.

Peel the potato and chop it into cubes or strips, whichever you desire (this pizza was also an opportunity for me to make use of my wonderful stocking present, pictured below).

Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add the potato. Let the potato cook until fairly soft, though not mushy - 10-20 minutes. Test it with a fork to check - the fork should go through the potato pieces, but the pieces shouldn't break apart. When the potato is done cooking, drain the water and let the pieces cool.

If you're using fresh tomatoes, peel them and seed them, squeeze out all the watery juice parts, and then chop into smallish chunks. If you're using canned tomatoes, just chop them, and even that may not be necessary if they're pre-crushed. Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the tomatoes, the dollop of tomato paste, the salt, and the sugar. Cover and let cook about 10-15 minutes, turning the heat down to low once the sauce starts to boil.

Chop the mozzarella into small bits and rinse the olives, pit them if necessary, and chop them into halves (I learned the hard way that this is an important step - non-chopped olives have a tendency to roll off the pizza and onto the baking stone where they become little black charred pieces of gunk).

Have all your toppings ready when you make the pizza - you don't want to let the pizza sit around a lot while you're putting stuff on it because that increases the chances it will stick to the pizza peel, which tends to lead to disaster.

After the pizza dough has sat for an hour, take out the bowl, and turn the dough out onto the floured pizza peel. Lots of people use cornmeal on the peel to keep the pizza from sticking but I really don't like the way it tastes on the bottom of a pizza, so I just use flour and try to be very careful! Of course, if you're not using a baking stone, just place the pizza dough on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or some such thing and put that in the oven when ready.

Punch the ball of dough down and then flatten it out to a disc. Place the disc on top of your fists and cross them, bringing the right one in front of and across the left. As you uncross your fists by bringing the right fist back, the dough should spin a bit, stretching as it goes. Repeat this, even tossing into the air when you can, until the dough is nice and stretched out into a thin disc. You can finish it off by rotating it on the peel, pinching the edges as you go. Once the pizza dough is formed, make sure it isn't sticking to the peel by bouncing it around a bit or blowing underneath it.

Spoon the tomato sauce onto the dough, leaving plenty of space at the edges, especially if you like crust! Sprinkle on the mozzarella, then add the potatoes and olives. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil, if desired, and sprinkle the oregano over everything. Quickly transfer the pizza from the peel to the baking stone by giving the peel a sharp jerk (try to have it as horizontal as possible while you do this).

Let the pizza bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Remove from the oven, and eat immediately!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Split pea soup with homemade croutons

A classic, this soup is perfect for a cold January day. The croutons take about 5 minutes to make and are about 500 times better than the store-bought kind. The soup itself takes a little longer, but it's definitely worth it!

You will need:
200 g dried peas
50 g prosciutto
1 small yellow onion, or 1/2 a large one
A large hunk of high-quality bread (definitely not kleenex bread)
Olive oil
Herbs/seeds for the croutons if desired

Rinse the peas thoroughly and let soak for about 2 hours, changing the water every so often. A minute or two before you want to start making the soup, change the water again so that the peas are covered by just an inch or so, and bring the water to a boil. The thicker you want your soup to be, the less water you should use - and remember it's a lot easier to add more water later than to take it away!

Dice the onion and the prosciutto and heat some olive oil in a large pot. When the olive oil is hot, add the onion and the prosciutto and let cook a few minutes. Add the hot water with the peas, and sprinkle everything generously with salt. Turn the heat to low, cover, and let cook about an hour or a little more if necessary.

At some point while the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 40oºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the bread into medium-sized cubes and place the cubes onto the baking sheet. When the oven is hot, place the bread inside and let bake a couple of minutes until browned and crisp.

Remove the bread from the oven and let a cool a bit. To add more flavor to the croutons, put them in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss them around to coat them with the oil. You can also add herbs or seeds of your choice to give the croutons even more flavor.

When the peas have turned to a nice mush, the soup is ready. Throw some (or a lot if you're me) croutons into a bowl and pour the soup over them. Eat up and enjoy!