Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tarte Tatin

A few days ago, I was walking by Nordstrom’s, and I noticed a sign that said something to the order of not ‘decking the halls’ until after November 27th, because ‘Nordstrom’s believes in celebrating one holiday at a time’. It hit me then, that far from planning for Christmas, I had not even started thinking about Thanksgiving yet. A very busy work schedule, of late, has demanded all my time and attentions, but I realize that with a house full of guests arriving in time for the T-giving meal, I better put my thinking cap on.

We all have our favorite thing about the Thanksgiving meal. Whether it’s the T(of)urkey or the mashed potatoes; the green bean casserole that gets made only on this occasion in my house; the cranberry sauce, a personal favorite; or the various pies and sweet things reserved for the dessert course, after everyone has had to loosen their belt buckles a few notches. While I enjoy making most of these dishes, each year, I swear that next year, my Thanksgiving menu will look different. Perhaps I will do a Latin or Asian-inspired theme. Maybe I will make scalloped potatoes instead of mashed. But ultimately, whether due to popular demand or due to the fact that I only make most of these foods at Thanksgiving, I end up settling on more or less the same menu each year.

This year, though, I’m making at least one change to the menu. Instead of apple pie, I’m going to make tarte tatin! Doesn’t that sound like a real blow to tradition? Well, it turns out that tarte tatin, which is something I’ve always had a fancy to make, is remarkably similar to apple pie. But it’s a lot lighter tasting, easier to make, and yummier than most apple pies. A few posts ago, I lamented about my lack of restraint at you-pick apple orchards. So, I decided to pilot this recipe with some left over apples, to make sure that it deserved a spot on the heaving Thanksgiving table. I’m happy to report that not only is this recipe going to be part of the menu this year, it is so good that it is likely to remain parked on the menu for many more years to come.

The only thing I didn’t like about this recipe is that it doesn’t photograph well, especially when faced with the dying evening light and the prying fingers of a hungry husband. So please pardon the poor pictures, but do give this recipe a try – perhaps you will like it enough to make it part of your Thanksgiving menu, as well.

To make Tarte Tatin, you will need:

8 apples (I prefer Gala)

1T salt

1 stick butter

¾ C sugar

1-inch piece of fresh ginger*

1 T ginger powder*

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten with 1 T cold water

All-purpose flour for sprinkling on puff pastry

*The ginger flavorings are optional. While it's not part of a traditional Tarte Tatin, I find the pairing of apple and ginger hard to pass up.

Preheat oven to 375 deg F.

Wash, peel, and core the apples. Cut them into quarters and submerge in a bowl of cold water with the salt added to it. This will prevent your apples from turning brown while you prepare your other ingredients.

Finely chop or grate fresh ginger.

Melt butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet.

Add sugar, ginger powder and fresh ginger and immediately arrange apples all over the skillet, making any pattern you wish. Make sure to cover all spaces with the apples, overlapping if needed, as they may shrink considerably.

Cook’s Note 1: I like to make sure to put the rounded side of the apple quarters (not the side where the core used to be) facing the bottom of the skillet.

Cook’s Note 2: If you have any apple pieces that didn’t fit, resist the temptation to eat them all at this point. Save at least a couple, in case you find yourself with open gaps in your apple mixture, due to shrinkage while cooking.

Boil without disturbing apples until sugar caramelizes, about 10 mins

While this is happening, dust puff pastry with a little bit of flour and roll out to a ~12 inch diameter circle.

Once sugar has caramelized, take skillet off heat, and top with puff pastry circle.

Using a spatula, tuck in the puff pastry on the edges, around the apple mixture.

Brush on egg mixture, and cut a few steam vents in puff pastry.

Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, or until the puff pastry is a dark golden brown.

Remove from oven, carefully, using thick mitts. Place a plate on top of skillet. Very carefully, using mitts, invert pan so that tarte slides onto plate. If any apple pieces were left behind, carefully jiggle them out with a spoon and place in the correct spot on the tarte.

Slice into 8 wedges, and serve warm with vanilla bean ice-cream.

This keeps well at room temperature for up to 2 days and can be warmed up by the slice in a microwave.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Potato-Edamame wraps

If you’re like me, you hate having to brave the lunch crowds at the cafeteria at work, only to find yourself shelling out muchos dolares for some insipid fare. But some days, it’s just too much of an effort to prepare a lunch ahead of time. Over the years of graduate student scrounging, I have amassed an arsenal of recipes to combat just such a situation. Dishes that can be put together quickly, packaged neatly, store well at room temperature for several hours, and will still taste good a day later. Here’s one such easy recipe that combines spiced boiled potatoes and my favorite protein source, steamed edamame. The following recipe is the bare-bones version, but if you’re feeling more creative, you can always add other flavorings such as fresh chopped cilantro or roasted coriander.

Potato Edamame Wrap

Tomato, jalapeno, or whole wheat wraps ~10 inches in diameter

2 T mayo (I really like the kind with olive oil; it tastes less eggy)

2 T Sriracha (This hot sauce is a staple at my house, but if you don’t have it, any other hot sauce such as a few drops of Tabasco, will suffice)

2 medium potatoes, boiled until soft, but not mashed

2 small or 1 medium zucchini, diced

2 T olive oil

2 T cumin seeds

2 T cumin powder

1 C edamame, cooked (I use frozen edamame and steam them in the microwave for a few minutes)

Salt to taste

Dice boiled potatoes.

Heat oil in a pan and sauté cumin seeds and powder

Add potatoes and sauté for a minute

Add zucchini and sauté for 2 minutes

Add edamame and salt to taste, and sauté for another minute

Grill wrap on a hot griddle

Once slightly browned on both sides, remove and spread hot sauce and mayo in a line in center of wrap

Add potato-edamame mixture

Roll neatly, and wrap in aluminum foil.

Store in a fridge for upto a day; can be eaten cold.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coriander chutney

Alternatively known as green chutney, this is a perennial favorite among Indians and Indian food lovers, alike, and needs no introduction.

For this staple recipe, I do the following, more or less. You can easily double the recipe and store the sauce in the refrigerator for weeks, without substantial loss in flavor.

You will need:

1/2 tsp cumin seed, roasted till fragrant in a dry pan
1 large bunch of coriander leaves
1/4 small onion roughly chopped
1/4 C unsweetened grated coconut (preferable fresh or frozen, not dried)
1/2″ piece of ginger roughly chopped
4 Serrano chilies (or less depending on how spicy you want this)
1 lemon juiced

A pinch of sugar
salt to taste

Blitz all ingredients in a blender (or as I do, in a coffee grinder), adding water to get a “chutney” consistency. Check and adjust salt.

Serve with samosas, sabudana vada, or in cucumber sandwiches.

Sabudana Vada aka. Tapioca arancini

Growing up in Bombay as a child of two working parents, I practically grew up in my neighbor’s house. My neighbors were an elderly couple, who lived with three of their grown kids. I used to call the woman of the house 'paati', which means grandma in my language. But some of the neighborhood kids used to refer to her as 'ajji', which is grandma in Marathi, the local language. So after much discussion and contention, we all agreed to call her 'paati-ajji' one day, and the name just stuck. I still like to think of this as a victory on my part, since 'paati' precedes 'ajji' in the final name, but who's keeping count, right! The real victory, as anyone who knew her would agree, were the delicacies that her kitchen would churn out, especially during festive seasons. Looking back, I realize that a lot of my food preferences have been influenced by the time I spent with “paati-ajji”. Whether it was the dried dates that I used to reportedly steal from her pantry, or the sweet modaks that I would selectively eat during festival seasons, I have so many memories of lazy weekday afternoons spent dunking dry rusks into weak tea at her house, while I waited for my parents to return home.

One of 'paati-ajji’s' specialties was Sabudana Vada. These were small fritters made with tapioca or sago pearls with potatoes, cumin, and peanuts and were commonly consumed during “fasting” periods. To me, these delicacies generally signal a feast, rather than a fast, but apparently, the ingredients that form this dish are all “allowed” foods during a fast, as per Hindu tradition -- and I, personally, am not one to argue with tradition.

I recently decided to give this recipe a try during the festive season of Diwali. They were surprisingly easy to make and absolutely delectable. I fried them up in small bite-sized pieces rather than the traditional larger patty shape, and served them with good ol’ fashioned tomato ketchup (Heinz, of course). They remind me of Italian arancini, but in my opinion, they are far tastier with their predictably crisp exterior, and soft flavorful centers. So go ahead and try this recipe, the next time you want to impress for less.

Sabudana Vada

11/2 C Sago/Tapioca pearls (sabudana) , available at Indian grocery stores

3 potatoes such as Yukon Gold, boiled and mashed

1 C roasted peanuts, coarsely ground

3-6 hot green chilies such as Serrano, chopped

4 T fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

2 T cumin seeds

2 T lemon juice

Salt to taste

Vegetable/Canola oil for deep frying

Soak the sabudana, in enough water to cover for two hours. Drain off excess water and squeeze dry.

Mix all ingredients together, add salt to taste, and shape either into flattened discs of ~1.5” diameter or into popcorn-sized bites, as pictured here.

Heat oil until a small piece of this sabudana mixture, when dropped into the oil, floats up immediately.

Deep fry the bites, turning, until golden brown.

Drain on paper and serve hot with ketchup or coriander chutney.

These did remain crispy for several hours, so you could make these ahead of time for a party. The unfried mix also stores well in the fridge for a few days.