One of my college room-mates celebrated Diwali. She would get really excited about the holiday and return to our dorm room with some of the best food I have ever eaten. Her mother and grandmother would spend hours preparing a lavish feast and I was happy to be the recipient of the holiday leftovers. It sure beat ramen noodles and instant mac-and-cheese, two of my college staples.
Diwali is the festival of lights, and while I'm not Indian or Hindu (or Jain or Sikh), I never pass up an opportunity to celebrate a holiday...even if it isn't mine. I freakin' love holidays! How fortunate, then, that I came across Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates: Festive Meals for Holidays and Special Occasions at my local library.
I decided to try the soup and the Indian pancakes. I really liked the soup and it just screams "hey, it's me, Fall!" I bought local squash, Jonathan apples (which I must confess, I don't think I have ever eaten before) and local sweet potatoes. The Indian flavors come through from the cumin and coriander seeds. I'm wondering if I should add some mild Indian curry powder the next time I make this. I'll make it a game-time decision. There's no cream in this soup and I used just one cup of stock (the original recipes uses only water). Healthy, healthy, healthy. The spinach, as it is used here, really isn't a garnish. It's an essential part of the dish and it gives the soup added texture and flavors. So go for it. Hey, it's also good for you...
The Indian vegetable pancakes were delicious. They are very similar to samosas-- spiced smashed potato, red pepper, onion, peas, mustard seeds, cumin and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Before I put the patties on the skillet, I lightly dusted them with some fresh bread crumbs. (I used Udi's 'unofficial' bread crumbs from Sunflower Market. The market grinds down leftover baguettes at the end of the night and turn them into bread crumbs.)
Diwali is coming up fast, so get cooking! Happy Holidays!
Curried Squash & Apple Soup (Courtesy of Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates Holidays and Occasions)
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped butternut squash*
2 cups peeled, cored and coarsely chopped apples
2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped sweet potatoes*
4 cups water
* About 3 pounds of butternut squash and just less than 2 pounds of sweet potatoes will yield the right amount for this recipe.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
10 ounces fresh spinach or mustard greens, rinsed and chopped
In a large nonreactive soup pot (it needs to be big), sauté the onions in the butter or oil until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. In a small dry skillet, toast the cumin and coriander seeds on low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until aromatic and lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes and grind to a powder (I used a coffee grinder). Add the ground spices, salt, squash, apples, sweet potato, and water to the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, until all of the ingredients are thoroughly cooked and tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté the garlic in the oil for about 1 minute on medium heat, stirring constantly, until soft and just golden. Add the greens and sauté on high heat until the water evaporates and the greens wilt. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Purée the soup in small batches in a blender until smooth, adding about 1/4 cup of water if the soup is thicker than you'd like. When ready to serve, gently reheat, ladle into shallow bowls, and top each serving with some of the sautéed greens.
* * *
Indian Vegetable Pancakes (Courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook Celebrates)
Yields 12 pancakes
(You can make the pancakes ahead, and then fry just before serving. Top with plain yogurt.)
4 1/2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes (1-inch cubes)- About 8 medium sized potatoes
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (I used 2)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups diced red bell peppers
2 cups peeled and grated carrots
3 to 4 drops Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce, more to taste (I used 5)
2 cups frozen peas
1 cup bread crumbs
In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes and reserve some of the cooking liquid. Place the potatoes in a large bowl, moisten them with about 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid, and mash them with a potato masher. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in a 10-inch skillet on medium heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds, until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the turmeric, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the onions and continue to sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are soft.
Stir in the peppers and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes more, until crisp-tender, adding a splash of water, if needed, to prevent sticking.
Sprinkle on a few drops of Tabasco sauce; the add the peas and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until the peas soften.
Transfer the vegetables to the bowl of mashed potatoes and stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Rinse and dry the skillet. Mix together the vegetables and potatoes and, if necessary, adjust the salt and Tabasco sauce to taste. Divide the potato mixture to form twelve round patties, each about 3 inches across. Set aside on a platter. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs on the twelve patties, about 1/2 tablespoon per side.
Meanwhile, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in the skillet until hot.
Gently slide three patties into the skillet with a wide spatula. Fry on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until crisp on the bottom. Carefully lift each one and turn it over, being careful not to splash the oil. Fry on the second side for 3 to 4 minutes, remove from the skillet, and drain on paper towels. Add more oil and repeat process until you make twelve pancakes.
Serve immediately or place the pancakes in a heatproof dish and keep them warm in a 300-degree oven until ready to serve.