Heidi Swanson's Avocados and Mustard Seeds

Dear Avocados, you're so creamy, delicious, rich and flavorful. I've turned you into cold soup and sliced you with grapefruit. I've tossed you in salads and eaten you whole (minus your pit and skin). I am, officially, an avocado aficionado. But around the time we left Brooklyn, my delicious avocados, you were almost 3 bucks a pop. 
I was wondering if there was some kind of avocado-blight. Maybe something similar to the blight that wiped out potatoes during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland? Or something similar to the fungus that hit our tomato share last summer? Why were they so expensive? I never did get to the bottom of that inquiry, but now it hardly matters. Here in Denver I've been finding avocados for .89 cents each and that means I'm busting out my avocado recipes.  
I've become particularly fond of this one for Avocado and Mustard Seed. I first spotted the recipe in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day. But the original source for Heidi's adaptation was Julie Sahni (and her Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking). Since I'm a big fan of both Julie and Heidi, I knew this dish would become a favorite. And it has. 
You can serve this as a starter/dip or as a side. It's a great way to do something more creative with your avocado. So if you like chilies, cilantro and curry, this has got your name on it. The serrano's heat melds beautifully with the curry powder, mustard seeds and onions. It's, like, the perfect dip for that Sunday football game...go Broncos?! (Did I just type that? Next thing you know I'll be buying fleece from REI. Just kidding. That will never happen.)
Be sure to use ripe avocados. Oh, and definitely DO NOT wipe your eyes after handling the serrano chile. I made that mistake earlier today and I'm still feeling the burn. Ouch.

Avocados and Mustard Seeds (Courtesy of Heidi Swanson, Super Natural Every Day)
Yields about 2 cups 
2 ripe avocados
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (don't heap the teaspoon)
1/2 cup coarsley chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon clarified butter or extra-virgin coconut oil (I used coconut oil for the first time.  I found a jar at Sunflower Farmers Market.)
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 small yellow onion, mined
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Indian curry powder
1 small serrano chile, minced
Cut each avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, salt, and most of the cilantro. Mash the avocados a bit with a fork, but don't overdo it-- you want the mixture to be quite chunky. Set aside.
Heat the clarified butter or oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds. Keep a lid on hand because the seeds will scatter as they pop. When the spattering stops, after about a  minute, stir in the onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic, curry powder, and chile.  
Count to ten, and then remove from heat. Stir in the avocado mixture, but just barely, and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with remaining cilantro. 

Dum Aloo: Whole Potatoes in Spicy Yogurt Gravy

I'm leaving my comfort zone and hoping to release my inner Gandhi, with a little help from Julie SahniToday I'll make some Indian food...at home. This is a giant culinary leap.
I've been cooking for a few years now and for some reason nothing makes me more nervous (in the kitchen) than cooking Indian food. Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic. There are more serious things that make me nervous in the kitchen. Say, for example, having another burn incident (courtesy of a butternut squash and apple soup) or a knife slippage accident (courtesy of panzanella). Ouch!
But making my own Indian food is definitely something that has caused me to pause and required me to harness a good deal of self confidence. The food consumed by over 1 billion people has intimidated me, until now.
I know many seasoned cooks who have also shied away from making even the most basic sub-continent dishes. But why? Is it the cumin, mustard or coriander seeds? The ghee? The quintessential Indian spice--garam masala--that scares them away? Or is it the fear that the stews, sauces, and soups take way too much time and effort?
Maybe it's all of the above. Maybe it's the combination of unfamiliar ingredients and the fact that Indian food seems very complex to make at home.
But I feel like I've been missing out. Indian food has some of the most varied vegetarian options in the world and it's also one of my most favorite cuisines. Yet for years I have stubbornly refused to make it in my own kitchen, opting for Delhi Palace or Rasoi buffets instead. 
Thank goodness for Julie Sahni. She is one of the premiere cooking instructors for Indian food and some of her books are in their 42nd edition. She's pretty serious. I decided to start with her recipe for Whole Potatoes in a Spicy Yogurt Gravy (Dum Aloo).  Malai kofta, stuffed dosas and saag paneer will have to wait for another day...and a bit more self-confidence.  But until then  आप का खाना स्वादिष्ट हो (Bon Appetit)

Whole Potatoes in Spicy Yogurt Gravy, Dum Aloo (Courtesy of Julie Sahni: Classic Indian Cooking)
Serves 6-8 
12 even-sized small boiling potatoes, such as red wax (about 2 pounds)
7 tablespoons Indian vegetable shortening, or light vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (about 1 1/2 onions)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper (I went with 1/2)
1 teaspoon Mughal garam masala
2 cups chopped or pureed fresh tomatoes, or 1 cup canned tomato sauce (I pureed 1 cup of plain diced tomatoes)
2/3 cup plain yogurt
4 teaspoons Kosher salt
2/3 cup heavy cream

  1. Peel potatoes and prick them with a skewer or knife in 4 or 5 places.  Put them in a bowl of cold water until you are ready to cook them.
  2. Heat 5 tablespoons of shortening or oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is very hot, drain the potatoes, pat them dry on paper towels (I used a clean dish cloth), and add.  Fry them until they acquire several tiny browned spots and a crust (about 8-10 minutes), turning and tossing them to ensure even browning.  *This is an essential step, as the browning prevents the potatoes' falling apart during prolonged cooking.*  With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a bowl.
  3. Add the rest of the shortening or oil to the pan along with the onions.  Fry until the onions turn caramel brown (about 15 minutes), stirring constantly so that they do not burn.  Add ginger, and fry for an additional 1/2 minute.  Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, red pepper, and garam masala all at once, and stir rapidly for 15 seconds.  Add tomatoes, yogurt, salt and the fried potatoes (in one layer), and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer very gently, covered, for 35 minutes or until the potatoes are fully cooked.   (Do not let the gravy stick and burn.  If the gravy looks thin and runny, increase heat and then reduce once desired consistency is achieved.  If the gravy is too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.
  4. Add cream, stir, and simmer until heated through.  Check for salt and serve. 
Note:  This dish improves with keeping.  For best results, make a few hours before you are going to serve it.  It can be refrigerated for up to 4 days without loss of flavor.

You can make another dish to serve alongside the potatoes such as lentils with garlic butter, mung beans with mustard seed, stir-fried Okra or salad.  I served it with some left-over sesame patties and yogurt with a side salad.  Delish!!
Looking for Spices? Many speciality stores have online ordering in case you are looking for spices that are hard to find in your neighborhood. Here in New York, Kalustyans is a great resource for spices, grains and nut purchases. You can also try Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, though they specialize primarliy in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean spices. I like the Patel Brothers location on 74th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Jackson Heights has the distinction of being the most diverse zip code on the planet (it's believed that 167 languages are spoken here) and you can find everything you need to prepare a fabulous Indian meal. 

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes with a side of Dreidel!

The holiday season is in full swing.  Some of you will put up a Christmas tree or dust off your Kwanza kinara.  Others will lament the holiday season and put their head in the sand until January. But for me, I get out my dreidel and start rolling gimmels. I'm not a religious person (not at all), but I do like cultural celebrations that revolve around light and food.  
And I'm really excited about Chanukah this year because: 1. I like lighting the menorah 2. I just received the gift I sent myself (the Baked cookbook) 3. I really like to eat latkes and 4. *and most importantly* I like having people over to our teeny-tiny living space (only a few at a time) and celebrating the holidays with close friends.
This recipe for Curried Sweet Potato Latkes came to me by way of Jane, the mother of our very close friend.  We got to taste these last year and they are a wonderful alternative to your standard potato latke.  And they have a little kick due to the curry powder and cayenne.  Bring these to your next Hanukkah party and you'll be a real hit!  
(In case you aren't familiar with latkes, they are a shallow-fried pancake, usually potato, that are traditionally eaten on Chanukah.)
Happy holidays.
CURRIED SWEET POTATO LATKES (Adapted from The New Prospect Cafe by Jewish Cooking in America)
Serves 16 2-inch pancakes
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
peanut oil for frying
Grate the sweet potato coarsely.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking power, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
Add the eggs and just enough milk to dry ingredients and make a stiff batter.  (I used less than the 1/2 cup of milk.) Add the potatoes and mix.  The batter should be moist but not runny; if too stiff, add more milk. 
Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil (I used a bit less) in a saute pan until it is barely smoking.  Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten.  Cook several minutes on each side until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve.
Note: I think next time I make these I will cook the sweet potatoes and mash them, then follow the rest of the directions as written.  I guess it comes down to this: do you like your latkes smooth or stringy?  I think I'm a smooth type of gal.  
Also, I made another batch of these latkes tonight.  They were so good.  I left the batter and sweet potatoes in the fridge overnight, and the potato was really soft and all the spices were absorbed beautifully.  But either way, the make a nice holiday treat.
So eat those latkes, light that menorah and spin that dreidel.