Monday, March 30, 2009

Cumin (Geera) Potatoes

I recently had an interesting conversation with some friends from the Caribbean. Like me, they we born there but have settled in the midwest. Topic of conversation: our increased desire for West Indian food. Now that we are living abroad, it seems that our appetite for the foods we knew while on the islands have increased. It is a common phenomenon experienced among West Indian expats: local foods just seem to taste better after a period of abstinence. We have also developed a deeper appreciation for the history behind most of those foods, especially what is quintessentially country food: food eaten in rural areas and made from ingredients grown and, in some cases, raised not too far away.

What we found ironic is that, while we long for those foods, some dishes are being overlooked by the people still living there. The reason for this, we surmise, is a double edged sword: rapid modernization. As the Caribbean islands are getting more global exposure and are becoming wealthier, local traditions are taking a back seat to new and exciting foreign goods and customs. The economic growth taking place is delightful. Too bad, though, that some things have to give. Could we not have the best of both worlds? Only time will tell.

One dish that I longed for recently is cumin potatoes, known locally in Trinidad and Tobago as geera potatoes or geera aloo- "geera" being the hindi translation for cumin and "aloo" hindi for potatoes. Besides the medley of robust, deliciously piquant flavors, such as cumin, garlic and hot peppers, the best aspect of this dish is that its preparation is versatile. It can be made with any type of potato that you happen to have on hand. If you don't have potatoes, then use celery root, turnips, or even cauliflower. Many mornings, my sister and I had this with roti ( an Indian flatbread) as breakfast but I now serve it as a dinner food, as part of an entree or a side dish.

Cumin (Geera) Potatoes
Serves four to five

3 large potatoes, cubed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 chopped jalepeno peppers (optional*)
3 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover them by two inches. This might take 15 to 20 minutes over medium high heat. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large skillet set over medium heat, add the oil. To the hot oil, add diced onion, minced garlic, pepper, and cumin seeds. Saute for about ten to fifteen minutes, uncovered. You really want the onions to slightly caramelize and soften, and the cumin seeds to roasted at the same time. This is the only way to get that intense cumin flavor and aroma.
3. Add the boiled potatoes, stir well, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes stirring a couple times. Add the peas, cover and cook for four to five more minutes until the peas have heated through. Serve sprinkled with chopped, fresh cilantro.

*Scotch bonnet peppers are my choice for this recipe- the hotter the better- but they are uncommon in most grocery stores. If you can find it and want to, by all means, go ahead and replace the jalepenos but, remember, scotch bonnets are some of the most fiery peppers available. My advice would be to use disposable gloves when handling them. For less heat, use only the flesh of the pepper, not the seeds. Alternatively, you can omit the peppers altogether for a milder but nonetheless exotic dish.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pomegranate Series Part Two: Roasted Beets with Warm Pomegranate Ginger Vinaigrette

Had I asked my seventeen year old sister to name this recipe, I'm pretty sure she would have come up with something like "purple power" or "purple madness." Like most teenagers, her view of the world is whimsical and colorful, and like most teenagers her world was a palette of her two favorite colors: purple and pink. I, on the other hand, was a relatively boring teenager by today's standards, and really didn't care too much for colors. My clothing tended to be mostly black; not a choice I made due to any goth tendencies but simply because, back then, choosing colors was a nuisance for me.  Thankfully, along with wisdom,  age brings  a little more fashion sense. (I hope.) 

While colors add visual appeal to clothing and accessories, they add nothing to its intrinsic function: to clothe the body. Colors in food, on the other hand, are more than just skin deep. Brightly colored fruit and vegetables - red peppers, green leafy vegetables, carrots, beets - are an indication that they  are packed with nutrients, vitamins and those ever popular antioxidants. 

Arguably one of the most vibrantly colored vegetables around, beets are an excellent source of fiber, manganese, folic acid, potassium,  and the compound betacyanin. Betacyanin, in addition to giving beets its characteristic deep purple color, has been found to exhibit anti-cancer properties. Pairing these nutrient-rich bulbs with antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice is a combination deserving of any fashionable title. 

Roasted Beets with Warm Pomegranate Vinaigrette 
Serves four

2 cups peeled and cubed beets (about 5 whole beets)
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 tbsp red wine vinegar 
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss beets with two tablespoons and spread evenly along the bottom of a well greased baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender. 
2. Meanwhile, whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey and grated ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about three minutes until juice begins to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour over roasted beets and serve. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moist Devil's Food Cake (and an award)

Last week, I offered to make a cake for one of my friends who was celebrating her birthday. In my opinion, since birthdays are celebratory events, they are perfectly legitimate reasons to indulge in dessert, and what better dessert to indulge in than a rich, moist, devil's food cake entirely covered in silky, dark chocolate frosting. No. No diet rules here. This is one day we should all be allowed to just eat cake. Even if it is someone else's birthday. I found this recipe at Martha Stewart's website; for the best cakes, must consult the guru right? Although it was quite labor intensive and highly time consuming, the end result was well worth it. I made no alterations to the recipe but, while it called for the forsting to be chilled for two hours, I found that it took almost four hours to set.

Moist Devil's Food Cake (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes one 8-inch round layer cake

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans
1/2 cup boiling water
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups sifted cake flour, not self-rising
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

1.Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange two racks in center of oven. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line bottoms with parchment. Dust bottoms and sides of pans with cocoa powder; tap out any excess. Sift cocoa into a medium bowl, and whisk in 1/2 cup boiling water. Set aside to cool.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on low speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides twice. Beat in vanilla. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating between each addition until the batter is no longer slick, scraping down the sides twice.
3. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk milk into reserved cocoa mixture. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour and cocoa mixtures to the batter, a little of each at a time, starting and ending with flour mixture.
4. Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of each layer comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans for even baking. Transfer layers to wire racks; let cool, 15 minutes. Turn out cakes, and return to racks, tops up, until completely cool.
5. Remove parchment from bottoms of cakes. Reserve the prettiest layer for the top. Place one cake layer on a serving platter; spread 1 1/2 cups chocolate frosting over the top. Add the second cake layer, and spread with another 1 1/2 cups frosting. Top with third cake layer. Cover outside of cake with the remaining 3 cups frosting. Serve.

Chocolate Frosting
Makes 6 cups

24 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips
4 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon honey

1. Place chocolate chips and cream in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined and thickened, between 20 and 25 minutes. Increase the heat to medium low; cook, stirring, 3 minutes more. Remove pan from heat.
2. Stir in honey. Transfer frosting to a large metal bowl. Chill until cool enough to spread, about 3 to 4 hours, checking and stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. Use immediately.

Another bit of sweetness is this blog award I received yesterday from Zerrin at Give Recipe. Thanks Zerrin! The rule is to pass it on to other deserving bloggers, and here they are:
Sweet Foods
Tri to Cook
The Hungry Mouse
Be Foodie
The Pink Peppercorn
Kitchen Tantra
Zesty Cook
Broken Yolks