May 13, 2010

Pakora with Cilantro Chutney and Tamarind Sauce

Filed under: Appetizers — by Carla


Like most people, I crave something fried and spicy every now and then. So, yesterday I decided to make up a batch of one of my favorite foods, pakora…tasty little chick pea fritters flavored with Indian spices, grated potato and onion. There are times when firing up a pot of hot oil is exactly what you need to do in order to taste something truly amazing, especially if you are  often disappointed by the greasy over or under cooked fried dishes served in restaurants.  When made at home, they are truly one of the best fried things you’ll ever put in your mouth, especially  dipped into tart cilantro chutney and sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Kind of what I’d imagine Indian carnival food would taste like, the tender, fluffy spiced insides and crispy, crunchy outsides of these fritters dipped in tangy sauces just explode with eastern flavors.

I’m a sucker for both sauces, but if you’re only going to make one, the coriander chutney comes together pretty quickly. Leftovers can be used to top off  grilled chicken or pork, in tuna fish salad, coleslaw. You get the idea. I’m not going to gloss over the fact that you might have to find an Indian or Hispanic grocery in order to get the block of tamarind paste for the tamarind sauce, but believe me when I say that the search is worth every minute. Tamarind wakes up the flavor of everything it’s partnered with and it also makes a great glaze to baste over grilled lamb, beef or poultry shish kabobs, so you’ll get multiple uses out of it.  

This is definitely one of those projects that lends itself to a group effort, so plan on making a double batch (no need to double the sauces) so that there will be plenty of bites for everyone. I’ve often made these as a starter to a simpler meal of easily reheated Indian dishes such as korma or vindaloo. I can’t guarantee that pakora will change your life, but a new standard will be set for the taste of freshly ground spices and perfectly fried food which is a good day in the kitchen any way you measure it.

Kitchen Counter Point: If you want to taste the real deal spice-wise, the extra step of toasting the whole spices, cooling and then grinding them up is the way to go. I’ve given you a simple recipe for garam masala, a spice blend that once made, will find its way into gilled meats, vegetables, sauces and marinades. It’s warm and kind of sweet with the flavors of coriander, cinnamon, clove, cumin and pepper. Just pick up a coffee mill at the discount store and dedicate it solely to grinding up your spices fresh. You won’t believe the amount of flavor in toasted and freshly ground spice. It’s kind of like the difference between freshly ground coffee and coffee that’s been ground up and sitting in a warehouse for 6 months. It’s alive and vibrant… a big difference. But you’ll never know unless you try it!

Makes about 12 medium sized pakora

3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
A few grinds of black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala, recipe follows
1 cup chick pea flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup water
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet potato, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
Cilantro Chutney, recipe follows
Tamarind Sauce, recipe follows

Combine the salt, cayenne, black pepper, garam masala, chick pea flour and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the water, onion, potato and cilantro and mix well. You should have a lumpy batter.

Heat the vegetable oil (enough to come up 3-inches) in a heavy pan or skillet to 360ºF (It really helps to have a deep fry thermometer for this. Pick one up at the grocery store.). Drop the batter by heaping 2 tablespoons into the hot oil (about 3 or 4 at a time) and cook the pakora for 1 1/2 minutes. Keep an eye on the thermometer as the temperature of the oil will plunge as you add cold batter. Adjust the heat accordingly. Turn the pakora and cook on the second side for another 1 minute. Remove the pakora from the oil with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a paper towel lined sheet pan. Continue to cook the remaining batter in the same manner. You can keep the pakora hot by placing them as they are fried into a 200ºF oven.

Serve the pakora hot as an appetizer or a snack with cilantro chutney and tamarind sauce on the side.

Garam Masala

1 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons whole cloves
2 tablespoons coriander
2 tablespoons peppercorns
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the spices and stir until fragrant, 3 or 4 minutes. Continue to stir and watch the spices carefully so that they don’t burn.. Remove the spices to cool.

Grind the garam masala in a spice or coffee mill dedicated to that purpose. For the best flavor, store the spice at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Fresh Cilantro Chutney

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups cilantro leaves, lightly packed
1 fresh serrano chili, seeded (taste the chili and use more or less to suit your taste)
One 2-inch knob of ginger root, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup sweetened coconut
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons), plus more if needed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days. If the chutney looks dry, add more lemon juice or a splash of water. There should be a little bright green liquid surrounding the solids.

Tamarind Sauce


Tamarind can be found in a few different forms. It can be a compressed block, with the fibrous seeds and connective fibers that must be soaked and strained. It can come in a wet, seedless block. Or, it can come in a jar as tamarind concentrate. My favorite is the wet seedless block, though it still may contain seeds and should be handled using the soaking method below.  If you have the concentrate, just use about 1/2 cup of the liquid and omit the soaking and straining directions. You won’t have the volume and the sauce won’t be as thick, but it will still taste great.

1/2 cup tamarind paste, chopped into pieces
1-1/2 cups boiling water, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons finely minced ginger root
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place the tamarind paste in a large bowl and cover with 1 cup of the boiling water. Let the paste soak until the water is cool enough so that you can break apart the tamarind with your fingers. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of boiling water and let stand again until just warm. Strain the mixture into a medium bowl, discarding the fibrous pulp.

To the tamarind liquid, add the sugar, molasses, raisins, ginger root, salt, garam masala and cayenne. Taste for seasoning and let the sauce sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. Let come back to room temperature before serving. Can be kept up to 1 week, refrigerated.

August 28, 2009

Tartine with Roasted Figs, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

Filed under: Appetizers — by Carla




When you’re looking for a new quick and easy appetizer idea, how about a tartine? Basically an open faced sandwich, the tartine sounds so much more interesting. Especially when topped with sweet, sticky roasted figs. A quick roast in the oven really concentrates their flavor, caramelizing their sugars, rendering them even sweeter and more complex. It is an easy step to make and just gives this simple yet elegant appetizer a bit more finesse. The tangy gorgonzola adds an extra savory note that I find irresistible and plays beautifully off the nutty tannins of the walnuts. Country style peasant loaves are often a good choice for the base as they are chewy and have a strong firm texture. Look for round loaves called pain de campagne and slice it down into a rough serving size, cutting the slice crosswise in half if need be. It all comes together to make a simple, late summer appetizer that really sizzles.


Kitchen Counterpoint: Figs can be in season for a very short time, usually June through September, so when I see them in the market I can’t resist bringing them home. There is something erotic and beautiful about figs. Though they come in many shapes and colors the usual suspects here in Northeast Ohio are either Black Mission (dark purple) or Calimyrna (green). When sliced, the flesh of mission figs has a lovely color and pattern that contrasts with their dark skin, adding drama to any dish. And couldn’t we all use a little more drama on our plates?

Serves 6

12 fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
6 slices country style bread
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
6 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Toss the figs, vinegar and 1 tablespoon olive oil on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the figs have dried and caramelized slightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the bread slices and bake in the oven until crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

In a small bowl combine the ricotta cheese, basil, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt, pepper or nutmeg to taste.

Spread the cheese mixture over the bread and top with a slice of prosciutto, the roasted figs, gorgonzola and walnuts. Serve immediately.

Tip:  Did you know that you can toast walnuts in the microwave? Lay them out on a plate and nuke for about 33 seconds. Move them around and nuke another 33 seconds. They are toasted when they give off a warm, toasty aroma.

March 17, 2009

Green Apple Slices with Tapenade

Filed under: Appetizers — by Carla

Green Apple Slices with Tapenade

We like to think that we came up with this great duo. Tapenade is something that we always have in our refrigerators because it lasts forever and it is an instant appetizer for on the fly entertaining. It tastes great on toasted baguette slices, but we think the tartness of the apple plays off the salty herbal notes of the tapenade to delicious effect. The green, black and white colors also look great on a plain white serving tray (very minimalist.)Makes 48 pieces

1-1/2 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (more or less optional)
1/4 cup capers (preferably those packed in salt), rinsed
Zest of 1 lemon (yellow part only)
Zest of 1 orange (orange part only)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 Granny Smith apples, halved cored and each sliced into 16 slices
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lemon wedges and parsley leaves as garnish (optional)

Place the olives, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, anchovy paste, capers, zests, lemon juice, parsley, herbes de Provence, black pepper, and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or chop finely by hand and mix). Pulse a few times to incorporate and chop to desired texture (we like it chunky.)

Toss the apples with the lemon juice to keep them from browning. Spread a small mound of tapenade onto each of the sliced apples and arrange them decoratively on a platter. Garnish with lemon wedges and bunches of parsley.

Make-ahead: You may refrigerate the tapenade covered for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tips: It is easy to remove the pits from the olives. Simply lay the flat side of your knife
on the olive and press. The olive opens up and out pops the pit.
Capers packed in salt have a better texture than those bottled in brine. They must be rinsed thoroughly before using.
The zest from the citrus is most easily removed using a microplane, available at most cookware stores.

Honeyed Almonds

Filed under: Appetizers — by Meredith

Honeyed Almonds

OK, these addictive little salty, sweet treats could easily step over the line into the dessert category, but we found them too tempting not to share. They are great to set out in a bowl and let everyone nibble on before dinner. They’re also an interesting addition to a salad, perhaps with crumbled blue cheese or as a garnish to an ice cream sundae.Makes 2 cups

2 cups raw almonds, with skin on
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place almonds in even layer on baking sheet. Roast 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and place in large bowl.

In saucepan combine 1/4 cup sugar, honey and butter. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, do not stir. Boil for 3 minutes. It should darken slightly as it cooks, but if it begins to go past the golden brown stage, remove it from the heat immediately to avoid burning.

Pour hot syrup over nuts. Stir well. Sprinkle with remaining sugar and salt and toss to coat. Transfer the nuts to a greased baking sheet and separate with fork. Cool completely. Store in an air tight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Make-ahead: Pecans can be prepared 5 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.

Mango Summer Rolls

Filed under: Appetizers — by Meredith

Mango Summer Rolls

Soft and sumptuous, summer rolls are just the thing when the heat is on outside and you’re making dinner inside. No need to turn on the stove, you just need hot tap water to soften the wrappers and the noodles for the filling and you’re ready to go. Mango, cucumber, cilantro and mint give this vegetarian version a refreshing, light taste. You can add cold, cooked shrimp if you want to make it more of a meal.Makes 10 rolls

3 oz vermicelli rice-stick noodles*
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

10 (8-inch) rice-paper rounds
60 fresh cilantro leaves
60 fresh mint leaves
2 mangos, peeled, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 medium seedless cucumber, peeled, cored, and cut into matchsticks
4 scallions, cut thinly on the diagonal
1 cup carrot, peeled and coarsely grated

Thai Spicy Dipping Sauce (page xx)

When you are preparing to make the rolls, in a large bowl soak the noodles in hot water to cover 15 minutes, or until softened and pliable.

Drain the noodles in a colander, then rinse under cold running water and drain well again. In a large bowl, mix together the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and mix. Add the noodles and toss to coat.

Put a double thickness of paper towel on a work surface and fill a shallow baking pan with warm water. Soak 1 rice paper round in hot water until pliable, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Carefully transfer to paper towels.

Arrange 6 mango sticks, 3 cilantro leaves, 3 mint leaves, 6 cucumber sticks across the bottom third (part nearest you) of soaked rice paper. Spread 1/4 cup noodles on top and sprinkle some of the green onion and carrot on top of noodles. Fold bottom of rice paper over filling and begin rolling up tightly, stopping at halfway point. Arrange 3 more mint leaves and 3 more cilantro leaves along crease, then fold in ends and continue rolling. Transfer summer roll, seam side down, to a plate and cover with dampened paper towels. Make 9 more rolls in same manner and serve, whole or halved diagonally, with dipping sauce.

Make-Ahead: Summer rolls can be made 4 hours ahead and chilled, covered with lightly dampened paper towels and then with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Spicy Thai Dipping Sauce

Start to finish: 40 minutes
Hands on time: 10 minutes

This hot sauce is easy to make and nice to have in the refrigerator to add zing to anything from white rice to grilled fish.

4 Serrano chiles (about 2 inches long), finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/3 cup lime juice

In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Let the dipping sauce sit for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

Make-ahead: This sauce can be made a week ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.