Spinach Borani

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No Iranian meal is complete without a yogurt-based side dish of some sort. The cucumber and mint-flecked mast-o khiar is most common (and a close cousin to Indian raita and Greek tzatziki). Spinach borani flies under the radar, despite it being just as delicious.

More substantial than its cucumber counterpart, spinach borani is a simple but perfect side dish alongside an Iranian khoresh but it’s just at home next to curry (and if you’re like me, straight out of the bowl as a standalone snack). Borani keeps for a few days in the fridge, so it’s perfect with leftovers.

Spinach borani

Ingredients:

1 pound spinach (about 1 bunch), washed
2 to 3 cups Persian or Greek-style yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper

1. Blanch the spinach: bring a pot of water to a boil; add spinach, and blanch for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain spinach in a colander, rinsing under cold water. Squeeze spinach to remove excess liquid and coarsely chop.

2. In a serving bowl, thoroughly mix yogurt, spinach, garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste.

3. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving, allowing the flavors to set. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Okra and Zucchini Sambar

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No two sambars are the same.

For the uninitiated, sambar is a comforting vegetable dish that’s popular in Sri Lankan Tamil and South Indian cuisine. The lentil and tamarind base are standard but the rest is up to you. Tomatoes in season? Go for it. Cauliflower? You can add that too. My favorite version includes okra and zucchini. Served typically with dosa, idli, or rice, the variations are endless.

Okra and zucchini sambar

Ingredients:

1 cup yellow lentils (toor dal)
6 cups water
2 slices ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
3-4 cups mixed chopped vegetables (I used okra, zucchini, and potatoes here)
1 serrano chili, halved lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water and strained for liquid (discard solids)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal
1 sprig curry leaves
3 shallots (or 1/2 onion), thinly sliced

1. Place the lentils, water, ginger, salt and turmeric in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover partially with a lid, and simmer until the lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes.

2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the sambar powder: lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan until they begin to smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Let cool and grind in a spice grinder with the cayenne pepper, fenugreek seeds, and peppercorns. Set aside.

3. When the lentils are cooked, add the prepared vegetables, serrano chili, asafoetida, tamarind liquid, and sambar powder. Stir well, bring to a boil, and simmer gently with the pan uncovered until the vegetables have cooked through.

4. Just before serving, heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves, and shallots. Stir until the shallots are tender, then pour the contents of the pan onto the vegetables. Stir and serve hot.

Wok-Seared Noodles with Crab

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You know how in university, going to bed at four in the morning was no big deal and dinner was routinely “fancy” ramen at midnight? And by fancy, I mean instant ramen with an egg and a handful of vegetables thrown in. And it was delicious. Oh yes, it was what junk food dreams are made of.

This dish of lime and chili-flecked noodles and crab is the grown up version of that midnight college ramen. The instant noodles are still there, only the additions are more haute. Make sure to seek out the crab paste. It’s what makes these noodles so cravingly special.

Spicy wok-fried noodles with crab

Ingredients:

Three packages ramen, seasoning packets reserved for another use
1/4 cup vegetable oil plus two tablespoons
1/4 cup minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Thai-style crab paste
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce, Thai chile paste, or sambal oelek
3/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 pound lump crabmeat
1/3 cup chopped mint
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest plus 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt

1. In a large saucepan of boiling water, cook the ramen for 3 minutes, until al dente. Drain well and set aside.

2. In a wok, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until smoking. Add the ginger, garlic, crab paste, chili garlic sauce, and mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring, until the garlic is golden, about 3 minutes. Add the ramen and toss to coat. Spread the noodles in an even layer over the bottom and halfway up the side of the wok and drizzle with the remaining two tablespoons oil. Cook over high heat, undisturbed, until the edges start to crisp, about 
2 minutes. Toss the noodles, then spread them out again and cook until the edges start to crisp, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, crabmeat, mint, lime zest and lime juice, season with salt and toss again. Transfer to plates and serve.

Avocado with Misoyaki Sauce

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You didn’t think I was going to stop at only one Ravi Kapur recipe, did you? The only difference here is this adapted dish takes five minutes, unlike the others.

Avocado makes an unlikely side or appetizer for a warm-weather meal here. Don’t be put off by its simplicity: this dish is sweet, salty, creamy, and complex. In other words, it’s delicious.

Avocado with miso-teriyaki sauce

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons mirin
1/4 cup sake
1/2 cup red or yellow miso
2 tablespoons sugar
3 avocados, peeled and sliced

1. In a small saucepan, combine the mirin and sake and boil for 2 minutes. Add the miso and sugar and simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until slightly thickened. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool completely.

2. Serve drizzled over avocado.

Classic Gazpacho

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The sum is greater than the parts in my second-favorite cold soup recipe. (What’s my most favorite, you ask? Aab doogh khiyar, of course!)

Adapted from Jose Andres’ infamous and oft-replicated gazpacho recipe, my spin omits the croutons and oloroso sherry, decreases the olive oil, and uses local garden tomatoes instead of plum, making for a perfect hot-weather no-cook dish. I garnished with thinly sliced zucchini because that’s what was in fridge, but feel free to change things up and make this gazpacho your own.

Is it summer yet?

Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, peeled and chopped
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped plus
2 garlic cloves
1/4 sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 zucchini, thinly sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
salt

1. Prepare the soup: combine the cucumber, pepper, tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, sherry, olive oil, and 2 cups water in a blender, in batches if needed. Puree the ingredients until everything is blended into a thick pink liquid. Season with salt and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

2. When you are ready to serve, pour gazpacho into individual bowls and garnish with zucchini and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt, if desired, and serve.