Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pan roasted Asparagus in Za'atar with Orange Zest

Spring season implies the entry of few of my favorite vegetables and greens - Asparagus, Artichokes, Arugula and many versions of Chard greens. Asparagus - grilled, roasted or steamed is a favorite in my home. I've tried to doctor the vegetable with Indian spices, but they seemed too overpowering. 

A recent hot favorite in my home are two Middle Eastern spice powders - Za'atar and Sumac. I've been using Sumac in Indian food as well since it renders a nice tangy finish, much like lemons to a dish. Sumac is a much darker, brown colored spice blend with a deep, lemon like tangy flavor. Za'atar as a spice blend is like a silent soldier whose presence is felt yet is very understated and subtle. Za'atar spice blend comes in various combination of spices blended to a dry powder depending on various geographies of Middle East. For instance, a Lebanese version of Za'atar is very different from the ones used in Jordan. The one I use is a blend of Thyme, Oregano, Sumac, Sesame seeds and Marjoram. The usage of Za'atar is diverse and plenty - garnish a bowl of Hummus, season the Falafel sandwich, add as a topping on a Pizza or Bread or use it for a salad.

Za'atar spice blend - Sumac, Sesame seeds, Thyme, Oregano and Marjoram

The interesting things about Asparagus is, it retains the moisture and remains juicy even after cooking owing to high water content. We prefer the spears when they are a bit overcooked, but you could stop after 15 minutes and serve. 

Pan roasted Asaparagus in Za'atar and Orange Zest

Prep Time: 5 + 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15-25 minutes

Asaparagus (stem removed) - 5-10 spears

For the seasoning -
Za'atar spice blend - 1/2 tsp
Black Pepper Powder (crushed) - 1/3 tsp
Turmeric powder - just a pinch
Sea Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

For garnish -
Orange zest - 1/2 tsp

Cleaning Asparagus - The Asparagus spears you get at local markets here are cleaned, trimmed and banded together. Wash the spears under cool water, pat dry. Hold the bottom half and snap off from the top end. The trick here is it will snap at the point where the woody part separates from the tender part. Reserve the bottom pieces for soups, stocks. 

Make a marinade of the seasoning ingredients and add the spears. Give a good toss and leave aside for 10 minutes. Heat a cast iron pan to smoking high heat. No need to add oil. Add the spears side by side. Do not use a spatula. Cook on a high flame for 2-4 minutes and cook on low flame for 15-20 minutes. Frequently, give a good toss by gently shaking the pan. Once they are lightly charred, turn off flame and serve hot with a dash of orange zest.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jackfruit Seed Saar (Bikand Saaru)

Few weeks back, I found a small portion of ripe Jackfruit at Indian grocery store. I was delighted and almost had the mind to buy the entire lot had it not been the cleaning process (which is a messy task) and that thought which promptly curbed my brimming enthusiasm. I had initially planned on making Gharayi, a sweet dish made of Jackfruits which Ma would often make for us when the ripe fruits were in season. I was happy to have found this fruit after ages. The Jackfruit kernels were super sweet and both of us finished the plate clean in no time. Left, were the seeds which I saved without a rhyme or reason. Everyday when I spotted the dozen seeds sitting on the counter, it filled me with memories of one women whom I owe a lot in my life in addition to my dear Ma. 

The Jackfruit seeds reminds me of my Ammama (my Grandma). She was one woman who was very fond of seasonal produce and more specifically - Mangoes and Jackfruits. I had earlier written about the Jackfruit tree in the backyard of my Grandparents house which I am obsessively fond of. I left the seeds on the counter in open air to dry off. After 5-7 days, the ash grey skin easily comes off. What remains is the brown seed which is suitable for this recipe.

When we were kids, Amamma had the official responsibility of feeding over a dozen mouths during our summer vacation. I dread to think how she pulled off the job with lot of grace and dignity. During hot blazing summer, when the sun would hit the zenith, she would save the seeds after cleaning the Jackfruit which was a communal task in my home. You want to eat the fruit - you contribute to the chore was the norm. She saved the seeds to simply air dry them. Once the skin was off, she would boil them in salt water and roast them on the warm ash laden hearth. Yes, we had two stoves in the home - one fueled by Gas and the other fueled by wood. The smoke coming from the wood stove left me teary eyed but the fragrance of the food cooked on this stove was simply divine and incomparable. She would pat dry the ash smeared seeds and present it to us. For me, it was close to a comical science experiment laced with excitement!

Jackfruit Seeds - Freshly plucked from the fruit
I got this recipe from my Aunt who frequently cooks many Hayvaka style dishes including their crunchy Mung dal Koshimbiri and spicy Huli. She likes to dry different regional cuisines from Karnataka and the flavor of her food is spot on. Hayvaka cuisine is very popular in Udupi-Mangalore region and the food is very rich in color, texture and unique in taste. This was my Ammama's favorite cuisine after GSB Konkani cuisine.  The nutty flavor of jackfruit seeds is a welcome change for this recipe where otherwise a substantial amount of cooked lentils are used, serving the purpose of a base to many kinds of Saar/ Saaru recipes.

Jackfruit Seed Saar/ Bikand Saaru
Simple spicy Saaru cooked in Jackfruit seed paste

Prep Time: 5-7 days
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 3-4 Servings

Jackfruit Seeds (air-dried, skin removed) - 10
Tamarind pulp - 1/2 cup
Grated coconut (fresh or frozen) - 2 tbsp
Rasam powder - 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida - 1/4 tsp
Jaggery - 1/2 tsp
Coriander leaves (finely chopped) -  1/2 cup + 1/3 cup
Green Chillies (slit lengthwise) - 2
Coconut Oil
For Seasoning -
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Red Chillies (broken into pieces) - 1
Air-dry the Jackfruit seeds. After 5-7 days, peel off the ash grey skin and save the brown skinned seed. Pick the seeds which have a smooth finish, discard the rest. Bring 2 cups of salted water to boil and cook the seeds well in the water. Check if cooked completely, drain the water and allow to cool.
Make tiny pieces of the cooked seeds, grind to a smooth paste with strong Rasam powder and grated coconut with little water. Bring to boil the tamarind pulp, jaggery, green chillies and jackfruit seed paste. Once the raw flavor of the broth goes off, add turmeric, asafoetida and 1/2 cup of coriander leaves. Season with salt as per taste and bring the broth to boil. Turn off the flame.
In a small frying pan, heat a tbsp of coconut oil, season with mustard seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add curry leaves and broken red chillies. Turn off flame and pour this seasoning over the cooked broth. Garnish with 1/3 cup of chopped coriander leaves. Drizzle little coconut oil over the broth. Cover with a tight lid. Strain and serve to enjoy as a drink. Else, serve with warm rice.

Note: Use a very strong and potent Rasam powder for this recipe. Use a tad bit more coriander leaves to balance the  flavors.