Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)

Cucumber Roti

Breakfast is easily my favorite meal of the day. (You’ll be seeing a lot of it on this blog, I assure you.)

It’s also one my favorite parts of the weekend. I love the gentle pace that comes along with it, the rituals behind it (for us: tea, then more tea), and the stretch of the day ahead. It’s comforting. It’s warm. It’s that place where you want to sit and stay awhile.

Aside from eggs in all forms (omelet for Suraj, scrambled for me), we gravitate toward Indian breakfast items. Dosa/iddly, poha, and savory pancakes like moong dal cheela and cucumber roti (recipe below) are our top picks. I think if I ever actually wrote a cookbook myself (aside from just hiring people to do it), it would be on Indian breakfasts. There is just SO much to love when it comes to this cuisine, this meal. Wholesome ingredients, a light touch of spice, veg-centric, filling-but-not-coma-inducing (and often fermented, like dosa)—addicting, in a word. My “to blog” list includes dozens of these recipes, and I hope to one day share them all here (check out my Instagram in the meantime for photos of most of them, and proof that I am in fact obsessed).

Our weekend breakfasts all take more time to prepare than pouring a bowl of cereal, but that’s what I like about them. I like listening to Sunday Morning while pulling things together, and having Suraj come join me to finish the tea while I take things off the stove, or cut up some fruit. When we sit down together, we’re both relaxed, but hungry, and can look forward to a warm meal in front of us, and the day ahead.

In the case of this cucumber roti, or flatbread, it’s one I posted about to friends on Facebook a few weeks ago, when I was once again waxing poetic about this very subject (I’m fast becoming a broken record, aren’t I?). A few people asked for the recipe, which I’m more than happy to share here. It’s rather easy to prepare, gluten-free by nature, and full of flavors that work beautifully together (cucumber, coconut, rice, cilantro). The cucumber and coconut help keep the interior soft and subtly sweet, while the outside crisps up in beautiful contrast—it’s a savory pancake/flatbread like no other. I hope it finds its way into one of your weekend mornings.

Cucumber Roti 2


Cucumber Roti (Flatbread)
This savory flatbread is made simply from grated cucumber mixed with rice flour, coconut, and a few spices/herbs (cumin, cilantro, chili). There is no water or other liquid added; the cucumber itself hydrates the dough. It is light on the stomach, yet filling at the same time. You can find grated, frozen coconut at any Indian grocery store. It’s pretty cheap, requires no prep, and tastes amazing; I just defrost it in the microwave for about 45 seconds. If you can’t find it, you can use unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut—just soak it in 1/2 cup of hot water for 20 minutes or so, then add it to the dough along with the soaking water (I haven’t tried this personally, so you may need to play with the water ratio).

2 cups rice flour (I use white rice flour, as it’s easier to digest than brown)
1 english cucumber, peeled and grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh coconut
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (the salt helps draw out the moisture)
4 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Coconut oil, ghee, or other cooking oil
Butter, for serving

Combine all the ingredients (except for the oil and butter) in large bowl. Don’t add any water, just start kneading it all together with your hands. As you work, the moisture from the cucumber will start releasing and hydrate the flour. After a few minutes, it should start coming together into a ball and feel like play dough. If it still feels too crumbly, add a couple of drops of water and keep kneading (I’ve never had to do this, but if you had a small cucumber, maybe you’ll need to).

Divide the dough into equal portions, making each one about the size of an orange. Working with one piece at a time, place on top of a sheet of waxed paper and press down with your fingers to flatten to about 1/4 inch thickness. You may need to wet your hands with a little water if they’re sticking. Conversely, you can lay a second piece of waxed paper on top of the dough (flattening slightly) and gently roll it out with a rolling pin (or use a tortilla press).

Heat a cast iron pan or skillet with a few teaspoons of coconut oil or ghee over medium heat. It’s hot enough when a drop of water sizzles. Gently transfer the roti to the skillet; I do this by taking off the top sheet of waxed paper (if using), then picking up the whole thing by the bottom piece of waxed paper and flipping it over onto the skillet, so the waxed paper sheet is now on top—I then quickly and gently peel off the top paper.

Cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned in spots. Remove and serve hot with butter and a sprinkle of salt. We like to have ours with hard-boiled eggs, avocado, Greek yogurt, Indian pickle, and chutney.

If you have any leftovers, just keep them in the fridge and reheat in the toaster. They make a great weekday breakfast this way!

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Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

Home

I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!

Lemon Rice

Lemon Rice 2

A few weeks ago, one of my closest friends came over for an Indian cooking lesson. We made two things: coconut chutney and this lemon rice. There were very few leftovers.

Lemon rice is a simple, home-style, spiced rice dish. It isn’t often found on Indian restaurant menus, but it is a very typical offering at Hindu temples, where food is offered (for free) following most ceremonies. Because it contains no onion or garlic, which are not permitted inside temples, and can easily be made on a large scale (they serve it from enormous steel bowls), it’s a common feature there.

I was hooked the first time I tried it—slightly citrusy, with bursts of flavor and spice from the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and peanuts. It’s a dish that goes well with just about any meal. We sometimes have it as a snack too, alongside strong, Indian-style tea.

White basmati is the preferred rice for this dish, as it is for most Indian meals. It has a wonderfully aromatic flavor, takes 10 minutes to cook, is light on the stomach, and is perfectly suited to both Indian and non-Indian meals alike. While I do like brown rice once in awhile, I do not eat it on a regular basis. For one, it contains higher levels of arsenic than white rice (Consumer Reports), and it is also high in phytic acid.

What is phytic acid? It’s an anti-nutrient found in the outer bran of brown rice that prevents us from absorbing many of the nutrients found within (white rice has its outer bran removed so while it is slightly more refined, it’s easier to digest). Unless brown rice is soaked or sprouted before cooking, which breaks down that pesky phytic acid barrier, your body can’t get much out of it. Kind of like eating a locked treasure chest full of healthy food, instead of opening it and eating the food itself. So if you’re not going to soak or sprout your brown rice, just go for white and don’t worry about it.


Lemon Rice
If you’ve never had Indian mustard seeds before, I really encourage you to buy a pack and give them a try—they are tiny and black and pop like popcorn when you put them in hot oil. They have a complex, addicting flavor; not so much mustardy as deeply nutty and a little pungent (they are not hot/spicy). Fresh curry leaves can be found at any Indian grocery store. Finally, note that the vibrant color of this dish comes more from the turmeric powder used than the lemon juice.

2 to 4 tablespoons oil or ghee (I use a combination of almond oil and ghee)
1/4 cup raw peanuts or cashews
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 to 6 fresh curry leaves
1 to 2 Indian green chilies, finely chopped (skip if you are spice-adverse)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 to 3 cups cooked basmati rice (leftover, cold rice is best)
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Fresh cilantro, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon of your oil/ghee in a large pan with lid. Once hot, add nuts, lower heat and fry until lightly golden. Remove from oil and set aside.

Add remaining oil and heat until very hot (this is essential for getting the mustard seeds to pop—do not use regular butter or an oil like olive oil for this, as it will burn before it gets hot enough). Add the mustard seeds and immediately cover with the lid. The seeds should immediately start popping and spluttering wildly, just like popcorn. Let them do their thing for a minute or so, until the popping dies down, then lower heat to medium. You don’t want it as hot when you add the next ingredients, or they will burn.

Add the cumin seeds, curry leaves, and green chili and fry for another minute. The cumin seeds and curry leaves will turn a deeper brown—again, just be careful not to let them burn. Add the turmeric powder and allow it to dissolve into the oil.

Add cooked rice and stir to combine. The rice will absorb the tumeric-tinged oil and begin turning a lovely shade of yellow. You can add a pinch more turmeric if you don’t think yours is yellow enough, though give it a few minutes first, as it sometimes take a little time for the full color to come out. If your rice begins sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a bit more oil (or a little water) and lower the heat.

Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice is hot and the flavors are well absorbed. Add lemon juice, mixing well, then sugar and salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve warm.


This masala dabba, or spice box, contains our most-utilized Indian spices. Turmeric is front and center, followed by (clockwise): red chili powder, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (a split lentil used in seasonings), cumin powder, and coriander powder. It comes with a glass cover and lid and makes Indian cooking a breeze.

This masala dabba, or spice box, contains our most-utilized Indian spices. Turmeric is front and center, followed by (clockwise, from top left): red chili powder, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal (a split lentil used in seasonings), cumin powder, and coriander powder. The dabba comes with a glass cover and lid and makes Indian cooking a breeze as you can access your spices in one go. They’re available online, and at many Indian grocers.

Ghee & Healthy Fats

Ghee 1

I wanted to share with you today what fats and oils I use in my kitchen on a daily basis. This seems to be a confusing area for a lot of people (it definitely was for me when I first started cooking).

As with most else, I favor the most traditional and pure choices I can find. For me, these are coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, and butter/ghee. From their names alone, you know their source, which already says something, doesn’t it?

Why no canola oil, no vegetable oil, no sunflower/safflower oil? Because these are highly refined oils that are nowhere near healthy choices. In brief, refined oils are made by highly intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The oil is then heated until it goes rancid, then oxidized/deodorized to remove any off-scents. The oxidation factor makes these oils more likely to break down into those nasty things known as free radicals, which wreak havoc on our bodies and health. I’ll pass.

Here’s a little more about the oils I do love and why/where I use them. [There are a few others I use less frequently, such as red palm oil, pastured lard, bacon grease, and schmaltz, but the following five are my daily staples.]

Coconut oil. Great for higher heat cooking (like shallow-frying) and roasting vegetables. The oil itself has antifungal and antimicrobial properties; is uniquely high in medium chain trigylcerides (MCTs), which contribute to brain health; and has been used by traditional, tropical cultures for centuries. It has a slight coconut flavor, so I often use half coconut oil and half butter or ghee when cooking. I also like to use it in baking (like in these cookies). Brand-wise, I either order through the online company Tropical Traditions, or just go with Whole Foods’ 365 brand.

Almond oil. This oil has a very neutral flavor and is great for high-heat cooking, which is what a lot of Indian dishes require (its smoke point, or the highest heat it can sustain without burning, is 420 degrees F). It’s also high in healthy monounsaturated fats. I think this is one of those oils that will only grow in popularity as more people learn about it. [Interestingly, Indians also use it as an all-natural hair and skin moisturizer.] We buy it from the Indian grocery store for about $10/bottle, so it’s similar in price to olive oil.

Olive oil. This is one that will always be one of my favorites. We all know good olive oil is for us; like almond oil, it’s high in monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. I like to use it for lighter applications that require no or little heating, such as in salad dressings, as a dip for bread, or for light sauteing. I always look for extra-virgin, cold-pressed when I can find it. For the past year or so, we’ve been ordering direct from a family-run farm in California (Chaffin Family Orchards). Their olive oil is 100% cold pressed and extra virgin, and it’s the best olive oil I’ve ever had. We actually bought 10 gallons this year to split with family and friends. Our gallons arrive in March, so in the meantime, we use the brand pictured below, which has been reviewed as one of the best-tasting, most affordable store-bought choices (Real Simple magazine).

Butter. I’ve always been on Team Butter (heck, one my favorite books to edit was called Back to Butter—I highly recommend it). Butter, grassfed especially, is rich in vitamins A, E, and K2. It is a healthy saturated fat in moderation. I use it mostly for making eggs and for toast, of course. I like Kerrygold brand, which is grassfed and rich in both flavor and color (and those aforementioned vitamins). I also like Trader Joe’s organic butter, which is what I use in the recipe for ghee below.

Ghee. Ghee is butter that has been cooked down to remove all of its milk solids, lactose, and proteins. This process raises the overall smoke point, meaning that you can cook with ghee at a higher temperature than you can with butter, without it burning. Ghee is also easier to digest—many people with dairy allergies can even tolerate it—and it is more concentrated in nutrients than regular butter.

Ghee is a traditional cooking fat; it’s a staple of Indian cooking. We use it there, as well as for pan-frying fish and meat, and sauteing and roasting vegetables. We also eat it on its own, alongside Indian flatbreads like paratha. There’s really no place it doesn’t belong. The taste is phenomenal. Like concentrated butter with a hint of nuttiness.

I make ghee at home rather than buying it from the store because 1) it tastes even better, and 2) it’s more affordable, at about 1/3 the price of store-bought. You can use it just as you would any other oil or cooking fat. One pound of butter makes one large jar, which can be stored at room temperature for weeks or even months, though ours never really lasts that long…

Fats and Oils


Ghee
I’ve used all sorts of butter to make ghee, and both unsalted and salted varieties, but my very favorite is Trader Joe’s brand organic salted butter. It makes the most beautiful ghee (pictured above) and tastes so.damn.good. Salted butter, for me at least, seems to froth up a bit less when cooking down and I think it brings out the flavor of the ghee more. Either salted or unsalted, in any brand, will work though.

1 lb (4 sticks) butter, preferably organic and/or grassfed

Place butter in a saucepan over low to medium heat. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, reducing the heat as needed. During this time, the butter will be simmering and bubbling gently, and may pop occasionally. It will foam up at first as well, which you can scrap off and discard, or just leave it until it cooks off.

You can tell the ghee is done in a few different ways—it will begin to smell wonderfully nutty; it will turn golden in color, with perhaps a few brown bits at the bottom; and the burbling will have quieted down to just an occasional pop/sizzle here and there. Keep in mind that you don’t want browned butter, however, so don’t let it go too far.

Let cool then strain into a jar through a very fine-mesh strainer or a larger strainer lined with a piece of cheese cloth. You don’t want any foam or other bits to get through or they will burn when you go to heat the ghee for cooking (these bits lower its smoke point), so strain carefully.

The ghee will solidify as it cools. Store in the fridge or cupboard.

Ghee 2

Golden (Turmeric) Milk

Turmeric Milk 2

Turmeric is trending right now. It may very well be the next quinoa. (You heard it here first.)

What is it? Turmeric is a bright yellow root that is used as a spice or seasoning. It’s typically available dried and powdered, though the fresh root is becoming more widely available as well (we get it at our regular grocery store these days!). It has a subtle flavor—warm, peppery, and a little astringent.

Why is it healthy? Turmeric is considered a superfood because it contains curcumin, a compound especially good at targeting inflammation, which is tied to a wide range of ailments, from cardiovascular disease, to Alzheimer’s, to PTSD (Time magazine). It’s also cited as a potential cancer-fighter, a remedy for colds and flu, a way to soothe stomachaches and indigestion, and more. Suraj remembers his grandmother applying it to his skin as a child to treat cuts and bruises (smart lady, as turmeric is indeed an antiseptic).

We use turmeric on near-daily basis in our kitchen, as it’s a staple of Indian cooking. Most curries and vegetable preparations get at least a pinch, and I also like to boil my vegetables in turmeric water (potatoes especially, as it gives them an especially vibrant color). I add a teaspoon or so to most soups and broths as well, as it has a very subtle/neutral flavor.

When we’re feeling under the weather, I make us this turmeric milk (also known as golden milk). Warmly spiced, creamy, and subtly sweet, it’s easy to love. We like to have a cupful after dinner, to settle the stomach/mind. It reminds me of one of those comforting foods you’d read about in a children’s book, like the three bears’ porridge, or bread & jam for Frances (anyone?). Golden milk for everyone! 


Turmeric Milk
If you don’t drink dairy, you can substitute coconut milk. It’s great that way too. I use fresh turmeric root (as in the above photo), but powder is fine too—just stir well after adding so it doesn’t clump. Jaggery is unrefined cane sugar; it’s in the top left portion of the bowl in the photo above. All of these items can easily be found at any Indian grocery… for much cheaper than the regular grocery store. Leave out any spices you don’t have—this recipe is certainly open to interpretation! 

2 cups whole milk
2-inch piece of fresh turmeric root, grated, or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
6 to 7 whole cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
2 small cloves
2 whole black peppercorns
2 to 3 teaspoons grated jaggery or honey, to taste

Place all ingredients except the jaggery/honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmer (be careful not to let it boil, as it can quickly bubble up and scorch) and allow to simmer for just a minute or two. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for at least 10 to 20 minutes to infuse flavors. Strain, discarding spices.

Add grated jaggery or honey, stirring to dissolve. Serve warm. Keeps in the fridge for about a week. Note that the color may become even more yellow over time—that’s the magic of turmeric.


Fresh turmeric root at a spice plantation we visited in Goa, India.

Fresh turmeric root at a spice plantation we visited in Goa, India.

Turmeric powder on sale at market in Bangalore, India. It's used as both a food and a dye.

Turmeric powder on sale at a market in Bangalore, India. It’s used as both a food and a dye.

Indian Breakfast: Dosa & Iddly (Also, Hi)

dosa batter

“To begin, begin.” -William Wadsworth

And so that’s what I’ll do.

This blog has been a thought of mine for years now. Cooking and sharing are two of the things I treasure most in life, so a blog would seem a natural fit for me, no?

Well, yes and no. While food is my life (more about me here), I’ve struggled with the idea of spending more time in front of the computer, since I already do that for 8+ hours a day. I’ve also convinced myself time and time again that “I have nothing new to add” and that “there are so many blogs out there already.”

Those close to me have all responded to those questions pretty much exactly the same way, however: “Yes, you do!” and “So what?!”

And so here I am. Because I’ve realized they’re right; I do have something to add. [In fact, we all do.] And I’d love to share it.

The food I make is many things, but above all it is real, it is honest, and it is thoughtful… qualities I value in what I eat, but also in who I am, and who I work to be (imperfections included and accepted).

And that just might be worth sharing, yes? I really hope so.


So let’s get to it! I’ve decided to start first with what is perhaps my favorite food on Earth: dosa/iddly. It’s a food that showcases many of the things I love—namely, breakfast, Indian food, and fermentation—and its flavor is like nothing else, so I’d say it’s an obvious first choice. Every time we go to India, it is the first thing I request. I don’t think I will ever tire of it.

Dosa and iddly are two versions of the same product: a batter of ground and fermented rice and lentils. For dosa, the batter is used to make crepes, whereas for iddly, the batter is steamed into (savory) cakes. Dosa can be filled with a spicy filling (usually potatoes), and iddly is typically served with sambar and chutney. It’s a breakfast that has been a staple of Indian cuisine for centuries, and it makes sense why—it’s healthy, it’s fermented (read: easy on your stomach and good for digestion/your gut), and it is very inexpensive to make. One batch will give you at least three days of breakfasts.

While this recipe is lengthy (I swear not all the recipes to come will be nearly as long! I just really want you get it right!), the process is pretty simple: soak your ingredients, grind them in a blender, let them sit out and ferment (where they’ll get all bubbly and tangy and wonderful), and either cook them like crepes (dosa) or steam them into cakes (iddly).

Dosa & Iddly
Fermented Lentil-Rice Crepes and Cakes

dosa

3 cups iddly rice
3/4 cup whole urad dal
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional–see Notes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Place the iddly rice in one bowl, and the urad dal + fenugreek seeds in another. Rinse each once, then cover both with filtered water—the water should come up at least an inch or two over the grains. Allow to soak—on the counter, uncovered—for at least 4 hours. I typically start soaking around 11 am, so that I can blend together around 3 pm, then ferment overnight.

Once soaked, you’ll need to grind each mixture separately. Start with the dal + fenugreek, adding enough of the soaking water to keep things moving. A high-speed blender like a Vitamix is ideal for this. You want the batter very smooth, almost silky in feel, so that when you rub some between your fingers, there is no grittiness. This takes at least a few minutes of blending, even in the Vitamix. It should look like a thick vanilla milkshake when it’s done.

Transfer this batter to your fermentation vessel—I use my large le Creuset dutch oven to ferment in, though glass also works well (avoid metal). If all goes well, your batter will be nearly doubling in size, so you want something with room to spare.

Repeat the grinding/blending with the rice and a bit of its soaking water (no need to wash the blender). It’s okay if the consistency of this batter is a little more gritty—like tiny, tiny pieces of sand—than the urad dal batter. Add this batter to the urad dal batter, then add the salt.

Use your hands to combine the two batters and the salt. This helps pull in more wild yeast, and it also helps you gauge consistency: You want the batter to pour off your fingers like thick cream. It should come off them in a nice stream, not like water, but not thick like yogurt.

Once combined (and you’ve washed your hands), take note of your batter line—ideally you want the batter to rise well above this, so you could mark the outside of the container with a piece of tape or marker if you don’t think you’ll remember. Cover the vessel lightly. You can use cloth, plastic wrap, or even the lid if it allows for a little air flow but still keeps the warmth in. I use plastic wrap and then cover with a light cotton dishtowel.

Move the vessel to a very warm place (75 to 80 degrees is ideal) and allow it to ferment for 12 to 18 hours. I put mine in the cupboard above the refrigerator and it works like a charm, usually taking about 17 to 18 hours for a hefty rise. It seriously feels like Christmas morning to me waking up to see if my batter has risen! But maybe this is just me.

Once your batter has risen, it should look crazy bubbly and beautiful (see photo at the top of this post). It will also have a slightly tangy smell. If nothing has happened, cross your fingers and give it some more time. Sadly, if it never rises, it’s hard to save things and I recommend starting over, considering the suggestions mentioned in my Notes below.

Assuming things have worked, congratulations!, it’s time to make your iddly and dosas! I like to steam a few iddly first (usually about 16—they’re small and you’ll have a lot of batter), then use the rest to make dosa.

To make iddly: You will need a steamer for this, and some sort of small cups (like ramekins) to steam them in. You can also buy an iddly steamer for relatively cheap if you plan on making them a lot–I think I got mine for about $15 from the Indian grocery store.

Either way, grease your molds with a little oil or ghee and gently scoop out some of the batter, filling to about 3/4 of the way full. You really don’t want to stir down or crush those beautiful bubbles in the batter—they are what make the iddly taste like little clouds. Be gentle.

Steam the iddly for 12 to 15 minutes—you will know they’re done when (after cooling down for a minute), you touch the top and it feels dry. Leave in their molds for a few minutes before removing.

To make dosas: Stir down the batter and add a bit more salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon maybe). You may also need to add some water–the consistency should be somewhere in between crepe batter and pancake batter. It should pour easily off a spoon.

Heat a pan on the stove to medium heat. I use two cast iron flat griddle pans, which are perfect because they hold the heat well and also don’t have tall sides that interfere with spreading. The also make the dosa nice and crispy. You can use non-stick if that’s all you’ve got.

Spread a little oil onto the pan, then take a ladleful of the batter (about 1/4 cup), and pour it in the center (remember, the pan needs to be hot so that batter “sticks” immediately). Using the bottom side of the ladle, spread the batter out into a larger circle, working from the center out, and always in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). You want the batter spread really thin. This takes practice but don’t fear! You’ll get the hang of it. I watched so many youtube videos before mastering it myself that I should probably send those people a check.

Allow the dosa to cook for a minute or so, sprinkling a little oil around the edges as needed. It should brown and release itself from the bottom of the pan on its own, or with just a little bit of help from your spatula. I typically do not cook the other side because it doesn’t need it, but if yours is thick and you think you need to, go for it.

Serve the dosas (and the iddly) hot with whatever spicy curry, dal, or chutney you like. We always go with the classic: turmeric-spiced potatoes and coconut chutney, along with some ghee. Perhaps I’ll cover those in a future post …but for now, enjoy the fact that you’ve mastered perhaps the most quintessential Indian breakfast dish!

Leftover dosa batter can be refrigerated and used for at least a week. Leftover steamed iddly freezes superbly—one of our favorite quick breakfasts is to slice the thawed iddly in half lengthwise and shallow fry them in a little oil.

Notes:

  • Iddly rice is not the same as regular rice. It is parboiled and very short-grained. Without going into too many science-y details, it’s much better for dosa/iddly because of the proteins it contains. All of these items are available at all Indian grocers–and for cheap cheap cheap! Stored well, they’ll last for months. Just look for skinned, whole urad dal if you can (it’s white and round). Like the iddly rice, it’s better for dosa than the split, unhusked version. Ask for help if you’re not sure—the staff should know exactly what you mean and will be happy to assist. You may feel intimidated at first, but I promise you no one cares if pronounce something wrong, or spend an hour meandering the aisles (speaking from experience here…).
  • Natural fermentation draws in (healthy) microbes from the air to act as your yeast and give the batter lift, which is vital in giving the final product its slightly tangy, light-as-air texture and taste—not to mention its health qualities. Unfortunately for many U.S. households, we have over-sterilized things so much that it can be difficult to grab these yeasts from the air, so here are my tips for ensuring success:
    • Do not over-rinse the grains; you don’t want to wash away all those wild yeasts already on the rice and dal!
    • Use the fenugreek seeds—these aid in grabbing extra yeast from the air. Pretty sure this tip has been around for hundreds of years. Indian grandmothers never steer you wrong.
    • Leave your bowls uncovered when soaking; again, more opportunities for new microbes to join the party. Better yet, leave the bowls near a houseplant, as they usually have good wild activity to draw from.
    • If you have sourdough starter handy, consider adding a spoonful to the soaking water as well—I find this immensely helpful in kickstarting life.
The first dosa (spinach) I ever had in India. I still dream of this.

The first dosa I ever had in India. On the drive to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), we stopped at this tiny little restaurant connected to a gas station, in the middle of nowhere. I ordered this spinach dosa and that.was.it.     Life, fulfilled.