Beatrice Ojakangas

Recipes from the Scandinavian Chef

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Location: Duluth, Minnesota, United States


Visiting India

When we left Duluth, it was just about 32 degrees F. but wondered if I’d need my coat in the tropical weather of south India. I decided I’d take it anyway. Detroit was cold, Paris was chilly, but when we stepped off the plane (30 hours later) onto the tarmac in Bangalore, in the middle of the night it was about 80 degrees. Off came the coat!
India has the reputation of “exciting all the senses” you know, of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. It’s true. But if fright could be one of the “senses”, I would put it right on top of the list. The feel of warm air, the smell of exhaust, the lights, were all topped off by the traffic: Three-wheelers and motorcycles wove through cars, busses, trucks, a tractor pulling a wagon, oxen pulling a cart, sometimes six abreast on a two-lane street with no traffic signals. They drive on the left side of the road and the pace was not slow. It was a game of “chicken!”
But the warm cooking aromas of spices – ginger, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, peppers and chilies permeated the guest house we entered as well as the homes we visited. These are the flavors and aromas I was the most interested in.
So here I have attempted to offer simplified Indian recipes to complete one meal. As a guest in Indian homes, I quickly discovered that a full meal took just a few minutes to prepare because the efficient cook toasts and grinds her own favorite spice combinations ready to use. so that cooking can be quick (they need to conserve on fuel), and food brought to the table is really fresh.

Spiced Cauliflower appetizer (Gobi Manchurian)
We had this several times, an example of Indo-Chinese fusion cooking. This is especially popular in southern India and Bangalore.
Serves 4
4 cups fresh cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Oil for deep frying
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon soy sauce
5 to 6 fresh chopped basil leaves (optional)
Rinse the cauliflower in cold water; set aside. Combine the flour, cornstarch, chili powder and salt. Mix the ginger, and garlic and add half to the flour mixture. Toss florets in the seasoned flour. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a small pan or skillet. Add the florets and fry in batches until golden brown. Drain and set aside.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the oil and add the onions, bell pepper and chilies. Saute over medium heat until vegetables are tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Mix the remaining ginger-garlic mixture with the tomato paste and soy sauce and add to the pan. Stir-fry for 2 minutes over medium heat. Toss the fried cauliflower into the mixture and cook until heated through. Turn into a serving bowl and garnish with basil leaves.

Carrot, Spinach, and Coconut Soup (Gaajar Palak Rasam)
This is a creamy, smooth soup infused with Indian spices. To make removal of the spices easy, either wrap them in a piece of cheesecloth or put them into a tea diffuser.
Serves 4
8 cups vegetable stock or water
1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
8 green cardamom pods, crushed (include pods in the mix)
4 whole cloves
1-inch stick cinnamon
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 1/2 cups peeled, chopped carrots
1 package (5-ounces) baby spinach leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup coconut milk or cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Heat the stock in a large saucepan. Tie the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves in a piece of cheesecloth. Place into the boiling stock along with the carrots, spinach, cayenne pepper, lime juice and salt to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove from the heat and discard the spice bag. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Turn into a saucepan and add the coconut milk or cream; heat to simmering and serve garnished with chopped cilantro.

Lentils with Cumin and Chilies (Dal)
I think we had lentils at each and every meal for two weeks. Normally, all foods are eaten with a torn off piece of chapatti, or flat bread. Utensils are not usually offered, and you use your right hand to tear off a piece of the bread. You use this piece to pick up your food in the fold of the bread, Dal varies from simple to complex. This is a simple version.
Serves 4
1 cup lentils, preferably pink, washed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
4 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 whole dried red chilies
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils, turmeric,salt, and water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, about 25 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
Ladle about 1/2 cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return to the pot and stir. Continue cooking 5 minutes to thicken.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring until they turn a light brown color 1 to 2 minutes. Add the whole chilies and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add the cayenne.
Stir half of the oil mixture and all of the lime juice into the dal and simmer gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and pour remaining oil mixture over the top. Serve hot.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Although we mainly ate vegetarian, this is one of the more delightful chicken dishes, aromatic with spices, and quick to prepare.
Serves 4
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1 pound
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 whole cardamom pods
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
1 1/2 onions, chopped
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk or 1 cup plain yogurt.
Hot Basmati rice for serving.
Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes; set aside. In a large, shallow skillet, heat the oil and add the cardamom pods and cinnamon stick; heat for a few seconds until aromatic, remove and discard the cardamom and cinnamon.
Add the onions, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, Garam Masala, paprika, turmeric and pepper to the pan. Cook over medium-low heat until onions are tender. Add the tomato and tomato paste along with the water. Simmer and stir until blended, then add the chicken cubes and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Add the coconut milk or yogurt and stir until blended. Serve hot with Basmati Rice.

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