North Indian Spiced Butternut Pumpkin and Split Pea Soup with Garlicky Chard

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I know, I know. It’s April, and you might be asking, why on earth is she posting a butternut pumpkin soup recipe? Let’s say, that spring hasn’t exactly arrived here in Germany. The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind, both the weather and health-wise for me. The weather was basically like this; crazy, cold wind, sun, rain, hail, storm, all in one day. And me, well, I haven’t felt so crappy in a long time. After getting tests done for more than 24 hours, (which obviously included staying at the hospital. Eeek), I told the doctors that I would probably feel worse if they kept me there for yet another night, even if it’s just for observation. The food there, as with most hospital food, was pretty disgusting. The good news is, they haven’t found anything. The bad news is, I almost feel worse after the tests. Spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, turns out to be the most painful thing I have ever experienced. Anyways. I’m home now, and despite the pain in along spine, and dizziness, I whipped up this soup. (feel free to call me Wonder Woman 😉 )I feel a bit better now. I promise you, I’ll be posting a spring recipe soon. I haven’t been to the market in a while, but with the weather like this, I doubt the farmers have any new seasonal vegetables. Meanwhile, stay healthy, and those of us in Germany, hang in there. There will be rhubarb, asparagus, peas, and other wonderful new season’s produce very soon. xo A.

North Indian Spiced Butternut Pumpkin&Split Pea Soup with Garlickly Chard

*Recipe note: The ingredient list seems long, but most of the spices should be easy to buy, or you might have them already in your pantry. The idea of topping the soup with greens was adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy.

** For those in Leipzig, Yellow Split peas can be found at the Asian market on Hainstr., or at selected organic supermarkets such as Macis or Denns in Höfe mall on Goerdelering. 

Serves 3-4

1 small butternut pumpkin, split in half length wise, seeds and membranes scooped out

1/2 cup (sorry didn’t measure in grams) yellow split peas, washed well

1 Tbsp rapeseed oil, or coconut oil

5 whole cardamom pods

5 cloves

5 cm cassia bark, or cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

2 small onions, chopped finely

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

a thumb-sized ginger, peeled and chopped finely

1 tsp coriander

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

125ml coconut milk

1-2 tsp lime juice

For the chard,

1/2 Tbsp rapeseed oil or coconut oil

1 large clove garlic, finely sliced

1 hot, dried chili,

6-7 leaves chard, finely sliced

1/2 tsp garam masala

A dash of lime juice

1. Turn on the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Rub the pumpkin halves with a bit of oil, lay them, cut side down, on a lined baking sheet. Roast until the flesh becomes soft. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. In a heavy bottomed, large sauce pan, over medium heat, add the oil, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinammon, and onions. Stir around until they become soft and lightly golden. The spices will smell wonderfully fragrant. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir for about 2 mins.

3. Add the coriander powder, turmeric, and chili powder. Stir once or twice, before adding the split peas, 1.5 tsp salt, and 1l of filtered water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 30 mins, or until the peas are tender. Remove the cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinammon, and cloves. They should be fairly easy to find.

4. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh, discarding the skin, and add to the sauce pan.  Add the coconut milk. Puree with a hand held blender, or a blender of your choice, until smooth. Add the lime juice. Check for seasoning.

5. For the chard, in a medium sized frying pan, over medium heat, add the oil, garlic, and chili. Once the garlic becomes soft and lightly coloured, add the chard, and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir for about 2 mins, add a good splash of water, and immediately cover with a lid. Let it steam for a minute or two. Remove the lid, add the garam masala, and stir for another minute. Stir in a dash or two of lime juice.

6. Serve the soup with some chard on top.

South Indian Sambar

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This is exciting. I’m doing a post on Indian food!

I love, luuuuuuurve Indian food. (I actually don’t know anyone who doesn’t) Although I have eaten at Indian restaurants many times, the first time I cooked an Indian meal myself was probably 7-8 years ago when I shared a flat with a wonderful girl called Eike from Northern Germany. I remember walking into her place when I was hunting for a new room. The kitchen was decent sized, which is hard to come by in Germany, the sun was shining through the big kitchen window, and I spotted a small shelf of cookbooks. At that moment, I thought, I need to move in here! This person actually likes food and cooking! A few month later, I moved in. I started looking through her books soon after and one of them was a simple Indian cookbook written in german. I think I might have cooked a chicken curry. What kind, I do not recall, as my knowledge of Indian food back then went  as far as “rogan josht” (“say what? ah! lamb curry!”), “vindaloo” (the spiciest curry on the menu in every Indian place so I loved it) or “butter chicken”.  I think the book was pretty basic too but it had all the right spices I think, because when I cooked it, it actually tasted like food I ate in Restaurants! Ha! I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

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I didn’t cook Indian regularly though until I discovered Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. It’s a fantastic book for a general overview of Indian as well as other ethnic food. This book was introduced to me incidentally by Paige who became my best friend over the years and moved into the flat one year when Eike went off on an exchange program. I discovered much more about Indian food with this book. I also discovered cooking beans from scratch tasted a million times better than buying canned ones. Paige and I cooked a lot in that year when we lived together. We fed many hungry friends from uni who seemed to love our food (I think?) although looking back, I do think our food was kind of too spicy. Nevertheless, now Paige turns out to be one of two people in the world I can cook with, (the first one being mum) and I also learned to cook 3-4 dishes at the same time.

Madhur Jaffrey is from Delhi, so a lot of her recipes are northern Indian in World Vegetarian. I have a friend here called Malavika who is a Kiwi but originally from Kerala. I have always wanted to make South Indian food but it seemed more complicated than its counterpart. (Dosa? Idli??) I haven’t tackled making Dosa yet, but a few weeks ago, Malavika came over to show me her mum’s amazing Sambar recipe that she’s been raving about. Sambar is a sweet-sour lentil stew made with Toovar dal (pigeon peas). It definitely seemed like it had more steps and spices than the regular Hyderabadi lentil stew that I make often. It turned out to be delicious as promised and I made the recipe again the other day. I tweaked a few things. Instead of boiling the onion and veggies in water and adding the cooked dal, I fried the onion and tomatoes, and the masala paste, before adding the veggies and dal.

The recipe might seem long because of the list of spices. I will someday figure out how to make those nifty recipe boxes like in other blogs where you can even print out the recipe. But in meanwhile, bare with me. This dish can be made in 30 minutes if you are organized and own a pressure cooker. Most Asian stores have these spices, lentils, and frozen coconut flesh, and they are inexpensive. Once you have them, you can make more Indian food! Isn’t that great? 🙂

And last but not least, on cooking lentils; I own a pressure cooker which makes cooking a speedy process. If you don’t own one, try looking on eBay to see if a pressure cooker needs a new home. It won’t be as pricey as buying a new one, and it will save you time and energy when you cook beans and lentils next time.

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South Indian Sambar 

This recipe was the winner of The Guardian Cook‘s Reader’s Recipe Swap. 🙂

Closely adapted from Malavika’s mum’s recipe (thank you!)

Serves: 4 or more if you serve other curries/pickles/chutney with the sambar.

For cooking lentils

1 cup toovar dal (or toor dal)

3-4 cups water

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 peeled medium sized tomatoes, finely chopped (or use canned for a speedier process)

1 red onion, finely chopped

1-2 tsp golden syrup

1-2 tsp tamarind paste or pulp

1-2 tsp salt

For the masala

1 tsp rapeseed oil or coconut oil

6-8 curry leaves, depending on their size

1 tbsp chana dal (split chickpeas)

a pinch of fenugreek seeds

4 peppercorns

2 tbsp grated (frozen) coconut

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tsp chili powder

1 1/2 tsp sambar powder (south indian spice mix, it can be found at most asian markets)

A pinch of Asafoetida

A handful or two of chopped veggies such as 

-Green beans

-Cauliflower

-Carrot

-cooked potato

Seasoning (tarka)

1 tbsp rapeseed oil/coconut oil

10-15 curry leaves (more or less to your taste, but I love curry leaves)

1 tsp black mustard seeds

a pinch of fenugreek seeds

1-2 dried chilis

To serve: Basmati rice, coriander leaves

1. Wash the lentils until the water runs clear. There are two ways of cooking the lentils;

-Place the lentils in a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water and a tablespoon of oil and turmeric. If using a pressure cooker, bring the pressure up to high, turn the heat to medium-low and maintain the pressure for 20 minutes. Release the pressure by running the top of the pot under cold water.

OR

-Place the lentils in a heavy based saucepan with 4 cups of water and turmeric. Bring to boil and let it simmer for an hour or more, until the lentils are soft. I suspect if you soak the lentils over-night, it will take a little less time to cook.

2. Make the masala. In a small frying pan in a medium-low heat, add all the ingredients for the masala except the sambar powder. Roast until fragrant, but do NOT burn!

3. Add no.2 with the sambar powder in a spice grinder/blender with enough water to make a smooth paste.

4. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Fry the onion until lightly brown.

5. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Turn the heat down a little, and  add the masala paste and cook for 2-3 minutes.

6. Add the cooked lentils. Add water if it seems too thick. Add salt. (about 1 tsp or more. Start with less)

7. Add the vegetables. Cook until tender. Add the golden syrup and tamarind paste at this stage. If you use tamarind paste, try adding bit by bit, as every paste seems to have a different concentration. Check for sweet/sour balance.

8. For the seasoning, heat the oil in medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and wait until they pop. Add the curry leaves, dried chilis and fenugreek seeds and stir around for 20-30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add to the lentils and stir to mix and let the flavour mingle.

9. Serve with basmati rice, and coriander leaves sprinkled on top.