Ruvaangan Kuffte (Lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce)

Every family kitchen has at least one staple dish – you know the one that will be cooked every week, irrespective of whatever else is going on. In my mum’s kitchen it was, well, basically this or that variation on what was essentially a lamb curry : syun. We always had syun with rice, and anything else was sort of, extra. Well in my kitchen, (and this is thanks entirely to the seven year old who has taken over my life and owns me heart and soul), its meatballs. Koftas in Urdu, Kuffte moenjje in Kashmiri. These are delicately flavoured lamb meatballs, cooked in a tangy tomato sauce. (There is of course a meatballs-with-spinach variant that goes down a treat as well – but that’s another post.)

Like I said, I make these pretty much every week. And I promise this is an easy recipe – kitchen to table in about an hour.

Also, I must say, that I use a couple of spices in this recipe that are not traditionally used in Kashmiri cooking. Coriander seeds, for example. I feel that these and black peppercorns add a lovely depth to the flavours here, though. But please do feel free to leave these out if you prefer a more traditional flavour.

Let’s get to it then –

Ingredients:

For the Koftas –

1 kilo of good quality lamb mince – find a butcher who sells organic. So worth it.

3-4 fat cloves of garlic.

1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger

Handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 small shallot – Finely chopped

Whole Spices:

2-3 pods of black cardamoms

1-2 teaspoons of cumin

1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds

2-3 whole pepper corns

Ground spices:

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1/2 teaspoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Pinch or two of cinnamon powder


For the Tomato Sauce:

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes – roughy chopped, if you’re crazy like me and like to de-seed your tomatoes, well don’t let me stop you (You can substitute fresh tomatoes with good quality organic Passata, with fabulous results – also cuts down on cooking down when you’re up against it).

1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

2-3 fat cloves of garlic – crushed

3-4 shallots – sliced

Oil – I’m an olive oil kind of girl – but you know that

Method:

For the Koftas:

So first of all what you need to do is find yourself a big old pan and dry roast the following : cumin, coriander seeds, seeds from the black cardamom pods, black peppercorns – till everything is lovely and fragrant, about 3-4 mins. Now transfer all these lovely roasted spices in to a pestle and mortar and grind everything up into a smooth powder. To this add your garlic, ginger, chopped shallot, and grind everything up into a smooth paste. Next put your ground spices, and salt in, and mix everything together. Thats your spice paste ready.

What you need to do now is put your lamb mince in a big enough bowl, add your home-made-extra-delicious-spice-paste and some of that chopped coriander. Now comes the fun part: you basically need to make sure that all the spices are evenly distributed throughout the mince, and you could use a big spoon, some people use forks etc but seriously the best way to do this is to get stuck in there with your hands. Go on. You know you want to.

So once everything is all mixed up, (and take your time. In many ways this is the most critical step. We don’t want lumpy masala in your koftas now, do we?) wash your hands and pour 2-3 fingers worth of water in your pan and put it on a medium flame. What you are going to do next is use your hands to shape your mince into oblong “balls”, and drop them in to the water. Once all the koftas are in, and the pan comes to a boil, cover, simmer and let it be. For now.

For the Tomato sauce:

While the koftas are doing their thing, take another pan, and add a good glug of oil to it. Then add your sliced shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent – about 4-5 minutes. To this add your crushed garlic, and fry for a minute or two till fragrant. in goes the cinnamon/ cassia stick. (You could add a bit of turmeric at this point, but I don’t because I like my tomato sauce to be really really red! Also you could put some chilli powder in, if you fancy a hotter sauce.) Next add your tomatoes and fry some more. Sprinkle of salt, cover, turn the heat to med-low and let the tomatoes sweat. You basically want to fry them down to the point where all the water’s gone and you can see oil in the pan.

And Finally:

So when you get there and your tomatoes are nicely fried all you need to do is pour them all over the nicely simmering koftas. Give everything a good old stir, bring the pan back to boil, cover and simmer for another 10 mins or so.

And there you are. Perfect Koftas. Lovely Sauce.

Please tell me you remembered to put the rice on? Yes? Good.

 

 

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Tchoek vaangan/ Kashmiri khattey baingan/ Baby aubergines in a tamarind sauce

So usually one vegetable will have one name in one language, yes? In English a tomato, for example, is a tomato, a carrot is called a carrot, and an onion an onion.

Oh and then there are some that are called by two different names, in the same language, depending on where you are. When I first came to this country, for example, no one knew what I was talking about when I asked for capsicum, because here they call them peppers – green, red, yellow, orange. Coriander is apparently called cilantro in America etc.

And then there are aubergines. Or eggplants. Or brinjals. *eye roll*. For the longest time I thought these were all different varieties. And in as much as there are white/ yellow eggplants etc, maybe that’s true. In any case I’ve made my peace with all these names, though I have to say I prefer the Kashmiri “vaangan”.

And that brings me, quite neatly, to Kashmiri tchoek vaangan. These are baby aubergines cooked in a spicy tamarind sauce. No onions. No tomatoes. And in the Kashmiri Pandit version, no garlic.

Fun fact – most Kashmiri recipes don’t use tomatoes, because tomatoes came to the region after these brilliant recipes had already been perfected. Ahem.

Anyway.

This is one of those quintessential Kashmiri recipes – up there with RoghanJosh and Yakhni. There aren’t many purely vegetarian dishes that get Kashmiris going, but this is definitely one.

Mum’s recipe again, this. What I love about calling her up for recipes is how she assumes a certain level of knowledge. For this recipe, for example, I asked her at the very end, “so no garlic? Or ginger powder?” And she goes, “tch of course you put garlic with the haldi/ mirch. And ginger powder at the end.” 🙄😊

She’s the best ❤.

Should we get to it then?

Ingredients –

1 kilo of baby aubergines. Washed. The idea is to leave the stems on, and cut them lengthwise twice, so you have four long slices, still attached at the stem. Easier than it sounds. Believe me.

2-3 fat cloves of garlic. Crushed.

About 1-2 teaspoons of tamarind. You can use fresh whole tamarind, dried, paste, all work. You can substitute this with lemon/ lime juice, even vinegar. This is where the tartness comes from.

Whole spices –
2-3 pods of black cardamoms
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

Ground spices –
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1-2 teaspoons of kashmiri red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger powder
1 teaspoon of ground fennel powder

Salt

Oil

Method:

So first of all you take a pan full of boiling water and drop your washed, slices aubergines in, just long enough for everything to come back to the boil. Then using a sieve, or a colander, drain all the water out and let the aubergines dry a bit.

In another pan put your tamarind in with some water and bring to boil. Then simmer and cook till the pulp separates from the stones and you have a fairly homogeneous tamarind-water. Sieve to get rid of the stones and skins, and set aside.

Next heat a generous amount of oil in a thick bottomed wide pan. In to this add your blanched, drained aubergines, in a single layer. You’re basically trying to deep fry them, on all sides, without actually deep frying them, and making sure they don’t break in the process, so go easy with the stirring. Once you’re happy with your aubergines take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Now in the same pan add your cumin, Kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric, and garlic. In the Kashmiri Pandit version of this garlic is substituted with asafoetida. Fry everything together till fragrant – 2-3 minutes, then add a little of the tamarind water and cook it down, then do this again, and one more time, till you’ve used up all your tamarind water.

Now return your aubergines to the pan, making sure to coat them in the sauce. Add some water, not too much, because the idea is to cook it all down without turning the aubergines in to a pulp. To this then add the black cardamoms, cassia/ cinnamon, fennel and ginger powders. Salt to taste. Stir everything in. Bring it all to boil. Cover. Simmer, till the water is all gone and your aubergines and soft and cooked through. A bit of coriander to garnish, if you like, and you’re done.

This is served with, yep, lots of white fluffy rice. Usually alongside at least one meat dish. But it’s okay, you focus on the aubergines. Ahem.

 

Sundried Turnips with Lamb (with step by step pictures)

Apart from being stunningly beautiful, and green, and lush, and surrounded by towering mountains, with lakes and rivers and springs everywhere, Kashmir is also a place where  winters can be pretty harsh. Lots of snow, freezing cold – so basically nothing grows for about 3-4 months. Which sort of explains our fixation with meat – mostly lamb. But it also explains the fabulous variety of sun-dried vegetables that are staples during the winter months. Tomatoes, marrow, aubergines, turnips – we basically sun dry everything that grows during the summer for the long, cold winters. And then we cook them, mostly with lamb, all through those dreary freezing months, in beautiful warming stews. This one I’m sharing now is one of my all time favourites, with *cold-winter-evening* written all over it. Sun-dried turnips with lamb. Now, by now you know that the Kashmiri love for turnips is pretty legendary – on their own, with lamb, with red kidney beans, with red kidney beans *and* lamb – oh yeah. Well our love for Gogjje-aare, or sun-dried turnips, is just as special. And this curry/ stew is a thing of pure joy and beauty. Trust me.

Ingredients:

400gms of sun-dried turnips (these are basically turnips that have been washed, peeled, cut into thin circles, then strung up together and left to dry).

2-3 small shallots – thinly sliced.

3-4 cloves of garlic – finely chopped, or crushed.

500gms of lamb – I used chops, but then I *always* use chops. Feel free to use whatever cut you prefer.

Salt to taste.

Oil for cooking.

Whole Spices:

11 green cardamoms.

3 black cardamoms.

1 teaspoon of cumin.

1 cinnamon stick.

Ground Spices:

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric.

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder.

1 teaspoon (or more if you like your curry hotter) of Kashmiri red chilli powder.

Method:

Alright so the first thing you want to do is get your dried turnips off of the string, and wash them really well in plenty of running cold water. Then put them in a pan, cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. Let the pan boil for a good 5-7 mins. Then take off the heat, drain and put aside.

Next, take a wide bottomed pan and heat up a good glug of oil. Add the shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent. To this add the meat and fry on both sides till golden brown.

Now add the garlic, whole spices as well as the ground spices to the pan and mix everything really well to ensure that the meat is evenly coated. Fry everything together for 1-2 mins, till you can smell all the lovely spices.

At this stage add the turnips to your pan, give everything a good old stir. Fry for another couple of minutes till the turnips are all nicely coated with the spices. Then add just enough water to cover the meat/ turnips. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for about one and a half hours till the meat is terribly tender and the the turnips almost melting into the curry.

Garnish, if you want with fresh coriander, and serve with lots of fluffy white rice. Perfection.

 

 

Green Beet Smoothie

So you know I’m a bit smoothie obsessed these days. And really if it isn’t green it isn’t super. You do the usual spinach, kale, Spring greens thing. And then you get a bit bored of the lovely, but same-old smoothies. So, in honour of Saturday I decided to shake things up a bit.

What are your thoughts on black cabbage? I confess I’d never even heard of it till yesterday. Turns out its Kale’s Italian cousin. All the goodness of Kale, slightly bitter and peppery. What’s not to love! (Having said that if you’re not of the *the-bitterer-the-better* school of thought, maybe just substitute black cabbage with regular kale. Yes? Good.)

Oh and beetroot, which is what gives this smoothie it’s lovely purple colour. Anyway let’s get to it then.

Ingredients:

1-2 leaves of black cabbage.

3-4 leaves of heart of lettuce.

Handful of coriander.

1 clementine.

Half a beetroot.

1/4 of a cucumber.

1 red raddish.

1 banana.

About an inch of ginger.

Half an inch of fresh turmeric.

2 Mejdool dates.

1/2 a cup of fresh/frozen strawberries.

3 walnuts.

4 cashews.

Method:

So basically all you do is prepare your ingredients – wash everything, peel, remove shells, stones – put everything in your blender, top up with water, and blend. And voilà, one super-green-purple-smoothie!

 

 

Best Ever Granola

So here’s the thing about breakfast cereals: I do not like them. At all. Not one little bit. Why? Well. They taste awful. Very little nutrition. And really not all that good for you either. In fact with most breakfast cereals all you can really taste is the sugar. (And cardboard?) In my mind, the worst, unhealthiest breakfast you can think of is still better than most ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But – and if you are a time-strapped-working-parent this is a very very significant but – oh but the convenience of it! You open a box, pour a portion out into a bowl, add milk/ yoghurt, and within 30 seconds you’ve got breakfast on the table. But – yup another but – my point is this need not be and either/or proposition. In one word – GRANOLA. Yup. Make it at home and you get to control exactly what goes in, so you can make it as healthy or as naughty as you want knowing that even the naughtiest granola you make at home is going to be only a gazillion times better than your boxed cereals. Win-win, I say.

(I like my granola crunchy and not too sweet, but you can up the sweetness by adding an extra dash of honey if thats what rocks your boat.)

So, here we go.

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil.

3-4 tablespoons of agave nectar.

2-3 tablespoons of honey.

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

300g rolled oats.

125g of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed).

100g of nuts (I used pecans this time, but you could used chopped almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew – or even a mixture of some or all of these).

50g of desiccated coconut.

100g of dried fruit (I don’t really like dried fruit in this, but it can be done and works quite well. You could use dried berries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, whatever tickles your fancy.)

 

Method:

This is the easiest thing to make. In the Universe. Really. All you need to do is pre-heat your oven to 150C, which is 130C with fan, prepare two baking sheets/trays, and find yourself a big mixing bowl. Into the bowl add the oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla, and mix. Tip in all the other ingredients, except the coconut. Give everything a good strong stir or five.

Now pour the granola mix onto the two trays and spread it out into an even layer. Into the oven for about 20-25 minutes. At this point get your trays out, mix in the coconut and dried fruit, and put them back in for another 15-20 minutes. Get out of the oven and let it cool before having a taste. Oh well, at least try.

Once completely cooled, you can store this is an airtight container for up to a month. (Though I admit I’ll be shocked if it lasts that long in your kitchen. In mine its all gone in a week, at the most :).) Absolutely fantastic with cold milk, over yoghurt, or on its own. Breakfast on the table in 30 seconds. And with good carbs, good fats and protein, fabulously good for you. Yay.

So. What have we learnt today? The best breakfast cereal is the one you make at home. Yes? Good.

Walnut Bread

So what if I told about a recipe for walnut bread — yummy, beautiful, moist walnut bread, dotted with chocolate chips even — that uses no butter, and no processed/ refined sugars? Hmm? Well. Prepare to be amazed. This is just the thing for winter afternoons. Make yourself a steaming hot cup of cocoa. Cut yourself a generous slice of this beautiful walnut bread, smother it with full fat butter, sit back and tuck in. I promise you, whatever it is that you are struggling with right now, this will make it better :).

Lets get started!

Ingredients:

75g of unrefined brown sugar.

175g of honey, or agave nectar (I went half and half).

200ml of whole milk (you could use almond milk and turn this into a lacto-free recipe).

50g of chocolate chips – optional (but lets face it, chocolate chips make everything better).

50g of roughly chopped walnuts.

225g of self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon of baking powder.

1 egg, beaten.

Method:

The first thing you want to do is preheat your oven to 180C, which is 160C with fan. And grease and line a standard loaf tin with baking paper.

Next up, get yourself a pan and pour in the milk, sugar, honey/agave nectar, and heat gently till all the sugar has dissolved. You will need to let it cool quite a bit before getting on to the next step.

Now get a large mixing bowl and put your flour, baking powder, walnuts and chocolate chips in. To this add the cooled syrup. And then the egg. Mix everything together really well, till you have a smooth mixture.

Pour this into your tin, sprinkle some more walnuts on top, and in it goes, in to your preheated oven for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once done, let it cool in the tin for about 10 mins, and then turn out on to a cooling rack.

Or in any event *try* and let it cool before you do that thing we talked about earlier, you know with the cocoa and butter etc.

 

Baked Banana Blueberry Date Oats

So I realise that I’m very very lucky in that I actually enjoy my work and don’t quite understand *monday blues*. In fact I quite love Mondays. And all the other days. My only gripe with working weekdays is that I don’t have enough time for a proper cooked breakfast. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that when I say proper cooked breakfast I mean porridge, of course. Oh and baked oatmeal. The real reason I love weekends? I can actually spend half an hour in the morning baking oats. Seriously. So here’s a Sunday morning ritual : pot of tea – loose leaf first flush Assam these days, get boy started on some warm golden milk and a homemade granola bar, and then bake oats. Oh yes.

This morning it was banana, blueberries, dates, almonds, and a splash of Agave nectar. So so beautiful.

Let’s get to it then:

Ingredients:

1 cup organic rolled oats. (You know how I feel about organic, unprocessed food by now. Yes? Good.)

2 small bananas. Sliced

2-3 dates. I used Mejdool – roughly chopped.

1 cup of blueberries – rinsed.

1/2 cup of rice milk. You could use almond milk, even regular milk.

11 almonds – roughly chopped.

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

1 tablespoon of agave nectar (totally optional this).

Some boiling water.

Method:

So, first of all you need to pre-heat your oven to 190C, which is 170C with a fan. Then pour your oats into a bowl, cover with just enough boiling water and let them soak for about 10 minutes.

While the oats are doing their thing, prep all your other ingredients – fruits nuts etc. Then stir everything including the rice milk, agave nectar, and cinnamon powder into your oats.

Transfer to a baking dish. I like to put some banana slices on top just because it looks pretty :).

In it goes into your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, till it’s nice and golden on top.

And you’re done. So awesome this is. Baking fruits caramelises natural sugars so everything is sweeter, the flavours deeper. And in any case you know you’re winning when boy wants seconds. Oh yes.

 

A Bagful of Almonds – III – Chocolate Coconut Bites

Okay, so I have obviously saved the best for the last. You know when it’s mid-morning, or late afternoon, and you crave something sweet, and invariably reach for a bar of chocolate, or in my case, a flapjack? Sound familiar? Yes? Well, these little drops of goodness are perfect for those times, and they have absolutely nothing bad in them. Actually a health food. So you can stuff your face, within reason, without the slightest twinge of guilt. The sweetness in these comes from sticky sweet dates, the creaminess from almonds and coconut oil, and the general awesomeness from cocoa powder. Oh and this is another one for your blender by the way.

Should we get straight to it then? Good.

Ingredients:

1 cup of almonds.

1 cup of desiccated coconut.

3-4 tablespoons of almond butter (you could use any nut butter here).

1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

6-7 big fresh sticky dates – Medjool are really good, but I’ve made these with Daglet Nour dates as well, and those work just as well.

Drizzle of honey (optional).

Method:

First of all put your almonds and desiccated coconut in to your blender and blend till a flour forms (remember to use the milling blade if like me, you are doing this in the Nutribullet).

Next add the nut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder, honey, and blend (extractor blade now). Then add the dates, slowly, so say, two at a time, and blend till you’ve used up all the dates and you’re left with a thick sticky mixture. Do take care not to over blend, because if you do your mixture could become too oily (almonds will release their oils, longer you blend).

So once you have your sticky mixture ready all you need to do is roll portions into balls and then dip those in extra coconut to coat them. Leave them to firm up a bit in the fridge for about an hour or so, and you’re done.

Incredibly good. And so nutritious. And they keep really well in an airtight container, in the fridge, for about a week. All those chocolate/sugar cravings sorted for a week. You’re welcome.

 

 

 

A Bagful of Almonds – II – Almond Butter

So, this is going to be part II of  my adventures with, you guessed it, a bagful of almonds. Oh Yes.

Now, I love a good nut butter. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely and entirely and irrevocably in love with butter – never have done anything in moderation – but lets face it you can’t really get away with eating mountains of the stuff. Sigh. Slightly lactose intolerant in my old age, ahem, and also slight heart-scare recently. So all in all perfect time to look at alternatives that are delicious *and* good for you. And this is where nut butters come in. They are really really good for you. Good fat. Good protein. Lots of vitamins. And yummy. You can’t really go wrong with a good nut butter.

So of course almond butter is my favourite. I go through quite a lot of this stuff every week. And it ain’t cheap. Now since I had all these lovely almonds sitting there in a jar, I thought hey, maybe I should make some almond butter. And you know what, I did B-).

Again, you are going to need a powerful blender for this. I used the NutriBullet, obviously. Technically speaking you could, of course, make almond butter in a mortar & pestle, because essentially all you are doing is grinding the nuts up till they they emulsify into a sort of paste. So if you have the time, a big enough mortar & pestle, and very strong arm muscles, go for it!

Here:

Ingredients:

1 cup of almonds.

1 or 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

Drizzle of honey (optional).

Method:

First of all what you need to do is put your almonds in to the blend and grind them up into a flour. If you’re using the NutriBullet, for this you’ll have to use the milling blade. That done, add the coconut oil (and honey, if using), and blend – this time using the extractor blade. That basically is it Within minutes you’ve got yourself the most amazing jar of homemade Almond Butter. #Win, I’d say.

 

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A Bagful of Almonds – I – Almond Milk

So you know the Kashmiri love for almonds is legendary. Really. No happy occasion is complete without almonds. And no we don’t just do the usual things with them – you know, eating, cooking, baking. When we are happy with you, and you come to visit us, we will bring out at least one huge basket full of whole almonds and we will lovingly shower you with them. Seriously. And then when we are all done we will pick those almonds up off the floor, put them in lovely little pouches and send them off with you as a kind of a return gift.

Conversely if we are happy with you and we are visiting you, we will bring huge trays/baskets full of almonds to your house. Thats just what we do. Cute, eh?

Anyway, so now that you have a bit of context for my almond obsession, lets take this forward a bit. I picked up a 500gm bag of almonds from my grocer the other day, and since I’ve lately developed a bit of a lactose intolerance, and since I *love* almond milk, I thought how hard can it be to make your own. Turns out not very hard at all. In fact it is so easy, it’s ridiculous. And it turned out better than any almond  milk I’ve ever bought from anywhere. High praise that eh? Well, as they say, pudding – proof – eating.

(You will need a blender, and a cheesecloth/ muslin for this though.)

So here goes:

Ingredients:

1 cup of almonds – soaked in cold water, preferably overnight, but for at least 6 hours.

3 cups of water.

Method:

Easiest thing in the world. All you do is put the almonds and water in your blender – I used the NutriBullet, because, well obviously (If you’re using the NutriBullet then just make sure your water goes only up to the max line) – and blend for about a minute or so, till it’s all fairly liquid and there are no almonds left whole.

Then basically all you need to do is strain your almond-water-blend through a cheesecloth/ muslin, making sure to squeeze as much liquid out as you can. And there you have it – lovely, snowy, creamy almond milk. Drink it, pour it over your cereal, make your porridge with it, bake with it, stir it into smoothies – whatever you want. Just make sure you store it in an air-tight container and it’ll last at least a week in the fridge. Perfect, no?

Oh, almost forgot, you know the ground up almond pulp left behind in your cheesecloth, well, you can dry that and use it as almondmeal in porridges, sprinkled over cereal, even in baking. All you need to do is spread it out thinly and evenly on a baking sheet and put in in the oven on a very low temperature, around 100C, till its all dry – about 30-40 mins. Do keep checking and stirring and breaking lumps while it dries. Keeps really well in an airtight container too. Perfect, no?