Eggplant, Chickpea and Mushroom Pilaf with Toasted Almond Flakes

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I keep complaining how hard it is to get really good Indian food in Berlin. Sometimes I need to eat a plate of Indian food that is  vibrant with the complex flavours of fresh, whole spices. That is hard to find here so I have to cook it myself. I like this dish because, although it is rice based, it is light and  not at all stodgy. Use the best basmati rice that you can afford and rinse it well before use then be very careful to cook it lightly as it can turn to mush easily. Both eggplant and mushroom have good, strong texture and hold their flavour well. The toasted almonds add extra flavour and texture. It is really important to use fresh, whole spices, powder is just not the same in this dish.

Ingredients 

Serves 4

1 large onion thinly sliced

Half an eggplant cut int thin half moons

200g mushrooms cut into thick slices

2 medium tomatoes chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic, a whole green chili and a thumbnail sized piece of fresh ginger ground to a pulp

250g basmati rice rinsed

1 tin of chickpeas

1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds, fennel seeds and black mustard seeds

1 piece of cinnamon stick

2 black cardamom pods

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons of toasted almond flakes or slivers

A large handful of fresh coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onions gently in half of the oil until they are dark brown but not burnt. In a separate pan fry the eggplant and mushrooms in the rest of the oil. Toast all of the whole spices in a small dry pan but be careful not to burn them. Then combine them together with the chili, garlic, ginger paste, rice, onions, eggplant, mushrooms, chickpeas and tomatoes in a larger pan. Add just enough water to barely cover the rice and season. Bring slowly to the boil and  cover tightly with some foil before putting on the lid. Turn to a very low simmer until the rice is about two thirds cooked. Do not stir during this time.This will take about 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave with the lid on tight for a further 5 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and liberally garnish with almonds and coriander.

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Brussels Sprouts with Mustard,Cumin and Fennel Seeds

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Brussels sprouts are just coming into season in Europe. I hated these as a child and now cannot get enough of them. We eat huge piles of them in our house all through the season. They are best after the frost has been in them so taste much better in the winter. I could eat them on their own with a pool of gravy any day but it is nice to experiment with other ways to cook them, especially as they are part of the magic Cruciferous vegetable family that are so good for our immunity during the cold months. Apparently these kind of vegetables are better for us if we chop them before eating. Joel Fuhrman explains the science of this in his book Super Immunity.

I served these as a side dish with another more substantial curry but they could be served with just about anything.

Preparation time 5 minutes. Cooking time 10-15 minutes

Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

Half a kilo of Brussels sprouts finely sliced

Two shallots finely sliced

A crushed clove of garlic

A medium tomato finely chopped

Half a teaspoon each of toasted cumin seeds, fennel seeds and black mustard seeds

Half a tablespoon of oil for sautéing

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil and add the garlic, shallots and seeds. Stir fry for about three minutes until the garlic and shallots are soft. Add the sprouts and tomatoes and continue to stir fry for two minutes until they are coated in the other ingredients. Turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook until just soft or leave crunchy if you prefer. Season to taste.

Vegan Paneer Palak

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Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese used a lot in North Indian food and often served with spinach (palak). I love spinach and this recipe is very spinachy so be warned if you are not as keen on it. Spinach is high in iron but needs to be cooked with other veg that contain vitamin c in order for the iron to be absorbed. In this recipe, tomatoes do that job. I replace the paneer with a mix of tempeh (as I had some left over) and tofu. To be honest, you cannot tell the difference once it has been cooked in the creamy, spicy, spinachy sauce.

For this dish, I used my own super quick method for making curries by blending most of the ingredients when raw to cut down on the chopping and cooking time. It works really well and I was able to make this curry in 20 minutes.

As always with a rich dish, I served it with something fresh. This time it was a spicy tomato salsa and a mixture of white and wild rice.

Ingredients

About 350g of firm tofu or tempeh or mixed
About 375g of fresh spinach washed well
Half a large onion
2 large ripe tomatoes

Whole spices
A teaspoon each of black peppercorns, cumin and coriander seeds-dry fried and ground
Half a teaspoon of fennel seeds left whole

A teaspoon of garam masala
Two large cloves of garlic
A thumbnail sized piece of fresh ginger
Four whole chillis or less if you don’t like it spicy
A teaspoon of sugar
A few toasted cashew nuts
Freshly chopped coriander
Oil
Salt to taste

Put the following in the blender, blitz to a liquid and remove -tomatoes, onion, chilli, ginger and garlic.Next place the spinach in the blender with a tablespoon of water and blitz.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wide, shallow pan and add the whole and ground spices. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato paste mixture and the spinach. It will be quite wet and will need to be reduced on a medium heat for about ten minutes. Then add the tofu or tempeh and sugar (this balances the sourness of the spinach but can be omitted if you like that taste) and continue to cook for another ten minutes until the sauce is thick and the tempeh or tofu have become greener and absorbed the sauce. Add salt to taste, a pinch of garam masala to freshen it up and a small handful of fresh coriander. Serve garnished with generous, toasted cashews to add texture and extra protein.

Chana Dahl and Purple Aubergine

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Dahl is my favourite comfort food as well as a well-loved, dinner party dish but I also eat it when I am feeling the need for something plain. Dahls can be made richer with the addition of coconut milk, grated coconut or ground almonds or made simple and cleansing like this recipe. Chana dahl or just red split lentils are my favourite for a simple dahl dish like this. Chana dahl are split chick peas.

Ingredients

3 big handfuls of dried chana dahl

Half a large onion thinly sliced

Two cloves of garlic crushed

A thumbnail sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

3 fresh chillis

3 large tomatoes

A teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground garam masala and ground cumin

Half a teaspoon of ground tumeric

Half a teaspoon each of black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds

A medium aubergine chopped

A tablespoon of oil.

2 handfuls of fresh coriander finely chopped.

Salt to taste

Cook the chana dahl in plenty of water until it is still a little firm. This should take 20-25 minutes. Drain most of the liquid and set aside. Meanwhile add oil to the pan and cook the onion slices slowly until they are soft and caramelised. Add the aubergines with a little more oil and cover the pan for 5 minutes to allow them to soften slightly. Toast the ground and whole spices and add to the pan.

In a blender blitz the tomatoes, garlic and chilli together with   3-4 tablespoons of the dahl and the dahl liquid. Add this mixture to the pan, followed by the rest of the dahl. Add salt and a large handful of the fresh coriander and 100ml of water. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on the pan for around 30-40 minutes . During cooking, check whether more water is needed. When cooked the aubergine should be melting and the dahl soft but not mushy. Stir in the remaining fresh coriander.