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Indian Vegetables

by Laxmi Hiremath

At a recent gathering, of family and friends, I was asked, what is the food of this new century. Of course, I said, it is the vegetable.

American cuisine has great soups, salads, pastas, and other meat and non-meat entrees to offer. However, cooking methods of vegetables have stayed pretty much the same. When I visit restaurants and request vegetables, there is very little choice-- roasted or steamed mixed vegetables. To further enhance them, all I have is a sparkle of salt and pepper. Imagine, bright, fresh and slightly cooked, crunchy vegetables-- with a touch of cool and warm spices, tamarind and brown sugar, cream and curry powder, coconut milk and chile peppers. When it comes to cooking vegetables, I fall back on my Indian background. I prefer to use herbs, spices, and dairy products, in endless permutations to form a range of vegetable preparations. The same vegetable can be sauteed, fried, braised, stuffed, boiled and roasted to form a diversity of flavors, colors and textures.

Besides being colorful and nutritious, vegetables contain antioxidants that get rid of toxins in the body. Through grafting several hybrid varieties are available for years. Scientists are creating genetically engineered types for their importance these days.

When I shop at the supermarket, now and then I am asked about some of the vegetables in my cart. Okra is a typical example of such queries. Other vegetables in this "curious" category are chayote, daikon, fresh dill, and kohlrabi. When they do make it to the counter finally, it is not uncommon to find the cashier staring at them, rolling them in hand, and hollering for help on price. I find it quite amusing and take the opportunity to pass along recipes to anyone brave enough to ask. I am fascinated with the unusual treasures, myself--Yukon gold, blue and purple potatoes, yellow baby zucchini, pear tomatoes, morel mushrooms and kumquats in California markets, which I had never seen in India. My interest has inspired me to buy and cook them with Indian flavors.

As a youngster, growing up in India, during most of my leisure time I would be strolling and working in the garden with my mother. Planting a seed and observing it grow into a mature plant. By touching and feeling the young plants, my mother would mention we are "talking" to them. Vegetables were dearly loved and treated with respect. We would eagerly reap basketful of harvest-- fresh fenugreek leaves and dill, yellow and green beans, an assortment of eggplants and squashes with distinct shapes and colors; nothing was more gratifying than picking earth?speckled tubers and dew?covered greens and cooking them with fragrant herbs and spices in the true and natural form.

My boys, like their peers, are not too passionate about vegetables. But I was pleasantly surprised, when my son Kailash, a freshman in college, called from Boston and said, his Fraternity House serves plenty of meat dishes, pasta and rice, and hardly any vegetables! He requested their chef to cook vegetables, and told me to send my cookbook. Now, all his 40 friends enjoy delicious vegetables, including other Indian dishes. Everyday, he e-mails telling which recipe the chef has cooked for them. I take it as a compliment from the would-be MIT engineers.



Stuffed Anaheim Chiles in Cream Sauce
(Bhareli Mirch)

Serve as a side-dish vegetarian entree along with bread, soup and rice.

1 pound (about 8) Anaheim chiles or other long peppers
1 cup warm mashed potato
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons mild olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Scant 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 whole cloves, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half

Slit the chiles lengthwise, leaving the stems intact, and discard the seeds. Season the potato
with half the salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Stuff each chile with a generous portion of
the potato mixture.

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the stuffed chiles, onions,
ginger, and turmeric. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chiles start to brown, about 6
minutes. Add the spices, remaining salt, and half?and?half. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the sauce is thick and the chiles are tender, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Stir-Fried Broccoli
(Hara Phoolgobi Kadai)

For a variation, brown some onions and sprinkle on top. Serve this dish with flatbreads such as pita, chapati, or Middle Eastern lavash.

2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 or 3 fresh hot green chiles, stemmed and slit lengthwise
1-1/2 pound broccoli, cut into 1/2?inch florets
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala*

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or saute pan over medium?high. Add the fennel seeds; stir and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the chiles and broccoli. Stir-fry until the florets are lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes.

Sprinkle in the salt and lemon juice. Toss to mix. Transfer to a heated serving bowl. Serve hot with a sprinkling of garam masala and browned onions, if desired. Makes 6 side dish servings.

*Available at Indian markets.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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