Saturday, September 1, 2007

Vegetable Smash

I have a coworker who makes the most delicious home cooked vegetarian Indian food. Not only is everything always nicely spiced, but the texture is right on, and I think that’s the hardest thing to achieve in Indian cooking (for me, at least). The simple fact is the longer the preparation time, the more “authentic” the texture will be. The longer the ingredients sit together, the more developed the flavor will be. My coworker agrees, but even he doesn’t have the patience to braise every dish for 2-3 hours or prepare dishes a day or two in advance. He told me his secret is a pressure cooker, which scares the hell out of me. Whenever I think pressure cooker, I imagine a hot radiator exploding open to spray scalding water in my face (yes, I’m scared of explosions and that’s why we don’t have a gas grill).

The other day, he brought a wonderful dish, which he translated as vegetable smash. As the name implies, it was a wonderful mish-mash of different veggies that could easily be found in your favorite Indian restaurant. Some of the vegetables suitable for this dish are parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, zucchini, squash. To get the best results, make it a day in advance and when you cook it drive off as much liquid as you can. Then when you reheat it the next day, do it in a wok or cast iron skillet with a tablespoon or two more oil (I used mustard oil, and it tasted nice). This will further reduce the water content and give you the best texture.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? I guess it is, but you’ll be rewarded with not only a delicious dish, but this recipe will give 2 portions (enough for 3-4 people each). You could freeze one down and enjoy it again. So really you’re cooking more than one meal!

Vegetable Smash
  • 2 tbs grated ginger
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 chilies (or more to taste), cut in half lengthwise
  • 5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 2 sticks cinnamon (about 3 inches long)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
  • 3 zucchini, diced
  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
  • ¼ to ½ tsp sugar (depending on how ripe your veggies are to start)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Start by making a paste with the ginger, garlic and chilies.

In a large heavy bottom pot, heat about ¼ cup oil over medium heat (I used half mustard oil and half vegetable oil). When hot, add the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Fry for about 15 seconds, then add the ginger paste. Fry until fragrant, maybe 20 or 30 seconds. Add the chopped onion and cook until the onions are soft and starting to take color. Add the curry powder and turn to coat the onions with it. Add the cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes and sugar. Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes, turning to make sure everything gets coated as best as possible. If the pot seems too dry, don't worry, the veggies will release a lot of liquid. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about an hour or until the veggies are nice and soft. Check and stir it occasionally to make sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t burn and to smash the veggies a little. The veggies should release a lot of liquid, and essentially braise themselves. When they are mushy, take off the lid and turn up the heat to drive off most of the moisture, but be careful not to let it burn too much to the bottom of the pot. Whenever you’re stirring, smash the veggies a little more. Eventually you’ll get the consistency you want. For the best result, let it sit in the fridge overnight to let the flavors develop. You could also freeze some at this point, but if you are dying to eat it immediately, I recommend cooling it a bit before adjusting the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve warm or even just a little above room temp with basmati rice or roti.

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