Thursday, September 27, 2018

More Bengali Inspiration, part II

In these posts, I am re-creating our menu from my last cooking class. Normally, I prepare the menu first, before I teach it, but this time the teacher was the owner and chief cook of Neerob Restaurant, Khokon.
Khokon, Owner of Neerob Bazaar and Neerob Restaurant
Khokon's philosophy is that good cooking happens if you put your heart into it, which is true enough, but it helps to know what you are doing.

The Bengali cuisine, and Southeast Asian cooking in general are a great starting point, for they still know their herbs and spices, and between rice (let it be brown, please) and chick peas and lentils, it is very easy to cook great meals, and what's more important, to create a cooking cycle, so you can cook ahead, and be ready in a flash.

Today, I am going to prepare two other dishes from our class, one with eggplant, and another with mixed veggies, which lends itself to endless variation.

Sautéed Eggplant

As per usual, caramelized onions are the start of everything, for it is a key technique to creating taste without adding a lot of salt, so here we go once again - these quantities are for 1 dish at a time:

  • cut up 4-5 small to medium onions finely, or as you prefer, you can also cut it up in rings.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of veggie broth
  • cut up some chili's (to taste) and/or a jalapeno pepper. For this amount, I would slice up 4-5 chilis (one per each onion), and 1-2 jalapenos.
Heat your frying pan over high heat until water bounces, and does not run - add the onions - distribute evenly. Let the onions go without stirring for a minute or so until the begin to brown at the bottom, and now start to stir them. As a glaze forms in the pan, and before they stick to the pan, add a few table spoons (1, 2, or 3), to deglaze the pan, you now are ready to add the garlic, and turmeric:
  • crush and cut up some 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • peel and slice finely some turmeric
followed by the rest of the herbs and spices. Once the onions are caramelized, turn down the heat, or transfer the onions to a different pan, at low heat. Build up your stock with the following:
  • add some more water or veggie broth
  • a few bay leaves
  • Braggs Liquid Aminos and pepper to taste
  • panchpuran powder, or if you have the whole spices, you can grind them in a mortar and pestle, or with a Magic Bullet
  • cumin
  • a bunch of cilantro, cut up fine.
 You can simply cut up your eggplant and cook it in this broth, until it's done.

Note on Panchpuran

The name means five spices in Bengali. It is a mixture of five seeds:
  • fenugreek seed (methi), 
  • nigella seed (kalo jira), 
  • mustard seed (rai or shorshe), 
  • fennel seed (mouri) and 
  • cumin seed (jeera). 
You can buy the mix of the seeds, and crush them with a mortar and pestle or powder them with a Magic Bullet. It is used for cooking vegetables, and you could add the seeds whole when you sautée the onions for any of these vegetable dishes.

Mixed vegetables

For our class we used a pumpkin and a yellow squash, and some carrots, but you could use other things as well. Edo (aka taro, aka coco) is excellent also. Essentially, you learn to pick a combination that is plentiful at that moment.

The selection of spices is the same as for the eggplant dish, and we start once again with the caramelized onions:

  • onions
  • garlic
  • chilis/jalapeno's to taste
  • turmeric (fresh or powder)
  • Braggs Liquid Amino's instead of salt
  • Panchpuran
  • cumin
  • bayleaf
  • cilantro
 All preparations as before, and if you make these dishes at the same time, you can obviously make a bigger batch of caramelized onions to begin with.

When you have cut up the squashes in chunks, and slice the root vegetables thin, like 1/8" (carrots, parsnips). You can sautée it with the onions for a little bit while slowly adding more veggie broth or water.

Salad Dressings, Plant-based style

3/2/1 dressing should be 1/2/3 dressing

One favorite dressing remains the 3/2/1 dressing from the Esselstyns, although it may be dubious to some because of the maple syrup. I guess you could use molasses or date sugar instead. From a practical standpoint, of keeping your measuring spoon clean, the sequence should be 1/2/3:

  1. 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (molasses, date sugar)
  2. 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard,
  3. 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar,
  4. juice of 2 lemons or limes, or 1 lemon and 1 lime.
And, you can add in whatever spices you want. Sometimes I will chop a tomato finely and add in some chopped onion and make a batch, so it can marinate in the fridge and I have ready made dressing for 2-3 days.

Hummus dressing

Hummus provides an easy route to a creamy plant-based dressing. Here is a recipe, but there are many ways to do it, and if you're in the habit of making your own hummus anyway, you can whip this up in a flash:
  • 1/2 cup of hummus
  • juice of one lemon or one or two limes, or alternatively 2 tbsp of balsamic or wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of water
  • some liquid aminos and pepper to taste
Depending on your mood, you can again add in chopped parsley or other herbs, or chopped tomato or finely chopped onion - I prefer red onions for salads.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

More Bengali Inspiration #1

I will be recreating the recipes we prepared at the last class, and give some more detailed instructions.

Meanwhile, if you want to get your information from the source, you can of course ask the Bangladeshi greengrocers on Starling Ave (aka Bangla Bazaar), or, there is a series on youtube, Village Food Life, which allows you to study some of the Bangladeshi cuisine in a fairly authentic village setting. I will use one of the videos below.


While you can vary these recipes endlessly, some of the basic patterns and spices are very helpful to understand and I will break them out here, for they are the building blocks.

With lentils, you can make a quick sauce or a soup. We will make one here, but there are many kinds of lentils, so you can vary this endlessly and fine tune it to your own taste.

Poi Leaf

Here is a recipe about Malabar Spinach, or Poi Leaf, which is available year-round. It is a bit like spinach, but it has a richer taste, and soon enough you will figure out when Poi is more suitable than spinach. As it says on the site I linked here, it's like there are hints of citrus and pepper in the flavor.

At our recent cooking class, we just made boiled poi leaf, but on this occasion, I am going to make more of a stew with it, using the stems as well.

Caramelized Onions are the start

I started my cooking with a frying pan to caramelize 4 to 5 medium-size onions finely cut-up, with some finely cut chilis, and a jalapeno, plus garlic, while adding slowly about 8 oz of veggie broth and about a tablespoon of Braggs Liquid Aminos. The key is to not stir the onions at first, until the bottom begins to brown, and then, before they would char, you start stirring them, and you will gradually see a glaze form in the pan. You can then use water, or veggie broth, or vinegar to deglaze the pan, so that instead of sticking to the pan, the onions are nice and moist.

Note, the article I linked here, suggests caramelizing in a hot frying pan, which is the best. It will take 5 minutes or less. Here is an article that describes a slow method, which also works, but is inefficient because it costs too much time. If you do it over high heat, you just need to watch it closely. If you go the medium temperature method, it will take 25-30 minutes.

For about 1.5 lbs of poi leaf, I used about half the onions and added a piece of turmeric, cut-up in thin slices. I cut up the stems in 1/4" pieces, and cooked them with the onions, adding a little more water. Once the stems were soft I threw the leaves on top and let them wilt over a low flame, about 15 minutes. Then I mixed the whole thing together. It was delicious.

Lentil Sauce

I used a 3 lb Deshi squash (water squash) and 1 lb of split red lentils.
Water Squash
Starting with the caramelized onions, I added some turmeric, and a few bay leaves and a bunch of cilantro cut up fine and the squash cut-up to about 1/4" thick 1/8th wedges. Then I added about 1 lb of lentils and water to cover and about a table spoon of liquid aminos (in lieu of salt) and that cooked for about 30 mins. With a wooden spoon I could practically pulverized the squash, and make a smooth sauce out of the whole thing, while removing the bay leaf.

With that, I had enough sauce left over to freeze two quart bags for another day, and that still left me enough for about two more days, which I could keep in the fridge. You learn to cook in batches.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Bengali Suppers/#WFPB event

The only way to prepare corn

Because corn is in season, we started out with a corn appetizer:

Corn in the husk, soaked in water for a few minutes and then roasted in the oven on a baking sheet for 45 minutes at 450F. If you do this with good, fresh corn in the husk, you will taste corn so sweet, you will never have corn any other way again. No need for the traditional butter and salt, it is yummy  as is.

A Bengali Style #WFPB Dinner

We had cooked the Brown Basmati rice ahead of time (SWAD brand, in 10lb bags at Neerob Bazaar), opposite Neerob Restaurant on Starling Avenue.

We prepared four dishes under the guidance of Khokon, and with a fair amount of improvization, because he had to run back to the restaurant once or twice.

Cucumber salad

We cut the cucumber in small strips with a mandolin. We cut up a red onion and some peppers, and just used some lime juice and spices for a dressing. Obviously, you can vary the spices, dill goes particularly well with cucumber. The Bengali style is to add those mean little green chilis in the salad, whole, but that is not my thing, so if I use them, I will slice them up. For the occasion we made two salads, one with chilis and one without.
Green Chilis - handle with care!

Lentil Stew

Made with split red lentils, onions, garlic, herbs and spices and some water squash.
Herbs and spices included cilantro, some bay leaves, chilis, turmeric, panch puran (mixture of mustard, cumin, fennel, kalonji (black fennel), cardamom and you can use some liquid aminos to taste. You can vary the taste endlessly, with other spices, such as curry.
We used a water squash, and made a broth with the lentils and cooked them till they are soft - they practically dissolve.
Water Squash

The proper way of setting it up is to stir-fry the onions first, on high heat, stirring frequently until they begin to caramelize and then add some tablespoons of water to liquify it and prevent burning, then turn down the heat and add the garlic, chilis, and stir-fry it a few minutes longer and then add the cut-up squash, and enough water to make a broth that will cook the lentils, and you can add the rest of the herbs and spices to taste.

Caramelizing onions without oil

Caramelized onions are the universal foundation for cooking vegetable dishes and soups. Here are some instructions on how to caramelize onions without oil. Here it is from famous vegan chef AJ... notice you don't need a lot of liquid, but you can use either water, or veggie broth, or water with a bit of Bragg's liquid aminos. I personally make my own veggie broth once a month or so, and freeze it into ice cubes, and then I use one or  two cubes of veggie broth in your onions. You can also finish them off with balsamic.

By the way, if you're afraid of knives, you can use the Vidalia Chop Wizard, like Chef AJ demonstrates, but I don't have space in my kitchen for all these gadgets, and I like working with knives. So here is some advice on chopping onions.
OK, back to the cooking, the best way is to put the herbs and spices in by adding a little water or broth at the end of preparing the onions/garlic and chilis, so they are soft. Then, you add the cubes of water squash, and more water to cover it, with the lentils. The lentils will completely fall apart as they cook, so you will have a saucy substance that could also be a soup, or you can serve it over your rice.

Sautéed Squash

We also made some sautéed squash again, starting out with sautéed onions and adding garlic, some peppers, turmeric, and other spices to build up a broth, and we used a pumpkin and some yellow squash.

Sautéed eggplant

Same idea, with eggplant.

Boiled Poi Leaf (Malabar Spinach)

We used just the leaves, not the stems, and you can either boil them or steam them. On this occasion, boiling is all we did. Poi leaf is an interesting variation on spinace, it is a very different taste, but it is evidently a green leafy vegetable, and very healthy for that reason. Chewing leafy greens allows the formation of nitric oxide which keeps your endothelium healthy, hence you want to eat some form of leafy greens at every meal, ideally 4-6 "fist-sized" portions per day.

Bengali herbs and spices

  • Turmeric, you can use either fresh or powder, we used powder, but here it is both fresh and in powder form:
Fresh Turmeric at Al Aqsa
Powdered Turmeric at Neerob Bazaar

  • Panchpuran, you can buy the spices whole in a bag, or you can get it in powder form.
Our neighborhood is an absolute Mecca for herbs and spices, both at the Bengali vendors on Bangla Bazaar (Starling Avenue), and at Chang-Li Supermarket. The invitation is to go ahead and experiment away.


This meal was one powerful demonstration of the options you have in using a variety of vegetables with herbs and spices, to make a meal fit for a king. Where in spanish cooking you would use mostly rice and beans, in the South East Asian cuisine you use more likely lentils or chick peas, and you can easily put together

Sunday, September 9, 2018

ShopRite at Bruckner Commons #1 - Of Soup and Corn

Periodically, I make my own veggie broth and I freeze part of it in the form of three (covered) trays of icecubes.
Oxo No Spill Ice Cube Tray
Often times, especially when sautéing it is easiest to not have to splash around with actual broth, but use a few ice cubes of soup stock.

In between, I use some store-bought soup stock and yesterday it was time to see what our new ShopRite store had to offer, which was impressive, so I decided to try all of them:
Veggie Broth and McDougall's Soups at ShopRite Bruckner
In other words, take your pick, they have four different veggie broths, College inn, Swanson, Rachel Rae, and Emeril's Organic and all reasonably priced, so pick whichever one you like best. I decided to try all four of them and compare.

Home Made Veggie Broth

Here is what I might use for home made veggie broth:


The veggies for roasting:
Onions 1lb,
Celery 1lb
Carrots 1lb
Tomatoes 1-1/2 lb
Green bell pepper 2-3
turnips 1/2 lb
garlic - 3+ cloves 

The spices for the stock:
3+ cloves or, if you want a different flavor, use Cardamom
3+ bay leaves
black pepper tsp
1 bunch parsley (or cilantro)
chunk of turmeric
1 gallon of water


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Clean veggies as needed, including removing the leaves and the soft core of the celery. 
Place vegetables in a roasting pan and place them in the 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) oven. Stir every 15 minutes.
Cook until the vegetables have browned and the onions start to caramelize, typically more than an hour.

Put the browned vegetables, along with the celery you set aside, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, pepper corns, parsley and water into a large stock pot. Bring to a full boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook uncovered until liquid is reduced by half.

Use a colander to pour the broth into a large bowl or pot. This is your veggie broth. You can use it as is, store it for later use, or freeze it in an ice tray like I suggested above.

The veggies are delicious to eat hot or cold. You can freeze them in quart bags for later use. For instance, to make a "chunky style" pasta sauce.

Cooking Cycles

Making your own broth has everything to do with cooking in cycles. Once you really get into the plant-based routine, you learn to always work ahead so that in a pinch you have a meal ready, you can use your fridge and freezer to help you out. I consider 5 days the outer limit in the fridge, but most things you can freeze, and I always have a collection of quart freezer bags, so I am never caught short.

McDougall's Soups

I was delighted to also find Dr. McDougall's soups. Dr. McDougall is one of the pioneers of the plant-based nutrition movement and his soups are great for those times when you don't have time for anything, or simply don't have anything in the house. The are superior products. I always like to have a few in the house.

Corn on the Cob

There's only one way to make corn on the cob. Thankfully, ShopRite now sells corn with the husks on.
The way to cook them is to soak them in water and then roast them in an oven pan or on a baking sheet for 45 minutes at 450F, and you leave it in the husks, but you cut off the stems for serving. You only remove the leaves when you are ready to eat one, so that they remain piping hot. I don't put anything on them usually, but sometimes I love to offset the sweetness with some Tabasco Sauce. The recipe goes back to Nero Wolfe, the fictional detective created by Res Stout, who says in Trio for Blunt Instruments that American housewives should themselves be boiled in water if they prepare corn that way. He suggests eating it with butter and salt, though, but we skip that part for the sake of our #WFPB diet.