Garam Masala Almonds

So there I was, standing in front of my open freezer trying to think about how I could free up some space (freezer space is a very high commodity in my apartment), when I saw a bag of blanched almonds. My mind started racing – Immediately the Union Square Cafe bar nuts came to mind, which I make quite often, and I started to ponder what other flavor combinations I could throw together using the same technique. I walked over to my spices and started pulling from the shelves. I grabbed cumin seed, fennel seed, and coriander seed, and then the idea hit me: garam masala roasted nuts!

Garam masala is a Indian spice blend which is an essential flavoring in many North Indian dishes. Garam means “hot”, yet traditionally there is no chili in the blend, the heat instead coming from warming spices like cumin, cinnamon and clove. “Masala” just means blend, and technically, even a blend of 2 spices can be characterized as a “masala”. With these kind of spice blends, everyone claims the authentic recipe, yet in reality there are endless variations of spice combinations.

When I looked down at what I had pulled off the shelf I saw coriander, cinnamon, clove, cumin, fennel, cardamom, star anise and black pepper, a realized that most of them are used in Chinese herbal formulas to treat a variety digestive issues. In Chinese medicine, the digestive process requires an activating, warming force since it’s the combustion engine of the whole body – turning the food that we eat into essential substances like Energy and Blood. When our digestion slows down, or we feel sluggish, weak or cold, all it may take to get us back on track is a little activating, fragrant nudge, accomplished in traditional Chinese herbal formulas with herbs like cardamom, fennel, cinnamon and star anise. The remaining ingredients, brown sugar, salt and the almonds themselves, have their own medicinal properties. The sweetness of brown sugar strengthens the function of the digestion, and salt and almonds promote bowel function. Annndddrecent research suggests that using spices like these cut fat levels in your blood after a heavy meal…All in all, pretty impressive for “bar nuts”, huh?!

Garam Masala Bar Nuts

  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon stick
  • 2 pods from star anise
  • 1 cardamon pod, crushed to remove the 3 inner black seed clusters
  • 1 teaspoon butter (melted) or olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • Salt

  1. Toast spices: In a hot dry skillet, add cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, black peppercorns, star anise, and cardamom and toast, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, until spices are fragrant
  2. Grind spices: Transfer toasted spices to a clean, dry coffee/spice grinder – grind until fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl, and add cinnamon. Mix.
  3. Roasted almonds: Wipe out skillet, and add almonds. Toast while tossing constantly, until browned slightly. Remove to a plate.
  4. Toss nuts: Mix butter or olive oil, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala until a paste is formed. Add roasted almonds and toss until well coated. Once coated evenly, add 1/4 teaspoon more garam masala and 1 hefty pinch of salt; toss again. Turn nuts out onto parchment to cool completely.

Eat immediately, keep at room temperature in a mason jar for up to a week, or store in freezer (bringing to room temperature or warming before enjoying). Note: Feel free to modify the amounts or omit a particular spice if you have an aversion to it or it’s out of stock in your pantry. 

 

 

Spicy Collard Green Salad

Did you notice the tasty-looking side-dish I paired with the previous post? I first tasted this salad at a cooking demonstration last fall, given by my good friend and talented chef Hilla Abel. I was immediately hooked. So I started making it – a lot – and I haven’t stopped. It has everything you can ask for: it’s a cinch to make, has a little spice, a little sweet, it’s healthy, it’s filling…and it’s DELICIOUS! While you can use any hearty green, I’m partial to collards. Collard greens are a little over-looked these days, with all the incredible press kale seems to be getting, but I would advise you to try them for this dish. Once the leaves are washed and de-stemmed (see the brilliant “quick and dirty method” Hilla demonstrates herechiffonade into wide ribbons.

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Toast a handful of nuts in a dry skillet. I’ve used all different nuts, depending on what I have in the freezer at the time. In an ideal world, I would use sliced almonds or pine nuts, but walnuts or pecans work as well.

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In the mean time, make the dressing by mixing together 1 minced garlic clove, and 2-3 T each of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey. Add a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes (of course you can use less if you’re sensitive to heat). Toss the greens with the dressing and a handful of raisins.

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When the nuts are fragrant, golden brown and hot, toss into the bowl. I like how the hot nuts wilt the greens. On one hand, it’s best if the salad marinates for a bit before serving, but on the other hand, I like when the greens are a bit tough. Either way, the salad keeps wonderfully, and can be made ahead of time. Thanks Hilla for a great recipe that is now part of my rotation!

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Baked Gigante Beans with Sliced Tomatoes

Vefa’s Kitchen is one of my favorite cookbooks. I often pick it up and marvel at the pictures, and the simple, fresh ingredient-inspired Greek recipes. As I was leafing through the book the other day, I came across this recipe for “Baked Giant Beans”.  The recipe called for dried lima/butter beans, and remembered that I had a bag of fava beans in the pantry, so I went about making the dish. It’s a real country/rustic dish, best served with greens and a thick slice of wheat bread.

Baked Gigante Beans (adapted from Vefa’s Kitchen)

  • 1 pound dried fava beans, soaked over night in cold water and peeled
  • 1  celery root, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound chopped roma tomatoes (I used tomatoes I peeled, diced and froze in August, but you can use canned tomatoes here, too)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (I used tomato paste I made this summer and froze in ice-cube trays)
  • Fresh parsley and/or dill, chopped, to taste
  • 2 sliced roma tomatoes
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes
Peel the lima beans. Put peeled beans, carrot and celery root and a large pinch of salt in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 20-40 minutes, until the beans are just tender. Strain the cooked beans and place them (along with the carrot and celery root) into an oven-safe dish. Preheat oven to 350F.
Meanwhile, heat some olive oil and sauté the sliced onions and garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper, for a few minutes. Add tomato paste, then tomatoes. (Like I said above, my tomato paste and tomatoes were both in frozen form, so it took a while for both to defrost…I was planning on using a carton of Pomi, and then when I reached for the frozen tomato paste, I remembered the frozen tomatoes…If I would have remembered earlier, I definitely would have defrosted.)
Add oregano and red pepper flakes to taste, and cook tomato mixture for about 10-15 minutes; then spread tomatoes over the beans in the dish over the beans, top with parsley and dill, and layer with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle salt on top. Bake for about 1 hour. Serve warm or room temperature.

Something From Nothing: Fridge Clean-Out Dinner

These are my favorite types of dinners. You never know where your ingredients will lead you. Tonight, I was inspired by a small container of goat cheese that I impulsively picked up when I was walking around the Union Square Greenmarket this afternoon in the 62-degree February sun. So what did I have in my fridge that could play well with goat cheese? I found a container of leftover cooked orecchiette from last week that I really needed to use, so I decided I was going to be making something with pasta. Hmmm, lentils and goat cheese is a great combination, and I had a small amount of french lentils that would cook quickly, and hence, the dinner was borne.

I threw on a pot of water to cook the lentils, and heated a skillet to sauté some vegetables as a base for the lentils. I ended up with a great quick braise of onion, garlic, carrot and rutabaga (from our CSA) with white wine and herbes de Provence, to which I added the cooked lentils and a little balsamic vinegar. Thrown on the re-heated cooked pasta and garnished with crumbled goat cheese, another episode of clean-out-your-fridge-dinner is complete!

Rye Berries for Breakfast

I’m a huge breakfast guy. I’m one of those people that has to have breakfast within an hour of waking up, every single day. On the rare occasion we go out for brunch, I go for traditional breakfast faves like eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, bagels with lox, I love all that. Alexa on the other hand, is more of an -unch person.  She loves eating more savory things for breakfast, last night’s leftovers being her very favorite.

Steel-cut oatmeal has been a long-time favorite Winter breakfast for me, but lately I’ve been branching out, inspired by the fact that we have a ton of other whole grains in our pantry such as oat groats, spelt berries, wheat berries, farro and rye berries.  These grains all came from Cayuga Pure Organics, a bean and grain farm located near Ithaca, NY that is a provider for our CSA.

I’ve been treating these grains the way I would treat steel cut oatmeal, and it’s my new favorite way to start off the day! Follow these instructions to turn any whole grain into a warm, hearty breakfast flavored just to your liking.

Instructions:

Heartier whole grains such as rye berries and wheat berries cook quicker if you soak them overnight prior to cooking. A single serving is about 1/2 cup of dried grain. Just measure out the grain and put it in a bowl covered by at least a couple of inches of water (preferably filtered). Cover, and leave overnight.  The next morning (or some hours later), strain the grain and put it in a heavy pot with water in a 2:1 water:grain ratio.  Don’t worry about using too much water as this type of grain doesn’t turn into a porridge, the individual rye berries retain their integrity so you can just strain the grain when it’s cooked through, or fish it out with a slotted spoon.

Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until they tastes done.  These rye berries took about 40 minutes. They’re still al dente even after all that cooking, and they’ll pop in your mouth when chewed. At that point, you can add whatever flavorings you want, sweet or savory.   I like a touch a sweetness, so here I grabbed a small handful of raisins and sunflower seeds and it was perfect. Other great sweet options include maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, walnuts, almonds, cashews, fresh apples, bananas, etc.  For the more savory side, Alexa adds things like sesame oil, soy sauce, steamed vegetables, balsamic vinegar, and pine nuts.  What flavor combinations come to your mind? We’d love to hear your favorites, it’s going to be a long Winter and we’ve got a lot of grain to get through!