Food blogger’s delicious global recipes influenced in part by her Indian heritage

Published: May 19, 2015
Indian chef-recipes

Tara O’Brady

LAURA BREHAUT
POSTMEDIA NEWS

Kitchen notebooks are often sauce-splattered and dog-eared. The best contain shortcuts, secrets, and tried-and-true recipes. They are valuable records, illustrating changing tastes and mainstays alike.

Tara O’Brady is an accomplished home cook more than happy to share her culinary “cheat sheets.”

She pored over her notebooks, choosing only fail-safe family favourites to include in her first cookbook, Seven Spoons (Appetite by Random House, 2015).

O’Brady started her popular food blog (sevenspoons.net) 10 years ago, in which she shares stories and recipes from her kitchen in Niagara.

“When you start out, you have to get the basics before you can make them your own. I feel that 10 years later I have a very specific perspective on food that only happens through doing.”

Her cooking is influenced in part by her Indian heritage, and the book includes recipes such as Everyday Yellow Dal, Pakora, and Lentil Kofta Curry (recipe follows).

Seven Spoons, the blog, came into being when O’Brady and her husband Sean were finding their family’s food favourites. She developed recipes like Plum Macaroon Cake (recipe follows) as a way to honour her husband’s traditions.

“So much of how I pass down a sense of heritage and culture to our sons is through food,” O’Brady says. “I learned to cook a lot of the recipes on my husband’s side so that they could have them in their home in a very real way.”

An advocate of home cooks figuring out their own must-have tools and ingredients, O’Brady stresses that it takes time to figure out your own cuisine. “It’s not an instant thing. I wanted to be able to hand it off to a person like I’m passing you a note in biology class saying, ‘Here you go, here’s everything for you.'”

RECIPES

Excerpted from Seven Spoons: My Favourite Recipes For Any and Every Day.

Tara OíBradyís cooking is influenced in part by her Indian heritage, and the book includes recipes such as Everyday Yellow Dal, Pakora, pictured, and Lentil Kofta Curry. [Tara OíBrady/Appetite by Random House]

Tara OíBradyís cooking is influenced in part by her Indian heritage, and the book includes recipes such as Everyday Yellow Dal, Pakora, pictured, and Lentil Kofta Curry. [Tara OíBrady/Appetite by Random House]

Specialty Restaurant Lentil Kofta Curry

Serves 6 to 8

Koftas

1½ cups (300 g) Puy lentils (French green lentils), well rinsed and picked over for stones

3 cups (710 mL) water

2 tbsp (30 mL) milk

2 tbsp (30 mL) plain yogurt, Greek-style or regular

2 slices fresh white sandwich bread, crusts removed

½ cup (60 g) raw cashews

1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole

Handful of fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems

Fine-grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Neutral-tasting oil, for brushing

Sauce

2 tsp (10 mL) cumin seeds

1 tsp (5 mL) coriander seeds

2 onions, sliced

3 cups (710 mL) water

8 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1-inch (2.5 cm) knob of ginger, peeled and chopped

Small bunch of cilantro, leaves and tender stems

Medium-grain kosher salt

2 tbsp (30 mL) neutral-tasting oil

1 cinnamon stick, about 2½ inches (6.3 cm) long

1 tsp (5 mL) garam masala

½ tsp (2.5 mL) ground turmeric

4 green cardamom pods, cracked (see Note)

½ tsp (2.5 mL) Kashmiri chile powder or cayenne (optional, depending on the heat of the garam masala)

4 plum tomatoes, stemmed and chopped

To Serve

Chopped cilantro leaves

Lime wedges

Cachoombar or Tomato Raita (recipes follow)

To make the koftas, combine the lentils with water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring regularly, until lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Do not overcook; it is best to err on the side of chewy than falling apart.

While the lentils are cooking, whisk milk and yogurt together in a bowl. Tear bread into pieces and drop into milk mixture. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush paper with a thin film of oil.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, grind cashews, garlic, and cilantro into small bits. Once lentils are tender, drain, then add to the processor with the soaked bread, and any liquid left in its bowl. Pulse to make a coarse purée. Scrape down the sides of the processor, season lightly, then pulse again. Taste, and adjust seasoning. If there is time, chill the lentil mixture in the fridge, covered, for up to 2 hours.

Roll the koftas, using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture to form each ball. Arrange koftas on the prepared baking sheet as they are rolled. Once finished, brush each with a little oil, then bake in the hot oven until crusted and brown, 20 minutes.

While the koftas bake, make the sauce (many Indians will call this the gravy). In a large, heavy pan with a lid over medium heat, toast cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, around 1 minute. Transfer into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and process into a powder. Back in the pan, dry roast the onions, stirring often, until the edges are brown and start to curl, 5 to 8 minutes. Add ½ cup (120 mL) of the water to the pan. Scrape the onions and liquid into a blender with garlic, ginger, cilantro, and a couple of generous pinches of salt, then purée.

Turn heat under the pot to medium-low and heat the oil. Fry onion paste until brown, 6 minutes or so, stirring all the while. Add the ground spices, cinnamon stick, garam masala, turmeric, cardamom pods, and chile powder and cook for about 1 minute. Stir tomatoes into the sauce, smudging them across the bottom of the pan to deglaze and darken. Pour in the remaining 2½ cups (580 mL) water and stir well. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then knock the heat back again to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, and stirring periodically, until gravy is reduced, tastes cooked, and has split, with the fat separating from the solids, 30 minutes. Drop in the cooked koftas, shake the pan so they sink into the gravy, and turn off the heat. Pop on a lid and let stand for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning before bringing the whole pot to the table strewn with chopped cilantro. Serve on cooked basmati rice or with naan, with lime wedges, and cachoombar or raita.

NOTES: If you don’t have access to cardamom pods, use ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) ground cardamom instead. It’s worth baking a double batch of the koftas while you’re at it. Even though they freeze well (first on trays, then transferred to airtight containers once firm), my extras rarely make it to the deep freeze. I like to keep them on hand for the week, to be stuffed in naan as falafel, or rewarmed and partnered with Herbed Yogurt. To rewarm koftas, microwave on low heat, covered with a damp piece of kitchen paper, or in a low oven. Frozen koftas should be defrosted in the fridge, then warmed on their own or, if making the curry, directly in the sauce as above.

Cachoombar

Makes about 1 cup (240 mL)

1 small onion, peeled and diced

Juice from 1 lime, about 2 tbsp (30 mL)

2 tomatoes, cored and diced

½ English cucumber, peeled or not, diced

1 green chile, minced (optional)

Handful of cilantro leaves

Fine-grain sea salt, as needed

In a medium bowl, stir together onion and lime juice. Let stand while you get the rest of your ingredients prepped. After a few minutes, add the tomatoes, cucumber, and chile. Chop half the cilantro and fold into the bowl. Season with salt. To serve, tear remaining cilantro over the top.

Tomato Raita

Makes 2½ cups (580 mL)

1½ cups (355 mL) plain regular yogurt

1 cup (240 mL) Cachoombar (above, before the last of the cilantro is torn over the top)

1½ tsp (7.5 mL) cumin seeds, toasted and ground

A generous pinch of Kashmiri chile powder or smoked paprika

A handful of fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems, chopped

Stir yogurt into the cachoombar. Check for seasoning, then finish with cumin, chile powder, and extra cilantro.

Chia Pudding with Fruit and Golden Honey Elixir from Seven Spoons by Tara OíBrady. Photo: Tara OíBrady/Appetite by Random House

Chia Pudding with Fruit and Golden Honey Elixir from Seven Spoons by Tara OíBrady. Photo: Tara OíBrady/Appetite by Random House

Chia Pudding with Fruit and Golden Honey Elixir

Serves 2

Pudding

¼ cup (60 mL) Greek-style plain or vanilla yogurt

2 to 3 tbsp (30-45 mL) chia seeds, depending on desired firmness

¾ cup (180 mL) unsweetened milk (dairy or non-dairy, both work)

1 tbsp (15 mL) agave nectar or honey

Generous ½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Fine-grain sea salt

Serving Options

1 cup (240 mL) Greek-style plain or vanilla yogurt

2 to 4 tbsp (30-60 mL) Golden Honey Elixir (recipe follows)

Pinch of fine-grain sea salt

Fresh fruit, such as sliced peaches, sliced strawberries, or red currants

Chopped nuts, such as pistachios or almonds

To make the pudding, in a bowl, whisk yogurt and chia seeds until smooth. Slowly add milk, followed by the sweetener, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, stirring all the while. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir again before serving.

When ready to serve, stir pudding, then fold in the 1 cup (240 mL) yogurt once or twice. Drizzle Golden Honey Elixir and salt on top, then fold once more. Divide between plates, along with your toppings of choice. Eat straight away.

Golden Honey Elixir

Makes about 1 cup (240 mL)

¾ cup (180 mL) honey, preferably raw

3 tbsp (45 mL) grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp (30 mL) apple cider vinegar, preferably raw and unfiltered

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp (15 mL) plus 1 tsp (5 mL) ground turmeric

About  tsp (. 5 mL) freshly ground black pepper

Stir all ingredients in a jar until smooth. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before using, or cover and refrigerate.

Use within 1 week.

Note: Chia pudding made with whole seeds has a texture similar to tapioca pudding — gelatinous spheres suspended in weighty liquid. Use ground chia for a smoother consistency, if desired. If you happen to have frozen raspberries, they’re pretty spectacular as an addition. Bash them in a sealed storage bag with the bottom of a sturdy glass, so they’re in bits but not pulverized. The icy nubs burst like pomegranate seeds when eaten and streak the yogurt in fuchsia ripples.

Plum Macaroon Cake

Makes a 9-inch (23 cm) cake

Cake

1½ cups (190 g) all-purpose flour

½ cup (60 g) shredded coconut (see Note)

2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder

½ tsp (2.5 mL) fine-grain sea salt

½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

¼ tsp (1 mL) almond extract

¼ cup (60 mL) milk

About 1 lb (454 g) red or purple plums (4 or 5 plums), pitted and cut into sixths

2 tbsp (30 mL) Demerara or granulated sugar

¾ tsp (4 mL) ground cinnamon

Topping

¼ cup (60 g) unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 tbsp (25 g) almond meal

Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean, or 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract

¼ tsp (1 mL) almond extract

½ cup (60 g) shredded coconut (see Note)

Confectioners’ sugar, to dust (optional)

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9-inch (23-cm) cake pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan with butter.

To make the cake, whisk together flour, coconut, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set dry mix aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat for 2 minutes more. Decrease speed to medium-low and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add almond extract and turn speed down to low. With the mixer still running, add half the dry ingredients to the wet, followed by all the milk, and then the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until combined, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Transfer batter to the prepared pan, coaxing it into the edges with a spatula or the back of a spoon. The batter will look distressingly scant. Press on. Stand the plums in rings in the batter, up on their ends. The fruit will shift inward during baking, so arrange them nice and close to the edge of the pan, and do not cluster too many at the middle. Combine the Demerara sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, then sprinkle across the fruited Stonehenge. Bake for 50 minutes.

While the cake bakes, make the topping. Whisk the butter, sugar, eggs, almond meal, vanilla bean seeds, almond extract, and shredded coconut in a pitcher with a pouring spout. Working quickly, remove cake from oven and pour mixture over the hot cake. Return cake to the oven and bake until the topping is puffed, evenly golden, and set, 25 to 30 minutes more.

Cool the cake completely, in its pan on a wire rack, before serving. Serve as is, or dusted with some confectioners’ sugar. The cake can be kept under a dome or loosely wrapped in its pan at room temperature for 3 days.

NOTE: Coconut chips look dreamy in this cake as a replacement for the flakes. That said, they can be fiddly when it comes to slicing. If you would like to use them, refrigerate the cake until it is quite cold; the crumb will stand up to the force needed to cleave the chips.

2015-05-13T03:00:00-05:00

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