Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vegetarian comfort food: dal and mash with mustard cabbage

I recently transferred this Blogger account to the one associated with my more frequently used Gmail account. Having removed that stumbling block should have me posting a little more often.

Many of the recipes I share on my blog are posted here because a friend wanted a recipe, and having gone to the trouble of documenting it, I wanted to share somewhere publicly accessible. This turns out to be pretty handy, because a few years later, someone will want that recipe again, and I can just give them a link.

My cooking themes include local food and seasonal cuisine, with those last two keyed to my location in western Massachusetts. In late winter, I cook a lot of cabbage, and through the summer I hardly ever eat it: my plate is full of zucchini and summer squash, then. I don't eat 100% local: lately, most of my greens seem to come from California, except when I can get some local greenhouse leaf lettuce. At this time of the year, our winter farm share still includes plenty of cabbage.

I was in a rut, eating only steamed or roasted vegetables with few seasonings, so I went through a few of my favorite cookbooks for inspiration. Here is a delicious way to prepare cabbage. I served it recently with dal and mashed potatoes. I've decided dal and mashed potatoes is the new turkey gravy and mash. It's comfort food, another of my food themes. I'm also an enthusiastic meat eater, and eat wheat and dairy, but some of my friends don't, so I like to stay flexible and be able to turn out a nice meal my friends can eat, no matter who shows up. To that end, I'm going to work on a vegan mash, next. My usual mash takes plenty of butter and a splash of half and half. I use steamed potatoes, skins on, steam peeled garlic cloves with the potatoes and mash them in, too. Plenty of salt and pepper.

Mustard cabbage with cumin seed

Adapted from Maddhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking

The original recipe also calls for some asafetida to be added at the beginning of the recipe, with the tomatoes, but I haven't had any in months, and forgot to get any at the international market today; I was in a hurry and just grabbed the bottle of mustard oil I needed.

Mustard oil is difficult to find in American markets, and when you can find it, it is usually marked "for external use only." Despite these caveats, it's worth finding if you like to cook Indian dishes. Mustard oil is a traditional food in several cultures of India and Bangladesh, made from the same mustard seeds that you find in the spice aisle and in the condiment known as "mustard" to most Americans. The oil of the seed imparts a delicious flavor, and cannot be duplicated by using the whole seed or powder.

1/4 cup mustard oil
4-5 canned whole plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
1/2 head of cabbage, diced into 1" pieces

Heat the oil on high heat in a very large, wide skillet that has a lid. When the oil reaches the smoking point, turn down the heat to medium and add the tomatoes. Stir and cook for a moment, then add the cumin seeds and powder, salt, and cayenne.

Add the cabbage to the pan in batches, stirring it in and allowing it to cook down slightly, to make room for the next batch. When all of the cabbage is in the pan, cover and turn the heat to low. Allow to cook for at least 20 minutes, until it is well done. Salt to taste.