Monday, March 21, 2016

Indian Italian Fusion
by Marilyn Michael

We all need an activity that takes our brains away from the minutia of everyday life; that stimulates the creative side of our brains and that relaxes us. It was a Saturday with a lot to do, but I realized the need to fuel my soul. For me, that now means cooking something I love (often Indian cuisine) and maybe chatting about cooking. I set about concocting a favorite dish that I could section up and have for lunch or dinner during the busy week giving me a bit of time to curl up with an engaging detective novel.

To begin, I made a batch of polenta (you can simplify by using layers made of slices of pre-made polenta roles but my recipe is 6 cups of boiling water, 1 2/3 cup polenta, and 2 teaspoons salt stirred almost continuously with a whisk boiling on medium for around 15 minutes until thick then made rich with 2 tablespoons of butter.) I let the polenta cool down just a bit at room temperature then poured it in bright yellow layers into a 2-quart casserole, each layer about one-half inch and topped with plastic wrap, separating them and keeping them smooth, and popped them in the refrigerator. (After cooling my stack of polenta layers, I cut up some into serving portions and froze. Later I can top some with butter for breakfast or with a red sauce for dinner. I retained three layers, though, for making my Indian-Italian Fusion casserole which I offer below.

The Pleasure of Indian Cuisine

I love Indian cuisine and thank myself for volunteering at my Dad’s senior center where I met a very special woman, Mina, from Goa, India. She became my mentor teaching me, hands-on, how to make delicious Indian dishes. They were something so different from the American dishes I’d grown up with. I once wrote in a small cookbook I’d created to share with friends, “I had never thought of my American food experience as a cuisine. Mina, though, would smile because these delectable pulaos, curries and dahls were the pot roasts and tuna casseroles of her world.”

Simple and Fun

I’ve taken it upon myself to get creative with Indian dishes (thus my Indian-Italian Fusion). My favorite haunts for the required spices are a natural food coop that sells spices in bulk or Whole Foods.  They provide everything I need. Exploring an Indian food shop is fun but not necessary for the ingredients in the dishes I create (and spices are available online). I also enjoy simplifying them; making them easier for my friends and acquaintances for whom I created little cookbooks of favorite recipes. It’s fun sharing the dishes, as well. I don’t entertain much, but I haunt Goodwill for interesting dishes to use for gifting.  When a thank you or congratulations or a remembrance is due, I love arriving with exotically aromatic food in an attractive serving dish gifting both. My Indian dishes are popular at potlucks and “bring an hors d oeuvre” gatherings.

Indian Italian Fusion

Ah, but I go on and probably will in future submissions. Let’s get to my Indian Italian Fusion Casserole. You’ll need three polenta layers (created in the casserole dish you’ll use for making the casserole, mine is 2 quarts and round.). If you don’t want to make polenta (but it’s soooo easy) you can buy one of those little rolls and place slices down as the layers. You’ll also need about 3 cups grated cheddar cheese to layer between the Vegetable Dahl and the polenta and to top the casserole.

The vegetable portion is a delicious East Indian-inspired vegetable stew called a dahl.  (The term dahl refers to a dish that includes dried peas, beans or lentils.) I swear I never ate zucchini before discovering this recipe, but can’t stop eating this dish. It freezes well; consider doubling and sharing with friends or freezing in small freezer zipping bags. If serving as a main dish, serve over Basmati rice, or turn it into my Indian-Italian Fusion by layering it with polenta and cheddar cheese.

A Simple and Delicious Dahl (South Asian Vegetable Stew)
Serves around 8 over rice

Vegetable Dahl

Here’s the trick for easy preparation:

While the dried yellow peas are simmering, chop the vegetables, putting in separate dishes. Also and put the spices in separate dishes (explained below) – this will make it go together easily and really fast.

The Boiled Peas
1 cup yellow split peas (available at Whole Foods or natural food coops)
1 - 14 oz. can chicken stock, with half a can or more of water as needed. (You can use vegetable stock or just water for a vegan version of the dish.)
½ medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Salt to season the simmering split peas

The Vegetables and Spices
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds (available at Whole Foods or natural food stores.)
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger or ginger paste (to simplify I use pre-chopped or tubes of paste available in produce sections.)
1 Tablespoon crushed garlic (I use paste or pre-chopped from the produce section)
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped in 1” chunks
1 jalapeno seeds and all, chopped fine (If you like a dish spicy add another jalapeno.)
1 teaspoon turmeric (available in most spice sections)
2 teaspoons garam masala (a mixture of spices available at Whole Foods, natural food markets or in many supermarket spice sections)
3 small (6”) zucchini scraped leaving a bit of green and sliced into 1/4” or thinner rounds. (I use a zester on the skin attractively leaving lines of green).
1 – 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes. (I use petite diced)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoon water
Salt and some pepper to taste

Wash the split peas and place them in a saucepan with the stock and salt. Let it come to a boil while you coarsely chop the ½ onion for the peas. Add the onion, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the peas are soft but still whole. Add water as needed to not let them boil dry. When the peas are soft, but still whole, drain and set them aside.

While the peas are cooking, chop the whole onion, green pepper and jalapeno putting them together in a bowl. Slice the zucchini put it into a separate bowl. Put the crushed or chopped garlic and ginger into a dish. Put the brown mustard seeds in a dish. Put the garam masala and turmeric together in another dish. Heating the pan to medium, add the cooking oil, when oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Cover and fry briefly until they start popping (don’t let them burn).

Quickly add the whole chopped onion, green pepper and jalapeno, frying gently stirring periodically for around 10 minutes until the vegetables soften, adding the ginger and garlic toward the end of cooking.

Stir in the turmeric and garam masala into the vegetables blending well and cook for 1 minute. Turn to medium low heat and stir in the zucchini, tomatoes, lemon juice and water. Simmer a bit adding salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until the zucchini has softened. Turn off heat and carefully fold the split peas into the vegetables.

Indian-Italian Fusion Casserole

For the Indian Italian Fusion casserole, spoon some of the vegetables onto a layer of polenta and top it with cheddar cheese, place another layer of polenta, another layer of vegetables, and a layer of cheddar. Finally add a third layer of polenta and top it with cheddar cheese. I bake at 400 degrees until the casserole is heated through and bubbling.

If your neighbors haven’t already shown up at your kitchen window drawn by the amazing aromas, be prepared to be very popular, even among the vegetable-challenged, when you arrive with this dish at some event.