Tender Cabbage with Black Mustard & Turmeric

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In a very large skillet which you are able to cover, heat 3 tbs of neutral oil or ghee over medium-high heat.

When hot add :

1 tbs black mustard seed

Cover dish and allow black mustard seed to pop. When the seeds begin to settle, add:

8 oz onion, very thinly slice.

Reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, stirring occasionally.

Add :

1 lb 4 oz cabbage, thinly sliced

Salt to taste

Cook until wilted, stirring occasionally.

Add :

1 tbs sherry, white wine or shao xing wine

2-4 oz fresh chile, small dice

1 oz garlic, minced

1 tsp turmeric powder

Allow the alcohol to cook off, then reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.

Cook, covered, until the cabbage is tender and soft, usually 45 minutes or so.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot or keep warm, garnish with cilantro or parsely, chives or field garlic snips, fresh chiles or grated ginger.

An excellent side dish which highlights the tenderness of properly-cooked cabbage and the subtle flavors of black mustard seed and turmeric root. This dish can also be made with grated fresh turmeric, which can be added at the same point in cooking. Many people who claim not to like cabbage enjoy a tender cabbage dish like this, which brings out the natural sweetness in cabbage through slow cooking. The spices used are mild and complementary, rather than overwhelming. I would vary the level of chiles depending on what else I was serving this with–usual just a little chile for flavor, this dish is unassuming enough to be used as a side dish in a meal of almost any cuisine, vegetarian or not. More chiles can be added if the dish is to be served as accompaniment to a strong-flavored main course such as meat or oily fish.

Key : The key to this recipe is to cook the cabbage thoroughly until tender, for as long a time as it takes. This is a good dish to make a day ahead or earlier in your cooking, and will be just fine reheated or kept warm.

Banana Bread with Black Walnuts, Vietnamese Cinnamon & Nutmeg

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Preheat oven to 350° F.

Whisk together in a large bowl :

1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Whisk together in a small bowl :

1/2 cup neutral oil (sunflower or vegetable is best, 1/4 cup can be replaced with walnut oil)

1/2 cup soy or rice yogurt (or regular yogurt)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, along with :

1/2 cup black walnuts, chopped (or 1/4 cup almonds and 1/4 cup English walnuts)

1 1/4 cup banana, mashed or chopped with :

1/4 cup sugar or palm sugar (optional)

1 tsp vanilla

Fold all ingredients together, without overmixing.

Place in a lightly oiled loaf pan.

Dust top of bread with nutmeg and vietnamese cinnamon, freshly grated and ground if possible.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the loaf comes out clean, usually an hour.

Allow to rest in pan for ten minutes before removing from pan to cool on a rack.

This makes a soft, delicious dairy-free, vegan banana bread. If desired, you can use a dairy-based yogurt. There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in flavor between the two, the yogurt is mostly added for consistency. The bread is soft and cakey, make sure that the pan is oiled before baking and that you allow the bread to cool a bit before removing from the pan or cutting into it.

I think this is easily the equal of any banana bread made with milk and butter, in fact I would argue that omitting those ingredients makes for a less “bready” treat, tasting mostly of bananas, nuts and spices.

Serve warm or cool for breakfast with an herbal or forage tea or coffee. For a decadent dessert, toast lightly in an oven and top with a spoonful of vanilla or caramel ice cream.

Onion Beer & Cheese Soup

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Sautée in 3 tbs oil or butter over low to medium heat :

8 oz. green vidalia onions, white parts only, chopped. You could also use leeks or the white parts of scallions.

1 oz garlic, minced

Cook the onions until they become wilted and nearly tender. Bring the heat to medium.

Add :

2 tbs all-purpose flour

Stir and cook for two minutes or so, until the floury taste is gone. Maintain a medium heat.

Slowly add, 1/4 cup or so at a time, stirring all the while and incorporating the liquids into the soup :

1 1/2 cups beer (room temperature if possible)

1 1/2 cups stock (warm or room temperature if possible)

At first this will be like making a roux or a gravy, but gradually something resembling a soup begins to emerge. Cook for as long as required until the onions are tender and the soup seems close to thick enough to serve. As quickly as possible, working in small batches, blend the soup in a blender or food processor. Return to pot, return to heat, then add :

1/2 – 1 cup freshly shredded SHARP cheddar cheese.

1 tbs mustard powder

Dash of maggi or golden mountain seasoning or worcestershire sauce (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt the cheese and reduce the soup (if needed) to the desired serving consistency. Stir frequently to avoid burning.

Serve as hot and as quickly as possible and garnish with something bright and spicy. In the above photo, I’ve used spicy Vietnamese style pickled carrots and pickled chopped cherry peppers. Also good are diced raw hot chiles and cilantro, or spring onion and sriracha.

Key : The key to this recipe is in the selection of the beer : in order to avoid either excessive bitterness or sweetness, one wants a well-balanced brew that is mild in its’ character. So if you go with a pale ale, avoid excessively hoppy ones. Lager? Stay away from over-sweet or malty beers. Wheat beer? Don’t pick one that has strong citrus or spice notes or is sugary sweet.

Winter Lentil Salad with Warm Spices

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Boil as you would pasta (in a large, boiling salted kettle) :

1 cup green or brown lentils

The lentils are done when they are al dente like pasta, still firm to the tooth but not troublesome to bite through.

Drain lentils thoroughly and quickly toss with :

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 tbs vinegar of fairly light character (i.e. sherry, cider, malt, white wine, rice rather than red wine, balsamic or black)

Salt to taste

Add to lentils :

3 oz. celery and celery leaf, chopped fine

4 oz mild or sweet onion, sliced thin or same amount sharp onion soaked and squeezed in several changes of water

2 oz freshly chopped medium-heat green chile such as jalapeno, or mix of hotter and milder peppers

2 tsp ground cumin

1-2 tsp hot paprika or hot chile powder such as chile de arbol

1 tsp dry mustard

Stir thoroughly, allow a few minutes to settle, then taste and adjust seasonings. At this point add more olive oil and vinegar if necessary, it likely will be. This is very much an “add to taste” recipe, especially in terms of the dressing. I always add a bit at a time, let it settle, taste again. If it seems underwhelming when I am serving it, more can always be added. In particular, lentils will take a lot of both ingredients, much like the similarly mealy potato.

This can be served still warm as a side dish or a room temperature as part of a meal of mixed plates. It can be used as part of a meal of small plates or tapas, or as a side dish served with a more substantial meal. It is best as an accompaniment, rather than its’ own course. It fits well into meals of North African, Mediterranean, Indian, or non-denominational Vegetarian slant. It is also excellent served with a hearty winter roast and root vegetables.

I call it ‘warm’ rather than spicy in terms of the balance represented in this recipe. It can be freely made “spicy,” by simply adding more chiles and dry spices. This is a very adjustable recipe, and will often be altered or added to based on what I am serving it with. Garnish it with something complementary to the meal that it accompanies : fresh cilantro for Indian or Southeast Asian fare, an extra splash of olive oil and sprigs of parsley for Greek or Italian, etc.

Just as any experimentation in garnishing will likely work with such a simple, adaptable recipe, one could go further and incorporate all kinds of ingredients at hand to the salad itself : Some wild mushrooms, quickly sautéed with oil and thyme. A couple of small cucumbers, deseeded and neatly chopped. Some tahini or miso paste. A squeeze of lemon and a pair of minced anchovies. Crispy fried slices of garlic. Black walnuts and a splash of walnut oil. And so on…

In a similar vein, this is a recipe meant for constant tasting and adjusting by the cook. I never measure any of these ingredients when I make this kind of salad except when testing a recipe. I am always tasting, adjusting, tasting. So should you, when making a dish like this. Taste each time you add a new ingredient or three, taste and adjust accordingly. Trust your judgement. Trust your taste. You’re the one who decides what’s best.