My husband and I both love Indian food, but had been rather dismayed at the paucity of good choices in Boulder since our old favorite, Mij Bani, closed some years ago. What you mainly had to choose from around Boulder was toned-down, Americanized North Indian food. Creamy, buttery curries with not much depth of flavor, an array of Tandoori meats, and overly greasy, fried items on buffet tables. One-note tastes, not-too-spicy, and not a huge amount of variation among dishes. So for quite a while we had to contend with getting our fill of excellent Indian food on vacation. But all that has changed now.

I have several coworkers from Southern India, and I had asked a few of them, ‘So, where can one go for good Indian food anywhere in our vicinity?’ The answer, almost without fail, was Jai Ho. Unfortunately, it was in Aurora, a 45 minute drive if traffic was good, and a lot longer if not. So we put it on the back-burner for an occasion when we happened to be going to Aurora anyhow (which of course never transpired). But then one day recently, one of my coworkers stopped by my office and informed me that Jai Ho was opening in Boulder. I’m sure my reaction was embarrassingly overdone, since I do tend to be a little excitable regarding food and restaurants. But I have to say, I’ve become a little obsessed with this place since dining there a couple of times.

On our first trip, I went expecting to have quite good food, but I had no idea just what a treat we were in for. One of our most-missed items from Mij Bani was dosas (huge, thin, sourdoughy, crepe-like pancakes filled with tomatoey potatoes, or other delights), so we knew we needed one of those. We asked for a suggestion as to what type we should get, and our waiter recommended a Ceylon Chicken Dosa. We were torn between two fish dishes, so he also recommended the Kerala Fish Curry (we had eaten a Keralean fish dish in London some years back, and I recall it as one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten, so I was hoping that would be what he steered us towards). We also got Vizag Veg Veppudu (a spicy vegetable dish), as well as some Navaratan Naan (a lusciously rich flat bread with dried fruit and nuts).

The service was a little slow that first night, and we were quite hungry and starting to be a tad unimpressed, but then the food came. The moment I took my first bite, all was forgiven, and I was completely enraptured by the warmth and depth of the flavors. With each bite the tastes became more layered, more complex. It was actually pretty hard to concentrate on eating too many bites of any one dish at a time, because each one commanded attention. About five minutes into the meal, my husband decreed that there was really no reason to go anywhere else for Indian food anymore, and I had to agree. Everything we got was astoundingly delicious.

We returned just a week later (as it turned out we were both secretly craving it, but we don’t usually repeat restaurants that soon). And we were just as delighted with the second round of dishes we tried. This time we got a Jai Ho Special Dosa, Kuppam Meen Kuzhambu (another fish curry), Veg Annamalai (another vegetarian dish), as well as more Navaratan Naan.

The menu is a dizzying array of choices, many of which mention a regional style which we are both sadly too ignorant about to inform our decisions, but we haven’t chosen anything disappointing yet, so with a bit of googling and advice from my coworkers, we plan to keep exploring it.

A word of caution – things are a lot spicier here than your average Americanized version of an Indian restaurant, so if you have problems with spicy food, you might want to ask them to tone it down a bit. (As an aside, I did some searching online, and have discovered that a cup of tea, brewed from a stick of cinnamon placed in boiling water, works amazingly well at getting rid of post spicy-dinner heartburn.)

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna

December 22, 2011

It’s awfully easy to love lasagna. It combines pasta and tomato sauce (if you do a red one), as well as cheese. And it’s nice and thick and gooey. Perfect for a cold winter night. I definitely prefer vegetarian lasagna – I kind of feel that sausage or other meat gets in the way of the pasta, tomato and cheese. But I love vegetables in lasagna. This time I chose to make eggplant and spinach lasagna. (Should you prefer meat lasagna, feel free to substitute it for the eggplant).

I decided to make new tomato sauce rather than use up my precious last serving of heirloom tomato sauce from this summer. (I can’t believe I’m down to just one bag!) And I was pretty pleased with how the sauce turned out. I used a large can of fire-roasted tomatoes as well as some tomato puree, plus a bunch of garlic, Mexican oregano and basil.

For cheese, I used a mix of fat-free mozzarella and part skim mozzarella, 12 oz in total. I have used fat-free cheddar by the same company for years in my chilaquile, and it tastes great, but the fat-free mozzarella just isn’t quite right. So next time I’ll use 8 oz of part-skim mozzarella and skip the extra 4 oz. I think fat-free cottage cheese tastes just fine (I actually like it better than non-non-fat), so I won’t change that. I also used a mix of red pepper and spinach garlic flavored lasagna noodles, which worked okay, but did muddy the flavors a bit. So in the future, I’ll just use plain noodles. (Plain is such a boring sounding term, isn’t it? But ‘pasta flavored’ just doesn’t sound right).

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna Ingredients

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna Ingredients (Next time I’ll go with plain-flavored lasagna noodles)

The noodles I used were from Pappardelle’s, and I guess I didn’t really do a good survey of the size of the noodles compared to the size of your usual boxed noodles. I cooked nine noodles, because that’s what I’ve used every single time I’ve made lasagna. But when I set out to put the first layer of noodles down, two of them covered 80-90% of the width of the pan, and they were too long as well! So I got out my cooking sheers (so very handy!) and turned it into an arts and crafts project. I cut some strips from the extra end pieces, and filled in the side. I altered where the small cut-up pieces were in each of the three layers so that I wouldn’t end up with a lasagnalanche later on.

I thought the pictures of each layer looked kind of cool together:

Putting Together the Eggplant and Spinach Lasanga

Putting Together the Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna
serves 6-8

6-9 lasagna noodles (however many you need for 3 layers in your pan)
1 lb eggplant
12 oz baby spinach
8 oz part-skim mozzarella, grated
16 oz fat-free cottage cheese
3/8 oz pecorino romano, shaved
28 oz crushed tomatoes
26 oz stewed tomatoes (or just use another 28 oz crushed tomatoes)
4 Tbsp minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1+1/2 tsp Mexican oregano (divided)
1/2 tsp basil
3/4 tsp salt, divided
ground pepper

In a large, wide skillet, sauté the minced garlic in the olive oil over low to medium-low heat for a minute or two. Remove 2 tsp of the garlic and set aside. Add the tomatoes, 1 tsp Mexican oregano, the basil, and 1/2 tsp of salt to the garlic. Stir well, and adjust spices to taste. Cook the sauce over medium-low to medium heat until it thickens, 20-30 minutes. (Turn it down if you need to prevent splattering). Once done, set aside. You can continue with the other steps while it’s cooking – just check it fairly often.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1/3 inch thick. Spray a couple of cookie sheets with cooking spray, place the eggplant slices on the sheets, brush lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. (I actually didn’t brush them with olive oil, and they turned out fine – your choice). Bake about 10 minutes (check at 5 minutes) until lightly browned. Turn the pieces and bake for another 2-5 more minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, cut into pieces that are about 2″ in size. Set aside. You’ll want the oven at 350 degrees for the lasagna.

Combine the cottage cheese, shaved pecorino romano, 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano, 1/4 tsp salt, and the 2 tsp of garlic. Set aside.

Steam the spinach (or just put it in the microwave, covered for about two minutes), so that it is wilted, but still bright green. Set aside.

Cook the lasagna noodles as per directions. Drain.

Assemble the lasagna in the following, evenly spread out layers:

  • A thin layer of the tomato sauce
  • A single layer of lasagna noodles
  • 1/3 of the tomato sauce
  • 1/2 of the cottage cheese mixture
  • A little less than 1/2 of the mozzarella
  • The eggplant
  • Another layer of lasagna noodles
  • 1/3 of the tomato sauce
  • The spinach
  • The remaining cottage cheese mixture
  • A little less than 1/2 of the mozzarella
  • Another layer of lasagna noodles
  • The remainder of the tomato sauce
  • The remaining mozzarella

Cover loosely, and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover the lasagna and bake for another 10 minutes.

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna (updated photo – this batch was made entirely with red-pepper noodles)

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna

Eggplant and Spinach Lasagna (old photo from the pre-real-camera days – made with red pepper and spinach noodles

Well, actually that title isn’t quite right, as it implies that the gingerbread was, at one time, good. Let’s just say that the idea was good, and things went downhill from there. While I considered letting this whole episode pass unchronicled, it was pretty amusing, and did have a happy (and tasty) ending.

It being the holiday season, I decided it would be fun to make some gingerbread cookies. We didn’t really have any good cookie cutters, so I found some cool ones at the new Sur la Table in Boulder – a snowflake, an evergreen, a gingerbread man, and a bear (polar, I decided). And in keeping with my low-fat at home tenet, I searched for a low-fat recipe online. I found a couple and decided on one that used a smaller amount of butter than most recipes, as well as applesauce to help keep them moist. And then I made what turned out to be at least one too many of my own substitutions. It’s possible that the cookies could have weathered the white whole wheat flour, and still been pretty acceptable. But the light butter, (which I am starting to feel worse about the more I see how bizarrely it behaves), was an incredibly bad idea. In terms of low-fat cooking, it turns out that using less olive oil in a savory dish is a heck of a lot more successful than substituting light butter for regular butter in a cookie recipe. My first hint that things were going awry was the fact that I couldn’t cream the ‘butter’ and sugar together. The ‘butter’ wouldn’t smooth out. There were little tiny beads of whatever still hanging out in the sugar, even after something like 10 minutes of mixing. At this point, I strongly considered dumping it and pulling out the margarine. But I decided to just see what would happen if I added the flour – I thought maybe it would blend together and possibly be okay. So I added the spices, and the flour and baking soda, and proceeded.

Once I had it all blended, it smelled like gingerbread dough. And it looked like gingerbread dough. I hadn’t made gingerbread cookies since I was a kid, so I really wasn’t too sure if it had exactly the right texture, but I covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day when I started to roll the dough out, it seemed a little overly sticky, so I ended up adding a bit more flour, but was able to cut some nice looking cookies out once I started using the technique of peeling the rest of the dough away from the cookie cutter before lifting it up.

The Peel-Back Method of Cookie Cutting

The Peel-Back Method of Cookie Cutting (now with Blurring AND Glare for your viewing pleasure)

I manged to get 50 cookies out of the dough. At this point, they looked like gingerbread cookies, they baked like gingerbread cookies, and they smelled like gingerbread cookies. They took a little longer than the recipe called for, but I’m pretty used to that at high altitude. So I let them cool, and then tried one. Nice! They actually taste like gingerbread cook…wait a minute. Why am I so thirsty? Wow, I’m thirsty. Parched, in fact. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s a lot more fun to tell that way). So…I now had 50 fairly dry gingerbread cookies. Grand.

Four of my 50 Desiccant-Quality Gingerbread Cookies

Four of my 50 Desiccant-Quality Gingerbread Cookies

Then came the obvious answer. Frozen yogurt or ice cream would solve the entire problem! So I got some fat-free ice cream (well, I can’t undo the fat savings at this point!), broke a couple of cookies into tiny pieces, and combined it. And we have a winner!

Broken Bits of Gingerbread Cookie with Fat Free Vanilla Ice Cream

Broken Bits of Gingerbread Cookie with Fat Free Vanilla Ice Cream

Next time I think I’ll just cave and use full fat butter with the applesauce in the low-fat recipe. But at least now I can enjoy these for the time being!

One of my last purchases of the season at the Boulder Farmers’ Market was Pappardelle’s Spicy Thai Linguine, which is inspired by the flavors of Pad Thai, one of my favorite Thai dishes. I decided that I’d try to find a recipe for the sauce used for Pad Thai, and then add the other usual ingredients (more or less). So I did a bit of searching, and decided on a recipe I found on about.com for Pad Thai. Finding tamarind paste seemed unnecessarily challenging, but only because I looked at King Soopers and Safeway first, which were disappointingly devoid of tamarind. At that point I figured I’d need to make a trip to Pacific Ocean Marketplace in Broomfield, but decided to make one last attempt at Whole Foods before I did so. I slowly moved down the aisle with Asian ingredients, looking at each item without spying tamarind. But then, hidden in the middle of the Indian items – tamarind! Okay, we were good to go now.

The sauce was extremely easy to make – brown sugar, fish sauce, tamarind dissolved in water, some crushed red pepper and some cayenne. I put minced garlic in the sauce as well.

Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients

Pad Thai Sauce Ingredients (now with Bonus Glare!)

For the rest of the dish, I used some cooked shrimp, briefly sautéed green onions, and raw bean sprouts. We didn’t have any peanuts on hand, and I couldn’t find any in bulk, or in a small package at the grocery store, so I just chopped up some soy nuts (I had some from previous granola making efforts), and that worked remarkably well. The resulting dish was outstanding. Between the noodles, the sauce, and the added ingredients, it really tasted just like Pad Thai! I’ll definitely be repeating this one.

Spicy Thai Linguine with Shrimp and Pad Thai Sauce

Spicy Thai Linguine with Shrimp and Pad Thai Sauce

On a completely unrelated note, I was paging through a copy of Eating Well magazine, and I happened upon a recipe for Celery Root Puree. I tried making mashed turnips (or was it rutabagas?) at one time, hoping for a less caloric substitution for mashed potatoes, but they really didn’t taste that great. So I thought I would go ahead and try making celery root puree and see if I fared better with that. Celery roots are really kind of ugly things, but their ugly exteriors hide a really tasty inner beauty.

Celery Root

Celery Roots

I didn’t follow the recipe precisely, but I did use the same ingredients. I peeled and cut up the celery roots and then steamed them until they were very tender. Then I just proceeded like I would when making mashed potatoes.  I used a mixer to puree the celery root, and added some light butter (which I’m really thinking of getting away from the more I read the ingredient list), as well as some skim milk, salt, and pepper. I generally use a lot less butter for mashed potatoes than most recipes call for, but since this was light butter I used a whole tablespoon even with this small amount of celery root).

Celery Root Puree

Celery Root Puree

My husband and I were both thrilled with the result. The celery root has a bit milder taste than celery stalks, so this is kind of like celery-tinged mashed potatoes with a very smooth texture. Given that the bulk of it is a vegetable, and the only fat you are adding is from the butter (and I used light butter), it’s not as caloric as mashed potatoes. And you could use olive oil to make it healthier as well. This was really easy to make, so I think I’ll keep this one in rotation, especially for winter nights where some warm but quick comfort food is just the thing.

Make This At Home!

December 9, 2011

Once in a while my husband and I order something at a restaurant that makes me think – Hey, I could probably make this at home! I never achieve quite the same taste as the original, since I’m not that savvy at figuring out what’s in a dish just by tasting it, but I’ve made a few things that are quite good regardless. Recently we had an awesome shaved Brussel Sprout salad at Pizzeria da Lupo. Made with shaved, raw Brussel Sprouts, pecorino cheese, and toasted walnuts with a nice sweet and tangy dressing, it was outstanding. I decided I’d do something similar, so I bought a bunch of Brussel Sprouts, and jumped into making a salad, with no idea whatsoever if it would be an unmitigated catastrophe, or a wonderful success. After washing the sprouts, and taking off the outer leaves, for whatever reason, I decided to use the grater and do the whole thing by hand, rather than using a modern implement like a food processor. I do not recommend this method, unless you’re looking for a good arm workout. But, I did manage to get enough shaved Brussel Sprouts, then added some shaved carrots and shaved radishes. I topped it with some champagne vinaigrette (I use a great recipe from epicurious, but reduce the oil by about half). The resulting salad? Not exactly like the one at da Lupo, but quite good nonetheless. If you live in Boulder, I suggest just going to Pizzeria da Lupo, splitting the salad with someone else (it’s huge) and getting a pizza. They have great happy hour prices, so you won’t have to pay too much, the pizza is sublime, and you’ll save yourself some shredding labor. If you’re not around Boulder, I would recommend giving this a try, because it really is wonderful.

Brussel Sprout Salad

Brussel Sprout Salad

My next attempt at restaurant dish replication turned out to be a pretty amusing experience. My husband and I both love green papaya salads, and get them nearly every time we go out for Thai food. I did a little research on green papayas, and discovered that there are basically two main groups of papayas, one with yellow flesh, and one with redder flesh. Either one when picked unripe is considered a green papaya. Okay, that seemed doable, as long as I could find a green papaya. So while we were at Sunflower Market looking for some lean bison steak, I happened upon a pile of gigantic green papayas. So here is where a thinking person would have actually connected the ‘ripe papaya’ sticker with the fact that maybe that meant that the papaya was already ripe, despite its green appearance. But that was not the route I took. I picked up a huge green papaya, and headed home.

Papaya Salad Ingredients

Green Papaya Salad Ingredients

Well, when I peeled my nice green papaya, I discovered that it was indeed a fully ripe reddish-orange flesh papaya. Oops. But, recovering my thinking person status, I noticed that the outer layer was a bit lighter in color, and felt a bit firmer. So I cut a bit off, and it actually did taste pretty much like a green papaya. Bring out the grater again! I removed the seeds, cut it into manageable pieces, and then grated off the outer, firmer part of the papaya. I cut the riper flesh up and took it to work for lunch the rest of the week.

Papaya

Not So Green Papaya

Once I had my shredded papaya, I added some shredded carrot, shredded daikon, bell pepper, green onions, tomatoes, and a pepper that I thought would be hotish, but was really bland. So I just added a tad of cayenne pepper to the dressing. I used a recipe from Bon Appetite for Thai Green Papaya Salad to make the dressing. After a little tweaking of the dressing in terms of ratios of fish sauce to brown sugar to lime juice, I deemed it fairly good and tossed the salad with it. And to my delight, it was surprisingly like a green papaya salad! (Aside from the orange coloring, of course.)

Not So Green Papaya Salad

Not So Green Papaya Salad

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