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An Examined Life

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Tag: spices

Pantry and Freezer Clean-Out (Yay, Spiced Banana Loaf)

I cook lunch and dinner on most days.

P and I take lunch to work in Thermos containers that keep the food warm for hours. A long time ago (or so it seems), I used to cook extra for dinner, and we took the leftovers for lunch the following day. Then something changed (and I don’t recall what it is). I began cooking lunch every morning. We discovered that Thermos containers are true to their word. The steaming dal blew my mind (and P’s too). We were instant converts. Now I cannot fathom eating leftovers for lunch. There is clearly something to be said for the sheer deliciousness that is freshly cooked food. There is a certain juiciness to it, an indescribable rasa that renders the food sublime and delicious and utterly satisfying.

You’d think that a kitchen as heavily used as ours would see a high turnover of ingredients and supplies. That’s certainly true for some varieties of dals and beans, fresh produce, bread, avocados, dates (we seem to consume them in crazy quantities – I jest), etc. However, there are certain ingredients that lurk on pantry and freezer shelves for a long while. So I have decided to start using those “silent actors” and clear them out.

Made a delicious Spiced Banana Loaf yesterday. Proud to say that I cleaned out the following items for this endeavor – Spelt flour, almond meal, broken cashews. I also used white whole wheat flour that has been sitting in the freezer for a while now (I bake mostly with spelt flour).

This is a vegan recipe that uses coconut oil. I use the organic, unrefined type and it is fairly flavorless. The original recipe called for 1.5 cups of chocolate chips but I used a blend of cranberries, black raisins, cashews and cocoa nibs instead. Can I say, that mix is a whole lot more interesting than plain old chocolate chips?

Spiced Banana Loaf

The end result was (or is) moist, mildly sweet (I used a third of the quantity of sugar asked for in the original recipe), perfectly spiced. I couldn’t carve out neat slices, instead ending up with little misshapen slabs.

So, if you would like to sample these little bits of deliciousness, please stop by. I am a little shy to tote them out this time. 🙂

The original recipe is at NY Times Cooking – Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Cake.

Ingredients

2 cups flour (I used a mix of spelt flour, white whole wheat flour and almond meal)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
A couple pinches of salt
1 cup mashed bananas
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut oil (unrefined, organic)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup (cashews, dried cranberries, black raisins, cocoa nibs)

Method

  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together bananas, coconut milk, oil, vinegar and vanilla.
  • Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in the dried fruit and nut and cocoa nibs mix. Stir well.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan.
  • Spread the batter evenly into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it.
  • Transfer on to a cooling rack. Carefully turn it over, so the bottom does not get too moist.
  • Cut into wedges, enjoy.

Fresh Ginger Spice Cake

Fresh Ginger Spice Cake

Ginger is one of my favorite spices. I adore it in all forms. Fresh ginger is something I add to almost everything Indian I cook. Dal, khichdi, curries, soups… all of them get a generous addition of ginger – chopped or shredded. My daily cup of masala chai depends on fresh ginger for the zing and sharpness. Last India trip, I brought back to the U.S. a big knob of fragrant dried ginger (“chukkuh” in Malayalam). It liberally perfumed the plastic bag it came in. I add generous doses of dried ginger powder (“soonth”) to spice cookies and cakes. We are loyal consumers of all manner of herbal ginger teas (Yogi, Traditional Medicinals, Pukka, etc.)

I think I waited too long to make this cake, no?

Here is the original recipe. I have tweaked quantities and substituted ingredients in my version, so please read both recipes before you start baking!

Ingredients

80g fresh ginger, peeled
2/3 cup organic unsulphured molasses
1 cup raw cane sugar
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature (I used Ener-G egg replacer)

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan with oil or non-stick spray.
  • Chop the ginger finely. Or you can use a mixer/grinder to shred it finely.
  • Combine the shredded ginger, molasses, sugar and olive oil in a large bowl.
  • Mix the flour, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper in another bowl.
  • Bring the water to boil in a saucepan, add baking soda. Stir the water into the molasses mixture.
  • Incorporate the dry ingredients in to the molasses mixture.
  • Add the egg replacer to the batter. Mix well until combined thoroughly.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for an hour until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If the top of the cake starts browning before the cake is done, cover with a piece of aluminum foil and continue baking.
  • Let the cake cool for a good 30 minutes.
  • Cut into wedges, enjoy.

Notes

  • This cake is a beautiful blend of the sweet and spicy. The dark sweetness of the molasses perfectly complements the warm spices.
  • I used spelt flour in place of whole wheat flour.
  • The original recipe called for 120g of fresh ginger. However, the kind of fresh ginger we buy is very intense, so I reduced the quantity to 80g instead.
  • I used a loaf pan that was clearly the wrong size. The cake swelled up and started overflowing down the sides of the pan. The original recipe calls for a 9-inch springform pan or a 9inch x 3inch cake pan, neither of which I own. Well, the cake swelled like crazy, finally collapsing in the center. Next time, I will use a larger baking utensil.
  • I think this cake could benefit from the addition of dried cranberries and/or black raisins.

Presenting the Masala Dabba… Spice Box!

Masala Dabba, usually in stainless steel, comes with seven little dibbis, each one carrying a colorful spice, covered by a steel lid. Indispensable in every Indian kitchen. Yes, that about describes it.

When I first moved to the United States, I was entranced with IKEA. I snapped up a set of their cute little glass jars, thinking they’d be perfect to store spices. The transparent glass exterior would render it easy for me to view and pick the spice of my choice. My mother and mother-in-law use the renowned Masala Dabba but I was building a new kitchen, the first one in my life. And I was determined to be different. (Why do we want to forge a separate identity for ourselves? Question for another time.) So I went ahead, picked a bunch of the little glass jars, filled them with spices. And waited. No, I didn’t… 🙂 I set about learning to cook, poring the Internet for traditional recipes. Growing up, neither my younger sister nor I expressed the slightest intention to learn cooking, and my mother gave up on her efforts to make us do so. She wisely decided that when push came to shove, we would learn to cook. And we did.

The glass jars didn’t quite cut it. They looked so hip and trendy but maybe I wasn’t hip enough for them? Aah, well. Anyway, next India trip, I made a beeline to the nearest Indian kitchen appliance store and got myself a stainless steel Masala Dabba with the seven little dibbis. Brought the set home to Atlanta, washed and dried them all, filled them with my favorite spices and seeds. What’s in my Masala Dabba currently?

Take a look.

Masala Dabba

Bright yellow turmeric or haldi (center) – Fragrant, healing, warming, antiseptic

Starting from top right and moving clockwise,
Garam Masala – A unique combination made by dry-roasting and grinding a bunch of whole spices including cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaf, cloves and others, a little Garam Masala goes a long way! This one came home with me from India.
Mustard seeds – Indispensable to many South Indian dishes! When the seeds begin to pop in hot oil, it is time to get moving!
Dhania-Jeera Masala (Coriander-Cumin Powder) – A light spice combination that brings in a “green” (for want of a better word) flavor to all dishes
Fenugreek Seeds – Excellent digestive properties that have a bitter crunch to them when cooked. I don’t use them as much as I wish I did.
Kashmiri dried red chilli powder – Potent in small doses, a pinch or two does the trick.
Cumin seeds – I throw a couple of spoons into almost every lentil dal and/or vegetable dish I make.

Indian cuisine is not loaded with spices, as many people are wont to think. It is more accurate to state that Indian cooking relies on a huge plethora of spices for its rich flavors and varied taste palettes. However, throwing copious amounts of spices into any and every dish is not a sign of a good cook, although it may very well be the hallmark of chefs cooking in Indian restaurants here in the U.S… sigh. Instead, knowing the essence of each spice and intuiting the best method and quantity to use it, at the right time… these are signs of skilled cooks world over, aware and reflective, intuitive and listening.

These days, my mother (and my mom-in-law) use spice mixes sparingly. With age and experience, maturity and sensitivity, their hands and minds work skilfully, adding a teaspoon of turmeric here, a pinch of red chilli powder there, a cup of freshly ground coconut+cumin+dried red chillies into a pan of cooked amaranth and lentils, a handful of chopped cilantro into a pot of steaming moong dal…. and the end result is harmony, flavor, nourishment, health.