Garlicky Cauliflower Dhansak

Three bowls of Indian curry and yellow rice on wooden table.

Saag Tofu, Mushroom Dhansak, and turmeric rice.

This is my simplified version of dhansak, a lentil based Indian curry. I have made it with cauliflower, and I have also made it with mushrooms. Just substitute mushrooms for the cauliflower in this recipe. Both are good.

Dhansak should be at least warm with the chili, but otherwise it can be as hot as you care to make it. It is dominated by a deeply earthy tone with sweet/sour accents supplied by the tamarind. It also happens to be my youngest daughter’s current favorite and one of the healthiest curries I make, being low in fat and high in fiber, beans, and vegetables. A real comfort food!

As with many curries, leftovers taste even better (and generally slightly hotter) the next day.

2 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp amchur
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp tamarind paste

1-3 tsp coconut oil
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh green jalapeno chili (or to taste), finely minced

8 oz red lentils, rinsed
1/3 recipe (~2 cups) curry base sauce or low fat curry base sauce

12 oz (1/2 large head) cauliflower, cut into thin florets OR sliced mushrooms
6 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped, fresh coriander

Gather together the dried spices in a small bowl.

Heat  the oil in a large frying pan over a medium/high heat, and cook the onion and fresh chili, stirring occasionally, until browned (~20 minutes).

While the onions brown, put the lentils into a saucepan with 16 fl oz (2 cup) of water and the curry base sauce; bring to a simmer and cook gently until softened. (~10 mins)

Add the cauliflower florets or mushrooms to the onion, and stir to coat with oil, and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic to the onion, and allow to warm through for a minute.

Add the spices to the onion, and stir to coat.

Once the lentils have completely softened, scrape the vegetables into the lentil pot, add the salt, and simmer until the cauliflower/mushrooms are just soft, and the lentils have almost disintegrated into a sauce.

Check for seasoning. If it looks at all dry (or the cauliflower hasn’t finished cooking), add a little more water and simmer for 2 minutes to integrate it (or until the cauliflower has finished cooking) before serving hot with rice or GF chapati, garnished with fresh chopped cilantro/leaf coriander.

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Low Calorie, Vegan, Creamy, Pepper and Tomato Soup

A smooth, warming, spicy soup, this is a great way to make use of the cauliflower stalk that so often gets thrown away. Note that this started off life as a way to use up the last bit of ranchero sauce that I had in the fridge one day when I was thinking fondly of a cream of tomato soup that I used to have as a child. If you find yourself in that situation, 8 floz / 1 cup / 1/4 litre ranchero sauce, 8 oz / 250g cauliflower cooked in 24 floz / 3 cups / 700ml of water with 1/2 tsp salt will get you a small amount of this soup in a jiffy.

Spicy Tomato and Pepper Soup

Serves 6-8

1 tsp margarine (I use Earth Balance) or cooking oil/spray
6 oz (1/2 of a large) onion, diced
8 oz / 2-3 cups / 230g red/yellow/orange sliced peppers (frozen is O.K.)
1 jalapeño chili, seeds removed and flesh roughly diced
1 lb / 450g cauliflower
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
14 oz / 400g chopped tinned tomatoes, with juices
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp of sugar if necessary to counteract acidic tomatoes

Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium high heat, then cook the onion, peppers/chili, and cauliflower until the onion is translucent (~10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic and allow it to warm through for a minute.

Add the remaining ingredients along with 48 fl oz / 6 cups/ 1400 ml of water, and simmer until the cauliflower is soft (~10 minutes).

Blend until smooth, check seasoning, reheat if necessary, and serve hot.

Vegan Vegetable Korma

This is a mild, creamy, slightly sweet curry which is great for introducing kids to curry.

Korma 2

Vegan Vegetable Korma with turmeric tinted rice

One thing I have noticed about potatoes is that if you cook them in a tomato based sauce, they develop a tough skin that my kids are not keen on, so I cook the potatoes in boiling water before I add them to the dish. To be honest, this is a good way to use up left over cooked vegetables as the veggies used can be adjusted to suit your preference. Good contenders are mushrooms, peas, potato cubes, small cauliflower florets, green beans, carrot cubes, or fried tofu cubes as prepared for Tofu Florentine. Although you could add canned beans, I feel they’re a bit savory/heavy for a korma. Aim for 1.5 – 2lbs veggies in all.

For the record, I did try this dish using honey instead of sugar, and tamarind instead of lemon juice, but the more familiar ingredients actually tasted better. The less familiar amchur and star anise which I did use are easily available in specialty stores and Amazon.

Serves 4

12 oz potato, cut into 3/4″ cubes
4 oz green beans

1 tsp – 4 tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
3 oz (1/4 of a large) onion, diced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1/4 tsp salt for the mushrooms

1 1/2 cups curry base or lower calorie curry base
2 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) raw cashews
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt for the sauce
2 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground star anise
1 tsp amchur (dried mango powder)

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander

Bring a medium pot of water to the boil, and add the potatoes and green beans (and any other veggies that you’ve added that can be cooked by simmering. e.g. cauliflower or carrots)

Bring back to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes have softened but are not falling apart. (~10 minutes)

Put the curry base, cashews, lemon juice, salt, and sugar, into a blender or food processor, and process until smooth.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat, then add the onion and mushrooms, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp of the salt, and sauté until the onion starts to become translucent, and the mushrooms soften.

Sprinkle the spices over the cooked onions, and allow to warm through for a few seconds.

Drain the potatoes and green beans, and scrape the onion and mushroom mixture into the potatoes; scrape the smooth sauce out of the blender and into the pan with the vegetables.

Use 4 fl oz (1/4 cup) of water to rinse the blender out into the saucepan.

Heat through, adjust consistency with more water if needed to produce a sauce that clings and runs, and seasonings to taste, then serve hot with a generous leaf coriander garnish, and plain cooked rice or chapatis.

Low Fat Curry Base Sauce

Low fat curry base sauceI developed this recipe from my Curry Base Sauce recipe in the hopes that members of my family who are keeping an eye on their weight would be able to join in. It just so happens that this version is also quicker to make without any obvious reduction in flavour, though I would think it’s a bit less rich.

Initially, I tried making a low fat curry base just by ditching the fat, and I  made a couple of batches which got thrown away because they were bitter. In the original recipe, quite a lot of oil is used, and as the tomatoes cook the oil rises to the surface along with some bitter flavors which get skimmed off towards the end (yes, I did taste the froth – it was not good). Nothing rises to the top in this recipe, as there’s very little oil used, and the bitter flavor stayed in the tomatoes. It took a bit of detective work to figure out that the problem was with the fresh ginger, and once I’d substituted dried ginger for the fresh, I was in business again with making curries.

Coconut cooking oil spray or 1 tsp coconut oil

1 lb (1-1.5 large) onions, skinned and thickly sliced

1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp fennel
1/16 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp powdered ginger (not fresh!)

1 oz (just less than 1 bulb) fresh garlic, skinned and chopped
8 fl oz (1 cup) tinned tomatoes in juice

Heat the cooking spray in a medium sized saucepan.

Fry the onions over medium heat until starting to brown, stirring frequently.

Add the spices and garlic, and allow to heat through for a minute.

Add the tomatoes to the onions, add two cups of water, and  cook for 10-15 minutes until everything has softened.

Scrape all the ingredients into a blender, and process until smooth. Adjust consistency with water to make 40-48 fl oz (5-6 cups) of sauce, if necessary.

This can be stored in the fridge for several days, and is sufficient for ~3 recipes/meals. I use it for chana masala, korma, cauliflower dhansak, saag tofu.

Tofu Lettuce Wraps

I got the idea for this appetizer from P.F. Chang’s restaurant. Unfortunately, their version is not gluten free, so I haven’t had it for years. My version is ridiculously easy to make. When I first made it, I used 3 tbsp of gluten free soy sauce, which was verging on too salty, even for me …. but if you like salt, and want that flavor kick, then 3 tbsps works well; these can also be added to salads to provide salty, tangy highlights, if you do that.

… and if you’re interested, this total recipe works out at 360kcals plus that needed for lettuce (or peppers etc.) that’s used for scooping.

Grlled tofu

Serves 3 as an appetizer

1 (~14 oz) packet of firm tofu, drained
2 tbsp Braggs Aminos (or other gluten free soy sauce)
1 tbsp Hoisin Sauce (check for gluten first)
1/8 tsp ground ginger
cooking spray or oil for the pan
1 iceberg/cos/romaine lettuce

Slice the tofu into 1/4″ thick cubes.

Pour the Braggs into a large bowl, stir in the hoisin sauce and ginger, and then add the cubed tofu. Stir to coat. You can check the seasoning at this point.

Pre-heat the broiler/grill (not the BBQ variety).

Spray a baking sheet with the cooking spray (or smear with the oil) and tip the tofu out onto it, spread so that the layer is only one cube deep.

Put the tofu ~5″ under the grill/broiler and cook until browned and chewy, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and encourage even browning. (~10-15 mins)

Serve in a bowl with an iceberg or romaine/cos lettuce on the side. Eat by spooning a small amount of the tofu into an individual lettuce leaf, and eat as finger food.

Saag Tofu (Spinach and Tofu Curry)

This curry is for spinach lovers, and is utterly delicious. It started out as my version of Saag Paneer (which I’ve never tasted as I can’t eat the Paneer cheese) … so this isn’t a vegan Saag Paneer … it’s a dish in its own right. It’s mildly hot, with sweet undertones from the fried onion and tomato in the curry base sauce.

Saag Tofu

Serves 4 with accompaniments

1 (14 oz) pkt of firm tofu
1 lb frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
3/4 tsp salt for the spinach
1 tbsp coconut oil/Earth Balance margarine
1/4 large (3-4 oz) onion, finely diced

1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp garam masala
1/8 tsp chili powder, or to taste

3/4 tsp salt for the tofu

1/8 cup raw cashews
1 1/2 cups curry base sauce or lower calorie curry base

Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2″ cuboids.

DSC_0004Lay a clean cloth kitchen towel on the work-surface, and line it with kitchen paper. Arrange the tofu on the kitchen paper, cover the tofu with more kitchen paper, then fold the towel over the top to help soak up excess moisture. Leave this for 1/2-3 hours. The tofu will have firmed up and have a drier surface when it’s ready, which makes it less likely to stick in the pan while it’s frying.

Put the spinach in a saucepan along with the salt for the spinach. Heat over high heat to remove excess moisture.

Heat 1/2 the fat in a frying pan over medium high heat; add the tofu, sprinkle over with the salt for the tofu, and cook (turning frequently) until the tofu starts to brown and become crispy on the outside. If it sticks to the pan at all, scrape it off with a thin edged spatula (these bits taste good, too).

Once the tofu has become crispy / chewy, scrape it out into the spinach, melt the remaining fat in the frying pan, and fry the onion over medium heat until completely soft and starting to brown (~15 minutes). Add the nutmeg, garam masala, and chili powder at this point, stir to combine (and allow to warm through), then scrape into the spinach saucepan.

Put the curry base sauce and the cashews into a blender, and blend until smooth. Add this to the spinach, stir and heat, then serve hot with rice or GF chapati.

Curry Base Sauce

I do like curry. The authentic stuff is ok, but the stuff that I love is the British Indian Restaurant kind which can be fabulous! Apparently, restaurants generally rely on a curry base sauce which allows the production of many different curries really quickly as it contains ingredients common to many curries: onion, garlic, ginger, a few basic spices. It’s a base flavor that you tweak when making the actual dish, a bit like a flavored broth/stock. The secret is to have a spice combination that you particularly like … and not to skimp too much on the oil! If you do need a lower calorie (and faster) version, I have developed such a thing!

Oil: Apart from the taste aspect of the oil, it seems to help in the last section where everything has been blended together and you’re skimming off froth which is sometimes quite bitter. I tried to make an oil free version once, and ended up putting it in the bin!

Onion: I’ve also seen recipes that simply boil the onions to start off with, but once you’ve had your house filled with the smell of boiled onions, you won’t want to do it again. Don’t talk to me about authenticity …. I won’t be boiling any more onions as I’d like my husband to continue living with me.

Salt: Note that my version doesn’t contain any salt. This is not a mistake. Some of the dishes that I’d want to use it in require salt in their preparation (such as salting aubergine/eggplant or mushrooms to draw out their juices), and I’d rather put it in at that stage, than risk putting in too much.

Garlic: Generally, I expect to buy bulbs of garlic and peel the cloves as and when I need them, as they keep better this way.  However, for this dish I find the ready peeled stuff really useful! My store (Trader Joe’s) sells ready peeled garlic in 1 oz packets! So convenient! I don’t even have to weigh them.

Blender: I use the blender 3 times in moderately quick succession in this recipe … and am going to admit that I don’t do anything more than rinse it out into the pot between uses. The flavors are all going to end up in the same dish, anyway.

This recipe makes enough for 2 – 4 family meals, depending on how much the chosen recipe uses. I wouldn’t want to make it in any smaller quantities, though. Check out these recipes that use it (this list will get longer as time goes by): Chana Masala (Chickpea/garbanzo bean Curry), Saag Tofu, Vegan Vegetable Korma.

Makes 4-5 cups of curry base (~190kcals/cup).

1 + 3 tbsp coconut oil/Earth Balance/vegetable oil
1 lb (1-1.5 large) onions, skinned and thickly sliced
8 fl oz (1 cup) tinned tomatoes in juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp fennel
1/16 tsp cloves
1 oz (~2″) fresh ginger, peeled
1 oz (just less than 1 bulb) fresh garlic, skinned

Heat 1 tbsp of the fat in a large saucepan; cook the onion gently over a medium heat in the fat for 20 minutes until completely soft and browned, stirring occasionally.

Put the tomato into the blender, and blend until completely smooth.

Gather the dried spices together into a small bowl.

Curry base oil

Note the oil separating out on the right hand side of the pan.

Heat 3 tbsp of the fat in a second saucepan. Add the spices to this second saucepan, and almost immediately add the blended tomato to prevent the turmeric from burning. Cook this mixture for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fat can be seen separating out at the edges of the tomato or as smooth, dark patches on the top.

Put the ginger, and garlic into the blender with 8 fl oz of water, and blend until smooth.

Once the onion has completely softened and browned, pour the ginger and garlic into the onion pot. Rinse the blender out into the onion pot with another 8 fl oz of water. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes with a tight fitting lid (or 5 minutes at pressure in a pressure cooker) until the onion is almost disintegrating.

Put the cooked onion mixture into the blender, and blend until totally smooth.

Simmering curry base sauce. Note the pale colored froth that forms around the smooth sauce in the middle, and needs to be skimmed off.

Simmering curry base sauce. Note the  smooth sauce in the middle of the pale froth that needs to be skimmed off.

Pour the onion mixture into the tomato mixture. Stir once to combine, then simmer over a low heat for a further 20 – 40 minutes without stirring. During this time, skim off any froth that rises to the surface by dragging the edge of a metal spoon lightly over the surface; try to avoid stirring it in. This removes a harsh flavor. You’re not going to get all of it, but you should get as much as your patience can cope with.

Once the simmering has finished, cool the sauce, and store it in the fridge in air-tight containers, using as needed. I use mine up within a week. I’ve seen some recipes that say it’s OK to freeze this, but I also know that garlic changes its flavor quite dramatically in the freezer, so I’d rather use mine fresh.