In search of innovative uses for the fourth weekly box of farm-raised organic greens, I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks. Raghavan Iyer’s Turmeric Trail is a vivid picture of a working class Indian childhood, and the foods in the book are not like those in other Indian cookbooks. These are not the cream-enriched soups of the Raj or the rich lamb curries of your local restaurant. Instead, the book is about a spare but abundant childhood of his mother’s and grandmother’s frugal cooking: spiced onions made to stuff into a dimple of a rice ball, buttermilk curry, and potatoes in spices with just a tablespoon of split dried lentils for protein. There are meat and fish recipes in the book, but meat has never passed the man’s lips.
I know this because Iyer doesn’t live in a small house in India anymore — he’s in Minneapolis now, living downtown next door to my friend Melissa. They’re urban pioneers in tall, ancient houses in the shadow of the skyscrapers. The book is his attempt to describe his childhood in recipes.
Spiced Kale in Coconut Milk is along the lines of saag, while Chick Pea Flour Crepes (glycemic load: 27) are our latest discovery in the quest for a lower carb way to eat. The two make a fine, meatless meal that we look forward to having again. It almost, almost made us wish that greens season weren’t coming to an end.
Here’s the chickpea flour batter just before cooking. I must have accidentally pressed the Do Not Press button because the camera pouted and sulked and refused to take a picture of the finished meal. It looked pretty much like any mess o greens with corncakes, but it tasted way better.
Chick-Pea Flour Crepes
From The Turmeric Trail by Raghavan Iyer.
- 1 cup chick-pea flour (labeled gram or besan flour and found in Indian markets)
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon sambhar masal, optional
- Vegetable oil for the skillet
Combine the flours, salt, turmeric and water in a bowl. Beat until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes. Coat a crepe pan of 8-inch skillet with vegetable oil. Pour in 1/4 cup batter and quickly tilt the pan to spread the batter. Cook for 2 minutes until the top loses its gloss. Turn and cook the other side. Keep crepes warm in aluminum foil. They can be reheated without toughening. Makes 6 crepes.
This mixture is hot, hot, hot with a deep, toasty flavor. It keeps in the freezer for 2 years — that’s how long mine has been there, and it still tastes great. I adapted it slightly from Raghavan Iyer’s version.
- 1/2 cup dried red Thai, serrano or cayenne chiles
- 3 tablespoons chana dal (yellow split peas) or urad dal (split black lentils)
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Combine all of the ingredients except in a bowl and mix well to coat with the oil. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and add the spice mixture. Toasts, shaking the pan and stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until the chiles blacken and the lentils are golden brown. Transfer to bowl or plate and let cool. Grind until the mixture has a texture like finely ground pepper. Keep in an airtight jar at room temperature for 2 months. or in the freezer up to 2 years.
Stewed Greens with Coconut Milk
Mustard seeds popped in oil taste and smell just like popcorn, and just a spoonful of them is enough to flavor a whole pot of greens. If you use spinach, just cook it from its raw state. If you choose a sturdier green like collards or kale, cook them to tenderness first. (15 minutes in pressure cooker)
- 10 ounces fresh spinach, or cooked kale or collards
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon sambhar masala
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup water
Cook the greens first if using kale or collards. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the mustard seeds and cover the pan. Pop them until the popping stops. Add the spinach a handful at a time and cook just until wilted (or add the cooked kale and collards all at once. Add the remaining ingredients cook, uncovered and stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes to blend the flavors. Makes a main dish for 2 or side dish for 4.