Main Courses: 17 posts

Tested recipes for main course dishes

Indian Flattened Rice Pilaf (Poha) : Layering Flavors

My first taste of India was completely different from what I anticipated. I arrived at my friend’s apartment in Delhi, my head still aching from jet lag and the kaleidoscopic array of new sensory impressions. “You must be hungry,” said Swati, as she went into the kitchen. It was close to midnight, but the air was still hot and humid, and my shirt stuck to my back. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I still politely ate a bit of the vegetable pilaf she put in front of me. I expected it to be spicy and hot, but instead it was tart and refreshing, reminiscent more of Mediterranean tastes than anything I’ve previously experienced with Indian food. Poha was the start of my love affair with Indian layered flavors.

poha

Poha is the name for flattened rice (sometimes also referred to as beaten rice) that has been parboiled, rolled, flattened, and dried to produce easy-to-cook, nutritious flakes. It’s a Western Indian version of muesli, and it’s a common breakfast dish. Since poha is already cooked, it only requires a brief soaking to turn the thin flakes into plump grains. It absorbs liquids and flavors easily, and poha works well in soups, pilafs, salads, and even desserts. You can use it in any dish in which you would have used couscous, adjusting the cooking times accordingly.

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Autumn in Brussels : Pork Loin with Peaches and Thyme

Autumn here in Belgium begins overnight. After the short interlude of an Indian summer, you wake up to an overcast, gray day and feel that the clouds are only a few inches above your head. The roses might still be in full bloom, the daytime temperature is still comfortable, but you already know that the rainy season is here. It’s telling that in the old Bruxellois dialect, there are numerous words for rain. It can be a delicate mist that looks innocuous but soaks you to the bone within minutes. It can be a lashing, cold rain that makes umbrellas obsolete, or it might just be a nagging drizzle that makes me feel sad for no particular reason and ponder the wisdom of bears that go into hibernation for the winter.

Since the winter here is nine months long, hibernation isn’t really an option. I’ve learned to do all of my chores on foot and shop at the open air markets which are run year round in each neighborhood, rain or shine. Brussels is made up of 19 communes, and if you love markets, you can explore different areas of the city based on your specific shopping needs. On Saturday, you can pour over the antique books at the market held at the Place du Sablon. On Sunday, you can buy spices and vegetables at the sprawling le Marché du Midi or walk along Rue de Brabant and feel as if you’re in Morocco. While les grandes surfaces (supermarkets) offer stiff competition, the vibrancy of the open air markets even on the dreariest of days is appealing.

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Autumn Perfumes : Pasta with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pancetta

Even before I saw the leaves turning golden in the park, I smelled autumn in the air. The sun may have been generous and warm, and the summer visitors still packed the squares in Brussels, but the autumnal perfume was unmistakable–a nutty-musty melange of decaying leaves and wilting flowers. The anticipation of long dark evenings and bitter cold is enough to make anyone dread fall in the northern countries, but as the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin wrote, “Autumn attracts me like a neglected girl among her sisters.” Of course, then in the course of his poem he goes on to compare the beauty of fall to that of a girl dying from consumption, but that’s the complex Slavic soul for you. For my part, I love fall for its golden light and serenity as well as for its seasonal tastes.pasta-hazelnuts2

A big pile of feathery green leaves and tawny shells at the Friday market last week caught my attention. “Noisettes Fraîches,” said the chalk drawn sign, and it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at green hazelnuts. Pushkin taps into my nostalgia for my childhood days and green hazelnuts are another reminder. I pillaged many a hazelnut shrub in my grandmother’s garden in search of tasty, not quite ripe nuts and have fallen many a time trying to get to the higher branches.

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Belgian Journal : Coriander Scented Chicken Kofta Kebabs with Mint Chutney

The more time I spend in Brussels, the more I understand why the Surrealist movement gained a momentum here. The fact that a city of less than 2 million people contains a dozen governments should already tell you something. There is the European Union government, the Brussels region government, the French Community of Belgium government and its Flemish counterpart, each of which has its own representatives. If that weren’t enough, Brussels consists of 19 municipalities, each with its own mayor and laws. It’s no wonder that each trip to city hall leaves me with a minor nervous breakdown.

On the other hand, the diversity of people that Brussels attracts is the best thing about the city. You can cross the city on foot in a couple of hours, but sometimes turning onto a new street makes you feel as if you are in a different country. When it comes to food, the choices are limitless. Whether you have a craving for moules frites, the famous Belgian specialty of mussels and fries, for Sicilian cannoli or for something as exotic as mwambe, a Congolese chicken stew with peanuts, you can discover it all quite easily.

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Buckwheat and Mushroom Pilaf Recipe : Toasty, Savory Notes

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As I was enjoying the toasty sandalwood of Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau recently, it reminded me of the burnt, caramelized notes we enjoy in food such as coffee, freshly baked bread, chocolate and pralines. These flavors oscillate between languid sweetness and smoky bitterness, yet all facets add up to an irresistible mélange. In food, as in fragrance, the judicious use of charred notes can convey a savory, mouthwatering sensation. One of my favorite ways to experience this is a simple buckwheat pilaf. Accented with the dark, piney notes of mushrooms and sweet caramelized onions, this traditional Russian dish is very satisfying. In the spring, it takes well to morels and white field mushrooms, while in the winter, it can be made with smoky and savory dried porcini.

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