I haven't cooked much in the last week but I more than made up for it on Friday--as it was time for my BFF's birthday party extravaganza, she'd asked me to bring a pot of Oh, You Beautiful Dhal and the chai cheesecake I made forever ago. I decided, in my insane way, that that wasn't nearly enough, and appointed myself official caterer of the party.
Because, as I said, I'm insane.
By the time I was done we had:
- Potato-pea samosas (baked, not fried)
- Basmati pilau with almonds
- Dhal (that's red lentil stew for the uninitiated)
- Chai Spice cheesecake from Hannah's My Sweet Vegan
- Pita triangles (storebought, for dhalish dipping)
Judging from the yummy noises and groans of delight, I did myself proud. The cheesecake especially was fantastic--do yourself a favor and pick up Hannah's book, and while you're at it read her blog Bittersweet.
Still, few things in the world will perfume your house as wonderfully as sauteed onions when they just start to brown around the edges. The only thing better is a pan full of spices toasted until the mustard seeds start to pop and release their volatile oils. It's such a simple thing, but it lends such complex flavors to whole spices. The dhal recipe calls for mustard seed, cumin seed, fenugreek, cardamom pods, cloves, and coriander, all toasted together and then cooled and ground to powder along with a bit of cinnamon and chili pepper.
I didn't take a picture of the dhal itself because, frankly, it's not the most photogenic food in the world. I meant to get pics of all the finished products, but I got so involved in getting everything done and ready for transport that I forgot, and once I was at the party I was distracted by something shiny (translation: booze) and missed the opportunity to snag some images of the sliced cheesecake or the bowls of lentils served over flavorful rice.
I did, however, catch the samosas before they disappeared. The cuddly little pastry packets are much like empanadas, pasties, hand pies, even ravioli--just about every culture has some variation on a dough pocket stuffed with either sweet or savory goodness. Most traditional samosas are filled with potato mixture and usually deep fried, but I'm a bit phobic of frying at home, so I save the fried pockets o'love for when I make it to an Indian restaurant. This recipe, which came from Vegan With a Vengeance, calls for baking the samosas. It also suggests using edamame instead of green peas, but I'm a bit of a purist, so I stuck with the green pea-ness.
I'm proud to say I resisted the urge to shove my face in the bowl and simply nom-nom-nom the day away.
You can make them in just about any side, but for appetizers I tend toward about a 3" diameter circle of dough folded around a couple of teaspoons of filling, pinched shut with a damp finger and brushed with olive oil before baking. I like them best warm, but they kept well sitting out at room temperature. They're just such happy looking little guys, tiny pillows of potato ecstasy.
The only real pain with making samosas is that it takes forever to shape them. There's really no way around doing them one at a time; if you're lucky you have a lovely assistant to help you with this part. Otherwise I find what works best is to set up on the coffee table and watch a movie while I work.
If you're impatient and don't have a party to cater, just say to heck with it and eat the filling plain, or better yet, make "dosas" by rolling the filling in tortillas or spreading it between tortillas for a non-queso-quesadilla. I imagine you could squish them into potato pancakes and fry them, too.
Dessert, of course, was the aforementioned much-hallowed Chai Spice Cheesecake, and let me tell you, if I'd ever had any doubts that vegan desserts could be just as good (if not better than) their critter-laden counterparts, this recipe would have blown those doubts out of the sky. Eyes rolled back in heads and English language skills were reduced to a series of vowel sounds as everyone had a piece drizzled with impromptu blackberry sauce (basically just a reduction of blackberries with some sugar and a little juice, strained and thickened with a bit of cornstarch). One of these days I'll get a picture of the cake as it's served all sauced up, but today a shot of the whole cake fresh out of the oven will just have to do. Imagine, if you will, the delicate scent of chai spices: cardamom, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, allspice...thick and rich over a spiced graham cracker crust.
Don't you wish it had been your birthday?