Daring Cooks September: A vegan trip to India
A while ago, Markus and I were chatting about what challenges we would like to see for the Daring Cooks and Bakers. I mentioned that it would be fun to do a vegan challenge, to which Markus reluctantly agreed. I was a vegetarian when we met (but I'm not anymore, Markus says that I came round to the sane side), so I'm very comfortable with vegetarian cooking (and we do eat quite a bit of vegetarian food) but vegan, that's a whole other story - vegan cooking would be a challenge indeed!
Our lovely host for September's Daring Cooks challenge is Debyi of The Healthy Vegan Kitchen. As the name of the blog implies, my wish for a vegan challenge has been granted! She has chosen Indian Dosas as the challenge. A dosa is a pancake/crepe, according to Wikipedia traditionally made with rice and black lentils, where the batter is left to ferment overnight. The fillings can vary: potato curry (masala), chutneys, and ghee, just to name a few.
The recipe Debyi choose is a modernized one, using spelt flour and baking powder. It comes from a cookbook called reFresh by Ruth Tal of the Canadian restaurants Fresh. Besides the dosas, there was also a recipe for curried garbanzos for filling and a coconut curry sauce to be served on top. We were however allowed to vary the filling and the sauce, as long as it was vegan, i.e. completely free of all animal products.
I had a dosa, or thosai as it's called there, when we were in Malaysia last year, so I had some kind of idea what to expect even if the version I had there wasn't vegan. It was filled with potatoes, which was very tasty, so we decided to skip the garbanzos and use a dry potato curry as the filling instead (my own invention; recipe below). At first I was going to make apple chutney as the sauce, because potatoes, apples and curry go great together. But there was a big bowl of plums sitting in the kitchen, so I searched online for plum chutney recipes and found one that sounded appealing. It called for a kilo of plums. I had only six hundred grams, but I figured I would just scale the recipe. So I de-pitted my plums and chopped the onion and found all the spices and got everything going in a big pot on the stove, and then I realized that I had forgotten to scale the amounts and had put in sugar and vinegar for a whole kilo of plums. Well, no panic (ok, a little) - my eyes fell on two tomatoes sitting in a bowl, and I figured that by adding those, I would sort of kind of maybe make up for the 400 missing grams of plums. It worked - the chutney was delicious, with just the right balance of sweet, sour and spice! My additions to the original recipe - besides the tomatoes - are the bayleaf and the raisins. You'll find the recipe at the bottom of this post.
So, on to the dosas themselves. We followed the recipe to the letter, but rather than buying vegan rice or soy milk, we made our own almond milk, using a recipe from the cookbook Kärlek, oliver och timjan by Anna and Fanny Bergenström. (Don't you just love the book's title: "Love, olives and thyme".) This almond milk recipe calls for a small amount of honey. We were unsure of whether honey was vegan, so I googled and it seems like that depends on what vegan you ask. Maybe a vegan reader would like to add your two cents in comments? Anyway, we decided to be the kind of vegans who eat honey. Almond milk recipe below.
Making the dosa batter was problem free, but frying them - oh boy, that was a whole other story. Debyi said that this recipe is virtually oil free, using only a very small amount of cooking spray in a non-stick skillet before frying the first dosa. Well, our non-stick skillet isn't exactly non-stick anymore (we really need a new one). After two dosas that stuck to the pan and just ended up broken and miserable-looking, Markus (who is the official pancake/crepe fryer in our family) said with a hint of desperation: "I need butter!". But no, we didn't go down that route. Instead, we abandoned the "definitely-stick" skillet for a cast iron crepe skillet, that we oiled very well (with vegetable oil, of course). Now it worked better, and towards the end Markus got some quite pretty looking dosas going.
So, how did it all taste? Well, not bad at all! However, the dosas were kind of flavor-less - maybe they got overpowered by the potatoes and chutney? Debyi suggested serving the dosas with rice if you were to have them as a main course, but we skipped the rice and just had the dosa, the potato filling, the chutney and then some coconut flakes on top. And let me tell you: we got so full - total carb overload!
Thank you Debyi for challenging us with this! It was a definite step out of our comfort zone, and even if I can't see myself cooking vegan again, I am glad to have tried it. Make sure to visit the Daring Kitchen for the recipes and to see the other Daring Cooks' creations!
A filled dosa with chutney and coconut flakes.
makes 8 pancakes
1 cup (120g) spelt flour (or all-purpose, gluten free flour)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp curry powder
½ cup (125ml) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)
¾ cup (175ml) water
cooking spray, if needed
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed. Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter.
Note: this makes a bit more than you need for the dosa recipe. I plan to use my leftovers in some kind of milkshake.
25 g almonds, peeled
½ dl + 1 tbsp boiling water
1/4 tsp honey
2 dl cold water
Grind the almonds to a fine powder (an almond mill does the job best). I used an immersion blender to make the almond milk, but a mixer would also work. Add the hot water and honey to the almonds, and mix well. Add the cold water slowly, while the machine is running. The almond milk will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.
Dry curried potatoes
1 yellow onion, medium size
1 tsp yellow mustard seed
1 tsp curry
½ tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Peel the potatoes and quarter them. Boil them in salted water until they are soft. Heat the oil in a skillet, add the mustard seed and curry and fry for a while. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add the potatoes, cumin and ginger and fry until the potatoes have a little bit of color. Add salt to taste, and maybe more curry.
Plum and tomato chutney, pre-boiling and pre-tomatoes.
Plum and Tomato Chutney
(adapted from this recipe)
600 g plums
1 yellow onion, medium size
2 tomatoes, medium size
1 dl white wine vinegar
2 dl sugar
3 star anise
1 small cinnamon stick
3/4 dl raisins
Finely chop the onion. Quarter the plums and remove the pits. Quarter the tomatoes. Put all the ingredients in a pan and let simmer over medium heat for about 1 hour. The chutney should have a marmalade-like consistency (it will thicken further when it cools). Pour in a clean jar and keep in the fridge. It keeps for about a month, and will taste lovely with traditional steaks as well as with curries and couscous.