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Potluck Promises

October 16, 2012

Almost every month I go to a potluck dinner at my temple. These have been incredibly tricky in the past. Mostly because the food has to travel and sit for the better part of an hour while it takes the journey from home to its destination. The arrival of a slow cooker, complete with locking lid for travel, has made it easier.

But what makes it harder is that I have incredibly high standards and expectations for myself. And I’m also super-competitive. Which means that I want what I bring to be the best dish on the table.

Oh, and I also aim to keep it vegetarian, seasonal and local/organic.

So in the past I’ve had a bunch of different organic cornmeal-based dishes during the winter. There was the tamale pie and the polenta bake. Also in winter was the sweet potato, carrot and prune tzimmes with the vegetables coming from my CSA.

Last Friday I made something with primarily Roxbury produce, organic butter, and a little bit of spice that hailed from Pakistan. It was easy and delicious, and I was asked for the recipe. Luckily I have a pretty easy way of sharing these kinds of things.

My personal secret to faking South Asian cooking is spice blends. The chana masala I make is still one of Mrs. Fussy’s favorite dishes. And that’s nothing more than dried beans, onion, oil, canned tomato, and a prepackaged spice blend.

This is pretty much the exact same thing, except:
1) Instead of beans you use vegetables
2) Instead of oil you use an unholy amount of butter
3) Instead of dumping in the whole box of spices, you need to measure

The seasoning blend is the Shan brand Pav Bhaji mix. It’s a spicy and aromatic blend of salt, red chili, coriander, cumin seed, black pepper, green cardamom, green mango, clove, mace, fenugreek seed, aniseed and nutmeg.

Inside the box are 24 tablespoons of the stuff. It couldn’t have set me back more than a couple of bucks. And each batch I make of this decadent treat only involves two tablespoons of the spice blend.

That produces a dish with notable spice, so that pretty much anyone can eat it and say, “That’s nicely spicy.” Spice fiends can take it higher. But I’m also cooking for kids and there is only so much heat that can be masked with yogurt.

I say decadent because if you were going to follow the instructions on the box, you would be using almost two sticks of butter for just over three cups of vegetables. That’s a lot of butter.

Part of the idea of using this recipe was to use the head of cauliflower that I got from Roxbury and some of the potatoes that had been piling up around the house from the farm. And this was perfect for that.

- First I roasted the potatoes in their jackets until they were cooked through.
– I also boiled the cauliflower in a blend of water and skim milk until tender but toothsome.
– Two stick of butter were melted into a medium-high stainless steel pan.
– One red onion and one yellow onion were diced and fried in the butter until soft.
– Two tablespoons of the spice blend were added to the onions and toasted.
– One 28oz. can of diced tomatoes was drained, and added to the pan.
– The tomatoes were cooked until soft.
– Roasted potatoes were cut into a large dice.
– Tossed the cauliflower into the onion/tomato sauce.
– Added enough diced potatoes for body (about six small/medium spuds).
– Cooked to combine.
– Placed in slow cooker to warm.
– Before heading out to the dinner, I threw in a bunch of frozen peas.

Now in theory pav bhaji is a dish that is served with grilled buttered buns. Without the buns I’m not quite sure exactly what one might call this. If pressed, I was going to say it was a fall vegetable masala. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a healthy dish. It is all about the butter. And that’s what makes it great. That and the spices.

Had I had a bit more time before having to hit the road I would have chopped up a little of my Roxbury cilantro to use for a garnish. But getting out of the house with the kids and a prepared food item is challenging. I’m just not quite Martha enough to get it all pulled together.

Still, like most things, the more I do it the better I get.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jazzngas permalink
    October 16, 2012 10:44 am

    Where do you buy the Shan Pav Bhaji mix?

    • Laura Northrup permalink
      October 16, 2012 11:06 am

      Yes, if there were somewhere it’s available locally, that would be delightful.

      • maryonhudson permalink
        October 16, 2012 5:49 pm

        Parivar has a good range of Shan mixes. I think most of the other Indian markets do too.

  2. October 16, 2012 11:03 am

    I don’t suppose you’ve ever tried to reduce the amount of butter? Sounds interesting but I can’t see myself making that with 2 sticks of butter in it.

    • Laura Northrup permalink
      October 16, 2012 11:07 am

      I wonder if you could use less, but use ghee instead.

      • maryonhudson permalink
        October 16, 2012 5:53 pm

        Ghee being clarified butter (purpose: doesn’t burn as easily, keeps longer), that wouldn’t alter the quantity. But with most Indian recipes, you can adjust the fat levels down to what you are comfortable with.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 16, 2012 11:53 am

    Butter is healthy.

    • Raf permalink
      October 16, 2012 4:49 pm

      Vegetables are also healthy and cooking them in butter doesn’t make them less so. It’s not a low fat dish, but it’s not unhealthy. I suspect people feel bad about adding fat to vegetables because it ruins the “healthy” and then end up not eating them or eating less because they don’t taste good.

      • Stevo permalink
        October 17, 2012 10:17 am

        I’m convinced that something made from scratch with fresh ingredients, even though it might include gobs of unhealthy fats -such as butter or bacon- is better for you than a scientifically designed food product that includes little to no fat.

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