South Indian Green Beans (B)

October 28, 2006 at 5:59 pm (B_minus (2 stars, okay), Indian, Madhur Jaffrey, Quick weeknight recipe, Summer recipes, Vegetable dishes)

This is a recipe from the cookbook From Curries to Kabobs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey. She says that the seasonings here are typical of India’s southeastern coast.

Serves 4.

  • 1 Tbs. salt plus 1/2 to 3/4 tsp.
  • 12 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • oil
  • 1/8 tsp. ground asafetida
  • 1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 dried, hot, red chilies
  • 8 to 10 fresh curry leaves, if available
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1//4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder

Bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 1 Tbs. of salt and the beans. Boil rapidly for 4 minutes, or until the beans are cooked through. Drain, and if not serving straight away, rinse under cold running water and drain. Set aside.

Just before serving, pour the oil into a large frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the asafetida, mustard seeds, urad dal, and chilies. As soon as the mustard seeds pop and the dal turns reddish, put in the curry leaves and then the beans. Turn off the heat. Toss the beans and mix well. Add the lemon juice, cayenne, and 1/2 to 3/4 of the remaining salt. Mix again. If the beans have not heated through, put them on very low heat until warmed through.

My Notes

This recipe, like many in this cookbook, has an error. She doesn’t include oil in the ingredient list. I used just a little. I steamed my beans rather than boiling them, left out the asafetida, and added more lemon juice. The dish was quite nice. The bright lemon flavors contrasted well with the dark roasted taste of the mustard seeds and urad dal. The curry leaves added their strong floral note. I’ll definitely try this again.

Rating: B

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Product review: prepared foods

October 28, 2006 at 5:51 pm (Product Reviews)

First of all, I bet many of you are wondering, what is a cook like her doing eating frozen dinners? I know, I know, I feel guilty when I do it. All that energy to keep them frozen, all that plastic packaging (which is probably terrible for me), all that salt and weird artificial ingredients… But despite the guilt sometimes I’m just too busy or lazy to cook, or I’m sick of my own cooking. Going out is more expensive, takes more time, and you have less information about what you’re eating, so I sometimes resort to frozen dinners. If you supplement them with a vegetable side or salad they make an okay dinner. Here are my thoughts on the ones I’ve tried.

Amy’s cheese enchiladas (Frozen): The first ingredient in these enchiladas is cheese, and there’s almost no vegetables. The ingredient list is mostly organic, and mostly whole foods. The taste isn’t bad–a bit powdery from the chili powder and the texture is a bit soft but otherwise they’re not bad. They’re high in calories: 220 calories for each very small enchilada. These enchiladas have 24g of fat and 12 of saturated fat, and not much fiber. They do provoide 50% of calcium, vit A, and vit C however, as well as 12% iron. Overall I’d say these would make a reasonable calorie-controlled treat, especially if you add some beans or veggies, but they aren’t healthy enough to be a regular meal.

Trader Joe’s Corn and Black Bean enchiladas (Frozen): These enchiladas are composed almost entirely of almost-whole foods: corn tortillas, tomatoes, tofu, beans, zucchini… Strangely, however, black beans are not close to the top, and I actually had to check the ingredient list to see if they were really there or not. The taste isn’t bad–less powdery than the Amy’s sauce, but both the tortillas and sauce are quite gooey (which I attribute to the rice and tapioca flours). The sauce wasn’t quite chili-y enough for me, but they weren’t bad. And it’s only 260 calories for two enchiladas, compared to 440 for Amy’s. That’s quite a difference for the same amount of food. These enchiladas have only 8g of fat and no saturated fat, but not a lot of fiber. They do provide 20% of calcium and iron, and some vit A. They’re surpisingly low in protein (only 12%), which I attribute to the dearth of black beans. Overall I’d say these would are an okay food to keep in the freezer at work for emergency food, but they’re not quite tasty enough or wholesome enough for a regular choice.

Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries (Frozen): Derek bought these fries but never got around to baking them. They’re tasty–breaded in some kind of potato starch and corn flour and pre-fried, then you just heat them up. They never really got crunchy, and they are not very salty, but still pretty good in my opinion. Of course, a very small serving has 150 calories, but I’m guessing that’s pretty average for sweet potato fries, and at least this way you actually know what a reasonable serving size is. I don’t think I would buy these again unless I had an unstoppable hankering for sweet potato fries, but they are tasty. The ingredient list is a bit processed (modified food starch, corn dextrin,…), but mostly it’s just sweet potatoes. Alexia makes other fries and appetizers, which are probably pretty high quality based on this product.
Dr. McDougall’s Curry Brown and Wild Rice Fruited Pilaf (Dehydrated cup): I liked the raisins, almonds, and wild rice in this dish a lot. The seasoning was a bit strong and salty, and although I thought I stirred it very well I got some pretty salty, nasty bites. The bulk of this dish is rice, so the nutritional content isn’t terribly high (1% calcium, 3% iron, 8% vit C, and 24% vit A, 4g protein, and 2g fiber), but it was very filling at least. Not a bad thing to keep in the desk for emergencies. If I make it again I might only use 1/2 or 2/3 of the seasoning packet.

Nile spice potato leek soup (Dehydrated cup): Non-vegan, mostly potatoes and milk and various other veggies. At 120 calories per cup (3g fat, 17g carbs, 5g prot), it’s a snack not a meal, but a pretty satisfying one. I enjoyed it more than I expected. It has a lot of salt though (600mg!).

Seeds of Change Creamy Spinach Lasagna (Frozen): This is a tomato-sauce-less lasagna, with only a small amount of spinach, but it’s quite rich-tasting and enjoyable. The portion is small (only 340 calories total), but I think it’s relatively filling. It’s got a reasonable amount of calcium and iron from the cheese and pasta, it’s high protein (24%), but it’s not terribly healthy (mostly white flour and dairy, little vegetables and no beans). At least the saturated fat isn’t too high (6g), and everything is organic. I’d get this again for when I’m in the mood for a treat (such as pizza). This way I can have my treat, stay organic, and keep the portion size small.

Boca Lasagna with Chunky Tomato and Herb Sauce and Meatless Ground Burger (Frozen): I liked the Seeds of Change Lasagna so I thought I’d try another. The taste of this one isn’t as good, however. The tomato sauce was fine, but although the “ground burger” pieces were tasty, their texture was kind of weird and rubbery. They’re made partly from wheat gluten but also from soy protein concentrate, which I try to avoid. Also, the cheese isn’t organic so I don’t think I’ll buy this again. It’s pretty filling though, and the stats are better than the Seeds of Change lasagna: it only has 290 calories and 2g sat fat, while having plenty of calcium, iron, protein, and even some fiber (5g).

Trader Joe’s South Indian Sambhar (Jar): I’ve been enjoying my homemade sambar so much, I was curious to see if TJ’s version was as good. Turns out it’s not very good at all. It has a very faint whiff of that canned soup taste I abhor, but mostly that’s covered up by the curry spices. Although the ingredient list is quite nice, almost all just beans and vegetables, and the nutritional content is quite good (if high salt), the flavor is terrible. It doesn’t taste anything like sambar, and doesn’t even taste like a nice dal. Avoid this one.

Trader Joe’s Pizza Olympiad (Frozen): Very good flavor, especially the olives and feta. The outer crust was nice and crisp, but the center was still soggy. One pizza has 450 calories–not bad. The ingredient looks mostly normal, except for a few items, but the cheese isn’t organic.

Trader Joe’s Garden Vegetable Lasagna (Frozen): The sauce was good but the lasagna tastes strongly of broccoli, and when I inspected ingredient list, indeed it’s the first vegetable on the list. Blech. Somehow broccoli and lasagna just don’t go together. I’d try another Trader Joe’s lasagna though. Everything but the cheese is organic.

Rising Moon Organics Feta Hazelnut Ravioli with Butternut Squash (Frozen): Great flavor–much more complex and subtle than I expected. They don’t taste like feta or hazelnut or butternut exactly, but more a balanced combination of all three. The ingredient list is all organic, and very all natural. One package is 540 calories, with lots of vitamin A and iron. They’re low fiber though, and mostly carbs.

Rising Moon Organics Spinach Florentine Ravioli (Frozen): I was disappointed in this flavor–they tasted kind of green and muddy. I wouldn’t have even finished them except I was starving. On the plus side, they’re vegan, and mostly organic. One package is 440 calories.

Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza (Frozen): These little dumplings taste quite fresh and healthy. They’re not exactly delicious, but not bad tasting either. The first 7 ingredients are all vegetables. They make a tasty little snack, but aren’t terribly filling. Each dumpling has only 35 calories, but not much nutritive value. Also, the dough is made with partially hydrogenated oil, and they’re handmade in Thailand, which means the environmental cost of shipping the frozen dumplings must be high. I probably won’t get them again.

The Fillo Factory Spinach and Cheese Fillo Pie: I was desperate for Spanokopita, so bought this “all natural” version at Trader Joe’s. I baked it in the oven for 40 minutes, and it crisped up quite nicely. The flavor was good, but it had a lot of dill in it, which I don’t normally associate with Spanokopita. Derek *loved* it. The stats aren’t bad. A third of the pie has 417 calories, 66% of vit A, 41% of calcium, and 25% of iron. It’s 14% protein, 47%! percent fat, and 22% of calories from sat fat, 26% of your daily sodium, and only has 3g of fiber. But this is Spanokopita we’re talking about–what did you expect? It made a very nice, portion-controlled treat. The ingredients are pretty natural looking, with spinach as the first ingredient. The only problem is the cheese and butter are not organic. I would buy it again except for the non-organic dairy.

Cedarlane Spinach and Feta Pie: Can you tell I’m on a Spanokopita kick? This one wasn’t quite as tasty I think, although to tell you the truth I don’t remember it as well. I think it was less cheesy, and more vegetable-y. One package has 520 calories, and provides 60% vit A, 41% calcium, 50% vit C, and 40% iron. It has more protein (19%) and less fat (17%) and sat fat (14%), and 5g of fiber. So it’s healthier, no wonder it’s not as tasty! It does has very high sodium, though (54% of daily needs). The feta is not organic but the mozzarella is (but who puts mozzarella in spanokopita?). I don’t think I’ll be buying this again.

Moosewood Southwest Cornbread and Red Beans (Frozen): I really love my homemade cornbread pie, and it seems like a hard thing to screw up. But Moosewood managed it. The package says the beans are infused with chipotle, garlic, cumin and lime. The only thing I tasted was tomato and sweet. Indeed, when I looked at the ingredients tomatoes were listed first. This doesn’t have any nice spicy chile flavor. The cornbread was okay, maybe a little too sweet. It also came with white rice, which was totally gratuitious. Derek tried it and thought it was bad as well, although not as bad as he expected. And he’s the one who bought it! Not recommended.

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