Instant Pot Chana Masala

February 26, 2020 at 10:58 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Derek's faves, Indian, Instant Pot, Website / blog)

Yes, I am on an Instant Pot kick. I bought the pot but still don’t use it for all that much other than cooking beans and (occasionally) breakfast porridge. I really would love to find more Instant Pot recipes that the whole family loves. So I printed out a bunch of recipes and we’ve been working our way through them.

This recipe for Instant Pot Chana Masala is from the blog Spice Cravings. It’s interesting in that it has you cook the dry (but pre-soaked!) chickpeas in just a little water along with the onions, tomatoes, and spices that becomes the gravy. I would have thought you’d need more liquid to cook the beans, and it would come out too soupy. But it worked.

I followed the recipe pretty closely, but I wasn’t sure what crushed ginger is. I used minced ginger. I only used 1 seeded green chili, so Alma would eat it. I used the paprika option instead of the Kashmiri red chili powder. I used jarred tomatoes instead of fresh, and maybe 4 or 5 since they were quite small. I didn’t have any fennel so I left that out. (It’s optional in any case.) Finally, I forgot to add the roasted cumin powder at the end. I was also surprised the author says to add the garam masala at the beginning of the cooking. All my other Indian recipes always have you add it at the very end? I decided to be conservative and added it after I opened the instant pot.

Derek and I both really liked this recipe. Derek said it tasted better than most restaurant Chana Masalas. He said it needed spice though, and added cayenne to his bowl.

Alma refused to try the dish. She ate plain chickpeas instead.

It only calls for 1 cup of chickpeas. Next time I’d definitely double the recipe. Derek and I were fighting over the leftovers.

(I’m giving this the same rating as the Tortilla Soup recipe I just blogged, but we actually liked it quite a bit more. But it seems wrong to give it 4 stars after just trying it once.)

Update Jan 17, 2022: I made this recipe again but I doubled it. It didn’t come out perfect but Derek still said he loved it. I quick-soaked the beans and cooked them under pressure for I think 50 minutes but then I forgot to release the pressure after 10 to 15 minutes of natural release, and the chickpeas ended up extremely soft. There was also a huge amount of sauce. (I think I doubled the 2.5 cups of water, but next time I will try just using 4 cups total? Or maybe I will use totally dry/unsoaked chickpeas with the full 5 cups of water and 60 minutes cooking time and see how that works? Doubling it made quite a lot. I wonder if I can freeze it. If not then maybe I should just make 1.5x next time.

I put the garam masala in early and also added ground fennel, but still didn’t have any fenugreek and I forgot the paprika this time, but the dish was plenty flavorful.

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Instant Pot Tortilla Soup

February 23, 2020 at 10:48 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Instant Pot, Mexican & S. American, One pot wonders, Quick weeknight recipe, soup, Website / blog, Winter recipes)

On the vegetarian Instant Pot Facebook group, this Peas and Crayons recipe for Vegetarian Lentil Tortilla Soup gets rave reviews. It seems like every week I see someone posting it and gushing over it. And it looks good in the photo. So I decided to give it a try. If you have the black and pinto beans cooked already, it’s a pretty quick recipe. You just saute up some onions and peppers, then add the beans and lentils, tomatoes and salsa, corn and spices. I was out of corn so I skipped it, but I did add some sliced corn tortillas, because what kind of tortilla soup doesn’t have tortillas in it?

I was a bit distracted when trying to make this recipe, and I ended up adding the lentils too soon, and some of them stuck to the bottom and were starting to almost burn. So I added the water and gave it a good stir, and figured that would work. But when the Instant Pot almost got up to pressure I got the “Burn” warning and it wouldn’t come to pressure. I let it sit for maybe ten minutes, then quick-released it and try to scrape the bottom of the pot well (but didn’t actually wash it out). I tried to bring it to pressure again and got the same burn warning. Again I let it sit for a while and this time the lentils were cooked enough to eat, even though it never came up to pressure. I think there are some comments on the blog about how to prevent getting the burn warning. I’ll definitely read them next time I try this recipe. (I suspect that the soup was too thick because of the tortillas I added, and I should have added more liquid to compensate.)

Despite never coming to pressure, the soup turned out well, although it tasted nothing like any tortilla soup I’ve ever had. It was more like a thick bean stew, almost like chili, except there wasn’t that much chili powder in it. It was yummy over some corn tortilla chips. I like the idea of making a Mexican bean stew with lentils in it. I don’t usually combine pinto/black beans with lentils. It worked well.

We found the cream unnecessary, especially if you are eating the soup with sour cream. The pickled jalapenos were essential–the soup needed the acid and salt.

Alma wouldn’t try it the night I made it (after I referred to it as tortilla soup), but she did have a little bit when I served it another night (when I just called it “beans”). The wasn’t a big fan though.

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Gingerbread granola, oil-free

February 17, 2020 at 10:58 pm (Alma's faves, breakfast, Website / blog)

I’ve never made oil-free granola before, but this recipe by Dreena Burton gets rave reviews in one of the vegan Facebook groups I’m in, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I followed the recipe pretty closely. I used hemp hearts but also threw in some halved pecans towards the very end of the baking time. I used all 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, but had to use regular molasses as I was out of blackstrap.

Alma was happily eating the granola even before I baked it, and then once it was done she ate it plain/dry (no soymilk). Derek tried it with soymilk but said it tasted sweeter plain/dry. Neither of them wanted any dried cranberries (or fresh fruit) in their granola, but I added some dried cranberreis to my bowl. I liked the tartness they added.

I liked the spices. They were definitely noticeable, but not at all overpowering. I didn’t notice the hemp hearts at all. I will definitely add them to my normal granola recipe. I liked that by cooking at 300 F the granola doesn’t burn as easily. I will try lowering the temperature for my normal granola recipe.

Burton says the rice syrup is critical, as it is stickier than other sweeteners, and helps the granola clump. In the past I haven’t liked the flavor of rice syrup, but I didn’t notice it in this recipe. Maybe I will try adding some to my normal recipe and cutting down on the oils.

My baking sheet wasn’t that full with only 3 cups of oats. I wonder if I could multiple the recipe by 1/3 and use a full 4 cups of rolled oats instead, or if that would negatively affect the texture? Or maybe it would be safer to try 5 cups of oats and cook it in two batches? I wonder if you can bake two cookie sheets simultaneously?

This recipe kind of feels like dessert for breakfast. Also, it feels like a waste of expensive almond butter. I think I will try it again with 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and using tahini for the nut butter.

To make clean-up easier, I recommend mixing the dry ingredients in a smaller bowl and the wet ingredients in a big bowl, and then pouring the dry ingredients into the wet ones, so that only one bowl gets sticky.

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Instant Pot Golden Lentil Soup with Spinach

February 13, 2020 at 10:40 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Beans and greens, Dark leafy greens, Instant Pot, Monthly menu plan, soup, Website / blog, Winter recipes) ()

When we were menu-planning this week, Alma suggested we make lentil soup. But rather than make one of the ten lentil soup recipes on this blog, I decided to try a new one. Someone on my Facebook Instant Pot group said this kitchentreaty recipe for golden lentil and spinach soup is their all-time favorite Instant Pot recipe. And we all liked it, even Alma.

Important caveats: Make more than one recipe, at least 1.5x! Cook the lentils much longer than she says (maybe 17-18 minutes under pressure), and make sure they are cooked before adding the spinach. If they aren’t, cook them under pressure for a few more minutes. You may also need a bit more broth than the recipe calls for.

Update April 1, 2020: 

The second time I made it I made only one recipe and we finished it all at dinner, even though Alma ate barely any of it. I would definitely make more next time. The soup was quite thick. I think it needed more broth. I cooked it for 15 minutes under pressure and even waited a few minutes before releasing the pressure, and still the lentils were undercooked. Alma didn’t like it much this time, I’m not sure why. I didn’t use the parsnip or zucchini. Maybe that was why?

Original Notes from Feb 13, 2020:

The recipe as written says it makes 4 servings, but I wanted to have leftovers so I made 1.5x to make 6 servings.

This recipe is in many ways similar to my Mom’s lentil soup recipe, but it calls for a lot of turmeric (1/2 tablespoon for 6 servings). I liked the combination of turmeric, thyme, and cumin.

When I started to prep the veggies for the recipe I discovered I only had one carrot left, so I used one carrot and one parsnip and one zucchini. I couldn’t actually taste the parsnip in the final soup. I was also perhaps a bit low on celery, since Alma snacked on some of the celery I was saving for the soup. I didn’t want the zucchini to turn to mush, so I cooked it separately while the soup was cooking. I quickly sauteed up the finely diced zucchini and we threw the zucchini in the soup right before serving it. I liked the extra texture the zucchini added, but it didn’t add much in terms of flavor. I think I could leave it out next time. We served the soup with goat yogurt, which everyone enjoyed.

For 6 servings the recipe calls for 12 ounces of spinach, which is 340 grams. I think I’d actually use a bit more, maybe even a pound. I’d add half on the first day, and save the other half of the spinach for the leftovers, so that the spinach is freshly cooked and not sitting around in the fridge for days then getting reheated.

My one complaint with the recipe is that my lentils were not at all cooked after 12 minutes under high pressure + quick release. I think they needed more like 14 or 15 minutes maybe? I did make 1.5 times the recipe, but if anything I would think that would mean I need to cook it for less time, not more, since it would take longer to come to pressure?

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Instant Pot Saag Aloo with sweet potatoes and chard

February 13, 2020 at 10:26 pm (C (1 star, edible), Dark leafy greens, Indian, Instant Pot, Root vegetables, Website / blog)

I have been craving Indian food, and so I printed out a bunch of new Indian Instant Pot recipes to test. I gave Derek the stack of recipes and he picked this Vegan Richa recipe for Instant Pot Saag Aloo, which was convenient because I happened to have a lot of chard and sweet potatoes. Also, we really like Vegan Richa’s Instant Pot lasagne soup, so I was hoping for another great dish.

Unfortunately, it was not a success. Alma (at age five) took one bite and then wouldn’t touch it, and even Derek only ate a few spoonfuls. It ended up very watery, not sure why. Maybe I mis-measured the water? But even ignoring the wateriness, nobody liked the flavors. Too much cinnamon maybe? Derek said it was just too sweet tasting. Did I screw it up, or is it just not for us?

To try to improve the texture, I pureed it all together and then served it with pan-fried paneer for breakfast this morning. That was okay, but we still didn’t like the sweet potato / chard / cinnamon combination very much.

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Mini chickpea flour frittatas (vegan)

February 13, 2020 at 10:19 pm (breakfast, B_minus (2 stars, okay), Website / blog)

I am looking for ideas for breakfast (as always) and was intrigued when someone posted this recipe for mini chickpea flour frittatas to a Facebook group I’m a member of. They said that everyone in their family enjoyed them. I have quite a bit of chickpea flour that needs to get used up, so I thought I’d give the recipe a try.

I followed the recipe pretty closely (except I didn’t have any chives and I used regular salt). I cooked the frittatas for 30 minutes, at which point a toothpick came out clean so I figured they were done.

They were not a success. Alma (at age 5) would not eat them, and Derek and I only ate them because we didn’t want to waste all that food. And we had to add salt and some olive oil to make them somewhat palatable.

I greased the muffin tins but still they frittatas would not come out (when they were hot). When the frittatas cooled down they came out a little more easily, but still the muffin tin was a pain to clean. The “frittatas” were very soft and squishy in the middle and the flavor was just … meh. I feel like the batter needed more seasoning and some fat.

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How to make a stir fry

February 4, 2020 at 9:39 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Cooking tips, Derek's faves, East and SE Asia, Monthly menu plan, Other)

I’ve always been terrible at stir-frying. You can see many of my previous stir-fry posts for evidence. When I try to wing it, it just doesn’t taste right. And when I try to follow a recipe, most of the time the result is disastrous. I’ve tried many recipes for “stir-fry sauces” over the years and they are almost always terrible, or full of processed store-bought sauces with very strange unpronounceable ingredients. So when one of Derek’s students made us a pretty yummy stir-fry , I asked him to come over and show me how to make it. It was a while ago now, so I’ve probably forgotten part of what I learned, but I’m going to try to record my lessons here.

  1. Tofu: He had me boil the tofu briefly, and it made the texture spongier and more absorbent, a bit more like frozen tofu.  He also had me cut the tofu into huge cubes, but Derek said I should cut them smaller next time. I just pan-fried them in my cast iron skillet the same way I usually do.
  2. Seasoning: We minced a lot of garlic and added some thinly sliced shallots. We also chopped up some cilantro, although I got some grief for getting the wrong (apparently not so flavorful) kind. That was it for seasoning, other than salt and soy sauce. We started by heating my 12-inch stainless steel skillet on high (as high as my oven goes, on the largest burner). When quite hot, we added quite a small amount of oil (1 tsp?) to it, then immediately threw in most (but not all) of the garlic and scallions. After a few seconds we added the slowest cooking vegetable (in our case carrots).
  3. Amounts and timing: We had to make two batches to have enough for all four of us (3 adults + Alma). But I was surprised at how quick it was to make the second batch, especially since we used all the carrots (the slowest veggie) in the first batch. The second batch (with pre-steamed broccoli and other quick cooking vegetables) just took a couple of minutes to make. I think if I was just cooking for Derek and Alma and myself, I could make one batch for dinner and a second batch to have “leftovers” for lunch the next day.
  4. Carrots: We had to add water to the pan in small amounts to get the carrots to cook not burn. Whenever the pan started to brown a bit we added some water.
  5. Broccoli: He said broccoli is a bit tricky, so we steamed it first, until it was almost cooked, and then we added it once the carrots were almost done cooking. That worked well and the final texture came out pretty good.
  6. Mushrooms: He said that the criminis I got weren’t so good for stir-fry, and shiitakes would be better. I think we added the mushrooms too soon, as they ended up a tad overcooked. I think they actually take less time than bell peppers.
  7. Bell peppers: These we cut into quite large pieces and added around the same time as the broccoli.
  8. Salt and soy sauce: We seasoned a bit as we went. I thought the soy sauce would burn since the pan was so hot but it didn’t seem to. He wanted me to taste it as we went for seasoning, but I didn’t want to. I hate tasting food before it’s done. I know, bad, bad cook.
  9. Final seasoning: When all the veggies were just about cooked we threw in the cooked tofu and the rest of the garlic/scallion mixture, along with the chopped cilantro. I was surprised at how tasty it ended up given that there was almost no oil and essentially no sauce.
  10. Cashews: He said they never put cashews in stir-fry, but we like them so I threw a bunch in the oven on low before we started cooking. They were nicely browned by the time the stirfry was ready, and Derek and Alma and I all thought they made a very tasty addition.
  11. Ginger and chilies: There was no ginger in our stirfry, but I missed it. The next time I made a stirfy I julienned some ginger into very thin batons and added them with the garlic and scallions. That way Alma could pick them out. I also ate my stir-fry with some Sambal Olek. I missed some spice.

Other veggies to try: bok choy, bean sprouts, snow peas, green beans, ???

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