Going with the Grain

The topics for Monday were grains, herbs, and spices.

Demo Kitchen

Chef Rachel Zierzow presented to my group Monday morning on herbs and spices. She definitely whet my appetite for getting a spice grinder after she toasted spices for garam masala and ground them in a Krups spice/coffee grinder. The result was a much more aromatic powder than my garam masala at home.

Below: Chef Rachel gets all herby on us.


Below: We got a pop “quiz” on herbs and spices. It was fun to see if I could identify all of them by sight and smell alone.


Below: A carrot soup with Garam Masala prepared by Chef Rachel in the demonstration kitchen. It was subtly sweet with warming spices of the garam masala and blended smooth in a Vita Mix.


Lab Kitchen

In lab kitchen, we made rice pilaf, brown rice, white rice, and risotto. Rice, you ask? Isn’t that super simple and boring? No way! Rice is very versatile. You can add all kinds of stuff to it and pair it with all kinds of foods and flavors. There are many types of rice with different flavor profiles – jasmine, basmati, wild rice, and many others hold aromas and flavors that go far beyond your grandma’s white rice. I even cooked some black Forbidden rice recently.

Here’s another great thing about rice, and especially brown rice – it’s minimally processed. Your body has to work a bit harder to break it down. You also can’t eat as much of rice as you can eat of bread, for example, before you realize you are full. Do yourself a favor – cut the amount of bread you eat by half and use rice as your main carb.

Below: Varieties of rice we reviewed in lab kitchen.



Below: Chef Alex shows us how to rinse rice before cooking to wash off the starchy bits.


Below: Some risotto that Chef Alex cooked. She wanted to offer us the chance to eat a traditional risotto with butter and parmesan cheese. When I made the risotto, I made it with Earth Balance and nutritional yeast, since I don’t eat dairy for allergy reasons.


Below: Some wild rice cooked by a student group during lab.


Below: Rice cooling on sheet pans. It’s important to cool hot food quickly when you’re going to store it in a cold state.


At Home: Pulau

I wanted to practice a bit at home, so I pulled out a recipe for Indian Pulau from my “recipes to try” folder, which is way too thick these days. Pulau is a rice dish made from basmati rice and featuring garam masala. There are many variations on pulau. I got my recipe from the 1998 Best of Gourmet, which featured many Indian recipes in the special focus section. Thanks, Austin Public Library!

Since I don’t have a spice grinder – yet – I had to use a jar of garam masala rather than make my own.

Below: My mise en place for pulau.



Below: The recipe called for sauteing the spices, then adding the rice to the spices and oil. Only then would you add the water.



Below: I tossed in the cold, dry raisins and let the rice sit for five minutes. After that, the raisins were plumped up a bit, and were moist and warm. Good stuff!


Below: The finished product. Aromatic, mysterious, colorful, with textural and color variations. This is not the white rice I grew up with!


Conscious Cravings

I’ve been trying to check out vegetarian restaurants and food trucks in Austin and Conscious Cravings had great reviews on Yelp, so I decided to stop by a couple of times to give them a try.

They have a very nice, clean trailer parked on MLK near Guadalupe. Clearly, a clean trailer is helpful for any food vendor, but when your image is of health and you align your mission with ethical eating, an uber-slick exterior is very consistent.


Below: Rosemary French fries. A workday indulgence.


I tried a couple of dishes. One was a tofu dish with chimichurri sauce and what I believe was sriracha. I especially love their basmati-quinoa blend, which they serve as a base for the gluten free customers (normally, dishes are served as a wrap). There was also a layer of lettuce, and a few slices of tomato, as well. Overall, it was like a healthy, balanced salad with vegetables, grains, and protein. Plus terrific flavor. Note – I don’t think this is actually on the menu. I think I miscommunicated with the cook and ended up with a hybrid of two menu items. Still, it was very good!

Below: Three thin slices of tofu with chimichurri sauce, grains, and lettuce.


I also tried the spicy chickpeas and loved them! Also served on the lettuce-quinoa-basmati base layer, they are spicy and nutritious.


Chanha Masala

I love Indian cuisine. The use of spice, the use of vegetables and legumes, and the absence of overwhelming quantities of meat (if there is any at all) make me feel great when I eat Indian.

So, it’s been one of the cuisines I’ve tried to learn and master, with varying degrees of success.

Below: The primary ingredients – tomatoes, onions, mustard seeds (the yellow round ones), cumin seeds, whole cloves and chanha masala (a spice powder).



Below: Chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans. I LOVE chickpeas. They are creamy and tender. I feel better when I eat them. Loaded with thamin, B6, fiber, protein, and folate, it is commonly mentioned in lists of “superfoods.”


Below: Using the cast iron skillet for extra iron. Cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes, in cast iron really helps pull the iron out and supplement your iron intake.



Below: The creamy result of chana masala. Sweetness from the onion, acidity from the tomato, texture from the chickpeas (the chana), and intense flavor from the masala (spices). Serve on warm basmati rice and enjoy good health!