Who Says (Almost) Vegan Dinners Can't Be Rich, Hardy & Perfect for Winter Nights?

As seen above, a recent dinner of kitcheri/kicheri, served with a Rajasthani Buttermilk Curry and Roasted Asparagus, was absolutely perfect for banishing the chill of a frigid night and so filling and satisfying we didn't' even stray back to the kitchen for a second helping! 

Kitcheri is an Anglo-Indian mix of rice and lentils, often frankly deserving its bad rep as a bland mushy mix. Cafe Drake HRV adapted with wild abandon our recipe from one originally appearing in Ismael Merchant's Passionate Meals. Modesty is always false so we can just say we improved on something already pretty great?

Kitcheri makes a wonderful first lesson in Indian cooking, contains no special-trip ingredients and boasts simple flavors accessible to all palettes. Let's begin by soaking in separate bowls 1 cup basmati rice and 1/3 cup masoor dal or red lentils or moong dal (split mung beans) for 30 minutes. Drain both and rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Drain well and set aside while we heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat. IF you're looking for something more authentic and adventuresome, use mustard oil in place of vegetable oil. Gently fry in sauce pan 1 small onion (sliced), 1-2 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed; don't chop) and 2 bay leaves. When the onion is nicely browned add the drained rice and lentils and stir-fry vigorously for a minute or two.
Add 1 large cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, a very large pinch of turmeric and 1 1/2 t. salt. Immediately add 2 cups water, stir ingredients and bring to a boil. Once everything is boiling put a lid on the pan and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to a very low flame and cook, always covered, for an additional 12-15 minutes, just until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but not too soft. Serve as a vegetarian entree with simply yogurt (seasoned or not) and a salad or green vegetable. Kitcheri is often eaten as a side dish to kababs and grilled chicken. We find its mild flavor most compatible with baked or grilled fish.

 Presenting . . .perfectly cooked kitcheri!

Another question in this most inquisitive post: why do people feel the need to add bacon or ham to split pea soup? Our version is based upon fond memories of freezing afternoons behind the steamed windows of B&H Dairy, a decades-old Kosher dairy restaurant in New York's East Village. Many economical lunches in the 80s, 90s and 2000s for Cafe Drake HRV involved the winning combo of the house-made split pea soup and grilled cheese on buttered challah bread. This recipe  - to be adapted with free will - tastes exactly like the one we fell in love with at that historic lunch counter. above photo, Split Pea Soup, Toasted Pita Bread, Hearts of Romaine Salad with Tahini Dressing.

It all begins with 1 chopped red onion, two peeled and chopped carrots and 2 cloves of chopped garlic. Gently fry these ingredients in 2 T. olive oil over a medium-low flame until soft but not browned. Along the way toss in a few whole black peppercorns and pinch or two of celery seed. Add to the pot 1 cup rinsed green split peas and 4-5 cups water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, toss in either fresh or dried dill to your taste and partially cover the pot. Cook for about one hour, stirring now and then to prevent sticking. We usually end up adding at least another 1 1/2 cups of water along the way but then again, we cook ours down to a very soft, almost puree. When the soup has reached the consistency you like, season aggressively with salt and fresh ground black pepper. You may need to add more dill. Or not. Totally optional garnishes included minced fresh dill or marjoram and sour cream.

And now just dream-salivate over Cafe Drake HRV leftovers for at least two lunches, crazy cobos of all we've discussed, perfect partners.

above two photos: Lunch! rice and lentils with split pea soup, salad, roasted zucchini and yellow squash, tomatillo salsa, yea!


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