Lemon Potato-Cilantro

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When I was little, my parents used to take my brother and me to their favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, and I would cry and cry and cry. Really, the only parts of the restaurant that I liked were the ceiling lamps that looked like Smarties chocolates and the 7-layer chocolate cake. Somehow, I always worked my parents over and they allowed me to eat cake for dinner if I ate half an order of hummus. It was a pretty okay deal, in retrospect.

Since then, a lot has changed. I still find hummus to be of a weird texture, and unless it’s super creamy and rich, I can’t jump on the hummus-is-the-best-ever superfood bandwagon that seems to be popular right now. But, I have grown to like more Middle Eastern foods beyond chocolate cake.

One dish at our local Middle Eastern literally makes me salivate just at the thought: potato cilantro. It’s incredibly simple in its ingredients: just potatoes and cilantro, as the name suggest, with lemon juice, garlic, oil and salt. But the flavors are complex and varied, creating this juicy-yet-creamy combination that is just divine. This dish makes for a perfect side dish to falafel or kebabs, or if you’re like me and you make a huge portion, a meal!

Lemon Potato-Cilantro
Serves: 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
4 large Russet potatoes, washed, dried and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (peeling is optional)
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped, and stems discarded
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Toss potatoes with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt until potatoes are completely and evenly coated. Arrange cubed potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for 8 minutes. Flip, and bake for 6 more minutes, or until the tops are brown and crispy, and the potatoes can be pierced with a fork with no resistance.
  3. In the meantime, heat remaining oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add garlic and saute until slightly fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add chopped cilantro to the saute pan, and saute until wilted.
  5. Reduce heat medium-low and add lemon juice and remaining salt (or more, to taste) and simmer, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens slightly.
  6. Remove potatoes from the oven, and add to saute pan. Stir lemon “sauce” and potatoes until potatoes are completely coated. Serve hot.

 

Chole (Spicy Chickpeas)

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Where oh where have I been? The past few weeks have been crazy, crazy, crazy. Between traveling for work and pleasure, and having my wonderful dad visit me last week, I’ve been more like a chicken with its head cut off than anything else. Fortunately, things are much more stable from this week forward, and other than a handful of social engagements throughout the week, I’m more or less home. Thank goodness!

My dad is an amazing person, FYI. He is kind and sweet and incredibly smart. He also has the patience of a saint, which is so great and possibly necessary, given his somewhat high maintenance children. I love when he visits me because it gives me a chance to spoil him with some home-cooked yums, and he’s a pretty honest critic.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has struggled with his weight and diet. But recently, he met with his cousin’s daughter, Shweta, (my third cousin? my second cousin, once removed?) who happens to be a highly trained dietitian and nutritionist, who specializes in vegetarian and vegan diets, and she provided him with a long list of foods and exercises that he should do to reduce his weight and to improve his overall health. Yesterday, my dad bought all of the grocery items that Shweta recommended to him, and I am so proud of him for following through with this plan. I couldn’t be more inspired by him and the steps he is taking to improve his health and life. I can’t wait to hear about his progress, and to both encourage and learn from him every step of the way.

During my dad’s visit, I wanted to help kick start his healthy lifestyle. I also wanted to make him something warm and comforting, and for him, nothing is warmer or more comforting than spicy, yummy Indian food. One of the easiest yet most delicious and nutritious meals is chole (also known as chana masall, a spicy chickpea dish with tomatoes, onions and lemon. Chole makes me nostalgic for my grandma’s house, where we would order the world’s best chole (at least, the best in my world) from a local restaurant. My dad says that the recipe from Creme Centre hasn’t changed at all in his lifetime, and the every bite of chole is just as delicious as his first. mm mmm, so yummy. I paired the chole with roti (thin whole wheat bread), basmati rice and aamras (sweet mango pulp), as well as seasoned chopped onions and extra lemon juice. If you’re lucky like me, your grandma sends you partially cooked roti from India that requires very little work to cook through. Otherwise, you can find a simple recipe for roti here. Side note: leftovers taste even more amazing, so I suggest making a huge pot and eating chole throughout the week, like I did! 🙂

Chole
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium onions, minced, plus extra for garnish
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp red chili powder or ground cayenne pepper, or more or less to taste
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp amchoor (see note)
2 Tbsp chana masala seasoning (see note)
1 15-oz can tomato puree 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus extra for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and cumin, and sauté over medium heat until golden, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the green chili, coriander, red chili powder, turmeric and chana masala seasoning. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, or until onions are browned.
  3. Add the tomato puree and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve with roti and/or rice, and garnish with onions and lemon juice.

Notes:
Amchoor, or mango powder, adds sourness and fruitiness to a dish without adding juice or liquid. It is available at most Indian grocers and many specialty spice stores. Extra lemon juice can be added as a substitute.
Chana masala seasoning is available at most Indian grocers as a prepared, shelf-stable blend of spices. This is an easy way to get all of the ingredient necessary for the dish without breaking the bank. I use the Badshah brand for most of my spice blends. If you’d like to make your own blend, here’s a recipe that you can follow.