You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2008.

chana masala

chana masala

Bryan occasionally brings home Chana (Chole) and Bhatura for supper when he is working at the office near Toronto. Right now, he is on vacation and asked if I could make it for him. I could not find an exact recipe for this spicy vegetarian dish so I did my best to recreate it.

He loved it. The only difference he found was that I used a bit more potato than what he gets from his favorite Indian restaurant. Sadly, I forgot my plan to garnish with the fresh cilantro.

chana masala

© 2008 Laurie Ann March
makes 4 – 6 servings

This is best served with bhatura, chapati, naan bread or basmati rice.

3 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon kolonji or onion seeds (see note)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 green chili pepper, finely minced
2 teaspoons fresh garlic, pureed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, pureed
1 1/4 cups canned diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 medium potatoes, washed and peeled
1 cup water
3 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro (coriander), chopped
1/2 cup water, if necessary

adding the potatoes

adding the potatoes

It is helpful to prepare and measure all the ingredients before you start. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and kolonji (onion seeds) and once they start popping, about 25 seconds, add the onion. Sauté the onion until it starts to brown slightly. Then add the chili pepper, garlic and ginger and stir well. Quickly add the tomatoes and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the salt, coriander, garam masala and turmeric and stir well. Then add the potatoes stirring to coat with the onion, tomato, spice mixture. Add 1 cup of water and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Add the chickpeas and more water if necessary and let simmer for another 20 minutes. Remove the chana masala from the heat and add the cilantro. Let the mixture sit with the lid on for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Note: Kolonji seeds are also known as black onion seeds, charnushka nigella or black cumin.

Back in April I was invited to “cake day” at my friend Samantha’s house and I decided I was going to make something from my repetoire of salad recipes. I’m always playing with new ideas for salads and this one has become a favorite among even the pickiest people in our family. I included the recipe in my wilderness cookbook, A Fork in the Trail, because it works wonderfully for a first night of backpacking.  

spinach salad with red currant vinaigrette

© 2008 Laurie Ann March
this recipe is an excerpt from the book A Fork in the Trail

makes 3 – 4 servings

We often take it on picnics, to potluck dinners and on regular camping trips. This is also a recipe you can easily tinker with. Changing the jelly and/or the vinegar can create some interesting combinations.

1/4 cup red currant jelly
3 tablespoons mango, cranberry, or red wine vinegar
7 cups baby spinach
1 cup strawberries
1/2 cup canned mandarin oranges, drained
1/4 cup green onions or chives

Hull the strawberries and cut them in half. Remove the stems from the spinach. Chop the onion. Melt the red currant jelly with the mango vinegar in a small pot over medium-low heat. Let cool.

Combine the spinach, strawberries, mandarin oranges, and onions together in a bowl. Stir the dressing and pour it over the salad. Toss gently to coat.

A few years ago my sister and her husband introduced me to a yummy snack—crackers with cream cheese and red pepper jelly. Yesterday afternoon I decided that it was high time I tried to make homemade red pepper jelly. My recipe filled 4 one cup jars but I left lots of headroom. Along the way I learned a few lessons.

Measurements have to be precise.

You really do have to sterilize your jars first and keep them warm as things move along quickly once you start heating the ingredients.

Don’t play with the jars once you’ve put the lids on or you can break the gel. One of the four jars of jelly is more of a thick syrup. Sometimes you can leave it and it will set eventually but I will probably use the one that didn’t gel as a glaze for roast chicken—so all is not lost. If you ever have a jelly that doesn’t gel don’t throw it out. You can salvage it by following the instructions from the National Center for Food Preservation website.


red pepper jelly

© 2008 Laurie Ann March
makes enough to fill 3 to 4 one cup jars

This jelly has the sweet flavors of red pepper combined with the heat of Tabasco Sauce. It is sweet and not overly spicy.

red pepper jelly with cream cheese

red pepper jelly with cream cheese

6 large sweet red peppers
3 cups granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 pouch Certo liquid pectin
4 1 cup canning jars with rings and seals

Wash the jars lids and seals. Make sure that you only use new seals. Preheat the oven to 225ºF. Set the jars in the oven to sterilize them and leave them there until ready to use. Make sure any tongs, ladles or spoons that you use have been sterilized as well.

Remove the stems, seeds and membrane from the red peppers. Coarsely chop the peppers and then pulse in a food processor or blended until finely minced. Place the peppers in a fine mesh strainer and place over a bowl to drain. Stir the peppers and press them against the sides of the strainer to release the juices.

When you have a cup of juice, place it in a pot. Turn the burner on high and add the sugar, Tabasco sauce and apple cider vinegar. Heat to boiling and stir occasionally. Once the mixture is boiling remove it from the heat and add the liquid pectin. Return the mixture to the heat and bring it back to the boil. When it reaches a full boil let it continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam as it will cloud the jelly—be careful as the mixture will be very hot.

Ladle the jelly into the jars from the oven leaving 1/4 inch headroom in each jar. Use a damp cloth to wipe the outer edges of the jars clean. Screw on the lids and rings. The heat from the jelly will help the jars seal.

Sit the jars on the counter for 24 hours and do not move or disturb them. The lids should not have any give. If they do then the seal didn’t take but you can still use it as it will keep in the fridge for one month.

Jelly is best stored in the fridge but can be kept in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months. Once the seal is broken, store the jelly in the fridge for one month.

Those who know me well also know that I like to experiment and nothing fascinates me more than a new ingredient that I have no idea how to use and that I haven’t heard of before.



This time that ingredient is something called Mahleb which is also known as Mahlab, Mahalab, Mahlepi or Mahlebi. Mahleb has roots in Turkish, Armenian, Syrian, Lebanese and Greek baking. It is a bittersweet and fragrant spice made from the innerkernel of the sour black cherry pit. The fragrance is somewhat floral and reminiscent of almonds and cherries. 

I’ve done a little research and discovered that it is best used in baked goods in the same kind of quantity that you would use something like nutmeg. Two of the recipes it is commonly used in are Cheoreg (Armenian Coffee Cake) and Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread).

I purchased whole Mahleb from my favorite spice store, The Spice House, and I will need to grind it before using. I’m still not exactly sure as to how I am going to use it but I will post any recipes here if I have success with it. I’m hoping to create a recipe that is totally unique and pushes the envelope a bit. The flavor apparently pairs well with tea so I see some sort of breakfast cake concoction in my future.

Here are the links to a few other recipes I found online…

Mahleb Syrup
Armenian Butter Cookies
Flaounes (Easter Cheese Pies)
Ma’amoul (Lebanese Filled Cookies)

This is one of my favorite cookie recipes because it reminds me of childhood and Mom baking these for school lunches. I hadn’t had molasses cookies in years and then last year I spent some time with my mother-in-law, Vicki, who might just love molasses cookies as much as I do. These are simple to make and the molasses cookies fill the house with the incredible aromas of ginger and cinnamon.

grandma Georgia’s molasses cookies

© 2005 Laurie Ann March
makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies

3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt

Melt the shortening and let it cool. Mix the dry ingredients together. Add the sugar, molasses, and egg to the shortening. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Chill until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Form the dough into balls about 1 inch in size. Place a little white sugar in a small bowl and roll each ball in the sugar. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Leave the cookies on the cookie sheet for 3 to 5 minutes. The cookies will be soft but they will harden as they cool.