Quiet, I Am Hunting Vegans (September Daring Cooks)

Actually this month I was hunting for delicious Vegan examples of a traditional Indian treat called dosas. Debyi from Healthy Vegan Kitchen threw down the guantlet for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge. This was going to be a challenge in several ways. Not just a cooking/recipe challenge, but also a challenge to my cooking and food philosophy. The following paragraph is what got my hackles up.

“Requirements: Must be free of animal products, this will be a challenge for you “regular” cooks out there, but its worth it. So that means, no cows milk, butter, meat, poultry, fish, chicken/beef broth, etc. This dish is also 99% oil free, using only what you need to keep the dosas from sticking (I used a quick spritz of cooking spray on the first dosa only), which isn’t too bad with a nonstick pan. You can use a different filling/sauce if you like, but it must be free of animal products.”

One of my pet peeves is picky eaters. Another is people saying they are allergic to something that they really aren’t. Yet another is militant vegans trying to force their opinions on me. So right off the bat I am having trouble with this challenge. I decided at some point though that I would just shut my mouth and do the challenge according to the rules laid out by our hostess. (For me that was like walking on water.)

Dosa are a thin crepe like traditional Indian food that can be filled with or topped with just about anything. To fulfill the vegan requirements I went with a quick first attempt using a batter of AP flour, whole wheat flour, coconut milk, water, baking powder, curry powder, and salt. It is a very simple batter that you just add enough flour to get a consistency exactly like a pancake batter.

Heat up a cast iron skillet and coat with just a tiny bit of oil. I used olive oil and wiped the pan with a paper towel. Originally I did this just to fulfill challenge requirements of using very little oil. In the end though it turned out to be the very best technique for starting the dosa. Add a full ladel of your batter into the skillet and spread around with the bottom of your ladel much like you would do when saucing a pizza.

Let it cook until the edges start to turn golden brown and release easily from the skillet. Then flip.

Not bad for the first ever dosa in my life.

For the vegan version I went with a filling of Aloo Gobi that I found on About.com. This is a wonderful resource when it comes to traditional and authentic foods from around the world. Basically the aloo gobi is a potato and cauliflower curry.

In my opinion, with vegan and vegetarian cooking you have to season everything. Without fat and flavorful proteins you must take every opportunity to add flavor.

While hunting around for ideas I came upon another food blogger that has some really well done recipes. Visually appealing as well as flavorful in the execution. Check out No Recipes to find the recipe for this coriander chutney. Look around on my blog for my take on a No Recipes version of Tacos al Pastor and an amazing Salsa Verde.

This is cumin seed, mustard seed, fresh cilantro leaves, onion, grated coconut, serrano chiles, lemon juice, and salt.

Now to put it all together.

On this first attempt I was very happy with the slight sweetness that the coconut milk added to the dosa. It paired well with the spiciness of the aloo gobi. The chutney though didn’t match this dish well. I loved it’s flavor by itself but just not matched with the dosa and filling I chose. Too strong of a citrus flavor and maybe not enough coconut.

Now that I have fulfilled the VEGAN portion of this experiment, on to the real cooking. Up until I read the vegan restrictions on this challenge, my mind was reeling with all the possibilities. Countless fillings and toppings were at my fingertips. Paneer was high on the list but excluded from vegan recipes. Well now I was going to cook it my way.

PART II

After much thought and research online I came up with a mix of North and South Indian cuisine. A traditional dosa batter made from rice, lentils, and fenugreek that is soaked overnight, blended and then fermented for one more night. That would be filled with a chilli paneer and topped with gunpowder chutney and a cucumber mint raita.

I got started on making paneer from scratch. Way easier than you would think. I took a 1/2 gallon of whole milk and put it on a medium low heat. Here was a chance to add more flavor. I spiced the milk with dried cilantro, red chile flakes, and cumin seed.

Stir often while the milk is coming to temp. When it starts to boil, add in the juice of about 1 lemon while stirring. If you have enough acid the milk will start to separate almost immediately.

Now pour this into a collander lined with a linen towel or lots of cheesecloth. Allow the whey to drain off leaving only your fresh cheese curds.

Allow to cool. I didn’t. When cool enough to handle, wrap the towel around the cheese and twist the top so as to form a ball of cheese and to help force out more of the liquid. Some might recommend rinsing the curds to get rid of any overly strong lemon flavor. I tasted the cheese and liked the flavor as is. Use your own taste as your guide.

I twisted up the towel and then weighted it in the collander with a cast iron skillet.

Now while that was drying I got started on a unique dry chutney that seemed a perfect fit for my ultimate vegetarian dosa. Gunpowder Chutney has many variations, like almost every Indian recipe I have come across. I am also not experienced with all the different types of lentils so this is just my version and makes no claims of authenticity. Start by toasting red and green lentils in a dry pan. They start like this.

They end up like this.

I was really surprised at the nutty aroma they started giving up. Buzz these up in a spice grinder. Now dry roast in the same pan some red chiles.

When pan toasting spices, nuts, or anything else let your nose guide your hand. When you start to smell your ingredient, it is probably ready to either shake the pan to mix or pull off the heat. Do not allow any ingredient to char. These are also ground up in a spice grinder. This process was repeated with mustard seeds. Everything was ground up and set aside. It makes a spicy/nutty topping that I will be using often in the future.

Let’s take a look at the cheese.

I had read that paneer was easy to make. Let me just say that as a first time cheese maker, this really felt good looking at such a wonderfully flavored and technically correct fresh cheese from scratch.

Now for the chilli paneer. First you need some chiles. I went with some bananna, pasilla, serrano, and red bell. I thought this mix would give the dish a mix of sweet, peppery, and heat that would go well with the creaminess of the paneer.

Everything starts with some ghee, cumin seed, garlic, grated ginger, and the sliced serranos in a hot skillet.

After a couple of minutes toss in some coriander powder. That is coriander seeds that are ground fine. I also added some curry powder, a small chopped onion, and a bit of the gunpowder chutney. Then added in just a bit of water to help you cook the spices without burning them.

Now add in some chile garlic sauce ( my all time favorite condiment ). Stir and then let most of the liquid cook out. Then toss in the rest of your chiles. Cook until the peppers just start to soften. You should still have lots of bright colors. Now add in your paneer that has been roughly chopped into cubes and cook for just a few minutes.

I tasted and reseasoned at this point with kosher salt, pepper, and more of the gunpowder chutney.

While the chilli paneer was cooking I whipped up a simple cucumber mint raita. It is just brunoise of cucumber, finely chopped mint, plain yogurt, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Now for the dosa. Your fermented batter should look alive. It reminded me of an active flour/water poolish. Lots of bubbles and the thing was trying to rise out of it’s container. Again just dump a ladel full of the batter into a hot, lightly oiled cast iron skillet. I used just a tiny bit of ghee this time. Spread the batter around to make the dosa as thin and large as your skills and skillet allow.

Flip when the dosa wants to release. It is much like fish on a grill this way. When it is ready to be flipped it will be easy to slip a spatula underneath. If you are rushing the process you will tear the dosa. Be patient and pay close attention.

These looked good but I wanted to make them better. I took a little ghee and brushed on the cooked dosa. Then flipped them back over and cooked them to a crispy and golden brown. I was going for more of a crispy barely foldable dosa as compared to a pancake type dosa/idlis. Texture is a big factor for me when enjoying food and a crunchiness would help me enjoy this vegetarian meal.

Assembly time. Easy enough. This time I filled the dosa and then carefully folded them back on themselves. Put the seam side down on the plate. Top with gunpowder chutney, your cucumber mint raita, and finally a little cilantro for freshness and color.

As much as I dragged my feet and pounded my fists about a Vegan challenge, this turned out really well. I think that Indians have figured out how to eat meatless much better than people in the rest of the world. Nothing in this meal is trying to be something else. No tofurkey, bean sausage, or anything else imitation. The second, vegetarian version was something I will probably make again.

I actually pride myself on being somewhat a caveman. Killing an animal and cooking it over an open fire is a spiritual thing for me. That being said, those that choose a vegetarian or vegan diet for religious reasons have my respect.

Thank you Debyi for a very interesting challenge. Not only did you challenge my kitchen skills but also my thinking in many ways. Every single month, Daring Cooks teaches me something new. Most of the time it has very little to do with the recipe.

 

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~ by climbhighak on September 14, 2009.

54 Responses to “Quiet, I Am Hunting Vegans (September Daring Cooks)”

  1. Congratulations!! I am inspired now to make paneer :) Beautiful looking dosas!

  2. I am so intrigued by the paneer (have to try to make that myself one day, since I love sagh paneer and such) and the dry chutney – they sound delicious!

    “Nothing in this meal is trying to be something else” – I love that. I used to be a vegetarian, but refused to eat vegetarian food that pretended to be meat/sausage/turkey/what have you. If you want a sausage, eat a freaking sausage instead of some yucky soy thing that’s filled with additives for flavor and texture! Sorry about the rant :) Great job on this challenge, both the vegan and vegetarian version!

    • I have to laugh at vegetarians that eat meat imitations. It is like smokers that are smoking some kind of imitation cigarette. Either eat it or don’t eat it, no in between.

      So many vegetarians standing on their soapbox preaching about their healthy diets while opening a mix of processed bullshit.

  3. I shared the same, well, let call them concerns, that you expressed with the requirement of the challenge. Actually, my concerns were two fold.

    Firstly that there was a specific requirement for veganism without any suggestion or leway for an alternative stated for vegetarians or omnivores alike. I wouldn’t have minded if the same courtesy that is uaually offered when meat-based dishes are presented was paid back in kind.

    The other was that the Indian dosa, which should have been the focal point of the challenge, wasn’t; either the focal point, Indian or dosa. With the right recipes, it could have been all three, and still be vegan without having to explicitly impose such restrictions.

    I can’t wait for the Halal, Kosher or diabetic friendly challenges… :P

    Regarding your attempt, I love the look of the paneer. It looks so appetising that I would just pick away at it with a mound of crackers :)

    • I felt like I was asking Obama or Pelosi a straight question about healthcare when I posed those questions in the Daring Cooks forums. No matter how many times I asked pointed questions, the alternative cook crowd refused to answer.

      Why wasn’t the traditional batter recipe used is a mystery to me.

  4. This was my first challenge…and being FAR from vegetarian, let alone vegan, I had some concerns as well! I enjoyed the challenge and am glad that I did it. My boyfriend on the other hand, hates curry and could smell it for DAYS! :)

  5. Both versions look fantastic! Too bad the green chutney didn’t work out so good with the rest, I definitely can imagine the stand-alone taste is great (love cilantro.)
    There’s so many things on your post I want to try, I think I’m going to bookmark it – a real inspiration, thank you :)

  6. Both of your fillings look amazing! I will have to try my hand at paneer as well one day!

    I come from a family with a lot of (don’t worry-legit) allergies, so I understand that cooking with restrictions can sometimes be the biggest challenge of all. It can really make you bitter unless you start to look at it as a game, so that’s the way I approached this one.

    • As a kid I had all kinds of diagnosed allergies. Went through the whole shot grid in the arm testing regimen and everything. The doctors told me I was allergic to everything from dog dander (had a dog all that time) to corn tassels (I lived in central Illinois). Know that I have grown up and moved to Alaska my allergies have seemed to disappear.

      All that being said, I understand legitimate allergies. I am of the opinion that many are just being over diagnosed.

      A doctor I recently posed these questions to illuminated the subject by informing me that allergic reactions are cumalative. If five things in your environment cause you issues, if you are exposed to low levels of 4 then you might never see a symptom. But if one irritant is suddenly off the charts it can put you down.

  7. your dosas are beautiful..I love the spice toppings that you made

    you did a really good job

    Have a nice day! :)

  8. Wow! I am in awe! You did so much from scratch and were so creative. Your second version was more daring than the actual challenge recipe. Job well done! P.S. I love your post title.. great mental pictures. :)

  9. Awesome post. Living in California there are a lot of people who are picky about everything under the sun food related & unrelated! It can feel as though the world is full of whiners. Learning to cook something completely gluten-free & vegan was an excellent challenge, not only for the techniques (which I agree, your non-vegan version looks WAY better) but as you said, for the other “hidden” part of the challenge that required all of us to set aside silly prejudices and just cook the damn thing! Nicely written and well done. Paneer looks insanely good.

  10. I admire your omnivorous point of view. Your post is an inspiration — for the food AND the philosophy. I definitely learned a few things, not all about food. Great job!

  11. I am totally blown away, as a blogger I don’t think it’s a good thing that I am at a loss for words, but I am. First, the title of your post made me laugh and made me want to click on your blog link. Then I started reading your dosa post, I am officially starving, cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables, coriander is one of my favorite herbs and paneer is one of my favorite ingredients; yet, I would have never thought of this on my own. Your creativity, skill, and dedication is truly remarkable, I look forward to learning a lot from you.

  12. Great title – way to go! :D Seeing you making a vegan dish… wow! I would love to have a try of those interesting variations you made – looks and sounds delicious! :) I can see you really enjoyed this one ;) Cheers!

  13. I think you did a great job on this, even if you had some…hesitations… about doing it. I really enjoyed your photography, here, the pictures were making me so hungry! I also really like the non-vegan version you came up with – it looks spectacular!!

  14. I’m so glad you made the challenge vegan, and then went for what you had in mind =D. The dosas all look amazing! Although I’m not vegan, I know that all aren’t militant, sometimes it just takes some looking. I bet you’ve had vegan food before without realizing it. Just like gluten free, sometimes the best dishes are naturally free.

    • Of course I have had vegan food before. I gaurantee that I realized it as well. I am very aware of what I eat. Mostly because I cook my meals but also when eating out because I go to restaurants that I trust, have a relationship with, and they answer my questions.

      I would say that most newly found American vegans are militant, worse than Catholic missionaries from the last century.

  15. You’ve dome a wonderful job with this challenge. Everything looks terrific. I hope you enjoyed the dosas.

  16. So impressive – and your second attempt seems to be much more of a challenge than the original “challenge.” You really epitomize one of my favorite things about the Daring Kitchen…that I learn more from the other cooks/bakers than I do from the execution of the recipe. Looking forward to learning more from the only vegan hunter I know! ;-)

  17. Delicious – the paneer looks awesome – I agree with you on some levels about the challenge, I think I just would’ve had more fun if we had a more authentic recipe to truly learn the technique of the dosas.

  18. Yum! A great post! I had originally planned an aloo gobi like filling, but I used my cauliflower for something else before I made the dosa. Reading an Alaskan make this made me think of all the ingredients I wouldn’t have been able to get in time when I lived in Alaska. I don’t think I ever saw cauliflower except when we were passing through Anchorage.

    • It would have been tough making this had I lived in Bethel. Anchorage though has access to almost everything. Better access when it comes to many seafood or Pacific Rim ingredients.

  19. Laughing my way through your post. I had sent one of my elk hunting brothers the link to your pit. He lives on the prairie in Colorado, perfect spot for a pig roast. Just the thought makes my mouth water. Love your changes. I found the batter lacking, relatively new to the daring cook world, I’m hesitant to experiment. But you have laid the groundwork for future challenges. Thanks

  20. Wow…you went all out. So impressive. I only realize now we are aloud to change the recipe…drastically lol. I love coriander chutney, what a great idea for it. About the Forbidden rice it was gift from a freind from the farmer’s market in Toronto but I found a wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_rice

  21. That paneer looks great. My aunt used to make it a lot when I was little but not this spicy version, and I hated it. If it was spiced up like this, I think I would have liked it more.

  22. ROTFLMAO@ your title and intro about vegans! Classic! That said, I’m desperately in love with your paneer, so much so, that I want to make some now. Both of your dosas came out lovely, but naturally, I prefer the latter. Gorgeous photos too, especially of the final plating of each. You are one creative dude, Robert..and yes, I’m in dire need of a cast iron lens..and LEG :P

    • Old German glass would hardly ever break when dropped. It is that new plastic stuff that shatters into a million pieces. Maybe a Hasseblad lens is what the doctor ordered.

  23. WOW! You know I love all of this. I make paneer about once a month and cilantro chutney once a week. I wish you could get curry leaves there, it really takes it up a few notches! The dosas look amazing. I love getting them at a South Indian place near me, but I have had nothing but failure when I try to make my own. I am really glad to see you make them the authentic way!
    I agree Indian chefs really figured out how to make magic with very little! I have a whole arsenal of Indian blogs I turn to for inspiration and recipes. Just ask if you care to see any!

  24. Wow. That is really all I can say, so again: WOW.
    Amazing job! Can’t wait to read more of your posts.

  25. AMAZING! I love, love this blog..lmaof while reading this. Well said, Robert! You are truly an inspiration. I’m so trying paneer any time soon. Just like you i prefer my second batter, we both agreed on the crisp and the nutty crepe. I should have toasted my grains too=;). Can’t wait for next months challenge…do i see halal? That would be cool! Again…you did a great job!!

  26. Kudos for your extensive and elaborate efforts in serving Dosas. Every single step is an art of its own. And the final presentation is breathtaking…

    Regards
    Kris

  27. This is great Robert! I like both versions, your photos are lipsmacking as usual :) I cook a lot of Indian food and this is classy. A good drink by the way, don’t spoil a good wine with a curry and don’t spoil a good curry with a beer, humble apple cider goes really well and can help to disperse some of the heat/spiciness when it gets too much ;)

  28. Your dosas are beautiful! Both of your fillings sounds delicious and I love your coriander chutney! Great post.

  29. That paneer really looks amazing, I’d like to give that a try sometime.

  30. It sounds like your persistence paid off with your second round of dosas and curry. Both look tasty and that paneer is a must try!

  31. I remember following the forum debates about the vegan requirement with much interest. Good for you, for being a good sport and giving it a try after all. Having said that, I have to admit I’d choose your non-vegan version in a heartbeat: homemade chili paneer just sounds too good to pass up!

    And I completely agree with your closing comment: the best vegetarian dishes are those that don’t try to pass themselves off as non-vegetarian.

  32. The filling sounds amazing! The fermented dosa version looks really good! I guess you really need the fermentation process to get that kind of ‘dosa texture’.

  33. Your photos are beautiful and now I need to make my own paneer! Love the ladling description, so accurate. Job well done!

  34. Hey Robert, oh my these look good. Love the paneer too. I have been wanting to start up the cheese making, but I have about 52 other things to do first.
    Your photos look fantastic too. Well done.
    …Blondie…

  35. Robert, I just recieved some free samples of some of the hottest dried peppers in the world, including the ghost pepper. If I used them in a paneer, should I rehydrate them first?

    • Obviously you want to be careful with those things. I would rehydrate them in the milk as it slowly comes up to temp. Just bring to a boil over a very low heat so as to give time for the peppers to rehydrate. That way the flavor is distributed throughout the cheese as opposed to getting bits of overpowering chile.

  36. I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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