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Silk Road Vegetarian: Central Asian Flavors in Your Kitchen

The flavors in Dahlia Abraham-Klein’s newest (and first) cookbook Silk Road Vegetarian: Vegan, Vegetarian and Gluten Free Recipes for the Mindful Cook are as exotic and storied as her family’s background, which incorporates Iraqi, Persian, Afghani, Indian, and Bukharian traditions. Her family’s journey followed the path of the Silk Road, historic trade routes connecting East Asia to the Middle East, and picked up on all of the spices, traditions, and flavors along the way. Despite my own Hungarian ancestral background, the flavors in Dahlia’s book fit my taste bud’s flavor profile perfectly, my mouth was watering at the opportunity to go home and try out the recipes.

If the thought of trying your hand with a blend of spices, like curry, cardamom, and cumin, makes you cringe – then Silk Road Vegetarian might actually be the right place to start. After the storied journey of her family, Dahlia spends twenty pages introducing the reader to dozens of different spices, with enough detail and context to bring the blandest food consumers up to speed. The next section goes through other basic preparation techniques focusing on pressing tofu, cooking legumes and grains, and tips on food preservation. In just 20 minutes of your time, Dahlia can take away the fears of a timid or intimidated kitchen cook.

The first recipe from Silk Road Vegetarian that I tried was the Chickpea Dal in Coconut Broth, and after it received such positive feedback at a Shabbat lunch meal, I made 3 more recipes the following week. First was the Bengali Potato and Zucchini curry, which was super flavorful and developed a bright yellow color from the turmeric. The proof that this recipe is easy to make is that I assigned my boyfriend to make the dish. He is an amazing, and also very by-the-book cook. This recipe passed his test, and came out deliciously.

In short order followed the red lentil curry and roasted carrot salad with feta and parsley. The red lentils were hearty and smoky, almost like the vegetarian Indian cousin of the Sloppy Joe. For the roasted carrot salad I used an array of rainbow carrots, which were easy to find in the grocery store, and added an extra layer of beauty to this already delightful dish (roast carrots, sprinkle feta cheese and chopped parsley).

I had also intended to make the Palak Paneer or Indian Spinach Curry recipe from the book, since the other recipes were so aromatic and wonderful. The thing is, I am a Palak Paneer purist. It is my absolute favorite food, and while other New York emigrants search around for the best slice of pizza, I am looking for my b’sheret in a steaming bowl of spinach and cheese curd curry. When I saw the recipe in Silk Road called for tomatoes and tofu, I retreated. While I have no doubt it would taste delicious, I just couldn’t commit to trying this version.

There are so many recipes in Silk Road vegetarian that I can’t wait to try. As long as you’ve got spices on hand (or know where to find them), these recipes will transport you to places you dream of travelling (or at least, I do).

Chickpea Dal in Coconut Broth
Serves 6
Vegan, Gluten Free
¾ cup (150 g) dried chickpeas or one 15-oz (425 g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 thread of saffron
3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup (125 ml) coconut milk
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Simple Steamed Brown Rice, or your favorite rice, for serving

If you are using dried chickpeas, soak, skin, and cook them according to the instructions.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat and sauté the onions, stirring and shaking the pan for a few minutes. Once the onions get a bit translucent, stir and add the garlic. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the garlic becomes fragrant.

Add the ground mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, turmeric, chili powder, nutmeg, and saffron. Reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture becomes fragrant. This is called the tadka, which will season the dal.

Stir in the chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. Season with salt.

Add the chickpeas and simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until thick and creamy. Serve hot with basmati rice.

Recipe from Dahlia Abraham-Klein’s “Silk Road Vegetarian: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten Free Recipes for the Mindful Cook” used with permission. Photo credit: Liz Traison

Liz Traison is a Program Associate at Hazon and a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is a graduate of The University of Michigan where she received a BA in History and Judaic Studies. She also studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum and Hebrew University. She is thrilled to be a member of the 2014 PresenTense fellowship. She likes being outside, particularly on Skeleton Lake. And also being inside, specifically doing creative workshops in prison.

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