This summer, my kitchen has been fragrant with basil. For one, my own plants are doing better than they’ve done in previous years in my kitchen garden, but my neighbor Heather has also been giving me bagfuls of this spicy-sweet herb.
I usually use it as a garnish for curries, in Thai dishes or in pesto, of course, but this week, with some freshly picked basil in hand, I decided to revisit one of my favorite flavoring finds from French cuisine. Pistou.
The most basic version of Pistou, which I love, incorporates just three ingredients. Basil, tomatoes and olive oil. And although it sounds too minimalist, the flavor explosion these three ingredients create together is beyond description. I’ve seen variations that use parmesan or garlic or pine nuts, or all three, but that would just make the pistou too much like its Italian cousin, the gorgeous Pesto. And that wouldn’t be fair, because the Pistou is a star in its own right.
Pistou is traditionally stirred into soups, but it also makes a great sauce for pasta, which is how I most often use it. For a tight night this week, I used it to jazz up a pot of bulghur, or cracked wheat.
I was craving some bhujias and had a lovely cauliflower sitting in my refrigerator, but deep-frying food is not something I often do. I thought I’d try this instead: make a bhujia batter, dip the cauliflower florets in it, and then bake them instead of frying them.
It worked very well, I’m happy to say, and although I’ll admit that bhujias are crunchier when fried, these had a lovely, slight crunch to them and an amazing flavor. The cauliflower inside was cooked to melt-in-the-mouth consistency. And I could eat most of it without feeling guilty because hey, I was just eating my veggies.
1 cup bulghur, or cracked wheat
2 cups water
A pinch of salt, if desired
Place the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the water comes to a boil, cover the pan and let the bulghur cook on low heat around 15 minutes. Bulghur cooked this way has a softer, fluffier consistency. If you’d like it to be chewier, turn off the heat right after the water comes to a boil and let the bulghur soak for about 15 minutes.
2 cups basil leaves
1 large tomato, diced, with all the juices
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt, if desired, to taste
Place the basil leaves and tomato in a food processor and with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. The pistou will have a pretty runny consistency.
To put together the pilaf, fluff the bulghur with a fork and then gently stir in as much pistou as you need to get your flavor kick. I used about 1/2 cup and then drizzled some on top after serving because I cannot have enough of its vibrant flavors!
Baked Cauliflower Bhujia
1 small head cauliflower, sear
1/3 cup of chickpea flour (besan)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds or jeera, coarsely powdered
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional)
1 tbsp canola oil (or any vegetable oil)
Salt to taste.
Mix together all ingredients other than the cauliflower florets.
Add water and beat with a fork or a small whisk. The batter should by fairly thick, like pancake batter, but not lumpy.
Spray a baking sheet lightly with oil.
Dip the cauliflower florets one by one into the batter, shake off excess batter, and place them on the baking sheet.
Bake in a 375-degree oven about 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower feels tender when pierced with a fork. The outer crust should be lightly golden (note the bhujia will NOT look as golden-brown as when it’s deep-fried)