The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

Chana masala April 10, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 10:35 pm

I thought it was impossible to screw up chana masala. TIL: this is not true, and also that certain conversations are possibly best left until after dinner.

The last batch I made involved highly overcooked chickpeas (note to self! adding baking soda before pressure cooking them really does work to decrease cooking time! almost too well – you may end up with just chickpea ghosts*), burnt fenugreek seeds that I had mistaken for mustard seeds (wrong!!! and incredibly bitter!), and almost no seasoning. Both my dinner companion and my roommate Maayan were very gracious about what was frankly a terrible dish, but I was embarrassed by my failure at something I thought I could cook in my sleep, and resolved to do better next time. Fast forward to this evening… I thought I would put in a little more effort this time, and I’m pleased with the result!

So here goes:


3 cans chickpeas (or equivalent in cooked), strained and washed
350ml strained tomatoes, or crushed
2 large onions, or 3 medium
2 tsp Vegeta, or 1 tsp salt if you must
2 tsp chana masala spice (I use MDH – it’s easily findable in the Punjabi market in Van)
0.5 tsp pureed garlic
1 tsp pureed ginger
1 tsp amchur (dried mango powder)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of actual mustard seeds (I really liked these & will use more next time)
Pinch of coriander seeds
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

In a small saucepan, heat up a small amount of oil. Drop in mustard and coriander seeds; cook until they pop. Fry onions in a separate, large pot until translucent. Add rest of spices and Vegeta/salt to the onions; cook for a couple of minutes until blended. Transfer cooked coriander and mustard seeds to that pot. Add tomatoes and chickpeas; cook for 10 minutes at low heat. Garnish with cilantro.

* the translucent fibrous husk that envelops a chickpea. Deb Perelman of smitten kitchen makes a compelling argument that they should be removed, one chickpea at a time, to achieve ethereally smooth hummus; I agree with her


Baked chickpea fritters March 28, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 2:36 pm

This weekend, I felt like trying out a new recipe and I picked the Oh She Glows cookbook, which my dear roommate Verena graciously gifted me last Christmas. I had an enthusiastic taste-testing volunteer who happens to also be one of my favourite vegans, so I was feeling extra motivated to make something slightly more elaborate than my usual fare.


I settled on this recipe for baked chickpea fritters (or “oil-free falafel bites” per Oh She Glows), and I share it with one message. Dearest fellow people of pallor: we need to stop ruining food that never did us any harm.

Falafel was, I believe, intended to be deep-fried into a warm morsel of crispy deliciousness—let’s leave it out of our quest to achieve WASP-y moral purity through “clean eating” and voluntary gustatory self-deprivation. What I made is not falafel, wouldn’t even be recognized by falafel as a distant cousin. It was bordering on flavourless. Maayan said it best, “I watched you put so many tasty things into the food processor… where did all the flavour go??”

The one saving grace to this meal was the lemon-tahini dressing. Do not cut corners and skimp on the dressing!!!! I swear it is worth it. It’s the best thing I’ve made in a long time. I will make this dish again (because I think it has potential), likely frying the patties and adding some cayenne pepper and more salt to them; the recipe below includes the ingredient modifications (but not the frying part.)

Chickpea fritters: (makes 20)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup red onion
1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or the equivalent if pressure cooking
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/4 cup + 6 tbsp bread crumbs (I used panko bread crumbs, which made the fritters extra crunchy and interesting)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a food processor, chop garlic, then add onion, cilantro and mint; process until minced. Finally add the chickpeas; process until mixture forms a coarse dough.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the flaxseed, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs, cumin and salt.

Shape the mixture into small patties (using ~1 tbsp for each) pressing firmly so they hold their shape. If the mixture is too wet, you may want to add more bread crumbs.

Roll the fritters in the remaining bread crumbs (6 tbsp). Press down on each side so that the bread crumbs stick. You can leave some of the patties un-rolled in breadcrumbs, which will give quite a different texture, and decide which you like better!

Place fritters onto baking sheet lined w/ parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through the baking time.

While the fritters are baking, you can make a really simple tomato-cucumber garnish (ingredients: diced tomatoes and cucumber, red onions, mint, lime juice and salt). Protip: if it tastes bland, you probably haven’t added enough salt!

Lemon-tahini dressing:
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1.5 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp sea salt

In a food processor, pulse the garlic to mince it. Add remaining ingredients & process until smooth. The dressing may thicken when chilled; you can thin it out with a bit of water or olive oil.


Leftover veggie and lentil soup March 14, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:32 pm

This recipe is a (partially successful) attempt at recreating a delicious dish that my roommate Maayan once whipped up. What I like about it is it uses ingredients we usually have around in our pantry at any given time, and it’s a tasty way to use up leftover veggies that have seen fresher days. You could add kale if you’re one of those people who feel they need to add kale to everything they eat (I don’t.)

Note: this makes quite a lot of soup, about 6 servings – enough to feed hungry roommates for a few days!

Note #2: this soup would go really well with freshly baked bread; I swear by this no-knead recipe. More on that soon, but for the soup…

2 large onions, chopped
2 cups brown lentils
3 potatoes, chopped into small pieces
2 carrots + 2 parsnips, chopped into demilunes
1.5 tbsp Vegeta
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
0.5 to 1 tsp chilli powder (I used this Mexican chilli spice mix I got in Montreal)
Ground pepper to taste
(Other potential spices: bay leaf, paprika, red pepper flakes)
0.5 tsp dried parsley
Bit of cilantro

Fry onions until translucent. Add Vegeta and spices, then vegetables and lentils, and enough water to prevent burning. Bring to a boil and cook until all vegetables are done (IME potatoes took the longest to cook- around 50 minutes on our stove). Add parsley, ground pepper and cilantro garnish at the end. Serve with a side of Carnegie newsletter.

lentil soup


Rice and beans (with a coconut banana twist) February 29, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:39 pm

This recipe is an attempted recreation of the “east van town” dish from the restaurant Foundation; I like it because it has a high tastiness to ingredient ratio, and I usually have the ingredients around anyway.

If I hadn’t had these at a restaurant, I would file the recipe under ‘experimental dishes my vegan former roommate and now BFF would make’; he combined black beans with all kinds of unusual things, like chocolate. I promise you, these might sound weird, but taste delicious. So without further ado:


  • 2 cans black beans, or the equivalent in pressure-cooked
  • 2 ripe bananas, chopped length-wise into circles, and then into quarters
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 small can (165ml) coconut milk
  • 1 cup jasmine rice (my fave)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Vegeta
  • Cayenne pepper
  • (if you’re feeling fancy): mango, cilantro, green onion and/or Sriracha for garnish

Cook jasmine rice by whatever method you usually use (or this one).
Fry onions in vegetable oil until translucent; add 1 tbsp Vegeta and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, and coconut milk. Stir until dissolved, then add bananas and black beans. Add just enough water to keep the beans from burning (you don’t want it to be too soupy); cook for 10-15 minutes. Add lime juice and garnish at the very end. As with most things I make, this dish tastes even better the next day.




Middle Eastern lentil soup, a Serbo-Canadian variation February 14, 2016

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:45 pm

While I was living in Kuwait, as an angsty teenage vegetarian, lentil soup was one of my staples – when I wasn’t stuffing my face with french fries. I still remember the restaurant in the Marina Mall food court, where I would eat it with copious amounts of lemon and deep-fried pita croutons. Most Middle Eastern restaurants in the country had a close variation of this soup. I have not been able to find even a remote approximation since moving to Canada. So, I looked around on Google and found a recipe that inspired my own (but mine went off on a tangent…) It’s now my favourite soup recipe by a wide margin. I recently found a recipe similar to mine, complete with gorgeous photos and method for making pita croutons, here.

(When I visited Doha in December, I made a quick beeline to a mall food court in search of the lentil soup of my childhood, and to my great surprise, I could barely recognize it. Flummoxed, I initially chalked it up to differences between Kuwait and Qatar, before realizing that the recipe I’ve been tweaking for the past 10 years had diverged from the original so much that it bore almost no resemblance to it at all. I’ve got so used to my version that I kinda prefer it now.)

So, without further ado:


2 cups red lentils
2 onions, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Vegeta* (contains salt)
Cayenne pepper
Amchur (dried mango powder) – optional
Turmeric (for colour)

Fry onions in olive oil until translucent. Add 1.5tbsp Vegeta and other spices to taste, then add lentils and a sufficient amount of water to cook them in. Check saltiness, taste and colour and adjust using Vegeta, spices and turmeric respectively. Puree using an immersion blender. Add lemon juice at the very end.

This recipe scales up and freezes very well. I recommend saving a few servings for exam-time.

*Vegeta is a type of vegetable seasoning salt originally from Croatia, but now available in most “ethnic” stores in Vancouver. Every single savoury dish I make has it as a base. I can’t imagine cooking without it, but you could use powdered or liquid vegetable stock as a substitute.

lentil soup 1

Lentil soup yumminess



Lentil soup recipe, scaled up to 8 litres for my soup collective


The taste of mint April 7, 2015

Filed under: recipes — excitablescientist @ 11:33 am

In an effort to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle (annual flight to Europe notwithstanding), I’ve been trying to center plant-based foods in my diet again. I don’t eat animal products out of any particular craving, most days, but rather out of convenience, and when I have a bit more time to plan out my meals, it’s really not hard to come up with vegan options. The irony to this is that I end up making vegan dishes for more special occasions (because I have more lead time), and “richer” foods are relegated to the mundane.

I had a couple of friends over last night for dinner and catching up, and one of my favourite parts about cooking for other people is it gives me a chance to try out things I wouldn’t make for myself necessarily, and people tend to appreciate whatever you’ve made. And I had this craving for tabbouli salad, but didn’t want to spend 20 minutes chopping parsley for a side salad and was thinking it would be nice to make something more filling, so that any leftovers could be reincarnated as lunches this week.

I also had a craving for fresh mint after one of my roommates used some the other day, and its sublime scent drifted up the stairs and into my room. I find mint really interesting: it has kind of a strong and distinct flavour, but it’s impossible to use too much; its scent is ethereal, but its leaves have impressive structural integrity (unlike basil which wilts if I look at it the wrong way), and it pairs with both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s an underused culinary gem IMO. So, without further ado:

Modified tabbouli recipe:

– 1.5 cups tomatoes, chopped

– 1 long English cucumber, chopped

– 1 red onion, coarsely chopped

– 2 cans chickpeas, washed and drained

– 1 bunch mint, chopped

– 1 tsp sumac

– 2 lemons, juiced

– 4 tbsp olive oil

– Salt: to taste

Combine all ingredients, shake well, and chill for a few hours before serving. The flavour only gets better with time.


Musical accompaniment: Mint by Kathleen Edwards