Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mango Black Bean Salsa or Salad - refreshing nutrition

This is one of my favorite salads. It is refreshing in any season and is packed with all kinds of nutrition. It can be a meal in itself served over a bed of lettuce, or make a great filling for wraps and sandwiches. Want to be a bit naughty? Scoop it up with some tortilla chips and you have a fancy appetizer. Or serve it with some grilled tofu.

The mango is the star here and provides a heady sweet flavor. Use any ripe mangoes available. If you can get your hands on a ripe Alphonso or 'hapus', go for it. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 cans black beans
1 can sweet corn kernels
1 small red onion chopped
1 bunch scallions chopped
1 ripe mango chopped
1 green pepper or capsicum chopped
1 red or yellow pepper chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or coriander

Dressing -

1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or pepper sauce like Tabasco
1 garlic clove grated or crushed
1 tsp sugar or honey
salt to taste

Method -

1) Rinse the black beans from the can to remove all canning liquid. You can also soak dry beans and pressure cook them. You will need about 3 cups cooked beans.
2) Rinse the corn or defrost it if you are using frozen corn.
3) Chop all vegetables and add to a bowl.
4) Mix the dressing in a small bowl and pour over the veggies and beans.
5) Refrigerate overnight or at least for 4-5 hours until flavors intensify.
6) Serve chilled

This is a great vegan dish that has no added fat. It is so colorful and high in flavor that you will never think you are eating anything 'healthy'. The beans and different veggies provide a wide variety of nutrients. This is an exotic alternative to your store brought salsa that is ready with very little effort.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Citrus corn and peas salad - Spring's here!

I know, I know! It's only January and Spring seems far away. But it can't be far behind. And this is a salad or side dish that is sure to perk you up even if there is a raging blizzard outside. It will taste best using fresh English peas and fresh corn on the cob, but you can get away with using frozen stuff too. The star ingredient here is probably the dressing, which is made with fresh squeezed orange juice. Curry powder adds a hint of spice and exotic flavor. This salad is fat free so you can indulge in it upto your heart's content.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 cups green peas

2 cups corn kernels

1 tsp crushed garlic

1 orange juiced

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup orange segments or pulp

salt to taste

Method -

1) If you are using fresh peas or corn, you will need to blanch them first. Boil a pot of water and dunk the peas/corn in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2) Prepare the dressing - Squeeze the orange along with the pulp, mix in lemon/lime juice. Add the salt, pepper and curry powder and crushed garlic. Whisk this and add to the corn and peas.

3) Depending on how juicy your orange is, you may add more orange juice if needed. This salad gets tastier with time.

4) Refrigerate at least overnight for the flavors to develop. Serve as a side dish, or use as filling for sandwiches or wraps.

This is a healthy treat you can indulge in. The citrus dressing takes the ordinary corn and peas to a whole new level. If you love the orange element here, be sure to try my Orange couscous salad.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fat free Stuffed Peppers - Stuffed Shimla Mirch

Hello and wish you all a very Happy New Year. The New Year generally ends a long period of indulgence that starts with Diwali and ends with Christmas. After so much revelry, most of us are tired of eating the heavy food but are also somewhat addicted to it. The New year is always the time for resolutions to stay on plan, eat healthy etc., and whether you follow it for a long term or not, you definitely end up eating some less calories, which can only be good for you.

One way of reducing a lot of calories from your food is fat free cooking. Some plans such as Eat to Live and McDougall advocate cutting out oil and fats from your diets altogether ( ETL does allow you some nuts and seeds daily). I have bought some books on 'zero oil' cooking from chefs such as Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor, but I found that they substituted oil with skim milk or nuts often times. True fat free cooking should have none of the sources of fat. I am not a nutritionist, and not qualified to give anyone advice. So it is up to you if you eat 100% fat free, or eat one dish fat free. You are definitely eating something healthy compared to before.

Stuffed capsicum or stuffed bell peppers have been a favorite in our family for several years. Please do not confuse them with the jumbo peppers stuffed with meat/rice and baked in an oven. This is a purely Indian dish that is generally stir fried in a wok. Potatoes are boiled and mashed along with aromatic spices and stuffed in baby green peppers. These are then stir fried in a wok. This process generally needs a lot of oil, but I managed to make it totally fat free. The trick here is a good non stick pan and a lot of patience. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

7-8 baby green peppers
4-5 medium potatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp Dry mango or Amchur
salt to taste

Method -

1) Boil, peel and mash potatoes. Add all spices, and mix well. Adjust seasoning. This should be well seasoned.
2) Wash and destem peppers. Remove the seeds and white membranes. If you are lucky, you will get the really small peppers or capsicums. This dish is specifically made with the small sized peppers.
3) stuff the potato mixture in all the peppers. The amount of potatoes needed might vary based on the size of the pepper.
4) Heat a thick bottomed non-stick pan or wok. Add the peppers and do not stir until they get a sear on one side. Turn over gently and sear on the other side.
5) Add a splash or two of water to avoid sticking and cover well. Keep the heat on low and let the peppers steam.
6) Check the water level periodically. After the peppers look almost cooked, remove the cover and heat until the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle some salt on the top of the peppers if needed.
7) The peppers are done when the skins look crumpled and the peppers reduce in size a bit.
8) Serve hot with rotis or rice or just on its own with a salad.

This is a great way to convert a popular favorite into something healthy and is worth a try.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bharli vangi or Bharva Baingan - stuffed baby eggplants

This is a classic Marathi or Maharashtrian recipe. As traditional as this is, every family has a twist on it, and will taste different from place to place. Some areas use more oil and heat, others use a lot more sugar. Any which way, this is a delicacy that ranks high among traditional food.

There are a few variations even within our family depending on the person making it, and I have come up with my own favourite over the years. The star here is the 'kala' or black masala that is generally eaten in parts of central India, and which is very much different from the goda masala otherwise common in Marathi households. The baby eggplants/brinjals/vangi themselves are the other main ingredient of course. I like the ones which are deep purple on the outside with very few seeds inside. The eggplants grown along the banks of the river Krishna are also very popular for this dish ( found in places like Sangli, Karad and Kolhapur).

The spice mix forms the secret ingredient here and is actually made up of many different things. A variation in the quanitity and variety of things used change the taste of this dish. I use a combination of nuts/seeds, spices and coconut. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

10-12 baby eggplants

3 Tbsp peanuts

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

1 Tbsp dry coconut

2 Tbsp coriander or dhania seeds

1 Tbsp kala or goda masala

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric

1-2 Tbsp gur/jaggery/brown sugar

salt to taste

2 Tbsp oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

Method -

1) Wash and clean the eggplants thoroughly. Remove the stems but cutting laterally at the base. Now make one vertical cut through the centre almost all the way down without actually cutting it into two pieces. You should go about 80% of the way down. Place a similar cut at right angles to the first cut.

Now you should have a clover type cut deep into the eggplant. There will be four quarters which are joint at the base. Handle the eggplant delicately from this point since we do not want the parts to separate.

2) Cut the remaining eggplants similarly and place in a tub of water. This is to prevent darkening by oxidation.

3) Dry roast the peanuts, sesame seeds, coconut and dhania seeds one by one and cool. Powder using a spice grinder and set aside.

4) Assemble all the spices in a bowl. Add the powdered mixture, masala, turmeric, cayenne, salt, jaggery or brown sugar and half the chopped onion. Mix this well. Work the jaggery into the mixture so that no lumps remain.

5) Now we start stuffing the eggplants. Remove the eggplants from the water and pat them to remove moisture. Now hold the eggplant in one hand, and place some of the spice mixture into the cut we have made in the eggplant. Eyeball the amount of spice you have and use it such that you have enough to stuff all the baingans.

6) Some mixture will fall into the plate as you stuff it, and that can be reused. All this will eventually become part of the sauce or gravy as the eggplants cook.

7) Heat oil in a heavy pan. Traditionally a kadai or deep stock pot called 'patela' would be used for this. Use a pot with a lid, as we need steam to cook this.

8) Heat the oil and give a tadka of mustard seeds and hing if desired. Or you can also directly add the chopped onion here. Lightly fry the onion until it becomes pink.

9) Place the eggplants along the bottom carefully so that most of them get a sear if possible. Lightly toss them for 2-3 minutes until all of them are coated with the oil. Add any remaining spice mixture to the pot.

10) Add some water, just enough to cover the eggplants and place a lid on it. Use a small to medium flame.

11) Keep storring occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid. The eggplants will soften and reduce in size as they cook. Most of the spice mix will dissolve in the sauce and thicken it.

12) Once the eggplants look to be cooked, remove the lid and add salt to taste if needed. Simmer very slowly now until oil separates. Since we are using peanuts, sesame etc., they will let off a lot of oil.

13) Add more water if needed to thin out the sauce. Traditionally the sauce is thick. Garnish with cilantro or dhania and serve hot.

This vegetable dish is generally served with hot rotis or bhakri, which is a thick roti made from jowar or bajra. The cuisine of Maharashtra is incomplete without 'Bharli vangi'.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chana Masala with zero oil - High on Flavor

I dare you to step out of your comfort zone and try this. Not only is this high on flavor, but is also low in calories. Directly minus the calories from the oil you would use otherwise for a chana masala. The trick to this is not harping on the fact that there is no oil here. It takes some time getting used to this type of cooking, but patience and good thick utensils are the trick. A good quality non-stick pan is recommended, but I prefer going with steel. Non-stick is a bit more forgiving, and does not burn your food too soon if you happen to get caught in something else. With the steel, you have to be more vigilant.

I am using a conventional spice combination with a few different ingredients. I am adding some mushrooms here. They are entirely optional but they gave a very strong heady flavour to the dish. I am also using some finely chopped apple as a sweetener, instead of straight sugar or substitutes. Using chopped onions and tomatoes instead of a masala paste makes this chunky and rustic. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 cups boiled chickpeas

2 medium onions chopped

2 tomatoes chopped

3-4 cloves garlic crushed

4-5 mushrooms chopped

1/4 cup or quarter apple chopped

cilantro for garnish

salt to taste

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 bay leaf
1 tsp coriander or dhania powder
1 -2 tsp Amchur or Dry mango powder

1 Tbsp garam masala OR

( a powder of

1 inch stick cinnamon

1 Tbsp black pepper corns

3-4 green or black cardamoms

5-6 cloves)

Method -

1) Soak chickpeas overnight, pressure cook and set aside, or used canned ones. This recipe will use 1.5 to 2 cans.

2) Finely chop the onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and the apple and set aside.

3) Lightly roast the whole spices and powder. This can be done beforehand and stored in an airtight jar.

4) Take a thick bottomed stock pot, pan or wok. Place on burner and add the onion. Saute a bit and add a splash of water or vegetable broth as onion begins to stick. I generally use a vessel with a lid. This also enables steam cooking.

5) Keep an eye on the onion and cook until it softens and the raw smell goes off. Add more water if needed, and keep stirring.

6) Add the chopped garlic and mushrooms and cover. Add splashes of liquid so that the mixture does not dry out and stick. This is the one step which is very important here, and needs patience.

7) Once the mushrooms reduce a bit, add the tomatoes, stir and cover. Cook until tomatoes soften, adding a little water as needed.

8) Add the boiled chickpeas now with the apple and all the spices. Stir, add more water, about a cup and cover.

9) Bring to a boil and simmer until the gravy thickens and everything comes together.

10) Add salt at the end according to taste and garnish with cilantro. The apple will have dissolved by this time and its flavor is not even noticed.

11) Serve hot with rotis or rice. I served this with some nutty red rice and it made a sumptuous lunch.

This is a great meal idea for those on the McDougall or Eat to Live plans, provided you follow general guidelines regarding salt intake, or how much rice or beans to eat etc.