Monday, May 31, 2010

Chickpea and beet salad - Dressed in Pink for Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day to you all. If you read the title of this post and are wondering what kind of fashion disaster I am committing, rest assured. The pink here does not refer to the color of my attire, but my chickpea's costume or dress(ing). This weekend is always long awaited because it is a long time coming after the endless dreary winter, and denotes the beginning of summer to me. This day also reminds me that its been four years since I met a lot of my friends. Folks have moved on in various ways, most have crossed the big 3 mile marker and changed their tax statuses more than once. Time has also flung us over different corners of the globe, making it more difficult to plan any reunions. Which brings me to this quick and easy salad. Not that there is any connection here, just me reminiscing for a few minutes.

This is a pretty simple salad mostly thrown together out of things languishing in the fridge fast nearing extension. A bowl of boiled beets, a cup of boiled chickpeas, red pepper about to wilt, and son get the idea. The dressing is simple - mostly splashed over everything in the pot, instead of any fancy emulsifying by whisks or blenders or in jars etc. I use a couple teaspoons of my favourite hot sauce and several dashes of Mrs.Dash Tomato and Basil. I truly love Mrs.Dash. I feel its copy 'Salt free, Falvour-full' does it full justice. I have tried a lot of these and they are sure to add some zing to all of your dishes without upping your sodium levels. I did not have any Mrs.Dash Lemon pepper blend on hand, otherwise I would have used it here.

Once everything is mixed together, it gets a uniform coating from the beet juice and its all cloaked in pink. Of course, there are the inevitable stains on my clothes too :o

This is my quick lunch as I continue reading old entries from NYtimes's Frugal Traveller blog/column which I stumbled upon today. I also keep looking at this pink salad and dream of SATC2, which sadly I haven't watched yet.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

1 can chickpeas or 1-2 cups boiled
2-3 boiled beets
one onion chopped
1/2 cup green peas
1 red pepper diced
Hot sauce to taste
2-3 tsp Mrs. Dash
splash of vinegar and EVOO

Method -

1) Assemble all ingredients in a bowl. Dice the red pepper and onion in bite sized pieces. Dice the beets in a medium dice so that they retain their shape. The more you cut them, the more 'juice' they will give away. Add half a cup of rinsed frozen peas for some green color. You can also add scallions, but I did not have any on hand.

2) Add the hot sauce, Mrs.Dash seasoning of choice and roughly one turn of the vingear and the extra virgin olive oil.

3) Season further with salt and pepper if desired.

4) Mix everything and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. As with any salad, the flavours will intensify after chilling and over time.

This can be eaten as a meal served over a bed of lettuce, or in a wrap if desired.

Friday, May 21, 2010

'Cool' Millet rolls with a curried tofu filling - checking out a new whole grain

Millet is also known as Ragi or as NachNi in Marathi. My introduction to this grain has been limited to nachNi papads which I may have eaten more than 10 years ago. The NachNi bhakri( thick pan bread or roti) is popular in Mahrashtra, but I have never had the opportunity to sample it before. There was a packet of 'NachNi Satva' lying around in my freezer for a very long time. On searching around I found out that this is eaten in an oatmeal kind of fashion, mixed with either hot water or yogurt, fruits etc. But I was craving something savoury and sumptuous, especially after a few hours spent reading food blogs.

Browsing food blogs somehow always leaves me exhausted. I think it may be because I don't know where to stop :). Its like a roller coaster ride where you drool, salivate, feel hunger pangs, energized to get up and make something exotic and then gradually only the hunger pangs remain, and you just feel like taking a nap. I think its the same with Food Network. Watching Food tv for just half an hour can motivate you to cook something nice, but a 3-4 hour marathon takes you through a wide spectrum of cuisines and dishes and leaves you totally muddled. This is something I have done and experienced scores of times. I also came up with another theory which is not substantiated by anyone, and I have no idea if there is any science behind it. I think watching food tv all the time can maybe mess with your digestion, 'coz maybe thinking of food, drooling a lot, generates or stimulates your intestinal juices, enzymes and what not, and could interfere with the normal routine work or background processing that our body needs to do. I know it sounds quite laughworthy, but hey, maybe there Is some mind-stomach connection triggered by this?

So anyhoo, I was determined to capitalize on my burst of energy to use some long standing tofu and make a great afternoon snack. The afternoon or evening snack has revered place in our family. Breakfast can be toast or cereal or smoothies, but the evening snack is what awaits you when you come home from work or school, and its what motivates you to tackle the traffic and fumes on your way home. Most Indians do not eat dinner at 6 or 7 - they generally have some snack after they come home, and dinner time is 8, 9 or even later for some people. There is always great anticipation about what you will get to eat after you come home, and as a child I was fortunate to be always greeted with something hot and fresh and aromatic every evening.

The 'cool' in the title is not self being narcissistic(spelling?), but a hint at another ingredient - cucumber - Summery and cool and fresh! I found some grated cucumber in the fridge that had also let out a lot of juice, and so it made it into the pot. This was my way of bringing the taste of another favourite family recipe ( kakdi che thalipeeth or cucumber pancakes) into these rolls. There are a lot of different spices or herbs used in both the outer crepes or rolls or dosas or dhirdis - whatever you call them, and the tofu filling, but you could just stick to something as simple as salt and pepper. I think I may do that next time if I want any one spice to shine through. I used saunf, ajwain and little curry powder to season the tofu filling, a somewhat odd combination but something 'different'. The cucumber added its own distinctive taste to the batter which was complemented by a dash of cayenne and cumin. You can make the stuffing beforehand, and also the crepes ahead of time and assemble it last minute. These rolls can be eaten at room temperatur, hot or cold, and they will taste just as great. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

For the crepe/dosa batter -
2 cups nachNi/millet/ragi flour
1/2 cup rice flour or all purpose flour
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 cup fresh cucumber juice1/2 cup fresh grated cucumber
2 TBSP sour yogurt or lime/lemon juice
1 tsp minced garlic
salt to taste

For the tofu filling -

200g or 7-8 oz herbal tofu
1 small onion
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup peas or corn
1/2 cup cilantro
1 tsp Saunf or fennel seeds
1 tsp ajwain
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
Hing and turmeric
pinchsalt to taste
oil as needed

Method -
1) Mix the flour, yogurt or lime juice, cucumber juice, cucumber in a bowl. Add all the spices and then slowly add water to form a pan cake like batter. Whisk well to remove any lumps and set aside. This can be done 2-3 hours in advance if desired and it will ferment a little, or you can also use it right away.
2) Chop the onion and carrots in a small dice. You can also use the frozen 'peas and carrots' for a quick fix. I used corn since I did not have any peas on hand. Any combination is ok here.
3) Chop the tofu in small chunks. I used a herbal tofu which contains cilantro etc. as I was using Indian spices. You can either use plain tofu or any other appropriate herbal tofu. e.g you can use the tomato/basil tofu and use Italian seasoning in the filling, or also use the thai style tofu. You can get different types depending on where you are. Whole Foods generally has 2-3 types of herbal tofu available right next to the plain tofu.
4) Heat one tsp oil in a pan or wok. Add the fennel and ajwain seeds and let them splutter. Add hing and a pinch of turmeric if desired. Add onion and saute until it changes color. Add the carrots and the corn and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the tofu pieces and the grated garlic. Adding garlic at this point will avoid burning the garlic. Add cilantro, curry powder, cayenne and salt and cover the pan for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and check that everything comes together. The carrot should be al dente to retain some crunch. Switch off the heat and set aside.
5) Heat a flat dosa tava or a flat griddle. Start making the crepes or dosas. PUt the batter in the middle of the pan and lightly spread it around in a circle with the base of your spoon. Unlike a pancake, you will need to use your hand to do this, since we want a thin roll. Cook on both sides.
6) For assembling - Place a crepe flat on a plate. Spoon some filling in the centre. ROll in burrito fashion, by first tucking in the two ends and then the bottom flap and close it with a rolling motion. You can also keep the ends open and just roll it like a frankie. You can add ketchup or any condiment you like to the roll such as hot sauce or sour cream.

This is a yummy and tasty healthful option for a heavy snack or can even be a good lunch with a cup of soup or a salad. I know I am definitely going to try out more recipes options using millet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Achari Dum Alu( Potatoes steamed in a sauce of pickling spices)

'Achar' is the hindi word for pickle, 'Dum' means steam, so this is just a simple vegetable dish of potatoes steam cooked in a spicy gravy using pickling spices. The pickling spices here are not your salt and vinegar kind, but Indian pickling spices. Dum Alu was a favourite growing up, since it traditionally uses tiny baby potatoes which are simmered in a spicy and tangy sauce. What child doesn't love potatoes, and this was yet another way to eat the spud. Nowadays, I use any kind of potato available even in a medium size, just cut it in half or quarters, depending on how big it is. As the tators slowly cook in sauce, they absorb all the spices. I use a ready made spice mix made by shan called Achar Gosht mix - check This is readily available in any Indian or Asian grocery store for around a dollar.

This mix can be directly used in any stir fry or simple vegetable saute. For this dish, I made a masala paste with onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, cilantro etc.(read ahead) and added the Achari spice mix instead of garam masala to give it a different twist. Yogurt or tamarind can be used alternately as a sour component and so can amchur or dry mango powder. The use of tamarind or mango will allow this dish to be vegan. Cilantro may or may not be used as a part of the ground paste, depending on your taste. This is excellent served with hot steamed rice or rotis.
I served this with rice crepes, or 'Tandulachi DhirDi' which is a traditional Maharashtrian recipe, mostly from the coastal parts. It is a simple batter consisting of rice flour, salt, pinch of sugar and water, and then used to make a thin crepe. A piece of the crepe is broken off and dipped in the sauce, where it absorbs all the delicious gravy and then takes off for your mouth :)
The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -
6-7 medium potatoes

2 medium onions

4-5 garlic cloves

1 inch piece of ginger

2 green chillies - jalapeno or serano seeded

1 Tbsp dry grated coconut

2 Tbsp sesame seeds

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 Tbsp tamarind paste or juice of golf ball sized tamarind


Shan Achari Spice Mix

Method -
1) Roughly chop the onion and peppers. Heat 1 tsp oil in a wok or use spray. Fry the onions, chillies, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and coconut one by one until lightly browned and set aside to cool. Take care not to burn the coconut and sesame seeds.

2) Using a blender or food processor, make a thick paste of the above without using too much liquid. You can add the cilantro leaves at this point if desired.

3) Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok or sauce pan and add a little hing and turmeric to temper. Add the masala paste and fry on low heat till well cooked. You may need to keep
adding a little water to avoid sticking. Continue frying the paste for 12-15 mins at least.

4) Meanwhile, peel and cut the potatoes such that one piece is the size of a golf ball.

5) If using fresh tamarind, soak one or two small pieces in a little water and extract the juice by kneading the pulp lightly.

6) Add water to the spice paste to make a thick sauce or gravy. Add the Achari spice mix, about 2 spoonfuls according to desired spiciness. This is a pretty potent mix, so it is better to start by adding a small quantity and then adding more at the end. Add the tamarind paste or juice.

7) Add the potatoes, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the potatoes cook slowly in the simmering sauce.

8) Check every five minutes or so to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot and stir to avoid burning or sticking. Once the potatoes seem to be done or almost cooked, taste for salt and spiciness. The spice mix contains salt so please consider that before adding more salt. Adjust seasonings like salt, spice mix etc. and also add a pinch of sugar to balance the tartness.

9) Add fresh chopped cilantro to garnish and serve hot, once the potatoes are fork tender.

10) As the sauce settles, it will thicken and also have a slight sheen to it due to the oil from the sesame seeds and coconut used in the paste.

This only gets better with time, and will taste fabulous the next day too, as the potatoes absorb more spices over time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mung Beet Cutlets - nourishing finger food

Low carb diets have been popular for a while now. Ranging from the controversial Atkins to the still in vogue South Beach Diet, they promote rapid weight loss. There are several other factions who also promote whole grains, and 'whole grains' have become such a buzz word that even a box full of chocos or other colorful cereal says it contains 'whole grains' in the box. It is hard to follow any plan that restricts food groups, be it certain fruits, or vegetables or staples like pasta or rice. However, I have found that low carb diets do show you results in the initial week or so. Its the sustained low carb journey where I have failed so far. In their defense, its only the first one or two weeks where these diets are very restrictive. You are allowed to gradually add the carbs or grains back in very limited quantities, and these may vary from person to person. As some saint has said, total abstinence is much easier than controlled moderation. I have seen that I do quite well, though I struggle, in the first 8-10 days, but re-introducing limited quantities of carbs is where I have always gone downhill.

The low carb diet is extremely easy to follow if you are a meat eater and like meat. The word 'meat' here includes any kind like poultry, fish etc. What could be easier than just grilling a few marinated chicken breasts and freezing them to eat with steamed veggies at will? Or just popping a salmon steak sprinkled with lemon juice, olive oil and some Mrs. Dash under the broiler for 10 minutes or just scrambling some eggs? Although I certainly do not miss eating all that stuff, I do sometimes miss the ease with which meals could be put together, or procured and also the high protein content they provided. What they also provided along with the protein is another story :). Another possible drawback of not eating bread or pasta or rotis etc. is that you miss the chewy texture or the feeling of actually sinking your teeth into something. I like my tofu and TVP and soy products as much as the other person, but it sometimes gets tiring eating just that for every meal. Boca and Morningstar are not prolific in the city of Pune. The vegetarian person is then left with lentils and pulses and beans that although highly nutritious in every way, also pack equivalent amount of carbs. Summer is not a season when you can merrily slurp dal or lentil based soups all the time, and something different seemed the need of the hour.

The Mung bean is my chosen one out of all the different dals in my pantry. The Mung bean is relatively less unknown in the western world compared to other indian dals courtesy the 'bean sprouts' found in most grocery stores. The Mung bean is easily available in different forms - the yellow mung dal, the whole green mung beans and the green split mung dal or chilka dal. Ayurveda has also put the mung bean on a pedestal. Mung beans 'light the intestinal fire' and give a boost to your metabolism. They are also easy on digestion and hence the mung khichadi or mung water/soup is mostly given to convalescents for its recuperative powers. The mung bean, in fact, seemed the answer to my prayers, offering me all this goodness and so I came up with this recipe while looking for something different that also fulfilled all my criteria regarding nutrition, taste, texture etc.etc.

This recipe uses sprouted beans (not the white sprouts you get in the store), fresh beetroot and tons of fresh mint. The beetroot, although sweet and sugary is loaded with folates, manganese, potassium, fiber, vitamin c etc. and is a powerhouse of nutrients. I recommend only fresh grated beets for this recipe. You can use boiled whole green mung beans too instead of sprouted beans. The mint and beetroot form a very pleasing color of fuschia and green. The mint lends a freshness to the recipe and gives out a minty aroma as the cutlets cook. The ingredients and method are as follows:

Ingredients -

2 cups boiled sprouted mung beans
1 cup grated fresh beetroot
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
2-3 cloves garlic fresh grated
1-2 Tbsp besan or chickpea flour
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chat masala
dash of hot sauce
salt to taste
oil or non-stick spray as needed

Method -
1) Drain and mash the boiled mung beans. Add all ingredients such as the beetroot, mint leaves and all spices.
2) Lightly brown the onion in a pan using cooking spray just enough to extract all the moistness from the onion
3) Add the onion to the mixture. Mash and mix everything together with a spoon.
4) Add enough besan/flour a little at a time until the mixture looks like soft dough and small patties etc. can be formed.
5) Form small flat patties or form a ball in your palm and roll it sideways to form oblong sausage like links. You can also use some small moulds you may have to form fancy shapes like heart shaped etc.
6) Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree F oven until evenly browned - turn once or twice as needed. You can also grill them in a non stick pan using minimum oil or spray.
7) Serve hot with tomato ketchup.