Friday, December 31, 2010

Texas Caviar and Happy New Year 2011

Here's wishing all my readers a Happy New Year 2011. It is considered good luck to eat black eyed peas on New Year's day, especially in the Southern parts of America. Texas Caviar is popular in the Lone Star state as the name suggests, and thankfully has nothing to do with actual caviar. Although the typical 'chavLi AamTi' or 'chavLi UsaL' are popular dishes in our Maharashtrian kitchen, the texas caviar had not made an appearance as yet. Healthy, nutritious and easy to make, this is a great dish to take to a potluck, and that's where I first came across this wonder. This is so easy to make that it was always on the back burner..well, not

As always I scoured the web for recipes and there are several variations. I went with what I had available and made some changes to suit my tastes. Texas Caviar is generally doused in Italian dressing, but I made my own honey/chili dressing. I have used dry black eyed peas from scratch but you can of course use canned ones. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -
1/2 lb or 250 g dry black eyed peas/chavLi/lobia
1 medium onion any colour
3-4 stalks scallions/green onions
1/2 -1 rib celery
1 green pepper
1 red/orange pepper
3-4 tomatoes
1 cup sweet corn


2 lemons juiced
1 Tbsp ACV
1 Tbsp chili powder( seasoning)
2 Tbsp EVOO
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp minced garlic optional

Method -

1) Soak the black eyed peas overnight or for 4-6 hours. These are less stubborn than beans, and do not need much soaking. Boil the peas until they are tender. Alternately, you can use canned black eyed peas. A note for vegetarians - be sure to check the contents/label of the can to see that they do not have bacon or ham etc.
2) Drain the cooked peas and set aside to cool. You can also do this in advance and refrigerate the peas until needed.
3) Chop all the vegetables - onion, green onions, celery, peppers, tomatoes. Use one whole stalk or half of the celery depending on the size and to your taste. Half a cup of celery will also give great flavour, and we do not want the celery to overpower everything else. You can use any kind of tomatoes or a can of chopped tomatoes even ( easy gets easier).
4) In a bowl, assemble the peas, all chopped veggies and corn(rinsed).
5) Prepare the dressing in a smaller bowl - add all the ingredients and beat with a whisk or fork until emulsified. You can either use plain or apple cider vinegar.
6) Add the dressing to the peas and veggies mixture and toss lightly to mix well. Do not use excessive force to avoid bruising the peas.
7) Refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving. This gets better as it sits in the fridge and marinates.
It will taste better the next day.
8) Serve with tortilla chips and get ready to party.
9) Alternate serving suggestions - a) eat as a salad on its own b) Fill in a wrap c) Top your breakfast scramble etc.

Texas Caviar is a quick and easy tasty dish you can make anytime with common kitchen ingredients.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Review: The Yellow Chilli Restaurant, Pune - Haven for spice lovers

The Yellow Chilli restaurant is situated in Lane 7 in Koregaon Park in Pune and is part of the Sanjeev kapoor brand. It means I suppose that Sanjeev Kapoor is the chef here and all recipes must be by him. The place has ample seating outside, and some inside. The place is somewhat crowded, perhaps due to many tables and people always walking around to and from the buffet tables. We went there on a holiday. This was my second visit to the place and some people in our party were going there for the fifth or sixth time.

The restaurant offers a lunch buffet for 375 without taxes, buffet + one soft drink costs 475, and then there is an option of unlimited beer with buffet for 899. The most irritating thing I find here is that they stop you at the entrance and ask you to fill out a form to write your name and your cell phone number, maybe ask some questions. This is kind of a dampener, 'coz you are all eager to go in and be seated and be wowed with something nice. There is an excess of people in various uniforms, and it is difficult to guage what they really do. After we were seated, we were offered the first two options, but not the third one of the unlimited beer etc. Perhaps they did not consider us able to shell out 899 per head? It is difficult to figure out the idiosyncracies of hotel staff, like why they do certain things.. Anyway, moving on..

The food options are limited here in my opinion. First of all, this is pure Indian food only, and there is no whiff of any alternate cuisine. There is one appetizer - veg or non-veg served at the table. For vegetarians, this has been some kind of fried potato both times -- a gnocchi sized small potato mixture deep fried. They have some salads etc. and a chat counter which is so-so. They generally have 4-5 vegetable curries and 3-4 meat/fish etc. dishes. The preparation is OK, and every thing tastes different, which is no mean feat, I suppose. The food is Very hot and Very spicy. I think they cater more to the local palette which seems to be their customer base. My own heat tolerance being low, I can hardly partake anything here without sniffling or without tears in my eyes. I think smaller children might find it tough too.

One factor that I use to guage any place is how long the food stays with you, or you have a 'heavy' feeling. I am not sure if any of you noticed, but sometimes you can eat a LOT, and then be hungry in 3-4 hours, and sometimes you eat very little, and still not want breakfast or lunch the next day. The food at Yellow Chilli seemed in this category. This could be due to a lot of oil or butter being used, or 'soda', or whatever.

Some other things were a bit 'wierd'. There were people taking soiled, half eaten plates to the buffet and using their 'used' hands to take more food on those plates. I think the restaurant should make an attempt to educate people about acceptable behavoir, at least in the interest of hygiene. It is common to write things on the menu or signs such as - use a fresh plate every time etc.

We were given a feedback form to fill out at the end, and the person kept hovering around us all the time. After submitting the card, he stood right there and read it all, and then questioned us on each point. Since I was in no mood to be given the third degree, I politely declined to explain, but the man persisted and kept questioning us. We finally had to ignore him and make an exit. This behavior was ridiculous. I think Mr.Sanjeev kapoor really needs to teach some soft skills to his employees.

Overall, the Yellow Chilli is a nice place if you are in the mood for hot and spicy Indian food, in a pleasant environment, but there are several other better options in this price range.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Makai Tikki - Sweet corn fritters

These makai tikkis are great as appetizers or cocktail snacks and go really fast. They can be simply served with ketchup or any chili sauce of your choice. Makai Tikkis or corn kebabs as some call them appeared on catering menus almost two decades ago, and were a delectable offering that were difficult to ignore. Now we see Makai tikki on almost every restaurant menu, but alas they are becoming unhealthier and tasteless day by day. The versions we get at the few take out places we frequent are mostly laden with some kind of flour, over spiced, and deep fried. You would be lucky to see any actual corn in them.

I had two large corn on the cobs ( or corns on the cob?) lying around, and a lazy saturday evening ahead. Everyone welcomed the thought of fresh munchies while watching a nice movie. The recipe is simple and lightly spiced, since sweet corn has a subtle flavour that can be easily overpowered by spices, and I wanted the natural corn flavour to come through. I am using partially creamed corn, but with a few kernels still intact, and then the usual base of potatoes and grated paneer. Paneer can absolutely be left out to veganize this dish. You can use tofu instead of paneer, though it will not give the same taste and texture. You can use half a cup cashew paste, however, to get a similar rich flavour. I am using fresh boiled corn, but frozen corn or canned corn will also do. The fresh will give the best flavour. Fresh minced garlic, and dried onion flakes along with some coriander powder provide the spice base.

I am using my favourite 'Appe patra ' or Ableskiever pan to make these. This pan is very handy and I get tikkis that are crispy on the outside using only a few drops of oil for each batch. You have to patiently keep turning the fritters or tikkis till you get uniformly crisped balls. You can always deep fry these, if you do not care about how much oil you use. Alternately, these can be placed in neat rows on a sheet pan, sprayed with PAM etc. and baked in a 350 deg oven ( turned periodically). I got about 4 batches i.e 28-30 of these from these recipes, but they disappeared pretty fast.

The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 large corns on the cob or whole maize

2 medium potatoes

1 cup grated paneer

1 tsp minced fresh garlic

2 tsp dehydrated onion

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 TBsp rice flour or all purpose flour

salt and pepper


Method -

1) Boil or pressure cook the corn so that it is soft and cooked. Alternately you can boil frozen corn or use washed canned corn.

2) Remove the corn kernels from the cob using a knife ( tricky process) or plucking them individually with your fingers. Add this and 2-3 cloves garlic in the food processor and pulse through until most of it is a thick pulp but some corn kernels remain. This should yield about 2 cups of thick corn puree.

3) Boil, peel and mash 2 potatoes and add them to the corn mixture.

4) Add the grated paneer ( or cashew paste or tofu if substituting paneer).

5) Add all the spices as mentioned, flour, lots of black pepper and salt to taste. Use salt sparingly.

6) Mix everything together with a fork.

7)Heat the ableskieverpan and add a drop of oil to each mould.

8) Take some of the corn mixture in your palm and form small balls, slightly smaller than pingpong balls. You can of course, form these like patties and use a skillet or frying pan by all means.

9)Place the 'balls' in the pan moulds. Gradually turn them using a wooden skewer or fork tip until they are evenly browned.

10) Serve hot with ketchup or sauce of choice.

These makai tikkis or corn fritters or corn balls are very soft on the inside and literally melt in your mouth. These are great as a party appetizer and can also be served with a toothpick inserted in them.

I hope you try this recipe for makai tikkis and let me know how it turns out.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vegetarian Three Pepper Fajita Burritos - homemade Mexican treat

oooohhh 'Fa-Hee-Taz'!! who doesn't love fajitas..Chili's has one effective ad, I am sure, because everytime the 'Chilis to Go' advertisement aired ( from a couple years ago I think) wooing you with how easily you could pick up a platter of smoking hot fajitas carside, I just wanted to run out, rain or snow, to get some for myself. No pizza ad had me drooling that much.

This is one thing that's readily available for vegetarians in hotels, thank god, and they are either stingy or generous depending on the place. Some chain restaurants just do not have any specific 'vegetarian' fajitas on the menu, and you have to order a meat one minus the meat. Then again depending on the whim of the cook I guess, you sometimes end up with just a few measly onions and peppers, and end up cursing yourself for ordering them. Some local Mexican joints, such as my favourite Mexico restaurant or Mi Hacienda in local Richmond actually have a seperate Vegetarian Fajitas on their menu, and treat you to a veritable feast with every possible vegetable from broccoli to mushrooms and what not on your platter.

My obsession with Fajitas started a very long time ago when I used to work at Mexican joint. They had two signature burritos called 'fajita' and 'mexicali'. The Fajita burrito had onions and peppers with your choice of meat and a very fattening but delish chipotle sauce( which moi had no idea was made of egg yolks), and the mexicali was seasoned mexican type rice with the sauce - and meat, of course! The flavour combination of grilled peppers and onions is unbeatable, and so natural. The slight spice of the pepper, the sweetness from the caramelization, the smokiness from the charring, oye!

Turning the time machine to the present, I had been dreaming about these fajitas for some time, and luckily there was a time when there were all sorts of coloured peppers in the ice box, and loads of onions, corn etc. - in general almost every grain and vegetable that was needed to turn out this delectable treat. The only thing missing was an avocado, that I spent and hour acquiring, which finally turned out to be raw, hence dashing my plans for guacamole :( . But hey, I guess you gotta lose some.

This is a detailed recipe where all the fixings are made from scratch, but doesn't take that long to put together, really. You roughly need the same amount of time to make a small or large batch of this. Leftovers are a MUST!! These can provide you lunch for the whole week, as burritos, salads, bowls etc. etc.

There are multiple ways you can serve this up -
1) Burrito Bowl - if you are interested in 'losing layers', just pile these on artistically one over the other in a bowl, or shallow plate, with lots of crunchy lettuce on top.
2) Taco salad - with or without the bowl - start with a large base of romaine or such, and then dish everything else on top
3) Fajita platter - everything here, plus some beans served with steamed tortillas
4) Burritos - wrap burritos and serve with some chips and salsa
5) soft tacos -You can also create soft tacos with your choice of these ingredients
.... and so on and so forth. The possibilities, my dear, are endless!!

I am listing the various things I made and then will give each recipe seperately -

1) pico de guile or 'pico'
2) corn salsa
3)mexican rice
4)grilled onions and peppers
5)grilled tofu
6) fresh tortillas ( courtesy mater)

Refried beans and guacamole are missing 'coz i decided to go beanless and the avocado turned on me.

We also decided to go sans cheese or sour cream and keep this totally vegan and healthy. We certainly did not miss it amidst all these fresh and flavourful homemade items.

The detailed recipes for each of the above follow -

1) Pico De Guile
I am not sure if I have spelt this correctly, but everyone knows this is the tomato intensive 'mild salsa' or tomato salad that goes with your burrito.

4-5 vine ripe or any tomatoes
1 small onion
1 jalapeno
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro or more per taste
pinch of sugar
half a lime juiced

1)Chop all the above and mix together. You can use canned chopped tomatoes in a bind, but fresh with always always taste best, especially the vine ripe ones. You can use a deseeded jalapeno and only a half one for a mild pico, and more if you like heat.
2) Add the lime juice and refrigerate in a covered bowl for at least an hour before eating. This will allow everything to blend and the tomatoes to soften a bit.

2) Corn Salsa

I just love this - adds a sweet element among other fiery ones.

1 can sweet yellow corn or 2 cups frozen thawed sweet corn kernels
1 onion finely chopped
1 small jalapeno deseeded and chopped
1 small tomato chopped
2 Tbsp cilantro finely chopped
1 tsp chili or taco seasoning
salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime

1)Wash corn well if using canned corn and get rid of the canning liquid. If using frozen corn, you may want to blanch it a bit.
2) Mix all the above ingredients together in a bowl. Add the seasonings and the Fresh lime juice. The chili or taco seasoning will give a slight kick to this otherwise sweet salsa or salad.
3) Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour before use

3) Mexican Rice
Mexican rice recipe can be found here.

4)Grilled onions and peppers

There is no replacing these. They are what make a fajita a fajita :)

3-4 medium onions any colour
2 large green peppers
2 large red peppers
2 large orange or yellow peppers
salt and pepper

1) Cut the onions lengthwise in thick slices. Seperate them with fingers and set aside.
2) De-stem and deseed the peppers and remove all white parts. Cut long strips using a knife or kitchen shears.
3) Heat a non-stick pan and add a couple of drops of oil on a high flame. Add the onions such that they do not crowd the pan. Let them char a bit on one side and then toss them. You can fulfil all your fancies of tossing things in the pan in the air etc. chef style. The onions should only be slightly cooked and charred, but should have a bite to them. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper and remove to a platter.
4) Repeat the above process with all the peppers in several batches as needed.
Tip - Sprinkle some sugar on the veggies. The sugar will caramelize and give a nice char to the vegetable
( I saw this on tv but honestly can't say if it made a difference)
5) Grilled Tofu

The tofu is our protein here, and needless to say, my carnivore friends can use this same process for any kind of meat etc. they like or dairy lovers can use paneer.

1 packet extra firm tofu
chili seasoning
vinegar or fresh lime juice
salt and pepper
oil for pan

1) Wash and drain the tofu, and cut into longish pieces.
2) Add seasonings, lime juice, dash of vinegar and toss lightly
3) Let it marinate for some time, the more the better. I generally do this first, then cut all the veggies etc., and then by the time I light the pan, at least half an hour has gone by. This can also be done any time beforehand and refrigerated. 4)Heat a non-stick pan and add some oil or PAM type spray. Place the tofu on the pan and grill until browned on all sides. Turn periodically as needed.

6)Fresh Tortillas
You can buy any store brand, but this makes All the difference. It was simply heavenly taking a tortilla fresh off the stove, and this herculean task was graciously undertaken by the mater. Kudos!
2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 tsp baking powder
salt to taste

1) I have used plain old flour here since this was the first attempt. You can use masa, wheat flour, corn meal etc. -- the choice is yours.
2) Mix all the ingredients together - by hand or FP- to make a dough like you would for roti or chapati.
3) Let the dough rest for some time, maybe half hour.
4) Make rotis as you would usually. I wasn't sure if these should be roasted over the fire like a 'phulka'. My Internet searches revealed nothing about this. They just mentioned turning the wrap in the pan.
5) The wraps were sufficiently 'chewy' thanks to the baking powder I think. The above measurements were my own experimentation, based on a few tortilla recipes I found on the web. Some used butter or lard, and a lot of it, for making the dough. I decided to go with a little bit of oil, or 'mohan' ( funny maharashtrian term for oil that is added while kneading dough).

Whew!! I hope I have covered everything that I set out to portray here.

What method did I use to eat this?? I will let a picture speak louder than a thousand words. Here is a pic of my three pepper fajita burrito before it got rolled and disappeared!!
Now where's that margarita?
Do you love fajitas? Have you ever tried them at home? What other veggies do you add to your fajita platter. Your questions, comments, suggestions are always welcome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spanish Style Rice or Mexican rice

I suppose the title of this post sounds a bit unusual, but this is literally about the side of rice that you get in Mexican restaurants, either inside your burrito, or as part of fajitas or as a side of any other dish that you order. Various restaurants have their own versions, of course. Taco Bell has a highly seasoned dry and reddish looking rice, whereas Chipotle simply has pure white rice laced with butter and lime and cilantro. The fancier OTB/Mexico have their take too.

This version is actually a combination of various elements that I personally like, and also has some origins in a recipe called 'Spanish Rice' that I learnt several years ago in a cooking class. I am posting this seperately since I feel this deserves a seperate mention, and is a dish that can hold its own. But this is definitely a precursor to my upcoming post for Vegetarian Fajitas/Burritos.

The recipe itself is pretty simple, using the basic flavours you would find in Mexican cooking - the peppers providing the main flavour here, and chili powder or ready made taco seasoning takes care of the spice aspect. Fresh ingredients will always result in a supreme creation. An optional pat of butter will add some richness. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

1 Tbsp chopped garlic

1 onion chopped

1 tomato chopped

1 green pepper chopped

1-2 Serrano peppers whole or jalapeno peppers

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp Taco seasoning (any brand) or

1 Tbsp ready made chili powder*

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp oil/butter

1.5 cups rice
*Chili powder here refers to a ready made spice blend and not just cayenne pepper. If you do not have access to taco seasoning or chili seasoning, just substitute with 1 tsp cayenne pepper and 1 tsp of roasted cumin/jeera powder. Roasting will give a smoky flavour as found in seasoning blends

Method -

1) Chop the garlic, onion, tomato and peppers and set aside. Use either whole Serrano/jalapeno peppers or split into two pieces. If you are using Indian chillies, use whole ones according to your taste or heat level.
2) Heat 1 tsp oil in a thick sauce pan or vessel. You can omit the oil if you wish if you are using a non-stick pot. Add the onion and garlic and lightly saute' till they soften. Add the green chill peppers in whole. Add the green bell peppers and saute for sometime, then add tomatoes.
3) The whole mixture in the pot will be very aromatic. Add the seasonings. Wash the rice, drain and add to this mixture. Fry for some time.
4) Add the liquid now. You will need a minimum of 3 cups of liquid for 1.5 cups rice. Add a cup of tomato sauce and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer. Cover and let the rice cook.
5) Check the rice periodically to make sure that it does not stick. You may need to add more water if the rice looks too dry, and is uncooked even after most of the liquid is absorbed. The liquid needed will depend on the quality of rice, and will differ not only according to brand, but also according to the batch of rice.
6) Once the rice grains look cooked, the rice is done. It may look slightly 'saucy' at this point, but that is ok, since it will soon be absorbed even after you turn off the heat. Check for seasonings and adjust as needed.
7) Turn off the heat. Add the chopped cilantro and lime juice and fold it in lightly in the rice.
8) Mexican/Spanish rice is ready to serve.

This is great even on its own, and can be made sumptuous by adding a cup of cooked black or kidney beans as the rice cooks. This mexican rice makes a great filling for burritos or as a side with fajitas(coming up) or in wraps. You can make this ahead of time in the fridge as a large batch, and also other veggies etc., and then assemble wraps on the go.

This Spanish/mexican rice is definitely a must-try on chilly evenings.