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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Churmura Laddu - Low calorie treat

I have always wanted to make these and always thought it must be complicated. Making the right type of syrup that would hold the scores of churmura or murmura together to actually form a laddu - it seemed impossible. But it has turned out to be deceptively simple.

This is one low calorie treat that you can indulge in without any guilt. Just a cup or so of Gur or jaggery, lots of murmura, maybe some dalia or chana and you have these. The Gur or jaggery gives it a rich flavor thats quite different from white sugar.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

1 -1.5 cups jaggery or Gur or brown sugar

4 cups CHurmura

1/2 cup Dalia ( the flat roasted chana dal)

1 tsp cardamom powder

1 cup water

Method -
1) Take a thick bottomed pan or wok. Add the gur/jaggery and the water. Stir on a low flame until the sugar dissolves and becomes syrupy. Keep heating until a 'goli band' syrup is formed. This means that a drop of the syrup added to a cup of water should solidify immediately.

2) Switch off heat and add the chana/dalia and the churmura. Stir to mix well until the syrup evenly coats the churmura.

3) Place a dollop on your palm and roll to form laddus or balls, slightly larger than a ping pong ball. The laddus will harden right away as the syrup hardens.

4) This should make about 40 laddus.

This is not only low calorie but also economical, and a quick snack on the go for kids and adults both. A great way to satisfy that sweet tooth!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tofu Kebabs or Tofu Paneer Tikka - Pan grilled perfection

Its been a long time since I have had time to blog about something. This is something I make often and is a favourite but seems so commonplace to us that it does not feel like something you would blog about. I make this with tofu, but the same technique can be applied to paneer. This is essentially like the paneer tikka you would get at restaurants. I stumbled onto a technique where i grill it in a pan for some time, and then just hold it over the gas flame at the end. This chars it a bit at the edges and gives a slight smoky flavor like you would get on a tandoor or grill.

The absolute main ingredient here according to me is Shan masala - either for tandoori chicken or tikka. Yes, it has some color, probably, and also has some raw papaya which acts as a tenderizer. Although that's not needed for tofu, it does change the texture a bit. I am using some yogurt in the marinade, but it can easily be replaced by vinegar or fresh lime juice to completely veganize this. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

1-2 packets tofu

2 large onions

2 large peppers any color

2-3 tomatoes

2-3 Tbsp Shan chicken tikka masala or more

1/2 cup low fat yogurt

Chat masala to sprinkle

wooden skewers

Method -

1) Prep all the vegetables and the tofu. Drain the tofu and cut in medium sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Cut the vegetables in medium squares similar to the tofu. Place them in a seperate bowl. The onion should be in thick chunks. Deseed the tomato and cut it similarly.

2) Add the shan masala and half yogurt to the tofu. This is quite spicy so use it sparingly. You will know how much to use per your taste once you use it a few times. Toss lightly and set aside.

3) Marinate the vegetables similarly using the yogurt and some of the shan masala.

4) Marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour and even overnight if you are prepping in advance.

5) Alternately thread the tofu and the veggies into the skewers. e.g onion, tomato, pepper, tofu and alternate.

6) Place on a hot non stick pan and keep turning delicately. Once the liquid evaporates and the veggies shrink a bit or look done, hold these skewers over a gas flame one at a time. This can be done by using some type of pliers or tongs. Hold the skewers over the flame for a minute or two until there are one or two char spots.

7) Serve these hot, sprinkled with chat masala ( optional). This tikka is a great appetizer or entree. It can be served over a bed of rice, over some salad or just on its own with some pudina chutney.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Roasted Corn Salsa - Fresh and tangy

This is a quick and easy fresh recipe that is sure to bring a zing to your taste buds. While I like the convenience of pouring salsa out of the bottle, there is something about fresh made salsas that no gourmet labelled salsa can compete with. The most basic salsa anyone can make would be pico de gallo, and this corn salsa is an extension of that. I am using fresh roasted corn and wholly recommend it for this particular recipe, instead of frozen or canned corn. The roasted corn gives a smoky flavor to the dish, which can be augmented by using chipotle powder if you like.

This salsa can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a week. I do not think it will last longer, since it will be gobbled up long before that :). This is great for chips, in sandwiches or wraps etc. I served it alongside quesadillas for a fresh and tangy balance to the heavy cheese. The recipe follows -

Ingredients -

1 ear of corn or 'maka' or 'bhutta'

1 small onion

3-4 fresh tomatoes

1/2 to 1 jalapeno or other mild green chili

1/2 capsicum or green bell pepper

1 lime

1/2 tsp cumin or jeera powder

1/2 tsp sugar

salt to taste

Method -

1) Remove the green husks from the corn. Roast the corn over a gas flame slowly. If the gas flame is too high, the corn will burn and we do not want that. You may also roast it over charcoal if available. Keep turning the corn gradually until the whole surface is uniformly roasted and looks almost black. Set aside to cool.

2) Chop other veggies and add to a bowl. Finely chop a small shallot or onion. De-seed the jalapeno or other green chili you are using. Chop the tomatoes and the bell pepper/capsicum. Add seasonings such as salt, cumin powder, pinch of sugar and fresh lime juice. Mix well.

3) After the corn cools enough to handle, cut away the corn kernels with a knife. Hold the corn vertically with one hand, resting the tip against a surface/plate. Use a knife to scrape down the corn kernels with the other hand. **This could be tricky the first time.

Another option is to remove the kernels with your hand, plucking them off the cob.

4) Add the corn kernels to the rest of the veggies. Mix well. Adjust seasonings and add more lime juice if needed. Add a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper if you need more heat.

5) Add some fresh chopped cilantro/dhania/coriander leaves for added flavor and a nice garnish.

6) Refrigerate this for at least a couple of hours before serving.

This is a fat free healthy vegan and vegetarian side dish that can perk you up any time. Have you tried this yet?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pav Bhaji -homemade yet streetwise

Pav Bhaji hardly needs any introduction. It is one of the most popular street foods in Maharashtra, originating in the city of Bombay. It is said ( several internet sources) that mill workers in the 60s hardly got enough time to have any proper food during their short breaks. And Pav bhaji was born.

Pav bhaji is made with a melange of vegetables, typically potatoes, cauliflower, green peas, peppers and tomatoes, a bunch of spices, and a slab of butter. Everything is mashed up really good and this is dished up with dinner rolls fried or toasted in butter. I remember when the first Pav bhaji cart showed up in our city. It was everyone's favourite thing. I think the winning factor here is the unique spicy taste, the tang - coming from loads of tomatoes and fresh squeezed lemons, and the butter which clogs the arteries but lifts your senses.

I have typically made many healthier versions of this, using Country crock or 'I can' believe..' type spreads, and lotsa of different kinds of veggies. But this one is true to its street roots. Please feel free to add any other veggies you like, or use margarine or butter substitutes.

I have also made my own dry spice mix here, instead of using the standard Everest or Badshah pav bhaji masala. It makes a big difference and is worth a try.

The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

potatoes - 4-5 medium

tomatoes - 4-5 roma or vine ripe

onions - 2 medium

cauliflower - 1 small head

peas - 1 cup

green bell pepper - 1

carrot - 1

dinner rolls/dollar rolls - 4 per person or more

Butter - 2 sticks or more OR 150 g

salt to taste

1-2 Tbsp oil

1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger and garlic

1-2 cups tomato puree or tomato sauce

Garnish -

finely chopped cilantro

Lemon wedges

finely chopped onion

Dry spice Mix -

1 Tbsp dhania seed or coariander seed

1 Tbsp jeera seed or cumin seeds

1 Tbsp amchur powder or dry mango powder

1 tsp sunth or dry ginger powder

1 tsp fennel seeds or saunf

2 large black cardamom

1 inch cinnamon

10 cloves

2 tsp black peppercorns

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 star anise

Method -

1) For the dry spice mix - Lightly roast the seeds without burning. Cool and powder in a spice grinder. Add the remaining powders and mix well. Transfer to an air tight jar.

This is cayenne or mirchi free and salt free, and lets you add the spice level without increasing the heat or making the dish too salty.

2) Boil the potatoes, peel, mash and set aside.

3) Chop onions and tomatoes. Chop the cauliflower florets in a food processor until they are almost a fine powder, or grate them. Thaw the peas and puree them in the food processor.

Grate the carrot. Chop the green pepper also in the food processor. Set these aside seperately.
4) Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. Use veg or canola oil.

5) Add the chopped onions and saut them until soft. Add the ginger and garlic. Make sure it does not burn or stick.

6) Add the chopped tomatoes and keep frying until the oil leaves the sides.

7) Seasoning method - This dish has a lot of layers, and a Big yield. So I always season in layers or 'as I go'. I add a little salt and the Pav Bhaji Masala after every vegetable I add. This makes sure that the veggies cook in the spices and take on an intense flavor.

8) generally my quick method for this is to pressure cook all veggies together, and then dumo them in the onion tomato masala we fried earlier. But as I said, this time I am following the street method, and the slightly slower method. It makes a HUGE difference taste wise.

9) Add carrots to the onion tomato mixture in the wok. Season with a little salt and pav bhaji masala. Add a dab of butter.

10) Fry the carrots for a few minutes until they soften. Use a masher to mash everything together. Add the grated cauliflower.

11) Repeat above steps. Add seasonings and butter. Let it cook until the cauliflower gets incorporated into the whole mixture. Keep mashing periodically.

12) Add the green peas and green pepper now. Again add seasonings and butter. Mix well and stir together. Mash periodically.

13) Add the mashed potaotes now. Use the masher to mix it all together. Check seasonings. Add some more butter.

14) Add the tomato sauce or tomato puree. Check all seasonings and add enough salt, cayenne and spice mix to your taste.

15) Heat some butter in a pan. Lightly toast the dinner rolls or bread in the pan in the butter.

16) To serve - Dish up the bhaji or vegetable in a bowl. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top. Add chopped onions and cilantro. Dig in!!

Additional Method -

If you have ever seen a pav bhaji stall or 'thela', you know they have this really big griddle on which the bhaji is already made. TO serve the bhaji, they heat some butter in the center, add spices, and add a ladle or two of the veggie mix. They add some water ( and red color too), and mix it all up before serving.

I used this method at home this time. Even though time consuming, it lets you customize a lot. You can have a base bhaji version that is mildly spiced and then you can add as much butter as needed for a person, and spices to taste. This is also a good way to extend it or thin it out for more number of people.

The above recipe easily yields 10-12 large servings.

Pav Bhaji is a popular street food and is a must try at home.

Friday, August 12, 2011

SBDP or Sev Batata Dahi Puri - anytime delight!

Chaat is that Indian delight which can awaken your senses any time of the day, month or the year, whether its sweltering heat outside or a snowy blizzard. It has several taste elements such as hot, sour, sweet, salty and is probably an acquired taste. I remember eating bhel and pani puri even as a kid, with eyes and nose streaming but still enjoying the experience. It's always been something of a forbidden delight, since it is readily available by the roadside, is very tempting and a complete cleanliness/hygeine disaster. Chaat is made up of a myraid of simple ingredients that are mixed together in various proportions, by hand!!

With an iron will to overcome aching tummies and infections, my mom took over making this stuff at home a long time ago. And over the years, we have added to our chaat repertiore. The SBDP is a popular name mostly in western Maharashtra, and is called Sev puri or dahi puri elsewhere in the country, depending on how many things are added. Sev is fried chickpea flour noodles, available anywhere, Batata or potato is your typical boiled spud, Dahi is of course yogurt, and Puris are small deep fried hollow - puris. All these are readily available in India of course, and in any Indian grocery store in the US.

There are a lot of small ingredients that make up this whole dish. You absolutely need Chat masala ( black salt giving the unique flavor here), unless you make your own. Everest, MDH, Badshash are some of the popular brands. I would stay away from Shan here.

You will need an optional or highly recommended green chutney, which is mostly cilantro/coriander with chili, and gives color and heat.

The Date-tamarind chutney will add a sweet and sour component and is an essential ingredient. Its easy to make this from scratch and store it in a jar in your fridge, or you can safely go with Deep brand Tamarind-date chutney. Several other brands like Swad etc. also offer this. Deep frozen foods also has a coriander/cilantro chutney that you can buy and use here.

Once you have all your stuff lined up assembly line style, its easy to put this together. Unless you are up to speed here, I recommend only plating 3-4 at a time so that they don't go too soft and lose their crunch. The detailed method is as follows. I have tried to post step by step photos as much as possible.

Ingredients -

Ready made round puris - 25-50 or more

3-4 boiled medium potatoes

Sev - thin and plain salted only

plain yogurt - 1 lb

sugar, cayenne, chat masala to taste

Garnish -

1 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

Tamarind-date chutney -

1/2 cup dry tamarind

1 cup chopped dates

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

salt to taste

sugar/brown sugar if needed

Greeen chutney -

1 bunch cilantro

1/2 deseeded jalapeno or serrano

salt to taste

pinch of sugar

1/2 lime or lemon squeezed

Method -

1) Boil and mash potatoes. Add a dash of cayenne and salt to season them per choice. Keep this aside.

2) For the yogurt mix - Make this beforehand, as this will taste better when very cold. Take a container, at least the 1 lb one of your favourite low fat PLAIN yogurt. The fat free ones are very sour and the full fat can be too heavy taking away from the taste, so I recommend low fat for this. Add salt to taste, and enough sugar - yes, plain white sugar- to make it sweet. Whisk this or beat it with a fork to make a smooth mixture and set aside. Please do not use a stick blender etc.

Refrigerate this!

3) For the green chutney - Blend cilantro, chili, salt, sugar and lemon juice in a blender or a food processor until you have a fine paste. This need not be very liquid. You will need very little of this anyway.

4) For the Tamarind - date chutney -

4.1) Soak the tamarind for some time in hot water. Remove all seeds and other fibre type matter.

4.2) Soak the dates in warm water.

4.3) After the above two are soft enough to brave your blender, blend them together and transfer to a small stock pot.

4.4) Add the salt, cumin, cayenne and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly syrupy or until it coats the back of a spoon. Taste it and add some jaggery/brown sugar/sugar per your taste. This should taste sweetish but still have the tang of tamarind.

Alternate crude method -

This is my latest favourite. Dump all ingredients in a pot. Add enough water to cover it. Bring to a boil and let simmer. Add more water if needed. Eventually the dates dissolve and everything comes together. Then just strain it and your chutney is ready!

You can store this chutney in a jar/container and keep it in a fridge for a week or two, or even better, Freeze it.

Note -- Please take care that this cold at the time of assembling the main dish. If you have just made it, add some ice cubes to bring down the temperature, or pop in the freezer for a few minutes.

5) Have your sev ready in a bowl or container. This is the easiest thing, you just have to pour it out of a packet :).

6) Now to assemble the whole thing -

If you have those fancy ketchup/mustard type bottles with spouts, you can now fill 3 of these with green chutney, tamarind chutney and yogurt each. I used an old fashioned spoon. Its OK to be sloppy here!

6.1) Take 3-4 puris in a small plate. Pierce them with your thumb to break Only the top part. You might destroy a few before you 'get it'.

6.2) Add a little - 1 tsp - of potato mixture to each puri.

6.3) Add some sev.

6.4) Add some green chutney - a dab - or a sprinkle of cayenne.

6.5) Add some tamarind chutney.

6.6) Ladle in the yogurt mixture until the 'puri' is full.

6.7) Now sprinkle more sev, yogourt, green/tamarind chutneys over the top.

6.8) Garnish with chopped onion and cilantro.

6.9) Sprinkle loads of chaat masala and cayenne if you want more heat.

7) Hand this over, unselfishly, to the first person in line drooling over it and start making another batch. Await your turn patiently until you get to taste some.

Sev puri or Dahi sev puri or SBDP or SPDP - anything you call it, is a great pick-me-up that is sure to bring a smile to your lips. This can easily be assembled by using maximum store bought ingredients.

If you are someone who has never ventured into the 'chaat' arena of Indian cuisine, I urge you to try this simple wonder. Bon Appetit!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Corn Chaulai Bhaji or Sweet Corn with Amaranth greens

Chaulai (marathi) or amaranth greens are readily available now in Pune. The tedious part is cleaning and plucking the leaves but its a necessary chore. Once you have that done, the next steps are relatively easy. The traditional way of making this subji in our household is a sautee with finely chopped onions. These leaves have a distinct strong flavor and the onion adds some sweetness and mellows it out a bit. It is also common in Maharashtrian cooking to add jaggery or brown sugar to take away the bitterness.

Greens cook down a lot and two big bunches generally become a small bowl. Palak corn or spinach with corn is another of our favourites and I thought about using corn here too. This not only helps bulk it up quantity wise and fibre wise, but the natural sweetness of the corn takes away some of the bitterness without adding too much sugar. The method used is pretty simple and even simple seasonings such as some cumin/coriander powder and fresh garlic will go great with this. The recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 large bunches Amaranth greens or Chaulai

2 medium onions chopped

2-3 large cloves of garlic chopped

1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 pinch hing or asfoetida

1 tsp mustard seeds and/or cumin seeds

1 Tbsp light oil

salt to taste

1/2 tsp sugar

1 tsp any curry powder or garam masala of choice

1-2 Tbsp tomato sauce or tomato paste

Method -
1) Pluck the leaves along with fine stems, discard thicker part of stems from the greens. Chop and soak in huge tub of water.

2) Pull out greens and place in colander. Discard the water along with the mud that will have settled down. Repeat this process until the greens are clean and no dirt settles down or water does not look murky.

3) Heat oil and make a traditional tadka - for the uninitiated - Heat the oil in a wok. As it smokes, add the mustard and/or cumin seeds. You can use either or both. Add the pinch of hing, then turmeric and cayenne. Immediately add the onion to avoid burning of the spices.

4) Saute onion until slightly softened. Add the greens gradually and keep stirring. The greens will cook down quickly.

5) Cover with a lid and keep sauteing until the greens darken in color and are cooked.

6) Add corn, curry poweder or garam masala, tomato sauce or paste and stir it all together.

7) Cover again and let it all cook together.

8) Add salt and pinch of sugar at the very end. The greens will have completely reduced by now and you will get a better idea of how much salt is really needed.

9) Serve hot with Roti or tortillas or pita bread, or as a side dish with a main grilled protein.

Amaranth is packed with nutrition like all greens, and this is a highly nutritious meal you can indulge in.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Vegetarian Pad Thai - tangy spicy thai fix

Pad Thai was the first Thai dish that I ever tried. While my memory is vague about it's exact taste, I do remember it was spicy and pretty novel, unlike anything I had ever tried. It spurred us on to a lot of quick meals that we called pad Thai inspired where we just tossed some spaghetti or angel hair in a bit of oil and garlic and pepper and then added some crushed peanuts to it. I think I have achieved a bit more finesse with this recipe over the years.

Every restaurant has its own flavor as far as pad Thai goes. Some make it more tangy with a hint of sweet, while some places make it really sweet. I like an equal balance between the tangy element, the sweetness and the spice or pepper. Pad Thai is street food in Thailand, and they say its sold almost everywhere by the roadside - sort of like vada pav in Maharashtra.

It is very easy to make this at home, without the egg and fish sauce laden stuff that you would get in a restaurant. I once saw a Bobby Flay throwdown episode where a lady showed how its actually made in Thailand. The trick is to have only a little bit, like a serving size in the wok at a time. There is a huge pot of premade sauce and they just ladle the sauce in for each serving as they make it. Well, I certainly do not see myself tossing individual servings in a wok, but I implemented the excellent idea of having the sauce made in a different saucepan and ladling it into your wok gradually. You will need the flat rice noodle which is readily available in the grocery store.

There is no limit to the veggies you can use here - the more the merrier! Typical favourites are onions, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, broccoli, broccoli(get it?), bean sprouts, bell peppers, zucchini etc. Tofu is of course most welcome. Basil and Lime give a fresh taste. But the tang here comes from the tamarind. You can easily get tamarind paste in any Indian grocery store. You can of course also use dry tamarind. Using basil really elevates this to another level.

I used the veggies that I had on hand, but you have carte blanche here. I could only take photos the next day, so this is just leftovers.

Ingredients -

200g rice stix or flat rice noodle

one onion sliced

3-4 scallions chopped

3-4 cloves garlic minced

1 tsp grated ginger root

1 packet mushroom sliced

1 zucchini sliced

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1 cup julienned carrot or carrot matchsticks

1 cup steamed broccoli florets

3-4 baby corn sliced

1 pack tofu

1 cup tightly packed basil leaves

Lime wedges

cilantro for garnish

peanut powder for garnish

For the Sauce -

1-2 Tbsp tamarind paste or

tamarind extract from fresh tamarind

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/8 cup rice vinegar

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1-2 Tbsp sugar or brown sugar or honey

1 tsp dried chili flakes

1 tsp white pepper

salt to taste

dash of sesame oil

Method -

1) Boil the rice noodles according to package instructions and wash with cold water and drain. These cook pretty fast so keep an eye on them. Gauge the quantity by the number of people you have.

2) Wash, clean and chop the vegetables as given. You can chop or slice them per your preference.

3) Was and drain the tofu. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop in thick long slices the way you cut the vegetables. Sprinkle some pepper on it and set aside.

4) Mix all the sauce things in a sauce pan. If you are using dry tamarind, you will need to soak it before hand, and then squeeze the juice out. You can also nuke it for a minute in some water and then squeeze the pulp. Another method I use now is that I take the ball of tamarind and a cup of water in a pot until it softens and it all becomes tamarind juice, and then i just spoon the tamarind rind out of it.

5) Start with the tamarind you got above, and add all the other sauce ingredients. You may have to vary this depending on the quantity of your noodles.

6) Boil the sauce until everything is a smooth mixture and reduces a bit.

7) Meanwhile, heat vegetable/peanut/canola etc. oil in a wok or saute pan. Add the tofu and let it brown on one side. Season the other side and toss over. Do not toss too much or you might end up with a scramble. The tofu will reduce in size as it lets out water. Season with a bit of salt once the tofu browns.

8) Start adding vegetables now. Add mushrooms and saute until reduced. Add peppers, zucchini, sprouts, baby corn etc. Saute 2 mins between each new vegetable. We want them tender crisp so do not saute too much. Add julienned carrots and broccoli at the end so that they retain color.

9) Ladle a little sauce into the veggies and add the noodles. Add half torn basil.

10) Toss gently to mix. Now add the sauce slowly until the noodles get enough sauce to your taste. Save some for adding later. Cover and steam for 2 minutes.

11) Taste and add more seasonings as needed or add more sauce. It will take you some time to develop your own taste combination of the sweet, spicy and sour elements. You will automatically adjust the sauce accordingly.

12) Add the rest of the basil, torn roughly. Serve hot with a sprinkle of peanut powder for crunch and a lime edge.

This is a very easy recipe that is a must try. There is no more need to go to a Thai restaurant for your pad Thai fix. There are a lot of spices and fresh flavors in this dish, and its a kid and crowd pleaser.

So are you off to get those rice noodles yet?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grilled Tofu with a Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce - Smokin' sweet

Tofu is the go-to protein option for vegans and vegetarians. Of course, vegetarians do have paneer, which gets more and more popular each day. Being a lacto-vegetarian, I indulge in this fat laden hunk of cheese quite often. A smal two by two inch piece can have as many as three hundred calories, most of them saturated fat. Think of that the next time you enjoy your paneer dishes.

Getting back to the point, tofu is healthy soy protein and tastes great - it mostly takes on the taste of any marinade or sauce you dump it in. I made a barbeque sauce a few weeks ago exactly following the Neelys' recipe from food network, and it was pretty mean. I decided to give it a slight twist, adding smoky chipotle peppers, and using honey as the main sweetener. I marinated the tofu in spices similar to what went into the barbecue sauce, and set it aside while I made my potatoes and the sauce. The recipe itself is pretty simple and you can add some variations as needed, or adjust the spice level to your taste. You can use dry chipotle peppers, canned ones in adobo sauce, or just a spice mix. I used Mrs. Dash Southwest Chipotle spice mix. I like these spices because they are sodium free, and I can add as much spice as I want, and still add salt to my taste.

I served the grilled tofu with mashed potatoes. I would have liked to add some broccoli or green beans, but I was out of them that day. The recipe follows -

Ingredients -

1 - 2 boxes extra firm tofu

2-3 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp Mrs. Dash chipotle blend

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 tsp cayenne pepper or tabasco/pepper sauce

1 tsp honey

For the Sauce -

Half cup ketchup

2 cloves garlic

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 tsp dry celery

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper

1-2 Tbsp Mrs.Dash Chipotle blend (powdered dry chipotle or chipotles in adobo optional)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup natural honey

1 tsp cornstarch if needed to thicken

Method -

1) Wa

sh and drain the tofu. You can take one or two boxes depending on the number of people, or to make extra batches for later. This tofu will refrigerate or freeze well, and will be great chopped up in a sandwich or wrap.

2) Combine all the spice ingredients in a wide bowl and mix well. Add some water to make a thick paste.

3) Cut the tofu in triangles or steaks of about half inch thickness. This will ensure that the flavors of the marinade seep in.

4) Place the tofu slices in the bowl and gently spoon the whole mixture over the tofu so that all the pieces are drenched in the spicy marinade. Cover and set aside.

5) Heat a dab of butter or 1/2 tsp oil in a sauce pan and gently saute the chopped garlic cloves until they change color. Mix all other sauce ingredients and add them to this sauce pan.

6) Stir occasionally and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the sauce thickens and develops a glaze. Use corn flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauce to your liking.

7) Heat a non stick pan and brush with oil or spray. Place the tofu slices on the pan and brown from all sides on medium heat.

8) To serve - Place a scoop or two of mashed potatoes on your plate. Place 2-3 grilled tofu slices on the potatoes and drizzle with sauce. The sauce is pretty spicy and pungent, so you need to go slow with it.

9) The honey chipotle flavored sauce has a lot of flavors - spice from the onion and garlic, sweetness of the ketchup and honey, smoky flavor and the heat from however much chipotle spice you added.

This is a healthy and filling sumptuous meal when served with some green veggies, and falls right in with my other favourite comfort foods. I hope you try this simple dish that does not need a lot of effort.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cavatappi Pasta in a Saffron Tomato sauce

Saffron – just the name brings something exotic to mind. This is one of the most expensive spices and is popularly used in several desserts in Indian cuisine. Being very expensive, it is generally reserved for special occasions. Using this in a pasta sauce was a completely novel idea for me.

As I searched the web, I found that there really were several recipes of this kind of sauce. Rachael Ray used saffron with lotsa butter and parsley and mint and orange, but I was short on those ingredients. All I had was some tomato sauce and then the search for tomato+saffron yielded one even by the great Emeril himself. Bam!

To begin at the beginning, this whole thing started because I was presented with a bottle of rich saffron syrup. This was so heady and intoxicating that I immediately wanted to make something of it, something savory and other than the obvious desserts that came to mind. Pasta was the obvious vehicle, since I was craving pasta. Although all the recipes use pinches of saffron fronds, I decided to be bold and make the sauce using syrup.

Most recipes had certain elements – the usual onion, garlic, basil/spice, wine, cream, tomatoes and saffron. I made so many substitutions to this concept, that I fear I may have ended up with something totally different. I also made a much lighter version using whole milk instead of cream, and saved the cheese just for the garnish.
I used mushrooms and olives as the vegetables, and everything worked together well to give a unique flavor where you can’t really taste one particular thing.

Cavatappi is a long screw shaped pasta. You can use any ‘rigate’ or ridged pasta for this sauce. Something like penne or rigatoni will go really well with this sauce. The recipe is as follows –

Ingredients –

Half pound penne/cavatappi
One small onion chopped
1 Tbsp garlic chopped
1 Tbsp EVOO or extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried spices such as basil/thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup vodka
1 cup whole milk
1 cup tomato puree/sauce
2 Tbsp saffron syrup such as Mapro
Or 1 big pinch or 1 tsp saffron fronds
1 packet mushrooms chopped
2 Tbsp olives sliced/chopped
Parmesan or cheese of choice to garnish
EVOO to drizzle

Method –
1) For the sauce – In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the EVOO and add the chopped garlic. Add onions and sauté until softened a bit. Take care not to burn either.
2) Add mushrooms and fry until all the water from the mushrooms evaporates
3) Add vodka, or wine if you wish and sauté a bit until absorbed
4) Add tomato puree or sauce and the milk/cream
5) Add the salt/pepper and dried herbs and simmer this sauce
6) Add the saffron syrup. If using fronds, steep them first in some hot milk and then add to the sauce
7) Simmer the sauce until all the milk/cream is absorbed and sauce thickens. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
8) Meanwhile, boil the pasta for about 8-10 minutes, a bit less than al dente
9) Drain the pasta and immediately add to the sauce. Stir well to combine, cover with lid on a very low flame and let the pasta steam in the sauce for 3-4 minutes. This time can be adjusted based on the actual pasta and your liking of chewy versus well cooked pasta.
10) The pasta will absorb most of the sauce and flavors pretty soon. Switch off heat and keep covered
11) While serving, spoon on plate and drizzle some olive oil and some grated parmesan or any other cheese.
This is a very rich tasting pasta with big flavor, that will make a great impromptu meal served with some salad and good bread.

I hope you enjoy this unusual sauce laden with the goodness of saffron.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Margaritas in martini glasses – at Salsa, Corinthian Hotel Pune

Much is said about the Corinthian(s) Club. One of the newer clubs to crop up on the Pune club scene, membership is at a premium and it’s a popular venue for concerts, weddings etc. in the east/south pune area. I am not sure if the Corinthians Club and the Corinthians Boutique hotel are part of the same place. The website seems to be the same with two different home pages – and
We have wanted to take the promo tour since a long time and have contemplated getting a membership here. Visiting the place for lunch incognito without being accompanied by a salesperson seemed a good idea to scout the place. This is touted as a five star hotel.
There are several restaurants portrayed in the dining section – Salsa, Pyramisa, Oceanus etc. Salsa was the only place open for lunch for non-members. We decided to give it a shot to end the curiosity about this place. Needless to say, as the title of this post suggests, we were in for a disappointment.

The whole Corinthians club has an Egyptian theme. There are sphinx like motifs everywhere, palm trees and what not. Salsa, as the website says, is Greek – Mediterranean – even mentions the Balkans. Wow. Some reviews I read on the web talked of mezze platters and falafel, and that seemed right for a spot of lunch.
The place we went to was said to be Mexican, continental and Indian – predominantly Indian( so why the misleading webpage?). A buffet menu was offered for lunch at 550Rs. This did not include any drinks. Cocktails were 400Rs on an average. A huge price to pay when you order a margarita and are served something in a martini glass which is just tequila shaken with ice at best. No seriously, imagine 100F + temperatures, a lazy Sunday afternoon, driving through the heat, envisioning a limey green margarita – sweet and sour and salty – and This is placed before you..for something like 10 dollars.. Not a good start, to say the least.

The buffet menu was both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian and almost everything had ‘Jain’ written before it. A clarification request yielded the response – the menu is mostly ‘Jain’ since most people visiting this place are ‘Jain’. I find this really surprising considering the huge population. But anyway, if you are particular about what spices go in your food, you should consider this. The server offered to make ‘everything’ (typical tall promise) fresh for me with the spices I wanted.

The menu was pretty sparse considering the price – a salad bar that had the usual green salad, devilled eggs, a pre-tossed Caesar, a salsa verde salad( unmentionable), some boondi raita, and that’s about it. There were some rolls and breadsticks.
There were two soups. The minestrone looked watery at best, and I ditched this considering the sweltering heat. The appetizers had some mutton seekh and some fish tikka. The fish tikka, I hear, was Ok.
Vegetarians has ‘nachos and cheese’ and veg seekh. The veg seekh was extremely salty, but was one of the few things that could be eaten as an appetizer. The ‘nachos and cheese’ were mostly a bed of corn chips, with some cheese on top, and baked enough to melt the cheese. It was not worth mentioning. There were some beans here and there on the nachos, mostly rajma which was pasty/undercooked. There was no cheddar like sauce, no salsa and the ‘cheese’ was mediocre at best.

There was a meat as well as soy shepherd’s pie. This was once again a pretty lame attempt. There was no soy or TVP mince as I expected in lieu of the ground meat and peas you would find in a meat pie, but just nuggets sprinkled here and there that were watery. The sauce was very tomatoey with a rosemary like flavor, no sherry etc.

The other entrees – a corn pepper subji, some white bland mixed vegetables with the grand name of ‘mughlai’ etc. were very ordinary. There was one vegetable which was their saving grace – paneer tikka cooked in a thick spinach sauce, kinda like palak paneer having paneer tikka in it instead of just paneer. This was specially cooked for us with onions and garlic.

There were only two desserts. One was like a mini gulab jamun in rabdi/basundi instead of in syrup. The other dessert was chocolate ‘pudding’, which was nothing but Dry sliced cake. Even the cake in the kayani bakery is richer than this. If my limited culinary knowledge of world cuisine is not enough to know that such a cake is also called chocolate pudding, someone please enlighten me. Both desserts were at room temperature. A cold one would have been nice considering the heat.

The ambience was good but was wasted in lieu of all other factors. There are statues of people playing guitar, sax etc., and there are a lot of black and white photos of people playing the sax. There was some nice jazz or latin jazz/salsa playing in the background. Which was difficult to hear due to a horde of noisy patrons. Half our time was taken up by a noisy table with voices that could be heard fifty feet away. The rest was taken up by a crowd with 3-4 babies, all screaming at the top of their lungs. Babies will be babies, but what to do when their erstwhile parents start playing music full volume on their cell phones??
A request to the staff yielded the response that they were helpless. I take points away from an otherwise well trained wait staff for this. They have to be assertive, and think of the common good.

When the check was presented, I was asked to fill out a feedback form. I almost shuddered, thinking of my experience at the Yellow Chili, but I still gave in and filled it out. I gave max points for service and ambience but remarked, rightly so, that the food could be better. The girl came back with questions on my comments, and I had to beg her to please leave me alone!!

Overall, this was disappointing. I can think of several places where I can get excellent food for this money. Sukanta can give me a much better and tastier Indian meal for one third of the cost. Anyone visitng this place expecting to go on a culinary mediterranean journey will certainly be in for a shock.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Misal Pav - Hot and Spicy Street Food

This blog was started with the aim of posting some cherished family and regional maharashtrian recipes, both easy and complicated, regular weekday ones or delicacies. But a lot of the stuff we eat at home is so simple and 'automatic' that I think its not a big deal posting it. Like, who wants to see a recipe for alu subji or dal chawal? ( I know thats not true).

Misal Pav or Pav Sample or kolhapuri misal as it is called, is a very popular and ubiquitous street food in western Maharashtra, sometimes termed as 'poor man's food' that is hot and spicy and guaranteed to have smoke coming out of your ears. But it has enough of a wow factor that I feel I should write a post about it. I have been wanting to make this at home for a long time, and the historic India - Pak world cup semi-final provided a perfect opportunity. This dish is assembled with several ingredients, many of them store bought. You just make the 'sample' which is a hot soup or stock kind thing and the Moth or Matki usal. This can be made in advance, and you just heat it up before eating.

The recipe given below is simple, and the biggest challenge for me was to add as much chili or mirchi powder, and the HUGE amount of oil. But in the end, everything balances out really well. There IS some residual heat in the end, and your mouth will be slightly on fire, but that is the whole point of eating this dish, just like a fiery bowl of chili, or it wouldn't really be Misal Pav.

The picture also shows the typical way it is served, in stainless steel plates, because thats how they dish it up in our very own Maharashtra!

Ingredients -

2 cups dry Matki or Moth beans

1-2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric powder optional

1 Tbsp chopped cilantro

1 lemon juiced

1 medium potato

1 Tbsp jaggery/gur/brown sugar

4 cups+ Farsan or Mixture of choice

salt to taste

1 Tbsp and 1 cup oil

sliced white bread or pav or dinner rolls

For the Masala Paste -

8-10 dry red chillies

3-4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger root

1 Tbsp black peppercorns

1 Tbsp cloves

1 Tbsp cinnamon pieces

2 Tbsp dry coconut powder/flakes unsweetened

1 Tbsp cumin or jeera powder

1 Tbsp coriander or dhania powder

2-3 cups sliced onion

For the garnish

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped tomato

1 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 lemon quartered

2 Tbsp roasted peanuts optional

Method -

1) Matki or moth beans are crucial here and they need to be sprouted. If you live in India, you can easily get already sprouted matki at any street vendor's or even in a supermarket. In the US, big city stores such as in New Jersey might carry sprouted matki.

It is very easy to make sprouted matki at home. Here is the method and it can be applied for sprouting any beans such as Mung etc.

Soak the beans overnight or more until there is a break in the outer skin. Drain these and wrap in a damp towel or muslin cloth and put in a strainer or colander. Cover and put in a dark place. The seeds sprout in the next 12+ hours. This generally depends on the atmospheric temperature. In colder climates or in winter, it helps if you keep it inside an oven with just the light switched on overnight( the oven is NOT on here).

2) Generally, the matki beans could be part of the 'sample' or the 'soup', and the whole thing is very hot. I am making a milder version of the matki 'usal' and a very hot and spicy 'sample' or 'soup' or 'sauce'. This way everyone can add as many beans as they want, and then only take as much of the hot 'sample' as they can sustain.

3) To make the masala paste - Fry all the masala ingredients in a tsp of oil or spray until they are lightly browned. Fry the coconut very gently until it changes color, taking care to not burn it.

Saute the onions in some oil until they let out all water and are browned.

4) Grind all of the above together to make a thick, smooth paste. This should yield 1 to 2 cups of the paste.

5) Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok or saute pan. Add jeera or mustard seeds optionally or directly add 2 Tbsp of the masala paste above. Fry to incorporate into oil. Add water as needed to avoid sticking. Fry this until it changes color and is aromatic and the oil starts to leave the sides. This could take 10 mins.

6) Add some turneric and chopped cilantro leaves. Add cubed boiled potato, or if you add raw potato, you will need to fry the potato in this paste until half cooked before you add the matki or beans.

7) Add the matki, add salt and jaggery or brown sugar, 1 tsp cayenne. Mix everything and add a little, maybe half cup water and let it come to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the potato is cooked.

8) Keep this aside. This is regular 'matki usal' which can be made anytime and eaten with rice or roti.

9) Now to make the 'sample' - this is the challenging part since you really have to let go and add oil with abandon. Heat about 1 cup of oil in a thick bottomed sauce pan. I recommend a large one so that you have room to add more liquid and also it will contain the splatters.

10) As the oil heats, add all the remaining masala paste, and stir immediately, being very careful to keep your face turned away. You may even switch off the heat for a while during this.

Stir quickly and mix it all in the oil so that it becomes homogenous. You can add a little water at this point to cook the masala. Do Not add water to the hot oil until the paste is well mixed in.

11) Add 1 Tbsp cilantro leaves optionally. Adding a little cilantro or coriander leaf at this point gives a different aroma from that obtained from just a garnish.

12) Fry the paste until it gives out an aroma, and changes color a bit. Add a tsp cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

13) Add one litre plus of water creating a thick slurry. You can actually stretch this by adding even more water, and only the salt needs adjusting. Bring the slurry to a boil and simmer for 10 mins. Your 'sample' is ready. This is going to be very hot, and as it cools, there will be a thick layer of oil on top, since most of the rest is water and the oil floats to the top. You will actually not consume a lot of this oil, since this whole 'sample' or broth is so hot.

14) Now to serve the Misal - this dish is plated as shown in the picture. In a wide small plate, or even a shallow soup plate or cereal bowl, ladle some of the beans or 'matki usal'. Add the Farsan or mixture or hot mix - any brand of choice - on top. This is a dry mixture available in all Indian grocery stores, and several brands are readily available. Buy a milder version rather than a hot one.

15) So we have the bowl with the matki usal and the farsan layer on top. Add about half cup farsan. Ladle some sample on this, enough to wet everything but not until it swims. Garnish with raw chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro and peanuts. Squeeze some lemon juice on top. Place this on a bigger plate. In a smaller bow, ladle some sample, ladling from the bottom up so that you don't get only the oil. Place this on the larger plate. Serve this with sliced white bread, yes white bread or dinner/dollar rolls.

16) If you eat only the sample, you will probably need to call the fire engine, but the way to eat it is to mix everything together, i.e the matki, farsan, onions, tomatoes etc. You can keep adding as much sample as you want to suit your spice tolerance. You can eat the bread in between to cool your tongue or it can also be dipped into the mixture.

17) In the end, the misal is definitely hot and spicy, but enjoyably so, and can be washed down with some ice cold sweet drink, or with loads of ice cream.

This Misal Pav is not only a popular street food but also a part of the cultural heritage of the state of Maharashtra. It is not as complicated as it looks, and the above ingredients can be stretched to make anything from 6-10 servings. You can refrigerate the usal and sample and heat it up just before serving. The other things just have to be assembled.

I hope you try this fiery dish and let me know how you did.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thai Pineapple Fried Rice

Thai food is well known for its fiery nature. Many Thai food novices have exuberantly asked for 'Very spicy' or 'Thai Spicy' food, only to have their mouths burn and then learnt to ask for a much lower spice level. But this rice dish is the exception. This is one dish that I always order 'Spicy', and then it is just right for my palette. The reason is that this is made with loads of good things like pineapple, raisins and cashews which lend it a sweet flavour, and lots of chili flakes which then balance this sweetness with some heat. This dish is slightly sticky due to the fact that its made with pineapple and some juice which makes it moist. There are lots of veggies and tofu that add to the nutritional goodness, and this can be served either with a thai curry of your choice, or even on its own. I have used my favourite vegetables, but you can use what you have on hand. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -
2 white or yellow onions
2 carrots
8-10 green beans
1 cup mixed chopped peppers
1 box mushrooms
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cubed tofu
1 cup pineapple chunks
1/2 cup pineapple juice from can
half cup black raisins
half cup roasted cashew halves/pieces
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger and garlic
1 Tbsp chili flakes
1 Tbsp or more Soy sauce, tamari or liquid aminos
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp white pepper(optional)
Salt to taste
2-3 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
2 cups dry rice

Method -
1) Wash and clean the rice and then cook it with double the quantity of water. We want it to be fluffy and not very soft. You can either use jasmine rice or if you are using an Indian variety, the one to go for here is Sona Massorie or Kolam. I do not recommend basmati rice for chinese food.
2) Use a rice cooker for cooking the rice if you have one, or you can also use the microwave. Spread the cooked rice on a big plate or sheet pan, so that any excess moisture will dry up.
3) Chop the vegetables in similar chunks. You can use frozen broccoli florets, or steam and blanch fresh ones. Use red, yellow and orange peppers for a splash of color.
4) Use readymade baked tofu, or just grill the chunks on a non-stick pan so that all the moisture evaporates and they toughen a bit. This will ensure that the cubes do not break when you later fry them along with everything.
5) Use a micro plane or small grater to grate a small piece of ginger and 2 cloves of garlic. This will give a great taste.
6) Use a wok or a wide bottom saute pan. Heat the oil and first add the carrots, then the ginger and garlic and chili flakes. Add the chopped mushrooms and fry until all the water in the mushrooms evaporates. Add the green beans and after a minute, add the peppers. Add the onion at the end.
7) Do not over saute or over fry. We want the veggies to be tender crisp and retain a crunch. Now add the tofu and the pineapple chunks and raisins along with the juice.
8) Add the soy sauce and vinegar and mix well.
9) Add the rice now and use two spatulas to mix everything well without bruising the rice too much.
10) The rice is done when most of the liquid evaporates and it gets a sheen. Add the cashews now and mix in. Garnish with more cashews.
11) Serve hot with a curry or as a one pot meal.

This is a sweet and spicy healthy vegan and vegetarian dish that is simply loaded with vegetables and protein. Edamame is also a good addition here along with or instead of the tofu. This is also a very economical and simple way to have Thai night at home without overwhelming yourself with too many exotic ingredients.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lower Fat Cream of Broccoli soup - too good to be true

Can anything be too good to be true? Really? This soup is. Not only does it make you all warm and fuzzy, but also takes care of your heart so that you can use it to spread more love through the universe. That has got to be the corniest line I ever wrote! But jokes apart, I think I have unexpectedly stumbled upon a great way to make a satisfying low fat cream of broccoli. Since I no longer enjoy the panera broccoli cheddar having discovered its made with chicken broth, this is a great homemade alternative without all those calories.

Broccoli, as we all know, is a super food and is wonderful for your health. Please visit for a detailed appreciation of this humble vegetable. Broccoli is relatively new to the Indian grocery scene and is still under the 'exotic' label. Exotic, as we, all know, also means expensive. It is generally about 4-5 times the price of your regular cabbage and okra. So I was happy when I got it for a much lower rate in the Sunday market. I had been craving a thick creamy soup for a while now, so I had an idea where this broccoli would end up.

I looked up several recipes on the web. The vegan recipes went with soy milk and cashews or some other nut. Vegetarians added cream, cheddar cheese, half and half and what not. I found a few recipes promoting the humble potato as a way to add creaminess without adding fat, and that really made sense to me. I wanted to make this recipe as easy as possible, mostly made out of easy to find, hence economical ingredients. I just added a cup of whole milk at the end and that gave the requisite creaminess, mixed in with some corn starch. I served it garnished with some grated carrot and grated cheddar, and the result was a very thick and creamy filling soup.

I botched up the photos of the actual soup, but am still adding one here to give you a general idea.

The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients --

500g broccoli

2 small potatoes

1 small onion/half cup

4-5 garlic cloves

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1 Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

carrot for garnish

cheddar cheese for garnish

Method -

1) Seperate the broccoli into florets and finely chop the stems. The stems will add bulk and are also full of nutrition so you do not want to waste them.

2) Heat some oil in a stock pot. Fry the onion and chopped garlic. Add chopped potatoes and fry for some time until the potatoes soften a bit and are partially cooked. You may add a little water here to avoid sticking.

3) Add all the broccoli and about one litre of water and put a lid on the pot. Some of the water will be absorbed. Switch off the heat when the potatoes are cooked. The broccoli will definitely cook by this time.

4) At this point, you can use an immersion blender to blend everything roughly in the pot. If not, let this cool down and puree it in a blender or food processor in batches. Add everything back to the pot.

5) The blended potato will lend a creamy aspect to the whole soup and it should be quite thick at this point.

6) Season with salt and pepper.

7) Mix in 1 Tbsp cornstarch with a cup of milk at room temperature such that there are no lumps. Add this to the soup pot.

8) Keep stirring slowly so that the soup does not stick. The cornstarch will add some thickness and milk will add a creamy aspect.

9) Serve this piping hot. Ladle in bowls and add some grated carrot on top for garnish. Add about a Tbsp of grated cheddar and mix it in as you eat.

10) You can make this cheddar intensive by adding 2 cups of cheddar to the pot, or lots more cheddar to the bowl, but that will not make this 'low fat'.

This is a nourishing low fat soup that is a complete meal, served with some whoke grain crusty bread. I hope you try this simple recipe that gives exotic results.

Monday, February 21, 2011

TikhaT MiThachya Purya - Masala Puri

Puris are the ultimate Indian indulgence. They are generally made with wheat flour and fried to golden perfection. The most common kind is the plain or salted version which is eaten as a bread with any curry. This post is about the TiKhaT MiThachi puri or Masala puri. TikhaT is pepper and MiTh is salt, so this is salt and pepper puri, the pepper here being cayenne pepper, which is more common in Indian cooking than black pepper as a spice.

This is a typical marathi dish and a family recipe. This is/was pretty common as food to be taken along during travelling. This is because these puris stay good for a long time and do not spoil easily. I remember many a long train journey ( 20-30 hours) when I used to have a pack of these with some sweet lemon pickle and curd rice, lovingly prepared by the ladies - mother, aunts, grandmas - and it provided enough nourishment for a pack of hungry kids on their way back to college.

Every family generally has their own version, with some secret ingredient passed on down the generations. Our recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

2 cups wheat flour

half cup besan or chickpea flour

1 tsp turmeric or haldi powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper or mirch

2-3 cloves fresh grated garlic

1 tsp Ajwain seeds /carom

salt to taste

2 Tbsp oil for dough

oil for deep frying

flour to coat as needed

Method -

1) Mix together the flours and seasonings. Add the 2 Tbsp oil.

2)Add water very slowly and knead to make a thick dough. You can use the food processor, but be careful not to add too much water. Keep pulsing patiently to form a thick dough

3) Make small puris of even thickness using a rolling pin and a platform or your 'chakla belan'. You can make a big roti and then use a cookie cutter or jar lid etc. to cut out the puris. This will make all of them the same size and shape. This is just a suggestion if you are big on unformity and are a novice in this.

4) Heat oil in a wok or kadai. As the oil starts smoking, add the puris. Do not crowd the oil. Add 1,2 or 3 puris at a time depending on the size of your wok and the amount of oil you have.

5) Serve hot with any pickle of choice and plain yogurt.

This is an elaborate item/recipe which is tricky for the likes of me, and we hardly make these a few times a year. But this is a typical traditional dish which used to be pretty easy for the ladies of yore. Happy Munching!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quick and Easy Microwave recipes - Shortcut to home cooked Indian food

These were a bunch of recipes I had created for some cousins/friends who were 'challenged' as far as cooking goes, and were tired of eating frozen or ready to eat dinners. This can be used by anyone in a hurry and gives you a healthy and balanced meal at home in little time and hardly any effort. I have used these myself several times in a bind. There is a little effort involved in chopping fresh onion/tomato or herbs, something I find crucial to lend freshness to these meals.

These are mostly Indian recipes, something that will give you a home cooked or comforting feel.

Please refer to the book 'Microwave Indian Recipes' on Amazon for a detailed description of these recipes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spaghetti and Meat(less)Balls - Italian comfort food for the Vegetarian

Wow..that seems like quite a verbose title! But I am excited since I finally came up with an alternative for meatballs that is high protein, made from whole/natural ingredients ( No TVP here), lower in fat, does not come from a grocery store freezer etc. etc. and is Tasty to boot. These 'meat'balls are steamed, so the frying is eliminated and also the baking step in the oven for those who are not fortunate enough to have one. The 'meat'balls are quite robust and do not break apart even after soaking in sauce for a long time, even overnight.

So what are the ingredients of this wonder food? And how did I stumble upon them? Quite by chance, honestly.. I have always regretted not being able to partake of the universally loved spaghetti and meatballs, since the meatballs are almost always made with meat that I did not eat. Even though I don't really know how a meatball does and should taste, I have seen numerous shows on tv and the usual spices are used. I can only assume that any 'typical' taste comes from the meat. Since this is not an option for me, or any other vegetarian, my main aim was to have a base of robust ingredients and then typical spices such as garlic, pepper etc.

Many recipes I found on the internet use only walnuts, or tofu, or mostly breadcrumbs etc. I am using Mung Dal - the yellow one. I couldn't praise this humble dal/lentil enough. Mung is easy on the tummy, high in protein and is even revered in Ayurveda for boosting metabolism. I used almond as my nut, only because I had them, but walnuts will also be great here. I use milk powder, which is commonly available in India, to add some more richness or sweetness and to tone down the strong flavour of the mung dal. This is in lieu of parmesan cheese, which is not too readily available to me right now, and is almost always expensive( the good kind is). I roast the dal and the nuts initially to get a toasty aroma. I use freshly ground black pepper which is Very Important to get a strong flavour. Just dumping some of your mcCormick powder will not really do it. The secret ingredient here is fennel seed or saunf. The only reason I used it is because I Like it so much. I could have gone with the typical dried Italian spices such as basil or oregano, but I wanted something different and the fennel always seems exotic to me. Plus this gives a kind of Italian sausagy flavour which went with the whole concept.

You can serve these as mini meatballs on skewers with a dipping sauce as appetizers, or just with some tomato sauce, or over some nice spaghetti. I used a jar of ragu for the sauce, but you can use any tomato sauce you want for this. 365 Organic has some nice pasta sauces which are economical as well as fresh tasting. The detailed recipe is as follows -

Ingredients -

1 cup yellow Mung Dal

0.5 cup whole almonds or walnuts

35g or 1 oz. milk powder

2 Tbsp dehydrated garlic or fresh chopped/grated

1 Tbsp black peppercorns

1 Tbsp fennel seeds or 'saunf'

1 Tbsp EVOO any brand

salt to taste

1 tsp crushed red pepper

2 slices whole grain bread

1 jar tomato sauce/pasta sauce

pinch baking powder optional

pasta -

spaghetti cooked per instruction

2-3 splashes milk


Method -

1) Dry roast the Mung dal on a low flame in a non-stick pan until it gives a toasty aroma. We do not want to burn it or even want it to change colour a lot.

2) Roast the almonds/walnuts similarly until they are nicely toasted and set aside.

3) Dry roast the pepper corns and the fennel seeds as above.

4) After all the ingredients have cooled, use a dry grinder jar or a spice grinder to powder the above. You might need multiple batches if you are using a spice grinder, but it will do the job. I am not sure how effective a food processor will be to do this job. We want to powder this almost fine - slightly coarse is fine but it should not be too coarse.

5) If you are using dried or dehydrated garlic, powder it with the rest of the stuff.

6) Combine all the powdered stuff in a shallow dish or mixing bowl. Add salt, crushed red pepper and milk poweder.

7) Pulse the two bread slices to make fresh bread crumbs and set aside. Use these Only if required in the next step.

8) Add water slowly to the mixture in the bowl and mix together to form a thick dough like a tortilla or pastry dough. Be very careful in adding water. Add a pinch of baking powder here. This will make the 'meat'balls lighter when they cook.

9) As the dough comes together, add the EVOO or olive oil, and knead lightly with your hands. If you feel the dough is soggy, add the breadcrumbs, a little at a time until you are able to form small balls with the dough.

10) Form small 'meat'balls of desired size and set aside on a platter. I roughly made them the size of a ping pong ball.

11) Heat a steamer with lots of water in the bottom bowl. You can use a bamboo steamer or similar. I have this contraption that is like a double boiler. You fill water in the bottom vessel. The one that goes on top has a perforated bottom and a tight fitting lid. You keep your food on the perforated bottom, close the lid and it gets steamed pretty efficiently.

12)Spray the steamer botttom with some oil or just lightly oil it with your hand or a wad of paper.

13) Place the 'meat'balls or meatlessballs on the perforated bottom without crowding them.

14) Steam for 10-12 minutes until the 'meat'balls are cooked through. Use multiple batches depending on the size of your steamer.

15) Heat tomato sauce in a saucepan. Add the steamed meatballs to the bubbling sauce.

16) For the pasta - Boil pasta per package directions. I used whole wheat pasta and I think I could have used up even two bottles of sauce. You can use any pasta of choice, linguni will also go well with this one, or bucatini will too.

17) Toss the pasta with half the sauce. Add a few splashes of milk if needed. This reduces the acid in the tomatoes, and also takes the edge off certain whole grain pastas which can sometimes taste too 'earthy'.

18) To serve, place a generous amount of pasta in a dish. Ladle 2 or 3 meatballs along with some sauce on top. Garnish with fresh black pepper and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil. Or go bonkers, and sprinkle some parmesan on top. Break the 'meat'balls with a fork and integrate with the sauce and pasta.

19) Dig In!! The weather is cloudy with a Definite chance of Meatballs :)

This recipe made about 16 ping pong ball sized 'meat'balls. They were very filling and sumptuous and it was difficult to eat more than two or three at a time. The fennel and peppercorns flavoured the dish beautifully. This is a very healthy and tasty recipe that you should definitely try especially if you are a vegetarian. This can be easily veganized by omitting the milk powder and adding something similar such as nutritional yeast.

You can try several variations such as different spices, adding sauteed spinach, using a different kind of lentil etc. You can totally ditch the pasta and eat these only with the sauce and a salad for a very filling low carb feast. The oil used here is minimal and only for flavour. Overall, with the risk of sounding like a braggart, this dish is a winner!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thai Red Curry - with Tofu and Vegetables

I think Thai food introduces some exotic factor into Asian cooking, and altho' it feels very familiar to the Indian palette in some aspects, there are just two or three typical ingredients that take it over the top. For a vegetarian, eating Thai food in a restaurant can be a challenge. It took me some time to realize why this much liked food often made me sick - addition of fishy ingredients, literally, such as shrimp powder or fish sauce. You have to always remember the special instructions, namely, no fish sauce, dried shrimp or eggs in anything, and if you ever forget this, you end up wasting a fine order of food. It is also tough to find ready-made thai pastes that cater to this requirement, some just don't list out the shrimp powder etc. There are some high-end brands such as those available at Whole Foods that will clearly label that this is suitable for vegans eg. But any ready made sauce in a bottle lacks the quality of freshly ground spices or pastes.

Now that I have made a case for making your own curry pastes, I am going to go ahead and post this recipe with a ready made paste I luckily found in the local store that was vegan. A readymade paste will generally make your red curry really red, or the green really green due to the addition of colour. But I am also giving the recipe for making this paste at home with the disclaimer that you may not get a similar red colour, and thats OK.

After perusing several websites, food tv, chef's sites, blogs etc. and of course my own experiences tasting red curry a million times, I have come up with the main elements that go into a thai curry paste. These are shallots/onions, ginger or galangal, garlic, kafir lime leaves or lemon zest, lemon grass and chillies. A red chilli gives you the red curry, the green gives the green curry, and most everything else remains the same. The sauce is generally made up of coconut cream or milk. I generally use the above ingredients by the 'eyeball' method, not being exacting in using measurements, and almost always add a stock of lemon grass to the boiling sauce, to get more flavour that way. My efforts generally end up tasting 'thai' like enough, for me to have made this multiple times.

You can use your choice of vegetables - carrots, broccoli, green beans, peppers, tofu etc. The recipe/method is as follows -

Ingredients -
2-3 medium onions
1 cup green beans
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup diced peppers any color
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup mushrooms optional
1 cup baby corn
1 pack tofu diced
1 can coconut milk
1 -2 tsp oil
salt and pepper

Curry paste -

3-4 Tbsp ready made paste from bottle
1 medium onion
12-15 fresh red chillies
1 head garlic
2 inch ginger
zest and juice of 1 lemon
stem of 3-4 stalk lemon grass

Method -
1) If you are using your own curry paste, roughly chop above ingredients and grind to a smooth paste and keep aside.

2) Slice carrots and onions, chop peppers, mushrooms and dice the tofu.

3) Heat the oil in a skillet and add the vegetables one by one. Add carrots, beans, peppers, onions and tofu.

4) Add the curry paste and fry together with the veggies. Check seasonings and add salt/pepper as needed. Add curry paste a little at a time and taste until you get the required heat level. The coconut will dull some of the heat.

5) Add the can of coconut milk. You can use low fat if you wish. Stir everything and bring to a boil. You can add a stalk or two of lemon grass while this simmers to get more herby flavour. Add some water if needed to get a sauce of the desired thickness.

6) Serve hot with steamed rice.
This is a quick and easy recipe to make at home. The curry paste can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator.