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!