Monday, June 19, 2017

Kulle ki Chaat

A couple of years ago, I worked on one of the most fun projects of my career, for a client. It involved mapping the food landscape of India – as broad a brushstroke as you’ll ever see. Essentially it involved, among other things, mapping the history of India’s culinary evolution, understanding regional cuisines across the four regions, decoding the philosophy, medical beliefs and social developments that shape India’s food behavior and, most importantly for us, getting to go on foodwalks across many cities, eating at some of the most interesting and experimentative restaurants ( Indian Accent, for example) and getting paid for it!

One of the most memorable outings was a food walk in Old Delhi with Sohail Hashmi. He is a history buff who really knows his Purani Dilli backwards, from how it looked in the time of Shah Jahan to its streets, architecture, the life of people, legends and the many nooks and crannies that guard its delicious food secrets. Among the more exotic things we got to taste – fruit sandwiches invented for the traditionally vegetarian bania families that visited Old Delhi to go wedding trousseau shopping, which consist of white bread layered with various fruit, a thin layer of paneer and a special secret chutney/ masala that brings it all together. Mithai and chocolates in virtuoso shapes or flavor combinations, which are now sent out to invitees along with wedding cards. The most exquisite double-ka-meetha I have ever had, behind Matia Mahal – crisp on the surface, soft and spongy underneath and the perfect level of sweetness, laced with saffron. Freshly baked nan khatai biscuits sold on a cart. In fact, it’s really difficult to pace yourself so you have enough appetite for all the goodies that you come across, and both times I’ve been there, I’ve missed out on the famous dahi vadas as I was too full.

Kulle ki chaat is a special chaat made up primarily of stuffed veggies and involving no frying so at first we were skeptical – how good could it be? But one bite and we were converts. It’s really simple to put together, crisp and cooling and so delicious one thinks of health benefits only later!

Tomatoes - 2
Cucumber - 2
Potatoes - 2
Papaya - 1
Pineapple – 1 (Optional)

Boiled chickpeas - handful
Boiled potatoes – 2, cubed tiny
Half a cup of pomegranate seeds
Chaat masala to taste
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
Juice of 1.5-2 limes

Cut the cucumber vertically into halves, then into 1.5 inch chunks, hollowing out the seeds. You can also try cutting it into cylinders and hollow out most of the seed core, leaving a thin layer at one end as a base. Tomatoes – chop off a slice from the top and then scoop out the inside. With potatoes – boil some mid-sized potatoes until just soft but not too soft. Chop in half and scoop out some of the boiled potato from the center, leaving a bowl to be filled. Chop the papaya and pineapple into 1 inch thick slabs.

Mix the cubed potatoes, boiled chickpeas, coriander leaves, pomegranate seeds, chaat masala and lime juice in a separate bowl. Spoon in to the hollow veggies/ onto the fruit slabs.

Serve immediately - as a snack, pre-meal salad or drinks accompaniment -
and bask in a healthy halo!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Light summer meals

This summer has been kind to us so far. After a few days of 40 degree C + weather, storm clouds and aandhis have blown through the city, leaving it much cooler and more bearable. I wish it could be like this all year round. in fact, the weather has not only been conducive to morning and evening walks, but we've managed to go AC free for several nights, with a cool breeze and the fan enough to give us a good night's sleep. Always a pleasure, since I feel I wake up better rested without the AC.

But between my Hashimoto's crazy readings and the general feeling of warmth around, I felt the need to drum up a light dinner yesterday, something that would be fresh and healthy yet filling. And for me in particular, grain free if possible.

Reading through a few food blogs, the idea of bean salad - which fb memories had thrown up - hit my fancy. I decided to add cauliflower rice - which I had previously dismissed as a bit pretentious - to the mix. For the fam, on the side I had an emergency side of dahi chawal in case anyone felt the food was insubstantial. The meal turned out to be delicious and surprisingly filling, so much so that A who'd been the first to turn his nose up and say 'That's all we're having', sated himself with 2 helpings and the dahi chawal remained pristine!

Salad - really it's a matter of whatever your ingenuity suggests and what you have in the fridge

1/2 cup rajma ( red kidney beans), uncooked
1/2 each of red and yellow capsicum, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 teaspoon roast cumin powder
Juice of 1-2 limes ( depends how juicy they are. We're getting dried up ones here)
1/2 cup cooked corn
1 handful coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Rock salt to taste ( we're trying to switch to this as it's supposed to be healthier)

Soak the beans overnight and then pressure cook for 1-2 whistles until done. Or use the quick soak method I learned from Madhur Jaffrey - Soak for 1 hour, cook for 1 whistle in the pressure cooker. Leave to cool for an hour and pressure cook for 1-2 whistles again.

Leave the beans to cool - they should be at room temperature when you put together the salad, so it's best to get them done and out of the way much before your planned meal.
The rest is super simple - just mix all the ingredients together, including the beans and serve with a smile. I can think of endless changes to ring on this - adding radish, spring onions, peas, lettuce or baby spinach...replacing the cumin with chaat thing I am going to try soon is adding feta cheese to it.

Cauliflower Rice

1 cauliflower, grated fine
1 tsp oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Sprinkle of water

In a cast iron wok, put the oil on to heat. Toss in the cumin seeds and toast lightly. Add the cauliflower and sprinkle lightly with water. Cook, covered with a tightly fitting lid, for a 3-4 minutes and then check if its soft - should be al dente, not mushy. Uncover and cook for a minute and take off the heat. Add salt, if using, and mix gently.

We topped the bean salad with this and added chana masala from Haldirams - a spicy version of roast chana - for extra crunch. Super!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Threenut butter

I've been intrigued by the concept of almond butter for a while now but didn't know where to source it from. On a recent visit to New York, I spotted a Nut Butter which had peanuts and almonds and tasted great. But I sadly had to leave a less-than-quarter-finished jar behind, for fear of oil seeping into my suitcase.

Once I was back, I really wanted to experiment with making the same. Coincidentally, I kept getting ads from something called Butternut Company selling Nut butters but they seemed really expensive. Then I decided to just bite the bullet (nut), and try making it myself at home.

Turned out, it was really easy and as it was made at home, it met my new food goal of avoiding processed foods as far as possible. Tastes great and probably didn't cost as much as it would have if I'd bought it. This time, I cheated and used some organic peanut butter we had lying around at home, since the shop had screwed up and sent peanuts with the skin on. Next time, I shall try with all three nuts in the mix. Luckily, my Moulinex mixie didn't burn out in the process!

1/2 cup cashew nuts
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup organic peanut butter ( preferably peanuts)
1 tbsp ghee

Roast all three nuts slowly in a medium-hot kadhai with a little bit of homemade ghee until lightly brown. Keep aside until they cool down thoroughly. Mix the nuts. Add a little at a time into the mixie and pulse, pausing in between for the motor to cool down, until the mixture turns into a thick, dough-like consistency and you don't have any whole nuts left.

You can add 1 tbsp ghee little by little, during the pulsing process, to ensure the mixture stays moist and turns buttery, not powdery. If you like it chunky vs smooth, pulse  until you get the right texture. Enjoy with an apple, banana or mix into icecream!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Spanish Salsa Verde...or the dip that goes with anything

We love dips. All I need to do to get my kids to eat kore desi chutneys is to rebrand them dips and I think we'll be going through a few bowls of them a week. Thus I'm always on the lookout for new recipes for dips. Last year while we were visiting my friend Suniti on holiday, she served us this amazing green dip that went well with everything on the table - roasted baby potatoes, grilled broccoli, toasties and grilled shrimp. She has had it when she travelled to Spain on her first solo holiday and loved it so much she got the recipe and reproduced it back home.

With my forgetfulness, I'm sure I don't have the original recipe anymore. But what I do make is delicious, fresh and goes well with anything. The other night, when we had friends over for dinner, we served this with assorted grilled veggies - baby carrots, broccoli, mushroom and zucchini, and pita chips and it went down a treat! I bet it'd work great as a salad dressing too. I have no photos because it gets inhaled as soon as it is served...but just imagine a bowl of green, aromatic deliciousness...

1 bunch parsley
3-4 pods garlic, finely chopped - last week I had freshly grown garlic bulbs and leaves from the mandi so I used that instead
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil but not to smoking point. As soon as it gets hot, switch off the stove and toss in the garlic and salt. Stir gently and ensure the garlic gets cooked till translucent and soft but not browned ( which will turn it bitter). Toss in the parsley and leave aside to cool. I also added chilli flakes and sometimes I toss in a spritz of lime...

Monday, January 16, 2017

3 Bean Chili

We love to have meals replete with vegetables in the winter. That's the season in which we get the best veggies in Delhi, so salads, freshly made soups, baked and roast vegetables are very welcome. Yesterday was one of those meals since we had just harvested a great crop of Lollo Rosso lettuce from our garden and had many other veggies on hand.

The first time I had Chili - which I have blogged about earlier - was in Seattle years ago. Due to an unusual stroke of luck, dad and I were both working on a client project and had to travel to Seattle. While there, the client took the team on a walkabout of the city. After a couple of hours, dad was tiring out so the two of us decided to opt out of the rest of the walk and look for dinner. We found a tiny but cozy establishment near Pike's Place Market and spied vegetarian Chili on the menu. It was a fabulous intro to the dish, with complex flavours, a chunky texture and a topping of browned cheese. I have recreated it innumerable times since.

Yesterday's version was a little different. Beans are a family of edibles that have always fascinated me. Not the green kind but the dried ones. So any soup recipe that calls for beans is always tried out. Yesterday, since we happened to have three varieties of beans on hand, I decided to make an experimental Chili.

3 cans of cooked beans ( I used one of aduki, one of butter beans and one of black beans), rinsed and drained
2 onions, finely chopped
4-5 pieces of garlic, crushed
2 tomatoes, grated, with their juice
1 cup tomato puree
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder
Salt to taste
2-3 chillies, chopped fine
1 green capsicum, 1 red capsicum, chopped
2 cups yellow pumpkin, diced
2 cups water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
Finely minced coriander leaves for garnish

Heat the oil; add the garlic and onions and stir until translucent. Add in the cumin and coriander powder and mix well. Add in the chillies, tomato puree and grated tomatoes, the capsicum and pumpkin and the 2 cups of water. Let it come to a boil and simmer for about 10-12 minutes until the pumpkin is half cooked.

Add the beans, chocolate powder and a touch more water if required, the chili powder and paprika and the salt. Mix well and taste to check seasoning - we like it spicier so I probably added more than 1 tsp chili powder. Then let simmer on medium flame for about 15-20 minutes more.

Ladle it out into oven-proof bowls and top with the grated cheese ( and breadcrumbs if using). Pop into a pre-heated oven at about 175 degrees for 5 minutes or till cheese is melted. Garnish with minced coriander.

Serve as is or with a dash of sour cream and Pico de gallo ( tomato salsa).

Our dinner yesterday consisted of a salad with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and walnuts in a feta and olive oil dressing, a potato each baked in its jacket with a dash of Amul salted butter and the 3 bean Chili. Healthy and delicious!

Sephardic Almond Cake

JLF, or Jaipur Literature Festival has now been an agenda on my winter horizon for the past 6 years. Every year, with some of my dearest friends, I spend 3-4 days soaking in panel discussions about eclectic topics, readings from books I haven't heard of before and interviews with new authors to be discovered. For the most part, we have stayed focussed on the festival itself, with a rare break for coffee or a shopping and lassi run during a one hour lunch break.

But a couple of years ago, it began pouring on day 2 of the fest. One of the trio was stuck on a flight that got directed from Mumbai to Delhi, Ahmedabad and then Jaipur due to the downpour, thus postponing her arrival time to sometime that evening. The other two - my soulsister M and I - rattled around the environs of the sodden Diggi Palace for a dispirited hour or so before we decided to make tracks.

We had heard about some interesting stores around Jaipur including Dhora, so we decided to head there. Anokhi Cafe happened to be a hop, skip and jump away so we landed up there for lunch. Unfortunately, so had half the litfest crowd, so we had a pretty long wait before we could finally sit and order. We opted for the salads with blue cheese and other fixings, which were absolutely marvellous - the rocket and lettuce about the freshest I have ever seen. And then we opted, rarely for us, for dessert. The Sephardic Cake sounded interesting and we decided to try it. Love at first bite!!! It was simply the most moist and flavourful cake we had ever tasted, with a fragrant citrusy tang to it.

Ever since, I have wanted to recreate it myself, and this year, for New Year's Eve, I finally did. It was magnificent - truly a worthy cake to bring in a new year, with enough comfort and exotica to be the perfect mix. And most of all, given my predilections, easy to make!!! Try it, you won't regret it.

2 oranges
200 grams almond meal
200 grams sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp baking powder

Boil the whole oranges for 1.5 hours or until they are soft - peel and all. Cut, de-seed and puree the whole thing - peel and all!
Beat the eggs until fluffy. Beat in the almond meal, sugar and baking powder. If you like, add a splash of vanilla and some saffron.
Bake in a preheated oven in a lined or floured 9 inch tin at 190 degrees for an hour or until the inserted knife comes out clean.

Sprinkle icing sugar on top if you really want to decorate this masterpiece of simplicity, or curls of orange peel. But frankly it doesn't need any gussying up. Serve warm, with a side of mascarpone or cream if needed.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Black as Midnight Cake

When we lived in Singapore, mom once bought a desserts cookbook, mostly about cakes and so on. It had really interesting recipes, a few photographs of the finished dishes and in between were interwoven poems, anecdotes and the like, all to do with cooking. It was a delight to leaf through it, and the one recipe I was attracted to at once was for a Black as midnight cake. Over the years, we have made it several times. I think I've made it at least once for a bakesale at school. Mom once baked it for a New Year's Eve party but forgot the sugar. Thankfully the Cadbury's chocolate powder we had used was pre-sweetened so we had a somewhat grown-up tasting but still sweet cake. Another time one of us left out either the eggs or the baking powder so we had a dense cake, though it was still delicious.

I had forgotten about this and then recently when Bojji pestered me to bake a cake for his birthday, hit upon this as a pretty special and new-to-the-kids recipe, since what Bojji actually wanted was a cheesecake, but we didn't have Philadelphia Cream Cheese at home. Turns out it is as easy to make as I remembered, and turns out a delicious cake - light, yet moist, and large enough to feed the unnaturally large appetites of several children and grown-ups. Layered with a salted caramel sauce and icecream on the side, it is one of the few things getting us through The Great Cash Crunch of 2016!

2 cups regular flour
1 cup sugar ( if large crystals); 1.5 cups if smaller size crystals
3/4 cup cocoa ( I prefer regular Hershey's but you can go all swank and try dark chocolate powder)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 pinch salt

2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 cup brewed black coffee ( no sugar)
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Sift the dry ingredients together in the order given. Then add the wet ingredients in the order given. Mix well. Pour into 1 or 2 9 inch diameter lined or greased and floured baking pans. Pop into a pre-heated oven at 150 centigrade for 35 minutes, then crank up to 175 centigrade for another 15 minutes. If baking in 2 pans, do remember to interchange the pans halfway through the baking so they both get equal amounts of heat.

Top with a sift of icing sugar, black frosting, dark chocolate ganache, salted caramel...well you get the picture, I hope. We barely did, since it was eaten up so quickly!!!