Thursday, February 28, 2008

Half Moons

Half-moon shaped treats are common across cultures, from the middle east, where they are stuffed with spiced meat or dates and nuts to Italy where they are stuffed with cheese and spinach to India, where we make kadubu for Ganesh chathurthi. I've always loved the fresh coconut kadubus, with their moist, rich filling of fresh grated coconut, jaggery and cardamom powder playing off the crunchy flour case. But I had never had savoury kadubus until a couple of years ago when my grandmom was visiting.

For the first time ever, we were together on her birthday so I wanted to have a party for her. But the catch was that she doesn't eat onions and garlic whereas I'm hardpressed to find savoury recipes without these ingredients. Luckily it occurred to me to dig out my trusty Gujaratai cookbook by Tarla Dalal and I found a recipe for ghughras - little kadubus stuffed with spiced peas. Sounded nice to me so I made them and they turned out incredibly well. Tried'em again last week as practice for Chubbocks' upcoming birthday party next week. Easy Peasy, and so pretty!
Filling ingredients
2 cups peas
2 tsp ginger-green chilli paste
Salt to taste
Pinch asafoetida
Handful freshly grated coconut
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp jeera ( cumin seeds)
Handful freshly chopped coriander leaves
Coarsely grind the peas with the ginger-green chilli paste until they are still grainy but mashed up.
Heat a bit of oil in a wok and add the jeera. When it turns toasty, add the asafoetida. Add the peas and a little water ( 1/2 cup) and cook, first covering up the wok and later uncovering it and letting the water boil away until the peas are well-cooked.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Ghughra Flour Case
2 cups flour
2 tbsp ghee
Water as needed
Mix the three and knead into a stiff dough, like for puris.
Break into 14 small balls and roll each one out into a thin circle about 5 cm in diameter. Heap the ghughra filling onto one half of the circle, taking care not to go too near the edge. Fold the other half of the circle over and pinch the ends of the circle together ( so it looks like a half moon) so that there is no opening from where oil can get in ( this is important, else the ghughras will taste dry).
Deep fry each ghughra on a medium heat until pale brown. Serve hot with a coriander or tomato chutney.
I also like the filling by itself, so we often make it as an accompaniment to rotis, without mashing the peas up.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pizza Parlour

Some years ago, when A and I were on holiday in Italy, we discovered what real pizza is like, and we fell hard for it. So much so that now I can't stand Pan pizzas of the kind churned out by Pizza Hut or Dominos. I also don't like the rather naan-like pizza bases that are available in the market. A couple of years ago, while on holiday in the US, my sister had taken us to a little restaurant called Pizza Antica which served really interesting pizzas - all on a thin Italian base. So last week, since I had been mulling over the thought of experimenting with pizzas at home, I remembered that experience and decided to really go wild with the toppings.

The base too, I made from scratch - and let me say at the outset that I'm really bad at working with yeast - those things never turn out quite right. But I was determined to try and to add a twist to the base too. So I soaked some dried yeast in hot water, and mixed it into the plain flour along with a pinch of salt and sugar, as well as some Italian herbs. For the toppings, we had a choice of four variants:
a. Potatoes, English Gloucester and feta cheese
b. Roast aubergines and tomatoes with mozzarella and parmesan
c. Pan-fried spinach and roast garlic with mozzarella; and
d. Pears with Danish Blue cheese and walnuts

I sliced the potatoes really thin and parboiled them for the first pizza. For the second, I pre-roasted the thinly sliced aubergines and tomatoes; for the third, the shredded spinach was shallow-fried in olive oil until a little crisp, while a bulb of garlic was roasted in the oven with a glug of olive oil poured on top, and for the last one, I just put everything together and popped it into the oven.

All the pizzas were delicious, though I do need to think of something to add a little more excitement to the potato-topped one. The roasted aubergines and plum tomatoes were caramelised by their time in the oven, and the little bits of Feta addded the right contrast of saltiness to create an absolutely heavenly mouthful. The spinach-garlic one also had a lovely intermingling of textures, and the sweet roasted garlic added just the right touch. The last one was the favourite, though. I had been thinking for a while that slightly caramelised pears would be a wonderful contrast to Blue cheese and that the two flavours would go really well together. And I always like walnuts with either camembert or blue cheese, so I popped them on top as a last minute inspiration. This pizza had a really hedonistic flavour and we loved the juxtaposition of the sweet pears with the intenseness of the blue cheese and the crunch of crisp walnuts.

This was a really fun kitchen experiment and I'm getting all excited about doing it again, either just for the family or when we have a small group of friends over. I'm sending this entry over to weekend herb blogging, hosted this week by Lia. It strikes me that this is a great way to get kids to eat up their veggies too - because pizza always entices kids, no matter what's on top! I will say, though, that next time, I'll let the pear and walnut pizza get half-done before adding on the blue cheese. Of course, next time around I also have to make sure we're not so hungry we don't wait for the camera and just click with the cellphone. Also - am seriously crap at geometry so my pizzas aren't any recognizeable shape...
(PS Pictures will be up shortly)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I have liked whatever I have tasted of middle-eastern food so far, from the ubiquitous Lebanese which used to come in handy whenever I didn't feel like cooking back when we lived in France, to Moroccan Tagines to Turkish Imam Bayildis and all the bean dishes which we gorged on last summer in Istanbul. So I recently bought a couple of cookbooks - one on Middle-eastern food and one on African recipes - which I was really keen on trying out. It's been a pretty hectic time for us for many reasons, and we've been eating out a lot, including really heavy Indian food, so I thought Middle-eastern food would have just the right touch of flavour and lightness with the added benefits of both familiarity and exoticity.

Couscous sounded like the right thing to serve, along with a simple warm bean salad. I had encountered couscous years ago at a French friend's home. She had gone to great trouble to make a bowl of vegetarian couscous for me as I was the only vegetarian at the party. Unfortunately her recipe had dates, raisins and was overwhelmingly sweet which is something I don't care for in a main course. My recipe book had all kinds of meat-based couscous recipes and the only vegetarian one needed roasting vegetables for 2 hours, which I just wasn't feeling up to. So I figured I'd invent a recipe for myself and went along. Both the salad and the couscous were delicious and loved by even my son who is a picky eater, and the meal was exactly what I was looking for - light, nutritious and infused with a sense of harmony and well-being. What a way to start a week!

This post is going over to Skinny Gourmet for Weekend Herb Blogging.

Warm Bean Salad
1 pound Green beans, peeled and cooked ( I boiled them in salted water until done)
100 gms Feta Cheese, cubed
1 red onion, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
10-15 black or green olives
Juice of 1 lime
Heat the olive oil. Add the onion and tomato and saute for a minute, then add the green beans and the Feta cheese. Stir to mix for a couple of minutes and turn off the heat. Add the olives and the lime juice, mix and serve. Feel free to top a handful of walnuts or pinenuts.

Gravy Ingredients:
1/2 green, yellow and red bell pepper cut into strips
1 onion, julienned
1 zucchini, cubed
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
300 ml water
1 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp paprika
Salt to taste
2 tomatoes, cubed
Heat the olive oil. Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to turn toasty. Add the garlic and onions and saute until the onion turns translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook until they turn soft. Add the zucchini and the 300 ml water, salt and paprika. Cook on a low heat, covered, for five minutes, then take the cover off and let simmer until the zucchini starts turning translucent. Add the bell peppers and keep simmering until all the vegetables are cooked.

Meanwhile, put a tbsp of olive oil into a saucepan and heat. Turn the heat off and add 250 gms of couscous and stir to mix. Add 1/4 cup of warm water and mix with a fork or your fingers until the couscous grains start plumping up. Leave aside until the gravy is done. Then add a few shavings of butter into the warm couscous and work with your fingers until the butter is melted and the couscous grains plump and shiny.

Assemble by serving a mound of couscous on each plate, making a shallow crater in the middle and pouring the gravy into the crater. Serve hot.

Monday, February 11, 2008

RCI - Gujarati Food

Many years ago, we decided to go on a ten-day tour of Gujarat, since my sister had an interview at IIM A and my dad's organisation had several regional offices that he needed to visit. Those were the old days, before budget airlines, so we all travelled by train, an overnight journey to Ahmedabad. Of course, the trip started on a funny note as, after yelling at all of us to make sure we had packed everything we needed, Mom forgot her entire suitcase at home, As soon as we landed in Ahmedabad, we had to call on a friendly colleague of dad's who hauled us off to a narby market and Mom bought several sarees, plus petticoats, and even found a tailor who delivered several well-stitched blouses overnight.

Our only worry before going was the food. Not the vegetarian aspect of it, since we are all veg, but the fact that rumour had it all Gujarati food was sweet tasting. We had had a few Gujju snacks - dhokla which we all loved, Shrikhand which was a summer staple at our place, muthias, theplas and khakras - but having every meal with a selection of sweetish dishes seemed like too much of a good thing. We needn't have worried. The kind lady who helped mom shop also took us to a restaurant for breakfast. One warm helping of Phaaphdas with chutney and we were hooked. We had an amazing journey through Gujarat - Ahmedabad, Lothal, Gandhinagar, Junagadh, Somnath, Dwarka, Baroda etc, and we felt like mini-kings or at least like Raj relics as, since Dad was an extremely high-ranking central government officer, at each station the guard used to come up to him and ask if it was okay for the train to start. Cool, eh?

Many years later, I bought a copy of Tarla Dalal's Gujarati cookbook and gujju dishes like this have been pretty much part of the Sunday repertoire whenever I get cooking. For RCI - Gujarat, I wanted to make some new stuff, though. I had planned on an entire meal including dessert but we ran short of time after grocery shopping so dessert was the yummy Basundi - a thickened milk dessert flavoured with saffron - packaged by Amul which I bought on my last visit to Ahmedabad.

The meal I served, though no match for Pakwan, was:
Trevtia dal and
Gajar-shimla-mirch sambhaar with
Methi Theplas

Simple, flavourful and delicious and, best of all, light!

Trevtia Dal
1/2 cup green split moong dal
1/2 cup arhar dal
1/2 cup chana dal
1 tomato, chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
2 dried red chillies
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp asafoetida
3-4 cloves
Red chilli powder
2 green chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp vegetable oil
salt to taste
Pressure cook the three dals together for 3 whistles. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok. add the cumin seeds. When they darken, add the red chillies, asafoetida and turmeric. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the tomato and cook until soft. Add the green chillies, red chilli powder, cloves and the cooked dals. add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the lime juice and salt and simmer for 10 minutes. I garnished with fresh coriander leaves which always add a refreshing fragrance to any savoury dish.
Gajar-Shimla Mirch Sambhaar
Sambhaar is a gujarati masala mix and not the south Indian dish one serves with dosa, I found out.
It is made by mixing 1 cup yellow mustard seeds, 1/4 th cup fenugreek seeds, 1.25 cups red chilli powder, 2 cups salt, 2 tbsp asafoetida and 1 cup oil. You just heat the oil, let it cool and throw over the mixture of the rest of the ingredients. It tastes best a few days after it is made.
For the Gajar Shimla mirch sabzi, you just cube two carrots and green capsicums, saute them in a mustard-seeds tempering with a pinch of asafoetida until cooked but crunchy and pour 3 tbsps of the sambhaar masala over it. It tastes better if left for about an hour to take in the flavour of the masala.
Theplas (for 12-14)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup curd/ yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
2 tablespoons oil
salt to taste
Mix into a soft, pliable dough, using water only if required. Add sauteed methi leaves if you like ( we love them) while mixing the dough. Roll them out to 5" diameter rounds and cook on a hot tava until both sides have brown spots, using a few drops of oil along the way. Serve hot.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Indian Food

Haven't had much time or mindspace for cooking lately, with Puddi's illness and hospitalisation. But she's fine now, back to being the family dog ( i.e. begging for scraps off everyone's plate, no matter what they're eating!) and her usual zany self. I celebrated her return home by brewing up a pea soup with spinach greens sauteed with garlic, but haven't done much else.

But I came across this interesting book which I started reading while nursing Puddi in hospital. It's by an Indian food writer settled in the US ( Chitrita Banerji) who specialises in Bengali food but was on a self-imposed quest to find out more about the origins of the different styles of cooking in India. Her chapter on Bengali food, especially that served at weddings made me slurp deliriously, even though I'm vegetarian. I of course immediately turned to the chapter on Karnataka food which I admit was a bit of a let-down because it hardly mentioned the varied types of cuisine and was not informed or knowledgeable enough, in my opinion.

Sadly, the book mysteriously vanished after I had completed these two chapters and I could neither find it in the hospital room or at home so I assume it's vapourised into that great library in the sky. I'll have to buy myself a new copy because I found the little that I dipped into quite intriguing...