Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Desserts

Did I ever tell you about how I came to work at a French creperie? Well, it all started when I graduated from High School in Singapore a year ahead of time. We knew we were moving back to India but the Indian Government had been up and down about Dad’s posting dates, so we didn’t know exactly when we’d be back. So I’d taken extra courses and graduated early and now I was underage for college in India so I had nothing to do. One day when mom and I were out at a mall, she spotted a sign asking for assistance at a French bakery so she egged me on to put in a one-line resume and our phone number. The next thing I knew, they called me for an interview and I was hired as the girl manning the crepe stand at the food court in the Metro mall on Orchard Road.

The crepe stand was a new venture by two young Frenchmen in their mid-twenties. I of course only remember the name of the one on whom I had a crush – Bruno. His partner used to be the manager of the stand I worked at. We had about 6 square feet of space at a small supermarket, and it consisted of a table with a crepe machine sitting on top and space below to store paper plates and so on. My job was not only to make the crepes but also to wander around the food court giving samples out to entice customers into buying them, because they were new to Singapore.

When I began working there, Bruno and his partner had exactly three fillings for the crepes – butter and sugar, butter and jam and jambon – ham. They asked me to try and come up with new fillings, so my friend from school, Ginger - who worked at the yogurt stand next door that summer - and I used to brainstorm to come up with new flavourings. Cinnamon was one flavor I remember Ginger coming up with. We came up with banana, and chocolate (Nutella), then banana-nutella, granola…Ginger and I used to have a lot of fun coming up with these during our lunch breaks.

I remember all kinds of funny things happened at that crepe stand. First, one day the batter finished and when I called my boss to tell him that, he just said, “Well, buy it from the supermarket”. I was flabbergasted and spent a good hour wandering around in search of the batter before it occurred to me that language may have gotten the better of us and called him to say it was the batter – crepe mix – that I was talking about and not the butter – le beurre. It got so confusing for him that I wrote out the old tongue-twister, Betty Botter bought some butter and gifted it to him. Another time, I noticed that every day by about midday, the batter, if it had been left over from the previous day, would start smelling bad and then the crepes would start coming out spoilt – they wouldn’t spread easily but drop out in little gobs and stick to the crepe machine surface. At first my boss thought I was doing something wrong, and then we both started getting puzzled about it. Then one day my boss figured it out – the supermarket manager used to turn off all the electricity at night, including for the refrigerator where the leftover batter was stored.

It was fun working at that stand, and I got to make a decent amount of money. The crepe machine was a doddle to operate – you filled the batter in a little rectangular pan that stood at one end and ran on wheels. You brushed some butter on the hot surface and then pulled the rectangular pan from one end of the hot plate to the other, applying pressure evenly to a pair of handles – kind of like pliers’ handles – that stuck out from the long sides of the rectangular pan, and that meant that a small crack opened up on the floor of the pan and poured out an even thickness of crepe batter along the hot plate. Brush a little more melted butter onto the crepe, dust caster sugar/ jam or jambon onto the crepe, roll it up using the spatula and serve up with your best French smile!

I even learned to make crepes flambé, which was spectacular, especially in the relatively bland environs of the food court – douse a butter and sugar crepe in rum and set it alight. The showmanship came in folding up the crepe even as flames were shooting out – you had to be really fast – and serving it up onto a plate. Every time a large crowd was in the food court, I’d flambé a crepe and then the next hour or so be flooded with orders.

We didn’t end up having crepes too often while we lived in France. I think we were so starved for spicy snacks and food, that sweet stuff just didn’t appeal to us at that point. And I’d never made crepes from scratch by myself. But the thought of making crepes suddenly occurred to me yesterday morning as I was debating what to make for Christmas lunch. I usually put on a spread that involves a fair degree of work, mostly because I have a tiny oven so any meal that involves baking more than one dish becomes a production and a masterclass in timing. And I like making what I think of as typically continental fare for Christmas – though vegetarian – baked vegetables, quiches, pies, potatoes dauphinoise – that sort of thing. But this year I’ve been so exhausted lately and last night we were out late for our anniversary dinner and then up early for Christmas present-opening with the kids so I was making a simple meal. Crepes seemed like the perfect way to end it – simple yet flamboyant and exotic.

They were surprisingly easy to put together from scratch, and very easy to make. Even better, they need really careful monitoring of the amount of butter used – my kind of recipe! Too much and they won’t come out right. I started out with butter and sugar ones, then for the kids I made two with Nutella. But I really wanted the flambé, reminiscent of Christmas pudding, so I cut up some oranges in half and made one crepe with sugar and orange halves, folded it up, smothered it in Benedictine and set it alight. That was a spectacle, alright, with flames shooting high up.

I don’t have great pictures, because you get the best effect with the lights turned down low, which means I’m groping in the dark for the matches and by the time I’ve found them half the liqueur has caramelized away and so on. But I’d highly recommend this super-easy dessert for a small gathering. It looks incredibly complicated and oomphy, tastes great and, like all my favourite recipes, you can ring in your own changes. For instance, tonight we had some batter left, so in remembrance of an amazing liqueur we’d bought at Freiburg once, I made crepes Flambé with orange peel and kahlua – truly delicious. I wouldn’t be surprised if crepes made with Nutella topped with Frangelico taste fabulous – an adult chocolate experience – or ones doused in Godiva…the possibilities are endless!

Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
1 egg
3/4 cup of milk
For flavouring:
Caster sugar
Orange peel/Cut oranges/Thinly sliced Apples/ Nutella/ cinnamon powder
Tablespoon of liqueur for flambeing - you can use any clear liqueur, from Kirsch to Frangelico, Kahlua...

Make a paste of the egg and flour and gradually add in the milk, whisking slowly to avoid forming lumps. Keep aside for half hour.

Use a nonstick pan for making the crepes. Take 2-3 paper towels and dab a bit of butter on them, and rub the paper on the frying pan. Be careful to use only the minimum butter needed to grease the pan.

The batter should be pouring consistency - use a few more teaspoonsful of milk to thin it out if needed - it should pour easily from a jug. Pour some batter into the frying pan and swirl the pan around to coat completely.

Pour off excess batter if any.

Sprinkle some caster sugar on the crepe.

Add oranges/ orange peel/ whatever. Fold over the two sides towards the middle.




Douse in the liqueur and, working quickly, set it alight and serve up.


With practice, you can serve it up while flames are still shooting up, which looks phenomenal. You should turn the lights down before you flambe so it looks even more spectacular!




Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poached pears

I had read about this at premium restaurants but never tried it, so a couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to try it out. The dish certainly looks really pretty, no? And it's pretty simple if you ignore the long marination period (2 days). So while not a dessert to be thrown together for an impromptu evening, it's certainly one to be tried for a formal event.

Ingredients:
2 pears - firm but sweet
Red wine - enough to immerse the two pears in
1 stick cinnamon
3-4 cloves
1 tbsp sugar (depending on sweetness of pears)
1 tsp lime juice
Vanilla icecream to serve, as an option

Skin the pears, leaving the stems on and marinate in a tall jar with enough wine so the pears are immersed. Turn them over after a few hours if you are placing them sideways. After 24 hours, take out the pears carefully, and put the wine on to heat at a simmer. Add the cinnamon and the cloves, the sugar and let it simmer for about 15 minutes before turning off the heat. Add the pears back and let it marinate for a further day in the fridge.

Serve on a plate, or - my preferred option - in a wine glass. If you like, you can place a bed of vanilla icecream in the glass before resting the pear on it. Feel free to drink up the spiced wine as is or heated up - mulled wine at its best!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Festive Meals

My parents home, while incorporating many cosmopolitan elements in terms of décor, style or menus, has remained pretty traditional when it comes to festivals. And in my quest to preserve some traditions in a relatively non-traditional family, I like to make meals on festival days very traditional and South Indian.

South Indian Brahmins are vegetarian, so the food served on festival days and occasions like weddings is vegetarian. In fact, as strict Brahmins, many South Indians avoid even onions and garlic in their cooking, believing them to have Tamsik elements which are incompatible with the pure thirst for knowledge and detachment that is supposed to be the goal of Brahmins. Even vegetables which are considered 'foreign' or earthy, like potatoes, are avoided on festival days.


Festive meals include one sweet item, a dal-based gravy dish like huli or saaru, kosambri – a salad made of julienned cucumber or finely grated carrot, or sometimes soaked chana dal or moong dal and dressed with lime juice, green chilli, chopped coriander and fresh grated coconut and seasoned with a mustard seed-curry leaves and heeng garnish, a dry vegetable, typically beans or ladies finger and rice. In my mother's home, a flavoured rice of some kind is de rigueur – lemon rice, tamarind rice or a rice spiked with a special pulao powder and mixed with a special selection of carefully chosen vegetables – tinda by itself, or green peppers with peas, fenugreek leaves by themselves or peas when the fresh peas really kick in. Even the order in which things are served on the plate and eaten has a special significance.


We start by serving a spoonful of the sweet – kheer, sajjige or whatever else in the bottom right. The kosambri at the top left. On the right of the kosambri comes the dry vegetable. Below the sweet comes a spoon of fresh homemade tuppa or ghee. A mound of plain rice is served in the center of the plate. The saaru or huli is served next to the rice. The spiced rice is usually served to the left of the plain rice.


The meal starts with the head of the house making a ceremonial ring of water drops around his plate, and then everyone begins their meal. The first morsel to be eaten has to be the sweet. Once that is finished, everyone is free to move on to whatever they want to eat, but a repeat helping of the sweet is necessary after the saaru-anna has been eaten. And we end the meal with curd-rice.


This year, for Deepawali, as mom was in the US with my sister, we all ate at our place, dad included. The sweets included payasa made with poppy seeds, sajjige – a halwa made with cream of wheat, and dad brought one of his favourite kannadiga desserts – kesari bhaat, or saffron-rice. I made saaru which my kids love, and lemon rice which is easy for everyone to eat, and for the cook to make.


Poppy seeds payasa is something that I never cared for as a child. It's only as an adult that I have developed a taste for it, and now I find the complex flavours delicious. It's also an easy one to make and healthy as it uses jaggery instead of sugar. And after the scramble of getting up early to do an oil ceremony for everyone, bathing and then rushing through the cooking in time to participate in the puje, I find its promise of sound sleep extremely beneficial J.


Poppy seeds Payasa


1 tbsp poppy seeds

1 tbsp rice

½ grated coconut

4-5 tbsp of jaggery, or to taste
1 tsp powdered cardamom
400 ml water

Soak the poppy seeds and rice in a little water for half hour. Blend with the coconut in a mixie until finely blended. Add to the water and set on to boil. Add the jaggery when it starts boiling, and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes after that. Top with the cardamom powder.


You can garnish with roasted cashews or slivers of coconut before serving. Tastes good, hot or cold!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baked Vegetables

Back in the '80s in India, whenever people had parties, it was time for them to display culinary chops by way of serving unusual dishes from other cuisines. Those were the years characterized by menus which would have rajma chawal and paneer side by side with a Chinese Chop Suey, a dessert of agar-agar-laced China Grass or the ubiquitous baked vegetables, amongst the few households that owned such an esoteric piece of equipment as the oven. The baked vegetables would typically be a mix of potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and peas in white sauce topped with Amul processed cheese. I personally never liked the dish as I found it limp and the mix unappetizing.

Today's menus take in a much larger territory and typically try and serve everything from one type of cuisine, unless it's a buffet or a multi-cuisine banquet. So it's far more done to find a meal of Chinese, Thai or regional Indian cuisines at dinner parties, and baked vegetables, if served are in a context of similar dishes. In fact it's quite rare to find baked vegetables on any menu because they are passe. But done well, they can be delicious and interesting.

At the vegetable market over the weekend I found onion flowers and leeks which were reasonably priced, as well as Brussels sprouts which I love served baked with cheese. So last night when we had guests over for dinner, I thought it might be fun to try a combination of all three vegetables in a baked dish. The mixture turned out really well, though if I made it again I'd increase the quantity of Brussels sprouts, as otherwise they can tend to get lost in the mix. The sweet, meltingly soft roast onions are a wonderful contrast to the slight bitterness and chewiness of Brussels sprouts. This is definitely something to try again.

Ingredients:


1 pound onion flowers, cut into inch-long sticks


1 pound Brussels sprouts (I used about 100 gms yesterday and found it less than I wanted), cut into half cm rounds


500 gms leeks, cut into 1 cm thick rounds


1 tsp vegetable oil


200 gms light cream


½ cup milk


1 cup grated parmesan cheese


Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Mix the milk, cheese, cream, salt and pepper well. Roast the onion flowers in 1 tsp vegetable oil until wilted and soft but still vibrant green. Layer an oven-proof dish with the onion flowers, followed with the Brussels sprouts and then the leeks. Pour over a quarter of the cream-cheese mixture. Continue layering until all the vegetables are used up and end with a top layer of the cheese-milk-cream mixture.


Bake for 50 minutes – 1 hour, checking from time to time, until the top layer is lightly browned. Serve hot

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nature’s feast

It seems to me as we grow older, that there are two ways we can evolve. One way is to eschew everything about the natural state, and run screaming in the direction of Botox, facelifts and steroids, hoping to stave off the process of ageing itself. The other way is to go in the direction of vintage wine, ageing gracefully and allowing the bounty of nature given by God to mature and ripen and offer its deepest and most complex flavours. Of course, making sure that one is not corked!

In the same way, as I grow older, I seem to appreciate the beauty and bounty of nature more and more. Be it the contrast between the dark green, old-looking and rough-edged leaves of the Har-shingar tree juxtaposed with the fragility of its star-shaped white flowers laden with perfume, standing proudly on their bold-coloured orange stems or the abundance of fruit and vegetables that grace our markets in every season. On Saturday, I visited my favourite vegetable mandi in Munirka, near the Malai Mandir and was almost transfixed by the sheer variety of vegetables and fruit available. As usual, I was greedy and bought more than I think we can eat within a week, as the market is a little out of my way. But the luxury of being able to choose so many fresh, naturally ripened vegetables and fruit is one that I never cease to appreciate.


There were all kinds of exotic and mundane things available – from the kannadiga favourite seeme badnekaayi or Chayote, to onion flowers, looking like frailer versions of asparagus, to tender young asparagus itself. Leeks, white onions, sambar onions, spring onions and red ones. Sweet potatoes, new potatoes and ordinary ones. Five kinds of eggplant or brinjal, from the big, round one used for bhurtas to long purple Japanese ones, tiny green ones prized by the Thais, small purple ones perfect for Bagaare Baingan to slim, delicate looking white ones. Fresh greens, from Bibb and iceberg to lollo rosso, a big bunch of spinach, a bunch of methi or fenugreek greens, rocket, dill, coriander and some red leaves that I don't know the name of. All kinds of squashes and root vegetables, from sweet potatoes to yams to taro…The fruit stalls too were full, for once, with fruit ranging from Indian green pears to yellow Bartletts which I promptly bought for the purpose of poaching in red wine, pomegranates from Afghanistan, large and bursting with juice, red-cheeked apples and star-shaped disco papayas, oranges and custard apples, Maltas or navel oranges and persimmons, and of course, the humble yet much-loved banana…


I came home laden with bags full of farm-fresh produce and I can only hope that we manage to eat everything we bought before it goes bad. But the experience of buying and being able to select from such abundance, and more, cooking the produce in such a way as to bring its flavours alive without killing it in an overdose of oil or spices, and then enjoying every mouthful…Ahhhh, there is nothing that produces a greater sense of well-being.

For the past few days, I have been indulging in a guilty pleasure once the kids are on their way to the park. I shut the door behind them, revel in the momentary blessed silence, then head for the kitchen to rootle out a Malta and a sharp knife. I quarter the fruit and settle into my favourite armchair. Then I greedily stuff a piece of the fruit into my mouth, sucking the sharp, sweet-sour juices and enjoying every last drop as it dribbles into my throat and think, "Gar Firdaus bar rue zameen ast, hameen ast, wa hameen ast", Babar to the contrary!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

First Birthday Food


My youngest, Bojjandi, turned one yesterday. It was bitter-sweet - on the one hand I was happy I had managed to keep him alive given two siblings under six with a habit of strewing tiny toys around the house and not knowing their own strength. on the other hand, my littlest baby was also getting ready to move into toddler-hood, baby no more. I almost thought it was time for baby # 4 but the prospect of divorce and/ or working until the age of 95 made me decide 3 was enough to be going on with.

For his first birthday party, the food had to be something that he could eat. Moreover, I had had pest control done just two days before and the kitchen was lying strewn all over the dining room, so it had to be an easy menu. Finally I decided simplicity was going to be key and fixed the menu: Idlis with huli and coconut chutney, rice flavoured with vegetables and menthedittu, and carrot cake.

The Carrot Cake was a new one on me but I had been wanting to make one for quite a while, and when I saw the recipe in one of my favourite recipe books, I found it was healthy too - wholewheat flour, carrots, orange juice and vegetable oil. It turned out really well, though it was flatter than I expected, as I had baked it in a wide cake pan. I frosted it simply with cream cheese flavoured with honey and orange juice - something which didn't tax my cake-decorating skills of which, to say they are meagre would be high praise. And proof of the deliciousness of the said cake was Bojji gobbling it up and wailing loudly for seconds :)




Carrot Cake recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups wholemeal self-raising flour, or with 2.5 tsps of baking powder added

3-4 carrots, grated and squeezed dry

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup caster sugar

1 tsp nutmeg powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

3 eggs

1 cup walnuts, powdered (optional)

Zest of 1 orange and its juice



Beat together the orange zest, OJ, sugar and eggs until light and frothy. Add the vegetable oil, flour and spices and mix well. Add in the carrots and walnuts and mix together. Pour the cake batter into a greased and lined 8" baking pan and bake at 180 degrees for 1 hour - decide n baking time and temperature based on your oven's idiosyncrasies. Mine required baking at 160 for 35 minutes and the crust was close to burnt.



For the frosting, beat together 225 gms cream cheese with 2-3 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp OJ. You can also use this to sandwich the cake together and then top with Royal or Marzipan icing. Decorate as wished...





Monday, September 21, 2009

Back again

Have been off blogging for a long while thanks to not having a laptop...Now I've finally got one so here I come. Lots and lots of posts have been revolving in my head for ages...
One of the first things a resourceful and experimentative cook needs to learn is the fine art of 'jugaad'. Jugaad is an Indian term signifying street smarts - the art of using what resources you have at your disposal and accomplishing what you need to accomplish, without waiting for the perfect solution to present itself.

Recently A's birthday came up and I had had no time to preplan what I was going to do that day. A is not a chocolate cake fan, unless it's a special recipe, like my Chocolate Chestnut bombe, or the Chocolate fondant cake, so I racked my brains to come up with something he would like that would be interesting to make too. I had also been pondering my stash of frozen raspberries for a while, wanting to find something evocative to do with them.

As it turned out, I found a wonderful recipe for Almond Cake in Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess. It uses a cup of almonds, blitzed into powder, with eggs and sugar. It's typically made in a bundt pan, so the shape itself looks festive.

Simple: Beat together 4 egg yolks with 1 cup caster sugar. Add vanilla and the powdered almonds. Beat the whites until stiff and fold in. Bake in a nonstick bundt pan for one hour at 160 degrees centigrade (keep an eye on the cake while it's baking as each oven is a little different).

Well, at least that's what I thought. So I beat the yolks and whipped the whites and folded away and set it to bake. About 50 minutes later the cake was done, so I set it out to cool. Only to find that once cool, the cake simply would not emerge from the pan in one piece. Of course, I hadn't happened to have had a nonstick bundt pan so I had used an ordinary round pan copiously lined with wax paper, but given the moist and sticky nature of this cake, that didn't work. I might add, I had substituted powdered ordinary sugar as I was out of caster sugar - I am not one of nature's planners...

So here I was with great hunks of a sticky cake - not festive looking! Now what to do? The the thought of the raspberries jumped into my head and I decided to make a jugaad version of English trifle, with cream and raspberry sauce.

I took out my Spanish red and gold glass bowl and tossed a few hunks of almond cake into the bottom. Then I topped it with lightly sweetened beaten light cream and topped it with raspberry sauce, made by whipping defrosted raspberries with a little sugar, as the rasps were a little sour. I carried on layering until all the cake, cream and rasps were used up and chilled it until the rasp sauce was well set.

It turned out to be a fabulous concoction, with the sour-sweet raspberry sauce cooled by the whipped cream providing a lovely contrast to the sweet and moist cake. What do you think?









Friday, June 5, 2009

Middle eastern

I love Middle-eastern food. I first discovered it on my first visit to the US. My friend took me on a tour of New York, walking around all the famous avenues and streets and we finally wound up in the Village that evening for dinner. She ordered food that sounded strange – Baba ghanoush, falafel and so on – but because I knew she was vegetarian, I was safe and so eager to try it out. I fell in love with the fresh, light and zingy flavours but there was at that time no chance of getting anything similar in India. Many years later, when A and I moved to France, any time I felt too tired to cook, we'd go to the nearby Lebanese and order a take-out meal that sort of replicated a typical Indian meal. There was Baba ghanoush – similar to our beloved Baingan ka Bhurta, Mujaddara – lentils cooked with rice, akin to our Masoor Dal, and Pita bread.


Somewhere during that year we also discovered many other lovely flavours of this region – the parsley and Bulghur wheat salad and of course Hummous. I loved the simplicity of the hummous and its contrast with almost anything I could dip into it – crunchy crudités, chips, bread, croissants…It was a rediscovery of the humble Chickpea. Once back in India, we found many more restaurants serving hummous and other middle-eastern food items, but rarely did I find one with Hummous to my liking.


So much so that I've started making my own hummous and freezing large quantities so we always have some stock handy. My elder son loves it too, and is happy to have hummous with toast for breakfast or with crackers for a snack. I recently made it for a dinner with old friends, and we just all curled up around the living room table, eagerly dipping our pita bread chunks into it, while music and conversation both flowed. Bliss!


Ingredients:


1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked, or cooked using the quick soak method

1 tsp tahini paste ( or just use plain sesame seeds – 2 tsp)


Juice of 2 limes


4-5 cloves garlic


3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


½ cup water


Salt to taste


Olive slices and paprika to garnish


Grind together the chickpeas, sesame seeds, garlic and lime juice along with the water in a blender until you have a smooth puree. Tip out and add salt to taste. Top with half the olive oil and stir to mix well. Store in a fridge until 15 minutes before serving.


To serve: serve out into the bowl you intend to use. Scatter the olive slices and add a decorative sprinkle of paprika. Top with the olive oil and serve with toasted pita slices.


This is my entry for MLLA 12, begun by Susan and now continued by Haalo, hosted this month by Apu.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Second Chance

There are some things one just doesn't get the first time around. Trigonometry (actually, I'm not sure I'd get that even a second time around!), statistics, economics…peanut butter…

Yup, peanut butter. I grew up in India, where you don't get it – either to buy or as a taste – until I was about 12 and then we headed out to first Bangkok for a few years and later, Singapore. I went to the International/ American schools there. I discovered a whole new world of reading – Beverly Cleary with Ramona and Henry, Maud Hart Lovelace with Betsy, Lastuff.ura Ingalls Wilder and so on. I also discovered some interesting things in the cafeteria, which included something many of the American children's books and sitcoms rhapsodized about – peanut butter. At first I wasn't very adventurous about food except for an unfortunate predilection for strawberry flavoured things (synthetic strawberry flavor sucks, I've discovered). Eventually I tried a peanut butter sandwich or two, coaxed on by American school friends but I never understood what exactly about it was a big deal. Eventually I was forced to the conclusion that it was cultural differences, a conclusion that helped me accept a lot of peculiar things that year.

A couple of years later, when we were in Singapore and I was ready to be more adventurous about vegetarian food, at least, we bought a couple packs of Skippy's Peanut butter. I tried the smooth, I tried the chunky. Hmm, not so much, I thought. Then I tried something called Chocolate strips – the peanut butter and chocolate paste were packed in alternating stripes, so when you spread it on a piece of bread or toast, you got a light and dark brown striped thing that finally – finally – tasted good. We came back to India a couple of years later and peanut butter became something one had vaguely tried at some point, kinda like cigarettes, and decided to live without, with no regrets.

Well, recently I was at the neighbourhood hypermarket and came across Ben and Jerry's icecream. I'm not someone who liked fruit-flavoured icecream ( for that I prefer gelato or sorbets) so eschewing the Chunky monkey which is banana flavoured, they only had Chubby Hubby so I picked up a tub. Ben and Jerry's is one of my favourite icecream brands so I hoped for the best after I realized it had peanut butter in it. That night, after all three kids were finally asleep, A and I decided to treat ourselves to a little CH. One spoonful later and I was hooked. This was a lovely mélange of flavours and textures, with the sweet, silken chocolate and vanilla rubbing up against the slightly salty, chunky peanut butter. Awesome, was our verdict.

Then, a little while later, I was flying out of SFO airport and spotted a Ghirardelli's stand so I made a beeline for it and bought a pack of assorted chocolates. Back home, I found a peanut-butter flavoured chocolate. One bite and I was hooked, with the tiny pebbly peanut butter contrasting against silken chocolate all over again. Hmm, peanut butter seems like a good thing, I thought and bought a jar of Skippy's smooth PB. I made myself toast for breakfast a few days later and with a smear of PB and J on it, I realized I had found a new food taste to get hooked on to.

Now the only problem is that Skippy's is quite expensive. There is an Indian brand, Sundrop, which has just launched PB but it's from the house of a tobacco giant, so A and I being conscientious objectors, I can't buy that. Gee, did anyone ever envisage the day that peanut butter would be classified as a 'luxury'?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sweet Chile of Mine


I am re-posting this as an entry for No Croutons required, May 2010, hosted by Lisa.

I recently blogged about the terrific Chile I had at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle. So naturally when I got home I wanted to recreate it for my family, but didn't know how to make it taste different from regular Rajma chaawal, apart from the accompaniments. Thankfully I found a great recipe in Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Feasts. I made it a couple of weekends ago when we had some close friends over for dinner. I didn't want to make a typical Indian meal with half a dozen dishes and spices, because it was really too hot to live that weekend. So we had my mom's yoghurt-paneer dip with crudités and hummus with pita bread as appetizers during drinks, followed by Spanish almond-grape chilled soup:

Middle Eastern tabbouleh and Mexican Chile for dinner. The cocoa powder adds a lovely, smoky depth to the flavour of the Chile, so it was a densely flavourful main course in contrast to the light, fresh flavours of the soup and tabbouleh.We had planned to serve a fruit salad with melon and mango for desert but we and our friends were too stuffed by that point.

The Chile was a breeze to make, and I served it with sides of sour cream and salsa.

Ingredients:
Kidney beans – 1 cup, soaked for 8 hours and then cooked or cooked using the Quick-soak method
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Cocoa powder – 1 tbsp
Red chili powder – 2 tsp
2 onions, finely chopped
3-4 garlic pods, crushed
200 ml tomato puree
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Cheddar cheese, grated – 1 cup

Heat the oil and add in the cumin and coriander powder. When they start to brown, add the onions and garlic and cook until they turn pale brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the mixture turns thick.

If you want to assemble it the way the Diner did, top the Chili with the cheddar cheese and bake in a 220 degrees C oven for about 10-15 minutes until the cheese melts and just starts turning brown.

Serve with sour cream ( we don't get it here so I mixed sour yoghurt with cream and whipped the two together until it was thick and tasted like sour cream) and simple salsa – tomatoes and onions finely chopped with green chilies, coriander leaves and lime squeezed in and salt to taste.

The nice thing about this Chile is that you can eat it for days – served on toast or good crusty bread or as is, heated through or cold from the fridge…

This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair 11, begun by Susan, hosted this time by Taste with the eyes.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Red, white and green...

...Was the theme for the royal foodie joust this month. And with the weather here touching 45 degrees c last week, I couldn't help but remember our wonderful vacation two years ago in Santorini…we landed during a freak spell of cold, driving rain in May, and wondered what kind of beach vacation this would be. But once it cleared up we had an amazing time, marveling at the beautiful white colour of buildings (A's theory was that they were regularly daubed with Greek yogurt) and the blues of church domes, the sky and the water. We also had amazing food – delicious, low calorie, incredibly healthy and flavourful and just perfect for hot weather.

I decided to do more than reminisce and to recreate at least some of the culinary flavours of Greece tonight in my kitchen. So at long last I experimented with the perfect summer salad – watermelon, with feta topped with crushed mint. A splosh of balsamic vinegar and the bite of thinly sliced red onion just accentuated the flavours more and left us feeling fulfilled and cooled down in this hot climate.

Conversely enough, the red of the watermelon looks cool despite the weather, perhaps because of the remembered juiciness, while the cool white of the feta reminded me of an incident in Santorini, where we had seen far-off snow-clad peaks...or so we thought until we drew closer and realised it was a hilltop covered with snow-white houses! And the green of the crushed mint and its fragrance add just that little spring in one's step, that light touch of freshness...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Steelhead Diner

Last week I was in Seattle on business. Luckily our meeting wound up by 3:00 pm, leaving us lots of free time to walk around and explore the city. Seattle, particularly the downtown area, is pretty compact and easy to get around on foot, unlike many other American cities. We quickly changed into casual clothes, and especially for me and V, flat shoes as opposed to the stilettos we had worn in the morning on our way to the meeting and rued heavily while on the so-called 10 minute walk to the meeting from our hotel, armed with ton-weight of laptop.


It was fun to wander around and we quickly found our bearings as we headed down to the famous Pike's Place Market, famous for its fresh produce. Much of the produce was stuff that dad and I didn't really appreciate, i.e. fresh seafood, though V had fun posing with a giant crab. But the flower section was beautiful with the most stunning riot of colour from newly bloomed tulips. There were lots of interesting artsy craftsy stalls with jewellery, stuffed toys and the like at one end, as well as some fabulous black and white photographs of Seattle, which however were quite expensive.


We wandered across the waterfront all the way to a deck-ey area which opened onto Puget Sound which was beautiful and also got a concerted glimpse of Seattle's skyline. By this time we were pretty hungry but unfortunately most places down by the water seemed to have almost nothing vegetarian on offer, apart from bread and mashed potatoes. Dad and I wanted a proper meal so we split off from the rest of the group and wandered back over near Pike's Place, where we remembered seeing lots of restaurants.


The Steelhead Diner was right opposite the Sur La Table store, and we remembered having passed by so we stopped on the off-chance that they might have something to offer. We asked the hostess and she said they have an awesome vegetarian Chili. By this time, Dad and I were both tired out as well, so we thankfully agreed and were lucky enough to get a table by the windows, which offered a lovely glimpse of the sun setting over Puget Sound.


We ordered two small cups of the Chili, one side of mashed potatoes and asked for a glass of white wine and some beer to cool ourselves down. The Chilean wine was very nice, crisp with a fruit edge, and Dad liked the dark beer they served. The Chili was going to be a first for us and I was curious to see how it would be different from Indian Rajma. The drinks came with some lovely bread served with butter partially softened in an olive oil + fresh coriander sauce, which was incredibly flavourful and which I've got to try out asap at home.


We enjoyed the lively music, the wonderful view and the buzz of action, while savouring the bread.. The restaurant was clearly very popular, and lots of people came in as the evening turned into night. By the time we left, around 9:00 pm, the restaurant was packed. In fact, the next night when V and I went back for dinner, we couldn't find a free table and had to have our meal sitting at the bar, it was so full.


The chili looked awesome. They served it topped with Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and some pico de gallo. Dad and I dug in cautiously and then wholeheartedly after the first bite. The mixture of flavours just exploded in our mouths – the spicy Chili offset by the bland sour cream, the warmth of the cheese broken by the piquant salsa – it was like a symphony playing on our tastebuds. The cup of chili finished all too quickly. While there was some similarity to Rajma, the overall mix of flavours was quite different and a welcome difference, too.


The mashed potatoes came drowning in butter and while it tasted great, dad and I could only have so much before we were feeling sated.

We ended the meal with a rhubarb sorbet, since neither of us had had rhubarb before. It was a lovely, tart, fresh-tasting sorbet and the colour was just so intensely saturated that it was a treat for the eyes as well.

The service at the diner was fabulous, with the waitress very helpful in guiding us regarding the size of the portions and on what mixture to order, being very attentive as to when we needed something. The bill for a wonderful meal for two came to an affordable $ 46.50 + tip.


Steelhead Diner






1st Avenue and Pine,






Seattle, WA

Persian Inspiration

The weather's been hot enough here lately to remind anyone of the Sahara – it was 45 degrees Friday. So hardly surprising that we didn't feel like having the usual suspects of dal and sabzi for dinner over the hot, hot weekend. In fact, the kiddos and I had an inebriated-type long 3 hour nap Saturday afternoon, in celebration of the awful weather. So when it came to figuring out what we wanted to eat for dinner this weekend, I definitely leaned towards lean cuisine. Suddenly I remembered couscous which, while not a husband favourite, does qualify as a light meal. We had had a really lovely meal of what I then thought was cous cous last week in Seattle – on reflection I figured it was probably bulgur wheat, but the thought of couscous inspired me.


I had planned to make hummous over the weekend, so I decided I wanted to give my cous cous a middle-Eastern flavour. But it was too hot to look through cookbooks so I had me a mini-brainstorm. What flavours truly went with Middle-Eastern? Hmmm…mint, for one. Pomegranates would add a Persian touch…and somehow the thought of Persia has always enthralled me…Pistachios would add crunch and further the connection. Lime…


It was really fun improvising this cous cous, and I realized that cous cous is going to get added to my mental list of 'foods I like cooking because I get to be creative'. It turned out really well too, and had that zing of freshness that a hot weekend like this one really needed in a meal. The pomegranates added a lovely burst of tart sweetness to offset the strong mint flavour and the crunch of pistachios was a lovely addition. With this and some litchi icecream for dessert, we had a wonderful summer dinner.

Ingredients:
250 gm couscous

Water (enough to cover the couscous and 1 inch over)
Handful mint leaves

Handful coriander leaves

1-2 Snake gourds, diced
Juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size and juiciness)
Half cup pomegranates
Half cup pistachios, lightly toasted/ dry roasted in a frying pan
1 onion, julienned
Salt to taste

Add the water to the couscous and let it soak in for about 5 minutes. Use a fork to fluff it up once the couscous has absorbed all the water. Meanwhile, finely mince the mint and coriander leaves. Add the herbs, the onion, snake gourds ( like long, crisp cucumber), the pomegranates and the lime juice to the couscous. Make sure the lime is juicy – the ones I used were very tart and flavourful but not juicy and so the couscous was a little drier than I would have liked. Add salt to taste, mix and fluff up with a fork again. If you like a touch of spice, add zatar mix or just a touch of paprika. Chill for about half hour and serve, with pomegranate juice on the side, to add more Persian-ness to the meal.

How's that for this weekend's herb blogging # 182, hosted by Chris.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Srivalli’s Mithai Mela

Srivalli's lovely blog has its Mithai Mela on and I just scrolled through my archives to find my favourite dessert recipes, since I'm trying not to make any right now for weightloss and too-hot-weather reasons - a crisp slice of really cold watermelon is the perfect dessert for now. It turns out there are a couple of themes running through my archives: Indian being one, and crazy-about-chocolate being the other. It turned out this is a great way for me to collate my favourite dessert recipes in one place, too.


So here are links to the Indian ones:

There's our favourite
winter dessert - exotic, rich and completely unexpected...
(I realized when I scrolled through my archives that I haven't put down a specific recipe for this, so you'll just have to live through the experience…J)
Then there's the
annual feast standard - rich, exotic and favorited by all our friends. I've been known to get threatening phone calls before our annual Id party if I even think about not making this...


Ingredients:
1 cup almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee ( clarified butter)
a little milk ( about 1/2 cup)
5-6 strings of saffron

Soak the badaam so the peel gets loosened and peel them. Puree them with as little of the milk as you can add to still get a very fine puree.
Soak the saffrom strands in 1 tsp hot milk until the orange colour infuses the milk.
Put the sugar into a pan and add 1/4 cup water. Let it cook on a medium flame until it gets a one-string consistency. ( You can test this by dipping your index finger into the syrup and then pressing your finger and thumb together and then pulling them apart. If you get one strand of sugar syrup between your thumb and finger that's it. But be careful - this syrup can burn the skin off your hand!)
Put in the almond paste, turning the heat to low and add the saffron. Cook, stirring frequently but slowly until the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan.
At this juncture, add the ghee (clarified butter) little by little until the mixture takes on a halwa texture and stops sticking to the pan. Keep stirring throughout the process!

Serve hot or cold. This quantity would be enough for about 10 people (it's very rich).


And of course, festival times are synonymous with
this dish, which is a classic...

Ingredients:

Fistful of dried, thin vermicelli
1 tablespoon of ghee
1 litre milk
1 and a quarter cups sugar
4-5 saffron strands soaked in hot milk
Handful raisins
Cashews broken up into quarters and fried in ghee until somewhat brown
2-3 cardamom pods, coarsely powdered with a rolling pin or in a mortar and pestle


Break the vermicelli into about 1 cm pieces by hand. Fry it on medium heat in the ghee until it starts turning a light brown and emanates a fragrance. Add the milk, ideally full cream, the sugar and the saffron and let it cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vermicelli is fully cooked – it'll look translucent. Add the raisins and cardamom and serve it hot or cold garnished with cashews.
I usually like it cold so I refrigerate it and sometimes serve it with vanilla icecream.You can also choose to serve this dish as dessert, garnished with a few pomegranate bits, halved green or puple grapes or almond slivers.

And this one's
perfect for every day, any day of the year...
And then there are my two favourite chocolate recipes. I'm always after recipes that have a big inflexion point - i.e. easy on effort but seemingly difficult and having maximum 'theater'.

This is a restaurant favourite - most restaurants love to show off their chops to unsuspecting customers who're impressed with
molten chocolate cakes, little knowing how easy they are to make...
Ingredients:
350 grams best quality dark chocolate, softened
150 gms caster sugar
50 gms good butter ( try and get French butter if possible), softened
1 tsp vanilla - or Frangelico/ Godiva, maybe even Tia Maria - or Cointreau...Drambuie...ok, now I'm drooling all over again!
50 gms flour ( Nigella recommends Italian 00 which I don't know what it is – I just used plain maida)
4 eggs
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C ( if baking right away).
Grease 6 pudding cups ( I used aluminum muffin cups, not having any other kind to hand, but am immediately inspired to invest in ceramic ramekins, since I think the possibility of making these on a regular basis is quite high) and line the bottoms with baking sheet.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Add the eggs and the salt and beat together.
Add the vanilla and the flour and blend together well.
Scrape in the softened chocolate ( try not to be greedy enough to leave lots behind in the bowl so you can lick it off all by yourself!) and blend the batter well together.
Pour into the pudding pans and pop into the oven for 10 minutes.
If not baking these immediately, you can make the batter ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. In that case, keep the timer at 12 minutes for the baking process.
As soon as it's done – the tops will look done, but don't pop in a knife to check, the inside will be wet unlike a conventional cake – take out of the oven and invert onto individual dessert plates or shallow bowls.


And then there's the unexpectedness of a
cake with no flour...

Ingredients:
435 grams chestnut puree
125 gms unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs, separated
250 gms best dark ( but sweetened) chocolate (softened)
50 gms caster sugar
20 gms light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp dark rum
Pinch salt
As always, didn't have all the ingredients, so went along and improvised. Also, have done the best in terms of photography, what with my meagre camera skills and the morning light which is harsh as opposed to lambent - but do, please, do try making this cake. You'll never regret it!
In a deep bowl, mix together the butter and the chestnut puree until well mixed. Then add the vanilla, rum, the egg yolks and the chocolate and blend until well mixed.
In a separate bowl, beat the whites of the eggs with the salt until foamy. Add the caster sugar gradually, and continue beating until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Scatter the muscovado sugar on top and fold in until well mixed.

Working confidently, fold the egg whites into the chocolate-chestnut batter, one third at a time.

Pour the batter into a 22 cm Springform greased and lined tin. Bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes ( or thereabouts). The top of the cake will have cracks in it, but who cares - it's meant to look that way. Cool on the rack for 20 minutes. Before serving, dust icing sugar on top and make sure whoever you're sharing this with is already in the room. Otherwise, all you'll have to show for your efforts is a pile of crumbs and a tiny brown smear on your chin!


And oh, ok, for a while back there I'd joined the Daring Bakers and made this rather
hideous and decoratively challenged but amazing tasting cake...

Enjoy!




Let 'em eat...

Well, I finally figured out what poor Marie Antoinette meant when she said, "Let them eat cake!" Doesn't say much about her kitchen sense but it's also not as ironic/ stupid as one would think, it turns out.

Our friends Jean Pierre and Marian invited us over for a party the other week and having finally put the elder two munsters to bed, we headed out with the youngest, since we thought two is enough for any babysitter to cope with at once. It was a lovely party, reminiscent of those we had enjoyed in France, with loads of wine including a very nice white from Luxembourg, and some truly delicious dips and bread. Dinner was amazing - a huge spread with a sizeable vegetarian section; and several loaves of 'cake'.

Cake, it turns out, is the colloquial French for party bread. They're kind of cake-ey in the rich, dense feeling, and look like bread. A cake as we would call it in English, is termed a gateau. And the cakes Marian had come up with were superb - very flavourful, rich and dense, and very inviting to cut-and-come-again. When I asked her for her recipe, she was a little vague about it, like the best cooks are - a little of this, a little of that...

I hunted it up on google, and found that this truly was the kind of recipe I could go for - easily stirred up and very customisable. I'm always a fan of recipes that let me tweak them and add my own touch. So I made one batch for breakfast. Of course, my loaf pans had gotten misplaced in last year's house-shift, so it wound up having to make this in an octagonal cake pan, so it looked more like cake than 'cake', and I had to bake it a lot longer too. But the end result was pretty much as I had hoped for, so I'm definitely going to be making this again. I have no photos since it got devoured too fast, but I promise I'll post one the next time.

Ingredients:
200 gm plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
100 ml milk
100 ml olive oil/ 3 tbsp butter

You can mix in any flavourings you like into this. I added some sliced green olives, a tsp of cumin seeds, 1 tsp red cayenne pepper, 3 tbsp grated cheddar, 2 sliced tomatoes and 1 onion, julienned and browned in the olive oil.

You can also add a dash of cream to replace some of the milk.

Mix well and pour into two greased and papered loaf tins and bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C for 20 - 25 minutes - remove from oven when top is brown and fork comes out clean.

This tastes great spread with cream cheese, tzatziki, hummus, roasted bell peppers, butter...anything basically!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bananas about it

We love bananas in our family and end up buying large quantities of them. The only catch – you guessed it – they have this awful tendency to get overripe fast. The same thing happened last week and then an old family recipe dashed to the rescue. This is a banana relish, which is delicious eaten with rotis, on bread as a spread, served with pancakes/ idlis/ dosais or even by itself for dessert. And it lends itself easily to being taken up or down a notch with minimal effort. Try it, the kids will love it and it's easy-peasy!


Banana Relish

Ingredients:
2 slightly overripe bananas
Handful grated jaggery or brown sugar
Handful grated fresh coconut ( you can use dessicated coconut too, but in that case cut it into thin slivers)
To kick it up a notch: add a tsp cardamom, a bit of vanilla icecream, some slivered orange peel or if not serving to kids a peg of Malibu coconut liqueur, and a few roasted cashews

Mash the bananas roughly so they are still a little lumpy. Add the jaggery/ sugar and coconut and mix well. Garnish with cashews and serve to delirious applause from picky children!

This is one of my entries for Srivalli's Mithai Mela

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Garlicky Baby Spinach Salad

I love Spinach. My nickname used to be popeye in college, because like that sailor, I can have spinach five days a week, in any one of a myriad dishes. I did a little bit of research on spinach for Weekend Herb Blogging, which was started by Kalyn, and is being hosted by Prof Kitty this week. It turns out Spinach belongs to the amaranth family, and is indigenous to India/ Nepal. It comes highly recommended for inclusion in a healthy diet because of its iron and folic acid content, not to mention tons of vitamins and essential minerals and is especially recommended during pregnancy when women need more folic acid. It also adds to one's fibre intake and is low cal. Health benefits include prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis, and other diseases. And it's supposed to help the digestion and improve brain power. What more could one want?


India abounds in spinach recipes, from a simple palak paneer – mashed spinach gravy with roast cottage cheese – to an inclusion in Huli which is one of my favourite lentil dishes, palak pakodas - in which spinach leaves are dipped in a batter made of chickpea flour and deepfried crisp, to raita –steamed, ribboned spinach in a yoghurt sauce. One of my favourite recipes, though, is for Baby Spinach salad. In India, baby spinach is low on availability since Indian dishes call for fully ripe spinach, so usually I'm reduced to buying two large bunches of spinach and pawing through them to find the small leaves to make this salad. However, recently I planted some spinach in a pot in my backyard ( which now qualifies this post for GYO too - yippee!) and last week we could harvest two handfuls of baby spinach – just right for my favourite salad. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and watch even kids enjoy this green goody.

Ingredients: (for 4 people)
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, well washed and dried
½ cup plump garlic cloves with skin on
½ tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon ( or to taste)
Salt to taste
½ cup roast pine nuts
Pepper if you really want

Chop off the last 1 cm or so of spinach stem and put the leaves in a bowl or a flat dish. Heat the olive oil (not extra virgin, by the way, as that doesn't take well to heating) and pop in the garlic cloves. Take off the heat once the garlic cloves are lightly browned on both sides and pour the oil and garlic over the spinach leaves. Add the lemon juice, salt and pine nuts. If you want, add some freshly ground pepper and serve immediately. Let the family – or guests – enjoy squeezing the garlic skin to burst the sweet pods out and combine with the salad. Pair with a bean soup for a wonderful summer meal!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Potato Salad

I love potatoes in almost any form ( except raw :)). One of my favourite dishes from childhood has been one for potato raita - a soft, creamy, gentle tasting one that serves as a poignant contrast to the often more robust taste of Indian food. It uses one of my favourite vegetables, tastes great and yet light, and goes well with anything, from rotis to bread - it makes a great sandwich filling - to saaru anna or a plain dal and rice. And as I discovered when I started cooking, it's easy and fast to make.

Ingredients:
4 Boiled, peeled potatoes (I count 1 potato per head)
1 cup homemade plain yogurt
2-3 green chillies (to taste), cut into 1 cm segments
1 tsp oil
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp mustard seeds ( black)
Handful curry leaves
Handful minced coriander leaves for garnish
Salt to taste

Break the potatoes into irregular pieces by hand, but don't mash them. In a small wok, heat the oil. Pop in the mustard seeds and let them start spluttering. Add the green chillies and the urad dal. Wait till the urad dal starts browning a little and add the curry leaves. Take off the heat and pour over the potatoes. Add the yogurt and salt and mix. Top with the coriander leaves and cool in the refrigerator for half hour or more before serving.

To make this into a yummy sandwich spread, use Greek yogurt or hung yogurt instead of plain yogurt: hang a cup and a half of yogurt in a thin muslin cloth with a weight on top until all the liquid drains out. Eat within 4-5 hours or else it'll start tasting sour.

To experiment with this, you can add a small quantity of minced garlic, or to perk it up some chopped spring onions. A tiny amount of mustard can be added to give it a little kick, too.

This is my entry for this weekend's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Chriese of Almond Corner.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

South Indian

Most times you ask someone from North India what cuisine they enjoy eating out, and you'll get an instant reply, "South Indian". Of course, it's another matter that for most North Indians, South Indian means idli dosa. I was mighty pained when my husband's uncle, meeting me for the first time after we had gotten married, promptly said in a would-be-south-Indian accent, "tum Idli-vada khaata?" ( You eat idli-vada?). Any kind of stereotyping gets my goat. Not that I don't enjoy idlis and dosas as much as anyone originating south of the Vindhyas, of course.

The trouble with having dosas at a restaurant up north where I live is that the accompaniments are completely tasteless. The chutney is a bland travesty of the authentic chutney, made only of ground coconut with a tempering. The sambar or huli as we call it in Karnataka is a weird, too-sour concoction with tomatoes and a strange assortment of vegetables as diverse as okra, onions and beans floating in a pale soup. We South Indians have very specific vegetable combinations that can be used in huli. The only thing that's up to par is the actual dosa itself.

Some time ago, I had a major craving for dosa with its traditional accompaniments and since mom was out of action with a hurt leg, decided that I would make it from scratch. I went to great efforts to ensure authenticity, from buying the special paper-dosa type frying pan to making the chutney and gunpowder. The only cheat – I bought MTR's instant dosa mix J. On the other hand, MTR is a revered Bangalore trademark for the best of South Indian cuisine so I guess I didn't stray too far.

The whole ritual of eating dosais for breakfast is an experience. The dosas are made one at a time and served hot, fresh off the pan, with dollops of salty and sour flavourful chutney, spicy sambar and gunpowder. It's a lovely mix of flavours and textures - the crisp dosais, the yielding, liquidey chutney, the spicy huli amd the crunchy gunpowder. It's almost a competition to see who can eat more dosas until everyone is stuffed to bursting point. And then the finale - hot South Indian filter coffee, served in stainless steel glasses, tumblers, as we call them, with a thin layer of froth on top. Dosa is usually described by 5-star hotels as a 'crisp lentil pancake, served with coconut relish and a spicy lentil broth'. On second thought, that's a pretty good description, so here I leave you with a smiley picture of my traditional South Indian breakfast…

PS. The recipe for gunpowder

Gunpowder is also known as molaha pudi, which roughly translated means pepper powder. It's a spicy mix of lentils and dried red chillies, guaranteed to blow the roof of your mouth off. Unless, of course, you know the trade secret: to your portion of gunpowder, add about 1/2 - 1 tbsp sesame seed oil or, failing that, home made ghee, and mix it well together until you get a chutney-like texture. The oil or ghee adds a wonderful aroma that's part of the experience

Ingredients:

1 cup chana dal

1 cup urad dal

10-15 dried red chillies

Handful sesame seeds

Roast all the ingredients using 1-2 drops of oil, one by one. When cool, grind to a fine powder and mix, with salt to taste.

This is my entry for MLLA – 9, hosted by Laurie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms

Here's my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Anna this week.

I have a somewhat love-hate relationship with mushrooms. Perhaps because as per the classifications of taste, they are supposed to taste similar to meat, and as a vegetarian, I find their meatiness a bit hard to swallow, literally. However, there are some mushroom-based recipes that I quite like, as long as I don't have them too often. Mushroom curry, a somewhat dry vegetable made in a typical Indian style, with onions, tomatoes and green bell peppers in a cumin-coriander powder sauce is one of them. Another is my mother's famous mushroom soup, which uses liberal quantities of green chillies and very finely minced mushrooms in a broth reminiscent of white sauce, only more watery. Another that I've always enjoyed at restaurants is grilled and stuffed mushrooms. So when we wound up with a basket of large mushrooms at home, I decided to give that a whirl.

I sliced off the stems of the mushrooms and chopped them up very finely. I then mixed this with breadcrumbs, minced coriander leaves, finely chopped green chillies, some cheese ( mozzarella and cheddar mixed), some minced onion and garlic and grilled them, brushed with butter, in a hot oven for about 15 minutes, until they were browning, and served it hot with a dash of lime juice. And voila, a favourite appetizer was born!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here comes the sun


One of the reasons I like making omelettes, just like I enjoy making soups and salads, is that within a certain set of rules, you have wide scope to experiment and innovate. I tend to get bored cooking the same recipe over and over again, don't you?


So this weekend I made another of my decadent omelette concoctions, lapped up by my son. These omelettes look lovely-bright yellow, with vibrant greens, as if sunflowers have been playing in your pan!


Ingredients:

2 eggs, well beaten

1/2 cup milk

1 cheese slice ( cheddar or similar)

1/2 onion, finely chopped

7-8 leaves of spinach shredded into long, thin ribbons

1/2 tbsp butter


Beat the eggs with the milk until well mixed. Put the butter into a heated nonstick frying pan and swirl to coat evenly. Pour in the egg mix and sprinkle the onion and spinach shreds evenly over the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let cook on medium heat for some time. When the omelette appears partially cooked, add the cheese slice on top, cover and cook again until the omelette is done. Serve either folded over or as is, with well-buttered toast or croissants.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How I met Salads

When I was growing up, eating out wasn't the common or garden variety activity that it is today. It was an event, and happened either at a friend's house, or at an event like a marriage celebration. And salads were never a big part of the experience. First of all, simple Western-style salads weren't usually on menus - those tended to be items like Caesar salad or Waldorf salad. Secondly they'd be really expensive and since most of us were on a strict budget, we'd slide right past that section and go straight to soup and then main course and dessert.

Anyway I was used to South Indian style kosambris and didn't see the big deal. Until we went over to my friend Leon's place. Leon was one of my classmates at business school in France. He's from South Africa and I and my friends had a great time hanging out with him and his wife Ardela at dinner at our home. So a few weeks later when we decided to go sight-seeing in Paris, we were only too happy to let them host us for lunch. Leon's 14 year old son Rezan had made the salad for us.

Actual bite-sized lettuce leaves tangoed with julienned red and yellow capsicum and halved cherry tomatoes and contrasted with the sharp taste of spring onions cut into slices. The salad dressing of extra virgin olive oil, mustard, caster sugar and vinegar was in perfect harmony with the flavours of the vegetables. And the addition of walnuts set the seal on perfection. That salad was an absolute experience for all of us 'desis' who were having something like it for the first time.

And ever since then, western-style salad has been a family favourite. And I can't thank Leon enough!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Apples and Thyme: Shaavige Payasa

While cooking up this dish for my son's birthday, I traveled back in time to my childhood, and it prompted me to blog for apples and thyme. So many of my memories are linked to this dish, especially those involving any kind of religious occasion. It was de rigueur that on festival days, mom would get up at the crack of dawn, bathe and wash her hair, dress up in a nice silk saree with her hair bundled into a cotton towel to help it dry faster, and start cooking delicious festive food, while dad would be up equally early to prepare for the pooje. Right after his bath, dad would wear a dhoti in Karnataka style, which meant he would wrap it once around himself, pleat the spare cloth in intricate little folds and tuck them in, in front and back, so the cloth formed a sort of pyjama, only one with rippling pleats and the rich mellowness of pale gold silk. He would wrap a similar cloth over his shoulders and sit down to perform the religious ceremony.

Dad has a sonorous voice and a great command over Sanskrit shlokas. For many poojes, however, he would read out the shlokas from one of his kannada books. Periodically he would stumble over one of the words, go back and repeat them, all the while conducting the pooje. First the Gods would be given a ritual bath in a brass thali. Then they would be dressed up for the occasion – first sandalwood paste, then bright red kunkuma on their foreheads. The temple at home would be cleaned up too and decked up with decorations made out of cotton with kunkuma and turmeric rubbed on them at intervals to add colour. A thorana or garland made of mango leaves would be put up. Dad would arrange potted plants on each side of the temple and then decorate with various flowers. Then while reading out shlokas he would instruct my sister and I in what to do – offer turmeric to begin with, then the kunkuma, flowers. My sister and I would compete to offer the biggest or most fragrant flower.

The noise of steel vessels clanking together in the kitchen accompanied dad's chants. The most delicious smells would be emanating from the kitchen – fresh coriander, tempering made from home made pure tuppa (ghee), frying ambodes or papads, the spicy aromas of saaru or huli, cardamom – while equally fragrant scents accompanied the pooje: melting camphor, agarbatti and the jasmines and roses The pressure cooker would whistle deliriously at some critical junction in the prayers and it'd be like a competition between the whistle and dad's chanting.

As I got older, I helped mom out with the small stuff in the kitchen – grating the fresh coconut, helping powder the cardamom, cutting up the cucumber for the kosambri…And of course, inhaling the scent of the payasa as it was cooking. I hated the rice and lentil payasa mom used to make but this was one of the favourites. We'd wait hungrily, torn between concentrating on the pooje and salivating for lunch, since on pooje days one was not supposed to eat before the pooje was over. Though mom and dad were fine with us having breakfast, we often used to skip it on that day so we could save our appetites for the festive food to follow. A silver plate was reserved for the prasada and minute helpings of all the items would be ritually offered to the Gods before we could sit down for our meal.
Small portions of the food were pre-served onto each plate before we sat down. The food was always served onto the plate in a particular order. Salt first, at the top, followed by pickle to the right of it. Then a small spoonful of the payasa, which was one of the prasadas or offerings to God, at the bottom right. The cooked but unsalted lentils came on the left of the payasa. Kosambri would be served next to the pickle, followed by the vegetable curry, palya. The ghee and plain rice would be on the left of the lentils while the flavoured rice of the day would be in the middle.

We had to start the meal by scooping up the payasa, and then we were free to dig in. We'd have the flavoured rice, followed by saaru-anna or huli anna and then the main helping of the payasa followed by curd rice which is an inevitable ending to any South Indian meal. Nothing I've ever eaten has tasted better than the festive meals at my mom's. And after that gargantuan meal, we'd curl up and sleep like babies!

Payasa recipe
Ingredients:
Fistful of dried, thin vermicelli
1 tablespoon of ghee
1 litre milk
1 and a quarter cups sugar
4-5 saffron strands soaked in hot milk
Handful raisins
Cashews broken up into quarters and fried in ghee until somewhat brown
2-3 cardamom pods, coarsely powdered with a rolling pin or in a mortar and pestle
Break the vermicelli into about 1 cm pieces by hand. Fry it on medium heat in the ghee until it starts turning a light brown and emanates a fragrance. Add the milk, ideally full cream, the sugar and the saffron and let it cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vermicelli is fully cooked – it'll look translucent. Add the raisins and cardamom and serve it hot or cold garnished with cashews. I usually like it cold so I refrigerate it and sometimes serve it with vanilla icecream.
You can also choose to serve this dish as dessert, garnished with a few pomegranate bits, halved green or puple grapes or almond slivers.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Peanuts galore

I just tried out this Gujarati chutney made from peanuts and it tastes fabulous, so had to share :) It tastes great with toast, bagels, chips, rotis, chillas - just about anything, really.
Ingredients:
3 tbsp peanuts
2 cups full of coriander leaves
3-4 green chillies
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Lightly dry-roast the peanuts without any oil until they are pale brown. Puree them along with the coriander leaves, ginger and chillies and a little water until it turns into a smooth paste. Flavour with the sugar and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Delhi 6 Salad

I have been tripping on the score of this movie for the past few days. ARR has done a superb job and this is truly one of his stand-out efforts. I liked much of the music in Jaane Tu but felt it wouldn't stand the test of time. Similarly, in Ghajini I only thought the Guzarish song was special. But here he cracks it and lets you know why he is the Maestro! I am in love with this city of mine, Delhi, and the title song of the movie catches a wonderful mood – the hot, nothing-stirs summer afternoons, long lazy scooter rides around India gate watching urchins splash in the fountain pools, the jamun trees swaying in the monsoon breeze and raining fruit down on passersby, Janpath and the myriad stalls there, the winter mornings of hot mugs of chai and the sun on your shoulders…

Another very Dilli thing is the wonderful varieties of chaat one gets here - tongue-tickling, a melange of sweet, sour, spicy and salty and each bite an adventurous explosion of flavours on your tongue. So when I told myself I had to come up with something Dilli 6-ish, I went for a bold burst of flavour - salty, tart, flavoured with spices and zingingly fresh. Here it is:

Ingredients:
Teaspoon cumin seeds
Handful coriander leaves and stalks
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Half cup plain yogurt
Few stalks of mint leaves
Rock salt to taste
Pound the cumin seeds, coriander leaves and stalks, mint, garlic and rock salt together in a mortar until everything forms a smooth paste. Beat into the yogurt with a fork until well-mixed. Pour onto a bowlful of your favourite mix of salad vegetables – sprouts and spring onions, garbanzo beans and tomatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, spring onions and bell peppers…And enjoy to the tunes of the song which can be found here!

PS. My photo of the salad sucks so here are some pics of Delhi…
PPS. Did I mention I used to live in the Red Fort? Yes, in this life!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Yaay, I Won!!!

Guess what? I won the SippitySup contest with my recipe for McAloo Tikki burgers!!! I am feeling thrilled. Especially because I never imagined my gourmandizing would lead to anything but a larger waistline :)

So I'm looking forward to getting my Jamie Oliver game; and of course to lots more cooking! Thanks, Greg!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Legume Love Affair - Pateele Wale Chhole

This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Susan, who began it all...

Delhi is famous for its incredible variety of street food, from chaat - which literally means finger-licking good - to sweets to seasonal specialities. One of my favourites, and yet a recent discovery, is Pateele wale chhole. Pateela means deep vessel, and chhole is a Delhi shorthand for legumes. In this case, the chhole refers to dried white peas, and the pateela refers to brass pots - wide mouthed and wide based, in which the chhole is cooked. This is served with kulcha, one of the few leavened breads of India. Kulche, plural of kulcha, are white, spongy, flat and oblong in shape and apart from a slightly sour tang from the leavening process, practically tasteless. They do have the advantage, however, of being fat free and a perfect accompaniment to anything that's tangy.

My mom in law loves this dish and used to frequently buy it from one of the streetside vendors for lunch. The vendors somehow always get the taste just right, and as they wheel their carts into place, your mouth starts watering from the remembered deliciousness of the dish. I recently had this after a long time at an office lunch party and my tastebuds thrilled to the taste and told me I had to figure out how to make this at home.

Turns out, it wasn't that hard. Of course, it takes a little patience - for one thing you have to soak the peas overnight. But otherwise they're a breeze to make. And easy to customise as to level of heat, since each portion is dished up and garnished individually. And they are delicious with rotis, bread, toast or just by themselves as a healthy snack. Tart and tangy, a little spicy and salty, they are addictively chatpata ( which means tart and tangy, a little spicy and salty!). Somehow they bring out the meaning of the word chaat even while being healthy - the best kind of food!

Ingredients:
1 cup dried white peas, soaked for 8 hours and then boiled/ pressure-cooked in salted water until soft, almost pulpy
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp coriander seed ( dhania) powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a wok. Once hot, turn the heat down and add the coriander and cumin powder. Stir and continue to cook for 1 minute, till they start turning a darker shade of brown. Drain and add the peas, reserving about a cupful of the water they were cooked in. Add salt and the reserved water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spices and salt are well-blended with the peas.
To serve, dish up in a bowl, top with some of the chopped onions, then garnish with the coriander leaves and as much of the chillies as each person cares for, and add a squeeze of lime.
Tip: To make them less gassy, add a tsp of baking soda while boiling the peas. You can also add julienned ginger to the garnisg for the same purpose.