Monday, November 26, 2012

Paan Kulfi

I wanted to do something different and special for Deepavali this year in terms of dessert. Given my thankfully diminishing sweet tooth, I usually stick to kheer and some sweets bought from the neighbourhood mithai shop - Milk cake etc. But having taken the plunge into desi mithai by making besan ke laddus with the kids for Dussehra, I had to up my game for Deepavali, which means adding a touch of madness - sometimes divine, sometimes just the Agra variety - to the recipe. That's when I hit upon Paan flavoured Kulfi.

Fessing up - had never made Kulfi before. And did not have the patience to spend hours slaving over milk and reducing it down, so I went with the tried and tested Tarla aunty shortcut method - her shortcuts never fail!! - and used a mix of condensed and evaporated milk to reduce my effort. Threw in a couple of meetha paans into the result before freezing, and voila, a new, improved, grown-up version of kulfi was served up to the applause of family at Deepavali lunch. But then, they'll applaud anything!

If you want to try at your own risk, here's how:
3/4th liter full cream milk
1/2 tin ( 200 gms) condensed milk)
1/4 cup evaporated milk

Mix all three and set to boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it simmer away on low flame, stirring occasionally, for about 1/2 hour, until it reduces by about a third.

Let cool, then whizz in the blender with a couple of meetha paans - or even plain paan will do if you're going for the betel leaf flavour as opposed to actual paan flavour.

Pour mix into a suitable container - i.e.flatbottomed rather than round-bottomed - I used a tupperware box - and freeze for 4-6 hours or overnight.

If you want to fancy up the serving, pose the prettily cut pieces of kulfi on some betel leaves, scatter a few rose petals etc etc...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mexican 4 bean salad

I love Mexican food – the flavours are always so fresh and tongue-tingling. And despite its similarity to Indian food, it is different enough that the tastebuds get a break! I’ve had some amazing Mexican food over the years, starting from the time restaurant Rodeo opened in CP in Delhi. They served authentic delights like Sopa de Queso – a truly wonderful cheese soup, perfect for misty winter nights in Delhi, as well as the usual suspects – burritos, tacos, enchiladas, churros and of course nachos with salsa, guacamole and sour cream. Could there be a better way to start an evening?

In the US, apart from a fab chili which I had with dad on a business trip to Seattle and recreated at home many times since, I’ve also had the most exquisite Mexican food in Minneapolis. Tomatilla salsa and all kinds of other fabulous dishes which I still remember with joy, though their names have faded off my aging mind long since.

We have Mexican or Mex-inspired dishes at home quite a bit. I love avocados so guacamole is typically rootling around in the fridge somewhere, ready to be smeared on a baguette or cracker as a snack or on toast for breakfast. Salsa is a staple at parties – it’s such a great dip with chips. And of course, since the kids love cheese, it’s an easy weekday dinner to do quesadillas and serve them up with salsa, guac, sour cream and a bit of Mex-inspired salad on the side for a really healthy, fresh and delicious meal.
4 bean salad
1 tin ( 400 gms) 4 beans – given my fondness for beans, I’ve been tripping ever since I discovered cans of beans at my local grocery – they have all sorts, from azuki and black beans to fava beans, cannellini, butter beans and the more usual borlotti and garbanzos. The 4 bean mix has garbanzos( chick peas), kidney beans, lima and butter beans
½ yellow capsicum, diced
½ red capsicum, diced
½ green capsicum, diced
1 onion, sliced fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful coriander
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1.5 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Run the tinned beans through some water to get rid of the high sodium content. Add in the chopped vegetables, cumin seeds, cider vinegar and olive oil, lime juice and seasoning. Toss well. Top with finely chopped coriander – I use scissors to cut the coriander finely. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add finely chopped chillies or chilli powder if you like. I also add in diced avocados occasionally.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Perfect Accompaniment

We had idlis for breakfast today. Fluffy, pillow-soft idlis, punctuated by the spicy-sour-buttery taste of coconut chutney and spinach huli(sambar). The perfect way to start off a day.

And as usual, I was left to lament why on earth we couldn't have a dosa breakfast for a change - proper crisp paper dosas with all the accompaniments. I know why - none of us at my place - me or my maids - can spread the dosa with any kind of command that lets the batter know who's in charge and curl up crisply. No, we get blobs of fat dough connected with paper-thin wafers. But even more egregious is that I can't get a perfect dosa when I eat out either, no matter how famous the South Indian restaurant. And here's the reason - the accompaniments are at least half the pleasure of eating a good idli or dosa. And for some reason, no restaurant gets these to be as good as the home made variety, except for the potato masala. Recently Samar Halarnkar wrote a column lamenting that very fact.

I'm not sure where the current interpretation of coconut chutney arose - as a bland, soulless bit of fresh coconut, finely ground and topped off with a random tempering of curry leaves and mustard. It adds almost nothing to the mouthfeel of an idli or a dosa - the texture is as gravelly as a perfect idli and the blandness means that there is no added flavour. And then we get the watery soups aflush with tomatoes  and coloured a lurid yellow-brown served up as the hotel version of sambar. The right chutney and sambar add a zest to every bite, they go together with the dosa/ idli like the proverbial horse and carriage. A bland or malformed accompaniment takes all the zing out of dosa-eating for me.

Why can't restaurants take a tip from the millions of homes all over South India which do such a great job of creating the perfect chutney and sambar every morning? A sambar which does not have a weird concatenation of vegetables thrown in - for example radish and brinjal, which no self-respecting housewife would cook together, but which restaurants apparently feel work well together. A chutney which has the right balance of spice, acidity and sweetness from coconut to explode on the palate and add interest to every bite?  Sambar which adds a rich mix of the right flavours?

We tried. We bought a branded non-stick dosa pan from Prestige. The pan, after a couple of weeks, rose in the middle, as if emulating a poori, with the result that dosas began to burn to cinders in the center while the edges were pillowed like thattai-idlis. We tried Tefal non-stick pans. We tried making the batter at home. We have now retired hurt. So whenever the urge for a paper dosa gets too much, we wend our weary way to the nearest Sagar Ratna. I place my order, in the foreknowledge that the experience will fall short of my expectations. And I hope that someday, restaurants allow me to cart the perfect chutney and sambar from my home to go with their perfect paper dosas.

Either that, or that my mom reads this and gets inspired to invite us over for her homemade dosas and chutney!!!

My perfect chutney
1 coconut, grated
3-4 green chillies
1 lemon-size ball of tamarind, soaked in half cup lukewarm water for 10 minutes
Handful coriander leaves
1 tbsp roast chana
1 in piece of ginger, peeled
Salt to taste

Squeeze the tamarind ball to extract the juice fully, then strain. Grind all the ingredients together finely, adding a little more water if necessary. To temper, heat a little vegetable oil ( 1 tbsp) in a wok. Add mustard leaves and wait for them to splutter. Then toss in a teaspoon of urad dal and wait for the dal to brown gently. Add a handful of curry leaves and a pinch or two of heeng. Turn off the heat and pour over the chutney.

Serve with piping hot idlis or freshly made dosas if you're lucky enough to be able to make them!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dessert Boreks

Boreks are a Turkish cigarette pie – made with puff pastry and typically stuffed with something spicy, like spinach and feta, minced meat etc. For a dinenr party recently, I had a Middle Eastern menu with Falafel sandwiches and Moroccan 7 veg stew with couscous. I wanted something from the region for dessert but not a dish like semolina halwa which would taste too Indian, or anything else that required intensive labour – I’m quite lazy that way.

Suddenly, I remembered that we had puff pastry sheets at home and decided to try my hand at a dessert using puff pastry. Given my somewhat temperamental oven, I wanted a dish that could be cooked on the stovetop, so a fried puff-pastry would be the easiest, I figured. But what would I fill inside???

Date halwa, of course!!!

1.5 cups deseeded dates
½ liter warm milk
Jaggery to taste
½ cup almond shards, roasted in ghee

Soak the dates in the warm milk for half an hour. Then put into a saucepan and cook over a low flame until meltingly soft; add jaggery to taste, allowing for the fact that readymade puff pastry tends to be a bit salty, so the halwa has to compensate. Whizz in a blender until pureed. Mix the almonds in and set aside.

Roll out the puff pastry dough as thin as a chapatti. Cut into 2 inch squares. In the center, spoon out about one and a half teaspoons of the date halwa, then fold the square into a triangle. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges and add a decorative crimp.
Fry in hot vegetable oil, or if you have a cooperative oven, bake for 10 minutes until golden.

Serve hot with pistachio icecream.

Santorini Tomatoes

Some years ago when we holidayed in Santorini, we heard about the special tomatoes available there. They were supposed to taste extra delicious because of the volcanic soil in Santorini – sweeter, juicier. Naturally, I had to make a beeline for the nearest market and pick up a bunch, and yes, they were everything they were slated to be. But of course, I had to try and tamper with perfection – and quite successfully, on that occasion at least.

Last week, I found some really big-sized cherry tomatoes that reminded me of the ones in Santorini, so I repeated the salad – with equally good results.

It’s incredibly simple – take some good quality extra virgin olive oil, preferably Italian, as I find Spanish ones heavier to the palate. Crush or mince a couple cloves of garlic and add to the olive oil. Pour over the tomatoes. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours, at room temperature. Serve with a spritz of lime juice, a sprinkling of salt added just before you bring it to the table, and toss a chiffonade of basil on the top.

If you need to refrigerate it for some time, make sure you bring it out and back down to room temperature before serving. Tastes great by itself or over garlic toast, as a bruschetta topping. I’m debating serving this over a bed of rocket leaves the next time, am sure it’ll taste fab!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indian-style Laddoo Cake

Every year, Puddi spends ages visualizing the way she wants her birthday cake to look. The ideas and themes keep changing, and even though her birthday is in June, she’ll start in at any time of the year – Mamma, let’s have…a flower cake for my birthday next time, she’ll say in July. Around September, her thoughts may wander to a fairy. Cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh or Tigger may make an appearance on the wishlist around January. By March, it’s turned to heart-shaped cakes. This year it was a cake like an Olympic torch, with the flames made out of mango slices – her invention and a good one. The problem is, the kids don’t actually like cake, and therefore rarely end up eating it. It’s the shapes and colours and creativity of it that they crave, but they don’t relish the taste of cake much, and given that the average shaped and decorated cake can’t be made to specific size in under 2 kilos, we always end up with tons of it on our hands.

This year we had two birthday parties for the Puds – one for her friends, for which we ordered said Olympic cake which was delicious and looked fab but of which we had a lot left over. And a second party was all family – the inlaws, the parents, uncles, aunts etc. So for that one, given Dad’s aversion to eggs and his habit of finding cakes smelling of eggs even when they are eggless and the fact that my kids actually prefer desi mithai to cake any day, I hit upon the idea of a laddoo cake.

It was made of motichoor laddoos!!!

I got a kilo of motichoor laddoos, heated them up slightly in the microwave so they would be extra-sticky and broke them apart while hot. I spread them around in a flower-shaped cake pan and stuck it in the fridge to set. For the icing, I used the normal barfi ( I would have preferred khoya but nobody makes it in summer) – heated up about half a kilo, spread some heated raspberry jam on the surface of the cake and spread the barfi out on top, much like marzipan, and popped the cake back into the fridge to set. Later, Puddi and I decorated the cake with readymade decorations I had picked up from Michael’s in the US, and voila! It took all of maybe 15 minutes to assemble, and was devoured with much enjoyment by our desi guests!

PS. I admit my cake decorating skills suck!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gnocchi with deconstructed Pesto and broccoli-leek mash

Once I got tired of the usual tomato-style pasta sauce and the typical pasta types, even at restaurants, I started looking around for other interesting Italian food to eat and to cook. Gnocchi was something I found fascinating, even though at restaurants I often found their version stodgy. In fact, I'm becoming more and more intrigued by the thought of making fresh pasta at home, if one day I can persuade myself that the investment will be worth it, not just an indulgence to be taken out once a year, like the waffle maker.

Anyway, gnocchi doesn't require any special equipment so it's the easiest thing to start with. The only thing was to decide what kind of sauce to make it with, since I was determined not to make yet another tomato sauce. I really enjoy pesto but the taste can be strong for kids so eventually I hit upon the idea of a deconstructed pesto, which would be lighter and yet flavourful. As usual improvising with other ingredients I had in the kitchen, since I wanted more veggies to form the meal, I decided to use the broccoli and leeks to create a mash which could be eaten along with the gnocchi, as a kind of sauce.

The gnocchi, as typically made with only potatoes and flour, didn't appeal to my need to add flavour, so I added a chiffonade of basil to the gnocchi dough, which turned out really well. Feeling unnecessarily chuffed at having turned out fresh gnocchi :)

Gnocchi ingredients:
6-8 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and drained
2 cups of plain flour
1 egg
15 large basil leaves, cut into long, thin strips

Use a potato ricer or a sieve to press the boiled potatoes through so you have a really fine potato mash. Add in the chiffonade of basil. Make a mound of the potatoes with a central well, into which add in the egg and mix well. Set a pan with 2.5 - 3 liters of salted water on to boil.On your worktop, spread a broad layer of 1 cup flour, then spread out the still warm potatoes over it. Sprinkle over 3/4ths of the remaining cup of flour, reserving the rest in case you need it - the less flour you use, the lighter the gnocchi.

Work the mixture until it forms a dough, adding in the rest of the flour if needed - it should be soft but not sticky. Make the dough into 5-6 balls.

Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll it into a long, thin sausage shape of about 3/4 inch diameter. Cut into 1 inch wide pieces. Using the back of a fork, press each piece up against the tines so ridges form on one side, while on the other side your thumb makes an indentation. Drop the pieces into the boiling water and let cook until they float up to the surface - about 2 minutes - and remove with a slotted spoon. Keep warm until all the pieces cook, then toss lightly in olive oil.

Deconstructed pesto:
Handful basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese strips
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

I made the pesto sans garlic, since I was using garlic in the broccoli mash - but you can add 3-4 cloves of garlic roasted in olive oil ( roast them in plain olive oil, with skin on till the skin turns brown, then pop the skin off. It takes the pungency off the garlic while imparting  lovely sweetness).

Just top the gnocchi with these ingredients, then toss lightly to mix. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and fresh ground black pepper on the side.

Broccoli-leek mash:
One small head broccoli, 3 leeks, cut into slices and well-washed, 2-3 cloves garlic, 2 tsp olive oil
Steam one small head of broccoli. Cook leeks and the garlic in olive oil until tender. First puree the leeks and garlic, then add in the broccoli and pulse lightly so you get a slightly grainy texture of puree. Add salt to taste.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Moroccan Dinner

Given the super-sultry + roasty weather in Delhi currently, eating has become a chore. Thinking of something that will actually tantalise the tastebuds and coax everyone into eating a hearty meal is quite difficult. But the other day when rootling for snacks, I came across an unopened pack of couscous and immediately flashed back to some couscous dinners in summers past, which had been delicious and popular with the family (read kids, the husband stops counting after you have more than one kid  - at least in these matters!). I happened to lug Kid number three to the doctor, and the doctor’s office is in easy reach of my favourite sabzi mandi, so naturally I made a beeline for it, and picked up loads of veggies, including celery and parsley, feeling like seeing some flecks of green among the grains of couscous.

I wanted to make an accompaniment that had lots of veggies and remembered seeing a recipe for Moroccan 7 vegetable stew in my friend Lulu’s blog so went across and took a look at it. The recipe also called for harissa, one of my favourite condiments, so was a cinch.

Couscous ( for 2-3 people)

Easy-peasy. Boil ¼ liter of water with 1 tsp oil and salt to taste for 250 grams of couscous. When it comes to a rolling boil, drop in the couscous and turn off the heat. Wait for 2-3 minutes and turn heat on to the lowest. Add one or two knobs of butter ( hazelnut-sized) and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter has melted and the couscous is fluffy and dry. Add in your choice of mixed herbs – I added parsley, coriander leaves, mint and chives – and mix well. You can also add in a few pomegranate berries for a fresh, sweet pop.

10 dried chillies
5-6 pieces of garlic, peeled
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds ( shahjeera) – optional, I’ve never used them
3 tbsp roasted coriander seeds or 2 tbsp coriander powder
1 peeled tomato, chopped
Handful fresh coriander
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Chilli powder to taste

Soak dried red chillies in hot water for an hour, until they become soft. Use Kashmiri chillies or Karnataka Byadgi chillies for the least pungency and best colour – if experimenting with other chillies, add them slowly to the harissa, as they can be unexpectedly potent. My tongue is still blistered from yesterday’s first batch! Puree together with all the other ingredients except the olive oil. When purred to a smooth consistency, add the olive oil. It can be stored in a fridge for 3 weeks – if it lasts that long. I find it addictive and it never lasts more than a couple of days.

Moroccan stew
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 onions, julienned
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ yellow bell pepper
½ red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
Half cup shelled peas
4-5 medium sized potatoes
2 carrots
200 gms pumpkin
28 oz tomato chunks ( I used a tin to make life easy)( approx 1 cup)
2.5 cups veg stock ( just add a stock cube to the water)
Half cup chick peas, boiled
Handful of raisins
1 bay leaf
2-3 saffron strands
2 tbsp olive oil ( not extra virgin!)
Salt to taste

Cut all the veggies into half inch dice. Saute the potatoes in the heated oil until golden brown and keep aside. To the same oil, add the celery, onions and garlic, green bell peppers and bay leaf and cook on medium heat until the onions soften. Add the tomatoes and the saffron as well as the carrots and the stock and let simmer for ten minutes. Then add in the rest of the veggies including the potatoes, and the salt and cook, covered, until the veggies are done. Add the boiled chickpeas and raisins just before serving.

Serve the couscous with the stew on the side, accompanied by harissa so everyone can add as much harissa as their spice-meter enjoys. You can also squeeze a bit of fresh lemon on the couscous to make it taste even more fresh and light, just before serving.

PS. You can add other veggies to the stew - cauliflower, broccoli, beans...

Monday, June 18, 2012

The best scrambled eggs, ever!!!

I thought I had it down pat. The perfect, fluffy, light and delicious scrambled eggs. But no, as always in cooking, there was more to learn. Watching Junior Masterchef Australia, I heard one of the young cooks mention olive oil. Another took out cream from the oantry as an essential ingredient. And one of the judges talked about making scrambled eggs on an almost cold pan, stirring desultorily. Hmm, I ruminated, and promptly put my thoughts to the test yesterday at breakfast. Apart from missing snipped chives, these are, honestly, hand-on-my-heart, the very best scrambled eggs I have ever tasted. Fluffy, light, buttery and with that delicious flavouring of olive oil...

5 eggs ( for 5 ppl) - or more if you want to be generous
Freshly ground pepper - can not stress this enough!!!
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cream
Salt to taste

Break the eggs into a bowl and lightly stir until the eggs and yolk are well mixed, but don't beat the eggs. Lay the pat of butter on the saucepan and turn the stove on low. Add the olive oil. In 2-3 seconds, add in the mixed eggs. Let them cook on the lowest possible flame. As you see the eggs coming together, stir gently with a wooden spoon, or if you want to show off, shake the pan from side to side. Keep doing this occasionally until you see more solid than liquid in the pan - it can take up to 5-7 minutes, so be patient. Add in the cream and switch off the heat. Add salt and mix; top with pepper. ( I like my scrambled eggs to be solid but not hard so I added the cream a little bit later).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

World Food Week yet again

Many years ago, before I entered the time-sucking world of parenthood or the convenient zone of maids cooking for one, I used to do all the cooking. And as usual bored of anything routine, I used to do one week of pan-Indian cuisine, i.e. cuisine from different states of India every day for a week, and one week of world food – food from different countries every day of the week. Those bit the dust along with cooking as a daily activity with the arrival of Chubbocks, but he is turning out to be quite the gourmet. He loves trying out different types of food, will try to guess the ingredients in various dishes and point out interesting recipes he spots here and there. In fact, he spotted a cheesecake pie recipe in one of his storybooks from school and we ended up making it – super simple and delicious! He’s my partner in watching Masterchef Australia and drooling at the amazing food they dish up. So this summer, one of my resolutions was to try and teach him to cook a few dishes. I have to say, this has been a pretty sad effort so far, what with my travel and overload of work and so on, but we have managed to try one or two things together.

Another big issue in my house is the appetite of Puddi, in particular. She gets bored of food and can take an hour or two to eat a piece of toast. Plus the kids do get bored of a steady diet of daal-chawal which is what happens when I don’t have time to cook up anything more interesting and leave it to the maids to decide the menu. While usually tasty, it does get very routine and boring, even for me. So I hit upon a solution – I asked Chubbocks and Puddi to create the menu, starting with breakfast, then lunch and dinner. We’ve been doing this for about 4 weeks now, give or take a few slips due to travel or work. We decide upon a week’s worth of food at the beginning of the week, and that way they don’t get to protest at whatever’s dished out. We do keep it a little flexible so we can move things around if need be, from one day to the next. But it really helps everyone in being more organized – the maid knows what has to be ready for the next day’s breakfast in advance, I know what veggies to shop for and therefore don’t end up greedily buying up everything in sight at the veggie shop as I used to, and the kids get to enjoy their favourites and quite a bit of variety. What’s interesting is that I find them naturally turning to suggest daal chawal or rice and raita after a day of more exotic fare. I’ve also started taking the kids veg and grocery shopping with me so they understand how to pick out veggies and fruit and how not to go overboard at Spencers .

This week we ended up with a menu that resembled world food week all over again. On a day when we had rajma chawal for lunch, we decided to put the rajma to good use as stuffing for veg tacos, with guacamole, tomato salsa and mango salsa on the side. Then we had noodles on the menu on Tuesday. As it turned out, we had gone grocery shopping on Monday and I spotted Pad Thai noodles at Spencer’s so I decided we should do that with a curry sauce, instead of the usual Maggi + soy sauce + veggies. I also spotted rice pancakes and decided we could do a nice little starter with those.

This is what our meal looked like:

Rice wrappers

Bean sprouts – 1 handful
Spring onions – 2 or 3, diced small
Half a Cabbage – shredded and steamed ( I was lazy/ creative – used up south Indian style cabbage sabzi left over from the previous day)
Peas – ½ cup, steamed if not soft and ripe

Mix the filling ingredients together. Put each sheet of rice pancake into hot water and immerse for about 10-15 seconds. Pull out and spread onto a sheet of aluminum foil. Put one tbsp of the filling in the middle. Wrap the long ends of the pancake over the filling, one over the other and then wrap up the short ends of the wrapper to seal in the filling. If you like deep-frying, go ahead and deep-fry the parcel; else serve with sweet-chilly sauce from Thailand.

Other fillings we tried out:

Math dal left over from the previous day, with some spring onions and Bikaneri Bhujia sprinkled on top

Basic barfi, heated in a microwave

Pad Thai Noodles with Curry Sauce ( a bit like Khow Suey – recipe from Tarla Dalal’s Thai cooking book)

Pop the noodles into a big bowl of cold water and let them sit for about 20 minutes until translucent and soft.
Steam cook 2-3 cups of assorted veggies – broccoli, baby corn, peas, corn, red and yellow peppers, carrots, beans…

For the curry sauce:
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup roasted peanuts
1 small onion, chopped fine
4 pieces garlic, chopped fine
1 tbsp red curry paste
Sugar and salt to taste
1 tbsp oil

Smash up the roasted peanuts until fine but not powdered.
In 1 tbsp oil, put the onions and garlic to cook until translucent. Add the red curry paste, coconut milk and roasted peanuts and simmer for 10 minutes.
To serve, arrange the noodles in the center of the dish, with the steamed veggies all around. Garnish with some bean sprouts. Serve the curry on the side.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Restaurant Review - Diva Piccola

I love Diva - I think the food is great, even though the restaurant is a bit out of our way and we therefore only manage to go there once or twice a year. So yesterday when my colleague and I decided to work out of Hauz Khas Village, trying out Diva Piccola was a natch.

It's on the main street of Hauz Khas Village, but one floor up, so to start with we struggled to find it. We had landed up there at 11:30 am, whereas the cafe opens only at 12 noon, so the first waiter to come up to us turned us away. We were almost out the door, when a second one bustled up and promptly asked us to sit, specifying that food could only be ordered after 12, but we could get something to drink.

Heaving a sigh of relief, we sat and began working away on our laptops - loads of work to get through, fortified with the delicious chocolate milkshare. The cafe has a relaxed ambience, nothing fancy, with comfortable leather-upholstered sofas and large windows letting in natural light, overlooking the main street of Hauz Khas Village. It's the kind of place that makes you feel like hanging out over a lazy lunch.

At noon precisely, the smiley waiter came up with the food menu. We decided to order a pizza (Ortolano - with aubergines and tomatoes) and a pasta ( angelhair with garlic and parsley). With our laptops spread out, our ubiquitous cellphones and the glasses of milkshake and water, the table was pretty packed. That's when the said waiter turned up with a suggestion that we could move to a larger table, by the window. We looked out onto the eclectic Hauz Khas scene as we rather quickly and greedily stuffed faces with the pizza - delicious, absolutely, super moist yet crisp - and the pasta which reminded me of vermicelli upma, and now has me thinking what else I could do with vermicelli a la pasta recipes. We finished off the meal with a cappucino each, to keep us awake through the client meeting to follow, and left, hugely satisfied.

Of course the food and the ambience were great. But what made the experience fabulous was the service - understanding of consumer's needs, flexible and oh-so-prompt, whether it was refilling our water glasses, clearing the table or bringing the bill. Truly outstanding.

Many Months later...

Have been a lazy, lazy blogger...but then you know that by now. However, thankfully I have not been a lazy, lazy cook. Here are some of the more interesting food innovations I've come up with over the past few months:

1. Pasta sauce inspired by Baingan ka bharta

I loove Baingan, or aubergines. And I love the way that my cook makes Baingan ka bharta - she slowcooks the onions until they become almost caramelized, and that gives the Bharta a wonderful sweetish taste that sings well with the taste of smoked Baingan. Anyway, as I was greedily scoffing it one evening at dinner, I thought - what better than to combine the earthy flavours of this with pasta? And thus, a culinary star was born.

I didn't want to over-tip the Indianness of flavours, so I steered away from the spice rack I would have beelined for, for a Bharta. I used freshly cut basil from my garden.

I thought the smoked baingan would look less attractive served over a pasta, so I diced it up finely and slow-cooked it in vegetable oil until it was melty-soft. The onions and tomatoes were also cut and cooked the same way. I added salt to taste, a dash of olive oil and a generous grating of parmesan, topped it off with the aforementioned basil and served it over farfalle. Delicious. But next time, I'm going to try it with smoked aubergine and see which ones lives up to my culinary dream better.

2. Cheesecake pie

Chubbocks read this recipe in a storybook and wanted to try it out. one of my objectives for this sumemr is to teach him to cook, so I thought this would be a good, easy one to start with. It was easy-peasy, looked professional and tasted fab - definitely a keeper for when I have guests over.

1 pack of Philadelphia cream cheese ( about 200 gms)
1 carton of lowfat cream ( 200 ml)
Honey to taste
Vanilla - 1 tsp
15 biscuits - depending on size. Use Digestives for better texture.
100 gms white butter, softened
About 20 strawberries, cut into halves, and assorted berries (canned will do)

Put the biscuits into a ziplock bag. Take your rolling pin out and bash them about - a great stressbuster too - but don't crush them too fine into powder. Add the softened butter and make it into a dough. Spread it out with your fingers to fit the bottom of a 9" diameter nonstick pie pan and park the pan into a cold fridge for a couple of hours, till the crust sets.

Meanwhile, put the cream cheese and the cream into a mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and the honey and beat into a smooth paste, but be careful not to overdo it, else the cream will turn into butter!!! Spread it out on top of the crust and put it away to chill.

Just before serving, top with the cut strawberries and the mixed berries. Add a dash of finely cut basil if you like.

3. Eggs and beans

Yes, not your usual combo, right? But anyway, I have to eat a lot of eggs on my diet, and am always looking for ways to make it fun. So I thought I'd experiment with Szechuan green beans topped with Chinese fried eggs, and whaddaya know, it worked!

Szechuan green beans - Top and tail fresh green beans, stir fry until somewhat soft on high heat in sesame oil, along with diced onions and finely chopped green chillies. Add a dash of soy sauce when done.

Chinese eggs - Fry eggs on medium heat in a dash of sesame oil. Add finely chopped fiery green chillies and finely chopped coriander leaves while the egg is still cooking, adda  dash of soy and leave until the egg is firm.

Top beans with eggs. Enjoy!

4. Raita/ dip with aubergine chips

Tastes great with any pulao/ chips/ crudites...

Take a couple of small aubergines and slice them really, really thin ( 1 mm). Deep fry them in oil until firm - they taste delicious, BTW.

Beat a cup of homemade yoghurt with a couple of minced garlic cloves and salt to taste. Decorate with the fried aubergines just before serving.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dilli delicacies

Last week I finally managed a wishlist item and went to Chandni Chowk with friends, by the Metro, much the sanest way to get there. I hadn't been back since I lived in the Red Fort during my first year of college, so Chandni Chowk certainly looked very different from what I remembered. We found our way to Dariba Kalan, passing vendors selling yummy-looking guavas and vegetable sellers who had beautifully packed mushrooms, broccoli and baby corn side by side with cholia and other purely desi veggies.

I spotted a cart selling Daulat ki Chaat as soon as we hit Dariba Kalan, and I was thrilled. I had been reading about this winter delicacy for years! Daulat ki chaat sounds like the kind of thing you'd expect indulgent nawabs to have invented - the froth is whipped off of boiling milk and left out to cool under the stars overnight, so the early morning dew soaks into it and helps it set. This is then whipped up with a few rose petals, slivers of khoya, bhoora and saffron to form an ethereal mouthful, like early morning clouds of a hopeful dawn, tinged with the red-gold of the sun. It dissolves on the tongue in seconds, leaving behind the merest hint of its grace to tantalise your tastebuds.

Once we'd indulged in that and some jewellery shopping in tiny shops along Dariba Kalan, we headed for Parathe wali Gali. One of my friends had recommended that we go to the third shop in the lane. Sadly, it's not much of a Parathewali gali anymore, and the third shop down was the only one to be offering the said Parathas. They had all kinds, though - karela, bhindi, mirchi, matar, khoya, kela etc along with the more traditional aloo, gobhi, mooli.

We decided to be adventurous and only go for the exotica - starting with Karela, mirchi and papad, then moving on to malai, matar and so on. The meal consists of kaddu ki sabzi, tari wale aloo, sukhey aloo and gur-imli ki chutney with bananas along with the assortment of parathas. As it turned out, the one traditional one we ordered - the mooli one- was a big letdown in erms of flavour, but all the others were fabulous, leaving me dreaming up combinations of my own to try out at home. Though the parathas were deep-fried, they weren't heavy. Four of us ate about 9 of the parathas, washed down with Pepsi but didn't feel weighted down by the meal when we left.

Highly recommended: Papad, mirchi, kaju parathas; kela paratha for dessert. Do carry tissues/ wet wipes and if you're particular, some sanitizer.