13 October 2007

A tale of a few substitutes

Some days, I like to experiment. And throw caution to the winds.

Today, I wanted some Thai Curry. I wanted it at once. And went to the one and only place that stocks 'foreign' foods. They were all out of Thai curry paste. None of the supermarkets had any lemongrass. The funny thing is, they've never stocked any before this, but for some obscure reason, I felt the need to make the attempt. Reason takes a backseat when stubbornness takes over.

Back home, I took a kitchen inventory. I compared the ingredient list with the contents of my pantry. Red Chilly, check; galangal, no; garlic, check; ... and finally kept aside what I had.

I started with the chillis. They were rather sad looking. They looked faded. What's a Thai curry without that brilliant fiery red hue?

Reason attempted to take over, but was deflected by skin thicker that the diameter or a rhinoceros. Thai curry I wanted, and Thai curry I'd make.

If I couldn't get red, why not a brilliant yellow. So out came the turmeric (the powder.. not fresh root). Shallots?? Hah! I had just made onion sambar the previous day, and used up all my stock...... and out came an onion. There was ginger (alright, I never get galangal here) and garlic. And then horror of horrors..... no lemon grass. None at all.

That needed some thought. Some rational thought. Some reason in the madness. Remember that rhinoceros I mentioned? That one charged, and drove calm, rational logic away. And convinced that obstinate illogical mind to substitute it with.. hold your breath.. lemon zest.

And ground said ingredients into a paste. And fried said paste. Added a bag of frozen veggies to said fried paste. Seasoned it with a little salt, and let said concoction simmer till the veggies were cooked. And then added a very generous dollop of coconut milk to said mix, and let it simmer a bit, and garnished with basil.

Just then the other half came home for lunch. 'Something smells nice,' he said.

I served up the curry with basil scented rice. And started to attend to the baby's lunch.

OH took a bite. And asked, 'what's for dinner?'

Hmmm... I hadn't planned that far ahead. 'Chappatis, maybe??'

'Great,' said OH. And refused a second helping, insisting he was saving space for chappatis.

After the baby had her lunch, I settled her down for a nap. And sat down to a leisurely lunch, and a good book. I took a bite of that bright yellow curry. And winced.

As curries went, it was not bad at all. It may not have been Thai curry, but was a rather decent curry in its own right. But the lemon zest had made it really bitter. Killed it completely.

I too had a light lunch... saved space for chappatis.

Next time that rhino interferes in the kitchen, I plan to call for pizza... "Sumimasen.... pizza O-hitotsu onegaishimasu" and then try to blunder through my order for a vegetarian pizza, and delivery address in Japanese.

17 September 2007

Art, sweets and some Math

An acquaintance of ours, Mrs. Y, has been asking me for a while to conduct an "Understand India" session at one of the various organizations she's a patron of. Understand India? It sounded too broad a brief, and I agreed, without a single clue what I was going to do or talk about. My abysmal Japanese notwithstanding.

Once I was given the brief it didn't sound that bad. "Think of a typically Indian activity for kids, and make one Indian dish that the kids can also help make." All right. That didn't sound too bad. But as D-day loomed, I hadn't thought of a single thing that was "typically Indian". Then I realised, that I'd comitted to this session on the same date Ganesha chaturthi, and inspired by that, I said I'd show kids about Rangoli. That idea was a really winner. The kids really enjoyed it, and had a whale of a time giving free reign to their limitless imagination.

For the typically Indian dish, I had major constrains. The venue had just a small hot plate. I had work with that. That ruled out most traditional stuff. And it had to be kid friendly. Decisions, decisions!

I finally decided on 'maalaadu', an old favourite, that was simple enough to make. I powdered the pottu kadalai (roasted-chana-dal) and sugar in advance, and all that there was to do, was the assembly. And that too went down quite well. So after sweating it out in the sun, we all sat down to a very welcome snack of 'maalaadu' and lassi.

Maalaadu/Besan laddoo

1/2 kg Roasted chana dal/pottu kadalai (finely powdered)
1/2 kg sugar (finely powdered)
1/4 tsp cardomom powder
1/2 kg ghee

Mix the dry ingredients well in a large bowl.
Heat the ghee.
Pour over the powders, and stir in well with a wooden spoon, or spatula.
Mix well.
Shape into laddoos while still warm.

During the introduction, Mrs Y introduced India and Indians to the kids as mathematical geniuses. Genius?? Well, the kids started throwing numbers at me, asking to multiply them mentally. And these were numbers they could manage. All under 20. At this point, the imp in me took over, and I started demonstrating the finer points of vedic mathematics to these kids. Just a couple of 'sutras', but sutras that I was very very sure about. The very elementary, simple ones. Soon I had kids writing numbers on the board, and writing out the answers before they could key in and get the answer from a calculator. God, that was some ego trip! The awe on the faces of the students, and teachers alike, had to be seen to be believed. So in this neck of the woods at least, we have kids thinking that Indians have a second brain for mathematics.

Thank goodness they didn't want to look at my marks cards.

13 September 2007

Egg Curry

One of the first thing that someone tells me, once they hear that I'm from India, is "I love butter chicken." The sum total of interest in Indian cuisine seems limited to butter chicken. There are people here who actually believe that I eat 'butter chicker kare' for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't get them to understand that I'm vegetarian, or that there's more to Indian food that 'Butter Chicken'.

And after being asked about Butter Chicken once too often, I decided that I have to try making a egg or paneer version of the dish. The results weren't anything to blog about. Unfortunately, most of the gravies/masalas that taste awesome with some meat based dishes, don't work that well with vegetable substitutes.

After a lot of trial and error, I earmarked one set of proportions that seemed to work well with eggs or paneer. But it still lacked a certain something. One fine day, as I was making my monthly grocery list, I saw that my grocer had listed a new item, "Chicken Curry masala". Also, by this time, I was so bugged with the absurdly limited vegetable and spice options here that I was willing to try something new. I was willing to try ANYTHING new. So I ordered one packet of the masala. The next time I made a paneer dish, I ignored the usual 'Kitchen King' and Garam Masalas, and seasoned it with the Chicken Curry masala. A was quite impressed. He had no clue what had gone into it, but said it tasted wonderful. I tried it again with Egg Curry, and the result was simply fabulous. I should mention that it tastes wonderful with other vegetable gravies too. Chicken curry masala is a pantry staple now. Always on hand to jazz up a dish when we get bored with the same things over and over again.

Egg Curry

8 Eggs (hard boiled, peeled and slit with a sharp knife)
1 tbsp ginger, garlic paste -
2 large onion
2 large tomato
1 tsp kasuri methi
1 tsp chilly powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin powder
3/4 tsp chicken curry masala
3 tbsp cup cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
6 cashewnuts paste
1 tsp khus-kush
3 tbsp oil
salt to taste

Grind onion to a smooth paste. Puree the tomatoes.
Soak cashewnuts and khus-khus. Drain excess water and grind to a smooth paste.
Heat a heavy bottom kadhai. Quickly toast the kasuri methi and keep aside.
Heat oil in the kadhai. Add onion paste and saute till oil separates.
Add ginger-garlic paste, and saute till the raw smell is gone.
Add all spice-powders (except chicken curry masala) and saute for a minute.
Add tomato puree and khuskhus-cashew paste.
Adjust salt to taste.
Crush roasted kasuri methi to fine powder and add to kadhai.
Bring the gravy to a simmer. Add eggs to the gravy and continue to simmer.
When gravy starts to thicken, add chicken curry masala powder and simmer for a minute more.
Remove kadhai from heat, and stir in butter and cream.
Serve hot.

More Dal, please

Dal, wonderful dal. It's something we take so much for granted. I've ranted about how this wonderful dish is not given it's due. Recently, we had some of A's colleagues over for lunch. After I'd finished cooking, I suddenly wondered if most things would be too spicy for my guests' palates. I thought it'd be prudent to make some dal. Just in case.

At lunch, my husband simply ignored other fancy stuff and kept helping himself to dal. So did my daughter. Out guests were quite surprised about how a simple process like tadka (tempering) could infuse a plain dish with so much subtle flavour. And seperating the tempering did make it look a little fancy too.

Basic Dal

1 cup moong dal (washed and cooked with salt and turmeric)
1 tsp ghee
1 pinch hing
2 (or more) dry red chillis
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander

Heat ghee.
Quickly saute the chillis, remove from ghee and add to dal.
Add the cumin seeds, and let them brown. Add hing. Remove cumin from ghee and add to dal.
Add mustard seeds to the ghee, and after they splutter, add them to the dal along with the remaining ghee.
Add chopped coriander for garnish.
Stir well before serving.
Serve hot.

Lunch Box Solutions

Weekday mornings are all about lunch boxes. Before the school bus drives up to our doorstep, I need to get my daughter's lunch-box (or Obento) ready. Getting a lunch box ready is not that much of an issue. What's really needed is an obento that my daughter is sure to like.

If that didn't tell you what the problem is, then allow me to elucidate. The little darling is a picky eater. Very picky. Most days we have this early morning battle over the planned lunch. She takes one look at what I'm cooking, and asks, "Is that cute? I want a cute obento." No, I have no clue what a cute obento is. Depending on her mood, it could be anything from crispy potato rolls, to spaghetti to dal-and-rice. Depends on her mood, the tides, phase of the moon, and anything else you'd care to throw into the mix.

One simple fix is Pooris. Pooris are always a hit with kids. Little ones and big ones. To add to the 'cute' factor, I roll out a really large poori, and cut out smaller ones before I fry them. Using a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter, it adds up to around 2 regular pooris.

My daughter liked these tiny pooris so much that she prefers them to regular sized pooris. I'm certainly not complaining. The potato curry for this one is stripped down to absolute basics.

Very Simple Potato Curry

1 medium potato (chopped fine)
1 small onion (chopped fine) (optional)
1 tsp oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 pinch turmeric
1 pinch hing
Salt to taste

Heat oil. Temper with mustard, hing and turmeric.
Add onions, if using, and saute till onions turn transperent.
Add potatoes and salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or till done.

Add some fruit, and lunch is ready to go!

Chappatis for lunch turned out be another challenge. The little gourmet wanted small chappatis. And then the real fun started. I rolled out a really huge chappati, and with a 'katori' cut out smaller disks. I started off cooking 4 or 5 at a time on my tava. I was about then I asked myself that all important question. How on earth am I supposed to fluff these tiny things over an open flame? My tongs would surely tear them up. And my fingers had way too much to do over the course of the day, so using them was out. One fell right through my little wire phulka frame. Necessity breeds solutions. I put my little tea insufer to good use. It was tiny enough to hold one tiny corner while I fluffed them over an open flame.

And after all that early morning drama, the lunch box came back totally empty! At the end of the day, thats all that counts. Whether it was it all eaten up.

On a recent festival, I thought it was really unfair that the little one missed out on the multi-course lunch. She could always have some when she got back from school, but why not AT school? And a typical south Indian lunch is not that difficult to make into an obento.

Dal-rice with ghee, crisp urad-dal vadais, tomato salad, carrot salad, cabbage curry and fruit. Next time I need to figure out how to pack payasam so that it doesn't spill.

Uninspired mornings sometimes breed inspired solutions. In a totally bored frame of mind, I made a little potato curry, and stared stupidly into my fridge and freezer, and wondered what to do. Should I make rice, chappati, poori?? Should I just give up and go back to sleep? And then I saw some frozen puff-pastry sheets in a corner of the freezer. And came up with this. I have no idea what to call this, so go right ahead and name it. Be my guest.


1 sheet puff pastry (20cm x 10cm x 0.5cm)
1 cup potato filling (recipe follows)

1 large potato (chopped very fine)
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 pinch turmeric
1 tsp oil
salt to taste

Heat oil.
Add the spice powders, and stir for a few seconds, and immediately add the chopped potato.
Add salt to taste. Cover and cook for 10 mins, or till done.
Preheat oven to 175C.
Thaw puff pastry, and roll to 2mm thickness.
Spread prepared filling over it.
Shape into a roll. Cover roll with cling-film and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Line a cookie sheet with baking paper.
Cut into slices. Arrange on sheet, leaving 2-3 cms between rolls.
Bake until golden brown. About 12-15 minutes.

Next time I want to try a grown up version of this, with some garam masala, and chilli powder. Lets see how that works.

20 August 2007

It's official

.. that I ROCK!

A tells me that frequently. And now Pragyan of Cooking with Pragyan thinks I'm a Rocking Girl Blogger.

And in keeping with tradition, I hereforth pass it on to these lovely ladies. They and their blogs really do 'rock'. Read on to the chorus of "We will, we will Rock you......"

Mallika of From the Chaos
Madhu's One true thing
Preethy's Masala Sushi

And, Ladies, now that you rock too, pass it on to others who you think rock. I know that I do, so feel free to leave me out of that list.

19 August 2007

Twice tempered dal

Dal is one of the must-haves in any Indian home. I, for one, cook at least one dal-based item everyday. Deciding what dal to cook is a bit of a daily dilemma. Most mornings, I just cook a little tuvar dal first thing in the morning, and later decide what my menu for the day is likely to be. On a good day, my daughter usually wants 'parappu-saadam' (dal and rice) for her lunch-box. Or if I'm luckier she wants to eat that for breakfast. Which is why I make a little rice and dal before I start heating water for my morning tea!

Sometimes I think dal is highly underrated. A few years ago, I was planning a party. And as I'd decided to get it catered, I was bouncing off the menu I'd planned with a few party-hosting pros. As I read out and counted the items ordered, one of them said that dal does not count. Apparently, I had to have dal, but not to count that in the number of items I wanted to serve. It was not a 'course' per se. That was a bit of a kicker. And, after the party, the dal was the only item of which I had no leftovers! The serving bowl was wiped clean! The humble dal somehow doesn't seem to get its full due sometimes.

Sometimes, after back-to-back culinary experiments, A usually asks for a 'simple lunch' of rice, 'simple dal' and some vegetables. And on these days he asks for my 'simple' dal. And I must confess, its a simple, soothing comfort-food. Low on time, effort and preparation, and very very satisfying. My secret to my 'simple dal' is that it's tempered twice. And its exponentially as tasty, or so A claims.

Twice Tempered Dal

1/2 cup split (yellow) moong dal
1/4 cup split (red) masur dal
1 pinch Turmeric
1 tbsp Ghee
1 pinch Hing/asafetida
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tbsp Butter
1 small Tomato (chopped)
1 tsp Ginger-garlic paste
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Wash and cook dals with enough water and turmeric.
Adjust salt to taste.
Heat ghee. When hot, add cumins seeds.
When the cumin seeds start to splutter, add Hing.
Add this tempering to the dal.
Combine butter, tomato, ginger garlic and garam masala in a small frying pan (or whatever you use for tempering).
Simmer the mixture till the fat separates and the raw smell of garlic has gone and add to the dal.
Stir the dal well and garnish with chopped coriander before serving.

17 August 2007

Of sunny days and lemonade

One of summer's anticipated treats is lemonade. Clear skies, a nice cool corner, both kids down for their afternoon nap, all work done, a good book, and finally a tall glass of cool and sweet and tart lemonade. Ah bliss!

And wouldn't it be simply wonderful if one didn't have to make the lemonade from scratch each time? I am no fan of instant lemonade. Somehow, all those additives simply kill the 'real' taste of lemonade.

A series of incredibly hot days meant there was a constant demand for cool lemonade. And it was time to make a batch of my lemon squash. Isn't that a paradox? Lemon squash from someone who dislikes them? Well, try it my way, and then see if you can ever buy bottled lemon squash again.

This versatile lemon squash is a blessing to have around the house. It doesn't need refrigeration. Just store it in a cool dry place, in a tight container. And there's more to it than just lemonade. Add a generous dollop to cold tea, and you have instant ice-lemon tea. Stir into desserts, use as dessert topping, use your imagination!

And I swear this squash 'tastes' of sunshine. Maybe that's just in my mind, but I swear it does! It's one of the simplest thing I've ever tried to make. Squeeze lemons, strain, add sugar, transfer to metal container with a tight lid, and leave it in the sun for a couple of days till the sugar completely melts. Add salt and transfer to an airtight bottle. It's that simple!

I've been told that this squash lasts for as long as 6 months. I couldn't say for sure. The family finishes it up really fast, and the longest I've managed to store a batch is 2 months.

Super-simple Lemon Squash

Lemons (as many as you have energy to squeeze)
Sugar (about 1 kg for every 15 large lemons)
A large metal container with tight fitting lid
2 hot sunny days
Salt (optional)

Clean, dry and sterlized glass bottles

Oh yes, and patience too.

Squeeze lemons, and get as much juice as you can.
Strain juice. Discard seeds and pips.
Measure and transfer juice to metal container.
For every cup of juice, add 1.5 to 2 cups of sugar.
Stir well.
Leave the container in a place that gets a lot of sun.
Stir occasionally, and leave container in the sun until all sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in salt if using. (Add 1 tbsp of salt for every 3-4 cups of lemon juice measured)
Transfer to storage bottles, and keep in a cool dry place.

I like my lemonade tart, so get all the juice out of the lemons. For a not so tart lemonade, don't squeeze too hard too close to the rind.
Usually, a cup-and-a-half of sugar per cup of lemon juice is what I use. If you like lemonade sweeter, you could go as high as 2 cups.
For a bitter lemon cordial, don't strain the lemon juice. Add sugar, and let it stand in the sun till it melts completely. Strain with a very fine sieve/strainer just before bottling. This is a great mixer with drinks.

For once, I have something ready on time (well in time) for a food blogging event. This is my entry for Meeta's Monthly Mingle for September, 'Liquid Dreams'.

16 August 2007

White Chocolate & Macadamia nut cookies

Cookies. To cook or not to cook. That is the question...

Pardon that inexcusably bad pun. Baking cookies is a bit of a challenge here. I like my cookies crisp and crunchy, the significant other likes his soft and chewy. And whether my daughter deigns to eat a homemade cookie or not depends on the phase of the moon, the time of the day, the tides, eclipses and what not.

Recent the So asked why I never bake his favourite White Chocolate, & Macadamia nut cookies. Hmmm.. let me see.. could it be because he always complains that my cookies are crunchy? I decided that if he wanted (un)baked cookies (read soft cookies), that's what he'd get.

So I trawled good old Epicurious and found this recipe for White chocolate, Cranberries and Macadania nut cookies. That was half the job done. Considering that the SO wasn't that big a fan of cranberries, I left those out. This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but there was this really challenging step. To take the cookies out of the oven at the right time. And wince when they were not baked to tooth-challenging-crunching-satisfaction. Ah well, the sacrifices I make!!!!!

I'd planned to take the kids to the park, so I dropped off one batch of cookies at A's office, and off I headed to my daughter's favourite park. My phone buzzed. It was A. I was mentally braced for "not quite the way I like them".

A said that he had just bitten into the first of the cookies. And??? I waited with breathless anticipitation... "these are the best cookies I've ever eaten!" I wasn't too sure I'd heard right. And after he went on in the same note for a while, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. The little one came running, and asked for a snack. I gave her a cookie. She took a bite. She gave me a funny look. "Amma, this is not cookie. This is not cake," .... Thus spake the little gourmet, and ran back the swings.

Ah well, I can't please everyone. One gourmet at a time, thank you.

White Chocolate, & Macadamia nut cookies
(makes about 40)

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla essence
2 cups white chocolate chips (or coarsely chopped white chocolate)
1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 175°C.
Sift together salt, flour and baking powder and keep aside.
Beat butter till fluffy. Add both the sugars, and beat till well mixed.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Add the sifted flour and beat until just blended.
Stir in chocolate and nuts.
Drop dough into cookie sheets, 1.5-2 tbsp at a time, spacing them about 2" apart.
Bake for 15-18 minutes until just golden.
Cool on sheets.

I tried these cookies with a mix of peanuts and macadamia nuts. Those turned out fairly well too. This recipe is a keeper. All I need to do is resist the temptation to bake them a little longer.
And I have to admit, these taste better chewy than crunchy.

14 August 2007

Roast Pepper and Pasta Salad

I'm a big fan of roast pepper. I love that burst of hot and sweet flavours that result from a well grilled/roasted/BBQ'd pepper. It's unbeatable. I love roast pepper in sandwiches, in soups, and by itself.

I always wanted to try roast pepper in a salad, but somehow never got it right. After a few failed experiments, this one turned out really well; hot, sweet, colourful peppers, cool pasta, and creamy dressing? And it was all polished off at dinnertime. What better complement than a meal sans leftovers??

Roast Pepper and Pasta Salad

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup penne or macaroni
1 tsp basil
2 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp mayonnaise
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Cook pasta al dente, or softer. Drain and cool.
Char the peppers over a gas flame (or in a broiler) until blackened on all sides.
Put in a paper bag and keep aside for 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the capsicums and deseed.
Cut into thin strips.
Toss pasta with half of pepper, sour cream, mayonnaise, basil and a little salt.
Garnish with remaining pepper strips and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve cold.

22 June 2007

Potatoes Galore

It was one of those days! I got up with a minor headache, a cranky infant and a little one who wanted something 'cute' for lunch. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the chief gourmet had just had a tooth extraction, and was as cheerful as a bear with a sore paw. So there I was, I had to make a 'cute' lunch for baby bear, liquid lunch for papa bear, and something light and filling for mama bear.

And trying to get my daughter ready for kindergarten, my little one soothed and cold packs for my husband, the kitchen was in chaos. By the time the baby was rocked to sleep, and the other one well on her way getting ready for school, I went into the kitchen to get cracking on the lunchbox. I looked at my cooker. What on earth were so many potatoes doing there?? Just what am I supposed to do with 6 LARGE boiled potatoes? In all that chaos, I'd dumped the entire potato bag into the cooker, and I had plenty of boiled potatoes.

Well, there was nothing to be done, but finish it all. First the lunch box. A fruit assortment, rice rolls, and crispy potato rolls. Potato soup was the obvious choice for the liquid lunch (not that there was a choice) and a potato salad for me. Easy... and done!

Crispy Potato Rolls
makes 10 small rolls

1 potato (boiled and peeled)
1/4 cup cooked rice (cooled)
salt to taste
oil for frying

Mash potatoes with rice and salt.
Shape into rolls or patties.
Deep fry in hot oil.
Drain rolls on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

That's that. No jokes, that's all it takes. Try adding a pinch of turmeric and some cumin powder. This is one of a repertoire of never fail recipes. And the potato fingers stay crisp till lunch time.

Potato and Pineapple Salad
serves 2

2 potatoes (boiled, peeled, diced)
1 small onion (diced)
1 cup pineapple (diced)
4 tbsp sour cream
1/4 tsp dried peppermint
salt to taste

Stir peppermint and salt into the sour cream.
In a large bowl, mix potatoes, onion and pineapple.
Add dressing, and toss lightly till evenly coated.
Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Serve cold.

Potato, Leek and Garlic Soup
makes 2 helpings

3 potatoes (boiled, peeled, grated fine)
1 cup leek (finely sliced)
1 head garlic
2 tbsp butter
2 cups low fat milk
2 tbsp almond paste
1 tbsp vegetable stock (dissolved in 1/4 cup water)
salt to taste
pepper for garnish

Wrap garlic in aluminium foil and bake for 30 minutes at 160°C.
Cool slightly, and squeeze garlic of of skin. Mince lightly and keep aside.
Heat butter. Lightly fry leeks till they start to brown.
Add garlic and fry for 2 minutes.
Puree one potato in a blender.
(If you want a smooth soup, puree the leeks and garlic along with it)
Add the grated and blended potatoes, the vegetable stock and mix well, mashing lightly against the sides of the pan with the back of a spoon.
Add milk a little at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Add almond paste, and stir well, ensuring there are no lumps.
Season with salt.
Garnish with white pepper and serve hot.

11 June 2007

Spicy Tomato Soup

A couple of years ago, on a visit to the US, my family and I had dinner at a friends' restaurant in NJ. It was a wet wet day, and we were rather disoriented after a non-stop 18 hour flight. As we waited for dinner, we were served some soup.

I wasn't really in a mood for any little bits and nibbles. I just wanted my dinner, and wanted to hit the sack, and reset my body clock. It was also one of those occassions where I couldn't refuse, or not eat it. So I took a sip, then a gulp and then slurped it all down and asked for seconds.

It was such a wonderful soup, a cross between tomato soup and rasam. Light, thin, sweet, spicy, and made me feel at peace with the world after a long long journey with my little one in tow.

And since then I've always tried to replicate that lovely soup, and I finally got it just right. It's simple, tasty, and very unfussy.

Spicy tomato soup
makes 3 cups

1 (200 ml) can tomato sauce (NOT ketchup)
400 ml water
1 tbsp rasam powder (or to taste)
1 lemon sized ball of jaggery
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
Hing (Asafetida)
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
salt to taste

Bring tomato sauce, water, rasam powder and salt to a boil.
Add jaggery.
Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
Heat ghee. Add jeera and fry until lightly browned. Add hing. Pour over soup.
Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

1. Hunts tomato sauce is my favourite. It works better than most other brands. I usually measure out one small can of sauce, and 4 cans of water.
2. Use water according to desired consistency. I like this soup thin. Use less water for a thicker soup.
3. In case you can't find tomato sauce, puree a can of diced tomatoes, strain the puree, and add water accordingly.

22 May 2007

Papad ki Subzi

One advantage of living in the backwoods is that you tend to be quite innovative. People had told me before I moved here that life in Japan wasn't easy for a vegetarian. And these were people who used Osaka, Kobe and Tokyo as a benchmark. But nothing prepared me for this little town. Vegetable choices are rather limited throughout the year. For someone who spent the last 5 years in Singapore, where every veggie was available all through the year, this was a bit of a challenge.

But there is a silver lining to every cloud. The one really wonderful good to come out of this is that, A, the ultimate gourmet, is willing to try anything new. With very little fuss. Of course, I still can't get him to eat karela or soya chunks, but he's not half as fussy as he used to be.

There are days when I look at the veggies I have at home, and want something totally new to eat. Those are the days when I'm totally in the mood for something new.... anything new. One of those days my mind went into a kind of trance. I thought:
What dish I was most in the mood to eat: pittla.
What did I like best about it: the texture of papads soaked in the pittla base.
Does A like papads: yes.
Does A like the texture of soaked papads: yes.
Will A eat most veggies in his favourite onion-tomato gravy: yes.
What can go wrong: not much.
What's the worst that could happen: Leftovers.
The odds sounded good, and I thought to myself, "nothing ventured nothing gained".

And fortifying myself with that other pithy homilies, I went forth to do battle. I whipped up my favourite gravy, fried up some papads, broke them, stirred them into the hot gravy, let it soak, and served it up with rice.

First thing A asked was expected. "What on earth is this?"... I tried to explain in detail, but he cut me short. "Basically you're telling me there's papads, onion and tomatoes in this, right? Then it can't be too badly messed up, what?"

How can I ever argue with such brilliant logic??

The verdict was favourable too. I didn't have ANY leftovers. I couldn't ask for more, could I?

Papad ki Subzi
serves 2

4 medium sized papads (fried and broken into medium sized pieces)
1 large onion (sliced fine)
1 large tomato (sliced)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 pinch hing
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garam masala/kitchen king
salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat 2 tbsp oil and temper with cumin seeds and hing.
Add onion slices, and fry till lightly browned.
Add tomato slices, and cook till oil separates.
Add all spice powders and stir for 2 mins.
Adjust salt to taste.
Add papad pieces to gravy and stir.
Take pan off heat, and transfer contents to serving bowl.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Cover and keep aside. Let the papads soak for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Serve hot.

Garlic or other such spiced papads work best. Plain appalams will do in a pinch, but the masala varieties are awesome.
Do fry papads for this one. For some reason, plain roasted or microwaved papads just don't soak in the gravy the way fried ones do.

13 May 2007

Grilled Pepper Sandwiches

Ever craved for a warm, easy to make snack on a rainy day? Something that doesn't take too much effort?

Here's what I came up with during one of my recent snack attacks. I had some leftover soup, and wanted something heavier to go with it. A sandwich seemed the best option. I had some lovely peppers, and some hot-dog buns, and made up this quick sandwich. It turned out quite well. Next time, I want to try slices of other grilled veggies to go with it. I wonder what would work well....

Grilled Pepper Sandwiches

2 capsicums (any colours)
2 hot-dog buns
2-4 slices of cheese
2 boiled eggs (sliced)
Salt & Pepper

Char the capsicums over a gas flame (or in a broiler) until blackened on all sides.
Put in a paper bag and keep aside for 10 minutes.
Peel the charred skin off the capsicums and deseed. Cut into strips and keep aside.
Preheat oven to 140C
Slit buns. Fill with cheese, capsicums, boiled egg slices, and season with mustard, salt and pepper.
Wrap each sandwich tightly in aluminium foil, and put in the oven for 5 minutes.
Serve hot.

It's not absolutely essential to wrap sandwiches in foil, but it does prevent the crust of the buns from charring.
Boiled egg is optional.

Minty-tangy Onion Relish

I can't think of anyone who dislikes onion relish. It does add a certain dash as a condiment with north Indian food. What if the same onions are served with a minty dressing? The result is absolutely fabulous. Hot, minty, tangy and totally yummy. Goes great with Biriyani... just remember to make a generous quantity. It disappears faster than the eye can see.

Minty Onion Relish
makes about 4 cups

2 large onions (sliced fine)
2 cups mint leaves
1 cup coriander leaves
1 green chili
1 tsp jeera powder
2 tbsp grated coconut
1 marble sized ball of tamarind
2 tbsp hot water
salt to taste

Wash and clean the coriander and mint leaves.
Soak tamarind in about 2 tbsp hot water. Dissolve and extract as much juice as possible. Strain and keep aside.
Add all ingredients except the onions, and grind to a fine paste.
In a serving bowl, combine sliced onions, and the mint-paste.
Cover with cling film, and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

More green chilis may be added, depending on taste.
Dessicated coconut works well, but nothing like fresh coconut of you can get some.

06 May 2007

Guilt-free Dessert

Once upon a time yours truly would go on dessert binges. When I say binge, I mean binge. Still skeptical?? Hmmm... let me see... There was this time a friend and I were celebrating our very first salaries. And we decided that nothing less than a total splurge would suffice! And we had this multi course lunch. We ordered the entire dessert menu at our favourite restaurant for lunch, and then went to our favourite ice cream parlor for dessert.

Those were also the days when I used to run. And my favourite pair of jeans never had to strain to accommodate all that dessert. To cut a long story short, those days are now fond history. These days I just have to look at a dessert and last years jeans scream out in horror... "no, no, no more please!"

Now that I'm experimenting with low-fat sugar-free foods, this seemed a good time to make something I've wanted to try for ages. Thick yogurt and fruit, sans sugar.

I'm big fan of flavoured yogurts. I love shrikhand and mishti doi. Store bought flavoured yogurt is fine too, but I always wished the texture could be creamier. And since my friendly neighbourhood vegetable store's shelves are full of fruit these days, this seemed to be the right time to try out this dessert.

Active time is quite little: drain yogurt for 2 hours. Cut as many fruits as you wish to add, stir the residue till smooth, top with cut fruits, and voila, dessert's up!

Verdict: light, cool, yummy, and guilt free. The little one too had her share, and didn't ask for sugar or honey to go with it!

Creamy Yogurt with Fruit
Serves 6

10 cups yogurt
2 cups strawberries, halved
1 cup grapes
1 cup pineapple chunks

Set a colander over a large bowl and line colander with a muslin cloth.
Pour yogurt into colander and let it drain in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Transfer the yogurt in the colander to a serving bowl.
* Stir gently till smooth.
Garnish with fruits.
Chill till ready to serve.

* Optional
Add 1 or 2 tbsp honey or powdered sugar to the yogurt while stirring.

The volume of curd reduces after draining. So for each 1-cup serving, you'll need about twice the volume of fresh yogurt.
If using low-fat or 2% yogurt, 1 hour draining time is enough.
Oranges, apples and banana slices can also be used.

05 May 2007

A spoonful of sugar

I can't think of anyone who would refuse a little sweet something after a meal. There's a child in everyone of us who eagerly anticipates dessert after dinner, a treat on an outing, and of course, a birthday cake.

And there are also loved ones in every family who, due to diabetes, are denied that small pleasure. My father-in-law too belongs to that group. He's also the sort who prefers to keep his sugar levels under control with a strict diet, and a bare minimum of medication.

Ever since we got married, at every festive occasion my f-i-l has been the only one to forgo the sweet course. I always felt bad that he had to miss out on the best part of every meal.

For a while now I've had this idea that I should experiment with sugar-free desserts, and this year, I've done so. For the Tamil new year, I made a special semiya paayasam. And recently, a nice badam kheer. Those are for another post.

Last week was his birthday, and this time I was determined that he should have a birthday cake. And This was what he got.

A sugarless sponge, topped with whipped cream and strawberries. And the best part, it had just one teaspoon of sugar. Yes, just a single teaspoon of sugar in that entire cake.

Now the kicker: the verdict. F-i-l liked it, as it met all his dietary criteria. And that it was a birthday cake he could eat to his heart's content. Everyone else thought it was .. hmmm... not sweet. But the person it was intended for appreciated it :)

Would you like to try it out??

Sugarless Strawberry Sponge

2 large eggs (separated)
1 tsp powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla essence
4 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup whipping cream
fruits for garnish

Sift flour and baking powder thrice.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C.
Grease and dust a 18cm diameter round tin (or equivalent).
Beat egg yolks, vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp sugar till very pale, and beaters start to leave a ribbon trail when lifted.
Beat egg whites with 1/2 tsp sugar till stiff peaks hold.
Add egg whites to the yolks, little at a time, folding gently after each addition.
Gently fold in the flour.
Bake for 15 minsutes, or till tester inserted into cake comes out clean.
Remove cake from tin and cool completely.

Whip cream.
Spread over sponge, and garnish with fruits.

18 April 2007

Fruit Cake - II

Over the winter, with the new baby at home, there's been a steady stream of visitors. And I found it very easy to make up really large batches of fruitcake, and my visitors too loved those. And since fruitcake has such a wonderfully long shelf life, there's always something nice to snack on.

After my last batch of fruitcake, I trawled around for recipes, and finally located an old notebook of mine with a recipe of the very first fruitcake that got me hooked. And I got started on a marathon baking spree in late January.

When my mother visited me, a lot of friends from Mysore had sent me loads of snacks, spice mixes, podis and other assorted yummies. I thought this would be a great thank you gift. My mom was slightly stunned at the final amount of batter. It was almost a day long baking session. My only complaint is that my oven is in proportion to the size of my kitchen, and my kitchen is slightly larger than a closet. You get the idea. I could bake only 2 regular, or 3 small loaf pans at a time. And at the end of it all, I got some 6 small cakes, and 6 large cakes. And then never found time to take a picture or post that gem.

Everyone who received a cake was quite thrilled and most polished it off in less than 15 minutes. An average of 2 hours per cake, and all gone in 10-15 minutes??? Must have tasted great!!!

After packing off the gifts, I kept a few slabs for myself, and forgot all about them. Last week, I desperately wanted something sweet, and decided to attack some of this fruitcake, and it was awesome. It had matured beautifully, texture was wonderfully firm... and tasted absolutely wonderful!

In that mellow frame of mind, I now post one of the most time consuming, but still worth-every-minute of it recipe.

Before I get started, let me mention that one of the most important things needed for this cake, is a large (about 3 liter) jar/container with an airtight lid. And plenty of patience!

The Ultimate Fruitcake

Phase 1

250 grams mixed dried fruits
125 grams dried cherries
250 grams dried dates
100 grams dried plums
100 grams raisins
100 grams tutti frutti
50 grams candied peel
150 grams ginger preserve
100 grams walnuts
150 grams cashewnuts
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
2 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp clove powder
250 grams sooji/rava/farina/cream of wheat
500 ml brandy

Wash and dry plums and raisins.
Chop all fruits and nuts finely.
Keep aside the cashew nuts, walnuts and dates.
Roast sooji/cream of wheat till frangant, and very slightly browned. Allow to cool.
Mix all fruits (except cashew nuts, walnuts and dates) with the sooji/cream of wheat, spice powders, brandy and toss well.
Transfer to large airtight container.
Let soak for at least one week, and upto 3 weeks.

Phase 2

250 grams butter
500 grams sugar
12 eggs
100 grams flour
150 grams orange marmalade
25 ml honey
1 pinch salt
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp allspice
1/2 cup caramelized sugar

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
Sepetare eggs.
Add egg yolks to butter, one at a time, and beat till smooth.
Add salt, vanilla essence and allspice.
Beat egg whites till stiff.
Add mixed fruit, dates, nuts, flour, jam, honey and caramelised sugar a little at a time, alternating with egg whites.
Mix well after each addition, till all ingredients are used up.
Preheat oven to 175°C.
Pour batter into greased,lined baking pans (not more than 1.5" of batter per pan) and bake each batch for 45 mins or till done.

Notes on Storage:
Let cakes cool completely.
Wrap each cake in 3 layers of foil, and seal with cling-wrap.
Let age for at least a week.
Mine have stored for as long as 4 months.

31 March 2007


What's hot, sweet and bitter and absolutely delicious?

A wedge of bittersweet chocolate cake served with ginger sauce.

After that absolute frenzy of making up a batch of candied ginger, I was left with a large bottle of the cooking liquid. It was sweet, and had a lovely spicy-hot aftertaste. A couple of months ago, I'd had an interesting dessert at a restaurant here: dense, bitter chocolate cake served in ginger sauce. And this was the perfect time to replicate it.

But wait, there was a catch. Isn't there always? I had chocolate bars in plenty, very little cocoa, was almost out of flour and sugar, my weighing scale broke, and I didn't have a single recipe on hand that gave me the ingredients in volume. And it was snowing, and I was not one bit motivated to go to the supermarket. A thorough search through epicurious led me to this gem.

I did have to do some tweaking. Weights on the packaging on the butter and chocolate bars were in grams, and conversion was too much trouble. I decided that I was going to make my cake and eat it too, and took the plunge! And voila: easy, utterly uncomplicated, and fabulously delicious results.

This time, I had some ginger sauce ready-at-hand. Next time I want to find an uncomplicated way to make some without having to candy ginger first to get there!

Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

100 gms semisweet chocolate
100 gms bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp instant coffee granules
100 grams unsalted butter
4 eggs (separated)
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 170C and grease and dust 9" round pan.
Melt butter and chocolate over hot water. Add cocoa and coffee granules, and stir until smooth and lump-free.
Whisk yolks and sugar till very thick and pale yellow.
Mix in flour and chocolate mixture.
In another bowl, beat whites till stiff.
Fold into chocolate mixture.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.
Let cake cool. Serve warm with ginger sauce.

23 March 2007

Baingan ka Saalan

What's a good choice for a nice hot dish on a dreary winter's day when one is stuck indoors? Nayeem's patented biriyani, of course! What goes well with a simple biriyani?? Baingan ka saalan!

I love Vee's recipe for the saalan base. Simple, uncomplicated and absolutely acceptable as a side dish on festival/vratam days, because it totally leaves out onions and garlic.

Baingan-ka-khatta saalan
serves 4

1/2 kg baby eggplants (slit from base to crown)
1/4 cup peanuts (roasted)
1/4 cup coconut (slightly roasted till golden)
3 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp sesame seeds (slightly roasted till golden)
1 pinch hing
1/2 cup curd (whisked smooth)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate (or extract from 1 marble sized ball of tamarind)
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
5 tbsp oil
salt to taste

Heat oil, add hing and lightly saute the eggplants. Keep aside.
Make a fine paste of peanuts, coconut, ginger and sesame seeds.
Add paste to hot oil and fry till oil seperates.
Add turmeric, cumin, coriander powder to the curd and mix well.
Add curd mix and salt to the saalan and cook for 3 minutes.
Add eggplants, salt and cook covered covered for 5 minutes.
Add tamarind and garam masala.
Add water to adjust gravy to required consistency.
Simmer for 10 minutes or till eggplants are cooked through.
Serve hot.

Another quick fix with the same gravy:
Make gravy as above, and instead of eggplant, add a packet (1/2 kg) of frozen peas, and let it cook as above.
I've also tried this with soaked soya chunks. Not bad at all, I must say.

14 March 2007

Crystallized Ginger

What's a girl to do when it snows all the time, and it's kind of not so great an idea to venture outdoors with a 3 month old in tow?? That girl experiments in the kitchen. And comes up with some interesting outputs.

The problem with these outputs is that after a while, she tends to get very gassy due to lack of exercise, and the littlest one comes down with a bad case of colic. After consuming lots of ajwain, jeera and other not-so-tasty stuff boiled in water, she's desperate for a change.

That girl is yours truly and she's at her wits' end!

Stuff like crystallized or candied ginger isn't easy to find in these neck of the woods. After a few futile efforts, I thought I'm make a batch at home. What could go wrong after all???

Actually, to tell the truth, nothing went all that way off base, but I made this mistake of starting with way too much ginger, and that made the process way too time consuming. But the end result(s) were more than worth it.

Sweet on the first bite, and then the spicy tang hits you. This is the perfect way to end any bout of overindulgence.

Crystallized Ginger
makes 2 medium bottles

1/4 kg ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 kg sugar (divided)
400 ml water
1 cup sugar (for coating)

Bring ginger 1/4 kg sugar and 200 ml water to boil, stirring occasionally, till sugar dissolves.
Reduce flame to lowest setting, and cook for about an hour, till ginger starts to turn translucent.

Add remaining 1/4 kg sugar, and 200 ml water.
Continue to cook till all the ginger turns translucent (about 2 hours)

Using a slotted spoon, drain ginger slices and transfer to a baking sheet.
Toss with one cup sugar to coat.
Let cool overnight.
Store in clean, dry jars with tight fitting lid.

Reserve the liquid for use in flavoring sauces, or as a dessert sauce.

02 March 2007

In pursuit of happiness

What makes me happy?? Chocolate of course.

Whatever the question, chocolate is always the answer. And what's better on a cold winter day, than a warm succulent delicious chocolate brownie?? With a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg enhance the bittersweet flavor of chocolate.

To tell the truth, I made it for January's Sugar High Friday, but never managed to get around to posting it. I was in the mood for a warm chocolate dessert, but not cake. This recipe on epicurious.com beckoned, and it was a breeze. I tweaked the chocolate quantities in the mix, and the result was fabulous.

And the little gourmet loved it too. She refused to call it a brownie. She named it 'kozha kozha (very sticky/messy) brown cake'.

I've now added this to my collection of 'gifting recipes'... no-brainer edible gifts for all occasions.


1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pinch salt
100 grams milk chocolate, chopped
100 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped
130 grams unsalted butter, diced, room temperature
4 large eggs
50 grams sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup walnuts (toasted and chopped)

Preheat oven to 170°C.
Generously butter 9x11-inch baking pan and dust with flour.
Sift salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour.
Stir chocolate and butter in a bowl set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Turn off heat. Let chocolate stand over water.
Beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until mixture thickens and falls in soft ribbon when beaters are lifted. It should have tripled in volume.
Add vanilla. Add flour mix in 2 additions. Blend well after each.
Add chocolate to egg mixture, beating until just combined.
Stir in walnuts.
Pour batter into panand bake brownies until top is set and tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes.
Cool completely.

100 grams bittersweet chocolate, chopped
80 grams milk chocolate, chopped
20 grams butter
2 tbsp whipping cream

Whisk all ingredients in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted and smooth. Pour evenly over brownies in pan.

Chill brownies until ganache is set.
Cut into squares.

And then it's time to sit back and enjoy a warm brownie, with just that subtle tang of spice. Mmmm... bliss... That's what happiness is all about.

28 February 2007

Mediterranean Brunch

I made this 3 months ago, took pics, uploaded them and forgot all about it!!! well, now is the time for updates.

When the bun was still in the oven, I had this craving for Mediterranean. My menu was simple, falafel-wraps, with lots of dips.

All I had to do was whip up lots of tahini, make some hummus, lebneh and baba-ganoush, fry up some falafels, slice some tomatoes and onions, and serve it all with some pita bread. Yes, it is as simple as it sounds.

Now that I'm finally writing it up, I want some! But most of the stuff in it isn't recommended for a post natal diet... ah well... later maybe....


1/2 cup white sesame seeds
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp tepid water

Blend everything to a fine paste in a blender and use as called for in recipe.

clockwise from top:
falafel, lebneh, hummus and baba ganoush

Baba Ganoush

1 large eggplant
3 tbsp tahini
3 cloves garlic (crushed)
salt to taste

Grill eggplant over gas flame (or broiler) till blackened all over. Peel away skin.
Blend with tahini and garlic to a smooth puree.
Adjust salt to season.
Serve with wedges of pita bread.


2 cups cooked chickpeas (drained)
2 tbsp tahini
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp cumin powder
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste
chopped cilantro for garnish

Blend all ingredients (except) to a smooth puree.
Add salt to taste.
Garnish with chopped cilantro


3 cups cooked chickpeas (drained)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying
Blend chickpeas, flour, cumin, garlic cloves and salt in processor until almost smooth.
Shape mixture into 1/4-inch-thick patties.
Heat oil over medium-high heat.
Add patties and cook until crisp and golden.
Drain over paper towels.

pita pockets stuffed with galafel, lebneh, tomato and onion slices

Open pita breads, slide in falafel patties, sliced tomato and onion into each.
Spoon in some lebneh.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup

I've not blogged in absolutely ages. I do a lot of cooking, I do take pictures, but I just don't find time to post anything.

And I'm catching up on it all today!

Today I was determined to take time to post all the yummy glorious soups I've made all month long. The littlest one too, co-operated and took a long nap!

The pumpkin is a very soup friendly vegetable. It's sweetness can be balanced with myriad spices. A simple cream of pumpkin soup, garnished with a little curry powder does go a long way in making a cold and dreary winter afternoon way more bearable.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup

1 lb grated pumpkin
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup cream
salt to taste

2 tbsp cream
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder

Melt butter in a heavy bottomed pan.
Add pumpkin, cover and cook till pumpkin is tender.
Puree in blender.
Add salt to taste, stir in cream and bring to simmer.
Garnish with cream and spices.

Broccoli ... (yum or yuck?????)

Broccoli... yum!!!!
Broccoli... yuck!!!!

Where broccoli's concerned, there seem to be just 2 schools of thought. Love it or despise it. A friend once made this soup for me, and I'm no more a broccoli-hater. This soup is also very easy to make. Dunk every thing in a pressure cooker, cook, puree, season, simmer, and voila... Soup's up!!!!!

Broccoli and Everything soup

2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 small potato (peeled)
1/2 carrot (peeled)
1 cup peas
1/2 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp pepper powder (or to taste)
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt to taste

Cook all vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, corn, potato and carrot) in a pressure cooker with enough water.
Cool and puree.
Add seasonings, and bring to simmer.
Add water to adjust to desired consistency.
Blend in sour cream.
Serve hot.
Garnish with more sour cream, if desired.

Roasted Capsicum, Carrot and Squash soup

This month was like a soup-a-day gala at our home. The significant other had some heavy duty dental work done, and found it easier to eat his dinner with a straw. And that meant Soup Glorious Soup. All this month, I've experimented with different combinations of vegetables in soups. Some were great, some were not bad at all.... and as for the rest, well, let's just say I'm not about blog those in a hurry... better still, I'm not about to block those EVER!

After way too many varieties of tomato soups, I decided to try something different. And this was the end result. Taking pictures at dinner time, in bad light, doesn't really do justice to this wonderful orange-hued soup! The balance of flavours was appreciated by both the gourmets at home.

This is one of the better experiments of the month! Do try it out.

Roasted Capsicum, Carrot and Squash Soup

3 large Red capsicums
3 medium sized carrots (peeled and cubed)
400 grams squash (peeled, deseeded and cubed)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
1tsp garlic powder (Optional)

Char the capsicums over a gas flame (or in a broiler) until blackened on all sides.
Put in a paper bag and keep aside for 10 minutes.
Peel the charred skin off the capsicums and deseed. Keep aside.
Heat oil, and toss in carrots and squash.
Add a little water if required and cook till tender.
Puree capsicums, and the cooked squash and carrots.
Add water to adjust consistency. Season with salt and garlic powder.
Bring to a simmer.
Serve hot.

For an oil-free version:
Char capsicums as above.
Cook the carrots and squash in a pressure cooker.
Puree with the capsicums, and proceed as above.
Tastes delicious either way.

2 in 1 soup

February... brrrr....

This has to be the first time in my life I've seen what winter is for myself. For a girl who's spent all her life in tropical areas, and who thought winter was a cold 18 (Celcius). A Japanese winter was an... experience of sorts. Days that ended by half past four called for hot comfort foods, and soups were the ultimate comfort food. And Veggie Venture's February round-up of Soup Glorious Soup couldn't have come at a better time!

I'm a big sucker for visual presentation.... no matter how humble the food, but I'm always impressed by presentation, however pretentious! Hubby is someone who doesn't have time for fancy foods. There have been times when we've gone out to try new restaurants (back when we used to live in Singapore) and he'd finish a lovely (in my opinion at least) meal and then say, "I like your version better". Not that it isn't flattering, but sometimes I think great presentation is wasted on A!

Ah well! my husband, the typical south Indian, isn't happy unless as many square millimeters of his plate are filled up with as many varieties of something. Think tpyical south Indian traditional meal with 2 vegetables, appalam, vadai, sweet, rice sambar, rasam, kootu, 2 salads and pickle.. and let's not forget the rice and curds at the very end. Now you get the idea.

I digress... but it will (begin to) make sense soon. A few weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at an artistically presented 2-colour soup. The refrigerator was loaded with tomatoes and spinach. What more contrast can one ask for. So I made a lovely tomato soup, and a nice cream of spinach soup, and served it like this.

The Significant Other took a look, gave one suspicious sniff, went into the kitchen, got 2 bowls, served himself each soup in a different bowl, and declined to eat his spinach. His reasoning: 'Green soup?? No one drinks green soup.' Now I know for a fact he never watched Popeye cartoons! After a little cajoling, the 3 and a half year old, and the 3 and a half decade old admitted that they liked both soups, but the older one still wishes the spinach soup could be made in some other colour. Sigh.. I give up....

The Basic Roux
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
5 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt

Melt the butter in a soup pot.
Add the onion and cook until the onion is softened but not browned.
Sprinkle the flour over the butter mixture and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the milk, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and stir until slightly thickened.
Discard bay leaf.
Divide roux in two equal parts. Keep aside.

Tomato soup
1/2 of prepared Roux
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups tomatoes chopped (fresh or canned)

Stir the baking soda into the tomatoes.
Add the tomatoes to the roux, and bring just to a simmer.
Remove from the heat, allow to cool and puree.
Adjust seasonings and heat before serving.

Spinach soup
1/2 of prepared Roux
5 cups chopped, spinach
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 small potato, boiled, peeled and diced

Blanch spinach.
Puree with roux and boiled potato.
Return to soup-pot and bring to simmer.
Adjust seasonings.

To serve:
Two equal sized cups
Take one helping of each soup. Pour into soup plate from opposite sides, simultaneously.
Garnish with sour cream.
Serve hot.