11 April 2008

Risotto Soup

One-dish meals have to be the second greatest invention ever.

One of the restaurants we like here, Coco's, makes this lovely Risotto soup that is light, warming and quite filling.

I made this attempt at home. With way smaller vegetable bits, and with little bits of what vegetables I could lay my hands on, and needles to say, left out vegetables that my three gourmets turn up their noses at. It turned out quite alright. Just right for an eat-as-you-work dinner. Ideally, the vegetable chunks could be larger. I made them bite sized for the kids.... artistic and culinary integrity take a flying leap.

Risotto Soup
(not quite the same as Coco's makes it)
serves 4

4 tbsp rice (uncooked)
1 tbsp barley
1 cup corn
1 medium carrot (peeled and diced)
4 French beans (chopped)
1/4 cup cauliflower florets (cut into small pieces)
2 soup cubes
6 cups water
1 tbsp butter
salt and white pepper to taste

Wash and rinse rice and barley.
Soak in 6 cups hot water for 1 hour.
Strain the rice and barley. Reserve the water used for soaking.
Melt butter in a saucepan.
Sauté the cauliflower florets, carrots, corn and Beans in butter for 2 minutes.
Add rice and barley, sauté for a minute.
Add the reserved water, and the soup cubes.
Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or till the rice and barley are cooked.
Adjust salt to taste.
Season with white pepper and serve hot

Some things that would taste great in this soup (which were left out for the sake of fussy eaters) mushrooms, turnips, edamame (green beans, a local speciality), daikon pieces, all cut in bigger chunks.

Fruity dessert

Much as I hate to admit it, I spend more time leafing through some of my cookbooks, than to try and make something out of those glossy pages. More often than not, I am too zonked by the time the kids are fed and watered. And end up simply looking at a dessert instead of making and eating some.

And there are days when I'm motivated enough to make something, and the other half goes... "Hmmmm... make anything you feel. I don't want to eat any. I'm getting fat..."

If anything could kill the enthusiasm to try something new, that certainly did.

But then, there are days when one simply has to munch on something sweet. Some indulgence, or comfort food is called for.

On one of those days of flipping through one of my books, I saw THE dessert. It was a warm dessert (perfect on a late winter day), it was healthy, it had no added sugar, no fat.... In other words, it was PERFECT. There was no reason that the other half could even say no to this one.

When I brought this to the table after a light lunch, he looked rather skeptical, and said he'd eat some later. I used a up a month's worth of guilt trips to coax him into eating some.

Surprisingly, the kids loved it too. The older one (who's the founder president of the Fussy-Eaters Anonymous) had seconds, and the baby ate certain parts of it, and spit out the rest. But she did eat plenty.

Here's the recipe.

I did make a few changes to the original recipe. I was in the zone to make this dessert, and used what I had on hand, as I was not up to dressing my toddler in half her wardrobe for a ten minute trip to a store. Because the end result was spectacular, I believe that this recipe lends itself to a lot of flexibility.

Baked Winter Fruit Salad
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Desserts

1 cup mixed dried fruit (apricots, pitted prunes, raisins)
2 Apples (peeled, cored, cut in wedges)
1 Oranges (peeled, sectioned, membranes removed)
2 Pears (peeled, cored and cut in wedges)
1 stick Cinnamon
2 cups fresh Orange juice (or apple cider)

Place all the fruits, Orange juice (or apple cider)in a large bowl. Toss to combine.
Cover and allow to soak for 3 hours at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Pour the fruits with liquid and cinnamon stick in a large ceramic or glass baking dish.
Cover with aluminium foil and bake for about 40 minutes, until the liquid is bubbling and the fruits are soft.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool a little.
Remove cinnamon stick.
Spoon into individual dishes and serve warm.


  • The original recipe calls for a combination of orange juice and sherry for soaking the fruits. I left out the sherry.
  • I baked the fruit in two batches (oven is too small). The first time, I baked the fruits in a metal dish. That's an absolute no-no. The metal and the citrus of the orange juice have a weird reaction, and leave a terrible aftertaste. The second batch was baked in a ceramic dish. That tasted wonderful.
  • For some odd reason, my oranges totally disintegrated during the baking. Anyone know why?

(And before you ask, I was not concentrating while adding a title to the photo, and ended up calling it 'compote'. I just noticed that, and will get around to correcting it sometime..... I don't want to lose blogging momentum while I'm at this :P)

05 April 2008

Chhole without onion and garlic

I've become a fan of onion-garlic free food. I have nothing against onions and garlic, but sometimes, especially in an ill-ventilated kitchen, the smells can be rather overwhelming. After marathon cleaning and spraying and polishing sessions, I have this tendency to avoid cooking with strong, pungent smelling stuff in the kitchen. For about a day or tow.

I saw this recipe on Tarla Dalal's website. The ingredient list made me curiouser and curiouser. Cabbage and lauki in Chhole?? It was then the tail end of summer, I was rather fortunate to find white pumpkin in the friendly neighbourhood vegetable store. I just had to try this out.

This recipe was wonderful. I think I overcooked the white pumpkin, but the end result was a smooth, velvety, creamy gravy, that was wonderfully spicy. The first time around, I felt that the flavour of cloves was overwhelming. After that I reduced the amount of cloves (and red chillies too) called for in the recipe, and it was just fine.

The OH had some. It was fine, he said. Was this a new recipe? I casually mentioned that there was cabbage and white pumpkin in the chhole. He looked so horrified. Until I reminded him that he had eaten a generous serving, and had seconds too. And he graciously consented to let me make it again.

Chhole without onion/garlic

2 cups soaked chana (chick peas)
1 cup white pumpkin or bottle gourd (doodhi/lauki peeled and chopped)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 cup grated cabbage
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp dry ginger powder
1 tsp dry mango powder (amchur)
3 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp cream (or milk)
2 tomatoes (cubed)
3 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
4 tbsp chopped coriander leaves (garnish)

Chhole masala
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
4 tsp coriander seeds
2 dry red chillies
2 cloves
3 peppercons
1 cardamom
1" piece cinnamon
3 tsp dried pomegranate seeds

Dry roast each of the ingredients for the chhole masala individually. Grind them to a powder and keep aside.
Pressure cook the chana with 1-1/2 cups water and the white pumpkin/lauki with a little salt.
If using canned beans, cook the lauki/pumpkin with a little salt and water. Add chana, bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Heat the oil in a pan. Temper with cumin seeds and bayleaf.
Add the cabbage and sauté till it lightly browns.
Add in the roasted and chhole masala, and other powder spices (ginger, amchur)and coriander.
Add the cooked chana and white pumpkin along with the water.
Adjust salt to taste.
Simmer for ten minutes.
Stir in the cream (or milk), add the tomatoes, mix well and simmer for two minutes before removing from heat.
Serve hot garnished with coriander.

03 April 2008

Bento for a party

"There's a party for the graduating class later this month," Aditi's teacher tells me, "and there's a special lunch for that day."

That sounded nice... Not the graduation bit.. the special lunch, a party-Obento! I have this arrangement with Aditi's teacher. Since Aditi is a vegetarian, and the school cannot accomodate her dietary needs in their thrice-a-week lunch program, they give me a whole month's menu at the start of each month. All I need to do then, is adapt it to a vegetarian diet. Actually, those 3 days of the week when the other kids get lunch at school, are easier for me. I don't have to think about what to make.. from scratch. Suitable substitutes for the non-vgetarian items in the menu are all I need to think about.

Initially the other half and I did considering just sending anything in hr lunch box, but I began to feel that she might not feel left out if she were eating from the same type of lunch box as everyone else, and food as similar as possible to what her friends are eating. Some days thinking of a suitable vegetarian alternative can drive me up the wall.

For the party, sensei not only gave me a lunchbox, but also this....

The menu, and also a picture of what the final bento was supposed to look like. And believe me, that made life way easier.

Here, I have to admit that I misplaced my notes, and totaly forgot what a couple of things were. That brown thingie peeping out from beneath the tempura for one. Most of the menu is rather obvious. All I had to do was think of substitutes for shrimp tempura and hamburger. And for salmon filled Onigiri.

This was my vegetarian version of the party lunch.

Kabocha tempura instead of shrimp.
Potato croquette instead of hamburger.
Ongiri with carrot chunks instead of salmon.
And a packet of ketchup instead of the brown thingie.

And yes, the little one came back from school.... and said that lunch was nice... and thinks that sensei makes cute lunches for her.. why can't amma do the same?

31 March 2008

Bananas and walnuts and variations

My daughter loves pancakes. That's one breakfast that's super easy to make, goes down fast and without too much prodding. But then again, each bag of pancake flour seems to last for forever and a day. Sometimes, just the sight of that bag of pancake flour in the pantry bugs me. There isn't any rational reason for that, but it just irritates me how it never ever seems to get used up. I use less that quarter of a cup each time, and it takes for ever to finish each packet.

Then one day, I saw this post in Mahanandi, and followed the link to this recipe. I couldn't have asked for more.

The first time, I followed the recipe exactly. It was awesome. Another time, I thought I'd make muffins for breakfast using the same recipe. I left out the sugar this time around. The pancake flour and bananas were sweet enough for these delicious muffins. I used more bananas, and reduced the oil as suggested in the original recipe. And since the kids kept spitting out the walnut bits, I powdered them coarsely. No chunk(ie)s for my little monkeys.

Banana and walnut muffins
makes 8

1 cup pancake flour
1/2 cup - walnuts (coarsely powdered)
2 bananas (peeled and mashed smooth)
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 160° C.
Stir together flour, baking powder, spices, and nuts.
Mix the wet ingredients.
Make a well in the flour mix, pour the wet mix. Stir until just combined.
Pour into muffin cups, and bake for 20 mins (till done)

Try pureeing the bananas in a blender. That gives these muffins a smoother finish.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And then I wondered what would happen if I left out the milk and oil too..

I read somewhere on the Fatfree Vegan Blog that applesauce is a good substitute for butter and other fats in baking. I checked in a few stores here, but couldn't find any. So I shelved my ideas for fat-free baking for a while.

Then one day, a friend, D, called and asked if I was free, and whether she could drop by. I thought I would bake this cake for tea. And took a deep breath, and decided to make this dish the fat-free way. I pureed an apple, and stirred that puree into the batter. The final result was good. It was wonderful with afternoon tea, but not sweet enough to classify as a cake. I called it a Banana-Walnut loaf.

Banana Walnut loaf

1 cup pancake flour
1/2 cup - walnuts (coarsely powdered)
1/4 cup cashewnuts and almonds (powdered fine)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp dry ginger
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 bananas (peeled and mashed smooth)
1 apple (peeled, cored and pureed)

Preheat oven to 160° C.
Line a loaf tin with baking parchment.
Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnut powder and almond-cashewnut powder. Make a well.
Pour pureed apple and bananas, and vanilla essence into the well.
Mix well.
Pour into prepared baking tin, and bake for 40 minutes (or till a tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This particular experiment resulted in totally mixed reactions. D, who was over for afternoon tea, said it was great and found it difficult to believe it had no fat and refined suar in it. My daughter took one bite, and said she didn't like it. The baby spit it out. The other half said it was a good 'fat-free, sugarless cake'.. go figure...

Will I make this again?? Of course I will... I personally think it's a great thing to have around for a guilt-free snack.
But wait, there's more.... The next day, as soon as she got back from school, the older one suddenly asked for 'banana cake'. And had seconds and thirds. After she was done eating, I had to ask her why she didn't eat any the previous day. "Amma, yesterday the cake was not tasty. Today it is. Make it this way from now on."

And since Akka was eating some, the baby too ate some. And later in the evening, pointed to the cake tin asking for more.

Kids!!!! They'll drive me nuts one of these days.... And I can see the occasional gray hair too....

29 March 2008

Dal Shorba

Both the kids are down with a cold. So am I. Runny noses, cough, and rising (body) temperatures set the tone for the weekend to come. Two cranky babies, one cranky mommy, and incessant rain (which is way noisier than incessant snow)... Add to that my inability to even go out for a walk....

What's a girl to do??

Wait for the kids to go to sleep, make a hot bowl of spicy dal-based soup (my m-i-l's recipe), sit at the table with a good book, and eat at a leisurely pace, in perfect silence (the other half having been warned that I've had a really bad day).. Bliss.

What more can I ask for?

Dal Shorba
the way my mother in law makes it

1 cup split masur dal (washed well and soaked for an hour or two)
1 onion (coarsely diced)
1 tomato (diced)
3 tbsp garlic (minced)
2 tbsp (or more) Curry powder
2 tbsp oil
salt to taste
Croutons and/or chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Heat oil. Fry onions and garlic till well browned.
Add curry powder and stir for a minute.
In a pressure cooker, cook soaked masur dal, onion-garlic mix, and tomatoes with about 4 cups water.
After the dal is cooked, let it cool, till it's about lukewarm.
Puree in blender.
Add water to the puree to adjust to desired consistency.
Season with salt and simmer for 5 minutes.
Garnish with croutons and coriander leaves.
Serve hot.

The curry powder I prefer is Everest (or MDH) Meat Masala.
The onions and garlic could be fried in butter or ghee instead of oil, for a richer taste.

15 March 2008


Much as I hate to, I have to admit that the OH is reasonably low maintenance when it comes to food. Of course, has a long list of things that he refuses to eat, but he's rather easy to please when it comes to dessert. Doesn't matter if I'm willing to try something really complex. He's always happy with a bowl of rava-kesari (saffron-flavoured semolina pudding) and that is breeze to whip up.

Any festival, or special days that call for a sweet naivedyam, he always says, "make rava-kesari". This is one dessert can be scaled up or down with minimum fuss. Sometimes, I whip up a little rava-kesari with breakfast as a special treat.

And the kids love it too. Since the basic rava-kesari takes so little time and effort to make from scratch it's a regular on weekend and snack time menus.

And when we have company, it's an easy dessert to make. Since our friends here find the average Indian sweets 'too sweet', I serve it in teaspoon-sized dollops in candy cups.. That gives guests a chance to try a very small quantity (without being impolite) and also not overwhelm them with a large serving.

I also have an irrational dislike of synthetic food coloring which I use only under duress. To give my rava-kesari a nice colour, I do one of two things, or both, as the occassion (or mood) demands. One option is to add a pinch of turmeric to the semolina while it's roasting. Another is to soak the saffron in one tablespoon of hot water for a few minutes before adding the saffron (and water) to the kesari.


1/2 cup semolina/sooji/rava
1 cup hot water
3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar r (depending on taste)
1 pinch turmeric (optional)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup ghee (to taste)
1 pinch cardomom powder
1 pinch (generous) saffron strands
1 tbsp cashewnuts

Soak saffron strands in 1 tbsp hot water.
Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan.
Fry cashewnuts till golden brown, remove from ghee and keep aside.
Add semolina to ghee and fry till golden.
If using, add turmeric and roast for a few seconds.
Add boiling water and saffron, and stir till the mixture is lump free.
Cook on a low flame till water is absorbed, and the mixture is dry.
Add sugar, and stir continuously to ensure there are no lumps.
Continue to cook on very low heat for 5 minutes.
Stir in ghee a little at a time till it's fully absorbed.
With the last addition of ghee, add the cardomom and cashewnuts .
Serve hot, warm or cold.

14 March 2008

Tales of Kabocha

One good thing that came out of our move to Japan was that the biggest kid in the house added another vegetable to his willing-to-eat list. From the first time I used Japanese squash 'kabocha'to cook a ratatouille, he was hooked. Really hooked. Every time he goes to the store for vegetables, he always gets some kabocha. I've used kabocha in ratatouille, in soups, in kootus and in sambar. But two of my favourite ways of using kabocha are in tempura and in croquettes. Or to say it the way they say it here, ko-ro-ke.

Needless to say, my two favourite ways to eat kabocha are also a big no-no. Why is that the most delicious foods are necessarily deep fried??

Of late, most experiments in the lab .. er.. kitchen.. are of the no-fat kind. On a really cold day (what other kind do we have here in winter) the croquettes in the bento corner of the supermarket are always screaming to me... "pick me up.. take me home..".

That one day, however, my willpower held true, and I didn't buy any! I thought I'd make my own croquettes, and I'd shallow fry them the way I would a tikki or a cutlet.

I made the croquettes, dredged them in breadcrumbs, and once everything was ready, I put the croquettes in the oven. I completely forgot that it was turned on, and went out to keep my kids amused and keep them from attempting fratricide. (Note to self: bad weather can make the sweetest of kids appallingly cranky)

After about an hour or so, my older one asked... "Amma, what is that smell?"

Why was the house smelling of cooked pumpkin?? I sprinted downstairs, and saw that the oven was warm. I'd totally forgotten to set the oven at a keep warm temperature, rather than at baking temperature. But wait.... the crusts of my croquette were beautifully browned!

I gingerly took a bite, and the croquettes were fully cooked. Had a lovely crunchy crust, and tasted good. Not as good as the deep-fried variety, but quite good all the same. Croquettes without the guilt. Woohoo....

Another experiment was to use kabocha in a dip. And slathered that dip on wedges of toast. That was quite a success too. The OH just gobbled up his share of canapes. And asked for more.

I now hold hopes that he might just eat karela someday.

Squash and Potato Croquettes
makes 6

2 cups squash (peeled, deseeded and coarsely grated)
1 medium potato (boiled, peeled and mashed)
salt to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
1 tbsp flour (or tempura mix)
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 160°C.
Combine all ingredients until evenly mixed.
Shape into patties.
Mix the flour (or tempura mix) with cold water to a watery paste.
Brush patties with this mix.
Dredge in breadcrumbs.
Arrange patties on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes, turning over when the crust is browned.
Place patties in a broiler if required, to further crisp and brown the crust.
Serve hot.

2 slices white bread (toasted and cut into smaller wedges)

Squash and Roast Pepper
150 gms squash (weigh after squash is peeled and deseeded)
1 red pepper.
salt to taste

Roast red pepper until skin has charred well.
Keep aside for 10 minutes. Peel charred outer skin and deseed.
Roast squash in broiler until top begins to char. Remove from broiler.
Scrape off any charring.
Puree squash and red pepper till smooth.
Season as required.
Spread on toast wedges and serve warm.

Sour Cream and Mint
4 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp crushed mint (or peppermint)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste

Stir all ingredients together till well mixed. Chill in refrigerator.
Spread on toast wedges when ready to serve.

Of earbuds, rolling pins and lighters

One fine spring (almost), I mentally prepared myself for a workshop on Indian vegetarian food. I've done a few other workshops and talks before. I've had demos of Indian attire, rangoli, Indian children and customs, and 5 other cooking workshops.

The cooking workshops tend to be the easiest. The format was always one curry (sometimes two) and rice, and we all sit down to lunch after that. The rice and curry workshops were rather simple. All the participants had to do was to prepare the assorted vegetables and watch me assemble the final dish, answer questions about spices and finally eat.

This one however, was the most interactive, as I was going to teach them to make phulkas. After making 2 curry dishes, the participants would roll out their own phulkas. In the flyer that went out, I'd asked people to get rolling pins if they had them, but that's a whole other story...

On the day of the workshop, I took along my rolling pin, and hoped that 20 odd people would not have to make chappatis with just one rolling pin in under two hours. Fortunately 5 others had brought their belans along, and we got off to a good start. Phew...

I spoke to soon. I'd planned to make baingan ka bharta and Palak Tofu. Unfortunately, the person who was in charge of local purchases couldn't find the big eggplants, and bought plenty of Japanese eggplant. So there was some on the spot improvisation, and with the same ingredients listed in the recipe, I decided to make a different type of baingan curry. No problems there.

The ladies in the workshop were quite skeptical about the use of spinach in curry. Initially, I had this idea of making palak paneer, but the co-ordinators asked that I use locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. I took the recipe for this particular palak-tofu curry from Mahanandi. When I asked her, Indira was kind enough to let me use the recipe and the picture from her post in the promotional flyer. Thanks, Indira!

As the curries reached final stages, and just needed to be simmered, I started on the phulkas. I rolled out one thin circular disc, toasted, and let it puff up on an open flame... to applause. And I was asked to do it again. After I made three, I handed over the baton.. er .. belan and asked someone else to have a go.

Mrs. A, a lovely Korean lady, took her turn, rolled out a chappati, toasted, and puffed it up beautifully... on first go... and every time she tried after that. Each one of hers was a perfect circle, and puffed up evenly. Damn, I can't remember the number of times my phulkas have been confused with khakras, or worse, appalams. Or the time we could use each roti and guess what country's map it looked like! I asked Mrs A if she used a rolling pin in Korean cuisine. But no, it was the first time she's rolled out dough of any sort. And I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn't had one of my off days, where I start with phulkas and after a a failed attempt or two, switch to parathas.

The ladies started rolling and toasting and flaming their phulkas. Literally. Mrs W figured out hers wasn't cooked fully through, refused to wait her turn at the skillet to toast it again, and very resourcefully took out her lighter and started flaming her phulka. No comments there.

A burst of applause every now and then meant someone got their phulka to puff up right.

When we sat down to lunch (just 10 minutes behind schedule) I could see folks looking at each other, and not quite ready to commit themselves to the lovely green of the spinach. I tore off a piece of phulka, scooped up some spinach and popped into my mouth. And fed some to my little one. When they saw that we didn't quite turn funny colours or start doing weird things, they too started to eat. And went "Oishii!" (delicious) with very surprised looks on their faces.

Just as I packed up and was leaving, Mrs K came up to me, and said what a lovely time she'd had, and would I do another session during the school holidays. And then, she had to know,
"But what did you want earbuds for?"

New kid on the Blog

I'm reasonably sure that my friend Gouri would be very amused when I call her the new kid on the blog.

Gouri is a writer, editor, counsellor and (most important) a foodie! She started blogging a while ago, but never got around to posting regularly. Now that she's been bitten by the blogging bug, do read her little nuggets of wisdom at Random Harvest where, in her own words, 'Gouri Dange talks about this, that and mostly the other'.

12 March 2008


One workshop

One Teacher

Twenty three students

Two hours

One rolling pin

God knows how many earbuds

Ave Caesar. Morituri te salutant

06 March 2008

I asked for a ... what?????

It's been a hectic couple of weeks. I'm doing a workshop on Indian Vegetarian food for the 'Mother's Club' at Aditi's school. The workshop's next week, and I've a feeling I might totally lose it before it's over.

I'd asked one of the mothers to lunch, to discuss some school activities. I'd made phulkas, and she simply loved them, and asked me to do a workshop. Sure, why not, I thought. A culinary workshop shouldn't be too difficult.

First I had to book a suitable kitchen at one of the local community center. Then I had to order spices from the grocer in Tokyo. Then we got busy with the flyer. There was a whole week of discussions on whether to use pictures in the flyer or not, before the committee decided not to. Then we went back to check the kitchen one more time. As we took a quick inventory, I realised that there wasn't a single rolling pin there!

That could be slightly difficult. I would take my rolling pin there, but if 15 people wanted to try their hand at making phulkas, AND two other dishes, I somehow thought 2 hours wouldn't quite suffice. I suggested that maybe we could ask the participants to bring a rolling pin if they had one at home. There are three counters in the community kitchen, and if we had at least three pins, everyone could try their hand at phulkas in the given time.

'What's a rolling pin?' asked one of the co-ordinators. I was totally floored. I didn't want any confusion here, so I took an English-speaking member home with me, and showed her my rolling pin. She called the committee and explained it to them in rapid-fire Japanese.

So the flyers were printed. They were distributed. People signed up.

And yesterday at school, a couple of mothers said they had what I'd asked for.

And gave me a packet of earbuds.....

I kid you not... earbuds!!!!!!

As far as I know there's no call for earwax in any Indian delicacy.

And I have no clue how to make rotis with earbuds.

After a little R & D, I think I've figured out the problem. There are two ways to write that particular word. One would indicate rolling pin and the other means 'an object used to clean ears'. Or at least I hope that's the correct explanation!

And I have a workshop in less than a week's time.

Maybe I should watch 'Lost in Translation'..... NOT.
I'm living it.

24 February 2008

Fried Rice with Hot and sour Tofu

The Other Half and I, are big fans of Chinese food.... Desi style.

A few years ago, we were discussing Chinese food, with a Chinese friend. She asked her what our favourites were. And we promptly said, "Gobi Manchurian."

She'd never heard of it, and asked what it was like. As I described how it was made, I could see the look of growing horror on her face. When I was done, she said, "But thats not Chinese food."

"Well, in India it is!" said I, trying not to laugh.

And I did invite her over once when I'd made some. She tried it, emphatically stated there was nothing like it in China. "Just because it's got soy sauce, it doesn't make it Chinese."

Well, authentic or not, we love it.

Whenever the OH sees fresh spring onions in the supermarket, the first question is always, "Chinese for dinner??" And I always ask, "With Gobi Manchurian?"

This time, however, we looked at our waistlines, unattractive as they were, and the OH said, "Maybe something that doesn't involve too much frying?"

Hmmm... "Stir fried vegetables?"
OH: "No, that's too dry. Something with some gravy.."

I told you, we only eat desi Chinese food.

In which case I wonder if we should call it Chinese at all.

Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves 2

3 cups cooked rice (cooled)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup spring onions (chopped fine)
1 small onion (chopped fine)
1 small onion (chopped fine)
1/4 cup cauliflower florets (chopped fine)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp vinegar
1 tbsp oil
Fresh ground pepper
salt to taste

Heat oil to smoking point.
Add ginger and garlic and fry for a few seconds.
Add 3/4 cup spring onions, and other vegetables, and stir fry on high heat for about a minute, till cooked, but still crunchy.
Add soy sauce and vinegar and toss lightly.
Reduce heat and add rice, salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Toss until well mixed.
Garnish with reserved spring onions and serve.

Hot-n-Sour Tofu
serves 2

200 gms firm tofu (cut in 1" cubes)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
2 cups vegetable stock
1 green chilli (chopped fine)
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp chopped spring onions

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet.
Lightly sear tofu and keep aside.
Heat oil in a wok.
Add garlic and chilli and fry for a minute.
Add spring onion and cook a little.
Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
Dissolve cornstarch in a little water.
Add cornstarch to the stock, and simmer for a few minutes till it thickens.
Add soy sauce and vinegar.
Add tofu and simmer for 2 minutes.
Serve with fried rice.

17 February 2008

Soup, salad and some indulgence

Weekday lunches, are something the other half and I look forward to. On weekdays, lunch is the most relaxed and 'No-don't'-free meal. By the time the OH comes home for lunch, the littlest one is fed and watered, and not very likely to be noisy. If we're very lucky, she might even be asleep, and we might even have a 'real' conversation.

Lunch is one meal where I can try something different, and not worry about whether it would suit little palates. Lunch is when I can really experiment. And try to make something elaborate or fancy. Or in other words, food that makes the other-half take skeptical or even outright suspicious looks or sniffs.

And since I'm focusing on eating healthy, I thought of making a soup and salad lunch.

I'd bookmarked this recipe from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen. As usual, I didn't have half the ingredients in hand, didn't have the enthusiasm to trudge through gale and snow to a store, and decided to make do with what I had. I garnished this soup with fresh roasted and crushed coriander seeds. That acted as a thickener, and gave the soup a lovely spicy boost.

Lentil and Vegetable soup
serves 2

1/4 cup lentils (whole masur dal)
1 carrot (peeled and sliced thick)
1 medium potato (peeled and cubed)
1/4 cup cauliflower florets
1 large onion (sliced fine)
1/4 tsp black pepper powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large tomato (chopped fine)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
salt to taste

Wash lentils, and soak for 30 minutes.
In a pressure cooker, cook lentils. carrots, onions, potato, cauliflower, salt, turmeric and pepper with 4 cups water, for about 7 minutes.
Roast coriander seeds till fragrant, and crush to a coarse powder.
Add chopped tomato to the lentil mix, and simmer for for 10 minutes or till the tomato is cooked through.
Season with coriander powder and adjust salt if needed.
Serve hot.

After the soup was done, I wanted to try something new. I thought I'd try my hand at a terrine. The rice was rather dry. Next time I would like to toss some cottage cheese with the rice, and see if that would make it less dry.

Potato and Rice Terrine
serves 2

1 large Potato (Peeled and sliced)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup vegetable stock

Heat oven to 180ºC.
Line 2 ramekins with Baking parchment.
Warm vegetable stock (about 40ºC)
Soak potato slices in vegetable stock for 15-20 minutes.
Remove slices from stock. Reserve stock.
Arrange a few slices of potato in the bottom of each ramekin. (reserve 2 large potato slices for later use)
Fill each ramekin with cooked rice.
Cover ramekins with baking parchment, and bake for about 20 minutes.
Drizzle reserved stock over the rice in both ramekins.
Cover with reserved potato slice.
Cover ramekins again with baking parchment, and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Invert over a plate and serve hot.

And now that our lunch was so wonderfully healthy, I just had to add some indulgence.

No-fuss Mango Dessert
serves 2

1 cup + 2 tbsp mango pulp
1/2 cup low fat Mascarpone cheese
Sugar to taste (optional)

Whisk Mascarpone, 1 cup mango pulp and sugar (if using) till smooth and the mixture starts to thicken.
Divide equally into dessert bowls.
Top with reserved mango pulp.
Chill for an hour.
Serve cold.

Salad for a kid

We recently went out to lunch with some friends and their kids. And there I witnessed a minor miracle. My daughter ate all her salad!!!! Every single bit of it on her plate, without being told to. It might have helped that her two little friends were eating without a fuss. But the bottom line was that she ate her vegetables, raw vegetables at that, without a peep.

The next day she asked me to make the same salad for her daily 'obento'. While she watched me pack her lunch, she asked, "Amma, whats this orange vegetable?" And our regular game was on. "Carrot!" I said. "What is this red vegetable?" "That's a tomato."

And then "Amma, tell me the name of this green vegetable."
"That's lettuce, baby."
And she started to bawl. The other half came to see what the matter was.

"Appa, I asked Amma to make the salad we ate yesterday. She has put lettuce in it!...waaaah"
The OH gave me a perplexed look. He took an inventory of what was in that salad, and since it matched exactly with what we'd eaten the previous day, he had no idea what the little one was upset about. And he tried to solve it, the right way.
"What did you eat in your salad yesterday?"
"I ate cabbage, I don't like lettuce. It's not cute"
The OH looked at me, and with a very straight face, asked, "Don't you know the name of this green thing? It's cabbage. Amma is rather silly, isn't she?"

And the little one giggled, gave me sweet smile and said, "Thank you Amma for the cabbage."

A lettuce by any other name..... as long as it gets eaten, it's perfectly fine.

And that particular salad, dressing and all, is almost a daily affair.

The dressing is quite simple, and I make it fresh every time.

Salad and dressing
serves one

2 cups Lettuce (washed, dried and shredded)
1 medium tomato (cut in wedges)
1 cup carrot (peeled and cut into juliennes)

1 tsp Extra-virgin Olive oil
1/2 tsp Garlic powder (or crushed garlic)
1/2 tsp Lemon juice
1/4 tsp Basil (fresh of dry)
salt to taste

Whisk olive oil, lemon juice and garlic till well blended.
Season with salt and basil.
Drizzle dressing on prepared vegetables, and toss well before serving.

Sometimes, in the interests of the 'cute' factor, and I toss the carrots and tomatoes in the dressing, and wrap them in bunches in whole lettuce leaves.

And just for a change, I tried feeding my daughter coleslaw, with REAL cabbage.
And she said, "Amma, this cabbage is not nice."

I wonder what I have to look forward to once the littlest one starts to speak, and starts to develop her own opinions on food.

I can envision lots of gray hair.

War and Peace and waistlines

I have my own methods to forecast weather. I just look out of the window. If I can see the peak of Mt. Gassan, then it's quite likely to be a clear day.

In the colder months, if the trees are weighed down with snow,
or if my neighbour's car is almost buried in snow, then I know it's going to be a really cold day.
Out here, when it snows, it snows. After I got back from a really long holiday, it started snowing in the 2nd week of January and snowed on and on and on till the end of the month. Then there was a break for a day. Then it started to snow again. Last weekend, the skies were clear. Then it started to snow.

You get the idea.

These days it seems like we're wearing a quarter of the contents of our closet indoors, and half our closets if we step out. Initially I figured that my jeans were feeling rather... er.. snug.. because of all the layers. Then after a series of almost blizzards (think daytime high -2ºC) when the jeans shrunk another size in the wash (not!) I wondered if the problem lay elsewhere. The equation almost always seemed to be something like

sub-zero temperatures + gales from Siberia + incessant snow = Masala chai + k
(where k is constant and always equals fried snacks like pakodas, bajjis, bondas etc.)

That explained it all.

Now, in that glorified little closet I call my kitchen, I've started to experiment with fat-free (or as little fat as possible) food. And I need to get around to taking pictures and posting some of these experiments soon.

Not all these experiments were total successes. There were times when the other half looked very suspiciously at what was on his plate. And days where the lunch box came home almost uneaten. Ah well, one step at a time.

At least the jeans and the waistline are starting to get along. They haven't signed a peace treaty yet, but there aren't any more pitched battles.

06 February 2008

Quite a pickle

The path to hell is paved with good intentions.

Well, that's quite a drastic start to this story. But that's exactly how it started. Early last summer, I made a really good batch of lemon squash, and then decided to make another batch while the sun was shining. With one thing and another I suddenly realized that I was starting to wear sweaters everyday, the days were getting visibly shorter, and HELP... the lemons in the refrigerator were nearing the end of their limited shelf life.

And so I decided to make PICKLES.

Before I get started with my story on pickling, I have to thank two wonderful people. Manisha, who's blog Indian Food Rocks is a real lifesaver and Indosungod who writes her Daily Musings, took time out of their busy lives to help me out of this pickle.

A healthy amount of time was spent trawling the internet for suitable recipes. With the number of lemons I had in hand, and keeping in mind that I am the only pickle-eater in our home, it had to have a long shelf life. After some R and D, I decided that cooked pickles were out. And since the weather was turning cold at an alarming rate, the sun-cooked variety was not that good an option. I finally decided that these two recipes fit the bill well.

Once I took the lemons out of the fridge, I saw that quite a few of them were unsuitable for pickling. That left me with (hold your heart) 30 large lemons. I let them get to room temperature, washed and dried them thoroughly, cut them and then got down to spicing said pickles. I made up a spice blend that was a combination of Manisha and Indosungod's recipes. And pickled the lemons in two batches. One batch was totally oil free. For the second batch, I heated some oil, let it cool and added it to the pickle jar. Whenever I could see the sun and feel some warmth outdoors, I left the jars outside. On other days, the two jars sat close to the stove, the warmest place in my kitchen.

After three weeks, the jar that had no oil in it had a very thick layer of pale gray furry looking stuff growing on it. And it all went straight to the dustbin. Jar 2 seemed alright, so I let it be. And continued to keep it near the stove for another month.

Then I went on my holiday. I cleaned up the kitchen before I left, put things away, and totally forgot about the pickles for nearly two months.

A week ago, a Japanese friend was having dinner with me, and asked if Indians really eat pickled lemon. That reminded me of that experiment, and I rushed to bring out that jar from the back of the kitchen cupboard. I opened it and it looked alright. And smelt alright too.

I took a deep breath. "A-san, would you like to try some pickled lemon??"

A-san looked torn. The idea of pickled lemon seemed quite alien to her, but she also wanted to know what the fuss was all about. "May I try some?" she asked, and I could see that curiousity won out.

She took one bite, and her knee jerk reaction was "Supai desu ne!" (It tastes sour)

And then after a few seconds, she said that it didn't taste sour anymore. She asked for a second helping and a third, and then asked if she could take some home for her family.

And I must admit they were awesome. Just perfect with hot parathas!

If you want to try the straightforward method, choose any of these two recipes.

Or if you like to do things the complicated way:

Prep the limes the was Indosungod does in this recipe.

Follow Manisha's instructions exactly.

The spice mix I used was as follows:
1 tsp methi seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp asafoetida or hing powder
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)

Roast these ingredients individually till browned (about 4-5 minutes)
Let cool completely.
Grind to a fine powder.

Finally, heat 1/2 cup of oil till almost smoking.
Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds and let them splutter.
Let it cool completely.
Add to the jar of pickles along with 1/2 cup sugar and shake gently till well mixed.

Cross your fingers and pray for lots of sunshine.

The finally result was quite nice. It was a nice blend of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.

Next time however, I plan to follow any one recipe, and do it properly.

Thank you again, Manisha and Indosungod.

And maybe you're thanking your lucky stars that I'm too far away to send you a sample.

31 January 2008

Lunch Time

Yes, I've very much alive. Its just that I've been on a very long vacation. Er.. I wasn't on vacation for 3 months (since my last blog post) nor have I totally stopped cooking. I just haven't made time to post some of the stuff I've cooked up in the last few months. I have this bad habit of taking pictures, uploading them on blogger, and then never getting around to doing a decent write up.

These days most of my culinary creativity is directed at lunch boxes. Packing lunch for a four-year old is quite taxing. I need to include the major food groups, modify and beautify stuff that is not likely to be eaten, and then pray for an empty box when she gets home.

Twice a week, I try to make a vegetarian version of the lunch that other kids get at school. That is quite a tall order. Sometimes a meatless substitute is easy. Like grilled paneer or tofu in place of grilled fish, vegetable patties or cutlets instead of steaks.

Some substitutions are quite challenging. What does one do for a vegetarian version of chicken drumsticks? Sometimes I can't figure out what on earth they are serving these kids. Some of these experiments in translation are unmitigated disasters. One menu said 'vegetables in almond sauce'. And it came back untouched.

Grilled paneer, steamed sweet potato, vegetables in almond sauce, banana slices and cheese

cheese omelette, lettuce salad, fruit and cheese

Pan-fried tofu, potato-pancakes, carrot sticks, spinach, fruit yogurt
Potato patties, rice and dal, steamed corn kernels, cinnamon flakes, fruit and cheese

Potato pancakes are what I call that substitute for hamburg steak. They're quite simple to make. Cinnamon flakes are a nice standby as a filler when I can't of think of a decent substitute for something. Potato patties/fingers are a good standby too.

Potato Pancakes
1 medium potato
oil to grease
salt to taste
Microwave potato on high for 5 minutes.
Peel and cut into 1/2 cm slices.
Roast slices over a hot, lightly greased, skillet till lightly browned on both sides (about 2 minutes a side).
Sprinkle with salt.

Pan Fried Tofu
2 slices of firm tofu
Marinade of choice
Marinate tofu slices for 5 minutes.
(I used a blend of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic powder and salt)
Shallow fry in very little oil over low heat, till lightly browned.
Remove from pan and drain excess oil.
Serve with little mayonnaise.

Steamed Sweet Potato
Peel and slice sweet potato.
Lightly steam for 5 minutes or so.
Toss with salt and lemon juice.

Cinnamon Flakes
Puff pastry scraps (cut into bite sized pieces)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
Bake puff pastry scraps at 160C for 7 minutes (or till they start to brown)
Cool for 10 minutes and toss lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Cool completely and store in airtight container.

These days I've taken to filling her lunch box with at least one raw vegetable, some fruit and cheese. Most days the easiest raw vegetable is carrot sticks.

Quesadilla,phulkas, potato curry, tomato salad, fruit and cheese

Rice, dal and ghee, Carrot sticks, beans curry, coleslaw, fruit and cheese

A set of molds are always handy. They can be used to shape rice, patties, and even eggs. I'll be the first to admit that there has to be a knack to molding an egg. I've seen molded ones, and well, I guess I'm making a mess somewhere. Rice molded like a teddy bear is always welcome in the lunch box. It definitely qualifies as 'cute'. And 'cute' is what my daughter wants to eat.

Rice, potato patties, dal, fruit and cheese

Did I mention that she also wants foods she can eat with chopsticks?? That led to omelet rolls. Make a thin omelet, and instead of flipping it over, or folding in half, when it's almost cooked sprinkle some cheese on it, and then roll it up and cut into small pieces.

Carrot sticks, steamed broccoli, omelet-rolls, fruit and cheese

Like my friend Hemu said, I am never going to win a good looking Obento contest. But as long as my daughter thinks they're cute, and eats it up, I'm happy.