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.