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.