Category Archives: breakfast

Product Review: Ninja Mega Kitchen system and a recipe for Masala Dosa

 One of the biggest reasons for attending conferences is the priceless experience of meeting fellow bloggers and get an invaluable exposure to all things  culinary. This includes vendors with new products to savor and get inspiration from.

I had no complaints about whatever appliances I had for making traditional Dosa (Traditional South Indian rice & lentil crepes) batter, a sturdy tabletop stone grinder that you could add the Urad dal, turn the timer on , and 30  minutes later, come back to a container full of fluffy, batter with the consistency of whipped egg whites. The
The cons of this is the cleaning up, of the various parts, the roller, the grinding bin, the multiple trays on which the rollers need to be placed while transferring the rice & lentil batter, the invariable drips of thick batter on the counter…. you get the point, It takes quite a bit of time.

I was pleasantly surprised when the appliance company, Ninja asked me if I’d like to try any of their appliances (the Ninja team at BlogHer Food ’13 were real stars in terms of the delicious food samples they made on site). I accepted their offer and picked the  Mega Kitchen system. Unlike smaller passive gadgets such as scoops & knives, Electrical appliances cannot be verified with one successful try. I had to run the machine through multiple testing sessions before I could bring myself to vouch for it (even though , the delighted cook within me was already raving about the machine to anyone who listened).

In my opinion, Dosa batter is definitely one of the toughest tasks that any kitchen blending system can be tested with. First, soaked, hydrated rice turns to the consistency of concrete when blended and this puts quite some strain on the motor. The Urad lentils have a glutinous texture and grinding this to a smooth paste is non trivial, let alone eventually whipping the batter into a light airy texture.The aerating part seems to be tackled perfectly by the design if the blender has to survive for a number of years in a traditional Indian Kitchen. (we Indians lay a lot of emphasis & importance on the durability factor).
In Ninja’s blender jar, 6 blades (which can be removed for cleaning easily)  stacked up over each other ensure that the lentils & rice are pulverized with out having to go through that whirlpool motion of the conventional models that draw the ingredient down. The Ninja system packs a punch in terms of power – 1500 watts of power.

The entire system consists of a Large blender jar (which I’ve been regularly using for making Dosa batter), a dough & food processor attachment, and a small single serve smoothie attachment which I find perfect for grinding masalas & dry spices such as the classic Milaga Podi (pictured above).

New York Times  had published an article last year about pairing Dosas with Champagne,  and of course, I simply HAD to test it for myself. The yummy  (and pleasantly tipsy) brunch that followed the photography session verified NYTimes claim to a T, with the emphasis that it paired best with  Dosas made with Ghee instead of sesame oil (as the regular day to day breakfast menu goes). While the recipe below describes the traditional way of dosais, I opted to make miniature versions of the dosas topped with a marble sized scoop of the Masala.


Masala Dosais:

  • 1.5 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 cup Spilt dehusked Urad Dal
  • 1 teaspoon Salt.
  • Melted ghee (for drizzling over the dosai) and Sesame oil (for brushing over the griddle)
  1. Rinse & soak the rice & lentils separately in plenty of water for about 2 hours (preferably overnight).
  2. Grind the rice to a thick paste in a blender. Transfer to a large container. Repeat with the lentil, taking care to add sufficient water while blending to obtain a batter which is somewhat fluffy in consistency. (like beaten egg whites). Combine the rice & the urad batters with the salt taking care to mix well using your hands (yeah , its messy, & the batter isn’t even worth licking!).
  3. Cover & place in the oven with the light switched on over night. Alternatively bloom a packet of yeast in warm water and add to the batter. Allow to rest for an hour. Mix well before making the dosai.
  4. Heat a cast iron griddle. Add a teaspoon of oil & wipe it using a paper towel. When the pan gets really hot, pour about 3 oz of the batter in the center & spread it around using the rounded side of the ladle. Drizzle with 1/2 a teaspoon of sesame oil. (the batter will bubble up leaving nooks & crannies on the surface. when the lower side begins to turn golden brown carefully flip the dosai over & cook till the other side turns a similar color. Serve with your choice of chutney, or jam, or even just a dollop of yogurt.

  1. For making dosais with the potato filling, spread the batter on the griddle & drizzle with the melted ghee. (Cover with a large lid & allow the top side to steam cook.). Remove the lid, and place a scoop (ice cream scoop ) of the potato masala in the center. Using the spatula, gently roll the dosai around the filling. (Like rolling a burrito, but without tucking the sides in, I guess like a cannoli). serve with your choice of chutney, or sambhar.

Potato masala:

  • 4 large idaho potatoes, boiled & peeled
  • 1 large onion, quartered & thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded & finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
  1. crumble the boiled & peeled potatoes. Set aside
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet, when it just begins to smoke, add the mustard & cumin seeds & allow to sputter. Add the curry leaves and the onion. saute till the onion turns translucent.
  3. Add the crumbled potatoes, salt and turmeric powder. Sprinkle with some water, stir, lower the heat, cover & cook till the flavors combine. remove from heat, add the lime juice.

The Ninja Mega Kitchen System is available online via their website , or Amazon.com ( Ninja Mega Kitchen System – Model BL771)  or at any retailer in the United States or Canada.

A big Thank you to the folks, especially Sarah Knutson at Ninja Kitchen Systems for the opportunity to test this appliance!

Bon Appetit!

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The ‘We Knead to Bake’ Project 2013 – Bialys (with toasted shallots in a Tamarind relish)


One of the things I love about the ‘We Knead to Bake’ Project is that Aparna Balasubramanian , the brains behind this endeavor, lets the group have a free hand in experimenting with variations on the monthly theme (either that or, she’s given up on me!). This month’s bread is a New York Classic, the Bialy.
For those who’re wondering what in the world this is.. Its simply a roll with poppy seeds & caramelized onions in the center, the kinds that invariably leaves you with a strong onion breath. Yes, the kind of breakfast one normally avoids before stepping out for an important meeting or interview! But be aware, one bite into the chewy warm bread will leave you addicted for life. For  about 3 years in graduate school, A Bialy with cream cheese and a cup of coffee from a vending cart on 1st Avenue in New York City was my staple breakfast. It remains a nostalgic comfort food to this day.


The name Bialy comes from Bialystocker Kuchen which translates as “bread from Bialystok” which is in Poland. According to Mimi Sheraton,  the author of the the book ‘The Bialy Eaters’, Bialys are rarely seen or made in Bialystock these days, an unfortunate consequence of World War II, when most of the Jewish Bakers that had honed Bialy making to an art were killed during the Holocaust.



In the early 1900s, many Eastern Europeans, including the Polish, immigrated to the US and settled down in New York. Naturally, they also brought their Bialy making skills with them and that is how the New York Bialy became famous. 

Inspired by a line by the Chinese poet-statesman Lin Yutang from Mimi Sheraton’s book ” What is patriotism but the longing for the foods of one’s homeland?”  (and here, I shamelessly justify my rather delicious fusion Bialy recipe), I decided to pair the mandatory toasted onions with a traditional South Indian Tamarind relish, the ‘Pulikaachal’. 



This spicy & tangy relish is the flavoring behind the iconic Tamarind rice and many a South Indian emigre to the US of A and all over the world are guilty of smearing their toast with a dab of this umami laden relish. (I’ll post the recipe for the relish in an upcoming post,  but its readily available in most Indian grocery stores).


Bialy’s with toasted Shallots in a Tamarind Relish (Pulikaachal Bialy)-Makes 8-10 Large sized Bialys


You need:

For the dough:
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 cup water
3 cups King Arthur Bread FLour (the higher gluten content yield a chewy texture)
1.5 teaspoon salt
Oil for coating the dough during proofing
Milk for brushing the dough

For the Filling

1 cup Finely diced Shallots
1 tablespoon Sesame seeds
Tamarind relish as per taste.
1 tablespoon sesame oil


Combine the yeast, sugar, salt and flour in a kitchen Aid Stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk runa t the lowest setting for about a minute to mix. Replace with the dough hook and then add the warm water in a steady stream. Knead until the dough comes together as a mass and then let the dough rest for 10 minutes. This will help the dough absorb water. Knead again, adding a little more water or flour (not too much) if you need it, until your dough is smooth and elastic but not sticky.
Shape it into a ball and put it in a well-oiled bowl, turning the dough till it is well coated with the oil. Cover and let it rise till about double. This should take about 2 hours. If you’re not making the Bialys right away, you can refrigerate the dough overnight at this point. When ready to make them, keep the dough at room temperature for about half an hour and then proceed with the rest of the recipe.


While the dough is proofing, heat the tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the sesame seeds once they barely begin to ‘hop’ around in the hot oil, add the shallots and saute until they are translucent. Cool and combine with the tamarind relish as per your taste preference. The shallots will brown further to perfection when baking.



Sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour and place the dough on it. Divide it into 8 – 10 equal pieces and shape each one into a roll by flattening it and then pinching the ends together to form a smooth ball.  Place the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and cover them with a towel. Let them rise for about one hour (about  1 1/2 to 2 hours for refrigerated dough)  till pressing with a finger on the top leaves a dent. 

Work on one piece at a time, while you keep the others covered so they don’t dry out. When the rolls are ready, pick them up one at a time and using your fingers, form the depression in the middle. Hold the roll like a steering wheel with your thumbs in the middle and your fingers around the edges. Pinch the dough between your thumb and fingers, rotating as you go and gradually making the depression wider without actually poking a hole through.

Remember not to press on the edges, or they will flatten out. Once shaped, you should have a depression about 3” in diameter with 1” of puffy dough around the edge, so your Bialy should be about 4” in diameter. Prick the center of the Bialy with a fork so the center doesn’t rise when baking. 


Spiced Tamarind & Shallot (r) & sauteed Leeks with Za’atar seasoning (l)


Place the shaped dough on a parchment lined (or greased) baking tray leaving about 2 inches space between them. Place the caramelized onion filling in the depressions of each Bialy. Brush the outer dough circle with milk. 

Filled with Leek & Za’atar seasoning, brushed with milk and waiting to be baked.

Bake the Bialys at 230C (450F) for about 15 minutes till they’re golden brown in colour. Cool them on a rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. I found that the Bialys keep well in an airtight container for a day or two and just need to be warmed up slightly before serving with a generous dollop of fresh Cream Cheese.


Alternate fillings:

finely slice a cleaned leek (just the white and light green parts) and sautee until translucent in one tablespoon of olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons of Za’atar to the leeks and season with your preferred amount of salt. Allow to cool and fill the Bialy’s as per the recipe.

Bon Appetit!. & yes, this recipe is being Yeastspotted

The ‘We Knead to Bake’ project 2013 : Hokkaido Milk Bread



 Its not conventional to think of bread and associate it with any thing Japanese, after all Japanese cuisine is predominantly rice & fish based if you go with the conventional thought process. This may be the reason why this months baking project from +Aparna Balasubramanian  came as a ultra pleasant surprise. The bread is known as Hokkaido Milk bread (disclaimer, Its been less than a month since I myself heard about the term) and it is by far the softest, fluffiest (feel free to add on your own choice of cute happy superlatives) bread I’ve ever had. The texture of Wonder bread minus the processed entrapped air!

The secret to this ethereal texture is the addition of a roux  to prepare the dough. Referred to as ‘Tangzhong’, this cooked mixture of milk and flour confers the matchless texture. The secret here is to cook the flour and milk to 65 C at which point the gluten in the flour absorbs the liquid transforming into a gel like state that helps form a structure that holds up the shape of the bread). This ancient Japanese technique was popularized by Yvonne Chen through her book ’65 C Bread doctor’. The dough tends to be kind of sticky and hard to work with because of the added roux, so if you have access to a food processor or a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, just USE IT!

Apart from a traditional loaf, I also venture to try a filled bread, drawing inspiration from the iconic Bunny Chow of Durban, South Africa , the filling consisting of curried Puy Lentils. I’m just going to link to my recipe for curried lentils from an ancient post of mine for Curried lentil Crostatas.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I goofed up the recipe the second time around by completely forgetting to add the butter required in the recipe. Much to my relief, the bread was perfectly soft and edible the morning after even after being cut and left out. 

Thanks Aparna for yet another superb pick of bread, here is the link to her original post of the Hokkaido Milk bread.

Hokkaido  Milk bread (adapted from the recipe on Kirbies cravings)

You need:
For the Tangzhong:
1/3 cup All purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water.

Whisk the flour into the milk and water in a saucepan ensuring that there are no lumps. Heat the mixture on a gentle heat (using a thermometer to measure the critical temperature of 65 C). If you don’t have one, no worries, just keep  whisking the mix on a low/medium heat until the roux begins to thicken. when the whisk leaves behind peaks in the roux and the consistency is like that off soft pudding, remove from the heat, cover and allow to cool completely (~ 2 hours). 

For the Bread dough:

 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

 1 tablespoon sugar

 1 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp powdered milk
2 tsp instant dried yeast
1/2 cup milk (and a little more if needed)
1/8 cup cream (25% fat)
 1/3 cup tangzhong (use HALF of the tangzhong from above)
25gm unsalted butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)
1 cup of curried lentils (if making the filled rolls)
In a bowl, whisk together the tangzhong, milk and cream together and ensure that there are no lumpy bits of the roux. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, milk powder and yeast in a separate bowl.
Add the softened butter into the bowl of the stand mixer and switch on the machine with the dough hook attachment. Pour in the the milk/cream tangzhong mixture. gradually add the flour blend about a coffee scoop’s worth at a time. allow the dough to come together. The consistency is rather sticky at this point, so allow the food processor to knead the dough for about 5 minutes. If the dough feels a bit firm at this point add a couple of spoons of milk while kneading to make it soft. To test if the dough is of the right consistency, stretch a piece of dough between youe fingers. It should stretch and at the point of giving out, it will form a circular hole at the thinnest point.
Remove the dough from the mixer, form a ball with the seams tucked in the bottom and transfer into a well oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm dark corner for about an hour until it almost doubles in volume.

  The dough is sufficient to make one loaf (using a 9×5 loaf tin) or 8  rolls in a muffin tin. Depending upon what you are making, butter and flour the surface of the respective baking  pan.

Transfer the dough onto the working surface. you do not need any flour to help shape the bread. for the loaf, roll out the dough to a rectangle of  about 9 inch wide and 15 inches long (approximations are fine). Fold into a rectangle of about 9 by 5 inches (as if you’re folding a letter) and roll out once again to stretch the width. Roll the dough along the length pressing  the edges into the dough and pinching the sides. 


Using a sharp knife, make diagonal slashes into the dough. Brush liberally with cream, cover with a plastic wrap and allow to proof for a second time for about an hour.

Bake in an oven (preheated to 325 F) for about 25 – 30 minutes until the top has browned and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. 

Allow to cool in the loaf pan for about 5-10 minutes before tapping it out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the curried rolls:

Divide the rolls into 8 approximately equal parts. Roll out a portion of the dough into a 6 inch circle. Spoon in 2 tablespoons of the curried lentils onto the center of the dough.

Fold the edges together & seal the the dough as shown above. place into a buttered and floured muffin tin and brush well with cream. Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and allow to proof for about 45 minutes.

Bake in a 325 F oven for about 20 minute until the tops appear to have a golden brown color. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes in the muffin tin before flipping them out to cool on a rack. Serve warm with a pat of fresh churned butter!

This bread is being yeastspotted!

Bon appetit!

Countdown for my ‘ A Dish – a Day ‘ blog – Day 7

 December 25 is not really a day to spend in front of the laptop, trying to compose a post about a new recipe. This is a day to revel in the joy of watching the kids opening their presents and the jaw dropping realization of how quickly they're capable of  trashing a room in minutes, but then again, my resolution is getting the better of me. As Indian style breads go, there is no dearth to what may be mixed into the dough and with each new ingredient , there is a different unique  flavor profile.

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Countdown for my ‘Dish – a – day blog’ – Day 10

Of all the countless New Year's resolution I've made over the past decades, I cannot really recall a single one that I've kept and seen through over the next 365 days. And when I started my other daily blog 'A Dish a Day'  on a whim on Jan 1st 2012, I honestly never really expected to go past April (counting all the dishes I had whipped up for this blog and the numerous community picks that I've had the privilege of testing for Food52). This is not taking into account the inherent lethargy that I was sure , would make me skip days at my whim.

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Out of Africa – Eggless Cherry Amarula Muffins

It was around this time 16 years ago that I had my most memorable swig of Amarula ever. I’d just obtained my F-1 Student visa from the American consulate at Cape Town. It was such a contrast to the marathon queue  sessions at the Mumbai consulate. I breezed in, handed my papers and was asked to come and collect the passport 3 days later. That night, It was a well deserved break from my crazy thesis work that I was trying to race against time to complete. A shot of ice cold Amarula Liqueuer and being toasted by friends at the Medical Residence to the tune of  Stings ‘I’m a legal alien’ playing on the radio (How perfectly apt was that, considering that I was headed to NYU a month later)

If there is one cream liqueur that I’m partial to over the others, its definitely Amarula. It fits the description of the stereotypical exotic liqueur and is made from the fruits of the wild Marula tree, which in itself is steeped in legends.
Maybe because it was the very first cream liqueur I had ever tasted.. or because Its etched in my memory as the harbinger of a new step into the future.. who knows?. I tried so hard to find some in New York in the nineties, but everywhere I asked, the reply was always “Oh you mean ‘Amaretto”? No , no & no..

Thankfully, times have changed and this superb cream liqueur is now easily available all over the North East. (although the bottles are much smaller than the ones from South Africa).

Using Amarula in a muffin wd probably not have popped up into my head if it had not been for a lovely surprise from Oxo. A new cherry pitter and a fabulous Ice cream scoop to test. I’d never tried any device for pitting cherries but this was pure love at first try. It was hard to put the tool down until the entire bowl of cherries had been pitted.

The tool is angled ever so slightly to ensure that it pushes out the pit perfectly and has a tiny cylindrical guard that protects against splatter.

This is a must have tool if you plan to use the fruits for baking. Which is exactly what I did. I’d been meaning to test Flax seed powder as a substitute for eggs, (there is a wonderful reference for how to do this on Chefinyou’s page. ) and this was the perfect opportunity. Except for the fact that I only had the sweet cherries on hand, rather than the tart variety, this was such  a fabulous breakfast muffin (albeit a grown up one, considering there’s about 6 oz of liqueur).

 

Cherry Amarula Muffins (Makes about 16 – 18 muffins)

 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1.5 cups sugar
2 tbsp flaxmeal (finely powdered flax seeds)

6 tbsp warm water
3 tbsp baking powder
2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup amarula liqueur
1 cup pitted chopped cherries, quartered

Sugar glaze (optional)
1/2 cup Icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sliced almonds for garnishing

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
 Mix the flax meal with the warm water in a bowl. Mix well & set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar and cream until fluffy, using a handheld mixer. Gradually add the viscous flaxseed mixture keeping the mixer running. Gradually add the vanilla, cream and Amarula liqueur.
Add the flour along with the cherries in small installments and fold in till combined.
Spoon the batter into  muffin tins lined with paper cups.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the tops have turned a golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

Mix the icing sugar and the milk and stir until completely mixed. Drizzle or brush the mixture over the muffins and garnish with sliced almonds.

Bon appetit!

Comfort Food at its best..Sago & beluga Lentil stir fry

Thursdays were considered a ‘fast’ day in a lot of households in my neighborhood in Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai. With that typical ignorant cynicism that only a teenager can excel at, I often used to wonder why they called it a fast if they ate such ‘filling’ stuff like ‘sabudana’ khichdi. This truly was a dish that sank like a stone down your stomach & stayed there for the next 12 hours slowly digesting. One possibly could not contemplate eating a bite more after a generous portion of this absolutely delicious comfort food.
 Well, decades later, I have still yet to figure out an answer (not really, since this is the wikipedia era and almost any answer can be found there!), some traditions are just too sacred & beyond questioning, and if the associated food is delicious, then just sit back & enjoy the food. 
Sago pearls (often referred to as tapioca pearls, although the latter is derived from the roots of the cassava plant) are manufactured from the starch extracted from the pith of the sago palm, a native of south east Asia & New Guinea.
 
 Sabudana (as sago is referred to in several Indian languages) Khichdi is a classic breakfast dish ( or lunch, or dinner or an in between light meal, if you’re like me) from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Its a textural & flavor treat, considering sago by it self is nothing more than a flavorful pearl of gelled up starch. The cilantro, cumin & toasted peanuts and the tang of citrussy lemon juice make this a dish to die for. The cons – sago tends to clump up thanks to its gel quality & this makes the khichdi less than appealing in terms of left overs. the trick is to introduce non gelling ingredients as ‘nearest neighbor’ candidates to the sago pearls. not many candidates that would fit the bill in terms of similar size.
The answer: Beluga Lentils, ( Whole Foods sells organic beluga lentils under their 365 label) at first glance, they kind of resemble black mustard seeds on steroids. they’re in fact the tiniest variety of lentils (of the ‘masoor’ family). Jet black in color, they turn a deep glistening dark  brown when cooked (resembling beluga caviar, hence the name). They hold their shape very well when cooked. and NO, they are NOT to be confused with whole urad dal (which is related to the mung bean rather than masoor).
 
This gorgeous variety of lentil was the perfect addition to sago to make a  healthy protein rich version of the sabudana khichdi. (the traditional version incorporates peanuts for the purpose, but not really enough to call this a protein rich dish, it still remains carb heavy). The best part I realized, was that the presence of the lentils interspersed between the sago pearls keeps the final dish from clumping and it tastes great when re heated & served as left overs. I like to add a pinch of Goda Masala to invoke the traditional Maharashtrian flavors, but unfortunately, I did not have any more of this magic potion when testing this recipe. Had to make do with a garam masala substitute 😦

Sabudana & Beluga Lentil khichdi.
You need:
  • 1 cup  sabudana (sago) pearls
  • 1/2 cup Beluga lentils
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 5 tablespoons olive, sesame or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Idaho potatoes diced
  • 1 large onion, quartered and finely sliced (I prefer the white variety for this particular recipe, although the red ones work perfectly fine as well)
  • 1/2 cup roasted, skinned & finely crushed peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1 green chile finely chopped OR 1/2 a jalapeno (deseeded)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, torn to bits
  • 1 pinch asafetida
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala (or Goda Masala if you have it stocked up)
  • 1/3 -1/2 cup chopped cilantro for garnishing.
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Rinse the Sago pearls in plenty of warm water to get rid of excess starch. Cover the wet pearls (drain off any excess water) and allow to ‘bloom’ for about 2 hours.
Bring 1/5 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Wash the Beluga lentils and add to the water. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Drain the residual water & reserve about 2/3 cup of the cooked lentils. (you want an optimal blend of the black & white and equal proportion of the sago & lentils does not exactly work too well)

 Rinse and pat dry the diced potatoes . Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a non stick skillet and add the potatoes. Allow to fry to a golden color, tossing them to evenly cook. remove onto kitchen towels & sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

 In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil, when it just starts to smoke, add the cumin and allow it to sputter & split. Add the curry leaves, ginger & green chili.

Stir to combine and then add the onions. Fry the onions until they turn translucent. Add the garam masala and salt. Mix well to combine. Add the Sago and the beluga lentils along with the potatoes & crushed peanuts. stir well to disperse all the ingredients evenly. Sprinkle water generously over the mixture, lower the heat and cover. Cook for about 7-10 minutes till the flavors combine well.

Once the pearls turn into translucent beads, drizzle with the lemon juice.  Transfer the khichdi onto a serving dish, and garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve warm.

Bon Appetit!

Iyer n’chef wannabe meets an Iron chef (in real life!)

Some days, you wake up to the regular routines & chores in life (& beating ones head over the kitchen table about this weeks food  inspiration) without a clue how the day will turn out..  & 12 hrs later you’re clueless about how delightfully surprising the day turned out to be (and you’re back to smacking your head about which one of the myriad inspirations you want to tackle first!)

Tuesday Sept. 20, Took off impulsively to  Bobby Flay’s book signing event at Williams Sonoma in Short Hills NJ. These book signings in general, require a lot of pre planning:  pre-ordering the book via phone, getting there 3 hours in advance & wait in a long serpentine queue. This time I struck it lucky, it definitely was well worth it. The scrumptious samples, highlighting recipes from the book, that the store prepares fresh & brings around.. ah well, scroll thru the pics & see for yourself before I hit you with this weeks recipe, adapted from Bobby Flay’s new book The Bar Americain Cookbook.

Hot potato chips with blue cheese sauce
Pumpkin Soup with cranberry-maple creme fraiche and toasted pumpkin seeds
Deep dish chocolate cream pie
& the water that they  kept serving everyone frequently, very thoughtful!

 Unlike Ina Gartens book which I’ve yet to open & even look through (maybe it had something to do with the impersonal signing session, (no personalization, no 30 second ‘one on one’ with the customer ) of the author, this is a book I’ve browsed through at least thrice, in as many days, and there is PLENTY of inspiration for an ovo-lacto vegetarian like moi!, & despite the high end, and possibly intimidating reputation of a revered dining establishment such as Bar Americain, the recipes are quite feasible for the average home cook. I guess the elegance lies in its simplicity! The photographs by Ben Fink are a feast for the eyes!

I had a tough time deciding on which recipe to pick on to ‘Panfusine’ with a basic level of respectability and the final choice was based on whatever I had on hand at home. It had to have chili peppers of course, in a nod to Bobby Flay’s celebration of this spice. A ‘to die for’ recipe for Black pepper buttermilk biscuits, with a generous dollop of traditional South Indian Tomato chutney. The recipe for the tomato relish can be found here. I had to halve the recipe, since there is no way I would let such a large amount go to waste (guess where it would go?.. yep, the waist! )


Tomato Buttermilk Biscuits (Adapted from Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain cookbook)

 Ingredients:

2 cups All purpose flour (maida) plus extra for flouring
1/2 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut into cubes & chilled) + 2 tablespoons melted for brushing over the biscuits
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons chilled buttermilk
Heavy cream for brushing
1/2 cup Tomato relish with smoked jalapeno and arbol chile

Preheat the oven to 450 F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda & baking powder  and sift to combine. Add the chilled cubes of butter & rub into the flour or cut using a pastry cutter, till the mixture  resembles coarse bread crumbs.

Combine the 1/2 cup of butter milk and the relish & mix well together to get a runny paste like consistency.

Add the tomato buttermilk mixture to the flour and mix enough to get all the ingredients to just come together. (if the mix is too dry, add the remaining buttermilk 1/2 tablespoon at a time)

The white blobs?? Thats butter baby!

Remove the dough onto a floured surface, using your hands pat the dough into a sheet about 3/4 of an inch thick. Using a 2 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut circles into the dough and place these on the baking sheet. Re form the remaining dough into a smaller sheet and repeat once more. ( the remaining scraps, just shape it up into the last misshapen piece & add it to any remaining space on the baking sheet, it tastes just as good!).

Brush the tops of the biscuits with the heavy cream.

slide into the oven to bake for about 12-15 minutes till the top is a nice golden brown (accommodating for the  color of the tomatoes of course).

Brush with the melted butter and remove onto a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm with a pat of butter! (it tastes great even without any extra stuff on it!)

Bon appetit!

Good ol’ strawberry jam.

Sometimes, all you seek is good ol’ vanilla ice cream… or strawberry jam over toast.

My other half is convinced that I’m on the path to make my five year old into a chef… he already is a foodie with a sharp sense of taste and aroma. Last friday, he was a very happy boy when I made him this fabulous Feta, pine nut & mint pesto  by coffeefoodwritergirl that was posted on Food52. with a little necessary tweaking , (the Pine nuts that I got were labeled ‘chilgoza’ from the Indian store, were probably harvested last century, they tasted quite old!, so)  necessity being the mother of invention, and my teensy greed for a spectacularly green pesto, I made do with some handy pistachio.


& yes, my pepper grinder was nowhere to be seen either (I suspect, it will surface under the entertainment cabinet tomorrow, courtesy my 2 year old, who seems to be on a mission to transfer the entire contents of my kitchen to the ‘green pillow’ room (a.k.a the family room), So.. in went a half a spike of pickled green peppercorns fresh out of brine… (more of the color to satisfy my greed for green)

Less than the length of a Beyonce song later, I had this wonderful condiment:

“It really IS  Pesto” …came the delighted squeal that only five year olds can get away with, & he promptly proceeded to polish it off for supper with french bread.
…it has been awarded the ‘can we have this pesto for ever & ever status’. which means, I’m going to have to regularly stock feta @ home and make it on demand, But seriously folks, this is one of those dishes you absolutely HAVE to try out. You won’t regret it!
Back to the jam before I forget,
I’ve always been a bit weary of making jam, maybe a fear of burning it  up or getting spatter burns in the process.  I’ve always assumed that it HAD to be made in huge batches in a BIG pot..and basically spend half a day sterilizing dozens of glass jars, & .. you get the picture… WRONG: its as easy to make in a small batch..My techniques may not conform to the standards of purists, but it worked well enough.
For the Strawberry jam you need:
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries (chopped into pieces)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 packet liquid pectin
2 cups sugar
4 8oz wide mouth canning jars (available in your local grocery stores at this time of year)
In a large wide saucepan, bring a lot of water to a rolling boil, drop the jars and the canning lids and sterilize for about 5 minuted. Carefully remove, wipe dry & set aside on clean kitchen towels. 
Place a small clean stainless steel plate in the freezer to chill. (you’ll see why)
Combine the strawberries and the lemon and cook down till the fruit is completely cooked and is ready to fall apart. Measure the amount of cooked pulp, it should be about 2 cups. The proportions are basically equal amounts of sugar & pulp.
Add the liquid pectin and stir well (Using a wooden spoon,  no metal spoons as far as possible) to combine. with the heat set on high bring to a rolling boil  for about 5-10 min.  Add the sugar & stir well to dissolve. continue boiling on high for about 2 minutes. To check if the jam is ready to gel,drop some of the hot fruit onto the chilled plate & check if it remains gelled instead of dripping. At the same time, you will notice that the fruit starts dripping in sheets from the wooden spoon). 

Skim the foam from the top, remove from fire and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Stir well and ladle into the sterilized jars. cover with the lid & close tightly. This can be kept in the refrigerator for upto a month. If planning to store for a long time at room temperature, you will need to can the jars.
The precursor to the strawberry jam was 2 bottles of jam made with greengage plums that I found at my local Farmers market. Yummy as they were fresh they make for an AWESOME jam. Being high in Pectin, no extra pectin required.
The process is the same… boil the plums with the juice of 1 lemon,
….well, here’s the link to the recipe that I shared on Food52
The Plum pairs well with the ginger & clove making for a more adult friendly jam..
Bon Appetit!

Cilantro biscuits

Aah summer… one week into the 80 F weather & I’m already complaining about it! Having said that, the heat is simple one of the many many aspects of what characterizes summer. Summer is the time for vacations. Growing up in India, It meant making good on those railway reservations that fathers had made in early march, (I’m NOT getting into the inefficiencies of the Indian Railways in the 1970’s..), or if you were one of those privileged, yet solidly middle class kids like me..taking your chances on the ‘subject to load’ staff passes that Air India generously offered its employees.

For about 4 hours, you were pretty much pampered in luxury, beginning with the ‘maharaja’ lounges at the airports (accessible to managerial executives with business class privileges) where they’d start the feeding process with finger foods such as cream cheese sandwiches with chutney, tiny samosas & those delicious savory  puff pastries..IF & ONLY IF there were empty seats on the flight, which was a 50/50 possibility given the heavy summer traffic.  One had to take into account that you could be making multiple trips to the airport and even (thankfully remote) offloaded the airplane after you were buckled in, simply because a fare paying passenger had rushed in 2 minutes before the counter closed & had to be given an upgraded seat because economy was full!…I remember breathing sighs of relief only after the wheels lifted off! & then the feeding began…Elegant service using linen,  real silverware & fine  porcelain!

Believe it or not, airline food was something to look forward to in those days and still is relatively quite pleasant on most Indian carriers even today..quite unlike the horrendous ‘greyhound buses on wings’ that fly the skies here in the US of A. And yet, ‘ airline – bashing’ is a national pastime for a lot of people from India. The very same individuals would probably smilingly accept the worst non reclining seats (32 B, E or a higher number on a non wide body aircraft) seated next to an absolute ***(take your pick of your least favorite co-passengers in this category) for a cross country red eye & wouldn’t let out a peep, traveling on carriers from other countries (oh yeah… you know who you are!!)!

Back to food, there was almost a separate genre of food prepared for train travel. The  basic specs for these were that it had to keep well for at least 2 days and had to taste the same or better yet improve with age. This category eliminated most cooked dals and semi liquid  curries, relying instead on dry vegetables to be paired with deep fried breads (which remained moist through the journey) , or chutneys & ‘thuvaiyals’ (if you were of south Indian extraction) with rice well seasoned with sesame oil.

Fast forward a decade into the 21st century, as much as a number of us travel to India for vacations, we also have our parents traveling to the US to spend  precious quality time with us. For the more traditional & vegetarian set, it often is a challenge to find suitable food while traveling to some of the beautiful destinations across the US. At times, even as one gives in to pure decadent junk food at Denny’s & IHOP, a tinge of guilt creeps in when you see your In-laws or (especially) your own parents, nibble on a piece of dry toast with country crock, and reluctantly force themselves to finish the side of hash brown you so enthusiastically ordered.. (“just add some pepper amma, its exactly the same as potato curry“), yeah right, and all the while they know for a fact that the griddle was frying a juicy strip of bacon just before their potatoes landed on it!

Its often at times like these that one wishes that some of the beloved staples such as muffins and biscuits could be ordered in  Indian flavors (and eggless to boot) . I had been toying with prototypes for this idea for a couple of months now and a breakthough came about when Food52 posted this simple and elegant recipe for cheese biscuits. The original recipe calls for the use of a stand mixer (which I’ve yet to invest in), so tried to mimic the technique manually with good results.
It involves no eggs (except for the egg wash that gives the biscuit a shiny finish on top) which makes it perfect for a South Indian adaptation. The cheese in the biscuits is replaced by home made coriander ‘thuvaiyal’.

As we all know coriander, that Indian kitchen staple is the first to turn into a slushy slimy compost sitting in the fridge. The minute the leaf is blended into a chutney, it starts losing its vibrant green color unless an acid such as lime or tamarind is added. and even then, its probably the condiment with the shortest shelf life. To extend the shelf life, the leaves were sauteed prior to grinding to reduce the water content and then ground to a thick pesto along with toasted urad dal, mustard and tamarind (remember using citrus would be adding extra liquid, so that is out!)

For the Cilantro pesto (‘thuvaiyal’) you need:

3 cups cilantro leaves packed (the stems tend to be fibrous and does not lend well to the biscuit’s texture)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons dehusked split urad dal
2 dried red arbol chiles, broken into pieces
Salt to taste
1/2 a pod of dried tamarind pulp or 1/2 -1 teaspoon tamarind extract
A pinch of asafetida.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds and Urad dal. When the mustard seeds pop, add the dried chiles and asafetida. Stir till the urad dal turns a deep golden brown. Remove & transfer to the crinding jar of a blender. Allow to cool.

In the same skillet, add the remaining oil and add the cilantro leaves and allow to wilt completely (the leaves will turn a dark shade of green). Lower the heat & keep stirring the leaves around to prevent them from getting burnt (~ 3-4 minutes). Transfer to the blender jar. Add salt & process till you obtain a smooth paste.
Transfer to a glass storage container and allow to cool completely before sealing the container (to avoid condensation).

For the Cilantro biscuits (technique adapted from Merill Stubbs recipe for cheese biscuits) you need:

3 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
2 tablespoons baking powder
2  teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cilantro pesto
1 1/2 cup buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix the flour salt and baking powder and chill the mixture in a fridge for about 30 minutes. Add the butter and cilantro pesto/thuvaiyal to the flour mix. Rub between your fingers to incorporate till there are tiny pea sized pieces of butter dispersed evenly in the flour. Add the buttermilk and mix till the dough just comes together.

Transfer to a floured board and knead gently with floured hands. Pat or gently roll to make the dough into a rough circle about 1/2 inch thick.

Cut into 3 inch (I used a 2 inch biscuit cutter) circles using a biscuit cutter. transfer to the lined baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes (turn the trays half way through the baking to ensure evenness.) till the tops are golden brown. (the finish will not be as glossy as in the recipe for cheese biscuits since there is no egg wash brushed over the biscuits). Remove from the oven & allow to cool. Serve warm with a pat of butter.

Bon Appetit!