Category Archives: healthy

Quick post.. A tutorial on Idlies?

I had no idea of what I would be blogging about, or even if I was going to post today. Yes, there are a couple of posts sitting in my drafts column, that I was to publish in the next couple of day, but it was never going to be plain Idlies. 

So, back to basics? What are Idlies? Answer: they’re basically spongy steamed cakes made with a fermented rice and Urad lentil batter. The perfect healthy blend of protein & carbs,  The fermentation confers a depth of Umami and one of the best things is that you can pair the cakes with just about anything, Sugar, ketchup, Sriracha, and the usual chutneys, the milaga podi, Sambar & yes, Fresh home made yogurt.

The purpose of this post is not about sharing a recipe for idli. Its a classic national dish and there are countless sites you could get it from. Its about discussing the myriad ways that one could shape them. I’ve been making unconventional Idlies  way, way before I even knew that there was such a thing as food blogging. (even if a certain pompous dame of the British Empire claimed along with BBC Good Foods (India)  magazine that they invented the cupcake mold version.), And I’m not alone, countless mothers  must have done this before me.   And it was out of pure necessity, in other words, getting my kids to eat healthy stuff in cute forms. Silicone cupcake molds were merely the first. They could be fitted into a conventional Idli stand with the lenticular molds  and steamed, and yes filled up with fresh blueberries or even a Hersheys kisses pressed in for a molten chocolate variety.

 Well, Its been years since I revisited the shaped idlies until yesterday when I spotted some long forgotten silicone molds from years ago and opted to make a kid friendly lunch for my son to get the week kicked off.

Before I knew it, I was out looking for more shapes just to use for this post. It turns out that Crate and Barrel the store from which I picked up the pumpkin and leaf mold had discontinued them and I had to settle on this Ice cube tray. 

well, they worked perfectly, did not twist out of shape when I lifted the tray onto the pan to steam, and the best part, the idlies just dropped out, unlike the conventional mold where you need to scoop them out.

MOLDED IDLIES

I’m just going to link the detailed recipe for the idli batter from my friend Dhivya’s blog ‘Chef in you’.

The Tovolo Jumbo ice cube tray accommodates 2 oz  of batter which produces a near perfect cube.

Brush the inside surfaces of the tray with oil. (it isn’t really necessary, since the silicone does release the finished product, but the oil really helps in sliding the entire cube out without even a morsel sticking to the pan).

Ladle the batter into the sections of the ice cube tray. Place the tray over a steamer basket in a skillet (with a cup of water added to the bottom. Cover with a lid and steam for 10-12 minutes on  medium heat.)

 If you do manage to spot silicone molds in different shapes like this pumpkin, pick them up, the work great for pretty party designs. (2 – 3 oz of batter steamed for 12 minutes). The only drawback is that you have to make them one at a time (or have a really wide skillet and an equally large lid to keep multiple molds flat without squishing them.)

So go ahead, think outside the mold and let the idli imagination run wild, your kids will love you for it!

 Bon appetit!

PS: An update: For more intricate shapes like this gorgeous snowflake, Just make sure to oil the inner surface of the mould design that comes into contact with the batter, Steam and allow the mold to cool down completely before attempting to push out the idlies. I used a seasonal silicone ice cube tray to make these beauties.

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Inviting Light & Prosperity into our homes – Happy Diwali.

 Ever notice the best festivals & feasts usually occur towards the end of the year? I think it has everything to do with the days getting shorter. In South India the season kicks off with Krishna Jayanti in September, followed by Navratri, Diwali, Karthigai, Combined with Labor day in September, Halloween, Thanksgiving , Christmas & New Year celebrated in the US of A, thats a lot of festive days to look forward to. No wonder it gets dreary once January 2nd comes around, but then by that time, the days begin to stretch out longer again.

The concept  probably precedes religion, or co-evolved along with it. With the end of harvests, It was time to huddle up and and spend the cold months waiting for the seasons to change again. Festivals must have been a natural social response in the absence of  much to do and of course to dispel the invariable fright that darkness brings.

Well, I’m certainly not complaining, the plethora of opportunities to indulge in kitchen capers, the shopping spree for ingredients, whats not to love?
At home there are traditional dishes and then there are the creative ones, and the ones I like best, the healthy creative ones, the stuff that you can scarf down without having to worry too much about the amount of fat that went into it. This year the confection list included the decadent ‘T-B-A shortbread’
 

and a baked granola like chivda which I’ve been gulping down by the handful. This snack is common throughout India and has more than one name depending upon which state its made, Chivda, chevdo, chanachoor, mixture. Each state adds its own flavoring and ingredients. Raisins are common in the Maharashtrian version, plantain chips & curry leaves in the South Indian Mixture, Sugar in the Gujarati version and so on. The common thread in all these versions is that the final mix is invariably deep fried.Growing up in India, one of my favorite things about Diwali was savoring all the different versions that were exchanged between the neighbors and to this day, I cannot think of any one version that stood out. I loved them all with equal delight!

This weeks Diwali post combines all my favorite aspects of the chivda variants and makes it healthy to boot. The only deep fried part is the addition of broken purple potato chips. they make a beautiful contrast to the dried cranberries added to the mix.

Baked Granola Mixture

You need:
2 cups puffed brown rice cereal (the unsweetened type, I used Arrowhead Mills)
1 cup Rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill has a great product)
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries or dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
4 oz kettle cooked potato chips (the thick ones)

For the tempering:

4 tablespoons sesame or peanut oil
1 heaped tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves finely cut into a chiffonade
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons molasses

Line 2 cookie sheets with Aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 225 F.
Combine the puffed rice, oats, sweetened dried cranberries, ginger, pumpkin seeds and almonds in a large bowl.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. once it begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. Once they’ve ‘popped, add the cumin seeds. (Cumin fries much faster than mustard and thats why I add it after the mustard). Once the cumin seeds ‘split’, lower the heat and add the curry leaves. Stand back since they tend to sizzle and spatter oil around, thanks to the inherent moisture. Turn off the gas or remove the pan from the heat  and then add the cayenne, salt and asafetida. Last, add the Molasses (it helps to use a spoon coated with oil, to ensure that all the molasses just drips off the spoon without sticking).

Pour out the mixture into the center of the bowl with the other ingredients. Fold gently to coat evenly.

Distribute the mix evenly between the two baking sheets into a thin uniform layer.

Place into oven and bake for 20 minutes, making sure to stir the mix every 10 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, increase the heat to 250 F and bake for 10 minutes more. This ensures that the almond slivers get nice and crunchy. remove the trays from the oven and allow to cool completely. Crush the potato chips lightly and blend into the mix. Store in an airtight container once cooled completely.

Wishing everyone prosperous times ahead. Happy Diwali!

Recreating flavors (or at least trying) – White turnip stew with toasted Chana dal.

Kootu or vegetable stews are an integral part of South Indian cuisine. Just about any vegetable, be it a root, shoot or fruit, bud, blossom or bean, doesn’t matter, chances are that a South Indian has already made a kootu out of it. The kootu is a low maintenance recipe, vegetable of choice, boiled with a pinch of turmeric, thickened with either a paste of coconut, chile & cumin or cooked & mushed up dal. A shot of sizzling tadka (with mustard, Urad dal, a single arbol chile, a pinch of asafetida and Curry leaves) and voila, a nutritious stew, all set to be served up with steaming hot plain rice.
Asafetida takes the place of onion & garlic in South Indian food, especially dishes from the Brahmin community. Yea, we were born to be a bunch of nerdy geeks whose grandmothers shuddered at the mere mention of those smelly bulbs that incited base, scandalous emotions. They usually added cinnamon & Fennel to the list as well. And God forbid, you were ever cheeky enough to mention that asafetida was in fact a byproduct from a variety of fennel,  you’d be thrown out of the kitchen, if not the house with a glowing piece of firewood or coconut fiber broom, whichever is nearby!
Dealing with Asafetida in its raw form is not for the faint of heart. To put it mildly, it stinks, until it meets a pool of sizzling hot oil. Then just as a fairy tale troll changing into a prince by the kiss of the sizzling oil, it blooms, blooms into a magnificent aroma of onions & garlic frying. Yep those South Indian ‘maamies’ (aunties) certainly knew how to get around food restrictions!
The preferred dal for kootu  is usually tuvar (pigeon peas) or mung, but this particular recipe calls for toasted split chana dal (the smaller version of the garbanzo bean/ kabuli chana). Toasting the dal brings out a nutty aroma that complements the assertive aroma of the fried curry leaves. The soft mellow turnips  balances these assertive flavors with their mild sweetness. I first tasted this dish at Chennais flagship South Indian restaurant ‘Dakshin’ at the Park Sheraton Hotel, and have been making it rather regularly ever since.

Turnip ‘Kootu (Stew) with toasted Channa Dal

You need:
2 cups peeled and  cubed white turnips (~ 8 small turnips)
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
Salt to taste
1 cup split chana dal
2 green chiles, slit or cut into pieces
For the tempering:
2 tablespoons Oil
1 teaspoon Black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Split Urad dal
1/4 teaspoon Asafetida powder
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
1 red arbol chile
 
Toast the chana dal until it turns a light golden brown color, Rinse in adequate quantities of water, combine with 2 cups of water  and 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric  and cook till soft in a pressure cooker (about 7-8 whistles for a traditional Indian cooker). Allow the cooker to cool, open the lid, and mash to a smooth paste using the back of a spoon or an immersion blender.
Add the turnips to  just enough water to submerge them, along with the remaining turmeric and chiles. Bring to a boil. Add salt, lower the heat and cook until the turnips are fork tender. Add the mashed dal, taste for salt and simmer until the flavors combine (~ 10 minutes on a low flame).
 In a cast iron pan heat the oil until it sizzles. Add the mustard, Urad dal and Arbol chile. Once the mustard sputters and the Urad dal turns golden, lower the heat and add the asafetida and torn curry leaves. Allow the leaves to curl and fry up lightly and then pour the entire contents of the cast iron pan into the stew. give it a good stir, cover and allow to cool slightly before serving  with steamed rice.
Bon appetit!

Somewhat Rare Treats – Banana Stem Stir Fry

The banana tree  has often been described as a perfect example of being totally useful from root to fruit. (well, considering that the ‘tree’  is in reality a mutant, giant grass, the description begs for quite a bit of clarification). The banana ‘plant grows from fat squat entities called corms which are the actual stems of the plant, the ‘trunk’ in reality is the base of the leaves which are tightly layered in concentric layers. In terms of its use, other than the fruit, the inflorescence (banana flower)  is often used as a vegetable in Asian cuisine, the leaves are used for wrapping food for steaming, as disposable plates and the occasional umbrella. The fibers from the exterior part of the stems are used for textiles as well as yarn.

The core (or the heart)  used for cooking consists of the central, compressed part of the stem, the part which cannot be peeled off in layers. Its been used as a folk remedy for kidney stones and thanks to its fiber rich nature, its a great vegetable to add to your diet for weight control. (Its another story that the stems are rarely seen even in the ethnic grocery stores here in the US of A).

The prepping process is not straight forward. The instant the stem is cut, it turns brown due to oxidation. For this purpose, the diced bits need to be immediately immersed in acidulated water ( for some reason, the medium of choice is water mixed with a ladle of diluted yogurt or buttermilk).

When the stem is sliced into coins, the immature fibers that stretch out need to be removed. Don’t get grossed out, these are not slimy like Okra or sticky like spider webs.

They’re more like strands of delicate cotton that are pretty strong enough to lift the slice of stem.

The optimal way to extract them is to gently twist the fibers out of the stem, using your index finger and discard.

The coins are then diced and added to the acidulated water, and left for about 1/2 an hour.

The banana stem by itself does not have a particular flavor, just a delicate vegetal, grassy aroma. This make it the perfect vehicle for adding your choice of spices as per your preference. The crunch of the vegetable even after cooking gives it a textural distinction that is rather delightful.

Banana Stem Stir Fry:

You need:

 12″ banana stem core.
4 cups of water (whisked in with 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 arbol chiles broken into bits
1 teaspoon split urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, torn

1/3 cup shredded coconut
salt to taste
Coconut oil for finishing

Prep the banana stem as per the instructions listed above.
 Drain the yogurt/water mix and transfer the diced stems to a pot containing water with the turmeric added. bring to a boil and cook the stems for about 15 minutes until they’re pleasantly crunchy to the bite. Drain the water and reserve the stems.
Heat the olive oil in a  wok and add the mustard seeds & the urad dal, just as the mustard begins to sputter add the broken arbol chiles and the torn curry leaves along with the asafetida.
Toss in the cooked stems, stir to combine. Add the salt and stir fry on medium heat until any residual water has completely evaporated. Stir in the shredded coconut to evenly distribute it. and transfer to a serving dish.
Drizzle with the coconut oil prior to serving.

Serve warm with rice and traditional South Indian dishes such as Sambhar & kootu.

 Bon appetit!

Adapting from Classic Recipes: Israeli couscous & Beluga Lentil ‘Khichdi’

 This has probably been the longest gap between posts for me. A Kitchen renovation project that stretched over 3 weeks and the consequent restocking which took longer than I had imagined. How I managed with ingredients stored in plastic bags & the packaging it came with, I have no idea. I had to make many multiple trips to pick out bottles, containers and little organizing shelves in order to accommodate all the ingredients that have become pantry staples. but in the end the effort was well worth it. The last count, I had about 60 different herbs, spices & blends, but that’s for another blog post!


During the BlogHer Food 13 meet, I had the chance to meet professionals from a number of food companies, one of them being Adam Shapiro of the Peanut Butter & Co. During the course of discussing how Peanut butter figured in Indian cooking, he told me about this spicy variety that they were introducing and offered to send me a sample. When I received a jar of ‘The heat is on‘ a couple of weeks later,  I was hooked onto the spicy taste. It was hard to wait till I had a working kitchen to start creating dishes with this absolutely delightful ingredient.

 

The fresh peanut flavor combined with the heat from Cayenne pepper & chili powder is rather addictive. Although the ingredients listed include vinegar, there was hardly any trace of it even to my vinegar averse sensitive palate, and I almost longed for a tangy complement to the flavor. When it came to looking for dishes to incorporate the peanut butter in , I realized that a number of recipes from the western Indian state of Maharashtra use roasted & crushed peanuts as a finishing ingredients. And thus came about my brunch earlier today, a twist on the classic Sabudana (Sago/tapioca pearl) Khichdi. The tapioca pearls have been substituted with Israeli Couscous (or Fregola).

 Israeli Couscous & Beluga Lentil ‘Khichdi’

You need:

1 cup Israeli couscous
1/2 cup beluga Lentils (feel free to substitute  any regular whole lentils)
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 a jalapeno chili deseeded and diced
1/2 cup diced red onions or shallots
7-8 fingerling potatoes
salt to taste
2 heaped tablespoon PB & Co’s spicy peanut butter OR
1 heaped tablespoon each of the crunchy peanut butter and the spicy variety.
Chopped cilantro for garnish.
Juice of 1 lime

Fill a saucepan with cold water and add the lentils along with the fingerling potato. Bring the water to a boil and cook the lentils for about 15 minutes until soft. (the fingerling potatoes should be done  in this time as well). Drain the water, peel the potatoes and cut into 2 pieces each. Set aside.

Refill the same pan with more water, add salt and bring the water to a boil. Add the Israeli couscous and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the water and set aside.

In a  large skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. Once the mustard sputters and the cumin ‘splits’ add the deseeded jalapeno and the onion. Saute until the onion turns translucent.

 Add the lentils and the potatoes, lower heat and saute for about 5 minutes.


 once the potatoes begin to turn golden, lower the heat (you  want the peanut butter to stick to the lentils & potatoes, not to the bottom of the skillet!) and add the couscous along with the peanut butter (adding a mix of the spicy and the crunchy varieties ensures that the heat is balanced and there are bits of nuts to bite into for a texture variation). Stir to coat the lentils,couscous and the potatoes evenly. At this time taste and adjust the amount of salt according your personal preference. Cover with a lid, turn the heat to the lowest level and allow the flavors to combine.Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with chopped cilantro and finish by drizzling the lime juice as per your preference.

Bon appetit!

Food Bloggers against Hunger – Thriving 3 ways on 4.00$ a day

‘Anna daata Sukhi Bhava’ (May the person who supplies food, live well & prosper) – This is a blessing in sanskrit that is uttered at the end of every meal. It thanks not only the creator, but also the individuals who helped create a satisfying meal that enables others to thrive, the farmer who nurtured the crops, the grocer who made it accessible and the chef who cooked the ingredients into an unforgettable meal.

Hunger extends beyond culture, class race and species. Food is one of the four ‘F’s that every creature on earth is neurologically programmed by evolution & nature to seek in order to survive (the others being Fight, Flight and the ‘F’ word that describes the path to reproduction). 

For those of us fortunate enough to go grocery shopping at the drop of a hat , especially those of us who live in the US of A (‘oh, no, I’m running short of Plugra butter or Olive oil of a XYZ terroir’). We’ve almost forgotten that evolution programmed humans to expect food shortages,  where the term ‘seasonal’ is used in an artisan sense, and fat, colorful  plump produce is nothing but a grocery store hop away. It makes it all the more shameful that we as Americans, are unaware of a dirty secret, that almost 1 in 2 of our children will at some time in their life teeter on the brink of hunger. Shame regarding this (after all, every parent takes pride in ensuring that their children are well fed & clothed) drives this issue further underground. Just take a look at this trailer of the documentary ‘A place at the table’ from Participant media and it will give you an idea of how bad the situation is.


Growing up in India in the 1970’s and 80’s, I remember stories that my mother used to tell me about my grandmothers sense of generosity to anyone who worked as a household help. She would give away bushels of grain and vegetables that were grown on the family land without giving it a second thought. Her reasoning was that ‘this person leaves behind her children just so that they can earn a living working for our family’. At no point of time should those children ever feel or get an inkling of regret that they went hungry because their mother/father was off helping out someone else for that negative energy would ultimately settle upon my grandmothers family. It was downright sacrilegious to waste food, doing so was akin to insulting Annapoorna, The guardian deity of one of the worlds oldest cities, Benaras who is revered the goddess of food (Annam- Food, poorna- one who grants). 

Fast forward to this day and age when Children are ordered to throw out food into the garbage at school simply because they did not have the means to pay. To me this is feels criminal on two fronts. Depriving a hungry kid is bad enough, but that the food would be tossed into the trash is even worse.

It was a simpler time when fancy ingredients were out of reach for most of us middle class kids, but healthy food was taken for granted even if was the quintessential Dal Chawal or Dal Roti (lentils  with either rice or Roti), served with a side of sauteed vegetables and a toasted lentil wafer known as paapad. Even today, this most elemental of Indian dishes is on the top of my comfort food list. And believe it or not, the nutritive value and flavor is matched only by its budget friendliness. The portions I made for my recipe were enough for 4 generous servings, all within a 4.00$ budget that food stamps allow for.


I opted to pick Lentils (known as ‘masoor’ in Hindi) as my protein source simply to showcase the variety available. From the common dehusked orange variety, all the way to the exquisite looking caviar like (and pricey!) black Beluga lentils.



Its unfair and cruel to preach to a hungry individual about nuances of cooking, when all they seek is eat a healthy balanced meal without resorting to borderline fake processed prepacked garbage that is so commonly found on supermarket shelves. Rather a simple guiding hand towards good wholesome food, and it paves the way for healthier and happier individuals who are better equipped to overcome other hurdles that they face in life.


The basic recipe for a Lentil dal has infinite possibilities for incorporating various flavors. At the basic level, onions sauteed to the point of caramelization add a meaty flavor with minimal help from other spices. Add a sprinkle of practically any spice blend and it transforms into a vehicle of flavor, transporting one to the culinary trends of different varied lands. I’ll include a list of spice blends that I have used while making multiple variations of the same basic dal at the end of the recipe along with other healthy dishes that can be made with commonly found ingredients.

Dal Chawal (Rice and lentils) Serves 3-4

You need (for the rice):

1 cup rice (any short grained, or Jasmine)
3 cups water
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon oil or butter

Wash and rinse the rice. Heat the oil in a 3 qt pan and add the rice. On medium heat, saute the rice until it turns opaque.

Add the water, stir to ensure that no grains are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil and turn down the heat to low. Cover with a lid and allow the rice to cook until all the liquid is absorbed (~ 15 min). Use a fork to fluff the grains.

Plain Dal:

1 cup Split red Masoor lentils
3-4 cups water
2 tablespoons oil 
1 teaspoon cumin  seeds
2 large onions, grated
1-2 cloves garlic minced finely
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 pinch turmeric powder 
Saltto taste
 1/2 teaspoon of your choice of spice blend (curry powder, garam masala…)
Chopped cilantro or dill weed for garnish
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

Rinse and drain the Lentils. Add the water along with the turmeric and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook until soft but not completely mushed up (~ 15 mins)
In a deep skillet, heat the oil and add the cumin when the oil gets hot and begins to shimmer. Add the garlic and grated onion. On a medium heat, saute the until the onion just begins to caramelize. Add the tomato paste along with the turmeric, salt and spice blend. adding a sprinkle of water to deglaze if the tomato sticks to the bottom of the pan, stir until the tomato paste loses its raw aroma. Add the cooked lentils and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning. remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and garnish with cilantro or dill. Serve warm over rice.


 
 Or simply by itself as a hearty stew,

Or puree the dal (prior to adding the lime juice and cilantro) and strain to obtain a delicious soup. Add a dash of sour cream or yogurt prior to serving.

 I have made variations galore on the dal, some of the spice blends I’ve tried are Moroccan Harrissa, Ethiopean Berbere, Ras el Hanout as well as the occasional dab of Thai red curry paste. The possibilities are endless, but the dish is as comforting as ever.
The Orange lentils retail for about 1.69 / lb even for the high end organic variety and its about 2 cups (which would serve 6). Jasmine or any other short grain non fancy rice such as jasmine retails for 12.00 for a 20 lb bag (about 40 cups of uncooked rice at ~ 60 c / lb). Thats potentially 6 meals right there, not counting the other staples that need only be used in tiny quantities.

Some other dishes that can be made within a budget:

Pongal: A kedgeree of rice and lentils spiced with powdered cumin and pepper, the leftovers can be transformed into a delicious snack with the addition of some bread crumbs.
Vegan Potato Latkes:

Rajma: The North Indian version of the hearty Chili made with Kidney beans
Potato Patty sticks: Boiled spuds and stale bread give rise to this kid friendly snack
Black eyed peas Curry, this is yet another protein rich hearty curry that my family loves sopping up with a bread roll or rice.


To Nicole Gulotta & her team at Givingtable.org, Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to be part of this fabulous mission. Deep in my heart I do believe that there will be people who will have benefited from this noble cause and in their happiness will be embedded that little blessing ‘Anna daata sukhi Bhava’. and this genuine offering of goodwill will help in making the world a better place for everyone.

Cous Cous a la ‘Pohe’

‘ As easy as it is to pack on the pounds, it is as difficult to shed it. ‘

While its easy to use the above line as an excuse, there is no mistaking the fact that putting on weight is not an overnight process. It took me over 2 years and a liberal dose of happy go lucky noshing (on my own creations) to pack on 25 lbs (& thanks to Weight Watchers, it had taken me just 3 months to lose the same amount which I managed to keep off even through a pregnancy & childbirth. ). Through all the dissections of what is good and what is bad, emerges one indubitable fact: Carbohydrates are highly addictive and the take home message is to try and shed the cravings. (which is easier said than done!)
Personally, It turns out that rice is my bogeyman. Its been quite easy to restrict myself to 2 phulka roties (Plain chapati made w/o any ghee brushed on) whenever I make them for a meal, but with rice, any fledgling thought of trying to measure out portions is automatically suppressed by ‘god knows what’ gluttony center in my brain! As hard as it is to resist the aroma of fresh rice, I’m training myself to avoid it all together, except as a ‘treat’ once in two weeks. Results: 3 lbs down in 2 weeks without  any other restrictions!  

Aloo Poha (flattened rice with sauteed potatoes) is an irresistible beloved breakfast dish in western India. 

Thanks to a series of photographs posted by Chef Suvir Saran on Facebook yesterday, the temptation to indulge in rice (in its alternate, yet equally addictive form — Poha or flattened rice). Maybe it was a stroke of luck that all I had on hand was about 2 tablespoons of scrappy poha crumbs in a big empty bag and right next to it was a pack of tricolored cous cous that I had picked up at Kalustyans over the weekend.

I found myself savoring a perfectly delicious healthy lunch while satisfying the craving for the  traditional flavors of Aloo poha. 

This is definitely one proverbial cake I could have AND eat!

Cous Cous a la ‘Pohe’ (makes ~ 3 generous servings, ~ 5 Weight watchers plus points)

You need:
1 cup uncooked cous cous
1 cup finely diced red onion (or Shallots)
1 cup peeled and diced potato
1 cup diced sweet peppers 

1.5 tablespoon sesame or olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 pinch asafetida

1 birds eye chili, sliced
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 sprig curry leaf, torn
Kosher Salt to taste
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Chopped Cilantro for garnish
juice of 1/2 a lime.

Add about 1/2 inch of water in a wide pan (an Indian pressure cooker pan works great) and place a steamer basket. Place the cous cous on a fine sieve and thoroughly drench with cold water. Place the sieve over the steamer basket. Cover and allow the cous cous to cook via the steam, occasionally fluffing the grains with a fork (~ 10-15 minutes). Keep covered until needed. you should have about 1 1/2 cups of cooked grains.

Heat the oil in a skillet until it shimmers. Add the mustard and cumin. Once the mustard pops and the cumin seeds split, lower the heat and add the birds eye chile, ginger, asafetida and curry leaves. give it a quick stir and then quickly add the onions. as the onions turn translucent, add the potatoes and the sweet pepper. Sprinkle some water if necessary to the mix, Lower the heat, cover the pan and allow the potatoes and the peppers to cook thorough.  Add the salt, combine thoroughly and adjust for seasonings.


Add the fluffed up couscous and the toasted slicedalmonds and fold gently into the vegetable mix until it is well combined with the other ingredients. Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with the lime / lemon juice and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm.

Bon appetit!

All green Cranberry bean curry

I find Cranberry beans showing at my local grocers around this time of the year, although I have no idea how fresh produce like this turns up during winter (or maybe I do, but my greed for anything so green over rides my concern about the carbon footprint it leaves being transported from  where ever on earth it originally grew), its always a treat to use these gorgeous crunchy little beans in lieu of soaking dried beans and cooking them for hours to an end (or even worse, open up a can). Call it a prelude to spring!

For a change instead of mechanically reaching out for the spices in the pantry, I opted for the all fresh, green ingredient route (all except for the turmeric, used for a bit of color).  Although I could have shopped around for the fresh roots, it was not exactly feasible, given I wanted to have this for lunch in an hours time.

It can be quite exciting to make something with all fresh ingredients even if you are constantly stopping yourself from reaching out for the spices & blends that are taken for granted. The end result is a healthy vibrant tasting dish that is well worth the effort. and the best part, it is ridiculously low in calories. just 2 cups of the fresh cranberry beans yields about 4 generous servings and even with a potato and a generous slpash of olive oil thrown in to fry the green masala paste, it still works out to a healthy 4 points per serving. (~ 250 calories per serving)

All green Cranberry bean curry

you need:
2 cups freshly shelled cranberry beans (10 WW plus points)
1 medium russet potato, diced into cubes. (3 WW points)
1 – 1.5 tablespoons olive oil (4.5 WW plus points)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar

for the paste:
1 medium white onion
1 clove garlic smashed
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 cup Cilantro, stems and leaves
1/4 cup fresh green mango diced (~2 WW plus points, although they assign 0 points to fresh fruits and veggies)
1 – 2 green serrano chiles

 Set the fresh beans to boil in plenty of water. They should have a firm al dente consistency when cooked without the characterist ‘green’ flavor of fresh beans. The vibrant color will fade and the cooked bean will have more of  a dull white color.

Grind all the ingredients for the masala into a smooth paste. Set aside
In a pan, heat the olive oil and first add the diced potatoes, allow them to develop a golden color and make sure to toss the potatoes around so that all the sides brown well. (the potatoes need not get cooked fully).
Add the green masala to the potatoes, turn down the heat and cook the paste on a low heat until it loses the raw smell of the onions. Add a splash of water if the paste turns dry and starts coating the bottom of the pan. Add turmeric, salt and sugar.

Add the cooked beans along with some water. Cover and cook until the potatoes have turned completely soft, (even mushy). Since these are fresh beans they do not break down and release starch to thicken the sauce. The potatoes are added for that purpose. taste and adjust for seasoning The beans themselves will retain their shape and will show some resistance when bitten into.

Serve hot with Pita bread or roties.

 Bon appetit!

Truffle Troubles…

Yes, I was supposed to post a recipe for Valentines day, but that didn’t happen. Not because of the lack of trying, but simply because the truffles that I had planned on making was headed for the dud recipe files even before the filling cooled. The initial plan was to make some  scented truffles with a white chocolate center and into a saucepan went 2 bars of good white chocolate (NOT the fake white chocolate morsels that Ghirardelli is being hauled to court for), 1/4 cup heavy cream… melted beautifully, extra aroma added via 2 pods worth of crushed cardamom and one star anise.. mmm (the kitchen was beginning to smell great) until the addition of 2 teaspoons of that classic brand of Indian herbal sharbat – Rooh Afza.

 It was as if the world completely did a turn around.. A synthetic aroma of ‘natural flavors’ suffused the kitchen and …. as Forest Gump would say ‘and that was the end of that’. The resulting color , it reminded me of that denture fixing compound that is supposed to match those of your gums. ‘Nuff said!

So here I was .. No recipe, no post, and no Valentine either (the other half is in India right now). Perfect opportunity for baking a carb loaded bread for the ‘We knead to bake’ post that follows this this one.

Aparna Balasubramanian’s recipe for croissants was simply perfect, and I just had to share this. Took some of the pastries over to my friends place and stayed over for a casual dinner. She had made a delicious healthy Quinoa pilaf paired with cucumber tsatziki, that simply bowled me over. As she was describing the recipe, all I could retain in my head was quinoa, caramelized onions, and curry powder. (was too engrossed in enjoying every forkful).

The key ingredient in this dish is the Curry powder. As much as many puritan Indian cooks disown this ‘mutt’ of a spice blend, it can and does come in handy for many a dish. So despite any misgivings, go ahead & buy yourself a small jar.
I also had a bunch of uber fresh green from baby beets that were simply asking to be cooked, so sauteed them separately with a clove of garlic and a handful of walnuts thrown in.

Quinoa Pilaf with curry powder. (recipe credit: Jyoti Ananth)

 You need:

1 cup Quinoa
2 cups water
1 large onion, halved & thinly sliced 
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 green bell pepper , finely chopped
1 – 1.5 teaspoon  curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne chile powder OR paprika (as per taste)
salt to taste
2 -4 tablespoons olive oil (depends upon how crispy & caramelized you want the onions)
Cilantro for garnish.
Lemon wedges for serving.

Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil. In the meantime, rinse the quinoa several times and add it to the water. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 10 – 12 minutes until the water is absorbed and the seeds have sprouted a tail. Cover and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wide pan and add the onions. Saute on low heat and allow the onion to turn a light brown. Add the peppers at this point along with the turmeric, cayenne and curry powder. once the peppers wilt add salt as per your preference (remember, you need to account for the quinoa as well). 

 
Cook down until most of the water from the peppers have evaporated and then add the cooked quinoa. Fold gently to combine the vegetables. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Garnish with cilantro Serve warm with a side of Raita, tsatziki, or plain sour cream.  Spritz some lemon juice if you prefer.
  

 

Sauteed Green beets: (optional, but it  paired very well with the Quinoa)

Fresh greens from 3 beets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 handful of broken  walnut pieces
salt & cracked pepper to taste

Wash the greens, cut off the stems, and pat it dry. Stack the leaves and roll into a ‘cigar’. Using a sharp knife, cut the leaves into a fine chiffonade. Heat oil in a skillet and add the crushed garlic. Once the clove releases its aroma, add the walnuts and allow them to toast lightly . Add the greens ad saute until the leaves have wilted. grind some pepper and salt over the greens and remove the greens from the heat. Serve alongside the quinoa pilaf.

 Bon Appetit!

Chestnut ‘Chaat’ – (Literally) Finger licking good!

Folks from Delhi will swear by a wintertime treat that defines finger licking good. Shakarkhand ki chaat. Coal grilled sweet potatoes enrobed in a mix of spicy mint/cilantro & sweet / tart tamarind date chutney. A sprinkle of chaat masala, a dash of whipped yogurt, a splash of lime and voila, the vendor hands you  this leaf bowl piled with this divine root salad to be noshed on with a little toothpick. And suddenly, a happy ray of sunshine lightens up your life!
The term ‘Chaat’ is derived from the Hindi verb ‘Chaatna’ (to lick). These street side goodies are thought to have originated in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Central India and have radiated all over the Indian sub continent and neighboring Pakistan & Bangladesh. Every major city in India has its special dish. Calcutta is famous for its Jaal Muri & Puchka, Mumbai has its Bhel Puri & Ragda Patty, Chennai… oh well, they’re in the process of defining their particular favorite, but I’d definitely add the famous ‘Thenga Maanga Pattani Sundal’ from Marina Beach in this category.
I deliberately stayed away from Sweet potatoes for my chaat, since it still brings to mind Hurricane Sandy which had me roasting the tubers in the fireplace. Given that Nor Easter Nemo is bearing down even as I compose this post, I do NOT want to go there.
My local veggie grocery has chestnuts on a 1.99/lb special and I want to make the most of it. I had first used these last year to make a ‘Kootu’ – a coconut/cumin based South Indian stew and it was such a perfect fit. Remember, chestnuts are not exactly well known in India (except in the northern reaches of the country , in the hill stations, where they were planted by the British), leave alone as an ingredient in Indian cuisine. Then closest in taste and texture is the seed of the Jack fruit which is used in South Indian cuisine.

I opted to boil the chestnuts rather than roast them. You still have to score the tough outer shell and   peel them but its a tad neater than having bits of charred shell all over the counter and your fingertips.
Once you peel the chestnuts, they kind of divide themselves into three categories, The good (the nuts that peel nice & clean), the bad (the kind you find a creepy green fungus growing) & the Ugly (the ones which still cling on to the inner peel)

Clockwise from top: Good, Bad & Ugly

You can either scrape the reddish peel or leave it in some hot water to allow it to soften further to peel at a later time. As for those with the green fungi.. toss them straight into the garbage.

Chestnut and Potato Chaat:

You need:

~ 10 – 15 Chestnuts, scored across in a X
2 Idaho potaotes, parboiled and cubed
1/4 cup Mint/Cilantro chutney
1/4 cup Tamarind Date chutney ( A recipe for a quick hacked version is posted at the end)
1/4 cup finely chopped red onions
Store bought Chaat Masala to taste
1/2 cup fat free yogurt , whipped smooth (omit for a vegan version)
Fresh lime juice as per taste
Chopped cilantro and pomegranate arils for garnish
Oil for shallow frying

Add the chestnuts to sufficient quantity of water and bring them to a boil.  Cover and allow to cook for 10 minutes.  Keeping the chestnuts submerged in the hot water, remove them one at a time, rinse to cool under running water and peel off the tough outer shell and the reddish brown membrane. cut into quarters.
 Heat oil in a skillet and panfry the pieces until the surface turns a golden brown. Remove on to absorbent kitchen paper. Repeat with the cubed par boiled potatoes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chestnuts, potatoes and red onions along with the green and brown chutney. Add yogurt & chat masala as per your preference. Fold to combine. Garnish with cilantro and pomegranate and finish with a splash of lime juice as required. Serve immediately with a cup of hot Masala Chai.

Bon appetit!

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Quick Tamarind Date chutney:

1 ping pong sized ball of Tamarind.
1/2 cup hot water
2-3 tablespoons Lion brand Date syrup(available in most Indian grocery stores)
Chaat masala / shikanjvi masala blend and cayenne pepper powder as required

Soak the tamarind in the hot water and ‘massage to extract the pulp. Strain the pulp into a bowl and discard the fiber and seeeds from the tamarind. Whisk in the date syrup and season with the spice blends and cayenne pepper as per your preference.