Saturday, March 29, 2008

Breakfast in Heaven

Why do we get such cravings for fried foods? And why, oh why do calorie gods frown upon these treats. If there was a heaven, and they didn’t count calories when I got there; this is what I will eat for breakfast every day : aloo puri.

Let’s start with puri, the deep fried flatbread of north India. Mix one cup whole wheat flour with water and knead to make a stiff but pliable dough. Divide into small balls and roll into thin puris.



Heat oil in a pan (actually a kadai – a deep circular pan) and let it reach the smoking point. Now lower the flame and slowly slide the puri into oil. The next 10 seconds are an art only learnt over the years – you need to press the puri into oil gently and it will pop over. Turn sides and cook a few seconds until lightly browned all over.

In my world, the puris can be eaten with two different accompaniments. If you are buying puris off a takeaway joint in Amritsar, they would typically come with a spicy/tangy chickpea curry. But when making them at home, aloo tamatar (curried potatoes) are the favorite pairing for puris.



To make the curry, chop 2 small potatoes into sqaure pieces. Chop one onion finely, and puree a tomato. Heat ghee in a pan and sauté onions until they are soft and light brown. Add ¼ tsp turmeric powder and then the tomato puree a few seconds later – I know the traditional recipe is the other way round, but this way you take the raw flavor off turmeric. Now sauté the onion/tomato mix until the tomatoes are well cooked. Add salt, cayenne pepper and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then add potatoes and simmer until they are soft.

Top the curry with garam masala and chopped coriander (I’d run out of it so you can’t see it in the picture!). Now bring on the puris, and let the day begin!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mom’s Cooking, with Love

If you haven’t noticed too much north Indian food on these pages so far, it’s not because I don't cook any of it. On the contrary, the dishes I grew up with form the biggest part of my daily food. Commonplace yes, because I know it so well, but also very, very special to me. So what better way to start writing about the dishes of my childhood than a trip back home and a favorite from mom.

Because wheat based flatbreads are the staple of north India, we eat rice infrequently. Peas Pulao is a lazy winter dish, quick to make, and cooked when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen.

Start by shelling some peas and chopping an onion & a potato lengthwise. At the same time, soak 1 cup basmati rice in water. Saute the vegetables in some ghee, then add salt and garam masala. Add the soaked rice, toss for a minute to coat with ghee, then add 2 cups water and simmer until the water evaporates completely and the rice is done.



The pulao tastes best with plain curd. And like any dish made hundreds of time, there are plenty of variations we’ve tried over the years. This one has potatoes because I love them. I also love whole peppercorns, but not any other spice. My mom’s favorite will leave potatoes out, but add cauliflower florets instead. All whole spices – peppercorns, cardamom, cumin, cloves – add a nice delicate flavor. Experiment and find what works best for you. This is something you are going to make many times anyway.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holi Hai!



It’s Holi today – the festival of colors, the heralder of spring, the day of warm hearts.

You can’t debate the timing here. Any sooner and it would be too cold to enjoy the colored water your friends are going to drench you in. But right now its spring in the air, and the weather’s perfect – just the time to play with colors and pack away those winter grays.

Color is just one of the three highlights of holi. The other is the gujiya – half moon shaped patties filled with sweet mava (thickened milk) and nuts. Mine is store bought, but who cares as long as it tastes perfect. And this one does!

The third point on the holi triangle, not featured here (and never tried by me), is the bhang. No other time of the year and nowhere else would you openly grind cannabis leaves into a thick milky liquid that gives you a high quite unlike alcohol or drugs (or so I am told). But this is just the day when rules don’t work; one day made only for fun.

So go ahead – pick your color and welcome spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A cute gift



No recipes today, just a gift my friend got back from Italy.

Farfalle is my favorite pasta shape, even though it is not the one I cook most often : it’s macaroni for comfort and farfalle for looks as far as I am concerned.

And this farfalle is beyond pretty. Its striped with all the colors of the rainbow – pink and yellow and green. I just don’t have the heart to cook it. But maybe, one day….the best before date is 2010!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gem of an Idea

I spotted organic raw sugar on my supermarket counter the other day, and picked it up thinking it will come handy in baking. Or more specifically, baking cookies, which has become a weekend ritual!

Started by mixing 100 gms of butter with 40 gms caster sugar and 30 gms raw sugar, and beat them until light. Then added 175 gms flour and ½ tsp vanilla essence and mixed everything into a smooth dough. Rolled it into a log, then left it wrapped in a buttered sheet in the fridge for half an hour.

By this time, the dough is a bit harder and easy to cut into thin cookies. My raw sugar is not very fine, so the cookies were speckled with brown. To give it extra color, I added Gems in the center of all cookies. If you don’t have Gems handy, use M&M.

I baked the cookies at 180C for 15 minutes, and they came out looking nice and brown. What a difference from the pale yellow cookies I’ve been baking past two weeks.



This recipe makes about 24 cookies, and my small oven can’t take more than 12 at a time. So I baked 12 yesterday and left half the dough in the fridge until today. The next batch, baked a day later, came out tasting great so the dough keeps well for a day. And the cookies keep for at least 3-4 days if left in an airtight container.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Healthy, Delicious and so much fun

I have always been intrigued by the food blog events, and so decided to look up an interesting one for my first food blog challenge. Taste & Create, hosted by myamii of “For the Love of Food” is unique, and turned out to be tons of fun. Instead of coming up with a theme, myamii pairs you up with another blog. Then you need to pick up a recipe from your partner’s blog and re-create it.

My partner for the month is Joanna from Joanna’s Food. She creates yummy heart-friendly dishes with almost no processed foods or saturated fat. I was sorely tempted to try out one of her beautiful bread recipes. But yeast scares me. And so I settled on her favorite Mount Athos Chickpea Patties, part of the diet of the Mount Athos monks.

My recipe took much longer since, unlike Joanna, I started from dried chickpeas not tinned. Soaked them overnight, then boiled till soft. Blitzed the chickpeas in the blender with chopped onion, coriander, a couple of cloves of garlic and plain flour. I omitted the egg, and instead added a slice of wholewheat bread soaked in water plus salt and pepper. Mixed everything to make a dough, then shaped it into thin patties and fried it in olive oil.



The resultant patties had the feel of falafels so I decided to use my leftover pita bread for a sandwich. The green layer at the bottom is alfalfa. Then I added the patties, and a few cherry tomatoes. All of it topped by the traditional Indian topping for chickpea dishes : yogurt and tamarind chutney.

My one liner : Healthy, yet delicious - what more could you ask for!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sinful Strawberries



I know this looks deceptively like the healthy low-cal strawberry smoothie I posted a few days back. But it so isn’t.

This strawberry mouse is rich, sinful and delicious. To make the mousse, puree a cup of strawberries with 1 tbsp caster sugar. Because you are using sugar this time around, this should give you a thicker puree. Taste the puree and add some more sugar if it isn't sweet. It really depends on how tart the strawberries are.

Now pour half a cup of cream in a bowl and whip until thick. I like to have a bowl of ice under my cream to keep it cold while it's being whipped. Fold in the strawberry puree as delicately as you can. Stay clear of the large martini glass this time around, and pour the mousse in shot glasses instead. Chill a couple of hours before digging in!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Raisin Shortbread



I am loving my success with shortbread. It's not exactly Walkers, but it satisfies my craving for butter soft cookies.

Made these quick cookies yesterday – beat 100 gm butter with 80 gm sugar (I used half caster sugar, half demarara). Add 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and 175 gms plain flour. Mix until smooth, then add 25 gms raisins and make a smooth dough. Make a roll of the dough and wrap in nonstick paper. Chill for half an hour or so, then unwrap and cut into cookies. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies are slightly golden.

I cooled them, then stored in my Tupperware. They’re still crisp, so I’d say the cookies stay for a couple of days at least.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Quick Roasted Pepper Pasta

If you have followed along so far, you probably know I am not a very patient cook. Which makes it kind of hard to grill peppers the traditional way – you know, the way cookbooks tell you to halve them, drizzle olive oil, then slowly roast them in the oven. My quick and dirty way to get roasted peppers is to roast them straight on the stovetop.

Just in case you grew up in north India and saw your mother roast aubergines for baingan bhartha, you know what I am talking about. If you didn’t, it’s a skill that’s easy to master even though it sounds scary at first. Spear your pepper on a knife and roast it straight on a flame, rotating every few seconds until its charred. Let it cool, then peel. Took me less than a minute to get to lovely roasted red pepper when I decided to make pasta.



Now that you have the peppers, start by peeling and pureeing two tomatoes. Also chop an onion lengthwise. Heat olive oil and sauté onions until they are soft. Now pour in a tsp of vinegar and quickly heat to evaporate. Add tomato puree and chopped peppers. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, boil your pasta al dente. Your sauce should be done by the time the pasta is. Drain the pasta, and mix in with the sauce.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Strawberry Smoothie



Its getting warm here, and the last strawberries of the season will soon be gone. Before that happens, I wanted to post my staple of the past month - the strawberry smoothie.

To make the smoothie, blend 1/2 cup chopped strawberries with 1 tbsp maple syrup. You can use sugar or honey as well. Then add 1/3 cup plain yogurt and blitz in the blender for another minute. That's all, as simple as it gets.

Simple, delicious, refresing, I have this strawberry smoothie every other day when strawberries come to market. And then eagerly await the next year.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Orange Oaties

For the last few days, my luck with baking seemed to have run out. I baked chocolate cookies, but added too much baking powder so had to throw the whole lot away. My meringue took so long to cook I finally lost patience and gave up on the sticky undercooked mini-pavlova. Now, after several of these failures, here comes a beautiful success.



To make this blend of crispy oats and buttery cookies, beat 60 gm butter and 60 gm caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg white and 2 tbsp orange juice and mix until smooth. Finally mix in 90 gm flour and a pinch of baking powder.

Now take small balls of this mixture, and roll into a plate of oats to coat both sides. Flatten slightly and arrange on a greased baking tray. Press an almond in the centre of each cookie and bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 15 minutes.

Let them stay on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool (of course, this is optional. You can finish them all while still warm!)