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Author Archives: A-kay

Mixed Vegetable & Tofu Stew

Mixed Vegetable & Tofu Stew

Stew is typically slow-cooked, with chunky vegetables which steeps in the flavor. The last few weeks, stews/soups/salads have kept me company as I strive to eat more vegetables and limit grains. Stew comes particularly handy, if you are cooking for crowd with varying preference as it can be eaten like a soup, with or without a bread on the side or over rice or chappathi/roti. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Desi Chinese, Thai

 

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Crispy Kale

Yes, you heard that right! Kale can be made into awesome crisps and if you have not tried them so far, you should right away and I swear, you will be addicted to it. I didn’t know that crispy Kale was all the rage, till K told me about it, after having tried it in his cafeteria. I tried it too and loved it.

In my head, I went – “Well, it is crispy which means in all probability it is fried and anything that is fried tastes good” and right then, as if he was reading my thoughts, K interjected with a “You know, they are actually baked” quip. I had not the least clue as to how to make this but figured as always, Google will be my partner in crime. When I read the many links and the recipes, to say that I was surprised will be an under-statement. I never imagined that this will be so simple to make. Believe me, it takes all of 10 mins from start to finish and that includes about 7 mins of baking time. Go figure!

Few handfuls of clean & dry Kale leaves
2 Tbsp of EVOO

Set the temperature in the oven to 350 F.
Toss the Kale leaves with EVOO (just make sure that leaves are fairly well-coated in oil. You can use more or less based how big or small your hands are 🙂 ).
Spread it on a baking tray and bake for about 5-7 mins till the leaves look crispy but have’t started to brown (they should remain bright green).

I didn’t season this with anything and we loved it as is. You can season it with salt and/or red chilli flakes, if you prefer. You can also add minced garlic to the Kale while baking. I am sure it will taste equally delicious, however you chose to flavor it.

A healthy dish that can’t get easier to make and tastier than this. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Cooking, Italian

 

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Dahi Bhalla


First off, wish you all a very good new year. I don’t think I can think of a better first post/recipe than the amazing Dahi bhalla. I am not sure how many of you have heard of Dahi bhalla, but I didn’t know of its existence till the new year’s eve of 2012 🙂 A few friends planned to meet and decided on a chaat-themed potluck. Pav-Bhaaji and Pani-Puri were taken and I was wondering what to make; was trying to decide between Aloo tiki-chole and Bhel puri when Google led me to Dahi vada and then, *drumroll*, Dahi bhalla. Now, I know Dahi vada, hindi for Thayir vadai (as far as I know). But, Dahi bhalla? Well, Google again came to my rescue – turns out that the main difference between the two is in the dahi; while for Dahi vada the curd is, well, just sour with some spices for Dahi bhalla the curd is sweet, almost like a lassi. I followed the recipe at Vahrehvah with some minor modifications and result was lip-smacking.

The first step in the preparation of Dahi bhallas is making the Bhallas. Making Bhalla is similar to making Vadai.

Urad dhal 1 cup
Green Chillies 1
Salt 1 tsp (more or less based on your taste)
Potato 1 (medium-size)
Cashew 30-40 broken pieces
Raisins 30-40 pieces
Cooking Oil

Soak urad dhal and green chillies in about 1.5 to 2 cups of water for a few hours (overnight is best, but I soaked it only for ~4 hrs and it did not notice any difference). Grind this to a thick paste adding as little water as possible. Add salt to this mix and beat this mix well with a spoon to aerate the mixture. I picked this tip from the Vahrehvah chef and the Vadas (or Bhallas :)) turned out soft and fluffy.

Boil potato; peel the skin and mash it well. Mix this with the aerated urad dhal mixture. This is the dough for Dahi bhalla.

Note: Instead of deep-frying the Bhallas, I used my Appam pan (looks similar to this). I picked this tip from the jugalbandits a while back; in addition to other benefits listed in the post, I noticed that it was less messy and resulted in uniform Bhallas.

To make the Bhallas, take a bit of the dough in your hand and make a rough ball with it. Now with your thumb, make a shallow hole. Place a piece of cashew and raisin in this hole and close it. Stuffing the Bhallas with cashew & raisin is purely optional, but I would highly recommend this as biting into a cashew/raisin as you are eating the Bhallas takes the taste and the experience to another level.

Add oil to the pan, about a tsp or so in each hole, Place the bhallas and cook both sides by turning them.

Use up all the dough and finish making the bhallas. The yield for 1 cup of urad dhal was about 60 and I guess the number depends on the size/shape of the Bhallas that you make.

If you are not a dahi (curd) fan, you can stop at this point and enjoy the Bhallas with a cup of tea and/or mint & tamarind chutney. K can vouch for that 🙂 Of course, to kick it up a notch, you need to turn them into awesome Dahi bhallas.

Dahi (curd) 3 cups
Sugar 1/2 cup
Cumin powder 2 tsp
Coriander powder 2 tsp
Chaat masala 2 tsp
Sev couple of handful
boondi couple of handful
Coriander 2 tsp (for garnish)
Water few cups

Add water to a deep pan and bring it to a boil. Add the Bhallas in batches to the boiling water, leaving it in for a couple of minutes; take it out and with a napkin press on it gently to squeeze out as much water as you can. Once soaked in hot water the Bhallas become soft and absorbs dahi faster.

Whisk the curd with sugar (add a little water if it is too thick) and keep it ready.

In a wide bottomed container, make a bed with boondi. Place the Bhallas (soaked and squeezed) over this as a single layer. Now pour the sweetened curd and make sure to cover the Bhallas. Use more curd, if need be.

Sprinkle the coriander, cumin powders on top as well as the chaat masala. Complete the garnish with sev and coriander leaves.

May be a little bit more coriander…


Now, it is truly ready…

Dig in and enjoy!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Desi

 

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Fruit cake

But not the Christmas cake. I know it is not fair to post a fruit cake recipe as a teaser around this season. But I made this cake a few days back and it was almost as good as a Christmas cake and since I didn’t get to bake a good Christmas cake this season, this one will have to do. I heard about this recipe at a potluck dinner a few days back and a quick Google search landed me here which was an exact match to what I was looking for.

I made some slight changes but overall stayed true to the recipe and it is definitely a winner, if you overlook the use of a can of condensed milk that is. Anyway, without further ado, let me present the recipe

1 1/4 cup of All purpose flour (you can also use wheat or cake flour)
1 tsp Baking powder
1 1/2 tsp Baking soda
1 can condensed milk
1 stick Butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup warm milk
5 dried figs

Ideally, soak dried figs overnight in warm milk (gives a richer taste than plain water). If you forget to soak, don’t fret and soak it in slightly hot milk for about an hour. Grind it to a fine paste along with the milk. Use only as much milk as required as the paste should not be too runny.

Mix this paste with condensed milk and keep it aside. This is your wet ingredient.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F.

Sieve and mix the dry ingredients including nuts together, as you normally do while baking. Cream the butter after bringing it to room temperature and add the dry/wet ingredients alternatively in batches incorporating it all together.

Bake for about 30 mins; test to see if an inserted tooth pick comes clean and bake more, if need be.

Dear Shy, Merry Christmas and this is for you.

The figs add a nutty taste and go very well with walnut. Given that it uses a can of condensed milk, I was worried if it will be overtly sweet but it was not. You can of course, add different nuts and even candied fruits to it to make it richer.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Cake & Bake, General

 

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Basil Pesto


Pesto is one of the easiest sauces to make but I haven’t made it in over 3 years! I had planted Basil in the summer and after a big harvest just before fall, was left with cup-loads of the leaves. After using them in salads, soups and what not, I realized it was time to make pesto. I pretty much used the same recipe that I did last time using Basil instead of Coriander and the result was equally yummy.

This can be used not just as a pasta sauce, but also as a dip or even as a dressing for salad. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Garden, Italian

 

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Suggestions for Swiss Chard?

My summer vegetable patch was a complete failure this year due to soil quality and the location of the patch; I have no one else to blame but myself for this as I picked the spot for the patch and failed to check the soil quality even though K cautioned me. So anyway, I decided to do a fall vegetable patch – one of the advantages of living in sunny California, I hoped – to redeem myself and my green thumb. So around September when my anna (tamil for elder brother) was visiting us, like the good sister that I am, made him and K sweat it out in our back-yard to get the patch going. After a good two months, I have something to show for all our efforts. Our first harvest – Swiss chard leaves.

They are so dainty and pretty that I don’t feel like chopping and cooking them 😦

For a change, I am going to ask for recipes instead of posting them. So, do you have any interesting recipes/ideas to cook chard?

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Garden

 

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Dressing up dosas

Couple of weeks back, as I was reading my daily quota of news on Google, I came across this article on dosas. I was quite surprised to see our plain old dosas getting prime-time on WSJ. The article screamed “Move over tortillas, dosas are a-coming!”.

Anyway, proud as I was of the attention our dosas were getting, I forwarded the link to friends and family. And this led to an email exchange with one of them on how the dosas morph in our kitchen. That gave me an idea and I decided to share the different avatars dosas take in my kitchen. Without counting the plain dosas with chutneys and milagai podi (although literally means chilli powder it isn’t quite that).

a) Use dosa as a wrap and stuff it with a dry roasted mixed vegetable sabji (called as “kari” – not the same as curry – by tamilians). The traditional one is, of course, made with potato and called “Masala Dosai”, but you can use any vegetable or combination of them, optionally with paneer, to make a dry sabji, with any spices of your choice, and use it as stuffing.
b) Make a mean paneer burji or even chilli paneer for a more protein filled meal.
c) Make a pizza or quesadilla out of dosa by adding cheese and jalapenos (or red chilli flakes). You can also add slightly roasted veggies to make it a complete veggie dosa-pizza. This can be either served open, like a pizza, or closed, like a quesadilla.
d) A trick that I picked from my MIL – when you have just a few ladles of batter left, add a handful or two of rava (semolina) to the batter, add chopped ginger, onion (optional), green chillies to make (onion) rava dosa. Of course, you can use this as a base and stuff veggies, paneer etc.
e) When the batter is fairly old and heavily fermented, make uthappams (thick dosas) with it. Add chopped tomatoes, chillies, onions on top for a colorful veggie uthappam.


So, now tell me, what shape and form does a dosa take in your kitchen?

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Cooking, Desi, Traditional cooking

 

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What we eat…

Growing up, some vegetables were a strict no-no almost always and some were forbidden on upvas(fasting) and other auspicious days, as my parents practiced a modified (modern?) form of saatvic diet. Of course, when there were strict rules about vegetables, the words eggs and meat were not even uttered. So, it is not very surprising that “we are what we eat” is ingrained in my psyche, though I didn’t give it too much thought until recently.

As cooking and food slowly piqued my interest, I wanted to know more about what I (and we as a family) are eating. That led me into looking for Farmers’ markets and local produce stores in my neighborhood where I could get vegetables and fruits instead of going to super-market chains. I started to shun even the organic super-markets as I got to know about food miles. That’s when I realized sometimes it is fine to eat the non-organic locally available in-season fruit, instead of an organic one transported all the way from Brazil or Australia. As with many other things in life, it is all about making the right choice.

Then, I got to read Michael Pollan and his many books but the one that I truly love is “Food Rules“. As the tagline says, it is truly an eater’s manual and every eater should read this book. It is one of those no-nonsense books that is not based on any new fancy studies which will be discredited 10 or 20 years on, but on centuries-old traditions from across the world. To make it easier for the reader, Michael lays out a set of rules that are easy to follow like:
a) Shop at the edges of the supermarket as fresh foods like vegetables, diary, meat are laid out here and not in the center aisles which are filled with processed junk
b) Avoid ingredients that you don’t understand or recognize – some are preservatives, some are stabilizers and you don’t know the long-term effect of these ingredients, so stay safe and avoid them. Better yet, if you don’t use them in your kitchen, why bother buying food with these ingredients?
c) Avoid any food your grand-mom (or great grand-mom) won’t recognize – as these are probably not from nature but from a food processing plant and better to avoid.
You get the drift. There are more rules in the list, which are also fairly easy to follow.

Reading all this made me realize, unless we grow our own food or live closer to where our food is grown, we will never really know what we eat and that is when I came across this talk by Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms:
 

 

He has a very interesting story and an important message to say and he conveys that beautifully. I urge all you readers to listen to his talk and think about whether we are leaving the world as a better place than the one we inherited? For the last few generations, we probably did not but I don’t think we can continue like this for long…

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in General

 

Dried Fruit & Nut Halwa

My love affair with dried fruits and nuts started when I tasted the dried fruit and nut milk-shake at a restaurant (which I vaguely remember was called Mac) on MG Road in Bangalore. This shake was fit enough to be a meal both in taste and satiation. I remember drooling over this shake and although I have had this shake several times after that at many different places (including chez moi) none measured up to the lofty standard set by the original one. Anyway, I digressed and this post, although is about dried fruits and nuts, is definitely not about shakes but about halwas – the ubiquitous dessert found in almost all cultures and cuisines. Of course, in India, we make halwa with everything ranging from moong dhal to wheat to carrot/potato to pumpkin – looks like we are capable of turning everything to a halwa. “When in doubt, turn it to a halwa” should be a national tagline!

The base template for all halwas is the same – basically, throw in the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed vessel, cook it over low-medium flame for about 30-45 minutes and slowly, in front of your eyes, what was a sticky-icky blob turn will turn into a still lumpy ball that importantly, moves easily when guided with the spoon leaving the sides of the vessel.

The template will have to be tweaked a little bit based on the kind of halwa at hand. For this one,


20 dried figs
20 dried dates
1 cup milk
handful of roasted and chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashew)
1-2 tsp of butter

Start with about 20 pieces of figs and dates soaked over-night in a cup of warm milk. Blend it into a find paste with the milk that was used for soaking.

Add this to a thick-bottomed vessel (I used the cast-iron pot from here) and cook it in a low to medium flame with a tsp of butter.

While the mixture is cooking, coat a clean plate with a tsp of butter and keep it aside.

After about 30-40 minutes of slow cooking, during which time it needs very little attention except for the occasional stir to make sure the mixture cooks evenly, add the chopped nuts and cook for a couple of more minutes making sure the nuts are mixed and incorporated well.

Turn the stove off and transfer the mixture to the butter-coated plate.

Let sit for a few minutes and then cut it in diamond-shaped pieces.

The dried fruit halwa was inspired by Soma’s version here, after I drooled many days over those pictures.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Desi

 

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Fall in fashion

While Winter conjures up images of pristine white snow, Summer of  bright sun and Spring of colorful wild flowers, Fall brings to life the colorful leaves – yellow, golden orange, red, pink and the various earthy shades.  Based on color alone, if I have to pick a season, it would most definitely be Fall as I am a sucker for earthy tones.  If I had a choice (and people around me agreed), I will live in a orange-rust world… Well, but we do not live in a perfect world, do we? 🙂

K and I have been planning to go to the East Coast and Blue Ridge Parkway every fall for the past few years and for a myriad reasons, it never happened.  Finally this year, everything fell in place and we made the trek.  We landed in Charlotte and after a quick visit to K’s alma mater, drove to the Smokies.  It was breath-takingly beautiful and sitting right outside this park is the city of Gatlinburg, which was everything the park was not, to put it mildly.

Gatlinburg is a shock to the system from whichever angle you survey it, but never more so than when you descend upon it from a spell of moist, grubby isolation in the woods. It sits just outside the main entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and specializes in providing all those things that the park does not– principally, slurpy food, motels, gift shops, and sidewalks on which to waddle and dawdle–nearly all of it strewn along a single, astoundingly ugly main street. For years it has prospered on the confident understanding that when Americans load up their cars and drive enormous distances to a setting of rare natural splendor what most of them want when they get there is to play a little miniature golf and eat dribbly food. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in America, but Gatlinburg–this is so unbelievable–is more popular than the park.

So Gatlinburg is appalling…

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

After recovering from the shock that was Gatlinburg, we finished our hurried trip of the Smokies and started doing what we came here to – driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We experienced clear blue sky, dark clouds of an impending storm, fog & rain – all in a matter of 2 days.  While I was initially worried that weather may play spoil sport, we enjoyed the trip not in spite of, but due to the weather.  Words fall short of explaining the beauty of the place, so I am leaving you with a few pictures, as always taken by K.

 

Sunset from Clingman's dome

Sunset from Clingman's dome

 

 

Lone Tree on the Road

Lone Tree on the Road

 

 

Somewhere along the way

Somewhere along the way

 

The trip was supposed to end @ Shenandoah National Park with Laksh and family visiting us.  But to know what happened, you will have to go here.  And that was how I spent the last week.  How was your week?

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Travel