Jul 20, 2012

Impress a dinner date with capsicum stuffed with mother-in-laws- lamb filling (Turkish style)

Who does not want to impress the mother-in-law?
In all cultures there are special recipes to do the trick. The recipes are simple but tricky.You do the trick and the lady  smiles and dotes over you :)
I wanted to impress a date over dinner.  I adapted a classic Turkish meatball recipe, typically used to impress the Turkish mother-in-law, to stuff capsicum. I figured if I can get the recipe to work, my date is my man :) I skipped the part of rolling the lamb filling into bulgur and making a classic meatball soup. The stuffed capsicum impressed my date pretty adequately. And it will impress anyone. What with almonds, raisins, thyme and oregano and garlic....Here it is then

Minced lamb stuffed capsicum (Turkish style and adapted from Ghille Basan)
Serves 2
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsf olive oil
A small handful of walnuts or almonds chopped
1/ 2 tsp pf cumin powder
1/2 lb of minced lamb
1/2 tsp of dried thyme
1/2 tsp of dried oregano
2 large bell peppers
3-4 tbsf olive oil

In two steps
Preheat the oven to 500F (or as high as you can get it). Take the tops of the capsicums and seeds off. Rub some salt and olive oil inside and out.  Broil for 5- 6 min. You may grill as well. Alternatively, char over coal (excellent) or directly over high heat. whatever you do, do not over cook. It will droop and will hold the filling well. Handle with care after you have done charring the capsicums. Set aside to cool.
Soften the onion and garlic in olive oil. Stir in cumin and walnut followed by the minced meat. Cook for 5 minutes. Not too lomg. You will cook it in the oven. So do not over cook and dry out the juices. Add the thyme and oregano. Season with salt and pepper.
Carefully stuff the filling into the bell peppers. Drizzle some olive oil over the top. Bake for 30 mins at 350 or 375 F. Serve as warm as possible.

 Happy eating and healthy living!

Aubergine Pilaf with a hint of cumin and loads of tomato flavor

The Turkish call it Aubergine; they create magic with this vegetable, while the more popular cuisines of the world prefer not to do business with it. No wonder the Turkish refer to it as Aubergines, while we refer to it as 'eggplant' or 'Brinjal'. And because I love how 'aubergine' conjures up images of rich layers of olive-oil steeped eggplants seasoned with herbs and topped with creamy yogurts, for the rest of this post I am going to stick to 'Aubergines'.
As I said before, the Turkish create magic with aubergine. In their land it becomes a versatile vegetable. When they mash it they create Baba ghanoush. Legend has it that Baba ghanoush was invented in one of the harems of the Ottoman empire. But there are so many other ways of cooking Aubergine in the Turkish way, that mashing seems a boring thing to do. 
They stuff minced lamb within cooked aubergine and slow cook the whole thing for hours so that it melts in your mouth and touches a thousand pleasure spots all at once. Heaping spoonfuls of tomato and herbs layered on eggplant slices and slow cooked left the imam weeping in delight. In a shepherd's home, aubergines are often charbroiled and mixed with garlic (crushed with sea salt) and yogurt making for a excellent spread. Of all these techniques one simple method has gotten me hooked. Unsurprisingly it has to go with pilafs, the amazingly versatile and often the main dish on a Turkish dinner table. 
Over the years, I have rediscovered pilaf often and again, and fallen in love with its simplicity and grandeur. My favorite is Cherry-Chickpea pilaf (which can be done in a microwave, I find). But the aubergine pilaf makes the cuts even higher. Silk smooth, delectable pieces of aubergine (cooked slowly in olive oil--read on for this technique) mixed with pilaf cooked with tomato puree and a hint of cumin. That is heaven on earth and it is all locked in the land of the Ottomans, cumin, cherries and almonds and aubergines..

Aubergine Pilaf (Adapted from Ghille Basan-- an excellent author)
1 large aubergine
1 cup of rice. Long grain is better.
1 small onion. Sliced
2 cloves of garlic. Slivered
1/2 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of whole cumin
1/2 tsp of whole coriander
(You can toast the spices and then grind it for best results. Or you can do what I did. Just crush them with a hand held mortar. I believe powders should works as well)
2 small tomatoes. Diced
2 tsp of tomato paste or puree. I like the paste better. Do not use Ketchup. Please?
2 cups of water. Lukewarm or at least room temperature. You can use stock as well.
6-8 tbsf olive oil. Not extra virgin.
Salt and pepper
Parsley for garnish. Optional

Start with a healthy appetite
To make silky rich pieces of aubergine:
Soak aubergines in salted water for at least an hour but no more than three. Drain, squeeze the pieces and dry between paper towels (or kitchen towels). Heat  5-6 tbsf olive oil ( do not sear the oil as the smoke point for olive oil is low) and  gently add the aubergine pieces. After you add  the aubergine in oil, reduce heat, add a tsp or so of olive oil from the top, mix and cover as they fry gently.  Check often. You get luscious aubergine pieces with much less oil. Drain on paper towel and reserve
In the mean time:
Wash and soak rice (if you have the time). Soften onion and garlic in olive oil. Stir in the sugar, cumin, coriander cooking for a couple of mins. Add the tomato puree and tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 mins. Add the rice. Coat everything. Add the water or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer. About 20 min. Keep an eye.
When rice is done, turn into a serving dish, mix with the aubergine. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm.

Happy eating and healthy living!

Jun 23, 2012

No one does it better than the spanish--Gazpaccho, a cold tomato soup

It is best, when it is raw. Sad that it does not last long.

Summer is here and if you did not the heat with the soaring temperatures, I hope crates full of sun kissed vegetables gets you in the mood. The lettuce, spinach, sprouts, limes, lemons and green garlic and onions. But nothing looks, or smells for that matter, better than tomatoes. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes. There are the sweet cherry tomatoes and the plump ones on the vine and the classically pretty, heirloom tomatoes. The best part of course is that the tomatoes grow sugary sweet as the summer turns on its heat.

They are cheap now. They will be dirt cheap later on. But the best is when you grown em'. For less than 10$,  I am growing tomatoes on my terrace. 

What really inspired this bout of tomato gardening (more like harvesting), is my fling with ...no not salad. I love salads. But salads did not inspire my tomato gardening. A cold soup did.
It is called Gazpacho.
If you haven't already guessed from the way it sounds, it is Spanish in origin. And like all things red, the Spanish people knows what to do with red juicy stuff, even a crate of summer ripe red tomatoes. They squeeze it, squish it, drizzle some oil and serve it with a squirt of lime and sea salt. 
We are still talking about the cold soup. 
It was last summer when I first had a gazpacho. It was at a cafe in Cambridge. Called cafe Pamplona. And ever since that time, I have become quite fanatic about the cold, well made gazpachos. But I realized that the really nice soups needed home grown tomatoes. And that is why this summer, I am growing my very own tomato on the vines.
Till my tomatoes ripen, of course the farmer's market is doing great. Head over to your nearest, pick the reddest, juiciest and sweetest (usually small) tomatoes and get going with the blender. You don't to waste the summer not doing this soup. It will not be the same a few months down the line :)

Cold Gazpacho

1 lb of fresh tomatoes.
1 cucumber
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil. You must use Spanish. I am joking. But use really good quality, preferably fruity extra virgin Olive oil. I like Turkish olive oils in this.
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper.
Drizzle of lime juice

In a blender, puree together the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Chill for at least 2-3 hours. You must. Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a dash of lime juice. A slice of bread, toasted, drizzled with olive olive oil and garnished with sea salt work wonders as a nibble on. A glass of red is not bad.

Happy eating and healthy living!

Apr 26, 2012

Fish dinners need not always be at the cost of ocean life

Did you know that life on earth originated in the wombs of the ocean?

Early in the earth's history, the atmosphere was thin and could not absorb or reflect the harmful radiations of the Sun. The oceans were the only refuge where fragile life forms could thrive. Oceans thus ensured that life on the earth continue. Over time the atmosphere thickened, life diversified and populated every nook and corner of the earth; today there is not a single place on earth that is devoid of life. Even now, life under the ocean continue to capture our imagination. Mermaids and dolphins. They still beckon us from the deep. The more we know about life under the sea, the more enthralled we get. Our appetite knows no bounds when it comes to the ocean.
Our appetite in fact is so large that it now threatens the very existence of the ocean life. Our desire for seafood, has driven us to excessive and aggressive commercial fishing practices; such practices have not only depleted the marine fish stocks we eat, but also threatens  species that we do not eat but those which are crucial to a healthy marine ecosystem. For example, dolphins that are caught on nets and trawlers, most often get killed. We don't eat the dolphin meat. But we threaten it nonetheless. And dolphins are just one example.
Yes, we are cleaning the ocean of marine life.
More than ninety percent of marine populations--fishes, mammals, coral reefs--are either gone or shall be gone in a few years. So on some evenings when I walk by the beach, I do not see the multiple shades of blue, the breaking surf and the late afternoon sun rays crowning the surf like little jewels. I see the empty ocean bellies. A void we have created by our over zealous appetite for the ocean and its bounty.
Wild seafood is our only direct connection to the ocean and if you think about it, the only wild species we eat. What that means is our choices, habits and desires have a direct impact on the future availability of this delectable food that we enjoy.  Question is can we do something about it or do we just continue with business as usual?

I happen to believe that we can.

Recently the grocery chain, whole foods, has banned several of the over-fished stocks from its market. We need more steps like these by companies. But what about our everyday choices? One that can start with our choice of seafood.  One good source  for all things related to seafood is the website, called the Blue Ocean Institute. The site lists fishes and other marine animals as threatened, vulnerable etc categories. Red and Orange marl categories we want to avoid at all costs. We want to stick to those marked green. And there are plenty and I assure you as a fish snob.
We also want to avoid farmed fish. Farming practices lead to less flavorful fish meat, kills any health benefits associated with a fish based diet and degrades the environment. Did you know that Tilapias are farmed in crowded tanks and fed fish feeds that are full of carcinogens? The dirty water is often dumped into the ocean.
Often times, fresh water wild fishes provide us with a better choice. For example Trouts, Catfish. You can also go with  sea fish like sardines or Branzino or sea bass. I rather eat a good number of grilled wild sardines three days a week, than farmed flavorless Salmon everyday.

Once you find fishes that meet  criteria that protect our health and the ocean, there is not much fun killing the flavor in heavy handed spiciness. Here is a simple technique that works every time.
Dry the fish (ask your fish monger to scale and clean it for you) with some paper towels.Score it on both sizes and rub inside out with some olive oil, pepper and salt. Place it in a skillet or baking tray, surround by aromatics (I love fennel bulbs, onions, tomatoes, carrots, turnips). Drizzle with some olive oil, coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper. Bake at 420 F for 30 mins or so.

                             The above is wild caught Trout (check the ratings before you buy)

                                                                The above is sea bass

The ocean does not have to feed our desires. With a hint of common sense and a interest in creativity, we can choose to please our palates with whatever is still available

Happy eating and healthy living!

Mar 30, 2012

Clafouti-- A fancy French dessert without butter and fuss

A fancy dessert, even a French one, does not always have to be time consuming and calorie enhancing. Clafouti (pronounced cla-foo-tee) is one example.

Clafoutis are French in origin and is a cross (yes, a cross almost) between custard and cake, that is made with summer fruits. As Mark Bittman very nicely describes, 'Clafoutis are essentially pancake wrapped around fruits' or words to that effect. The obvious and really classic choice of fruit for a Clafouti is Cherry, which gives you the classical Cherry Clafouti. But Clementines, Grapes, Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries --all of them work wonderfully with Clafoutis. It is really like a fruit custard. Only its not.

In fact the a story goes like this. In France they had to call upon a judge to decide whether clafoutis should be in the 'custard' section or the 'cake section' of a cookbook. A French cookbook that is :) After much debate, involving lawyers, judges, cooks, chefs all of them, apparently the cake people won the case. So now you find Clafoutis, at least in French cookbooks, listed under the cake section. This was a story that I read in Dorrie Greenspan's book 'Around my French table'. A wonderful humorous read, excellent recipes and I would say, if you are into or interested in or intimidated by French cooking, you pretty much need this book.

Coming back to Clafoutis, these are incredibly fast to put together and very imprecise, considering its French origin :) Very figure friendly too. You don't have to use butter if you don't want to. I mean if you use a parchment paper to line the cake pan (I don't even do that-yes I am that lazy), you can pretty much forgo butter. As I said, you can feel good about eating this. But what I really love about clafoutis is that it is so versatile. Depending on your milk-to-cream ratio and baking time, you can have a range of textures-- from more custard-y to more cake-y.  And the fruits just pretty much define your Clafouti; blending in perfectly with the batter, each type of fruit imparts an unique flavor to clafoutis. Finally, the dessert, although fancy, is in essence a very rustic one too. In fact, in the French countryside, where this dessert had its origin, whole cherries are used. Whole cherries gives a whole lot of texture and flavor to the clafouti and you don't need to go through the trouble of taking out the cores (which is a very tedious job). You just spit out the cores in a bowl while enjoying your Clafouti. Such bowls are a common summer time feature on French table. I am told so.

So Clafoutis are really an ingenuous dessert that only the French could come up with. You got to give it to them :)

I have been making clafoutis over a couple of years, at least. And I have gone through the entire spectrum of textures and fruits and its now almost my go-to dessert just as soon as berries hit the stands. It has always been a very pleasing dessert to anyone I have presented it to. So take a hit with it. And you know very soon you will find yourself trying a lot these French fancy desserts. Frankly they really don't need that much of reverence :)

Today, I give you two recipes. One is the classical Whole Cherry Clafouti  by Dorrie Greenspan (Around my French Table) and the other is less classical but equally delightful, Clementine Clafouti by Mark Bittman.

Whole Cherry Clafouti by Dorrie Greenspan (Around my French table)
(The above photo is of a whole cherry Clafouti I made using this recipe last summer)

1 lb (450 g) sweet cherries, stemmed but not pitted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Pinch of fine grain sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of heavy cream
(You can use just light cream instead of milk+cream)
Icing sugar/confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Ensure that your oven rack is centered in the oven.

  • Place a parchment paper on the 9 inch baking tray. 
  • Place the washed and dried cherries into the prepared baking dish in a single layer.
  • In a medium bowl whisk the 3 eggs until they are light and frothy. Add in the sugar and beat with a whisk for a minute or so until the sugar has dissolved. Add in the pinch of salt and the vanilla and whisk well. Add in the flour and beat the mixture vigorously until the flour is well incorporated and smooth.Gentle please
  • Gradually pour in the milk and cream and whisk until well incorporated. Rap the bowl against the counter to release any air bubbles and then pour the batter over the cherries in the prepared baking dish.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes until the clafoutis is puffed up and golden brown and when a sharp knife blade inserted into the center of the clafoutis comes out clean. If you hit a cherry, try again!
  • Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow the clafoutis to cool to room temperature. When you are ready to serve, dust the clafoutis with icing sugar--optional

Clementine Clafoutis by Mark Bittman

Time: About 1 hour

1/2 cup flour, more for dusting pan
3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
(You can use just light cream instead of milk+cream)
5 to 15 clementines, peeled and sectioned, about 3 cups
Powdered sugar.

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a gratin dish, about 9 by 5 by 2 inches, or a 10-inch round deep pie plate or porcelain dish, by smearing it with butter, just a teaspoon or so. Dust it with flour, rotating pan so flour sticks to all the butter; invert dish to get rid of excess.
  • In a large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Add granulated sugar and salt and whisk until combined. Add cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup flour and stir just to combine.
  •  Layer or lump clementine sections in dish; they should come just about to the top. Pour batter over fruit to as close to top of dish as you dare; you may have a little leftover batter, depending on size of your dish. 
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, or until clafoutis is nicely browned on top and a knife inserted into it comes out clean. Sift some powdered sugar over it and serve warm or at room temperature. 

Bittman and Greenspan both suggest that Clafoutis does not keep; serve within a couple of hours of making it. But I have eaten it over a couple (maybe even 3 days). Does not exactly taste great..but you can do it :)

Happy eating and healthy eating..even if its a dessert and that too a French dessert :)

Mar 26, 2012

Chickpea and cherry pilaf with cumin--did I say Pilafs? :)

I have been a big advocate of simplicity and minimalism. And Pilaf is not something people traditionally associate with either ease or simplicity. They are wrong

Pilafs are rice based dishes of Turkish fame; they are usually cooked along with any combination of fruits, vegetables, beans meat and spices (fish is not an usual component of Pilafs). Although Pilafs are not yet the most popular rice based dishes, they are certainly some of the most versatile ones in the world. Yes,  Pilafs are very versatile and very gorgeous. It can be a simple affair, that can be put together in 20 min or an exhaustive affair lasting a few hours. But whether it takes a few minutes or a few hours to put together, the end result is a delightful combination that can stand alone as a main dish or can be an accompaniment that gets its share of fanfare :)

Over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time (and money) trying to understand this incredibly aromatic rice based dish called Pilaf. Originating across different sub-regions of the middle-east, Pilaf today is an integral part of Turkish cuisine. But before the Turkish people monopolized this dish, Pilafs did have a long journey. Across the desserts of the middle east, along the banks of the Nile and across the Mediterranean, pilafs have traveled with migrating hordes of people for thousands of years. As a result, along the way it has picked up and incorporated many a tradition, many a folk lore and many a sentiment. True that today it has rest its case with Turkey, but if you ask a thousand people from Turkey, you will see that there is a thousand 'authentic' pilaf recipes.  The truth is, every kitchen in Turkey bears a legacy of that long sojourn from the middle east, that was once a part of the Persian empire, to Turkish districts that is now a part of Europe.

As a result of such a long history Pilafs are versatile and forgiving. You can almost never go wrong making it and that is both the beauty of this dish and reason for its simplicity. Being a part of the poor mans diet and being served in the palace of the imam does not happen when a dish is rigid! Or at least, this is the conclusion that I have arrived at from poring over books and experimenting in the kitchen over the last four (and more) years with Pilafs.

Pilafs are simple to make and elegant in spirit. And all that is required on our part is thinking out of the box. Today I post the simplest of them all. One that captured the love of all four hundred guests at my sister's wedding in India last fall.  

Chickpea and cherry pilaf with cumin 
(a combination of two pilafs from the book Classic Turkish Cuisine)

1 cup of rice. I like Basmati. Any other long grain should work great.
1 cup of chickpeas. I use canned ones. I rinse off very well. But you can cook some from scratch (Its useful to soak the dry chickpeas overnight prior to cooking. Cooking take anything between 45 min- 2 hour)
3/4th cup of dried sour cherries. You can also Raisins, Prunes or any combination You can use fresh fruits. In that case go for 1 cup. No point trying to remove the piths for cherries. But I like the use of dry sour cherries
1 tsp of whole cumin
A pinch of chiili flakes. Optional
2 cups of chicken broth or water. Warm or at least at room temperature or warm 
1.5 tbsf olive oil.
Garnish with Parsley.

In a pot, heat oil. When oil is hot, reduce to medium low (spices burn at high heat). Add the cumin and chilli flakes. Toss in oil for a few secs till fragrant. Add the chickpeas (make sure they are well drained and dry). Toss in oil till well covered in spices. Add the sour cherries. Mix around. About 2 mins. Add the rice. Toss to coat with spices, oils, chickpeas and sour cherries. Carefully add the stock and water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. After things come to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook till all water is absorbed. ~ 20 mins.

Serve warm or at room temperature with some some stuffed and roasted eggplant

A truly Turkish evening :)

Happy eating and healthy living!

Mar 23, 2012

Orange cake from a land so far away. They call it Morocco

There is a spring in the leaves. There is a waft in the breeze. Yes it is spring. 

I once was working at a little dock. Right by the small fishing village in this far off land .. I don't know....thirty forty years back? I was hired as a helping hand by a spice merchant. He was not a good best person to work for. He was stingy, dirty and he swindled his customers in every way he could. What made matters worse was at that time, I did not even understand the language very much. This place had a language of its own which was a mixture of some known and mostly unknown languages. The village wise man told me that people from all over the world came to here to trade. And the result was this unique language. The spice merchant would even cut my meager wages without notice! If I so much as dared to ask for an explanation, he would give me a look. Yes, a look so stern that made me laugh so hard. I don't think I have laughed half as hard ever.  It was a really piercing look that was almost comic :) If you did not know him, you may be even scared. But if you knew him, and kind of loved him, you could see through that look. It reflected the character of the land in which he sold his spices. 

It was a beautiful place. The ocean was as blue as the Mediterranean and the dessert was lurking there' it used to rain in the winter drenching the markets, the fruit stalls; people of all colors were always haggling trying to make a buck. So you see the place was rough and complex on the outside. Some would say even scary. But there was a tune underneath it all, that was lively and fragrant with the smell of saffron, mint, olives, lemon and oranges. He was a spice merchant in this land that was beautiful, diverse and in spring was ripe with oranges.

This days they call the place Morocco, I hear. I was told by the village wise man that indeed Morocco was derived from the word Marrakesh which in the old days meant 'far'. Yes this place was very far. 

But on a spring day in southern California, when the waft of oranges and mint and lemons are abundant in the air, I cannot but help  think of this beautiful land, so enchanting, inviting and yet so distant. 

Oh I didn't finish my story I see. So this merchant who smelt of spices would give me this look. Right. That's where we stopped. Oh no, we stopped where I laughed at his look. Age does that to you. Anyways, as I kept laughing, he would slowly and cautiously break into a laugh as well. Soon we would be in sync. Finally he would reach  into his dirty dirty vest, and bring out a crumbled piece of cloth and  give me the tiniest crumb of a cake. The likes of which I never had in my life. And I did have a great life with many a good cake from many a land, far and wide. He never told me who made this cake. I suspect he made it every morning. Because, now that I think of those days, he used to smell pretty cakey in the morning.

Anyways, the other day when it was starting to feel like spring, I got some big naval oranges, looked up a recipe of Moroccan orange cake online and found one in about.com. I tell you, it tasted exactly the one I thought I had from the spice merchant. After all maybe there was no real magic in that cake. Maybe all the magic was in the events that preludes the cake :)

Or maybe dreams are magical :) I can be only so accurate when I am dreaming so nice. 

Honestly... the best Orange cake I think you will ever have. I feel very confident that I will someday be able to say this story to my grandchildren and it will all be real. Morocco really comes from the Arabic word meaning far 

Here goes the recipe. You would do it with vegetable oil or olive oil. Its fragrant, takes 2 secs to put together and pleases everyone. Just vanishes :)

Moroccan Orange cake  

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 40 minutes; Total Time: 50 minutes 

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil. You can jolly well use olive oil. Gives an incredible flavor
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • zest from 1 or 2 oranges (Usually you can use two medium sized oranges for the zest and the juice)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat your oven to 350° F (180° C). Grease and flour a tube pan. If using fresh oranges, zest and juice them.
With an electric mixer or by hand, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick. Gradually beat in the oil.
Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt, and then the orange juice. Beat until smooth, and then mix in the zest and vanilla.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake tests done.
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 7 to 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Mar 19, 2012

Real Chicken Curry---in the oven!

Today's post is about a curry...in the oven. You heard right. A chicken curry, in the oven.

I am not so much a fan of the idea that any Indian food that features a mix of spices, with or without a gravy, is referred as a curry. Because it is simply not the case. Just as anything from China is not a stir-fry and all coffee drinks aren't cappuccino. I say this with fair bit of confidence, because I am from India, and I know for a fact that if you told anyone in India--at a restaurant or to a person-- that you wanted curry, there would be only one kind (with mild variations) that you would get! And it would be this recipe, that I am going to share in a short time. And no matter how hard you tried, you could not get anything else :) Different terms for different dishes.

For our curry, the trick will be of course be, (a) use of oven-which to my knowledge is an unheard of technique in the making of a curry, and (b) use of tomato paste. Tomato paste is an Italian import, mostly southern Italian. The tomato is sun dried and then made into a paste. Calabrians have some phenomenal use of tomato paste. For those of you who may not know, Calabria is a part of southern Italy which has some of the best uses of tomato and pepper and eggplant. The sun is abundant and the soil is perfect for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Some other day we would talk about sun drenched southern Italy. But today we are talking of a spicy curry from India. That too, the only authentic curry that you will find in India. With possible regional variations, of course. 

Amazing how a modern kitchen technique, an age old paste of Italian origin and spices from India can give you such a truly authentic curry. Back in the days, India was the destination for spices. Just the other day, I was reading up on all the voyages that were directed towards India in earlier centuries for spices like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and all things fragrant. So much risk, such long lonely voyages. Such distant land, cultures. All for spices. And if you are sitting at your desk with your coffee (as I am doing now), you may wonder what was all that allure.

I urge you to assemble this recipe and you will know why. Cumin, garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and tomato paste...all coming together in a cast iron skillet to give you a sense of what drove hordes of men across oceans and mountains to the east in search of spices that add to life to food. 

Thankfully nowadays we can get this done pretty much hassle free. 

Watch...err read :)

Chicken curry in an oven

A quick note: You can probably do this in the microwave. I am confident if you have a convection mode in the microwave or you know, just your regular OTG (oven-toaster-grill), this technique will work. Just use a  friendly vessel for where you do it. Of course this recipe is fine on a stove top. But the oven gives you a depth of flavor and its hands off too! well, largely

Okay enough Talk. On with the recipe


Chicken: I used 6 thighs with bone in, skin removed. You can use a whole cut up chicken, drumsticks, whatever has a bone in it. 
1 big potato-- cut of coarsely. A small would be halved. A medium maybe quartered. You get the idea
1 medium sized onion. Chopped
1 tsp of freshly grated garlic
1 tsp of freshly grated ginger. Fresh is really important. You can use the ginger garlic paste. I urge you not to.
6-8 tbsf tomato paste. Half a small can. You can substitute with two tomatoes pureed and mixed with 2 tsp of ketchup. But tomato paste is heavily recommended
2 cups of chicken stock. Or warm water.

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
A pinch of cayenne. You can use it to taste. I like it mild.

I do not like the use of garam masala here. I find it way over powering and really the tomato paste packs a lot of flavor that is pretty much drowned by garam masala. But if you must, you can throw in 1/2 tsp of that as well.

3-4 tbsf oil. You can use any. Does not matter
salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish.

These are the typical ingredients you will find in any curry. With the exception of tomato paste and maybe chicken stock. But the stock adds a ton of slow cooked flavor to this rather quick curry. Anyways, use a Cast Iron skillet. That will go into the oven and the stove top with ease and will also serve as a serving bowl. Its phenomenal and you should get one. Otherwise you can use a Dutch oven. Or a regular metal pot. Anything that you can use within the oven and on a stove top.

So turn your oven to high. 425-450 F. Preheat the oven with the skillet inside the oven. Yes, you are heating up the skillet in the oven. Takes about 10 min or so. Take out the skillet. Careful. Very hot. Put half the oil in it and place the chicken and potatoes on it. Try not to have a lot overlap. Drizzle with the remaining oil. Salt and pepper action. Mix around with tong. Stick into the oven for 20 min or so. Turn and again in for another 15 min. So totally about 45-50 min including the heating time.

When juices start to run clear, take out the skillet, turn on your stove and place the skillet on heat. Leave the oven running. On the skillet add the onions. Saute everything together for 3-4 min. Add the garlic-ginger and spices. Saute for a min or so. Now add the tomato paste. Mix everything well. Maybe a minute or two. De-glaze with the stock or water. Now comes a balancing act. Take the whole skillet and place it back into the oven. no mean feat taking a heavy skillet with liquids into the oven, but really do able by yourself. Leave at high temp for 15 min till everything is bubbly. Then, lower the oven temp o 350 F and finish cooking for 30-35 mins.

Take out, check for seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot or warm with rice. One must have rice. Kidding. You can totally do with bread and some Merlot. I did and it was amazing! You can bring the skillet to the table. A very homey and rustic way of serving this simple fare.

How easy was that? no mess, no stress no traveling :) Just a good old real time chicken curry. But I tell ya, this one would be worth all that trouble of running around the world :)

Happy eating, healthy living!

Mar 15, 2012

Join the Facebook Cooking club!

A quick announcement.

I have launched this exciting new Facebook cooking club. Less than five days old and so much going on.

Its an open group. An event coming up and so much pictures, talk and fun from across the world.

I would love my blogger frens to be o it!! So join the group and you will love it!!

Happy eating and healthy living!!

Mar 13, 2012

Roasted garlic-tomato pasta--southern Italian flavors that won't weigh you down

To all my five senses, there ain't a more appealing combination of colors than red and green and pasta. Oh yes, 'pasta' is a color. One that gives other colors a canvass to taste spectacular.

Well, before we get into this delightfully easy pasta recipe with roasted garlic and tomato,  I wanted to share with you a short-but-true-story. Sometime last year, wel..almost around nowish, I  invited a friend over for dinner. She said that she loved the way my food looked on-screen. So when she decided to visit Boston, I asked her if she wanted me to make something specific for her. She told me she completely relied on my choice. Very well. I decided to make pasta. I mean, what else? As I started to rinse some spinach, scrub the mushroom while starting the pasta water, my friend asked me in open and I think slightly irritated amazement, that where is the red or the white sauce? To which I said well we are going to make it, but it isn't gonna be red or white. It is going to be with wilted spinach, mushroom and anchovy. Her face fell, or so I thought. Clearly, she must have been thinking that this dinner was doomed. 

A pasta without a sauce. 

And really that is what today's and many of the pasta dishes that I make are themed on. Without rich sauces and yet distinctly flavorful. For some reason, I am not a big fan of rich pasta sauces. You know like the ones from northern or central Italy. I actually do not like rich sauces of any kind. Instead, I am deeply intrigued by the bright flavors of southern Italy...all the way down to Sicily. A combination of herbs, tomatoes, nuts and fishes that are not heavy but very fragrant, light and packed with flavors that need not weigh you down.  Almost reminiscent of the life along the Sicilian or Naples coast.

That day, after my friend had what she claimed was a spectacular pasta, she went home and made it herself. It was anchovy flavored wilted spinach and mushroom pasta. I guess the pasta did not weigh her down :)

Today's pasta is even simpler but no less gorgeous. And it will remind you of the careless and breezy beauty of life and tastes of the sunny southern Italian life that is a joy forever and luckily not a thing of the past.  

So, without much ado, I give you roasted garlic-tomato pasta with scallions. 

Ingredients are key here. Few but make sure you get the best ones. Cos when you are delaing with few ingredients, each must contribute fully and more.

3 pints of grape tomatoes for 1 lb of pasta. Washed and patted as dry as you can. Water will ruin the roasting process.
Grape tomatoes become sweet which is critical for this dish and any other recipe where you are using them. If you are using regular tomatoes coarsely chopped, add a sprinkle of sugar.
1 lb of pasta. 
I really like Linguini or fettuccine. But long strands of pasta are what you are aiming for.
5-7 cloves of garlic. Coarsely slivered. 
You can reduce the amount, if you don't like garlic. You can also substitute with slivered nuts. If you are using slivered nuts like almonds or walnuts, toast it over low flame for 5 min or so till they are fragrant. Take careful note of the fragrance. Just a hint of the fragrance and you want to take the nuts off the heat. You can of course use toasted nuts to garnish the pasta even if you are using garlic. But I like to educe the amount of garlic if in fact you are going to use the nuts at the end. But really beautiful is just the garlic and tomatoes. Really elegant and I urge you try it this way, before going for anything fancier
1 bunch of scallions. Chopped at an angle. All green and red green parts please. We practice 'waste-less-ness' here :)
Salt and Pepper 
2-3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Please use an excellent one. 

Roast and toss
Preheat oven to  350 F.
Place your tomatoes and slivered garlic on cast iron skillet. I really like to use cast iron, as it becomes easy to toss and serve the pasta in it and also prevents loss of any of the roasted fluid that forms. But feel free to use a baking tray if you don't have the skillet that I am talking about :) Season with slat and pepper and drizzle with 3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Roast undisturbed for 1 hr-15 to 1 hr- 20 mins. Turn once half way through. The garlic will turn brownish and sweet by the time the tomatoes burst. 

You can also roast the combo on a skillet on low heat for 15-20 min. Place your skillet on really low heat and add the tossed mixture of oil, tomato, garlic (and sugar if you are using it). Move around occasionally. But otherwise let roast in peace

Once the tomatoes are roasted, take it out of the oven and add the scallions. The heat will take off the rawness out of the scallions. If you are using a cast iron skillet, there is not much to do then wait for the pasta to cook. If you are using the baking tray, carefully dish the whole concoction onto ta pasta serving tray/bowl. This is what it will look like.

Meanwhile fill up a big pot with water. Cover and bring to boil. Season with salt. Bring back to a rolling boil. Do not..never add pasta before this step. You will just about kill pasta this way. Anyways, once you have the salted water back to the rolling boil, add the pasta carefully and slowly mix it in. Cook till al dente or almost done. Usually 10 mins or close. Retain a cup of the pasta water. Drain carefully and return the pasta to the skillet or wherever you are serving. Toss carefully and caressingly. Use the pasta water if you see things drying. You want a glisten on the pasta. Moist looking and not dry or dull.

Serve in the skillet...what is a very appealingly homey and rustic way to serve. Or the elegant pasta dish. Eat immediately. I suggest pairing with a Sirah wine. But of course any dry red wine would be gorgeous.

A very legit recipe. Remindful of the life, thankfully not-yet-bygone, by the coasts of Naples all the way down to Sicily.

Happy eating and healthy living

Mar 10, 2012

Two in one--use of cilantro/parsley stems in two gourmet indian vegetarian recipes.

I have a solution. Not that there was a real problem here. But I think I have a solution to an yet un-recognised problem :)

And here is where I think we may have the problem. Somehow the way we use herbs bothered me. We take the leaves and discard the woody parts. And whenever I threw away the stems of herbs--particularly cilantro, coriander, Dill stems that are not that woody at all--I always thought if I could somehow use these. To me this was terrible loss of flavor. On the other hand it was really impossible for me to conjure up images of us gnawing at woodisque (that's a new word!) stems in dish if you just add the stems along with the leaves towards the end of a dish. Worse for garnishes.

 Photo from http://www.klesickfamilyfarm.com

I think I have a solution finally. For soft stem herbs like Cilantro, Coriander, Dill etc, the stems can add a whole world of flavor if used like onion or garlic or ginger i.e. soften the diced stems in hot oil as you would do for example in case of onion or garlic or ginger. This process releases all the flavor that is packed in the stems while softening it and thus making it edible. The other way would be to use it as a veggie. You heard right. Veggie. For example, if you were making a stew you would add the potatoes, followed by the carrots and then whatever. So just throw in your stems before you even put the hardiest of your veggie in. The result is a dramatic flavoring from the beginning of the recipe. Of course you don't want to use woody stems of rosemary or thyme or even the really hardy parsley. But for the softer ones, you don't want to throw away the goodness that you usually do.

I have been practicing this method for a couple of months now. And I feel comfortable going out on a limb to share this technique. I give you two recipes. Both Indian. Using Cilantro stems. But once you get the hang of the method (and I will be sharing more such recipes with stems), you will find use for them in your stews, stir fries and what not. Hello! you got double duty for your buck!

As I said, there are two recipes here today. One is a stir fried Bokchoy with tomatoes and mustard. Such a great little southern Indian recipe, even without the stems. The second is cabbage potato mush and is a take on a very common household cabbage dish from eastern India. I think you will love both. Adding in the stems at the beginning makes both of these recipes exceptional and very bright. Try it and you will not regret it. 

So here we go!

Sir fried bokchoy with Mustard Cilantro and Tomatoes
Three baby Bokchoys. Cleaned and diced coarsely. You can also use cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage here.
2 small tomatoes. Diced.
Cilantro: stems-- A handful of them, cleaned and diced finely. You really want to do this :)
               Leaves-- chopped for garnish
You can also use Parsley if you do not like Cilantro. I love both!
2 green chiles. Slit and seeds removed. You can use one jalapeno too.
Curry leaves--4-5. dice it or not. You can find it in Indian groceries. Very optional. But it does add a very southern Indian flavor, which is gorgeous
1 tsp of whole mustard
2 tbsf olive oil or regular oil
salt for seasoning

All you do is heat oil in a large skillet (you want to hold all those greens in there, so be careful with your skillet size). Once oil is hot, add the mustard, cilantro stems, green chiles and tomato. Stir fry for 5-6 min. You want the tomatoes to start breaking down and mixing up to a saucy consistency. Add the Bokchoys. Stir and cook through ~ 7-8 mins. Season with salt. Take off the heat, plate up, garnish with your cilantro leaves and serve hot. With some Rice and soup. A great meal. I promise you this much

The second one is Cabbage potato Mush
One small cabbage. Use the regular ones or Napa ones. Whatever floats your boat. Cleaned and diced coarsely. You can also use cauliflower, broccoli or bokchoy here. 
1 medium potato. Diced. Ensures quick cooking and to make a mush
2 small tomatoes. Diced.
Cilantro: stems-- A handful of them, cleaned and diced finely.
               Leaves-- chopped for garnish
You can also use Parsley if you do not like Cilantro. I love both!
2 green chiles. Slit and seeds removed. You can use one jalapeno too.

1 tsp of whole cumin
1 tsp of coriander powder
1 tsp of cumin powder
1/2 tsp of turmeric
1/2 tsp of sugar.
1 cup of warm water. Keep handy to moisten things as needed
2 tbsf olive oil or regular oil
salt for seasoning

All you do is heat oil in a large skillet (again you want to hold all those greens in there, so be careful with your skillet size). Once oil is hot, add the potatoes and cook covered for 10 min. Check to see that you are not burning your potatoes. Add cumin, cilantro stems, green chiles, tomato and sugar. Stir fry for 5-6 min. You want the tomatoes to start breaking down and mixing up to a saucy consistency. The sugar will caramelize and give a gorgeous flavor. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric powder. Cook for a minute or so.  At this point you have a lovely sauce and you can put any veggie in there. Here we will go with cabbage. Add the cabbage. Stir  and cook through. ~ 10 mins. Covering the skillet or pot hastens the process. You may need to add water to prevent sticking. Usually though you wont need a lot of water. Season with salt. Take off the heat, plate up, garnish with your cilantro leaves and serve warm or at room temperature.

It is a really nice and gourmet dish. The smokey cumin, the bright coriander and cilantro is a cure for any damp night. 

Happy eating and healthy living!

Mar 8, 2012

Pimmenton Chicken-- stew that packs a punch

I just noticed that, lately, I have been writing a ton of vegetarian recipes. And while it is not a conscious effort on my part to dish out vegetarian, it definitely reflects that I have been more creative in my vegetarian recipes.

But today is an conscious exception to that trend. I am gonna tell you about a simple chicken stew that I made a few weeks ago. If you are thinking, oh no here she goes non-vegetarian after a while and all she can come up with is a stew and that too chicken? Really?


This stew has a couple of the usual suspects: Chicken and Potatoes. But its unusual in  couple of way: (a) how it is made; there is no frying or sauteing of any kind in any type of oil (I dare you to find a simpler method to make chicken stew) and (b) choice of the whole garlic, tomatoes and onions. The stew also also has a good amount of Pimmenton, chili and some vinegar. And by the time the stew is done, I assure you there will be nothing bland or stewy about it :)  well..other than the consistency which is not replaceable. I mean..hello its a stew, after all :)

A word about Pimmenton.
Pimmenton is Spanish paprika as in the word 'pimento' which is Spanish for chile pepper. Pimmenton i.e. powdered Spanish pimento pepper comes as smoked or hot or bitter-sweet. I really like the smoked kind. This spice packs an incredible flavor the likes of which I am yet to find. So, if you can get a hold of a jar, pay for it. It pays you back way more than you will have bargained for. And soon you may be looking for recipes to use it! Quite a powerful little guy, this one.

The other two things that I am going to talk are tomatoes and olive oil. This recipe is really simple, meaning heavily contingent upon the quality of ingredients you use. So do your best. Spanish extra virgin olive oil is gorgeous here. And flavorful little tomatoes are critical. You can't just go use cooking tomatoes that taste like sawdust. I use the word 'must' with caution. But here I do. You must try and get good quality fresh tomatoes. Canned ones, packaged ones will just about ruin this stew.

The chicken --well not much you can do about it. Just try and good juicy thighs with the bone. Whole chicken cut up would work real best. 

Anyways, lots of talk. I'll show you the end product. As there is not much else to write about (no worries, I will). But take a look...ehehhe..gorgeous. Won't you say? :)

Lets see how this thing comes together

Pimmenton chicken stew

 3-4 lbs of chicken thighs. You can use drumsticks, whole legs or just one chicken cut up. Rustic style. I do that. You can leave some skin on. Or remove them all. I prefer to leave skin on in some of the pieces. Adds a dramatic lot of flavor. But then remove them while you eat (even if it is difficult to throw the great skin out, do it. You will be eliminating a lot of trans fat and no flavor at all).

3-4 fresh tomatoes. Halved. Resist the urge to dice it. Or you can use whole sweet grape tomatoes, one pint of them.
2 medium sized onion. Quarter and that's it
5-7 cloves of garlic. Smashed. 
1 big russet potato: Leave the skin on and cut it into big chunks. Maybe  6-8 squares out of the one russet potato?

2-3 whole red chile. Used this way, the chiles will add flavor and no heat. You can fish them out later before serving
2 tbsf pimmenton. You can use a combination of hot, smoked or sweet. I really just stick to smoked. It gives a flavor that ..you know. Try the smoked. Its legit and really is the best way to do this stew. IF you cannot get this smoked pimmenton, try to toast 1 tsp of ground cumin (on very low heat~ 1 min constantly stirring) and mix with your regular paprika. That will give a hint of smokiness that is fantastic as well.
Salt and pepper for seasoning
2-3 tbsf extra virgin olive oil. Spanish olive oil is best here. But don't go nuts looking for it.
1 tbsf vinegar. I use red wine vinegar. But use whatever. Or you can skip this too. 
2-3 cups of warmed (or room temperature) chicken stock or hot water.

Start and end in a deep pot. I like a dutch oven. 
 Now, place chicken, potato, garlic, onion, spices in your pot. Add the oil, vinegar, chile, salt and pepper. Mix a bit. Put the lid on. And leave on medium heat for ~ 10 min. This way of cooking ensures that the juices are mixing that add tons of flavor. If you add water or try to pressure cook it, all that flavor gets diluted or does not have time to get released. The result is a tasteless flavorless over cooked  mush. So hold off on the water. After 10-20 min, you will see that stuff is sticking to the bottom when you move with your spatula. Those things are what needs to now get into the stew to add more flavor. So gently add the warm stock or water and scrape the bits sticking to the bottom. Add about 2-3 cups of water while you are doing this. Let things come to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for ~ 30-40 min. The chicken should be falling off the bones at this stage. You can fish out the garlic and chiles. I do not. I leave them right in. What a homey look that gives to the table.

That's your stew my friends. Not too stewy, not too stoupy. Just a good old chicken stew that packs a punch. Have with some crusty bread and some wine. 

Happy eating and healthy living!

Feb 28, 2012

Squash Pasta with Jalapeno--comfort with a zing

When it comes to comfort, me thinks Pasta and Chianti.

But me also thinks squash. Picture this:

It is a random, cold rainy day.  I say random, because Spring is not about cold rains. At least, there seems to be something not quite right about cold rain on a spring evening. Anyways, now that such an evening is here and you did not carry your umbrella. Your socks are irritatingly wet, the jeans is wet too. Cold rain has pierced your sneakers. Or stockings. Or is just making your toes wet and numb. You head home and the heart and soul screams for some comfort. 

Of hot shower. Of dry socks.Of warm pajamas. Of a great glass of Chianti. Or a cheap one. 

On such a day as yesterday that fell a lot of cold rain in sunny San Diego, all I did after I returned home was turn on the oven and put on some pasta water on the stove. As the two got going, I chopped up some squash. 

If you think squash is not your go to condiment (yes a condiment almost as you will see in the recipe) for Pasta, this take on squash pasta will make you rethink. I give you with utmost delight today a bit of twist on your winter staple comfort food.

Squash Pasta with Jalapeno

A medium sized squash. I like butternut. But you can use any. Really. Just peel and coarsely cube.
2-3 large jalapenos. Slit lengthwise. Seed removed or not. Choice is yours
4-5 large garlic cloves. Slivered.
1/2 lb of pasta. I like Fettuccine or Linguine. I suppose any long pasta would do. The key is to lower the ratio of pasta: squash. You want ample squash and not ample pasta. Please NO NOODLES here (trust me, I have seen pasta recipes being used for noodles)
A handful of toasted nuts (toast lightly at 350 for 10 min or just on a dry skillet on low heat for no more than 3-4 min). Chop up if you like. I like walnut here
A bit of Gouda or parmigiano. Grated. For garnish and hence optional. I recommend strongly.
A bit of parsley for garnish.
Sat and pepper
3 tbsf olive oil (two if which will for cooking your squash).

Keep it simple and homey
You can do a few things with the cubed squash
(a) Drizzle with 2 tbsf olive oil, a bit of chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Le stand, while the oven heats up. Roast the squash at 410-415 F for 45 min.
(b) Shallow fry them in oil (2 tbsf) and cover to cook through. You may need to add some water to prevent drying/burning/sticking. About 20 min.
(c) Boil them, drain them and mix with 2 tbsf olive oil. Best way to start is by filling up a pot with cold water, putting in the squash and heat them together ~ 10 min.

Once squash is done, start the pasta water. Remember ample water and bring to boil. Add salt, liberally. Bring the water back to boil. Only now, drop the pasta in. Slowly and lovingly stir it. Let Pasta cook for 8-10 min till almost done but not quite. There should still be a bite to it, when you drain the pasta. Also, remember to save a cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. You may need it, if the pasta looks dry when mixing with the rest of the ingredients.
While the pasta cooks,  add oil and slivered garlic and jalapeno on oil at low heat. Treated gently like this, garlic become soft and sweet and you can use twice as much without the dish getting too heavy in garlic. Awesome thing. Once garlic become light brown add the roasted squash and gently break those cubes while you are mixing. No need to mash it completely, just a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Drain pasta and add the pasta to the skillet with the garlic-jalapeno flavored mushed squash. Toss well. You may need to add the pasta water if things look dry.  Check seasoning. 
Plate up. Garnish with some grated cheese, nuts and parsley.

Now, if that is not comfort on a rainy day. I don't know what is :)

Happy eating and healthy living!

Feb 24, 2012

Springing a suprise, with a sumer vegetable stew from southern Italy

It is going to be an early Spring.

Now, I know that Phil, the groundhog, saw his shadow this February. Meaning, there is going to be a longish winter. But, I don't care what the wise squirrel says. The nip and smell in the air tells me that lady Spring is tiptoeing around the corner. I have a strange feeling that the lady is planning on springing a surprise on us this year. By the way, I also hear there is talk among the weather gods (and goddesses) that for the next few years, they plan on many such surprises. I am afraid, Phil and his technique would need revision :)

Anyways..whether Phil would need to revise his technique or not, there is always a good reason to believe that Spring is around the corner. And when the lady does appear, what better to serve her,  than a aromatic stew of vegetables that bode of summer. Yes, summer :)

You see, I love all seasons. Winter in moderation too. Actually, winter in tropical countries and spring in cold countries are the same. Coming back to seasons and my fondness for them all. 

Fall is rustic. Root vegetables, Cinnamon, apples and cider. Very homey. Fall is all about sharing the rustic flavors together before the harsh winter sets in.

Winter is cozy. Candles, cakes, cookies and a ton of baking. Family time and ohh..food time!

Spring is fragrant and breezy. Hopeful things that the cold days are almost over and time for sunshine galore. 

Summer is bright. Eternally all things beautiful. It should stay forever.

There is another season in India. Monsoon is very fresh-- right after the scorching summer, it brings relief. Tons of local fish, mushroom and greenery. Very restorative.

But all good things start with Spring!

So to welcome spring and all things green and colorful, I made this stew the other night. It is a legit recipe as well. A Calabrian--southern Italian--one. Its called Ciambotta--really a summer vegetable stew. Calabrians really know their eggplants, bell peppers and tomatoes. I made this stew  from a recipe in the book 'My Calabria'. I highly encourage you to get a copy if you are interested in southern Italian cuisine. Exquisite :) This book may make you fall for southern Italy. The region is irresistible to begin with :)
As I said, its still spring. And yet the stew is all things summer. The herbs are still dry. But soon they will be fresh. The veggies have the wonderful sense of flavor that summer will enhance. In my opinion, the stew is also a spring stew. It promises flavors that will soon hit the stands and become even more delectable, in the forthcoming summery goodness.

So friends, here is a recipe of a wonderful summer vegetable stew to herald the lady who may very well spring a surprise on us, sooner than we anticipate :)

Ciambotta-- a summer vegetable stew :)
(From My Calabria)


1 lb of eggplants. You will really like Italian or Chinese or Indian eggplants. But no worries, if you get the regular ones.
1 lb of Zucchini
3 large bell peppers
1 large onion. Sliced.
1 large Yam or potato. Yams are nicer I think. But Potatoes maybe closer to the real deal.
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
2 lbs of good tomatoes.
Herb of your choice. Basil, Oregano, Thyme, marjoram are all good. I liked Thyme. The recipe called for Basil (1 tbsf, if using dried. I do)
Salt and pepper (freshly ground is good)
1.5 cups of warm water or vegetable stock. Water is just as good.
3-4 tbsf olive oil. Good quality please. You may also use vegetable oil. But I do urge you to think of good quality extra virgin olive oil. It makes a lot of difference.

Remember, its not even Spring, so you may be fine with less than the gorgeous summer veggies! Use any good soft veggies and no worries if you don't find exactly the ones listed. Its a stew!!

Okay, here we go. 
Just chop all veggies into coarse (1' thick portions). Batch fry each kind of veggies separately  in a tbsf oil each and set aside. Or easier it is to roast them (each kind in a different baking tray and drizzled with olive oil) at 425F. The potatoes (or yams) would need 30 min. The rest may need no more than 20-25 min. Once you are done with shallow frying or roasting the veggies, time to move on. In a deep pot (you will need to hold all the veggies) heat 1 tbsf olive oil. Mild heat. Add the garlic and onion and soften (don't brown) to make it soft and sweet. Add the tomatoes and herb of choice. Cook for about 2-3 min. Add the veggies carefully and mix together. Add a cup of water, salt and black pepper (fresh is good), lower heat and stew for..oh...maybe 30-40 min on low heat. Let stand for 30 min before serving. Critical!

Serve it by itself in a bowl or with some crusty bread. Delish!! 

Happy eating and healthy living!

Feb 17, 2012

A chocolate swirl pound cake--an exercise in decadance following some real hard work :)

This decadent and gorgeous pound cake is arguably a difficult one to make if in fact you do not have a fancy kitchen replete with electric do it all batter mixer (you know those with the giant electric whisks etc) and all good things technology brings to kitchen.

But... you can pull this one off with (a) a food processor or (b) a combination of a small handheld whisk (electric is useful) and spatula.

Whatever you do, if you lack the most modern kitchen (which is most of us, I guess), you got to have a temperament (strength helps as well) to tough it out, when the dough gets tough on ya'. For the batter (more like a dough really) does get really tough. And yes, it does take some will power and intention, if I may add, to wrestle with flour and a dry paste of butter and sugar.

This recipe was inspired by the incredibly good looking pound cake recipe by the equally good looking Giada De Laurentiis.  But a few substitution, and the cake looks and tastes even better. 

1) I substituted the caramel + cream with chocolate (half a slab of bitter chocolate and 3-4 tbsf of hot chocolate + 1/2 cup of milk). The choc powder balances out the bitterness quite a bit, but keep it bitter (i.e. omit the hot chocolate) if you like it that way. By all means :)

2) If you don't like peanut butter, go for almond butter or chestnut puree. Should go remarkably with the bitter chocolate!

3) I changed to rubber spatula (you can use wood), after I creamed the butter and sugar. The handheld creamer just was not working for me. 

4) I avoided the parchment paper. I tend to serve from the pan, as you can see from the picture! 

5) I used regular vegetable oil to liberally coat the loaf pan. I don't use vegetable spray at all!

As I said, the recipe is gorgeous as such. But phenomenal with the substitutions, especially the chocolate (not with the spatula unfortunately).  I recommend this, even if there is a task involved.  The end results well reward the work. And you get to walk down the path of the gloriness if you serve this for dessert or for that matter any day of the week or year :)

Happy eating..and a bit less healthy eating on 'those days'

Feb 13, 2012

Malabar Aubergine

Aubergines/Brinjals or more commonly eggplant is an interesting vegetable. By the way, I really do like the name eggplant; kind of suggestive of a neverland like place where eggs grow on trees :). Anyway, it seems to me that different cuisines react to eggplants, differently. Some cuisines have tons of ideas on how to use eggplants; think Turkish and Calabrian (southern Italian) cuisines where there is an amazing array of recipes featuring aubergine that makes you fall in love with the vegetable all over again. Whereas, in certain other cuisines there is none at all. For example, French. It is like the French just did not like the egg shaped veggies :) What a baffling thing!

I am a kidding of course! What a cuisine really is its geography and history. Believe it or not, geography is more like genetics. You know how geography defines climate and sets up the road map for regional cuisine. History, on the other hand, plays the role of evolution; events that shape how that cuisine  evolves over time.  A pretty neat thought, if you think about it that is and that too ...very hard :)

Indian food of course has regional variations, in this case in terms of acceptance of eggplants--its way to big to have a single geography or history-- that either love the 'Brinjal' or they don't! For example, Bengal (the place from where I come), Brinjals are either fried or mashed. I did not think of this, till a very good Bengali fellow cook (also a friend from childhood) pointed this out to me! Her name is Shreya and some day maybe I will ask her to write a post. She is one heck of a cook. Anyways, coming back to the topic...just like Bengal has very little love for Brinjals, the southern part of India has so much of its cuisine dedicated to these lovely and versatile veggies.

I particularly like the combination of coconut, yogurt and garlic. With a bit of cilantro. Ohh..its beach and lagoons and backwaters forever. Summer never leaves town when you got some coconut and garlic on hand.

Anyways..here is a recipe that I think I came up with. But it has such heavy tones of southern coastal Indian (called the 'Malabar' region) cuisine to it, that I am hesitant to ascribe it completely to a figment of my imagination. And although the recipe calls for Indian eggplants; wait the recipe does not call for anything since this is my recipe. One good thing about a self created recipe is that you get to make the calls like saying 'recipe calls for'-- :) :). Anyways, Indian eggplants are tiny--almost round, mini eggplants that cook in a short time. Almost always found in Indian groceries and never in regular ones. So you can very easily substitute with small Italian eggplants. The smaller the better. You really want to use whole eggplants here.

So here it is. For want of anything better to call it, I will just say

Malabar Aubergine 
That name pays tribute to the homeland of good eggplant food and acknowledges the beauty of the Indian coast that is so sublime and delightful.


10 Indian eggplant or about 5-6 Italian (small) eggplants. You want to slice each--two cuts almost all the way through the entire length of the eggplant ..just not totally. You want it to be held at the top by the stalk. yes, save the stalk. Dry the eggplants in paper towels. This will prevent some spattering when you shallow fry later on.
1 cup pf yogurt thinned with half 1/3 cup of water
1/2-3/4 cup of dried unsweetened coconut flakes. You can make fresh ones if you like.
1 green chile or 2 jalapeno. Use your judgement for heat tolerance.
1 medium onion. Thinly sliced.
4-5 big cloves of garlic. Grated
1 tbsf grated ginger
1 tsp of whole cumin
1 tsp of whole mustard.
3-4 tbsf olive oil. You can use coconut oil (I have seen in Trader's Joe). Or even regular veg oil. Does not matter.
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro for garnish. A slice or two of lemon, if you so please.

In a skillet, heat oil and shallow fry the eggplants. 3-4 min on first side and then 2 per remaining sides. Careful, it spatters. So best to use a spatter guard. Or just plane stand back :) And make the yogurt mixture.  In food processor mix the thinned yogurt, coconut and jalapeno.
Once the eggplants are done, drain on paper towels and set aside. Add the mustard and whole cumin. Let pop. Add the onions. Brown well. The aroma should be intoxicating :) add the garlic and ginger. Sautee. Add the yogurt mixture and cook till things come to a boil.  Lower heat and carefully add the eggplants back into the sauce. Cook through. Turn the eggplants. Or aubergines. Or brinjals. Season with salt and pepper. You know, if you see things sticking, add some warm water. This will take a max of 15-min. But be patient. Let the eggplant integrate with the sauce. Its remarkable when that happens. 

Serve with some sticky jasmine rice, lemon flavored rice or plain rice. Garnish with cilantro and some lemon (if you wish). Let this be a reason to visit Malabar and never return :)

Happy eating and healthy living!