Thursday, January 23, 2014

Green Beans, Carrot, and Cucumber Salad

Colorful, healthy, low fat, vegan (or not), and most important, delicious.

In the last several weeks I have been tackling a project long neglected even though it is very close to my heart; that of organizing recipes that have been sitting in random files and notes for close to two decades. I have two large binders, one which has recipes I have made and would like to make again (keepers, in the current parlance) and another which has recipes that I would perhaps like to make some day (the paper equivalent of bookmarks), and somewhere the lines cross and the mess begins. Most of the recipes and notes are in non-standardized formats, and especially the best ones. From a printout of an email from parents, something scratched on the nearest notepad while on a phone call with a cousin, or clippings from old magazines and papers that do not have digital archives. I didn't have the heart to throw out most of them without taking a look, and I finally found time over the holidays to start reviewing and organizing everything. What good it is otherwise! One by one, I hope to start digitizing everything, either by scanning them for my records, or typing them up on the blog (which would mean I also need to make each dish, photograph it, and type it up), so that all I would have left is a few handwritten recipes that I would keep for sentimental reasons. It is a lofty goal and it might take years to get through a lot of it, but I had to start somewhere.

When I started looking through the files, I found so many wonderful notes of things I used to make regularly and enjoy, but somewhere along the years got buried in there. One such gem I found is the salad my mother had made during a trip to India, circa 2003. That was when she used to make lots of vegetable based meals with little or no fat for my father, who had very strict diet restrictions at that time. This salad however can be enjoyed by all, without even realizing that it is very healthy. I wondered why I stopped making it. There was no particular reason that I can think of, except that it is not something I can usually throw together on a whim. It needs a few incongruous ingredients that don't always happen to be at home at the same time. That is also partly what make this salad so wonderful. The combination is unexpected but it just comes together.

When I made it recently, it was a side to a warm and spicy moogachi khichadi, but it fits in nicely with any meal, with rice and dal, a simple pulao, or alongside a bhaaji or usal.

Green Beans, Carrot, and Cucumber Salad
Serves 3-4, and can be easily multiplied or halved.

1/2 cup finely chopped green beans
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber (see note 1)
1 small green chili, finely chopped (see note 2)
1/4 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
3/4 teaspoon sugar (do not skimp)
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2-3 Tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro
1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice OR 1/2 cup (or more) yogurt, but not both (see note 3)

Start by chopping the green beans. Put them in a steamer and steam them for 5-8 minutes until they are tender and cooked to your liking. Take them out of the steamer and let cool.

While the beans are cooking and cooling, prepare the vegetables - grate the carrots, chop the rest. Mix everything together in a bowl.

  1. You can chose to not peel or seed the cucumber if you like.
  2. The chili gives the salad a spicy bite but not too much. If you prefer mild food, use only half of the chili if it is very sharp, or remove the seeds, or use a sprinkle of cayenne or Indian red chili powder.
  3. When I first had it, it was made with lemon juice, but one time I added yogurt when I had a friend over because I know she likes yogurt and it certainly changed it to something else. I make both versions, depending on what else is part of the meal.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Kale Parathas

The benefits of eating kale are now much published and touted everywhere. As someone who enjoys eating all kinds of greens, I do not need to be convinced why I should eat kale, or other leafy greens. However I am still looking for more ways to prepare it.

Roasted kale is lovely to snack on, but it is not a full meal. There is a stew I make with butternut squash and beans which is a favorite, but it is somewhat seasonal to late fall and winter. I have tried Indianizing kale in dals and sabjees, but they were not so memorable or repeat worthy. So I have very few "usual" dishes when it comes to kale, and one of them are these parathas.

This is a perfect example of why only certain things make it to this blog, because I have to make it multiple times to be sure, and I also need to get some decent pictures. On to the recipe, which comes from the trusted cooker. I have tried her suggested variations with green chilies, and with amchur, but here is how I like them best, with a few little changes.

Kale Parathas
Kale Parathas with the favorite things to go with it, like pickles and sour cream

I get about 8  big fat parathas with the quantities given here.


4 cups chopped lacinato kale
1 Tablespoon oil + about 1-2 Tablespoons for cooking the parathas
1 teaspoon owa (ajwain), gently pounded
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cayenne or Indian red chili powder
~ 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 handful cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 tsp sugar
2-1/2 cups atta (chappati flour)


Clean the kale leaves, remove the tough ribs, and chop the leaves very fine, or put them in a food processor and pulse a few times until they are shredded.

Heat oil in a large kadhai or wok, and add ajwain, sesame, and chopped kale. Add chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes or until the kale is wilted and starting to exude some moisture. Add the sugar and cilantro and turn off the heat.

Let the mixture cool a bit, and then add it back to the food processor with the dough blade. Add the flour, and turn the processor on, slowly adding in about 3/4 cup of water. Add more water by the teaspoon until the dough starts to come together in to a ball. You can also knead by hand if you do not want to use a food processor.

Knead in a wide pan spread with a little flour until a smooth dough is formed. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes.

Divide the dough into about 8-9 pieces and roll each out. Spread a few drops of oil on a flat skillet and cook the parathas on both sides, drizzling a little oil as needed.

  • You could use regular or lacinato kale, whichever you like or find more easily. They both work just as well in this recipe.
  • One time I tried to be lazy and did not pre-cook the kale before mixing it the flour. The parathas were still good, but just a little drier. The cooking softens the kale and draws out its moisture, so you get soft pliable parathas. If you like them crisp, use the kale raw.
  • If you prefer smaller and thinner parathas, use smaller balls of dough.

Additional Tips:

The paratha dough can be prepared about a day ahead of time, and can be frozen as well. It thaws easily and you can be ready to roll parathas effortlessly in a few hours.

Paratha dough

Do you have any favorite kale dishes? I am looking for more ideas, so please do share!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Vegetable Tortillitas

I have never been one to catch onto trends quickly. It is no surprise then that I went to my first Zumba class only a few months ago. In fact it is a surprise I went to any kind of dance class. Dancing has never been my thing, and I have always been very diffident about it. For my first class, I took a spot at the back of the room, trying to follow along rather awkwardly. As the music proceeded, I realized that I just had to let go and have fun. Spanish songs that sound like new Bollywood music? Check. Belly dancing moves, hip hop beats? Check. And that certain Korean 'style'? I was supposed to groove to that too. How embarrassing. It took me some getting used to, but I find now that if taken with the right dose of attitude, Zumba can feel like a one hour vacation for the body rather than just a workout.

What does that have to do with this post? Well, the dish I am writing about is a little bit "everything goes" like Zumba. It started off from a Mark Bittman recipe for Spanish Tortillitas, and I adapted it with some Indian flavors, giving it a healthy and vegan twist, but the end result is utterly fun and enjoyable. It makes for a fine brunch or solo light meal, and is a fantastic (and I don't use this word lightly) vehicle for many different kinds of leftovers.

Tortillita cooking on pan

The first time I made it, I had a little leftover sauteed cauliflower with garlic and spices, made using Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for Baghari Phool Gobi. I used it in place of the shrimp, and had such a satisfying lunch while working from home, that the recipe zoomed up very quickly in my repertoire of all-time-bests.

Since then, I have used sauteed cabbage, brussels sprouts, or any type of greens such as these, and they all work great. Here is just one variation in which I used brussels sprouts and panch phoran, that I have made and loved.

For about 7-8 pancakes

1 cup besan
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (see note)
1 teaspoon baking soda
salt to taste

For the filling:
1 cup finely chopped brussel sprouts
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 green chili, finely chopped
8-10 sprigs of cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 Tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon panchphoran
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)


Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a deep skillet or wok. Add the panch phoran, and as the seeds start to swim around, add the Brussels sprouts, chili, and turmeric. Saute until the vegetable is coated with the oil and spices. Add some salt, and continue to cook for a few minutes on high heat until the Brussels sprouts start to get a few light brown spots. Then turn down the heat and cook for a few more minutes. Add in the chopped shallots, and let it cool. You can make this ahead of time as well.

In the meanwhile, mix the flours, baking soda, and salt. Add about 2 cups of water, starting with 1 cup, and whisking until a thick mixture of pancake batter consistency is formed. You want it to be just thick enough so that you can pour it from a ladle.

Add in the cooled Brussels sprouts and cilantro, and stir gently with a large spoon. Heat a wide non-stick skillet or omelet pan, and spread a few drops of oil on it. Pour in about a ladleful of the batter, and spread it around gently by swirling the pan to form a pancake. Check in a couple of minutes to see if it is starting to get brown on the bottom. When the top feels set, flip with a spatula, and cook for another two or three minutes, adding a few drops of oil on the side until is crisp outside. Try to serve and eat immediately.



* You can use just all purpose flour as in the original recipe. I have tried different kinds of flours in the mix, like cornmeal, fine rawa, and atta. Feel free to experiment, keeping overall ratios about the same.

* Use a non-stick skillet. When I tried to make this on a cast iron pan, it stuck to the pan miserably!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tiramisu, and a belated bloggiversary

It has been a little over 6 years since I started blogging. So many things have changed during this time, in life and work, in the world of blogs, and in social media in general.

Back then, when I decided to start a blog, rather hesistantly, it was mainly to publish my favorite recipes; the ones that I would want to make again and again, the ones that I would want to share with family and friends. I had been documenting favorite recipes with my notes for a long time before that. However, blogging enabled so many things that an ordinary document on my computer couldn't. Adding pictures to show how the final dish looks was a good start. The ability to tag and categorize them, and view comments from others made it even more appealing. Friends were created. Like minded communities arose. For some, book deals, home businesses, and classes were spun off. Some bloggers just stopped posting, and some of them really ought to come back. Things really have changed so much since the time I started blogging, that these days, it can be sometimes difficult to tell if a blog is a labor of love or something created by an organization for profit.


On my blog, things haven't changed much. The frequency of posting went down to a lamentable average of four posts a year in the last two years. I still write about the food I cook and eat as part of my daily activities, but I have very little time now to take pictures of food. Taking pictures, uploading, and linking was taking up way more time than I had as I juggled work, commute and travel for the most part.

I started another blog to fill in the gaps and to keep track of things I tried, what worked, and  what didn't. It has become my handy reference for a lot of my cooking experiments. Some of the more successful ones should really see the light of the day and be here on the main blog with some pictures to match. Alas, my pictures haven't improved much in the last few years. If anything, I feel they have developed a "sameness" to them because of which I hesitate to publish them. Here is one example. I have been making this wonderful Tiramisu for nearly three years now. The recipe is as perfect as it gets. Other than the liqueur used, I hardly make any changes to it, because it works like a charm and never fails. It is an absolute crowd pleaser and receives raves every time I make it. Seriously, it tastes better than many a sad excuse for a Tiramisu that are served at times in restaurants. It has just the right amount of decadence, is not too sweet, and doesn't use raw eggs. However, I did not want to write about it because how do I prove it to you? I have tried, but could never take a picture that would do it justice. Most recently, I made a large batch for a potluck dinner, and before rushing out of the house, I tried to take a few pictures. The end results were just as blah as before. See for yourself.


The tiramisu itself was demolished down to a few crumbs by everyone, and that gives me great joy and satisfaction. The visual proof is lacking, but take my word for it, and try the recipe. I will upload a glamor shot if I get one some day.

The Best Tiramisu Ever
Recipe adapted from Baking Bites, a dependable resource for many dessert recipes

Serves: about 8


8-oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso, room temperature
1/4 cup Baileys original, dark rum, coffee or chocolate liqueur
approx 30-36 ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder, for finishing
a few spoonfuls of grated or shaved chocolate, optional 


In a large mixing bowl, mix mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, heavy cream and vanilla gently with a whisk or fork, and then beat the mixture at low to medium speed, increasing the speed if needed, until mixture is fluffy and very smooth.

In a small, shallow bowl, combine coffee and Baileys (or liqueur of choice). Dip each ladyfinger into the coffee mixture very quickly to let it soak up some of the liquid, a second on each side. Do not completely soak the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture. Place in the bottom of a 8×8 or 9×9-inch square glass or ceramic dish. Place the lady fingers snugly close to each other as you go. The bottom of the pan should be completely covered with the ladyfingers in a single layer. When there is a full layer of ladyfingers, spread half of the cream mixture on top of them. At this point, you can sprinkle some grated chocolate over the cream if you like.

Repeat with remaining ladyfingers and cream mixture. Dust with cocoa powder, grated chocolate, or both.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6-10 hours before serving.

Here is another lovely looking variation from the same blog, using dessert wine and raspberries.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ridge Gourd Chutney, Deconstructed

Everything I learned about "ridge gourds", I learned online. This might sound like an exaggeration, but it is very close to the truth. Ridge gourd, which is called 'doDake' or 'shiraLe' in Marathi, and 'turai' in Hindi is a vegetable that I wasn't familiar with while growing up. While it is quite commonly used in most regions of India, I don't recall eating it much, if at all, and I know for sure I never ever watched anyone cooking it either at my home or anyone else's.

Like many other vegetables that I had never tried before, I began to see loads of beautiful gourds in the Asian stalls at the local farmers market, and was tempted to try it out. I started looking for recipes to use it, and found plenty of ideas online. But I was clueless right from selecting the gourds. Are the smaller ones better or the larger? Slim better or hefty? I had to even search online for instructions on how to peel and prepare them before using in a recipe. After reading and searching about it, I felt I was finally ready to cook with it.

Turai with dumplings

The first thing I ever cooked was this 'Ridge Gourd with dumplings' sabjee, about five years ago. I used oat flour instead of jowar, and made the dumplings bite sized, about the same size that I chopped the gourds into. It was such a hit that I made it repeatedly. Soon after that, I started looking for more recipes to expand my repertoire, and tried this 'Stuffed Ridge Gourd' which was an instant hit too. I realized that I enjoyed the slightly earthy taste and texture of of this vegetable, unlike some of my other family members, because of which the vegetable must have never made an appearance in our house.

Then one day, when there wasn't enough time to make the dumplings, or the stuffing, I wanted to make some kind of a quick saute bhaaji (chop, sizzle, and stir) and that was when I deconstructed Mint's 'Ridge Gourd chutney' to make a bhaaji, and it has become a huge favorite ever since.Here it is, adapted and translated with her permission.

Turai Bhaaji


2-3 ridge gourds (depending on their size)

4 cloves of garlic
4 green chilies

1-2 Tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
a few curry leaves (optional)

3-4 tablespoons crushed peanuts
1-2 Tablespoons dried shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
about 4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro


Cut off the ends of the ridge gourds. Scrape off the bumpy ridges with a vegetable peeler. Cut each into half lengthwise, and then slice crosswise into half moons. Add the pieces to a bowl of cold water with a teaspoon of salt, for about 10-15 minutes, and drain in a colander before using.

In the meanwhile, prepare the other things. Peel the garlic. Remove the stems of the green chilies and wash them. In a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic and chilies together until they barely hold their shapes. Do not smash into a paste, but you need them to release all their flavor.

Heat the oil in a wide pan or wok. Add the mustard seeds, and when they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, curry leaves, smashed garlic and chilies, and stir for a few seconds or until the garlic starts to change color slightly.

Add the chopped ridge gourd, and saute just until coated with the seasoned oil. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionaly, until the ridge gourd is almost done. The gourds usually release a fair amount of water, so I do not cover them while cooking.

In the meanwhile, roast the coconut in a small dry skillet until it turns slightly golden brown. When it is cool enough to handle, crush it coarsely with fingers, or a rolling pin, or a pestle.

Add salt to taste, and the crushed peanuts and coconut to the vegetable in the last couple of minutes before turning the heat off, and stir everything around. Add the cilantro just before serving, and serve warm, with polis or rice and dal.

Turai Bhaaji served

Dodkyachi Bhaaji served with Polis
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