Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Carrot, Beet, and Jicama koshimbir

If I said that I have been busy for the last few months, that would be quite an understatement. The blog was started and nurtured in calmer times, but as other things took over, it fell aside. I did have things to write about at the back of my mind, but time wasn't in my favor.

A well-intentioned post for a friend's JFI event got delayed, and even my own 2nd blogiversary post couldn't be completed in time. Finally, I couldn't let the year end without one last post.

I have mentioned before that koshimbirs are a favorite of mine. These are usually dismissed as simple seasonal salads, but fortified with peanuts, and amped with seasonings, they are bright with flavor and texture.

This combination came together one evening inspired by what was bought at the farmers' market, and based on my usual recipe for carrot koshimbir. The jicama added a crisp sweetness, and the beets added color and earthiness to create a completely new favorite which was deliciously addictive, and healthy to boot. I practically finished the entire bowlful.

This can be made with only carrots and will be called gajarachi koshimbir, the Maharashtrian carrot salad. As always, all seasonings can be adjusted to taste, but my preference is to have a good balance of heat, tang, and sweetness.

Carrot, Beet, and Jicama Salad / Koshimbir

Carrot, Beet, and Jicama koshimbir


1 medium carrot
1 small beetroot (raw is fine)
1 small jicama
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
3/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

For phodni (tempering):
1 teaspoon oil
pinch of mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 green chili, slit lengthwise into 2

1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro


Grate the carrot, beet, and jicama in a medium sized bowl. Add the peanuts, chili powder, salt, and sugar.

Heat the oil in a small pan. Add the mustard seeds, and when they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, and chili. When the chili starts to change color, pour the oil over the rest of the ingredients.

Add the lemon juice and cilantro, and stir everything together to mix.

Have a healthy and happy new year!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fruit Crisp For Any Season

Around where I live, September is usually gorgeous. Lovely warm days with mild evenings, with that feeling of looking forward to fall, but cannot let go of summer. The produce follows suit, with abundance from both seasons, and like the weather, a warm fruit dessert paired with something cold also seems just right.

While eating fruit out of hand is a favorite dessert, every so often one deserves a little something more. With the best fruits of the season and a few ingredients that are always at home, a Fruit Crisp, based on this recipe, can become a sweet antidote for me after a stressful work-week. I have the recipe of the crisp topping posted on the fridge door, and I just mix everything by hand, so it takes only minutes to put it together. The fruit filling does not need a recipe. After trying out various combinations, I have come to the conclusion that one can use almost any fruit, and come up with many winners. You can bake it in a large dish or in individual bowls, but the latter makes it seem more special.

Earlier in summer, when stone fruits were at their prime, I made a crisp with white and yellow peaches and a splash of amaretto, and then once with nectarines and blueberries. Both were outstanding. Recently, I made it with apple and banana, flavored with cardamom instead of vanilla, and nothing else, which was pure comfort in a bowl.

Fruit Crisp: just out of the oven

Fruit Crisp: still bubbling, right out of the oven

Fruit Crisp

This makes 2 generous servings, and can be very easily multiplied


For the filling:

About 1-1/2 cups of chopped fruit of choice, alone or in combination
1-2 Tablespoon of raisins or cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, or finely powdered cardamom, or a splash of liqueur that goes with the fruit of choice
a dash of lemon zest or orange zest (optional)
1/2 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

For the topping:

2-1/2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-1/2 Tablespoons rolled oats (regular or unflavored quick cooking)
1-1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1-1/2 Tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
small pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the fruit, peeling and chopping as necessary into bite size pieces. Mix the fruit with the rest of the ingredients.

Place the mixture in a baking dish, or distribute it in 2 ramekins of 3/4 cup capacity.

For the topping:

Combine the flour, oats, sugars, salt, and cold butter in a small bowl, and using a fork or fingers, mix everything until the mixture is in large crumbles. For larger quantities, you could use an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Let it sit for a few minutes. Serve warm. Increase baking time slightly for increased quantities.

Fruit Crisp: with vanilla bean ice cream

Warm fruit crisp with a dollop of vanilla bean ice-cream. Near bliss.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Many greens, one formula

I was reading an article in a food magazine about a southern California food stylist who hosts the most perfect parties by her mansion poolside overlooking some of the most precious vistas. If you are wondering about my reading habits, let me explain that I was in need of a break from my other, ahem, more intellectual pursuits. To continue, her cooking style was emphasized by approximations and lack of precise recipes. I am supposed to find this charming. I do, but then, that is how most of the people I know cook, and so did the generations of people before me, even when cooking for a large number of people, so it isn't exactly ground breaking either.

Most of my everyday cooking would fall into this style - simple sabjees, dals, pastas, stir fries and salads. Even for the ones that do have a certain recipe behind it, the quantities are rarely measured, and yet they work just fine. The fallout of this for me is that there are so many posts languishing in the drafts because I don't have the exact (or good enough) measurements on them to write it up on the blog.

Greens: beet leaves, rainbow chard, radish greens, red chard
Top L-R: Beet Greens, Rainbow Chard
Bottom L-R: Icicle Radish Greens, Red Chard

One such is my favorite way to cook many greens, particularly chards, beet greens, and radish greens. A simple tadka, lots of onion, and a few spices is all it takes for the greens to shine through. Very easy and quick, it makes for a nutritious and delicious accompaniment to polis, or rice and dal, or can be a part of an array of other dishes. It has now become my touchstone combination when I find a new type of leafy green and I am not sure how to cook it or how it is supposed to taste. There is no need for much precision here, so here is the recipe, with a few approximations.

Greens: Cooked red chard

Chard chi bhaji


1 bunch of any type of chard (red, green, swiss, rainbow), about 6 cups when chopped
1 large red onion
2-3 Tablespoons of oil
1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds
a big pinch of good asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste
1 teaspoon red chili powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon coriander powder


Wash and clean the chard. Remove the tough stems and finely chop the leaves.

Onion: thinly slicedCut off the top and root end of the onion. Slice it through vertically, then slice it thinly crosswise. If the onion has a large diameter, cut the slices in half.

Heat the oil in a kadhai or wok. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida and turmeric, add the onion, and saute it on medium heat till it starts to soften. Add the chopped chard leaves. Add a little salt and red chili powder, and toss everything together till the leaves begin to wilt. Lower the heat, add the remaining spices, and cook the leaves through for another minute or two. Add a little more salt at the end.

A new favorite for Red Chard

After years of applying the same formula, change is good. Very very good in this case, and it comes from talented blogger Mints, who writes a lovely blog in Marathi. Her recipe for red chard is so delicious, that it has become my new favorite and I find myself turning to it a lot more than my onion-walla standard.

With this post, I also thank her for the awards that she has passed on to me. Right back at you, Mints.

With her permission, here is her recipe, as adapted by me.

Greens: Chard with garlic and green chilies

Lal Chard chi lasun mirchi chi bhaji

1 bunch of red chard leaves
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 green chilies
1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
salt to taste

Wash and clean the chard. Remove the tough stems and finely chop the leaves. Peel the garlic, and remove the stems of the green chilies. Smash the garlic and the green chilies until they are flattened.

Heat the oil in a kadhai or wok. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric and cumin seeds. Add the garlic and green chilies, followed by the chopped chard leaves. Add a little salt and toss everything together till the leaves begin to wilt. Lower the heat, and cook the leaves through for another minute or two. Add a little more salt at the end.


  • The smashed garlic and chilies add a wonderful touch to this dish, so make sure you don't chop or mince them, and use them as described. This action is called 'ThechNe' in marathi.
  • If you don't have green chilies on hand, try it with dried red chilies for an equally delicious variation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Squash Blossoms and Basil Pakoras

One underwhelmed, and the other was a joyous discovery

Squash Blossoms

I don't always buy ingredients because I need to. Sometimes I buy something because I have seen it around for so long that my interest in it has been intrigued, sometimes because it is a hot trendy favorite, and sometimes because it looks too darned pretty to ignore.

With squash blossoms it was all of the above, and I had to finally give in and try them out at least once, so I bought a box without any specific ideas or recipes in mind. As I had known, I found that the most popular way to consume these was to stuff them with cheese and fry them in a flour batter. Naturally, I wanted to put an Indian twist on it, and also skip the cheese.

I made a loose batter with besan, water, salt, pinch of chili powder, and a pinch of ajwain (owa seeds). I intentionally kept the batter neither too thick nor too spicy so that I could discern the flavor and taste of the flowers. Dipped each flower gently into the batter, shook off the excess and deep fried in oil.

After the entire batch of flowers had been fried up, I had a little more batter left so I dipped in some large basil leaves that had been bought on the same day and were very fresh and firm, and fried those too. These little critters were a surprising joy to behold, as they turned into crisp and crackling morsels in the batter.

Squash Blossom Fritters / Pakoras / Bhajias

There is not much to complain about deep fried anything most of the time, but I was not too taken by the flowers this time, although I loved the batter fried basil! Still, I thought I would post this. For those fascinated by the idea of eating flowers, or for those who like squash blossoms otherwise, this might help. Plus, it is just so right to send to Rachna for JFI: Flower Power as well as to Rushina for her Pakora Contest.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beet and Carrot Salad with Infinite Possibilities

Lately, I have been feeling very inspired to eat more raw foods, not because of the trendy raw foods diet which seems to have gotten increasingly popular over the last few years, but because of one of my recent guests, who has barely turned five. The little charmer has visited a few times over the last couple of years and is getting curiously more interested in food for her age. She wants to snap green beans without me asking her to, she opens the fridge to decide which vegetables should go into the pasta of the day, and asks for the honors of pressing the buttons on the blender. All that is fine, but when she asks me to make her a salad to go with the meal I shudder with a mild pleasant shock. The bigger shock is when she insists on checking every vegetable raw. "Broccoli tastes better when it is cooked than raw", she says conclusively as she chomps on a floret happily.

While I like salads in general, and there are many vegetables and fruits that I would happily eat in their raw state, there are also many others that I would rather have cooked. Beets, for example. As far back as I can remember, I have never disliked beets. Boiled beets, shredded, and served dressed as a koshimbir (a maharashtrian side salad, delicious but underrated) was a huge favorite and still is. When I was still young enough to be in middle school, an older cousin introduced me to lightly cooked beets - she would boil them for a few minutes, then peel them, slice into sticks, add some salt and pepper and have it as a crunchy snack. Later, a friend introduced roasted beets as a technique that preserves the nutrients more than boiling. All good. So naturally, when I read about this raw beets and carrot salad, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. The gorgeous picture with shades of red presented on black helped to add to the allure.

Chioggia Beets, shredded
Shredded Chioggia Beets

Fortunately for me, beets are available here nearly all year around, in different colors and sizes, and with lots of greens attached to it. [I use the greens and stems too, but that is for another post.] When I was ready to make this raw beets salad I had chioggia beets in the fridge, which are usually pink in color outside, and when sliced crosswise, they reveal beautiful concentric circles of pink and white. Otherwise they are almost like regular beets. Right after I peeled and shredded one I had to check out how it tastes, raw, so I tentatively pinched a few strands and ate them. It was great! I added one shredded carrot, a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of orange juice, some chopped walnuts, salt and pepper and then let it sit for about half an hour. Refreshingly delicious. The earthiness of the beets and sweetness of carrots pairs together to create a combination that amazes with its simplicity. Less is more, indeed.

After tasting this salad I can relate to how this could have been Clotilde's go-to salad for several months. One can make infinite variations on it so it doesn't even have to get boring and taste the same every time. This salad is also wonderful in a sandwich made out of whole wheat pita bread or any other hearty bread, with a load of freshly made hummus. So far I have not tried adding either oil or garlic, both of which are in the original recipe, but here are some add-ins I have tried, with beets, carrots, salt, and a touch of something acidic being the constants.

* pinch of red Indian chili powder instead of black pepper
* chopped cilantro
* grated ginger
* chopped pistachios
* raita style, with yogurt and pinch of cumin powder and red chili powder.

All of these have been just as good, and I am sure I will continue to explore many more.

Carrots, Beet, and Walnut salad

Beets, carrots, a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of orange juice, chopped walnuts, salt and pepper.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pluot Jam puts summer in a jar

Last year's strawberry jam was a tremendous success, and it helped me put into practice two things I had always known, or suspected anyway, in theory - that making jam at home is not difficult, and that jam made at home can taste vastly superior to that bought in a store.

Ever since the local strawberries started appearing in the markets in spring this year, I had been on the lookout for finding the ones that were just perfect to make a new batch of jam, but without much luck. They were ok enough to eat out of hand, but falling short of last year's loot. While I kept saying 'meh' to the ones I tasted, stone fruits started rolling in, in the last few weeks, and as I made a mental note that the pluots seemed really good this time around, I had a why-didn't-I think-of-this-before moment. It struck me that rather than wait for good strawberries to make jam I could turn some of these excellent, sweet as candy pluots into jam!

Pluots: hybrids of plums and apricots

Once the idea was established, I started looking for dependable pluot jam recipes that did not use commercial pectin, and found nearly none. I am guessing it could be because even though pluots have been around and easily available for several years now, there are many people who are not familiar with it. Neither does the Webster dictionary define it yet, nor does the blogger spell checker recognize the word!

Pluots are a complex cross hybrid between a plum and an apricot, and can run the gamut from the more 'plumy' ones to the more 'apricoty' ones in taste, color, and texture. Why not 'aprium' then, you might ask. Well, that exists too, depending on the percentages of the two fruits in the resulting hybrid. The fruits I chose were primarily based on taste, but their gorgeous pink color (don't have a picture of the sliced fruit) added to the charm too.

With the lack of recipes, I went completely on my own, but with fruit, sugar, a little acid, and some common sense, I managed quite well. The result is the perfect example of the fact that if you start with good fruits, you can make some great jam.

Pluot Jam

Pluot Jam


2 lb pluots (about 12-14)
1.5 cups sugar (or a little less)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice


Place three small plates in a freezer. On a flat surface near the cooking stove lay out a clean dish towel.

Bring a large wide pot of water to boil. Add in the pluots gently, and after 1 minute, take them out with a slotted spoon, and place on the dish towel. When they are cool to touch, peel them, and place the peeled pluots in a non-reactive bowl.

Remove the pits. Chop or gently mash all the fruits. Add the sugar and leave this for about half an hour, so that the sugar dissolves in the resulting juice.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, cook the pluots, sugar, and lemon juice together.

Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Stir often, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F (105 degrees C), reducing the heat only slightly if it sticks to the bottom.

After about 10 minutes of boiling, place a spoonful of the jam onto one of the cold plates. Return to freezer for a minute. Run your finger through the jam on the plate. If it doesn't try to run back together (if you can make a line through it with your finger) it's ready. If not, repeat after a few minutes with another cold plate.

Let it cool a little, and then transfer to hot sterile jars. Refrigerate after it has completely cooled.


Even though I have not tested it, I think regular plums could be used just as well this way to make plum jam.

Serving Suggestion

A slice of whole grain bread, pluot jam, and a mild Havarti cheese has been the current choice for a small snack. The jam also makes a perfect addition to the breakfast table, and goes to WBB: Summer.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Were the brownies outrageous enough?

Two Sweet Reviews

One of the things I find hard to resist is a good brownie. Full of decadent, buttery, chocolate-y goodness, I usually save these for an occasional indulgence, and buy them by the piece, because even though they are fairly easy to make, there are not enough occasions to justify baking a pan full of them. I have a really long list of brownie recipes I would like to try, and I know a good brownie when I eat one, but how am I supposed to tell by just looking at the recipe? All those glamor shots that sometimes accompany them don't help either.

Outrageous Brownies

Not long ago, I mentioned having over a boatload of guests, with varied tastes, and thankfully a few of them were dessert people, so I ruffled through my list to see which one I should try first, and what a difficult decision it was. I settled on Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies after reading high praise on the user reviews. I followed everything exactly, and they baked up beautifully. Great texture, and pretty good taste. The overall impression however was that the coffee flavor was too strong. The coffee is supposed to boost the chocolate flavor, not overtake it. It is quite possible that the particular coffee I used was too strong, but these brownies tasted good only on the first day and didn't quite hold that well by the next day, which can be a big plus if one is making a tonne of them. And they also didn't do well after freezing (and thawing). Ultimately, this is not the 'it' brownie recipe for me, and I am more likely to try some others in pursuit of the perfect one.

All is not lost in this post though. Here is a plug for a superb Mini Chocolate Cupcakes recipe from Nicole, a prolific blogger and baker. It took me all of 10 minutes to make the batter, and that included opening cupboards, jars, bottles, and sundry containers of ingredients. I needed a tad more milk than specified to get the batter to come together, but a taste of the batter promised great things to come, and these did not disappoint. I have never eaten chocolate cupcakes before. I am not kidding, I have never had an occasion to sample chocolate cupcakes, but these were incredible. I didn't even make the frosting, as I didn't have all the things on hand. I thought of drizzling some ganache over them, but they were mighty good as is. Moist, delicious, easy, eggless, and possibly easy to convert to a vegan version if needed. I can't wait to try them out again. There was a small catch, and even though it didn't matter, I thought I should mention that while I made half the recipe, it was just enough for only 12 mini-muffins. At first I thought I had filled the cups too much, but the cupcakes seem to have risen almost as much as they have in Nicole's pictures.

Mini chocolate cupcakes

Noting down the recipe for future reference.

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 12

3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
big pinch of salt
3/8 cup milk, or a little more if needed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 mini muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa power, instant coffee powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined and no streaks of flour remain.

Distribute batter evenly into prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4th full.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Pohe with Summer Corn

'Long time no pohe', was the refrain heard around here a few times. I knew it was true, and there was no excuse for it to be true either. Making pohe is simple, it tastes good, and it makes for a light and delicious breakfast or snack any time of the year, but not being too high in my list of favorites, it sometimes takes a backseat in the kitchen. I enjoy it every once in a while, and that is about it. While I am open minded (really!) about most things and don't mind trying all kinds of variations when I am cooking, I am rather finicky about the way I like my pohe. First of all, I like it to be well balanced in terms of the spice, tartness, saltiness and sweetness. The under-seasoned bland version isn't for me. For reasons unknown, I also don't like cumin seeds in pohe, and I much rather prefer red Indian chili powder to green chilies. What a whine, eh! I won't complain if someone made it some other way and gave it to me on a platter, but you get my point.

Growing up, pohe was a weekend ritual of sorts, and over the years, adding some kind of vegetable also became the norm. Usually peas, when they were in season, sometimes carrots or potatoes, but coming full circle, I now prefer pohe with onions, and without any other vegetables, which is called as 'kande pohe', in marathi, and only occasionally the potato version, or 'batate pohe'. Having said that, this time I added some succulent early summer corn, and it was great.

A combination that was possibly peculiar to our household was that of serving roasted papads alongside. Haven't heard of it? Outside of our family, neither have I, but there have been many converts to this combination, after having eaten it at our place. The papad of choice at home was usually poha papad (pohyAche pApaD), and the crispness of papads went perfectly well with the soft and chewy pohe. This is a tradition I have carried over, but have to make do with whatever papad is available on hand. Other things that were served alongside were grated coconut, chopped cilantro, and a small bowl of tamarind juice, for those who wanted to add some tartness to their pohe, and I suspect some of these too were somewhat non standard.

In Marathi, poha is singular, and would mean just one flake, and pohe is the plural, but I have always seen bags of it in Indian grocery stores labeled as 'poha'. So that is what you would look out for, in case you are unfamiliar with these rice flakes. For this particular recipe, I prefer to use 'extra thick' pohe, as sometimes even the ones labeled as 'thick' are not thick enough. 'Medium' or 'thin' pohe are not used here, they have other uses.

Kande Pohe with Corn

Serves 2-3 for a light breakfast

2 cups extra thick or thick pohe
1/2 of a medium onion
1 corn on the cob, optional
2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
big pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
5-10 curry leaves
1 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3-4 Tablespoons grated fresh coconut, plus more to serve
1/4th of a lemon or lime, or 2-3 Tablespoons tamarind juice plus more to serve
3-4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Place the pohe in a fine meshed sieve, and run it through tepid water until completely wet. Place it over a bowl, with a lid on so that it stays moist and plumps up, for 15 minutes to half an hour.

In the meanwhile, slice the onion thinly cross-wise, then chop it further to make small and thin slices. With a sharp knife, remove the corn kernels from the cob.

When ready to start cooking, loosen the flakes of pohe with fingers so that they are separate and there are no clumps.

Heat the oil in a large pan, and add the mustard seeds to it. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, curry leaves, onion and corn. Saute together for a few minutes until the onion has softened. Add the pohe, chili powder, salt, and sugar. Reduce the heat, and stir everything together until the pohe are coated with the spices. Add the coconut, place a lid on the pan, and turn the heat off. If using tamarind juice, add it at this point. Let it sit for a few minutes and steam the pohe with the residual heat, then add the lemon juice, and cilantro.

Serve with additional coconut, cilantro, lemon, tamarind juice, and roasted papads.


This is my much delayed entry to this month's special Click: Yellow for Bri. Hop over to read why it is special.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quinoa Salad with Mediterranean flavors

Even though I started cooking with Quinoa not too long ago, I have managed to use it in several ways since then with enjoyable results each time. It is very easy to creatively substitute it in place of rice, rawa or couscous. Like in this particular salad which I used to make with couscous before, but now I find that Quinoa works just as well too, and provides an added protein bonus.

Since summer is officially here, and the weather has so far been very summer like, there are more dinners on the patio than in the dining room now, and the wish to spend more time outside than in the kitchen. Main dish salads that focus on seasonal produce fit the bill perfectly for such occasions, and this is one that I happen to like a lot. The quinoa can also be cooked ahead of time, which means that tossing everything together takes only a few minutes. If not, the quinoa can be cooked and cooled in the time it takes to prep the other things.

Quinoa Salad with Mediterranean Flavors: layered before tossing
Before everything is tossed together.

Ingredient Notes

The grain - Quinoa can be substituted here with regular or whole wheat couscous, bulgar, or cracked wheat, or even small shaped pasta, each cooked according to its needs. Israeli couscous is wonderful in this salad. In fact, I also make a very similar salad which uses mixed greens instead of grains, but if one uses grains, it needs much less oil in the dressing.

Feta - Unlike the imposter I bought some time ago, I used Valbreso Sheep's Milk Feta this time, which is quite deliciously creamy and salty and adds a wonderful dimension to the salad. It does not however keep for more than 2 or 3 days once the packet is opened, unless you keep it in a simple brine made with water and salt. Leave the cheese out or use a vegan cheese for a vegan version of the salad.

Olives - I used some picholines and oil cured provencal olives for a combination of tart and slightly bitter tastes.

Other add-ins and changes - Like most salads, this one is also quite free form, and one can add or leave out any ingredients one likes, but this particular combination is a favorite because everything works together harmoniously, and since I like to keep track of my favorites on the blog, this makes it here.

Quinoa Salad with Mediterranean flavors

Serves: 3-6 people, depending on whether it is eaten as a main or side dish, and what else is being served alongside.


1 cup quinoa
1/2 teaspoon salt

about a cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, or one diced tomato
1 small cucumber
15-20 olives
1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup cubed feta cheese
a few slivers of sliced red onion

about a tablespoon of lemon juice
a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
a Tablespoon of chopped leafy herbs of choice


Rinse the quinoa in a fine-meshed sieve and let drain. Bring 2-1/2 cups of water to boil, add the salt, and the quinoa. Turn the heat to medium, place a lid on the pan, and cook for about 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it sit for another 5-10 minutes, and then let it cool down to room temperature.

In the meanwhile, peel, seed, and chop the cucumber. Pit and halve the olives. Slice the onion. Cube the feta cheese.

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper.

Fluff the quinoa, and spread it out in a large wide bowl. Add half of the dressing, and toss with quinoa. Add the rest of the ingredients and remaining dressing, and toss just once or twice. Add the herbs on top, if using.

Quinoa Salad with Mediterranean Flavors: tossed together

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cranberry Orange Bread

For the last few weeks I have been having house guests off and on, and while it has been a lot of fun, having many people at home is also quite an exercise in coordination.

The differences start early in the day and continue on till next day. There are early risers and late risers, coffee drinkers, tea drinkers, bournvita drinkers, and lactose intolerant soymilk drinkers. Cereal eaters, toast eaters, egg eaters, rice eaters, roti eaters, spice haters, spice needers, short nappers, long nappers, non nappers, slow walkers, fast walkers, early sleepers, late sleepers, and so on it goes. They are all excused though, they are family.

Cranberry Orange Bread/Cake: loaf

The gang was supposed to arrive in the late afternoon, too late for lunch and too early for dinner. So I baked this cranberry orange bread earlier in the day so they could have it as a quick snack. I skipped the glaze, since there is enough sugar in it already, and also because there were children in the party. This is yet another of those 'is this a bread or cake' conundrums, but whatever you call it, it is a moist, sweet, slice-able, delicious loaf that is easy to make, and disappears almost as soon as it is put out for consumption. Yes, it is darned rich too, which is why I usually bake it when sharing it with several other people.

Here is the recipe, nearly verbatim, but halved for one loaf.

Cranberry Orange Bread (with Grand Marnier Glaze)


3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for buttering pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups dried cranberries

For the glaze, if making

1 cup powdered (confectioner's) sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur


1. Preheat oven to 330°. Butter a 6-cup-capacity loaf pan.

2. With an electric or standing mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add orange juice, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla; mix until blended.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture and cranberries to wet ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are absorbed; do not overmix.

4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of bread comes out clean.

5. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove and transfer to a cooling rack set over a large baking sheet.

6. For the optional glaze: in a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar and 3 tablespoon Grand Marnier. Glaze should have consistency of thick maple syrup or corn syrup. If it is too thick, thin with an additional liqueur by the teaspoon.

With a thin skewer or long toothpick, poke deep holes in the top of the loaf. Drizzle with Grand Marnier glaze so that it coats the top, runs down the sides, and seeps through the holes.

7. Let the loaf cool completely before slicing.

Cranberry Orange Bread/Cake: sliced

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Lazy Judge

I mean, the busy judge

When the jugalbandits invite you over to be a judge at their prestigious food photography event called 'Click', you can proudly get the feeling of having truly arrived. Whether that is on the scene of blogging or photography. However, in the company of some really amazing photographers, all I felt was humbled. I cannot even hold a candle to these greats.

Now, from what I have seen around 'Click', there is a tradition of 'Judges' Entries', and these usually play tough with some of the best entries in the ring. Well folks, it is time for an exception. As you can see, my photo cannot be particularly held to those standards. As it never rains but pours, I had been swamped with things to do for most of the month of May, and I am using a picture which I had taken a while back.

Sauteed Matki/Moth Sprouts
Crunchy sauteed sprouted matki beans

My entry is called 'crunchy sauteed sprouted matki beans', for lack of a better title. This is a little different from the usual 'usaL', and was made regularly at home as a simple side dish and it is quite wonderful on its own as a healthy snack too. You can do this with either matki (also called moth) or moong sprouts, and it is as flexible as it gets. I use about 2 tablespoons onion for 1 cup sprouts, but the onion is optional. One can also add a few curry leaves in the oil.

In a little oil, add a pinch of mustard seeds and turmeric, and saute a little thinly sliced onion until it starts to soften and change color. Add the sprouts, and let these cook on a high heat for a few minutes until they are crunchy and cooked. Stir only occasionally, and add a few drops of water if they start to stick to the pan. Add salt to taste, and a little chili powder. You can also add a masala of your choice. A current favorite is 'usal masala' that is a little redolent of the East Indian bottle masala. Since it is has red chilies added to it, I skip the red chili powder when using it.

Look forward to all your entries for 'Click: Beans and Lentils'.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Arriving in the Arusuvai fashionably late

with DALimbyAchA masAle bhAt

The arusuvai link came to me from thecooker, a blogger whose posts always seem to be about just the kind of healthy and innovative, but playful and fuss free food that I like to eat. Naturally I was looking forward to what I would receive, and the contents of the package did not disappoint even one bit.

First, the obligatory photo of the goodies that arrived, taken in a hurry, left largely un-arranged. A nearly half gobbled date cake (no, it didn't come that way, it came whole), baked by the cooker, which was utterly delicious, a very pretty desi trinket, and of course the star, the masala in a packet.

Arusuvai Packet

The cooker kept things easy for me - no guessing games. She told me that the masala was called 'kaccha masala' (raw spices powder) that she had made using the recipe from the marathi cookbook 'Ruchira'. Now all this was well over two month ago. Umm, something like that. In the meanwhile, a gentle reminder came from her after what she must have thought a reasonable amount of time had passed, to check on whether I plan to post about it, and last week, she herself posted about the masala too. I had told her that the reason I hadn't blogged about it was because the thing I wanted to make required much planning and I wasn't getting around to that, which only piqued her curiosity further.

Since she had given me the details, I had looked up Ruchira, which mentioned that the 'kaccha masala' is particularly good in dishes like khichadi, masale bhaat and rassa. I got (somewhat unrealistically) ambitious, and instead of the usual masaale bhaat which is made with any one vegetable like eggplant or tondli, I thought of making the birde bhaat, also called DALimbyAchA bhAt, made with sprouted and peeled kadwe vaal, which I might have made possibly once before, and is quite a delicacy to savor. Making the rice isn't particularly daunting, but the prospect of spending an hour just peeling the beans was what was preventing me from taking any action.

Finally, I bit the bullet and soaked the beans. There was no option for looking back after that. Within about two days the beans had sprouted and were ready to be peeled. With the Obama-Clinton drama unfolding in the background, I spent a couple of hours, peeling these. Yes, it does take quite that long, and even longer with my unskilled fingers, hence my earlier procrastination which I had to get over.

Once the beans are peeled, and with the masala on hand, making the rice is as simple as, well, making rice. I adapted the recipe for 'dalimbyacha bhaat' from Ruchira, but since I was using 'kaccha masala', I added it to the oil first, letting the spices saute a bit before adding the rice. As I made the rice, the aroma that wafted was unmistakably that of a maharashtrian wedding hall, as described rather well by the cooker in her post. And since the masale bhaat is such a fixture at weddings and other occasions, that it is the highest compliment that can be paid to the masala. This masala is definitely a great one to use for getting just the 'right' taste of masale bhaat.

The arusuvai now travels over to Manisha of Indian Food Rocks.

From Val to Masaale Bhaat

Top L-R: dried beans, sprouted beans
Bottom L-R: peeled beans, finished rice dish

Dalimbyacha bhaat

Serve this rice as part of any festive meal, or by itself for a treat.


1 cup basmati rice
1 cup sprouted and peeled kadwe vaal / Dalimbyaa / surti vaal
3-4 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/2-3/4 teaspoon turmeric
a few curry leaves
2 teaspoons kaccha masala
1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder
salt to taste
handful of cashews
1 Tablespoon crumbled jaggery
1/2 cup of coconut (or adjust to taste)
5-8 Tablespoons of chopped cilantro
ghee for serving


Heat the oil in a wide and deep saucepan or dutch oven. Add the mustard seeds, and when they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, curry leaves, and the kaccha masala. Reduce heat, stir for a few seconds, and add the rice and the sprouted vaal. Stir everything together for about a minute, add 3-4 cups of water, and bring it to a boil. Add salt and chili powder, reduce the heat, and let cook until just a little water remains. At this point, add the jaggery, and stir once. Reduce the heat to very low, and cover the pan for 10-15, until the rice absorbs all the water. In the meanwhile, heat a teaspoon of oil in a small skillet and saute a handful of cashews in it until they turn golden brown. Add the cashews, coconut, and cilantro to the rice, reserving a little for garnishing. Drizzle a little ghee over the rice while serving.

Dalimbyacha Bhaat/Birdyacha Bhaat


Instead of using sprouted and peeled vaal, one can use the skinned and split dried val, by soaking it for a few hours before use. The flavor and texture is not quite the same as the sprouted ones, but comes close.

Instead of using beans, one can also use a chopped vegetable like eggplant or tondli, or shelled green peas, for an equally delicious and much less labor intensive rice dish.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Making Basundi, Mango Rabdi, and Glamming it up

The main premise and method for making baasundi might sound innocently simple, but those who have seen how it gets made or tried making it would be well aware of the fallacy. Instructions could just read something like reduce milk till it thickens, add sugar to taste, some cardamom, saffron, nutmeg (the classic kesar-elaichi-jaiphal trio) for flavor, and chopped nuts for garnishing, and while that is not at all difficult to achieve, it could become quite a trying experience.

Basundi: Maharashtrian dessertFor me, the reason to make some basundi recently was most ho-hum - the expiration date on a jug of whole milk was drawing close. Well, I think the printed date is the sell-by date and not the use-by date, but I am usually done with the milk in the jug by whichever date is printed on it, and have never had to test it out. If it is not used up in tea, cereal and other things, then I make paneer (rarely), some kind of kheer (sometimes), or set it to make yogurt (mostly).

This time, I had enough milk leftover to make basundi, and it had been a long time since I made it. This year for me, if anything, has been about minimizing the number of ingredients and maximizing flavors, and this fits right into that theme too. I started by heating the milk in a stainless steel saucepan, and when it came to a boil, I reduced the heat until the milk was at a constant simmer. Since I was doing other things around the house, I managed to stir it a little every ten to fifteen minutes, and kept doing this for about two hours, until the milk had thickened up considerably, and turned to a lovely light beige color. The result was more than satisfactory.

Basundi: Some like it with nuts, others like it plain

Basundi, Thickened Milk

Yields about 1 cup


This has so few ingredients that the taste of each one of them comes through, including the sugar. I like the taste of Indian sugar in this. Do use it if you have it.

Charoli is the more commonly used nut in Maharashtrian basundi.

The traditional way of using the nutmeg is by creating a nutmeg paste by rubbing the nutmeg in circular movements with a little water, on a round stone board. Here I have used freshly grated nutmeg.


4 cups whole milk
4-6 Tablespoons sugar
1 green cardamom pod
5-6 strands of saffron
a dash of grated nutmeg
chopped nuts like pistachios, almonds, or charoli, optional


Bring the milk to a boil, then reduce the heat until it simmers and thickens up considerably, at least to a fourth of its original volume. This could take around two hours, depending on the heat source, size and thickness of pan, and amount of milk. Stir occasionally to make sure the milk does not scorch.

Add sugar to taste, starting with a smaller amount first. Peel the cardamom pod and powder the seeds with a mortar and pestle. Add the powder, grated nutmeg, and strands of crumbled saffron, and finally, chopped nuts. Basundi can be served warm, at room temperature or cold, depending on the type of meal and personal preferences.

The picture below shows the resulting thickness of the basundi I made. After being chilled in the fridge it thickened up further.

Basundi: Upclose

Adding Mango

Now, can a dessert like this be bettered or outdone? Well yes it can, by pairing it with a fabulous Alphonso mango. A long time ago I had read of a mithai store in Benares which served a seasonal sweet made of rabdi, saffron, and ripe mangoes, mixed together and served topped with chopped almonds, pistachios and a silver leaf. Even though I had never tasted anything like that, the description sounded nothing short of divine and was etched in my mind very firmly. So, here I was, with near-rabdi in the fridge, and a pretty good mango on hand, and the only thing I could think of was combining the two. I had for some reason set really high expectations for it, and was worried that the actual result might fall short of that, but it didn't. It was truly as amazing as I had imagined it to be.

In the first batch I pureed the mango in a food processor, but the end result got a little close to milk shake, so the next time I used a fork to mash up the mangoes, and that was definitely better in terms of texture. I used the flesh of one small mango for 1/2 cup of cold rabdi, then topped it with a tiny edible silver leaf and chopped pistachios.

Mango Rabdi: Dessert

Mango rabdi, dolled up in petite glasses, sashays down the red carpet for Meeta's Monthy Mingle.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Roasted Asparagus and Baby Potatoes

A post waiting since early spring, but better late than never

When nature provides most of the flavor, all you need at the most is a little salt and pepper, and a perfect example of that is asparagus in springtime. A drizzle of olive oil clinches it further. Asparagus can be cooked in many different ways like lightly blanched, steamed, or sauteed, but my favorite method is roasting. And while roasted asparagus is wonderful on its own, there is something even better about pairing it with small or new potatoes.

Asparagus: straight from the market

Seriously good eating with a minimalist approach, this is one of my favorite things to make right after I return from the farmers market on weekends in spring for a meal that doesn't require too much effort.

I start the potatoes first because they take longer to cook, and while I put away the purchases and trim the asparagus to remove the lower woody end, it is usually about time to send those in to the oven for their sojourn. Once those are in, I start working on the rest of the meal. That could be soft scrambled or poached eggs with toast, or capellini, which cooks pretty quickly, tossed with some pesto and grated parmesan. The latter is especially wonderful in early summer, when basil starts to come along and we are not yet spring-ed out on asparagus. Sometimes, just soft polenta works beautifully too. So many easy combinations, none of which demand much precision.

Asparagus and new potatoes: roasted

I realized after viewing the pictures that the plate should have been flipped since the light was coming in from the left, which would have highlighted the asparagus and the potatoes would have reflected less light. Always learning.

Roasted New Potatoes, Asparagus


new potatoes
a bunch of asparagus
coarse salt
black pepper, coarsely ground from the peppermill
a couple of tablespoons of olive oil


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If you are making a larger batch, then up it to 400 degrees.

Wash and clean the potatoes. If the potatoes are tiny, use them whole. If slightly larger, then halved, and if even larger, then quartered. You get the point. Rub them with olive oil, season with coarse salt and pepper, and place them skin side down on one side of a roasting pan or baking sheet.

After 20-25 minutes, repeat the oil, salt, and pepper for the asparagus, add them next to the potatoes, and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the asparagus. For the ultra slim variety 10 minutes is enough. Roll them around once mid-way. Keep an eye on the roasting pan and adjust baking time accordingly. Ideally, but not necessarily, the potatoes and asparagus would be ready at the same time.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stock up on dental floss

Alphonso/Haapoos: Finally in the US

The Alphonsos, also called Haapoos, are here for real this year. Not a patch on what we had back in the days in India, but some consolation. Enough said.

Click: Au Naturel

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Come say 'Hello'

At a different kind of milestone

A few months ago, I completed a year of my blog, and many of you wished me then. However, there is another day that is also very important to me, and that is the day when the blog really became public, because Manisha announced and endorsed it on her very popular blog. Until then, I was writing in my own little corner. A few friends who knew about it perhaps read it, but after that day, I was out there for the world to see. I got new readers, some of whom stop by regularly, made some new friends, and found out about many fascinating blogs, but I also suspect that there are some people who might be reading along, but have stayed silent so far for whatever reason. I do that too. So, on this day, I offer you the chance to delurk. Treat this as an open house, and come stop by. If you prefer to stay anonymous, tell me something about yourself. Or not, of course.

Since the post that Manisha linked to was a take on sabudana khichadi, I thought it was only fitting that this post should be about the classic, authentic sabudana khichadi, the real deal. It is truly one of my favorites, but the main thing about getting it right is the quality of sabudana, and how much water it absorbs. I even had one batch that practically turned to powder the minute I added water to it. Ever since, I have been mostly getting sabudana from our regular grocer in India, for the last few years. It sounds like a stretch, but then, on an average, I make sabudana khichadi only a few times in a year, and I want it be as perfect as it can be.

To test the quality, wash about a teaspoon of sabudana, and let it soak in a very small bowl, with just enough water for it to absorb. Cover, and let it sit for a few hours. Then separate the grains and press one of them gently to check. It should be soft and swollen, there should be no leftover water, and minimal powdery stuff. If not, you can use the batch to make sabudana wadas, thalipeeth, kheer, dahi sabudana, or something like that, which can be a lot more forgiving. With these parameters at hand, go ahead and soak a larger batch. Rinse the grains once, and then add just enough water to cover the grains, and not any more.

Sabudana Khichadi

Sabudana Khichadi


1 cup sabudana, soaked for several hours (or overnight) in minimal amount of water
1/2 cup of peanuts, coarsely powdered in a food processor
2 Tablespoons of grated coconut (optional)
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2-3 Tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
2-4 small green chilies
1 small boiled potato (optional)
4 stalks of cilantro, finely chopped (optional)


In a wide bowl, separate the sabudana gently with fork or finger. If there is too much powdery residue, shake off the sabudana in a sieve, and pour it back into the bowl. Add the peanuts, coconut, salt and sugar to the sabudana, and mix evenly.

Chop the chilies, about 1/2 inch wide. If using the potato, chop it into small pieces.

In a large and wide pan, heat the ghee, and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add the chilies and stir for a few seconds. Add the potato and stir it around till it gets coated with ghee. Add the sabudana mix, and stir together until the grains get coated too. Keep stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes on medium high heat, until the sabudana is well cooked. The stirring is necessary to make sure that the grains do no clump together. If needed, you can add a little more ghee. When completely done, add in the cilantro. Best eaten right away.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Chaklis, the first attempt

Chaklis, the ultimate snack


chakli bhaazani
red chili powder, hing, salt


Visit the person who you think makes the best chaklis in the whole wide world, during Diwali. Eat chaklis, and start asking questions. Whip out small diary from bag as they talk, and take notes.

Steer the conversation gently until they offer you some of their freshly ground chakli bhaazani. They love you anyway, so that won't be too difficult. In addition, they might also give you their thalipeeth bhaazani, which is not a bad thing at all.

Return home, put the packet in the freezer. After a few months you will hear from them and they will ask whether you got around to making chaklis. Be shameful that you haven't. Put it on a priority list. Wait for a day when the weather is cool but not damp.

Take out the sorya (chakli press) that has been lying unused for a couple of years. Whip out diary again, and follow instructions for making chaklis. Within twenty minutes, gorgeous looking chaklis will be coming out of the frying oil. Go against most instructions and don't wait until they are cool because that is impossible. Check each chakli for optimum crispness. Wonder why some are slightly softer than others. Jump joyously at the ones that have just the right crispness and color. Suddenly remember that pictures of the beauties have to be taken.

Feel confident about a second attempt.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Green Tomato Rassa

hirvyaa tomatochi bhaaji

Green tomatoes are something I have not seen in supermarkets here, and only rarely in farmers markets, so the only time I have had access to a lot of green tomatoes was when I had planted tomatoes one year and got a bumper crop all throughout summer. While I let most of the tomatoes ripen on the vines, occasionally some of the green ones fell to the ground, and once, an entire branch full of them fell down because of the weight.

Green Tomatoes

Red ripe tomatoes have started showing up at our markets in the last couple of weeks, and one of the farmers even had a small basket of green tomatoes. I grabbed a bunch right away. I didn't even have to think about what I would do with them - it had to be the green tomato rassa style bhaji that was one of my absolute favorites while growing up. Whenever it was made at home, I ate more than usual.

I always use my mother's recipe for this, but naturally, when I make it, it only comes close, and doesn't taste exactly the same. This simple homey side dish is best served with good polis, or thin soft rotis, brushed with a touch of ghee if you like.

Green Tomato Rassa bhaji

Green Tomato Rassa Bhaji


6 medium sized green tomatoes
1-2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
3/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar or jaggery
1 teaspoon goda masala
1 Tablespoon crushed peanuts
1 Tablespoon freshly grated coconut (optional)
2-4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro


Core the tomatoes and chop them into roughly 1 inch sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add mustard seeds. When the seeds start to pop, reduce the heat, add the asafoetida and turmeric. Add the tomatoes, and stir around for a minute or two. Add chili powder and salt. Bring the heat back up, add about a cup (or more as required) of water, and when it comes to a boil, turn the heat down again, and let it simmer until the tomatoes are well cooked and soft but not falling apart. You can place a lid on it, partially, to speed up the cooking.

Since this is a rassa style bhaji, a fair amount of gravy is desirable, which means you can add more water if it gets too thick or too dry.

Finally, add the rest of the ingredients, and let it cook for just a few minutes more until the rassa starts to thicken. After the heat is turned off, let it sit for a few more minutes before serving. This really helps all the flavors to come together.


Curry leaves can be added just before the tomatoes are added. This wasn't in the original family recipe, but I love the flavor it adds.

Coconut is optional, I usually don't add it.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An Aloo Tikki Factory

Potato Patties: Closeup

Good friends shouldn't need much of an excuse to get together, but with busy lives and global schedules it can get really difficult to get a bunch of people to meet for even one meal. I am referring to some old friends of mine - whenever we meet, we have such a fabulous time we wonder why we don't all get together more often, and then part with promises to meet soon, but before we know it another year has passed, or two.

Recently, when one of them decided to leave the land, it was a compelling reason for all to meet, as it would be our last chance to see the family for a while. Someone offered to host, and the planning for a spontaneous last minute potluck began, which meant quick decisions and even quicker work. The yeses and the nos, the headcount, and of course the menu.

The host wanted grazing dishes, rather than the usual fare, so I offered the first thing that came to mind - potato patties, if someone could make ragda, so we could have ragda pattice. One friend immediately opted for it (got to love friends like these!).

Making these potato patties seemed simple, but it can become fairly laborious and time consuming when one has to make almost 5 dozen of them. Unlike aloo tikkis, the potato patties that are served with ragda don't need to be deep fried, and they are crisped on the skillet with only a little oil. So, strictly speaking, these potato patties used in ragda pattice were not aloo tikkis, but that just gives the title a much better ring.

Potato Patties: before frying

I boiled a dozen large russet potatoes in the pressure cooker. When cool enough to be handled, these were peeled, and roughly mashed in a large bowl, and seasoned with about 1/4th teaspoon turmeric, about 1 teaspoon red chili powder, and plenty of salt. To this mix, I added about 8 crumbled slices of good white bread, (the crusts were removed, left to dry in the fridge, and ground up later to make bread crumbs, but that is another story), and adjusted the seasoning.

Potato Patties: the batch

Then, the life saver came into play. To get the potatoes mashed up really smooth, I put the whole mixture through a potato ricer, creating a dough like consistency which could be formed into patties. These were shallow fried on a large skillet, on medium heat, for a few minutes on each side to get them evenly brown and crisp. Placed on large trays, these were ready to be taken to the party.

Cool Tool: Potato Ricer

I had bought the ricer originally to make gnocchi, which I have yet to get around to make, but besides the patties, I have used it a few times to mash potatoes for alu parathas. The potatoes turn out really smooth, with no sticky bumps while rolling out the parathas.

Potato Ricer

Cool Tool: The picture of this nifty gadget goes to Click: Metal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp

I was playing with the remote to see if anything interesting is going on when I found Barefoot Contessa. I stopped to watch a little, and then it happened again, and again, and eventually I really started enjoying the show. It helped that it came on at a time that was convenient for me.

It was easy to like Ina Garten. She is sophisticated and smart, and unlike many wannabe food stars, she has years in her stride, and a good deal of experience to boot. And when she talks, she sounds very convincing.

There are lots of things I like about her show. She cooks in her own kitchen, uses her own cookware, and serves the food in her own dishes, to her real friends. Sometimes her husband Jeffrey, who is quite charming and funny, appears on the show too. Wiki him to find out more, you might be surprised. She often has a few minutes dedicated to 'setting' the table and 'doing' the flowers, which is so not my thing, but I find it enjoyable anyway. She clearly also has a good team of photographers on her side, who make everything on her show look fabulous.

Sometimes I find it amusing that she thinks nothing of rolling out pastry crusts and piping meringues but uses canned tomatoes because life is too short to peel tomatoes. And if I ever met her, we could argue endlessly, amicably, over cilantro and parsley. But ultimately, even with her hoity toity Hampton ways, Ina seems accessible, and very American, including in her admiration of all things French.

Apple Pears Cranberry Crisps: Dig inNow on to her recipes. It is probably because of her background in the food business and catering that she always seems to make huge quantities of food, and one reason that held me back from trying anything was the serious scaling down of quantities that I would need to do. So even though I took ideas and inspirations from her shows, I had not followed any particular recipe of hers. That changed after I made the Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp that I had been eyeing this apple season. It has a long ingredient list, but when I recently happened to have each and every of the things on hand, I had to make these. On the show, she made individual ones in ramekins, so I did that too. The crisps were deliciously blog-worthy - with a crisp caramelly top giving way to the filling that was bursting with the sweetness of apples and pears and the heady scent of orange zest. Such a lovely, wintry (or fall-y) dessert to savor slowly after dinner.

Even the hint of cinnamon was wonderful. This comes from someone who is not overly fond of cinnamon in desserts. In fact I was highly tempted to use cardamom or vanilla, but I thought I'll stick to the original this time, and was amply rewarded. I was also tempted to reduce the amount of butter, and so I started with only two tablespoons, but the mixture finally came together only when the entire quantity was added. The recipe takes a bit of work, but not skill, and to borrow from Ina, the good news is, that it can be done in advance.

This could be eaten with ice-cream or whipped cream, but it was glorious on its own too. Here is the scaled down and adapted recipe.

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp

Apple Pears Cranberry Crisps: Top View


1 pear
1-1/2 apples (or 2 small apples)
3 Tablespoons dried cranberries
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
3/8 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (or regular salt)
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, diced


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour the mixture into a 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish, or distribute it in 4 ramekins of 3/4 cup capacity.

For the topping:

Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes. Or use a fork to mix everything, until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes (or longer), until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Let it sit for a few minutes. Serve warm.

A few notes

  • Either the number of servings were out of whack or their serving sizes are humongous. The original recipe was meant for 8 servings, but a fourth of it serves 4 generously. So what the original says would serve 8, could actually serve 16.
  • Since the number of servings were twice of what I expected, I found that the crumble can be frozen by covering tightly with plastic wrap, and then baked straight from the freezer. It will thaw in the oven as it heats up to 350 degrees.
  • As is true of produce in general, good fruits will help to make the final result better, so remember to taste a little of the fruits before using.
  • If making a larger quantity, increase baking time.

Sending this to Raaga for AFAM: Pears.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Five-Lentils Panchmel Dal

Casting a critical eye over my blog I find that it severely lacks one of the most basic everyday fare that I make on a regular basis regardless of season, and one that has endless combinations. I even knew the reason for that, and have known it for a long time now.

The food I am talking about is 'dal', and the reason is that dals have been the most challenging to photograph for me. No matter what I do, they all end up looking almost the same after they are cooked - just a big yellow something in a bowl, which makes it rather difficult to convey some of the amazing nuances of flavor that each dal has, despite all of them looking alike.

Panchmel Dal: the five dals
The beautiful colors of the five dals, very photogenic before cooking.

I am not a fan of styling food just for the purpose of taking photographs, even though I admire those who can do it well. I prefer to take pictures of food as it is meant to be served or eaten. The drawback is that this isn't the best way to showcase the food, and after all, exhibiting food in all its glory is one of the objectives of a food blog. One of the lessons here is that looks are not the best judge of taste.

Undaunted, I am going to post about dals anyway, because I know I have waited too long to post some things just because I did not have a good picture to accompany. They might all look similar, but each one will have a strong character, a distinctive taste, and a lot more than what meets the eye.

This particular dal is one of my favorites, and yet I make it only once in a while, when I want a change from the usual dals. Panch means five, and hence the name, which approximately means 'five together'. The added flavors to this dal are simple, but its unique taste comes from the combination of dals, which is different from either of them cooked individually. There is also a barely noticeable variation in textures of each dal, which is interesting. Along with a good drizzle of fresh ghee at the end, and white rice to accompany, this is excellent comfort food that doesn't need anything else alongside.

Panchmel Dal: 5 bean dal

Minor styling with wedges of lime, which are not usually tucked into the dal, but served alongside to be squeezed over the dal. The sprig of cilantro is chopped fine and scattered into the dal, optionally.

panchmeL DAL

Number of servings can vary a lot, from 4-8 depending on whether the dal is eaten as a main dish with rice or whether it is a part of a meal with other dishes.


1/4th cup each of toor dal, masoor dal, moong dal, chana dal, and split urad dal
1/4th teaspoon turmeric

2 Tablespoons oil
big pinch of mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 Tablespoons jaggery
2-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4th lime, plus extra wedges


Rinse and drain the dals together a few times until the water runs clear. Cook all the dals together with 1/4th teaspoon turmeric in 5 cups of water. I use a pressure cooker with my usual 3-whistle regulation. Let the pressure drop.

Stir the dals together with a whisk, and add salt to taste. Add more water if needed to make sure it is of a pouring consistency.

Heat the oil a large and wide saucepan, and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the asafoetida, turmeric, cumin seeds and the rest of the spices. Stir quickly, add the dal, and bring it to a gentle boil. Stir in jaggery until it dissolves. Add chopped cilantro and squeeze the lime on top just before serving.


Some of the variations I have tried are adding curry leaves, or a little bit of finely chopped onion, and using tamarind or lemon instead of lime. Somehow, I like the tartness of lime better in this case.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kharwas, the real thing

A Decadent Treat

'Kharwas' is the marathi name of a sweet steamed pudding made out of milk given by a cow or buffalo within a day after she has calved. Cheek (in Hindi), Junnu (in Telugu), Seem Paal (in Tamil), Geen (in Konkani), Bari (in Gujarati) or anything else you call it, it evokes great nostalgia among those who have had it before but cannot seem to find it now. The same thing sounds very different when referred to as 'bovine colostrum', but that is the name for it nevertheless. Steam cooked in a water bath, it has the consistency of cream caramel or flan without the addition of any external coagulant. There are references to such colustrum puddings and custards being made in Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Ireland, and in the English countryside (where it is sometimes referred to as 'Beestings'), and I wouldn't be surprised if several other cultures have such traditions too.

Kharwas: with sugar
Kharwas made with sugar

In lieu of using colostrum milk, there are recipes for puddings made out of things like condensed milk and eggs, flavored with cardamom, made to resemble the texture and flavor of the real thing. These were most likely created by resourceful Indian expats who were yearning for it but were unable to find it. I know I went through a phase when I was looking for it everywhere, and even thought of calling some of the dairy farms a few hours away from where I live. Those who have experienced the real thing and know the joy of it would agree that I wasn't being unreasonable.

More than a year ago I heard that Whole Foods carries colostrum milk, but since I prefer to shop at farmers markets or small stores, I don't go to Whole Foods unless I have to get something very specific from there. On one such trip after ages I ambled over to their dairy section, saw the colostrum milk container and bought it right away. When I paid at the checkout, I muttered under my breath how expensive Whole Foods seems to be getting by the day, but it was only when I read the line items at home that I found out that it was only the colostrum milk that cost a bomb and it wasn't the store that was getting pricier. A pint of colostrum milk cost nearly as much as three gallons of regular milk, to put it in perspective, but I hadn't checked the cost when I bought it. That makes it fairly extravagant compared to standard grocery items, but this is an occasional treat. Besides, I hadn't eaten kharwas in so many years that the price wouldn't have stopped me anyway.

Right away, I got a recipe from my mother, which said to add sugar or jaggery to the milk, some cardamom powder, and then steam it like dhoklas. I faintly recalled that as a child I liked the version with sugar and did not like the one with jaggery, but knowing my taste now I was willing to bet which version I would like better this time. So first I had to test out both versions, and I tried half of the milk with sugar and the other half with jaggery. The outcomes were quite different both in taste and texture. In terms of the texture, the jaggery version was a winner because it was firmer, while the sugar melted and created more water, but also made the result slightly lacey, as can be seen from the photos. As for the taste, no prizes for guessing.

Kharwas: with jaggery
Kharwas made with jaggery

The aspect of humane practices towards animals surfaces in relation to using bovine colostrum for human consumption, but since the product I bought comes from an organic dairy farm that cares about their animals, I feel very confident that they are not selling it only for profit, and whatever they sell is what is leftover after the calves are taken care of.


Serves: 3-4 small dessert sized portions

2 cups bovine colostrum milk
1/2 cup (more or less to taste) grated jaggery, brown sugar, or granulated sugar
2 green cardamom
a few strands of saffron, optional

Dissolve the jaggery in the milk. Remove the seeds of the cardamom and finely powder them in a mortar and pestle. Add the cardamom powder and saffron to the milk.

Pour the milk in a container that will fit in a pressure cooker or other large pan, with enough water in the outer pan for steaming. Cover with a lid and steam for 15-20 minutes. If using a pressure cooker do not put the weight (whistle) on. Let cool completely or chill it in the refrigerator for a few hours before eating.

Kharwas: steamed
Kharwas: Steamed and Cooled

Monday, March 03, 2008

Watermelon Radish Parathas

mooli ke parathe

There were exactly three types of parathas made in our home - alu, methi, and gobi. If there had been any other types, then clearly I have forgotten. In contrast, I have been quite a rebel adventurer. Spinach, cabbage, paneer, beets, pumpkin, cheese, broccoli, peas, dals, mint, chutneys, molagaipodi, even leftover sabjees, have all had played a part in my parathas at some time or the other, with varied results. At this, Musical might just yawn and say, "So what? We make parathas with almost anything". Of course she does, but considering what I grew up with, this is quite a repertoire.

Stuffed Radish Parathas

A paratha related mini-obsession started recently when a friend was visiting our area during Christmas break last year. We met for lunch at a basic, almost divey, Indian restaurant where we could eat good food, and talk for a long time without being bothered. The meal included giant parathas - I had gobi and she had mooli, and of course we tasted both. I liked the gobi, but the mooli one with a generous filling of spiced radishes was so good that I wished that I had ordered that one instead.

Very soon I was hankering for it at home, and wanted to give it a try. It was further fueled when my friend and I reminisced about the parathas we had. I used to make mooli parathas years ago, but because I found it difficult to make the stuffed ones, (this was just for mooli, not other types of parathas) I used to go the lazy route and mix in grated daikon radish with flour and spices to make the dough for the parathas. In fact this was many times a quick weeknight dinner that didn't need much planning if there was a white radish in the fridge. Somewhere along the way, I stopped making these and had even forgotten about them, but after tasting the wonderful stuffed parathas at the restaurant I realized how much better they tasted, with the filling sandwiched between the dough, giving you a little crust and a little taste of the vegetable in each bite. Soon I was on a mission to find out how to get the stuffed ones right. Once again, I tried to roll them out by filling the radish mixture into a ball of dough but the shreds kept leaking out and making a mess on the board. A big salaam to those who are able to roll those out, but I have just not been able to do that well. That is when Musical's "two layered parathas" really came to the rescue by working as perfectly as she describes. So a big Thank You, Musical!

For my paratha experiments, I used watermelon radishes (see note at end) just because I happened to have a bunch of them, an added bonus of which is that the filling looks very pretty when the parathas is torn off. One can use any kind of radish, larger ones being better because they are easier to grate.

There are all kinds of recipes for the filling, with additions ranging from turmeric to grated onion, so I decided to try out a few. In the first batch I tried Musical's combination of garam masala and red chili powder, and in the second batch I used Saffronhut's combination of ginger, green chilies and cilantro. I preferred the heat of red chili powder over that of green chilies, but I enjoyed the flavor of ginger. I am neutral about the cilantro as it did not seem to add much but wasn't bad. What I have given below is what I tried in the third batch, and liked a lot, but I might try other versions in the future. Ultimately, there is not one right thing, so experiment, have fun, and let your taste buds and mood decide. Do you have a favorite combination that you would like to share?

In a paradoxical way, while on one hand this is free form cooking at its best, it needs lots of practice to get it just right.

Mooli Paratha: the making of

Stuffed Radish Parathas / Mooli Parathas


1-1/2 cups grated radish, not tightly packed
salt to taste
3/4 teaspoon red chili powder to taste
1/4 teaspoon mild garam masala
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
2 cups atta
salt to taste
a little oil for the dough
oil or ghee for the parathas


Place the grated radishes in a sieve or colander over a bowl, and add salt to it. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw out moisture from the radishes. Squeeze the radishes by hand, and collect the squeezed water in the bowl.

Use this water to knead the dough using flour and salt, adding more regular water as required. When the dough is kneaded smooth smear the ball of dough with a touch of oil. Divide the dough into 8 pieces of equal size.

Mix the grated radish with red chili powder, garam masala and grated ginger.

Start heating a tava.

Roll out one of the pieces of dough to about 6 inches round and keep it on a plate. Roll out another piece to about the same size. Spread about a fourth of the filling on it, leaving a small edge all around. Top with the previously rolled out roti, gently press the edges together, and roll lightly with the rolling pin just a little more until the 3 layers are held together. Put the paratha on the heated tava and cook on both sides. Drizzle a little oil around the edge if you like. I just like to brush some ghee on the paratha after it is done. Repeat this exercise with the rest of the dough and filling.

Serve with chutney, pickles, yogurt. For an added indulgence, try sour cream or crème fraîche.

Watermelon Radishes

In the last year or two I have been buying watermelon radishes from the farmers market whenever I see them. They taste very similar to regular radishes, maybe even a tad sweeter, but they look absolutely gorgeous. They have a greenish white skin, and inside they are a bright fuschia or deep red in color, and when sliced, they look like tiny watermelon wedges. For a simple but striking salad, I peel and slice them thin, and sprinkle a little coarse salt and ground black pepper which looks almost like seeds on them.

Watermelon Radishes: Farmers Market Find
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