Friday, November 12, 2010

Insalata Caprese

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil salad

Several weeks ago, a young couple came over for dinner at short notice. They were in the area, and they are related to me, so neither of us felt the need for any formalities. We had afternoon tea and we chatted, and in parallel I did some cooking, asking them about their preferences as I went along. They wanted something simple and healthy. Based on what I had on hand, we decided on matki usal, brown rice, polis, and baby potatoes bhaji. I was going to make a cabbage koshimbir to go along with it. However, I had some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in different colors, and also fresh mozzarella. They had never had a Caprese salad before, but seemed eager to try it out, so I made that. The classic Italian Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri) fit just fine into the otherwise Maharashtrian slanted meal.

In fact, the guests watched me make it, and enjoyed it so much, that later they started making it at as well, and sent me an email to tell me about it. Sweet.

I have been making this salad for years, and it is a staple at almost every Italian restaurant. To me it is so basic that I would have never ever thought of putting it up on my blog. However, I found it gratifying to have taught my young relatives something they liked. So for people like them who are eager to try and enjoy new things, here is a recipe for a simple salad that depends on a few things of the highest quality. It needs excellent tomatoes and the best fresh mozzarella you can find. Both of these have to taste really good on their own for them to shine together.

Just because the classic combination is unbeatable, I rarely bother to make any variations it, but I do use the basic canvas to try out various salts or olive oils. A recent hit was using Himalayan pink salt. I don't know what it was about this tiny change, but it just turned out much better than usual, and so now I always use Himalayan pink salt in this salad. Italy meets India, as it does many times in my kitchen!

Insalata Caprese: Salad of tomatoes and mozzarella


Insalata Caprese

Serves 2

Ingredients

8-10 oz (about 2-4, depending on size) ripe tomatoes
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (usually 1 medium ball)
10-15 basil leaves
big pinch of coarse salt
freshly ground pepper
about 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Method

Slice the tomatoes into rounds. Drain the mozzarella cheese from its brine and slice it into rounds.

On a platter or tray, layer the slices of tomatoes, cheese, and basil leaves. You can also tear up the leaves and scatter them over the tomatoes and cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and gently drizzle olive oil to cover everything.


Note: Ignore those two olives in the picture. They were sitting in the fridge and had to be finished off.

Related Interesting Article

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rajma-ah!

Right now, there are four types of tomatoes on the kitchen counter. There are tiny cherry tomatoes, colorful heirlooms and no-name cooking tomatoes from the Farmers' market, and more heirloom tomatoes from a friend's yard. Yes, sounds like fall around here! September through early November usually yields some of the best local tomatoes in our area. As the weather starts to cool off, it is also a perfect time to use these tomatoes in long simmered dishes, like Rajma, which is a household favorite. I did not grow up eating Rajma, and I don't recall it ever being made at home, so I have had to try various recipes to get it right. The one I finally settled on is based on Sanjeev Kapoor's 'Khazana of Indian Vegetarian Recipes'. Some of his recipes are really foolproof and delicious, like this one for instance. Even though it looks like a standard 'onion-tomato-masala' gravy, the proportions are so perfect that I never need to wing it. The few changes I have made are reducing the amount of chili powder, and usually doing away with the garam masala.

While having good tomatoes is quite necessary, the key ingredient here is of course, the rajma itself. Many years ago I landed on a truly dud batch of red kidney beans bought in a local Indian store. Despite the standard soaking and pressure cooking the beans were rock hard, or barely cooked. This happened on multiple tries. Soon after that, during a trip to India I went looking for 'rajma' at my neighborhood grocer. He brought out two kinds, one that was pink and he called as 'regular' rajma, and a deep maroon one that he called as 'Kashmiri rajma'. Both were much smaller in size than what I usually see here. I bought back a kilo of the 'Kashmiri' variety, and was hooked. The beans are so creamy and delicious when cooked that I could never again bear to buy the gigantic beans from the Indian stores here.

Types of Beans

If you can find the dried 'Kashmiri' or other rajma from India, definitely use those. If not, Italian Borlotti beans or Cranberry beans are quite good too, or use small pinto beans. Some of the darker bean varieties from Rancho Gordo would be definitely worthwhile too, with some experimentation. I was once gifted a bag of their 'Red Nightfall' beans, and cooked some of them rajma style. The beans were very flavorful on their own so I had to go easy on the spices, but the result was excellent.

Rajma

Rajma Rasmisa
Adapted from 'Khazana of Indian Vegetarian Recipes'

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup Kashmiri rajma (dried beans)
2 ripe tomatoes, medium sized
2 Tablespoons oil
1 cassia leaf
1 small red onion
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 inch piece of ginger
3/4 - 1 teaspoon red chili powder (cayenne) or to taste
2 teaspoons coriander powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon mild garam masala (optional)
1-2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Method

Soak the beans in plenty of water for 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain the water, add fresh water and cook until the beans are tender. I use a pressure cooker and use my 3-whistle regulation.

Puree the tomatoes. Chop the onions fine. Grate the ginger and finely mince the garlic, or make a paste of the ginger and garlic together.

Measure out the red chili powder (cayenne), coriander powder, cumin powder, and turmeric in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a large and wide heavy bottomed pan. Add the cassia leaf, followed by the onion and saute until they start to turn slightly brown. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute. Add the spice powders, and stir around, reducing heat if needed.

Add the tomato puree and some salt, and stir it around. When the tomatoes have lost their moisture and are completely cooked, add the cooked rajma, with its cooking liquid as needed, and simmer on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Add salt to taste. If using garam masala, add it.

Note

I usually check the beans after they have simmered with the rest of the ingredients, and if they taste flavorful enough I do not add any garam masala.

I also do not add any chopped cilantro in this, but that would be a common addition as well.

I am sending this to SunshineMom for World Vegan Day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Tomato Trick

Good local tomatoes are starting to come into the market now, and while the heirlooms and other colorful ones are excellent for using raw, the red ripe ones for me mean dishes that depend on the juicy tomato taste, such as gravy wallah sabjees, rajma, and many other things.

Tomatoes

I am quite a fan of silky smooth tomato puree in certain dishes, and even a bit finicky about large bits of tomato skin floating carelessly in some dishes. So naturally, I have to go the longer route to get the result. The best way to make a large batch of tomato puree is to bring a pot of water to boil, drop in the tomatoes for about a minute, then remove them with a slotted spoon. When they are cool enough to handle, they can be peeled off easily, then cored, chopped, and pureed in a food processor.

Sometimes, however, you don't need a lot of puree, perhaps just enough from a tomato or two, and so this process can get a bit cumbersome. For such times, turn to the wisdom of women like Madhur Jaffrey, Niloufer Ichaporia, and many knowledgeable home cooks. Just use a regular grater.

With a paring knife, make a small cross on the smooth end of the tomato. Hold the tomato at the stem end, and using the medium holes of the box grater, grate the tomato into a bowl. The skin will practically stay in your hand, and you will have fresh tomato puree in seconds, ready for use.

Illustrated below in pictures.

Tomato

Scoring an 'X' on the tomato before grating

Tomato puree

Resulting Tomato Puree after grating

This handy trick which I have been using for a long time now goes to the Back to Basics event. The event was started here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Strawmisu

I have been making versions of this dessert for a long time now. It is a simple and classic combination of a cake or cookie base, strawberries, and a decadent and creamy topping, and I find it just perfect for summer. It is easy to make and doesn't even need much of a recipe. You can make one or two small servings, or make a huge batch for a crowd with equal ease. Sometimes I make individual sized servings in small bowls which looks very pretty too. As always, use this as a guideline and make your own fun variations on it; I have yet to see this ever going wrong.

Now finally, I have also given it a name. I am calling it 'Strawmisu'. I searched on it to be doubly sure, and no such word exists, so I can say I have coined it, and it works!

Strawberry dessert

Ingredients

10-15 strawberries
3-4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
2-3 teaspoons sugar (optional)

4 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
2-3 Tablespoons sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract

8-12 Savoiardi or Italian style ladyfingers (you will need more or less depending on their size)

Method

Rinse the strawberries quickly, and place on a kitchen towel. Slice enough strawberries so that you have about 1 an 1/2 cups of slices. Use the rest for garnishing.

In a medium bowl, place the sliced strawberries. Add the Grand Marnier, 2-3 teaspoons of sugar, and orange zest. Let it sit for about an hour so that the juices and sugar create some syrup.

Whip together the mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, the rest of the sugar (or to taste), and vanilla extract, for a few minutes until it forms soft peaks.

In a pan about 8 X 8 inches in size, arrange the ladyfingers close to each other to create the base layer. You might need to break up some of them to make them fit the entire pan. Spoon the strawberries evenly over it. Drizzle the syrup evenly so that all the ladyfingers are evenly moistened.

Spread the cream and cheese mixture evenly over the strawberries. Cover and keep in the fridge for 2 hours or more.

Garnish or serve with additional sliced or whole strawberries.

Note:

If you do not want to use Grand Marnier, you can use freshly squeezed orange juice.

In place of the ladyfingers, you can also use thin slices of pound cake or something similar.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Bombay Kitchen

and other stories, including eggs on eggs

There are a few women that I would like to adopt as my aunts have adopted as my aunts, but they just don't know about it. Madhur Jaffrey, Ina Garten, and now, Niloufer Ichaporia-King.

The common connection to all these women is quite obvious. I came to follow Ina through her TV shows, Jaffrey through her books, and with Niloufer, it was first her book that drew me in, and it was capped off by getting to know her in person. Yes, some serious name dropping can now happen! They all write beautifully about the subject close to their heart, and best of all, give you a wealth of recipes that work every single time.

The first time I heard about "My Bombay Kitchen" was when a friend sang praises about a new book she had stumbled upon in the library. So I decided to check it out, and just fell in love with it. The writing is beautiful and evocative, erudite, but not stodgy, unexpectedly humorous, full of great advice, and always informative. While reading through it, I have literally tugged at the person next to me saying "Just listen to this ...".

The book is sub-titled "Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking", and is based primarily on Niloufer's Parsi heritage, from her experiences growing up in India, and her continued research after she started living in the US. So a lot of the recipes in the book include family favorites, but since she is a big advocate of farmers markets and adapting local ingredients, there are many interesting variations, along with her discoveries in foreign lands, and interpretations from her ├╝ber chef friends. With loads of wit and wisdom packed into its pages, and recipes that work perfectly, this soon became my favorite cookbook in recent years. Her husband David has done the most adorable illustrations throughout the book, which really pull everything together and complete the package. Over and above, the fact that Niloufer is such a charming person is just the jewel in the crown.

So far I have tried countless things from the book, each delicious, and many more are begging to be made. Her panir is quite a standout. I used her recipe to make regular paneer for cooking many times, but then I had the pleasure of having it served soft, with a warm flatbread with hints of ajwain and ever since I almost always have some fresh soft panir in the fridge. As Niloufer would say, we like to fool around with it.

Among other things that are on regular rotation in the Evolving kitchen are the Wafer Par Ida and Kasa Par Ida. The recipe is available on many sites, including here, so I will paraphrase just a bit.

Wafer per Ida (Eggs on Potato Chips)

Niloufer writes that for years she thought it was a joke recipe, a loony fantasy or a way of lampooning the Parsi love affair with eggs and potato chips, until she tried it and found it to be absolutely delicious. I agree about the deliciousness part! Very rarely do I buy potato chips, usually only when I have little kids around. Inevitably there are crushed up chips or pieces in the bottom of the bag, that no one eats, and the wafer par ida is the perfect use for them. I have used various different types of chips too, and it is always good.

Parsi Food: Wafer Par Ida

Ingredients

1 tablespoon ghee, clarified butter, or mixture of vegetable oil and butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (optional)
2 to 3 hot green chiles, finely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
4 good handfuls of plain potato chips from a just-opened bag
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon (about) water

Method

Heat the ghee over medium heat in a sturdy medium skillet.

Add the onion and let it soften, stirring occasionally, a few minutes. Before it browns, add the paste if you like and the green chiles, and as soon as the mixture looks cooked, add the fresh coriander. Crumble in the potato chips, tossing the contents of the pan to combine them thoroughly.

Make nests in the surface of the mixture, and crack an egg into each. Pour a tablespoon or so of water around the edges of the pan to generate some steam, cover the skillet tightly, and let the eggs cook just long enough to set the whites without turning the chips soggy. This usually takes me just about 3-4 minutes on very low heat.


Kasa par ida (Eggs on Anything)

Wafer per eda is almost like a corollary of kasa par eeda. I have literally taken the idea of the 'kasa' (anything) to heart and tried it many ways. It always works for me as a quick, satisfying, and comforting meal when I have completely run out of ideas and strength for anything else. Niloufer says that sometimes it's a hastily improvised dish that appears as part of the evening meal and what goes under the eggs is left to the imagination. Like a giddy child I told her some of the things I have done, and she approved with a slight nod and her majestic smile.

So, what have I put this on and enjoyed? Here are some from my list:
  • Slightly dried out good bread chopped into small little cubes, or day old chappatis, torn into bits, given the same treatment as wafers
  • Onion, ripe tomatoes, haldi, and malvani masala (other masala of choice would be good as well)
  • Asparagus and cannellini beans stir-fry
  • Sauteed onions and potatoes, with green chilies and cilantro stir fried into it
  • Thin red pohe, barely sprinkled with some water, given the wafer treatment as well

What Others Say

Here is what some of my favorite bloggers have to say about the book:

The Cooker: I knew I had to have it
Mints: Niloufer's writing style is very casual but very informative
Manisha: Favorite Parsi cookbook author
Melissa: I've made not one, not two, but seven spectacular dishes

Here are some more:

The Kitchen I Wish I Had Grown up in
One of my favorite new cookbooks
Her Bombay Kitchen

If you have a good blurb on your blog about 'My Bombay Kitchen', and want to list it here, just let me know at evolvingtastes[at]gmail[dot]com

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Easy Mango Cake

Is there such a thing as 'too easy'?

One of my grandfather's friends has a small mango canning and preservation enterprise. They live in the middle of the best mango producing regions in India, and use some of the finest local mangoes in their products. They sell a lot of their products in their store locally, but also send it out to several cities in India, and perhaps abroad too.

If I or some of my relatives ever get a chance to get there, we stop by their house, which is right next to the store (or is it the other way around?) and usually buy a few things from them, especially their jars of mango pulp. These are glass jars, unlike the tin cans one sees commonly, and I prefer those for two reasons. One is that one can see what is inside, and secondly, I think there is a much lesser chance of any kind of strange stuff happening, such as something that could happen if the acid in the mango reacts with metal.

Other than those few jars, I rarely buy canned mango pulp. The jars are by and large savored by themselves as Aamras, particularly when pooris are on the menu. Hence I went back and forth over whether I should use up almost half of a precious jar just to try out something new. I can say now for sure that it was worth it. This cake is superb, in taste as well as texture. I have also yet to meet a cake recipe that was easier to whip up; it is literally "dump and stir". It is a complete keeper that I would definitely try again, and perhaps even buy some cans of mango pulp if needed!

Adapted from here.

Mango Cake


Rava Mango Cake

Ingredients

1 cup fine rava (or semolina flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 pods of green cardamom
1 cup canned mango pulp
1/4 cup oil
1 Tablespoon golden raisins (optional)
1 Tablespoon chopped almonds (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the rava, baking powder, and sugar. Using a flexible spatula, stir in the mango pulp, and the oil, until the rava absorbs the liquids completely to form a batter.

Powder the seeds of the cardamom in a mortar and pestle and add it to the batter.

Lightly grease a small loaf pan (8 X 4 inches would be fine, mine is 9 X 5).

Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the raisins and almonds on top. Bake for 25 minutes. Insert a toothpick to check if done.

Notes

1. I actually forgot to add the cardamom powder, but it was not missed. I am eager to try it with it next time.

2. Most likely, the quantities can be increased by 1.5 times to fit a loaf pan better.

3. It can be made just as well with melted butter in place of oil, I think.

4. The dried fruit and nuts are optional, and can be played around with. Mix into the batter, or add on top like I did.

Entry Update

I recently made this cake again, with increased quantities, and baked it in a bundt pan. It took me 35 minutes to bake it. Since the mango pulp was quite sweet, I decreased the overall sugar quantity as well, and did not use any dried fruit or nuts. It was enough for 12-16 people. The process remains the same as above, but here is an update on the quantities.

2.5 cups fine rava (or semolina flour)
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
4-5 pods of green cardamom
2.5 cups canned mango pulp
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
a few drops of oil for greasing pan

Mango Cake again

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Khatte Meethe Baghari Baingain

Sweet and sour eggplants in creamy nut sauce

I said a big hurrah recently because it seems like 'baby eggplants' season has started now. Well, eggplant season in general, for which I have been waiting for several months. It has been a while since I bought much produce from a grocery store, so there are certain things that are just not in my purview if the farmers don't bring them in. Among the few things I miss are the eggplants. Fret no more, because hopefully they will go strong well into fall now. Which means there will be eggplants in the basket during each trip to the Farmers market, and it means that khatte meethe baingain will be devoured many times as well.

Khatte Meethe Baingain: Baby eggplant


Ever since I found this recipe, via Culinary Annotations, it has been a complete keeper and has turned into one of the many recipes that I barely have to look up because I have made it so many times. Like several others in my rep, it never made it to the blog because I never had a good photo to accompany it. The reason for that should be obvious too - could never wait long enough to take a photo after it was cooked, and there were never any leftovers to photograph!

One of the interesting bits in the recipe is cooking the eggplant partially in a microwave. While I do not use the microwave for any real cooking, I thought I could give this a try, and I have to say that it was a good thing to listen to the chef! The eggplants get just a little tender in the microwave first, and then get charred and crisp just right on the stovetop.

The other thing I like about this recipe is that it is a lot less complicated than the traditional Maharashtrian stuffed eggplant (bharli vangi), so it can be made even on a busy weeknight.

Khatte Meethe Baingain: Baby eggplant


Here is the paraphrased recipe with some tips, minor changes, and translations of ingredients to English.

Khatmitthe Baghari Baingan

Ingredients

Little baby eggplants 1/2 kg (about 12-15)
1-2 Tablespoons oil
1/4 cup peanuts
1 Tablespoon white poppy seeds (khus khus)
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds (beige)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon red chili powder (cayenne)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sambhar powder
2 teaspoons tamarind (not concentrate)
1 Tablespoon jaggery
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoons fenugreek seeds (methi dana)
a few curry leaves
pinch of asafoetida
1-2 green chilies, slit lengthwise (optional)

Method

Dissolve the tamarind in 1/2 cup of hot water, and let is sit for 30 minutes or longer. Using a fork or your fingers, extract the pulp completely and strain it to get tamarind juice.

Wash the eggplants and pat them dry. Make two cross slits on them without separating the slices. I remove the tops, and make the slits from there, but you can keep the top and make the slits from the opposite end. Rub them with a few drops of oil, and place on a microwave safe plate. Microwave for four to five minutes.

Grind the poppy seeds and sesame seeds to a fine powder. Add the peanuts towards the end and grind them as well.

Heat about 1 Tablespoon oil in a large wide pan, and add in the eggplants with a pinch of salt. Cook the eggplants for a few minutes, turning them a few times until they are golden brown on all sides.

Add the spices, and the nut and seed powder, and saute everything together for a minute. Add the tamarind juice, jaggery, salt to taste, and bring it to a gentle boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes, making sure the sauce starts to seep into the eggplants. Add a little water if needed, by the tablespoon, if the sauce starts to thicken up.

In a separate tadka pan (or butter warmer, or small saucepan), heat about a teaspoon of oil, and add the asafoetida, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, and green chilies. When they start to crackle, pour everything over the eggplants.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Naked Fruit

Some people have a sweet tooth. I think I have several. I was never one to say no to anything sweet, and it runs in the family, so it wasn't considered a bad thing either. As I grew older however (and somewhat wiser, I like to think), and concerns about consuming sugar increased, I tried to stay away from too much sweet stuff. It was hard though, considering that I always craved for something sweet after every meal, even if it was just a tiny bit.

Over time, an easy way for me to transition from sugar laden treats was to eat fresh fruit for dessert. They provided the perfect satisfaction to curb that 'need' for a little something sweet at the end of dinner.

Fortunately for me, I am able to get great local seasonal fruit throughout the year. After regularly shopping for produce, I have also learned to discern among the varieties available, and have mostly zoomed in on my favorite farmers for each type, so I have started to enjoy the best of the season even more.

I really look forward to Pomelos in winter, for instance, which I had ignored initially. It was one of the things that drove me to ask, "Where were you all these years?" I also know now which Apples and Oranges of the season I prefer. May is for Cherries, and late summer is for stone fruit and Strawberries. Incidentally, I have found that strawberries taste better in late summer or early fall even though they are always attributed to spring. Figs are fragile beauties that are seen rarely so I buy them when I see them, and of course nothing says fall like Persimmons and Pears. Good Pears have a really short season here, but certain fruit stands have Pears that are really outstanding.

When fresh fruit is prepared and served, it does feel more like a elegant dessert or its own course, rather than when it is grabbed hurriedly from the fruit basket or fridge. Since there are no recipes needed here, all I am going to do is post some photos of my favorite ways to prepare fruit, with some serving suggestions.

Strawberries and Icecream

Strawberries: Slice off the bottoms, then cut each strawberry in half, and slice into bit sized pieces. Serve in a bowl, over a small scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream, about half of the volume of strawberries.

Persimmon: sliced

Persimmons: Slice off the green top. Peel the persimmon, then very thinly slice along the latitude, and serve in a wide plate. This works for just ripe Fuyu persimmons. Chill for a bit before eating.


Apple: peeled


Apples: Peel the apple. This is optional, but I love it that way. Remove the core, then thinly slice the apple and fan out into a wide plate. If the apple is not top notch, drizzle a little honey and a touch of cream. (A friend was quite shocked when I told her that I like to eat peeled apples, but this is about eating fruit for dessert.)


Oranges: three varietiesBlood Oranges

Oranges: Slice off the top and bottom end of the orange. Cut off the skin, cutting very closely to the flesh with a small paring knife until you have a bright orange ball left. Slice thinly along the latitude, or cut into segments.
L: Three type of oranges: navel, blood red, and fukumoto
R: Also blood oranges, but with many beautiful shades


Figs

Figs: Slice off the top and a bit of the bottom. Either serve whole or cut into halves.

Raspberries

Raspberries: Chill in the fridge and eat. Why mess with perfection.

Berries and Cream

Berries with orange scented whipped cream: Whip some heavy cream with a bit of sugar, and lots of orange zest. Serve it with strawberries, raspberries, or a combination.

Kumquats

Kumquats: If you are lucky enough to find them, remove the stems, wash, place in a bowl, and grab a few every time you pass the bowl.


Fruit for a picnic

Fruit Platter: I found this picture of fruit that I had prepared for a picnic a while back. Chunks of cantelope, sliced kiwi, strawberries with bottoms chopped off, and watermelon sliced into wedges. All you need is a fork.


While I was looking through pictures that I could use for posting here, I realized that I had already posted several pictures and to some extent even written about eating fruit on it own, proving my own point. See - cherries, mangoes, persimmons, pluots, strawberries, watermelon!

Extra Extra!

To redeem for the fact that I have a post with no recipe, I am going to let you in on a secret. I have been maintaining a parallel blog, which is a much untidier and more casual space. The main reason for having the other blog is that even though I try to make time to cook, many times there just isn't time to photograph the food, or to upload the photos, or to write about a dish in great detail. So that blog is where I keep notes, quick posts on what I cooked, what worked, what didn't, and many other things, and it is aptly called "Evolving Notes". If this main blog is the dining room, then think of the other one as the kitchen.

It is open by subscription, so if you would like to take a peek, just send me an email to evolvingtastes[at]gmail[dot]com, and I will add you to the list.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hearty and Healthy Whole Bean Cutlets

In all these years, I can hardly recall having made 'cutlets'. I am referring to the very Indian 'vegetable cutlets', which you would be hard pressed to find much in the mainstream outside India. When I think about it, there are several probable theories to it. The main reason is probably because they usually involve frying, and they invariably involve potatoes. The other is that they were seldom made at home. This was something we ate occasionally as part of a large buffet, at tea time at someone's place or as a snack or appetizer at casual restaurants. So then I suppose I never thought about making them myself either.

However, after I tasted these lightly fried bean cutlets made by Mints, I made them twice in just the last two months. They are full of proteins, do not need much fat, and the best part is that most of the work is done by the pressure cooker and food processor. The type of beans you can use is also flexible - I used whole moong, matki, garbanzo beans, and whole dried peas. If shaped into larger sizes these would be perfect bean burgers too. Just be sure to salt the batter well as most beans have a tendency to absorb quite a bit of salt.

With this post, I am defying two norms of my usual cooking. First is the making of 'cutlets' itself. The other thing is freezing. I hardly ever freeze food but I found that these are really freezer-friendly. I make a large batch, then pop some of the cutlets, without frying, into a freezer bag or box, such that they lay flat in the freezer. Then I saute a few as needed, to add heft to a salad, to increase the protein quotient of a meal, or just to add some zip to leftovers. These can also be baked on a lightly oiled baking sheet, at about 400 degrees for 20 minutes, 10 minutes on each side. There is no need to thaw them out either.

Dal Cutlets

Another good thing about this post is that the recipe posted by Mints is perfect as is, and so it is on its way to the first edition of Blog Bites.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Very Simple Spinach and Potato bhaaji

pAlak BaTATA BhAjI

In Maharashtrian cooking, there is a not so uncommon practice of adding potatoes to anything, that sometimes drives me nuts. Flower-batata, bhendi-batata, farasbee-batata, pretty much any vegetable you can think of gets paired with potatoes. While I like each vegetable on its own, and I can have potato on its own, the fascination of these pairings escapes me. It is purely a personal preference, because they are quite popular, and I know so many people who really prefer the two together, even within my own family.

As always, there are exceptions, and one of them is this rather homey palak batata, which is how my mother makes it. I happened to learn it from her a few years ago during a trip back to India. It is just one example of the kind of food I am likely to cook on weekdays, even when I don't have any time at all. It doesn't need much measurement and precision, and has a low effort-to-nutrition ratio. I have tried some simple variations to this bhaaji like adding garlic or onion, but I much rather like this original version. A few warm chapatis or rice and plain dal are the perfect accompaniment for a delicious and comforting meal.

Spinach and potato

Spinach and Potato Bhaji

Ingredients

1 bunch of spinach (about 3-4 cups when chopped)
2-3 medium sized thin skinned potatoes

1-2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
a pinch of asafoetida
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4-1 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
10-12 (or more) sprigs of cilantro

Pluck the spinach leaves, discarding tough stems. Rinse the spinach leaves and leave them to drain in a colander or sieve or something like a salad spinner basket.

Wash the potatoes. Slice it along the length, and then slice each half along the length again. Slice each resulting quarter thinly along the width. If there is too much starch I rinse them off quickly and drain.

In a wide pan or wok, heat the oil, and add the mustard seeds. As they start to pop, add the asafoetida and turmeric, followed by the potato. Saute the potatoes until all the slices are coated with oil, then lower the heat to medium high and cook for a few minutes. Stir them around once more, turn the heat down a little more, place a lid on the pan, and let them cook until tender. You can use a fork to check.

While the potatoes cook, finely chop the spinach. Or give it a few quick pulses in the food processor. Finely chop the cilantro.

Add the spinach to the potatoes, the red chili powder, and salt. Toss everything together, add the cilantro, and place the lid back on to let everything cook for just a few minutes.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eggless Low-fat Lemon Loaf

It is about that time of the year when I start scouring my bookmarks, links, notes, and cookbooks for ideas to use lemon zest, lemon juice, or the whole lemon, as my Meyer lemon tree is heavy with fruit and ready to harvest. There will be plenty of citrusy salads and even a basic waran bhaat will get a generous squeeze of home grown lemons, but it is the baked goods that I look forward to experimenting with.

While many of the recipes I look through get pushed lower on the list if they are too daunting or time consuming, this snack cake looked easily adaptable. The fact that it is low-fat made it sound even better. I added plenty of lemon zest for flavor, and baked it in a loaf pan, turning it into a lemony loaf cake. I had to bake it a little longer which was probably due to the shape of the pan. I also de-veganized it because I didn't want to run out to buy a small amount of soy yogurt and soy milk, but using soy would make it truly vegan.

This is a lovely light cake that can be enjoyed without guilt as a snack, with tea, or for breakfast, and when dressed up with a fruit compote or puree it works as an elegant dessert too. I am sending it to this month's Grow Your Own event.

Lemon loaf cake

Here is my recipe, adapted from Susan's, with many thanks to her.

Meyer Lemon loaf Cake

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup yogurt (regular or soy)
1-1/2 Tablespoons oil, plus a little more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (regular or soy)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degree F.

Grease a 9x5 inch pan well with oil.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, blend the yogurt, oil, vanilla, water, soymilk, and lemon juice. Do not overmix. Stir in the lemon zest. Stir in the dry ingredients with a whisk or spatula.

Pour the batter into the greased pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove and allow to cool completely. Loosen sides gently with a knife and remove from pan.


Serving suggestion

Mango Sauce: Mix together a few tablespoons of mango jam with equal amount of water, and heat for a few minutes until it forms a sauce.

Lemon cake with mango sauce

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Soy Milk Kadhi

I have a niece who is lactose intolerant, and drinks soy milk everyday. So whenever she visits, I make sure soy milk is well stocked at home, but when she leaves, there is invariably some leftover. If it is a tiny quantity I add it to a shake or soup, but what does one do with a lot of soy milk if one doesn't consume it regularly?

The idea for this kadhi (for lack of a better name) was sown on one such occasion. This dish is neither a traditional kadhi, nor is it a substitute for the regular version made with yogurt, but came in handy recently when cooking for vegan and low carb-ing friends. For those not watching their carbohydrate intake, it goes rather well with plain white rice.

If you can find fresh soy milk, by all means use it rather than the carton variety.

Kadhi

Soy Milk Kadhi

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients

4 cups of unsweetened soy milk
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 Tablespoons besan
1 teaspoon ajwain seeds
1-2 Tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
5-10 curry leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 inch piece of ginger
4 green chilies
1/4 cup of tamarind extract (not concentrate!)
1 Tablespoon jaggery (optional)
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
salt to taste

Method

In a large bowl, stir together the soy milk, turmeric and besan with a whisk, until there are no lumps of flour. (Alternatively, you can add the turmeric later with the other ingredients in the hot oil.)

Pound the ajwain seeds to a coarse powder in a mortar and pestle. Mince the garlic, grate the ginger, and finely chop the green chilies.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the mustard seeds. As they start to pop, add the cumin and fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, chilies, and the ajwain powder. Stir and quickly add the soy milk and besan mixture. Keep whisking as it comes to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer.

Stir in the tamarind paste, jaggery and salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes on low heat until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring occasionally.

Add the cilantro at the very end, just before serving.
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