Monday, 22 October 2012

Spinach and roasted pumpkin sandwich

In the Indian context sandwiches are considered a snack. One that you can whip up in minutes if you have the chutney. Typically a sandwich is just a couple of slices of pure white bread (preferably with the crust trimmed off!!) with green corriander chutney and butter in between and a few measly slices of tomatoes, cucumber, onions and boiled potato. With a good appetite you can easily polish off 5-6 triangles and then some more.
Subway managed to introduce the solid and substantial western of the sandwich. However they have managed to only reach out to a fairly upward crowd and their sandwiches are exclusively referred to as Subway with clear opposition (and rightly so) to the "Indian Sandwich".

Here is one sandwich recipe which attempts like Subway an acceptance of "The Sandwich" as a meal. The preparation is also as elaborate as you would reckon for a meal. The ingredients list for this sandwich:
-Whole wheat sandwich bread (preferably home made, I have a posted a recipe already)
- Pumpkin 300 gm
- Cheese - as much as you like and the kind you like. I used Parmesan.
- Green peppers - 2 Nos. (any colour actually)
- Garlic - 2-3 cloves
- Red chilli flakes or Chilli oil
- Basil leaves - 8-10 leaves
- Cream - 1 Tbsp (optional)
- Olive oil
- Salt

The recipe has three parts: veggies and cheese, dressing and the bread. If you are not using chilli oil, start with the dressing. Mix the chilli flakes in about a tablespoon of olive oil and keep aside. We will come back to this later. Chilli oil is just olive oil with chilli flakes soaking in it for a couple of days or more, so the oil gets infused with the spice.
Now we being with the vegetables and cheese part. Peel and chop the pumpkin in 1/2 cm thick slices i.e. really thin. Just quarter the green peppers, you want longish broad slices. Put the pumpkin and peppers in a roasting pan, drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle some salt and pop it into an oven at 180 degrees celsius. (Pre-heating or semi-pre-heating is good, I never bothered in which case it takes a little longer).
While the vegetables roast, prepare the spinach. Trim he roots and the tough stems and chop roughly. Put a little oil or butter in a pot and add the spinach. On low heat, the greens will take 2-3 mins to wilt and release a lot of water. Cook the spinach through, but save about a tablespoon of the water. Grate cheese and keep aside.
Start dressing. To the chilli oil or the olive oil with chili flakes add crushed garlic cloves and about 4-5 finely chopped basil leaves and mix well. Add the cream if using, the spinach water and mix again- the dressing is ready.
Bread: Lightly toast the bread slices dry. Brown them only slightly. Very stiffly toasted slices of bread don't make good sandwiches.
We are now good to assembles the sandwiches if the vegetables in the oven are done. Check on them in the oven. Remember to give them a stir half way through their roasting time (somewhere around the time you wait for the spinach to wilt). The pumpkin slices would be a nice golden brown when done.
Take two slices of bread, spread some of the dressing on them. Place some spinach followed by cheese, pumpkin slices, one whole leaf of basil and finally two long slices of the peppers. Close your sandwich. Enjoy your meal. If the bread used is home made, I bet you will finish your meal with two of these sandwiches.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Nidi = Italian for nests

Countless Italian foods, mainly pasta, are named after their shapes of after things of similar shape found in nature. For example, did you know "Farfalle" means butterfly, "Orecchitte" means little ears and "Conchiglie" means shells? Google up their images and you will instantly know how the names came about.
This recipe is one along those lines. Nido means nest and Nidi refers to several of them. These nests are made of pancake strips and house roasted vegetables and a makeshift filling with easily available Indian ingredients to substitute the actual recipe which calls for ricotta, as explained in the TV series "Simply Italian". That's where this recipe is inspired from. It can be served just plain, but pairs just excellently with a classic arrabbiata sauce. So here we go.

Ingredients for the pancakes:
1/2 (120ml) Cup Milk
1/2 Cup White Flour (maida)
1 Egg

Ingredients for the filling:
2 Tbsp Mawa/Khoya (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp Thick set Yogurt
1/2 tsp Red chilli flakes
4-5 large leaves of fresh Basil
Zest of half a lemon

Veggies to roast:
Egg plant, Zucchini, Peppers (Green/Red/Yellow), 1Tbsp olive oil, Salt. Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients for the arrabbiata sauce:
5-6 ripe Tomatoes
1/2 Onion
1Tbsp cooking Butter
2-3 pods of Garlic
Salt and Pepper
3Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil.

We start with the slowest. Slice the vegetables to be roasted. Do not chop them. You want to be able to spread them on the pancakes without piling too high. I have not given any measurement for how much of each vegetable because it depends on the size of the veggies. One whole Egg plant might be too much or too less depending on how big the Egg plant is and likewise for zucchini and peppers. So read till the end of the recipe and use your judgement. Apply a few drops of olive oil on a skillet and spread the veggies as much as possible on it and pop into an oven set to 180 degrees Celsius for 20-25mins. Pre-heating is not required.

We start on the next slowest. My recent discovery and my would-be all time favourite- The Classic Arrabbiata Sauce. This sauce is so simple and so awesome and will never let you down. Perfect to be used in any Italian recipe that calls for a tomato sauce or just toss in any cooked pasta grate cheese and you'll have the your Italian cravings satiated in minutes.
Quarter the tomatoes and put them in the jar of a blender. Pulse for exactly five seconds. We are trying to arrive at the consistency of "crushed" tomatoes, NOT tomato puree or paste. Set a non-stick pot on a medium-high flame and pour in the contents of the blender. Rinse the blender with no more than a tablespoon of water to get the remaining tomato and pour into the pot. Peel an onion, halve it and dunk one half into the pot. No chopping, no slicing- just half the onion as such. Plop in the tablespoon of butter, give the three (tomato, onion and butter) a good stir, cover the pot, reduce flame to simmer and forget about it for 15-20mins.

Next, the pancakes. With a hand or electric whisk mix all the pancake ingredients into a smooth batter. It should be quite runny. Ladle out onto a good non-stick skillet to get a large thin pancake. Use up the batter and you should have two large ones. Keep aside.

Filling. Except the basil leaves, mix the other ingredients well with a fork until well combined. The mawa will give a grainy texture, this is ok. Finely snip the basil leaves with kitchen scissors and mix in as well.

Give the tomato sauce a good stir now. Remove the half onion and return the lid. Let it go for another 5-10mins and turn off the heat. Keep aside with the lid on.

The veggies must be done now too. It's time to assemble the Nidi. Generously oil a baking dish (borosil) and keep ready. On a large cutting board place one of the pancakes, spread on it half of the filling in a thin layer stopping about 2cm before the edge. Place a layer of the roasted veggies without piling them. Gently but firmly roll the pancake, leave the last inch or so. Place the other pancake and repeat the same layers. Overlap the left out inch of the first pancake with the starting of the next and continue rolling. It sounds more complicated than it is. You are trying to simulate rolling up a longish mat by placing the pancakes one after the other. You should have a very thick roll of the two pancakes now. Using a very sharp knife, slice the roll into about one inch thick slices and place these on the oiled baking dish. The slices touching each other to hold shape. Grate parmesan cheese on top of the Nidi and bake for 10-15mins in a pre-heated oven at 180 Degrees Celsius until the cheese has melted and cooked through.

While the Nidi bake, resume the tomato sauce. Put back on the stove on low flame and stir in any juices that have separated. Crush the garlic pods with the side of a knife and add it to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and stir in 2-3 Tbsp of Extra virgin olive oil. Never heat Extra virgin olive oil. The virginity is lost! Literally.

Nidi must be done. Serve a couple of Nidi onto a plate and spoon some arrabbiata sauce on them. Serve with good white wine!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Upma + Muffin = Upffin!

Torn between snooty breakfast choice (muffins and coffee) and traditional breakfast choice (upma) we came up with the upffin, which was quite a success. Only one thing was missing, it definitely needs a chutney to go with. We suggest the chat chutneys i.e. the green coriander chutney and the sweet tamarind jaggery one.
It makes a very nice 5pm snack too. The semolina (rava) gives a nice brown crispy outside to these savory muffins.

For four jumbo Upffins you will need:

1 cup Semolina (rava)
3/4 cup plain Yogurt a little on the sour side
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder (Manjal/Haldi)
1/2 tsp Red chilli powder
1/2 large or one small Onion chopped
3 Green chillies chopped (or more as per taste)
1 handful Sweet Corn kernels
1 handful fresh Green Peas
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Baking soda

For Tempering
3 tbsp Cooking oil, Mustard seeds, cumin seeds and Asafoetida (Kayam/Hing).

Dry roast the semolina in a wok taking care to stir constantly and get an even golden brown colour. Transfer into a bowl and let it cool a bit. Add the yogurt and mix well. You can adjust the amount of yogurt depending on how thick it is. The batter should not be too runny, you should be able to spoon the batter into the muffin tray. Mix in all the other ingredients except those for tempering.
Turn on your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease well and flour a muffin tray and keep ready.
In the wok heat the oil and add the mustard seeds, when they begin to splutter, add the cumin seeds and the asafoetida. Turn off the heat and add the contents of the wok to the batter. Spoon in some of the batter into the wok and back into the bowl to get all the oil. Mix the batter well. Spoon the batter into the muffin tray and pop into the oven (even if not completely heated). Bake for about 20mins or until brown. Remove from the mould and serve with the above suggested chutneys.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Slinging pretzels (Brezelschlingen)

(Lye) Pretzel ((Laugen)Brezel in German: pronounce "brey-tsel")
This post is a story post not a recipe post. Though I have no children connection I believe this post could interest children raisers due to the fable like story. This is not the historical account of the origin of Pretzels (which I am sure is not as interesting) but one of the several stories narrated in Germany to explain its origin. The courtesy goes to of course Elvira again and this book she gave me as a Christmas gift. 

In Germany pretzels are famous mostly in the two Southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (especially Swabia). It's a savoury bread with a tick chewy middle and thin tapering ends called the "arms" with rock salt strewn on top for a nice salty punch when you bite into the crispy crust and the chewy crumb. Altogether it's a wonderful warmth that spreads in your body and spirit when had fresh from the baker on a cold morning; dunking it in coffee as some like to do. They are had with butter, cheese or Wurst although they are great even just plain.
The main highlights of the pretzel are firstly it's shape of course and secondly the fact they they are dunked in Lye (Lauge) before baking which is what gives it the deep brown colour. Lye is a diluted solution of Sodium Hydroxide (Soda - NaOH). The way the shape is formed is important as this imparts the tension and stretch to the dough required for most yeast doughs. That's why it's called slinging pretzels (Brezelschlingen). This is how pretzels are professionally "slung". It takes some practice but can be learnt and is great fun! (when you get them right)

Now to the story.
Once upon a time there was a baker called Frieder. He and his wife baked delicious bread for the entire town. There were few other bakers as good as Frieder. He even delivered his bread to the royal palace. The King was very happy with the bread that Frieder provided for him and his townsmen.

As Frieder got richer, he also got greedier. He began mixing his flour with cheap lime and making his loaves too small. When the king came to know of this, he called Frieder to the court and sentenced him to be hanged. Until the decided day he would be locked up in a cell. During his time in the cell the townspeople had trouble getting bread and even the royal palace faced delays in getting their supply. 

The King not wanting to lose his only good baker decided to give Frieder a chance. He summoned Frieder on the evening before the planned hanging and said: "You may go free under one condition. You bake a bread so delicious that I have never ever tasted, before the third crow of the rooster tomorrow and through which the sun may shine thrice". 

With this task the King let Frieder go home for the night. Frieder went home and made the dough for the bread without knowing how he would proceed. All he could picture in his head was the noose that would go around his neck the next day. His hands formed the dough just like the rope of the noose. His plump wife stood by patiently in the door of the kitchen with arms crossed. Arms that would not embrace him anymore once he was dead. He formed similar crossed arms with the dough with the plump middle. And behold! The sun can actually shine thrice through this bread! Happy with the chance of going free, Frieder and his wife danced about in joy. Alas! They tipped the tray and the shaped dough fell into the bucket of lye meant for cleaning the oven. They hurriedly took the dough out of the lye and replaced them on the tray. There was no time to make more and the bread was baked as such. It tasted like nothing the King had had before. Frieder was free to go!

The below batch was our second pretzel breakfast. The first one was far from perfect. Recipe on request and orders in batches of 12 are welcome :)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Beetroot cake

Eeeew... beetroot in cake? The ugly cousin of carrot somehow didn't make it big in the cake world. Both are vegetables, both are roots, both are more or less neutral tasting and have no strong flavours of their own and take up added flavours well. Why then did only carrot cake make it to the chalk boards of many a café? Somethings are just unfair. Let this recipe change your initial exclamation.

As opposed to plain flour cakes which are more spongy, vegetable and fruit cakes are generally a little crumbly due to the water content in the fruits and vegetables. They pair well with ice cream as a dessert and also are more suitable for drizzling a glaze on them rather than layering and frosting. This cake is no exception. I have not done any glaze on this one. But I will include it in the recipe should you want to try it.

This recipe yields a loaf of 8"x 4.5". You will need

3/4 cup finely grated Beetroot
2 Eggs
1/3 cup unsalted Butter
2 tbsp Olive oil
1/2 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Milk/pouring Cream/plain Yogurt.
1/2  Vanilla pod or 1/2 tsp Vanilla extract or essence
1 cup White cake Flour (maida)
1 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Salt

Leave the butter out in the bowl you plan to mix your batter in while you grate the beetroot and measure out other ingredients. Scrape out the vanilla pod if using. Grease and flour the cake pan.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt and baking powder and keep aside. Pour the olive oil over the butter and cream the butter with a whisk (or electric mixer) until fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk again until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs one at a time mixing between each addition. Add the flour mixture and the milk alternately in three additions starting and ending with the flour. Your cake batter minus the beetroot is now ready.

A note on the beetroot at this point is in place. You have a choice to make here. You can add the grated beetroot as such or saute it in a little butter before adding it. Sauteing the beetroot beforehand will remove excess water from it and hence improve the texture of the cake. I however didn't bother with this, as I am not much for cooking the beetroot twice; once while sauteing and then again in the oven, which would make it nutritionally null and void. I'd rather have a little crumblier cake than eat beetroot just for its colour. So if you have guests and want to make a better presentation, by all means saute the beetroot in a bit of butter until any oozed juices have evaporated. If sauteing, do it right in the beginning and let it cool down before adding it to the batter else the beetroot will cook the eggs as you add.

So, stir in the beetroot with a rubber spatula, not an electric whisk; the whisk will catch the beetroot shreds and fling around cake batter creating beetroot graffiti in your kitchen! Mix it gently, you can leave a bit of white batter marbled here and there. Pour into the cake pan. Smooth the top and pop into an oven preheated to 180 degrees Celsius. Baking time will be more for raw beetroot than for sauted. Bake for about 25 to 40 mins depending on your oven. A toothpick inserted in the middle that comes out clean indicates that the cake is done. Run a knife around the edges and invert cake pan to remove the cake.

If glazing, a lemon glaze works well. Take about three to four tablespoons of icing sugar and add the juice of one lemon to make a paste. Add water as necessary to get a thick syrupy pouring consistence. Drizzle over the warm cake. Cool the cake on a wire rack before slicing.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Lemon ginger cream sauce

Two weeks preceding Christmas of 2011 I was in Stuttgart, Germany on work and made a friend. Elvira Ruhnke-Hauptvogel was one of the few colleagues with whom I laughed a lot and also got a dinner invitation from. Picking up on my inquisitiveness about the food she made and served, she aptly gave me this parting Christmas gift.

This post is hence dedicated to her and though I am not as much in touch with her as I promised to be, I would like to tell you Elvira that the books you gave me are on the top of my pile of cookbooks and very soon I even plan to attempt Spätzle!
This books is about 50 sauces and the kind of pasta (Nudeln = German for Pasta) they go with well. I had Thai rice sticks and was rummaging for a suitable sauce for the same. I zeroed down on this recipe to which I have made significant modifications by including more spices, vegetable and seeds.

It is a typical fusion dish with Asian spices and yet a very European slant due to the cream base. It pairs well with flat rice noodles (Thai rice sticks) as well as with regular wheat pasta. As you might notice even the book files this recipe under "euro-asiatisch". It is a cold dish; it is served at room temperature. The concept of distinguishing a warm meal from a cold one is also typically German and it is considered healthy to eat at least one warm meal a day. A cold pasta dish is not necessarily a pasta salad and neither is this one. It calls for only minimal cooking of the ingredients- just browning the onions and cooking the noodles.

For this dish (for two) your pantry should include...

-Flat Rice Noodles or Pasta (if using pasta a similar flat pasta like fettuccine would work well)
-About 20-25 fresh Basil leaves
-A stalk of Lemongrass
-1" piece of Ginger
-1 Lemon
-3-4 dry Red chillies (you can go up to 6 if you like it really spicy)
-3-4 cloves of Garlic
-1 Onion
-1 Green Pepper
-1 Tbsp Black Sesame seeds
-150-200 ml Fresh Cream
-1 Tbsp Honey
- Salt

Boil a liter of water in a large pot. Place the red chillies (stem removed), the garlic cloves (peel only the outer wispy skin, leave the tight snug skin on) and some salt in a mortar (I use rock salt in the mortar as it helps grinding the spices) and add one tablespoon of the boiling water to it. Peel the ginger and chop into fine pieces and add to the mortar as well and keep aside.

Thinly slice the onions. In a skillet, heat about a teaspoon of any oil and add the onions to it. Spread the slices. You have to get the onions brown, so lower the flame to the lowest and start also thinly slicing the green pepper while keeping an eye on the onions, stirring when needed. When the onions are nearly brown, add in the sesame seeds and toss around till they crackle or show some form of acknowledgement of the heat and turn the flame off. Take out the onions and sesame and add the green pepper slices to the skillet and let them get just very slightly done in the residual heat. I like green peppers just slightly done, even raw is fine.

Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass and chop the stalk as fine as you can. Even the basil has to be cut very finely. A good idea to finely cut basil is to stack up 3-4 leaves at a time, roll them like you would a cigarette and cut finely using a pair of kitchen scissors. Add the basil and the lemongrass to a mixing bowl. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice. Both go into the mixing bowl as well.

By now your boiled water would have cooled down a bit, add the rice sticks and keep covered. Rice sticks don't need a flame to cook in. Just immersing them in hot water (not even boiling water) will cook them. But again this depends on the variety and quality of the noodles. I have described what worked for these Thai rice sticks. Follow the instructions on the pack for cooking the noodles.

Back to the spices. Now the chillies in the mortar would have softened. Crush and pound with a pestle to make a fiery red paste. You are now nearly done; it is now mixing time. The red paste and the onions- sesame mixture go into the mixing bowl. Add in the cream and honey and mix well. This is what allows you to add so many spices and yet not burn through while eating. Your sauce is now ready. Add the green peppers and drained noodles to the sauce. Toss well and voilà!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Basic cheesecake

For a long time and after a lot of rummaging on the internet I had almost resigned to the fact that  Cheesecake in India was not practical. The core ingredient "cream cheese" is not easily available. There are only few brands and terribly overpriced. Splurging that kind of money on one ingredient for a home dessert is not my thing.
For me a recipe is somehow not interesting if there it calls for an excess (of money or quantity) of just one very rich fattening ingredient; like EIGHT eggs or more for a 9inch cake or Croissants.. (..stretch and wrap the yeast dough around a slab of butter... Ugh!!).
Most of the recipes for cheese cake on Indian websites were either dubiously simple (the "I-doubt-they-actually-tried-that"- variety ) or just some method of solidifying milk or worse, maintained that condensed milk and yogurt mixed together produced cheesecake!
This recipe for cheesecake has been tried and tested (not perfected). I was told that it is a little lighter than the version made with cream cheese. The recipe proceeds in three stages. Here is the ingredients list.

For a 7" round cheesecake you will need:
400ml tubs of plain Yogurt (set curd if you will) - 2
1/2 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Fresh Cream
2 Eggs
1 Tbsp Cake flour (maida)
1 Vanilla pod/ 1/2 tsp Vanilla essence
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
8-10 plain Biscuits (neutral tasting and less sweet like Marie) or Plain crackers
2 tbsp melted Butter
For cheesecakes you also need a springform pan.

Start the previous night. Hang the yogurt. Hanging yogurt gets rid of the whey and gives you only the cheese. Take a bowl, spread a cheesecloth or a clean handkerchief over it empty the two tubs of yogurt into it. Gather and tie the ends of the hanky and hang it overnight. This is what I do.

A note on the yogurt used. You want the least sour yogurt you can get. Usually the carton has a production date and the life thereafter is two weeks. While this is okay for most uses, buy a carton that is not more than 4-5 days old.

Stage one:
The next day start with the biscuit base. Put the biscuits or crackers into a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush the biscuits to crumbs. There should be no chunky pieces left. Be careful with the plastic bag. Crush more by rolling and less by pounding. If the plastic bag tears, it's a mess! Pour out the powdered biscuits into a bowl. Add the powdered nutmeg, melted butter and half an egg white into the biscuit powder. For the egg white, crack an egg around its middle and using your fingers slightly cleave open the egg shell letting some of the egg white to flow into the biscuits. Keep the remaining egg aside, it will be added to the filling.
Now stir the biscuit powder well to get it all wet with butter and egg white and empty the bowl into an ungreased springform pan (Yay... no greasing and flouring required for cheesecake). Spread evenly on the bottom of the pan and then press down with the back of a spoon to form a firm base. It should look like this.

Now stick the springform pan in the freezer. Cover it with a plate to avoid any drops of water from falling in. Freezing will cause the butter to get firmer and this will hold the base better. The egg white is actually a safety measure. When the cheesecake is popped in the oven, The butter in the base will melt again and the egg white will get firm by cooking. This will ensure that your base is not too crumbly making it easier to cut and serve.

Stage Two:
We make the filling now. Open the cheesecloth and plop its contents into the bowl (you can use the one which had the biscuit powder). Use a spoon to get any significant remains in the cheesecloth. Scrap out the vanilla pod onto the cheese.

Add in the sugar, cream and eggs one at a time and flour and mix with a large spoon after every addition until the mixture is homogeneous. While mixing do not take out the spoon with every stroke. The aim is to mix everything without getting too much air into the mixture. 
This is the main difference between cheesecake and a regular flour and butter cake. In the latter you want more air incorporated for a nice rise in the oven. Here you want absolutely no rise else the cheesecake will have cracks (which is what happened to me). Keeping air out is also the intention of not using an electric balloon whisk. I, however, do use it as it gets the filling nice and creamy quickly without lumps. The cake eventually cracks but the taste is better. 
Ideally do all the mixing with a spoon and just at the end use the electric whisk on lowest speed for just 5-10 seconds to smoothen out the filling. Take out the base from freezer and pour the filling into the pan. Use a rubber spatula to get all of the filling.

Stage three:
When you have poured the filling out it doesn't settle in smoothly. You need to use the rubber spatula to smoothen it out before baking it. Let the pan stand for about 5-10 mins before baking. This gives some time and us some hope that the air bubbles from mixing will pop. Bake on the bottom rack of an oven pre-heated to 180 Degrees Celsius for 40-45 mins.

The test is to verrrrry slighly tap the middle with a spoon and see if it jiggles. The filling should not come onto the spoon. Take out the cheesecake and let it cool. Once cooled run a knife around the cake and the base to make sure nothing it stuck and refrigerate for 4-6 hours. As I am all about shortcuts, I place it in the freezer for about and hour and a half and shifted it into the fridge thereafter.Remove the rim of the springform, arrange any manner of fruits on top (I chose bananas) and serve. Tada!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

What we didn't realise while buying the huge oven...

.... is that we have nothing big enough to serve what we make in it.. :)

The the cutting board was used for the huge non-conform rectangular pizza.

Just two basic toppings and very little cheese. The mushroom browned beautifully and the flavour of roasted  crushed garlic wafted through our heads when we bit in. Recipe yet to be perfected. Look out for the post on the most straight forward pizza.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Tangy potato curry

First things first, I thank Mrs. Mridula Baljekar for this recipe from her book called "CURRY". It gives a westerner an insight into sub-continental (mainly Indian) cuisine. The entire publishing team is based in the UK and the book is very pretty and photography really mouthwatering.

That said, this book would be better off if read strictly by westerners or Indians who are novices in the kitchen. I'm not being negative about the book but, it's a really large country with just too many varied cuisines that the author is trying to claim expertise on. As expected the south Indian section has taken the heaviest blow as regards authenticity and it is precisely a recipe from this section that I have adapted in this post. "Adapted" in this case really means adapted and is not the blogging word for "copied".

So, this "south Indian" curry is a semi gravy (as you see in the pic above) that pairs well with most north Indian rice dishes like pulav (pilaf) or Jeera rice. You will need:

400 gm Potatoes (baby potatoes are suggested, makes no difference)
5-6 dried Red chilies
4-5 Tomatoes (quartered)
3/4 Tbsp Tamarind paste
1 Tsp Fennel seeds (Saunf/Perunjeeragam)
4 cloves of Garlic
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida (Hing/Kayam)
7 Curry leaves
1/2 Tsp Sugar
Green Corriander
1 Tbsp Ghee/ Unsalted cooking butter
1-2 Tbst plain Yogurt (optional)

Peel and dice the potatoes. Put them in a pot of water and set it to boil. Meanwhile in a jar of a blender, add the red chilies and two tablespoons of boiling water to soften them. (You could take some from the pot of potatoes). Add all the other ingredients except the ghee (or butter) to the blender jar as well. Make sure the boiling water for the chilies has cooled down and blend.
Keep an eye on the potatoes, remove from flame when still a little uncooked.
Heat the ghee in a wok. If using butter, heat it till it has clarified (not just melted). When butter clarifies, it smokes considerably. That's when you know it is done. To the fat, add the contents of the blender and stir. If  using butter, there would be more sputtering. Stir for about five minutes on medium flame to reduce the sauce. Taste it to check the spice and adjust salt if needed. If it is too spicy, stir in the yogurt else leave it out. Reduce the flame to minimum and add the potatoes. Stir well to coat the potatoes and let them simmer in the gravy for about 3-4 mins more until they are now fully done. Take off the heat, sprinkle green corriander to garnish.

False weekend

Our weekend breakfasts are a big deal. Whether making the decided breakfast itself is a big deal is not the point. The mental effort that goes into deciding what would be perfect is always a little disproportionately high. But we enjoy it. And so much so that this week we decided we wanted the Friday breakfast to be the weekend variety too.
A frittata is one of those medium work breakfasts. This is one dish where Wikipedia throws you off with its first line in the article "... egg based dish similar to an omlette or a quiche...". Err.. hello!! An omlette and a quiche are not similar. With that, you are left with the illusion of having understood what a frittata is. A frittata is not like an omlette because
1- Only 45-50% of the total ingredients are eggs
2- Traditionally it is not accompanied with toast
3- It requires broiling (heat from top)
Let's start with the breakfast. 

For Frittata you need
Veggies - Tomato, Green pepper, Onion, Olives, Mushrooms, Green peas, Spinach, Leeks...
Meats- I don't eat but I am guessing any cured/processed meats will do well. Chopped up sausages maybe.
Spices - Garlic, Basil, Dry oregano, Pepper or chilly flakes Salt
Cheese of your choice
One tablespoon cooking oil

The reason why the ingredients are so vague is that the dish is so versatile. You can choose all or any of the veggies and the number of eggs have to be adjusted accordingly. You need enough eggs to cover the skillet full of veggies you are using.
Chop/Slice and prepare all the veggies (and meat if using). Beat the eggs. Grate cheese and keep ready. Turn on your oven to broil at 180 degrees Celsius with the rack at the top most slot closest to the heating coil. Broil means the coil on top should be heating not the one below.
Set a non-stick heavy bottomed skillet on a flame. Add the oil followed by any dry spices you are using (dry oregano), crushed black pepper and salt. Lower the flame to the minimum and add the veggies in the order they cook. If using onions, add them first and green peppers last (as they loose colour quickly). After each addition give the skillet a stir. Once all the veggies are in (not fully cooked) add the beaten eggs to cover all the veggies. Shred any fresh herbs you are using on top. Crush cloves of garlic in a mortar and add the shreds too. Grate cheese on top.

Three eggs here. Is this how your omlette looks?
All this time the eggs got on the low flame is sufficient to mostly cook the bottom of the frittata. Now for the browning and cooking the top portion, you need to broil the frittata. Place the skillet in the oven on the rack which must be hot by now. Give it about 5-7 minutes depending on your oven, until the top has cooked and browned. Take out of the oven cut into wedges or quarters and serve.
To make this without an oven, I used to flip the frittata. This is however tricky because the top is still runny. You first slide the frittata on to a metal plate, then use the skillet as a lid over the plate to cover the frittata. Hold both skillet and plate firmly against each other and turn over quickly. The skillet and the plate must be a good fit. Once successfully flipped, increase the flame to the maximum and give it about 2 mins. Cut into wedges and serve. Frittatas pair excellently with tomato juice (V8).

Monday, 9 July 2012

WW Bread... Success!!!

The exclamation in the title can only be fully understood if you have actually tried baking a whole wheat loaf and cried out in desperation at the resultant gummy leathery mass dense enough to make you wonder why wheat is not used as a construction material. I strongly urge you to once venture that masochistic recipe in order to sufficiently appreciate this loaf.

In the indian context, there isn't much of a choice in wheat flours. Traditionally there just two kinds: the good, nutritious and more expensive "atta" (whole wheat flour) and the bad, unhealthy, relativity cheaper "maida" (bleached cake flour). Atta is milled by stone grinding the wheat beans to produce a very hygroscopic (water absorbing) sticky flour which is ideal for making most unleavened flat breads of India. Unfortunately this method of milling does not render the flour suitable for leavened yeast breads.

After some amount of experimentation and rummaging through several complicated recipes, I figured out this bread recipe that worked. I am somehow not a fan of bread recipes that call for too many additives like milk, butter, eggs, dough enhancers and what not. For me bread is basic and is made of just flour, water, yeast and salt. For the whole wheat loaf however, this is as basic as I could go. There are just two additives to the mentioned ingredients: mashed potatoes and olive oil.

Disclaimer: This is not an ideal bread recipe if you have never baked any loaf of bread earlier. We are talking at least 60% hydration here. Some beforehand practice with easier dough is called for.

So you now have the ingredients, here are the proportions for one 8.5"x 4" loaf
2 1/2 cups Whole wheat flour (atta)
1/2 cup mashed Potato
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 tsp active dry Yeast
1 or 1 1/2  cups Water (difference explained below)
Salt to taste
White flour (maida) for dusting and shaping

The mashed potatoes are obviously the first job. So just cook and mash one medium-large potato, you will be good. Mash very well. You can even over cook the potato. There should be no lumps. A cheese grater would be a good idea if you don't have a potato ricer. Alternatively add to the flour about 1/3 cup instant dry potato flakes that you get in the supermarket. Amount of water depends on which option you choose for the potatoes: 1 cup water for cooked and mashed potato and 1 1/2 cups water if using instant potato flakes.

If you don't trust your yeast, proof it before use. Add all the ingredients except the white flour in a pot and begin kneading. I would not dare attempt kneading this with my hands. Atta and mashed potatoes! It doesn't get stickier. So you stick one hand in and then the other, then its too sticky, you add flour.. oh too dry..add water..oh what a mess.. more know the vicious cycle. So no, please use a hand mixer with a dough hook. Knead on medium speed for a good five to seven minutes. You will see the gluten desperately trying to develop but in vain as the enzymes in the wheat slash the strands formed. You will not get a smooth ball like you would with white flour and don't wait for it. The dough will be a little shaggy. When done kneading, scrape the sides of the pot with a spoon to get the dough together in one mass and let it rise in a warm place. 60 to 90 Minutes; expected volume: double the original. If you are doing an overnight loaf, cover with a plastic bag/ shower cap and pop into the fridge the night before for a cold rise.

Once doubled get ready to shape the dough. Dust your work area really generously with the white flour. Apply well on both your hands as well. Use a spatula to deflate the dough and scrape it out as one ball and plop it on the dusted work area. Pat the dough with your flour covered hands. Don't work your way into the dough. Just stay at the surface and use the flour to help you handle the dough without sticking. Form an oval shape with as much tension as you can and place into a well greased loaf pan. (Again, don't expect the tightness you will get with white flour). Cover with a shower cap and keep aside while you clean your work area.

The second rise should be just until you see the loaf crowning: 20 to 30 Mins. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Make your signature slashes and bake in the middle rack for 30-35mins. Checking for done-ness of breads is different than for cakes. Don't stick a knife in instead knock the crust of the bread and the sides of the pan with a spoon and listen for a hollow sound. That means it is done. Loosen the edges with a knife and turn it out on a board. You should have this...

.. which upon slicing (only after it cools completely) should give you this...

A finer look at the crumb....

Toasted on a pan with some butter and shredded basil leaves.

Disclaimer 2: This is also the first time I am getting this right. I noticed that the life of this loaf due to the  extremely wet mashed potatoes is fairly less. Try and use up within 24 to 36 hours. It will keep for two days and a little more if using instant potato flakes. This is not a snack kind of bread. It is fairly substantial, so a loaf of this size would provide for a meal of sandwiches for three people.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

X minutes pasta

This is my first Italian dish post and I hope you enjoy it. A very basic pasta recipe with only classic italian ingredients; it is so basic, there is not even a sauce to it. That's why it's called X minutes pasta. X to be substituted with the number of minutes it takes for your pasta to cook.

For a meal for one you will need
- two handfuls of Pasta (short-cut ones like penne, fusili, farfalle etc. not long noodle type like spaghetti, tagliatelle or fettuccine)
- three small Tomatoes or eight Cherry tomatoes.
- 8-10 large leaves of fresh Basil
- 4-5 cloves of Garlic
- 10 Pepper corns
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2" cube of the best Cheese you can get- ideally Parmesan.
- Salt

Start with the pasta. Set a pot of water to boil with a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of any neutral flavour oil like sunflower oil. When the water begins to boil, add in the pasta, give it a stir. 
While waiting for the pasta to cook, cut the tomatoes- cherry tomatoes into two each and regular tomato into eight pieces each. Garlic- remove only the outer wispy skin of the cloves, don't peel them further. Put the garlic, pepper corns and salt in a mortar- do not crush yet. Wash the basil leaves and keep ready.
Check the pasta. You want it done al dente. Al dente, as the million internet resources will tell you, means just a little underdone; with a bite to it. When done, remove from the flame, drain and keep aside. There is no sauce, so you don't have to save the starchy water.
Now you need to work fast, as the pasta will start to dry out and get sticky. Place a non-stick wok on medium flame. Crush the spices now and add to the now hot wok. Add the cubed tomatoes and tear up the basil with your hands and add them to wok as well. Give it a good stir to coat the tomatoes with the crushed spices and basil. Lower the flame to minimum, add the olive oil, stir and turn off the flame in five seconds and not more. Tumble in the drained pasta and toss to get the olive oil all over the pasta. You are done. Serve on a plate and grate the cheese at the table :)

Peanut milk

This drink was such a discovery for me. Also I did not find too many reliable internet resources for peanut milk. The method to make any nut milk is actually very similar and Keralites will be instantly able to associate this with coconut milk extraction. 
Those unaware so far about it, please note peanut milk is not peanut milkshake. It contains no milk at all just like peanut butter contains no butter. It is the butter "of peanuts" and likewise the milk of peanuts. 
A disclaimer before we get started, the taste of raw peanuts is an acquired one. So, when you taste this for the first time, be prepared to be surprised; pleasantly or otherwise. I personally find the taste wonderful and see the entire concept of peanut milk and nut milk in general as a starting point for many other dishes. So if you like the drink, look forward to other posts in the future that use peanut milk as an ingredient.

The ingredients are very basic, it is the procedure that is a little laborious. For about a liter of peanut milk you will need
- 50 to 75gms of raw Peanuts.
- A stick of Cinnamon
- 2-3 Tablespoons Sugar
- 1L water
- Medium-large sized fine metal strainer. A smaller strainer will make the process more laborious and a plastic sieve will make it messy. So buy a metal sieve if you plan to make this often.
- Two one liter pots.

The proportion of water to peanuts is really variable. You can adjust water or peanuts up or down to your desirable thickness. The above proportions don't yield a thick and creamy consistency. It is a light drink. Usually the proportion suggested are 1cup of peanuts to 8 cups of water. This one is a little thicker than that.

Getting started.
In a pot boil the water with the cinnamon stick and sugar. Let it simmer for a minute or two until it has turned a very mild brown from the cinnamon. You will also be able to smell the cinnamon in the steam. Take it off the heat and add the raw peanuts. Let it cool down completely to room temperature. I left it overnight to make the milk in the morning.
Once cool, transfer the water (which would be red now, if you had left it overnight) into the other pot and add the peanuts into a jar of a blender. Rinse out the first pot. Add some of the cinnamon water into the blender, until a little above the level of the peanuts and blend for 5-10 seconds. Strain the contents of the blender into the first pot (that you rinsed). The mixture will be thick, you need to stir with a spoon and press with the back of the spoon to squeeze out the milk.
Return the contents of the strainer to the blender, add more of the cinnamon water, blend and strain again. Repeat the cycle till you have used up all the cinnamon water. You can discard what is left in the strainer into your compost pile. If you feel bad that you are wasting peanuts, just taste it. It will taste of absolutely nothing. That's right, the peanuts have been "milked" of all their taste and goodness.
Peanut milk is ready.
A few notes about peanut milk:
-Use it at room temperature or chilled. Heating or boiling it ruins the flavour, unless using as a cooking medium, which I definitely plan to do.
-Drink as such or even try adding it to coffee. It was lovely. Avoid trying to make the south Indian full milk coffee with this. It is for adding a dash of milk to black coffee, caffe macchiato if you will.
-Try varying the spice- I plan to try it with cloves, nutmeg and cardamom.
- Remember the disclaimer about the acquired taste :)

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Another Kerala quickie

True to our "About us" page, I am making this post about the versatile Kanji (rice porridge). Kanji for any Keralite is comfort food. It is originally considered poor man's food, as it is nothing but rice boiled with an excess of water and the starchy water is also consumed with the rice: an instant energy giving carbs whammy.
For a foodie, this basic main dish gives scope for endless add-ons and sides. Common accompaniments are Payaru (a variety of slender green beans), pickles, Chamanthi (Coconut chutney/paste), Pappadam. Any or all of these are served with Kanji. In this post: Kanji + Chamanthi, the latter being the more elaborate preparation.

This meal for two is again a twenty to twenty five minute affair, discounting the time for shallot peeling and coconut grating. The time for these two things really depend on your skill and practice- alternatively buy peeled shallots and get someone else to grate the coconut. 

Start off. Get the Kanji going first. Wash 4/5 Cup rice and 1/5 Cup Mung dal together in a pot. Yes, I add some lentils to my Kanji as well for a little creamy texture. Fill pot with water and set on the stove.

For "The Coconut Chutney with Charred Shallots and Chilli" you will need:
- 12-15 peeled Shallots
- Half a grated Coconut
- 3 or 4 dry Red chillies
- 3/4 Tsp Tamarind paste
- Coconut oil for dipping
- Salt

The shallots and the red chillies have to be charred on a flame first. Skewer the shallots on a fork like so...
Then dip the fork into coconut oil and take out. Let the oil drip off and hold the onions over a flame. They will crackle and burn brilliantly like so..
For the first time you make this, just char them until this point. If you like the smokey taste you could char it a little more the next time
Put the charred shallots into the jar of your blender. Repeat the same with the chillies- skewer, dip, char. Add them to the blender with salt and the tamarind paste.
Remember to remove the stem portion of the chillies, add the grated coconut and blend. Add a tablespoon or two of water as required. Use as little water as your blender can manage; water on fiery roasted spices is literally a dampener.

At this point the Kanji must be ready and you can just add salt to it and serve. I, however, went a little extra mile. Take a tablespoon of cooking (unsalted) butter in a wok and heat it till it has clarified, not just melted. It must be smoking quite profusely. Take off the heat, sprinkle in some chilli flakes and salt. Give the wok a shake and add its contents to the kanji. Ladle out some kanji into the wok to get all the remaining butter and spices and add it back to the pot. Stir well and serve with the chamanthi.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Express Kerala dinner

When this blog contains many many posts which have to be organised with various combinations of labels and tags, you will find this recipe under "basic", "simple", "quick dinners" and the like. I actually started making this yummy meal after we began to get hungry. I have a strict policy of not calling call my own cooking yummy, but for this post I allow myself because it is a 100% handed down recipe and I promise I shall transmit any credit that this dinner gets faithfully to mommy dearest. I will call it Kerala lentil stew with ash gourd (Ehh..) to save you the trouble of learning the actual Malayalam name.
Twenty minutes, twenty five if you are slow and finicky about too many vessels and mess like me. Go ahead, time yourself.
For a meal for two you will need:
- One cup rice
- 3/4 Cup Mung dal
- 300gm Ash gourd (Indian name white pumpkin)
- Two or three green chillies
- 1/2 Tsp Turmeric powder (Haldi)
- Two Tbsp Coconut oil
- 8-10 Curry leaves
- Salt

Wash the rice in a pot, add water to fill the pot. Set on the stove and let the rice cook. Meanwhile, discard the seed portion of the ash gourd and peel it as well. Cut into cubes and put in a cooker. Wash and add the mung dal to the cooker. Add enough water in the cooker to just cover the dal and vegetable. Add salt, turmeric powder, slit green chillies and set on the stove with the weight on. When the first steam goes lower the flame to the minimum. When the second steam goes, turn off the flame and let it stand. Attend to the rice (ask me how if you don't know) and keep it aside when done. Once the pressure in the cooker has let up, open it and give it a stir or two to mash up the lentils. Add about 3/4 cup of plain water, mix well and let it come to a simmer. Take a whiff of the dal and notice how plain it smells. 
The next 20 seconds completes your meal with a flourish. Rip the curry leaves bunch in two and keep ready. Take the coconut oil in a deep metal ladle and hold it over a low flame to heat it very mildly (@ North Indians: this is not a tadka. Heat very mildly!). Drop the curry leaves into the ladle and then stir the contents of the ladle into the simmering dal. Take another whiff of the entirely morphed flavour. Serve with rice and absolutely any south Indian pickle.
The picture is only perfunctory.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dip, spread or mix

This is a sort of three-in-one recipe, but you need to choose which of the three you want to end up with at the outset. Saturday tea-time without munchies is oh-so-annoying. Those were the circumstance in which the subject of this post was born. After the Siesta, we wondered "Coffee with what?". There was a fresh unopened packet of plain crackers, but we could obviously not have just that with coffee for Saturday afternoon. Hence we made the below Caramelised onion dip.

Caramalised Onion dip with plain crackers
You will need:
-one small or half a large Onion
-two tablespoons of sunflower oil or other neutral tasting cooking oil
-three table spoons plain set Yogurt (the one that comes in a carton and never goes sour)
-25-50gms of any soft Cheese (regular mozarella or chedder)
-five Black pepper corns
-a teaspoon of dry Oregano or three leaves of fresh Basil (both yield distinct tastes to the dish)

There is the core recipe which I will run through first. 
Grate the cheese and keep aside. This will give it time to get soft. Slice the onions as finely as you can. Don't run it through the food processor to get fine but shapeless pieces. Use a knife and slice finely. In a skillet heat the oil and swirl it around to cover the base and then "place" in the onion slices. Avoid crowding them too much, the more spread the better. 
Now, if you have been wondering why I didn't say extra virgin olive oil, which would make it appropriately fancy for this dish, here is the reason. Extra virgin olive oil is known to have an excellent flavour, several health benefits and is hence fairly expensive. What is less known however is that this flavour (and the health benefits) literally go up in smoke when the oil is heated. It is an utter waste to use this oil for caramelising (culinary term for burning) anything. Back to the onions.
So there isn't much stirring around to be done while caramelising. Just leave the slices where they were placed and watch closely. When you can see them browning, wait for a minute more and then flip the pieces to brown the other side. Once evenly brown (fairly dark brown), take out the slices onto a kitchen towel or tissue paper to let the oil drip off and cool.
Meanwhile, in a bowl take the yogurt, softened cheese, salt and crushed pepper. I always write pepper corns instead of pepper powder in recipes because I always crush them in a mortar just before use. It takes 30 seconds more and makes a huge difference in flavour. Use a hand mixer and whip the mixture for 30 seconds until creamy. Add in the caramelised onions and the herb you are using, dry oregano or fresh basil leaves snipped with scissors, and mix with a spoon (don't run the mixer, the onion stripes will act as whips and make a mess... yes it happened to me). The dip version is ready. Serve with crackers or an unhealthier option would be chips.

The spread version has to be thicker. Increase the amount of cheese and hang the yogurt before use. Increase amount of spices too. If you don't know about hanging yogurt ask me in the comments :). This will yield a thicker consistency, that can be spread on toast or in sandwiches.

The last of the three is to use this as a salad dressing. Loosen the dip version with a little milk, half and half or cream. Increase amount of spices and you want to add one other spice as well: just red chilly flakes and/or some crushed garlic cloves are good options. After tossing the salad, add half a teaspoon of white vinegar.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Indonesian? Thai? Japanese?

Actually all three. When the Bali vacation hangover refuses to leave you alone and when you stubbornly decide to appease it with Indonesian food, there is always the reality check of the local supermarket. All Asian ingredients on one rack (as if Indian is not Asian!) . Thai flat rice noodles it is. I set out making this with no concrete recipe in mind. Only the general direction of the flavour I wanted to get (East). The result was the pleasant surprise shown below. A fairly non-fussy meal to whip up even at the end of a tiring day at work.

You will need:
- Thai flat rice noodles (sticks)
- one Onion
- two medium Carrots
- two small Peppers of any colour (capsicum)
- one inch piece Ginger 
- four large leaves of Basil (yes.. it's from the back yard :))
- three cloves of Garlic
- eight Black Peppercorns (lesser for a milder taste)
- Red chilly flakes (can be left out for milder taste)
- one tablespoon crunchy Peanut butter
- two heaped teaspoons of Red miso paste
- Rock salt
- two tablespoons Sesame oil
- two fairly hungry or three mildly hungry people

Thinly slice the vegetables. Chop ginger fine, snip basil leaves and put them in a mortar along with the pepper corns, peeled garlic cloves, some rock salt and chilly flakes if using. Do not crush yet! Keep the miso paste and peanut butter our of the fridge. 
Now, here is a thing about peanut butter. You could either purchase the jar that the supermarket sells, of which you never checked the ingredients label or for literally a third of the price you could get peanut butter by running roasted peanuts with two teaspoon of any oil in your blender. Yes! This is all that peanut butter actually is.
Back to the noodles.

Start making:
Use a wide wok (kadai) as you have quite some tossing and stirring to do. Heat the oil and add onions, carrots and the peppers in that order at intervals of just half a minute. Plop in the peanut butter and the red miso paste and stir well to coat all the vegetables. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the paste to better coat the veggies. You can adjust the water at this point. You don't want a very runny sauce. Reduce the flame to the least possible. In a separate pot, pour hot (not boiling) water on the rice noodles and let them cook. Rice noodles don't need to be cooked on flame. Crush your spices in the mortar with a pestle now. The veggies would be just done. Stir the spice mix into the sauce and adjust the salt to taste. Turn off the flame quickly. Drain the noodles and toss them with the sauce in the wok. Thai noodles in peanut and red miso sauce. Bon appetit!