Tag Archives: Cooking

A Fresh Start: 30 Food Prep Shortcuts

Dig-In MealsA column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

The advent of a New Year harks new beginnings, a way to do things better, faster. Check out some tips and quick hacks—creating better habits around cooking more, saving more—to shift your behavior in the kitchen.  

  1. To preserve the color of your homemade ginger-garlic paste add some oil and salt to it.
  2. Make a big batch of fried onions in your air fryer or stovetop. Add mint while frying onions enhances their flavor. Use as a pizza topping, on biryani’s, pastas, etc.
  3. While grinding coriander chutney, add some ice cubes in the blender. This will help to reduce heat buildup and preserves the vivid green color of the chutney.
  4. Keep your unused avocado fresh. Take any Tupperware or a bowl filled with just enough water to submerge the exposed side of the fruit. Then, simply place the avocado half in the bowl, cut-side-down, and the next time you’re ready to use it, the avocado should look like it was just cut.
  5. To reduce the spice in any dish, add a few drops of lemon juice milk, or yogurt in the dish. 
  6. Perfect fluffy scrambled eggs: whisk them with whole milk before cooking 
  7. To achieve optimal firmness for your sautéed vegetables (eg: broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus) is to blanch or boil them briefly before sautéing
  8. To make a perfect batch of French toast soak your bread in an egg and cream mixture overnight in the refrigerator. This will keep the bread from falling apart, resulting in a rich and crispy toast when cooked.
  9. No more dry chicken: Brine your bird in salt and water (and lemon juice and herbs if you’d like the additional flavor) for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  10. Keep extra salad greens fresh and crisp by adding a few paper towels to the bag or container. Store in a tightly wrapped bag with just a little air.
  11. Recipe calls for onions? Chop, slice, or grind them and freeze in labeled freezer bags.
  12. At the end of the day, sprinkle some baking soda and vinegar in your sink. Take dishwashing liquid and coat the entire area. Leave the solution for half an hour, rinse to get a disinfected and clean sink!
  13. To remove the food smells from the kitchen, add the peels of lemons and oranges into a pan filled with water. Bring to a boil. As the water boils and releases the essential oils, it will neutralize the smells.
  14. Sharpen the blades of your blender by adding dry salt and whirring it for a couple of minutes.
  15. The stems of coriander and mint can be used in chutneys and stocks to flavor chicken/veggies.
  16. To increase the shelf life of fresh green chilis, remove the stem part of chilies before storing.
  17. Extra oil in your dish? Wrap a few ice cubes in a paper towel, then skim them across the top of your sauce/soup. The ice cubes will encourage excess fat to solidify, making it much easier to scoop out and discard! 
  18. While making paratha dough, adding milk helps softens the dough 
  19. To make gravies rich and creamy use beaten curd or a cashew past in lieu of cream.
  20. If you add extra salt to a dish, add a small ball of dough or drop a peeled potato into it, it will absorb the extra salt.
  21. Can’t seem to keep your potatoes from sprouting in storage? Just drop an apple in the bag or basket where you keep the potatoes
  22. Make your paneer last longer, store in water with few drops of vinegar in it.
  23. Want your butter to reach room temperature faster? Grate it. 
  24. While sautéing onions or aromatics for a curry/gravy, add a pinch of turmeric and salt. It speeds up the cooking process.
  25. Wrap the end of the banana bunch with plastic wrap. The skins won’t turn black and the fruit will remain fresh for longer.
  26. Freeze herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, or coriander with melted butter or olive oil in an ice tray. Pop into any sauce.
  27. Microwaving whole garlic for around 20 seconds helps it to peel faster
  28. Use left-over whey after making paneer to make buttermilk for kadhi, add to gravies, or dough
  29. Everyday ingredients like eggs and potatoes can be boiled in advance and refrigerated for later use. Peel and quarter your potatoes before boiling or roasting them. The more surface area is exposed, the faster they’ll cook.
  30. Love lasagna but hate the long preparation time? Egg roll wrappers are a good substitute for lasagna sheets because they don’t need to be boiled. They come in small, easy to use squares

Perfectly Fluffy Basmati Rice in the Instant Pot

The ratio is 1 cup rice to 1.5 cups water. Close the lid. Valve to sealing position. Select pressure cook (high). Set time to 7 min. Once done, quick release the pressure after 10 min.

Optional: You can add 1 tsp ghee and 1tsp salt to the raw rice and water mixture before closing with the lid to enhance the flavor.

PS: Don’t use the rice option. 

Perfectly Dried Herbs (mint, cilantro, parsley, basil)

Sprinkle on just about anything.

The key to drying herbs is to eliminate moisture content without burning the leaves. Too much moisture left behind can result in mold growth, while high heat can scorch your leaves. Always thoroughly wash and blot before setting it out to dry. You can air dry or use the oven (my preferred method).

Low heat is critical to prevent burning leaves to a crisp. Set the temperature on your oven to the lowest possible — at most 200°F. Evenly spread out leaves to ensure everything dries at the same pace. Don’t layer leaves atop one another.

Bake at low heat for approximately 20/30 minutes. Keep an eye on your herb to avoid burning it. 

After 20/30 mins, turn off your oven and leave the herb to continue drying overnight. After about 12 hours in the dry, warm oven you should have easy-to-crumble bits of your herb ready to store.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

New Recipes For the Daily Grind

Dig-In MealsA column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I’ve always believed that using freshly ground spices elevates a meal, even everyday food, so I blend whatever combo a recipe calls for almost daily. My trusty Secura grinder stays on the countertop, at attention. However, this daily grind is not always the best option, especially now, when we are all working from home and eating multiple meals a day. Slaving, even for a few hours, in the kitchen is a thing of the past.

However, I wasn’t really enthralled by what I found in the supermarket or at my local Indian store. Buying a jar of McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Cajun seasoning or Shan’s Chana Masala was anathema. How long had it been sitting there, I wondered? When we peruse supermarket spices, do we really think about freshness in the real sense of the word?  

My best bet was to buy from a company with the shortest supply chain possible—ideally, one that sources spices straight from their origin and sells them directly to the consumer. Freshly ground, small-batch spices and blends with clarity of flavor and no additives. To my surprise, I didn’t really find too many places selling them, but I did find a renewed interest in single-origin spices. Individuals that had formed small companies with a strong commitment to social and economic equity, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting the just treatment of farmworkers and food pricing that provides the farmers with a livable income. Once I tasted these, I was hooked! Flavorful, fresh, high-quality spices…now there’s no looking back.  

So, during this holiday season, a very different one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of ways to make the evening feel special for you and your family. Whether it’s a Zoom dinner with friends or a nice sit down with the people you live with, here are some recipes that are quick and easy showstoppers.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • 1 yellow or red onion, diced
  • 2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 small red or Yukon gold potatoes diced
  • 1 ½ cups vegetarian or chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil (I have used Amy Riolo Selections Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • toasted walnuts or cilantro, for garnish

PREPARATION

  • Roast the cauliflower by tossing it in olive oil and baking for 20 mins or till the edges turn golden brown.
  • In a skillet melt butter and olive oil. Add the onions, sauté till translucent. Add diced carrots and potatoes and sauté them for a couple of minutes. Add the broth.
  • Add 1/2 cup milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Blend with an immersion blender. (I save some chopped cauliflower pieces and add after the soup is blended.)
  • Garnish with toasted walnuts and cilantro.

Black Pepper Tofu

Picture Credit: Jonathan Lovekin

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 packet extra firm tofu drained and pressed to release all the water
  • oil for shallow frying
  • corn or rice flour to dust the tofu
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 10/12 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 fresh red chilies thinly sliced (I have used Diaspora Co.’s heirloom Sannam Chillies)
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tbsp sweet soy sauce, kecap manis (or make your own by boiling 1 cup of regular soy sauce with ½ cup of brown sugar)
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tsp dark soy sauce 
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 5 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns (I have used Burlap & Barrel’s  Ea Sar black peppercorns)
  • 16 spring onions, cut into thin angled matchsticks

PREPARATION

  • Start with the tofu. Cut into thin cubes and toss them in corn flour or rice flour. I use a combination of both, I find the rice flour gives it a nice crunch. Shallow fry or air fry till they are crispy and golden on all sides.
  • In a separate pan, add butter. Once it melts, add the shallots, chilies, garlic, and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat till they turn soft. 
  • Add the soy sauces, caster sugar, and crushed black pepper. Stir to mix. 
  • Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Stir in the spring onions. 

Inspired by the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty 

Pindi Chole

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup dry chana (chole)
  • 2 tea bags (earl grey or any black tea that you have)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 4/5 cloves whole cardamom 
  • ¼ tsp Baking soda 
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon 
  • 3 tablespoons of Chana Masala (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie’s blend)
  •  ½ tsp Black salt (kala namak)
  • 2 tablespoons Tamarind puree (I have used Anupy Singla’s Indian as Apple Pie)
  • ½ cup Tomato puree
  • 1 onion pureed
  • 3 tsp ghee
  • ½ teaspoon ajwain seeds
  • ½ teaspoon jeera seeds
  • Oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 3 green chilies 
  • 2 tablespoons of julienned ginger

 PREPARATION

  • Soak the chole in water overnight till they double in volume.
  • Add them to your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Add the tea leaves, salt, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves. 
  • Cook the chole over high heat for about 5 whistles, or 14 mins in IP. Once done allow the pressure to release naturally.
  • Once the pressure is released open the cooker and remove the tea bags and all the other whole spices. Discard.
  • Strain the chole, mash them a bit. Make sure to keep the water, we will use it as it is very fragrant.
  • In a pan heat some ghee, add the ajwain and jeera seeds, once they crackle add the tomato puree and the pureed onion. Cook for a few mins till the raw smell is gone.
  • Add the Chana masala, tamarind pulp, and 1 cup of the reserved water.
  • If you want some more gravy in the chole then add another ½ cup of water and cook on high flame for 2-3 minutes. 

TADKA

  • In a small pan oil, once hot add the finely chopped garlic and green chilies. Be sure to watch carefully as garlic burns very fast. 
  • Once the garlic turns golden brown, add the red chili powder and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Pour this tadka over the chole. Garnish with julienned ginger and cilantro. Serve Hot.

3 Ingredient Almond Cookies- Flourless almond butter cookies 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup Almond Butter (I use homemade)
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (to make it eggless: reduce the sugar and add half a banana)

PREPARATION

  • In a medium bowl, mix the almond butter, sugar, and egg until well combined. 
  • Take a small cookie scoop or a large tablespoon and spoon the mixture 1 inch apart onto baking sheets. 
  • Flatten the mounds with the tines of a fork, making a crosshatch pattern on the cookies. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 10 mins.

Easy Lemon Cookie

Makes 12 large or 16 small

INGREDIENTS

  • 18.25 ounces lemon cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon  
  • powdered sugar for garnish

PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees  
  • Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, lemon juice, and zest until well blended. 
  • Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, or up to an hour
  • Form dough into small balls and roll them in confectioners’ sugar till lightly covered. 
  • Line a cookie sheet with greased parchment paper. Place balls an inch apart.
  • Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com

Saying it With Thanks – New Thanksgiving Recipes

In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.

The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.

As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.

Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”

So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!

As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.

Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry

Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad
Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad

Tomato Salad Ingredients
1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed
1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed
10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved
1 Persian cucumber sliced
1 green chill minced

Dressing
1 teaspoon ginger
1 lime juice
1 teaspoon chaat masala powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili

This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.

Ingredients
1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed
and chopped
½ can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large red onion minced
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine
2 green chilies minced
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt to taste
1 cup root beer
¼ cup water

Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria

This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.

Ingredients
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 bottle white wine (like Riesling)
1 ripe papaya chopped
1 cup ripe pineapple chopped
1 serrano chili slit
Basil leaves for garnish

Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves. 


Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.

This article was first published in November 2017.

Gulab Jamun Cake

My Love Affair With Cardamom

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist!

I come from a family of spice traders. My mother-in-law’s family hails from the Cardamom Hills and Thekkady in Kerala. Their land is beautifully verdant, with cardamom growing in a tropical rainforest-like environment, wild alongside pepper vines, cloves, and lots of unidentifiable wild greens, butterflies, and bees everywhere.

My life has been full of spice, as I witnessed the yearly ritual of sourcing and storing spices for the coming year. My mom and aunts talked endlessly about what was in season, sourcing single-origin spices, discussing how to roast them to perfection, and hiring people to freshly grind everything on the terrace of our building. This of course segued into a discussion about recipes and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on their latest creations. 

Spices play such a vital role in Indian cuisine. The blended use of herbs and spices has been part of our culture for millennia, and that their use had some medicinal and restorative properties is well documented in Ayurveda.

With the resurgence of interest in everything natural, I wanted to explore, along with you, one spice that has caught my fancy and share some recipes using it. This week it is the warm and fruity Cardamom. I love how it instantly elevates every dish into something just a bit more refined and comforting.

I’m a self-taught cook and married to someone who needs dessert every night, so I became a self-taught baker. Homemade desserts are so much healthier than the manufactured versions, additive-free, made with natural ingredients, and you can easily sub the fat and sugar content. I tend to gravitate towards non-fussy recipes, down and dirty, with no special equipment needed.

Here I share two of my current favs, with a generous dose of cardamom in them. The first is a Gulab Jamun Cake recipe created by Hetal Vasavada and the second is a Cardamom Latte. I have tweaked several recipes that I found online and in cookbooks in order to arrive at the perfect balance of flavors.

Tips

I find that home-ground cardamom (both whole pod and seeds only) boasts a much stronger flavor than pre-ground store-bought varieties. Grind them in big batches–take the easy road, leave the husks on–and store them in an airtight container in the freezer for a year.

Gulab Jamun Cake

This cake is a fusion with all the treasured flavors of classic Gulab Jamun without the deep frying or long soak in sugar syrup. What’s not to love?

Ingredients for 1 Bundt cake or 6 mini Bundt-lets

Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah
Gulab Jamun Cake made by Mona Shah

Cardamom Infused Sponge Cake

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup  dry full -at or non-fat milk powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • 8-10 saffron strands
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Alternatively, to make it eggless you can:

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup granulated or castor (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup Plain Yogurt/Curd
  • ¾ cup Milk
  • ½ cup Oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp cardamom powder
  • ½ tsp salt

For the Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Glaze and Garnish

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar (1 ¾ if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rose petals
  • ½ tablespoon whole and ½ tablespoon finely chopped pistachios
  • I garnished with pink/red hearts and some gold sugar flakes 
  • Optional: Top with halfmoon gulab jamuns placed an inch apart and serve warm with vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Make the cardamom cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. Whisk the butter, sugar and cardamom powder with a hand or stand mixer till the butter is light and fluffy, about 9/10 mins.  Add salt and vanilla essence and whisk till combined.
  3. Now add one egg at a time, till incorporated.
  4. Add the milk powder to your flour mixture and whisk till combined. Add these dry ingredients till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour the batter into your greased Bundt pan and tap on counter to release air bubbles.
  6. Bake for 35-40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

While the cake is baking make the Sugar Syrup.

Note: We want the syrup to be warm when pouring on the cake.

  1. Add the water, sugar, saffron, cardamom pods, and cinnamon stick to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the rose water and lime juice. 
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods from the syrup and discard. 
  3. Reserve 60 ml of the syrup for the glaze.
  4. Once the cake is done poke holes all over it with a fork. Pour the warm syrup over the warm, just out of oven, Bundt cake. Rest the cake for 10/15 mins for the syrup to be fully soaked. 
  5. Place your serving platter over the bundt pan and invert into the platter. Be very careful during this step. The cake is heavy with syrup and will break or form cracks, so be very gentle during this step.
  6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and reserved syrup to make a glaze.
  7. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake. Sprinkle with the dried rose petals, pistachios and gulab jamun half (if using).

For the Eggless Cake base

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F Grease a 10-cup Bundt pan with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk and lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Whisk in the oil and rosewater.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, milk powder, semolina, corn flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom and saffron.
  4. Gradually combine the wet ingredients into the dry till incorporated. Do not overmix.
  5. Bake for 55-60 mins, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Fall Flavors in my Cardamom Latte

  • Cardamom Latte
    Cardamom Latte

    8 ounces strong French press coffee (I used George Howell’s Tarrazu Vienna with hints of Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Walnut)

  • Optional: 1 heaped tablespoon of Instant Coffee (Nescafe or Bru, with hints of chicory, are optimal)—Add 2 drops of water and beat with a spoon until white and slightly frothy.
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Thyme Cardamom Syrup (Note: Flavor it with whatever spice you have on hand.
  • I’ve used Thyme but rosemary, pumpkin, lavender all work really well)

For the Thyme Cardamom Syrup

  1. In a small pan over low heat, toast the cardamom pods until fragrant, stirring often. Watch closely to avoid burning them.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush the cardamom pods. Pour the pods and any exposed seeds into a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add the water, sugar and thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.  
  4. Strain solids through a fine-mesh sieve. Store syrup in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Preparation

  1. Heat milk till hot. Use a whisk or a spoon to beat milk until foamy.  
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of cardamom syrup in a mug. 
  3. Pour hot, strong coffee over syrup. 
  4. Top with foamy milk and serve.

Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations.

Cookbook

Culinary Skills Don’t Always Come Easy

While cleaning the pantry yesterday, I found some of my old forgotten cookbooks and my mom’s handwritten recipe book that I hadn’t referred to in a long time. My relationship with cooking has been somewhat similar to raising a family. Sometimes easy to manage and sometimes testing your patience.

As any new bride, those days my trousseau also contained these three cookbooks, one given by a friend’s mom and two by my aunt. I felt confident and well equipped to handle any recipe but after landing in Boulder, Colorado, my confidence plummeted because my equipment was of no use. There was no Indian store for 30 miles and we didn’t have a car. But we managed, started hitching rides with friends, and thus began my adventure with various cuisines.

Soon every letter from home was accompanied with a recipe or two either written or a clipping from a magazine or newspaper that my mom thought I would like or more likely, my husband would like. This was probably because of the popular quote – A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! Those were days before the world wide web and before the dawning of the awareness that cooking is gender-neutral. 

Recipes were all handwritten in a book, index card, paper, napkins, receipts, paper towels- anything you could find! At times not every ingredient and quantity was mentioned or the method understood. A frantic phone call would follow for clarification, verification, and substitution! 

Having grown up in a joint family where cooking was handled by my mom, grandma, and aunts, I never learned cooking and my talent was limited to making tea, maggie noodles, boiling eggs, and upma. Cooking was an elaborate process at home, as we prepared for a five-course meal. Rice, chappatis, a dry palya, a kootu or kolumbu or gojju (vegetable in a sweet &  tangy gravy), rasam or sambhar, and of course yogurt.

One of My Mom’s Recipes

TOMATO GOJJU

Tomato Gojju made by Author, Anita Mohan.
Tomato Gojju made by Author, Anita Mohan.

Ingredients 

  • 3 – 4 medium size tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 2” cube of jaggery or 2 tbsp brown sugar 
  • Salt to taste
  • 1tbsp oil
  • ¼ tsp Rasam powder (any brand)

For tempering

  • ¼ tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp chana dal (split Bengal gram)
  • ¼ tsp urad dal (split and husked black gram)
  • 2 dried red chilis whole
  • A sprig of curry leaves

Method

Heat oil in a skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When it starts to splutter add the rest of the tempering ingredients and once the lentils turn brown add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, salt, rasam powder, & jaggery and cook till the desired consistency (semi-thick gravy) is reached. Garnish with a tsp of fresh chopped cilantro and serve with hot chappatis. 

Adding to the Repertoire

Like any art form, cooking requires patience and passion. There are many who believe in preparing and serving elaborate meals but I have always believed that as long as a dish is palatable, appeals to your tastebuds, and satiates your hunger, it is good food. 

Today, even after thirty long years, I am still a novice when it comes to preparing a good, sumptuous meal. It has been quite an experience and a fascinating journey trying to find new and interesting recipes. Recently many new dishes have been finding their way onto my dining table, thanks to the pandemic. Food bloggers, foodies, and chefs have made it so easy to find any recipe. There are numerous YouTube videos, TV channels, social media pages, and groups, where you can find a variety of national & international tried and tested recipes! If you’re looking to try something new, Rajma Chawal is one of my new comfort foods.

Cooking a meal is just a small part of the process. Preparation is time-consuming but what about the presentation? These days Facebook and Instagram are full of photos of food especially since cooking has become fast, easy, and appealing since the invention of Instant Pot. 

I marvel at people who can not only cook delectable and elaborate meals but also present it aesthetically and actually make it look like a signature dish. I neither have their patience nor the passion for cooking and presenting. But I do enjoy whipping up good dishes from time to time and elaborate dishes depending on my mood. Cooking is a personal experience and sometimes a single comfort food goes a long way than a few exquisite dishes. 


Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture. She likes to bring everyday mundane objects to life.

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts (Balushahi and Dry Fruits Milkshake)

Sweet as Honey: Delicious Indian Desserts

Honey was man’s first sweetener. Honey was also an important condiment in medieval times. We crave sweets, as our stone-age forefathers have been deprived of it for centuries. Humans (Homo sapiens) evolved some 50,000 years ago, whereas bees were making honey 40 million years before that. Honeybees as a group probably originated in South East Asia. It seems they developed social behavior and structural identity similar to what we observe in modern honey bees, some 30 million years ago. Apis mellifera, known as the western honey bee, is a commonly domesticated species. It is believed to have originated in Africa and spread later to Europe and Asia. Honey was the staple sweetener in Europe till the 1500s. The name “honey” comes from the English word “huning.” In 1622, European colonists brought these sub-species to Americas. Cooking with honey was a mark of privilege and it was long used for preserving fruits whole or as a jam.
Cave paintings in Spain from 7000 B.C show the earliest records of bee keeping. Honey is also mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings from 2100 B.C. From available evidence, we know that humans have been collecting honey for 10,000 years. But the interplay between bees and flowers is understood much later in 1000 A.D.
The pre-historic cave paintings at Bhimbetka in India show men despoiling beehives built on rocks, perhaps around 6000 B.C. Even as early as the Rigvedic period (2nd and 1st century) the Rbhu brothers were credited with building artificial hives of reeds and straws. The Mahabharata (4th century B.C.) has references to apiary keepers, flower gardens and pollen yielding plants, indicating some degree of commercialization by then.
Bees were domesticated in artificial hives both in India and Egypt about 4500 years ago. The earliest record of bee keeping in Egypt is found in the Sun temple (near Cairo) believed to be erected in 2400 B.C. In 1800s, when archaeologists were working in Egypt, they found a large jar of honey, and found that it tasted perfect, even though it was thousands of years old.
Honey is truly an insect product of high nutritive value. The food value of honey may be estimated by the presence of about 80% sugar in it. One should not mistakenly assume that honey is only a plant product because the nectar, pollen and cane-sugar are all secretions from flowers. As they are digested by bees, it gets mixed with their saliva and it soon undergoes certain chemical changes due to the action of enzymes. At this stage sugar (sucrose) is converted into dextrose and levulose. At the same time some ingredients of bees are also added to the mixture and the water content reduces. The whole mixture is then collected in the crop until the honey bee reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive cell and is known as “Honey.”


Honey Dipped Balushahi
IngredientsBahulashi
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp. yogurt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. clarified butter
* ghee for deep frying
* Honey for dipping
Method
Mix all the ingredients together, except ghee and honey. Prepare smooth fluffy dough. Divide them into equal parts and shape them as you please. Now, heat the ghee to medium hot (not too smoky) and fry these balushahis to golden brown. Then, dip them in honey until it coats all over it. Serve chilled as a dessert.

Dry Fruits Milkshake
Honey Jar* 3 fresh figs
* 5 dates
* 5 almonds
* 3-4 cashew nuts
* 4-7 pistachios
* 1 large banana
* 2 tsp. honey
* 4 cups of organic milk
Method
Blend all the above mentioned ingredients together till smooth. Serve chilled in tall glasses.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com

First published in May 2017.

Euphoric Delights: Virtual hangout for foodie buddies

Cooking is a life skill. You have to do it whether you like it or not. But, if you are a member of the popular Facebook Group Euphoric Delights, you are probably clicking pictures of your freshly cooked meal to post it. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Even a regular Daal chawal has a place in here. Not only are you flooded with compliments and requests for recipes, but you begin to stir up new friendships. The warmth of a companionship across the glass screens of your computers /phones breezes into your life like the aroma of ghee when you prepare your favorite Indian dessert. It feels like these unknown faces suddenly have a place in your life.

This virtual group discusses everyday cooking, and becomes a wonderful resource to receive tips specially if you have moved out of your home country and are looking for how to make rotis on a glass top stove or how to ferment idli /dosa batter when you live in a place with freezing temperatures. You can also see the work of immensely talented home chefs who post pictures and recipes of beautifully decorated cakes, dishes for parties and a whole lot more.

Started in June 29, 2011 geared to attract those with a love to cook and love to eat, Euphoric Delights is now a virtual home away from home for members. Members not only share meal ideas and kitchen tips but also feel a sense of belonging.

To learn more about the evolution of this Facebook group, join me in conversation with Shalini Ramachandran, founder of Euphoric Delights.

Q) What inspired you to start Euphoric delights?

I am an unabashed foodie! I love to cook, and I love to eat. But you get bored with your own food very soon. The desire to connect over food, make new friends and mingle over food was the reason that prompted me to start the group.

Q) What’s been the best part of starting this group?

The best part has been connecting with people. Moreover, when I moved to the United States in the year 2001, Facebook was non-existent. It was not this easy to connect virtually. It was hard to make friends in a new country. Facebook opened this window for me and I welcomed it with open arms. Now the group has grown tremendously in size and my husband Mahesh Venugopala is also an admin as I need help managing it.

Q) Do you have formal culinary training?

No, I do not have any formal training. I have been trained by life. I am like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I would’ve never made it to culinary school.

Q) What are the challenges you have faced as the moderator/admin of this group?

This group is now huge, and it is an effort to maintain it. My husband is closely involved in monitoring the group and the content posted in it. However, there are many challenges that we face on a regular basis. The biggest challenge is that if a member’s post gets deleted, they take it personally. But I am a part of the power admin groups on Facebook where we discuss problems /glitches and work on solutions to deal with them. Another challenge relates to keeping the content of the group clean. For instance, I need to maintain resources that I can tap into and have volunteers who work in all earnest to regulate/block the members who post inappropriate /profane content.

Q) Tell us a little about ED Anonymous.

We have a special section in our group where abused women share their grievances. Sometimes it is just that they need someone to talk to. Sometimes their issues are serious. The identities of troubled women are kept anonymous and their posts are deleted soon to protect their identity. However, we do not offer any legal /medical advice. We only offer emotional support and reassurance.

Q) The engagement on your page has been excellent. What do you feel about it? Does it overwhelm you sometimes?

Absolutely! I had no idea that it would grow this big. But I believe that the engagement on the page is because the community wants it. People want to help each other out with cooking tips, easy methods of cooking a seemingly difficult recipe and so on. I owe the popularity of this group to the members, and the volunteers in the admin. team who are always working hard to keep this a clean, safe group.

Q) When you try a new recipe and it does not turn out well, what do you do?

Not every recipe is perfect. If a recipe fails, I will try something different next time.

Q) Do you plan to do something new/different in the group? For example, going live or asking the members to go live?

No, I am happy with the way things are going now. I am happy that I have been able to build a strong community through Facebook, a venture I started in order to connect with other foodies like me.

You do not necessarily have to be as talented as someone on the TV show –  to be a part of this group. Euphoric Delights is the perfect place to be if you are looking for a quick fix recipe, a question on how to organize your fridge, where to buy a specific Indian vegetable or just about anything else that concerns cooking good food. Even if you do not want to post anything, there is always something that you can learn by just being a part of it. So, if you use Facebook, take a peep into this group and you’ll always be surprised to see what’s cooking!

Euphoric delights

Surabhi Kaushik is an Indian writer, based in Charlotte North Carolina.
Her works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and parenting essays have been published in various websites such as yourstoryclub, halfbakedbeans, writer’scafe, perfection pending, herviewfromhome and India Currents. She is part of various writing groups and is closely associated with “Write Like You Mean It”, a writer’s group in Main library, Charlotte. She also leads a monthly Fiction Writing workshop and conducts writing workshops at various libraries across Charlotte, North Carolina. 

 

 

 

 

Will Sambar Die With Me?

My cousin Ravi and his wife Radha were visiting America  for the very first time. One day, as I was waiting to pick them up for a drive around town, Radha was unusually late. As she slowly stepped into the car, she handed me a small box, saying “this is what made me late, wanted to warm it up for you.” I could smell the treasure. “Elai Adai!” I screamed with joy (translates to leaf pancake). The last time I had savored this heavenly dish was at Radha’s daughter’s wedding in India about three years ago. I was teary and grateful for her thoughtfulness. All through the car ride we reminisced over my grandmother’s cooking and the culinary precedent her ancestors had set. The taste goddess had blessed my family tree with amazing cooks. In Tamil, there is a term for this, kai manam, which means “aromatic hands” meaning that whatever one cooked was filled with flavor and taste.

We talked about my great-aunt Rashamma who lived alone in a big house surrounded by her paddy farms, mango and jackfruit groves, rubber plantations, and cows. Rashamma was known for her “kai manam.” She worked and managed the farms by herself; she was quite the busy landlady. Cooking was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped into the kitchen, she created magic with the least amount of ingredients. I can never ever forget her keerai masiyal (a mashed spinach dish), that she whipped out with the bunch of spinach that she had just picked. Every time I make this dish it always takes me back to her kitchen.

All this talk about food and family tree made me wonder—what will happen to my cooking lineage? My cousin and I wondered what our kids will cherish when it comes to our culinary heritage. Will  elai adai and keerai masiyal die with me, along with sambar and rasam? Will my two boys ever know the value of the dishes I ate as a child or savored as a grown-up? Will it matter to these Indian American kids, who prefer In-N-Out burgers to idly sambar, that the idly is also a part of who they are?
I almost had a panic attack thinking of the-almost-extinct dishes of my heritage. For example, I fear the endangerment of the quintessential Avial (a mix of many vegetables like long beans, winter melon, pumpkin, drumstick, raw mango, raw plantain, in a coconut green chili paste with yogurt) which is scorned at my dinner table with a “Yuck! Who invented this dish that looks bad and tastes bad?” sending a dagger through my heart bred in Kerala. The pavakkai pitla (bitter gourd in a tamarind coconut sauce), which is welcomed at the dinner table with “I think I’ll make myself a sandwich” or “I’m going out to eat,” I relegate to the dinosaur category. And the list goes on.

That evening as I walked into my home, I could smell garlic and basil simmering on the stove. My son was cooking dinner. He asked me to taste the one-pot pasta he had made. He noticed the longing in my eyes and continued, “I will cook all your dishes one day, but for now it’s just pasta.” I chuckled and smiled hugging my son, for it really didn’t matter if its pasta or pitla that he was cooking. What did matter was that I had passed on the love for cooking to the next generation. Hopefully, the “heritage” recipes will come in time!

Rashamma’s Keerai Masiyal

Ingredients
2 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dhal
3-4 dry red pepper

A pinch of asafetida
3-4 green chilies sliced
3-4 curry leaves
¼ cup fresh coconut scapings
Salt to taste

Method
Clean, chop and cook the spinach in little water. Puree it and set aside. Heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and let it splutter. Add urad dhal, dry red pepper, curry leaves, asafetida and green chilies. Add the fresh coconut scrapings and sauté for a few minutes. Once it is a little toasted add the pureed spinach, mix well and season with salt. Serve as a side dish with rice.

Avial
This is a famous Kerala side dish that is served at feasts and weddings. There are many variations to this basic recipe.

Ingredients
Vegetables used are winter melon, raw plantain, long beans, pumpkin, carrots, and drumstick.
Raw mango (a few pieces)
2 cups of vegetables julienned
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup sour yogurt
Make into Paste
1 cup fresh coconut scrapings
3 to 4 green chilies

Method
Place the vegetables in a large flat sauce pan with winter melon at the bottom. Season with salt and add coconut oil, salt, curry leaves and turmeric. Cook the vegetables in a medium flame without mixing too much. Use a flat ladle to gently mix so that the cooked vegetables don’t become mushy. Now add the ground coconut chili paste and mix. Lower the flame and add yogurt and mix. Cook for a few minutes. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

Elai Adai
This is a delicacy made in homes and it cannot be found in restaurants. It requires a banana leaf (elai) that is warmed over a gas flame to make it pliable without letting it tear apart. The outside shell is made with raw rice that is soaked in water, drained and made into a thin batter with salt (adai). The filling consists of fresh coconut, jaggery, small pieces of ripe jackfruit and cardamom. A ladle of rice batter is spread into a circle, on a banana leaf. The coconut filling is spread on the bottom half on the rice batter circle. Then the leaf is folded on top of the filling. The sides are folded and secured with a toothpick. This leaf pack is then steamed. It tastes like a modhak.

For all of us who want to cherish our culinary heritage, the best way is to write down family recipes in a Word document to  share with your children. Maybe one day in the future, they will look through the document, feel inspired and try one of mom’s ancient recipes!

Maybe, they will even ask me to show them how to make Elai Adai—a recipe that cannot have precise, written measurements—a recipe that needs to be learnt by watching to be able to emulate—a treasured treat from the taste goddesses hailing from my family tree!

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.praba@cookingmastery.com

Indo-Mexican Fusion: Hearty Casserole

When we don’t go to India, my husband and I go to Mexico for vacations. Like in India, the weather is always warm and sunny, the people are friendly to travelers, and the food is vegetarian-friendly and delicious!

We often book a hotel room with a kitchenette so we can experiment with recipes using local ingredients. Similar to Indian vegetable bazaars, food markets are bustling in Mexican towns, full of discriminating shoppers vying for the best quality produce. Herbs and spices are easy to find, and often sold in bulk so that one can inspect them for freshness. After trying some local entrees in restaurants, we copied the dishes in our kitchenette and created some interesting recipes. Here are two examples that combine the flavors of Mexico and India, two of the best cuisines in the world! These two dishes are ideal for a potluck dinner or a picnic basket.


Chilaquiles
Chilaquiles is one of the many recipes in Mexican cuisine that makes use of stale tortillas. The dish can take many forms, from a soup with tortillas floating on top to a hearty casserole like this one. The casserole can be made with a tomato or tomatillo sauce. In addition to traditional tortilla chips, ingredients can be added to create a substantial entrée.

AvocadosIngredients
2 cups of cooked rice and quinoa pilaf (recipe below)
4 cups Mexican Salsa Roja (recipe below)
1 dozen corn tortillas (dry, stale tortillas are best)
2 tablespoons canola, corn, safflower or olive oil, plus extra tablespoons as needed
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese, queso fresco (Mexican fresh cheese), or a melt-able vegan substitute
Chopped cilantro for garnishing
 
Basmati Rice and Quinoa Pilaf
Rice and quinoa are nourishing and easy to digest. Indian Basmati rice has a unique fragrance that has been attributed to its native soil.  Quinoa, an ancient Incan grain, is very nutritious, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Like Basmati rice, quinoa cooks in 10-12 minutes, making the combination a perfect marriage of two grains.

Ingredients
2 cups hot water boiled with ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white basmati rice and ½ cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon oil
¼ cup chopped almonds or cashew pieces
½ teaspoon cumin seeds

Method
Bring the water and salt to a boil. Heat the oil in a skillet and stir fry the nuts for 2-3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and sauté for one minute. Add the grains and stir-fry for 3 minutes, but don’t allow them to brown. Add the grain mixture to boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil, reduce the heat and cook covered for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat but keep the grains covered. After 10 minutes, use in the casserole recipe as described below.

Yield: approximately five cups of pilaf.

Mexican Tomato Salsa Roja
Salsa Roja, Indian-Mexican CookingIngredients
2 pounds fresh red tomatoes
2 fresh jalapeno or serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 to 4 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons corn or safflower oil
½ cup onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Method
Boil the tomatoes in a water until their skins split. Transfer to a bowl of cold water to cool. Peel and cut them into chunks. Blend the tomatoes and other ingredients (except the onion) in a food processor. Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the chopped onion for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomatoes and salt. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. This salsa can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Yield: approximately 6 cups of sauce.

Avocado Chutney
Guacamole always seemed to resemble the Indian chutney.  So I wanted to create a recipe for avocado chutney that would taste distinctly different. The inclusion of ginger with the traditional herbs cilantro, scallion and fresh hot chilies used in a Mexican guacamole recipe did the trick. Here is my avocado chutney with an Indian twist. Enjoy!

Ingredients
2 soft, ripe avocados
2 to 3 tablespoons green onion (scallion), including some greens, finely minced
3 tablespoons cilantro
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely minced
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Salt to taste

Method
Peel the avocados and remove the pits, reserving one pit. Place the chopped onion, cilantro, ginger and pepper in the jar of a food processor. Process them for a minute.  Then add avocado, lime or lemon  juice and salt and process the contents for a minute or two until pureed. Transfer to a serving bowl and place the pit in the center to keep the guacamole from discoloring.

In Mexico, traditionally a grinding stone called Molcajete and a pestle is used to mash the avocado and the herbs together into a puree. But you can use a food processor to puree the avocado chutney easily.

Yield: approximately 1 cup chutney

Preparing the casserole
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan and lightly fry the tortillas one at a time on both sides to soften them. Add more oil as needed, but just enough to moisten the pan. Do not allow the tortillas to become too oily or too crispy. Remove and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Cut the tortillas into 1½-inch-wide strips and set aside.

Lightly oil the bottom of a 9×14 inch casserole dish. Layer the ingredients as follows:

Line the bottom of the casserole with a cup of Mexican Salsa Roja.  Cover the sauce with a layer of tortilla strips. Next, sprinkle a cup of cheese on top of the tortilla strips. Then, layer 1½ cups of rice and quinoa pilaf, spreading evenly. Repeat the process, layering salsa, tortilla strips, cheese, and rice and quinoa mixture. Lastly sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and cover the casserole with the rest of the salsa, making sure to cover the dry corners.

Cover the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Uncover and bake for a few more minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool for a few minutes, cut into squares, and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.  Serve with avocado chutney.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Variations:

(1) Chilaquiles with Beans or tofu: Add a layer of 2 cups of cooked black beans, or tofu.

(2) Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde: Prepare a green salsa using the recipe provided below but substituting cooked, husked tomatillos in place of tomatoes. Assemble as described above.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine is co-owner of Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, an illustrator and an art student..

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

Thinking Out-of-the-Box with Baby Eggplants

The first signs of spring are in full display. Never before have I been so welcoming of spring. This past winter was harsher than usual and experiencing it in our new home which is surrounded by trees only made it seem worse.  After an especially cold winter, I feel specially invigorated by the advent of spring! I enjoy the crispness in the air, the prospect of longer days and I look forward to seeing fresh vegetables in the farmer’s market. Nature always has its own way of quite literally springing tiny pleasant surprises urging us to take notice.

Our Sunday morning visits to the local farmer’s market have once again become a weekly ritual that I really look forward to. The soothing sight of fresh and vibrant produce complements the hustle and bustle and I feel tempted to buy everything that is arrayed in front of me!

When I head back home, I start thinking about how to prepare tasty, healthy foods that are easy to cook on a weekday. I try to experiment by completely reinventing the recipe or by making small changes like adding cumin seeds instead of mustard seeds.

Some vegetables have been used only in a particular way that I feel bored at the thought of having to make them using the same recipes. One such vegetable is the baby eggplant. I am sure there must be several ways of preparing them, but one dish that immediately comes to mind is Bharwa Baigan. (Stuffed eggplant)

Last Sunday when I picked up baby eggplant, I mentally swore that I would make something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Even though it is delicious, it is also quite tedious and time consuming to prepare. As I let my imagination play with these fresh baby eggplants, my aim was to come up with a recipe that was simple to cook and tasty. So here’s the recipe from my Sunday experiment with baby eggplant.


Achari Baigan
Yield: 3 servings
Total Time: 45 minutes
Achari Baigan, Eggplant Dish
Ingredients
12 baby eggplants
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chili powder
3 tablespoons mustard oil
(You can use any oil for this)
Pinch asafetida powder (Hing)
1 medium onion sliced thin

Mix together:
2 medium tomatoes pureed
3 teaspoons sambhar powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp sugar to taste
Salt
2 tablespoons yogurt
½ tsp garam masala
Chopped cilantro to garnish

Steps
1. Make two perpendicular cuts in the form of a cross at the base of the eggplant. Sprinkle salt, turmeric powder and chili powder and massage the insides of the eggplants. Keep aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons oil into the pan and once it is heated, add in the marinated eggplants.
Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes till the eggplants are charred slightly on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it is heated, add in the asafetida and sliced onions.
4. Sauté till the onions soften and are pink in color (less than 1-2 mins). Now, mix in the dry masala with the tomato puree and add to the oil.
5. Add ½ cup of water and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes till oil floats on the top.
6. Then, add in the sautéed eggplant into the masala and continue to sauté till the eggplant is soft.
7. Now add in the yogurt, mix well and sprinkle in the garam masala and cook for 1-2 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve.

Notes:
1. To reduce cooking time, add a little oil to the marinating eggplants and place in the microwave on high for 4 minutes. This softens the eggplants and reduces cooking time on the stove.
2. To make this dish look fancy, you can add a tempering of mustard seeds, asafetida and curry leaves at the end. It adds a touch of sophistication to the dish and yes, the extra love too.
3. I use mustard oil to make it typically achari (pickle-like); you can use any oil that you want.
Having experimented with eggplant, I was immensely satisfied with the results. It was all the more gratifying since I had finally chosen to do something other than the usual Bharwa Baigan. Serve it with plain rice and dal or some pulao. This is a must-make vegetarian dish for all who are eggplant lovers. Don’t be afraid to play around with the recipe and remember to always have fun experimenting!n
A science educator with an ardent love for experimentation in the kitchen, Jagruti writes about cooking in her blog The Turmeric Kitchen. To help popularize her otherwise not very well known East Indian heritage, she writes extensively about Odia food and about dishes that evoke nostalgia of her days growing up in Odisha.

chicory, stir fry, salad, potatoes

‘N Dive Into Chicory!

ChicoryMy childhood is filled with memories of waking up to the strong aroma of filter coffee. My grandmother needed her cup of coffee to be just the way she liked it. Her day began with brewing a huge steel filter full of coffee and it ended with her ritual of washing that huge filter and adding a heap of the coffee powder ready for brewing the next morning. Her coffee beans were bought at specialty coffee retailers like Narasus Coffee, Kannan Jubilee Coffee, and Leo Coffee. I remember going to these coffee retailers with my mother and she would buy a blend of three-fourths of Pea berry, Robusta or Arabica beans with a quarter of chicory. The beans were always roasted to perfection.

I remember asking my mother, “What is chicory?” She told me that chicory was a root that was added to the expensive coffee powder for a slight bitter aftertaste, and it also helped extend the use of the coffee powder. Only a quarter of the chicory was added since too much would take away the real flavor of the coffee beans.  I still miss my grandmother’s chicory coffee and her morning coffee rituals.

Historical Origins
Chicory dates back to ancient Egypt. In 4000 BC, it was documented as a medicinal plant for the treatment of intestinal worms and as an aid to digestion. Later the Greeks and Romans used chicory as a liver tonic. It is said that the Roman poet Horace ate chicory as a part of his vegan diet. During the Middle Ages, medieval monks cultivated chicory and thus introduced it to Europe.

The Dutch were the first to use the roots as an enhancer for coffee. According to Peter Simmonds, a 19th century writer, coffee was introduced to France by M. Orban and M. Giraud. By the 1800s, France, Denmark and Germany were exporting more than 1 million pounds of chicory.

In the 19th century the French brought their chicory and coffee to Louisiana. During the Great Depression and the Second World War, coffee was expensive and in short supply. Chicory became a popular substitute drink. Sometime during the 1850’s New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee. During the Civil War when the ports were blocked and coffee shipments were halted, chicory found its place as a substitute. That’s how, even to this day, you can find a good cup of Chicory coffee at Café Du Monde in New Orleans as it has become a part of their cultural history.

My grandmother and I are indebted to a 17th century Sufi saint named Baba Budan for bringing coffee to South India. Legend has it that, Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen on his way back from his holy Hajj pilgrimage and planted it in Karnataka, South India. Later on, chicory was introduced by the British. Till the 1950s chicory was imported in India. Later, imported seeds from France were cultivated in the North West. Now India is the largest producer of premium grade chicory in the world.

Roots, Leaves and Flowers are Used in Chicory

1) Root chicory is roasted, ground and brewed as a substitute for coffee.

2) Leaf Chicory has two kinds—wild leaf used in many Turkish and Greek dishes and cultivated leaf chicory that is of three main kinds: Radicchio or red chicory, Belgian endive (pronounced as En-Deeve); we grow Californian endives too, and Sugarloaf chicory which looks like a hybrid of Napa cabbage  and romaine lettuce. Apart from these varieties, we also have salad greens such as escaroles, curly endive (pronounced as N-Dive) and frisee.

3) Chicory flowers are predominantly blue but sometimes are pink and white too. These flowers are used in tonics for the prevention of gallstones, sinus issues etc. These February flowers are known as a symbol of love, desire and inspiration.

Chicory the Champion of Health
We know that the Egyptians had planted chicory for its medicinal use. In India chicory roots are used in the treatment for jaundice and liver enlargement. The Native Cherokee and Iroquois tribes used chicory in treating sores, lesions and as a laxative. Chicory is well known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also used in the treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, acne, cellulite, constipation, diabetes, eczema, gallstones, gastritis, gout, hepatitis, jaundice, liver enlargement, rheumatism, and urinary ailments.

Chicory promotes a heart healthy diet as it contains inulin a carbohydrate fiber called fructan, that helps reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides and thereby reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. The inulin also helps in the prevention of diabetes and obesity in humans, by amanaging and aiding digestion and appetite regulation.  Chicory is a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamins. It also helps in absorbing calcium thereby aiding bone density and reducing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.


Farm to Table
Here are some chicory dishes to warm your cold February days.

Roasted Radicchio Winter Salad
My friend Poornima makes the best Radicchio Summer Salad. I’ve adopted her recipe to make a warm winter salad. Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste. Roasting radicchio reduces the bitterness.

For Roasting
1 head Radicchio torn into large wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tablespoon dried herbs (thyme, parsley, basil)
Salt to taste

For the Salad
2 steamed beets cut into matchsticks
1 green apple cut into matchsticks
½ cup fresh corn
1 avocado cubed

Dressing
½ teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic minced
½ jalapeno pepper minced
2 tablespoons of Muscat vinegar (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rub the radicchio wedges with olive oil, garlic, dried herbs and salt. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place inside for 12-15 minutes till it is charred. Remove, cut up into large pieces and place in a large bowl. Add rest of the salad ingredients—beets, apples, corn, avocados and mix gently. Drizzle the dressing and mix. Serve.

Variation: Roasted Radicchio Walnut Pizza. Place the roasted radicchio in a layer over pizza dough along with gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses and toasted walnuts. Cook the pizza in the oven.

Belgian Endive, Tomatoes and Mushroom Stir Fry
According to Chinese medicine, endives help preserve the Qi (energy) in the heart. They use it in many stir fry dishes.

Ingredients
2 bulbs of red and green endive halved and sliced crosswise.
1 tablespoon oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch fresh ginger minced
1 cup Shitake mushroom sliced
1 large vine ripe tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste

Method
Heat oil in a large pan and add the minced garlic and ginger. Then add the sliced endive, sliced shitake mushrooms and sauté in high heat for a few minutes. Now, add the tomatoes, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt and red pepper. Cook until the endives are wilted and mushroom slices are soft. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot as a side dish with rice.

Roasted Fennel, Endive Potato Gratin
Belgian endive is mostly used for appetizers. Each leaf serves as a holder for small salads. This hearty au gratin is an all-time favorite.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small fennel bulb sliced
1 red Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
1 green Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
8 red potatoes sliced into ½ rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (basil, parsley rosemary)
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a flat pan and add garlic. Now place the fennel and endive in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and then brown them. Remove and set aside. In the same pan add butter and garlic. Now add 1 ½ cup of milk and layer the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Remove from stove and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking pan with butter and layer the potatoes, roasted fennel and endive slices. Sprinkle half of the Gruyere cheese and Mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining milk mixture on top. Sprinkle the rest of the two cheeses at the top. Place it in the hot oven and cook until the top is bubbling golden brown and the potatoes are well cooked. Remove and serve.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area praba@cookingmastery.com