Tag Archives: #monashah

Keep Calm and Masala On

Dig-In Meals – A column highlighting Indian spices in recipes that take traditional Indian food and add a western twist! Check this space every so often as I speak to other professional chefs and share their “secret” recipes to spice up your homemade meals.

As coronavirus restrictions eased a bit, we decided to gently slip into hosting small gatherings with a few close friends. But after almost a year of not entertaining, I wanted to keep it simple and with the dog days of summer upon us, I decided on a pizza party. 

With a mix of ages and ethnicities to please, who all love Indian food, we decided to order a variety of curry pizzas and wings from Curry Pizza House. Their curry sauce base reminds you of your favorite Indian restaurant, the pies topped with both popular Indian dishes and melty cheese, which were an instant hit and continue to be popular among the Bay Area crowd.

But with this being a food column, I wanted to delve deeper and unveil the secret behind all that yumminess, so I met with the owners of Curry Pizza House (CPH), Gursewak Gill and Gurmail “Romy” Gill to see how this idea came about. Gursewak Gill was visiting his in-laws in Canada, where they ate pizza on most nights. To break the monotony, Gill would modify the pizzas with ginger, garlic, and green chilis’, eventually going bolder by dipping the pizza into traditional Indian curries to give it some oomph. The rest he says is history. He came back to the Bay Area and decided to open a pizza place that played with people’s expectations of standard Indian dishes by reimagining them as pizzas. 

Gursewak and his business partner Romy Gill have opened their 11th location in San Ramon with more locations on the way in Texas. Their sauce recipe is proprietary, but CPH shared recipes to re-create their pizza by mixing tomato sauce with any sauces to your liking and spice preference level. The recipes are approximations of the menu items. 

Some suggested spices to add to the tomato sauce:

  • Dried red chilis
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Coriander 
  • Cumin
  • Cardamom
  • Mustard seeds
  • Turmeric

For the white sauce, here is a suggested variation:

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour 
  • 1 1/4 cup milk (whole milk)
  • 3 pressed garlic cloves 
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese shredded

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour once the butter is fully melted. Slowly add milk and stir until combined and the mixture starts to thicken. 
  2. Whisk in garlic and salt 
  3. Finish by adding in the parmesan and stirring until melted, around 30 seconds
  4. Allow sauce to cool slightly and then spread on top of your pizza. 


To make your own pizza dough you will need:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar 
  • 1 cup warm water 
  • Cornmeal for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Mix sugar into warm water and sprinkle yeast on top
  2. Wait 10 minutes for the yeast to activate and become foamy
  3. Pour the yeast mixture into a bowl and add flour and salt
  4. Combine
  5. Knead for 6-8 minutes until the dough is moderately stiff. Add additional flour as necessary. 
  6. Cover and let rest for 20-30 minutes 
  7. Break the dough into 2 pieces and use a rolling pin to make two 12-inch pizzas. 
  8. Place dough on a lightly greased baking sheet or pizza board and top with desired toppings (see below for suggestions). 
  9. Bake the pizza at 425 F for 10-15 minutes until the desired doneness.

Curry Chicken Masala Pizza

Chicken and vegetables intermingle on this fragrant, lightly spicy pizza. A special masala curry sauce lends a depth of flavor.

Curry Chicken Masala Pizza

Ingredients:

  • Secret House Curry Sauce
  • Cheese
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Red Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • House Marinated Curry Chicken Strips 
  • Fresh Cilantro  

Chilli Paneer Pizza

In true Curry Pizza House fashion, this pizza is fresh and spicy thanks to the chili flavors infused throughout. Paneer helps give this delicious vegetarian pizza extra substance and cheesiness. 

Chilli Paneer Pizza

Ingredients:

  • Secret House Curry Sauce
  • Cheese
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Red Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • House Marinated Chilli Paneer Cubes
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Cilantro  

Tandoori Chicken Pizza

An updated take on popular Indian food, the tandoori chicken pizza draws its inspiration from a dish prepared by roasting chicken marinated in yogurt and spices in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven.

Tandoori Chicken Pizza

Ingredients:

  • House White Garlic Sauce
  • Cheese
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Red Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Marinated Tandoori Chicken Strips
  • Fresh Cilantro

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: [email protected]


 

Indian Summer Grill And Chill Recipes

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

Summer is here and that means we’re spending a lot of time outdoors, engaging in family-friendly summer activities and backyard cookouts. These fast summer recipes give you more time for what really matters: picnics, sunsets, and pool time. Most of these recipes are easy to make ahead and assemble right before you eat and pair beautifully with a summer cocktail or sangria.

Paneer Tikka Salad

Comes together quickly, most can be made ahead and tossed when serving.

Paneer Tikka Salad
Paneer Tikka Salad

INGREDIENTS

For Paneer tikka :

  • 400 grams of Paneer
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri red chili powder
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 2 tsp cumin-coriander powder (dhana jeeru)
  • 1 tsp garam masala powder
  • 1/2 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
  • 1/2 tsp black salt
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander 

For the Salad :

  • 1 cup of chopped cucumbers (Persian preferred as they are seedless)
  • 2 medium onions sliced (I prefer to grill these too)
  • 1 medium capsicum sliced (I prefer to grill these too)
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander 
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
  • 3 green chilies finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper 
  • 1 tsp chaat masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

PREPARATION

  1. In a bowl add the oil and Kashmiri red chili powder and mix well.
  2. Next add the rest of the ingredients to make a smooth paste: yogurt, ground ginger, cumin, coriander, garam masala, dry mango powder, black salt, salt, coriander.
  3. Cut the Paneer into medium sized chunks and marinate it in the prepared paste. Coat the paneer completely and rest it overnight or for a few hours.
  4. Grill, or airfry/bake till golden brown on all sides.
  5. In a large mixing bowl add all the vegetables under the salad. Add the grilled paneer. Mix well.

Spiced Indian Corn (Vaghareli Makai)

A roadside staple growing up!

Vaghareli Makai
Vaghareli Makai

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 red chilis, seeded and sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 1 one-inch piece of fresh ginger finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoon ghee
  • 11/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 3 cups (about 3 large ears) grilled fresh corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • lemon or lime wedges
  • 2 tablespoons sev

PREPARATION

  1. Grind the chilis, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and salt to a smooth paste.
  2. Heat the ghee in a wok. Add the mustard seeds wait for them to pop, 
  3. Stir in the corn kernels and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, until tender.
  4. Stir in the peanuts, half of the cilantro and half of the paste. Cook for another minute then taste. If desired, for additional heat, add more of the paste. 
  5. Remove from heat and squeeze some lemon/lime juice. Sprinkle with sev.

Aloo Chaat Pizza

Aloo Chaat Pizza
Aloo Chaat Pizza

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium potatoes, sliced into thin slices 
  • 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/3 cup Pur Spices Green Chutney Powder (so yummy! or use homemade green cilantro chutney)
  • 11/4 cups grated cheese (I used double cream gouda cheese)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb pizza dough homemade or store-bought

To drizzle on pizza before serving:

  • White truffle oil
  • chaat masala
  • cilantro chutney or Pur Spices Green Chutney Powder (the powder helps it not become too soggy)
  • sweet tamarind chutney
  • cilantro

PREPARATION

  1. Rinse and thinly slice the potatoes(It’s important to slice them thin here in order for the potatoes to cook evenly in the oven.)
  2. Place the potato slices in heavily salted cold water for a half-hour. 
  3. Pre-heat oven to 475 F degrees. Drain the potatoes, pat dry using a kitchen towel, and transfer them to a bowl.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon chaat masala, 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri red chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cumin powder to the potato slices and toss until the slices are coated.
  5. Prepare your pizza dough by stretching it into your desired shape. Sprinkle some cornmeal on the pan place the prepared pizza.
  6. Brush the dough lightly with oil, then prick with a fork and bake at 475 F for 4 to 5 minutes. (We are just pre-baking the crust a little here.) 
  7. Remove from oven and spread 1/3 cup of cilantro powder or chutney all over.
  8. Top with grated cheese.
  9. Now, start arranging the potato slices, in a single layer or overlapping, depending on how many slices you have.
  10. Bake 475 for 10/15 minutes until the cheese melts and potatoes are lightly browned. 
  11. Broil for 2 minutes to get the topping a nice brown top
  12. Remove pizza from the oven, sprinkle with chaat masala, drizzle with cilantro chutney and sweet tamarind chutney. 
  13. Garnish with cilantro.

Curried Cauliflower Street Tacos

You can substitute cauliflower for pork. I garnish with avocado, cilantro, cashew, yogurt crema, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and finely chopped jalapeño. You can add any garnish of your choice.

Cauliflower Street Tacos
Cauliflower Street Tacos

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large head of cauliflower  
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Achaar Masala (I use Pur Spices Achaar Masala powder)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 Cup Red Onion (grated or chopped)
  • 2 cups spring greens
  • 1″ Ginger (fresh ginger, peeled)
  • 2 Garlic (cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Powder (mild paprika)
  • 1/2 tbsp Curry Powder
  • 1/2 tbsp Cumin Seeds
  • 8 crispy tostadas 
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges

PREPARATION

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower and cut them into small, bite-sized florets.
  3. Heat oil in a pan, add the cumin seeds, once they pop, add the onion, cook till translucent. Add the achaar masala and salt.
  4. Add the cauliflower and toss until well-coated.
  5. Cook till the cauliflower is tender. Alternatively, you can also spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, tossing halfway through, until it is tender and slightly crispy.
  6. To Assemble Tacos: Warm tortillas shells in microwave or oven.
  7. On each taco add 2-3 tablespoon curry cauliflower, top with avocado, cilantro, cashew, yogurt crema, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and finely chopped jalapeño. Add a dash of lemon/lime juice before eating.

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: [email protected]


 

Treasure the Environment with Family-Fun Activities In the Bay Area

Any day is a good day to learn about protecting the environment, but this month, especially so. Earth Day takes place on April 22 every year and in “normal” times we would participate in a myriad of activities and events to help protect, preserve, and improve the planet we all share. This year has been a bit dystopian, but as we spring forward our hope is that slowly we will get back to normal and enjoy all that the Bay Area has to offer. So, whether you are looking for something to do with the family or by yourself, something quiet, or an outdoor adventure, we’ve got you covered! 

Wildlife

The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

The center offers daily guided and audio tours, a great way to raise awareness of environmental issues. There are also many interesting exhibits and on clear days, you’re rewarded with stunning vistas of the city.

Getting there: The Marine Mammal Center is located at 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, CA 94965.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey

From jellies to penguins to sea otters and sharks, over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals that call the Monterey Bay Aquarium home. The first museum to have a living kelp forest, the array of exhibits is sure to enthrall tots, from watching marine mammals swim about in humongous tanks that imitate their natural habitats to watching them being fed.

Member days: May 1-14, Open for all: May 15

Getting there: 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Curiodessy

A science museum and zoo for children and families where visitors see wild animals up-close and play with kid-friendly science exhibits. CuriOdyssey is home to nearly 100 rescued animals, most native to California, that cannot survive in the wild.

Getting there: 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo, CA 94401

Gardens

Golden Gate Park

The 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always beautiful, but, for obvious reasons, is the most magical in the spring when so many flowers begin to bloom. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. April is a good time to see magnolias in bloom, but there are always really cool plants to check out no matter when you go.  

Getting there: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Japanese Gardens San Mateo 

This Japanese garden is designed by landscape architect, Nagao Sakurai of the Imperial Palace of Tokyo, and features a granite pagoda, tea house, koi pond and bamboo grove. Visit during spring/summer to feed the koi and catch cherry blossoms in full bloom. There’s also a mini-train that’ll delight kids, tennis courts and many picnic areas.

Getting there: 50 E 5th Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

Japanese Gardens Hayward

The garden was designed by Kimio Kimura. It follows Japanese garden design principles, using California native stone and plants. No stains were used on the wood constructions. Nails and fasteners are recessed, and all wood was notched, and aged, to simulate the appearance of a traditional Japanese garden.

Getting there: 22373 N 3rd St., Hayward, CA 94541

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Visit this beautiful garden at the peak of its bloom in spring. Situated within Golden Gate Park, the garden showcases over 8,000 species of plants. There are several different collections within the garden, such as Mediterranean and Tropical.  

Getting there: 1199 9th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94122

Boat ride along Stow Lake

Take advantage of spring in full bloom by renting a paddle, electric, or row boat to tour this hidden gem. Situated in the middle of Golden Gate Park, the lake includes a 110-foot artificial waterfall, colorful Chinese pavilion, and a 125-year-old Stone Bridge. During springtime, visitors will also get the chance to see ducklings and goslings hatch! Rentals start at $24/hr.

Getting there: 1 Stanyan St, Unit 2, San Francisco, CA 94118

Places to Visit

Soar to new heights on Golden Gate Park’s SkyStar observation wheel

The giant Ferris wheel in the Music Concourse brought in to celebrate the park’s 150th birthday will stick around for longer than planned because it wasn’t open for most of last year.  

Getting there: Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse, 1 Bowl Drive

Hiller Aviation Museum

An AvGeek’s Nirvana. Beautifully curated exhibits show the past, present, and future of flight. Aircraft are beautifully restored and displayed with exciting angles and exceptional lighting. The museum has more than 50 aerospace vehicles along with companion descriptive displays concerning the history of flight.

Getting there: 601 Skyway Rd, San Carlos

Immersive Van Gogh

 

Step into the world of Vincent Van Gogh at this trippy exhibit with over 500,000 cubic-feet of illuminated projections of his work that will make you feel like you’re literally inside of his paintings. The “experiential journey” has been modified for COVID times, but still promises to be one of the most unusual and/or cultural things you’ve done in a very long time. The exhibit runs through the beginning of September.

Getting there: 10 South Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103

Mission-Driven Nonprofits

Planterday: The Mission-Driven Mobile Plant Shop

 Dedicated to destigmatizing mental health and promoting mental health resources. As official sponsors of Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, they donate a portion of their monthly proceeds to suicide prevention services in the local community.

The Bay Area Ecology Center

A list of Bay Area environmental/sustainability-related classes, workshops, exhibits, tours, films, and other events. Events posted are directly related to Ecology Center’s main topic areas and located mostly in the East Bay. 

350 Bay Area

Building a grassroots climate movement in the Bay Area and beyond to eliminate carbon pollution and achieve a clean energy future with racial, economic, and environmental justice. San Francisco Bay Area residents building a grassroots movement for deep CO2 emission reductions.

They have local groups in most every county. They have hundreds of volunteers, supported by a small but mighty staff, working since 2012 to:

Raise awareness & urgency for the climate crisis; Mobilize to demand action at the speed & scale required to protect us all from the worst impacts; Support the voices of young people calling for a livable planet; Dig into policy options to get real emissions reductions actions passed

Stop and smell the wildflowers! Spring is when the landscape is alive with carpets of colorful wildflowers. Check out some of the best wildflower displays on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. 

Hikes

Arastradero Creek Loop (Pearson Arastradero Preserve)

3.7 miles Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

The rolling hills in this preserve create a range of habitat types offering refuge for a great diversity of wildflowers. You’ll find the biggest patches of wildflowers along the sunny, southern-facing slopes.

Getting there: 1530 Arastradero Road, 1/4 mile north of Page Mill Road.

Bald Hills Loop (Calero County Park)

8.5 miles  Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

Enjoy a large outcropping of serpentine soil, offering big, showy HALF displays of native wildflowers. You’ll also enjoy views of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains and nearby Diablo Range.

Getting there: 23205 McKean Rd San Jose, CA 95141

Año Nuevo Point Trail (Año Nuevo State Park)

1.5 miles Flowers peak: April

Best known as the destination to see 5,000-pound elephant seals, Año Nuevo is also home to a spectacular display of spring wildflowers. This easy, gentle trail is good for all ages and abilities. 

Getting there: 1 New Year’s Creek Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

River Trail (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park)

2 miles Flowers peak: April

Giant redwoods tower over the cool waters of the San Lorenzo River in this park. It contains one of the largest stands of old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and an abundance of spring flowers add to the beauty of this landscape.

Getting there: River Trail (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park)

Arrowhead Loop (Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve)

4 miles Flowers peak: Late-March- Mid-April

Just a short drive from downtown San Jose, this preserve offers phenomenal views of Coyote Valley, the Diablo Mountain Range, and a plethora of spring flowers. You don’t have to

complete the full loop to get your fill of spectacular flowers.

Getting there: From Highway 101, take Bailey Avenue west, Turn left on Santa Teresa Boulevard, Turn right on Palm Avenue. The preserve is at the end of Palm Avenue.


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: [email protected]


 

Indian Inspired Curries Make it Easy to Go Amok With Cambodian Cuisine

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

Pre-Covid, when my son was visiting Cambodia, he described his visit to Angkor Wat saying he noticed parallels with Indian temples that we had visited, seen in movies and read about. His guide showed him twin bas reliefs, hundreds of meters long, depicting sculpted scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Devas and asuras exist in the form of gigantic sculptures, standing, enormous legs braced on the ground, as they pull the serpent Vasuki as a rope, and churn away at the Ocean of milk. 

This got me thinking about Cambodian food and my son said that it was all about contrasts-sweet and bitter, salty and sour. Influenced by their neighbors, Cambodian cuisine includes noodle soup similar to Vietnamese phở, salads and sour soups commonly found in Thailand, noodles and stir fries handed down from years of Chinese migration and Indian-inspired curries.

Cambodia’s national dish is Fish amok, a fish curry that gets its signature flavor from kroeung, an aromatic curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and a little chili. The kroeung is mixed with coconut milk, which turns a beautiful golden yellow. Mild white fish and shredded kaffir lime leaves are added to the curry, which is steamed in a banana-leaf cup. Being vegetarian, I made a meatless version.

So, till we can visit Cambodia and immerse ourselves in its culture and fascinating history, stroll through the night markets of Siem Reap, and get lost in the famous Russian market of Phnom Penh, let’s experience Cambodia through its food with recipes we recreate at home.

Nime Chow (Fresh Cambodian Spring Rolls with Peanut Dressing)

Nime Chow

INGREDIENTS

Rolls:

  • 1 ½ ounces uncooked cellophane noodles
  • 12 (8-inch round) sheets rice paper
  • 2 cups thinly sliced lettuce
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 12 medium basil leaves

Peanut Sauce:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (for vegetarians omit the sauce)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts 

PREPARATION

  • Combine bean threads and 2 cups hot water in a bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Drain; cut into 2-inch lengths.
  • Add cold water to a large shallow dish to a depth of 1 inch. Place whole rice paper sheet in the dish of water. Let stand 30 seconds or until soft (but don’t over soak because then it will tear easily and be harder to work with). Remove sheet from water.
  • Place rice paper sheet on a flat surface. Place lettuce, arrange 2 tablespoons grated carrot, 1 ½ tablespoons bean threads, 2 tablespoons bean sprouts, and 3 basil leaves over lettuce. Fold sides of rice paper sheets over filling; roll up tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Gently press seam to seal; place, seam side down, on a serving platter (cover to keep from drying). Repeat procedure with remaining rice paper sheets, lettuce, carrot, bean threads, bean sprouts, and basil.
  • Cut each roll in half crosswise.
  • To make the sauce, combine first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well. Cool completely. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve with the rolls.

 

Meatless (Vegetable) Amok 

All my ingredients are from Angkor Foods. They are local, fresh and authentic in taste and texture. 

Vegetable Amok

INGREDIENTS

Curry Paste Ingredients:

Amok Ingredients:

  • Veggies of your choice: Tofu, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower florets, bell peppers
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into long slices
  • 400mL can coconut milk
  • Soy sauce or salt

For added spice: Chrouk Metae – Cambodian Chili Paste

PREPARATION

  • Make the Paste: Peel the onion and garlic. Roughly chop all the ingredients and toss them into a food processor or blender. Blend until they all become a paste. Add oil/lime juice as needed.
  • Fry the paste for 3-4 minutes until the aromas are released. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 20 minutes. While simmering, add additional Keffir lime leaves and lemongrass to really infuse those flavors into the Amok.
  • As the paste is simmering, pan fry your tofu. Add soy sauce or salt and season to preference.
  • Add the vegetables to the curry. Let the mixture simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add additional milk to keep the consistency from getting too thick. 
  • Taste as it is cooking and season as needed. Add more sugar if the mixture is too bitter.

 

Cambodian bai cha (fried rice)

Bai Cha

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 eggs beaten (optional)
  • ½ cup carrot finely diced 
  • ½ cup  french beans finely diced 
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups cooked rice separated
  • 1/4 cup spring onions sliced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional but preferred)

PREPARATION

  • Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok add the eggs to the wok and swirl around to make an omelet. When the omelet is just cooked through, remove from the wok, allow to cool a little and slice into bite-sized pieces. (If you don’t eat eggs, leave this step out and proceed to the next step)
  • Heat the sesame oil, add the garlic and fry for one minute, add the carrots and beans, cook till they’ve softened a little but still have a bite to them (al dente).
  • Over high heat, add the rice, sugar, salt and soy sauce and stir-fry until all the rice has been incorporated into the mix and has taken on a little color.

 


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: [email protected]

San Jose’s Virtual Cinequest 2021 Features Indian Origin Films

Every year around this time, the community of film lovers mingles with film creators, directors, and artists at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose downtown’s many theaters. Giving film artists and film lovers a rare opportunity to connect at nightly soirees, the fun part about attending the film festival is a chance to talk to other people about the experience.

However, Covid times call for a pivot, and though there won’t be any in-person screenings, Cinequest is coming back with a virtual edition. Cinejoy, as the online edition is being called, will run March 20-30, with more than 150 U.S. and world premiere movies featured in the Showcase lineup and several high-profile movies in the Spotlight portion. The Showcase films can be viewed anytime by passholders but the 12 Spotlight movies will be shown at specific times.

Zoom parties can never really replicate the magic of the nightly parties, where you converse with like-minded film lovers, filmmakers, and performers, but Cinejoy is attempting to create a sense of community with Zoom-hosted “screening parties.” Ticketholders can host one or join in someone else’s.

Here is a sneak peek into films of Indian origin:

Thaen  

A glorious love story about transformation and giving in to the things we want most. While on her journey to fetch medicine to treat her sick father, a woman falls in love, gets married, and hopes to lead the life she wanted. But, even the Gods of Nature disapprove. A journey that explores the unexplored and challenges what we view as “normal.”

Horse Tail 

An alcoholic bank employee from Chennai has to solve a strange mystery: why did he wake up one morning with a horse’s tail?

Ghastly Fowl 

A stark, beautifully animated short story that sheds light on what human destruction is doing to our beautiful planet.


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: [email protected]

The Learning and Unlearning of Lebanese Cuisine

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

Today I was perusing my cookbook, an old notebook. In it, I have recipes that follow the arc of my life. Handwritten recipes by my Mom and me — of foods that I love — newspaper or magazine clippings of recipes that caught my fancy at some moment in time. And post-it marked pages of recipes that I make again and again. 

One such recipe is Falafel and Hummus by Yotam Ottolenghi. My dad loved his deli in Notting Hill known for its inventive dishes, characterized by the foregrounding of vegetables and unorthodox flavor combinations, he was and still remains the driving force behind the vegetarian Middle Eastern cuisine trend. 

After every visit to London, Papa would ask my mom to re-create hummus and falafel at home, which she did, and her “Indianized” version of falafel bhajias and “sauce” is a flavor that I still crave and create. However, the authentic taste is what I was after. So, I took a master class with chef Yotam Ottolenghi and here I share the joys of the perfect mezze of hummus, falafel, and pita.

Sahtein! (Enjoy the meal).

Hummus

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups/250 g dried chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 6 1/2 cups 
  • 1 cup tahini paste
  • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 100 ml ice-cold water 

PREPARATION

Chickpea Prep

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with enough water to cover by several inches. Note: they will double in size so use a large bowl and lots of water
  2. Drain and rinse, then add to a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and salt to taste. (You can use the Instant Pot or a pressure cooker which is what I do)
  3. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to medium, cover with a lid, and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, until the chickpeas are soft enough to crush between two fingers. Pressure cooker: 4 whistles. Instant Pot: Pressure Cook setiing:12 mins
  4.  Drain and set aside until ready to use.

Preparing the Hummus:

  • Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. Then, with the machine still running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and 11/2 teaspoons of salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and allow it to mix for about 5 minutes, until you get a very smooth and creamy paste.
  • Plain hummus can be made ahead of time and refrigerated, but cover it with plastic and gently press down on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Best served at room temperature.

My mom’s “Sauce” recipe

  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 1 cucumber 
  • 1 red bell pepper 
  • Green chili 
  • Cilantro 
  • ½ cup of sesame seeds 
  • ¾ tablespoons of yogurt  

Salt and pepper to taste

Put everything in a blender and whir till combined. 

Air-Fried Falafel 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ¼ cup (225 g) dried chickpeas *soak for 24 hrs. 
  • 1 cup onion, diced 
  • ⅔ cup mint, roughly chopped 
  • 1 cup cilantro, roughly chopped 
  • 1 cup curly or flat parsley, roughly chopped 
  • ⅓ cup scallions, roughly chopped 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin 
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more for seasoning 
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper 
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 3 tbsp chickpea flour 

PREPARATION

  1. Soak the chickpeas in water for 24 hours so they soften up. When the chickpeas are soaked, drain the water, rinse the chickpeas thoroughly. Do not cook the chickpeas. 
  2. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are finely minced. Do not over-pulse – the mixture should be coarse, not smooth or paste like
  3. Using a cookie scoop (for even balls), shape the falafel mixture into small balls. Arrange in a single layer in your air fryer basket and air-fry for about 15 minutes at 370-380°F. Rotate till all the falafel are golden brown and crisp.

My mom’s Indianized version

INGREDIENTS

  • ¾ cup black-eyed peas 
  • ½ cup split green peas 
  • 3 tsp sesame seeds 
  • Cilantro (one handful)
  • 1 tsp ginger 
  • 1 tsp garlic 
  • ¾ green chili 
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Place all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and pulse until everything is ground into a smooth paste. Deep fry by scooping balls with a spoon and dropping them in hot oil.

Homemade Pita Bread

Servings: 8 pitas

INGREDIENTS 

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast 
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water about 95 degrees F 
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar 
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

STEPS 

  1. In the bowl or a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Use a small whisk to thoroughly combine. Let the yeast proof for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy and bubble. If using Instant dry yeast add yeast, sugar, and warm water to the flour directly.
  2. Add the kosher salt to the bowl, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix on low or by hand, while slowly adding the rest of the flour, until it is fully incorporated. Knead the mixture for about 5 minutes. The dough should look sticky, and should just form a loose ball. 
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about an hour and a half until the dough has doubled in size. 
  4. Place a pizza stone or a perforated pizza pan into the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. 
  5. Flour your work surface and slowly pour out the dough onto your work surface. Flour your hands and gather the dough into a ball, tucking the edges under. Use a bench scraper or sharp knife to cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. 
  6. Roll each piece into a smooth ball with your hands, and place it on the floured board to rest for 5-10 minutes. Dust some flour on the top of each ball, and cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap. 
  7. Roll out one ball at a time into a flat 6-inch circle, making sure the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin or work surface. Quickly place 2 pitas on the hot pizza stone at a time. 
  8. Make sure that they’re totally flat. Bake for 4-5 minutes, until the pita bread puffs into pillow-y pocket. 
  9. Cool on a rack. Once all of the pitas are baked, place them into a plastic bag. The little bit of steam actually keeps the pita bread soft and moist. 

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 [email protected]

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: [email protected]