Monday, July 14, 2014

Lahm Bi-A'jin, Lahmajun or Sfiha, a middle eastern bread with mutton mince and purslane topping | the Arab pizza made my way

Arab pizza? Yes this flat bread is baked with a delicious topping and looks like pizza. Known as Lahmajun in Armenia, Lahm Bi-A'jin in Syria and Lebanan and Sfiha in Jordan, this flat bread with a meat mince topping is as good as the regular pizza although the flavour profile is entirely different. More earthy, more filling and completely a different experience than the regular Italian pizza, although the looks are similar. But then we know so many versions of flat breads around the globe that it feels very natural to find similar looking recipes in one corner of the globe with an interesting bunch of flavours. This Lahm Bi-A'jin is one of those recipes.

One can make a vegetarian version with crumbled paneer or a thick tomato sauce or mashed eggplants and cheese or with any topping one can imagine as this bread is quite easy to make. I found it here some time ago, adjusted it to my taste and have been making Lahm Bi-a'jin since then. Sometimes I fold the bread like a calzone for the ease of packing it into the lunch box of the husband.

This time I cooked it using the most nourishing greens of the season, Purslane. I have been using purslane to make pizza sauce sometimes but adding it to minced meat and flavouring it with Za'atar was such a brilliant idea. The minced meat and purslane mix was just too good to resist. Dusted generously with home made Za'atar.

Ingredients for the flat bread base will be similar to any standard pizza base recipe you use. I used my standard whole wheat bread recipe for the dough. Roll out flat breads of any size and spread the cooked mutton mince mixture over them and bake till the flat bread is pinkish brown on the edges and the mince mix is sizzling.

ingredients for the mutton mince and purslane topping of Arab pizza
(for 4 large pizzas, enough for 4 people)
mutton mince 300 gm
purslane greens (chopped finely) 250 gm
garlic minced 5-6 cloves (or as generous you want to be with garlic)
red chilly flakes 1 tsp or as per taste
fresh thyme leaves 6-7 springs
extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp
salt to taste
Za'atar 2 tbsp or more
toasted sesame seeds 1 tbsp
toasted sesame powder 1 tbsp


Pour the olive oil in a heavy base pan and tip in the minced garlic and red chilly flakes and then place the pan over stove. As the oil starts sizzling add the finely chopped purslane greens along with salt and stir fry till the purslane wilts.

Add the minced meat and thyme leaves, mix well and cook covered on medium heat till the mince is cooked, the purslane greens get almost homogenized with the mince, changing it's colour and appearance. Adjust seasoning and add the toasted sesame powder, dehydrate the mixture so it doesn't ooze liquids on the pizza base.

Spread a generous mince mixture over a rolled out thin bread base and bake for 10 minutes at 200 C on the middle rack. Keep an eye on the pizza as it can get burnt or stay raw in the middle.

Sprinkle Za'atar over the hot Arab pizza along with some more toasted sesame if you like and serve hot with some green salad on the side.

The minced meat and purslane along with Za'atar make a very interesting flavour base together. I have been cooking this purslane and keema scramble even as an everyday curry for ourselves. I keep it a bit moist or even runny if I am planning to serve it along with roti or paranthas.

I am sure Lahm Bi-A'jin will become a new favourite pizza the day you cook it. Especially if you have a carnivore family. Make it using paneer scramble with spinach or purslane if you are a vegetarian but don't forget to sprinkle a generous handful of Za'atar over it.

If you don't have Za'atar you can coarsely powder fresh thyme leaves, coarse sea salt, toasted sesame seeds and sumac (or dried limes). It works nicely with this recipe or on plain flat breads too.

Friday, July 11, 2014

apple granola muffins with whole wheat flour and oats, the cover page recipe

The husband loves something sweet for breakfast and muffins and pancakes are his favourites. This is a tricky situation as it means filling up on loads of carbohydrates to start the day. Though we need carbs to wake up the system and to stay active during the work hours, the sweet kind of breakfast could lead to mid morning hunger pangs and sweet cravings later. Yes, Insulin discipline is very important.

The only good thing is that he likes his sweet eats really lightly sweetened, so much so that I always make the pancakes plain (without sugar) and drizzle honey or some fruit preserve over it and he loves it this way. But for such granola muffins, I add a little jaggery, natural unsulfured brown sugar or honey or a mix of all these to make the muffins lightly sweetened. He likes all the alternative flours that we eat every single day, actually I am yet to see a guest or friend who did not like the food cooked with alternative grains at our place. That strengthens my belief in real ingredients tasting better than reconstituted mixes and flavorings.

This granola muffin recipe was featured on Good Housekeeping India's cover page (July issue) and uses all Indian ingredients, dehydrated cranberries and rolled oats are also available now a days but you can skip adding them if you don't have. Normal oatmeal (Quaker, Saffola or Baggry's) works well in this recipe. Use raisins, dry black grapes, chopped dates, figs or candied ginger for variation in taste and texture.

Also, I must add that the same batter can be used to make pancakes too, a little easier in an Indian household where the oven is used occasionally and a griddle is on the stove almost every meal time. So if you are comfortable with your griddle just go ahead, thin the batter a little and make some pancakes with the same batter.

I used 2 types of apples for this batch as I always want the apple flavour to take center stage. One tart green apple and one sweet red apple from the hills at Dhanachuli. I have been going there for work almost every 4th week and love to bring back seasonal fruit from there.

(makes 9 muffins)
atta (whole wheat flour) 1 cup (this time I used a mix of whole wheat and barley flours in a 3:1 ratio)
oatmeal 1/2 cup
rolled oats 1/4 cup
raw unsulfured sugar 1/4 cup (I used lesser)
honey 2 tbsp
butter 2 tbsp
egg 1 (or yogurt 1/4 cup)
milk 2-3 tbsp or as required
cinnamon powder 1/2 tsp
vanilla extract 1/4 tsp
chopped almonds 2 tbsp
chopped cranberries 2 tbsp (replace with raisins if you wish)
chopped dehydrated black grapes 2 tbsp  (you can use chopped dates too)
baking powder 1/4 tsp
baking soda 1/2 tsp
chopped apples (with skin preferably) up to 1 cup


Mix the flours (saving 1 tbsp rolled oats for sprinkling on top of the muffins), cinnamon powder, baking powder and baking soda and keep aside.
Mix the egg (or yogurt) with butter, honey, sugar and vanilla extract and whip well.
Mix the wet mixture and dry flour mixture together and fold well.
Add the chopped nuts, dried fruits and chopped apples and fold in everything nicely. The batter will be thick and not flowing consistency. You can add a little milk to make the batter a bit loose. 
Divide the batter into nine muffin liners placed in a muffin tray.

**Whole grain or multigrain muffins respond to thick batter well I feel. In this batch I made balls of this loose batter with my hands and filled in the muffin liners, there is enough fresh fruit to keep the muffins soft and moist.

Bake the muffins at 180 C for about 20 minutes. Check by piercing with a skewer, bake a little more if required.

The muffins don't rise much as the apple pieces shrink while they cook and the batter occupies the space as it expands. The muffins are quite soft and spongy nevertheless.

I have had small kids who don't eat cakes and have loved this muffin. The taste comes from real ingredients and not refined, reconstituted and artificially flavoured stuff. I reiterate.

Apples are great by themselves, we use them to flavour the cooked food as and when required. And it does add value to these yummy granola muffins with chopped apples.

Out of the 8 recipes of mine that were published as a cover story in the July issue of Good Housekeeping India, this one was the most demanded on the blog. Many people live outside the country or in small towns of India where the magazine is not easily available and they wanted to try the cover page recipe. I hope many of you will be baking this for your family and would realise how healthy ingredients result in great taste.

Please let me know if you try these apple granola muffins. One or two muffins and a glass of milk is great for a hearty breakfast. Save some batter to make quick pancakes if you like. I would love to hear about your take on the recipe.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

mango couscous salad with mint and my contribution to the cover story in Good Housekeeping India

I have been making salads using mangoes a lot, this mango poha and mango salsa have been favourites and I try and create new versions every now and then. More because we hoard a lot of mangoes sometimes and end up rustling up a quick salad for dinner. We used to eat only mangoes for dinner sometimes and still do that occasionally as the husband just loves anything sweet for dinner.

Recently I made a new version of mango poha with coconut milk and it has already been repeated, served to friends and been loved by all. Many friends tried it when I shared the recipe on facebook and instagram.
I am on instagram @sangeetaamkhanna, please follow me to get more updates on my everyday meals and breakfasts.

This is one of those convenience meals that you would always choose over pastas and instant noodles. I bet. Try this mango and avocado salad and see if you like it. One more wholesome and filling salad with seasonal fruit.

Choosing seasonal fruits and using them for optimal taste and nourishment is a trick one must learn. All of us have individual taste and we might like things a little differently hence it is important to find out a way to create tasty meals with easily available ingredients day after day, every single day.

The purpose of this blog is to motivate everyone to cook tasty healthy meals at home and that is why I was glad to share health tips in Good Housekeeping India (July issue). I was elated when Manjira Dutta, the Editorial Director of the magazine complemented me personally to have listed so practical and easy tips to follow. I talked about those everyday habits and ways to build up health quotient every single day in my last post.

Today I am sharing one of the recipe that featured in Good Housekeeping India and that is a mango couscous salad with mint and coconut flakes.

This tropical flavored couscous is a refreshing change from the regular tabbouleh that is a part of Mediterranean meals. This kind of flavours are received well with people from anywhere in the world as the natural goodness of mangoes and coconut never fails to impress. Real natural flavours from fresh ingredients work their charm on everyone.
For this couscous recipe we prefer using sweet and tart mangoes as they provide a wider range of flavours in the dish. Fresh coconut will be great but you can use the dehydrated tender coconut chips too, they soak up moisture from the mangoes and get really sweet and meaty. Few nuts and seeds make this couscous dish quite filling and healthy.

This recipe serves 4-5
Couscous 1 cup
Hot water 1 cup
Butter 1 tsp
Salt ¾ tsp
Lime juice 2 tsp
Cubed mangoes (preferably sweet and tart) 2 cups
Coarsely grated fresh coconut ¾ cup
Chopped almonds 3 tbsp
Sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds 2 tbsp
Red chili flakes 2 tsp
Finely diced red onions ½ cup
Finely chopped mint leaves 1 cup

Mix butter, salt and lime juice to the hot water, dissolve well and pour over couscous in a wide bowl. Cover and let it soak for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork when it cools. Keep aside.
Mix the mango cubes, onions, mint, chili flakes and the chopped almonds and sunflower seeds together. Toss to mix well.
Mix the mango mixture with the couscous and fold in the grated coconut or the tender coconut chips. Adjust seasoning and serve on a large platter.
Sprinkle some more coconut chips and chopped mint over it to garnish.

This mango couscous and mint salad will be a favourite believe me. Just like the mango poha with onions and coriander greens and mango coconut milk poha this recipe is bursting with mango flavours and is a filling tasty wholesome meal.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

building up the health quotient everyday | being featured on cover story of Good Housekeeping India

All of us are aware about the basic science behind the healthy food and beverages, hydration and maintaining a good basal metabolic rate through food and exercise. It is unfortunate that the science and the knowledge do not translate into practice most of the times in everyday life. We are caught up with so many hassles every single day from traffic snarls to delayed deadlines, from absentee maid to a sick child that we often fall prey to the most convenient plate of food available when hungry or a strong sugared cup of tea or coffee when stressed. We often skip a much required workout when there is a time crunch and feel guilty later.

How do we make provisions to follow small little things to keep ourselves fit and healthy?
To bring a little discipline into our routine so that we can follow what we know is not that difficult. A little planning, stocking up the desired foods and beverages, keeping them in strategic places and setting alarms if required works really well. Here is what all I try doing and recommend everyone to try for a fortnight and see how it brings change in the attitude towards healthy living.

All these tips were shared in the cover story "Health on a Platter" in Good Housekeeping India (July Issue) and I am glad that Manjira Dutta, the Editorial Director complemented me personally to have made such an exhaustive and practical list for GHI readers. 

Here is the un-edited version I sent to them.The cover story included 7 recipes from me excluding the recipe of the cover picture, whole wheat apple muffins.

Brew a large kettle of green tea infused with fresh herbs and fill in a flask that sits on your work desk. Have it hot or iced as required in between meals, along with meals or after meals. This is a great way to stay refreshed throughout the day. Grow your own herbs in pots if possible and see how tending to them even for 5 minutes a day keeps you sane.

     Stock fruits, salad greens and vegetables weekly, get the portions for the whole day peeled and chopped in the morning and pack them all in convenient containers or ziplock bags to be placed with different meal times and snacks. This is a great way to not forget having your fruit or salad for the day.

      Smoothies are a great way to eat your fruits conveniently combined with soaked nuts. This way the smoothies make a meal and these can replace your breakfast. You can freeze the fruits and soak the nuts overnight and liquidize all of them in the morning for a fresh and filling breakfast.

     Invest in some cast iron pans and skillets and get your food cooked in them so you get more iron available to the system. See how cast iron pans help get more mineral into your system.

      Buy and consume only seasonal and mostly local fresh produce. Although most vegetables and fruits are available throughout the year these days, it is better to choose seasonal as the fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients in their natural fruiting season. Buying local fruits and vegetables helps us get the freshest  produce that has not been treated with chemicals for longer shelf life, apart from reducing the carbon footprint.

      Include more and more colors in your food, all seasonal fruits and vegetables are nature’s way of telling us what we should eat in the season. The pigments in the plants are packed with antioxidants and minerals. Yellow papayas, oranges and tomatoes and carrots have Lycopene and Carotenoids, red amaranth leaves, beets and Swiss chard have Betalains, red cabbage, aubergines, black currants and grapes, cherries and plums, peaches, black berries and blueberries, cranberries etc have the pigment called Anthocyanins. These natural pigments help us incorporate a wider range of antioxidants along with Vitamin C in our daily diet.

      Fresh greens are essential in everyday diet. Be it leafy greens like spinach, fenugreek leaves or amaranth and purslane or herbs like coriander, mint and basil, all of these provide a wide range of minerals and vitamins. Fresh leafy greens feel like a lot of work but it can be managed well if one buys them weekly or fortnightly in bulk, gets them cleaned and chopped for the weeks to come. The chopped or steamed leafy greens and herbs can be packed in ziplock bags and frozen for 6 months or can be refrigerated for a week easily. Herbs keep well in paper bags for a week, if frozen they can last 6 months too. 

     Whole grains are not over rated. Look out for grains other than wheat and rice and include all of them for everyday meals, find more ways to bake breads and pancakes with them so you enjoy eating them. Dependence on one staple grain is not good, variety is the key for nourishment as well as taste. The grain portion should be small always, fill up your plate with greens and some protein for all meals.

     Eat grains in fermented form. Dosa, idli and sourdough breads are the best way to incorporate extra minerals and vitamins for the body. The yeast breaks down the nutrients found in the grains in most digestible form and supplements the batter or dough with more minerals and vitamins because of their own by products during fermentation.

    Allocate 3-4 water bottles of different colors for each family member and see to it that the water is consumed during the day. Everyone will slowly start noticing how less water they were drinking and will be tricked to drink more water. Add mint or lime slices to water bottles to make every sip enjoyable.
      Take care to include good protein source in every meal. Paneer, tofu, mature cheeses, nuts, seeds and beans are great for vegetarians and chicken and fish are great for non vegetarian everyday meals. Red meats and bacon etc can be had occasionally.

      Add flax seeds meal to your bread flour or chapatti flour so you get good quality fiber and some omega 3s in your meals regularly.

      Include yogurt and some fermented drink like carrot kanji or some fermented salads like sauerkraut in everyday meals. The probiotic bacteria found in them make the gut flora healthy and help better absorption of nutrients. Poha, puffed rice and fermented congee are other sources of healthy probiotic bacteria.

      Include more nuts and seeds in everyday diet. Omega 3s take care of the inflammations due to daily wear and tear in the body or due to stress.

      Be cautious when eating out. Strongly colored foods and MSG laden dishes should be avoided at any cost. Freshly cooked simpler foods are always better.
      Listen to some slow soothing music of your choice for at least 10 minutes every day and meditate while you are at it. You will be charged up for the next task of the day.
      Make a niche in your home or office with real green plants or herbs, include a tulsi plant too. Water them every day, pluck a few tulsi leaves and chew on them. It will refuel your spiritual energy, help you connect with yourself better.

      Last but not the least, get up from your work desk almost every hour, stretch your neck, shoulders and legs if possible, drink water or green tea, splash cold water on the eyes and blink several times to refresh the eyes. It helps you not get exhausted easily and enhances work efficiency apart from boosting your health.