Friday, June 28, 2013

cooking with Ritu Dalmia, the diva who is unstoppable, incorrigible and totally in love with all things food...

It was not too long ago when I started watching an Indian woman presenting Italian recipes on her TV show and I was completely smitten. Her quaint androgynous style and a knack of expanding her food repertoire while traveling, kept me glued to the TV screen while she presented Italian Khana and Traveling Diva. I am not into habit of watching TV now, and I was not into it even back then, it was my sweet housemaid who was also smitten by Ritu's style and would always remember the timing of the show and switch on the TV by herself. Such is the charm of an effervescent diva that Ritu Dalmia is.

I got a chance to interact with her and learn some nuances of her style of cooking at the launch of her new book Diva Green, at Fisher and Paykel experience center. Ritu Dalmia held a masterclass for a few people, cooking a few selected recipes from the book. I love the way she cooks with all her bodily tissues involved, look at her facial expressions when she cooks and talks about food.

One universal law of cooking is established now, the one who makes faces while cooking, cooks the best food. She cooked a Saint's day pasta with sliced aubergines, loads of cheese and freshly made tomato sauce and a risotto with carrots and oranges. Arancine were also made using a cold risotto, she demonstrated how to make perfectly sealed balls of arancine so the mozzarella doesn't leak from it while deep frying.

She made a lovely baby potatoes, pearl onions and feta cheese salad and lovely pumpkin fritters as well. These were all simple things but the way she combines flavors is worth watching.

She even served the food in our plates. Such luck, who knew the Diva would serve risotto in your plate while you lick every last grain.

These pumpkin fritters she cooked in the last were like our Indian gulgule which is a deep fried sweet batter dumpling. Sometimes we add sweet potatoes or bananas to this gulgula fritters of ours. Ritu's pumpkin fritters were like sitaphal ke gulgule. Dusted with powdered sugar and then drizzled with maple syrup, these are nice warm and sticky baby pancakes.

I was thinking how much Arvind loves all things gulgule and pancakes. I decided I'll cook the pumpkin fritters for him the very next day. While Ritu Dalmia is finicky enough to use Farina instead of Indian maida in her pumpkin fritters, I used a mix of oats and atta (whole wheat flour) to make these fritters and replaced pumpkin puree with mashed bananas. Not because I don't like pumpkin enough, but for the ease of it. Preparing the pumpkin two ways to make these easy looking fritters was a bit of work, I cubed and stir fried the pumpkin in ghee the night before and used it for the fritters at breakfast time.

Boiling or roasting and pureeing the pumpkin would have required a bit more work in the kitchen, I wanted to, but skipped to save time and to help me make the fritters without sugar. The result was equally good I would say.

I made a thick lumpy kind of batter with 1/2 cup of oats, a tbsp of whole wheat flour, one mashed banana, a little milk and 1/2 a cup of the cubed and stir fried pumpkin bits. Added a pinch of salt and shallow fried little fritters in ghee. I know it was quite a detour from the original recipe but I wanted the pumpkin bits in my fritters and that was there alright...

Drizzled with mono-culture honey the fritters were polished off in minutes.

The love for food is so contagious. You can't be spared if you are around someone like Ritu Dalmia.

And then she signed her book for me.

The book Diva Green is such a refreshing vegetarian cookbook. I do cook a lot of vegetables and these recipes are almost like the kind of cooking I do, simple local ingredients, with many more unusual flavors and combinations. See a few of my favorite recipes from the book...

I know you are getting curious if you are regular reader here. You know how much I love my vegetables and these are such beautiful looking vegetarian recipes you would itch to try out.

Look at the book how it was displayed at the Fisher and Paykel center. An airy, space where you feel like wishing for an open kitchen which can entertain people as well..

Now a surprise for you all. I have a copy of Diva Green that can be yours. Just let me know what vegetables will be the topmost in your list when you want vegetarian food for your best friends and the people you love.

And please do a couple of things for me to qualify for the giveaway. You know well how eagerly I want everyone to stay healthy, such small favors help me spread the word.
  1. 'like' my facebook page.
  2. Follow me on twitter (@ sangeetakhanna).
  3. Follow this blog publicly
And comment here letting me know everything I asked. You would love the book as much as me. Even if you haven't cooked much with cookbooks, this one would make you try many of them lovely recipes...

The giveaway is open to Indian readers only, but you can get it delivered at an Indian address if you live outside India. I will announce the winner on 5th of July so hurry up and comment here.

Edited to add : I announced the winner of this giveaway in this post and the winner was Madhuli. I tried to send her a message on my fb page as well where I had announced the giveaway but she is not traceable and it has been more than 2 weeks now (a bit weird as one of the condition of the giveaway was to follow this blog :-)).
I did another draw and the new winner is Deeba Rajpal. Congrats Deeba I know you would love a vegetarian cookbook :-)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fermented drinks and condiments : Pineapple kanji : a kanji made with pineapple peels....

 I never knew pineapple peels would pack in so much flavors. I have been experimenting with fermented drinks and salads for ever. Having worked in a microbiology lab keeps the fire ignited all the time, the friendly microbes are always close to heart. I started experimenting with this pineapple kanji 2 years ago when a few carrots were dug out from the garden and those were too fibrous to eat. I usually would soak them in water and required spices to make the kanji but that particular day I was peeling a large ripe pineapple for my salads. It used to be a pain to see so much of juicy bits of pineapple flesh being wasted along with the tough spiny skin. I did an experiment that day.

The pineapple was cleaned before peeling with a soft brush under running water to clean everything from the rough skin. Then it was peeled as I would do so normally. All the peels and small bits that come with the 'eyes' were thrown into the kanji jar along with the 2 fibrous carrots. A wonderfully refreshing drink was ready after a week and I was amazed at how much flavors the pineapple skin still retained.

Later I started making kanji with just the pineapple peels and pith. The carrots were skipped conveniently. After all carrot kanji is a different thing to enjoy on it's own.

Actually the skin and the pith of the pineapple is quite rich in Bromelain, the digestive enzyme that helps digest dense proteins easily and the vitamin C and Manganese content of the fruit is very high hence the anti oxidant property of this fruit. Manganese helps absorb and utilise many other nutrients and it makes pineapple one of the healthiest foods.

So when we enjoy all this goodness in the edible flesh of the fruit, why should we waste such nutrients that we can harvest from the peel and pith as well?

The last batch of my pineapple kanji was ready today, ready to be strained and a bottle of 2 month old kanji was still lying around. You would be surprised to know this pineapple kanji is stable at room temperature once it is fermented well. Just add ice cubes in summers and have at room temperature in winters. It is a refreshing drink that you can have one glass everyday. Add soda to it and it becomes tingling smacking good.

Here is the bottle of 2 months old kanji, a freshly fermented pineapple kanji ready to be strained and a pineapple being peeled, it's fresh peel and pith ready to make another batch. No I am not mad, I just love what I do.

This is the 2 months old pineapple kanji with ice cubes.

The contents of the fermenting jar are strained to discard all the peel now that we have extracted out flavors from it. The kanji has a really kicking taste of pineapples and the tangy taste of the usual kanji owing to mustard seeds and red chilly powder..

And the jar was emptied, cleaned and a new batch was filled in to ferment...

I added 2 liters of filtered water, 2 tsp of mustard seeds, 1 tsp red chilly powder and 1 tbsp table salt. Peels and pith of half a pineapple went into this jar. 

This is a simple recipe to be followed. Keep this mix into a lidded jar and let it ferment for 5-7 days. This jar can be kept at your windowsill or on the highest loft of your pantry where some ambient light reaches. I have never tried fermenting it in dark but there shouldn't be a problem if you keep the jar in a dark pantry as well.

The amount of mustard added is lesser than kaali gajar ki kanji just because the pungency of mustard would kill the refreshing taste and aroma of pineapples. Mustard seeds initiate fermentation and once the culture has set in, starting form the ambient mix of yeast strains, the culture keeps growing till the fermenting mix is stable. Red chilly provides ambient lactobaccili and a few more mesophilic bacteria for sure.

I am not sure what would be the percentage of acetic acid, alcohol and aldehydes in this drink, as I never tested it, but the drink is stable at room temperature unlike carrot kanji that keeps getting more sour at room temperature and has to be refrigerated for longer use. May be the Bromelaine or a high amount of ascorbic acid present in pineapple helps stabilise the drink but it is a great result for kanji lovers for sure.

Also, keeping the strained liquid for a week or so clears the turbidity and a crystal clear drink is yours to relish. See how the jug has a turbid liquid (the freshly strained kanji) and the bottle has crystal clear drink that looks gorgeous.

Read more about benefits of fermented foods here.

Please note that Kanji is wrongly judged as an 'acquired taste' (indicating it is foul smelling and weird tasting), but if your kanji is smelling foul it means the culture has become contaminated. Discard the kanji or kanji culture if it tastes foul. A thin white layer of mould will be seen on the fermenting kanji, just keep mixing it so no new strains of contaminants get a chance to grow in the same culture. This kanji has strong overtones of pineapple, sourness of the fermented sugars and a hint of sharp heat provided by chilly and mustard. A very intriguing mix of flavors in fact.

Ask me questions if you want to ferment your own kanji and something makes you feel nervous. I wish I could make you smell and taste this drink now.
A few of my friends have already started making this :-)

I made this kanji with peels of watermelon as well, the white pith was used, the green skin was discarded. The drink was tasty and sour as a kanji should be, but not as refreshing and aromatic as this pineapple kanji, neither as colorful as kali gajar ki kanji. But the watermelon rinds become a nice pickle after you make the kanji. So if you like pickled carrots or watermelon peels you can make the kanji with those as well. For me, pineapple kanji is a winner and I don't bother making watermelon peel kanji anymore.

There will be many more jars and bottles of pineapple kanji happening here...

Monday, June 24, 2013

smoothies are for everyone...

The question intrigued me once when a friend asked me if the fiber in the food is lost when we blend them smooth. Yes, this is a real question and stupid to the core. That was the time I used to feed smoothies to my daughter for all her meals. Those who have been reading my blog know that Mithi couldn't swallow solid foods. But that was a different case. Blending the food smooth never caused any nutrient loss or even loss of fiber. If you blend soaked almonds to make almond milk, the fiber is still there, more if you retain the skin.

Last month when Parul Khanna of HT Brunch called me to ask about smoothies, I was reminded of all the queries I used to get till now. The article about smoothies is here and it features two of my smoothie recipes too.

Let's come to the utility of smoothies for all of us who want a convenient meal that packs intense nourishment. If you want to include a few nuts and seeds, some dairy and some fruit all in your breakfast, it will be a daunting task at the dining table to finish all of it before you get late for work. Just throw everything into a blender and your breakfast can be slurped within 5 minutes.

You could even add raw eggs to your smoothies if you get good quality organic eggs and the smoothie wont be eggy if your fruits are fresh and aromatic or you add some good quality vanilla extract.

Smoothies are perfect low GI snacks for diabetics too once or twice a day. One can add bulking agents to smoothie like cucumbers, herbs like coriander greens or celery and roasted pumpkin etc and combine them in flavors you like. Isabgul (Psyllium) husk can be added to citrus fruit or watermelon like juicy smoothies to bulk up the smoothie meal. This proves really helpful when one is trying to tone down the appetite due to erratic insulin behavior.

Full of antioxidants, smoothies are anti inflammatory foods if you add fresh ingredients and good fats into it. You can make them probiotic by adding appropriate ingredients too.

Eating flax seeds everyday will be too tedious if you have to add them to breads and chutneys, but in a smoothie it can be added every single day. Some good quality cocoa and a banana, some more nuts and your smoothie is a full meal that keeps you energetic the whole day.

Banana-almond-flax meal-cocoa smoothie with milk...

(one large serving)
  1. one large banana, over ripe banana is better for smoothies

  2. 1 heaped tbsp flax meal
  3. 10-12 soaked almonds
  4. 2 tsp good quality organic cocoa powder
  5. a cup of full fat milk or more as required
  • Liquidize everything together in food processor or mixie to make a smooth drink. 

  • Using chilled milk and frozen banana gives you a more creamy chilled smoothie.
Serve right away.

This smoothie is more suitable for a power packed breakfast that keeps you full till lunch hours and doesn't make you feel dull or hungry in the mid morning hours. Add a tsp of cinnamon if you want a deep flavor. Cinnamon heals the gut and is considered to manage blood sugar level efficiently. 

If making this smoothie in winters, have it on room temperature and add a dash of nutmeg and a pinch or ginger powder to it, so the smoothie has a warming effect on the body.

A smoothie can be savory and packed with goodness of herbs too. These savory smoothies are great for diabetics and those who avoid sugars, or count calories. Great detox food, these are cooling for the system and refreshing to taste. Great snacks for summer afternoons or can be a lunch option too.

Cucumber-herbs-mixed nuts and seeds savory smoothie with yogurt...

(one large serving)
  1. one medium sized cucumber chopped roughly
  2. 1/2 cup packed coriander greens chopped
  3. 2 tsp of sunflower seeds
  4. 2 tsp of pumpkin seeds
  5. 4-5 walnut halves
  6. a cup of yogurt
  7. salt to taste
  • Soak the mixed nuts together overnight or for an hour or so minimum.
  • Liquidize everything together in food processor till smooth and creamy.
  • you can add a dash of tabasco sauce if you want a hint of heat.
Add a tbsp or onion and just a small piece of green chilly if you are planning to go out in hot summer days, this addition will protect you from heat strokes and the smoothie will be as yummy.
Use any herbs like celery, parsley, mint or basil depending on what you get fresh and what you feel like having according to your constitution.

Have this smoothie fresh. Although it keeps well in the fridge for a couple of hours.

This smoothie suits lunch during summer days but can be taken as a dinner as well if you are planning to have a smoothie meal. Having said that, I wouldn't advise all meals to be replaced by smoothies as the tactile pleasure of eating other healthy foods is also instrumental in keeping you on track with healthy living.

If making this smoothie in winters, replace cucumber with spinach or carrots.

We realise smoothies can be good fun for those who have bee trying to cut down on snacking behavior. Snacks like chips, cookies and petite cakes can be dangerous as they cause more cravings and more snacking or binging at meal time. Smoothies keep the eating behavior in check as they provide good nutrients and make them bio-available if you combine the ingredients well.

A few pointers to make the nutrients useful for the system, available to the gut and bloodstream..

  • If you are adding Iron and Calcium sources in the smoothie, take care to add yogurt or a citrus fruit so the minerals are absorbed well.
  • all fat soluble vitamins need fat in the same meal and that applies to smoothies as well, use full fat milk or yogurt or add a little fresh cream to it. Adding nuts also helps.
  • Add protein powders of your choice to smoothies if it is a smoothie that you take after a rigorous workout. 
  • Do not compromise on taste and add your favorite fresh herbs to savory smoothies and good quality cocoa or fresh fruits or even home made fruit preserves (minimal sugar added) or honey to your smoothies. Higher sugar content in the smoothie will be good for athletes and children who stay active all day.
  • Adding soaked poha and yogurt makes the smoothie probiotic, useful if you have IBS or if you have had a bad meal causing bloating or stomach upset.
  • Add cinnamon or nutmeg for good sleep and warmth during winters, fennel can be added for cooling effect and black pepper in yogurt smoothies can be cooling as well as carminative and antiflatulent.
  • Green chilies and raw onion can be added to savory smoothies, great for summers, prevents heat strokes and heat related inflammations like sun burn and prickly heat.
  • Coconut milk is a good addition to smoothies instead of milk, yogurt or fruit juices. Good quality fats and packed with micro nutrients. I prefer adding fresh grated coconut to add fiber to my smoothies.
  • Spinach and other greens can be added to smoothies when you use fresh berries and some citrus fruits to make them tasty.
  • Add gelatin (bloomed in hot water prior to adding to smoothie) for healthy joints.
Ask me more questions about what to include in smoothies that suit your lifestyle and constitution. Tell me more about what you want in your smoothie. Take care that too much insoluble fiber and too many nuts in your smoothie can make it difficult to digest and cause flatulence and bloating.

Hoping this post will be useful for you. These two smoothies were featured on HT Brunch last week.

Cheers with smoothies..

Friday, June 21, 2013

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta : I call them my savory smoothies...

Chutney, savory smoothie or a dip if you please. Using ridge gourd and coconut, super healthy.

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta

Chutneys are my smoothies many a times. A good way to eat my vegetables in a much tastier way, sometimes with some crudites or shallow fried fritters to make the meal interesting and fun. This ridge gourd and coconut chutney is one such recipe which gets repeated quite frequently and I can have it like a warm or cold soup as well. It is so yummy you would forget everything else on the table.

I suggest having a large bowl of this chutney as a side dish for any meal or for breakfast, the way we eat chutneys with a variety of dosas (thin savory crepes, mostly made using fermented batter, mostly gluten free) or even with idlis. I keep posting such chutneys from time to time and my tomato and garlic chutney and a mixed greens chutney with spring onions has been a perennial favorite, including this ridge gourd chutney. A curry patta and sesame seeds chutney is also a regular at my place, adopted by many friends and readers as well.

I agree preparing such breakfasts is time consuming, but a few preparations the previous day and a few freezer tricks save you a lot of time when you have to actually cook. A box of peeled shallots or pearl onions, chopped coconut into the freezer and a curry patta tree growing in the garden helps a lot. Curry patta can also be made into a coarse paste and frozen in cubes, makes it all easier for those who don;t get it fresh all the time.

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta

(2-4 servings)
ridge gourds 5 large or about 600 gm
pearl onions about 100 gm
chopped fresh coconut bits or scraped/grated fresh coconut 3/4 cup
curry patta 20 springs
dry red chilies broken 4-5 or to taste
sesame oil 1 tsp


Peel and cube the ridge gourd. Peel and quarter the onions. Keep aside.

Heat the oil and tip in the broken red chilies and curry patta, let them get fragrant before adding the coarsely chopped or quartered pearl onions along with salt. Let it fry for a minute and then add all the cubed ridge gourd. Stir and cover to cook.

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta

Once the gourd gets mushy and watery, empty the contents of the pan into a shallow plate and let it cool. Blend in the food processor along with coconut bits and some more fresh curry patta if you wish. The chutney is ready.

Adjust seasonings and add a little tamarind paste or lime juice if required.

You can thin down the chutney and reheat to make it a soup. The soup also tastes great on it's own.

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta

We had it with mixed grain fritters that I shallow fried in a pan that is meant for poffertjes or kuzhi paniyarams. How food connects different parts of world together :-)

My fritters this time were made using a fermented batter of urad daal (split black gram), besan (chickpeas flour) and some poha. I just mixed everything in almost equal amounts, added a little salt and water to make a thick batter and let it ferment overnight. Added lots of chopped onion to it in the morning, also added ginger, green chilies, salt n pepper to taste and the mix was dropped into this hot pan greased with ghee. Crisp fritters were ready in 10 minutes.

fermented lentil fritters

 Made a mint buttermilk with this breakfast. Actually it was a weekend brunch and I had some time to click a few pictures as well.

ridge gourd chutney with coconut and curry patta

This kind of breakfast keeps you quite full for a long time. Actually the brunch lasted us the whole day. Such meals help me stay free and laze around the house during the weekends, if we are not going out.

How would you like this chutney?

This can be a good dinner along with a ragi dosa or a mixed lentil adai or pesarettu just as a soup like I mentioned. Use zucchini or ridge gourd or even summer squashes of any type for this chutney. Just adjust the flavors as you like and get going with a healthy meal.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Iced tea with peaches and basil seeds...

peach and basil seeds iced tea

 Iced tea with peaches and basil seeds. Cooling and refreshing fruity tea, something that fixes a screwed up day in just a few minutes.

We recovered from a horrible summer just a couple of days ago. We all had lost appetite and one full meal in a day felt like too much, all the other meals were either raw salads, smoothie or clear liquids. Teas are my clear liquids in all seasons, spiced, herbed hot or chilled. My tea can have just anything that suits my mood. Also, getting up and brewing a cup of sunshine is always a rejuvenating activity for me. Adding more freshness in the form of fruits and herbs just makes the pleasure multiply. You would like this tea without ice or chilled or cold as well. The flavors are quite refreshing even without extreme cooling.

I used a blend of green tea with himalayan tulsi and pomegranate flowers by Anandini and the tea itself is superbly aromatic. Adding the fruit and basil seeds enhances the flavors. You can always use regular kaali tulsi leaves and dried or fresh pomegranate flowers to brew this tea. Although blending the different herb flavors to your taste can be a skill you learn after a few trials.

peach iced tea

Brew a pot of tea with green tea blend that your are using. I am sure you know you have to place the tea in the pot first and then pour hot water over it, and cover the lid for 3-5 minutes. depending on how strong you want your tea. The hot water should be hot but not boiling, pour it into the kettle just when it starts bubbling.

For this iced tea, cool the brewed tea and then pour in into glasses or mugs having the soaked basil seeds. To soak the basil seeds, just tip in 1/4 tsp dry basil seeds (subza) in each cup, add a tbsp of cold water and let it soak for 2-3 minutes. The seeds become plump and a white sheath appears over it. Pour the cold brewed tea over it, tip in the peach slices and some ice cubes if you like.

Serve immediately.

peach iced tea

Serve the tea with a dessert folk preferably, so the peach slices can be recovered. They taste great with the tea flavor seeped in and the subza seeds stuck to it's skin..

peach and basil seeds iced tea

You would find yourself stirring the tea quite often. It so good to look at...

No need to add sugar to this tea. You wont miss any sugary sweetness in this tea. The fruity flavors will be killed once you sweeten it. A dash of honey works nicely if you feel you need a hint of sweetness.

peach and basil seeds iced tea

Add as much fruit as you wish. In fact I liked this tea with sliced plums as well. Combining teas and fruits or herbs is much much beneficial if you are aiming at detoxing your system naturally. I understand you know that already..


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

oats, healthy eating and celebrity chefs... meeting Vikas Khanna and getting bowled over...

Meeting a few accomplished Chefs and knowing about them has been a humbling experience for me. More so because all of them talk about simplicity in food being the best and all of them talk about food memories of childhood.

Chef Arvind Saraswat spoke about preserving the traditional recipes when I chatted with him once, adding how he like more the simplest of foods. Masterchef  George Colambaris talked about growing one's own food, real food and simple pleasure of home cooked meals. David Rocco talked about how the seasonal produce has the best to offer in terms of flavors and nutrient availability. How his mother used to cook simple meals and that he is training people about sustainable food. 

It sort of confirms my belief in the psychology that connects food to our inner core. The childhood food memories always stay special and always mould our food preference, cooking and eating patterns. Just like all other behavioral patterns. We definitely learn a lot and keep adding up on our knowledge and palette, the basics start much before.

I met the Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna last week at an even by Saffola oats held at Blue Frog. I was  completely bowled over by what I saw, and heard. He is a born star, an entertainer to the core, probably he picked up early in life as well. He just kept telling stories of how his bauji used to be strict and how his mother and grandmother would cook the tinde (apple gourd) with chane ki daal (split chickpeas). How ghee was used liberally for cooking and how he is called as someone not so successful in his hometown as he doesn't have a potbelly. Back in Amritsar (pronounced ambarsar in the dialect he speaks) all successful rich people have the trademark potbelly.

I had read quite a lot about Vikas Khanna and had admired him for what he is, the admiration grew by leaps and bounds that day. Someone so rooted, so proud of his mother tongue and the accent that goes back to the pind (village). He is super energetic, charming and extremely talented. You see I just can't stop blabbering...the after effects of Vikas Khanna.

He had actually come for an event for bloggers organised by Foodathon for Saffola masla oats which is  a savory quick cooking oats mix. Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna was there to emphasize how healthy can be tasty too. We at Healthfood desivideshi are quite well aware right?

The invite for this event was really interesting. A small yellow box that opened with a printed invite on the top lid and an assortment of 'healthy' fresh vegetables inside. 'The other side' was the tagline indicating healthy can be tasty too. It was a window to the actual event, a curtain raiser to what was coming next.

The event was organised really well. We were engrossed in the ongoing action all the time and some of us tried our hands at cooking on the live stations that were set up.

The Chef cooked a nice stuffed tinda (apple gourd) with a paneer scramble and we all tasted it. I have had stuffed tinda before but never was the tinda so perfectly textured. Just rightly cooked. The small tricks to make the ugliest and most boring vegetables tasty lies in an honest intent to create good food.

Many bloggers participated in a contest for creating tasty dishes using the boring vegetables and the saffola masala oats mixes. Ruchira created a pizza with masala oats mix and Parul created arancini balls using the same. Rekha also created a dish.The results were appreciated well, Ruchira even won the contest and got herself some goodies.

I personally had never tried saffola masala oats or any other brand of flavored oats mix. We were presented a huge hamper of different varieties of flavors along with a book by Vikas Khanna called Khanna sutra. The book has some amazing recipes that would keep coming on this space hopefully. 

But the masala oats was disappointing for me. The flavors are alright but there is a synthetic feel to the flavors as it smells suspiciously like the ever so popular junk food maggi. Keep guessing what would be the common factor between the two instant packaged foods. I wont buy these packets for my convenience ever. Plain oats are as much quick to cook and a few instant curry mixes that we can make on weekends and refrigerate would work better for me. Moreover, the oats when cooked as per instructions, is as slimy and gloppy as any other oats and if you want to cook something different like the arancini balls or pizza, you have to spend some time on it. There goes the convenience of saving time and you might work better with a plain unflavored oats and some add ons.

You know well how I critically examine all packaged food if you follow me on my facebook page or read this blog regularly. My nose and palate is super sensitive to any synthetic flavors. 

That apart, I loved being at this event. A good change for someone who is stuck to her work desk for hours. Meeting some blogger friends, chatting over some good food and being introduced to some new products is something we look forward to. New products are almost always an indication of how the food market is changing and moulding the dietary habits of busy people. For good or for bad.

PS : Image of Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna belongs to Vj Sharma of phototravelings.

Friday, June 14, 2013

shrimp paste or sambal belacan recipe : homemade goodness and it's uses in stir fries and scrambles..

Shrimp paste or sambal belacan was made and thoroughly enjoyed last week. I never knew the recipe is so simple and can be easily done at home. You are saved of any preservatives and the flavors are wonderful. We have been on a shrimp paste roll since then.

I had brought some dry shrimps from Goa. Yes those smelly little things that look all spiky and almost inedible. Actually I decided to get some after we tasted the Kismur (a dry stir fry salad) the Goans make. I knew I wont be shy of dry fish anymore after tasting dry shrimp kismur there. And to find the dry shrimp in the markets, we visited the wonderful Panaji fish market and even the Panaji fruits and vegetables market adjacent to it. Oh I found dry shrimp even at a small fish market near Dauna paula beach as well. Imagine how much I love my fish. Now dry fish too.

After trying Goan kismur, I searched for shrimp paste and found a nice recipe that suited my taste and ingredient availability as well. I was actually surprised at how simple this recipe could be. I was also glad I had a baby plant of Calamondins as well, as the recipe demanded those. Two calamondins were ready to pick and I used them in my shrimp paste. Small mercies of life they say.

And yes, I had got some bird chilies from a spice market in Netravalli Goa) as well. You know the way I buy small packets of this and that when I am at such places. This was the time to use them nicely. Fresh bird chilies would have been great, but dry ones are good too.

I figured we need a depth of flavors as far as chilies are concerned in this recipe. You need two types of chilies in the original recipe but I thought of using three. Smarter choices you know :-) I had exactly two chilies ripening in my garden so I got them to this shrimp paste. The regular dry red chilies too add to the capsaicin range of flavors. And you need nothing else. Believe me. The wonderful umami flavors form this shrimp paste is just unbelievable. I have been using it for so many things I cook. Egg scrambles, beans stir fry and even fried rice with mushrooms etc. Soups would wait till we have a little colder weather.

Recipe is adapted from here. Belacan is dry shrimps that last about a year if stored well. Make the sambal of shrimp paste whenever required and store in glass bottles in your refrigerator for about a week.

dry shrimp 30 gm (that was a cupful of it) these were unsalted dry shrimps
dry red chilies 3
fresh red chilies 2
dry bird chilies 4
juice of calamondins 1 tbsp
salt 1 tsp
brown raw sugar 1 tsp


Boil about 500 ml water, take the pan off heat and tip in the dry shrimp into the water for about 30 seconds. Pour it all into a colander immediately and reserve the shrimp that looks cleaner and slightly fatter after this treatment. You can dry roast the shrimp to get a stronger flavor.

Make a coarse paste with the other ingredients in your food processor or mixie jar and keep in a glass container with tight lid. Use as required.

I cooked this green beans stir fry that took just 5 minutes to cook. Ten minutes to chop them and just 5 minutes to cook, this stir fry make a nice meal with some scrambled eggs or grilled chicken. Goes well with noodles or rice main dishes.

To make this stir fry, heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil in a pan and tip in one heaped tbsp of shrimp paste into it. Fry for about 30 seconds and tip in 2 cups of chopped green beans and salt to taste . Toss well till the beans are barely cooked and still have some crunch. Serve hot or cold with anything you wish. I had it with eggs scramble and a sprouts salad.

I made this stir fry with long beans as well. I used chopped coriander greens and finely chopped garlic  too this time. Garlic and green coriander was added  just after the shrimp paste and fried briefly before adding the chopped long beans (lobiya). These long beans need slightly longer time to cook than green french beans, so cook them as much s you like.

This stir fry also suits well boiled rice or noodles. I loved it with scrambled eggs the most around this time. May be I will experiment more with these recipes later, for now I am just smitten by it's taste. These two beans stir fries are also adapted from the same site.

I love it when people share their home cooked food on their websites. We are exposed to so many food cultures this way.

The liberty to cook food from scratch and still keep it simple. To use fresh ingredients and create utterly great taste. All in our own hands.

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

goat liver stir fry with curry patta and sun dried tomatoes paste, a curry that could be a finger food too sometimes...

Goat liver or mutton liver was a much hated offal few years ago. I never liked it in any form I tasted and never wanted to have them although the husband loved any kind of liver. He would even have it just lightly stir fried with ghee, salt and pepper. I rarely cooked it just because there were other tastier things to enjoy. And then the husband was diagnosed to be deficient in Vit B12, mutton liver became a regular twice a week food that he loved and I hated with all my will. But I knew I had to start loving it sooner or later. With an ageing body you can't have the luxury of ignoring a few supplementing foods that your system needs. A younger body can take care of itself even when we neglect a few health aspects, age makes us see life differently. And see I did.

I started cooking a different curry each time I cooked mutton liver. I must have used all imaginable types of herbs and vegetables with it, after all it was a twice a week experiment and the good thing was, that the husband loved liver in any imaginable form. I had the liberty to colour it any which way. So while he loved all the variants, I would choose to eat or not to eat depending on how I liked it. Yes I am selfish when it comes to food and started cooking only those that I liked. This mutton liver in nigella and turmeric is one of those favorites ways to cook it, often with spring onions or pumpkin added. And this one with a curry patta paste that I cook quite often. An Indian Chinese version is also cooked frequently but I haven't shared it yet.

This one was a well thought out curry that became an instant hit with us. I did a few changes after I first cooked it and this is the best loved version of my curry patta and cherry tomatoes mutton liver. I add baby potatoes to it, with skin, halved or quartered depending on their size and it really becomes a one pot dinner for us many times. I told you it has the potential to become a finger food. May be you like your finger foods more dry, we don't hesitate dipping out fingers in slurpy foods. Here is the simple recipe, ah yes, you know I rarely cook complicated things.

(2-3 servings)
mutton liver 200 gm
baby potatoes with skin 5-6
sesame oil 2 tbsp
(use any other oil if you don;t have sesame oil, but I strongly recommend sesame oil for this curry)

red onions (preferably smaller size or pearl onions) chopped 3/4 cup
fresh curry patta 1/2 cup
sun dried cherry tomatoes (dry, not oil preserved) 1/4 cup
dry red chilies 2-3 or to taste
(use a little more than you think as it balances the sun dried cherry tomatoes and curry patta)
ginger chopped 2 tsp
cumin seeds 1 tsp
black pepper corns 1 tsp
salt to taste


Make a coarse paste of all the ingredients together, except the mutton liver, potatoes and sesame oil. The paste looks like this. Do not add any water while making this paste.

Clean the baby potatoes nicely and quarter them. Rinse and keep aside.

Now heat the sesame oil and tip in the quartered baby potatoes. Stir to coat them with hot oil and to sear them briefly for a minute. Add the paste into the oil and sizzle for a couple of minutes. Keep frying till the paste gets aromatic and looks glazed. You might need to sprinkle water in between if your pan is not thick enough.

Add the mutton liver pieces, mix well and sprinkle some water if required. I prefer cooking it on low flame so I never need any sprinkling of water.

Cover and cook for about 5 minutes or till the potatoes and liver pieces are all cooked. The curry looks thick and coating consistency. You can adjust the consistency by adding water, but try it dry like this when you cook this for the first time. Later you can always adjust the recipe to your taste.

The flavors of slightly tart sun dried tomatoes complements really well when there is so much chilly, curry patta and ginger etc, liver itself has a very strong flavor but that takes a twist with these supremely aromatic kind of flavors.

Use tomato paste or tomato puree or even fresh tomatoes according to availability. If using fresh tomatoes you would be required to blend them and reduce them over heat for a while to get a really rich taste of tomatoes in it. Do that extra step, you would love it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

celery, cucumber, cashew and yogurt smoothie....

Yes the three Cs. Celery, cucumber and cashew nuts can all come together and bring along another C that is chilly. Green chilly that is. This smoothie is so yummy I keep having for a week once I am reminded of it. Otherwise a cucumber and coriander greens or mint buttermilk smoothie is a staple during hot summer months.

Did you know green chilly prevents heat strokes? Yes it does. Even a small amount of green chilly, if consumed raw during summer months can prevent heat strokes and can keep the gut flora healthy as well. Can you imagine green chilies can be cooling and not 'hot'. Yes the heat comes form the ability of the capsaicin to accelerate blood circulation but this also cause more sweat glands to be active, more sweating and more cooling. Minerals found of green chilies are another good thing we need during summers.

Do you still think ice creams, frozen yogurts and sorbets are the best cooling foods? Yes they are cooling if made using appropriate ingredients, but you tend to consume small amounts of frozen or chilled foods and the benefits get limited. The cold temperature of food being consumed doesn't make your body and system 'cool down'. It is the cooling type of ingredients like some herbs like mint, coriander greens, dill, celery etc, some watery vegetables and some spices like coriander, dill and fennel that cause cooling in the body. Yogurt is also cooling but buttermilk is supposed to be more cooling, thinner the buttermilk cooler it is according to Ayurveda. Removal of toxins by all excretory faculties of the body and scavenging of all free radicals by antioxidants in fresh ingredients goes a long way in actually cooling the system.

See how I use mint with diluted yogurt and cucumber to make an instantly cooling smoothie for myself. Although the husband says it's more like drinking a raita but I insist it is different.

A small bunch of mint leaves or coriander greens are liquidised along with home made yogurt, salt and pepper and sometimes a little roasted cumin powder and it makes a nice refreshing drink.

This celery and cucumber smoothie is a way to use all my celery that is looking sad in hot sun. The outer leaves are plucked and chopped almost everyday and something or the other is stirred up.

I loved how a green chilly brightened up this smoothie one day when I plucked a green chilly as well from the garden and liquidised with this. And green chilly is there in the smoothie since then.

Half a cup packed of celery stalk and leaves, 3/4 cup of chopped cucumber and one green chilly if you wish, 1/4 cup of soaked broken cashew if I am feeling too hungry and a bit lesser if it's a normal day. I add rock salt to my smoothies as they are consumed raw and the minerals are bio-available. Blend everything together and pour the luscious drink into a nice glass.

A  refreshing cooling glass of green goodness. A meal in itself that keeps you full till lunch time.