Monday, June 30, 2014

a day trip to Rataul to celebrate mangoes: eating local mangoes, identifying tree ripened mangoes and two salads using mangoes

naturally ripened mangoes

Mangoes come after a spell of sweltering heat. The more cruel the summer gets the more juicy the mangoes become. Nature compensates somehow and also ensures there is something that thrives in every season, something that people find comforting in every season. How I thank for all the watery cucurbits (gourds) in the summer for quick cooling meals and the melons and stone fruits for the juicy flavorsome nourishment they bring in summers and the abundance of crucifers (mustard family vegetables) and the innumerable berries, citrus fruits, guavas. pears, apples and zizyphus in the winters.

To some people, summer's best gift is a ripe juicy mango. Full of antioxidants (polyphenolic anti oxidants and flavonoids), vitamins (B6, C, E and traces of Vit K) and minerals (moderate amount of copper), mangoes are considered alkalising food and great detox food too.

naturally ripened mangoes

Some people consider it as a fruit responsible for weight gain and some think it brings too much heat into the body and causes boils on face. Well, there are misconceptions about mangoes being fattening in the modern world and there is some traditional wisdom that explains everything. Mangoes do not heat up the system but can cause boils on the face if the fruit is not consumed properly. There are a few precautions one needs to take care of before consuming mangoes. I will list them all but let me tell you that we had a day trip to a place called Rataul which is about 50 kms from Delhi, known for growing several varieties of mango and is one of the several places proud for it's mangoes. A mango variety that was developed in this place and named Rataul is considered the onset of mango breeding and grafting in this small village on the border of Uttar Pradesh. The grandparent of the Rataul mango still stands tall on the border of a field. This article talks about how someone started working on breeding mangoes in Rataul and how it was named.

We had joined Mr Sohail Hashmi who makes an effort to take a few mango enthusiasts from the city to Rataul where Mr. Zahoor Siddiqe welcomes us all in his ancestral home and treats us with huge cauldrons of mangoes.


Mr. Zahoor Siddiqe is a retired professor from DU and runs a school for underprivileged girls in the village, entire savings from the day trip were donated to this school.

Mango orchards

A great way to celebrate heirloom mangoes, to visit real mango orchards, to know about the picking practices and how the real tree ripened mangoes are transported to the nearby cities. I actually talked to the people who stay in the mango orchards and guard them and got to know that they collect only the mangoes that fall from the trees when they are ripe. Fully ripe unblemished mangoes are collected, arranged in baskets and sent to nearby mandis. I am impressed.

More reasons to eat local I say. If the mangoes or any fruit are coming to your city from a 100 km periphery, they are ripened on the tree, else they are plucked too early from the trees and are ripened using chemicals, that kind of fruit lacks the real taste and we blame it on how the real mangoes have disappeared. We get to eat real mangoes only if we choose to buy local produce, the ones that travel thousands of miles are chemically ripened.

How to recognize tree ripened mangoes..

Recently someone asked me how to get tree ripened mangoes and I had no definite answer because I don't find vendors who stock only tree ripened local mangoes. The only way I find them by keep looking for such mangoes and buy them whenever I spot them. I shared about how to recognise tree ripened mangoes on my fb page and got many messages in my inbox asking if mangoes are healthy. Hence bringing all the answers here at once.

So the best way to recognize tree ripened mangoes is, to look for a freshly plucked sign. And that is the small part of the stalk attached to the mango, still green, may be a bit shriveled or even absent, but the area around the stalk should look fresh and plump, not sunken. Ready to pluck mangoes may ripen in a week's time, enough to be transported and sold to nearby cities.

naturally ripened mangoes

Fully ripe mangoes fall from the trees by themselves and are the best. You would start recognizing them once you get the taste of the real ripe mangoes. Taste is the best test.

Are mangoes fattening? Are they responsible for boils?

No they are not.

We have grown up eating mangoes by the dozen, sitting besides a large bucket of mangoes and sucking the juicy flesh out of them till we were soaked in mangoes, inside out. Literally. No one gets fat eating mangoes this way. But if the mangoes are used as a topping on the ice cream, icing on the cake or filling in a pastry, BEWARE. And please know that it is not the mango to be blamed for.

Also, if a couple of mangoes are had after a heavy filling meal, they would definitely add up to the total calories and will cause weight gain. Have only mangoes for 2 days and see what happens. One, you wont be able to eat too many calories, secondly you will purge the calories as easily as you ate them. Mangoes are good cleansers of system. Yoga guru Bharat Thakur says eating mangoes with yogurt for 3-4 weeks results in great weight loss But then it is just the mangoes and yogurt for weeks :-) And I have never tested this theory so cannot say anything.

To avoid boils after eating mangoes, one must soak them in a bucket of water for at least 4 hours and then consume it. The acrid gummy resin that accumulates just below the stalk, is responsible to cause burn when exposed to skin (especially the corners of lips) and consumption (ingestion) leads to boils. Once the mangoes are soaked, the resinous exudation is washed off as it is water soluble.

Removing a part of the mango adjacent to the stalk is a good way to avoid burns and squeezing off the liquid before sucking into a whole mango if you like it that way, is a better way to avoid burns and boils.

Make a meal of mangoes and see how sated your system feels. Do not worry of weight gain but limit the serving size if you are working for weight loss as mangoes can be addictive and you might end up eating loads of it, may be along with more calorie dense foods during the day.

Avocado and mango salad with toasted nuts and seeds 

mango avocado salad

Choose the best ripe juicy mangoes and cube them. Take a ripe avocado, cut in half and cube the flesh of one half. The ratio of mangoes and avocado can be as per choice.

Mix a cup of cubed mangoes and cubed avocados and spread on a platter. 

Lightly toast sesame, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and broken walnuts and sprinkle over the mango and avocado cubes,

Balsamic soaked shallot slices and sprinkled as desired. This can be avoided if you don't like it.

Mix with a few rucola leaves and serve immediately. You can always use coriander greens or mint leaves. Or avoid it altogether.

This salad has a riot of flavours and textures complementing each other. You might end up stirring this salad almost everyday once you are hooked. For us it is not that frequent as getting nicely ripened avocados is not so easy in Delhi. But whenever we get them, we make something yum.

Mango poha in coconut milk with a hint of red chilly flakes..

mango salad with coconut and rice flakes

Rinse and drain 1/2 cup pf poha (flattened rice flakes) and mix with 100 ml of coconut milk. Add 2 pinches of salt and mix well. You don;t want the salt to overpower the sweetness of mangoes and coconut milk. So just a hint of salt will be added.

Cube 2 ripe mangoes and mix with the poha and coconut milk mix. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp grated fresh coconut or dehydrated coconut flakes.

Sprinkle with roasted red chilly flakes and serve immediately.

mango salad with coconut and rice flakes

This is one filling meal on a summer day. We often eat raw meals during summer as it is good for the system as well and doesn't demand time spent in the kitchen slaving the stove. One more mango poha recipe is our favourite and quite frequent during mango season.

Flavors of this mango coconut poha is just out of the world. We have it for dinner many a times and we both eat from the same mixing bowl. Such foods induce a feeling of togetherness I say.

Health hazards of artificially ripened fruits :

Calcium carbide (CaC2) is used to ripen many fruits including mangoes and banana and is called as 'masala' in Indian mandis. While this chemical is banned in many countries, some farmers and mandis (fruit markets) India Pakistan and Bangladesh etc are still using it for ripening the fruit.

CaC2 contains traces of Arsenic and Phosphorous hydride and cause several chronic and acute health hazards in Humans. The symptoms can range from vomiting, Diarrhoea, skin burning to disturbance in neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia that causes headaches, confusion, dizziness, memory loss etc. See this article and this article to read more about the harmful effects of CaC2 and artificial ripening of fruits.

Now you know why choosing naturally ripened fruit is always safe. And brings good taste too.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

baking biryani with borosil and Indiblogger, a mouth watering perfect meal #mybeautifulfood

What do you do when Indiblogger asks you to create a picture of a mouth watering perfect meal served in borosil dishes? You dream of good food and good company. No good food without good serving dishes and good company for me and I fall back on the traditional foods whenever we eat with our loved ones.

Biryani is one of my favourite foods and I like it the way I know it best. The awadhi biryani. Biryani is the best balanced foods in it's original form. Deeply nourishing and mood uplifting food.

Awadhi biryani is subtle and aromatic, each grain of rice soaked in the flavours of the meat and the spices used and you crave for it badly whenever reminded of it. But baked biryani? Well, not exactly baked 100% but you know how we cook biryani on 'Dum' in the final stage? It is like preparing the half done rice cooked in mutton broth, cooking the mutton pieces with spices and then combining the two elements and cook them together in a sealed vessel on very low heat, almost like we bake things in an oven. Lately I have tried doing this final step in the oven and have been amazed by how easy it became.

I actually surprised my brother when he visited last time, the biryani was in the oven when he came and peeped into the kitchen as an old habit and did not find anything main course on the kitchen platform. A bowl of curry patta mutton liver, a huge bowl of salad and lauki ka raita, all cling wrapped, were there but no main course. He thought I am ordering food from outside when I served this grilled Apricot with sour cream that vanished instantly. And then I took out the large foil covered pot of biryani from the oven and removed the foil cover on the dining table. This is The moment for all biryani lovers as the aroma of a biryani being unveiled is something every biryani lover looks forward to. The wafting warm aromas of delicate spices mingled with a musty flowery basmati fragrance and an unmistakable almost carnal whiff of mutton. One tastes through the aromas first, more so in the case of biryanis I must say.

There were loud oohs and aahs and as soon as the biryani was plated, there was complete silence. Mmmm...yumm..that's it. We eat biryani with our fingers.

That day as everyone dug right into the biryani, I got thinking of a large borosil biryani pot that I could use just for the biryanis now that I have started baking the biryani in the final step. I have been using borosil utensils over gas flame too but using them in the oven is a very convenient option. The timer of the oven brings a lot of freedom in the kitchen and the transparency in the borosil dishes makes it easy to see if the food is cooked desirably. But for a biryani, a large borosil dish would also mean serving the biryani both to visual and olfactory senses, the see through dishes would showcase the long grain of rice well and a fitting lid would ensure the aromas are sealed well till the biryani bakes.

Yes, the biryani bakes. And then spreads the delectable fragrance of well cooked bouquet of textures and flavours, redolent with cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and hint of mace, the first note to hit the nostrils would be a mix of mint and saffron as always. I add a hint of nutmeg to my biryani along with browned onion slices. An invigorating bouquet of aromas and flavours served in a see through pot like this gourmet cook and serve. A pot that can be used on a gas stove, in the oven as well as microwave, lets me cook my biryani as my whim decides.

You know I take pleasure in cooking more than eating the meal and my utensils should be able to inspire me as well as the ingredients, herbs and spices I breath in and infuse into my food.

Now come to the serving, the raitas and kachumbers will be served in these bowls and square dishes that I already have. I have been eyeing this celebration platter for my salads and crudites for long, my salad platters are normally huge and occupy a lot of space on the dining table, this stemmed platter saves space for the plates and glasses.These lovely bowls with lid  will be very apt for a dessert like mango shrikhand. For shrikhand we eat with the spoons first and then lick everything clean... slurp slurp...

Does that sound like a complete mouth watering perfect meal? It will be followed by rounds of green tea as we soak in the sound of birdsong that my garden plays. Eating together is like relaxing after a long tiresome journey.

You would get to see a picture of the entire meal very soon hopefully. High hopes of a biryani meal :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thenthuk soup | a Tibetan soup with pulled noodles, chicken and vegetables



Thenthuk and Thukpa are two hearty soups that we find in all Tibetan settlements across north eastern India and Northern Himalayan states. While thukpa is a flat noodle, thenthuk is a pulled noodle or bite sized pieces of a flat noodle. This is such a practical shape of noodle that one can keep having a bite of noodle in every spoonful of soup and feel comforted all the while. Thukpa and thenthuk both soups are cooked with a hearty meat stock, some refreshing hill vegetables and some freshly made noodles. Here we are making the thenthuk noodles with oats. This is a practical way to make soup meals healthier and tastier. This thenthuk is a hearty soup meal and one can have large amounts of it without worrying about overeating.

Why I felt like a soup in this hot summer? Thenthuk is quintessentially a winter soup for me but I got a mild throat infection right now and needed a nice chicken soup. I also wanted to make it a meal and asked the husband if he is a sport. He was happily nodding for a chicken soup for dinner.

Although it is only me who wants light cooling type meals for summers, he loves his mutton curry and roti even when the temperatures are soaring. I made a few nice light mutton curries this season, will post them soon.

But Thenthuk is different. It is light and cooling for the system and you can choose to have it piping hot or just warm for your comfort.

Fresh celery feels cooling in summer and brings back the flavours from the hills too.


I had brought a plump horse radish from INA market and that came handy in making the thenthuk with the authentic Tibetan flavour.


Ingredients

(2-3 meal servings)
 Chicken wings 250 gm
Chicken breast or thigh (small boneless pieces) 100 gm
Celery sticks chopped 1 cup
Spring onion chopped (white parts) 1 cup
 Sliced tomatoes ½ cup
 Minced garlic 2 tsp
Chopped pok choy 2
Horse radish (or white radish) cut into batons
Soy sauce  2 tsp or to taste
Schezuan pepper powder 1 tsp
Salt 2 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tbsp
Oats 1 cup
Whole wheat flour 1/3 cup
Chopped celery leaves a handful


procedure

 Mix the whole wheat flour and oats and knead a stiff dough by adding water. Keep aside. You can use only whole wheat flour for convenience or even all purpose flour if you wish.

Heat oil in a deep pan, tip in the minced garlic, spring onions and celery in that order. Sauté till everything gets translucent and aromatic. Add the tomatoes, salt and 700 ml of water and let the soup simmer for about 40 minutes. The chicken wings help make a nice stock as the soup cooks in the same broth. Fish out the chicken wings at the end.

Add the boneless chicken pieces and horseradish batons to the simmering soup and let them cook while you add the pok choy and thenthuk one by one.

To make the thenthuk, roll the dough in a thin cylinder and flatten it like a ribbon in the hands. Now break bite sized pieces form this ribbon and chuck them into the simmering soup. They will be cooked in about 15 minutes.

Add the soy sauce and schezuan pepper powder. You can add a star anise too if you wish. The soup will be really aromatic by this time. Add the celery leaves and serve the soup right away.


You can replace celery with aromatic culantro (a mountain herb) or coriander greens and stems. But celery lends the authentic flavour to the soup.

I have posted the Thukpa, Momos, Fingsya and Tingmo bread in the past and this Thenthuk recipe adds to the Tibetan repertoire on this blog. Hope you enjoy the recipes from Tibet that are so popular all over India now thanks to everyone travelling to the hills where these foods are made in the purest form.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

sorbets without ice cream maker | cooling, re-hydrating chilled treats | aam panna sorbet and litchi and lime sorbet


Aam panna is the quintessential summer drink that every north Indian swears by. Especially in the plains where there is abundance of raw mangoes during hot summer months, often fallen off the trees during hot afternoon winds, the raw mangoes are either boiled or roasted and then liquidized with roasted cumin, hint of hing (asafotida), kala namak and loads of mint. Every home has a different recipe for amm panna and we make it fresh or make an aam panna concentrate sometimes to last a week.

I had not been making any ice creams or sorbets for many years, no particular reason but I guess we had lost interest in home made ice creams. May be more because I am not into ice creams so much, give me fruit yogurt any day and I am good. Arvind likes ice creams more but not too crazy about them.

We siblings used to make a lot of ice pops and lollies using fruit juices, mango pulp and what not but then it was different all those years ago. I used to make a few kulfis using mango pulp or sometimes custard apple in the last few years but that's all I did with frozen desserts.

Last year I made a few instant granitas and sorbets and we both loved them. Real fruit granitas and sorbets are fun to have. We conveniently call them granita when the ice is crushed coarse and a sorbet when it is fine and powdery in the blender. Yes I make the sorbets in blender jar (mixie as called in India).

You can call it a sorbet slush if you want to drink it at a slow pace, just like I do. Summer coolers are survival drinks right now with temperatures soaring around 45 C.

Recipe of aam panna sorbet...

For this aam panna sorbet just boil raw mangoes in minimal water and save the pulp. The water can be added to soups or daals or can be made into a sharbat if you wish. The pulp is freezed in a plastic container or ice cubes for convenience.

If you freeze the boiled raw mango pulp in a container, just unmold it on the chopping board and slice like you would slice bread. It is not too hard as it is not pure water frozen to ice which becomes too hard.

Now tip in these slices or mango pulp frozen cubes (if frozen in ice tray) in the blender along with a large handful of mint leaves, some kala namak (black salt), little sugar and blend at high speed, till the pulp gets powdery in the blender. You can add a few ice cubes too if your raw mangoes were too sour.You can also add roasted cumin powder or sprinkle it over the sorbet once done.

Spoon out the sorbet into serving glasses and enjoy.


Recipe of litchi and lime sorbet...

Yes I made a yummy litchi and lime sorbet as well. Not once but around 5-6 times this season. More because I had managed to de-seed a lot of litchi one day and froze them all in 3 boxes. It is very easy to slice the frozen block once you un-mold it on the chopping board.


And then it goes in the blender right away. I added lime juice and lime zest sometimes and lime juice and fresh tender lime leaves some other times. I liked it more with the fresh tender lime leaves but you can always make it using lime juice and lime zest if you don't get lime leaves.

I think I must have made this litchi sorbet 4 times last week and we would sip on this sorbet slush slowly while watering the garden in the evening.


It is just so good that I might do the messy business of peeling and de-seeding litchi soon once again. It becomes one convenient and refreshing evening snack in the heat wave we are suffering right now.


You see you don't need any ice cream maker for sorbets if you don't aspire perfect rounded scoops of sorbet. You can mange that too if you freeze the blended sorbet once again and blend quickly just before serving. But home made goodness is more than the looks and you would love these sorbets for the real fruit in it.

Litchi sorbet is made without any added sugar.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Parsi food festival, the Zoroastrian Rhapsody at Amaranta, The Oberoi Gurgaon...


Parsi food is slowly catching up in Delhi and NCR as the hardcore Punjabi palate of the city is opening up for new flavors or may be the establishments are becoming more experimental with providing a good mix of everything. Whatever the reason, Delhi is spoilt for choices if you see the sheer variety of food and cuisines offered by the city. Sodabottleopenerwala is one Parsi cafe style restaurant that we have been raving about and now The Oberoi Gurgaon is hosting a Zoroastrian Rhapsody at Amaranta, the Indian coastal cuisine restaurant on the 3rd floor of the hotel.

A few of us Delhi bloggers got together at The Piano Bar of the hotel before moving on to have Parsi lunch at Amaranta. This sculpture at the entrance of the bar is a conversation piece.


Created using pocket watches, bronze and copper this sculpture depicts Dabbawalas of Bombay. The stomachs are hung over the bicycle like lunch boxes making a bold statement. The sculptor is a Bombay based artist Valay Shende and the art piece is sold already. Great concept of exhibiting art this way.


Amaranta is a classic example of Indian soul in a modern garb, a tastefully done fine dining restaurant that surprises you with a mojito sorbet on a platter of Indian starters. Where the meal starts with house made salts mixed with olive oil to be smeared onto curry patta flavoured ciabatta. I liked this fusion that takes the dining experience to a new level.

The restaurant is known for being the only one serving Indian coastal cuisine among Oberoi properties. And they do it in their own class, the fish is flown in every day to be served fresh, true luxury in landlocked Delhi NCR.


The fresh fish of the day is displayed in a chamber open towards the restaurant. The overall decor and presentation of food is such that you can smell the sea with all your senses.


The Parsi food is brought together by a sweet couple from Bombay Tehmtan and Shernaz Dumasia who run a very successful catering company back home and have come here to floor the city with their magic.

The Amuse bouche was a coastal signature and contained three elements. Coconut water infused with curry patta in a shot glass, a small cube of pickled melon and a small paniyaram served with pineapple chutney. This was one burst of flavours.

Amaranta serves a variety of home made salts from different coastal regions with roasted papads, curry flavoured ciabattas and potato stuffed rolls etc. We all loved the salts and kept trying different combinations for a while. The salts, the pickles and chutneys served on the table are something you will remember for a long time.


Tehmtan and Shernaz had prepared a carrot and dates pickle that was polished off within minutes. Very good flavours depicting khattu-mithu (sweet and sour) mood of the Parsi cuisine.

The Parsi starters came in the form of Parsi Lamb (brain) cutlet and chicken Farcha. The platter came with a small bowl of mojito sorbet that was a breath of fresh air. The cutlet and farcha were average, although the homely feel was unmistakable and I appreciate that.

Ginger ale at Amaranta is really good as fresh slivers of ginger kept their promise. Many of us had seconds.


The vegetarian starters were great. I liked the Chutney Pattice more but the Vegetable cutlet was good too.

In the main course we were surprised to see Dhansak pulav being served in tajines. The lamb in a lentil gravy was good along with the brown pulav, browned with caramelised sugar, topped with kababs. Very homely food served elegantly. Shernaz is a shy lady who cooks passionately and her husband Tehmtan is more comfortable with entertaining guests, both of them rely on fresh ingredients to cook Parsi meals every single day.

The Patrani machhi was nice too, just as it is when it is home cooked and that is the USP of Dumasia couple. Jerdalu salli murgi was nice, the gravy sweet and sour with apricots and Kolah's vinegar that is quintessential in Parsi meals.

Among the vegetarian choices, I tasted the Patrani paneer and it did not impress at all. Bhindi masala was great and I wish it was served for the nonveg platter too.

I don't understand why vegetables are not served with non veg meals any more. I need loads of vegetables in my meal but I guess no one else does.


A Champagne sorbet had been served in between and we all loved the sips. Summertime surprises can't be better than this.


Desserts were really well done. The Lagan nu custard was well done, caramelized taste of custard with reduced milk that creates a classic. But the show stopper for me was this Coconut and elaichi ice cream. I rarely eat ice creams and this one was polished off to the last drop. So refreshing, so clean flavours that linger on for some time. Loved it.

Amaranta is one charming place for seafood lovers.


Monday, June 16, 2014

desserts without sugar: grilled apricot halves with sour cream and litchi honey | make it an appetiser or a dessert


Apricots are available throughout the summer season as they grow in wild abundance in the hills. I have seen fruit laden trees on the road sides, on the hill slopes and in backyards all over Himachal and Uttarakhand. People sun dry Apricots, keep the kernels for oil extraction and even grind the sun dried apricots to make a coarse powder and use it like amchoor powder. It is really interesting to see how ingeniously the seasonal fruits are used in different parts of the world. I got to know about an apricot chutney the last I was in the hills. That chutney will be shared shortly. It is a dessert without sugar for now. 

I was talking to someone how I like my desserts very mildly sweetened and often without any sugar when I got a funny reaction. Oh you eat your desserts without sugar?
Yes why not? 

Nature intended desserts in such a way and that is how the fruits must be valued. We got addicted to sugar much later and it has caused more harm than any dessert can tackle. Desserts are known to make people happier, let them be natural most of the times. This grilled apricot halves with sour cream and litchi honey is one of those desserts.

We get 2 varieties of apricots here in India. The green variety which is very juicy with a little thick skin and a yellow variety with pink blush that has a very thin skin and creamy flesh. This one is the yellow variety.


These yellow apricots are so soft that they can be split open with fingers when ripe. It is a highly perishable fruit once ripe and that is the reason you don't get apricots too cheap once you move away from the hills. In Delhi we are lucky to get them in abundance and fairly cheap. This batch was 80 rupees a kilo.

I would suggest having them fresh as much as you can. Fresh ripe apricots are great desserts on their own or can be had as snack in between meals like any other fruit. Apricots are very rich in Vitamin A and C, Potassium and some Iron, the fruits are anti inflammatory and rich in antioxidants too. Read more nutritional information here. This fruit is particularly rich in soluble fiber that help lower LDL cholesterol. Imagine using such a nutritious fruit for a dessert without sugar.

This grilled apricot halves with sour cream and litchi honey uses only 4 ingredients and takes just 5 minutes to grill and another 5 minutes to assemble if you have sour cream prepared at home or store bought. I always make sour cream at home.

ingredients
(4-6 servings)
a dozen apricots halved and stone removed
sour cream 1/4 cup or mascarpone, feta cheese if you are making an appetiser with this
litchi honey or any honey you like 1 tbsp (optional)
mint leaves to garnish

preparation



Grill the halved apricots as you broil on top shelf in your oven or place a wire rack on gas stove and grill on flame. Grill cut side towards heat fist and then turn after 30 seconds or so but take care not to let the apricots get mushy. Few grill marks would be great to have on them.

Arrange all the grilled apricots on a platter, spoon small dollops of sour cream and place a leaf of mint over it. Drizzle good quality honey over all the apricots, mine was unpasteurized organic litchi honey.

I made this platter when my younger brother and his wife were visiting this weekend and it vanished before I could blink my eyes. Literally.

And then I suggested another serving with the apricot jam topping. This version would suit more for those who want their desserts very sweet.


Thankfully I had more fresh apricots at home. The sour cream was frozen as I had made it last month and had not used it all as I was travelling in between. Frozen and then thawed sour cream gets a little grainy but the taste is the same creamy with a sour hint.

If you are planning these small flavour bombs for a sweeter dessert, use mascarpone or just whipped fresh cream along with some herb or roasted nuts.


You will not be surprised with this dessert without sugar I am sure. And it is so simple to assemble once you have the ingredients.

Or if you are planning to serve it as appetiser you know you need some salty feta cheese and may be some fine sea salt sprinkling on it too. I wouldn't mind a dash of basil or rocket pesto over it if it makes an appetiser.

Enjoy the versatile recipe and see how many ways you like it. Do variations, swap the cheeses, sprinkle nus or honey of your choice or just douse with pesto or hot chilly sauce if you like. Fruits are a gift of god we must do justice. Don't kill them with sugar.

Making jams and preserves is better as they can be used as flavorings in small amounts. I had made these jars of apricot jam last month and Arvind has polished off one jar already.


I am not worried as I make these jams with minimal sugar and refrigerate to preserve them for long time. Every season has some or the other fresh fruit so make jams with minimal sugar each season and don't plan to make them last the whole year. Enjoy seasonal fruits.



You might like this khubani ka meetha too. This Indian dessert with fresh or sun dried apricots is a stewed apricots served with fresh cream. Yummy.


home made pasta festival at Vivanta by Taj, Surajkund NCR


Home made pastas hold a lot of promise for me as I love crafting them myself. So whenever there is a chance to taste and witness some home made pasta I will be there. I had learnt a few pasta, risotto and Italian salads from Chef Maurizio Raselli at Hyatt last year and that was a wonderful experience. I have recreated those recipes many many times with my own inputs depending on seasonal produce available. You have the liberty of using alternative flours and fresh ingredients, trusted good quality oils when you make pasta at home, even your cheeses can be home made if you have an efficient kitchen both in terms of space and time management.

So when Chef Ganesh Joshi and his team were holding a home made pasta festival at Vivanta by Taj, Surajkund, I could not resist being there, despite a long distance that Surajkund is from my place. Oasis is a pleasant, open and well lit restaurant with a view of the green courtyard of the hotel. Oasis serves multi-cuisine and I loved the options on offer in the hefty menu.


Chef Ganesh Joshi introduced the home made pasta varieties available for the festival and told that regular pasta from a packet is just too common and often not the taste that home cooks in Italy create. I agree absolutely. Freshly made pasta has a charm of it's own.

This is the deftly crafted amuse bouche. This was a small slice of cooked beetroot folding a blob of goat cheese inside, served with a slice of orange and mint leaf. Drizzled with pomegranate molasses reduction, this amuse bouche was really a great start for more flavours to come.


The togliatti spinach and pea soup was really good. I loved it to bits. It was totally my kind of soup but I wouldn't care for a deep fried pasta to top the soup if I do it for myself. It created a great textural surprise for sure.


Breads on the table were nicely made...


This tortellini salad was great too. I love good dressings and fresh vegetables in my salad and the tortellini had curried chicken stuffing. Nicely made, beautiful plating and good taste.


The home made mini taco bowl salad was great too. This one can be a meal in itself, good textures and nice flavours.


In the mains there is this Caplotone with spinach and ricotta stuffing. I loved the generous stuffing in this huge stuffed pasta served over a bed of tomato salad and a drizzle of white wine emulsion. The only concern was the little uncooked edges of the pasta.


Chef Munish told more about the sauces and the various dressings they are using in the home made pasta they are making, he is in charge of Oasis kitchen, managing the home made pasta festival as well. His team has done great work on plating I must say.


The large sized cheese gnocchi with garlic infused shavings of asparagus and morel (a kind of mushroom) was lovely to look at. The gnocchi was a little too under cooked for me. Large sized dumplings can go wrong easily.


But I loved these mascarpone stuffed agnolotti with truffled mushroom sauce. This was something I would look forward to next time I am there. This was my kind of flavours and pasta was well done.


Chicken pansotti came with a nice parsley cilantro sauce. Well done pasta and nice creamy flavourful sauce. Well plated too.


They serve a show stopper pasta which is a baked ring of spaghetti with a meatball and parmesan. This one is flambeed live for the guest and creates a lot of interest.


 The plating is beautiful too..


I liked everything on this platter of pasta except the baked ring of spaghetti. It had become too chewy and tough to cut with the knife and also had soaked all the flambeing alcohol. But the sauce is well done, meat ball is done perfectly and flambeing adds loads of flavour to the sauce and the meatball. Loads of grated parmesan helps too.

I was full by now, taking nibbles form each serving of pasta and gorging on all the fresh and crunchy broccoli and asparagus. Chef Munish suggested dessert and I initially declined but gave in to a chocolate mousse as he insisted.


This was a nicely done two tone chocolate mousse with layers of milk and white chocolate and glazed cherries and almond flakes. This chocolate mousse is large and can be easily shared between three people or at least two.

Feeling inspired to roll out some pasta next week. May be you get to see some here on this blog as well. Stay tuned in till then.





Friday, June 13, 2014

Are arugula and rucola different? Know more about the rocket greens...

Arugula and Rucola both are different types of rocket or roquette leaves used as salad greens. Both types of rocket are very flavourful and add a punch to any salad or any meal. Known as super foods, these greens belong to mustard family and are packed with antioxidants and vitamins. See more information here.

Rocket leaves have an ORAC value of about 1904µmol per gram. ORAC is Oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of how potent the antioxidant is. Both types of rocket leaves, the arugula and rucola are a rich source of Vitamins A and C, polyphenols and carotenoids etc. Calcium and phosphorus, magnesium and a few more minerals are found in good quantity.

The taste and aroma of both these types of rockets is very different. Arugula is peppery and sharp while rucola is more aromatic and only a hint of peppery taste which is more complex than arugula.


There was a curiosity about my fragrant rucola leaves when I posted the peach and feta salad with rucola few days ago. Many friends were curious about rucola as they had always seen arugula and rucola being named interchangeably in US, and India both. A friend from Europe also said the same. That is when I decided to differentiate between the two so the confusion is over.

Luckily I had clicked a few pictures of both the rockets growing in my garden, arugula has already flowered and completed it's life cycle, just like the annual brassica family plants do. But Rucola is surviving well in summers and sprouting new leaves like perennials, although rucola belongs to the same family too.


Arugula is Eruca sativa, the plant grows up to the height of 4 Ft in my garden and then the branches start trailing on the ground or on trellis. Young plant produces large leaves and as the plant gets mature and bears flowers, the leaves get smaller but more and more peppery. So much so that many people just don't like it. I make pesto with the peppery arugula leaves by mixing them with some baby spinach.

This wikipedia picture makes it clear how the arugula plants look like. The flowers are a beautiful creamy white with dark veins running through the petals.

Here is how the mature leaves look. Flowering has just started in this plant.


More clear shape of the leaves and a stout stem.


The leaves are quite peppery and I had to mix some baby spinach when I made this arugula pesto.


 The flowering shoots of Arugula..


The flowers of arugula attracted a lot of bees this season.


Rucola is Diplotaxis tenuifolia, also called as 'baby leaf rocket' the plant mostly trails closer to the ground in my garden even if the stem gets a little woody. The leaves are delicate, long and may be lobed or not. Some leaves on the same plant are smooth while some are deeply indented, actually a beautiful pattern. Rucola leaves are fragrant when plucked fresh or crushed but is not peppery in taste and stays the same in young as well as mature plant.. Arugula is not so fragrant.

This wikipedia picture shows how the plant looks like. Rucola has not flowered in my garden yet, it keeps on growing and behaves like a perennial plant. Flowers are yellow as seen on the wikipedia page. For more details on nomenclature and differences between the species along with how to grow instructions this page is a good resource.

This is my Rucola plant looked when it was young. That white flower is Chamomile that was flowering back then in winters.


And then the leaves started getting serrated with deep furrows..


The rucola plant is happy when it rains. This picture is a day after rains and the plant was happy.


I had once plucked all the rucola leaves when I was going out for 2 weeks thinking I will loose all leaves anyway when the plants will not be watered everyday. The gardener is very irresponsible when we are not around. But to my surprise I saw new leaves sprouting from the stems when we came back.
The new leaves in the old plant too had smooth margins mostly.


I transplanted about 6 mature plants of Rucola in a new pot and was releived to see all of them survived but one. And all of them are sprouting new leaves constantly. Now the plant has become trailing climber type but has not flowered yet. The last time I had grew Rucola it died when we were out of town so I could not see any flowering even then.

Rucola behaves like a perennial thankfully and should keep giving more leaves for a longer duration.

Here is how it looks when the branches trail in a 10 month old plant..



I add rucola to salads, to buckwheat pizza topping, and to potato and tuna salads. Even to the beans and potato salads I make. Argula is also added to almost the same dishes but the peppery nature of arugula is better for salad without mustard dressing.

I am sure you know more about the rockets you consume everyday :-)
Please let me know if this post was helpful.