Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2 desserts using fresh water chestnuts : using seasonal produce to make diwali desserts , a panna cotta and a chocolate pot de creme recipe with fresh water chestnuts

Diwali is a time when the winter vegetables and fruits are already in the markets and many of them are here just for a couple of months. Water chestnuts are one of those seasonal produce that stay for a couple of months only around diwali season. Most people in North India use water chestnuts during Navratri fasting, in our home we keep eating them all through the season and always get a huge bagful of water chestnuts from our weekly market. We eat them raw or stir fried, or we boil them and add them to salads or eat as is.

A water chestnut and sweet potato salad with feta cheese and a mung sprouts, sweet corn and water chestnut salad keeps repeating in some or the other form at out our table. A really tasty halwa with fresh water chestnuts (actually a pudding) is a perennial favourite in my home.

Peeling them is quite time consuming but once you take care of that it will be a pleasure on the table. Using water chestnut to make a quick dessert for Diwali would be wonderful if you want to avoid the regular mithai and cake-donut rut. I know you are extremely wary of the store bought mithais (if you are reading this) in the festive season as all those are prepared quite early to meet demands on the D-day and is loaded with sugar, trans fats and artificial colours apart from the regular culprit white flour (maida) and others of that ilk. I also realise we don't usually have the luxury of making mithais at home for a festivals and buy the stuff just to get the feel of the festival.

Making some quick desserts that look good too will be quite sensible if you ask me. I am sharing 2 of those here, each one can be cooked within in 15 minutes flat and then chilled before serving.

Here is a fresh water chestnut panna cotta that I cooked some time back and sent the recipe as guest post for Pratibha's blog.

Water chestnut is used as a thickener in this recipe and a gelling agent too as it sets into a nice jelly when it is cooked and chilled. I use the same procedure with some tweaks to make a few more desserts as the gelling property of fresh water chestnut puree can be used to make pudding like desserts easily.

For this fresh water chestnut panna cotta I cooked 200 gm pureed fresh water chestnut puree along with 80 ml heavy cream and 50 gm sugar till the mixture starts thickening and big bubbles arise and burst spitting out hot air. Added 2 tsp rose water and mixed well, poured into serving glasses and chilled. That's it. .

Use the mature and hard water chestnuts for this recipe as those have more starch and gel well. If you have tender water chestnuts you can add 1-2 tsp of corn starch to enable the panna cotta to set well or a little gelatin if you wish.

Garnished with pistachio slivers and rose petals this dessert was an instant hit and has been repeated a few times already. You know Arvind loves desserts for dinner and he would eat 2-3 servings and not have anything else for dinner. This is the reason I need to make our desserts healthier but thankfully he likes them very lightly sweetened and loves all the healthy desserts I make. But to be honest I don't like anything sweet so I can barely finish one serving of this panna cotta, although I love the taste too.

The detailed recipe of this fresh water chestnut panna cotta is shared on Pratibha's blog here.

Another dessert of the same type I made was very different in taste and aromas. The dark beauty that treats the taste buds with some Tryptophan in dark chocolate along with whatever flavours you add to it.

This is a chocolate pot de creme that doesn't use cream. Since fresh water chestnut puree is a good gelling agent and makes the dessert creamier, I used only full fat milk for this pot de creme and it was quite rich tasting. I used good quality dark chocolate (Callebout 72%) and a dash of nutmeg and cherry brandy to get deeper flavours in this chocolate pot de creme but you can add rum and your choice of spices to get desired flavours too.

I sprinkled some seas salt crystals on top of the pot and it tasted really good.

(5 medium servings)
fresh water chestnut puree 1/2 cup
full fat milk 1 cup
2 tbsp brown sugar
dark chocolate chips (pellets) preferably 72% or at least 60% 3/4 cup or a bit more
dark rum or cherry brandy 2 tbsp (optional)
nutmeg powder a pinch
sea salt crystals 1 tsp use as required
hazelnut chopped for garnish


Mix the water chestnut puree and milk in a saucepan along with the sugar and heat it on high flame. Keep whisking all the time till it starts bubbling.

Take the saucepan off the fire and add the chocolate pellets and whisk till a smooth creamy mixture is formed. Add the liquor and nutmeg and mix well.

Pour into serving glasses or bowls and chill before serving. Add the chopped nuts and sea salt at the time of serving.

 I have clicked these pictures while the chocolate pot de creme was still hot hence the sea salt crystals have sunk into the chocolate dessert. But it doesn't affect the taste at all.

Now I must tell that I am myself not too fond of chocolate and hot chocolate is the only form of chocolate that I like and crave for in winters. So this chocolate pot de creme was diluted the next day with more milk and reheated in microwave and was had like a real thick and creamy hot chocolate. One of those desserts that even I would like as my dinner sometimes, piping hot in a large mug to wrap my fingers around. The nights are getting nippy.

You would know how good this chocolate pot de creme tastes once you make it. And how easy it is to cook in a jiffy. Very low fat and mildly sweet so you can enjoy this treat even if you are on a diet.

Do let me know if you cook these desserts using fresh water chestnuts. There is a thing in the seasonal bounty that makes it bursting with taste and fresh water chestnuts get a refreshing nutty taste when cooked with butter, ghee or cream this way. I have just exploited that property of fresh water chestnuts to makes these Panna cotta and pot de creme.

Wishing you all a happy Diwali. It will be healthier too if you eat the right things. Please take care of what you put into your mouth in festive season too and trust me it is very much possible.

PS : I must add to tell you that this pot de creme was so delicious when diluted with milk, heated in the microwave and had like a hot chocolate. Deep dark creamy hot chocolate to enjoy at the end of the day when winter is just knocking at the door.
Also, please note that dark chocolate (72%) is not everyone's idea of a good chocolate. So if you are the milk chocolate person of like something between 55-60% dark chocolate, please go ahead and use your own favourite chocolate. I realised after serving it to someone who likes her chocolate really sweet and light.

Monday, October 20, 2014

how to choose the best ripe avocado and how to use them to get the best nourishment from them | a recipe of avocado strawberry yogurt

Avocados are super food, great for skin and hair and very good for those who want healthy dose of fats nourishing the body every single day. Just about 1/4 of a large avocado will be enough everyday to provide a sizable amount of daily requirement of Vitamins E,C,K and B6 and minerals like Iron, Phosphorus, Manganese, zinc and Magnesium. Avocados have soluble and insoluble fiber that helps the probiotic gut flora, hence the fruit falls into the category of prebiotic foods.

I wish Avocados were available easily all over India but we can plant some saplings anywhere and grow them in our backyard. I have already planted one in a pot because I am fed up of getting rock hard Avocados in the market that refuse to ripen and become blackened at the margins even if they decide to ripen. This happens when the Avocado was plucked too early from the tree and was not ready for ripening.

The right Avocado is the one that has been plucked off the tree when it is ready to ripen but it will be good to know that Avocados do not ripen on the tree. After plucking the fully grown avocado ripens within 2 weeks but if the avocado was plucked early, it may not ripe well and would not develop a good flavour even when ripe. Raw avocados are a horrible taste so don't ever try to use them else you will be put off this wonderful fruit for ever.

How to choose the best ripe Avocado...

1. The avocado you pick up should not be rock hard. It should be give in to pressure just like ripe mangoes. When you press the skin a small dent should be formed. This is the right stage to use Avocados but a little harder than this fruit would need 2-3 days or a week to ripen.

2. The skin colour of Hass Avocados turns a nice purplish red or brown when fully ripe. Hass Avocados are the ones with a crinkled skin so look for the colour and texture shown in this picture.

3. The area adjacent to the stalk sinks a bit when the fruit is ripe and the stalk comes off when pulled. I have tried to show this in the picture above.

4. The skin peels off the avocado easily when it is fully ripe.

5. The green skinned Avocados available in India are the Hall and Choquette varieties. These have smooth and shiny skin but it turns a bit dull and brownish as the Avocado ripens. So look for the right skin colour and how the skin gives in to pressure to ensure the avocado it ripe when you buy.

6. If you decide to pick up slightly raw Avocados and use it after a few days, just wrap them up in a brown paper bag along with a ripe Banana to the Ethylene released by ripe Banana helps the Avocado to ripen. Never Microwave the Avocado to make it soft when it is still raw, as it results in a horrible taste.

How to get optimum nourishment from Avocados, the best ways to use Avocados every day...

1. Let them ripen naturally and use them uncooked. Avocados are best when uncooked as they contain omega 3s (including Oleic acid) and phytosterols (see here) and the fatty acid structure changes a bit when it is heated. Although it doesn't get harmful when cooked. But getting a best nourishment form an expensive fruit makes sense for me.

2. Eat Avocado along with some yogurt or citrus fruits to help absorb all the Calcium, Fatty acids, Iron and other minerals from both categories of food.

3. Peel off the skin thinly and do not discard the dark green flesh just adjacent to the skin as this is the part where most carotenoids of the Avocado are concentrated. It is better o let the Avocado get ripened to the stage when the skin can be peeled off just like a banana peel (picture above) and not to scoop put the flesh from the halves.

4. If the Avocado is used along with lettuce greens, Rocket and carrots etc, the Carotenoid and Lycopene absorption increases many fold even if there is no oil in salad dressing. The fat in Avocado is enough to enable better absorption of these pigments and provide benefit of these antioxidants.

5. If you want to use Avocado for soups you can cook a stock or body of the soup along with seasonings and add chopped or pureed Avocados after the cooking is over. This step preserves the nutrients in the fruit.

6. If someone doesn't like the taste of avocados make mayonnaise or dips using Avocados and add seasoning and herbs as per taste. The pureed avocado takes on whatever flavours you add to it. This may or dip would fit into any kind of meal plan.

7. Use the Avocados as soon as they are ripe. It can stay well for 3-4 days in refrigerator but the nutrients start diminishing once the flesh starts blackening.

8. If you need to store chopped Avocados in refrigerator, take care to douse them with either lemon juice or yogurt or an acidic salad dressing depending on how you are going to use the chopped avocados. If stored exposed the avocados turn black and look unappetizing, nutrient value is affected only marginally.

Would you be eating more Avocados after reading this? They really are a versatile ingredients and not just a healthy fruit you must bring home. Here are a few recipes I love making again and again.

Avocado strawberry yogurt recipe

(2-3 servings)

Avocado flesh from half a fruit
Strawberry preserve (preferably home made) 2-3 tbsp
hung yogurt 1 cup ( I used 3% fat)


Chill all the ingredients before assembling the dessert and serve it right away if so required.

Whip the hung yogurt nicely. I did not add any sugar to the yogurt as the strawberry preserve is sweet enough.

Now add the strawberry preserve and mix lightly, making streaks of red and white. Taste for sweetness and add a little more if required.

Now chop the avocado flesh in small cubes and add to the yogurt and mix lightly. Fill in serving glasses and serve right away.

You can refrigerate the dessert for a day but take care not to keep any bits of avocado exposed to air on the surface of the serving glasses. Push all the avocado in the middle so it gets covered with yogurt, else it will get black.

I invariably end up eating this the next day and always feel the flavours get enhanced the next day. This dessert can actually stay well for 2-3 days in the fridge is the container is sealed well with cling film. The yogurt keeps it fresh and creamy although the colour may get a bit dull after 2 days.

If you have extra Avocados just make smoothies with them. I say make smoothies even if you have to buy Avocados just for the smoothies, the y are totally worth in a smoothie as well.

This Banana avocado almond smoothie is a super satisfying smoothie that keeps you full for more than 4 hours trust me. I have depended on it whenever I am expecting a late lunch and want to skip lunch for some reason.

The avocado strawberry yogurt is a rich dessert too. I recommend it in small servings if you are serving it after a heavy meal, but large servings are okay with a lighter meal.

This avocado strawberry yogurt could be a dessert for a diwali party as well. Would bring you some brownie points for sure.

Review : Hass Avocados from New Zealand, the perfect ripe Avocado and some recipes with them

Avocados are super food by any definition. These are nutrient dense fruits rich in minerals, Vitamins and all the good fats we need. Avocados are grown locally in India for the last few decades but it is mostly in the southern hill areas of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. North India gets Avocados either from the southern states or the imported ones. The Avocados grown in the north eastern state Sikkim is a native variety which is smaller in size but the flesh is equally good. I wish we grew Avocados more in the north India too and the availability was a bit better.

I love this fruit and often find rock hard Avocados in the market and have been forced to throw away this expensive fruit just because it refuses to ripen. I learnt choosing the right avocados after numerous hits and misses. Will share my experience on finding the right avocado soon with a few recipes as well.

Recently the New Zealand embassy launched the Avocado season and introduced Hass Avocados from New Zealand (Avanza brand) and we witnessed various Indian foods being cooked with Avocados. The talented Chef Kunal Kapoor was showcasing some culinary experimentation with Avocados and he cooked a Meen Moily style curry with Avocados, a Papdi chaat, Avocado cheese paratha and various desserts and soups using this wonder fruit. He mentioned that Avocados can easily be adapted to any cuisine pertaining to it's bland taste and yet rich texture it adds to any dish. Even Avocado oil is good to use in salad dressings and smoothies if you can get your hands on a bottle.

We tasted Avocado cucumber shots, tarts made with asparagus and avocado, kababs served with avocado dips and chutneys and toasties topped with avocado and mixed vegetables. It was an Avocado feast to speak literally. We even tasted a kulfi made of Avocados and loved it and a sago kheer with bits of avocado added, I loved that one too as it was very lightly sweetened.

These were definitely the best Avocados I had found till date and I am glad these will be available in town till February end. Although I love using local produce but a few exceptions would include Avocados too. I am trying to grow them and have even planted a sapling.

I grew this sapling from seed and am waiting patiently to reap good quality Avocados from my own yard some time in future. That would be the ultimate luxury for me. But the sapling needs a bigger pot and then will be planted in ground ultimately to grow taller and bear fruit.

Till then I would have to depend upon the local or imported avocados. I have been adding them to my salads, smoothies and the good old Guacamole, the seeds always end up being planted regardless of whether they germinate or not.

While New Zealand High Commissioner Grahame Morton unveiled the Avocados and spoke about how these will be available easily in India now, we met a few blogger friends and discussed food and photography and our experiences with raw avocados.

Meeting Chef Saby and Chef Kunal is always a pleasure. The creativity and passion that they put into the food they cook is always infectious. Chef Saby talked about how he loves Avocados and has done s spa menu with Avocados being used liberally.

Here is the talented Masterchef Kunal with his papdi chaat with avocados.

These Hass avocados from New Zealand are vaaialble in single and twin packs in INA market and a few high end grocers. We got a single Avocado pack each as a parting gift. Fully ripe, brownish red skin and perfectly soft flesh of this avocado has the best taste and texture. The avocado is fully ripe when the skin can be 'peeled off' the fruit easily and these were just perfect.

 I always use the Avocados in raw recipes and add them in soups when the soup is cooked so the avocado flesh doesn't get exposed to high heat. There is a significant nutrient loss when the avocados are cooked. I made this yummy fruit yogurt with them, using just three ingredients. Hung yogurt, home made strawberry preserve that I made last season and freshly cubed avocados. These made a dessert that is nutritionally balanced so the minerals and Vitamins in these help optimal absorption of the desired nutrients. Will share the recipe in my next post, it is largely inspired by my strawberry and quark mousse I have shared earlier..

Another use of these avocados I did was to make a yummy avocado mayonnaise. This is such a delightful vegan mayonnaise that can be used just about any which way you like.

This mayonnaise was used to make a salad and with a chicken burger we had for dinner. Could not take pictures of my dinner but the recipe of this mayonnaise will be shared really soon.

Stay tuned. There are these Avocado recipes and a few Diwali special healthy desserts coming your way.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

a nutrient packed salad with beets, carrots and pomegranate seeds and stories from Mysore

It has been quite long since I wrote here hence I am trying to compensate the lack of nourishment with a deep red antioxidant rich beets-carrots-pomegranate seeds salad that I craved for. I was away for 2 weeks, visiting Mysore during the famous festival of dassara that they celebrate at the palace of Wadiyar Kings. That is where I had tasted this beets and carrots salad and was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of this pigment rich salad.

Arvind had some official work and I found an opportunity to work at the ISKON Mysore kitchen during this break. I had been asked to provide them some healthy recipes for prasadam (offering to the Lord Krishna) and was trying to work with them online for some time but I wanted to see the local produce and the local palate of the people better so I can accommodate those flavours in the recipes.. Arvind's official trip gave me an opportunity to visit and work with them hands on, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I trained the Chefs and volunteers to bake a few whole grain breads, whole grain cookies and muffins as well as a few salads, curries, chaat style salads, snacks and a few desserts including this apple kalakand that was so popular last Diwali.

I visited vegetable markets with the ISKON volunteers first to see the local and seasonal produce they would use in the kitchen and was smitten by the simplicity of the markets and the feisty women selling almost everything on the roadsides and in the shops. I love talking to them, clicking pictures and exploring the way they cook and use the fresh produce.

But later I explored all the markets of Mysore although I could not buy much thanks to the restricted luggage allowance by the airlines. I wanted to buy at least half a dozen cast iron skillets from Devaraja market but bought only one, and carried it in my cabin luggage. The things I do to have my way. I had bought 2 cast iron skillets from Gangtok too and carried them the similarly by the way.

I shall be sharing more on what all we did in Mysore. Great food, many days of birding, roaming around the markets and clicking pictures endlessly was all I did during the 2 weeks. Training the ISKON volunteers was a blessing though I could not click any pictures of the kitchen as I was working with them hands on and the camera was forgotten conveniently. Although I clicked a few pictures from my phone and shared on instagram, follow me there (@sangeetaamkhanna) if you want to see.

This beets and carrot salad I tasted at the ISKON kitchen one day and loved it so much I wanted to make it as soon as I came back home. That one was simpler flavours with just salt and lime juice in it but I added a little zing with chaat masala and balsamic vinegar to add depth of flavours. Loved the result so much that I used all the beets in the fridge to make the salad 3 times over. I added finely chopped ginger once and red onions the other time but the combination of simply the beets, carrots and pomegranate seeds had made such a simple and honest salad that I came back to the original quickly.


(2 large servings)
beetroot peeled, cleaned and chopped finely 3/4 cup
carrots peeled cleaned and chopped similarly 1 cup
pomegranate seeds 1/2 cup
chaat masala 1 tsp (optional)
black salt 1 tsp (or use table salt)
pepper powder 1/2 tsp
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp (or use malt vinegar or sugarcane vinegar)
lime juice or orange juice 2-3 tbsp (I used orange juice as that was handy)
little sugar if required (I did not use, you would need if you use lime juice)
any salad dressing oil 2 tsp ( I did not use*)


Mix everything together and toss well. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. The salad stays well for about 4 hours at room temperature so I could pack this salad to Arvind's lunch box as well.

*I did not add any oil in the dressing as I had this salad with a meal that already had some ghee and oil. If the salad is consumed as a meal it needs oil in it to enable the vital vitamins to be absorbed.

I had this salad with the best comfort food to come back home to. Khichdi is that comfort food for me, I can have it every single day. We had great food in Mysore, explored many places in the city and loved the Mysore masala dosa, idli and the best coconut chutney, variety of palya and loads of Coorgi food as well. But home cooked food has it's own charm and one always wants to come home and have a warm meal in the comfort of home. We were back after 2 weeks and it felt like ages. Khichdi was the order of the day.

There is a reason khichdi is called super food. It is the most nutritionally balanced food if some vegetables are added to it, the turmeric and asafoetida used in khichdi make it anti-inflammatory and healing too. I made a quick baingan ka raita with it and had a lavish meal with fresh buttermilk to wash down all this.

Let me know if you would like to know the recipe of baingan ka raita. I love it for all the minerals it adds to the meal in the most yummy way. Loads of insoluble fiber to cleanse the gut as well. In fact this whole menu is healing and cleansing type so you can have it whenever you want to wash your sins in the best enjoyable ways. This is a mung, short grain rice and bottle gourd khichdi.

Beet-carrot-pomegranate salad made a new pairing with the khichdi that had loads of bottle gourd in it too. I include loads of vegetables in my meal everyday and was craving for these as it is not always possible to eat lot of vegetables when traveling. I had to compensate for all the lack of nourishment and cleanse my travel eating sins too.