Tuesday, December 30, 2014

travel pleasures : visiting a chemical free farm near Hyderabad and cooking a 'farm to table' lunch

We visited Hyderabad last week during the Christmas time. We don't celebrate festivals much and have a tendency to run away from home by the end of the year for sometime. For valid reasons of course.

While traveling, we want to soak into the local culture, history and landscape wherever we go and try and taste the local foods whenever possible. This time we could not taste much of local foods in Hyderabad as we found ourselves spending time with other activities. Some time was spent visiting the historical monuments, some more time being closer to nature, closer to the origin of food. Good food.

The Golconda fort at Hyderabad is an engineering marvel. One has to see it to believe it, how protected the fort was and how well it was equipped to carry messages in the form of rhythmic clapping to the other end of the fort.

The fort is built on a hillock, the natural boulders have not been been cut and the fort has been built along with them. It is fascinating to see huge boulders jutting out of the walls at some places. There are many water reservoirs, hidden mud pipelines and hammams (community washrooms) with water heating facilities and the sound acoustics in some parts of the fort is admirable.

While we would remember Hyderabad for the Qutub shahi monuments, the tomb complex of Qutub shahi rulers and the Golconda fort built by them, we have more reasons to remember this place thanks to my friend Bhavana who introduced me to Madhu Reddy, a farmer who is practicing her belief in chemical (synthetic chemicals) free framing at her ancestral farm at Yacharam village, 55 Kms from Hyderabad city. The farm is called Aiyor Bai.

There is a lot to learn from Madhu. Farming in an arid land is not easy, she makes her own manure by different natural techniques and uses drip irrigation for better water management. She encourages  shrubby legumes to grow below the orchard trees to enrich the soil as well as to add more organic matter to the soil. Her aim is develop a forest like microecology with mixed fruit orchard and farm that sustains itself like natural forests do. I wish more farmers follow this model to grow food for the masses and more people respect food grown ethically. I actually felt very much at home at the farm, if only I owned a piece of farm land somewhere.

We enjoyed a warm malted ragi drink that Madhu made for us and went out to see the farm. We loved that malted ragi drink, I had another helping in fact.

Here is Madhu showing us around, educating us as we harvest a few vegetables and fruits for our lunch. Yes, I cooked lunch at the farm, with minimal utensils available. My friend Bhavana helped in the kitchen, Arvind clicked pictures and we had a lovely time together. To cherish for a long time.

We harvested carrots, thinned down the clumps of carrots growing together and got some really nice baby carrots too. Some white and pink radishes, loads of papaya, loads of mixed salad greens and baby spinach was plucked to make a mixed greens salad. Found a few ripe tomatoes to be used for salads or curry. I wasn't sure by this time what we will cook, but baby carrots were destined to be caramelized for a warm salad I had already decided. Then I saw sweet potato vines and decided to add some sweet potatoes to the warm salad as well. Recipe of this salad will be shared later.

The bigger carrots were grated and mixed with some Pomegranate seeds and Orange segments to make a cold salad. Since there was nothing to make any dressing, I added a bit of salty residue of the Hing peda (a chooran goil by Patanjali) to this salad and it was so good the salad vanished quickly.

Lack of a dressing did not bother us and we created a mixed greens salad just with salt and lime juice. There was no pepper, no oil apart from refined oil (that I detest normally) but there was good quality pink rock salt and fresh limes and coriander greens growing at the farm. The mixed greens massaged lightly with pink salt and lime juice were really great. The mix of Endives, Lolla rossa, Butter crunch, green garlic shoots, baby spinach and a few coriander greens tasted so good together.

Madhu also got some fresh coconuts plucked, Arvind broke one and scooped out the coconut meat that we snacked upon. A coconut so freshly plucked was a first time experience.

We also harvested some fresh Toor (Arhar/Pigeon peas) legumes and decided to boil them for a warm snack. Madhu had some very nice native variety of black eyed peas at the farm. I cooked a chilli kind of curry with it with 3 varieties of tomatoes added to it. She had some red rice flour and Jowar (millet) flour and talked of a mooli paratha. I decided to make a mooli paratha with these 2 types of flours added (recipe below).

I am using approximate measurements as I just eyeballed everything for this paratha.

Recipe of the mooli paratha with jowar and red rice flour (gluten free)

(for 10-12 parathas)

red rice (or white rice) flour 3 tbsp
jowar flour 1.5 cups or a bit more
grated fresh radish 2 cups packed
chopped green chillies 2 tsp or t taste
chopped coriander greens 1/4 cup
grated ginger 1 tbsp (I didn't use ginger at the farm as it was not there, but I normally add to my mooli paratha)
ajwain seeds 1 tsp (was not there at the farm but tastes great in mooli paratha)
salt to taste
ghee or oil to cook 1 tsp per paratha


Mix the rice flour with 1.5 cup of water and 1 tsp salt. Now cook this mixture till it becomes a gruel and bubbles and spews hot air as the bubbles burst. It should be a cake batter consistency.

Now mix the grated radish, other chopped ingredients and jowar flour and massage well together. Add the cooked rice gruel little by little to bind the dough. Some of the rice gruel may get leftover.

Make 10-12 balls of manageable size and keep aside. Roll each ball of dough, dusting it nicely to make round flat breads.

Heat a tawa (flat base pan), brush with oil, lift the rolled flat bread and slap it on the hot tawa, cook on both sides brushed with little oil till small brown spots appear and the paratha becomes firm. Repeat with all the rolled parathas (flat breads) and serve as required. Best served hot but we had it warm.

At the time of serving we decided to make burrito style rolls with the cooked black eyes peas and the mixed greens salad. This was a tasty filling meal that satisfies the soul.

We had already steeped some Roselle seeds in hot water and set it to cool to make a drink with it. Some basil seeds were soaked to top up the drink, a little honey was added to it and it made such a refreshing drink after a working day at the farm. I hope Madhu enjoyed as much as we did.

Later a lady farm-worker Eswar amma came to complement me about the food. She looked quite happy while doing so and I believe her complement was genuine, else I know the farm workers don't like the salads etc much.

Look at the lush growth of papaya trees at the farm.

We came back with more papayas to eat for breakfast the next day. The fruits of learning stay with us for long time.

We are already planning to go back to Aiyor Bai again sometime soon. Such is the way unspoiled nature attracts you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

101 alternative flours : gluten free cookies with a scent of Christmas | water chestnut flour cookies with ginger and cloves

Cookies baked with water chestnut flour is not a usual recipe but this is not the first cookie recipe with water chestnut flour that I have done. I have been working on gluten free recipes for a long time and have worked with many alternative flours to bake cookies, granola bars and even cakes and muffins. Although gluten is not a monster for everyone, not at all to be frightened with especially in the festive season, but one needs to restrict gluten intake at all times for very valid reasons. One of the reasons is that you get to eat many more ingredients having a wider range of nutrients for the body. So start experimenting with water chestnut flour for baking cookies now. You would be pleased with the results trust me. These cookies are very crisp and crunchy, the texture would make you forget maida (white flour) cookies forever. You would wonder why you have been eating the crap till now.

Christmas season is for warm flavours, more nuts and more small nibbles if you ask me. I always need some of the other warm drink whether it is Kahva, Ginger ale, green tea infused with lemongrass or kumquats or peaches, or the good old hot chocolate during these months. Having something to nibble with such hot or warm drinks adds to the winter comfort and what else would be better than spiced cakes or cookies. While the Ginger Honey Ragi cake is my favourite, I bake a few ginger cookies, Sesame-Ginger-Honey bars and Ginger-Jaggery Energy bars too in this season. I find these flavours so rich and satiating that you don't feel like eating a lot. Just like a good quality dark chocolate that satiates in just one small bite, such warm spiced cookies and cakes satiate in small bites and make a great accompaniment to winter drinks.

I baked these ginger and cloves flavoured cookies with water chestnut flour for gifting and wanted to make them prettier but I had very restricted time and had to bake a larger quantity so I decided to bake a sheet of cookie dough and then cut it in squares for the ease and for the purpose of time management. I think it looks alright. But you can always cut the rolled cookie dough using a cookie cutter of a desired shape and bake as you like.

I am sharing the way I bake my quick square cut cookies, patting the dough into a sheet using a trick to make it smooth, baking it till done and then cut it in squares or rectangles and then let the cookies cool down and get crisp. I am sure you would feel lazy to cut your cookies using cookie cutters after seeing this quick method. No I am not trying to make you lazy ;-)

(48 regular sized cookies)

water chestnut flour (singhade ka atta) 450 gm
ghee 220 gm
milk 30 ml
natural brown sugar ( I used raw shakkar) 200 gm
fresh ginger root minced 2 tbsp (30 gm)
dry ginger powder 1.5 tsp
clove powder 1/4 tsp
mixed seeds ( I used melon seeds and sunflower seeds) 40 gm
chopped almonds 30 gm


I pulsed everything (except the chopped almonds) in my food processor to mix well and make a dough that looks lumpy. Since it is winters the ghee is solid and doesn't need refrigeration before using, but if you are making this cookie is summer months you will need to get the ghee solidified by refrigerating it for an hour or so.

If not using a food processor, you can rub everything together to make a homogeneous mass that looks like a tough dough that binds well if compressed in fist.

Now line a baking tray (size 10"X 11" ) with silpat and spread this dough evenly over it. Press it down to make a smooth compressed sheet. I have never used parchment paper to like the baking sheet for such cookies but you can try doing that and peel off the parchment paper as soon as the cookie dough is half baked, invert on a large wooden chopping board and peel off careful not to break it and then bake again till done.
Preheat the oven at 250 C.

I normally hammer it down with the help of a small rectangular wooden chopping board that I have. The idea is to compress the sheet of dough to make equal thickness throughout.

See the picture below to get an idea what kind of a wooden block I use to hammer the cookie sheet.

Bake the contents of the tray at 150 C for an hour.

Take out, invert the tray on a large wooden chopping board or work surface and make suitably sized squares or rectangles of cookies or bars. Cut the squares while the baked cookie sheet is still warm as it will get hard and crumbly once cold.

Let it cool and store in airtight container. These cookies stay well for a couple of months if stored well. The cookies taste great with warm milk, spiced hot chocolate, warm ginger ale or green teas.

And I am hopeful that you wouldn't think about baking maida cookies once you taste this Water-chestnut flour cookie and the other alternative flour cookies and bars that you must try. Please let me know if you bake these.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

101 gluten free breakfasts : poha (flattened rice) is for everyone | 4 recipes of a probiotic breakfast

Gluten free breakfasts are easier than the sound of it. There are many ingredients that would surprise you about the variety you can afford to have once you ditch that toast or paratha for breakfast.

I have written about how poha (beaten or flattened rice) is a probiotic and prebiotic food, a good quality ready to eat cereal that can be used in so many different ways that no packaged cereal can beat this. Poha can make sweet breakfasts with yogurt and fruit, smoothies with poha and it makes the popular savoury breakfast called pohe with a prefix of onion, potato or peas whatever you add to it. Kande pohe, batata poha and dadpe pohe all are different ways to relish this native cereal produced and used all over India in some form or the other. My experiments have resulted in some yummy concoctions like poha with mango and coconut. But there are a few versions I am yet to share. Bringing some of them in this post, hopefully you would also like them as much as I do.

1. recipe of pohe with paneer matar (preparation time 15 minutes)

(2 large servings)
dry poha 1 cup
fresh green peas 3/4 cup
paneer 50-60 gm (crumbled or cut in small cubes)
cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
chopped green chillies 1 tsp or to taste
minced ginger 1 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
chopped coriander greens to garnish
lime juice to finish, as per taste
ghee 2 tsp


Rinse the poha under tap water keeping it in a sieve. Keep aside.

Heat the ghee in a wide pan and tip in the cumin seeds. Let the cumin crackle and add the green chillies and ginger, followed by green peas and salt. Mix and cook covered for 5 minutes or till cooked.

Now add the crumbled paneer and stir fry for a few seconds or till the paneer heats up and soaks in the flavours.

Add the drained poha, lime juice and pepper powder, mix well and cook covered on very low flame for 2-3 minutes or till the poha warms up thoroughly.

Sprinkle chopped coriander greens and serve hot.

We like having ginger tea with this kind of breakfast.

2. recipe of kande pohe (preparation time 15-20 minutes)

(2 large servings)

dry poha 3/4 or 1 cup
diced red onions 1 cup
finely chopped potatoes (preferably with skin) 1/2 cup
chopped green chillies 1 tsp
chopped curry leaves 1 tbsp
cumin seeds, fennel (saunf) and mustard seeds 1/2 tsp each
turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
fresh grated coconut 2 tbsp
roasted peanuts 2 tbsp
chopped coriander leaves 1 tbsp
lime juice as required
ghee or peanut oil 1 tbsp


Rinse the poha under running water, keeping them in a deep sieve. Keep aside to drain.

Heat the ghee in a wide thick base pan and tip in the cumin, fennel and mustard seeds. Wait till they all crackle and then add the chopped onions, curry leaves and potatoes. Add salt, turmeric powder, green chillies and stir fry on medium flame till done. You can cover the pan to quicken the cooking process. It takes about 5 minutes for this quantity.

Now add the soaked poha, chopped coriander greens and pepper powder mix well and cover and cook for 3-4 minutes on very low flame. Take the pan off the flame and add the lime juice to taste, adjust seasoning and serve in bowls. Sprinkle grated coconut and roasted peanuts on top and serve immediately.

3. recipe of dadpe pohe (preparation time 10 minutes, resting time 30 minutes)

This dadpe pohe recipe is a Maharashtra special (most poha recipes originated there btw) and doesn't involve cooking and is preferably made with tender coconut water as well as tender coconut meat. But one can make it using regular coconut milk and fresh grated coconut too. Being uncooked poha this recipe provides the best probiotic benefit. This recipe uses freshly grated coconut and packaged coconut milk. If using tender coconut water one can skip rinsing the poha and soak them in the coconut water itself for better flavours.

(2 large servings)

dry poha 1 cup
coconut milk 100 ml (half a carton pack)
chopped green chillies 1 tsp
chopped red onions 3/4 cup
minced ginger 1 tsp (optional)
chopped green coriander leaves 1/4 cup
lime juice 1 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated coconut 2 tbsp or a bit more
roasted peanuts 2 tbsp (optional)


Rinse the poha under running water and drain completely. The poha looks like this after rinsing and letting them soak for 5 minutes.

Now add the other ingredients except peanuts, mix well in a bowl and press with a small plate to cover the poha mix and keep a heavy bowl over this. Pressing the poha is done to allow the poha to soak all the flavours. I find 30 minutes of pressing enough to soak up the flavours but it depends on the type of poha being used. Normally when one cooks poha the heating makes the flavours seep in easily. For this raw preparation this pressing method is very important.

Serve cold (at room temperature) topped with a little more grated coconut or peanuts. The husband loves roasted peanuts but I skip adding them if it is a flavourful dadpe pohe.

This dadpe pohe might not be the best poha recipe for winter months but in summers this recipe is such a refreshing breakfast that we like to make it quite often. No cook recipe get repeated for other reasons too. Convenience doesn't mean eating instant noodles.

4. recipe of microwave poha (preparation time 5 minutes)

This is another instant recipe that involves just mixing the ingredients and microwaving all of them together for 2-3 minutes per serving. This poha recipe gives instant noodles a run for their money.

(2 large servings)

dry poha 1 cup
chopped red onions 1 cup
chopped green coriander leaves 1/2 cup
chopped green chillies 1 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
lime juice to taste (optional, I hardly add lime juice to this recipe)
fresh grated (or desiccated) coconut 1-2 tbsp
roasted peanuts 1-2 tbsp (optional)
ghee (do not replace with any oil) 2 tsp


Rinse the poha just like the above recipes.

Mix all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and microwave (covered with a loose lid) for 2 minutes. Stir well and microwave again for 2 minutes or till a cooked aroma of coriander greens and fresh poha with a whiff of ghee is noticeable.

Serve hot and see how you like it so much better than any instant noodles.

I add the dry garlic chutney to this poha sometimes to add more flavours but the south Indian gunpowder also works great. Sprinkle it after serving it on your plate and see how you can make it even more hot and tangy.

And here is a microwave cooked poha topped with fried cashews.

This poha is made using the red poha we sometimes get in north east states of India or even in Maharashtra. Thanks to our travels and the tendency to shop for such ingredients, we end up tasting a lot of things that we don't get where we live.

Now with so many ideas with breakfast poha, gluten free breakfast will not be boring at all. I do eat wheat but minimal use of gluten is what I aim for as I feel lighter whenever I eat gluten free food. Thank God there are so many options of gluten free foods to choose from in Indian cuisine.

I am posting these recipes of gluten free breakfast for all those people who are dependent on breads and parathas for breakfast and complaint that this kind f breakfast is filling and satisfying but it makes them slugging after an hour. Try having a plateful of poha and see how it makes you feel different.

PS : these recipes make 2 really large servings. We generally have a large breakfast when we plan a salad meal for lunch but all these poha recipe can be really light if one serves them in smaller portions that suits well for a tea time snack.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'eclairs dairies' with Chef Johnny Iuzzini and Le Meridien

Last week was a whirlwind of sorts in many ways. Some new experiences, some discoveries and a few lessons in finding and developing flavours for recipes and products. Sometimes it helps when you see the same old world with the eyes of someone else. Great learning.

The week started with a food trail of Delhi with celebrity Chef Johnny Iuzzini that covered places like Azadpur subzi mandi (the wholesale fresh produce market), Chandni Chowk (old Delhi market), Khari Baoli (the spice market) and street food around the area. These are the parts of old Delhi that feel quite overwhelming for a first timer, the chaos on the streets, the heady aroma of spices and people dressed in all possible hues.

This tour with Chef Johnny Iuzzini was a part of the #Eclairsdairies that the chef is doing to create new flavours of eclairs inspired by local ingredients from all over the world as part of Le Meridien Hotel's program called 'unlock the destination'. The hotel has created concepts like signature breakfast and eclairs flavoured with local ingredients and spices etc in all their Indian properties. I feel a touch of local flavours brings much value to any hotel or restaurant chain that is doing business all over the world. A traveler always looks forward to an experience that brings forth the true character of a place being explored.

It was so good to see the chef being enthusiastic about tasting everything that he could see being cooked in makeshift stalls. He had bread pakodas being fried by a teenage boy, tossed some jhalmuri by himself and tasted it immediately. Just as I was thinking it must be a sensory overload for him he also tasted roti subzi being hand rolled and cooked by a similar vendor who feeds hundreds of vegetable vendors everyday. He even shot a video of the rotis being rolled and puffed up on direct flame and posted on his instagram profile. Oh he kept clicking pictures of everything he ate and kept instagramming all this while. What fun it was to get ginger tea made by a pink clad woman tea stall owner in ginger market of Azadpur mandi and then the tea being served by the chef himself. All this surrounded with huge sackfuls of aromatic ginger piled up high on all sides. He tasted the fan (plain puff pastry), the mathhi and jeera ajwain cookies that those vendors keep in their jars as accompaniments for tea. I just couldn't believe how open he was to taste just everything he came by.

There is a popular Delhi street snack called 'ram laddu' made of mung beans batter which is soaked in green chutney and served along with some grated radish and chaat masala etc. Chef tasted that and found it just a little hot although the ram laddu accompanied huge green chilly fritters (pakodas) too. Flavours that make you forget about the surroundings.

This ram laddu stall is a good example of how nifty such vendors are. See how an iron pan full of these fritters is perched over a live charcoal angeethi and there are jars of chutney and spice powders arranged on a huge circular tray that is again perched over a bamboo khomcha. Serving hot ram laddu with all the yummy accompaniments in a crowded market so efficiently. Jhalmuri khomchas are evn more minimalist, doling out the yummiest snack a few pennies can buy.

Next day was spent tea tasting at Mittal Tea Store, food tasting at a food truck called Kobri by four young business partners and some more food talks and food tasting at Hauz Khas Village where chef Iuzzini met some young chefs from Delhi and exchanged notes about spices and their uses. After that the troupe moved on to Agra for a day to shoot the Chef on his motorbike and taste some more food on the way. The days passed in a blink and all this while I had to type numerous meal plans for my clients as I do in my normal routine. With the day shorter in winters it is so difficult to keep pace with the commitments but meeting such energetic people fills you up with a new burst of energy for sure.

I have little interest in the new eclairs flavours to be honest, my intention is more into tapping the possibilities of creating new flavours for food in general. When one works on a flavour bouquet in a recipe it is always a good idea to reinforce the flavours of the star ingredient of the dish. That can be achieved either by building up a more complex flavour from the same family of aromas and taste or by adding a hint of the opposite to enhance the character and depth into a dish. For instance we like the extremely sweet caramel with a hint of salt and many curries include some sweet element or sugar added to enhance the deep flavours of spices and chillies etc. 

Even Chef Iuzzini talked about reinforcing the flavours when he demonstrated a sweetcorn paste filling of eclairs that had hints of honey and was garnished with toasted almond flakes, bee pollen and fresh pieces of beehive. Now that was something very interesting to begin with. But it is a fact that all recipe and product developers work several times on the same recipe to achieve something that works and associates with the taste buds of people.

I was very pleased to hear Chef Iuzzini say that if a pastry or a dessert tastes more like sugar or is too sweet for the other flavours to shine, the pastry chef is a failure. The desserts should be flavourful to begin with, sugar just enhances the natural flavours of a dessert. I have always believed in very mildly sweet desserts, the main ingredients of a dessert is not sugar as I always say.

I know my regular readers are nodding in affirmation. Desserts should always pack natural flavours and not sugar as I have always written here. It is great to see a celebrity pastry chef say something I believe in.

I am waiting for the flavours Johnny picked up from India to infuse into his new eclairs for Le Meridien hotel. Since he took the spice route in Delhi, I am guessing it would be something like ginger-cloves-nutmeg kind of garam masala flavour or a fiery red chilly paired with bitter orange marmalade. I wouldn't mind a few of those eclairs even though I was never interested in eclairs per se. :-)

Monday, December 15, 2014

quick aubergine pizza : a grain free pizza that we love

There is a series of coincidences going on in my household. This weekend I was planning to bake a thin crust pizza for dinner and a neighbor couple calls and comes home. No there is no coincidence in neighbors visiting but this couple have young kids who used to come to our place long back when Mithi was alive. These kids were remembering Mithi ki mummy ka pizza and when their parents told us this, I got thinking why I had a thought of a thin crust pizza for dinner and couldn't make because of not having the home made tomato concasse ready that I use for my homemade pizzas. Nevertheless I am baking thin crust pizzas for these kids this week.

And then I was making this eggplant rollatini from World Feast and was reminded of an eggplant (aubergine) pizza that I bake sometimes and was in an impression that I have already shared it on this blog. But when I was looking for aubergine pictures in my digital clutter that the collection of my pictures is, I found these aubergine pizza pictures that were not even processed. Then I realised this aubergine pizza never made it to the blog. This aubergine pizza was made and photographed last December on a weekend, and photographed in day time. We rarely eat any kind of pizza in day time and rarely have the patience to shoot them before the cheese sets again while the pizza gets cold. That explains the absence of pizzas of all kinds on this blog except this buckwheat base pizza that I make when we have fresh rucola growing in the garden.

But none of the pizzas I bake is simpler than this one. Just slice the vegetables, layer up and bake.
No dough no distress ;-)

So coincidence or serendipity brought this aubergine pizza out of the closet and here it is. A delicious pizza can't be any better believe me. Can't be quicker either.

You just have to slice big round aubergines. Take care to use only fresh aubergines without seeds. Brush the slices with olive oil and sprinkle salt on them.

Then you slice really fresh, ripe and the most flavourful tomatoes you can get. Some sliced or minced garlic cloves, some torn basil and oregano, red chilly flakes and salt to be sprinkled. Go by your mood when deciding the quantity of seasoning and herbs. you need not sprinkle any salt over the tomatoes but go by your instinct.

Then bake for 5 minutes at 250 C in a preheated oven. Now is the time to slice some mozzarella cheese thickly and spread over the hot layers of aubergine, tomato and herbs.  Bake again for a couple of minutes till the cheese bubbles.

Serve immediately.

Bubbling stringy mozzarella cheese has a way to enhance the taste of tomatoes and aubergine. The herbs and seasonings help to get it irresistible.

You wouldn't feel the need to have a 'base' for this pizza as the aubergine slices give this pizza a stable base that holds fine. Keep the slices of aubergine a bit thick and let them cook thoroughly in the first round of baking. Sometimes I add minced red bell peppers or minced or sliced mushrooms over the tomato slice but that is not obligatory.

I have done many experiments with making a 'pizza base' using vegetables including cauliflowers, cabbage and even potato slices but the best taste was with aubergines to be honest. Although Arvind likes the potato version too.

And here is the last bit of coincidence that happened just now. I had suggested 'aubergine' as one of the vegetables to be included in the next week's meal plan of a new client of mine who is a young girl not very well acquainted with kitchen and she wrote back immediately asking for what is an 'aubergine'?

I am not joking :-)

a day with WOW women and #Lumiaapptasting at Taj Mahal Hotel, my love for travel and a recipe of eggplant rollatini from World Feast

I am sure most of you know about The WoW Club. Women on Wanderlust is a group with a sole motto of traveling and yes it is a women only group. We all understand well that when it comes to travel alone for a woman, there are a lot of constraints that come into the way. Safety while travel, getting time out from the daily grind of handling home and work and of course the stress of booking hotels and tickets are the main deterrents in that order. I know many single women who crave to travel but keep waiting till they find a suitable travel companion. A group like The WoW Club solves all of these problems and even encourages those who have a family but can manage to travel alone to get some breather away from the family responsibilities. I met many of these women at this event who have taken to travel like fish to water and are happy like a bird. Travel makes one feel the freedom like nothing else. Out of the comfort zone and yet very very comfortable with the unknown, unseen.

So when these women on wanderlust come together for an even organised by Microsoft Devices for Lumia app tasting along with wine tasting and sampling good food, you expect an eclectic mix of women from all age groups, from all over the country having a blast. Poonam Kaul (Director Communications, Nokia) and Shabri Kashyap spoke about traveling and how cell phone apps can be helpful for travelers.

 What if the event is hosted by two boisterous punjabis adding loads of fun to the evening. Playing games with the attendees, singing songs and doling out prizes.

Many apps were introduced to the travelers present there. Some apps are really useful for a traveler like finding places worth seeing in the vicinity, finding restaurants and even clicking good pictures or selfies.

Chef Vikas Khanna released his new book World Feast at the event and wooed the audience by his charming smile as always. Rajiv Makhni (technology writer and TV host) was a live wire with antics too.

This is a hefty book with beautiful pictures and recipes that you would want to try immediately. Looks like a coffee table book but a real useful cookbook for those who want to have a taste of the world. The book has recipes from all over the world that can be easily created in an Indian kitchen, very practical recipes I must add.

The first thing I wanted to cook from this book was an eggplant rollatini that is inspired by Gordon Ramsay's eggplant rollatini stuffed with mozzarella.

This one is stuffed with ricotta and I loved this idea so much that I actually made fresh ricotta and yet finished cooking it within 30 minutes. Yummy melting ricotta infused with red chilly peppers wrapped in melt in the mouth smoky slices of eggplant. This is a recipe that defines the combination of simplicity and good taste.

Since we are getting very good round variety of eggplants in this season, I used those and made wraps instead of rolls but that doesn't change the way it tastes. Rather you can stuff more ricotta in each of those rollatini. Absolutely cheesy yummy.

I replaced the type of chilly peppers used depending on the season again. The fresh red chilly peppers are so irresistible these days and they worked so nicely for this recipe too.

recipe of the eggplant rollatini stuffed with fresh ricotta (no baking) ...

(2-3 servings as a side dish)
one large round variety eggplant (to make 6-7 thin round slices or equal size)
ricotta cheese 200 gm**
fresh red chilly pepper 1 large or to taste (some more for garnish)
extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp ( I used extra virgin mustard oil and the result was great)
salt and pepper to taste


Mince the red chilly peppers and keep aside.

Slice the eggplant thinly and grill over gas flame placing them over a metal grid. You can brush them with oil before grilling or just grill them directly, I like them both ways as once cooked and lightly charred, the eggplant is heavenly any which way. You can also grill the eggplant slices in the oven but I love doing it over the flame. Flame grilling is much more enjoyable. Grill the slices on both sides till lightly charred and done.

I made fresh ricotta** while the egg plant was sliced and grilled on gas flame. The recipe of fresh ricotta is given below.

Place a pan on gas stove and pour the oil. Without waiting for the oil to heat up, tip in the minced red chilly peppers and let it sizzle for a second. Now tip in the fresh warm ricotta along with salt and pepper to taste and scramble the whole mixture to make a creamy consistency.

By now the eggplant slices will be grilled and cooked thoroughly. Place them one by one on a work surface (or chopping board), spread a generous spoonful of the warm ricotta stuffing and fold the slice to cover the stuffing. You can also roll the eggplant slice if you wish. Serve immediately. We like them warm in this weather but in summers it would be just right even when served cold.

You can arrange all the rollatini in a baking tray, spear some pomodoro sauce over it, grate mozzarella cheese over it and bake it till the cheese melts and serve bubbling hot. That makes a richer version of the classic Italian rollatini.

** To make ricotta cheese for this recipe, mix 3 cups of whole milk with a cup of fresh cream (25%) and bring to a soft boil. Take the pan off the flame and add 2 tbsp of lime juice drop by drop and stir till the milk solids curdle and whey separates. Line a strainer with a cheesecloth and pour the contents into it so the curdled cheese collects in the cheesecloth. Let it drain for 5 minutes, place in a bowl and mix using a fork or whisk so it stays creamy for the recipe. Use the whey to make soups of to knead bread dough.


I came across these interesting lines by vikas Khanna while flipping across the pages of World Feast.

I have always felt migration can be in the physical sense covering a distance to be somewhere and it can also be a state of mind when you unlearn a few conditioned 'truths', conquer mind blocks and move into a new territory of knowledge, realization and growth. And freedom.

You don't have to migrate from one place to be into a new place, travel makes is possible to keep migrating to new places and experiencing the unknown very often to those who choose to be free.

I love going to new places, exploring the unseen, witnessing new horizons, meeting new people and learning about new cultures. Sprinkle some love for nature into this and it makes a heady cocktail that makes an experience called travel. I like being a traveler on a whim, with no definite plan to visit the touristy spots and going by instinct. I have traveled on my own and with Arvind a lot and there have been a few times when we travel in groups too especially when we go for treks and cycling expeditions etc but I think we enjoy being on our own most. Although I feel really comfortable even with strangers and I am very accommodating with my co-travelers whenever there have been such times, I feel the need to experience things in our own way is always better. For travel is a very very personal experience, we live through it differently and learn through it very very different. People and places make an impression on all of us, but slightly differently to each one of us. That defines our journey.

Friday, December 12, 2014

cauliflower and mushroom soup with a hint of caramalised onions | eating seasonal and local produce mindfully

A cauliflower soup may sound boring and bland if you consider the plain white vegetable being pulped to soup. Cauliflowers are associated with roasted or pan grilled kind of curries and spicy roasts but this vegetable has a potential to make the best white sauces for pasta and some really good soups too. This cauliflower soup is enriched with caramelized onions and mushrooms and a hint of thyme to lend deep flavours. I have recreated this soup again and again with minor alterations in this recipe.

Cooking with seasonal vegetables makes sense always. Talk about the vegetables being fresh and locally produced and being packed with the best possible combination of nutrients for the body. I remember we never used to get any cauliflowers, green peas or tomatoes during summers in any of the small towns I have lived in, and we have actually lived in quite a few places thanks to my dad's transferable job. There was no coriander greens in summers, there was no mint in winters and so on. We have grown up eating seasonal produce but now as transportation of vegetables and fruits is better equipped we do get vegetables grown all over the world and everything is available almost all year round.

The problem with eating these imported fresh produce or any such produce that is transported to long distances is that we are indirectly promoting a food economy that depends a lot upon petroleum fuel. Our food doesn't need to be contributing to green house gas emissions but if we contribute to a food economy that depends upon petroleum fuel to transport it, we do that unknowingly. Our carbon footprint become bigger and bigger. Eating locally produced foods would depend very little on petroleum fuel and wont come loaded with a guilt of a bigger carbon footprint.

But that isn't the only factor that we should prefer locally produced foods. Especially with fresh produce we can ensure quality, hygienic and pesticide free produce more when we know where and how it is being produced, transported and treated during and after transportation. Although in big urban centers like Delhi there is always a threat of heavy metal concentration if say water chestnuts are farmed in or around river Yamuna. But we do choose the lesser of the devils when there are no options. Sad but true.

The best part of eating seasonal and local produce is that the vegetables and fruits are packed with the nutrients they are known for. Growing some of the food we eat will be wonderful if we have options. Nourishment to the body is ensured and that makes up for everything else.

As I mentioned I have been making this cauliflower and mushroom soup in many variations for years now. One of the versions I made last year and clicked pictures too was this caramelized onions and cauliflowers soup that we enjoyed with bathue ka paratha crackers. I will include instructions for this simpler recipe as well in the recipe here.

(2 large soup servings)

cauliflower florets 300 gm
sliced onions 100 gm
sliced mushrooms 150 gm
dried thyme 1 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg powder
fresh cream 30 ml or 2 tbsp (optional)
milk 300 ml
ghee, butter or olive oil (EVOO) 2 tsp


Heat the ghee or oil in a deep pan and tip in the sliced onions. Add salt and cook over low flame till the onions caramelize and become brown but take care not to burn them.

Add the cauliflower florets cut into small bits and cook for 3-4 minutes covered, stirring twice in between. Add the mushrooms, saving a few slices for garnish, add the pepper powder, dry thyme and cook the mixture again for a couple of minutes, covered.

Empty the pan once the vegetables are cooked and keep the vegetable mix aside to cool down a bit, to be blended into a smooth paste later.

Spread all the sliced mushrooms in the same pan which would be enough greased to let the mushroom slices get lightly browned if left for some time over low flame.

The cooked vegetables get pureed while the mushroom slices get browned, empty the pan once again and pour the thick puree into it. Add the milk, nutmeg powder and simmer the soup for a couple of minutes. Add a little water or more milk to adjust consistency. Adjust seasoning as well.

Add fresh cream if using (I recommend for really great taste that it brings) and serve hot garnished with the browned slices of mushrooms.

To make a cauliflower soup without the mushrooms I like using a little more onions to be caramelized and and little quick cooking oats (like Quaker or Saffola oats available in markets) blended with the cooked vegetable mix. the seasoning is perfect and needs no change whether you use mushrooms in the soup or not but I like it more with mushrooms.

This is one of those soups that are really filling and comforting and you wouldn't need any bread with it. But if you are in a habit of having something with such a soup, I recommend crackers made with whole grains. A lot more texture a lot more taste to make the meal fulfilling I say.

You can even make this soup using homemade soy milk if you are lactose intolerant. Do try this soup for your dinner sometime and let me know if you found good enough as a one pot meal.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

chicken stew the way I like | chicken stew with lotus stem, mushrooms and spring onions

chicken stew with vegetables

This is the season for large bowls of chicken stews being slow cooked for early winter dinners. I love quick recipes most of the times but I do slow cooking whenever time permits and in those recipes I do some adjustments so it requires lesser active time over the stove. I mean I want to let the stew simmer on it's own for a long time and then add some stir fried stuff and simmer some more. The active time over the stove would not be more than 10 minutes and add another 10 minutes for chopping the copious amount of vegetables that I like to add to my stews.

This chicken stew is made with chicken thighs cut into bite sized pieces and loads of mushrooms, bok choy, lotus stem slices and spring onions. I added a few slices of winter red carrots too but I generally avoid this variety of carrots for my stews. The glossy orange summer carrots are better suited for stews I feel. The stew has flavours of a rich stock that simmers along with the chicken on bone and a tadka of homemade shrimp paste that I add to my meat curries sometimes. This shrimp paste makes such stews really deep in flavours, bringing in the umami factor without using any bottled sauces.

chicken stew with vegetables


2 numbers of chicken thighs on bone cut in 3 pieces each
roughly chopped bok choy 2 cups
spring onion greens chopped in 2 inch long strips 2 cups
spring onion bulbs sliced thinly 1/4 cup
button mushrooms 200 gm pack
lotus stem cleaned and sliced 1 cup
carrot slices 1/4 cup (optional)
fresh ginger root 1 inch piece sliced roughly into 4 pieces
dry shrimps 1 heaped tbsp
garlic cloves 5
salt to taste
freshly crushed black pepper to taste
fresh red chilly of any hot variety like bird chilly or dallae etc few slices (use chilli flakes or chilli oil as a substitute)
water 1.5 liter
sesame oil 1 tbsp

chicken stew with vegetables


Heat water in a deep and wide vessel and add the chicken pieces into it. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove any froth that appears.

Now add the chopped bok choy, spring onions and carrots being used and let the stew simmer on low flame for about an hour. The bok choy that I had was a large mature head so I added it along with the chicken, baby bok choy tastes best when added at the time of finishing the stew.

Make a paste of garlic and dry shrimps or just pound them lightly together. Keep aside.

After about an hour when the chicken is cooked thoroughly and the stock tastes and smells nice, add the salt and pepper and start heating another frying pan with sesame oil.

Tip in the shrimp paste in hot oil and then immediately add the lotus stem slices. Toss and cook for about 3-4 minutes before adding this to the cooking stew. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Clean and chop the button mushrooms in halves or quarters depending upon the size.

For finishing the stew just fish out the ginger pieces. I like to keep the spring onion greens so I cut them into bite sized pieces but if you want to discard them at the end you can just tie the long springs together and dunk it into the simmering stew and fish it out in the end.

Add the mushrooms, slices of spring onion bulbs and the hot red chilly, bring it to a soft boil again and serve the soup immediately. If you are planning to serve the stew after some time you have to take care to add the mushrooms and the slices of spring onion bulb in a simmering stew just before serving so they retain the bite and the flavours.

chicken stew with vegetables

The stew is so good I can smell the aromas form the screen. You would be able to do the same once you taste it. I add raw broccoli florets along with the mushrooms sometimes in this stew sometimes but please don't replace any other vegetables in it. All the other vegetables are crucial for the bouquet of flavours this chicken stew packs. You must make this same recipe once and then decide what else you would like to add to it.

Although I must add that you can replace the bok choy with a mix of cabbage and just a few radish slices. Use different varieties of mushrooms if you wish but lotus stem is more for the textures rather than flavours, that can be substituted with halved baby potatoes. Sesame oil is essential for this stew, if you are using some other cooking oil please add some freshly toasted sesame seeds over the stew while serving. You get the drift?

Try it once this winter and let me know.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

pineapple clear soup recipe with lemongrass and galangal : a anti inflammatory soup for winter

Pineapple soup is a bit uncommon recipe but it is quite a comfort in winter months. Even though this winter we are being cheated here in Delhi as there is no chill in the air even though December has already started, this soup feels really good to wrap my hands around and sip slowly. Warming, healing and refreshing all at the same time. Many people find pineapples itchy in the throat due to hypersensitive throat but cooked pineapple is good for even those, and the inclusion of galangal, lemon grass and pepper makes this pineapple soup really comforting even for the most hypersensitive throat. This Thai food inspired soup is an absolute comfort for me at least.

Pineapple is one of those fruits that have so much nutritive value that they can easily be called as super foods. Pineapples are not particularly rich in macro nutrients but the enzymes and micro nutrients found in pineapples are helpful in many ways. Rich in antioxidants and anti inflammatory enzymes, pineapple is an easy fix for post workout electrolyte balance as well as for taking care of the DOMS that happens the next day of an intense workout.

This mocktail made with pineapple juice and lemongrass infusion is a great thirst quencher as well as a good electrolyte drink. A smoothie with pineapple, aloe vera and celery sticks is a great detox smoothie that works like a charm after a day of festive indulgence. My recipe of pineapple kanji is something I feel really good to develop as t is a great probiotic, anti inflammatory and refreshing drink, all at once.

Pineapple salads are my favourite especially after grilling the pineapple pieces and tossing them up with other ingredients being used. Pineapple and paneer salad with herbs and nuts is repeated quite regularly on my dining table. Grilled pineapple and broccoli is another yummy salad that fits the super food definition aptly. Pineapple also goes into my fruity version of insalata caprese.

I have come across many recipes of pineapple rasam on the internet and have been meaning to try one of them really soon. But fresh herbs growing in the garden make me think of using them in the best possible way and I come up with my own concoctions. I have a lot of lemongrass and galangal growing in the garden, both being sturdy kept me company even though the oregano, marjoram, rosemary, lemon balm and thyme etc all died upon me due to my frequent travel in the last few months. Lemongrass keeps finding way to my infusions and teas and I often use galangal leaves for some of those infusions as well. Roots of galangal take time to set and one doesn't feel like uprooting them as often. While thinking about an anti inflammatory soup for winters I couldn't stop myself from using galangal and lemongrass once I decided upon pineapple as the base flavour.

(for 2 large servings)

pineapple cut into bite sized chunks 1 cup ( I used frozen)
pineapple juice (fresh or packaged, no sugar added) 200 ml
lemongrass one bulb and all it's leaves (or a handful of dried lemongrass)
galangal root 2 cm piece crushed
tulsi (holy basil) leaves 5-6 springs
thai bird chilly or any hot chilly 1 small
coconut flakes (or grated coconut) 1 tbsp
salt and loads of freshly crushed pepper
water 2 cups


Add the lemongrass (scissor cut), galangal and tulsi springs to water and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Take off heat and strain.

Now add the pineapple pieces, crushed pepper, salt and coconut flakes and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pineapple juice, bring to a soft boil before finishing.

Adjust seasoning, add a little jaggery or lime juice if required as the flavours should slightly hot, sweet and sour. Coconut flakes add a nice bite and subtle flavour to this soup.

Serve hot garnished with sliced hot chilly, slices of lemongrass bulb and fresh tulsi leaves.

I use pineapple juice from cartons quite often for convenience and also because we do get some good quality juices with no added sugar. Adding some fruit juices to cooking is a fun way to bring more flavours in your food.

The quick soup is packed with goodness of tulsi, galangal, lemongrass and pineapple, all ingredients known for their superb anti inflammatory benefits and for enhancing metabolic rate. Aren't we blessed to find such healing food so easily around us?

Try this simple pineapple clear soup or add a little coconut milk to make it a little more tropical in flavours. You might like some more chilly heat may be. Play with the flavours as you wish, this pineapple soup wont disappoint you anyway.