Friday, July 31, 2015

lunch boxes for adults : assembling lunch boxes if you are a rice eater and announcement of the giveaway

With this lunchbox series I got to learn that there are many people who like eating rice in their lunch boxes too. Most people in north India prefer a roti subzi kind of lunch box meal but an occasional rajma chawal, chhole chawal or tahiri is not uncommon.

I love my rice too by the way, and I find it way lighter than the rotis for a meal. Personally rice makes me satiated faster and I need very small amount on my plate. For everyday meals even roti is needed in small serving as we make multigrain rotis always and those are quite filling too.

I observed in some regions rice is such a staple that the plate is full (*read heaped) of rice with just a little amount of vegetables and lentils or meats. All those who have grown up eating that kind of meal find it really tough to balance a rice based meal in adult (*read desk bound) life.

When you are young and active, play some sports you can have a lot of rice and other starches but once you are desk bound, office going and sitting long hours on a chair you better mind your rice and roti both.

So here are a few lunch boxes with rice meals where about 2-3 tbsp of cooked rice is used to make a satisfying filling meal. Balanced rice meals for a desk bound adult, eat more if you run marathons.

All these lunch boxes are gluten free by default.

1. Eggs and vegetables fried rice...

lunch boxes for adults

This kind of lunch box is made in my home when in a hurry. Leftover rice (2-3 tbsp per serving) is used to make it a 10 minute meal.

For 2 servings fry 1 cup finely chopped cabbage, 1 cup chopped onions along with chopped green chillies (or capsicum too) and 1 tbsp butter or ghee. Add slat and pepper when the vegetables are translucent, break 3-4 eggs and scramble lightly. Add reheated (in microwave or steamed on the other burner) or freshly cooked rice and mix well, fluffing up the rice as you mix. Add chopped coriander greens or rocket leaves ( I used rucola from garden) or spinach leaves and pack. Some pickle or raita is good to pack along. 

Find karonde ki subzi recipe here.

2. Methi matar paneer tahiri for lunch box...

lunch boxes for adults

This Tahiri is a 15 minute meal. One of those meals where you just dump everything together and make a tasty meal, suits me in the mornings when I get up really late.

Two-three tbsp uncooked rice (rinsed), a cup of finely chopped cabbage, 1/4 cup dry fenugreek leaves (these are home grown and sun dried but use kasoori methi if you don't have this), 1/2 cup frozen peas, some paneer cubes (I use about 3/4th of a 200 gm pack), salt, pepper, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and 1 tbsp ghee is dumped into a pressure cooker. 3/4 cup water is added and the mix is cooked till the first whistle blows. Cool, open the lid and pack along with raita/pickle and yogurt or buttermilk. 

It is better to pack some kachumber type salad and pickle with this one.

3. Lemon rice with millet for lunch box...

lunch boxes for adults

This lunch box takes about 30 minutes to assemble.

Barnyard or Prosso millet is cooked just like rice, then tempered with ghee, asafoetida, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and loads of chopped curry patta. Turmeric is added to the tempering along with chilli, then it is mixed with the cooked millet, seasoning it well. Add loads of lime juice to make it as tart as you wish.

I packed a quick vegetable stir fry and some karonde ki subzi with it along with roasted peanuts to sprinkle over the millet meal. Buttermilk is a must with this.

4. Multigrain khichdi for lunch box...

lunch boxes for adults

Earlier I used to have these multi grain khichdi for lunch almost 3-4 times a week. Now I manage about once a week and sometimes the husband also agrees to have it. He generally doesn't like khichdi but those who love khichdi find it really tasty.

This multi grain khichdi is made with 1 tbsp each of Red Kerala matta rice, barnyard millet, urad daal, chana daal and masoor daal along with 3 cups of chopped marrow and the usual khichdi seasoning and tempering. I make it a point to have a vegetable mash with it, parval ka chokha fits the bill in summer months. Karonde ki subzi makes it delicious.

5. Dal chawal meal in a lunch box...

lunch boxes for adults

I crave for hot daal chawal meals sometimes. I have grown up eating dal chawal almost every single day and whenever I manage to make dal chawal with some bhujia I feel really happy. This is a rare lunch box for both of us but we love it a lot.

Peeli daal cooked with arhar (pigeon pea) sourced from I Say Organic is so good to taste as it is unpolished and some of the husk is still attached, giving it a earthy taste. For quick meals I just pressure cook the daal with salt, turmeric powder, pinch of asafoetida and little ghee and serve it without tempering with a little more ghee.

For lunch box I mix the daal chawal and add some bhujia on the side. Kachhe kele ki bhujia or parval ki bhujia is favored with our daal chawal meals. Some diced cucumbers and yogurt make this meal light yet satisfying.

6. Curry and rice for lunch box with lotus stem curry...

lunch boxes for adults

This is bhien ki besan wali subzi (lotus stem in chickpea flour spicy gravy) which has become a favourite and we like it even for cold meals.

Topped over plain boiled rice, a generous amount of this subzi makes a delicious meal if you love curry and rice.

7. Curry and rice lunch box with ridge gourd curry...

lunch boxes for adults

This would become one of your favourite meals too trust me. The Bengali jhinge posto curry is one of the most favourites of mine. The gravy is made using poppy seeds paste but you can make it using mixed seeds (melon and sunflower seeds) paste too if you don't get poppy seeds in your part of the world.

Plain boiled rice and this protein rich curry is good enough, I packed a boiled egg salad with it just in case.

8. Curry and rice lunch box with marrow chaman kaliya (Kashmiri paneer curry)...

lunch boxes for adults

I love chaman kaliya and have learnt to add marrow to it to make it a one pot curry. This way I don't need to cook or serve any other greens on the side. Poured over plain boiled rice this curry tastes great even when cold. I love loads of this curry with a little rice. Nothing else is needed.

Chaman kaliya is made using either milk or whipped yogurt so I don't serve yogurt with it. It is a complete meal in itself. Will share the recipe soon and link it here.

9. Cabbage and sesame fried rice for one pot lunch box ..

lunch boxes for adults

This is another 10 minute meal if you have the chopped cabbage and spiced sesame powder. Saute loads of chopped cabbage and chopped onion along with some curry leaves, then add the sesame spice powder and cooked rice. Mix well and pack.

10. Chhole chawal and rajma chawal meals in lunch box...

I can't sign off this post without mentioning my absolute favourite rice meals. Rice and beans are popular in many parts of the world and cooked in different ways. Chhole chawal and rajma chawal are favourites since childhood. We like is spicy.

lunch boxes for adults

I like serving some mashed boiled vegetables or steamed vegetables with chhole chawal, and parval ka chokha appears once again.

With rajma chawal there is okra stir fry and cucumber onion pineapple raita.

lunch boxes for adults

Note that the portion of chhole and rajma is more compared to rice and the side serving of vegetables is also generous. Making the meal balanced is not that difficult.

Balance it in the next meal if you missed something in this meal I say.

lunch boxes for adults

This lunch box series was quite exciting for me. Yes a lot of work also has gone into it, I would never have clicked pictures early in the morning after preparing lunch boxes and packing off the husband to office.

Although all the lunchbox pictures are shot in a couple of minutes before fitting the lid on, I did make some effort to take those to a well lit area and reflect the light too. It was good fun. I wanted a post on snack boxes too but we have run out of time as I had promised to announce the Giveaways in July last week. I am doing so just in the nick of time.

So the winners for the giveaways of this lunch box series are ..

  1. The Tupperware steamer goes to Suranga Date
  2. The three layered handpainted lunch box from ToveIndia goes to VJ Sharma 
  3. Two sets of the steel containers with plastic lid go to Piyush Verma and Nirupama Sunder 
  4. A set of two glass bottles fit for carrying buttermilk goes to Navneet
Please provide your mail id in a week so I can inform you about the giveaway if you are reading this. I assume you follow my blog to get this notification too. I will wait for a week before doing another draw to chose another winner if you don't claim yours.

Thanks you for being with me on this journey. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I will keep sharing ideas about lunch boxes whenever possible, your feedback is always very encouraging.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

lunch boxes for adults : how to pack salad meals and one pot meals in lunch boxes

Here I am with more lunch box ideas and more pointers towards how to pack balanced meals in lunch boxes. The ongoing lunch box series has been immensely satisfying and fun, I kept getting messages, mails and comments on the blog saying how useful you all are finding it. Many of you shared your ideas of lunch boxes too, thank you for that as it helps other readers too who struggle with preparing lunch boxes healthier.

Salad meals in a lunch box work wonderfully if you include your favourite ingredients and take care of the textures too. Fruits, leafy greens and steamed vegetables make great salads but when making it a meal one needs to take care of a few things to make it a balanced meal.

Some useful pointers for lunch box salad meals...

  1. Include seasonal fruits or vegetables to make these salads. out of season is not worth.
  2. If using raw leafy greens in the salad make sure they are organically grown or home grown.
  3. Use a vinaigrette dressing or a yogurt based dressing if the salads is being packed in a lunch box for 3-4 hours to stay. If packing cucumber batons or carrots etc on the side you can drizzle some vinegar to keep them from fermenting in summer months. 
  4. Add pickled salads to fresh ingredients to toss new salads everyday. This way the salad keeps well for a few hours as pickled salads have some residual vinegar in it. 
  5. Apart from the fruits and vegetables, it is good to add some source of protein in your salad. Lentils, beans, nuts, seeds or paneer cubes work really well to supplement a salad with protein. If you eat nonveg you can add boiled eggs, tuna flakes or poached chicken etc to make a filling balanced salad. Quit industrially produced sausages, home made sausages, prosciutto and bacon, ham etc are great. 
  6. Hung yogurt or fresh cheeses also make the salads balanced and tasty. But you can use any good quality cheese you have access to. 
  7. Make stir fry salads with the vegetables that can't be eaten raw. It helps to eat more salads that way. Pumpkin salads are my favourite. 
  8. Chickpea salads are the most versatile. Just keep some boiled chickpeas handy in the fridge and toss a salad when in a hurry. 
  9. Stocking some paneer, some cooked beans of any type, some poached or grilled chicken, some tuna flakes etc saves a lot of effort from assembling salad meals or lunch boxes. 
  10. Stocking some roasted seeds and nuts also saves time. Keep them refrigerated if making a bigger batch. 
  11. Plan shopping of fresh produce like vegetables, fruits and leafy greens weekly so you have good options to prepare balanced meals always. Salads or otherwise.
  12. Some salad dressings can also be prepared and stocked in glass bottles. This sesame based dressing is my favourite to stock, others I just whisk last minute.
  13. If you have some dips in the fridge you can just cut wedges or batons of vegetables and fruits, rinse them with dilute vinegar and pack with any of the dips or even plain peanut or other nut butters in the lunch box.
  14. Be very careful with raw salads during summer months and rainy season I repeat. Use a vinegar based dressing or just go for stir fry or steamed salad options. Some pasta salads can be cooked the one pot way too.
And now I am sharing 7 lunch boxes with salads and how I like to pack them..

1. Chickpea, paneer and pumpkin stir fry salad.. 

This one takes 15 minutes to make if you have pumpkin, boiled chickpeas and paneer in the fridge. Just pan grill thick pumpkin slices with salt, pepper, garlic slices, thyme and little butter about 5 minutes each side and then chop them in cubes.

Now add cubed paneer, chickpeas and a bit of lime juice to the same pan and toss them all together lightly. Pack in a lunch box. Yogurt is good to pack with this. 

chickpea pumpkin salad for lunch box

Mango was packed with it for a snack or dessert serving. It does make a lavish lunch box for sure.

2. Chickpeas, paneer and potato salad...

This chickpea salad takes just 10 minutes to assemble if you have a well stocked fridge.

Boiled chickpeas, boiled cubed potatoes, cubed paneer, sliced olives, onions and rucola leaves make this salad quite flavourful. I added mustard vinaigrette and some sun dried tomatoes to make this salad texture rich.

chickpea paneer salad for lunch box

Just take care the chickpeas are boiled soft when you make such a salad. Hard boiled chickpeas make such salads feel too dry sometimes. Have bitten by hard chickpeas trust me.

3. Okra stir fry and chickpeas salad...

This one takes 20 minutes to cook. This is the kashmiri spiced okra, a much repeated recipe in my home and I do have it as a salad too. If you don't have okra as a salad you must try once and see how you get converted.

So stir fry the okra, empty in a lunch box and then quick stir fry the boiled chicpeas too in the same pan with the residual spices clinging to it. Pack in the same box or keep it separate.

lunch box salads

Plain yogurt is what I prefer with it. Try this combination and tell me how it was.

4. Cucumber, peanuts hung yogurt salad...

This one is a 5 minute job on the kitchen counter if you have some hung yogurt handy.

Peel and chop cucumbers in bite sized pieces, season with whatever you like, I added flax seeds dry chutney powder, top with hung yogurt and then sprinkle some chopped roasted nuts or crushed roasted peanuts. 

cucumber salad for lunch box

I had packed some bread croutons with this salad in case I feel like having them, I did not need them with this yummy salad. One of my absolute summer favourite salad.

5. Pear rucola salad with walnuts...

Another 5 minute lunch box for you if you love salads or for those days when you need a lighter lunch box.

This is a frequently repeated salad too, the recipe of pear rucola salad was shared earlier but I do keep changing it a bit every time I make it. Any nuts and seeds are suitable for this one.

lunch box salads

 Not to forget yogurt with it of course.

6. Tuna and potato salad with beans 

This one takes about 10 minutes to cook. This is a stir fry salad as I like the potatoes of this season to be a bit more flavorful. Winter potatoes will be used directly (boiled and halved or sliced) but I like sauteing them with mustard oil (or olive oil), some salt, pepper, garlic powder and chilli flakes for flavour.

Added steamed beans (quick parboiled) and flaked tuna (from tin) and tossed well, the salad goes straight to lunch box.

tuna potato salad for lunch box

Some cucumber batons and yogurt with this is a better idea.

7. Chicken, mushrooms and green beans salad ...

I usually get some chicken legs, simmer them for about an hour on low flame along with some spring onion and bay leaf etc and make shredded chicken with it. Chicken breast can also be used but it gets dry very easily in a lunch box. 

The chicken meat is chopped into bite sized pieces, the bones are further simmered to make a rich stock for a curry or soup and everything is reserved separately, refrigerated for later use. 

This way the salad takes about 15 minutes. Saute some sliced onions and chopped beans to cook them lightly, retaining the textures. Add the mushrooms and saute some more, add cooked chicken and saute some more till flavours are absorbed. Pack.

chicken and mushroom salad for lunch box

I used whole red chilies, Chinese five spice powder and garlic powder to make it flavourful but you can add just anything you like. I would like a few cucumber batons with this one too but this salad was made the day we had returned from travel so there was nothing fresh in the fridge.

This chicken and purple cabbage salad can be a great lunch box salad too.

During summers my meals revolve around freshly tossed salads and watery vegetable stews as my tolerance to heat is quite low. Adding loads of vegetables is my way to make meals hydrating.

I love one pot meals too as my comfort food at home, a hot bowl of khichdi or a freshly tossed salad is my idea of a comfort meal. I can have my khichdi with just a drizzle of ghee and a glass of buttermilk on the side but somehow I find packed lunches need a bit more to it as the food changes a little after 3-4 hours while it stays packed.

My one pot lunch boxes will be the ones that are hydrating type, do not feel dry to eat after 3-4 hours and have some textures in it.

Here are 5 one pot meal lunch box ideas, 4 of them pressure cooker meals...

1. Soba noodle cold salad.... 

Soba noodles get cooked fairly quickly and cooked soba noodles refrigerate well too.

Add some sauteed assorted vegetables with your favored seasoning and toss it with cooked soba noodles. Add some chopped boiled eggs on the side and make a balanced filling meal.

cold soba noodle salad for lunch box

My ratio for this soba noodle salad is 40 gm raw soba noodle per serving and 200 gm assorted vegetables. I added loads of garlic and salt and pepper only to this cold salad and it was an absolutely delicious meal.

2. pressure cooked lentil and vegetables stew...

This one a strictly one pot meal, cooked in pressure cooker and packed directly into the lunch box.

Chopped cluster beans (guwar) and cubed pumpkin is pressure cooked along with a tempering of chopped chillies, ginger and garlic, boiled chickpeas are added once the vegetables cook, some amchoor powder is added too and a delicious meal is ready to be packed.

one pot meal in lunch box

You might like to add tomatoes to this one, I like amchoor a lot with chickpeas and pumpkin but lime juice could also be a good choice.

Musk melon and yogurt was packed with this meal to break the monotony. I know the stew looks drab but I love this kind of meals.

3. One pot whole wheat spaghetti pasta...

Whole wheat pasta takes long time to cook so I have devised a way to make it quick in the mornings.
Pressure cook 40-50 gm pasta per serving with about 200 gm water and salt (one whistle and 5 more minutes if cooking 2 servings).

Add 1 tbsp butter, minced garlic, frozen peas and chopped mushrooms once you open the pressure cooker and toss and cook till the peas get soft, takes about 3-4 minutes. Add herbs of choice and pack with boiled eggs or shredded chicken.

one pot whole wheat pasta

I had packed mango yogurt with almonds and chia seeds but it was not eaten, the whole wheat noodles are quite filling.

4. Palak wali chana daal with paneer...

Yes it makes a nice one pot meal too. Just pressure cook chana daal with loads of spinach in pressure cooker, add tempering of your choice and small cubes of paneer, simmer for a couple of minutes and it is ready. Check out chane ki daal paneer wali to find a detailed recipe. Chane ki daal bathue wali is also a base recipe for this one.

lentil stew for lunch box

Some kachumber salad and buttermilk will be good with this, or just make a raita.

5. Millet risotto for lunch box..

I cook with millets a lot but for lunch boxes they get used only when I make dosa or idli or for multigrain rotis and breads. Direct cooking with millets is more for hot meals but a risotto works fine for lunch boxes too.

This one is a barnyard millet and carrot-pumpkin risoto with rosemary garlic. This risotto is cooked in one step, no addition of stock or wine but the flavours of rosemary and garlic make this nice.

millet risotto for lunch box

For 2 servings cook 100 gm barnyard millet with double the amount of water, add a cup of finely chopped pumpkin, 1/2 cup grated carrots and 1/4 cup grated potato to the simmering risotto along with salt and pepper. Add chopped rosemary, garlic and 1 tbsp butter and cook till millet grains get soft and it reaches risotto consistency, adding water if required. Add grated Parmesan, mix well and pack.

I packed a mango, balsamic preserved cherries and cashew nut salad with it fearing the husband might not like it but he loved it.

Tupperware lunch boxes are quite convenient for this kind of meals as they are completely leak proof. But use them only when the meals do not need reheating. I find this set of lunch boxes useful for my requirements.

lunch boxes

And here is another giveaway for you all along with a few more that I announced for the lunch box series.

A set of brightly coloured steel lunch boxes or multipurpose containers with plastic fitting lids (hopefully great leak-proof too), is up for another giveaway. Just write about your lunch box, how you like them and how you are finding this series too.

lunch boxes

There is a nice Tupperware steamer, a hand painted steel lunch box, a couple of glass bottles up for giveaways too in this series so please comment here and enter a chance to win one of these.

Please write your mail id too, I will be shipping these beauties to any Indian address.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 healthy home made dips to make lunch boxes fun | healthy dip recipes for everyday

homemade dips

Dips, chutneys and raitas are my way to include more vegetables in every meal. These work like eatable smoothie for me and make my meals interesting to say the least. Life is so much more convenient when there are a few dips in the fridge.

Lunch boxes can also be made convenient with some flavourful dips that keep well for a week or so in the fridge. Addition of yogurt or seeds and nuts adds nutritive value to roasted, sauteed or steamed vegetables to make a dip.

Making a few dips in a single day may get a lot of work to do but if we plan well we can keep making 3-4 per week in large batches and refrigerate them all in glass jars. This makes it easy to have a few options available always to serve with vegetable sticks or steamed vegetables, to spread on breads and to serve with even paratha breakfasts to kids.

homemade dips

For lunch boxes I feel a simpler meal becomes much more enjoyable when there are two different dips packed with it. My millet type breads are always made tastier with these dips. I rely on the raitas, chutneys and parval ka chokha or baingan ka bharta or baingan ka raita type mashed vegetables when there are no dips in the fridge.

Especially in summers I sustain on watery vegetables and mashed vegetables that can be eaten at room temperature. My system just can't work unless I have loads of vegetables and bharta, chokha and raita becomes an everyday staple. Soups are for winters of course.

Another broccoli dip with green garlic shoots and quark cheese is a winter favourite in my home, and an aubergine and nuts dip is made frequently in all seasons.

I like hummus too but he vegetable based dips are more my type. Chickpea hummus, red kidney beans hummus and mung bean hummus can be great for lunch boxes too if you carry some steamed vegetables to have them with.

Here are five dips capable to pack your meal with more zest..... 

1. Beetroot Tzatziki with garlic..

I have adapted the classic Greek tzatziki into a potent garlicky dip that goes a long way in ensuring your meal is never boring. The colour and antioxidant boost comes form beetroots and garlic makes it irresistible. It will remind you of garlic thoum (or toum).

beetroot tzatziki

Recipe of beetroot tzatziki....

  1. Grate and steam one large beetroot (about 150 gm)
  2. Mince 6-8 cloves of garlic  (or to taste)
  3. Hang 400 gm yogurt into a muslin to make hung yogurt (or just prick the aluminium foil cover of a yogurt pack and invert over a mug, keep this apparatus in fridge overnight to get thick hung yogurt the next day) 
  4. Whisk everything together with salt to taste and some white pepper. 
  5. Garnish with mint if you wish. 
2. Baba ghanouj the roasted eggplant dip..

There is nothing special about baba ghanouj in fact. We always have some seeds, some yogurt at home and we always get the aubergines char grilled to make either a bharta or raita. In fact there is always some char grilled baingan in a glass container in my fridge. I love it so much I keep experimenting with it a lot. 

In this recipe I have used a little yogurt, and a mix of seeds to make this baba ghanouj, normally it is made using tahini (sesame paste) and no yogurt is added. Addition of yogurt makes the dip lat longer in the fridge and makes it probiotic in nature too. 

baba ghanouj

Recipe of baba ghanouj ...

  1. Char grill 2 large eggplants (aubergines or baingan), peel and reserve the flesh. 
  2. Mix 2 tbsp each of sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and melon seeds along with salt, roasted cumin powder, 4 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup thick yogurt and blend well in a mixie jar.
  3. Add the roasted eggplant to the blender and blend once more to make a smooth dip.
  4. Add minced parsley or coriander greens if you wish.
  5. Fill in a glass jar and pour 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to make a top layer and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

3. Red bell pepper and shallots dip...

I use red bell peppers occasionally but in smaller amounts in recipes, the reason is that the husband is intolerant to bell pepper smell. But I love them so I try and make recipes where the red bell pepper smell is subdued by something else. It is a practical way to make something suitable for both of us.

This red bell pepper dip is 'supplemented' with loads of shallots, some garlic and some sun dried tomatoes. I say supplemented with shallots because shallots and onions both are so nutritive that their nutritional value is comparable to milk, and unlike milk the onions are loaded with Vit C too. So including onions and shallots is a great way to ensure efficient nutrition as I say.

red bell pepper dip

Recipe of the red bell pepper and shallots dip..

  1. Chop one large bell pepper and about 15 shallots (or one large onion) roughly. 
  2. Heat 1 tbsp mustard oil in a pan, tip in 8 peeled whole garlic pods, 3 whole bedgi red chillies (or add paprika later) and fry for a second. 
  3. Add the chopped shallots and bell peppers, toss to let everything sear and caramelize. 
  4. Add salt and mix. Remove from heat and add a handful of sun dried tomatoes, a handful of (about 2 tbsp) sun flower seeds and 2 tbsp vinegar. 
  5. Transfer everything to a blender and make a coarse paste.
  6. Store in a glass container for up to 2 weeks.

4. Spicy Apricot chutney recipe ..

I learnt this recipe from Lata Bharti, the owner and hostess at Raju Cottage at Goshaini (HP). She is a generous host and loves chatting up if you are not clicking her pictures. We share recipes, stories and talk about general life whenever I am visiting Raju's Cottage which has become a refuge for us.

This apricot chutney we loved so much that Lata packed a jar for us. Then I made it at home and found it a very useful chutney just like our own tamatar ki mithi chutney, but with a little twist.

apricot chutney

Recipe of spicy apricot chutney..

  1. Remove sees from about 250 gm fresh apricots, mince 4 pods of garlic and 1 inch piece of ginger.
  2. Mix the above with 1/2 cup of water and 1 tsp, red chilli flakes, 1/4 tsp pepper powder, 2 tejpatta leaves, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup sugar. 
  3. Cook the above mix till the apricots get amalgamated with the other ingredients and it smells nice and spicy. Stir and cook till it starts looking almost like a jam.
  4. Add 3 tbsp vinegar, stir to mix and fill in a sterilised glass jar. This chutney keeps well without refrigeration for long.

5. No cook mango dip...

This is one of those quick recipes that save you in difficult times. Just mix a few things in 2 minutes and a nice condiment is ready. This is actually a relish and can be blended to make a dip depending on what you want to serve with it.

ripe mango dip

Recipe of raw mango dip...

  1. Chop a ripe mango roughly. Sweet and sour type of mango will be suited more but you can add a bit of lime juice if the mango is all sweet. 
  2. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar, red chilly flakes and salt and your relish is ready. Mash it or blend it to make the way you like. 
  3. It tastes great with roti, paratha and sandwiched between bread slices. Or try it with poha and see how you like some nice mango poha.
I am sure these dips will make your meals a bit more interesting, the lunch boxes a bit more colourful and flavourful, packed with nutrition nonetheless. Please let me know if you make these. The quick homemade tomato ketchup would also be helpful in ensuring you never eat those hideous sauces anymore. 

And please don't forget to comment on the ongoing lunch box series. there are a few giveaways you might like to win for yourself. Please read the series and give me your feedback. See you really soon with yet another lunch box post in a day or two. I am trying to keep my promise to announce the giveaways by the end of July. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

quick recipe of tomato ketchup | why packaged tomato ketchup never spoils and how it is so red?

Do you eat tomato ketchup with every meal?

Please say NO. And please ask questions about tomato ketchup.

homemade tomato ketchup

But you know why I am asking. My heart sinks when I see huge sack like 1 kilo packs of tomato ketchup with a plastic pout on the supermarket shelves. There used to be small glass bottles of tomato ketchup when we were growing up, though we used to call it 'sauce'. And this 'sauce bottle' was taken out when there was some samosa or pakoda being fried and there was no Imli sonth ki chutney on the table. The samosas and pakodas were always served with a green chutney and a Imli sonth ki chutney, the 'sauce' came to the rescue when we ran out of Imli sonth ki chutney. Those were the days when the little dot of 'sauce' on the plate was more of a garnish and was often left untouched.

Leaving the tomato ketchup untouched was helpful once in finding out a startling fact about commercial tomato ketchup. Last year we visited Mysore and were staying at CFTRI (a CSIR unit) guest house. Arvind was on a work tour and I used to wander around town the whole day to come back in the evening and have tea with him. The guest house staff would bring some snacks with tea always and one of those days it was some pakoda with 'ketchup'. We finished chai and pakoda and the ketchup bowl kept lying on the work table in the room where I had kept some fresh fruits too. I noticed the ants kept attacking the fruits and left the ketchup untouched. See the picture I shared on my fb page back then.This piqued my interest and I told the room service guy to leave the ketchup bowl there. it kept lying there for 4 days and no ants came near it, nor the ketchup dried up. What was it made of?

Not only the ketchup is made of more synthetic ingredients than real, it has way more sugar that we perceive and eat it with all savoury foods. It causes us to eat more sugar unknowingly and also makes us eat more salt in the savoury stuff to balance out the sweetness of the ketchup. Unseen culprits these. We need to know more about why the consumption of ketchup in each family has increased manifolds.

Sometime in last 2 decades the glass bottle of ketchup started growing in size and I saw ketchup bottles that the kids couldn't handle any more. It got worse in the last few years when a large plastic pouch that looks like a sack replaced the glass bottles and people started pouring ketchup onto their plates with every single meal. Yes, unfortunately I know a few people who have it with every meal. I was horrified when my dad asked for ketchup with his paratha breakfast when he visited me few weeks back. He was never the one who ate ketchup but somehow he also got the bug. HOW?

We all know the truth. Processed food is designed to be addictive and the addiction grows. With so much sugar per serving one gets used to the sugar rush with every meal and the MSG makes everything tastier of course. Along with these we end up eating a few preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial colours too. Wouldn't we like to stop it?

Say yes please.

I got alarmed after my dad asked for ketchup honestly speaking. He is a diabetic and still thinks it is okay to have a bit of ketchup on the side. Many kids pour about 1/4 cup of ketchup with paratha or even bread, they eat everything with ketchup. Someone asked me how do you eat omelettes without ketchup?

Well, I never knew you needed ketchup for omelettes.

I only knew potato fries were dipped in ketchup just like churros were dipped in a chocolate sauce. Both were rare foods for me. Still are. Closer home it was the tip of samosa that was trickled with ketchup, the TV adverts showed us. Later the TV adverts squirted ketchup on paratha too unfortunately.

Could we choose any better?

My parents used to make their own ketchup long back but we stopped eating ketchup, most probably got bored of it. I wouldn't have posted any ketchup recipe because we simply don't eat ketchup.

Recently I was experimenting with some natural sauces and dips I was developing for a new snacks brand and just thought of mixing a few leftovers to make a ketchup of sorts. And the quick method worked wonderfully.

This ketchup needs refrigeration and stays well for 2-3 weeks easily. It can be made as sweet as the store bought ketchup but I recommend you lower the amount of honey each time you make it, just to make sure you don't end up eating too much sugar in a day.

This ketchup recipe would not make you strain tomatoes or reduce them over gas flame for hours. Just make small amounts enough for 2 weeks in about 10 minutes work and make way for healthier eating. 

Do not go by the looks, the taste is pretty close to the bottled tomato ketchup and you have the flexibility to adjust the taste as well.

home made tomato ketchup

(makes about 300 ml of ketchup, takes about 10 minutes to make and stays well for 2-3 weeks)

red ripe tomatoes 300 gm
red bell pepper 50 gm or 1/3 of one bell pepper (you can use pickling red peppers too)
carrot (orange summer carrots) 1 or 100 gm or similar amount of ripe pumpkin
kashmiri chilli powder or deghi mirch powder 1.5 tbsp
garlic powder 1 tsp
ginger powder 1 tsp
onion powder 1 tbsp
dry thyme 1 tbsp
clove powder 1/4 tsp
nutmeg powder 1/8 tsp
cinnamon powder 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp or 6 gm or to taste
olive oil 2-3 tbsp (this is to emulsify the sauce)
vinegar 3 tbsp
honey 4-5 tbsp or as sweet as you want


Chop the tomatoes, bell pepper and carrot in small bits and pressure cook with salt. Do not add water as tomatoes have enough water. Cool down the mix.

Now transfer the boiled vegetables mix to a blender and add all the other ingredients and blend till an emulsified smooth ketchup is ready.

Fill in a clean glass bottle or squeezy bottle and refrigerate. Use as required.

If you want a more vibrant colour in your 'sauce', make this sweet chilly-ginger-tamarind sauce and see how it feels so close to the tomato ketchup you are used to. These sauces could be useful in making meals quicker sometimes, use them to make curries in a jiffy.

This homemade ketchup makes great butter chicken when converted into a gravy base. Try that.

Check out the ongoing lunch box series and give me your suggestions about making lunch boxes practical and enter a chance to win a few cute useful things for yourself.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

home made yogurt | making 'cultured' yogurt at home and assembling 'real' fresh fruit yogurt | fruit yogurt for lunch box


Yogurt is my everyday snack in whatever form, buttermilk is the favourite drink that I keep making with several herbs or just with a hint of salt when in a hurry. I like it chilled, at room temperature or cooked in curries too. Yogurt in an Indian home never goes waste even if it becomes too sour. We have a recipe for all kind of yogurt and we like making our own yogurt at home.

For a couple of years in between, I had started buying yogurt from the neighborhood booth of Mother Dairy. Despite the fact that I know packaged yogurt is not the same as home cultured ones, I fell prey to the convenience factor. And then I realised I was not eating yogurt everyday anymore. Yogurt was just a bowl of a good thing I had to tell myself to eat, there was no pleasure in doing so. 

And then while shifting some kitchen utensils to another cupboard I found this pretty earthen pot that I used to set my yogurt in. I held it in my hands for a while, sniffed the insides and it still smelt of yogurt. The porous material holds the yogurt within. 

I washed it, filled it with warm milk and kept it covered on the kitchen platform to find perfectly set yogurt in about 4 hours. Indian summers are great for yogurt making. 

home made yogurt

Exactly the way it used to set earlier, the familiar aroma, the familiar layer of watery whey and some floating mass of live culture. Lactic acid bacteria can remain dormant for long time and revive as soon as they find milk. And they did well in this case too.

And then it became a daily routine and I started looking forward to my yogurt once again, sometimes having another bowl just because I loved the taste so much.

I even started reducing the milk to thicken it and setting yogurt in the earthen pot just like my grandmother used to do. The yogurt made with reduced milk tastes more rich and a bit smoky.

home made yogurt

But that phase got over because reducing milk is no fun. I resorted back to just heating milk to about 45 C and setting yogurt every single day. 

Here is a quick DIY check list if you are making yogurt at home...
  1. Use unpasteurized milk if possible, but pasteurized milk also makes good yogurt, the 'yogurt culture' has to be good quality and that is the deciding factor in how your yogurt turns out to be. 
  2. Get your yogurt starter from a home where yogurt is made regularly. Beg, borrow, steal, trust me a good yogurt is worth all the effort. If you live in a part of the world where no one makes their yogurt at home, you could look for cultured yogurt or cultured buttermilk on the supermarket shelves or at health food stores. Use 1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk as a yogurt starter for the first batch of yogurt and then use a tbsp from the fresh yogurt you made.
  3. To make yogurt just heat the milk to 40-45 C or lukewarm to touch, mix 1 tbsp of good yogurt (or 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk) to it, whisk well and cover. Keep it in a warm place till the yogurt sets. It takes about 4 hours in Indian summers, in winters we keep it either in water bath or inside warm oven. Don't forget to save a tbsp of starter from each batch to set the next batch of yogurt.
  4. If for any reason you cannot find any yogurt starter or cultured buttermilk, use dry whole red chillies with their stems to set yogurt. They have lactic acid bacteria on the surface and they help set perfect yogurt. Just warm milk, pour in the pot to set yogurt and drop in a couple of dry red chillies on it. The chillies don't submerge. Remove them as soon as the yogurt is set. The chilies don't impart their heat to the yogurt. 
  5. If you want to carry your family yogurt culture abroad there are a few easy ways to do so. Carry an earthen pot like above which was used to set yogurt a couple of times and has been dried after a rinse. This pot will automatically help set yogurt once you fill it up with warm milk. Or you can soak a small piece of clean muslin in fresh home made yogurt and dry it under sun. Fold the piece of yogurt laced muslin and pack it in ziplock bag and carry. Dip this muslin in warm milk and let the yogurt set, remover the muslin once the first batch of yogurt is ready. In older times yogurt culture in this form was given to daughters when they got married as part of the dowry (source~ First Food

I hope I keep being regular with my yogurt making now, as there is no match to the taste of real buttermilk that I make after churning the butter for making ghee. 


Yes I started making ghee too again. That we will discuss some other time. The homemade yogurt brought back the habit of tossing fruits in yogurt too to make a filling snack or a cooling light lunch. You want to eat more yogurt in many different ways when you have good delicious yogurt at hand. 

The fruit yogurts are perfect snack for office too, you can always carry an extra jar of fruit yogurt or an appropriate glass container that doesn't leak.

We like any fresh fruit in yogurt. It is always much better than the 'flavoured' fruit yogurts. Here is a musk melon, sticky dates, chopped almonds and chia seeds yogurt. It doesn't need any sweetener.

fresh fruit yogurt

The real taste of a fruit cannot be achieved by chemical flavorings, though chemical flavorings and sweeteners together may make the fruit yogurt comforting in nature IF you haven't ever tasted the real thing. Try making the real fruit yogurt and compare the two. You will find all your answers.

fresh fruit yogurt

Here is another version that I make using apricots, plums, some chopped figs (dried), chopped almonds and chia seeds.

fresh fruit yogurt

After about 4-5 hours the flavours mingle so well it looks like this. Absolutely yummy.

fresh fruit yogurt

You can play with seasonal fruits or use dried fruits if you could shop for grocery lately and there is no fresh fruit left. Yogurt will make the dried fruits better. Add chopped nuts and seeds as you like.

fresh fruit yogurt

These fruit yogurts can be a meal in itself if you wish, have it in a huge bowl and stop worrying about calories in it. Fresh fruit yogurt can't have more calories than you can handle.

Or have a fruit yogurt as a generous dessert after a meal. For lunch boxes too yogurt can make a plain packed meal interesting and nourishing at the same time.

fresh fruit yogurt

Those who don' like yogurt or avoid milk products can always make a nuts and seeds salad with some sauerkraut or pickled salad thrown in for the daily dose of probiotics.

Few guidelines for packing yogurt for lunch boxes...

  1. Get a leak proof tumbler or a nice bottle for flavoured or herbed buttermilk. Buttermilk is a great way to hydrate during summers and can be a good substitute for coffee and milky chai if you have fallen pray to work time coffee habit. Try some intense mint or curry patta spiced up buttermilk and see how it brings back the energy level. Electrolytes, much needed water and probiotic all at the same time brought to you by buttermilk. Dilute the buttermilk if you plan to have it frequently and use fresh herbs or dry mint, curry patta or moringa powders.
  2. A suitably sized glass jar or Tupperware container is also good for yogurt. You can have a few of these and set your yogurt directly in these jars and refrigerate. Fruits, nuts and seeds etc can be added and the jars can be carries as is. 
  3. You can try freezing the buttermilk or fruit yogurt containers and packing them in padded bag to carry if your office doesn't have a refrigerator to store. This way the yogurt or buttermilk comes to right temperature at the time of consumption. There are some ice packs in the market that can be packed along with yogurt in a bag so keep it chilled. In air conditioned offices the yogurt and buttermilk doesn't spoil normally, the above suggestions are good if you like your yogurt chilled.  
  4. Keep some herbs ready to flavour the yogurt and buttermilk everyday, fresh fruits or dehydrated fruits are a personal choice but make arrangements of the ingredients before had so you keep up the habit of carrying your own yogurt. 
  5. A very dear friend who is single and male and cooks his own lunch boxes, told me recently that he started carrying buttermilk with his lunch box after seeing my buttermilk pictures. But his office friends started asking him why does he carry so many things to eat like kids, not that my friend cares. Let me tell you one thing, the same friends will come to have a sip after a few days and then some of them will start bringing their own too. Make it fashionable in your office I say. 

There is nothing more refreshing than a fresh mint buttermilk. Loads of mint, hint of green chilly or black pepper and salt makes me refreshed always without a fail.


And it is not just about the momentary refreshing feeling. It is also about how your gut feels after a few shot of 'work stress induced coffee' and how this coffee induced freshness lasts only an hour and after so many shots of coffee you still feel dull in the evening.

Start having these variations of buttermilk or Iced teas and see how the 'real' herbs and electrolytes boost your spirits and keep your gut also healthy. You will feel the difference every evening trust me.


Note that you can win a few useful pretty things useful for your lunch boxes in the ongoing lunch box series. A couple of these pretty bottles for buttermilk and Iced teas are also being given away to one of the comments that I like.

Please comment below and tell me if you carry yogurt to office and what way you like it. There is a Tupperware steamer and a hand painted lunch box by Trove as give away too, check out the lunch box series for more useful information and participate by commenting on any of the posts you like..

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

pear rucola and walnuts salad in pineapple vanilla dressing

pear rucola walnut salad

Nothing inspires me more than nature and fresh produce. When we see fruit bearing trees in season it is the most humbling experience. The way the branches bend down with the sheer weight of the fruits and the way these fruiting trees invite hoards of chirpy birds towards them, brings the truth to light that no matter what, you can always look up to nature and find your answers. That after every lull there is abundance of happiness.

Last week we were on a week long vacation to Raju's cottage Goshaini (Teerthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh) during the fruiting season of most fruits they have in their orchard. Peaches were dwindling down but plums blushed on the trees like plump round garnets and rubies, luscious Apricots were so abundant that the trees were shedding fruits by the kilos.

fruits on trees

Apples hung studded on the branches like someone had tied them up in tight bunches. Rajiv Bharti, the owner of the home stay and the orchard said the fruits were good this season and while Plums and Apricots had reached their prime by now and were already going to the local markets, Pears will be over soon but the apples will keep coming till late August as he has many varieties of apples that ripen one after the other.

One good thing to know is that Rajiv never uses pesticides of chemical fertilizers in his orchards and yet he is not worried about reaching some organic market or distributor. He sells all his fruits in local Kullu mandi (wholesale fruit market of Kullu, the nearest town) and it comes to city markets along with the regular fruits. Good to know people are avoiding chemical means of growing foods not because they want better price for their produce but because they believe in the natural ways of farming. May his tribe increase manifolds.

It was our second visit to this home stay and we have already decided to go there twice a year if not more. It is such a recharge for us. This time Lata, Rajiv's wife packed some fresh fruits for us and we have been eating them religiously every single day since we are back. Actually many times a day to say the truth.

We love Pear and Rucola salad in many ways, one with mango sauce dressing I have already posted but this time I wanted the salad to be a little more flavourful and added an absolutely divine dressing.

Yes the dressing is made using minced pineapple, dry ginger powder, pinch of smoked paprika and real vanilla extract. And this dressing blew my mind away, even in this salad which is more on the sweeter side with so much fruit in it.

Did you know real vanilla is easily available now? You can order online or buy from specialty stores but please don't use the vanilla essence ever. You wouldn't want chemical flavours into your food and real vanilla is known to be a great antidepressant and mood enhancer. No wonder it is the most commonly used flavours for desserts, everyone naturally feels leaning over to vanilla.

real vanilla beans and extract

ingredients ...
(2 servings)

large pears 2, sliced thinly or cubed the way you like
rucola leaves a handful or as much as you can handle
chopped candies ginger 1 tsp
chopped dehydrated papaya 1-2 tbsp
toasted walnuts about a dozen or more, broken into quarters

The dressing 
fresh pineapple cubes minced finely 3-4 or pineapple juice 3 tbsp
dry ginger powder 1/2 tsp
smoked paprika powder a generous pinch
salt to taste
vanilla extract 3-4 drops

procedure ...

Mix the dressing ingredients together and let it rest for about 20 minutes. It can be kept overnight or at least for 24 hours before use. Keep it in an airtight jar if you refrigerate this dressing.

Mix the salad ingredients together and pour the dressing, give it a good toss and serve immediately. This salad keeps well for a couple of hours even after mixing so it can be a make ahead salad or a great salad for lunch boxes too.

pear rucola walnut salad

The first time I experimented with this dressing was when I tossed it with apple slices and that was also good. Interestingly that day I made this salad for both of us in a large bowl for our big evening snack but ended up finishing the bowl all by myself. Yes I am totally capable of ding that.

Make this salad if you love hints of vanilla in a fruity salad with a hint of paprika heat. It is an interesting mix of flavours and vanilla is not too prominent, though it makes the salad a very happy kind of delicious. I told you Vanilla is a mood enhancer.

pear rucola walnut salad

Imagine this salad playing it's mood enhancer role during the lunch break in office? You could use a mix of apples and pears or even just peaches in this salad too. All these fruits behave really well with vanilla.

And since we are talking about lunch boxes, please tell me what do you like as a lunch box salads. Do you prefer savoury kind of salads or fruity ones? Do you want to carry salad meals to office or want the salad as a side dish to break the monotony of packed lunch? Any favourite ingredients that you like in your salads? Comment here and enter to win something interesting and useful for your office lunch boxes.

You can check a few giveaway options I have posted in the lunch box series earlier and wait for a few more announcements. The giveaways will be delivered only on an Indian address unfortunately, so if you are outside India you can provide an Indian address whenever required. Please don;t forget to mention your mail id in the comment section so I can contact you if you win.