Monday, July 25, 2016

wild mushrooms (dharti ka phool) : pearl barley risotto with wild mushrooms and garlic chives

Wild mushrooms are much more flavourful than the cultivated variety of button mushrooms we normally get in the cities. We do get some Enoki, Shiitake, Oyster mushrooms, Portobello and even some dried Morels as well in Delhi but getting fresh wild mushrooms is almost impossible unless one travels to the places where they grow. 

wild mushrooms (dharti ka phool)

I was lucky last month when my brother was driving to Delhi from Lakhimpur (a small town located in the Terai region of Himalayas) and this was the season of the wild mushrooms being harvested by locals. I requested him to bring some and he brought 2 huge bundles with 2 different types of mushrooms.

One of them was this slender mushroom called as dharti ka phool in local parlance which means flowers of the Earth. The species of this mushroom is Macrolepiota (source).

wild mushrooms (dharti ka phool)

Definitely one of the tastiest mushrooms I have tasted so far. These need to be cleaned really well and then chopped very fine to get more flavour.

Pearl barley risotto has been a favourite whenever I get some mixed mushrooms or wild mushrooms like this. If you don't get any wild mushrooms you can always make this pearl barley risotto using button mushrooms as well.

Barley is a low Glycemic index ingredient and can be used in innovative ways. 

Note that pearl barley can be served just like rice or can be stir fried with vegetables or seafood or even chicken to make a one pot meal. This pearl barley risotto is a one pot meal too if you are not too fussy about having proteins in every meal.

Well, mushrooms are also a fairly good source of proteins apart from boosting immunity (source).

pearl barley risotto with wild mushrooms

(2 servings plus some leftovers)
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 Tejpatta or Indian Bay leaves
1 cup water 
1 cup finely chopped wild mushrooms (about 220 gm)
1/2 cup finely diced onions
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp chopped garlic chives
some fresh or dried marjoram (or use thyme or oregano)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp butter 
1/4 cup of white wine (or diluted pineapple juice)


Start cooking the pearl barley first with water. Add a cup of water, 1 tsp butter and a little salt to a deep pan along with pearl barley and cook on low flame till almost all the water is absorbed and pearl barley become almost 4 times it's original size. I prefer pressure cooking the pearl barley.

Discard the tejpatta and reserve barley along with any remaining liquid.

Note that in the case of pearl barley the risotto recipe with be different from Arborio or Carnaroli rice as the starches (amylopectin) of the barley releases while it cooks in water. It doesn't need to be cooked like the traditional risotto. 

Chop the mushrooms fine. It is always better to use 2-3 varieties of mushrooms if you don't have access to wild mushrooms like this.

wild mushrooms

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil along with onions and garlic in a pan and cook till it all becomes translucent. Note that the garlic and onion mix (soffrito) should not get browned at all.

Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring occasionally for 5 more minutes.

Add the cooked barley, mix well and add splashes of white wine or diluted pineapple juice while cooking.

Add the garlic chives and marjoram and cook for a couple of minutes. The pearl barley risotto looks like this when done.

pearl barley risotto with wild mushrooms

Drizzle with some olive oil and may be a little butter too. Adjust seasoning.

Empty in a serving bowl and add grated Parmesan if you wish. I skipped that because I wanted to taste the wild mushrooms without getting masked by any other flavours.

pearl barley risotto with wild mushrooms

The best thing with this pearl barley risotto is that it doesn't get congealed when cold. I enjoyed the leftovers next day after reheating it and it was as good as fresh.

No need to add Parmesan or any other cheese to this pearl barley risotto. The creaminess of barley and the flavour of mushrooms enhanced delicately by tejpatta, garlic chives and marjoram is a wonderful treat for the senses.

Try this pearl barley risotto with any other mushrooms you get and tell me if you like it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

why sourdough is healthier? recipe of whole grain millet sourdough bread baked on stovetop, in a clay pot

Sourdough bread made with non conventional flours is nutritionally superior. The wild yeast strains that make the sourdough, ferment the dough to release nutrients that are otherwise difficult to get from our food and we often have to resort to supplements. Sourdough breads could be that supplement if we bake the sourdough breads with millets of different types. I have always been saying on this blog that we must include several types of millets in our diet for better reasons and not just to stay away from excessive gluten.

sourdough ragi bread

An experiment done on sourdough fermented bread made with buckwheat, amaranth, chickpea and quinoa flours had higher concentration of free amino acids and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), the concentration of phenolic compounds and antioxidant activity was also higher (source).

It is good indeed to know that sourdough fermentation of pseudo millets and lentil flours results into formation of GABA which is a 'well being chemical' speaking in layman terms.

Note that GABA is synthesized in human brain normally but supplements are also available and effective.

I always end up chatting with old people whenever I visit to remote places where people have retained some of their old eating habits, for ritualistic value if not everyday sometimes but the oral history of the ancient foods is alive in many such places. I hear stories of how everyday bread dough was always mixed with the sourdough saved from earlier days. Sourdough was a norm in north India, khameeri roti and kulcha was always made with sourdough.

People had one simple explanation for this tradition of sourdough, that it makes the bread digest easily. And digestion was seen as the foundation of good health, rightly so.

sourdough ragi bread baked in a claypot

I had almost stopped baking breads for a couple of years, a few kulchas and English muffins in between as we have started eating more salads and rice, pearl barley and quinoa etc and some ragi roti for wraps etc. Leavened breads have become rarer as baking a whole loaf means a lot of bread to consume for the two of us.

When I revived my sourdough for baking bread this time I thought of baking it o stove top as many of my readers keep requesting for stove top bread recipes. And I like experimenting. I have posted more stove top breads or skillet breads in the past but doing something new makes it exiting every time.

The earthen pot was on my mind and the bread came out really nice.

sourdough ragi bread baked in a claypot

(small loaf, free form)

1/2 cup sourdough starter activated (read the instructions here)
1/2 cup ragi (finger millet) flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp amaranth flour
1 tbsp besan or chickpea flour
1 tbsp flax seeds meal
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
some rolled oats to dust the clay pot and coat the bread


After reviving the sourdough starter, add the whole wheat flour first and with some added water make a batter along with salt and olive oil. Whisk this batter till it becomes a little stringy.

Now add the ragi and other flours, make a loose sticky dough by kneading the mix softly. Add a little more ragi flour if required.

Let the dough rise in a warm place till it doubles. It took me an hour during monsoon season in north India. Knead the dough again and now make a smooth ball, roll it in the oats and keep in the suitably sized clay pot.

There should be room for expansion in the pot and the pot should be thick walled. Sprinkle some rolled oats into the clay pot before placing the dough for final rise, covered with the lid.

Once the dough rises again after a period of fermentation now it is time for baking the bread. Note that slow fermentation gives better taste of sourdough so you might like to keep it in a cooler place if you want more sourdough flavour.

Heat a lat iron griddle over gas flame and let it get hot. Now place the clay pot over the griddle and lower down the flame to medium. Let the bread bake for 40 minutes.

A slight push with a flat knife will release the bread from the clay pot. Invert the bread and cover for 10 minutes so the top also gets browned and crusty. Remove from clay pot and cool on wire rack before slicing.

The crust on the base is quite chewy like a baguette and the top crust is soft like a multi grain bread. Remember that breads baked with different techniques and different flours will have different characteristics and each one can be great.

This millet sourdough bread is definitely great for those who love nuttier flavours of whole grains and like the chewy crusts too.

sourdough ragi bread baked in a claypot

The slices toast really well and can hold a heavy topping too. We tried a pickled peppers topping one day and this fresh ricotta scramble the other day.

sourdough ragi bread, toast with fresh ricotta scramble

To make the fresh ricotta scramble you can mix some chopped onions, green chilies, salt and pepper to the freshly made ricotta or loose paneer (chhenna) and spread it on a hot griddle till one side gets browned lightly. You can flip and brown on the other side too but it will become chewy if overdone.

Transfer the scrambled ricotta on your millet sourdough toast and enjoy.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Quinoa salad with carrots, walnuts and raisins

Quinoa has become part of an easy meal for us lately. There was a time when I would never imagine using quinoa as it was imported but now as I get locally grown quinoa I feel like including it more in our everyday meals.

But wait, there are more reasons why we are eating more quinoa these days. One, I order a fairly big bulk of quinoa from the farmer I buy it from and I have to consume it and two, it cooks faster than other millets or grains. Convenience wins.

summer carrots

So this kind of salad meals get ready in about 15 minutes. The carrots are grated while the quinoa cooks and the salad dressing is whipped up while it cools down. I sometimes cook quinoa in a larger batch and refrigerate for more convenience.

Who says convenience and healthy mindful eating cannot function together?

Mixing the salad together is a one step process once the carrots are grated. And once made, the salad stays good for 3-4 hours at room temperature.That is the fun when you don't use leafy greens in a salad, the nuts and raisins help prevent this salad from getting soggy.

It actually improves with time and tastes best after an hour or so.

quinoa carrot salad

(2 servings)

1 cup cooked quinoa (1/4 cup raw, cooked with 1 cup water and a pinch of salt)
2 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped ripe pineapple (or grated green apple) optional but adds great taste
2 tbsp raisins
2-3 tbsp chopped walnuts and almonds (I have used mixed seeds too sometimes)

for the dressing

a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (few drops only, be careful while pouring)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (or apple cider vinegar or any good vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic minced or chopped fine
a little minced green chilies (optional)


Whisk the ingredients for dressing together in a large bowl.

Add the cooked quinoa and grated carrots and pineapple or green apple if using, the nuts and raisins and give it all a good mix.The salad is ready.

The green chilli gives it a nice kick while the raisins and carrots make a great combination along with walnuts. I like when the chopped walnuts and raisins get soaked after a while but don't become soggy.

This salad tastes great as is, but since it is a fine shredded salad it makes a great topping for crackers too. We have been loving these Bajra (millet) crackers from Tasha Artisan Foods with this carrot quinoa salad.

quinoa carrot salad

This salad keeps well in a lunch box as well. Here I made it using a seeds mix (flax seeds, sesame, melon seeds and some sunflower seeds) and raisins.

Please do not skip adding raisins to this salad. I love it the most with raisins and walnuts, may be some almonds too but more of walnuts.

Note that many people do not like walnuts because walnuts get rancid really fast and if you happen to eat rancid walnuts a few times you may be turned off walnuts for life. Find good quality walnuts and keep them refrigerated always to preserve them for longer duration.

quinoa carrot salad in lunch box
This salad with grated carrots, cooked quinoa and seeds, nuts and raisins may look like a mishmash but the flavours and textures are spot on. Just don't make the mistake of adding too much olive oil as it takes away the fresh flavour of summer carrots somehow.

Sometimes I make this salad with thinly sliced carrots too. I have actually made so many simplifications to this salad recipe that I even make the dressing in the previous night. Add the carrot slices or grated carrots to it and just mix cooked quinoa and nuts and raisins along with it at the time of packing the lunch box for the husband. My portion is also packed and kept on the dining table.

Making the lunch simpler has helped me organise my work better. I hope to continue doing it this way. It works even when I am traveling and Arvind has to assemble his lunch box.

And if you are wondering how he manages with such a 'light' lunch I will tell you his breakfast is almost always pancake or paratha made of mixed millet flour. I have trained the maid and she makes nice pancakes and paneer parathas.

Chef Tetsu Akahira loves achari chicken sushi from his India inspired sushi festival at The Metropolitan Hotel & spa

Japanese cuisine is picking up in India and Sushi is now the new Momo (dumplings). In the bigger cities it is even available for home delivery and many of these are actually quite good. We have started getting the ingredients fairly easily and cooking Japanese food at home is no more stressful. 

But when it comes to infusing Indian flavours in Sushi I have been a little skeptical as I have tasted very bad versions of tikka masala type sushi. My impression of a fusion sushi had to change definitely, and how.  

Recently we tasted some Indian inspired sushi at The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa and found the sushi quite good and ingenious even though the names ranged between Sakura Delhi roll (chicken tikka sushi) and Chennai special roll (Prawn tempura sushi). 

The India inspired flavours were subtle, the ingredients fresh and the Indian flavours did not mask the fish or prawn or even the chicken, though I was fearing the same. My own favourites were the Chennai special roll and the Tofu Kimchi Gunkan from the festival lot. 

Natto Temaki was my first pick from the regular menu and I got an extra helping of natto (fermented soybeans) because of my love for fermented foods. The Temaki had very little natto so an extra helping works better. 

Do ask for extra natto as it is good for health too. Natto is an acquired taste but once you start liking it you just like it as is.

The Dragon roll with grilled salmon, lettuce, salad and teriyaki sauce was a deep fried tempura roll and sliced into sushi. I found the flavours great but a little too oily as the oil squirted from the sides as I lifted the rolls with a pair of chopsticks. 

We already love the Ebiten Okonomiyaki which is grilled pancake with a sauce and loads of bonito flakes topping, screaming umami and addictive stuff.

As I always love Kimchi, another fermented food, we tried Buta Kimchi (stir fried pork with kicmchi) which was fabulous. Hot and slightly tart, real fermented kimchi and juicy shred of pork make a great combination together.

The desserts section features some interesting flavours of ice creams and you will be tempted to order the Matcha, Black Sesame, Red beans and Wasabi flavours of house made ice creams. We shared spoonfuls of all these flavours and loved each one of them. My favourites will be Matcha and Black Sesame while Arvind loved the Red Bean Ice cream. 

 I wanted to talk to Master Chef Tetsu Akahira, Sakura but we had to communicate through a translator because he cannot speak English. 

Sakura at The Metropolitan was started by Chef Akahira's some 15 years ago I was told and he has curated the menu carefully and keeps evolving is from time to time. No wonder Sakura keeps winning accolades all over. 

 Here is the excerpt of my interview with Chef Akahira. 

                                              picture courtesy The Metropolitan Hotel

HFDV : What was the idea behind the India inspired sushi festival? Did you want to inspire more Indians to appreciate sushi?

Chef Tetsu Akahira : Japanese cuisine is proving to be a hit among culinary enthusiasts in India now. They have started liking the taste of Sushi, and palates of Indian have evolved over the years.

HFDV : What precautions did you take to develop these fusion versions of sushi. They taste really good and not overly Indianised I must say. Though I did not try the Tandoori Paneer Nigiri and Tandoori Paneer Gunkan.  

Chef Tetsu Akahira : At Sakura, we believe, crafting a Sushi is an artistry - making it eye pleasing,  working with flavours of the basic ingredients to shine through without too much seasoning, type of knife used to create the dish, cutting techniques and much more. Thus, such infused flavoured Sushi menu was carefully prepared keeping in mind things like, appropriate use of spices, flavouring them with vinaigrette rice, tandoori only tastes good when served hot, etc 

And, we are delighted that you liked our menu. Feedback like yours keep motivating Sakura to continuously strive for bringing something new during such festivals. 

HFDV : How fermented products like Natto and Kimchi are generally served in Japanese cuisine? What are the general foods that are served with these accompaniments?

Chef Tetsu Akahira : Natto and Kimchi are basically appetizers. Natto has a distinctive pungent smell and an equally unique flavour. There are very few dishes, which are made/paired with Natto, some of them are Natto Sushi Roll, Tuna Natto, Squid Natto. Natto tastes best with mustard and soy.

Kimchi is very spicy and whatever food it is matched with will probably end up with one overpowering taste, i.e., hot. So its pairing needs to be seen carefully with Japanese food. Though there are many ways to consume it, can be used as a condiment or can be practically cooked with and food you have on hand.  At Sakura, Kimchi can be used as a rice topping, as a ramen or nabe flavouring, or as a spicy pickled side dish. 

HFDV : What is your own favourite India inspired sushi?

Chef Tetsu Akahira : Though complete menu tastes good to me, but, if I have to choose one, it will be Achari Chicken Sushi.

I wonder if that is Kimchi effect. After all hot and tart flavours rule the taste buds of most people, in doses small or large. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

101 alternative flours | home made whole grain pasta with pumpkin, carrots and cherry tomatoes

I have always been intrigued by home made pasta. I would often roll some Gnocci or Orchiette quickly and boil it in my tomato soup and have it like a comforting meal for ourselves. We rarely have a pasta meal that has no vegetables even though we like spaghetti carbonara sometimes, the salad is served on the side.

No tutorial for home made Orchiettes here, but I am directing you to some nice videos so you can also make your own fresh hand rolled pasta at home.

whole grain pasta with pumpkin carrots and cherry tomatoes

Having pasta in a mushy saucy vegetable mix is what I find the most comforting. I just cannot function without my vegetables and often feel deprived when I am traveling. But that is another story. Some travels bring more to the table and it happened in the literal sense couple of months ago when we visited a village and brought back some farm fresh vegetables including a large whole pumpkin.

I usually buy whole but smaller pumpkins and keep using them for months. I hope you know how to keep pumpkin fresh for a couple of months.


Yes pumpkin keeps really well in the fridge. Take care to clean the pumpkin skin thoroughly before you cut it into wedges.You can then cut pumpkin into large wedges or halves, cling wrap and store in the lower compartment for 6 weeks easily. The more mature the pumpkin (with tough skin and orange flesh) the longer it stays good this way.

Now coming to the recipe, I actually started making Orchiette pasta with whole wheat after watching this video, and later moved on to make the same using a mix of millet flours. Making Orchiette this way is a great stress buster if you ask me. I sometimes make Orchiette when I want a break from my work or sometimes even while talking over phone. It doesn't take too long if you have to make Orchiette for just 2 servings.

I add them to my lentil soups, or cook it like Pasta alla Norma, but I have made it with pumpkin many times over. Sometimes a saucy pasta dish or sometimes added to a salad.

(2 large servings with lot of vegetables)

600 gm pumpkin cubed
200 gm summer carrots
200 gm cherry tomatoes (Or heirloom/desi variety)
few shredded leaves of spinach or rucola (I added a bit of both from the garden)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic ( I used a little more)
1 tsp red chilli flakes
fresh or dried mixed herbs (I used fresh sage and oregano)
salt to taste
Parmesan cheese to finish as much as you want

For the pasta dough (there will be some leftover)

1/4 cup ragi flour
1/4 cup barley flour
1 tbsp coarse chickpea flour (optional)
1 tsp olive oil
a little salt
water to knead a stiff dough 

whole grain pasta with pumpkin carrots and cherry tomatoes


Mix everything for the pasta dough and add water slowly to knead a stiff dough. Let it rest for an hour or so.

With greased hands make Orchiette like this video. Do not worry if you cannot make then thin or well shaped, the pasta will be tasty after getting cooked. Store the shaped pasta dusted with flour for a day or two in refrigerator.

Boil with plenty of water with added salt when needed and use immediately.

To prepare the vegetables, cube the pumpkin, dice the carrots, quarter the tomatoes and toss them all with the rest of ingredients. Spread on a baking tray and bake at 160C for about 30 minutes. Watch out the time as it may differ with the size of cut.

You can spread it all on a shallow griddle, cover with a dome shaped lid and let it cook if you don't want to use the oven. I do that sometimes.

Once the pasta is cooked (it may take longer if made thicker), drain most of the water from it, reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid while it is hot. Now dump all the baked vegetables into this cooked pasta with reserved liquid and toss gently. Adjust seasoning and serve right away.

whole grain pasta with pumpkin carrots and cherry tomatoes

Grate Parmesan over it and enjoy a hot and satisfying meal. 

I have cooked this ragi based pasta so much that I even make tubular shaped pasta with it that you might find too thick here. It can be made thick or thin as you wish, follow the above links to see videos.

I do love such warm meals irrespective of the thickness of pasta, it should just be cooked through nicely. 'Al dente' or well done.

Here is the Pasta alla Norma version.

whole grain pasta alla norma

I like the nutty taste of whole grains in these pasta so much that I feel something is missing when I eat the regular pasta sometimes.

Try it sometime. Even if it sound the boring sort of healthy you will realize it is a comforting meal that you can make on your own. Replace millets with whole wheat if you wish but do try and make some home made pasta sometimes. Include children in this activity if you have to feed them, they would love to make their own pasta. Working with dough is as therapeutic as working with garden soil.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Quinoa and Chickpea patties with greens : easy to assemble working lunch

The Quinoa patties or cakes I am sharing today is a convenient filling meal for anyone who has a busy work life and yet wants to cook and eat healthy at home.

Week days always demand a simple lunch for everyone who has to sit and work on a desk. We do need a lot of liquids during the day but if the meal is heavier it starts making one sleepy. What works for me in fact is a brunch that is not too complicated to fix and filling enough to keep me full till evening.

Working from home most days of the month gives me this liberty to choose my meal time the way I want. Sometimes I switch to a freshly cooked meal like these Quinoa chickpeas or lentil patties for a late breakfast and then have a large bowl of fruit for a late lunch.

I am most comfortable when this routine goes on. And then some travel happens for work and all my eating routine gets disturbed though I choose my food carefully even when traveling.

I am not complaining, I love what I do. Currently I am designing a wellness menu and all its supporting elements for a luxury hotel in Rajasthan.

My work also gives me enough exposure to make complex recipes simplified for home cooking. For practical reasons obviously. These quinoa patties are just that. Simplified and prep work deconstructed in a way that you can make these in 10 minutes flat when you are hungry.

Remember that Quinoa makes great patties even if you are a beginner cook.So don't be afraid even if you are cooking Quinoa for the first time. Just cook the grain like you cook rice, I prefer a 1:3 ratio of Quinoa to rice you can adjust to your liking. See how to cook quinoa here.

For these Falafel inspired Quinoa patties you just have to keep some cooked Quinoa, some raw Chickpea paste and some raw chopped greens of your choice, refrigerated in separate containers so you can just mix and shallow fry the patties when you feel hungry.  

Recipe of Falafel inspired Quinoa patties 

(2 servings)

cooked Quinoa 1/2 or 3/4 cup
*coarse paste of soaked Chickpeas 1/2 cup
chopped green of any type 1.5 cup or a little more
chopped nuts or peanuts or sesame 1-2 tbsp 
ghee 1-2 tsp per patty to shallow fry

To make the coarse paste of soaked chickpeas 

1 cup of soaked chickpeas (or mixed whole beans)
4 large garlic pods
2 dry red chillies
some dry or fresh herbs of choice
salt and pepper to taste

Make a coarse paste of everything together in your trusted food processor or mixie. Do not any water while blending the paste. Keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days.


Just mix all the three components, the  chickpeas or mixed beans paste, the cooked quinoa and the chopped greens and shape into patties of preferred size. Pat them all on a greased hot griddle and cook both sides till a crisp crust is formed while the interiors remain soft and crumbly.

That's it.

I like serving these patties with some sliced onions, some cut fruit or anything that I find easily doable. A nice slaw will be wonderful if you can manage. The one above is a Chickpeas Quinoa patty with sweet potato leaves, served with onion and peach slices tossed with paprika and lime juice.

The platter below is a mixed beans and Kale mix served just with onion slices and a spot of spicy Apricot chutney. 

It is actually simpler than you think. Try it next week and tell me how easy to follow healthy recipe it was. If you are not into Quinoa you can substitute it with soaked daliya (broken Wheat) or quick Oats and add some Flax seeds meal for a boost in its protein content. 

You know such patties are so versatile you can flavour them as you like. But I prefer keeping them mild and simple and add on the flavours in the form of toppings or salad with it when I am indulgent.

These Quinoa patties can be used to make bun sliders or burger filling too apart from the usual pita or plain bread sandwiches.

But if you think these patties are carb free you cannot be more wrong. Both Quinoa and Beans have enough carbs to keep you energized, in fact for longer time because these are low Glycemic carbs.