Want a breakfast that will get you and your family through Monday? : Berry Banana Oats

I love eating a variety of foods in my meals. And more than that, I like to feed my children a variety of foods too. So, even though I make oats twice a week, I try to make variations of it.

With the standardized tests going on last week, I was pleasantly surprised to know that the schools educated kids about the importance of eating healthy and hearty breakfasts. It reinforced the value of eating well because this is something I always talk about at home with my kids. When this information comes from the teachers as well, it just works much better!

Let’s get to the recipe, if I should even call it that. It’s super easy and takes about 10 mins to put together.

Serves: 2
Preparation time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5-7 mins

Ingredients:
Old fashioned Oats (or Rolled Oats): 1 cup (If using quick oats, the cooking time will be shorter.
Water: 2 cups (or more, as desired)
Ground cinnamon: 1/8 tsp
a pinch of salt
Chia seeds: 2 tsp (optional)
Maple Syrup (Gur or Jaggery or Honey as sweetener: 1 tbsp or more as per taste
Strawberries: 6-7, small diced
Bananas:1 or 1 1/2, small diced
Walnuts + Pistachios (or any other nuts of your choice): roughly chopped in a chopper, 2 tbsp per bowl – I usually make a small batch of it which I use for a week or two.

Method:
1. Add the oats, water, chia seeds, cinnamon and salt in a heavy bottom stainless steel pot. mix well and turn on the heat. To save time, you can let the oats soak in water for 10 mins to an hour or two, and then add the remaining ingredients and start cooking. If you are soaking the oats, you may need to add extra water.
2. With the heat on medium, let the oats come to a boil. Keep a close eye as they burn or stick to the bottom very quickly if not given proper care!
3. Now, lower the flame and stir often not letting the oats stick at the bottom. Cook to the consistency you like and feel free to adjust the water accordingly. When it’s almost done, add the maple syrup. I try not to add too much sweetener but let the fruit add it’s natural sweetness. So, if this is not sweet enough for you, you could add more maple syrup/honey OR, more bananas!
4. Take two serving bowls. Top them with the finely diced strawberries and bananas and the nuts mixture above.

Notes:
1. The nuts can be added whole. I coarsely grind it because my little one doesn’t like it otherwise.
2. If you have babies or toddlers eating, you can dry roast the oats for a couple of mins. Let it cool and then coarsely grind it and store in a bottle. Makes the cooking even more quicker.
3. For babies under 1, skip the honey. Consult your doctor before giving any food to babies/toddlers. I am not a doctor by any means, so please consult your doctor before feeding introducing new food to your babies.
4. This is what works for my children. And if it works for you, i’ll be happy to help!

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Aaloo Gobhi, Just like Mom’s!

When I was in my late teens, I used to hangout a lot with a good friend. Late afternoons were spent at her home, just chatting and giggling about great nothings. And when her Mom (Aunty) would come back home from work, she would often head straight to the kitchen to prepare a meal for us. I would stand by the door of the kitchen, making sure not to come in her way, yet be close enough to have my eyes following her as she operated in that sacred space.

I have always been very fascinated by the art of cooking and as a natural extension of it, watching people cook. I can stand for hours mesmerized by how people cook their food, no matter which part of the world I am in. Every cook (whether at home or a professional chef) has a unique way in which they function. It is a childlike fascination I have to watch them do what they lovingly put together. This goes way beyond the recipe. . . It is meditative. . . It is like a glimpse into another’s soul.

Aunty was like the composer and conductor of her orchestra, knowing every nuance and operating with effortless precision. Like a Master, putting the various little bits together harmoniously to produce a symphony each and every time she was in that space. She moved around with confidence as she collected the ingredients, washed, chopped, stirred, cleaned and chatted, while I watched, blissfully, as we shared a bit of our lives, little knowing that we were making memories of a lifetime.

The memory of how Aunty used to cook in her kitchen is so vivid and has stayed with me all these years. Amongst the many glorious things she cooked for me, aaloo gobhi was one of the highlights. I do not remember her recipe exactly, and I could ask her for it, but I would rather watch her cook before my eyes and relive that memory when I meet her.

Is there a higher form of praise than cooking something and being told that it reminds them of their Mom’s food? In my world, NOT. That is the best compliment. And one that truly melts my heart. . So, the decision to spread the good food becomes instantaneous! I cooked this aaloo gobhi recently for a dear friend. She immediately said that it tasted (& looked) like her Mom’s food!  I just knew I had to share the recipe here!

Aaloo Gobhi [Cauliflower and Potatoes in a onion and tomato masala]:

Serves: 4-6

I divide the preparation of this dish in two steps. Step one is to Roast and prepare the cauliflower. Step 2 is to Prepare the masala and get the flavours mixed together.

Roasting the Cauliflower:

Many people do not roast the cauliflower and that’s completely fine. However, I find that every time I have roasted the cauliflower this way, it has helped to preserve the texture of the cauliflower and while I absolutely love a slightly mushy cauliflower curry, the one with the texture preserved has its own deserving place.

Ingredients:

  • Cauliflower : 1 big head of a cauliflower
  • Turmeric Powder 1/2 tsp
  • Kashmiri Chilli Powder: 1/2 tsp
  • Salt: to taste
  • Mustard Oil 1 Tbsp (Or equal amount of any other oil)

Method:

  1. Remove the green leaves/stem of the cauliflower. Take out the florets and cut them if needed into half. The idea is to make sure the florets are even sized (as far as possible), not too small, or they’ll end up being a mash and not too big or the cauliflower will not absorb any flavors of the masala.
  2. Wash the florets. Pat them to remove any extra moisture using a paper towel or a clean kitchen cloth.
  3. In a big dry mixing bowl, add the cauliflower and the rest of the ingredients. Mix it uniformly.
  4. Line a Flat Baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place the cauliflower on it making sure they are in a single layer. Discard any liquid / water that is left at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  5. Set the oven to Broil setting or the highest setting available on your oven. Put the cauliflower to bake for about 18-20 mins. After around 10-12 mins, move the florets around. But monitor closely to make sure they do not burn. The timing may vary depending on what kind of oven you have and the size of the cauliflower as well as the moisture it has.
  6. The idea is to make it dry-ish and slightly browned.

    Alternatively, you can fry the cauliflower in a heavy bottom pan in batches. However, I try to avoid that method as it takes more oil and more time. I put this to Broil and work on my Masala.

While the cauliflower is roasting in the oven, let us get started with the Masala.

Preparing the Masala:

Ingredients:

  • Cumin Powder: 1/2 Tbsp
  • Coriander Powder: 1 Tbsp
  • Turmeric Powder: 1/4 tsp
  • Kashmiri Chilli Powder: 1 tsp
  • Deghi Chilli Powder: 1/2 tsp (optional)
  • Water: 3-4 Tbsp
  • Mustard Oil: 1 Tbsp (Or any other oil)
  • Dried Bay leaf: 1
  • Cumin Seeds: 1 tsp
  • Garlic: 1/2 Tbsp, minced
  • Onions: 1 Cup, finely chopped (I used a chopper to chop it fine. Can be done by a knife too, it just saves me time).
  • Ginger: 1 Tbsp, Finely chopped
  • Salt: to taste
  • Small-Medium sized Potatoes: 6 pcs (reduce it if you don’t like potatoes too much!). Boiled firm, Peeled, and Halved. (Quartered, if the potatoes are big. The idea is to have it similar in size to the Cauliflower florets)
  • Tomatoes – Use well ripe, Roma tomatoes or the bigger, round cherry tomatoes which are slightly sweetish. Chopped into big dice – 1 Cup
  • Fresh Cilantro (or fresh coriander leaves), roughly chopped: 1/2 cup
  • Garam Masala Powder: 1/2 tsp (optional)
  • Kasoori Methi leaves (Dried Fenugreek leaves, Roasted for a couple of mins until the aroma comes, then crushed in your palm by hand) (optional)
  • Fresh cream: 1 tbsp (optional)
  • Kasoori Methi leaves (Dried Fenugreek leaves: 1 tsp, Roasted for a 1-2 of mins until the aroma comes, then crushed in your palm by hand) (optional)
  • Green chillies, a couple, chopped, as a garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. In a small bowl, add the cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and Kashmiri + Deghi chilli powders. Add enough water to cover the ground spices and stir it well to make a thick paste of it. Set aside.
  2. In a Heavy bottomed pan or Kadhai (Wok), Heat Mustard Oil. Let it reach smoking point, then lower the flame. I like the traditional flavor mustard oil adds to this dish. You can easily substitute any non flavored oil like avocado oil or grapeseed oil. If using any other oil, you do not need to heat it to smoking point.
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the Dried Bay leaf and cumin seeds and reduce heat. Cumin starts burning very quickly so, I reduce the heat to prevent that. Stir quickly for around 20-30 seconds making sure the cumin doesn’t burn.
  4. Next add the minced garlic. And increase the heat to medium-low. Stir it around continuously making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Once the garlic starts turning brown, add the finely chopped onions, ginger and 1/2 tsp of salt. Mix it until the onion turns translucent and slightly brown at the edges.
  5. At this point, add the dry masala paste which we prepared in step 1. Continue to stir and mix for another 2-3 mins until the rawness of the spices is gone.
  6. Add the boiled, peeled & halved Potatoes. Mix it well coating the spices. Once the spices are coated, add the tomatoes as well as the roasted cauliflower. Cook this uncovered for  a couple of mins on medium heat.
  7. Cover the pan, put the heat now on medium and let it cook for around 10 mins, stirring every 3-4 mins. Once the tomatoes have integrated fully in the masala and cauliflower has absorbed the flavors, turn off the heat.
  8. Add Chopped fresh cilantro leaves (coriander leaves) immediately after turning the heat off. Mix well and serve with Naan, Roti, Rice or any other way you fancy! Prepare this dish an hour or two before serving time as it allows enough time for the flavors to marry.
  9. Garnish with chopped green chillies (optional)
  10. Optional step: When the vegetables are done, Add a spoon of fresh cream and mix it well to take this dish to another level. Turn off the heat within 1-2 mins after mixing. Add 1/2 tsp of garam masala powder and the crushed, roasted kasoori methi as well as the cilantro from step 8 above.

Comfort in a plate : Poha

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Five years ago, I published my last post. A lot has changed in these years. I have grown older [and hopefully wiser]. I have moved countries. Had another baby who is now four years old! However, the one thing that has remained constant through these big life changes, has been my love for Food and Photography.

When I decided to start blogging again, I found myself looking through some of my old posts and repeatedly asking myself this question, “What took you so long?”

I don’t have an answer to that . . .

Let’s just say, a lot has happened during this time and it hasn’t been easy to cope with. I turned 40 and started looking at my life in a very different light. Four years ago, I became a mother all over again. I moved from my comfortable home in Singapore to the suburbs of New Jersey. With feelings of deep sadness and a desire to embrace change, I made the big move across continents together with my family. Friends who were a part of me through my 20s and 30s, were gone overnight.

I had always heard change was hard, but this hard . . .?

From being a social animal who thrived on meeting people to someone who spends weeks at a stretch without any face to face contact with another adult (other than my husband), let’s just say that the transition has been far from easy. I am grateful to the friends I have made during these two years as well as my long distance friends and family, without whom I couldn’t have survived.

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One Friday morning after finishing my morning chores, I was at home browsing through the glorious public lives of everyone (other than myself) on social media and I heard a knock on my door! I do not recall exactly but it could have easily been the first time my door knocked all week. It was my sweet neighbour, with a bowl of food in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. I was hungry! How could she have known? Perhaps the rumbling of my tummy was loud enough for her to hear or could it be that my need for some comfort food automatically wired out a telepathic message across our common walls? “Comfort food needed. A cup of Tea would be nice!”

She had made a bowl of Poha and a cup of Chai!

I was overwhelmed and full of gratitude. The first lesson I learnt almost immediately after moving here was that Food was God. And anyone who got you Food was an Angel!

As soon as she left, I made a dash in to the kitchen for a spoon. As I sat down with the warm bowl in my hand, I removed the foil that preserved the warmth and the aroma of that poha just made me ever so grateful for the food and love I had received. It is important that I mention that until this point in my life, I had never had any liking for poha. 

Something inside me changed permanently as I had my first spoonful.

Never before had I eaten Poha so moist and flavourful. I enjoyed the complexity of flavors that were gently balanced between the sweet, savory, spicy and tangy! It had a soft texture and yet it wasn’t dry.

I was converted!

I had to try and replicate the texture and flavour that I had just witnessed! Over the weeks that followed, I tried to replicate what I had experienced and I think I may have finally nailed it.

So, here’s the recipe!

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Recipe of Poha

For a Printable version of the recipe, click here.

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • Thick Brown rice Poha (Flattened brown rice, found in Asian stores) : 1 Cup. Wash with 2-3 changes of water and Soak  in water for 5 mins. Transfer to a soup strainer to strain the poha and let it rest in the soup strainer.
  • Potatoes: 1 Cup, small diced. I used 1 medium sized red potato
  • Carrot: 1/2 Cup of finely chopped carrots (I used 1 carrot and chopped it fine using a chopper)
  • Frozen peas: 1/2 Cup. Cover the peas with enough water. Add a pinch of salt and microwave for 2 mins. Strain & keep aside.
  • Onion: 1 Cup, finely chopped
  • Ginger: 1 Tbsp, finely chopped
  • Oil: 1 Tbsp (I used avocado oil. You can use grapeseed oil or your regular cooking oil).
  • Mustard seeds: 2 tsp
  • Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
  • Curry leaves: 10-15
  • Asafetida: Generous pinch or two (if you like more)
  • Indian or Thai green chillies: 3, chopped roughly
  • Sugar: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
  • Ghee: 1 tsp (optional)
  • Salt: to taste
  • Pepper: 1/2 tsp
  • Lime: a couple of wedges
  • Cilantro (Coriander leaves): 1/4 cup, roughly chopped
  • Roasted peanuts (I prefer the asian variety which is smaller in size): Dry roasted, skin removed and lightly crushed.

Method:

  1. Heat a medium sized wok or heavy bottom pan. Add oil. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to crackle. Once they start crackling, reduce heat and the add cumin seeds making sure they do not burn and let it cook for about 30 seconds.
  2. Next add the onion, ginger, asafetida, green chillies and sugar. Continue to cook this on medium-low heat until the onions have turned soft and translucent (about 3-4 mins).img_2066
  3. At this point, add the small diced potatoes along with some salt. Cover and cook them for 4-5 mins on medium-low heat. Add the peas and cook for another 3-4 mins until the peas and potatoes are cooked through.
  4. Add the finely chopped carrots, turmeric and freshly ground black pepper powder and cook for a few more mins until the carrots are not raw any longer. The carrots are so finely chopped that this should not take more than 2-3 mins on medium heat.img_2067
  5. Add the poha, some more salt (taste and adjust according to your preference) and add about 2-3 tbsp of water sprinkled all over. This is an important step to keep the poha moist without making it mushy. Mix well, cover and simmer for a few mins until the flavors have married together. Once the poha, vegetables and spices seem to have come together, turn off the heat. Do not overcook as the poha will become dry.img_2068
  6. With the heat turned off, add the ghee and freshly chopped cilantro. Mix well.
  7. To plate the poha, serve it with a squeeze of lime topped with some crushed peanuts and some more cilantro if you like!

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