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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Street Food Cravings: Kaala Chana Chaat

Kaala Chana Chaat (A warm, mildly sweet, tangy, spicy, herby street food of black chickpeas and potatoes)

Today, I shall take you on a nostalgic trip to my country of birth, India.

Where birds sing on roof tops, children joyfully play a game of hop scotch, a street vendor calls out from a distant corner, there is life all around and conversations abundant.

As I prepare myself for my trip to Asia in summer, I cannot help but imagine how things are back in my country of birth. I am also super excited about all the food that I am going to savour.

On this chilly spring evening, this warm chaat and a cup of tea is all I need in my life! The mild tang and sweetness of the dried pomegranates, some heat from the chili powder and fresh green chili peppers, freshly chopped onions, cilantro and the mildly pungent asafetida, the crunch from the sev, instantly takes me back to wander in the streets of India. My sweet neighbourhood. My childhood.

We love our street food and sometimes we try to recreate it at home!

Here’s one that R made one of the weekend afternoons when I was on my downtime! I came drawn to the kitchen with the aroma of all the warm spices he was using.

This is his creation but the only contribution I made was to suggest adding the Anardana powder because I really liked how my friend Dee had used Anardana in one of her Mom’s recipes of Dried Chhole and I’d loved it! So, thank you Dee!:)

For the longest time, R & I just couldn’t be together in the kitchen at the same time. I’ve had fights over how the onions were cut or which variety of okra R picked up from the grocery store! After moving here, he cooks over the weekend and I get fed!

Now, we give each other ideas when we try to create or recreate something. I must add that he has a very well developed and a sensitive palate, and that is a huge help in terms of feedback when trying out new recipes or food! He gives me critical and honest feedback so every recipe that comes to the blog has passed his test, for sure!

This is a great starter for a party, an afternoon snack or a street food themed party, as one can do most of the prep earlier. It’s perfect to serve in the slightly cooler months. However, you can cook this ahead and keep it in the fridge to serve it as a cold for summer.

Recipe for this warm Kaala Chana Chaat (A warm, mildly sweet & tangy, and spicy, herby salad with black chickpeas and potatoes)

Makes: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Mustard Oil: 2 tsp
Asafetida (Hing): ¼ tsp
Ground Dried Pomegranate Powder (Anardana Powder): 2 tsp
Cumin Powder: 2 tsp
Red Chilli Powder: ½ tsp
Salt: To Taste
Ground Pepper: ½ tsp (or to taste)
Boiled Black chickpeas (Boiled Kaala Chana): 2 cups
Diced Boiled Potatoes: 1 cup
Chaat Masala: 1 tsp
Mustard Oil: 2 tsp to add on top

Garnish (Totally customized):

Onions: Chopped, fine (a tbsp per serving or as per your liking)
Green chilli peppers, finely chopped (as you prefer)
Cilantro – a handful, roughly chopped
Lime – a squeeze, or more if you like
Crispy Sev (Chickpea flour) – a tsp or as much as you like

Method:

  1. Heat 2 tsp of mustard oil.
  2. While the oil is still getting warm, add Asafetida powder, Ground Anardana, Cumin powder, chilli powder, salt and pepper.
  3. Stir well, in the oil but ensure they don’t burn (adjust the heat as necessary).
  4. Add 2 cups of boiled Kala Chana making sure to add very little of the boiling liquid.
  5. Mix well.
  6. Continue cooking on medium heat until the spices are uniformly coated and stick to the Black Chickpeas & there’s no liquid left.
  7. Add the diced, boiled potatoes (1 cup)
  8. Mix well until it is well coated in all the spices.
  9. Now add 1 tsp of chaat masala.
  10. Stir for another min, add 1/2 tbsp of mustard oil and turn off heat.

Serve warm, loading it with garnish as you like!

To Serve:

Scoop a portion of the cooked Chickpeas and Potatoes in a bowl.

Add a tbsp or two of the chopped onions, green chillies (as per taste) and some freshly chopped cilantro. Squeeze a bit of lime. Enjoy!

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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A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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A Bengali Brunch: Koraishootir kochuri [Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala]

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R and I had been dating for many years before we got married. Our conversations used to revolve around our families, our lives together, our cultural differences, amongst many other things which young dating couples from different cultural backgrounds talk about.

R’s family is from West Bengal, a state in the Eastern part of India that is often known for its politics, literary history, culture, a daily diet that MUST include fish, and people who are extremely fond of sweets! My family, on the other hand, comes from the neighbouring state of Bihar, a state that is often the subject of conversation for its politics, lawlessness and poverty. The harsh reality is that we live in a world of stereotypes. The only silver lining is that we also live in a world where travel has become a lot easier and internet ensures there is enough information for people who seek out for it. This is definitely helping people to see beyond these stereotypes.

Before I got married, I was only worried about how I was going to deal with the sweet palate of the Bengali family and relatives because I definitely didn’t have one. It would be rude to refuse a sweet offered so lovingly and generously. Fortunately, it wasn’t really as difficult as I had made it out to be. Word spread about my love for fish and my lack of appetite for sweets.  The rest is history. I have been fortunate to have some of the best food in many Bengali homes. No restaurant can match up to that taste, variety and depth of flavour that is created in these home kitchens.

My Mother-in-Law is one of the best cooks I know. I owe a lot of my understanding of Bengali food to her. There are also a couple of other relatives and friends who have wholeheartedly welcomed me in their kitchen and given me the opportunity to watch, ask questions and learn. That learning over the years has given me the confidence to cook a lot of traditional Bengali food at home.

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Today, I am sharing my recipe of a traditional Bengali Brunch – ‘Koraishootir Kochuri’ or Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala. Do not confuse them with “Kachori” from North India. The two are quite different in texture, appearance and taste.

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Koraishootir kochuri is a popular homemade breakfast especially in the winter months when peas are in season. I didn’t have to wait for winters as I used frozen peas which are fortunately available year round! 😉 Koraishootir Kochuri is almost always served with some Indian pickles (aachhaar / achaar) and a spicy semi-dry dish made with potatoes called aaloo dom in Bengali or aaloo dum in Hindi. I promise to share a recipe of aaloo dom / aaloo dum very soon!

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The filling used here is a spicy mixture of peas dominantly flavoured by asafetida. Asafetida or hing, is a very strong and pungent spice. It is used quite extensively in a lot of Indian vegetarian dishes, especially for cooking where no onions or garlic are used. Most commonly available in a powder form, when fried for a few seconds in oil, it releases a very pleasant aroma and enhances the flavour of a dish immediately. A little goes a long way is apt for this spice. It is also an essential ingredient for flavoring many Indian pickles / achaar / aachaar.

Traditionally, Maida or refined flour is used to make this dish. I prefer to use wholewheat flour instead.

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To print this recipe, click here.

Koraishootir Kochuri or Pooris with a spicy Peas Masala filling:

Yield: About 18-20 pcs
These are quite heavy as they are thicker than the usual pooris and they have filling inside.

Things I needed:

A Paraath or a huge plate which is common in most Indian homes. It is used to knead dough.
A deep bottomed kadhai or Indian style wok or a deep pot for deep frying.
A Chakla
A rolling pin

For more information on the essential utensils for an Indian kitchen, you should check out the blog written by my friend, Nisha. She blogs at Spusht and has done a brilliant job of making an inventory for any one new to Indian cooking. Check this and many other interesting recipes and ideas on her blog, Spusht.

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Ingredients for the Dough:

Wholewheat flour: 2 cups [I used Aashirvaad Wholewheat aata]
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Carom seeds or Ajwain: ½ tsp
Warm water: ¾ cup
Salt: a pinch or to taste
Oil for deep frying

In a paraath or a big flat deep plate used in most Indian homes for kneading dough, add the flour, carom seeds (ajwain) and salt. Using your hands mix all the dry ingredients so that they are uniformly spread. Now add ghee (at room temperature) to the flour and rub it in between your palms. Repeatedly rub the flour and ghee mixture in this manner for 3-4 minutes to have the smell and flavour of ghee spread across the flour.

Next, make a well and add 1/3 cup water in the middle. Knead the dough mixing the flour with the water, adding water a little at a time. You may not need to use all the water but Add another 1/3 cup warm water and continue kneading. If the dough is sticky, just add a little flour and knead it again until smooth. We are looking for a dough which is not too firm but not very soft either – somewhere in between!

Ingredients for the Peas filling:

Frozen peas: 2 cups
Regular vegetable oil: 2 tsp
Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
Grated ginger: 1 tsp
Asafetida powder (hing): approx. 1/8 tsp
Roasted cumin powder: ½ tsp
Garam Masala: ½ tsp
Aamchoor (Dry Mango) powder: ½ tsp
Salt to taste

Boil the peas in just enough water to wet the peas with a pinch of salt until they are soft. (About 5 mins).

Using a food processor, make a coarse paste of the peas.

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a small kadhai / wok / skillet. Add cumin seeds, reduce heat and let it change colour without burning or turning black. Add grated ginger. You have to be careful to not let the cumin seeds burn otherwise it can add a bitter taste. Reduce heat or remove the pan from heat if needed. Add the asafetida and stir for a couple of seconds. Add the coarse peas paste, chilli powder and salt to taste.

Increase heat to medium, and continue to stir in order to reduce the moisture content of this mixture. When the mixture is almost dry (about 5 mins), add the roasted cumin powder, garam masala powder and aamchoor powder. Taste and adjust the taste to your liking. Continue frying for another 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Spread mixture on a plate to allow it to cool completely. This step is important to help you roll the pooris and make sure the filling doesn’t come out when rolling.

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Assembling it all together:

Now divide the dough into about equal size pieces. You should be able to make around 18 – 20 pcs. These are rolled thicker than the usual pooris so each portion must be a little bigger than your usual Poori dough. To give you an idea, each pc weighed in between 20-25 gms.

Make a smooth ball with each pc of dough. Using your fingers and in a sort of pinching motion, press from the centre turning it around, creating a well to stuff the filling. Make sure you don’t spread it too thin as this needs to be rolled flat and the stuffing should not come out.

Stuff around 1 tbsp of the prepared filling as shown in the picture. Seal it well. Take out a tbsp of the oil in a small bowl. Put a few drops of oil on the surface of the rolling surface (Chakla) to ensure it doesn’t stick when rolling. We do not use flour to roll these as dry flour will burn very quickly [A tip I learned from my Mother-in-law].

Roll these into small but thick pooris about 10-12 cm in diameter, taking care not to let the filling come out. If the filling comes out, these will not fluff up as we want it to. This takes a little practice so don’t be disappointed if you miss a few. Keep trying:)

Test the oil by adding a tiny pinch of dough, it should sizzle immediately and float up in the oil. Remove the test piece or you’ll have a burnt piece of dough floating about.

Gently slide down the rolled koraishootir kochuri in to hot oil to deep fry them. With the back of the spatula, gently press these kochuris to help them fluff up. Once fluffed up, immediately turn them over so that both sides get cooked. Fry one piece at a time. You could roll a few and keep on standby while the oil is heating, but make sure you do not stack them. Instead, spread them on a plate separate from one another.

Keep adjusting the heat. If the oil becomes too hot, there are 2 things you can do:
– reduce the heat or remove from heat to gradually cool down the oil to bring to desired temperature.
– Add more oil. This will help to reduce the temperature of the oil.

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Spicy Sweet-Potato bites!


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One of my earliest memories of sweet potatoes (Shakarkand, Mishti Aaloo or Aluaa) is from my occasional winter visits to my grandmother’s home in Bihar. Sweet potatoes were found in abundance in the winter months. Bonfires made with wood were common in almost every corner / street. Given the lack of heating equipments then, these bonfires were the perfect social setting for some tea, conversations and food along with the much needed warmth for those extremely chilly winter evenings.

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Sweet potatoes are common food at these casual, unpretentious gatherings. Someone will usually carve out some of the burning amber coloured wood and cover the sweet potatoes in them to let it slow roast. This can take up to an hour to cook. When cooked, the skin becomes very crisp. It is then peeled and dunked in milk with or without sugar and is absolutely delightful for sweet potato lovers. At other times, sweet potatoes are also cooked in the wood fired mud ovens (choolha) that is common in rural India. The other simpler way to cook them is by boiling them in water, peeling them and then seasoning it with some salt and Teesi as part of a regular meal.

If you haven’t grown up with this, you might find the idea strange. R, who spent a number of years in Delhi, finds his peace in roasting and spicing up these tuberous roots. It makes me realize how important it is to try different kinds of food in the early years of life. The food that we eat, especially as children creates memories, forms and shapes how we remember and associate life events and people as we grow up.

I must admit though that I never had a strong liking for sweet potatoes (primarily because of its sweetness) until I became a mother. I strongly believe children should be exposed to different kinds of food from an early age. It helps them to have an open mind about food as they grow up. In practice, I take it as an opportunity to nurture my own creativity in the kitchen and make some interesting meals for the family.

These bite sized cutlets make for a great appetiser to kick start any evening.

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For this recipe, I boiled the sweet potatoes until cooked yet firm. I wanted to create a flavour combination that would tone down the sweetness of the sweet potatoes while incorporating savoury, tangy and heat in the right intensity. The first time I created these was when I was trying to make something new for little V’s snack box. I also wanted to make something that was bite size, just the right size so that he can use his fingers without making it too messy.

To print this recipe, click here.

Yield: About 40 mini / bite size sweet potato cutlets

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes: around 500 gms
Onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Teesi: 3 Tbsp (See recipe of Teesi here)
Lime juice: 2 Tbsp (start with 1.5 tbsp and adjust to suit your taste)
Coarse Rice powder: 3 Tbsp (you can replace this with fine semolina instead)
Finely chopped coriander leaves: ½ cup
Finely grated ginger: 1 ½ Tbsp
Roasted cumin powder: 1 ½ Tbsp
Chilli powder: 1 tsp
Black pepper powder: 1tsp
Finely chopped green chillies: 4-5 (I used Thai green chillies)
Rock salt: ¼ tsp
Salt: to taste
Ghee to pan fry the mini cutlets (replace with your regular cooking oil if you prefer): You will need to spread a tsp (or less) of ghee in the skillet. As you cook the mini cutlets, you can use an oil brush or the back of a spoon to touch the surface of the cutlets with ghee/oil. When pan frying the next batch, use a little less ghee, just enough to have some oil lining the skillet.

How I did it:

  1. Wash sweet potatoes thoroughly. Slice each sweet potato (skin on) into 2 or 3 big chunks. I used a pressure cooker to boil until steam forms (one whistle). Remove from heat and let it cool down until all the steam is released.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Shock the boiled sweet potatoes in ice cold water. Peel the skin. Grate these into a large enough bowl.
  4. Add all the remaining ingredients listed above.
  5. Using your fingers, mix all the ingredients together making sure the spices (masalas) are uniformly mixed. It doesn’t matter if the sweet potato loses the grated texture. Sweet potatoes have been cooked but are still firm and will retain their texture when we shape them into mini-cutlets. The important thing is to mix this well to ensure every cutlet has the flavours uniformly spread across. Taste and adjust the salt, spice and tangy taste according to your liking. The best way to do this is to pan fry one mini-cutlet first and taste it. I believe the taste alters with the cooking process therefore this step is highly recommended.
  6. Shape the mixture into bite size cutlets – about an inch to 1.5 inches in diameter.
  7. In a skillet, heat about a tsp of ghee (Just enough ghee to wet the skillet) Place the mini-cutlets in the skillet, and cook on low heat until crispy on the outside. As I do not use much ghee in the skillet initially, I like to brush the cutlets with a little ghee on the outside during the cooking process. This helps to give a nice golden color.
  8. Serve with coriander chutney or a coriander-mint chutney (click here for recipe) or chilli sauce.

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Notes:

  • The green chillies are an absolute must in this, if serving for adults. Adjust to your tolerance. I skipped it when I made it for V.
  • I added Teesi which made it healthier obviously. If you do not want to make Teesi, you can replace it with a tsp of roasted coriander powder and 1/8 tsp of chilli powder instead. The flavour will be different but good, nevertheless.
  • I used Vietnamese sweet potatoes to make this, as it is readily available here. The Vietnamese sweet potatoes have less moisture than many other varieties. I found it easy to shape and pan fry.

2013-08-14

The simple things in life: Mung Dal [no onion-no garlic]


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When life begins to feel complicated, I take a moment to reflect on the meaning of happiness and what it is for me. Is it really a bigger house, more money, an expensive bag or things like that? Yes, I would be lying if I said these things didn’t make me feel good at all. It does, but for that moment and may be a few days more. The only problem is if I continue to seek happiness in such things, my definition of happiness will keep getting complex.. and there’s really no end to it. There is always a want for more… and more. Nothing wrong with it but I find it important to take a moment, think back and put things in perspective.

It’s always the simple things in life that gives me true happiness. I am sure it’s the same for you too. In my quest for happiness, I listed a few things (not in any particular order) that make me truly happy:
A hug from my 4 year old child
Being a Mom
A good cup of ginger tea (chai) early in the morning
An unknown, probably insignificant, little flower my child picked up from the roadside. Just for me.
A conversation with my closest friends
A breath of fresh air
Soaking the sun rays
Companionship
Recalling childhood memories
A simple home made meal: Dal-Chawal

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Dal-Chawal or Lentils-Rice. A combination which is a staple in India. It may be in different variations depending on which part of India or which home it has been cooked, but essentially it is lentils or Dal and Rice.

Every time I travel, I immerse myself in the food and culture of that place. It’s an unspoken rule that we never order Indian food when traveling [outside of India]. However, when I come back home, the first meal cooked, without fail, is a very simple Dal-Chawal.

I wouldn’t even want to call this a recipe considering this is such a staple in Indian households. I still choose to write the method down as every home has their unique way of cooking lentils. Dal is cooked in a lot of Indian homes, almost every day. And that is also the reason, why one gets bored of eating it ever so often. In order to bring variety to Dal, I like to rotate the kind of lentils I cook. My pantry is stocked with some 7 different types of lentils/beans. I don’t cook Dal all 7 days a week but it definitely finds it’s way to our dining table at least 3 to 4 times a week in various forms.

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This preparation is quite simple – No onions, No garlic. A simple Dal flavoured with cumin seeds, asafetida and tomatoes. The cumin seeds, asafetida and tomato are the main players in this act. Asafetida gives it a pungent taste and tomatoes add a mild sour flavour to the Dal. It’s a little tough to tell which one is more dominating – the asafetida or the tomatoes, but together, they rule the otherwise modest Mung beans.

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The process of making this Dal is two fold. Part one involves roasting the Mung beans and then softening the beans while infusing it with some fresh ginger. Part two is the tadka or tempering that will add the flavours to the Mung. The tempering is done in ghee or clarified butter with cumin seeds, asafetida, finely chopped (or grated) tomatoes and some Kashmiri chilli powder for a mild spicy touch.

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I am also sending this recipe to Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen for the 61st edition of MLLA. My Legume Love Affair (MLLA) was started by Susan of the Well-Seasoned Cook and is now being carried forward by Lisa of Lisa’s Kitchen.

Mung Dal with Asafetida and Tomatoes (no onion-no garlic)
Serves: 3-4
Time: 30 mins

Ingredients:
Yellow Mung beans / dal / lentils: ¾ cup
Asafetida (hing): ½ tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Tomatoes: 2 medium sized (about 1 + ¼ cup of finely chopped)
Kashmiri Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Ginger (grated): 1 tsp
Turmeric: 1/8 tsp or roughly a big pinch
Salt: to taste
Water: 2 cups
Ghee: 1 tbsp

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Method:

  1. Dry roast the Mung beans. I do this in a pressure cooker to avoid getting too many utensils dirty. Keep stirring the beans constantly to ensure they are evenly roasted. I did this on medium heat for about 5-6 mins. When roasted, take it off the heat. Rinse with water 2-3 times.
  2. In a pressure cooker, add the rinsed Mung beans, 2 cups of water, a pinch of turmeric, ginger and salt. Cook the beans until soft while still retaining their texture. If you are using a pressure cooker, let the steam build up on high flame. Then lower the flame and let it cook for another 5 minutes until done.
  3. While the Mung beans are getting cooked, heat ghee in a pan. Add cumin seeds. When they are done, add the asafetida and chilli powder. Let it cook for a few seconds. Then add the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt. With the heat on high, cook the tomatoes constantly stirring it to ensure they are not burnt and until the raw smell no longer exists.
  4. When the tomatoes are cooked, reduce the flame. Add the Mung beans. Add water to a consistency you want and adjust the salt as per your taste. If you want to add chillies, add 2-3 slit chillies (a combination of green and red adds a nice colour.. You can add just green too and skip the drama). Let it come to a boil on high heat and then simmer for 3 minutes.
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice and any vegetables of your choice.

2013-07-30

Chilled Cucumber, Mint and Yogurt drink

It was a hot afternoon. We just got home from a long, unwanted walk in the heat. Exhausted. Dehydrated. I was definitely not in the mood for any complicated, time consuming cooking. Yes, there are many such days. I made a Vegetable Pulao. I needed to make something that would go with it.

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On my mind was something cool, refreshing and lightly spiced up. My usual go-to would have been a Raita. For those who are not familiar with Indian food, Raita is a yogurt based side dish usually mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes, onions or any other vegetable individually or in various combinations. They are spiced up with something as basic as salt, black salt, roasted cumin powder and chilli powder.

I started out to make a Raita. But, it was one of those days where my heart guides and my hands listen.

I peeled the cucumbers. Removed the seeds. I started chopping them but I knew I was looking for something else. Not Raita again!

I looked up the fridge for some inspiration. I gazed at the vegetables almost endlessly. I often do that when I need to make something I haven’t had before. And there it was. The magic of mint was about to happen. Soon, I had a bunch of fresh mint leaves plucked, stalks removed, washed and ready to be used.

I wanted to add some spices. But I couldn’t add chillies yet or little V couldn’t have it. So, it had to be something else. It had to be Garlic. I LOVE Garlic.

There it was, a beautiful, refreshing drink with yogurt, cucumber, mint and a touch of garlic. Refreshing. Chilled. Perfect to beat the heat.

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Click here for the printed recipe.

This is how I did it:

Peel cucumber. Remove seeds from the core. Roughly chop it.

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Pluck leaves of mint. Smash a clove of garlic. Use up to ½ the clove or adjust as per your taste. Remember, a touch of raw garlic goes a long way.

In a blender, add the cucumber, mint, garlic, 3-4 cubes of ice cubes and a spoon full of yogurt. Blend until smooth.

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Now take this blended mix in a bowl. Add the remaining yogurt, roasted cumin powder, black salt and a bit of regular salt to taste. Using a whisk until you get a smooth mixture.
Taste and add milk (up to half a cup).

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Give it a good whisk again and chill for half an hour or more before serving.
Garnish with a pinch of cumin powder and a couple of mint leaves.

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Beet root, potatoes and peas tikki / cutlets

It has been many months since my last post. A friend rightly pointed out that it’s that perfectionist attitude in me which is causing this inertia – I want the food to be perfect and the photographs to be styled and taken well (to the best of my ability!) However, to get all these things together, requires a lot of time and patience. With an extremely active 3 year old in the house, time is one luxury I don’t have.

As a result, I have been cooking and experimenting at home but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to post anything for the past few months. I feel a little selfish at this point so I definitely owe you all an apology. Many of you have been supportive over these past few months of silence – either by checking on me or by just by being connected through images that I have been posting on my facebook page (http://facebook.com/sublimepalate). A big thank you for that and sorry for being MIA.

So, I have decided to give that perfectionist in me a sorta break..  And post recipes and stories .. even though sometimes the pictures may not be perfect.. the recipes may…  – NO,  be rest assured – there will be no compromise on that front!:-) These photos are taken from my phone, so please excuse me if they aren’t nice enough.

So, starting off again, here’s a recipe of a healthy snack, I read on one of my favorite blogs, sinfully spicy.  This is a great snack for kids and adults alike! I took a portion of the tikki mix to make 3 tikkis for V. To the remaining portion, I added finely chopped green chillies.It is inspired by Tanvi’s beetroot tikkis. Ever since I saw that, I just had to make it! So for Tanvi’s recipe, check : http://sinfullyspicy.com/2012/06/27/beetroot-tikki/

Thank you Tanvi for this amazing snack! 🙂

Here’s how I made it:

MAKES 8 tikkis / cutlet:

You’ll need:

Beetroot: 1 medium sized
Potato: 1 small sized
Peas: 1 cup. Boil if using fresh. I used frozen peas and microwaved with a tiny pinch of salt for 2-3 mins to soften it so that it’s easy to mash.
Onion: 1 small size (or roughly 1/2 a cup of finely chopped onion)
Ginger: 1 small pc (adjust to your taste)
Garlic: 1-2 cloves
Green chillies – 2-3
Black pepper powder – 1 tsp (preferably coarsely powdered)
Bread crumbs – 4 heaped tbsp. (If you don’t have bread crumbs, use a slice of bread. Gently soften it by sprinkling a little water and mashing it separately first and then adding it to the mix).
Semolina (Suji) – 3 tbsp or more for coating the tikkis.
Oil – 1-2 tbsp.

Preparation:

  1. Boil the potato so that they are cooked but firm. A little undercooked is fine but mushy potatoes may not bind the mix that well.
  2. Finely chop onions, ginger, garlic and the green chillies.
  3. Finely grate beetroots. Squeeze out the juice by hand. Drink the juice (It was yum .. I strained it and had it without adding anything. But I think a squeeze of lime should go very well). Anyhow, coming back to the grated beetroots, keep it in aside and move on.
  4. Peel and finely grate the boiled potato. If you are brave, try grating it while it is hot! Just kidding – DON’T ! I almost burnt my palm. The inside of the potato retains a lot of heat so it’s advisable to take a little break and grate them when they have cooled off.
  5. Mash the softened peas.
  6. Start working on the next step (mixing) only before you need to make the tikkis. The salt releases a lot more moisture and makes it difficult to bind.
  7. In a mixing bowl, add the grated potatoes, beets, mashed peas, onions, ginger, garlic, bread crumbs, black pepper powder, chaat masala & finally the salt. Gently combine this mix without mixing it too much! The more you mix, the more moisture gets released and your tikkis won’t hold together.
  8. Make small cutlets / tikkis with this mix (oval or round shape can work). With this quantity, I ended up with 8 tikkis.
  9. In a flat plate, keep the semolina. Very gently press the tikki on the semolina mix to coat the tikki with the semolina.
  10. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan. I fried about 3 per batch in a small non-stick pan. Add more oil when frying the next batch, if needed. Make sure the oil is hot before you add the tikkis. On low heat, fry the tikkis for a few minutes on each side until crisp on the outside. Be gentle when turning the tikkis. If the heat is low, cook for a little longer to get a crispy outside while making sure the inside is cooked.
  11. I had these with my go-to green chutney!

Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.