Category Archives: Indian

Vermicelli Biryani

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I am sucker for sweets, especially North Indian sweets. So when my stock of pedas ran out in August, one that my long suffering wife had replenished on a trip to India in July, I was looking for my sweet fix. With the Eid season here, I started thinking back to my childhood and the dry Sevian (Vermicelli) dessert that some of our family friends used to make around Eid. So I decided to try my hand at making some.

Before I got there though, the wife called and reminded me that I had dinner duties that night. Since I was already at the Indian store and had procured the aforementioned Vermicelli, I decided to repurpose it to making a Biryani. Armed with a handful of vegetables, I got to work. I looked to the great sage Sanjeev Kapoor’s and Vahrevah chef’s websites for guidance and put a dish together. The verdict was that the dish was – Meh! It filled but didn’t satisfy. I did try it again a couple of days later and ate it with some Egg Curry and it tasted a lot better. So, in my opinion, it works very well as an accompanying rice-substitute dish but not so well as a main dish.

INGREDIENTS (for 4)

2 Tbsp Oil (I used EVOO)

1 Tbsp Black Mustard Seeds

12-14 Curry Leaves

1/2 Medium Onion – diced

1 medium Carrot – peeled and cut into bite sized chunks

3 small round eggplants chopped into bite sized pieces

1 cup frozen Green Peas

1 cup Soy chunks (Nutrela) – cooked according to instructions

1.5 Tbsp Coriander Powder

1 Tbsp Turmeric

Salt to taste

1 cup dry roasted Vermicelli

2 cups water

STEPS

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan
  2. Add the mustard seeds till they start to sputter
  3. Add the curry leaves
  4. Add the onion till they are transparent
  5. Add all the veggies and soy chunks, coriander powder, turmeric and salt
  6. Saute till the eggplants just start to darken
  7. Add the vermicelli and mix well
  8. Add two cups of water and increase the heat
  9. Evaporate the water off while constantly agitating the mixture
  10. Voila! you are done

 

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Spinach Corn Sandwiches – a Veggie Sandwich idea

Being ovo-lacto vegetarians with two kids to send lunch for, we are always on the lookout for creative takes on sandwiches. One of the surprisingly best sources for new ideas has been India. More specifically, the airline food in India.

If you think of it, given that nearly 40% of Indians are ovo-lacto vegetarians, every food establishment in India has to necessarily have a very comprehensive vegetarian offering. Airlines are no different. And given the fact they have to come up with easy meals, there are many a creative sandwich options to be had. On my last trip, I had a Spinach Corn Sandwich that was quite good. I made a note of it in my journal and then promptly forgot about it till last week. When faced with a severely depleted fridge and the prospect of making lunch for the four of us, one had to get creative. Fortunately, I remembered this sandwich in time. So, using frozen spinach and corn, this meal was put together. And it was good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Spinach and Corn sandwich.

INGREDIENTS (I apologize for the lack of exact amounts of Spinach and Corn)

1 1/2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter

1 Tbsp White Flour

Milk

Salt

Black Pepper

Frozen Spinach

Frozen Corn Kernels

Shredded Cheese

Sliced Bread of your liking

STEPS

  1. Make a roux with the Butter, Flour and Milk – Heat the butter on medium heat and add the flour. Stir and cook for about 4 mins. It shouldn’t start to brown.
  2. Add milk and stir till a thick paste is formed. Add more milk to get a thick cream consistency.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add Spinach and Corn and cook for another 7-8 minutes. The mixture should have a thick spreadable consistency. Adjust seasoning.
  5. Toast two slices of bread.
  6. Spread the Spinach Corn mix on one slice and top with shredded cheese.
  7. Cover with the other slice and enjoy.

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Herby Paneer Parcels – a BBQ idea for Vegetarians

Herby Paneer Parcels

Herby Paneer Parcels

My brother-in-law and I have a tradition of sorts. For the past few years, every Mother’s Day, he and I get together and cook brunch for our better halves. This year, we started out by thinking of doing a grill-based brunch. However, lacking time and ideas, we ended up with just one dish that used the grill. And it was this one.

Surprisingly easy to make, it tastes great. The trick is to really get the paneer (recipe here) to marinate. With summer and Memorial Day approaching, I thought I’d put this out there as an idea to throw in a vegetarian BBQ dish in the mix.

For a change I followed the recipe to a T so here is the link for it.

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Paneer Pizza with Tandoori Masala

Paneer Pizza with Tandoori Masala

Paneer Pizza with Tandoori Masala

Indians know their food. Restaurants with mediocre (read that as not finger smackingly good) fare tend not to last very long. While there is a slew of trendier places that have opened up in the last couple of decades, where people go to see and be seen, food is still front and center and places simply can’t survive on the glitz. And so it is in this mix, that Mickey D’s, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and their ilk have decided to test their mettle. Without exception, ALL of them have had to come up with a different, some might call tastier, menu for India. And the menu is good, in fact as fast food goes, it is great. Our family looks forward to it every time we visit India. After all, where else would you find dishes like McAloo Tikki Burger (a Potato based patty Burger), Kathitto (a Kathi Roll sold by Taco Bell) and Rawalpindi Chana Paneer Pizza.

While I have been able to replicate, or come close to, getting my Burger and Kathi Roll fix in the US, making a good Indian-style Paneer Pizza has eluded me. I have tried and failed in the past (click here).  So this time around I kept it simple. I started out making a standard Margherita (see here). I started with some cold fermented dough and some homemade Tomato-Basil Sauce. Then I added some minced garlic, some chopped tomatoes, Paneer, and Fresh Mozzarella. Sprinkled the whole thing liberally with some Tandoori Masala powder(available in Indian grocery stores) and baked it on my Baking Steel.

When it was done, some more Tandoori Masala powder, freshly ground sea salt and a topping with chopped Basil completed the Pizza. It was a beautiful thing.

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Cheese Tomato – a taste of Roorkee

Cheese Tomato

Cheese Tomato

I went for undergrad to an institute in a small town in Northern India – Roorkee. Our idyllic campus was located close to the foothills of the Himalayas (we could see snow-capped mountains on clear days from our campus) and was home to our institute (the oldest engineering college in India, now IIT Roorkee), the Irrigation Research Institute and a large Army cantonment. That’s it. Nothing else. The reason for this town’s existence were these three institutions.

While it made for a near-utopian existence, Roorkee wasn’t exactly an epicurean paradise. There were, however, a few shining points of light. Bhatia’s Bun Omelette – imitated often, never equaled (a version here), and Cheese Tomato were two of them. Cheese Tomato, a variation of Paneer Makhani (a version here), was a staple at pretty much every restaurant in town. Though I have traveled far and eaten plenty since my Roorkee days, the taste of Cheese Tomato has remained with me and one I have never been able to replicate, till now.

Recently an old friend and excellent cook, Hani Gupta, posted a recipe for Roorkee-style Cheese Tomato. As inclined as I am to never following recipes exactly, I decided to follow this one to the letter to see if I could recreate the taste of my youth. I am happy to report the recipe comes pretty darn close to the Cheese Tomato I remember. So without further ado, here it is.

INGREDIENTS (for 8-10 people)

1 lb paneer (cut into triangles about 1.5 inches on 2 sides and 1/2 inch thick)
1 Tbsp grated paneer (for garnishing)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter (or ghee)
1 large or 2 medium onions (peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces with layers separated)
1 Tbsp heaped ginger garlic paste
10-13 medium tomatoes – about 2.5 – 3 lbs. Use Heirloom tomatoes if you can for better flavor. Blanched, and chopped into 1 inch chunks.
½ cup low fat milk (heat the milk just before adding)
1 tsp garam masala (or to taste)
2-3 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (for color) – totally optional
Red chilli powder (optional, to taste
1 Tbsp Kasoori Methi (crush Kasoori Methi well, you will need 2-3 Tbsp kasoori methi to get 1 Tbsp powder. Sieve the powder to remove the stalks)
Salt (to taste)
2 Tbsp honey (or to taste. This is the secret ingredient for that restaurant quality flavor)

STEPS
1. In a thick bottom karahi (wok) or saucepan, add 1 Tbsp oil and heat.

2. Add ginger garlic paste and fry for a few seconds. Don’t let turn pink. This is just to cut the pungency of garlic.

3. Add onions and fry till they sweat to translucence.

4. Add chopped tomatoes, and stir.

5. Add cashews, a little salt and cook covered till the tomatoes and onions are well cooked but not pink. Ensure that there is no raw smell of ginger, garlic, onion or tomato at this point. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see the oil separating out yet.

6. Let the cooked mix cool down and then grind into as fine a paste as possible. Make sure you don’t see any tomato seeds in the paste.

7. Heat another tablespoon of oil and let it warm. Then add butter. This will prevent the butter from turning brown. To this add red Kashmiri chilli powder. This will give a beautiful red color to the oil. NOTE: If your tomatoes are of good quality you don’t need to add color.

8. Add the ground paste and stir well. If you are adding the canned tomato sauce, add it now. Tomato sauce can be a little sweet or tart depending on the brand.

9. Add salt, stir well and cook well covered on medium, making sure the paste does not stick to the bottom. When the gravy is cooked, add the honey and Kasoori Methi and stir again.

10. Add Garam Masala and Red Chilli powder.

11. Now add hot milk and incorporate well into the gravy. Remember not to boil or the milk may curdle.

12. Finally add the Paneer pieces and gently fold in the gravy so as not to break the Paneer pieces.

13. Cover and cook for another 5 mins on sim. Serve garnished with grated paneer (and more melted butter if you want, but I don’t). This is an excellent accompaniment with an Indian bread of your choice or some Basmati rice.

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Lauki Sabzi – the bane of my existence

Lauki Sabzi with Roti

Lauki Sabzi with Roti

This is another one from my childhood. My parents love Opo Squash aka Lauki aka Doodhi. Couple that with the fact it is pretty easy to make, North Indian style Lauki with a Tomato gravy was often on the dinner menu. I hated it. Now, that I am older, and don’t get to eat it as often, I actually quite enjoy it. Funny how time changes things.

Anyway, with half an Opo Squash left in the fridge (after the other half was used to make Sambar), I decided to make Lauki Sabzi with Grilled Tandoori Roti for dinner. Given the fact, this is your standard issue dish from North Eastern India, I was pretty confident it would be laughed at by my wife who thinks that the UP(Uttar Pradesh – a state in Northern India) cuisine is completely bland (she is from Gujarat and even I have to admit, there is some truth in what she says). Anyway, 20 minutes and one whistle of the pressure cooker later, I was pleasantly surprised to see what came out, and even more surprised to learn that my wife and my picky kid both enjoyed it. So here goes, this is one easy dish to make.

INGREDIENTS (for 4)

1-2 Tbsp Cooking Oil (I use EVOO)

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1/2 White Onion – diced

1 cup Chopped Tomato

1 Tbsp Ground Coriander

1/2 a medium sized Opo Squash or Lauki (about 6-8 in length) – peeled and cubed

1/4 tsp Red Chili Powder

Salt to taste

STEPS

1. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, not to worry, just use a standard heavy bottle saucepan.

2. Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to sputter.

3. Add the onion and fry till they start to brown.

4. Add the tomato and fry for 5-6 minutes.

5. Add the spices and the squash and 1/2 cup of water.

6. If you are using a pressure cooker, cook for one whistle. You are done. If you are not, cover the saucepan and cook till the squash is soft. You may want to add a little water (about 1/2 cup) in case it starts drying up.

7. Serve hot with an Indian bread of choice.

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Masala Potatoes

Masala Potatoes

Masala Potatoes

I was raised in a vegetarian family but one that was flexible enough to let me experience meat-eating as long as it was not at home (I turned vegetarian later on in life). One of my fondest memories from childhood is going to a very close Muslim family friend of ours on a fairly regular basis and enjoying various versions of Chicken dishes. Oftentimes, with the Chicken there would also be some Masala Potatoes. These crusty, spicy, dry potatoes, often served with a squeeze of lemon on top were absolutely delicious. I had never experimented with them, in all honesty I had forgotten about them till today of all days when for some reason I thought about them when it came time to whip up some lunch. I looked for some ideas on the Internet but in the end I experimented and the result was really good. The best part was that they were really easy to make.

So here goes. Masala Potatoes (sometimes aka Bombay Potatoes).

INGREDIENTS (for 2 as a side)

1 Large Potato – peeled and cubed into 1/2 inch cubes

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder (use judiciously)

1 tsp Coriander Powder

1 tsp Amchur (dry Mango Powder)

1 tsp Roasted Ground Cumin (Jeera)

1/2 tsp Turmeric

1/2 lemon

STEPS

1. Wash and soak the potato in enough water to cover them completely.

2. Heat the oil on medium heat in a saucepan and add all the spices and the salt and saute for 2 mins.

3. Add the potatoes and stir.

4. Cover and periodically stir till the potatoes are cooked. When they are done, they will be blackened, nice and crusty.

5. Serve as a side with a squeeze of lemon with a Daal and an India bread of your choice.

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