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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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Paneer Banh Mi/Paneer Tikka

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A few weeks back, the wife was craving a Banh Mi. I do make a pretty decent Vegetarian version (recipe here) which tastes even better with a homemade pickle (recipe here) but being the constant tinkerer of recipes that I am, I refused to just go ahead and make the Tofu Banh Mi that my wife had asked for (and she had asked very nicely) and decided to use Paneer instead of Tofu as my protein.

A few searches on the net did not yield much by way of ideas, so I thought of just making Paneer Tikkas and using them instead of Tofu. Paneer Tikkas done right, for those of you who haven’t had them, are vegetarian’s answer to BBQ heaven. The best I have ever had were at the Bukhara restaurant in Delhi but I was fortunate enough to find a great recipe for them in J Inder Singh Kalra’s seminal book “Prashad” (Side note – this is a must-have book for lovers of Indian food, especially those that like dead animals. There is not a bad recipe in the book.). How did they turn out? The Paneer Tikkas were great. Did they work in a Banh Mi? Not so much. I think I’m going back to the Tofu for now.

Here is the slightly modified  J Inder Singh Kalra recipe for Paneer Tikkas. It works really well but I wouldn’t try and get cute with the Tikkas again by using them to make sandwiches.

INGREDIENTS (for 4)

1 3/4 lbs Paneer (recipe here)

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp Ajwain (Caraway) seeds

2 tsp Garam Masala

1/2 tsp Black Pepper powder

1/2 tsp Turmeric

Salt

1 1/2 tsp Kasoori Methi (Fenugreek)

For the batter:

1 Egg

3 Tbsp Gramflour (Besan)

1/2 Cup Cream

Salt

STEPS

  1. Cut the Paneer in chunks of about 2″X2″X1″. Evenly sprinkle cumin, ajwain, 1 1/2 tsp Garam Masala, Pepper, Turmeric and Salt.
  2. Whisk egg in a bowl and mix in other ingredients of the batter into it.
  3. Put Paneer into this batter and let it marinade for about 45 minutes.
  4. In the meantime – fire up a grill (or use an oven at about 350F)
  5. Skewer the Paneer about an inch apart – you can put some raw onion to separate the Paneer – and grill (or bake) for about 10 minutes (14-16 minutes in an oven) or so – you’ll see the Paneer starting to bubble and blacken. TIP: Raise the skewer by placing the two ends on two fireproof blocks of some sort – bricks or tile perhaps. It will ensure the Paneer doesn’t stick to the grate after it is done.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Garam Masala and KAsoori Methi and enjoy with some Green Chutney.

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Spiced Almonds

Spiced Almonds

Spiced Almonds

It is almost the end of the year. Another year down the tube. It was a good year for me, hope you had an excellent one too. With the many parties in the holiday season I thought I’d post this recipe for Spiced Almonds. They are easy to make, taste really good and you can have them throughout the year.

Faced with the prospect of serving nuts at a party we threw earlier in the month, I searched the web but could not find a recipe to my liking. I did find something on Food Network that looked interesting (see here). So I took that as a start and promptly ignored the directions, adding spices I thought would work. And guess what, they did. So here is the foodydoody take on Spiced Almonds.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups almonds

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 tsp roasted ground cumin

1 tsp Kitchen King Masala (available at Indian Stores)

1/2 tsp salt (or too taste)

1 tsp Chat Masala (available at Indian Stores)

STEPS

  1. Dry roast the almonds till they are just starting to brown. Set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the cumin, Kitchen King and salt. Cook for a minute or so.
  3. Toss in the almonds and mix well.
  4. Remove from heat and add the Chat Masala. Toss well.
  5. Cool and consume.

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Grilled Veggies on Garlic Naan with Lemon Yogurt and Sumac

Grilled Veggies on Garlic Naan with Lemon Yogurt and Sumac

Grilled Veggies on Garlic Naan with Lemon Yogurt and Sumac

First of all, apologies for my rather dramatic slowdown in posts. We just launched a new business and that has taken a lot of my time lately.

Today is Diwali. The Hindu festival of lights. In India though, it is everybody’s festival, a little like Christmas in the US. Diwali is said to mark new beginnings. To celebrate that, I am posting a new recipe. A new recipe for a new beginning.

This recipe is not original. Having got weary of the cooking the same regular set of staples, a few weeks back, the wife and I decided to sign up for a service called “Green Chef“. This is a food delivery service where you get the ingredients for three recipes a week delivered to you. They are pre-measured, and come with the recipe associated with them. You do have to cook and assemble but it is usually a 30 minute job. The best part is that they send you recipes and combinations that you otherwise would not think of or make. Even though it is a bit of hit-or-miss (about 60% of the recipes have been good so far), it does offer variety. We are sold and have signed up for a delivery every other week.

This recipe came a few weeks back and we loved it. Since the ingredients came pre-measured, I recreated it to the best of my abilities and it works pretty well. Since I was winging it, the quantities are approximate.

INGREDIENTS (for 4)

2 Naans (you can buy them at a grocery store)

Minced Garlic

Olive Oil

Veggies for Grilling – Cauliflower, Broccoli, Carrots, Red Onion, Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini – chopped into bite sized pieces

Minced herbs – I used Basil and Rosemary

Salt and Pepper

Greek Yogurt

Lemon

Sumac

STEPS

  1. Rub Olive Oil and Garlic on Naans and toast them till they just start to brown – about 2 mins. Set aside.
  2. Toss the veggies with some Olive Oil and salt and pepper and grill them.
  3. Toss the grilled veggies with herbs.
  4. Spoon the grilled veggies on top of the Naans and broil/grill them in the oven – about 2-3 mins (if high heat).
  5. Whisk some Greek Yogurt with Lemon juice (to taste).
  6. Top the veggies with yogurt and Sumac and serve with a salad (I served it with a Cranberry Kale Salad)

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Belgian Chocolate Report

Neuhaus Boutique in Sablon

Neuhaus Boutique in Sablon

June came and went and I realized that I have been remiss about posting on the blog. Apologies. We were on vacation and traveling overseas, hence the silence. Which brings us to this post. Our travels took us to Belgium, arguably the Beer and Chocolate capital of the world. We will focus on Beer in a subsequent post. Chocolates is what we will talk about in this one.

For many of us, Belgium and Switzerland are often spoken of in the same breath as being the center of the Chocolate universe. Godiva (pronounced “Go-dee-vah” in Belgium) and Lindt  to a lesser degree, have boutiques in just about every major metropolitan area in the world. What we discovered though, is that there is a whole separate universe beyond the mass-marketed brands like the aforementioned two, whose products aren’t even in the same category, they are just in a completely different league, in a good way, I might add.  Having lived in Switzerland, I can further attest that, for aficionados, there really is no comparison between Swiss and Belgian Chocolate. The Belgian kind is the gold standard. My wife was born in Belgium and grew up there, so we had some familiarity with Belgian chocolate. Think Godiva, Cote d’Or, Leonidas and Guylian. So before we traveled, we researched our options.

There was an excellent article in the New York Times that became our guide (link here). Armed with this knowledge, we traveled to Brussels.

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The sweet shop is an essential part of human civilization – whether it is the Baklava shops in the Middle East, the Mithaiwallas in the Indian sub-continent or the Chocolatiers in Europe. As somebody who grew up in India surrounded by people with a sweet tooth, there were quite a few parallels one noticed between the Belgian Chocolatiers and the Mithaiwallas of India. The good ones relied on great ingredients, had products that were made in small batches (or made to order) and the products had to be consumed fast.

In Belgium there is clear differentiation between the chocolate for the masses (Cote d’Or and Galler to name a couple), the chocolate for the more discerning (Godiva, Neuhaus) and the absolute high-end (Marcolini, Mary etc). Some of the brands like Neuhaus straddle both the mid and high-end of the market. In terms of price, this translates to paying about $1.50/100gm on the lower end to all the way to about $10/100gms on the high-end. The other big difference is that the mass marketed chocolate lasts longer because of preservatives and additives whereas the high-end chocolate is “purer” and meant to be consumed quickly.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

The two areas of Brussels we did most of our sampling at were the area around Grand Place and the Sablon area. Both are excellent places to sample a number of different styles of chocolate in a short distance. Another point to note, is that, without exception, everything we had was phenomenal. So our likes and dislikes are without a doubt, based on personal preference more than the quality of the chocolate itself. Without further ado and in the order of our sampling the chocolates, here goes.

Elisabeth

Wandering around the Grand Place area brought us to Elisabeth. There was a Godiva and a Galler boutique across from it. Ultimately, our kids picked this one as our first stop. This was a great introduction to artisanal chocolate. Creamy ganache and melt-in-your-mouth chocolates and absolutely phenomenal fruit jellies is how I remember this one.

Pierre Marcolini

Marcolini is somewhat of a rockstar of Belgian chocolatiers. A number of our Belgian friends put his chocolates at the top of our list so we had to try him. He is known for a couple of things – one, the use of exotic ingredients (Coffee Beans from places like Venezuela, Cuba and Madagascar, Cardamom from India etc) and the size of his pralines compared to his competition. The pralines are noticably smaller and meant to be eaten in one or two bites. The chocolate was excellent but we realized this was not to our taste.

Mary

In one word, stunning. We had never heard of Mary till the NYT article. They make small batches and are a supplier to the Royal Belgian Court. They ended up as our personal favorite, we couldn’t have enough. We brought back some but clearly not enough.

Neuhaus

Neuhaus is a known name and for good reason. Their shops are known for their quirky, Magritte inspired decor but their claim-to-fame is that Jean Neuhaus Jr invented the praline. Excellent choice, you can’t go wrong here. These were our second favorite.

Frederic Blondeel

This was a recommendation from the NYT article and they were also very good. They are known for their chocolates that use coffee. They seemed to have a smaller selection of pralines but everything we had was excellent.

Leonidas

This is one of the best known and loved brands for a good reason, they are uniformly excellent and relatively affordable. You can’t go wrong with these. Best of all, these are readily available in many countries around the world.

Galler and Cote d’Or

These are brands that are available at the grocery store. Both of these are streets ahead of the Hersheys, Nestles and Cadburys you might be used to. If you are looking to buy chcolates for friends and family and are shopping on a budget, you can’t go wrong with either (though my vote would be for Galler).

We loved Brussels – the city, the people, the beer, the chocolate and the waffles, among other things. Since there are over 500 chocolatiers in Brussels alone, we simply scratched the surface. A chocolate lover could keep coming back to Belgium again and again, and still not do it justice. Speaking for ourselves, Belgium is just too delicious a destination to stop with one visit. We’ll be back.

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Stuffed Tomato Curry

Stuffed Tomato Curry

Stuffed Tomato Curry

In all honesty, I had forgotten about this dish altogether, though it was such a part of my life growing up. When I was a kid, this was the dish that was pulled out when we were having company over or for a special meal at festival. Years have passed since then and gradually, this dish took a deeper and deeper place in the pantry of my mind to where it was largely forgotten. Till last weekend.

My sister and my brother-in-law were visiting us from overseas and she wanted to cook for us. The dish that she wanted to make and was justifiably proud of, was this very dish. Having a chance to eat this after so many years, I, of course, jumped at the chance and so she made it. It was good. Very good. And kind of like the food critic eating Ratatouille, in the eponymous movie, it took me back to my childhood. Here it is, based on what I could gather from watching my sister cook.

INGREDIENTS (for 6-7 Stuffed Tomatoes)

6-7 Medium Sized Roma Tomatoes

For the Stuffing

1 tsp cooking oil (I use EVOO)

1 Medium Potato – Boiled

1/2 cup Frozen Peas

1/2 tsp Dried Mango Powder (Amchur)

1/4 tsp Red Chili Powder

Salt

For the Gravy

1 1/2 Medium Onions

1 Medium Tomato

1 inch piece of Ginger – peeled

4-5 small Garlic Cloves

1 Tbsp Oil (I use EVOO)

1 tsp Coriander Powder

1/2 tsp Turmeric

1 Tbsp Garam Masala

1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder

Salt

Some Cilantro to garnish

STEPS

1. Cut a small “cap” in Roma Tomatoes and core them, preserving the shape and structural integrity. Keep the pulp from the inside.

2. Mash the potatoes and mix the spices and and the peas in it.

3. In a frying pan, heat the oil and pan fry the potatoes till the freshness of the spices have gone and the peas are thawed. About 10 minutes. You can add some chopped cilantro to the potatoes.

4. Fill the hollow tomatoes with this stuffing and put the “cap” back on. You may want to use toothpicks to keep the lid in place. Set aside.

5. To prepare the gravy, blend the onion, tomato, ginger and garlic till it is smooth. Add a little water if needed.

6. In a saucepan, heat 1 Tbsp of oil and stir in the blended paste from step 5.

7. Add the other spices, and the pulp from the cored tomatoes and let it cook on low heat till the fat starts leaving the masala.

8. Add the stuffed tomatoes to the gravy, adjust water to achieve a nice thick consistency of the gravy and cook covered till the tomatoes just start shedding their outer skin.

9. Top with some chopped cilantro and serve hot with an Indian bread of your choice.

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Homemade Waffles

Homamade Waffle

Homamade Waffle

Our kids love waffles for breakfast. Our regular go-to source was Costco, specifically the Kirkland brand frozen waffles. However, a while back one of our friends told us that in the interest of not adding unnecessary chemicals to her kids’ diet, she had started making waffles from scratch and was loving the result. The idea was intriguing but since I didn’t have a waffle maker and not wanting to buy one (being the cheap Desi that I am), it was shelved in some far recess of my mind.

Fast forward a few months and I happened to be at Bed, Bath and Beyond with a 20% off coupon. There was a reasonably priced Cuisinart that was calling my name. So I bit the bullet and purchased it. After a few delicious experiments, I chanced upon the recipe below that was a winner. Easy to make and absolutely delicious. We are NOT going back to frozen waffles any time soon!

Here you go (recipe here). Enjoy.

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