Mango Mania: Spicy Mango Salsa

As a kid growing up in Kuwait, I remember eating mangoes in abundance during the summer months. For the entire months of April-June, our king-sized fridge would have a whole shelf dedicated to this princely fruit. My Dad would buy them by the boxes at the beginning of each week, and we just could never get enough of them.

Pic for Spicy Mango Salsa taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Unlike kids in India, we only had access to the Alphonso mango, a variety considered to be one of the best in sweetness and taste. So it came as a big surprise to me when I was introduced to the many other varieties of mango in the couple of years we stayed in India during the 1st Gulf War. I had no idea that this delicious fruit came in many different sizes, shapes, colour and most importantly, flavour. Mangoes in India are a treasured fruit, and used extensively and creatively in both sweet and savoury ways. I have to admit that even after all these years, and after all the varieties I’ve tried and tasted, the Alphonso still happens to be my favourite.

I couldn’t help myself a few weeks ago when I spotted them on my weekly grocery trip. Although the season was just beginning and they almost cost me a small fortune, I knew I HAD to have them. I picked a dozen of the most sweet-smelling and juicy-feeling ones that I could find and rushed home, eager to chill them for a couple of hours. For those not in the know, a sweet luscious mango is best enjoyed cold. Once our lunch was done, I pulled out three from my fridge, peeled and chopped them into slices and placed the platter in front of Hubby and Baby Dear. The plate was cleared in seconds! It was our way of realizing that summer was almost here.

A few days ago, I received an email from Naina, a long-time reader asking me for a recipe using mangoes. I knew instantly that this Mango Salsa was what I needed to share. It’s been our staple snack almost every evening since the last few days. I first made it on a whim last summer when we had friends coming over for a playdate and dinner. I had asked Hubby Dear to have a taste of it, as is noted in his job description of in-house taste-tester, and he loved it. So much so, that we ended up eating the whole bowl and I had to put up salsa instead with the chips when our friends arrived. Since then, this recipe is a sure shot every time I have mangoes in the fridge. We like it spicy, but if you don’t then simply leave out the jalapenos. It’s lip-smacking good either way!

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In Spite of Spice: Egg Biryani

I always get asked by other moms how and when I introduced Baby Dear to spicy food. The truth is, I never did. It is widely known in our family and friends circle that Baby Dear shies away from spicy food. It is also understood, however, that the kid will eat anything that’s tasty. Anything. Even if does happen to fall on the hotter side.

Pic for Egg Biryani taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

This kind of erratic behavior of his reminds me of this one particular incident back when I was in college. It was the peak of summer, and although our classes were out, some of us still went in to work on the various projects we had to complete before the school year ended. I, of course, was one of them. On this particular day, I had planned to spend the entire day at the lab and told my mom that I wouldn’t be coming home for lunch. But one thing led to another, and I surprised her at the door with my sweaty, irritated-with-the-sweltering-heat, and absolutely-famished-dying-of-hunger self.

Since Mom wasn’t expecting me to share the meal, she had made it extra spicy – being the chilli fanatic that most true bred Malays are known to be! Needless to say, lunch for me was unbearable. My mouth felt like it was in flames and I filled myself with jugs of water. Even more irritated, and being the spoilt brat that I was, I stomped off into my room and went to nap. My Mom felt so bad, that she woke me up a while later, and handing me some money, asked me to go out and get myself a boat load of chaat from down the street. Now for those that know me personally, can vouch for the fact that I can eat chaat anytime, anywhere, no matter how spicy! And spicy I did eat. One sniff of my plate had my mom reeling in anger. Of course, the chaat was way spicier than the lunch she had cooked. I’m still reminded of this incident every time I question her on how many chillies she’s added to her curry.

Like they often say, the apple doesn’t fall too far away from the tree. It’s the same with Baby Dear and his Biryani. A platter of the spiciest Biryani from the nearby Pakistani joint gets devoured with glasses of water. But heaven forbid he sees a couple of deseeded pieces of chilli floating in my Dal, he runs miles away, never to even attempt to eat it again!

This Biryani recipe is something that Mom and I created together when she was visiting. My Mom makes one of the best Biryanis I’ve ever had, but her method is a tedious and long one. We wanted to come up with something quick and simple that would make it easy to give into Baby Dear’s frequent craving.

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A Kickin’ Affair: Chicken Kebabs

Hubby Dear and me are huge fans of kebabs, the chicken kebab being our favourite. These bite-sized succulent chunks of meat, delicately spiced and dunked into some chutney or even simply ketchup, can make us swoon and forgo a 6-course meal altogether. Hence, it comes as no surprise that while I was pregnant with Baby Dear we ate kebabs quite often. There was a running joke that whenever either one of us would say the word kebab, Baby Dear would do a somersault. Which we kinda believed to be true since the mere mention of the word would invite some movement from the wee one nestled inside me!

Pic for Chicken Kebabs taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Because it was the peak of summer, we relied out our BBQ grill a lot. Almost every weekend, we’d have friends over. They’d bring the sides, and we’d serve up a generous platter of kebabs. It was never too much trouble really; I would marinate the meat in a blend of yogurt and a mix of spices in the morning, set it to cool and soak in the flavours in the fridge throughout the day, and slap them on the grill come party time. Our guests were happy, and I hardly spent more than mere minutes prepping the meal. Win-Win for all.

Although this worked out extremely well and produced the most tender, succulent and juicy kebabs I’ve made, I would secretly wish that I’d made a platter of keema kebabs as well, to munch on. Keema kebabs are the bite-sized patties made mainly with ground meat. They really are not that hard to prep for a party, and I do it quite often now. But for a heavily pregnant me, who hated to be on her feet for too long, frying these babies up for a large hungry group seemed like such a daunting task. But not anymore! I tend to buy my meats in bulk for a few weeks at a time, and I always reserve a portion of ground chicken for us to indulge in these.

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Ask Meena: Alu Beans

Here is a recent email I received from a reader:

Hi Meena,

I’m a vegan and have recently started trying my hand at cooking Indian food at home. I love the aromas and flavours that Indian cooking offers and it’s also one of the best cuisines I’ve enjoyed since becoming a vegan 3 years ago. I enjoy eating most vegetables, but potatoes just happen to be my absolute favourite. I will anything if there is even a slight trace of potato in it. I was wondering if you could share a few vegetable recipes that also include potatoes in them. Thanks in advance and keep those delicious recipes coming!

– Donna

Pic for Alu Beans taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Hey Donna! I completely agree with you that Indian food is definitely one of the best cuisines for a vegan/vegetarian to enjoy. The flavours are robust, varied and you have a million options to choose from! To be honest, I generally feel that potatoes often take the cake in Indian vegetarian cooking. It’s one of the cheapest vegetables found in India, and is a sure staple in many homes. It’s usually hard to find an Indian who does not enjoy the spud in some form or the other. So aren’t you in luck!

Since potatoes are great in taking on any flavorings added to them, you can easily get away with throwing in a few pieces to almost any dish that you cook. They work great when cooked with peas, carrots, cauliflower or any kind of greens that you fancy. This Alu Palak recipe is one such example. Below, is another quick recipe that works great as a side to some Dal and Rotis/Rice.

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Eggs in a Row: Indian Masala Omelette

The year I turned 15, my Mom decided it was time I learnt the basics of cooking. If nothing else, she figured I could at least make myself breakfast without having to yell for her when I was hungry. Like many Malay moms of her generation, she believed that to equip one’s offspring with the knowledge of how to cook an egg in at least three different ways would enable them to overcome all of life’s challenges. According to her, if you have eggs and a bowl of rice, you’re all set to have a hearty, somewhat nutritious meal even in the hardest of times. Hence, it was the dreaded egg that I was made to master before I could even think of trying my hand out with other ingredients.

Recipe for Indian Masala Omelette taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I kid you not when I say that during that one month, our daily consumption of eggs grew 10-fold. Not because we ate them all. Quite the contrary. Most of them landed on the floor, by my feet or on my clothes. Some however, did manage to make it into the mixing bowl – but not without a ton of crushed shell mixed in. You see, no matter how hard I tried, I could never manage to crack the egg without completely destroying it. In hindsight, I think the actual problem was that I was trying too hard – I literally banged the egg with all my might on the edge of the bowl instead of lightly tapping it. Well, in my defense, my light tap hardly ever caused a crack on the shell, so I tapped harder – which of course, led to disaster. Each. And. Every. Time.

It was a moment of triumph not just for me, but my mom as well, when I finally managed to crack the egg just right and break it open onto a hot pan. The sound of that sizzle meant that she didn’t have to set aside a separate budget for eggs anymore. I still look fondly to that very day when I fried an egg on my own. Since then, there was no stopping me; and although I didn’t actually begin to really start to cook until much, much later, eggs were something I knew I could make a delicious meal out of!

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Turning up the Heat: Baingan Bharta

If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, that I’d have to be lying. Truth be told, I seldom ever cook something that would have me whisking away for hours on end. Except of course, when I have company coming! Now that’s a whole different story altogether. Even then, I’m not spending all those hours on one single dish, but instead, I’m actually going nuts fussing over a minimum of five main courses. Yes, I get like that while entertaining. But the diligent licking of everyone’s fingertips and perplexed weight-watching souls worrying over whether to go in for seconds (thirds, actually) more than makes up for all the effort.

Recipe for Baingan Bharta taken from www.hookedonheat.com

When it comes to feeding family, I like to go more easy on myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy feeding loved ones with rich palate pleasing favourites, but I’d rather spend my time with them enjoying simple, yet equally delightful food made in minutes. A recent email from one of my readers posed a question I have been subjected to many a times. This compelled me to come all out talk about my regular at-home meals. She writes,

All your recipes appear as if they leaped out of glossy magazines. While many them are quite easy to follow, it’s hard to imagine myself cooking lavish meals every night. Do you really cook all these wonderful looking food on a daily basis?

Well, dear reader, all I can say is yes. Well almost. You see, most of my recipes, no matter how elegantly sounding, are actually very simple and wholesome; and ones that I turn to on a weekly basis. While it may seem daunting to someone not so in tune with Indian cuisine, it’s not at all that hard. Most dishes can be made in a matter of minutes, whereas others, that seem to call for buckets full of spices, may just take a tad bit more time. But yes, sometimes even an adventurous cook like myself, wants to take a break and reach out to the nearest pack of instant noodles. And it’s often in times like these that I faithfully turn to my repertoire of quick fixes. And these, I assure you dear reader, can be whipped up real quick. Literally in minutes!

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For the love of Curry: Chicken & Chickpea Curry

It’s funny how, when I look back now, it suddenly occurred to me how much Hubby Dear and I bonded over food during the start of our relationship. It took us a few weeks of regularly talking for hours on the phone before we actually had a chance to go out on our first date. There was nothing much we could do really, distance was what kept us apart. We were both studying in different cities, a couple of hours away from each other. When he did finally drive down to officially take me out for the first time, we spent the perfect day at the CNE. It was the first time either of us had been to it, and we’ve made it a ritual to visit every year since – now, with Baby Dear in tow.

Recipe for Chicken & Chickpea Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

That first date was a memorable one. Hubby Dear was shocked to learn that I could eat samosas anytime, anywhere and as many times as it was available to me. I too, learned a few things about him that fateful day. One of which, that I figured out the hard way of course, was that the man HATES to share his fries. Just as much as Joey honestly confessed on an episode of Friends that “Joey does NOT share food!“. Yea, fortunately for him, I decided to look past that trait and solely focus on the fact that he was ONE I could easily swindle a few designer bags from each year!

During the months we were dating long distance, Hubby Dear and I would take turns visiting each other every weekend. On the times when he would drive down to see me, we would often make sure to visit some of the countless little ethnic eateries that the GTA is so well known for. Whenever I would take the train into his quaint student town, we would make a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up a few essentials that would enable me to cook a few simple meals that he could eat for the rest of the week. This was undoubtedly after my first eventful cooking experience for him, after which he deemed me absolutely fit and capable of dishing out meals for him for the rest of his life!

To this day, almost 12 years in since we first met, the man still relishes my Chana Masala with as much gusto as he did the first time I made it for him. I however, still today, cannot stand it as much. Although I do love chickpeas in many ways and forms, Chana Masala does not quite top the list. So to keep us both happy and our tummies equally full, I often add in some variation – like the chicken I did today.

I’ve often heard that couples who’ve spent a long time together often change their tastes and habits to suit the other. For us, it was a matter of simply combining the two. It wasn’t hard to fuse my love for all things tasty with Hubby Dear’s undying addiction to all things edible. Truly, matches are made in Heaven, but I’d like to believe that ours was cooked up in a 5-star kitchen filled with everything a culinary goddess could only dream of having. For in a home where one finds it hard to understand how the other can own a few dozen handbags, and still find the need for more, the large pot of simmering curry is always something the two will always look forward to.

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Ask Meena: Keema Alu Matar

Here is an email I received over the weekend from a long time reader:

Hi Meena,

I was wondering if you could help me. My husband and I LOVE north Indian food and I’ve cooked many recipes of yours that have been huge hits with us. Now, I want to start introducing my two girls to the flavours we both so love. The thing is, they’ll eat almost anything with ground meat in it, and so I thought that starting them off with a dish of ground meat cooked in the Indian way might give me a positive response from them. Any chance you have a kid-friendly recipe that I could try out for them? We love chicken as a family, but ground beef and lamb would work for us too.

Karen

Recipe for Keema Alu Matar taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Well Karen, first off let me start by saying how pleased I am that you and your husband are enjoying my recipes cooked at home. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that someone stepped into their kitchen and cooked an Indian meal. Also, hats off to you for trying to introduce your kids to new flavours by bringing in something that they already enjoy. That’s a wonderful way to open them up to something different, yet similar.

Keema Alu Matar is wonderfully simple, yet comforting dish that you can definitely try out with your girls. It’s quite mild in taste, yet has a deliciously well-rounded robust flavor that is often expected from Indian food. It’s reminiscent of Chili or Sloppy Joe, and you can surely serve it alongside some bread to avoid diverting from familiarity all together. The addition of peas and potatoes should also go well with kids. I hope you give this recipe a try and I’d love to hear back on how the girls liked it.

Here are a few other recipes that might help in introducing kids to Indian flavours:

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Let’s Begin: Chicken Fried Rice

A very happy new year to all my fabulous readers! Here’s wishing that 2015 brings you and me tons of love, luck and joy!!

So, it’s January. A brand spanking new year. A wonderful new beginning. A chance to start fresh on clean slate. 2014 was a great comeback year for me. I felt motivated after attending my first ever blogging conference the previous summer. Baby was growing older, starting pre-school and that gave me the time to reconnect with my readers and dish out new recipes. 2015 promises to be better, brighter and much, much bigger for this blog of mine, so watch out for many fun, informative and interesting things coming up.

Recipe for Chicken Fried Rice taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing this blog and sharing my recipes with you all for the past 9 years. HoH will turn 10 (double digits… OMG!!!) in September of this year, and I promise you that this year will be THE best ever. So if you have any tips, suggestions, feedback or just want to say hello, please leave a comment and let’s get the conversation started. I love to hear from you and am always looking for ways on how I can help anyone get into the kitchen and start cooking!

I thought I’d begin the new year with a very simple, versatile and absolutely tasty recipe that’s perfect for a busy weeknight. Fried rice is something that I can make in my sleep with one hand tied behind my back. There are literally thousands of ways you can make fried rice and there’s no end to the creativity you can add to this humble home cooking staple.

Today’s recipe is a quick and simple Chicken Fried Rice that I like to make the day after I cook a Roast Chicken dinner. It’s a wonderful way to use up the little bits of leftover chicken. If you don’t have any leftover chicken, then feel free to use one that’s store bought or simple roast one chicken breast in the oven that’s been lightly seasoned with some salt, pepper and garlic powder. If you’re not a meat eater, then by all means leave it out – the dish will still be finger lickin’ good!

Leftover rice, cold from the fridge works best. If don’t have any on hand, then make sure you cook the rice and let it cool completely. What you want to avoid is warm rice that will clump up in the pan and become a soggy mess. So give this a try and let me know how you liked it. Personally, I like to serve this with some green beans sautéed with some garlic and a bit of Soy sauce.

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A Hearty Start: Sukhe Kaale Chane

Hubby Dear and me have always believed that sleeping is a sport, and ever since we got married, we have tried to outdo the other on how long we can sleep in over the weekends. Well, that was, of course, until Baby Dear was born. What can I say, the kid HATES to sleep – always did, and continues to do so. So while our entire neighbourhood wakes up leisurely on a Saturday morning and slowly begins their day pouring a glass of cold orange juice from the fridge, the three of us would be in the midst of planning out our lunch.

Recipe for Sukhe Kaale Chane, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Baby Dear wakes up beady eyed at the crack of dawn, jumps out of his bed and sprints to our room yelling, ‘Weekend’s here!’. And then THUD! He plops himself comfortably under our covers, rubs his tummy and asks the dreaded question, ‘What’s for breakfast guys?’

Breakfast has never been my thing. I wake up each morning with the desire of only a freshly brewed warm cup of coffee, and I’m roaring to go. Weekends, on the other hand, are slightly different. The three of us love starting our Saturdays with a big breakfast. Almost every other week, we find ourselves at some quaint little café digging into buttered toasts and eggs or warm maple syrup poured over pancakes, with copious amounts of coffee for us and milk or fresh juice for Baby Dear. Treating ourselves to breakfast out is definitely something we look forward to and cherish.

But on days like this past weekend, where the slow pitter-patter of raindrops splashed on our window and the gloomy weather made us want to put on warm fuzzy socks and snuggle on the couch, I love digging into my repertoire of special hot Indian breakfasts. Breakfast in India is always a big deal – be it any day of the week, and there is no dearth of options when it comes to a plate of piping hot healthy meals to start the day with. One of our family favourites  is this spicy stir-fry of tiny brown chickpeas, quite different in taste and texture from their larger white counterpart.

This is a perfect dish to make ahead and keeps well in the fridge for about a week or the freezer for a month. When ready to eat, simply heat it up and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Add your favourite hot beverage of choice, surround yourself with your favourite people, and you have a wonderful start to the perfect weekend!

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