A Hearty Start: Sukhe Kaale Chane

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

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.

Baby Dear wakes up beady eyed at the crack of dawn, jumps out of his bed and sprints to our room yelling, ‘It’s the weekend!’. And then THUD! He plops himself comfortably under our sheets, 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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A Simple Feast: Paneer Methi Matar

Recipe for Paneer Methi Matar, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

The Indian festive season has begun, and kitchens all over the country have been buzzing with activity. Mine is no different. I’ve spent the past few days planning and re-planning our menus. I remember a time when not too many years ago when Hubby Dear and I would throw lavish Diwali parties. We’d have an extensive menu which would have me begin the cooking process a day or two in advance. Those were the days!

For the last few years however, we’ve both seem to have wanted to slow down a bit during the holidays. It’s not that we do not make a big deal about celebrating, we just prefer to have it low-key with family and some of our closest friends. But does this mean we skimp on the food? Of course not! I could never live with myself if I did. The cooking still continues in full swing. We generally tend to have a very light breakfast, and I cook up a storm for our Diwali lunch. Dinner will typically vary between different kinds of snacky or finger food while we all sit down to a competitive game of cards.

Last year I went a bit nuts in trying to create a buffet of various Indian street food. Although I turned into a headless chicken trying to get a dozen things on the table at the same time, each piping hot and ready to serve, it sure was fun experience. On the menu, we had Samosas, Corn Chaat, Dal Kachoris with Chana Masala, Ragda Tikkis and Dahi Puris to simply name a few. (Yes, there was much more than this on our table. Much, much more.)

This year, I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of having everyone huddled around the buffet table, I want us all to sit down to a nice, homely, festive family meal. So on our Diwali menu this year will be: Methi Matar Malai (recipe follows), Dal Makhani, Bharwaan Bhindi, Baingan Patiala, Jeera Pulao, Garlic Naan, Beetroot Raita and Salad. Simple, wholesome, and absolutely delicious! So… what’s on your Diwali menu this year?

Here’s wishing all my wonderful readers a very happy and tasty festive season!

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Quick, Simple Meal Ideas: Shrimp Sambal

Recipe for Shrimp Sambal taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

I recently received an email from a mom who wanted a few well balanced meal ideas that would cook in 30 minutes or less. When it comes to prepping and planning our weeknight dinners, here’s the guide I follow – pick a veggie, a protein and a carb. Then follow tried and tested family favourite recipes, that you can cook with one hand tied behind your back and you will never fail at putting a delicious meal on the table.

Our weeknight dinners are for the most part, simple, quick meals. For our protein I generally opt for a quick curry style wherein I know that after the initial 8-10 minutes of chopping, sautéing and seasoning, I can then leave it to simmer and trust that the dish will come together with no more baby-sitting on my part. Veggies are great roasted or as a quick stir-fry, or just chopped and thrown into a salad. Top this with some rice, bread or any other grain of choice and you’re done! Here are few meal combinations that I often fall back on, that come together with minimal effort and time:

Meal Option A:
Dahiwali Chicken Curry
Alu Palak
– Rice

Meal Option B:
Roast Veggie Pesto Pasta
– Salad
– Garlic Bread

Meal Option C:
Egg Curry
Mushroom & Peas Pulao
– Salad / Raita

Meal Option D:
Tadka Dal
Matar Paneer
– Rotis / Rice

Meal Option E:
Chana Masala
Jeera Pulao
– Salad

Meal Option F:
Chilli Tofu
Nasi Goreng

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram (and if you’re not, then what are you waiting for?), you’ll know that I often post pics of what we eat for dinner. You’ll also notice that at least once every 7-10 days, our dinner includes some form of Sambal (mostly egg or shrimp), a stir-fried veggie and rice. And the sole reason for this is because it is one of Baby Dear’s favourite meals. What can I can say, the kid loves robust flavours.

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Crunch for Time: Potato Masala Melts

Recipe for Potato Masala Melts taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

A grilled cheese sandwich was one of the first big people finger foods I introduced to Baby Dear when he started to show an interest in feeding himself. I figured that if I could stuff a bunch of veggies, protein and some healthy fat in the form of delicious cheese between two slices of whole grain bread, and have him eat it with gusto, then it was win-win for us both! Of course, it worked like a charm. Even today, these kinds of warm sandwiches are always my fall back option when I’m in a crunch for time and need to get something healthy and filling on table, pronto.

I personally love a grilled cheese sandwich for the fact that they can easily fit into any meal of the day – as Rachael Ray would say, they’re a perfect candidate for B-L-D. They’re also so versatile – fill in anything and everything you have, top it off with cheese and grill till warm and crisp. I always have a few different kinds of cheese and bread in my fridge/freezer, and you’ll find us enjoying sandwiches fresh from the griddle at least once a week.

It’s funny that now when I look back and think about it, I seem to have served some form of warm sandwiches every time I had a crowd to feed and a short notice to do so. We busted out the griddle when my bff decided to spend the night with us on a whim after her husband left on a business trip. We had to make a quick run to the corner store at midnight once when we all craved something warm during a movie marathon weekend. And I also remember making an insane number of them at Hubby Dear’s 30th Indian street food themed birthday bash.

A few days ago, as I did some cleanup on the site and started to organize my recipe list, it suddenly occurred to me that in all of these years of cooking and blogging about it, I had, not even once written about this humble and yet, amazingly satisfying dinner option. I made a mental note right there that I just had to get it done soon. This recipe is one of my personal favourites. It uses everything you might have in your fridge, freezer or kitchen pantry. To get more creative and introduce Baby Dear to new lunch ideas for when he starts school soon, I left them open-faced and shoved them into the toaster oven to melt and crisp. Do as  you please and add/omit ingredients as you like, keep it open-faced or slap another slice of bread on top. Afterall, a sandwich is nothing if not flexible. So here it is, as promised!

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Indian Food: E is for… Egg Curry

Recipe for Egg Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back, but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

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On days when I am absolutely out of groceries (which is very, very rare – I must admit), you can still find onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and eggs in my kitchen. This is because I go in panic mode when I’m running short on any one of these items and stock up on them regularly. I consider these ingredients to be my holy grail of cooking and with them in tow, a quick, nutritious and tasty meal is never far behind. Eggs are as versatile in Indian cooking as is the humble potato.  It takes well to any kind of flavor combinations and is the perfect solution to a time crunch. There are as many versions of Egg Curry as there are home cooks – each with its own special touch.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is nothing out of the ordinary. But trust me, it is good. Really good! Its one of the simplest ways I make a curry – everything blended, no chopping required, and ingredients thrown into a pan one after the other and left to create its own magic. I can’t even begin to count the number of times this very recipe has come to my rescue. Be it as a broke college student who needed some homemade nourishment, a busy freelancer strapped for time, or a frazzled mom of a sick, clingy toddler who needed to get dinner on the table pronto. Throw in a couple cups of rice in the rice cooker or a few naans in the oven to warm up, make a huge chopped salad and call it a balanced meal. Last minute guests? Crack open that bottle of Chardonnay and you have a party!

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Curry in a Hurry: Homestyle Chicken Curry

Recipe for Homestyle Chicken Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Chicken Curry to me is one of those no-fail comfort foods that never cease to please. They can be made in a million ways, each tasting dramatically different from the other, yet instill that familiar warmth and coziness that only comes with eating food that’s been cooked with love. It doesn’t matter how many times I cook my chicken in the curry form – it rarely ever tastes the same. This itself, to me adds that extra oomph.

A few weekends ago, we met up with some close friends of ours after what seemed like ages. After a hearty meal at one of our favourite restaurants, we cajoled them over to our home for coffee and cake. Don’t you just love it when friends feel like family and you never know how time goes by with them around? Well, before we knew it, the coffee mugs were loaded into the dishwasher, the cake crumbs swept cleaned, and Hubby Dear cracked open a bottle of wine. I laid out a platter of assorted crackers and some cheese (call me insane, but I always seem to have atleast 4 different varieties of cheese in my fridge!) and began slicing and dicing for a quick dinner.

Dinner. On a whim. For guests. NO. BIG. DEAL.

Of all things I’m OCD about, I pride myself in always having a full fridge and pantry – full enough to whip up a meal for at least 10 people at the drop of a hat. Yes, I’m that person! We once invited a big group of friends over for a BBQ dinner after a day at the beach. We had enough meat, veggies and sides for a hearty meal that was enjoyed by all. All they needed to pick up on the way over was a tub of ice cream for dessert. I refrain from stocking up desserts since I seldom can control myself from eating it all!

Coming back to that weekend I was telling you about, I decided to make this quick home-style rustic Chicken Curry alongside some Pulao and a huge salad. The meal came together quickly and perfectly. This recipe is perfect for times when you want a quick, no-fuss hearty dish. The ingredients are chopped, thrown in the pan one after the other, and the end result comes out lip-smacking good. What can I say, when in doubt – always make a curry!

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Indian Food: D is for… Dhabewali Dal Tadka

Recipe for Dhabewali Dal Tadka, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Over six years ago when I first introduced the Intro to Indian Food series of this very blog, I had no idea I was about to start a cult following. What started as a simple desire to help a few of my friends and readers learn the basics of Indian cooking, enabling them to enjoy good food cooked in the comforts of home using fresh, readily available, and healthy ingredients, turned out to be one of THE best decisions I ever made in my writing/blogging career. The series was soon picked up by The Mississauga News as a monthly feature in their food section. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of emails and comments on those posts from folks eager to learn more, much more, about Indian food. And it has been a true pleasure for me responding to each and every one of those queries.

I’ve been reading through a lot of feedback from you guys on the kind of content you’d like me to showcase more of on HoH. Let me just say that I have a couple of fun features/ideas that should take off soon that I’m sure you’ll enjoy very much. One of them that makes me giddy with excitement is a spin off from my Indian 101 series. I know that a lot of you have asked me to bring that back, but I think I can offer you something a step further. Join me, as I cook my way from A to Z of Indian Food. Each post in this series will showcase a recipe of a dish that begins with a letter from the alphabet. I’ll try my best to pick a variety of vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan recipes – both restaurant favourites, and simple home cook secrets.

MORE POSTS ON INDIAN FOOD: A-Z

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

Road trips in India are whole different ball game altogether when compared to those in North America. Driving conditions are worlds apart, and not to mention, traffic rules are seldom followed by the book. But while families in the western part of the world make pit-stops at fast food chains and greasy diners for meals while driving, those in India look forward to long relaxed lunches (also quite greasy, to be fairly honest!) at one of the gazillion road side restaurants called dhabas along the highway. Dhabas are India’s version of the 24/7 diner – food is made fresh to order, the menu is extensive, and you’ll served huge portions of food anytime of day – almost always, with a generous pat of butter on top!

While I’ve not as yet taken as many road trips in India as I would’ve like to, I have had my fair share of dhaba experiences. You see, so popular and charming are these quaint little eateries, that a lot of times people just head out along the main highways to simple enjoy a meal. If you ever find yourself at a dhaba, with no clue on how to get started with your meal, always opt for either the stuffed parathas, dal, or any dry spicy chicken dish they have on offer. If you’re willing to treat yourself to a food celebration and wish to go an extra mile – order all three! Dhabas are well known for these dishes and I’ve never to one who screwed up on any of them.

Dal served at a dhaba is like no other and I believe is a must to experience when in India. Its always perfectly spiced, with just the right amount of heat and tang, and often comes to the table with a thick slick of oil on top. But nonetheless, its THE perfect accompaniment with naans or rotis, to be dunked and slurped. My recipe today is anything but. However, you still get the delicious array of flavours without the added hike to cholesterol levels. So enjoy it, guilt free until the next time you find yourself hungry on the road in India – then of course, you’ll know exactly what to do!

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Cooking for Kids: Indian-style Spaghetti

Recipe for Indian-style Spaghetti taken from www.hookedonheat.com

A few days ago, I logged into my emails and was met by this request from a long time reader:

Hi Meena,

My son is turning 6 in a couple of weeks and all he wants for his birthday this year is to have a sleepover with 3 of his best friends. While I’ve already planned a trip to his favourite fast food joint with his friends for lunch on his special day, I’m so confused on what to cook for them for dinner. My son is quite adventurous when it comes to food and will generally eat pretty much whatever I offer him. I’m not quite sure about the others though. I’ve spoken to their moms and was promised that neither of them are fussy eaters, but I’m still a bit nervous about cooking for growing boys. I know that I can never go wrong with pizzas or burgers, but honestly, I’d like to serve them something more wholesome and healthy. Also, Indian flavours will be of high priority since two of them are not too fond of continental food. Please HELP!

Thanks in advance,

Shilpa

Well Shilpa, what can I say… I hear ya!

Since the last few months, we’ve had quite a few playdates at home for Baby Dear. It works splendidly for us since we get to entertain our friends and the kids get to create havoc (or play, as they like to believe) in the comforts of our home. Cooking for these kind of get-togethers started out as being a challenge for me, but I’ve learned to get quite creative with my menus. To begin with, I never wanted to have separate menus for the adults and kids; unless of course, I had planned something extra spicy. Baby Dear has always eaten the same food we do, sometimes, if needed, adapted to suit his taste and liking. When cooking for young kids, here’s one thing I like to keep in mind always: Anything and everything, even nuggets and burgers, can be made healthy for kids to enjoy. I make these Tandoori Chicken Pops in the form of nuggets and they’re always enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

Pasta is usually a hands down winner with kids and can easily be customized to suit anyone’s palate. I love to add a variety of veggies and forms of protein to up the nutritional value of the meal. You can easily experiment with different flavours and cooking styles and come up with a recipe that your friends and family will enjoy. I recently served this Indian-style Spaghetti at a recent casual  dinner I hosted. It went superbly well alongside a large mixed salad, some crusty cheesy garlic bread and a whole lot of wine. For your son’s dinner though, I’d advice skipping the wine altogether!

Here’s what I suggest you serve your tiny guests and the special birthday boy for dinner:

Tandoori Chicken Pops (made in the form of bite-sized nuggets)
Cheesy Garlic Bread
Indian-style Spaghetti (recipe follows)
Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake (a birthday calls for cake every day of the week!)

I’m sure your son and his friends will enjoy this recipe. Its packed with protein and veggies, and if you use high fiber whole grain pasta, then its as healthy as can be. Here’s wishing your little man a very happy birthday!

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Over Rain & Coffee: Palak Pakodas

Recipe for Palak Pakodas taken from www.hookedonheat.com

A couple of days ago, I found myself in a rare moment. I was alone at home, it was pouring cats and dogs outside, and I had my favourite book in hand. The first thought that came to my mind? A cup of steaming hot coffee and some crispy pakodas would seal the deal right there! Monsoons, or the rainy season in India, is always greeted with open arms alongside copious amounts of chai and pakodas. For me though, tea has never been the caffeine of choice. I’m a java girl all through – so much so, that I’ve even converted the once tea-loving Hubby Dear who now swears that his morning can’t begin without a sip of coffee! But pakodas? I believe that rainy days and deep fried food can make any Indian swoon at the combination!

Pakodas come in all shapes and sizes and can be made with almost anything you can imagine – so let your mind run wild! Some of the classic ones include dunking bite-sized veggies like potatoes, cauliflower, chilli peppers, onions and eggplant into a thick batter of chickpea flour and spices. Another street vendor favourite is the stuffed bread pakoda that’s made by coating a spiced mashed potato sandwich in the batter before deep frying. I’ve even once, a long time ago, tried some chicken pokodas – the meat was deliciously tender and delicately seasoned.

Since the past few years, we have an unwritten but understood rule in the kitchen – no deep fried foods except for very, very special occasions. Like Puris on Diwali. Or Gobi Manchurian on Hubby Dear’s b’day week. And pakodas, when I just can’t stop thinking about them! We love pakodas of any kind, but are definitely much more partial to the ones with spinach and onions. These babies are best enjoyed piping hot dunked into some spicy chutney, or just good ol’ tomato ketchup.

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Warming Tones: Chilli Paneer

Recipe for Chilli Paneer taken from www.hookedonheat.com

What is it with the weather lately? One week it’s super hot, then it’s rainy and now it’s back to having me want to spend my day under the covers with umpteen cups of coffee and a good book. The recipe I have for you today, namely Chilli Paneer, is perfect for this slightly chilly, damp weather. It’s quick, tasty and fits the bill in giving you that warm, cozy feeling in your tummy on a day like this.

I shared my recipe of Chilli Paneer on this blog many years ago, but decided to update you with another one today since I’ve now changed the way I make it for us at home. Chilli Paneer is a crowd favourite that pleases adults and kids alike. You’ll probably find it on any Indo-Chinese menu as the vegetarian companion to Chilli Chicken. Don’t you just love it when different cultures come together and produce a lip-smacking plate of food. Almost like a perfect marriage.

In India, Chinese food is nothing like what you get, well, in China. It’s loaded with chillies, garlic, ginger, onions, a ton of various spices and a generous splash of soy sauce to finish off! Hubby Dear fondly tells me of the first time he walked into an authentic Chinese restaurant in Canada craving his regular favourites – Chilli Paneer, Gobi Manchurian and Pepper Chicken. Not only was he disappointed to find out that they didn’t serve either of these, but that whatever he ordered, lacked the familiarity of so-called Chinese dishes that he was used to back in India. It was only much later that he learned that restaurants serving Indianized Chinese food did exist and here in the GTA, they are often referred to as Hakka joints. We do have our go-to Hakka places that we like to venture into a few times a month, but for the most part, I prefer making these dishes at home. That way, I can easily control the sodium and spice level that goes into it. Not to mention, my home-cooked recipes are very rarely deep fried, not laden with copious amounts of oil and equally, finger-lickin’ good.

I urge you to try this recipe if you’re new to Indo-Chinese food. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of this amazing cuisine, then what’s your excuse to not get cooking?
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