Ask Meena: Quick, Healthy Weeknight Meal

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 4th, 2013 | 3 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

So… in my last post I had asked you all to come clean and tell me what you’d like me to write/change/do on the blog; and I loved reading all the comments and personal emails that I received from you. A lot of you (almost everyone that wrote in, actually) said that you’d like to see more frequent posts from me. And boy did I hear ya! I had just received my new Erin Condren planner a few days prior, and immediately set to work on my blog editorial calendar. I mapped out posts I have stockpiled as drafts, and dedicated days to developing, cooking and testing new recipes. So keep those emails and comments coming in and let me know what kind of recipes you’d like me to dish out. One of the emails I received came from Supriya, who had this to say:

Hi Meena, I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and have enjoyed a ton of your recipes. Many of them appear on my dinner table on a weekly basis and have become family favourites. Although I’m proud that my kids enjoy and readily eat almost anything I put on their plates, they’ve recently started to get a bit fussy when it comes to dinner. They’ve been requesting pasta a lot lately, and while I do indulge them most times, I’m not too happy about serving them a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs each week. I’d like to try something more whole with a ton of veggies. They do enjoy eggplant and spinach lasagna, but frankly I need something that is quick, simple and delicious! Can you help? An over-worked mom, Supriya

Well Supriya, first off, let me congratulate you on having such good eaters as kids. If your kids will readily relish a helping of eggplant and spinach lasagna – that’s half the battle won! Personally, I love having pasta on my weekly meal rotation as well. Let’s face it – it’s fast, easy, and with a little creativity, can be made wholesome as well. I made this recipe sometime ago for a surprise b’day party I threw Hubby Dear. It was one of the sides with the main Eggplant Parmesan dish I made. The crowd loved it, and needless to say, Hubby and Baby Dear as well! It’s quite easy to prep and can be enjoyed either warm or cold. I’ve made with various pasta shapes (macaroni being Baby Dear’s favourite, and rotini or penne, ours), and whatever veggies I have on hand. Give it a try, and I’m sure you and your family will keep asking for more!

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(RE)Thinking Green: Halloumi, Mango & Chickpea Salad

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 30th, 2013 | 3 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I’ve never been one to have salads as my main meal. For me, dinners always mean a well-rounded, balanced plate decorated with a serving of protein, a generous helping of vegetables and a side of carbs. Using this rule of thumb, I create fresh dinners for us almost every night. The theme, menu and flavours differ each night – but the essence often remains the same.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to spend a rare quiet Sunday huddle in a corner of our family room, equipped with my laptop and a large mug of steaming hot chocolate. It’s been so long since I made the time to just sit and read my favourite food blogs. I decided to start with some oldies that I have since lost touch with. Saffron Trail, One Hot Stove and Rasa Malaysia were once blogs that I would never miss reading each week. Blame it on a rambunctious toddler who seems to get into trouble every 5 minutes, or just me trying to put more on my plate than I can possibly manage; but somehow, I’ve missed visiting these sites for the past few months. And my, what a joy it was to revisit these old but gold friends! I came out that evening refreshed, full of new inspiration and more than a boat full of recipes bookmarked to try before this year ends in exactly three measly months!

One such recipe that I just had to run into the kitchen and give a go at was Nandita’s Curried Chickpea Salad with Mango – which she herself was inspired to make by Yotam Ottolenghi. It sounded absolutely delicious! I had planned on making Sloppy Joes that night for dinner, and this salad seemed like it would pair wonderfully with it. I used my own spin and made my version of the salad to suit mine, Hubby Dear’s and of course, the notorious Baby Dear’s tastes. I kid you not when I say that this kid knows good food. Following right in his mom’s footsteps I guess!

Here’s my version of the salad inspired by Nandita, who was inspired by the great Ottolenghi. Serve this along side a simple grilled chicken and some toasted garlic bread for a truly delicious, comforting meal.

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What to Cook: Quick, Simple Family Dinner

Written by Meena Agarwal on May 3rd, 2013 | 7 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I love getting emails from all of you, especially ones that request help with planning a menu. I’m a big advocate of hosting regular family-style dinner parties, and love to see others do the same. Here is an email I received from Dana a few days ago:

Hi Meena,

I have been following your blog for quite some while now and absolutely love it. You delight my foodie heart! :)

I am hosting a family party this weekend (there are around 6-7 of us) and I can’t think of a suitable menu. I’m keen on doing an Indian themed dinner, since we’re all into Indian food big time! I would prefer it to be healthy (with possibly, one “unhealthy” item) and without any naans/parathas/ rotis. I don’t want to sweat it out in the kitchen in this hot weather. If you any suggestions, they are very much welcome. Please help!!

Thanks so  much!

- Dana

Well Dana, what can I say. You spoke to my heart! Whenever I plan a meal for my closest friends or family, I always go for recipes that are simple, wholesome and delicious. Comfort food is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and not to mention pretty easy on the cook too, in most cases. 6 is a nice intimate number for a dinner party, and here is what I suggest:

For appetizers, you can never go wrong by laying out a platter of bite-sized treats. I would pick an assortment of Alu Dahi Puri, Corn Chaat, and Potato Parcels. If you’d like to keep it really simple however, then a tray full of piping hot Samosas served with Chutney will definitely please your guests. Most of these recipes are fairly easy to prepare and the Potato Parcels and Samosas can even be prepped a few days ahead, frozen, and fried fresh to serve. Just remember to thaw them out in the refrigerator overnight though.

For the main course, lay out a buffet to served family-style. My go-to combination always consists of one main curry like, Coconut-Lime Chicken Curry (recipe follows), or Lamb & Potato Curry, or Hot & Sour Fish Curry. Again, all these dishes are a breeze to cook and taste even better a day later. So they are all perfect candidates for cooking a day in advance!

You can then pick any dried vegetarian dish like, PaneerTak-a-Tak, Baingan Patiala, Masala Mushrooms, or Alu Palak; a lentil/bean dish like, Chana Dal Masala or Chana Masala; and top that off with a side of rice like, Mushroom & Peas Pulao.

Dessert can always be plain good ‘ol ice cream, or something fancier like, Gajar Halwa.

Hope this helps you Dana. I’d love to hear details on your party planning process. Happy cooking!

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The Art of Food: Gajar (Carrot) Halwa

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 16th, 2013 | 8 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I woke up this morning, a head bursting full of fresh ideas, inspiration and knowledge. I had just gotten back from a wonderful weekend spent with 100 people I’ve never met before, yet some I’ve felt like I’ve known since ages. We were all there for a purpose, some more focused than others. And the one common thread that strung us all together was our combined love for eating and sharing of food. It was the first ever Food Bloggers of Canada Conference, and I know it can’t be the last. It has open many more doors of opportunity and learning, and there can only be ways to climb up from that.

I tuck away my laptop neatly into my backpack. Alongside, I place my notebook, a sticky pad, some markers, a pencil and a pen. And the cookbook I’m currently reviewing. Yes, can’t leave without it. Ends of tiny sticky notes proudly display themselves from pages in between. Evidence that the book has been prodded, probed, and not to mention, picked and marked for its must-try recipes. Just as I’m about to step out the door, I decide to take my camera along as well. I walk the short distance to the cozy cafe around the corner. The air is crisp and birds chirp in almost a sing-song. Finally, signs of Spring. I find myself humming along only to realize a while later, that my IPod in still in its casing in the bag’s front pocket. The song I hear and hum along to must be in my heart then.

I order myself a large cup of Mint Hot Chocolate (the best I’ve had in a long, long time), and a muffin. As I grab my cup, I spot a cozy chair at the corner by the window. Perfect, I say to myself. I set up my laptop, open my notebook to a fresh page and take out my favourite pen. I comfortably settle on the plush leather chair and browse away on my laptop. I make notes as I sip on my drink and nibble at my muffin. It’s been so long since I did it this way that I’d forgotten how much I loved it.

Minutes went by, and before I knew it, I was getting messages from my stomach. I had hardly noticed that it was almost time for lunch. I had spent the past few hours working, just doing what I considered play. An old man walked up to me and asked if I was a writer. I beamed. It’s been long since I was asked that question. I smiled and said yes, along with a few other things. I’m a writer in a more broader sense of the word, I told him. I explained to him that I write about food, simple food, exotic food, everyday food. Food that brings us comfort and pleasure, and also about food in general. I take pictures of everything I cook and most of what I eat, I photograph moments and capture memories. I create and design and make things pretty. Yes, I like having pretty things to look at.

Well then, you must be a food-artist, he said as he smiled and trailed away. Food Artist. Is that what I am? Is there even such a thing? I’d never thought of it that way. A smile lingered on my face as I packed up my things. It was time to head to my kitchen.

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A Day in the Life: Quick Fried Rice

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 20th, 2013 | 1 Comment


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

As much as I’d like to show to the world what a Super Mom and Power Girl I am, having everything under control all of the time is far from it. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the days that Baby Dear is whisked off to daycare bright and early in the morning. These are the days where I can run errands, get most of my freelance work done and enjoy a cuppa ‘Joe with my feet up at 3PM. Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take it easy and have fun by going to the library for story time, watching a lot of Disney Jr., and just playing and doing mundane things around the house! Of course, no two days of mine are ever alike. Here is just a glimpse of what my Monday looked like:

7:45 – Drove Baby Dear off to daycare.
8:45-9:45 – Headed to the gym and worked out for an hour while watching CityLine.
10:00 – Took a shower, made the bed, started a load of laundry and prepared breakfast.
10:30-1:30 – Sat down to a working breakfast while catching up on emails and other blog related things on my to-do list.
1:30 – Made a quick bite to eat from last night’s leftovers and watched some Food TV.
2:00-3:00 – Quick clean up around the house, another load of laundry, checked on emails and a to-do list for tomorrow.
3:00-4:00 – Sat down to my afternoon cup of coffee with some delicious homemade chocolate-oatmeal cookies, while I worked on a few blog posts for the upcoming week.
4:00-4:30 – Prepped for dinner.
4:45 – Off to pick up Baby Dear while battling the crazy weather!
5:30 – Finally home, changed into jammies and settled Baby Dear with his toys while I prepped his dinner.
6:30 – Fed Baby Dear his dinner of Spinach Parathas, Dal and Baingan Bharta.
6:45-7:30 – Snuggled on the couch with Baby Dear; he watches some TV and I read a new cookbook I just received in the mail.
7:30 – Hubby Dear swoops in, Baby Dear jumps to greet his daddy and follows him upstairs to get changed while I heat up andset the table for dinner.
8:00 – We all sit down to a family dinner. Yes, Baby Dear is on dinner #2!
8:30-9:30 – Hubby Dear and Baby Dear are whisked away from the kitchen and spend some quality play time while I clean up the kitchen, pack Hubby Dear’s lunch and run the dishwasher. I almost never turn off the lights until my kitchen counters and sink are empty and clean; makes starting off the next morning so much more peacefully!
9:30 – We’re off upstairs to read Baby Dear his bed time story and tuck him in.
9:45 – We drag out feet to bed. Hubby Dear does a final check on his emails for the nightand I catch up on some TV or Youtube. We both then pick up our reading material of choice, he’s currently on a Sherlock Holmes kick and I go through my never-ending blog feeds. Within minutes, it’s lights off!

Wow! Just typing that out makes me want to take a nap. But it’s Wednesday today – Baby’s day out and Mommy’s day to attend her weekly cooking class. It’ll probably be mid-afternoon by the time I’m home and not much time left to prep a big dinner before I have to leave to pick up my ‘lil prince. Day like these are perfect for a quick one-dish meal that’s got a little of everything in it. This Fried Rice is what’s for our dinner tonight. This is another easy breezy recipe that hardly takes anytime at all and can be put together in minutes. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve cooked this up at the end of a long tiring day. And it never fails to please me!

So tell me, what do you feed your family on a busy day?

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From One to Another: Peanut Noodles

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 13th, 2013 | 3 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

I taught my first hands-on cooking class last night at one of the amazing LCBO kitchens. The class was called ‘Tasty Bites’, and comprised of mainly finger foods and appetizers – my absolute favourite kind of meal! Some of the recipes we worked on during the class included Skewered Chicken Tikkas with Raita, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips, Mint Kebabs with Tatziki and the ever-so-popular Ginger-Chilli Shrimp served along side a Tangy Corn Salsa.

Throughout the class, as I was giving tips and tricks on how to cook a quick, healthy and delicious meal on a busy weeknight, it suddenly dawned on me that it would be very easy to turn any one of the recipe pairings being taught in the class into a complete and nutritious meal. For example, the Mint Kebabs could be rolled into a pita with a dollop of Tatziki and some lettuce and tomato, to make a delicious Mediterranean-inspired sandwich. The Chicken Tikkas could be served along side some rice and Raita, for a delicious Indian flair. Throw in some chopped cucumbers and tomatoes into the Corn Salsa, top it with the Shrimp and you’ll have a filling and tasty salad in a jiffy. The best though, is that each and every recipe does not take more than 30 minutes from start to finish – prep time included!

It was fun watching the guests getting busy in their work stations, eager to perfect the recipe picked out for their respective table. I’ve taught a number of cooking classes, all in the format of a demonstration, but never a hands-on where the students follow the recipes and make it themselves. All in all, it was fun time had by all – the food was devoured, cooking techniques were learnt and perfected, wine was paired with every course, and I came home with a happy heart. And a rumbling tummy.

Taking cue from all the wisdom I had just shared mere minutes ago, I decided to whip myself a big bowl of yumminess. The noodles were set to boil while the sauce warmed up in the microwave and the veggies were being chopped. 20 minutes in, I was snuggled on the couch with my feet up, enjoying my well-deserved hot dinner.

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The Working Cook: Masala Macaroni

Written by Meena Agarwal on January 29th, 2013 | 6 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, I’d have to be lying. Quite the contrary, 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 and unfortunately for Hubby  and Baby Dear it has only worsened over the years. 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.

When it comes to feeding my 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, especially now that you have a baby at home?

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 bucketfuls 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!

This recipe will prove my point exactly. It’s a definite crowd pleaser – appealing to adults and toddlers alike! I like to add in a huge salad and maybe some buttery garlic bread for a more rounded out meal. Try it, I’m sure it’ll end up in your book of favourites!

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A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 25th, 2012 | 28 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

A few days ago I had a wonderful lunch meeting with an editor of a local magazine. Over a slew of emails deciding on what time and day would best suit the both of us, she suggested we meet for Thai food. That’s when I knew I was going to really like her. And the moment she asked for her Tom Yum soup to be extra-spicy, I knew we were going to be best friends! Lunch was delightful, and the conversation we shared over fresh salad rolls, Pad Thai and Fried Bananas with ice cream was simply exceptional. Being the food editor of the magazine, she undoubtedly shared my obsession with all things culinary. We bonded over our favourite childhood snacks (who knew that ketchup on toast with a dash of pepper was not something that only weird ‘ol me enjoyed! I know, I know, it sounds like a hideous combination; but in my defence, I was 14, breaking out in pimples and was going through a phase where anything out of the ordinary was thought to be “in”…), how we usually plan our vacations based on places that are mostly know for their food more than anything else, and our dislike for broccoli! It was going great until she asked me the dreaded question – when and how did I learn to cook?

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve been faced with that very question. If only I had a penny for each time I was asked, well, I guess I’d have a lot of pennies by now! As far as I can remember, I actually started cooking when I moved out of home for college; the food there sucked, and since I had an inbuilt kitchen in my room, I figured I could at least try and salvage my hunger and save some money in the process. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said that wasn’t really when I learned to cook. My mom didn’t think much of having me and sister learn to cook the real way. Sure, she’d often have us help her at dinner time by setting the table, making the salad, frying puris while she rolled them out splendidly, and of course, doing the dreaded dishes once everyone was fed. There were days during holidays and weekends, when I would spend time talking to her in the kitchen while she prepped meals. In the process I often took note of how she added one ingredient after the other, roasted spices in dry heat to bring out their aroma, and took special care to avoid any extra gravy while layering Biryani. Little did I know that these special sessions we shared would one day be the basis of my career.

Truth be told, I can’t really point an exact time frame in my life when I actually learned to cook. It kind of just happened, maybe it was always there somewhere. In fact, I’m on a constant learning curve. Each day I educate myself with something new – be it how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg without having the shells stick to it, or that soft, delicious naans could actually be made at home in a flash. Without a tandoor. Who knew! What I can tell you honestly though is that the one thing I actually learned to cook was fried egg. My mom decided to teach me so that I could make my own breakfast without her having to leave the laundry halfway to feed me. It wasn’t a fun experience at all. I must’ve had thrown away a couple dozen before I could manage to crack them just right without thrusting my thumb in and breaking the yolk. But it was all for a good cause. How else could I have made myself this delicious Egg Sambal had it not been for that fateful day.

So, now I ask you – when did you learn to cook?

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Quick Retreat: Fish Masala

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 12th, 2012 | 6 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

It’s been a crazy and not to mention very trying past few days. Baby Dear caught one bug after another; and not the kinds you find out in the backyard! The poor ‘lil thing has been having on and off fever, equipped with a side of runny nose and cough for the last three weeks. First it was one virus, and now another. Sigh! The perils of daycare! And with him, I’ve not been spared either. A stuffy nose and an itchy throat are what I’ve been waking upto lately.

The book writing is moving along on high steam! The fridge and freezer is overflowing with food – raw ingredients to cook with as well as storage containers filled with the testing results. I’ve also given out a cry of desperation for anyone wanting good home-cooked desi khana to come and pick some up, in exchange for good dark chocolate and fine wine, of course!

With all this mayhem in the HoH household, I needed to take some time out and just sit. Breathe. Relax. Unwind. Although, being a mom of a toddler has taught me to pick my battles. So I patiently wait for Baby Dear’s nap-time to roll in, and like clock-work, he’s down for two hours after downing a warm bottle. As I rush to my office downstairs and quickly shoot off emails that have been flagged and waiting for replies, a quick glance at the clock tells me it’s almost lunch time. Perfect, I say to myself. Time to rustle up something quick, comforting and delicious! And this recipe hits all notes.

The fish defrosted over-night in the fridge, so I just let it hang out in the marinade while I set the rice to cook, and prepped the ingredients for the sauce and a quick salad. Twenty minutes later, I was on the couch – feet up on the ottoman, plate on lap, fork in hand and The Rachael Ray Show on TV. Bliss, finally. Until of course the munchkin wakes up and then it’s back to the grind!

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No Can Do – Masala Mushrooms

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 22nd, 2011 | 11 Comments


Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Growing up, the only mushrooms I ever had were the ones my Mom drained out of a can to spread on pizza. It may sound completely appetizing, but I loved it. So much so, that I would actually fish out and pieces I could find on leftover slices of the pizza. And yes, sadly, pizza was the only time my Mom opened the can of mushrooms. It wasn’t until I actually moved to Canada that I had my first taste of a real, fresh mushroom. One bite, and I was blown away. The canned stuff felt like rubber and I was instantly obsessed. Still am, to this day, mushrooms remain a favourite vegetarian option for me. Only second to the humble eggplant, of course!

When my parents were visiting during the early months of Baby Dear’s birth, my Dad had a craving for mushrooms. Like many people from Indian households back home, where mushrooms were a very rare sight at the dinner table, he wanted to know what they were like. He had often heard and read of recipes where mushrooms were cooked in a thick, almost dry masala base. He asked me to cook up a batch for him. I was more than than eager too!

It was almost too simple to put together. Like most Indian recipes, I started with a base of onions and tomatoes, slowly sauteing it till all moisture evaporated and the flavours of the various spices had a chance to deepen. Next came the mushrooms, a few more minutes of slow cooking, and voila! Dinner was ready. My Dad had waited a long while to eat mushrooms cooked this way, and his expectations were pretty high. He took a bite, looked at me, and said that I HAD to teach my Mom this recipe. My Mom’s retort – they didn’t sell mushrooms at the vegetable market she shopped at!

This is a recipe I often fall back on on days when the heart desires something meaty, rich and lip-smackingly good! I’ve made it for fancy dinner parties, used it as an extravagant side for a simple Dal-Chawal, and also as a filling for sandwiches and wraps. I chose white button mushrooms since they easily take on robust flavours and shine through. I suspect creminis and oysters would also work well, but honestly, I have yet to try them this way.

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