A Change of Heart: Black Bean Chili

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 7th, 2011 | 4 Comments


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

The past weekend we had some of our closest friends and family join us to celebrate Hubby Dear’s b’day. It was a surprise party I managed to pull off for him at the very last minute. And that was after I sent him 3 big, fat helium balloons and a box of chocolate covered strawberries to his workplace. Yes, I know, I AM the most awesome wife there is. But don’t worry, I more than let him make up for it on my b’day by making sure I am showered with a boat load of presents! Ladies, if you want to know how I do it, it’s simple – give him a list of all the things you want and make sure to let him know where to get them at. And if your hubs is super busy trying to get multi-million dollar deals for his company like mine is, then just give him a hand by shopping for yourself. With his credit card. Like I do.

Anyway, where was I? Right, awesome wife! Who gave him a fabulous surprise party! And might I add he had no clue. Even with a fridge full of food. But most importantly, even with a clean, pristine home on a Saturday. With Baby Dear around. Yup, he sure didn’t see it coming! Needless to say, it was fun and of course, a tad bit tiring for me too. But to see a large crowd gathered in our home, over delicious comforting food – I’d do it again, in a heart beat!

There was a time when we would have large dinner parties like it was nobody’s business! I would cook a lavish buffet of food, making sure there were at least a few of everyone’s favourite dishes. I have been told that some skip their lunch knowing that sitting down for dinner at our table would totally be worth it. I have also been told (by Hubby Dear, of course) that when I entertain, I turn into this crazy cooking monster who has all the burners on her stove working at once while the food processor’s running and the oven on full steam! Yes, I admit, I do tend to go a bit overboard – most times making twelve different dishes for ten people. And that’s not including appetizers and dessert! But alas, that was all pre-Baby Dear.

Which is why I have no idea what possessed me to send out that email ten days before D-day to a collective group of fifteen. And the fact that I actually pulled it off, has me even more stunned. What I have learnt from it though, is that I have in fact, changed. I’m no longer the Kitchen Hitler who shuns away anyone wandering in while she’s cooking. I do however, blame that on the tiny apartment kitchen we had. Our kitchen now, in our new home, is literally the center of it all. It’s bang in the middle of the main floor, connecting both, our dining and family rooms. It’s open, with an island in the middle where Hubby & Baby Dears often sit while I rustle up something yummy. The island is also where some our friends sat and munched while I continued getting dinner ready at the b’day party, all the while making me feel part of the festivity and not a short order cook!

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving, and while there will be some among us who won’t let anyone tip-toe into the kitchen until all the food is perfectly set in their respective serving dishes on the table, I encourage the rest of you to accept all the help you can get and be thankful for those hands that do. As for me, I’m making a large pot of spicy chili in my beautiful red dutch oven, and serving it up alongside some chips, roast potatoes and fixin’s. After all, I’ve never been one to serve a turkey. It just takes too much time!

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Begging for Mercy: Lamb & Potato Curry

Written by Meena Agarwal on August 4th, 2011 | 16 Comments


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

Let me start by saying that I love receiving your comments and emails. And although I try to respond to them as frequently as I can, many do manage to slip through the cracks – and for that, I apologize. However, although I may not reply to some of your comments, requests or suggestions, you can be assured that I do take each and every one of them into consideration. Well, almost all of them.

Of all the legitimate requests I get for recipes, Lamb & Potato Curry has to be one that most frequently occurs. But not just any lamb curry, many of you want to know how to make this rich and creamy restaurant classic a tad bit healthier, simpler and quick enough for a regular weeknight meal. Well, my friends, I hear ya! This may come as a surprise, but I’m not a fan of restaurant lamb curries myself. I find most restaurant versions too bland and not to mention, oily for my taste. So when a craving of something rich and sinful hits me, I head to my kitchen instead of the Punjabi take-out next door. I created this recipe on one such day when I was desperate to find something that feed my need. I wouldn’t call this a classic Lamb and Potato Curry recipe, but it does come fairly close to feeling rich and creamy, without the added dose of extra fat. On days when I’m feeling extra healthy, I also throw in a bunch of chopped spinach for some added green. Blasphemy yes, delicious – you bet!

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Savouring Summer: Mediterranean Chicken Burgers

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 20th, 2011 | 15 Comments


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

Hooked on Heat has always been more than just a hobby for me. Since the fall of 2005, when I wrote my first post, this blog has been my outlet to voice my creativity. What started out on a whim one lazy day, gave me the opportunity and freedom to finally realize my dream that I had been nursing since I can even remember. As it grew in readership, I grew along with it; breathing in every slice of good fortune that it brought my way. The icing on the cake of course, was my first cookbook published in the spring of last year.

Then, life took it’s toll. I was creatively burnt out for a while after creating over a 100 new recipes for the book. Then we got busy planning for Baby Dear’s arrival. And once the darling ‘lil monster was here, well, let’s just say that I now consider a 5 minute shower every morning to be a luxury! I’ll be honest here, life has been a crazy roller coaster the last few months. And it’s only just getting started. We recently found out that Baby Dear is severely allergic to wheat. We have yet to test his tolerance to gluten on the whole, but wheat and it’s by-products for now are absolutely off limits! We’ve been told that most kids grow out of these kinds of allergies in a few years, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. This has dramatically changed the way Hubby Dear and I look at food now. So where does this leave the blog, you ask?

Well, for starters, a huge change in on the menu. Hooked on Heat, like our home, will officially be GLUTEN-FREE from this day forth. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy scouring speciality food stores and trying many new gluten-free products. If you haven’t already realized, most of my recipes are naturally gluten-free; save for any bread and baking related ones. I’ve also been busy coming up with creative dinners that would create a wholesome, balanced meal. I’m not a fan of eating rice with every meal, and since we have completely eliminated Indian breads (or ANY bread, for that matter!) from our dinner plates, it’s been a fun challenge to come up with comforting, satisfying results.

Although I have so far taken a positive outlook to this one drawback in Baby Dear’s diet plan, I find myself sometimes saddened by all the delicious goodness he would miss that I enjoyed as child. Crispy puris dunked in a rich potato curry, piping hot samosas and stuffed parathas; all the delicacies he won’t be able to savour. To this, all Hubby Dear says is that everything happens for a reason. And he truly believes that’s the reason I do what I do, so that Baby Dear won’t be deprived of any flavour in life. Because his mama will create all that and more for him. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Ever since Hubby Dear invested on a great BBQ grill last fall, we have been basking in its glory. I can’t even begin to count how many times we’ve gotten outside and enjoyed our dinners fresh off the grill. While most times we love having friends and family over for deliciously grilled dinners, we also love to indulge ourselves with some quality together-time, just the three of us, by the fire. We’ve had some yummy taco/fajita nites, evenings filled with kababs and spicy tikkas, and even the not-so-usual-but-surprisingly-delicious grilled corn on the cob! But one of our personal favourites just has to be our big burger nights. Deliciously thick and juicy burgers, sandwiched between toasted buns and topped with your choice of veggies. Sounds good? Then what are you waiting for? Hop on and let’s get grillin’!!

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A whole new world: Easy Enchilladas

Written by Meena Agarwal on January 14th, 2011 | 20 Comments


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

Oh hi! Happy New Year!!

It’s me. Yes, I know I promised to be back a while ago. Well, what can I say – life happened! I won’t go about making any excuses for my absence ‘coz there’s so much that I’m dying to share with you! And really, who actually cares why I was gone? The important thing is that I’m back – and I’m here to stay!

Okay, so where do I start? How about that I finally have my own cookbook? I know, right! I was contacted by The Globe Pequot Press asking if I was interested in writing an Indian cookbook for the Knack series. Was I ever! That was Spring 2009. The rest for the year whizzed by under piles and piles of paper with recipe ideas and actual recipes that made the cut, draft deadlines, edits, edits and even more edits, and of course, the cherry to top it all (especially for Hubby Dear!), each and every recipe tested and re-tested for perfection! I’m not kidding when I say we had food coming out through our noses. The fridge was full, the freezer was full, and the stove was always on high gear! We even had friends come over and take weeks worth of meals for themselves. Needless to say, it was a summer where I was blessed well by friends who could manage to take a few days off cooking thanks to my new project! The book finally came out on the stands early 2010, and although I haven’t been able to update my blog about it since, I do have a few copies up for grabs. But more on that later!

So well, my childhood dream of being an author finally saw the light of day. And as much as I still gush every time Hubby Dear tells an acquaintance about my book, I just can’t get over the fact that we now have something even more sweeter to brag about! Our little munchkin! Yup, we had a cute little chubby boy exactly three months ago. So while I know for a fact that one of the things you enjoy most reading about on my posts are the antics of silly ‘ol Hubby Dear, I’m sure that from now on Baby Dear will have his own fan following! With only three measly months of life under his belt, the little guy has already started to show signs of becoming a foodie soon. Neither me nor Hubby Dear, or for that matter, anyone who eats anything good around him, can get away without him drooling and giving us the evil eye! Show him a bowl of cereal or a banana and he won’t bat an eyelid. But have him look at you enjoy a large platter of nachos and spicy wings, or a plate of Biryani, and he’ll make you want to crawl to a corner and hide!

As much as I’m enjoying exploring this new role as a mom (of a budding food enthusiast, I might add!), I’m also limited to the amount of time I can spend cooking our weeknight dinners. Weekends still have me whipping up a big batch of spicy Chicken Curry and Pulao when both my boys are busy entertaining each other. But weeknights, oh don’t ask! Quick cooking has taken on a whole new meaning! But I’ve learnt to tweek some of our favourite dinner meals to incorporate easy short cuts and substitutions so that we can still enjoy them without having me bawling on the floor while Baby Dear looks on amusedly! This recipe is one of those that’s pretty much assembly only and delicious enough to fall back on any day.

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Warming tones: Make-your-Own Chicken Noodle Soup

Written by Meena Agarwal on December 9th, 2008 | 46 Comments


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

Colder weather means more time indoors. More time indoors for me can only mean ONE thing: Cooking. And lots of it! The last few weeks saw me hover from one ethnic market to another lugging back bagfuls of spices, sauces, condiments and flavourings, amidst baskets of colourful fresh produce. Yes, you could definitely say that the Holidays bring about the creative cook in me. I find myself waking up with my head full of ideas and flavour pairings. Then, a few minutes later, I’m dressed in my warmest layers running off to the store to pick up the items needed for my experiment.

This of course, has got Hubby Dear beaming with pleasure. Our dinners for the past few days have included the exotic flavours of various cuisines, fused together in a style that I deem myself an expert of. Warm velvety curries with hints of hot, sour, salty and sweet tones tease our palate. Vegetables have found new tasty ways to welcome themselves on our table. And soups, oh what can I say about the soups!

As I kid, I always connected soups to the kind of food one has when you’re sick in bed with a pounding headache and a runny nose. Our winter meals, although consisting of richly warm comfort food, somehow failed to include this food group altogether. As a busy working student stuck in the cold Canadian winter devoid of a mother’s culinary touch, I found throwing in a can of beans with some veggies and spices in a pot full of bubbling chicken stock made for a fairly quick, nutritious and decent enough meal. Over the years, my soup repertoire has grown immensely from the sorry state it once was, and now I can’t imagine going a week in the cold months without a bowl or two of soup to comfort me.

This chicken-noodle soup is as simple as it can get. And yet, has the ability to carry flavours as complex as you wish it to. My favourite way to serve this dish is to lay out all the ingredients in individual bowls to enable each of your guests to design their own meal. Add in what you like, as much as you like; and no matter how you do it, there’s no wrong way to enjoy it.

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Intro to Indian, Part 5 – Cooking Curry for Beginners: Pindi Chana

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 19th, 2008 | 36 Comments


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

I get quite a few emails referring to a past post of mine, How NOT to Cook Indian food, from people confessing to me their creative and not so creative ways of imitating Indian flavours. As much as I love reading each and every one of them, it makes me want to pull my eyes out when I see how much people actually enjoy Indian food, but yet, how ignorant they are about what actually goes into it. A common misdemeanor is of course, by far, the liberal addition of that yellow powdery substance known commercially as curry powder (say it with me now, YUCK!) to a quick saute of chopped onions and tomatoes.

Curry is undoubtedly one the most popular Indian dishes, and can vary in style, colour and flavour depending on the region and kitchen it comes from. Although I can in no way humanly possible, map out step-by-step recipes for every curry that exists, I will try and share with you a few simple tips that I often use myself to create a lip-smacking bowl of curry with little, or no effort needed whatsoever. As with any classic dish, Indian curries vary in taste, colour and style within regions throughout the country, and every household has a secret family recipe that they claim is the best ever!

One thing to note here however, is when I mention the word “curry”, I am clearly pointing to a gravy-based dish of either meat or vegetables. To begin with, let’s start by breaking up a curry into its basic components:

Flavour base: I often like to start with deciding the flavour base for my curry. This would be the main ingredient that would dominate the flavour of the curry dish, and could range anywhere from a simple blend of spices to coconut, yogurt or tomatoes. Deciding on your flavour base before you start to prep ingredients for the cooking will also help you to estimate what spices, meat or vegetables would best compliment it.

Feature ingredient: This would usually be the meat or vegetable that would carry the dish. In many cases, more than one feature ingredient can be used, but be sure to either group items that compliment each other well, or give you a wonderful contrast. Adding peas and carrots to a potato curry would bump up the blandness of the potatoes. But combining squash and sweet potatoes together, might not be such a great idea.

Flavour enhancers: This is undoubtedly my favourite part of the curry, and by far, a highly important one. They can range anywhere from herbs, spices and condiments or sauces. When picking a flavour enhancer, keep in mind that you always want to choose something that would enhance the flavouring of the dish, and not overwhelm it. It’s often best when you get a slight hint of the flavour in the background, giving the other components of the dish enough weightage to bring it out together.

To make a fabulous tasting curry, it’s always best to look at each component separately, and try and combine them together in such a way that they go well with each other. For eg., if I had decided to make a coconut based curry, then I would normally pick fish as my feature ingredient, and ginger, lemon grass, and curry leaves as my flavour enhancers. The sharpness in the ginger and curry leaves would be well balanced with the lemon grass and coconut; and the fish, being much bland in taste, would carry all the flavours fairly well.

To give you an idea of how versatile curries can be, here are three very different recipes that are simple to make and can easily be adapted to suit any kind of taste preference:

Tomato-based curry with yogurt and whole spices:

Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pan and saute some cardamom, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves, till they begin to sizzle. Add sliced onions and green chillies, and fry for 3-5 minutes on medium-high heat till onions turn pink and tender. Stir in some ginger-garlic paste and saute for another minute or two till it starts to gives out oil. Add red chilli powder, cumin powder, turmeric, coriander powder and garam masala, and fry for a minute. Mix in chopped tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes till tomatoes pulp and releases oil around the sides of the pan. Slowly stir in beaten yogurt forming a smooth gravy base.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, paneer, mushrooms, and potatoes. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Dahiwali Chicken Curry

Coconut-based curry:

Toast dried red chilies, cumin seeds and coriander seeds till fragrant. Grind in a food processor to a fine powder and set aside. Heat oil and saute garlic and curry leaves till fragrant. Add onions and fry for a few minutes till tender and pink. Add ground spices and turmeric, and fry for a few seconds before adding coconut milk.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, fish, tofu, and many leafy greens like spinach and bok choy. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Coconut Chicken Curry

Tomato-based, tangy curry:

Add mustard seeds and curry leaves to warm oil and allow to sizzle. Once they begin to splutter, add sliced onions and fry till lightly browned. Add tomatoes, garlic, chilli powder, turmeric and salt, and cook for 5-6 minutes till tomatoes pulp. Add tamarind extract and stir to blend well. Add water and green chillies, and cook covered for 15-20 minutes.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, fish, and almost any vegetable. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Hot & Sour Chicken Curry

These are just a few guidelines and examples to help you understand the versatility of the Indian cuisine. By all means, trust your instinct and experiment flavours with love with those new to you, and you never know; you may just create a masterpiece!

PINDI CHANA (SPICY CHICKPEAS CURRY)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 2 as a main, 4 as a side
Special Cooking Equipment: Pressure Cooker

Ingredients:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp amchur powder (dried mango)
1 tsp anardana powder (dried pomegranate seeds)
1/2 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
2 tbsp cooking oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed

Directions:

Boil pre-soaked chickpeas in enough water in a pressure cooker till soft.

Heat oil in a deep pan and saute cumin seeds till they begin to sizzle. Add in onions, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste, and fry till lightly browned. Stir in salt and spices, and fry for a few seconds.

Add in the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes to combine well. Add chickpeas and about a cup of water, and let cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Serve warm with naans, puris or rice.



The Working Cook: Sauteed Spinach with Potatoes

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 17th, 2008 | 33 Comments


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

My day started with me jumping out of bed realizing that I would be late for a meeting with one of my freelance clients. The leisure morning beauty regime I had planned for myself earlier (read: filing my nails into shape considered somewhat normal and putting on some nail polish) had to be ditched while I settled for a quick shower. The meeting went well, lasted for a couple of hours over large cups of fabulous coffee and never ending bites of warm buttery croissants, and ended with me bagging a couple of new assignments. That was followed by a mad dash home to vacuum and hide all the piled up papers, books and unmentionables under our bed to make the home look invitingly presentable to some last minute guests. dirty dishes where haphazardly shoved into the dish washer, and a sweet aromatic rosemary candle was lit. Amidst all the hoopla of trying to make my world look slightly more normal than it actually was, thoughts of food were attacking my brain cells.

I usually maintain a well stocked fridge, freezer and pantry – enough to whip up a lavish multi course meal without heading for the nearest grocery shelves. But not today. The expected guests were close friends who’d much rather have a simple home cooked meal than be flattered by a flambe of sorts. And I had to admit, I was almost out of breadth and ready to crash when I finally entered the kitchen. It had to be a meal that was quick to prepare and didn’t require much effort from me and of course, had to look grand. The one thing about me that you might have noticed by now is my obsessive need to make the people I feed feel extra special. Most dishes I settle for while entertaining are often a breeze to pull of, but you’d never guess that by looking at the spread. And that’s exactly how I like it to be!

I put out a pack of cut-up chicken to defrost with a plan of making a quick deliciously simple curry. I threw a few cups of fragrant Basmati rice into a pot of water with some aromatic spices for a Pulao, and started to tear up crisp lettuce for a quick tossed salad. Just as the rice started to emit a faint saffron aroma and the curry bubbled under a low simmer, I realized that I was missing a vegetable side dish. I found a large bunch of spinach sitting in my fridge, right after I spotted the basket of potatoes on my counter, and I knew just what I was going to be serving – the perfect accompaniment for the spread I had intended.

ALU PALAK (SAUTEED SPINACH WITH POTATOES)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 15 min | Serves: 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients:

2 large bunches of spinach, chopped
1 large potato, sliced into thin wedges
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a deep non-stick wok and saute cumin and coriander seeds with garlic and onions till fragrant. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in potatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes till partly done. Add in spinach, and stir fry till it starts to wilt and potatoes are cooked through. Serve warm.



The Joys of Greens: Chilli Tofu with Beans and Bok Choy

Written by Meena Agarwal on August 26th, 2008 | 29 Comments


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

Over the years it has dawned on me that I am perhaps more Malay than Indian when it comes to my food choices. Offer me a generous plate of stir-fried Kangkong and I would forgo the pot of Butter Chicken without so much as a second glance. Well, maybe it’s that easy for me since I never liked Butter Chicken anyway. But a plate of Biryani – now you’ve me getting greedy and highly confused on what to pick!

The main difference I find in the way vegetables are usually cooked in India and Malaysia is the amount of time it takes. Indian vegetables are often cooked to the max – entirely absorbed of all the seasonings and completely cooked through. Which would easily explain why I was never a fan of the dreaded Alu Gobi – who likes a cauliflower all mushy and soft? We recently had a BBQ party where I grilled cauliflower florets marinated in yogurt and spices till they were tender, yet still retained a slight crunch; it was to die for! Malaysian vegetables on the other hand, are often lightly stir- fried. The dish results in a burst of flavours and the veggies maintain their rich colour and crispness.

A couple of days ago I found myself at a gem of an Asian grocery store. This tiny place carried all sorts of Asian greens you could imagine, complete with all the hard-to-substitute fixins’ like Kaffir lime leaves, galangal and garlic chives. I had finally found my candyland. Spending the time there feeling, picking, and smelling the vegetables transported me to my childhood days – those where Mom would often dish out quick Malaysian vegetable dishes that I would actually enjoy eating.

I finally got home two hours later laden with two large bags of fresh produce and another one with a treasure trove of Southeast Asian pantry essentials. From Laksa, Thai curry and Tom Yum pastes to the best curry powder blends my pots have ever touched upon, I now find myself fully equipped! Each time I’ve looked into my pantry the past few days, I come out with a wealth of ideas for my next upcoming meals. And receiving this delightful book in the mail a couple of weeks back has only made it worse! I’ve been churning a wonderful array of fusion dinners for us and Hubby Dear’s waistline is having to bear the brunt of it. Let’s just say that it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to him when I hand him a gym membership as his b’day gift!

CHILLI TOFU WITH BEANS & BOK CHOY
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 block of firm tofu, cubed
2 large bunches of bok choy, chopped: green and white parts separated
a big handful of green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a deep non-stick wok, and fry cubed tofu till slightly golden all over. Set aside.

Add in remaining oil in the pan and saute garlic and onions till soft and lightly browned. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in chopped tomatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes. Add in tomato paste and tamarind extract, and continue to fry, breaking up tomatoes till it starts to dry out and give out oil from the sides.

Add in beans and tofu, and stir fry till beans are cooked but still crisp. Add in bok choy, and stir fry till it starts to wilt. Serve warm.



A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 23rd, 2008 | 38 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?

FRIED EGG SAMBAL
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

4 large eggs
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp light cooking oil
salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:

Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a non-stick pan (Use one large enough to cook the entire dish, since it makes it much easier to clean up. Personally I prefer using a wok to get perfectly round fried eggs.), and fry egg one after the other seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, adding in more oil if needed. Set aside.

Add in remaining oil in the pan and saute garlic and onions till soft and lightly browned. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in chopped tomatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes. Add in tomato paste and continue to fry, breaking up tomatoes till it starts to dry out and give out oil from the sides.

Slowly slide in the fried eggs, and carefully mix them with the tomato mixture to coat, without breaking the egg. Allow to heat through for a few minutes and serve warm.



Simply summer: Mediterranean Kebabs

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 11th, 2008 | 24 Comments


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

What is with people who graciously accept your dinner invitation, arrive two hours late without so much as an apology or look of regret on their face, eat merely two bites of the delicious spread you took hours to lay out and declare that they’re just not that hungry! Huh? Wha…?

A few years ago, when I was a newbie in town, I had decided to invite a few people over for a nice dinner so that we could all mingle and get to know each other over mounds of spiked jello shots. The list of invited guests included a few of my colleagues, neighbours, the friendly dude from my dance class and a close friend on mine I’ve known since we were barely in our teens. A weird bunch to bring together no doubt, but I figured that if I ever intended on having a close knit circle of friends to run to over the weekends, then they should at the very least meet each other in person.

I had decided on serving Mexican food. Mainly, because they were such a diverse bunch and I figured that bringing them together over a Taco/Fajita bar laden with fixin’s and over-flowing pitchers of Sangria would definitely lighten everyone’s spirits. And also of course, who doesn’t like Mexican food? I mean, seriously, isn’t it illegal to frown upon it in some parts of the world? Mexico included?

The table was set, plates, glasses and cutlery laid out, and a Mariachi band was serenading away on my second-hand stereo. Slowly, the crowd started to pour in. The music continued to play, folks laughed at each other’s jokes and I couldn’t empty out tortilla chips into the bowls fast enough! It was all going well, until this person made his entrance. He seemed to be in a real bad mood, which made me wonder why he didn’t just call me up and say that he wasn’t able to make it. He sulked in a remote corner all night, nibbling on a handful of chips dipped in about a teaspoon of salsa. Did I mention I actually roasted tomatoes for the first time to make that delicious batch? Needless to say, he hardly even kept a conversation with me – summarizing his answers to my questions in monosyllables. And you’d think he would call me up the next day to apologize, but I’m yet to hear his reasons for his insane behaviour – and it’s been almost seven years now. Not that we’re still in touch though. I somehow find it very hard to maintain my cool with people who show no consideration for others. Which is why I hardly ever cook dinner for them more than once.

When it comes to having friends over, and I mean those people who you really love to spend your time with and not those that you hope to spend some time with – I almost, always, cook whatever they enjoy most. I recently had a close friend over for lunch who is simply smitten by anything Mediterranean! Her love for this eclectic cuisine knows no bounds, and she’s not one to let a good meal pass her by. Since it’s that time of year when I love throw anything on the grill and enjoy a nice lunch outdoors - I wanted to create a cool, calm and simple summer menu, the highlight of which were these deliciously lovely kebabs.

MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN KEBABS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Makes: 8-10 medium-sized kebabs

Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tbsp bread crumbs
salt, to taste

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl to incorporate well. Form into kebabs and grill till done on both sides.

RECIPE NOTES: To grill in an indoor oven, heat oven to 375 degrees and grill for 20-25 minutes till done, turning once in between.