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

POSTS ON INTRO TO INDIAN COOKING

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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Kids Lunchbox Idea: Chicken Croissants

Recipe for Chicken Croissants taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

A few weekends ago, I found myself alone at home with Baby Dear and a potluck invitation waiting for a response. Hubby Dear was away on a longer than usual business trip, and I was at my wits end trying to entertain an energizer-bunny of a toddler. I’ve always considered myself an introvert and going to a party without my better half to meet new people is not really my cup of tea. But I was desperate. And so was Baby Dear. We each needed to get out and about – and interacting with someone other than each other seemed like a welcome option. So I immediately texted a YES to the invite and started to prep my contribution to the party.

When given an option, I always like to volunteer bringing an appetizer. Its the perfect chance to get creative and think out of the box. Bite-sized finger foods are usually my preferred way to enjoy a meal and I love experimenting with different flavours and textures. I was short of time and needed to come up with something quick and easy. One long stare at the contents of my fridge and I knew just what I was ready to get to work on. I had half a rotisserie chicken from the previous night to work with. Armed with a can of store-bought croissant dough and some veggies and spices, this came together in a breeze. Its delicious fresh out of the oven or eaten at room temperature. I suggest taking this idea and running with it! Experiment with the filling. Change it up to what you and your family enjoy eating. It works great any which way.

As I was working on this recipe, it suddenly occurred to me that this would be perfect for a kids lunchbox. With September right around the corner and schools all set to open up their doors to eager parents and kids after a long summer, back to school sales and lunchbox recipes are hard to look past. My tiny tot is all excited to begin a new phase in life and can’t stop talking about going to a big boys school! Aside from picking out a new school bag, lunch box, clothes and shoes imprinted with his current favourite cartoon character, I’ve been keeping myself busy working on lunchbox recipes for him. Baby Dear has never been a fussy eater and cooking for him is always a pleasure. If the food is tasty, he’ll relish it. If it has chicken, he’ll dive right in. And if it has tons of garlic, then in his own esteemed words – its a party in his tummy!

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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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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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Replaying Leftovers: Chili Pot Pies

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

Baby Dear and I have an afternoon ritual of sorts, on days that he goes to preschool. As soon as I strap him into his car seat and settle in to begin our drive home, he always asks me what I’ve planned for dinner. After I tell him what’s on the menu for that night, I then ask him what he had for lunch. His answers always make me smile – partly from knowing that my ‘lil gourmand is being well fed, and part from the way he tries to string his words together. Like the time he had lasagna, and couldn’t remember what it was called. After a few minutes of pondering, he finally blurted out. “What’s Garfield’s favourite food?”. Yes, he’s super funny like that!

The daycare he goes to gets the kids’ lunches catered. When I first glanced at the menu, I got a wee bit jealous and not to mention, nervous. The list included dishes like Roasted Veggie Lasagna, Butter Chicken, Pasta in Kale Pesto and Fish Picata. Fish Picata? Really? For 3 year olds? As much as I absolutely loved the fact that Baby Dear would be fed a variety of gourmet meals ranging in taste and texture, it also worried me if my often simple home cooked meals would have him turn his nose up at it. How silly was I! Baby Dear enjoys the humble Grilled Cheese with Tomatoes with as much pleasure as he savours a slow-cooked Biryani. The kid loves good food – as long as its tasty, he’s game!

A few months ago, Baby Dear told me he had Chicken Pot Pie for lunch. Well, he actually said he had pie with chicken, peas and carrots. I kinda put the two and together and figured that’s what it meant. He had it again some weeks back and told me how much he liked it and wanted me to make it for dinner some day. Then, sometime last week, while I was watching the Food Network, Baby Dear happened to glance at the screen and see Chicken Pot Pie actually being made. He screamed with delight and demanded I make it as soon as possible. I finally promised him I would.

Well, as I was thinking about what to cook for dinner today, I peeked into the fridge and stared at a container of some leftover Chili from a few days ago. The idea suddenly hit me; and although it’s no REAL Chicken Pot Pie, it definitely made Baby Dear request me to make it again soon!
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A Hearty Feast: Goat Curry

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

I have a love-hate relationship with my pressure cooker. While most Indian home cooks swear by it to dish out family dinners every night, I often shy away from mine. I haven’t much gotten the hang of using one for my everyday cooking. The problem for me is trying to keep track and remember how much time or how many whistles is needed to cook a certain thing. I either simmer the food for too long and turn it to mush, or release the pressure too soon and have to start over again to let it completely cook through.

A couple of weeks ago, Hubby Dear was away on a 12-day business trip leaving me and Baby Dear at the mercy of each other. He left early Sunday morning and by the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to wave my white flag. We’d both had it with the week’s routine, missed our team mate terribly and were in a dire need of some strong comfort. As we dragged our feet into the house after I picked him up from preschool, something clicked. There’s nothing that a good home cooked meal can’t cure, and I’d decided that Baby Dear and I were going to spend our Friday night with a good movie and some amazing food.

I had just picked up some fresh cut meat from the butchers’ earlier that day and figured it was as perfect a time as any to turn it into something lip-smacking. Goat curry is something I always, always have to order when we eat out at an Indian restaurant. It’s my absolute favourite curry dish and something I don’t normally cook at home simply because it can take quite a while to soften the meat so that it just melts in your mouth. As I took a peek at the clock across my kitchen, it occurred to me that it was either the pressure cook way or no way that I was going to get dinner on the table before Baby Dear would turn into Baby-Zilla out of hunger!

So I busted out the beast and got to work. When it came time to lock the lid and place the whistle on it, I said a little prayer and crossed my fingers. And whaddaya know! 30 minutes later, we were laughing over the antics of those silly Minions and digging into our luscious and super delicious dinner.
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Quick Dinner Ideas: Thai Basil Chicken

Recipe for Thai Basil Chicken taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the very first time I was introduced to Thai food. I was about 13 and on our family vacation in Bangkok. I have fond memories of those five days; most of which revolve around the culture and shopping in Thailand and none, unfortunately of its cuisine. You see, my Dad is not in the least adventurous when it comes to his food. The man wants his Dal-Roti-Sabzi no matter where he is, and will stop at nothing to find it! So needless to say, while in Thailand we religiously avoided all the street food and ate a lot of meals of our meals at Mrs. Balbir’s. The food there, from what I remember was absolutely delicious. Authentic north Indian cuisine in the heart of Bangkok.

It was on one such visit that my Mom decided she wanted to try something representative of the country we were visiting and opted for a bowl of Tom Yum Soup while the rest of us dug into our Chicken Curry and Dal Makhani. Now, for those of you who’ve followed my blog since the very beginning, know that my Mom is a Malaysian. And Malaysians are nothing if not known for their lip-smacking spicy food – for the most part at least. So my Mom, like a true-bred Malay took and big slurp of the piping hot soup and almost cried in pain! I couldn’t resist and HAD to see what the hoopla was all about. But I wanted to be careful, so only took about a third of the spoon. Boy, were my ears on fire! It was probably the spiciest thing I’ve eaten my entire life!! But that was years ago in Thailand. Thai food in other countries is much more tamed in spice level but just as authentic and delicious in flavour.

Hubby Dear and I have always been huge fans of Thai food and love to try out any new establishment that opens near to where we are. Over the years, we’ve settled on our favourites and are now quite critical on how the dishes we prefer taste. Baby Dear, being the budding food connoisseur that he is, is a die-hard fan of Pad Thai – the tangier, the better. I love my Green Curry with tons of gravy and veggies, and Hubby Dear often shuttles between Pad Thai loaded with peanuts (at times even more nuts than noodles!) or a spicy Cashew Chicken. But one dish that we MUST always order for the table is Basil Chicken. That is, of course, until I tried my hand at making it this week. I can now honestly say that we can cross out Basil Chicken from our future orders and substitute it with an extra plate of Papaya Salad.

This recipe is also a perfect candidate for a quick week-night meal served with some plain rice and sliced fresh cucumbers on the side.
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Spare the Spice: Nasi Goreng

Recipe for Nasi Goreng taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I remember the first time I introduced Hubby Dear to Malaysian food. It was during our initial dating days and I’d read about this family-run Malaysian restaurant in Toronto which seemed to have great reviews. Now, the only Malaysian food I’ve ever been exposed to are the dishes that either came out of my Mom’s kitchen or that of her family’s back in Malaysia as well as the road side stalls over there. Needless to say, up until then, I’d only had the good fortune of eating authentic, homemade Malaysian cuisine. So like Hubby Dear, I was equally excited and intrigued to eat at this particular joint.

The menu looked promising – all the popular favourites that I had briefed Hubby Dear about were available, and I started to order us a scrumptious sounding meal. Then came the dreaded question from our server: “What spice level did we prefer?”

For those not in the know, typical Malay food tends to be on the spicier side – even more than the average Indian heat level. Most of the time it really depends on the dish itself, but if you’re a first timer to this delicious cuisine, I’d suggest going a milder route. I had already mentioned this to Hubby Dear prior that if in any case they were serving authentic versions of the dishes then it would be quite spicy. But he was to have none of it! As an Indian, he prided himself on the number of chillies he could muster in a meal. With a broad smile on his face, he proceeded to ask the server to make our food “spicy”.

The rest as they say, is history! The food was absolutely delicious, no doubt, and thanks to Hubby Dear we managed to put out the fire on our tongues after every spoonful with a glass of water. It was a lot of water we had that evening, but the flavours triggered a new found love for him like no other. Malay food is a favourite in our house – even Baby Dear is a fan, and the go-to cuisine whenever we go out to celebrate. So it’s only fitting that I tried and replicate a classic dish on the event of our 9th marriage anniversary. It’s by no means claimed as authentic, but it does come pretty close in flavour to real thang.

So here’s to you Hubby Dear – for 9 years, over a million laughs and countless acts of love. And also to many more to come. May the spice level never die down!

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Quick Dinner Ideas: Shrimp & Greens Curry

Recipe for Shrimp and Greens Curry taken from www.hookedonheat.com

I recently had a long chat with a friend who confessed to me that she absolutely dreaded the hour before it was dinnertime. She hates cooking, and the mere thought of “Whats’s for dinner tonight?”  can really drive  her up the wall. What she faces everyday is nothing new to most of us. Me included! I’ve been known to stare into the fridge, almost willing it to pop out a completely tasty, well balanced meal straight onto my dining table.

I’ve never been one to meal plan on weekly basis. I know its advantages and have sincerely tried to follow through many times. But, unless and until I hit the stores and check out the fresh produce they have to offer, I’m not motivated. I love feeling the freshness of the bright coloured fruits and veggies, checking out the cheese display and rummaging through the aisles for new spices and flavours. All this, the dedication and time I put into grocery shopping each week, is what inspires me and helps me creative in the kitchen.

As much as I love to play around with the ingredients I have to create a wonderful meal, there are many nights where all I want is something no-fuss, quick and healthy, and call it a night! It’s for nights like these that I save some of my go-to family favourite recipes that come together in a snap and satisfy our hungry tummies. Most of these recipes are either one-pot meals, or a mish-mash of some protein and veggies that can be easily served with rice/rotis/bread to complete the meal. Add a side salad, and you’re good to go!

Today’s recipe is one that fits the bill. Infact, it’s going to be dinner for Baby Dear and me tonight. Hubby Dear has dinner plans at work and I’m knee deep in house chores, so dinner needs to be quick. I always have a bag of frozen shrimp in my freezer and some form green leafy vegetable in the fridge. Be it bok choy, spinach or kale, they all work well in this recipe.

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Indian Food: B is for… Bhuna Chicken

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

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

Okay, so I’m back with the next episode in this series and today we’re on to the letter B. B for Bhuna Chicken. Bhuna is technique of cooking, which simply means to fry the flavour base or masala really well till it starts to caramelize and give out oil along the sides. This method of cooking ensures a robust burst of flavour in the dish and the end result is always a warm, comforting bite. It does take a bit of extra time and a watchful eye to make sure that the masala is cooking well without getting burnt. The secret to this, I believe, is low and slow. Keep the heat low and stir slowly every now and then.

This recipe is perfect for a weekend meal when you have the time and mood to putter about  in the kitchen with nothing much else to tug at your attention. It also tastes even better the next day since the spices and flavour and enough time to penetrate and mingle through. Because of this, I love to serve this dish at dinner parties when I know I can cook it either the previous night or early that morning. Other than the little bit of extra time it takes to bhuno the masala, this recipe is fairly simple and a treat to eat.

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