‘Tis the season to be jolly: Lamb with Green Peppers

Written by Meena Agarwal on November 28th, 2007 | 19 Comments


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

I’m almost embarrassed to say what I’m going to say: I LOVE winter! Yes, I really, really, do. I love everything about it: the snow covered roof tops, cashmere sweaters and scarfs, hot chocolate dunked biscotti, Hubby Dear moaning while scraping ice off his windshield… Okay, scratch that, maybe I don’t truly enjoy watching him do that, but it’s just a part of the season I’ve come to reckon with, like baking cookies. Yes, quite like that, except not so rewarding. Well, you get what I mean!The reason for my embarrassment is because I seem to invite such odd looks from people when I say it. They all look at me in a ‘are-you-serious-or-just-plain-crazy’ kinda way. But I beg to differ! I mean, wouldn’t you prefer engulfing yourself in soft warm fabrics and eating rich stews as opposed to sweating through the day? I do at least.

Which brings me back to my favourite season: the Holidays! With the lighting of the city Christmas tree last weekend in Toronto, the official holiday season has begun. The lights have gone up, and huge cuddly Santas can be seen around town taking letters from little kids. Which also means, it’s about time I get into my Holiday skin. And to kick things off, I thought, what better than to start here. Yes, right here! On this blog. The one place I seem to spend most of my waking time at.

So I gathered all my little elves, in my case that would simply mean my brain cells, and put together a fabulous treat for you all. There will be some wonderful new features on the blog, a fantabulous Holiday Gift Guide for food lovers of all kinds, and a bunch of bewitching prizes to be won! And need I mention, a load of delicious holiday recipes to lure your friends and family with. So watch this space in the coming week when I’ll dig into my goody bag and throw a celebration your way. Until then, there’s always lamb…

LAMB WITH GREEN PEPPERS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 45 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp cooking oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Directions:

Marinate lamb for at least an hour in a blend of yogurt and ginger-garlic paste.

Heat oil in a deep pan and add nigella and cumin seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add in sliced onions and fry till lightly browned.

Stir in spices and tomato paste, and add in the marinated lamb along with the yogurt.

Cook covered on low heat for 35-40 minutes till lamb is tender, adding water in between if it starts to dry up and stick to the pan. Season with salt and add in chopped peppers, letting it cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve warm.



Craving Comfort: Chicken Chili with Black Beans

Written by Meena Agarwal on October 16th, 2007 | 24 Comments


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

I woke up this morning and went straight to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and looked out the window. And what do I see? FOG!It’s been chilly, wet and foggy the past couple of days, which makes me happy knowing that my favourite season has finally made it’s way! Just looking at wet ground gave me a cozy feeling. I was so glad for being home and not having to drag myself through the chill to go someplace. It was a treat to look forward to spending the next hour or two enjoying my hot cup over the books and magazines I’d gathered a few weeks ago to aid me in my impending writing assignments.

There’s something about Fall that just brings me to a good place. The lovely hues of orange and red in the trees, the crisp chill in the air, and especially the warmth from cranking up the stove and oven to begin a long period of rich comfort food. I always welcome the cooler weather by making an array of rich spicy curries, aromatic stews and tantalizing soups. Most of our dinners during these colder months are enjoyed on the warm comfy couch over our favourite movies, with the softness of a fleece blanket wrapped around us.

Of all things I enjoy cooking in the Fall, one of my most favourite meal would have be a big bowl of Chili with fresh rustic Italian bread on the side. This dish is such a hit in my home, that I almost always make a big batch and freeze it, to savour over the coming weeks. Like any rustic dish, it’s very versatile to work with. When I want to give it more depth, I always opt to add in a cup or two of mixed beans and meatier vegetables like mushrooms.

Although this may not be the traditional Chili recipe we Canadians are so used to, it definitely is worth trying! And for those with little time on their hands and a big craving for easy comfort foods, its definitely a winner. It hardly took me about 30-35 minutes to get done and doesn’t differ much from the original.

CHICKEN CHILI WITH BLACK BEANS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 30 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can beans in tomato sauce
1 can black beans
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp read chilli powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a deep pan and saute onions, jalapeno and garlic till onions become transparent and soft. Add ground chicken, and fry till moisture dries up.

Season with salt, chili powder, oregano and cumin powder and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes to combine well.

Add in canned beans and about a half cup of water, and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes on low heat.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve warm with bread.



Comfort on a weeknight: Chicken and Mushrooms

Written by Meena Agarwal on September 6th, 2007 | 14 Comments


Chicken & Mushrooms

After two whole of months of regaling in a house brimming with lively conversation and spilts of laughter, amidst the usual occasional rolling of the eyes of course, I finally find myself in an empty one. My parents recently left after enjoying a what I’d like to believe, a blissful vacation with us. With them, my sister – who for the duration of their stay moved in bag and baggage, went too. And if that was not enough, Hubby Dear had to take his business related trip within days of their departure. Which leaves me fending for myself.

But of course, like most artistic types, I use that time to dwell in my creativity. I can sleep as late as I want to, watching reruns of ‘What Not to Wear’ (what is it with that show that I can never get enough of?), work on my writing commitments into the wee hours of the morning, and the best part yet, experiment with food and test new recipes. Which is not to say that I look forward to this time, but it’s much easier getting rid of a recipe gone horribly bad and turning to a cup of fruit yoghurt for dinner rather than trying to convince a famished husband to do the same.

I woke up this morning with a deep longing for some good comfort food. So after a quick breakfast of coffee and toast (yes, I know, how boring!), I decided to head out and see what I could find of fresh produce. As I strolled down the aisles of fresh fruits and greens, ideas kept popping into my head. One look at the abundance of fresh mushrooms reminded me of a sinfully delicious chicken and mushroom stew I had recently. It was warm and comforting, a treat for a lonely week night. The short flashback was all I needed to add it to my basket. Once the mushrooms were in, my hands just moved to pick up the rest of the ingredients. The pot was already simmering in my head, and by the time I got home, I could already taste it.

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Intro to Indian, Part 4 – Indian Street Food: Tandoori Chicken Pops

Written by Meena Agarwal on August 9th, 2007 | 25 Comments


Tandoori Chicken Pops

Growing up, I seldom remember a weekend where we had the house to ourselves. While few weekends were spent hosting visiting family and friends from far off places, most of our Saturday nights was spent amidst mighty morsels of succulent bites of food. My parents, like most true-blood Indians, love to shower people with their hospitality and feed them till they’re almost ready to burst. We Indians are known for our need to treat our guests with the utmost care and generosity, and one common way we all seem to achieve in doing so is through our food. Food holds a very special place in any Indian household. No festivity is complete without a table laden with colourful dishes end to end, enough to please a king.It’s no wonder that out of all the rooms in a home, many Indians take the most pride in showing you their kitchens. Truly, we love food, and our life surrounds it. Our conversations, no matter how they begin always seem to divert to the food related with the topic in question. A simple wedding announcement would automatically lead to the designing of the menu. Even meeting up with a long lost friend would be done over lunch or dinner, over food they could reminisce about.

While our meals may be laced with rich aromatic flavours, what I look forward to the most at any Indian-inspired party is the platter of appetizers. Indian hors d’oeuvres range from savoury street food, like the most loved samosas (deep fried pastry filled with potatoes) and pakodas (spiced fritters), to the ever famous tandoori tikkas (marinated meat grilled in a clay oven). They are steamed, grilled and fried. They come in various sizes and shapes, some that can be daintily picked by two fingers, and others that require a spoon and lots of napkins. No matter in what form, they each have something special to offer, and no cocktail party would regret having them.

Ask any one who has ever walked the streets of any major Indian city, be it Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore; and they will attest to the fact that no evening stroll is complete without making a stop at one of the many hawker stalls that surround every busy area in these cities. Street after street, stall after stall, you will be greeted by smiling faces and tempting plates that urge you to come and give it a try. Smothered with spicy and tangy chutneys, yogurt and tons of other fixings, each plate creates a whole new tale in your mouth. My fondest memories of my days spent in India involve sneaking out of the house on the pretext of an evening walk while I actually skipped to hawker next door and enjoyed deep fried savoury chips drowned in tangy yogurt and sweet tamarind chutney, running through the rain to buy a big batch of jalapeno fritters, and waiting in long lines to savour a bite of the best kebabs I had ever tasted on the face of this planet.

A friend recently asked me to make a list of some of my favourite food joints that I strongly feel she should try on her visit to Delhi. My response – if she could stomach it, nothing beats the spicy street food.

Previous installments of the Indian 101 series:

- Intro to Indian
- Part 1: Know your Spice
- Part 2: A Lesson in Lentils
- Part 3: Pickles & Chutneys

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It can only get better: Ayam Masak Merah (Red Chilli Chicken)

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 23rd, 2007 | 21 Comments


Ayam Masak Merah (Red Chilli Chicken)

For someone who writes and manages a food blog felicitously named, Hooked on Heat, it comes as a surprise to many when I confess that until very recently, say a couple of years ago, I belonged to the clan of folks who shied away from all things spicy. Ironically, it always petrified my Mom how her first-born could ever be averesed to eating spicy food. Being one who can’t swallow a meal that lacks in the redness that can only be born out of the addition of hand-ground chillies, not once did she smile while separating my portion of the daily meal before spicing it up for the rest of the family.

As the years passed, I began to discover my taste preferance and my spice level tolerance grew along with it. So much so, that it surprised my Mom a few days ago, how much heat I can actually tolerate when it comes to my favourite foods. Malay food, obviously being one of them. Like two long lost best friends, Mom and I have been spending lots of time bonding in the kitchen over gossip and spice bottles. She, imparting her wisdom and showing me the tricks of the trade, and me, trying to grasp as much information as I can during the six short weeks that she’s here. And amidst it all, Hubby Dear has been his most happiest with the wide spread Malay dishes that Mom lays on the dinner table with such ease.

A few days ago, much to her delight, she discovered a jar of Sambal Olek in my fridge, which only motivated her more to enter the kitchen and whip something up. Over a discussion of what we could try next, I thought of a dish that I chanced upon a few years ago on our trip to Malaysia. Whenever I find a recipe that works for me, I know that it can only get better from there. Whether it’s one concocted from my very own imagination, a desperate attempt to imitate something I happened to come across that just took my breath away, or one that a close friend solemnly swears by, I know that if I like it on my first try, then there won’t be any looking back. It took me only a few seconds before I could describe what I had in mind, and Mom was set to get to work.

The verdict, I licked my plate clean, and now have another favourite to add to my repertoire!

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Sweet Beginnings: Rainbow Cupcakes

Written by Meena Agarwal on July 12th, 2007 | 34 Comments


Rainbow Cupcakes

What can I say. I caved. I didn’t want to. But I did.

Growing up, I remember spending most of my vacation time in the summers pouring over mouth-wateringly tempting photographs of intricately designed cakes, cookies and other baked goodies. My mom had (or must I say, still does) this tendency to pick up wonderfully photographed cookbooks cramped with an even more delicious assortment of recipes. It’s no wonder where I’ve caught the bug from.

One look at the many overstocked shelves throughout my home will give you a slight idea of my fixation to them. Heck, who am I kidding! I have cookbooks peeping out from my pantry shelves, kitchen cabinets, on top of the fridge, and not to mention a few prized possessions that I deem only fit to snuggle on my bedside table. Yes, it’s shameful I know. I’m addicted. Hi, I’m Meena, and I’m a cookbook addict. There, I said it. Now hopefully, we can all get on with our very normal or some not-so-normal lives!

Coming back to my Mom. I must say her favourites to collect included books on baking. And unlike me, who mostly drool over pages and pages of food talk, she actually dons her apron and puts those words into action. It’s no surprise then to point out that she bakes some of the best cakes I know. And not one to let Mr. Opportunity walk past my door without so much as grabing him with both arms and giving him a tight hug, I decided to learn a few tricks from her while she’s here visiting me.

It’s been good so far. The food comes out from the kitchen faster than I can request them, and I find myself ravishing every spoonful with such passion. But the baking, oh the baking! I always thought of myself as not-a-baker. But she’s adamant on making me one. She’s even intent on getting me my very own stand mixer. So now I’ll have no excuse for not trying out those wonderful holiday cookie recipes I set aside since two years ago.

What can I say? I caved. And I’m adamant to succeed.

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What to Cook: Distressed over Dinner

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 20th, 2007 | 18 Comments


Methi Egg Curry

Every now and then I emails from readers requesting me for a particular recipe. Some I’m quite familiar with and readily try and post about. Then are those requests of dishes that for the life of me, I had no idea even existed. I especially love these email where I get a chance to learn about something new. And then there are a few mails wherein I’m asked to help plan a party, with a fully designed menu. Now these are mails that I especially enjoy! That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate those lovely thank you notes I get from fabulous readers who’ve tried my recipes and taken the time to send me feedback. You all have a special place in my heart, so keep ‘em coming folks! And just in case you have this silly notion that I don’t value what you have to say since I haven’t responded to your email/comment, then please don’t think that way. All I can say is that it’s hard for me to juggle all the things I tend to do at the same time. Most times I have more on my plate than I can conviniently handle, due to which I have to miss out on responding to your lovely words.Now, getting back to those emails on menu planning, yes, I just love those! Part of the excitement must come from my obessively complusive behaviour to always host the perfect party, and the rest I’m sure derives itself from my need to entertain on a regular basis. Yes, as Hubby Dear has time and again stated, I have a disease. And the only way to live with it is to accept the fact that I need to have frends and family over on a regular basis who I can feed and smother with goodies from my kitchen.

One such request arrived a few days ago from a regular reader of mine. This young lady always has something smart to discuss on food, and I’ve always enjoyed the conversations that we cultivated through our web correspondence. So I was highly surprised to see this frantic email from her sitting in my inbox:

Dear Meena,

Me and my girlfriends get together every month for our Book Club Meeting. Each month, the selected host designs a meal inspired by the book we are currently reading. This month, the task of hosting the dinner has come on me. We have been reading Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss, and I’d really love to serve a simple meal of everyday Indian food that you would serve to family and friends on a regular basis. While I’m used to making the customary party food like Butter Chicken and Chicken Tikka, this time I wanted to go for something more wholesome and comforting. I’ve promised the girls a meal they’ll remember forever and now I’m practically kicking myself for doing that. The meeting is in a week’s time, and I have no clue where to begin. HELP!

- Distressed over Dinner

 

Dear Distressed over Dinner,

I know sometimes cooking a simple meal for friends may seem appalling. No matter how hard we try, we always seem to go a bit overboard when entertaining our dearest friends. Maybe it’s the desire to impress them and keep them coming for more. Or maybe it’s our need to show a little flair and style that’s easily missed in our everyday meals. But that surely doesn’t mean that we have to torture ourselves over the stove, cooking a 3-course meal. Sometimes, the simplest food can also be the best and most appreciated. I’ve designed for you a menu which I think would simply floor your guests. Each dish is simple to prepare and a delight to eat. Trust me, lay all this out on the table and watch them lick their fingers. And I promise, the next time you host a party, they’ll surely want to be a part of it.

- Meena

The menu I’ve designed for this Book Club Meeting consists some of the classic favourites of every Indian home. The preparation methods are simple, cooking times are quick, and most if not all of them can easily be done a few days ahead of time. I’d suggest leaving the rice for the very last minute to ensure a wonderful aroma to fill your home, but of course, you could always have it ready before hand and re-heat in the microwave.

There you go DD, hope your friends will love this one! I would definitely go very light on appetizers, maybe just chips and dips, since you’ll want to save enough of space for the main meal. For dessert I’d suggest a tub of traditional Indian ice cream called Kulfi, which can be easily picked up at any Indian grocery store, and from what I recently noticed, many of our regular ones as well.

Anyone else out there need help planning a fabulous Indo-inspired meal? Well then, what are you waiting for, drop me a line!

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Cooking with Bollywood…

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 6th, 2007 | 16 Comments


Hot & Sour Fish Curry

As I sat through my umpteenth screening of the esteemed love triangle, I felt a sudden pang hit me. No, I could swear it wasn’t butterflies in my stomach as Shahrukh and Kajol romanced around trees. It was something much greater, much more dignified. A quick glance at the clock, and my fears were confirmed. Yes, hunger pangs, that’s what they were! But I was too into the better half of the movie to trot into the kitchen and make myself a bite. Then, like any miracle that never fails to take your breath away, I heard the all-too-famous tune crop up in the background. Yes! The two love birds were about to break into a song-and-dance number. Thank goodness for good ‘ol Bollywood movies where love is not love until the fat lady (or in Bollywood’s case, anyone) sings!

Okay then, so I had myself five minutes to fix me up a meal or worse yet, work through one, considering how long it would take the two to declare their love through sweet melody. With only a few minutes to spare, I had to pace myself well. Whatever I was going to do had to be fast, and with the use of as limited ingredients as possible. A quick peek into my fridge and I knew just what I wanted! It was perfect. I was sure I could wing it. I would do the chopping as the fish sat in a quick marinade. Then I would let it rest and do it’s own thing until the next song, which as per my calculation, should come up in the next ten minutes. Perfect. Just perfect.

Speaking of perfection, this Malay-inspired fish curry is definitely one of my favourites. So much so, that it was sure to be on the menu when ever I would come home for the holidays during my days in college. With just a few ingredients, and even lesser of an effort, it’s amazing how wonderfully delicious this dish is. Trust me, you’ll want to make extra since no one, and I mean NO ONE, can resist asking for seconds!

Coming back to the meal at stake, just as expected, I was about to sprint back into the kitchen after 10 minutes and continue with the cooking process. Another movie break while it simmered, and by the time Shahrukh broke into another jig, I served myself a big bowl. Now, who ever said multi-tasking was hard to achieve, definitely never tried it my way!

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For the love of Food…

Written by Meena Agarwal on April 1st, 2007 | 20 Comments


Edible Cigars with Garlic-Yoghurt Dip

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a muncher. You know, the kinds who can nosh through meal times over little bites of delicious finger food. Growing up in a home where tea-time was treated with the greatest pleasure must have had something to do with it, I’m sure. I clearly remember warm summer afternoons, or even cold winter ones for that matter, where we would often substitute our dinner for a platter of the most guilt-ridden snacks. Lovely fritters deep fried till crisp and drowned in a tangy chutney, smokey char-grilled tikkas and kebabs, scrumptious sandwiches with the most amazing toppings, and of course, my personal favourites of deliciously spiced street foods.As I grew older, my love for noshing grew wider, incorporating in it varied flavours, from every cuisine I ever had a go at. Friday nights for me meant junk night – wherein, strictly avoiding a proper 3-course meal for dinner, I would instead opt for a plateful of wings, fries, or on many occasions, samosas. It was the only way I knew how to have a Friday night meal. Anything else seemed totally hideous.

When I first met Hubby Dear, my excitement knew no bounds to find that like me, he too grew up in a household where good food, and especially noshing was of high priority. I’ve heard of many stories from friends on how marriage makes one change ones habits and adapt to the other’s way of life. For me, it was a matter of simply combining the two. It wasn’t hard for me to fuse my love for all things spicy with Hubby Dear’s undying addiction to all things edible. Truly, matches are made in Heaven, but I’d like to believe that ours was cooked up in a 5-star kitchen filled with all things a culinary goddess could only dream of having.

And while our friends and family could happily attest to how different we are from each other, our Friday nights would easily prove otherwise. For in a home where one finds it hard to understand how the other can own a few dozen purses, and still find the need for more, the large platter filled with bite-size crispy treats is always something the two will always look forward to.

On the very note of food, I’m glad to announce that for those living in the GTA area, you will now be able to get my Indian 101 series right at your doorstep. Yes, as crazy and wonderful as it sounds, I now have my own column in the Mississauga News’ monthly food supplement, Nosh. Unfortunately, for those of you eagerly waiting for my nexr installment on the series, I apologise for the delay. While I already have the next part fully planned out, I will have to restrict myself from putting it up here until it gets published in my column. But fear not, just a few more weeks, and I’ll be back with the next part. I sincerely thank all of you wonderful readers without whose support and encouragement, my work would not have gotten the recognition it has. And for those of you far away and not able to subscribe to the paper, don’t feel left out. The series will surely continue on this site as well. Thank you all again, and happy eating!

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Rain, Rain go Away…

Written by Meena Agarwal on March 26th, 2007 | 20 Comments


Spiced Lamb Pilaf
Spiced Lamb Pilaf

With the snow finally melted all around me and the cold wave falling to a bearable low, you would think that I’m finally at peace with the weather. But I can only disagree ever so slightly. Now, I’m not much of a difficult person to please, except of course that one particular time when… Ohh, let’s not get into that now, shall we! Sometimes I wonder if change in preferences defines the epitome of growing older. Well, in many ways, I’m quite sure it does. As I write this, calmly seated at my desk overlooking the big windows in my study, I can’t help but feel nostalgia creep up as I watch the rain pour down.My fondest memories of rain is of this one particular season, when as a rebelious adolescent, I snuck out of my Mom’s watchful eyes, and armed with a bright pink umbrella, tip-toed into our terrace. Terraces are a wonderful gift of many classic Indian houses. With the open space perfect for sun drying large bulks of laundry, it’s also a wonderful go-to for those lovely late night parties with an open feel. Children, and adults alike can easily be spotted lazying on cool mats, soaking in the warm sun on fresh spring and summer days. A boon, those open terraces, especialy for people like me who love to escape with a bright pink umbrella on a rainy day, if only to dance! And dance did I!

That day brings with it the fond memories of me being soaked despite the umbrella, of Mom catching me doing my jig in the rain and pulling me back into the warmth of our living room, and especially of the aromatic comfort food laid out on the dining table ready to be gorged on.

It’s funny how every fond memory I have of my childhood always has some connection to food. But what’s even more surprising is my craving for particular food at any given time. And while I write this post, looking out the window at the rain washing whatever little is left of the snw on the ground,  I can’t help but feel the warmth embrace me through the aroma coming from my kitchen. Yes, it’s almost lunch time, and I hear my plate calling.

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