Ask Meena: Alu Beans

Here is a recent email I received from a reader:

Hi Meena,

I’m a vegan and have recently started trying my hand at cooking Indian food at home. I love the aromas and flavours that Indian cooking offers and it’s also one of the best cuisines I’ve enjoyed since becoming a vegan 3 years ago. I enjoy eating most vegetables, but potatoes just happen to be my absolute favourite. I will anything if there is even a slight trace of potato in it. I was wondering if you could share a few vegetable recipes that also include potatoes in them. Thanks in advance and keep those delicious recipes coming!

- Donna

Pic for Alu Beans taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Hey Donna! I completely agree with you that Indian food is definitely one of the best cuisines for a vegan/vegetarian to enjoy. The flavours are robust, varied and you have a million options to choose from! To be honest, I generally feel that potatoes often take the cake in Indian vegetarian cooking. It’s one of the cheapest vegetables found in India, and is a sure staple in many homes. It’s usually hard to find an Indian who does not enjoy the spud in some form or the other. So aren’t you in luck!

Since potatoes are great in taking on any flavorings added to them, you can easily get away with throwing in a few pieces to almost any dish that you cook. They work great when cooked with peas, carrots, cauliflower or any kind of greens that you fancy. This Alu Palak recipe is one such example. Below, is another quick recipe that works great as a side to some Dal and Rotis/Rice.

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Turning up the Heat: Baingan Bharta

If I told you that I whip up amazingly gourmet meals at the drop of a hat for my everyday dinners, that I’d have to be lying. Truth be told, 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. 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.

Recipe for Baingan Bharta taken from www.hookedonheat.com

When it comes to feeding 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?

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 buckets full 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!

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A Hearty Start: Sukhe Kaale Chane

Hubby Dear and me have always believed that sleeping is a sport, and ever since we got married, we have tried to outdo the other on how long we can sleep in over the weekends. Well, that was, of course, until Baby Dear was born. What can I say, the kid HATES to sleep – always did, and continues to do so. So while our entire neighbourhood wakes up leisurely on a Saturday morning and slowly begins their day pouring a glass of cold orange juice from the fridge, the three of us would be in the midst of planning out our lunch.

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

Baby Dear wakes up beady eyed at the crack of dawn, jumps out of his bed and sprints to our room yelling, ‘Weekend’s here!’. And then THUD! He plops himself comfortably under our covers, rubs his tummy and asks the dreaded question, ‘What’s for breakfast guys?’

Breakfast has never been my thing. I wake up each morning with the desire of only a freshly brewed warm cup of coffee, and I’m roaring to go. Weekends, on the other hand, are slightly different. The three of us love starting our Saturdays with a big breakfast. Almost every other week, we find ourselves at some quaint little café digging into buttered toasts and eggs or warm maple syrup poured over pancakes, with copious amounts of coffee for us and milk or fresh juice for Baby Dear. Treating ourselves to breakfast out is definitely something we look forward to and cherish.

But on days like this past weekend, where the slow pitter-patter of raindrops splashed on our window and the gloomy weather made us want to put on warm fuzzy socks and snuggle on the couch, I love digging into my repertoire of special hot Indian breakfasts. Breakfast in India is always a big deal – be it any day of the week, and there is no dearth of options when it comes to a plate of piping hot healthy meals to start the day with. One of our family favourites  is this spicy stir-fry of tiny brown chickpeas, quite different in taste and texture from their larger white counterpart.

This is a perfect dish to make ahead and keeps well in the fridge for about a week or the freezer for a month. When ready to eat, simply heat it up and garnish with fresh coriander leaves and a sprinkle of lemon juice. Add your favourite hot beverage of choice, surround yourself with your favourite people, and you have a wonderful start to the perfect weekend!

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Indian Food: D is for… Dhabewali Dal Tadka

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.

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

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

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

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

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Over Rain & Coffee: Palak Pakodas

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

Recipe for Palak Pakodas taken from www.hookedonheat.com

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

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

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Kids Lunchbox Idea: Minty Potato Samosas

Come September, Baby Dear will be off to pre-school. I’ll finally be joining in the likes of moms who begin their day with packing a lunch for their wee ones. For the past few weeks, I’ve been filling my ‘recipe ideas‘ notebook with recipes that would fill his little tummy and keep Baby Dear alert and active for the remainder of the school day.

Recipe for Minty Potato Samosas taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Since schools in India have just started to open up for the new term, I’ve been getting quite a few requests to share recipes that would work well for kids’ lunch boxes. While sandwiches often seem to be the go-to solution for a quick packed lunch, I’ve never been a fan of them. I used to pack myself simple sandwiches made with cheese and tomatoes, or cold cuts and lettuce, or sometimes even the good old PB&J, but come lunch-time, I always craved something else. But let’s be honest here – not many us have the time, energy or sometimes even the patience it takes to prep a fresh cooked, healthy meal early in the mornings. Our breakfasts itself are almost always rushed, so finding the time for cooking and packing a meal for later in the day seems almost ridiculous! Which is why I’m a big believer in leftovers.

I’ve been packing Hubby Dear’s lunches almost everyday since we got married, which is over 9 years ago! And almost always, it has been leftovers. And that’s exactly what I intend to do with Baby Dear’s lunches as well. While I do understand that packing meals for kids needs some amount of creativity and thought put into it, I don’t see why it can’t be done with minimum fuss and effort on the mom’s part. The recipe I have for you today, does exactly that. You can make these samosas in big batches on a weekend when you have the time and freeze them. Then, as and when required, fry them up and serve hot. They taste great at room temperature as well, so you can definitely fry them the previous evening and pack them up for lunch the next day.

Another idea to take this even a step further, is to make Bun Samosas, which are a popular street food outside many colleges and office buildings in most major cities in India. All you need to do is smush a samosa or two, depending on its size, between a bun or two slices of bread. You can also spread some chutney or plain ‘ol ketchup on the inside for that extra zing. Baby Dear absolutely loves it, and this is one sandwich I would never mind opening my lunchbox to!

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Pantry Cooking: Tawa Pulao

It’s been hot and I think I’m melting! I could’ve sworn I was an inch taller just two weeks ago!! Thank goodness for the rain Gods, it’s been much cooler the past two days. I feel that I can now actually enter my beloved kitchen, without getting cooked myself. Although I enjoy making elaborate meals and spending precious time creating culinary art, there are times when I just want to come home and not take more than a few minutes to whip up a delicious yet wholesome meal.

Recipe for Tawa Pulao taken from www.hookedonheat.com

It is often at such times when I find retreat in my always over-stocked pantry. I love my pantry, and I sincerely believe that if I happen to have an unexpected emergency at hand, I’ll most probably be very well prepared to cook up a meal for 10 people using just the contents from it. I always make sure my shelves are well stocked with a variety of pasta, flour, canned beans, sauces and quick eats.

I’ve always loved grocery shopping, which only added to my pantry stock. I love losing myself in the aisles with the variety of oils, sauces and international fares. Learning to grocery shop the right way is an acquired art. It takes brain power and perfect precision to buy things in just the right amount to stock a pantry. There were times when I would find myself staring at 5 cans of tuna, each with an expiry date well past.

It took time, and a lot of practice, but I learnt. I now have the perfect pantry to help me build my meals each day. And at times like tonight, when all I want is a quick fix and hours in front of the TV, my pantry is what I can count on!
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Quick, Quick, Slow: Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes)

If you ever happen to just drop by my home on short notice or unannounced, chances are high that you will be served a meal that would definitely star one of my go-to potato recipes. This humble vegetable is a boon to home cooks everywhere, and I consider it a part of the Indian kitchen trinity alongside onion and tomatoes. In fact, even on days when my fridge is almost bare and I need to make a desperate run to store, I can always count on falling back on these three. Combined with a pantry full of various lentils, beans and grains, and variety of spices on hand, the options for a simple healthy dinner are endless!

Recipe of Sukhe Alu (Sauteed Potatoes) taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Hubby Dear is the die-hard potato fan in our home. So much so, that I often say all I have to do is throw him the tuber when he starts to whine in hunger and he’s a happy camper! I guess it makes us the perfect match since I’m known as the potato magician in the family. It’s been said that my potato recipes are finger-lickin’ and we have friends and family who always request them at every meal they eat at our table. But I digress.

Potatoes are definitely very versatile and take on any flavor added to them with ease. They’re simple to prep and even easier to handle while cooking, so what’s not to love! The recipe I’m sharing with you today is one I keep in my back pocket. If you have the few ingredients it asks for on hand, which I always do, this dish is perfect to throw together as that final side to bring the whole meal together. Leftovers work wonderfully slightly mashed up and sandwiched between toasted bread. Or serve it by self warm with toothpicks alongside some iced drinks! No matter which way you decide to bring it to the table, I can guarantee that your family will linger around till its all gone!
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Food for Kids: “Revamped” Instant Ramen Noodles

Since summer’s here, I’ve gotten quite a few requests to post recipes on food for kids. No doubt, for me it comes at the perfect time – right when I’m trying to increase my repertoire to include lunch box and snack ideas for my little one. Baby Dear has never been a picky or fussy eater and will happily down a hearty serving of Egg Sambal and Ginger-Chilli Shrimp anytime of day. But, ever since he turned 3 some months ago, I’ve been very excited to try out and experiment on new kid-friendly recipes. You see, the wee prince is all set to start preschool at the end of summer and I’m beside myself thinking up ideas on what I can pack for his lunch boxes.

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

When I think of kid-friendly recipes, what comes to my mind is anything but the usual nuggets & fries. To me personally, food catered to kids needs to be nutritious as well as tasty. I also believe in serving up a variety of foods and flavours and introducing them to different cuisines. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking and make you spend hours on end by a stove. You can easily make a tasty, healthy and quick meal for you child with anything you have on hand. All it takes is a little creativity and practice.

Instant noodles is a staple in probably every pantry that exists. As much as we all like to shun it for its’ lack of health benefits, we can’t deny that we’ve all spent at least some part of our lives going through packets of them. No doubt, they definitely are a quick and budget-friendly solution to dinner time. But just because we are in a time or money crunch, doesn’t mean that we can’t look out for our health and especially our kids’. I have to admit, a few packets of ramen often find their way into my shopping cart each month, but I’m happy to say that when I serve up a plate of these instant noodles, I know that no harm is being done to my family. I always throw out the sodium laden seasoning sachet that it comes with and add in a ton of fresh veggies to amp up the nutritional value of the meal.

Ask almost any kid, and they’ll agree that noodles of any form is one of their all time favourite foods. Baby Dear is no different. Which is why, this recipe is just perfect as a hearty snack when they walk in the door all tired and hungry after playing at the park, or to pack in their lunch once the school year begins.
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Indian Food: C is for… Chatpati Bharwaan Bhindi

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.

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

Bhindi, or Okra as we all know it, is quite a tricky vegetable when it comes to cooking. Although it certainly is one of the most popular vegetables in an Indian vegetarian menu, there are a huge chunk of us who wring our noses on its slimy characteristics. Hubby Dear loves this dainty vegetable to death and can eat it at any meal, but serve it up even with the slightest of moisture in it and he’s off! I’m the same way. For me, the okra must always be cooked absolutely dry, with lots of spices added in. A quick way to cook bhindi is by stir-frying the chopped pieces with lots of onions and some spices. My tried and tested trick to get rid of any trace of slime while cooking is to add in a hefty pinch of amchoor powder.

Today’s recipe is another way to jazz up this humble vegetable and create a dish that’s perfect for entertaining. Chatpati simply means tangy and in this recipe, the addition of amchoor powder also known as dried mango, takes kicks it up a notch. In my book, this recipe is an absolute win since it’s simple to prep, easy to cook and a definite crowd pleaser. Because this is a pretty dry vegetable side dish, I would suggest pairing it up with a side of Curry or Dal served alongside some Rice and Rotis.

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