Indian Food: D is for… Dhabewali Dal Tadka

Recipe for Dhabewali Dal Tadka, 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

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

Recipe for Palak Pakodas taken from www.hookedonheat.com

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!

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

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

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.

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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Warming Tones: Chilli Paneer

Recipe for Chilli Paneer taken from www.hookedonheat.com

What is it with the weather lately? One week it’s super hot, then it’s rainy and now it’s back to having me want to spend my day under the covers with umpteen cups of coffee and a good book. The recipe I have for you today, namely Chilli Paneer, is perfect for this slightly chilly, damp weather. It’s quick, tasty and fits the bill in giving you that warm, cozy feeling in your tummy on a day like this.

I shared my recipe of Chilli Paneer on this blog many years ago, but decided to update you with another one today since I’ve now changed the way I make it for us at home. Chilli Paneer is a crowd favourite that pleases adults and kids alike. You’ll probably find it on any Indo-Chinese menu as the vegetarian companion to Chilli Chicken. Don’t you just love it when different cultures come together and produce a lip-smacking plate of food. Almost like a perfect marriage.

In India, Chinese food is nothing like what you get, well, in China. It’s loaded with chillies, garlic, ginger, onions, a ton of various spices and a generous splash of soy sauce to finish off! Hubby Dear fondly tells me of the first time he walked into an authentic Chinese restaurant in Canada craving his regular favourites – Chilli Paneer, Gobi Manchurian and Pepper Chicken. Not only was he disappointed to find out that they didn’t serve either of these, but that whatever he ordered, lacked the familiarity of so-called Chinese dishes that he was used to back in India. It was only much later that he learned that restaurants serving Indianized Chinese food did exist and here in the GTA, they are often referred to as Hakka joints. We do have our go-to Hakka places that we like to venture into a few times a month, but for the most part, I prefer making these dishes at home. That way, I can easily control the sodium and spice level that goes into it. Not to mention, my home-cooked recipes are very rarely deep fried, not laden with copious amounts of oil and equally, finger-lickin’ good.

I urge you to try this recipe if you’re new to Indo-Chinese food. And if, like me, you can’t get enough of this amazing cuisine, then what’s your excuse to not get cooking?
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Men Can Cook: Hubby Dear’s Famous Nachos

Recipe for Nachos taken from www.hookedonheat.com

Hubby Dear rarely cooks. In fact, the only time he ever enters the kitchen is to peek over my shoulder to see what’s cooking. There was this one time a couple of years ago where I threw Hubby Dear a surprise birthday party with some of our closest friends and family. There were over 12 adults plus kids, and I had, as usual, planned a huge menu that included a super large Eggplant Parmesan as one of the main dishes. In order to make the recipe large enough to feed a hungry crowd, I bought 8 giant eggplants and stored them in the fridge for about two days before the party. And the man had no idea! Not even once in that week did he open the fridge. Thank God for that, or else I would’ve been stumped on what to say if he asked about the sudden over stocking of eggplants and the numerous jars of mixed olives and marinated mushrooms. So yea, the kitchen is pretty much my domain.

Well, except for when a strong craving of Nachos suddenly hits! That’s when Hubby Dear takes over, and rightly so. You see, he has this gift when it comes to making THE best, cheesy, finger-licking Nachos. Anyone and everyone who’s ever had a bite of Hubby Dear’s Special Nachos swears by it! Friends and family request it anytime we get together and Baby Dear and I demand it for dinner 2-3 times a month. It is that good.

I’ve watched him make it a zillion times; shopped for the ingredients he needs, even helped in chopping them up. Trust me when I say this – it’s the most simple and easiest way to make a platter of nachos. All the ingredients used are readily available and almost all can usually be found in your kitchen any given day. There’s no “secret” ingredient. No “special” technique. Its just regular, everyday ingredients chopped up, layered and baked. So what makes it THAT good, you ask? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s the smile on his face when he proudly brings the platter to the table. Or maybe, just maybe, its the love that he puts in it - from the way he patiently tries to chop everything the same size, to carefully spreading it all out evenly so that each bite is a party in your mouth. I guess, now that I think of it, there may be a “secret” to it after all!
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Pantry Cooking: Tawa Pulao

Recipe for Tawa Pulao taken from www.hookedonheat.com

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.

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)

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

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!

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

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

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.

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

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

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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What to Cook: Confused Cook

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

Here is an email I received a few weeks ago that got me thinking, testing and dreaming recipes. Until last night, when I finally saw the table clearly laid out in mind waiting for hungry mouths to dig in, I was seeing ginger, garlic and onions everywhere! I tell you people, the things I do for the love of cooking!

Dear Meena,

I have a co-worker from India who is Jain. I’d like to invite him and his wife to dinner one of these days. Now the problem is I have no idea how to make anything without onion, ginger, potato etc! They are very strict about their food. Help! I want to serve at least three entrees and rice and/or roti. Can you give me suggestions and/or recipes?

- Confused Cook

Dear Confused Cook,

Truth be told, I’ve never attempted to cook Jain food, much less ever had a chance to eat it. So the scary thought of creating a menu for you without any ginger, garlic and onions, without which my kitchen would seem barren and in need of a desperate makeover, turned me into a mad woman that surprised even sweet little Hubby Dear. Ever little thing I cooked and ate over the past few days was scrutinized in hopes of finding a way to recreate it without the bare essentials of my cooking. But as they say, prespiration gives way to perfection (I can swear I heard that somewhere!), and I’m happy to note that your very first Jain dinner party will soon take shape.

- Meena

The menu I designed for this dinner includes the classic favourites like Pulao, Dal, and Rotis. The vegetable dishes I’ve picked for this menu are either traditionally cooked without onions and garlic, or can easily be made without them, without compromising much on flavour.

  • Dal: Cook your choice of Dal in the normal way, omitting the addition of onions, ginger and garlic. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
  • Kadhi-Pakodi: This wonderful dish, prepared from yoghurt and gram flour is a personal favourite of mine. While in most cases onions are used in the end as a tempering with dried chillies, it can easily be avoided to accommodate a Jain diet. Bring a mixture of 2 tbsp gram flour, I cup yoghurt and 2 cups water to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid forming lumps. Season with salt, turmeric and chili powder. Add in pakodas made with vegetables of choice, and stir in a tempering of cumin seeds, dried red chillies and a pinch of dried fenugreek leaves for added flavour.
  • Paneer Tak-a-tak: recipe follows
  • Dahi Bhindi: Follow the recipe avoiding the addition of onions and ginger powder.
  • Fried Baingan
  • Peas Pulao: Again, omit the addition of onions.
  • Plain Rotis and/or Puris

Add in a Raita, salad and Papad, and there you have it CC, a wonderful, Jain accommodated hearty meal! For dessert I suggest the usual favourites, kheer, gulab jamun or halwa.

Do you have any trouble planning a menu or fixing a meal? I’m only a few lines away

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