Mango Mania: Spicy Mango Salsa

As a kid growing up in Kuwait, I remember eating mangoes in abundance during the summer months. For the entire months of April-June, our king-sized fridge would have a whole shelf dedicated to this princely fruit. My Dad would buy them by the boxes at the beginning of each week, and we just could never get enough of them.

Pic for Spicy Mango Salsa taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for a detailed recipe.

Unlike kids in India, we only had access to the Alphonso mango, a variety considered to be one of the best in sweetness and taste. So it came as a big surprise to me when I was introduced to the many other varieties of mango in the couple of years we stayed in India during the 1st Gulf War. I had no idea that this delicious fruit came in many different sizes, shapes, colour and most importantly, flavour. Mangoes in India are a treasured fruit, and used extensively and creatively in both sweet and savoury ways. I have to admit that even after all these years, and after all the varieties I’ve tried and tasted, the Alphonso still happens to be my favourite.

I couldn’t help myself a few weeks ago when I spotted them on my weekly grocery trip. Although the season was just beginning and they almost cost me a small fortune, I knew I HAD to have them. I picked a dozen of the most sweet-smelling and juicy-feeling ones that I could find and rushed home, eager to chill them for a couple of hours. For those not in the know, a sweet luscious mango is best enjoyed cold. Once our lunch was done, I pulled out three from my fridge, peeled and chopped them into slices and placed the platter in front of Hubby and Baby Dear. The plate was cleared in seconds! It was our way of realizing that summer was almost here.

A few days ago, I received an email from Naina, a long-time reader asking me for a recipe using mangoes. I knew instantly that this Mango Salsa was what I needed to share. It’s been our staple snack almost every evening since the last few days. I first made it on a whim last summer when we had friends coming over for a playdate and dinner. I had asked Hubby Dear to have a taste of it, as is noted in his job description of in-house taste-tester, and he loved it. So much so, that we ended up eating the whole bowl and I had to put up salsa instead with the chips when our friends arrived. Since then, this recipe is a sure shot every time I have mangoes in the fridge. We like it spicy, but if you don’t then simply leave out the jalapenos. It’s lip-smacking good either way!

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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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A Simple Feast: Paneer Methi Matar

The Indian festive season has begun, and kitchens all over the country have been buzzing with activity. Mine is no different. I’ve spent the past few days planning and re-planning our menus. I remember a time when not too many years ago when Hubby Dear and I would throw lavish Diwali parties. We’d have an extensive menu which would have me begin the cooking process a day or two in advance. Those were the days!

Recipe for Paneer Methi Matar, taken from www.hookedonheat.com

For the last few years however, we’ve both seem to have wanted to slow down a bit during the holidays. It’s not that we do not make a big deal about celebrating, we just prefer to have it low-key with family and some of our closest friends. But does this mean we skimp on the food? Of course not! I could never live with myself if I did. The cooking still continues in full swing. We generally tend to have a very light breakfast, and I cook up a storm for our Diwali lunch. Dinner will typically vary between different kinds of snacky or finger food while we all sit down to a competitive game of cards.

Last year I went a bit nuts in trying to create a buffet of various Indian street food. Although I turned into a headless chicken trying to get a dozen things on the table at the same time, each piping hot and ready to serve, it sure was fun experience. On the menu, we had Samosas, Corn Chaat, Dal Kachoris with Chana Masala, Ragda Tikkis and Dahi Puris to simply name a few. (Yes, there was much more than this on our table. Much, much more.)

This year, I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of having everyone huddled around the buffet table, I want us all to sit down to a nice, homely, festive family meal. So on our Diwali menu this year will be: Methi Matar Malai (recipe follows), Dal Makhani, Bharwaan Bhindi, Baingan Patiala, Jeera Pulao, Garlic Naan, Beetroot Raita and Salad. Simple, wholesome, and absolutely delicious! So… what’s on your Diwali menu this year?

Here’s wishing all my wonderful readers a very happy and tasty festive season!

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Crunch for Time: Potato Masala Melts

A grilled cheese sandwich was one of the first big people finger foods I introduced to Baby Dear when he started to show an interest in feeding himself. I figured that if I could stuff a bunch of veggies, protein and some healthy fat in the form of delicious cheese between two slices of whole grain bread, and have him eat it with gusto, then it was win-win for us both! Of course, it worked like a charm. Even today, these kinds of warm sandwiches are always my fall back option when I’m in a crunch for time and need to get something healthy and filling on table, pronto.

Recipe for Potato Masala Melts taken from www.hookedonheat.com.

I personally love a grilled cheese sandwich for the fact that they can easily fit into any meal of the day – as Rachael Ray would say, they’re a perfect candidate for B-L-D. They’re also so versatile – fill in anything and everything you have, top it off with cheese and grill till warm and crisp. I always have a few different kinds of cheese and bread in my fridge/freezer, and you’ll find us enjoying sandwiches fresh from the griddle at least once a week.

It’s funny that now when I look back and think about it, I seem to have served some form of warm sandwiches every time I had a crowd to feed and a short notice to do so. We busted out the griddle when my bff decided to spend the night with us on a whim after her husband left on a business trip. We had to make a quick run to the corner store at midnight once when we all craved something warm during a movie marathon weekend. And I also remember making an insane number of them at Hubby Dear’s 30th Indian street food themed birthday bash.

A few days ago, as I did some cleanup on the site and started to organize my recipe list, it suddenly occurred to me that in all of these years of cooking and blogging about it, I had, not even once written about this humble and yet, amazingly satisfying dinner option. I made a mental note right there that I just had to get it done soon. This recipe is one of my personal favourites. It uses everything you might have in your fridge, freezer or kitchen pantry. To get more creative and introduce Baby Dear to new lunch ideas for when he starts school soon, I left them open-faced and shoved them into the toaster oven to melt and crisp. Do as  you please and add/omit ingredients as you like, keep it open-faced or slap another slice of bread on top. Afterall, a sandwich is nothing if not flexible. So here it is, as promised!

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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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Warming Tones: Chilli Paneer

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.

Recipe for Chilli Paneer taken from www.hookedonheat.com

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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