The Working Cook: Sauteed Spinach with Potatoes


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

My day started with me jumping out of bed realizing that I would be late for a meeting with one of my freelance clients. The leisure morning beauty regime I had planned for myself earlier (read: filing my nails into shape considered somewhat normal and putting on some nail polish) had to be ditched while I settled for a quick shower. The meeting went well, lasted for a couple of hours over large cups of fabulous coffee and never ending bites of warm buttery croissants, and ended with me bagging a couple of new assignments. That was followed by a mad dash home to vacuum and hide all the piled up papers, books and unmentionables under our bed to make the home look invitingly presentable to some last minute guests. dirty dishes where haphazardly shoved into the dish washer, and a sweet aromatic rosemary candle was lit. Amidst all the hoopla of trying to make my world look slightly more normal than it actually was, thoughts of food were attacking my brain cells.

I usually maintain a well stocked fridge, freezer and pantry – enough to whip up a lavish multi course meal without heading for the nearest grocery shelves. But not today. The expected guests were close friends who’d much rather have a simple home cooked meal than be flattered by a flambe of sorts. And I had to admit, I was almost out of breadth and ready to crash when I finally entered the kitchen. It had to be a meal that was quick to prepare and didn’t require much effort from me and of course, had to look grand. The one thing about me that you might have noticed by now is my obsessive need to make the people I feed feel extra special. Most dishes I settle for while entertaining are often a breeze to pull of, but you’d never guess that by looking at the spread. And that’s exactly how I like it to be!

I put out a pack of cut-up chicken to defrost with a plan of making a quick deliciously simple curry. I threw a few cups of fragrant Basmati rice into a pot of water with some aromatic spices for a Pulao, and started to tear up crisp lettuce for a quick tossed salad. Just as the rice started to emit a faint saffron aroma and the curry bubbled under a low simmer, I realized that I was missing a vegetable side dish. I found a large bunch of spinach sitting in my fridge, right after I spotted the basket of potatoes on my counter, and I knew just what I was going to be serving – the perfect accompaniment for the spread I had intended.

ALU PALAK (SAUTEED SPINACH WITH POTATOES)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 15 min | Serves: 2 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients:

2 large bunches of spinach, chopped
1 large potato, sliced into thin wedges
1 small onion, finely sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a deep non-stick wok and saute cumin and coriander seeds with garlic and onions till fragrant. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in potatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes till partly done. Add in spinach, and stir fry till it starts to wilt and potatoes are cooked through. Serve warm.



The Joys of Greens: Chilli Tofu with Beans and Bok Choy


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

Over the years it has dawned on me that I am perhaps more Malay than Indian when it comes to my food choices. Offer me a generous plate of stir-fried Kangkong and I would forgo the pot of Butter Chicken without so much as a second glance. Well, maybe it’s that easy for me since I never liked Butter Chicken anyway. But a plate of Biryani – now you’ve me getting greedy and highly confused on what to pick!

The main difference I find in the way vegetables are usually cooked in India and Malaysia is the amount of time it takes. Indian vegetables are often cooked to the max – entirely absorbed of all the seasonings and completely cooked through. Which would easily explain why I was never a fan of the dreaded Alu Gobi – who likes a cauliflower all mushy and soft? We recently had a BBQ party where I grilled cauliflower florets marinated in yogurt and spices till they were tender, yet still retained a slight crunch; it was to die for! Malaysian vegetables on the other hand, are often lightly stir- fried. The dish results in a burst of flavours and the veggies maintain their rich colour and crispness.

A couple of days ago I found myself at a gem of an Asian grocery store. This tiny place carried all sorts of Asian greens you could imagine, complete with all the hard-to-substitute fixins’ like Kaffir lime leaves, galangal and garlic chives. I had finally found my candyland. Spending the time there feeling, picking, and smelling the vegetables transported me to my childhood days – those where Mom would often dish out quick Malaysian vegetable dishes that I would actually enjoy eating.

I finally got home two hours later laden with two large bags of fresh produce and another one with a treasure trove of Southeast Asian pantry essentials. From Laksa, Thai curry and Tom Yum pastes to the best curry powder blends my pots have ever touched upon, I now find myself fully equipped! Each time I’ve looked into my pantry the past few days, I come out with a wealth of ideas for my next upcoming meals. And receiving this delightful book in the mail a couple of weeks back has only made it worse! I’ve been churning a wonderful array of fusion dinners for us and Hubby Dear’s waistline is having to bear the brunt of it. Let’s just say that it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to him when I hand him a gym membership as his b’day gift!

CHILLI TOFU WITH BEANS & BOK CHOY
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 block of firm tofu, cubed
2 large bunches of bok choy, chopped: green and white parts separated
a big handful of green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 small tomato, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a deep non-stick wok, and fry cubed tofu till slightly golden all over. Set aside.

Add in remaining oil in the pan and saute garlic and onions till soft and lightly browned. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in chopped tomatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes. Add in tomato paste and tamarind extract, and continue to fry, breaking up tomatoes till it starts to dry out and give out oil from the sides.

Add in beans and tofu, and stir fry till beans are cooked but still crisp. Add in bok choy, and stir fry till it starts to wilt. Serve warm.



A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal


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

A few days ago I had a wonderful lunch meeting with an editor of a local magazine. Over a slew of emails deciding on what time and day would best suit the both of us, she suggested we meet for Thai food. That’s when I knew I was going to really like her. And the moment she asked for her Tom Yum soup to be extra-spicy, I knew we were going to be best friends! Lunch was delightful, and the conversation we shared over fresh salad rolls, Pad Thai and Fried Bananas with ice cream was simply exceptional. Being the food editor of the magazine, she undoubtedly shared my obsession with all things culinary. We bonded over our favourite childhood snacks (who knew that ketchup on toast with a dash of pepper was not something that only weird ‘ol me enjoyed! I know, I know, it sounds like a hideous combination; but in my defence, I was 14, breaking out in pimples and was going through a phase where anything out of the ordinary was thought to be “in”…), how we usually plan our vacations based on places that are mostly know for their food more than anything else, and our dislike for broccoli! It was going great until she asked me the dreaded question – when and how did I learn to cook?

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve been faced with that very question. If only I had a penny for each time I was asked, well, I guess I’d have a lot of pennies by now! As far as I can remember, I actually started cooking when I moved out of home for college; the food there sucked, and since I had an inbuilt kitchen in my room, I figured I could at least try and salvage my hunger and save some money in the process. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said that wasn’t really when I learned to cook. My mom didn’t think much of having me and sister learn to cook the real way. Sure, she’d often have us help her at dinner time by setting the table, making the salad, frying puris while she rolled them out splendidly, and of course, doing the dreaded dishes once everyone was fed. There were days during holidays and weekends, when I would spend time talking to her in the kitchen while she prepped meals. In the process I often took note of how she added one ingredient after the other, roasted spices in dry heat to bring out their aroma, and took special care to avoid any extra gravy while layering Biryani. Little did I know that these special sessions we shared would one day be the basis of my career.

Truth be told, I can’t really point an exact time frame in my life when I actually learned to cook. It kind of just happened, maybe it was always there somewhere. In fact, I’m on a constant learning curve. Each day I educate myself with something new – be it how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg without having the shells stick to it, or that soft, delicious naans could actually be made at home in a flash. Without a tandoor. Who knew! What I can tell you honestly though is that the one thing I actually learned to cook was fried egg. My mom decided to teach me so that I could make my own breakfast without her having to leave the laundry halfway to feed me. It wasn’t a fun experience at all. I must’ve had thrown away a couple dozen before I could manage to crack them just right without thrusting my thumb in and breaking the yolk. But it was all for a good cause. How else could I have made myself this delicious Egg Sambal had it not been for that fateful day.

So, now I ask you – when did you learn to cook?

FRIED EGG SAMBAL
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

4 large eggs
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp light cooking oil
salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:

Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a non-stick pan (Use one large enough to cook the entire dish, since it makes it much easier to clean up. Personally I prefer using a wok to get perfectly round fried eggs.), and fry egg one after the other seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, adding in more oil if needed. Set aside.

Add in remaining oil in the pan and saute garlic and onions till soft and lightly browned. Add in spices and fry for a few seconds.

Throw in chopped tomatoes, season with salt and fry for a few minutes. Add in tomato paste and continue to fry, breaking up tomatoes till it starts to dry out and give out oil from the sides.

Slowly slide in the fried eggs, and carefully mix them with the tomato mixture to coat, without breaking the egg. Allow to heat through for a few minutes and serve warm.



Simply summer: Mediterranean Kebabs


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

What is with people who graciously accept your dinner invitation, arrive two hours late without so much as an apology or look of regret on their face, eat merely two bites of the delicious spread you took hours to lay out and declare that they’re just not that hungry! Huh? Wha…?

A few years ago, when I was a newbie in town, I had decided to invite a few people over for a nice dinner so that we could all mingle and get to know each other over mounds of spiked jello shots. The list of invited guests included a few of my colleagues, neighbours, the friendly dude from my dance class and a close friend on mine I’ve known since we were barely in our teens. A weird bunch to bring together no doubt, but I figured that if I ever intended on having a close knit circle of friends to run to over the weekends, then they should at the very least meet each other in person.

I had decided on serving Mexican food. Mainly, because they were such a diverse bunch and I figured that bringing them together over a Taco/Fajita bar laden with fixin’s and over-flowing pitchers of Sangria would definitely lighten everyone’s spirits. And also of course, who doesn’t like Mexican food? I mean, seriously, isn’t it illegal to frown upon it in some parts of the world? Mexico included?

The table was set, plates, glasses and cutlery laid out, and a Mariachi band was serenading away on my second-hand stereo. Slowly, the crowd started to pour in. The music continued to play, folks laughed at each other’s jokes and I couldn’t empty out tortilla chips into the bowls fast enough! It was all going well, until this person made his entrance. He seemed to be in a real bad mood, which made me wonder why he didn’t just call me up and say that he wasn’t able to make it. He sulked in a remote corner all night, nibbling on a handful of chips dipped in about a teaspoon of salsa. Did I mention I actually roasted tomatoes for the first time to make that delicious batch? Needless to say, he hardly even kept a conversation with me – summarizing his answers to my questions in monosyllables. And you’d think he would call me up the next day to apologize, but I’m yet to hear his reasons for his insane behaviour – and it’s been almost seven years now. Not that we’re still in touch though. I somehow find it very hard to maintain my cool with people who show no consideration for others. Which is why I hardly ever cook dinner for them more than once.

When it comes to having friends over, and I mean those people who you really love to spend your time with and not those that you hope to spend some time with – I almost, always, cook whatever they enjoy most. I recently had a close friend over for lunch who is simply smitten by anything Mediterranean! Her love for this eclectic cuisine knows no bounds, and she’s not one to let a good meal pass her by. Since it’s that time of year when I love throw anything on the grill and enjoy a nice lunch outdoors - I wanted to create a cool, calm and simple summer menu, the highlight of which were these deliciously lovely kebabs.

MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN KEBABS
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Makes: 8-10 medium-sized kebabs

Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
a handful of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tbsp bread crumbs
salt, to taste

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl to incorporate well. Form into kebabs and grill till done on both sides.

RECIPE NOTES: To grill in an indoor oven, heat oven to 375 degrees and grill for 20-25 minutes till done, turning once in between.



A ‘no-recipe’ recipe: Garlic Tofu Noodles


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

Today I have for you what I like to call one of my ‘no-recipe recipes’. These are a class of recipes that I often come up with at the spur of the moment – they have no reason, no inspiration. Just a bunch of ingredients thrown together in the hopes of creating something edible. While a few of such of my creations have turned out perfect to go into the trash, many of them have become a family favourite over the years and continue to make their appearances on my dinner table. Most of them are throw-it-all-into-one-pot-and-hope-for-the-best kinda meals, while others are quick assembly ones. But they each have one thing in common: a few starving mouths waiting to be fed.

I remember this one time when I tried cooking spaghetti with some leftover meatball curry, spaghetti bolognese a la Indian, which did not work out much to our liking. Nethier is combining paneer with green curry paste in hopes of creating a Thai-Indo fusion fried rice such a great idea. But I digress, a ravenous tummy = brains cells on holiday! But sometimes, the lack of time, energy and a frighteningly increasing hunger can create the most delicious meal.

Take today for example – I woke up with a strong will to bake. And bake I did! A bunch of sorry looking carrots found its way into my baking pan and turned into the most deliciously moist treat, a perfect pairing for my evening cup of coffee (but that’s a recipe for another day!). Then I slowly crossed off things on my to-do list one after the other. I was on a roll and nothing was going to stop me. Except, of course, my screaming stomach who knows nothing about keeping its cool when hungry. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that I was past my regular lunch time, and I had to act fast! So I did what I could – picked a bunched of that, chopped a few of those, boiled a pot of this, and stir-fried them all together. And might I add, as hideously simple as it sounds – it was a great meal. Or maybe that’s just my tummy talking!Â

GARLIC TOFU NOODLES
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

3 cups boiled egg noodles
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 cup diced extra-firm tofu
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp Sambal Olek
2 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a deep non-stick wok and saute onions and garlic, till lightly browned and fragrant. Add in tofu and fry for a few minutes till crisp around the edges. By this time, the onions and garlic should be caramalized and very fragrant.

Add in the shredded cabbage and Sambal Olek, and stir-fry for a few minutes to combine well. Stir in noodles, sprinkle soya sauce, and stir fry to coat noodles well with the sauce and veggies. Season with salt and serve warm.



Finally, cooking Indian for TV: Chana Dal Masala


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

I have a morning ritual of sorts that I like to follow, which include setting out a fresh pot of coffee to brew, catching up with my emails, and enjoying breakfast while reading through my favourite blogs. This little routine of mine almost always never changes. Except when something (delightfully!) unexpected happens. Like on Monday morning, for instance.

As I sipped on my last few drops of coffee, I received an email that instantly caught my eye. The subject simply said: The Mom Show, and its contents blew me away. I was asked if I would be available to do a cooking segment on Indian food for one of their upcoming episodes. They wanted me to show a few simple, kid-friendly recipes and discuss the best ways to introduce young kids to Indian food. Sweet! The catch? It would have to be taped the very next day in the afternoon. What could I say? Me, on TV, on The Mom Show, talking about Indian food? You bet I was available! Once things started to take shape (picking out the menu was a breeze!), and the timing and all other necessities confirmed, I set out to take care of another important task – my wardrobe! What followed, was a really looooong day of running from store to store looking for the perfect outfit, which might I had, didn’t quite exist as i had hoped! But whatever, I had a look at the clips after the shoot and think I looked pretty cute yapping away on the best ways to introduce kids to Indian food.

The taping took merely half an hour, but I was at the studio close to over three hours – prepping the food, and watching the taping of other segments being filmed. Needless to say, it was another long day but one I will never forget! By the time I got home, I was exhausted and the strain of the many hours spent shopping, prepping and finally shooting, made me crave for some homemade comfort food. And Dal-Chawal (lentils and rice) was what it just had to be for me! Trust me when I say this - no matter how tired you may be, the mere 10 minutes you’ll spend in prepping for this meal is truly worth it all the way. But why wait for the dreaded day when you feel that even lifting a finger could drive you to your grave? It tastes just as good when you’re your normal happy, active self. I can truly promise you that!

 

CHANA DAL MASALA (SPICED SPLIT PEA LENTILS)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4
Special Cooking Equipment: Pressure Cooker

Ingredients:

1 cup split pea lentils
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, finely chopped
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp light cooking oil
fresh coriander leaves, chopped for garnish
water, as needed
salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a pressure cooker and saute cumin seeds, fennel seeds, green chillies, and onions till lightly browned and fragrant. Add in spices and ginger-garlic paste, and fry for a few seconds.

Add in the chopped tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes to combine well. Add lentils, and enough water to cover them. Pressure cook for 15-20 minutes till lentils are soft and done. Stir in more water if you want a much thinner consistency, and let it come to a boil.

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, and serve warm with a big bowl of rice.



To market, to market: Tamarind Fish


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

You know how sometimes, no matter what you do, you get the feeling as if your life is running on repeat mode? Day in and day out, things seem to take on a ridiculously standard routine – you read similar topics in the paper every morning, you watch reruns of the same TV show each day, you drive to same store to shop for the same produce each time, and the worst of all, you eat the same thing for your meals every other day! For the past couple of days, this has been exactly the feeling I find myself going through. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed like my meals were boringly repetitive. The inspiration had disappeared to a remote corner of my creative mind somewhere, and all attempts to revive it had been failing tremendously. That is until Hubby Dear (the sweet caring soul that he is!) decided to whisk me away on a foodie adventure.

We drove down a short distance to the nearby town of Hamilton to visit one of its indoor farmer markets. The ride there was surely scenic, but what took my breath away was the array of fresh, vibrant vegetables! Being the ardent carnivore that I usually am, it was almost surreal to feel my excitement at the sight of rich green broccoli. And I don’t even eat broccoli, no matter how delicious it may look! I was smitten, to say the very least, and within a couple of minutes found myself buzzing around from vendor to vendor picking up a colourful assortment of plump, juicy, fresh produce. Eggplants of different colours, tomatoes of various shapes and sizes, robust bunches of radiant greens, bread, fruits and spices – you name it and I bought it. Bagfuls of it. But the highlight of my shopping would have to be the huge bunch of baby Bok Choy that I picked up for a ridiculously nominal price of a couple of cents. Yes, cents!

Once the veggies were washed, prepped and duly packed in the fridge, I couldn’t wait to plan my week’s menu. Inspiration came flooding back and my mind whizzed with fantastic new recipes waiting to be created and played with. Although I mentally created new flavour combos for all the veggies I had in store, I knew exactly how I wanted to savour the Bok Choy. I went with my classic favourite – simple, quick and satisfying. But I had to pair it up with something that could lift its humble spirit to new heights, and this is what I came up with.

TAMARIND FISH
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 2

Ingredients:

2 large fillets of any white, flaky fish (I used Tilapia), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1 medium green pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp tamarind concetrate
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt, to taste
2 tbsp light cooking oil

Directions:

Saute mustard seeds and sliced onions in hot oil till soft and lightly browned.

Add in turmeric, chilli powder, salt, chopped tomatoes, garlic and tamarind, and cook until tomatoes pulp and spices have blended in well.

Stir in fish and green peppers, and stir fry on meduim heat till fish is cooked through, making sure not to break fish too much.

Serve warm.



Inspired by Serving Crazy with Curry: Baingan Patiala


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

Talk about being fashionably late, that too, to your very own event! Would it make it easier for you all to forgive me if I said I was busy celebrating my B’day (which just happened to be yesterday, yet the celebrations began 2 weeks in advance thanks to the ever wonderful Hubby Dear!)? I know, excuses, excuses! But still, I’m here now – with a killer recipe in tow!

I first spotted this book at the airport en route to Delhi many moons ago. The title caught my eye and I made a mental note to pick it up on my way back. Pick it up I did, but somehow never got around to reading it. That is of course until I announced it as the month’s pick for the Cook’s Book Club event. Although I thought it was well written, I was sorry to note that I didn’t quite enjoy it much. The story line started out with a bang, but kind of got a bit predictable for me. Nonetheless, I fell absolutely in love with the colourful characters! Set in an American Indian household, the book touches upon the troubled relationships within a family. And in the midst of it all, there is of course, food. After devastating events take place in her life, Devi, the story’s main character, goes into a trance and begins cooking. She cooks when she’s angry, she cooks when she’s sad, and she cooks when she’s happy. In short, her cooking was her way of communicating how she felt.

While I wouldn’t say I’m as dramatic as Devi when it comes to expressing my feelings, I can’t deny the fact that my cooking has many a time reflected my moods. Like the time I baked four large pizzas because I was feeling artistic and wanted to create a masterpiece, literally! Or when I bake a lusciously rich chocolate cake to give myself a pat on the back. Or even the time when I cooked an extravagant 5-course meal to thank Hubby Dear for a wonderful Valentine gift.

When I look back, I always seem to remember food as something that brought our family together. Whenever we were happy or had any big news to share, food would most definitely become the center of our attention. I remember most of our birthday celebrations not by the gifts we received, but by the feast my Mom made for us. Trips home from college during the summer were often preceded by many telephone calls of planning out the menu for the day I arrived. Most of our weekends were spent entertaining friends and family. I fondly remember my Mom working her way through a lavish meal irrespective of how many guests we were expecting. She would always say that it’s better to have food left over than let your guests leave feeling unfull. It should be noted that unless you eat till you almost drop, my Mom thinks you haven’t yet had enough. And so, it is from her that I have inherited this need to cook for my loved ones, and feed them till I know they can’t be fed anymore.

Take for instance this lovely dish of eggplant. I remembered eating something like it a few years ago at a friend’s home. A bunch of us were getting together for a game night and she made an elaborate meal to kick off the evening. Then, a couple of days ago, we invited a few close friends over for an evening of cards. As I was halfway into the book and still immersed in Devi’s character, I wanted to make a meal reminiscent of game night. That’s how this recipe came into being.
 

BAINGAN PATIALA (STIR-FRIED EGGPLANT WITH SPICES)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 4

Ingredients:

8-10 small round eggplants, quartered
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/4 tsp dried mango powder (amchoor)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt, to taste
2 tbsp light cooking oil

Directions:

Fry eggplant pieces in a large non-stick wok till lightly browned. Set aside.

In the same wok, saute onions with nigella and cumin seeds till soft and fragrant. Add in spices, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste and fry for a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and cook on meduim heat till the mixture is almost dry and starts to give out oil from the sides. Mix in fried eggplants, season with salt, and let cook a few minutes till eggplants are done through.

Serve warm with rice or rotis.



Cookbook Review: Rachael Ray’s 365: No Repeats, Express Lane Meals & Just in Time


A couple of weeks ago, I received a stack of Rachael Ray’s cookbooks for review, including, 365: No Repeats, Express Lane Meals and Just in Time. As someone who devours a cookbook akin to the latest bestselling bedtime read, I was ecstatic. But on the other hand, as someone who can’t resist the urge to flip the channel whenever RR has one of her umpteen show on, I was a bit skeptical. You see, like many out there, I too find her a bit too jumpy to be had with my morning cuppa – which is why I try and tune in to her during lunch time.

One thing I have to hand out to her however - she’s one helluva creative cook! And I mean that in the most nicest way I can. A quick glance through her list of recipes can’t help but pique your interest and tempt you to flip over to the particular page. If you thought she could only get creative with naming her dishes, wait till you actually read through the recipe itself! How many times have you found yourself cooking your tried-and-tested favourites week after week – not because you enjoy them that much, but because you’re stumped for ideas! I know I’m guilty of doing so. If anything, these books have taught me to throw caution to the wind and get even more creative with my cooking. Her recipes encourage you to think outside the box and opt for unconventional ideas. While she does pair many classic flavour combinations together, her way planning a meal around these flavours is what most appeals to me. It’s fun, fast, and makes for a great evening cooking! 

Rachael Ray certainly knows her way around the kitchen. If you’ve ever watched an episode of her 30-minute meals cooking show, you’d notice how Rachael always put a stress on having a well stocked fridge, freezer and pantry. That, equipped with simple fast cooking tricks enables her to create a whole meal in a matter of minutes. The same goes for the recipes in her books as well. Many of her recipes combine stove-top cooking with a final few minutes of finishing in the oven to get that baked goodness. She uses ready-made stocks and sauces as a starter and flavours them as she goes along, cutting down on cooking time and adding a personal touch as well.

Going through the three books, I couldn’t get myself to find many distinctions between them. Which is why I’ve opted to review them as a batch instead. My honest assumption would be: if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all, and unless you’re a die-hard fan of Rachael, and want to own everything with her name on it, you might just be happy with owning only one.



Zooming out: Rajasthani Kadhi


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

Once in a while I like to take a vacation. Correction. I need a vacation, but my busy schedule seldom make taking a long one possible. This is why I take my “zoom out times”. These are a few hours I take in any particular day - when I feel I most deserve it, where I leave everything behind and make believe I am on an adventure. I wear my favourite pair of comfortable pants, put on my comfy walking shoes, and, armed with a camera and other bare necessities, I set out on an exploration–anything to spice up my routine lifestyle.

The streets by my home are lined with vintage stores filled with pretty little things. There’s a café by the corner of the street, which serves the best chocolate filled éclair I’ve ever set my hands on. As I walk down that road, filled with the hustle and bustle of people walking their dogs and moms dragging their kids away from the ice-cream shoppe, it gives me a sense of vacationing. You know the feeling you get when you experience a place for the first time? It’s funny how enriching it can be just to take in all the sights and sounds and see things in a new perspective. It helps me forget deadlines and to-do lists. It opens up my mind to new avenues of thinking, some of which I never even knew were hidden somewhere in my head.

I walk the extra mile to a nearby lake. I turn towards my favourite bench overlooking the horizon and enjoy my éclair. My camera captures things that I have seen along the way and want to keep with me. These are also things that turn into inspiration for me for the rest of the week. Some are so good that they even last a month. But what is most exhilarating is the feeling of being free. It gives me a chance to see things around me in a new light. So the next time you need a breather, take a walk in your neighbourhood. All you need to get away is a smile on your face and an open mind.

When it comes to our everyday meals, I like to follow this very same principle as well. Often, simple weekday dinners may seem repetitive, so much so that you tend to shun it for a while. So I like to try my hand at something new and out of the ordinary atleast a few times each month. This week I felt the need for something creative and full of spunk. With the rainy Spring showers spreading its gloom, it was only just that I whipped us a meal that would not only drive the blues away, but would also give our lazy, tired selves a boost. This subtly spiced version of Kadhi did just that. It was quick and simple enough to prepare, and clubbed with a spicy side dish of eggplants made for a wonderful rainy day dinner.

RAJASTHANI KADHI (SPICED YOGURT CURRY)
Prep time: 10 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 2

Ingredients:

1/4 cup gram flour
1 cup plain yogurt
1 small onion, finely sliced
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt, to taste
1/4 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
1 tbsp light cooking oil

Directions:

Mix gram flour and yogurt with half a cup of water, and beat until there are no lumps.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed deep pan, and saute cumin, coriander and fennel seeds. Once they start to sizzle, add in onions and fry till lightly browned. Add turmeric and chilli powder and fry for a few seconds.

Add in flour-yogurt mixture, salt, dried fenugreek and another half cup of water, stirring to mix it all well. Cover, and let it come to a thorough boil over very low heatfor a few minutes till the raw taste of gram flour disappears. Stir occasionally to avoid burning, and add more water if it gets too thick.

Serve warm with rice or rotis.