Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chanterelle mushroom risotto

Today is the 31st of December and another eventful year is ending. One of the best things I did this year was to start my blog and have enjoyed every minute of it. I hope everyone reading this post has enjoyed making the recipes as much as I have enjoyed creating and posting them.

This is my last post for the year and marks the end of holiday meals as well. Risotto is a very comforting dish but rich as well. This one is made with wild chanterelle mushrooms. They have a very distinctive shape in the mushroom world — they look like tiny trumpets. Their taste is earthy and delicate and the texture is very silky. Because of their delicate flavor, they are best combined with mild flavors that won't overwhelm the beauty of these gorgeous mushrooms. In their raw from, they are a little spongy - and since they are wild, have a lot of dirt on them, compared to farmed mushrooms. It is best to use a medium-bristle brush to remove the dirt - washing in water will completely water log them and ruin their taste.

Lots of butter (kidding- some butter) and some parmesan cheese enhances the silky texture of the mushrooms and makes for a very creamy risotto. I use Porcini mushroom stock to deepen the mushroom flavor in the rice, but if you don't have it in your neighborhood, you can substitute with 2 cups of vegetable stock.

Chanterelle mushroom risotto

6 oz chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet with butter over medium high heat. As the butter melts, add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute till they are translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for about 8 minutes till the liquid released by the mushroom dries up and the mushrooms have taken on a golden brown color and silky texture.
  2. Set aside till they are ready to be added to the risotto.
For the risotto
1 cup arborio rice
1 cube Porcini mushroom stock [In the U.S. they are available from Italian grocery stores]
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
½ medium sized shallot, finely minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra Parmesan cheese for the table
White Truffle oil (optional)

1. Heat a medium sized heavy bottomed saucepan with 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Add the minced shallots and the minced garlic and cook till they are translucent. (It is important to ensure that they are not brown since they will change the color of the risotto).
2. Add the rice and sauté with the shallot and garlic mixture till the grains of rice are well coated with the butter mixture and the rice is opaque.
3. If you are using the stock cube, dissolve it in 2 cups of hot water and keep the stock simmering on another burner. If you are using vegetable stock, keep it simmering as well.
4. Add about ½ cup of simmering stock in the beginning and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding ¼ to ½ cup of stock at a time and repeat the process until the mixture is creamy and a bit loose. The rice should not become mushy and should have a slight bite to it. This process takes about 20 to 25 minutes. If the stock is over during the process, and the rice has not reached the right doneness or consistency, add warm water.
5. Now add the ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese and fold it in into the rice. Finally add the sautéed mushrooms and mix in with cheese and rice mixture. Serve in bowls with an extra grating of Parmesan on top. If you want you could make it extra special and finish with a few drops of truffle oil.

Serves 3.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Roasted artichoke chips

Artichoke chips are extremely addictive without being unhealthy since they are roasted and not fried. The hardest part is to prep them. Here is a video from Ocean Mist farms which teaches you how to prep artichokes. The key to good artichoke chips is to trim enough off the top of the artichoke to ensure that the whole chip is edible and you are not left with the hard fibrous bits above the meat of the artichoke. In the picture below, I left a little too much of the top on and ended up with some hard spiky bits - will remember the next time. Also, slicing them thinly ensures quick cooking and crispy chips. Just a simple toss in olive oil and a little bit of seasoning and you have deliciousness.

Roasted artichoke Chips
1 large Globe artichoke per person
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil per artichoke
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Clean the artichokes and slice them thinly. Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes and they are done.

Crunchy Thai salad with peanuts

Fresh, vibrant, refreshing, crunchy, sweet, tangy are all the words that come to mind when eating this salad. It is a great antidote to the holiday meals that we have eaten in the last couple of days. The lemongrass dressing gives this coleslaw like (of course sans mayonnaise) salad the Thai touch. Lemongrass is very common in Thai cuisine and of late I have embraced this wonderfully fragrant "grass". Hence the Thai inspired recipes on my blog in the recent past.
If you have never used lemon grass this is a great recipe to try it with and this tutorial will help to buy, clean and prepare lemon grass for any dish that uses it.

Crunchy Thai salad with peanuts
One vine-ripened tomato
1 red bell pepper
2 small seedless, Persian cucumbers
½ small red onion
1 medium carrot with tops (those are fresher and sweeter than regular carrots)
8 large leaves of iceberg lettuce
½ cup dry roasted peanuts
Lemongrass dressing below

Salad Prep

  • Remove the core and seeds of the tomato and cut it into thin strips lengthwise
  • Remove the core and seeds of the bell pepper and cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch long strips
  • Peel the cucumbers and cut into thin strips. The best way to do this is using a mandoline, failing which, slice the cucumber into thin slices and then stack them to cut into matchsticks
  • Peel the carrot and cut into matchsticks
  • Chop the onion vertically into thin slices and then separate the pieces
  • Shred the iceberg lettuce into thin strips

Pour the dressing into the bottom of the serving bowl and pile up all the prepped veggies on top finishing with the lettuce. Toss when ready to serve. Add the roasted peanuts and give it one last toss.

Serves 4 to 6

1 ½ tablespoons finely minced lemon grass, tender parts only
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon palm sugar

Stir all the ingredients until the palm sugar is well integrated into the dressing.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stir fried vegetables with lemon grass

This is a Thai inspired stir fried vegetable dish, infused with lemon grass, garlic and chili flakes. The lemon grass is fresh and vibrant, and the chili gives it the quintessential Thai heat. The sauce is a combination of light and dark soy sauce with a little bit of sweetness from palm sugar to counter the heat from the chili flakes. The palm sugar has a caramel like sweetness and rounds out the sauce beautifully. Finally lime juice is added for that tangy flavor.

This is one of the most flavorful stir fries I have created in a long time and you might agree once you try it.

Stir fried vegetables infused with lemon grass
1 celery stalk
4 oz cremini mushrooms
1 medium zucchini
6 stalks of plump asparagus
15 green beans
2 big handfuls of baby spinach
2 large broccoli stems (I saved them from a broccoli roast that I had made earlier this week) – can substitute 1 head of broccoli instead
5 teaspoons canola oil
3 tablespoons very finely minced fresh lemon grass (tender parts only)
1 ½ tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking sherry
1 teaspoon palm sugar
2 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoon lime juice

 Vegetable prep 
  1. Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel and cut them into quarters.
  2. Cut the zucchini vertically down the middle and then slice each half into thin slices on the diagonal
  3. Cut the celery talk into thin slices on the diagonal – looks prettier and increases the surface area for the sauce to cling to.
  4. Trim the woody ends off the asparagus and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces.
  5. Trim the green beans and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces. Cook them in the microwave covered with a little bit of salted water for 4 minutes.
  6. Peel the fibrous outer skin of the broccoli stems if using and cut the cleaned stem into thin slices on the diagonal. If you are using broccoli florets, separate the florets and cook them in the microwave with a little water for 3 minutes.
  7. In a small mixing bowl, mix the light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and the palm sugar till the sugar dissolves. [It can remain a little grainy - the heat from the pan will melt the sugar eventually].
Cooking the stir Fry
  1. Once the vegetables are prepped, heat a wok or a large sauté pan with canola oil over high heat. As soon as the oil is hot, add the minced lemon grass, minced garlic and chili flakes and cook for 30 seconds, ensuring that the garlic does not burn.
  2. Add all the prepped vegetables except for the baby spinach and toss with the lemongrass, garlic and chili mixture. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes till the mushrooms start to brown. Then add the rice wine and the salt and stir. Cook till the wine is absorbed by the vegetables. Add the soy sauce and sugar mixture and mix well into the vegetables. The vegetables will start to take on the color of the dark soy sauce after cooking for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add ½ cup water at this point to create a light sauce and cook for additional 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and finish with the lime juice.
 Serves 3.

Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe and mushrooms

When the weather is cool, baked pasta and a salad is a favorite go to dinner. I like the fact that the dish can be assembled ahead of time and baked before dinner. In this casserole, all the items are individually cooked to impart the most flavor without being humdrum.

Broccoli Rabe adds a nice spicy pungent flavor and the cremini mushrooms are meaty in every bite. I used short cut rigatoni or mezzi rigatoni which is half the size of the regular rigatoni and lends itself to the sauce going inside the tubes and makes the pasta moist.  I add freshly grated parmesan for the salt and cheesy flavor to permeate the entire dish and stud it finally with cubes of fresh mozzarella which after baking becomes this super gooey delight. The second picture below shows how goeey and stringy fresh mozzarella gets when melted - almost looks like noodles.

Baked Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe and Mushrooms

1 bunch broccoli rabe
10 oz mushrooms - I used cremini, but regular button or a mixed mushroom medley would work
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce, home made or store bought (I used Rao's marinara sauce)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh salted mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel and slice them into ¼ inch slices. The slices should not be too thin otherwise; they will not live up to their meaty bite.
  3. Heat a large heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat with extra virgin olive oil. Add the chili flakes and minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to a minute ensuring that the garlic does not burn. Add the sliced mushrooms in as much of a single layer as possible to brown them. Let it cook over medium high heat for a couple of minutes, till one side is golden brown; then toss them to brown the other side. Just before the mushrooms are ready to be taken out, add the ½ teaspoon salt. The last minute addition of salt, ensures that the mushrooms do not become watery and have a nice golden crust. Remove from pan and add to the casserole dish. You will require a 13x9 inch glass or porcelain dish.
  4. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Trim the ends off the broccoli rabe and dunk them into the boiling water. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes till the broccoli rabe has wilted but still retains its vibrant green color. Remove from the water with tongs and drain in a colander. Once the water has drained, chop the rabe coarsely and add it to the casserole dish along with the mushrooms.
  5. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook a couple of minutes shy of the cooking time mentioned on the box. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven while baking. Drain the pasta and add it to the casserole. Pour the 2 ½ cups of tomato sauce and mix it into the pasta, mushroom and broccoli rabe making sure that the vegetables are evenly spread out.
  6. Now sprinkle the parmesan cheese and lightly mix into the dish. Finally arrange the mozzarella cubes all over the casserole dish, ensuring once again that it is evenly spread out so that everyone gets a fair share of the cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place it in the middle rack of a preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, till the sauce it absorbed by the pasta. Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4 with a salad

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blinis with Mozzarella and Red Bell Pepper pesto

Blinis are Russian pancakes made with buckwheat flour and leavened with yeast. Sometimes sour cream is added to the batter, instead of as a topping. However, these blinis are made with rice and lentils which are soaked for 6 to 8 hours, ground and then fermented for another 8 hours. They are called Uttapams in India and like blinis are a popular South Indian breakfast. I have made them sized like pancakes, since they are easier to flip and they cook quickly. Red onions and mozzarella cheese make a nice savory topping and a red pepper pesto is a great accompaniment.

Rice and Lentil Blinis with Red pepper pesto
2 cups long grain Carolina rice (any long grain rice will do)
1/2 cup white lentils (skinless split urad dal available in an Indian grocery store or on-line***)
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (grated cheddar is also great)
Canola oil

1. Wash the rice and soak covered with 2 inches of water for 6 to 8 hours. Wash the lentils till the water runs clear and soak covered with 2 inches of water for 6 to 8 hours as well. (Do not mix the rice and lentils, since they require different amounts of time to be ground to a fine paste).

2. Drain the water and grind the rice and lentils separately till they are a fine paste. A heavy duty blender is required to do this. [I use a 14 speed Oster blender.] If required, add a little water during grinding to keep the machine moving. Once the rice and lentils are ground to a fine paste, mix them together, add the salt and beat well with a spatula to incorporate air into the batter. This will help the batter ferment and produce a nice fluffy blini. Keep the batter covered in a warm place. The oven works well - I place it in the oven with the oven turned off, but with the light on inside to provide some warmth to help the fermentation process. After 8 hours check to see if the batter has risen and looks fluffy. If it has, then you are ready to make the blinis.

3. Heat a non-stick griddle over medium high heat. In the meantime, whisk the fermented batter well to incorporate air and for the batter to have the right consistency. The consistency should be thicker than pancake batter - it will be spreadable but not pourable. When the griddle is hot, add a scant 1/4 cup batter and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of the chopped red onions and cook over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes till the bubbles appear like in the picture above (very similar to a pancake). Add a few drops of canola oil through the hole and around the blini to crisp the bottom. Flip and cook on the other side for another 2 minutes. Add another few drops of canola oil around the blini to crisp the second side. Flip once again and sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the blini. Cover the griddle to melt the mozzarella.
4. Serve with the red pepper pesto.
Makes about  15, 4 inch blinis

Red Pepper pesto

1 large red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (about 1 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
¼ teaspoon asafetida (optional – if you can get it, it adds an extra dimension)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 ½ teaspoon chana dal
1 teaspoon black gram dal
4 teaspoon canola oil
1 dry red chili or 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup chopped tomato (seeds and pulp removed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Heat a small saute pan with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds, chana dal, black gram dal and dry red chili and saute for about a minute till the chana dal is golden brown. Then add the onion and saute for a minute till it softens. Add the bell pepper and cook for 3 to 4 minutes till the edges of the bell pepper are slightly brown. Add the chopped tomato and the salt and cook for 2 more minutes. Let the mixture cool. 
  2. Grind the cooled mixture in a food processor to make a coarse paste.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stir fried cauliflower with onions

Cauliflower is considered a very boring vegetable. Of late there have been a lot of recipes with roasted cauliflower which brings out the best in the vegetable. Stir frying cauliflower with aromatics also infuses the cauliflower with a lot of flavor and turns a bland vegetable to something wonderful.

In this simple stir fry, the caramelized onions add tons of flavor and the sauteed urad dal provides the crunch in every bite.

Stir fried cauliflower with onions 
1 ½ lbs cauliflower (florets only)
¾  teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoon broken urad dal without skin 
1 large red onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cup)
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
¼  teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  1. Chop the cauliflower coarsely into ½ inch pieces.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the mustard seeds and the urad dal. As the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the asafoetida, chili flakes and the chopped onion. Saute over medium to medium high heat for about 5 minutes till the onions turn a golden brown color. 
  3. Add the cauliflower and 1 teaspoon kosher salt and mix with the onion mixture. Cook uncovered for 2 minutes and then cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing every 3 minutes till the cauliflower is soft. Remove cover and cook over high heat for 2 minutes.
  4. Remove to serving bowl and serve warm with pita, chatpati or rice and a gravy of lentils or any other vegetable or non-veg curry.
Yield: Serves 4 as a side along with a couple of other dishes

Chocolate and Raisin Bread Pudding

Bread pudding was known as the poor man's pudding in England, since it was made with stale bread moistened with water and sugar and other ingredients. Today it is far from a poor man's pudding. Bread is soaked in a custard of milk, eggs and sugar and then baked. The decadent version will have cream, buttery breads like brioche, lots of dried fruits and sometimes alcohol. A nice rich vanilla, bourbon or caramel saue would complement the pudding very well.

My version is made with Pullman bread which is light and airy, good vanilla extract with vanilla beans, and enough eggs to form the custard without making it eggy. I also add raisins for texture and a few bits of really dark chocolate for that chocolatey flavor without adding extra sweetness. The end result is a light bread pudding, that you can make often without feeling guilty.  I serve it warm by itself, but it tastes great with some fresh heavy cream poured over or a dollop of vanilla ice-cream.

Equipment: 10.5 x 7 inches porcelain or glass baking dish

5 slices white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes - I used Pullman bread
1/4 - 1/3 cups raisins (Use more if you love raisins)
1 1/2 cups 2% milk, heated but not boiling
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3/8 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 oz of dark chocolate bits (72% cocoa)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Combine the bread cubes, melted butter, raisins, chocolate bits and cinnamon in the baking dish and mix well.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, beat the eggs and stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt until the sugar dissolves. Slowly whisk in the hot milk, being careful not to scramble the egg mixture. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes and set aside to soak for 5 minutes.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven in the middle rack for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The cooking time depends on the type of dish that you are using. Glass dish takes a little less time.
Serves 4 to 6

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beets, apples and mixed greens with a curry vinaigrette

This salad is inspired by a salad from the Greens vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. It combines sweet, tart, crunchy, spicy and fresh to create a wonderful mix of flavors and textures. The beets provide color and sweetness, walnuts add crunch, apples add crunch and sweetness and the juicy currants add another level of texture and sweetness. I use a mixture of tart and sweet apples to balance the flavors. The curry vinaigrette is spicy without the heat and marries all the ingredients to create this harmonious balance.

Beets, apples and mixed greens with a curry vinaigrette
3 small beets
3 scallions, white parts only finely minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup currants or raisins
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped into small pieces
3 oz mixed greens like spring mix, washed and spin dried
1/2 granny smith apple, cut into thin strips
1/2 Braeburn or Fuji apple (I like the crunch and sweetness of these varieties), cut into thin strips 
Curry vinaigrette (recipe follows)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Leaving tails and an inch of the stems on the beets, put in baking pan with ¼" water, cover and bake them until tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 40 minutes depending on size. Do not overcook them.
  2. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice them into 1/4 inch thick slices and then cut them vertically into matchsticks. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and half the minced scallions. Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar to complement the sweetness of the beets. Set them aside for an hour.
  3. Cover the currants with hot water and let them stand to soften for 30 minutes. Then drain and dry them with a kitchen towel to remove extra water and add them to the cooked beets. Add the apples, walnuts and the remaining scallions to the beet and currant mixture. 
  4. Toss with the remaining dressing. Add the greens and mix once before serving. Check the seasoning.

Serves 4 to 6

Curry Vinaigrette
1/2 clove garlic, grated
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon  fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more to taste
2 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Mix the garlic, ginger, curry powder and salt. Add the red wine vinegar and whisk in the olive oil.

Steamed asparagus with crispy garlic

This dish is first and foremost very tasty and then to top it off super healthy as well. A quick steaming of the asparagus retains the bright green color and all the nutrition. Dressed with chili flavored crispy garlic, slowly sauteed to golden brown, with a light drizzle of soy sauce and fragrant sesame oil it a great first course. Pair it with the Kung Pao Tofu and some steamed jasmine rice and you have an elegant Chinese meal any night of the week.

Steamed asparagus with crispy garlic

1 bunch asparagus - about 16 thick spears
3 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  1. Place the chopped garlic, chili flakes and peanut oil in a small skillet/saucepan (the saucepan should be really small, since you want the garlic to crisp up slowly in order to flavor the oil as much as possible). Cook on very low heat for about 7 minutes. The garlic will be golden but not brown.
  2. In the meantime, trim the asparagus of the woody end and place in a steamer for 5 minutes. If you don't have a steamer, you can also use the microwave. Remove the asparagus and let it cool to room temperature before serving. Arrange on a serving platter.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce with the toasted sesame oil. Pour over the steamed asparagus followed by the garlic,chili and oil mixture.
Serves 3

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shredded Brussel Sprouts with peas

Brussel sprouts is our latest love from the cabbage family. Firstly, this is the season and they are available everywhere and secondly, I have been finding different ways to cook them to keep my families interest alive.

Today I created a quick and easy stir fry with sweet peas. The sweet peas accentuates the somewhat sweet flavor of the sprouts and provides a nice pop of color. To make this dish flavorful without being spicy, I add chopped tomatoes and roasted cumin powder. The tomatoes add a slight tang and the roasted cumin gives the dish a smoky flavor. We had it with pita bread, a lentil curry and a salad. Was a nice change from the usual cabbage dishes. The leftovers I made into a quesadilla for lunch with spicy jack cheese for an added kick.

Shredded Brussel Sprouts with Peas

1 lb Brussel Sprouts, trimmed and finely shredded
1 cup organic frozen green peas, thawed (I find the organic peas sweeter)
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon raw brown sugar
  1. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and let them pop. Add the shredded brussel sprouts and mix well. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes and add the chopped tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine and continue to cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes till the tomatoes have disintegrated and the brussel sprouts are almost cooked. 
  2. Finally add the thawed peas, cumin powder, and the sugar and salt if needed and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, till the peas have warmed through.
  3. Serve warm.
Serves 3 to 4 people.

Roasted potatoes with hoisin sauce

My inspiration for this dish comes from the Swedish hasselback potatoes and Indo-Chinese chili potatoes. Hasselback potatoes originated in Sweden as a fancy baked potato. When they appeared on a menu it meant that it was something special instead of the usual baked potato. Typically they are made with Russet/Idaho potatoes or the regular roasting potato, where they are cut into thin slices down the length of the potato, but not all the way through so that they retain their accordion like shape. I used the same technique with Yukon gold potatoes. And chili potatoes originated in India, where potatoes that are cut into pieces and deep fried. Then they are coated with a garlicky chili sauce and garnished with spring onions. Growing up I used to like that dish. Hence I decided to combine the beautiful hasselback potatoes with a garlicky Chinese barbecue sauce and came up with this creation. The crispy garlic bits and the sweet and salty sauce give the potatoes great flavor.

Roasted potatoes with hoisin sauce
8 oz small sized yukon gold potatoes
Canola oil for brushing
Table salt for sprinkling
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (Chinese Barbecue sauce)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  2. Peel the potatoes and using a paring knife, thinly slice the potatoes down the length of the potato without going all the way through so that the slices do not separate. If the potatoes are wobbly, slice off a thin slice from the bottom to create a base. 
  3. Brush the potatoes with canola oil and sprinkle with salt and place them on a greased baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack and bake the potatoes for 40 minutes. By this time they should be halfway cooked.
  4. In the meantime, mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, minced garlic and chili flakes to create a thick sauce.
  5. Remove the potatoes from the oven and stuff 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of the sauce into the slits and over the potatoes. Put the tray back in the oven for another 20 minutes or till the potatoes are cooked.
  6. Serve warm.
Serves 2 - 3 as part of a multi-course meal.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kung Pao tofu

Kung Pao chicken is a quintessential dish in an American Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant. In the traditional method of preparation, the diced chicken is mixed with a marinade and set aside. The red chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are fried quickly to flavor the oil. Then the marinated chicken is stir fried with vegetables, and the peanuts are added at the end. The addition of the Sichuan peppercorns is what makes this dish authentic. They have a tongue numbing quality without giving off heat unlike the red chili peppers. I order this dish quite often when I go to a Sichuan style restaurant, but my vegetarian family are not able to try it. Hence I decided to replicate the flavors - well almost replicate - for my vegetarian family.

I have used tofu in place of chicken and have substituted the chili peppers for chili flakes. If you like heat, please feel free to replace the chili flakes with whole dried chilies. Since my daughter does not like Sichuan peppercorns, I have skipped them as well. For an authentic tasting dish please add a teaspoonful along with the chili flakes. The tofu is marinated in a simple marinade of soy sauce and rice wine and then sauteed to give it a light brown color. Then the aromatics are sauteed quickly and the tofu is added back to the pan along with the sauce to thicken the dish. Many versions of this recipe add hoisin sauce as well. I have skipped it for the vegetarian version and used brown sugar in the recipe for that molasses flavor.

The list of ingredients can be intimidating, but you will find most of them in your local grocery store. The only item that is typically not available is the dark soy sauce, for which I had to go to Chinatown. You could try the dish without it, but the rich color of the dish will be compromised.

Kung Pao Tofu

14 ounces organic firm tofu [I like the Nasoya brand]
3 gloves garlic, finely minced
Quarter size piece of ginger thinly sliced
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (I have cooked this dish without the chili flakes as well and it tastes great!)
6 fat scallions chopped, whites only
2 scallions julienne, green parts only
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cups roasted peanuts skinned

Marinade for the tofu
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

3 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons water

  1. Cube the tofu and mix in the marinade ingredients. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  3. Heat a non-stick wok or skillet with 1 tablespoon canola oil over high heat.  Add the marinated tofu and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes till it gets a nice light brown color. Remove and set aside. Add another tablespoon of canola oil and the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and stir-fry until fragrant. The garlic should not brown. Add back the browned tofu and pour in sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. When the sauce is thickened and shiny, stir in peanuts. 
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the green parts of the scallions. Serve warm.
Serves 3 as part of a multi-course meal.

Note: Make it a complete meal with steamed rice and Steamed Asparagus salad  or a Chinese Eggplant Salad.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pasta with Arugula and Mint Pesto

Our favorite Italian food appears on my blog again. We love eating pasta as you can see from the various pasta recipes that I have posted.  In this one I combine arugula and mint to make a bright and fresh pesto.

When you think of arugula, the first thing that comes to mind is bitter, but I have found that the rounded leafed arugula leaves are not bitter but have a peppery taste and the mint makes the pesto refreshing. Unlike a regular pesto, I add the pine nuts to the pasta instead of adding it to the pesto. The richness of the nuts and the texture really comes through when they are added whole to the finished dish. Also, the Parmesan cheese is added for each serving, so that each person can grate as much cheese as they like. This is a practice that I use when I make any kind of pesto so that I can vary the cheese in the dish that I am using the pesto for.

The pesto recipe is very flexible. Please feel free to vary the quantities of the ingredients based on your personal taste. You can taste along the way while making the pesto and adjust accordingly. And once the pesto is ready, this is the easiest pasta recipe ever.

Angel Hair pasta with Arugula and Mint Pesto

1/2 lb angel hair pasta or spaghetti
5 tablespoons of pesto (Recipe below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Block of Parmesan cheese for grating at the table
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the angel hair pasta and cook for 3 minutes. 
  2. In the meantime, put the pesto and the salt in a bowl large enough to toss the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the pesto. Toss well. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts and mix once. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  3. Pass the Parmesan cheese at the table with a grater.

Serves 3
Arugula and Mint Pesto
5 cups arugula, stems removed and chopped coarsely
3/4 cup mint leaves
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the arugula, mint and garlic in the food processor. Pulse till the arugula and mint leaves are coarsely chopped. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and with the motor running, slowly start adding the extra virgin olive oil, till the mixture starts to form a nice viscous paste. It should not be thick like peanut butter and not thin like ketchup, but somewhere in between. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Makes about a cup - will last refrigerated for a couple of weeks. Top up with a layer of olive oil before storing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Warm butternut squash and shiitake mushroom salad

Roasted butternut squash is great, but roasted shiitake mushrooms are awesome. Combined together with some crispy shallots and drizzled with a mustard balsamic dressing it is a wonderful combination of flavors.

Roasting the butternut squash brings out the inherent sweetness of the squash and the roasted shiitake mushrooms are almost crisp and chewy. The addition of aromatic rosemary and garlic gives added flavor to the vegetables Set on a bed of soft lettuce this is a truly delectable salad. Would make a good addition to a Thanksgiving meal.

Butternut squash and shiitake mushroom salad
2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and halved or quartered depending on size
3 small shallots, sliced - rings separated
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups soft salad leaves like butterhead, red oak, green leaf or a mix of the same, torn into bite size pieces

1/2 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon extra virgin oil, 1/2 the minced garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons minced rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes turning them halfway through the roasting. The butternut squash will have very lightly caramelized edges and it will be fork tender.
  3. Similarly toss the shiitake mushrooms with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, the remaining minced garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper and place them in a single layer on another baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes till the mushrooms are cooked and a little crisp, but not like chips. 
  4. After the squash and mushrooms are roasted reduce the oven temperature to 400 F.  Toss the shallot rings with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and lay them out in a single layer on another baking sheet. Cook for about 6 to 8 minutes till they are brown but not burnt. (They do burn pretty easily).
  5. Make a dressing by whisking the balsamic vinegar, and olive oil, with the dijon mustard and salt. Toss the lettuce with the dressing and then mix in the roasted butternut squash and the shiitake mushrooms. 
  6. Serve on a large platter sprinkled with with roasted shallots.
Serves 2 to 3.

Chinese eggplant salad

I am a big fan of eggplants and I like to eat them in any cuisine. Roasted eggplants are popular in Indian and Middle eastern/Turkish cuisine. This is a recipe using roasted eggplants from Ken Hom's Vegetarian Cookery book. The long pale purple Chinese eggplants are perfect for this dish since they do not have too many seeds. The roasted eggplants are peeled and dressed to make a wonderful cold salad with a pungent dressing.

This salad makes a delicious first course to an Asian meal - and the best part is that it is quick and can be made in advance. It tastes good both cold and at room temperature. I prefer to serve it at room temperature especially when it is cool outside like it is now.

Chinese eggplant salad

Chinese eggplants

3 long Chinese eggplant (about 1 1/2 lbs)

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoon sesame chili oil
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions (1 scallion)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the eggplants onto a baking sheet and place the sheet on the center rack of the oven. Cook for 30 minutes or so until the eggplants look brown and the skin has shrivelled. (If the eggplants are thin they will take less time to cook - if left in the oven for a long time, they will burst and the insides will splatter. Hence it is important to monitor the roasting process). After 15 minutes turn the eggplants so that they cook on all sides  and the skin is easy to remove. Let the eggplants cool on the baking sheet. Once cool, remove the skin and cut the flesh lengthwise into 2 inch pieces. Arrange them onto a serving platter.
  2. In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the dressing and drizzle it evenly on the roasted eggplants.
Serves 3

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thai fried rice with coconut milk

Rice is a staple in Asian cuisine and each country has their own special way of flavoring the rice. In Thailand coconut milk and curry pastes are omnipresent in their food. In this Thai inspired fried rice, the rice is cooked with fragrant coconut milk and then flavored with some aromatics and a hint of red curry paste for color and heat. Corn accentuates the sweetness of the coconut milk and the addition of edamame enhances the protein content of the dish and adds a textural contrast.

1 cup jasmine rice
1 cup water
3/4 cup lite coconut milk (for a stronger coconut flavor use regular coconut milk)
1 cup frozen edamame beans - thawed
1/2 cup frozen sweet corn kernels thawed
1/2 large red bell
pepper, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon red curry paste ***
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. In a saucepan, add the water and coconut milk to the jasmine rice and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Spread onto a baking sheet to allow it to cool.
  2. Heat a heavy bottom skillet, with canola oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and saute for about 3 minutes over medium heat till the onions are light brown. Now add the curry paste, thawed edamame, thawed corn kernels and salt and cook for about 3 minutes. Finally add the chopped red bell pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rice and mix well to combine and cook for a couple of minutes till the rice has heated through. Adjust for seasoning. Serve warm.
Serves 2 to 3 as part of a multicourse meal 

*** I like the Maesri brand of curry paste since it is completely vegetarian. Most other brands of curry paste have shrimp paste and fish sauce.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stir fried Brussel Sprouts - South Indian style

In South India, a simple vegetable stir fry is present at every meal. Being married to a South Indian, I learned the basic formula for a traditional stir fry [called poriyal]  from my mom-in-law who is a super cook.

A very basic stir fry consists of small pieces or shredded vegetables, depending on the type of vegetable sauteed with mustard seeds, urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. And in the state of Tamilnadu, it is garnished with freshly grated coconut. I have done away with the curry leaves since it is not available near where I live, but it does add to the flavor. The coconut adds richness to a very simple dish, which I have also skipped for today. You could try both versions - they are equally good.

Traditionally this dish is made with cabbage since brussel sprouts are not a common vegetable in India, but since they are part of the same family I decided to substitute brussel sprouts for cabbage. The brussel sprouts get caramelized as they cook and every mouthful has a little crunch from the browned urad dal.

Stir fried Brussel Sprouts South Indian style
1 lb brussel sprouts, thinly sliced (I used the food processor)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoon urad dal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 whole dry red chili, broken into 2 pieces (releases the heat - discard the seeds if you wish)
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
8 to 10 fresh curry leaves (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut (optional)

  1. Heat a large non-stick heavy bottomed skillet with canola oil over medium high heat. Add the urad dal, mustard seeds, dry red chili and asafoetida. When the mustard seeds start to crackle, add the curry leaves (if using) and the sliced brussel sprouts and mix well. Add the salt and mix once more. Cook uncovered for about 8 minutes over medium high heat stirring occasionally. Once the brussel sprouts caramelize, cover and cook for about 5 more minutes till they are soft but not mushy. If you like your vegetables crunchy, adjust the cooking time accordingly. 
  2. Garnish with the freshly grated coconut if using and serve with steamed rice and a gravy. 

Serves 2 to 3 as part of a meal.

Beet infused penne with feta and beet greens

My love affair with beets and their greens continue. This time they are incorporated into a pasta. I roast the beets with a light drizzle of olive oil which helps to concentrate their sweetness. The greens I blanch and mix into a sauce with onions, garlic, a little pinch of chili flakes for kick and fresh plum tomatoes.

I like to to use whole wheat pasta for the hearty sauces and this is one of them - the beets give the pasta a gorgeous hue. Then I finally top it off with some coarsely grated feta cheese. The picture is not the best, but you get the idea - nighttime photography is not my strong point, but it tasted great!

Penne with beets, greens and feta

8 oz beets (3 small beets)
One bunch beet greens
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 medium white onions, finely chopped (a little over a cup of chopped onions)
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 small calabrian dried chilies chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Clean and trim the beets and place them in a small baking dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the beets and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast in the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and make a cut in the foil to release the steam. Then carefully remove the foil so as not to burn yourself. Let the beets cool and then remove the skin and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.
  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 5 minutes till the onions are a light brown. Add the dried chili peppers, chopped tomatoes and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat till the tomatoes start to break down and create a sauce.
Note: For more recipes with beets click here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thumbprint cookies

The previous post was a skinny brownie and this one is a nice buttery cookie. It is nice to indulge in both - the trick is moderation as I say to my family.

These thumbprint cookies are decadent, crumbly, and buttery with a faint hint of lemon and a sweet gooey center. The lemon zest in the dough gives the cookie the freshness despite it being decadent. The center can be filled with any jam or preserve of your choice. My favorite fillings are strawberry spread and dark cherry spread made by St. Dalfours.  I like their spreads since they have no added sugar and use grape juice concentrate instead to sweeten. Marmalade with its hint of bitterness makes a nice grown up thumbprint cookie. You could also use chocolate, but in that case skip the lemon juice and the lemon zest.

Thumbprint cookies with Jam
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1/4 cup dark cherry jam
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Fig - 1
Fig - 2

    Fig - 3

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 3 large baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper. 
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk to blend.
  3. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions and beat just until moist clumps form. Gather the dough together into a ball. 
  4. Pinch off the dough to form 1-inch balls as per the Fig - 1. Place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inch apart. Use the 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon or a melon baller to create depressions in the center of each ball as per Fig - 2. Fill each indentation with nearly 1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake until golden brown, about 16 minutes.Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
  5. Store in an airtight container between layers of butter paper for a week.
Makes 46 cookies

The number of cookies will depend on the temperature of the butter. If the butter is not soft, then the dough will be slightly stiff resulting in fewer cookies.
It is very important to leave enough space between the cookies, since they will spread while baking.
It is critical that the cookies are not overfilled with jam, since the jam will melt while baking and overflow.

Note: This recipe is adapted from Emeril Lagasse's Raspberry Lemon thumbprint cookies

Friday, November 4, 2011

Skinny brownies

All of us chocolate lovers love brownies but can't indulge too much since they are extremely sinful. Nick Malgieri - who ran the pastry program at the culinary school from where I graduated has a low fat brownie recipe in his book Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour, and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories Per Generous Serving which uses dutch cocoa, apple sauce and egg whites. I have adapted from this recipe.

Unlike traditional brownies these are light, moist and not so dense. They don't have the crackle top, but great to satisfy that chocolate craving without adding on the pounds. Even my 9 year old loves these even though she doesn't have to count calories.

Once you have tried this recipe you can compare them with these Supernatural brownies also by Nick Malgieri and I bet these will come out as winners!

Skinny brownies

Asparagus salad with a sesame soy dressing

Asparagus is one of my go to vegetables and roasting is what I tend to do most. In Chinese cooking, I stir fry them or add them to noodles or fried rice. Here the asparagus is lightly steamed and then dressed with a tangy, salty and spicy dressing. It is a great way to show case great quality produce.

This dish is can be served slightly warm, at room temperature or even cold. Hence it makes a super make ahead dish. It is a good first course for a multi-course Chinese menu.

Asparagus with a sesame soy dressing

1 bunch thick asparagus (about 1 lb)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds [toast over medium heat till light brown]
  1. Trim the asparagus to get rid of the tough woody ends. Cut into half. If you have a large steamer, leave them whole - makes a prettier presentation.
  2. Place the asparagus in a steamer and steam for 3 to 6 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. They should not be mushy but should still have some crunch. Or you could blanch them in salted boiling water and then shock them in cold water. Transfer to a serving dish and set aside to cool.
  3. In the meantime, make a dressing with the lemon juice, chili oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and salt. Whisk till the salt dissolves. Pour over the cooled asparagus and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
Serves 3 to 4 depending on the number of courses being served.

Note: If you are a asparagus lover, try some of these other asparagus dishes.

Penne with Arugula and Tomatoes

When my husband is travelling, my daughter and me eat things that we are fond of and he is not. Last night we had roasted sweet potatoes (the white kind), roasted asparagus - nice and thick spears (he likes the pencil kind), and to go with it, we had a very fresh tasting pasta. I created an aglio e oglio [garlic and oil in Italian] sauce and tossed the pasta in it with fresh arugula and chopped tomatoes. The juice from the tomato created a very light coating on the pasta along with garlic and olive oil from the aglio olio and the arugula gave a nice fresh punch thanks to its mild bitterness.

Penne with arugula and tomatoes
2 cups mezze penne or any other short cut pasta like fusili or farfalle
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh red chili pepper (or 1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes)
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups chopped fresh arugula
1 medium sized vine ripened tomato chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
Freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to directions on the box.
  2. In the meantime heat a 10 inch heavy skillet with extra virgin olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic slices and the fresh red chili or chili flakes. Continue to cook over low heat till the garlic is soft. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pan and keep over low heat till the pasta is cooked.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, save 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain. Add the drained pasta to the  pan. Raise the heat to medium and stir to coat the pasta completely with the sauce. If the sauce is too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Turn off the heat. Then add the chopped arugula and chopped tomatoes and toss together to combine. The heat from the pasta will wilt the arugula.
  4. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.
Serves 2.

Shrimp with leeks and thyme

It has been a while since I posted something that I cooked for myself. Shrimp is my most favorite shellfish and I tend to eat it a lot. Growing up for me, shrimp was to vegetables as bacon is to vegetables. My mom would manage to feed me any vegetable as long as there was chopped up shrimp pieces. A lot has changed since then - my love for vegetables has grown exponentially and my love for shrimp continues to exist.

Today I sauteed the shrimp with some leeks, garlic, fresh green chili and thyme. It was extremely quick - another reason why I like to cook and eat shrimp. The combination of leeks and thyme is very light and fragrant. With a splash of lemon juice to finish, it was heavenly. It tastes great over steamed rice, pasta, couscous or quinoa. And I bet depending on what you pair it up with it will be a new dish. I had it with steamed rice - my favorite carb.

Shrimp with Leeks and Thyme
6 oz peeled and de-veined shrimp, thawed if frozen [I used 26 to 30 count / lb]
1 large leek, white part only
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic, about 2 cloves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh green chili thinly sliced [optional]
1 teaspoon fresh red chili, seeded thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Clean the leek and cut them into 1 1/2 inch long pieces - then cut the pieces lengthwise into thin strips or julienne. [This gives the dish a noodles with shrimp effect]
  2. Heat a 10 inch heavy bottomed skillet with olive oil over medium high heat. Add the leeks and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chili's and continue to cook over medium heat till the leeks have softened but not brown. 
  3. At this point dry the shrimp with a paper towel and add it to the leek mixture along with the thyme. Cook the shrimps for 2 to 3 minutes on each side (depending on the size of the shrimp). When the shrimp is pink it is ready. [Overcooking will toughen the shrimp].
  4. Serve with your carb of choice.
Serves 1

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Baby Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta

This is an adaptation of Gabrielle Hamilton's recipe (of Prune fame) called Tunisian zucchini with feta and olives which she created during her Iron Chef battle with Bobby Flay where the secret ingredient was zucchini.

Her recipe is published in the Canal House cookbook Vol 1 by her sister Melissa. I have adapted the same using baby zucchini. They are lightly steamed and dressed in a mixture of tangy lemon juice, fragrant olive oil and spicy harissa. Then they are tossed with some sharp kalamata olives and salty feta cheese. The combination is simply delicious. A non-zucchini loving person can also start to love zucchini if given this dish. It is one of the best zucchini dishes that I have ever eaten. I have mentioned the changes that I made to the original, in the recipe below.

Baby zucchini with harissa, olives and feta

1/4 teaspoon cumin powder (original recipe had caraway seeds or a combination of fennel and cumin seeds)
1 clove of garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon (original had 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon harissa paste (original recipe had 2 tablespoons harissa paste)
1 1/2 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil (original had 6 tablespoons, plus a bit more for drizzling at the end)
8 oz baby zucchini, sliced down the middle lengthwise (original had 4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds)
6 pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped (original had handful cured olives, a combination of oily and briny ones is nice, pitted)
1/3 cup crumbled feta (original had 1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta)
Original had small handful parsley leaves, chopped (I skipped this)
Rind of a quarter of a preserved lemon, chopped (I skipped this)

  1. Mix the ground cumin, lemon juice, harissa, grated garlic, salt and olive oil in a serving bowl. Whisk to combine into a dressing.  
  2. Fit a vegetable steamer in a 10 inch pot with enough water so as not to touch the steamer. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil an inch water and bring to a boil. Remove the cover and place the zucchini on the steamer and cover and cook for 5 minutes till just tender. 
  3. Add the zucchini to the serving bowl and gently toss with the vinaigrette while they are still warm. 
  4. Add the crumbled feta and olives to the zucchini and mix lightly. Serve immediately with some warm crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
Serves 2 to 3

If you are in New York, my favorite brands of Harissa are from Taim and Le Pain Quotidien (this has many locations worldwide). 

Stir fried spinach and potatoes

The combination of spinach and potatoes is very common in North Indian homes. My first recollection of this dish is when we went to Kanha National park many many years back with a few families and we had a cook make meals for the entire lot of us - about 16 to 20 in number and he was making this dish for one of the meals. The lemony smell of coriander powder coating the crispy potatoes wafted through the air and everyone's mouth was watering, since we were all hungry from the early morning outing of hoping to spot a tiger.

There are many variations of this recipe - most have garlic, ginger, onions, and tomatoes. This version was learnt by my mom from the family that we went on the holiday with and  they were from the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, where they make a lot of dry 'subzi's' [vegetables] with a few powdered spices and eat it with some other gravy dish typically a lentil and some 'phulkas' [tortilla's]. This subzi is mildly spiced with coriander powder, dry mango powder and a hint of cayenne. Kids will like this dish as well, since it is not spicy.

Stir fried spinach and potatoes with mild spices
2 bunches fresh organic spinach about 1 1/4 lb
8 oz yukon gold potatoes (or any non-crumbly potato)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mango powder
  1. Peel and cut the potato into 1/4 inch pieces. Wash the spinach, dry and cut into ribbons.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds when the oil is hot. Once the seeds start to pop, reduce the heat and add the potatoes. Raise the heat to medium and cook for 4 to 5 minutes uncovered till the potatoes are brown. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes till the potatoes are almost cooked. [They will continue to cook with the spinach.]
  3. Now add the salt, coriander powder, cayenne, and turmeric powder and mix well. Add the chopped spinach as much as the pan can hold at a time and mix with the potatoes, till all the spinach is mixed in. Cover and cook over medium high heat till the potato is completely cooked. Remove the cover and add the dry mango powder.  Mix well and continue to cook till the mixture is dry.
  4. Serve with warm pita's, or naan and a lentil curry.
Serves 3

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Roasted romanesco cauliflower with thyme and pine nuts

Romanesco cauliflower is one of the most beautiful vegetables that I have seen. It is also called romanesco broccoli or calabrese romanesco in Italian recipes. It is lime green in color with florets which look like minarets. It is part of the cauliflower family but more tender and has a sweet and nutty taste. If you love cauliflower or broccoli you will definitely love this one even more, thanks to its milder flavor.

Roasting is my most favorite way to cook cauliflower and that's what I did with the Romanesco cauliflower as well. I tossed the florets with olive oil and a good bit of fresh thyme and garlic and then once roasted I mixed in toasted pine nuts and some freshly grated parmesan cheese. The combination was divine - my entire family wanted more even though I had roasted a whole head of it. The addition of the pine nuts gives the dish some richness and the parmesan rounds it off with its salty crunch.

Roasted Romanesco cauliflower with thyme and pine nuts
1 medium head about 1.5 lbs romanesco cauliflower
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil
Generous grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. 
  2. Cut the cauliflower into small florets trying to retain their minaret shape.
  3. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic and place them in a single layer on a roasting pan. Cook for 20 minutes. Toss once again and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes to get those nice brown tips.
  4. Remove to a serving bowl and mix well with the cheese and pine nuts before serving.
Serves 3 people or very greedy 2.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Roasted butternut squash and arugula salad

Fall is officially here and the farmers market has loads of squash. And this is the first of my butternut squash recipes. One of my favorite things to do with butternut squash is to roast it with spices and add it to a salad or a pasta.

This recipe is for a salad. I add arugula and pecans and it is a salad fit for company. In fact a friend of mine was visiting and I made it for her and she loved it. The pepperiness of arugula is a good counterpoint to the sweetness of the butternut squash and the nuts add a nice crunch to every bite. Goat cheese or feta cheese is a good tangy addition to the salad as well. [I did not add it since there was cheese in another dish that I had made that day.] Dressed with a good quality balsamic vinegar keeps the sweet theme going.

Roasted butternut squash and arugula salad

Grilled Tofu with Scallion relish

Tofu is a great protein for vegetarians, but on its own it has no taste. We eat a lot of it cooked in a sauce of some kind or the other, but grilled with a dab of relish is great too. I had eaten a version of  this dish in a Japanese restaurant which used silken tofu (fresh of course), sprinkled with chopped relish ingredients and dressed with hot sesame oil.

Since I did not have access to fresh tofu, I decided to try it with firm tofu and instead of a chopped relish, I decided to create a spreadable relish. I add sesame seeds to the relish to give it a slight crunch and it helps to bind the ingredients together. The tiny bit of heat from the Jalapeno give the relish another dimension of heat that differs from that of the ginger. If  you like tangy sauce, you could increase the amount of rice vinegar in the relish by 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon.

Grilled Tofu with Scallion Relish

1 14 oz container of firm organic tofu, drained and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt
Nanami togarashi (Japanese chili pepper) for sprinkling

For the relish
1/2 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts - about 2 skinny scallions)
1/8 cup sesame seeds
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno, seeds and flesh
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1. Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Spray some canola oil to prevent the tofu from sticking.

2. To make the relish, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process till it is a coarse paste.

3.  Pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Brush the tofu on both sides with canola oil, sprinkle with salt and the chili pepper. Grill for about 2 minutes one each side.

4. Serve hot with the relish.

Serves 2 to 3