Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Angel hair pasta with zucchini and corn

At the beginning is spring I love zucchini and eat it often till we get into summer and it becomes too much. I use zucchini in both sweet and savory dishes starting from breakfast to main course to dessert. One of the easiest ways to eat zucchini is in a pasta where the flavor and texture of the zucchini is intact. I julienne the zucchini using a mandoline into long thin strips and then I toss it with angel air pasta or linguine or spaghetti to keep the long thin strand theme going. To add a little crunch and sweetness, fresh corn is a nice addition and some grape tomatoes for color and acidity.

Angel hair pasta with zucchini and corn
1/2 lb angel air pasta
2 medium sized zucchini 
2 ears of fresh corn 
1/4 pint grape tomatoes, cut into two
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
Parmesan cheese to serve

1.  Use a mandoline to julienne the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips. If you don't have a mandoline, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick slices. Then stack the slices and cut them into thin strips.
2.  Remove the husk from the corn and scrape off the kernels. The best way to do this is to place the cob with the narrow end in a shallow bowl and hold on to the stem with one hand. Using a chefs knife, scrape the cob from top to bottom and the corn will collect in the bowl with little or no mess.
3.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while you cook the zucchini and corn.
4.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the corn and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the zucchini, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Saute for another 2 to 3 minutes till the zucchini and corn and cooked but not soggy. Turn down the heat and cook the pasta.
5.  Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes till al dente.
6.  Drain and add the pasta to the skillet with the zucchini and corn. Toss well. Check the seasoning. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with a generous grating of parmesan cheese.

Serves 4


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ambrosia - the food of the gods

I always buy marshmallows in the winter for hot chocolate and by the time spring comes there are a lot leftover. Most of the time I make sweet treats out of them, but this time I wanted to do something different. Then I remembered this dessert that I had at a friends place which had marshmallows, cream and fruits which we all really liked. It was sweet and tart and had a fun texture thanks to the marshmallows. It was called Ambrosia, which is a southern variation of fruit salad, typically made with whipped cream, yogurt, fruits and coconut. Sometimes it contains nuts as well.

I decided to skip the cream completely and made it with yogurt instead. For the fruit  I used mandarin oranges and pineapples, since I already had them in my pantry. You could use a combination of fresh berries - blueberries, raspberries and strawberries work well. Even canned peaches are good in this dessert. Here is my version which the kids love and so does the child in the adult.

Ambrosia


1 11.5 oz can of mandarin orange segments in a light syrup
1 8 oz can of pineapple slices in pineapple juice
11/2 cup mini marshmallows
2 cups 0% french vanilla yogurt (I like Stonyfield)
1/2 cup thinly sliced toasted almonds (optional)

1.  Drain the mandarin oranges in a colander and set aside.
2.  Drain the pineapple slices but hold the juice if required for thinning out later. Cut the pineapple slices into 1/2 inch pieces.
3. In a large serving bowl, add the yogurt, and the fruits and mix well. If the mixture is too thick, add a couple of table spoons of the saved pineapple juice. Gently fold in the marshmallows and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. This time allows the marshmallows to soak up the yogurt and the juice from the fruits and develop a nice jelly like texture.
4. Serve topped with toasted almonds if using. I didn't use them since my daughter does not like nuts.

Serves 4

Monday, April 11, 2011

Something sweet, but healthy......

Dried Fruit Compote
Ever since I turned almost vegetarian, I have developed a sweet tooth and spend a lot of time thinking of what sweet things I can eat which does not require much work on my part and is healthy.

My go to sweet nibble is dried fruit by itself or in a granola bar. Trader Joes has such a great variety - you can get the usual raisins and cranberries to strawberries, figs, apricots, blueberries, apples and many more. We all have dried fruits with our cereal, in our granola, in cookies, cakes etc. But not many of us think of cooking the dried fruits to make a compote.

Cooking dried fruits plumps them up and you can flavor them with different spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves etc. and liquids like orange juice or alcohol like grand marnier, rum etc. I make compotes with various dried fruits depending on what I have in my pantry and especially with a combination of those that I have only a few left in the bag.My favorite combination is Turkish apricots, jumbo raisins, cranberries, blueberries and dark sweet cherries. However any dried fruit combination that you like will work -the idea is to keep a mix of slightly tart and sweet fruits.

This compote is great served over yogurt in a parfait with granola, with hot oatmeal for breakfast, over ice-cream, as a topping for pannacotta (italian dessert with cream), etc. So, go ahead and try it.

Dried Fruit Compote

1 cup mixed dried fruits, chopped into quarter inch pieces
1 1/2 cup water
1 inch piece of cinnamon 
1 clove
1/8 cup honey
1/8 cup agave nectar
1 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.  Heat a small saucepan with water, honey, agave and sugar over medium low heat.

2.  When the sugar has melted, add the dried fruits, cinnamon, clove and vanilla extract and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes till the fruits are plump and the liquid is syrupy.

3.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Pack in an airtight box and refrigerate till you are ready to use. The compote will last for at least three weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes 2 cups

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lentils... the vegetable protein

Chilkewale Dal
Tonight I am making a mixed lentil soup for dinner. In India it is called dal, typically eaten with rice or rotis (Indian tortillas). It is also great by itself with a slice of toasted country bread and a salad of fresh vegetables.

Every time I look at my pantry and want to cook lentils, I invariably reach out for the yellow or pink lentils, because they are the fastest to cook and don't require advance planning. But my pantry is stocked with twelve kinds of lentils and today since I had time, I decided to use some that I don't use on a regular basis. I chose, pink lentils with skin (chilkewale masoor dal), yellow lentils with skin (chilkewala moong dal) and split ivory lentils with skin (chilkewala urad dal). The pink lentils with skin look brown, the yellow lentils with skin are green and the ivory lentils with skin are black in color.

These lentils need to be soaked in cold water for at least 6 hours before they can be cooked. The quickest way to cook them is in the pressure cooker. But if you are not a person who uses pressure cookers, you could cook it on the stove top for a long period of time. The finished product will have a nice creamy texture which is typical of long and slow cooking.  

Chilkewale dal

Serves 4

1/4 cup masoor dal with skin
1/4 cup whole green moong dal with skin
1/4 cup broken urad dal with skin
1 black cardamom, slightly cracked
1 1/2 cup chopped tomato, peeled and deseeded
1 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 tablespoon ghee or butter for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves for garnish

1.Soak the three dals with cold water for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain the water and keep aside.

2. Heat a large saucepan with canola oil over medium high heat and add the black cardamom pod. Saute for 20 seconds till it is fragrant. Add the onion and saute for 3 minutes till the onions are light brown. Add the tomato, turmeric, cayenne and salt and continue to saute for another minute.

3. Now add the drained lentils and saute till the tomatoes and the lentils are well mixed and the tomatoes have almost become a sauce about 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue to cook covered for 45 minutes to one hour till the lentils are fully cooked and have acquired a creamy texture. If the water is drying up too quickly and the lentils are not cooked, add 1/4 cup of warm water at a time during cooking. The lentils are cooked when they are soft and creamy.

4. Before serving, add the ghee or butter to the hot mixture and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Note: If you are serving the soup with bread, you could add cream instead of ghee or butter.

The beginning of this almostveg foodies world.....

Today is a nice warm day in New York after all those months of frightfully cold weather and I decided to start writing this blog that I have been contemplating for a few years.

I got married to a complete vegetarian many years ago and that is when my vegetarian journey started. I began to look at vegetables differently - till then, vegetables needed to be cooked with seafood or meat to be interesting. Then we had a little girl and she turned out to be genetically vegetarian too. I didn't think that was possible, but I was proved wrong.

I decided to make it my mission to find exciting ways to cook vegetables to keep us all happy. In the beginning it was a process of gleaning through cookbooks and slowly I found that most of the vegetarian cookbooks out there had a lot of repetitive recipes and it was quite unexciting as well. Then we moved to New York and I was introduced to the world of seasonal farmers markets and it opened up a whole new avenue for me to try my hand at creating interesting food.

I also attended Culinary school for a year and trained to be a chef, but the hours in the kitchen were not for me. So, I chose to keep my family and friends happy and am now in the process of writing a vegetarian cookbook. The culinary school experience was very fulfilling and gave me a great exposure to various techniques and a variety of ingredients. Today I am able to look at a set of ingredients and come up with a dish that is healthy and delicious.

My culinary style is mainly influenced by the years that I spent living in the sub-continent and south east Asia. Fresh, light and easy is what I cook. Look forward to some interesting recipes as I add to the blog in the days to come.
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