Friday, March 23, 2012

Potato and Zucchini with poppy seeds

Potatoes cooked with poppy seeds - a traditional dish of West Bengal known as ‘aloo posto’ and served with ‘biuli daal’ (urad dal cooked with ginger and fennel seeds), is a favored combination. We were introduced to these dishes when my sister married into a family from West Bengal. I really liked both the dishes, but my husband who is not from Bengal didn’t care too much for the dal, but he liked the potatoes. And there are not many people I know who do not like potatoes – of course I am not referring to the ‘carb conscious’ people. Since then, this potato dish became part of our repertoire.

I made this dish with potatoes and zucchini since we happen to love zucchini and if you have visited my blog previously you will have noticed many zucchini recipes and this is another one to add to the repertoire. Since zucchini is a soft vegetable, I used boiled potatoes in the dish so that they cook together, but traditionally it is made with raw potatoes which are fried till they are golden brown and then the spices are added.

The poppy seeds used here are the white poppy seeds and not the black ones used in baked goods. They are ground to a paste and cooked with the vegetables to form a beautiful crust on the potatoes and zucchini. White poppy seeds are available in Indian grocery stores as well as online at kalustyans  or at

Potato and zucchini with poppy seed paste
1 large red bliss potato or any other starchy potato, boiled
1 large zucchini - equivalent to 2 cups chopped
3 tablespoons white poppy seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon granulated sugar

  1. Peel and cut the potatoes into ½ inch cubes. Similarly chop the zucchini to ½ inch pieces. It is easiest to cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters and then into ½ inch pieces.
  2. Grind the poppy seeds to a fine powder in a spice grinder till it is crumbly. Then remove to a bowl and add a teaspoon of water at a time to form a paste. If you have a small blender which does wet grinding, then you could grind the poppy seeds with a little water.
  3. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil. Add the potatoes and the bay leaf and sauté till the potatoes are golden brown about 3 minutes. Add the poppy seed paste, turmeric powder, salt and the chopped jalapeno and continue to cook over medium heat for another 3 to 4 minutes till the paste is almost cooked.
  4. Add the zucchini at this point and cook stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes of cooking add the sugar and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, till you see the oil separating from the vegetables.
  5. Remove the bay leaf and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve with rice and a simple yellow dal.
 Serves 3

Note: In case you would like to try the traditional combination, you could try this recipe from another blogger. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sauteed zucchini with chickpea flour

We love zucchini in any form and this is another quick and creative way to use zucchini. The chickpea flour forms a lovely crust on the zucchini helping it to retain its structure while sauteing. With the addition of spices the crisp coating of the chickpea flour livens up the usually not so lively zucchini. In this recipe, I use a little more spice than I would normally use since the chickpea flour by itself can be flat and the spices help to bring out the flavor of the flour.

Along with a bowl of warm dal and some roti or pita this makes an easy weeknight dinner.

Sauteed zucchini with chickpea flour
2 extra large or 3 medium zucchini (about 6 cups chopped)
3 tablespoon chickpea flour (besan)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ajwain seeds
4 teaspoons canola oil
  1. Mix the chickpea flour, cayenne, turmeric powder, and salt in a large bowl and toss the zucchini pieces in it to coat evenly and set aside.
  2. Heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil. Add the ajwain seeds to the hot oil and let them sizzle for 30 seconds. They should not burn. Add the zucchini pieces to the hot oil and ajwain mixture and toss quickly to coat the zucchini pieces with the ajwain flavored oil. Saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes stirring every 2 minutes to ensure all the zucchini pieces develop a crisp crust.
  3. Serve warm.
Serves 3

Vegetarian Banh Mi with Tofu (Vietnamese sandwich)

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich which came about with the French colonialism in Vietnam. The French baguette with pate combined with local ingredients like cold cuts and pickled vegetables makes a classic Banh Mi.

In Vietnam, a vegetarian Banh Mi is not very common - this is my take on this traditional Vietnamese sandwich. Instead of meat, I use marinated and baked spicy tofu. I add avocado for some bulk as well as creaminess and top it off with the traditional pickled vegetables.

Bread forms an important part of the sandwich – hence it is critical that you use fresh bread. A baguette with a thin crisp crust and a light chewy interior is a good fit. Artisanal baguettes are great for other applications but not perfect for this sandwich since they have a very thick crust. 

Vegetarian Banh Mi with Tofu

Banh Mi fillings

3 6" French baguette pieces
1 large organic carrot, peeled and cut into julienne (thin matchsticks)
3 inch long piece of daikon, peeled and cut into julienne (thin matchsticks)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons warm water
1 small avocado
1 Persian cucumber
12 oz lite firm tofu baked [Click on the link for recipe]
One lime, cut into wedges
Light Mayonnaise
Chili garlic sauce
Cilantro leaves [optional] 

  1. Mix ½ teaspoon kosher salt with rice vinegar, sugar and warm water in a bowl and marinate the carrot, daikon and onions for an hour. You can adjust the marinade ingredients based on your preference i.e. if you like things sour, then increase the vinegar or use a sharper vinegar like white vinegar or red wine vinegar or reduce the sugar. It is a very flexible marinade. If you are in a hurry then just massage the onion, carrots and daikon with a little sugar and salt to soften them and drain out the liquid before using.
  2. Remove the pit from the avocado and slice it into thin slices. Squeeze some lime juice over the avocado to prevent it from browning or cut it as the last minute.
  3. Peel the cucumber and slice it into long thin slices.
  4. Slice the baked tofu into ¼ inch thick slices.
  5. To assemble the sandwich, split open the baguette pieces and spread mayonnaise on both sides. If you like your sandwich spicy, add some chili garlic sauce as well. Then lay down some slices of cucumber on the bottom half the baguette, followed by the pickled vegetables (without the marinade), a few slices of avocado, a little lime juice and finally the tofu slices. If you like cilantro, top the sandwich with the cilantro. Close the sandwich and enjoy!
Serves 3

Monday, March 19, 2012

Baked spicy tofu

This beautiful spiced and baked tofu has unlimited possibilities. It is a master recipe which I use in sandwiches, as croutons in a salad, in noodle soups, in  a stir fry, in fried rice and anywhere else that you feel like adding some spiced tofu bits and pieces. For all the meat lovers, this reminds them of a wonderful juicy seared steak.

I normally do this, when some recipes just call for a small amount of tofu and the balance needs to be stored back in water. Instead of doing that I marinate the rest of the block to use in any of the applications above. Over time, I will publish the recipes where I use this baked tofu.

¾ lb (12 oz) tofu, cut into 2 rectangular slabs about ½ to ¾ inches thick

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Chinese chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon clover honey
½ tablespoon tomato ketchup

  1. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade and pour onto the tofu slabs. It is best to marinate the slabs in one layer so that the marinade seeps into all the tofu pieces. Keep refrigerated for a minimum 24 hours to a maximum of 2 days.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  3. Remove the tofu from the marinade and place the tofu slabs on a baking sheet. Save the marinade for basting. 
  4. Place the sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on how crispy you would like the crust to be. The picture above is taken after baking for 1 hour. Flip the tofu pieces every 15 minutes to get a even color on both sides and baste with the marinade.
  5. Serve as is with other dishes or in any of the applications above.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Pad Thai is the signature noodle dish of Thai cuisine. It  is a very popular street food consisting of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli pepper, plus any combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu, garnished with crushed peanuts, cilantro and lime juice. My daughter orders Pad Thai every time we are in a Thai or a Pan Asian restaurant. One version served in America has peanut butter in the sauce, almost mimicking an Indonesian satay sauce. Another version uses ketchup and the noodles are completely red. I personally like the authentic Pad Thai with its spicy, salty, sour and sweet balance. The spice comes from the green chilies and paprika, salty from the fish sauce, sour from the Tamarind and sweet from the brown sugar. This recipe makes a vegetarian Pad Thai substituting the soy sauce for fish sauce as well as the meat and is pretty close to perfect. Once you try it you might tend to agree.

It is a wonderful one dish dinner which requires no accompaniments at all, but if you have a family like mine, then a side order of frozen veggie dumplings would be great. We devour the ones from Trader Joes.

Pad thai
6 ounces pad thai noodles or rice sticks
2 ounces lite firm tofu, cut into ½ -inch dice
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts (I like them left whole, but you could lightly crush them)
½ tablespoon butter or canola oil
1 large organic egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon very finely minced lemongrass, only the inner tender bit
1 teaspoon minced green chilies
2 teaspoons chopped shallots
1 ½ teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves + more for garnish
1 ½ cups bean sprouts
1 medium sized carrot grated
1 ¼ cups finely shredded napa cabbage (green cabbage can be substituted)

One lime, cut into wedges to serve

Sweet and Sour Sauce
1 ½  tablespoons lime juice 
1 ½  tablespoons tamarind paste  + 1 ½ tablespoons water 
½ teaspoon paprika or cayenne (depending on your tolerance for spice)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar loosely packed
½ teaspoon kosher salt
In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce slightly and set aside to cool. Reserve. (The sauce gets too thick if too cool - so don't make it too much in advance)

Salty and Spicy Sauce
3 tablespoons low sodium  soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar (regular unseasoned rice vinegar can be substituted)
1 tablespoon water 
1 tablespoon granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons finely minced garlic 
2 teaspoons finely minced serrano chiles or any other hot chili (remove the seeds if you don’t like it spicy)
3 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves
In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients above and stir until well blended. Keep aside.

  1. Soak the rice noodles in cold water until softened, about 30 minutes. (This can be done several hours ahead of time.) Strain and reserve until needed. 
  2. In a small skillet, heat ½ tablespoon butter. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Make an omelet. Cool and cut into strips.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large wok. Sauté the diced tofu until golden on both sides about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
  4. In the same wok, over high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil. When hot, add the lemongrass, green chilies, shallots, ginger, lemon zest, and cilantro and stir fry for 1 minute. Then add the shredded carrots, shredded cabbage and sauté for 2 minutes till the cabbage is crisp tender. [If you are using green cabbage it may take a little longer to cook.] Then add ¾ cup bean sprouts, 2 tablespoon of the sweet and sour sauce and the salty and spicy sauce and the softened noodles and stir well to mix the sauce with the vegetables and noodles. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes till the noodles are cooked. If the mixture is not wet enough to cover the noodles, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Add the fried tofu, and the omelet strips. Mix well. Garnish with the peanuts, cilantro and the remaining bean sprouts.
  5. Serve warm with a slice of lime.
Serves 3           

Note: A large wok or skillet and high heat is essential to get the perfect pad thai, otherwise the noodles will become sticky. Also, it is important to make it in batches if you are planning to double this recipe.

Other noodle dishes that you might like Stir fried rice noodles

Friday, March 16, 2012

Crispy eggplant salad

I had watched the entire Kimchi chronicles on PBS with Marja Vongerichten, when it first aired and since then have wanted to make some Korean inspired vegetarian food. So, finally I went and bought Annie Chun’sGochujang sauce which is a sweet and spicy version of the essential spicy Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Gochujang is traditionally used to flavor stews as well as a condiment for bibimbap.  This Annie Chun version is very versatile and can be used as condiment, marinade   Looking at all the vegetables in my refrigerator, eggplants seemed like a perfect choice to use this sauce with.

Eggplants are normally associated with a soft and mushy texture, but this salad is made with crisp eggplants without being deep fried and tossed with a fresh spicy, sweet and tangy sauce. The addition of the chopped scallions lends some freshness to the dish. I have used the dressing very sparingly since I didn’t want the eggplant to be smothered in it, but feel free to adjust the amount of dressing based on your preference.

Crispy Eggplant salad
2 medium sized long purple eggplants
2 tablespoon canola oil
½ teaspoon kochujang
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoon rice  vinegar
2 tablespoon finely sliced scallions (approx 1 scallion)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a rack on the lowest setting in the oven and one rack in the middle. Place two 8 x 12 baking sheets in the lower rack of the oven to preheat as well. Once the oven has pre-heated, leave the racks in the oven for another 10 minutes, till they are really hot.
  2. Slice the eggplants into ¼ inch thick slices.
  3. Remove the trays from the oven and spread 1 tablespoon canola oil on each of the trays. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer.  Place the tray in the lowest rack of the oven for 10 minutes. The eggplant should be golden brown on one side. Turn the slices and move the tray to the middle rack for 5 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, make the dressing by mixing the kochujang, with rice vinegar, and soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.
  5. Once the eggplant is ready, remove to a serving bowl. Add the dressing and toss lightly. Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and serve either warm or at room temperature.
 Serves 2

You might also like the Chinese Eggplant salad

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pomelo salad

Pomelo is a citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia, much like a grapefruit but milder and sweeter. It is much larger than a grapefruit and can grow to be as large as a basketball. It has a pale green very thick skin and the flesh when ripe is white or pink. I find the fruit with the pink flesh much sweeter than its white cousin. The pomelo is richer and a lot less tart than a grapefruit. Also, it is fleshy without being juicy.

Pomelo salad is very authentic to Thailand where this fruit grows in abundance. The thai’s make it with dried shrimps, lime juice, palm sugar and coconut milk – all tossed together. Sometimes chicken and prawns are added along with ground peanuts.

This is a vegetarian version of the same and my take on what I remember from eating it at Thanying restaurant in Singapore. Six years ago it used to be the best thai restaurant in Singapore – not sure if it still remains number 1, but definitely worth a try if you are visiting Singapore.

Pomelo salad
1 large pomelo
1 ½ shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
3 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons roasted skinned peanuts
3 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
A few slices of mild red chili pepper

1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ teaspoon palm sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

  1. Prepare the pomelo much like you would a grapefruit. has a wonderful step by step guide on how to cut open a pomelo. Please click here for instructions on the same. Once the pomelo is cleaned, separate them by hand into bite sized pieces and set aside in a serving bowl.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast the coconut for about 3 minutes till golden brown.
  3. In the same skillet, heat one tablespoon grape seed oil. Add the garlic slices, and sauté till light brown. Remove the garlic slices from the oil and set aside to cool. Add the shallot slices to the same oil and sauté for 5 minutes till light brown at the edges. Remove from the pan and add to the garlic. Once cool, add the shallot and garlic mixture to the pomelo.
  4. Make a dressing with the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, salt and palm sugar. Whisk till the sugar has melted and creates an emulsified mixture. Add the dressing to the pomelo mixture and toss well.
  5. Lightly mix in the cilantro leaves and the sliced red chili. Top with the toasted coconut and the roasted peanuts.
Serves 3 to 4

Monday, March 5, 2012

Potato cakes - Aloo tikkis

Aloo tikkis are a very popular appetizer in Indian homes. They are smashed potato cakes flavored with herbs and spices and pan fried or sometimes deep fried. Most aloo tikki recipes contain chopped red onions, cilantro, cumin, garam masala, green chilis or chili powder. I like to flavor mine with ajwain in addition to some of these mix-ins. That is what makes these little cakes different from the usual aloo tikkis.

Ajwain looks like celery seed and tastes a lot like thyme. I use it with okra, potatoes, cauliflower, paneer and almost anything else that I can pair it up with. It is a versatile spice and imparts a slightly bitter pungent flavor - doesn't sound good, but it makes the food taste great.

I cook my tikkis on a heavy non-stick griddle over low heat for a slightly longer period of time than it would take to pan fry them and it yields a nice low fat tikki with a crisp brown exterior and a soft interior.

Aloo tikkis with ajwain

5 medium russet potatoes (I used the leftover flesh from baked potatoes after I used the skins for making potato skins) OR 4 medium russet potatoes, boiled and peeled
¾ teaspoon ajwain seeds
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon amchur (dry mango powder)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil

  1. Mash the potatoes so that they are not lumpy. Add the chopped red onion, salt, chopped cilantro, garam masala, ajwain, and amchur and mix well ensuring that there are some pockets with spices and others are bland.
  2. Shape them into little cakes which are about 2 inches in diameter and about less than ¼ inch thick. If the cakes are thick, they will take longer to cook and it is best to pan fry them. But if they are thin, then cooking them on a non-stick griddle will yield nice crisp tikkis. Refrigerate the shaped cakes for 1 to 2 hours to firm them up since we are not using any other add-in to bind them.
  3. Heat a 12 inch non-stick griddle with 2 tablespoons of canola oil. When the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium and add the tikkis in one layer. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes on each side till they are brown and crisp.
  4. Serve with tomato ketchup or spicy green chutney.
Makes 8 to 10 tikkis

Green chutney

2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 – 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno peppers, seeds removed
1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar

Blend all of these ingredients together to form a paste.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Three bean soup with broccoli rabe

Last night our daughter was attending a birthday party and she was not going to be home for dinner. There were just the two of us on a cool winter day imagining what it would be like when she goes off to college. A bit quiet and sometimes maybe a bit too quiet. A comforting bowl of soup is what came to mind. I had planned on making an Indian style lentil curry with the beans, but a nice warm bowl of soup with crusty and fragrant garlic bread seemed more appropriate.

Loaded with beans, vegetables and peppery broccoli rabe in a spicy tomato broth, it made for a wonderful hearty dinner. The slow cooking gives the beans a wonderful creamy texture and the addition of the Parmesan rind gives the soup an additional complexity. If you are not a fan of broccoli rabe, kale or Swiss chard would make great substitutes. I took a few short cuts - opted to use vegetable bouillon cubes instead of home made vegetable broth and a store bought garlic bread. If you do have vegetable broth you could skip the bouillon cubes and the water and add just the 28 oz of broth. Also, this soup freezes very well and you could easily double the quantity and freeze some for another cool day.

Three bean soup with broccoli rabe

1 cup mixed beans soaked overnight or at least 6 hours [I used a mixture of black beans, red kidney beans and chickpeas]
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 leeks, white parts only finely sliced
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 carrots cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 cup celery, cut into ¼ inch slices [about 3 sticks of celery]
8 oz cremini or white button mushrooms, chopped
4 cups broccoli rabe roughly chopped [stems and leaves]
28 oz of water [I used the tomato can - 2 cans]
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
A 3 inch piece of Parmesan rind [optional]
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 vegetarian stock cubes [no sodium - I used vegan Rapunzel cubes]
1 14 oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes [salt free]
1 teaspoon granulated sugar [optional]

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed 5 quart Dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat with extra virgin olive oil. Add the chopped leeks and garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes till the leeks have softened.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the drained beans and the Parmesan rind if using. Stir once. Add the chopped celery, carrots, zucchini and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes. Now add the canned tomatoes, red pepper flakes and the stock cubes crumbled and cook for 3 minutes. Finally add the chopped broccoli rabe. Stir it in and add the water. Bring the soup to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check after 30 minutes to see if the beans are cooked. Adjust the cooking time based on how long the beans take to cook. Taste the soup and if it is too sour add the sugar. Adjust the seasoning and remove the Parmesan rind before serving. Sometimes it melts with the slow cooking, but if it doesnt it needs to be removed. Serve warm with crusty garlic bread.
Serves 4