Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Roasted sweet potatoes in a sweet and sour chili sauce

This is a take on manchurian potatoes that you get in an Indo Chinese restaurant. Typically this dish is made with regular potatoes - russet potatoes work well, but I decided to use the white Japanese sweet potatoes. The sweetness of the potatoes is a nice contrast to the spiciness of the sauce. The spring onions added at the end give a pop of color and freshness to the dish. If I had cilantro on hand, I would have added some finely chopped cilantro leaves as well.

Roasted sweet potatoes in a sweet and sour chili sauce

1 lb white sweet potatoes or Japanese sweet potatoes (they have a pink skin)
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced - whites and greens separated
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons tomato ketchup
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/2 - 1/3 teaspoon dried red chili flakes (depends on how hot you like it)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into batons 1/2 inch x 11/2 inch long. Toss them in some canola or peanut oil and a sprinkling of salt.Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the center rack for 15 minutes till they are golden on the edges.
  3. In the meantime, in a small bowl, mix the soy sauce(s), ketchup, sesame oil, rice wine, vinegar, and chili flakes and stir to combine. Set aside.
  4. When the sweet potatoes are roasted, heat a 10 inch saute pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and the minced garlic. When the garlic begin to sizzle, add the whites of the onions and saute for 30 seconds. Add the sauce and potatoes and mix well. Once the potatoes are well coated with the sauce and warmed through, sprinkle the sliced scallion greens and remove to a serving dish.
Serves 3 to 4 as part of a multi-course meal

Monday, November 11, 2013

Steamed spinach with a lemon sesame dressing

Quick, healthy and delicious is how I would describe this dish. The most time is required to ensure the spinach is devoid of any dirt. If you want to skip the washing and make this dish even quicker, you can use pre-washed baby spinach leaves. The spinach leaves in this recipe are simply blanched and a flavorful dressing of lemon juice, soy sauce and chili oil makes it ultra delicious. A healthy sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds give it a little crunch. It is a perfect side with a tofu main course dish.

Steamed spinach with a lemon sesame dressing
2 bunches organic spinach, trimmed and washed thoroughly
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 teaspoons chili oil
2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds [toast in a dry skillet over medium heat, till light brown]

  1. Blanch  the spinach in salted boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with tongs and drain in a colander.
  2. For the dressing, whisk the lemon juice, oils, soy sauce and salt. 
  3. Transfer the blanched drained spinach to a serving bowl - make sure there is no water as that will dilute the dressing. Pour the dressing over the spinach and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
Serves 3 to 4

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pizza with roasted kabocha squash, kale and goat cheese

Kabocha squash is a popular winter squash - commonly used in Japan was actually introduced by the Portuguese to Japan. It is intensely sweet and has a dense texture. Roasted it mashes very well and works as a great base for the pizza. I combine it with the slight bitterness of Tuscan kale and the tanginess of fresh goat cheese to make the perfect fall topping for my pizza. The surprise elements are bits of chopped toasted and salted pecans.

Pizza dough for two individual pies (store bought or home made)
2 cups peeled and chopped kabocha squash
One medium bunch of Tuscan kale (about 8 large leaves)
1/4 cup roasted salted pecans
4 oz fresh goat cheese
Dried chili flakes or freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. 
  2. Toss the squash cubes with about a tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and spread on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 30 minutes till they are soft enough to mash. When cool, mash with a fork and set aside.
  3. Now raise the temperature of the oven to 500 F. Place the pizza stone in the middle rack when the oven temperature reaches 500 and preheat for 20 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, remove the ribs from the kale leaves and blanch them in boiling hot salted water for 4 minutes. Drain well and chop roughly and set aside.
  5. Spread the pizza dough by hand or roll it on a lightly floured surface till it is about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is bouncing back, let it rest for 5 minutes and continue to roll. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and start assembling the pizza. Spread the mashed kabocha squash on the spread out dough. Top with the chopped kale, crumbled goat cheese, and chopped pecans. If you like your pizza spicy, sprinkle a pinch of dried chili flakes otherwise some freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Transfer the parchment paper with the assembled pizza to the pizza stone using a peel. If you don't have a peel, slide the parchment on to a large cutting board or a crisper and gently slide the pizza to the hot stone. Reduce the oven temperature to 450 F. Bake for 8 minutes.
  7. Remove the pizza with the parchment to a cutting board. Slice and serve.
Makes two individual pies.

          Friday, October 25, 2013

          Roasted Romanesco cauliflower with coriander seeds

          The local New York farms have had a great crop of Romanesco cauliflowers this year. Hence instead of eating their white cousins, we have been eating more of these green ones with its tower like florets. Sweeter and milder, they roast well and take to absorbing different flavors. Tonight I roasted them simply with garlic, coarsely ground coriander seeds and chili flakes. The lemony coriander perfumes the cauliflower along with the garlic. Freshly ground coriander seeds will give you the best results.

          Roasting them in a very hot oven, caramelizes the cauliflower instead of steaming them and the green kind has less moisture. Hence it browns quicker with less oil. I served it as a side with a spinach and sun-dried pesto linguini.

          Roasted romanesco cauliflower with coriander seeds

          1 medium head of Romanesco cauliflower
          3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
          2 tablespoons coriander seeds
          1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes [depends on how hot you like you food]
          3/4 - 1 teaspoon kosher salt
          Olive oil to coat the florets
          A 12 x 18 inch baking sheet

          1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put the baking sheet in the middle rack to pre-heat as well.
          2. Crush the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle with a little salt - the friction helps to stop the seeds from flying out of the mortar. Alternately, if you have a spice grinder or coffee grinder give them a quick buzz to avoid making a powder - the seeds should be coarsely ground.
          3. Remove the leaves and the hard core of the cauliflower and separate the florets. If the core is soft, then cut them into 2 inch spears. Quarter the florets lengthwise to expose the most surface for caramelization.
          4. Transfer the cauliflower florets to a large mixing bowl and toss well with olive oil, minced garlic, crushed coriander seeds, dried chili flakes, and salt. Lay out in a single layer on the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes till the florets are lightly caramelized at the edges.
          5. Serve warm or at room temperature.
          Serves 3 to 4.

          Friday, September 6, 2013

          Peperoncino spaghetti with swiss chard and chickpeas

          This is a quick and easy weeknight pasta with spunk. The peperoncino spaghetti is already infused with the chili pepper but the heat is not overwhelming. Pairs well with the earthiness of the chickpeas and Swiss chard which helps to balance the heat from the chili peppers. The fresh shavings of Parmesan cheese adds a rich salty bite. The time taken to boil the pasta and a few extra minutes to prep is enough time to put dinner on the table.

          Peperoncino spaghetti with Swiss chard and chickpeas
          8 oz spaghetti with dried peperoncino
          1 cup canned chickpeas
          1 bunch organic Swiss chard leaves and stems
          3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
          2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
          Salt to taste
          Aged Parmesan cheese for serving
          Good quality extra virgin olive oil for finishing
          1. Place a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta as per the directions on  the package.
          2. In the meantime, clean the Swiss chard and separate the leaves from the stems. Slice the stems into quarter inch pieces and set aside. Lay the leaves on top of each other and roll them. Once rolled slice the roll into thin slices.
          3. In a large heavy bottomed saute pan over medium heat add the olive oil and the minced garlic, along with the chickpeas (without any liquid). Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir and cook till the garlic has softened and the chickpeas have light brown spots. Now add the chopped Swiss chard stems, 1/4 teaspoon more kosher salt and continue to cook for another 5 minutes till they have softened. Add the leaves at this point and mix well. Cook for another 3 minutes and add the drained pasta with a few tablespoons of pasta water to bring it all together.
          4. Transfer to the serving plate. Drizzle some finishing oil over the pasta and serve with a healthy grating of Parmesan cheese.
          Serves 3 as a Main course with a salad

          Note: Two resources where you can buy spaghetti with dried peperoncino. I used the second resource as they have a store in NYC at Chelsea Market

          Tuesday, September 3, 2013

          Vietnamese rice paper rolls - vegetarian

          Summer is the perfect time to enjoy these soft, uncooked rolls. They are a refreshing change from the deep-fried spring rolls. These are vegetarian and are filled with colorful fresh vegetables, bean thread noodles, and some spicy cashew nuts for protein and crunch. Fresh mint leaves line the delicate rice paper sheets on which the finely cut vegetables are piled and rolled to make the perfect appetizer. If you eat enough of them, they can also be a meal. They are served cold with a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce. The best part is that they can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead and chilled in the refrigerator, covered with a clean dampened dish towel to keep them moist, until ready to be served. Try these before the summer ends!

          Prepped ingredients for the rice paper rolls

          8, 22cm rice papers
          A 3 inch piece of English cucumber, peeled and cut into thin long strips
          One medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin long strips
          ½ medium yellow or red pepper cut into thin long strips
          1 small bunch of fresh mint leaves
          1 oz dried bean thread noodles
          1/2 - 2/3 cups Thai chili lime cashews or any other spiced nuts, coarsely chopped

          1. The easiest way to make these rolls is to get all your ingredients prepped and arranged on your counter in a logical sequence. A shallow bowl large than 22 cm in diameter and warm water, will be required to soak the rice paper, a large cutting board to assemble the roll, moist paper towels to cover the rolls and to lay on the cutting board and a finally a platter to keep the finished product.
          2. First lay a lightly moistened paper towel or clean dish towel on the cutting board to prevent the wet rice paper from sticking to the cutting board.
          3. Soak one sheet of rice paper for about 15 to 30 seconds in the bowl of warm water till the paper becomes soft. Remove the paper delicately from the water, to prevent tearing and lay on the paper towel on the cutting board.
          4. Place two mint leaves towards the lower edge of the rice paper (similar to making a spring roll). Top with a few sticks of cucumber, carrots, and peppers. Add a few strands of the bean thread noodles and a teaspoon of the chopped cashew. The bean thread noodles will help the cashew stick. Try to keep the filling piled high instead if spread out. It will help to keep the roll rounded instead of flat.
          5. Then fold the bottom edge of the rice paper over the filling and fold in the side edges of the rice paper. Roll up the rice paper keeping all the ingredients together to form a cylinder. Keep on a tray covered with a moist kitchen towel.
          6. Repeat the same process for each rice paper till you have 8 rolls. Now cut the rolls in half with a serrated knife before serving.

          Dipping sauce
          2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
          2 ½ teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
          ½ teaspoon chili garlic sauce or sriracha sauce
          ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar

          Mix all the ingredients to form the sauce and serve with the rolls.

          Tuesday, August 6, 2013

          Pan fried tofu with a lemon soy glaze

          Every Chinese restaurant in NYC has a version of lemon sesame chicken a.k.a. fried pieces of chicken with a lemon based sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. I tried to re-create the same with tofu for my vegetarian crew.
          It was easy and delicious - crisp pieces of tofu covered in a sweet, sour and salty glaze. Matched the restaurant version to a tee, but even better since the tofu was not deep fried with a batter. You have to try it to see how good it is.

          Pan fried tofu with a lemon soy glaze
          1 block of firm or extra firm organic tofu (14 oz)
          1 teaspoon kosher salt
          2 teaspoons cornflour
          1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

          For the glaze
          1 tablespoon minced garlic
          1 teaspoon, peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
          ¼ cup vegetable stock (you can use soup cubes crumbled in water as a substitute - check for salt)
          2 - 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice,depending on how lemony you like the dish to be
          2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (zest of one lemon)
          1 tablespoon soy sauce
          2 tablespoons sugar
          1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
          1. Place the block of drained tofu on a shallow edged plate and place another plate on top of the tofu. Now place a weight on top like a can of chickpeas to press the tofu to get rid of the excess liquid. Keep the weight on for 10 minutes. Remove the weight and the plate and drain off the excess liquid. Pat the tofu dry with a kitchen towel and cut into 2 inch by 1 inch pieces. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt on the tofu to leach out additional liquid. Let the tofu sit with the salt for 15 minutes. Then dry the tofu pieces with a clean paper towel and spread them out onto a plate.
          2. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a 10 inch heavy bottomed skillet. While the oil becomes hot, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of cornflour on the tofu. This will give the tofu a wonderful crust. When ripples begin to form in the pan, place the tofu in a single layer and let it cook for 2 minutes. Once brown, flip with a thin edged spatula like a fish spatula to brown the other side. Cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
          3. In the same skillet, add another two teaspoons of canola oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable stock, lemon juice, lemon zest, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and simmer until the liquid is reduced and beginning to get syrup like. Stir in the cornflour mixture to thicken the sauce. Quickly add the tofu. Toss to coat with the sauce and serve immediately.
          Serves 2 very hungry people or 3 with another side

          Wednesday, July 31, 2013

          Capellini {Angel Hair pasta} with fava beans and mint pesto

          Truly spectacular is what my family called it. Fava beans are in season and so is mint. They are a perfect combination. The freshness of the mint complements the earthy flavor of the fava beans. I also added a handful of frozen peas for freshness, but if you had fresh English peas, they would be perfect.

          Fava beans are cumbersome to clean, since it is a three step process and once they are shelled, there is not much left. You have to shell a lot of pods to get a decent amount of beans to work with. Once shelled, the beans need to be separated by size unless you are lucky enough to get all of them in with the same size. Then they need to be steamed - I find the fastest way to do this is to take a shortcut and use the microwave. Once steamed, the dark green beans will almost peek out from their tough and thick skins. Gently press the beans out of their skins. Finally they are ready to be eaten.

          I tossed capellini pasta with a mint and pistachio pesto, fresh cooked fava and some frozen peas and it made for a perfect summer evening dish.

          Capellini with fava beans and mint pesto

          8 oz capellini (angel hair pasta)
          2 lbs fresh fava beans in their pods
          1/2 cup fresh green peas blanched or frozen peas (defrosted)
          1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
          2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
          1/2 cup shelled roasted unsalted pistachios
          4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (use the good quality stuff since there is no cooking involved)
          scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
          Parmesan cheese for grating table-side
          1. First lets tackle the fava beans. Check out the link at the end of the recipe if you would like to see a video showing how to clean the fava beans. But, it is very simple. Shell the beans like you would shell peas. Then segregate the beans by size, since they will take different times to cook. You don't want to eat mushy beans - they are extremely distasteful. Place the large beans in a microwave safe container and add a little water. Cook covered for 2 minutes. Do the same for the small beans but cook for 1 minute. Drain and cool. Then ease the beans out of the skin without breaking them.
          2. Before you make pesto, add water to a 5-6 quart saucepan or dutch oven and bring to a boil for cooking the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, make the pesto. 
          3. For the pesto, add the garlic and pistachio to the food processor and give it a few pulses. Then add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and give it a few more pulses till the pistachio and garlic forms a coarse paste. Now add the mint leaves and the balance two tablespoons olive oil and let it process till the mint leaves are fully incorporated.
          4. Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the box - capellini takes only 3 minutes to cook. Save 1/2 cup water before draining the water to thin the sauce if required.
          5. In a large mixing bowl, place the peeled favas, blanched green peas or defrosted green peas and the mint pesto. Add the drained pasta and toss well. You might need to add a few tablespoons of the saved pasta water to thin the sauce. 
          6. Serve with a generous grating of parmesan cheese tableside.
          Serves 3

          Note: Here is a video on how to clean fava beans.

          Monday, July 29, 2013

          Stir-fried eggplant and potatoes with coriander

          The difference between a good dish and a great dish has a lot to do with the quality of ingredients. Freshness of the spices contributes greatly to the taste of the dish. It has been a year nice I stopped using pre-ground spices and it has made a world of difference to the taste of my simple dishes.

          Last week, the farmers' market had the most gorgeous eggplants and I picked up two large fellows, a little more than a pound each. I used one for this simple dish and the awesome flavor comes from the freshly ground coriander seeds. Usually eggplants require a lot of oil to taste good, but precooking them in the microwave saves you from using so much oil and keeps the dish healthy without compromising on taste.

          Stir Fried eggplant and potatoes with coriander

          1 lb purple eggplant – chopped into ½ inch cubes
          1 medium sized russet or any other potato, boiled and cut into ½ inch cubes
          5 teaspoons canola oil
          2 teaspoons cumin seeds
          1/8th teaspoon turmeric powder
          ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
          1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander powder
          ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
          Scant 1 teaspoon dry mango powder (amchur)
          ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

          1. In a microwave safe container, place the eggplant cubes and cook covered in the microwave for 4 to 7 minutes. When the eggplant is soft, it is considered ready. The time will depend on the power of the microwave as well as the quality of eggplant. If the eggplant has a lot of seeds, it will take longer to cook.
          2. In the meantime, heat a large heavy bottomed non-stick skillet with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds. When the oil is hot, the seeds will pop. Add the boiled potato cubes to the oil and toss to mix well. Add ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes till the potatoes turn a little brown around the edges.
          3. Now add the eggplant from the microwave – discard the water that might accumulate at the bottom of the bowl. Add the turmeric, cayenne and coriander powder and another ¼ teaspoon salt. Mix well and continue to cook for another 4 to 5 minutes till the spices have coated the vegetables and the vegetables look like the picture above.
          4. Finally add the mango powder and the fresh cilantro leaves and cook for another minute. Taste for seasonings and adjust the salt.
          5. Serve warm with a lentil soup (dal) and rice or pita

          Serves 3 to 4 as a side

          Sunday, July 28, 2013

          Red lentil and bulgur soup

          Continuing on my desire to eat Turkish food, I made a red lentil soup with bulgur, which is a very popular soup in Turkey. In some versions, rice is added to it along with fresh tomatoes and the entire mixture is pureed. I prefer my soups to have texture and I did not puree mine. The addition of dried mint makes this soup different from a regular red lentil soup and gives it that wonderful lemony flavor, which is enhanced by a squeeze of lemon before serving.
          If you have fresh mint, you could dress the soup with some finely sliced mint leaves to enhance the flavor of the dried mint.

          Red lentil and bulgur soup

          1/2 cup red lentils, washed and rinsed
          1/4 cup fine bulgur
          1 tablespoon unsalted butter
          1 clove of fresh garlic, peeled and minced
          1 cup minced yellow onion
          1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
          1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes
          1/4 teaspoon dried spearmint
          4 cups vegetable or chicken stock OR (vegetable stock cubes or chicken stock cubes + 4 cups water)
          salt to taste (adjust depending on the salt content of the stock)
          Freshly squeezed lemon juice to serve
          1. Heat a 3 qt sauce stainless steel saucepan over medium heat and had the butter to it. Once the butter melts (make sure it does not turn brown), add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the minced onion and a pinch of salt which will prevent the onions from browning. Cook the onions for a few minutes till they are translucent. 
          2. Now add the tomato paste and the dried chili flakes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium low heat. Add the washed lentils and the bulgur and stir the mixture till all the grains of the bulgur and the lentil is well coated. 
          3. Add the dried mint and the stock or stock cubes crumbled and 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for about 15 to 20 minutes till the lentils are cooked. Taste and adjust the salt.
          4. Served with freshly squeezed lemon juice and pita bread for dipping.
          Serves 3 as a first course or 2 for lunch with a salad.

          Tuesday, July 23, 2013

          Potato and bulgur kofte

          Having lived in Turkey, I go through phases when I want to eat home made Turkish food. This potato and bulgur kofte is one of those dishes which I don't see served in a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Hence I decided to make them for dinner tonight.
          Unlike most kofte's these are not fried or baked - the Turks have variations of these with red lentils as well, which is more common. In my interpretation, the bulgur is mixed with some tomato paste for color and harissa for spice (the authentic version has chili paste or chili flakes) and soaked with some hot water allowing the bulgur to cook. The potatoes are boiled, peeled and mashed. The mashed potatoes are combined with the soaked bulgur, once they have absorbed all the liquid. Finally, finely chopped parsley is added to the mixture and they are made into little balls. It served with a simple salad of tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, feta and olives.

          Potato and bulgur kofte

          1/2 cup fine bulgur wheat
          2 small russet potatoes
          1 1/2 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil or more to taste
          1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
          1 teaspoon concentrated tomato paste
          1 teaspoon harissa
          1 1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
          Freshly ground black pepper
          1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
          2 spring onions, finely chopped
          1/2 cup hot water
          1. Add the chopped spring onions,  harissa and tomato sauce to the bulgur and mix well to ensure the harissa and tomato paste coats all the bulgur. Add 1/2 cup hot water and keep covered for 15 minutes. Remove the cover - the bulgur would have absorbed all the water - if not replace the cover and check after 5 minutes.
          2. In the meantime boil the potatoes in their jackets - or peel, cut into quarters and boil. Once the potatoes are boiled, remove the peel if you have chosen the first method. Put the peeled potatoes through a ricer and press through to get fluffy mashed potatoes. (If you don't have a ricer, mash the potatoes with your hands). Mix the riced potatoes with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, ground cumin, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and mash with the fluffed up bulgur mixture. Finally add the minced parsley and mix well to ensure the entire mixture has little flecks of green.
          3. Using your hands shape the bulgur, potato mixture into little balls, the size of golf balls. Serve with a salad.
          Makes 18 golf ball sized kofte

          Monday, June 24, 2013

          Silken tofu salad with ginger and mint

          One of my favorite chefs is Kylie Kwong. Her take on Chinese cuisine is authentic as well as interesting. Out of the many recipes of hers which are a part of our regular dinner repertoire, this cold tofu salad is truly worth sharing. Extremely simple, but with a little twist using aromatics and spices to take it a level above ordinary.

          She uses cold tofu, shredded spring onions and shredded vegetables dressed with a hot oil dressing to make this wonderful summertime salad. This is a perfect make ahead dish - pour the hot dressing just before serving. I have adapted it slightly and omitted the spring onions and substituted chili oil for freshly sliced red chilis.

          Silken tofu salad with ginger and mint
          1 small cucumber
          1 small carrot peeled
          14 oz silken tofu chilled
          2 tablespoons finely sliced fresh mint leaves
          Pinch of Sichuan pepper salt

          2 tablespoons light soy sauce
          2 tablespoons water
          ½ tablespoon fresh peeled ginger, cut into julienne
          1 teaspoon granulated sugar
          1 teaspoon malt vinegar (substitute is rice vinegar)
          1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
          1 teaspoon chili oil
          1 tablespoon peanut oil (substitute is grape seed or canola oil)
          1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a heatproof bowl. Heat peanut oil in a small frying pan until moderately hot, and then carefully pour over dressing ingredients to scald them and release their flavors. Stir to combine and set aside.
          2. Using a vegetable peeler, finely slice cucumber and carrot length-ways into ribbons and then into a fine julienne or use a julienne peeler.
          3. Take tofu from the refrigerator and immediately invert into a shallow bowl. Carefully cut into 8 equal slices width ways and top with cucumber and carrot. Pour over dressing and garnish with mint, Sichuan pepper salt and serve immediately. 

          Serves 3 to 4 as a first course

          Sunday, June 23, 2013

          Quinoa, zucchini and black eyed pea cakes with Romesco sauce

          Delicious first and healthy next is how I would describe these cakes. The texture of these cakes comes from the quinoa, freshness and moisture from the zucchini and the black eyed peas buzzed in the food processor binds it all together. I used canned black eyed peas, but the next time I make this, I would prefer to use dried black eyed peas, soaked in hot water for an hour or more and then boiled and drained. Canned black eyed peas had a metallic taste which was masked by the addition of herbs and spices. But if you have the time, go ahead and use the dried peas.

          Quinoa, zucchini and black eyed pea cakes with Romesco sauce

          1/2 cup quinoa
          1 medium zucchini - a slim one with not so many seeds
          1 14 oz can black eyed peas (this one had salt)
          1 teaspoon roasted cumin powdered
          1/3 cup finely crumbled feta cheese
          1/3 cup onion, coarsely chopped
          1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño (more or less depending on your tolerance for spice)
          1 small clove of garlic, peeled, and coarsely chopped
          Canola oil for pan frying
          Kosher salt
          1. Wash the quinoa in a sieve to remove the bitter coating. In a 1 quart saucepan,  add the quinoa with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa cool.
          2. Grate the zucchini and set aside.
          3. Add the chopped onion, jalapeno and garlic to the food processor and give it a quick buzz to break up the aromatics into small pieces. Now add the drained black eyed peas and pulse till it is a paste and incorporated with the aromatics. Remove to a large mixing bowl.
          4. Add the grated zucchini, cooled quinoa, cumin powder and crumbled feta and mix by hand. Taste the mixture to check for seasonings and adjust according to your taste.
          5. Form into little cakes 3/4th inch thick and 2 inches round and lay them out on a sheet tray to be  refrigerated for an hour before frying. This step helps to firm up the cakes, so they don't crumble while frying. Cover the tray with cling wrap before putting in the refrigerator.
          6. When you are ready to fry, heat a non-stick griddle over medium high heat and add a thin layer of canola oil just enough to glaze the griddle. Gently lay the cakes in a single layer and cook without flipping for 3 minutes without flipping them over medium heat. Check if the bottom is brown and flip them to brown the other side. Cook for another 3 minutes on the second. Remove when the cakes are golden brown on both sides. 
          7. Serve with Romesco sauce. (Recipe below).
          Makes 14 2 inch patties

          Romesco sauce (my version)

          1 large roasted red pepper, skin and seeds removed
          1 small clove of garlic
          1/4 cup walnuts
          1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
          1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

          Put all the ingredients in the food processor except for the olive oil. Blend to a coarse mixture. Now slowly add the olive oil through the tube and continue to pulse to emulsify the sauce. Taste for seasoning.

          Tuesday, June 18, 2013

          Belgian waffles with sweet corn, cheese and scallions

          Waffles are a popular breakfast item in our home, but they are the sweet kind and for a long time were store bought. One weekend,  we wanted to eat something savory, but without too much work. Savory waffles were a nice thing to make with very little effort.

          Belgian waffles are my favorite kind of waffles - the main difference is that they use yeast and less eggs. And the waffles are more crisp. If you don't like Belgian waffles, you could make these waffles with your favorite waffle recipe as well. I use King Arthur flour's Belgian waffle recipe without the maple syrup for savory waffles and it works well every time. The addition of the corn, adds texture to the waffle and a little pop of sweetness in a savory way when combined with cheese, dried red chili flakes and the scallions.

          Since this was a last minute effort, I did not have a salsa or a sauce to serve the waffles with. If you plan ahead, please serve with a tomato, onion and cilantro salsa or a Romesco sauce. Both would work well with these waffles.

          Waffles with sweet corn, cheese and scallions
          1/2 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
          2 skinny scallions trimmed and finely chopped
          1/8 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
          1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
          1/2 cup shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese (or more)
          1/2 recipe King Arthur flour Belgian Waffle recipe
          1. Prepare the waffle dough as per the King Arthur flour Belgian Waffle recipe. You need to keep it at room temperature for the yeast to work its magic.
          2. While the yeast is working,  finely chop the scallions - both white and green parts. If you are using frozen corn, wash them in hot water to remove the ice. If you are using fresh corn, remove the husk from the cob and the stem. Then placing the base in a bowl, use a paring knife to shave down the sides and kernels will collect at the bottom of the bowl. 
          3. Once the waffle dough is ready, add the corn, chopped scallions, dried red chili flakes, salt and shredded cheese to the dough and mix lightly. 
          4. Preheat the waffle iron and add half the dough to the pan and cook as per the instructions on your waffle iron. If you are using the stove top iron, then the best thing is to preheat both the plates separately on two burners for 2 minutes on medium heat. The cook each side for 3 minutes over medium heat. The waffles will be golden brown and crisp with still a little bit of softness remaining.
          5. Serve with a tomato salsa or a Romesco sauce.
          Makes 8 quarters

          Note: If you don't own a waffle iron, a stove top waffle iron is a wonderful thing to own. It fits easily in a drawer and requires no counter space. Since it is non-stick the waffle comes out easily and it is a breeze to clean.

          Thursday, June 13, 2013

          Roasted Sweet Potato salad with Asiago Caesar dressing

          Sweet potatoes (not the orange yams) are absolutely delicious roasted as roasting concentrates the flavor of the potato. I toss them with sweet Vidalia onions and roast together. Once slightly cooled, I combine the potato and onion mixture with finely sliced sun-dried tomatoes, and toss them with some lettuce drizzled with caesar dressing and sprinkled with roasted pistachios. The combination of flavors ie. sweet, sour and salty is perfectly balanced by the addition of the creamy dressing.

          Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Asiago Caesar Dressing
          2 medium sized Japanese sweet potatoes (red skin with white flesh)
          1/2 large Vidalia onion (this is a sweet onion)
          1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
          1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
          Scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
          4 large sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
          2 handfuls of organic baby lettuce mix
          2 tablespoons roasted shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
          Caesar dressing to serve ( I used an anchovy-free dressing) [substitute with Ranch if required]
          1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. 
          2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Similarly, peel the Vidalia onion and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
          3. Toss the cubed potato and chopped onion mixture with olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Lay them out in a single layer on a light weight baking sheet. (You want the potatoes to caramelize and not steam).
          4. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 20 minutes till the potatoes begin to caramelize and the tips of the onions turn brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to the salad bowl.
          5. Cut the sun-dried tomatoes into thin strips and mix with the warm potato and onion mixture. 
          6. Add the coarsely chopped pistachios to the mixture as well. When cool, add the lettuce and toss.
          7. Serve with the dressing on the side for each person to drizzle as much as they like.
          Serves 4

          Wednesday, May 29, 2013

          Roasted cauliflower with dukkah

          I have a lot of cauliflower recipes on my blog and we continue to cook it in even more different ways. This time I roasted them with my favorite Egyptian spice mix - dukkah. Dukkah is an Egyptian, nut and spice mix, which is fantastic with almost anything. It is most commonly used as a dip for bread with olive oil, sprinkled on steamed vegetables, as a crust for poultry or seafood, and I like to sprinkle it liberally on vegetables before roasting.

          Dukkah is available in gourmet grocery stores, or online at amazon, but it is very simple to make. It contains one or more variety of nuts and a combination of spices combined with sesame seeds. I like the version at 101 cookbooks which contains dried mint and does not include chili flakes. It is one of my accompaniments for my bread and cheese platter when I am entertaining. Paired with some kalamata olives and a fruity olive oil, it is a great addition to an appetizer plate.

          Roasted cauliflower with Dukkah

          Cauliflower - about 2 lbs including the stems and greens
          Dukkah - 2 tablespoons or more
          Olive oil - a liberal drizzle (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
          Salt - 1 teaspoon kosher salt
          1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
          2. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets. 
          3. Toss with the olive oil and dukkah and mix evenly.
          4. Lay the cauliflower on a baking sheet in a single layer and place the tray in the center rack of the oven.  Roast for 20 to 25 minutes till the cauliflower is cooked and has brown spots. A paring knife inserted into the stem should go through easily, otherwise put them back in the oven for 5 more minutes.
          5. Remove to a serving platter and serve with the lentil and rice pilaf.
          Serves 3 to 4

          Note: This works as a great side dish with the Lentil and Rice Pilaf

          Lentil and Rice Pilaf

          Lentil and rice pilaf is a meal in itself when paired with a salad or a raita. Brown lentils are great in this preparation since they hold their shape while cooking and can be cooked along with the rice. The addition  of a few aromatics and a topping of fried onions makes it good enough for company.

          Lentil and Rice Pilaf
          1/2 cup brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
          1 cup long grain basmati rice
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          1 tablespoon clarified butter or ghee
          1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
          1 inch piece of cinnamon
          1 clove
          1 green cardamom
          1/2 teaspoon black peppers
          1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
          1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
          3 cups hot water
          1 cup fried onions (store bought or home made); I used French's Fried onions

          1. Soak the rice and lentils in separate containers for 1 hour with cold water. Drain and set aside.

          2. Heat a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat with canola oil and clarified butter. Add the cinnamon, clove and cardamom and cook for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds longer. Now add the drained rice and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, till the rice is toasted and acquires a glossy finish. Add the drained lentils and the dried chili flakes and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add the black peppers, salt  and 3 cups hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. At the end of the 15 minutes, the water will be absorbed and the lentil will be cooked but will still be firm tender.

          3. Let the pilaf remain covered for another ten minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Add half the onions and mix lightly with the pilaf. Sprinkle the balance as a garnish.

          Serves 4

          Saturday, May 18, 2013

          Toasted quinoa with grilled zucchini and toasted chickpeas

          For the last couple of weeks, I have been on a low carb kick and trying to avoid eating rice. Quinoa serves as a nice substitute for rice without all the calories and it is protein rich. Toasting the quinoa before cooking gives it a complex flavor which I prefer to cooking them without toasting.

          I flavor the quinoa with some shallots and garlic, add cooked chick peas with a punch from the jalapneo and some grilled zucchini. This is pretty much a meal in itself. If you are eating this for dinner, a hearty greek salad with olives and feta cheese makes a wonderful accompaniment.

          Toasted quinoa with grilled zucchini and toasted chickpeas
          1 1/2  cups quinoa (washed and rinsed)
          1 14oz can - unsalted chickpeas
          2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
          Extra virgin olive oil
          1 teaspoon finely minced jalapeño
          1 large shallot finely minced, about 1 cup
          2 cloves of garlic finely minced
          2 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
          Kosher salt
          Freshly ground black pepper
          1. In a 3 quart saucepan, over medium heat toast the washed quinoa till it is dry and starts to pop about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
          2. In the same saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the minced shallots and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes till the shallot have become light brown. Add the toasted quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Add 2 1/2 cups hot water and bring the quinoa to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer - cover and let it cook for 15 minutes till the quinoa absorbs all the water.
          3. While the quinoa is simmering, drain the chickpeas from the can and keep it in a colander to dry. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 8 inch saute pan,  add the minced jalapeno and cook over low heat to flavor the oil for 2 minutes. Then add the drained chickpeas and 1/4 teaspoon salt and raise the heat to medium high. Cook the chickpea mixture till they are brown and toasted about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and add to the cooked quinoa. 
          4. In the meantime, toss the sliced zucchini with some olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt and grill for 3 minutes a side on a pre-heated grill pan. I like to use the ones with the double burner - this way I get the zucchini grilled much faster in bigger batches. 
          5. Prepare a serving platter with a layer of grilled zucchini at the bottom, covered with the quinoa and chickpea mixture. Arrange the rest of the zucchini on top as per your liking. Drizzle with lemon juice if using.
          Serves 4 with a salad

          Sunday, May 12, 2013

          Egg fried rice with crispy garlic and scallions

          Egg fried rice is a very commonplace dish available in some form or the other in every Chinese restaurant all over the world. The key to a good fried rice is left over rice which has not been overcooked. The cooked grains of rice should not stick to each other. I find basmati rice the best for making fried rice and unlike the traditional way of cooking rice using the 1 cup rice to 2 cups of water method, I like to boil the rice with extra water till the rice is almost cooked. Then I drain the rice through a fine mesh sieve and spread of a plate to cool, before I use it for fried rice. Ofcourse the best is to have left over rice.
          This way of cooking egg fried rice is somewhat borrowed from Jean Georges crispy garlic and ginger rice with leeks and topped with a fried egg. I crisp the garlic in canola oil and use the same oil to cook the rice and the eggs. This gives the fried rice a subtle garlic flavor and the crispy garlic bits add a wonderful texture to the fried rice. There is no soy sauce in the recipe - hence it cannot be called a Chinese egg fried rice, but it is extremely flavorful.

                       Egg fried rice with crispy garlic and scallions

          1 cup basmati rice (uncooked), about 3 cups cooked rice
          3 eggs
          5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
          2 tablespoons fresh, peeled and minced ginger
          7 thin stalks scallions, whites and greens separated, finely sliced
          1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
          3 tablespoons canola oil

          1. Cook the rice as per your usual cooking method. Make sure the rice is completely cooled before starting to make the fried rice.
          2. Heat a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons canola oil over medium low heat and add the minced garlic. Cook the garlic till they turn crisp but not burnt. This process needs to be watched very carefully because if the garlic is burnt it will become bitter. Depending on the the heat, it could take about 2 to 3 minutes to crisp the garlic. Once brown,  turn off the heat and remove the garlic with a slotted spoon. 
          3. Whisk the three eggs with 1/4 teaspoon salt and use some of the garlic oil to make thin omelets. Roll the omelets and cut them into strips and set aside.
          4. Transfer 1 tablespoon garlic oil to a 10 inch skillet to cook the fried rice. Over medium heat, add the minced ginger and the whites of the scallions to the oil and cook for 2 minutes till the ginger begins to turn pink. Add the cooled rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and mix well. Add the green parts of the scallions and mix well. Finally add the omelet strips and warm through.
          Serves 2 to 3 as part of a multi-course meal.

          Sunday, April 28, 2013

          Bruschetta with Ramps and Parmesan

          Ramp Mania has hit New York City and here is a list of restaurants collated by Grub Street that are serving ramps :

          I try to cook with ramps at least a few times during the short season that they are available. Last year I posted a recipe of risotto with ramps which was truly spectacular. This time it is bruschetta with ramps. In case you have never eaten ramps, they look like scallions with darker leaves and have a mild onion flavor and definitely worth a try - you might even get addicted.

          Bruschetta with Ramps and Parmesan

          8 oz baby ramps
          1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
          1 large shallot, peeled and minced
          1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
          1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
          ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
          Shavings of  Parmesan cheese
          Half baguette, sliced thin into 1/4 inch thick slices

          1. Preheat a grill pan - if you don't have a grill pan, just toast the bread.
          2. Trim the end of the ramps to remove the roots. Chop the white and green parts into small pieces. 
          3. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the shallots. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and  sauté until the shallots are slightly translucent. Add the garlic and the white parts of the ramp and sauté for another minute. Finally add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes to the ramp and shallot mixture along with the ramp leaves. Cook until they are just wilted
          4. In the meantime, grill the baguette slices or toast them. Top the grilled baguette with a couple of teaspoons of the ramp mixture. Top with parmesan shavings (best done with a vegetable peeler).
          Serves 4 people as an appetizer

          Thursday, April 18, 2013

          Mexican style pasta bake with roasted corn and black beans

          The dish is the perfect example of Mexican meets Italian. Recently I found a bright red colored penne at the grocery store which boasted of being made with actual tomato and carrot puree and it says it takes care of  the daily serving of veggies per 3.5 oz serving of pasta. So, I had to give it a try - mostly for the lovely color.

          I was not in the mood for a traditional mac and cheese with the ubiquitous white sauce. So, this version has the mac and the cheese but with a punch.  I add black beans, roasted corn, taco seasoning for the punch  and a mix of Mexican queso blanco, a creamy, soft, and mild un-aged white cheese and a little sharper cheddar cheese. The queso blanco is like fresh mozzarella and is good spread out throughout the dish in cubes while the cheddar holds the dish together, since there is no sauce. Then finally I top it with cubes of avocado for that creamy finish.

          Mexican Style pasta with black beans and corn
           2 cups Barillas' veggie penne
          1 cup chopped Spanish or yellow onion
          1 cup fire roasted corn kernels - (Trader Joes frozen or freshly roasted over an open flame)
          1 cup canned unsalted black beans (half a 14 oz can)
          1 cup queso blanco (fresh mexican white cheese), cubed
          2 cups yellow cheddar, shredded
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
          1 teaspoon taco seasoning ( I used Trader Joes brand, but any good brand will do)
          1 small avocado, diced
          Fresh Lemon juice
          1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
          2. Cook the penne as per instructions on the box - 10 to 11 minutes in boiling water for al-dente. Drain and set aside to cool if not using immediately.
          3. In small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil and add the chopped onion. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes till the onion is just beginning to become translucent.
          4. Add the roasted corn, black beans and the taco seasoning. Toss well and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes till the flavors are mixed well. Set aside to cool if not using immediately.
          5. In a medium oven proof baking dish, add half the cooked pasta, followed by half the cheese cubes spread evenly and then half the black bean and corn mixture. Top with a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Repeat the same with the remaining ingredients.  Cover loosely with a foil and place the dish on a baking sheet.
          6. Bake in a pre-heated 375 F oven in the middle rack for 20 minutes, till the cheese has melted and everything has warmed up.
          7. Serve with chopped avocado drizzled with a little lemon juice as a garnish.
          Serves 2 as a Main course

          Monday, April 15, 2013

          Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Hoisin Sauce and Sesame seeds

          These Brussel sprouts are finger licking good and ultimately addictive. I came up with recipe to use up five brussel sprouts which were sitting in my refrigerator waiting to be used. There was nothing I could come up with to pair them up with some other vegetable. Hence this recipe was born.
          The brussel sprouts are simply shredded either with a knife or your trusted food processor (use the slicing blade). Then they are tossed with four ingredients - hoisin sauce ( a sweet and salty Chinese barbecue sauce), toasted sesame oil, chili flakes and sesame seeds. And in the oven they go and come out wonderfully crispy and delicious.
          This recipe can be multiplied easily. The only thing to watch for is to ensure you use a large enough baking sheet so that the Brussel sprouts are in a single layer. Also, if you use a very heavy baking sheet, the sprouts will stew instead of roasting. Hence a medium weight baking sheet is good for this dish.

          Crispy Brussel Sprouts with Hoisin sauce and sesame seeds
          5 Brussel sprouts, cleaned and shredded
          1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
          pinch of dried chili flakes (adjust as per how spicy you like it)
          2 teaspoons sesame oil + 1 teaspoon canola oil
          1 tablespoon sesame seeds
          1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

          1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
          2. In a mixing bowl, toss the shredded Brussel sprouts with all the ingredients EXCEPT the sesame seeds.
          3. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet and sprinkle the sesame seeds. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the edges are crisp.
          Serves 1 to 2 persons.
          Note: Hoisin sauce can be purchased at most grocery stores in the US or at an Asian grocery store or online at amazon.

          Wednesday, April 10, 2013

          Quinoa salad with chickpeas and avocado

          Spring is here and yesterday high in NYC was 82 degrees. That called for food which required very little cooking and this quinoa salad is just that.
          I cook the quinoa as per the directions on the box with vegetable stock. Then I use a can of chickpeas and blister it with some taco seasoning to give it a little punch. And combine the two with the salad ingredients - avocado, beefsteak tomatoes and some red onion.
          The dressing is just a little olive oil and lots of lemon to keep it fresh. If you have fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro, it will be a nice addition to this salad, but I didn't have any on hand and it was still great.

          Quinoa salad with chickpeas and avocado

          1 cup quinoa
          1 ¾ cup liquid (water or broth)
          ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
          1 14 oz can unsalted chickpeas
          1 teaspoon taco seasoning
          2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
          ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
          ½ large ripe beefsteak tomato - about 1 ¼ cups chopped
          1 avocado, chopped into ½ inch pieces
          Juice of 1 lemon
          Freshly ground black pepper

          1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine sieve to get rid of the bitter coating in quinoa called saponin. Place the washed quinoa with the water or broth and ¼ teaspoon salt in a 3 quart sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes till all the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow the quinoa to cool a bit.
          2. Transfer to a serving bowl and add the juice of ½ a lemon and set aside.
          3. Heat 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet and add the drained chickpeas. Toss for a minute and add the taco seasoning and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook over a medium flame for 5 to 7 minutes till the chickpeas get a brown color and are beginning to blister. Remove from the pan and add it to the quinoa and mix.
          4. When the quinoa and chickpeas have cooled, add the chopped red onion, chopped tomato, avocado, juice of the remaining ½ lemon, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper and toss lightly.
          5. Serve at room temperature.

          Serves 3 as a main course and 4 as a side

          Saturday, March 30, 2013

          Shredded green beans with coconut (Beans poriyal)

          This is a side dish which is a go to in any South Indian home. The frozen french cut green beans are perfect for making this side and cook up in no time at all. In fact a few weeks back we were visiting a friend for tea and she asked us to stay for dinner. In 30 minutes, she made this bean dish, with some lentils and steamed rice. It was a great home cooked meal and we enjoyed it thoroughly I used fresh green beans and sliced them using the food processor. In an Indian household, the beans would be cut immaculately into quarter inch pieces.
          Simply stir-fried with mustard seeds, lentils and garnished with dessicated or freshly grated coconut, it is a perfect green beans dish.

          Shredded green beans with coconut

          1 lb fresh green beans
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          1 teaspoon urad dal (white lentils)
          1 teaspoon mustard seeds
          1/4 teaspoon asafetida
          1 sprig of fresh curry leaves(optional)
          2 tablespoon dessicated unsweetened coconut
          Salt to taste

          1. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds and urad dal. When the mustard seeds start to pop and the urad dal has turned light brown, about 30 seconds, add the asafetida, and the curry leaves (if using) and stir for a couple of seconds.
          2. Add the green beans and salt and mix well. Continue cooking stirring occasionally till the beans are cooked - around 10 minutes. The beans will be crisp but cooked.
          3. Garnish with dessicated coconut right before serving. Serve hot.

          Serves 3 to 4 persons as part of a multi-course meal.

          Green bell pepper and peanut relish

          This beautifully vibrant, tangy and spicy green relish is a wonderful accompaniment to any steamed or fried dish. The cilantro gives it the vibrant color and the lime juice gives it a lovely tang. Peanuts add bulk as well as some texture.

          In India it is typically served with idlis (steamed rice and lentil cakes), dosas (crisp rice and lentil crepes), or uttapams (blinis made with lentils and rice). But I have found many other uses for it. Spread over grilled chicken or grilled fish, it tastes exceptionally good and it also spectacular with fish cooked in parchment paper.

          Green Bell pepper and peanut relish

          ½ large green bell pepper cut into 1 inch cubes
          2 teaspoons olive oil
          ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
          1 tablespoon, peeled chopped fresh ginger
          ¼ cup roasted peanuts without skin
          1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
          1 green chili, chopped (use jalapeno for mild heat or serrano for extra heat)
          1 teaspoon kosher salt
          1 tablespoon lime juice (lemon juice is not sour enough)
          1. Heat a small saute pan with olive oil over medium heat. 
          2. Add the cumin and the bell pepper and cook till the bell pepper has softened but still has its color.
          3. Cool the mixture slightly and transfer to a blender. Add the ginger, peanuts, coriander leaves, green chili, salt and lime juice and blend till it is an almost smooth paste.
          4. Serve at room temperature. Keeps refrigerated for a week.
          Yields one cup.

          Monday, March 18, 2013

          Baked potato patties with peanuts (tikkis)

          This is the vegetarian version of my fish cakes which I made for my vegetarian family. They were equally delicious and even more crisp than the fish cakes. I substituted the fish with peanuts to add the extra crunch and some protein. This is a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, put it in a burger bun for a tasty school lunch or just serve it as an appetizer at a party. If you are serving them at a party, make three per person since they are very addictive.

          Baked potato patties with peanuts(tikkis)
          1 large russet potato

          1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
          ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
          1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
          ¼ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
          1 tablespoon sumac
          1/3 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts
          3 tablespoon canola oil

          1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
          2. Mash the boiled potato and mix it with the onions, cilantro, green chili, black pepper and salt to taste. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Add the peanuts and mix them so that it is distributed evenly.
          3. Take little balls of the potato and peanut mixture and make little patties by flattening the balls. You should get 8 to 10 from this quantity.
          4. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil to a baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven on the middle rack for 5 minutes to heat the oil. Now place the patties on the pre-heated baking sheet. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of canola oil over the cakes and place the baking sheet back in the oven in the middle rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip the patties and place it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. The potato patties will be golden brown on both sides.
          5. Serve warm with ketchup.

          Makes 8 to 10 patties

          Monday, February 18, 2013

          Romanesco cauliflower and caramelized leek tart

          Tarts are such a great thing to eat in winter - cheesy and warm with a salad is my perfect winter lunch. And if you want to spoil yourself some warm pie with a drizzle of fresh cream is a bonus.
          This tart uses a healthy olive oil dough and roasted Romanesco cauliflower for the filling - this year there has been plenty available all through  fall and even into winter. They are slightly sweeter than regular cauliflowers and are more subtle. I combine sauteed leeks and roasted Romanesco cauliflower with some grated cheese and fill the tart shell. There is no egg, milk or cream in the filling like most savory tarts. Once baked the cheese melts and envelops the vegetables and forms a lovely brown crust. Absolutely delicious!

          Romanesco cauliflower and caramelized leeks tart

          Tart Shell
          Makes two 9 - 10 inch crusts and the trimmings make two 3 inch crusts

          1 ¼ cups unbleached all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
          ¾ teaspoon salt
          2 teaspoons baking powder
          3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus extra for spraying
          1. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
          2. Transfer the flour mixture to the food processor with the metal blade inserted. With the motor running,  add the olive oil, then ¾ cup water. When the dough comes together in a ball, turn off the motor. Scrape the dough out of the food processor and knead very gently on a lightly floured board just until the dough is smooth. Do not over work or the dough will be tough.
          3. Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Press each ball into a disk, about 4 inches in diameter. Dust lightly with flour if the dough is sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for and hour or longer at room temperature.
          4. Sprinkle a small amount of unbleached flour over your work surface. Put the piece of dough on it, and lightly dust the top with more flour. Roll the dough from the center to the far edge, in one direction only, turning the dough, until it is quite thin, with a diameter of at least 12 inches. Keep dusting lightly with flour if the dough sticks.
          5. Spray a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom with olive oil. Gently fold the circle of dough in half and lift onto the pan, with the fold in the middle of the pan. Unfold the dough so that it covers the pan. Press gently into the pan. Using the rolling pin, roll over the tart pan to trim the edges. Save the trimmings to roll once again to make another 3 inch tart.
          6. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake on the middle rack in the preheated oven for 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool before adding the filling.

          Romanesco cauliflower

          One medium sized Romanesco cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
          1 large leek - white parts and light green parts only (yield 1 cup cooked), thinly sliced
          1 large clove of garlic, thinly sliced
          3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
          ½ teaspoon kosher salt
          Freshly ground black pepper
          2 cups of grated cheese - best to use a mild melting cheese so it does not overpower the cauliflower

          1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 F. 
          2. In the meantime, separate the florets and cut them into 1 inch pieces. Toss them with 1½ tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and some freshly ground black pepper and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack and bake for 20 minutes. The cauliflower should be cooked and should have little brown tips when they are done.
          3. In a large skillet, heat 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil and add the sliced leeks and minced garlic. Sauté over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes till the leeks are soft. Remove from the heat and mix with the cauliflower. Mix in the grated cheese when you are ready to fill the tart shell.

          Assembling the tart
          1. Add the filling into the tart shell and spread evenly. Bake in a 375 F oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
          2. Cut into wedges and serve with a fresh green salad.

          Thursday, February 14, 2013

          Baked fish cakes with cilantro and sumac

          Fish cakes are great as a first course to serve with salad or a light lunch as well. These fish cakes are made with tilapia, potatoes, onions, green chilies, cilantro and the magic ingredient sumac. Sumac is used extensively in middle eastern dishes and is one of the ingredients found in Za'tar. It is a  tangy red powder made by grinding the sumac berries and is great sprinkled over fish, chicken, or salads. I have used it here to give the fish cake a bright taste.

          I poached the fish in a lightly aromatic broth and then mixed it with boiled potatoes, chopped red onions,  green chilies, cilantro and some sumac. Then I formed them into small cakes  and baked them for half an hour in a hot oven. In order to get the cakes to brown, it is best to use a light baking sheet instead of a heavy one, since it conducts heat quicker and allows for better browning. Serve with ketchup or tartar sauce.

          Baked fish cakes with cilantro and sumac

          ½ lb tilapia (any firm white fleshed fish will work)
          A quarter sized piece of ginger
          10 black peppercorns
          1 medium sized Russet potato; boiled and peeled (I find its mealy texture perfect for mashing)
          1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
          ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
          1 teaspoon finely minced green chili (use as much or as little depending on your spice tolerance)
          1 teaspoon kosher salt
          ¾ teaspoon ground sumac
          3 - 4 tablespoons canola oil

          1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
          2. Heat about 1 ½  inches of water with ginger, black pepper and ¼  teaspoon salt  in a medium sized saucepan that can accommodate the filet of fish. When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat too simmer and slowly lower the fish into the water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Once cool flake the fillet with a fork.
          3. Mash the boiled potato and mix it with the onions, cilantro, green chili and salt to taste. Now gently mix the fish and the sumac to the potato mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Take little balls of the fish and potato mixture and make little cakes by flattening the balls. You should get 10 from this quantity.
          4. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil to a baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven on the middle rack for 5 minutes to heat the oil. Now place the cakes on the pre-heated baking sheet. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of canola oil over the cakes and place the baking sheet back in the oven in the middle rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip the fish cakes and place it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. The fish cakes will be golden brown on both sides.
          5. Serve warm.

          Makes ten 1 ½ inch fish cakes

          Butternut Squash with Nigella seeds

          Butternut squash is not commonly paired with nigella seeds except in Bengali cuisine where butternut squash is one of the vegetables of a melange and nigella seeds is one of the spices which make up the traditional Bengali panch phoron or five spice mixture. And Nigella seeds is also not commonly used in cooking except in Bengali cuisine as well. The Turkish use it in flavoring the çörek buns. Such braided-dough buns are widespread in the cuisines of Turkey and its neighbors. In Bosnia it is used to flavor pastries often baked on Muslim religious holidays.The flavor of the Nigella seed is described as smoky and peppery. They impart a flavor combination reminiscent of oregano, black pepper and onion.

          But this combination of butternut squash, nigella seeds, and caramelized onions, to enhance the onion flavor of the seeds are a perfect match. The dry red chili gives a little kick to offset the sweetness of the squash and the onions. This dish is great as a spread for an appetizer plate or as a side dish as part of a multi-course meal. Works well spread on to bruschetta or pita toasts.

          Butternut Squash with Nigella Seeds

          1 cup, finely chopped yellow onion
          3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (1/2 inch cubes)
          1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
          1 small dry red chili
          1. Heat a 3 qt saucepan over medium heat with 1 tablespoon canola oil and add the nigella seeds and the  dry red chili. Saute for 30 seconds and then add the chopped onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook for 2 minutes till the onion is slightly translucent.
          2. Add the cubed butternut squash and cook uncovered over medium heat for 5 minutes. Toss the mixture around and then cook covered over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and toss again, check the salt - add if necessary. Then replace the cover and cook for a further 5 minutes till the squash is done.
          Serves 3 to 4

          Wednesday, January 23, 2013

          Swiss chard with lentils (chana dal)

          I like Swiss chard as a green and use them wherever I would reach for spinach. It is a little heartier than spinach and I particularly like the red Swiss chard since it gives a beautiful red hue to the dish. Chana dal are split garbonzo beans which have a toothsome texture if not overcooked and together with Swiss chard creates this wholesome dish to be eaten with rice or couscous.
          I have used Indian spices to make this dish, but you could very easily take it Mediterranean and use a combination of oregano, thyme or basil with some garlic and chili flakes and come up with something similar but with a different flavor profile.

          Swiss chard with lentils

          ½ cup chana dal soaked for 2 hours with warm water
          1 ¼ cup chopped plum tomatoes
          1 tablespoon canola oil
          ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
          1 bunch – about 6 large leaves of organic red Swiss chard
          1 teaspoon coriander powder
          ½ teaspoon cayenne
          ½ teaspoon kosher salt
          ¼ teaspoon dry mango powder
          1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar

          1. Separate the Swiss chard leaves from the stems and chop the stems into ¼ inch pieces. The leaves can be stacked, rolled and cut into julienne.
          2. Heat a large sauté pan with canola oil. While the oil is coming to temperature, drain the chana dal. Add the cumin seeds to the hot oil – after 30 seconds, add the chana dal. Sauté for 2 minutes over medium high heat – the dal would have gotten a little golden around the edges.
          3. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook covered over medium heat for 5 minutes.
          4. Add the chopped Swiss chard stems with 2 cups warm water and coriander powder, cayenne and salt and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
          5. Now add the julienned leaves and stir well. Cook uncovered for another 10 minutes over medium heat. By now the chana dal should be cooked but still have a bite – we do not soft dal for this dish. If it is too hard, add another ¼ cup warm water and cook another 5 minutes or till the chana dal is cooked.
          6. Finally add the dry mango powder and sugar. Stir and cook for another minute. The final dish should not be dry and nor like a soup – it should have a light gravy.
          7. Serve with rice, couscous or even pita.
          Serves 3