Saturday, December 27, 2014

Butternut squash, cipollini onion and mushroom pasta with a goat cheese sauce

A perfect pasta for a winter day - whole wheat shells, combined with roasted squash, sweet cipollini onions, and woodsy mushrooms lightly coated in a silky cheese sauce with goat cheese and Parmesan cheese. The cipollini onions are roasted with balsamic vinegar to enhance their sweetness and the mushrooms get a little kick from the chili flakes and a beautiful fragrance from the addition of minced rosemary.
Served with a fresh salad it makes a wonderful vegetarian main course.

Butternut squash, cipollini onions and mushroom pasta with a goat cheese sauce
6 oz cremini or baby bella mushroom
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
9 small red cipollini onions
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
3 cups short cut whole wheat pasta
5 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese
2 oz softened goat cheese
1/3 cup pasta water

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  2. Toss the butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 28 minutes or till soft and golden brown at the edges.
  3. Peel the cipollini onion and cut into halves. If they are large, cut them into quarters. Spread them out onto another baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Place in the lower rack of the oven. Roast for 20 minutes and turn the onions halfway through the baking.
  4. While the vegetables are baking, clean and cut the mushroom into quarters. Heat a saute pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the chopped mushroom, garlic and the red chili flakes and saute over high heat for about 7 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt during the last two minutes of cooking along with the minced rosemary. When done, switch off the heat and transfer the roasted cipollini onions and butternut squash to the pan with the mushrooms.
  5. Bring salted water to a boil in big stock pot. Add the pasta and boil as per the directions on the box. Once the pasta is ready, save half cup of the pasta water to make the sauce before draining the pasta.
  6. Transfer the drained pasta to the pan with the roasted vegetables. Turn the heat to medium low - add the two cheeses and slowly add some of the pasta water to create the cheese sauce. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm.
Serves 3

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fennel, Orange and Pomegranate Salad with Sumac

Winter is the peak season for fennel and there is an abundance of them in the stores. Been trying to eat them as often as possible - in salads, roasted, and in a soup. Jamie Oliver has a carrot and fennel soup which is delicious.  This salad is similar to my fennel and citrus salad which I posted earlier, but the addition of the pomegranates and sumac, marash pepper and fresh red chili in the dressing gives it a twist. Had a friend for lunch and served it to her - she loved it. The sweetness of the oranges is well balanced by the tang of the sumac and the fragrant marash peppers. Unlike cayenne, Marash pepper do not have a lot of heat. Hence it works well sprinkled on the salad.

Fennel, Orange and Pomegranate Salad with Sumac

1/2 bulb of a large fennel
One navel orange
1/2 cup pomegranate arils
1 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh red chili

Dressing
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon crushed marash pepper or more to taste

  1. Trim the fronds of the fennel bulb and the hard stems on top. Using a mandoline, thinly slice the fennel. If you do not have a mandoline, slice it as thinly as possible using a sharp knife.
  2. Peel the orange with a paring knife and separate into segments. If you find this difficult then, just peel the orange and slice it into 1/4" thin circles.
  3. Make the dressing with the olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. 
  4. Toss the salad gently with the dressing. Sprinkle the pomegranate arils and the sumac and marash pepper onto the salad.
  5. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 2.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cheese tortellini with watercress and pistachio pesto

Watercress in a wonderful mildly peppery green typically used in salads or sandwiches. You might have seen them in a egg salad sandwich on multigrain bread (great combination). Made into a pesto with green peas and pistachio, it makes a great sauce for a pasta. The peas balances the peppery taste of the the watercress and the pistachio gives it great body and a little crunch. Since I am using cheese tortellini, I haven't added Parmesan to the pesto, but you could definitely add it if you were using the pesto for a plain pasta. I add fresh lemon juice at the end to perk up the dish.


Tortellini with watercress and pistachio pesto

 For the pesto
3 oz watercress
1 scant cup petite frozen peas (organic preferred)
1/4 cup shelled unsalted pistachio
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
  1. Blanch  the frozen peas in boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and add it to all the ingredients for the pesto in the food processor. Blitz till the mixture forms a paste.
Makes about 1 cup

For the Tortellini
4 cups cheese tortellini
  1. Boil as per the instructions on the package. When done, drain and apportion them in individual serving bowls.
  2. Add the pesto to the warm pasta. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Serves 4

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Duck Egg Vindaloo (Sweet and Sour Duck Eggs)

If you haven't tried duck eggs, they are worth a try. They are much larger than hen eggs, richer in taste and have more nutrients. Due to their low moisture content they tend to become rubbery if overcooked while boiling. The cooked whites are whiter than hen eggs and the yolk is not yellow but orange. But if you are apprehensive to try duck eggs, feel free to make this dish with hen eggs.

Now about the vindaloo part of the recipe - vindaloo is a traditional recipe from the Western coast of India. It is a spicy and tangy dish made with a few spices, a healthy dose of vinegar and some sugar to balance the tartness.

Duck egg vindaloo

4 duck eggs - boiled and peeled and halved
1 ½ cups sliced white onion
1 one inch stick of cinnamon
2 cloves of garlic - grated or crushed to a paste
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
½ - ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon garam masala
  1. Heat a medium sized skillet with canola oil. Add the cinnamon and the onions and saute over medium heat till the onions get soft about 8 to 10 minutes. 
  2. Now add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Add the cayenne, paprika, cumin, brown sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and place the eggs nestled in the onion mixture in a single layer, the yolk facing upwards. Add 1 cup water, raise the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and continue  to cook till the mixture becomes saucy. Add the garam masala. Stir gently so as not to break up the eggs. Remove from the heat and serve.
Serving suggestions:
Serve with rice or parathas.

Serves 4.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Spiced spinach and red lentil pate

Quick, simple and delicious is how I would describe this dish. The cumin adds a smokiness to the dish and a light sprinkle of cayenne powder gives it that kick. I used a coarsely ground cayenne pepper since I like the pretty flecks of red against the yellow of the lentils and green of the spinach. If you don't have coarsely ground red pepper, you could use dried red chili flakes as a substitute or even regular ground cayenne pepper.
I serve it over bruschetta, as a dip for pita triangles or crudites. For a party finish, drizzle some high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Spiced spinach and red lentil pate

2 cups chopped fresh spinach (I used organic spinach)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground cayenne pepper
1/8th teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
3/4th cup water
  1. Wash and soak the red lentils for 15 minutes
  2. Heat a 10 inch skillet over medium heat. When heated, add olive oil and the cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds pop, add the spinach and quickly saute for a minute or two. Now add the soaked and drained lentils to the spinach, Add the salt, ground cayenne and the turmeric if using. Mix well. Add 3/4th cup water and cover the pan and cook for 7 - 10 minutes until the lentils are cooked but still have some shape. If the mixture is too dry add a couple more tablespoons of water. 
  3. The final product should be spreadable but not saucy.
Serves 3 to 4

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Roasted eggplant salad with a peanut butter and sesame oil dressing

Peanut butter pairs well with Asian flavors. Soba noodles with a peanut sauce is a very popular Asian dish. I used the same concept and paired it with the smoky roasted eggplant. The combination was fabulous. The addition of the spring onions gives the dish a break from its very brown color. The peanut butter dressing gives the dish a very rich flavor.
You could use this sauce with Soba noodles as well.

Roasted Eggplant salad with a peanut butter and sesame oil dressing

3 Asian eggplants - each 6 inches long (these are the light purple variety available in Asian markets or farmers markets)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1/2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
1 spring onion, finely sliced

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the eggplants in a single layer. Make small slits in the eggplant to prevent it from bursting while they are being roasted.
  3. If they are slender, they should be done in 25 to 30 minutes.
  4. When cool enough to handle, cut off the top of the eggplant and remove the skin. Cut the eggplants into 1 1/2 inch pieces and arrange on the serving dish.
  5. In the meantime, in a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, with the toasted sesame oil, sesame chili oil, rice wine vinegar and the soy sauce to thin it out. Now add the minced ginger and garlic to the sauce. Drizzle the sauce over the eggplant. Sprinkle the sliced spring onion and serve.
Serves 3

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Potato salad with roasted artichokes and castelvetrano olives

This french style potato salad gets a twist with the addition of roasted artichokes and sweet green olives. Fingerling potatoes are available in different colors - thereby adding to the visual appeal of the salad. However, any starchy potato would work in this salad. Bottled artichoke hearts in brine makes this recipe quick and easy. I roast the artichoke hearts with garlic powder and dried chili flakes giving them a robust flavor to add to its meaty texture.
Castelvetrano olives are a good addition, since they are sweet contrasting with the tangy artichoke hearts. If you decide to use fresh artichokes, then kalamata olives would be a better choice in this recipe than the green sweet olives. A good handful of parsley at the end adds a wonderful bright, fresh flavor to the otherwise tangy salad.

Potato salad with roasted artichokes and castelvetrano olives
0.75 lbs red thumb and regular fingerling potatoes (half of each)
4 large artichoke hearts, soaked in brine
8 castelvetrano olives, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of dried chili flakes
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Boil the potatoes with skin for about 10 minutes (depending on the size). The potatoes should not be overcooked. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Transfer them to the serving dish.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Chop the artichoke lengthwise into 4 pieces and dab the excess brine with a kitchen towel. Toss the dried artichokes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic powder and dried chili flakes. Add a pinch of salt as well. Roast in the middle rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes till the artichokes are a little brown. Remove and add to the boiled potatoes.
  3. Add the sliced olives to the artichoke and potatoes. 
  4. Make a dressing with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad. Add the chopped parsley and toss everything till the dressing is well mixed and the parsley is even distributed.
Serves 3

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kuri Squash, mushroom, and kale tart with a rosemary crust

Kuri squash is my new find and new love as well. It has superceded kabocha squash which I was in love with till I found Kuri Squash. Sweet fleshed, not ultra dense, and delicately flavored is how I would describe it. Since it is not too dense, it cooks fairly quickly.
In this recipe, I use it as a base for the tart, which has rosemary incorporated in the dough. The woodsiness of the rosemary and the delicate earthiness of the kuri squash complement each other extremely well.
The portobello mushrooms add some meatiness and the mild bitterness of the Tuscan kale contrasts with the sweetness of the squash.
To finish the tart, I add freshly grated sharp Asiago, which melts lightly on the tart, allowing all the other elements of the tart to be visible.

Kuri squash, mushroom and kale tart with a rosemary crust

Crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for greasing the tart pan
3/4th cup water
Extra flour for dusting
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced

  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.
Filling
10 oz peeled, deseeded and cubed (1/2 inch each) kuri squash (If not available substitute with butternut squash)
1 small yellow onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
4 leaves of tuscan kale, ribs discarded and the leaves cut into thin strips
1 large portobello mushroom, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dried chili flakes
3/4th cup - 1 cup grated Asiago cheese (depending on how cheesy you like it)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  2. Toss the squash and onions with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of dried chili flakes. Bake on the top rack of a preheated oven for 20 minutes to 25 minutes until the squash is soft and the onions are softened but not charred.
  3. In the meantime, saute the mushrooms with a tablespoon of olive oil and minced garlic for 4 to 5 minutes over medium high heat. After 3 minutes of cooking add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  4. In the same skillet, add one more tablespoon olive oil and add the chopped kale leaves with 1/8th teaspoon salt. Saute over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add a 1/4 cup water and turn the heat to medium low. Cover and cook till the leaves are completely wilted and the water has dried - about 15 minutes. Check every 5 minutes to ensure the water has not completely dried up.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F, while you assemble the tart. Once the crust has cooled, spread the roasted squash and onions on the base. Use a fork to mash the squash so that it spreads out evenly. Arrange the sauteed mushrooms and sauteed kale such that they are not in clumps. Finally sprinkle the grated cheese and place the tart in the middle shelf and bake for 25 to 30 minutes till the crust looks golden brown at the edges and the cheese has softened (aged Asiago will not melt). 
  6. Cool for 5 minutes - cut into wedges and serve. Delicious!
Makes ONE 9 inch tart

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Steamed Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) with a tangy dressing

Gailan, also called kailan is a Cantonese green vegetable with juicy stems like broccolini and thick leaves which are slightly bitter. These days it is also available in large grocery stores other than Chinatown. If you cannot find it, you could do the same with broccolini. It is great steamed with a light dressing or stir fried. I like it steamed as it retains the bright green color of the vegetable.
Widely eaten in China, the steamed greens are served with oyster sauce, but my vegetarian family can taste the oyster sauce even if I try to camouflage it. Hence, I serve it with a soy based dressing, enhanced with some crispy garlic bits and rice vinegar for tang.
It is a great addition to a meat course or a tofu dish like the pan fried tofu with lemon soy glaze, or kung pao tofu.

Steamed gailan with a tangy dressing
1 bunch gailan

Dressing
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality light soy sauce

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, while you prepare the gailan.
  2. Separate the stems from the leaves of the gailan. Cut the stems into 2 inch pieces. If they are thick then cut them vertically down the middle as well. Keep the leaves whole if they are small, otherwise cut into 2 inch pieces as well.
  3. When the water comes to a boil, add the stems and let it cook for 2 minutes before adding the leaves. Allow the leaves to cook for a minute. Remove the leaves and the stems from the boiling water and keep in a colander to drain. Once drained, transfer to a serving platter.
  4. Heat a small skillet with canola oil and add the garlic. Cook over medium heat till the garlic is crisp but not burnt. Garlic burns very quickly - hence you need to watch for it.
  5. Make a dressing with the sesame oil, chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce and pour over the gailan. Sprinkle the fried garlic bits and serve.
Serves 2 to 3

Black eyed peas (Lobia) salad with peanuts and chaat masala

Black eyed peas in my opinion are the easiest beans to digest in the family of whole beans along with black beans. This salad is inspired by laziness to cook on a summer day and the need to feed my family something nutritious and tasty. Black eyed peas do not need to be soaked overnight, but you can if you have planned early. A few hours of soaking in boiling hot water does the trick. Chaat masala and black salt are Indian spices which make this salad different. The addition of roasted peanuts gives it a wonderful crunch and body.  I use scallions instead of onions, since scallions are less pungent. You could substitute finely minced onions, if you don't have scallions on hand.You can serve this salad as a meal in itself with some warmed pita bread and plain yogurt.

Black eyed peas salad with peanuts and chaat masala

1 cup black eyed peas
1 small potato, boiled, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 red radish, chopped finely
1 cup chopped tomato
2 scallions, finely sliced
2 teaspoon finely minced jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
1 teaspoon chaat masala
1/2 teaspoon black salt
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  1. Soak the black eyed peas overnight or at least 8 hours with warm water.
  2. Drain and transfer the plumped peas to a sauce pan and cover with enough water so that it is at least 2 inches above the beans. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes or even longer depending on how soft you want the beans. The cooking time will also depend on how long the beans have been soaked.
  3. While the black eyed peas are being cooked, chop the potato, radish, tomato, scallions and jalapeno and place in the salad bowl. 
  4. Heat the smallest skillet with 1 tablespoon canola oil to fry the ginger strips. If you don't have a small skillet and are unable to fry, you could saute the ginger strips till they turn crisp. Once cool, add the ginger along with the oil to the salad. 
  5. Once the beans are cooked to the desired doneness (I like mine to have shape and not mushy), drain and cool before adding it to the rest of the salad.
  6. Finally add the cumin powder, chaat masala, black salt, lime juice and salt to taste. Toss well and check seasoning. Adjust if necessary and lightly fold in  the chopped cilantro and peanuts.
  7. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 3 as a main course salad

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Kadai chicken with leftover rotisserie chicken

There are zillions of recipes for leftover rotisserie chicken, but not so many Indian recipes as most Indian recipes need the chicken to be cut into pieces and not shredded. I wanted the leftover chicken to be spiced up, otherwise I find rotisserie chicken, too bland to be eaten the following day. Hence, decided to make it into kadai chicken - a very popular Indian recipe with a fresh piquant flavor from the green bell peppers and crushed coriander seeds and a slightly bitter finishing touch from the 'kasoori methi' (dry fenugreek leaves). If you have never used "kasoori methi", don't be intimidated by the bitter taste - combined with tomatoes and other spices, it bring a wonderful taste to the finished dish. Typically kadai chicken is a lightly sauced dish, but this version is fairly dry. Great to have with chapatis and a wet curry, or stuffed into a wrap with some lettuce, onion and cucumber or wonderful in tacos.

Kadai chicken with leftover rotisserie chicken
One skinless, boneless roasted chicken breast from a 3lb chicken, cut into thin strips
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 large Roma tomato (they are less juicy than their round cousins), thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced green chili (Serrano or jalapeño)
1/2 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 to 3/4th teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1 1/4 teaspoon freshly crushed coriander seeds or coriander powder
1 teaspoon kasoori methi

1. Heat a 10 inch non-stick skillet with canola oil over medium heat.

2. Add the minced garlic, minced green chili and sauté for 20 seconds. Add the sliced onion and a pinch of salt and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, until the onions are soft and a little brown at the edges.

3. Now add the chicken strips and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir with the onion mixture for another 3 minutes, further caramelizing the onions and browning the chicken.

4. Add the tomato, chili flakes, coriander powder and another 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for another 3 minutes or until the tomato is soft.

5. Finally add the bell pepper, stirring well and cook for the final three minutes, till the bell peppers are cooked but still crunchy. Add the crushed kasoori methi and mix well.

6. Transfer to a serving dish.

Serves 2

Monday, June 30, 2014

Barley salad with grilled zucchini, sugar snap peas and feta cheese

This salad spells summer on a plate. Fresh sugar snap peas and lightly grilled zucchini with a wonderfully tangy, salty, spicy marinated feta cheese combined with chewy bits of pearl barley is very refreshing and satisfying on a hot summer day. If I had fresh mint leaves, I would have added them to the salad - I think it would have worked well. The great thing about barley is that it is very versatile - you can serve it warm or at room temperature. Perfect salad for making ahead and entertaining.

Barley salad with grilled zucchini, sugar snap peas and feta cheese
1/2 cup pearl barley {I used the quick cooking Trader Joes variety}
1 cup Greek feta cheese
1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4th inch disks
1 cup sugar snap peas
Olive oil for grilling
Kosher salt

Marinade for Feta cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  1. The feta cheese needs to be marinated for at least 2 hours. Hence, this should be done ahead. Cut the feta into 1/2 inch cubes and lightly toss with the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano and chili flakes. Cover and keep refrigerated till serving.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the sugar snap peas for 1 to 2 minutes depending on the size. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in an ice water bath to stop cooking and retain the crunch. Now add the pearl barley and cook for 12 minutes. Drain and keep in the serving bowl. Drain the sugar snap peas and add to the cooked barley.
  3. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Toss the sliced zucchini with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. When the grill is hot, place the zucchini slices on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side. The zucchini should have nice grill marks, but not become mushy. Remove with tongs onto a cutting board and cut each slice into quarters. Mix with the barley and blanched sugar snap peas. 
  4. If serving warm, toss with the marinated feta cheese along with the oil used for marination. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste. This salad can also be served at room temperature.
Serves 3
Note: Here is a little primer on different kinds of feta cheese. I like Israeli feta very much but for this recipe Greek feta works best, thanks to its bold flavor.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fig, strawberry, and almond frangipane tart

I normally make my own pie crusts from scratch, but a couple of weeks back I was doing some weeknight entertaining and wanted to serve a home made dessert. A ready made pie crust was perfect for the quick berry crostata. As you know, each package contains two crusts. I still had one left and wanted to make something different. The stores are full of bright and juicy fruits at this time of the year and I decided to make a fig and strawberry tart. While looking for ideas to fill my tart, I came across Martha Stewart's Fig and Strawberry Tart recipe. Her filling had hazelnuts which I did not have and substituted with almonds. It was a superb tart - wish I had made the crust from scratch to get that nice flaky crust, but even so, it was delicious. The combination of figs and strawberries worked really well - sweetness from the figs, complemented the slight tartness of the strawberries.

Fig, strawberry and almond frangipane tart

One pie crust to fit a 10 inch fluted tart pan [I used Immaculate Baking crusts available at Whole Foods]
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
Scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 oz fresh ripe figs, trimmed and halved lengthwise
8 oz strawberries, halved {really small ones can be kept whole}
  1. Preheat the oven as per the directions on the pie crust box. Place the pie dough into the tart pan carefully so as no to tear it. Gently press down the sides to ensure the dough is evenly spread and roll off the extra with a rolling pin to trim the edges. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake as per instructions for a tart which needs to be filled after the shell is cooked till light brown. Remove from the oven and let it cool. 
  2. In the meantime, pulse the almonds in the food processor till they are finely chopped. Add the granulated sugar and the brown sugar and salt and pulse to combine with the almonds.
  3. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Pour the mixture into the baked tart shell and spread evenly. Place the halved figs cut side up around the tart and then arrange the strawberries in the center.
  4. The tart filling needs to be cooked at 350 F. If the shell was cooked at a higher temperature, make sure you check and reduce it to 350 F. Place the filled tart in the center rack of the oven on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 F and cook for another half hour. By now, the tart will have a dark brown color. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves 6

Monday, June 9, 2014

Moroccan orzo salad with roasted corn, zucchini and harissa

Summer is here and the combination of zucchini and corn is on every menu. Today's combination spices a simple orzo salad with the Moroccan spice paste, harissa and some preserved lemons. A generous portion of feta makes this salad complete. It is important to use a good quality spicy harissa, since the flavor of the salad relies a lot on the spiciness of the harissa.

This salad can be made in advance and served at room temperature. The key is to add the hot orzo to the raw shredded zucchini to soften the zucchini a little bit without really cooking it.

Moroccan orzo salad with roasted corn, zuchhini and harissa
3/4th cup orzo
1 medium zucchini
1 fresh corn on the cob
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small preserved lemon
2 teaspoons spicy harissa [I use harissa from Le Pain Quotidien]
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of  fresh black pepper
  1. Roast the corn over an open flame. Then shave the kernels with a paring knife, collecting the kernels in the serving bowl.
  2. Cut the zucchini into thin long shreds using a mandoline or a food processor with a wide mouth. A regular shredder will leach too much water from the zucchini and will make the salad mushy. Transfer the shredded zucchini along with the roasted corn into the serving bowl.
  3. Boil the orzo in a large pot of salted boiling water. The Barilla brand takes 9 to 10 minutes for al dente pasta. Drain when cooked and add the hot orzo to the vegetables. The heat from the orzo will wilt the zucchini slightly.
  4. While the orzo is boiling, heat a small saucepan with 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat and add the sliced garlic along with a pinch of salt. The salt will help the garlic soften and the low heat will infuse the oil with the garlic flavor without browning the garlic. This should take about 5 to 6 minutes depending on how thin the garlic is sliced. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool. Once cool, mix in the two teaspoons of harissa paste. Pour the mixture of garlic and harissa into the serving bowl.
  5. Remove the seeds and flesh from the preserved lemon. Thinly slice the skin and chop into bits. Toss into the orzo mixture. Gently mix the orzo and the vegetables so that the harissa mixture evenly coats the salad.
  6. Finally add a few grindings of fresh black pepper and another pinch of salt. Sprinkle with the crumbled feta and lightly mix.
Serves 3

Notes: Preserved Lemons can be purchased online at Sur La Table

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Quinoa, potato and tuscan kale patties

These veggie patties are tasty, nutritious and extremely easy to make. The small amount of potato added to the mix eliminates the need for eggs as a binding agent and makes this the perfect vegan main course. The quinoa is cooked with the leeks and mixed with the grated carrot and the mashed potato (great if you want to use up the leftover mashed potato). The kale leaves are blanched, drained and chopped and added to the quinoa, potato mixture. A little salt and black pepper are the only flavorings added to these burgers to retain the flavor of the vegetables.
The patties are cooked on a non-stick griddle to get a crisp exterior while still maintaining a moist interior. These can be eaten in between a bun or just by themselves. My daughter loves these by itself with a little bit of mustard and ketchup on the side and of course some baked fries.

Quinoa, Potato and Tuscan Kale burgers
1 cup quinoa
1 cup finely chopped leeks
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup mashed potato (I like to put mine through a ricer to remove any lumps)
1 cup cooked tuscan kale leaves, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for pan frying
  1. Wash the quinoa in a sieve to get rid of the bitter saponin that coats the quinoa grains.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 3 quart saucepan. Add the chopped leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes till the leeks begin to soften. Add the washed and drained quinoa to the leeks. Cook over medium heat for another 3 minutes to toast the quinoa. 
  3. Add 2 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, raise the heat and cook for another minute or two till all the water has absorbed into the quinoa. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
  4. Mix the cooled quinoa mixture with the grated carrot, mashed potato, cooked kale, salt and pepper and form them in 2.5 inch patties and lay on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate the patties for at least one hour, so that they hold their shape.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10" heavy non-stick pan over medium heat. Remove the patties from the refrigerator and carefully place them in the hot oil so as not to break them. Fry for about 3 to 4 minutes on one side to get a nice golden color - flip with a flat spatula and continue to cook on the other side for 4 more minutes. Remove when golden brown on both sides. 
  6. Serve warm with a salad, fries and ketchup. Or tuck them into a burger bun for a satisfying veggie burger.
Makes 6 patties

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mediterranean chicken burgers with olives and thyme

Chicken burgers made with dark meat are a complete contrast to those made with breast meat. These are moist and juicy. I like buying organic boneless skinless chicken thighs and making my own burgers. For this version, I added kalamata olives, mushrooms and thyme to give it a little Mediterranean flavor. The addition of kalamata olives gives it a good salty bite and the mushrooms help to keep the burger moist.

Mediterranean chicken burgers with olives and thyme

8 oz ground chicken - dark meat or boneless, skinless thighs
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped onions
6 pitted kalamata olives
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
2 large cremini mushrooms chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 sesame seed burger buns or brioche rolls
Condiments to serve with the burger (optional)

  1. Trim the fat off the thighs and cut into 1 inch pieces. Set aside. Add the kalamata olive, chopped onions, chopped garlic, thyme leaves and cremini mushrooms and pulse till all the ingredients are well mixed. Remove the mixture from the food processor and place in a mixing bowl. Now add the chicken pieces to the food processor and pulse in short bursts till the meat is ground, but not pasty. Remove the ground meat from the food processor and add to the mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix the chicken and the mushroom olive mixture by hand - do not over mix. 
  2. Now form 3 patties around 2 1/2 inches in diameter. 
  3. Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Add the patties to the hot grill pan and cook for 5 minutes. Then gently flip the burger with a slotted spoon and cook for 5 more minutes. Cover the burger while cooking the second side. This helps to retain the moisture in the meat and cooks it all the way through.
  4.  Heat the bun on the grill pan. Place the cooked burger on the bun. If you like you can add dijon mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, freshly sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced onions to your assembled burger. I like to serve it with just a little mayo and some bread and butter pickles. 
Serves 3

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Portobello mushrooms stuffed with wild rice,leeks and corn

It was a real treat to have these for dinner tonight. These 6 inch giants were meaty, well seasoned and delicious. The filling was extremely flavorful and topped with some salty cheddar and gooey mozzarella, all you needed was a salad on the side. The perfect vegetarian main course!

Portobello mushrooms stuffed with wild rice, leeks and corn
3 large portobello mushrooms approx 4 -6 inches in diameter
1/2 cup California wild rice
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
1 1/2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar and shredded mozzarella mixed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups vegetable broth or water with powdered bouillon
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
  2. While the oven preheats, cook the wild rice. Wash the rice well and add it to 2 cups boiling water or broth. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 55 minutes. Drain the excess water and transfer to a mixing bowl. 
  3. Heat an 8" non stick sauté pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chopped leeks with 1/8th teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes till the leeks soften. Remove from the pan and add it to the cooked and drained wild rice. Boil the corn for a couple of minutes to defrost and drain. Mix the drained corn with the wild rice and leek mixture.
  4. Clean the mushrooms with a moist paper towel and set aside. Grease a large porcelain baking dish with olive oil. If your dish is not large enough to hold all the mushrooms, use two. Place the mushrooms in the baking dish, gill side up. Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon olive oil on each of the mushrooms. Then ladle 1/3 of the wild rice mixture on top, with a pinch of chili flakes. 
  5. Place the baking dish in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven and top each mushroom with 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Cover the baking dish with a foil. Reduce oven temperature to 400 F and place the covered baking dish for 20 more minutes in the middle rack. At the end of the 20 minutes the mushrooms should be cooked and will look like the picture above with a little browning of the cheese.
Serves 3 as a main course with a side salad.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baba Ghanouj

Baba Ghanouj in Lebanon and Baba Ghanoush elsewhere - both are delicious, somewhat the same with a few nuances to tell them apart. This is a Baba Ghanouj the way I like it!
A few simple ingredients, no work on the stove is a perfect way to cook these days, since life has been too busy otherwise.
Roasted eggplants, spiked with tahini ( a sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon and parsley with a final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil - it is as easy as that. If you are able to roast the eggplants over an open flame, the smokiness acquired by the eggplant add additional flavor. It is important to use good quality tahini for this dish as it is a very strong flavor and could completely change the flavor of the dish if not of good quality.

Baba Ghanouj
1 large eggplant - preferably without seeds
2 tablespoons tahini
4 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic minced
1 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. 
  2. Wash the eggplant and make a few slits but not all the way through. Place on a foil lined baking tray and place the tray in the middle rack of the oven. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the eggplant. The skin should start to shrivel and peel off easily. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Once cool, peel the eggplant and place in a food processor along with the minced garlic and pulse a few times till the eggplant is almost a puree. Add the tahini, salt and lemon juice and pulse a few times. Now add 1 tablespoon  olive and pulse a couple more times. Finally add two tablespoons of parsley and pulse till there are green flecks remaining.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl. Before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons of minced parsley and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.
  5. Serve with warm pita bread.
Serves 4

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cream of Asparagus soup with leeks and peas

This picture didn't have the best light - hence the soup looks a strange shade of green, but once you get past that, it is delicious. No cream or any other dairy, but perfectly creamy. Asparagus is the star of this soup with the leeks providing the backdrop and the peas feature at the end for a textural contrast and a sweet pop. The asparagus tips are added at the end for visual appeal and texture as well.

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Leeks and Peas
1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup minced leeks, white and light green parts only
1 large clove minced garlic
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
½ cup petite frozen peas (defrosted)

1. Trim about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the tops of the asparagus and save the tips for garnish. Break off the woody stems and cut the remaining stalks into 1 inch pieces. In a 3 quart pot, melt the butter over medium high heat and add the minced leeks. Cook for about 3 minutes till the leeks are tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the chopped asparagus, salt and pepper and stir for a couple of minutes. Add vegetable stock or water and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes till the asparagus is very tender.

2. In the meantime, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil to blanch the asparagus tips. Add the saved asparagus tips, and let them cook for 2 to 3 minutes. They should be crisp tender. Keep a bowl of ice water handy to place the tips once they are blanched. Once the tips are ready, place them in ice water to stop the cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the ice water and keep it ready for garnish.

3. Once the asparagus is tender, puree the mixture in batches using a food processor or blender. If you have an immersion blender, the soup can be blended in the pot itself. Return the pureed soup to medium heat. Add the defrosted peas and cook stirring till the soup is warmed through and the peas are not too crunchy.
4.     Now transfer to serving bowls and garnish with the blanched asparagus tips. If desired parmesan cheese can be grated on top.

Serves 4 to 6

Monday, February 24, 2014

Black pepper tofu with onion and bell peppers

On a cold winter day, this peppery tofu dish hits the right notes. I saute sweet onions with crunchy green bell peppers and add the silky tofu with some dark soy sauce for the rich caramel color, and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper for the kick. All of these ingredients work harmoniously to create a delicious vegetarian main course.

Black pepper tofu with onion and bell peppers
1 block of organic firm tofu - 14 oz container
2 cups of sliced sweet onion - I used Vidalia onions
1 1/2 small green bell peppers, sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Drain the tofu under a weight to remove the excess water. Cut the tofu into 2 inch long pieces and dry well with a paper towel. Set aside. 
  2. In a large 12" heavy bottomed skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of canola oil over medium high heat and add the sliced onion. Add a pinch of salt to help soften the onions without browning and continue to cook for about 5 minutes till the onions have begun to soften. Now add the sliced bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes more. The bell peppers should remain crunchy and green. Move the sauteed onion and bell pepper mixture to the sides of the skillet and add the towel dried tofu pieces in the center of the pan. Let the tofu get some color for 3 to 4 minutes - flip and add the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar and the ground black pepper and gently mix the onion and pepper mixture with the tofu. cook for a few more minutes. Taste the salt and adjust. If you add salt - cook for a minute more. Serve warm with steamed rice.
Serves 3 as a main dish.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Stir fried soba noodles with vegetables

Soba noodles in my mind is the healthiest of the noodle family. While it has carbs, it also has some protein from the buckwheat flour. Most brands of soba noodles have all purpose flour added to the buckwheat flour. Hence you get the satisfaction of eating carbs but with a little less guilt.
In this extremely simple stir fry, I use assorted vegetables, cut into matchsticks, to keep the crunch of the vegetables and have them cooked at the same time.  The cooking time is literally 5 minutes, but prepping the vegetables, takes 15 to 20 minutes.
It is a great one pot dinner. For the meat eaters, you can add a thinly sliced sautéed chicken breast or sautéed shrimp to the finished dish keeping the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians happy.

Stir Fried Soba noodles with vegetables

1 medium sized bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1 medium zucchini
1 cup sugar snap peas, topped and tailed
8 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 medium sized carrot
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
One bunch of scallions, cut into two inch pieces
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
8 oz soba noodles
  1. Heat large wok over high heat. In the meantime place a large pot of water to boil for cooking the soba noodles. While the water is boiling, we can start prepping the vegetables. 
  2. Cut the zucchini into 2 inch pieces and cut the pieces into matchsticks. The easiest way is to vertically slice the 2 inch pieces and then stack them and cut into matchsticks. Similarly, cut the bell pepper into two inch segments vertically and then cut those segments horizontally into matchsticks. Now, peel the carrot and cut it similar to the zucchini. It is important that the vegetables are cut evenly so that they can cook together.
  3. Before adding the noodles to the boiling water, start to saute the vegetables as the soba cooks very quickly. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil to the preheated wok. Now add the minced garlic and the crushed red pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Now add the mushrooms, zucchini, carrot and sugar snap peas and stir fry on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. At this time add the soba noodles to the boiling water and follow instructions on the package for exact cooking time. 
  4. Finally add the bell peppers and the bean sprouts. Continue to stir fry over high heat for 1 minute and add the drained soba noodles and soy sauce. Toss well to combine the noodles with the vegetables and soy sauce. Drizzle the toasted sesame oil as a finishing touch - toss lightly and serve.
Serves 3

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Linguini with Spinach and Sundried tomato pesto

This recipe was born out of the necessity to add more iron to my daughters diet. Spinach and chia seeds are both rich in iron and this recipe contains both. I used chia seed linguini and tossed it with a tangy spinach and sun-dried tomato pesto. Pine nuts added at the end provides a great richness to the dish and a generous grating of fresh Parmesan cheese balances the acidity of the sun-dried tomato.

The salt and oil used in the pesto is a function of how much salt and oil are already present in the sun dried tomatoes. I like to use dried sun-dried tomatoes not soaked in oil so that I can control the oil content of the dish. Also, I use organic spinach since it is less alkaline than the regular spinach. Additionally I blanch the spinach before making the pesto since cooked spinach is better for the body to absorb, calcium, iron and magnesium.

Linguini with Spinach and Sun-dried tomato pesto
1 bunch organic spinach, cleaned and washed
3 oz sun dried tomatoes chopped - not in olive oil
3 cloves of minced garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
10 oz Chia seed linguini
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the washed spinach for 30 seconds just to blanch the leaves and remove with tongs to a colander to drain.
  2. In a food processor, add the blanched, drained spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and minced garlic and give it a good buzz. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and with the motor running, slowly add the olive oil till the mixture starts to look like pesto. Taste and adjust the salt accordingly.
  3. Now boil the linguini as per the directions on the packet. Once cooked, drain and toss with the pesto. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese on the side.
Serves 3 to 4

Friday, January 10, 2014

Whole wheat spaghetti with roasted red cabbage, raisins, pecans and feta cheese

Had bought a head of red cabbage for a salad by Yotam Ottolenghi and then did not know what to do with it. I had eaten roasted red cabbage somewhere and it was delicious. Hence decided to make a spicy roasted red cabbage with some sweet roasted raisins and toss with a salty cheese and some good old carbs. A handful of toasted, salted pecans provided a nice crunch to the dish, since the cabbage after roasting was not crunchy any more. The combination of spice, sweet and salt was really fantastic and the cabbage was beautifully caramelized since it was roasted at a high temperature.

Whole wheat spaghetti with roasted red cabbage, raisins, pecans and feta cheese

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti - has more protein than regular spaghetti
1/2 red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped, roasted, salted pecans
4 oz Greek feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried pepper flakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
  2. Toss the sliced cabbage with two tablespoons olive oil, salt and dried pepper flakes. Spread them in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake in the oven in the middle rack for 15 minutes. Then remove and toss the raisins with the cabbage and roast for 7 more minutes till the raisins become plump. Remove from the oven and set aside while the spaghetti is being cooked.
  3. In the meantime cook the spaghetti according to the directions on the box. When done, drain and toss with the roasted cabbage and raisin mixture. Crumble in the feta and lightly fold it in along with the chopped pecans.
  4. Remove to a serving dish and serve immediately along with a crisp salad.
Serves 3