Monday, November 30, 2009

Kheema Puffs

We had a really fun Thanksgiving weekend. Lots of great food and great company. I really wanted to make a post last week about all the great food but it got so busy that we simply forgot to take pictures and before we knew it there was none of it left! However, A did manage to get a picture of these Kheema (ground meat) puffs before they were gone :).

The inspiration for this enticing appetizer comes from my Mum who makes delicious Kheema patties. This involves a delicious mixture (ground goat with lots of spice) in a mashed potato cover which is then shallow fried. Sinful but totally worth it. It is also quite labor intensive, especially the part of stuffing the mince into the potato covers. I took an easier route by using puff pastry sheets, filling little pockets of these with the kheema mixture and baking them. The result was quite good :).

During this long weekend especially with all the cooking and eating, I couldn't help thinking about this article I read a couple of weeks back in The New Yorker. It's a story about this amazing woman (The Good Cook) in North Korea who survived the famine in the 1990s by cooking anything edible, including grass and weeds she collected. Its a story of unimaginable hardship for something as simple as a basic meal. It made me feel eternally grateful for everything we have.


2 big garlic cloves, grated/minced
1" piece of ginger, grated/minced
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 kilo mince goat/lamb meat (kheema)

3 cloves
7 peppercorns
1 bayleaf
1/2 cinnamon stick

2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
juice of half lemon

2 puff pastry sheets

- Combine all the ingredients for the marinade together with the ground meat and marinate atleast for an hour or preferably overnight.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil and add all the spices from cloves through cinnamon and fry for a minute or till fragrant.
- Add chopped onion and fry till golden brown.
- Add chopped tomatoes and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the marinated ground meat mixture and mix well, stirring for another 2 minutes.
- Add a cup of water (add more if more gravy needed, for the puffs its preferable to have no gravy) and bring to a boil.
- Pressure cook till the meat is well cooked (10-15 minutes).
- Cook for another 5 minutes uncovered till the water dries up.
- Add salt if required and lemon juice.
- Let mixture cool down completely.

For making the puffs:
- Roll the puff pastry sheets to thin them out a bit.
- Cut into squares and spoon the filling onto them.
- Bake in a 350F oven for 20 minutes or till golden brown.

2 Puff pastry sheets make around 24 puffs. If there is leftover kheema, I am sure you will find a way to use it up :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rainbow chard and lentil pasta

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of our friends told us about Coon Rock CSA. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offers city dwellers an opportunity to get fresh produce from nearby farms. It's not only a great way to eat fresh seasonal organic vegetables and meat but also a great way to support local farms. The idea of getting a box of vegetables every week seemed a bit daunting at first but Coon Rock Farms makes it even more convenient and flexible. Instead of signing up for a weekly supply of vegetables, you can also create custom orders. Its really simple: join their mailing list, get a weekly list of the produce, mail them back with what you need and pick up from a location nearby!

We picked up our first custom CSA order last Thursday and we are quite excited! We have fingerling sweet potatoes, purple top turnips, rainbow swiss chard and some chorizo sausage. I have been trying to figure out ways and means of putting these to good use over the last couple of days and have come up with this pasta so far.

This pasta with chard and lentils is inspired from two different pasta dishes we had over the last couple of weeks. One was made by our friends who cooked us a wonderful Middle Eastern dinner last weekend. The pasta dish they made is a Damascus specialty and is somewhat like a pasta casserole with lentils. The second pasta dish was made by another of our friends for dinner this weekend and had swiss chard with fettuccine and walnuts. I loved both and decided to combine the lentils and chard into one dish. I tried to refrain from using any strong herbs/spices in this dish so that the fresh chard would be the star.


One medium onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
Bunch of swiss/rainbow chard
1 cup cooked lentils
2 cups of fusilli/penne pasta
juice and lemon zest of half a lemon
lots of fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese

- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and add chopped garlic.
- Stir garlic for a couple of minutes and then add the chopped onion.
- When the onion is soft, add the chopped chard and saute well.
- Once the chard wilts, add the cooked lentils (I boiled them in water)
- Add lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper.
- Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes to get all the flavors mixed in.
- Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Corn toast

Over the last few days, things have been really busy. I have been dreaming about cookies and work has also been quite crazy! So this easy dish with ingredients right from the pantry worked out great for a quick weeknight dinner. This is A's aunts invention and a great one at that.

The star ingredient here is sweet corn cream style, which also happens to be extremely popular in India especially with the sweet corn chicken/veg soup found in Indian-Chinese restaurants. I think Indian Chinese really started off with Chinese food being spiced for the Indian palette. Then came dishes which you can find only in Indo-Chinese restaurants such as Chicken Manchurian and American Chopsuey. American Chopsuey always threw me off with the name though. Especially when I moved to the United States, went to a Chinese restaurant and didn't find it on the menu. Oh well. Here goes....

1 can Sweet cream style corn
6 slices of bread
1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 green chillies, chopped
2 tablespoons cheese, (I used 2% mozzarella though cheddar would be quite nice too)
1/2 teaspoon salt

- Heat a teaspoon of oil and saute the green chillies and onion.
- When the onion softens, add the corn, along with salt.
- Add cheese and mix well. Remove from heat.
- Butter the bread slices and top with corn mixture.
- Put the bread under the Broiler for a couple of mins or till toasty.
- Tomato ketchup is a good idea.

Makes 6 toasts.

PS: For those in the Raleigh-Durham area, Paolim is a great place for some good Indo-Chinese.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Cookies!

Cookies make me happy. Actually cookies make everyone happy! That's exactly what must have prompted Lydia Walshin (who writes the wonderful blog, The Perfect Pantry) to start the Drop In & Decorate event.

As Lydia says its a simple idea in a complicated world and something anyone can do. You bake some cookies, get a group of people to decorate them and then donate them to a local nonprofit. Its such a nice way of giving back to your community. Check out the Photos here for some of the prettiest and most colorful cookies that Lydia and her friends have made over the years. What a great way to spread cheer!

I was so enthused by the pictures of the happy cookies that I decided to host my own Drop In and Decorate party! So if you are in Raleigh and reading this, please drop in to decorate some cookies on Saturday, December 12th. These cookies will be going to the Ronald McDonald House in Durham, NC. I am hoping we can make as many cookies as possible for the families and staff here so we could do with as many hands as possible!

This year, Pillsbury is donating 50 VIP coupons, worth $3.00 each off any Pillsbury product to be distributed (first come, first served while supply lasts) to anyone who plans to host a Drop In & Decorate event. And Lydia has kindly agreed to send us some. She has also been very helpful with recommendations on finding an agency, how many cookies to bake etc. Thank you, Lydia!

So if you would like to get together and make some happy cookies, let me know. I do hope to see you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Cheese toast

I have never been a big fan of the squash family. In fact I quite disliked them while growing up. My Mum who was well aware of this dislike made me eat squash saying it will make me smarter. I am not really sure if this worked since I believed her every single time and I still think there is some connection between squash and brain cells.

Anyways I have always liked Butternut Squash soup but I hadn't found a recipe which I liked. Some were too sweet, some were too much like baby food. After some trial and error I got to this one. Its quite simple and makes a ton of golden orange colored soup. The perfect meal for any Fall day.

Butternut squash soup:
1 tablespoon
4 cups of butternut squash chopped into cubes
2 large/4 baby carrots chopped
1 yellow onion chopped
3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cinnamon stick
7 peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)

- Heat butter in a heavy bottomed stockpot
- Add the chopped onion and cook for 2-3 mins
- Add the chopped carrots and cook for another 2 mins
- Add the cubed butternut squash and saute for another minute
- Add the vegetable broth, peppercorns and cinnamon stick
- Bring to a boil and cook covered till the vegetables are tender
- Remove cinnamon stick, blend soup (after it cools down a bit)
- Add the milk, followed by salt and cook for a few more minutes
- Serve with extra crushed pepper and cheese toasts

Cheese toasts:
2-4 Baguette slices
1 teaspoon Butter
1 Garlic clove split into half
2 tablespoons grated mozzarella or parmesan cheese

- Rub garlic on the slices and butter them
- Sprinkle cheese followed by pepper
- Broil in a 350F oven for 2-3 mins

Makes 4 main size servings.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rice and Beans: Khichdi and Usal

Wet, wet, wet. That sums up the weather in Raleigh right now. The beautiful fall weather from my previous post has given way to lots of cold rain. I actually like rain but its the getting wet part that I dont like. And unfortunately I seem to be rather poor at avoiding getting wet. No matter how grey the skies look and however threatening the forecasts are, I always seem to forget carrying an umbrella around. And if I do carry an umbrella, I leave it in the car boot. Then I reason with myself that there is no point in retrieving it from the boot if its already raining so I dont bother. And the cycle continues. Anyways the end result is when it rains, I am always wet and cold.

What keeps me going on such days is the thought of a comforting, piping hot dinner. And there can't be anything more comforting than Khichdi and Usal. Khichdi is basically rice and lentils cooked together. Usal is sprouts cooked with onions and spices. Both are extremely easy to put together. Usal is normally eaten with rotis but trust me the last thing you want to do after a long day of being cold and wet is to make rotis. And this combination works pretty well too. Depending on which part of India you grew up in, both of these can have several different variations. This one is partly from my Mum's kitchen in Bombay and partly my own adaptation. Enjoy and stay dry.

1/4 cup yellow lentils (tur or moong dal)
3/4 cup rice
7 peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ghee/clarified butter
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt

- Wash the rice and dal together
- Heat ghee in a thick-bottomed pan
- Add cumin seeds and peppercorns
- When they splutter, add the rice and dal
- Add turmeric and salt and mix well
- Add 2 & 1/2 cups of water to the rice and stir well
- Bring to a boil and then cook covered on a low flame till rice is soft

2 cups sprouts
1 red onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 - 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (depending on your prefernce for heat)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons dhania-jeera (coriander-cumin) powder
1 teaspoon sugar
juice of half a lemon

- Heat oil in a pan, add mustard and cumin seeds
- When they splutter add chopped onion
- Cook onion till soft and all the spice powders along with salt and sugar
- Then add the sprouts and mix well
- Add 2 cups of water, bring to a boil.
- Cook covered on a low-med flame till sprouts are cooked

For the sprouts here, you can either make your own sprouts soaking mung/matki beans overnight. Or you can buy readymade sprouts near the salad section of any grocery store.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

I have a special inclination towards spice. Almost every single time I have to pick a dinner place, I suggest spicy Asian. Or spicy Mexican. Spicy soup is option no. 3. This vegetarian tortilla soup falls into this category. And its very convenient. Its a meal in itself which lends to a lot of customization. I have used beans and corn here but you can use greens or squash too.

Btw there are no tall claims about the authenticity of this soup. I call it so because it has everything I imagine a Mexican styled soup topped with tortillas would have. Almost all tortilla soups have quite a bit of cheese, I choose to skip that in mine but you can always add in as per your preference.

1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 14oz can diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans/ black beans
2 ears of corn or 2 cups of canned/fresh corn
3 cups veg stock
3 cups water

1/2 - 3/4 teaspooon of cayenne
3/4 teaspoon of paprika
1/8th teaspoon ground cinammon
3/4 teaspoon of cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

8-10 corn tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
juice of 1 lime

For the tortilla garnish:
- Heat oven to 350F
- Cut the tortillas into thin strips
- Toss in a foil lined pan with a dash of olive oil and salt
- Bake for around 35-40 mins

For the soup:
- Heat oil in a large stockpot
- Add minced garlic and saute for a min or two
- Add chopped onion and cook till soft
- Add diced tomatoes and the spices (cayenne through cumin) and salt. Adjust salt amount as per the salt in diced tomatoes and stock. Cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the beans and corn and mix well.
- Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust spice/salt.
- Cook covered till beans and corn is soft.
- Add lime juice.

Serve hot topped with the tortillas and avocado slices.

Makes 4-6 main size servings.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Apple and Walnut bars

Today was a picture perfect Fall day in Raleigh. It was really nice to look out of the windows and find the trees swaying in the bright sunshine and showering the yard with red and brown leaves. It made me want to bake and bake something with apples. After some looking about I found this recipe in a Dec 2007 issue of Cooking Light. It has no butter and has apples and walnuts as the star ingredients. What a healthy dessert!

And I love healthy desserts. Just to clarify my definition of healthy: something with none or very little fat, not too much sugar and something with fruit. Though I do have to make an exception for the third rule with chocolate. I just haven't found a dessert I like which combines chocolate and fruit yet.

Anyways this recipe has no butter (except for brushing the pan). And did I mention it has fruit and nuts? The original recipe called for 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup raisins. I reduced the amount of sugar to 3/4 cup and didn't use any raisins. The bars came out quite nice, not too sweet, soft and very fruity and nutty. Here is the recipe.


2/3 cup All purpose flour
2 teaspoons Aluminium free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4th cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and run through a sieve.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir till well combined.
- Fold in the apples and walnuts.
- Line a 9-inch pan with foil and brush it lightly with butter.
- Spread the batter evenly onto the pan.
- Bake in a 350F oven for 40 minutes or till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cut into rectangles and serve.

Makes around 10 bars.

They are best when warm and a dollop of vanilla ice-cream would be a perfect pairing. So much for being healthy :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Baja Fish Tacos

I grew up in Mumbai eating a lot of fish. Fish curry, fried fish, a lot of fish. Then I met A, then boyfriend now husband who didnt eat any fish at all. We also moved to the States and the fish didn't look familiar anymore. So I gave up on fish for a while. Sigh. And then the most incredulous thing happened, we went to a sushi restaurant and A actually ate sushi! I mean you must eat cooked fish first to even try raw fish, right? But anyways he liked it and I renewed my relationship with fish. Now Tilapia is a staple in our cooking and Fish Tacos have come close to displacing fish curry as my favorite fish dish.

I think a post on Fish Tacos would be incomplete without a mention of K38. We discovered it (thanks to my lovely friend AM) this summer when we spent a weekend in Wrightsville beach. I think the best part of the Baja Fish Tacos in K38 is the yogurt based sauce drizzled liberally over the crispy fish. Hmmm.

So I had to attempt this yogurt sauce (otherwise we would be driving three hours to Wrightsville every so often). I used sour cream and yogurt along with some cumin, paprika. Its not the same but it comes pretty close. Also instead of deep frying the fish, I pan fry it with a marinade and without any batter. K38 serves their tacos with shredded red cabbage. I thought that was a fabulous idea, I have eaten a lot of fish but don't remember any fish dishes with cabbage. So my fish tacos are also topped with red cabbage. Here goes:


2 medium sized Tilapia / any white fish fillets
1/4 cup shredded red cabbage
1 chopped tomato
6 corn tortillas

Fish marinade:
1 and half tablespoon oil
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves

Yogurt sauce:
2 tablespoons non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons non-fat sour cream
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

- Mix all the ingredients together for the fish marinade and marinate the fish in it for 15-20 mins.
- Whisk all the ingredients together for the yogurt sauce.
- Heat a grill pan or non-stick pan and cook the fish till flaky (3-4 mins per side)
- Warm the tortillas.
- Break fish into bite sized pieces and divide among the tortillas.
- Top with shredded cabbage and chopped tomato, drizzle liberally with yogurt sauce.
- If you like your tacos real hot, add a dash of cayenne on top.

Serves 2.