Thursday, October 31, 2013

Couscous Upma With Canola Oil

Upma is a South Indian breakfast dish traditionally made with semolina with the addition of various seasonings, vegetables and nuts. Some time I came across a recipe of couscous upma and I thought it'd be a nice variation to the regular upma. Since there was still some couscous left in my pantry I went ahead with this recipe. And the oil that I used was canola.

5 tablespoons canola oil
200 grams couscous
Boiling hot water, about 400 ml
2 green chillies, diced (seeds remain)
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
One large onion, finely diced
1 heaped teaspoon of mustard seeds
10-12 curry leaves
12 cashew nuts broken into bits (I kept some whole)
4 tablespoons of grated coconut
1 bunch of coriander leaves, washed and chopped for the garnish
Salt to taste
Lemon juice...again according to taste 

Put the couscous in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over it and close the bowl with a lid. Keep aside for about ten minutes.
After ten minutes, open the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork.
Heat a pan and add the canola oil. Add the nuts and remove from the oil as soon as they turn golden brown. Then add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves. 
As soon as they sputter, put in the chillies, the onion, and the garlic. Keep cooking till the onions change colour. Then the tomatoes can be added. Keep cooking for a few more minutes. Season with salt.
Add the couscous and mix gently but well. Add the fried nuts, the coconut, and the lemon juice. Stir.
Remove from the flame after a minute or two.
Garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Canola Oil &Chicken Rendang

The other day I was thrilled to receive a bottle of Hudson Canola oil from Dalmia Continental, owners of Leonardo Olive Oil. Although I had read/heard about the benefits of canola oil, I had never cooked with it. Partly because I hadn't seen it on any of the markets that I frequent. But I had seen blog posts about this oil. Am I glad I can try out something new and something so good?!!
The parcel also included a recipe booklet and it was a joy to go through it. Canola oil is neutral in taste and aroma and it has one of the highest smoking points amongst all oils. This site has all the canola oil facts you might be interested in knowing. You can imagine how impatient I was to use it and what better than a recipe that I'd fallen for ever since I first drooled over it on Food Safari/Fox Traveller. Although it was beef and we don't cook/eat beef but I tried it with mutton and it was so good that I have already incorporated it in our household's diet! I've also read about it on several blogs, mainly Malaysian, and I've come with this version. And so here it is, my version of chicken rendang. But one important ingredient is missing. And that is galangal that I bought in Delhi and forgot to take it out of my son's fridge. Sigh!

Chicken rendang
Canola oil, I used 4 tablespoons
800 grams chicken cut into regular pieces and marinated with salt and pepper for 30 minutes
4 large onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
2 stalks of lemon grass, crushed
Two tomatoes, diced
A quarter teaspoon of turmeric powder
Turmeric leaves (I used one tender leaf)
10 dried chillies soaked in water and ground but not deseeded as we like the heat
Two tablespoons of coriander and cumin powder (seeds toasted and ground)
Lime leaves ( no kaffir lime leaves in our markets)
4 tablespoons of grated coconut roasted till golden brown & ground in a blender
Coconut milk ( I used both the first and the second press from one coconut)
2 tablespoons of soya sauce
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves for the garnish
2 star anise
2 one-inch sticks of cinnamon

  • Make a paste of the onions, ginger and garlic. 
  • Heat the oil in a pan. Then add the star anise and the cinnamon. Stir in the freshly made paste and cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken.
  • Roll up the turmeric leaves and the lemon leaves together and cut them fine. Rolling up the leaves makes it easier to cut them. Add them to the pan along with the crushed lemon grass stalks.
  • The rest of the spices can go in now. Season with salt.
  • Add the second press of coconut milk, mix gently and continue to cook till the rendang has a thick curry look and pickle-like texture. This will take about 35-40 minutes. Add the ground coconut as well. I would have used more but my husband is not really fond of coconut in savoury dishes.
  • Add the soya sauce and the first press of coconut milk. Stir.
  • Remove from the fire after a few minutes. Remove the lemon grass stalks.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with chopped coriander.
The dish was delicious and went very well with our staple of steamed rice. I have seen rendang recipes where sugar is added but the coconut and its milk that I added was sweet enough (for us). Instead of tamarind paste or lemon juice, I used tomatoes. Most of the tomato varieties available in our markets are very acidic and that maintained a balance with the sweetness of the onions and the coconut. More recipes with canola oil coming up in my future posts.
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mutton Curry With Apricots

My haul of dry fruits from our recent holiday is being used to the maximum in my kitchen. With the temperature dropping by a few degrees, evenings are pleasant and the tendency to cook and savour dishes that verge towards the festive grows by leaps and bounds! For my cakes, an old jam jar sits in my fridge filled to the brim with rum and raisins. Soaking up was never such fun! It isn't that I can't go and buy the best dry fruits here but the fun of getting locally produced food items there makes it all the more satisfying. And the state of Himachal Pradesh is known for apricots and almonds, apples and other temperate-clime's delights.
For most meat-eating Indians, mutton curry is comfort food. There's such a home-sweet-home feel about mutton and potato curry and steaming hot rice. Particularly as a Sunday lunch when most family members would be home and lunch would be more of a lazy laid-back affair with a siesta written somewhere at the bottom of the (mind's) menu. And the menu didn't call for more accompaniments apart from dal and some vegetables in bhaji form.
My version of this mutton curry is with the usual spices generally used for meat curries but I love the mild sweetness that comes from the apricots. I also use a bit of the spice mix that a dear friend brings/sends from Oman (pictured below). It makes the curry taste and smell like heaven!

Mutton 500 grams
Dried apricots...I used 24
Onions...4 large, sliced
Ginger...a thumb-size piece
Garlic...8 cloves
Indian bay leaves...3
Cumin powder..1 teaspoon
Coriander and a half teaspoon
Special mutton masala mix...1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder...half a teaspoon
Chilli powder...according to taste
1 tablespoon of freshly grated pepper
Garam masala made of two 3 inch cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves & 4 cardamoms ground to a paste
Tomato puree...half a cup
Coriander leaves for the garnish
Sunflower oil...about 5 tablespoons

Wash the mutton, drain in a colander. Transfer to a bowl and marinate with the ginger, garlic, salt, turmeric, cumin, and coriander powder and leave aside for at least an hour.
Wash and soak the apricots in hot water. They will swell up after an hour so so. Alternately you can soak them overnight.
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it comes to near-smoking point add the bay leaves and the onions. Fry till the onions change colour.
Then add the mutton along with the marinated spices. Stir in between and keep the pan covered. Add the pepper, chilli powder and the tomato puree.
Cook till the oil separates. In between add about a quarter cup of water to the pan to stop the mixture from sticking to the bottom.
Add a teaspoon of the special mutton masala, mix well. The apricots can go in now. 
Add about a cup of water and let it cook. Check the seasoning and adjust.
Add the garam masala, stir and remove from the flame.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander.
Steamed rice and moong dal with palak (spinach)
completes the meal
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bejewelled Couscous Salad

Couscous salad with spinach, roasted pumpkin & pomegranate seeds
It isn't often that I opt to have something else other than rice for lunch or dinner. But there are times when a hearty salad makes up for a quick meal in between chores that keep piling up. Procrastination never moved far away from me!;) I still had to use some of the pomegranate from my last post and the olive oil from the labneh. So a couscous salad it was. What could be better than tossing in a handful of this and a handful of that into my dark mango wood bowl? Surely if it is visually so appealing {and filling}, this is something I shall repeat, and maybe soon!

1 cup of couscous
Chicken stock
A quarter cup of pomegranate seeds
A handful of spinach leaves
1 tomato, diced (I didn't discard the seeds and the tomato was acidic)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and diced
1 teaspoon of olive oil
2 slices of roasted pumpkin ( I had roasted pumpkin earlier to make soup)
A bunch of coriander leaves, chopped fine
A tablespoon of toasted pine nuts

For the dressing:
About 3 tablespoons of olive oil ( I used the oil from the labneh)
1 teaspoon of red chilli flakes
A quarter teaspoon of coarsely grated pepper
Salt to taste
A quarter teaspoon of fine sugar

Put the couscous in a bowl. Heat the chicken stock and pour it on the couscous. I must have used about a cup of stock. Forgot to measure here...went with instinct.:) Cover with clingfilm and leave for about fifteen minutes.
Stir with a fork. The couscous will be ready by now.
Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan. Add the crushed and diced garlic and add the spinach. Cook for a few minutes till the leaves wilt.
Remove the skin of the roasted pumpkin and dice into small pieces.
Now add all these ingredients to the couscous including the pomegranate.
Mix the ingredients for the dressing and add to the bowl. Stir with a fork.
Garnish with the chopped coriander leaves and toasted pine nuts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Labneh or strained yogurt had been on my must-do list for a while now. I have always been fond of yogurt and other milk products and in our house yogurt is usually consumed on its own with a touch of sugar or honey, added to curries, made into raita, made into paneer (once in a blue moon) and added to the dough for making roti. Making labneh was all about just a little more effort! But it was only a few days ago that I actually made some. I paired it with, not pita bread, but rotis that I made using the whey from all that draining. 

Lunch was light and refreshing with the soft rotis paired with labneh, and a small bowl of fresh cubed cucumbers and pomegranate.

For the labneh:
1 kilogram yogurt
A quarter teaspoon salt
1 colander
1 large bowl on which the colander is to be placed
1 piece of cheesecloth or clean kitchen towel
1 cup of olive oil
A few sprigs of mint 
Pour the yogurt in a large bowl and whisk it with the salt.
Line the colander with a piece of cheesecloth and place it on a bowl.
Transfer the yogurt to the colander. Tie up the ends of the cloth with a piece of string.
Put the colander/bowl in the fridge and leave for at least twenty four hours.
Take out the yogurt, the consistency will be like cream cheese and the quantity will become less.
Shape them into walnut-size balls and place them in a bowl. ( There were eight balls).
Pour about a cup of olive oil into the bowl and add a few sprigs of mint. This can be stored in the fridge for two weeks.

For the rotis:
About 155 ml of whey was added to 300 grams of whole wheat flour along with a pinch of salt and about two tablespoons of ghee. This was kneaded well and kept aside for half an hour before the rotis were rolled out, cooked on a tawa with a drizzle of more ghee. (The rest of the whey went into making a refreshing drink with rock salt and chopped mint).

The cubed cucumbers and pomegranates tasted good with coarsely grated pepper and no salt. I was glad I had left out the salt as the labneh was slightly acidic. The next time I make labneh, I'll add some sugar in the yogurt and more flavourings in the olive oil. The possibilities are endless!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jalpai Achar/Indian Olive Pickle

Clockwise:a) The fresh fruit, b) blanched till the cracks appear, and c) soaking up the sun on a bamboo tray

Widely available during the cooler months in our region is the Indian olive/Elaeocarpus serratus locally known as jalpai/jolphai. Unlike the oil-producing olive/Olea europaea of the Mediterranean region, the Indian olive is a sour fruit. It is mainly used for making pickles and chutneys. The medium-sized tree produces hundreds of fruits and is a backyard feature in most homes. So a major winter activity in our region is making  jalpai achar! I made my first jar of olive pickle today and the concoction of spices filled my kitchen and the rest of the house with the heady aromas of a spice bazaar!


 2 kilos Indian olives
 Nearly one litre oil (I use mustard)
 2 heaped tablespoons of turmeric powder
 3 tablespoons of cumin seeds
 6 tablespoons of fennel
 3 tablespoons of ajwain/carom seeds
 20 dried red chillies
 About a cup of vinegar
 7-8 cloves of garlic
 6 tablespoons of coriander seeds
 3 heaped tablespoons of mustard seeds
 2 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds
 Rock salt to taste
 Sugar...about 200 grams (it depends on how sweet you want your pickle to be. The pickle can always be checked/tasted later for any adjustments)
 Panch phoran, about a tablespoon(This is a mix of five spices used in eastern Indian cooking.The mixture consists of equal parts of fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, and nigella seeds)
 Hing (asafoetida)
 Acetic acid, a few drops

Choose the freshest olives and leave the stalks on. This will make the fruit dry up faster in the sun later.Wash the olives and drain. Heat water in a pot. When it comes to near boiling point, put the olives into the water. Blanch for a few minutes. The fruit will become soft but don’t let them turn mushy. It's done when hairline cracks appear on the blanched fruit (as seen in the collage). Remove from the water and  cool in a sieve or colander. Then press with your fingers and remove the seeds. If you want the seeds in your pickle, gently press the fruit so that the moisture dries up faster. Lay out on a tray (I use one made of bamboo) and keep in the sun for a day. After two hours or so, the blanched fruit can be turned once so that they get the sun on the other side.

Soak the dried red chillies in vinegar (there should be enough vinegar to cover the chillies) and grind them to a paste. Dry roast all the other spices till the raw smell goes off and the seeds crackle in the pan. Grind them and keep aside. Toast the turmeric powder for a few minutes and keep aside. You need to be careful with the heat when you toast powdered spices as they tend to burn easily.

Heat the oil in a karhai. When it comes to smoking point, add the Indian bay leaves, the panch phoran, and the asafoetida. Let the oil cool down completely.

Mix all the spices along with the chilli paste and salt in a large bowl. Then add the olives making sure that they are well-coated with the spices. Gradually add the oil and keep mixing gently. Grind a few cloves of garlic in vinegar and add to the pickle.The sugar can also go in now. The combination of the spices with the garlic and rock salt is heavenly! You should always taste to check the balance of spices with the sweet and the sour. Add a few drops of acetic acid. Now the pickle is ready to go into prepared bottles.
Freshly-made pickle does not have the "finished" look as they need to be put out in the sun for a week or so.
For the next seven days or so the pickle needs to be cured in the sun. I use granulated sugar because this process melts down the sugar completely. After a few days you can check to see if any additions need to be made. If you need more heat in your pickle you can toast red chilli powder in a pan. Let the mixture cool then add it to the pickle.  
Bottling tip: Throw some hing into the flame then turn the bottle (the one you'll be using for the pickle) upside down over the flame. Any hint of moisture in the bottle will disappear and the aroma of the hing will be trapped in the bottle. 

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Back From Himachal & Meetha Bhat Is On The Menu

Clockwise: 1)Ripe persimmon 2) The cut fruit...sweet & delicious
3)Nasturtiums tumble along the garden wall in Shimla
4) A wayside wild daisy has an interesting visitor
5) A roadside eatery on the way to Manali
6) View from our hotel window in Shimla
7) An Indian Tortoiseshell butterfly
8) A fallen leaf on the steps leading to Mall Road in Shimla
I just got back from a wonderful break in the beautiful and mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh. Although we were there only for four days it was absolutely worth it. Getting away from the heat of the plains was what we needed and the night before we reached the city of Manali, fresh snow had fallen on the mountains overlooking the city. The sight from our hotel room in Manali was breathtaking. The balcony overlooked an apple orchard with a meandering river and the snow-capped mountains in the horizon. We couldn't have asked for a better view.
View from our hotel room in Manali
Travelling from Shimla to Manali by road we drove through several apple orchards. Although cereals and vegetables are widely grown, huge tracts of land are suitable for fruit farming. Apple farming is said to yield the maximum income. Apricots, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, and peanuts are other important crops in certain areas like Kinnaur and Chamba. The last apples had already been picked so the orchards are devoid of fruit at this time of the year. After Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal is the second largest producer of apples in India. According to the National Horticulture Board the state's production in 2012-13 was 400 million tonnes. (From an article about Harmony Hall Orchards in Good Food magazine/India October 2013).
Meetha bhat with dried apples
I did get quite a haul of dry fruits at a shop in the market in Manali including locally grown pine nuts and hazel nuts. There were dried apples on sale too. The salesperson told me that these could be added to pies or to sweet rice aka meetha bhat.
Walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, hazel nuts (not seen),
cashew& dried apples sit pretty on my kitchen shelf
This recipe has been adapted from the book Classic Recipes From Himachal Pradesh by Bhawanee Singh. I made a few changes by adding more dry fruits and less sugar. I wanted to use most of the ingredients that I had bought in Himachal and I decided on this particular dish after going through this fascinating book. 

250 grams Basmati rice
2 tablespoons soaked raisins
10-12 almonds soaked in water, skin removed and slivered
The same amount of cashew nuts
15-20 slices of dried apples
A few pieces of dry coconut cut fine
2 Indian bay leaves
3-4 cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon (1" pieces)
2 pods of cardamom
80 grams of sugar (Traditionally it's made much sweeter than the one I cooked. The recipe had half a kilogram of sugar for 500 grams of rice)
3 tablespoons of ghee
A few strands of saffron, soaked in a bit of warm milk
Water (double the amount of rice)

  • Wash and soak the rice for one hour.
  • Boil the rice in enough water so that it is cooked.
  • In a large plate spread the cooked rice, add the raisins, the coconut, cashew nuts, the dried apples, the sugar and half the ghee.
  • In another pan, heat the remaining ghee and then add the bay leaves and the other aromatics.
  • Put in the rice mixture and mix gently so that the grains do not break.
  • Keep the heat low and the rice covered. Stir occasionally. Add the saffron.
  • When fully done the rice will have a golden tinge and the sugar will have completely permeated the rice.
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Brengjithai: Cooking In Bamboo

For this kind of cooking, freshly cut green bamboo is best. Although I didn't have access to that I used one that was still green but wasn't fresh. It somehow worked as I kept the flames low and it took a longer time to cook. But the result was worth the wait!

Using bamboo in order to cook rice or vegetables is common in our region. Leafy greens like amaranth, spinach, mustard greens and tender lai ( a variety of Brassica) taste so delicious cooked inside a bamboo hollow with the flames never too high as we don't want the bamboo to burn to cinders. Recently I also came across a Thai recipe about cooking fish wrapped in turmeric leaves and cooked in bamboo. I can imagine how magical that taste and smell would be...! That's surely going to happen here next!

The best part about this method of cooking is that the ingredients go in all at once inside the hollow. Then they are tightly packed with the help of a bamboo stick that we use to push the "stuffing" towards the bottom of the bamboo. The action is like using a mortar and pestle except that instead of "grinding", it is the "pushing" that you need to work on. The opening is sealed with banana leaves and placed on the fire. At regular intervals the bamboo is turned so that whatever's inside, is cooked evenly.
For this chutney, the ingredients that went in are: eggplants, chillies, salt, chopped onions, tomatoes, dried fish, and alkali. When the chutney was done, it was mashed with the stick when it was still hot from the fire  (the stick can be seen in the collage) and the contents poured in a bowl. Chopped serrated coriander was used for garnishing the dish.

I'm going on a short holiday to the northern part of our country. I'll be back to my regular visiting/commenting after I get back. Thank you for stopping by. Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Steamed Hilsa In Mustard Sauce

Hilsa or Ilish/Tenualosa ilisha is best known as a Bengali delicacy but the love for the same with us non-Bengalis in north-eastern India is no less! It is an oily fish rich in Omega 3 acids which make it such a joy to cook and gorge on. Although cooking it in mustard is truly the best way we also like to have it fried or team it up with vegetables, and also cook it in a light gravy with pepper, sliced onions and green chillies.

Clockwise: a)the pieces, b) rubbed with the mustard/poppy paste and
the rest of the spices, c)out of the oven, d) just before going into it.

For twelve pieces of hilsa you'll need:
3 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 medium-size onion, grated
10 -12 green chillies, slit in the middle but not halved
Mustard oil
Hot water for the oven tray
  • Soak the mustard and poppy seeds in separate bowls for about an hour or so in enough water to cover them. Then grind the seeds to a fine paste. Keep aside.
  • Preheat the oven.
  • Rub the fish pieces with salt and turmeric.
  • Transfer the ground paste to a large bowl, add the chilli powder and the grated onions and mix well. 
  • Add the fish and make sure that they are well-coated in the spice mix. 
  • Pour some mustard oil (I must have used about 100 ml) and gently mix again.
  • Pour a little bit of the oil in the dish in which the fish will be cooked. (This works like greasing a cake tin):)Then place the fish pieces on the dish along with all the masala. Cover with foil.
  • Pour the hot water in the oven tray till nearly halfway, place the dish and cook at 190 degrees C for 25 minutes.
  • Then remove the foil and let the dish remain in the residual heat for another five minutes or so.
  • Remove from the oven. It is now ready to be served with steaming hot rice.
The dish has very little gravy and I did not add any water because some liquid from washing the fish remains. Grinding the mustard and poppy seeds need additional water. And to rinse out the grinder a bit more water is added. All this adds up and the result is a gravy that is just enough and just right. This dish turned out to be most delicious. Even better than the one I made last week (shown in the picture below) which had less turmeric in it. But everything else was the same.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Double Chocolate Gateau

Like I have said before, although I bake cakes, I usually make the simplest kinds. But I did make more than my usual effort for this cake. The reason being my sister's birthday (October 1) and I wanted to bake the yummiest cake for her! It was worth the effort and as I type this there's not a crumb of this chocolaty cake left! In this picture the cake stands a little lopsided, a sure sign that the baker still has a long way to go. But perfection to the point of symmetry has never been the forte of most home cooks and I fall in that category.:) But what the heck, I'm going ahead and posting this picture! The exclamations that the cake evoked is enough to make me bake a dozen more in the next two months, I think!!

The recipe is from a book called Everyday Chocolate (Parragon Books). It's loaded with the most divine pictures and recipes and in fact this is my first trial from the book. I made a few alterations using less chocolate for the frosting than the recommended 350 grams and adding a quarter teaspoon of instant coffee to the mix. The hint of coffee was delightful. I also cut down on the butter for the frosting. And I didn't use the food processor for chopping the chocolate.

The sponge
225 g butter, softened + extra for greasing
225 caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
175 grams self-raising flour
55 g cocoa powder

The filling
250 ml cream
225 g white chocolate broken into pieces

The frosting
200 grams plain chocolate broken into pieces
50 grams butter
85 ml cream

Grated white chocolate
2 teaspoons icing sugar and cocoa powder

To make the sponge, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. gradually beat in the eggs. Sift the flour and cocoa into another bowl, then fold in the batter. Spoon into a greased and base-lined 20-cm deep round cake tin, level the surface, and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for about 45-50 minutes, or until springy to the touch and the tip of a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the filling heat the cream to almost boiling. Chop up the white chocolate and add to the cream. Switch off the flame. Stir till the chocolate melts and ensure that there are no lumps. Transfer to a bowl to cool, then cover and chill until firm.

To make the frosting, melt the chocolate. Stir in the butter and cream. Cool, stirring frequently, until the mixture is of spreading consistency. Slice the cake into three layers. Sandwich the layers together with the filling. Cover the cake with frosting and put the grated chocolate on top. (Should have been chocolate curls, but that's another story). Mix the icing sugar and cocoa and sift over the cake.

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