Monday, March 30, 2015

Stinky Bean Chutney

Stinky bean chutney
Stinky bean chutney
Some of the tastiest foods in the world come with a tag- acquired taste. As the name suggests the smell is very strong but the taste is good and it is considered a delicacy in our region. Stinky beans are also found all across South-east Asia but I have yet to prepare the cuisine of other cultures. Hopefully, I'll get there. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar are the countries where stinky beans grow. In our country, they flourish in our region, the North-East.
Stinky beans/Parkia speciosa
I had four stinky beans that weren't all that fresh. They were with mature seeds. We also like to have them when they are tender with the seeds in their nascent stage. In that case the outermost skin is scraped off and the beans are chopped into pieces before being cooked. Stinky beans grow in medium-sized trees. They are also known as twisted cluster beans. They belong to the genus Parkia in the Fabaceae family. This is what I got online about the benefits of stinky beans.
It is a good source of minerals and is especially high in calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron. It is high in fibre and contains considerable amounts of Vitamin C and E as well as Vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3. Stinky beans have been used in folk medicine to treat diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, and kidney disorders. Source.
The roasted beans and the seeds
With the mature beans, they are roasted on an open flame till the outermost skin can be easily removed. The flesh and the seeds are separated. The seeds come in a casing that has to be removed with the help of a knife. Later the seeds can be left whole or chopped up as shown in the picture below. That takes a bit of time but the end result is definitely worth it.
Seeds chopped up
Ingredients:
4 mature stinky beans
7-8 hot chillies (I used dried bird's eye chillies)
1 fermented fish/naphlam
A pinch of soda bicarbonate
Salt to taste
Chopped herbs for the garnish

Prepare the beans as described above.
Heat about 1 cup of water and boil the seeds till almost done.
Add the chillies after twisting and breaking them into smaller pieces.
After 10 minutes or so, the seeds will become softer.
Add the soda bicarb and lower the flame for a few minutes so that the chutney will not boil over and spill.
Add the salt and the fermented fish.
Then add the soft flesh of the beans that were set aside earlier.
Cook for a couple of minutes till the dish is almost dry.
Remove from the flame and mash with the back of a ladle.
Transfer to a serving bowl and scatter the chopped herbs.
Both coriander and serrated coriander work well here but today I used chopped spring onions.


Finely sliced onions can also be added to this dish. They can be added raw with the herbs or cooked. Another variation of making this dish is to boil the beans first till well cooked. The chillies and fermented fish can be roasted separately and everything can be mashed together with salt and a pinch of soda bicarbonate.
Dried seeds are black but they can be stored and used when the season of fresh beans is over.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes
Woke up to the sweetest music this morning, the sound of rain. It wasn't enough for everything to be drenched but the dust has settled down a bit. Too much rain is another story but the season's first shower is always welcome. With the temperature a little bit kinder today than most days, I longed for something crisp and fried and what could be better than fried green tomatoes?

Although tomatoes are a fixture in most of our dishes, the fried form isn't common. When I started blogging about six years ago, I saw plenty of posts on the same. Popular in the American South, I tried it a few years ago and absolutely loved it! And I have always made this with home-grown tomatoes. Green tomatoes do make an appearance in our markets but I think it's a headache to scour the markets looking for the same. Particularly when it's the ripe ones that are easily available. I chose three lovely green ones from my plants. At the rate they are going, they'll best be termed as vines.:) But one had started ripening although it still looked unsuspectingly green outside.
You can see a slight tinge of pink peeking through all that green!
This was made with my own twist added but the first time I tried it was a from Southern recipe.
Ingredients:
3 green tomatoes
1 egg
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp ground pepper
Pinch of cumin powder
Milk for the batter
Some all-purpose flour
About 1 tbs rice flour for extra crispness
Oil to fry
I didn't really measure the ingredients here. It's like making pakodas.

Hull the tomatoes and cut into fairly thick slices.
Sprinkle some salt and set aside as you prepare the egg and the batter.
Heat the oil in a pan.
Break the egg in a bowl and give it a good whisk.
Make a batter with the all-purpose flour and rice flour adding some milk and seasoning.
Dust each tomato slice with flour and dip in the egg.
Then dip it in the batter and fry a few pieces at a time.
Turn over till both sides are golden.
Remove on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Continue with the rest till all the slices are fried.
Scatter some freshly chopped mint over the fried green tomatoes. Best eaten hot!

The cumin powder that I used was from my toast-grind-store container. So the aroma is better than cumin that has not been toasted.
This is a delicious snack even without a sauce of any kind. I haven't really gone into serving ideas with this dish. Happy to have it on its own. Till now.:)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Focaccia With Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Focaccia with roasted plum tomatoes
In my small garden, March to May is when I pick a handful of tomatoes  every other day. I usually sow the seeds in December but this year I'm growing the self-seeders. So many plants sprouted during the cooler season and I simply planted them in one patch. There are plenty of green tomatoes now and the picture below shows the first picking. The plum tomato plant was bought at the recent horticultural show and it has not disappointed. The pretty oval yellow ones have graced many a salad platter standing out amid the dark green of the spinach and the lettuce or the brilliant reds of other tomatoes or strawberries. 
With about 30 tomatoes in hand, focaccia was what came to mind. I am not much of a baker of breads but I do bake focaccia oftener than I bake other breads.
Today's pickings

Ingredients:
3 cups wheat flour (I used Aashirvad atta)
1/2 tsp sugar 
1 tbs dried yeast (I used Bluebird)
1 tsp salt
About 300 ml lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil + extra for oiling
The Topping:
Plum tomatoes (I also used the other varieties in the picture: a total of 32 on the bread)
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling
salt and pepper

Pour the lukewarm water in a bowl and add the sugar and the yeast. Give it a gentle stir and leave aside for about 15 minutes till it froths up.
Transfer the flour to a large bowl. Add the oil, the salt and the yeast mixture.
Mix till it comes together then tip the dough on a floured surface. Knead for about ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm.
Leave in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. Place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle some oil, salt and pepper and bake in a preheated oven at 140C for about 25 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for a few minutes.
Shape into a rectangle and place in an oiled tin.
Make indentations in the dough using your fingers.
Drizzle with some oil.
Top with the tomatoes and sprinkle some salt.
Leave in a warm place for another 10 minutes.
Bake in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until golden.
Drizzle with some more olive oil and a few torn basil leaves.
This tastes best when served warm.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Onion & Goat's Cheese Tart With Zucchini Lattice

Onion & goat's cheese tart with zucchini lattice
Onion & goat's cheese tart with zucchini lattice
Crazy about pies and tarts! That's me! And this lattice was something I had wanted to make for a while. But we hardly ever see the vegetable in the markets in our locality and the plant that I bought recently from the horticultural show doesn't look too good at the moment. So when I returned from Delhi, one green and one yellow zucchini happily came with me. (So did the cheese!) I wanted the same size and length with both the zucchini but only the plumper and shorter yellow ones were in stock. Ah well, something is better than nothing!
Chards, amaranth and goosefoot
Although the main ingredients were the fried onions and goat's cheese, I couldn't make a tart or quiche without throwing in some greens. And from my front yard and some pots, I did get some chards, the ever-dependable amaranth and goosefoot. And I was set to go!

The pastry:
225 grams all-purpose flour
100 grams garlic and herb butter, chilled and diced (I used Amul)
A pinch of ground pepper
2 eggs + extra for the egg wash


Transfer the flour to a large bowl and add the diced butter.
Rub the butter into the flour using your finger tips.
When the mixture turns crumbly, break the eggs (one at a time) in the bowl.
Gently, let the dough come together.
Flatten it (makes it easier to roll afterwards) and then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 40 minutes.
Take it out of the fridge and cut out as much as needed and roll it a little bigger than the size of the loose-bottomed tart tin.
Place it on the lightly greased tin and press the edges. Trim overhanging pastry and put the trimmings back with the other half of the dough. (The rest of the pastry dough can be used for another recipe later).
Chill the rolled-out pastry for about 15 minutes then line it with buttered silver foil (sometimes the foil tends to get stuck to the dough). The buttered side must be in contact with the pastry.
Fill the foil with baking beans and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Remove the baking beans, brush the bottom with egg and put in back to bake for another 10 minutes.
Remove and let it cool.
Layering, first with the onions, the greens, and then the cheese

The filling:
3 medium onions, sliced fine
Salt to taste
3 tbs olive oil +extra to brush the lattice
A bunch of mixed greens, washed and roughly chopped
A quarter cup of Go cheese
4 heaped tbs goat's cheese (I used the one from Flanders Dairy )
Several thin slices of both green and yellow zucchini for the lattice top

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onions and continue to cook till they turn golden brown. Drain and cool.
In the same oil, lightly fry the mixed greens for a few minutes. Remove and set aside.
Cut the ends of the zucchini and slice them thin, lengthwise.
Lay them on a flat tray and salt them.
After 10 minutes, place each slice on a clean kitchen cloth and lightly press them to remove the moisture. Set aside till needed.
The final stage:
Scatter the fried onions all across the baked shell.
Do the same with the greens.
Scatter the grated cheese and then dot the tart with goat's cheese.
Now make the lattice with the zucchini slices as you would for pies with pastry dough strips.
Either trim or tuck in the overhanging zucchini slices.
Brush with olive oil and bake at 180C for about 25-30 minutes.
The lattice will not look vastly different after its time in the oven but that's how it's meant to be. 
Remove and cool before slicing it into wedges.


This tart is a wonderful balance of tastes. The sweetness of the onions and the fresh leafy greens and the saltiness from the cheese is a lovely combination. Add to that the lattice. It wasn't the best but certainly this tart isn't one of the  usual ones. I'm pretty satisfied with today's baking.:)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Keema Pulao

keema pulao
Keema pulao
For years, March was a season that wasn't part of any travel plans. Exam fever came on full blast and whatever travel plans were made, they were all  after the school exams were over. But with the boys no longer being boys, March isn't to do with being immobile! And so one windy day last week with the plane swaying and the pilot assuring us we are in safe hands I landed in Delhi again. I was lucky to get a window seat with a wonderful view of the snowy Himalayas glistening in the afternoon sun. Ever since my sons came here to study after their school-leaving exams, this city has become my second home. I come only twice or thrice a year but every stay lasts about a month or so. After the humid weather at Guwahati, it was pleasant in the rickety taxi that I took at the airport. All along the road spring flowers were in bloom. The air was cool with a slight hint of rain. Certainly not a sight when I visit, usually. Mostly it's like being unceremoniously thrown into a furnace!
 
But there was a reason too for my visit. My younger son was suffering from terrible knee pain. He's studying here and is also a drummer. He also teaches drums to several students. His condition has been diagnosed as chrondomalacia patella and he is on medication/physiotherapy. He is recovering now but needs to rest for maybe several months. 
And I did cook some wonderful meals.:) Nothing exotic but mostly nutritious and wholesome. There are many that I did not photograph. More like enjoying the moment and not handling the camera too much.:) The ingredients available here are amazing. And I go crazy seeing the goodies in stores like Nature's Basket,Modern Bazar, Le Marche and INA Market.


The silk cotton trees are still in bloom in Delhi


A few of the dishes that I cooked this past week

With the transition from winter to summer, this is the season for a parade of blooms. One afternoon I headed to the Garden Of Five Senses just to take a look at the flowers blooming there. The primulas, geraniums, carnations, hollyhocks, asters, dahlias, nasturtiums and some more whose names I do not know, were a sight to behold. Apart from the blooms there were also many birds. I did capture some of them. Other gardens must be more spectacular than this one but I did not want to venture too far off on my own.
Primulas in the Garden Of Five Senses


Sweet peas


Stages of making the pulao
Coming back to my keema pulao, we had it with a spicy okra dish and a simple salad of tomatoes, onions and green chillies. This is for 4 servings.
The rice and the vegetables:
Wash 1 1/2 cups basmati rice and drain in a colander.
Prepare the vegetables. Shell the peas and peel and dice the carrots. Set aside as you cook the meat. I used two medium carrots and half a cup of peas.
The Keema:
300 grams keema
3 large onions
A mix of whole crushed spices like cardamom, cinnamon and cloves
2-3 Indian bay leaves
1 thumb-size ginger, grated fine
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
A quarter tsp ground black pepper
Red chilli powder as per taste
1 tomato, chopped
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp garam masala powder
A handful of raisins, washed and patted dry
Olive oil, about 4 tbs
Hot water to be used later for the rice. 1 cup of rice will need nearly 2 cups of water.


Keema pulao with bharwan bhindi and tomato kachumbar

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.
Throw in all the aromatics. Add the onions and cook till they change colour.
Add the keema and stir. The ginger and garlic can go in now.
Keep cooking and add the rest of the ingredients except the raisins.
Cook for another 12-15 minutes.
Add the rice and stir gently. Then add the prepared vegetables. Stir again taking care that the long grains do not break. Add the raisins.
Pour the hot water and keep the lid on. Once the liquid dries up, keep it on a low flame for another 5 minutes or so.
Before serving, fluff the rice with a fork.
This was one of the most satisfying meals I have had in a while. I had wanted to make this pulao for a long time but it didn't happen. And when it did, it was so good. The measurement used here is enough for four servings.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chicken Pot Pies


We settled for pot pies today, with a filling of creamy, cheesy chicken, carrot, and potato bits. After the first forkful I kept asking myself why I hadn't cooked this before! Although I do bake a lot of pies and tarts, somehow pot pies did not make the scene in my kitchen. But now I am in Delhi spending some time with my younger son who wasn't keeping well but is on the road to recovery. And as usual I did what I usually do when I get here, haunt the places where you get the best ingredients and bakeware. These cute ceramic baking dishes with a handle caught my eye. I got two of these and ramekins as well. But before I return home I know what else I'll be getting.:)



Yesterday I had made and kept some pastry dough getting prepared for my sudden impulses. And the temptations are many! Although on the expensive side, the summer berries of temperate climes fill the shelves in many places. I should indulge....but not today. The sweetest of Australian pears apart from our usual tropical fruits are waiting to be feasted on. Coming back to my pies, I made the filling with just a few ingredients. Some green would have been nice, like peas, but I had forgotten to get them.
Ingredients:
1 cup of cooked chicken pieces without bones(from the stock I made yesterday)
2 carrots, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 large onion, chopped fine
Salt to taste
Ground pepper, as per taste
Knob of butter
Heat the butter in a pan and add the onions. Fry till the onions change colour.
Add the vegetables and cook till about half done.
Add the cooked chicken and the seasonings. 
There should still be a little crunch in the vegetables after the cooking is done.
While the vegetables cook, make the sauce.
Ingredients:
1 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
Ground pepper as per taste
1/2 cup chicken stock
2/3 cup milk
100 grams grated cheese
1 beaten egg to glaze the pastry
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a pan and add a tablespoon of flour.
Stir till the raw smell goes off. Add the chicken stock and the of milk.
Season with ground pepper.
Add 100 grams of grated cheese, simmer for a couple of minutes till the sauce is thick enough.
Pour the sauce into the chicken and vegetable mix and stir well.
Take it off the heat and let it cool.


Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry to the size of the baking dish. Repeat with the next. 
Pour the filling into the dishes. The filling was just the right amount for these two dishes.
Cut out the circles and cover the dish. Press the edges first with your fingers and then with the tines of a fork.
Make cuts on the surface for the steam to escape.
Brush with beaten egg and bake for about 25 minutes till the top is golden brown.
Remove and let it cool down a bit. Decorate with sprigs of parsley. Dig in.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Marbled Chocolate Tarts With Strawberries

Marbled chocolate tart
Marbled chocolate tart with strawberry and mint
Since strawberries last for a short season, it makes sense to include this lovely fruit in as many ways as possible. Although I have a few pots there isn't enough produce to be used in cooking or baking. The other day I got the freshest ones at our local market and since we had friends over, I decided to make these tartlets. About a decade ago, growing strawberries wasn't as common as it is now. But with farms coming up in the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, the state supplies the region with its produce. And many home gardens also grow them nowadays. One of the most well-known farms must be Sohliya which is also known as the Strawberry Village. Meghalaya is now the third largest producer of the fruit in our country with total dominance of the eastern and North-eastern market.
Marbled chocolate tarts
Dianthus from my front yard & the tarts... ready to be relished!
Coming back to my tarts, I filled them up with white chocolate and put a dollop of dark chocolate in the centre. With tarts that need not be baked (with the filling) it's so convenient as you can make them a day or two ahead. Makes it easier with the rest of the preparations when you are expecting guests.

Ingredients for the pastry:
(I used 6 tart tins)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes+ extra to grease the tins
1 egg
1 heaped tsp cocoa powder
Iced water to sprinkle on the dough

Sieve the flour and the cocoa powder together in a bowl. Add the butter.
Mix till it turns crumbly.Break the egg and add it.
Mix till the dough comes together. You might need to sprinkle some water at this point.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Take it out and roll into a large circle. Cut out smaller circles that will fit into the tins. Take each circle and place on the tins. 
Press the bottom portion and the edges. Remove any extra overhanging dough. Prick the pastry bottom with a fork and chill for about 15 minutes before baking them blind.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Take the prepared tins out of the fridge.
Place discs of greaseproof paper on the dough. Fill with baking beans and bake for about 10 minutes.
Remove the paper discs and beans and bake for another 10 minutes or till done.
Leave to cool as you prepare the filling.

The dark chocolate had hardened a bit which is why this looks messy. Bad sense of timing!!

The filling:
300 grams white chocolate
150ml cream
25 grams unsalted butter
Break the white chocolate into small bits (or you can chop it up using a serrated knife) and place the pieces in a bowl. Heat the cream in another pan till it comes to near-boiling point.
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir till no bits and pieces remain.
Let it cool down to the desired consistency before you go to the next step.
If you want to add the marbled effect to the filling, proceed as for white chocolate but with about 75 grams of dark chocolate, a dash of cream and a few dots of butter.
white chocolate tarts

Fill each of the baked tart shells with the white chocolate almost to the brim. Add a spoonful of the dark chocolate and swirl with a spoon handle to create a pattern. Chill till needed.
Take the tarts out of the fridge at least 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with sprigs of mint and a whole strawberry placed right in the middle of the tart. 
The strawberries in our region aren't the sweetest but they work very well in this recipe. The taste of the slightly acidic fruit creates a beautiful balance with the sweetness of the white chocolate and they look so pretty sitting on all that white chocolate! And they also HID the messy dark chocolate swirls in the middle of the tarts!;)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Green Tomato Chutney

Green tomato chutney
Green tomato chutney
It's the time of the year when home gardens have tomato plants laden with fruit, mostly green or about to ripen. The few plants that I have are doing well and yesterday I picked just ten green tomatoes. I usually don't like to pick them when they are at this stage but green tomato chutney from the plants I grow will be a yearly feature on my blog. I checked my post from last year and noticed that I had posted that on 7 March. But this is a little different from my previous post. The easiest chutney to make, I think. 
When I was in my teens, I remember listening to country music on VOA and heard a song titled Home-grown Tomatoes. I was rather amused by it and thought how anyone could feel so passionate about such a common produce from kitchen gardens. Thinking about it now makes sense.:)

Ingredients:
10 green tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 green chillies, chopped
1 tbs cumin powder, toasted and ground
Salt to taste 
About a quarter tsp of rock salt
Sugar for the balance
A quarter cup of apple cider vinegar
Tomato chutney
The different stages
Hull the tomatoes, wash and chop them up.
Put them in a pan and add water. It should just about be the same level as the tomatoes.
Bring it to a boil and add the onions. Add the cinnamon sticks as well.
The chopped chillies can go in now. Let it bubble and froth away and then add the seasoning. Stir in between. It will start to thicken.
Add the vinegar and cook till the moisture dries up. Take a bit out in a spoon and check. Make any adjustments with the sugar and the salt at this stage.
Remove from the flame. Discard the cinnamon sticks.
Cool and transfer to a bottle. Keep in the fridge.

I kept mine in a bowl and it looks like it will be over by tomorrow. We had two friends over for dinner yesterday and I wanted to add something from home-grown produce and this chutney turned out to be just right. They loved it! The menu had freshly-baked bread, pork roast, baked eggplant with cheese, a salad and mini chocolate tarts for dessert.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cannelloni

Cannelloni
Cannelloni
Regular visitors to this page know about my love for food shows. This came about because I watched Grandma's Boy on Fox Life. Irish chef Donal Skehan travels to Italy and gets into the kitchen of Italian nonnas. What results is THE most delicious food on the table. How can I not be tempted to cook? It helps that my older son is home now so it's a dish of cannelloni with whatever ingredients I had at that point of time in my kitchen. Cannelloni is cylindrical pasta and means 'large reeds' in Italian.
Sometimes it's good to take time to prepare, source out the ingredients and proceed. But mostly impulse takes over and I hurry to the kitchen because the big itch will not go if I do not cook!! I had some keema in the freezer but no cheese I could grate and make the dish look nicer. So I made do with Go cheese slices. The sweet basil that I had bought at the horticultural show now sports more leaves so I could a few too. I had made pasta from scratch but that was a long time ago. Anyway I wanted to give it a go before my enthusiasm waned away and another dish held me captiv(e)ated!!
The different stages
At first I got the filling ready. As it cooled I made the dough and the sauce.
The filling:
250g minced mutton
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
2 large onions
A quarter tsp ground pepper
A quarter tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
3 tbs olive oil
6 slices of cheese
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the garlic and the onions. Fry for a few minutes then add the minced meat. Cook for a while and then add the seasonings. Cook till the meat is done. Remove and set aside. Tear the cheese into bits and add to the meat. Give it a stir so that the cheese partly melts into the cooked meat.
The pasta : I forgot to measure the flour. It was all "andaz" here.:)
(About) 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
A sprinkling of water
Take a bowl with the flour in it. Make a well in the centre and break the egg. Mix till the dough comes together adding the required amount of water. Set aside as you prepare the sauce.
The sauce is poured over and then the cheese slices go in

The sauce:
3 large tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
A quarter tsp ground pepper
Salt to taste
Sugar for the balance as the tomatoes are acidic 
Chilli powder for the colour (optional)
Olive oil
Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes.
Remove and plunge in cold water. Peel off the skin, remove the 'eyes' and the other ends. Chop fine.
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the garlic and the onions. Cook for a few minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and the seasonings. Cook for about 12 minutes. If you don't want chunky pieces you can put the sauce in a blender and blitz.
I also added about 2 tbs of ready-made tomato sauce from a bottle. This actually enhances the taste.

Heat several cups of water in a large pan for boiling the pasta. Add some salt to it.
Roll out the pasta dough into circles. Cut them into the size of the pasta you have in mind.
Boil till done (the way you usually like your pasta).
Remove and drain in a colander. Later, place them on clean kitchen towels so that they dry up better.
Take one 'sheet', on a flat surface. Place the cooked meat on one edge and roll up.
Transfer to a greased baking dish. Repeat with the other sheets until all the filling is used up. In all I had 10 tubes (and a bit of the dough was left over).
Pour the sauce over the pasta. Tear off some more cheese slices and scatter over the sauce.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 25-30 minutes.
Remove. Decorate with a few bruised and torn basil leaves.

This has to be my favourite pasta! The filling, the sauce, the cheese, all make a wonderful combination. This was made hurriedly and I even forgot to measure some of the ingredients. Even the recipe for the sauce is basic. A rough and ready kind of dish but so satisfying and so filling!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cucumber Raita

Cucumber raita
Cucumber raita. The vase holds begonia blooms from my pots
With the heat of summer looming over us it's time to become friends again with raita.:) But as I type this, I can hear the rustle of the March wind and last night it rained. Not in torrents but it was enough for the dust to settle and today I left most of our windows open without fear that clouds of dust would enter and settle on every surface possible!
But this season of transition from the pleasantest days of the year to the high heat of summer isn't without its delights.The landscape is ablaze with the red of the Coral tree that attract many birds throughout the day. I didn't venture out for the photos. This was taken in our neighbourhood. The mild fragrance of mango blossoms fills the air. The bees and the sparrows seem to love them. There's always a noisy flock of sparrows on the higher reaches of our neighbour's tree. Not too many blossoms on my tree this year, sadly.
Sparrows feast on the mango blooms and the Coral tree attracts many varieties of birds.
The raita I made accompanied a dish of vegetable biryani, pictured below. To serve 10-12 people you need:
1 kilo tender cucumber
500g thick plain curd
Rock salt to taste
Fine sugar as per taste
2 tsp roasted and ground cumin
1 tsp red chilli powder
Cut off the ends of the cucumbers and peel them. 
Grate them fine and leave to drain in a colander.
Transfer the curd to a large bowl and whisk it well. 
Add the sugar and the salt. Whisk again and adjust accordingly.
Press the grated cucumber against the colander to squeeze out as much of the juice as possible.
Add the drained cucumber to the curd and mix well.
Add the chilli powder and the roasted cumin by creating a design on the surface of the raita.
Chill till ready to use. Take it out at least 15 minutes before serving.


Vegetable biryani
Vegetable biryani
I did not really mix the spices in the curd. But a serving of it holds all the spices and you get a perfect blend. I did not add any mint or coriander in the raita as the biryani had a generous amount of dried mint. The potatoes were embellished with it!The other vegetable that I added were carrots cut into chunks. The biryani was decorated with boiled eggs, roasted almonds and walnuts. Apart from the raita, I had also made spicy chicken curry.
The juice from the cucumber makes such a refreshing drink. I usually add a dash of rock salt and finely chopped mint to it. A kilo sounds like a lot but with all the juice draining away, the amount is just right for the quantity of curd I mentioned.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bread & Butter Pudding With Oranges, Cardamom & Saffron

The other day, for a family dinner, I made this dessert. I had posted about a similar pudding before but this one is slightly different. And it's got oranges! That took this dish to another level. Both times I was inspired by the recipe of the two chefs, Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala from the show,The Incredible Spice Men. This has been adapted from the same.
Ingredients:
16 slices bread (a day old)
90 grams butter, at room temperature+ a little extra to grease the baking pan
5 cups milk
1 cup caster sugar
8 eggs
2 oranges, the zest of one and the juice of the other
4 cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind to powder
A pinch of saffron
A handful of raisins, wash and pat dry
Orange marmalade for the glaze
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to serve it with 

Put the milk on the boil and let it thicken a bit. Keep about 2 tbs aside to soak the saffron strands.
Add the sugar and stir well.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and pour the hot milk over it whisking all the time.
Add the cardamom powder and the orange zest.
Leave to infuse as you prepare the bread slices.
Remove the brown edges and butter each slice. Cut diagonally in half.
Grease the baking pan and arrange the bread slices with the buttered side up.
Remove the peel of the orange (the one with the zest removed). Follow the natural curves with a sharp knife. Remove any remaining white parts and arrange the segments in the pan.
Scatter the raisins across the pan. Strain the egg/milk mixture and pour it over the bread slices.
Leave to soak for about an hour. In between, use the back of a spoon to gently push the bread downwards so that more of the egg/milk mix is absorbed.
With a teaspoon, add the saffron/milk mix right on top.
Pour the oranges juice all over the top as well.
The little bit of butter that remains can also be added in little dots across the baking pan.
Preheat the oven to 180C . Place the baking pan on the tray. Pour hot water in the tray and bake for about 40 minutes till the top is golden.
Heat 3 tablespoons of marmalade with a teaspoon of water. Use a pastry brush and brush the glaze all across the golden surface.
I wanted it to brown a bit so I turned the knob to grill and ended up overdoing it.:(
But otherwise it was good and it did feel like a treat with the infusion of the orange zest and the spices. The bottom portion was creamier than the top. And getting the orange segments in bits and pieces was totally refreshing! This is one pudding I might be making again soon! 




Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Onion Flower Pakodas

Spring onion pakodas
Onion flower pakodas
I usually start my day with a cup of tea and then head outside to water my plants. Like all gardeners, I have never been able to stick to simply watering. There are leaves that need to be picked up, there's always a bit of weeding to be done and then there's the myriad garden wildlife whose moments one MUST capture as you might never get them again. So it's the trowel, the hose, the watering can, the phone, and the camera that make up my watering paraphernalia.:)
Spring onion blooms in a wooden container
I knew my spring onions were better this year than on other years. I had noticed earlier that they were about to bloom but this morning I some of them looking like this one in the picture. And suddenly I remembered my mother making pakodas out of the several blooms in our garden when my siblings and I were very young. That must have been in the 70s. It was THAT long ago. But I called up my mother and asked here because it did feel like it was in a dream. Cooking the onion blooms, I mean. She said, Goodness, you remember that? That was ages ago and I haven't made these pakodas since when... 
When you talk about instances from the past all the years come back in fleeting moments. But when you lose your loved ones, every memory comes with the faces of the dead and gone. Well I have been reliving many precious moments today....
The blooms are so pretty that I ended up taking more photos than required.
 Spring onion pakodas
Pakodas are fritters that are made with different kinds of vegetables. The simplest ones will have onions, chillies and a few spices. The batter is made from chickpea flour with a little bit of soda bicarbonate added to it. A mix of chopped vegetables are mixed into the batter and deep fried. Pakodas are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. It's usually eaten with tomato sauce or green chutney. This is the most common and versatile snack. And goes so well with a cup of tea!

To serve 2 you'll need:
10-12 spring onion flowers
2 green chillies, chopped fine
A quarter tsp mixed spice powder (curry powder will work fine)
3-4 heaped tbs besan/chickpea flour
1 tsp rice flour (for the extra crunch
A pinch of soda bicarbonate
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp chilli powder (optional)
A pinch of turmeric powder (if you want a richer colour)
Oil to fry
Water to mix the batter
Spring onion pakodas

Remove the stalks and the papery stuff at the base of the clusters. Wash and leave to drain.
In a bowl, add the chickpea flour and the rice flour.
Add the chillies, the spice powder, salt, soda bicarbonate, and chilli powder, if using.
Pour the water in very small amounts till you get a thickish batter.
Heat the oil in a pan. When it becomes hot, dip each flower in the batter and fry till golden brown.
It will take only 2-3 minutes for each one to be done. The whole lot can be fried in a couple of batches.
Drain on absorbent paper. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with tomato sauce or green chutney.
The remaining batter can be used for more pakodas. The stalks can be chopped up, added to the batter and fried. That is if you do not intend to use them for another recipe.
These were wonderful with a milder taste than what you would have got out of the bulb. But the best part was using the blooms from my garden. There are some things that you will not get until you them.:)
Pakodas are best eaten hot! The spices can always be changed along with the vegetables that you add to the batter. My favourite pakodas happen to be a mix of eggplant and cabbage chopped fine with plenty of onions added to the batter.