Onion-Tomato Salad

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I thought twice when I decided to post Onion-Tomato salad, because there is no ‘recipe’ involved. It is nothing fanciful. And may not be ‘socially acceptable’…with all that onion, yikes! But it makes a frequent appearance on my table despite all the flaws. It would only be injustice if I don’t share it with you. I am not exaggerating when I say that you would find practically no street food stall in India without this. Onions in this are not as vengeful. Lemon juice tames them. They just have enough pungency that I find very appealing with spicy food. If so much onion sounds overwhelming, it can be substituted fully or partially with sliced Cucumber.

I prefer Red Onions for the color, but any onions will do. Cilantro and Mint are optional. I can’t live without them.

What you need:

1 small Red Onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 medium Tomatoes deseeded, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 Lemon/Lime

1 pinch of Salt

1 pinch of coarsely ground Black pepper (optional)

Cliantro, few sprigs, roughly torn

Mint, few sprigs, roughly torn

 

How to make it:

  • Toss the Onions and Tomatoes in a big bowl with squeeze of Lemon or Lime.
  • Sprinkle Salt and coarsely ground Black Pepper and toss again.
  • Sprinkle Cilantro and Mint.

Can be eaten right away as a side or topping, or can sit for some time. If left out for too long, it becomes soggy as Onions release water in the presence of salt.

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Paneer Butter Masala

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Often times, I am disappointed or frustrated when I go to an Indian restaurants in US. Disappointed because virtually all gravy bases taste the same (and some restaurants do use the same base for ALL–fact obtained from a friend who worked in the kitchen of an Indian Restaurant in Michigan). Frustrated because they are often served in tiny portions fit for a squirrel. My frustration only magnifies when, on rare occasions, I actually like the stuff–which only makes the serving size look appropriate for a baby squirrel.

Case in point is Paneer Butter Masala (PBM for short). This is a staple in virtually any Indian restaurant. But many restaurants in US demonstrate the perfect ways to ruin it–chewy Paneer (aka stale paneer), watered down gravy with nothing but cream and tomato paste. I could go on and on. If you have ever tasted PBM in a restaurant in India, you know exactly what I am talking about. PBM is so commonly available on Indian restaurant menus, that you would have already come across it, where ever in the world you are. And quite likely you have tasted the sub-optimal one. No worries, as here I present you an easy version which is quick on time but not short on taste.

Also, the best part is you can make the base and freeze it for at least up to 3 months. Once you thaw it, all you need to do is add Paneer and cook it for 10-15 minutes. Much better option than a take-out.

What you need (makes 6-8 servings):

1 cup Cashews dry roasted

2 cups Milk (low fat or zero fat)

250 gm Paneer, cubed

4 tbsp Butter

1 tbsp Garam masala

3 tbsp Tomato paste

1 tbsp Tomato Ketchup

1/2 tsp Red Chilli Powder (or to taste)

1 tsp Salt (or to taste)

1/4 cup water, as needed

1 tsp Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves)

Pinch of hulled Pumpkin or Watermelon seeds for garnish (optional)

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How to make it:

  • Blend the Cashew nuts with 1 cup of milk, until smooth. Make sure that there are no Cashew pieces left. If needed you can strain the mix in a big meshed sieve or cheese cloth to catch any pieces. We need a silky smooth paste
  • Add Garam Masala to the blended mix and combine well
  • Heat a deep sauce pan on medium and add Butter. Once melted add the Tomato Paste and cook until the raw smell of tomatoes goes away, about 4-5 minutes
  • Add the Cashew paste to the pan and mix thoroughly
  • Add the remaining Milk, Salt, Red Chilli powder, and Tomato Ketchup and cook on simmer for 5-7 minutes
  • Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary (you don’t want to stir the gravy too much after adding Paneer). If you need thinner consistency, add a bit of water. This is the stage whee you can freeze for later use
  • Add Paneer cubes and mix gently to coat
  • Crush Kasoori Methi in your palm and add to the gravy. Gently mix to incorporate
  • Cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes
  • Garnish with Pumpkin/Watermelon seeds and serve hot with Naan or Peas Pulav

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I am an Indian and I buy Curry Powder

Curry Powder

I am an Indian and I buy Curry Powder.

There! I said it! And it is true that most of us born and raised in India on mom’s homemade food, do keep a jar of store bought Curry Powder around. My mom never did, but I do. I fully advocate its use when you are in a pinch for time; or don’t have all the ingredients called for in a recipe; or in fusion cooking. I especially love its versatility in fusion cooking such as pasta with curry sauce, curried avocado-egg salad and so on. Curry Powder, that is the store-bought kind  has a bad rap as ‘unauthentic’ and ‘flavorless as saw dust’. I kind of agree with the first and disagree with the second, although I never ate saw dust.

Firstly, yes, it may not sound authentic, especially when it is tragically substituted for any and all spices called for in ‘classic’ curries, like Chicken Tikka Masala or Dal Makhani. But yeah, sadly I have seen that happen. There is a wide spectrum of curries based on the gravy, consistency, spices used, region of origin etc. So one universal Curry Powder cannot be used with Chicken and call it, say, Chicken Tikka Masala. It is perfectly fine to call that concoction ‘Chicken Curry’, but just not Chicken Tikka Masala. Please! Doing so will naturally make Curry Powder ‘unauthentic’ and looked down upon!!

Secondly, Curry Powder is NOT flavorless. See the ingredient label—it has all the spices normally used in Indian cooking. So you CANNOT miss the heady flavor. Curry Powder is an invention for the convenience of busy cooks or new cooks.  As I said my mom never used it. It was not popularly available back then. Also, my mom had the time and patience to concoct her own Curry Powder, Rasam or Sambar powders. I do that too, and also buy Curry Powder.

I use this Curry Powder in fusion cooking to lend an Indian twist. In fact, I exclusively prefer store bought Curry Powder when I don’t like to feel the graininess of the ground spices. I tried everything from coffee grinder to heavy duty blender to food processor, but could not get my Curry Powder powdery soft. It is left with some graininess no matter what. I could sift it, but I am not willing to go with that tedious step. And some graininess or crunch is fine (actually preferred) in some specific South Indian preparations, but I definitely do not like that in fusion cuisine. I also sometimes use this in curries like Dahi Alu or Tomato curry (a la Shakshouska). With a pinch of curry powder you can instantly add a unique Indian flavor to appetizers or sides, or roasts or stews. Curried roasted root vegetables, anyone? Or how about Spinach and Heirloom tomato salad with Sweet Curry vinaigrette? Oh the possibilities, you’ve got to discover them!!

You will see that everyone’s Curry Powder is different. There is no one single formula, just as the case with Garam Masala. Curry Powder may consist of anywhere from 12 to 20 spices/ingredients. Many formulas have most of the basic ingredients, but the proportions may vary lending distinct tastes. Below you will see the primary ingredients that go into my homemade Curry Powder–they represent roughly 2/3rd of the spices in my pantry. Yes, I have some more that I would add depending on my mood.

I have the common ingredient list below, in case you want to make your own. Some ingredients are readily available, while some are exclusively available in Indian grocery stores. Proportions for all ingredients are equal except Asafoetida (or Hing as called in Hindi). It is pungent, and for many it is an acquired taste. So use sparingly! I would start with a teaspoon of each and a really tiny pinch of Asafoetida. Or you can completely omit it.

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  • Corriander (Cilantro) seeds
  • Cumin
  • Mustard
  • Fennel Seeds
  • Star Anise
  • Red Chillies
  • Black Pepper
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Chana Dal (Skinless split dried chick peas)
  • Bay Leaves
  • Mace
  • Dry Ginger Powder
  • Turmeric
  • Asafoetida (Hing)

Dry roast all except Turmeric, Ginger powder and Asafeotida in a pan on medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Stir to roast evenly. Wafting aroma is a good indicator that the spices are sufficiently roasted (color test does not work here, due to multiple colors). Let it cool and add Turmeric, Ginger powder and Asafeotida and grind it all into a fine powder. Store in an airtight jar.

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Gnocchi…with an Indian Twist

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I first met pasta about 14 years ago. And it was not love at first sight. There were no explosions or angelic music. I ate it and thought it was good, but not crave-worthy. That was until I had some addictive pastas at Bucca De Beppo (yes, it is a chain Italian restaurant in the mid-west, and I LIKE it). I was glad that I got the table in the kitchen and was enthralled by the smells and sounds. And their Ziti with spiced tomato sauce and five cheeses was out of the world. I was kicking myself for not discovering the love for pasta sooner—so much valuable time lost. But then I also realized that what got me into pasta love was the spicy sauce. Of course, I like a creamy Alfredo as much as the next person, but a little zing to the sauce red or white was all I needed to kindle my pasta love. From then there is no looking back on the pasta to-do lists and the weigh scale as a result of all those ‘discovery experiments’. I know, I know moderation and all….but all my virtues get shattered, rather easily. I heard about Gnocchi among the other 600+ types of pastas, and somehow could not find it anywhere. Popular Italian restaurants in US did not regularly have this on their menu, nor could I find it in grocery stores even those that sell fresh pasta. I was left with the option of making if from scratch or mail ordering it. None were appealing either for effort or cost. And so went the want to try Gnocchi to the bottom of the pile. And then, I found Gnocchi with Basil Pesto on the menu of an Italian restaurant in Santiago, Chile of all the places I have been to!!

But when I recently got my hands on some store-bought Gnocchi, I did not miss the chance to make something out of it. I paired it with a delectable cream sauce infused with White Wine and Curry Powder to mix things up. The verdict? I really loved the combo, although I would give this particular Gnocchi top ranks. It was a bit dense and gummy (aka store-bought). But the sauce alone kicked up the whole dish a few notches up. The flavor of White Wine married very well with Curry Powder. And the creamy base of the sauce coated the gnocchi well and held up the robust flavors. I can’t imagine how much better it would be with some fresh home-made Gnocchi…which is yet another excuse for me to make this again!

What you need (Serves 4-6):

1 pound Gnocchi (store bought or home-made)

1 cup Cream (or low-fat half and half)

¼ cup White Wine (any of your favorite)

8 Shallots (or 1 small onion) thinly sliced

12 Grape tomatoes, halved

1 Garlic crushed

¼ tsp Red Pepper flakes (or per taste/optional)

1 tsp Curry Powder

1 tbsp Butter (or Oilve Oil)

Salt to taste

Parmesan Cheese for garnish

Cilantro for garnish (optional)

 

How to make it:

  • Cook Gnocchi per instructions on the package, in salted water. Once al-dente, drain and drizzle some oil to prevent sticking.
  • In the meantime, in a wide bottom pan, add Butter (or Oilve Oil). Add crushed Garlic and Red Pepper flakes and heat on low.
  • Once Garlic starts turning golden, add Shallots (or Onions) and cook on medium heat till translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Add Curry Powder and Salt. Sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add Tomatoes and sauté for another for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add White wine and deglaze the pan. Let the liquid (mostly wine) evaporate for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add Cream or Half and Half. Stir to mix the sauce evenly. Turn off heat.
  • Plate Gnocchi and pour the sauce on top of it.
  • Garnish with Parmesan Cheese and Cilantro. Pair it with your favorite White wine.

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Posted in Fusion, International, Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Palak Pakoda (Spinach Fritters)

IMG_3206-2If you want something crunchy, spicy, satisfying and healthy (?) appetizer or snack in a jiffy—this is it. Palak Pakoda, aka Spinach Fritters. I believe this is a perfect way to initiate Spinach haters into Spinach lover’s world. I know, I know, ‘healthy’ part of it is debatable. It is a fried snack after all. But it has Spinach in it. Do they outweigh each other? I like to believe they do.

If you are in the ‘fried foods are unhealthy’ camp, pause a second before you dismiss it. Although fried, Palak Pakoda does not soak up much oil. How do I know? I measured the oil level before and after in the frying pan and they are almost the same. Very scientific! Of course I don’t make these too often—more like once in a month indulgence. They are way too addictive and my self-control is out of the window when these are around. But Palak Pakoda always on the top of my list of super quick snacks. And this article bolsters my belief in fried foods.

Classic Pakodas are made with Onions. But Spinach Pakodas are as popular as Onion pakodas. They are quicker and easier to prepare because you don’t have to tear up, as you would while chopping onions. It is even simpler if you are using pre-washed Spinach. Just open the bag, rough chop and mix in the flour. I also make Cabbage Pakodas, with finely shredded Cabbage. Although I have not tried, Pakodas can be made with other greens too. That would be one tasty project!

What you need:

4 cups Spinach (approximately)

1 cup of Besan (Chickpea flour)

1 tsp Salt, or to taste

1 tsp Red Chilli powder

1/4 tsp Garam Masala

1-2 Green Chillis, finely chopped (optional)

2 tbsp Rice flour (optional)

2 tbsp of Water (approximate)

Oil for deep frying

How to make it:

• In a deep skillet, add oil to reach about 2 inches deep in the pan. Heat it on medium.

• In the meantime, rough chop the Spinach and put in a large mixing bowl.

• Add Chickpea flour along with Salt, Red Chilli Powder, Green chilli, if using, and Garam Masala.

• If you are using Rice Flour, add it now. It provides additional crunch.

• Sprinkle 2 tbsp of water and mix the Spinach and Besan until well coated. There should be good amount of Spinach showing through. See below picture of raw batter. If needed, add a bit more water. The mix should be of the consistency that you can pick some up with your fingers—neither runny nor fall-apart dry.

• Pick some batter with your fingers and drop it in hot oil.

• Fry the batch until batter turns into golden color, about 4-5 minutes. Spinach cooks in no time. It’s the flour that should be cooked through.

• Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

• Serve immediately as-is or with Mint Chutney or Tamarind Chutney.

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Mint Chutney

Mint ChutneyI have to admit that I pride myself as detail-oriented. But I can so grossly overlook some things. Case in point is Mint Chutney. I make this chutney at least once a week in summer months when Mint is abundant. I use it as a dip for snacks like Samosas or Pakodas, Carrots, Cucumber or Zucchini cut up into sticks. I thin it out a bit and drizzle it over Chaat, another mouth-watering Indian snack. I swirl a spoonful into lentil soups to wake up the flavors. I add it to Raita for a summery twist. I once even added extra virgin olive oil to leftover chutney to work it as a dressing for cold pasta salad. It is also my go to dressing for Chickpea salad. I also use to as a spread on bread along with other sandwich stuffings to make one of a kind sandwich. With so many uses, what is not to love?

But lately when I received a few requests asking how to make it, I felt ashamed that it had not occurred to me to post it until then. Promptly I smacked myself and set out to write it down. The recipe I have here is very generous to substitutions and alterations, as long as the main ingredient is Mint. I used Almonds to give it body, but you can use same amount of Cashews or Peanuts if desired. Or maybe even Pine nuts? The recipe calls for Pomegranate seeds for a sour note, but you can substitute perfectly with a tablespoon of lemon juice. The chilies are optional if you want some heat, but do not skip Ginger and Garlic. I use Cilantro leaves to add more body as well as to make it ‘less Minty’. But feel free to use all Mint if you want a bold flavor or if you hate Cilantro. So here it goes…

Mint

What do you need (makes enough to serve 8-10 as a dip):

2 cups of loosely packed Mint leaves

1 cup loosely packed Cilantro leaves

1 tbsp Cumin seeds

1 tsp Pomegranate seeds powder (or 1 tbsp lemon juice)

2 Green chilies

1 Garlic clove

1/2 inch piece of Ginger

6 Almonds or Cashews (or 10-12 peanuts)

2 tbsp of Water

1/2 tsp Salt or to taste

 

How to make it:

  • Roast the Cumin seeds in a microwave for about 45 seconds (times may vary), until their aroma wafts around
  • Add all ingredients including Cumin seeds in a blender jar and blend until smooth. You may have to scrape sides a few times.
  • Check taste and adjust seasonings as required
  • Serve or freeze in a Ziploc bag. Thaw in warm water as necessary.

More Mint

Posted in International, Snack, Vegetarian | 4 Comments

Alu Gobi Sukha Subzi (Potato & Cauliflower Dry Curry)

IMG_0624-2Alu Gobi is the ubiquitous vegetarian dish of Potatoes and Cauliflower you will find in India everywhere. Literally everywhere from road side Dhabas to high-end restaurants catering to international clientele. It is made from affordable everyday ingredients, but still shines as the epitome of Indian cuisine—which is predominantly vegetarian, affordable, freshly made and multi-flavored.

I have fond memories of Alu Gobi from college days. Occasionally a bunch of us would skip classes for movies, and on the way grab a bite at the Dhaba. Loosely speaking Dhabas are off-the-highway eateries in India. They are very simple. Usually a shack with a kitchen and some tables and chairs under a shady tree or a straw thatch. I never had an opinion on what movie we should watch, as I did not much care about them then (and now). But I was an active participant in deciding where to eat. That was my agenda in the game anyway. Inevitably Alu Gobi was always on the order. Somehow it always tasted so much better at the Dhaba than at fine restaurants. Maybe it’s the simplicity, or the excitement of spending the rest of the day care-free with friends. I cannot quite put my finger on it. Neither could I replicate the euphoria I used to have when eating this. But the recipe I have here takes me the closest to those days.

Although I make this frequently for my family as well as for entertaining, it was different this time because of an extra ingredient–Pomegranate seeds powder, that took this dish to a whole new level. May I say, to the Dhaba level 😉 If you have ever eaten at a Dhaba in India, it will surely transport you back. If you didn’t, well this will take you there now. Give it a try.

What you need (Serves 6):
4 cups of bite-sized Cauliflower florets
2 medium sized Potatoes cubed to bite-size
1 medium Onion
2 medium tomatoes
2 Green chillies, slit
2 Cloves
1/2 inch Cinnamon
1 Cardamom
1/2 inch piece of Ginger
2 Garlic cloves
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Red Chilli powder (or more if desired)
1/2 tsp Pomegranate powder (available in Indian stores) or 1 tbsp of Lemon juice
2-3 tbsp Oil
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish
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How to make it:

  • Cut the Onion into quarters and pulse in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop it (almost to a mince)
  • Cut the tomatoes into quarters and add them to the processor and pulse a few more times  along with the onions. You will have the onion-tomato mix at the consistency shown in the picture.
  • Heat oil in a wide and shallow pan on medium heat
  • Add the slit Green Chillies and Onion-Tomato mix to the pan and saute until soft
  • Crush the Ginger and Garlic along with Cloves, Cinnamon and Cardamom in a mortar and pestle. You can leave the Cardamom skin on, it adds more flavor as it cooks
  • Add Ginger-Garlic paste, Turmeric, Salt and Red Chilli powder to the pan and continue sauteing
  • Add Potato cubes and cook covered for 3-4 minutes until they are just about done.
  • Add Cauliflower florets and cook covered for another 3-4 minutes. Cauliflower cooks much faster than potatoes. So adding them later will ensure that they are just cooked like potatoes and still retain their shape.
  • Add the Pomegranate powder. If using Lemon juice add it after the heat is turned off.
  • Check and adjust seasonings as desired
  • Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro. Serve with Naan or Rotis or lightly seasoned rice.

Note: This is a ‘sukha-subzi’, meaning dry-curry. Hence no water/liquid is added. But if you prefer, you may add a couple of tablespoons of water to soften the vegetables. It will not take anything away from the taste.

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Posted in Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , | 3 Comments