Friday, October 17, 2014

Healthy Couscous Salad



For the past month, I have been forced to take a hard look at my lifestyle choices. It's not that I haven't been keeping an eye on my sugar and fat intake all these years. But being the foodie that I am, it is easy to get distracted by a new restaurant, or yet another fabulous dessert. Alas, those options are starting to look like a distant pipedream.

But instead of giving up on eating out and exciting foods, here's what I am doing - being sensible! Yes, I order fewer milkshakes and lots more glasses of sparkling water with lime. But I am also creating some exciting new salads and soups and healthy dishes. This is one of those new experiments that make me almost excited about eating healthy.

The base of this salad is pearl couscous (also called Israeli couscous). Now that I am counting calories, I measured out 2 tbsp. of dried pasta and cooked it as per package directions. To the cooked, drained and now fluffy couscous grains, I added a handful of cooked chickpeas. I usually have cooked chickpeas hanging out in the fridge because I make hummus so often but this is a flexible salad, so you can add any canned or cooked beans you have handy.

This is also a season when all kinds of heirloom tomato varieties show up and one of them - the black tomatoes - were perfect additions to this salad. For flavour pickup, I added leaves of thai basil. Then instead of an oil heavy dressing, I sprinkled sea salt, pepper and sumac on the salad, then doused the whole thing with balsamic vinegar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Making of a Caramel Macchiato



Now that I have perfected the art of making an espresso at home, I've been dabbling in fancier drinks. Starting with the one drink I always order at Starbucks - a caramel macchiato. At Starbucks, this is a layered drink that starts with a shot of vanilla syrup. They then fill the mug with hot steamed milk, add a shot of espresso and top with a drizzle of caramel.

The starting point of making this drink at home is the caramel drizzle. I used to be scared of making caramel but with this super easy sauce, I can make caramel in my sleep, with no thermometer whatsoever. You can make the drizzle as much as a week in advance but if you are anything like me, you will go back and eat it all by the spoonful so make it the same day or the day before at the earliest. If you want a professional drizzle, put the caramel sauce in a squeeze bottle while it's still warm. You can also forget all of the above and buy a bottle of caramel if burning sugar at home scares you.

Next step is to make an espresso. At the same time as my espresso was brewing on the stove, I put a cup of milk in a saucepan and put it on the stove to warm. When the milk started to simmer, I turned off the heat and used my milk foamer to make foamy steamed milk (its like a stick blender and works like magic with warm milk). Finally, since I was lacking in vanilla syrup, I took a tsp of vanilla essence and added it to the milk.

First went the vanilla milk in the cup. Then I poured a shot of espresso into the cup, trying to keep as much of the foam intact as I could. You need this foam of course to hold the caramel drizzle. As you can see, I did not have the presence of mind to use a squeeze bottle and drizzled the sauce with a spoon. So not as pretty as a Starbucks drink but it tasted pretty much the same. Much better in fact, because I used my favourite coffee beans.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stuffed Garlic Bread


A few years back, I successfully recreated Domino's garlic bread at home. Since then, several people have written to me saying they tried baking the bread and loved it. So when Domino's launched a new version that has become my favourite, I felt it's about time to recreate that one too.

The stuffed garlic bread at Domino's comes filled with cheese, corn and jalapenos (and that's why I made these pickled jalapenos). But the basic bread recipes remains the same. So first off, heat 1/2 cup water until it's warm but not hot. You can do it on the stovetop or microwave it for 15-20 seconds. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast and let proof for 5 minutes. By this time, the yeast will be bubbling. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and a cup of plain flour. Stir everything together until the flour is all blended in, then cover and let rise until doubled.

Once the dough has doubled in volume, add another 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Knead for around 5 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Resist the temptation to add more flour as you knead it, you want the dough to be quite wet. Move the dough to a new container and let it rise again until doubled.

After about 40 minutes, preheat your oven to as high as it goes. Lightly flour your counter and roll out the dough into a circle as thin as you can. Grate cheddar cheese (or what commonly sells as pizza cheese) and spread about 1/2 cup evenly over one half of the rolled dough, leaving at least 1/2 inch border cheese-free. Sprinkle 1/4 cup boiled corn kernels over the cheese and add 5-6 jalapeno rings. Fold the other half over the cheese stuffing and press the ends to create a closed pocket.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush the paper with olive oil. Transfer the garlic bread to this parchment lined baking sheet. Brush olive oil on top and cut into strips with a pizza cutter. Bake until browned on top, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with dried oregano just as it comes out of the oven. Wait a few minutes before eating as the cheese filling will be very hot.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Quick Pickled Jalapeños



Even though I am not a big fan of chilli, I like the mildly spicy, tangy flavour of pickled jalapeños. But have you ever tried buying a jar of those. The last couple of jars I bought, the jalapeños were several months old and kinda mushy. Plus every commercial pickle out there has some added sugar and I was looking for something with just salt and vinegar so I decided to make my own.

Most recipes I found on the net had sugar, but I finally settled on this quick and easy recipe by Valerie. As this happens to be my first pickling experiment, I started with only 3 jalapenos. The first step is to cut these chillis. Wash and wipe the jalapenos. Then chop the stem off and slice into thin rings. Make sure to wash the knife and your hands right after. And whatever you do, don't touch your face or eyes while you are chopping.

Put the jalapenos aside and mix up your pickling liquid. Mix 1/2 cup water with 1/4 cup vinegar. I used normal white vinegar but you can use rice vinegar or white wine vinegar as Valerie suggests. To this, add 1/2 tbsp. salt, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds and a peeled clove of garlic. Stir until the salt dissolves. Pack the jalapenos into a glass jar (and wash your hands again! with soap!). Pour over the liquid to cover the jalapeno rings and pop into the fridge.

I made this 3-4 days back. The jalapenos were ready to eat after 24 hours but the flavours are much better after a couple of days. These aren't your traditional canned goods so I am not sure how long they will last in the fridge. My batch is small enough that I expect them to be gone in a couple of weeks.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Espresso



Fifteen years back, when the first chain of coffee shops opened in India, customers were understandably puzzled by the espresso that showed up on the menus. Until then, expresso (notice the different spelling) referred to a small, drum like machine that spewed out foamy, milky Nescafe coffees. Expresso stalls were de rigueur at weddings and in winters in Northern India, you could pick a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee in neighbourhood markets.

Espresso on the other hand is everything that's good with Italian coffee. By forcing a small amount of water with a lot of pressure through ground coffee beans, you get deep, dark coffee flavours crowned with a lighter foam called crema. Making good espresso requires a combination of sophisticated equipment and barista skills, which means that it remains a drink more suited for cafes than home brewing.

I am firmly in the sweet, milky coffee camp so while I don't relish espresso per se, I am a big fan of cappuccinos and lattes that are based on a good espresso. Now home espresso machines abound but they are never going to match the café quality. Instead, the way to get good espresso at home is something much simpler - a stovetop moka pot. The process is no harder than making a filter coffee. The moka pot comes in three parts. You fill the bottom container with water, fix the little perforated disc and fill it with coffee and finally, fix the top container and put the pot back together. This goes on the stove on a medium flame and five minutes later, the top container is filled with coffee.

My moka pot was crafted by Bialetti and it made the trek all the way from Italy to US and then through a friend visiting India, to all the way home. Before I could get that coffee though, and before you make your first cup of espresso with a moka pot, there is seasoning to do. To take the edge off fresh metal that will make the espresso bitter, you make 4-5 fake cups of coffee. I mean, they are real cups of coffee, except you don't drink them. Make, throw, rinse, repeat for the first four times and the fifth cup of espresso is all yours. You don't get much of a crema but the espresso compares with the best out there.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Memories of a Risotto




Goa is a funny place. With so many beaches and resorts, you would think it would be all calm and serene. But every time I head out there, I find myself in the middle of one big party. Now I'm usually the one to tag along with the group to whichever nightlife spot they are headed to, but I find it much harder to find food I can enjoy. After all, all the beach shacks are equipped to cook and sell seafood and a vegetarian dish is a rarity in Goan cuisine. So on one of the trips to Goa, I found myself in an Italian restaurant called Italie, just down the road from Baga Beach (it's now closed and has been replaced with a Russian restaurant). The hour was late, I was hungry and a tomato risotto seemed like a logical choice. It was the kind of comfort food that lingers in your memory long after you are back from the trip and finally, last night, I decided to recreate it.


The starting point was the tomato sauce I made a few days back. In addition to measuring out half a cup of tomato sauce, I defrosted a cup and a half of mushroom stock (but water will do if you don't have any stock at hand). I also roughly chopped 7-8 pitted olives and cut about 50 grams of mozzarella into cubes.


First step, heat the stock or water in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and leave it to simmer. In another pan, heat a tbsp. of  olive oil. Add 1/2 cup Arborio rice and stir until the oil coats the rice. Now add the tomato sauce and mix well with the rice. Next, add enough stock to cover the rice. In a few minutes, once some of the stock has evaporated and you can see the rice again, add more stock. Keep adding the stock gradually until the rice is cooked though but still has a bite to it. Add the olives and the cubed cheese and let cook for another couple of minutes. Top with parmesan cheese when serving.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pao Bhaji Toasties



There is a new trend in Mumbai restaurants. Everyone is reinventing street food, putting their own twists and turns on age old favourites. "The Spare Kitchen" serves a Chowpatty platter that has some beautifully presented vada pao, bhelpuri and pani puri shots. "Masala Library" is putting a molecular twist on sev puri. My favourite reinventions so far are in the Juhu open air pub - Copa. Their ragda pattice redux is delicious and I have become a big fan of their pao bhaji toasties. But delicious as they are, these toasties come slathered with a huge quantity of butter so I tried making a healthier, yet equally delicious version at home.

First, you make pao bhaji. Next, you take two slices of whole wheat or multi grain bread. I am using a ciabatta here. Apply ghee or butter on one side of both slices of bread, as sparsely as you can. Spread a layer of pao bhaji on the unbuttered side of one of the bread slices. Next, grab a handful of arugula and cut it into thin strips with scissors. Arrange on the pao bhaji. Also take a small onion and dice it into small pieces. Sprinkle the onion all over the pao bhaji/arugula. Now if it was a real pao bhaji, you will add some lime juice before you eat it. In this case, grab a tsp of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle it over your sandwich. Top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

You can toast this in a Panini grill if you have one. If you don't (like me), what you do is heat up a flat griddle - a tawa - and reduce the heat to very low. Put your sandwich on the griddle and cover with a plate or a lid, pressing down a bit. A couple of minutes later, flip and cook the other side. Repeat until both sides are crisp and browned.

I serve this with some more arugula, parmesan and even more balsamic poured on the salad.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Holy Grail Tomato Sauce



A good tomato sauce is really handy to have around. It's obviously great for mixing in pastas and topping pizzas but once you have a batch in the fridge, you will be surprised at how many other uses come up. Like sandwiches, or eggs, or even a quick sauté of vegetables. I have come across many tomato sauce recipes in my life. And on at least three occasions, I have proclaimed a particular recipe to be the best so far. But this particular tomato sauce beats all of those hands down. In fact, this is so good that you should make it right now.

Start off with 4-6 tomatoes. Wash them and cut them into quarters. With a paring knife, take out the seeds - try and get as many as you can but don't kill yourself trying to get to every last seed. Also grab 3-4 cloves of garlic and peel them. Heat a non stick pan that is large enough to hold the tomatoes in a single layer. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the pan and swirl it around so it coats the base. Arrange the tomatoes on the pan and also throw in the peeled garlic. When the tomatoes start to char, turn them around one at a time and cook the other side as well until you see black roast marks on all your tomato pieces.

Let the tomatoes cool a bit, then take the skins off - at this stage, you don't really need to peel them. Just grab one end and the skin will skip right off. Pop the tomatoes and the garlic in a blender. To add to the tomato flavour, add 2 tbsp. of tomato paste/puree. Also add in a tsp of dried oregano and another tsp of dried basil, a swig (possibly a tbsp. but I didn't measure) of rice wine vinegar and salt to taste. Blend everything until it is of a consistency you like.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cute as a Button




I am not a big fan of peppers. But walking down the vegetable market last week, I saw this guy with a basket full of small chilli peppers. On second glance, they turned out to be not chillies but miniature versions of bell peppers. And they looked too cute to pass up so I bought myself a mixed bag of red and yellow peppers. Without any idea whatsoever on what to make of them.


Since the peppers were really tiny, I thought I'd keep them whole and bake them. So first off, I washed the peppers and cut the tops off. Using a small knife, I removed the seeds and hollowed out the peppers. I then brushed the outside of the peppers with olive oil. Next up - the stuffing. It's made by mixing up 1/4 cup paneer (you can also use ricotta) and 1/4 cup grated cheddar. To the cheese mix, I added fresh ground pepper and a generous helping of dry oregano. You should check the mix at this stage to see if it needs any salt. You will need only a tiny amount of filling for each pepper - use a small spoon to press it in to make sure if reaches all the little nooks and cranies.


I arranged the stuffed peppers on a non-stick baking sheet and let bake at 200C until the peppers were soft and the cheese was all melted and gooey. They make a great appetizer but be careful when eating them straight off the oven - best to let them cool off a bit first!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Peaches and Cream



June is my favourite month to live in Bombay. That's when all the stone fruits show up at the same time. So whether you like eating fruits as is or baking them into pies and crumbles, you are spoilt for choice with plums, peaches, cherries, litchis and apricots. This year, with the monsoons getting delayed, we are getting all the goodies right into July. And the weather's just perfect to turn them into warm crumbles.

One trouble I've had with baking crumbles in the past has been all the liquid in the fruit that seeps up and makes the crust soggy. So I decided to try this new experiment. I baked the fruit and the crumble layers separately.

For the peach layer, select 2 ripe peaches. Heat half a saucepan of water until it is boiling. Pop the peaches in water for about 15-20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and use a knife to peel the skin. It should slip off nicely. Cut the peeled peaches into half, remove the stone and dice into small cubes. Put the peaches in an ovenproof dish and add 2 tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

In another bowl, mix 1/2 cup oats, 1/3 cup plain flour, 1/3 cup sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Cut 40 grams butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the crumble topping on the tray in a thin, even layer.

Heat the oven to 180C. Bake both the peaches and the crumble topping in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble topping is a golden brown in colour. You may have to stir the crumble topping once midway to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To serve, fill 1/3rd a glass or ramekin with peaches. Sprinkle crumble topping to come upto 2/3rd of the glass. You can then top off with whipped cream but I was in a healthy mood and went with a dollop of greek yogurt instead.