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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beetroot Risotto


I often take cooking inspiration from restaurant dishes. Sometimes I eat a great dish and instantly find a way to recreate it at home. Other times, the memory stays at the back of my head for months until I find the right way to cook that meal again. One such memory was a beetroot risotto I ate at Heston's The Fat Duck. In true mad science way, Heston's risotto is covered with a radish carpaccio and topped with beet chips and frozen sour cream pellets. I knew I would never replicate that, but I wanted to bring the deep pink of a beet to my risotto.

For my take on the beet risotto, I first peeled a small beet and roughly chopped it in cubes. Boiled it until it was cooked through. This cooked beet went into a blender alongwith a cup of water, a hearty pinch of salt and a handful of fresh thyme leaves. Once everything was combined into a thick puree, I added another 1 1/2 cups of water to create a thin beet stock. Since the stock needs to be warm while you are cooking risotto, I poured the stock into a saucepan and set it to simmer.

In another pan, I heated a tbsp. of olive oil. In went half a cup of Arborio rice, which I stirred around until the rice was coated with oil. A couple of minutes later, I added a glug of red wine and when this evaporated, enough beet stock to cover the rice. From here on, you add stock gradually whenever the earlier addition looks like it's about to evaporate. Keep adding more stock until the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it. At this point, take the risotto off the heat and stir in a tbsp. of butter and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

I topped the risotto with some crumbled goat's cheese. At this point, I felt that my dish needed some crunch. Roasted walnuts would have been great but I didn't have any on hand. What I did have were some roasted fava beans and I crushed and sprinkled them on for effect. Which turned out to be a brilliant move, the crisp beans forming a perfect pairing with the creamy risotto and cheese.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Food Challenge from Home




One of the most fun things about the blogging world is all the contests and challenges that only blogging insiders know about and participate in. Back when I was a more enthusiastic blogger, I’ve participated in everything from microwave cooking challenges to the very scary daring bakers. For a while, I even ran a challenge of my own. But somewhere along the line, I got lazy and it’s been more than a few months that I have cooked for a challenge, let alone hosted one.

One of my favourites, back when I used to do these events, was the Indian Cooking Challenge run by my oldest friend in the blogging world – Srivalli. I’ve contributed my mum’s recipes for a couple of challenges in the past. Then, last month, Srivalli decided to throw a challenge of her own that comes all the way from home. It was Amritsari Kulcha and lazy or not, this is one challenge I was determined to participate in. So even though it’s a month late, I did create the Amritsari Kulchas.

Kulchas are stuffed flatbreads made with plain flour rather than the whole wheat flour that goes into other Indian breads. They come stuffed with potatoes and loaded with tons of butter, and are cooked in our version of the oven – the tandoor – rather than on a flat griddle. In Amritsar, kulchas are both a mealtime favourite and a much loved tradition so I was quite curious to try out Srivalli’s version of the recipe.

Srivalli’s recipe for the dough, with both baking powder and baking soda, felt unfamiliar but she said this gives a really soft dough so I went along with it. For the filling though, I stuck to my mom’s potato stuffing as that’s the one recipe I’ve seen her make all my life and that's the only one that works for me. I cooked the kulcha, just like Srivalli did, in a pan rather than a tandoor. And just as promised, the kulchas were real soft and puffed beautifully.

So were they as good as the kulchas sold in Amritsar. Hard to say – they were softer and the ones I am used to are crisp and crackly. And I find myself favoring the tastes and textures I grew up with in such instances. They made for a wonderful lunch though!



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Greek Goddess Dip



One of my favourite pastimes is walking down supermarket aisles, just exploring the foods and flavours you can cook with. A special favourite of mine is recently opened Foodhall in Lower Parel's Pheonix Mills. The name is clearly borrowed from Harrods and just like its London counterpart, Foodhall boasts of hard to find, delicious goodies from around the world.

They also have in house chefs who bake and cook stuff you can take away. I always try the new things they have out to taste. On last trip, I encountered something called the greek goddess dip. I instantly liked the tangy, salty blend of flavours. The chef, who was standing right there with his creations, listed out some of the ingredients that went into the dip. It's taken me a couple of weeks and a few tries but I finally have something fairly close to what they make at Foodhall.

You need Greek yogurt for this (hence the name) but since you can't find it easily in India, put a cup of normal curd in a cheescloth and hang over a bowl until the water drains off. Scrape out the thick yogurt into a bowl. Add 100 grams of feta cheese and with a fork, mix the two together until you have a smooth mix. Add juice of half a lime to up the tanginess. Take a large handful of cilantro leaves and chop finely, then mix those in as well. There is no need to add any salt since feta has enough of it already but some freshly ground pepper will be a nice addition.

I love this with crunchy lavash but you can also go for healthier options and serve this alongside carrots and cucumber sticks.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Perfect Hummus




One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was on how to make hummus. Six years on, nothing much has changed. Hummus paired with pita bread or with crispy lavash remains my favourite snack. Add a salad or a couple of falafels and we're talking about a regular dinnertime occurence.

One thing has changed though. Tahini, the sesame seed paste essential to hummus recipes, was impossible to find in India then so I wrote of a makeshift recipe. Middle Eastern foods have since become much easier to source so it's high time we talked about a proper hummus recipe.

At least 12 hours before you make hummus (usually the night before), soak 1/3 cup chickpeas in 2 cups of water. The next morning, boil chickpeas in a pressure cooker until they are very soft. You should have around a cup of cooked chickpeas. Put them in a blender alongwith 3 cloves of peeled and minced garlic, 2 tbsp tahini paste, 1 tsp lime juice (half a lime should do), 2 tbsp olive oil and a hearty pinch of salt. Blend into a smooth paste. Taste and add more olive oil or lemon or salt until you get a perfect tasting hummus.

Scrape into a bowl, pour some more olive oil on top and if you like, sprinkle with sumac.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chips and Dips




The other day, I was making a list of my favourite comfort foods. It surprised me to see how many of those involved a crunchy carb paired with something soft and gooey. In short, a chip and a dip. So in this brand new series, let's talk about my favourite chip and dip pairings.

The top of this list will always be guacamole. In London, I made many a meal of nachos and guacamole, on other days it was potato chips and guac. I even had this farmer in borough market who would sell a whole basket of avocados for a pound, thus ensuring a whole week of guacamole meals.

Good avocados are harder to find in mumbai but I never pass one by. So whether you are an old fan or someone who is yet to be converted, go look for ripe avocados and make yourself a batch.

The only secret to good guacamole is good avocados. When shopping, look for the ones that are soft when pressed. The hard ones take weeks to ripen and some never do.
Before you cut open your avocado, get all your ingredients ready. For each avocado, finely chop a small onion. Tear leafs off 4-5 sprigs of cilantro and chop those too. Juice half a lemon. I don't eat chilli but it's traditional to add finely minced jalepeno chilli to guacamole and you should probably do that.

Now back to the avocado. Split it in half, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh. Pour lemon juice immediately to prevent any darkening. Mash the avocado roughly, then add all the other ingredients plus a pinch of salt and mix well. I prefer to leave it chunky but you can mash it even finer if that's your preference.

All done now, so grab that bag of nachos. A word of warning - guacamole will get dark if you leave it lying around so only make as much as you are likely to eat in the next hour or so.