Category Archives: Food

Seafood Gumbo

My first attempt at making a seafood gumbo was by and large successful. I didn’t follow a particular recipe but had many good suggestions from the wonderful commenters  at Balloon juice, especially raven, lamh and NotMax.  I made the gumbo  with crawfish, mussels and shrimp. It was nutritious and delicious.  Though my food photography needs some work,  this gives you an idea of  what the final product looked like.  I served it with long grain white rice on the side and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

gumbo

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Sweet and Sour Summer Drink with Green Mangoes

On a hot summer day, there is nothing  quite as refreshing as an ice-cold beverage that hits both sweet and sour notes. There is the basic lemonade and its variants, of course.   In the land of perpetual heat and sun that is coastal Maharashtra, in addition to the lemonade, or nimboo pani, there is punhe’.

Punhe’ is a special summer time treat  made with unripe green mangoes available only in March and April.   Green mangoes are also used as a souring agent like tamarind or lime.  I drank punhe’ in copious amounts in my futile attempts to keep cool in the heat of May.  Recipe below the fold:

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Punhe’ Read the rest of this entry

An Ode to the Bounty of Summer-Hapoos Mangoes

Its been just two weeks since I came back from India.  However, the arrival of summer-like temperatures  is making me nostalgic about my trip. Before the monsoon arrives in early June, Bombay  is enveloped by punishing heat and  oppressive humidity.  The hardy souls who venture where angels fear to tread are rewarded by the seasonal bounty of ripe Hapoos mangoes.   In my biased opinion, they are the  best tasting mangoes in the world.

When ripe, they are a bright reddish orange.  When you bite into it, the mango has a velvety texture that melts in your mouth but it’s the heady sweet bouquet of ripening mangoes that draws you in, in the first place.

When I was in India I ate a Hapoos mango almost everyday, sometimes twice in a single day. I ate it by itself, in yogurt, juiced (aamras), with clotted cream, in an ice-cream and in kulfi.  If you have never tasted Hapoos, you should put it on your bucket list.  The Hapoos season is brief, late April until the arrival of the monsoon. There is no real substitute for the Hapoos but  Ataulfo mangoes are somewhat similar.

To welcome summer, I am going to post recipes using mangoes in the next few days.  I am starting with a recipe for mango lassi. If you have any specific requests email me or leave it in the comments below.

A Green mango on a tree, in my friend’s garden in Lonavla.

Mango Lassi

Ingredients

2 cups frozen or fresh ripe mangoes (I use the frozen mangoes from Trader Joe)

2 cups nonfat or 2% yogurt

2 tbsp sugar (more if you want the lassi to be sweeter)

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

If using frozen mangoes, thaw them.  I usually add the sugar and the salt when I am thawing the mangoes.  If you have never diced a fresh mango, there are step by step instructions here. Use a blender to blend everything together.  Serve chilled. You can add some fresh mint or basil  for  a variation.  You can also leave out the grated nutmeg and cardamom if you don’t have them at hand.

Karanjis, Turnovers with Coconut Filling

Ring in the end of the year with a sweet treat. These little flaky baked empanada look-alikes are filled with a sweet coconutty goodness. My mother’s karanjis are my favorite sweet Diwali treat. Although, Diwali celebrations are long since over it is never too late to make karanjis.

Now for the recipe, my mother doesn’t believe in writing down her recipes and even when she does write down her recipes her instructions are extremely vague as she does not use measuring cups or spoons but cooks by instinct. So it is a challenge to recreate her recipes. This is my attempt at reverse engineering her recipe for karanjis.  After several attempts spread over many years, I think I have finally nailed it this year. This is not the traditional recipe. I have made many changes to speed up things and lighten calorie content but the end result is just as delicious. Even so, this is not the easiest or the quickest or the lightest recipe in the world but it is well worth the effort. I make the dough at least a day before and keep it in the fridge. You can also make the filling ahead of time, up to a week before is fine too. So you can break up the process over several days. Karanjis are meant to be eaten as snacks like cookies, although they make a great after dinner dessert with some coffee.

karanji

 

The Dough

My mother’s recipe for the dough was very similar to the classic puff pastry dough recipe, although she used shortening instead of butter. Until this year I was too timid to make the dough from scratch, so I have experimented with store brought puff pastry dough and pie dough. This year I decided to make the dough myself and it was a modified pie dough recipe. The recipe was inspired by America’s Test Kitchen’s pie dough recipe, but uses less butter.

Pie-Dough Recipe (makes 24 karanjis)

2 cups unbleached sifted all-purpose flour

1 stick of butter (kept in the freezer for a few hours before making the dough)

2 tablespoons vodka

4 tablespoons ice-cold water

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

First cut the stick of butter into small pieces; then add all the ingredients to my food processor. Slowly add the water and then the vodka till the dough comes together. Wrap it in plastic wrap till you are ready to work with it.

Filling

It’s the filling that makes these special. The original recipe starts with fresh coconut. Processing fresh coconut is not an easy task so I usually rehydrate unsweetened coconut flakes, which you can usually find at either an Indian grocery store or a natural foods store. You can also use fresh grated coconut in the freezer case if available. Under any circumstances do not use the overly sweetened coconut flakes from the baking aisle. To add sweetness to the coconut flakes you will need unrefined raw cane sugar chunks called jaggery. These chunks are what make the filling unique. You can find them in your Indian grocery store. I have substituted jaggery with a mix of maple syrup and honey and that was quite good, a couple of years ago when I could not find jaggery. You also need fresh nutmeg, slivered almonds, golden raisins and cardamoms.

Recipe for the Filling (makes 48 karanjis)

8 oz. dried coconut flakes

1 pound of jaggery

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup slivered almonds

2 cups hot boiling water

4 cardamom pods

2 teaspoons canola oil

Pinch of salt

½ cup water at room temperature

1. Add water to the dried coconut flakes, set aside for a couple of hours to reconstitute the coconut flakes.

2. Break the lump of jaggery into smaller lumps using a chef’s knife and then pulse them in a food processor.

3. Grate the nutmeg, remove the cardamom from the pods and process in a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee grinder that you only use for spices.

4. Use a heavy bottomed skillet or saucepan for this step.

5. Add the oil to the pan.

6. Add the processed jaggery and the reconstituted flakes sprinkle some water, mix well.

7. Add raisins and the slivered almonds.

8. Add nutmeg and powdered cardamom.

9. Add a pinch of salt.

10. Cook until the coconut mixture attains a light golden brown color, this will take about half an hour to 40 min. This step requires a lot of patience; you can sprinkle some water or add a little melted butter to prevent sticking and the mixture catching at the bottom.

Baking

You can either make little empanadas; this is the way karanjis are shaped traditionally. Or you can make tiny pies or tartlets, using a mini muffin pan. You will need to adjust your baking time accordingly. To make the empanada shape, roll out tiny circles of about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. This will support a tablespoon of the filling. The recipe for the pie dough included above makes 24 karanjis.

1. Preheat the oven to 450F

2. Roll out 24 discs and add a tablespoon of filling to the bottom half of the disc. Fold the top half over the bottom half. Repeat with all 24 discs. Crimp the edges with the back of a fork

3. Arrange on a cookie sheet, don’t overcrowd.

4. Bake between 12 and 18 minutes, till the crust is crisp and golden brown.

5. Cool on a cooling rack.

6. Store in a container with tight fitting lid. Karanjis will keep at room temperature for at least a couple of weeks, if they are not long gone before then.

I made 24 karanjis for Diwali and another batch of 24 for Christmas, the coconut filling will keep for a month in your fridge.

Michelada with Rock Salt Rocks

My take on the Mexican cocktail with beer.  Easy and a delicious way to spice up not so hot beer.   For one serving you will need,

Ingredients

1. 8 oz. Beer

2.  4 oz. Coke

3.  1/4 teaspoon rock salt *

4.  1/4 teaspoon soy sauce

5.    1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

6.   1/4 lime preferably key lime

The beer and the Coke should be chilled. Mix all the ingredients, enjoy.  Add ice if you want.

Variations:  I have replaced the Coke with Coke Zero,  if I do that  I also add about a tea spoon of sugar to the mix.  Root beer is not traditional but works as well.  I have tried this drink with Corona, Dos Equis and Sol but any lager should work.

*I usually get my rock salt from the International Grocery store in my neighborhood. It comes in chunks which you will need to grind.  You can go low tech with a mortar and pestle or high tech with a coffee grinder.  Rock salt is great in a spicy lemonade or on chunks of fruit such as pineapple.  This rock salt comes from India and is  of a dark pinkish hue.

ETA:  Now that I think of it Sol worked better than Dos Equis.  Moral of the story, milder the beer the better Michelada will taste.

Happy Thanksgiving

Lend a Hand at Thanksgiving - Inspiration Line

Had a low key Thanksgiving dinner for two.  Turkey breast with roasted vegetables and herb butter, stuffing, green beans with lemon mustard dressing, cranberry sauce with whole cranberries and butternut squash custard.  The breast was moist and tender, took about an hour and half to cook. Now I don’t have to cook for the rest of the week.  How was your dinner?

Dal with Red Lentils

Dal and rice is  comfort food, Indian style. There are  many variations of the master recipe.  You start with the hulled lentils cooked till they are mush with a little turmeric and asafetida, temper them or not with various spices add a souring  agent or not, lastly add a garnish or not and then serve piping hot, usually but not always with rice.  Dal can be pretty basic or elaborate.  This recipe is my take on this Indian classic.  It uses ingredients that you will find in your regular grocery store, however spices at your Indian grocer will be much cheaper and fresher, so if you plan on making a lot of dal,  a trip to your friendly neighborhood Indian/Pakistani grocer may be in order.  This dal uses red lentils, I usually buy the Goya brand, since it is easily available.  Red lentils cook relatively quickly without a pressure cooker.

Ingredients

For the lentil mush

3/4 cup red lentils

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon asafetida (optional)

1  small Serrano pepper or Thai birds eye chili or red dried chili

3 cups water

Salt to taste, I put about 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For Tempering the oil (Phodni or Tarka)

1 table spoon oil with a high smoking point such as canola or peanut oil

1 red or green hot chili

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

curry leaves (optional)

Souring agent

Juice of l lime or lemon

Garnish

Fresh chopped cilantro

Step 1: Making the Mush

In a sauce pan put the lentils and all the other ingredients for the mush including water and bring to a boil, skim off any froth, these are insoluble proteins. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about half an hour to 40 minutes or until the dal is completely cooked and mushy, discard the whole chili.

Step 2: Tempering the Oil

Heat the oil in small skillet with a heavy bottom, when the oil is translucent add the mustard, cumin, chili and curry leaves if you have them.  When the mustard begins sputtering, turn off the heat and add the hot oil with all the spices to the lentil mush.

Step 3:   Finish with the acidic element and a garnish

If you want you can add a little water to thin the stew or heat it some more to thicken it.   Add the lime juice and the garnish with fresh cilantro.  Check the seasoning,  you can add a tea spoon of sugar if it is too sour.  Serve hot with rice, add a pat of butter, ghee or even extra virgin olive oil.   Also, a great side dish to serve with an Indian dinner.

Variation

1.  Add sliced onion and/or garlic when tempering the oil.

Note :  The whole chili and curry leaves are not meant to be eaten.

Coming up next, sambar, a south Indian variation of dal, slightly more involved than this recipe.

Watermelon Cooler

This is the perfect drink for hot summer afternoons.

Watermelon_cooler

Ingredients

3 cups watermelon cut into bite sized or slightly larger chunks

6 tsp sugar

1 tsp rock salt or kosher salt

1 Key lime or 1/2 a regular lime

Cut the watermelon into chunks, add to a pitcher, then add the sugar, salt and the juice of the lime. Keep in the fridge overnight. The macerated watermelon will release its juices.  Ready to serve after twenty four hours.  Top with some crushed ice, if you like.  You can also spike it with vodka if you want. If you do that I suggest using a blender to thoroughly mix all the ingredients.

Recipe notes :  You can decrease or increase the amount of sugar as per your taste and the sweetness of the watermelon.

Perfect Summer Menu

The weather has been warm and muggy for the past two weeks, with no respite.   No better time to grill since cooking indoors is a punishment.  This is what we made for the evening of July 4th.

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Menu

  • Chicken kebabs
  • Spinach salad with grilled vegetables
  • Homemade bread
  • Watermelon Cooler
  • Mango topped with cream

Simple and tasty.  Recipes to follow shortly

Tandoori Chicken on the Grill

I am a flexitarian like NYT’s Minimalist, Mark Bittman.  I love meat, but I don’t need gigantic portion sizes to be satisfied. I want food that is both nutritious and delicious and that does not take forever to cook, and does not use ultra expensive or hard to find ingredients. Since I cook for the week on the weekend it  also has to reheat well. This chicken is my fall back both for dinners during the week and entertaining. It is easy to make and delicious and you can use the leftovers in everything from tacos to soup.

Tandoori chicken is an extremely popular restaurant dish in India, the chicken is marinated in a yogurt marinade and cooked in a large clay oven called a tandoor, hence the name. As far as I know people usually don’t have tandoors at home in India. Grilling is a good alternative to baking in a tandoor.

I buy one of those gigantic trays of skin on and bone-in thighs. You can substitute breast meat if you insist but thighs are tastier and won’t dry out . They are also cheaper.  You will  have to plan in advance though, since this chicken is best when left to marinate overnight. You do need spices for this dish, lots of them. That is not a problem for me since my pantry is well equipped with spices. This recipe is for  1 tray of chicken thighs, about 5 pounds of chicken.

For the marinade

1 tbsp grated ginger

1tbsp garlic chopped

4 tsp Tandoori chicken masala* ( I have had good results with MDH, Shan and the Everest Brands)

2 tsp cayenne

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp turmeric

4 tsp kosher salt

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 cup yogurt* ( I use non-fat yogurt but you can use full fat if you like)

drops of red food coloring (optional)

Step 1

Skin the chicken thighs and make gashes on both sides using a knife. Juice the two limes and add the kosher salt.  Put the lime and salt mixture in the gashes. This will help tenderize the chicken. Set aside for about half an hour.

Grind the ginger and garlic in the blender to make a paste. In a glass bowl add together the ginger garlic paste and all the dry spices,  mix well. Now pour the marinade over the chicken thighs, make sure it reaches well into the gashes you made earlier. Now cover and set aside in the fridge for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

Step 2

When the weather is nice, the best way to cook the chicken is on a grill, takes about 15 minutes on each side. When it is raining or too cold to grill, you can cook the chicken in the oven, however it will not be as juicy or delicious  as the one cooked on the grill.  Use either a charcoal or a gas grill. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes on both sides or until juices run clear. Serve with a lime wedge. I usually serve this chicken with naan and yogurt raita.

* You may have to make a trip to your local Indian grocery store if your supermarket’s ethnic aisle does not carry tandoori chicken masala or spice mix, you can also order it online. There are a number of recipes to make your own tandoori chicken masala but I haven’t found one that is as good as the boxed spice mixes mentioned above.  You can store the unused masala in a cool place in your pantry. The above marinade can also be used with shrimp or to make boneless shish kebabs with chicken or chicken tikka.