The word "khana" in Indian Khana Made Easy means food. So come on, let's explore and cook some easy Indian food together including Gluten Free dishes.

December 29, 2012

Masala Bread Pakora - A Hearty Winter Treat!

What do Mr. Potato Head, the Hot Potato game, and Fried Oreos & Twinkies have in common?

NOSTALGIA!!

These are some things we grew up with and still enjoy today. I remember my first time eating a fried Oreo? It was at a street festival in Little Italy, New York City. It was an interesting experience to say the least, but I enjoyed it. I added it to the many food memories I accumulated through the years. 
The appetizer pictured below is from one of my mom's foodie memories. She had it at an eatery long ago in India and has been making it for us every since. It is actually one of my sister's favorite treats to eat when she comes home for the holidays.


It's called Masala Bread Pakora! And the best part is that the crust is made using a slice of white bread. No need to make it from scratch. Picture to be posted soon!!


Ingredients for Stuffing:
- 1 lb Potatoes
- 1 Medium Onion, diced
- 1 Medium Tomato, diced
½ cup Frozen Carrots and Peas
- 3 to 4 Green Chilies, chopped finely
¼ cup Fresh Coriander, chopped
- 1 tsp Mustard seeds
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 tsp Chat Masala
- 1 tbsp Lemon juice
½ tsp Turmeric
- 1 tsp Salt

Ingredients for Crust:
- 10 to 12 slices of Wonder White Bread (a few days old)
- 3 to 4 tbsp Vegetable oil

Procedure:
Cook potatoes in the microwave until soft (6 to 7 minutes) and peel off the skin. Then cut or mash roughly to 1 inch pieces and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and add the cumin and mustard seeds. When they splutter, add onions and sauté for one to two minutes. Now add turmeric and then toss in the tomatoes, allowing them to soften. Next add the green chilies and salt. Mix well. Add in the mashed potatoes and carrots and peas, mix and cook for 5 minutes under closed lid. Later add lemon juice, chat masala and mix well. Finally, add the chopped coriander after removing from stove and mix again. Cool the vegetable curry for 10 minutes. 
Take a bread slice and moisten it slightly with water and place a quarter cup or ladle of the curry on the bread in the center diagonally and cover it with bread by pressing with your fingers (as shown in the picture below).



Use wet fingers if necessary to moisten the bread. Heat oil in the frying pan and fry the stuffed bread until golden brown (for 3 to 4 minutes) by turning sides for even frying.


 Serve hot with coriander chutney (recipe below). 



Coriander Chutney - A Simple Dipping Sauce for Bread Pakora:
Finely chop a small bunch of coriander. Roast quarter cup of peanuts. In a blender, grind the peanuts into a fine powder, then add the chopped coriander, one clove of garlic (husked), 2 green chilies (chopped finely), 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste, half teaspoon of salt and some water. Blend to a smooth paste.



December 20, 2012

Christmas Is Almost Here!!

 I got a head start on my To Do list this year and already started checking things off. I'm nearly there even though timing is ticking away: 
  • Put up lights outside of home - Check
  • Decorate Christmas tree with lights and ornaments - Check
  • Make edible gifts (Pumpkin Spice Bread & Chocolate Mexican Wedding cookies) and hand out to friends - Check
  • Make Corn Flakes Mixture for big sis - Check
  • Wrap presents and put under the tree - Check

We would love to hear from you. What do you have planned for the holidays? What treats do you make around this time of year?  



FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOURS



A Merry Christmas To All!!

December 19, 2012

Creamy Cauliflower and Paneer Curry

All bets are off when it comes to dining at parties. At least that's what I tell all my relatives when we invite them over for the holidays. Everyone should indulge in "rich" food every once in a while. It's good for the soul. With that in mind, we decided to cook dishes that were moderately healthy so there are no ifs and buts about what to eat. The following recipe was one of my favorite vegetable curries that was served at our Diwali / Thanksgiving holiday party last month. I love the addition of Paneer (Indian cheese) which added some nutritional value to the dish. Barely any of this dish was remaining towards the end of dinner. It was a great complement to the vegetable biryani and rotis that were also served. 

Ingredients:
- 12 oz Paneer, cut into 1" cubes
- 1 Medium size Cauliflower, cut into small florets
- Two 8oz Tomato Sauce cans (without added salt)
- 1 cup Frozen Carrots and Peas
½ Qt Half & Half (use Evaporated Milk for low cal version)
- 2 to 3 tbsp Vegetable Oil
Seasoning/Spices:
- 2½ tbsp Dhanjeera powder (powdered coriander and cumin seeds)
½ tsp Garam Masala
- 1 tsp Chili powder
- 1 tsp Turmeric
1 to 1½  tsp Salt
- 1 tbsp Kasoori Methi (optional)

Procedure:
In a non-stick skillet, heat oil and add paneer cubes. Stir until they are lightly fried. (Hint: Edges of the paneer should be brownish color). Then add dhanjeera powder, turmeric, chili powder, and garam masala. Mix well and then toss in the cauliflower florets. Add salt and cook the mixture under closed lid until the florets are cooked all the way through but are still firm. 



Then add tomato sauce and cook for 5 more minutes. Finally, add the frozen carrots and peas and half & half. 



 Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes or until the mixture is thick and the curry will be ready to be served. 


November 28, 2012

A Whole New Way to Eat Asparagus!

My mom pulled off another successful Diwali / Thanksgiving dinner party with the help of her awesome and foodie expert daughter (me). We started a day early and finished just in time to serve our guests and enjoy the party as well. We made some our favorites (including the ever popular Asparagus Twists) and fusion dishes which turned out pretty well. I just wish I had more time to decorate the plate with these twists rather than stacking them the way I did. Alas, there's always next year...


These twists are a great way to enjoy asparagus. They are crispy, crunchy and if you add some seasoning, it helps add a bit more flavor. I borrowed the recipe from this Appetizers book I had and been trying to spice it up every year with the addition of new ingredients. 

This recipe must be a best kept secret because every year, more and more people are ask me about it. You have to try the recipe; if made correctly, you won't be disappointed! 

Ingredients:
- 16 Fresh Asparagus spears, chop off ends and blanch
- One pkt of Frozen Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets (each pkg has 2 sheets)
- 1 egg, beaten 

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 415 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay one sheet of puff pastry on a work surface. When it is thawed, brush it lightly with the egg and cut into 1.5cm (or 5/8") strips. Secure to one end of a blanched fresh asparagus spear. 


Wrap around and down the asparagus. Brush the end of the pastry with the egg and secure to the other end of the asparagus. Place the twisted spears on a lightly greased baking tray and bake them for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and golden. 


***Quick Tip: I made my own seasoning with the following ingredients to sprinkle on top of the pastry covered spearsshredded Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, chili powder and salt. However, I couldn't really taste the seasoning when I tried one of them. 
My recommendation is: 
- Lightly coat the blanched asparagus spears with some olive oil. Then roll or sprinkle the seasoning on the spears before they are twisted with the puff pastry sheet strips.  
- Other seasonings you can try are Madras Rasam powder, Vangibhath powder, or Sambhar powder.

November 22, 2012

A Bright & Joyful Holiday Celebration!



In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, our Diwali festival plans were postponed until Thanksgiving. What better to celebrate the Festival of Lights than with lots of food and family. The holiday themed dinner is a blend both 'American' and Indian ingredients and this year my mom handed the task of planning the dinner menu to me. Woohoo!!

The dinner menu includes Asparagus Twists, Masala Bread Pakora, Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Orange and Mango Spritzer, Bombay Style Mixed Vegetable Biryani served with Tomato & Onion Raita, Creamy Cauliflower & Paneer Curry, Pumpkin Spiced Bread and Mixed Berry Cobbler.

GIVE THANKS, BE SAFE AND HAPPY EATING THIS HOLIDAY!!

October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Our prayers go out to all those affected by the storm. We will resume posting when we get our electricity back as well. Stay Safe Everyone!!

October 17, 2012

Creamy Tofu and Karela Curry

This is for all vegetarians and healthy conscious people alike. A well balanced meal includes carbs, protein, fats and oils. When it comes to choosing the right ingredients to add the proper nutrients to our meals, one that comes mind is TOFU.

What's so great about Tofu? 
- Low in sodium and cholesterol  
- Low glycemic index
- Good source of protein, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, selenium, calcium, and manganese. 

With all these positive attributes, what's not to love. We like using a couple different varieties of Tofu: Firm, Extra Firm and Tofu Steak (available in Cajun, Garlic & Pepper, Grilled). These add extra flavor to our dishes.

One of the many ways we use Tofu is adding it to our vegetable gravy curries that are eaten with Indian flatbreads (such as roti, chappati, naan, paratha), and/or brown/white rice. This week's tofu recipe includes Karela (also known as Bitter Melon or gourd), another healthy and nutritious ingredient. So let's start cooking!

Creamy Tofu and Karela curry served w/ Brown Rice & Roti

Ingredients:
- 1 lb Karela, chopped into 1" cubes
- 1 medium Onion, finely chopped
- 7.25oz Firm Tofu, drained and cut into 1" cubes
- 3/4 cup Salsa (Mild, Medium or Hot)
- 2 to 3 tbsp Ranch dip*
- 1 tsp Mustard and Cumin seeds
- 1 tsp Turmeric (Haldi)
- 2 to 3 tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 1 tbsp Salt (or as needed)

Procedure:
In a large saucepan, heat oil and add mustard and cumin seeds for seasoning. When they start spluttering, add onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Then add karela, turmeric, and salt. Mix well and cover pan with tight lid. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until karela is cooked. (Hint: Test it by piercing a knife or fork through a piece of karela and it should go in easily.) Next add tofu pieces, salsa and dip. Mix well and cook for another 5 minutes.

***Quick Tips: 
- If ranch dip is not readily available, add sour cream. 
- Add a tablespoon of brown sugar to reduce the bitter taste of Karela.  
- Check out other yummy Tofu recipes: Tandoori Tofu, Potato & Tofu with Spiced Tomato Sauce



October 16, 2012

It's Pumpkin Picking Time!!

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, everywhere!

It's that time of the season again. What's your favorite variety? I never knew there were so many varieties of pumpkins until I went to farmers' markets and picking myself. Curiosity got the best of me and I decided to do a little digging to learn more about this "fruit". Did you know that it was a fruit? Each variety has unique attributes in color, texture, taste and usage (such as baking, cooking, decorating). Here's some interesting nutritional facts:

- High in fiber
- Low in calories, cholesterol, and Saturated fat
- A good source of:
            - Vitamin A
            - Vitamin E
            - Thiamin
            - Niacin
            - Vitamin B6
            - Folate
            - Iron
            - Magnesium
            - Potassium
            - Phosphorus and more
- Even the seeds are high in protein, iron, & B vitamins.  

Now that we know a bit more about their nutritional value, it's time to get cooking. But which type of pumpkin is good for baking and/or cooking? New England Sugar or Baby Pam Sugar Pies are good for baking because they tend to have a sweeter flavor. For Indian cooking, we prefer West Indian Pumpkin also known as Calabaza Squash. It's great for curries and spicy soups. Check out our recipes below:

Seasoned Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Curry


Chunky Pumpkin Sambhar





  

October 15, 2012

Seasoned Brown Rice Enriched with Lentils & Vegetables

Rice is a staple food in most, if not all, Asian dishes. In South Indian cooking, white rice is served with all of our vegetable curries and rasams. After reading more about the various kinds of whole grains that are beneficial for us, we made a healthy switch to brown rice - which brings us to the first super food ingredient. Brown rice has a lower glycemic index than white rice. That means it doesn't raise blood sugar levels as much after you eat it. Any measure that can be taken to lower the risk of getting diabetes sounds good to me. It's also a great source of fiber, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B-6.

Below is a great way to spice up brown rice and enjoy eating healthier.

Seasoned Brown Rice with Moong Wadi and Stir Fry Vegetables

Ingredients:
- 2 cups Brown Rice/Brown Basmati*
½ cup Moong Wadi (Sun-Dried Lentil Clusters)
- 2 cups Frozen Asian Stir Fry Vegetables
- 8oz can Tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp Ginger-Garlic paste
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Chili Sauce (Asian variety)
- 1 tsp Garam Masala
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 4 tbsp Olive oil/Vegetable oil

Procedure:
In a large saucepan heat oil, add moong wadi and stir fry until they turn yellow to reddish-brown color. Then add cumin seeds; when they splutter, add rice and fry until mixture becomes whitish. Next add ginger-garlic paste, chili sauce and garam masala. Fry for two minutes and transfer the contents into an electric rice cooker. Then add 6 cups of water, tomato sauce, salt, and allow it to cook. (Hint: use the cup that comes with the rice cooker for the water measurement; otherwise measure 4 cups of water using a regular measuring cup) Stir every 5 minutes to evenly cook. When rice is more than half cooked, add frozen vegetables. Mix well, close cooker with lid and cook until it's done.

***Quick Tips:
- 1/4 cup of uncooked rice = 1 serving
- Check out another great recipe with brown rice.  

 

Navratri: 9 Ways to Boost Your Health!

October and November are very joyous months for Indians all over. Why you may wonder? Two of the most important Hindu holidays take place during this time - Dusshera and Diwali. There are many interesting stories associated with the celebration of Dusshera, and they vary from region to region in India. As with many Indian festivals, this festival is associated with GOOD conquering EVIL, and it is depicted with the story of three main goddesses (Gauri, Lakshmi, and Saraswati). They unite to form a powerful 'Shakti' or force called Durga who kills Mahishasura, a powerful demon. Another popular story is that Lord Rama kills Ravana, the ten headed demon. The festival is celebrated by taking part in religious activities and fasting for nine days called Navratri, which begins on October 15th this year. People culminate with joyous festivities on the tenth day, which is known as 'Vijayadashami' and it is a very auspicious day. Any task (such as kids' education, new businesses or ventures) that is initiated on this day is believed to be successful.
'Navratri' and 'Vijayadashami' are always associated with STRENGTH, POWER, FORCE, and SUCCESS. Thus, we wanted to utilize the occasion to provide some useful tips and recipes of 9 super food ingredients that are power-packed with nutrients and antioxidants that benefit our health.

1) Brown Rice
2) Pumpkin
3) Tofu
4) Lentils
5) Yogurt
6) Sweet Potato
7) Sesame/Flax seeds
8) Leafy greens
9) Almonds/Walnuts

Let the healthy cooking and eating begin!!!

October 8, 2012

Warm Up This Autumn with David's Bottle Gourds Sambhar

Our first dish of the season was contributed by guest blogger, David Huggett who hails from Roanoke, Virginia. Join us as we discover and learn more about David's adventures in South Indian cooking:



As a home chef who holds the cuisine of India as a personal favorite, I consider it to be quite an honor to be invited by Jahnavi to write this guest post. I'm a big fan of her blog and the recipes which she and her mother create. 
Let me begin by stating that I am an American and have never traveled to India. However, I have long held a keen interest in the food and culture of the sub-continent. As a young man, I was first introduced to Indian cuisine by the kindness of a friend's family and several excellent restaurants in the Washington D.C. area. I was quite intrigued by the complexity of flavors and soon, I began experimenting with my own Indian inspired dishes. Thus began my twenty year journey into learning to prepare dishes from different areas of India, and to be as close to authentic as I know how to do.
At a recent trip to an Indian grocer, I was interested in the big beautiful Bottle Gourds, which were for sale. I asked the lady operating the store how I might prepare the gourd, and specifically asked if it would go well in sambhar. She explained that this is known in parts of India as Dudhi, and it would indeed work well in sambhar. I bought two dudhi and the store keeper threw in a nice aborigine (eggplant) and Wax Gourd.


Here's the recipe for Dudhi Sambhar that I prepared for my family recently.

Ingredients:
- 1 Dudhi (Bottle Gourd)
- 1 Wax Gourd
- 1 Capsicum or Green Bell Pepper
- 1 Aborgine or Baby Eggplant
- 1 large Onion
- 1 firm medium Tomato
- 1 cup Chana Dal
- 1 tbsp Sambhar powder
- 1 tbsp dry Tamarind
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- A pinch of Asafetida
 For the seasoning:
- 3 tbsp Butter or ghee
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 tsp Mustard seeds
- Dozen fresh Curry Leaves


Procedure:
We begin preparing the sambhar by lightly toasting the chana dal until fragrant.


In a pressure cooker, add the lightly toasted dal, 3 cups of water, salt, turmeric and asafetida. Bring to pressure and after 10 minutes, remove pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to drop before opening the lid. Then mash well.


Peel dudhi and wax gourd and chop them into 1" cubes. Add them to the dal along with 1 cup of water. Place closed pressure cooker back on medium heat and bring to pressure. Once it reaches 10 lbs pressure, remove from heat and allow pressure to reduce.
Meanwhile, roughly chop the onion and capsicum. In a separate pan, heat the two tablespoons of butter. Toss in cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Add onion and fry at medium heat until the mixture begins to turn golden brown. Add capsicum and stir for one minute. Then add chopped tomato, Sambhar powder, and salt. Fry this mixture for several minutes until tomatoes have become pasty and oil begins to separate from the vegetables.


Stir a small portion of the dal mixture into the onions and then return that to the dal. Soak dry tamarind in some lukewarm water for ten minutes and strain this into the dal. Allow the dish to simmer for 10 more minutes to allow the raw tamarind taste to cook out. Heat one tablespoon of butter in a pan. Add the fresh curry leaves and fry for 30 seconds. Drizzle the butter over the sambhar. Serve with Basmatic rice and chappati.


Check out more of David's Indian cooking...


September 29, 2012

Celebrating Autumn With A Cornucopia of Gourds


One of my favorite seasons is Autumn and the colorful foliage. You see, our house is surrounded by these tall, towering trees and so there are lots of leaves. Sometimes, I get these urges to jump into a large pile of them and roll around. One of these days I will. For now, I'll just sit outside on the deck and enjoy the leaves falling in the morning light. One can't help but appreciate Nature's wondrous beauty in all forms and colors. Another reason I love this time of the year is the pumpkins. All the houses on our block have these intricately carved pumpkins out on the porch for the upcoming holiday, Halloween. Besides the pumpkins, we like putting a cornucopia of gourds to celebrate the new season. It's an explosion of yellows, oranges and reds; decorating is so much fun. We also love cooking with them.

Here are some of our favorite and popular recipes:
Seasoned Pumpkin and Butternut Squash Curry
Chunky Pumpkin Sambhar
Achari Chayote Curry
Shahi Korma
Long Squash Yogurt Dip
Skintastic Squash 
Sweet and Sour Chutney

Upcoming Recipes:
Guest Post: Bottle Gourds Sambhar

September 18, 2012

~Cheers To The End Of Summer~

Mana's Aloha Farm - Fruit stand just outside of Akaka Falls State Park

Aloha to all! We're back from our island paradise getaway to Hawai'i. It was wonderful and definitely worth every penny. Indulged in tropical fruits and weather everyday and returned home with a big smile. Only wish we had more time to spend there. Alas there's always next time.
When we got home, we enjoyed some good ol' home cooking with some warm rasam and rice. Then ended the night with a glass of Tropical Fresca while reflecting back on our fun in the sun and on the beach. Join in by making your own batch today with the following ingredients. The recipe makes 6 servings (each serving is about 8oz):

- 250 ml canned Pineapple juice
- 250 ml Mango juice
- 250 ml Sprite
- ½ cup crushed ice

Fill the pitcher with crushed ice and pour in the juices and soda. Mix well. Serve cold.

***Quick Tip: For a low cal version, use seltzer water instead of Sprite.

August 30, 2012

It's All About The Peppers!

Liz Applegate Ph.D., (author of "Hot Stuff!" article in Runner's World), put it perfectly when she wrote "richly colored chilies are packed with a range of antioxidants, including vitamin A and vitamin C. These nutrients may aid in recovery and help prevent ailments such as Alzheimer's disease and cancer". She went on to point out that chilies also aid in weight loss, alleviate muscle pain, and reduce the risk of getting Diabetes. I don't know about you, but those are some good reasons to start consuming chilies. I like the idea of eating my vegetables to stay ahead of the curve...and staying away from medicines until I have no choice.

Peppers are an integral part of our cuisine's spice mix. One of my favorite dishes where peppers play an important role is Chili Poppers. It closely resembles an appetizer called Jalapeno poppers, which is most commonly found in many American restaurant menus. Another dish that is on the list is Stuffed Jalapeno Peppers, that we eat with rice because it is definitely on the hot end of the scale.
On the subject of peppers, this next dish is peppers on a new scale...a more sweeter scale that is. We love cooking with sweet peppers. They're so flavorful and "sweet" like cherry tomatoes...and who doesn't love cherry tomatoes. 

I love the orange and red ones!
And since it was Hot and Spicy Food Day recently, we increased the "heat" of these peppers by stuffing them with Falafel. The sweetness from the peppers was a good combination with the Mediterranean spices and flavors. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Tarazi Falafel mix
  • 20 to 22 Sweet Peppers
  • 1 medium Onion, chopped finely
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable oil
  • ¼ tsp Salt (adjust as per your taste)
Procedure:
Make the falafel mixture as per instructions on the box and allow it to soak for 30 to 45 minutes. Then add the chopped onions into the mixture. Make a slit into the peppers without cutting them in half. Scoop about a tablespoon of the mixture and stuff it inside each of the peppers. In a shallow non-stick pan, heat oil, add all the peppers and sprinkle salt. Shallow fry the peppers under closed lid, turning them over in between for even frying. Remove from heat and serve hot!


***Quick Tip: 
- The Tarazi Falafel Mix is the traditional Mediterranean vegetarian recipe made with ground chickpeas, fava beans and spices. It is also gluten free, dairy free and wheat free. Each serving size which is 2 oz has 12g of protein. That's a winner in our book. We found this product at our local Indian store.  


August 19, 2012

Embrace The "Heat" & Celebrate!

It seems like there's a food festival every other day. Many of them are a bit too much for my taste. However, there are some that are worth celebrating like the Hot and Spicy Food Day, which was today. This festival brings lovers of fiery recipes together to enjoy heat-filled foods. Although the exact origin of the day is unknown, archaeologists believe that humans have been eating spicy foods for 6,000 years!
We celebrated the festival by cooking up some of our home grown peppers and enjoyed the hot flavors. Cooking with peppers can sometimes be tricky so it's nice to have ready made entrees handy. One of the brands we tried and liked are entrees by Tandoor Chef. Their dishes have all the right spices for heat-loving palates! Also, the spices bring extra flavor to foods, health benefits and fun!



Below are some good tips about spicy foods from Tandoor Chef:
  • Sweat it Out: Ever wonder why cultures in hot climates eat spicy food the most? Spicy food raises your body temperature to match the level outside, which causes you to sweat. The sweat evaporates and you cool off. So by eating hotter foods, people in these cultures stay cooler! 
  • Add a Healthy Kick: Spicy foods don't just help you sweat; they are actually good for you! Adding a natural kick from peppers and jalapenos can add flavor without increasing sodium or fat content of recipes. Chili peppers can also lower your risk for heart disease by reducing the effect of bad cholesterol. The spiciness can even help you battle a cold by clearing sinuses. Woohoo for health! 
  • Nutrients Galore: Chili peppers are also high in Vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and Capsaicin, which can help relieve pain and inflammation. 
  • Ease your Palate: Drink cold milk or yogurt when eating fiery foods. Dairy products can help neutralize the spices in your mouth while water or other beverages may simply move the heat around in your mouth. 
Whether for the health benefits, the thrill or just for fun, give spicy foods a try!! Tandoor Chef entrees and appetizers offer both vegetarian and vegan meals that will bring your taste buds alive. 

How did you embrace the "heat" and celebrate Hot and Spicy Food Day? We would love to hear from you!   

August 14, 2012

Spice Up Your Bean Salad!

Another one of India's popular street foods that I love is Bhel Puri. It has everything under the sun like spices, vegetables, lentils, nuts and puffed rice. Alas we're not in India and the only time I really enjoy eating this savory snack is whenever we got out to eat. I would love to make it at home, but we don't always have the ingredients. At a recent family party, my mom tasted this yummy bhel puri that was made with bean salad. Hm, there's a thought! When my mom got home, she told me all about the snack and we got busy in the kitchen. I love the way her mind works! We found this delicious bean salad called Cowboy Caviar at Costco which was perfect for our version. It added a lot of flavor and color to the dish.

Heehaw!! I'm ready for seconds!
 Ingredients: 
- 1 Medium Onion, chopped finely
- 2 Plum Tomatoes, chopped finely
- 15 oz of Cowboy Caviar*
- 7 oz of Spicy Mamra (Unflavored Puffed Rice)

Although Cowboy Caviar has tomatoes and onions already in it, we added more for flavor and texture. 

Procedure:
In a big bowl, toss together the chopped onion, tomatoes and Cowboy Caviar. Then add the spicy mamra and mix well. The bhel puri is ready to be served and it's enough for 5 to 6 people, depending on the size of the bowl.


***Quick Tips:
Cowboy Caviar is a bean salad made by Meninno Brothers Gourmet Foods and is available at Costco. It's "Sweet with a Texas Twist"! It's made with black and white beans, vegetables, herbs and spices.

July 26, 2012

Cool Down with Summer "Beets"

Attending a wedding in Atlanta in the peak of summer is tough, especially when it's outdoors. I sweat as though I was working out for 2 hours. What a feeling! Nevertheless, it was my friend's wedding and I wanted to be there for him. I bore the heat in good spirits and returned home to Jersey where the weather was a bit cooler. Since I've been back, the weather has been temperamental; hot one day and rainy the next day.
Don't get me wrong, I like sunny weather, but not when it's humid and/or sticky. What better way to cool down in the summer than with dishes made from yogurt like raitas. With so many varieties to choose from, sometimes it's tough to pick just one. One of my favorites is with beetroot. The creamy, slightly sweet flavor of the beetroot raita goes well with seasoned rice, Indian flatbreads and/or chips. All this talk of food is making me hungry. Well, let's start cooking...here's the recipe.

Interesting Fact: Beet root is also used as a dye.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Medium Beet root, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup Plain Yogurt
  • ½ cup Low Fat Sour Cream
  • 2 to 3 Green Chilies, cut lengthwise
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp Whole Cumin seeds 
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 7 Curry leaves, optional

Procedure:
In a microwaveable bowl, add grated beet root and mix in salt. Then sprinkle a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Microwave it for 5 minutes or until cooked and then set aside. Add yogurt and sour cream to the cooked beet root and mix well. In a small saucepan, heat one tablespoon of oil. Once you feel the heat on your palm, add mustard and cumin seeds, curry leaves. When the mustard and cumin start to splutter, turn off the heat and transfer the contents into the beet root and yogurt mixture. Mix well. The beet root raita is now ready to be served. Enjoy!!


***Quick Tips:
Also check out Seasoned Beet root rice with carrots and peas. It's very tasty. We even added French's fried onions for a crunchy texture. 

July 22, 2012

Atlanta - Indulging In Sweets

Cracker Candy! Really? Doesn't that name sound a bit strange? At first I thought so too but as I started eating one and then two, I stopped thinking about it and just gave into the indulgence. Sometimes I feel we care too much about the names and less about the actual taste.

These remind me of black and white cookies! You know what I'm talking about.
The "candies" were crunchy, salty, sweet and simply yummy. We made these the night before I was leaving, so my friend packed me a goodie bag full of them for the flight the next morning. Isn't she so thoughtful!

I think it's okay to give into your sweet cravings once in a while. Give into your cravings and try it out. Don't let the name deter you from trying. 

Ingredients:
- 2 sticks Salted Butter (do not use margarine)
- 1 (12oz) package of Milk chocolate* chips
- 1 cup of Brown Sugar
- 1 sleeve or roughly 35 saltine crackers (can use Ritz crackers too)

***Preheat oven to 400 degrees***

Procedure:

1) Line baking tray with aluminum foil and arrange the saltine crackers into the tray so they touch each other, making sure there are no spaces between them.


2) Melt butter in a saucepan and slowly add brown sugar. Boil at medium to high heat for approximately 3 minutes until it becomes bubbly. (Hint: Stir constantly to prevent the mixture from burning.)

Immediately pour the liquid over the crackers and spread it thoroughly over all the crackers.
3) Place in oven for 5 minutes and then take it out immediately.


Sprinkle chocolate chips over the caramelized crackers evenly. Set aside for 5 minutes and then spread the softened chocolate over all the crackers. Place tray in the refrigerator or freezer until solid. When it is ready to serve, lift the candied crackers from the foil and cut/break into desired shapes.


***Quick Tips: 
- Dark chocolate may be substituted instead of regular chocolate.  
- If you want to dress them up with M&Ms, peppermint bits, and/or nuts, it's best to do it right after spreading the chocolate over the crackers (when it's still hot).


July 20, 2012

~Oh Sweet, Sweet Atlanta~

Never mix business with pleasure. My first trip out to Atlanta was early last year and it was all business. I attended this week long Pharmaceutical conference with some colleagues where we showcased our products. It was very busy considering all the work we did in a short amount of time (booth setup, product discussions, and then packed up). We did some sightseeing whenever possible...I did most of mine the last day just before departure.
Last week I was back in Atlanta and this time it was all for pleasure and really enjoyed myself. I attended my friend's wedding and caught up on old times. There was dancing, singing and of course lots of eating. It was truly a memorable experience and much much more. After the wedding, I visited an old family friend and the eating continued through the weekend.
My friend is a busy mom who loves to cook and try new recipes. We have so much in common when it comes to cooking. We both love to experiment with recipes to create our own flavor combinations.  During my visit, she made a couple of yummy desserts. Fun for kids of all ages including me (I'm the biggest kid of all). One of the desserts was Kulfi - rich Indian ice cream. As my friend started prepping, I grabbed my camera and started snapping away.

Mango and Pistachio Kulfi
It didn't take long for the ice cream to start melting with the Hot Atlanta weather. So of course, I grabbed a spoon and got busy eating. I loved the addition of crushed pistachios and cardamom used for flavor enhancement. They complemented each other very well. This is a great dessert to serve for your summer parties and soirees.


Ingredients:
  • 8 to 12 oz Kraft Low Fat Cool Whip
  • Half Can Mango Pulp, (Can Size: 1lb 14oz)
  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk - (Size: 14oz can)
  • 1 can Evaporated Milk, (Can Size: 12oz can)
  • ½ cup Pistachios, powdered
  • 3 Cardamom Pods, seeded and powdered (optional)

Procedure:


Whisk the following ingredients together: cool whip, mango pulp, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Slowly add powdered pistachios, cardamom and mix well. Then pour the liquid into desired molds or medium to large glass casserole dish and place on a stable shelf in the freezer for at least 6 hours. (Hint: For best results, keep overnight and serve the next day.)

While we waited for the kulfi to set, we gathered ingredients for the next dessert called Cracker Candy. Any guesses as to what this dessert may be or look like?

 
***Quick Tip:  Other delicious flavors to try are pistachio, saffron, and rose.

July 9, 2012

MTR's Diet Delite Spiced Cereals With Vegetables

Sometimes it's tough to eat a well balanced meal when you're too busy working and catching up with life. That's why it's nice to have "Ready To Eat" entrees handy. You just heat them up and enjoy. Which leaves more time for other stuff like RELAXATION. These days it's easy to find these types of meals; they're available everywhere. They're becoming quite popular even in India where now lots of people are turning to Quick and Easy products to make cooking easier and faster. There's also a variety of brands to choose from at our local Indian store: Deep Foods, Tandoor Chef, MTR, Gits, Rasoi Magic and etc. Some are tasty and some are just BLAH!
The last time we went grocery shopping, we picked up some. One of them was MTR's Diet Delite: Spiced Cereals with Vegetables.


Here's why we were drawn to this product:
- Whole wheat and lentils cooked with aromatic spices
- Low on fat, high on fiber and taste
- Made with 100% Natural Ingredients
- Suitable for vegetarians and mildly spicy

Everything stated above was clearly a win-win for us and so we bought it. I was delighted to see some of my favorite Indian dishes made even easier to eat since all you have to do is heat it up. I was excited to try a different kind of Pongal.

This does not look like the picture on box.
All my excitement went down the drain when I emptied the contents into a microwaveable bowl and heated it up. It was just a bowl of mush with some signs of vegetables and spices. It wasn't very aromatic and it surely wasn't tasty. We ended up cooking something to make up for the bad taste in our mouths.

We do not recommend buying this product. It's not worth it.

As the famous proverb goes: There are plenty of other "Ready To Eat" vegetarian meals on the market and we're sure we will find them.

June 30, 2012

Cool Cucumber Salsa

Didn't think we would see much sun this summer...especially with all the rain in the last couple weeks. However by clockwork, in the third week of June, the sun came up and dried up all the rain. Additionally, in the last week, it scorched us all with temperatures in the high 80s and 90s. It hardly gave us time to adjust to climate and temperature changes. It's important to keep cool and stay refreshed in this weather.
Some of the ways, we stay cool is by enjoying yummy delights like mangoes, spritzers, iced teas, and salads. Summertime also brings a lot of families and friends together for backyard parties. We came up with this new fusion recipe for a salsa that incorporates cucumbers...and not just as a garnish but as the main ingredient. It has a bit of everything; heat, sweet, tang, and surprisingly crisp flavor.


Ingredients:
- 1 long firm Green Cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 2 Green chilies, chopped
- Walnut size ball of Tamarind
- 1½ tbsp of Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp of Dhanjeera powder
¼ cup Coriander, chopped
½ tsp Salt (adjust to your taste)


Add a little water and soak tamarind until soft (or microwave for 30-40 seconds) and put aside. Put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and use chop mode to mix all the ingredients well. Helpful Hint: Do not pulse until it's a smooth paste unless you want to drink the salsa. Pour out the mixture into a presentable dish and enjoy with your favorite chips.



June 14, 2012

Karela is the New Kraze!

Food Network seemed to have a Sweet Genius marathon tonight. One of the episodes caught my attention when I saw the Judge introduce Karela, as one of the main ingredients. I dropped what I was doing and sat down to watch it. There's no way, Karela was going to be incorporated into a dessert? This I had to see for myself. For those of you who are not familiar with Karela, it's a bitter tasting gourd/vegetable. Each chef managed to incorporate it into their dish in various forms: toasted and candied, as a relish and even as sprinkles. It was amazing to see their creativity and enthusiasm in making this bitter vegetable tasty.
I got the feeling that some of them weren't very eager to use it. It's pretty bitter! I love it though. And once you acquire the taste, you can't help but eat more of it. I'm happy to see Karela gaining more presence in the international culinary scene. Did I mention that it's good for you too? Oh yes!

Spotted Karela Ras (juice) at the Indian store
It's used as a dietary supplement (not my cup of tea in that form though). Here are some ways I've eaten it: stuffed Karela, cooked in a gravy sauce, and as a Fry (kind of like French fries). The latter is today's specialty.

For close up of Karela Fry, click on picture!
Ingredients:
- 1 lb of Karela, small and firm
- 1 medium Potato
- 1 medium Onion
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
- 2 tbsp Dry Coconut Powder
- 1 tsp Chili powder (adjust to your taste)
- 1 tsp Salt (adjust to your taste)
- 3 to 4 tbsp of Vegetable oil

Procedure:
Remove the ends of the Karela and cut into half, lengthwise and then chop into thin slices. Do the same with the potato and onion and set aside. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a non-stick saucepan and add karela and potato. Sprinkle salt and cook on medium heat for 6 to 7 minutes under closed lid. Hint: Mix the vegetables in between to prevent them from sticking to the pan. When both the karela and potato are tender and cooked, remove the lid and add onion. Then add the remaining oil and fry the vegetables (for maybe another 6 to 7 minutes) until the karela is golden brown. Then add chili powder, dry coconut powder and a pinch of salt. Mix well. It's ready to be served and enjoyed!

***Quick Tip:
- Avoid selecting fat karelas because they tend to have lot of seeds and are really bitter. That's a no, no!

For more Karela recipes, check out Indian Vegetarian Recipes blog as well. 

June 10, 2012

My "Glassy" Weekend In Corning - Day Two

The first day of my birthday getaway went so well, I couldn't wait to dive into the second. I read about glass blowing and sculpting before but it was amazing watching it live and actually participating in the activity to create a beautiful piece. Every time I pass my room, I stop to admire the glass flower I helped make. It's so colorful and pretty. It's an amazing experience.
The next day we planned for some outdoor fun and drove to Watkins Glen State Park on Seneca Lake (one of the Finger Lakes). It's a great place for hiking, camping, walking trails and picnics. I love the outdoors...but I'm a scared cat when it comes to camping. We decided to do a bit of hiking and enjoy the beautiful scenery.


We packed a backpack with all the necessities and made our way to Gorge Trail (one of the most scenic and longest trails in the park). It took us away from all the hustle and bustle of the town and made us one with nature. A nature full of streams, springs, waterfalls, cool breezes, tall trees, flora, and occasional bugs.


The Gorge Trail is about 1.5 miles long and it roughly took us 3 hours to reach the end and head back up. I was expecting rugged paths but it was totally different. We hiked on a 'manufactured pathway, through chiseled tunnels, and over mortared bridges' (as stated on the park's website). Above are a few more shots from our adventure. After the hike, we decided to have lunch at a nearby vineyard and maybe do some wine tasting as well. Fun!!
Lakewood Vineyards - Watkins Glen, NY
First we went to Lakewood Vineyards where we had to choose from two categories of wines: Flight A (Dry Whites & Dry Reds) or Flight B (Semi-Sweet & Sweet). Our group opted the latter one. Out of the ones we tasted, my favorites were Niagara 2010 and Vignoles 2012 (their best selling wine). After wine tasting, we took a stroll along the vineyards and enjoyed the nice breeze before heading to the next another place for lunch. Onwards to Castel Griech Winery where we enjoyed German cuisine.

We stayed in the wine country until early evening and headed back to our hotel. We headed back home mid Monday morning to beat the holiday traffic and I have to say we got really lucky with traffic. We whizzed through with minimal delays. Overall, I must say I enjoyed myself quite a bit. It was just what I needed to get away from the norm. I would recommend more people to venture out into New York State. There's so much to do and see. I can't wait for my next visit...NEXT ADVENTURE!!

***Quick Tips:
- Pack bug spray, sun screen and water for the trails. 
- Get a head start by going to the park early and beat the crowd. Also check the weather so you don't get stuck in a downpour. 
- There are about 30 or so vineyards along the Seneca Lake Wine Trail (Finger Lakes Region). Do your research and make a weekend of it. Each place charged a minimal fee for wine tasting. Oh and the wine pourers are friendly and fun. It felt great supporting the local brewers.

June 3, 2012

My "Glassy" Vacation At Corning - Day One

If I had to sum up my vacation in one word, it would be, Magical. My friends pitched in and gifted me with a sweet getaway to a destination of my choice for my big birthday. I chose Corning, New York. 
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we drove up there and it took us about 4 hours to reach. We booked rooms at the Radisson Hotel, which was minutes away from all the tourist attractions. I picked activities that would please everyone, like the Museum of Glass, hiking in Watkins Glen State Park and then wine tasting on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. Thankfully the weather was pleasant all weekend long. Since there was a Glass Festival happening there that weekend, we had lots to see and savor.  I love street festivals.

Corning Glass Festival @ Gafford District (Downtown Corning)
It was nice to walk through and find so many various kinds of art forms. A few that caught my eye were stands displaying jewelry made with glass beads, vintage pyrex, sculptures made with glass, metal and/or wax. My friend bought an interesting metal sculpture for his dad called Reading on Toliet. Check it out! I was moved by the artists' passion for their trade and how excited they were in engaging the visitors. In addition to the street vendors, there were bbq parties, a concert in the park and water fountains' sound and light show.


After lunch, we headed to the Museum of Glass for some interactive fun. I signed everyone up for Make Your Own Glass Workshops...it was the most fun I had in a while. Each workshop was about 40 minutes long and in that time they explained the procedure, the tools involved and safety precautions.


Check out my head to toe protective gear! I didn't waste much time and got right down to business. Here's a shot of my finished project:


Beautiful, isn't it? Looks so professional. It was a proud moment for me when I picked it up the next day. After our sessions, we explored the rest of the museum. As you walk through the museum, you can get a sense of how glass making had evolved through the ages; specifically with the usage of tools. They also had live demos such as flame working, optical fiber, hot glass show and glass breaking. Pretty cool stuff!
The only thing left to do after a whole day of fun was to eat. We settled down at a nice spot in the park with pizza and beer and enjoyed the ambiance.

***Quick Tips:
- If you plan on making a trip over a holiday weekend, start early.
- AAA members get discounted tickets at the museum and hotel. 
- It's a good idea to reserve the Make Your Own Glass workshops ahead of time; especially if you're planning to go on a holiday weekend and in large groups.  

May 31, 2012

Turning Up The Heat with Chili Poppers!!

You know what I miss most about "my India". The street food. And I don't mean like lamb brains or anything weird, like what you see on the travel shows. I'm referring to snacks like bhel puri, aloo tikki chaat, aloo papadi chaat, samosa chaat, and one of my favorites: chili poppers also known as chili pakora.


The chili poppers are made with long green chili peppers, which are usually stuffed with masala and batter fried.
As a kid, I used to love eating the fried batter part since the peppers were too spicy for me. But now I'm all grown up and I love eating every bit of the popper including the pepper. Woohoo, I've matured and figured out the best part of this snack. Either that or my mom figured out a way to get me to eat the peppers with her winning recipe. Isn't my mom the bestest!! For my recent birthday, she made these chili poppers and I ate like 10 of them in one sitting. They were that good!

Heat Seekers, come thither and try these spicy chili poppers...if you have what it takes!!

Ingredients:
- 10 Long Green Chilies (fresh, firm and straight)
- 2 cups of Vegetable Oil (for frying only)
  For the stuffing:
  - ¼ cup of Dry Coconut Powder
  - 1 ½ tsp of Dhan-Jeera powder
  - 1 tsp of Tamarind paste
  - ¼ tsp Salt (adjust to your taste)
  For the batter:
  - 1 ½ cups of Ladu Besan (flour)
  - ½ cup of Fine Besan (flour)
  - ¼ cup of Rice flour
  - 1 tsp of Ajwain seeds (also known as carom seeds, similar to thyme)
  - ¼ tsp of Red chili powder
  - ½ tsp of Salt (adjust to taste)
  - ¼ tsp of Soda Bicarbonate powder (cooking soda)

Procedure:
Make a slit into the green chilies length wise and carefully remove all the seeds. (Making sure not to cut till the very end.) Boil water in a big pot sufficient enough for you to dip the chilies into the water and remove from heat. Close the pot with a lid and allow it to stand for 10 minutes. Drain the chilies, making sure to remove all water. In a microwaveable bowl, measure out the dry coconut powder, add some water to moisten it and heat it with closed lid for 30-40 seconds. Remove from microwave and then mix it together with dhanjeera powder, tamarind paste and salt.

 

Take a teaspoon full of the mixture and stuff it into the chilies.

Click here to see video on how to stuff the peppers
Make sure not to over stuff them. (Hint: You should be able to close the slit once stuffed with masala.) In a medium sized bowl, mix all the dry ingredients for the batter and add water to make it into a pancake mix like consistency. Allow the batter to soak for at least 10-15 minutes. Heat oil in a frying pan. When you feel the heat from the oil on your palm from above the pan, you are ready for frying. Take each stuffed chili pepper, dip into the batter and coat it completely. Then slowly drop each one into the hot oil. Fry them until golden brown by turning each one over for even frying.


You are now ready to enjoy these spicy poppers. Kick it up a notch by slitting them open and stuffing them with finely chopped onions and a few drops of lime juice. They are sure to hit any one's spicy spot! Enjoy with a nice cold one!!

***Quick Tips:
- For all you Serious Heat Seekers, go ahead and leave the seeds in for a spicier kick.