Archive | September, 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup with Truffle Oil & A Herbed Goat Cheese Ball

27 Sep

We all have our lists of comfort foods; foods that warm our hearts and feed our souls. They are foods that calm our nerves and satiate our appetites on days that seem far from perfect. I have a long list of favorite comfort foods and soup is pretty high up on that list. And not just any soup – tomato soup, particularly a roasted tomato soup.

By now you know my love for tomatoes, and since tomatoes found in the cooler months of the year are often not at their best, roasting wheedles out the flavor of a less than pristine tomato. A classic roasted tomato soup is a staple around our home in the cooler months, but is an entertaining worthy soup?

This is a dilemma I found myself grappling with a few days ago. Since I profess that I feed people’s appetites, I ought to have my fancier, party worthy meals stem for classic comfort food recipes. I need to create dressed up versions of comfort classics that have both the panache of a fancy dinner and the cozy feel of comfort food. This self-imposed mandate was the foundation of this recipe.

The herbed goat cheese ball replaces the cream that would traditionally thicken a tomato soup. As it melts into the soup it creates an additional layer of flavor and texture. This coupled with a hint of white truffle oil elevates a comfort classic to celebrity status.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Truffle oil & Herbed Goat Cheese
Serves 4 people



4 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
¼ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper


1) Mix together all the above ingredients.
2) Use your hands to form small balls that are just a little smaller than golf balls. Place them on a plate and chill in the refrigerator till the soup is ready.
3) If you have leftover goat cheese balls, they make a great spread for toast or crackers.



1 lb vine ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
5 unpeeled whole garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
5 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon of white truffle oil (See note)
2 tablespoons of basil, Chiffonade
Salt and pepper to taste


  • You can use more truffle oil if you want to. Be aware that it is very strong and a little bit more can have an overpowering flavor. You want to just have a hint of it when you taste the soup.


1) Pre-heat the oven to 450⁰F.
2) Cover a large sheet pan/cookie sheet with foil. Lay out all tomatoes, onion and garlic cloves on it. Drizzle the vegetables with the olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper.
3) Roast all these vegetables in the oven for 30 minutes. Flip the vegetables over half way through to ensure even charring.
4) Once the vegetables are roasted, bring the chicken stock to a boil along with the bay leaf and oregano in a Dutch oven on the stove top.
5) Add the roasted vegetables and the tomato paste to the boiling broth. Don’t forget to remove the roasted garlic from the peels and discard the peels before adding to the broth. Let everything come up to a rolling boil.
6) Now reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat when done.
7) Using and immersion blender or a food processor, blend everything together. Use a sieve to strain out any seeds.
8) Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the truffle oil and basil.
9) Serve the soup in your best soup bowls and top each bowl with one of the goat cheese balls.


25 Sep

“You are what you eat” – Nutritionist Victor Lindlahr

This commonly used phrase implies that to be fit and healthy you need to eat good food. Bearing this in mind, I ensure that we incorporate several of the “superfoods into our meals. “Superfood” is the marketing term often used to describe foods that are high in nutrients that bestow health benefits. Not only are these foods high in essential nutrients, but they are also very low in negative attributes such as saturated fats, contaminants and additives.

I choose to believe that eating “superfoods” which are lower in calories and high in rich and beneficial nutrients counteracts (at least to a certain extent) some of less healthy meals we devour.  It’s great to be a non-discriminating foodie, but it’s also essential to make healthful decisions along the way. This is why we eat fish for dinner at least once we week. Fish is often considered a “superfood” as it is a lean protein that is low in calories and high in Omega 3 fatty acids that are very beneficial for our bodies.

Since this is my first fish post, I want to share a fish recipe that reminds me of my childhood – one that’s made at my parents’ home on a regular basis. My mom uses Rawas (Indian Salmon fish) for this curry, but I use Tilapia as American salmon tastes quite different from the Indian kind.

Tilapia is a mild tasting fish and hence a great palette for the aromatic Indian spices and tangy tamarind. You can use any mild tasting white fish you like for this recipe. Traditionally, this fish curry is served with Basmati rice, but its bold flavors are delectable even when eaten by itself.

Tangy Tilapia Curry
Yields: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes from start to finish


2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 large red onion, diced
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 small tomatoes, grated (See note)
1 ¼ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon red chili powder (See note)
1 teaspoon ground coriander powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala (See note)
4-5 curry leaves
2 seeded and finely chopped green chilies
2 cups of water
4 skinless tilapia fillets (or any mild white fish)
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate or paste
1-2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro for garnish


  • To grate the tomatoes cut them in half across the width and remove the seeds with a paring knife. Use the larger side of a box grater to grate the meat side of the tomatoes. Discard the peels once done.
  • If you do not have red chili powder you can use cayenne.
  • Garam Masala is found in major chain grocery stores and Indian grocery stores. If you do not have a store-bought Garam Masala, you can easily make and bottle your own. Here is an easy Garam Masala recipe.


1) In a medium non-stick pan heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat
2) Once the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Stir the onions while sautéing them to ensure even cooking.
3) Once the onions are ready, add the ginger paste and garlic paste and cook for 1-2 minutes.
4) Add the grated tomatoes with a ¼ teaspoon of salt to the onions, garlic and ginger. Adding salt to the tomatoes helps them cook faster. Cook the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, till the oil separates from them. About 6-7 minutes.
5) Add all the dried spices and cook them for 2 minutes.
6) Now turn off the heat and let the above mixture cool a little. Once it’s cooled puree this concoction in a food processor or blender and set aside.
7) In a medium non-stick pot heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the curry leaves and green chilies and cook them for 2-3 minutes. Don’t let the curry leaves burn.
8) Add the onion-tomato puree that was set aside to this pot and cook till the puree turns to a reddish-brown color. This takes about 8-10 minutes.
9) Once the puree is the desired color, add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 cups of water and bring it to a rolling boil.
10) Once the water reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the tilapia fillets. Cover and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes or until the Tilapia fillets are fully cooked through and fork tender.
11) Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the tamarind paste.
12) Taste and adjust the salt, spice or tamarind paste. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately with a side of Basmati rice.

Zucchini, Herb and Cheese Bread

21 Sep

Photo Credit: Sneha

Diets are the worst form of persecution for a foodie. Every time I embark on one, the sights of baked treats taunt me and beseech me to cheat on my diet. I start dreaming of flaky puff pastry, moist chocolate cake, warm fruit pies and hearty loaves of bread!

I had the misfortune of embarking on a diet a few weeks ago. I decided to amplify my exercise routines and cut back on treats and snacks to get into shape for an upcoming wedding. I usually manage to keep up the exercise but end up binging on baked treats after a few days of deprivation.  It took me exactly a week, before I caved in and decided I needed to bake a bunch of treats and devour them. My friend Sneha, who is an amazing cook and an even better photographer agreed to join me for what we dubbed “Bake Fest 2012”! We baked puff pastry stuffed with a potato and cheese mixture, an orange Bundt cake, maple bacon chocolate-chip cookies and zucchini, herb and cheese bread.

Each of these was divine, but the zucchini bread stole my heart. Freshly baked bread is unequivocally the best kind of bread. Unlike a lot of bread recipes that require yeast and time to rise, this bread took less than an hour from start to finish.  It’s also a great way to deceive people who do not usually eat vegetables into eating healthful zucchini, as the cheese and herbs are the prominent flavors in the bread. This bread is ideal for a brunch or as a side to a soup for lunch or dinner.

This recipe was found on the Hobby Farms website and after a few attempts, here is a slightly modified version of the original recipe.

Zucchini, Herb and Cheese Bread
Adapted and Modified from the Hobby Farms website.
Time: Active: 15 minutes, Total: 55 minutes
Yield: 1 8-by-4-inch loaf


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cayenne powder
2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh herbs (I used a combination of rosemary, thyme and garlic chives)
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 large eggs
¼ cup good quality olive oil
½ cup milk (I used 1% milk)
1 cup zucchini, shredded and water squeezed out


I used rosemary, garlic chives and thyme, but you can use whatever fresh herbs you have available.


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Grease and flour an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan and set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add the fresh herbs and green onions to the dry ingredients and mix well till everything is combined.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the oil and milk to the beaten eggs and mix well.
  6. Stir the zucchini into the egg mixture.
  7. Fold the egg and zucchini mixture into the dry ingredients. Do this just until all the ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix.
  8. Pour this into the greased and floured loaf pan. Use a butter knife or spatula to smooth out the top of the batter.
  9. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  10. Place the loaf pan on the countertop and let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then turn it out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
  11. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm with butter, cream cheese or goat cheese.

Indian Cooking in USA:

20 Sep

Given my universal love for food, I aim to communicate recipes from all around the world. There may be times when my Indian background kicks in and I will share my favorite traditional recipes, or take a particular recipe and give it an Indian twist. 

Cooking Indian food can be daunting for someone who is newer to cooking or new to Indian cuisine. This is often because of the sheer number of exotic spices or steps listed in a recipe. Please do not let this inhibit you from trying an Indian recipe.  Once you master an Indian recipe from one region, you will be able to cook several other dishes from that region as well as muster the courage to experiment recipes from other parts of India.

Here is some information and useful tips that should cheer you on to cook an Indian meal.

Purchasing Indian Spices and Herbs:

I strive to use ingredients that are easily available and most major grocery stores now carry a lot of Indian Spices. There may be a few recipes that have spices that you many not find in the major grocery stores, please do not let that turn you away from trying that recipe. Any sizable town or city in the US usually has an Indian grocery store. This website: , has an interactive map that lists Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi grocery stores by each state. Just click on the state you are in and find the Indian/Pakistani/ Bangladeshi grocery stores nearest to you. If you do not live near one of these ethnic specialty stores, you can order spices online at or If both these avenues fail you, please feel free to email me or leave a comment asking for an alternative to the ingredient.

General tips:

  • Garlic and Ginger Paste: A lot of Indian recipes call for Garlic paste and/or Indian paste. While these are inexpensive and easy to find, you can easily make your own ginger-garlic paste and refrigerate it in an air-tight container. I have added this recipe at the end of this page.
  • Holy Trinity of Indian Cuisine: Onions, garlic and ginger.
  • Non-stick pots and pans: Most Indian dishes start off with sautéing heaps of diced onions on medium heat till they are golden brown. You will require a lot of oil to do this, unless you have non-stick pots and pans. Using non-stick pots and pans ensures a healthier meal and one that cooks faster.
  • Spice Grinder: Freshly ground spices are always the best form of dried spices. So if you are in the mood for roasting cumin and coriander seeds and then grinding them, you will be well rewarded for your efforts. You can store these in your pantry in air-tight containers and as long as there isn’t too much humidity where you live these spices will retain their potency for 6-8 months. I use a good old coffee grinder to grind my spices. Just make it sure you clean the grinder well, unless you want a spiced coffee!
  • Read the whole recipe before making it: While this essential for all recipes it is extremely pertinent with a cuisine you are not very familiar with.

Ginger -Garlic Paste:


  • 1 cup of peeled garlic cloves                                             
  • 1 cup of peeled and roughly chopped ginger pieces
  • 1-2 tsp of water
  • 1 tsp vegetable or canola oil (0ptional)
  • ¼ tsp of salt (optional)


  1. In a food processor or blender puree together the ginger and garlic.
  2. Add the water if you need it to facilitate the pureeing process.
  3. The above mixture is the freshest and purest form of ginger-garlic paste. If you are not going to consume the whole amount in 2-3 days, add the oil and salt into the mixture. If you store this mixture with the oil and salt in an air tight container it will stay good for 10-14 days.


18 Sep

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles M. Schulz

This was the very reason why I signed up for Le 15 Patisserie’s Chocolate Lover’s class in the beginning of this year. I had been away from my husband for a month and wanted to do something really special for him when I returned to the US, just in time for Valentine’s Day. I know the way to my man’s heart is through his stomach, specifically if it’s a decadent chocolate dessert.

The class was led by Pooja Dhingra, Owner and Executive Chef of Le 15 Patisserie. She went over several pertinent baking tips and techniques, while covering five scrumptious chocolate based dessert recipes. This class was really a turning point in my culinary life as it awakened in me a new-found love for baking. I have always been an ardent cook but baking desserts was not really my forte. Till last year my repertoire of baking included experimenting different variations of boxed brownies, cookies and cake mixes. The thought of measuring every ingredient and baking from scratch was rather daunting and required more patience than I possessed.  Pooja’s class inspired me to start baking from scratch and along the way I have discovered that baking is a very de-stressing activity.

Post the Chocolate Lover’s class, I called my husband gushing about my plans to start baking regularly. He was overjoyed and ensured that I would not change my mind by gifting me a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (a baker’s best friend) for Valentine’s Day. And so began the last few months of my baking experiments.  

Of the five chocolate recipes shared in the class, the Nutella brownie recipe was my favorite. It marries together Nutella and chewy brownies – a sinful combination!  Using lesser flour and using baking chocolate (instead of just cocoa powder), creates brownies that are both chewy and fudgy. While dark chocolate and hazelnut spread are the dominant flavors in this recipe the addition of white chocolate adds a remarkable creaminess to the texture of these brownies.

After working on these brownies a few times, I have made a few minor modifications to the recipe shared in the class.

Chewy, Fudgy Nutella Brownies

Recipe adapted for Le 15 Patisserie’s Chocolate Lover’s Class
Yields: 20-25 brownies, depending on the size of your baking pan


170 grams (1 ½ sticks) of room temperature unsalted butter
150 grams dark chocolate (Recommended Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Baking chocolate)
85 grams of white chocolate
3 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder
350 grams (1 ¾ cups) granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
170 grams (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp table salt (ONLY if you are using unsalted butter)
75 grams (3/4 cup) roasted and chopped hazelnuts
3 tablespoons of Nutella (or more if you want a lot of Nutella)


  • In some countries where only salted butter is available, eliminate the salt from the ingredients.
  • You can use walnuts in place of roasted hazelnuts.
  • Never melt the chocolate directly on the stove top as it will scorch. Always use a hot water bath (double boiler) to melt the chocolate.
  • Chewy and fudgy brownies do not break while being cut if refrigerated for 1-2 hours before cutting them.

1) Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Grease and flour a 9” or 10” square baking dish and set aside.
2) Over a hot bath, melt together the butter, dark and white chocolate and cocoa powder. Use a whisk to keep stirring this constantly. Once melted, set aside till this mixture cools a little.
3) Whisk together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
4) Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (if using it).
5) Slowly pour the melted chocolate mixture over the egg mixture and lightly whisk it together. Be careful not to over mix.
6) Use a spatula to slowly fold in dry ingredients, followed by ¾ cup of the hazelnuts.
7) Spread this mixture into the greased baking pan.
8) Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. It takes about 35 minutes in my oven.
9) Set aside the brownies to cool in the baking pan. After the brownies have cooled down, generously spread them with Nutella.
10) Place the brownies in the fridge and let them chill for 1-2 hours. Once the brownies are chilled and firm, cut them into 2 inch squares.
11) Enjoy these brownies with some vanilla bean ice-cream or a cold glass of milk!

Indian Summer Tomato and Shrimp Orzo

14 Sep

If you live in the North East, summer is that time of the year when everyone and everything seems vivacious, buoyant and liberated.  It’s the time of the year to pack in barbecues, pool time, camping, movies under the stars and everything summer related before it all fades away. In our household summer includes consuming copious amounts of fresh summer produce and seafood.  While, a lot of summer produce and seafood is often found year-round, the quality and assortment are extremely disparate from when they are in season.

My summer menus are usually inspired by all summer produce, but my partiality towards TOMATOES is often a rather controversial topic in our home. This is the consequence of feeding my husband every conceivable version of a hot and cold tomato soup and tomato salad last summer, till he was “tomatoed” out! This year I had to tread carefully and find less blatant approaches of working tomatoes into our dinners.  I worked furtively to reposition tomatoes – the Queen of Summer Produce from being the meal to the background essence of most of our meals.

This recipe is the outcome of one of these covert experiments. The union of tomatoes with onion, garlic and ginger – the trinity of Indian cuisine gives a traditional Italian orzo an exotic and exciting twist. Versatile orzo absorbs the favors of the tomatoes and Indian spices creating a light and healthy one-pot dinner.

Indian Summer Tomato and Shrimp Orzo

Servings: 4 servings (1 cup per serving)
Active time: 30 minutes    Start to finish: 45minutes


1 cup uncooked Orzo
26 uncooked medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves, torn up if they are very large (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, 1 inch piece
3 cloves
2 green cardamoms
1 medium red onion, diced
2 green chilies, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Hot House red tomatoes, grated (See Cooks’ note)
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons table salt, divided
Frozen Peas, ½ cup defrosted
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice


  • To grate the tomatoes cut them in half across the width and remove the seeds with a paring knife. Use the larger side of a box grater to grate the meat side of the tomatoes. Discard the peels once done.
  • Leave out the shrimp and increase the peas if cutting back on shellfish.
  • While this recipe can be made year round, it’s the best to make it in the summer when tomatoes and shrimp are at their best


  1. Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a 2 quart or larger pot. When the water is at a rolling boil add 1teaspoon of salt and the Orzo. Cook the Orzo stirring constantly. Cook till the Orzo is al-dente (firm to bite) about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a 4 quart heavy pot over medium heat till it shimmers. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop, about 1-2 minutes. Add the curry leaves if using them and cook for a minute. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the onions to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, green chilies and ginger and cook stirring, 2 minutes.
  4. Add the turmeric and chili powder along with 1 tablespoon of water and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes along with 1 teaspoon of salt and cook till the oil separates, about 4 minutes.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the shrimp and peas to the pot and cook till the shrimp is cooked through, about 4 minutes.
  7. Stir in the cooked Orzo and toss everything together for a minute.
  8. Add the lime juice, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Appetite Grows By What It Feeds On

12 Sep

In honor of Julia Child’s 100th Birthday, most major publications had a piece or two reflecting on the life and legacy of this culinary icon. “Learning How to Eat” by Tamar Adler in the New Yorker, really got me thinking about the French adage in the piece ‘L’appetit vient en mangeant’, that can implytheAppetite grows by what it feeds on’. While the article focuses on the dichotomy between eating right and eating what you like, it was Julia’s quote “Certainly one of the most important requirements for learning how to cook is that you also learn how to eat”  that left me soul searching.

Julia Child’s memoir recounts how her move to France transformed her as she let herself taste and smell differently. Her openness to the tastes and smells around her helped her find her true calling – giving food writers a lot to write about this week. While I can in no way compare my paltry talents to Julia Child’s, I decided to take a walk down memory lane to piece together what cultivated my love for food that led to my culinary zeal.

I had to revisit my first major food related memory. Back in 1990, China Garden was the most exciting addition to Mumbai’s nascent “foreign” dining scene. A 9 year old and a 5 year old settled into this noisy restaurant, on a table adorned with a Bamboo plant and paper place-mats illustrated with Chinese Zodiac signs. They eagerly awaited noodles and chicken – a Chinese restaurant favorite for most children back then.  Little did they know that their father who had travelled to places they could only dream of at that age was going to introduce them to Schezwan Crabs, a delicacy from the Far East.  This would be the very first “exotic” food they would savor in their lives. The dish arrived with much fan-fare and it took a lot of coaxing to get these children to use their hands to crack the crabs, extract the meat and dip it in the spicy Schezwan sauce. And then it happened – I, the 9 year old experienced love at the first bite when I ate the sweet lumpy crab meat dipped in the peppery and tangy Schezwan sauce.

This was my brother and my initiation into the world of global cuisine and the realization that discovering new foods is extremely gratifying. We promised our father that we would never reject a food without trying it first, and have always honored this promise. As we grew older we were blessed with opportunities to travel and savor peaking duck, sashimi, escargots, clam bakes, harissa,

Korean BBQ with my parents’ in 2010

mangosteens, persimmons and a plethora of foods we could not have dreamt of in India back then. While our father always encouraged us to take leaps of faith with our taste buds, our mother made sure we exercised portion control and stayed active. Like Julia Child, she preached that we “must have discipline to have fun”.  During our food adventures, there were several foods we fell in love with and only a handful that we chose not to swallow again. Our palates ripened and our shared love for food strengthened our bond as a family.

My appetite for food really grew deeply; it grew way more than the size of my wallet when I graduated college. For a gourmand (I use this as Julia Child would – “Happy Eater”), this was tragic. Just when I felt utterly distressed with my situation Food Network and the internet were my saviors. I started recreating delicacies I craved in my tiny kitchen at a fraction of the cost I would pay outside.  A decade later, despite being able to afford the occasional mind-blowing food experience cooking is still my all consuming passion. It’s a skill I’ve honed along the way and yet work at judiciously each day.

I only cook what I crave and love to eat. The results are meals that have been nurtured with love and delight, ones that are appreciated by family and friends. Most people say they learnt to cook from their parents or grandparents. I learnt to eat from my parents! They fostered a healthy and non-discriminating appetite for food in me. So if one of the most important aspects of learning to cook is learning to eat – well yes then I also learnt to cook from my parents.

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