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Clams Masala Wraps

1 May

Clams Masala WrapsMy husband recently surprised me with Chef Maneet Chauhan’s first cookbook: Flavors of My World. In this book Chef Chauhan takes principal recipes from 25 different countries and gives them her own magic touch with spices and flavors she grew up with. It’s a magnificent collection of recipes that have been nurtured with big bold flavors. I intend to cook my way through this book to savor all these mouth-watering International dishes that have been married with the spices that I love.

If you grew up in India, you may appreciate why Flavors of My World’s – Masala Coke Cuba Libre recipe resonated with me and brought back so many memories of my childhood. A chilled Coke (or even Indian Thums-Up) mixed with some chaat masala was the perfect accompaniment to any spicy meal. Chef Chauhan makes a grown up version of this by adding in some rum. Occasionally, in my growing culinary quest I am guilty of momentarily forgetting simple tastes that I so adored as a little girl. The Masala Coke Cuba Libra brought me right back to those flavors.

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Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Popcorn

28 Mar

Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Popcorn

One of two things is likely to occur when you savor this Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Popcorn:

1)      You will stop going to the movies and start watching every movie at home with a big batch of this popcorn.

OR

2)      You will start making this popcorn and sneaking it into movies theatres. Please do not blame me if you get caught. 

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Spring Fling: Edamame Chaat

26 Mar

Edamame ChaatIf you are an immigrant you know that “identity” is a loose and often elusive term. More that often you find yourself distanced from the ways of your birth country, and yet no matter how hard you try you may never completely belong in your adopted country.  Do not despair, because food often helps bridge the gap!

Food is an intrinsic part of our identities and for an immigrant easy access to childhood meals helps ease and speeds the process of settling into a new country.  This takes time and there’s certainly a learning curve. You will eventually know where to find obscure ingredients (that weren’t obscure where you came from), or discover the perfect substitutes for them.  Continue reading

Indian Whole-Wheat Pancakes

5 Mar

Saffron and Cardamom pancakes

My earliest memories of pancakes are my dadi’s (paternal grandmother’s) “meetha pudas”. They are eggless, whole-wheat pancakes laced with Indian spices and cooked in ghee (clarified butter). Reflecting on these pancakes conjures up several food memories of my childhood that are often centered on my grandmother’s cooking.

My grandmother embodied the very concept of “Feeding Your Appetite”, expressing the depth of her love through her cooking. I believe that my innate desire to cook for the ones I love is something I inherited from her. Unfortunately, my grandmother never experienced the birth and development of my culinary passion and I never had the opportunity to cook for her. Since my blog is just a week shy of its 6th month anniversary, I wanted to share a recipe that could have played a small part in developing my culinary zeal.

These pancakes are laced with fragrant Indian spices – fennel seeds, cardamom powder and saffron. Replacing all-purpose flour with

Saffron, cardamom and fennel seeds

whole-wheat flour and eliminating the eggs creates a healthier alternative to traditional pancakes. I use lesser sugar in the batter in order to add honey in the end, which really augments the flavors of the Indian spices. These pancakes are perfect for a nourishing breakfast (or after-school snack) and are a remarkably delightful way to show someone how much you care.

Indian Whole-Wheat Pancakes
Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4-5 large pancakes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon 2% milk, slightly warm
1/8 teaspoon of saffron
1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons fine granulated or powdered sugar
¾ Teaspoon of green cardamom powder (See note)
1 ½ teaspoons of fennel seeds
1-1 ¼ cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil divided
Good quality honey for drizzling on the pancakes

Note:

  • Cardamom powder is readily available in all grocery stores. In case you only have whole cardamoms pods at home you can easily make cardamom powder. In a mortar with a pestle break apart the cardamom pods and discard the green skin. Use the pestle or a coffee grinder to powder the seeds of the cardamom pods.

Method:
1) Crush the saffron with your fingers and add it to the warm milk. Mix it and set it aside for 10 minutes.
2) While the milk and saffron is set aside, you can start making the rest of the pancake batter. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the whole-wheat flour, baking soda, sugar, cardamom powder and fennel seeds.
3) Add 1 cup of milk and the saffron and milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir all the ingredients well but do not over-mix – it is okay to have a few lumps. If the consistency of the batter is too thick then add in the remaining ¼ cup (or some part of it) to this batter.
4) Heat a skillet or a griddle to medium-high heat.  Heat the oil in batches and add 1/4 – 1/5 of the batter in the center of the skillet and spread out to make a round pancake. Cook till brown on both sides and the insides are fully cooked. Repeat this process till all the pancakes are made.
5) Serve hot drizzled with a good quality honey.

Goat Cheese, Sun-dried Tomato & Arugula Pesto Crostini

15 Jan

IMG_2398Necessity is the mother of invention, and often how a new recipe is born. In fact excess of a perishable ingredient and a desire to do something special with it often inspire tasty solutions in my kitchen!

In short here is the whole truth behind this recipe:

Pickle # 1:  I have a bunch of arugula that I need to use up soon, and I do not feel like eating a salad tonight. Duh, but I  always eat Arugula in my salad!
Solution #1: Make a Pesto out of it!

Pickle #2: A basic Arugula Pesto is a bit too strong by itself on bread.
Solution #2: It could use some sweetness and tang and possibly the addition of neutral and  creamy component. Hmmm…how about topping it with SUN-DRIED TOMATOES & GOAT CHEESE?

Final Result: Aha! The perfect balance of flavors on a slice of crusty bread. It’s a party in your mouth when the sweet, acidic and chewy sun-dried tomatoes balance out the sharp taste of the pesto and the creamy texture of the goat cheese. Pair this with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and its a lot more elating that a classic Arugula salad!

Goat Cheese, Sun-dried tomato & Arugula Pesto Crostini Recipe
Time: 15-20 minutes
Yield: 3/4 cup of Pesto

Ingredients:
2 cups packed arugula, washed and drained
6 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of pine nuts, lightly roasted (See note)
1/3 cup of good Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 whole black peppercorns
¼ cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste
1/3-1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced or diced
1 cup of goat cheese, crumbled
1 loaf French or Italian Baguette (See note)

Note:

  • Pine nuts can be toasted in a non-stick skillet on low heat. Keep an eye on these as they get done quickly and can burn easily. They are ready when they have a light color change and you can smell them.
  • French Baguettes are typically a lot harder than Italian Baguettes. Since I used a French Baguette, I did not toast it up for the Crostini. If you use an Italian Baguette or another softer baguette, you should toast it in the oven or under the broiler to ensure crusty bread that stands up to the toppings without getting soggy too soon.

Method:
1) In a food processor or blender combine the arugula, garlic, roasted pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, peppercorns, olive oil, crushed red pepper and salt to taste. Blend this to a thick paste, or leave some texture if you prefer a chunkier pesto.
2) Slice the baguette into 1 inch slices on a bias.
3) Spread a layer or two of pesto on each slice. Now top each slice with a few sun-dried tomatoes followed by goat cheese crumbles. I was skimpy with the goat cheese, to reduce some of the fat content, but these are even tastier when you are generous with the sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese!

Crispy Chili Garlic Baby Corn

20 Dec

IMG_2031

My trips to Mumbai resemble a literal walk down a food memory lane. My nostalgia surges and I am on a rampant mission to eat at all the places I fondly remember eating at, in the late 80’s and 90’s. The Mumbai dining scene has evolved considerably in the last 5-10 years.  Celebrity chefs from all over have flocked here to gain a share of the growing middle and upper income groups wallets and palates. Yet, it is not the fine dining and eclectic cuisine that I crave to eat here. It’s the bold and tangy street fare, the ambiance and culinary marvels of the old Irani cafes, and the delectable seafood at the down-to-earth coastal restaurants that have me ALWAYS coming back for more.

One cuisine that’s unique to India and is a MUST EAT on each trip is “Indian Chinese” known as “Chinese food” in India.  Chinese food in India is essentially food that is an adaptation of Chinese seasonings and cooking techniques to Indian tastes. This cuisine is said to have been developed over a century ago by a small Chinese community that lived in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). Indian Chinese is a bold cuisine that harmoniously unites Indian and Chinese spices to season vegetables, meats, noodles and rice. It’s a mainstream cuisine in India and can be found at every place from a hawkers cart for under $2 to a five-star restaurant for $50-100 a person.

One of my favorite Indian Chinese dish is Chili Garlic Potatoes. Earlier this week, I was at the Willingdon Club of Mumbai indulging in the garlicky and tangy flavor of Chili Garlic Potatoes when I decided to recreate the flavors  at home with baby corn. The recipe below is derived from a few modifications to Sailu’s Kitchen Chili Baby Corn. It’s a piquant appetizer, that’s sure to warm you up on a cold night.

Crispy Chili Garlic Baby Corn Recipe:
Recipe Adapted from Sailu’s Kitchen Chilli Baby Corn
Time: 35-40 minutes
Yield: Appetizer sized portion for 4 people

Ingredients:
Fried Baby Corn:
3 tablespoons of corn starch
½ teaspoon garlic paste
½ teaspoon ginger paste
¼ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ – ¾ teaspoon salt (per taste)
3 cups baby corn cut into 1 inch pieces (washed and dried) (See note)
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil for pan frying

Sauce:
1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil
¼ cup green onions (whites and greens), thinly sliced + extra for garnish
7-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 bird’s eye chilies/That chili (Optional) (See note)
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
½ medium to large green pepper, diced
¼ cup tomato ketchup
2 ½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon Siracha sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic paste or Schezwan sauce (See note)
¼ cup of water
1 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water

Notes:

  • I used fresh baby corn. If you cannot find fresh baby corn, large grocery stores and Asian markets carry canned baby corn. Drain, wash and thoroughly dry the canned baby corn before you use it.
  • Bird’s eye chilies, Chili Garlic Paste and Schezwan sauce are available in Asian markets and some large grocery stores. Eliminate the bird’s eye chilies if you do not want to make this too spicy.

Method:
1) In a mixing bowl combine the cornstarch, ginger paste, garlic paste, chili powder, salt and pepper. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water and mix well. You want to have a thin batter that creates a thin coating on the baby corn.
2) In a large skillet heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat. Coat each baby corn piece in the batter. Pan-fry the baby corn in batches until they are light brown. Set aside the fried baby corn on a plate lined with kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.
3) In the same skillet heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil on medium heat. Now add the green onions, garlic, ginger and birds eye chilies and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the garlic is golden brown.
4) Add the green pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes until the green pepper is tender.
5) Add the tomato ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, Siracha, and chili garlic paste and cook for 1-2 minutes.
6) Add ¼ cup of water and simmer for another 3-4 minutes. Add the corn starch and water mixture and cook for 2-3 minutes until the raw corn starch taste dissipates.  Taste the sauce and add more soy or chili sauce per your taste.
7) Add the fried baby corn and toss to ensure that all the pieces are well coated with the sauce. Cook for another 1-2 minutes before transferring the baby corn to a serving platter. Garnish with a few sliced green onions and serve hot as a snack or an appetizer.

Chili-Cheese Wonton Cups

3 Dec

Chili-Cheese Wonton Cups

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all”

    – Andy Williams

Yes the magic of the holidays is right around the corner. Unfortunately, this most wonderful time comes coupled with the stress of entertaining hordes of guests that show up with the holidays. The key to survive is to keep things simple, yet delicious. This is a great time to take some help from your favorite food stores and create semi-homemade menus. The easiest way to entertain is to host a cocktail party with exciting drinks and mouthwatering appetizers. It keeps things uncomplicated, especially since several appetizers can be made and assembled ahead of time.

No cocktail party is ever complete without at least one or two cheese-centric Hors d’oeuvres. While anything with warm, melted cheese tastes delicious presentation is also crucial at these cocktail parties. So instead of a classic cracker or crostini topped with a melted cheese mixture, why not delight your guests by serving up some cheesy-goodness in an edible mini-cup? These chili-cheese wonton cups with a bubbly mixture of cheese brightened up with fresh chives and a hint of earthy cumin is a scrumptious and exquisite looking appetizer.

Chili-Cheese Wonton Cups Recipe
Recipe Adapted from Taste of Home’s Chili-Cheese Wonton Cups
Yields: 24 wonton cups
Time: Active: 10 minutes; Baking 18-20 minutes.

Ingredients:
24 wonton wrappers
Butter-flavored non-stick cooking spray (Recommended: PAM)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded pepper-jack cheese (See note)
½ cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1 large jalapeno (or 2 small ones), seeded and minced
1 ½ tablespoons chives, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
5-6 green or black pitted olives, thinly sliced.

Notes:

  • I used regular pepper jack cheese, but you can use a lower fat version or substitute with cheddar cheese.
  • Once you master how to make the wonton cups, you can get creative and play around with the edges of the wonton to create slightly different shapes. The third cup in the picture has a more leafy effect as I played around with the edges to create it.
  • The cups (without the filling) can be made a day in advance and should be stored in an air-tight container.

Method:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degree F. Coat a miniature muffin tin (24 mini muffins) with cooking spray and set aside.
2) Gently press 1 wanton wrapper into each muffin tin to form a cup. Make sure you press the edges down onto the sides, as they have a tendency to flap in while baking – forming a deformed cup. Wonton wrappers can tear easily so be patient and gentle with them. If you have a small tear, do not worry, just pinch it together. Spritz all the cups with the butter-flavored spray and bake for 8-9 minutes until the edges are golden. (Don’t wait till these are fully baked as you will be baking them again after the cheese mixture is filled into them.)
3) While the wonton cups are baking, in a small bowl combine the cheeses, jalapeno, chives, salt, cumin and pepper. Once everything is well combined set it aside.
4) Remove the cups from the oven and spoon the cheese mixture into each of the cups. Top with 1-2 olive slices and bake for 10 minutes or longer until golden brown and bubbly. Serve warm. 

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