Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not just 'ghas-phus'

When I tell people that I can eat salads as a meal in itself, I'm met with stares and incredulous looks. "Really, you? Why would you eat ghas-phus for a meal?" they ask. Well it isn't just ghas-phus (a Hindi colloquial term for vegetables), salads are more than just that and if you've been around here for a while, then you will know that salads are a regular feature at my place. Sometimes we have a soup and salad for dinner. At times, we've even had just a nice, big, hearty salad with crusty bread as a meal in itself.

Since I make salads so often I thought I'd share with you three of them, which I've made recently and which have turned out absolutely delicious. Each one is different and unique but, what is common is that they all use fresh, seasonal produce and don't take too long to put together. So if you're tired after a long day at work, have people over or just want to make something that's easy, healthy and tasty; here are three options.

A whole bunch of textures that play with your senses
Beet, pear & walnut salad 

Beetroot is not one of my favourite vegetables and often, I have to trick myself into eating it! But, if I had to eat this salad every single day, I would, happily. The sweet earthiness of the beetroot, the tartness of the pear, salty hint of the Feta and the crunch from the walnuts make this salad a winner all the way. 

1 beetroot, steamed 
1 large pear, de-seeded and sliced 
2 tbsp of Feta cheese 

For the dressing
Mix these and keep aside for about 5 minutes 
1/2 tsp of Balsamic vinegar 
1 tsp of olive oil 
Some freshly crushed peppercorn 
Pinch of salt 

For the garnish
A handful of Rocket leaves 
1 tbsp of walnuts 

Peel the beetroot and slice it, the slices should be about 3mm thick. Soak the sliced pear in water with a few drops of lemon to prevent it from discolouring. 

On a large platter, arrange the beetroot slices at the bottom. Mix the pear with half of the walnuts and place on top of this. Crumble the Feta cheese over this, followed by rest of the walnuts. Now drizzle the salad dressing on top of this. Finish with the Rocket leaves. Serve immediately. 

Don't they say that you eat with your eyes first? 

Mix veggie & bean salad 

I love adding beans to salads - apart from giving it that punch of protein, they also make the dish very filling. All you need to do is serve this with a light soup and you have a complete meal. 

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced into half moons 
1 yellow bell pepper, de-seeded and sliced 
1 red carrot, peeled and cut into batons of about an inch tall 
A handful of rajma (red kidney beans) steamed 
1 cup of lettuce, torn 
2 tbsp of mint leaves, torn 
1 tbsp of parsley, torn 

Put all these vegetables into a mixing bowl and pour over a dressing that's made from:

1 tsp olive oil 
1/2 tsp of mustard 
1 tsp of honey
A pinch of salt

Toss the vegetables in the dressing so that all the vegetable pieces are coated with it. Serve immediately. 

This dish is warm and comforting

Warm prawn salad

Prawns are among my favourite seafood. Using them in a salad like this just shows how versatile this is. We had this salad with hunks of crusty bread, also known as kadak pav in Mumbai! This one is perfect when the nights are a little chilly

200 gms of prawns, cleaned and deveined
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 green chilli, sliced, de-seeded and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup of bean sprouts
Some olive oil
Salt to taste

Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the garlic to it. When this begins turning brown, add the chilli and follow with the prawns. Saute until the prawns are almost done. Now add the bean sprouts, you don't want to add them too early because they will lose their crunch. Season well but remember you will need to add Feta cheese, which is salty, later on.

Top this dish with:
A handful of Arugula leaves
Some Raddish micro greens
Crumbled Feta cheese

And serve warm with bread. We ate it right out of the pan that I had cooked it in!

*There are some ingredients in these recipes like Arugula or micro greens which may not be easily available. You can substitute with Iceberg lettuce or chopped parsley or mint for this. Yes, it will impact the flavours but fresh herbs always weave a magic of their own

*All these salads are best eaten the minute they're prepared. I would advise against storing it even for a couple of minutes and eating it later on

*While washing the vegetables, soak them in salted water for a while, rinse and then proceed. This helps get rid of germs, bacteria and all other unwanted things

Friday, November 28, 2014

When food evokes 'happi'ness

When I heard that a new restaurant opened in the Bandra-Khar area a couple of weeks ago, my first reaction was, "Really, another one? Didn't know there was place for so many!" But when I heard that this restaurant was called 'Me So Happi', I was curious. And for someone who has been a journalist for a while, this curiosity can be funny business.

So when I was asked if I would go and check out this place, I agreed immediately. I checked with the husband, the man was free on a week night so we decided to head to Me So Happi for dinner. I'm also one of those who 'researches' about a place before eating there and when I saw that this restaurant had Bunny Chow on their menu, I was thrilled - the last time I had this was in Durban, years ago! I have pleasant memories of that trip and was eager to try this South African special.

The use of wood and ceiling-to-floor windows gives the restaurant a warm atmosphere

Quirky wall decor adds to the charm

Motifs inspired by video games

Given the number of restaurants in the Bandra-Khar area, I wondered if we could find the place easily. The good part is that it is right on the main road and there's a huge sign there. Difficult to miss and that's a good thing. As we walked into Me So Happi, we noticed that the place was huger than what we imagined it to be. I took in the colours, the cheerful decor, the board games and video game-inspired motifs as we settled down at our table. The husband remarked that almost every table had a plug point next to it, so necessary these days with smartphones draining out in a matter of a handful Now, the husband and I are non-fussy when it comes to food so we asked the Chef to go ahead and send us the food.

Beet & Quinoa Salad: Light, refreshing and absolutely delicious

Our meal began with this amazingly light and refreshing Beet & Quinoa salad, it had the right notes of sweet, tangy and citrus which complemented the many textures in the dish. I could have this for dinner. It was a promising start and I was looking forward to the rest of the meal. We washed down the salad with some mocktails - a Lemon Mojito and Kokum Bounty (kokum, lime and rock salt), which were perfect for the balmy weather.

Wouldn't mind seconds: Prawns on Fire

After this we were sent a plate of the Bombillo (fried Bombay Duck with a Chinese inspired sauce), which was good, but just that. This was followed by Prawns on Fire, a dish that I'd heard was one of the best here and I was curious to taste it. At first glance it looked like another dish of fried prawns, but, one bite down and I was grinning - the prawns were beautifully cooked and the best part was the marination, which was in a spicy masala redolent with the earthy flavours of curry leaves. It reminded me of Chennai. Home. Memories. That warm fuzzy feeling. I said to myself, "Me So Happi!"

We were quite full with these starters so asked the Chef to go slow on the order. He was surprised but when we told him we wanted to do justice to the food and not waste it, he agreed. And suggested that this would be a good time to take a walk around the place. The restaurant is a cosy place but the one place I was taken by was this charming replica of a kitchen near the billing counter.

The mini kitchen

Isn't that charming?

As we walked back to our table, Chef Aniruddh told us about how they wanted to start opening up the place for events and parties. Given that they have a decent amount of space, it seems like a good option.

Seafood Sliders

Since we were on our way to being full we had actually asked the Chef to cancel the order for Seafood Sliders, which were up next, but one bite into it and I was so glad he didn't listen to us! The seafood was fried in a tempura-like batter and then topped with a Thai-inspired sauce with loads of lemongrass before being stuffed into a slider bun. Just delicious. The Stuffed Potato Skins came next. Compared to the previous dish, this one paled in comparison and I couldn't eat more than half of a single portion. Maybe it was because this was vegetarian, but then, we love our vegetables. Maybe it was that the dishes before this one were so good that this didn't live up to the expectations. I reasoned it out in my mind and concluded that it was possibly the latter.

Stuffed Potato Skins, these paled in comparison with the other dishes we sampled

I had told the Chef in the beginning that I was eager to taste the Bunny Chow and he agreed, adding that it was one of their most popular items on the menu. The good part is that the curry changes every day. I guess we got lucky with this because the curry was spicy but had a velvety texture because of the generous use of coconut milk. Delicious!

Bunny Chow. So glad some place in Mumbai finally serves this dish

The Chef asked us if we had the room to try out one of their signature burgers, we groaned in protest. He laughed and insisted that we couldn't leave without some dessert. So I went in for the Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was sweet with a hint of salt and packed with dates. The husband had the Banana Caramel Pie, when you have banana, caramel and a dark chocolate base it is difficult to go wrong, even if you try. The desserts were as good as they looked and sounded, but the winners at Me So Happi are some of the appetisers and the Bunny Chow.

We called it a night after the dessert and decided to head home but not before promising the Chef that we would be back to try all the things we missed this time.

Me So Happi is located at Shop 2, Kusum Kunj, Khar, Linking Road. Opposite Guess Showroom.

PS: I was there on invitation so I haven't given you the prices

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Memories are made of these

They say death is a great teacher. Maybe it is true. But what I do know is that, death changes you completely - inside out, upside down. Even when you know that it is the most inevitable thing.

I lost my (paternal) grandmother last week. It didn't come as a shock. We were prepared. We knew she was going downhill. When she passed on we grieved but, we were also grateful she didn't have to suffer even more than she already had. Yet, despite all this, when the void hits you like a punch in the face, you realize that you can never be prepared for losing a loved one. You want them at the oddest times, you remember them suddenly, sometimes more often than not and then that void hits you, again.

My grandmother didn't fit into the stereotype of a grandma. Perhaps that is why her grandchildren are the way they are.  She was a lady who believed in principles and standing by them. Even though she wasn't a graduate, she wanted her grandchildren to study further. "How will you be financially independent when you grow up," she would ask me when I told her I'd enough of the books. It wasn't about bagging the first rank, she was thinking more long-term. I didn't understand why then but today I know exactly what she meant.

My grandmother was careful, not frugal, generous but not lavish. She had lived through times when money was tight and had also seen the good days. Not one to shower praises, I remember when I bought my first car, she asked me how much it was. When I told her the amount, her eyes widened in surprise, "Did you really have to spend so much," she asked, her cautious nature coming to the fore again. For a moment I was taken aback, 'I'm an adult. I know what I'm doing,' I thought. A couple of minutes later, I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone, "You know, my granddaughter has bought a new car. That too all on her own." That note of pride was unmistakable. And my grin stretched from ear to ear, literally.

These are memories I'll hold close to my heart. I'll look into this box of treasure when I'm down, when I'm happy and when I need some reassurance that I have another angel looking over me.

Memories of her are of the aroma of homemade hair oil, yes, she made that at home too! Memories are  made of the delicious doodh khadi (milk barfi), the warmth of her touch when I was sick, the twist she gave a simple curd rice, the lime-ginger juice that cooled us from the summer heat, her constant humming, her meticulous nature, her penchant for noticing beyond the obvious. There are loads of these that will keep me going for a lifetime. Yet, it is ironic that in the end, it is memory that failed her.

Did I also tell you my grandmother could make bread at home? Not the regular loaves or rolls, she would make the stuffed variety in a mind-boggling array of shapes. The tenacious lady that she was, even yeast didn't frighten her! That the jams she made were far, far better than the bottled stuff we get today? That she was the one who started the concept of  'soup and bread' dinners at home? That she made tomato sauce, pickle and even ice cream at home? There is a lot to be told and I soon will.

I wanted to write this post earlier but I kept writing and deleting. Yes, I'll admit, the keyboard even got damp a couple of times. It was never enough. So I decided today that I would just let the words flow. Something like how I thought of making this Pumpkin Orange Bread.

This bread is similar to my grandmother - earthy, bold yet understated, refreshing, honest and wholesome. And I know, if I'd given her a slice of this, she'd have eaten it in a minute and then quietly told me to save her some for tomorrow!

Pumpkin Orange Bread

1 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of bajra (barley) flour
1/4 cup of rajgira (amaranth) flour
1/4 cup of jowar (pearl millet) flour
1/4 cup of ragi (red millet) flour
1 1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of baking powder
A pinch of salt

Mix these ingredients together. Keep aside.

In another bowl, mix the following
3/4 cup of pumpkin puree (I peeled, cut and steamed pumpkin cubes with a little water for this and then ground to a paste)
1 tsp of orange rind
1/4 tsp of cinnamon powder
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of flax seeds, lightly roasted, powdered and mixed with 1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of demerara sugar

Take the bowl with the flour mixture and create a well in the centre. Now add this mixture to the dry ingredients and fold everything together. In case the mixture is too dry then add some cold water or milk to get the right texture.

Pour the batter into a greased, lined loaf tin and sprinkle a mixture of flax, pumpkin and watermelon seeds on this. I also added some rajgira (amaranth) grains for texture but you can skip if you want to. Bake this for about 30-40 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Remove from the oven when a skewer inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

When the loaf cools down, cut into slices and serve. This bread stays well in the fridge for about 4-5 days too and can be frozen for up to a week.

*If you want a non-vegan but eggless/vegetarian version then replace the flax meal with buttermilk or 1/4 cup of curds/yogurt

*You can use 2 cups of wheat flour instead of a five-grain flour too

*Add 1/4 cup of orange juice for extra flavour

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Eating through the Seven Sisters

As a devotee of all things edible I'm always on the lookout for something new - ingredients, dishes, equipment or even cuisines. So when I received an email from Rushina's APB Cook Studio about a Dine & Demo session on the food from the North East of India, particularly the Seven Sisters, I was intrigued. I had to admit that apart from some Bhut Jholokia pickle and, of course, momos, I hadn't tried much from this part of the country. More reason to attend the session, I thought.

Gitika Saikia was our guide for this culinary journey. I met up with some of the other guests and we all chatted about our experience with cuisine from the Seven Sisters. And there was someone else who mentioned momos too! I heaved a sigh of relief. So I wasn't the only one!

Before we sat down to dine, we had to finish the demo part of the afternoon. Gitika began by showing us how to make the Dau Jwng Sobai Jwng, a dish of chicken cooked with black dal, which is typical of the Bodo community from Assam.

In between all the sauteeing and stirring, she spoke to us about the cuisine of this region and how it uses a lot of indigenous herbs.

One of the interesting things was that most food here is steamed or boiled, hardly anything is fried! After the chicken, Gitika moved on to making a pork dish that was flavoured with a black sesame paste. The Donheiiong, which is from Meghalaya, tasted as unusual as it looked.

Then came the best part of the afternoon - delicious food over lots of conversation and laughter. Can it get better? Here's what we had.

The meal started off with drink, an appetizer, made from dried amla/awla and some herbs. This was sour but had a sweet after-taste.

After this we moved on to a watery, fish-based soup from Arunachal Pradesh called Pasa.

This soup used a herb called 'Mosola paan', which had aromas similar to Tarragon. Gitika had a lot of these with her and being the generous person that she is, she was only too happy to give me some to take home. I immediately started thinking up of dishes I could make with this - use it in a burnt butter sauce with some gnocchi or maybe make a clear chicken soup from it, would it taste good if I used it in a pesto? But before I could let my thoughts wander further it was time for the main course.

The main course featured the chicken and pork dishes that Gitika had shown us how to make. By now, the aromas had filled the room and all of us were waiting to dig in. Sticky rice, wrapped in banana leaves, was served along with these dishes. 

As an accompaniment we were also served some chutneys - one was made from a fermented soy bean paste, called Akhuni, this pungent chutney takes a little getting used to but we were told that it is one of the most popular dishes from Nagaland. The other chutney was a flavourful one made with dried sardines, onions and tomatoes, called Mosdeng Serma from Tripura. Along with this, there was also the Eromba, a dish of mashed potatoes and dry fish from Manipur, since I'm not a huge fan of potatoes I tried just a little. 

As we sampled the two chutneys and the Eromba we spoke about the diversity of North East cuisine and how it needs to get the attention that it deserves. Perhaps events like this would help, we echoed. 

Just as we thought we were done, huge bowls of something that looked like a clear soup with lots of veggies arrived at the table. We looked on in curiosity. Was this an Indian version of the famous clear soup, some of us asked. Gitika informed us that the dish was called Bai, from Mizoram, and it was the only vegetarian dish that day. This is a soup-like dish that features a lot of vegetables but the difference is that it is eaten with rice and not noodles, like we usually have a clear soup. The Bai had clean flavours, minimal seasoning which meant that the vegetables shone. I quickly asked Gitika for the recipe, I was sure this is something I would make at home. 

Next it was time for dessert. Thankfully what Gitika had planned was something light - puffed rice with cream and jaggery. Now I don't like cream but I love jaggery, so I considered skipping this dish. But when she told us that the jaggery was made at her home back in Assam, I was sold. 

I tried a little bit of the dessert, mixed the puffed rice with the cream vigourously to allow the golden, almost caramel-like shades of the jaggery to stain the entire dish and then I took a bite. Heaven. If I could get jaggery like this here, I would be such a happy girl! It was almost as if Gitika read my mind, "Would you like to take some with you?" she asked. Why would I refuse?

 So I went back home satiated with the drool-worthy meal, some recipes, some ingredients, a lot of memories, definitely a lot more enlightened about food from the North East. Now, all that's left is to make a trip to this part of the country! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A tip or two for some 'smooth' sailing

Smoothies. I just love them. They're great as breakfast on the go and even better when you want to put together something quick, as a snack or even something post a workout. But what I'm totally sold out about when it comes to smoothies is that - there is no limit to the combinations. In fact, it doesn't take more than three ingredients to make a drool-worthy smoothie. Some time ago I saw this infographic on three-ingredient smoothies and every since I've referred to it a gazillion times! Check it out here.

This is all you need to know
Source: Pinterest

When Williams-Sonoma asked me to do a post on smoothies for their Smoothie Week, there was no way I'd decline! You should take a look at their range of blenders, if you're a smoothie-addict like me then you're definitely going to start jotting down these in your wishlist!

Actually, if you've been around here a bit you'll find some yummy smoothies here. Like this Scary Smoothie, which is nothing but a simple banana-cinnamon one or this Banana, papaya & almond one which is a powerhouse of all things good. Most times I use yogurt or even oats to bulk up the smoothie, the other alternative is to use some avocado, because with this you're getting the volume and also a whole lot of goodness. Take a look at this Mango & avocado beauty here! Sometimes I also add some texture by throwing on some granola to top the smoothie. I make the granola at home and it is pretty simple, you can see it here.

I've been looking at Pinterest a lot these days for some inspiration when it comes to smoothies. So I thought I should share with you some of the tips that I've picked up, not only has it made the smoothies yummier it has also made life simpler.

The guide to making a smoothie here

If you are in a hurry then all you need is some clever planning. Look here and you'll be thanking me soon!

Isn't this such a brilliant idea?
Source: Pinterest
When I have a little time at hand I like to whip up a smoothie that's nutritious, delicious and filling like some of the ones here.

Three power breakfast smoothies for summer. I never would have thought of putting some of these ingredients in a smoothie!!
Source: Pinterest

If you're a health nut then check out these green smoothies

50 healthy green smoothie recipes!
Source: Pinterest

And finally, some of the smoothies here don't just look or taste good but they also make you feel on top of the world! Try it out!

Don't we all love smoothies?! Here are 14 smoothies recipes that will definitely boost your mood! #Fitgirlcode
Source: Pintrest
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