Monday, April 7, 2014

A lil' bit of the sweet and salty

Summer is here, and how! These days I'm on the lookout for recipes and shortcuts which will allow me to spend minimum time in the kitchen and yet maximize the flavours.

One of the things that we are eating a lot of these days is salads - any kind, with veggies, meat, seafood and even fruits. The more the merrier and more colours, the better! That is my mantra when it comes to salads.

I'd been wanting to make a roast pumpkin salad for quite some time now but kept putting it off because I'd hardly have any time at hand after getting home from work. But when I actually got down to making it, I realised really how simple this salad is! I didn't fuss around too much for this, even the dressing has just two ingredients and the whole thing takes less than half hour to put together including the roasting time. This salad has a lovely balance of sweet and salty, with the pumpkin and Feta cheese, and that's what makes them so special.



Roast pumpkin salad with spinach salad and Feta cheese

250 gms of red pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups of big spinach leaves, torn
2 tbsp of Feta cheese, crumbled
A handful of Pine nuts
Some olive oil

For the dressing
1/2 tsp of Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp of olive oil


Coat the pumpkin cubes with olive oil and roast them in the oven for about 15 minutes. I put them at 190 degrees for 10 minutes and then at 160 degrees for five minutes. When the pumpkin is slightly soft and has a brownish appearance, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool down for a while.

While the pumpkin is roasting, prepare the dressing by whisking the ingredients together. Keep aside for about five minutes.

To serve the salad: Dress the spinach leaves with the dressing and place them on the serving bowl or plate. Now add the pumpkin to this and gently toss using your fingers. The pumpkin is really mushy at this point so be really careful while handling it. Add the crumbled Feta cheese on top of this and sprinkle some more of the dressing. Top it off with the Pine nuts. Serve immediately.

* There is no salt in this salad because the Feta cheese is salty by itself and adding more salt means you take away from the lovely sweet-salt balance of the dish

* You can use rocket or arugula leaves in place of spinach for this salad. Substitute the Pine nuts with Walnuts if you like

*  Place the spinach leaves in ice cold water before tearing them up for the dish. This will ensure that the leaves are crisp.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Going gluten-free

So what happens when you don't use maida, or even wheat while baking? With a little bit of clever adjustments in the measures, what you get is a gorgeous, dense cake. I'm not kidding, read on to find out.

Until a couple of years ago I had no idea what gluten-free food meant, let alone celiac disease. And then, one day we got to know that my nephew was allergic to wheat, he still is, so that's how words like 'gluten-free' became a part of my vocabulary. Over the years I've tried to experiment with something gluten-free but I never took it seriously. I don't use eggs in my baking so whatever I made had to be egg-free as well and it just seemed like too much effort to think of a recipe that ticked  off all the boxes. Yes, I'm lazy like that sometimes.



About a month and a half ago I met a nutritionist, the purpose wasn't weightloss or calorie counting, I just wanted to know what changes to make in our diet to make it healthier. That's when I clearly understood why we need to start incorporating alternative flours into our diet. Thankfully, the husband and I are open to trying out different things in our meals so it hasn't been all that difficult. But baking gluten-free is something I'd been wanting to try for a long time now and it finally happened with this cake. And yes, it is egg-free to! 

Gluten-free cake with walnuts & cinnamon 

1/3 cup each of ragi (finger millet), bajra (barley) and buckwheat (kuttu ka atta) flours 
1 tsp of baking soda 
1/2 tsp of baking powder 
1/2 cup of buttermilk (1/2 cup of milk mixed with 1/2 tsp of white vinegar) 
2 tbsp of curds 
3/4 tsp of cinnamon powder 
1/4 cup of walnuts, broken + 2 tbsp more for the topping 
3/4 cup of jaggery, chopped 

Sift the flours with the baking soda and baking powder. Keep this aside. 

In a large mixing bowl, put the curds and jaggery together, mix well till the jaggery has melted. Now add the cinnamon powder and buttermilk. Mix this well. Now add the flour mixture to this and fold to make sure it becomes one smooth mix. 

Add the walnuts in the end and fold them in to the batter. Pour the batter into a greased cake mould and top it with rest of the walnuts. Bake this for about 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees. Remove from the oven when a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool down and cut into slices before serving.


* This cake is a little dense, obviously because of the absence of gluten, but that's what adds to the charm of it 

* I've used jaggery because I'm on the health drive but you can simply substitute this with sugar, if you like

* Don't stick to just walnuts or any other nuts, experiment with seeds or even dried fruit to add some more personality to this cake

I'm sending this recipe to the Cooking with Whole Grains event at Nupur's UK Rasoi, she's guest-hosting the event which was started by Priya from Priya's Versatile Recipes



Sunday, March 23, 2014

A tale of two addictions

If you've been reading around here then you'll know about the healthy choices that I've introduced into our meals these days.

But one of the things that I'm finding difficult to shake off is the dependence on bread. So I've been advised to make some smart choices like - having only multi-grain bread, trying to make it at home often and using veggies in the filling for sandwiches.



Curd is one of those things that I'm not just addicted to but it is such an intrinsic part of our lives that if the supply at home is depleting then there's a state of panic. I'm not kidding! So when I was prepping up stuff for breakfast one night, I noticed we had run out of cheese and I just had a handful of veggies in the fridge. I had to think fast and it had to be something that I could put together in minutes. That's how this yummy spread was born....

Hung curd and veggie spread
2 cups of curd, tied in a muslin cloth and hung overnight
2 tbsp of carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 a capsicum, chopped
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients together, check the seasoning and spread on freshly made toast. Serve immediately.

*You can change the flavours by swapping the Tabasco for herbs and garlic or maybe even some Tahini

*This spread makes for a good sandwich filling or even for roti wraps

*You can add some more colour with purple cabbage or yellow and red bell peppers

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Indulge your sweet tooth, minus the sugar

We're trying to cut down on our sugar intake these days, so that means the cola, packaged juices, biscuits and the likes have a 'no entry' board at home. It is difficult because when you're tired at the end of the day you really have to make an effort to reach out for some fresh fruit rather than a packet of biscuits. It isn't that we are doing this because we want to shed the kilos, yes, I will admit weight loss is one of the goals but we are looking at the bigger picture - overall health.

One of these weekends we wanted to have something sweet after our meal and even though it was tempting to just run down to the ice cream store down the road, I decided that we would stick to our resolution despite it being one of those days where we could afford to indulge. I thought I'd bake something at first but, I wanted something that would be faster. Pannacotta is one of those things that never fails to impress and I vouch for David Lebovitz when he says that, if you're taking more than 5 minutes to put together a pannacotta then you're definitely doing something wrong!




Yes there is cream in this pannacotta, otherwise it wouldn't be called so! But I've used a 20% fat cream for this one and instead of the sugar there's organic Maple Syrup in it. I also wanted something that's a little different in texture and temperature, so I quickly made some caramelised bananas with jaggery. Now those of you who know me, will know that I go weak-kned when I see something with jaggery. Maybe it's my coastal roots or maybe it's the earthy flavour that appeals to my sensibilities, I can't put a finger on it but, what I do know is that jaggery is just the yummiest sweetener ever.

Maple pannacotta

200 ml of fresh cream (I used the one with 20% fat)
1 tbsp of milk
2 tbsp of Maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp of gelatin
1/2 cup water

Sprinkle the gelatin over water, give it a quick stir, cover and keep aside. This process is known as 'blooming' and is essential if you want the gelatin to work its magic.

Meanwhile mix the milk and cream together and bring to a gentle boil. Add the Maple syrup and simmer for another minute. Now add the gelatin mixture to this and mix well. Remove from heat and pour this mixture into your moulds.

Let the mixture cool down to room temperature and then place it in the fridge for about 4-6 hours, or until it has set.

Caramelised bananas

2 large bananas, peeled and cut into pieces
2-3 tbsp of jaggery, grated (I used the granules)

Place a non-stick pan over medium heat and add the jaggery to this, when it begins to caramelise and turn into a thick liquid you can add the bananas to this and quickly stir around. Make sure the bananas are completely coated with the caramel.

Remove from heat and serve.

To serve.:

- Unmould the pannacotta and place it on a serving plate. Now place the bananas next to this and serve immediately. You can drizzle some Maple syrup over the pannacotta just before serving.




* Sprinkle some sea salt over the bananas just before serving and voila! you have some salted caramelised banana
* Grease the pannacotta moulds just a little bit before pouring in the mixture, this will make it easier to unmould later on
* If you don't want to use gelatin you can substitute it with Agar Agar/Chinagrass

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The fisherwoman's recipe

So this weekend I decided to make up for all the madness of travelling, being away and all that. This 'making up' was not just for the husband but I thought I needed some myself, and the best way I knew of doing this was through a home cooked meal. Our weekend meals are usually full of seafood and I didn't want this one to be any different.

Saturday morning called for a trip to the fish market, this time I was going to one of those wholesale places that a friend recommended. Now I knew that this one was good but I didn't think it would be so mindblowingly good! I went crazy just looking at all the variety here and I felt like a kid in a candy store. Really! Now with so much seafood around I just had to buy a little bit of everything - fish, prawn and squid.

This was going to be the first time I would have made squid all on my own. The last time I did, it was cleaned and cut and given to me, and I had my dad watching over my shoulder giving me all the instructions. Yes I'll admit I was a little apprehensive so I began asking the lady who sold it to me. She was friendly, warm and kind, not only did she give me valuable tips on how to cook the squid to perfection but she also gave me a recipe to make this sukka. The recipe is so simple and you can put the whole thing together in just a couple of minutes. You can serve this one either as a starter or even as an accompaniment to main course.


Squid green masala sukka

7 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt to taste
Oil

For the green masala
5 stalks of green garlic, the garlic coarsely chopped and the leaves a little more roughly done
4 sprigs of mint, use only the leaves
2 green chillies, roughly chopped
1/2 inch of ginger, peeled and chopped
A handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Grind all the ingredients for the masala together with some salt and just about 1 tbsp of water. You need to have a dryish, almost coarse paste at the end of it. If the chillies and garlic haven't been ground to a paste, it is fine because you need to be able to bite into it.

Heat oil in a pan and add the chopped onions to this, sprinkle some salt and saute until it turns golden brown. Now add the ground green masala to this and cook until the raw aroma disappears.

Next, first lower the flame a bit and then add the squid to this. Sprinkle some salt. Keep stirring around so that the masala coats the squid. When the squid begins to curl along the rim you know it's done. Remove from the flame, squeeze some lime juice and serve immediately.

Here are some things you need to know while cooking squid (all tips courtesy the lady I bought it from):

* Make sure you clean the squid and ensure it is free from all dirt
*Do not soak the squid in water, this will make it absorb the liquid and become sticky during the cooking process
*If you want to marinate the squid use a mix that doesn't have salt, if you add salt at this stage it causes all the water to release and you end up eating something that's dry
*The easiest way to ensure you have delicious, moist squid to eat is to spread the rings on a paper towel on dry cloth till it is completely dry
*When you're buying the squid, it shouldn't smell fishy or anything, it should smell like the sea - salty, breezy and fresh!

 
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