Monday, December 11, 2017

Salmon and Brown Rice Salad in Lettuce Cups

I am not a kitchen gadget person. But when an InstaPot arrives on my doorstep, I am thrilled. A little intimidated after reading the instructions, I let the device sit in standby mode.Then I hard can this be. It's the current rage. Articles about it float across a range of magazines and newspapers. In the past I have conquered my fear of pressure cookers. So reassured, the pot sheds its styrofoam and cardboard wrapping to perch on my counter.

The million dollar question is what to make. After a heated discussion Shauna and I decide on brown rice. Brown rice takes forever to cook stovetop. The InstaPot might be the solution, an easier cooking method. I measure while Shauna reads the instructions, a task she is unaccustomed to. Millennials fly by the seat of their pants. But I digress. We measure rice and water. The lid clicks shut and the display comes alive with numbers. Are they right? Should we press cancel? Or should we pull our hair out in sheer panic?? Panic is not a pretty sight at all!!! Then the machine pings and its off to the races. It turns out that the InstaPot is a nifty cooker. No need to jump out of your skin when the pressure goes off. No hisses and spurts of skin burning steam. No rocking whistle that has a life of its own. And voila... in thirty two minutes we have perfectly cooked brown rice.

The salad comprises of salmon, edamame, red onion and water chestnuts mixed with the cooked brown rice. The dressing does double duty as a marinade and a vinaigrette. A couple of tablespoons over the salmon and the rest over the salad. It is made with soy, olive oil, sesame oil, chile flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and lime.  Boston lettuce leaves are soft and buttery. They taste even better when heaped with salad.

Serves 4

1 cup cooked Brown Rice
1 small Red Onion
1/2 cup Water Chestnuts
1/2 cup cooked Edamame beans
1/4 pound Salmon
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Sesame Oil
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon toasted Sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes (add more if you like it spicy)
 1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1 Lime, juiced
Boston Lettuce leaves
Cilantro for garnishing
Pomegranate Seeds for garnishing
Line Wedges

Whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, sesame seeds, chile flakes, sugar and lime juice till sugar has dissolved.

Cut salmon into thick pieces and put in glass bowl. 

Pour 3 tablespoons of dressing over salmon. Turn salmon so it is well coated. Leave in marinade for 10 minutes.

Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray.

Place salmon in hot pan and cook for 6 minutes on one side. Flip salmon and cook a further 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from pan and cool.

Thinly slice red onion.

Chop water chestnuts into bite size chunks.

Assemble salad by mixing rice, sliced onion, water chestnuts and edamame.

Flake salmon into large chunks and add to rice.

Drizzle 5-6 tablespoons of whisked dressing over rice. Mix gently.

Heap tablespoons of salad onto lettuce cups.

Scatter cilantro and pomegranate seeds over salad Arrange lime wedges on platter.

Serve at room temperature.

The InstaPot is a hit. Thanks Carla!! We eat with our eyes. The tempting platter invites us to pick up a lettuce cup and finish it in a few quick bites. These are innocuous flavors and yet together they stand so tall. Lettuce have some fun with our food!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Padval and Moong Dal Subji

The vast panoply of produce at an Indian grocery gets my pulse going. I revel in bagging tendli or small gherkins. The dark green knobbly exterior of karela or bitter melon excites me. Methi leaves or fresh fenugreek has me drooling. Papdi or broad beans brings ghada to mind. All these emotions along with a host of memories, brings me to padval. I seem to be running a green streak, the dominant color present in all of the above veggies!  

Padval is stranger to those unfamiliar with Indian vegetables. Loofah like, it grows vertically on frame. The English name is reptilian...snake gourd! Buy a foot-long piece or feed a raft of people with a three foot padval. Spongy when squeezed, the pulpy insides need to be scraped and discarded before you cook it. Like you would clean a squash or pumpkin. It tastes delicious sauteed as a side dish, stuffed with potatoes or even fried like calamari rings.  I plan to cook some as a simple accompaniment to dinner.

I soak moong dal for a few hours. Sliced padval is sauteed with cumin seeds, onions and tomatoes. Simple it is!

Serves 4

1  Padval or Snake Gourd, 12 inch long
1/2 cup Moong Dal
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 Onion
2 small Tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Rinse moong dal well. Add 2 cups water to dal. Let dal soak for an hour or two.

Trim ends off the gourd. Cut gourd into 3 inch pieces. Slice the pieces vertically.

Scoop out the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Discard the insides.

Cut the gourd into 1/8 inch thick half moons.

Mince onion finely. 

Chop tomatoes finely.

Heat oil in a saucepan.

When it is hot drop cumin seeds and sizzle till they turn dark brown.

Add onions and saute till translucent.

Throw padval into the pan and saute for a few minutes.

Drain water from moong dal and add dal to the saucepan. 

Turmeric and chile powders are stirred into the vegetables as well.

Season with salt.

Add chopped tomatoes.

Pour 1/2 cup water into the saucepan. Cover pan and cook vegetables for 15 minutes.

Uncover and gently press the dal to see if it is cooked. The dal should be mushy but still keep its shape.

Scatter fresh cilantro leaves over padval and serve as part of Indian meal. 

We spoon some over a mound of rice. We scoop some with a bit of roti. Versatility and simplicity personified. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pork Larb

Thai food is complicated, especially if you make it from scratch. Herbs and spices are ground into thick pastes, sauteed along with veggies, resulting in flavorful curries and sides. Salad is an easier affair. Especially larb. Larb is a herbaceous composition of cooked meat, cilantro, mint and red onion piled high on buttery lettuce. Lime juice dresses the salad and packs a mouth-puckering punch. The salad has one essential factor, toasted rice powder. Make a lot and keep it in an airtight jar. It is the crunch that tastes so good.

Start with ground pork, beef, chicken or turkey. Vegetarians could use lightly browned tofu. Saute the meat with garlic, till brown. Braise the meat uncovered till the liquid evaporates and you are left with browned bits of meat. Add fish sauce to the meat. Pile the meat on top of lettuce leaves. Blanket the meat with cilantro, mint and red onion slices. Add spicy chile flakes.  Sprinkle toasted rice powder over the salad. All you need is a fork and a good appetite.

Serves 4  

1 pound ground Pork (or any ground meat of choice)
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
4 Garlic cloves
4 tablespoons Fish Sauce
1 teaspoon Sugar
6-8 Boston Lettuce leaves
1 large Red Onion
1/2 cup Cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup Mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes
3 tablespoons Lime Juice
2 teaspoons Toasted Rice Powder (see recipe below)
6-8 Cucumber Spears

Heat oil in a saucepan. 

When it shimmers add ground pork, breaking it with a spoon as you saute the meat. Let meat brown well. 

Cut garlic into slivers and add to the pork.

Add 1/2 cup or so of water to meat and let the meat braise uncovered for 10 minutes. Cook till all liquid has evaporated and the meat browns and sizzles. 

Pour fish sauce and sugar into pork. Stir to mix and keep pork aside to cool.

Cut red onion into thin slices.

Tear lettuce leaves into bite size pieces and arrange on a platter.

Pile pork over lettuce leaves. Add as much meat you want. Leftovers could be added to noodles or fried rice.

Scatter red onion slices, cilantro, mint leaves and chile flakes over pork.

Dress the salad with lime juice just before you are ready to eat.

Sprinkle toasted rice powder over salad.

Arrange cucumber spears around  the salad and serve.


Toasted rice powder is made by dry-roasting 1/2 cup of Sushi Rice and 3 Kaffir Lime leaves over a high flame till it turns light brown. Grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight container. This powder can be used to add crunch to salads, noodles or curries.

We love the salad. It has a refreshing lemony taste. Light and easy on the eye and figure as well. Another winner at my table! 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Turkey and Beet Greens Ragu

Turkey and beet greens come together in a zesty sauce. It begins with a saute of onions and garlic. As they turn color I add slivered beet greens. Only green leaves, no stems. I like beet greens as they have a nice peppery kick. A quick saute once again and turkey gets to dance in the pan. I let the turkey brown before I pour in a large glug of white wine. Fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato paste mingle with salt and pepper. Unlike traditional ragu, this one has a short simmer. Penne is the pasta of choice. Then again ragu can be ladled over any pasta. 

Serves 4

1 pound ground Turkey
1 Onion
4 Garlic cloves
1 cup Beet Greens (only leaves)
1/4 cup White Wine
1/2 cup fire-roasted Tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Pasta cooked al-dente
Parmesan Cheese

Peel and chop onion finely.

Peel and cut garlic into thin slivers.

Cut out large beet stems from the leaves. Chop beet leaves roughly into large chunks. Rinse well to remove any grit from the beets.

Heat olive oil in large saucepan.

When it shimmers add chopped onions and garlic. Stir onions till they turn light brown.

Crumble ground turkey into onions. Turn heat to high and saute till turkey acquires some color. Break up the meat with a spatula as you saute it.

When the turkey has a lot of brown spots, pour the white wine in. It should bubble vigorously. Scrape the brown spots in the pan with a spoon. This fond, as it is called, has a ton of flavor.

Stir the meat for a few minutes and then add beet greens. Saute till greens turn a little limp.

Add fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato paste to turkey. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the saucepan and let the sauce cook for 15-20 minutes.

Serve ragu over cooked pasta with a liberal spoonful of grated Parmesan.

The ragu has simple flavor and a wholesomeness that is heartwarming. Paired with an arugula salad, our forks are put to good use.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chipotle Crab Cakes

I have so much fun planning a milestone birthday meal for Carla, my sister-in-law. She is a gentle soul, to whom family means the world. So our family celebrates her milestone with a Pimm's Cup, wine and multi course meals. The repast is to be a deconstructed walk through Carla’s life as I know it. We first met her with Vic in Maryland. She entered our lives with a delightful smile and a heart full of love. Her life has been one big travelogue, her parents having lodged all over the world. The world traveller deserves an international meal!

Our small plates start in Maryland with crab cakes. We move on to slurp some Tom Kha, a mildly spicy Thai mushroom and bamboo shoot coconut soup which annotates her travels through Asia, where Vic was posted for three years. Their last trip was to Japan, so I fry us some Okonomiyaki. Then there is the obligatory nod to India where her roots are strong, complemented by a favorite Batata Vada. Europe plays into the picture with a Gorgonzola stuffed pear salad. And then over the channel to England where she did her schooling, with a very recognizable Beef Wellington with a Leek Parsnip Carrot gratin and peas and gravy as the hearty main course. It is full circle back home with Lemon Pudding and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Crab cakes start with fresh crab meat. No substitutes allowed! A sauce made with mayonnaise, eggs, herbs and spices is mixed in. The crab sits in the fridge for ten minutes, while I pulse fresh bread in the food processor. Gather about two scant tablespoons in your palm. Flatten them slightly and dredge in the fresh breadcrumbs. Pan fry them in butter or oil. Butter is always better! It is delicate operation, making crab cakes, but so rewarding.

Makes 10-12 small cakes

1 pound fresh Crab Meat
2 Eggs
3 tablespoons Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Chipotle Chile Powder
1/4 teaspoon Chile Powder
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Fresh ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped Cilantro
3-4  Bread slices (preferably Pepperridge Farm white bread)
Butter for sauteeing
2 tablespoons Ketchup
1 tablespoon Sriracha

Mix eggs, mayonnaise, chipotle and chile powders, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Flake crab meat into another bowl.

Pour egg and mayo sauce into the crab meat. Blend slowly, taking care not to break crab clusters.

Refrigerate crab for 15 minutes.

Break bread into small chunks. Place chunks in a food processor and pulse till you have crumbs. Keep crumbs in a bowl.

Take the crab out of the fridge. 

Add 1/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs and cilantro into crab. Mix gently.

Melt a few pats of butter in a nonstick saucepan.

Heap remaining fresh breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Take about two scant tablespoons of crab meat in your palm. Pat it into a round shape.

Dust the top and bottom of crab cake in the breadcrumbs.

Place gently into hot butter and fry till golden brown on both sides.

Make the remaining crab cakes in the same fashion.

Keep cakes warm in a 250F oven while you cook the rest.

Make a sauce by mixing ketchup and sriracha.

Serve crab cakes warm with the sauce or any sauce of your choice.

The celebration unleashes a flood of good wishes for Carla. The love in the room is overwhelming with old family friends and family that loves her.The succession of small and big plates please the birthday girl as we munch our way through her glory days!

Saturday, October 7, 2017


I am so excited to cook for my sister. She surprises me with a visit to New York. After spending two weeks in her hometown, I get to spoil her in mine! Lunch is a Korean extravaganza. Bulgogi, chap chae, bibimbop and dukbokki. The original spelling eludes me, and the phonetic one is used on many Korean food products, giving me license to do the same. Dukbokki comprises of cylindrical rice cakes. You can buy fresh as well as frozen ones. I use the latter. First sauteed in oil, they turn light brown and crispy. They are then bathed in a spicy gochujang sauce. This results in chewy, spicy, crispy nuggets of rice. Quite intriguing in texture and spice combination, these small bites are big on flavor.

Serves 4-6

1 package fresh or frozen mini Rice Sticks (see Notes)
3 tablespoons Gochujang paste
1 teaspoon Sriracha 
1 tablespoon Soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted Sesame Seeds
2-3 tablespoons Water
1 tablespoon Canola Oil 
Toasted Sesame Seeds

Defrost rice sticks if you are using the frozen kind. 

Whisk gochujang, Sriracha, soy sauce, sesame seeds and enough water to make a pouring consistency sauce.

Heat oil in a nonstick saucepan. 

Add rice sticks to oil and saute over a high flame. The rice stick will develop a crust as you saute. 

When they are flecked golden brown, pour sauce over sticks.

Stir fry for a few minutes. 

Pile sticks onto a plate.

Sprinkle more sesame seeds over rice sticks and serve them hot.


Mini rice cakes are available at any reputable Korean grocery store. in the New York, HMart is my go-to grocery.

Gochujang is a thick, spicy red pepper paste, a staple of Korean cuisine.

An Indian summer allows for al fresco lunching! Birdsong and bees make fun lunch buddies. The best company of course is the family that sits around the table.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Bombay Potatoes

How can you go wrong with potatoes from Bombay? These small roundels aim to titillate and please the palate. I come across a recipe which seems to be a marriage of balti and South Indian cuisine. I go ahead with the wedding adding a flourish or two.

Boiled new potatoes are peeled and halved. Mustard and cumin seeds are spluttered in hot oil with curry leaves, dried red chiles and onions. Potatoes and a hefty dose of turmeric goes in. Turmeric is the  new superfood with restorative qualities. Quickly sauteed, and doused with fresh cilantro, this tasty side comes together in a Mumbai minute.

Serves 4

1 pound small New Potatoes
1 Onion
2-3 tablespoons Canola Oil 
2 dried Red Chiles
10 Curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 Lime

Boil potatoes. Peel them. Halve large potatoes. Keep the small ones whole.

Cut onion into small dice.

Heat oil in a wok.

Break red chiles in half and add to hot oil.

Add curry leave and let them sizzle for a few seconds.

Cumin and mustard seeds and turmeric go in and splutter for  5-10 seconds.

Add chopped onions and saute till onions are light brown.

Add peeled potatoes and salt. Stir well. 

Saute over high heat for 5 minutes.

Scatter fresh cilantro over potatoes.

Squeeze juice of half a lime and serve as a side.

Marriages  abide or splutter. This one comes together in my sister's kitchen, will please for years to come. Even though she doesn't care for potatoes, Prassy gamely enjoys the fruits of my labors.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Onion Methi and Shrimp Fritters

Prassy's friend Radhika joins us for dinner. She leans towards a meatless meal so we plan a vegetarian table. Stuffed peppers, ghada, dahi vada, mango dal and some bhajias made with onion, methi or fenugreek leaves and shrimp. Mum would fry some for us as tea time snacks. I follow in her footsteps, making them often, especially on rainy days. There is something soul strengthening about chai and hot bhajias!! Prassy doesn't remember them! These golden brown, crisp mouthfuls of sweet onion, bitter methi leaves and briny shrimp are piquant.  Once made, I'm sure her memories will come flooding back.

A lot of onions are thinly sliced. Besan or chickpea flour is added to the onions. Use your hands to scrunch onions and besan. This allows the moisture from the onions to leach out, creating liquid to bind the onions. A smidgen of salt helps it along. After a short while, finely chopped methi leaves are mixed in. Finely minced green chiles give the fritters a spicy boost. At this point the fritters can be fried as a tasty vegetarian treat. Adding masala marinated shrimp allows the fritters to rise to another dimension. Small shrimp are marinated in turmeric, chile powder and salt for an hour before they are added to the batter. Prassy's suggests we add rice flour to the batter. Rice flour makes everything crispy. I love her idea. The batter should be wet but not runny. Do not add water. If you scrunch the onions enough, the liquid released should bind the batter. 

Get ready to deep fry these bhajias. Gather a teaspoon of batter in your hand. Smoosh the batter so it holds together. Drop that nugget into hot oil. The bhajias should float in the hot oil, turn brown and crisp up in a minute or two. Flip them so they cook on all sides. Drain on paper and eat them piping hot!

Makes 25-30 small fritters

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced Onions
4 heaped tablespoons Besan or Chickpea Flour
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 cup Methi or Fenugreek leaves
2-3 tablespoons minced Green Chiles
1/2 cup small Shrimp
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/4 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Rice Flour
Canola Oil

Put sliced onions and chickpea flour in a bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Lightly crush the onions and besan till it is well mixed. 

Keep bowl aside. Stir well with a spoon every 15 minutes or so, for an hour. This allows the liquid released to help bind flour and onions.

Cut shrimp into bite size pieces. The shrimp I used were very small so I left them whole.

Marinate shrimp in turmeric, chile powder and salt for an hour. 

When you are ready to fry the bhajias, heat 2 cups canola oil in small kadhai or wok. The oil should be 3 inches deep to give the fritters room to bob and brown.

Mince the methi leaves finely.

Add methi leaves, minced green chiles, marinated shrimp and rice flour to onions. Use your hands to mix the batter.  

If you like your fritters without shrimp, leave it out. The fritters taste delectable without the shrimp.

Test the oil with a droplet of batter. It should pop up to the top of the oil immediately.

Take a teaspoon of batter in your fingers. Make sure you have some onion, methi and shrimp in each portion. 

Drop the formed batter carefully into hot oil.  Repeat the process frying up to 4-5 bhajias at one time. It is best not to crowd them. This way they cook fast and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to fry the bhajias. Fry them fora few minutes till golden brown.

Drain bhajias on paper. 

Eat them piping hot.

Fritters are crowdpleasers. Radhika enjoys the bhajias. Prassy recollects our mother's version. Mine is not quite like hers, a slight variation of the original. As we nibble and reminisce, Prassy and I marvel at our Mum's culinary heritage that endures and inspires us everyday.