Monday, January 16, 2017

Labneh with Pita Chips


My friend Geets and I relish talking about what we cook and eat. Conversations are almost always interspersed with talk of the where, what and hows of food. She and I have shared a recipes and kitchens through the years, and the labneh is one of those red letter gems. She made this for me last year, then generously shared the recipe. This reliable and dressed up staple graces the appetizer table often. 

Labneh is a thick, tangy, yogurt. It's Middle Eastern ethnicity lets it adapt to bright flavors. Greek yogurt could be used if you can't find labneh.  Swirled thickly on a plate, then dressed up with lemon zest, parsley, pistachio and pomegranate, a drizzle of olive oil sends it over the top. Toasted pitas lifts it to the next level!

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups Labneh or thick Greek Yogurt 
2 teaspoons Lemon zest
2 teaspoons Parsley, chopped fine
1 tablespoon Pistachios, roughly chopped 
1 heaped tablespoon Pomegranate seeds
2-3 pinches Sumac
1 pinch Kosher Salt 
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
4-5 Pita
Olive Oil Spray

Heat oven to 350F.

Tear pitas into 1 or 2 inch pieces by hand.

Scatter pita shreds on a baking sheet.

Spray chips with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes till light brown.

Take pitas out of the oven, cool and put in a resealable plastic bag.

Use a colored platter or plate for the labneh. Something that offsets the white of the yogurt.

Spoon labneh onto plate and smooth it with the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle lemon zest over labneh.

Scatter parsley, sumac and salt over lemon zest.

Top with pistachios and pomegranates.

Drizzle olive oil and refrigerate till you serve.

Serve labneh with pita chips.

Needless to say, this appetizer is demolished  every time it makes an appearance. It was love at first sight when Geets made it for me. And it's the same feeling that washes over me when I make labneh. Thank you Geets....your friendship is a gift that keeps recipe at a time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Faux Bouillabaisse aka Fish and Fennel Soup


Soft snow covers the ground. A wintry wind whistles through the trees. And I find myself making soup again. Something different, something piquant...outside the usual regurgitated standards. I rummage in the vegetable drawer and find fennel. Then I find some fish in the freezer along with a bag of my summer tomatoes. Ideas float until I am inspired to make an aromatic bouillabaisse-like concoction. 

Here we go... Some chopped onion, lots of garlic, thin slices of fennel, boiled potatoes, lemon, lots of pulpy tomatoes, paprika, saffron and a whole red chile...the last one is the Indian in me!! Throw all these items together and along with some fish..voila...soup's done. 

Serves 4-6

1 large Onion
4 Garlic cloves
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Fennel bulb
4 Lemon slices
1 cup cooked Potatoes
4 large Tomatoes or 1 14oz can of Tomatoes
3 cups Chicken Stock
1 1/2 teaspoons Paprika
1 large pinch Saffron
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/4 cup Parsley plus additional parsley for garnishing
1 red or green Chile
2 tablespoons Galliano or Pernod (optional)
1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
1/2 pound Fish fillets (tilapia, cod, sea bass)

Peel and cut onion and garlic into thin slices.

Trim fennel and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.

Heat olive oil in a deep saucepan.

Add onions and garlic and saute till they are pale brown.

Add fennel and lemon slices and saute for 3-4 minutes.

Pour stock into veggies and bring to a boil. 

Add potatoes to stock.

Simmer soup for 5 minutes.

Blanch fresh tomatoes to remove skin and roughly chop. If you are using canned tomatoes, cut then up into large chunks.

Add tomatoes to fennel along with paprika, saffron, salt and pepper to soup.

Chop parsley and add to soup. 

Cut the stem off the chile and drop it into the soup.

Let soup simmer for another 10 minutes for flavors to blend.

Grind fennel seeds to a powder. 

Wash fish and cut into bite size pieces and add to the soup. Or lay fillets on top of simmering soup and let the fish cook in the soup. Fish will cook and flake as the soup simmers. It should take about 5 minutes.

If you are using Pernod or Galliano, add it to soup.

Add fennel powder to soup. Stir well.

Fish the chile and lemon slices out of the broth.

Garnish with some parsley and serve hot.


Make this soup into a seafood broth by adding shrimp and/or clams and mussels. Feel free to improvise. 

You could add raw potatoes to the broth. It will take a tad longer. Add chopped potatoes and cook them before you add lemon slices. 

Mediterranean spices add much needed boldness to the soup. Our taste buds revel in this vibrant broth. A double dose of fennel gives it a zesty tang. This soup is just a warm bowl of winsome charm!  Just right faux me!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hot and Sour Soup

Shauna gives me a Chinese cooking tome for Christmas. As I turn the pages, I  mentally bookmark several intriguing versions of foods I love. One being soup. Especially the hot and sour category, which I plan on making since I have quarts of turkey stock, some leftover cooked beef and a small can of bamboo shoots. And with that I try my vision of hot and sour. 

The recipe calls for a few items not in my pantry. So I go with what I find. What's new!!! I want my soup to have a robust chile flavor. I add a whopping tablespoon of chile garlic paste, lots of black pepper and my secret ingredient..dark soy sauce.

Serves 4

2 cups Chicken Stock
1/4 cup Bamboo Shoots 
1/2 cup Shimeji Mushrooms 
1/2 cup cooked Meat ( roast beef, cooked chicken, boiled shrimp)
3 tablespoons Cornstarch 
2 teaspoons Water
1 Egg
1 tablespoon Dark Soy Sauce 
1 heaped teaspoon Chile Garlic Paste
3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar 
2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Cilantro 

Heat chicken stock in a deep saucepan till it boils gently.

Cut bamboo shoots into thin strips and add to stock.

Clean mushrooms.  Add to hot stock. 

Chop cooked meat into bite size pieces and add to chicken stock.

Mix cornstarch and water till smooth. 

Pout cornstarch in a thin stream slowly into the hot stock stirring constantly as you pour it in. Let soup boil and thicken for 3-5 minutes.

Break the egg into a bowl and whisk well.

Dribble beaten egg into hot soup slowly. Use a whisk to stir the egg into the soup. This lets the egg form ribbons as it sets. 

Add dark soy sauce, chile garlic paste, vinegar and salt to soup. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Chop cilantro and add to soup just before serving.

Nothing beats a bowl of hot soup on a cold blustery day. Steamy aromas  arise enticingly from my gift. Aaah..did I mention that a set of beautiful bowls came with the book? Shauna knows double the gift means double the pleasure!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Peas Spinach and Fenugreek in Cream or Mutter Palak Methi Malai

It's a both languages.... a delicious simple mouthful eaten with rice or roti. I yearn for simple meals after the season of feasting. Fasting isn't quite on the books. Simplicity is a more conducive choice.

Frozen peas are more than adequate. But I do like to use fresh spinach. Frozen  spinach is great, an alternative second option. But fresh spinach wilts, keeps its shape, texture and toothsome quality. A little onion, garlic and ginger, a few green chiles and dried kasuri methi is all it takes. 

Serves 4

2 cups frozen Peas
2 cups fresh baby Spinach
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1 Onion
1/2 teaspoon Garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon Ginger paste 
1/4 cup Water
1 green Chile (more if you like it spicy)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 teaspoon Kasuri Methi
2 tablespoons heavy Cream

Wash spinach. Do not drain completely. The residual water lets the spinach steam in the pan. Roughly chop leaves.

Cut onion vertically into thin slices. 

Mince green chile finely.

Heat oil in a saucepan.

Add onion to hot oil and saute till light brown.

Drop garlic and ginger paste into onions and stir to mix.

Add spinach to onions and stir till spinach is almost wilted.

Scatter frozen peas and minced green chile over spinach.

Season with salt. Stir to mix.

Add water, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Take off the lid and increase the flame. Let the water cook down till the peas are almost dry.

Crumble kasuri methi into peas.

Pour cream into peas and saute for a few minutes before serving.

This side goes well with both rice and roti.

January starts with good intentions, along with a bunch of simple food. The best way to start the year is in my kitchen!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Asian Bolognese

Bolognese usually conjures up dinner tables of Italy, especially Milan, where bolognese is king. Italian versions are ground meat cooked in red wine, milk or stock. Tomato is pulped into most bolognese, but my invention veers through another continent. The Orient calls and I move past Italy, all the way to South East Asia. 

Chicken replaces ground beef. Kecap manis and soy sauce in place of milk or San Marzano tomatoes and chile garlic paste and tomato ketchup in place of pepperocini and passata. Lots of ginger and garlic add punch. The sauce is poured over HongKong noodles, a thin chewy pasta. Borrowing from Burmese and Thai cuisines, the noodles are sprinkled with crunchy fried onions and fresh cilantro.

Serves 4

1 pound ground Chicken 
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
1 Onion
4 Garlic cloves 
1 inch piece of Ginger
4 tablespoons Kecap Manis
1/4 cup Tomato Ketchup 
1 teaspoon Soy Sauce 
2 teaspoons Chile Garlic paste
1/2 pound Hong Kong Noodles or Spaghetti 
Fried Onions

Cut onion into small dice.

Mince garlic cloves finely.

Peel ginger and mince finely.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven.

Add minced onions, garlic and ginger. Stir. Let the onion turn translucent. Let the ginger and garlic turn aromatic.

Add ground chicken and stir fry till chicken darkens and browns. 

Add kecap manis, tomato ketchup, soy sauce and chili garlic paste to chicken. Stir fry well so sauces are well blended.

Pour 1/2 to 3/4 cup water into chicken. Bring to a low boil, cover and cook chicken for 10-15 minutes.

Boil 4-5 cups water in a deep saucepan.

When boiling, add noodles or spaghetti and cook as per package instructions. Drain and rinse in cold water. 

To serve, heap about a cup of noodles in a bowl. Top with ladlefuls of chicken sauce.
Garnish with fried onions and fresh cilantro. Dig in and enjoy!


Keep in mind these are small portions, to be eaten as part of an Asian meal. Double up ingredients for a hearty one bowl meal.

We love the strong unexpected flavors. Accompanied by the clickety-clack of chopsticks, the meal travels through Asia at a fast pace!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Garlic and Cheese Biscuits

Tis the time of the year to give. And it's usually something homemade. Cookies are the rule of the thumb, but savory goodies make delicious gifts too. I settle on biscuits, laden with garlic and cheese. I do love a biscuit, hot from the oven, flaky and layered, crusty tops with soft insides.

The recipe is a mish mash of many biscuits. There is one have to use butter! Butter is rubbed into flour and leavening agents. Garlic powder and a blend of asiago, fontina, parmesan and provolone are mixed into the dough. These cheeses add mild flavor without overpowering the biscuit itself. I start with a food processor to cut the butter into the flour, but I finish the dough by hand. Squooshing the butter with my fingertips gives me much more control over the dough. The finished dough is then patted by hand, on a floured surface. A fluted biscuit cutter gives the biscuits delicately edged rounds. They sit in the fridge for an hour, which  lets them develop signature layers and that buttery taste when baked!

Makes 16-18 

4 cups all purpose Flour
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 heaping teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 1/2 cups grated Cheese (Cheddar, Asiago, Fontina, Provolone or Parmesan-- alone or in any combination)
8 tablespoons cold Butter
1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons Buttermilk

Put flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to aerate the flour.

Sprinkle garlic powder over flour and pulse to mix.

Scatter cheese over flour and pulse a few times to mix.

Cut butter into 1/4 inch squares.

Add to flour and pulse 10-15 times.

Pour flour and butter into a large bowl. 

Use your fingers to smoosh the butter into the flour. This takes patience and time, though you have a head start with the processor. The flour should resemble fat peas.

Make a well in the center of the flour mix.

Pour buttermilk into the well. Use a fork to gently combine buttermilk and flour. The dough should come together as a shaggy mass. It should hold together when clumped. Try not to overwork the dough.

Dust a surface with flour.

Scrape dough into flour. Pull dough together to form a disc.

Pat the dough into a circle that is 1 inch thick. The surface will not be completely smooth and that is okay.

Use a 2 inch biscuit cutter to punch biscuits. Try to stay as close as possible to the stamped out impressions. This way you can maximize most of the patted circle. Gather up remaining dough and once again pat into a circle. Repeat with biscuit cutter until all the dough is used. 

Lay biscuits two inches apart on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Use two baking sheets.

Refrigerate baking sheets for 1 hour. Dont skip this step as this allows the dough to rest.

Heat oven to 450F.

Bake one baking sheet at a time, keeping the other refrigerated.

Brush the tops of biscuits with remaining 2 tablespoons of buttermilk.

Bake for 17-20 minutes. 

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Repeat baking with second sheet.

Enjoy biscuits warm. They maybe reheated in a 300F oven for 10 minutes.


If you are not using a device, put flour, baking powder and soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to aerate the flour. Scatter garlic powder and cheese over flour and whisk again till mixed well. Cut butter into 1/4 inch squares. Add to flour and smoosh with your fingers until flour resembles fat peas. Add buttermilk as directed by the recipe.

I used a mix of Asiago, Fontina, Parmesan and Provolone cheese.

The house smells divine. I peek into the oven to watch the biscuits grow. They acquire leaning tower sensibilities. Hot ones are quickly devoured. I have to admonish family as these are meant to be edible gifts!! After all, it is the season. And seasoned gifts are the best kind!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Herb and Garlic Roast Chicken

Have you had a day when it's 6 pm and dinner is the last thing on your mind? Most people would order takeout. As that thought occurs to me, the Food section of the NYT beckons. The year's standout recipes tempt me, especially the Middle Eastern chicken. With boneless chicken thighs on the counter, I am compelled to make the chicken.

The most laborious part is peeling and chopping garlic. I could use store bought garlic paste, but it lacks the punch fresh garlic has. Fresh herbs are the second component. Parsley, mint, thyme and marjoram sound lyrical and taste even better. Lemon, sesame seeds and sumac add more punch. As I chop and squeeze, I imagine a burnished roasted thigh. 

Adapted from the New York Times 
Serves 4

8 boneless skinless Chicken Thighs (about 2 pounds)
5 large Garlic cloves, minced fine
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
2 tablespoons minced Parsley
2 tablespoons minced Mint leaves
1 tablespoon Thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced Marjoram 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 tablespoon Sesame Seeds
1/2 teaspoon Sumac
1 tablespoon Olive Oil 

Trim visible fat off chicken. Cut thighs in half and place in a nonreactive bowl.

Add minced garlic, lemon zest and juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, minced herbs, salt, sesame seeds and sumac to chicken thighs. Mix well so thighs are coated with herbs and garlic. Keep aside for 2 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350F.

Heat a large cast iron pan over high heat. Or use a cast iron griddle.

Add remaining olive oil.

When it shimmers lay chicken in pan. Brown chicken on both sides.

If you are using a cast iron pan, put pan into oven and cook chicken for 15 minutes. If you have used a griddle, put chicken in an oven proof dish and bake for 15 minutes.

Serve chicken hot with some crusty bread or pita.


Cast iron gives the chicken a great sear. A good ovenproof nonstick pan works well too. I suggested a griddle as you get similar results as the cast iron. In the end these are just guides. Use what works best for you. 

Chicken comes to the table sizzling in cast iron. I see bits of browned garlic and herbs. Moist and lemon flavored, the thighs make a delicious dinner. We cast our vote for this bird.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kabab Sliders

By some quirk of human nature we have three packages of ground beef defrosting in the fridge. It's a long story of I did, she did and I further clarification needed. One package turns into sloppy joes. One into kofta curry and the last one into kababs.

The kabab kheema or ground beef marinates for a few days. I use a recipe from a well thumbed paperback. With a surfeit of tikkas, kababs and other grilled meats, On the Kebab Trail fills my grill, saucepan and oven with tried and tested recipes. Dog-eared pages reveal trade secrets of tandoor masters. And I in turn use those tricks to my advantage. This kabab recipe is a first time try. As usual, I tweak and twist. The kababs are meant to be molded onto skewers and grilled. Time, the cold weather and a package of Pepperidge Farm sliders tells another tale.

Makes 8

1 pound Ground Beef
1 tablespoon Olive Oil 
3 Garlic cloves
1/2 cup Parsley 
1 teaspoon dried Mint
1/2 teaspoon dried Oregano 
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
1/2 teaspoon Coriander powder 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 Egg
1-2 tablespoons Oil

Green Chutney Spread
2 tablespoons homemade or bottled Green Chile Chutney
2 teaspoons Yogurt 

Parsley leaves
Mint leaves
Red Onion, thinly sliced
8 Slider Buns, preferably warm ones

Place ground beef in a stainless steel or glass bowl.

Mince garlic and parsley finely and add to beef.

Add cumin and coriander powders, black pepper and salt to beef. Use your hand to mix the beef and spices.

Cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

Just before you are ready to fry kababs add the egg to beef. Squish the beef well with your fingers so the egg is mixed in.

Form beef into 2-3 inch patties.

Heat oil in a nonstick saucepan. Start with a little oil and use as necessary.

Fry patties in hot oil till brown and crusty.

Drain on paper towels.

Make the green chutney spread by mixing chutney and yogurt.

Warm buns. This could well be an optional step, but the sliders do taste good warm.

Place patties in buns.

Top with chutney spread and lots of parsley, mint and onion. 


Family quirks result in a fine kabab...and a delicious slant on burgers. A mouthful of beef, onion, mint and parsley, slathered with chutney, leaves us all wanting more!  I like to think the book nudges me in the right direction. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Smoked Salmon Fingerwiches

Of all the unexpected food items you might find in my luggage to Bombay, is smoked salmon. I worry this delicacy might not survive the trip across oceans and mountains, but I am pleasantly delighted! We bring the surprising to India with Pam in mind. Though much of these gourmet items are available at fancy food stores in India for a whopping rupee price. My ma in law does enjoys these delicacies, hence the effort.

Cream cheese and smoked salmon, one of the most enduring marriages, is not my first choice. Sadly, I have forgotten the the Philly cheese package. But I carry some Boursin. And this proves to be an unusual base for these bread fingers. The mix and match concept seems to work like a charm. The first package of salmon fingers disappear in a trice!!

Makes 12-14 

4-5 Brown Bread slices
1/4 cup Boursin or Cream Cheese
4-5 oz Smoked Salmon cut in thin slices

Bring Boursin or cream cheese and smoked salmon to room temperature. It makes spreading easier.

Cover each slice with a generous tablespoon of cheese. Use a thicker layer of cheese if you so desire. 

If you would like a daintier version of these fingers, trim crusts off slices before spreading the cheese.

Cut bread horizontally into three fingers.

Cover bread fingers with smoked salmon.

Garnish with cilantro.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

These make great appetizers or a light lunch accompanied by a salad.

The second package too disappears in a thrice!! Neighbors and family enjoy some of Mum's spoils . It's all about spreading fingers of happiness.