Friday, June 22, 2018

Avocado Chaat

Summer means buttery Haas avocados at the grocery store. These knobbly dark green fruit have a host of monikers including alligator pears and butter fruit. However, what's in a name, as they are full of nutrients, vitamins, good fat and cholesterol lowering items. I just love their smooth, soft texture and distinctive taste. My father would bring heaps back from his business trips to Bangalore in the 1970's. To my knowledge, Bangalore was the only town they were then available. To me they were exotic, rare, a fruit that not many people had heard of or even knew how to eat. Cut in half, we squirted lime juice and salt on them, eating them plain. Other times, a dollop of mayonnaise added another element of flavor. The pits, planted in a pot, sprouted into leggy tall plants which I would watch obsessively hoping to find pear shaped fruit. I know now that they never fruit in pots, but as a idealistic teen, hope sprung eternal.

Cherished family comes to visit. Vic, Carla and Leah join us. I know Carla is an avocado aficionado so I buy more than a few to make this innovative take on chaat. Having eaten something similar at Rasika in Washington DC, I intend to change it up. Cubed avocado are sprinkled with bhelpuri mix. Bhelpuri mix could be bought as a packaged item. It has puffed rice, sev or chickpea noodles and fried pooris or wheat crisps. This is the easiest way to make bhelpuri, adding in the chutneys, potatoes and onions. The mix softens easily once the chutney is added, so you need to work fast. Scatter thinly sliced green chile on avocados. Drizzle a little sweet tamarind chutney over them. Squirt a little lime juice all over the plate. Garnish with fresh cilantro and dig in.

Serves 4-6

2 Haas Avocados
1/2 cup Bhelpuri Mix
1/2 Green Chile
a generous pinch of Kosher Salt 
2 teaspoons sweet Tamarind Chutney (Store bought or homemade[see recipe in NOTES]) 
1/2 Lime
Fresh Cilantro leaves

Cut avocados in half. Discard the pit. Score avocados with knife, going breadth wise and lengthwise. Scoop cubes with a spoon onto a platter.

Slice green chile thinly and scatter over avocados.

Season with kosher salt.

Scatter bhelpuri mix over avocados.

Drizzle sweet chutney over the bhelpuri mix.

Squeeze a little lime juice over avocados.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

Enjoy the chaat.


Store bought chutney is perfectly acceptable.

The recipe below lasts in the fridge for upto 2 months in a tightly sealed bottle.

Tamarind Chutney  
1 cup Tamarind pulp
2 cups Water
1/2 cup Jaggery or Brown Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt.

If you are not using store bought tamarind chutney start by making it first. Soak tamarind in water for 3 to 4 hours.

Squeeze pulp well and strain into a saucepan. You should only use the liquid. No pulp.

Add jaggery and salt and simmer on a medium flame for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Cool and place in a glass jar.

Unusual flavors make  a big impression. Carla loves the concept. The table is laden with biryani, raita, parathas, dal dhungar and chaat. Empty plates are my reward.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Pasta with Truffles

A trip to truffle country will make your heart beat faster if you are a fan. The last week was one big truffle explosion. Pasta, carpaccio to name a few, are smothered in this special boletus. Truffle country in Croatia lies close to Italy, but the product costs half of what you would pay there. We go to a charming town, Motovun, set high on a hilltop and step into truffle heaven. Posted signs and earthy aromas tempt you into small shops. Free wine and grappa tastings lead to extravagant purchases. The next thing I know is I am carefully wrapping jars of truffle paste. 

I want to create the magical pasta I eat in Restoran Pod Voltun. Perched on the edge of the mountain against a backdrop of verdant fields, overlooking lanes lined with apple and fig trees, I savor a small portion of pasta with tartufi. A mouthful is transcendental experience. And I so want to share it with the family.

We open a bottle of Croatian wine. I grill zucchini and corn and drizzle them with pesto vinaigrette. Zucchini blossoms abound in the garden. Some are stuffed with goat cheese and fried. I set to work trying to recreate the magic of Motovun.

A similar pasta is boiled in heavily salted water. Butter is melted. Creme fraiche is stirred into the butter. Generous spoonfuls of truffle paste are added to the cream. Pasta is quickly tossed and plated. That distinctive aroma fills the kitchen and we sit down to eat with much anticipation.

Serves 4

1 pound Cavatappi or Penne
1 + 2 tablespoons Butter
1 8oz package Creme Fraiche
2 tablespoon Truffle Paste
Fresh cracked Black Pepper

Heat 6 cups water in  large pan. Bring water to a boil.

Salt water generously with 2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook as per package directions. 

Save 1 cup of pasta water. 

Drain pasta and add 1 tablespoon of butter to pasta. Stir well.

Heat remaining butter in a saucepan. 

When it has melted add creme fraiche and stir. Creme fraiche will melt into a sauce.

Add pasta water to dilute the sauce.

Add truffle paste and saute for a minute.

Add pasta to sauce and stir so sauce coats pasta. 

Season with fresh black pepper and serve hot.

This is summer on the table. Cold white wine, grilled veggies, frito misto veggies and this heavenly pasta, which exactly mimics my memorable meal. We are all transported to that mountaintop.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cauliflower with Roasted Cumin

My daughter instructs me to add more Indian veggie sides to the recipe index. It doesn't take me long to oblige. One of her favorites is this cauliflower subji. Small florets are sauteed with cumin seeds and oil till they have dark spots and are tender. Chile powder, garam masala and roasted cumin powder are sprinkled over the florets and the entire dish is stir fried for five minutes. 

The distinctive flavor comes from dry roasted cumin seeds which are then blended to a fine powder. I keep a small jar of this spice at hand, always making small quantities to retain freshness. It could be added to salad dressing, used in marinades and of course a main component of chaat.

Serves 4

4 cups Cauliflower florets, cut small
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon roasted Cumin powder (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Cilantro leaves

Heat oil in a nonstick saucepan. It works the best.

When oil is hot add cumin seeds and let them turn dark brown.

Drop cauliflower into the oil. Stir well so florets vare coated with oil. Cover and steam cook till florets are tinged brown and tender for 10-12 minutes. Stir often so cauliflower doesn't stick to the pan. 

Uncover saucepan and add chile powder, garam masala, roasted cumin powder and salt. stir once again to mix the spices. Cover and cook cauliflower for another 5 minutes to allow spices to bloom.

Uncover, garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve with roti or rice.


Make roasted cumin powder by dry roasting 1/2 cup of cumin seeds in a cast iron pan. Stir often till cumin is medium brown and smells aromatic. Cool and grind in a coffee grinder till fine. Store powder in a jar. This powder will keep for a month in an air tight jar. 

The family enjoys this subji with hot phulkas, an Indian bread. My daughter's request  has been duly fulfilled. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Eggplant With Lentils

I occasionally pull up a Turkish cooking blog. The author and chef, Ozlem, conjures up a steady stream of diverse Turkish recipes. Some multi-step ones are delicious but too tedious to repeat. Manti, small dumplings filled with meat, is one of them. They took me forever and a day! But this simple eggplant and lentil braise takes a couple of blinks of the eye. All you need is of course eggplants, lentils, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes and some dried mint. I made this dish as part of Geets' birthday feast, alongside butternut squash and grilled lamb chops.

Thinly sliced eggplant is quickly sauteed till brown. You do not have to cook the slices, just flash saute them till golden brown. Slices are lightly sprayed with oil on both sides, allowing the slices to brown fast with absorbing a ton of olive oil. Puy lentils are semi cooked in boiling water for minutes. Sliced onion and garlic are sauteed in olive oil till soft. Lentils, peppers, tomatoes, dried  mint, salt, sugar are sauteed with the onions for a few minutes. I use mini orange and red peppers, but you could use regular red peppers. Fresh tomatoes could be used, but I find tomatoes in juice from the can adds body and flavor to the sauce. Dried mint could be found in an Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store. Eggplant slices are nestled into this mix. A little water is added to the pan and the vegetables braise stove top for thirty to forty minutes till they meltingly soft. It is a one saucepan meal, a delicious side to any meal.

Adapted from
Serves 3-4 as a side

1 large Eggplant
1/2 cup Puy Lentils
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Onions
4 Garlic cloves
2 large Red or Orange Peppers
1 14 oz can chopped Tomatoes
1 teaspoon Dried Mint
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
Mint leaves for garnishing

Wash lentils and cover with 3 inches of water. 

Place lentils on a high flame and cook for 15 minutes. Drain lentils and keep aside.

Use a vegetable peeler to make vertical peels on the eggplant. Space the strips an inch apart. 

Cut the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices. 

Place a large nonstick saucepan over high heat. 

Spray the saucepan with canola or olive oil spray.

Place eggplant slices in the pan in a single layer. Cook on high heat till the bottoms are golden brown. It should take a few minutes. 

Spray the tops of the slices with cooking spray and flip them over. Cook till brown. Remove slices on to a plate. Repeat process with the rest of the slices.

Peel and slice onion and garlic cloves.

Cut red pepper into vertical slices 1 inch thick.

Pour the olive oil in the saucepan. 

When it shimmers add onion and garlic and saute till soft. 

Add tomatoes, peppers, lentils, dried mint, salt and sugar to onions. Saute for a few minutes.

Nestle eggplant slices into lentil mix. Make sure that the lentils cover some of the eggplant slices.

Pour 1 cup of water around the edges of the pan, cover saucepan and simmer over a low flame for 30-40 minutes. 

Uncover pan, top with fresh mint and serve as a side with meat.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Kashmiri Kofta Curry

Kashmiri flavors are different from traditional Indian foods. They use a lot of fennel, a distinctive garam masala, ginger powder and  saffron. Mutton kheema or chopped goat meat is preferred. Spices are added to the meat, which is then pounded till soft and pliable. Most kofta curries start with pan fried or deep fried koftas. The beauty of these koftas are that they are braised in the gravy, resulting in a softer, luscious meatball. 

My version is a amended version of ghostaba, served as part of many Kashmiri feasts.  Ground beef is mixed with egg, fennel powder, ginger powder, garam masala, garlic paste, cilantro and seasonings. Whole spices, yogurt and cream add body to the sauce. The original recipe calls for just yogurt, which tends to curdle when added to the hot gravy. I find that by adding cream to the yogurt you could avoid the curdled mess.  An arrowroot slurry binds the gravy into a thick sauce. On to the table it goes.

Serves 4-6

1 pound Ground Beef, Lamb or Mutton
1 Egg
1 tablespoon Garlic paste
2 tablespoons Fennel powder
1 teaspoon Ginger Powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 tablespoon Cilantro leaves, minced fine
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1 Bay leaf
2 Cinnamon sticks
6-7 Cloves
1 Black Cardamom
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3/4 cup Yogurt
1/4 cup Cream
2 teaspoons Arrowroot or Cornstarch 
1-2 teaspoons Water (more if needed)
fresh Cilantro to garnish

Place ground meat in a bowl.

Add egg, garlic paste, 1 tablespoon fennel powder, ginger powder, garam masala, cilantro and salt to meat. Use your fingers to mix the spices into the meat. 

Knead the meat with your hands for 3-5 minutes. 

Form meat into small koftas. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a large saucepan.

When oil is hot, drop bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom into the oil. Let spices bloom for 20 seconds.

Add 2 cups of water to the oil. Let water come to a boil.

Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of fennel powder and chile powder over water. 

Season with salt. Stir to mix.

Gently slide the koftas into the boiling water. Lower the flame to medium, stir gently and let koftas simmer for 20 minutes.

Whisk yogurt and cream till smooth.

Push koftas to the outer ends of the saucepan. 

Pour yogurt/cream mix in the center of the pan, whisking continuously as you pour as the yogurt has a tendency to curdle. Let the gravy simmer over a slow fire for 5 minutes.

Make a slurry with the arrowroot and water. The consistency should be thick but runny. 

Add the slurry to the gravy stirring well as you add it in. 

Cover and cook the curry for another 5 minutes.

Uncover, garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with any Indian bread or rice.

Rosa and Rolf come to dinner. Something is to be said about old friends and good food puts us all in a good mood.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Corn Salad with Burrata

Last weekend was one continuous round of great food. We started with Rob Sonderman's exquisitely smoked barbeque from his much heralded restaurant Federalist Pig in Washington DC. This unassuming but very talented chef does 'Q for the people', as he says,  featuring traditional meats and vegetarian sides, done in innovative fashion. Brisket pulls apart in gentle perfection. Chicken wings are moist and plump. Turkey is cooked moist and tender. Drizzled with a quartet of sauces, Rob's sandwiches and BBQ platters are the best by a long shot. His wife Nikita brings us some samples!

L to R   Brisket, Brussels sprouts, potato salad, Oreo banana pudding
L to R Turkey, Chicken Wings, Mac n Cheese, Corn Salad 

 You wouldn't think that a barbecue joint would cater to vegetarians, but then you will be delighted to know he has a host of options aside from the meat. I'll begin with the Brussel sprouts which are heavenly. Fried and dusted with spice, these morsels send me into paroxysms of pleasure. Other sides are the mac and cheese, a decidedly saucy version of the classic stodgy bake. Potato salad has an assertive personality. And then there is the summer corn, green bean and tomato salad. A huge explosion of smoky flavors, the simple salad has fresh corn, cotija, vine-ripened tomatoes and crisp string beans, dressed in a mouth tingling lime vinaigrette. This is my OMG dish, one I cannot stop eating, even the day after. Which is when I pile the last few spoonfuls on burrata. Stunned by the extraordinary combination, I contrive to replicate those flavors as soon as I get home!

In my kitchen I scrape corn off the ears. I cut sugar snaps on a bias. I halve heirloom cherry tomatoes. The veggies are coated in a lemon lime dressing. I make the dressing in a jar, which is easy to store in the fridge. Mexican oregano is added for good measure, along with fresh cilantro. Burrata is halved and topped with the salad. My inspired salad is a far cry from Rob's stunning creation, but enjoyable all the same!

Serves 4

2 Corn cobs
1/2 cup Cherry Tomatoes
1 cup Sugar Snap Peas
1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1/4 cup Cilantro
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Lemon, juiced
1 Lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 Burrata balls

Shuck the corn, removing all silk. Using a sharp knife cut the kernels off the cob. Gather kernels in a bowl.

Cut cherry tomatoes in half.

Cut sugar snap peas in to 1 inch pieces on a bias. 

Heat 3 cups of water in a pot. When water boils blanch corn and sugar snaps for 30 seconds. Run cold water over the veggies. Drain well and place in a bowl.

Add tomatoes to corn.

Crumble oregano over corn.

Add cilantro to corn, along with salt and pepper.

Pour olive oil, mustard. lemon and lime juice, salt and pepper into a jar. Cover tightly and shake well.

Pour 1/2 cup dressing over corn. Mix the dressing in a spoon. The remaining dressing can stay in the fridge for a week. 

Cut burrata in half and arrange on a platter.

Scatter corn salad over burrata and serve at room temperature or cold. 

This is such an inadvertent but delightful combination. It is the new family favorite. Thank you Rob and Nikita for lunch. The meat was so good, but the veggies were awesome! Did I forget to mention the cucumber pickles? To die for!!! Dessert has to be the sinful Oreo banana pudding!!! So make your way to Federalist Pig and dine like a swine!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mini Mango Cheesecakes

A milestone birthday arrives for Geets. Celebrations ensue, the first being a girls trip to Washington DC. Our house fills with laughter, the popping of prosecco and the hum of a disorganized kitchen. It is hard to find your way around an unfamiliar house let alone the kitchen. My talented and eveready sous chefs, Nikita and Suju follow directions steadfastly. The parade of dishes start with drinks on the patio. A plate of bhel, koliwada shrimp and batata vadas is followed by an arugula, kumato and burrata salad. Buckwheat crepes are filled with boursin and crawfish. Oven roasted cod sits with cauliflower in garlic pepper sauce and shrimp chips. Lamb chops are served with eggplant lentils and roasted butternut squash. And then there's the trio of desserts. Sago coconut pudding with mango, a mango flan and mini mango cheesecakes.

My friendship with Geets is as old as the hills, some thirty odd years. We read each other's minds, finish each other's sentences and often sit in companionable silence. A wealth of stories to share about our children, husbands, holidays, replete with mishaps and mayhem, binds us together closely. With every visit, as she lives a few plane rides away, our friendship deepens and intensifies. A shoulder to cry on, a co-conspirator in all things food related, a real friend in need as the adage says, is what she is to me. 

I make these mini cheesecakes as I know she is a fan. These are easier to make than a big old cheesecake. Graham cracker crumbs are tossed with sugar and melted butter. Cream cheese, egg, sugar and vanilla is processed till smooth. The crumbs are pressed into mini cupcake holders and baked for short bit. Filling is spooned into the cupcakes. A dot of mango puree is ladled on and swirled with toothpicks. Baked in a water bath, these minis come out of the oven baked just right. Creamy, soft and delicious.

Makes 24

1 1/2 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs, made from 9 whole Graham Crackers pulsed in a food processor.
1/4 cup Icing or Confectioners Sugar
5 Tablespoons Butter, melted
8 oz Cream Cheese, at room temperature
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/3 cup Sugar
5 tablespoons Mango Puree

Put graham cracker crumbs in a bowl. Add icing sugar and melted butter to crumbs and mix with a fork till moist and crumbly. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Place mini cupcake holders into 24 mini muffin pans.

Put a heaping teaspoon of crumbs into each paper cup. Use most of the crumbs saving a few spoons in case you needs to add more to the cups.

Use a wooden muddler with a rounded end to press the crumbs. Your fingers work just as well. 

Place muffin pans on a sheet pan. 

Bake for 10 minutes.

Make the filling by processing cream cheese, egg, sugar and vanilla extract till smooth.

Take muffin pans out of the oven.

Drop heaping teaspoons of cream cheese into the cups. 

Dot each cup with a little mango puree. 

Take a toothpick and swirl the puree to create a design or pattern. I made paisleys.

Pour 4 cups of hot water around the muffin pans. 

Place sheet back in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. 

Shut off the oven and leave the cheesecakes in the oven for 25 minutes.

Take the cheesecakes out and cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. 

Prise them out gently with a spatula or knife.

Peel the paper and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Geets does enjoy the dinner along with the other invitees. Wine is decanted and drunk. Stories float around the table. The evening unwinds in a memorable fashion. Stuffed and sated, this dinner spearheads the birthday girl's celebrations, the first of many! I wish her joyous life, unbridled happiness and my shoulder if ever she needs it.