Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Moussaka Madness

It's dinner time.The trivet awaits a bubbling concoction from the oven. We start with soup and move on to the next course, that bubbling bake and it makes its appearance, steaming hot. We all help ourselves to heaping spoonfuls. Rehan inquires "What is this?" Since he cannot recognize it I encourage him to guess. "Shepherds Pie!" he says. "Wrong" I say. Glenn chimes in with antiquated synonyms for 'bakes'...No hits, all misses. They both poke and prod their respective dinners. "Eggplant Parmesan" is the next educated guess. Once again Rehan comes up empty. They claim the name is on the tips of their tongues. Shauna shakes her head in maddening disbelief!! Both beg her for a clue. She adamantly refuses their request, shaking her head in exasperation. I listen in consternation. How can they forget? It has only been a few months since I last made it. I am amazed by their lack of recall!!!!...And so we eat dinner with a vociferous volley of names and negations. Sadly, they are confounded and my culinary effort goes unrecognized! I say sadly because I have made moussaka MANY MANY times. And they have devoured it those past occasions!!!

I started making moussaka when I was a teenager. In those days I only made 'party dishes', not everyday food, but something fancy and painstaking. Taken from an old Hamlyn cookbook, my mum's go-to for exotic dishes, the recipe has evolved little over the years. It is still time consuming, laborious, and really rewarding. The first time I attempted it, was at a beach vacation. My friend and I volunteered to cook lunch for our families. Lunch turned to an early dinner as both of us floundered in a not-so-familiar kitchen!! While I fretted and fumed regretting my decision to slave in the kitchen, the rest of the family basked under sun-dappled palm trees. Nevertheless, lunch/dinner was a success, our families giving us a thumbs-up.  Encouraged, I made it several times, adjusting seasonings,eventually making it my own. Then, on a trip to Greece, in an obscure restaurant in the countryside, I had moussaka baked in a wood burning oven...heavenly!!!   

Nowadays I use ground lamb in place of beef. I add a heaping spoon of chile powder as we like it spicy. But for the most part I have not departed too far from the original.  Today we cook in tandem, Shauna and me. I peel and slice potatoes. The eggplant and tomatoes get the same treatment. She makes short shrift of frying them. I sauté lamb. She seasons. White sauce thickens quickly as I whisk. The assembled dish sits heavily on the counter.

Makes 4 to 6 portions

Lamb Mix
2 pounds ground Lamb
1 Onion
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
2 tablespoons Tomato paste
2 teaspoons Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder or more if you like it spicy
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Vegetable Layer
4 medium sized Potatoes
1 Eggplant
2 medium sized Tomatoes
4 cloves Garlic
1/2 cup Olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

White sauce
2 teaspoons Butter
2 teaspoons Flour
2 cups 2% Milk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Start by making the lamb mix.

Chop onion into small pieces.

Heat oil in a saucepan and add onions. Saute for a few minutes till the edges are light brown.

Add ground lamb and stirfry, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, till it is browned and all liquid has evaporated.

Spoon in garlic paste and tomato paste making sure they meld into the mixture.

After a few minutes add the spices and seasonings and keep stirring. 

Pour in 3/4 cup water. Bring to boil and let lamb cook uncovered for 10 minutes or until the water disappears.

Tilt the saucepan at an angle and wedge it so it stays tilted that way for a few minutes. The fat and oil will pool to one side and can be easily removed with a ladle. Lamb tends to be a little on the fatty side. Retain some fat for flavor though.

Keep lamb aside till ready to assemble moussaka.

Peel potatoes and keep in a bowl of water so they do not discolor.

Pat them dry and thinly slice potatoes either by hand, a food processor or a mandoline. ( I am terrified of mandolines, and the food processor is one more thing to wash, so I use hands!)

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a non-stick pan. Put the potatoes into hot oil so that they overlap very slightly. You want them to be golden brown and slightly crisp so try not to crowd them. Slice 2 potatoes at a time to make frying easier. Repeat with the other potatoes, patting them dry before slicing. 

Lightly salt the golden brown potatoes and keep aside.

Slice the eggplant very thinly. Cut 8 to 10 slices at a time as eggplant tends to turn color when left exposed.

In the same pan used for the potatoes, add oil and heat. Use a liberal glug of oil as eggplants do soak up oil.

Lay the eggplants in a single layer in the pan and fry them till golden brown on both sides. Remove and keep on paper towels to absorb oil residue. Repeat this step with remaining eggplant adding oil as needed.

Cut tomatoes into thin slices.

Peel and crush garlic cloves.

Once again use the same pan. Add 2 teaspoons oil and heat well. 

Drop in the crushed garlic and brown for a few seconds.

Add tomatoes slices and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the eggplant into tomato mixture and stir well.

Season with a little salt and keep aside.

Start the white sauce by dropping butter pats into a warm pan.

When butter melts, add in the flour and whisk well for 30 seconds.

Pour the milk in all at once, whisking vigorously so you do have lumps in the sauce.

Keep whisking as the milk comes to a boil and thickens.

Season with salt and pepper.

It's time to assemble! 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Use a deep oven-proof two-quart dish. 

Start with a layer of lamb.

Top lamb with the tomato eggplant melange.

Cover eggplant with fried potatoes.

Blanket potatoes with white sauce.

Sprinkle white sauce with grated cheddar cheese.

Bake moussaka for 20 minutes.

Enjoy it hot and steaming with a salad or garlic bread.


As I said I prefer ground lamb. Ground beef works just as well. Just defat the mixture after its cooked.

Sometimes I spice up my lamb with chile powder and garam masala. It makes a nice change.

I have tried a baked version of eggplants. I have tried a broiled version too. They are pale substitutes for the pan fried version. Sorry, this isnt the low-fat version!!

On occasion I flavor my white sauce with a tinge of curry powder too.

I have seasoned each component separately. Do so carefully as it is easy to over season. 

Dinner is done. There has been no eureka moment!  Shauna and I stubbornly refuse to divulge the mystery entree. As the dishwasher is being loaded I watch Glenn hunched over his phone---undoubtedly the most prevalent pose of today. His fingers work the keyboard surreptitiously !!! After some frantic researching, recognition dawns on Glenn's face. As is the norm of this instant Information Age, Google comes to his rescue.!!!! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Skewers Galore --- Lemongrass Pork Lollipops

It's the weekend again and once more friends will gather at my table. Special friends who accommodated us when we had nowhere to stay. Friends who worked by our side clearing and cleaning the mess that was our house. Friends who packed food into large disposable containers so I would have a break from the kitchen. Friends who offered nothing more than words of comfort and solace when the going was tough.

So I consider my options. I decide to mix it up Asian style. Some Thai, some Malaysian, some Indonesian , some Vietnamese. A harmonious blend of South East Asia on one plate. I labor over rendang. Some grilled fish. Some soba noodles. Crusty pan-fried dumplings with a mint coriander sauce. Fried rice dotted with red peppers. And pork lollipops. Quite delicious and delightful to look at too. The butcher gives me a fatty pork mix, ideal for meatballs. I look for lollipops Asian-style...lemongrass stalks!!! Oh yes! They make perfect meatball skewers when cut and trimmed! And I have a lot of trimming to do. I love the aroma of cut lemongrass. It's lemony, floral, mossy, pungent, an olfactory assault of my senses. Ground pork and spices are well massaged into tiny lime- sized portions. Each ball is cradled around the end of a lemongrass stick. Neatly arranged on sheet pans, they get a turn in a hot oven and emerge golden brown. The warm lollipops are pounced upon by avid tasters. You snooze, you loose.. at least in my kitchen!

Pork Lollipops
Makes 18-20 pieces

1 pound ground Pork
6 cloves Garlic
6 fresh Cilantro roots
10 leaves of Thai Basil
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Ketchap Manis
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1teaspoon ground Black pepper
6 to 8 stalks Lemongrass 

Cut lemongrass stalks into 4 inch sized pieces. Any extra pieces could be used later in another recipe.

Put the pork in a bowl.

Rinse cilantro roots well.

Chop the garlic and cilantro roots very fine. This could be done by hand or in a food processor.

Slice Thai basil leaves very finely too. 

Add the chopped garlic, cilantro roots and basil to the pork.

Season with sugar, Ketchap manis, salt and pepper.

Using your hands gently mix the pork so all the spices are evenly distributed.

Make several lime-sized pork balls. 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cup a ball around one end of the lemongrass stick so that the end is completely covered.

Place on a foil- covered sheet pan. You should be able to fit the lollipops onto one pan.

Bake for 30 minutes and then flip the lollipops over.

Cook for another 10 minutes.
Serve them hot with sweet chili sauce. Or any sauce you like.


There really is no substitute for cilantro roots. Chinese and Spanish groceries do carry cilantro bunches with some roots attached.

You could use soy sauce in place of Ketchap manis. The taste will vary as Ketchap manis has a wonderful deep flavor. It is available at most Asian grocery stores. I use the ABC brand.

You could grill the lollipops on a gas or charcoal grill. They cook really fast so cooking time would be 3 to 4 minutes on each side. They taste really good with a char.

So I await the Louis family, Keith, Colleen, Elaine, Melanie, Jennifer, Noel, Craig, Leslie and Carole. Yes they are a big family with even bigger hearts. Marylou and Roy Rodrigues who offer love and prayers in our name, come too. My home resounds with thanks and my table is brimming with gratitude.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Soba noodle platter--Soba Noodle Salad

Noodle mania hits us at least once week. Usually it's in the form of pasta. My children LOVE pasta. So much that I am convinced they are Italians born as Indians. Whatever form of pasta that hits the table is consumed with gusto, leaving very little for leftovers. Pasta, noodles, spaghetti, lo mein, penne, rice noodles, whole wheat fettuccini, soba noodles.... All clamoring to be the chosen one.

There is something about twirling and slurping these ribbons of carbs that satisfies that pit in the stomach. Italian, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Burmese, even Indian style American Chop Suey, always pleases and satisfies. Most cuisines have some kind of long or short noodle. The act of boiling, salting, draining a colander of steaming squiggles is so rewarding. The kids were taught this job when they were young, which they still perform perfectly. And the ease of preparation helps. Unlike Indian food that involves laborious steps, pasta is boil, drain and sauce....done! At least most of the time. Red sauce or no sauce. Sausage or clams. Thinly sliced pork or a melange of vegetables. Everything works with these slippery fellas.

This time it's soba noodles. The toothsome flavor of buckwheat holds up marvelously to an asian dressing. Finely shredded onions and cabbage sit in a neat pile. Matchsticks of carrot and daikon entice. Soy sauce or fish sauce? Sambal oelek or Sriracha? I dither over ingredients. Glenn is on his way home. I need to chop chop, literally. For me the thrill is in the hunt and today my hunting ground is my fridge. I find some roasted beets for sweetness and color. English cucumber for crunch, along with red peppers and celery. Spring onions for that zing. Dressing gets a shake in a jar. Sesame seeds are toasted. Today's noodles accompany pork belly tacos. A slightly slurpy spicy side. Carb with carb? Hey, there are some redeeming veggies. and I do not hear any dissension among the ranks! 

Soba Noodle Salad
Makes 4 portions

1 bundle of Soba Noodles ( They come in bundles of three)
2 small roasted or boiled Red Beets
1/2  English Cucumber
1/2 Red Pepper
1 rib of Celery
2 tablespoons Cilantro

1 teaspoon Fish sauce
1 teaspoon Sambal oelek or Sriracha hot sauce
2 teaspoons Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon roasted Seame oil
1 tablespoon roasted Sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Put all the ingredients for the dressing into a bottle or jar and close the lid.  Shake vigorously and keep aside.

Put a saucepan filled with 6 cups of water, to boil.

Add soba noodles to boiling water. Swirl to separate using a fork or wooden spoon. Let noodles boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the noodles. If you are not using the noodles immediately, drizzle a little olive oil over them and mix well. This prevents them from clumping up.

Slice beets into bite size pieces.

Halve and cut cucumber into small batons.

Chop red peppers into small chunks.

Cut celery on the bias into thin slices.

Roughly chop the cilantro.

Lay cool soba noodles on a plate .

Top with chopped veggies.

Shake the dressing once more and pour over the salad.

Garnish with cilantro and eat at room temperature.


You could make this salad earlier in the day. Just pour the dressing on before you serve it. 

I don't really toss the salad as people can help themselves to whatever portion they desire.

I sometimes scissor the noodles to make for easier forking, especially when its served on a large platter.

Buns are steaming. Warmed pork belly lies glistening and crisp in a pan. A little bit of hoisin, a sprig of cilantro, some red onion and the buns are ready. Everyone helps themselves to the salad. I like looking at the colorful palette on a plate. Today we eat soba. So be it. Next week might be pad Thai. Hmmm that sounds good already!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fiesta Carolina Style--Fiesta Cups

The sky is Carolina blue. The football stadium at UNC is a perfect setting for a graduation. We sit in acquiesced attendance. Speechified out. By the seventh oratory, the mind tends to sway, bewitched by warm sunshine and the sea of blue caps and gowns. It drifts to my daughter's graduation, at the same stadium two years ago under dreary skies and misty rain. Today is the antithesis of that day.  Last night's torrential rain has given way to Simpsons-blue skies. I think about last night's celebration for the grad-to-be. Wine, punch and enough beer for friends and family. A veritable feast of favorites. An arresting banquet and lots of leftovers. An evening celebrating  friendship, love and success.

I am in North Carolina to cheer on with my dear friend Vini. The second musketeer +Geeta Rodrigues , joins us as we indulge in one of our favorite pastimes, planning and cooking a festive meal.  Thirty years ago we arrived in the US as three newly married women. We began our friendships in the angst of familial separations. Leaving parental and sibling relationships behind to begin a new one in a distant land, is one of our most arduous of challenges. With that being one of the common factors, we have forged a friendship I know will continue with our next generation. We celebrate our children's lives, cry on each other's shoulders when life throws us a curve-ball and most importantly, work together seamlessly in each others kitchens when occasions call.

In Vini's sun-dappled kitchen, we laugh a lot. As always, we have plenty to reminisce about. I love my husband dearly, but I cherish my girlfriends too!! And it helps when we have so much history to laugh and talk about! Each of us unabashedly discusses our foibles as we go about our given tasks. The menu has been discussed and planned a week before. The planning has been the most fun. Lists are made and misplaced. Items on the list are constantly deleted and reinstated. The yin and yang of the table is a much debated affair. This time we plan to fill the table with finger food. Or shall we say, "fork-able" food.

So we brainstorm. Vini, the resident dessert queen, is in charge of her forte. She wants to make little Reese's Pieces chocolate caps with UNC colors. We work industriously at putting this confection together. Expletives fly unrestrained across the table as it takes dexterity and patience!

She also dips strawberries in chocolate. Baklava and a superb Tres Leches, compliments of friends, grace her table.

 Desserts galore!

Geets and I manage the savory part. She volunteers smoked salmon crostini. I make mini risotto cakes. She makes garlicky white beans crostini. I make kale pesto orzo salad. Geets makes herb-roasted purple and red potatoes. I make asparagus marinated in sesame seed and soy sauce dressing. Catered shwarma, falafel wraps, veggie puffs and chicken samosas round off the table. Vini insists on hot ham and cheese sliders. 

The three musketeers assemble a Mexican dip, miniature-style---- a Pinterest pin come to life. It is a fiesta in a diminutive cup!

Fiesta Cups
Makes 40 to 50 mini cups


1 14oz can Refried Beans
1/2 packet Taco mix ( McCormick brand)
1 14oz jar Salsa
1 to 2 packets pre-made Guacamole
1 cup Sour Cream
2 cups shredded Mexican Blend Cheese (cheddar & Monterey Jack )
Cilantro to garnish
Tortilla chips

50 miniature plastic cups
50 miniature plastic forks

Open the can of Refried beans and put the contents into a bowl.

Add the taco mix spices to refried beans and mix well. Keep aside .

Drain the salsa in a colander, discarding the juices. Keep the chunky pieces in a bowl as you prep.

Have all the items in place as you begin.

Start with a teaspoon of Refried beans at the bottom of the cup.

Top with a teaspoon of guacamole.

A teaspoon of salsa goes over the guacamole.

This is followed by a teaspoon of sour cream.

A generous sprinkle of Mexican cheeses top the sour cream.

Garnish with a cilantro leaf and a mini fork.

Arrange a tortilla chip as a dipper alongside the fork.

Chill to set or leave in a cool spot.

Serve at room temperature.


This sounds awfully easy and it is! Just give yourself time. It's goes faster if you have friends to form an assembly line as we did!!!!

I used store-bought salsa and guacamole. I'm sure homemade will taste wonderful too!

A bowl of chips on the side works well too.

The open house is over. There's still plenty of food left. Vini's boys and +Nikita Rodrigues  lay claim to most of the leftovers. We are delighted that Tupperware will be emptied. The grad-Ranjit, walks around with a huge smile, beaming from ear to ear. He looks like the cat that ate the cream, or at least the chocolate caps! He makes all of us really proud. The graduation ceremony ends with an acapella performance by the Clefhangers. Their version of James Taylor's Carolina On My Mind brings out mixed emotions for me. It couldn't have ended on a better note!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Stir Crazy Fried Rice

When we have an Asian meal, fried rice is my go to side. There is always left over rice in my fridge. Shauna and I do tend to make more rice than we ordinarily should. So as the pork roasts in the oven, getting its golden char from the cast iron pan it sits in, I go about selecting additions to the rice. I indulge in my favorite pastime.....opening the fridge and looking in at the contents. I do have a new LG is humongous. A behemoth that hasn't yet been quite filled as yet.We love the door-in-door feature, so milk, butter and orange juice is just a button away. The French doors swing open to reveal see- through containers of rice, barbacoa, mutton curry and cauliflower subji. And that's what you see at first glance! I have tried to pack leftovers in nooks and crannies and yet open spaces peer back at me! I do love this appliance. It has been a visual treat!

So I peer. I move containers to see what I can forage. I find some roasted pork belly. I find red peppers. A container of organic pea shoots looks inviting, a promise of spring in a mouthful. I chop onions, garlic, peppers. I break an egg in a bowl and give it a teeny whip- up. Leftovers sit on the counter, waiting to be used creatively.

The skillet shimmers with hot oil. The aroma of lightly browned garlic wafts through the kitchen. Scraping spoons shift and move soy accented rice. The roast makes an audible exit from the oven, beautifully lacquered.
Baby corn and mushrooms swim in a chili sauce.

I slice and fan the pork tenderloin. Rice sits in a colorful mound.

Fried rice with red peppers, pea shoots and crispy pork belly
Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 cups cooked Rice
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1 small Onion
3 Garlic cloves
1/2 Red pepper
1 Egg
4 Spring onions
1 cup Pea shoots
1/2 cup crisp Pork Belly, crumbled (see Notes)
2 teaspoons Soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sesame oil

Cool the cooked rice.

Peel and chop the onion and red pepper into small pieces.

Dice the garlic very fine.

Trim spring onions and thinly slice them, using white and green parts.

Break the egg into a bowl and lightly whip to mix.

Heat canola oil in a non-stick skillet.

When it shimmers add chopped garlic and let the garlic brown lightly.

Add in chopped onions and red peppers and sauté on a high flame for 4 to 5 minutes.

Push the veggies to the sides of the pan and add the beaten egg to the center. Let the egg sit for a few seconds to set. Break up the egg with a spoon and sauté along with the veggies for 7 to 8 minutes. The veggies and egg should be tinged brown.

Fluff the rice and add stir it in.

Drizzle soy sauce over the rice and gently mix to incorporate the sauce.

Lower the flame and let rice sauté uncovered for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add pea shoots, pork belly and spring onions to rice.

Stir-fry well for 2 minutes.

Drizzle with sesame oil and serve.


I used oven-crisped pork belly slices. Fried or oven crisped thin slices of bacon is a perfectly good substitute.

Pea shoots are not easy to find. I find them seasonally at Trader Joes? Frozen peas can be used instead.

You can use any vegetables finely diced in fried rice. I like the oranges, reds, greens as they look lovely in the finished product.

Fried rice is a great vehicle for fresh ingredients. It is also perfect for leftovers! The pork belly, remainders from pork belly tacos.( I will post the recipe ) The pea shoots usually go into a pesto or pasta, but in this recipe provide the toothsome crunch. My leftovers live another day. And we eat yet another variation of fried rice!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cauliflower Tomato Methi Subji

I unequivocally love cauliflower. As a side, in soup, fried Manchurian style, in pullao, in a raita or just plain boiled. All these variations work for me. So I share one of my favorite with you, a side, a subji, a piquant accompaniment to daal and rice.

Growing up back home in India, cauliflower was a seasonal vegetable making its rounds only in winter. Prettily arranged in tiered rows, white heads peeked out from under dark green leafy wraps. At the market, I was instructed to test the florets, to feel for firmness, to look out for worms and above all to choose one that was snowy white! So the bhajiwala or vegetable seller patiently endured the pokes and prods of knowledgeable hands until the prize was chosen! The chosen head was taken home, cut into florets and dunked into lukewarm water. Lukewarm water you ask? Remember the worms? The water supposedly brought the worms out of the inner nooks and crannies. In all the years of cleaning cauliflowers as instructed, I have never seen a worm or caterpillar or any bug! But always listen to your Mum! She knows best.

After all that hard work back home, buying and cleaning cauliflower here is piece of cake! It is available through out the year and I don't have to dunk the florets in warm water!! Just a good clean under running water and I'm ready to use it any way I want. Mum had come to visit when I first moved to the US. Needless to say she was amused and thrilled with easy cauliflower cleaning detail!

Indian meals are usually eaten with a meat or chicken curry, some subjis (vegetables), a dal and rice or chapattis . The vegetable sides are as important as the main dish as it provides a contrast. For me an Indian meal is not complete without the requisite veggie side.

Cauliflower Tomato Methi Subji
Makes enough for 4 people

I small head of Cauliflower or 1/2 a large head of Cauliflower
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
I cup fresh Fenugreek( Methi) leaves OR fresh baby Spinach leaves
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
4 coins or slices of Ginger
1 Jalapeño pepper
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Cilantro, finely chopped

Trim the outer leaves of the cauliflower. Wash and cut into small florets. You should have 4 to 5 cups.

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes.

If you are using fenugreek leaves.....pick the leaves off the stems. Discard stems as the stems are bitter and indelible. Wash the leaves in a colander and let them drip-dry. Roughly chop the leaves. If you are substituting baby spinach leaves, wash well in a colander.

Trim the jalapeño pepper and finely dice. If you do not like your veggies spicy, then remove the seeds and inner white membrane before you dice the pepper.

Heat canola oil in stainless steel saucepan over a medium high flame.

When the oil shimmers, add cumin seeds and let them turn several shades darker.

The coins of ginger go into the oil and fry for 30 seconds.

The diced jalapeños and cauliflower florets are added to the oil. Give the veggies a stir.

Add the cherry tomatoes and chopped fenugreek leaves.

Sprinkle the turmeric, chili powders and kosher salt over veggies. Stir well so spices coat the veggies.

Cover pan with a tight-fitting lid and cook on a medium flame.

Let the veggies cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

You do not need to add water as the veggies will cook in their own steam.

After 15 minutes remove the lid and garnish with chopped cilantro.

You can make this dish ahead of time. Reheat in the pan or in the oven in a heatproof dish.


Fresh fenugreek leaves can be bought at Indian grocery stores. It comes in bunches with roots attached. The leaves have to be washed thoroughly as they are a little gritty.

As I indicated, you can easily substitute spinach leaves.

I love cauliflower subji with rice and dal. Florets are cooked with the right, each floret holding its shape. The slightly bitter inflection of fenugreek leaves offsets the sweet tomato taste. Yellow, green and red hues vividly contrast against a mound of white rice. A fork and spoon works well. My fingers are MUCH better. It's good to the last floret!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sweet Corn Soup

There are some days when I want to curl up with a good book and let the world walk on by. Right now it is Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  The eastern light will give way to the setting sun and I am still immersed in the story. A luxury not afforded too often. So I take advantage, knowing that rumbling stomachs will eventually prevail and the dinner bell will toll for me. Something easy, something familiar, something comforting. A bowl of soup and a stir fry---Chinese fast food.

I chop and slice snow peas, red peppers and chicken. I make some stock. Noodles are defrosted. I usually buy the noodles fresh at the Asian supermarket and freeze them. They have a little more give and texture than dried ones. Though dried noodles work just fine. I prep everything for the stir fry and start on soup.

Sweet corn soup was a regular standby in all Chinese restaurants in India. It was usually a choice between wonton soup and sweet corn. My family loved both. So the soups took turns at our restaurant table. It started the meal, a promise of something different from the standard Indian fare. Eaten family style, soup arrived in huge bowl  ornamented with dancing dragons, steaming fragrantly. You either had the chicken or crab version, depending on your mood or wallet. The waiter expertly doled out perfect portions into smaller bowls. On the table sat a trio of condiments- soy sauce, a spicy chili sauce and tart green chilies in vinegar. We sprinkled our bowls liberally with the condiments of choice . As you dunked your soup spoon into the bowl, you inhaled the aroma of an eggy broth, redolent with chunks of meat, corn, sesame oil, chilies and sauces. If we had the wonton soup, you marveled at silky wontons swimming in a clear broth, flecked with bits of bok choy. The tricky part was getting that slippery triangle onto your spoon and into your mouth without letting it slip off and splash back into your bowl!

Both soups are hearty favorites, though sweet corn soup is a snap to make, compared to the intricacies of wonton making! On the rare occasions that we made the soup at home, mum would serve them in antique glass Chinese bowls acquired years ago from old friends in Hong Kong. We were warned to 'eat carefully' on those occasions. How much damage can you do slurping soup from that odd shaped soup spoon! The warning still bewilders me! The tablecloth did suffer though!

Sweet Corn Soup
Makes 6 to 8 small bowls

6 cups Chicken stock
1 can Sweet Corn cream style
2 tablespoons Cornstarch
I teaspoon Water ( you may need a little more)
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sesame oil

Bring the chicken stock to boil in a large saucepan.

Add the can of cream style corn and give the liquid a good stir.

Mix the cornstarch with water to form a thick slurry. Do not thin it down as the stock will not thicken if the slurry is too dilute.

Gently pour in the slurry into the simmering stock, making sure to stir all the time. If you do not keep stirring the cornstarch mixture tends to become lumpy. Let the stock simmer for a few minutes.

Break the egg into a shallow dish and whisk well.

Add egg to simmering stock in a steady thin stream. As you add the egg, use a fork to whisk the egg as it hits the stock. This transforms the egg into thin strands. If you are doing it for the first time, try a little egg at a time. This is a two handed job, as you can see from the photo below. As you whisk and pour, the egg forms into thin strands that float in the soup.

Let the egg cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

Season the soup with salt, pepper and sesame oil.

Serve the soup hot, with soy sauce, Sriracha, or chilies in vinegar

Stir fry is done Soup steams. We ladle a bowlfuls of goodness, dotted with strings of egg and bits of corn. No chicken or crab for us tonight. The deep flavors of corn, soy sauce and Sriracha satisfies and satiates.