Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Happy Place--Meatballs and Spaghetti

This weekend I am inundated with readers photographs of recipes from the blog! In that moment I feel joy, elation, gratitude and an overwhelming sense of validation. I see a wish fulfilled. I read notes from friends who follow my instructions diligently. I envisage far-flung kitchens, aromatic with spice-laden biriyani and crumbly chocolate chip cookies. And I feel good. It's a question of fulfilling my dream and giving back a slice of my pie. 

These pictures put me in happy frame of mind. And when I'm happy I cook. I have a hankering for a large plate of meatballs and spaghetti. Something mundane and satisfying. My mum made this for me and I in turn for my kids, family and friends. My nephew Cole claims my version is the best he's has eaten as he slurps noodles messily. 

There's something about mixing chopped meat, freshly chopped parsley and gooey eggs with your hands that brings a sense of well being. Unlike kababs where the meat is mixed to death, this meat is gently coaxed into small balls. I'm not a big fan of the tennis ball version you get at a lot of Italian restaurants. I prefer a smaller delicate ping-pong sized ball as it allows the meat to be infused with the garlicky tomato sauce. Most of the time I use breadcrumbs as a binder but occasionally it's bread soaked in buttermilk. This variation gives the meatballs a tangy taste I love. Everything is  gently combined with a fork and lovingly coddled into diminutive balls. These small nuggets do not have the perfect round shape. In fact they don't quite retain their rotund shape as they brown. They are almost flattish on top as they brown. A quick fry in olive oil and then a long dunk in tomato gravy and voila! I have a tender, juicy meatball redolent with Italian flavors ready to be forked. 

Serves 4

1 pound ground Beef
1 Egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped Parsley
2 cloves Garlic
A pinch of Pepperocini or Chile flakes
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black pepper
2 slices White Bread
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2 tablespoons Olive oil

1 28 oz can crushed Tomatoes
2 tablespoons Olive oil
3 cloves Garlic
1 cup Water
1 teaspoon Oregano
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Ground Black Pepper as desired
1/2 packet Spaghetti
Kosher salt
Grated Parmesan cheese

Start with the meatballs. 

Break the slices of bread into small pieces and keep in a shallow bowl. 

Pour buttermilk over bread and let soak for 5 minutes.

Place ground beef, egg, Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, Pepperocini, salt and pepper in a bowl. 

Grate garlic cloves into the beef.

Using a fork mash the bread and buttermilk till you get a semi smooth paste. Add the paste to the meat.

With the same fork, gently turn beef till well mixed. 

Form the beef into golf ball (for want of a better comparison). You should have 20-24 meatballs. These balls are kind of floppy. Since the meat isn't handled too much they firm up once they go into the sauce.

Heat olive oil in a big nonstick saucepan.

Add meatballs to oil and cook on a medium flame till brown and crusty. Flip the meat and cook the other side. This should take 5 to 7 minutes. The meatballs don't need to be cooked all the way through, just nicely browned.

While the meat balls are browning,  begin the sauce.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or deep saucepan. 

Add garlic and let it brown lightly.

Carefully pour in crushed tomatoes, water, oregano, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a low boil. 

Once the meatballs have brown they go right into the bubbling sauce. Let them cook in the sauce for 20 minutes. Watch out for tomato splatters!!!

Bring 6 to 8 cups of water to a vigorous boil. 

Salt the water generously and add pasta. 

Cook for 8 minutes. Drain and add pasta to sauce. 

Give the sauce an enthusiastic stir.

Serve meatballs and spaghetti on a platter family style, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese.

There is nothing that warms my heart more than a heaping plate of pasta and beef,smothered in Parmesan and some garlic bread. The latter got more than its share of sear! Sliced radish and cucumber round out my plate. And I would love to see this squiggly mess in some else's kitchen too!! Thanks Jen. Thanks Madeleine. Thanks Christine Thanks Geets

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bean or Not to Bean--Fava Bean Burgers

There's nothing like sitting on a comfy couch, flicking through food channels on TV. But on Saturday mornings I am hard-pressed to find a channel I like. And then lo and behold I see Jamie Oliver on CBS.  And he makes a bean burger that looks scrumptious. A bean burger? Well it's his take on a meatless aka veggie burger. He certainly makes it look easy and quite appetizing. It is meatless Tuesday in my house so I will inflict these burgers on the family... Meatless meals are tolerated with some equanimity. Let's see how this plays out.

The recipe calls for broad beans. Since I do not care for Lima beans I will use favas instead. Frozen ones. We are nowhere near fresh fava season. The frozen ones are not too bad. Quite easy to peel and retain that vivid green color. Once I start I change my mind.. fast..peeling favas takes a while. After that it's 1..2..3 in the processor. I make small dollops of beans into round patties, crisp them brown and the burgers like the emperor's new clothes are ready for their buns.

Makes 10 small burgers

1 1/2 cup cooked Red Beans
2 cups peeled Fava beans
1 cup Cilantro
1/2 teaspoon roasted Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Coriander powder
1 Lemon, zested
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 teaspoons Flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
Additional flour
2 tablespoons Canola oil

Place red beans, fava beans, spice powders, cilantro, lemon zest and juice, flour, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10-15 times till beans are pulpy.

Empty the contents into a floured surface. 

Divide bean purée into 10 balls. 

Flatten each ball slightly and dust with flour.

Heat canola oil in a nonstick pan.

Fry patties 3 to 4 minutes on each side till golden brown. 

Serve fava patties as burgers or by themselves with a side salad.


I did not defrost the fava beans. I zapped them in the microwave for 20 seconds to make it easier to peel them. The outer skin is leathery and shouldn't be used.

You could easily substitute Lima beans or peas.

The boys look at the veggie dinner with their usual trepidation. Though I don't know why because they almost always enjoy their vegetarian repast. I serve the burgers/patties along with pasta and a beet and burrata salad. No bread encasing. Just plain and unadorned. It has a falafel-like taste and appearance. I like it's unusual mushy spicy taste. But it turns out to be not such a big hit, just an also-ran. Can't win them all. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lamb Chops With a Pomegranate Glaze

 I can see myself some thirty odd years in the past, sitting at my desk, tracing hearts. Cutting several thick sheets of construction paper to make a Valentine card for Glenn. He is in a distant land, away from me, waiting for my paper declaration of love. Seventeen, a magazine I giddily follow, gives me detailed instructions which I faithfully transcribe. Surrounded by hearts of many dimensions, I put together a layered card. It is a paper version of nesting Russian dolls. Within each heart lies another and another until he opens the inner most one with its romantic message. I make a sturdy envelope to carry the card overseas. At eighteen your sensibilities are blatantly different. Then it is food for the heart and soul. V Day gifts are still hand-crafted as I have move from the realm of paper to perishables!!. Today I make hearts though they are toasted..French toasted.

Today is love day. A day I never take for granted! A day granted by the grace of God for those we love. And to me the day is a food fest. A paean to our love for all things edible. Breakfast is heartfelt affair. Lunch is fire-roasted tomato and tortilla soup paired with caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts. The tarts are surprisingly scrumptious, two bite delights. I will definitely post this one !!

A year ago we clink glasses in a small apartment. Under what seem insurmountable odds. The spirit triumphs over both mind and a ridiculously tiny stove. Together we dine in dimunitive splendor. A year later the day dawns inordinately bright. The florescent white reflected glare of the sun bathes the kitchen in a happy aura. What is it about abundant sunshine that put you in a happy frame of mind and makes the heart sing??

Dinner prep beckons as I trim racks of lamb into single chops. Zucchini gets grated into goat cheese. And the ubiquitous potato makes a requisite appearance. Dessert is an old favorite..trifle with custard..assembled and hidden away from fridge predators. Chocolate melts over simmering water. Strawberries patiently await their dunk. Sunshine gives way to a dusky sky. Lights twinkle. The wind whooshes through spectral branches. Music sets the mood. 

Serves 4

2 racks of Lamb or 16 single Lamb Chops
6 tablespoons Pomegranate Molasses
1 teaspoon Chile powder
2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1 tablespoon Garlic Paste
1 tablespoon roasted Cumin powder
1 tablespoon Olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground Black pepper

If you have a rack of lamb, start by carving single chops. Trim the fat near the bone.

Combine pomegranate molasses, chile powder, oregano, garlic paste,cumin powder, olive oil,salt and pepper in a non-reactive bowl. 

Add chops to bowl. Mix well. Keep aside for a few hours.

Heat an indoor grill pan over a high flame. Alternatively light up the grill. 

Lightly oil the pan and place chops on hot pan. They should sizzle as you place them.

Cook for 2 minutes on each side for medium-rare chops. 3 minutes on each side for a medium-well chop. 

Plate chops with vegetables of your choice. Mine are herbed potatoes and zucchini pancakes.


If you do use an outdoor grill, cook lamb a minute on each side for medium rare chops.

Pomegranate molasses is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores or on Amazom. I dont know of any adequate substitute.

A year ago it was lamb chops of a different kind.  Appropriately this year my lamb chop gets another spin on one of his favorite dinners. Rehan has chocolate strawberries and Shauna has turned into Liz Lemmon!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings with Green Sauce

Lunch is mostly a revamped version of last night's dinner. Sometimes it is just that.......
leftovers. The previous day's lunch comes in a riot of red. Red because dinner was noodles drenched in gochujang sauce. Sitting in a heap besides the noodles were strands of store-bought radish kimchi, nestled next to nuggets of Korean fried chicken. It is a panorama of firecracker red, coral and crimson, neatly portioned on a plate. Two out of three come off the shelf from an enthusiastic shopping expedition. 

Why this palate of red? Reason being I finally made my way to HMart again. I am literally the kid in this Korean store. Eyes dart from exotic but reasonably priced perilla leaves to mounds of maitake mushrooms. The fish counter blows me out of the water! I have to contain myself as I am the only avid seafood eater in my house. I move away reluctantly towards the sizzling tofu counter. Going to HMart on weekends is like walking into Korean tapas demo. Food stations, dotted all over the store, entice you with Asian pear, sautéed mushrooms, kimchi, tofu, mung bean pancakes, and bulgogi. My fingers spear and savor. I am used to the solitary nibble at Trader Joe's, mostly prepackaged food I wouldn't normally buy! So this array of Korean delights makes me salivate. It gets me in the mood for something Asian. And since the plate of red leaves my mouth smarting from fiery spices, I take a break from the mouth-numbing chile. How about dumplings? They cook fast, usually boiled in hot water and sprinkled with soy sauce. Then I remember having pan-fried dumplings with a vinegary green sauce in Bombay at the now-defunct Chopsticks restaurant. I remember Rehan inhaling them. This should bring back pleasant memories for both of us. 

Trader Joe's carries frozen pork dumplings along with chicken and shrimp fillings too. The pork ones are the most popular in this kitchen. I lay the dumplings in a large pan with water and let them steam. Cilantro, mint and little minced green chili lifts my spirits as I take in their fresh aroma. I can hear the sizzle of the crusty bottoms. Lunch is served!

Serves 4

1 package Pork Dumplings (Trader Joe's or any frozen brand of dumpling)
1/4 cup Water
2 teaspoons (or more)Canola oil

Green Sauce
1/2 cup Cilantro 
10 Mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon minced Green Chile (more if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon Sugar
3 teaspoons White Vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Arrange the dumplings flat side down in a nonstick saucepan. 

Pour the water around dumplings and set the pan over a medium flame. Once the water begins to bubble, cover with a lid and let dumplings steam for 5 minutes.


Start the green sauce by chopping cilantro, mint and green chiles very fine.

 Put them into a bowl along with sugar, vinegar and salt. Mix well and keep aside.

Dribble canola oil into pan, letting it run between dumplings.

Using a spatula, gently move dumplings so they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add more oil if necessary.

Increase the flame and let the bottoms of dumplings crisp up. This should take a few minutes.

Plate the dumplings in a concentric fashion.

Drizzle green sauce over dumplings. 

Lunch opens a waterfall of memories. And I let them wash over me as I fork a dumpling. I can see green sauce in white ramekins on glass topped tables. Narrow white plates of brown dumplings are served by white-coat waitstaff. Dad encourages the waiter to give Rehan the entire portion. Rehan gleefully polishes the plate and asks for more. Mum looks on approvingly. A simple lunch of dumplings reminds me of home. Makes my eyes brim. Fills my heart with sadness but soothes the soul. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Radish Kimchi

I make a bowl full of  soba noodles. Spicy, mouth-tingling, laced with spinach and edamame. Delicately fried fish sits by the noodles. And I think spoonfuls of radish kimchi would be a perfect side. We relish kimchi. It's briny, fishy flavor along with the crunch of Napa cabbage sits well in the mouth. It usually is the first of the banchan dishes to be eaten. Korean restaurants have this smorgasbord of tiny dishes that appear when you order bulgogi or table-grilled beef. Sautéed spinach, anchovies, a Korean version of Waldorf salad, bamboo shoots and other unidentifiable delicacies clatter onto your table along with the requisite kimchi. It's usually the tradional kind...napa cabbage, long fermented, spicy, limpid and crunchy at the same time!  

And then we eat at Hanjan. A modernist take on traditional Korean food. Delicious and quite out of the ordinary! We start with radish kimchi. The plate is consumed within seconds. We ask for another. Bite size cubes of radish vanish again. I am enchanted with this conceptual version! I love it. And I am determined to replicate it.

Mooli or white radish has languished in the veggie bin for a while. It is one of those veggies I am compelled to buy though I'm not sure why? I usually make mooli pickles to stuff bahn mi sandwiches. You can't make too much or else it's bahn mi's forever. So mooli sits while I ruminate. White radishes are ginormous. These baseball bat-like tubers have a clean, crisp, tart taste, not unlike their smaller red cousins. The leaves taste mustardy when stir fried. North Indians use both mooli and leaves liberally in salads as well as stuffing for parathas. But today I an converting the mild tasting mooli into chili drenched cubes.

Serves 4

1 large White Radish or Mooli
1 teaspoon Korean Chili Powder
2 teaspoons Sweet Chile sauce
1/2 teaspoon Fish sauce
1 teaspoon toasted Sesame seeds

Pare outer skin of radish. Cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick circles. Cut circles and then into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a bowl.

Sprinkle chili powder, sweet chili sauce, fish sauce and sesame seeds on to radish cubes. Stir to mix.

Let cubes sit for 1/2 hour. Stir occasionally.

Give it a enthusiastic stir before you eat.

Its wonderful!!! Crisp with a hint of sweet and an underlying promise of spice. Dinner is a dichotomy on my plate and I love it!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Purple Brainwave--Baghara Baingan or Masala Stuffed Eggplant

Super Bowl hoopla is over and with that all the detritus of game day food! No more buffalo wings. No more guacamole. No more burgers. No more pizza.. Although the latter was good....pizza, rolled grandma style, slathered with pesto, mozzarella, goat cheese and marinated cherry tomatoes. Now my taste buds yearn for a spicier meal. A mouthful filled with masala. And I think the perfect side with my dal and rice would be baghara baingan.

Baghar translates into stir frying. And baingan is the Hindi equivalent of eggplant. Not the big, shiny pear-shaped lobes I use for Eggplant Parmesan,  but the small purple kind. These miniatures are perfect to stuff and stir fry. They cook fast, hold their shape and don't have too many seeds. Eggplants, or as the English call them, aubergines, come in so many shapes and sizes. The large glossy ones, the small 2 inch long ones, the elongated, pale purple-hued Chinese ones and then there are tiny, kumquat-sized, zebra-striped green Thai ones. Prep time varies with each type. They aren't 'substitutable' or interchangeable in recipes. You couldn't make Baba Ghanoush with the long Chinese kind as they don't hold up well over an open flame. But use them in a stir fry and they turn golden brown and mushy in a matter of minutes. Thai eggplants are full of seeds, making them a little bitter in curries or stir fries. They are quite exceptional in Indian vegetarian sides. 

I have preserved this faded typewritten version for decades. The origin is lost, but I must've found it in the mid 70's as the typewriter ribbon died in 1977. Those days I practiced my stenography skills by writing recipes. Gosh! I use these words and sound like a relic of the past! But those days were an adventure. This huge machine sat atop my desk made me feel all grown-up. It made a clackety-clacking clicking sound as I enthusiastically punched keys. The inner iron-stemmed semicircle visible to the naked eye, dancing across white, marking out sentences. Most of mine had mistakes being the tyro that I was. Those ancient practice sheets fill my binder and the eggplant recipe is one of the few that still retains its magic. Lets get back to the matter at hand. I should be grinding two types of masala. But I demur. Time is of the essence. I amend, alter and adjust.

Serves 2

6 small Eggplants
1 tablespoon Garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon Black Sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Chili Powder
1 heaping teaspoon Paprika
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup Water
2 tablespoons Canola oil
2 tablespoons prepared or bottled Green Chili Chutney 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons plain Yogurt
Cilantro to garnish

Wash eggplants. Dry and trim the stems. Make  two cuts in an + shape going down about 3/4 quarters, taking care to leave the eggplant whole. You should be able to pry open the eggplant easily. Look at the picture below.

Stir the garlic paste, sesame seeds, chili powder, paprika and salt into a thick paste. 

Stuff the eggplants with this paste. You could use a scant teaspoon for each eggplant. 

Add 1/4 cup water to leftover paste. 

Heat canola oil in a non stick saucepan over a high flame.

Carefully place eggplants in oil and sauté on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. 

Add green chili paste and salt and stir to mix in.

Pour water into saucepan.

Lower flame  and cover saucepan with a lid.

Let eggplants cook on low for 10 minutes. Stir them occasionally.

Whisk yogurt till smooth. 

Just before you serve dribble yogurt over hot eggplants. 

Garnish with chopped cilantro.


I used a prepared bottle of Green Chili Chutney. The other alternative is making chutney by grinding 1/2 cup Cilantro, 2 green chilies, and salt with a little water.

Adjust your spice ratio to your taste.

Eggplants are soft and tender. They swim in a little sauce. Cool yogurt over hot veggies tastes much better than it sounds. A little daal, a spoonful of rice and a forkful of baingan equates a marriage made in heaven. Purple is my favorite color today.