Monday, September 28, 2015

Roasted Delicata Squash

I look in amazement at a mound of delicata squash at the local grocery store. I am thrilled to bits as this rarely found squash is usually quite pricey. These red and green ribbed cylindrical gourds have come to my table through Shauna. Hooked, I am always on the hunt for them. So when this immense pile of pale yellow squashes beckons me with bargain basement prices, I grab more than just an armful.

Dear friends visit us. I want to cook something I haven't done in the past. I remember going on a delicata hunt with Shauna last year. After several attempts we find some and she makes an immensely mouth pleasing roast for us. I plan to follow suit. Ends trimmed, I halve the squash and then cut thin half moons. Their scalloped edges lie in a pretty pile on a baking sheet. Roasted in a blazing hot oven and then pan fried with onions results in an absolute delicious delight!

Serves 6

3 Delicata squash
2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Onions
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked Black Pepper 
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano
2 tablespoons Parsley 

Heat oven to 400F.

Wash and dry squash. Trim ends. Halve them vertically and scoop out seeds and strings with a spoon.

Cut squash into 1/2 inch pieces.

Line two baking sheets with nonstick foil. Spread squash strips onto sheets in a single layer. 

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt over squash.

Bake for 20-30 minutes till squash is golden brown. Watch them as they bake. You might have to move them as they roast on the baking sheet. Take squash out of oven.

Cut onions into thick slices.

Heat remaining olive oil in a saucepan.

Saute onions in oil till the edges are tinged brown. 

Add roasted delicata to onions. Season with kosher salt and pepper.

Chop herbs. 

Mound squash on a platter.

Scatter herbs over squash and serve.

The first batch I make is served with pasta. The second time around, I scatter plentiful herbs from Geet's garden over the squash. Both versions are a forkful of bliss. This is what the New World settlers must've felt when they discovered a new vegetable. The squash revelation causes quite the revolution. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Umbar or Sweet Plantain Fritters


Ganesh Chathurti in my house is a far cry from the flower-decked idol displays of my childhood. Across the seven seas religious rites languish, traditions morph, but the food remains the same. This day brings a flood of memories for Prassy and me. Recollections unfold in jumbles. Sitting on the floor, eating off bright green banana leaves. Resounding prayers accompanied by cymbals. The heady aroma of mogra flowers. A progression of special foods made once a year on this day. Much too detailed to describe, Pathare Prabhu distinctive cuisine emerges resplendent on this holy occasion. A vegetarian smorgasbord and a panoply of desserts to please all. Every year, I try oh-so hard to recreate these childhood culinary memories devoutly. 

Naivedya is prepared, a thali with chutney, raita, two veggies, bhajias, a coconut curry, varan bhaat( toor dal and rice that takes on another dimension on this day), masale bhaat( pulao ) and of course the desserts. One sweet is rice noodles swimming in coconut kheer. And the second is ripe yellow plantain fritters or as we call them umbar ( phonetically pronounced oomburr ) in Marathi. You need really ripe, blackened plantains. No bananas. I place plantains in a brown bag along with an apple. The bags sits for 4-6 days as they ripen. The apple enhances the ripening process. Mashed and mixed with a tad bit of sugar, a pinch of salt and rice flour, the batter should be mushy and lumpy. A potato masher does the trick. Now for the hard part...frying

Makes 15-20 bite size pieces

2 ripe yellow Plantains 
3 teaspoons Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Rice Flour or more as needed
2 cups Canola Oil ( for frying )

Mash plantains with a potato masher in a bowl.

Add sugar, salt and rice flour. Mix well. You shouldn't have any rice flour lumps.

Heat canola oil in a deep saucepan or wok. It should be hot. Drop a small piece of batter into hot oil. It should bounce back to the surface in seconds. 

Test the batter by frying one rounded teaspoon of batter. Let it brown. It should not come apart as it fries. If it does, then add more rice flour to the batter in one teaspoon increments, till batter fries up firm. Drop rounded spoonfuls of batter carefully into oil. You should have 5-6 fritters in each batch. Do not crowd the pan. 

Fry fritters till golden brown, then flip and fry the other side. Watch them like a hawk as they brown fast. What I mean is do not walk away while frying them. Or else you will get petrified crisp black nuggets. I speak from experience.

Drain on paper towels. 

Eat them warm. If you have fried them prior to serving, reheat them in a low oven at 250F for 10 minutes.


The recipe calls for plantains, not bananas. They should be the ripe yellow ones, with black spots and soft to the touch. You could use bananas if you cannot find plantains, by the taste changes. 

You might need to add more rice flour to the batter as it depends on the ripeness of the plantains. Fry one umbar as test to see that it doesn't separate when frying.

Thalis gleam in the evening light. My guests are veterans of the serving process. They anticipate the orders and help me plate this enormous meal. We start the circle with green chutney and tomato raita. Then comes tendli pulao, varan bhaat, eggplant subji, cabbage subji, cauliflower curry, pumpkin bhajias and rice noodles or shev sitting in coconut kheer. Umbar have their own place in the center of the thali, golden sweet nuggets, crispy and crunchy. Roy, Marylou, Colleen and Keith are well versed in thali mannerisms. By that I mean they eat the meal with a fork and spoon.!!! Then I find Keith flexing his fingers!!! Forks or matter...this vegetarian feast religiously pays tribute to the God of good fortune.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Apple and Blue Cheese Scones

On The Cooking Channel I watch a Portland baker work scone magic with fresh apricots and Stilton. Drooling over the episode, I am inspired to recreate those confections. As I gather baking ingredients I arrive at the first stumbling block....fresh apricots. The second is Stilton. My capacious pantry has neither! Am I stumped? No, for I am the queen of substitutions. An apple from the fruit basket will suffice. And the deep recesses of the fridge yields a cave aged blue cheese. As always, I am game for experimentation.

Can I tell you what irks me about directions in baking recipes? When the instruction is to preheat your oven. I know I know...this is a prerequisite in most recipes, but by the time you gather stuff, sift, measure, sift again, work the eggs, work the butter, an age has passed. I find the oven going for a good half hour before I actually get to the part of the recipe that involves baking. What can I say?? It's a pet peeve. So when I pen a recipe, preheating the oven is about ten minutes prior to baking. Unless you live in a cabin in the Tundra, you should be fine with the above timing. 

The dough comes together fast in a processor. You could easily work the butter and flour with your fingers. The buttermilk and egg mix binds the dough in a sticky ball. Blue cheese and apples are gently stirred in. The sticky dough goes into a pan lined with Saran Wrap, and then into the freezer for a half hour. This makes it easier to cut. Unmolded and cut into small squares, scones are baked in a hot oven to a perfect brown.

Makes 16 squares

1 Apple 
1/2 cup Blue Cheese crumbles
2 cups Flour
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 tablespoon Baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Butter
1 Egg
1 cup Buttermilk
3 teaspoons Sugar

Peel and cut apples into small pieces.

Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times.

Cut butter into small pieces. Add to flour and pulse till mix resembles peas. 

ALTERNATELY... Add dry ingredients to a bowl and add butter pieces. Use the tips of your fingers to rub butter into flour till mix resembles peas.

Beat egg lightly and add buttermilk. Whisk to mix.

Add egg mix to flour and pulse 4-6 times to mix.  If you are working the dough by hand, use a fork to gather the dough into a ball. The dough will be sticky and gooey. Scrape the dough into a bowl. 

Gently mix in apple and cheese. 

Line a 6 x 6 pan with plastic wrap. ( I did not, but it would be a good idea to do so...see notes below )

Pat the dough into pan. Freeze for a half hour till firm.

Heat oven to 400F.

Invert the dough onto a wooden board. Remove wrap and slice dough into 2 inch squares. You will have 16.

Place squares on a parchment or silicone sheet lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle tops with sugar. 

Place sheet in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Bake for 22-25 minutes  till golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. 

Eat them warm or at room temperature. 


The dough is very sticky and gooey. Resting in the freezer makes it easier to cut squares. Do line the pan with plastic wrap as it makes it easy to remove the dough from the pan. I did not. I also let the dough sit for 3 hours in the freezer. Before I unmolded it, I let the dough come to room temperature for 15 minutes. 

If you want to skip the freezing part, drop a mounded tablespoon of dough on to a lined baking sheet, using up all the dough. You should have 16-18 scones. Let the dropped scones sit in the fridge for 15 minutes. Bake at 400F for 22-25 minutes. 

A tray of scones cools on the counter top. They have turned a pleasing cheddar cheese brown. Delightful aromas waft through the house.  I break a square, inhale the apple and cheese, take a bite of this soft buttery scone....hmmmm....I fear these squares will soon turn me into a well rounded soul!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Spicy Peach Panzanella

Shauna describes a peach salad she has recently relished. She finds this recipe on a blog she reads. Waxing lyrical about the scrumptious taste of peaches, burrata and grilled sourdough, she volunteers to make the salad for us. We go in search of fresh peaches at the farmers market. Seasonal and plentiful, those peaches don't quite live up to expectations. My unspoken rule about fruit....they should have a lingering fragrance. Plainly speaking, a peach should smell like a peach! We go through the process of lifting peach after peach, trying to inhale that inherent aroma. Little success, as none of the picked fruit smell remotely like peach. We try the same at the supermarket and return with fragrant California grown peaches. She sautes sliced peaches in olive oil. Makes a dressing with Sriracha and lime juice. Grills sourdough slices. Tears burrata apart with her fingers. The resulting salad is a one bowl delight !!! We fight over remaining bits.

Shauna has a prescient palate for things we love to eat. Our conversations often verge on what's for dinner and related food talk.  Her veggies come from a CSA and cooks with a great deal of savoir faire.  We both share a love for everything that goes into this salad. 

A few days have passed and the craving to eat this salad again surfaces! Peaches are sliced and sautéed. I toast slices of sourdough. A dressing is quickly whipped up.  Assembly starts with a bed of arugula, followed by grilled sourdough, sautéed peaches, shredded burrata, basil and dressing. Beautiful to look at, this salad is both an eye and tummy pleaser.

Adapted from
Makes 2 generous portions

2 tree-ripe Peaches
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
2 heaped cups Arugula 
1 ball Burrata 
5-7 Basil leaves
2 slices Sourdough bread
1 1/2 teaspoons Sriracha Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Lime juice 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Fresh cracked Black Pepper 

Wash and dry peaches. Halve peaches, remove pits and slice into 1/2 inch segments.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a pan and add peach slices to pan. Saute for 3-4 minutes on a medium high flame.

Grill or toast sourdough slices. Chop bread into bite size pieces.

Mix Sriracha sauce, sugar, olive oil and lime juice in a bowl. Season with a pinch of Kosher salt.

Assemble the salad in a bowl or platter starting with arugula.

Top arugula with sourdough pieces.

Scatter peaches over bread.

Rip burrata into small shreds and drop over peaches.

Shred basil and scatter over salad.

Season salad with salt and pepper.

Drizzle dressing generously over salad before serving.


I prefer tree ripened peaches as they have optimum flavor. You could use canned peaches in a pinch.

Burrata cheese is my number one choice. Fresh buffalo mozzarella is an adequate substitute. 

Lunch constitutes a huge platter of salad. Warm peaches, glazed with spicy dressing, dotted with oozing burrata, sit atop slightly bitter arugula. Contrasting tastes of crunchy sourdough and soft peaches are piquant and luscious. This is a hands-on salad as I use fingers to cut peaches, pile the arugula, cut bread, tear the cheese and basil. That being said, it's time for a fork, all we need to demolish our lunch. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Geeta's Famous Oxtail in Red Masala

If you have not eaten Geeta's oxtail in red masala, then you have missed out on a damn good,  finger licking curry. My family are sworn fans of her version. But since she lives much farther than a stone's throw away, we cannot readily demand a good oxtail curry. This is a rich, thick gravy with meaty browned oxtails, cooked till the meat falls off the bone. This Rodrigues family heirloom recipe has been prepared at numerous dinners, bagged and frozen for airplane travel and has been resurrected to serve seventeen hungry Gonsalves family members one snowy Christmas.

For those of you are squirming at the thought of this particular cut of meat, put aside your misgivings and buy some. Brown oxtails in oil as you would stew meat and then braise the meat in stock or water. I have made them braised in red wine. The meat is the stock ingredient in pho. But I always go back to the Rodrigues recipe.

Red masala was ever present in the fridge, a generous gift from ma-in-law Pam. Bottles of green and red masala, smuggled through Customs, were my go-to masalas for curries. All gone now, I resort to powder masala, put together in a jiffy. The potency and color might lack authenticity, but the ease of preparation belies the quality. Goan spices come alive with this oxtail curry.

Serves 4

2 pounds Oxtails
1/2-1 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric 
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
3-4 teaspoons Paprika
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste 
3-4 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
3 + 3 tablespoons Canola Oil 
3 large Onions 
6 Garlic cloves
5 Ginger slice
2 medium Tomatoes
1-2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
Fresh Cilantro

Wash and dry oxtails.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pressure cooker. ALTERNATELY Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven.

Place the oxtails in hot oil in a single layer. Try not to crowd them. The oxtails need to brown evenly on all sides. You might have to do this browning in two batches. Remove browned oxtails to a bowl.

Make red masala by mixing chile powder, turmeric, cumin powder, black pepper, paprika, garlic and ginger pastes in bowl. Stir vinegar in to make a thick paste. Keep aside. 

Chop onions finely. 

Heat remaining oil in the same pressure cooker or Dutch oven.

Add onions to oil and saute till golden brown.

Thinly slice garlic cloves. Add garlic and ginger to onions.

Cut tomatoes into small chunks and add to browned onions. Saute till tomatoes are pulpy. 

Add red masala to onions and saute on a medium flame for 5-8 minutes, stirring constantly.  Do this as the masala gets burnt. 

Return oxtails to pressure cooker and stir well so masala coats oxtails. 

Season with salt.

Add water to meat. There should be enough water to barely cover the meat. Bring curry to a boil. Cover pressure cooker with lid and whistle. Once the pressure cooker whistles, turn flame to the lowest and let the meat cook for 45 minutes. ( See notes below )

ALTERNATELY, cover the Dutch oven with a lid and let meat cook 3-4 hours, checking periodically. Add more water as needed. When done, the meat should fall away from the bones easily.

Once pressure has subsided, open the lid. You will find a lot of watery gravy. To thicken gravy return pan to a high flame and let curry thicken. It should take 20-25 minutes to get a thick gravy. Stir from time to time.

Chop fresh cilantro and scatter over oxtails before serving with crusty bread, roti or rice. 


The pressure cooker I use is an old Prestige model. They now are many modern versions. Please follow the directions of your model. Oxtails need at least 45 minutes in a pressure cooker to be tender. 

Eating oxtails is a messy job. Forks are the genteel way to go, but the best implements are your hands. And teeth. And tongue. This way you can get to all the nooks and crannies. The meat cooks up soft and tender. Red masala gravy turns out to be a good foil for rice. Though she is miles away, we  vicariously enjoy Geet's culinary gifts .

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Herbed Potato and Shishito Pepper Salad

What do I make that will go well with pizza? We have three pizzas going, cheese and pepperoni, a margarita with fresh basil and a buffalo mozzarella, pesto and grilled zucchini pie. Three pies for three distinct appetites..G eats the pepperoni, I have the margharita and Shauna gobbles up the grilled zucchini pizza. I let the pizza stone heat up for a half hour, which gives these pizzas a super-crisp crust. And while the stone heats I grill small, halved Yukon Golds and a bunch of shishito peppers, the fixings for a quick salad.

Small boiled Yukon Gold potatoes are the ideal tater. They taste buttery and soft. Grilled, the outsides blacken, keeping the insides warm and crumbly. Shishito peppers benefit from a char. I spear two skewers through a bunch of peppers, making it really easy to turn them on the grill. What I like about these peppers is that not all of them are spicy. Then you bite into one and your tongue is assaulted! They have a delicate smoky flavor from the grill.  Piled onto a platter and smothered with herbs and a fruity olive oil this combination looks just delicious.

Serves 3-4

10 small yellow Potatoes ( preferably Yukon Gold )
10 Shishito Peppers 
1/2 cup mixed fresh Herbs ( Parsley, Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Rosemary )
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Boil potatoes till just cooked. Drain and cool. Cut each potato lengthwise in half.

Heat gas grill to 500F. Alternately grill potatoes and peppers on an indoor grill.

Spear shishito peppers onto two parallel skewers. This makes turning them on the grill a breeze.

Smear cut potatoes with a little olive oil and salt.

Place them cut side down on the grill. Grill for 5-7 minutes or till you have grill marks on potatoes. 

Flip potatoes to grill outer sides. 

Place skewer on grill and cook for 5-7 minutes on one side. Flip skewer to grill other sides of peppers.

Remove potatoes and peppers onto a plate.

Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch half moons.

Chop peppers into 1 inch pieces. 

Mound potatoes and peppers on a serving platter.

Roughly chop herbs and scatter over potatoes. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle olive oil over salad. Toss a bit and serve. 

Thin crusted pizzas cater to finicky palates. We love the herbaceous taste of the salad. With each bite you get the taste of buttery potato, spicy pepper, fresh cut herbs and fruity olive oil. We eat both simultaneously.  The salad pleases us all!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Moghlai Kale

Keith and Colleen tag along on one of my museum tours. Once the tour is over he slips me a note offering kind! Two huge grocery bags brimming with basil and kale!!! Realizing that this harvest has come from his bountiful garden, I know I am in for a treat. That intoxicating aroma of fresh cut basil makes me yearn for pesto. Making that is on the agenda. But it is the kale that really excites me. These are not the leathery leaves you find in grocery stores. Keith's kale is pale green, thin, papery leaves with tender stems. I pull leaf away from stem with little resistance. Recipes flit through my mind as I destem and soon I have a mound of green before me. 

Kale usually gets made into pesto. Sometimes I made caldo verde. Slivered with pinto beans, it makes a healthy addition to legumes. Then again, roasted in a hot oven, kale emerges crisp, crunchy and very addictive. After mulling these possibilities, I rack my brain for an Indian version of kale. Having made none before I decide to let kale take the place of spinach in this North Indian version of creamed spinach. Any green should work. A mass of leaves sauteed in oil and butter, cook down fast. Braised and roughly pureed, kale adapts perfectly well to Indian spices.

Serves 2-3

4-5 cups Kale 
2 teaspoons Canola Oil 
1 tablespoon Butter
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
5 Garlic cloves
3 slices Ginger 
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 cup Water
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala 
3/4 cup crisp fried Onions

Destem kale leaves. Hold the stem with one hand and pull the leaves apart with the other. Wash and dry leaves. Cut kale into thin slivers.

Heat oil and butter in a skillet.

Cut garlic into thin slices.

When hot add cumin seeds, garlic and ginger slices. Let garlic turn a golden color.

Drop slivered kale into oil and saute.

Add water and salt to kale, mix and cover skillet. Turn flame to medium and kale braise for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and add turmeric, chile powder and garam masala. Let spices hang out for a few minutes.

Roughly puree kale. Try not to let it become of a soup like consistency. The puree should still have visible pieces of kale. You could also pulse it a few times in the food processor.

Crush the fried onions over kale, stir to mix and serve kale hot with roti or rice.

Meatless Monday turns out in my favor. Trader Joe paneer naans bake in the oven. Maa ki daal bubbles enticingly on the stove top. I break off a piece of naan, scoop some kale with it and let the tastes mingle in my mouth. Contrasting flavors explode simultaneously. I am pleased with the resulting experiment. Keith does a prolific vegetable garden. His thumb is not just green, but a veritable emerald. His gifts in kind are really tipped in my favor!