Monday, February 29, 2016


My homes buzzes for days with birthday shenanigans. G nears that senior citizen target. The operative word is 'nears'. He is happy to be ineligible for quite a few items!! Of course I indulge him with his favorites. One of them being ganthias, which he can nibble astonishingly fast! So I know I have to make copious amounts. Prassy gives me a new fangled chakli press. It looks like a weapon, not a cooking device.

 I am excited to use this steel contraption as the old fashioned two handed press requires muscles and dexterity.  Besan, oil, ground black pepper and ajwain make a flavorful dough. Ajwain or carom seeds, have a strong anise like taste. I fashion it into large sausage shapes. The sausage is inserted into the cylinder of the machine. I pull the trigger. I have mentioned that it does looks like a weapon. Out come squiggly besan strands. I squeeze them into hot oil, taking care not to crowd the oil. They turn pale brown in minutes. Disaster strikes as I press and squeeze. The new contraption comes apart, screws and all. Operation ganthia comes to a halt as I apply my unskilled knowledge of repairs to no avail. Finally, I resort to the old fashioned brass press, muscle power taking over from a trigger happy finger.

Production is resumed. Soon I have a mound of ganthias draining on paper towels, as I  wait for the ganthia siren song to lure G into the kitchen. 

Makes 4-5 cups

4 cups Besan or Chickpea Flour 
1 tablespoon ground Black Pepper 
1 teaspoon Ajwain or Carom seeds
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
1 cup Water or more as needed 
Canola Oil for frying

Whisk besan, black pepper, ajwain and salt in a bowl.

Make a well in the center and add oil and water. 

Start mixing besan slowly into water, until you have a thick dough. Use water a little at a time if needed.

ALTERNATELY you could place the dry ingredients in a food processor.  Add oil and water and pulse till you have a thick dough.

Heat canola oil in a wok.

Divide dough into 5-6 equal portions. Roll each portion into a sausage shape.

Insert portion into receptacle of ganthia press. 

Hold the press over hot oil and squeeze till you have 2-3 inch strands.  Cut strands with a sharp knife, letting them fall into hot oil. Do this carefully as you don't want to have third degree burns. You could lay the strands onto parchment paper and then transfer them to the oil. 

Do not crowd the oil with ganthias. They need to be stirred with a perforated spoon. They should brown in a few minutes. Regulate the flame if they brown too fast. Drain onto paper towels. 

Repeat this process till the dough is over. 

Cool ganthias and store in an airtight container.

Birthday eve begins with a mound of fried papad. The day starts with a barrage of phone calls from friends and family and a gigantic box of steaks, G's best birthday gift from Samir. We know what's on the dinner menu!!!! I buzz around the kitchen, baking a cake, making corn soup, sauteing mushrooms and truffles, broiling a potato dauphinois. Steaks are grilled. A Cabernet Sauvingnon is decanted, courtesy Geets and John. The cake drips candles. We sing in happy unison.. G reflects that 3x20 isn't a bad place to be at. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mee Rebus

This time last year we were in Malaysia, sampling culinary wonders at every meal. I remember one in particular, chewy noodles swimming in a flame red broth, dotted with tiny green calamansi limes and herbs. Mee rebus comes laden with toppings. Meat, herbs, bean sprouts, crisp fried shallots, boiled eggs and those distinctive calamansi limes. The soup base is flavored with lemongrass, galangal, a bright red spice paste or rempeh as it is called, beef broth and something unusual.....mashed sweet potato. What an innovative idea! Mashed potato lets the soup thicken without flour and imparts a  delicious flavor. 

Salivating with this memory in mind, I set about boiling sweet potatoes. I whiz onion and garlic into a paste. I grind some fennel and coriander. The spice paste comes together with ease. I use sliced limes as calamansi limes are hard to find. I proceed without any meat. One, because there isn't any at arm's length. Secondly, I want the flavors to stand out without the addition of meat. I don't regret it as I throw my face into the aromatic, bubbling soup. The watched pot boils as I look on in mouthwatering anticipation.

Serves 4 

2 large Sweet Potatoes 
2 large Onions
5-6 Garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
2 tablespoons Chile Garlic Paste
1 tablespoon Paprika 
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
3 Galangal coins Or Ginger coins
2 Lemongrass stalks
3 cups Beef Stock
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Several grinds Of Black Pepper
1 pound Egg Noodles

1 cup cooked Beef or
1 cup uncooked medium Shrimp

Hard Boiled Eggs, cut in half
Fried Shallots
Scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Mint
Bean Sprouts 
Calamansi Limes cut in half  or Lime slices

Boil sweet potatoes in water till cooked soft. Drain, peel and mash. 

Grind onions and garlic to a paste.

Grind coriander and fennel seeds in a spice grinder. Add to onion paste.

Add cumin powder, chile garlic paste and paprika to onion paste. Mix well.

Heat canola oil in a deep sided saucepan.

Add onion paste to hot oil. Stir for 3-4 minutes till fragrant.

Trim lemongrass and cut into 2 inch pieces. Crush them lightly and add to paste.

Add galangal or ginger slices to paste and keep stirring.

Pour beef broth into the paste. Stir till mixed. Bring to a simmer.

Drop mashed sweet potatoes into broth and boil on a slow flame for 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. 

Add beef or shrimp to broth and cook for a few minutes. Let shrimp cook for 3-5 minutes.

Cook egg noodles in boiling water. Drain. Keep aside till ready to serve.


Place a generous portion of noodles in a deep soup bowl.

If you are using bean sprouts, add a handful to noodles. 

Pour a cup of steaming broth over noodles, enough to cover them.

Garnish with an egg half, a few scallions, fresh cilantro, fresh mint, a teaspoon of fried shallots and some limes.

This is a bib, chopsticks and spoon meal!!! Warning...Do not wear white!!!! 

A heady aroma envelops the kitchen as I ladle bowls of broth. I inhale chile, freshly cut herbs, lime and crisp onions. A mouthful transports me to that first introduction,  in a  roadside cafe in Kuala Lumpur. Mee rebus has made me very happy today!

Monday, February 22, 2016


Continuing on the subject of comfort foods, I might as well let you in on the most popular, most requested  and eagerly consumed item in that category .......kheema or masala ground beef. Call it what you may, chopped meat, hamburger, these are Americanized names for kheema. Easy to put together, kheema is and will always be number one in this house.  My son claimed it as his favorite food in Grade 1. The teacher had to call me to clarify the spelling! My husband requests it almost every time he is asked to choose dinner. Growing up the kids ate kheema with rice, bread rolls, chappatis and even puff pastry. With that resulting popularity over the years, my daughter now has developed a distinct aversion to it, refusing to eat it anymore!

Ground beef is sauteed with browned onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, yogurt and a few masalas making a boldly spiced sauce. Fresh chiles and cilantro add a herbal tinge. And a generous squirt of lime juice complements the meat. Heat some chappatis or rice, stir fry some veggies and you have a delicious meal.

Serves 4

1 pound Ground Beef (See NOTES below)
2 tablespoons canola Oil
3 medium Onions
2 large Tomatoes 
2 tablespoons minced Garlic
4 coins of Ginger
1/2 cup low fat Yogurt 
1 teaspoon Chile Powder (more if you like spice)
1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1-2 Green Chiles, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped Cilantro 
1 lime, juiced

Slice onions thinly.

Heat canola oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven.

Add onions to hot oil and saute till golden brown. Add more oil if needed. Fry over medium high heat.

Cut tomatoes in half and then crosswise into very thin slices.

When the onions are brown, add tomatoes, ginger, garlic, yogurt, chile powder, garam masala and kosher salt. Stir well until the sauce starts coming together. Tomatoes will start to get mushy. Smash them with spatula or spoon into the gravy. Make sure to blend the yogurt into the sauce. You shouldn't see any flecks of white. Saute for 3-5 minutes.

Add ground beef to sauce. Use the back of your spoon to break up any lumps. Once the meat is well mixed, cover saucepan and let meat cook on a medium flame for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and add cilantro, green chile and the juice of the lime. Stir to mix and serve with chappatis or rice.


Ground beef is our first choice. You could use lamb, pork, chicken or turkey in place of beef. 

The Hindi word kheema literally translates into English as minced or chopped meat. An angry, threatening Indian might say "I'll make kheema out of you" if he feels he has been wronged. He will not mince his words. I leave you with that 'pun'ative information. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shepherd's Pie

Nothing spells comfort food for me like a mouthful of Shepherd's pie. A layered casserole of meat, veggies and mashed potatoes is a simple but satisfying meal. A green salad is all you need to balance meaty flavors. 

The meat layer has options. You could use sauteed ground meat, be it beef, lamb or turkey. Chopped or shredded roasted meat leftovers are other choices. Add boiled peas, corn, carrots or parsnips to the prepared meat. Season it with tomato puree, ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce or soy, some garlic and seasonings. Pat the meat into a glass baking dish. Topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked till golden brown, this Englishman's favorite is now one of ours.

Serves 2

1/2 pound ground Beef
1 teaspoon Olive Oil 
1 small Onion
2 teaspoons Garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 cup Tomato Puree 
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Several grinds of Black Pepper 
1-2 cup frozen Peas
2 Carrots
1/2 cup frozen Pearl Onions
4 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes 
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
3 tablespoons Milk
2 tablespoons Butter

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. 

Peel and cut onion into small dice. Add to oil. Saute till pale and soft.

Mince garlic and add to onions.

Add ground beef to oil and saute till beef turns brown.

Add chile powder, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to meat. Saute for a few minutes. 

Cover and cook on a low flame for 10 minutes till meat is cooked. Keep aside.

Boil peas and carrots in water till done.  Drain veggies. Cut carrots into small chunks. Add to sauteed beef.

Add frozen pearl onions to beef.

Boil potatoes till cooked.

Peel and mash potatoes.

Make a well in the center of potatoes and add milk and butter. Mix potatoes till smooth. 

Season with salt. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Put beef into a 6x8 inch glass baking dish. Or divide the beef into individual portions as you see below.

Spoon mashed potatoes over beef. Spread potatoes so they cover the beef. 

Make a swirly pattern on potatoes using a fork. 

Bake pie uncovered for 20 minutes or until potato ridges are tipped brown. 

Enjoy the pie with a simple green salad.


In place of beef, you could use any ground meat. Leftover roast beef or lamb is cooked the same way. It does taste best with red meat.

I use Yukon potatoes as I love their buttery flavor. Use any potato you like. 

If the topping doesn't quite brown, go ahead and broil the pie for a few minutes.

You could divide the meat into individual portions as I did.

Instead of one big pie I decide to make individual portions. The swirled pattern turns into crisp browned potato ridges. They make a small crunch as I plunge my fork into the pie. A forkful of warmth is all it takes to put me in my happy place. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sweet Potato Steaks

This year Valentine's Day brings on a challenge. Lenten observances prevents me from working with chocolate. I pass on dessert and concentrate on mains. Pork tenderloin marinated in lemon and ancho chiles roasts in a roasted tomato sauce. Cauliflower florets brown on a baking sheet. Alongside are thick slices of sweet potato. Both vegetables, liberally brushed with olive oil, roast till golden brown. I blend arugula and cilantro into pesto and drizzle over the slices. Dinner couldn't be easier. This oven cooked meal leaves much time for romance!

Makes 10-12 slices

1 large Sweet Potato 
1/2 cup Ricotta 
1/2 cup Arugula 
1/2 cup Cilantro 
1 Green Chile
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/4 cup Olive oil plus more for brushing slices

Heat oven to 375F.

Slice sweet potato on the bias into 1/2 inch thick discs. Place sweet potato on a oiled baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with Silpat.

Brush slices with a little olive oil. Turn them over and brush with oil again.

Roast sweet potato uncovered for 25 minutes or till done. Pierce slices with the tip of a knife to test. Keep slices warm till you are ready to serve.

Make pesto while slices roast. 

Place arugula and cilantro in a blender. 

Chop green chile and add to greens along with the olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper.

Blend for a few minutes till you have a thick purée.

Whisk ricotta till smooth. Season with salt.

Just before serving, top warm sweet potato slices with a teaspoon of ricotta. Season with salt and pepper. Dot ricotta with a dollop of pesto and the steaks are ready to eat. Save remaining pesto for another use.

Dinner does have something sweet, albeit with a twist. The thick slices look and taste delectable, sharp and sweet in one bite. They pair well with the tenderloin and cauliflower. A convenient all-in-the oven dinner, full of sugar and spice....the stuff romance is made off!  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Spring Chicken aka Sam Mama's Chicken

Super Bowl means finger foods, beer and a whole lot of whoas. For years we have planned elaborate snacks and bought a raft of beers. Munched on pizza with exotic toppings like caramelized onion, pear, blue cheese and mushrooms and Brie. Chewed on wings, Asian style, barbecued and the requisite buffalo style. Nibbled on samosas, tandoori chicken, and chaat. This year we have a mix. Wings, a taco torte from Smitten Kitchen, potato and Gruyere croquettes and some spring chicken.

There is nothing spring-like about this chicken but for the name. My brother Samir fried up these crunchy morsels eons ago, while he was still learning his craft in Bombay. I gobbled them avariciously, loving the delicate soy and fresh cilantro flavor. Growing up, the kids regularly requested Sam Mama's chicken, as they called it.

An overnight marinade in soy sauce, garlic and cilantro tenderizes the meat. Thighs fry up better than breast meat. Deep frying is the way to go. Shallow fry if you must. You might not have the same crusty texture. Follow the recipe and you will have small delicious morsels of a mildly flavored Asian fried chicken. 

Serves 4

1 pound boneless skinless Chicken Thighs 
2 teaspoons Soy sauce
3 tablespoons Garlic paste
1/2 cup Cilantro 
1/2 cup or more Cornstarch
Canola Oil for frying

Wash and pat dry chicken. Chop chicken into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces. Place in a glass bowl.

Chop cilantro finely.

Add soy sauce, garlic paste and cilantro to chicken. Stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight for best results.

When you are ready to fry, heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan. You should have at least 2-3 inches of oil in the pan.

Coat chicken pieces with cornstarch and drop gently into hot oil. Fry 4-5 pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Overcrowding will lower the temperature of the oil resulting in a longer fry and oilier chicken. 

Fry chicken, turning often till crusty,  6-8 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels. Keep chicken warm in a low oven while you fry the rest of the pieces.

Serve chicken warm as an appetizer or an accompaniment to an Asian meal. 

The spectacle of opening ceremonies always pleases. The game begins with patriotic fever in splendid song. We feast at halftime, while cavorting singers belt it out in colorful confusion. We pick at wings, love the taco torte, bite into cheesy potatoes and these chicken nuggets just jump from plate to finger to mouth.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Almost every American home has a favorite brownie recipe. Ours come from Rick Katz. His intense, fudgy chocolate squares have lived in our home since the kids were little. Made often enough for me to know the recipe off hand, it has been a redoubtable kid and crowd pleaser. 

Chocolate and butter melt together over a very low flame. Sugar is divided between the melted chocolate and lightly beaten eggs. Half the sugary eggs are poured into the chocolate. The rest is whipped to a thick, pale consistency and added to the chocolate. Dry ingredients are folded in gently and thoroughly. No specks of flour should be visible! That will give you a pocket of white after baking. Folding wig a rubber spatula is the key. Baked brownies need to sit till they are cool before cutting into squares. An impatient eater will find it hard to get neat edges if the cake isn't cool enough. This is a two trick recipe. Fudge like brownies are a result of twenty six minutes in a hot oven. If you prefer cake like brownies,  bake the mix for a few minutes longer. Both are finger licking good.

Courtesy of Rick Katz from the book "Baking With Julia"
Makes 20-24 squares

1 1/4 cup all purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted Butter
6 oz semi sweet Chocolate Chips
2 cups Sugar 
4 Eggs

Sift flour and salt into parchment paper. (Or newspaper like I do. It is considered a no-no, but I do it anyway)

Heat oven to 350F.

Melt butter and chocolate chips in a stainless steel pan over the lowest flame. This is important as a high flame will scorch the butter and chocolate.  If you are not sure about the flame, place the butter and chocolate in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. 

Stir till butter and chocolate chips have melted. 

Add 1 cup of sugar to chocolate and mix well. Keep aside. 

Break eggs into the bowl of a mixer. Whisk lightly to mix. 

Add the remaining cup of sugar to eggs. Whisk till sugar dissolves.

Eyeballing it, add half the egg and sugar mix to chocolate. Stir well as you add it in. 

Using a wire whisk, beat the remaining egg and sugar for 3 minutes till light, frothy and thick. A stand mixer is the best, but a hand one works well too. 

Fold eggs into chocolate carefully, using a plastic spatula. Start from the center and work your way around the bowl.

Using the same motion, fold sifted flour and salt gently into chocolate until you cannot see any white specks. This is essential as if all flour isn't mixed in you will find pockets of white when the brownies bake.

Pour batter into a 13x9 baking dish. Thump the pan a few times to remove all air bubbles.

Bake for 26 minutes for fudge-like brownies and 28 minutes for a more cake-like texture.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes or till completely cool.

Cut into squares and enjoy!

We like our brownies on the fudgy side. Moist and chewy, full of intense chocolate flavor, they make a perfect hostess gift, as  Rehan takes a large plateful to Jeff's. I am told they enjoyed the treat.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sausage and Kale Soup

It is time for my winter facial. A big pot of soup bubbles away, creating a warm and steamy atmosphere. Piping hot and full of goodness, soup nourishes my soul. It is a winter staple fueled by several cookbooks I have, dedicated to this genre. Needless to say, I use them frequently. 

This recipe is to be a hearty meat and vegetable thick soup. I fry a sausage swirl till deep golden brown in some olive oil. A chopped onion, lots of garlic, a little white wine, a few herbs, tomato puree and lots of kale sweat it out with the meat. A little chicken stock dilutes the too thick base. The simmering soup unleashes it's inviting aroma all over the house.

Serves 4

1 lb Sausage with garlic and parsley
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium Onion
6 cloves Garlic
1/4 cup White Wine
1 1/2 cups Tomato sauce
1/2 cup cooked Red Beans
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning 
1-2 cups Chicken Stock 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper 
2 cups Kale

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep saucepan.

Add the intact sausage coil and brown well, turning every now and then. Remove sausage to a plate and cut into small bite size pieces.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan.

Cut onion into small chunks and add to oil. Let onion cook a few minutes till soft.

Slice garlic thinly and add to soft onions. Let garlic take on some color. 

Deglaze pan with white wine and let it cook down.

Add tomato sauce, beans, seasonings and chicken stock. 

Drop sausage into soup.

Let the soup come to a boil, then lower the flame and simmer.

Remove tough stalks from kale and slice thinly. Add kale to soup.

Simmer soup for 15-20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and eat by the bowlful.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than a bowl of soup accompanied by toasted slices of sourdough. Not quite the beauty treatment I envisage, a warm belly makes for inner peace!