Thursday, December 31, 2009

Spicy black eyed peas with kale: cooking your way to a happy and prosperous new year!

When I was a fourth-grader in a little town our school teacher once told us that whoever studies very hard on the new year's day gets excellent grades and wins all the academic prizes in the next year. You know how it goes, right? at that age a word from your favorite school-teacher is like a word of a God! We all took her very seriously and made it a point to study hard on the new year's day. It was sort of like a tradition that we followed in our class; the point of which was that the direction you give to the first day of the year, thats the direction your rest of the year takes :) Now I look back and laugh at the innocence with which we studied on 1st of Jan hoping that good marks and prizes will follow, but all along I think somewhere there was a hidden innocent satisfaction of trying to shape up the new year to be :) Such do-no-harm traditions are my favorites!

I learnt of a similar new year's day tradition recently which is observed in the southern United States and best of all this is a food tradition! In southern US it is traditional to eat a meal of black eyed peas alongwith some greens (usually sautéed collard greens) with cornbread on the first day of the year. The symbolism behind this is really cute! The black eyed peas swell during the process of cooking (from dried to cooked). The swelling of the peas indicates prosperity in the coming year. The greens indicate 'greens'=money for the new year! and the spiciness of the food is symbolic of the the spice in your life for the year ahead! More than the symbolism though I just love to follow this food tradition because I simply just love black eyed peas and would not pass up a single opportunity to cook a big batch of these delicious legume!

Being a lazy and greedy person that I am though I decided to cook all the prosperity, wealth and spiciness in one single pot instead of making multiple dishes :) hey, one pot meals rule, right? Anyway, so here is to prosperity, wealth, spiciness and happiness to all of you in the coming new year! Happy New Year!!

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Beets and greens salad with mint, almonds and lemon

Last few weeks have been a sweet overdose for me.. You know what I mean, right? Cakes and cookies and chocolates and truffles and sweet breads: you name it and this holiday season I have ate it! Since I am one of those minority people who are low on a sweet-tooth, a sweet overdose of this magnitude is likely to take me off sweets for a while.. or may be just for a few days, we'll see, depends on how hard the box of cookies and chocolates sitting on my dining table stares at me (like that Geico add where the money stares at people!) :D

Anyway, today morning I just wanted to eat a simple and light lunch to make up for all the desserts that I have had last few weeks (and particularly yesterday!). I looked in the pantry and saw a bunch of golden and red beets that I had bought from farmer's market last week. I instantly thought of my favorite beet salad! I started making this recipe a year or so ago; the origin of which comes from one of my most treasured cookbooks "Vegetarian cooking for everyone" by Deborah Madison. This is a great book and I'll highly recommend it to anyone who cooks or wants to cook simple vegetarian foods most of the time (no ties with Amazon). I refer to this book not so much for the ready to go recipes but more for the information about a vegetable, like its flavors, how to store, methods of cooking, ideal pairings etc. The book is particularly good in describing flavor pairings for vegetables and seasonings. I guess I use this more as a reference cookbook where I get an idea of a recipe and then eventually make my own version of it. That being told, the book does have excellent recipes too :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Edible Christmas fruit tree and a wish for a very Happy Holidays!

Every year around this time the same question starts popping up into my mind: what should I make for the holiday gatherings? I think everyone has atleast a few dashing staple stars; these are the dishes that you can whip up with no worries at-all, with very less preparation and they are sure to please every tummy! I am always awed by all the fellow food-bloggers who whip up these delightfully scrumptious baked goodies; seeing the pictures of which make me wish I had more of a baking woo-doo :) But with my limited baking talent all I feel comfortable taking to any holiday gatherings is usually a banana nut bread or some fruit cake!

This year though when I saw this chocolate truffles post on Yasmeen's blog I knew exactly what I wanted to make! Chocolate truffles are a type of chocolates made with a chocolate ganache inside and coated with various coatings, the most ubiquitous of which is cocoa powder but powdered sugar and toasted nuts are common coatings too. Ganache is just a fancy name for smooth melted chocolate with cream (low-fat milk or heavy cream). Occasionally ganache is flavored with flavorings such as vanilla and espresso. Chocolate truffles are named for the look-alike wild truffle fungus/mushroom variety which is a delicacy. Now the truffle-police will insist that the real chocolate truffles must be uneven and rustic to resemble the mushrooms they are named after.. but I am raised in a round and perfect laddoo tradition and what the heck I took pride in making my truffles perfectly circular and round so the pictures will look better (don't tell the truffle-police!) :D

Anyway, so here is how I made my truffles:
Recipe source: multiple truffle posts mainly Yasmeen's post, an old Joy-of-Baking article describing anatomy of a truffle and a step-by-step photo post from here.
For ganache:
8.5 ounces of dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe's Belgium chocolate brand with 54% cocoa)
1/2C cream (I used mixture of heavy cream and 2% reduced fat)
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1tsp instant espresso coffee

For coating:
cocoa powder
toasted crushed slivered almonds
powdered sugar
(The posts linked above have a much detailed description of the method, but here is what I did in a nutshell).
  1. Cut the chocolate into as many thin pieces as possible. My chocolate slab was very thick and so I chopped it very roughly into big pieces.
  2. Heat the cream just until the boiling point. Add espresso and mix well.
  3. Pour the cream over the chocolate pieces and let it stand for a minute. At this time if your chocolate was very finely chopped then the cream will be able to melt the chocolate. If instead you had big chocolate chunks like mine, you will need a double-boiler method to melt the chocolate. For double boiler method: heat water in a large pan to barely simmering. Place the pan holding the chocolates and cream over the simmering water and continue stirring until the entire chocolate is melted.
  4. Add vanilla extract to the melted chocolate and mix it really well to get a smooth consistency. This is your ganache, cover and let it chill in refrigerator for overnight.
  5. Remove from fridge when you are ready to make truffles. Place each of the coating ingredients in a separate plate.
  6. Using a mellon scooper scoop out a chocolate bowl. Roll in your hands for a smoother round shape. (Heat from your hand will start to melt the chocolate making it easy to reform into a round ball).
  7. Roll the chocolate balls in one of the coating plates making sure the truffle is thoroughly coated. Place  the truffle on a parchment paper.
  8. Ready to serve! Serve them at room temperature or refrigerate for later use.
These were heavenly and had a perfect truffle byte! I forgot to take a photo of the truffle byte, may be next time :-)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hearty Lentil Soup for the Wintry Soul

My favorite winter evenings go something like these: come home early from work (hey it gets dark earlier!), pour yourself a hot cup of cocoa, put on something nice on TV and sit on the sofa cuddled in a shawl and do nothing! Now you might ask what happens to the dinner? and that's where this soup comes in.. this is my favorite one pot wonder meal. Wonder because its an absolutely delicious and healthy soup, cooks entirely with the pantry staples AND most of the cooking time is unattended. Now isn't that a win-win! I am usually game for any hot soup dinner during winter and this one being with lentils is even more heartier and feeling. I usually enjoy this soup with some make-do garlic bread which is just regular whole wheat bread toasted and then flavored with some olive oil and some fresh crushed garlic!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baked Acorn Squash Stuffed with Apples and Cranberries

Is there something like a sweet tooth or is everything an acquired taste? I wonder sometimes.. pretext being that neither me nor my husband have strong sweet cravings. Even as a kid all I asked my mom to prepare on every single of my birthdays was a simple fruit-salad! So preparing desserts is a rarity at our place (special occasions or family friends over for dinner). Sweet dishes that I do prepare at home are either a) traditional Marathi sweets that we do crave once in a while or b) some light fruit based desserts (tarts, crustless-pies.. you get the idea). Its not so much about watching sugar or calories, but just that neither of us really crave sweets. Okay, now before you think that I am this saint person who gets no sweet cravings let me assure you that like everything else in nature there are exceptions to this rule :-) First, I do get my bulk-load of non-saintness craving fried snacks like samosas and kachoris and second, did you say Tiramisu, Chocolate molten lava cake or coconut ice-cream!?!!

Anyway, ever since I saw this recipe of stuffed acorn squash on Mark Bittman's website I have been getting cravings for a similar dessert. The original recipe had stuffing of apples and bacon which I changed to apples and cranberries and for good measure spiced it up with an apple-pie'ish flavor. Acorn squash has been one of my favorite squashes - it tastes wonderful simply roasted with a bit of butter, sugar and cinnamon; but I must say that the apple-cranberry stuffing gave this dish such a depth of flavor! I loved this dish so much that I think I am going to try making this next with a baked apple base instead of an acorn squash just so that I can keep making this even when the acorn squash is out of season!

Acorn squash has a soft nutty flavor. It is not overpowering

Friday, December 4, 2009

Broccoli and Potatoes

If you are like me then you know what I mean when I say that sneaking broccoli into your diet in a "love-it" fashion has been sort of a challenge (well, atleast for me :-)). Don't get me wrong, I love the "concept" of eating broccoli; it's health benefits are well-known and pretty much any healthy cooking show you tune to now-a-days has the hostess screaming eat more greens with a background picture of spinach, kale and broccoli! Well, I love all my greens except for broccoli.... or may be that I just hadn't come across a recipe of broccoli that I really liked. This all changed one evening last week when my husband prepared this broccoli dish!

Now to be fair, broccoli-potato with Indian spices is something I have cooked many times before but always either the broccoli would be too raw, too unwilling to mingle with Indian spices or the whole concoction would be mushy. In contrast this dish was a delight to eat (and not just because I was sipping a Chai and reading a book while my husband was cooking, though that was surely a part of it!) but because the potato was so crunchy and the broccoli was so cooked to perfection... the dish was brought to a whole new level by the sprinkled lime juice-chili flakes and black pepper on top!. I could just eat this dish as a snack without chapati or roti, it was that good! After persistent questions about how this was cooked, finally I learnt the secret: it was the way broccoli was prepared.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A savory snack - Saanja

I find it very interesting how our mind correlates food with memories and these correlations are so strong (well, atleast for me :-)). Warm smell of freshly made tortialla and spanish rice reminds me of my San Diego days when I used to frequently visit old town to satisfy mexican food cravings..... similarly thinking of Maggi noodles takes me back to my college days back in India preparing for exams late into the night and relying on Maggi for a larger part of sustainance! What a treat it used to be to enjoy hot Maggi noodles in the middle of a cold wintry night!

Saanja has some similar memory lane associations for me: it is a very common marathi snack made out of semolina (rava). I find Saanja as a lesser-known but equally potent cousin of the ever-so-famous Upma! When I was growing up my Masi (Mom's sister) would stop by few afternoons to visit us. We used to look forward to Masi's visits because each of her visits would be filled with warm talks, laughter and a fresh batch of gossip! On most such days my mom would make Saanja when she would know that masi is coming. Mom, masi and I would sit around the kitchen savouring the saanja with a hot cup of Chai and an equally exciting chatter! More than 15 years have passed since then but still whenever I think of Saanja somewhere subconciously the image of us sitting in our kitchen and laughing on something silly flashes by....

Anyways, so here is how I make (or rather my mom makes) Saanja: If you have toasted rava ready in your pantry then this dish hardly takes 20mins to make and can be cooked with a near-empty pantry (always a plus!)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

Winter has finally arrived! Evenings are chilly, skies are more cloudy and my good old thick comforter is out of its summer package... that means bringing back two of my favorite winter activities: scarf knitting and making big pots of hot bubbling soup!

I am a soup lover; on many wintry days I am perfectly happy with a dinner of hot soup and a nice rusty bread. This one is one of my favorites. It has a lot of healthy vegetables, red peppers are full of anti-oxidants and vitamin A/C and roasting brings out a really nice slightly sweet flavor to them.

I first saw this recipe a year ago on one of the recipe shows on TV (unfortunately don't remember which show now). Original recipe called for some cream and a dollop of cream cheese. I am not a cream lover so I made it first with no cream but instead added lemon juice and it still tasted great! Over the last year I have made this soup more times than I can count and everytime I switched a few things here and there. This one is extremely forgiving; you can skip an ingredient if you don't have it or replace it with something similar.. its all good!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Spaghetti squash with Sun-dried tomatoes and capers

"What!! this is not pasta??" I asked surprised to my office cafeteria vegetarian station server. I had just asked him for a pasta dish that a coworker in front of me had ordered and he was shaking his head saying "no pasta, vegetable only". He pointed me to the menu board written "spaghetti squash with pesto". Hmmm, I had never seen something that looks so much like spaghetti but is not! I was intrigued and ordered one. Well, like any other dish served in our cafe this one was barely appetizing.. pasta (or squash) was overcooked and to hide that fact the server was drenching it in pesto sauce. I could hardly taste the spaghetti squash but it looked interesting enough to give it a second try!

The weekend after that I found myself roaming in our local farmer's market looking for spaghetti squash. I found one vendor carrying one. While I was staring at the squash trying to make sense of how I am going to make "pasta" out of it, the vendor possibly sensed my confusion and stopped by suggesting I try it, its really good and all I have got to do is roast it for 40-50mins and then the strands will come out. I bought one and couldn't wait to try it out!

Spaghetti squash is an interesting vegetable ( It is a very good low-cal veggie alternative for regular spaghetti. Its readily available in winter and is very nutrient rich; taste is mild so it pairs very well with various sauces! This is how I prepared mine:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Couscous mint salad

This salad (for lack of a better word!) was a very unexpected hit with us! It was one of those times when I found these really fresh bunches of mint in indian market and thinking of all the possible ways to use it, I overbought! These couple bunches of mint were sitting in the crisper for many days when I realized that there isn't much innovative I am going to do with these :-) Then I made what I knew: a simple mint chutney with lemon, cilantro and green chilis.

The recipe is very simple: process in food processor 2 bunches of mint, 1 green chili and 1 clove of garlic (optional). Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth with juice of 1 lime and salt to taste.

My favorite way to enjoy mint chutney is to mix it with some fresh rice & butter! yumm... but since I was out on rice, I decided to mix it with some couscous instead! I was a bit worried about how couscous and mint chutney would go together but they were perfect! I added some chopped tomatoes and cilantro for the extra salad-ish feeling :D The results were surprisingly good! I hope you try it :)

1 C couscous
1.5 C water
mint chutney (as many or as little as you want)
some chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp oil/butter
salt & pepper

Follow the package directions to cook couscous (I heated 1.5C water. When the water starts to boil add couscous & salt to taste, remove from heat, cover and let stream for 5mins. Remove the lid and fluff up using a fork). Couscous is a great fast cooking grain.. I find it milder in taste and so lends very well to indian spices.

To the cooked couscous, add oil/butter, add tomatoes, season per taste and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whole wheat pita sandwiches

This is the simplest and quickest lunch possible -- and yet very delicious! There aren't a whole lot of ingredients and there is hardly any cooking at all so it really helps if the ingredients are fresh and of good quality. This is perfect for a takeout lunch -- to office or to a weekend hike!

I love whole wheat pita bread but many times the whole wheat pita that I get from supermarkets are very cardboardish.. specially when eaten cold. If I eat the pita warm then it tastes much better but if you need to eat cold pita then I feel the quality of the pita really matters. Anyway, for some time now I have been buying whole wheat pita at Trader Joe's and have been really happy with them.

This lunch is more of an assembly than cooking :) The ingredients are really versatile as well, its usually what I have at hand.

2 whole wheat pita
dressing -- my favorite is Trader Joe's cilantro jalapeno hummus, but a regular hummus or a yogurt-cucumber-mint sauce or a sun-dried tomato pesto works equally well.
Veggies - slices of heirloom tomatoes, roasted red peppers, cucumbers
Greens - spinach or salad greens
Herbs - basil
salt & pepper

Cut the pita in half and toast on a hot griddle for a few minutes toasting both sides. Then carefully open up the pita and spread the dressing on one of the inner sides. Add rest of the ingredients; stuff the pita well so the veggies will not spill out (specially if you are packing it). Enjoy! If its a to-go lunch then wrap the sandwich well in a cling-wrap.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quinoa Salad

Recently we have fallen into this ritual of visiting local farmers markets every weekend. The good part of living in a large city is that we have two different choices for farmers markets: Saturday @ Sunnyvale or Sunday @ Mountain view! There is just something about the fresh produce and fruits that gets me the fuel to cook at home for the week ahead....

This is our lunch on most days after coming back from farmers market. This salad comes together so quickly and is so wonderful! The fresh produce is exactly what makes this quinoa salad so yummy!

Recipe: Quinoa Salad
2 C quinoa
2 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1/2 red onion
3 celery sticks
1/2 C chopped cilantro or parsley or basil
olive oil/lime juice/red wine vinegar/salt/pepper/lemon rind
1 tsp cumin powder
pinch of oregano

Cook quinoa per package directions. I buy my quinoa in stock from Bob's red mills which comes pre-washed; but if its not pre-washed, you may need to rinse it clear first. I boiled 4C water and then added quinoa and cooked covered for 14mins (or until quinoa has absorbed all the water and has fluffed up well). Remove from heat and set aside.

Chop all the veggies in byte sized pieces. Mix all the ingredients together; adjust the seasonings per taste. Let sit for half an hour before serving for flavors to develop.

Variations: This would go great with some black beans and fresh corn added for a southwestern twist. Another variation which I love is to add some toasted slivered almond slices and raisins.

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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.