Eggplant-Mushroom-Cheese Melt -a Quick Dinner

Shaking off my ( Hyderabad heat induced ) lethargy, I have finally made a Fan Page for Saffron Trail blog. If you are on Facebook (really, who isn't??) I would really love it if you joined me there. 
Right now I am sharing some toddler food recipes that my toddler seems to enjoy as well as some interesting must-try bookmarked links from other bloggers. It will be fun to interact with you there. If you've liked my blog but been too bored to comment or Blogger hasn't made things easy for you - then join the fun on Facebook - I'd love to see my readers delurk :)

Here's yesterday's dinner in today's post - for you! :)

This is the kind of dish that comes together when one want to use up an overdue eggplant, a pack of fresh mushrooms that one doesn't want to go bad, a handful of beans leftover from the weekend's dinner and then throw in some bread to round it off. This Italian style of cooking it is really making me a fan of eggplant. Earlier it was strictly - "Thanks but no thanks" to eggplants of all shapes and sizes. Then it came to "I am okay with the big roasted ones converted into a tasty 'bharta'". Later it turned out that I'm so much in love in the caponatas of the world. Now, even if its roasted eggplant puree on a pizza, I am like - "Bring it on, baby!!" And when I brought out the 'Roasted eggplant soup' on the blog, fellow foodies must have shaken their heads and said 'Boy, is she losing it or what!'.

But this dish is not as crazy as the soup. Stir in some vegetables (peppers, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, onions - all work fine here) with garlic, tomato puree and herbs - bake it over moistened slices of bread and you have an Italian main course ready without even putting the pasta to boil. You can call it a mock lasagna. I have two packets of lasagna lying in the kitchen and I haven't brought myself to try out the real stuff yet. In the mean while making myself happy with this...Try it - I am sure you'll love it. And so will your kids!
Eggplant hater? No problem, just use the other vegetables I've listed above.

Recipe for Eggplant-Mushroom-Cheese Melt

Time taken – Under 30 minutes
Serves 2-3

2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup eggplant cubes
200 grams mushrooms – washed, wiped dry and quartered
¼ cup of any cooked beans like kidney beans or black eyed peas (optional)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
½ cup tomato puree
½ tsp chilli flakes or powder
½-1 tsp salt
¼ cup grated cheddar or mozzarella
3-4 slices whole wheat bread
½ cup milk

  1. In a wok, heat the oil and sauté the garlic for a few seconds.
  2. Add the eggplant cubes and stir on medium heat till half done – around 5 minutes, sprinkling some water if required.
  3. Then, add the mushrooms, and let it cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked beans, herbs, chilli flakes and salt along with tomato puree at this stage. Mix well to combine, cover with a lid and let it simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes until the eggplant and mushroom is cooked.
  5. Stir in all but 1 tsp of the cheese.
  6. Line the base of a baking dish with slices of bread dipped in milk and squeezed gently. I had to use 3 slices to cover a roughly 10 X 6 dish.
  7. Spread the mixture on top of this, sprinkling the reserved tsp of cheese on top.
  8. Bake / grill for 8-10 minutes. Remove each serving with the bread and the topping.
  9. Serve hot.
I'd consider this a relatively low carb, high protein dinner as the main source of carbs here were there 3 slices of whole wheat bread shared between two of us, and mushrooms, beans, cheese are all high in protein. Taste wise, it was really high on flavours - if you store packs of tomato puree at home and cans of beans, it can be put together in a jiffy even for a weeknight dinner!

Book Review : Modern Spice by Monica Bhide and a recipe from the book

Earlier this month, I got a teaser in the email, words that tantalized my taste buds...and then I finally received the book itself from Random House. Here's my review of Modern Spice by Monica Bhide.

Close your eyes. Imagine tamarind margarita, Kumquat and mango chutney with onion seeds, curried carrot and ginger soup, garlic smashed potatoes…Didn’t your mouth just water imagining the different spices and their flavours? That is what Modern Spice is all about!

Modern Spice is written by Monica Bhide, who is also the author of two other books – The Spice is Right and The Everything Indian Cookbook. The Indian edition published by Random House India, with a foreword by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor releases in India today and I must say the timing is just right. Indians trotting the globe want to bring global influences to local cuisine and vice versa. I’ll buy the asparagus and the broccoli but I don’t necessarily want to make a salad with it! Monica understands this need and presents this book – which is Indian at heart with a modern touch.
In Monica’s words “Just because we have always done something in one way, it does not make it the only way to do it” – that is clearly the essence of Moden Spice.
The book is divided into colour-coded sections:
• Chutneys and Marinades
• Modern Drinks
• Appetizers, snacks and salads
• Vegetables
• Fish and Shellfish
• Poultry, meat and eggs
• Rice and breads
• Desserts
My favourite section among these turned out to be 'Drinks' as this is one department I tend to neglect the most when I’m entertaining friends. Monica sure knows how to jazz up a good-ol’ Aam Panha (traditional raw mango drink) by turning it into an Emerald-ade or a nearly-boring Rooh Afza (Indian sweetened rose concentrate) into an exciting Rum and Roses. The Emerald-ade was the first recipe I tried from this book and I must say it's going to be my favourite drink in the summer of 2010 while raw mangoes are in season!
The chutney section has some exotic combinations like mango-almond chutney. The fennel-chilli dry rub which she recommends for meats, I used liberally on paneer cubes to make a delicious Saufiya-Paneer! The section on appetizers and snacks is the largest in the book and if you are someone who loves to host friends for dinner, you are going to love this section. Something like Cooling Cups which are cucumber cups filled with spiced yogurt takes no effort and will make a great impression on your guests. It has some other recipes like Paneer quiche which could well be a main course item for brunch / lunch served with a salad. Being a vegetarian, it would have been simpler had the recipes in this large section be divided into Vegetarian and others (eggs, seafood, poultry).

The vegetables part has been dealt with most creatively – making unusual combinations of spices and vegetables. The pumpkin with 5 spices was quite a delicacy and when I lay my hands on a bunch of asparagus, I am surely going to try out the Kalonji wala Asparagus.

From a vegetarian’s perspective – the vegetables are almost the main course, and featuring just twelve recipes was a disappointment . Besides, pumpkin turned out to the main ingredient in three out of twelve recipes, which I feel will be a sore point with vegetarians. Why repeat the same vegetable thrice when there is such a plethora of veggies to choose from?
However, being a book for people who eat their meat as well as vegetables, there are two sections covering seafood, poultry, meat and eggs – so that’s a lot of ideas and recipes for the meat eater.

There’s a reasonable variety of rice dishes – such as Indian Mexican rice and Rice and black eyed peas with crushed garlic. A couple of snacky items like Onion-Bread stir fry, Sooji-paneer pancakes also feature here. I tried a modified version of the onion-bread stir fry for breakfast with the stale bread I had on hand and it hit the spot. It is what our mums would churn out with old bread or rotis, calling it 'bread upma' - but made with the more exotic breads available in the market today, you can make it a fun dish.

The Indian-Mexican rice is what we had for dinner today - a simple recipe with rice, beans, corn and spices - something that can be made with pantry staples, ie. if you like me consider frozen corn, onions and tomatoes as staples. [Recipe given below]

In the Desserts section, most of them are quick, no-slave recipes such as the Soulful Granita (made with Rooh Afza) and the chilled mango papaya soup which seems like a saviour in the hot Hyderabadi summer. Given that almost all of the desserts featured are fruit based, it could have done with a bit more variety.

I did find that in some of the recipes that feature hard-to-source ingredients like pomegranate molasses and kumquats – adequate replacements or details have been provided in the notes section. That said, there is no real replacement for Phyllo pastry , and I am yet to find a supermarket that stocks it for a reasonable price!
I liked the idea of colour coding the sections for ease of use. The little stories related to the recipe in the introduction to some of them, made an interesting read.

Overall, this book makes cooking seem fun. You can make an impression on the dinner table without essentially stocking up on a 100 ingredients and slaving in the kitchen. If you don't have any dietary restrictions and you love Indian cuisine with a twist, then this book is surely for you!

Recipe for Indian-Mexican Rice 
(slightly modified to suit our tastes)

2 tbsp oil (I used 1 tbsp)
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric (I used 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (red chilli powder)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 rd cup tomato puree
1 cup cooked rajma
3/4 cup fresh sweet corn kernels
1 cup diced red tomatoes
4 green chillies, chopped (I used just 1)
1 cup basmati rice
salt to taste
water as needed
coriander for garnishing
(the ingredients in purple are my additions, not in original recipe)

  1. Heat oil in a large pan. Stir in garlic and onions, stirring around for 4-5 minutes till soft.
  2. Add all spices - stir to cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients along with the rice, salt and water (around 2 cups).
  4. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 8 -10 minutes or so until rice is done.
  5. Serve garnished with fresh coriander.
My notes
This was a hearty filling  one-pot rice dish perfect by itself for a weekday dinner, if you pressure cook the rajma in the morning or over the weekend. Along with other accompaniments it can make an excellent main course dish for a Mexican dinner.
I added the oregano and cumin as we love the strong Mexican taste they impart to a dish. Also as the tomatoes I used were on the sweeter side, I used some tomato puree for added zing! Overall a simple recipe for a great tasting dish that I'll surely make again!

[Extracts taken from Monica Bhide’s book Modern Spice published by Random House]
More about Monica Bhide on her website.

Yotam Ottolenghi inspired Mango Chickpea Salad

I am yet to read a cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi, but I follow his column on the Guardian quite avidly. Last week, I came across his recipe for Alphonso Mango and curried chickpea salad and I HAD TO make it. Not only because it is the mango season in India (that makes the unbearable summers kinda worthwhile) but also because I love salads with fruit in them. It is not one of those boring salads that make you go - "Oh nooo, it's a salad dinner" - but something you cant wait to dig your fork into - a bit of spinach, a few chickpeas and a juicy cube of mango for the perfect bite! What a delightful combination of flavours and textures they made, isn't that what a good meal is all about?

One point of emphasis for those who'd like to try this recipe out - please grind the spice mix fresh. I saw the ingredients - mustard seeds, cumin and coriander seeds - dry roast and grind. The lazy efficient cook in me said, "Wait, don't we have all those powders, why not just mix them up". The conscience spoke up. And I dutifully measured out the spices on to a hot kadai, roasted them for a bit and crushed them in the mortar pestle - the aromas that came up to my sensitive nose said - "well done girl! This was worth it". And then again, when we finally ate the salad, the fresh ground spices made ALL the difference!

Here's my adaptation of Chef Ottolenghi's recipe

Mango - Curried Chickpea Salad
Makes 2 BIG salads


150 grams dried chick peas, soaked overnight in water with a pinch of baking soda
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium hot green chilli, chopped
1 large onion, finely minced
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (my addition)
1 tsp curry powder (I used Kitchen King masala)
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 large ripe mango or 2 medium ( I used 1 big Banganapally mango)
50g baby spinach leaves
20g chopped fresh coriander
1 lemon


  1. Drain and wash the soaked chick peas. Place in a medium sized pressure cooker. Cover with 2 -3 cups water and pressure cook till done. They should NOT be cooked till very soft as would be the case in chole. After 3 whistles, keeping it on sim for 5 minutes should be good for the regular variety of chickpeas. Also, do not add baking soda / powder to the water while cooking.
  2. In a wok, dry roast the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds, till aromatic (1-2 minutes). Remove and crush to a coarse powder with mortal pestle or coffee grinder. Remove in a small bowl and mix in the turmeric powder, curry powder, salt and sugar.
  3. In the same wok, heat the olive oil. Throw in the minced green chilli, sauteeing for a bit and then add the chopped onions. Stir on a low flame till onions are soft. 
  4. Add the spice mix over the onions. Stir for a few seconds till mixed and then add the cooked chickpeas, turning around gently till well coated.
  5. Remove into a bowl. Cover and keep refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the salad.
  6. Just before assembly, skin and cube the mango into chickpea sized pieces. Wash and dry the baby spinach leaves.
  7. In a large bowl, toss the curried chickpeas, the mango cubes and the spinach along with the juice of a lemon and fresh coriander leaves.
  8. Serving this chilled is perfect for the hot summer evening! 
*The original recipe called for cauliflower too - but somehow the idea of combining cauliflower with ripe mango did not appeal to me, hence left it out.

This was clearly on of the top salads we have eaten and I'm sure to be making this several times while the mango season lasts!

Spinach Peanut Pesto Pasta

Spinach Peanut Pesto Pasta or what happens when a Maharastrian meets an Italian

The Cooks Cottage was one of the first food blogs to go on my bookmarks list.Yesterday I visited that blog after ages to find an interesting Peanut Chutney with a very simple recipe -Roast handful of peanuts and grind with green chillies, tamarind puree and salt. Since I had time on hand, I went ahead with this - just that I did not use tamarind puree but used a fat pinch of Amchoor (dried mango) powder instead. The result was a very yummy chutney - somewhat moister than a podi because of the oils in the peanuts and the water given out by the chillies.
Even if you stop right here, this chutney can be mixed with plain steamed rice to make a Peanut Rice. Add a tadka of some mustard seeds, udad dal and curry leaves and it will make a protein rich rice dish to go with a raita. This peanut chutney is also a quick addition to a simple roti-sabzi meal. Also I'd love to sprinkle this on a large bowl of vegetable raita and devour it for a summer lunch.
But for me, it took a different route Italy! I'd bought two large bunches of fresh spinach in the morning and they were cleaned, washed and chopped - waiting to be cooked. Since I was to make spinach and pasta for dinner and peanut chutney decided to jump over the dinner bandwagon - that's how this dish was born.

Spinach Pesto Pasta
Serves 2

8 cups picked, washed spinach leaves and tender stems
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tbsp olive oil

Pasta for two people, cooked as per directions - I used whole wheat spaghetti

3 tbsp peanuts
2 green chillies
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp amchoor powder (optional)

1 tbsp dried basil

 Freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a large saucepan, place 1/2 cup water with a pinch of sugar and add the spinach leaves to this - allowing them to wilt on a high flame. The sugar will keep the leaves green. This will take roughly 4-5 minutes. Remove from flame and keep aside.
  2. Meanwhile keep the peanuts to roast on a medium flame for 7-8 minutes sauteeing them off and on, so that they don't burn. Once they are done, remove and cool. Grind the peanuts after they are cool with the salt, green chillies and amchoor into a fine powder. Keep aside.
  3. Boil the pasta as per instructions - drain saving some of the pasta water for later if required.
  4. In a large pan, heat the olive oil - add the minced garlic cloves and the wilted spinach - saute for a minute or so, then add the dried basil, peanut chutney and cooked pasta, tossing well to coat the pasta. Check for salt and adjust. Add fresh ground black pepper and toss gently.
  5. Serve hot or cold.
Taste wise this was fantastic - the peanut chutney complimented the spinach-garlic-basil tastes superbly. Nutrition wise also it made a lot of sense to me - adding the protein component in the form of peanuts to the carb and fibre rich spinach pasta  was a great idea. All those who watch their calories and weight usually stay away from peanuts - but in small quantities, they are rich in unsaturated fats and are actually considered to reduce belly fat!
If your kid is not allergic to nuts, this is perfect toddler food too, probably easier to eat if the pasta is a smaller one like macaroni. Our boy loved to play with the spaghetti on my plate and our idea of placing a teeny bit of spinach and pasta on every spoon of curd rice (his dinner) was a hit idea to make quick work of his dinner :)

I'm sure any other nuts like walnuts, cashews or almonds will give a new twist to this taste and that's what I'll try this with next time! Do let me know how this recipe turned out for you :)

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