24 November 2011

Oven Crisped Bhindi (okra)

Bite-Sized Post No.1


To make sure I am blogging more frequently, I'm going to do these bite-sized posts. These are recipe cards made using iPhone pics and coming straight to the recipe without any (much) rambling.


Who doesn't like fried Bhindi / Okra? But truth is okra can soak in a whole oil tank to get crisp. Here's my almost no-oil (compared to the deep frying method) method to get crispy crunchy okra in minutes. Even if you are the lucky ones who doesn't need to watch your waist line, deep frying is such a hassle. So here's the cheat code.


The only thing you need to be careful about is the baking time. At 200 C, once the slices have browned, they can get charred in no time. So, please keep a watch post the 8-9 min mark.


I made this for lunch today to go on top of my (boring) tomato-cucumber-dill salad. And it did take the salad up by several notches.






Text Version Recipe of Crispy Bhindi




Wash bhindi and pat dry.
Thinly slice them.
Take 2 cups sliced bhindi.
Preheat oven.
Heat 2 tsp oil in wok.
Add bhindi slices, toss well to coat with oil.
Line a 10X10 baking tray with foil.
Spread bhindi slices in single layer.
Bake at 200 C for 10-12 minutes until it turns golden brown.
Remove, cool for 2 minutes and use in raita, as salad topping or just like that.
You can sprinkle salt / chaat masala on it once cooled.


(Picture formatted in Instagram)



19 November 2011

Lasagna Verde with roasted vegetables and tomato-mushroom sauce

If there is one country I want to visit, it is Italy. For its wine, its food and the culture. La Cucina Italiana...I find beauty in this food. The vibrant colours, flavours that burst in your mouth tantalizing your taste buds, the freshness of simple ingredients like a raw tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese and locally extracted olive oil, just writing about these is making my mouth water. And how can I leave out Basil? There is NO aroma dearer to me that that of a freshly plucked sweet Italian basil leaf crushed between my finger tips. It transports me to the romance of that far off land. 

Needless to say, when I got the chance of growing my own little vegetable and herb garden, I pleaded, blackmailed, sweet-talked friends into getting me basil seeds when they were coming from abroad. This was the first thing I wanted to grow. And now, I have 4 Indian varieties and 3 other varieties for cooking purposes (Sweet, Thai & Lemon Basil) For those who don't have generous friends like mine, Namdhari's in Bangalore sells freshly packed sweet basil, so fresh that when i get back home from the shop with a packet of basil in my shopping bag, the car smells like i'm in a basil field. Namdhari's also sells basil saplings at very reasonable costs. The kind of sunshine we get in India, it is not a tough one to grow at all.



Coming back to this recipe, lasagna was one of the things I was always scared to make. While I make regular pasta almost twice a week, this was more of a fear of the unknown or the mental block to cooking a dish that has a number of steps. This was my second attempt and except for the pasta sheets which could be more cooked that they were, the tastes in each bite were quite beautiful. Next time, I want to roll out my own pasta sheets. Lasagna sheets should be the easiest pasta to make by hand, given that we are good at rolling out the thinnest of rotis!

The number of steps can seem intimidating, but the sauce can be made ahead, the vegetables roasted ahead of time. What remains is the grated cheese and the assembly, which is hardly time consuming. 
This for me is a perfect weekend dinner paired with a very simple salad and a glass of red wine. I made this for our little impromptu dinner with Nandini & Ajit and they offered me constructive feedback like starting the layering with some watery sauce at the bottom of the pan so the steam from it will cook the upper pasta layers as it bakes in the oven. I have incorporated in the recipe.








The components
Around 9 sheets of lasagna
Tomato Sauce
Roasted vegetables
Grated Cheese ( I used Britannia's Pizza cheese)
Baking tin / glass bakeware
Some more fresh herbs


Making the tomato sauce
8 large tomatoes
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
1cup finely sliced button mushrooms
Salt
Handful of fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
1/4 cup red wine (optional)


Place 2 litres of water in a 4L pot. Bring to a boil. Slit crosses on top of tomatoes and gently put them in boiling water. Once the water comes back to a boil, switch off the flame and cover for 5 minutes. Fish out the tomatoes from hot water at the end of 5 minutes, place it in a bowl to get cool. Peel the skins, finely chop and keep aside.

In a large wok, heat 1 tbsp olive oil on a low flame. Before oil gets hot, throw in finely chopped garlic cloves and finely chopped onion. Saute on a medium flame for 4-5 minutes, before adding finely sliced mushrooms. Add 1/4 tsp of sea salt, 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper, any fresh herbs of your choice (I've used fresh basil) and saute till the mushrooms and onions are soft.


At this stage add the finely chopped tomatoes kept aside from earlier step. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Add red wine and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes until it all comes together like a sauce. Check for seasoning and adjust as per your liking. If you find this a little too sour, add a fat pinch of sugar and boil it till sugar dissolves (around 2 minutes). Remove the sauce into a bowl and keep it aside.


For the roasted vegetables
1 medium eggplant
2 large red bell peppers

Slice the eggplant into 1 cm thick slices. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp of sea salt. Arrange on a greased foil lining a baking sheet.

Bake at 180 C for 25-30 minutes, until soft.

Slice the red bell peppers (1/2" width), toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle a pinch of salt and bake similar to the eggplant, until soft but not mushy (around 20 minutes)

Grated Cheese
Place the block of cheese in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Grease the grater with fingers dipped in olive oil. Grate up to one cup cheese and keep aside. Mozzarella or Cheddar or a mix of both, is fine.

Assembling
Lightly grease a 9X4 or 9 X5 ovenproof pan (glass or tin). Spread 2-3 tbsp of tomato sauce at the bottom with 2 tbsp of water and keep aside.
Bring a large wide pan of water to boil. Add a fat pinch of salt to this. Keep the lasagna sheets ready.
When the water starts to boil, dip the lasagna sheets in boiling water, one at a time for 2 minutes each. Remove and do the first layer in the baking pan, two sheets length wise side by side and one cut to size to place horizontally where the pan is exposed.
Cover this layer with 1/4rd of the sauce and 1/4 th of the cheese. Sprinkle some dried / fresh herbs, freshly ground black pepper over this.
Boil 3 more lasagna sheets, one by one and layer on top of this as explained above.
Cover with a layer of roasted vegetables and 1/4th of the sauce thinly spread in the gaps.
Boil the last three lasagna sheets, layer as explained above.
Pour all of the remaining sauce, any vegetables left over from the previous layer, all the remaining cheese, fresh herbs and some black pepper.

This can be covered and kept aside for a while if you have made this ahead of serving.
Otherwise, place the baking pan in a preheated oven at 180C. Bake for 30 minutes until the pasta is cooked through and cheese melted.

Cut into 6 servings and serve hot with a light salad on the side.

Food Shopping
Lasagna sheets are available in most supermarkets, or you can try and make your own by making pasta dough, rolling it out into thin rotis and cutting them to fit the shape of your pan.
Herbs, both fresh and dried are available at most supermarkets. Keya's or Fabindia for dried herbs and Namdhari's for fresh are my personal preference.


13 November 2011

Roasted Pumpkin Soup with flavours of Lemongrass and Ginger

We're not yet fully into winter and yet early morning temperatures are hitting lows of 15C. Bangalore, how I love thee for this. With this soup I made for my son and me a couple of nights ago, I have hit upon another perfectly warming soup recipe for the winter evenings. The lemongrass keeps it fresh and the ginger gives it the warmth.

I buy fresh lemongrass from Namdhari's that comes chopped in batons and sold in plastic bags. I'm talking about the green leaves here and not the stalk that is used in Thai cooking. I keep this in the freezer once opened, and it stays for a long time. My favourite use for this is in my morning Chai. Other than this I use it in Thai curry pastes, or even just simmer in a curry and fish it out in the end for that fresh lemony flavour. I have found that Lemon Basil is a great substitute for lemongrass in tea as well as curries.

This soup is as filling and creamy as it can get, without adding even a touch of cream. You could do an oven roasted pumpkin soup, but I find the flavours very similar even with slow roasting on a stove top pan. I used the yellow pumpkin for this. You could try the same with butternut squash or the darker orange pumpkin too.


Roasted Pumpkin Soup




Recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Lemongrass and Ginger
Serves 3
Under 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
200 grams yellow pumpkin
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
6-7 lemon grass leaves
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 1/2 cups skimmed milk
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Paprika
Dried parsley

Preparation
Peel and slice the pumpkin into medium sized pieces
Peel and thinly slice the onion
Slice the garlic

Directions

  1. In a large wok, heat the olive oil. Before oil gets hot, add the sliced garlic and onions. Saute on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the lemongrass leaves and ginger. Stir for a few seconds.
  2. Add the sliced pumpkin. Braise on high heat, shaking the wok every now and then until the slices get a golden brown coating.
  3. At this stage sprinkle sea salt and let this cook uncovered for 5 minutes on low heat.
  4. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook the pumpkin now, until it is fully done and falls apart when touched with a ladle.
  5. Remove to a dish and cool. Remove the lemon grass leaves from the cooked veggies and discard.
  6. Once cooled, remove this to a blender and blend to a smooth puree with milk.
  7. Get this back into a saucepan and check for seasoning. The soup will be reasonably thick and very creamy at this stage. Adjust consistency of soup using some water if required, if you prefer a thinner soup.


Serving
Ladle the hot soup into bowls. Top with some extra virgin olive oil. sprinkling of paprika, a tinge of grated ginger and some fresh lemongrass leaves as a garnish.
Serve with sliced toasted baguette which have been rubbed with garlic cloves, or soup sticks.

Tip
You can make this soup spicier by adding a Thai red chilli in the initial stage along with ginger and lemon grass.
You could try adding a tsp of fresh thyme leaves towards the end for a more intense flavour.
Here's a colourful guide on the different commonly available pumpkins and how to cook them.



10 November 2011

Oatmeal Prune Cookies spiced with Chai Masala

Hello! The line "I'm finally back after a long break" seems to be my opening line for every post in the last few months. A new kitchen, a big oven, nurturing my own little vegetable patch and still I am looking for the inspiration to be blogging regularly.

Last month, Aparna was in Bangalore and some of the Bangalore food bloggers met up over a scrumptious buffet lunch. Much fun was had. Lots of pictures taken. And of course the food critic role played.

Sweet Potato Cupcakes


For our first Diwali in the new house, I made the 7 cup cake, a shortcut mixture and Bakerella's sweet potato cupcakes with chocolate ganache. My version of shortcut mixture was puffed rice (pori) crisped up with tempering of chillies, curry leaves, asafoetida, mustard seeds, peanuts and fried gram dal. To this I added store bought shankarpala, khara boondi and omapodi (sev). This is the best I could manage when my mildly over-inquisitive son didn't even have the school to keep him engaged.

Last weekend, I cooked for a crowd of 9 people (umm okay, not crowd but group). While I was toying between a Mexican and a Lebanese menu, the friends 'demanded' Tambrahm food, politely put as 'food you cook regularly' or 'food you cook well'! So I set aside all my hopes of winning compliments as a truly world-class vegetarian chef and sat down to draw out a Tambrahm menu, as many items as I can possibly make all by myself with a 3 year old hanging around me dangerously!

The menu finally turned out to be :


Kosumalli / Kosumbari (with grated carrot, cucumber, gooseberry)
Crispy Bhindi Raita (crisped in the oven, no deep frying)
Arachuvitta sambar with small onions & carrots
Baby Potato roast Chettinad style flavoured with fresh dill
Yennai Kathrikkai - stuffed baby eggplants ( Google docs link to a friend's recipe notes) 
Store bought Banana Chips
Rice
Mini chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache - Adapted from Dan Lepard's Easy chocolate cake recipe

Now that I'm done updating you, here's what today's blogpost is about. My friend Preethi sent me a few baking trays that included this beautiful cookie mould tray in which one can bake x-massy snowflake imprint cookies. I couldn't wait to try baking cookies in this one. The recipe is adapted from the cover of on of the Wilton cookie trays. These imprint cookies will be better with all purpose flour or whole wheat flour rather than chewy oatmeal cookies, so by all means you can bake these cookies on a plain cookie tray dropping spoonfuls of dough or flattening balls of dough on your palm and baking them until golden. The addition of oats makes these chewy and somewhat soft, perfect for your teething babies or aged parents who can't bite very hard biscuits. If you want these crisper, you can pat them thinner and bake for a few minutes more.

The addition of chai masala is my own twist to a traditional American recipe for the only way I eat cookies is with my chai, and this way they will complement each other beautifully. You could substitute ground cardamom, ground cinnamon or a mix of your favourite spices.



Printable version of recipe


Oatmeal Prune cookies spiced with Chai Masala
Makes 12-14 cookies
Time taken Under 30 minutes


3/4 cup oats
1 cup all purpose flour + a few tbsp on the side in case required to bind dough
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp Chai Masala ( Everest or any other brand)
1 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
3 tbsp finely chopped prunes or use raisins
Handful of finely chopped walnuts (optional)
2 tbsp milk


Preheat oven at 180C.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract and egg. Beat some more.
Run the oats for a few seconds in the small jar of your mixer until coarsely powdered.
Add the oats, flour, salt, baking powder and chai masala.
Stir well it all the dry ingredients are incorporated into wet ingredients. Add the nuts and prunes in the final stage of mixing.

Line a cookie sheet with grease proof paper.
Divide dough into 12-14 balls adding some of the reserved flour to the dough if too sticky and tough to handle.
Flatten using fingers dipped in milk and place on cookie sheet leaving adequate space in between cookies as they will expand while baking.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Store in airtight container once cooled.

I used a cookie sheet with moulds, so I pressed the dough balls into each of the shape-moulds to get pretty snowflake imprints on them.


Thank you Preethi for this sweetest housewarming gift. Check out her food blog here

P.S.
If you like reading my blog and you are on Facebook, please show some love to my blog page there : http://www.facebook.com/SaffronTrail

P.P.S
It will be nice to meet up the Bangalore Foodbloggers, over food (what else?!) and discuss food (no surprises there) this Saturday once again as we have our first ever Mega Bangalore Food Bloggers' meet up. We have a group on Facebook, so if you are a foodblogger who blogs from Bangalore and you aren't  a part of the group yet, please leave a note in the comments, so we can send you an invite.

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