Cold Pasta Salad from leftover pasta

Bite-Sized Post No. 3

When you boil pasta for a pasta dish, it's always nice to boil a handful extra and save it in the fridge. The leftover pasta is perfect for a chilled pasta salad when you want something light and refreshing for lunch or dinner. It's also a yummy lunchbox idea for your kids, no cooking required in the morning. Just don't add too much dressing that can make it soggy.

It's also a good idea to make this, when you are asking yourself 'what to do with leftover pasta' in case you cooked more pasta than required for dinner, which is always the case with me. I never know how much pasta to put to boil.

So here goes - quick, easy, light and refreshing, my version of the cold pasta salad.

Text only:
Recipe for Cold Pasta Salad
Serves 2
Time taken : Under 15 minutes
Recipe Type : Easy

In a large bowl, toss-
a cup of any leftover cooked pasta
a cup of diced pineapple
1 cucumber, diced
1 carrot, grated
1 red bell pepper, diced

Whisk in a small bowl-
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried crushed basil
Pinch of chilli flakes

Pour on salad and toss well.

Serve chilled.

The healthiest cookies I have ever baked

I don't bake cookies often. Just one simple reason - the quantity of butter that most cookie recipes ask for, totally intimidates me. But a few weeks ago, I was baking cookies for days in a row, starting with these unbelievably healthy flourless, butterless, eggless and almost sugarless cookies which I stumbled upon on 101cookbooks.

I adapted slightly, adding a little honey to sweeten them up a bit, as it was for the kids in the playgroup. The teacher wrote me a note saying they were delicious and no one wanted to share them with anyone. So much for the notion that nothing healthy can ever be delicious.

Thanks Nikki for sharing it with us butter-phobics via Heidi's blog

Oats - Banana - Almond - Chocolate cookies 
Makes around 3 dozen bite sized cookies
Time taken - under 30 minutes

3 bananas, peeled and mashed (riper, the better)
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1/4 cup rice bran oil
2 cups oats ( I used Saffola brand)
1/4 cup almonds - roughly pulsed in mixer [if allergic to nuts, use 1/4 cup cornmeal instead]
1/3 cup scraped coconut, fresh or frozen (if frozen, microwave for 30 seconds to soften it)

4 tbsp of honey or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
150-200 grams of chocolate bar, chopped roughly [Morde or Selbourne is good]

Preheat oven at 175 Celsius.

In a large bowl, combine mashed bananas, vanilla extract and oil with a whisk.
In another bowl, mix all dry ingredients except the chocolate. 
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix until combined. 
Stir in the chocolate chunks at the end.

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. If you have a smaller oven, bake in batches convenient to you.
Drop heaped teaspoon fulls of cookie dough keeping an inch of space between the cookies.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
These will be chewy when cooled. 

These make a perfect healthy snack for you or your kids. Also simple enough and non messy to bake together with young kids. 
The batch I sent to school, I skipped the almonds as some kids could be allergic to tree nuts. The cornmeal worked well in that. Another batch I baked with almonds, that had a beautiful flavour and crunch, to which I added almond extract.

Eggless Savoury Muffins with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Cheese and Olives

It's vacation time at the play group, which means the little boy, when not up to any nefarious activities, is hanging around the kitchen, making puppy eyes at me, saying "Mummy, I want something to eat", which is not entirely a bad thing. He likes to eat most (if not all) the stuff I make, showers me with compliments for my cooking skills and helps rearrange the drawer that holds all the ladles and spoons to a fine mess.

I try to keep homemade stuff like muffins, healthy banana-oatmeal based cookies, cheese squares, cubed watermelon and cucumber and some of his favourite things around for the mummy-i- am-hungry times. Before you jump to the conclusion that I only give homemade-healthy stuff to my son, let me confess that I also give him store bought treats like Nilgiri's tiny drop cookies, lemonade, chocolates and chikki. Everything in moderation.

So, dear reader, tell me what you are doing with your kids in the vacation. What treats? What games? What activities? It would be lovely to hear from you.

Coming to these savoury muffins, they are perfect little bites of wholesome goodness. Flaxseed meal, sun dried tomatoes, cheese and black olives make these utterly healthy and full of fibre and protein.

My son has been crazy over olives, ever since he started eating solid foods. I think, that's one of the genetic traits passed on from his dad, who can go through a bottle of olives in a couple of days. With an olive-loving family like this, I looked up a few savoury muffin recipes in the Muffin Bible with olives in them. Adapted a couple of recipes to come up with this healthier option.

If you follow Saffron Trail on Facebook, you might have seen my notes on making sun-dried cherry tomatoes to put the 40 C Bangalore summer to good use. 4 days and you have the most beautiful salty, tangy, sweet, crispy bits of tomatoes that have captured the sun and boosted their flavour ten-fold. I used a handful of these home dried tomatoes here.

Recipe for Savoury muffins with Sun dried tomatoes, cheese and olives
Time taken - under 20 minutes
Makes 12 small muffins or 9 medium sized muffins

1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
150 grams of cheddar cheese or 3 Amul cheese cubes, grated
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3rd cup of sun dried tomatoes
10 black olives, chopped
10-12 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (or any other fresh herbs like basil or thyme)

1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano

2 tbsp flaxseed meal
1/4 cup hot water
2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp salted butter + pinch of crushed dried basil


Preheat the oven at 200C [Start oven, take temp dial to 200 and time dial to 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, the oven is preheated. You will have to then set the timer as per the baking time, which is around 10 minutes here]

Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners or use individual silicone cupcake moulds, that will fit in a smaller oven.

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl with a fork.

In a measuring jug or another bowl, whisk the flaxseed meal with hot water and olive oil till frothy. Add enough water to this to make a total of one cup (which is why doing this is a measuring jug is easier).
Add this to the dry ingredients and stir gently with a fork to bring ingredients together. Too much beating or vigourous mixing will result in hard muffins.
[You can use egg instead of the above flaxseed-hot water. Beat 1 egg, add oil and add enough water at room temperature to make one cup and proceed with the recipe]

Using a spoon, evenly distribute batter between 9 or 12 muffins cups.
Bake for 10-12 minutes at 200C until a skewer comes out clean.

Melt the butter in a small microwave safe bowl for 20 seconds. Add the basil to it. Brush this on the muffin tops once they are out of the oven. Not only does this add a buttery flavour but also helps them keep moist. This is a neat trick to add that buttery taste without using any butter in the baking.

You could even bake these in a mini muffin tray to yield 20-24 bite sized muffins for a tea party.
Feel free to change the favours - use thick pizza sauce, more fresh herbs and mozzarella cheese to make Pizza flavoured muffins. Grated carrot, pepper and cheddar is a lovely combination as well. Meat eaters can add crisped bacon bits to the batter. The options are quite endless.
Not just for kids, these muffins that are ready in a jiffy are the perfect accompaniment to a soup for a light meal, even for adults. You could make them spicier with chopped pickled jalapeƱos, or chopped greeen chillies and ground black pepper. Make a couple of batches and freeze / refrigerate them for breakfast on the go, for a weekday

Shopping Guide:
Ready ground flaxseed is available in most stores in Bangalore. I buy mine from Nilgiri's or Town Essentials - and refrigerate it as it can go rancid quickly.

How to make paneer and the easiest dish with paneer : Paneer Bhurji

Paneer Bhurji is one dish that is good to have in your repertoire of easy, quick dishes that can be made in minutes if you stock store bought paneer. Also, a great vegetarian side to serve your guests, if you cook predominantly non-vegetarian dishes and you find it tough to handle vegetables.

Making paneer at home- you need
1 litre regular fat milk (3%)
You could also use a day old milk that you can't use in coffee / tea
2- 3 tbsp of white vinegar
A fine mesh sieve or a muslin cloth

Bring the milk to a boil.
As soon as it boils, lower the heat to minimum.
Add 2 tbsp of vinegar and stir it around. In 2-3 minutes, the milk will separate into solids and liquid (whey)- if the whey is not totally clear- then use the remaining tbsp of vinegar and stir for 2 more minutes.
Carefully hold the vessel with a pair of tongs or a thick tea towel and pour the contents through a sieve-collecting the whey in a large vessel.
Lightly press with the back of a ladle to remove excess whey from the solids.
What remains is the paneer.

For any other dish in which you need cubed paneer, you need to use a muslin cloth / clean cotton tea towel. Place the paneer in the middle, cover it on all sides, using the sides of the cloth as flaps.
Place this on a dish and place a heavy weight like a mortar pestle on top of this to flatten it out.
After 15 minutes, cube it and place it in the whey or warm water until you need to use it.

Paneer bhurji is a scramble made using paneer cheese, midly spiced with green chillies and the added texture of finely chopped onions and bell pepper.
For Paneer Bhurji, you don't need to do any of the earlier processes to get cubes. You don't even have to press out too much of the excess whey. This keeps the bhurji moist.

Recipe for Paneer Bhurji
Time taken: 15 minutes or so
Serves 3 people

Paneer from 1 L of milk 
2 tsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida (optional)
2 green chillies, finely sliced (or 1 if you want it mildly spicy)
1 medium onion - finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper- finely diced
Tiny pinch of turmeric powder

  1. Heat the oil in a large steel or non stick wok.
  2. Add the cumin and mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the asafoetida, chillies, onion and bell pepper, with a pinch of salt.
  3. Saute on medium flame till onions are soft-roughly 7-8 minutes.
  4. Add the freshly made paneer. If you are using store bought paneer, crumble 200 grams and use it now.
  5. Sprinkle tiny pinch of turmeric powder over this and mix well.
  6. Add 1/2 tsp salt and saute well till all spices are mixed.
  7. Remove from flame and garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
  8. Serve with rotis or parathas or with toasted slices of bread.
Use a mix of red, yellow and green bell peppers to make this dish super colourful.
You could also use crumbled tofu instead of paneer, although you need to use more chillies to make tofu taste as flavoursome as paneer.
Some people like to add boiled peas to the dish to make it more substantial and colourful.

If you are in Bombay, try the Punjab Dairy paneer or the Darshan dairy paneer. Though it has a whole lot of fat, it is one of the softest paneer I've tasted. In Bangalore, Nandini paneer is decent.

Summer salad from my garden : Carrot, greens and watermelon

My first story (and photographs) for BBC Good Food India magazine covers the restaurant Chez Mariannick, in the Off the Eaten Track section. Do check the April 2012 issue. If you love good food, you must subscribe to BBC Good Food online. And I'm not saying this only because I'm writing for them. This magazine is full of inspirations for enthusiastic cooks.

After indulging on food through the weekend (trying out new restaurants, having friends over or going out to friends' places) Sunday evenings are mostly just salad based dinners. Neither do I have the appetite or the energy or enthusiasm to cook and eat anything elaborate on a Sunday evening. 
It was no different this Sunday evening, when I went up to the garden, plucked a few things, soaked them in a sink full of water. 

Washing the freshly plucked produce
Basket of freshly plucked produce sitting in a water bath
Come supper time, I quickly put together the ingredients to make a deliciously refreshing salad, perfect for the hot evenings in Bangalore. I must say that my salad making skills have been encouraged by two factors. One, the terrace garden that is always a source of a few fresh salad greens, and two, my two friends - Ajit & Nandini, who are full of praise for any salad I put together. So I've decided to blog more of my impulsive salad making sprees.

Growing the multi coloured carrots has been a most fun experience, because when you pull it out of the ground, you don't know which colour it is going to be. Also, the purple carrots, when peeled are yellow inside, as shown in the picture below.

The purple carrot is yellow on peeling!
Now, rocket / arugula / rucola, I'm so in love with this spicy salad green, that I simply cannot have enough of it. I've let the first batch of rocket sown grow into a jungle, literally, so I can let them go to seed and then collect the seeds to share with friends, and sow more rocket in my garden. I've been using them in every salad, made pesto, added it to pasta, and even to a mint and coriander chutney with brilliant results. I'm surprised how my crush over rocket is sustaining over the last 9 months. Some nurseries in Bangalore sell the seeds. If you are in and around Whitefield, I'd love to share some of the rocket seeds with you. It's extremely easy to grow, even in pots. Give it a try!

Summer fresh salad with Carrots, Herbs and Watermelon
Serves 2
Time taken - Under 10 minutes, apart from the time taken to wash and dry greens

3 medium carrots - peeled and shaved
Small bunch of fresh rocket leaves ( you can substitute any other lettuce varieties or baby spinach)
Small bunch of fresh lettuce leaves
Handful of fresh herbs like thai basil / lemon basil 
Handful of fresh mint
Handful of roasted almonds
2 cups of watermelon cubes

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can substitute with red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp of pesto (or use 3 tbsp finely minced/pounded basil in 1 tbsp olive oil)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
Pinch of ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt


Wash the greens and herbs in a sink full of water 2-3 times. Use a salad spinner to dry the leaves or spread between two clean absorbent kitchen towels for up to 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.
I used an orange, purple and yellow carrot each because that's what was the day's harvest from my kitchen garden. You can use any carrots that are in season. I shaved them using a vegetable peeler. 
Roughly chop the dried salad greens and herbs into bite sized pieces.
In a large bowl, mix the salad greens, thai basil, mint and shaved carrots. Keep aside.
Mix all the ingredient for the dressing in a small glass jam jar and give it a good shake. 
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the greens-carrots in the bowl. Toss well.
Divide into two plates, top each plate with half the roasted almonds and the watermelon cubes.

Adding grilled chicken or tofu or paneer or chickpeas will make the salad a heartier meal

[All pictures for this post taken on iPhone. I've realised that if I have to blog more often, iphone pics are my best friend :)]

Shopping notes:
All kinds of salad greens (except for rocket) are always available fresh at Namdhari's
Apple Cider Vinegar - I use Waitrose brand from Hypercity
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