The recipe for my best salad ever - Grilled paneer salad with edible flowers

I love cooking for friends. They bring out the best dishes from my kitchen. Ajit & Nandini are always generous with their praise for my salads, often telling me to either open a salad bar or start taking salad making classes. While I've done neither, I love to up my game when I'm making salads for them. You see the effect of positive reinforcement right there :-)

Last weekend, they were planning to get an Asian starter and main course for dinner, so I promised to make an Asian inspired salad. I had made up my mind to use the edible flowers from my garden. Edible flowers are quite the current culinary rage with chefs using them as garnishes in salads, drinks to making whole dishes using them. I wanted to use the beans flowers, rocket flowers, basil flowers along with the baby leaves of Malabar spinach, cinnamon basil (tastes similar to Thai basil), regular spinach and baby bok choy leaves.

I collected the flowers in a little bowl, soaked them in cold water to refresh them and dried them on a tea towel. The baby leaves were washed delicately in cold water and dried on towels. The bigger lettuce, rocket leaves were washed, chopped into bite sized pieces and dried on towels. So yes, salads mean more work than other dishes. Leaves need to be carefully washed and dried, which is half the battle won. You could say that a salad spinner could simply this process so much. I whole heartedly agree, but somehow I haven't got myself one yet. I guess this is why salads are so overpriced in fine dining restaurants - the work that goes into the leaves.

{Coming up} A new series on Kitchen Gardening

Picture this -- a wide pot with fresh baby spinach, a tomato plant that gives you sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh mint and basil always at hand for that fresh mojito or to garnish your pasta dish, trays of lettuce from which you can make freshly plucked salads. Kitchen garden is never about having a big farm or a large garden space. Well, if you do, then you can be entirely self sufficient, but a small kitchen garden can even start on a window sill. All you need is sun, decent soil and a little time of your day and in no time you will be addicted. 

If you have any questions for me on kitchen gardening, please leave a comment below, and I shall try and answer those in the forthcoming series - which as of now, I think will be a fortnightly affair. I don't claim to be an expert in gardening. Far from it, actually! I would love to explore this topic and encourage more people to grow little somethings in their homes and gardens. It is an extremely fulfilling experience and I just want to share it with you! So please write back to me on what you would like to hear about :)

Making a healthier Idli using Foxtail Millet

Idli and dosai are two dishes which can be easily experimented with, with a variety of whole grains. If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you'll know that my whole-grain find of this year is Foxtail Millet- you'll find a couple of recipes featuring them already. It's thanks to our online grocery store that stocks a lot of these ancient grains and greens that you won't find in supermarkets that they end up finding their way in many new dishes I experiment with. While I've been using the millet grain in salads, patties, upma etc, this time I bought the foxtail millet idli rava to try making idlis. It turned out reasonably soft, definitely denser than white rice idlis- but that's the whole grain effect- the end products always turn out denser. The advantage of this being you can't eat as many idlis as you can of the regular ones. Initially you could try substituting 50% of the rice / idli rava with this millet rava and then go to a 100%. 

In India: Tinai, chamai, kavalai, kambankorai are some of the names for millet in Tamil. Nuvanam is millet flour. The gruel made from millet, the staple of Ancient Tamils, is called kali, moddak kali, kuul, and sangati. Korralu (Telugu), Navane (Kannada) [Source: Wikipedia]

An idli is a healthy dish as it is, being a combination of a rice and lentil (udad dal), makes a complete set of amino acids, resulting in a good quality protein. So you can alternate between regular idlis and those made using millets, to get more fiber and a variety of nutrients.

Easy recipe for a simple, all-purpose chocolate cake

What's the connection between a little black dress, a good pair of blue jeans and a chocolate cake recipe? Like the importance of a good pair of jeans or a little black dress (okay, may be not) in the wardrobe, everyone needs a good, reliable chocolate cake recipe in their cooking repertoire. A chocolate cake that is soft and springy, with nothing fancy-schmancy about it, something that tastes good just as it is with a cup of coffee or tea - that's the kind I'm talking about. While I have complete respect for the creativity and patience of bakers who make these epic cakes that look like masterpieces, I must confess that my love for all things simple & minimalistic extends to cake. Serve me a simple, no-frills cake and I'm a happy girl. Just one small confession here- I HATE cakes that reek of baking powder. That's the one thing that completely murders a cake for me.

I often love to add carrots, beets, zucchini, pumpkin, lots of citrus zest to my cakes to give them body, flavour and colour. But sometimes I stick to a plain vanilla or chocolate cake. Of course, you always have the option of adding walnuts, cherries, roasted almonds into this batter, dressing it up with fresh cream and berries or splitting it in half and turning this into a black forest kinda cake. This recipe has a lot of potential. But if you are like me, or simply a new baking enthusiast, a slice of this cake as a treat in your kid's lunchbox or in a hamper for your friends will make them a happy camper.

I've made this cake entirely with powdered jaggery, which is simply jaggery sold in powdered form. If you get big chunks of jaggery, run it in a food processor / mixer to powder and then weigh it for the recipe. If you don't have access to jaggery, feel free to use caster sugar. Jaggery gives this a deeper colour and of course there is the advantage of using an ingredient in a less refined form. I've used this recipe quite a few times and the result is an absolutely soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake AND it doesn't reek of baking powder. 

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