Hey Pesto!

The title was my husband’s idea so blame him for tackiness. It’s kinda cute that he has become more involved with the website. I like the joint-venture and so does he.

Pesto in the supermarket just doesn’t do it for me. Back in Australia, one could pay a little more to get fresh pesto to go with fresh pasta but not here. England’s supermarket pesto is oily, contains god-knows-what to keep it preserved and lacks the nuttiness that real pesto has. You might guess where this is going – that’s right, make your own pesto!

A friend of mine game me Anthony Carluccio’s Simple Cooking for my 30th birthday. This book has been a good friend for authentic yet simple and reliable Italian recipes. This pesto recipe comes from Anthony’s book. It is simple, easy and perfect for the lazy condiment makers such as myself. Hope you try it and like it.

Warning : This recipe isn’t vegetarian as there is calf rennet in the grana padano cheese used. You can try and substitute it with a vegetarian cheese such as vegetarian mature cheddar.

Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese

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Dosa (savoury crepe/pancake) and its friends

What is a dosa ? For starters, it is pronouced “Though-sah”. It is a South Indian crepe or savoury pancake and is the pride and joy of that part of the country. There is nothing like a fresh brown, crispy dosa served with a little blob of butter melting on top of it. The city where I come from (Bangalore) and the state it belongs to (Karnataka) take the humble dosa very very seriously. In fact, a good dosa joint is worth sitting in traffic for along time. Luckily for us, when we visited Bangalore, one of the best dosa places in town was across the road from where we stayed. At the cost of about 60pence a dosa, we had they to our heart’s content!

The traditional dosa is made mainly of lentils ( urid dal) and par-boiled (partially boiled and dried) rice with little embellishments such as fenugreek seeds and cumin seeds. One starts by soaking the lentils and rice overnight to soften them. Then, each ingredient is ground to a slightly gritty (grit size about 1mm) paste in a strong kitchen blender or a dosa grinder. The batter for dosa is then made by mixing the two pastes, adding a bit of salt and allowing the batter to ferment for 8-10 hrs but usually overnight. The natural yeast in the air are what makes dosa batter ferment. If you are in a cold country, then your best choice is to place the dosa batter inside your boiler cupboard to ferment.

The resulting batter is airy, slightly tangy smelling and an absolute treat once cooked. Mum says that the ratio of rice to lentils for dosa batter is 3:1 and perhaps a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds (to soak with the lentils). Cook dosas like you would cook any pancake with vegetable oil to easy the edges of the pan. While a lot of taste is in the dosa itself, the things that go with dosa add a whole new dimension to this traditional crepe. The most popular form of filling for a dosa is one made with boiled potatoes. In addition, dosas are served with chutneys (dips) made of coconuts, chillies, onions, garlic and roasted lentils.

Today’s blog is going to be about the friends of a dosa. The dosa I made was a cheat as I bought an instant-mix by a company called MTR. If you don’t have easy access to an Indian store to buy MTR dosa mix, you can make dosas out of semolina and standard flour. Use one cup of semolina and half a cup of standard flour, mix in one cup of yoghurt, salt and enough water to make a pancake-like batter. To jazz it up a bit, you can add finely chopped onions, green chillies and cumin seeds to the batter too.

Dosa and its friends

Dosa and its friends: Top left = Potato curry ; Top centre = Lentil, onion and chilli chutney; Top right = Coconut and coriander chutney; Bottom centre = MTR’s instant dosa

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Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi and inspired dinner

I have recently become addicted to three cookbooks I acquired from Amazon and our local library. They are, in order of favouritism,

1. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2. Moro by Samuel and Samantha Clark

3. Ottolenghi also by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.

Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.

To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it 🙂 An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !

My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !

Menu for board games night

Menu for board games night

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Asparagus and potato bake

It is amazing what one can find in a fridge if one looks hard enough. I have been on a mission to empty the contents of my fridge ever since my return from a conference trip. This task seems never ending and the more I take out, the more there seems to be. Since Sunday the 5th of May Friday the 10th of May, I have made (1) brie and chive biscuits (2) gouda, chilli and rosemary biscuits (3) a banana raspberry cake (4) a flan aux speculoos (gingerbread flan) (5) fresh yoghurt (6) a yoghurt based curry with spinach (7) eggplant with miso glaze (8) chickpea bread (9) asparagus and potato bake (10) sautĂ©ed okra and the fridge is still not empty. You must imagine that I am a veritable fatty eating all this food but I’m not doing too badly….right now at least. In my defence, I shared pretty much all the snack-like/sweet things with friends and colleagues.

Where does the asparagus and potato bake come into this ? Well as you might have guess, I had asparagus and potato – check! On Tuesday night, I went to a friend’s for dinner and she made this amazing eggplant parmigiana with a beautiful tomato sauce (http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2876664/roast-aubergine-parmigiana). I also had mozzarella that needed to be used soon. So I decided to put all these things together and make an asparagus-potato “parmigiana” if you will. I then wondered what I’d like to eat it with and bread seemed an ideal candidate. Since our local Sainsbury’s (and most English supermarkets) stock nothing but crap bread, I decided I’d make my own. For bread recipes, I trust a fellow-blogger  Silvia (http://silviascucina.net/) where I came across an interesting take on bread involving chickpea (http://silviascucina.net/2011/10/08/chickpea-garbanzo-beans-bread/). I took it one step further and made it with some chickpea flour and fine cornmeal. The overall result was quite exciting. I was quite pleased with myself before the realisation hit me that there was no way I could eat 2 small loaves of bread and a baking dish full of “parmigiana”. So off it went to the neighbours and they thought it was decent so here I am talking about it.

Do give this recipe a try and tell me what you think! I still can’t get over the fact that everything I put in this dish was in my fridge/pantry/herb garden 🙂

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Asparagus-potato-bake-with-chickpea-bread

Ingredients (Picture 1 below):

15-20 spears of baby asparagus

1/2 a large potato , sliced into 3mm thick slices

400 gms (1 can) of chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes

125 gm ball of mozzarella, halved and then cut into 3mm thick slices

5 pieces of sun-dried tomato, finely chopped

1/2 cup of grated smoked cheddar or grated parmesan

1/2 cup of stuffing mix (I used a toasted chestnut, roasted hazelnut and thyme one)

1 tablespoon of honey

2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon of thyme, finely chopped

a handful of mint, coarsely chopped (substituted for basil so use basil if you have some)

2 tablespoons of oil

salt to suit your taste

pepper to suit your taste

Method:

1. Grease a baking dish with oil/butter and preheat the oven to 180ÂșC.

2. Heat the oil in a deep pot and when hot, throw in the asparagus spears. Cook the spears until you see a bit of brown blistering on their skin.

3. Remove the asparagus from the pot and arrange them to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Grind some sea salt over them (Picture 2).

4. Add the potato the the same pot, add a pinch of salt and cook until the pieces of potato start to blister and go brown (Picture 3).

5. Remove the potato slices from the pot and arrange them on top of the asparagus (Picture 4).

6. Sprinkle the potato with the chopped mint and some freshly ground pepper (Picture 4).

7. Top the pot with a tablespoon of oil if required and add the thyme, chilli and garlic to the pot (Picture 5). Cook them until the raw smell of garlic no longer lingers. Don’t let the chilli burn or you will go into a coughing fit.

8. To the chilli/garlic mixture, add the canned tomatoes, chopped sun-dried tomatoes and honey. Season with enough salt to suit your taste (Picture 6).

9. Bring the sauce to a boil and take the sauce off the heat.

10. Arrange pieces of mozzarella on top of the potato layer in the baking dish. Sprinkle half the cheddar/parmesan on top of the mozzarella and grind some more pepper onto the cheese (Picture 7).

11. Pour the tomato sauce on the cheese layer and spread it so that it covers the entire dish (Picture 8).

12. Cover the dish with silver foil and bake for 30-40 mins in the oven (Picture 9).

13. During this time, mix the remaining cheddar/parmesan with the stuffing mix to use as a crunchy topping (Pictures 10 & 11).

14. After 30-40 minutes, remove the silver foil from the dish and check that the potatoes are soft and your knife/skewer should go right through it.

15. Sprinkle the cheddar-stuffing mixture on top of the tomato sauce and bake for another 10-12 minutes until the cheese has melted into a golden brown colour (Picture 12).

16. Serve while warm with some fresh bread (Pictures 13-15) or couscous (Picture 16 and main picture above).

Tips:

1. I find stuffing a more exciting substitute for a breadcrumb topping. Keep a box of it in your pantry and stock up after Christmas when it is usually on sale 🙂

2. After all that, I don’t think I liked the asparagus in the dish so much. I would make it again just with the potato or some other vegetable.

3. If you want to make it a vegan dish, leave the cheese out and use a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs and olive-spread to make the crunchy topping.

Pictures:

Method for asparagus-potato bake

Method for asparagus-potato bake

Chilli Paneer/Paneer Manchurian or Spicy Saucy Indian Cottage Cheese

Any food with soy sauce, vinegar, chilli sauce, ginger and garlic is considered “Chinese” food in India. This combination of ingredients has given rise to a whole genre of food in the Indian subcontinent called “Indo-Chinese” food. Needless to say, the People’s Republic of China have never heard of most of the things that fall into the “Indo-Chinese” category of food. So, what I’m trying to say is that it is a made up style of  “Chinese” food in India much like the made up “Indian” food here in England  except for the teeny-tiny fact that the former is actually quite tasty (pa dam pum tshhhh!).

While Indo-Chinese food is a pretend food, it is very very popular in streets and restaurants all over India. In Bangalore, where I grew up, it is not unusual to see a guy vending these yummy delights out of the back of a covered auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk. He usually has an array of finely chopped vegetables all neatly arranged in boxes and a huge wok on a portable stove in which he cooks them. Funnily enough, they tend to be exclusively vegetarian, with only the most adventurous ones treading into the fungus world by sporting mushrooms alongside the array of vegetables. (Note: Some orthodox Hindu members of my mum’s extended family will not eat mushrooms as they think its neither a vegetable nor an animal so best to stay away from it.)

Coming back to the main story, these street vendors and several established restaurants have the following popular Indo-chinese dishes on their menu – Gobi Manchurian (cauliflower from Manchuria clearly), Paneer Manchurian (cottage cheese instead of cauliflower), Vegetable Manchurian, Babycorn manchurian, Vegetable friend rice, Vegetable fried noodles and so on. My fondest memories of Indo-Chinese food are from the months of the monsoon rains in Bangalore. Family friends of ours would pick up some of these saucy, spicy delights and bring them over to our house to share. We’d spend the evening in the warm indoors getting even warmer with every little bite of spicy, “Chinese” vegetable.

Paneer is one of the very few cheeses made in India. It a fresh cheese and is the Indian form of cottage cheese. The main difference is that paneer is drained to remove much of its moisture content and  is compacted into a hard block that can be cut into cubes and added into various curries.

Chilli paneer is an Indo-Chinese dish and I use the name interchangeably with Paneer Machurian. It is cubes of paneer sauteed (or fried) in oil and then tossed in a stirfry made with soy, vinegar, tomato sauce, ginger, garlic, chillies, capsicum (green peppers) and onions. It can be enjoyed on its own as an evening snack with your favourite pint or shot of spirits. Alternatively, it can be consumed with any form of flat bread. If you add water to it to make it more liquid-y, it can even be eaten with rice.

Here is my take on Chilli Paneer/Dry Paneer Manchurian. Remember – the spicier, the better. Hope you like it!

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Chilli paneer served with soft tortilla

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1. Starter: Baozi or Pau – Malaysian vegetable steam bun

There are 2 parts to this recipe -(a) the outer casing or steam bun dough and (b) the vegetable filling.

 

(a) Steam bun dough recipe

Source: http://cheah2009.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/steamed-bun-pau.html

Changes: 

1. I didn’t have access to “pau” flour so I used standard flour and this meant the buns weren’t as white as they are when you buy them. But hey, they are home-made and delicious.

2. I didn’t use the meat filling – being vegetarian and all…

3. I didn’t have a steamer so I improvised (Picture 5 below). I filled 1/3 rd of a large lidded wok with water. I then placed a small metal (heat-proof cup or ramekin will work too) upturned inside the wok as a stand. This was followed by the placement of the steaming bowl from my pressure cooker on top of the upturned cup. The steam buns went into this steaming bowl and I covered the wok with a lid so as to not let the steam escape. Each pair of steam buns took 17 minutes to cook to perfection. Check that the filling is warm before eating.

4. I made really huge (gargantuan) steam buns and we only had one each as a starter. Perhaps making smaller and more delicate ones will be the way to go (Pictures 1-4 below).

5. Finally, I skipped the bit where it said to let the steam buns rise after placing the filling inside them. It worked just fine!

6. These can be kept uncooked in the fridge overnight and steamed the next day for brunch.

7. We had them with some dark soy sauce and the combination was quite good – or so we thought (Picture 6 below)

 

(b) The curried vegetable filling

Source : http://3hungrytummies.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/curry-puff-malaysian-monday-48.html

Changes:

1. I left the chicken and eggs out.

2. I used runner beans (finely chopped) instead of peas.

3. I used Indian curry powder (Sabzi masala) instead of Malaysian meat curry powder.

4. I used Kashmiri chilli powder (lovely red colour and not as spicy) to spice the dish

4. I used coconut cream (3 tbps) instead of coconut milk.

5. I made the filling on Christmas eve and left it overnight in the fridge. The consistency was perfect for filling the next day.

Steps to making vegetable steam buns
Steps to making vegetable steam buns

2. Main: Twice-baked blue cheese soufflĂ© with a creamy tomato sauce and apple, walnut, rocket salad

There are 3 parts to this recipe (a) the souffle (b) tomato sauce (c) salad

(a) The soufflé 

Source : http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10556367

Changes:

1. I left out the parsley and I forgot to add salt and pepper but that’s OK, the cheese has enough flavour to make up for this.

2. I used thyme and sage as herbs to flavour the soufflé. To incorporate them, I heated the milk on the lowest setting with sage and thyme for 15-20 minutes allowing the flavours to infuse. It was this milk that I then used to make the white sauce.

3. I have included images of the process of soufflé making in the collage below. When I added the milk to the butter-flour mixture it went really thick and I panicked as I’d never made soufflé before. It got worse when I added the cheese and then the egg yolks (Pictures 5,6,7). However, the addition of soft peaked egg whites fixes it all up (Picture 9). Yay! Trust me when I say it tasted amazing – a very forgiving recipe I concluded!

4. Once the soufflés have cooled, they deflate (Picture 13). At this point, ease them out of their ramekins and place them in a larger baking dish upturned (Picture 14)

5. The recipe makes exactly enough batter for 2 soufflĂ©s so follow it to a tee if that’ s all you want. Most other recipes I found seemed to be for 6-8 servings which I wasn’t interested in.

(b) The tomato sauce

Source : Inspired by http://www.addictedtoveggies.com/2012/09/cherry-tomato-cream-sauce-nut-free.html

My partner and I are both not huge fans of cream and I thought I’d give the creamy sauce a bit more flavour before baking the soufflé for the second time. I got the idea from the recipe link above but my recipe was as follows.

Changes:

Ingredients:

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic with skin

100 ml cream

2 tsp ground pepper

1/2 level tsp of salt

1 level tsp of sugar

Method:

1. Roast the tomatoes and garlic at 180ÂșC until the skins of the tomatoes crack and they start oozing out juices. Discard the garlic.

2. In a small saucepan, add the tomatoes, cream and spices and cook until the tomatoes go mushy and the flavours blend into the sauce. You want it to taste a bit sweet as the soufflé will be on the salty side.

3. Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan over the upturned and cooled soufflĂ©s and bake for 15-20 minutes at 150ÂșC until the tops are golden brown.

4. Serve with the apple and walnut salad (Pictures 15 & 16).

5. It is a rich and decadent main so take your time…..

 

(c) Apple, walnut and rocket salad

Source :  

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/10784/twicebaked-goats-cheese-souffls-with-apple-and-wal

Changes:

1. I used rocket leaves only

2. I used a golden delicious apple instead of a red apple

3. I toasted the walnuts slightly in a pan on dry heat

4. I tossed the apples in a bit of melted Manuka honey to give them a bit of flavour and to ensure that they didn’t turn brown.

5. I left out the chives.

6. I used balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar.

 

Blue cheese soufflé method

Blue cheese soufflé method