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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Achari Aloo - Potatoes tempered with Indian pickle spices

I am updating my blog after several months. As it happens, things have become very hectic and I haven't had the energy to update the blog. I have received some really nice feedback on my site in the past few months and I have been motivated and looking for some spare time in which I could compose a recipe. I am hoping I an interrupted hour as I type this.

For those that are regular readers of my blog, you know that I recently started cooking and experimenting with chicken dishes. Also, that some members of my family are vegetarian while others relish chicken and other meat. So, when I make chicken, I need to make sure that I have a good vegetarian meal by its side as well. I decided to make "achari chicken" earlier this week. I thought what I could make as a vegetarian entree and I thought why not make "achari potatoes" using the same gravy base. It turned out to be a great idea and both turned out lip smacking delicious.

So what is "achari"? "Achar or Aachaar" in Hindi means pickle. The concept behind Indian pickles is the same as everywhere else, it is used to preserve some kind of a vegetable in brine. However, this brine is also tempered with different spices. The spices used vary from region to region and every household has their own special recipe. So, this dish uses the same spices that are used for pickles that are usually made in Northern part of India and have components like onion and fennel seeds. If you have a mixed Punjabi pickle which uses a similar spice profile, addition of a little of this pickle to finish the dish gives it a restaurant quality taste.


For the gravy
1 tbsp oil
1 large red onion, finely chopped
3 tomatoes (canned or fresh), finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
1/ 2 cup yogurt, well beaten
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/8- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder - to taste
1-2 green chillies - to taste
4-5 potatoes - peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
salt to taste
1/2 cup water (more if gravy becomes to thick)
1 tbsp Punjabi mixed pickle (same spice profile) - optional

For the tempering
1 tbsp oil (mustard if available)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
10-12 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp kalonji/onion seeds
1-3 red chillies (dried), to taste
1/4 tsp crushed coriander seeds
6-8 methi/fenugreek seeds

Heat oil in a pan and add the onions. Saute them till they start to brown and add the ginger garlic paste. Cook till well browned and then add the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are cooked down add turmeric, chilli powder and the green chillies. Mix well and let this cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the yogurt and let this cook till the mixture thickens a bit and the yogurt starts to look cooked.

While the gravy is being cooked, heat oil for tempering in a separate pan. Add the mustard and cumin and once it starts to crackle, add the rest of the spices and then turn the heat off. Let the spices bloom in the hot oil.

Add the potatoes to the gravy and salt to taste. Add some water and stir. Then add the tempering, cover the pan and let the potatoes cook. Keep stirring and cook till the potatoes are cooked through but stop before they over cook or get mushy.

If you have Punjabi mixed pickle, add a tbsp of this to the curry just as the potatoes are done cooking and mix well. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve hot with white rice or naan or chapati.

To shorten the time needed to brown the onion, add some salt after you add the chopped onions. This helps pull out the moisture from the onion and helps in browning the onions faster.  Canned tomatoes are precooked and will cook faster. A good ingredient to have on hand when you need to cook something elaborate in a short amount of time. To crush coriander seeds, use whole seeds and lightly pound them in a mortar and pestle to open them up. Do not grind them into a powder form. Fenugreek is bitter, so use a little. Avoid the temptation to increase the amount a lot even if you scale up the quantity of the dish. Beat the yogurt well and make sure it is smooth before you add it to the gravy to reduce the curdled look. As the yogurt gets cooked down, it will get an even look. Use mustard oil for the seasoning if possible to get an authentic flavor. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Simple Mixed Salad

It has been a long while since I last updated my blog. Well, as they say life happens and I have barely been able to come up for a breather, least of all update my blog for a while. So, I must say that this is possibly my return to blogging post. With the advent of the new year, it feels that I must get back to things that I have fun doing.

As you may have noticed, as soon as January starts, there are advertisements for gym memberships and almost every magazine that I have glanced at has had something related to healthy eating. Getting into the same spirit, I thought it  best to start off with a very simple but delicious salad recipe.

This has to be one of the easiest salads that you can make. It is a combination of vegetables, leafy vegetables and fruits. Because of the flavor combinations of these components, you don't need additional dressings for the salad. You can always dress it with balsamic vinaigrette, or sesame ginger dressing or even a creamy dressing, but it will taste great with just salt and paper too. It is a great summer recipe, since a plethora of vegetables and fruits are available in this season. You can modify the recipe based on what fruits and vegetables you find as well. It is a perfect light meal or snack.

1 cup grapes, sliced in halves
1 cup raspberries
3 cups organic mixed greens, chopped
1/2 cup of mixed sweet bell peppers (yellow, red or orange), sliced
1 orange, sliced and diced into bite sized pieces
1/4 cabbage, sliced
salt to taste
pepper to taste
readymade salad dressing (Optional)

Toss the veggies together along with the cut grapes and orange pieces. Sprinkle salt and pepper and mix well.  Add the raspberries, the last after the heavy all the ingredients are tossed well and then gently mix them into the salad.

Serve cold.

Raspberries are fragile, so it is best to keep them last and adding them just before you intend to serve the salad. If you use a dressing (I would recommend a light dressing like ginger sesame or balsamic vinaigrette or italian dressing), then too toss the raspberries gently with a little dressing, just by themselves and add them to the salad.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mango Cake

One of the best things about summer (other than the summer vacation) while growing up, was the abundance of mangoes and getting to eat mango and all the different dishes made from raw and ripe mangoes. I must confess, it is my favorite fruit. Of course, the best varieties that I have tasted have been in India and of all the ones available there while growing up, the "Alphonso" was my absolute favorite. The memory of walking into a room filled with the smell of ripe mangoes is still one of my happy memories.

The varieties that I have come across in the stores here are generally from the Phillipines or Mexico and I have found that they are more fibrous. The one that I like most among the ones that are easily available here, is the Ataulfo mango. Now, while this is found in the local store all through the year, the best taste is only found during summer, which is when the mango is in season.

I have made and different kind of dishes made with mangoes, but had never eaten a mango cake, which was infused with flavors of mango within the cake. So, I decided to experiment and the result was delicious. In fact, the first time I made it, it was gone before I could take a singe picture. I managed to sneak in one picture the second time I made it. I have also used it as a base in a mango mousse cake. It is absolutely mouth watering. Hope you like it as much as I did, when you make it.

1 and 1/4 cups, plus 2 tbsp of all purpose flour (maida)
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter - room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup mango pulp ( it is generally sweetened. it can be found in a store which carries Indian products)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup mango pieces, diced

Grease a baking dish with some butter and dust with some all purpose flour. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together and keep aside. Sieve these ingredients a couple of times. In another bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar. Beat it till the butter is fluffy. Add one egg at a time to this and beat each egg into the mixture till it is nice and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the batter and fold it in. Mix the mango pulp and milk together. Then add half of this mixture to the batter. Alternate between the milk and mango mixture and the dry ingredients till they are all incorporated into the batter. Then add the mango pieces to the batter and fold it in carefully. Do not over mix and deflate the batter.

Bake the cake at 350 F for about 30 minutes. Use a knife and insert it into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean then the cake is ready. If not, bake for a few more minutes.
Take if out and let the pan cool on a wire rack for 10-15 mins. Then invert the pan onto the cooling rack and slide the cake out. Let the cake cool if you wish to ice it.

To prevent the mango pieces from sinking to the bottom of the pan, dust a little flour on the pieces and coat them before folding them into the batter. Make sure to grease the pan completely and generously, so that the cake doesn't stick. You can also add a parchment paper to the base of the mold and grease it before pouring the batter if you want to be certain that the cake will come out easily. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Whole Wheat Thin Crust Pizza with White Sauce

For a long time, I couldn't stand the taste of store bought whole wheat breads. They seemed dense, dry, and bland, almost cardboard like. However, I am finding that my taste has matured and changed for the better, especially after eating home made whole wheat breads. And of course, eating whole grains is much better for health than all purpose flour.

Whole wheat breads are denser in texture than their counterpart white breads. This is mainly because all purpose flour which is used to make white breads, doesn't contain the germ and bran parts of the wheat grain. The bran in the flour hampers the creation of gluten (wheat protein) strands which is needed to create the fluffy bread texture. While I have made several breads with whole wheat flour, I hadn't tried a whole wheat recipe to make pizza before. When I came across a whole wheat thin crust pizza from America's Test Kitchen, I had to try it out. The recipe called for whole wheat flour and the bread flour to boost up the gluten content. Due to the mix of the flours, we are able to have a great texture and chew.

I made a few modifications, used the cheeses that I had on hand and a variety of toppings and the end result was fabulous.

For the pizza base
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
2 tsp honey
3/4 tsp rapid rising instant yeast
1.5 cups cold water
2 tbsp
1 and 3/4 tsp salt
all purpose flour/bread flour to flour your working surface

For the pizza base sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic gloved, finely chopped
1/2 tsp black peppercorns (whole or ground) (this will add heat to the sauce, so you can adjust quantity to taste)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp red chilli  flakes (optional) (this will add heat to the sauce, so you can adjust quantity to taste)
1/8 tsp salt
10 basil leaves (optional)
2 cups shredded mozarella cheese
2 cups shredded mixed cheese (cheddar, mozarella)

Toppings used here
artichokes in brine solution
onion, sliced
tomato, diced
mushroom, sliced

Additional topping suggestions
green bell pepper
colorful (red/yellow/orange) sweet bell peppers
spinach (add this after the pizza is baked)
jalapeno slices


To make the dough
Mix together the whole wheat flour, yeast, honey. Add the water and combine till there is no dry flour and keep the dough aside for 10 minutes. Keep it covered. Add the salt and oil and knead the ingredients together, till the dough comes together and is smooth. If you have a food processor or a stand mixer, you should use it to knead the dough. It will take less than a minute for the first step and 3-4 minutes for the second step. If not using a mixer, it will take about 10 minutes of kneading to get a smooth dough. Even if you use the food processor, knead the dough by hand for about a minute and shape it into a smooth ball.
Then put it in an oiled bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge for at least 18 hour up to 48 hours.

Pizza sauce
Heat the extra virgin olive oil and to it add the garlic, peppercorns, oregano, red chilli flakes (if using). Let the garlic get lightly browned (takes less than a minute). Take the oil off the heat and add the salt. Let this cool.

Pizza assembly
One hour before you start to put your pizza together, place a pizza stone on the top rack of your oven (4-6 inches from the broiler heating element) and pre-heat the oven to 500F and let the pizza stone heat for the entire hour.

At the same time, get your pizza dough our of the fridge, divide it into 2 parts and roll them into balls. Place them apart from each other (leaving space for the dough to expand) on an oiled flat pan or baking dish or separate plates. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand for an hour

Dust your rolling surface liberally with flour. Take one of the dough balls and roll it flour to cover it and then using your fingertips and palm, flatten it and into a 12 inch pizza round. Dust the pizza peel that you will use to place the pizza base into the oven and transfer the pizza base. to your pizza peel. Flatten it further into about a 13 inch round.

Switch the oven to broiler, high setting for 10 minutes while you spread the toppings on the pizza.

Now, spread half of the flavored oil that you made above onto the pizza. Leave a small border around the pizza, about 1/4 inch. Place the basil leaves onto the base of the pizza (if using) and then layer 1 cup of each cheese onto the base. The add the toppings. I have listed the toppings that I used and also other suggestion. You can use any combination that you want.

Switch the oven back to bake at 500F. Slide the pizza very carefully onto the pizza stone. Bake till the crust is browned and cheese melts and is bubbly. It takes about 10-12 minutes for this to occur. The time may vary based on your own oven, so check on the pizza and keep an eye on it after 8 minutes.
Rotate the pizza halfway through the baking process, at around the 5 minute mark.

Remove your pizza and let it cool a little before cutting it. Place it on a wire rack.

Then return your oven to broil and using the same process work with the second piece of dough and add the toppings. Turn the pizza back to bake at 500 and then place the second pizza into the oven.

Serve hot.

Make the dough the previous evening, when you want to make it for dinner (about 24 hours). You can use whole or you can grind these to make a fine powder and use pepper powder instead. It will add heat to the sauce, so adjust the amount of pepper you want to use, based on taste. I used whole peppercorns and then picked them out of the oil before spreading the oil onto the pizza surface.
You can use a mixture of mozarella, parmesan and cheddar cheese on the base. If you are choosing more than one cheese, mix a little together at first and taste it and check if you like the combination.
Heating the stone at 500F for an hour creates a kiln effect and ensures that the pizza gets cooked properly and there are no uncooked spots under the toppings. This helps create a nice crispy crust.
Place the pizza on a wire rack, so that the steam doesn't pool under the pizza crust and make it soggy.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Blueberries

I have made been making pancakes for the longest time, but I have never had a go to recipe that I knew would always taste good. Most of the times I used to fall back on using multigrain flour pancake mix from the local store. Or once in a while I tried out a new recipe, though nothing really stuck as "the one".

I am a fan of America's Test Kitchen, and while perusing their cookbook, I came across their recipe to make blueberry pancakes. This has now become my go to recipe for whenever I want to make pancakes. The main reason is that all the ingredients needed to make the pancakes are generally always available in the pantry and fridge. I tried this recipe a few times as and then substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the all purpose flour.  The all purpose ones are great and I like the ones with whole wheat pastry flour even better. The whole grain adds texture and depth to the taste and this is my go to recipe to make pancakes.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 egg
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
1-2 tsp oil
blueberries (optional)

Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Whisk together milk and lemon juice and set aside. The milk will thicken (the solids start to separate from the liquid in the milk. It is more noticeable if the milk is at room temperature than when milk is cold). Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk together egg, vanilla essence, and add to the milk. Add the butter as well and mix the liquid ingredients together. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the liquid ingredients slowly to the flour. Mix the ingredients together with a whisk until they are just combined. Some lumps will remain. Do not overmix.

Heat your pan or griddle, and add some oil to the pan. Pour one ladle or about 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan. If using blueberries, sprinkle about 8-10 blueberries onto the pancake.  Cook until bubble appear for 1-2 minutes and then flip the pancake over and cook in the other side till golden brown for another 1-2 minutes. If pan is large enough, you can make 2-3 pancakes at a time.

Do not overmix the batter. Once the batter looks mixed in and you cannot see the dry flour anymore, stop mixing. Even if you see clumps in the batter, do not give into temptation to mix and make the batter smooth. Over mixing the batter can lead to chewy pancakes. The original recipe calls for all purpose flour, however I have used whole wheat pastry flour.
Note: Whole wheat pastry flour is different from whole wheat flour. Whole wheat pastry flour is closer to all purpose flour in color and texture whereas whole wheat flour is darker in color and heartier in taste.
I have used cold milk directly from the fridge and also milk at room temperature and haven't noticed any change in taste or texture.
You can substitute buttermilk instead of the milk and lemon juice mixture. Use 2 cups of buttermilk instead, if available.

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