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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rainbow Chickpea Salad

This is a beautiful salad, tasty and filling too. In fact, you can eat this salad with a piece of some bread and it will be a complete meal. I saw a wonderful chickpea salad recipe one afternoon on a Rachel Ray "30 Minutes Meal" episode. I realized that I had most of the ingredients and could make it with a few substitutions. So, I tried it the very same day and I must say I absolutely loved it. This recipe can be tailored to your tastes by swapping the ingredients with other vegetables and beans. Once you try this salad, you will want to experiment with other bean salads too. It is so colorful that I thought the "rainbow" adjetive might suit it. It is pleasing to the eyes and the taste buds. And since it's so colorful, it maybe an easy way to get your kids to eat their vegetables and proteins.

2 cups chickpeas/garbanzo beans/kabuli chana (cooked - see tips for directions)
1 cup red onion diced into small pieces
1 cup bell peppers (red, yellow and orange), diced into small pieces
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed into a paste
2 tbps red wine vinegar (you can use any kind you have on hand)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Whisk together the vinegar, oil and some salt and pepper. Mix together all the diced vegetables and the chickpeas. Pour over the vinegar-oil dressing and toss the ingredients together, so that the vegetables and beans get well coated with the dressing. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

This makes a great mid afternoon snack as well.   
If you have pre-cooked canned garbanzo beans, rinse them our and use that. However, if you are starting off with dry beans, then soak them overnight. Next morning, you will see that they will swell up and become rehydrated, so that you can easily eat it. Then, either boil it in water for about 20-30 minutes till they are cooked through and softened or pressure cook them. Don't overcook them. They should not be so soft that they become mushy. They should still be firm.
As I have said in previous posts, the pressure cooker is a wonderful device. It reduces the cooking time to the fraction of the original cooking times and as you cook the ingredients for a shorter time, you retain more nutrition.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Banana Bread - Have Banana Bread Toast for Breakfast

I make banana walnut cake very often. In fact, most of the times the bananas don't get eaten and I finally need to use them up to make the cake. Of course this is advantageous to my family as well as friends since all of us get to eat home made cake often. I have been toying with the idea of making this recipe healthier by subsituting all purpose flour with whole wheat and cutting back on the added butter. I finally decided that I should experiment and see what the result would be. I was quite worried that the bread may be too hard or tough or even flavorless, but to my surprise it was moister, fluffier and seemed to have more depth of textures and flavors. This is definitely not as sweet as a cake would be and the fat content is also extremely low. So, I would definitely recommend making this as an alternate to the bread you use in your morning breakfast. Warm it up and eat it with a glass of milk or toast it and spread a little honey on it. It tastes great, has whole grains and is very satisfying.

1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
3 bananas, over ripe - mashed
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup apple sauce
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1/4 cup butter milk (can substitute milk if you don't have butter milk, also see tips)
1/4 cup yogurt
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a baking tin and keep aside. You can use a standard bread/loaf tin or an 8/9 inch baking tin.
Since we are reducing the fat content significantly to just two tbsp, it is necessary to aerate all the components so that the resultant bread will be spongy. The apple sauce and yogurt help add the necessary moisture.
Sieve all the dry ingredients, i.e. whole wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Do this at least a couple of times. In a bowl whisk the two eggs till the mixture is frothy. Add the vanilla essence and mix again.
In another bown, mix together the mashed banana, apple sauce, sugar and the melted butter. Mix this well using an electric beater or a whisk. To this add the yogurt and the butter milk/milk and mix well. Add the eggs next and beat well. Then add the sieved flour mixture to the wet ingredients, a little at a time and fold it in with a spatula. Add 1/4 cup of flour then move the spatula in a circular manner, moving the batter from the base of the bowl to the top and incorporating the flour into the batter during this process. This is called folding the flour into the batter. You don't want to over mix the batter and so avoid the temptation to just dump the flour and mix with the whisk. Last, fold in the walnuts.  Pour the batter and bake for about 20-30 minutes. The house will fill up with the aroma of bananas and cinnamon as the bread is baking. Use a knife or toothpick and insert it in the center of the bread. If it comes out clean, then the bread is completely baked. Let it cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. Then place the bread on the cooling rack as it continues to cool. This will ensure that the bread doesn't get soggy from the moisture being released as it cools down.

As bananas start to ripen and get dark spots on the skin, I freeze them. Then they are readily available for whenever I want to make banana bread or cake. If you make yogurt at home and it's not very thick and has plenty of water, then use 1/2 cup of this yogurt along with the water component. To make apple sauce at home, peel apples, remove the seeds and inedible core and then cook these with very little water. Turn off the heat when the apple is cooked. Puree the apples to make apple sauce. This should have the consistency of baby food puree or ketchup.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wheat Germ Pudding - "Gahu chi Kheer" - A Delicacy

"Gahu chi Kheer" is one of the tastiest dishes I have come across. In fact I wasn't even aware of how healthy it was until after polishing the bowl. "Gahu" translates to wheat and "kheer" is used to describe a dessert which has a pudding/custard kind of a consistency. Up until last year, the only wheat pudding I had eaten or made was made from "cracked wheat" or "dalia". Then I visited my husband's aunt last summer. She had made various delicacies for our visit and oh what exquisite dishes they were! Among the many dishes she had made, she had also taken time to make specialities and delicacies like misal (a spicy lentil snack), puran poli (tortilla stuffed with sweet yellow lentils) and gahu chi kheer (wheat pudding). After my first bite of the wheat kheer I realised that this was no ordinary pudding made from cracked wheat, but it was so much tastier and had a wonderful sweetness. So naturally, before we left, I asked her for her recipes and she readily shared (thank you!).

The key to this tasty kheer is that whole wheat is sprouted and then this wheat germ is used to make the kheer. The wheat germ is incredibly sweet and extremely nutritious. In fact, based on everything I have read, wheat germ is something you should add to your regular diet. It is very high in vitamins and provides essential elements. Also, along with the sweetness of the wheat, the sweetner used was not sugar, but jaggery which brought it up another notch. This is a recipe I highly recommend and I am sure once you taste it, you will want to eat it over and over again!!!

1 cup wheat (whole wheat grains/berries)
4 cups of water
1.5 tsp poppy seeds (white)/ khus khus
5 tbsps jaggery
2 cardamom pod seeds (about 10-15 seeds), powdered (elaichi)
2 tbsp sliced almonds
1/4 cup grated fresh coconut
1/2 cup cooked rice

when serving
hot milk
ghee/clarified butter


To germinate the wheat grains
Soak the wheat grains in two cups of water for at least 12 - 15 hours (you can soak it upto 24 hours). The grains should be completely submerged in the water. Then, drain the wheat and tie this up in a cotton cloth or a cheese cloth. The cloth should be porous so that the grains have air to breathe. Keep this in a warm place for 24 hours. After a day, you will notice small white sprouts on the wheat grains. At this point, the wheat is germinated and will be soft. If you taste it at this point, you will  notice that the wheat is very sweet.

To cook the pudding/kheer
Add two cups of water to the wheat germ and you can either cook it in the pressure cooker, or boil it till softened. It if better to pressure cook, as the cooking time is very small and nutrients are retained better through this process. However, if you do not have a pressure cooker, you can just boil it. While the wheat cooks, in a blender, grind together the poppy seeds, cardamom and cococnut. Then, add the cooked wheat to this and blend together till the wheat is broken into smaller pieces. Heat this mixture in a deep pan and add the cooked rice to it. Cook it all together for a minute and then add the jaggery. You can add more jaggery if you want it to be sweeter. Sprinkle in the almonds. The kheer is ready.  Before you serve it, add a spoonfull of ghee and then pour some hot milk.

This rice should be cooked to a soft texture. Pressure cook it along with the wheat by layering the two containers on top of each other. The wheat takes longer to cook, so keep the wheat container closer to the base of the cooker. If you are using long grain rice, you may want to break the cooked rice, into smaller pieces by using a spoon. Do not add the cooked rice into the blender along with the wheat as the rice will get mushy and the pudding will get starchy and mushy. It will take a couple of whistles in a stove top cooker or about 10 minutes on manual mode high pressure in the Instant Pot. Let the pressure fall naturally.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Garden Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto Sauce and a Dinner Menu

Fresh pesto sauce is an absolute delight to the tastebuds. You get great readymade pesto in the grocery store and it is very handy to use, so if you don't have the ingredients or time to make, you can definitely use a store bought version. However, once you have tasted fresh pesto, you will not want to use the refrigerated version. The sweet basil, pungent garlic and creamy almonds make this a delectable dish. It is a very elegant dish and doesn't take a lot of time to make. It is just the perfect dinner party dish. You can scale it to make large quantities easily and it will impress your guests for sure.

Here is a great menu for your next dinner party. I am sure this will wow your guests.

Garlic Bread
Tomato Basil Bisque soup
Garden Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto Sauce

For the pesto
1 cup basil
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more to give the pesto a thick sauce consistency)
1 cup of almonds, peeled or blanched
salt to taste
pepper to taste (optional)

For the pasta
1 box (about 1 pound) of sphagetti - cook it per the directions on the box.
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (pesto has a lot of oil in it already, so don't use a lot for the veggies)
3-4 cloves of garlic - finely diced
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 cup bell pepper (red, yellow, orange), sliced
1 cup broccoli florets - blanched 
1 zucchini - sliced into semi circles
salt to taste

To make the pesto

Add the basil, garlic, almonds to a food processor or blender. Add the salt and pepper and then start processing. As you process, add the olive oil through the feed tube in the processor/blender. Add just enough oil so that the resultant mixture has a  thick sauce like consistency. If it's too little, it will not spread well when added to the pasta and if its too much then the taste will get diluted and the pesto will not stick to the pasta.

To make the pasta
Cook the pasta per instructions. You can keep it "al dente" where is slightly undercooked, or well done. If its "al dente" it has a slight bite to it. Keep this aside. Reserve the water the pasta was cooked in.

Heat the oil in a broad pan, to this add the garlic. Once you start getting the aroma of garlic being cooked, add the onion slices. Cook these till the onion begins to get transparent. Then add the bell pepper, cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the zuccini slices. Next add the cooked broccoli and cook all the vegetables for another minute. Don't overcook the vegetables, they should still have a little bite and not be mushy. Season the vegetables with salt at this time. Remember there is some salt in the pesto, so add just a little salt. Then add the sphagetti and toss it well with the vegetables. If the pasta and vegetable mixture seems very dry at this point, add a little of the water reserved from cooking the pasta and mix. Turn off the heat. Then pour the desired amount of the pesto sauce over the warm sphagetti and toss well to coat the vegetables and the sphagetti with pesto. Garnish with a basil leaf and grated parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) cheese.

There are many varieties of basil available, so make sure you are picking up the one used in Italian cooking and it's not the sweet basil used in Thai food because the tastes are starkly different. Most pesto recipes call for a lot of olive oil. I try to use as little oil as possible in my preparations, so you can increase the oil in the pesto based on your preference and how much oil you need to get to the sauce consistency.
To blanch the broccoli, boil water and add the broccoli to it. Let it cook for a couple of minutes till you see it turn a bright green color. Keep a bowl of iced water ready and add the cooked broccoli to the iced water so that it stops cooking. At this point, the broccoli will be semi-cooked and a lovely bright green.  To peel almonds, soak them in water overnight. Next morning, you will be able to easily peel off the skin. If you don't have the time to pre-soak it, add them to the boiling water and remove after a minute. This is similar to blanching the broccoli. Then peel the loosened skin. You also can buy blanched and sliced almonds from the store and use it directly.