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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stir Fried Sphagetti Squash/ Sphagetti Squash Upma

This is a recipe that I made up trying to think of different ways to use sphagetti squash. Now, this squash is called sphagetti squash because when it is cooked, the squash can be separated into sphagetti type strands. It is a great substitute for sphagetti and tastes great with marinara sauce (see recipe).   I had a lot of cooked sphagetti squash left over and was wondering what other recipes could I use it in. I was inspired by "vermicelli upma" which is vermicelli noodles with Indian seasoning and decided to try something similar with the sphagetti squash. The result was awesome. I also tried serving it as a vegetable side with rotis and it tasted great.

1 sphagetti squash, cooked and separated into strands
1 onion, diced (optional)
1 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp urad dal
5-6 curry leaves
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp peanuts (optional)
salt to taste

Heat the oil and add the mustard and cumin seeds. As the mustard seed crackles, add the hing, urad dal and let the urad dal turn a light brown. Then add the curry leaves. Next add the peanuts and stir fry for a minute. Then add the onions if you are using them. Cook the onions till transparent and lightly browned. Then add the turmeric, mix and then add the sphagetti squash. Mix thoroughly so that the squash is covered with the seasoning and salt. Though the squash is cooked, let it cook with the seasoning so that it gets a nice flavor. You can even let a little of the squash touching the base of the pan brown. It gives it a nice caramelized flavor. Serve hot. You can serve it as a side with chapati/roti. It also tastes great on its own as a main dish and can be eaten as a snack as well.

The baked method of cooking the sphagetti squash makes for nice dry squash, however it is a lenghty method. An alternate way is to pressure cook it.  Add a little water to your pressure cooker (enough so that the cooker will function properly), then put the halved, cleaned squash skin side down so that the skin is in the water and the rest of it is above it.  Then pressure cook it. In this method, the squash may get a bit watery, however it is fast and if you are going to cook it further in an open pan (like in the recipe above), then the squash will dry out as it cooks.
You can skip the onions and just add the squash directly into the seasoning. This preparation also tastes great.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gavar Ani Bhoplya Chi Bhaaji - Cluster Beans with Banana Squash/Pumpkin

I am amazed at the large variety of squashes and pumpkins that exist. I was only aware of one kind of a pumpkin while growing up. When anyone said that they had made a pumpkin curry, it really meant that they had cooked "laal bhopla" (in Marathi) or "kaddu" (in Hindi). And squash really boiled down to "bottle gourd".  Moreover, I was not fond of pumkins so I stayed as far away as possible. It was the similar case with cluster beans which are known as "gavar" (in Marathi) or "guvar" (in Hindi). Of course times have changed, my palette has expanded and I find that any vegetable can be made to taste good. I enjoy the challege and experimenting with new varieties.

A couple of weeks ago I found a slice of "banana squash" in the local market, which upon closer inspection turned out to be the familiar "laal bhopla". I got nostaligic, remembering how I used to fuss when I had to eat it and decided to give it a second chance. I was debating how to use it when I remembered a preparation that I had eaten at an aunt's house when I was a kid. It had my two least liked vegetables "pumpkin" and "cluster beans", but the taste had been amazing and I had relished it. Luckily I had a packet of frozen cluster beans in my freezer, so I decided to recreate that recipe. It came out very close to the taste I remember and I enjoyed it. I also tried out another variation of cooking just the squash by itself, but that is another post.

1 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek/methi seeds
a ping of asafoetida/hing
1/4 tsp turmeric
2-4 dry red chillies (to taste)
salt to taste
2 cups diced banana squash/laal bhopla/kaddu
1.5 cups cluster beans, cut into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (if using frozen, they are already precut)
1 tsp goda masala (optional)
1 tbsp groundnut/peanut powder
1/2 tsp sugar

Heat oil and add mustard and cumin seeds. Once they crackle, add the methi seeds and hing and red chillies. Next add the turmeric and immediately add the cluster beans. Do not let the turmeric cook in the oil for too long as it burns almost very fast. Stir and then add the diced banana squash pieces. Stir well, lower the heat and cover the pan. Let the vegetables cook till soft, stirring occasionally. Once the vegetables are cooked through, add the goda masala, salt, peanut powder and mix well. Add sugar and stir. Serve hot with chapati or roti.

If needed, you add a couple of spoons of water if the vegetables are browning too fast without getting cooked through. This is more likely to happen if you are using a steel pan versus a non-stick one. If you have a lot of banana squash, you can freeze the diced pieces in a freezer safe bag/box. If you don't have goda masala, use dhania-jeera (corriander-cumin) powder instead.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Minestrone Soup

This is a wonderful soup. My mom used to make it quite often, especially when Dad would travel. I understand beauty of this soup now that I am a Mom.  There are often times that I need to put a meal on the table which is wholesome but am too tired to make multiple dishes. By making just one dish, I am able to take care of all the nutritional facets, put something new on the table and since it is so delicious, it is a sure hit.

This soup has multiple vegetables, pasta and beans and is a complete meal by itself.  I make a large batch and enjoy it through the week. If you don't add the beans and pasta to it, then it is a very low fat (almost zero fat), high fiber, delicious snack or appetizer. Also, it is a forgiving recipe. Even if you don't have all the vegetables that the recipe calls for, as long as you have the basic carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes, you will be able to achieve the desired taste.

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 carrot, sliced
1 small onion, diced
1 celery stalk, sliced thinly
2-3 garlic cloved, finely diced or crushed
5-6 tomatoes/ 1 can of whole tomatoes - diced
a wedge of cabbage, thinly sliced (about 1/8th or less head of cabbage)
5-6 green beans, diced
1 zuccini, slit it into two lengthwise and then slice it thinly into semi circles
water/ broth
1 cup spinach leaves
1/4-1/2 cup white or cannelini beans cooked (can also use red beans)
2 cups cooked pasta (use small pasta is possible like shell or macaroni shape. In the pictures here, I used penne as that was the only pasta I had on hand)
parmesan cheese, to garnish (optional)
1 tsp Italian seasoning (optional)
salt to taste
pepper to taste

In a deep vessel (deep enough for the soup to boil in), heat the oil. Add garlic and stir for a minute or two. Once you get the aroma of the garlic, add the onions. Then add the Italian seasoning if you are using it. As they soften, add the celery and the carrots. Cook this mixture till the vegetables are slightly softened. Next add the green beans and cook for a few minutes. This is the time to add the tomatoes. If using canned ones, add the tomatoes as well as the juice they are in. (If adding fresh ones, then let the tomatoes cook through by boiling them in the water/broth.) Then add enough water or broth (about 3-5 cups) to make this into a water consistency.  The soup base is not very thick. Then add the zuccini and cook. This cooks very fast. Then add the cabbage slices.  Once these are semi cooked, add the spinach leaves.

Once all the vegetables are added, add the beans and pasta. Cook the pasta separately per directions on the packet. Add the cooked pasta to the soup. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with grated parmesan cheese.

Serve hot as a meal, a starter or an afternoon snack.

If you don't have italian seasoning, try adding just oregano and basil if possible. This makes it more flavorful. You can skip the seasoning alltogether. If you are starting with dry beans, soak them for 6-8 hours or overnight. Then either boil them till softened or pressure cook them. It is a good idea to add some salt to the beans while being cooked so that it gets absorbed in the beans and makes them flavorful. If you are using canned tomatoes, use whole tomatoes and then dice them into cubes. Whole canned tomatoes are more flavorful than diced ones. You can also add the dry pasta to the soup and boil it in the soup directly. If you are doing that, add it as soon as the broth/water is added and then add the zuccini and spinach. If you are using canned tomatoes and beans, then taste the soup before adding more salt, as canned foods already have salt added.  You can skip or do any combination of the beans, cabbage, spinach and zuccini and still get a great tasting soup.