Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Salads, Bowls and Books

Many of our everyday meals these days are less about cooking one big dish and more about assembly. There's definitely cooking involved- of beans and grains and eggs, and roasting of vegetables and baking of tofu, and chopping, lots and lots of chopping and grating of raw veggies, and blending of quick sauces and dressings. But all that prep work pays off when you can then mix and match ingredients to make custom bowls for several meals. It is also a rather nice way to feed a family with young kids; they get to pick and choose the components they want to eat. This post has a few examples of what I have been making.

To flavor these bowls, I have a good selection of condiments on hand. The latest addition to the condiment shelf is called laoganma spicy chili crisp that I discovered via this article on Serious Eats. The article describes it quite accurately as spicy, salty, crunchy, tingly, and good on everything, and provides a DIY version. I found a bottle quite easily in my local Asian store- the same bottle with the somber looking lady on the label (she created and marketed this sauce)- and oh my, it has been a grand discovery for adding "that Chinese restaurant flavor" to my homemade meals.

This is a bowl with cooked rice and roasted vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, peppers, broccoli), topped with the aforementioned spicy chili crisp sauce, crushed peanuts, soyaki sauce from Trader Joe's (a blend of teriyaki and soy), a fried egg and a scattering of minced scallions.

Next up, a salad mix (spring greens mix, shredded carrot, strips of red pepper) topped with (same combo as above) spicy chili crisp sauce, soyaki sauce and crushed peanuts, and sriracha baked tofu slices

As an aside, the plates in this post are a very special gift. My friend C in St. Louis is an architect turned ceramic artist, gearing up to launch her own pottery studio. When we saw each other last month, she presented me with a set of 4 dinner plates and 4 salad plates that she made herself. They are so beautiful. And they go in the dishwasher! 

Another new flavorful addition of the condiment variety- to my fridge this time- is Trader Joe's zhoug sauce. It is a dhania (cilantro) chutney, basically, but the Yemeni version of it. It is surprisingly spicy with a hint of cardamom, cardamom being something I've never thought to add to my homemade chutneys but I love it. I mix it up with some homemade yogurt to make an instant sauce.

Here is the zhoug yogurt sauce atop arugula, pickled carrots and chickpeas. As an example of the kind of recycling I do for these meals- we had some cauliflower potato dosa filling left over from Sunday brunch. That got patted onto bread and grilled to make "samosa toasts" to be served with the salad.

The chickpea arugula salad again, in lunchbox form.
The pickled carrots are a quick recipe that you will find buried somewhere in this post. They are a wonderful addition to salads.

One final salad on top of a salad- bed of mixed greens topped with roasted veggies and fake chickn strips, a cucumber avocado salad (yogurt, tiny bit of mayo, lemon juice, diced avocado and cucumbers, salt and pepper), with a handful of tortilla chips on the side.

* * * BOOK REPORT***

I've been exploring some of the tasks on the 2019 Read Harder challenge. Just like last year, it is brought some new and interesting reads into my radar. For Task 21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator, I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. In this graphic memoir, the author/illustrator traces her complicated and uneasy relationship with her father. Bechdel's father was difficult and fascinating- he did a stint in the military, was a high school English teacher, ran a funeral home and was remodeling a mansion. All this, and he barely lived into his 40s.

I admit it, graphic memoirs are like Pringles and you can't just read one. For Task 4. A humor book, I read another graphic memoir- Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast, a warm and hilarious love letter to the city where Chast grew up. I was lucky enough to live in NYC for over five years and this book made me laugh and made me nostalgic. “Manhattan is a narrow island surrounded by various miscellaneous items.” 

Task 19. A book of nonviolent true crime ended up being a riveting read, a true page-turner. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou is a case study of corporate fraud and tells the story of Theranos, the biomedical start-up launched by an ambitious young college drop-out, Elizabeth Holmes. I first read about Theranos in this New Yorker profile, and I remember being very intrigued at the idea of the technology to do dozens of blood tests on a single drop of blood from a finger prick. But it was never explained how they were able to do this. Diagnosing diseases in humans is very different from making consumer electronics- there's a great deal of validation required, and comparison to existing tests and such. Where was the data? Theranos sounded unbelievable and too good to be true. Turns out, it was, and Carreyou describes just how fraudulent this whole business turned out to be. The whole story is really mind-boggling and very much worth a read, especially if you are interested in biomedical stuff.

Task 1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters was Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Written in 1912, it tells the story of a plucky orphan girl who is given a chance to go to college by a mysterious benefactor, on the condition that she write him regular letters about her educational progress. It is a gentle and enjoyable read.

For Task 22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009, I read Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. What a story this is. I dare you not to cry while reading this simple picture book. A child named Emmanuel is born with only one leg in Ghana, grows up in a very tough situation and nevertheless, learns to ride a bicycle and rides across Ghana, raising awareness for disabled people everywhere. My kid refused to believe that this story was true. That's the whole point, I told her, that humans are capable of doing things that sound literally impossible. Our kids need more of these stories, showing how real people have turned differences and challenges into opportunities.

One of the tasks in the Read Harder challenge is a cozy mystery and I'm quite a fan of that genre. However, in my search for good cozy mystery series that are new to me, I've had no luck so far. The first one I tried was Pekoe Most Poison (A Tea Shop Mystery #18) by Laura Childs. Theodosia Browning runs a tea shop and solves crime. I was taken aback by how casually Theodosia accuses people of murder with no shred of evidence. Not a series I'm likely to get into. Next up was A Spoonful of Poison (Agatha Raisin #19) by M.C. Beaton. I didn't like the main character and quit the book. Ditto for A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates #1) by Shamini Flint.

Next came A Morbid Taste for Bones (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters. Brother Cadfael (a medieval crime solving monk) really is very likeable- wise and full of good humor. The book was slow and I wasn't in the mood for it, but I have a feeling I will come back to this series.

I did read another book in a series I am familiar with- A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise Penny and it was a cozy and satisfying read.

Coming to the last book I read in the first quarter of 2019, it was The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat by Stephan Guyenet. This is a thoroughly researched and engagingly written book getting to the question of why, living in bodies that have evolved exquisite homeostasis, do modern humans often eat more than they should. My notes are here on Goodreads if you want a quick summary of this book.

* * * 
I can't resist sharing this bit of schoolwork that my first grader brought home last week. Her class has been working on persuasive writing, learning how to use words to make logical arguments. This assignment was something along the lines of having to name their favorite breakfast and convince the reader about why it is the best breakfast. So here's some food writing from a 7 year old...(the original has charming spellings as you can see in the pic).

"Your mouth waters as your mom cracks a egg over the pan. That's a sunny side up. Sunny side ups are the best type of egg ever. First, they taste good with bread. Second, the bread soaks up the yolk and drizzles out when you bite it like a sponge. So sunny side ups are the best egg. (Scrambled eggs are my second favorite)."

Are you convinced yet?

Tell me what you've been eating and cooking and reading! Also what is your favorite breakfast and why is it the best? :)


  1. I like your comparmentalised approach to cooking (not meaning this in a bad way but I think having bits and pieces you can mix and match can work brilliantly). I have often been making a big stew to last days because I have been busy but with the holidays it has been hit and miss whether we are really lazy or putting more effort into dinner.

    I was going to suggest the louise penny series - it is such a cosy series with the friends in 3 pines. I have been reading a few books by an Australian called Angela Savage who writes mysteries with an australian detective set in Thailand and I have been enjoying these - they are not cosy but are interesting how they look at issues in Thailand. I've never heard of graphic memoirs but they sound interesting.

    And love that piece of writing. Also find it interesting that your kid finds unlikely stories sound impossible. I think I was a bit like that when I was younger in that I found other people who had such different lives to mine seemed really weird and unlikely.

    1. Hi Johanna- Yes, the "big pot of something" and "bits and bobs to mix and match" are both strategies that I frequently use! I do like the Three Pines books and should read the ones I haven't yet. You will love graphic memoirs- and they are quick reads which is nice when you want to read something meaningful but don't have a lot of time.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your 7 year olds post. She is so articulate for a 7 year old. She could convince anyone :) So good to see you posting more often. Looking forward to trying the two sauces and salads. Please do post some quinoa and bowl recipies if possible.

    1. Hi Roshni- Thanks! It is good to post again, I have to keep up the momentum or then it drops off to nothing. All my bowls have a similar formula- sometimes grain (including quinoa on occasion), cooked and raw veggies, something hearty like eggs, tofu or beans and some sauce or dressing. I'll post more ideas as I make them.

  3. The bowls look delish! I'm going to look for that chili crunch at our local Asian store. I wish we had a Trader Joe's close by, have heard good things about that zhoug sauce.
    I had set a goal of reading 24 books this year and I'm already at 14! Sorry about the brag but, I'm quite ecstatic about it. Here's are my reads from the Read Harder Challenge:
    Epistolary novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    An alternate History Novel: The Underground Railroad
    Book by woman and/AOC that won an award in 2018:: The Hate U Give
    A Humor Book: Look Alive Out There
    A cozy mystery: Among the Mad from the Maisie Dobbs series
    Book of nonviolent true crime: The Feather Thief
    I listened to the podcast The Dropout based on the Bad Blood book so, didn't feel like the reading the book after that.

    I'm following you on Goodreads, I enjoy reading your reviews.
    I'm now trying to finish the Harry Potter series before my daughter and I watch the play on Broadway on our big birthday trip to NYC. She has already finished reading them. I just started book 2, have to finish a book per week to catch up. Wish me luck!


    1. Anu- Thanks for the nice note! Trader Joe's does have some things that make it very easy to put together everyday meals- I know I sound like a fangirl.

      I love your reading list! Do you recommend The Underground Railroad and The Hate U Give? I am considering those for those tasks. Maisie Dobbs is a gem and I should go back to it.

      Hurray for your big exciting birthday trip and I hope it is a blast!! You will be pottered out at the rate of 1 book per week. Come back and tell us how the play was.

    2. I definitely recommend both books.


  4. Nupur, you are such an inspiration. Those bowls look great and are nutritionally well-balanced. They motivate me to try similar meals.

    I love lao gan ma! It does have lots of MSG, though.. some people may want to avoid it because of that.

    Your kid's write-up is adorable. She has lovely handwriting!

    1. Thanks Inji! Please do try the bowls, and they are just examples. These bowls work with all sorts of combinations of your favorite ingredients. Yup, there is plenty of MSG in lao gan ma, which does not bother me but I know some won't like it.

  5. After reading your post, I asked my 5 year old what his favorite breakfast was and to convince me it was the best and he said: "I like scrambled eggs. My breakfast, my wish". lol. But seriously, Lila's writing made sunny side sound so delish, and I dont even eat eggs. So kudos to her!
    Salads are common in our house. And my son too loves mixing and matching his salad ingredients. great way to involve kids into eating their raw greens and letting them make choices on what goes into it. I picked up silence by thich nhat hanh at the airport recently. Great read so far!

    1. Neha- Hey, it is a free country so your boy can certainly enjoy his scrambled eggs. LOL. I agree that scrambled eggs are awesome, especially in the spicy bhurji style. My kids enjoy mixing salads (and especially spinning salad greens) more than actually eating them but hey, it's a start.

  6. Hi Nupur .loved the idea of bowls. I went to a nearby city to get the chilli crisp. Was so happy when i found it. Cant wait to use it. Lila's write up is so nice :-)

    1. Kejal- You actually had to go to another city to find the chilli crisp?? Well I sure hope the taste is worth it! Lila says thanks :)

    2. Well here in Netherlanda the other city is only 40 mins away :-). I couldnt find an authentic oriental shop closeby. I made mushroom fried rice the same day and added chili crisp. Loved it :-) thanks!!

  7. I always enjoy reading your post and sometimes I follow it through like actually trying a new recipe.:))

    This summer, I plan to go lighter in eating and this post will help me in prepping.

    Your 7 year old is so precise in writing and it amazes with the clarity she has in her thoughts.

    One question:How do you manage to read books with so much going on? Is there a pattern you follow ? Honestly, I have all the intentions but never happens. Though, I love to read short books.


    1. Thanks Teju! Yes, I always joke that my kid is headed for law school because she comes up with impeccable arguments and logic to get her way :)

      About books- I have long accepted that I NEED books to be happy. I need to be reading on a regular basis or I get grumpy and out of sorts. Everyone likely has things that they need, that are not just hobbies. Could be music for some, or prayer. I can think of a couple of friends who need to exercise every day or they get terribly unhappy. So books are that thing for me. I always find time to read because it is a strong priority for me. Typically, I read for 30 minutes before bed as a regular habit. But I will read at other times of the day when I get a few minutes here and there and it all adds up to dozens of books every year.

      My one suggestion to you is to think of your day, and think of 15-30 minutes when you generally have quiet time (before bed, or during your lunch break or when you're enjoying your morning cuppa) and make that your daily reading habit.

  8. Hi Nupur,
    So lovely to read about Lila's favorite breakfast and all the amazing things you are making and reading. You have always been so generous about sharing all the good things in your life. A big bear hug to you!! I have been away long enough for you to forget me :-) I am checking in after a long long time. Life took a complete turn few years back when we moved to Pune. I am a full time home baker now pursuing my dream of making cakes day and night!:-) I hope to meet you some day till then I will keep checking in :-) I still don't have a blog but you can see samples of my work @blueridge.cloud9 on Insta and FB. You don't have to have an account to check it as it's a public page. :-)

    1. Dear Priti- I haven't forgotten you at all and have wondered how you were! Not a bit surprised to know that you are baking professionally now. I remember seeing pics of your cakes several years ago and they were incredible. I just checked your instagram and wow, you have found a niche :)

  9. And here's some of my answers to your questions:
    Favorite breakfast: since we have moved to India and it's bhajani Cha Thalipeeth. I make it almost everyday as it's practically instant and I get really good locally made bhajani.

    2) Eating: Eating all kinds of Indian food :-)

    3) Cooking: Today I made a pulao with Thai green curry paste and a bit of cream (didn't have coconut milk) that I really loved!

    4) Reading: These days I am more into listening (to podcasts) than reading. I listen to them on Saavn or IVM app. Lots of fun and informative podcasts that keep me company while I work on the cakes. :-)

    I guess I am back to posting long comments on your blog. :-))

    1. Welcome back, you have been missed! How wonderful that you are enjoying bhajani. Nothing like it. I can see how podcasts would go very well with long days as a baker! Good luck with your new venture and I'll have to mention your business to people in Pune.

  10. What a coincidence...I made zhoug or shug this a.m and I came here to find it. There's a restaurant in Toronto ( Google fat pasha whole roasted cauliflower) that makes this amazing whole roasted cauliflower which uses the zhoug sauce. Since I no longer live there sigh I've recreated it at home to good effect and this is sauce is often a staple.

    Note to Lila: that was mouthwatering even though I don't eat eggs. Clearly you have a gift! A great way with words and a passion for delicious things like your mom. Keep it up :)


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