Friday, March 28, 2008

Sweet and Salubrious

Back to breakfast! All the new-and-improved breakfast treats I tried so far this month have been savory, in a frank display of my personal preferences. But every once in a while, I do crave a little sweet something to go along with my morning chai.

Today's whole-grain tweak: Using whole-wheat pastry flour and almond meal for baked goodies. Whole-wheat pastry four is a low-gluten flour of finely milled whole wheat. I started using it only this month, and am I loving it! It is the perfect substitute for all-purpose flour in a variety of popular breakfast foods like pancakes, coffee cake, biscotti and muffins. Apparently, it works even in a decadent chocolate cake!

Almond meal is nothing but almonds that are ground to a flour. I got mine at Trader Joe's, but of course it can be made it home by simply blitzing down almonds to a fine powder. Nut flours can go real rancid real fast, so I store it in the refrigerator. Almond meal is becoming more commonly available because it is a useful flour replacer for those who are on a low-carb or gluten-free diet. Almond meal can be creatively used in all kinds of sweet treats like apple crisp, cherry clafoutis, lemon ricotta-almond cake and also in savory recipes like Kalyn's breakfast muffins.

In a bid to use up some buttermilk left over from this recipe, I used the proportions given in this Vegetarian Times recipe to come up with a simple pear and almond loaf. Grated pears add a beautiful moist and sweet touch to this cake.

Pear Almond Loaf


1 ½ firm medium Pears
1 T Lemon juice

2 large Eggs
½ C Sugar

Dry Ingredients (mix together)
1 ½ Whole-wheat pastry flour
¾ C Almond meal
1 ½ t Baking powder
½ t Baking soda

Wet Ingredients (mix together)
¾ C low-fat cultured Buttermilk
2 T Applesauce
2 T Oil
1 t Vanilla extract (or almond extract)

Almond slivers for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and grease/spray a loaf pan.
2. Coarsely grate the pears (you need about 1 cup), add the lemon juice and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar for several minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
4. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, a third of each at a time, into the egg-sugar mixture and mix gently.
5. Press the extra liquid out of the grated pears and stir them into the batter.
6. Pour batter into the loaf pan evenly. Sprinkle with slivered almonds. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden and an inserted toothpick comes clean. Let it cool before slicing.

Verdict: What a spongy and delicious loaf this is! The rich almond flavor was unmistakable. The loaf rose just beautifully and I got that coveted crease on top. The almond slivers did add a pretty touch and a great crunch to the loaf (IMHO) but they sure made it a challenge to cut neat slices. I found it easier to turn the loaf on its side and cut that way. Cut into thin slices or thick wedges, this is a great loaf to pack into a lunch-box or take along on a picnic, or to serve with your favorite beverage. Instead of pears, other fruits like apple or ripe banana would work just as well, as would chopped dried fruits like dates or figs.

This post is making its way to Raaga's blog, where pears are being celebrated as the fruit of the month!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Keen-on-Keen-wah Soup

The busy times are rolling again, but I just could not resist writing this quick post. This has got be the easiest soup I have ever made in my whole life: place stuff in the pressure cooker, let it hiss and whistle, open the cooker and eat. The hearty taste of quinoa, corn, carrots and onions gets a flavorful kick with the addition of some chipotle chillies in adobo sauce.

I bought a can of these chipotle chillies for under a dollar for this recipe several months ago, and placed the contents in a reused glass jar in the fridge. I use spoonfuls of it here and there with great results each time, and I have to say that it has been one of the most cost-effective ingredients I have ever purchased. Total paisa vasool (got my money's worth), as we say!

Corn Quinoa Chipotle Soup

(Inspired by Lisa's quinoa soup; makes 4 hearty servings)
4 C vegetable stock/water/combination of the two
1 onion, cut in small dice
1 carrot, cut in small dice
1 C corn kernels (fresh/frozen/canned)
0.5 C quinoa
2 t minced chipotle chillies + adobo sauce (or to taste)
salt to taste
fresh lemon/lime juice
Place all of the ingredients (except the lime juice) in the pressure cooker. Whether you need to add salt at all depends on how salty the vegetable stock is. Pressure cook (for approximately the time needed to cook white rice in your cooker). Stir in fresh lemon or lime juice into the soup and serve hot. Tortilla chips make a superb accompaniment!

By the way, if you don't have a pressure cooker, I don't see any reason why this recipe would not work on the stove-top. The reason I chose to use a pressure cooker is to save time and fuel and because this method needs no supervision- fill up the pressure cooker, turn on the stove and go find something else to do. The cooker will whistle loudly to remind you to turn it off.

Verdict: This is one delicious soup! It has no added fat, and packs a nutritional punch. It reminds me more of spicy Chinese corn soups than anything else. Next time, I will try a version with soy sauce and vinegar. One could play around endlessly with this soup, with any combination of spicy and tangy flavorings.

Another quick chipotle recipe: Stir a tablespoon or so of minced chipotle chillies in adobo sauce into 1 cup thick yogurt (low-fat yogurt placed in a strainer/cheesecloth for a couple of hours to allow the whey to drain out). Add salt to taste and some minced cilantro or minced green onions if you have any on hand. This makes a great dip for crudites or tortilla chips. We use it as a decadent condiment on bean burritos. All the panache of sour cream without tons of calories.

Have a good week. Posting might be slower from now on :) or perhaps I will write some short and sweet posts instead of the usual kahaniyan (stories)!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Brunching, Munching

The quest for whole-grain breakfasts continues as I travel around the blogs learning some new recipes, tips and tricks.

First stop- Tasty Palettes: Quinoa Upma

It took a long time for quinoa to become part of my pantry for the simple reason that it takes me some effort to make space for new foods! Going by the old saying, "When in doubt, make upma", I followed Suganya's recipe to the T. Again, I can't let my breakfasts get too healthy, can I? So I balanced the utterly nutritious upma with some spicy mixture on the side. Quinoa has a wonderful flavor; to me it tastes more like corn than anything else. It would be just wonderful in a soup, like in this recipe, or in a salad or these croquettes. If you have tried and liked quinoa, would you care to tell me your favorite way to cook it?

Second stop- Holy Cow: Golden Delicious Adai

Vaishali, you had me at "golden"! Again, I used brown rice for this recipe but otherwise followed it closely. A couple of hours of soaking the dals and rice, and then I used the food processor to grind the batter for this adai, which made it very easy to blitz some cabbage leaves, ginger and curry leaves into the batter in the last few seconds of grinding. This nutritious adai made for a quick and light supper. Guess who loved this adai and kept begging for more? Dale, that's who! He seems to have guessed that the recipe came from the kind, animal-loving Vaishali.

Third stop- Mane Adige: Oil/Butter/Ghee-Free Aloo Paratha

Most paratha recipes call for a good amount of fat in the dough and for cooking the paratha on a griddle; this Sanjeev Kapoor recipe adds a bit of milk and yogurt to the dough and makes it possible to cook the parathas with no more fat at all. I made the dough as directed, and used low-fat versions of both milk and yogurt. This time around, I used lightly spiced purple potatoes for the filling.

While the purple potato parathas looked pretty enough, it was not such a great idea after all! I found that purple potatoes are quite mealy and I did not really like the way they tasted in the paratha (too powdery, somehow). I will sticky to waxy potatoes for paratha filling in the future.

But the exciting thing is that the oil-free business works like a charm. I used the rest of the dough to make plain phulkas- they browned beautifully without a drop of oil, and puffed up on the cast-iron skillet with no coaxing at all. This one stayed puffy for several minutes while I abandoned it to go find the camera and record it for posterity!

And for dessert- Jugalbandi: Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cake

Their post made me weak in the knees and I became quite obsessed with trying out this recipe. Finally, on Monday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn and starting pulling out baking ingredients from the shelves like a woman possessed. Baking (and eating) chocolate cake on a Monday morning- am I living on the edge or what? :D
It is a wonderful recipe, and I finally got to use my stash of whole-wheat pastry flour. The frosting is to die for! I had two minor gripes with the way I made this cake (I made a 8x8 sheet cake instead of cupcakes). First, I think using the apple cider vinegar that I used had too strong a taste of its own, because I could taste it faintly in the batter. Next time, I will use white vinegar instead. Also, I over-baked the cake just a tad, and it became quite crumbly as a result. But all in all, this recipe is a keeper.

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Dale is almost back to his normal energetic self these days. I never thought I would be so happy and relieved about being dragged unceremoniously through the neighborhood again. The first item on his agenda every day: a visit to his buddy Tony, who runs the newspaper stand on the corner. Tony has a big heart and a deep love for the four-legged denizens of the neighborhood, and the dogs love him right back. Dale has this hilarious habit of jumping up at the counter to say hello to Tony...

...and he proceeds to beg for demand treats. Tony keeps a few different kinds of treats at hand, and Dale is not shy about pointing (I kid you not) to the fanciest ones!

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I'll leave you with a feast for the eyes: A beautiful photo-essay from A Life (Time) of Cooking, on eating off banana leaves in India.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cara's Buttermilk Bread

Another edition of Myamii's Taste and Create is upon us. The premise of this event is that she randomly pairs up the participating bloggers, and they taste-test one recipe from each other's blog. It is so much fun to scroll through a blog and look for something delicious to recreate.
This month, the luck of the draw paired me up with a blog that is new to me: Cara's Cravings. This cheerful blog has a little bit of everything. Cara has interesting categories like Less-Guilt Desserts (we could all use a few more of those!) and Stuff I Really Should Not Be Eating (we all do our own guilty pleasures, don't we?)

After a great deal of clicking and scrolling and book-marking, I settled on a recipe for Whole Wheat Honey Buttermilk Bread, which in turn is Cara's take on a Honey Buttermilk Bread from Baking Bites. I always enjoy trying new bread recipes, and I was excited to try this one because it would be my first buttermilk bread and the first that is made in a loaf pan. Besides, this fits in nicely with my theme this month of trying more whole-grain breakfast foods.

Today's Whole-Grain Tweak: Whole Wheat Bread. I tweaked Cara's recipe by making it 100% whole-wheat. A potential problem with all-whole-wheat breads can be that they don't rise as well as ones made with all-purpose flour or bread flour. To try and make a lighter loaf, I added vital wheat gluten to the bread. Wheat gluten is available as a packaged powder in health food stores and places like Whole Foods. For more information about using gluten in whole grain breads, please take a look at these posts.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

(Source: this recipe on "Cara's Cravings")
Sift together in a large bowl
4 C white whole-wheat flour
1 T vital wheat gluten
1 t fine salt
Mix together in a small bowl
1 t yeast
pinch of sugar
1/4 C warm (not hot!) water
Mix together in a medium bowl
1.5 C low-fat cultured buttermilk (warmed)
2 T honey
1. Let the yeast bloom in the warm water for 5-10 minutes.
2. Stir the yeast mixture into the buttermilk mixture.
3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients gently, stirring with a wooden spoon. Knead everything together into a supple dough (takes about 10 minutes of vigorous kneading).
4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours, until doubled in volume.
5. Knead the dough gently, fold into a rectangular loaf and place seam-side down in an oiled standard loaf pan.
6. Cover and let the dough rise for another 45 minutes or so. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F.
7. Brush the top of the loaf with beaten egg (optional) and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
8. Let it cool on a rack before slicing.

Here is the loaf, fresh from the oven:
V took one look at it and said, "Wow, that looks like it has come from a factory". I was perplexed by that statement. I mean, I want to make bread that looks like it came from a *bakery*, not a factory! Poor guy, he explained that he meant that it looks so "perfect" (which has more to do with the loaf pan that my own skills, but I am happy anyway).

For ideas for sandwich stuffings, I turned to the ever-creative Musical, who is known for filling sandwiches with anything from beans palya to an eggplant-mushroom stir fry. For this lovely loaf, I chose this delicious chard-mushroom stir-fry). Now that's what I call a sandwich!

The magical addition to this simple chard-mushroom stir-fry is the Kerala-style garam masala that is added at the end of cooking. Musical divulges the secret formula for this masala in the ingredients section. I can tell you that it is a very special spice blend indeed. A few days ago, Musical surprised me with a goody bag filled with the most incredible foodie gifts and this Kerala-style garam masala was one of them. We fell in love with it right away. I have used this spice mixture in a simple egg and mushroom curry (we licked the saucepan clean) and a pulao of corn and fresh methi leaves (cooked in a little bit of coconut milk). It is heady stuff!

Cara made Spicy Cauliflower Soup from One Hot Stove. Many thanks to Myamii for hosting this enjoyable event.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pseudo Panha

Dear Winter,
How can I miss you if you never go away?

But I should not fret too much. This being St. Louis, the lingering chills of late winter will turn into the sweltering heat of summer soon enough. And this time, I shall be prepared with a tall jug of rejuvenating panha in the fridge. The traditional version of this drink calls for raw mangoes, but what I tried making today is a very clever and innovative version that uses applesauce, a creative recipe shared by The Cooker. In North America, the odds of finding a 20$ bill on the sidewalk are far better than the odds of finding a decent kairi (raw mango), so coming upon this recipe was a very lucky thing.

Applesauce, which is nothing but stewed, mashed apples, is ubiquitously available in the US. If you use store-bought applesauce, just check the label to make sure there is no added sugar or other additives. The one I used has only one ingredient (apples). Applesauce is easy to make at home; see recipes here, here and here. For this panha, I would make plain applesauce without any added spices.

My slight tweak to the recipe: I used agave nectar as the sweetener instead of sugar. Agave nectar is a newfangled product of the ancient agave plant, the same succulent that gives us tequila. I have started using agave nectar as a sweetener for beverages like tea (and this panha) because it dissolves really well, and has a lower glycemic index than sugar. It is more expensive than regular sugar, but I am quite happy to pay a little extra for something that I use very little of in the first place. Of course, in this recipe, one could use any sweetener at all. In fact, next time I will try using jaggery, the way I make the traditional version of panha.

Applesauce Panha

(Makes about 3 servings; adapted from The Cooker)
1 C plain applesauce
2 C filtered water
hefty pinch of salt
2 t lemon juice (or to taste)
2 t agave nectar (or to taste)
1/2 t cardamom powder

1. In a small saucepan, cook the applesauce on low heat for 10 minutes or so.
2. Let it cool down for 30-60 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and taste. Adjust the flavors if necessary to get the right balance of salty-tangy-sweet.
4. Serve chilled!

There is nothing "pseudo" about this taste of this panha: it is utterly refreshing and startling similar to the real thing. I poured myself a glass of applesauce panha when I got back from the gym, all thirsty and exhausted. Every gulp was oh-so-sweet and restorative. Thank you, Ms. Cooker.

This post goes to Coffee's popular Monthly Blog Patrol hosted this month by our favorite mixologist Sig with the theme (surprise, surprise): Mixed Drinks! Cheers!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Idli Dosa Love

I am big on breakfasts, and strongly believe in equal opportunity for breakfast foods- so you will often catch me serving them for lunch, tea and dinner as well. This month (or what's left of it), I decided to give some thought to including more whole grains into breakfast. I do love my so-not-whole-grain poha, sabudana, rava dosa and baguettes, but let me add some whole grains to my repertoire too.

Today's whole-grain tweak: Brown rice in idlis and dosas. The idli-dosa family of breakfast foods has got to be one of the most strongest contenders in the "nutritious meets delicious" department. There is something about the whole ritual of soaking rice and lentils, grinding them, fermenting the batter and churning out fluffy idlis and crispy dosas that is just very fulfilling. Makes me feel like a real proper cook :D

Until a month or two ago, the biggest challenge for me was the grinding of the batter; I had to manage with my KitchenAid food processor. Just for the record, the food processor was able to gring soaked rice and urad dal (separately) quite well, but was an utter failure when it came to grinding soaked parboiled rice. I would bite my lip nervously every time I made batter wondering if today was the day when my delicate machine would decide that it was not built for such arduous tasks and die on me. The best way to grind these batters at home is to buy one of those heavy-duty wet grinders (developed and manufactured in India) that are uniquely designed for this purpose. But you know what- they are quite expensive and I was quite sure that one was never going to fit into my budget at this time. Then I got one of these wet grinders as a gift! V's cousin bought a newer, smaller version and generously let me have her wet grinder. This is one impressive machine. A huge metal drum with a stone floor holds two huge grinding stones (scroll down in that link to take a look at them). Start the heavy-duty motor, and even the most unyielding dal and rice is churned into a buttery paste.

One of the first recipes I tried in the wet grinder was Jugalbandi's Whole-Grain Idlis. Yes, I finally have some gorgeous rosematta rice in my pantry.

Some time ago, I whined in a post about not being able to find rosematta rice around here. Two kind souls responded: my friend Madhu came over with rosematta rice for me to try and the one and only Linda mailed me a beautiful glass jar of rosematta from far, far away! Now this is when you soberly realize what a lucky girl you are- when even your petulant whining leads kind friends to help you.

I followed Bee and Jai's recipe except that I skipped the 2 T of cooked rice/poha/soaked bread. I like this recipe because (a) it combines brown rice and parboiled rice (the latter, although not technically a whole grain, does retain a great many of its nutrients, if I understand correctly), (b) makes a small batch of 12-15 idlis which is nice because most idli recipes are designed to make enough idlis to feed a small village, (c) includes a tip for soaking the rice and lentils in filtered water and not chlorinated tap water (I never thought of that!).

The batter fermented beautifully without the need for any interventions such as the surreptitious addition of fruit salt :D. I am lucky in that respect; fermentation has never been a problem in my present kitchen. Still, whenever I ferment something overnight, I do tend to worry about it and obsess over it. The first thought as I cross the hazy land of half-sleep is, did the batter ferment? It is enough to jerk me wide awake and get me to stumble in the darkness to the kitchen and check on the bowl of batter. A whiff of the sweet-sour aroma of fermented batter and a look at the bubbling mass in the half-light, and I am able to heave a sigh of relief.

Here are the idlis, served with huli (now updated with a link to Latha's secret family recipe for vibrant huli powder). See all those holes that the yeasty beasties so obligingly made?

And if steamed whole-grain idlis feel a little too healthy, you can always find creative ways to convert them into a guilty pleasure. Exhibit A: fried idli. Idlis cut into 4-5 slices, then fried in a T or so of oil until crispy.

Now that I have the wet grinder, I am like a kid with her new toy- can't stop playing with it. Here's another recipe I tried: Ashwini's Mushti Polo. Her engaging write-up tells us the origin of the name of this dosa. Adding poha (flattened rice flakes) to dosa is something new to me. I did follow the recipe exactly, except to use 1 C brown rice and 1 C white rice in place of 2 C white rice. I figured, with the white poha being refined, I would add some brown rice and split the difference in terms of whole grains. It has worked beautifully for me every time I sub brown rice for white rice in a dosa recipe. Next time, I will try all brown rice in this recipe.

The poha really helps the fermentation along, and this was the laciest and airiest dosa I have ever made in my life. It was great in the lunch-box too! I served this with pearl-onion sambar and parsley chutney (the normal coconut-cilantro-green chillies chutney but using parsley instead of cilantro because it was what I had on hand).

Poha dosas are very popular in the food blog world:
Sharmi's Atukula Attlu looks incredibly spongy and uses sour yogurt or buttermilk to help the fermentation along.
Shilpa prefers to call her poha dosa Masti Dosa- that's how much fun it is to make and eat!
Namratha's Set Dosa comes with a great story of how that name came about.

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Mandira, the talented blogger over at Ahaar, just wrote a cover story for Khabar, monthly Indian-American magazine published from Atlanta. Click to read the story, "The Call of the Kitchen". Congratulations on a beautiful article, Mandira. She was kind enough to interview me for it, although I am well aware that I absolutely do not belong in the list of accomplished cooks and writers featured there.

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Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and wishes for our puppy. We love this dog something awful and you have no idea how grateful I am for the wishes he gets from folks near and far.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I know...I know, it has been nearly a month since my last post. It has been one of those crazy months when life just came at me at top speed and blogging was the first thing to be crossed off the list temporarily.

Our Dale bhu-bhu began showing some strange symptoms a couple of weeks ago. Since he is 9 years old now (quite possibly even older), we are realistic enough to expect some age-related health issues. Well, the poor puppy endured a fair bit of poking and prodding in his usual peaceful and stoic manner as his vet tried to diagnose what the heck is going on, and it turns out that he has a hormonal disorder called Addison's disease. We are taking it one day at a time and hoping he responds to the hormone replacement. By all accounts, this is something that can be managed so we are quite optimistic about Dale's health.

I'll be back with a real post in a couple of days. Meanwhile, here are my Daily Tiffin columns:
February: Dear Food Diary
March: Cutting-Edge Safety

Also, here is a look at what The Cooker and Mandira cooked up with their arusuvai surprises.

And to two sweet bloggers, Arundati and Seema, thank you for for sharing the "Nice Matters" award with cheered me up during this rather stressful month!