Berry berry good - Breakfast Smoothie

So there I was standing in the kitchen on Monday night thinking about ARF friendly food for Tuesday when inspiration struck. If I am going to try to eat antioxidant-rich foods, I might as well get them in first thing in the morning.

Breakfasts usually involve pouring some cereal into a bowl. So it made a good change to have something that was made fresh, in my own kitchen, without feeling rushed. This refreshing smoothie is packed with three types of berries and makes a filling breakfast along with the usual staple of cereal or toast. To top it all, all two ingredients - blueberries and strawberries are among the top antioxidant-rich foods.
Of course the smoothie can be made with almost any fruit lying in your fridge but the berries lend a sweet-tart taste that positively kickstarts your day!


(serves 2)
1 cup strawberries, cleaned and hulled
1/4 cup blueberries
1/2 cup cold low fat milk (or your choice of milk/ yogurt)
1-2 mint leaves

Blend all ingredients till smooth. Garnish with mint and serve immediately.
See the round-up here for other healthy ideas.



What's in a name? - Rose Phirni

What's in a name?
That which we call a Phirni
By any other name would taste as sweet...
(my apologies to Shakespeare!)

I had the good fortune of growing up in quite a lot of places. Though starting from scratch in a new city seemed daunting as a child, I now appreciate how it exposed me to a variety of cultures and more importantly, cuisines!

At one time we were living in a big colony with very friendly people and I remember celebrating everything from Diwali and Onam to Eid. During Ramzaan a family living across from us would never fail to send us a bowl of Phirni.

Phirni is esentially a Middle Eastern dessert and variations can be found in Lebanese, Moroccan and Afghani cuisines. It was probably introduced to our country by the Mughals. There are quite a few versions out there as there are spellings - hence my pun on Shakespeare's famous lines.
There is Badami (with almond paste), Kesari (with saffron) and Aam (with mango pulp), but I will share with you Mrs. S' recipe for Gulabi Phirni - thanks to my mother who grabs a good recipe when she spots one!


(chilled phirni decorated with rose petals)

GULABI PHIRNI (Rose flavored rice pudding)
(serves 4)
4 tbsp Basmati rice
3/4 cup sugar (adjust to taste)
3 cups milk
2 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp gulkand (rose petal jam)
4 cardamoms, powdered
crushed almonds and pistachios for garnish

Wash and soak rice in water for 30 minutes. Grind the rice to a paste with a little water. Boil milk in a pan with cardamom powder.
When it starts boiling add rice paste and stir to avoid lumps. Stir in the sugar. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes until the milk thickens considerably (phirni is usually thick and custard-like).
Add rose water. Remove from heat and add gulkand after a few minutes. Pour into individual bowls, garnish with crushed nuts and serve chilled.

* If the gulkand has thickened, add a teaspoon of honey and microwave before adding to phirni



Sun, Sea and Fish Curry

During our annual trip to Goa, my family would wait patiently for all the religious rituals and temple visits to end so we could eat the amazing seafood that Goa is famous for.

The day went something like this - stop at a roadside shack for a quick breakfast then drive lazily along winding roads with the sea following you like a stalker (Goa forces you to do this - ie. not have an agenda. The Goans' attitude to life can be summed up by this quintessential Goan word - sossegad, which means to take it easy), chance upon a quaint eatery that smells like your mother's kitchen, place your order for fried catch of the day & fish curry, plant your wobbly plastic chair under a benevolent palm and savor every morsel.

You can take as long as you want, this is Goa after all, and time is of no concern. When utterly sated, end this sumptuous meal with kokum kadhi and force your eyes to stay open till you reach the car!

Well without further ado here is the Goan fish curry. Mind you the experience is incomplete without all the factors mentioned above, but we can try!


(adapted from 'The Essential Goa Cookbook')
(serves 2-3)
1 medium size silver pomfret (or any other firm, white fish)
1/2 medium size onion, chopped fine
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
Grind fine with a little water -
4-5 dry red Kashmiri or Bedgi chilies*
4 cloves garlic
3-4 peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 cup grated coconut, fresh or frozen

Clean and slice pomfret lengthwise. Pat dry with a kitchen towel. Apply salt and turmeric and keep aside.

Place chopped onion and ground paste in a pan. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil on low heat. Add tamarind paste and season with salt.

Finally add fish slices, bring to a second boil then simmer for a few minutes. Serve hot with rice and kokum saar or sol kadhi.

* Make this curry in the morning to serve at dinner, or even better the next day.
* It is Kashmiri chillies that give Goan curries their distinctive color and taste. They are not too pungent but impart color to the dish. Use these (or Bedgi) if possible.

Think of kokum saar as 'sol kadhi' before she gets pretty in pink!
6-7 pieces of kokum
1-2 green chillies, slit
1 large garlic clove
1-2 peppercorns
salt and jaggery to taste
finely chopped cilantro to garnish

Steep kokum in 2 cups of hot water for about twenty minutes. Add minced garlic, chillies and coarsely crushed peppercorns. Let sit for an hour. Season with salt and jaggery. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro at the time of serving.

This saar tastes best when chilled in my opinion but you could serve it at room temperature too. It goes well with non vegetarian curries or spicy dishes. (See also cilantro & tomato saars)

To make sol kadhi add a cup of coconut milk and omit jaggery. Steep the mixture for 1-2 hours so flavors blend well.



Food Trends and Shrimp Fry

I read an interesting article in the latest issue of Cooking Light, that lists the following food trends worth following -
Locally grown foods
Since produce travels 1500 miles on an average and is picked 4 to 7 days before it appears on supermarket shelves, more people are heading to farmer's markets.
Organic Food
Studies show that on an average organic produce contains 27% more vitamins, 21% more iron and 29% more magnesium as compared to traditionally grown produce. Need one say more?
Slow Food
Slow food embraces the psychological component of preparing meals and eating them - taking time to cook meals with fresh produce of the day and sharing the meal with family (Not the TV!).
Flexitarians follow a primarily vegetarian diet but occassionally obtain protein from lean meat, fish, dairy and poultry.

The article got me thinking - Indians have been following some of these trends for years. Since supermarkets are not the rage (yet) most households purchase produce from local vendors. The woman of the house then prepares the meal either by grinding/ roasting fresh spices or adding chopped vegetables/ herbs. Meals are a communal affair - always shared with family and friends. Lastly a majority of the population in India is flexitarian. Non-vegetarians follow a primarily vegetarian diet while consuming meat/ fish twice or thrice a week. Vegetarians supplement their diet with dairy products or eggs. That's not to say Indians have the best diets (we are after all shedding some of our age old traditions with ease), but we arent among the worst either.

So if you think about it, to know whats in store for the future, look back!

So on to the food. Today was a seafood day for this flexitarian. Here is a dry preparation (sukke in Konkani) of shrimp that's easy to make.


(serves 2)
1/2 pound medium size shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1 medium onion chopped fine
1/2 tomato chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp turmeric
1-2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp sambar powder (recipe below)
salt to taste
2 tbsp grated coconut
finely chopped cilantro to garnish

Apply 1 teaspoon of turmeric and the ginger-garlic paste to shrimp and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan, add onions and fry till golden. Add tomato and continue frying. Add remaining turmeric, red chilli and sambar powders and salt. Mix well. Finally add shrimp, cover and cook till shrimp is done.

Juice from the tomato will cook the shrimp but keep an eye on the pan so the onions don't stick to the bottom. If you think the liquid is not enough add a little water. When done (don't overcook shrimp as it becomes chewy) sprinkle coconut and cilantro on top. Serve hot.

* Tisrya/ Teesrya Sukke (Clams Fry) is made in the same manner. Steam clams to open shells, remove meat and use.

Konkani Sambar Masala
There is a sambar masala recipe in every Konkani household. This is my mother in law's recipe which I use in almost everything because it doesn't have whole spices like cloves or cinnamon, and the poppy seeds add a lovely flavor.

5 tbsp coriander seeds
3-4 dry red chillis
6-8 peppercorns
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp black gram (urad dal)
2 tbsp bengal gram (chana dal)
a pinch of turmeric

Dry roast dals and poppy seeds separately and keep aside. In a little coconut oil roast remaining ingredients individually (except turmeric) on moderate heat until they give off an aroma. Grind to a powder and store in an airtight container. This masala will keep indefinitely in dry condition. Use in vegetable or seafood preparations as needed.



The right start - Taushe Dhodak

Growing up, Sundays were special for two reasons - first was an elaborate breakfast and second was the non vegetarian lunch. I used to wake up to the smell of breakfast cooking and then spend almost half of the day eating, I think!

One of the really popular breakfast food was 'thalipeeth'. They are hand-rolled flat breads usually made of a combination of flours (called bhajanee) - jowar, bajra and besan with some spices thrown in for flavor. Thalipeeths are roasted with a liberal dash of ghee and served with home made butter and chutney.

In the Konkan thalipeeths are made with semolina and are called 'dodak'. The dish holds a special place in my heart as it was my favorite breakfast growing up and it was what my mother in law made on my first morning in my new home. I like to think it made the transition to a new family a little easier to see the familiar sight of a hot thalipeeth with a dollop of slowly melting butter in the center!


TAUSHE DODAK (Cucumber Pancakes)
(makes 4-5)
1/2 cucumber, peeled and grated (optional)
2 cups semolina (rawa)
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2-3 green chillies, chopped fine
1/4 cup coconut, grated
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine
salt to taste
oil for frying

Mix cucumber, onion, cilantro, chillies and coconut with the semolina. Add salt and mix into the dough. Add water to make a semi solid dough (more watery than chapati dough but not as runny as dosa batter). Don't knead too much.

Heat a non stick pan. Drizzle a teaspoon of oil over it. Take a golf ball sized dough in your hand and place it in the centre of the pan. Spread the dough into a circle using your fingers. Dip your fingers in water to help with spreading. The disc should be even and not too thick.

Spoon oil along the sides of the dodak and cover with a lid. Remove after a minute or when the top appears dry. Turn over and fry on the other side. The dodak should get a couple of brown patches. Serve with butter or chutney.

KOTHMIR CHUTNEY (Cilantro-Coconut Chutney)
2 cups cilantro
1/2 cup grated coconut
2-3 green chilles
a few slivers of raw mango or a walnut size ball of tamarind
Blend all the ingredients with a little water. Your chutney is ready!

This is my entry to Meena's FMR breakfast event.



Greek Pasta with my latest acquisition

I am always on the lookout for cool things to add to my kitchen (oh alright maybe just a tiny bit obsessed :-)) and seeing as it was on sale at an unbelievable price, I didn't think twice about buying it. It being a revolving Spice Rack - with 16 jars filled with everything from marjoram and oregano to dill weed and sea salt. So convenient for my experiments with non Indian cuisine. I couldn't wait to use the herbs so I looked for a recipe which called for some of these fragrant fellas!

The Cooking Light site had a recipe for Greek Pasta which used up the olives and goat cheese lying in the fridge as well. Win-win :-)


(recipe adapted from here)
(serves 2-3)
3/4 of a 16 oz packet of whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup chopped plum tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
4 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespooons lemon juice
5-6 pitted olives
2 tablespooons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Heat oil in a saucepan, add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, feta, tomatoes, parsley and oregano. Stir until well blended.

Add olives, season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile cook pasta in salted boiling water. When done, drain and run through cold water. Drain again and toss with the sauce. Season if required. Serve hot.

As for my herbs they didn't disappoint me; adding a lot of flavor and aroma to the pasta. Sure they don't come close to fresh but at $4 for a few wilted stalks, fresh herbs aren't always the best choice are they?
By the way dried herbs have a more intense flavor so always add a tiny bit in the beginning and adjust later.



T'is the season to repent - Tomato Saar

After the endless Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year partying, the season to be jolly is indeed over (sigh). Now is the season to look at the scale, gasp, make a new year resolution and try against all odds to keep it (I will not, positively NOT have that chocolate brownie). Sigh indeed! To pacify my guilt pangs, I decided to make a simple, healthy dinner.

Tomato Saar is my paternal grandmother's recipe (with my nod to today's need for meals in a jiffy). It is a staple of the Saraswat cuisine of Karwar - a land of gorgeous beaches, swaying coconut trees and the most delicous seafood. Karwari cuisine uniquely incorporates Southern and Western influences due to its proximity to Karnataka and Goa/ Maharashtra. This saar for instance is very similar to the rasam prepared in Southern India. There are several versions of this saar - with red gram (toor), horse gram (kulith) and even cilantro.

I make a slight variation by adding a teaspoon of peppercorns to give it a truly fiery taste. This stuff can clear you up!


TOMATO SAAR (Spicy Tomato Soup)
(serves 2)
Roast and then powder -
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 fenugreek (methi) seeds
4 peppercorns
1-2 dry red chilli
Base -
2 medium size tomatoes
1 tsp tamarind pulp
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
Tempering -
1 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
a few curry leaves
1/4 tsp asafoetida (hing)
Garnish -
chopped cilantro/ coriander leaves (optional)

Pierce the tomatoes with a fork. Put them in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 4 minutes (or drop tomatoes in boiling water and cook until skin peels).

Let cool, then peel skins and discard. Mash to a coarse puree. Add 1 1/2 cups of water (adjust to desired consistency), tamarind pulp, turmeric powder, salt and mix well.

In a pan heat oil and temper with mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Add tomato puree and saar powder. Stir. Adjust seasoning.

Garnish with cilantro and serve hot with steamed rice and upkari.

* Other saars - cilantro and kokum

Tags: saaru rasam methi seeds indian soup

Food ambassadors - Lo- cal Palak Paneer

If ever a cuisine had brand ambassadors, internationally Indian cuisine would be represented by palak paneer to vegeterians and by tandoori chicken to non-vegeterians (with chicken tikka masala coming in a close second)! Ubiquitous in all Indian restaurants, they are essentially the dishes of the North. In our home spinach was generally used in a dal; it is only when we moved next door to a family from Punjab that dishes such as palak paneer and gobi parathas began making an appearance on our table.

I like the dish well enough but the heavy cream or cashew base used in most recipes is not friendly on the waist. I came across this recipe in one of Tarla Dalal's books. When I tried it for the first time I quite liked the end result, there was very little use of oil, no use of cream yet the dish was delicious. Since then it has become a standard weekday dinner in my home, because it also takes very little time to cook. This time I added some corn that I had lying around in my freezer too.


(spinach with cottage cheese and corn)
4 cups baby spinach, washed and chopped (baby spinach works better in this dish)
1/2 cup paneer cut into cubes (preferably made from skim milk)
1/2 cup onion chopped
a handful of corn (optional)
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 green chillies chopped
1 tsp coriander powder
1/ 4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
2-3 tsp oil

Place chopped spinach in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 4 minutes or until spinach changes color.
Drop spinach in hot water until it wilts.

Pulse it lightly in a blender. Don't make a very smooth paste. Keep aside.
Heat about two teaspoons of oil. Add onion and saute until it turns translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste and chillies and saute till onion becomes limp. Add spinach puree, coriander, turmeric and garam masala powders. Stir well.
Season and remove from heat.
Add paneer cubes and corn. Serve hot.

My tip - If you want a creamier taste without the cream, crush a couple of paneer cubes and add to the gravy.