Laguna Beach and a Date Shake

It all started when I caught the tail end of a show on Food Network last week. The host (I think her name was Rachel but I can't be sure :-), went eating around Laguna Beach for under $40. All I saw of this sojourn was her check for the day - enchilada, blah, blah, DATE SHAKE, $39.82. The words practically jumped at me. I had to try the shake rightaway. That strangely enough, happens to me often. One would think between cooking, writing a food blog and reading other food blogs, I wouldn't still think of food. But no, I do.

Most of the recipes I came across used a combination of vanilla ice cream and milk. I made a low calorie version using vanilla yogurt and the shake was still delicious. It's creamy and not too sweet, just perfect for a mid day energy boost.

So I drank it sitting in my kitchen looking out at gray skies and bare trees instead of a sandy beach with the wind in my hair, but I still loved it!


(makes 2-3 glasses)
1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
4-5 dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cold milk
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely chopped almonds to garnish, optional
ice cubes, optional

Combine dates, yogurt, milk and extract in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Add cinnamon and ice if using. If the shake seems too thick adjust consistency with milk. Pulse for two-three minutes. Top with almonds and serve cold.

* Sprinkle a little flour/ fine sugar on dates while chopping so they do not stick together in a lump
* You can also use homemade yogurt; just increase the amount of extract. Or better yet use vanilla ice cream for a sinfully delicious version!



My Bookshelf

My over burdened, ever expanding bookshelf :-)

Emotional Attachments:
Rasachandrika – Saraswat Mahila Samaj
My grandmother has one, my mother has one, my sister-in-law and I have one. It is the bible of Saraswat cooking and you will hardly find a household in this community that doesn’t have a well worn copy of the Rasachandrika on its shelf.

Ishtann – Padma Mahale
A charming little book with hand drawn illustrations, it includes recipes more common in Goa than Kanara. I found lots of forgotten gems in this one. However it is a hard book to find and as far as I know, available only in Goa.
Recipe - Sweet Potato Nevryo

On Food & Cooking - Harold McGee
My prize for winning the Great Lentil Challenge hosted by Brendon of Something in Season. The winning entry? See here.

The Best of Samaithu Paar – S. Meenakshi Ammal
This is a very recent purchase. I imagine Samaithu is to Tamilian cooking what Rasachandrika is to us. I find this book an utter delight for its authentic recipes and beautiful photography.

Jamva Chaloji 1 – Katy Dalal
Who can resist a good dhansak? This is the definitive book on Parsi cuisine; dhansak, patra ni macchi, lagan nu custard…its all here. You have to scale down each recipe though; Dalal is a caterer and most recipes are for 6+ persons.

Prashad (Cooking with Indian Masters) – Jiggs Kalra
I LOVE this book. It surprises me why it isn't more popular in and out of India. Every recipe I have tried has been a success. Don’t be fooled by the name; Prashad is essentially for non vegetarians. There is a dessert recipe with chicken just so you know!
Recipe - Paneer Tawa Masala and Hara Cholia Te Paneer

Indian Cooking - Madhur Jaffrey
My shelf would have been amiss without a book by the most recognisable authority on Indian cuisine. Sure the recipes are simple and cater mainly to the Western audience, BUT they are still delicious. Plus you can never go wrong with her classics such as rogan josh and biryani.
Recipe - Achaari Baingan and Garam Masala

Fool Proof:
The Essential Goa Cookbook - Maria Teresa Menezes
The Essential series of cookbooks cover almost all of regional Indian cuisines from Rajasthan to Goa to Kerala. Menezes' book on Goa is informative and includes most Goan favorites like xacuti, bebinca and sorpotel. The recipes are Christian Goan and often so authentic as to seem daunting!
Recipe - Goan Fish Curry

Twelve months of Monastery Soups
Twelve months of Monastery Salads – Victor D’Avilla-Latourrette

Soup is universal comfort food. In the book, Latourette (a Benedictine monk) follows the months of the year with recipes using seasonal ingredients. The soups are simple (no gourmet or expensive stuff here) but also diverse; you will find Polish Pearl soup along side the common Minestrone.
The salad book didn’t take long to become a favorite. A variety of greens, cheeses, fruits and vegetables are used in the recipes and there is the same emphasis on seasonal ingredients that made me pick up the soup book.
Recipe - Cream of Broccoli Soup and Spicy Bean Salad

Food Made Fast: Pasta - Williams Sonoma
You can't go wrong with any of the Williams Sonoma books. They are no fuss, well designed, clearly written cookbooks that fulfill their intention. This book for example is part of their Food Made Fast series and includes simple sauces that can be made ahead, great tips on freezing and a list of ingredients for a well stocked pantry. In short, exactly the pointers you need for putting dinner on the table quickly on weekdays.

Baker's Rack:
Bread made easy: A baker's first bread book - Beth Hensperger
Need I say where I stand in bread baking? This book is a wonderful guide for beginners. If the exact and often intimidating science of bread baking puts you off the first few chapters are sure to encourage you in the right direction. The recipes themselves are winners all the way.

Baking: From My Home to Yours - Dorie Greenspan
THE baking book of 2006. This one has received so many rave reviews that you shouldn't hesitate for a single moment if you want to invest in a good baking book. Quick breads, cookies, pies, puddings - Greenspan has covered everything in this well written, well designed tome (500 pages so it's definitely a tome!).

Guiding Light:
What to drink with what you eat - Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page
On the one hand you have the utterly simple "red with meat and white with fish rule" and on the other you have the terribly pompous sounding talk on noses, bouquets, oaks, aging and what not.
Fortunately there is a book that seeks a balance between the two ends of the spectrum. This huge tome on what beverage to pair with your meal gives simple suggestions that even a novice on wine (or other drinks) can follow; chef's recommendations that make for good reading and a quite lengthy list of which drink to pair with everything from apples and salsa to pizza and yes, saag paneer.
It does not focus solely on wines but includes beer (do I hear cheers?!), tea, coffee and even water. Highly recommended if the subject interests you.

Didn’t Break the Bank:
Easy & Quick Thai
I know puritans frown on these but hey if I can get an authentic recipe for pad thai or green papaya salad, I can live with the step by step pictures!

Great Grilled Sandwiches
Of course I needed a good book to go with my new panini maker! This is a bargain buy with excellent recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And dessert if you want to get your money's worth from the panini maker ;-)
Recipe - Bagel with mushrooms & cheese


Food Memories, but what's the dish?

One's food memories have little to do with the food itself, and more with the experience of the meal, I think. On a trip several years back we visited a temple in Solapur (Maharashtra), where we were invited to stay for lunch. The soothing sounds of prayer, the signature 'temple aroma' of coconuts, flowers and oil lamps and our generous hosts transformed a simple meal of rice and dal into a meaningful experience.

Though the rest of the trip was nowhere near perfect, years later if we reminisce about family trips and meals (and the two are closely related in our book, good food = good trip!), Solapur figures at the top of the list.

The dish below was the last course. Any guesses what it is made from?


-------------------------------------SPOILER FOLLOWS --------------------------------------
Thanks for playing along. I should have known I am in the midst of people who know their food! A lot of you guessed right, the dish is made of broken wheat. Broken wheat (and the dish itself) is called lapshi in Marathi. As far as I know this form of wheat is traditionally used in few dishes -
Haleem, a meat stew made during Ramzaan
Godhambu payasam (please correct me if I am wrong), made with jaggery and coconut milk, and of course
Lapshi, a pudding popular in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, usually made during auspicious occasions.

Lapshi is prepared exactly like semolina sheera but it tastes markedly different due to the wheat's grainy texture.


(from left to right, broken wheat, ghee and cashews)

LAPSHI (Broken wheat pudding)
(serves 4)
1 cup broken wheat
3/4 cup sugar (makes a mildly sweet pudding; adjust to taste)
2 1/2 to 3 cups milk
5-6 tablespoons ghee
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder (jaiphal)
8-10 cashews, chopped

Heat a teaspoon of ghee in a sauce pan. Lightly toast cashew pieces and keep aside. Add remaining ghee. Roast wheat on low heat till it is aromatic.

Meanwhile heat milk in another pan. Add to roasted wheat and cook till the grain softens. Next add sugar, stir gently and cook further till it dissolves and ghee separates from the mixture.
Be careful as the wheat tends to bubble. Lapshi thickens after cooling so don't cook till it is very dry. Sprinkle cardamom & nutmeg powders, garnish with cashews and serve hot.

* Broken wheat is also called cracked wheat (and dalia in Hindi)
* Lapshi can also be made with jaggery



Breakfast for dinner - Moong Dal Chilla

It's (blog) party time! And Stephanie has chosen brunch as this month's theme. Think lazy Sunday morning, a delicious breakfast spread, freshly brewed coffee, the weekend newspaper... well you get the idea!

If I am talking about brunch can pancakes be far behind? My husband grew up in a predominantly Gujarati area of Bombay and would often eat these pancakes at his friends' homes. When he told me about them, I had no idea what they were. So he tried to help in all earnest, "they were made of some dal, had cilantro or something green and were fried". That really narrowed my search :-)

So on our last visit to India we went hunting for the mystery dish. Help was forthcoming from all quarters and it didn't take us long to figure out they were moong dal chillas (or chilley to be precise).


Traditionally a chilla is made with besan (chickpea flour) and spices, but there are several variations (with bajra, whole moong, sprouts etc.). I added some peas to my batter today to make an all round satisfying brunch party.

MOONG DAL CHILLA (Split Green Gram Pancakes)
(makes 6 of regular size)
1 cup yellow moong dal (split and husked green gram)
a handful of peas, cooked
1" ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 small green chillies, halved
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (hing)
1 small onion chopped fine
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine
oil for frying
salt to taste

Wash the dal thoroughly. Put in a bowl and soak overnight in 3 cups of water. Drain while reserving the water. Add ginger, garlic, chillies, asafoetida and turmeric. Season to taste.

Grind with 1/2 cup of reserved water in a blender to make a smooth batter. Pour batter into a bowl and add onion, cilantro and peas. Mix well.

To make chilla -
Heat a pan with a teaspoon oil. Drop a ladleful of batter in the centre of the pan. Using the back of the ladle spread the batter into a circle. Make sure the chilla is not too thick so it gets cooked evenly.

Add a little oil along the edges of the chilla, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Turn the chilla over and cook on the otherside until it gets brown patches. Serve hot with cilantro chutney or ketchup.

A chilla is sometimes called a vegetable omelet. And it does taste like a lacy French omelet because of the lightness of the ground dal. Adding vegetables like cabbage, peas, corn or tomatoes also makes it nutritious.


The best drink to go with these pancakes is spiced buttermilk. Earlier in India milk used to be churned by hand to make butter. The liquid left over from this process was called Mattha (chhans). The common practice today is to dilute yogurt for the same result. It makes a refreshing drink, particularly in the sweltering heat of Bombay, where you can find vendors selling it by the roadside.

MATTHA (Spiced Buttermilk)
(serves 2)
1 cup yogurt
1 1/2 cups water
salt to taste
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
thinly sliced pieces of ginger (optional)
1 tsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Whisk yoghurt, water and salt together. Cover and chill.
Heat a pan. Add cumin seeds and roast till they become aromatic. Pound coarsely with a rolling pin or pestle. Add to buttermilk along with ginger and chopped herbs. Allow flavours to blend for about five minutes and serve.


P.S. - Editing to add that the peas, cilantro and lentils make this dish eligible for Sweetnicks' ARF Tuesday too. How sneaky am I?!


Mix and match - Sprouts Pilaf

It is Tuesday again, and time for Sweetnicks' ARF/ 5-a-day (antioxidant rich food) event. Since I played truant for the past few weeks I decided to make amends. That settled, I looked inside the fridge and saw my crisper was not exactly brimming with vegetables. Hmmm. I did what I always do in such inspirationally-challenged situations - borrowed a recipe from my mother! Sprouts pulao, my mother's way of cleaning the fridge of leftover vegetables before the next grocery trip.

Since she can always rely on a basic stock of beans, sprouts are the only constant ingredient whenever she makes this dish. After that it is just 'mix and match', as she puts it. And that's the name we bestowed on the pulao over time - the mix and match pulao!

Count the number of ways in which it is healthy - needs very little oil, uses a lot of vegetables and a cupful of sprouts - a nutritious, protein packed one pot meal. I think I did both Sweetnicks and myself proud today!


(serves 2)
1 cup rice
1 cup moong (green gram) sprouts
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 bayleaves
2 cloves
1 medium size onion chopped
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 cup of diced vegetables (I used green bell pepper, eggplant and mushrooms)
4-5 cashews, broken
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Grind to a fine paste with a little water:
1 1/2 cups of coriander leaves, picked
2-3 tbsp grated coconut
1 green chilli (or more if you prefer)
1/2 tsp garam masala

Wash the rice in two to three changes of water and set aside. Heat oil in a deep saucepan. Add cumin seeds and when they begin to sizzle, add bayleaves and cloves. Next add onion and fry till it is coated with oil. When it takes on a pink tinge, add the ginger garlic paste and saute for a few minutes. Add the moong sprouts, vegetables, cashews and turmeric and mix well (about 3-4 minutes). Add rice and mix again. Add 2 1/2 -3 cups of water, cover and cook on moderate heat till rice is almost done (there should be some water visible). At this point, add the ground paste, mix and cook till all water is absorbed and rice is fluffy.
Serve hot with raita.


Notes -
You can use a teaspoon of pulao/ biryani masala instead of garam masala for the paste
See Nupur's primer on sprouting beans if you are not familiar with the process. You might also get packaged moong sprouts at some Indian groceries