Monday, July 14, 2014

Stuffed Padron Peppers...And Other Veggies :)

My colleagues and I were having a conversation about how to train kids not be picky eaters. To my mom's delight, I was a good eater from early on. But even when meals didn't include what I absolutely loved, mom enforced a simple rule - serve a very small portion on the plate and don't get off the table without finishing it. As tortuous as it may sound to some, it really can't kill you to eat a few bites of something you don't love. The good part was that my mother cooked delicious food. If we didn't like something, she made an effort to try different recipes to make it more palatable for us. And there was often that guilt trip - there are way too many kids out there who don't even get two meals a day, let alone choose what they eat. Be thankful that you get to try such variety of foods!

There was one vegetable for which I always made faces though -  bell peppers! The ubiquitous vegetable in the US, and something I've grown to love, was my enemy as a kid. The Indian bell peppers are much smaller, with thinner skin, and more robust flavor compared to what we get here. I thought they were too pungent. Mom cooked them many different ways - fire roasted bell pepper and yogurt raita, stir fry with crispy potatoes, or stuffed  potatoes or chickpea flour to mask their strong flavor. Her stuffed bell pepper preparation was my favorite.

I found beautiful Padron peppers at the Saturday farmer's market. They looked like smaller versions of Indian bell peppers with the same fragrance. Padron peppers originate from Spain and have a wonderful smoky flavor when charred. The seller at the market told me they are usually deep or shallow fried in olive oil and seasoned with sea salt. They don't have a lot of heat, so you can eat them whole. I asked her how they would taste stuffed with something, and she thought it was a great idea. I thought I would try the chickpea filling. The recipe is fairly simple. Chickpea flour is seasoned with garam masala and other spices and stuffed inside seeded peppers. The peppers are beautifully charred in oil on high heat. The slight heat and smoky flavor of the peppers is fabulous. The chickpea flour filling is slightly crunchy against the soft flesh of the peppers, and does a great job of taming some of the pungency. This dish can be served as an appetizer, or a side dish. It tastes great with roti, or rice and yogurt. If you don't find padron peppers, any low heat peppers such as small bell peppers, poblano, Anaheim would be great. I cooked the peppers on stovetop, but you could grill stuffed peppers in summer. It'll be a great side to all the cookouts.


 


Chickpea Flour Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:
2 Dozen medium Padron peppers - destemmed and seeded
1 Cup chickpea flour
3 Tablespoons olive/vegetable oil + more for shallow frying
1/2 Cup chopped cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1/2 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons garam masala
1 Teaspoon red chili powder (adjust per liking)
Salt to taste
  • Heat oil in a frying pan and add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add asafoetida, turmeric powder and chickpea flour.
  • To this, add chopped cilantro, garam masala, red chili powder, and salt to taste. Roast chickpea flour till fragrant and 'cooked'. If it looks too dry, you can sprinkle some water (use very little - you don't want clumps). Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
  • Once the chickpea flour filling is done, keep aside.
  • Remove the stems of peppers and take out the seeds. Fill them with chickpea flour filling.
  • Coat the frying pan with some more oil and lay all the peppers on the pan. Cover and let the peppers get charred. Covering the pan will keep the steam inside and help cook the chickpea flour further.
  • Turn the peppers with a tong and char them on the other side. Once the peppers are cooked through, turn off the heat.

Enjoy!

---***---

Speaking of stuffed veggies, I made a set of stuffed felt veggies for my baby girl. I had seen a toy veggie basket at my friend's house; her son played with them. That set was a little more 3D than my version, which is somewhere in between 2D and 3D :D. I think it's a great toy - colorful, educational, and may encourage my daughter to eat all her veggies (or so I hope).One of my friends who has a girl just a little older than Shreya loved the idea of felt toys, and asked me to make some for her baby. I wanted to send the toys just in time for her 6-month birthday which didn't leave me time to make a new veggie set, so I gifted her the one I already had. I can always make more for my daughter. Here's my satisfied customer playing with her new toys :).


Along with veggies, my friend asked if I could make an owl as well. Owls are all the rage these days. I came up with the following pattern after going through several pics on the web. Whooo wouldn't like a pink owl?


Just hangin' out!

Until next time!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gourd For You

As a nursing mother, it is very important that I watch what I eat. Babies have immature and sensitive digestive systems. It didn't take long for me to realize that tummy ache is the main culprit when my baby is fussy or cranky. It is best that I avoid acidic, gassy, difficult to digest foods. The common culprits of tummy troubles are dairy, sugar, and vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, eggplants, etc. So what's good for a new mother? Gourd! Gourd and squash of every kind. I have eaten more gourds over the past three months than ever in my life. You name it - bitter gourd, ivy gourd, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, snake gourd, pumpkin - you get the idea! These vegetables are fibrous, nutritious, and easy to digest. Add some mung daal (split mung) when preparing and you have a dose of protein too. I have been preparing different gourds and squashes available in the grocery stores here using light Indian seasoning. Here is one of my favorites - butternut squash curry scented with ghee, curry leaves and grated coconut.


Butternut Squash Curry

Ingredients:
1 Medium butternut quash (~2 1/2-3 Cups peeled and cubed)
3 Tablespoons fresh/frozen grated coconut
2 Dried red chilies
1 Sprig curry leaves
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 Teaspoon fenugreek seeds
Couple pinches asafoetida
1/2 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1 Tablespoon ghee
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnishing

  • Heat ghee in a cooking pan, and add mustard seeds.
  • Once mustard seeds splutter, add red chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek seeds. Stir for a few seconds and add asafoetida and turmeric powder.
  • Add cubed squash and grated coconut to the tempering, and salt to taste.
  • Add a cup of water and mix everything well. Cover and cook on medium, stirring occasionally, until squash is cooked thoroughly and the flavors come together.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.

Serve with hot rotis and yogurt on the side.

  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Guilt Ridden And Snacking Guilt Free

I believed sleep deprivation, zillion diaper changes, and back crushing feedings would be some of the challenges of motherhood. What proved it wrong was leaving my entirely dependent little one with a complete stranger, to go back to work. I joined work three weeks back, and it's been an emotional challenge. The baby girl is adjusting to her nanny slowly but surely, yet my heart breaks into a million pieces every day when I see the longing in her eyes. Sure, I can quit my job, some would say. But some things are easier said than done. I just hope my daughter forgives me one day when she has a similar battle of her own, or just not remember this at all!

The only consolation in this situation is that we've found a fantastic nanny. She's a loving person with two grandchildren of her own, and treats Shreya just like she would one of them. She came with a whole bunch of cute clothes for Shreya last week for no particular reason. Isn't that incredibly sweet of her? Despite all, I am comforted that my daughter is in good hands. Aunty, as we respectfully call her, hails from Gujarat, and is an enthusiastic cook like most Gujjus. I for one am a huge fan of Gujarati food. So it's a bonus that she brings us lots of freshly prepared Gujarati delicacies almost every day. She brought me a popular sweet called Sukhdi the other day. Sukhdi is a simple wheat flour 'cake' made with ghee, jaggery, and decorated with dry fruits.It tasted like wheat flour laddus, just repackaged. I enjoyed snacking on this energy packed sweet between meals. This nursing business makes me very hungry, and I always need nutritious, guilt-free snacks at hand. FYI - a healthy dose of ghee is good for your, especially postpartum. I tweaked anuty's recipe so I could add some more elements of 'healthy' and made sukhdi with ragi/nachani/finger millet flour. I also added dry grated coconut to the list of dry fruits. Ragi flour is light and toasty, and tasted even better than wheat flour. Husband admitted that this was one of my best creations; but then again, he says that a lot ;).





Ragi Sukhdi/Nachanichi Vadi

Ingredients:
1 Heaping cup raagi/nachani flour
3/4 Cup grated jaggery (or adjust per your liking)
6-8 Tablespoons warm ghee
Handful of dry fruits, coarsely ground. I used almonds and cashews
1 Heaping tablespoon grated dry coconut

  • Heat a kadhai/pan on low flame and roast ragi flour in 6 tablespoons of ghee until the flour is fragrant and doesn't taste raw. 
  • Add grated jaggery, ground dry fruits, and grated coconut. Roast for 5 more minutes. Make sure there aren't any pieces of jaggery left.
  • Once the mixture is cool to touch, mix by hand to make it consistent. Try pressing some mixture between your palms and it should form a lump and stick together. If not, add more ghee as needed. 
  • Grease a steel plate with ghee and pat the mixture tightly on it, forming a ~1/2 inch cake. Cut into diamond shaped vadi using a sharp knife. 

Alternatively, you can form laddus of the mixture.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

One Month and a Change of a Lifetime

I've been on a blogging sabbatical the last two months. It might not have made a dent in the blogosphere; but my life has taken a 180 degree in that time! We welcomed our precious little girl, baby Shreya, into this world one month back. The past month has been a blur of feedings, changing diapers, calming a crying baby, and trying to function without getting much sleep. But it's all worth that gummy smile she's just started to give us!

My mom, the cooking enthusiast that she is, informed me to that it's customary to make Ghavan-Ghatle on baby's one month birthday. The sweet cousin of my go-to savory meal choice. She immediately looked up the recipe in her favorite cook book Ruchira. I had planned to make a cake for the little one, but this recipe was far easier to make with a baby in tow. Ghavan is a simple rice flour crepe. Ghatle is a jaggery sweetened coconut concoction to dunk the ghavan. The crepes are soft and spongy and soak up all the sweet goodness of ghatle. I couldn't not love these - they are practically deconstructed Modak!


Ghavan Ghatle

Ghavan Ingredients
1 1/2 Cups rice flour
Water as needed
Couple of pinches salt
Ghee/clarified butter 
  • Mix enough water with rice flour to make a runny, crepe-like batter (~2-2/12 cups). Add a little salt and mix. 
  • Heat a pan on med-high heat. A non-stick pan will work the best. If you're not using a non-stick pan, grease the pan with a little bit of ghee. Make sure the pan is hot before you pour the batter in order to get a porous crepe. 
  • Spread a ladleful of batter on the pan, and let it cook till golden brown. The crepe will separate from the pan once done. Turn and cook on the other side. 

Ghatle Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups water
3/4 Cup fresh/frozen grated coconut
1/4 Cup jaggery/per liking
1/2 Teaspoon cardamom powder
2 Teaspoons rice flour 
Couple of pinches salt

Heat water on low-med heat, and add jaggery and coconut. Let the jaggery melt. 
Mix rice flour with a little bit of water and add it to the coconut mixture. The rice flour will act as a thickener. 
Add in cardamom powder and salt. Turn off the heat when the mixture thickens slightly. 

Pour warm ghee on top of the ghavan and serve with warm ghatle!

***

I spent the last few months of my pregnancy making stuff for the baby. I couldn't wait to share pictures of some of my craft work - now seems like a good time to post them :). 

Hubby asked me to make a few colorful hats for baby pics. Here are two of my favorites:

A variation of this adorable bobble stitch hat: 


A ladybug hat for my li'l bug: 


I was looking for some ideas to make a crib mobile and stumbled upon this adorable pattern! Some inexpensive felt from recycled material (source - Michaels), cotton and scrap material to stuff, and an easy clip-on mobile crib hanger (source - Babies R Us, ~$10) was all I needed to make this mobile. I drew the patterns on paper first and traced them on felt.


I couldn't get over how cute and easy to make these little toys were and made a few furry friends as well. I used various sources for patterns, many of them pinned on my board. Aren't these guys fun? I still have lots of left-over felt which I plan to use - some day!


One of my dear friends was also due a few weeks after me. She had shared yummy home-cooked food with me in my ninth month. It was wonderful having home made meals without taking any effort on my part :). As a 'thank you', and since we never return empty containers, I stuffed one container with nutritious laddus for her and one with these fellas for her little one on the way. I looked up patterns for finger puppets on google and picked four that I liked the best. 


I hope to be able to blog as and when I can. Until next time!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Butternut Squash Gharge

The grocery scene in my house has been quite exciting lately. Husband I have been going to the Saturday Farmer's Market like a ritual (I know, everyone experiencing horrific winter this year will be jealous - I sympathize with you all). It makes my weekend to come home with bags full of fresh produce. We also just signed up for CSA last week. Oh, I can't wait to share the details next week when I get my second box of goodies! Anyway, trying to consume all the fresh fruits and veggies, I forgot all about a small butternut squash bought from the grocery store a few weeks back. Good thing it doesn't go bad very fast, but it was about time the squash was put to use. San Diego weather hasn't exactly been calling for soup, so I used the squash in lieu of pumpkin in two of my favorite Indian dishes - one sweet (Gharge) and one spicy/savory (Parathas). I'll share the recipe I'm partial towards - the sweet, of course :).

Gharge are traditional Maharashtrian sweet puris made with pumpkin. The puris are not cloyingly sweet or dessert like - so they can be snacked on (like I did in one go on half the batch I prepared...shhh). The recipe calls for very few simple ingredients. And these puris don't require rolling out dough with a rolling pin, which makes them easy to prepare. My mom used to make gharge for after school snacks. They store well even at room temperature, so we could enjoy them all week long. Butternut squash is a close relative of pumpkin in terms of taste and texture, so I thought why not? And the gharge turned out just fantastic! With the sweetness from jaggery and the aroma of cardamom, you couldn't tell the switch between pumpkin and butternut squash. This recipe can use any similar squash, I suppose.



Butternut Squash Gharge

Ingredients:
2 Cups grated butternut squash
1 Cup grated jaggery
2 Tablespoons ghee
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/2 Teaspoon cardamom powder
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil or ghee for frying

  • Combine ghee, jaggery, and butternut squash in a kadhai/work and cook on medium heat. The moisture from squash will be enough to cook it thoroughly. Cook the water down until you are left with a soft, moist mixture.
  • Stir in cardamom powder and a pinch of salt.
  • Once the mixture cools to touch, start incorporating wheat flour until you have a pliable, non-sticky dough. I used about 1 1/4 cups flour. You can add more if you need to. I liked the sweetness achieved with this much amount of flour.
  • Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Make small lime size dough balls. With 1 1/4 cups flour, you'll get ~20 medium size puris.
  • To make the puris, grease a thick plastic bag with a little bit of ghee. I use ziplock which works perfectly. Apply some ghee on your finger tips as well, and pat each dough ball evenly into a not too thin puri. You can lay raw puris on a plate before getting ready to fry them. They won't stick.
  • Fry them on medium heat in vegetable oil until golden brown. Take them out on a paper towel to wick away excess oil. A more decadent version of these puris would be fried in ghee. I wanted to save my precious home-made ghee for other things :). 

Gharge won't puff up like the regular puris, but they are wonderfully flaky. They will be soft straight out of the fryer, but the crust will get crispy once slightly cooled, and the inside will be soft and moist. Yum!
You can enjoy gharge right away, or store them in an air tight container for about a week.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Indianising Bread - Breadchi Bhaji

Ever since husband and I made the switch to whole grain bread, something as basic as white bread has become a rarity in my house. To tell you the truth, I haven't really found decent white bread in the US. Certain tastes linger on for years. Nothing comes quite close to the freshly baked bread, wrapped in a thin waxy blue paper, from the local bakery in my home town Kolhapur. It used to be luscious, soft and fluffy, and never clumped up. We ate bread very occasionally. But when we did, it was picked up from the bakery still hot and fragrant, and used up right away for 'Bombay' sandwiches or Misal. A day old bread was considered stale - makes me wonder about our choices of storing stuff in the fridge for days. Not fresh enough to eat by itself, mom would turn the stale bread into pakodas, egg toast, or simple Bhaji (bhaaji). 

Breadchi Bhaji, also called Upma or Chura, is a simple savory dish made by tempering slightly dry stale bread pieces. Although 'bhaji' in Marathi refers to any vegetable preparation, the name of this dish must be derived from the usual tempering used in its preparation. Turning stale bread into bhaji a great way to use up leftovers, or make something out of plain bread when there's nothing else to go with it. I had bought white bread to make English tea sandwiches last week. And the leftovers turned into this childhood favorite of mine. Even better - I had it with a cup of hot tea!

**This recipe requires you to use oil generously, since bread soaks it right up. 


Breadchi Bhaji/Bread Upma (Leftover Bread Snack)

Ingredients:
6 Slices white bread
1 Small or 1/2 Large onion - Chopped
3-4 Green chilies - Chopped
1 Sprig curry leaves
Handful of skin on peanuts (~ 2 tablespoons or per your liking)

2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 Teaspoon red chili powder for color (optional)
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro and lemon/lime for garnishing
  • Slice bread in approximately 3/4 inch cubes.
  • Heat oil in a kadhai/wok and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add asafoetida, curry leaves, chopped chilies, and turmeric at the end so it doesn't burn.
  • Once the curry leaves are slightly fried, add peanuts, chopped green chilies, and chopped onion, and saute for a minute until the onion is translucent.
  • Add salt before adding bread so it mixes evenly. I also add some red chili powder for color and extra kick. Toss in bread and turn it all the way around so the pieces get coated evenly. Use a spatula and turn gently so the bread pieces don't clump up. Let the bread get nice and toasty on medium heat, stirring in between.
  • Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a wedge of lemon/lime. 



Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving Recap

My close friend, and neighbor from Utah, visited us with her husband this Thanksgiving break. I've hosted plenty of potlucks over the last few years, but it had been a while since I planned and cooked the entire meal by myself. I was so excited about having her over that I made and scratched and remade my menu list a hundred times. It was just a party of four for dinner, of which two don't eat turkey. So I wanted to keep the menu simple, finishable (if there's such a word), yet complete with all the traditional favorites such as cranberries, and squash, and the usual. This definitely saved me from the much feared holiday cooking nightmares! We leisurely enjoyed multiple courses over 3 hours, breaking in between to make room for more. 

**My friend's hubby took food pics on his camera, which I forgot to transfer. Sharing the few that I had.




After ogling over hundreds of recipes and ideas online, here's what the menu was decided to be:

1. Brie-cranberry mini tarts - I've become addicted to Pinterest lately. I had pinned this simple fix-up appetizer recipe which not only tasted delicious, but also looked beautiful. I left out the pistachios from the original recipe, solely for forgetting to buy them. But it didn't make a difference to my guests. You can never go wrong with ooey-gooey baked brie with fruit relish. 
I tried the Spicy Pepper Cranberry Relish recipe from this NY Times article. Boy, was that a hit! I used regular green jalapenos instead of red, and added 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice instead of water+lemon juice. The orange juice enhanced the sweetness while adding acidity. The amount of pepper scared me at first, but they provided just the right amount of kick after taking out all the seeds. This recipe is a keeper. 

2. Arugula-pear salad with feta cheese and honey vinaigrette - For something green on the table, I went with my favorite salad greens paired with pears (funny I should use them together) and feta cheese. The dressing was very simple - honey, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt & pepper. Honey is perfect with the fruit, and it tames the peppery flavor of arugula. 

3. Roasted butternut squash soup with sage - What's Thanksgiving without the season's favorite? We make squash soup frequently during winter. It's always a simple fair with sauteed onion, garlic, sage, paprika, and salt & pepper. Roasted squash is so creamy by itself, it never requires anything additional. Oh btw, I made the soup in my new Vitamix - that's going to need its own post. 

4. Potato salad - I asked husband for a suggestion on the potato dish. What did he come up with? Deli style potato salad with mayo! Of course, I could have made creamy mashed potatoes, or a fancy gratin. But who ever laid the rules and said we couldn't have this salad instead? :P. No complaints, though. I love it myself and so did my friends. The salad had boiled red potatoes with skin on, chopped red radish, spring onions, lots and lots of fresh dill, a dash of paprika, mayo, mustard sauce, and good ol' salt & pepper. 

5. Shell pasta with basil pesto - Going down the menu items, I realize how easy everything was! The pasta was our last vegetarian course before the dessert. I pretty much just put everything together, yet it was quite elegant. I prefer simple butter/olive oil dressing or pesto in pasta over tomato sauce. I bought ready-made pesto, mixed it with perfectly cooked (yes, I actually got compliments on that!) pasta, added lots of chopped sun-dried tomatoes, olive medley, and topped it with feta cheese. This Mediterranean affair was quite delicious. 

6. Husband's special shrimp - The most exciting item on the table for the non-vegetarians was husband's 'world famous' shrimp. He makes this shallow fried shrimp marinated in coriander, garlic, and his mom's special masala for his friends all the time. I don't know what magic he puts in it, but that one dish always seems to take over ALL the other things I toil over! My friend's husband went gaga over the shrimp dish. Well, happy guests make me happy. 

7. Chocolate-pumpkin pie - Thanksgiving is incomplete without pie, make that pumpkin pie. My original plan was to set up our unused fondue for dessert. Some delicious dark chocolate fondue with fruits, marshmallows, and simple cake. But I couldn't resist making pie when I came across this Triple-Chocolate Pumpkin Pie recipe on Pinterest. Tell me that wouldn't entice you!
I grossly simplified the recipe though. My pie had a store bought graham cracker crust (yeah, judge me!). The basic pie filling recipe came from the pumpkin puree can (the standard recipe with 1 can pumpkin puree, 1 can evaporated milk, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, and spices). I melted 4 tablespoons of butter and 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate in the microwave - a shortcut I use instead of using double boiler. Just melt the chocolate for 40-45 seconds each time until it's completely melted. Half of this chocolate mixture went into the pie filling. Once the pie was baked and cooled, I poured the rest on top to form a nice chocolaty crust. I think I'll never go back to the non-chocolaty pumpkin pie after having this!

All in all, the Thanksgiving dinner was a success. The preparation was fret-free, and the outcome was delicious. Most of all, it was the company whom we shared the meal with made it very special. Yet another year great year and wonderful people in our lives to be thankful for! Hope you all had a very special time as well!

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