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

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)

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!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Winter Cooking

I used to sulk over the drab winter days before moving to San Diego. Now I cherish whatever cold days we get. It is the perfect time to crank up the oven and make something hearty. Here's what was on the menu Monday night - Stuffed Bell Peppers, with Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes on the side. A combination of savory and sweet dishes. The great thing was, I baked both the dishes at once - saving some energy. What a comforting dinner that was!

Sweet potatoes usually turn into baked fries (the contradiction of that makes me laugh), or get pressure cooked with jaggery in my kitchen. I've wanted to try roasting them with maple syrup for a long time. As the sweet potatoes were baking, I decided to add a crisp apple to the dish on a whim - just because it was sitting there on the counter. It seemed like a natural pairing - apples and maple syrup taste great together, and they'd provide some crunch to soft roasted sweet potatoes. Husband, although skeptical of my creation at first, couldn't get enough of this dish. That's a victory in my opinion!

**The below recipes make 2 servings.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Apples

1 Large Sweet Potato
1 Apple (pick your favorite. I always buy Pink Lady)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 Tablespoons maple syrup (depending on how thick it is)
Salt to taste
Paprika to taste
  • Preheat oven at 375F. 
  • Peel and dice sweet potato in ~1 inch cubes.
  • Mix olive oil, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, salt, and paprika, and toss the diced sweet potatoes in them. 
  • Cut the apple in similar sized cubes and toss them in the remaining maple syrup. 
  • Spread the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until tender, yet not fully done. Add apples at this point, and bake until the sweet potatoes are fork tender. The apples should be slightly crispy when the dishe is ready. 

Stuffed Peppers With Brown Rice & Lentils

2 Medium red bell peppers - pick plump ones.
1/2 Cup brown rice
1/2 Cup whole lentils (Masoor)
1 Large garlic clove - minced
1/4 Cup finely diced onion
1 Tomato - diced
1/4 Cup finely diced carrot
1 Spring onion diced (optional)
1 Chipotle in adobo sauce - finely chopped
1 Tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
  • Preheat oven at 375F. 
  • Wash and cook brown rice and lentils together. 
  • Thinly cut the top off the peppers from the stem side. Remove seeds and ribs. Save the tops.  
  • Heat oil in a saute pan and saute garlic and onion until onions turn translucent. 
  • Add chopped tomato, carrot, spring onion, chipotle pepper, and saute until everything comes together (2-3 minutes)
  • Add cooked brown rice and lentils, and salt to taste. 
  • Stuff peppers with the rice mixture. Spray peppers with oil, or lightly brush some oil from the outside. This will help retain moisture. Close the pepper with the top that you chopped. 
  • Keep the peppers in a baking pan and bake for 30 mins, or until the peppers are soft and slightly wrinkled. 
Serving suggestion - Once you take the bell peppers out of the oven, top them off with some grated cheese (I used mozzarella) and let it melt on hot stuffing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Diwali Wishes!

Wishing all my readers a very happy Diwali! May the coming year bring happiness and peace to you and your family!

It's great for us less fortunate ones living outside India when Diwali falls on the weekend. We've had a weekend full of activities this year. Somehow our plans to keep the celebration small just don't work out (and I'm not complaining :). 

My friend Deepti invited a few girlfriends for a Mehendi night on Friday. We yapped, giggled, stuffed ourselves with delicious Dhokla, Paav-bhaji, and Cassata she made all by herself for us, and sat around doing mehendi till late into the night. Isn't that a great start to the festivities? As a small token of appreciation for the fun time, I gifted Deepti a set of fruit coasters. I got the patterns here - so cute, aren't they?

Husband and I woke up bright and early on Saturday for Abhyanga Snana, the ceremonial fragrant oil massage and bath on the first day of Diwali, that is supposed to cleanse your body. I decorated the door front with rangoli. Even after deciding against making any faraal, I ended up making Andhra style Murukku using this recipe, thanks to husband's last minute craving! We spent the rest of Saturday in the kitchen cooking together. There was Cauliflower-potato curry, salad, and Gajar Halwa on the menu for two potlucks we attended on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I'm now now in food coma, and all I can think of having for dinner is Tums! 

I feel very fortunate to have spent time in good company with good food yet another Diwali! 

What was Diwali special at your end this year???

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hunky Chunky Cookies And Halloween Fun

Halloween decorations have crept up (literally) in my neighborhood over the past week. Our orange and purple lights are hanging on the palm tree, finally. Better late than never. The one thing that we did have out in time, our carved pumpkins, didn't survive to see the Halloween day though. Husband was quite methodical in his approach - he bought a pumpkin carving stencil book and all the fancy tools for carving. He even made a chlorine solution to prevent pumpkins from rotting. Unfortunately, the solution dried out the pumpkin a bit too much, shriveling and cracking through some of the design. The mold didn't seem to care about chlorine either. Anyhow, our haunted house and headless man managed to spook others for almost a week.

I picked up a Halloween special magazine while waiting at the grocery check-out counter a couple of weeks back - yes, I can shop all the way to the check-out line :D. I promptly tried one of the appetizers - Potatoes stuffed with herb & garlic cheese. Tell me how you can go wrong with cheese and potatoes! I am planning to make them again for my office Halloween potluck. Recipe should follow soon.

Now, what's Halloween without some lots of chocolate? Another recipe I tried for chocolate chip cookies, with a couple of modifications, was a winner! I made a fresh batch for my friends on Sunday, and also shared some with my colleagues yesterday. Everyone was all praises for the cookies, genuinely :D. The original recipe used a combination of milk, bittersweet, and white chocolate chips. I went with what was available in the pantry - bittersweet chips only. We're bigger fans of dark chocolate anyway. The cookies came out nice and big - the kind that make kids happy. So I called them Hunky Chunky cookies!

**Note: This recipe makes about 22-24 cookies

Hunky Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wet Ingredients:
1 Cup unsalted butter
2 Cups sugar (all white or half brown and half white)
1 Extra large egg
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:
1 Cup APF
3/4 Cup whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
1 Tsp salt
1 Cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Prep: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper/aluminum file. Preheat oven to 350F.

  • In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar with until smooth.
  • Beat in egg until the mixture if fluffy. Stir in vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, sift all the dry ingredients except chocolate chips. Beat the flour into the butter-sugar mixture slowly, and fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Drop big spoonfuls of the batter on the lined sheets. I used a small ice-cream scoop to ensure the same size. Each drop was approximately the size of a golf ball.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes. Then let the cookies cool on a rack.

I kept one of the baking sheets right at the center of the oven, and the other closer to the bottom. The center sheet cookies turned perfectly chewy. The bottom ones were more on the crispy side. Still delicious, but I wouldn't put the sheet right by the heating coils. I would like to add macadamia nuts next time - that'll make these cookies just perrrfect!

Hope you have a spooktacular, sugar-filled Halloween!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Laddu Love

I find it challenging to plan for late afternoon-early evening snacks, especially when I'm ready to chomp down anything after getting home from work. But then, I don't like to kill my appetite for dinner either. It's not too much work to whip up guacamole or make veg cutlets or something else. Still, it would be nice not having to think about it every day. For quick energy boost between meals, I liked all sorts of khau (snack/treat) grandma used to keep ready - bhadang or healthy chivda to eat with yogurt, or one of her wholesome laddus made with moong, haliv (aserio) or whole wheat. How easy life used to be when mom or grandma had to worry about such things...*sigh*!

Now that I'm working up an appetite with the cooling Fall weather (and in preparation for the holiday season ;), I wanted to have something ready in the house for the occasional hunger pangs. Kanakeche Ladu (Whole Wheat Laddus) seemed to suit my mood, and the lack of enthusiasm for making anything elaborate, the other day. These laddus are quite nutritious, with golden roasted whole wheat flour, dry fruits, and a good dose of ghee. They are made with my favorite sweetener jaggery - always happy to forgo refined sugar. Most importantly, unlike besan or rava laddus, there's very little that can go wrong in the preparation. And you don't have to fret if you can't roll laddus, because the churma, or the coarse mixture, tastes fantastic by itself. Just don't tell anyone you attempted to make laddus :D.

Ladies, these laddus will be great to break your Karwa Chauth fast. Sweet, and energy packed when you are ready to faint after a long day of fasting =).

**The recipe below makes approximately 12 laddus.

Kanakeche Ladu/Whole Wheat Laddu

2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup ghee
3/4 Cup grated jaggery
Chopped dry fruits per your liking - almonds, cashews, raisins
1/2 Teaspoon cardamom powder

  • Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee in a kadhai on low flame. Add whole wheat flour and roast until golden and aromatic (~10 mins). Keep the stove on low and stir the flour so it doesn't burn. Once done, keep aside.
  • Add the remaining ghee and grated jaggery to the kadhai and heat just until the jaggery melts completely. Don't overcook. Be very careful -jaggery can really burn once hot!
  • Pour this ghee-jaggery mixture in roasted whole wheat flour. Add chopped dry fruits and cardamom powder. Mix everything well with a spatula.
  • Once the mixture cools enough to touch, break all the lumps with your hands and make golf-ball size laddus. If you find it difficult to roll laddus, add a little bit of ghee (although 1/2 cup should enough really).

If the laddus harden (because ghee can solidify in cold weather), just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds and they'll be as good as fresh. 


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