Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blast From The Past

When I tell people I grew up in the southern Maharashtrian town of Kolhapur, I am sure to either hear about their love for Kolhapuri food or be questioned about my tolerance for spiciness. Kolhapur is famous for its clear-your-sinuses spicy food, especially the Tambada and Pandhara rassa (curries made with lamb meat). As for me, I must be a disgrace to the people of Kolhapur, for not only am I a vegetarian but I prefer my food on the milder side. Good thing there is more than just spice to put Kolhapur on the map. Kolhapur is a large producer-exporter of milk and milk products, including ice-cream. The most luscious, creamy, smooth and utterly delicious ice-cream!!! And as a kid, I was convinced it was the best thing my town had to offer to the world!

Kolhapur touts a few family owned ice-cream parlors run for almost 4-5 generations now. While it's hard to pick a favorite, there won't be two opinions about who serves the best sundae. Those who've tried the 'Cocktail' at Imperial Cold Drink House will swear it's undeniably the best ice-cream sundae they've ever had. Don't be dismayed as this Cocktail has nothing to do with alcohol, but a TALL glass of this layered ice-cream sundae was no less intoxicating for me as a kid. Imperial boasts a British make ice-cream machine that has been churning some of the best ice-cream since the late 40's.

The shop was very close to the famous Mahalaxmi (or Ambabai, as the locals call it) temple in the 'town' area. Every time we drove in the direction of Imperial after visiting the temple, I wholeheartedly believed the Goddess had answered my prayers :). My grandfather was friends with the shop owner Mr. Gawali. As far as I was concerned, it was comparable to knowing the president of the country! Imagine getting an extra large scoop of ice-cream every time as a 10 year old?? Many a times, grandpa would just call up Mr. Gawali and have their special Rose ice-cream delivered in. But I really looked forward to the late night post dinner drives to the shop, ordering that special glass of Cocktail and enjoying it right in the car. Now when I think of it, it probably had to do with the crammed space in the store that we ate in the car, but I used to think it was a matter of prestige at the time. Regardless, I would forget all about that nonsense the minute I held a glass of this colorful concoction and become a kid again. I savored each bite of the tropical fruits mix like banana, chikoo, mango, orange, apple and grapes, 2 big scoops of Rose ice-cream(that's what I always got), big chunks of wiggly jelly and bits of tutti-frutti (candied fruits). All this goodness was topped with my favorite wafer biscuits. It was everything a kid could ask for! Perfect with all the wonderful flavors, textures and colors. If you ask me, it was no less than a piece of art - and a darn tasty one at that!

On a sweltering hot day like the one we had on Sunday, I couldn't stop craving a yummy Cocktail. Luckily, the local Indian store carries just the perfect ice-cream flavor to make this sundae and I decided to indulge in an extra large glass to cool off. Just like the old days, I was struggling to finish the last bits of the sundae when hubby squeaky cleaned his glass and asked sheepishly, "Can I have some more?". The Cocktail surely brings out the child in you!

Look at those gorgeous colors!
Imperial Cocktail Sundae

Mixed fruits - banana, apple, mango, grapes, oranges, chikoo(if you can find it)
Tutti-Frutti ice-cream - I chose it for the gorgeous color, authentic Indian taste and of course, the confections
Jelly - you can pick your favorite colors/flavors. I went for orange.
Mango puree
Wafer biscuits

To assemble:
  • Fill a glass 1/4th with chopped mixed fruits. 
  • Add two large scoops of ice-cream. You can pick any mild flavor like vanilla, rose, strawberry etc. if not tutti-frutti.
  • Top it off with some cubes of jelly. As you can tell, I was too impatient to wait till my jelly was set! If you have more patience, your jelly won't start sinking to the bottom. 
  • Add a little more ice-cream on top. And because you can never have enough mango, add some mango puree to finish it. 
  • Stick a couple of wafer biscuits on the top. 
Take a large dessert spoon and dig in!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sweet Heat

It's 1:04am on a weekday and here I find myself squinting at the glaringly bright screen in a pitch dark room, writing up a quick post. Work and other social obligations (mostly self inflicted) have taken over my life recently and there's no relaxation in the foreseeable future. On days like these, it's good to have something stored in the fridge to fix up a quick meal. It's even better if it's the most important meal of the day - breakfast!

Look at that gorgeous color - isn't it pretty??
When you are lucky, you'll make yourself a hearty breakfast of eggs and toast, maybe some potatoes, fruits or cereal-milk. But when breakfast means grabbing a slice of bread and skillfully managing to eat and not drop any crumbs while driving to work, I like to have some yummy jam on hand. A delicious jam transforms a simple slice of bread to a wonderful sandwich we all wanted for breakfast as kids. My mom usually made us healthy breakfast from scratch every day, but bread and jam or a roll of jam smeared poli/roti(Indian bread) was a welcomed change. 

Remember I stocked up on a whole lot of strawberries at the Carlsbad farmer's market? Well, don't think I forgot all about them after. I did make a yummy jam out of them the way we liked it as kids, with a grown-up twist! The jam has all that goodness from sweet strawberries, but it surprises you with a hint of heat from jalapeno at the end. I love the combination of sweet & heat which makes this jam perfect for grown-ups. This was prepared upon hubby's request and he's been eating it by the spoonfuls. The jam has definitely turned 'good' mornings to 'better' :).

Sorry about the picture quality here. Just when I thought I was making some progress in taking good pictures, I have to post these less than impressive ones. I'll blame it on the recent madness!

Strawberry-Jalapeno Jam

1 1/2 Cups crushed strawberries
2-2 1/2 Cups white sugar
1 Jalapeno

  • Crush fresh strawberries. I just tossed them in the food processor and gave a quick pulse. Leave them slightly chunky. 
  • Combine sugar and crushed strawberries on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Strawberries give out a lot of water so the cooking time is a bit longer than other berries. 
  • Add 1 finely chopped jalapeno (without the seeds and vein) and cook on medium-high heat for another 20 minutes or until you achieve the desired consistency. Keep stirring occasionally. 

Friday, August 12, 2011


I've never met an Indian who doesn't like street food. There's got to be something ridiculously good about those spicy-savory-sour-sweet dishes for a country of billions to be crazy about! Street food is a different class of cuisine altogether and call me crazy, but I'll pick that over a 5-star restaurant any day! You can pretty much get anything from sandwiches to noodles on a little streetside cart in India, but what gets me really drooling is the broad category of Chaats. Yum! Bhel, shev-puri, paani-puri, ragada chaat and all those tasty concoctions of tangy tamarind and hot chili-cilantro chutneys, crunchy-thin chickpea flour noodles called Sev, finely diced onion and tomatoes over potatoes or white peas, puffed rice or crispy puris.  

I remember my mom or sister taking me a few lanes down from our house to the park, where a dozen or so vendors with their fully equipped carts used to crowd the corner. We were not allowed to eat there too often for 'questionable' cleanliness to put it in mild words. But it was one of those guilty pleasures that felt better than going to the candy store! The chaat-wallah used every inch of the space creatively. A flat pan of ragda boiling away over a kerosene stove in one corner, every shelf stacked with enough ingredients for the week, containers of chutneys and spices, plates and drinking(?) water, all in one crammed cart. All this left a small cutting-board sized space where he would dice the veggies at the speed of light.

It wasn't until I visited Mumbai, then Bombay, though that I experienced the culture of street food! Mumbai is the Mecca for street food lovers. It's a potpourri of cultures and people from all around the country have contributed to the numerous food carts that have become the lifeline of students, workers, rishkshaw or taxi drivers and every other person who stops by for a quick snack. My cousin, who I used to visit during the holidays, had her favorite designated cart for every item. She was the one who first introduced me to the awesomeness called 'Dabeli'! Ahh - how I fell in love with this delicious 'burger' that was too small for my liking. The Kacchi Gujarati community has made Dabeli a popular item on street carts in Mumbai. And like all other Gujarati dishes, they have managed to bring a sweet element into this yummy chaat item.

Spicy Roasted Peanuts
'Dabeli' literally means pressed in Gajarati. It is a delicious burger with spiced mashed potatoes, spicy roasted peanuts, pomegranate seeds, sev and tamarind-date chutney all sandwiched between a bun, graciously lathered with Amul butter! The butter is applied in such generous amounts that the bread literally melts in your mouth. Dabeli has been one of my favorite street foods all these years. I make sure to visit my cousin's favorite Dabeli-wallah at the time during my busy trips to India. 
Utterly  Butterly Delicious!
I love making Dabeli for dinner once in a while for a change of taste. I have made it from scratch many times before, but this time I took advantage of having all the components available at the grocery store. It's a quick fix meal on a week night. The Dabeli Masala I brought from India was a time saver as well, although it's a simple combination of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red chili, cloves and cinnamon roasted and ground to a fine powder

Everything you need for the best bite ever!
Ready to be 'dabeli' - pressed.

Kacchi Dabeli

2 Potatoes
2 Teaspoons Dabeli Masala
1/4 Teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 Cup peanuts
1/2 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
1/2 - 1 Teaspoon red chili powder
Salt to taste
2 Tablespoons oil
Burger buns
1 Small onion finely chopped
1 Pomegranate seeds
Bareek sev (fine sev) for garnishing
Tamarind-date chutney

Potato stuffing:
Boil potatoes, peel and mash. Add dabeli masala and salt to taste to the potatoes and mix well.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and let them splutter, add in the mashed potatoes and cook everything for a couple of minutes. You can add a little bit of water if the potatoes become too dry.

Roasted peanuts:
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a sautee pan, add peanuts, sprinkle cumin-coriander, red chili powder and salt to taste and let them roast, stirring occasionally.

To assemble:
Toast bread with a generous application of butter.
Make a small patty of the mashed potato and put it on the slice of bread. Top it with some tamarind-date chutney, then onions, peanuts, pomegrante seeds and lastly sev.
Press the other slice of bread on top. You can toast the burger on a pan again or just enjoy it!

Spicy potatoes, crunchy peanuts and sev, tangy-sour chutney and sweet pomegranate to balance it all create the most perrrfect bite ever!!!

Dabeli is a great snack for entertaining too. You can make a little assembly of all the ingredients and let your guests make their own. Or you can make a 'cake' with layers of mashed potatoes and all the other ingredients and let your guest cut a piece for their burger.
Grapes cut in half make a great substitute for pomegranates, providing the same sweetness, crunch and juicy pop in the mouth.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

It's Raining Tomatoes

I have an incredible luck with tomato plants. Either that, or they are just not a fussy vegetable to grow. I conveniently opt to believe in the former, but it wasn't just the beginner's luck that resulted in summer-long bountiful crop when I planted tomatoes last year. You got a glimpse of my garden here and the recipe for an aromatic tomato-basil bread. I kept plucking a couple of tomatoes here and there for sandwiches or curries, but what do you do with a bucketful of tomatoes at the peak of ripeness all at once?! The tomato plants in my garden are flourishing, although the same can not be said about zucchini and jalapeno. On the bright side, I can think of a hundred different recipes to use up the tomatoes - these many jalapenos would've been another story!

After contemplating between Italian and Mexican dishes, I circled back to what I knew the best - Mom's Tomato Rice recipe! Our fridge was almost always stocked with tomatoes and this dish appeared on dinner table in between mom's grocery visits. The monsoon season especially created scarcity of fresh vegetables and a soulful rice dish out of something readily available was a great dinner option. A serving of steaming tomato rice with home-made curd and spicy-salty pickle on the side made me a happy camper. I loved the preparation of fragrant basmati rice cooked in a rich roasted coconut-onion paste with a whiff of whole spices and of course, tomatoes!  The puff of steam, as I was cooking the rice yesterday, filled my kitchen with familiar aromas my mom's saree would pick up in the kitchen and it gave me a warm-fuzzy feeling of being somewhere very comfortable :).

Tomato Rice

1 Cup Basmati rice
4-5 large or 8-10 small tomatoes
1 Heaping tablespoons fresh grated coconut
1 Small onion
1-2 Green chilies
~ 1 Teaspoon Garam masala
1 Bay leaf/7-8 Curry leaves
7-8 Black pepper corns
3-4 Cloves
1 Tablespoon oil
Salt to taste

  • Cook tomatoes in boiling water until the skin peels off. Strain the tomatoes (save the broth) and puree.
  • Wash rice and keep aside. This helps cook the rice faster. 
  • In a cooking pot, roast chopped onion for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, add grated coconut and let it get toasty. Grind the roasted onion, coconut and garam masala into a paste. You can use cumin-coriander powder if you don't have garam masala. 
  • In the same pot, heat oil, add pepper corn, cloves, bay leaf or curry leaves (I enjoy flavors of both - add either based on your preference), slit green chilies and let them roast for a few seconds.
  • Add the coconut-onion paste, rice, tomato puree, 2 cups of water (I use the broth of cooked tomatoes) and cook on medium heat covered. Stir the rice occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom and add water little by little if needed until the rice is cooked.

This rice is very fragrant from the whole spices. Green chilies provide just enough heat to balance the sweet-citrus-y taste of tomatoes. Roasted onions and coconut are subtle and heighten the flavors of the dish. Enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Foodilicious: Good Eats

Foodilicious: Good Eats: "It's so easy to eat healthy; I wonder why we succumb to the greasy, fatty, buttery, unhealthy foods (okay, don't answer that :P). I made a v..."

Layers of Happiness

I've always been in love with trifles. Growing up in a traditional Indian family from a small town, I didn't know what the classic trifle really was until I moved to the US. We did, however, have our own versions. The heavenly Cocktail with layers of fruits, cake, ice-cream and jelly at the Imperial Ice-cream parlor or my Aunt's version with fruits, custard and tutti-frutti cake; scooping a bit from every layer of deliciousness with a tall spoon and stuffing my face with that big bite put a huge smile on my face. I especially looked forward to the ritualistic summer Sunday visits to Imperial and couldn't wait to hold that chilled glass in my hands. The star fruit in India was mango of course, but strawberries were a rare addition when available. The burst of fresh, juicy fruits with lusciously creamy ice-cream or custard was party in my mouth.

With those pictures from childhood in mind, I decided to make a trifle with the gorgeous seasonal organic berries from the Farmer's Market this weekend. I should confess that I stretched the definition a bit and took the liberty of calling my no-cake, no whipped cream dessert 'trifle'. Why get caught up in terminology though, when the end product is the same satisfying layers of succulent fruits and a creamy component no short on taste? The strawberries, blueberries and blackberries were so fresh and juicy that I wanted them to stand up for themselves. A little bit of sugar to enhance their sweetness, some lowfat yogurt to keep it nutritious, and mere 15-20 minutes of prep time, and I was already indulging in a refreshing summer creation. Some lemon zest in the yogurt added a pop of flavor and brightened the entire dish. With a busy schedule on Sunday and a diminishing pantry supply, this trifle turned into my Sunday Supper. I wasn't complaing after enjoying a large glassful of this on a sweltering August afternoon! 

Triple Berry Trifle with Honey-Lemon Yogurt

2 Cups mixed berries - You can use your favorite kind, I used blueberries, blackberries & strawberries
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Cup yogurt
1 Lemon
1 Tablespoon honey 
  • Clean the berries. Cut the strawberries into fours. Sprinkle sugar on the berries and keep aside.
  • Strain the yogurt to thicken it slightly. Beat it with a spoon so it's smooth and creamy.
  • Add zest of one large lemon and a tablespoon of honey to the yogurt and mix well. Honey was great to sweeten the yogurt slightly and mixed in easily.
  • To assemble it, add a few blueberries to the bottom of your glass/cup, add a layer of the yogurt. Repeat this with strawberries and then blackberries. You can layer them in any order you like, but the result is the same delicious trifle! 
I would've liked the yogurt to be thicker so it wouldn't have seeped into the fruits so much. Straining it a little more would've helped, but I could hardly wait to eat. I was still very happy with the end result and will be making this more often. It'll be a great dessert to serve at summer parties as you can make it well in advance and refrigerate. The individual personal cups/glasses make it more fun.

I still had two baskets of Strawberries left and hubby demanded a jam! Stay tuned for a great jam recipe with a twist!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Salad With A Winter Whiff

Hello there! I know my blogging has been very sporadic lately, and it can only be blamed on the gorgeous weather and weather alone. Come to think of it, I have been posting at least once a week on average (ah, there I go with my statistics!); but weather this beautiful needs to be relished while it lasts. Now, don't you all agree that summer should be more about appreciating the outdoors than being locked up in the house (read: kitchen)? Isn't that why we save all the serious cooking for the holidays?? This is the time to enjoy cool splashes of water, eat ice-cream to your heart's content, bring out the inner child visiting places like Sea World, have a picnic on the beach or just spend an afternoon lying on the grass reading a book. 

My list of 'things to do' and 'places to visit' this summer has been endless and I have little time to spare in the kitchen. Not to say that I don't cook, but simple and light meals seem to suit my summer apptetite and leave me plenty of time for more interesting things such as swimming (ahem!). Yes, my recent undertaking has been learning to swim <drum roll>! Or... not freak out in the water - depending on how you look at it :p. 

Anyway, we'll save my horror stories of sharing the pool with kids half my age for some other time. Let's talk about something I don't get nightmares over for now - Food! Husband is a big fan of simple salads and keeps asking for them for dinner - so much for a seafood lover. That makes me happy anyway, and I keep looking for new ingredients to use in my recipes. A couple of weeks back, a beautiful red apple sitting in my fridge was beckoning to be used. I usually ignore apples until they are the last thing in my fridge since it's not my favorite fruit to snack on, but it makes for a great salad ingredient! So with a couple of simple ingredients to pair with it, I paid the apple due respect and made a delicious salad out of it. Apple-Walnut salad with Maple vinaigrette - need I say more?? It was like turning a holiday dessert into a salad! Apples provided that perfect crunchy bite with slight sweetness, which paired wonderfully with the maple vinaigrette. Walnut is my favorite kind of nut and it completes any salad in my opinion.

Apple-Walnut Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

1 Bag Spring Mix
1 Large apple - pick your favorite kind
2 Palmfuls glazed walnut - adds that extra sumthin'
1/2 Cup maple syrup
1/4 Cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons yogurt
Salt & Pepper for seasoning

  • Stir together maple syrup, red wine vinegar, yogurt and salt & pepper for taste. The yogurt enhances sweetness and tanginess of the vinegar and makes the vinaigrette lusciously creamy!
  • Cut apple into thin slices, crush the walnut slightly and mix with the spring mix greens. 
  • Drizzle the vinaigrette over the greens, toss together and serve. 

Now, use all that time you saved making this simple, delicious salad and do something fun!

Padres Game
Coronado Beach

Mission Bay
Cirque De La Mer @ Sea World
Mission Bay from the tram @ SeaWorld
Shamu Rocks!


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