Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Riot Of Colors

Holi Hai Bhai Holi Hai! Wishing all my readers a very colorful Holi!

I know the other side of the country is eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring; but I hope the colors of Holi wash away all the white and brighten up you days. Over here, spring is peeking through the pink-purple-yellow wildflowers dotting the green patches everywhere, the sweet songs of red-black-blue birds hopping in our yards, and the tender green shoots covering the bare bones of all the trees. There's a riot of colors everywhere; happy times are here again!

What colorful food will you eat for Holi? No, I'm not talking about artificial food colors. I'm referring to the bounty of veggies and fruits that add a splash of color to our plates. We've all heard our grandmas saying, "Eat your colors! They make a balanced diet." Scientific research now shows that the color pigment in different fruits and veggies results from the compounds, vitamins and other nutrients in them. Old cultures have always emphasized the importance of eating foods from various color families. Mom always taught me to pick different colored veggies/fruits/beans when planning a menu. Holi is a perfect time to remind ourselves that colorful foods are not just pleasing to the eyes, but nourishing to our bodies. Eat a rainbow every day to ensure you get the essential nutrients your body needs**. A few good articles on the benefits of colorful foods - NYTimes HealthDr. OzSFO Chronicle.

**Please note: I'm no nutritionist or doctor. But I suppose eating a variety of fruits and veggies doesn't hurt anyone :D.

Rainbow of foods

Red/Pink: Provide antioxidants, vitamin A and C.
Examples: Tomatoes, Red bell pepper, Pomegranate, Strawberries, Watermelon

Watermelon Salad
Tomato Bhaji
Orange/Yellow: Rich in vitamin A, vitamin C.
Examples: Apricots, Squash, Carrots, Orange, Papaya, Peaches, Mangoes

Green: Fiber, vitamin K, chlorophyll - a natural purifier, vitamin B
Examples: Spinach, Kale, Lettuce, Zucchini, Green bell peppers, Peas, Green Beans, Broccoli, Leafy veggies

Spinach Thoran
Blue/Purple: Anthocyanins, Vitamin K
Examples: Eggplants, Beets, Purple cabbage, Blueberries, Figs, Plums, Blackberries

Berry Trifle
Fig Barfi
May your lives be filled with healthful colors!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lunch Club

Once every month or month and a half, a group of my colleagues and I get away from the cubicles at noon, take over one of the conference rooms, and instead of discussing statistical theories, enjoy delicious foods prepared by each other. We have a fun little Lunch Club, which has revealed many great cooks in the group. I can't tell you what feasts these gatherings turn into - we always struggle to get back to work while in food coma! It's nice not to worry about work for some time and talk about our lives outside of the office.

For this month's potluck, I made a simple make-ahead dish. It saved me the hassle of cooking early in the morning and worrying about how it would taste after reheating. A quick, tasty couscous salad which can be made ahead and served chilled.

Couscous, which is semolina flour rolled into little pearls, is softer and fluffier when cooked than semolina itself. I love all sorts of pilafs made with couscous, but my latest fad has been a cold salad with Mediterranean essentials and cranberries! I've eaten variants of this salad at many restaurants. This dish hardly requires any cooking skills; the only somewhat challenging part being the actual cooking of couscous. To make sure it doesn't become too clumpy and dense, I add a dash of oil to it while cooking. Also, it helps to be conservative with the amount of water. You can always add some warm water if the couscous is not cooked completely. And if you can help it, don't turn couscous vigorously - cooking in a non-stick pot on medium heat will help.

**Please note that the measurements in the recipe below are approximate. You can add as many or as little of the veggies/beans as you like.

Couscous Salad With Cranberries

1 1/2 Cups dry couscous - the smaller variety
Vegetable stock - optional
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Small garlic cloves - minced
1 Small Persian cucumber - finely chopped
1 Small tomato - finely chopped
2 Scallions - thinly sliced
1/2 Cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 Cup dried cranberries and toasted almonds
2 Sprigs of basil - julienned
Juice from 1 lime
Salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste

  • Cook couscous according to package instructions. For a more full bodied flavor, use half vegetable stock and half water in cooking. Also, salt it while cooking so it mixes more evenly. 
  • Heat oil in a pot and add minced garlic and saute for a minute until golden brown. Add cooked couscous and turn gently. Then turn off the heat.
  • Add all the veggies, chickpeas, cranberries, almonds and basil. Sprinkle juice from one lime, and season with cracked pepper to taste.
  • Use a fork to mix everything together. This will fluff up the couscous while making sure it doesn't break.
You can dress up the salad with feta cheese. I find it very satisfying the way it is. The salad is not too heavy, but doesn't make you hungry just few minutes after eating it. My favorite part of the dish are cranberries that soak up lemon juice and excess moisture and become plump. Alternatively, you can add raisins or chopped dried apricots for that sweet, chewy bite. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spring Blooms

Husband and I got a head start on our garden this year. I admit - he takes more care of the plants than I do. We are  lucky to have plenty of sunlight way before spring, so the seeds we sowed have come to life beautifully indoors with the light coming in through the patio. Here's what we are growing this year!

Tender mustard greens are great in salads. I am waiting for these to grow so that I can make saag!
Girls love ruby!
Husband is a huge fan of Karelas..Hope we get some fruits.
Oh, the heavenly aroma of sage!
Already used some to make roasted potatoes. Mmmm..
We mislabeled this plant. I think it's eggplant, husband thinks it's tomatillo - we'll find out soon hopefully :D
A beautiful flower bucket hubs put together - has lavender which I'm looking forward to using in the kitchen.
Hubby's works of art
Simply gorgeous! This is the first time we are seeing the big trees in the garden bloom.
Just bought this Japanese Maple - Look at that beautiful color!
The fig tree was completely bare until last week. Suddenly, the tips of every branch have one leaf and one tiny fig!
4 types of tomatoes and one pepper plant.
Other than these, we've planted the usual - basil, cilantro and zucchini. There's dill, spinach, holy basil and oregano as well. Let's see how everything turns out. I'm looking forward to a productive summer!

Spring has arrived...Are you planting anything in your garden/patio/balcony/windowsill this year?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Making Everyday Meals Exciting

I was lucky to have grown up having my mom cook us fresh meals every day, twice a day! It was after I started running a kitchen of my own that I realized the challenges of keeping everyday meals exciting. I gotta love my mom for being able to whip up different and exciting meals to keep 6 tummies and tongues pleased all the time. We weren't picky about our food, but let's just say, we were spoiled by great cooks in the house :D. Mom left no room for complaints though. Even on the days we ate simple rice and daal, she would look at whatever was available in the pantry/fridge and come up with a quick side dish to dress up the plate. Like this, this, or  this

Today's recipe is one of my favorites that mom often made. A quick tomato bhaji - a wonderful concoction of sweet and sour, slightly spicy flavors. Although this bhaji looks somewhat like a chutney, it is to be consumed fresh. It doesn't store in the fridge. I love how it adds a little something to a simple dinner with minimal effort and readily available ingredients. The tomatoes of course give it a tangy taste, but two aromatic spices provide an element of surprise - cloves and cinnamon. While the dish is very simple to make, the flavors are complex and satisfy all the taste buds. For some variation, add curry leaves to the tempering, spice it up with a little bit of cumin-coriander powder or garam masala, add ground peanuts for body, or you can even top it off with thin sev for a bit of crunch! All of these versions taste great. 

Tomato Bhaji

3 Plump tomatoes - roughly chopped
1 Shallot - thinly sliced
2 Garlic cloves - crushed and roughly chopped
1 Large serrano chili - chopped
4-5 cloves
1 Inch cinnamon stick
For tempering - 2 Teaspoons oil, 1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 Teaspoon turmeric
Sugar to taste
Salt to taste
Red chili powder if needed
Cilantro for garnishing
  • Heat oil in a kadhai and add mustard seeds. 
  • Once the mustard seeds splutter, add turmeric, chopped garlic, shallot, chili, cloves and cinnamon. Saute for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add tomatoes, sprinkle a little bit of sugar to balance the tang of tomatoes and let the bhaji cook until the tomatoes are soft. I like the bhaji well cooked. For extra heat, add some red chili powder. It'll enhance the red color as well. 
  • Add salt to taste, mix well and turn off the heat. 
  • Garnish with some chopped cilantro. 
Tomato bhaji tastes great with rice, roti or even bread. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...