Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer Recipe - Pineapple Curry

Ever since the in-laws arrived, we've been caved in trying to stay out of the 3-digit temperatures. The only solace has been walking on the beach in the evening dipping our feet in pleasantly cold waters, and eating cooling foods. It only helps that my MIL is a fantastic cook who has plenty of recipes I want to learn. We've been cooking up a storm already. As soon as she was out of jet-lag, we went and bought the ingredients to make Ananas Amti (Pineapple curry). A recipe I've wanted to learn from her first-hand ever since I got married. 

My first encounter with this tangy, sweet and sour curry was at my wedding! My MIL gave her mother's recipe to our caterer, who did a very good job making it on a large scale. If you're married, you'll know how trying it is to eat at your own wedding while greeting hundreds of guests. Yet, I remember the taste of this amti very distinctly. It was quite special. My MIL made it today, and it was even better than how I remembered it. Although it's called amti, the color, consistency and flavors are more like kadhi. It has a simple yet fragrant tempering of ghee, cumin seeds and green chili - the classic flavors of kadhi. The pineapple chunks are then cooked in a mixture of cashew paste and coconut milk to make a very smooth and creamy curry. Slurp! For all the richness, this amti is a quick fix, especially if you buy canned coconut milk and pre-cut pineapple. 

Ananas Amti - Pineapple Curry

2 1/2 Cups fresh,ripe pineapple chunks - the success of this curry depends on the quality of pineapple
1/2 Cup whole cashew nuts (or halved in the center)
1 Cup coconut milk
2 Tablespoons sugar (or as required)
Salt to taste
Lime juice as required (optional)

2 Tablespoons ghee
1 Teaspoon cumin seeds
2 Green chilies - slit vertically in the center
1/8 Teaspoon turmeric powder

  • Cut pineapple in ~3/4 inch chunks. If the pineapple is not ripe/sweet enough, sprinkle some sugar on it and keep aside for 30 minutes. This brings out the juices and makes the pineapple taste better. You can use canned pineapple, but like anything else, fresh ones taste better. 
  • Soak cashew nuts in warm water so they soften. 
  • Once the pineapple and cashews are ready, take out 1/2 cup pineapple chunks and one third cashews and make a smooth paste. 
  • Heat ghee in a pot and add cumin seeds and green chilies. Once the cumin seeds splutter, add remaining pineapple chunks and a little bit of turmeric (only for slight color), and let the pineapple cook for a couple of minutes. 
  • Mix in pineapple-cashew paste, and the remaining cashews. Add a little bit of water if the mixture is too thick and let it boil for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Lower the heat, add coconut milk, salt to taste, and sugar you desire more sweetness. Mix everything well and turn off the heat. You don't want to cook this too long after adding coconut milk else it'll separate. 
  • Let the curry cool down a little, then sprinkle very little lime juice to add some tang. Taste and decide the balance between sweet and sour to your liking. Do not add lime juice to hot curry - it can taste bitter. 

Serve this amti with hot rotis or puris. It is heavenly with the decadence of cashew paste and coconut milk. The sweet, bursting pineapple is just perfect for a summer meal.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Spice Paradise

Wednesday was my lucky day. I had signed up for the Spice & Something Nice Swap event hosted by Nupur @ One Hot Stove. My fabulous swap partner, Gayatri of Double Expat, sent me a wonderful package of gifts which arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I won't mention all the details since Nupur will do a round-up with photos soon, but I must talk about the spice mix that was gifted to me. Gayatri sent me a family made spice mix called Paach Masala, or Five Spices literally. It's a smoky and hot(!) spice mix with chili powder, chana daal, coriander, cumin, and black pepper. There were two recipes sent along with this masala, of which I tried the Tikhat Batata Bhaji (Spicy dry potato curry) recipe promptly. The preparation was extremely simple and the fragrance reminded me of Masale Bhat. We devoured the bhaji with rava dosas. I see myself making many quick Indian veg stir fries and curries with it. 

To make the bhaji, peel and cube 3 medium sized potatoes. Make a tempering by heating 1.5 tbsp oil and adding 1/4 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, a couple of pinches asafoetida, and curry leaves from one sprig. Once the mustard seeds splutter, add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder and a teaspoon of paach masala (use garam masala in lieu), and saute. Add cubed potatoes, salt, sprinkle a little bit of water, and cover the pot. Let the potatoes and spices steam together. I garnished this bhaji generously with cilantro. 

To continue the spices saga, a HUGE bag of goodies arrived from India with my in-laws on Wednesday night. Oh, the snacks and sweets and groceries and spices they brought! My stove is going to work overtime the next few months. There just aren't enough meals in a day to make all the deliciousness I want to cook! 

Here's a (very poor) pictorial of some of the goodies:

Spicy and regular banana wafers - I'd take these over potato chips any day. 
Chitale Bandhu bakarwadi - These hardly need an introduction.

Konfal chips - Purple yam chips

Jackfruit Chips - There's a small window before the rains start to get freshly made jackfruit chips.

Aamba vadi (candy made with alphonso mangoes) - If I can't have alphonso, it comes to me in this form!
Sutarfeni - Sweet noodles that literally melt in your mouth.

I love you Rasna! - I'm feeling soo nostalgic. These soft drink concentrates were our favorite, especially during the sweltering summer months. 

Sabudana - Tapioca pearls to make khichadi. I have not found good quality sabudana in Indian stores here.
Kala vatana - My the favorite usal is with kala vatana. I've looked hard to find kala vatana here without any luck.
Charoli - These seeds are used to garnish Shrikhand traditionally. Finally I can make shrikhand exactly like my grandma does!

Mumbai Ki Galiyon Se (From the streets of Mumbai)
Dabeli Masala, Sandwich Masala, Kitchen King Masala, Usal-Misal Masala, Vada-Paav Masala
Rock salt, Anar dana (Pomegranate seeds), and Garam Masala

Red Chili Powder - Freshly ground and HOT!

A taste of home!!!
Metkut - Maharashtrian style poodi chutney made by mom. There's no better metkut in the world!
Malvani Masala - Konkani style masala made by my mother's help as a gift to me. Isn't she a sweetheart!

Thalipeeth Bhajani - There's a bhajani swap going on in my house. This was made by my aunt to send to my cousin. Since I've hijacked it, my mom will be sending some to my cousin soon =D.

Sambar Masala - Also made by my aunt. This came with bhajani and stays with me as well ;).

Along with all the food goodness, my in-laws brought a whole lot of kitchen ware (the copper kadhai in the first pic is one of them). The surprise item which made me the happiest was this big, flat dosa tava. I already used it to make rava dosas and finally achieved perfectly thin and crispy dosas.

Let me know if you have any fun recipes I should try using any of these ingredients. And stay tuned for the updates on all that's cooking in my kitchen! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dreaming of Deutschland

What does one do when asked to travel to the Netherlands for business on a very short notice? One jumps on the opportunity, takes a few days off to mix pleasure with business, and takes the husband along! We went on a short yet satisfying trip to Deutschland last week. One post is simply not enough to talk about this beautiful land of green pastures, windmills, canals, arts and culture, and history spanning centuries. I will give you a few tasty highlights of the trip!

Chocolate For Breakfast: I fell in love with the Dutch instantly when I saw a spread of chocolate sprinkles at the breakfast table on the first day. Chocolate sprinkles, called Chocoladehagel (or chocolate hail), go with a slice of bread. These chocolate confections come in various shapes and types, such as sprinkles or shavings, pure chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate etc. It is common practice for people of all ages to enjoy a topping of chocolate sprinkles on buttered slice of bread for breakfast. The Dutch have found the mantra for happiness!

Pannenkoeken: Pannenkoekenhuis or 'Pancake Houses' can be found at every street corner in the Netherlands. And they are not for breakfast only. The Dutch pancakes are much larger and thinner than the American version I'm used to. They are akin to thick crepes. Make sure you are hungry because these pancakes can be as large as a foot or more in diameter! A variety of fruits, cheese, cream, veggies, or bacon are either incorporated in the batter or topped on the pancakes. Mini pancakes called Poffertjes drizzled with chocolate sauce are perfect for sharing for a light snack. They are fluffy and slightly chewy bite size pancakes prepared with lots of butter. Want to go for the real thing? Look at that monster pancake in the second picture topped with warm cherries, vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream..mmm mmm good! The third one was a savory pancake - topped with grated cheese and mixed veggies. The interesting condiment with the savory pancake was 'curry ketchup'. A jazzed up version of ketchup with curry powder and some other spices. This needs to be introduced to the rest of the world!

A Jumbled Mix: While pancakes are nice, the long and cold winters in Holland beckon something more hearty. I am talking about potatoes and meat of course. A traditional Dutch meal consists of mashed potatoes and vegetables with some kind of meat on the side (the 'on the side' part had me sold). I was ecstatic that the Dutch were so vegetarian friendly! I didn't have to opt for the only vegetarian option on the menu put as an afterthought. This jumbled mix of ingredients called Hotch Potch, getting its name from Hutspot or Shaken pot, has an interesting history. I won't go on telling it, but you can read it here. We ordered a hotch potch of mashed potatoes with endive, and cheese croquettes in a traditional Dutch restaurant - doesn't that look simple and comforting? The traditional dinnerware made it even more authentic.

Cheese Galore: The Dutch countryside has lush green pastures with black and white belted cows grazing in large numbers. With an abundance of milk, it is no surprise that Holland has some of the best cheeses. Cheese and bread were the focal point of lunch selections where ever we went.
The famous Gouda made with cow's milk gets its name from the city of Gouda where the cheese making process originated. By the way, I learned that Gouda is pronounced Howda with a funny, grainy sounding H as though you are clearing your throat!
We visited a few Kaas or cheese stores in Amsterdam with stacks and stacks of yellow cheese wheels. While those were great, a small cheese factory and store in Zaanse Schans, a traditional Dutch town just north of Amsterdam, gave us a peek at how cheese is made. We sampled a wide selection of cheeses flavored with cumin seeds, red pepper, fenugreek, basil and anything else you can think of. The luxurious Gouda with truffles was certainly the winner. There were quite a few aged and young goat's and sheep's cheeses as well. The cheese was served with mustard sauce which also came in many flavors. Husband and I must have eaten more cheese in one week than we did since the beginning of the year. After much picking and choosing and deliberation, we purchased 3 cheeses - hot and spicy Gouda, young goat's cheese, and smoked cow's cheese. I see plenty of good eats in the near future =D.

The Chocolate Factory: The Dutch built their country on trade. Their industries are reminiscent of the trading era. They borrowed pottery making art from the Chinese, spices from the Indians, and cocoa from the African countries. Holland is the largest importer of cocoa beans in the EU and produce some of the best cocoa powder and chocolate. We visited a small chocolate store, also in Zaanse Schans, where we got a demonstration of the chocolate making process. The picture below shows the steps in making pure, decadent chocolate from dry cocoa beans.

The beans are first roasted and cracked to separate nibs from the cover. These nibs taste somewhat like coffee beans, but don't have any chocolate taste yet. The nibs are then ground to powder, and then ground on a warm stone for as long as 24-36 hours. This warm grinding process brings out the fats (cocoa butter) and makes a smooth paste called cocoa mass. It is still very bitter at his point. Making chocolate is then as simple as mixing the right amount of sugar and extra cocoa butter for smoothness. Simple enough right? :P. All this was fun, but the most exciting part was the sampling of fresh chocolate made right in front of our eyes. It's amazing how different something fresh and pure can taste. The picture below shows our demonstrator scraping freshly made chocolate from the hot stone.

The demonstrator showing us a slab of compact cocoa powder slab, on the right is
cocoa mass (before extracting cocoa butter) and white cocoa butter. All natural and pure
There were so many other new and unique experiences, but I can't go on forever. A trip that started with chocolate and ended on the same note had to be memorable. We will cherish the memories and devour the goodies brought back with us - until next time =).

The summer is here and the schools are out. Do you have any travel plans? What are you up to?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mexico In A Bowl

For someone living in San Diego, I have surprised myself by not posting many south of the border recipes. Today I had all the right ingredients to put together a fabulous salsa using a can of black beans that was pushed to the back of the pantry. Don't you feel just as happy when you find the perfect ingredients for a dish you weren't expecting to make?? This salsa has everything you expect in Mexican cuisine - roasted corn, black beans, mango, avocado - the whole nine yards. Hence, I call it 'Mexico In A Bowl'! Of all the salsas that I have ever made/tasted, this is by far my most favorite combination. The contrasting textures and flavors marry really well. My love for using sweet fruits in savory dishes is no secret to anyone. And wouldn't one love a zesty salsa with bits of mango bursting with sweet juices? Digging into a bowl of this was like taking a vacation to a tropical paradise.

I couldn't stop myself from taking one scoop after another of the salsa while husband was clicking pictures. He sure makes my food look good! This salsa bowl, exactly like the ones in Mexican restaurants, was a gift from my company for participating in the Salsa competition last month. Thinking back, I should've made this salsa for the competition to secure a spot..oh well. The look of this bowl makes me feel like I'm dining out =D.

Roasted Corn, Mango, And Black Bean Salsa

1 Corn on the cob - white or yellow
1 Ripe mango - chopped into small pieces
1 Cup cooked black beans
1 Small or 1/2 large avocado - chopped into small pieces
1/2 Small onion finely chopped
1 Small tomato finely chopped - take out the seeds
1 Whole chipotle in adobo sauce
Lots of chopped cilantro
Juice from 1 lime
Serrano hot sauce - to liking
Salt to taste

  • Roast corn on open flame until you get beautiful char marks. To separate the kernels, hold the stem of the corn in one hand and rest the tip on a cutting board (holding the corn at an angle). Now run the knife through the base of the kernels from top to bottom - away from you. 
  • Mix corn kernels, chopped mango, black beans, avocado, onion and tomato. 
  • Finely chop chipotle and add to the above. Sprinkle plenty of cilantro. 
  • Add juice from one lime, salt to taste and mix everything well. Taste the salsa and add some hot sauce if you would like. It tastes better on the milder side since it has so many sweet elements. You can add more of one or more of the ingredients - suit yourself!

Serving suggestion: 

  • The salsa is perfect with tortilla chips as an appetizer
  • I used it in hard shell tacos - All you need is sauteed red and green bell peppers (cut them in strips and saute in some oil on high flame. This will give them nice charring) and some queso. Add bell peppers to taco shells, add a big scoop of this salsa, and top it with some shredded cheese and more hot sauce if you want. The tacos were just perfect! Husband especially enjoyed them. 
  • You could make a nice burrito/burrito bowl with soft tortilla, Mexican rice, salsa, lettuce and sour cream if you like. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Avocado Sandwich With Arugula Pesto

I get over zealous about grocery shopping every once in a while and buy more produce than we can consume. Okay, it happens more often than I would like <smh>. I stocked my fridge to its full capacity after getting back from vacation. Using up most perishable items was in order over the weekend.

I made Ghavan on saturday, using chopped spinach instead of zucchini. This is such a great item to sneak in veggies! Make a note, all you moms! The only addition to the recipe was a spoonful of toasted cumin seeds. 

A bag of baby arugula, already yellowing in one corner, was next to finish. Arugula is my all time favorite green. Its distinct peppery flavor pairs well with fruits such as pear, nectarine, or citrus in salads. Fully grown leaves can be a tad bit bitter and pungent, so I purchase the baby ones. They are much milder in comparison. Arugula, actually an herb, makes a great choice for pesto. It seemed like a great way to use up that bag of greens. There were no pine nuts in the pantry, so I settled on using walnuts after reading Elise's recipe. I prefer my pesto with lots of garlic, although I used one less clove for arugula is spicy already. This pesto slathered generously was fantastic in a sandwich. I kept it simple - just avocado for creaminess and tomatoes for a bit of acidity and let pesto take over most of the flavor part.

Avocado Sandwich With Arugula Pesto

1 Cup packed baby arugula
1/4 Cup walnuts
2 Cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 Cup olive oil
Salt to taste

Ripe avocado - sliced
Tomato - sliced
Multi-grain bread.

  • Add all the ingredients to the food processor, except olive oil. 
  • Grind everything coarsely, adding oil little by little. 
  • Smear pesto on two slices of multi-grain bread. My favorite multi-grain from the local grocery store has all sorts of seeds sprinkled on them - sesame, sunflower etc. Add sliced avocados and tomatoes and grill until crispy. You can even add roasted red bell peppers to this sandwich.

The sandwich is extremely simple to make yet fancy enough that you'd order it in a fine Deli. We enjoyed it with savory banana chips on the side - our latest addiction!

On a different note - Husband recently discovered vinyl photography backdrops online. These vinyl sheets come in all sorts of wooden finish looks and are perfect to take food photos. Not that I take any effort in shooting my food, but husband has been pushing me to do better. Getting these vinyl backdrops is the first step. If you are looking for something like this, just google and you'll find plenty of sites out there selling this stuff. Mine came from Swanky Prints right here in Temecula. They are quite fabulous!


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