Saturday, February 21, 2015

Simple Couscous Salad

Going forward, I'll make an effort to highlight easy meal options for the busy parents. I will add keep adding to this list, which you can access by clicking on the 'Kid-friendly' label.

To give you an idea of what goes on in my kitchen, here is what I cooked this week:

Monday - Thai red curry with sauteed tofu and mixed vegetables. I bought all natural (as natural as it can get) red curry paste from the store. This dish was hardly any work after that. All I had to do was bring a can of coconut milk and red curry paste to a boil, add sauteed tofu and mixed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, red and yellow peppers, a couple of red radish) and cook for 3-4 minutes. Lots of chopped cilantro for garnishing, and it tasted great with some leftover peas pulao from the night before. 
My daughter ate cooked carrots, radish, peppers, and a little bit of tofu from the curry. 

Tuesday - Avocado and roasted red bell pepper grilled sandwich on multi-grain bread. Avocado is so creamy by itself, I didn't have to add any cheese. The girl ate avocado slices from my sandwich. 

Wednesday - Couscous salad with cucumber, tomato, and cilantro. Baby girl loved this couscous salad!

Thursday - Asian style salad with mixed greens, shredded carrots and broccoli (using leftover broccoli and carrots from Thai curry), tangerine, and peanut dressing. None of the ingredients were good for the baby - she ate some pear and avocado. 

Friday - Simple cabbage sabji with roti. Then we went out for dinner to kick off the weekend. Shreya loves eating fresh roti.

Saturday - Husband made a delicious pizza with kale pesto base, lots of veggies and cheese on top. Baby girl enjoyed picking out spinach off the top. 

I make variations of the couscous salad every time. And it always tastes great. This is the basic Mediterranean style salad to which you can add many other things. In addition to cucumber and tomato, you can have olives, black beans or chickpeas, diced peppers, diced zucchini, feta cheese, chopped spinach or basil etc. The simplest version is great as a light meal. Or you can eat it with a vegetable and beans stew or lentil soup. 

Couscous Salad with Cucumber & Tomato

1 Cup uncooked couscous 
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Small cucumber - diced (big or small depending on how you liked it)
1 Small tomato - diced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice 
Chopped cilantro for garnishing
Salt & pepper to taste
  • Cook couscous according to the package instructions. Add olive oil and salt while cooking it. 
  • Add pepper just before taking couscous off the heat. Take it out into a flat bowl, and fluff it up by running a fork through the couscous gently. 
  • Once couscous cools down a little, add diced cucumber and tomato, sprinkle lemon juice, and mix well. 
  • Garnish with cilantro. You can use your favorite herb, such as basil or parsley. 
Persian cucumbers taste the best in this recipe. You can use halved cherry tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes. They are bursting with juices and make the salad look pretty. Some toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds on top would be great for crunch. There, I just gave you a whole bunch of different permutations-combinations.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Easy, Kid Friendly Meals

Some of my friends have asked me to make a section on baby/kid friendly recipes. Like any new mother who's juggling multiple tasks, I am always pressed for time. I no longer have the luxury of cooking leisurely. However, it is more important than ever that I plan for healthy and nutritious meals for the family now that the baby girl has started to eat from our plates. I'll share information about how I plan for weekday meals, and some of my favorite easy fix-up recipes. Not all recipes are good for the young ones, but they are easy cooking options for the parents. I'll also talk about what my daughter loves to eat. Going forward, I'll label all my posts that fall into the baby/kid friendly category as 'Kid-friendly' so you can go and click on the label to see all the recipes.

My Eleven Month's Favorite Foods
My daughter eats most of the stuff we eat - basically whatever she can chew with her tiny 4 teeth. Sometimes we trick her into eating her own foods by putting it in our plates. However, here are some of her favorite things.
  • Boiled carrots, peas, beets, sweet potatoes
  • Cooked and pureed spinach, green beans with a touch of salt and cumin
  • Squash - butternut, acorn, zucchini, pumpkin cooked with a touch of salt and cumin-coriander powder
  • Lightly seasoned rava or sevai upama
  • Daal-rice or khichadi
  • Well cooked pasta, couscous, quinoa, oats
  • Roti with mildly spiced and well cooked vegetables or small beans
  • Fruits - banana, pear, blueberries, strawberries, apples, cantaloupe, avocado
  • Rice puffs
Meal Planning
  • I try to do bulk of my groceries every week and a half to two weeks. If we are running out of milk or some other essential, we just make a quick trip to the store. We are lucky enough to have access to fresh and abundant vegetables even during winter. I buy a variety of vegetables, but all in moderate quantity. 
  • Depending on what I get in the store, I plan for a few different dishes and write them down on my kitchen board. This way, I don't have to think about what to make every day. I don't necessarily stick to the list. Sometimes we have leftovers to finish, sometimes we go out with friends, sometime we are in the mood for something else. However, the list is a guide and keeps me on track with what needs to be used up from the fridge. 
  • I try to make multiple dishes with a mix of veggies. For example, if I make a mixed vegetable curry, I work the leftover vegetables into a pasta dish, a rice or quinoa pulao, a veggie sandwich, or a couscous. The idea is to have a different vehicle each time to serve the vegetables or beans. This way, we get to eat a variety of vegetables and cuisines. Also, I can just take out the cooked veggies, mash them, and feed my daughter. 
Below are some meal ideas, mostly categorized by different carb mediums. Although many of these recipes are available online, I'll try to post my recipes and link them as I do.

Meal Ideas

Rice - Instead of making plain rice, I try adding different veggies, beans, and legumes. It means less rice, and more of the healthy stuff; and great one pot meals.
  • Mixed vegetable pulao
  • Masoor rice
  • Moong daal khichai
  • Mixed vegetabe khichadi
  • Palak khichadi
Pasta - I am not a huge fan of pasta with tomato sauce. However, I enjoy whole wheat pasta simply tossed in olive oil or with pesto.
  • Penne with kale pesto
  • Shiitake mushroom orzo (you can use any kind of mushroom in this recipe)
  • Mixed vegetable pasta in olive oil (wish mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, sun dried tomatoes)
  • Pasta salad (with tomato, olives, chopped spinach/arugula, broccoli, feta cheese)
Couscous - I love couscous for how easy it is to prepare. Also, it doesn't need to be served hot - so a great make ahead. Couscous is a good source of fiber and protein.
Quinoa - High in fiber and iron grain is a great replacement in many rice dishes.
Bread- We have made a permanent switch from white to multi-grain or whole wheat bread. It is great to make healthy sandwiches. Most of the times I throw in whatever suitable vegetables we have. Everything tastes great in between two slices of bread. We have a George Foreman grill which has served us really well.
  • Avocado sandwich with pesto (or any other spread on the bread)
  • 'Bombay' Sandwich (with cucumber, tomato, boiled potato, and mint-cilantro chutney)
  • Roasted red pepper sandwich (with tomato, your favorite cheese, spinach/arugula/basil)
  • Grilled veggie sandwich (with zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms etc.)
Salads - Husband loves salads. We make a big bowl of salad for dinner at least once a week. You can toss pretty much anything together and call it a salad.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Garlicky Masala Peanuts

You don't realize how time gets away from you when there is a super active, and attention seeking 11 month old at home. I hardly get time to do anything once I'm home from work. I meant to post this recipe two weeks ago, but better late than never.

Our friends had invited us over for a Superbowl party. The host, despite suggesting to have a potluck, had graciously agreed to do all the cooking. Husband suggested taking some snack along. I didn't have much time to make anything fancy. We had just hosted our neighbors for an Indian brunch the day before, and my kitchen was somewhat of a mess. I browsed through the pantry for an idea, and decided to make Masala Peanuts - spicy peanut fritters. Masala peanuts are great to munch on while sipping on a cold beer. This is a popular 'chakana' (the vernacular term to describe all the snacks that go well with alcohol) item in India. Peanuts are coated in a spicy chickpea flour batter and deep fried until golden brown. They are spicy, crunchy, zesty, and just typing this makes me want to have some! I added a touch of garlic powder to the batter - why not? Garlic goes great with peanuts. The only problem was that the besan/chickpea flour I used was the coarse type. I would've preferred fine besan as it stick to peanuts better. Despite that, husband loved the preparation, and so did all the guests at the party.

Garlicky Masala Peanuts

1 Cup whole unroasted peanuts (with or without skin)
1/2 Cup besan/ chickpea flour
3 Tablespoons rice flour
2 Teaspoons red chili powder (adjust to your liking)
2 Teaspoons cumin-coriander powder
1/2 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 Teaspoon amchur/ dried mango powder
2/3 Teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/2 Cup water (or as needed)
Oil for frying

  • Mix besan, rice flour, and all the spices. Add water little by little to make a thick batter. 
  • Add in peanuts and mix until all of them are evenly coated. 
  • Heat oil in a frying pan. Add ~1 tablespoon hot oil to the battered peanuts. This hot oil added to the batter before frying is called 'mohan' and helps make the fritters light. 
  • Fry battered peanuts on medium heat until golden brown. If you add a bunch of peanuts together, they'll end up sticking together. Take some in your hand, and drop them from the side of the frying pan while separating them with your fingers. This will ensure they don't stick. Be careful with hot oil.
  • Take them out of the frying pan and keep on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. 
  • The peanuts will be soft right out of the frying pan, but let them cool a bit and they'll be crunchy. 

Serve with a cold beverage!


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