Friday, January 30, 2015

Kale Pesto

If you follow the latest food trends, you'll know there is a new 'superfood' popping up every now and then. It seemed like everyone had jumped on the flaxseed wagon some time ago before Chia seeds stole the limelight. Then there was the barley to quinoa shift. And while spinach remains one of the most popular greens thanks to Popeye, kale has been 'the' green to consume lately! I'm not crazy about going by the latest food trends; in fact I believe in eating a variety. But adding a new green to my diet, especially one rich in vitamins and minerals, can never hurt. Another reason to eat kale is it's abundant in winter, when other vegetables are scares. I have been making an effort to eat more of it. My problem with kale though is that it can be bitter and stringy if the leaves are not absolutely fresh and tender. For that reason I had mostly been making kale chips in the oven for the longest time. Now I have found another recipe that will get me to eat more of the green. I was browsing through the cookbook that came along with my Vitamix, and came across a basil kale pesto recipe. I didn't have basil or pine nuts on hand, so I made the pesto using kale entirely, and swapped walnuts for pine nuts. The result was delicious. I tossed together some cooked penne pasta, fresh tomatoes, broccoli, and pesto for a satisfying and healthy week night dinner. The leftover pesto made a great smear for a veggie sandwich.

Kale Pesto

2 Cups Kale leaves - torn
2 Cloves of garlic
1/4 Cup walnuts - you can also use pine nuts or almonds
2/3 Cup Parmesan cheese
~1/4 Olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon red chili flakes
Salt per taste

  • Wash kale leaves thoroughly. Tear the leaves off the stock. If there are any veins that are tough, remove them. 
  • Toss in kale leaves, garlic, walnuts, Parmesan, salt, and red chili flakes in a food processor. Pulse a few times until all the ingredients are combined and the leaves are roughly chopped.
  • Slowly drizzle in olive oil while grinding until you have smooth pesto. 

Serving suggestion:
Cook your favorite pasta. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, blanched broccoli florets, kale pesto, and mix well. Serve with some grated Parmesan on top. You can add any other veggies or meat you like. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Baby Girl's First Sankranti & Tilgul Vadi Recipe

My mother-in-law had brought a cute little black dress for my daughter when she was just born. I told my MIL I would save the dress for the baby girl's first Makar Sankranti. It was finally inaugurated yesterday, when we celebrated Shreya's first Sankranti and Bor-nahan. 

Makar Sankranti marks Sun's transition into the Capricorn zodiac. The festival is celebrated during the peak of winter. It is customary to eat sweets made out of sesame (Til) and jaggery (Gul), both of which generate heat. All the different versions of sweets made out of these two ingredient are usually called Tilgul in Marathi. People visit each other to exchange sweet tilgul, and to remind each other to speak just as sweetly. This is one festival when we get to wear black clothes as black absorbs heat and keeps one warm. Sometime within the 2-3 weeks after Sankranti, women get together for haldi-kunku (literally meaning turmeric-vermilion) to exchange small gifts and tilgul. A ceremony called Bor-Nahan, literally meaning berry shower, is held for new born babies. The ceremony can be performed any time until the child is 5 years old. It symbolizes showering children with abundance and good fortune. The child is dressed in black and adorned with jewelry made out of sugar coated sesame called halwa. Then he/she is showered with small Indian berries known as Bor, puffed rice, tilgul, and fruits.

I had a large group of friends over for haldi-kunku yesterday. Everyone was in a festive mood, wearing black for the occasion. After applying haldi-kunku and presenting small gifts to everyone, I got Shreya ready for her ceremony. To my surprise, she not only didn't resist wearing the halwa jewelry, but flaunted it the entire evening. Since there were no berries to be found here, my friends and I showered Shreya and other little ones present with puffed rice (her favorite food these days), tilgul, pear, and chocolates. Guess what the first thing my girl grabbed - chocolates, of course! The kids had a blast eating things right off the floor - something mommies never allow otherwise. 

I had prepared chhole-puri, sakhar bhat (sweet rice made with sugar syrup, and flavored with cloves, saffron, and cardamom), and tilgul vadi for the guests. Tilgul vadi is yet another soft and crumbly candy bars form of sesame and jaggery. The recipe was from a Marathi cookbook called Hamkhas Pakasiddhi by Jayashree Deshpande. My husband's aunt gifted the cookbook recently, and I have been trying out different recipes from it. The til-gul was a big hit, and almost every single one of my friends asked me for the recipe. So here it is. I pretty much followed the recipe to the tee. The only difference is that I have converted the measures into the standard US cup size. Everyone loved the vadi so much that they even finished the leftover crumbles :D. 

Tilgul Vadi/Soft Sesame-Jaggery Candy Bars

1 Cup sesame seeds 
1/2 Cup peanuts - skin removed
1 Packed cup grated jaggery - grated from yellow jaggery block, do not use powdered jaggery
2 Teaspoons ghee
2 Tablespoons water
3/4 Teaspoon cardamom powder
1-2 Tablespoons desiccated coconut/grated dry coconut
  • Grease a flat steel plate (~12'' in diameter) with ghee and keep aside. 
  • Roast sesame seeds in a pan on low-medium heat until they just start turning color. Similarly, roast peanuts until they start turning golden. 
  • Grind sesame seeds and peanuts coarsely. Grind them separately so one is not finer than the other. Keep aside. 
  • Mix ghee, water, and jaggery in a heavy bottom pan/kadhai and heat on medium flame. Keep stirring so the jaggery doesn't burn. Turn off the heat just as the jaggery starts boiling. This melted jaggery is called 'paak'.
  • Add cardamom powder, ground sesame and peanuts to the jaggery and mix well. 
  • Pour this mixture onto the greased plate, and pat with a spatula into a 1/4'' thick cake. You may have to use your hand to smooth out the top. Be careful as jaggery retains heat for a long time and can burn. 
  • Sprinkle shredded desiccated coconut on top while the mixture is still hot and gently pat it into the 'cake'. 
  • Once the mixture has cooled completely, cut the sesame-jaggery cake into 1''-1 1/4'' strips first, then make slanted cuts across to get diamond shaped vadi. These vadis are soft and crumbly, unlike sesame chikki or brittle, so use a sharp knife and be careful while cutting. I found that it was easier to cut with the tip of the knife. You can even dip the knife in ghee so it doesn't stick. 


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