Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Paneer Butter Masala or Paneer Makhani light

Last week I was down with a severe cold and back pain that forced me to rest and in bed which meant watching a lot of TV. Day time TV is terrible for everybody who watches it if you didn't know that already. It made my cold get worse and also made my head hurt. The Talk where a bunch of women sit around talking is bad when it comes in the morning and now they have a version of it coming in the afternoon which is downright terrible.

There were several innocuous dumb and utterly useless programs but what got my goat was the tweet from our oh so frivolous first lady about her new hair style. Really? Isn't she the Commander in Chief's wife and there are soldiers fighting in two wars and coming home with serious injuries and serious problems. And here were our so called journalists going gaga over hair. Everyone on TV and radio were all so excited about Obama's new hair style you'd think she has achieved something significant like world peace. NPR the so called serous news radio also devoted time to this very important news?!. Seriously people her hairstyle? And those of you who are about ready to jump to her defense it was her or her staff who helpfully tweeted that stupid picture. She is worse than a Hollywood starlet when it comes to bragging about her clothes and fashion. Why insult Hollywood starlets she seems to be in a league of her own when it comes to silly air headed stuff.

How convenient an excuse for everybody to latch on to something like this when there are more pressing matters to deal with. Her husband the President no doubt conveniently feeds into this frenzy so he can avoid answering tough questions. If I don't trust him to effectively deal with the matters of the country can I be faulted?

Sorry guys I am not sure if I can handle four more years of this kind nonsense and I hope the silly season is over.

I bet you are all ready for some recipe now and here goes.

Though Paneer is not one of my favorites the kids can't seem to get enough of it. The emergency ready to eat meals that we have at home are all some form of paneer or the other. But the tiny pieces of paneer in there satisfies nobody. If you want plump juicy paneer that tastes good the only way is to make it at home.

I do not like using cream because it makes the gravy too rich and oily. I substitute with Greek Yogurt. Thick plain yogurt will work fine too. If you like the cream by all means use it as well.

Paneer Butter Masala Light
Ingredients
  1. 14 oz block of paneer cut into cubes
  2. 14 oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes or 4 fresh red plum tomatoes, pureed
  3. 1 medium sized red onion cut very fine or grated in a food processor or ground to a paste
  4. 5 garlic cloves minced fine
  5. 1 1/2 tbsp of grated fresh ginger
  6. 1/2 tbsp of coriander powder
  7. 1/4 inch piece of cinnamon, 2 cloves whole or powdered powdered or a 1 tsp of garam masala powder
  8. 1 6 oz tub of Honey Greek Yogurt or 6 oz yogurt + 2 tsp of honey
  9. 1 tbsp of Kashmiri chili powder + 1/2 tbsp of red chili powder
  10. 2 tsp of kasoori methi or a handful of coriander leaves
  11. 6 almonds blanched and blended to a fine paste
  12. salt to taste
  13. 2-3 tsp of butter + 2 tsp of oil
Method
  1. In a flat bottomed pan heat the butter + oil and when hot add the whole spice followed by the onions. I like use cut onions or minced in the food processor rather than paste because it cooks faster. Saute till the onions turn brown. Add in the garlic and ginger and saute for a couple more minutes.
  2. Add the pureed tomatoes + 1/2 cup of water and let it simmer till the tomatoes lose their raw smell about 8-10 minutes.
  3. While the tomatoes are cooking heat a saute pan and smear with butter and saute the paneer so they are browned gently on all sides. Set aside.
  4. Add in the chilli powder and kasoori methi or coriander leaves and let cook for another 3 minutes or so.
  5. Bring the heat to low and whisk in the yogurt and almond paste, raise heat to just below medium and cook for another 3-4 minutes. (see note)
  6. Add in the paneer and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let sit for half an hour before serving.
Note:
1. While using yogurt in cooking do not add yogurt while the heat is on high bring the heat all the way to low, add the yogurt or cream mix gently and then slowly raise the heat.

Perfect with chapathis, naans or rice.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spinach and Potatoes(or Chickpeas) Biryani

Guilty about Quinoa!

I spent the early years of my life in the city of Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu about 80 miles from the coast. Its proximity to the coast meant fresh seafood. It was here I tasted the best fish, prawns, crab and many other delicacies. I don't exactly remember the taste but the memories of the taste is still fresh.

I hear that my mother from a pure vegetarian family didn't exactly dish out the best tasting seafood but peiamma(that's how I called her) my beloved neighbor in whose house I learned to enjoy seafood and where a portion was always set aside for me. Thinking about it after all these years still makes me feel special.

As my parents felt the need to move closer to their parents and family we moved north to our native place. I am not sure about seafood here was not that common but fish from the rivers were plentiful.

Fast forward to about 15 years from that time. I heard people talk about how the seafood that they get was neither good nor of the best quality since most of the good ones like the plump prawns were all shipped overseas where they were willing to pay a much higher price. Unless you knew someone who was an exporter or someone who worked in the seafood business the chances of getting your hands on the very best is next to nil.

The analogies of the local people missing out because the industrialized rich countries were willing and more capable of paying higher prices are everywhere. This applies to our new and popular super food namely - Quinoa. Our demand for quinoa apparently has made it dearer for the people of Bolivia and Peru who can least afford the higher prices.

There was an article on NPR long time ago which had a positive spin for the farmers of Bolivia. Then there was this article on the Guardian which evolved into a shouting match between vegans and meat eaters. I do not necessarily agree with her dig on vegans but I do agree with the central theme that Western demand for quinoa has made it harder on those for whom quinoa is a staple and they are the least able to afford it.

Does this mean I am going to stop eating quinoa? I buy about a couple of lbs every 3-4 months or so. Should I stop buying it altogether? Questions! Questions! What is your stance on buying quinoa?

Mixed Vegetable Biryani

whose food we eat, their song we sing is one of my favorite blogs and the series they are running now, interviews with great grannies and their recipes they share. It is on one of these interviews I saw this Vegetable Biryani. I will confess non-veg biryanis - chicken or goat is much easier than getting a vegetable biryani right. So I was only too eager to follow this recipe and have success with it.

First time and a few times after that I have made perfect vegetable biryanis and then I tried the same with spinach and potatoes. I originally intended to use chickpeas but did not have any. Though potatoes were good chickpeas and spinach combination with rice would have been even better.



Recipe Source: Vegetable Biryani

Spinach and Potatoes Biryani
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup Basmati Rice
  2. 1 Russet Potato pealed and cubed or 1 cup chickpeas (if using chickpeas precook till half cooked)
  3. 4 cups of spinach leaves washed and patted dry
  4. 1 onion sliced thin
  5. 1 tomato chopped fine
  6. 4 green chilies sliced
  7. 5-6 garlic cloves minced
  8. 1 tbsp ginger grated
  9. 1/4 cup coriander leaves
  10. 1/2 cup of mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
  11. 2 tbsp of curd (yogurt) whisked
  12. 1/2 tbsp of red chili powder
  13. Whole Spices - 1/4 inch piece of cinnamon, 2 cloves, 1 small piece of star anise powdered or leave whole
  14. salt to taste
  15. 3 tsp of oil
Method
  1. Wash and soak the rice for about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a pressure cooker with oil and add the oil when hot add the whole spices followed by the onions and green chillies and saute till the onions start to turn brown.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add the coriander leaves and mint leaves and saute till they are wilted.
  5. Add the salt, chili powder and tomatoes and saute till the tomatoes are mushy.
  6. Add in the chopped spinach and saute till the leaves are wilted.
  7. Now add the potatoes and mix them in, followed by the rice and gently mix it in and saute for about 3-4 minutes.
  8. Add in the water and let it come to a boil. Reduce to medium and let the rice cook till it is about half cooked. Now mix in the yogurt.
  9. Place the lid of the cooker and the weight and in medium heat cook for about 7-8 minutes and turn off the heat. Let the cooker cool, open mix the rice gently, place the lid and let sit for about 20 minutes before serving.
Note:

1. The quantity of water to rice should be just right for separate kernels of rice. Spinach releases water when cooked. Take that into account. I did not and end result the rice got a bit soggy.

2. If you are using mixing vegetables instead add the vegetables in where the spinach is being added in the recipe.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chow mein - Vegetables and Shrimp Asian style stir fried noodles

You always need a fool proof recipe for a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon or brunch. I am sure a lot of you already have one if you don't I urge you to consider this one. These stir fried noodles or fried rice provide the medium to be as creative as you want.

The Chili Paste or Sauce

There is only one ingredient I think that is essential for any Asian style stir fried noodles. I call it Asian because it has elements from Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese stir fries.

The essential ingredient is a good chili paste. I prefer the Thai style ones whose ingredients are chilies obviously, garlic, ginger in oil. Some are mind numbingly spicy and the others not so much. Of late I have also been trying chili pastes with dried or fried anchovies along with garlic, ginger and black beans. You can have your pick in any Asian grocery stores. As for me I have never come across a chili paste that I didn't like. These days even the regular grocery stores in my area have a good variety of chili pastes and sauces to choose from.

clockwise - sriracha sauce, fried chili paste, chili paste with anchovies

Before I forget Sriracha chili sauce is also a good thing to have on hand to spicy up soups, noodles and pretty much anything.

But you know the best is perhaps home made and Manisha, Indian Food Rocks has a very good recipe which I got to try one of these days. Let me know if any of you try this recipe. Of all the chili pastes you can buy in the store I bet nothing beats home made.

Next the noodles, I like this because this was the one recommended by a Burmese baby sitter that DD2 used to have. They are the chow mein stir fried noodles with a slightly yellow tinge. If you want to use the soba noodles go ahead and use those too I am sure they will taste fine.

I like to use as many vegetables as possible. My favorites in a stir fry are snow peas, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and baby corn. In a pinch green beans come in handy. I add shrimp because the kids like them. To go totally vegetarian skip all the fish related items in the recipe.

One important thing to remember is to have all the ingredients handy so you do not let anything sit in the stove for too long. If they do they lose the crunch and become soggy.

Vegetables and Shrimp Asian Stir fried noodles Ingredients
  1. 6 oz pack of chowmein stir fry noodles or any noodles of choice
  2. 12-16 medium or small sized shrimp
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 2 carrots cuts into thin strips
  5. 1 1/2 cups of shredded cabbage a bit chunky
  6. 2 cups of snow peas
  7. 1 green onion ends cut and chopped
  8. 1 cup of sliced onions
  9. 3 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
  10. 1 tbsp of grated ginger
  11. a few stalk of coriander leaves (optional)
  12. 2 tbsp of crushed peanuts (optional)
  13. 1 tbsp of chili paste (I used 2 kinds)
  14. 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  15. 1 tsp fish sauce (purely optional)
  16. 2 tsp of Sriracha sauce
  17. 1 tsp pepper powder
  18. a pinch of turmeric powder
  19. salt to taste
  20. 1 tsp of oil
Method
  1. Marinate the shrimp with the turmeric powder, a bit of the chili paste and salt for about 30 minutes.
  2. Beat the eggs with salt and pepper powder and make thick omelet (in a separate pan) and cut into strips and set aside.
  3. In a wok heat the oil and saute the onions, green onions, garlic and ginger.
  4. Add in the shrimp and do a quick stir fry and fish out the shrimp and set them aside. Alternatively the shrimp can be fried separately.
  5. Now to the onions add the carrots, snow peas and cabbage and stir fry on high heat for about 6-8 minutes. I like the vegetables to be cooked but still crunchy. Depending on how you like them reduce/increase cooking times.
  6. While the vegetables are cooking get the noodles cooked and ready.
  7. When the vegetables are almost done add in the coriander leaves, chili paste (not the sriracha), soy sauce and fish sauce and let it heat through for a couple of minutes.
  8. Add in the noodles and toss them together. Check for salt and heat and add the sriracha paste only if you need more heat.
  9. Finally add the cooked shrimp, omelet strips and toss together.
Serve with wedges of lime and crushed peanuts on top.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Flatbread Pizza with leftover Chicken

It is easy to make friends at work when talking about food. Indian food being the in thing these days everyone is willing to listen to ideas and recipes if they see something that looks appetizing. I was heating this sweet potato & butter nut squash curry and as coincidences go one of my colleagues was heating her acorn squash soup, that is how we got around to talking about squash recipes. We still share new squash recipes. She cooks and bakes regularly and understands what I am talking about mostly.

But even she hesitates to try something unless she has a recipe on hand. I am thinking most people here(maybe true for folks all over the world) don't cook not because they don't have time but because they are simply afraid to try. As usual this is my pseudo analysis. We who have learned to cook with spices are fortunate because we understand using them makes food tasty and we improvise and try new things. I don't hesitate to add some sambhar powder to pasta or noodles if I want to. If it doesn't taste good I avoid using it the next time. But trust me adding spices in the right amount has never made food taste bad.

Trial and error is how you learn to cook. Be a bit adventurous and try new things and flavors. Pretty soon there is not a lot that can intimidate you and you will learn that cooking regularly is fun and not all that hard.

This recipe came about because I had some left over chicken curry, not enough to make a meal out of but enough to make a couple of hungry kids very happy. To the chicken or any leftover add some fresh vegetables like roasted bell peppers (too much work if you do not have a toaster oven), cooked broccoli or even blanched spinach and some grated pepper jack cheese on top and to keep things easy use a chapathi, bread slice, flatbread or tortilla, pizza is ready with no effort at all.

This is just a general idea really rather than a recipe. This is a good one for kids to try.

Flatbread Pizza (Makes 2) Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup of left over chicken cut up or shredded
  2. 1 head of broccoli separated into florets and steamed
  3. 1/4 cup of grated pepper jack cheese
  4. 1 tsp of chopped jalapenos peppers
  5. 15-20 grape tomatoes sliced in half
  6. 2 flat breads
Method
  1. On the flat bread spread the chicken
  2. Chop up the broccoli and spread on top of the chicken
  3. Spread the shredded cheese on top
  4. Add a few of the chopped tomatoes
  5. Place in a toaster oven heat to 450F for about 5-10 minutes till the bread turn crisp

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chicken with Snow Peas

Most Indian chicken recipes do not have vegetables added to them. The exception being potatoes which do taste good with chicken but I rarely do because most recipes I know do not call for them.

With a resolution to eat a lot more vegetables even chicken can't be left behind without them can they? This is a very simple recipe but the addition of vegetables actually makes them more tasty.

Snow peas, bell pepper, celery all go well with chicken. I did not use bell pepper because I did not have them and I am not that fond of celery. The crunch that comes from the vegetables pairs it well with some steamed rice.

Chicken with Snow peas Ingredients
  1. 6-8 chicken thighs (I leave the bones on but t could be boneless)cut into bite sized pieces and marinate in 2 tbsp of yogurt, 1 tsp of turmeric powder, 1 tsp of salt and 2 tsp of chili powder for at least 1/2 hour
  2. 2 cups of snow peas and any vegetables of choice all cut to the same size as the chicken
  3. 1 cup of sliced red onions (or shallots
  4. 4 cloves of garlic minced
  5. 1 tbsp of grated ginger
  6. 1 tbsp of chicken masala powder
  7. 1/2 tbsp of red chili powder
  8. salt to taste
  9. 2 tsp of oil
  10. 1/2 lime or lemon
  11. seasonings cumin and curry leaves
  12. 2 tbsp of chopped tomatoes or sliced grape tomatoes
Method
  1. In a saute pan heat the oil and when hot add the seasonings followed by the onions and saute till they are translucent.
  2. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add in the chicken pieces and saute them till they start to turn white from the pink color.
  4. Add in the masala powder and chilli powder and mix it in well.
  5. Add in the snow peas and other vegetables at this point.
  6. Add salt if required, squeeze in the lime juice and continue to cook till most of the moisture has evaporated.
Serve with steamed Jasmine rice and garnished with tomatoes.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Revisiting Kollu Paruppu ( Horsegram Dal) Cure for common cold?

Cure for common cold? Probably not proven through scientific methods but for me this is the best remedy for cold. Last winter DD2 had a severe cold, not the debilitating kind but the nagging kind which feels like there is a blockage stuck in the chest. Anyway when I was talking to my SIL I mentioned this stubborn cold to her and she immediately suggested kollu paruppu. I had completely forgotten about this amazing dal's healing properties.

I made it the very next day and by then the whole house was having a case of the sniffles. This was the remedy all of us needed. True to it's reputation the cold loosened and all of us were on the mend.

This is one of those dals which are very popular in the Kongu region and each family has their own special way of cooking them.



DSCN1441 DSCN1444

uncooked and cooked horsegram dal


This is also one of the more popular recipes on this blog. I always get asked where this dal is available. I see them in most Indian Grocery stores in our area. They are called Kulith in Hindi. If you have access to this dal you should cook it more of it during the winter.

Update: After reading the comments I realize I need to explain a bit more about cooking horsegram. Unlike other dals that we are used to horsegram will not cook to mush. You have to use the hand blender, food processor or the regular blender to mush the cooked dal once the seasonings are added. Link to other recipes with horsegram - Other recipes with Horsegram.

Kollu Paruppu
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup of horse gram dal picked over and kept soaked for 1/2 - 1 hour
  2. 2 tsp of red onions chopped
  3. 1 tsp coriander seeds
  4. 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds
  5. a few pepper corns
  6. 4 red chilies
  7. a sprig of curry leaves
  8. 1 tsp of oil
  9. salt to taste
Method
  1. Pressure cook the horse gram with 3 times the water for 6-8 whistles.
  2. While the dal is cooking heat the oil in the saute pan and when hot add the coriander seeds, pepper corn and cumin seeds. Saute till the seeds turn color.
  3. Add in the red chilies and let it saute for a minute. Drop in the curry leaves and give a good mix. Set aside.
  4. Saute the onions till they become translucent and start to obtain brown on the sides.
  5. When the dal is cooked pour the sauted spices on top, add salt and with a hand blender coarsely break up the dal.
Best with rice and some ghee.