Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Quinoa Mediterranean Salad

The husband has a good knack of fixing quick salads and light meals. He prefers not to go by the book, likes quick and fast meals preferably with Chicken/ Seafood, etc. We cook together whenever opportunity strikes and more often than not I am amazed at the way he puts together a Salad with all the good stuff or a light dish comprising of vegetables and chicken/ shrimps/ fish, etc. 

I got the motivation to try different approaches to light meals from him. It takes a lot of discipline especially if you are a foodie like me. But hey, nothing ever came easy to anyone especially when your goals were tough! He has an adventurous palate and the flavors range anywhere from spicy, sour to bit sweet which is very unlike my preferred flavors of savory and spicy. He has a soft corner for Mediterranean ingredients like Olives, Chickpeas, Dates, Couscous, Laban. Its not odd that his favorite dishes include salads like Fattoush and Tabbouleh, light overstuffed Pita bread sandwiches with Falafel chunks laced with Tahini and Hummus, grilled meats like spicy chunks of Shish Tawook cooked with lot of Taoum and finally, royal and rich desserts laden with nuts, dry fruits like Umm Ali, Mouhalabieh and silky, smooth tasting Cream Caramel served with a dollop of whipped cream. Here's a salad he dished out some time back and I was very pleased. :-)

If we are eating out and there is a food joint/ food truck/ restaurant selling Middle Eastern fare, there is a high probability that both of us will gladly nod our heads and attack the food with an unsaid decision taken in unison. Much to our relief, most of the Middle Eastern places serve a salad made either with Couscous or Quinoa an an appetizer. That being one of the reasons why we piqued a stealth but sure love for grains which we would not have tried otherwise. Access to a variety of food choices, willingness to shift gears and an open mind plays a large role in remoulding your food habits in the long run. 

Few of my friends cook Quinoa in pressure cooker which I have not tried as yet. I used Sumac, a Middle Eastern spice powder which has a subtle lemon like flavor. The variety of Quinoa which we used here was pre-flavored with Mushrooms and Parsley which does not force one to use vegetable or chicken stock, which also implies that you can cook the grains with water and it would still turn out tasty.  I was running out of Cucumber and Feta, but a must if this Salad is your main and only meal. The taste takes a bit of getting used to but once you like it, there's no looking back.

~ Quinoa Mediterranean Salad ~
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Quinoa (cooked as per instructions on the packet) - 2 cups

Mixed Olives (Chopped and pitted - Salt cured) - 4 tbsp
Chickpeas (cooked and lightly salted) - 1/2 cup
Cucumber (peeled, seeds removed and chopped) - 1/4 cup
Shallots (finely chopped) - 2 tbsp
Sumac - 1/2 tsp
Goji Berries - 1 tsp
Feta Cheese (cold, cubed) - 3 tbsp
Coriander leaves (finely chopped) - 2 tbsp
Sea Salt

Wash Quinoa in multiple changes of water. Cook as per instruction on the packet (I used a variety which was flavored with Mushroom and Parsley). It took me approx. 20 minutes to cook the tiny grains on the stove in plain water. Upon cooking, tiny pigtails like thing sprout out from each of them. Fluff the grains with a fork and add Sumac powder, Shallots, Chickpeas, Olives, Cucumber, Feta and give a gentle toss. Adjust salt as desired. Garnish with Goji Berries and Coriander leaves. Serve warm or as a side dish. If serving cold, chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.

Note: Add very less salt if using salt-cured Olives. Salads take very less salt as compared to main meals like curries. The Salad can be served cold or warm.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mesir Wat - Ethiopian Lentil Stew

Aeons ago, on a crisp autumn evening, the husband and I treated ourselves to a soul-pleasing and delicious Ethiopian dinner. We went along with a friend who was a strict vegetarian and was super kicked at the idea of trying a new cuisine. I was all excited because I'd heard so much about Ethiopian cuisine and adding to the fact that the food is spicy just like Indian cuisine. Luckily, the husband had tried the cuisine before, so we knew what to expect.

For Appetizers, we ordered Sambusa, sort of an Ethiopian spin on the Indian snack - Samosa. A delicate pastry shell filled with spiced vegetables of different varieties and Fitfit, which is pasty and spiced split peas mash served with Injera - a spongy, soft and lacey pancake folded like a roll made out of Teff flour. We got a plateful of Injera rolls stacked over one another. The first time I tasted Injera, I felt it bore a significant resemblance to my humble Indian staple - Dosa. We willingly used our hands to devour our food, the friend waited ruefully for his silverware. "You are supposed to eat with your hands," the husband said. He chimed in and enjoyed his all vegetarian fare.

Our Main Course platter was a gigantic one with Injera lining it from end to end. On the Injera were three different types of curries dunked along with a Collard Greens vegetable known as Gomen. The curries were Doro Wat - a spicy Chicken stew cooked with onions and tomatoes and the famous Berbere spice mix, Mesir Wat - a lentil stew cooked with Berbere spice mix and Shiro Wat - a curry made of Chickpeas and spices. The striking thing about their eating style is the food is meant to be shared in a for-the-table way and not eaten alone which explains the large platter brimming with food. By the end of the meal, we were full and satiated. 

We discussed at length, of the possible similarity between Indian and Ethiopian cuisine and somewhere I felt they were similar yet different. Indian food has a bold flavor with practices from different region adding to the diversity of dishes. In Ethiopian food, there was a stark complexity and layering of flavors which undoubtedly, has me hooked completely and I plan to cook more to enhance my repertoire of Ethiopian inspired dishes.

It took me a while to replicate the flavors in my kitchen, but better late than never. Wat (pronounced as Wot) is a curry in Ethiopian parlance. I used Butter instead of Oil to create the base as is the case in most Ethiopian dishes. This recipe does not make use of Berbere spice mix but I made use of whatever I had in my pantry. I stole the idea of pairing Mesir Wat with Dosa as Nupur did. Thank you for the idea Nupur - it was a unique combination!

~ Mesir Wat ~
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Recipe Source: Minimally adapted from Whats4Eats 

Red Lentils (Masoor Dal, split variety) - 1 cup

Garam Masala powder - 1 heaping tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Red Chilli powder - 1/3 tsp
Paprika - 1/2 tsp
Onion paste - 3/4 cup
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Sea Salt
Canola/ Veg. Oil

Rinse the lentils till the water is clear. Make a paste of Onions, keep it aside. Mince Ginger and Garlic and keep it aside. In a sauce pan, heat a pat of butter and add just a tsp of oil to prevent butter form burning away. Once the butter-oil melts and meshes together, add the Garam Masala followed by Turmeric powder and Red Chilli powder. Reduce the flame else you risk burning the spice mix. Mix it well for couple of minutes till it becomes an even consistency. 
Add the Ginger and Garlic paste now and saute till the raw flavor goes off. Add the Onion paste now and saute for good 10-12 minutes. The paste needs to be completely cooked before you move ahead. Once done, add the rinsed Lentils now and adjust salt as per taste. Add little water to add bulk. Bring to a boil and simmer away for 8-10 minutes. Once completely cooked, turn off the flame. Serve hot with Injera or Dosa.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Romaine Lettuce Salad with Goji Berries and Roasted Edamame in Honey-Lime Dressing

Come winters, I gravitate to comfort foods like Pizza and Noodles, soups of different kinds, hot bowl of Khichdi and often a mug of hot chocolate to bring in the evenings which are super chilly. With more time indoors, there is a greater tendency to snack on food that is easily accessible. I enjoy nibbling on roasted Soya beans also known as Edamame.

From L to R - Goji Berries, Danish Havarti Cheese and Roasted Edamame

This Salad is one of my personal favorites owing to different combination of textures and flavors. Goji Berries, one of the super foods can be sprinkled on salads, thereby making the bowl more gourmet. Its got a touch of honey and the acidity from the lemon juice which adds a fresh angle to the lettuce. A Salad is boring for me without Cheese and Beans, which I liberally add. While the husband is very fond of Arugula (also known as Rocket), I prefer Romaine lettuce for the crunch and freshness.

~ Romaine Lettuce Salad with Goji Berries and Roasted Edamame ~
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Processing Time: 5 minutes

Romaine Lettuce (leaves roughly chopped) - 6 cups
Chickpeas (cooked and lightly salted) - 1 cup
Cucumber (peeled, quartered) - 1/2 cup
Goji Berries - 2 tbsp
Roasted Edamame - 2 tbsp
Carrots (chopped into bits) - 1/3 cup
Danish Havarti Cheese with Jalapenos (cold, cubed into tiny bits) - 2 tbsp

Lime-Honey Dressing -
Extra Virgin/ Light Olive Oil - 1/3 cup
Black Whole Pepper corns (crushed) - 1/2 tsp
Sea Salt
Lime juice - 1 tbsp
Orange zest - 1 tsp
Honey - 1/2 tsp
** Whisk together all ingredients to emulsify **

Rinse and peel individual salad leaves. Remove the white core and shred the leaves into bite sized pieces. Chop the carrots into tiny bits, cube the cheese block into tiny cubes, chop the cucumber into quarters or half-moon. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients except bread croutons. Allow to chill for at least 30 minutes. Whisk the dressing and keep it ready. Just before serving, add the dressing to the salad. Toss the salad well. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Spicy Idli Fingers

Its sort of a ritualistic and soppy end to every episode when Anthony Bourdain, one of my favorite food and travel writer asks many of the connoisseurs and gourmands on his show, No Reservations - What is the last meal you would have if it were your last day on the earth? I laugh when I think of my impromptu response. I'll probably respond with, "Will my meal be breakfast, lunch or dinner?"

Idli-Sambhar is my favorite breakfast item of all times. A heavenly marriage of lentil cakes and lentil soup and you wonder if there is anything more delicious than this motley dish which has fed many South Indian kids since times immemorial. Growing up, Idli-Sambhar and Dosa-Chutney were a staple at my home. A hot and spicy concoction of fiery lentil broth cooked with seasonal vegetables, happily dunked over freshly steamed Idlis. 

I like to use leftover Idlis from previous day for Idli Roast and Spicy Idli Fingers. A co-worker and a friend often makes these as part of Tea time snacks for her brood. She adds all the spice powders and deep fries the fingers. I roasted the Idli fingers in my old and beaten cast iron pan which gives them a good crispy finish.

~ Spicy Idli Fingers ~
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8-10 minutes

Idli (sliced into fingers) - 4 Idlis ~ 12 Fingers

Spicy Oil -
Red Chilli powder - 1/3 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/3 tsp
Crushed Black Pepper - 1/3 tsp
Canola Oil
*** Mix everything together ***

Thaw the Idlis and bring them to room temperature. Slice each Idli vertically to form three fingers which are 1/2" thick. Pour the spicy oil over the fingers and give a gentle toss. Let the spicy oil coat all the fingers. Heat the cast iron pan and spread the fingers side by side. Roast well and flip over after 3-5 minutes. Once roasted on both sides, turn off flame and serve hot with Filter Coffee.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Romaine Lettuce Salad with Olive Oil Dressing

Note: A new year deserves a fresh start. It took a while to shake and wake up the writer in me, specially when the stupor is dictated by grief, shock and sadness. First came the devastation caused by Sandy. I tried to do my bit by donating a bag of non-perishable food to the local Food Bank which has been actively collecting food and supplies for the families displaced owing to Sandy's mayhem. If anything, my soul felt happy. Just when we were about to enjoy the holidays came the sad news of two incidents - one in Newtown, US and the other in Delhi, India. Both painful and agonizing to the point where you ponder over the direction taken by humanity and wonder what is happening to the world? Those two weeks left me sad, angry and frustrated. My heart goes out to the families of the kids and the parents of the brave girl who fought a valiant fight till the end. Helping hands is better than praying lips, they say. I want to hug the kids in my family and tell them they are okay. I try to shut the door of the feminist out pour seething inside me like a pot of boiling water, but in vain. May all children enjoy the joys of a happy childhood. May all women have their little space under the sun which they should be able to enjoy freely without any fear. 


Romaine Lettuce Salad with Olive Oil Dressing
The New Year began on a positive note for me and I promised myself - this ought to be a fresh and a very promising start. A renewed approach and perseverance to see things through goals set for the new year. Last year I may not have posted a lot of recipes, but I found my work-life balance with lesser posts and plan to focus more on writing quality material this year. Food, Literature, Writing, Hand-made artsy work has always been my passion and will be for years to come.

The husband kick-started his journey for good health during Spring time last year and has lost a lot of weight. He is one disciplined person and is following a regimented approach. Our fridge is full of fresh produce, fresh fruits, healthy nuts and I am not complaining. The new entrants in my kitchen are Quinoa, Couscous, Goji Berries, Acai, Greek Yogurt and Middle Eastern spice powders comprising of Za'tar and Sumac. We rarely eat outside and meals are carefully planned at home. I truly love my Desi khana! The change is not easy for me but looking at him, I get my inspiration to have a healthy relation with my food choices.  I do not deprive myself of my favorite foods -- Chakri, Chocolate and Cheese but I certainly give a thought to what I eat and how I eat. I do enjoy my Green Tea with honey but also relish my milky Chai with Cardamom and Ginger. I am slowly moving to low carb and high protein diet. I plan to post many of his recipes this year for every one's benefit.

Coming to the recipe, most of my American friends religiously eat Salads for dinner. When I say religiously, I mean everyday. My understanding of Salad has been the plain jane combination of onion, cucumber and tomatoes inspired by Desi style Koshimbir. A dear friend literally pushed me into the Salad trap last year and I thank her from the bottom of my heart. She is a Zumba freak, loves her gym sessions and is a loving, doting mother to her daughter. She visited me for a day spend during summer and taught me various cool ways of putting together different types of Salads.

I always go with minimum 5 ingredients rule and with little practice have learned to put together a good tasty bowl of salad. On few days, a yummy bowl of salad doubles up as my lunch/dinner. As I was leisurely tossing the salad in the dressing, she stopped me abruptly, "Chill it for a while, it will taste awesome!" So we enjoyed a chilled salad as an  appetizer while her kid was busy watching Dora and Diego on TV. I dig on the Salad served at Italian joints and always wondered why my Salads taste awful. The secret is out - Chill your Salad for at least 30 minutes in the chiller of the fridge and mix the dressing just before serving. You will have a nice crispy bowl of Salad, ready to be enjoyed.

Many months from that day, I love to out together a good salad with good amount of carb and protein element. Don't deprive yourself while adding the ingredients. After all, its a complete meal. Go all out and make your favorite salad. Here's a simple one with no protein but just greens good as a meal when paired with some protein element of choice.

Few pointers which I've learned along which might be useful to any person desirous of learning how to build a good Salad bowl -
From l to r - Romaine Lettuce, Carrots, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumber, Salt-cured Green Olives
1. Choose a Salad leaf you love, dark greens and tender ones are better - Iceberg Lettuce, Butter Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce, Baby Spinach, Dark Spring Greens, Micro Greens and Arugula (Rocket)
2. Add two other vegetables, fruits of choice - Halved Cherry Tomatoes, half moon or quartered Cucumbers, grated or shredded Carrots, shredded Radicchio, salt-cured Green and Black Olives (Whole Foods Olive Bar has good selection), pickled Cucumbers and Gherkins. Even pitted Cherries and Watermelon cubes hold well. Vegetarians can add cooked beans of choice - Chickpeas, Cannelini, Red Kidney Beans. The choices are many.
3. Add a protein component - Grilled Shrimps in Indian spices, shredded Tandoori chicken, grilled fish cubes like Salmon or Tilapia, lightly spiced and halved boiled eggs if you are an egg eating vegetarian. We also like sliced and seared spicy Chicken sausages mixed with the Salad.
4. Add cubed cold Cheese (optional) - Blue Cheese, Goat Cheese and Parmigiano are universal favorites. Danish Havarti, Monterrey Jack and Feta are my favorites.
5. Add Nuts of choice - Almonds (chopped), Pecans, Pistachios and Walnuts are our favorites.
6. Croutons for low carbs - Home made or store bought.
7. Light or Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Serves as a good base.
8. Dressing choice -  Simple Olive Oil, Ranch, Blue Cheese, Honey-Lime Vinaigrette.

~ Romaine Lettuce Salad with Olive Oil Dressing ~
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Processing Time: 5 minutes

Romaine Lettuce (leaves shredded, core removed) - 6 cups
Cherry Tomatoes (halved) - 6
Green and Black salt-cured Olives (halved) - 1/2 cup
Carrots (grated) - 1
Bread Croutons - 1/2 cup
Cucumber (peeled, half moon cut or quartered) - 1 cup

Simple Olive Oil Dressing -
Extra Virgin/ Light Olive Oil - 1/3 cup
Black Whole Pepper corns (crushed) - 1/2 tsp
Sea Salt
Lime juice - 1 tbsp
Lime zest - 1 tsp
** Whisk together all ingredients to emulsify **

Rinse and peel individual salad leaves. Remove the white core and shred the leaves into bite sized pieces. Halve the cherry tomatoes, olives, grate the carrot, chop the cucumber into quarters. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients except carrot and tomatoes. Allow to chill for at least 30 minutes. Chill the tomatoes and carrots separately. Whisk the dressing and keep it ready. Just before serving, add the dressing to the salad. Toss the salad well. Serve immediately. 

Note - The salad is very portable. Carry for work lunch in a spill proof, air tight container and store in a refrigerator if your workplace has one. If adding Olives, I skip salt totally since the Olives are salt-cured.