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Spicy paneer wontons in a gentle spinach soup

23 Jan

spicy paneer wontons in a gentle spinach soup

I am pretty sure that I wasn’t well acquainted with paneer when I was a child, as my earliest memories of it must be from my pre- teens. I recall that one of my dad’s friends had landed a business deal delivering this marvellous new product that was increasingly popular, so popular in fact that it was flying off the shelves. It may have had something to do with the popularised chilli paneer dish? Packaged paneer ready in the fridge. I was new and it was exciting.

So he handed my dad some freebies and naturally I ensured that they landed in my lap and thus started an era of paneer experimentation. It had fast become the favourite food of every other Asian person in my network. Paneer is an unsalted, full fat Indian cheese that may be crumbly when fresh and spongy or even chewy when pressed and ready-made for sale. I think that a lot of tired taste buds weere wakened when paneer came into fashion with is almighty, loud and punchy flavours. Plenty spice, liberal use of garlic and ginger, copious soy sauce and ketchup made for lively and lasting tastes.

I love that paneer is a wonderful sponge for juices and flavours; it is clean and will mop up full flavours generously.  I experimented many times over the years, scrambled paneer in a bhurji is one of my favourites and this has become the stuffing for my wontons today.  I love thick and creamy shahi paneer dishes, kofta (balls with veg and simmered in thick gravy), I love paneer in cashew nut gravy and who can deny the simple, clean and guilty pleasure of ras malai?

A few people wrote to me this week asking about palak paneer (curry of paneer cubes simmered in smooth spinach) and it got me thinking…so I made this and I am very excited about. It’s pretty special. The spinach soup is light and easy, but incredibly addictive and soothing. Not a bad thing to find spinach addictive! The paneer is punch and full, has bite and parcelled into slippery smooth wontons. Can it get any better?

As a tip, make sure the paneer is pretty warm all the way through, cold paneer is chewy but when warm, this recipe really comes to life and it’ll be juicy and tender. Perfect.

Ingredients to serve 4 (makes 16 wontons)

For the wontons;

150g paneer, grated

¼ tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. mixed cumin and coriander powder

¼ tsp. turmeric

¾ tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. tomato puree

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or minced

1-2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sesame oil

½ tbsp. soy sauce

16 wonton wrappers

Salt to taste

½ tsp. chilli powder

For the soup

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

200g finely chopped (or in the food processor) spinach

800ml vegetable stock

One medium onion, thinly sliced

4-5 curry leaves

One chilli, finely chopped

1 tbsp. corn flour mixed with water

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

Method

  1. To make the soup, heat the oil in a deep pan and then add the chilli, onion, curry leaves, garlic and ginger sauté until the onions have softened.
  2. Add the spinach and mix thoroughly, before adding the vegetable stock and the rice wine vinegar.
  3. Bring the soup to a simmer before adding the corn flour and water paste to thicken the soup. Simmer the soup for 5-7 minutes.
  4. To make the stuffing, heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes introducing the grated paneer.
  5. Stir in the turmeric, chilli, and coriander and cumin powder and mix thoroughly.
  6. Stir in the tomato puree and soy sauce and then cook the curry for 4-5 minutes.
  7. To make the wontons, place a teaspoon of paneer mixture in the middle of a wonton and then create little drawstring purses and seal them with a little water.
  8. Steam the wontons for 8-10 minutes before removing them from the steamer.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and then place 4 wontons into the bowl and serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m linking this to Anneli and Louisa for four seasons because its comforting an

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Pomegranate roasted baby onions with butter bean salad and tahini-chilli yogurt

16 Jan

Pomegranate roasted baby onions with butter bean salad and tahini-chilli yogurt
Onions from an onion

I went to a school which was populated with provably about 80 per centGujarati children (I come from a Gujarati background) at a guess. When my boy and I go to playgroup he is an, ‘ethnic minority’ by being in a broader group called ‘Asian’.

So when I was at school I was not (by other kids) differentiated by the colour of my skin, but my caste. My classroom was made up of surnames such as Patel, Mistry, Thakrar or Shah. All Gujarati of course. We all knew we belonged to different castes and we knew that we spoke in different accents, our mothers cooked different tasting foods or simply varieties and some of us would be vegetarian and others not. Mild teasing was not uncommon, ‘your surname is Tailor you can make my clothes when I grow up’. I think I could pick up on caste sometimes by physical appearance.

The caste system used to separate people vocationally, but no longer does. Well, not the people I know anyway. It created networks of people and they married within their caste, but that doesn’t happen any more either. Idiosyncrasies of castes are now diluted with western accents, mixed marriages and just general evolution of culture. My 23 month will probably never know much about the caste system and I’m sure his friends will be much more international than mine were at his tender age. London offers that diversity doesn’t it.

I am from the Lohana caste. Commercial people. Ironically I read economics at university, but really that nothing to do with caste. Coincidence. Lohana folk are said to fond of onions, and that’s why I often got called one whilst growing up. But I was proud, I love a good onion.

Sweet and juicy with a sour tang. That’s my salad. I’ve smothered pomegranate molasses over the onions and roasted them slowly so that they are sweet and sour and moist and slippery. I adore that smell. They work well with deep butter beans and my nutty and slightly spiced dressing. Go on, be an onion.

Ingredients to serve 4

20 baby onions, peeled and halved
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Salt
1 tsp sugar
A few handfuls of rocket leaves
2 tins of butter beans
2 tsp sumac powder
15g flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
15g garlic chives, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp lemon juice

3/4 cup plain yoghurt
4 tbsp tahini paste
1 tsp red chilli flakes

Method

1. Coat the onions with the pomegranate molasses, sugar and a generous sprinkle of salt.
2. Lay the onions on some baking paper, drizzle them with oil and place them in the oven and roast them at 150 degrees for approximately 30minutes.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together the butter beans, sumac, lemon juice, parsley, salt to taste and garlic chives.
4. To make the dressing, simply whip the yoghurt, tahini and chilli together.
5. Serve the salad on some rocket leaves with some lovely warm bread.

Slow roasted tomato, channa dal, feta and courgette ribbon spicy salad

11 Jan

Slow roasted tomatoes, channa dal, feta and courgette ribbon spicy salad

After a week of flying solo with the boy, this morning had been occupied with a bit of relief in the way of a back massage. My back is full of uncomfortable rocks as is my neck and I couldn’t wait to go and get them softened.

They say that you appreciate your parents in a whole new way when you have your own children. My friend is trying to conceive and nervous about the labour. It is only now that I can say, that’s the easy bit because it is temporary.

My boy is generally a mummy’s boy and follows me everywhere I go, even to the toilet. ‘What you doing mumma, that’s terrible’. He goes wherever I go and wants me to hold him as I cook a meal so that he can stir and help to toss the dosa. ‘Special agent Aarav is on a special assignment mumma’. He empties my cupboards out whilst I cook and likes to sample the ingredients. This week he cracked open my freshly ground garam masala (again) and licked it whist remarking, ‘it’s yummy’. He tests out my raw pasta shapes, ‘like crips’ and he thinks this star anise ‘flower is amazing and crunchy’. Even when his dad is around, he chants, ‘mumma come, mumma come’.

It’s wonderful.

Through all the lifting, jumping up in the air and flying him like a rocket sort of antics he who is now weighing a quarter of my weight, my back has filled with fiery boulders and my knee has felt better days. This is what they mean don’t they…about the unconditional love and the things a mother will do. But I’m smiling as I sit here with a hot water bottle on my back.

Another part of my body that requires conditioning is my tummy. I put some newish jeans on today and they are snug. This should not be the case. I feel puffy. I feel the need for spice, zing, crisp, fresh and I certainly need cheese. I feel the need for salad. So here it is.

Ingredients to serve 4

2 courgettes, trimmed but not peeled
100g channa dal, washed
150g feta cheese, cubed
2 tbsp Harissa paste
1 tbsp olive oil and some to drizzle on the tomatoes
Salt to taste
1 tsp toasted and lightly crushed cumin seeds
15g finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
8 large and deep red tomatoes, quartered

1. Sit the tomatoes cut side up on a sheet of baking paper and drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with salt. Put them in the oven at 120degrees for about an 1hr-1hr 15. Ovens vary but they should look shrivelled and not wet. Their flavour will be intense. When the tomatoes are roasted allow them to cool.
2. In the meantime simmer the channa dal for around 15-20 minutes on a medium to low flame. Do not allow the dal to go mushy and should keep some bite. Once the dal is cooked drain it in cool water.
3. Take a vegetable peeler and make long peelings of the courgette. One for each ridge of the courgette and keep going until you get to the core. Don’t worry if some of the ribbons are shorter than the others.
4. Combine the courgette ribbons with the feta and daal and toss it all together. Stir in the Harissa paste evenly before adding the cumin, parsley, lemon juice and salt if needed. Add a glug of olive oil. You can add the tomatoes but if they feel a bit delicate then leave them for presentation so that they keep their shape.
5. Serve fresh with hummus (I used black eyed bean hummus) and lots of lovely bread.

Mung bean and barley broth in tahini, a dash of Harissa, roasted mini peppers and torn mozzarella

10 Jan

Mung bean and barley broth in tahini, a dash of Harissa, roasted mini peppers and torn mozzarella

Do you plan? There’s the daily commute planning, school timings, work planning, menu planning, grocery planning…but I mean you know… do you ‘plan’.

I’ve always been a planner. I’ve planned at work and I planned the holidays. I took it upon myself to plan the savings plan and I even planned our weekends and outings at the best rates for weeks ahead. It goes without saying that for years I have sent my husband a weekly menu plan with a flag that tells me that he has received it and also a call to action his confirmation that he is happy with the plan. I like to feel like I’m in the driving seat, that I was taking the bull by the whatsits and generally, good girls planned and if we plan, things will come into fruition.

Well, that’s what I thought. I didn’t plan for my life to be this way. It’s different to what my mind had conceived. I don’t think it just ‘happened’ to me. In some shape or form by taking decisions, listening to instincts, or making priority calls…here we are. In the same breath I am much more open and mellow about what the future holds. I didn’t know I would be here and I don’t know what ‘there’ looks like.

Speaking of mellow, here’s a healthy detoxifying broth that is fitting of my mood lately, and my will to be healthier this month. Mung beans are the food that my mum fed me if I was sick as a child but this version is cooked in tahini, a dash of Harissa, barley for depth and some sweet min peppers for tingly sweet bite. I’ve even chucked in some fabulously fluffy mozzarella, weird I know but heck it works!

Mung bean and barley broth in tahini, a dash of Harissa, roasted mini peppers and torn mozzarella
Ingredients to serve 4-6

175g mung beans
100g pearl barley
500ml vegetable stock
One large red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1-2 bay leaves
8-10 mini, sweet peppers
2 litres of water
The juice of Half a lemon
1-2 tbsp Harissa
4 tbsp tahini paste
Salt to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
200g fresh mozzarella
2 tbsp cooking oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
Coriander to garnish

Method

1. Boil the water, mung beans and barley together together for about 45 mins on a medium flame. When the beans are cooked most of the juices should have left into a thick soup. The beans should be mushy
2. Drizzle the peppers with some oil after cutting them in half or quarters and roast in the oven until they have browned lightly.
3. In a large and deep pan heat the cooking oil and add cumin seeds. When the seeds sizzle add the onion, bay leaves and salt. Sauté for a couple of minutes then add the ginger and garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes.
4. Add the mung beans and barley with the vegetable stock, then the tahini, lemon juice, pepper, Harissa and the simmer for 8-10 minutes. It should then look thick and broth like.
5. Stir in the peppers and tear some mozzarella before storing for another minute or so. Don’t over cook the mozzarella as it will go string. Keep the mozzarella fully and warm.
6. Serve with a garnish of coriander and slice of lemon

I am linking this recipe to Anneli from Delicieux and Louisa from Eat your veg because this is a virtuous recipe image

Blueberry and basil, papaya, spinach salad with a chilli and agave pistachio nut topping

8 Jan

Blueberry and basil, papaya, spinach salad with a chilli and agave pistachio nut topping

I feel too young for aches and pains and body complaints. My knee is creaky and my back is full of rocks; it is muscular tension. Sniffles and coughs, fatigue and sleep deprivation. It’s all self induced.

My uncle was, and still is, one of the patriarchs of our family. A strong and disciplined man, he is giving and loving and he was always firm and fair. Growing up, when he would visited us and was offered tea by my folks, he would always reply that he would drink it only if I made it. He was one of those that limited his food intake and I actually never saw him indulge.

He’s now deteriorated in his golden years and knowing this has provoked much thought on how I should be grateful and look after this one and only body I have. It is true that some things we simply can not control or avoid and chips taste very good. It is true that making time for exercise is tough and that eating well is sometimes expensive. But, life is short.

My blueberry basil, papaya and spinach salad with chilli and agave pistachio is good for the body, the eyes, the taste buds and is very easy to put together. Blueberries are often talked of a superfood and I eat them like sweeties. Spinach is fabulous and best raw I reckon and let’s talk about papaya. I ate loads of the stuff after giving birth to my boy, it’s said that it has healing properties. This fresh and easy salad will liven up any table at this time of heat and will encourage picking on fruit, not crisps.

Blueberry and basil, papaya, spinach salad with a chilli and agave pistachio nut topping

For the full recipe, head on over to great British chefs

Roasted tomato, orange and chilli soup

4 Jan

Tomato, Orange and Chilli soup by Deena KakayaEverything halts, doesn’t it? Play dates get cancelled and kids stay at home, away from nursery or school. Grown-ups either martyr on without thanks or, ‘work from home’. Dinners out with friends get postponed and any outdoor activity is null and void and substituted with snuggling under a blanket and intermittently catching daytime TV between uncomfortable snoozes. Yes, it is the season of sickness.

We have been fortunate in our house to have escaped many of the rounds that the bugs have done, so far. We all generally have pretty robust immune systems and I like to think that in part, this is due to what we eat, although though the festive indulgence did get the better of me. Not only did I suffer from horrid food poisoning, I spent a good couple of weeks popping heavy, greasy, cheesy or chocolaty concoctions into my mouth like they were air-filled. I felt queasy, bloated, heavy and sore in the tummy. I felt lethargic and constantly sick and clearly, my body is meant to eat clean, natural, colourful and light

for the full recipe, head over to great British chefs

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