Tag Archives: lunch

Beetroot, fenugreek and roasted garlic chapatti (thepla)

21 Aug

I’m pretty sure so far, that if at the gates of heaven (and I know that I am being presumptuous here) I am asked which period of my life I would like to live for eternity, it would be my boy’s young and charming days.

Beetroot thepla by Deena Kakaya

As we embark on the next leg of our journey together and slightly apart for the first time ever (mornings of nursery school), I look back with smiles, pride and deep satisfaction at the moments we have shared together, so far. When he falls in the park, he dusts himself off and says, ‘don’t worry mumma, I’m OK’. When the boy in the park today screamed and shouted for a turn on the machine that my boy was playing with he stepped off and said, ‘don’t cry, it’s just called sharing’. Completely unprompted and wonderfully frequently he will tell me that he loves me. Today as I rushed him to get dressed in the cubicle before his impending swimming lesson, he casually swung his legs and chattered away to me about veins being like tunnels for romans. As I told him off for not removing his shoes despite being asked thrice, he said ‘mumma, you look beautiful today’. We cuddled into giggle-fits as I felt enchanted by my three year old and he knew that I had busted his game, but it had worked.

Our week so far as included toddler football, mini golf at the local golf course, rides-animals-theatre and carrot digging at the farm, scooters in the park, swimming and a visit to the zoo scattered with a few play dates. My favourite was the themed carrot digging and his was the zoo, of course. Through all of these activities, my least favourite part is lunchtime. I know, I know – I have read all the stuff about mum’s attitude towards meal times rub off on the child and it should be a relaxed and fun time without pressing on quantities or content but frankly, I find mealtimes wearing. The last thing I want to do is to melt into persuasion and declining on a fun day out. We sat on the front bench , under the sun to watch the sheep song and dance thingey and I asked him to look back at the the crowd on the benches. I asked him what the children were all doing, ‘eating sandwiches’. So I asked if he would like one too. Very simply, it’s a no; he is three years old and he has never eaten a sandwich.

Spicy fenugreek chappati (thepla) are the ultimate food for days out, or at least they have been for me. As I was growing up, they travelled with us to picnic and coach journeys to the beach. They even made it to the airport and beyond, you know- just in case. They came with me to university as they have a longer life than many other foods and during my pregnancy I ate them every day with lashings of yoghurt and some pickle. Is it any wonder then that my boy loves them too? I think of variations on thepla to get some added nutrition in; sometimes I add paneer to give a real moist texture and sometimes roasted vegetable and I have even added banana. One of my favourites is this hot pink version, which my boy calls ‘peppa pig thepla’. I ate them with The Cheeky Food Company’s mango pickle which they sent me to taste. Have to say, it took me by surprise; it’s not vinegary or overly sour or even too hot, it has the home made taste!

Ingredients to make approximately 20 thepla

2 cups of chapatti flour

¾ cup finely chopped fenugreek leaves

2 pinches of ajwain (carom seeds)

½ tsp. turmeric

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. plain yoghurt

half bulb of roasted garlic (I put mine in the oven for half an hour at 180 degrees)

100g cooked beetroot, pureed

Salt to taste

3-4 tbsp. water, if needed

Vegetable Oil for greasing the chappati

Tip: keep a small bowl of vegetable oil with spoon ready near your tava to use for the thepla

Method

  1. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the oil. Mix the oil with the flour until it’s evenly distributed.
  2. Now add the turmeric, salt and ajwain and mix well, then mix in the fenugreek leaves
  3. Introduce the yoghurt, beetroot, roasted garlic and then knead the dough. Add water until a soft and springy dough forms. I usually drizzle on a little oil over the dough.
  4. Heat the tava on a medium to low flame and then start to roll the thepla.
  5. Take equally sized portions of dough (about the size of a golf ball) and roll them to a thin chappati and then toast it on side until it begins to form bubbles and then flip it over and repeat. Flip it over again, drizzle it lightly with oil- uses the back of your spoon to evenly distribute the oil and then repeat.

 

 

Soy, galangal and star anise tofu & mango tacos

15 Jul

Soy, galangal and star anise tofu & mango tacos

Soy, galangal and star anise tofu & mango tacos

I took my toddler to the pool today and because I’m hanging on to every precious day and really feeling the countdown towards loosening the cord a little more, I was even more patient with him. He was even more ecstatic than usual. ‘I love you so much in the swimming pool’ he told me, and he also told me that he was going to ‘demonstrate’ his ‘swimming skills’. He is not even 2.5years old yet.

So here is the thing. Whilst he was shivering post-swim under my deep red towel and as we walked to find a large changing cubicle he chatted away to a member of the cleaning staff. He asked her about her favourite planet, car and animal. She asked him if he likes chocolate and he didn’t reply. He noticed that three of this softly spoken and calm looking staff’s colleagues kept walking by but nobody said hello to her. He asked me why? Well. What do you tell a not-yet-2.5 year old?

I had the same questions in my first job at the Bank of England. I had the same question in my last role at a household name-type brand. I thought it would be different in my new world. My new world is cluttered and tangled in a new way because it has emotion and passion factored in.

I was quite tempted to change the topic, but thought better. I told him that some people like to feel important, like a super hero. Some people like think Mars is better than Earth. Mars is amazing because it is red and Martians and they think they are cool because they don’t get dehydrated but people on Earth think they are cool if they are have lots and lots of stuff. ‘But that’s messy isn’t it’ he asked. ‘Yes’, I said. It certainly is.

So, here is a recipe that isn’t cluttered, it is simple. But you can get messy whilst eating it-if you fancy celebrating the glorious mess that one can be (me for a start). If you read my posts regularly (thank you if you do) then you will be familiar with how I love to balance contrasting senses. In tune with that, the (certainly not bland) tofu is salty, warm and bold. The mango is sweet and juicy. Then you’ve got spring onions. Who is celebrating a messy life with me?

The hubby recently bought Dhruv Baker’s book SPICE for me as a thank you. I have been instrumental in helping him (the husband) shed a few KG in weight with some of the lean recipes I have been cooking and in his book Dhruv cooks duck with some of the essences that I have used in the tofu. It works.

Ingredients to serve two

One block of firm tofu

2 tbsp. soy sauce

One medium sized mango, cut into thin strips or julienne

3 tbsp. kecap Manis

1 tsp. Chinese 5 spice powder

150ml water

3 star anise

8 taco shells

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. cooking oil

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp. galangal paste

3-4 spring onions, finely chopped

Method

  1. Wrap the tofu in kitchen paper and leave it to stand until the excess moisture has been soaked up before cutting it into large chunks of roughly 3cm cubed.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and shallow fry the tofu until it is crisp and lightly golden.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
  4. Pour in the soy sauce, then the star anise and rice wine vinegar and mix through. Then add the 5 spice powder, galangal and kecap Manis and combine well.
  5. Pour in the water and reduce the heat to a medium to low flame and cook until the moisture has been absorbed and the tofu looks well coated and almost crisp.
  6. Compile the tacos by cooking the shells per packet instructions and adding the fillings as you like. Serve immediately whilst the tofu is still hot.

 

Crispy Chaat masala tofu salad with tamarind chutney and yoghurt dip

29 May

Crispy Chaat masala tofu salad with tamarind chutney and yoghurt dip

Crispy Chaat masala tofu salad with tamarind chutney and yoghurt dip

I was 26, but came weeping childishly down the stairs of our new build home at that time, flaccid, tousled and seeking warmth and comfort and really, an escape. I discharged my strains in barely comprehensible trickles, “I don’t want to study any more I’m just too tired”.

I drooped into my husband’s embrace, “I don’t wanna do it, I don’t want to”. Working full time and taking three papers of my final post graduate exams was proving too much. My palms and arms were stained with the colours of inducing some sort of excitement through pens and my hair flopped in half greasy protest, threatening an invitation for pimples. I felt the cool of the house and it began to calm me, the heat escaped my forehead and cheeks and diffused some of the tension. I have this strange habit of keeping the fan heater close to me whilst I am studying you see, even when it isn’t that cold. Maybe it insulates me from external distraction.

I whimpered to my husband that I wanted to wear nice clothes, not these vests and tracksuit bottoms with thick cosy socks that are suited for hibernation. I told him that I wanted to socialize and have fun and go for dinner, not be tied to my books and notes. I told him that I did not want to fail…and the sound of fatigue escalated. He said all the right things, about it being temporary and that nothing worth having comes easily.

In the exam hall, my eyes were sore and head foggy. Emotional, depleted and almost without hope, I listened to my peers as they waited for the rest of the students to be seated. “I don’t even care anymore because I am so tired”, said one. “I just hope the stuff I want comes up”. All I wanted was a hot soak in the bath and cuddles. But you know what? I nailed that paper, because there is always room for a little bit more, if you want to find it.  

Crispy Chaat masala tofu salad with tamarind chutney and yoghurt dip

The reason I am telling you this story is because it is how I felt over the last week or so. I am very tired. Of course I am a bit older and wiser now, so I have more of a toolbox. I won’t lie, I did have a day or two of bubbling over but then, a lovely lady prompted me to find a little bit more. Lovely lady, I know you will read this. Thank you.

I thought about what it is that actually makes me happy. Not what I think I should achieve, work for or do. I took a social media break. I baked a cake in my new oven. I stopped talking to people that inspired doubt. I livened up my sense with chaat.

Chaat is a combination of ingredients and flavors that tantalizes the senses. It is a mix of cool, warm, crisp and soft. The chaat masala itself is peppery, pungent and spiky. There is no food better at livening up the senses. Chaat masala is readily available in supermarkets in the Indian section, or in Indian stores. The tamarind chutney is ready bought and offers sweet and sour tastes without the sharpness. I have mixed it with the yogurt to give cool tang. You have vegetarian salad with a bit of naughtiness here, go on…life is short.

Ingredients

200g Asparagus boiled or steamed until barely tender

150g radish, thinly sliced

250g firm tofu, cut into 3-4 cm cubes

8 heaped tablespoons of corn flour

2 tbsp. chaat masala

Oil for deep frying

4 dessert spoons of plain natural yoghurt

2 dessert spoons of tamarind chutney

Method

  1. Heat the oil for frying and in the meantime, drain the tofu and envelop it between sheets of kitchen paper to drain off excess moisture
  2. Mix together the corn flour and Chaat masala.
  3. Gently roll the tofu in the corn flour to coat it and then drop them into the oil when it is hot enough and fry until the cubes are golden and crisp. Place them onto some kitchen paper to drain off any excess moisture.
  4. Make the dip by mixing together the tamarind chutney and yoghurt
  5. Assemble the salad and serve it whilst the tofu is still hot. You will feel your mouth tingle!

 

Beetroot, chipotle and feta fritters with Asian style cucumber salad

29 Sep

Beetroot, chipotle and feta fritters

Beetroot, chipotle and feta fritters

Our taxi driver confidently lead us down a shabby lane in Cairo. It was such a hot and dusty day and the atmosphere around the roads was subdued. We dodged the rocks and stones that had dislodged from the road and buildings and skipped over small mounds of stinking rubbish. I shot huffy expressions towards my explorative and overly-polite husband who simply adjusted the cap on his head, mopped his face and said, ‘come on babe, lets just see’.

Lets just see? What did he mean? What if something happened to us? I’m a natural worrier and this, together with having had regretful holiday experiences in the past, had fired off dozens of atrocious images in my mind from being food poisoned to being shot.

I reassured myself that our driver was in fact a lovely, pious man. He had gelled quite well with my husband and he told us lots of stories to pass the journey times during out holiday. Whilst we stumbled and hopped along the path he was leading us along, towards this supposedly acclaimed restaurant, he was telling us why men in his hometown wore a bruised forehead. Apparently it demonstrated their religious devotion and credited them to be god following people because you could see that they bowed down for prayer regularly.

So, we weren’t shot. We arrived at the restaurant and it had a feel of the rainforest cafe in London. The roofs were leafy and crowded in a fun sort of way. Fake birds bobbed up and down above us, but they added to the rainforest feel. Fish swam beside us and whilst we settled ourselves at our table and my inner child was tickled. As you can imagine, I was smiling and that unrequited, ‘I told you so’ naturally blurted at me.

So I wondered off to watch this giant man rub his hands a couple of times and produce perfect falafels into the biggest wok I had ever seen. It was bubbling with steaming hot oil and none of the chickpeas escaped. Perfumes of tahini and parsley dominated the smoke above him. But then I saw his hands appear blood stained. Flutters of panic seared through me..he wasn’t cooking with meat was he? Was I right all along?

It was beetroot. He was stuffing grated beetroot into the falafels. He was watching my expression and then he and his big toothy grin handed one to me on a plate.

It was sweet, nutty and slightly spicy. Probably the way I’d describe my favourite friends and oh my goodness they were crispy and addictive. I wanted more. I couldn’t believe how fluffy they were, so light. They taste a bit like little burgers, I’d happily stick them in some pitta with dollops of hummus.

So I came back and I created these beauties. You know I like spice so I’ve whacked in some beautiful smokey chipotle, it makes the whole combination more sensual. I’ve got salty feta in there too and it works in harmony with sweet beetroot. I love these because they are moist without being pasty. I don’t add plain flour because it gives it that texture that sticks to the roof of the mouth. Instead I have used gram flour and chickpeas to give that nuttiness. Whether you eat these with salad or as a burger, you’ll find them easy to make and freezer friendly.

Ingredients

300g cooked beetroot, grated
75g breadcrumbs
100g chickpeas, squashed
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
1tbsp finely chopped chives
1/2 tbsp chipotle paste
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg lightly beaten
3 tbsp gram flour
50g feta cheese, crumbled
2 spring onions finely chopped
Oil for shallow frying
Salt to taste
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
Salt to taste

Method

1. Squeeze as much if the juice out of beetroot as possible
2. Add the onion, feta, spices, herbs and add the chickpeas by imagesquishing them between your fingers. Use the salt carefully because feta is salty.

3. Add the chipotle paste, gram flour and the egg. Mix it all together before adding the breadcrumbs. If you feel that the mixture is too wet add a bit more gram flour
4. Form golf sized balls before dropping them into the warmed oil. Shallow fry them until they are golden brown on each side and serve with an Asian style cucumber salad.

Beetroot, feta, chipotle, chickpeas

Frying golf ball sized parities of Beetroot, feta and chipotle with chickpeas for nuttiness

For the cucumber salad

Peel one whole cucumber and stir it together with

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp sesame oil

Spinach, spring onion and spice pancakes with lime and coriander crème fraîche

26 Sep

Spinach, spring onion and spice pancakes with lime and coriander crème fraîche
image
image

We were in Dubai in June and my then 16month child lost a few hundred grams in weight over the first few days of our 10 day stay.

We were very lucky to be staying at the Atlantis, which is not only stunning with its in-house aquarium which felt as big as the London aquarium, beautiful clear views of the azure sea, towering heights and arches, shimmering lights; but it is architecturally astounding with its arabesque domes and spires. They couldn’t do enough for us and I lost count of the number of restaurants they had that served fresh and delicious foods from throughout the world. My favorite was the Lebanese restaurant; they served an entire table of vegetarian dishes at each course and I’m not kidding.
image
image
So why, with such lovely and helpful staff and so much variety did my boy not eat? Why, when they made him whatever we asked for, either on or off the ‘menu for kids’, would he just not eat? The truth is, I don’t know. Could have been the heat, but then the hotel was air-conditioned. It could have been the time changes, but then we stuck to UK time for him. It could have been the fatigue of travelling, but surely that would settle after a couple of days. It could be because mumma didn’t make it. But come on.

So, as is typical of my assertive and self-proclaimed solutions-not-problems focused husband, he said, ‘babe, just go and speak to the chefs like you normally would and go into the kitchen and make what he will eat’. Normally I wouldn’t go and cook uninvited because that is so rude. But my baby wasn’t eating and this made me so sad that I felt like it was the only thing I could do.

The head chef came out to meet my boy. The restaurant manager came to meet him. The sous chef took the head chefs instructions and then I went in to tell them how he likes it. My boy doesn’t even know lucky he is. We made him what he has at home, a spinach uttapam. I make this south Indian style crispy pancake with fermented and ground lentils and rice, loads of spinach. My little monster guzzled it down and the whole team was happy, especially me. Naturally.

The thing is though, that I don’t always have fermented rice and lentils to hand when he asks for the pancake and I know that instant versions are available in a packet and that too at the major supermarkets, but I worry about the amount of salt in them. So, I created this recipe that my whole family enjoy…even my fussy old man (my dad) loved them. My chappati-loving mum let out high-pitched praise. My Italian and Caribbean neighbors loved them (I’ve trialed this recipe out a couple of times so needed mouths) and best of all, my boy loves them. For a kids version skip the chili and salt if this is your normal practice given your child’s age. My boy is young so that’s what I’ve done.

These pancakes are really well-balanced in terms of spice and depth, they are smooth and really light and fluffy. Herby and moorish, they are so easy to make and even easier to eat.

Ingredients to serve 3-4

225g fresh spinach, finely chopped in a food processor
75g spring onions finely chopped
2 green chilies finely chopped (leave them out for kids or cut the amount of chili if you don’t like it hot)
One whole egg
One egg white, beaten until you get soft white peaks
150g self-raising flour
150ml milk
50g butter
Salt to taste (I used 1tsp)
1 tbsp baking powder

The spices; 1 tsp toasted cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp dried mango powder (amchur powder)

For the lime and coriander crème fraîche

250g crème fraîche
The zest of one lime
1 tbsp very finely chopped fresh coriander
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Method

1. In a large bowl mix the spinach with the cumin, salt, garam masala, mango powder, spring onions and chilies and mix it well.
2. With a fork, mix in the flour and then add the milk, butter and egg. Whisk it all together, add the baking powder and whisk again.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until the egg whites are soft white peaks and then gently fold into the pancake batter.
4. To make the crème fraîche, add the zest of the lime into a bowl and add the coriander, salt and pepper. Mix it in gently with the crème fraîche and leave it in the fridge until you serve the pancakes.
5. To make the pancakes heat a non stick pan and grease it with a couple of tablespoons of oil. Pour a couple of tablespoons of batter onto the pan and ensure that the height is about 1 cm. Cook them until they are golden brown on one side before flipping over.

Serve the pancakes hot and with a dollop of the crème fraîche.

Soya Chunk Chaat

13 Aug

Soya Chunk Chaat

Ooh, I do feel slightly naughty when I eat street-food.  It’s like eating that secret, forbidden pre-dinner burger on the way home from school, except Chaat is much more tantalising. I don’t know how we did it, my best friend and me.  After college we’d detour for some wicked pleasures largely containing either pastry or potato, before returning home to a full Indian meal. Nobody ever knew.

We weren’t particularly weight, make-up or boy conscious teenagers…we loved to laugh from deep in our hearts and be happy. We laughed a lot, loudly and energetically.  We sang, talked vibrantly with strangers and dreamed faithfully. We created our own joy and funnily enough we were healthy by heart, body and mind and did really well with grades. Maybe I should take up hockey again?

Crisp, sweet, sour, spongy, spicy and soft it’s all going on. A couple of chutneys smack the senses wide open and say hello to Delhi and the rickety street stalls that overflow with smiling and animated crowds, all huddled excitedly with tiny metal plates as a skilled Chaat maker crafts each serving one by one.

My personal opinion is that there is no perfect science to constructing Chaat. It really is about combining and layering textures and igniting, or even exploding the senses.   There’s a tang, fire, sweetness, heat and coolness as layers of crispy sev, puffed rice, easy-going potato, sweet tomatoes, dense chick-pea and those sweet and spicy chutneys mingle.   Mmmmm, sigh-some… And although I do love, love, love lashings of natural yogurt to relax the senses, I’m not so much of a fan of the softening effect it can have on chaat. Nothing worse than soggy Chaat. You could however, drizzle a little just before serving and then devour it pretty much instantly. Who could blame you?

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

4 cups of puffed rice (from an Asian Supermarket)

2 fresh tomatoes, cubed

½ cup of roasted peanuts

2 medium potatoes, cubed

125g of dried soya chunks

One medium sized onion, finely diced

For the green chutney

2-3 green chillies

For the tamarind chutney

1 tbsp. concentrated tamarind paste

Chilli powder to taste

The spices; grind the following spices together. 1 tsp. cumin seeds, 1 tsp. coriander seeds, ½ tsp. fenugreek seeds, 1 tsp. fennel seeds, ½ tsp. carom seeds, 1 tsp. sweet paprika, salt to taste, chilli powder to taste, 1tsp. Chaat masala

Cook’s notes: You’ll find Chaat masala at most Indian grocers and supermarkets. Some supermarkets stock it too, but it is definitely worth getting hold of, for that pungent peppery flavour it introduces. You may find different versions of the soya chunks, but essentially you want to have them cooked before you spice them up!

Some people make tamarind chutney by simply combining the water and the concentrated tamarind paste, but I think that can leave the chutney excessively tart. To allow the sweetness come through, simmer it.

  1. Start by making the chutney’s. The green chutney is really easy; just blitz together the coriander, chillies, salt to taste and 1/3rd cup of water until its smooth.
  2. To make the tamarind chutney, combine ½ cup water with the concentrated tamarind paste
  3. Boil the potatoes. Once they are soft enough to pierce, drain them, cool and then mix in the Chaat masala.
  4. Soak the soya chunks in hot water until they swell. Squeeze out the excess water, or cook per packet instructions. Then heat a tablespoon of hot oil in a pan and add the spices, frying for just 30 seconds-1 minute before adding the soya chunks and coating them well. Let them cook on a low heat for approximately 5 minutes, before turning off the heat.
  5. Now all you need to do is layer it. I usually go for puffed rice and nuts on the bottom, then the potatoes, tomatoes, onions and on the top, the warm soya chunks. Then the final act; drizzle them with the emerald and maroon shades with the chutney’s and eat it, quick!

 

 

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Rice

5 May

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Rice

Do you have childhood memories of being cajoled into eating?

Shiny shoes with glistening buckles swung, knocking at the kitchen cupboards whilst I was perched onto a kitchen worktop in velvety dungarees and a sympathetic, fresh polo neck jumper. Mum or Dad leaned their tummy gently against my knees, for balance and in sing song and over-enthusiastic grins and upstretched eyebrows, they  transported ‘aeroplanes’ loaded with rice, bathed in tomato soup and widened their mouths, hoping that I’d mirror them.

It’s the sort of food that’s easy, juicy and sweet in a dribble inducing sort of way. Modest, economical but its familiarity and succulence is calming…but you know that I like to meander to new ways with gorgeous stuff. These days it’s a roasting red, spicy kick that I’m longing for. The thought of dried red chillies, releasing their sweet heat when soaked sets my heart a-flutter (but not on fire, I don’t go that far!). That’s why this recipe I’m about to share with you gives me my fix; I can change it to suit my mood. More or less heat, some veg, a bit of bite or crunch or something soft or squidgy. To be honest, I could make a meal out of this recipe, I don’t need much else.

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Rice

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 cup tomato pulp

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

200g of roasted red peppers (the jarred stuff is fine to use for this recipe)

4-5 shallots, finely chopped

7-8 curry leaves

2 tbsp.  Channa dhal (Bengal gram)

10-15 cashew nuts halved

2 red chillies and 1 green chilli (or to taste)

300g uncooked rice

The spices; ½ tsp. garam masala, ½ tsp. mustard seeds, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, salt to taste,

Method

  1.  Wash and boil the rice and then keep it to the side
  2. Whilst the rice is cooking, whizz (roughly) together the  tomatoes and the roasted red peppers to a deep red pulp
  3. Heat the oil in a deep pan, then add the asafoetida, cumin seeds, mustard seeds,  chillies, Bengal gram and curry leaves and cook until the gram is golden brown and crunchy
  4. Stir in the cashew nuts and stir until they’ve browned a little
  5. Bring it together with the onions, add the salt and sauté for a couple of minutes before bringing in the garlic and sauté until they have softened
  6. Add the tomatoes and red pepper and bring It to a gentle simmer before stirring in the garam masala and then stir in the cooked rice
  7. Serve with something yogurt and garnish with coriander.

Deena’s Stuffed Okra

27 Nov

As a child I used to diligently peel back the layers in quarter-sections lengthways, and then nibble at them one by one. Only then, with a scoop of chapatti, would I eat the stuffing of that individual okra, with a warm, smug glow of self satisfaction. And then repeat the process. My tailored technique did slow down mealtimes, but personally I think my parents were just pleased that I was eating something green: and that okra too! We didn’t know many other kids who would eat them, at least not as happily as I did. In fact I remember one of my cousin’s being close to tears when encouraged to be sensible and eat their portion….”Deena does?” This made me feel like a very sophisticated little kid – did I have good taste or was it just that I was more willing to try? I revelled in my mother’s cheerful flaunting of this fact to my aunts as well as her friends. “She eats okra you know! In fact it’s one of her favourite meals and she even eats an extra chappati when we have this particular curry”. Parents! Kids! In fact, I think stuffed okra was indeed one of my favourite curries. Sometimes I would just roll it whole in the middle of a chapatti and then have a mighty mouthful. They’re quite a fun vegetable to eat you know. Why is this exquisite curry not served in restaurants?
 
It was, and still is, especially important to me that they sit in a mild, but pretty garlicky curry base. Not watery, but thick and happy. A luscious coating shall we say. Enough to add a tang of tomato, but I don’t want them drenched; no that would be awful. And I certainly can’t have them sticky-that’s neglectfully tragic. Simmer gently on a light flame, don’t rush.

I adore the way they are stacked in the Indian grocers, mounds and mounds of ladies fingers. I’ve always found that name so off-putting. Long green bullets being bent and scraped by scanning, analytical grocery shoppers. I’m always amused by the conversations around okra stands…people run their fingers like pensive ploughs over and through them, tutting and clicking their tongues; a distinct sign that they are unimpressed. Not woody, not browned. Green and slender, that’s how they should be…that’s what they’re discussing, scattered amongst talk of daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws.
 
I’ve experienced okra diversely, cooked in soups, Gujarati yogurt soups (kadhi), African stews, American-style breaded and fried, stir fried with sugar and then there’s the shredded and fried variety as found in Mumbai. I’ve tasted them in a ratatouille and also stir fried in soy sauce and chili. Nevertheless, one of the okra recipes that sits closest to my heart is this one.
 
Although the traditional recipe calls for the stuffing being bound with oil, I simply can’t bring myself to do it. My father and I have regular enthused discussions about this. He buys into the idea and will go along with it, but pushes my version of this stuffing, which is slightly stickier, in my direction… “You do it”. So here is how I do it;

Stuffed Okra Curry by Deena Kakaya

Ingredients

250g of okra
6 tbsp of gram flour
2 tbsp of corriander powder and 1 tsp of cumin powder
salt to taste
3 tsp of lemon juice
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
2tbsp of water for the stuffing and 1/2 cup hot water for the curry base.
Chili powder to taste, I use about 2 tsp
1/2 can of plum peeled tomatoes
1-2 chilies
2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
 
Method
 
1. Wash the okra and dry them individually with kitchen paper and then leave the to stand and dry completely.  This will help to avoid that gunky texture.
2. Toast the gram flour gently for about 1-2 minutes, but dont let the gram flour burn
3. Combine the gram flour, cumin powder, corriander powder, salt and turmeric and mix thoroughly
4. Add the oil, lemon juice and water to the spices mix and form a dough.
5. When the okra are dry, create a slit vertically from top to tail in the centre of the okra but avoid touching the bottom and top tips. 
6. Stuff them each generously and close them firmly.
7. In a deep set pan, heat a splash of oil and add the mustard seeds and allow them to pop.  Stir in the chopped garlic and chili and saute until golden, before mixing in the tomato and salt. Bring this to a simmer and then place the okra in gently.
8. Coat the okra with the mixture gently and simmer on a low flame for about 5 minutes before adding 1/2 cup of hot water.  Bring to a simmer again and cook on a medium flame until the okra are soft enough to pierce all the way through.  This should take about 15 minutes.
 
I suggest devouring these okra with lots of natural yogurt of raitha and hot buttery chappati’s or naan bread. 

Indian Superfood Recipes

1 Apr

These ruby red jewels are packed with vitamin C and are thought to contain antibacterial properties. Rich in antioxidants, the juice of this middle eastern fruit has been proven in some studies to combat heart disease and blood pressure. Pomegranate has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, to remedy diarrhoea and dysentery.

Superfood PomegranateEasy Pomegranate Shrikhand

Recipe (to serve 3-4)
Ingredient

100g of pomegranate seeds (about one medium sized pomegranate)
500g of quark cheese
Caster sugar to taste
¼ tsp of cardamom powder
A small pinch of saffron (approximately 4-5 strands)
2 tsp of rose water
12-15 roughly chopped pistachios

Method

1. In a mixing bowl, smooth together the quark cheese and caster sugar. Include enough sugar to your taste for a dessert.
2. Combine the quark cheese and sugar mixture with the cardamom powder, rose water and chopped pistachios.
3. Squash the strands of saffron into the side of the bowl, then beat them in. The light orange colour will infuse into the shrikhand.
4. Mix in half of the pomegranate seeds, leaving the other half for decoration and then serve.

Easy Blueberry Shrikhand

These antioxidant rich ’wild’ things are high in vitamin C, anti-oxidants, are a good source of fibre, and act to protect the heart. Some research has shown that blueberries may help to alleviate the cognitive decline occurring in Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of ageing and they may even assist in prevent urinary tract infection.

Recipe (to serve 3-4)
IngredientSuperfood blueberries

150g of blueberries
500g of quark cheese
Approximately 6 tbsp of caster sugar
¼ tsp of cardamom powder
15 roughly chopped pistachios

Method

1. In a mixing bowl, blend 100g of the blueberries to a smooth consistency, leaving no pulp. Then combine it with 4 tbsp of caster sugar. Simmer the mixture on medium flame for 3-4 minutes, stirring continuously. Turn off the heat and then allow the blueberry sauce to cool completely.
2. Mix together the quark cheese and blueberry sauce until it turns a beautiful lavender colour. Add 2 tbsp of caster sugar (you can moderate this depending on your taste for a dessert).
3. Stir in the cardamom powder and the most of the pistachios, leaving some for decoration.
4. Serve, using the remaining blueberries (whole) for decoration or mix them in with the shrikhand. Sprinkle the individual portions lightly with the remaining chopped pistachios.

Spinach and Tofu Curry

Springtime spinach is a source of beta carotene and folate, but don’t expect Popeye’s instant biceps! Rich in antioxidants and containing vitamin K and Iron (which will be better absorbed with vitamin C) spinach will help your skin, immune system, heart, your bones and energy levels.

Recipe (serves 3-4)

Ingredient
250g of firm tofu, cubed
200g of baby leaf spinach, coarsely chopped
2 deep red tomatoes, chopped into cubes
One small-medium onion, peeled and diced
2 green chillies, chopped
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped) and 5g of ginger (grated)
A bay leaf, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 cloves, a small stick of cinnamon, pinch of asafoetida (optional), 1 tsp of paprika, ¼ tsp of black pepper

Method

1. Heat 1tbsp of oil in a non-stick frying pan and shallow fry the cubes of tofu until they are golden brown. Remove the tofu onto kitchen paper and allow the cubes to cool.
2. In a separate pan heat two tablespoons of oil before adding the asafoetida. Next, put in the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon and let the cumin seeds crackle before mixing in the chillies.
3. Stir in the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes before introducing the garlic. When the onion has softened add the tomatoes, salt to taste and turmeric and cook until the tomatoes are smooth and pulpy.
4. Sprinkle in the black pepper and paprika, then combine the cubes of shallow fried tofu into the curry base.
5. Wilt the spinach into the curry and add the grated ginger. Simmer for 3-4 minutes before turning off the heat.

Vegetarian Indian Meal Ideas For Students

13 Jul

Cooking may be the last thing on many (uni) students’ minds.  The fresher’s culture in particular provides ample persuasion in the form of £1 drinks, 7-stop bar crawls, clubbing, house parties and of course sleeping all of that off, in preference of freshly cooked food.  It probably doesn’t help that campus supermarkets are often expensive and probably not the best stocked (least so for Indian groceries).  Some students may just not know how to cook.

There are so many reasons why cooking vegetarian Indian food at home is the way forwards

• You may find yourself homesick.  Although you may have been bursting to get away from home, being at home does have its virtues; at least you get a good home cooked meal.

• If you live of junk food, you will gain weight!

• You may find the vegetarian options limiting, depending on where you have gone to university or you may simply yearn for Indian food which is perhaps harder to source, depending on where you are.

• A diet that’s poor in nutritional value will leave you feeling tired and lacking lustre, you may find it hard to stay awake and concentrate in those lectures.  Then of course there are the spots and greasy hair that may come as a result of a bad diet

• Cooking vegetarian Indian food in your student home will be a great way to impress people and make friends.  The very first meal I cooked for my now husband was when I was a fresher; channa masala (and I used tinned chickpeas).

Here I give you 12 delectable, really easy and speedy recipe ideas for vegetarian Indian dishes.  Whether you are a student or a concerned parent, these ideas are real winners.  I will also give you an idea of the basic spices to keep in the cupboard (don’t worry; they have quite a long shelf life!)

 

Curry out of a can

Tinned Legumes and pulses can be stored in the cupboard and it’s really easy to whip up a curry with them.  Try Butterbeans ; fry off onions , garlic, cumin, and a sprig of curry leaves in a couple of tablespoons of oil, add turmeric and salt, add chilli powder, turmeric, coriander and cumin powder, ½ tsp garam masala and half a can of coconut milk.  Then grate in 10g of ginger.  Mop it up with some bread…its heart-warming.

Sweet corn curry is a popular favourite.  Using the same spices as the butterbean curry, but this time, minus the coconut milk and add a couple of dark red chopped tomatoes and a handful of ground nuts to the mix.  It’s very Moorish.  You can create more or less gravy simply by adding water.  I like it quite dry with some yogurt.

Chickpea curry is a classic.  I like to add a few twists to it, like spinach wilted in at just before I take it off the heat, or maybe some shallow fried tofu, or soya mince.  I like to add a couple of teaspoons of dried fenugreek leave to chickpea curries; some people recognise this as a general curry aroma.  If you want to avoid any of the spice-adding decisions, you can buy channa masala spices in a box from Indian grocers.

Fresh quickie Curries

Yes, fresh Indian ingredients can be hard to source, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t use widely available vegetables to make a curry.  Here is a great one for detox; spinach, dill and fenugreek curry.  It’s so aromatic and easy on the tummy.  It contains Iron and fibre. All you do is chop then up, fry off a large onion and couple of spring onions in cumin, mustard seeds and a little garlic and then and all of your ingredients with a couple of chopped tomatoes.   Spice with coriander powder, cumin powder, chilli powder and turmeric.  Cook in on a low flame for about 15mins and then sprinkle ½ tsp of garam masala at the end.

Here is another cheat, inspired by a traditional Gujarati recipe.  Potato curry in thick, rich gravy.  Take a mixing bowl; add one can of chopped tomatoes, 70g of coarsely ground unsalted peanuts,  ½ cup of gram flour, then add ¼ tsp turmeric, salt and chilli powder to taste, 1 tsp each of coriander powder and cumin powder and ½ tsp of garam masala and 1 ½ tsp of dried fenugreek leaves.  The next bit is magic, all you do, is fry off an onion in some cumin and a sprig of curry leaves and then add a couple of cloves of garlic.  Then add about 700g of baby new potatoes and coat them in the oil.  Then add the mixture of tomatoes, gram, peanuts and spices.  Add water to cover, and cook until the potatoes can be pierced easily.

There are other simple ideas that can be made from readily available vegetables, such as cauliflower curry (don’t add any water), aubergine, cabbage (again, no water), or a simple avial which is made with julienned vegetables with desiccated coconut and curry leaves.  Although many recipes call for traditional vegetables like tindori, you can make this with carrots, courgettes, baby corn.

I love the versatility of aubergines.  I have three varieties in my fridge at the moment and I got them all from my local supermarket (not an Indian one!).  With the largest aubergine, I’m going to roast it, scoop out the flesh and mash it a little with a fork. I’m then going to fry off onions, garlic, green chillies and a then soften a couple of fresh tomatoes and add in just salt and turmeric and a squeeze of lemon.  With the Japanese style aubergines, I’m just going to make two slits opposite directions upwards from the base and then use the thick potato recipe with the aubergines, just with a nice helping of coriander.  With the baby aubergines, I am going to half and then roast them and then submerge them in spicy tomato gravy.

Using Pasta

Pasta is also really versatile and you can stock up on it. I’ve heard many people say that they could eat pasta every day of the week…but for that, you’d need lots of inspiration…including some Indian inspiration I reckon.

One of our family favourites is what I call ‘samosa filling pasta’.   A couple of medium potatoes chopped, ½  cup of peas, a small carrot, maybe ½ cup of sweet corn kernels and a very large onion make the basis of the mix, spiced in chilli powder, turmeric, curry leaves and cumin seeds and a squeeze of lemon.  Simply add in your pasta and there you have a meal for at least 2-3.  Sometimes, I add cheese on top, and funnily enough, it works.

You could try shallow frying some vegetables like ½ head of a small cauliflower, some sweet potato and a cup of peas and then adding a gram flour and yogurt mix (400g of yogurt and 2 tbsp of gram flour). Just add some curry powder and that’s how easy it is.

Indian Sandwich Ideas

One of my favourite sandwich recipes requires investing in some chat masala. It’s not hot, but it’s punchy and brings life to salads and sandwiches.  I really recommend a 3 layer sandwich.  Peel a potato and then slice it thickly.  Boil until cooked, drain and cool.  Then use ingredients like a little chilli sauce, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes.  If you have some coriander, grind together a couple of handfuls with a couple of chillies, a little lemon and salt and a tbsp of water.  Spread this on the bread…it’s amazing.  This sandwich throws my mind to the streets of Mumbai…anyway…Layer the vegetables on toasted bread, sprinkling chat masala gently.

I’d love to know how you get on with these user-friendly recipes.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Warmest wishes

Deena Kakaya

Please join the facebook group http://www.facebook.com/deenakakaya

%d bloggers like this: