Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Moroccan couscous salad

Couscous is one of my favorite quick cooking grains. Its the perfect food to cook when you have had a long hard day and all you want to do is curl up in front of the television eating a big bowl of fresh homemade food but don't want to spend more than 10-15mins in the kitchen. Cooking couscous couldn't be easier. You boil one portion liquid (stock or water); turn the heat off; add equal portion couscous; stir; cover and let sit for 5minutes. After 5minutes, remove the cover, fluff up the couscous and that's it, its ready! How easy is that!

Couscous is a grain made out of semolina, rolled into really tiny small rounds. There is a whole-wheat variety of couscous that Trade Joe's carries which I particularly like. Like any pasta, couscous lends really well to many sauces, dressings and sides. I sometimes chop up whatever veggies are sitting in the fridge and then make an olive oil-lemon juice dressing for a quick couscous salad. On other days when I am craving something warm and comforty, I cook couscous like I would cook Bhagar (a Marathi fasting dish made from a grain called bhagar which is amazingly similar to couscous. The dish is made out of roasting and then quick cooking bhagar with roasted peanuts and a tadka of oil-cumin seeds eaten with some fresh yogurt. Cooking couscous like bhagar is in-fact one of my husnband's kitchen specialilties!).

Today I made a simple Moroccan couscous salad with some garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes and raisins. Olives and preserved lemons would also be a great addition to this salad!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fish curry with salmon

I was raised a vegetarian. My father occasionally eats poultry and seafood but my mother is a strict vegetarian. Growing up meat dishes were never a part of our household meals. However when I left for college to a state halfway across India, my diet suddenly suffered due to the hostel (dorms, as they are called here) food. In our hostel vegetarian meal was included in the standard meal-plan while you had to pay a hefty extra amount to get non-vegetarian food served three times a week. Needless to say, extra costly non-vegetarian food was much nutritious and wholesome than the standard meal-plan included veg food (note that vegetarian food can be in-general completely nutritious; but the way it used to be prepared at our hostel made it especially unappetizing and thereby non-nourishing as we would mostly skip the meal and snack on chips to satisfy our hunger). Due to the heavy school-work and the unbalanced dorm diet, over the years I lost some weight and my health started to suffer. I still remember the day when the college doctor finally wrote me an Rx prescription which said 'eat non-veg food' :-) I suppose he was a bit too well aware of the state of default meal plan in school!

Anyway, with some encouragement from my dad I did follow the doctor's advise and signed up for the extra meal-plan and thats how I started eating non-veg :) Funny story but its true! Over the years I have come to love my chicken biryanis, tikka masalas and prawn currys. Now-a-days I mostly eat healthy and wholesome vegetarian food but once in a while do prepare a chicken or a seafood dish. One thing I love to date the most though is the fish curry! I don't really have a fish curry recipe. I either pan-fry the fish fillets and add them to the curry sauce or simmer the fish cubes in the sauce. Sometimes I add frozen coconut while at other times its just a simple tomato based sauce.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lemony pasta primavera with lemon basil

It is amazing how good a simple dish can taste when all the ingredients are fresh and the preparation is minimal. This simple pasta primavera was a big hit with us yesterday and a lot of credit goes to the discovery of lemon basil in addition to all the other fresh ingredients. Did I tell you I have found my new best herb-friend in this lemon basil ;) I have read about a few bloggers who grow and cook with lemon basil. I am always curious when I read about a new vegetables or a new herb, so lemon basil was sure something in my to-try list. Needless to say I was so excited when I happened to stumble across this lemony herb yesterday at the farmer's market.

Usually my Saturday morning lunch menu is decided right when I am doing the groceries. I pick up whatever looks good that day and then cook something around it. A lot of fresh tomatoes are adorning the markets these days I suppose as a sure sign of approaching summer. I picked some up and settled on making some spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch. Then I went to my usual herb-stall to pick up a batch of basil. As I was picking up my basil a lady next to me sniffed a basil-ish herb and exclaimed to me in delight that she had never quite smelled anything like that and asked me if I had an idea how much these herbs generally cost. I told her they are $1 a bunch usually and she said at that price she could pick up the entire crate and freeze it. I thought it was basil but then she mentioned something about a lemony smell; my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the herb myself. Sure enough it had the most aromatic lemony basilish smell that I have ever sniffed! I immediately picked up a batch less she should live upto the promise of buying the whole crate! On my way back home I ended up revising the menu from spaghetti with tomatoes to a simple pasta primavera with lots of olive oil and lemon basil.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lentil stuffed pita pockets

Ever since I saw this Mark Bittman's sloppy joe pita recipe in Cooking Light I have itching to try it out. Honestly, whats not there to love when you have warm toasted pitas stuffed with warm and spicy lentil stuffing, some cool mint yogurt sauce and cucumber! 

I always have a pack of Trader Joe's whole wheat pitas at hand. Came home from work late. Quickly chopped some onions, tomatoes and garlic and put the lentils to cook (hardly 10min prep time). The lentil cooking time of around half an hour was largely unattended in which I made myself a hot decaf with a slice of toast and watched some mindless television to unwind the day :) Once the lentils were ready, the whole assembly took another 15mins and thats it, dinner is served! I substituted fresh avocado slices for the cucumber slices and finished with a tangy sweet jalapeno sauce that I found at a local Afghan grocer for some extra kick. All in all, a dinner well served! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Black bean and summer squash enchilada

I know, I know, I have been posting a lot of Mexican recipes in a row recently but I *promise* this will be the last Mexican recipe I post for quite some time! See, ever since I ate this black bean and summer squash enchilada at our office cafeteria, I have been itching to try it out and though I knew I have been cooking a lot of Mexican recently; I figured this enchilada would be the perfect season finale to my self-induced Mexican cooking bonanza :)

The head-chef at our office cafeteria hails from Southern America so while the Indian food featured is a bit dismal with its chicken curry, chicken tikka masala and chicken vindaloo all looking and testing _exactly_ the same, Mexican, Peruvian and Brazilian food is quite the different story! The salsa bar is exquisite and ever so often we get to taste a dish so unique and flavorful that it makes eating there quite enjoyable. Needless to say everyday the first thing I do when I visit the cafe is check the South American food section to see if something new is on the menu today. Thats how I first ate this black bean and summer squash enchilada. I liked the combination of hearty flavors of black beans against the mild relatively bland squash; all put together with vinegary tomatoes and of-course lots of melted cheese!

Summer squashes are in season and this is a perfect recipe to cook with them. I bought a basket full of variety of summer squashes from the farmer's market yesterday and today I was all set to give a try to recreate the taste of "the" black bean and summer squash enchilada. I looked up a couple of recipes online, but none looked like they would bring back the taste so finally I just set out on my own and put together something that was closest to what I had. The result was very delicious.. we both immensely enjoyed the enchilada with a side of fresh guacamole and some fresh lemonade as a Sunday lunch... the lazy Sunday afternoon is now calling me, and with my tummy filled this might just be the perfect time for a quick summer afternoon siesta!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spanish rice

At our house we love Mexican food. So much so that I have made a lot of inter-cuisine concoctions that we flavor with Mexican condiments just to satisfy our Mexican cravings. For example, I regularly make 'tacos' with whole wheat pita breads or 'burritos' with some mild curry and salsa. I always buy a pack of pita bread whenever I visit Trade Joe's (their whole wheat pitas are the best!). On some weekday evenings when I come back from office craving Mexican, all I do is put the Spanish rice on stove and while its cooking make a quick guacamole and a black bean tomato salsa (frozen avocados, frozen corn and canned black beans all have permanent reserved places in my pantry). I stuff the pitas with salsa, rice and avocados and may be some Monterey Jack cheese and thats it! A satisfying Mexican meal on table in less than 30-minutes and without a trip to a grocery store!

So, that brings me to today's recipe: spanish rice. I have been making this recipe for so long that I don't even remember its source.. this is the perfect Spanish rice recipe I have tried. The rice always turns out so soft and moist and fluffy with a nice tomato, oregano flavor. If fresh tomatoes are not in season, use tomato paste. Infact tomato paste gives a deeper red hue than fresh tomatoes but I like the taste of fresh tomatoes better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Polenta and spring vegetable ratatouille with pattypan squash

Am I the only one who buys certain vegetables because they look good? I mean, c'mon, look at these pattypan squashes (picture below) don't they look like they must have been planted by seeds from some alien ships years back! Pattypan squash is a type of summer squash. I started seeing them very recently (within the last week or two) at our farmer's markets. They caught my attention instantly. First week I figured I had no idea what to do with them so I resisted the impulse of buying them. Next week I still hadn't done my homework but now I was more worried - what if the squashes are like green garlic available just for a week or two and then gone! So I quickly add some to my basket thinking I'll figure out what to do with them later.

Today nearly a week later I am pondering the usual what to make for lunch question. End of the week and there isn't much of a choice when I suddenly remember these pattypan squashes sitting and waiting nicely in the far back edge of the crisper. Suddenly feeling guilty about my impulse buying I decided to make a meal entirely out of the pantry and fridge to somehow make things right in the broader global equation. Partly I have been motivated to clean the fridge ever since Nupur announced the blog-bites 4 - to cook with something lurking in the kitchen; and this seemed like a perfect recipe. I googled for some ratatouille recipes and finally adapted this one from Simply Recipes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Broccoli Thoran (Broccoli and coconut stir-fry)

Broccolis are one vegetable I have always had a hard time incorporating in our diets in a way that I really like. Sure, I make a broccoli sabji that I enjoy and I add broccoli to noodles and stir-frys, but I felt I hadn't still hit 'the' broccoli preparation. Something that is super fast, super easy, super healthy and super tasty - afterall broccoli is a super food, right!

Then once while I was visiting my brother we went to an Indian restaurant for lunch (thanksgiving day, everything else was closed). The buffet was quite the regular fare with the usual suspects like this paneer and that curry and so on; but right there between aalo palak and chili paneer was hidden a large bowl of shredded broccoli with some coconut pieces lurking around. The dish was named broccoli thoran. To be honest, that was my first encounter with a thoran. It being a broccoli dish I was cautious and took a small sample. My husband however loves broccoli in any form and he pretty much emptied the entire bowl! 

Both of us really loved this thoran and I decided to recreate the flavor at home. It had some chana daal which I skipped as I was out of it. In essence it is merely a stir-fry of broccoli and coconut. I purposefully kept the spices at bare minimum to let the broccoli be the star of the dish. I usually serve this as a mild soothing side dish to some spicy curry. 
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This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.