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Herb sauce/condiment made with thai peppers and herbs from my garden.

Many people I know grow at least a couple of different herbs. As window decoration. It gives them great joy to nurture. Some even grow herbs in beautiful containers in their patio. As patio decoration. These are normal people [read, not bloggers or food obsessed people] who go about their daily lives watering their pots and window sill gardens till winter arrives and the herbs die their seasonal death. Without ever having graced any dish.

True story as told to me by garden club members to whom I gave a talk a while ago! The topic, how to include herbs in everyday life. Here is a simple idea for anyone who grows herbs. It doesn’t matter if you have one or two or several herbs growing. You can always make chimichurri. It is basically a parsley sauce from Argentina which is popular throughout  South America. The other components are garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, and red pepper flakes.

You can substitute parsley with any or several herbs that you have growing. Use good quality ingredients as this is fresh sauce.

Here is my version from what is growing in my garden.

Chimichurri

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup mixed herbs [I used mint, oregano, basil, thyme and garlic chives, alas no parsley]

1 Thai pepper

Salt to taste

I skipped the garlic as I always do, but please add as per your taste.

Chop all the herbs, add it to the oil and vinegar and season.

This sauce is very versatile. It makes an excellent salad dressing.Tomorrow, some very interesting ways to use chimichuuri.

Hope you’ll put your garden herbs to good use.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

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Cooking with end of summer tomatoes and garden herbs.

At this time of the year in the North East home gardeners are probably pulling out their tomato plants. The fruits are getting smaller, there are worm holes in them and the plant is an eye sore. I would say hold off a little bit more to give the remaining green tomatoes a chance to get a little bit bigger. I’ll share a green tomato recipe later. For now, what to do with the small misshapen, flavorless orange-red tomatoes? How about cooking them with some insipid grits? Two negatives make a positive, right? 

I would hear over and over again my friends say their single most hated dish was grits. I bought some to check it out. The instructions were to practically cook it in butter and smother with cheese. That sounded like a one note dish. I love carbs so I knew I was going to love grits. It was so easy to think of flavoring it with grilled tomatoes, herbs and lots, I mean lots of salt. That is how I like it and this South Indian girl eats far more grits than any Southern girl, I am sure of it!

There is no recipe as such for the tomato grits. Prepare grits according to package instructions [In just plain water, no butter please]. Slice or cut tomatoes in half and arrange in a baking dish. Drizzle a good quality oil,  and broil on high till brown spots appear on the tomatoes. You can then turn the tomatoes over and blister on the other side though I skip this step most of the time, like today. Plate the grits, drizzle some olive oil, add the broiled tomatoes, garnish with basil and other herbs of your choice. Salt liberally. Add pepper, pepper flakes or dashes of hot sauce, whatever  you prefer and enjoy. You won’t be a hater anymore!

Food Notes.

  • You can make this totally fat-free. Broiling tomatoes releases a lot of  juices which is very syrupy and mimicks the texture of oil. No need to drizzle oil on the grits either. It doesn’t take away from the taste as the broiled tomatoes are so flavorful.
  • I added basil, chives and thyme as a garnish to my grits.
  • I only use a glass, ceramic dish for broiling/grilling the tomatoes so I can confidentally consume the run offs. Can’t say the same if I were to use a regular metal sheet pan.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

Cooking with white eggplants and onions from my garden.

I enjoyed growing this variety of eggplant in my garden. It was a visual delight, growing in elegant white clusters amidst beautiful star pointed purple flowers. It was also surprisingly mild and sweet tasting.

After I came back from my trip towards end of summer, I was only able to harvest a few eggplants, not enough to make a substantial dish for the whole family. So I decided to stretch the vegetable by adding it to rice to make an Indian rice dish called Vangi Baath or Eggplant Rice. This is traditionally made in western and southern parts of India.

The vegetable is cooked with a premade spice powder and then added to rice to make a less fussy version of a pilaf.

Vangi Baath or Eggplant Pilaf

Cook 3-4 cups of white rice and set aside.

For the spice powder

½ tsp oil

1 tbsp yellow split peas [Chana Dal]

2  tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

5-6 whole dried Red Indian chilies

Warm a small pan with oil. Add the split peas and coriander, stir continuously till fragrant and the split peas are toasted to a light brown hue. Next add the cumin and red chilies and toast for a few seconds. Turn the stove off, cool and grind the spices to a fine powder.

To prepare the vegetable

3 tbsp oil or ghee

1 tsp  whole mustard seeds

A few curry leaves

2 cups diced eggplant

1 cup diced onions

Salt to taste

A small amount of tamarind soaked in a 1/4 cup of hot water [see pic]. When cool, squeeze the tamarind to extract the pulp. Discard the remnant fibres.

Soak the diced eggplant in water for ten minutes to leech out any bitterness, then drain.

Warm oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and let it pop, add the curry leaves.

Sauté the drained eggplant and onions till the eggplant is almost cooked, about 12-15 minutes.

Add salt, the tamarind extract and 1-2 tablespoon of spice powder and cook for a minute.

Putting it together

Spread 3-4 cups of rice on a wide plate. Add the cooked eggplant to the rice and gently mix so the rice doesn’t clump together. Adjust for salt, put in a dish and serve, with raita and papad or potato chips.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

Cooking with Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onions and Thai Chilies from my garden. 

I asked my dear friend Saroj while we were both living in London, to teach me a dish from her native Orissa. She rummaged through my vegetable crisper, pulled out an eggplant and a tomato, handed it to me and asked me to boil it while she looked for other ingredients. How about you teach me something else I said with trepidation at the thought of a soggy, collapsed eggplant. I was already planning a backup lunch if things didn’t work out. Boy was I wrong! This eggplant dish is one of my faves and I have become its ambassador, recommending it to anyone who asks me for a simple healthy suggestion for a side.

Method

You simply boil or steam the eggplant, tomato and potato. Peel the potatoes, then mash everybody else together skin and all. Finely chop a medium onion, a chili pepper or two and a handful of cilantro leaves. Chop this garnish really fine as you don’t want to bite into chunky pieces of raw onion or chili. Mix the garnish into the mash. Add salt to taste and squeeze the juice of ½ a small lemon.

Please take note, even though this is not a sophisticated dish, follow the proportions indicated in the picture. Too many tomatoes will make it runny and too many eggplants will make it very earthy.

The eggplant in this dish is normally grilled whole over a flame, but in London neither of us had a gas stove so she adapted the recipe to include steamed/ boiled eggplant. Why bother with all the bits of flying eggplant skin while grilling or messing with an oven to roast the eggplant when it works so well this way.

It doesn’t take much effort to make this, it is fat free and tastes great. Hope you will try this and not be skeptical like I was at first. 

Saroj, thank you so much for this recipe.

Food Notes

I boil and steam the veggies simultaneously in an Indian style pressure cooker. I put the potatoes in water in a stainless steel bowl and set it in the the cooker. Then I put a steam rack on top of this bowl with the eggplant and tomatoes on it. This way the eggplant and tomatoes hold their juices inside while the potato cooks perfectly in water.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

I’ve been cruising along and enjoying the ride these last 6 months. I’ve browsed through many different blogs, appreciated some seriously good photography, experimented with new ingredients and cooked up a storm, more than ever before, in order to put tried and tested recipes in my blog and the other sites I contribute to.
Having gone with the flow, I think I may want to navigate a little bit more purposefully. For sure I want to improve my photography skills and maybe even explore the history of food in different cultures. However for now I want to focus on one area in this blog. Developing recipes for children of all ages. A lot of people ask me for vegetarian ideas for kid’s school lunches that don’t involve 2 slices of bread and the usual suspects in between. So I thought it would be a great idea to do a monthly post on children’s breakfasts, lunches and snack ideas. Maybe some recipes that  kids can cook along too with their parents? Maybe cooking ideas for kids in college dorms? Having posted a couple of times on the Meatless Monday site I thought it would be fun to do kid friendly recipe posts for this website so there can be options for parents who might be wanting to get their kids on board. Coz I don’t see Sammy answer to his mom’s call to “Come and eat your sprouted quinoa honey”!
This post is also very special to me. My lifelong friend, who lives in India, recently asked me to give her suggestions for an Italian pasta dish she could cook in her ‘traditional Tamilian kitchen’. So S, this one is especially for you.
Specialized ingredients are hard to find in India or would involve a trek to the only market in the city where it may or may not be available at all times. So this recipe is something that anybody, anywhere can make, the only two tricky ingredients could be celery and fresh basil leaves. The celery can be left out and fresh basil could be substituted with dried basil, Italian herbs or dry packaged soup mix.                                                           

So here is a no chopping, no stirring, easy, kid friendly

Child’s Play Spaghetti Sauce

6  medium ripe tomatoes, 2lbs/900gms

3-6 cloves garlic

1 tbs good quality olive oil or a mild cooking oil

Salt and pepper to taste

5-6 large basil leaves, roughly torn or 1 tsp dried Italian spice mixture

 

Preparation

Take a wide enough pan to hold all the tomatoes in a single layer. Scoop out the ‘eye’ of each tomato and insert the garlic cloves into the tomatoes through here. Start the pan on a low to medium heat and add a table spoon of oil. Then place the tomatoes scooped side down on the pan. Push the cloves really deep into the tomato so it doesn’t burn on contact with the pan. Put a tight fitting lid on the pan and forget about it for the next 10-12 minutes. The tomatoes steam cook and the juices released ensures the tomatoes don’t burn as long as the heat is on low or medium.                    

When you remove the lid after about 10 minutes you will see the tomato skin have split.  

                                                                                                                       

If you want, you can pull the skin off very easily with a pair of tongs, or you can leave them on if you are going to puree the sauce completely. I remove the skins as I process it minimally. 

                                                                                                                                                                  

Now pick up each whole tomato and put them top side down on the pan for the other side to cook and put the lid back on. From this step on you might want to take over the cooking from over your child. Give the tomatoes another 7-10 minutes on this side.

Turn the stove off and mash the tomatoes carefully with a potato masher or use an immersion blender [which is what I use] to get the consistency you desire, chunky or smooth. Alternatively put the whole thing in a blender and puree. Then add the torn basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste and turn the stove on again and cook the sauce till it is bubbling.                             

I remove all the garlic cloves before blending the soup as I prefer the sauce with just a mild garlic perfume. The garlic cloves can also be floated in the sauce, it will certainly make a pretty sight. Or remove the whole cloves from the sauce and use it to rub it on your grilled bread.

This sauce should be easy enough for a teenager to whisk up right? Next let’s make the

Meatless Balls

1 Tbsp oil + oil for shallow frying

1/4 Cup each of very finely chopped onions, celery and carrots

¼ Cup unseasoned toasted bread crumbs [not Panko]

1/2 Tbs dried Italian seasoning or dried basil

1 Cup cooked lentils

1/4 Cup cooked rice

1/4  Cup boiled potatoes, mashed to a creamy consistency.

1 Tsp salt

Everything measured, packed and heaped

A few basil leaves for garnish[optional]                                                                                                                                      

Please see my earlier post here and follow all the steps with a few changes brought on by changing a few spices. Instead of forming patties make about 12-16 balls.                                                                                                                    

Shallow fry these meatless balls for a few minutes [about 7-10] till they are golden brown all over. Just remember not to move the balls in the pan until they are done and release easily on their own. Otherwise the balls will stick to the pan and the crispy exterior will not form.

Now add  the golden brown meatless balls to the bubbling sauce and let it cook for a few minutes and then turn the stove off. Garnish with basil if using and serve with spaghetti.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The

                                                                                                                                                       The overeating from the holidays are behind us and I am in the mood for some detox food i.e. something simple and light and it helps if it is not too much of a hassle to prepare it. This simple vegetable soup is just what the doctor would’ve ordered. While I make many different vegetable soups, this one is inspired by the soup served at the Whole Foods soup bar.
The semi translucent broth with vegetables peeking through and the tiny pools of oil floating on the surface and the mouth watering aroma wafting around had me at ‘Hello’ the very first time I set eyes on it. I had to go home and recreate it and I have been making this soup ever since. Of course this is not an  exact version of the Whole Foods soup but it is certainly a very flavorful and fat free wannabe and my go to soup for any number of occasions. It can be a Detox soup when I need something simple after a serious case of over indulgence. It is sometimes a winter meal in a soup bowl and it is so effective as a cold and flu soup that it should be crowned the official ‘ vegetarian’ chicken noodle soup!. I’ve packed it in school lunch flasks and served it at the ‘Teachers Luncheon’ at my children’s school. If you can chop vegetables and know how to boil water you can make this soup, it is that easy!

                                                                                                                                                   Just take these everyday vegetables of carrots, celery, cabbage, onions, potatoes, cut them up like shown. Boil them in about 5 cups of water. Hold the cabbage till when the soup is done. When the potatoes are cooked through add salt to taste and add about a cup of crushed tomatoes [I use Furmano’s chunky crushed tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano]. Let it come to a boil, add the cabbage and turn the stove off. The cabbage leaves will wilt in the heat. You have to try it to believe the flavors that develop when these simple everyday vegetables come together in this simple soup.

 I fish out the soft mushy onions from the soup before serving. You can serve it with some condiments like pesto if you want to dress it up

                                                                                                                                                      or some noodles if you want something more substantial.

   

                                                                                                                                                     When someone is down with a cold, I strain the clear broth, and serve it in a mug. It is both nourishing and soothing.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

 

Don’t you think pumpkins and squash with their interesting shapes and colors make great subjects for still life art?

                                                                                               

  I don’t know a lot of  people who would say that winter squashes are their most favorite vegetables but these knobbly, wobbly veggies are so versatile that it is such a pleasure to cook with them. You slowly come to see their potential and in turn begin to love them.

I was at a Moroccon restaurant last year and one of the dishes I ordered was a vegetable stew. It had big pieces of pumpkin, squash, potatoes and carrots in a very bland sauce served over the couscous. My Indian palette having been assaulted with spices and fiery heat since birth needed some oomph to spike the stew. The waiter gave me this exotic spice paste called Harissa which had me at Hello! and it totally transformed the dish.

 So here is my creation inspired by that visit. I found it interesting that the vegetables were steamed. A very healthy way to prepare vegetables and I am doing this more often now. I diced the vegetables to bite sized pieces instead of the very chunky pieces served at the restaurant. Made a tomato, onion gravy, added the Harissa paste and the steamed vegetables and what a colorful, flavorful way to prepare winter vegetables.

                                                                                                                                                           The soul of this dish is the North African spice paste which I am sure has as  many variations as there are people preparing it. The key ingredients being chillies, garlic and caraway seeds. However cumin and coriander are among some of the other spices that can also be added to the spice paste.

Autumn Vegetable Stew

For the Harissa

7-8 Kashmiri chillies [available at Indian stores, these chillies are very mild but give an intense red color, can substitute another chili pepper with similar characteristics]

2 cloves of garlic

2 teaspoons roasted and powdered coriander seeds

2 teaspoons roasted and powdered cumin seeds

1 teaspoon roasted and powdered caraway seeds

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the vegetables

1/2 cup of diced potatoes

1/2 cup diced sweet potatoes

1/2 cup diced acorn squash

1/2 cup diced white acorn squash

1/2 cup of diced butternut squash

{Skin peeled. I left a little bit of skin on. Consuming the skin is good for you and it looks pretty to boot}

1/2 cup carrots rounds

1 tablespoon of light olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped red onions

1 cup of roughly chopped red juicy tomatoes

A couple of pinches of cinnamon[optional]

Chopped parsley/ cilantro for garnish

Preparation

 Soak the chillies and garlic in hot water for 15 minutes. Grind the chillis and garlic with all the spice powders and a tablespoon of the soaking liquid.  Add the olive oil to the paste and set aside. This is your Harissa paste. {if storing for later use add salt to taste}

Set up a steamer and steam all the veggies. Carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes take 9-10 minutes. The rest take 7-8 minutes. You can steam all the vegetables in a double tier steamer at the same time. The veggies should be a little undone in the center.

                                                                            

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

                                                                                                                    Remove  the vegetables from the steamer as soon as they are done, so steam does not condense on the vegetables and make them soggy. Spread them out. At this stage, after the veggies have cooled you can store them in the fridge along with the Harissa paste for upto two days before proceeding to the next stage.



                                                                                                                                                           Heat a pan and add 1 tablespoon of oil and saute the onions for a couple of minutes.  Add the chopped tomatoes and cook in a moderate flame till the tomatoes break down and you have a homogenous tomato, onion sauce. Add 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of Harissa paste and mix into the sauce. Add the 3 cups of steamed veggies. Add salt to taste. Gently work the gravy to coat all the veggies, and add the cinnamon powder. Put a lid on the pan and let the veggies cook in the gravy for about 5 minutes. If the gravy is drying out add some water or the soaking liquid from the chillies. The veggies are done when the spices, flavors and salt have permeated the veggies. Check for salt and consistancy. Add water if you want it runnier. Garnish with your choice of herbs. I served it with lentils and couscous.




                                                                                                                                                          A dish using seasonal vegetables and reflecting the colors of the season, just perfect for Thanksgiving.

Thanks for dropping by.

Happy Thanksgiving, S. 

 

 
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