Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Strawberry Scones

We are the masters in jumping from one crazy thing to another here! The husband and I. First a tough pregnancy that kept me either on the couch or making rounds to the doctor's office. Sometimes multiple in a week. Then once finally the baby arrived (thankfully, happy and healthy!) and we barely got used to a newborn we thought this doesn't cut as "crazy enough" for us, so lets buy a house. Now, if you have ever hunted for a house in the San Francisco area then you must know that its more painstaking than giving birth to an actual human being. Spending the weekdays looking for the house and weekends lugging a newborn and a 5 yr old around to open houses, nursing the baby in the car and eating pizza for lunch while rushing from one neighborhood to other. But we finally found "the one"! And then followed the whole nightmare called move. Don't even let me go there!

CA Strawberries
Amidst all this craziness California Strawberry Commission came in with an offer we really were in need of. A two day trip to the beautiful coast of Pismo Beach, at a gorgeous resort surrounded by some of our favorite things in the world, sun, sand, beach and strawberries! I jumped at the opportunity and the commission did not let me down. They filled these two days with good food (lots of it!), fun people and 12 reasons why California strawberries are as good as they get.

Strawberry flower
Baby Strawberry Plants
Juicy Strawberries

They chose San Luis Obispo area, which is right in the center of California, for this tour because Central California is one of the best places to grow strawberries. The climate and soil here makes it favorable to grow one or the other variety of strawberry, making it a supplier of strawberry practically all year long. We got to meet some key people from the commission, many of whom been with California strawberries for over a decade doing some amazing work. Talk with faculty researcher at Strawberry Research and Sustainability Center, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Kelly Ivors was so fascinating. Did you know that one single strawberry has almost 200 seeds and all of them are genetically different from each other. So its practically impossible to breed a plant that is identical to the parent plant. In fact they do not even grow from a seed, rather from runner that grows from the parent. So no need to worry about GMO (genetically modified organism) strawberries because there are none. It was so interesting to see these people are working passionately doing research to find the best, disease and drought resistant varieties of strawberries.  California is facing serious drought threat for the past few years so I was specially keen to see what measures the industry must be taking to cope with that. Answer: drip irrigation technique, which waters the plants straight to the root from the under ground water and plastic covering the ground prevents it from evaporation. I thought it was very smart. The strawberry industry has been practicing this kind of innovative farming since the 1960s. 

Farmers Tom and Ruth
But for me the highlight of the trip was meeting the strawberry growers/farmers. The first farm we visited was the Providence Farms in Santa Maria, where we met Tom and Ruth Jones. A gorgeous couple, married for 30 years and third generation farmers. At 21 after moving to Watsonville in 1984 Tom came closer to strawberry farming and fell in love with it. Since then they have slowly grown into a 600 acre of farmland, growing strawberries and blackberries, practicing both organic and conventional farming. Tom said something that I found really interesting - organic farming does not mean no pesticides. Organic farmers also have to use pesticides to keep their plants safe. Only that these are organic pesticides, like the predatory bugs that the workers at Providence Farm were sprinkling around the strawberry beds to kill the mites. Tom and Ruth let us go crazy around their farm, where a bunch of foodies scattered around stuffing their mouth with luscious, sweet and juicy strawberries. These were so fresh that they practically melt in your mouth the moment you take a bite. We ate a LOT!
Sprinkling predatory bugs
Chef Alphonso
Next pit stop was Presqu'ile Winery in Santa Maria. This is where we got to know Chef Alfonso Curti of Trattoria Uliveto. A fun Italian guy (with the most adorable accent!) who clearly was passionate about what he does and just loved food and talking about it. He welcomed us with some refreshing and Oh-so-delicious strawberry drinks and then took us straight to his kitchen where we got a live demo of his silky panna cotta topped with mascerated strawberry and basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic reduction. Heaven in a mason jar! And that wasn't enough so he stuffed us with one of the most amazing Italian meals I have ever had! If you are ever in the area, make it a point to visit this guy. You won't be disappointed.
Cooking Demo
Strawberry Gaspacho

Farmer Luis
We also shared this meal with Luis and Lorena Chavez, the farmers who also were our hosts towards the last leg of the tour. Luis Chavez embodies the American Dream. He came to the United States from a small rural town in Jalisco, Mexico. Born in 1934, he was raised in a home with no electricity or running water. He hasn’t attended a single day of school in his life. His father and family grew corn and beans to survive. Because he had eleven brothers, there was no opportunity to take over the family farm. He moved to California in search of a better life. In 1955, Chavez arrived in the Golden State as part of the Bracero program (a guest worker program between Mexico and the U.S.). The Chavez family now employs 300 people and farms nearly 300 acres. Despite never attending school himself, Luis is especially proud that he was able to put his children through college and pay for his grandchildren’s schooling. Luis’ son, Danny, attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, earning a degree in 2004 in agribusiness. Danny is joined by his siblings in carrying on the family business – and the American Dream.

Strawberry Patch
Strawberry Farm Workers

A trip that started for me as a getaway from all the chaos happening in my life turned to be more than just that. The passion, dedication and hard work that each and every person is putting in, starting from the Vice President of the CA strawberry commission, Chris Christian to farmers Tom and Luis and even the workers in the field who were working non-stop under the blazing sun, hand picking every single strawberry and placing them neatly into the clam shells which we will buy at our local stores, is just commendable. It made me respect and appreciate more of the food that I have access to because now I know what it takes to bring it from that farm to my table.
I cannot forget the amazing hospitality offered to us by the Dolphin Bay Resort. Everything was just balanced and just right like the strawberry scones served to us at breakfast. I was able to get my hands on the recipe by the chef herself who was ok with me sharing it with you here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this trip!

Ingredients: (Recipe courtesy the chef at Dolphin Bay Resort)
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 cup White Whole Wheat Flour
½ cup Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Baking Soda
¾ tsp Salt
½ cup (8 Tbps) Cold Butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 large Egg
¾ cup Milk
6 Strawberries, chopped

Heat oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment. 
In a large mixing bowl,  whisk together sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together thoroughly. 
With a pastry blender, pastry fork, a mixer or, most easily, your fingertips, work in the butter until the mixture is unevenly crumbly. 
Whisk together the vanilla, egg, and milk. 
Stir in the strawberries. 
Pour batter onto clean surface, lightly knead and form into round. Cut like pie into 8 pieces. 
Rub tops with a little cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 17 minutes. 
Disclaimer: This post and my trip was sponsored by CA Strawberry Commission. The views and opinion shared are all mine.
I would also like to thank the amazing photographer Robert Durell who joined us for this trip and very willingly shared the photographs he took of the farmers, with me.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mutton Do Pyaza and A New Beginning

Mutton Do pyaza
4 months! It's been 4 months today since the nurse put her in my arms for the first time. After nine long months of sickness, discomfort, cravings and wait, finally we saw that tiny little thing. Eyes like him, lips like me, nose - well I still believe they are my dad's but Papa disagrees.

I had been through that emotion before. Thought I had figured it out and was pretty sure this time couldn't be any different. Sure, until lying on my bare chest for the first time, warming my heart up more than her body, she opened her eyes and looked into mine. Then into her dad's who was standing right next to me. Those big brown eyes. Lashes so long they were practically touching her red, translucent cheeks. She looked perfect just like her big sister. Also got a strong throat just like her big sister. I could tell you that because she cried hysterically. Well, so did I! We continued to, for a long time while just gazing at each other. It was very much like the first time and still nothing like it. Wish I was better with words to be able to describe it!

Best were and still are the mornings though. Waking up to the butterfly leaning over the baby's crib trying to kiss her good morning or some days just cuddling with her and humming to her, her favorite song. Little birdie, she calls her, for "she has a sweet voice just like a baby bird", she says. Sings happy birthday to her on the 2nd morning of every month without fail and insists on baking a chocolate cake for her. Abhishek and I were worried that she'd be insecure about she not being our only center of the world anymore, but she's proved us terribly wrong. She couldn't be a better big sister to the little birdie. Although we will see how that goes once the cute little doll grows to be snatching her barbies and sharing her closet. But for now she's doing good.

Kiddos II
So am I. I got spoilt rotten by Mummy Papa for 3 very short months. Warm saffron milk in the morning with a stupendously delicious aate ka laddoo to steaming hot rotis straight of the flame, smothered in ghee and directly to the plate served with a simple tadka dal. One day there were dal ki poori for dinner and another day Papa's Chicken Curry for lunch. Life was good and amazingly flavorful until they left last month, leaving us craving for just a little more.

Mutton Do pyaza II
One dish we made Papa cook again and again this time was my aunt's Mutton Do Pyaza. A very simple dish made with goat meat (can be easily replaced with lamb) and equal quantity of thinly sliced onion. The two are slowly cooked together until the onion melts down to a smooth paste and lamb begins to fall off the bone. A few whole spices are used to marry the two together and deepen the flavors. No marination or long list of confusing ingredients required in this dish and still it packs tons of flavor. I thought there couldn't be a better dish to share with you here while breaking the ice after several months of silence. Hope you like it!


1/2 cup mustard oil (can be replaced with an oil of your choice)
2-3 black cardamom
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole red chili (I add extra green chillies to add some heat)
1 1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoon coriander seeds (crushed)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon turmeric
5-6 cloves of garlic (smashed)
1- 1 1/2 lbs red onion (thinly sliced)
1 1/2 lbs goat/lamb chops
Salt to taste
Sliced ginger and chopped cilantro for garnish


Use a heavy bottom pan with a heavy lid for this dish.
Heat oil over high heat. Once the oil is nicely hot add the whole spices (black cardamom, cinnamon, chili, cloves, cumin seeds, coriander and bay leaves).
As the sputter add garlic. Cook for 30 seconds until it turns golden. Add onion.
Turn the heat to medium and cook the onion until it turns golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add turmeric and salt. Stir. Add goat/lamb chops.
Stir well mixing the meat well with onion. Cover. Turn the heat to medium low and cook until the meat is done.
Depending on the size of chops and also the quality of meat cooking time may vary from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir and scrape every few minutes and cook covered.
Some people like the curry a little thin so you can add a little water if you like. We like our mutton do pyaza dry so we cook it in the liquid oozing from the meat itself.
Once done, turn the heat off and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Garnish and serve hot with naan, roti or any bread of your choice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Avocado Mint Pesto

Avocado Mint Pesto
After moving to the US, I got introduced to several new cuisines and flavors. While I immediately fell in love with some, there were a few that I just repelled. I can't believe I am saying this today, but the taste of avocado was one of them. From its confusing texture, to the smell and taste, there was nothing about this fruit that impressed me. I gave it a few tries but then made peace with the fact that this fruit is just not for me.
Healthy Green Pasta
Then, just like with every winter holiday, we went on a vacation as a family. This time it was a week spent in Mexico. The week that turned out to be one of the most delicious weeks ever. Apart from the breathtakingly gorgeous surroundings and the colorful Mexican culture, it was mainly the food that blew our mind. When on a vacation, we try to experience the cuisine through street food and hole-in-the-wall kind of places. It was at one such roadside vendor that we tried fish tacos. Fresh caught fish in the morning turned into mouth watering tacos by noon. Wrapped in warm handmade tortillas, topped with simple guacamole and a light squirt of lemon juice and you're set. This was when I, really for the first time, enjoyed avocado and then there was no looking back. Now avocado is one of the must haves on my kitchen counter.

Avocado and Mint
Today I tried to mix avocado with some of my other favorites and turned it into a healthy dinner. A very simple and healthy pesto but loaded with robust flavors. Earthiness from mint and pistachios, a zing from lemon juice, creaminess with avocados and topping it all off with loads of parmesan. It is my go-to dish for weeknight family dinners.
Avocado Mint Pesto Pasta
Like any new food blogger, during those early days I would spend hours staring at my computer screen drooling over some amazing food blogs. Their beautiful writing would make me want to write more from the heart, flawless photography would tempt me to spend more time behind the camera and innovative recipes would take me back to the kitchen and play around more. Many such food blogs became my daily companions and slowly their authors became great friends. One such friend is Sia of Monsoon Spice.
Avocado Mint Pasta
Recently, Sia with her family, decided to make some changes in her life. They decided to wrap up the home they created in a foreign land and decided to move back to where they came from. They left England, their son's birthplace and went back to India, their own birthplace. Closer to family and the streets she grew up in. So while she was busy unpacking I thought I'll cook something for her. So to check out the recipe for this refreshing light pesto please head over to Sia's blog and while you are there, look around and you are in for a treat!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iced Masala Chai

Iced Masala Chai 1
Oh summer! How much I longed for you. How I wished and prayed for you to come visit. How I hoped for the sun to shine upon me and how I craved to put away my coats and gloves and pull out my bags of shorts, carefully hidden in the back of my closet. I had all these plans to bathe in your sunshine and had dreamt of not leaving my backyard for days. And then you came with all your glory. Oh, you came with all you glory! And now I wanna run away from you and hide in the bottom of a pool or glue myself to the air conditioning that my house doesn't have (lucky me!).
Iced Tea
All this was still alright as you were much awaited until you snatched the cup of my hot masala tea I relished every evening with a slice of banana cardamom cake. That made things a little cruel, I have to say. Not many have the capacity of taking that cup of evening chai away from me but to savor a cup of anything steaming hot on this hot, hot summer is close to torture. But to completely stay away from the warmth of masala mixed in a creamy cup of chai is impossible too. So I had to improvise. I used the same spices, boiled it with my favorite tea but instead poured it in a bottle and chilled it in my refrigerator and fooled the summer!

Mint and Lemon

Chai Masala

Typically Indian homes use a pre-made chai masala powder, where every family has their own set of favorite spices. Dried ginger, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, fennel, star anise are typically used to make this masala. These spices ground together in a ratio based on taste preference. Just a few pinches on chai masala in the end mixed to chai before straining into mugs makes all the difference.

Iced Tea with Milk
For this Iced tea I used whole spices though because I wanted a mild flavor of spices and also because I had run out of my stock of chai masala in my pantry. I also picked the spices I believed will suit my family's palette. Feel free to add or take out the spices of your choice. You can add extra flavor to the chai by adding milk, fresh herbs or citrus of choice. I like my iced tea with a few teaspoons of coconut milk, Abhishek likes his with mint leaves mulled with lemon juice. You can use this concentrate to make hot tea also. Just mix it with some hot milk and serve with biscuits on the side. So basically feel free to use your imagination and play around with all sorts of flavor combinations but beware, iced or hot call it Masala Chai only!

Iced Masala Chai
5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
2 inches fresh ginger root (sliced or coarsely chopped)
10 green cardamom (smashed)
8-10 cloves (whole)
4-5 tablespoon brown sugar (can substitute with a choice of sweetener like honey, agave, coconut palm sugar)
6-7 Tetley Black & Green tea bags
Additional flavors that I tried and tasted great with the tea-
A few teaspoons milk. Coconut and soy are my personal favorite. You can use a milk of your choice.
A few crushed mint leaves.
A squirt or a couple slices of lemon.

In a medium sized saucepan bring water to a rolling boil.
Add the spices, sugar and tea bags. Turn the heat off. Let it steep for 15 minutes. Longer if you prefer a stronger taste of spices.
Strain hot tea through a strainer. Let it cool a little and then transfer to a flask or pitcher.
Place in the refrigerator until chilled.
To serve, fill a glass with ice. Pour the tea. Add milk or lemon juice and mint or enjoy as it is on a hot summer day!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lamb Kofta Curry

Lamb Kofta Curry
I don't remember how old I was at the time but I think I was in grade four or five. Papa and I were arguing over a wrist watch. Well, me not having one wouldn't have mattered much if Seema's dad did not get her one. Seema, my classmate and "competition" at school. As usual she did something nice and her dad got her this watch. "Seriously, who buys a watch for a 5th grader? Well, loving dads of course," I was thinking while also admiring hers that had a black and white dial and a golden circular rim around the edges. It looked fancy and her wrist nice, against my bare arm. So I went to Papa and demanded that I deserve a new shiny one too. Papa thought "deserve" was a big word but promised if I scored above some 80% marks in my final exams, then I can have one. Instantly I considered the watch mine! It was a sweet deal. All I had to do was to wait a few more months and just study. And boy, did I study that semester! I worked day and night, asked questions, found answers, did whatever I thought could take to score that watch, I mean 80% marks.

Whole spices 1
Exams went well. I felt good about it. Then the day of result approached. Like every results day, in the morning I woke up with a knot in my stomach although I was still confident. Took a shower, put on nice clean clothes mummy had put out for me, sat behind Papa on his scooter and went to school to see the results. My hand was sweaty the whole time Papa was holding it while my class teacher spoke about how I did. Then she handed over the report card to Papa. I stared at his face horrified while he opened the report card, smiled and said how proud he was while rubbing my head. He sure looked happy but all I cared about was the 80%. As I flipped the report card, I found out that I fell short by just a few numbers. Oh that hurt like an arrow straight to heart!

Off we went to our customary ice cream treat after a good result. This time even my favorite chocolate strawberry sundae tasted like mud but I gulped it down. Then we headed back home. No one spoke of the watch although someone still had some dying hopes in her heart. At home mummy was eagerly waiting for us with lunch ready. The house smelled like celebration as mummy had made lamb kofta. Lightly spiced meatballs, deep fried to give them a crispy, dark brown exterior still juicy and tender from inside. Served in a creamy masala sauce made it rich with cashew paste and some milk. Today that lunch would make up for any heart break. That day, not so much. But I still stuffed my face with whatever goodness came my way.

Lamb Kofta
Packing for Las Vegas today. Excited to be receiving an award for the blog and Papa feels I should use the word "deserve" this time. That makes it more exciting. Still the mind keeps wandering back to two things. The watch that Papa did buy me eventually, a consolation I suppose. And to Mummy's lamb kofta, which warms your heart and can brighten up any day. I made some to share with you today before hopping on that plane.

For Koftas:
1/2 lb ground lamb
1 medium size potato (boiled, peeled, mashed)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (coarsely crushed)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (coarsely crushed)
1/4 cup onion (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste

For Curry:
1 1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole green cardamom
2-3 whole black cardamom
4-5 cloves
1 dry bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoon cashews
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
2-3 thai green chili
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon Kashmiri Lal Mirch (for color mainly)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I usually substitute it with 2 tablespoon cream cheese. It works surprisingly well)
3-4 tablespoon cooking oil

Pre heat the oven to 375deg. F.
Mix all the ingredients of kofta well together. About a tablespoon each in size roll it into balls.
Line on an oiled baking sheet. Place in the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Traditionally the koftas are deep fried in oil. Can then either be served with a dip as an appetizer or dipped in a rich curry.
While the koftas are baking coarsely grind the first seven spices either using a mortar pestle or in your spice grinder. Set aside.
Soak cashews and pumpkin seeds in milk until they are soft enough to be turned to paste. Atleast 1 hr. Blend into a smooth paste. Set aside.
Grind onion, ginger, garlic and green chili together into a paste. Set aside.
Heat oil in a thick bottom pan. Add ground spices. As they sputter add the prepared onion paste. Stir well.
Cook on medium heat until all the liquid is evaporated and the paste turns light golden. 8-10 minutes.
Add salt, sugar and turmeric. Mix well.
Reduce the heat to medium low. Add garam masala and Kashmiri Lal Mirch.
Stir in cashew and pumpkin seeds paste. Stir well. Cook for a minute.
Add heavy cream. Mix well. At this point you can add upto 1 1/2 cups of water depending how thick you want the curry to be.
On a medium heat bring the curry to a boil.
Transfer the koftas to the curry. Stir to cover in sauce. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 3-5 minutes for the koftas to adsorb some goodness of the curry.
Turn off heat. Serve with choice of hot naan or rice.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Homemade Sprouts And Sprouts Chaat Papdi

Sprouts Chaat
I hate doing dishes. I have friends who find standing in front of the kitchen sink, rinsing one plate after the other, gently rubbing the edges of spoons and forks with a dish scrub and then arranging them neatly in the dish washer, "therapeutic". I don't. I love those friends and wish they would come home more often, but I do not like washing those dishes. If I wasn't mother of a four year old girl who I desperately wanted to impress everyday, secretly hoping she would "wanna be like mommy", I would not look at that kitchen sink for weeks. I would keep throwing dirty dishes in there one after the other until they begin to fall off. But I cannot do that for given reasons, so I do my dishes, on time. It was one of those mornings when all these thoughts were cluttering my mind. While I was clearing up the kitchen sink and rubbing the inside of my stainless steel sauce pan with all the aggression I had in me, my phone beeped. Another beep after a few seconds and then a few more. By the time my sink was squeaky clean I had several tweets, Facebook messages and emails congratulating me of Indian Simmer making a cut at the Best Food Blog Awards 2014 hosted by Saveur Magazine. I was in utter disbelief for a while! But now I feel honored and thankful and I need your help. See that new shiny badge on the right? Please click on that and help Indian Simmer with your votes. It will only take a couple minutes but will mean the world to me. Thank you!

Sprouts Chat
Not sure if its my honest effort to change things or just a general interest to follow the "trend" but we have been trying to eat healthier lately. Well, we never liked frequenting the fast-food joints or ever drowned our diet in sugar but I guess it just sounds cool to say "eating healthy" so we are doing more of that. Anyway there's a lot of smoothie, raw food and sprouts business going on around here. In the same spirit a couple months back I did a 3 day cleanse (another cool word people have been slapping around lately) and was blown away with what it did to my tummy, brain and skin. Mainly skin! That gave me a kick. Carrying that on to the blog, today I am sharing with you a rather basic recipe along with a very common practice in Indian kitchen, soaking your own beans and making your own sprouts at home. We Indians have to put a little chili and masala in everything so I had to do the same with my sprouts too. So I picked a world famous Indian street food, Dahi Papdi Chaat and filled the crispy fried balls with spicy sprouts mix and kicking it up a few more notches with some tangy chutneys. But lets begin with the basics first:
Homemade Sprouts
I used dried mung bean. You can use any dried bean of your choice. Soak the beans in water for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain soaking water. Then in order to sprout the beans I use two methods:
Homemade Sprouts
a) Transfer soaked beans into a mason jar. Cover it with a cloth. Lie it down on a plate and place in dark for up to a day. b) Transfer soaked beans into a damp clean cloth. Bring all the corners of the cloth together. Tie. Place in a bowl or dish. Cover the bowl and place in dark for up to a day.
Homemade Sprouts
Open next day and enjoy your sprouts.
Homemade Sprouts
Longer you keep them away, longer the sprouts will get. Although I'd suggest not doing it for more than 2 days.
Sprouts Salad
For my Chaat Papdi I mixed the sprouts with onion, tomato, chili, a couple herbs and spices.
Ingredients: For Sprouts Chaat Papdi (Serves 2-3)
1 cup sprouts (follow the instructions above or just used store bought)
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup cherry tomato, chopped (optional)
2 thai green chili or jalapeno pepper, minced (optional although recommended)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chaat masala
12-15 crispy puri (find any local Indian or ethnic store)
tamarind chutney, per taste (recipe follows)
Spiced yogurt, per taste (recipe follows)
Hot green cilantro chutney, per taste

For Tamarind Chutney:
4 tablespoon seedless tamarind
1 1/2 cups water
3-4 tablespoon jaggery (can substitute with dark brown sugar)
1 teaspoon oil
1/4 teaspoon nigella
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 bay leaf

Soak tamarind in water for a couple hours. Use warm water to speed up the process.
Once soft mash tamarind in water and then strain through a strainer. Collect pulp in a bowl.
Heat oil in a sauce pan. Add dry spices. As they sputter add tamarind pulp. Stir. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium low. Add jaggery. Let the mixture reduce for 8-10 minutes until jaggery dissolves in the tamarind chutney and thickens it in the process.
Turn heat off. Let cool. Store in an airtight jar in a cool dry place for upto a week.

For Spiced Yogurt:
1/2 cup thick plain yogurt
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together.

Assembling Sprouts Chaat Papdi:
In a bowl mix together sprouts, onion, tomato, chili, salt, cilantro, mint and chaat masala. Set aside.
Poke holes on one side of the crispy puri. Make sure not to poke through the other side.
Fill with sprouts salad. Drizzle the chutneys per taste. Serve as an appetizer with choice of drink. Makes a great hot day snack.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bharwan Baigan (Indian Style Stuffed Eggplants)

One afternoon while we were chatting over a long chain of text messages, my friend Kankana asked if I had the recipe for bharwan baigan I can share with her. Well it was a simple question but it got me very confused. . You see I do not have the recipe for bharwan baigan or Indian style stuffed eggplants. I have at least five or maybe more than that.

Bhrwan Baigan
One is my mum's recipe that I grew up hating (what a fool I was!) and now crave for a bite of it.  She uses Chinese eggplants in her recipe and stuffs it with 6-7 dry pickling spices along with raw garlic and fries it in mustard oil. Then there's my mum-in-law's recipe which I cannot admit but is an absolute killer too. She uses those small, stout, softer skinned Indian eggplants and fills them with a spicy onion, ginger garlic paste.

Varieties of Eggplants
  Then growing up I had a neighbor aunty (Indians have a habit of addressing all your mum's friends, friends friends, house help, stranger walking on the street, basically every woman around your mum's age as aunty). So this particular "aunty" of mine hailed from the south of India. Now she made some amazing stuffed eggplants too but hers used lighter skinned eggplants and were filled with a paste made of peanuts, coconut and a few other spices.

When talking of bharwan baigan recipes and my inspirations then I should also talk about the cook at our hostel mess kitchen. I wouldn't call her one of the best cooks in the world although I cannot blame her either. Cooking anything for a tough crowd of 50, weight watching, acne ridden, college going young girls everyday, three times a day can take toll on you. But however watery her dals would be or leather tough her rotis were, she sure made some mind blowing bharwan baigan. She used the commonly used Indian eggplants but used chickpea flour as a stuffing, a recipe again which was to die for.

Stuffed Eggplants
Like many other Indian dishes every family and cook gives a different twist to this dish depending on the region they belong to. So when someone like my friend Kankana asks me for the recipe for bharwan baigan I rightfully get confused. I stalled her for a few days before I finally confessed my dilemma with her and then confused her too. Just like me she couldn't pick one because all of them are amazing in their own way. So I promised her to share my own recipe which has an essence of all these recipes that have inspired me. So there you go!

8-10 small of medium size Indian/Asian eggplants
1 cup red onion
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 thai green chili
1/4 cup mustard oil (olive oil or vegetable oil is fine too)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mango powder (aam chur)
1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder
1/4 cup dry desiccated coconut
Salt to taste.

Wash and pat eggplants dry. Using a carving knife make long deep slits into the eggplant running from top to bottom without the knife passing through the other side. Set aside.
Coarsely grind onion, ginger, garlic and green chili in a food processor.Set aside.
Heat oil in a thick bottom pan over medium high heat.
Add mustard and fennel seeds. As they sputter add the onion paste prepared before.
Mix well. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom.
Once the paste begins to turn golden brown add salt. Stir well. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until oil separates.
Add the remaining spices. Mix well and cook for another minute or so.
Turn the heat to low.
Now stuff approximately 1 teaspoon masala paste into each eggplant. Drop egg plants into the same pan. Leave any extra masala in the pan. Try to be careful with hot masala. Can also let the masala cool down completely if its tough to handle.
Again turn the heat to medium low. Toss the eggplants in the pan to coat with the remaining grease and masala in the pan. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the eggplants are cooked through. Toss and turn the eggplants carefully every 2-3 minutes making sure all sides are cooked well.
Serve on the side with hot rotis, dal and rice.

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