Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Quick Stir Fried Peas And Carrots- In Her Lunchbox

Stir fried carrots and peas
I have literally been running between birthday parties, doctor's appointments and lunch dates that I almost forgot to share my this week's lunchbox plan with you. And now its Halloween today! So before I run to the potluck party at the butterfly's school let me share a quick recipe and my plan for the week. Sorry I am not sharing any spooky Halloween recipe with you instead sharing a simple recipe for stir fried peas and carrots.

Lunch Box recipe
Like the last one this recipe again is my rescue lunchbox recipe. Remember those morning when you open your eyes in horror realizing you forgot to set up the alarm the night before, the clock says its 7:00 am and the kids need to be out of the door in 45 minutes? Yes, this recipe is for those days just to make your morning a tad bit easier. For such days I always keep packets of frozen peas, carrots, sweet corn, beans or a medley of all or couple of them in my freezer. Just heat up the oil, temper a couple spices, throw in the veggies, cook for a few minutes and done! Pack the lunch with some bread, boiled eggs, maybe a fruit and you are set.


In case you do not have the convenience of just grabbing a couple packets of frozen veggies then you can always prep up the veggies at your leisure. Steam them or blanch them, cool down and then store in the freezer for the busier days. Keeping this post very quick and coming straight to the recipe. Oh, and Happy Halloween!


1 cup frozen peas and carrots medley (thawed) - I just drop frozen veggies in room temperature water and it thaws in a minute.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (can use mustard, fennel)
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon grated dried coconut (optional)

Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds. As they sputter add peas and carrots. Give a quick stir. Add salt. Stir again.
Cook until the veggies are heated well. For about a couple minutes.
Throw in the coconut. Give a quick stir and done!

Here's what I am sending "In Her Lunchbox" this week:
Crustless Mini Quiche- I am just in live with the make ahead quiches now! They serve as a great wholesome meal, they taste delicious and I can make them with the little one when both of us have time that in turn makes her more interested to try the dish.
Indian Stir Fried Noodles- She calls it "Breakfast Pasta". She likes it plain with no veggies added to it so I have to usually add a side of veggies but you can always stir fry the veggies with the vermicilli.
Juicy Chicken Meatballs by Rasa Malaysia or another version here at Ginger Garlic Meatballs by Simple Reem- Both the recipes are not very different from each other. Both are juicy and delicious, just the butterfly is a little partial to the ones with green peas. With Reem's suggestion I prepare and freeze the meatballs for 2-3 days and bake the morning I want to pack it for lunch.
Quinoa Pilaf by Pure Vegetarian- Another great idea for a wholesome meal.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fava Beans and Pumpkin Seed Pesto- In Her Lunchbox

Fava Bean and Pumpkin seed pesto
I've had a fun , adventurous and blessed childhood. I grew up in a small town. The kind where almost everyone knows each other, if not by name then at least by face. One of the most important part of my childhood memories is the time at school. I went to a Christian missionary school. It was a great school, some would say the best in town. Sisters were strict and made sure we paid attention to our academics. Sir Michael would drag us to the field for our PT exercises every afternoon, miss Rashmi would let our imagination go wild in the craft class and Father Joseph, our Principal would monitor everything from a distance. There were rules, a number of them and the students as well as the teachers knew they had to follow them.

I can say that those were good times and the best part was the time I had with my friends at school was over lunch. Though lunch time in our school was a little different. It might be a part of the "small town charm" but in our school the parents were allowed to bring or send in fresh food for their kids during lunchtime. So for several years mummy would cook, pack two lunch boxes, one for me and one for my brother and Ganga (our house help) would come riding his bicycle to our school everyday sharp at 12 pm. The lunchtime bell would ring and as we peek out the window, sure enough Ganga would be standing there with two stainless steel lunch boxes. And we would go sit under a huge shady Gulmohar tree with our friends, talk whatever the heck kids that age talk about and eat steaming hot rice with lentil soup one day or flaky parathas and stir fried vegetables with some tangy lemon pickles the other. Though I never realized this until today but it was such a blessing to have hot home cooked food everyday, AT school. I just loved my small town. There was no rush to get anywhere, no adulteration of any sorts and no deadlines to catch up on. Just pure, organic, closer to the roots joy!

Unfortunately I am not that lucky anymore. Now I need to be at several places at the same time and I just cannot meet the deadlines if I do not follow a schedule. Now I need to be up at 5 in the morning and pack lunch for my daughter just to make sure she doesn't have to eat reheated frozen pizza at school. Doing that day after day, everyday takes a lot of planning and creativity in the kitchen. And still many times I run out of ideas on what to put in her lunch box and I am told by my friends that they too get clueless many times.

Fava Beans for the pesto
So after being pushed by them for almost an year I finally gave in and hence starting this new series on Indian Simmer. Nothing fancy, just an attempt at sharing what I send "In Her Lunchbox" every morning. I do not promise the food will be "traditional" or "Indian" all the time but I do promise it will be healthy and something that my kid loves and will be hoping that yours loves it too. I'll try to share a few tricks here and there about how I work in advance so that I am not rushing in the morning to pack lunch. How sometimes I am amazed how the same food becomes "edible" by the kids just by adding some fun element and how healthy doesn't always means packing a bowl of salad. But just for the record, I in no way am trying to say that I am an authority in kids nutrition. All I will try to do is tell you what I plan to pack "In Her Lunchbox".


One of the things that always helps me in making sure I am able to survive through all the chaos in the morning and still get the lunch box ready and have them out of the house in time is some advance prep work. Do as much as you can in advance or a night before so that all you need to do in the morning is to put things together. Kids (at least the ones I know) love pasta so I always make several varieties of pesto whenever I have time in hand. Store it in the refrigerator and pull it out whenever you are in a hurry and can't be very creative, mix it with pasta, spread it on bread or add as a dip for veggies. My daughter loves Fava beans and Fava Bean Pesto  is always available in my kitchen. I added some pumpkin seeds in this recipe just in the spirit of fall and Halloween. Also if Fava is too bitter for your taste add extra lemon juice, that helps cut the bitterness and brings in a fun tang to the dish. Here's the recipe.

1 cup fava beans (blanched and skinned)
1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients (except oil) in a blender or food processor and turn it on.
While the blade's still moving slowly pour the oil into the food processor through the opening on the lid.
In the end you should get a smooth (or a little granular, depending on your taste) pesto. Spread it on the toast or mix it with pasta.

What I plan to send "In Her Lunchbox" this week:
Healthy Millet Patty by Spices And Aroma - Try using whole wheat or even whole gram flour for this recipe. Works well. I prepare the rolled dough a night before so that in the morning all I need to do is pan fry them.
Spicy Corn Fritters by Sunshine And Smile- Again I prep it a night in advance which saves me time in the morning. Omit strong spices if the kid can't handle it. Sweet corn is always a selling point for my 3 year old.
Quick And Easy Bento by La Fujimama - I loved the idea of adding beans with rice. I also tried adding a zing of lemon juice in the mixture and it was a hit.
Vegetable Poha- This again is a very forgiving recipe. Use whatever vegetable you have in the refrigerator or you can even try adding grilled chicken or eggs.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Khasta Kachori And October Unprocessed 2012

Winters in Charlotte were not exactly bliss, not to me at least. It wasn't cold enough to be covered with snow so that one could sneak out every now and then with a snow sledge. Neither was it cozy enough for you to be able to walk down the streets without freezing yourself into a popsicle. It was our first few months in the city, far from all our friends and of course the family. Only two things that kept us company were empty frozen roads and my cooking marathons. That's exactly when nature decided to give us the happiest news any couple would ever hope for! The moment we heard we just looked at each other and cried. Him with joy and me, I am still not sure but I think it was a combination of fear and anxiety.

Fear of the unexpected and the anxiety to see it coming. Joy came in, but later, much later! After the alcohol aversions and me gaining a dog's ability to smell. Ability to smell everything bad and even the smell of good felt bad. Then came mood swings and lethargy. Weeks and months passed of me being miserable and I realized this was the worst decision I had ever made. Cursed the ones who had made it before me, pitied the ones who were going to make it after me and potty mouthed the ones who talked me into it.
Then on a clear spring afternoon while Oprah was on TV and me on the phone talking to, god only remembers who, it happened. It was either a series of bubbles bursting in my belly or maybe she kicked. My feet went numb and words got stuck in the throat. Waited for a few minutes and then she kicked again. Right at that moment, with her miniature feet she kicked out all the fear, every bit of anxiety and told me its gonna be ok and SO worth it!

She only came in my arms a few months after that day but gave birth to a new me right at that moment. That's when joy came in. It came later but was SO worth it! It has been more than three years since then and those miniature feet inside my belly have grown bigger, stronger, naughtier and has a personality of its own. And the scary part, that personality is a lot like mine and has turned me into a lot like my mother. I never would have imagined I would admit this but its true.
I have no idea why I am telling you this today out of the blue but these memories just stormed in today while I was making these Khasta Kachori and fingers just started typing these words. During my pregnancy food craving and happy eating days spicy Khasta Kachoris with hot cilantro chutney, a drizzle of tangy tamarind chutney, a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of chopped raw onion were always in my mind. And trust me finding it in Charlotte where there was just one dingy Indian restaurant in a 10 mile radius, was not a cake walk but the husband proved to be very resourceful back in those days. So along with those most treasured memories also sharing a recipe for a Khasta Kachori.

Khasta Kachori Chat
I also wanted to tell you about this challenge that Andrew Wilder started in 2009 and which is gaing more and more fame every year. He named it October Unprocessed. As you might get the idea by the name, its a challenge where if you take part you pledge to go (or try to go) for the month of October without involving or atleast reducing the amount of processed food in your diet. I was determined to participate in the challenge last year but then I caved. This year I convinced myself that its not gonna be as tough as it seems and any attempt in the direction is a good attempt. So if you are eager to participate or learn more head over to Eating Rules and check out the details. More than 4700 people have taken the challenge this year and I am excited to be one of them. 


For the dough:
2 1/2 cups Durum wheat flour (or mix whole wheat and all purpose flour in 1:1 ratio)
1/3 cup oil/or melted ghee
1 tablespoon salt
Water as needed
Oil for deep frying

For the filling:
2 cups boiled potatoes (roughly mashed)
1 cup frozen medley of green peas and carrots (thawed) You can also use fresh if you want. It will just ask for longer cooking time.
3/4 cup onions (chopped)
1 1/2 cups green chili pepper (minced)
1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1 1/2 teaspoon dried mango powder
1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil
Salt to taste
I used one of the most common and traditionaly used filling here but you can use just about anything. Minced meat, any vegetable, cooked lentils or beans(with minimal water used to cook it) or even fruits of your choice.

For the dough:
Mix salt into the flour. Add oil into the flour and mix it all very well together. To mix the oil well into the flour, take flour in small portions in your hand and rub it between your palms. To make sure that the oil is mixed well, hold the flour in your fist, press tightly and open the fist, the flour should still hold itself. The process of adding oil/ghee into the flour helps making the pastry flaky. 
Now add water into the flour, salt and oil mixture mixing it with hands carefully putting it all together into a dough. Trick to kneading perfect dough – always add water in small portions. Dough for pastry should be a little tougher. As a test, when you press your finger into it, you must have to apply a little pressure and it should not stick to your hand when you pull your finger out.
Work the dough for about 5 minutes and bring it together into a smooth ball. Wrap with a plastic wrap or damp cheese cloth. Set aside for 30 minutes.

For the filling:
Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds. As they sputter add onion.
Saute for a couple minutes and then add all the dry spices, turmeric, coriander powder, mango powder along with minced chilli.
Stir it all together quickly and then add peas and carrots. Mix everything together. If using fresh peas and carrots then turn the heat to medium, sprinkle some water and cover and cook until the carrots are tender.
Add potatoes. Add salt to taste. Mix everything together scraping the sides and the bottom. Mix corinder powder into the mixture. Let it cool down.

Making of Khasta Kachori:
Divide the dough into balls about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough in each ball.
Set some oil aside to oil your hands before rolling the balls. Now roll the balls into 3-4 inch circles. You can either use the tips of your fingers and start by pinching and flattening around the edges leaving the center thicker than the edges or you can just use a lightly oiled rolling pin.
Fill the center of the flattened dough with the filling. Lift up all the edges and join them all together at one place. Press it down and flatten it between your palms making sure you do not leave any air pockets or cavity.
Follw the same steps for all the dough balls. Cover the ones ready to be fried with a damp cheese cloth so that it does not dry out before you finish filling and start frying.
When all the kachoris are filled. Deep dry them.
There are three important things to be kept in mind when making a flaky Khasta Kachori or samosa for that matter. 
There should be just the right amount of oil mixed to the flour
Dough should not be loose or sticky &
The oil should neither be very cold or very hot. 
I gave you the tips on the top two factors above. Now the last factor which probably is most important is how to check if the oil is hot enough and still not cold. To do that I start my heating the oil on medium heat then to check the right temperature I take a small ball of dough, almost the size of a small pea and drop it in the oil. If the dough first sinks to the bottom and then after a 3-5 seconds sizzles its way to the top then the oil is ready. If its just sinks to the bottom and doesn't come up, its too cold heat up a little longer. If it sizzle right away then it is too hot, turn the heat down and let it cool down a little.
You can either hot kachoris with tomato ketchup, some chutney or traditionally as we do in India by breaking it into two parts and drizzling some tangy tamarind chutney, hot cilantro chutney, a dollop of spiced yogurt and some fresh salad of pickled onions or radish. Enjoy with some hot spiced tea!

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