Sunday, December 1, 2013

Butternut Squash & Kale Lasagna

There was this butternut squash lasagna that I wanted to try for a long time and this Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect occasion to try that out.

An 8x8 baking tray is prefect for the recipe below. When making lasagna, it is really important that the entire tray is full otherwise the sauce will drain away.

Recipe adapted from this one.

I got a whole butternut squash and prepared it from scratch. Half of it sufficed for this recipe (for 4 people).

Serves 4

half of a medium-sized butternut squash
large kale leaves (little less than half of a typical bunch)  3-4
2% reduced fat milk                                                     3 cups
all-purpose flour                                                           4 tbsp
finely chopped garlic                                                    2 large cloves
no-boil lasagna noodles                                                6
shredded Italian cheese                                               1 cup
unsalted butter                                                            4 tbsp
powdered black pepper

Method -
1. Cut the butternut squash in half and peel one half with vertical strokes using a knife or a peeler. Cut it in small flat-ish pieces since we have to stuff them in between 2 layers.

2. Put aluminium foil on a baking tray, and toss the squash pieces on it with salt, pepper and vegetable oil.
I saved some squash seeds and roasted them along with the squash. They were toasty and crunchy - a nice garnish for the lasagna.
Roast at 400 deg F for about 25-30 mins or until it is soft, tossing the squash once after 15 mins.

3. Wash the kale leaves, remove the thick veins and chop them. Then sprinkle salt over the chopped leaves and massage them vigorously by taking a fistful in your hand at a time and releasing. This "tames" the kale and makes it more manageable as well as palatable.

4. Mix the roasted squash and the kale well.

5. Heat the milk in a pot. In a different pot, add the 2 tbsp butter on medium heat. Once it is mostly melted, add the chopped garlic and saute for 1-2 mins.

6. Then add the 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour to the melted butter, saute for 2 mins. Now add the hot milk gradually, keep your heat a bit higher than medium and keep stirring until the mixture thickens a bit.

7. Now add 3/4 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp powdered black pepper (adjust amounts to your taste). Also add 1/4 cup cheese and stir well. Turn off heat.

8. Preheat oven to 375 deg F. Grease the baking dish. Pour roughly 1/4th of the white sauce on to the baking dish.

9. Place 2 lasagna noodles over it and half of the squash-kale mixture over the noodles. Pour another 1/4th of the sauce, sprinkle 1/4th cup cheese.

10. Repeat #9

11. Top with the remaining 2 noodles, remaining white sauce and 1/4th cup cheese.

12. Cover with aluminium foil, make several slits for the steam to escape and bake at 375 deg F for 10-15 mins.

13. Then remove foil, top with pecans, walnuts and/or toasted squash seeds. Broil in the oven for 5-7 mins or until brown spots appear on the lasagna. Serve hot.

Update [Oct 2016]:
I made this last night with sweet potato and it turned out great! I did not notice any difference in the taste. Also sweet potato is a lot easier than butternut squash to peel and prep!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Black Bean 'n Corn Salad

I'm always amazed when something very tasty is also equally healthy. It's like a dream come true for me. And this, my friends, is one of those things.

Black beans are one of the healthiest things you can eat. I was trying to find a good recipe with black beans that is easy enough and tasty enough that I can include it in my weeknight meal rotation. I stumbled upon this and fell in love immediately. Apart from being tasty and healthy it looks like a carnival in a bowl!

Purple onion is perfect for this salad as it adds to the color, although any onion will do. I use purple onion only when it is to be eaten raw. Cooking it makes it a weird grey-green color.

Here's my version of the recipe... only slightly modified.
Recipe based on this one.

Serves 4 as a side. Though S and I devour the whole thing as a main.

You will need -

1 14-ounce can of black beans
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)

For the dressing -
juice of 1 lime or lemon
1 tbsp hot sauce such as tabasco
1/2 tsp or less of the following - red chilly powder, salt and pepper

Method -

1. Drain the can of black beans. I like the sludge at the bottom of the can. It keeps the salad moist.
2. Be sure to modify the spice level to your taste. Mix everything in a large bowl.

That's it. That's the recipe. I recently made this by doubling all the quantities and took it to a potluck. At first people were wary of it because it looked too healthy, but once they tried it they totally loved it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hummus, Chicken and Paneer Skewers & Shahi Tukra

I made a middle-eastern lunch today for some friends. This is what the menu looked like:

Pita bread and homemade hummus for the appetizer, accompanied by a shiraz.

Chicken hariyali kabab and vegetarian kabab skewers, cucumber raita and saffron rice.

And my favorite shahi tukra for dessert. Love it!

Some changes I made to the recipes...


Followed Ina Garten's recipe linked above for the most part.
Out of sheer laziness, I did not roast the sesame seeds for the tahini. Nor did I make the tahini beforehand. I just added everything together in the blender and the result was great. Though the amount of lemon juice in the recipe would make it too sour IMHO so I reduced it. I substituted the hot sauce with red chilly flakes and garnished with red chilly flakes and a splash of olive oil.
I'd make hummus at home again. It is easy to make and cheaper than store-bought hummus.


I always found making chicken kababs for a party daunting, mainly because the chicken can get really dry in the oven in the process of reheating to serve them warm or trying to char them a bit for that great flavor. But a friend recently enlightened me on the magic of brining chicken. And boy, have I become a fan!
I thought kababs are a great candidate for brining to work its magic. So I tried that today and the result was fabulous. Brining gives you a lot more margin for error, so that 5 more minutes in the oven to reheat the kababs won't dry them out. They stay nice 'n juicy. One drawback is that they released a LOT of water which I had to throw out twice.

To brine the chicken, add 1/4 cup salt and  a tbsp of sugar to 5 cups of water and stir until it is dissolved completely. Then place the whole chicken breasts in the water so that they are fully submerged and refrigerate them for an hour. If needed, increase the amount of water and salt while maintaining their ratio until the chicken is submerged.
After that I followed the ecurry recipe linked above. The recipe is great. Such a nice change from the usual tandoori kabab.

The ideal time for cooking these kababs in the oven would be:
400 deg F for 15 mins, flip them over halfway. Then broil for 7-8 mins at 500 deg F.

Shahi Tukra:

Do not try to make this healthy by using whole wheat bread. It tastes much better with white bread.

Anyway, I didn't have ghee so I just spread butter on both sides of the slices and roasted them in a pan. Then mixed sweetened condensed milk with 2% milk, heated it until it reduced a bit, added saffron and cardamom and poured on top of the browned slices of bread. Turned out to be pretty good. Next time I'll try using unsweetened evaporated milk because I'd like a thicker sauce and want to be able to control the sweetness.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Corn Patties

These corn patties make a great snack or side. They are, in one word, irresistible. Quite similar to the ones that everybody makes a beeline for when they go to Mahabaleshwar. They have a thin cover of semolina over a layer of spiced mashed potatoes, gently enveloping a flavorful filling of corn and coconut.
Along with that there was Indian style alyacha gawati chaha (ginger lemongrass tea).

The recipe -

Makes 12 patties

For the outer shell -
potatoes         3 large or 5 small
cornflour        3 tbsp
bread             3 slices
chilly powder roughly 3/4th tsp
semolina        1/2 cup

For the filling -
corn from 2 cobs
fresh or frozen and thawed coconut roughly 1/3rd cup
onion, finely chopped 1/2 cup
curry leaves, thinly julienned
chilly powder roughly 1/2 tsp

Method -

1. Cook the potatoes (err on the side of overcooking) and mash them really well. There should be no lumps as this will make it hard to shape the potatoes into a cup to hold the filling.
2. Roughly tear the bread slices into a few big pieces and then put them in the blender to make fine breadcrumbs resembling sawdust.
3. Mix the mashed potatoes, breadcrumbs, cornflour, chilly powder and salt to taste.
4. Now for the filling. Saute chopped onion in a pan. Once it is translucent, add the corn, curry leaves, chilly powder and salt to the pan, mix well. And a little bit of sugar, say 1 or 2 tsp. Then add the coconut, saute for a few mins and turn off heat.
5. To assemble the patties, roll the mashed potato mixture into little balls with your hands. They should be slightly bigger than a golf ball.
6. Shape a ball into a cup shape with your hands, add a heaped tablespoon of the filling in the cup and gently close the cover over the filling. This may be frustrating at first. It took a few mangled patties for me to get a hang of it. But believe me, it is a matter of practice.
You can adjust the sizes of the potato ball and the filling to make it easier for you to shape them into patties.
7. Spread the semolina in a plate. Dab the patties in the plate to cover them with semolina on both sides.
8. Shallow fry the patties until browned from both sides.
Serve with ketchup.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Delicious Kale Salad

This salad is so good, I could eat it for dessert. And I love desserts dearly. To add to that, kale is a superfood with loads of vitamin K and anti-cancer and cholesterol-lowering properties.

Here's the recipe.

Serves 4

You will need -

a small bunch kale (roughly 5-7 preferably young leaves)
2 avocados, chopped
1 apple, chopped (substitutes: other sweetish fruits such as pears, grapes)
a small handful broken candied walnuts (substitutes: pecans, almonds)
quarter onion chopped length-wise (optional)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can try substituting other vinegars or lemon juice though I haven't tried it)
1 tbsp olive oil
black pepper
2 tsp sugar

Method -

1. Remove the thick veins of the kale leaves by folding the leaf and cutting the vein off. Then chop up the kale into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle salt over it and crumple the leaves in your hands and release. Repeat this several times. Massaging the kale this way makes it more palatable.
2. Add chopped avocado, chopped apple, walnuts, onion, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, sugar.
3. Add salt and pepper to suit your taste.
4. Toss the salad well. I try to make sure I don't completely turn the avocado into pulp because I like it when I encounter yummy avocado chunks in my salad. For that you may chop the avocados into bigger pieces.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My new love - Greek Yogurt

Have you wondered what all the buzz is about greek yogurt?

I was wondering the same so I tried it a few times and loved its creaminess. But the best part about greek yogurt as I found out eventually is that since it is made by removing water from regular yogurt it is more densely packed with nutrients - which means lots of protein per serving! AND lots of fat. Which is why it is all the more important that you choose non-fat greek yogurt.
In 226g of this creamy goodness there is 23g of protein (daily requirement for women is 40-50g) which is twice that of regular yogurt. There, you have a healthy and great tasting vegetarian protein source.

Now I almost always buy greek yogurt instead of regular.
It is very versatile and can be used in dips and instead of sour cream as a topping. Even as a creamy dessert. Stay tuned for more recipes with greek yogurt!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Warm Swiss Chard with Mushrooms

This Saturday morning we went out for brunch and were pleasantly surprised to see that it’s farmers market season already! It is just January, and while the majority of the country is covered in snow, I am so glad to be living in "feels like spring all year round" Bay Area. I have to admit, it wasn't particularly warm, but it surely was sunny and pleasantly cold - good enough to shop at a farmers market!

Anyway, in my excitement of shopping fresh, locally sourced produce, I picked Swiss Rainbow Chard from one of the stalls. In the past I have made some yummy chard salads using yogurt. This time, I decided to try cooking it.

Chard is like any other greens, delicate, has an earthy flavor and generally seems like a veggie that will get along with any other fellow vegetables.  Again, I spent less than 30 min cooking this start to finish, so I’ll categorize this one as a quick fix too. However, this can’t be your main entree. 

- 1 bunch swiss rainbow chard, cleaned chopped
- 8-9 cremini mushrooms, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- half cup onion, minced
- 2 tsp EVOO
- 3 tsp balsamic vinegar
- salt pepper to taste

How To:
Heat 1 tsp EVOO on medium low heat and add garlic. Cook until fragrant. Add swiss chard and cook until wilted. I used some chard stalks too, so i let it cook a little longer until the hard stalks were soft, but you can cook it as you like. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat 1 tsp EVOO on medium heat. Add onion and mushroom, and let cook until onions are translucent. Add balsamic vinegar and cook until it is reduced. (4-5 mins). Pour over the swiss chard. Add salt and pepper. 
Serve warm or cold.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hearty Veggie Soup

I like soup for dinner on foggy cold week nights – like this week. And hearty vegetable soups can especially be comforting on busy weeknights.  My mom made all sorts of soups when I was growing up and I have grown to love them.

I liked this soup because it took me only 30 minutes to make it from start to finish, the recipe consisted of cooking veggies by steaming them - a healthier way to eat them, and plus it made an awesome leftover.

Here goes the recipe –

  • 2 carrots cut into cubes
  • 2 ripe tomatoes cut into cubes
  • 1 onion cut into cubes
  • 1 medium sized potato, peeled, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp butter
  • Salt, pepper, red chili powder, sugar per taste
  • 1/4th cup 1% fat milk (optional)
  • Cilantro, minced

Pressure cook all veggies till tender. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can also cook all the veggies in a pan by adding water till they’re just covered. Puree cooked veggies. Heat butter in a stockpot and add pureed veggies. Add milk, salt, pepper, red chili powder, sugar per taste. Mix well. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

A and I like our soup with toasted bread with light ghee spread. I added red chilli powder as a garnish for some extra heat.

I am going to try this recipe with ghee instead of butter. Ghee doesn’t burn as fast as butter as it has a higher smoke point than butter.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Leek Salad

Yesterday Shal suggested that she and I contribute to this blog together. I accepted the offer without a blink. Nice idea, isn’t it? I immediately remembered the leek that had been staring at me from our fridge for 3 days since my “Return to Bay Area” therapeutic grocery shopping! A leek salad would be a good first blog post, I thought. Here it is...
This is a really quick salad that can put together in less than 10 min., pairs well with Indian home cooked food and serves as a satisfying substitute to traditional “koshimbir”. In fact now that I think about it, it is a better accompaniment dish, than a salad. 

Leeks appear to me like cousins of spring onion, they have a delicate onion-ny flavor, and so if you want a dinner time substitute to onions, leeks are a good option. An important aspect of working with leeks is cleaning them as they grow close to the ground, they will have dirt in the green layers.
Slice the leeks lengthwise down the center and rinse under water to remove all the dirt, especially dirt between the leaves.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from here.

·         1 Leek (discard the coarse outer leaves and use the tender white and light green parts), sliced thinly, crosswise .

·         1 medium sized Persian cucumber (I like persian cucumbers in this salad because of their delicate flavor), peeled, halved and sliced.

·         1 medium sized heirloom tomato, cut into small cubes.

·         0.5 cup cilantro, cut coarsley

·         1 tbsp roasted groundnut powder (optional)

·         Salt to taste
·         1.5 tbsp lemon juice

·         3 tbsp EVOO

·         Salt, black pepper & sugar to taste 

Mix everything in a bowl and serve.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Healthy Chicken Fried Rice

My dad makes really good chicken fried rice. I remember it was my last meal in India before I first moved to the USI've included some of his tips in the recipe below.

You will need -
  • boneless skinless chicken breast - chopped, marinated in garlic and soy sauce
  • cooked rice (I usually use a 50-50 mixture of white basmati and brown basmati. Please refer to 'notes' below on how to cook rice)
  • minced garlic
  • spring onions
  • whisked eggs (optional)
  • sesame oil (optional)
A few of the following -
  • carrots
  • bell peppers - any color. I used red.
  • green beans
  • cabbage
  • broccoli, if you want to make up for some decadent sins from the day before
  • peas
Seasoning -
  • soy sauce
  • fish sauce (optional)
  • ketchup (optional)
  • sriracha or hot sauce (optional)
  • water
Method -
  1. In a large shallow pan heat some vegetable oil and saute marinated chicken until fully cooked.  Keep aside.
  2. Add eggs to the pan, saute to make a scramble, set aside.
  3. Add vegetable oil and 1 or 2 tsp sesame oil to pan . After a couple of mins add the garlic, saute. Then add the veggies that take longer to cook - such as green beans, carrot, broccoli.
  4. Once those veggies are semi-cooked add the other veggies that cook fast - such as bell peppers, cabbage, peas.
  5. Meanwhile combine all the ingredients under 'Seasoning' in a small bowl.
  6. Add seasoning mixture and chicken to pan. Mix well.
  7. Add the rice, mix well. Be gentle with the rice, you want to avoid breaking the grains. Saute for 2-3 mins.
  8. Add spring onions and scrambled eggs. Mix well.
  9. Check the taste. If required add soy sauce/ hot sauce/ black pepper and mix well.
Some tips -
  1. It is widely recommended that you use a day-old rice for fried rice. But I have got as good results by cooking the rice with slightly less water than usual and then spreading it out on plates for 1 to 2 hours in a well-ventilated area before using it. I sometimes put the fan on to dry the rice faster.
  2. Cooking the eggs and veggies together will make your rice smell of egg. To avoid this  it's better to saute the eggs separately, keep aside and add to the rice towards the end.
  3. All the steps should be done over medium to high heat. You don't want to slow-cook your veggies in fried rice.
  4. It's always good to use a mix of colorful veggies - if you don't have red bell pepper, try to use carrot so that your fried rice looks colorful and appetizing. Eating all colors is also a good way to get all kinds of vitamins and minerals.

'Chickpea Chaat' - Quick and healthy garbanzo bean snack

I whipped up this easy and healthy snack on a late weekend afternoon. I tossed cooked chickpeas leftover from dinner with chopped onion, tamarind chutney ('Maggie Tamarina' is great), black salt (you can get that in an Indian grocery store), a sprinkle of sev (crispy broken Indian noodles) and plain low fat yogurt.

Similar to bhel, but with wholesome beans instead of puffed rice.

The black color of the beans is from cooking it with tea bags. I think it looks more appetizing that way, but it doesn't matter as far as taste is concerned. You can use canned garbanzo beans if you don't have cooked ones.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu - Butternut Squash Risotto & a Pumpkin Dessert

Butternut Squash Saffron Risotto
(Apologies for the poor picture quality - it is a product of dim lighting and iPhone 4)

                                                                       Pumpkin Dessert with three textures

We had some friends over for dinner around Thanksgiving so I made a fall-themed dinner. As one of our friends is vegetarian I came up with a vegetarian menu but had no regrets whatsoever! It turned out to be so good that I didn't miss turkey at all. The star of the show was Ina Garten's butternut squash saffron risotto and a delicious pumpkin dessert vying for the limelight. The dessert has three layers - the bottom one like pumpkin pie, the middle one like a cookie and the topmost one crunchy because of the pecans.
I made it with reduced fat evaporated milk and it still tasted good if a bit less firm. Next time I'll make my own yellow cake mix because the store bought is too sweet especially when it sits in one compact layer like in this dessert.

For the risotto I used good New Zealand sauvignon blanc and skipped the pancetta.
To go with the risotto I made a quick tossed greens salad.
Here's the salad recipe... or something like it -
Toss arugula, spinach, thinly sliced pears, grated parmesan and cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans with a dressing of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar.

In general adding garbanzo beans to salads is a great way of incorporating vegetarian protein to your meal. Especially if you want to control the amount of soy protein in your diet because of the concerns regarding its harmful effect on hormones in both men and women.

Pineapple Jam

One thing that you don't easily get in the US is pineapple jam. It's one of my favorite jams so I decided to make a quick fix myself. Followed this recipe with some modifications -
  - Cut the pineapple into small pieces instead of grating it. Then when it was cooked and softened, I mashed it with a masher before adding the sugar.
- Used less sugar
- Used lemon juice instead of lime juice and used less of it.

Rosewater Panna Cotta

I love the flavor of rosewater. One whiff of it transports me to some dreamland! What's better than combining that with a delicious Italian dessert?

Recipe based on this one.
Yields 4 servings
Level: Easy, Time: 20 mins.
  • 1 and half cups half-and-half (mixture of full fat milk and cream)
  • 4 tbsp 2% reduced fat milk
  • 2 to 3 tbsp rose water (I used 'Sadaf' brand - it is really good)
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 envelop (1 envelop=0.25 oz) powdered gelatin
Method -
1. Add gelatin to the 2% milk, mix and let stay.
2. Bring half-and-half and sugar to boil or heat until very hot. Then add rooh afza and gelatin mixture, let simmer for 1 minute and turn off heat.
3. Add rose water.
4. Pour into bowls, let cool. Then cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge for at least 3 hours.

5. You can either serve it in the bowls or place the bowls in hot water one by one, place a small plate on top of the bowl and turn the bowl upside down on the plate and pat the bowl so that the beautiful, luscious panna cotta gently falls on to the plate with a plop. Drizzle a little bit of rooh afza on top if you like.

You can get creative with panna cotta! For instance add baileys to base of bowl and then add vanilla panna cotta mixture. Or top it off with a fruity compote.

- Many recipes ask for gelatin leaves to be used but they are harder to find than powdered gelatin. Here's a simple conversion formula between the two -
1 envelop (0.25 oz) powdered gelatin = 4 gelatin sheets/ leaves