Sunday, 25 October 2009

Minestrone Soup

What is on the top of your list when you proceed on a vacation? Packing, you say? Ummm, that's on my list too. But what comes as a close second is clearing the refrigerator. And what a task it is. Advance planning really tires me, and hence i find this chore a bit intimidating. Making sure that milk is not purchased on the day before traveling, the fresh veggies are consumed and leftovers are dealth with saps me out of my energy.

This Diwali, we visited our parents for a few days, and the task of cleaning the refrigerator loomed ahead. What I encountered was this: boiled kidney beans (leftover from the Rajma Masala prepared a couple of days back), one boiled potato, a few tomatoes, and an assortment of veggies. What finally resulted was this filling Minestrone Soup.

Apparently, there is no fixed recipe for Minestrone Soup and can be made with any vegetables at hand. The method I have used is based more on my experimentation rather than any fixed source.

Boiled kidney beans / Rajma: 3/4 cup
Pasta of your choice: 3/4 cup
Mixed Vegetables (potatoes, peas, carrots, beans, corn kernels, capsicum, cauliflower florets), chopped: 3/4 - 1 cup
Tomatoes: 2 medium, one chopped and one pureed
Onion: 1 small, finely chopped
Garlic: 2 small cloves, finely chopped
Oil: 1 - 2 tbsp
Salt, pepper: to taste
Water / Vegetable Stock: 4 - 6 cups

- Boil the pasta as per the instruction on the pack. Drain and wash with cold water. Keep aside. I used Macaroni since that was the only pasta I had in store.
- Heat oil in a pan. Add the chopped garlic and onions. Saute till the onions turn translucent
- Add the chopped and pureed tomatoes. Cook on medium heatfor 3 - 4 minutes. I prefer a more tangy flavour and hence used 1/2 a tomato more. You may adjust the quantity to suit your taste.
- Add the chopped vegetables and saute for another 2 - 3 minutes
- Add the kidney beans, pasta. Add water / stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
- Cover and cook on low heat till the vegetables are cooked, but still a little crunchy. Add more water if required to achieve the desired consistency.
- Adjust salt, and pepper
- Serve hot

Note: You can also add grated cheese to enhance the flavor.

This soup is my contribution to JFI: Rajma, the event created by Indira of Mahanandi, and hosted this month by Divya of Dil Se.

It also makes its way to Presto Pasta Night # 137, created by Ruth from Once Upon a Feast, and hosted this week by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything At least Once.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Amla ki Chutney

Amla, or Indian Gooseberry, is a spherical fruit widely known for its medicinal properties.

Appearance: Light green in color with longitudinal stripes, it is smooth and hard in texture. It is usually the size of a table tennis ball, but may be larger. It has a seed in the center which is removed when the fruit is eaten / used for cooking
Taste: The primary taste is sour and bitter. The fruit leaves a sweet tinge on the tongue when swallowed.
Properties and benefits: Amla is a rich source of vitamin C and is a widely used ingredient in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine. It is known to benefit digestion, cough and cold, diabetes and blood pressure. It also increases immunity and reduces hair fall. Some benefits of amla for common ailments are listed here.
Recipes and preparations: Though fresh amla is available in autumn, it is usually dried or pickled to be used throughout the year. Fresh amla is used in chutneys and preparation of side dishes. Another common recipe is "Amla ka Murabba" - whole amla pickled with sugar - which can be preserved for a long time.

As for me, I am completely hooked on to this wonderful Amla ki Chutney. I got the recipe from my Mother - in - law, and she had prepared it when we were home for Diwali.

Amla: 6 - 8
Coriander leaves: a small bunch
Green Chillies: 2, or as per taste
Salt: To taste

- Wash the amla, and cut it in small pieces. Remove the seed.
- Clean and wash the coriander
- Finely grind the amla, coriander leaves, green chilies and salt in a blender. Add a few table spoons of water while grinding.
- The consistency should be smooth and not too dry. Adjust salt and add some more water if required.
- Serve it as an accompaniment with snacks or curries.
- The chutney can be refrigerated, and lasts for around 7 - 10 days

This chutney heads to the
Weekend Herb Blogging # 206, the event presided over by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything Atleast Once, and hosted this week by Yasmeen from Healthnut. The weekly event was originally started by Kalyn.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Methi and Besan ka Cheela

Weekend is here again. This weekend is an extra busy one - with Diwali being just a week away (October 17th to be precise). Apart from the several Diwali customs (eating and preparation of sweets, bursting firecrackers, lighting up the house, Lakshmi Puja, meeting friends and relatives), there is one which takes special significance (at least in North India) - cleaning the house before Diwali.
It is said that Goddess Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of Wealth) visits homes on Diwali night, and showers her blessings. Hence it is important to keep the house "ready" to welcome her. Mythology and religion aside, the tradition does ensure that you throw out your laziness at least for once, and wear the cleaner's hat.

Decades earlier, it was customary to get your house "white-washed" (painted) before Diwali. This ensured that the house was uncluttered and freed of any junk you may have collected over the year. These days, with the introduction of acrylic and longer lasting paints, painting the house has taken a backseat. But one does put in an effort to clean those nooks and corners which may have been neglected so far.

So my husband and I picked up the cleaning brushes and mops this morning, and attacked those areas with full vigour which our daily maid overlooks. But before that we had a heavy breakfast for extra energy - the breakfast being Besan ka Cheela, with a twist.

There was some Methi (Fenugreek leaves) in the fridge and I used it to give a wonderful flavour to the savoury crepes.
The cheelas had a hint of bitterness - which one would expect from Methi. You may reduce the quantity of leaves in case you prefer less flavor.

Methi Leaves, cleaned: a handful
Besan / Gramflour: 1 cup
Ginger Paste: 1/2 tsp
Salt: To taste
Red chili Powder: 1/4 - 1/2 tsp
Green Chili, finely chopped (optional)

- Wash the Methi leaves thoroughly to remove any dirt. Chop finely
- Mix besan, salt, chili powder and methi leaves.
- Add water to make the batter of a thick pouring consistency (as you would do for dosas / pancakes). Mix well to ensure that there are no lumps
- Heat a tawa / pan, and lightly grease it with oil
- Pour around 2 ladles of the batter and spread it in a circle, moving from the center to the outer edges in a circular format
- Pour a teaspoon of oil along the sides, and let it cook on medium heat. Lift the side slightly to check if the color has changed
- Flip and cook on the other side, adding oil on the sides
- Take care not to cook it on slow heat or else the cheela will become too crusty. Similarly if the heat is high, the cheela will change color too soon and it will remain uncooked inside
- Serve hot with your favourite chutney / ketchup

This goes to Weekend Herb Blogging # 204, hosted this week by Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook. The event started by Kalyn, is now in the nurturing hands of Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything Atleast Once.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Chhole Tikki: Chickpeas served with Potato Cutlets

Indian Street food is versatile in taste and preparation. It varies as you move from one state to the other. The ingredients remain the same, in most cases, but the flavor changes by addition / deletion of spices and garnish.
Take the
Bhel puri for example. It’s popularly called so in Maharashtra and the western part of India. But in North India, it transforms to Laiya Chana, and in the east as Jhal Muri.
Jhal muri is characterized by the addition of uncooked mustard oil and coconut among other things. It does not use tamarind chutney.
Bhel puri on the other hand can be sukha (dry) or geela (wet) depending on what kind of chutney is used to flavor it. And no, it does not use mustard oil.
Laiya chana is also similar to bhel puri, but is more savory, and does not imbibe the sweetness of Bhel puri (at least that has been my experience in north India).
And all this while, the base for all the above remains the same – puffed rice.

Other similarities that I have observed are:
Pesarattu in Andhra Pradesh, and
Moong ki Dal ka Cheela in North India
Golgappa / Paani ke Batashe / Gup Chup / Pani Puri / Phuchka (the difference being the stuffing and how the water has been flavored)
Ragda Pattice in the West and Chhole Tikki
in the North

Am sure there are many more varieties which can be included, but the above is more limited to my experiences and travels across the country. Do feel free to add to the same.

Coming back to cooking, this weekend was made special when both my husband and I entered the kitchen together, and prepared Chhole Tikki – the north Indian street food – for a heavy snack on a lazy Sunday evening.
The idea is to prepare the chhole (flavored chickpeas) and
Alu Tikkis (Potato Cutlets) and serve them together. The Alu Tikkis were prepared by him, while the Chhole by me.

I know there are a hundred (or more) ways to prepare chhole, as well as Tikki, but sharing with you our version. My chhole recipe is an amalgamation of various sources, and has been adapted from different recipes in cookbooks as well as on the internet.

For the Chhole

Chickpeas / Chhole: 1 Cup, soaked overnight
1 tsp Tea Leaves tied in a muslin cloth / 1 Tea Bag
Onion, sliced: 2 medium
Tomato, chopped: 1
Ginger Paste: ½ tsp
Bay leaf: 1
Cinnamon Stick: 1
Cumin Seeds: ½ tsp
Anardana Powder: 1 ½ tsp
Cumin Powder: 1 tsp
Coriander Powder: 1 tsp
Red Chilli Powder: ½ tsp
Oil: 3 tbsp
Salt: To taste

- Boil the chickpeas with around 3 - 3 1/2 cups water, tea leaves / tea bag, Bay Leaf, Cinnamon Stick and salt. If using a pressure cooker, which is preferable, it will take around 20 minutes (on low heat) for the chickpeas to become soft. Alternately, one can also use the canned version.
- Once cooked, remove the tea bag, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Keep the chickpeas aside, donot drain the water.
- Heat oil in a kadhai / pan, and add cumin seeds. When the seeds begin to splutter, add the onions and stir on medium heat till they begin to change color
- Add the tomatoes, ginger paste and the ground spices. Sauté on medium heat till the tomatoes turn soft and the oil begins to separate
- Add the chick peas along with the water in which they were cooked.
- Bring to a boil, and let it simmer for 5 – 7 minutes, till the gravy becomes thick. Adjust salt as per taste.

For the Alu Tikki (as made by my husband)

Ingredients: (Makes approx 6 tikkis)
Potatoes, boiled: 4 medium
Peas, boiled: a handful
Green Chilli, finely chopped: 2
Fresh coriander, chopped
Black Pepper powder: to season
Cumin Powder: 2/3 tsp

Red Chili Powder: 1/4 tsp or as per taste
Black Salt / Rock Salt: 1/4 tsp
Chaat Masala (optional): 1/4 tsp
Juice of half a lemon
Salt: To taste
Oil: To shallow fry


- Peel and grate the potatoes. Ensure that the potatoes are at room temperature before you grate them
- Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well.
- Grease your hands with a few drops of oil.
- Take a portion of the mixture, and shape it in a ball. Press it lightly between your palms to flatten it.
- Shallow fry on low heat till both sides are crispy and golden brown

To Serve Chhole Tikki:
- Take a tikki (or two) in a bowl
- Add a ladle of chhole on top (more if you desire)
- Garnish with finely chopped onion, tomatoes, coriander and green chilies
- You can also add whipped yoghurt and tamarind chutney on top

This recipe goes to Meeta’s Monthly Mingle: High Tea Treats, hosted this month by Aparna.