Curry flavored (Masala) Red Lentil Pasta

I plan most meals for the week over the weekend, whether I stick to it or not. This is the basis for our grocery shopping. However, I have crazy cravings for not only one specific dish, but cuisines and specific tastes as well. For some reason, I wanted to have something western with a tandoori twist. For lack of a Dominos or Pizza Hut that sold Paneer Tikka pizza, I had to look up other options of quick meals to make at home to satisfy this weird (according to H) craving.

I was reminded of Indianized ready to eat or 2-min pasta packs we got in India at some point, and started digging out curry-flavored pasta recipes. There were a bunch, and I found a few quite disappointing, considering the base was a very typical Indian tomato onion gravy with cumin and coriander powder.

Then I found this gem of a sauce on Food Network recipes, and decided to throw in some veggies and make it a healthier option (for what it is worth!).

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Ingredients

Pasta

16oz Red lentil pasta

Sauce

16oz Vegetable broth

14oz coconut milk

3 tbsp Choice of masala/ curry powder (I used pre-packaged masala that had turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder and cloves. Grinding these and adding them to the sauce should also work).

Half a stick of butter

Veggies

1 cup cauliflower and broccoli put together

1 red bell pepper

1/2 cup green peas

A small sprig of cilantro/coriander leaves

Salt to taste

Fresh ground pepper

Note: You could adjust the amount of masala according to your taste.

pasta in a pot

Method

  1. Cook your pasta according to the directions on the package.
  2. Start your sauce on the side. Add vegetable broth to a pan and bring it to a simmer.
  3. To this broth, add your butter and let it melt.
  4. Add the curry powder/ masala and mix to prevent lumps from forming. Taste and adjust the masala quantity to your liking.
  5. Add the coconut milk to your broth mixture and let it thicken.
  6. In the meantime, steam the cauliflower and broccoli.
  7. Add salt and pepper to the steamed veggies.
  8. Once the sauce has thickened a bit, add chopped red peppers and green peas and let them cook for a few minutes.
  9. Add salt to taste to the sauce.
  10. Finally assemble the dish. Add the steamed veggies to your pasta and give it one good mix. Pour in the sauce on top of the pasta. Garnish with coriander leaves (cilantro).
  11. Dig in!
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Mexican Quinoa Bowl

H and I are massively into having  rotis these days, that my taste buds were killing me this week. I decided that it would be the week for my week night favorite Thai-curry, and something Mexican. The dish being a super duper hit at home the last time I made it, I decided to do the veggie quinoa burrito bowl. I took inspiration from a few independent recipes I found on Pinterest, and my all time favorite Chipotle chain. I know! I know! They’ve been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times, and this only adds to the reasons why I had to make this dish at home.

I am not much of  food blogger, except that I wanted to share my recipe, so excuse me for the pictures and the clumsy presentations!

This bowl may seem like an onerous task while starting out because of the amount of multitasking required. But it is one of the easiest, yet fancy things to put together. It took me about an hour and a half, including the vegetable chopping.

The following are the components for the bowl:

  1. Bottom layer of quinoa (instead of the rice that usually goes with Mexican bowls).
  2. Black beans (probably the easiest part of the dish)
  3. Vegetable component: Fajitas/  sweet potato
  4. Salsa
  5. Corn salad
  6. Chipotle yogurt dressing
  7. Guacamole
  8. Lettuce (I ran out of these, this time)

I had the quinoa going in my Instapot, while I made the guacamole and corn salad.

After this you would rinsing the beans, and cook it to add some flavors, cook the veggies, make the dressing and salsa, and assemble the dish.

Ingredients (for 4 very generous servings)

  • Quinoa – 1 cup
  • Sweet potatoes – 2 medium
  • (or) green pepper-1, red pepper -1 for fajitas
  • Cilantro – a bunch
  • Black beans – 1 can
  • cumin powder – 2 tsp
  • chilli powder – 1 tsp
  • cayenne pepper – 1 tsp
  • Chipotle pepper seasoning – 2 tsp
  • garlic powder – 1 tsp
  • jalapenos – 6 spoonfuls (from the pickled jar)
  • onion – 1 medium
  • tomato – 1 small
  • corn – 1 cup
  • greek yogurt – 1 cup
  • avocados -2
  • required water, salt, pepper, lime juice and olive oil
  • Mexican cheese (optional)
  • Shredded lettuce (optional)unnamed

Quinoa

Cook the quinoa, just as you would the rice. 1 cup quinoa would need 2 cups water in the Instapot or in a rice cooker.

You could use the same ratio if you want to cook in a pan on stove top.

Black beans

Drain and rinse the black beans.

Add some oil to a pan, and to this add one or two bay leaves. You could add onions (about halfan onion chopped) here and cook until they are translucent. Add cumin powder and chilli powder (1 tsp each). Now add the black beans, adjust salt to taste, add very little water, and let it boil for a few minutes.

Fajitas/ Sweet potatoes

This is the veggie portion of the dish that differentiates it from its meat variants.

Fajitas

Add some olive oil to a pan, add chopped onions and let it cook for a bit. Then add the peppers and stir fry this mixture with salt, pepper and cumin powder. You could also use chili powder here, instead of the pepper.

Sweet potato mixture

This is a recent addition to my Mexican cooking. I love making stuffed peppers/ tacos with sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425F. In the mean time, cube the two sweet potatoes. Spread it on a baking sheet over aluminum foil. Sprinkle some olive oil, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and salt. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning it half way, or till they start getting a little brown and crisp.

Baked sweet potatoes

Salsa

To make things easier, you could use the store bought salsa that you like the best. If you don’t mind some sweet and hot flavors for a kick, I would recommend Costco’s Habanero and mango salsa. I used store bought salsa this time, but what’s the charm in an otherwise fully assembled dish if you don’t make your own! I made the salsa from scratch last time using the following recipe.

Blend together 1 tomato, a handful of cilantro, half an onion, 4 spoonfuls of jalapenos, lime, salt and pepper to a course mixture. You could try grinding it in a mortar too, and add black beans/ corn/ serrano chillis according to your taste.

Corn Salad

Cook the fresh corn/ frozen packet according to directions on the packet. Add in lime juice, salt and  little bit of paprika. Chop some cilantro leaves well, add to the corn. I added very finely chopped onions too. Then chill until it needs to be assembled.

Guacamole

I improvise a little every time I make the guacamole. Pit and scoop the avocado from its shell.Mash it up well, and immediately add lime juice to the mixture, to prevent it from browning. This time, I added salt, pepper, half a tomato, a little bit onions and jalapeno peppers (can be substituted with serrano peppers depending on your spice levels). Adjust according to your levels of zing, tangy-ness and the amount of pepper you like. I add corn to it sometimes, but H hates corn.

Now, for the portion I consider important for the dish, the yogurt dressing.

Chipotle yogurt dressing

I have my own variation for it, but again, this is something you can work on to suit your taste. This is a healthy substitute for sour cream.

Blend together 1 cup Greek yogurt, a handful (or more) of cilantro, lots of Chipotle pepper spice (or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a more authentic taste), salt and lime juice.The chipotle pepper spice is used is from Penzey’s spice in Philly. A small jar of it has  lasted me pretty long (about to 2 years) .I use it for my black bean chilis, soups and other Mexican cooking.

Some recipes I found online for this include Mayo and Dijon mustard. I am yet to try that variation. Let me know how you like that if you try it.

Assemble all of these in layers in the order specified in the recipe.

Once assembled

If you are up for it, add Mexican cheese on top.

I usually add some lettuce while serving.

From last time I made it with Fajitas.

Buen provecho!

Left overs; a blessing in disguise!

It is that time of the year when gyms are overflowing, waist lines have popped after the sweets-eating season and resolutions are made (hopefully not to be broken!). If there is one resolution I make every year, and try hard to stick to, it is minimizing food waste. It is not as easy as it sounds, especially on working days! I make huge quantities of a dish that gets put in the fridge. After two meals, H and I get tired of it and go searching for a Subway or Chipotle!

'So, this Humpty Dumpty guy falls off the wall and I think, dang, what a waste!'

I envy people who go to the grocery store with a purpose. H an I are pretty good at sticking to our weekly grocery list. It gets harder though, when we go to specialty stores, that aren’t easily accessible in our neighborhood. We end up binge-buying a whole load of things. One final day, we remember to make something out of the ingredient we had considered extremely important on our trip to the Indian store/ Asian market. By that time, the product has expired! How many of you have had the same issues?

There are days when you have a craving for a certain thing, and that is gone by the time you shop for the ingredients; you packed lunch, and ended up eating out at an office get together; the ingredients are never right in front of your eyes to remind you that they are there; or my favorite, you are plain lazy, to make an elaborate dish out of something you bought it for. The process of using up left overs is one that involves some thinking, but trust me, they are the easiest things to use and dish something edible out of!

H is quite the health nut and we periodically have issues using up extra veggies, fruits, different types of rice or just plain Indian cooking spices. I am quite the junk-eating person, who can live on maggi and popcorn/ sweet corn, given a choice!

When I think back to my childhood, it is only now that I realize how important the use of optimizing food has been to my family as well. I am so proud of that! Paati and amma were always saving up orange peels to be pickled, or make into a face-pack, paati saved up the almost completely squeezed lemon half to put into her pressure cooker to prevent the pan from burning at the bottom, and rasatthadi (the bottom left overs of rasam) from dinner always became a side for idlis and dosas and even curd rice!

Honestly, there have been several days when I have emptied the bottom shelf of my fridge or the top shelf of the pantry into the trash, with a heavy heart while looking at how the veggies/ condiments could have benefited at least one family that was going hungry that day! Truth be told, subscribing to WFP and watching John Oliver’s video on Food wastage didn’t help with the guilt, but it helped make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. I am still working on my commitment to avoid food wastage and to make the process a sustainable one! I have been improving every year, devising new plans to try and not overfeed ourselves, at the same time, minimize our waste.

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There are some general rules H and I have set for ourselves, that also helps with sticking to budgets:

  1. We draft a cooking plan for the week just before our weekly grocery shopping. This includes rummaging through our pantry and fridge to see what needs immediate consumption. Of course, we stick to the list we make of things to buy for the week.
  2. I have started concentrating on making everything I put in the fridge visible. The fruits that go in the tray have now come up to the top rack. We have transparent boxes to put away left overs to make sure we can see everything.
  3. We make enough just for 4 meals. This is because after this point, we grow tired of the dish and it sits there in the fridge ready to be thrown out. Here again, I am reminded of how athai and periamma always made the perfect quantities of food, so that they never had to throw anything out.
  4.  We are not really picky about when home cooked food is prepared, as long as it tastes good, and nothing is spoilt. More than a matter of preference, it is a necessity.
  5.  As long as there are other things at home to eat, a trip to the Indian store/ Asian market can be put off for as long as it is absolutely necessary! This last point is something we are still working on.

The moment someone says “left-overs” , your mind tells you it is probably something unwanted. However, “left-overs” are the most versatile things ever!  These days all I do when I find a cup of lentils that I want to use up, is google recipes using lentils, and find other ingredients that I already have, to make my dish! Pinterest comes in handy as well.

Vegetables can be used up to make some Pasta Primavera, Bisibelabath, a Thai curry or simply stir-fried!  H’s mom always asks me to prep my veggies for the next day. In my case, when I cook an extensive dish, I am almost always left with a huge amount of food waste. The peels and ends can go into making a vegetable broth. Left over bread, can be used to make a quick bread-upma, a sandwich or even a PB&J for a snack. Other possibilities would be to use it up to make croutons/ bread crumbs for use later in a salad. Whenever I have yogurt that needs to be used, I end up making a Gujarati khadi, or south Indian mor kozhambu, or a recent favorite, Khatta moong dal! Like I said, all it takes is a simple google search!

There was a time when I even subscribed to recipe boxes/ meal kits to avoid having to put away anything back in the fridge. That could be an option too, if you are up for the flexibility in cuisines, and the cost associated. There a number of providers these days, including Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, the popular ones.

If you are as guilty as I was about wasting a lot of food, it is never too late. Here is also a way of redemption! Donate to WFP.

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Spread the word!

Of course, don’t make it a one time thing, or always look only for redemption. Minimizing food wastage should be a sustainable effort!

None of the above images are my own. They are off of the internet and from the WFP official site.

Bong-smitten!

The husbandman decided to get himself an early Holiday present, and ordered 200 rotis from Rotikaa in Edison, NJ. It came in one big shipment, and that was that! Our dinner/ lunch for the next two months was decided then and there. I have been trying to dish out a new sabzi everyday to keep us from growing sick of all those rotis! I can’t complain too much though. It has made our life easier in two ways; we have to worry only about making that one side, we know what we are having that night or the next day for lunch, and there’s no dilemma there!unnamed.jpg

Last week I was on a “Stories by Rabindranath Tagore” marathon. Thanks to Netflix! I watched all the 23 or so episodes in a span of three days, and read up on Tagore, his works, and was Bengali-smitten for a while. The culture just left me craving for a bengali sabzi that I first saw H’s friend make. She made aloo and pumpkin sabzi with mustard oil and kalonji seeds.

I tried my own take of it about a month later, when I discovered some mustard powder as I was raiding the kitchen pantry. I used sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin that time, and it was a raging success. From then on, I have always stuck to my “orange sabzi” recipe every once in a while.

I am a big believer in minimizing food wastage. There was a huge 2lbs bag of baby carrots in the fridge that needed to be used in a day’s time. There was no way either me, or H were going to devour it as a snack! I decided to try my orange sabzi, without the rest of the orange veggies, aka sweet potatoes and pumpkin. It came out well,  and took all of twenty minutes to make! This comes from a person, who is not a fan of cooked carrots! I usually like them raw, with a squeezed lemon, some salt and green chillies. 🙂

Here is the recipe for the Bengali-inspired carrot sabzi. Remember, it is yummier still with sweet potatoes and yellow pumpkin (“kaddu”, as a friend taught me!).

Quantity: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  1. 2 lbs baby carrots (about 0.9 kg)
  2. 1 tbsp kala jeera
  3. 1 tbsp kalonji seeds
  4. 4 slit green chillies
  5. 1 pod garlic (optional)
  6. 1 tsp turmeric
  7. 1 tsp red chilli powder (if you need more spicy)
  8. 1 tsp mustard powder
  9. Required cooking oil.
  10. 1/2 cup water
  11. Salt to taste

That most time consuming part of the dish was getting the baby carrots cut into equal pieces. This is easier when you use bigger carrots, that need chopping, anyway!

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Method:

  1. Add oil to a hot pan.
  2. Add the kala jeera and kalonji seeds and let them crackle.
  3. Now add the slit green chillies and the garlic (if adding).

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4. Once the garlic turns color, add the carrots and mix them around. The carrots start to cook.

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5. Add turmeric powder, red chilli powder (if adding), mustard powder and the salt and let it cook for a little bit more.

6.Add the water, cover and cook the carrots.Add more water to cook, if the carrots take longer to cook.

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Voila! The sabzi is ready to be had with the rotis!

 

 

 

 

Aah, Pressure cooker, you marvel!

When I moved in with H, I brought with me 50% of my kitchen utensils. I still consider them my essentials because some of them are from India, and I thought it was hard to lay hands on a good brand that is easy on the wallet, here. That’s not true, I learnt on further investigation.

My priced possessions included some stainless steel ladles, tea strainers, stainless steel tongs and lemon squeezer, a coffee filter, idly steamer, two pressure cookers of different sizes and a few other things because I am a partial hoarder. :p

Pressure cooking being an essential with most Indian dishes (there are other time consuming methods, but who would want to wait three hours and has the patience to cook dal in a closed pan?!), H had two of his own. He had a better stocked kitchen, including idly plates (microwaveable and stainless steel), mortar and pestle, two more coffee filters and a tea strainer. Add to this, the vadaam pressing machine(?) and the aapam kaaral sent in from H’s mom after our wedding! We ended up downsizing most of our vessels, except for the pressure cookers. We can never have enough of them. They were all of different sizes, and both of us hated doing dishes immediately, and ended up wanting the pressure cooker for next day’s cooking.

I believe this is the best decision we made. Of course, given a choice, I wouldn’t throw out anything, but trust me, getting H to agree on that, is quite an achievement!For weekday dinners after a busy day at work, one pot one shot dishes were quite a relief.Initially I was making just dal in it, but on further research and improvisation, pressure cooking was a weekday staple! In fact, we like some dishes better, only when they are made OPOS.

Last night, I made pav bhaji, and was done with the whole process in two hours. That includes half hour when I had time to fold laundry! Minus an hour to cut all veggies and the prep work. This can be avoided while buying pre-cut frozen veggies.The pressure cooker is definitely a god-send,  if you don’t find time in a day for cooking, don’t like cooking too much, nor are you a fan of eating out everyday, for the health-nuts, or if you are just plain lazy! This is coming from a girl, whose cooking skills were restricted to making maggi and chai till the age of 21! So you know I mean business!

All you have to do is invest in a good pressure cooker. There are some good options on Amazon. I found some Indian brands that I am used to, too. I prefer the stove-top ones to the electric ones, because i get to do more cooking all in that cooker, which also means less dishes to wash!

Summarizing the wonders of the pressure cooker without all the above blab, here are four very good reasons to love your pressure cooker.

  1. Easy-peasy cooking.Easy to multitask with one of these doing the cooking.
  2. Quicker to cook with.
  3. Flavorful dishes.
  4. Energy saving. In comparison to pans/ slow cookers.

Go on now, grab yours too and make that avial!

 

 

 

The story of an Indian, vegetarian in a foreign land!

These are no longer the days where people land in a foreign land and are left stumped about what to order in a restaurant, what to cook as a student, what groceries to buy to make it taste remotely like paati’s saapaadu. Our uncles and aunts and several Indians who came before us, have already established a foundation for us F1/H1B visa holders landing with US flag’s starry eyes and dollar signs in our heads. Let’s face it; with competitive tests, assignments, bagging assistantships and staying with room mates, food should be the last thing you need to worry about! Oh, how we wish that was true!

Things are definitely easier these days. My room mate had bought samosas for me to have for dinner the moment I landed, and two days later, another new room mate’s sister sent us a huge USPS dabba full of bakshanam. This was followed by visits to relatives’ who hosted us during holidays and always sent us back well fed, and with a big box of brownies, milk sweets and lemon pies to share with the other forlorn souls near the university (who came back with their own stock). There was someone around, who’d make a trip to India each break, and they would come back with 2kg of bakshanam and sweets, from the mothers who thought that their kids (paavam) were cooking everyday for sustenance. Sambar and rasam podi came from four or five households in the very beginning, and stayed in the top shelf/ freezers in zip lock covers, to be transported two years later, upon graduating, to the new accommodation we moved to on finding jobs.

Our cousins, sisters and brothers visited us every now and then and took a few of us for nice lunches and dinners which they thought we didn’t get often. This was true to an extent, because for the first two semesters, we were restricted to the free pizzas handed at events around the campus. (The ten or more pounds I put on the very first month in the US, can vouch for my unlimited supply of pizzas when I wanted them. If you were vegetarian, of course, you’d have to limit yourself to the cheese pizzas. So sad!). If your town had a Chipotle, you were saved. Black beans, rice, pico de gallo, salsa reminds you of rice, channa masala and thakkali thokku. Closest associations to Indian food! and of course, the chappathi,er… tortilla!

So what’s the struggle, you ask? The struggle comes mainly from trying to order in non-Indian restaurants. Some restaurants (just not steakhouses/ seafood places) give you the stare when you ask for vegetarian options. H always rolls his eyes the moment I start ordering something, because I am always directing the chef on how to cook and present my dish. “Can I have the combo three, replacing the chicken enchiladas with mashed potato enchiladas, have black beans instead of refried beans, and oh, do you cook your cilantro rice in chicken stock?!”, “Is your roasted tomato soup made with veggie broth?”, “Can I just have the baked potatoes, without the bacon, please?”, “Does your marinara sauce have meat in it?” and the list goes on.

I have to pat myself on the back, for finding ways to stay vegetarian all these years. There are things you learn not to order. Thai soups that come with your lunch plate usually have oyster sauce in them, or some restaurants make their marinara sauce with chicken stock, or some authentic Mexican places make their tortillas with lard. Can you blame my dad or H’s mom for asking for “thuliyoondu thayir sadam” for dinner?

So here’s to all the struggles we have, on days we don’t want to cook, have no relatives in the area that day, and no Chipotle around in town!

Carrot-Lentil Soup

Sundays that we are home, are usually filled with cooking for the week. Yesterday was no different. I was home for the entire weekend after a long time, and after a relaxing (read shopping) Saturday, it was time to cook for the week on Sunday.

You won’t believe this; a year back, when I was still in Houston, I would fill my grocery cart with chocolate-y cereal, quick on-the-go Mac and cheese cartons, red velvet flavored yogurt, and at least two packets of chips, and a salad greens packet. After the week ended, it would be time to fill my cart yet again with the junk that I gorge on, and the salad packet would still be sitting in my fridge,to be thrown a week later after its expiry date. It’s been quite a year of changes, and one of the good changes would be the change in my eating habits. My husband, being the health nut that he is, is hard to please with vadais and semiya payasams. Or maybe I should re-phrase that! He is super easy to please! All it takes to get him happy, is soups, salads and smoothies!

soup

So I decided to make one soup for the week. Pinterest can be a lifesaver for picky people like me, who need variety. I decided to make a desi version of a Carrot soup that I came across here:

Moroccan Carrot Red Lentil Soup

My soup uses most of the ingredients that are given in Julia’s recipe, but I am not sure I can call it Moroccan carrot soup, as I have never tasted one! After how this turned out, I will be sure to try an authentic version of it! I used a OPOS technique using a pressure cooker, that was extremely quick!

The ingredients are more or less the same, with a few alterations:

  1. 6 carrots
  2. 2 medium sized tomatoes
  3. 1 medium sized onion
  4. a few sprigs of cilantro
  5. 2 cups Masoor Dal (Indian Red Lentil)
  6. 4 cups of vegetable broth
  7. 2 cups water (alternately, you can use 6 cups broth like the recipe calls for)
  8. Turmeric
  9. 2tsp Cumin powder
  10. 1tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
  11. Black Pepper (Freshly crushed)
  12. 1 spoon Olive oil
  13. Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Dice the onions and tomatoes. Cut the carrots in the method easiest to you. These veggies will be blended after cooking, so the appearance doesn’t really matter as long as they cook uniform.
  2. Add olive oil to the cooker, and to this, add the onions and cilantro and cook till the onions turn translucent and the cilantro wilts. (You can use the pressure cooker to shallow fry the onions or do it in a separate pan).To this, add cumin powder, some salt and the cayenne pepper powder. You can increase the pepper quantity if you want it to be spicy. I thought I would alter the spice level using my black peppers at the end. Set this aside.
  3. Wash and clean the masoor dal, add this to the cooker along with the tomatoes, carrots, turmeric and salt, and add the veggie broth to this in the pressure cooker and cook for three whistles.
  4. Once you can lift the whistle, and open the cooker, look at the consistency of the dal and cooked veggies, and if required, add water. I cooked the dal and veggies with 4 cups broth, so I added 2 cups water.
  5. Let this cool for a bit.
  6. Add the onions and cilantro mixture to this and mix well.
  7. Blend the dal and veggies mixture.
  8. Adjust salt to taste, and add crushed pepper before serving.

The quantity will easily serve 8.

I have to work on becoming a food blogger! I do not have step-by-step pictures of the process, nor fancy serving pictures with the perfect cutlery, but I can vouch for the yummy soup!

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