Salsa

IMG_4111Superbowl is round the corner and it calls for some easy crowd pleasing finger food that are guaranteed to score! This is one of my favorite game day recipe, a base that gives me flexibility to serve with some chips or a plate of Veggie Nachos or Veggie Quesadillas or as one of the toppings for a burrito bowl. Over the years this has become our favorite game day food for any big sports event… Cricket, Boxing, Tennis.. and MMA, provided the fight goes on for more than a few seconds. Essentially I always have a jar of Salsa in my refrigerator and it has always been a big score for me.IMG_4112I first had Salsa at a mexican restaurant in Mystic CT, the food in Margaritas is average but the salsa is a town favorite. Thats the taste that inspired this recipe and to me it feels like perfection, every bite brings back memories of Sangrias with girlfriends. Play around with the ingredients and find that perfect taste for you. This is also one of those recipes that I am asked about a lot! So here goes. 526102_373643059347155_950859651_nCouple things to keep in mind: First, I use plum tomatoes for this because they have low moisture content, robust flavor and mild acidity making it a perfect choice, but any other type of tomatoes works just as good. Secondly I don’t use a food processor to chop the vegetables because they loose their crunchiness, which I really like. But if thats something your not particular about then just throw all ingredients (except corn and beans) in a food processor and pulse away. Third, allow it to rest for a day before digging in. This helps with all the flavors to really blend in.IMG_4117The picture above shows how I chop the vegetables, they are almost finely chopped.

Time for Prep: 20 mins      Time to Cook: 5 mins     Yield: 16oz (2 cups)      Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cubanelles, chopped
  • 2-4 jalepenos, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 english cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp chili paste or Tubasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 cup sweet yellow corn, cooked (Optional)
  • 1 cup black beans, cooked (Optional)

Process:

  1. In a mixing bowl, mix in the chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, cubanelles, jalepenos, onion, cilantro and cucumber.
  2. Add tomato and chili paste, mix it in.
  3. Add yellow corn and black beans, mix in.
  4. Add salt, cumin, cayenne and red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning based on preference. If you want a runnier Salsa, add more tomato paste and/or red wine vinegar.
  5. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Stays good for around 14-15 days.
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Roasted Cauliflower and Harissa Soup

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A few days back, during the holidays in December, I found myself in Asheville, NC. After hours of walking around from gallery to gallery taking in the local art scene and a tour of the famous Biltmore Estate in slight drizzle I found myself craving for some warm soup. So we walked into this lively restaurant. Everything in the menu sounded delicious, but I didn’t bother looking through the menu as soon as I read ‘Roasted Cauliflower and Harissa Soup’. I love cauliflowers and Harissa is by far my favorite condiment. As luck would have it, they had ran out of just that item from their menu and since then I have been craving for it. I did eat a delicious spread of southern delicacies.. Brisket with a side of collard greens and a glass of Bourbon.

So here’s my version of the soup, hope you enjoy it as much as H and I did.

Its healthy, flavorful, vegetarian and something that will warm you up.

For a recipe for homemade Harissa click here.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 45 mins     Yield: 4 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into smaller florets
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp for garnish
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp sherry or sauterne (optional)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp potato flour (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Harissa + 2 tsp for garnishing.

Process:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400F (230C) or if you have a toaster oven, use that.
  2. Place cauliflower in a roasting pan/baking tray, drizzle olive oil and add salt, pepper and Harissa. Toss and coat.
  3. Roast cauliflower until golden brown and tender, around 30-40 mins.
  4. In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 mins. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté for 2-3 mins and lower heat. Add the wine (if using) and caramelize the onions in low heat, 12-15 mins, stirring occasionally.
  5. Sprinkle the potato flour over the onions and stir to coat.
  6. Slowly pour in the broth, whisk until all of the flour is dissolved.
  7. Add the roasted cauliflower and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  8. Puree soup.
  9. Return to the sauce pan and heat over medium flame, until its heated through.
  10. Serve garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and Harissa.

Notes:

  • I like to caramelize onions in low heat, it does take longer but it brings out the sweet flavor of onions. If your in a rush, you can sauté onions in medium high heat and hasten the process.
  • Addition of Sherry/Sauterne is optional, I like adding them because I like the contrast of the sweetness of the onions combined with the wine in contrast to the lingering spice of the Harissa.
  • I used Potato Flour to just make the soup thicker, its optional. You can do without it or use corn starch or cream instead.

 

Roshogolla

 

1524178_10154220906405573_5115683737530121643_oRoshogolla or Bengali Rasagulla is essentially spongy balls of indian cottage cheese (chhana) cooked in sugar syrup. There are various versions to the origin of this dessert, but this is the one I like, because this is the version my mom told me.

The year was 1868 in Bhagbajaar (Kolkata), a confectioner named Nobin Chandra Das was having a discussion with a bunch of freedom fighters who were concerned about the popularity of English desserts in India.

“Nobinda, these puddings and pies are becoming very popular. These days the youth prefer those to puli and pithe” said one of them.

“Can you think of a way we can change that? Your a master confectioner can you come up with something which is swadeshi and delicious?” said another.

Nonbinda thinks a little and says “I think I have an idea, let me try it out tonight and we can all taste it here tomm”

That evening the confectioner mulls around his kitchen, takes a bit of chhana and gives it a boil in sugar syrup flavored with fresh ground cardamom, a bit of rosewater and voila! One of the most popular dessert of India was created.

IMG_3637I do not have a sweet tooth, but this dessert has my heart. Its not fried and made from pure chhana (cottage cheese) and considered to be a safe comfort food when recovering from a fever or stomach upset (Not to mention the low calorie count per serving!). Since I grew up in Hyderabad and getting this from the Pada’r mishtir dokan (local sweet shop) was not really an option, my mom whipped some up in her kitchen. Recovering from a flu almost always involved mom feeding me some roshogollas and story telling.

IMG_3639This is a recipe that a lot of people requested I post, so here goes. Let me start by saying that this dessert is a tricky one to master and you might not get perfect result in your very first try, don’t let that discourage you. Here are a couple things that I learnt:

  1. Raw (non-homegenized/non-pasturized) Cow milk gives better result.
  2. After curdling the milk, gently squeeze out the extra whey and hang it for 45min-1 hour. This helps with having the right amount of moisture you need for the softness of the final product.
  3. While kneading  keep in mind that less is more. As soon as you feel grease in your palm, stop!
  4. Boil it in a big stock pot that has enough depth for the chhana balls to expand, thats how they become spongy
  5. Keep aside half of the sugar syrup and add some in between cooking time to ensure the syrup doesn’t get too dense or too hot.

Time for Prep: 45 mins     Time to Cook: 15 mins     Yield: 20-25 Servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • For the channa
    • 4 cups (32oz) whole milk
    • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • For the sugar syrup:
    • 2 tbsp rose water
    • 3-4 cardamon, crushed
    • Saffron (optional)
    • 1.5 cup sugar
    • 4 cups water

Process:

  1. Making the channa:
    • Bring milk to a boil, add the lemon juice and lower heat. In a few seconds you will notice the milk solids forming. Turn off the heat. When the water is completely separated (turns a greenish shade) drain into a colander lined with cheese cloth.
    • Run a little bit of water on it to get rid of the lemony taste, drain.
    • Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and bring them together, like a purse, slowly squeeze out the water. Be careful not to burn your hands as it is really hot.
      • This is now my mom does it: Hold the ends with your left hand and using a pair of tongs hold the purse just on top of the solids with your right. Then slowly twist the cloth with your left hand. The water squeezes out without resulting in burning fingers.
    • Hang it for 45 mins-1 hour.
  2. Preparing the Golla (Balls from the channa):
    • Remove the channa from the cheese cloth, it should not be soggy wet nor should it be dry (The picture should give you an idea).
    • With the heel of your palm mash the channa and knead. Collect from the sides, mash, knead. Continue for around 10 mins (or less depending on the pressure of kneading). As soon as you feel a little grease in your palm, stop. over kneading will result in hard Roshogollas.
    • Now pinch out small portions and roll between palms to form smooth round balls no bigger than a quarter. (See picture)
    • once done, cover with moist muslin and set aside while you prepare the syrup.
  3. Preparing the Rosh (sugar syrup):
    • Place a large stock pot (or a pressure cooker) over medium heat.
    • Add the sugar, water, cardamon and saffron (optional).
    • Bring to a boil. Set aside around 1/2 cup of this syrup.
  4. Cooking the Roshagollas: 
    • To the rest of the sugar syrup add the chhana balls one by one.
    • Shake the pan gently, to move the balls a little and cover immediately. Do not stir, that will break the chhana balls.
    • After around 3-4 mins, open the lid and add half of the reserved sugar syrup and shake the pan. This step ensures that the consistency and temperature of the sugar syrup stays constant.
    • After another 3-4 mins repeat the step above and add the remaining reserved syrup, shake the pan.
    • Cook for 2 more mins. Check for the doneness of the roshogollas and switch off the heat. And add the rose water.
    • To check for doneness:
      • Take it out with slotted spoon, press a portion. If it springs back to original shape its done.
      • Or take one of them out and drop it in a glass of water, if it sinks its done. (I prefer this method).

If you ask a non-bangali, they would say that let it cool and then serve. But a Bangali will always say that the best way to enjoy these are when they are fresh and warm! The second best way is to let it chill for a couple hours first.

Note:

  • While preparing the Gollas from channa you can add 1-2 tsp of Sooji (Cream of wheat) or all purpose flour or arrowroot powder. This ensures that the chnana balls will not crumble when boiling in syrup.

Quinoa Cakes

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Quinoa has been a staple grain in south america for centuries. But in recent times it has become increasingly popular around the world with its nutty flavor and high nutritional value. This is one of my favorite ways to cook quinoa and perfect for fall evenings when there is a little bit of chill in the air and all you want to eat is something warm and something snacky or as husband likes to say ‘Chakna’.

I have served this at brunches, as appetizers and as part of the main course. And its been a hit all around. In this instance I used a boiled potato to bind the quinoa dough but you can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten), see notes for instructions.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins     Yield: ~8 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tsp cumin, roasted and ground
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3-4 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 medium sized potato, boiled and mashed.
  • Oil

Process:

  1. Cooking the Quinoa:
    1. Rinse the quinoa first always, this helps wash away the bitter coating. Make sure to use a fine mesh strainer.
    2. Heat a sauce pan, melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, add the quinoa and sauté for a couple mins. This really brings out a slight nutty flavor.
    3. Add salt and 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper, 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 10- 15 mins in low heat or till all of the water is absorbed by the quinoa.
    4. Turn of the heat and let it sit for 5-10 mins to let it cool down.
  2. Making the Cake Dough:
    1. Heat a griddle, dry roast 2 tsp of cumin, until you smell the aroma. Transfer to a work surface and using a rolling pin roll over and roughly crush the roasted cumin.
    2. Combine the cooled quinoa, salt, cayenne, roasted  and ground cumin, cilantro, fresh green chili and the mashed potato.
    3. You should have a slightly moist dough.
  3. Cooking the Quinoa Cake:
    1. Heat a skillet or griddle pan, lightly oil it. Take around 1/4 cup of the quinoa mixture and form into a ball.
    2. Flatten it into a pancake around 1/4 inch thick.
    3. Place on hot griddle and cook, flip and cook until golden brown on both sides . Takes around 5 mins.
    4. Remove from pan and serve warm.

Notes:

  • I used potatoes here as a binding agent for the quinoa and that made it easy to shape the cakes with hand.
  • You can also use eggs (2 eggs lightly beaten) instead of the potato. In that case you will have a slightly wet mixture. So take around 1/4 cup and make it into a ball. Place it on the greased hot skillet and using a spatula flatten it into a pancake about 1/4 inch thick.
  • This is a vegetarian version, but I have made this by adding chopped cooked shrimp to the quinoa mixture to indulge by seafood cravings.
  • You can also add chopped carrots, grated beet roots etc..,. to the mixture. Have fun experimenting!