Monday, September 26, 2011

Dates-coconut-dry fruit samosa.

This is one of those Ramadan posts that never made it in time because... Life happened. Lame even to my ears.

I don't know how often I can post from now on, but seeing the viewer stats makes me extremely grateful (and I check them each day!). It eggs me on to post more than I possibly can.

This does not mean I don't cook or eat out. I do loads of both, trust me. Uploading photos on the blog and typing out semi-sensible words are time-hoggers. How many alternative adjectives exist for delicious, anyway? Don't answer. Many, I know.

There's nothing in life worth starving over or compromising on your food habits for. Not skinny jeans (Apple bottoms, any one?), not gorgeous blazers (wear them even if you have man-shoulders). Not long duties (granola and fruit to the rescue!). Not heartbreaks, not jiggly love handles. None of it.

At one point, Kate Moss's famous comment ("Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels") was practically the guiding point of my life, but I like to think I'm finally beyond crack-inspired ideologies.

Incidentally, I've got to get around to doing a review. So many places I want to physically push you into going; so many I don't want you to waste your money and Sundays over.

For now though, I'll post a recipe that most people would consider a bastardization of the samosa, but is indigenous to my village-of-origin and would be fiercely defended by the natives (it's politically correct for me to insult them, I checked). I might have played around with the recipe, adding dates to the filling, somewhat inspired by the sticky date rolls you get in Chinese restaurants.

 It takes five minutes to throw together (a wee bite more than that, maybe), has practically zero cooking (unless you're willing to deep fry) and tastes beyond excellent (to my tastebuds, at least. And yours', if you like cardamamom and coconut). Oh, and is healthy. If you're willing to not deep-fry it.

Try making these when older, distinguished guests visit. I meant it when I said no excuses were allowed.

Dates-and-coconut samosas/samose:


Readymade wonton/samosa wrappers: 5
Dates (juicy medjool-type dates): 10*
Coconut, freshly grated: 1/2 cup
Sugar (white granulated): 2 tbsp (or to taste)
Cardamom (ground) 1 tsp
Cashews: 10 or so, halved
Split channa dal (roasted): 2 tbsp
Honey and sesame seeds: to serve

*This recipe is traditionally made without the dates, as the photos indicate. A handful of raisins are added in its place.


In a medium saucepan, saute the deseeded and chopped dates in a little butter or ghee until it turns gloriously gooey. Not for more than a couple of minutes, though, it'll turn chewy and caramelized. You can also make this healthier by steaming the dates. Keep aside.

In a small bowl, combine the coconut (you can use sweetened desiccated coconut, but skimp on the sugar in that case!), powdered cardamom, the roasted dal and mix. Add the dates if using. Or add raisins and cashews instead.

Take a sheet of samosa wrapper. Make a cone out of it.

First you fold one end of the rectangular wrapper into a triangle. Fold into another triangle. Repeat until you have a cone.

Stuff in the mixture, close and seal.

For sealing, we generally use a mix of flour and water to form a runny liquid that usually works as an adhesive.

Brush with ghee/butter and bake in a preheated oven (greased baking sheet, please!) at 180 C or 350 F until golden brown and crispy. And yes, you can deep fry it like a regular samosa.

The golden brown one has obviously been deep-fried.

Drizzle the honey over the piping hot samosa and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.

Or set these out on the table while you search for the organic white sesame seeds that you picked up at Spice Route and come back to see that the family has polished them off. And since it was Ramadan and every one was famished, I didn't even get to deliver my oft-repeated speech on etiquette/manners/uncouth behaviour et cetera.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Garden Pasta Salad, hold the guilt... hey, Pesto!

Why does everything have to come with guilt?

I wish they could make an official guilt-free day. Just one day, every two months or so. Where:

a)I don't feel guilty about leaving patients even though my shift finished 2 hours back and I haven't sat down or breathed normally in God-knows-how-long.

b)I can spend a quarter of my pay check on a good meal and not care about how I'm wasting money.

c)I can be the first person to leave the library without giving a flying *beep* about the rest of the homogeneous medico-nerds plodding away at 3000-page texts, oblivious of a world where people breathe and eat and excrete (even though that covers half of Physiology).

d)I can skip gym and watch two back-to-back movies (a chick-flick and depressing, film-noir). Two desserts in one day. One chocolate, one caramel/mint/coffee with chocolate. Back to back, even. Without feeling like ten types of crap.

Is that too much to ask for?

Experience (lousy teacher that she is) clearly agrees. Boring sayings like good things-are-good-only-in moderation and all of that have been proved true.

 Since I've been OD-ing on the cholesterol lately, I thought I'd give you a recipe that is delightful and quite easy to rustle up for one of those weekdays when you've overindulged to the point where you can no longer live in denial.

It's green. And not mint-chocolate chip ice cream from Baskin Robbins.

After a week of Iced mochas and Nutella-from-the-jar, this meal makes me smile extra wide. It's got all my favourite things in it; zucchini, basil, Parmesan, peas, lemon and wholewheat pasta. You can't screw this up even if you tried. Heck, I can't screw it up even if I left the kitchen to watch Bones.

If your family can be picky and complain of the lack of any meat to bite into, you've got tofu here! Don't substitute with paneer, just this once. Not for our collective arteries' states, but tofu works wonders here. Love how it goes from sour beancurd to baked little golden morsel robed in a luscious, creamy pesto and other similar Nigella-isms.

Garden Pasta Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette:

For the Vinaigrette:

1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (I used a mix of basil and spinach)
1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil (more if you dare)
1/2 c grated Parmesan (I added half parmesan, half pecorino)
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
3 tbsp red or white-wine vinegar (I used Balsamic)
9 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped (you can use less)
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Pasta Salad:

1 package tofu, drained
440 grams whole grain pasta (I used fusilli)
300 g green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup peas
1 medium zucchini, sauteed in 1 tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp toasted walnuts, roughly chopped


Cut the tofu into bite size chunks. Place them a little apart on a baking tray lined with oiled-foil and bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes until they turn golden.

Slice the zucchini. Place a sauce pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the slices for about a minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep aside.

Make the pesto vinaigrette:

In a mixie or food processor, add the basil/spinach/coriander,olive oil, Parmesan, lemon juice, lemon zest, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend until a smooth, mint-chutney-like consistency develops and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

In a large pan, bring 5 litres of salted water to the boil.

Add the green beans and boil for about 5 minutes until they are cooked, but still retain that bite/snap.

Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Add the peas to the leftover boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes until they're cooked (but don't let them mush up too much!) Remove and keep aside.

Add the pasta to the leftover boiling water. Cook until al-dente, as per package instructions. Whole grain generally requires a bit more cooking time, so pay heed!

Your pasta is now ready to be mixed! You can either

1)Place the drained pasta, tofu, zucchini, peas, beans, toasted walnuts in a big bowl and toss them with the vinaigrette. Stash in the refrigerate for about 15 minutes and serve. If you're planning to serve it later (this gives time for the flavours to meld into the pasta), cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Tastes best cold, like any other pasta salad.

2) Or if your family/friends are a little choosy, you might have plate up for each person separately, mixing-and-matching.

Arrange the stuff (as per requests/demands) on a plate.

Pour over as much vinaigrette as the person desires. Warning: there might be a shortage later.

Toss. Garnish with extra toasted walnuts or Parmesan curls.

Get a load of that goodness. The peas, garlicky pesto, hearty pasta and the nut, in one bite. Mmm. Not cookie-dough-brownie-bar mmm, but Mmm-glorious-food indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pimp My Pastry. Back-to-back episodes.

I have a secret. It's an embarrassing one.

I spend nearly an hour each day just looking at food blogs.

Not about the commercial use of Mycophenolate Mofetil in India for Myasthenia Gravis. Not about various religious worship in contemporary culture. Not even tidbits on Dexter Season 6. Food blogs. I'm doomed. The knell has sounded.

You'd think that eye-feasting on about 40 recipes per day would have me trying new things left-right-and-centre, right? How wrong you are.

Sometimes, when you need to impress peers or you need to not feel like a failure or just have a comforting bowlful to gobble up, you make stuff from standby recipes that you love and cherish. And it's OK to make your insecurities public these days. People make a lot of money off it on television. I need to get out of my scrubs and get me a Snooki-pouff.

So. I thought I'd put up a few photos demonstrating how your trusted recipes can be jazzed up. I played around with my cocoa brownies.

Made Chocolate-chip cookie rolls out of my most-treasured cinnamon roll recipe. Thank you, Pioneer woman. Let the unadulterated parade of eye candy begin! Even though my photos never do the dish enough justice.

Dulce de Leche brownies:
(idea from David Leibovitz)

Make a batch of fudgy, gooey brownie batter. Don't bake it just yet.

Brown the butter, add dark chocolate, whatever it takes to make it happen.

Make a batch of Dulce de Leche with one can of Nestle's Milkmaid.

Pour half the brownie batter into a greased pan. Add 1/3rd of the cooled Dulce de Leche in random spurts.

Run a knife through it, creating a swirly pattern. Go on, run amok.

Add the remaining brownie batter. Repeat the same dab-and-swirl thing with the rest of the Dulce.

Bake for 5 minutes less than the stipulated time. Check for done-ness. It's good to underbake than to overbake brownies.

Cool for around 15 minutes. Cut into slices and dive head-first in.

Ooooh. Yes.

I've unlocked the secret to happiness. And simultaneous obesity.

Chocolate chip cookie rolls:

Make half a batch of cinnamon roll dough.

Roll the dough out in the usual manner.

Chop up about a cup and a half (or so) of Lindt dark chocolate into chunks. You can also use chocolate chips but it won't kick ass as much.

Dab the roll with 1/2 a cup of melted (salted) butter, coarsely ground brown and white sugar (together totalling around 1 to 1.5 cups, max) and 1/2 a cup of chopped up almonds/pecans/walnuts.

Roll it up. Makes several rolls.

Bake as you would for the normal recipe.

Top with cream cheese frosting or just scarf it down straight from the pan. The leftovers can be cooled to room temperature and frozen for up to 2 months (unfrosted). You can eat them selfishly over the course of a week.

If you have any doubts regarding the techniques and measurements, refer to the original post. God, I feel like Padma Lakshmi and my Biochemistry Professor at the same time. All this butter surely has to dull one's brain.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Eid Mubarak and Sorry. And Baklava Muhalabbiya.

It's been a week since Eid; my grandiose plans for putting up recipes for Eid dishes all over the world have obviously not fallen through. Shame on me.

To make up for the deficit, I'm going to pull out of my Toque blanche a Double-Delight! kind of recipe. I've professed my love for Greek and Middle-Eastern food, time after time. Fallen short at the dessert category, though. Blasphemy after blasphemy.

So. I give you. Baklava Muhalabbiya.

Don't X this tab just yet. I know Baklava (or anything with phyllo pastry in it) sounds scary. Especially since even the most upmarket of Madras's groceries don't stock any frozen phyllo sheets. You can do one step better. Find a friendly neighbourhood bakery and give in your order for "puff pastry", one day before you actually need it. If you're in and around Egmore, you have two options.

Hot Puffs 2010 on Casa Major Road and there's this other bakery in Chetpet (opposite McNichols Road) with extremely humble/kind/unpretentious(you know the kind) that will mix you up an extra batch of puff pastry when they make theirs fresh, each day.

However, I went around searching for it on the eve of Eid, and my luck ran out... I had come too late, they had finished baking (and selling out) their puffs for the day and won't start until tomorrow morning, they were very sorry, but the dough needs to rest and chill, but could they give it to me by noon tomorrow?

With as much politeness as I could muster up, I turned them down. The Baklava Muhalabbiya were meant to be delivered by 10 the next day, and you need to let the baked pastry soak in the sugar syrup overnight. So I took on the herculean task of making my own phyllo pastry.

I can say that I succeeded... somewhat. It won't be as thin as store-bought phyllo and requires a little arm-power, but very worth the effort, I think. The recipe I used gave me around 17 sheets, which I didn't think were enough at all. But I ate enough of the muhalabbiya filling during prep-and-cooking so the recipe got into decent proportions somehow. How could I not stuff my face with a creamy, cinnamon-scented phirni/kesari type thingy? I'm a sucker for most things dairy.

And one last thing I need to tell you about this is that it is kind of a sugar bomb, not unlike a Gulab Jamun. The flakiness of the pastry gets a teeny bit overshadowed by the muhalabbiya, but I could stop shoving the wonky bits that couldn't go into the box,  my mouth. It was Eid, people. Calorie-counting is against the law on Eid.

Baklava Muhalabbiya:

Recipe source:
For the Baklava: Desert Candy
For the phyllo pastry: Daring Bakers' challenge

Making the phyllo pastry *:

1 1/3 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (I used regular white)

*Defrost around 20 sheets of readymade phyllo pastry if buying

Making the muhalabbiya:

1/3 cup semolina (Rava)
1/4 cup white sugar
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp each, cinnamon, nutmeg
pinch salt

Making the syrup:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp rose water
1 tbsp orange blossom or lemon juice
A stick of cinnamon, 1-2 cloves


Making the phyllo pastry:

Combine flour and salt in a bowl.

Mix water, vinegar and oil in a small bowl.

Beat it into the flour until it's combine.

Change the paddle attachment to a dough hook.

If you don't have a dough hook, you can knead with your hand.

This is a wee bit dry. A tablespoon of water can be added. Use your discretion!
Knead for 10 minutes with a dough hook or 20 minutes by hand. A smooth ball should form.

Coat the ball and the bowl with a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil. Put the oiled dough into the bowl. Cover with cling film. Let it rest at room temperature for around 2 hours.

Rolling out the phyllo sheets:

Divide the rested dough into 18 equal-sized balls.

Flour a smooth surface generously.

Roll out the dough as thin as possible with a rolling pin. The sheets should get almost translucent and see-through.

 It's OK if a few of them have holes in them. The top two sheets have to be perfect because that is what the eye sees.

Making the sugar syrup:

Place sugar, water, flower water and spices in a saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve. Let it boil for a couple of minutes, and take it off the heat. Cool completely before using.

It should be as thick as Gulab Jamun syrup, but not as thin as Rasagolla syrup either.

Making the Muhalabbiya:

 Place milk, sugar, spices, and salt in a sauce pan, with the heat set on low heat. Stir the mix, bringing it a simmer. Add in the semolina slowly, stirring to combine. Let it continue to simmer for around 6 minutes, just make sure it doesn't become too dry. It'll continue to thicken up as it cools.

Set it aside at room temperature to cool completely before using in the Baklava.

Assembling the Baklava:

Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180 C

Melt the ghee or make your own clarified butter.

Grease a 9 inch baking dish with ghee or clarified butter. Place a phyllo sheet. Brush on melted ghee using a pastry brush. I used my fingers to dab the globs of ghee over the sheet.

Repeat with 9 more sheets, brushing with ghee for each one.

Pour in the muhalabbiya (completely cooled) on top of the 9th sheet. Smooth the top.

Continue adding the remaining sheets, adding ghee to each sheet.

Brush the final sheet with ghee.

Cut the baklava into pieces, either square or diamond-shaped.

Bake until the top is flaky/crispy for about 30 minutes.

Pour the cooled syrup over the piping hot baklava. This is the only way to get crispy baklava.

Don't flood the whole thing too much... I found the sugar syrup a teeny bit more than I'd want. 0.4 cm above the level of the pastry, maybe?

Let it soak the syrup in, overnight (8 hours minimum). Do not refrigerate.

Sprinkle chopped pistachios or almonds over the top.

This keeps for about 2-3 days, maximum. And yes, you can refrigerate after the soaking-in process... you have no choice with the notorious heat here in Madras/Chennai.

Would I make this again? Maybe if I find someone who likes scented, syrupy things. The muhalabbiya I'll be making very many times on the rare rainy nights. Like I need more comfort (albeit fattening) things in my life.