Archives for posts with tag: Vegetarian

IMG_2589

Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

IMG_2541

IMG_2553

I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

IMG_2558

IMG_2578

When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

IMG_2597

IMG_2684

I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

IMG_2660

Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

Image-2

Image

Image-1

Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

Advertisements

Today is one of those days where it looks like 7:00 pm at noon.   It’s rainy and thundering and all I want to do is stay in all day.  Is this a sign that summer’s over?  For the past few days I’ve been reading everywhere that summer is over and it’s time for fall.  I do love autumn, but I’m not quite ready for summer to be over.  This summer was a fun one.  I spent a whole month with my sister – something I haven’t done in years.  We had a fun time together, first she visited me in Toronto and then we went on a sister road trip from Toronto to Rhode Island to see my parents.

I was quite nervous to drive 9-10 hours with just my sister.  I’ve done that drive with my husband before, but he drives most of it and I just keep him company.  Neither my sister or myself had tackled such a long drive on our own.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad and I drove for the majority of it.  Usually I tend to get sleepy while driving long distances, but I was fine and so was she.  My sister started to drive once we entered Massachusetts.

The funny thing about this drive is that my GPS took out the scenic route.  When I say scenic route I really mean it.  We drove through Amish country in upstate New York and drove for about 3 hours on a rural route.  I should have known better, my GPS is notorious for making me take the scenic route.  I guess it wants me to explore a little more and not just take the highways.  Usually, the scenic route takes way longer even though the calculated time is shorter.  But this time, my GPS knew what it was doing and we cut an hour off of our time.

The best part of this alternate route were all the farms and farm stands we got to see along the way.  It was a really beautiful drive.  Rows and rows of corn and other produce scattered the terrain.  We saw Amish horse and buggies riding along the edge of the road and whole families tending to the fields.  It was really nice and we both felt like we stepped back in time.  We really wanted to stop at the farm stands and pick up some produce – lots of fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, radishes and even dairy products like eggs, milk, and cheese.  If we didn’t have such a long drive ahead of us we surely would have.

The fields of corn came to an end once we got back on the highway, but it was truly a memorable drive.  I photographed this recipe back in June and wasn’t inspired to post it.  But after the trip and drive home I felt rejuvenated and felt like sharing this story with you all.  I know summer is over and fresh corn will be hard to find by October.  But August and September are the best produce months in my opinion and we should all relish these last weeks of summer because before we know it we will be sitting in snow again.  Or I will – because I live in Canada.  🙂

End of Summer Corn and Potato Salad with Red Chilies

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 ears corn shucked (can also use cooked grilled corn and take the corn off the cob)

2 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and sliced

6-7 radishes, sliced

1 avocado, cut into chunks

chives, cilantro, parsley or any herbs you like chopped – about a 1/4 cup

salt, to taste

for the red chili dressing

4 mild long red chilies, sliced thinly

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sour cream or full-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon chives, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a pan on medium heat add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the potatoes and some salt and cook until they begin to get crispy and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Next, add in the shucked corn and cook for about 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Now, make the chili dressing.  Start by heating a sauté pan on medium heat with the 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Add in the chopped garlic, once the garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes add in the sliced red chilies.  Lower the heat to medium-low and let the chilies soften and caramelize.  Cook the chilies like this for about 35 minutes.  Let the chilies cool a bit and then add them to a bowl with the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, pepper, and chives.  Mix the ingredients together. You may not want to add all the oil from the red chilies.

In a large bowl, add the avocado, radish, herbs,  potatoes and corn mixture, and the red chili dressing.  Mix everything together gently and check for salt and pepper.  Serve in a bowl at room temperature or cold.

I’m all about quick bites lately.  I’m a woman on a mission.  The mission is to get a job and get my career rolling again.  Now, that we’re in a bigger city, I’m more than ready to jumpstart my career and this has been my main focus.  I’ve been cooking, but I really haven’t made anything that could warrant a blog post, or even if it could, I have too lazy to get my camera out and start shooting.

Excuses, excuses.  Just a few days ago, I realized I was becoming a laptop zombie in the vortex of job postings.  Suddenly, the sun began to stream into the room so beautifully and I thought I would be a fool not to take advantage of the sunlight.  It was ethereal and glowing.  When you’re in the zone on your laptop, you don’t take the time to notice the small things.  I’m glad I snapped out of the twilight zone and I instantly went into the kitchen and started to make something.  A lunch for myself.  Why not, I thought.  My husband has been working at all hours of the day, so I’m usually eating cereal for dinner.  Who is this person?  It’s so not me.

Anyway, I started roasted some figs, caramelizing onions, grilling halloumi – getting back into my element.  It was truly fun for me, how can it not be fun when you’re working with such beauties.  When I look at figs I’m amazed, the color, shape, the little seeds, they’re all just perfect.  Griddled, golden and salty cheese, sweet and savory onions – that’s why I love cooking.  Sometimes you just need a refresher.

Sugar-Roasted Figs, Caramelized Onions, and Halloumi Plate

Serves 3-4, a snack or starter

Ingredients

olive oil

6-8 figs, cut in half

1/4 cup caramelized onions*

halloumi cheese, cut into 1/4″ slices, as much or as little as you want, I used about 1/4 lb

1/4 cup brown sugar

a few sprigs of thyme

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

sea salt and black pepper

flatbread, for serving

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Line the figs on the tray and sprinkle with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they begin to caramelize and become candied.

In the meantime, in a medium-sized sauté pan on medium heat with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, grill the halloumi on each side until both sides are golden, about 1-2 minutes per side.  Set aside.

To assemble: you can either serve everything separately or combine everything on one platter.  Use your own creativity and arrange the figs, halloumi, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and mint.  Serve with bread of your choice.

*To caramelize onions: Slice 2 small onions (I used red).  Heat a sauté pan on medium-low heat and add in a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions to the pan with a tablespoon or so of brown sugar and gently cook them on for about 25 minutes.  Season them with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Sometimes they are recipes that you want to try and you just don’t for whatever reason.  This is one of those for me.  I first saw this recipe about a year ago in Food and Wine magazine and deemed it as an easy weeknight meal.  But the recipe used roasted eggplant instead of the fennel I used here.  I have been obsessed with fennel this winter.  I have been making a fennel and mushroom soup weekly.  When my husband asks what I made for dinner and I reply, “fennel mushroom soup,”  I get a grunt, a big one.  If my husband wants this to change he can step into the kitchen and make it happen.  Until then, or until I tire of this combination, either of which doesn’t look like anytime soon, I will keep making it.

But back to the recipe at hand, the eggplant and lentils fennel and lentils.  Well, it was really going to be eggplant and lentils.  I even bought an eggplant for this purpose and went as far as roasting it.  Then at the last-minute I opened the fridge for some herbs and there I saw my fennel.  Looking at it with longing eyes, I cheated on the eggplant with fennel.  The roasted eggplant is still in my fridge, oops.  Don’t worry, I will use it.  I’ll make baba ghanoush or eggplant bharta or something, who really cares, I’m talking about fennel right now!

Fennel and lentils, I can’t say I’ve heard of this combination before, but it works.  I gobbled down two platefuls.  Another thing that works brilliantly with fennel is smoked paprika.  I didn’t cook with it much before a few months ago, and now I quite enjoy it.  Initially, I was turned off by the overly smoky smell, but that’s not the case any longer.
Another plus to this dish is that I enjoyed it even more because my husband was out-of-town, well not for that exact reason, but  I didn’t have to deal with any grunts or disgusted faces because he is not a fan of French lentils (or at least the way I make them.)  Notice a pattern here.

Anyhow, I never got around to making the original recipe, maybe another day.

Fennel and Lentil Salad

inspired and adapted by Food and Wine (Eggplant-Lentil Salad) February 2010

Serves 2, as a main

Ingredients

2 cups sliced fennel, fronds reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

kosher salt, to taste

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 shallots, finely minced

1 cup French Lentils (du Puy), washed

2 1/2 cups water

zest of 1 lemon and its juice as well

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds removed, if you like

5-7 mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

some fennel fronds, chopped, optional

plain yogurt, for serving

Method

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add half of the smoked paprika to the oil and let it infuse the oil for a minute.  Next, add in the fennel and the rest of the smoked paprika.  Season with salt and allow the fennel to caramelize and soften for about 15 minutes.  Once it is ready set aside.

Heat a saucepan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil.  Add in the cumin seeds and crushed red chili flakes.  Allow the cumin seeds to crackle a bit and then add in the shallots and allow them to soften.  Once soft, add in the garlic and allow the garlic to get to the point where it is beginning it brown, but do not burn it.  Next, add in the lentils, water, and salt.  Cover and allow to come to a boil.  When the water starts to boil, remove the lid and and turn the heat to medium low and allow the lentils to simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated and the lentils mash when you press them between your fingers.

Toss in the fennel, herbs, jalapeño, lemon juice, and zest.   Serve warm or at room temperature. The Food and Wine recipe suggests topping this with yogurt, which I did and serving it with naan, which I did not.

Growing up, my family was all about food.  My parents would drive us 3 hours to New York City to eat “real” Pakistani food.  On the weekend, we were travelers in search for the next delicious meal.  My sister and I would be ever so excited to explore new places and see the hustle and bustle of different cities.  Our eyes were always wide-open, ready for these experiences.  Whether, we went to Newport for fresh, straight from the ocean seafood, or to a little hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we still frequent to this day, we were set to feast.  We learned about other cultures this way, too.  What better way for parents to expose their children to different cultures than through their food.  Food welcomes you into a new culture.  The tastes of the cuisine transports you to a new place, somewhere less familiar than what we are used to, but at the same time we are ready to embrace the novelty.

Tucked away in the back seat, my sister and I would peer out of the  windows with utter enthusiasm waiting for a new exploration.  If you remember, we were the two sisters who played in the woods and pretended we were pioneers, Indians, French, you name it-we pretended it (the joys of childhood!).  These excursions took our make-believe world into reality.

I have very fond memories of attending the Greek Orthodox festival in Rhode Island.  As many of you are probably aware, Greeks (like most of us) are completely immersed in their cuisine and take great pride in hospitality and serving their traditional dishes to others.  There was food galore.  Souvlakis would be sizzling on hot coals, my sister and I would stare in awe at the roast lamb spinning on a spit with the juices dripping down and coating the lamb with deliciousness, and flaky phyllo pastries such as baklava and spanakopita.  This festival was overflowing with sensory delight.  We would also watch the Greek dancers in amazement.  My sister and I would “choreograph” Bollywood dance skits at home, so the Greek dances piqued our interest as well.

We would walk around just take it all in and we loved every minute of it.  Our main purpose was eating, of course.  Our favorite thing to indulge in were the spanakopitas.  To this day I love them, no matter how introductory they are to greek cuisine.  The flaky and paper-thin phyllo layers were (and still are) so fun to break off layer by layer and in the middle you would meet the spinach filling full of feta, parley, and olive oil.  This is one way to get your kids to eat spinach.  I make spanakopita from time to time and each time I do I am reminded of the Greek Orthodox festival and every time I think it would be so nice to go again.

Spanakopita with Kalamata Olives and Pine Nuts

Serves 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

crushed red chili flakes, to taste

2 shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces spinach leaves, stems removed and chopped

4 scallions, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4-1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

salt and black pepper, to taste

16 ounce package of phyllo dough, if frozen defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauté pan on medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallots.  Allow the shallots to cook for 2-3 minutes or until they become to soften and add in the garlic and red chili flakes.  Once the garlic perfumes the oil, add in the chopped spinach.  Let the spinach wilt and cook down.  Add some salt, black pepper, and the pinch of nutmeg.  Once the spinach is all cooked, set it aside and allow it to cool slightly.  In the meantime, grease a 9″ by 13″ baking dish.

Once the spinach has cooled, add in the remaining ingredients (except the phyllo and remaining olive oil), there is no rhyme of reason to the order.  Mix to combine all the ingredients, make sure they are well incorporated.

Next, take the phyllo dough (make sure to cover it with a damp kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out) and cut the sheets so that they would fit into the baking dish.  I had to simply cut the sheets in half.  Once the sheets are the right size, divide the phyllo into two equal stacks.  One stack will be for the bottom layer, one will be for the top layer.

Take the phyllo dough two sheets at a time and layer into the baking dish.  Every second sheet should be brushes generously with olive oil.  Once the first stack of phyllo is finished layer all of the spinach mixture over the phyllo.  Then, repeat the process so that the spinach is covered and in the middle of the two stacks of phyllo dough.  Make sure the phyllo layers are well oiled so that they become crispier.

Bake the spanakopita in the oven for 45-50 minutes, or until the phyllo is golden brown.  Once slightly cooled, cut into squares or diamonds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

I would like to wish everyone a very blessed Eid.  Eid is a time for family, friends, and celebrations and I hope all of you are fortunate enough to be close to your loved ones.  Usually, we eat meat that has been slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice.  We prepare dishes like yakhni pulao (meat stock based rice pilaf), kharay masalay ka gosht (meat cooked with whole garam masala pieces), karahi gosht (a tomato/chili based meat dish), and many more.  Unfortunately, this is not a vegetarian friendly holiday, I suppose it could be though.

However, meat is not the only focus.  Desserts are prepared in copious amounts.  Kheer (rice pudding), sewayyan (sweetened vermicelli), zarda sweetened rice) are part of the dessert spread.  Yes, we are very serious about food and prepare a feast even if it’s just for your immediate family.

One of my favorite Pakistani desserts is Shahi Tukray.  Let me tell you, it is literally heaven.  Fried bread slices soaked in a sugar syrup infused with saffron and cardamom and then dunked into a rich and creamy milk pudding, so good.  So, so good.  Usually, I don’t swoon like this for other Pakistani desserts, sure I like them, but for me, Shahi Tukray are on a completely other level.  It’s almost like you take a bite and you are so consumed in the utter deliciousness that you can’t think for a minute.  Or maybe I’m just an odd one and this is only the case for me.  Regardless, this dessert is befitting to its name, which means royal pieces or morsels.

I added a twist to the recipe here, being Autumn I thought pumpkin might work in this dish.  I added pumpkin purée to the rabri (reduced milk pudding) and the combination of pumpkin with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves (the last two another nontraditional addition of mine) was divine.  Of course, if you want to stay true to the original leave the pumpkin out, but I really enjoyed this new combination.

Eid Mubarak and even if you don’t celebrate, find some Muslim friends and I’m sure they would be more than happy to include you in their celebrations and share the yummy food with you.

Shahi Tukray with Pumpkin

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée

2/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3-4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

5 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

a nice pinch of saffron threads

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup canola oil or clarified butter, for frying (you might need slightly more oil/clarified butter, but I try to use as little as possible)

1 loaf (8-10 slices) day-old country-style white bread, crusts removed (optional) and cut into 2 pieces on the diagonal

edible silver leaf, for garnish (optional)

1/2 cup toasted and chopped mixed nuts-pistachios and almonds with skin, for garnish

fresh whipped cream, for garnish

cinnamon powder, for garnish

softened butter, for greasing the baking dish

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat, bring the milk, half and half, cardamom powder, 2 cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and pumpkin to a simmer. Mix the ingredients every minute or so.

Once the milk/cream mixture comes to a simmer turn the heat to low and let the mixture thicken to the consistency of a loose pudding/custard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the cream does not burn. This should take 35-45 minutes. Once the milk/cream mixture is done, remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods.

While the milk/cream mixture is simmering, make the sugar syrup by combining the remaining sugar, water, saffron threads, and 3 cardamom pods in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. The syrup will be done once the sugar and water have dissolved into a uniform liquid after about 10 minutes. Leave the sugar syrup on low heat until the milk/cream mixture is done.

At this point preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8″x8″ inch baking dish.

Once the cream mixture and sugar syrup are done, start frying the bread triangles in a fry pan on medium heat with the oil or clarified butter until all the pieces are golden brown on both sides. Lay the bread on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Once all the bread pieces are fried, dip each bread piece into the sugar syrup then into the milk/cream mixture so that the bread is coated well and then arrange the bread into the baking dish. I like to arrange the bread on the diagonal. Repeat this until you have used up all the fried bread.

Next, take any remaining milk/cream mixture and pour it over the bread slices in the pan and use a rubber spatula to make the top smooth.

Bake the bread slices in the oven for 15 minutes or until the top just starts to slightly turn golden.

Remove from the oven and garnish with the chopped nuts and silver leaf, if you are using it.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon, if you like. I like to eat it right from the oven but it can also be eaten at room temperature or even chilled.

*This can be made a day in advance and baked the day of serving.

I also posted this recipe on food52 here.

“You just want me to be fat and making parathas in the kitchen all day,” my mother would exclaim when my sister and I got into a little fight with her.  You see, when my sister and I were teenagers my mother would often wear the same sort of clothes we wore and we would become incredibly annoyed.  Maybe she was right in a way.  We did want her to do more baking and wear ugly sweaters like everyone else’s moms.  My mother always had a young spirit and had a young outer façade to match it.  My sister and I have since gotten over our teenage qualms and are happy to have our mom raid our closet and vice versa.

She saw making parathas and rotis as the ultimate form of subservience, the sign of an unhappy woman.  I know that it was a silly thing for her to think, regardless I developed the same sort of picture in my mind.  When I got married, my mom said to me, “there’s no need to make roti everyday.”  That was certainly not in my plan and I only attempted to make them two years after marriage.  This was because I was inspired by of all the fabulous bakers and adventurous bloggers I came into contact with.

In stark contrast to my own mother is my mother-in-law.  I only hinted at the prospect of trying to make rotis and she was back the same day with a tawa.  She made sure to buy me atta and proceed on giving me a lesson in the art of making rotis.  For indeed it is an acquired art, you can not master it at one go.  When I went back to my own home, my mother-in-law would call and ask how the roti and paratha making was going.  I would fib and say I tried and that my roti were not coming out round.  These white lies were just to make her feel better, because she felt her son was being taken care of if he was receiving fresh roti and parathas.

One day, I bit the bullet and tried.  I got over my preconceived notions and complexes related to roti and paratha making.  My first few attempts were pathetic, a real blow to my self-esteem.  I consider myself a decent cook and to fail so miserably at something so simple was embarrassing.  My roti resembled and tasted like cardboard and I hadn’t even dived into the world of parathas yet.  Thankfully, slowly but surely I got there and now I can confidently say that I can make roti and paratha.

This is not going to be a daily routine in my household though, a special biannual treat, if you will.  After all, I am still my mother’s daughter and I am glad she raised me how she did.

Aloo Parathay

Makes 4

Ingredients

for the dough:

2 1/2 cups Durum wheat flour, roti or chapati flour (I use Golden Temple)

3/4-1 1/2 cup of lukewarm water

for the filling:

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

3 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed into a medium dice

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

a few leaves of mint, chopped

green chilies, chopped (as many as you like, I used 2)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

pinch of ajwain (carom) seeds

red chili powder/cayenne pepper, to taste

crushed red chilies, to taste, optional

salt, to taste

canola or vegetable oil, for frying

Method

Prepare the dough by kneading the flour and water together.  Add the water a little at a time until the dough just comes together.  You may not need all of the water.  I knead by hand, but you can also do this in a food processor or stand mixer with the hook attachment.

Knead for about five minutes until the dough is firm yet elastic.  Place the dough in a bowl and dab on some water over the dough so it doesn’t form a skin and cover it with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for at least a few hours in the fridge or on the counter if you are using it the same day.

Once ready to make the parathas, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few hours if it was in the fridge.  The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

To make the potato filling boil the potatoes in some cold water in a pot on medium to medium high heat until the potatoes are fork tender and easily mashed, about 15-20 minutes.  Drain the water from the potatoes and mash them with a fork or potato masher.  While the potatoes are boiling, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry fry pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Transfer the spices to a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind them.

Next, add in the oil, onions, cilantro, green chilies, all the spices to the mashed potatoes and mix everything together. Set aside.

Now, you will have to roll out the dough.  Separate the dough into eight even-sized balls.  You will need two balls per one paratha.  Roll each ball out so that is is smooth with no seams.  Next, flatten out the ball with you hand so that it becomes a small circle.  Put your thumb at the center of the circle and press your fingers at the edges of the circle as to expand the circle.  Press your fingers all around and rotate the circle until it starts getting bigger.  At this point, use a rolling-pin to roll out a circle with a 6 inch diameter.  For each paratha you will need two 6 inch diameter circles.

Place 1/2 a cup of the potato filling over one 6 inch diameter circle, leaving an inch free all around.  Place the second dough circle on top and using your fingers pinch the edges shut.  Using your rolling pin, roll out the paratha until it approximately has a 10 inch diameter.

Heat your tawa, griddle, or frying pan to medium heat and place the paratha on the warm surface.  Let the paratha cook like this for a minute or two then flip it over and using a pastry brush, brush on about a tablespoon of oil on the top of the paratha.  Flip it again so that the oiled side is at the bottom.  Grease the top with another tablespoon of oil.  Once the bottom has turned golden brown, about 2-3 minutes flip it over and brown the other side.  Once both sides are golden brown remove from the heat and repeat the process until the dough is finished.

Serve with raita, achar, or green chutney.  I particularly like paratha with shami kebabs.

Oh, how I miss Mexican flavors.  I envy people who have access to good authentic Mexican food.  Although, the dish I made here isn’t exactly Mexican, it does include Poblano peppers which do have some affinity with Mexican cuisine.  The day I saw these Poblanos at the farmer’s market, I literally screeched in excitement.  I was instantly reminded of my favorite dish, chilies rellenos.

In Rhode Island, where I grew up, is where I had first taste I had of authentic Mexican food, and no I’m not talking about Taco Bell or some Tex-Mex chain, I am talking about real authentic and fresh food.  The food where you taste the smokiness of fresh cumin, the tartness of lime, the creaminess of avocado, and the smoothness of crema.  It’s where you add radishes for that perfect and slightly piquant bite of fish taco.

Every time I visit my parents, I make sure to make a stop at our old family favorite, Mexico Restaurant.  I know new restaurants have popped up and some claim they are better, I have not found that to be so, maybe I am biased by the many years of dining there.  I have even made my husband a lover of their cuisine.

Again, I come back to the poblanos.  I wanted to make the chilies rellenos, but I feared I could not do them justice.  I will try another time, hopefully yielding delicious results.  With the days of summer gone, I decided to relish the last of its flavors.  Corn and poblanos are a natural paining.  Paired with some quinoa, the dish soared.  I almost forgot about the authentic Mexican food, almost but not quite.  Luckily, I will be visiting my parents soon and there will be poblanos galore waiting for me.

Quinoa with Poblanos, Corn, and Chives

Ingredients

Serves 2-3

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup dry quinoa, soaked in water for 15 minutes and then rinsed

3 Poblano peppers, cut into strips (seeds and ribs removed)

1 cup corn kernels

2 shallots, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

the juice of 2 limes

a bunch of chives (as much as you want really, I like a lot)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

optional–lime wedges, avocado slices, sour cream, extra chives, for garnish

Method

I like to cook quinoa in the pasta method, if you prefer it the traditional way, go with your own method.  Boil ample water in a medium-sized pot.  Add the quinoa and allow to boil for about 15 minutes, or until cooked.  Drain the excess water in a colander and set aside.

In a sauté pan, on medium heat, cook the shallots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and allow it to slightly change color, about a minute.  Add in the corn and cumin and allow the corn to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Next, the Poblanos along with the lime juice go in and do not let them get mushy, they should still have a little bite left in them, season with salt and pepper.

The corn and Poblano mixture should cook for about 5 more minutes.  At this point, toss in the quinoa and chives and incorporate the whole mixture together.  Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream, avocado, chives, and lime.

I got down poured on yesterday. I wanted to use the dark stormy clouds as an excuse to not go to the gym. But, my inner dilemma and the impending guilt that would ensue made me get my act together and drag myself out the door. I wore my rain boots and took my husband’s heavy-duty umbrella and braved the dark skies. Neither of these two items would really help the upcoming downpour I was to face. Literally, the minute I stepped outside sheets of rain coming in at me from all directions soaked my entire body. I thought I should just go back up to my apartment, but no I kept going, all the way to the gym. When I arrived I must have looked like a frazzled lunatic. Hair all unkempt, wet clothes, and dripping arms.  As you can get my first stop was to the locker room to put the hair dryer into action.

When I was finished at the gym, believe me when I say I wanted to just order takeout. But, in the morning I took out chicken breasts to defrost. I’m sure we all know that we aren’t supposed to refreeze defrosted meat, I don’t know if this is true or an old wives’ tale. Either way, I was tempted to refreeze it, but decided to just cook it. My focus here isn’t the chicken though. I didn’t do anything that special with it. I tossed it with some mayonnaise, honey, herbs, harissa, then breaded it with panko and baked it. The main star of the meal was the pearl couscous that I made as a side dish. Usually, I make regular couscous and toss in whatever chopped vegetables I have on hand. This time, I basically did the same thing but amped it up a little.

I caramelized shallots and threw in some crunchy and crisp Napa cabbage. The Napa cabbage doesn’t have an overpowering taste yet adds great flavor and texture. I am all about the crunch, the crunch factor prompted me to add in cucumbers and almonds. I always add in dried cranberries to couscous and I did this time as well. I threw in some olives for saltiness. A dish isn’t made by me if there aren’t tons of herbs in it, so that’s what I did here; parsley and mint. A squeeze of lemon, some extra olive oil, and some crumbled sheep’s milk feta complete the dish.

I must talk about the spices here, I love adding cumin and coriander to couscous. Many times, I add a pinch of turmeric, but this time I didn’t feel I needed it. In addition, I threw in another flavor contrast; cane sugar and crushed red chilies. Everything balanced in the end. You might think I don’t know when to stop with ingredients and sometimes that may be the case, but usually it all works out.  Cooking calms me down, once I started preparing this dish I forgot about my rain fiasco.

Summer Pearl Couscous

Serves 4, as a side

Ingredients

1 cup dry pearl couscous (cooked according to package directions)

3 shallots, sliced

1/2 a head of Napa Cabbage, chopped

1 clove of garlic

1/4 of an English cucumber, in a small dice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (any variety you like)

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta (or any mild variety)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 sprigs of parsley, chopped

2 sprigs of mint, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar or turbinado sugar

extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat a saucepan on medium-low with some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add in the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 15 minutes. When the shallots are caramelized toss in the Napa cabbage and garlic and allow the cabbage to wilt down a bit and slightly pick up some caramelization. Add in all the spices and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add in the cranberries and allow them to plump up a little and rehydrate.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the prepared couscous and add in the shallots and cabbage mixture. Put in the cucumbers, olives, parsley, mint, lemon juice, a little extra olive oil, and the slivered almonds. Toss everything together so that everything is evenly distributed. Crumble the feta on top and serve, slightly warm, at room temperature, or even cold, if you like.

Pakistani street-foods are the ultimate in sweet, salty, and sour deliciousness.  I am a huge fan of chaat and when I miss the taste of chaat I usually opt for this version with potatoes and chickpeas.  In these hot summer months, it’s the perfect light snack.  The temperature is scorching hot and I feel so very lethargic that I just want to  make something easy.  I no longer have the patience to stand in front of the stove and sweat, even in air conditioning.

I last went to Pakistan for my wedding shopping, I haven’t been back since due to schedules and the like.  But, the thing I miss most, besides family, of course, is the street food.  My mom, my aunt, and I went crazy during my wedding shopping, getting my bridal dresses, jewelry, and the various other outfits.  Despite all the rush and chaos, we could calm down with a bowl of chaat practically everyday.  Sitting on a rickety chair with an even ricketier table at a street vendor, we would just relax with our chaat.  The scorching sun in the market, the pollution from traffic and rickshaws, the fan that was blowing around hot air didn’t even phase us.  It was our time to unwind.  Let me tell you, wedding preparations are stressful.

Now that I’m way beyond my newlywed days and back to reality, I have the responsibility of making the chaat.  As we have established before my husband is good for nothing in the kitchen.  Thankfully, chaat is simple and pantry-friendly.  I always have potatoes and chickpeas on hand.  I don’t think my household would run without them.  The tamarind chutney adds the right amount of tang.  I love tamarind, I love tamarind candies coated in chaat masala.  I am salivating just thinking about them.  (You can get similar candies in Mexican/Latin American grocery stores).  My chutney recipe isn’t 100% authentic because I make mine in 5 minutes.  The real version is slowly simmered on a stove all day and I haven’t learned how to make it yet.  My shortcut chutney is just fine for the time being.  Chaat is a nice departure from usual summer fare and could also be considered a salad of sorts.  You don’t even need to go to Pakistan to try it, but I must admit, even though mine is pretty tasty, it is not even close to Pakistani chaat.

Potato and Chickpea “Chaat” with Tamarind Chutney

Serves 3

Ingredients

2 cups cooked chickpeas

1-2 medium-sized potatoes, boiled until tender and then peeled and cut into a small dice

1/2 a medium-sized red onion, finely chopped

1 long green chili, finely chopped (seeds and ribs removed for less spicy)

1 tomato, finely chopped, optional

1/4 bunch of cilantro chopped (use as much as you like)

a few mint leaves, optional

chaat masala, (as much as you like, I like to add a lot, about 1 tablespoon, you can find it in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, I use Shan brand)

for the Tamarind Chutney:

2 heaping teaspoons of tamarind paste

juice of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon chaat masala

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (as much as you like)

1 tablespoon raw sugar

Method

First, make the chutney by combining all the ingredients for the chutney in a small saucepan on medium heat and melt the tamarind until it becomes liquidy, about 5 minutes.  If your chutney is thick, thin it out with some water.  Chill for an hour.

Next, combine all the ingredients for the chaat; the chickpeas, potatoes, red onion, green chili, tomatoes (optional), cilantro,  mint (optional), and chaat masala.  Check for salt.  I don’t add salt because the chaat masala already has it in it.  I got ahead of myself and mixed in the tamarind chutney with the chickpeas, usually I just drizzle some on top of the chickpeas.  If you would like you can mix the chutney in with the chickpeas as I did here.  Chill the chaat for an hour in the refrigerator.  Some people like to drizzle on thinned out yogurt on top as well.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of chaat masala.

Chickpeas