Tag Archives: dinner

Basil……A Yarn and a Recipe.

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My kids love Pasta Pesto. It is a lunch box staple, which I have always prepared using the bottled Organic Pesto from Auroville.

However on my recent visit to Econut for my Organic provisions, I struck it lucky with a big bag full of fresh basil. I just couldn’t resist. I picked up a bag full of organic walnuts and extra virgin olive oil as well.

Although pesto is traditionally made with Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and a hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, I decided to do a more economical version with walnuts and skipped the cheese altogether.

I guess here in India one would say I made a chutney.

Holy Basil or Tulsi is revered in India in every Hindu household, especially in those of Vishnu devotees.

Read this wonderful story from Hindu Mythology about the Tulsi plant here.

However the Christians, too, consider Basil holy especially the Greek Orthodox Church.

St.Helena, was born somewhere in the region of modern-day Turkey. Although just a stabularia or inn-keeper she married Constantius I Chlorus in 270 BC. They had a son Constantine.

As Constantius became co-regent or Ceasar, he had to, for political gain, forsake Helena and marry the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximinius Herculius.

Disgraced in a court that was full of intrigue and murder, Helena never fought her rival but faded into obscurity till her own son Constantine became Emperor. She then was bestowed with the title of Augusta or Empress.

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. Legend says that he had a dream of a burning cross with a message that he should ‘in this sign conquer’. So he did, earning control over western Europe.

They say it was Constantine’s influence on his mother that made her too, embrace Christianity. She mingled freely with worshippers did many acts of charity and released prisoners too.

Although she was pretty advanced in age, Helena set out on a pilgrimage to Palestine, visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Sinai. She built many churches and continued her charity work.

She was very keen to find the ‘True Cross’….the cross on which Jesus had been crucified.

She had been searching for many days, when on a barren hill outside Jerusalem she noticed a sweet-smelling plant. That plant happened to be Basil. She gave orders that the area under the plant be excavated and found the True Cross.

So to this day, especially in the Greek Orthodox Church,Sweet basil is used in the preparation of Holy water.

Two religions, both have reasons why this plant is so special…..and there are many more cultures that venerate the Basil. In many other cultures like Mexico, Romania and Italy it is associated with love.

Not just a ‘holy herb’, but also one which is full of health benefits!

It is one of the most highly regarded herbs in Ayurveda.

“Scientific research offers impressive evidence that Tulsi (basil) reduces stress, enhances stamina, relieves inflammation, lowers cholesterol, eliminates toxins, protects against radiation, prevents gastric ulcers, lowers fevers, improves digestion and provides a rich supply of antioxidants and other nutrients. Tulsi is especially effective in supporting the heart, blood vessels, liver and lungs and also regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.Dr. Ralph Miller, former Director of Research for the Canadian Dept. of Health and Welfare.

Makes me wonder at how religion often guided people towards what was good for them, not just spiritually but also physically and emotionally. The environment, too, benefited from many of the old rituals which ensured its protection.

Although I am not a regular church goer, my deeply Catholic upbringing, ensures that I have a prayer on my lips often. From this ability to just utter a silent prayer, I drawer a lot of strength. It has a calming meditative value about it which I treasure.

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So here is the recipe I used to make Basil and Walnut Pesto:

Adapted from http://cookieandkate.com

Ingredients

  • 2 lightly packed cup of basil
  • 2 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt, to taste
  • squeeze of lemon juice
Instructions
  • Over medium high heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, about three to five minutes.
  • Wash and dry the basil leaves
  • In a food processor, combine the basil, walnuts and garlic.
  • Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil. Do not over mix as I felt the pesto gets darker.
  • Remove the mixture from the processor and pour it into a bowl. Stir in salt and a squeeze of lemon (optional), to taste.

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I did not add in the cheese as I felt it would keep better this way.

When I made it for lunch, I added some grated cheese to the ready dish.

  • Pesto freezes well, so you can make a larger quantity and freeze for later use.
  • Traditionally made by hand in a mortar and pestle…..I did not have one large enough to take this quantity so I just made it in the mixie.
  • Make the pesto as soon as you get fresh basil.
  • I replaced the traditional pine nuts with walnuts…..it’s just as tasty.

Use it as:

  • A pasta sauce.
  • Marinade for grilled fish of chicken.
  • Stirred as a flavouring into soups.
  • Sandwich spread.
  • Healthy pizza sauce alternative.

Do you use pesto in any other way??

I’d love some new ideas

Moroccan Magic…..Chicken with Parsley and Corriander.

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Morocco.

Just saying the word makes me think of all things exotic.

Spices and unusual flavour combinations.

Brightly coloured, intricately woven carpets.

The sensuous mud and clay architecture.

Mt. Atlas and the Sahara.

Romance……Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman….SIIIIGHH!…..in CASABLANCA.

Winding labyrinths of the souks and the whiff of mint tea.

But this post is not about Morrocco….but rather about a recipe which I find just as exotic.

I love the combination of Parsley and Corriander…..unusual for us in India who regularly use coriander and mint together.

When I think back to when I first heard about Parsley, I remember the characters out of the Asterix and Obelix comics who used bunches of it in theirs ears to block off Cacaphonix’s cacophony.

I have been making this recipe for ages….not too sure where I got it from, but we all love it.

MOROCCAN STYLE CHICKEN

500 gms boneless chicken. (this recipe was originally with jointed chicken or around 1kg 300 gms)

2 small shallots (use sambar onions)

1 bunch of parsley

1 bunch coriander(equal to the parsley)

2-3 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper ( I use chili powder)

1 1/2 tsp ground cummin

3 tbs butter( I use olive oil instead)

1/2 -1 lime

Method:

Wash and cut the chicken into pieces.

Process the shallots, garlic, herbs, salt and spices in a food processor or mixer till finely chopped.

Add butter or olive oil and process to make a smooth paste.

Rub the chicken pieces with this paste and allow to marinade for @ 2 hours.

Squeeze lemon over and bake or broil till done.

Serve with Pita bread, humus and crudites

Enjoy!!

Memories….Teriyaki steaks a la Papa.

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Memory, is a child walking along a seashore.  You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.  ~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal

A few months ago,when I connected with one of my old school friends on Facebook, she told me how one of her dearest childhood food memories was of the  ‘Teriyaki Steaks’ from my parents food store, ‘Majora.’

Then, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from a cousin in Bombay who wanted the recipe.

“I’m dying for the flavor of those steaks,” she said, “why don’t you share the recipe, now that Majora does not exist any more.”

But it obviously DOES exist in the memories of everybody who enjoyed it’s food.

It’s amazing that I had always taken Majora’s Teriyaki steaks for granted. They were marinated in-house and sold frozen, ready to broil. They were delicioso…..even if I say so myself.

It’s amazing how seemingly stray comments trigger memories. Most often these memories are multi-sensory.

You remember certain smells, textures, flavours, sights and sounds. Sometimes one of these, trigger memories that bring on many more…..of good times, friendships, special celebrations, which in turn trigger many more sensorial and emotional ones.

So I called my Dad, who was thrilled that I wanted his ‘world famous’ steak recipe.

Ofcourse he rattled off ingredients and I was left to figure off the quantities ‘andaaz sey’…..which in Hindi literally means using your own judgement.

I am pretty much someone who cooks ‘andaaz sey’……my own slap dash gourmet technique. But for the sake of putting down a recipe on this blog, here are the approximate quantities.

I urge you to please cook ‘andaaz sey” and taste as you go along. I like my marinade to lead with the sweet and then the salt.

Teriyaki is a Japanese method of cooking meat.

A piece of fish or meat which has been marinated in a sweet soy marinade (tare) and then broiled or grilled.(yaki)

TERIYAKI STEAKS A LA PAPA

Beef Tenderloin  750 gms  ( you could experiment with chicken as well, if you don’t eat Beef )

For the Marinade:

Ginger paste  1 tsp

Garlic paste 1 tsp

Mustard paste 1  1/2 tsp

Soya sauce 2 tbsp

Wine 4 tbsp

( should be rice wine but all I had at home was some French white which I added in. But red would be better with beef)

Brown Sugar 3 tbsp

Olive oil 2 tbsp

Method:

Cut the tenderloin into thick roundels and flatten using a steak hammer.

The hammering tenderizes the meat.  Covering with a piece of cling wrap, helps to prevent the meat from sticking to the hammer and damaging the steak.

In a bowl measure out the ingredients for the marinade and stir over a slow flame till slightly thickened.

When cool, pour over the tenderized steak and marinade overnight preferably or for a couple of hours at least.

Heat a skillet and when hot, broil steaks, covered,  till done and all the liquid has evaporated.

Keep basting the steaks from time to time if you are grilling them.

I served the steaks with Balsamic Roast Vegetables and a Jacket Potato.

There are so many special food memories we all have. Special treats made for special occasions or achievements.

What are yours?

Are there any aromas that trigger memories?

What about smells sights or sounds?

I’d love to hear from you.


Perfecting Phad Thai

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My 7 year old came home one day pleading with me to learn from her friend’s Mom,how to cook ‘phad thai’…..”its the most delicious, ‘awesomest’ noodle I’ve ever eaten!” she said.

Isn’t it curious how kids just love what they ate at someone else’s house? (I don’t know about yours, but my kids are pro’s at this.) Never mind that it is our standard order at our favorite Thai restaurant, ‘Benjarong’, here in Chennai.

Like any good Mom, I called up the expert “pad thai-ing” Mother. She gave a recipe using peanut butter, imli (tamarind)chutney and ready Thai red curry paste.

Now I’m sure this made a very tasty Phad Thai….but the food snob that I am, I thought, “What! Not from scratch?”

It took me a few weeks, but I dragged myself to the computer and trawled the net for Phad Thai recipes.

Now there are thousands, if not more, varieties of Phad Thai recipes. But very few seemed to be ‘authentic’ to me.

Many of them used all kinds of packaged ingredients, but then I chanced upon a blog http://chezpim.com where

Pim shares her secrets to the best Phad Thai.

Phad Thai needs to have 4 flavours:

1.Salty (fish sauce)

2.Sweet (palm sugar)

3.Spicy (chilly powder)

4.Sour (tamarind pulp)

The recipe I follow belongs to Pim, I make a larger quantity as it stays beautifully bottled in the fridge.

My kids love it in their lunch box and it works for me as well because I have a fingerlickingly good ingredient on hand all the time.

PHAD THAI SAUCE:

1/2 cup tamarind pulp ( start with less and add to taste)

1/2 cup palm sugar

1/2 cup fish sauce

1 tsp chilly powder

Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer till very slightly thickened and the palm sugar dissolved.

I like my sauce a little sweeter. Play around with the ingredients till you find the balance that is right for you.

( add less tamarind to begin with and keep adding more after tasting)

Strain the sauce as the palm sugar almost always has some grit in it.

Cool and keep it in a jar in the fridge.

Jo’s Phad Thai…..Full of veggies and protein so it’s a complete meal!!

(Once again I may not be preparing the most authentic version but rather a wholesome meal with what I have on hand)

1/2 packet of Rice Sticks

1 stalk celery, chopped fine

3-4 spring onion with leaves, chopped ( if I don’t have this, I use sambar onions/shallots or just plain old onion)

1 Carrot, julienne

A handful of French Beans, julienne

1/2 leek cut fine

1 cup cabbage, julienned

1-2 chicken breast, sliced

15- 20 prawns (optional)

Tofu(….if you like it…if used cut in cubes and fry before using)

1 cup Beansprouts

2 eggs

Oil

Salt

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

Lemon

The How To:

1.Boil up a pot of water. Take off the stove and soak the rice sticks in the hot water. Add a little salt to taste.

Cover.

Do not keep it for too long, just until the rice sticks are al dente.

Once done, drain in a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process.

2.Heat a wok and add in some oil.

Make a thin omelette with the 2 eggs. When done cut it into strips and keep aside.

3. Heat some oil and toss in the sliced chicken along with a spoonful of Phad Thai sauce. Saute till done and keep aside.(repeat the same procedure if you are using prawn as well)

4.Heat some more oil and add in the chopped celery, sautee for about a minute.

5.Add in the onions, fry till they begin to change colour.

6.Add in the carrots and beans, sautee. ( I normally have a problem with the beans, so at this stage I cover the wok for a few seconds so that steam can help the beans along.)

7.The cabbage and leeks go in next.

Cook the veggies so that they are 3/4 done and still retain a bite.

8.Toss in the cooked chicken and stir fry.

9. At this point divide the veggie chicken mixture into 2 portions.

Keep one portion in the wok, add in half the cooked drained rice sticks.

10. Add in the Phad Thai sauce to taste.

11. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and add a squeeze of lime.

12.Then do the same with the other half of the veggies and rice sticks.

13. Serve garnished with the omelette strips. ( My kids prefer the egg like this….but you could also push aside the

chicken /veggie mix to one side of the wok and scramble the egg on the other half, once cooked mix it all together.)

Important tips to remember when making Phad Thai I picked up from Pim http://chezpim.com

* Soak the noodles/rice sticks till al dente only.

* Make small quantities of noodle at a time.

(Making smaller batches makes it easier to mix evenly. When you try to make a large batch in a hot wok, by the time you mix all the elements together, the noodles overcook. )

*You can keep the excess sauce bottled in the fridge.

Enjoy your Phad thai with a starter of Chicken Satay………recipe coming soon!! Watch this space!!

Where to find what in Chennai

Fish Sauce – Blue Elephant, Nilgiris, Mercado, Amma Nanna

Palm Sugar- Nilgiri’s, Econut

Rice Sticks- How How Brand, Nilgiri’s, Mercado

Tofu- Nilgiri’s

Celery and Leek- Veggie vendor outside Nilgiri’s Adyar, Besant Nagar and Cathedral Road.

A Surprisingly Healthy ‘Junk’ Meal

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This wasn’t something I’d planned to blog about AT ALL.

But my slap dashing about in the kitchen this evening turned up gold!

I was thrilled and so were the kids.

Trying to tackle the 41+C temperatures in Chennai at the moment can really muddle up my foodie brain.

As I tried to plan our menus this morning, all I could think of for dinner today was something that did not require too much effort and time in the ‘roasting’ kitchen.

So I pulled out a pack of frozen chicken breasts, flattened it with a mallet and marinated it very simply with:

Salt, pepper, mustard, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and a splash of ketchup.

Put it away to rest in the fridge and thought……”what the heck, I’ll tackle that in the evening when it’s cooler.”

This evening, extremely disgruntled at having missed my daily swim, I decided that ‘Burgers and fries’ would be our dinner.

However the thought of the oily fries in this heat was not appealing at all, other than the guilt that I was offering my kids ‘junk’.

So I decided to experiment and bake a few fries.

I just used the McCain’s Frozen French Fries,

 

Spread them out on a baking tray,

drizzled some olive oil

and popped it in an oven pre-heated to 200C.

and baked it for 30 minutes.

The result was fabulous! I had crispy golden fries, without having to fry them.

Try it ……it was just superb.

Oven Baked French Fries, Crispy and Golden

The chicken breast, I popped under the grill for @ 10 minutes.

I turned them over midway so that each side was grilled for 5 minutes.

After toasting the burger buns, I topped them with

Lettuce, chicken breast, cheese, balsamic grilled onions (see recipe below), slices of tomato and gherkins.

It was delicioso!

Finger lickingly good.

( For my 7 year old, I made a wrap with the grilled chicken)


Grilled Onions

2 onions

1tbs balsamic vinegar

1tsp sugar ( brown or white)

1 tsp olive oil

 

Inspired by a fellow blogger Stephanie from Modern Christian Woman who made slow roasted raspberry balsamic onions today, I decided to use balsamic vinegar instead of my usual Worcestershire sauce in the grilled onions.

 

You can see Stephanie’s recipe at:

http://modernchristianwoman.wordpress.com/2012/05/19/slow-roasted-raspberry-balsamic-onions-and-garlic/

 

Although I call them ‘grilled’ onions, I just do them on the stove top, in a pan.

Heat the oil and saute the onions. Add in the sugar, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt.

Saute over low heat till the onions are translucent and just beginning to caramelize.

Use it in burgers, sandwiches or hot dogs.

Now if only I could source some wholewheat burger buns…..my ‘healthy junk’ would be truly healthy.

 

Resource guide for Chennai:

McCains French Fries – Nilgiri’s and Mercado.

Balsamic Vinegar, various brands – Nilgiri’s and Mercado

Worcestershire Sauce, Lea and Perrins – Nilgiri’s, Mercado, Amma Naana

Boneless Chicken Breast, Suguna Protein – Nilgiri’s

Burger Buns – Nilgiri’s, Winners Bakery, French Loaf

Olive Oil – Econut

Gherkins – Tify

Lettuce – Veggie vendors outside Nilgiri’s, Besant Nagar, Cathedral Road and Indira Nagar.

Aunty Acca’s Buriyani

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Last month I received a beautiful gift from my sister.

A recipe book.

Not just any recipe book but ‘Cooking with Leila Viswasam.’Image

We never knew Aunty Acca as Leila…..only ever as Acca. 

Acca was the eldest Aunt-in-Law of my sister ML.

At the time of my sisters wedding, a host of relatives had flown down from Colombo Sri Lanka, armed with the most gorgeous orchids which were to serve as the wedding bouquets, buttonholes and head pieces.

Acca, was one of them, her effervescent personality endeared all the younger ones to her.

Her deeply religious side, endeared the older ones. Especially her devotion to St. Anthony, whom all of us true blue Bandraites pray to whenever we’ve lost something, always miraculously recovering the item, and offering up 13 loaves of bread on Tuesday, St. Antony’s Day.

All her family referred to her as Acca. All of us in Bandra thought that was her name, not realising that in Tamil it meant elder sister.

Acca, never corrected us, and to this day she still remains our Aunty Acca.

That was over 20 years ago. Her reputation as an unsurpassable cook had preceded her arrival in India.

After dining at her house, my sister had  requested Acca for the recipe of a particularly delicious fried fish that had been prepared that evening. We tried the recipe out at our home and it was soon our family favourite too! So much so, that at my sisters wedding reception, we served “Fillet of Fish Leila”……which proved to be as much a hit with the guests as it was with us. It soon became a standard on the menus of Majora…..my parents catering business. The recipe for this is also included in her book.

Much later, our family moved to Colombo for a few years. Acca welcomed us to her home with open arms. It was where we spent our first Christmas in SL, with D our baby only 2 weeks old.

She was one of the best cooks I ever met. Her recipes were great but there was so much of the elusive ingredients of love and generosity in her food that it reflected this in the intensity of its flavour.

Yesterday I tried out the Biriyani recipe from her book.

What I loved about the recipe was that it was perfectly balanced between easiness of preparation and flavour. It was a tasty ‘Buriyani’ as the Lankans call it, just the perfect recipe for a lazy weekend, when you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen but would like to make something ‘special’.  It does not pretend to be an authentic Indian preparation but rather a tasty meal. One that leaves you oh so satisfied, that all you need after it is a good siesta. Thats exactly what I did.

Aunty Acca’s Biriyani

A}

1 1/2 lb chicken

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chilly powder

1/2 tsp saffron (by this I think she meant turmeric)

Cut the Chicken into 10-12 pieces. Wash, wipe and mix with the above ingredients and set aside.

B]

4tbs yoghurt

4 medium tomatoes

4 cloves garlic

1/2 inch ginger

2 small green peppers( I used green chillies)

2 tsp Corriander powder

1 tsp cummin powder

1 tsp black pepper powder

1/4 cup corriander leaves

( I also added 2 roughly chopped onions)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

Puree all the above ingredients in a food processor except the oil. Set aside.

Sautee the marinated chicken in oil till it changes colour and then add the mixture from the food processor. Simmer till the gravy begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

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C]

1 medium onion

2tbs oil

1 small cinnamon

4-6 cardamom

2 cups Basmathi or other long grain rice

Fry the sliced onions in oil along with the whole spices till golden brown.

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Add washed and drained rice. Add a cup of gravy from the chicken and enough of water to cover the rice and cook till done.

Serve the rice with the chicken arranged around it.

( I only partially cooked the chicken and mixed the chicken gravy and rice together with water and cooked it in a rice cooker)

I served the rice with boondi raita ( a staple from home), appalam and boiled eggs.( something I’ve picked up in Chennai.)

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Acca says at the end of the preface to her book: ….” I hope you enjoy your time trying out these recipes and your guests relish the results of your efforts. You will realize that as you continue to try out the recipes you will begin to make modifications to suit your taste, adding your favorite ingredients, flavors etc. You will then have your own personalized version of some of these dishes. If you derive as much pleasure trying out these recipes as I have had compiling them, I will feel amply rewarded.”

This to me sums up Acca’s unique and special personality.

Thank you Acca for the gift of your recipes, wherever you are, watch over and guide my humble efforts.