Tag Archives: Healthy

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

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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.

My Official Family Dish

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We hear about family motto’s and crests, maybe even an animal or color that identifies a family in certain ways, something that is so ‘my family’.

We all know musical families, sporty ones, adventurous families and quite ones, boisterous families and snobby ones, even organic ones…….attributes or activities that make us identify a family in a a certain way.

I don’t know how people identify my family, but if we had to assign official family themes, much like a national flower, sport, animal etc I would not have a clue what ours would be…..but I know what our official family dish would be.

A simple but extremely wholesome meal of ‘Hainanese Chicken Rice.”

We ALL loooove it.

I love to cook it coz it’s so easy, the kids go ‘AAAhhhh’…….never a protest, even the hubby smiles peacefully…..all is well !

Hainanese Chicken Rice is supposed to be the national dish of Singapore…..officially or not, I do not know.

All I know is that we love to eat it and prepare it any time.

There are tons of recipes for it all over the net ( read a very detailed description at http://steamykitchen.com/5068-hainanese-chicken-rice.html )

….but this is my simple version of it as taught to me by a friend in Malaysia.

I have adapted the traditional recipe to suit my family’s eating habits.

Traditionally a whole chicken is poached in water with soome ginger, garlic and onions. The stock is used to cook the rice.

However we rarely use the whole bird, but just buy boneless chicken breast.

Also, I always have chicken stock on hand in the freezer(recipe at the end of this page), so all I need to do is defrost a box full and use it in this recipe.

HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE

The Chicken

1/2 kg Boneless Chicken Breast

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1″ piece ginger, crushed

@ 2 tbs Light Soya Sauce

A dash of Chinese sesame oil

Salt (if needed)

-Marinade the chicken with the above ingredients and keep aside at least for an hour, more would be better.

-Place on a greased baking tray and grill for around 8 mins, then turn and grill the other side.

-Check with a fork to ensure it’s cooked.

( you could also steam the chicken, if you like)

Meanwhile, The Rice

2 cups rice

4-41/2 cups chicken stock (recipe below)

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2-1 ” ginger

1 long pandanus leaf*

Sesame Oil

– In a pan heat some sesame oil and sauteed the garlic till a little brown.

-Add ginger and the pandan leaf and sautee.

-Add rice and fry. Add salt if your stock does not have any.

-Add the stock and cook in a rice cooker till done.

The Sauce

I do not make a chilly sauce as some recipes mention, but make one by mixing,

2.5 parts light soya sauce : 2 parts sesame oil

( This more or less suits our taste, but play around with it and try what suits you. Also differnt brands of the sauce may differ in flavour)

Serve with

A boiled egg

Slices of cucumber

The above sauce, on the side

And a soup made with the chicken stock and some spring onion and cabbage.

Garnish the rice with some freshly chopped corriander leaves.

Sit back and enjoy………..

(Just to include some veggies in the meal, I normally make a Chinese greens stir fry along with this.)

Making Chicken Stock is super duper easy.

Start with @1/2 kg chicken bones.

( you could use the back and wings, if you use a whole bone-in chicken in your cooking)

2 lts water

1 bayleaf

6-8 whole peppercorn

Then remember this…..O-C-C-L

Onions-Carrot-Celery-Leek

1 large carrot, roughly chopped or cut into 3-4 pieces

1 large onion, quartered

1 stalk celery, with leaves

1/2 leek, roughly chopped

-Through all the ingredients into a large stock pot and bring to a boil.

-As the stock comes to a boil you will find a foam forming on the top. This is called the ‘scum’.

-Skim the scum of the surface of the stock and reduce to simmer.

-I simmer my stock for about 1 1/2 hours…..the longer you simmer it, the more intense the flavour.

Don’t even talk to me about doing it in a pressure cooker……it’s almost sacrilege!!!

Slowly simmered is the only way!

HOT TIP: Sautee the bones and veggies in a little oil or roast it in a low oven to caramelise before adding to the stock pot and you will have an even more intense flavour.

Once done, I cool the stock and put it into different boxes and freeze.

Defrost and use in soups, sauces and gravies…….and of course Hainanese Chicken Rice.

Resource Guide for Chennai:

Light Soya Sauce and Chinese Sesame Oil – Brand ‘Woh Hup’ or ‘Blue Elephant’ available at Nilgiris and Mercado

Pandanus Leaf * I have a stock of this from Singapore, but in Sri Lanka its called Rampe and it is called Screw Pine in English. In India we use Kewda water…..which comes from this leaf.

Of course, the idea is that you try it yourself…..but just incase your just too lazy, there’s always Bee’s Kopitiam in Chennai, with the bubbly Beebee Chong cooking up a yum version.