Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pink Heart-Shaped Puris for Valentine’s Day

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Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m reposting a recipe from several years ago. I think my photos have improved over the years but you can still see in this pic the heart-shaped bread tinged pink with beet juice. These are a yummy snack or meal for kids and adults served with potato curry or another vegetable curry. For the past year or so I have been using whole wheat pastry flour instead of the Indian atta flour. My mother-in-law and I compared and tested several types of common American flours and determined that this was a perfect substitute.

Valentine’s Puri-Bhaji

Valentine’s Puris (serves 4)

  • 3 cups of atta flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup beet juice*
  • additional water to make a stiff dough
  • Oil for deep frying

Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of beet juice and start kneading the mixture into a stiff dough. Keep adding water until all the flour is incorporated. Knead by hand for 5 minutes, cover and let rest for at least 1/2 hour. Please note that puri dough must be very stiff to puff up successfully when fried.

Heat the oil to 350F degrees. Take a small piece of dough about the size of a golf ball and roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/4″ thick. Use your heart-shaped (or other) cookie cutter to cut out the puris. One at a time, slide a puri into the heated oil. It will sink at first. With a slotted spoon press gently on the top of the puri until it comes up and starts to puff. Allow it to cook while you baste the top of the puri with oil from the sides for about 1 minute. Then flip it over and allow it to cook for another minute. Remove and drain on paper.

You can line a large bowl with paper and stand the puris up on their sides to allow better oil-drainage. Once the puris start to cool off the puff will disappear. This is normal. However, it’s best to eat the puris while hot and fresh. Also, keep in mind that you probably won’t have a 100% success rate on the puffing up – I think 80% is pretty good but just keep trying! The puris that don’t puff up are still delicious to eat!

*I made beet juice by putting one cooked beet in my blender and adding a little more than a 1/2 cup of water. Blend on high and strain.

Cutlets Meet Vada Pav Sliders (Indian Potato Burgers)

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There is a delicious Indian treat called “Vada Pav” that is a round deep-fried potato ball served on a bun with garlic chutney. It is so good to eat with the crispy chickpea flour coating outside and the soft flavorful potatoes inside. I decided to try a  healthy twist on this dish, though I would never turn down the original! I’m not trying to improve it but rather make it a bit more healthy for everyday eating. Not that I’m suggesting that this be eaten everyday! With the addition of cooked mung beans, it’s more of a cross between the Vada Pav and a cutlet.

This is a recipe that calls for a few Indian ingredients. If you don’t have them, then come up with your own spice mix. I think a southwest version would be very good. Hmm… that’s definitely a future experiment! The traditional version of Vada Pav features garlic chutney. It gives it a delicious, spicy flavor. However, you don’t need the garlic chutney to complete this dish – sub in some spicy ketchup or other chutney or just dress it up as you would  a burger. You won’t be disappointed!

Healthy Twist on Vada Pav (Indian Potato Burgers) (Makes approx. 9 patties)

1 cup mung beans, cooked
1 potato, boiled or steamed, mashed and cooled (about 1 cup of potato)
2 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of hing
a few curry leaves, chopped
1/2 cup of onions, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan) plus additional flour for coating
1/8 – 1/4 cup oil for pan frying
small round hamburger buns
1/2 cup dry garlic chutney (or to taste)

In a large bowl, mix together the mung beans and potato. In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, hing and curry leaves. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the onion and allow to cook for a few minutes, stirring. Then add the garlic and ginger paste and cayenne. Allow to cook for a minute or until the garlic is cooked to your liking. Remove from heat and pour this in the mung bean mixture. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of chickpea flour and mash everything together until well combined. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.When the mixture is ready,  roll it into large rounds approx. 2″ in diameter. Set aside until all are rolled out. Place the additional chickpea flour on a plate and roll each ball in the chickpea flour, dusting the outside with the flour.

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Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a tbsp or 2 of oil. When the oil is heated, place a few of the balls in the oil, pressing down slightly on the top to flatten a little.

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Once the bottom is nicely browned, flip over each ball and cook on the other side, flattening a bit more.

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Once browned on the 2nd side, remove from the oil to a plate or paper. Repeat frying until all of the balls are cooked.

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If using the garlic chutney, spread a nice layer on the bottom bun, place the patty on the bun, top with sliced onion. Or skip the chutney and use condiments of your choice. Enjoy!

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Review of TJ’s new Chicken-Less Salad

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The other day I discovered that Trader Joe’s is carrying a new product called Chicken-Less Salad with carrots, celery and currants. I was intrigued, but after reading the ingredients, decided that it sounds okay if not good. Well, it’s good, really good!

The bit of crunch from the carrots and celery, the dijon mustard and the chewy currants really come together for a nice flavor profile. The base is made from their gardein-style chicken strips and vegenaise, both products I eat occasionally. Try it if you can get it! I had about 1/2 cup of it on toasted bread with a bit of extra vegenaise. This would be great as a filler for lettuce cups too! -Claire

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Coconut & Peanut Poha

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Have you ever been searching for something in your pantry or kitchen only to find a whole package of something else? And then realize that you really should use it soon before it expires/stales/etc.? That’s what happened today when I found a very large bag of thick poha. It was a pleasant surprise since my hubby and I both love poha. In case you don’ t know about this unusual ingredient, poha is also called “beaten rice” and “flattened rice”. It’s basically a dried flattened raw rice product that can be used raw or cooked. Poha is used in Indian snacks, breakfasts, lunches and light meals in both savory and sweet preparations. It can be added to some dosa batters to thicken the batter. It’s an ingredient that is easy to work with and keeps a long time. Pick up a package next time you are in an Asian or Indian market! A few years ago I posted a recipe for the thin variety of poha.

Here’s a simple recipe I made for lunch today that turned much better than I expected. I started looking in a few cookbooks for ideas, but didn’t really find anything that seemed new. My usual go-to recipe for thick poha uses onion and potato. That seemed too heavy for today. Therefore, I started out with a very basic recipe but tweaked it a bit by adding peanuts (for protein), cilantro for more flavor and lots of coconut. It turned out light, spicy and very tasty. I hope you try it too!

Coconut & Peanut Poha (Serves 4)

4 cups of thick poha
4 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup raw peanuts (or roasted peanuts)
2 tsp salt or to taste
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried red chili peppers, broken
1 green chili peppers, sliced
4 tbsp water
sprig of curry leaves
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (not sweet!) coconut flakes
cilantro – about 1/2 cup chopped
lemon slices

The poha is a little tricky. It’s easy to make it too soft so be careful. You don’t want it too soft and soggy nor do you want it “al dente”: Place the poha in a large colander or strainer and place in the sink. Quickly wash the poha with water running, using your hand to fluff it and get each grain wet. Let the water drain immediately. Let sit for a few minutes. It should have softened without any additional water. Taste a bite to see if it’s soft enough for you. When it’s ready, place it in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat a medium-sized pan of your choice over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and raw peanuts (if using roasted peanuts, skip this step). Allow the peanuts to fry a bit until they are browned. Once done, immediately remove from the oil to a plate (leaving the oil in the pan), sprinkle with a bit of salt and allow to cool.

Now add the mustard seeds to the oil. Once popping, add the urad dal, cumin seeds, red chili peppers, green chili peppers and curry leaves. Carefully add the water and allow it to cook off. This will make the urad dal soft. When the water is evaporated, pour this seasoning over the washed poha.

Now toss in the peanuts, coconut flakes and cilantro. Add salt to taste. Stir gently but well. If the poha is a bit too wet it may stick together. If that happens, just stir as gently as possible, breaking up pieces as you do so. Can you tell that I have experience at making the poha too soft? It’s okay if it happens, it will still taste good! Serve with some yummy garlic pickle and lemon slices to squeeze over.

Refreshing Salad of Green Mango & Cukes

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Hi! Today’s quick post is a simple mango and cucumber salad I made at lunch. I served it alongside some puliogare (tamarind rice) and it was fast and tasty combination. I had a slightly over-ripe green (sour) mango in the fridge. I actually saw a delicious looking green mango salad on another food blog yesterday (she has lots of great mango recipes). I got the inspiration to use mango in a salad today. Normally I make pickle with the green mangos or chop them up for bhel puri. Just didn’t get around to it, but I’m happy to say here is a great alternative!

The green mangos are smaller, firmer and much more sour than the usual mangos we get in US stores. You can find them in Asian markets and Indian markets. I have even seen them in a Middle Eastern market. If you don’t have “chat masala”, you can add cumin powder and a bit extra lemon. It isn’t the same, but it will still make a nice salad.

Refreshing Salad of Green Mango & Cukes

1 green mango (sour)
2 Persian cucumbers
1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
1/2 to 1 whole green chili pepper, finely chopped
1.5 tsp chat masala (or cumin powder)
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/8 of cup of chopped cilantro

Cut the mango and cucumbers into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Add the onions, pepper, masala and salt. Stir well. Add 1/2 of the lemon juice and stir. Taste and add more juice and salt if necessary. Sprinkle the cilantro over the top. Serve chilled.

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Mouth-watering Mushroom, Kale & Tofu Scramble & Grits

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Hello! I’m back to the Indian-inspired cooking for a bit. It’s “cold” here in S. Cali this week requiring some spicy comfort food. Yes, it’s in the high 50’s to low 60’s, but what can I say? This morning I threw together a quick tofu scramble while the grits were gurgling on the stove. I love mushrooms and when I’m feeling a bit under the weather they always seem to bring me back around. For some extra nutrients, I threw in kale and tomatoes. The tomatoes were just cooked enough to be soft but still pop a little in your mouth. Hence, the “mouth-watering” description. I ate these served over yellow corn grits with a few dashes of super-spicy Marie Sharp’s Belizean Heat. I think grits have to be eaten with a bit of hot sauce. Just goes hand-in-hand.

This is an easier recipe than my scrambled tofu with spinach since I don’t use onion and garlic. It also takes less time since you don’t have to wait on the onion to cook. The only thing you have to mess with is chopping the mushrooms (and kale if using fresh). I have a bag of organic kale in the freezer. It’s handy for quick meals where I really need some greens. The kale cooks faster than fresh since the ice crystals have broken it down a bit.

If you don’t have all of the spices, run out to the store and get them! What are you waiting for? Just kidding… you can add whatever you like – just don’t use too much of any one thing so you keep a balanced flavor. Of course, you could go the Mexican or Italian route with the spices too. Tomorrow I will use the leftovers to make tacos with corn tortillas. Just throw on some spicy salsa, fresh shredded cabbage and another nice, healthy meal is ready! Here is today’s version of the tofu scramble…

Mouth-watering Mushroom, Kale & Tofu Scramble & Grits (serves 2 – 4)

1 pkg. firm tofu (press out the water for 10 – 15 minutes)
1 lb. of portabella or other mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 cup of kale, frozen or washed and chopped
2+ tbsp oil
2 tsp of black salt (or to taste)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2 tsp garam masala (optional)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
hot sauce to taste
3 cups cooked grits

Heat up your trusty cast-iron skillet (or other large skillet) to medium. When it’s really hot, add your mushrooms and let them cook for a minute or two. Stir and add a pinch of salt over them. As they start cooking down and releasing their water, you can add the oil and kale. After about two minutes, crumble the tofu with your hands into the skillet. There should be bite-sized pieces and some smaller pieces. Add a bit more oil if necessary to keep it from sticking. Stir and then add all of the spices and stir again to get the spices incorporated. Reduce the heat to low. Allow to cook, stirring only once in while so that the tofu starts to get slightly brown and crispy in spots. After approximately 5 – 8 minutes, make a little space in the middle of the pan by moving everything else to the sides. Toss the tomatoes in the center and let everything cook for about 3 minutes. Stir and turn off the heat. Keep in mind that cooking times will vary depending on the type of tofu you are using, how much water is in it, if you are using cast-iron or not… Spoon over hot grits. Serve with fresh cilantro and hot sauce.

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Wild Salad Sunday – Food Foraging in Huntington Botanical Garden

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Another post for my Salad Project! This morning I had the opportunity to attend a Food Foraging class at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. For an avid gardener like myself, this was heaven on Sunday morning! We gathered early while there was still a chill in the air. Our teacher, Nancy Klehm, greeted us and gave us an intro on foraging. I enjoyed hearing her talk about how to treat the plants that are foraged. She doesn’t just go and rip out the plants, rather she gently takes a bit and leaves the rest for others. Just as we would never stomp through the wilderness while hiking, destroying things, we don’t want to destroy the plants that are feeding us. I agree with this outlook and respect for nature and for the plants.

We got started with a tasting of a bit of tea made with foraged dandelion root and burdock root as well as a tincture made with wild burdock root. She also brought some dried wild plums that we tasted. They reminded me of hibiscus tea. We then started our foraging as Nancy showed us several “weeds” and wild foods that are edible and/or medicinal. We learned about which foods can help the liver, kidneys and blood, how to use the plants for first aid and how to choose the best-tasting parts of the plants. The most useful take-away for me is finding out that all of these so-called weeds that we have in S. California are actually edibles. And they are high in nutritive values as well! We have a bed of radishes and carrots at our school garden that is overrun with oxalis, mallow and sow thistle (sonchus) that I will now leave in peace. The “weeds” can live in harmony with the radishes and carrots (as long as it isn’t too crowded). What a great salad it will make for our students.

At the end of our class, we feasted on some wonderful things. Each student gathered some wild greens for a community salad. Nancy brought a fruity tahini-based dressing (my favorite dressing base) that she mixed with some homemade several-fruits-vinegar, garlic and some other things. She also shared some homemade crackers with lavender seeds, fresh cheese made from raw cow’s milk, and wild current preserves. To top it off, she made a frittata with foraged oyster mushrooms, wild spinach and some other foraged greens. To wash it down, we had a tea made with wild sumac that was very tangy for lack of a better description (don’t try to make this at home as there are not-so edible types of sumac!). Thanks for a great class, Nancy!

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If you are going foraging, please be mindful of not eating things from sprayed areas or polluted areas. Better yet, take a class with Nancy! Here is a link to her website. Here are photos of just a few of the plants we learned about today:

Miner’s Lettuce / Claytonia perfoliata

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Oxalis (Wood Sorrel)

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Chickweed / Stellaria media

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Mallow / Malva neglecta 

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Curly Dock / Rumex crispus

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Wild Salad with Foraged Foods

In a large bowl, place:

handful each of 3 or more of any of the following: wild spinach, oxalis, sow thistle, dandelion, clover, wild mustard, mallow, yarrow, mugwort, curly dock, chickweed, plaintain leaf
add a handful  or two of mint, lemon balm, Calendula leaves and / flowers, arugula, nasturtium leaves and/or flowers

Try to balance the bitter greens with the milder greens, the drier leaves with wetter leaves and add various flowers for texture and color. Mix and toss with dressing of your choice or the dressing below. Bitter greens are usually good with some type of fruit-flavored dressing.

Standard Tahini-Orange Dressing

1/4 cup of tahini
1/2 cup of orange juice
1/4 cup of water plus more as needed
1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the tahini and orange juice, stirring and adding water until it is the consistency you like. Add the minced garlic and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes if possible to allow the garlic to infuse the dressing.