Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Saraswati Puja and the Nostalgic Gota Seddho (Whole Lentil and Vegetable Stew)

Friday, the 15th was Saraswati Puja or Vasant Panchami or Shree Panchami, call what ever you like. This day the Ma Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art and Culture is worshiped and it also its marks the beginning of Spring in India.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge Brownies - Valentines Day or not, these are a Must Try!

Let me be frank, Valentines Day never quite excited me. Valentines Day was unheard in India until the economy opened up and global products flooded the Indian markets. Along with Coke and Pepsi came Archies and Hallmark and India got introduced to "Valentines Day", "Mothers' Day", "Fathers' Day"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lentil Soup with Caramalized Onions

I love soups and so does my family. Be it summer or winters, spring or fall we have soup for dinner at least twice to thrice a week. In fact, I had introduced Macher Jhol and Bhaat (Fish Curry and Rice) to Lil Sid as Fish Soup with Rice!

This winter too, we had soup almost every night of the week. Last month we had to tackle a lot of health issues like tooth infection, tooth extraction, toe injury, diarrhea and cold and flu in general. So soups were the easiest and the most nourishing meal that I could come up with.   

I prefer making chunky soups with lots of vegetables and meat, if we are having the soup as the main course, with breads or cracker on the sides. This winter, I made this Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onions pretty often. Firstly, because its DELICIOUS and keeps you full for a long time. And secondly, lentils are sky-high in fiber, a good portion of which is the heart-healthy soluble type. When you are a diabetic, you should be extra careful about your heart health.

I came up with this recipe by combining two recipes from the Food NetworkRachael Ray's
Sausage, Kale, and Lentil Soup and Ingrid Hoffmann's Caramelized Onions and Lentil Rice. I liked the idea of topping lentils with caramelized onions. The red wine infused onions works magic with the smokiness of cumin and paprika in the soup to create a delightful blend of flavors . Though this soup looks that it required a lot of effort, its actually pretty easy to put together. You can cook the soup and caramelize onions simultaneously, in separate pans. The only effort needed is slicing a hell lot of onions and handling the tears that they bring.

Now for the Soup, you can use as many or as little vegetables that you wish or have in hand. I love to add celery and spinach to this soup, but was out on those today. I have used brown lentils (Kala Masoor Daal/ Chilk wala Masoor ki daal), but black or green lentils can be used too. Do not use Red Lentils (Masoor Daal) as it becomes mushy very easily and you'll get Dal instead of a soup. The original recipe used sausage, but I prefer using lean ground meat like ground turkey or chicken. Today I have used ground Turkey. This soup can easily turn vegetarian by omitting the ground meat and using vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock.

Recipe Snapshot: Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onions

Serves: 4 serving
(1 serving = 1 cup)

What I used:
For the Soup:
Dry Brown Lentil - 1 cup
Lean Ground Meat (Chicken/ Turkey/Pork/ Beef) - ½ lb
Garlic - 3-4 fat cloves, sliced
Onion - 1 medium sized, diced
Carrots - 1 large or 2 medium, diced
Peas - ½ cup (fresh or frozen)
Bay Leaf - 1 large leaf
Cumin Powder - 1 tsp
Red Chili Powder - ½ tsp
Smoky Paprika - ½ tsp
Chicken Stock - 6 cups (or 7 cups if you want a little thinner)
Cilantro/ Coriander leaves - A handful
Oil - 2 tsp + 1 tbsp

For the Caramelized Onions:
Yellow Onions - 2 large or 4-5 medium sized, finely sliced
Garlic - 2 cloves
Oil - 2 tbsp
Salt - ½ tsp
Red Wine - ½ cup

What I did:
For the Soup:

1. In a large pot, heat 2 tsp of oil and brown the meat evenly. Season the meat with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. In the same pan add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and add the bay leaf, garlic, onions and carrots and saute till the onions become translucent. (2-3 mins)

3. Add the cumin powder, red chili powder and smoked Paprika and fry till the masala is cooked, adding splashes of water to prevent it from burning. (1 minute)

4. Add the lentils and the chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Bring it down to simmer and let it cook until the lentils are completely cooked. They should be tender but not mushy and still holding their shape. (20 mins to 30 minutes)

5. Half way down the simmering process add the browned meat. (after 10 minutes) When its nearly done add the peas and the cilantro. Adding the peas before will make them mushy.

6. Server with a tablespoon of Caramelized Onions and wholegrain cracker or bread.

For the Caramelized Onions:

1. Heat the oil over medium high heat and add the chopped onions and garlic. 

2. Add the salt and saute over medium low heat till the onions are cooked through. (20-25 minutes)

3. De-glaze the pan with some red wine and let the wine evaporate completely (5 minutes). Keep stirring the onions all the time till all the moisture is gone.

4. Serve on top of the Lentil Soup.

This soup is a meal in itself or you can have it with any crusty bread or even plain bread slices. Serve it with some buttered Garlic naan and it'll be a match made in heaven. This warm and hearty soup fills you up, makes you feel better and drives away the winter blues.

Diabetic Platter:
Lentils are sky-high in fiber, a good portion of which is the heart-healthy soluble type. They’re also a great low-fat replacement for animal protein, which is often full of saturated fat. Lentils are very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Protein, Iron, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Folate and Manganese. Lentils are a winning combination of high-quality carbohydrates, lean protein, and soluble fiber that helps stabilize your body's blood-sugar levels and keeps hunger in check.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Begun Pora (Fire Roasted Eggplant Mash) - A Winter Comfort Food

I am back after a short inevitable hiatus. We, as a family had some tough time in the last month dealing with various health scares. The good news is that the worst is over and its time to thanks our friends  for their unyielding support.

Come winter and every Bengali household, worth its salt, would rustle Begun Pora at least once a week, if not more frequently. Begun is Brinjal/ Aubergine/ Eggplant and literally speaking Pora means  burnt or charred. Here the eggplant is roasted in open flame till the skin is charred and the flesh inside is cooked through and then its mashed up with mustard oil, red onion, cilantro and fiery green chilies. This rustic peasant dish is exclusive to the winters because, back in India, these plump, dark purple eggplants are available in only during the winter months. In US, we get these beauties, better known  as "Mexican Eggplant", all year round but call it mental block or psychological conditioning, I invariably make the Begun Pora during winters!

This photo is originally from http://www.mysahana.org/2010/09/eggplant/
Begun Pora can be called a Bong version of the Middle Eastern Baba Ganoush and a rustic cousin to the elite Punjabi-style Baingan ka Bharta that frequents the menus in Indian Restaurants here in the US.

The recipe I am sharing today is a combination of my Mother and Mother-in-law's recipe. My Mom adds chopped tomatoes to her mash while my MIL roasts the tomatoes, like I have done here. My Mom adds roasted garlic and a handful of sweet peas (available only in the winter months), which my MIL does not. Here is how I make it.

Wash the eggplant thoroughly, pat dry completely. Now slit lengthwise, making sure that the stem is on. Rub a little mustard oil and roast or smoke it on your stove top. Ideally, it should be done on an low open gas flame, but I had to do it on the stove-top rack on my cooking range. I double lined my drip-try with an aluminium foil for an easy clean up.

As the eggplant begins to char, turn it around a couple of times for an even charring. You'll know its done when the skin of the entire eggplant has tuned dark and its had sagged completely and the kitchen is filled with a sweet smokey smell (in about 20-30 mins, depending on the size of your eggplant).

The roasting/charring can also be done over the broiler mode in the oven, but you'll not get the smokey flavor which is so distinctive to this dish. In case you'd still insist on the broil method, put in a baking tray lined with aluminum foil, smear the eggplant with mustard oil on top and broil, rotating every 20 mins to broil it evenly. It usually takes between 40-50 minutes to an hour.

Now take two medium sized tomatoes, wash and pat dry and rub a little mustard oil and do exactly as you did with the eggplant- char it evenly. You can also stick in the broiler for 30 minutes. Do the same for a couple of cloves of garlic.

Once the eggplant, tomatoes and the garlic are charred, let them cool and then discard the skin and mash them. I use my clean hands to mash them but using a fork is just as fine.

Add a generous amount of chopped cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped red onions, green chilies and sweet peas (fresh or frozen; if using frozen thaw and rinse well before adding) and a teaspoon (or two) of pungent mustard oil.

Mix everything well and season with salt and a serve the Begun Pora with hot fluffy rotis.

Your light, healthy and delightful dinner is ready in about 30 minutes.

Recipe Snapshot: Begun Pora (Fire Roasted Eggplant Mash) 

Serves: 3 serving
(1 serving = 3/4 cup)

What I used:
Begun/ Brinjal/ Eggplant - 1 big, deep purple, washed and pat dry and slit, keeping the stem intact

Tomatoes - 2, washed and pat dry

Garlic - 4 fat cloves (5-6 small cloves), skin on

Red Onion - 1 medium sized, chopped

Green Chilies - 1-2 nos (or more if you can tolerate)

Cilantro/ Coriander leaves - 1 cup chopped

Sweet Peas - ½ cup (fresh is desirable, frozen will do too!)

Mustard Oil - 1 to 2 teaspoon+ more rubbing on the eggplant and tomatoes


What I did:
1. Rub the Eggplant, Tomatoes and the Garlic with mustard oil.

2. Roast the eggplant, tomatoes and garlic on low gas flame or over the stove top, turning frequently. Alternatively, you can broil it in the oven.

3. Once the charred veggies are cooled, discard the skin and mash the flesh.

4. Add chopped onion, green chilies, cilantro, peas, salt and mustard oil and mix well.

5. Serve with hot roti/ chapati.

Diabetic Platter:
Eggplant is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber.