winter soba noodle salad

winter soba noodle salad

I've been noticing daffodils popping up in gardens all over the city. A couple of the buds in my garden  are also breaking through the surface and sticking their heads out. Maybe this is a real sign or its wishful thinking at my end to really believe that winter is finally on its way out and spring is slowly sneaking in. Till then I will ignore February's wintry feel and take pleasure in the delights that come packed in nature's seasonal produce.

falling soba noodles

Soba noodles are one of my favorite varieties of noodles to chomp on. I love them cold or hot and I absolutely adore their versatility when it comes to cooking with them. There's just so much you can do with them that I always keep an "emergency" stash stocked away for those moments (kinda like my "emergency" chocolate stash). You can make a whole meal out of this salad or serve it as a salad on the side, it will never disappoint. Its sweet, sour and hot flavors will win you over.

winter vegetables for soba noodles

I packed some heat into this salad using a popular Asian chili paste called Sambal Olek, you can find it any grocery store or international food market. If you like your salad hotter, add some more sambal olek to the oil. This salad is bursting with seasonal flavors, I've tossed in some sweet potatoes and bok choy and seasoned it with freshly grated ginger root. The dressing uses freshly squeezed orange juice which brings out the flavors of the ingredients and adds a mild sweetness to balance the heat of the chili. My favorite way to eat my soba noodle salad, sitting on the couch covered with a blanket and staring at the weather outside with Snoopy. 

winter vegetable soba noodle salad

winter soba noodle salad

yields: 4 - 6 servings

ingredients 

4 cups of water
3 bundles of soba noodles
1 tablespoon wild sesame oil (or regular sesame oil) + 1 tablespoon (for dressing)
1 teaspoon sambal olek 
1 teaspoon ginger root, freshly grated
2 cups sweet potato, finely diced
2 large green onions or scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
4  bunches bok choy, leaves separated
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1. Bring the water to boil on a medium high flame in a stockpot. Remove the noodles from the packaging and add them to the boiling water. Cook the noodles for 4 minutes or until tender, immediately drain and run cold  tap water over the noodles until completely cool. Drain the noodles completely and keep aside until ready.
2. In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil on a medium high flame. As soon as the oil gets hot, add the sambal olek and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ginger and sweet potatoes. Stir fry and cook for 20 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are cooked and tender. Add the white parts to the wok along with the bok choy and stir fry and cook until the stem of the bok choy are tender. This will take about 5 minutes.  Season with the salt and remove the wok from the stove and keep aside.
3. In a medium sized mixing bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking the 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, soy sauce, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and pepper.
4. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cooled noodles, the stir fried vegetables with the dressing. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill the noodles in the refrigerator for at at least 1 hour before serving.

pumpkin raita

pumpkin raita

Here's my first pumpkin recipe of the year, even though autumn is technically a few days away, I think it is fair to say, the weather is cooling down quickly, the sun is setting earlier, and my craving for pumpkins is kicking in. Though this is also the time when we bounce back and forth between hot and chilly day  and I think that you will find this recipe a fitting tribute to the transition between summer and fall,  with its cool, light, and refreshing flavors, something that you can eat as an accompaniment to any meal or even as a salad. 

Pumpkin cutting

One of my favorite accompaniments in Indian cuisine is the "raita".  It is usually served chilled and it soothes and cleans your palette whenever you eat a spicy hot dish. There are several hundred different varieties of raitas but all of them share one common ingredient, yogurt. Normally, you would use plain yogurt but since I like my raitas a little thick and creamy, I use plain Greek yogurt. If you want it thinner, mix in a little cold water till you achieve the desired consistency.

Yogurt and Cilantro

Sugar pie pumpkins are the perfect size for a small family and much more easier to work with. All you need to do is simply quarter the pumpkin, discard the seeds and strings from the inner cavity, peel and discard the skin. To grate the flesh, pass it through a food processor with the appropriate blade or use a grater. For this particular dish, I prefer to steam cook the grated pumpkin since it only takes a few minutes and the pumpkin retains its structure. 

Falling black mustard seeds

This raita will go deliciously well with rice dishes, flat breads like naan or rotis or even as a dip for a party. If you want it hotter, just add a few more chili peppers just make sure it is served super chilled.

Here are some of my other favorite savory and sweet pumpkin dishes that I hope you will like,
bowl of pumpkin raita

pumpkin raita

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

2 cups grated pumpkin
1 thai green chili pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
3 cups plain non-fat greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2-3 curry leaves, dried or fresh

1. Place the grated pumpkin in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a lid and microwave for 3-4 minutes until the pumpkin is completely tender.  Keep aside to cool.
2. In a large mixing bowl add the pumpkin, chili pepper, onion, cilantro, mint, yogurt, salt, and pepper. Whisk the ingredients with a fork and taste to make sure the amount of salt and pepper is enough. Transfer the mixture to a clean serving dish. Cover and refrigerate the raita for 1-2 hours until chilled.
3. Before serving, heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium high flame till it gets slightly smoky. Immediately reduce the flame to low and carefully add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. The seeds will begin to spurt and the leaves will brown in the hot oil. Cook till the seeds stop spurting and pour the entire contents while hot on top of the chilled raita. Serve immediately. 

rhubarb lentil salad

Rhubarb lentil salad

Last weekend, we visited Grayson County in Virginia which is also home to the picturesque Mount Rogers. Now for some reason, I have always had a little bit of a love affair with the sign that marks the camping site, it's absolutely gorgeous and I finally realized why. The sign always reminds of the camping signs in the old Yogi Bear cartoons! Our trip was fun, judging by the way I ate several homemade farm-fresh bread rolls every morning that I loaded with cream cheese. I'm the kind of guy that loves dunking things like buttered bread and cookies into my coffee or tea and it seemed completely justified at the time, since we were at the Sells' farm for the entire weekend. 

Mount Rogers and Rhubarb

This is rhubarb season and instead of focussing on the many traditional rhubarb desserts (which I do love), I opted for a light and refreshing rhubarb lentil salad. By the way, strawberry rhubarb cobblers are still one of my favorite rhubarb-based desserts. I was lucky to convince Shelly to give me some of her fresh rhubarb stalks that she grows besides several other wonderful things, down at her farm.


Rhubarb

Perhaps, since summer is at hand, salads are on my mind a little more than usual. I've been eating almost everything I can, as a salad. So here's my rhubarb-based lentil salad seasoned and spiced with coriander and fresh mint. The rhubarb gives a delicious acidic and tart flavor to the lentils. To keep with the theme of using farm-grown produce, I tossed in some fresh sorrel leaves that I planted a few months back.

Coriander Seeds
Sorrel and Rhubarb lentil salad

rhubarb lentil salad

yields: 2-4 servings

ingredients

1 cup black lentils, cleaned and rinsed
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro) seeds, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 cup rhubarb stalks, diced
kosher sea-salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
a few fresh sorrel leaves to garnish

1. Bring the lentils and water to a boil in a large saucepan on a high flame. Reduce the flame to a simmer and cover with a lid. Cook for about 25-30 minutes until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain the excess liquid from the lentils and keep the lentils aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in the same saucepan on a medium flame for about 40 seconds. Add the coriander, chili, and oregano to the hot oil and stir for about 20 seconds. Stir in the onions and garlic and sauté till translucent for about 10 minutes. Add the drained lentils to the saucepan along with the rhubarb. Cover with a lid and reduce the flame to a low-medium. Cook for another 10 minutes until the rhubarb pieces are tender. Remove from the stove and season with salt and pepper.
3. Allow the lentils to cool to room temperature and then fold in the fresh mint leaves. Before serving the salad, garnish with the sorrel leaves.

winter chickpea salad


When you live in a city like D.C. you are constantly forced to deal with space issues or rather the lack of it. You end up adapting to the lack of space by buying and collecting less junk, getting rid of current junk, developing innovative ways to store your junk, or perhaps finding someone with extra space to store your junk. Since, I decided to redo the master bedroom and get a larger bed, I've been coming up with ways to get rid of stuff we don't need by simply tossing it out. I've begun a new project at the home front, "Project Redo Bedroom". Needless to say, I am inundated with choices, wider beds, beds with built-in storage, armoires versus dressers, different shades and tones of white paint for the walls, etc. I'm also nurturing the notion that I will build shelves on the wall and buy more books to fill them up. So here I am creating a muddle for myself, trying to get rid of stuff by buying more stuff to hide it all away. This is the dilemma of choices that I have brought on myself for the next few weeks.


Don't get me wrong, choices can be fun too and this recipe surely takes a note of that. This is a hot salad for a cold wintry day. Chickpeas come in so many fun colors and varieties. You have the regular chubby garbanzo beans and then these brown and green varieties that are a little smaller and sturdier in their texture when cooked. This salad is based on a street food recipe from India that is light and delicious. You would normally find vendors selling this spicy hot salad out of cones of newspaper, topped with fresh lime juice and hot chili flakes.


This is one salad where I prefer the main ingredient to be hot in temperature while the rest of the ingredients can be added in cold. But this salad is even wonderful, when it comes chilled straight out of your refrigerator. Though I've listed amounts below, feel free to add as much chili flakes, tomatoes or scallions as your taste buds demand. Fresh lime juice is the key to bringing this salad together. Though not traditional, you can even add some dairy to this salad but tossing in some fresh feta cheese. Either way, this salad is delicious, refreshing and fun.


winter chickpea salad

ingredients

1/2 cup green chickpeas
1/2 cup brown chickpeas
1 bunch fresh scallions (about 1 cup)
1 large tomato (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (I used dried Kashmiri chili)
2 limes
salt and pepper to season

Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. Drain and rinse the chickpeas with cold water. Boil the chickpeas in a pot of water till tender. This should take about 45 minutes, then drain the chickpeas and keep aside. In the mean time, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Slice the tomato in half, discard the seeds and chop the tomato coarsely. Finely slice the scallions at an angle. In a mixing bowl, add the chickpeas, tomatoes and scallions. Slice the limes in half and extract their juice. Add the juice to the vegetables, sprinkle the chili flakes and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or chilled with toasted naan or flat-bread.

chestnut and crab soup with arugula and feta cheese salad


How fast time flies! We're almost half way through the first week of the new year and I can't stop thinking about spring, summer and the next Christmas. It appears that at least in my case, one can never have enough of warmer temperatures and good times. You see, cold temperatures can make me a tad bit lazy! 


A roasted chestnut soup with crab meat turned out to be just the meal for this lazy lad this week. When cold, I turn to hot meals like soups and stews. Soft and sweet roasted chestnuts ground together with earthy mushrooms simmering with fresh crab meat were all that we needed for our evening supper. 


Though chestnuts are not a mainstay of Indian cuisine, this soup has few key spices that are tempered to brighten up the flavors of the soup and give it a little kick. Fragrant fennel seeds and tarragon give a fresh flavor to the soup while a hint of chili gives the soup a little heat.


I couldn't resist breaking into my stash of fresh homemade feta cheese from Shelly's goats up at the farm. Shelly packed me a batch of her fresh cheese that she makes herself along with her soaps before we came back home and I needed an excuse to break into my dairy treasures. There is a huge difference in taste between fresh and store bought feta cheese, the former being less intense but at the same time creamy and delicious.The arugula and goat cheese salad is simple and easy to make. The peppery flavors of arugula with feta and sweet cranberries make this a delicious accompaniment to the chestnut and crab soup.



chestnut and crab soup


ingredients


1/2 cup crab meat
1 cup chestnuts, roasted and shelled
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
4 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups of water
1 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste


Coarsely chop the chestnuts and add them to a food processor with the mushrooms with 2 cups of water. Pulse till almost smooth. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel and chili flakes. Heat a stockpot on a medium flame and warm up the oil. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or till you smell the garlic infuse in the oil, which should be quick. Add the fennel and chili to the hot oil, followed by the ground chestnuts and mushrooms. Stir in the the rest of the water, stock , lemon juice and tarragon. Add more water if necessary to adjust the thickness. Bring the contents of the pot to bubble and then reduce to a gentle summer with continuous stirring. Stir in the crab meat and let the soup simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot with toasted bread.


arugula and feta cheese salad


ingredients


4 cups packed arugula
1/4 cup sweetened craisins 
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon spicy wholegrain mustard
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper


In a bowl, whisk the oil, mustard and lemon juice. Keep this aside. Mix the arugula leaves and cranberries in a mixing bowl with the dressing. Sprinkle the feta cheese on the salad. Refrigerate  the salad for 10 minutes before serving.



Note: Roasting chestnuts is easy in your oven. Wipe the chestnuts clean with a damp cloth and using a paring knife make a cross cut at the tip of each chestnut. Immediately, splash the chestnuts with water and place them on a baking sheet or pan and add  roast them in an oven at 425F. This takes about 30-40 minutes. The nuts will expand along with the crosses on the shell. Place a warm chestnut between the folds of a towel and peel the shell off. 

wild rice and tuna salad


This has been a slow week not so much with regards to work, school and chores but more so with time not passing by faster. There is a secret to this, let me share! One of the biggest advantages of working in D.C. is getting every single federal holiday on the calendar, especially days like Columbus Day and President's Day which are almost unheard off. So yes, I look forward to the long weekend ahead. I just hope I complete all my school work to take full advantage of this respite. Whenever things seem slow and I lack motivation, I tend to try and plan out simpler things to do. This week a wild rice and tuna salad with some fresh cherry tomatoes from the C.S.A hit the spot. I love the way the tomatoes popped right in my mouth with every bite of this quick and easy salad. Oops!, I almost forgot to mention that this weekend is "Taste of D.C." which I hope to visit at some point on Saturday. Ah, already a weekend that should be quiet is filling up a bit too fast.


wild rice and tuna salad

yield: 4 servings

ingredients

2.5 cups of water
1 cup wild rice 
1 cup boiled tuna or a can of tuna packed in water (drain the water)
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 finely chopped Hungarian hot wax pepper
1/2 cup diced white onion
2 cloves sliced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the water to boil, add the rice and then reduce to a simmer. Cook till the rice is tender and then allow to cool to room temperature. 
2. In a separate skillet, add the oil and heat on  a high flame. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sear them for about 1 minute making sure the tomatoes don't pop open. 
3. Add the garlic, peppers, onions and cranberries and saute for another 4 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the flame and keep aside. 
4. In another bowl, whisk the olive oil, honey and vinegar to prepare the dressing. 
5. In a large bowl, flake the tuna with a fork, add the vegetables, rice and the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and fold the ingredients together. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

zaatar chickpea salad


Fall is here, after a wonderful weekend at the Outer Banks, we missed the sudden drop in temperatures. D.C. is much cooler and it seems to have happened a bit too fast for me. Summer clothes must be packed away and the sweaters need to come out. None of this has happened yet, at least at my end.


We will be up in N.Y.C. this weekend to visit our friends Tim and Meghana who have planned a fun trip to what I think is called "Little Egypt". I've been to N.Y.C so many times especially more so after Meghana moved there. Meghana was my partner-in-crime during our school days and we share a common fondness  for good food and wine among other things. I constantly rely on her recently developed "home grown" experiences of the city as she experiments her way through the diverse and rich cultures of the melting pot that is N.Y.C. I have been cultivating my ulterior plan for this trip, MUST PURCHASE A Tagine !


This quick and easy salad was based on the idea that I could prepare a protein rich vegetarian salad packed with flavor and color. I also wanted to avoid a salad with any sort of liquid dressing but still get a good lemony flavor. I realized that I might be able to avoid adding fresh lemon juice or vinegar but get the acidic taste in the salad and keep it dry at the same time by using Za'atar. Za'atar is like magic. Za'atar is one of my favorite Middle Eastern spice blends that commonly contains sesame seeds, salt, sumac and dried herbs like oregano, thyme and marjoram. By sauteing the chickpeas and the mushrooms and then adding freshly cut scallions and gorgeous sweet red peppers, the salad was able to have delicious crispy crunch in every bite. This salad could be accompanied with pita bread or you could even toss in some crushed toasted pita chips.

za'atar chickpea salad

yield: 4-6 servings

ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virigin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 cups of chickpeas, soaked overnight or 2 cans of chickpeas
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon Za'atar
1 cup chopped fresh scallions - both green and white parts
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1/2 cup freshly chopped mint leaves
salt and pepper to season

1. In a skillet, heat up the olive oil on a high flame and saute the garlic for 30 seconds to release the flavors. 
2. Rinse and drain and the chickpeas and add them along with the mushrooms and saute for about 6-7 minutes. 
3.Toss in the Za'atar and take the skillet off the flame and keep aside to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, add the rest of the vegetables, followed by the cooled chickpeas and mushrooms. Garnish with the fresh mint and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Serve the salad at room temperature or chilled. 

jamaican curried quinoa and lima bean salad


It's been raining hard here in D.C. and it does not appear that the rain has any plans of slowing down at any time soon. I feel bad for tourists that plan to come down to visit the monuments but more so for the kids that have to walk around in the rain when they don't want to. However, at my end this calls for a lazy day with a hot cup of pomegranate tea, a pillow, a blanket, a couch/bed and the television. I watch too much WETA P.B.S as some have said but I love the channel so much. I am so happy that almost all television shows are available in H.D. I have begun to notice that I fall asleep or lose interest during shows that are not shown in HDTV, I think the grains on regular television screens are soporific in their own right. 


While lazing around, I finally completed an assignment on the applications of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at the F.C.C., this sounds terribly fancy but simply put it's all about using maps to regulate the media market for one too many reasons that I could think of. It's done and that's all that matters! This was also the perfect opportunity for me to finally open up and try a bottle of this Jamaican curry powder that I stumbled across at my grocery store. It did appear to be similar to the other commercial curry powders that you commonly see in stores like the Madras, Indian and other Asian curry powders. The thing that is definitely common to all of them is the yellow powder of the turmeric root though in India you will never find a "curry" powder in the store or in anyone's house. The notion of a single curry powder that encompasses any and every Indian dish with a sauce or gravy is myth, at least in my experience. Every so called "curry" or gravy or sauce is so different in color, texture, flavor and even vary from household to household. 


Technically, this salad could be made with any commercial curry powder available at your local store, I happened to have the Jamaican version on hand and went with that. The quinoa seeds in this salad gives a nice wholesome grainy texture and at the same time boosts the fiber and protein levels, making this a highly flavorful salad that is great for any meal at any time of the day. This salad can be served directly or even chilled and stays fresh for up to three days in the refrigerator.


jamaican curried quinoa and lima bean salad

yield: 6 servings

ingredients

1 cup quinoa washed
2 cups water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup frozen Lima beans
1 cup fresh green beans
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 chopped green bell pepper
1 teaspoon Jamaican curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon honey
juice of one fresh lemon
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

1. Rinse the quinoa carefully in running cold water, preferably in a colander to remove the bitter saponin coat on top of the seeds. At the same time in  a saucepan bring the water to boil and then add the quinoa. Let it cook till the quinoa turns translucent and is soft. Remove and drain any excess water from the seeds. 
2. In skillet, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and saute the Lima beans, green beans, and bell peppers till they are seared and keep aside. 
3.To make the dressing for the salad, add the remainder of the olive oil, the curry powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper and honey to a bowl and whisk till it is mixed completely. 
4. In a large bowl, add the quinoa, Lima beans, green bell peppers, red onion, parsley and the green beans. Add the salad dressing and toss the salad ingredients together. Taste to make sure you have enough salt and pepper in the salad.