mint and peach lassi


peach with mint lassi drink

There it was, this little produce stand that we almost drove past by on our way back from Sonoma. Quaint with its worn out thatched roof that seemed weakly held together by long wooden beams on the side of the road with the pretty backdrop of wine valley. We were out of eggs and I figured it might be worth our while to see if we could pick some up here because by the time we'd reach home, I knew neither of us would be in the mood to deal with a busy supermarket. 

peaches for lassi

My eyes were to hunt for the presence of eggs in this little stall but they failed their purpose and wandered towards the end of one of the tables that housed a stack of wooden crates filled with large golden orbs that enticed with promises of juicy sweetness. They drew me closer and I went ahead and grabbed one of those big golden balls of sunshine. I held one close to inhale its sweet fragrance and that peach reminded me that this is one of the very reasons that makes summer so special. 

peach and mint lassi drink

Lassis are probably one of my favorite drinks and in India we'd drink fresh lassis every hot summer day in tall glasses filled with the chilled sweet liquid. With my fresh ripe peaches a sweet and cool lassi that would serve to cool and refresh was definitely in order! Lassis should be thin and not heavy and thick so avoid using Greek yogurt and use either non-fat or regular plain unsweetened yogurt and then adjust the consistency with water. There is really no need to add sugar to the drink because these peaches were crazy sweet and I love when I don't have to add extra sweeteners! But feel free to adjust the sweetness as needed.

peach and mint lassi
peach lassi with mint

mint and peach lassi

yields: 2 servings

ingredients

1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain yogurt (non-fat or regular) 
1 1/2 cups ripe peaches, peeled and diced + a few pieces to garnish
3/4 cup water, chilled (you can add more or less depending on how thin you like the consistency)
3-4 fresh mint leaves + a few sprigs to garnish

1. Place the yogurt, 1 1/2 cups peaches, water and 3-4 mint leaves in a blender. Pulse until smooth and completely combined.
2. Serve in chilled classes and garnish with extra peach fruit pieces and a sprig of fresh mint.

Note: Traditionally lassi is made with regular yogurt and the lassi should be thin. Do not use Greek yogurt here or it will be too thick. Indian lassis should be refreshing and light and not heavy.

shrimp etouffee

shrimp etouffee

As much as I complain about cold weather and winter, I really do enjoy the snow whenever we visit the farm. Everything at the farm looks pretty at any time of the year and it is the same with snow. I didn't get to milk the goats, since there aren't any babies right now but I might get to again later this spring or summer. Overall, I had a wonderful time, ate a lot and relaxed, it is so nice to get away and just take a breather even if it is for a short moment. 
Things that I learned on this trip;
  • Sledding down a steep hill is a lot of fun but not walking up.
  • Walking in knee high snow might be a new great way for me to burn some calories.
  • Snoopy is fascinated with but also intimidated by cats. 
  • It's always refreshing to be without cell phone signal for a day or two. (We did have limited internet connectivity so it wasn't like we were out of touch with the world but it was still so good).

shrimp

We were planning on taking our yearly trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras but unfortunately, that won't be happening since we have quite a bit of stuff happening on the home front that it will have to be pushed back to sometime later. NOLA is one of my favorite cities to visit not only because it is a city rich with food and culture but also because it is home to one of my dearest and closest friends from grad school. So since we won't be going any time soon, I decided to whip out one of my favorite cookbooks, Brennan's New Orleans Cookbook which contains some of the most delicious dishes from the famous restaurant. I also love this cookbook because I found it lying in a used bookstore for a dollar and this is their 1964 edition which makes it extra special to me. 

onions and brown rice

Crawfish étouffée is one of my all time favorite dishes from Louisiana. It's hard to find crawfish here in D.C. so I've used shrimp instead and it is equally delicious. I've adapted the original recipe from the Brennan's cookbook and modified it to lighten the dish considerably by removing the need for a roux. A roux is what makes this traditional sauce thick, however it also requires a large amount of butter which I wanted to avoid, so I used cornstarch to achieve the same consistency. A bowl of this steamy saucy dish over fluffy brown rice is comfort food at its best and without the guilt!

light shrimp etouffee

shrimp étouffée 

yields: 4 servings

ingredients 

4 tablespoons olive oil 
1 cup onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups tomatoes, diced
2 cups fish stock, low sodium
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 lb shrimp, cleaned and deveined 
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon parsley, freshly chopped

1. In a large thick-bottmed saucepan, heat the oil on a medium-high flame. As soon as the oil is hot, add and sauté the onions, celery and shallots. Cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and translucent.
2. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 8-10 minutes until the mixture begins to brown. 
3. Add the stock to the saucepan and stir the ingredients together. Add the cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce along with the shrimp. Reduce the flame to a medium-low and cook for 3-4 minutes with occasional stirring until the shrimp are completely cooked. 
4.  In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water to form a slurry. Increase the heat to a medium-high and bring the ingredients in the saucepan to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, quickly stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove the saucepan from the stove, garnish with the parsley and serve with brown rice.

brown rice

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, finely diced
2 cups brown rice, short grain
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups water

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on a medium-high flame. Add the shallots and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until the shallots become tender and translucent. Add the brown rice and cook with constant stirring for 1 minute.
2. Add the salt, pepper and water to the saucepan. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil on a medium-high flame. Boil the mixture for 1 minute and then reduce the flame to a medium-low, cover with a lid and cook the rice for about 40-45 minutes or until all the water has evaporated and the rice is light and fluffy. 

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.

lentil and tahini soup

lentil and tahini soup

I'm finally back from Charleston and as always the Holy City always pleases with its charming Southern culture and delicious food. My friends had a beautiful wedding and I had a wonderful time celebrating their special moment with them. I'm always excited for vacations and short getaway trips but I have to be honest, I am always excited to come back and relax in the comfort of my own home. What I love to do the most when I come back home from any trip is to kick back in my pajamas and read a book. 

lentil

While we are on the subject of comfort, I should tell you that soups are one of my favorite comfort foods. This particular soup has quickly become a quick and tasty way for us to enjoy the cold weather  while we stay warm indoors. It's packed with nutritious lentils and flavored with fresh dill. The richness of the soup comes from the lentils and the natural creaminess of the tahini. I keep a jar of tahini on hand in my kitchen at all times. It's my magic ingredient for many dishes because it can take a simple dish and infuse a whole new level of complexity to your meal. Tahini is flavor and awesomeness on wheels and a little bit goes a very long way!

dill

You could probably use any type of lentil in this soup, I've used split mung (moong) lentils that have their outer green skin removed, consequently these lentils appear yellow in color. This soup is best eaten the day it is prepared because the flavors are fresh and bold. You can always up the amount of chili flakes to increase the heat in the soup. As the lentils tend to thicken the soup as time proceeds (even on storage), you can always add additional water to thin it out, just taste and season if necessary. 

lentil tahini soup

lentil and tahini soup

yields:

4 - 6 serving

ingredients

1 1/2 cups (11 5/8 ounces) yellow mung/

moong (split with skin removed) 

lentils 

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves minced

1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

6 cups water**

2 tablespoons tahini

2 limes

1/2 cup fresh dill + 2 tablespoons for garnish, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1. Clean the lentils and remove any visible stones and dirt. Rinse the lentils in cold water, drain and keep aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on a medium high flame. Add and stir the garlic and chili flakes in the hot oil for 30 seconds. Add 4 cups of water and the washed lentils to the stockpot. Bring the contents of the stockpot to a boil and then immediately reduce the flame to a medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and allow the lentils to cook until tender. This will take about 40-45 minutes. **If the soup gets too thick, you can adjust the consistency of the soup by adding more water. 

3. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and mix in the tahini. Make sure the tahini is completely mixed into the soup. Squeeze the limes and stir in the lime juice, 1/2 cup of chopped dill and salt. Taste and adjust the salt if necessary.

4. Remove the pot from the stove and serve the soup warm garnished with a little of the extra chopped fresh dill. 

ginger tamarind brussels sprouts

Ginger tamarind brussels sprouts

I never grew up eating brussels sprouts, they didn't grow locally so we never ate them. However, by the time, I did get the chance to try them out, I had a lot of anxiety built up based on all the opinions I had heard over time, they were supposedly pretty nasty! My first experience with the round cabbage-like doppelgängers was at a Thanksgiving dinner in Cincinnati, where the host had prepared a batch of seared brussels sprouts. You know that moment, when you are seated as a guest at someone's dinner table, and you feel obliged to try everything, yeah that was me sweating it out! With a lot of nervous apprehension, I stuck a fork into one of the four sprouts I picked off the serving dish and put one into my mouth. Lo and behold, they were actually good, actually better than good, they were delicious and I couldn't fathom what the fuss was all about. Fast forward to today, I'm in my kitchen cooking them every time these guys are fresh in season.

Brussels sprouts

The bitterness is what drives many people away from these little guys. What kills the bitterness? Shaving the sprouts super thin! The finer the shave the better. It also makes the entire dish feel lighter in taste and texture. Which is even better because this recipe is light and healthy and packed with a bunch of great zesty and sour flavors. Also, on a side note, I love this dish with wine,  it goes really well with whites and reds. 

Cutting brussells sprouts


Let's talk a little bit more about the flavors, there's fresh ginger root, sour tamarind and fresh honey for the flavorings. I don't overcook the sprouts, just enough to get the shaving gently sautéed and to help bring out the ginger flavors. Both ginger and tamarind are really popular ingredients in Goan cooking and the combination here is perfect! Most of the time, when I cook these brussels sprouts, I will eat it as an entire meal but you can also serve this as a side with meat, poultry or fish. 

Ginger tamarind brussels sprouts and honey

ginger, tamarind brussels sprouts

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

1lb brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 inch piece ginger root, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon tamarind paste concentrate (I use the Tamicon brand)
2 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons honey

1. Rinse the brussels sprouts under running tap water, drain, and pat dry with a clean towel. Trim the ends of the sprouts and discard any damaged outer leaves. Cut each brussels sprouts in half and then slice them extremely thin to get fine thin shreds. Alternately, you can also shave them on a mandolin slicer using the thinnest setting. Keep aside.
2. Heat the olive oil on medium high in a thick bottomed pan or skillet. Once the oil begins to heat up after approximately 30-40 seconds, grate the ginger root directly onto the hot oil using a microplane zester (or the fine teeth of a grater). Quickly stir and cook the ginger for 30 seconds in the hot oil, add the brussels sprouts to the oil, mix well and cook with occasional stirring for 8-10 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and adjust the amounts if needed.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the tamarind, hot water and honey to a thin paste. Taste and adjust the sweetness with more honey if desired. If it is too acidic then you can add a little more hot water. 
4. Serve the warm brussels sprouts with the tamarind sauce on the side. You can also drizzle a little sauce over the brussels sprouts and then serve the rest of the sauce with it.

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.