Monday, June 29, 2015

Kerala Style Prawns With Green Mango Curry




Some memories are unforgettable and they remain vivid especially when related to food; it’s hard to be erased.  Childhood memories are the ones which linger around my mind.   The very thought of some incidents amuses me when I look back.  Some are so fascinating that you wish you could relive in them, alas they are the key to the past.  Food always transports me back to those carefree childhood days, a true nostalgia!! 



Let me flip my memory book...yes.... I found something that will amuse you.




It was years ago when me and my brother were in our teens.  This happened when we were in Kerala.  It was a weekend and my Mom wanted to go to the bank.  As usual she prepared breakfast for us and some vegetable dishes for lunch.  Lunch in our house was never complete without a fish curry or fish fry.  The usual guy who brings the fish didn't show up and my Mom had to go.  We were doing some chores.  I had a good collection of roses and begonia in my garden, so I was in the front porch to check my plants.  There came a lady with a basket full of fish and asked me if we need fish.  Since Mom was not there, I didn't know, I went to the backyard and checked with my brother who was busy practicing his cricket skills.  We decided to surprise Mom by buying fish.  I had not much knowledge of fish; only few fish I knew were sardines, mackerel and prawns.  I never liked fresh water fish, so never bothered to check them when Mom buys it.  The lady asked us to call our Mom; we told her she was not there.  It was not as bad as now to say things like that to strangers.  She showed us what she got in her basket and soon she realized that these kids have no clue of what they are trying to get.  She told us to get pomfret which is supposed to be a very tasty and expensive fish. 'Pomfret' that ringed a bell; I had heard the name and remembered eating the pomfret curry prepared in coconut milk several times, but I was not sure how it looked.  Well the lady was authentically talking about the taste of this fish so we decided to get it.  We used our pocket money and got the fish.  It was the 'Now What?' moment when the lady left.  We stared at each other and the fish in the earthen pot.’  After few minutes of contemplation with my brother, we thought to surprise our Mom even better by cooking it before she comes.  Remember these are 2 teenagers who had never done anything like this before.  We put the fish in the water and started to clean it, but it was very slippery. You can imagine the rest.  We messed up the whole kitchen counter and we had spent lot of time on it already.  Soon we heard the gate opening.  Of course it was Mom; our plan to make the fish before she comes seemed to fall through the big dark holes of the drainage.   She was calling my name since we were so quiet and she came to the kitchen's area.  She was surprised to see us standing with a pot full of fish.  She asked what we bought.  We explained it was pomfret the 'good fish'.  I still remember her face, not sure what was her emotion :).   Finally we heard the unpleasant truth from our Mom's mouth that the 'good fish' we bought by spending all our pocket money was NOT POMFRET!!!  What a bummer!!!!!  We were tricked by the lady, it was some fresh water fish.  To add on to the whole situation we made the fish so mushy trying to scale/skin and leaving it in the water for long time; the end result was a pot full of inedible fish.  I am not sure what did my Mom do with it; she didn't make curry with it for sure :).  Our effort, time and money were an utter waste.  We learned our lesson, but when I think back it’s so funny and we still talk about our first encounter with 'POMFRET'.


Here is a simple recipe for Kerala Style Prawns with Green Mango.  It’s a favorite of mine.  The green mango gives enough tanginess to the curry without adding fish tamarind.  Since shrimp cooks so fast, it’s easy to prepare this delicious curry.  This curry serves best with plain steamed rice.

Just a random shot of the Iris from my backyard.  Yes, we get frequent visits from deer and you can tell it by the leaves of the Iris. 


Another random shot of a baby deer found in our patio few weeks ago.


Ingredients:
30 - cleaned and deveined prawns
5 - small shallots thinly sliced
5 - cloves of big garlic thinly sliced
1 inch - ginger peeled and chopped
5 - 6 - green chili splits
1 tsp. - Coriander powder
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. - fenugreek powder
1/2 tsp. - turmeric powder
1 1/2 cup - fresh tangy green/unripe mango peeled and cubed
2 cups - water( divided into 1 1/2 & 1/2)
1 sprig - fresh curry leaves
2 tsp. - coconut oil
salt to taste


To grind
1/2 cup - fresh/frozen grated coconut
1 - small shallot
1/4 cup - water


Tadka
2 - dry red chili broken into halves
2 - small shallots thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. - black mustard seeds
1 sprig - fresh curry leaves
1/4 tsp. - fenugreek powder
2 tsp. - coconut oil


Directions:
  • Wash the cleaned prawns with cold water and 1 tsp. of lemon juice to remove the fishy smell and keep it aside.
  • Take a earthen vessel or a non-stick pan.  Heat 2 tsp. of coconut oil and sauté the sliced shallots, garlic, ginger and sliced green chili.  Cook till it turns light golden brown.  Now add the turmeric powder, Coriander powder, Chili powder and fenugreek powder and cook on low heat for 2 minutes till the raw smell is gone.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water, green mango, prawns and salt.  Close the lid and cook for 5 - 10 minutes.
  • Meantime grind all the ingredients from the list  'To grind' into a very smooth paste.
  • Add the coconut paste into the cooked prawn.  Add 1/2 cup of water and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid closed.  Turn off the flame and let the curry sit in the earthen vessel for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Prepare the tadka in a non stick pan by spluttering 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds in 2 tsp of oil.  Add thinly sliced shallots and dry chili and cook till it becomes golden brown.  Add the fenugreek powder and turn off the flame.  Now add the fresh curry leaves and mix well.
  • Pour the tadka over the prawns curry and enjoy it with plain steamed rice.
Notes:
  • Adjust the amount of green mango and green chili per your taste.  I prefer tangy fish curries, so I used 1 1/2 cup of green mango which was good enough for our palate.
  • Make sure that the coconut is ground into a very smooth paste, otherwise the gravy will not be great.
  • This curry tends to thicken as it sits, so adjust the amount of water per your desired consistency.
  • Prawn/Shrimp cooks fast and over cooking can make the meat rubbery.  So make sure that you don't over cook the prawns.
  • Earthen vessels are preferred for making Kerala fish curries as they enhance the flavor of the curry and provides consistent heat for even cooking.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chicken Taquitos



Mexican food was introduced to me by my hubby when I came to US.  Soon I fell in love with this cuisine as it was little spicy like Indian food.  We used to eat out a lot on those days when we were least concerned about our health and there was no rules or regulations.  But things changed when kids were born, we started paying more attention to what we eat and what we give to the kids, eventually restaurant visits slowed down.  I was so fond of salsa and used to make it home even then to enjoy with some chips.  Kids also got the hang of it.  Slowly I started experimenting with other Mexican food. 




Remember my last post with the recipe for Homemade Tortillas?  Here is what I made with that batch of Tortillas.  Hope you will try this Taquitos and they are delicious by the way.  We used to buy the frozen Taquitos, but now that I make it and kids like it, I don't have to buy it anymore.  You can roll them and freeze it and bake it later when needed.  It is an easy appetizer and you can even use them for lunch by adding more filling it in.  Simply preheat the oven and plop them in there to enjoy a quick appetizer/lunch.



Ingredients:

15 - soft flour tortillas

Filling
1.5 lbs - chicken breast cubed and cleaned
2 cups - shredded cheddar cheese/Mexican cheese blend
1/2 tsp - ground pepper
1/2 tsp - mild chili powder/Paprika/Kashmiri chili powder
3 cloves - garlic minced
1/3 cup - plain cream cheese softened in microwave
1/4 cup - hot or mild salsa
1/4 cup - Chopped Cilantro leaves
1 tsp - oil
salt to taste


Directions:
  • Drain excess water from the chicken pieces.  Heat a non stick pan with 1 tsp. of oil.  Add the minced garlic to it and cook till it get golden yellow.  Now add the chicken pieces, pepper powder, salt and chili powder and cook on medium heat till water evaporates and the chicken is well cooked.  Add hot/mild salsa and chopped Cilantro to the chicken and cook on low heat for 30 seconds and turn off the burner.  Once it cools down, you can either shred the chicken pieces or leave it as small pieces and keep it aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Warm the tortilla on a non stick pan for 30 seconds on both sides if using store bought ones.  Otherwise if you are using fresh homemade tortillas, you can skip warming it.
  • Divide the chicken filling into 15 equal portions.  Place a tortilla on the plate or a clean kitchen counter or cutting board.  Add 1 tbsp. of shredded cheese on the tortilla.  Add the chicken filling and top it with 1 tsp. of cream cheese and 1 tsp of cheddar/Mexican cheese.  Roll the tortilla into cigar shape.  Place it on a baking sheet with seam-side down.  Make rest of the Taquitos this way.  Brush the Taquitos lightly with oil.
  • Bake them for 10 minutes on one side and turn the sides and bake for another 5 -10 minutes till the cheese is melted and Taquitos are crispy.
  • Enjoy them hot with your favorite salsa or sour cream.
Notes:
  • Make sure that you leave some space on the edges of the Tortillas when adding the filling.  Otherwise the cheese will ooze out and stick to the pan which will make the Taquitos stick to the baking sheet.  I didn't use any cooking spray or aluminum foil on my baking sheet because I made sure that the fillings won't ooze out while baking.
  • Adjust the amount of Chicken, Cheese and spiciness per your taste.  This is just a rough measurement with the basic recipe for Taquitos.  Be creative and feel free to add any filling of your choice.
  • Left over Taquitos can be refrigerated or stored in ziplock bags in the freezer.  They can be reused by baking them in the oven or toaster oven at 350°F for 10 minutes.
  • You can make these ahead, by simple filling the tortillas and roll them into Taquitos and keep it in the freezer in ziplock bags with layers separated by plastic wraps.  brush oil on the top and bake in preheated oven with 375°F for 30 -35 minutes till the cheese is melted and Taquitos are crispy.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Homemade Flour Tortillas





Do you pay attention to the ingredients list on the label of a food that you buy from store?  If you don't, I highly recommend you to do so.  Pay close attention to what you are getting for the price you are paying for.  Most of the time, it’s hard to believe why on earth they have a long list of ingredients when the food is so simple.  It’s hard to buy organic all the time and you may not be able to find an organic version of the product you are looking for.  Whenever possible try homemade rather than the preservative and unknown ingredient filled food from the store.



Quesadillas and tacos are my kids' favorite.  Since it’s handy and easy to prepare, I like to keep soft tortillas in my refrigerator handy.  I used to buy the tortillas from the store, but I was really perplexed by the long ingredient list and wondered why a simple flour tortilla needs these many ingredients because it seems similar to our Indian Roti.  Then I started the research for the ingredients and experimented with plain flour, salt and water, which was really hard to roll and ended up in undesirable results.  A leavening agent with some fat was needed to make it more pliable and after several experiments, I got this proportion that yielded a fair result that was acceptable for me and my family.  I have been making this from last year and they are pretty good for making enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and tacos.  Hope you will try this recipe and switch to homemade version of tortillas instead of the store bought preservative filled tortillas!!

Here are some recipes you can try with the Tortillas:

Chipotle Chicken Quesadilla
Chipotle Style Spicy Chicken Taco




An image is worth a thousand words.  Below is the list of ingredients from the packet of a common brand of flour tortillas.



Yields - 16 medium size Tortillas

Ingredients:
4 cups - all purpose flour
1/2 tsp - salt
1 tsp. - baking powder
5 tbsp.- oil
1 1/4 cup - luke warm water

Directions:
  • Knead all the ingredients together to for 5 minutes till a soft elastic smooth dough is formed.  I used the stand mixture with a hook attachment to make the dough.  You can use your hands to make the dough.  Make sure that the dough is soft and not sticky.
  • Cover it with a kitchen towel and keep it aside for 20 minutes.
  • Pinch out 15 small equally sized balls from the dough.  Lightly flour the rolling surface and  smooth the balls to form nice balls without much crevice.  Cover the balls with the kitchen towel.
  • Lightly flour a ball and roll into circle.  It will tend to stretch back, but keep rolling by rotating the sides and flipping the rolled circle until you get a very thin tortilla.
  • Heat a crepe pan or non stick pan.  Once the pan is hot, lower the temperature and place the tortilla on the hot pan.  Wait for 30 seconds, small bubbles starts to appear, flip the tortilla and cook till it starts to bubble up and small light brown dots starts to appear and the tortilla is evenly cooked.  Transfer the tortilla into a dish lined with muslin cloth.  Cover the cooked tortilla with muslin cloth. 
  • Prepare rest of the tortilla the same way as in the above step and wrap them in muslin cloth to keep them soft and not soggy from the steam till ready to use.
  • Left overs can be refrigerated in ziplocks after cooling them.  Just heat a non stick pan and warm up the tortillas on both sides till they are soft.
Notes:
  • Make sure you give enough resting time for the dough, which helps to roll the tortillas.
  • All purpose flour will tend to stretch back while rolling, but if you keep rolling for a bit, it will start to come along and forms very thin circles.
  • Its hard to get perfect circles if you have crevices on the dough, so its important to smooth them out before rolling.  Its by practice you can get a perfectly circled tortilla.  I always gets my first few tortillas with funky shapes.  the shape really doesn't matter, if you are using them in enchiladas or taquitos as you will be rolling them anyways.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tandoori Chicken - 2 Ways




What is your take on helping strangers?  I guess it depends on the circumstances, right?  If I see old people need a hand to unload their shopping cart, I will be more than happy to help.  What if some stranger asks for a ride in your car?  I will be little intimidated to offer the help.  One such incident happened when we were done with our 5K run which happened in downtown where the instruction was to park the car in downtown and commute to the starting point of the race.  Since me and my friends were a year old veterans of the 5K run, from our past experience we parked at the finishing point which is half a mile walk away from the starting point and that was a wise choice to avoid the commute back to the downtown parking lot which needs transportation by either subway or cab.  After the run was complete 2 ladies approached us and asked if we could drop them to the train station.  I knew their situation and the mistake they made by parking in downtown and going back was not easy other than getting a cab.  But they told us that they used all the change to get to the starting point of the race by getting a cab and they had no choice other than asking for a ride from fellow desis.  Being complete strangers and knowing their situation, I was in a dilemma if I should let these strangers into my car or my inner conscious telling me to help the ladies who really need help.  I quickly checked with my friend who was with me for the run and we decided to give them the ride through silent gestures.  I was glad that I could help them and they were so thankful for the ride to the train station.  Looking back I feel good that I was able to help those ladies who were doing their 5k for the first time who might have ended up with trouble getting back to their cars and dropped the idea of the doing the 5K next time.  If I was alone, I am not sure if I would have acted like that, I would rather call some volunteers to help the runners.  It is hard to be a Good Samaritan when you hear the scary stores daily in the news.



Today I went to grab some potting soil for my gardening at lunch from work and the bags were so heavy that I was struggling hard to get it into the trunk of my car.  An elderly man who was walking into the store kindly offered me the help and I couldn't thank him enough for offering me a hand to lift those heavy bags.  It  is relieving to realize that goodness like integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity and moral courage still exist in this world where evil and crime has a huge share.  




Tandoori Chicken is a very popular Indian dish that has traversed a long way across the seas and don't need any special introduction.  Traditionally the well marinated chicken is prepared in a cylindrical clay oven called Tandoori oven which imparts the distinct flavor for this dish.  Convenience is the motto these days and this dish has evolved so much from its traditional way of preparation.  Here I have depicted 2 different methods of preparation of Tandoori Chicken.  Both methods produces almost the same results, but I prefer preparing it over the grill which is much easier.  Hope you will try this recipe for your next BBQ.




Ingredients:
10 - Chicken drumsticks or thighs

Marinade
8 - fat garlic cloves
1 inch - fresh peeled ginger piece
1/4 cup - fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. - freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp. - kashmiri chili powder (refer notes)
1/2 tsp. - Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. - red chili powder
4 - dry red small hot chili (optional)
2 tbsp. - yogurt
4 tbsp. - freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp. - oil
1/2 tsp. - Dry Fenugreek leaves/Kasuri methi (refer notes)
salt to taste

Directions:

  • Skin, trim the fat and wash the Chicken drumsticks/thighs.  Drain them in a strainer and use paper towel to remove any excess water. 
  • Prepare the marinade by grinding all the ingredients under Marinade except dry fenugreek leaves to a thick paste.  If needed add excess lemon juice and a tbsp. of water.  Taste the marinate at this time for salt.  Rub the fenugreek leaves between your palm and add to the marinade and mix well.
  • Take 1 tbsp. of the marinade into a separate bowl and reserve for brushing later.
  • Using a kitchen glove you can rub the marinade over the chicken pieces or put the chicken pieces in a gallon ziplock bag, add the marinade to it and shake well to coat over all the chicken pieces evenly.  If using ziplock bag, add additional tbsp. of oil to ease this step.  Using a wooden skewer poke on the thick fleshy parts of the chicken to enable even absorption of flavors.
  • Keep the chicken in the refrigerator preferably for overnight or at least 4 hrs.
Method 1 - Baking directions
  • Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, grease the aluminum foil.
  • Arrange the chicken pieces on the baking pan.  Using a pastry brush try to apply the marinade over the chicken where you missed the spot.  Discard the excess marinade liquid.
  • Leave it open and bake for 30 minutes.  Flip the chicken pieces and bake for another 20 minutes.  Carefully take the baking pan/tray out, there will be juicy marinade along with the chicken broth which has all the required flavor in the baking pan.  Tilt the pan so that you can collect the flavorful juice into the same bowl where you reserved the 1 tbsp. of the marinade.
  • Heat a grilled cast iron pan, apply little bit of oil on the pan, place the chicken pieces on the pan, 2 at a time, apply the reserved marinade on top of the pan.  Cook on very low heat till the brown marks starts to appear on the chicken.  Flip the side;apply the marinade and repeat the process till the raw smell of ginger and garlic is gone and the chicken has no pink inside.
Method 2 - Grilling directions
  • Add 2 tbsp. of oil and 1 tbsp. of lemon juice into the reserved marinade and mix well.
  • Pre-heat the grill to 350°F.  Line the grill with aluminum foil.  Use a skewer to poke few holes.  Line the chicken on the grill.  Cover and cook for half hour.  Flip the side and cook for another 10 minutes.
  • Using the tongs, take the chicken piece into a bowl.  Remove the aluminum foil.  Cut a onion into half.  Use a big fork to hold the onion; dip it in a tbsp. of oil.  Brush the grill with this onion.  Now place the chicken directly on top of the grill.  Lower the temperature to 300 F.  Apply the marinade on the chicken, flip the sides and cook till the chicken is well done and brown grill marks appear on the chicken.
Plating
  • Use lemon slices/wedges, red onion rings and chopped Cilantro as toppers for these spicy delicious chicken.
Notes:
  • It is important to drain the chicken well in order to avoid lots of moisture oozing during the time of baking.
  • Don't discard the juice or broth that is used in this recipe while baking.  It adds the juiciness and flavor to the chicken.
  • Marinating the chicken for overnight enhances the flavor of the chicken.
  • You can find dry fenugreek leaves/Methi leaves and Kashmiri Chili powder in any Indian store.  Kashmiri Chili powder and turmeric powder gives the distinct red color for this dish.  I have not used any red color for this dish.  
  • Kashmiri Chili powder is milder than the regular chili powder.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cranberry Apple Pecan Salad With Apple Cider Dressing




It feels great when you can inspire others.  All it might take is to just talk and you can make a difference.  It's worth a try, we don't have to wait for a perfect moment to do anything, just take the moment and make it perfect.  There is no need to be perfect to inspire others. 





It was few months ago when we had a family get together and a topic of healthy life style popped up.  As I had done one 5K run in the past with my friends I asked around if anyone was interested.  Few agreed to join.  I forgot about the run till I got the email reminder to register for this year's run.  I reminded few of my friends and we registered for it.  Few weeks ago we had another family get together and I reminded them again.  To my surprise 7 other family members including kids registered for the 5K.  We were super thrilled to attend the run, even though none of us did the serious practice.  Last Saturday was the 5K run/walk and everyone performed their best.  Kids even got within first 50 participants out of 600 or more participants in the race.  The next day guys ran the half marathon.  It seemed to be like a Thomas family affair in the Marathon.  Certainly there was pain and aches but the end of the day everyone felt so good and made a determination to continue the saga of running for a healthy life style.  Some 5K runners even thought they will be pursuing with 10k next year.



Today's recipe is a light fruity salad.  It's a very simple fix I do mostly every week when I want a quick salad.  I rely on this quick salad because I always keep a batch of the dressing in the refrigerator as handy.  The rest of the greens and fruits will be always found in my refrigerator.  I don't have to ponder a lot for a quick fix and this handy salad is not only very simple but also delicious too.  Hope you will give this recipe a try.



Ingredients:

Apple Salad
2 - medium size apples cored and cubed
1/4 cup - dried cranberries
2 tbsp. - pecan
1 cup - torn lettuce/salad greens of your choice
3 - 4 tbsp. - Apple Cider Dressing

Apple Cider Dressing
1 - fat clove garlic
1/3 cup - extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. - water
1 tbsp. - Apple cider Vinegar
1/2 tsp - freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp - dry basil/fresh basil
1/4 tsp - dry oregano/fresh oregano
1/4 tsp - salt
2 - 3 tbsp. - honey

Directions:
  • Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a blender.  Or mince the garlic and throw rest of the ingredients into a bottle with tight lid.  Shake well that it forms a emulsion where the liquid and oil is not separated.
  • Arrange the lettuce/green in a plate.  Top them with the cubed apples, pecans and cranberries.  Now drizzle the apple cider dressing over the salad per your desired taste.  Toss them and enjoy.
Notes:
  • I find it better to use a blender for the dressing which helps to bring out the right flavor of the dressing.
  • Left overs can be refrigerated.  If the dressing seems to get thick and solidify when taken from the refrigerator, just run the bottle under warm water for few seconds and it should be good to use.  Shake the bottle well before using the dressing.
  • Adjust the amount of pepper and honey per your taste.