Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Baked Gobi Manchurian

Weather is getting better and impelling everyone in my house to get involved in outdoor activities.  Kids enjoyed their Spring break which meant no homework and just playtime.  I too even signed up for a 5K marathon with my friends.  I have not taken part in single sports during my school or college days and it was surprising when I told this to my family.  The aches and pains of running had waken an indolent person, but giving up is not an option when you are in a team, so I am striving my best.  Honestly it's been one week now I had done any practice.  Few of us have decided to just walk and finish the 5K if we cannot run, so that is the alleviating hope I have.  There are only 3 more weeks for the Marathon and I am still not as enthusiastic as before when I started the practice.  I have to focus and start practicing soon!!!

Since the start of Spring, cauliflowers are abundant in the market and you see lots of innovative recipes with this beautiful flower in the web.  I too tried a healthy variation of the regular Indian Gobi Manchurian recipe which is a deep fried dish made with battered cauliflower seasoned with some oriental sauces and bell pepper.  There are dry and gravy versions of this dish.  But the healthy version I made here is the dry version that was baked and could be enjoyed with Indian flat breads like Naan, Roti or Chapthi.  This can also be served with vegetable Pulao.  My whole family loved it to the core when I served it with Rotis.  Not only the baked version is healthy but also the ease in baking instead of frying batches of the battered cauliflower is the best thing about this recipe that would incite you to give this recipe a try.

1 head - Cauliflower
1/4 tsp - turmeric powder
salt to taste

1 tbsp - ginger garlic paste
3 tbsp - corn starch
1 tbsp - all purpose flour
1/4 tsp - kashmiri chili powder(optional)
1/2 tsp - ground pepper
1 tbsp - soy sauce
1/4 cup - water
salt to taste

1/4 tsp - mustard seeds
2 tbsp - soy sauce
1 tbsp - garlic chilli sauce
3 tbsp - tomato chilli sauce (I used Maggi brand)
2 cups - onions chopped
1 tbsp - garlic minced
1 - green bell pepper cut into square pieces
1/4 cup - chopped Cilantro leaves
2 1/2 tbsp - oil

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
  • Separate the florets into bite size and wash.  Boil a pot of water with salt to taste and 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder.  Add the cut cauliflower florets into the boiling water and cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Drain the florets in a colander.
  • Mix all the ingredients from the batter list to make a thin batter.  Coat the drained florets with the batter.  Adjust the salt.  Discard the remaining batter.
  • Transfer the coated florets on greased baking sheets.  For medium size cauliflower you need atleast 2 baking sheets.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of oil on the florets or apply cooking spray over the florets.  Make sure that the forets don't touch each other and bake for 25 - 30 minutes by rotating the baking sheets and flipping the sides of the florets in between or till the florets are crispy.
  • Take a cast iron wok or non stick pan, spluter 1/4 tsp of mustard seeds in 2 1/2 tbsp of oil.  Add the cubed green pepper and saute for 3 - 4 minutes on medium to high heat.  Transfer the sauteed peppers into a bowl.
  • To the same pan add the chopped onions and minced garlic and cook till light brown.  Now add the soy sauce, garlic chili sauce and tomato chili sauce.  Add the baked cauliflower florets.  Mix well in the sauce and cook for 3 - 4 minutes.  Now add the sauted green peppers and cook for another minute.  Turn off the flame and garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Serve this yummy dish with Naan, Roti or Chapathi.
  • Make sure that the batter is thin.  A thicker batter will end up in uncooked flour coating and ruin the dish.
  • Adjust the sauce according to your spice level.
  • The Machurian tastes better when they are warm and served on the same day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Eggless Chocolate Cake With Homemade Caramel Sauce And Whipped Cream Frosting

March being special month with couple of birthdays in my house leaves me the challenge to bake eggless cakes for my darlings during this great lent period.  Deciding what to bake for Noah was my dilemma.  He loves chocolate flavor and whipped cream combo, so an ice cream cake was my initial plan.  I had to drop that idea since I realized the minimal space left in my freezer was not going to help me at all.  So I decided to go with something just simple as chocolate and whipped cream, but wanted to give a rich dense texture with some homemade caramel filling.  I had all the cake ingredients ready couple of days before the party.  I had a crowd of 25 to entertain on the party.

 After burning first batch of caramel by experimenting with another recipe and smoking part of the kitchen, I decided to try half the recipe with some milk.  It resulted in curdled & runny liquid that cannot be even categorized under anything related to Caramel.  My third attempt with another recipe with 1/4 cup of sugar resulted in what I was looking for.  As soon as I finished my test batch, I heard the running footsteps from up stairs.  Both Nathan & Nicole came rushing to find out the source of the pleasant smell that they were not able to identify even though they were sent to bed.  It was late night for them, but Nicole wanted to enjoy the warm Caramel with some apples even though she brushed.  She promised me that she will brush again.  The fresh cut apple with warm caramel was divine.

Due to the time limitation, I was not able to style or take good pictures.  It's always a struggle to put together the cake on the day of the party for me.  I also added the layer of complication to this birthday cake by layering two 9' cakes which was taller and needed refrigeration due to whipped cream frosting.  The real challenge was when I realized that my cake caddy's lid was shorter than the height of the cake.  I had to cover the cake and refrigerate to avoid crusting till the party begins.  There was no box in my house that would fit in the refrigerator, even though I had tons of cardboard boxes lying down in the basement.  I finally decided to use my cake caddy's lid with a simple trick.  I inserted 5 long wooden skewers into the center of the cake and had the caddy lid sit on these skewers.  This left the bottom part of the cake open, which was covered by plastic wrap.  After removing a rack from the refrigerator, I was able to fit this tall cake in the refrigerator all covered.  Kids were impressed by Mommy's idea and they were so happy to see the decorated cake.  After giving the kids the strict order to not open the refrigerator till the cake was ready for cutting, I went with the remaining chores of cleaning the kitchen counter and making snacks.  My heart was pounding fast each time when hubby opened and closed the refrigerator as I was not sure how long the skewers were able to hold the Caddy lid.  But it all worked well.  A little bit was left over for the next day and it tasted better than the first day and kids were competing for bigger pieces :).  The cake was perfect with the right balance of sweetness contributed by slightly sweetened whipped cream and creamy caramel.

3 cups - all purpose flour
1/2 cup - unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp - baking soda
1/2 tsp - salt
1/4 tsp - cinnamon powder
2 cups - sugar
1/3 cup - oil
2 cups - cold brewed coffee
2 tbsp - white vinegar
2 tbsp - pure vanilla extract

Butter/cooking spray to grease the pan

Caramel Sauce
1 cup - brown sugar
1/2 cup - half & half/ heavy cream
1/4 tsp - salt
2 tbsp - butter
1 tsp - vanilla extract

Whipped Cream layering
1 cup - heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp - powdered sugar
1/2 tsp - vanilla extract
Whipped Cream Frosting
2 1/2 cups - heavy whipping cream
10 tbsp - powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp - vanilla extract

  • Pre- heat oven to 350 °F.
  • Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon powder and keep it aside.
  • In a mixing bowl of a stand mixture, beat together sugar, oil, cold coffee, white vinegar and vanilla extract till everything is mixed well.
  • Now add the dry ingredients and mix for 30 seconds till the dry ingredients are well incorporated into the wet ingredients.
  • Grease a 9' round pan with butter/cooking spray or line the pan with wax/parchment paper.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 - 50 minutes or till a tooth pick comes out clean when tested in the center of the cake.  I used a dark metallic pan, so my cooking time was 55 minutes.  Let the cake cool.
  • Since this is a layered cake, I made another 9' cake with the same above recipe.  So you have to basically double the above recipe to make two 9' cakes.

Caramel Sauce
  • Meanwhile the cakes are cooling, you can make the caramel sauce by placing all the ingredients for the caramel sauce except vanilla extract in a heavy bottom sauce pan and bring to boil.
  • Cook it for 5 - 7 minutes on medium heat by stirring in between using a wooden spoon.  As it starts to thicken, turn off the burner and add the vanilla and mix well.  Keep it aside to cool.  As it cools, it will thicken and attain the consistency of caramel sauce.
Whipped Frosting
  • In a cold mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 cup of whipping cream with 4 tbsp of powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.  Using a whip attachment whip it till soft peaks are developed.  Transfer these to a cold bowl for filling the cake and crumb coating.
  • Clean the mixing bowl with ice water and dry.  Now whip together 2 1/2 cup whipping cream, 10 tbsp of powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract till stiff peaks are formed for about 1-2 minutes.
Assembling the cake
  • Cut off the bulged top of the cakes.  Apply1 tbsp of the cold caramel on the cake board/cake stand.
  • Place the first cake on the stand and brush the caramel sauce on top of the cake.  Drizzle 1 to 2 tbsp of caramel on the cake and poke few holes into the cake using a skewer, so that the drizzled caramel will be soaking into the cake.
  • Now apply a dollop of whipped cream made for layering evenly on the top of the cake.
  • Place the second layer of cake and repeat the process of caramel application and drizzling.
  • Crumb coat the layered cake with left over whipped cream prepared for layering.
  • Use the second batch of whipped cream for frosting the cake.  I used a 2D Wilton tip to make the design on the cake after leveling the cake with Angled Spatula.  The design on the side was done using Wilton Decorating Triangle.  The top part of the cake was decorated with some shaved chocolate.
  • You can just make one 9' cake and divide it into half to make a layered cake instead of two 9' cakes if you don't want your cake to be taller.  If  you are just using one 9' cake, adjust the recipe for whipped frosting to half.
  • Don't over beat the frosting.  It took me between 1-2 minutes to get a stiff consistency for the frosting.  Over beating the whipping cream will result in curdled frosting which will not be good for piping.
  • You can use Meringue powder or gelatin to stabilize the whipping cream if you are not keen about vegetarian cake.
  • Refrigerate the cake covered till ready to use. 
  • There will be some left over caramel from the above recipe that you can enjoy with ice creams or dessert of your choice or even with apples.
  • You can use a electric hand mixer or even use a wired whisk to whip the cream for frosting.  Make sure the whisk and bowl are very cold.
  • You don't need fancy equipments and tools to decorate this cake.  You can use a regular flat spatula to level the frosting and use a fork to make design on the sides.  Instead of making flowers with frosting, pour melted cold chocolate and caramel over the cake.  Top with some chocolate shavings.  I used a vegetable peeler to shave the chocolate.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Asparagus And Shallots in Roasted Coconut Gravy / Asparagus Ulli Theeyal

My Grandma's recipes were very famous among relatives, friends and in our neighborhood.   But I don't have much memory of her cooking; all that I remember was that she used to give instructions to daughter-in-laws and the maid.  Theeyal was her favorite dish and the one made with bitter gourd and green mango was a usual thing at my grandma's house.  Her legacy of Theeyal is continued by her daughter-in-laws including my Mom (because my Dad loves it :)..).  My Mom experiments this South Indian, typical Keralite dish with the vegetables that are available here.  She has few good versions apart from the traditional ones, but she always makes this Asparagus and Shallots version when we visit them as Nathan loves Theeyal.

Typically Theeyal is made with certain vegetables cooked in roasted coconut gravy along with shallots.  The roasting of coconut with some spices imparts the distinct flavor to this dish which can vary from light brown to dark brown in color.  I prefer my Theeyal to be medium brown than dark brown.  Over roasting of coconut will tend to give a burnt and bitter taste for Theeyal, so I try to avoid burning the coconut by roasting it in very low heat.  Due to the lengthy dry roasting process, I only make Theeyal during Onam or lent season.  Theeyal when served with a steaming bowl of par boiled rice and some buttermilk seasoned with ginger, shallots, green chili and curry leaves (Pacha Mooru) is something I could eat everyday.

 Theeyal is one of the main dishes of Keralites vegetarian feast (Sadhya).

Here is the Asparagus and Shallots Theeyal recipe that my Mom makes.

15 - Asparagus stems
1/3 cup - small Shallots/pearl onions sliced
4 - green chili split
1 tsp - tamarind paste/a small tamarind ball
1/2 cup - water
1 1/2 tsp - oil
1 - small tomato cubed into 4 pieces
1 tsp - oil
salt to taste

For dry roasting
1 1/2 cup - fresh / frozen grated coconut thawed
1/4 cup - thinly sliced shallots/pearl onions
1 tsp - coriander powder
1/2 tsp - chili powder
1/8 tsp - fenugreek powder
1/3 cup water

4 - pearl onions thinly sliced
1/4 tsp - mustard seeds
1 - dry red chili
1 sprig - fresh curry leaves
2 tsp - oil

  1. Dry roast the grated coconut and sliced shallots on very low heat in a cast iron pan or non stick pan for 15 - 20 minutes or till the coconut turns medium brown as shown in the picture by continuously stirring.  Add the coriander powder, chili powder and fenugreek powder and roast for 2 minutes on low heat. Turn off the stove and let it cool.  Grind the dry roasted ingredients with 1/3 cup water into a smooth paste.
  2. Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup luke warm water.  Once soaked well, strain the pulp and save it.
  3. Wash the asparagus and pat dry with kitchen towel.  Cut the wood stem of the asparagus and discard.  If the stem is too thick, split them into half and cut them into 3 cm long pieces.
  4. In a non stick wok or deep pan, saute the asparagus with shallots and green chili in 1 1/2 tsp oil till the asparagus is cooked but still have the green color for 2- 3 minutes.  Add salt to taste.  Remove the asparagus from the pan and keep it aside.
  5. Add 1 tsp of oil to the same pan and saute the cubed tomato for 1 minute.  Now add the coconut paste and tamarind juice without the pulp into the pan.  Add 1/4 -1/2 cup of water if the gravy is thick.  Add the sauteed asparagus-shallot mix to the pan and cook till gravy boils for 2-3 minutes.  Adjust the salt.  Turn off the burner.
  6. In a non-stick pan, splutter mustard seeds in 2 tsp of oil.  Add the shallots and dry red chili and cook till it gets golden brown.  Turn off the burner and add the curry leaves to the tempered onions.
  7. Garnish the Theeyal with the tadka/tempered mustard and onions and serve the Theeyal with steaming plain rice and seasoned buttermilk.

Tips to grind the Roasted Coconut without an expensive blender
  • If you don't have a good blender, use a spice grinder/clean coffee grinder to grind the warm dry roasted coconut till its powdered well and the ground coconut starts to stick to the sides..  Now transfer this into a blender and add enough water to grind it into a smooth paste. 
  • It is important to roast the coconut well to attain the right taste and to get a smooth coconut gravy. 
  •  If the coconut is not roasted well, it is hard to grind it into a smooth paste and the theeyal will not impart the authentic flavor. 
  • Make sure that you don't over roast the coconut and burn it.

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