Friday, August 29, 2008

Recipe : Dhal Palak : Lentils with Spinach

This is a healthy way to get more iron in a regular dish, rather than put spinach on the table as a dish that many kids (and some husbands) turn their nose up at.

Disclaimer : My husband eats spinach :)

Ingredients :
1/2 a cup Cleaned and chopped spinach (saag, methi bhaji or other variety will also be good)
1 cup yellow lentils - toovar / arhar dhal
1-2 tomatoes
1-2 onions
green chillies to taste
1 tsp ground ginger or finely chopped ginger
chopped garlic - 6-7 cloves
1/2 tsp each of chilli, cumin(jeera) and turmeric (haldi) powder
salt to taste
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon oil to cook + more for seasoning

Note : the quantities are approximations, adjust to your own taste

Rinse and soak the lentils in water. (5 minutes is good enough, longer soaking even for a couple of hours won't hurt and will speed up the cooking process)

In the pressure cooker, heat a teaspoon of oil. (ghee or butter will give you a better flavor)
Saute the garlic in this.
I like to add the tomatoes at this stage because I don't like pulpy bits of tomato in my food. So I saute it till the pulp melts off the skin and then go on to the rest of the recipe. If you aren't so particular, you can add all the following ingredients together.
Add the onions, some green chillies, the spinach and ginger and saute for 1/2 to 1 minute to get the flavours out.

Now add the soaked dhal, spice powders and salt.
Cover with water and shut the pressure cooker (amount of water depends on whether you want a thick or thin dhal. This recipe tastes good both ways)
In my hawkins cooker, I give it 3-4 whistles.
If the dhal was well soaked, then it will disintegrate on its own and save you the trouble of blending it.

When you open the cooker, add salt to taste and then add the lemon juice.

Tips :
Iron in spinach needs some kind of citrus/acetic acid to aid absorption in the body. So add lemon juice or vinegar for sure to a dish of greens.
Don't add the acid before the lentils are cooked, because this will slow down the cooking process.

You can serve the dhal as is with a dollop of ghee on top.

Or you can serve it with any of the following temperings
1. chopped garlic
2. cumin (jeera seeds)
3. jeera + garlic
4. red chillies
5. green chillies

Serve with hot rice or rotis.

The other item in this picture is Squid Chilli Fry

Variations :
If not tempered and slightly watered down, it can even be served as a lentil with spinach soup.

Feel free to add your own innovation.

Recipe : Squid / Calamari Chilly Fry



Don't get scared by the name. You can make this dish without the chillies too.

I had some squid in the refrigerator and was feeling very homesick and wanted to eat something that reminded me of home

Not the regular ubiquitous batter fried squid that is available in sea food restaurants in Egypt

So I searched online for some rough guidelines and liked the feel of the Kanava Thoran on NDTV cooks. As a Kerala speciality, I knew it would be very similar to food cooked in my home town.

The coconut in the recipe sealed the deal as I had some extra grated coconut that I had frozen from a few days ago and wanted to use up.

As usual, I modified the recipe to my own convenience.

I firmly believe that squid/calamari should not be cooked for more than 2-3 minutes, else it turns rubbery and tough.

A good squid recipe allows for the extra water that pours out of the squid to be absorbed (like this dish where the coconut absorbs the excess liquid) or it is deep fried (the sudden intense heat seals the liquid inside the squid pieces themselves) If you are trying to make a dry dish, then steam the squid first and then put the squid pieces into the cooked flavorings.

No such problem with this recipe. If you are looking for precise directions, follow this recipe

My version does not have exact amounts and I try to cook everything in one dish and make some shortcuts.

Ingredients :
About half kilo squid cleaned and cut into pieces of your shape and size
1 largish onion - chopped
Some curry leaves
some green chillies
a handful of grated coconut
some pureed tamarind
some dried red chillies
mustard seeds
oil
little garlic
some ground ginger

Heat the oil, when it is hot, add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry chillies. this is the tempering. (If you prefer you can do this in a seperate vessel at the end and then pour it over the prepared squid. In the interest of less washing up, I have tempered it right in the beginning in the main vessel)
Add garlic, semi fry it a bit, then add the chopped onions, ground ginger and green chillies. Fry for a while, remember the onions need to be crunchy (not soft, not browned, but crunchy)to the taste at the end of the preparation.

Add the grated coconut and tamarind paste/puree and salt. You can use lemon juice instead of tamarind paste, but the tamarind paste is more authentic and earthy in this dish.

Let this cook for a while and dry up a bit. The add the squid pieces and quickly saute for 2-3 minutes.

If the squid was frozen, it may not absorb much flavour, so the rest of the ingredients need to soak into the coconut and compensate for the flavor.

You can top off with some fresh cilantro/corriander/dhaniya if you like.

Eat with hot rice and dhal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I won, I won! :)

Remember the recipe I posted a short while ago for Prawn Pakodas for Rushina's pakoda contest?

Many of you loved the recipe, do let me know if you tried it and what changes you made or felt you needed to make (other than reducing the chillies that is) :)

I was one of the 3 winners of the contest. So I guess Rushina and her judges (family) liked it :)

Here's the link to the announcement and links to the recipes of other winners and participants.
http://a-perfect-bite.blogspot.com/2008/08/results-of-hot-and-spicy-pakora-contest.html

Monday, August 25, 2008

The shortest way to a soldier’s heart

Vikram Doctor has written an extremely enlightening article on Army meals in India which was published in the Economic Times on the 19th. The article is definitely worth a read.

. . . I first became aware of armed force wives cuisine thanks to my mother’s aunt who was a Navy wife. She is an excellent cook, though she has always professed to find cooking a bore. She says her aim is always to do it quickly and economically, yet her food always tastes good and has a certain imagination and style. I was reminded of her food while eating at the houses of friends who had grown up as army kids, and I realised their mothers shared, not exactly a cuisine in terms of actual dishes, but one united by a similar approach to cooking. Talking to my friends and their mothers I realised how the style had been set by the shared experience of armed force life with all its expectations and restrictions. . .


Read the entire article here

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wadi Foods in Egypt

Wadi Foods is a local Egyptian Company which grows, bottles and sells organic products.

I have been extremely happy with their olive oil selection including the naturally flavored varieties (which come in attractive bottles that look very elegant on a dinner table and can be served as is)


Their olives come in multiple varieties (black, Kalamata & green) and with various pickling spices.
They have excellent capers and sun dried tomatoes too. (tart and firm, not soggy)

The pepper pickles are not as spicy as I (an Indian) would like them, but I have friends who aren't into extremely spicy food, who love these pickles.
Do remember that in a non Indian setting, pickles normally refer to something that has been preserved in brine (salt water with a little souring agent) The cornichons are good and the lime pickle is what we call in konkani -meetha udkache - which means preserved in brine. they also have vine leaves, if you are inspired to create your own stuffed vine leaves at home.

They say that, all Wadi Food pickles are handpicked and then processed naturally by curing them slowly without any chemical additives or preservatives. They do taste that way.

They have some excellent tapenades that go well on bruschettas for an impromptu snack or on toast for breakfast. I love the sun dried tomato tapenade the best

They sell ready made pestos (Basil, mixed herb and artichoke) and pasta sauces (Arabioatta, Alfredo, Mediterranea and Basilico) I haven't tried these as I prefer to make my sauces from scratch, so I can tweak the taste to our taste buds. But I did try an onion paste of theirs for marination when I was in a hurry one day and it tasted quite awesome. I don't remember the exact name on the bottle and I haven't seen it recently. Some of their products go off the shelves for a while depending on the seasonal availability of their fresh produce.

The Apple Cider Vinegar may not be the same as the one available in the US, but its quite good never the less and works out much more reasonable and healthy than the imported varieties. The balsamic vinegar is ok for marination, but if the balsamic is to be used as a dip or as the main top note flavor in a dish, then I prefer to use my bottle from Modena.

All measurements on bottles are in the drained weight.

These are the logos, you are looking for, when searching for Wadi Foods products


Most of their bottle produce is available in the Major Grocery Stores in Egypt You can also buy them from the dedicated Wadi Food Stores around Cairo

The other advantage of going to their dedicated stores is that you can also pick up organic chicken and organic vegetables grown on their farms along the Cairo Alex desert road.

They also have appropriate baskets for their bottles, which are very handy when you want to take some over as a gift for your dinner hostess. Or you can even carry one of their fancy jars. - My husband is convinced that I buy half the products because of their bottles :) which I love to re-use in different ways.




Feel free to use any of their spice/bottle racks and combine it with whichever bottles you think your hostess may appreciate and create a beautiful basket for yourself. If you fall in love with the arrangement yourslef, just buy 2. I speak from experience :)



Credit Note: Pictures have been taken from the Wadi Food Website.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Michael Phelps' Amazing Diet

The BBC reported on Michael Phelps' Amazing and unusual diet

It comprises of
For breakfast: three fried egg sandwiches, with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, fried onions and mayonnaise, followed by three chocolate-chip pancakes; a five-egg omelette; three sugar-coated slices of French toast and a bowl of grits (a maize-based porridge), washed down with two cups of coffee.

For lunch:
half a kilogram (one pound) of enriched pasta; two large ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread smothered with mayonnaise, washed down by energy drinks.

For dinner: Another half-kilogram of pasta, perhaps with a carbonara sauce, followed by a large pizza and more energy drinks.

That combination may not sound very healthy, and at a staggering 10,000 calories, would feed five average men for a day.

Read the Entire article here

Combine this with Usain Bolt's diet. So unique is Bolt that he does all this on a diet they've banned from school menus as unhealthy.

After getting out of bed at midday, he got his masseur to bring him some chicken nuggets for breakfast.

"Then I came straight to the track, and my massuers brought me some more nuggets," he said. "I just ate two though because my coach said I shouldn't eat so many nuggets."


Are these diets healthy? Most dietitians would disagree. But this brings me back to my theory that : what you eat is not as important as your lifestyle and exercise. My theories may be all right, but I have trouble putting them into practice for myself :)

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