Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review : Young Chefs - Vikas Khanna

Chef Vikas Khanna released his latest book - Young Chefs - on November 14th (Children's Day) in collaboration with Penguin India / DK Books.

Vikas Khanna is a Michelin starred Chef. As a judge on Masterchef India and Junior Masterchef India he is now a well recognised name and face in most foodie households in India.

The recipes in "Young Chefs" are well illustrated with a lot of them following a photographic step-by-step format, which makes them easy to follow for kids (they can check the pictures to verify consistency, texture and colour). I personally think that the first few pages are the most helpful section of the book. They include a photographic index of cooking tools, preparing ingredients and ways to cook & bake.

The book is divided into 5 main sections – breakfast bites, lunchbox, main meals, drinks, and sweet

Each recipe clearly mentions number of portions, prep time, cooking time and a lot of them also itemise the tools needed for each recipe to be prepared. I think, that is a wonderful idea for young cooks, so they can have all their tools ready along with their ingredients. Some recipes also have doodles of the ingredients and tools used.

There is also a warning sign (white exclamation mark in a red triangle) against recipes / steps which involve hot ovens, hobs, or sharp implements. Depending on the age of your child you can interpret it to mean adult help or adult supervision.

The recipes range from simple boiled eggs and eggy bread (French Toast) to Sweet Corn Fritters, Chilly Paneer, Veg Lasagna and Chicken Tikka Masala. The recipes aren't restricted to Indian staples, they come from all across the globe. But they are all dishes that are exciting for young chefs to cook or eat. Fun facts and tips accompany some recipes.

Its a lovely book to introduce a young chef to the pleasures of cooking, but there are a few things, I hope they can take care of in the next book.
- The recipes for crepes and pancakes are combined on one page in a manner which I think may cause some confusion for a novice cook.
- The recipe for cheese & pesto straws calls for cooked shredded chicken breast in its ingredients but isnt used in the recipe.
- On the page with 4 ways with kebabs - the non veg kebabs have a prep time of 20 minutes, but the prep time for the tofu chunks is 80 minutes. I later realised they had clubbed the marination time with prep time, but it was only for this recipe and not the other 3. Some standardisation will need to be maintained.

My other concerns with this book are:
- Some ingredients like yellow cherry tomatoes, smoked haddock and baby leaf spinach are difficult to find even in a larger Indian metro cities.
- Most recipes call for canned tomatoes and chickpeas and other ingredients. Given the availability of fresh ingredients in India and the side effects of preservatives and sodium in canned products, I would like to see an alternative with fresh produce listed alongside the canned ingredients. 
- The kids pictured in the recipes look so clean and neat, i don't know many young chefs who are so spotlessly clean when cooking. a slightly messy apron seems more natural to me than the pristine cleanliness pictured.

However, these are more minor personal peeves than a vote against the book.

I honestly think that its a great collection of recipes to get a young chef started. Its a lovely gift to present to a young kid and I hope the next edition takes care of the little oversights in this edition.

As Chef Vikas Khanna says in his introduction "Here's to the future Michelin star chef!"

Rating : 3.8 / 5

Note: Young Chefs is not yet available on flipkart or amazon. I was sent a copy of this book by Penguin and it was launched on the 14th, so I'm not sure if it is available in bookstores yet, but keep your eyes open and I'll update the online buying links as soon as they go live.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Recipe : Maharashtrian Chawli Usal / Lobia / Black Eyed Peas Curry - Vegan

I was bored of eating lobia / chawli / black eyed peas, the normal way that I make it (like a Punjabi channa masala style), I'd also been craving coconut for awhile (growing up, all 3 meals had coconut in some form or the other), so a Maharahtrian Konkani recipe seemed like the perfect fit. Spicy and coco-nutty.

This recipe is an amalgamation of remembered flavours (from my days living in Bombay & Pune) and some online help. I made the usal much thicker than is normally served in Marathi restaurants and ideally, I would have liked to cook the tomatoes much more, which I shall do the next time I repeat this dish (this recipe is corrected to add the tomatoes earlier, if you prefer your tomatoes slightly raw, add the tomatoes to the mix when adding the cooked beans).

It does take a little time to prepare and has multiple steps, but the final product is worth it.

Ingredients :
250gms lobia / chawli / black eyed peas (soaked overnight with a pinch of asafoetida)
2 tsp oil (Sesame/til or sunflower, don't use mustard)
3 medium onions

1.5- 2 inch ginger
6 - 10 garlic cloves
2 tbsp saunf / fennel seeds
1.5 tbsp corriander (dhania seeds) or  1 tbsp corriander powder
half a grated coconut - fresh or frozen (roughly about 1 cup)
2 tbsp dessicated coconut (this adds a second texture, but it is optional)
1 tomato chopped1 tsp turmeric powder
1-2 tsps red chilli powder
1 tsp Maharashtrian masala (goda or malvani) or any garam/vegetable masala (if you can't get your hands on the Maharashtrian masalas)
1 handful chopped corriander for garnishing

Method :
Pressure cook the soaked lobia / chawli / black eyed peas in enough water to cover + a little more.
You can either drain and discard the water or use the liquid when making the usal. I prefer to use it.

To make the masala, take the pan that you plan to cook the usal in (large enough)
Heat 1 tsp oil
Add 2 chopped onions and fry till translucent.
Add ginger and garlic and fry till they start releasing their aroma.
Add fennel seeds and coriander seeds (if using powders add them at the end in the blender, not now) and fry till they crisp up.
Add the fresh and dessicated coconut and roast on a low flame (coconut burns quickly, so keep an eye on it)

Turn off the heat when the coconut turns golden brown
Cool the mixture and then grind it fine (some restaurants serve it slightly grainy).

In the empty pan, heat the other tsp of oil.
Add the remaining chopped onion and tomato and fry till cooked.
Now add the ground masala and fry for a couple of minutes before adding the spice powders.

Stir well and add the pressure cooked lobia / chawli / black eyed peas.
If you are using the water that you cooked the chawli in (it may be black in colour, don't worry about it), be careful how much water you add to the pan.
Add salt to taste and bring it to a low simmer.
Keep cooking on a low flame until the ingredients are all cooked and the chawli has absorbed the flavours.
Garnish with chopped fresh corriander.

Serve hot with steamed rice or phulkas / rotis

Friday, November 01, 2013

Recipe : Kadalekai Chatni / Peanut / Groundnut Chutney - Vegan

This is a chutney, I really loved as a child. It was a great break from the staple coconut chutneys and mum normally made this to accompany goli bajjes.

It was only after I started cooking on my own that I realised how much easier it is to grind a peanut chutney compared to a coconut chutney, so its practical and fast too.

Currently with all the diwali hampers coming home, we have also received quite a few packets of flavoured roasted peanuts (kadalekai) and most of these snacks are too salty for my taste. So on this occasion, I used half a cup of mixed flavoured peanuts, rather than fresh groundnuts and the rest of rhe ingredients balanced out the saltiness and the flavours added to the groundnuts, added to the chutney too.

This chutney can be served with idlis and dosas / poli like any other chutney. It also tastes great with rotis and its high in protein. Most kids love nuts, so they will love this chutney too and believe me when I say that it is much easier and faster to grind than coconut, even if you are using a food processor / mixi.

Ingredients :
1 cup peanuts / groundnuts (roasted and skinned or the flavoured roasted variety)
1/2 tsp oil (til/gingelly or sunflower)
1 cup chopped onions (normally we use the smaller sambhar onions/shallots, but regular onions will do)
4-8 dried red chillies (depending on spiciness and heat tolerance)
6 cloves of garlic (you can chose to omit this, if you prefer, chop them if they are large sized)
tamarind pulp to taste
salt to taste

Seasoning :
1 tsp oil (til/gingelly or sunflower)
a pinch of hing powder (asafoetida - aids in digestion of the heavy nuts)
1 tsp split black gram dhal (urad dhal)
1 tsp mustard seeds (sarson / rai)

1 sprig curry leaves

Method :
Roast the raw groundnuts in a hot pan till cooked and skin them (you can leave the skin on, but we don't like the taste)
If you are using roasted masala groundnuts, you can skip this step.
But if you have leftover roasted nuts that have gone a bit soft, then re-roasting them helps.
In 1/2 tsp oil saute the chopped onion, garlic and red chillies till slightly brown.Cool the fried mixture.

When cooled, add it to the mixi with the skinned peanuts and the tamarind pulp.
Whizz until it reaches your desired consistency. I like it slightly grainy, but some prefer it completely smooth.
You may need to add a little water to help the grinding process if it gets too dry.
Add salt to taste (if use flavoured groundnuts, remember they will already have salt, so adjust accordingly) and give it a quick spin.

Pour the chutney out in a bowl.

In a seasoning pan, heat 1 tsp oil.
Add the hing powder.
When it dissolves, add the urad dhal and fry till it turns light brown.
Add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves and let the seeds splutter.

Pour this tempering over the chutney.

Serve the chutney with idlis and dosas / poli or with phulkas and dhal.

The chutney keeps well in the fridge too for about a week.

Note: The pictures above show quantities for 1/2 cup peanuts

Kim's Tip : The water used to wash the mixi / grinding stone can't be added to the chutney as it will become too watery, but you can use it to knead atta for rotis and give your rotis a different flavour.


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