Category Archives: Appetizers

My constant companions: books, cats, and a tummy ache

I have had another week of being a cereal-killer. This time courtesy a band of bacteria brothers who are partying their way through my digestive system. Everyone I know seems to be laid up with a tummy infection. Since I ignored mine for a couple of weeks, and compounded it with hypochondria and a low threshold of pain, I was reduced to silently mouthing my favorite childhood song

“Got a stomach ache, got a stomach ache,
Got a stomach just now,
Called the doctor, called the doctor,
Called the doctor just now,
Operation, operation,
Operation just now,
Just now an operation,
An operation just now.”

(Aside: You should pity my family. I was given to belting this out, loud and raucous, each time there was even a hint of childhood tummy ache.)

I did not have the energy to do anything but make guttural pain induced noises, while sipping on water and occasionally eating a bowl of cereal or yogurt. Tough and merciless times.

If it was music and being fit that helped me through the last week, it was books and cats to the rescue this week. I would have spent 6,392 minutes this week looking at cat pictures and videos (everything from cat shows, to small cats, large cats, confused cats, cats taking a bath, eejit cats). Once the universe cottoned on to my cat obsession, I was inundated with cat links. Friends sent me links and pictures, and Facebook’s algorithms spewed cats on my newsfeed. One of my favorites is from Brain Pickings.

Vegetarian cat regarding a plate of fried eggs
Vegetarian cat regarding a plate of fried eggs

The other savior were books. I discovered – fell in love – with two authors this week, Kate Atkinson and Maeve Binchy. Kate writes as if she swallowed a couple of limes for breakfast and then laconically abetted a few murders before lunch. Her characters, in even very minor roles, jump out of the pages and sit by your side while you read – that’s how powerful her writing is. Maeve, on the other hand, writes frothy light stuff, like a long gentle bath with scented bubbles. Her books are set in Ireland, and given my obsession with the country, they make for delightful reading. The one I read, Quentins, was about a restaurant and Dublin, and there is something delicious about relating to ‘getting a coffee by the Liffey’. So tummy ache keeping you awake till wee hours of the morning ceases to become a problem and instead becomes an opportunity for a reading marathon. I get thrilled when I experiment with reading, discover an author I like, and realize that he or she has written tons of books already. The start of a beautiful friendship, when you know that there are many long and joyous days awaiting the both of you!

Pita bread and its friends for dinner
Pita bread and its friends for dinner

There were occasional period of lucidity – remember how we had folks over for dinner last week? As a nod to my days working in the middle east, I dished up babaghanoush, hummus and tzatziki, all David Lebovitz recipes. Served with lightly toasted pita bread. There was also a creamy corn in bread muffin cups, which you don’t see here. Will put up a pic and recipe for that when I make it next. Meanwhile, let me know if you need help sourcing Tahini. The friends brought the main meal and dessert to our place. The cinnamon swirl cake was the most delicious ever, and on enquiring, they told us it was baked from a box. Determined to figure out how to make it from scratch sans a pre-mix. This sounds close.

Anyhow, I should experiment this week. SG is packing his bags for the work week, and I am looking forward to some more cereal, cats, and reading.

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Good times are made of food and laughter

Nibbling a bar of chocolate, over a delightfully fat book, tucked into the window seat by the frangipani and bougainvillea. Heralding the various seasons of childhood – lightly salted and deliciously sour jamuns, biting into the year’s first mango or green apple, shelling water chestnut by the dozen. Standing by the ice-cream truck, making the all-important decision of which flavor to choose. The meal cooked by my grandma especially for me. Street food and ice lollies with friends, graduating to midnight feasts and food experiments gone wonderfully off-track. A hot cup of tea after being drenched in a sudden monsoon shower. The perfect afternoon, a languid picnic or a late lunch, with the setting sun lingering on to share the laughter. My best memories invariably involve some form of food, the clink of glasses, good conversation, broad smiles, and being perfectly content in the moment. As I am sure do yours. Do share,  in the comments, would love to listen to your favorite food memories.

This weekend was spent adding to list of good moments over home-made meals. The family got together over drinks and dinner, followed by a sleep-in breakfast and some lazy splashing in the first swim of the summers. While the brother-in-law put together the Bloody Marys, I made grilled zucchini nachos topped with roasted tomato salsa, refried beans and a cheesy yoghurt dip. The salsa and the dip have sort of become my signature potluck dishes and this weekend also marked a first in which a neighbor friend asked for my recipe. For the record, I wrote them out on pretty paper, and successfully resisted the strong temptation to stick on cut-outs of golden stars and hearts. It is not every day that I get asked for my recipes.

Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans
Grilled Zucchini Nachos with Salsa and Refried Beans

Roasted tomato salsa. Adapted from here.
Roast over an open flame, three large tomatoes, till charred. Peel and chop. Heat some oil in a pan and cook till soft, one chopped onion and some green chilies. Add the tomatoes along with some vinegar, salt, pepper, tomato puree, and chopped coriander. Cook for two minutes. Chill till serving.

Refried beans. Adapted from here.
Soak overnight 1 cup of red-kidney beans. Pressure cook, for five whistles, the beans along with one tomato (chopped), half an onion (chopped), some green chillies and salt. Drain and reserve the water. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the remaining half of onion (chopped). Add some chili powder, cumin seed powder, a dash of butter, and the cooked beans. I blended the hot mix into a puree, adding the reserved water, for a smooth consistency. You may choose to mash it by hand. Leave some beans whole to add to the texture.

Grilled zucchini nachos from here.
The simplest recipe ever. Slice into ¼ inch thick rounds, some zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes each side, in a hot pan.

To assemble, layer the nachos and top with the salsa, refried beans, some yoghurt dip. Grate over some cheese, if feeling indulgent.

I wanted to experiment with grilled potato nachos as well. Something for next time, I guess. Will tell you how it goes.

Meanwhile, write in with your favorite food memories.

The start to soup, salad, and starters

My mid-afternoon epiphany: You know you have been badly bitten by the cooking bug when you go to a lending library and end up issuing recipe books. I spent a pleasant afternoon at the neighborhood library today browsing through their shelf of cookbooks. I could pick one to issue and I did want yet another Nora Roberts on my remaining card.

Aside: I have come to know Nora Roberts rather late in life, but do not fear, am speeding through her books like an F1 driver. Any day now, they will award a doctorate to me.

The hasty makings of the bruschetta
The hasty makings of the bruschetta

After some agonized dithering, I chose a book on soups, salads and starters. It was the borscht recipe that sealed the deal. I cannot resist beetroot. Note to self: have to experiment with beetroot. Oh dear, this blog post is full of distractions. The fact that I am watching a teleshopping show while I write it must be the sole reason.

Aside 2: Watching teleshopping is fascinating and hugely entertaining. The anchors who have been trained to speak as if they are reporting live from the site of a volcano eruption, or mimic the high pitched reporting gregariousness last heard at Kate and William’s wedding. The touching before and after stories in which everything from abdomen fat to toilet stains and kitchen grout simply melts away to result in a glowing and successful ever after!!! It is a lesson in marketing – identifying those exact situations in which you are compelled to teleshop – do you have guests over, or are travelling, or are pregnant, or are a college student who nobody likes, or have you completely lost your self-confidence? ?!! All immediate needs can be met by one magic one phone call!!! And guess the best bit!! Notice the wonderful offers?!! You shall actually save money while spending it!!!

The hasty bruschetta fresh from the oven
The hasty bruschetta fresh from the oven

Now the reason I picked the soup and salad book is because those are my latest obsessions. Armed with balsamic vinegar, my immersion blender, and thyme, am determined to learn how to freeze vegetable stock and rock the lettuce and ricotta world forever. You see, my mid-evening epiphany, yesterday which was more startling than today’s literary one, was that I have turned the corner. The time was when a bored week day evening meant dropping in at a friend’s, going out for a drink, or cramming popcorn hypnotically while watching a movie. Instead, I pootled around the internet, home and kitchen and pureed cauliflower. To make this hearty creamy curried cauliflower soup with some hastily thrown together bruschetta. Lip smacking deliciousness. I spent a fair bit of time fussing over the soup but the poor bread was left till the last minute. Did someone mention teleshopping?!!!

Creamy curried cauliflower soup (dinner for two hungry adults) From the Kitchn
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pan. Slice and saute an onion (with a bit of salt) till translucent. Mince and add two cloves of garlic, and cook for a couple of minutes more. Meanwhile cut into florets half a head of cauliflower. Add to the pan, along with a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder. Put in some turmeric and add a little over two cups of water. Note: please use stock instead. I do believe it will work much better. Add more salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or your food processor) and mix in half a cup of coconut milk. At this point, taste and add more seasoning to taste. I found it fairly bland and so livened it up with more cumin, pepper and salt. To serve, sprinkle some roasted cashews, parsley (I had only dried herbs on hand) and a dash of pepper and cayenne.

Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup
Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup

Hasty bruschetta (for when you are low on ingredients and time) Adapted from allrecipes
Cut four slices of whole wheat bread into half. Brush some olive oil onto them and toast in the oven for a few minutes. In a bowl, mix in some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic and chopped basil (preferably fresh) and some salt. Chop one tomato, one small onion, half a capsicum, and steam some sliced baby corn. Add to the dressing and let it rest a while. Dollop on the toast and sprinkle some grated cheese. Grill for five to ten minutes.

 

These are a few of my favorite things

For me an important part of growing up has been about becoming clearer about what gives me happiness. And I am not talking about retail therapy or watching TV shows back-to-back kind of bliss (though all those are eminently fun). This joy is not based on material acquisitions either – and I don’t dismiss the sheer excitement of owning an egg separator or a humongous flat screen television (how else will you enjoy those marathon TV sessions!). Nor is this about realizing the true value of friends, family and friends-turned-family and family-turned friends (we all know they make life what it is, and you need someone to watch all that TV with.) This, gentle reader, is about those ‘activities’ which not only are great fun but also make you glad that you were put on earth. This long monologue is to prime you for two of my favorite such things – (imagine drumroll!) cooking healthy and travelling to eat.

Double Tomato Bruschetta
Double Tomato Bruschetta

This post is really truly inspired from that fact that SG – the husband- is in Italy for work. And I am home alone, moping and working horrendously long hours at the day job. But this cloud is thickly silvered – some me time is good for crystallizing thoughts and ideas and lo and behold, googling about cooking holidays in Italy. The descriptions have left me in a tizzy and I have been day-dreaming about visiting local markets in the Italian sunshine to buy fresh produce and learning how to whip up risotto and tiramisu. I have imagined it right down to the exact taste of the roasted tomatoes on the wood fired oven baked pizzas. Bank balance and vacation time permitting, this summer, I am determined to turn this dream into reality. The husband can have his Ferraris, I’ll happily settle for a cheese making course.

Keeping with the above, I bring to you one of my favorites –bruschetta with fresh and sun dried tomatoes. Since I can safely say I strive to be a femivore (remember my other thing is healthy cooking, but sans the chicken coop!), I don’t buy sun dried tomatoes. Instead I oven roast cherry/plum tomatoes with fantastic results.

So first the oven roasted tomatoes: Wash and cut a bunch of plum tomatoes into half. Douse with olive oil, and throw in some sea salt and any herbs you have handy. I use dried rosemary and thyme. Lay them cut side down on-to a glass dish (all the cookie sheets I own are aluminum which are a no-no with tomatoes.) Slow roast in a preheated oven at 165 c till done. David L recommends two hours but I find they get done earlier – all wrinkly and wonderful. The longer you leave them in, the more concentrated the flavours.

They stay safe in a glass jar in the fridge for a little less than a week. While they are heaven on a bruschetta, they work equally well scattered over simple toast for a quick meal on the go.

Double Tomato Bruschetta
Double Tomato Bruschetta

And now for the double tomato bruschettaCombine some chopped tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, minced garlic, olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, some fresh basil (now is not chiffonade the best word ever!), and salt and fresh pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes. I am not fussed about quantities, and taste as I go along – but if you are, check the recipe. Toast some baguette slices, and top with tomato mixture and grate some cheese (I have used mozzarella, processed, even cheddar – the mozzarella grilled the best) and grill in a preheated oven for a couple of minutes till the cheese melts. Voila, dig in.

So listen up folks! If you want to travel together to Italy on a cooking vacation – got to be vegetarian or vegetarian friendly – will welcome you with open arms and tremendous enthusiasm. Recommendations and advice are also very welcome. Am all agog and all ears!

The long promised Chickpea Croquettes

My blog might lead you to believe that I enjoy baking at the expense of ‘ordinary’ cooking. Not true that. And here’s one my favorite savoury recipe as proof.  I stumbled across it while searching for banana granola bars – which Good Things Grow has a fabulous recipe for.

Chickpea Croquettes
Chickpea Croquettes

I typically make the croquettes as finger food, and they work really well with drinks. They go well with some harissa sauce or chilli-tomato ketchup. I must try these with my mom’s super recipe for coriander chutney. Will let you know when I do.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin (I use roasted cumin powder)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas. I soak dried chickpeas overnight, and pressure-cook them. A can of garbanzo should work equally well
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped/crushed
  • 2 tablespoons coriander, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive or any other oil

Heat the water. In a large mixing bowl, mix in the salt and cumin powder into the flour. Add the lemon juice and heated water and stir to combine. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix.

Heat some oil in your largest pan. I have successfully tried both my grill pan, and the hard-anodized saucepan. Drop in a large spoonful of the mixture and shape into coax any errant chickpeas towards the croquettes. Let them sizzle for about 3 to 5 minutes, till they become golden brown. Flip, and repeat. Depending on the size of your pan, you can put in multiple croquettes.  Just ensure that they cook through, as you do not want to bite into undercooked flour.

They are best served hot. I stuck one batch into the oven with the ‘keep warm’ option, which worked well.

So go ahead, soak those chickpeas or open that can of garbanzo. You will not regret it one bit, promise. You will however, be upset that you have not discovered these before.