Sunday, September 28, 2008

Simple Pasta Salad

Here is a simple but delicious pasta salad that can go together pretty quickly. The children can choose the ingredients, help grate/chop the veggies, grind the pepper, etc and mix the salad and best of all --- eat the salad!! Hand choppers or a food processor will assist in quickly chopping and grating the veggies and herbs.

8 Main Dish Servings

Nutrition Information using Orzo pasta: Each serving contains - 298 Calories; 9.58 g Protein; 48 g Total Carbohydrates; 4.2 g Fat; 4.8 g Fiber.


1 lb small pasta, any type - I used Orzo
1 cup cooked and drained Garbanzo beans
2 small carrots, grated
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (Optional)
4 oz. Non-rennet Feta Cheese, crumbled coarsely or cubed
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp Fresh basil, torn
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard (Optional)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp White Balsamic Vinegar or Wine Vinegar
Salt to taste
Freshly ground Black Pepper

Cherry tomatoes, Olives, etc for garnishing


Cook the pasta according to manufacturer's direction until just tender; drain and rinse with very cold water. Drain thoroughly.

Whisk together the mustard if using, oil, vinegar, salt, and the pepper in a large bowl.

Add the chopped herbs and mix well.

Stir in the pasta along with the chopped/grated veggies, and the garbanzos.

Sprinkle the cheese on top and combine thoroughly.

Chill and use as needed.

Allow the salad to come to room temperature and garnish each serving with the cherry tomatoes or olives as you wish.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mung Dal Soup With Spinach And Indian Spices

This soup is not only beautiful but nutritious and filling too. It is pretty easy to make and freezes well also; just defrost and heat up for a wonderful meal.

This recipe makes a mild soup; you can adjust the quantity of the spices as well as the green chilies and ginger according to your taste.

To make a complete and hearty meal, serve with warm corn bread or whole grain bread/rolls, and Rainbow Salad with Cilantro Dressing.


1. Yellow split peas or red lentils (split and skinless masoor dal) may be used instead of the Mung Dal.

2. Two medium grated Zucchinis {or other summer squash, ridge gourds (tori), chayote squash (Chow chow or Bangalore Kathirikai)}, and/or 2 medium chopped Tomatoes, etc. may be added to the soup at the time of adding the carrots.

3. Add a finely chopped onion and clove of garlic if you wish along with the ginger, green chili, and curry leaves and cook until onion is translucent before adding to the soup.

Nutrition Information: (Based on info from split yellow peas and unsalted butter since I could not find info on split Mung dal or Ghee)
One serving of soup contains approximately: 160 Calories; 10 g Protein; 26.7 g Total Carbohydrates; 7.5 g Fiber; 1.5 g Fat

8 Servings


2 Cups Yellow Mung dal (split and skinless Mung dal)
1/4 cup Barley
1/2 tsp ground Turmeric
2 tsp Salt
2 medium Carrots
6 Cups Fresh Spinach
2 tsp Sambar powder
1/2 cup chopped Fresh Cilantro
Lemon or Lime wedges (Optional)


1 tsp Oil/ Ghee or unsalted butter (optional)
1 tsp whole Cumin Seeds
1 pinch Asafoetida
2 thin round slices of ginger, minced finely (Optional)
1 hot green chili, deseeded and minced finely (Optional)
1 sprig Curry Leaves


Sort the dal and remove stones, discolored dal, or other debris. Wash the dal and barley separately and thoroughly in a few changes of fresh water and drain.

Place barley in a large pot (5 or 6 quarts/litres) with 6 cups of fresh water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in the dal and continue to simmer until soft and creamy; stir occasionally to make sure the soup does not settle to the bottom of the pot and burn. Alternately, pressure cook the dal.

While the dal is cooking, wash and prepare the veggies: coarsely grate the carrots; thoroughly wash the spinach in several changes of fresh water and coarsely chop.

Add the turmeric, salt, sambar powder, boiling water if needed, and the grated carrots to the dal. Bring to a boil again and lower heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the spinach, cook until just wilted and turn off heat. Cover and set aside.

Heat oil/ghee if using, in a small pan and add the cumin seeds. Cumin seeds and spices maybe toasted without any fat also.

When the cumin is browned a little, add asafoetida and ginger, green chili and the curry leaves. Cook for a couple of minutes until the chilies soften.

Pour into the soup; ladle a little of the soup into the pan, stir and pour back into the soup pot to extract every bit of the spices.

Stir in the cilantro leaves. Let rest for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve hot with a wedge of lemon or lime to squeeze as desired.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Basic Apple Crisp (Baked Apple Slices With Crumble Topping)

Apple Crisp is one of the most satisfying of simple desserts. I made one today with the help of all the little ones and everyone loved the making as much as the eating!! It is a pretty healthy dessert with very little fat and sugar - so one does not have to feel too guilty about indulging in this one on occasion.

My friend Linola insists that Macintosh is the best apple for the job. I have used green Granny Smith or Pippin or the Golden Delicious also with good results. Today we used an assortment of apples - whatever the children brought; the crisp turned out absolutely delicious. Try them all and see for yourself and let me know what your favorite apples are :).

Use freshly grated nutmeg if you can as it is much more flavorful than the already ground one because once ground, spices lose their volatile oils and out goes the flavor. Keep the whole nutmegs in an air-tight jar to use as needed.

Whole Wheat flour, Unbleached flour, and whole nutmegs are available at most markets.

8 Servings

Nutrition Information (for recipe made with whole wheat flour and walnuts; without the ice cream/whipped cream ): 275 Calories; 2.8 g protein; 44 g total carbohydrates; 2.5 g fiber.


8 Medium Apples
1 pinch Sea Salt
2 pinches Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Whole Wheat or Unbleached Flour


1/2 cup Whole Wheat or Unbleached Flour
4 Tbsp Cold Butter
1/3 cup Brown Sugar, lightly packed
1 Tbsp ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated Nutmeg (Optional)
1 pinch Salt
1 cup Rolled Oats (dry oatmeal)
1/2 cup Walnuts or Pecans, coarsely chopped (Optional)


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter an 9" x 13" baking pan. (Or use cooking spray to coat the pan.)

Wash and dry the apples. Peel, remove core, and slice or coarsely chop them.

Sprinkle the apples with the salt, spices, sugar and flour. Mix thoroughly.

Place the apples in the buttered pan.

For the topping: Mix the flour and salt. Cut butter into small pieces. Mix the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is finely chopped and mixed into the flour.

Stir in spices and brown sugar.

Add oats and the nuts and mix well.

Distribute the topping evenly over the apples.

Bake for 40 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Serve warm. Serious dessert lovers might like it served a la mode (with a scoop of real Vanilla Ice Cream on top) or with a dollop of lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream!!

Variations: Peaches, plums, pears, etc. can be used instead of apples to make delicious crisps.

Roasted Eggplant Pachadi/Raita (Roasted Eggplant Salad With Yogurt)

The more I become acquainted with other cuisines of the world, the more amazed I am to find that every cuisine has very similar dishes. The roasted eggplant Pachadi/Raita is very similar to Baba Ghanouj of Middle Eastern countries. Try this recipe and tell me how you liked it.

4 - 6 Servings


1 large globe Eggplant
1 small Red Onion, finely chopped (Optional)
1 cup Thick Unflavored Yogurt
2 Tbsp Cilantro
1/2 tsp Salt

1-2 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 Hot Green Chili (Jalapeno or Serrano), de-seeded, and finely chopped
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves


Roast or broil the eggplant in the oven or over hot coals until soft. Place in a brown bag and let cool.

When eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the charred skin. Save any juices.

Chop or mash the pulp and combine with the juices.

Add the salt, chopped onion, yogurt, and cilantro and mix well.

Prepare the thalippu: heat the oil in a small pan and add the mustard seeds. When they finish popping, add asafoetida if using and the green chili and curry leaves carefully so as not to get splashed with hot oil. Cook until the chili is softened and pour over the eggplant mixture. Mix well.

Chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve cool with any rice, roti, dals or curries as you wish.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Radish Greens Thoran with Fresh Coconut

Radish Leaves Thoran
Radish Greens Thoran with  Fresh Coconut is another ingenious dish from my mother's repertoire! Most people just twist off the greens from radishes and toss them into the rubbish/compost bin. The greens from radishes may look a bit forbidding; but cooking tames and renders them absolutely mild and delicious. Amma would often add a little (or a lot depending on the amount of the leaves) grated radishes to augment the quantity of the greens which shrink considerably upon cooking. If there is a sufficient quantity of greens, radishes need not be added.

Another lovely addition is cooked toor/chana dal; dal should be just tender and not mushy. 

For a delicious taste, coarsely grind the coconut with a pinch of cumin seeds and a dried red chile before adding to the thoran.
Radish Leaves Thoran


2 Daikon Radishes (Mooli) with greens or 1 big bunch any radish with greens
Salt to taste
1 pinch Turmeric
2 to 4 Tbsp Grated Coconut, Fresh or Frozen


1 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 Dry Red Chili


Pick over the radish greens to remove weeds and yellowed leaves. Wash the radishes and their greens well in several changes of fresh water. Drain well. Trim off any fibrous root ends. Finely chop the greens and grate the radishes.

Prepare the thalippu: Heat the oil in a wok or skillet and add the mustard, red chili and urad dal.

When the mustard finishes dancing and popping and the dal is pinkish, add the chopped and grated veggies, salt and turmeric.

Stir well and cook covered stirring often - about 10 to 15 minutes.

Mix in the coconut and stir cook until hot and a little dry - about 2 or 3 minutes.

Serve hot with rice/roti, dal and or other accompaniments. Tastes great rolled up in a buttered roti (whole wheat tortilla).


Saucy Potato Curry (Spicy Potato & Onion Stew)

Paji fondly recalls that his mother always made this curry every weekend. On Saturdays his father only had to work half days and returned home in time for lunch. His mother made this family favorite and fresh chapatis/rotis to celebrate. Homemade yogurt and some Indian pickles completed the simple but sumptuous meal.

This is a typical South Indian potato curry usually served with rotis, puris (fried bread) or dosa. It is amazing how a few spices transform the humble potato into this delicious dish!

Notes: Potatoes may be cooked whole in their jackets, peeled if desired and coarsely broken into chunks to stir into the sauteed onion mixture along with the besan slurry and proceed with the rest of the directions.

 Leave the ginger and green chilies in large chunks if you prefer a mild taste; this will allow you to easily fish them out before serving so someone does not bite into a big chunk of either one. I like to chop them very finely so that they just melt into the curry.

As a variation, I like to add other vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, green beans or eggplant with/without a tomato or two.

6 Servings


4 medium Potatoes
1 medium Onion
3 or 4 thin slices Fresh Ginger
1 or 2 hot Green Chili
1/2 tsp Turmeric
4 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped
1 Tsp Salt or to taste
2 Tbsp Besan (Chickpea/Gram Flour) + 3 Tbsp Water
Lime/Lemon Wedges to Serve (Optional)


2 Tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Chana Dal
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 pinch Asafoetida (Optional)
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves, finely sliced


Potatoes: Wash and scrub them well. Cut into bite sized chunks. 

Onions: Cut off ends, peel, and chop finely.

Chilies: Cut off stem, cut in half and remove seeds and membranes; leave in large chunks or chop fine.

Ginger: leave in large pieces or chop fine.

Besan Slurry: mix besan and water into a smooth thin slurry; add a little more water if needed.

Heat oil in a large pot and add the mustard seeds and the dals. When the mustard finishes popping and the dals turn pink, quickly add the rest of the thalippu materials along with the onions, green chili and ginger with a pinch of salt.

Cook stirring until the onions are translucent. Add turmeric, potatoes, the rest of the salt and 1 or 2 cups of boiling water depending on the amount of gravy you might like. More boiling water can be added later if you prefer a softer consistency.

Cover and simmer until potatoes are soft - about 20 minutes. Parts of the potato pieces should melt into the water to make a creamy gravy. 

Stir in the besan slurry and cook for 10 more minutes.

If the gravy is not creamy enough, mash a few pieces of the potatoes with the back of the spoon and cook for a few more minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in chopped cilantro, and set aside for 5 minutes.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature with rice or roti with other accompaniments of your choice. It is scrumptious served over whole wheat or sourdough toast points. Serve with lime or lemon wedges to squeeze over the curry if desired. 


Yogurt (How To Make Homemade Yogurt)

It is quite simple and easy to make yogurt at home. If you only taste homemade yogurt once, you will not want to eat store-bought ones. My friend Linola was not a yogurt fan before she tasted homemade yogurt; now she makes it regularly! It is so light, creamy, refreshing and very economical too. You really do not need any fancy equipment either - just a nice clean container and a warm, draft-free spot!

Packets of culture are available in health food stores. I have also used a couple of spoonfuls of plain yogurt with active culture - make sure there are no additives such as gelatin or thickeners of any kind. I have found that Greek-style yogurt or plain buttermilk work well also. Check to make sure that the culture is active - i.e. it is added after the pasteurization process and not before.

Use any type of milk - from skim to half and half - for making yogurt. Long ago in those carefree days when we did not worry about fat or calories I used to make yogurt with a hefty dose of half and half for my husband - one quart of 1/2 and 1/2 and two quarts of whole milk - and it was absolutely delicious. Now I use milk with 1 or 2 percent fat and it is still delicious though not as rich.

You can reduce, double or triple this recipe; make as little or as much as you like.

You can flavor individual servings of plain yogurt by adding honey, your favorite fruit or jam.

4 (one cup) Servings

Nutrition Information: It will depend on the type of milk you use.


1 quart Milk (any type - skim to whole)
Yogurt culture packet OR 2 Tbsp good yogurt with active culture


Wash a 2-quart sauce pan and rinse with cold water. Pour the milk in the wet pan and slowly bring to scalding point or a boil. Wet pan and slow heating prevent sticking and burning of milk solids.

Cover and cool until baby-bottle warm; it should be lukewarm.

Have a clean container for setting the yogurt.

Transfer to a glass or stainless container and stir in the culture. Follow manufacturer's direction if using packaged culture. Cover and leave undisturbed in a draft-free spot for about 6-8 hours or overnight.

If the yogurt has set, place the container in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly to rest and firm up - about 2 to 4 hours. If you disturb the yogurt right after setting, it is still very fragile and will break up (it will still taste great though). Chilling is done strictly to firm up the texture.

Serve cool, cold, or at room temperature. Save a few spoonfuls of the fresh yogurt to culture the next batch.

CAUTION: The container for setting yogurt must be absolutely clean. Any impurities will tamper with the culture and will not produce a satisfactory result. Always use a clean spoon to serve the desired amount of yogurt.

Note: When weather is warm, the yogurt sets quickly; so as soon as it has set it should be refrigerated promptly to prevent it from becoming too tart. But if temperature is chilly, it might take all 8 hours or more. I wrap the cultured milk container with warm towels and set it in a warm area of the kitchen in the winter to ensure that the culture works in a timely manner.

Thick Yogurt: For making thick yogurt, fortify the cooled milk by stirring in one cup of nonfat dry milk and then let set. Or just drain the homemade yogurt through a fine muslin cloth until desired consistency has been reached.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rice and Whole Urud Adai (Rice and Black Lentil Pancakes For Karthikai Deepam)

Adais are generally thicker and hence more substantial than Dosas; both are similar to pancakes or crepes and are traditional South Indian fare. My maternal grandmother made them in the afternoon for tea but at our paternal grandparents' house adais were made for breakfast. So you decide when you might like to eat them :).

This adai is called Karthikai Adai as it is made as an offering on the occasion of Karthikai Deepam (a festival of lights in the winter) when sisters fast, light oil lamps, and pray for the well being of their brothers. It was quite a beautiful sight to behold in my grandparents' village when all the houses on both rows lit the lamps in front of their homes! 

Girls and women of all ages pray for their brothers and women fast. When the sun sets, all the lamps are lit, the adais are made and blessed; only then the women break their fasts. The grateful brothers visit and may bring presents for their sisters.

Once you make the batter, it is quite simple to make the pancakes whenever you wish. Karthikai Adais are not as thick as other types; these are only slightly heavier than Dosa. This adai is usually made with fresh batter; it is never fermented. So any leftover batter should be refrigerated promptly.

These adai are traditionally served with fresh churned butter and the Indian brown sugar called "Jaggery".


1 cup raw rice
1/2 cup Whole Urad Beans
1 tsp Whole Black Pepper
2 tsp Whole Cumin Seeds
1/2 cup fresh or frozen Coconut
1/2 - 1 tsp salt or to taste
Oil for cooking the adais (about 2-3 Tbsp)


Wash well the rice and dal and soak for a couple of hours. Drain and rinse with fresh water. Grind to a coarse paste along with the spices, salt, and coconut using just enough water using a blender or food processor. The batter should neither be too watery nor very thick.

Heat a griddle or a nonstick skillet. Make a small adai as a sample and check for seasonings (typically food is never tasted before offering for blessings). Drizzle a few drops of oil around it. 

When the top of adai changes color - about a minute or two, flip over to cook the other side; it is not necessary to add any more oil after flipping over. Both sides should be golden brown; the adais are slightly crispy around the edges at the end of cooking. Cook a few seconds longer if a crisp adai is preferred.

Season or adjust the batter as necessary. Proceed to make bigger, regular sized ones (about 8" - 10") and make as many as are needed.

Serve hot with the traditional unsalted butter and Indian Jaggery; or with Mulagai Podi, Mulagai Pachadi, raita, or other accompaniments. Enjoy!!

Quick & Easy Ras Malai (Ricotta Cheese Dessert With Almonds & Pistachios)

We just made this dessert for a large gathering (500 servings!) and everyone enjoyed it tremendously. It is the easy version without having to start from scratch - i.e. making paneer. A fantastic make-ahead dessert that really is quick and easy!

12 Servings


2 lbs Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Sugar
2 cups Whole Milk
1 pinch Saffron (Optional)
1 Tbsp Cardamom Pods
1/4 cup Blanched Almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Raw Pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/8 tsp Freshly grated Nutmeg (Optional)
1 Tbsp Rose Water


Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Combine thoroughly the ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of the sugar.

Spread the cheese mixture in the buttered pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool; then cut into squares or rectangles - as desired, and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.

In the meantime, boil the milk with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and simmer for 30 minutes.

While milk is simmering, peel the cardamom pods and gather the seeds; discard the shells.

Grind the cardamom seeds with the saffron and a teaspoon of sugar into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle.

Turn off heat and stir in the nutmeg, saffron, cardamoms, and almonds into the hot milk.

Pour the milk mixture carefully over the baked cheese and let cool.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

Stir in rose water before serving.

Serve cold - accompany the pieces of the ras malai with some of the sauce .

Rose water is available in Indian markets.

P.S. You may use purchased paneer to make ras malai. Paneer is available at Indian markets. Store bought paneer is very dense; so mash well with a few tbsp of milk first and then add the sugar. Then proceed as above. If you prefer a sweeter dish, add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup more sugar to the milk.