Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Strawberry Sharbat/Cooler (Agua Fresca)

I recently received gifts of beautiful homegrown limes and freshly picked luscious strawberries. When life brings you limes, you make limeade; but when you get both limes and strawberries, you make strawberry sharbat :D!

Every country and cuisine has its own special cooling beverages or Agua Frescas to counteract warm and sultry weather. In India, delicious and refreshing coolers called sharbats are made from various ingredients including fruits - the classic ones being Nimbu Sharbat (Limeade) and Lassi (a yogurt beverage) - pronounced Luh-ssi and not lassie.

Stevia extract is a natural sweetner made from the Stevia plant that works well with acidic ingredients; it adds sweetness without a lot of calories. It is available as liquid or fine powders; I prefer the liquid type as it has the least aftertaste according to my taste. If preferred, the sharbat can be made with regular sugar as well. Whichever way it is made, strawberry sharbat should taste limey but balanced in its taste - neither too sweet nor too tart.

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 cup Strawberries, fresh/frozen
1 large Tahitian Lime
Stevia Extract to taste
Pinch of Sea Salt
2 cups Sparkling water, chilled
Ice cubes, to serve
Mint sprigs, Lime slices, whole strawberries, etc for garnish

Method:

Wash the strawberries thoroughly and remove stems and sepals.

Squeeze the lime; save the rinds.

Let the rinds soak in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes up to an hour; the rinds will release flavorful lime oils into the water. Strain the water and set aside for the sharbat and discard the rind. Leaving the rinds in the water for too long will produce a bitter taste - so prompt removal is required.

Place the strawberries, lime rind water, and lime juice with the salt in a blender and pulverize into a smooth puree. Strain the puree through a five sieve to remove the seeds if you desire.

Pour the strawberry puree in a large jar and add the Stevia to taste and the sparkling water.

Mix well and pour over ice cubes.

Garnish as desired and serve. Enjoy!

Pesarat (Mung Bean Pancakes/Vegan O konomi yaki)

Pesarat - pronounced as "pes-sir-rut" - is a delicious crepe-like pancake from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It gets its bright green color from the moss-hued whole mung beans. It is usually topped with minced onions and green chilies but I like to add my own rainbow-colored topping for better taste, visual appeal, and nutrition. To make the vegan version of O konomi yaki, I just stir in lots of the veggies into the batter and cook into thick pancakes the same way as these; fabulous!

Prepared similar to a dosa or adai, pesarat is a fine addition to one's griddle/pan- cake repertoire. To make a good thing even better, I often allow the beans to sprout a little before processing them into a batter. Although pesarats are made from freshly ground batter, leftover or fermented batter make fine pancakes also. However you make it, it is healthy and yummy. Pesarat is traditionally served with upma.

Ingredients:

2 cups whole Mung Beans
2 hot green Chilies (cored for mild result)
1" piece fresh Ginger
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 sprig fresh Curry Leaves
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
A few Tbsp oil for cooking the Pesarat

Rainbow Topping:

1 or 2 Jalapeño chili, cored and minced
1 small Red Onion, finely chopped
1/2 each yellow and Red bell pepper, sliced paper-thin
2 cups finely shredded Red or Green Cabbage
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped

Method:

Sort, wash and soak the mung beans in plenty of fresh water for about 5 to 6 hours or overnight.

Drain the beans, rinse and grind with the asafoetida, green chilies, ginger, curry leaves and salt into a fine batter using a blender with just enough water to get a fairly thick batter.

The batter can be made up to 2 or 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated until needed.

Combine the topping ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Heat a cast iron griddle or a skillet lightly coated with a little oil.

Making pesarat is exactly like preparing pancake-like vegetable adais.

Cook the pesarat until the bottom is golden brown and the edges are crispy.

Loosen the edges first and slide the spatula under the pesarat and flip to cook the other side.

Remove from the griddle and serve hot with coconut chutney and/or mulagai podi and zucchini raita or your favorite pachadi/raita.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Polenta "French Toast" (Gluten & Egg-free)

Polenta French Toast is a wonderful vegan alternate breakfast treat when regular French Toast will not do. Once you prepare the polenta, making the French Toast is a breeze; but you do have to plan ahead and make the polenta ahead of time - preferably a day before :D.

Coarse corn meal and cornflour are available in Indian Markets. Corn flour is finely ground corn resembling wheat flour; not cornstarch (cornstarch is known as cornflour in commonwealth countries). If corn flour is not readily available, use more of the regular cornmeal or rice flour instead.

Ingredients:

1 Recipe Breakfast Polenta, made with 3 cups of water
Finely grated zest from 1/2 Orange
A few gratings of Fresh Nutmeg, about 1/8 tsp
Canola oil for cooking French Toast
2 Tbsp Corn Flour, for dredging French Toast

Fresh Berries of your choice to serve
1/4 cup Pure Maple Syrup to serve
Whipped cream or nondairy topping to serve
1/2 cup toasted pecans or other nuts to serve

Method:

Prepare breakfast polenta with only 3 cups of water.

While polenta is baking, prepare a rimmed baking sheet by lightly oiling it or spraying with a cooking oil spray.

Add the orange zest, and nutmeg to the warm polenta and mix well; spread the polenta in the prepared baking sheet and set aside until completely cool.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Cut the polenta into squares, triangles, circles or as desired.

Heat a large griddle or skillet and lightly coat with a little oil.

Dredge each piece of polenta in the cornflour, shake off excess, and cook until golden brown on both sides - about 2 minutes per side.

Serve hot/warm topped with berries, nuts, warmed maple syrup and whipped cream/topping. Enjoy!

Bruschetta With Ricotta,Tomato & Basil

Delicious as well as beautiful bruschetta

There is only one word to describe this bruschetta, and that is YUM! It is so easy, nutritious, and satisfying especially if you have a jar of one of the pestos such as the Garlic Pesto on hand. The tomatoes must be vine-ripened and full flavored for best results. If you prefer, fresh mozzarella cheese can be used in place of the ricotta for a Caprese style bruschetta. These make impressively delicious snacks or starters without a lot of work.

If all the ingredients are ready, the diners can assemble their own bruschetta. It is another do-it-yourself food that children love to do on their own. Wholesome and delicious, what is not to love?

4 - 6 Snack/Starter Servings

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
1 small bunch Fresh Mint/Basil Leaves
1 or 2 Fresh Ripe Tomatoes, thinly sliced
Coarse Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
2 or 3 Tbsp Garlic Pesto
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, to drizzle
1 Fresh Lime/Lemon Juice (Optional)
4 large slices Sourdough bread or your favorite Bread slices

Method:

Toast, broil, or grill the bread until lightly golden; cut into desired sizes diagonally.

Spread one side of the toasts with the garlic pesto and some of the olive oil and sprinkle with the lime/lemon juice.

Divide the ricotta equally among the bread pieces.

Layer the mint or basil leaves and tomato slices in an attractive way on top of the ricotta.

Drizzle with a few drops of lime/lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve immediately. Eat. Enjoy!

Breakfast Polenta (Gluten-free)

Breakfast Polenta is a delicious treat for my friends who cannot tolerate gluten. It can be vegan if you use soy, rice, or a nut milk. Any leftovers can be used to make French Toast; better yet, make a double batch so that you can have breakfast polenta one day and French Toast another :O!

Either polenta (coarsely ground corn) or regular cornmeal may be used to make the polenta. Dried fruits such as blueberries, cherries and strawberries work well also.

Cornmeal (corn "rava, suji or sooji") and Cornflour are available in Indian markets.

6 Servings

Each serving (without the toppings) contains: 207 Calories; 49 g Carbohydrates; 59 mg Sodium; 3 g Protein; 3 g Fiber

Ingredients:

1 cup regular cornmeal
1/2 tsp coarse Sea Salt
4 cups water
1/4 cup Pure Maple or Agave Syrup
1/2 cup Milk, any kind
1 cup Dried Cranberries, Currants, or Raisins (optional)
1 tsp ground Cinnamon (optional)
Butter or butter substitute (optional)
Chopped nuts, to serve
Fresh Berries of your choice to serve
Pure Maple Syrup to serve
Milk and other toppings, as desired

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Combine salt, water and the cornmeal in a 2 to 3 quart (liter) oven proof casserole.

Bake the cornmeal mixture for 1 hour uncovered.

Stir in the syrup , currants/raisins, cinnamon, and the milk mixing thoroughly; bake for 30 minutes more.

Serve the polenta hot with desired toppings. Enjoy!

Homegrown Greens/Herbs: Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris var.)

Beautiful Ruby Chard growing happily with Sorrel

Swiss chard is a very easy to grow plant with ample rewards of succulent stems and leaves. The word "Swiss" was added simply for marketing purposes. Chard originates from the Mediterranean region and is well loved by the cooks there. It has many names such as silver beet, sea beet, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, mangold, etc and is related to garden beets and also spinach. Chard has abundant nutrients that make it a super vegetable that one should eat often.

Chard can be grown in the garden or in pots from seeds. Chard comes in many colors in addition to the white ribbed type. I love to grow a variety in large pots for the beautiful colors which are so pleasing to the eye not to mention the palate too. Seeds can be purchased for "rainbow" or "bright lights" chard which include ruby, pink, orange, and yellow-stemmed varieties which are very ornamental no matter where they are planted. Once they have a few leaves, start harvesting by snapping or cutting off the leaves right at the base away from the plants. As long as the central growing parts are not damaged, the plant will keep on producing abundant leaves.

Tender young leaves (only available if you grow them) can be eaten raw in salads and sandwiches - anyway raw spinach/lettuce is used. The large mature leaves can be used for wrapping foods and/or cooked like spinach - use it in place of spinach in your favorite recipes. The stems and ribs take a little longer to cook; but are delicious - so don't throw them away. Simply strip the leafy parts off, chop as desired and start cooking them for just a few minutes before adding the leaves. I love the colorfulness that the stems add to the dish. Chard has a mild yet sweet earthy taste and is highly suitable in all cuisines.

Chard can be cooked simply by steaming, sauteing, etc. It is delicious made into curries, Thoran, Kuzhambu, Molakootal, Soups and Salads. Another one of my favorite ways of serving it is any bread - especially grilled bread - topped with chard cooked in a bit of olive oil seasoned with a little onion/garlic. Happy growing and eating! Enjoy!

Wonder of Laughter - The Best Medicine

The Great Pumpkin had commented here a while ago about laughter being the best medicine. Apparently laughter does induce physical changes in our body chemistry and hence can help us deal with a variety of ills physically as well as emotionally. Here are some ways in which laughter helps:-

Regulation of stress response - hearty laughter fires up and subsequently cools down our stress response resulting in relaxation and a feeling of well being.

Stimulation of organs - laughing enhances our oxygen intake and stimulates the heart, lungs, and muscles and increases the endorphins released by our brain.

Pain reduction - laughing has been shown to promote production of natural painkillers in our bodies that ease pain.

Soothing tension - Laughter soothes and relaxes tension which leads to better digestion, improved circulation, and reduction of physical symptoms of stress including stomachaches.

Strengthening the immune system - Laughter and positive thinking cause release of neuropeptides that aid in regulating stress and fighting stress related illnesses.

So..... the experts highly recommend that we all give laughter a try :-}. If it does not happen spontaneously, well, stand in front of a mirror and go ahead and push up the corners of the mouth until you are laughing. Have a hearty laugh and feel - more relaxed and confident to deal with whatever life has to offer! Researchers find that children laugh a whole lot more than adults do; it is time that we follow their example - live, love, and laugh a lot :D!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cucumber & Tomato Carpaccio (Composed Vegetable Salad)

A salad by a fancy name...........Carpaccio has come to denote a thinly sliced composed salad. Although originally made with raw meat, nowadays it is made with all types of veggies. Cucumber and Tomato Carpaccio is one of the tastiest, healthiest, and simplest of salads which I love to make it often. All you need are fresh ingredients and the salad goes together very quickly - slice everything, squeeze the lime over, sprinkle with a bit of salt and herbs, and viola! you have a salad fit for fine dining! I have included Jalapeno chili in the recipe but you can omit it if you prefer a mild salad. This is a typical Indian salad using tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers; other favorite veggies such as fresh fennel (finocchio), jicama, carrots, beets, etc can be used as you wish.

I typically use cilantro for this salad; but other herbs such as Italian or flat-leaf parsley, thyme, oregano, chervil, marjoram, etc can be used singly or in your favorite combination. I don't add any oil at all to this salad but you may use a little extra virgin olive oil or other salad dressings if you wish.

4 Servings - actually this is an eat as much as you like food so I am not calculating the caloric content. It does have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Ingredients:

4 Persian or 1 English or Japanese cucumber
2 Plum Tomatoes
1 Jalapeno Chili (optional)
2 Shallots or 1/2 small Red Onion
1 small bunch Cilantro or your favorite herbs
1/2 Lime or to taste
Coarse Sea Salt to taste

Method:

Wash well and dry all the veggies. Cut them into paper thin slices using a sharp knife, mandolin, or a food processor.

Jalapeno chilies can be mild or hot; check to see which type you have. If you prefer the salad to be mild, you can remove the core with a teaspoon and then cut the chili into paper-thin slices. Or you can omit the chili altogether.

Layer the veggies prettily on a platter.

Sprinkle the lime juice over all.

Sprinkle the salt over the veggies.

Cover and let the veggies marinate for about 15 minutes.

Garnish with the cilantro or other herbs and serve. Delicious!

This salad is perfect to serve with all types of rice dishes and dals - especially Chole, in fact pretty much every meal :D. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vegetarian Chili (Bean Stew With Vegetables)

I am seeing red - red-hued fruits and veggies. Phytochemicals known as anthocyanins (from Greek anthos=flower and kyanos=blue/purple) are the reason for the vibrant colors in nature from the gorgeous flowers and the spectacular autumn leaves to eminently edible colorful fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins are antioxidant flavonoids that protect and heal various systems in our bodies. Current research suggests that anthocyanins contribute towards maintaining cardiovascular health as well as protecting against certain cancers. These phytochemicals are present in pigment-rich fruits and veggies. So eat up lots of red, purple, and blue veggies and fruits for a healthy body.

Chili is a flavorful one-pot meal that can be made with your favorite beans and veggies which are rich in anthocyanins. It is essentially vegan and provides abundant vitamins, minerals and plenty of fiber too. Serving with whole grains, nuts/seeds, or a little cheese will ensue in protein complementarity ensuring complete protein as well. Chili is a versatile dish - it can be served on its own or over rice, polenta, or baked potato or with a side of corn bread.

Chili is another dish that has no specific recipe - this is just a basic guideline; there is lots of room for experimentation. In addition to the traditional Red Kidney beans, other legumes such as Pinto, black, red etc or a combination can be used to make chili.

Cooking beans takes a little planning as they do best when given ample time to hydrate and plump up. But all is not lost if they are not soaked the traditional way - there is always the emergency "quick soak" method which works quite well. It takes just minutes to make your own if you have a pressure cooker as it cuts down on the cooking time considerably. For a fraction of the cost of the canned beans, for better nutrition, and last but not least for the superior taste, I urge you to make your own freshly cooked beans whenever you can.

Or as a last resort, one could use canned beans if desired. Actually, you can make a quick and healthy meal using canned beans.

Note: The grated carrots add lovely texture to this dish. Use the purchased Chili Spice Mix, Taco seasoning, or make your own with New Mexico Chile, Cumin, and smoky Paprika. Add more spices if you like a spicy dish.

8 Servings

Ingredients:

2 cups dried beans
1 or 2 dried whole Red Peppers
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Onions, preferably Red, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed Red Pepper
4 Ribs Celery, chopped
1 or 2 cloves Garlic, minced (optional)
1 or 2 Jalapeño Peppers, cored and minced (optional)
2 small sprigs each Oregano and Thyme
2 large Carrots, 1 chopped, 1 grated
2 Bell Peppers, Red/Yellow, cubed
1 Cup Yellow Corn Kernels, fresh or frozen
4 Tomatoes, chopped or 1 cup simple Marinara Sauce
2 Tbsp Chili seasoning Mix (1 Tbsp ground New Mexico Chile, 2 tsp ground Cumin, 1tsp Smoky Paprika)
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
1 small bunch Cilantro, chopped

Grated Vegan Pepper or Regular Jack or Cheddar Cheese, to serve (optional)
Vegan Sour cream, to serve (optional)

Method:

Sort the beans, wash well and soak them in plenty of fresh water for a few hours or overnight. Or do a quick soak: Place the beans with water to cover in a pot and bring to a boil; turn off the heat, cover and let sit for an hour.

Drain the soaking water and cover the beans with fresh water and cook with the whole red peppers until the beans are soft but not mushy.

Add the salt, stir well and simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes. Set aside. This can be done ahead of time up to this step.

Heat the oil and stir in the onions, crushed red pepper, garlic, Jalapeño, herbs, and celery with a pinch of salt; cook stirring until onions are translucent.

Add the chopped carrot and cook for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the bell pepper, corn, tomatoes or sauce and seasoning and cook for a couple of minutes more until everything is mixed well.

Pour the beans with enough of their broth into the pot, stir well and simmer for 15 minutes stirring often to ensure that it does not burn. Add more of the bean broth or water if the chili gets too thick.

Stir in the grated carrots and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes.

Stir in cilantro and serve hot with a sprinkle of cheese and/or a dollop of sour cream.

Cornbread, corn tortillas, whole wheat chapatis or bread, other cooked whole grains make a fine accompaniment to chili. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lemongrass Rasam (Lemongrass Scented Soup)

A lovely light lemony soup for anytime. I love serving this and other rasams as appetizers or starters with roasted papadams or buttered sourdough toast fingers. Rasam is equally good served with a couple of spoonfuls of hot rice.

Makes about 1 Quart = 4 to 6 Appetizer Servings

Ingredients:

1/4 cup Toor Dal, cooked until creamy in 2 cups of water (see Rasam)
1 or 2 stalks Lemongrass, crushed and coarsely chopped
2 Ripe Tomatoes
1 or 2 tsp Rasam powder, or to taste

1 Lime
2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro

Thalippu/Tadka:

2 tsp Ghee/Oil
1/4 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1/4 tsp Cumin Seeds
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 stalk Fresh Curry Leaves, finely sliced

Method:

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the chopped lemongrass; let steep covered for 10 minutes. Strain the leaves and set aside the flavored water.

While lemongrass is brewing, bring a small pan of water to a boil; immerse the tomatoes for 1 minute and remove with a slotted spoon. Set aside to cool. When cool, peel the skin off and cut in half, gently squeeze out all the seeds through a strainer set over a bowl. Discard the seeds; chop the pulp coarsely and combine with the juices in the bowl.

Combine tomatoes with 1/2 cup of fresh water in a 2 or 3 quart (liter) pan with salt, turmeric, and rasam powder and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the dal water (save the dal for another dish such as simple dal or a soup) along with the lemongrass water into the tomato mixture.

Simmer the rasam over medium heat until foamy but not boiling. Remove from heat.

Make the thalippu: heat the ghee/oil is a small pan and when hot, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start popping quickly stir in cumin seeds, then the asafetida and curry leaves. Remove from heat and pour immediately into the rasam carefully - the hot fat coming in contact with the rasam can sizzle and splash.

Cover and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the juice from the lime and the chopped cilantro leaves just before serving.

Serve hot in small bowls or cups or in soup bowls over rice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How to Wash Fruits & Vegetables

If you have wondered about how effective the produce washes are, you are not alone. There are so many products used in growing veggies and fruits that leave a residue on the produce. Although there are various washes on the market, one is never sure if they exacerbate the problem by adding to the residues rather than removing them. So when a friend gave me a very helpful tip in cleaning produce the other day, I was quite excited. All it takes is a small amount of apple cider vinegar to get rid of bacteria and just plain dirt!

Jeanelle told me that she had heard about using apple cider vinegar as a wash on NPR. Here is one more use for apple cider vinegar in addition to using it in cooking. Read this article for interesting information.

I like this idea especially for foods that are not cooked like fresh fruits and veggies for a salad or a snack. Happy and healthy cleaning, cooking, and eating!