Monday 24 November 2008

Breaking the Routine with Pasta

I will be taking a break from blogging for a month, as I am off to India tomorrow. While some of you may be muttering " lucky girl!", some of you may be saying "me too!" and some others " I wish I could go too...", I have mixed feelings about going to India this time. I am wary and apprehensive that this trip will bring back sad memories about a personal tragedy which recently took place, those memories which I have been trying hard to cope with and have pushed them far behind only to come back to me now.

At the same time I am happy & excited about a wedding in the family. Also this is our first trip to India since S has become old enough to understand (not completely, but still...) where she is going. It is going to be fun to see her reaction and understand what she feels about things over there.

I am also feeling bad that I will miss being here in London for Christmas. This would have been my fourth in this city and I remember being excited every year. Waiting eagerly to see if it would be a white Christmas every year, checking out the shops for Christmas deals, gawking at the decorated Christmas trees everywhere you go, setting up the tree at home and so on. In spite of all this, when Christmas actually arrives, it brings along with it a sense of sadness. Its a drastic change from the hustle bustle a day earlier to the quiet lonely streets on the all important day. The town centre wears a deserted look, even the otherwise 24 hrs open Food & Wine shops are closed and you either stock up on essentials such as Milk or be very careful about how you use the only 'Can' you have at home!

But then I think of meeting all my dear ones (family & friends), the delicious food (read street food) I will be gorging on and I really don't mind being away during Christmas. See, I already told you that I have mixed feelings about this!

But enough of my ramblings now, let me come to the food part now. Apart from being one of our favourite fast foods here, Pasta is a great routine breaker for us. Although Indian food is the staple for us, we do try out different cuisines and I try to recreate them at home whenever I can. Pasta, mainly with a Tomato based sauce features very frequently. The first time I made it, I searched high & low for a good recipe and found that a single recipe either did not suit my palette or was not simple enough to make. So I took whatever I liked from each of the recipes and created this one.

The tomato sauce resembles the classic Marinara sauce but is still different. I am not a cheese person, although GM loves it. To accommodate both of us I use very little cheese while cooking the sauce/Pasta and then add it for him.

Pasta in a Tomato Sauce

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Serves 2


  • 200 gm Pasta (Penne, Fusilli or Farfalle)
  • 4-5 Vine tomatoes, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tblsp Virgin Olive oil
  • 3-4 tsps Italian dried mixed herbs (Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Sage, Parsley)
  • Salt
  • Crushed Black Pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheeses (Cheddar, Mozzarella or Red Leicester)


Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the chopped garlic and fry taking care not to burn it.

Add the tomatoes when the garlicky smell spreads through the kitchen, before the edges of the garlic start to brown.

Cook on medium flame till the tomatoes are soft. Crush the bigger tomato pieces with the back of the spoon and continue to cook till you get a nice saucy texture.

Add the Italian herbs, salt and black pepper. Mix and cook on low heat with a cover for about 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile in a large pan, put 8-10 cups of water to boil and add salt to it. Once the water starts to boil, add the Pasta and cook for about 6-8 minutes. The pasta has to be cooked al dente..I know that everyone will tell you this, but it really is very important as otherwise you will end up with a soggy heap of broken/disfigured pasta in the sauce. But at the same time it is important to cook the pasta thoroughly. Please refer to the packet instructions for the exact details about the amount of water and the time for which it is to be boiled.

Once done, drain the pasta and mix a little olive oil and keep aside.

Remove the cover for the sauce and add the cooked pasta and mix well to coat the sauce evenly on the Pasta. Cover again and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Now add 1/2 cup grated cheese. Mix and return to fire with the cover on and cook on low heat for 2-3 min until the cheese melts. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and serve.

This last step can also be done in a conventional oven. Mix the cheese with the pasta and transfer to a baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake in a pre heated oven at 180 deg until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

I sometimes add Baby Corn (blanched & added to the sauce before the pasta), Sweet corn (added along with the pasta to the sauce), pickled Jalapenos (added a minute before serving) or grated Parmesan Cheese (sprinkled on the top while serving) depending on the mood for the day.

I leave you with this Pasta recipe now. I will be back after a month. Until then Happy browsing and if there's anything you would like to tell me about this blog, any suggestions, queries, recipe requests etc, please drop me a line by using the 'Contact me' link on the side bar.

Oh..and Merry Christmas, well in advance!!!

Monday 17 November 2008

Jeera Rice with Dal Makhani


There are comfort foods and then there are some more.  Dal-Chawal, Varan-Bhaat or Anna-Tavvi, called it by any name, is the all time favourite comfort food, for me too as for so many others. But sometimes the craving is for something richer! Dal Makhani fits the bill perfectly here. And if it is combined with Jeera Rice, even better!

The best part about this combination is that apart from being a comfort food for me, it can also feature on a menu, when guests are expected or on days when we want to have a little more than dal-Chawal!

Dal Makhani, also called Kaali (Black) Dal & Maa ki Dal, is something that I have always been in awe of. The name itself sounded intriguing to me. I was introduced to this Dal, by a Punjabi school friend of mine in Delhi. She called it Maa ki Dal and I was wondering if she meant her 'Maa' (Mother) had made the dal! After hearing it every time, she brought this in the lunch box, I innocently asked her 'Are there so many people at your home who make this Dal, that you have to specify each time...?' Now for me, this was a valid question since I knew she stayed in a joint family. But I myself burst out laughing when she told me what it was. 'Maa'  means whole Udad (Black gram) in Punjabi, which is the main constituent here and hence the name :)


Dal Makhani



  • 1 cup Kali Urad (Whole blackgram)
  • 1/4 cup Rajma (Kidney beans)
  • 1/4 cup Kala Chana (Bengal Gram)
  • 1-2 tblsp Ghee (Clarified Butter)
  • 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 2-3 Tej Patta
  • 2" piece of Cinnamon, coarsely ground
  • 1 tsp Garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp Ginger paste
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
  • 2 green chillies, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Haldi (Turmeric)
  • 1 tsp Red Chilli powder
  • 1-2 tsp Garam masala powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh cream (optional)
  • Salt
  • Fresh Coriander leaves


Soak the Udad, Kala Chana and Rajma for at least 6 hours. Pressure cook them with a little salt and keep aside.

Heat the Ghee in a pan. Fry the Tej Patta and Cinnamon until you get a nice aroma.

Add the cumin seeds. As they turn brown, add the onions and fry till they turn translucent.

Put in the green chillies and ginger, garlic paste and fry for some more time. Add the Haldi.

Now put in all the cooked dals, salt, red chilli powder and Garam Masala. Mix well, cover and cook on low flame for 6-8 min to allow the flavours to mix.

Remove the cover and add the chopped coriander leaves and leave on heat for a min. Switch off the flame and add the cream if using. Check for salt after the addition of cream.

Although the name is Dal 'Makhani' (buttery), I don't always add cream. The Udad already adds some creaminess to the Dal so the cream only adds to the richness, while diluting the taste some. So it is entirely dependent on what you are in the mood for :)

Jeera Rice



  • 1 Cup Rice, preferably the Basmati variety
  • 2 tblsp Ghee (Clarified Butter)
  • 2 tsp Jeera (Cumin Seeds)
  • 2 Green Chillies, Slit lengthwise (Optional)
  • 2-3 Cloves
  • 1 Black Cardamom (Optional)
  • 1/2 tsp Salt


Wash the rice and soak it for half an hour.

Heat the Ghee in a pressure pan (or pressure cooker). Add the cloves and cardamom & fry till you get a nice aroma.

Add the jeera & green chillies. Once the jeera has browned, drain the soaked rice and add it to the tempering.

Mix well and roast for a couple of min.

Add about 1 1/2 cups of water, enough to just immerse the rice. Add the salt. The rice is not to be made sufficiently salty, hence the amount of salt is to be kept very low.

Mix and close the pressure pan and let it cook for 4 whistles (depends on the type of pressure cooker. This is cooked similar to Pulao)

Serve hot with Dal Makhani or any other Dal or even a curry with gravy.

Dal Makhani is my entry for this month's FIC at Tongue Ticklers, where the colours being featured are Black & Purple.

The Jeera Rice is on its way to the Rice Mela at Srivalli's Cooking 4 all Seasons.

While on the subject of Rice, you might also want to have a look at these...

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Coconut chutney with mint

Dosa, Idli, Paddu and the likes, form most of our weekend Breakfasts or Brunches, of course apart from the very essential Kanda Pohe!

For all these however, a mandatory accompaniment is the coconut chutney. There are various other options such as different Chutney Pudis, Sambhar etc but for me Coconut chutney is a must. This weekend's menu was Idli with Chutney & Sambhar.

One of the major problems here is that the batter does not ferment properly, however hard I try. I have tried all the available tricks, even added yeast once in desperation, resulting in a fluffy risen batter but the taste was not the same. Due to this, the necessity of a 'proper' Coconut chutney increases even more. This balances out the flaws in the resulting Idlis (A bit flat & a little hard to be precise!)

The next problem was the coconut itself! First, to find a decent one and then to grate/grind it. Back at home in India we used what is called Ilige in kannada and Vili in Marathi. Without that however, it was a pain to grate it on a normal grater or to first chop the coconut into small pieces and then grind it. This problem was solved on my last trip to India when I got this from Pune.


I don't know what this is called but it has proved to be very handy for me in the kitchen as far as coconut is concerned.

Now another part of this problem was because of the mixer I have here. I was lucky enough to find a Mixer-Blender with a mill attachment, which can be used to grind things as opposed to only the blender, not at all suitable for heavy grinding. But the attachment has its own limitations. Basically it is not meant for wet grinding. But I am still managing with it and using water & liquids while grinding in spite of the instructions that tell me not to do so!

That's enough of my kitchen woes, let me come to the actual recipe now. The recipe for Idli is not a part of this post since I used ready mix for it, which I have found, is better than the unfermented home made batter although not the same as the original one!

Coconut-Mint Chutney


  • 2 cups fresh grated coconut
  • 4-5 Green Chilies (depending on how hot you can take)
  • 2-3 cloves Garlic
  • 2" piece of Ginger
  • 1/2 cup coriander leaves
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 2 tblsp curd
  • 2 tblsp ground Dalia (roasted split chickpea)
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • Salt

For the tempering

  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Hing (Asafoetida)
  • 6-8 Curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder (Optional, I haven't used it in this one)


Grind together all the ingredients using a little water. The amount of water depends on how thin or thick you want the chutney to be.

The ground Dalia gives body to the chutney, avoiding the runny consistency, in addition to enhancing the taste of the Chutney.

Prepare the tempering, add it to the Chutney & mix well.

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This chutney is ideal with Idli, Dosa, Wada, Paddu etc. It can also be used as a spread for Toasts and Sandwiches.

Monday 3 November 2008

Batata Ras Bhaji (Potato with gravy)

This one has been lying in the drafts for a very long time. Probably because it has potato in it. Every time I looked at it, I would think that this can wait because its only about potato, nothing special. Some times the potato vegetable itself is taken for granted like this.

It is the one thing that most of us always have in the kitchen. I have hardly met any one who doesn't like potatoes, except maybe my friend AG, but I am hoping she will change her mind, once she tries this recipe :) A lot of people don't like Brinjal or Bittergourd or pumpkin or Okra and so on, but potato is always the favoured one. In spite of all this, Potato is almost never given the centre stage. It is generally paired with something like Methi (Fenugreek), Matar (peas), Gobhi (Cauliflower) etc. If there are guests coming in at my place, Potato is made to act like a 'Buffer'. A paneer speciality and a potato bhaji to accompany it.

Potatoes contain a number of important vitamins and minerals such as Vit C, Potassium & Vit B6. Moreover, the fiber content of a potato with skin (2 grams) equals that of many whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals. (Source: Wikipedia)

Of course the nutrition value depends a lot on the way it is cooked and the way you would want to cook depends on the type of potatoes you have. Some of the well known varieties I get here in London include Desiree, King Edward, Charlotte, White potatoes, Maris Piper etc. Some of these are suitable for boiling & mashing while some are ideal for roasting & frying.

My current favourite is the Maris Piper. I find that it is perfectly suitable for Indian style cooking including boiling and mashing. I had tried some other varieties earlier and had a difficult time mashing them for Aloo Paranthas etc. If I opted for a mashing type of Potato, it wouldn't be very good for making Bhajis (dry & gravy). But I seem to have struck a perfect balance with Maris Piper. It gives a lovely grainy texture when boiled & mashed & doesn't get sticky and also cooks very quickly when made in to a Bhaji (curry).

As I have mentioned earlier, we can survive on Potatoes any number of days. And sometimes I love to celebrate Potato just the way it is without anything else to overpower the starchy tuber. One of the favourite ways to make it is this Ras Bhaji.


  • 2-3 Medium sized Potatoes, cut into small pieces.
  • 1 small Onion, sliced
  • 1 Tomato, chopped
  • 2 Green Chilies, chopped
  • 1 tblsp oil
  • 1 tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp Cumin seeds
  • 8-10 Curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Hing (Asafoetida)
  • 1/2 tsp Haldi (Turmeric powder)
  • 2-3 tsp Goda Masala (Or any other curry masala)
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • Salt
  • Lime juice
  • Coriander leaves, chopped


Heat the oil in a Kadai/Pan. Splutter the mustard & cumin seeds. Add the curry leaves, Hing and Haldi.

Add the sliced onion & saute till the onions turn translucent. Add the potatoes & chopped tomato and mix. Cook for 5 min with a cover on.

Remove the cover and add salt, Goda Masala & red chili powder and mix properly.

Goda Masala, also called the Black Masala, is the traditional Maharashtrian spice mix used for Bhaji, Amthi etc. In the absence of this Masala any other curry masala can be used but the taste will be a little different.

Add about 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then, let the bhaji cook on a slow flame without cover.

After about 10-15 min, check if the potatoes are done and switch off the flame. We wouldn't want the water in the Bhaji to get over since this is a Ras (Gravy) Bhaji.

Add chopped coriander leaves and a dash of lime juice just before serving.


This can be had with rotis or Chapatis but its ideal with Pav, bun or even Bread slices. Add some chopped onions & sev for that extra crunch and enjoy!