Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you cook on Thanksgiving?

Such a simple thought and yet so difficult to practice.  Just as activities expand with the availability of time, so do our desires with the availability and the widespread culture of shopping around Thanksgiving.

Historically, the roots of thanksgiving goes back to the harvest season and the pilgrims, but for once, I am going to skip the history, because the idea of families gathering to share a wholesome meal brings warmth and a smile to me.  

Most holidays are centered around kids, Thanksgiving is not. It's one of those days that you have to be a grown up to appreciate. 

The world Thanksgiving, conjures up images of a turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie's galore. For a vegetarian family or at least when the chef in the family is a vegetarian, it poses a different dilemma, how does one combat the challenge of making it all vegetarian and yet have the family enjoy it. 

This thanksgiving, like every other year have been invited to a friends for a gathering filled with food and laughter. Appreciate and thankful that she takes the time every year and includes us in the celebrations. 

It's going to be mostly a vegetarian affair at her place, with some bird :) So thought of sharing a few of my favorite vegetarian dishes that work for holiday potluck dinners.  What am I taking this year? The Vegetable Biryani.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. Count the little blessings, the big ones will come automatically. 


Saw this idea originally on Show me the curry and I thought it was brilliant. You can choose either red or white sweet potatoes. I tried both and settled on white. I added a few twerks and this is how it goes. 

Dice sweet potatoes into small squares. This is the longest and the hardest part for this dish. 

On high, heat some oil in a wok, add some Panch Phoran (its a five spice mix of fennel, nigella, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds.) 
If you don't have this - no worries, you can use cumin seeds and if you have neither  - don't worry, just kip this step. Add a pinch of ginger and lots of crushed peanuts for the crunch and texture and saute for a minute.  

Allergic to nuts - Add finely chopped celery and green peppers instead. 

No allergies - Add it all :) 

Add the sweet potatoes and stir fry on high till they start feeling tender. You can test the tenderness by pressing a little with your spatula. Once a little tender.. Add the magic ingredient, Sriracha Sauce. 

Yes, squirt in Sriracha depending on how spicy you want it to be, add salt to taste, stir fry for another 5-10 minutes or more if you like your sweet potatoes a litte mushy, cook for a few more minutes and your done.  Top with some finely chopped green onions. If you don't like onions.. cilantro works well. If you don't like cilantro.. top with some dried cranberries. If you like them all - its your lucky day.. add them all. 


  • Take some lettuce, un wrap the leaves slowly _ I haven't quite figured out how restaurants have those perfect lettuce cups, but I am sure some day, I'll find out.  Buy an extra lettuce just in case you don't get the perfect cups from the first one.  
  • Add the sweet potatoes, top with your favorite sweet sauce OR do what I do, I take a basic Indian tamarind sauce, mix in some Sriracha and it tastes like heaven :) 
Ok, now you know, one of the secert ingredients in my pantry is this Sriracha sauce. No need to re-create the wheel, the makers of this sauce do an amazing job. Save yourself some time and use it creatively for the most amazing flavors. FYI.. it works very well with Thousand Island dressing too :)


Biryani takes it's roots in the Persian culture. It probably took centuries and many trade routes to reach India. The word Biryani originates from the Farsi word Birian which basically means "fried before cooking."  Guess mom knew this, cos she always washes the rice, then stir fries with ghee an cumin seeds before adding the water and letting the rice boil.  Scientifically, the stir frying breaks the gelatin layer of the rice and allows for a separate grains rather than them being stuck together

So that's what you go to do first, take any long grain rice, wash it, stir fry it with rice and anise seed. Another favorite of mine and oh so aromatic. True to its name, it is a star ingredient. 

Sorry, did not take pics of rice cooking :) and I cooked it in a pressure cooker.. so did not stir fry. But it took literally 5 mins to make the rice. 

Since I already have the rice, I am stir frying the veggies (any hard vegetable works; onions, green peppers, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, mushrooms - cut them all length wise,) with anise seed, some cloves, cumin and bay leaves.  You only need to add some salt and cayenner pepper to taste now. 

Decided to make it in a Tagine, since there is nothing better to do today than cook. It's going to take it's own sweet time. Once the vegetables get tender. Layer the rice with vegetables OR do what I do, I just fold in the rice. 

I like the rice to get the shades of color due to the spices.. makes it look so much more fall like than being plan white :) 

ROASTED MEDLEY: Cauliflower with Red pepper sauce. 

This is a very easy recipe and can be prepped two days ahead of time.  

For the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:  Buy the peppers: Only Red or a mix of red, yellow, orange works too. I usually roast them in the toaster oven at 350, till they start looking roasted :) Sorry, have never timed it. But you will know. The aroma fills the house and they are ready to be taken out. You can turn them after 10 mins or not, it works either way. 

As the peppers roast, take your head of cauliflower. You can choose to marvel at the beauty and magic of nature for a minute and wonder how it creates such perfect symmetry without any tools and gadgets or take your favorite knife and go for it. It's a personal preference.. You can either cook it as a complete flower, chop it into big florets or chop it into smaller florets.  This time, since its more kid friendly, I chopped it into medium size florets. 

Now mariniate them.  Add salt, cayenne pepper (not too much as you will be adding some in the sauce too,) add about 2tbsp of ginger, one or two cloves of garlic (if you like them, if not, the cauliflower still loves you ;)), a pinch of oregano an thyme, squeeze in just a tad bit of lemon juice and give it a squirt of olive oil and now just mix till they are evenly coated.  Then you can store them in the refrigerator till you are ready to bake them. 

Meanwhile, your roasted red peppers are beginning to cook. 
  • Once cooked, take them out and let them cool a little - toss them in the blender and give it a twirl, till it is a complete smooth paste. 
  • Now take a saucepan, add some butter - let the butter brown. Which basically is a fancy way of saying, on medium high, let the butter burn for a little - u want it brown not black :)  immediately lower the heat, stir profusely as you add cumin powder, some oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper.  
  • And add the roasted red pepper puree. 
  • Keep it on low, add salt to taste and a fist full of finely chopped cilantro. If you don't have cilantro.. that's ok.. skip it. 
  • Now cover this with a splatter screen and let the sauce simmer on low for a good 30 mins. 
  • Once cooked, you can freeze it or use it for anything from cauliflower to pasta to pizza. 
ROASTED MEDLEY - Cauliflower with red pepper sauce. 

To assemble, just add some sauce in a oven safe pan, add layer it with cauliflower, add some more sauce and bake at 350 or 400. This for me depends on if I have other things to do at that time or not. 
If you bake at 400 - you have to keep an eye on it. If at 350 - you can easily forget it for 30 minutes :) and then check it with a fork to see how tender it is. I like it when the cauliflower can be separated but its not mushy.  

Serve hot over rice or as a side with bread. It is YUMMM! 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking - A fashionable, edible art.

Cooking is simple. If you can dress yourself every day you can cook too.  Ever read those articles, where a fashion expert takes 15 basic pieces to give you 30 or maybe even more different looks.  Cooking is the same way. There are few basics and then it’s an art of mix and match. Sometimes the combinations are brilliant, and sometimes they are okay, but every time they are YOUR originals and that’s what makes the dish great. It is YOU and your touch.  How you cut the vegetables? How you stir fry them, at what temperature, do you add the spices before the tomatoes are softened or after? It is these little nuances that change a dish. The greatest chefs of the world don’t have any special ingredients. In fact the best chefs use the most commonly available ingredients and spices.

What are the basics cooking? Let's see, some of your basic pieces of clothing like the good pair of jeans, and a tan jacket with a little accessories can go from casual to WOW, similarly there are a few building blocks to the ""Sans Recipe" route.

Aaloo - Tikki
Kofta - 
"Sans Recipe" was not something I aspired to learn; I grew up with the style. The variety of colors and textures my mom laid out on the table for the simplest luncheon to a formal gathering was nothing less than a feast both to the eyes and palate. It was from her I learnt the skill of menu planning. It is because of my Mom that I never serve Aaloo-Tikki as an appetizer and then have Malai kofta as an entre'e - why you ask? The answer is quite simple, they both are made from potatoes and are fried. The only difference, one is flat and dry, the other is a pot bellied ball and submerged in a gravy.

To go the “Sans Recipes” route and create some sexy food, you need to know the basic rules of cooking and a well stocked pantry. 

They are: 
  • A well stocked pantry
  • Techniques
  • Your tools - Your spices and the pots n pans of course
  • The gut to experiment 
That's really all you need to create some sexy fashionable and edible art. 

From the above, stocking your pantry is the easiest one. All you got to do is go on a shopping trip :)

Pots n pans are an interesting one. Go back the memory lane, your comfort food most likely came from a humble kitchen with very basic pots filled with lots of love and honest ingredients. Pots n pans are a personal preference. There are some who only cook in cast iron, some who never use non-stick, some who revere the aroma in a clay cooked pot, personally, for me it depends on how much time I have. If I have the whole day to myself and nothing else going on, yes I love my tagine, on the contrary if I have thirty minutes to whip up a meal, I need my heavy bottom pan so I can crank up the heat and be done just in time to pick up the kids from school. 

What technique did you use, this dish is amazing? Did you fry it or bake it? Again, another confusing question. I always wonder at it, because when you bite a dish, isn't the technique obvious. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be an expert here, but I think its pretty easy to tell if a dish was steamed, baked or fried.  In my mind there are five main techniques to cook; we bake a dish, roast a dish, steam it, stir fry (sauté’) it or deep-fry it.  Ok, we can get technical and say there is braising, poaching, browning etc. But if you look closely, they are all a variations of the basics.

Experimentation, the fun starts now: It’s cauliflower, cut it into medium size florets, sautéed with some chopped potatoes, a pinch of salt, a hint of turmeric, a double hint of ginger, a dash of coriander powder, a spoonful of garam-masala, a pinch of cinnamon and amchur, cooked till tender on medium high heat gives you a delectable “aaloo-gobi sabzi” from the North Indian kitchen. Now take the same medium sized florets, add some oregano, thyme, salt and sauté. Add a hint of garlic, some cayenne pepper, maybe even a squirt of ketchup mix in some  al-dente penne pasta, throw the mix in a casserole dish, top with cheese and bake till the cauliflower is tender, you just created an original - Cauliflower Penne.  

The point is in less than 30 minutes, you made two scrumptious dishes using the same main ingredient.  So next time your daughter wants pasta and your in-laws prefer Indian food, you know what to do.

No industry today follows the same laws as it did centuries ago, then why do cookbooks or rather, why do we follow recipes and every time we see a delectable dish, we instantly ask for the recipe, only to realize that no matter how accurately we follow the direction the dish continues to taste different than what we originally ate.

Ever wondered why?

It’s simple; the original dish tasted heavenly, because it was an original.    

Next week, together we cook up a vegetarian thanksgiving feast that would make the carnivores green with envy. But first, let us stock that pantry!

Gone are the days when eating out was a luxury. Today a home cooked meal is a luxury and totally in-style. Stay true to yourself, to your pantry and in no time, you’re going to hear the shy spinach demanding some of that bold cinnamon flavor!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fiction to Reality.

Today is special.

Today I got the best gift possible; I now have 

This space has been in the making for years. This is where I take the bright vibrant reds and blend them in with the calm blues to create the imperfect and yet mystical purple :) Okay, yes I am a pink and purple girl.  It's more than a palette of vibrant colors, it's a way to connect, aspire and create.

The blogposts, some thought provoking, some silly and some cribbing will continue, but only once a month.  There's a new kid on the blog, its called "Sans Recipes." It's my new baby, and so get's more attention :) 

Few weeks ago, I took you In My Kitchen.  With "Sans Recipes" together, we experiment in a virtual space to share and create real hearty food from anything and everything in our pantry. There is only one condition, no recipes.  Ever wondered, why cooking seems like a chore to so many of us. It's because we limit ourselves to the recipes. Why does every Indian curry start with a tomato? Sans Recipes hopes to take the boredom out of cooking. It doesn't matter what your pantry does not have, a yummylicious wholesome meal can always be made with a few basic ingredients.  With Sans Recipes I hope we can break free from the slavery of recipe cooking.  

Last year in November, you met The Shy Girl. Today the shy girl is feeling blessed and thankful for all she has.  We are a product of our experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly; all of them make us complete.  Every good fiction has a central character and every good story has a character that evolves and reshapes with the story to make it complete. The story of life is no different from the best selling fiction novel.  It's a fiction indeed 'cos life happens one day at a time. Every day we take the fictitious tomorrow and make it a reality.  

Today my fiction became a reality.  

Happy Birthday to ME!