Spaghetti with roasted red pepper & cream sauce

Roasting peppers is something that we don’t do often enough. The tender smoky flesh inside all that charred blackness is the heart of this dish, literally and metaphorically speaking.

This simple pasta dish has it all – it’s wholesome, not entirely different from what makes it comforting, and makes for a very fulfilling meal. I understand that we’re only talking pasta here, but how often do we manage to add a completely different dimension to our everyday pasta, right?

I’d come across this recipe a few months ago, but as most things go..um, it went. You know the thing with blogging? You end up focusing on dishes that are ‘different’ – unusual food pairings, unique ingredients and the like. The truth is, even though all that is fun and impressive, most often all I crave is something familiar. Comforting. Even though this recipe came into my life just a few months ago, it’s definitely one that’s here to stay! Continue reading

Mixed tomato salad with pesto

This recipe (and a blog update) has been long overdue. But I think I may have found the perfect way to end this lengthy hiatus – a quick and easy tomato salad with a vibrant pesto dressing. Just wanted to subtly also point out that ALL THE TOMATOES WERE GROWN IN MY GARDEN! All organic and pesticide-free. There’s no going back now.

The striking medley of hybrid tomatoes that I’ve used are more sweet than tart, and the light pungency of the balsamic vinaigrette really accentuates their sweetness. You know, like sprinkling salt on a slice of watermelon? It’s magical.

The pesto is from a jar, but I bet it would taste even better if you made some fresh. Here’s a recipe, if you’re interested (they even show you how to make it in a mortar and pestle if you’re into that kind of thing). It feels so good to be back here again, and I can’t wait to show you what else I did with my big bounty from last week!  Continue reading

Black bean, egg and mushroom fried rice

Chinese black bean has been all the rage in our household for a while now. Known as Douchi in Chinese, they are essentially black soy beans that are heavily salted and fermented and used extensively to flavour everything from stir-fried vegetables and meats, eggs, to rice dishes. These little umami-laden nuggets are salty and sweet in the same bite and impart their gutsy flavour to whatever you choose to pair them with.

Chinese black bean paste, as is obvious, is made by pounding the fermented black beans and making them into a savoury paste. Extra garlic and soy are sometimes added to get the right piquancy and depth of flavour. I prefer the coarsely ground pastes to the black bean ‘sauces’ that you get, and it’s always fun to hunt around for those elusive beans in the dish afterward!

I know black bean has a bad rap in the Chinese takeaway scene. Soggy batter-fried strips of chicken doused in a goopy, almost gelatinous blanket of black sauce that makes any meat or vegetable in it completely indistinguishable. Or it’s a revoltingly sweet red sauce which tastes nothing like any Chinese that I’ve ever had anywhere. Not to mention the greasy noodles or fried rice with so much oil in it, that you wouldn’t actually need a side dish. Which reminds me of a recipe that I came across recently that said “add more oil if you’d like your rice greasier”. What, WHY?

This fried rice is healthy, and makes for a quick week night dinner; you could make it more substantial by throwing in more vegetables into the pot – baby corn, peppers, carrots, and beans work very well here. If you’re looking for a variation to your regular rice dish, this is a pretty good way of upping the ante.

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South-Indian chicken soup

This is my great-grandmother’s recipe. I think it was passed down to her from her mother or grandmother, but this is how far back I’ve been able to trace it. When a recipe dates back almost 120 years, you know it’s special. The sense of nostalgia and comfort that this aromatic hot bowl of soup induces is soul satisfying in every sense of the term.

I very fondly remember spending my holidays at my great-grandmother’s colossal 12,000 sq ft single storey home which comprised of vast open spaces and courtyards, that during the summer months doubled as a drying pad for spices, chillies, and onions and as a playground of sorts for me and my cousins.

About the recipe..this is not like any chicken soup you’ve had. There are no carrots, leeks, or celery to form its base (I don’t think they even formed a part of India’s agricultural produce back then!) That was a time when everything they ate was grown in their own farms, or foraged in the surrounding fields. An era when families that owned land would sow their own paddy, harvest and mill it, before storing it until the next harvest season. Those that had a more bountiful crop would even gratuitously donate the excess to the farmers who tended their farmlands.  Some – including my ancestors – even bred their own cows for the milk, and chickens and goats for their meat. A lot has changed since then, some good, some bad, but I get the sense that we may have missed out on the charm of a simpler life.

The spices in this soup – garlic, cumin, curry leaves, and peppercorns are fiery, but as with all recipes, you can add as much or little as you’d prefer. The soup itself is made with chicken pieces, but you could alternatively use only the bones which would still give you a rich stock. I can attest that this is just as delicious! I managed to save a bowlful which I eked out by adding rice into and making it a meal in itself. So good!

The recipes that were passed down through my great-grandmother have always been special to us, even more so after her passing. The curries that we make today still have the same blend of spices, the laddus the same proportion of ghee and sugar, and it’s obvious that our love for cooking hasn’t skipped any generation in between. I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as I did growing up, and still do with my own family.

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Chorizo, spinach & tomato frittata

Anything that is meant to be set just right “with a slight wobble to it” intimidates me. Cheesecake, crème caramel, quiche, custard pies..I fear you. The first recipe that I came across for a frittata looked pretty simple to follow, ingredients accessible, but the oven timings “varying widely” bit really got to me. I chickened out.

We usually end up eating out on the weekends. Checking out new restaurants flaunting different cuisines/fusion menus (re-fried beans replaced with green beans in a taco..don’t even ask), that’s our scene. Did I tell you about the time that I found chorizo in Chennai and yelped with joy? I had some sitting around in the fridge waiting to be used up along with some leftover spinach, and a frittata was the first thing that came to mind. Armed with my 2 packs of eggs (my husband eats only the whites and is a vegetarian, so that made me go through 1 whole pack for him so I made two separate pies), I very meekly set about this challenge. Amateur tip – watch them eggs like a hawk.

The eggs were perfectly set – slightly gooey because of the cheese, the flavours were delicious, and Sunday brunch turned out to be a real treat! The combination of chorizo and oven-dried tomatoes really elevated this frittata and made it so much more than just a glorified omelette.

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Moroccan spiced carrots with harissa, cumin & maple syrup

Harissa is a North-African spice paste that blows my mind (and mouth) on many different levels. Roasted peppers, chillies, coriander, garlic and spices form its base, and this fiery blend is used extensively to flavour meats, soups, stews, and couscous, apart from being used as a condiment in dips etc. I read somewhere that it’s also common to find people slathering it on bread and eating it for breakfast! Oh, that would definitely kick-start your day now, wouldn’t it.

A small dollop of this paste goes a long way – it can be used as a marinade for your chicken drumsticks, mixed into a spicy soup (I think chickpeas would work nicely here), slathered on some fish and pan-seared, the list is endless. I think it might just have overtaken Sriracha in my kitchen this season. That’s a bold statement, I know.

I sliced the carrots into thick batons because I wanted them to retain their shape upon roasting, and also to still have a bite to them. If I’d found a smaller, thinner variety of them here I would’ve roasted them whole. The balance of the spicy harissa against the earthy sweetness of maple syrup is subtle without being too overpowering.. you know it’s all about the yin and yang. Continue reading