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

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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

Balsamic-roasted Brussels sprouts

I have kale growing in my little terrace garden. When you look up information on plants that can handle humidity and soaring temperatures in tropical climates, kale is definitely one that wouldn’t feature anywhere on that list. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my plants are in the best shape (they seem to be a little stunted and taking forever to grow), but what even with their constant share of burns and pest attacks, they seem to be thriving. Real fighters.

Let’s talk about Brussels sprouts..we have got to first stop bullying them so much. Sure they smell like fart sometimes when steamed, but hey, so do cabbages! Maybe it’s because they belong to the same family tree (or plant, as the case may be) as them along with broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. Who knew!

I’m not going to tell you that this is the only way to eat these oval green nubs, because I honestly never disliked them in the first place. This however, is a really good way of getting acquainted with it – the pungent balsamic vinegar cuts through the sulphur-y odour that is often emitted when you cook Brussels sprouts. Also, slow roasting in the oven after being tossed in this robust marinade makes them caramelize perfectly just around the edges, keeping them slightly crispy on the outside and delicately tender within.

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Lotus stem with chilli and honey

I have this really annoying habit. I like to peer into other people’s shopping baskets to see what they’ve bought, and try and figure out what they might end up doing with it. I mean, I think you really can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their grocery basket. Shopping cart psychology – when you see a packet of crisps, you’re also most likely to see a few cans of Coke in there. Canned food, Ramen noodles, and beer : college kid. Canned (baby) food, high-fibre noodles, and chamomile tea : new mom. Not the biggest revelation I know, but you get my drift.

I’m not sure what that says about me, but if the person has a good read, something along the lines of “is she shopping for three different households?” might enter their mind.

When I come across something that I’ve never seen or heard of before, I’m most likely to pick it up anyway and ask the person at the check-out counter what it is, while simultaneously looking it up to confirm whether he/she is right. I have a legitimate reason for my constant doubting though : the last time I picked up leeks and it showed up on my bill as celery, she was insistent that that’s what it was. I mean, c’mon.

When I bought these lotus stems at my local grocer and took it up to the counter, the manager had to be summoned to figure out what it was. After a bit of poking and prodding (and after I confirmed that they were definitely not sweet potatoes or a native variety of yam), he made a new entry in his system that said “lots stem”. Continue reading

Chicken quesadillas

While you see some simple, regular chicken quesadillas here, what I see is a Mexican – Portuguese twist on what was supposed to be just simple, regular quesadillas. I mean, I’ve been planning to make them for so long now, I even had it all planned out for dinner next week..and then this happens (I meant that in the best way possible).

Let me explain : we were at Nando’s over the weekend for lunch, and the glutton in me couldn’t order (what seemed like) a measly portion of a quarter chicken. I mean, I’ve always been able to make my way through a half portion quite easily, but I hadn’t calculated the impromptu attack on some amazing mixed olives in garlic and chilli right before that. What do you do with the remaining quarter of a chicken? Well, here’s what.

The chicken was coated rather generously in their signature Peri-Peri sauce, and that made for a delicious component in this quesadilla. So I stuck to the basics with some spring onions, tomato, pickles, gherkins, and cheese. I should point out here that if I were using just plain grilled chicken, I would maybe use a dash of Tabasco or throw in a finely sliced green chilli for an extra kick. Serving them with a fiery chilli sauce like Sriracha would work here too!

This spontaneous recipe has in fact opened up a big can of worms..dessert quesadillas with bananas and nutella, spinach and tomato with pesto, caramelized onion and steak..OK, I need to sit down now.

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