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Breakfast/ Continental/ Desserts/ Spring - Summer Special

Zucchini Bread

Everyone around me seems to be fighting allergies these days. The culprit? Climate Change! Warmer, drier air is prompting trees to release their offending pollen prematurely. Stay sniffle free with this nutrition packed treat – zucchini bread with cranberries and walnuts!

zucchini bread

This was a complete surprise. I was under the impression that zucchini bread was a mere attempt to hide veggies inside a sweet treat without adding anything to the flavor. But that’s not really true. After first bite, I was sold; partly because I had pretty low expectations and also because it does taste yum!zucchini cranberry breadAddition of cranberries and walnuts contributed a whole new dimension to otherwise chewy one-tone bread. So I totally recommend adding nuts and dried fruits of your choice.

zucchini bread slicesVitamin C, anti-oxidants and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids from the 3 key ingredients will definitely help you build your defenses against the seasonal allergies. That’s how I convinced my husband to try this bread and he loved it, as always!

Zucchini Bread with Cranberries and Walnuts

Zucchini Bread with Cranberries and Walnuts

A nice treat to have after a long day!

Ingredients:

Instructions:

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter two 5 by 9 inch loaf pans.

2 In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter.

3 Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture and stir it in. Add the flour, a third at a time, stirring after each incorporation. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmeg over the batter and mix. Fold in the nuts and dried cranberries or raisins if using.

4 Divide the batter equally between the loaf pans. Bake for 55 minutes (check for doneness at 50 minutes) or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.zucchini bread loaf

Notes

I will recommend cranberries as they add a slight tangy note to this sweet bread. Feel free to try raisins or chopped apricots or dried figs.
Walnuts can be substituted by any other nuts of your choice such as pecans or almonds or pistachios.

Desserts/ Entertaining/ Middle Eastern

Baklava / Baklawa

Change is good if it offers you ample time to adapt to it. Sudden change is hard to digest. It’s been one and half years, I have been working on this project at work, the project which I truly believed in. It forced me to break out of my comfort zone to learn something new every day where change was a constant phenomenon. And now suddenly it’s dead. I don’t know what I am going to work on next, I am hoping something as exciting as it was earlier. This vacuum is disturbing yet relaxing on some front. No more sprints, no more deadlines and no checking emails from home, at least for some more days! And yes, I am back on MyHomeMantra after a big gap of more than two months.

I am looking at this change as my opportunity for renewal and growth. I’m looking forward to celebrating spring in its true spirit. We recently visited Skagit Valley in Washington. It’s absolutely magical to witness the natural wonders, the vivid colors spread over acres of land with a beautiful backdrop of green mountains.

Tulips festival in Seattle

The longer days and budding tulips have been very inspiring for me to refresh my life, my cooking experiments, and my yoga practice.

Speaking of cooking experiments, there are many to talk about but the one clearly strikes out in my mind is Baklawa! It was three years back when I first had a piece of Baklava at a local Middle Eastern restaurant. It absolutely tasted heavens! The nuts baked in lots of butter had a texture similar to ghee which I’m obsessed with! It paired perfectly with the crunchy pastry soaked in sugar syrup with a slight aftertaste of Indian spices left me with an urge to have more!

Baklava

Baklawa

If you are hosting a big party or a potluck, this is a great choice!  Make it in advance, it tastes better on day 2.  The efforts are totally worth the praise and love you will receive in turn.

Last year, we had our friends come over for Thanksgiving party at our place. We chose Middle Eastern theme to try something new at home.  The menu featured tabbouleh salad, pita sandwiches with falafel, tomato, cucumber and tahini sauce, french lentil soup and of course the yummy goodness … Baklava.Middle eastern menu

Baklava

Baklava

Delicious phyllo pastry dessert popular in middle eastern countries

Recipe source: www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/baklava/

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Thaw the phyllo sheets as per manufacturer's instructions. This could mean keeping them in the refrigerator overnight and outside for 2-3 hours before you can use them. Always make sure to keep them moist by covering them with a wet paper towel.

  1. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan and set the oven to 350°F.
  2. Process the nuts until in small, even sized pieces. Combine with sugar, cinnamon, and cloves.Baklava nut filling
  3. In a separate bowl, melt the butter in the microwave.
  4. Place a sheet of phyllo dough into the pan. Using a pastry brush, brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter. Repeat 6 more times until it is 4 sheets thick, each sheet being "painted" with the butter.Baklava painting sheets with butter
  5. Spoon on a thin layer of the nut mixture. Cover with two more sheets of phyllo, brushing each one with butter. Continue to repeat the nut mixture and two buttered sheets of phyllo until the nut mixture is all used up. The top layer should be 4 phyllo sheets thick, each sheet being individually buttered. Do not worry if the sheets crinkle up a bit, it will just add more texture.Baklawa layer
  6. Cut into 24 equal sized squares using a sharp knife. Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes or until lightly golden brown and edges appear slightly crisp.Baklawa with sugar syrup
  7. While baking, make the syrup. Combine the cinnamon stick, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat and let simmer for 7 minutes and slightly thickened. Remove the cinnamon stick and allow to cool.
  8. Spoon the cooled syrup over the hot baklava and let cool for at least 4 hours. Garnish with some finely crushed pistachios of desired.

Notes

  • The original recipe asked for 1 cup of butter and more phyllo sheets for top and bottom layer. I used only 4 sheets for these layers and also needed only half a cup of butter which is one stick melted butter.
  • I did not use honey while making sugar syrup as it's not good to boil honey. Boiling destroys its molecular structure. I used less sugar syrup because I had reduced the number of phyllo sheets used in making the layers.
  • For nuts, I prefer to use 1/2 cup of almonds and rest walnuts and pistachios in equal proportions.
  • The spices added with the nuts were the best part of this recipe.
Rice & Dal/ South Indian

Chettinad Pakoda Kuzhambu

Chettinad is a region in south Tamilnadu and is well know for its unique cuisine which emphasize the use of various whole spices and fresh coconut. This month’s SNC challenge was a savory curry made in chettinad style. This was my first time preparing Chettinad cuisine and since I have not tasted this particular curry, I was not entirely sure about what to expect or how it should really taste. But take my word for it. it was absolutely delicious. The addition of coconut, cashews and roasted chana dal adds a whole new dimension to our regular onion-tomato gravy and also alters its texture in a soothing way. Curry leaves and the roasted chana dal reinforce the south indian flavors while chana dal pakoda with crushed fennel seeds offer a new surprise at every bite. All in all, it’s a wonderful dish, you can serve it with rice or idli or dosa.chettinad pakoda kuzhambu 2

south-vs-north-blue

 

Thanks to Priya from Priya’s Versatile Recipes for sharing this Chettinad speciality with us.

 

 

Chettinad Pakoda Kuzhambu

Chettinad Pakoda Kuzhambu

Chana dal pakodas dipped in South Indian gravy makes a perfect pairing with rice.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

For preparing Pakoda -

  1. Soak chana dal for at least two hours. 
  2. Grind chana dal with some fennel seeds and dry red chilis to a coarse paste. Add water only if needed.
  3. Heat enough oil in a pan so that you can deep fry multiple pakodas at a time. Make pakodas with your fingers and drop them in hot oil on low-medium heat. Fry them until golden brown. Keep them aside.chana dal pakoda

For preparing gravy -

  1. Grind all ingredients listed under "To Grind" above to a fine paste with some water.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan / kadhai, heat some oil and all whole Garam masala listed under "For Seasoning" and fry for a minute or so or until you can smell it.
  3. Add chopped onions and garlic and fry it for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add chopped tomato and let them cook for  sometime.
  5. Now add the coconut paste and also add 4 cups of water. Let it simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder and salt and give it a stir. Let it cook for 5 minutes with lid on.
  7. Add pakodas and let it simmer further for 2 minutes. Add more water if needed. Pakodas will absorb the water so make sure you add enough.

Serve it hot with rice / idli or dosa.

chettinad pakoda kuzhambu 1

Rice & Dal

Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani

Paradise Hotel, a landmark on Sardar Patel Road in Secunderabad which is so hard to miss. A crowded road with equally crowded biryani house which has been serving thousands of people day and night since 1953. I still clearly remember,  6 years back when I first visited Hyderabad; lunch at Paradise was ranking very high on our must-to-do list. Their signature biryani was truly succulent, flavorful and aromatic! It was a delicious experience.

When I first came across the recipe for Hyderabadi Birynai at Swasthi’s Indian Healthy Recipes, I knew I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to cherish my experience in my own kitchen. And the reason I came across this wonderful recipe is SNC – South Vs North Challenge started by Divya Pramil. She is a versatile cook and blogs at Youtoocancookindianfood.blogspot.com. Divya has created two groups – Southern Group and Northern Group as you can guess you become part  of a group based on the region you belong to in India. I liked the idea and it’s quite unique. This is my first time participating in SNC and I am so excited about it.

I will be part of Northern Group. You can read more about the challenge on Divya’s blog. Being from Maharashtra, I feel this is a great opportunity for me to learn both South Indian and North Indian dishes.

south-vs-north-blue

So here it comes, my vegetable biryani

Hyderabadi Vegetable BiryaniIt’s easy to prepare but has multiple steps and if it’s your first time it will take little longer. My rice was cooked little longer  but the flavors and the taste was quite up to my expectation.

Here’s what you need.

Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani

Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani

One pot meal with simple ingredients yet exotic flavors

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Take a deep breath. It's a long list of ingredients and an equally long list of steps, quite daunting when you read it first time. Stay with me and it will be done in 45 minutes!

  1. Wash rice grains and soak them in cold water before starting with other preparation.
  2. Keep all vegetables ready by washing them and chopping as desired. I used some asparagus but that's optional.Vegetable Biryani prep
  3. Next thing is to prepare the vegetable masala. In a medium pan, heat 2 tbspn of oil or Ghee and add all whole spices (bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, shahee jeera, star anis) and let them roast for a minute or so until you can smell their distinct aromas.
  4. Now add ginder garlic paste and green chilis.
  5. Add diced potatoes and  saute them for a 1-2 minutes.
  6. Now add all other vegetables and mix them.
  7. Add biryani  masala, red chili powder and sail and mix well.
  8. Now add 1/2 cup yogurt, mix everything and let it cook for 5 minutes. keep a lid on so that it cooks faster with the steam.
  9. We want the dry masala so cook it uncovered for another 3-4 minutes until all the moisture goes out. Add some chopped mint leaves and cilantro leaves and keep it aside.
  10. Heat 1/4 cup milk and add saffron to it. Keep it ready.
  11. In a small kadhai or pan, add 4 tbsp of oil and fry the onion slices until they turn dark brown. It takes around 10 minutes.Fried Onions
  12. In another bigger pan, add 4 cups of water and the soaked rice. Add a tsp of Ghee or oil, some salt and cumin seeds. Let it simmer for a while until the rice is 3/4th done. This is important as we are going to cook the rice again so make sure it's not well done.
  13. As soon as rice is ready, place a tawa on a low flame and a big steal pan or cooker on the tawa. You may call it as a modern way of cooking "dum" biryani.
  14. Add half of the vegetable masala cooked earlier, add some yogurt and some fried onions. Then add some rice. Make two such layers. On top add cashews, raisins and fried onions and chopped cilantro leaves.
  15. Pour the saffron milk on top.
  16. Now you have two options, you can seal the top with wheat dough or you can use a thick towel with a heavy lid on top it. I used the latter option.
  17. Let the rice cook for another 10 minutes on medium flame and then switch of the heat and let it sit for another 5 minutes.
  18. Serve it hot with raita.

Notes

It's very important to keep everything ready when your rice is about to be done else it will cook more than what you want and the grains will not remain separated. I did this mistake and my rice was little overcooked. So plan it ahead.

 

 

Soup/ Winter Special

Butternut Squash Soup

Hearty Soup for cold winter days

The best thing I loved about butternut squash is that it’s practically indestructible. It lasts for months (as long as you store it in a dry, cool place) I was instantly attracted to buy a butternut squash and I did think of making soup on the very same day. The day did arrive only after few months. I peeled it and was pleasantly surprised to find it in a perfect condition. And hence the story of my butternut squash soup ended on a sweet note.

butternut sqush soup

Trust me, peeling it is the hardest part. Adding onion is a good idea to cut the sweetness. Many blogs have recommended to add a green apple which I didn’t have and waiting for one might have turned into wasting couple more weeks. I had fresh rosemary, thanks to my colleague. So I used some rosemary while roasting, it added a peppery flavor to it which was pleasant. Thyme goes well with any sweeter squash and also with sweet potatoes so if you have fresh thyme feel free to use some.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

A healthy and hearty soup with tough outside yet soft inside butternut squash

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Wash and chop a carrot in half inch pieces.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Peel and dice butternut squash into half-inch cubes. Also cut onion into equal sized pieces.butternut squash
  4. Spread these cubes on a baking sheet and sprinkle some olive oil so that the pieces do not stick to the sheet and it also prevents them from burning.roasted butternut
  5. Sprinkle some salt and pepper.
  6. If you are using any fresh herbs, chop them and sprinkle on top.
  7. Roast these vegetables for 25-30 minutes, until tender. Let them cool down a bit.
  8. In a big saucepan, heat 1 table spoon of butter.
  9. Add Ginger-garlic-chili paste if you are using it. It's optional but I find it better to offset the sweetness from carrots and butternut squash.
  10. Add carrots to the pan and saute for 5 minutes.
  11. Now add roasted squash and onions and saute for few minutes.
  12. Add 2 cups of broth or water. I used water and din't notice any difference.
  13. Blend everything with immersion blender or a standalone blender. Adjust the amount of water or broth as per your taste.
  14. Now take the soup in the same saucepan, add more salt or pepper as needed. Add a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon. Let it boil for 1-2 minutes. It's ready to be served.

Note - The smaller you chop your vegetables the faster they cook so the exact time will vary. Please check after 15 minutes if they are done.

Linking to Vardhini’s Dish it OutSquash and Sugar event happening here at MyHomeMantra

DishItOut

 

Maharashtrian/ Rice & Dal

मूगा-तांदुळाची खिचडी / Rice Moong Dal Khichadi

Comforting to eat, Effortless to make

I will describe Khichadi in word one – Soul-food! It’s so comforting, fulfilling and satisfying. This was the first recipe I learned from my mom when I first started my job in Bangalore. It’s a ‘++’ version of  वरण भात ‘Varan-bhaat’  (dal-rice) but it’s actually easier to prepare than dal-rice.

The best part I like about Khichadi is it’s a one pot meal. All you do is mix all ingredients together in pressure cooker, then wait for few minutes and dig in! Well khichadi literally means a mixture. The rice in it adds the starch, which somewhat magically means comfort in any language, and the moong dal adds a good source of protein which is easy to digest.

It is also a dish that is found throughout the country in some form or the other – khichdi, khichri, khichuri, venn pongal, even kedgeree, which was adopted by the colonials, are all variations on the same theme. Like names there are different khichdis too. I like it soft, almost mushy and watery, but some prefer it like pulao, all grains intact.

My mom makes a milder version with no garam masala –

moong dal khichadi

I generally make a spiced khichadi with whole garam masala and green peas.

moonga tandulachi khichadiThe general rule is to use 2 parts rice and 1 part moong dal but I use both in equal proportions. You can use split moong dal which is green or yellow. Here is my version –

मूगा-तांदुळाची खिचडी Moong Dal Khichadi

मूगा-तांदुळाची खिचडी Moong Dal Khichadi

Comforting to eat, Effortless to make!

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Wash and soak the rice and the dal in water for about half an hour. If you don't have time skip this step. 
  2. If you have time use a large wide and heavy bottom pan to prepare khichadi. Or you can also use a pressure cooker and make it quicker.
  3. Either ways, in a pan, heat the oil and add whole garam masala (clove, cinnamon, peppercorns and cardamom). Also mustard seeds.
  4. When they start to pop add cumin seeds, curry leaves, hing and turmeric.
  5. Drain all the water from the grains and add them to the oil. Mix well for a minute.
  6. Now add goda masala and red chili powder and mix well.
  7. If you want add green peas or any other vegetables and mix again.
  8. Add 4 cups of water and stir everything together.
  9. Add grated coconut.
  10. Add salt and taste it.
  11. Now let it cook on medium heat for 3 whistles.  If you skip the first step, you might want to wait for 4-5 whistles depending upon your cooker.
  12. If you are making it a wide pan, let the water come to a boil and then simmer for few minutes. Stir it occasionally. But keep a lid on it by leaving a small gap for the steam to escape.
  13. Serve it hot with ghee and chopped cilantro.

khichadi_ayurfoods If you still think this is not easy to prepare, there is an instant version too. I recently came across AyurFoods and I have tried their moong dal khichadi. It was as delicious as home made. It’s nicely packaged and can be a good healthy meal while travelling.

 

Punjabi/ Rice & Dal/ Superfoods

Dal Makhani

There are some dishes which you never make at home because you always like to have those at restaurants. Dal Makhani was one of these until I had ‘the best dal makhani ever’ made by S. He was famous for his recipe during his college days and I must admit he did a great job. On a second thought the butter, and more butter, the cream and the masala did a fantastic job. Later, I served him dal makhani made without butter and cream and it was still as fabulous as his version, he looked surprised!

dal_makhani
black-urad-dal

Urad Dal is rich in protein and dietary fibre. It’s also a  great source of minerals especially Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, and Copper. It also has good amount of Folate and Vitamin B6.

Black Urad is not commonly used in Maharashtrian cuisine. As the name suggests, its a Punjabi dish and extra cream will make it more “Makhani” like any other Punjabi preparation.

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

No butter and no cream can still make a delicious dal makhani

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Soak urad dal and kidney beans in water overnight (7-8 hours)
  2. In a pressure cooker, add soaked dal and beans with double amount of water.  Add peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and a bay leaf to the daal. Let it cook with 5-6 whistles.  You can also add a tea spoon of salt.
  3. Meanwhile, you can keep onion, tomato, ginger and garlic ready and start with the tadka.
  4. In a medium pan, heat some oil. Once it becomes hot, add cumin seeds.
  5. Add chopped garlic and let it turn slightly brown.
  6. Add some chopped cilantro and let it fry for a minute.
  7. Now add chopped onion, and cook them nicely. Sprinkle some salt to quicken the process.
  8. Once onions are cooked 80%, add tomatoes and mix well. It takes another 2 minutes.
  9. Smash tomatoes with spatula.
  10. Reduce the heat and add red chili powder and Dal Makhani masala and stir well. You should be able to smell the aroma of the hot masala.
  11. Next, add cooked dal and rajma along with some water.
  12. Add salt if needed and mix well. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes and your dal is ready to serve.
  13. garnish it with chopped onions while serving.

Dall_makhani_bigger

This is going to Vardhini’s Dish it Out – Lentils & Garlic event hosted at nivedhanams.

Punjabi/ Subji / Curry/ Superfoods/ Winter Special

Methi Malai Mutter with Cashew Cream

Winter is here and so is the smell of fresh Methi leaves. Fenugreek, widely known as “Methi” in India, is a leafy vegetable with small green leaves mainly grown in winter. It’s the bitter taste of its leaves and seeds that makes it so unique.

Methi Malai Mutter as the name says, is rich and flavorful. The slight sweetness of green peas (mutter) and the richness of cream (malai) well compliment the bitterness of methi leaves.

Methi Malai Mutter

Since I didn’t have cooking cream, I decided to use a healthier and an easily available  alternative – cashew cream and the result was outstanding. You have to try it to believe me. Here is what you need.

Methi Malai Mutter

Methi Malai Mutter

An aromatic combination of fresh methi leaves with green peas cooked together in cashew cream sauce.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Separate the leaves from stem and wash them well. Sprinkle some salt and keep them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, take cashews and poppy seeds and let them soak in milk.
  3. In a small pan, mix all dry masala (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds) and roast them lightly for 2-3 minutes on low flame.
  4. Add roughly chopped onion, freshly grated ginger, garlic, green chilies and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds with a pinch of salt in a grinder and make a smooth paste.
  5. Heat a medium pan and add 2 table spoon of oil. Once oil becomes hot, add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds and let them crackle.
  6. Meanwhile, squeeze out all the liquid from methi leaves and give them a quick chop. Add these leaves to the oil and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes.
  7. Once done, remove the leaves from the pan and keep aside.
  8. Add remaining 1 tb spoon oil to the pan. Now add the onion-garlic paste and fry it nicely for 5-6 minutes.
  9. Strain the milk and add cashews and poppy seeds to grinder and make a smooth paste. Add few spoons of milk if needed.
  10. Add this cashew cream to the pan and fry for 1 minute.
  11. Heat the leftover milk and let it simmer.
  12. Add the fresh garam masala (the roasted masala finely powdered) to the pan and mix well.
  13. Add the milk and some water to adjust the consistency.
  14. Add thawed green peas or boiled if using fresh.
  15. Add fenugreek leaves and mix well
  16. Add salt, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of turmeric and let it come to a boil.

Tips -

  • When you soak the cashews in milk, microwave it for 30 seconds, so cashews absorb the milk quicker and become tender.
  • Once the subji is done, sprinkle a pinch of kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves) of additional aroma.

 

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