Appetizers/Snacks

Beetroot Tikki


Root vegetables with a soothing,earthy taste are one of my favorite. I m not talking potatoes here – everybody likes them without a doubt. I want to point towards taro, sweet potatoes, turnips, radishes & ofcourse – beets. The array of colors and textures inspire me to try out different ways to enjoy them.When beets are involved, I normally start dreaming of all kinds of pink hued curries, especially my dad’s version.It takes me back to all those special meals he cooked.

I did not enjoy beets much in salads or slaws much, I have grown to enjoy them in many other ways. Being the only one at house who likes them, I have the freedom to mend & devise my own uncomplicated ways to cook them. After gulping down lots of juice glasses over the week (yup, at this age too, I dream of rosy cheeks (sigh)),I was left with a last batch of this pink bounty to be turned into these thin, crispy, pan-fried cutlets.

There is always a feeling of accomplishment & satisfaction when I am able to come up with ways to prepare vegetables without cooking them much.I dont think I can describe it.It just needs to be felt.The beets were overly sweet, I did not roast them.Finding a way to balance out the sweetness was when spices jumped into the picture. Inspired by the ever so popular potato tikkis – tangy chaat masala , green chillies, ginger, garlic & cilantro – I found myself  shaping these babies within few minutes. To start with, I was slightly nervous about the taste but after I tasted the mix, the excitement took over- for that first bite.

Tikki, a popular north indian snack is nothing but small patties or croquettes, deep or shallow fried. They are served with an assortment of chutneys, ketchup, yogurt or just as it is with hot steaming masala chai or coffee. .

These are vaguely sweetish, utterly moist to bite with semolina coating adding a texture.The intent was to keep the beet taste as unadulterated as possible. Serve these with green chutney as appetizers, over lettuce leaves to make a yummy salad or even slide them inside the buns to make a vegetarian burgers Overall, I think I will be making these a lot many times.

Makes 6-8 tikkis

Ingredients

  • 2 cup finely grated beetroot
  • 3/4 cup finely grated par boiled potatoes (substitute with leftover rice)
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped red onion
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 1″ fresh ginger shoot, minced
  • 2-3 Thai green chillies, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp chaat masala (to taste, chaat masala is a tangy spice blend available in indian stores or online)
  • 1/8 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1/8 tsp asafoetida (hing)
  • 1 tsp white sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp white poppy seeds
  • salt to taste
For Coating 
 
  • 2 tbsp semolina 
  • 2 tbsp cornmeal 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp red chilli powder (or cayenne)
For Pan Cooking 
2-3 tbsp canola/vegetable/olive oil (or as required for even cooking)
 

Method

Press grated beetroot between your palms to squeeze out as much juice as you can.

Tip in the squeezed beetroot along with all ingredients except salt into a large bowl & mix lightly with a wooden spoon to combine everything.Dont overwork the mixture. Dont add the salt unless ready to cook.Refrigerate the mixture until then.

Mix the ingredients of the coating, tip into a shallow dish & set aside.

When ready to cook, heat up a heavy cast iron skillet/pan on medium. You dont want the pan to be searing hot. While the pan heats up, combine the salt with the beetroot mix. Make small patties of the mix, about 2 inch dia & 1/2 inch thick. Roll the patties in the semolina mix to cover both sides.

Lightly brush 1 tbsp oil on the heated pan. Place 2-3 patties on the pan and fry them on medium-low heat,adding 1 tsp oil at a time. Cook the patties for about 3-4 minutes on each side, flipping gently with a spatula & flattening them with it slightly as they cook and turn brownish.

Repeat till all patties are fried. Serve warm with green chutney, ketchup or salad greens.

Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!

Desserts/Baking

Coconut-Cardamom Cookies

I find P rave about those coconut cookies from his hometown quite often.The discussion comes up mostly on weekends when we have the time to sit together for morning tea.  There must be something about them, I often thought to myself. More than the fancy taste, it could be the fact that his mom got them from a bakery near her workplace – making it so special for him.

I took the discussion a little further & asked him last week- after all whats so special about them? Fluffy inside, crispy outside, overly sweet but something with perfect balance of textures – a cookie which  leaves behind a ghee laden,chewy coconut taste in the mouth – his prompt reply made me wonder if he waited all the while to be asked.

I knew what was baking for next few weeks. First few batches were extremely dry, I almost burnt the bottom each time & obviously the ratios went haywire. I felt extremely uninspired to try more.Well, what can terribly go wrong with loads of ghee (clarified butter),coconut & sugar? A question I asked myself all the while – however when the ingredients are few, getting the right outcome is much more difficult.

I greeted P with (yet) another batch this weekend.They came out like a small bundle of festivity.Utterly moist & chewy – that is how I imagined these cookies.These were just like it. Now, I need to dig further about what else reminds of his hometown. Clearly,our weekend tea rituals will need new topic of discussion now on.

Coconut & sweet smelling cardamom are clearly the star here – the ingredients make these cookies enchantingly indian. If you are nuts about coconut (like me & P) – then you need to try these. I started mixing the recipe with pure gut – I ram the mortar till skin separates & I sniff the cardamom pods. I mix the resulting powder with flour till my fingers smell awesome, I play with flour & sugar, I add ghee to the dough till I feet it is just enough. The whiff of air that sways through the kitchen right from when the coconut toasts to when the baking tray comes out of the oven- the challenge came out perfect.Impatiently, I waited them to cool off, I tasted one & I knew it – this is the ticket!

The recipe is real easy & despite a lot of room for error, it runs good in the oven. I always make small batches of 15-18 which are enough for two of us. The best part about the recipe – just five ingredients. Quality of ingredients plays a huge role thereby, try using the best.

Makes 15-18 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried dessicated coconut, unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (or castor sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/8 tsp fine salt
  • 6-8 tbsp ghee, melted (or unsalted butter)

Method

Dry roast the coconut flakes on extremely low heat for about 3-4 minutes or till you start smelling the aroma, taking care that flakes do not turn brown.Transfer to a plate & let cool.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, salt & powdered sugar to remove all lumps. Combine cardamom powder with the sifted flour mix. Mix the coconut flakes to flour next and rub the mixture with fingers to combine everything together.

Start adding the melted ghee 1 tbsp at a time and gently kneading the dough till you get a soft & pliable dough. Do not knead too much, just until everything is combined.

Note:- You may increase/decrease the ghee by a tbsp or more if your mixture is loose/crumbly, the idea is to just use ghee to form the dough.

The dough will be slightly sticky. Wrap the dough in a cling film and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes or until firm.

Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper.Take out the refrigerated dough and knead it 2-3 times. Pinch 15-18 equal portions of the dough. Roll each portion between your palms into a smooth ball with no cracks.Line the balls on the parchment paper. Press lightly with the back of fork . Line on the cookie sheet with atleast 2″ space between them. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.Meanwhile Preheat oven to 300F.

Bake on the middle rack for 18-20 minutes keeping a close eye, these cookies should not change color while baking.Once you see the bottoms turning brown, remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes on the sheet itself.Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.Store in an air tight container at room temperature for upto 3 weeks.

Appetizers/Snacks · Brunch

Gobi Manchurian- Fried Cauliflower in Spicy Sauce

Indo Chinese cuisine is an exciting break from the everyday meals I make at home.It cuts the boredom of rolling flatbreads, boiling lentils & picking rice – the sizzling wok replaces the whistling pressure cooker. The kitchen suddenly beams with warmth of sesame oil, tang of vinegar and smoky soya sauce.The bliss is rounded off with the kick from indian spices like red chilli powder or garam masala– you have a marriage of cuisines.A cuisine which occupies an  emotional space in the heart of every Indian & which greets them with a promise of satisfaction. The concept may sound little weird to few but for me its indulgent & addictive – I am yet to meet an Indian who doesnt like it.

Talking about Indo Chinese I tend to travel back in time to ol’ college days – I fondly think of the little hangout near college – ‘ The Yak’.  A dimly lit room, walls adorned with red & gold cloth hangings and a seating capacity of just ten – the place eternally smelled smoky & was jam packed. I have lived so many of those silly yet cute occasions of college life there, particularly the sunday evenings  when the hostel mess was off. Right from exchanging those inquisitive glances when the love birds walked in as we snacked on vinegar soaked chillies to hideous gossips that followed over slurps of steaming thupka or taming chopsticks to behave, everything was so much fun.There were no contemporary interiors or ornate themed furniture, no uniformed waiters or elegant cutlery & serveware, I doubt there was an AC even – but it was one time of life with good friends & good food.

A widely popular vegetarian dish of the indo chinese genre, Gobi Machurian is nothing but batter fried cauliflower florets in a ‘Manchurian’ sauce. Do not confuse the origins of  ‘Manchurian’ sauce – it definitely has nothing to do with that region in South East Asia. Creatively masterminded by chinese who lived in eastern parts of  india for centuries, just imagine it to be an amber-colored, tangy and remotely sweet sauce with hints of indian spices. Indo chinese IS what it is due to typical indian condiments – I make it a point to use the indian brands for the authentic taste. However, you can confidently use your pantry to try this recipe.

You will find streets of India dotted with vendors selling robust Indo Chinese (sometimes better) than what we prepare in our homes. Just drop the calorie bug off your mind when you hit the streets though. From traditional chowmein, chicken lollipops, chilli noodles to chop suey –  everything has the essential indian tadka. It is difficult to resist the aroma emanating from their woks when garlic & ginger saute in turmeric hued seasme oil or when soya sauce simmers with generous pinches of garam masala. Even more mouth-watering is the way those carts look – neatly arranged rows of shredded vegetables, oiled noodles and odd colored sauce bottles – promising that everything is made FRESH!

Coming back to the recipe, manchurian sauce can be dry or wet – it’s totally your call. I prepare the consistency somewhere in between. It coats the cauliflower florets thoroughly but is not runny. Anything from deep-fried cauliflower, paneer (indian cheese), chicken strips, breaded tofu, shrimp or vegetable balls can be combined with this sauce to make lip smacking appetizers or main course. This dish cannot be made in advance, it tastes best when the cauliflower is crispy (freshly fried).

Serves 2-3

Ingredients 

For the Gobi Fritters

  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Serrano chilli, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 fat garlic pods, minced
  • 1 tsp dark soya sauce (I use Ching’s brand)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup water (or as required to make the batter)
  • Canola Oil for frying (or vegetable oil)

For the Manchurian Sauce

  • 2 tsp dark soya sauce (I use Ching’s brand)
  • 4 tbsp chilli- tomato sauce (I use Maggi Hot & sweet)
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp cornstarch +4 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp pure sesame oil
  • 2 tsp ginger, chopped
  • 3 garlic pods, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions, white parts
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust to tolerance)
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1.5 tbsp white vinegar (or to taste)
  • For Garnish – chopped scallions(green parts)

Method 

Making Cauliflower Fritters 

Cut the cauliflower florets into halves or quarters. Wash thoroughly under running water & let the water drain.

Meanwhile, in your fryer let the oil heat up. In a bowl, throughly mix all the ingredients listed to make a smooth batter . Dip the gobi florets in the paste and deep fry on low-medium heat till golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Set aside. (Tip :- Let the fritters stay warm in the oven while you make the sauce)

Note – I do not boil the cauliflower before frying. Do not fry the florets on very high heat else they will be raw from inside.

Making the Manchurian Sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together soya sauce, tomato-chilli sauce & honey. Set aside. In another bowl, mix cornstarch & water and let stand.

In a wok/pan , heat up the oil to smoking hot. Add chopped garlic & ginger and cook for 1 minute or till you smell the aroma. Next add the chopped scallions (white part) & red onion and cook for 2-3 minutes or till light brown in color. Add the coriander & turmeric powder next along with the soya sauce mix made earlier. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes  on medium-high heat or till you see bubbles on the sides.Next, add the cornstarch mix to the wok. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for another 2-4 minutes till the sauce thickens.

Next, taste & adjust the salt in the sauce. Sprinkle the garam masala & vinegar to the wok and stir everything well.Remove from heat and add the fried cauliflower to the pan & (very gently)  toss well so that the florets are evenly coated.Dont stir too much with spoon at this point, else cauliflower gets mushy.

Garnish with chopped green scallions & serve immediately.

Notes :-

  1. Substitute dark soya sauce with tamari.
  2. Adding tomato – chilli sauce adds extra heat, you can substitute with plain tomato ketchup of choice.
Beverages

Jal Jeera – Indian Tamarind & Cumin Cooler

Whats your favorite beverage? I m not much of a beverage person, but am always up fresh fruit & vegetable juices as well as a couple of homemade coolers make it to my list.I distance myself from store-bought beverages, unconsciously.

He doesnt care much – his HUMONGOUS liking for beverages is oblivious of the concept of homemade or store bought.As I write this, our refrigerator is stocked with all sorts of flavored lemonades, coconut water, mango nectar & weird-looking smoothies. I m not joking. This is pretty much the same all round the year – he drinks more than he eats – I seldom tell him. Needless to say refrigerator space is one eternal bone of contention between us.

Jal Jeera is an essential north indian summer beverage, served as a refresher with meals.You will find a lot of street vendors serving chilled jal jeera stored in earthern pots sitting atop their decorated carts in India. It is another show stopper of indian street food scene. I just can’t imagine rounding up summers without it.

My mom makes a mean jal jeera from scratch. She does not use any pre made spice powders, its a a crisp concoction of fresh made tamarind pulp water (jal) & roasted cumin (jeera) flavored with mint, black salt, green chillies & ginger. Each ingredient plays a role – tamarind & mint have cooling properties, cumin & black salt aid in digestion & chillies provide the essential kick. Many people use fresh lemon juice instead of tamarind pulp in their preparation and skip sugar.

There is no written recipe, like most indian moms. It is even pointless to ask for one for all I will get is how many palm fulls and pinches. I have come up with this recipe from memories of taste of her jal jeera. Hers will always be the best though.

Indian Tamarind is quite sharp & fibrous in taste as compared to the Thai variety. You need to soak it for few hours in water & mash to separate seeds & fibre to extract the pulp.Tangy & smoky in taste, jal jeera is usually topped with boondi – puffed, crispy chickpea flour balls (available in indian stores) & crushed ice.

Printable Recipe

Ingredients (Makes 6-8 Servings)

  • 1 cup tamarind pulp (see notes)
  • 2 tbsp roasted jeera (cumin seeds)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 18-20 fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 tbsp kala namak (black salt, substitute with table salt)
  • 1 serrano chilli (de- seeded , if desired)
  • 2 tbsp red chilli flakes (adjust to tolerance)
  • 3″ fresh ginger shoot, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 5 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Table salt (to adjust)
  • 5 cups water, cold
  • To Garnish – crushed ice, boondi, mint leaves (optional)

Method :-

Tip everything except table salt & water into your blender. Blend on low for 2-3 minutes until you get a semi smooth mixture. Dont make a very smooth paste.

Place a colander over a large bowl & sieve the paste through it. Note – I sieve the paste a couple of times to obtain a clear(er) drink. Place the collected paste into a jug, top with 5 cups of water. Adjust the salt.Chill till ready to serve.

Before serving, stir thoroughly, pour into glasses, garnish & serve.

Jal Jeera keeps fresh for 3-4 days, refrigerated. It can also be served as pani for indian street food- pani puri. 

Notes :-

  1. To see how to extract tamarind pulp at home, click here.
  2. Store bought tamarind paste can also be used in this recipe. The paste is more concentrated and way salty compared to home extracted version.Adjust the quantity to your liking.
  3. You can substitute tamarind pulp with fresh lime/ lemon juice. The taste differs from traditional recipe but still good.
  4. Place cumin seeds in a sauce pan and roast over medium heat.