Monday, May 25, 2009

Lemon Chicken & Cauliflower Pilaf

The dog days of summer are here and planning meals is even more of a chore now - the only thing one feels like having is lots of cold water, buttermilk and a chilled glass of beer. Can't survive on that though, so one has to think of something to eat. Cold soups, chilled salads, cold pasta, curd rice - after exhausting all the permutations and combinations I was quite stumped for our Sunday evening meal. So out came my go-to book in these situations - Good Food's 101 Healthy Eats. And to make it even easier, I plonked it down in front of Hubby and asked him to pick!

Lemon Chicken & Cauliflower Pilaf is what he asked me whether I could rustle up - he couldn't have picked anything easier than that! Chicken breasts cooked along with long grained rice and cauliflower and beans - a one pot meal. My neighbourhood guy delivered the chicken breasts in half an hour in which time I cut the onions and vegetables and soaked the rice. The whole meal was done in a a little over an hour.

I modified it to suit our palate which needs a little more spice than the recipe called for. Some whole spices in the tempering along with some slit green chillies and half a tsp of red chilli powder and it was just right - not too spicy and not too bland. I also marinated the chicken breasts for about half an hour - I just can't seem to bring myself to cook chicken without marinating it first, it seems to make all the difference to the dish.

This one pot meal is just the ticket for when you are pressed for time and don't have the energy to fuss - the taste is absolutely delicious - that balance between comfortingly familiar and still refreshingly different. This dish goes to this month's edition of Meeta's Monthly Mingle - Ravishing Rice Recipes being hosted by Nags of The Edible Garden

Lemon Chicken & Cauliflower Pilaf

4 Boneless chicken breasts (the recipe asked for skin on, I prefer skinless)
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 cube chicken stock dissolved in 4 1/4 cups water
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup beans, cut into 2 inch pieces

1 tbsp oil
2 green chillies slit
1'' cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, sliced thin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp curry powder (I used sambar powder)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup coriander leaves, stalks separated and kept aside
1 lemon, halved anc cut into slices
salt to taste

1. Clean the chicken and marinate in 1 tbsp lemon juice and a tsp of salt for about half an hour.
2. Soak the basmati rice in water for half an hour.
3. In the meanwhile, slice the onions, chop the cauliflower and beans.
4. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan, add the whole spices and then the slit green chillies. Saute for 3 minutes , then add the sliced onions and saute 5 minutes till transluscent.
5. Put in the marinated chicken and fry on high, keeping each side for about 4 minutes till it browns just a bit.
6. Add the turmeric powder, the sambar powder and the chilli powder and finally the rice and fry for 3-4 minutes.
7. Add the vegetables, the salt, lemon slices, coriander stalks and the chicken stock. Bring to boil, then turn down the flame and simmer after covering the pan with a tight fitting lid.
8. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, stirring just once in a between - the rice will be cooked but separate and the chicken will be tender.
9. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with a tomato raita.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pasta Parmigiana

Been on a small blogging break while my brother and I and our families visited with my parents down South. The last time we went was in December 2007, so its been quite a long gap now - however, unlike the last time I didn't manage to get any home ground spice powders since a viral bug laid me low first and then my parents.

But what we did manage to do is to feast on some delicious home grown drumsticks and mangoes - it was the first crop of mangoes in my Mom's garden since she planted them two years back and we were all really excited about eating mangoes grown literally in our backyard! The drumsticks were such a delight too - fleshy,tender and none of that hard bitterness you usually taste in Delhi.

It was a bit trying though, cooking for so many people including three kids and between my SIL, Mom and me we took turns with each of the meals. We tried to keep it simple most days sticking to traditional kozhambus, sambar, porial and rasam for lunch and phulkas,dal and sabzi for dinner. But after a bit, even this got a bit monotonous and my daughter was soon clamouring for pasta. Well, this is a really simple recipe for pasta and particularly easy to make for a number of people - no labouring over a sauce yet fabulous tasting pasta tossed with vegetables and sprinkled with parmesan cheese is ready in minutes. Served with some crusty country bread and you have a complete meal.

Pasta Parmigiana

Pasta - 200gms
Boil water with salt and a tsp of olive oil and add the pasta into the boiling water; cook for 8-10 minutes till just tender but not very soft. Rinse under cold water and keep aside smearing a few drops of oil to prevent them from sticking.

Tomatoes - 4 large, blanched, peeled and chopped
Garlic - 2 -3 cloves minced
Onions - 2 medium, finely chopped
Red chilli powder (paprika powder) - 1/2 tsp
Basil leaves chopped - 2 tbsp
(you can substitute with mixed dried herbs - 1 tsp)
Chopped bell peppers - 1 cup (I used yellow and green)
Grated parmesan - 3/4 cup
salt to taste
Olive oil - 1 tbsp

1. Heat oil in a pan and saute the garlic for a minute, then add the chopped onions and saute till translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the chopped bell peppers and let them sweat till softened for another 5-6 minutes.
3. Pour in the peeled, chopped tomatoes,salt and paprika powder and saute for another 5 minutes till pulpy and soft.
4. Add the cooked pasta 5 minutes before serving and toss on a low flame for about 3 minutes.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over it while still warm.
I don't usually bake the pasta along with the cheese since it doesn't have a sauce and may turn out very dry.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pita Pockets stuffed with Shikhampuri kababs (Lamb Patties)

The Middle Eastern themed dinner I had a couple of months back, saw quite a bit of lamb mince left over after making the meatloaf. This was mince which was lightly marinated with some spices but not cooked yet,so I could pretty much do what I wanted with it.

I had pita bread left over from the appetisers I had made for the party as well as lettuce from the salad - so I decided to make lamb and vegetable patties and then serve them sandwiched inside pita bread pockets.

The muhammara dip I had made to go with the appetisers the day before, was also left over and that made an amazing topping sauce for the pita bread sandwich - textured and tongue tickling. Some fresh lettuce, onion rings, thick, juicy tomato slices and we were good to go!

To make the lamb patties, I decided to use a recipe from Sanjeev Kapoor for Shikampuri kebabs - after all pita bread is from the Middle East - not that far from India! This recipe is from his book Simply Indian and is one of many recipes which come from a more elaborate era but are very simply explained. I still feel his forte lies in making Indian food accessible to everyone - there hasn't been a single recipe of his which I have tried which has not been successful.

This recipe makes kebabs from lamb mince and chana dal (Bengal gram dal), delicately spiced with a freshly ground spice powder and then shaped into patties and stuffed with a hung curd mixture before shallow frying it on a hot griddle. As my friend R would say - Supreme! ;)

I have made my own adjustments to the original recipe - more spices being the main one . Since I can't eat too much of red meat I also made some vegetable patties - combining peas, carrots, spinach and potatoes with the chana dal. I shaped the entire mince and chana dal mixture into patties and after removing enough for our dinner, froze the rest stacked in a freezer box. That way for dinner or while packing lunch for us I just had to remove a couple of patties and cook them up in a matter of minutes. I also made some patties for my daughter before adding the spices, so she had one with her lunch a couple of times a week. The only thing I will do the next time is to place a small sheet of butter paper in between every row of patties so that they are easier to remove when they are frozen hard.

Shikhampuri kababs (Lamb Patties)

1/2 kg Lamb mince
Chana Dal (Bengal gram) - 1/2 cup
Green chillies - 3 finely chopped
Ginger - 1 " piece finely chopped
Garlic - 5 cloves finely chopped
salt to taste
lemon juice -1/2 lemon
sesame seeds - 1 tbsp
oil - to shallow fry
Eggs - 2 (you can use whites)

Spice powder:
Dried red chillies - 3 (you can use kashmiri red chillies for a less spicier mix)
Cinnamon - 1" stick
Cloves - 2
Black pepper - 6
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1 tbsp

Hung yoghurt - 1/2 cup (hang 1 cup yoghurt in a muslin cloth in a cool place for an hour till the whey is drained)
finely chopped green chilli - 1
finely chopped garlic cloves - 2
mint leaves - 8-10, chopped
cumin powder - 1/2 tsp

1. Wash lamb mince thoroughly and drain water. Soak chana dal in just enough water for an hour (not less)
2. Meanwhile, dry roast the ingredients for the spice powder, cool and grind to a fine powder.
3. In a pressure pan, mix the mince, soaked and drained chana dal, chopped green chillies, ginger and garlic. Add 4 cups water, salt to taste and pressure cook for two whistles and keep on low flame for 3 minutes. Open when the pressure reduces and heat again till the mixture dries up and no water remains.
4. Cool and grind to a paste. Add lemon juice, adjust seasoning and add sesame seeds to the mixture.
5. Divide into 15-18 portions and keep aside.
6. Mix all ingredients for stuffing together and divide into as many portions as the lamb mixture.
7. Take one portion of the lamb mixture, flatten in the palm of your hand and stuff with the yoghurt mixture. Gather the edges of the lamb mixture to the centre, shape into a round patty and flatten slightly without applying too much pressure. Shape the rest of the kebabs in the same way.
8. Beat eggs and keep in a shallow tray. Heat oil in a griddle (about 4 tbsp) - dip each kabab in the beaten egg and shallow fry till golden brown.
9. Serve hot as a starter or stuffed in lightly toasted pita pockets with onion rings, tomato rings and lettuce topped with mint chutney or dip.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Veggie Garden - Thin Crust Pizza with Roasted Pepper Sauce

The last time I made pizza from scratch was when I was about 16 and I embarked on Project Pizza. Remember those days before pizza chains? - the neighbourhood Udipi pizza with tomato sauce on the base and overcooked veggies hidden by mounds of grated Amul cheese was the only option. So when I saw a recipe for making pizza in Femina, I decided that I was going to make it.
Dear Dad joined in my enthusiasm and offered to knead the dough. The rest was quite easy and I was pleased as punch when we sat down for dinner with that home baked pizza.

16 long years later we have amazing options for pizza - the generic chains with their thick, floury crusts and the nice Italian thin crust pizzas made in some restaurants in wood fired ovens. Somehow, I am not as much of a pizza fan as I used to be and we barely eat pizza about once in 6 months now. My 4 year old has now caught on to the concept of pizza and loves the photos she sees in the flyers which come with the newspaper. We tried ordering a pizza for her because she kept asking for it but when faced with the real thing, she didn't like it.

One Sunday morning while we were lazing around with the newspapers (what's a Sunday without multiple newspapers and all the "sections"!) I was faced with the "what to make for lunch" question. Is it just me or does everyone hate this question? It's not only dependent on what's available at home, but also what we have eaten in the past week plus our own preference for what we feel like eating at that time.

Anyway, at 11 am, I decided to make pizza. From scratch.
Which not only meant that I had to test whether the yeast I had at home was good enough but also factor in the one hour needed for the dough to prove. And then the half hour for the pizza to bake. A quick mental calculation told me I could still have lunch ready by 1 30pm. Famous last thoughts.Especially when Murphy is at work.

The yeast bubbled up merrily, hubby was sent out to buy all the "fixin's" and I set about kneading the dough and setting it aside to prove. By that time hubby was back with the ingredients for the sauce and the toppings. MIL is visiting so I decided to make things simpler by keeping it all vegetarian. (hubby's suggestion of "washing yesterday's chicken tikka gravy pieces and putting it on one pizza" was met by a glare from me - seriously where do they get these ideas?).

Since I loved it in the muhamarra sauce, I roasted one red pepper, peeled it and chopped it up to add to the tomato sauce and it really lifted the sauce to a whole new level. For the toppings, I used babycorn, mushrooms, yellow and green peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions and garlic - I know, a little OTT but it was good to go overboard after the stinginess we face in store bought pizzas - sometimes it looks like they have actually counted the olives before placing them @ 2 olives per slice!

The pizza base didn't rise very well for some reason and though I left it a bit longer in the vain hope that time would do what the yeast wasn't doing, I couldn't wait too long and after one and a half hours I spread the sauce and the fillings, grated the cheese, popped it into the oven and hoped for the best. Murphy promptly stepped in of course, and my oven which has never been set above 220C, promptly shut down with 5 more minutes left. I had to rush to my upstairs neighbour (Thanks A!) , finish baking the pizza AND pop the next one in, in her oven. By the time I was able to have one pizza ready for MIL and my daughter (who refused to eat anything else in the meantime) it was 2 45pm, and another half hour before Hubby and me could eat!

Everyone agreed though that it was well worth the wait and even K ate two pieces, toppings and all. The crust was good but not soft enough inside - I followed Jai & Bee's suggestions of spending less time on kneading and using low gluten flour by adding cornstarch so it may well be the need for fresher yeast the next time. The sauce was excellent and it was such a pleasure having unlimited toppings on it with good quality cheese. We are definitely not going back to store bought if I can help it - but next time I'll try to see that my family doesn't almost starve in the process ;)

Thin Crust Pizza

For the crust I went with this recipe from Jugalbandi - I used the mix of refined flour, whole wheat flour and cornstarch and kneaded it by hand for a few minutes to get a smooth, ball of dough.

Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce

Red Pepper - 1
4 tomatoes - chopped
4 tbsp tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic
1 chopped onion
1 tbsp mixed Italian herb seasoning
1 tsp red chilli powder
olive oil - 1 tbsp
salt to taste

1. Smear the red pepper with a drop of oil and roast over a low flame, turning with tongs till the skin blackens all over. Remove from the fire,wrap in aluminum foil and keep aside for 10 minutes till it cools. Peel the skin, cut the pepper into two halves, discard the seeds inside and the white pith. Chop the pepper into small pieces. 2. Finely chop the onions and tomatoes as well as the garlic cloves. 3. Heat the oil, add the garlic cloves, saute 1 minute then add the chopped onions and saute till soft and translucent. 4. Put in the chopped tomatoes and the chopped peppers, red chilli powder and salt and saute for 5 minutes till it turns mushy. Add 1/4 cup of water, bring to a boil and then reduce flame and cook covered for 5 minutes till the sauce reduces and becomes thick.
5. Add the italian herb seasoning and remove from flame. Cool and spread over the pizza base (enough for two 12 inch bases).

Veggie Garden Topping

I used about half a cup each of babycorn, mushrooms, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes, 2 onions and a few cloves of garlic. 2 green chillies chopped for Hubby's side of the pizza - I would use jalepenos the next time.

Instead of the usual mozarella, I used a cup of good quality grated Cheddar Cheese.