Jun 28, 2014

Magic under the stars


Childhood memories and family mealtimes are closely intertwined in my mind. My earliest memories of happy times are of those spent at my grandparents' place. Carefree days filled with play time, bonding with cousins, fun and games nonstop, and of course, meals shared with all in the family. My grandmother, a powerhouse who could create meals for the huge family with astounding ease - would effortlessly cook up giant pots of the most aromatic dishes and enjoyed serving them to her family. Nothing gave her more happiness than to see her food being polished off.

As a special treat to the young brigade, my grandma would lovingly mix cooked rice, soft thick curd, add a pinch of salt, some hing powder, and season with cracked mustard and curry leaves. Into this, she would fold in some grated carrot or pomegranate or green grapes depending on supplies at home. When in a generous mood, she would also add a dollop of butter to the rice mixture. I would run and chop up some fresh coriander leaves and mix in. The milky white of the rice, dotted with brown mustard, a splash of green from the herbs, interspersed with the hues of the fruits made a meal fit for the Gods.

The entire creamy goodness would then be transferred to a steel bowl and carried to the terrace. All the grandchildren would throng around her. There, under the clear summer starry skies, the magic would unfold. She would narrate tales of kings and kingdoms, of brave men who fought for their land, all the while filling each child’s cupped palm with a scoop of heavenly curd rice. We would never know when we ate, and how much. Even the most fussy child would join in and be fed happily thus. What a feast under the stars! Tummy and soul nourished, we would all retire to a good night’s sleep.

Another age, another bunch of kids. I wanted to recreate this magic for my children and their cousins too. The terrace was cleaned and mats spread out in readiness. I read up and armed myself with a couple of stories from the Panchatantra and Anderson’s fairy tales. The lush, smooth, rich curd rice was assembled. To this meal, I added a roasted baby potato curry. Who can resist golden brown baby potatoes, enhanced with a fragrant mint and garlic spice mix! This dish would be best cooked in this Grill & Drop Casserole. I would love to check if I can make a killer roast without having to use too much oil and not end up scorching them either. For a spicy accompaniment,  I would also carry some fried curd chillies in this Gourmet Bowl.

To make the meal visually arresting, and to help cast a spell on today’s children, I would serve this delectable meal in these Gourmet Cook and Store bowls. The clear bowl could show off the beautiful embellishments, the speckled red from the pomegranate and the tinge of green from the coriander in this delicious dish to good effect. The snug lid would help to carry it safely without spillage to the terrace.

A fitting finale to the meal would be some home made fruit and nut chocolates nestled in pretty paper cases, served in the elegant Variety Platter.

Did I forget to add? While I am at creating this magic, I would like to add to the ambience by lighting up a few of these lovely Tea Lights too.

My entry to ‘My Beautiful Food’ contest announced by Indiblogger and Borosil.  Round 1 – Alphabet Soup.

Per requirements for contest, I have attempted describing a perfect meal with words alone and without using any pictures.

Jun 21, 2014

Five minute Three Pepper Paneer Curry

Check-out Allergy Information.

Every parent with school-going kids has to face the morning or the night before with a very important question – what to pack in the school lunch box? What’s there in my pantry? Also, when you have to feed more than one kid, the agony is doubled, believe me!

If my older one wants muesli for breakfast, the younger one fancies ‘Chocos’. The day the older one thinks of a sandwich for lunch, the younger one would like rice. If one feels like some thing sweet, the other wants a savoury treat right then! The Universe connives with my kids such that, they have exactly opposite moods at any time. At such times, nothing helps - not requests to adjust with each other, not promises to make it tomorrow, not threats, nothing! Trust me.

And, I have an hour to make breakfast for them, make acceptable (read different gourmet meals) lunches, pack them, fill their water bottles, make sure they have brushed, showered, prayed (yes, that is important in my home), combed, attired in mandatory school regalia!, find random books/papers/assignments/stationery that they have forgotten to stuff into their school bags, find their socks, salvage their shoes from the chasm between the shoe racks and the wall, and make sure they reach the school bus on time!

I know I am not alone. Most mothers/parents in my city and maybe, the world over, go through some variation of this vertigo-inducing routine in the morning! Well, after going through this rigmarole for more than 15 years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Some recipes which help me assemble quick, hearty, nourishing home-made lunches for my children.

This paneer curry is one such easy-peasy life saver on such insanity-causing weekday mornings!

If you have paneer ready, that is.

And coloured capsicum (bell peppers), and a couple of sauces.

It is versatile, easy to put together, can be used to partner with chapatis, filled into a sandwich, rolled into a kathi roll, or add pizzazz to some fried rice. Most important, when packed in a lunch box, it will come back home empty. Hopefully your child got to eat some of it Smile

Preparation Time – 10 minutes; Cooking time – 5 minutes; Serves – 4-5.


  • Does NOT contain egg, nuts, corn.
  • Has dairy and lactose. Can be made dairy- and lactose-free by substituting paneer with extra-firm tofu.
  • Has MSG. Not suitable for children below 2 years.

The 3 pepper paneer sandwich

You Need

Cookware – Cutting Board, Knife, Colander, 9” Diameter frying pan / Wok.


  1. Paneer (Or extra firm tofu) – 200 gm
  2. Green, red and yellow capsicum, chopped – 1/3 cup each
  3. Red Onion – 1 big, or measure 1 cup, finely diced
  4. Fresh coriander leaves (Cilantro), chopped fine – 1/4 cup
  5. Schezwan Sauce (any brand) -  2 tsp
  6. Tomato Ketchup – 3-4 tbsp
  7. Salt – a couple of pinches ( if needed)
  8. Any vegetable oil – 2 tsp
  9. Saunf ( fennel seeds) – 1 tbsp*
  10. Honey – 1 tsp OR Sugar – 2 pinches (Optional)

*Do not omit the saunf in this recipe. It adds a unique flavour to the dish.

To Assemble

  1. Rinse paneer or tofu in drinking water. Carefully place it in colander to drain. Then, you can choose to either dice the paneer (or Tofu) or roughly crumble it. I prefer to dice, as then, the diced vegetables and the paneer all look similarly proportioned.
  2. Rinse, and finely dice all the capsicum into the same size. Peel, rinse and finely dice the onion too. Happy day with happy veggies
  3. Set frying pan/wok on fire and heat the oil in it. Add saunf, let it sizzle and release its’ aroma. Inhale - the aroma of saunf
  4. Tip in the onion before the saunf browns. Sauté for a minute. Add a pinch of salt to speed things up.
  5. As soon as the onion looks pink,  tip in the diced capsicum, toss. Sauté for another two minutes.Veggies in a merry sizzle
  6. Now the sauces can go in. The sight of these liquids hitting the hot pan and then the aroma around – I’ll leave you to savour in your kitchen!
  7. A quick mix of the sauces and veggies, and now it is the turn of diced paneer followed by chopped coriander to hit the pan. Switch off flame, mix all contents well, taste and add more salt now if needed. Some paneer will get crumbled while mixing, that is fine. Add the (sugar /honey if you are using), now. Mix through, taste again to make sure the flavours satisfy your palate.*Tri-colour glory
  8. The 5 minute 3 pepper paneer curry is now ready. Use it as filling in whole wheat chapatis – spread 2 tbsp of curry per chapati, roll up, cover in foil and pack for lunch. Or, use as filling for sandwiches. it is a great accompaniment to Chinese fried rice too. Sandwiches in the making

* My family found the play of texture and flavour in this recipe to be very appealing! You could add more or less of the sauces, or add more seasonings as you prefer. Add red chilli paste instead of Shezwan sauce, omit the sugar, try the dish with any one type of capsicum – all these are variations you could try.

Pick-me-up Sandwiches for anytime of the day

We are enjoying these filling, healthy and absolutely lip-smacking sandwiches at our home, in our lunch boxes and as after-school snacks too! Go ahead, make some for yourself, enjoy and let me know if you liked them.

Jun 11, 2014

No Guilt No Bake Mango Cheesecake


In an Indian summer, mangoes enter our lives in a big way. At our home, we never tire of eating mangoes, of any variety, shape or ripeness. Any mangoes that escape being devoured, find it’s way into special dishes.

If it were possible to make this fragrant fruit any more delicious, it has to be in the avatar of  this cheesecake! But wait, how about the guilt from the extra calories? The extra sugar, cream, and so on? Well, what if you could indulge in a ‘cheesecake’ without any cream or cheese or extra sugar? What if I told you this dessert is richer in protein and vitamins than fat or carbs? What if we have just discovered the best guilt-free dessert for quite some time to come? If you are interested, read on….

Without much ado, I want to share with all you lovely people, this simple, guilt free, low sugar, low fat, no bake, gelatine-free, mango cheesecake! An indulgence that is easy on your girth as well as on your wallet. Can be made with mango pulp when fresh in season or using canned mango pulp or home-frozen mango pulp when these divine fruits are not in season too. Totally invoking the spirit of summer, come and fall in love with mangoes all over again this season!

Summer Exotica

Preparation Time – 30 minutes+8 hours setting time; Cooking Time – 10 minutes; Serves – 4

Allergy Information – Does NOT contain egg, soya, peanuts, corn. Contains gluten. May have traces of lactose.

You Need

Cookware Mixer/Food Processor, Cheese cloth, String to tie, a vessel of approx. 1 litre capacity, Shot glasses/Glass Dessert bowls – 4-5, Sauce pans –2, Heat proof strainer – 1.


  1. Marie biscuits – 10-12
  2. Melted Butter – 20 gms (And the recipe said low fat! So Butter? Do read Notes Smile)
  3. Any ripe mango – 1 large or 2 small
  4. Skim milk yoghurt – 400 gms OR Skim milk Greek yoghurt – 250 gms
  5. Agar Agar strands – 10 gms
  6. Sugar – 2 tbsp (Optional)

No Bake No Gelatine Mango Cheesecake!

To Assemble

  1. Tie the cheesecloth around the mouth (use elastic band or string to secure) of the 1 litre vessel, pour the skim milk curd into the cloth, and leave the whole assembly inside the fridge* undisturbed for 4 hours. The whey water will drip from the yoghurt into the vessel, leaving thick cheesy curd in the cloth. Drink the whey water separately.
  2. Crush the biscuits in a mixer to a sandy  coarse powder. Drizzle the butter in,(easier in a food processor) pulse the mixer again until you find the mixture looking like wet sand.
  3. Rinse and wipe dry the shot glasses you will be using. Layer the biscuit base at the bottom  of the glass. Divide the mixture equally between the glasses and press with back of spoon to level this ‘cheesecake base’. Leave the glasses in the fridge until needed.
  4. To 1/2 cup of warm water, add agar agar and leave to soak in a sauce pan.
  5. Peel the mango, remove pulp and puree in the mixer. Place the pulp in a sauce pan over a medium flame, stir briskly until just hot.           
  6. Return the sauce pan with soaked agar –agar to heat, keep stirring briskly over a medium flame until it is fully dissolved. Add some water, a tbsp at a time if needed to dissolve the agar-agar well. Strain this hot liquid into the simmering mango puree, combine well, and switch off the flame.
  7. Mix 3/4th of the above mango liquid, with the cheesy curd and whip well in the mixer. Divide this mixture into the prepared shot glasses. Tap on countertop to level and leave in fridge to set for half an hour.
  8. After half an hour, warm up the 1/4th leftover mango puree+agar-agar mixture gently to loosen it, pour over as topping over the set curd, leave to set undisturbed in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight would be a better idea!
  9. Enjoy chilled after a long, hot day!

Enjoy your guilt-free dessert


  • At 4-5 gms butter per serving, this dessert allows for an ‘acceptable’ fat content, within the RDA range for most people.
  • Using skim milk curd in this recipe ensures you consume less than 3 gms of fat, vs 25 gms if you were to use cream cheese! ( Read 8 minutes vs 1 hour of treadmill). Now is that good or what?
  • *Set the curd ‘to hang’ inside the fridge to avoid it getting sour.

Jun 3, 2014

Peerkangai chutney


I seem to be on a spree to cook with un-glamorous, un-restaurant-y, humble vegetables. Well, why not? Gourds are very easy on the wallet and the waist line, mostly neutral in flavour, lend body to various dishes, have varied nutritional benefits but are ignored despite all these.

Pic Courtesy - Sankalpfarms.com

No South Indian breakfast is complete without chutney. That inevitably means use of fresh coconut. On days when you do not have stock of fresh/frozen coconut, or want to limit it’s use in daily meals, you need some saviour to rescue the day’s chutney. Enter the star of today’s chutney - ridge gourd. I have used it in this recipe to benefit from the nutrients it offers, as much as a coconut-substitute.

  • Ridge gourd is high in moisture and crude fibre (good news for those with chronic constipation).
  • It is a very low calorie vegetable, so great to include in a weight loss diet. It adds plenty of bulk to a meal without adding significant calories! This means, you can eat a whole cupful of ridge gourd and add less than 20 calories to the meal!
  • Ridge Gourd has negligible Sodium and a fair source of Potassium. Hence it is useful for people with high blood pressure or certain kidney ailments where sodium is severely restricted.

Here is how I made the chutney. We used it to complement soft idlis for breakfast. It was spicy, tangy and declared ‘good’ by my family. Do try it out and let me know how you liked it. The quantity here serves 5-6. Halve to serve 2-3.The chutney can be refrigerated and used within 2 days.

Preparation Time – 15 minutes ; Cooking Time – 5-6 minutes ; Serves – 5 – 6

Allergy Information – Does NOT contain gluten, egg, soya, peanuts, corn, lactose.

You Need

 Cookware  -  A frying pan, mixer grinder or food processor


  1. Red Onion – 1 medium, or measure 1/2 cup after chopping
  2. Roma Tomatoes – 2 medium, or measure 3/4 cup chopped
  3. Ridge Gourd / Peerkangai – 1 big, or measure 1+1/2 cups sliced
  4. Green chilli – 4-5 cut into halves
  5. Chana dal – 2 tbsp
  6. Tamarind – 1/4 tsp*
  7. Salt – 1/2 tsp
  8. Oil – 1/2 tsp
  9. Coriander leaves – 6-7 stalks with leaves (optional)

For Seasoning -

  1. Oil - 1/4 tsp
  2. Mustard seeds – /4 tsp
  3. Hing Powder – a pinch

* Use Tamarind if tomatoes are not tart enough, or add a couple of extra tomatoes and avoid tamarind. You can even omit tamarind entirely if you do not prefer a sour-ish chutney

To Assemble

  1. Prepare the vegetables for frying. To begin,  wash, peel and chop onions. Next, wash peel and chop tomatoes and green chilli. Rinse the ridge gourd well, peel part of the rough skin at the ridges, while leaving some skin on the vegetable. Cut into thick slices.Fry all vegetables for chutney
  2. Heat a small wok / frying pan. Add the half tsp oil, let it heat up. Add the chana dal, fry over medium heat until golden brown. Add all the prepared vegetables, chilli, tamarind and salt. Toss well, (do not add any water), cover and simmer for 2–3 minutes or until you find the tomato skin has shrunk a little bit and the gourd seems to go slightly limp. If you are using  coriander leaves, add at this point, and switch off flame.
  3. Let it cool. Grind to a coarse paste. You will not need any water for grinding. After removing to a bowl, rinse out the mixer jug with a 1/4 cup of water and add to the chutney if you wish to dilute it. Chutney with Seasoning
  4. Heat oil for seasoning. Crackle mustard seeds, add hing powder and pour over the chutney.
  5. Serve as accompaniment to idli, dosa, or over plain steamed rice, as a sandwich spread or as dip for crudites too!

Soft Idlis with Spicy Chutney

Fresh breakfast for two!