Vegetable Handi Biryani – Layered

Stage- 1: Tampered Rice

Ingredients:

  1. Rice (Preferably Long Grain Basmati) – 1 Cup
  2. Oil – 2 tbsp.
  3. Green Cardamom – 2
  4. Black Cardamom – 2
  5. Bay Leaves – 2
  6. Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp.
  7. Cloves – 3
  8. Star Anise – ½  (Optional)

Procedure:

  • Wash and Soak the rice for about 15 minutes. (Meanwhile you can chop vegetables for the next layer and keep them aside)
  • In a pan, heat oil. Add all the spices. Let it cook for 4-5 minutes on a medium flame to let the flavours come out.
  • Add the soaked rice (without water). Toss well for 3-5 minutes. Add water, enough for the rice to boil.
  • Once the grain is soft, drain excess water and take out the rice in a bowl/ plate. Keep aside.

Stage- 2: Vegetable Layer

Ingredients:

  1. Cauliflower – 3-4 Big Florets – Sliced into thin, broad florets
  2. Green Bell Pepper – ½ Medium Sized Finely Chopped
  3. Onion – 1 Small Sized Thinly sliced
  4. Green Chilly – ½ finely chopped
  5. Tomato – 1 Medium Sized Finely Chopped
  6. Potatoes – 1 Medium Sized Finely Diced
  7. Oil – 4-5 tbsp.
  8. Cumin Seeds – 2 tsp.
  9. Dry Red Chilly – 2 Nos.
  10. Ginger Garlic Paste – 1 tbsp.
  11. Turmeric Powder – ½  tsp.
  12. Red Chilli Powder – ½ tsp.
  13. Coriander Powder – 1 tsp.
  14. Cumin Powder – ½ tsp.
  15. Everest Shahi Biryani Masala – 1 tbsp. (You may opt for another brand.)
  16. Sugar – 1 ½ tbsp.
  17. Salt to taste

Procedure:

  • In a Sauce pan, heat the Oil. Add finely diced potatoes. Fry for 5 minutes until cooked. Add cauliflower and bell peppers. Cook until their skin softens. Take the vegetables aside in a separate plate.
  • Use the same pan, add more oil if needed. Add cumin seeds and dry red chillies. Let the seeds splutter.
  • Add finely chopped green chillies. Sauté for a minute. Add ginger garlic paste. Sauté till well cooked.
  • Add sliced onions. Cook till golden brown and slightly crisp.
  • Add the stir fried vegetables. Add salt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cumin powder, coriander powder and Biryani Masala. Mix well. Add a tbsp. or two of water to prevent the spices from burning.
  • When the spices are nearly cooked, add finely chopped tomatoes and sugar. Add a bit of water to prevent spices from burning. Make sure it does not turn watery.
  • Cover the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes. (Meanwhile you can heat the milk for the next layer and/or knead the dough for Dum)
  • When done, keep aside.

Stage- 3: Saffron Infused Milk

Ingredients:

  • Milk – 6-8 tbsp.
  • Saffron – A few strands

Procedure:

  • Heat the Milk. Once steaming, take out in a bowl, add the saffron strands and keep aside for 5-7 minutes.

Stage- 4: Biryani

Ingredients:

  • Wheat Flour – 1 ½ Cup
  • Water – Enough to knead a soft dough
  • Oil – 1 tbsp.
  • Ghee/ Butter – 1 tbsp.

Procedure:

  • Mix oil, flour and water and knead a smooth dough.
  • Press it down between your palms to make it like a long, even rope. Keep aside.
  • Take a Handi/ Kadhai. Line the brim of the Handi with the dough-rope. Put it on Low flame.
  • Add 1/3 of vegetables and spread evenly to form the bottom layer.
  • Add 1/3 of tampered rice. Spread evenly to form a layer. Repeat the process thrice, in all.
  • On the topmost layer of rice, add ghee and spread lightly with a spoon.
  • Evenly pour the saffron infused milk.
  • Cross lines (lightly) using a spoon to cut across the layers. Be gentle.
  • Cover with a lid/ aluminum foil.
  • Cook on an extreme slow flame for 25-30 minutes.
  • The smell will tell you if your biryani is done or not. When done, there will be a saffron fragrance tampered with spices that you’ll get.

Take out an entire layer, like a piece of cake, in the serving dish. Serve hot with curd or Raita.

Vegetable-Handi-Biryani-Cooked-and-Served

Serving Tips:

  • When you take out the Biryani in a serving dish, take a tbsp. of warm saffron infused milk in the serving spoon and then cut through the layers and serve. You may simply dip the serving spoon in that milk, take out and then start to cut through the layers. The extra taste of Saffron is heavenly.
  • Use Full Fat Milk for best results.

Suggested Variation:

Non vegetarian lovers may choose to add an extra layer of chicken/ shredded meat. Some marinated chicken in curd/ coconut milk and spices would do wonders.

Here, simply season the stir fried vegetables with pepper and salt.

When you cook the gravy, use chicken/ meat instead of veggies, like we did here. It will take a bit long to cook.

Layer sequence that will follow is: Chicken Gravy → Rice  → Vegetables → Chicken Gravy → Vegetables → Rice → Ghee → Milk

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Pasta with Tomato and Bread Sauce

Pasta in a given random sauce is generally my meal, once a week: Cooked with veggies of choice, it does make a good, healthy and hassle-free meal. This time I wanted to make a pasta using a recipe recommended by a friend. However, since I didn’t get the time to get the main ingredient for the sauce, the plan went haywire! I checked the refrigerator and what was I left with? 2 Tomatoes and 2 Eggplants, two slices of bread!

I decided to experiment, thinking some disastrous meal is on the way. However, to my absolute surprise, it turned out better than I expected. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

Fusilli Pasta – 1 Bowl – Around 250g

Tomatoes – 2 – Crushed into a paste

Onion – 1 Small – Thin Sliced

Eggplant (Brinjal) – 2 small – Thin Sliced

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 3 tbsp

Bread Slice – 1 – cut into cubes

Herbs of Choice –  1 tbsp

Salt to taste

Pepper for seasoning

Milk – 1/4 Cup (5-7 tbsp)

Procedure:

 

Pasta

Boil the Pasta in till al dente. Strain, grease with a tablespoon of olive oil, cover and keep aside. In a skillet/ vok, heat olive oil. Add the onion slices.

Pasta

Saute the onions till their skin gets pink.

Pasta

Add the sliced eggplant. Cook until Soft. Add bread cubes. Cook for a while till they absorb oil. Ensure they don’t become crisp.

Pasta

Add herbs and saute well. I used thyme and basil.

Pasta

Add the tomato paste, 1/2 cup of water and mix well. Mash the bread pieces with the spatula. Add water to not get a slight saucy consistency. Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes till the tomatoes get well cooked.

Pasta

Add milk. Mix well and cook for 30 seconds. If you overcook with milk, it gives some weird taste. If you want it a bit richer, you can replace milk with fresh whipped cream.

Pasta

Add the boiled pasta. Fold in gradually. Add a little water to ensure they don’t get sticky. Cook for a minute.

Pasta

Take out in a serving dish. Season with coarsely crushed pepper and red pepper flakes and serve hot.

You can garnish with Cheddar/ Parmesan cheese too.

Can go well with:

Soup | Fresh Juice (not citrus) | Aerated Drink | White Wine | Vodka

_____________________

Footnote: I have used leftover ingredients. Among veggies, you can saute some bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, zucchini along along with the eggplant. 

Food Diaries: Taste and Texture Contrast

For some cooking is a mere time waste, for some a routine, for some a responsibility, for some an art and for a few like me, a therapy. Often I have shared recipes and talked of indulgent cooking and unwinding. Today I want to put forth some of my personal thoughts on Food and Cooking.

I’ve read not much but somewhat about cuisines and drinks from around the world. I’m an egg-itarian and passionate about cooking along with several other things which can be kept for other posts.

Coming to World Foods and Cuisines, the word cuisine has Latin origins and comes from a Latin word coquere, which means “to cook”. Cuisine refers to a style of cooking techniques, traditions and practices that are often closely associated with specific cultures and geographical locations.

The history of food traces back to the age of cavemen and over time, it has evolved along with human civilizations, most of which back then, was subject to availability. Today, cuisines are many.

Each speaks of the geographical and great historical influences its region has had over the years: right from ingredients, spices, cooking techniques and staples. However, I have noticed two peculiar characteristics in cuisines irrespective of the place: Taste and Texture Balance.

1. Balance in Taste: The secret to any meal well cooked is the balance in taste. It is much common but we might have seldom noticed it while cooking or making a meal! A tangy soup might go well with a cheesy pasta or a baked dish. An aerated, slightly lemony and sweet mocktail may go along well with a spicy pizza. A tangy-spicy Dal goes well with plain rice or mildly tempered rice. A spicy chicken/ meat biryani goes well with mild raita or even plain curd. Bland Idli/ Dosai can be served with tangy or spicy or spicy-salty chutneys.

Pasta Alfredo and Minestrone Soup

Pasta Alfredo and Minestrone Soup

Image Courtesy: http://beyondriceandtofu.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/dsc04979-sm.jpg || http://midlifexpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Italian-Minestrone-Soup.jpg

2. Balance in Texture: Another crucial aspect in food is the texture. Along with a balance in taste, a balance in texture is a must. You end up ordering a cold drink or a beer when you order some bread: with the dry chewy bread, some liquid would help take it down. Texture perhaps has got to do more with the comfort and enjoyment, but it is equally important. For eg. you can have a simple tomato and fresh cream soup but adding bread crumbs or having it with bread-sticks or toast, adds to the experience. Taste wise, Idli can go well with chutney but a tangy sambar will add to the beauty.  Rice can be had with a dry potato sabzee but dal or curry will enhance. Baked dish will be gooey in consistency, some crunchy bread or even some red wine can do wonders to the experience. Some rice and plain crunchy stir fry veggies will go great with a gravy. A medium spicy wrap can go well with a shot of vodka.

Thin Crust Country Special Pizza with Mint Mojito (made of White Rum)

Thin Crust Country Special Pizza with Mint Mojito (made of White Rum)

Image Courtesy: http://c4.likes-media.com/img/ccd5d7a1450fcf1913985b839bfbe8f0.600x || http://img1.sunset.timeinc.net/sites/default/files/image/2005/07/mojito-mint-m-m.jpg

 

These were my personal observations about food. Curious, I read about them and they turned out to be universal phenomena. If you delve deeper into the details of Culinary Arts, there is a world of ingredients, cooking techniques, cookware and bakeware and so on. This is simply something basic I read and felt like sharing.

Quesadilla made with Roti Tortillas

The food of any given country or region always speaks volumes of it’s history and culture, apart from the geographical and topographical factors. Quesadillas are a part of mexican cuisine, created mostly with ingredients native to Mexico as well as those brought over by the Spanish, with some new influences since then.

Mexican cuisine is closely tied to the culture, social structure and popular traditions of the country along with some socio-cultural influences from Europe. Eventually these ingredients and cooking techniques, being culturally influenced, are tied to the cultural symbolism. For the same reason, Mexican cuisine has been cited as an example of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Among the staples that remain native to Mexico are beans, corn and chilli peppers; while among the ones introduced by the Europeans, includes meat from domesticated animals, dairy products (especially cheese) and a number of herbs and spices in bulk.

Quesadilla  (pronunciation: kesa-di-ah) is one of the popular attractions of the Mexican street food. Quesadilla had originated in the colonial Mexico but has evolved as a dish from time to time after being experimented over and over and is now known in variations across regions: American Quesadilla, Mexican Quesadilla, et al.

Mexican Quesadilla is primarily prepared from tortilla (pronounced as tohr/tee/yah) that has been stuffed with Mexican staples like corn, kidney beans, salsa, peppers, et al. Tortilla is a thin flat bread made of flour or maize flour, often similar to Roti in India.

The image is a representational image. The recipe shared here will yield you slightly different ones! Take a look:

Recipe: Quesadillas made with Roti Tortillas

For the Tortillas:

Flour – 3 cups

Salt – to taste

Oil – 2 tbsp

Water – Enough to knead the dough soft

For the Stuffing:

Carrots – 3/4 cup – shredded

Cabbage – 1/2 cup – shredded

Onion – 1/4 cup – shredded

Green Bell Pepper – 1/2 Cup -julienned

Rajma (Kidney Beans) – 2 cups – boiled

Corn Kernels – 1 cup – boiled

Red Pepper Sauce/ Red Chilli Sauce – 1 tbsp

Vinegar – 1 tbsp

Pepper powder – 1/2 tsp

Red Pepper flakes – 1/2 tsp

Salt – to taste

Grated Cheddar Cheese – 2 Cups

Cheese Spread – to taste (optional)

Oil

Salsa

Red Bell Pepper -1 – finely chopped

Dry Red Chillies

Green Chilly – 1 – finely chopped

Tomatoes – 4 medium sized (chopped into 1 inch chunks)

Garlic – 2 cloves

Olive Oil

Procedure:

Salsa:

Heat some olive oil in a small vok or sauce pan. Add the red Bell Peppers, garlic cloves, green chillies and dry red chillies. Let it smoke. Add half of the tomatoes. Let them cook. Mash them into a coarse paste using a hand masher. Cook the tomatoes and take off the stove. Once the mixture cools for about 10-15 mins, add it into a mixie/ blender bowl along with the remaining tomatoes. Crush it into a coarse paste, take out in a bowl and let it cool in a refrigerator.

Rotis/ Tortillas

Left-over rotis (without ghee) of the morning can be used as Tortillas. However, if you want to make fresh ones, here’s the procedure.

Take flour in a bowl. Add salt and oil. Keep adding little of water as you keep mixing the flour and knead a soft dough (not the harder one) into a pliable consistency.

Make small balls (about the size you can hold in your palm) out of the dough. About 8-9 should be okay. Roll them out flat using a rolling pin. You should be getting 14-15cm round rotis, preferably thin.

Place them, one at a time on a pan and cook each side twice. Take out in a plate and keep aside. Do not cover.

Quesadilla Stuffing

Heat about 3 tbsp oil in a vok. Add salt and pepper. Add onions and saute till their skin becomes a little pink. Put in the bell peppers and other grated vegetables and saute till the retained water steams out. Add the vinegar and sauce. Saute will till the sauce gets absorbed.

Let the mixture cool for 5-10 mins and fold in the corn kernels (They needn’t be cooked with the sauce, it’s fresh boiled taste adds to the beauty.) While it cools, Mash the boiled rajma with a hand-masher and not in the mixie. A little coarse mixture will be good.

Now place one tortilla on a baking dish. Spread 1/2 tbsp of the Salsa you made. Add the sauted vegetables and spread it over. Add some grated cheese and red pepper flakes. Cover it with another tortilla. spread some salsa followed by the mashed kidney beans/ rajma. Add grated Cheese and some red pepper flakes. Take another tortilla and spread it with salsa and put it upside down, facing the rajma. The top layer may be spread over with cheese spread or simply greased with 1/2 tbsp of cooking oil. Cut this cake into six to 8 pieces.

Pre-heat the oven at 220 degree celsius for 10-15 mins. Place the Quesadilla and bake for about 5-10 mins. This is just to melt the cheese and get the tortilla crisper.

Repeat the same for other tortilla cakes.

If you are left with 2-3 tortillas, just cut them into quarters and shallow fry them while the Quesadilla gets baked. Drain excess oil in a paper-napkin and sprinkle some salt, red pepper flakes and Grated Cheese.

Take a serving dish. Place the fried tortillas all sides. Place the baked Quesadilla chunks at the centre. Garnish with some grated Cheese. Serve hot with chilled Salsa and a peppered cheese spread as another dip.

Makes a Meal with:

Quesadilla in itself makes a great meal or a quick snack!

You might just keep sipping on some Tangy or sweet juice along side.

Some white wine or plain vodka too would be good to go if you’re up for the high spirits!

Suggested Variations:

Cheese, Corn and kidney beans remain to be integral ingredients of the Quesadilla. Rest of the ingredients can be replaced or experimented with.

You can use marinated and shredded paneer (cottage cheese) in the stuffing. Non-vegetarians may use chicken or prawns that are well marinated in chilli, lime juice and other ingredients of choice.

Sauces can be experimented with and you may use some other tangy-spicy sauce.

Fresh Lettuce leaves (not shredded) spread over the tortilla after the salsa. Here, you may remove shredded cabbage.

Kachche Aam ki Chutney aka Raw Mango Chutney

Chutneys are freshly prepared forms of pickles that is usually made from a combination of spices and fruits/ vegetables.  In Indian cuisine and cooking chutneys have remained to be an integral part of the menu. As you travel across India, each region has its own set of fresh pickles or chutneys which always happen to be the best tastemakers. Chutneys may be either wet or dry, and can have a coarse to a fine texture. 

Begin from the northern belt of India where the tangy pudina and tamarind chutneys and the sweet fruit chutneys are popular. Come to Rajasthan and Gujarat and the spicy garlic chutney or the hot lime chutneys will tingle your taste buds. Move to Maharashtra and spicy raw mango chutney will be a part of the daily meal in a Marathi household. Move down south and you find Chutney varieties made of Coconut, Tamarind, Tomato, Peanuts, Urad Dal, Curry leaves, Chilly, Garlic, Ginger, Radish, etc.

This post is dedicated to my personal summer favourite: The Spicy “Kachche Aam ki Chutney” that’s a specialty of Maharashtra. It is also widely consumed across coastal Andhra Pradesh.

mango-chutney-spicy-05

Image_ Courtesy: http://recipegreat.com/images/mango-chutney-spicy-05.jpg

Ingredients

Raw mango – 1 (250gm)

Onion – 1 small (4 cm diameter)

Red Chilli Powder – 2 tsp

Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp

Asafoetida (Heeng) –  1 tsp (Use the Heeng usually used for pickles)

Jeera (Cumin) powder – 2 tsp

Salt – to taste

Oil – 1 tbsp (Groundnut oil preferable)

Mustard Seeds –  a few

Procedure:

Wash and peel the Mango, remove the seed and cut it into a mixie/ blender chopping bowl.

Peel and slice the onion into quarter chunks and add to the same mixie bowl. Add salt and crush it into a coarse paste.

Add red chilli powder, turmeric powder, jeera powder and sugar and churn it again into a smooth paste.

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and asafoetida and allow the mustard seeds to crackle.

Add the tadka into the crushed mixture. Mix well with a spoon. Do not crush it again in the mixie.

Refrigerate in an air-tight container and it can be preserved for a week.

Can go as an accompaniment/ pickle with Roti/ Parathas, Pakoda or home cooked Dal-Chawal.

 

Suggested Variation:

If you want to make it a little sweet, add 1 tsp of sugar or jaggery in the mixture.

Italian Food: Panzanella Salad

A common notion about Italian Food that I have observed among a number of Gujjus is that it is limited to Pizzas or if they’re a little more well-informed, Pasta! Funny isn’t it?

Well, Pizza and Pasta are popular only across southern part of Italy! There’s a lot to Italian cuisine that most people seem to know. If I could draw a comparison, the cuisine of Italy, a European peninsula where the initial chapters of the world’s renaissance were written, is as diverse as its art and culture.

The roots of Catholics and Christianity have been laid in Italy and it is a home to some of the world’s most beautiful heritage sites. If I correlate its cuisine to history, Italian cuisine indeed speaks volumes of the various historical influences the country and its populace has had by different cultures.  You might find a plethora of flavours, while you travel across the different geographical regions of Italy.

The quaint little province will welcome you with a fresh taste, new ingredients and different seasonings. One such simple and healthy delicacy I came across is Panzanella Salad. It’s history traces back to the 16th century! Panzanella is a salad made mainly of bread and tomatoes and is usually consumed more in the summer. Apart from bread, the ingredients are also those that retain water: Cucumber, Bell Peppers, Onions, Tomatoes! It is popular across central Italy, mainly Tuscany!

Ingredients:

Bread Slices – 2 medium sized

Bell Pepper – 1 medium

Onion – 1/2 of a small one

Cucumber – 1/2 of a medium one

Cherry Tomatoes – 4

Basil – 1 tsp

Olive Oil – 4 tbsp

Procedure: 

Fine chop the cucumbers, onions and bell-peppers.

Slice the cherry tomatoes into half. If you don’t have cherry tomatoes, you may use regular tomatoes: one small sized finely chopped.

Cut the bread into 1/2 centimeter crumbs.

Mix the vegetables in the bowl and toss them well. Sprinkle the basil and toss them again.

Dress it with 2 tbsps of olive oil and toss again.

Add the bread crumbs and toss well. Dress with the remaining amount of oil, toss well and keep aside. Do not refrigerate. Just cover it and keep it on room temperature for about an hour.

It makes a good meal with pasta and soup. I choose some creamy soup – almond and cream and pasta arrabiata.

Panz

Image Courtesy: http://katie.cambriawines.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Panzanella-Salad.jpg

Suggested Variation:

1 tsp of Thousand Island dressing can be tossed with the salad and then serve it raw!

Happiness often comes from Good Food!

A healthy body makes a healthy mind and good food is the key to a healthy body! But to me, a good and healthy mind-state (one that doesn’t get cranky or doesn’t feel like hitting others or throwing objects at them!) often comes from some real good food! Today was one such day, when I ended up at Bon Pasta.

Bon-Pasta

Image Courtesy: http://static.in.groupon-content.net/47/33/1393309963347.jpg

The moment I entered the place, Randheer welcomed me with a smile!

“If I read facebook correctly, you were going to a café!” he said.

I smiled, we had a small conversation and I asked for a complete meal from soup to dessert: surviving on a cup of coffee and some badly cooked Maggi in a canteen next to office since morning, I was starving for some real food. And I thought, it better be good! Hence, Bon Pasta!

This happened to be my second visit to Bon Pasta and there’s a lot about the place that tends to take me there, first being my love for pasta! While sitting on that table, waiting for the order, I was thinking of my first visit!

It was a Sunday when I happened to be in Ahmedabad and throughout the day, I was either occupied with work or surrounded by people. And in the evening, I was left all alone! For a moment, I felt like I was about to cry, nothing to do and whatever was to be done, I never felt like doing it! Thanks to Shantanu (my husband) that I chose moving out of the house and thanks to Anusha (a friend) who suggested that I must go to Bon Pasta! Being at a new place and one that was known for pasta, I ended up ordering a complete meal. From the moment I entered, I was completely amazed by the welcoming smiles and a deliciously delightful meal!

“Bon Pasta” is a small and cozy Italian restaurant that looks more like a quaint little café. What’s the best part about the place? You’re made to feel comfortable: Bon Pasta specializes in a wonderful eating experience, a gesture I have rarely observed across the various restaurants I’ve visited.

A crispy garlic bread with melt in mouth butter that came first, along with a Green peas and Basil soup! The soup is something I’d never tried before and that added to my happiness!

Next came an Achari Vegetable Sandwich that would surely tingle your taste buds with the tangy spread and crunchy coleslaw vegetables!

The above items I did know about. Next came,

Vegetable Brunoise with sour beetroot jam along with Panzanella Salad. I was just staring at the thing and wondering in awe as to what was it! I verified it in the menu and typed it out on Google. Next moment, Shweta came in to explain to me what ingredients were there in those salad and how the flavours had been balanced! People like me who eat for the love of food first and later for satiating hunger, would truly want to know what all goes in the food and a hundred other questions! But when you have the chef himself to enlighten you with the answers as you relish that dish, it’s simply amazing!

Next came pastas: Pomodoro, Arrabiata and Alfredo! But before that, I was specifically asked for a particular preference of pastas, the amount of spice I can handle and any particular way I needed it modified! That was something that left me amazed: how little things make your dinner experience complete!

Truly authentic taste, freshly made sauces and the distinct aroma of the herbs – all cooked to perfection!

I was just getting full with those delicious dishes I’d delightfully consumed, and then came the Red Velvet Cup Cake! It looks and tastes as scrumptious and delectable as it sounds!

In just one visit, I ended up with a sense of belonging to that place, perhaps it’s because of their warmth and simple gestures of making you feel comfortable and enjoy the dining experience. And that along with “Good Food” is often a reason for Happiness! J

As I left the place, back then after my first visit, and today, all I was told that, “This effort is just to make sure that you enjoy the food!” Indeed! One of my best dining experiences is a gift from Bon Pasta! And I’m sure many more shall follow! Randheer & Shweta, Thanks you!