Monday, February 28, 2011

Berry Goodness!!!

With the winters having gone into a deep slumber and the sun begginning to dance through most part of the day,it looks like summers are not very far off and so are the mangoes(wink!!! i keep reminding myself this everytime i mention summers  :-) !!)  well its not time yet to discuss mangoes...not even the raw ones..sigh!!
Now,last few days i was observing while i went to shop for my fruits and vegetables,a few of the shops stocked strawberries alongside other fruits but they all looked a little stale  and unappealing to me.However,as i went out yesterday for my routine shopping,i could see there was a huge influx of strawberries in the market because every vendor in the market i saw; had loads of plastic boxes stacked neatly on wooden trays with holes underneath them and containing luscious,red strawberries.I immediately knew it was the right season and the perfect time to pick some and so i did,a whole lot... for i simply just couldnt resist.

Not too long ago strawberries were difficult to find in india,and even if one did,it was the smaller fruit and  it often would get stale on its way to markets because of its highly perishable nature not to forget that it was way too overpriced to be afforded by anyone but the affluent.

Mahabaleshwar(a town some hundred kms from pune and around two hundred km from Mumbai) was the first cultivator of strawberries in India and now other places like Pune,Nashik,sangli in maharashtra and Nainital in Uttarakhand have followed suit.Over the time,the fruit has become larger in size and also become less perishable(read better storage and transport) and yes,cheaper...a lot cheaper.

Now strawberries are not here to stay for long because the sun will soon be warmer in the coming months and considering that its mostly the scorching summer months that we'll want to have those smoothies and icecreams and other yummy stuff, its a great idea to freeze these beautiful red ,just ripe ones.Here is a step by step guide:
  • Remove all the leaves from the fruit and give it a good wash under running water to remove any dust or soil that may be there.
  • Cut off the green stem and the cap using a sharp knife(if you dont want to struggle with a frozen tip later).
  • Check all the fruits for any bruises or mouldy or soft spots and remove them with the tip of your knife(better still ; chuck them off and keep the good ones only).
  • Lay them on a thick sheet of kitchen towel and leave them for 10-15 mts so as to remove any excess water.
  • Lay a wax paper/butter paper on a tray and line the strawberries on it taking care to keep all the berries seperate from each other.
  • keep the whole tray inside the freezer compartment and let it stay there overnight or atleast for four hours.Freezing in the tray will ensure the strawberries dont fuse with each other and stay seperate.
  • Remove the strawberries from the tray and store them in a Zip lock bag inside the freezer.Do always remember to remove maximum air out of the bag and  make sure you label your bags with contents and date so that you know when to discard them off(if you are left with any,that is :-)  ).This will keep good for atleast 6 to 8  months depending on the freezer condition.Do not try to refreeze them once they are thawed.

Now, i kept a batch in the freezer last night and in the morning after the kids had left for school and husband for office,i treated myself to some nice strawberry yoghurt smoothie.

It was fab and easy too.Just whizz some sugar and a few frozen strawberries in the blender and fold into fresh home made yoghurt.
some other great options to use up frozen stawberries are:

  • Make some great strawberry mousee folding lightly whipped creme,whipped egg white,sugar syrup and pureed strawberries together.
  • Its a great milk shake option for the little ones(they all like strawberry flavour and i hate giving them packaged ones loaded with preservatives.)
  • Make a delicious sauce to go with icecreames and pancakes.Simply cook it up with some sugar and water(add whole spices of your choice like a star anise or cinnamon for that special twist!!),strain and use!!
  • Frozen strawberries make great pie filling and excellent tart fillings too!!
  • Strawberry cheesecake is yet another yummylicious thing!!(i'll post a recipe soon.)
  • It makes a delicious sorbet.whizz it up with some sugar syrup and lime/lemon zest thrown in for that extra kick!! its a great palette cleanser in between courses or after a heavy meal.
  • Its a great add on for cocktails...add it to your margaritas and daiquiries or just go wild and make your own cocktails!!

Health Tip:

This heart shaped, red fleshy fruit isn't just great looking but packs a great amount of nutrients for surprisingly small amount of calorie it imparts.Its a great boon for weight watchers.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese. They are also a very good source of dietary fiber and iodine. Plus, strawberries are a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin B2, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, copper, and vitamin K.
Not only that; it is super rich in phytonutrients(antioxidants) and helps preventing cell degeneration.It has natural anti inflammatory properties and helps a great deal in patients suffereing from rheumatoid , osteoarthritis,asthama and even cancer.



Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bye Bye Winters...welcome Spring!!

It is the first day of the Spring season in India and is celebrated as "Vasant Panchami".The Winters have quietly begun to wrap up and the sun shines brightly in the day.

Now,Spring  is the season when nature is at its beautiful and bountiful best. Flowers are in full bloom and trees sprout new shoots. It is a season when nature regenerates and every thing is fresh and new. New life is evident in the woods and fields. In North India the cool morning air is laden with the faint smell of Mango blossoms(the sign that we may look forward to eating those luscious,tangy and juicy things in the next few months to come...YUM!!).Mustard fields turn into a heady mix of yellow and green as the blossoms add color, poetry and romance to life.

Its a time to celeberate and eat(the best part..aint it?) and so i decided to make something sweet today and  zeroed it on "millet pudding"or "Bajra Halwa" as we call it here.It is a speciality from the state of Rajasthan and also loved in Gujraat and parts of Madhya Pradesh.
Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • A cup of Millet flour
  • 1/3rd cup of Demerara sugar(white sugar will do as well,a tspn of mollasses/jaggery can be added for color)
  • A cup and a half of whole milk(about 180 ml. or 6 oz.)
  • A handfull of mixed nuts(i used cashews only)
  • Some raisins and chopped dates
  • 1 and 1/2 tblspns of clarified butter/ghee
  • 2 or 3 green cardamom pods
  • Saffron threads(optional) around 5 or 6 soaked in a spoon of warm milk.


Preparation:

  • Dry roast the mixed nuts in oven (at appx 120deg.C. for about 7-8 mnts)or in a pan over medium heat.Remove and keep them aside.Crush them lightly when they've cooled down.
  • Bruise the cardamom pods slightly so as to release flavour.Heat a tbl spn of ghee and add the cardamoms,followed by the millet flour.



















  • At medium heat,keep stirring the flour,till it gets sandy in texture and darkens slightly in color.The beautiful aroma rising from the pan will let you know when the roasting is complete.
  • Now add the whole milk,the sugar,raisins and the chopped dates.Roll up your sleeves and be ready to slog(yes!! a lil bit though)...stir like a manic now ;-).














  • After about 4-5 mnts of continuous stirring the thick slurry will begin to leave the pan slightly from the sides.At this moment add the remaining ghee(1/2 tblspn) and the whole thing will start to combine up in a single ,slightly squidgy and mushy mass.
  • Add the crushed nuts and saffron and cook for another minute or so,continuing the stirring.
  • This halwa tends to set on cooling down ,so it can either be spread in a Flat greased dish;so that it can be cut into pieces later or else served hot in individual bowls.Garnish it with chopped dates and nuts.Eat your way to good health and let people take guesses!!















Health tip:

Millet is one of the superfoods that has a bomb of nutrients filled inside tiny seeds.It reduces cholestrol,prevents colon and breast cancer and lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
This tiny grain is gluten free and is packed with minerals and vitamins like niacin,manganese,magnesium and calcium ;therefore is a boon for people who are allergic to wheat and other glutenous grains.
This recipe in particular is great for breakfast or a mid meal snack.Using a little ghee with millet actually reduces its glycemic index and hence aids in fat burning.It should be kept in mind to never have it post any of the major meals else its nutrients are not utilised.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

miss u mom!!

Some people say home is where heart is...i'd say home is where my stomach wishes it were,right now.Whenever i miss my home i realise that its mostly the mom's food and comfort it brings is what i miss and then i crave for it to  a point when i'm compelled to cook something that mom cooked for us back home and eat it all,just to relive the moment all over again.
Now, most of us miss our home food only once we are deprived of it and then the thought that one cannot have it more often starts haunting us day and night. Moral of the story : Learn to cook while you are still sitting on you ass shamelessly polishing off all the food you mom prepares.I had my moment of enlightenment at quite an early age when i was put up in a hostel for a year at the age of twelve and when i came back from there...i literally started on an eating spree that never ended(and yes it all showed up at my behind..LOL!!),but it gave me the wisdom to take interest in whatever mom was concocting up in the kitchen.
Now my mom has always cooked for us inspite of having ample help around and this has inspired me to do the same with my kids.I love to cook for them and at the same time make sure they know their food well.Sometimes they surprise me by how much they pick up just by being around.
Anyways today's recipe is one my mom used to and still makes for us in winters(by demand ofcourse) and is called "fara".Now this recipe appears in different avatars in bengali cuisine as well in kitchens of northern  india.In calcutta they also make a sweet version but ofcourse i'm telling you the savoury one here.However this time i forgot to check the exact measurements so i'm giving approximates here,but they should do well if you follow the recipe(its damn easy).

FARA

The ingredients are:
  • a cup and a half of rice flour(preferably the young rice i.e.from the recent crop yield)
  • a tablespoon of clarified butter/ghee(it is important to not miss it because it keeps the dough moist which otherwise is very dry and difficult to roll)
  • warm water(to make dough)
  • a cup of soaked chana daal(split bengal gram)/urad daal(split white lentils)
  • a few dried red chillies
  • whole coriander seeds, about a  tspn and a half
  • cumin seeds(zeera) ,about a tblspn
  • asofoetida(hing), a generous pinch
  • green coriander leaves,a small bunch
  • salt to taste
  • a steaming basket/colander to steam the dumplings
preparation:
  • Grind together the lentils( you can use these lentils seperately or a mix of different ones to suit your taste) with red chillies,asofoetida,cumin ,coriander seeds,leaves and salt with the help of little water to a coarse paste.Leave it aside for half an hour to soak in the flavours.

  • Now prepare the dough by mixing the clarified butter(you can use any neutral flavoured oil like vegetable oil instead; if you prefer not using the butter) with the flour first and then add the warm water spoon by spoon,mixing well in between.Knead it well till it forms a smooth ball and then cover and let it rest for about half an hour.



















  • Now roll out a tennis ball size of dough on a dusted surface to about half an inch thickness(or thinner if you can handle).Use cookie cutters to cut out circles from it.Return the leftover dough to the bowl.keep repeating till all the dough is consumed.Now take aprx a teaspoon and half of the lentil stuffing and place it on one side of the circle that you just cut out and press gently to fold in a half moon, keeping the sides open.If you wish you can use two circles with stuffing sandwiched in between(this is faster to prepare but takes a little exta time to cook).

  • Arrange the dumplings on a tray and steam at medium heat for around twelve to eighteen mts depending on how you have prepared the dumplings).


  • Serve hot with a savoury green chutney (i have a special chutney recipe that we eat with this but will share later for sure) or sauted with some curry leaves and mustard seeds....And yes don't forget the steaming cup of masala chai.
  • note: The dumplings keep well for atleast three days in an airtight box inside the refrigerator.


health tip: This works as an excellent in between meals snack or breakfast.It has a good balance of carbs and proteins wth spices thrown in to aid in the digestion and providing micronutrients like zinc,potassium,vit b-6,niacin etc.The cooking method used is steaming which is possibly the best way of cooking and helps retaining maximum nutrition.