Monthly Archives: February 2009

Tomato,Mozzarella(or avocado), and Pesto Sandwich

There is a wonderful Mediterranean salad, which brings together tomatoes, mozzarella, and either fresh basil or pesto. The result is an incredibly fresh and flavorful dish.

Sandwiches and paninis that combine these ingredients are common in boulangeries here, and I often make variations of that theme.

This is the sandwich that Shri feels he could eat every day for lunch.  Noor loves it too, and I make a much smaller version of it for her sometimes.

Indira doesn’t like the taste of mozzarella – unless it comes to her all melted on top of a pizza or inside the Aubergine Parmigianna in which case she loves it – so she likes me to skip that bit when I make this sandwich for her, though she loves avocado in it.  But I think the combination of mozzarella and pesto is what makes it so special for the rest of us.

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Tomato,Mozzarella, and Pesto Sandwich

Half of a multi-grain baguette , or olive bread

1/2 of a medium sized tomato, cut in to thin slices

1/4 or 1/8 of an avocado (optional), thinly sliced

50 gms of mozzarella(drained weight), cut in to thin slices

some salad leaves

2 tsp of pesto

Slit the baguette along the length on one side, without cutting through the other side.  Sprinkle a tiny amount of olive oil on both surfaces.

Layer the leaves over the lower half, then follow that with the tomato slices, the cheese slices and the avocado slices. Spread the pesto next, then close the sandwich and wrap tightly in cling film.

Ideally, make this an hour before eating, and all the flavors will come together beautifully.

One could season the filling with some salt, but I tend to think that there are so many lovely flavors here, one would surely not miss the salt; so I skip it.

This sandwich is especially nice if made with olive bread.

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Filed under Picnic Food, Quick Meal Ideas, Starters and Snacks, Versatile Accompaniments

Aubergine Parmiggiana

Along with socca, ratatouille, and crepes, this southern Italian(Campania) specialty was one of those foods I discovered in a local restaurant and fell in love with soon after we came to live in France.

So I was thrilled the day I found a lovely cookbook in the English bookshop in Valbonne some years ago, called  “The Best of Mediterranean food”, by Sarah Woodward, which had a recipe for it.

And what an excellent recipe it is too. The results are as satisfying – in some cases, better – as anything I have eaten in many good restaurants here, even with the couple of variations I make (such as substituting dried oregano for fresh).

This dish is a delicious melange of lots of wonderful things, such as melted mozzarella and lots of fresh basil. Indira absolutely adores it and wishes I’d make it a lot more often. But all that cheese does it make quite heavy on the stomach, so though we are all very fond of it I make it only very occasionally.

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Aubergine Parmiggiana

aubergines  750 gms

olive oil  6-7 tbsp (for grilling the aubergine)

2 small onions, chopped fine

2 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine

canned tomatoes 600 gms

dried oregano 1 tsp or a little more

salt  and black pepper to taste

Mozzarella  200 gms( drained weight), sliced quite thin

Basil leaves (a large-ish bunch)

freshly grated Parmesan 100-150 gms
Wash the basil leaves and keep them on a kitchen towel to dry.

In a saucepan, saute the onions  and the garlic on a low heat in 2-3 tbsp of olive oil till they are quite soft.   Now add the tomatoes, the oregano, the salt and the pepper, then turn up the heat and cook the sauce till it is quite thick. This will take about 15-20 minutes.

Slice the aubergines in to 1 cm thick pieces (lengthwise or across).  Spread these on to a large surface, sprinkle with sea salt, and press down with a heavy weight. After 30 minutes or so, this will have drawn out a lot of the juice (which often has a bitter-ish taste) of the aubergine. Mop this up with kitchen towels.

The aubergine slices can now either be deep-fried (this is the traditional way) till they are a nice golden brown color and quite soft, or grilled -after brushing slightly with olive oil- at 280-300degreesC in a pre-heated grill. This will take around 10 minutes.  The aubergines will need to be turned over once, half way, and will need a little bit of oil brushed on to the other side as well.

I grill rather than deep-fry the aubergines because the former method uses less oil but the taste of this dish definitely gains something with the latter…

Set the oven now to to heat to 180degreesC. In a large ovenproof dish, cover the base with half of the tomato sauce, then layer it with some of the aubergine slices, then 3/4ths of the mozzarella slices on top of that, followed by half the Parmesan. Spread the basil leaves next, then the rest of the aubergine slices, followed by the remaining mozzarella, the sauce, and the rest of the Parmesan.

Bake for 30 minutes near the bottom of the oven, and serve the dish as soon as it come out of the oven, or the mozzarella will go tough and stringy.

There is LOADS of taste and flavor here; all it needs to make this a complete meal is some green salad and a small portion of bread to soak up all the juices.




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Mung Crepes aka Moong Dosas aka Pesarattu

I make these sometimes when I have a friend over for breakfast – a great way to start the day once the kids are in school ! –  and this is how I explain the dosa – as an Indian crepe.  And I do in fact use a crepe pan to make the dosas, so this is just one of those recipes that very easily straddles both  worlds !

In southern India, I believe these dosas are called pesarattu.

Mung Crepes aka Moong Dosas

1 cup of whole or split moong daal/ mung beans (whole or split green gram lentils), plus 7-8 fenugreek seeds, soaked overnight in lots of water

1/2 a cup of basmati rice (this is optional but makes the dosas crisper, IMO)

1 and 1/2 tsp of grated ginger

salt to taste

1/2 a tbsp or so of sunflower oil per crepe/dosa, to fry

Drain the beans, then grind them in a food processor adding a few tablespoons of water at a time. Grind the rice too, separately, and mix with the beans batter.

The batter should be neither too thick and pasty, nor too runny.

Add the salt and the ginger and mix in well.

Heat the crepe pan till it is quite hot. Now turn the heat down to a medium hot setting, then pour 2-3 tablespoons worth of batter on to the pan with a large serving spoon and spread quickly and evenly with the back of the spoon.

Turn the heat up a little bit (though not to a full setting), and cover the pan with the lid of any cooking pot till the top portion of the crepe begins to look dry rather than wet (this will take less than a minute).

Spread 1/2 a tbsp of oil evenly over the surface of the crepe, cover again and cook for another 1/2 a minute or so. Then, using a spatula with a very thin edge which can be slid under the crepe, turn it over (if the crepe is well made, it will have a lovely crispy, brown look by now) and cook it for say 1/2 a minute. Turn it over again, fold it in half, and remove it on to the serving plate.

Turn the heat down again before pouring and spreading the batter for the next crepe, then turn it up again to cook.

In between every two or three crepes that one makes, it helps to clean the surface of the pan with the exposed portion of an onion cut in half  (I enjoy staying with this traditional method though one could use kitchen towels instead)

With a potato filling that is spiced with mustard seeds and curry leaves, and coconut chutney, this makes for a great breakfast.

The girls absolutely love these dosas – or pesarattu, and I plan to make them for breakfast or lunch one day during the school holidays that will begin this weekend, so I will take the pictures for this post then.

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Dhokla – A very quick recipe

I have never been able to make good idlis, and so  had never tried to make dhokla either, since typically that would use the same technique of steaming, which I never had much success with.

Until, that is, my friend Pooja gave me this recipe a couple of weeks ago for making dhokla in the microwave. The preparation time is only about 5 minutes, and the cooking time is only about that as well.

The results were good enough that I have made dhokla more than once since and the girls have really taken to it which is great.

Dhokla

Besan (chickpea flour) 1 cup ( or a mixture of besan and suji i.e. semolina in equal or varying proportions)

125 ml of whisked yogurt

some (about 1/4 cup) water

3/4 tsp of grated ginger

1/2 tsp of turmeric powder

2  tbsp of sunflower oil

lemon juice – 1 tbsp

Eno fruit salt – 1 tsp

salt to taste

1/2 tsp of mustard seeds and 4-5 curry leaves (chopped) for tempering

1  tbsp grated (fresh or desiccated) coconut and 2 tsp of chopped green coriander for garnish

Mix the yogurt, the water, the salt, the ginger , the oil and the turmeric powder in to the besan till the batter has a smooth consistency that is easy to pour(but not too runny). Stir in the fruit salt at the end, and pour the mixture immediately in to a microwave bowl after oiling its sides lightly.

Cover the bowl with an airtight lid and cook the mixture for about 4-5 minutes (at about an 800 W setting).  Check, by inserting a knife in the middle if the dhokla is done else cook for another minute. Leave the bowl in the microwave for half a minute before taking it out.

In a small pan, heat a tbsp of oil, then add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves and fry till the mustard seeds crackle. Pour this mixture over the dhokla, spread the coconut and coriander evenly,  then cut the dhokla after a few minutes in to pieces as big or small as you like.

With some coriander chutney, this is just a delicious treat.

Thank you, Pooja !!


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Poppy Seed Loaf

This is a cake that Shri really likes and which I I baked a lot before the kids began to have the first – and often the ruling – say over what we eat.

He is very fond of the slightly crunchy texture that this cake gets from the poppy seeds; and he loves the candied cherries that go in to it, too. So this year I decided I’d make it for his birthday, and never mind what the girls would say, for once.

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Poppy Seed Loaf

2 eggs

1/2 cup of butter

3/4 cup of sugar

1 and 1/4 tsps of lemon juice

2 cups of All purpose flour (I often mix all purpose and whole wheat flours, or add a tbsp of wheat germ to the all purpose flour)

2 and 1/2 tsps of baking powder

1/2 tsp of salt

1/2 cup of chopped candied cherries

1/4 cup of poppy seeds

3/4 cup of milk

Warm the milk very slightly and mix with the poppy seeds in a bowl. Leave this mixture to stand for 20-30 minutes.

In a second bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and cherries so that the cherries are well-coated with the flour (this will keep them from sinking to the bottom).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the sugar, butter(softened a little; to do this, put the butter in the microwave for just a few seconds) and beat together until smooth.

Add the lemon juice, and then the poppy seeds mixture. Now add the flour mixture, and stir it in.

Bake for 45-60 minutes at 180degreesC. Leave the cake in the pan for half an hour after you take the pan out of the oven, then turn it out gently on to a cake plate.

As it turned out Noor seems to like the taste and has readily had a slice for gouter more than once since I made the cake last week; so one out of two is not too bad.

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Rosemary-scented Baked Potatoes

This one is worth making just for the heavenly aroma of rosemary that permeates the air as the potatoes bake.

And the potatoes are really delicious too, so the sight of the serving bowl was greeted with rapturous welcome when I made them a few days ago after a long gap of some months.

Indira likes them so much she was moved to say she wished that the rest of us didn’t like them, because that way she could have them all !!

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Baked Potatoes with Rosemary

6 large potatoes

3-4 tbsp of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated

sea salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper, about 1/2 a tsp (add less or more, as you like)

2 tbsps worth of fresh rosemary leaves (these should ideally be chopped, I guess, but I just take the leaves off the stems, rinse them and use them as is)

Peel the potatoes and cut them in to 5mm thick wedges. Set the oven to heat now, at 200degreesC.

Put the potatoes in a mixing bowl, add the salt, and leave for 5 minutes.

Now add the rest of the ingredients, mix well and spread in a single layer on a baking tray. Place the tray at the top of the oven and leave the potatoes to cook for 45-50 minutes.

And enjoy the aroma of rosemary that will begin to fill the kitchen soon 🙂

Half way through, turn over each wedge with a pair of tongs, to cook evenly.

These potatoes work very well as a snack or a starter, or on the side with a soup or a salad. And I am always secretly hoping for some to be left over – though this rarely happens – so that I can put them in to a piece of baguette or some other bread the next day, with some salad leaves and cheese, for a sandwich lunch.

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A meeting to remember

In India, some days ago, I met the most wonderful lady.

I wish I could express better, in that sentence, the  impact she made on my heart and mind.

I was visiting an organization called Stree Mukti Sanghatana with a group of women bank executives from South Africa.

We were there to learn about some of the innovative ways in which this NGO works in the cause of improving the lives of disadvantaged women.

Among their other programs, the one that had caught my eye and due to which I had arranged this visit for the group was this NGO’s waste management program called the Parisar Vikas Project. The organization trains women waste pickers in waste handling and waste collection; it helps them form waste co-operatives; helps them get the right price for the waste they collect for recycling; helps these women to establish micro credit groups; trains them in skills such as composting and vermiculture that use waste; runs bio-gas plants based on waste; promotes health awareness and education for the families of waste pickers.

Seeing some of these projects run by the NGO’s workers- such as the composting pits at a housing colony near the NGO’s office in Chembur which provide the manure for a local plant nursery and the plants and trees growing  around the buildings, and a bio-gas plant (also in the area)was a very instructive experience in what can be achieved with “waste”, and one that made me question why we let such powerful, effective ideas go unnoticed and unsung.

We were also fortunate to be able to spend some time with the founder, Ms. Jyoti Mhapsekar.

All the times I talked to her on the phone from here, when I was trying to finalize the details of this meeting before going to India, I gathered only that she seemed very open to sharing her experience with us.

But the hour or so we spent talking with her helped me see the uncommon wisdom and courage of conviction that have made her dedicate the last 30 years of her life to dealing with problems most of us only talk and fret about, without doing anything to address the causes.

She was a slight figure dressed in a modest sari, with the simplicity and sweetness so typical of our mothers; yet she spoke  with such passion about things -the need for a scientific mind and one that is open to ideas, the need for attitudinal changes in society – be it towards recycling or towards women’s issues (she spoke of their efforts to enlist men to teach other men to respect women -a “man to man” approach which I thought a very interesting idea), the need to provide good child care for poor women’s babies so that the mothers can go to work; the need to educate children about environmental issues.

I came away wanting to be a lot more like her, someone that makes a real,improving difference to the world around herself.

More power to you and your ilk, Mrs. Mhapsekar. You and your team have my heartfelt admiration.

To read about Stree Mukti Sangathana see http://www.streemuktisanghatana.org/

On the subject of recycling, another organization that I have read about, which has had great success with it’s efforts in waste management, is Conserve, a delhi-based NGO.  CNN’s Global Challenges program ran a story on it , which can be viewed here –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?hl=en&v=ByRBJuCHZSc&gl=US

For more about Conserve, read here –

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/from-bags-to-riches-the-recycling-project-which-starts-in-indias-rubbish-tips-522321.html

https://globotrends.pbwiki.com/Recycling-plastic-bags-into-fashion-accessories

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