Cheers to a sweet indulgence that breaks no “keto” rules

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were at Saravana Bhavan for lunch.  Me hankering for my favorite combination platter, him scanning for his keto friendly options.  And when my plate came with sheera (a cream of wheat dessert), he was not a happy camper.  It was like a three-year-old who wanted to have the same dessert, but his disciplined nature would not allow him to!

Back home, I kept hearing the little groans of wanting a similar dessert.  So, with the ingredients in our pantry and fridge, I whipped up these almond dessert cups.  He loved them and of course, I was happy that they were ready in about 20 minutes (minus the refrigeration time, if you prefer it cold).

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups milk (I used 2% since that’s what I had at home)
  • .5 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 cups almond flour
  • 1 cup allulose (you could use erythritol)
  • 1 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2 tsp sliced almonds (plus a few more for decorating)
  • 4 tsp ghee

How To:

1. Pour the milk and heavy cream into a heavy bottom pan and warm the mixture ever so slightly over a low flame.

2. Turn off the stove, sprinkle the almond flour, allulose, and cardamom powder into the milk/cream mixture and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or spatula.

3. Turn the stove back on, add the ghee and keep stirring the mixture at medium heat till it thickens and is the consistency of thick glue (about 15 minutes).

4. Turn off the stove and portion the dessert into six little cups and top with the remaining almonds.

Enjoy!

PS.  You can have it warm or serve it cold after sticking it in the fridge for an hour.

Crave the fries, skip the high carbs

It’s my new favorite versatile vegetable and it will only be making an appearance at my local farmers market for a few more weeks.  Yes, I’m continuing my love fest with Kohlrabi.  These fries are so easy and ready in 25 minutes with hardly any work involved.  Our fries disappeared within nanoseconds of appearing on the table.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kohlrabi, peeled and sliced into french fry size sticks
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Paprika or hot chilly powder to taste

How To:

1. Preheat over to 420 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Toss the kohlrabi sticks with olive oil, salt, and paprika or chilly powder.

3. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and stick it in the oven.

4. At the halfway mark, flip the kohlrabi sticks and continue baking for the remainder of the time.

5. Remove from oven, rest for a minute at room temperature and serve with your favorite sauce or dip.

Tip: I served mine with a quick dip made by mixing two tbsps of mayonnaise (you can use the vegan kind), with a sprinkle of salt and a nice sprinkle of berbere.

Enjoy!

Tangy meets spicy in this apricot chutney

I bought a batch of apricots from the farmers market and while they were yummy, they had a level of “new to the season” tartness to them.  Contemplating a variety of baking projects to use up the apricots, I hit upon an idea; could they take the place of tomatoes in a favorite, spicy chutney?

My excitement kicked up a couple of notches when I saw the farm fresh red onions waiting to be invited to this party.

Quickly, I assembled the ingredients.

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A few quick steps and out emerged a chutney which was fiery, tangy and super yummy!

Ingredients:

  • 4 farm fresh apricots, seeded and cut into small chunks
  • 2 farm fresh red onions, leaves removed and finely chopped
  • 3 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 dried red chilly
  • 1 heaped teaspoon hot curry powder
  • 2 tbsps oil (I used avocado oil)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 heaped tsp cilantro leaves for garnishing

How To:

1. Heat the oil in a flat-bottomed pan or wok and when hot, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and dried red chilly.  When the mustard seeds stop crackling, add the onions, green chilies, ginger, and garlic and fry till the onions turn brown.

2. Add the chopped apricots, toss with the onion mixture and cook covered till the apricots are close to done.  They should be easy to smash with a spatula.

3. Add the salt and curry powder, mix well, turn off the stove and garnish with fresh cilantro.

4. The chutney is ready in 15 minutes and goes beautifully with steamed rice, flatbread, as a spicy condiment with eggs and more!

PS: Everyone’s spice tolerance varies, so please feel free to adjust the chilies and curry powder to suit your palate.

First blush of love with kohlrabi

Yes, you might say that for someone who cooks often, I’ve been living under a rock.  I had never tasted kohlrabi and while I had spotted it at farmers’ markets, I had never adventured to cook with it.  But all that changed with a recent discovery – that it is a versatile vegetable that is low in carbs.

“What does it taste like?”, I asked my favorite farmer.  She said it had the slight spiciness of a radish married with the crispness of a green apple.  I proceeded to buy a bunch and cautiously tasted a slice.  The taste and the texture translated into my aha moment – this might be a good low carb substitute for potatoes in any number of dishes, enabling my husband to indulge in a version of some of his favorite high carb foods.

The stew that I created is a favorite from my childhood days.  Dad and mom made this concoction of ginger, green chilies, potatoes, onions and coconut milk which was the perfect accompaniment to steamed rice or fresh bread.  Out went the potatoes and in came the kohlrabis to make their debut in this simple, yummy comfort food which turned out to be a big hit.

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium-sized farm fresh kohlrabi, skin removed and chopped into cubes
  • 1 large red onion chopped into pieces the same size as the kohlrabi
  • 6 green chilies, 2 finely chopped and four sliced vertically (less if you can’t tolerate heat)
  • 1.5-inch piece ginger finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • A few sprigs of curry leaves (optional)

How To:

1. Place all the ingredients except the coconut milk in a pan, cover the vegetables with water and cook covered till the kohlrabi is firm but done – a fork inserted should slide in easily, but the vegetable should retain its shape (about 15-20 minutes).  At this point, there will be some water in the pan, but it will not be watery.

2. Add the coconut milk, mix gently and simmer the mixture for a few minutes.

3. Turn off the stove and wait 10 minutes before serving the stew with steamed rice or bread.

4. The result is super yum and a gift for those on a low carb diet.

Tip 1:  You could also puree this and serve it as a soup and it tastes amazing, the combination of chilies and coconut milk playing a tropical dance on your tongue!

Tip 2: You could use cauliflower instead of kohlrabi for another lovely low carb version as well.

If you cook kohlrabi frequently, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

A Netflix episode of Chef’s Table inspires this dish

Like many of the foodies in the universe, I love watching food shows, listening to food podcasts, buying and getting cookbooks from the library….you get the gist.

A few nights ago, I started watching Episode 1 from Season 3 of Chef’s Table on Netflix.  In this episode, Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk from South Korea, espouses the virtues of cooking as a soulful process and how vegan food made with the simplest of ingredients can transport you to a state of bliss.  I don’t know if it was her energy, the beauty of the temple grounds, her artistic way of transcending simple ingredients or her penchant for storytelling that had me glued.  But when she narrated how her father transformed from feeling sorry for her because she gave up eating meat into a content man after tasting her shiitake mushrooms cooked with sesame oil and soy sauce, I could not rush out fast enough to grab ingredients to create this in my kitchen.

While Jeong Kwan did not necessarily share a recipe, it was simple enough to try.  I took the shiitake mushrooms and cut little indentations into the caps like she did.  I proceeded to saute the mushrooms in sesame oil and soy sauce with just one modification, the addition of thinly sliced ginger.

The result was a melt in your mouth amalgamation of flavors, one that took minutes to create but whose taste made me want to savor every bite 🙂

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Ingredients:

  • 2 four oz packets of shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dark sesame oil
  • One inch square of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • Salt – only if needed

How To:

1.Remove the stems from the mushrooms and cut two slits crosswise across the caps (see picture).  Gently wash and dry the mushrooms. 

2. Heat the sesame oil and when it is warm, add the ginger and fry for a minute. 

3. Add the mushrooms and toss gently in the oil taking care that the mushrooms don’t break. 

4. Add the soy sauce and toss the mushrooms gently again, coating with the soy sauce and sesame oil. 

5. Add salt only if needed. 

6. Cook for two-three minutes and turn off the stove.

7. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you’ve created a dish from an episode of Chef’s Table, we’d love to hear about your version!

PS.  I’d like to give a shout out to chef Eric Ripert, a follower of Buddhist principles, for bringing us the talent and wisdom of Jeong Kwan.

Spicy garlic naans – the keto way…..and no, I’m not kidding!

Indian breads are simply divine, especially steaming hot naans as they make their way from the oven to the table, waiting to be dribbled with butter and consumed with oodles of spicy vegetables.  But there is a caveat – they use a ton of flour which is not keto friendly at all.

Continuing in the spirit of one meal for all family members with a special adjustment for the hubby, I created these spicy, mini garlic naans.  They are totally yummy and pretty easy to turn out from prep to table.

Ingredients:

  • 100 gms of fresh mozzarella cheese, broken into smaller pieces (you can also use shredded mozzarella cheese if that is easier)
  • 50 gms almond flour
  • One tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • Two cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tiny slices of habanero pepper (or chili pepper or any sweet pepper if you don’t like your food spicy)
  • Salt to taste

How To:

1.Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Put the shredded or cut up pieces of mozzarella cheese in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 40 seconds or till mozzarella is melted (if a few bits remain, that’s okay). 

3. Add the almond flour, cilantro, garlic, peppers and a wee bit of salt to taste and use your hands to quickly mix the ingredients into a soft dough (see picture below).  Set aside dough for 10 minutes.

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4. Divide the dough into five equally sized balls.

5. Spread a piece of parchment paper (cookie sheet size) on a cutting board, put a ball of dough on the paper, fold the parchment paper over the dough and gently roll it into a disc about 4.5 inches in diameter.  Gently lift the disc with a spatula and set it aside on a plate.  Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.

6. Now take the parchment paper you have just used and put it on a cookie tray.  Lay down the breads on the tray as shown below.

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7. Bake on the lower rack of the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 minutes. 

8. Remove from tray and transfer to a plate immediately.

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Serve warm!

“Keto” plays havoc in my life before some semblance of order is restored

Just as we approached the holiday season, my husband made a unilateral decision (he did not check in with me) to go on the keto diet to shed a few pounds.  I was horrified! Me…. the food lover whose life was filled with a kaleidoscope of textures and flavors was suddenly listening 24×7 to keto speak – high fat, low carb, not this vegetable, not that flour…..in other words enough to drive me mad!  Our Costco runs ended with huge blocks of cheese and more eggs than I had ever seen in my grocery basket and our Amazon deliveries now included almond flour, coconut flour, psyllium husk and shiratake noodles.  Oh and I was getting regular texts on how these ingredients could be magically converted into yummy meals in the keto universe.  My world was getting torpedoed and I needed to bring back some sanity.

After being the supportive spouse for a bit, trying out new keto recipes, I came to a decision (a unilateral one).  I would cook main stream meals and have a subset that was keto friendly rather than creating separate meals for all of us and taking away a source of constant joy in my life.   A new normal is settling in, a stage where if coconut noodles or rice is made for dinner, my husband’s portion gets made with shiratake noodles/rice.  Our favorite pesto pasta nights continue with one difference – his pasta is made with shiratake noodles.  Our Indian food with rotis and veggies continues, his rotis now get made with almond flour and the vegetables are more keto friendly.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share the recipes for some of these dishes, but for now I wanted to put up a few pictures of some of these “keto” approved dishes that have enabled us to live a new level of family normal!

I’d love to hear your stories and recipes on how you might have integrated special diets into your mainstream family meals.  And if you were able to do it with zero frustration, then I am even more in awe of you!

PS.  If you are curious, yes the diet has worked beautifully for my husband!

Oh dear carrots – you’ve warmed my heart on a cold winter day!

glThey sat there in the fridge looking expectantly at me on a cold winter day.  The little bag of baby carrots, waiting to be let out and begging me to unleash some creativity.

Hunger and not necessity is sometimes the mother of invention.  So, I took the carrots and blanched the entire contents of the little bag.  And then very simply tossed these warm carrots with tahini, olive oil, berbere, green chillies, fresh coriander, mint and lemon juice to create a salad that was the perfect, healthy lunch.  It really is as simple as mixing these ingredients, but if you need a more precise how-to, here it is.

Ingredients:

One small bag of baby carrots (One pound bag)

Two tbsps tahini

One tbsp olive oil

Two tbsps chopped coriander leaves

Two tbsps chopped mint leaves

Two tsps berbere (or paprika or one tsp chilly powder)

One hot green chilly finely chopped

Juice of half a lemon

How to:

Mix all the ingredients and serve hot or cold as a salad or side dish.  If you have a few pomegranate seeds, you can use these for a colorful garnish.

 

 

 

Pinch me and tell me this is for real!

If I rattle off the following words in no particular order – lucky, amazing, beautiful, incredible, unbelievable, memorable, special – does it conjure a certain visual imagery for you? For me, it is these words along with the Hindi word  “kismat” that sum up how I felt last Saturday night walking out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City.  It was almost a “Cinderellaesque” moment, except I wanted the night to linger on as I descended the steps of the Met and got into my cab to head back home.

So what was it that led me to this happy, blissful state?  First and foremost it was clearing a wait list to take part in an event.  Not just any event, but one that brought together Madhur Jaffrey, the prolific actress, chef, and writer with Yotam Ottolenghi, the man whose recipes I’ve been creating joyfully in my kitchen since discovering him during our time in the UK.  These two stalwarts were coming together with Floyd Cardoz, yet another luminary on the Indian food scene to host a “Feast of India” at the Met.  Tickets had been sold out since April and yet through some magnificent stroke of luck, I cleared the waiting list a few days before the event.   Not only did I come beaming ear to ear, but lady luck blessed me with front row seats where I sat within arm’s length of my beloved chefs and next to their families and the curators of the event.  And that was just the kick off to a brilliant evening that had me pinching myself in disbelief at every turn.

Since the lavish evening banquet was in conjunction with the brilliant photography exhibit Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs, the event was kicked off by the talented Mia Fineman, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at the Met who spoke eloquently about Raghubir Singh’s talents, a topic that was deftly woven into the discussion on vibrant  food and flavors throughout the evening.

As dishes from the north, south, east and west of India were brought out family style and the audience dug in, Yotam embarked on a Q&A with Madhur, asking questions about each dish and Madhur waxing eloquence in fluid prose with a little story and factoid on each dish followed by a video that demonstrated the dish being prepared.  Periods of audience silence were followed by animated chatter where each of us tried to pick our favorites.  Over the course of two hours, Yotam and Madhur paired up playfully to take the audience on a beautiful journey through the tastes of the Indian landscape. From bhelpuri to aloo parathas, pesarattu to jhalmuri, the food straddled the line between familiar and unfamiliar tastes.

As someone who can talk, eat, dream and cook food around the clock, I was just latching on to every word that came from Yotam and Madhur and truly had my fangirl moment when I got to speak to each of them and take pictures too! Floyd Cardoz who supervised the kitchen and was the vision behind the food served talked at the end about his experience creating bolder flavors for the American palate.  He affirmed that the world of bold, bright, deep flavors is here to stay and the world has shifted to a more adventurous mood in terms of food and eating habits.

It is incredibly hard to take a country like India with its kaleidoscope of colors, emotions, people, and flavors and bottle it into a two-hour experience, but the event curators at the Met really did a beautiful job of making the most of this enriching, informative, delicious event.

I’m still basking in the glow of happiness, recreating the evening in my head and trying to source the perfect green chickpeas that as a seasoned Indian and a decent cook I had never tasted in my life till the Met opened my eyes!

!

 

 

When a favorite Indian dessert gets converted into an exotic cake

We all have rituals that make us smile.  For my husband, it is the act of eating a single piece of the Indian sweet Rasmalai which never fails to put a smile on his face.  So when Melissa Clark from the New York Times converted this sweet into a cake for a good friend, I absolutely had to recreate it in my kitchen.

Just a quick primer on Rasmalai.  It literally translates into “Ras” meaning juice and “malai” meaning cream.  It’s a dessert made with homemade cheese and served in a milk-based syrup flavored with rosewater, cardamom and sometimes saffron.

What Melissa did is absolutely brilliant and I continue to learn and be inspired by the art and science of this creation.  Mirroring the inspiration is accomplished through the beautiful art of layering flavors.  The cakes are subtly flavored with cardamom and rose water, then get a soak of milk that is infused with cardamom, followed by a sandwiching process with rose water flavored ricotta filling and a final, stylish flourish of creamy, mascarpone frosting that has a subtle flavor of rose water.

And here’s the final end product staged with a topping of dried rose petals and pistachios.  A sight to behold and a beautiful treat to devour.

As you might have guessed by now, you’ve got to tell yourself the calories are not real and simply a figment of your imagination:)

If you’d like to recreate this, here’s the link to the recipe I followed.

PS.  I do want to thank all the readers/experimenters of the original recipe who generously shared their learnings.  This was instrumental in turning my creation out beautifully!

A few last dates between zucchinis and tomatoes before they are gone!

It’s October; that means if we are lucky, we have several more weeks of the best veggies that we can pick up at our local farm.  Yesterday, I picked up the juiciest cherry tomatoes and zucchinis that looked absolutely beautiful in the most exuberant shade of green.  So for lunch today, I created a salad for one with these two ingredients being the mainstay.  Not only was it delish, you’ve got to agree that it is just a beautiful sight to behold as well!

Ingredients:

One small zucchini converted into ribbons with a vegetable peeler

8-10 cherry tomatoes halved

8-10 pistachios (or any nut for crunch)

One tsp extra virgin olive oil

One tsp lemon juice

Half a tsp of berbere, paprika or chili powder

Salt to taste

 

How to:

Put the zucchini ribbons at the center of a plate.

Arrange the sliced tomatoes, cut side up, in a circle around the zucchini.

Sprinkle salt to taste and berbere (or paprika or chili powder) on the zucchini ribbons and tomatoes.

Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over the salad.

Garnish with pistachios (or other nuts) and dig in!

Easy, breezy green papaya salad

I’m so so grateful that the world of salads is where it is today…..throw in any combination of pulses, greens, fruits, nuts or more and create a new concoction each day.

True to that spirit, I took my love for the yummy green papaya salad served at Thai restaurants and created my own.

Ingredients:

Half a green papaya shredded (green papayas are readily available at Asian Food Stores)

Two medium sized or plum tomatoes thinly sliced

Two hot green chilies thinly sliced

One lime zested and juiced

A few tbsps of cilantro (I use more since I love the flavor)

Two tbsps soy sauce

A tsp of sugar

Two tbsps peanuts crushed (I used the spiced kind, you can use plain as well)

Salt to taste

 

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Ingredients for green papaya salad

 

How to:

In a bowl, mix the shredded papaya, tomatoes and green chilies.

Mix the soy sauce, salt, sugar, lime zest and lime juice to make the dressing.

Add the dressing to the veggies and toss.

Sprinkle the cilantro and crushed nuts on the salad.

Serve with a slice of lime and a chilly on the side.

Enjoy!

Simply put, this cake is magical!

I’ve expressed this form of love before and here I go at it again.  Yes, it is Yotam Ottolenghi yet again along with his baking partner Helen Goh who have me in raptures. Well, it is not really them, but their “Pistachio and Rose Water Semolina Cake” that was just featured in the New York Times that has me all excited.

Just reading the list of ingredients (pistachio, rose-water, lemon juice, almond meal and more) had me in the car on an assembly spree.

And this afternoon, as the pistachios whirred in the food processor and the smell of rose-water wafted in my kitchen, I almost felt like I had been blessed with a virtual visit from the talented powerhouse of Goh and Ottolenghi.

If one could describe the ideal dessert as one where beauty makes a connection with the soul, this has got to be it.

Just a few words of warning!

This does not follow my penchant for light dishes.

True to its middle eastern origin, the cake is sweet and blends in many an exotic flavor. So if you want to get on a magic carpet and take a ride with a subliminal blend of tastes, here’s the way to get on this trip.

Pistachio and Rose Water Semolina Cake

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Climbing Skirrid Fawr in Abergavenny – A photo essay on the beauty that greets you

By Lakshmi:

On my last birthday, I wanted to hike up the other mountain that we saw every time we walked about town in Abergavenny – Skirrid Fawr.  According to legend, part of the mountain is said to have been broken off at the moment of the crucifixion of Jesus.  So, early on my birthday, armed with a couple of water bottles, we parked our car at the bottom of the mountain and began our climb.  There were just a handful of cars in the parking lot and throughout our hike, we just saw a few hikers ascending or descending the summit.

The hike is neither easy nor difficult.  But there are definitely a lot of steep inclines and steps along the way.  So, be prepared to take your time and rest up along the way if you need to.  We simply followed the signs to the top.  The information from National Trust on How to climb Skirrid Fawr provides a good how-to as well.

And here is a photo essay of our climb!

 

 

 

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