Eggless Christmas Fruit cake
In my childhood, we used to share Diwali sweets and snacks with our neighbors, who reciprocated the favor during Christmas. Oh, I absolutely love those awesome fruitcakes they make for Christmas! With great hesitation, I tried the eggless version of the fruit cake,  but it came out pretty good. Wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year!


Ingredients:

all-purpose flour - 1 1/2 cups
butter - 2 sticks
raisins - 1 cup
dried cherries - 1/4 cup
dried cranberries - 1/3 cups
dried blueberries - 1/4 cup
apple juice - 3/4 cup
baking powder - 1 tsp
baking soda - 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp
vinegar - 1 tbsp
sugar (light brown) - 1/2 cup
milk - 3 tbsp

Method:

Soak dried fruit in apple juice overnight.
Mix 1/2 tsp baking soda in vinegar and keep aside.
Sift flour, baking powder and the remaining half teaspoon baking soda (I repeat this process a few times).

Blend butter, sugar and vinegar together with a hand-blender. Add flour mixture slowly, along with milk. Drain the soaked dry-fruits and use the liquid little by little to prepare the cake batter. Mix in the soaked dry-fruits. Pour into a buttered cake pan and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees (Fahrenheit) for about 90 minutes, or until skewer comes out clean.

Notes:
1. The batter is usually thicker for fruitcake than regular cake.
2. Any combination of dry fruits can be used, but sugar needs to be adjusted according to the sweetness of the dry fruits.
Creamy Dum Aloo
Who doesn't love baby potatoes? Carefully selected, golden fried baby potatoes in rich and creamy gravy, this item is sure to be a hit in any party! Just put calorie-counting on hold while gorging on this though :)


Ingredients:

baby potatoes - 8
tomatoes - 2 (medium)
green chillies - 4 (adjust according to taste)
ginger - 1 1/2 inch piece, peeled (or ginger paste - 1 tsp)
red chilli powder - 1/4 tsp
coriander powder - 3/4 tsp
garam masala - 1/2 tsp
turmeric powder - a pinch
cashewnuts - 2 tbsp (chopped)
milk - 1/4 cup
whipped cream - 2 tbsp
yogurt - 1/2 cup, beaten
oil - 2 tbsp
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
fresh coriander leaves - 2 tbsp (chopped)

Method:

Boil baby potatoes (or microwave them for five minutes), cool, peel them and keep aside.

Soak cashewnuts in warm milk for 10 minutes.

Grind chopped tomatoes, green chillies and ginger in a food processor. Keep aside.

Grind soaked cashwenuts and blend in the whipped cream. Keep aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil and lightly fry the cooked baby potatoes. when it starts turning golden brown, remove from fire, prick all over with a fork and keep aside. Heat the remaining oil and add the blended tomato mixture. Add turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder and salt. Cook for 5 minutes. Add beaten yogurt and cook for another 3 minutes. Drop the baby potatoes into the mixture and pour the cashew-cream mixture over it. Add about a cup of water and garam masala. Cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture reaches the required gravy consistency. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with flat breads or rice.
Walnut halwa
We all know that nuts are a great option for healthy snacking. I usually don't pay much attention to those flyers from my health insurer, but there was one that spoke about nuts, which caught my attention. It identified walnuts as the king of nuts, when it comes to nutritional value. Being a great source of omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids, the antioxidant ellargic acid and anti-inflammatory properties, it helps support the immune system, fight cancer and protect heart health, among an array of health benefits. So, I decided to try using this incredible nut as the key ingredient in my dessert this birthday! Happy Thanksgiving!



Ingredients (makes about 1 1/2 cups of halwa):

walnut - 2 cups (chopped) + 2 tbsp for garnishing
milk - 1 cup
sugar - 1 cup
ghee (clarified butter) - 2 tbsp
water - 1/4 cup

Method:

Take walnuts with milk in a microwaveable bowl. Warm it up for about 3 minutes. Let the walnuts soak in milk for a couple of hours. When cool, grind them in a food processor to get a smooth paste.

Heat sugar, add water and as soon as it starts bubbling, add the walnut paste and keep stirring. Once it starts thickening, add ghee. When the mixture reaches halwa consistency and leaves the sides of the pan, add the walnut pieces set aside for garnishing, remove from fire, allow to cool and enjoy lukewarm!
Eggless vanilla teacake
When I was in India, we never had a baking oven. Since childhood, it was my dream to be able to bake some day. When I moved to the US, where almost every home has a baking oven, this was the first cake I baked - and to this day, it is my personal favorite.



Ingredients:

all-purpose flour - 2 cups
sweetened condensed milk - 1 can
butter - 1 stick (8 tbsp)
baking powder - 1 tsp
baking soda - 3/4 tsp
orange juice or soda - 3/4 cup
yogurt - 5 tbsp
vanilla extract - 1 tsp

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). Sift flour with baking powder and baking soda. (I repeat this process 3 to 4 times). Set aside.

Blend condensed milk and butter with a hand mixer until well-blended. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until fluffy. Pour into a greased baking tray and bake for 45 to 60 minutes until skewer comes out clean. Serve warm with tea.

Notes:
Baking powder and baking soda need to be mixed thoroughly with flour.
Thattai (Rice flour thin crisps)
I'm surprised at how I hadn't thought of posting my husband's favorite savory rice flour thin crisps (thattai) so far. This is my grandmother's traditional recipe, also one of the items I made this Diwali. While it is not difficult to make, it certainly is time-consuming, but the result is well worth it.



Ingredients:

rice flour - 2 cups
black gram (urad dal) powder - 2 tbsp
grated coconut - 2/3 cup
curry leaves - a few twigs
butter - 2 tbsp
bengal gram (chana dal) - 2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1 tsp
white sesame seeds - 1 tsp
chilli powder - 2 tsp (adjust according to taste)
salt - 1 1/2 tsp (adjust according to taste)
water - a little more than 1 cup

Method:

Soak bengal gram (chana dal)  in water and microwave for a minute or 2 until warm. Grind curry leaves and coconut in food processor. Keep aside.

Fry cumin seeds and sesame seeds in butter. Add coconut and fry for a minute. Then add the rice flour and urad flour. Roast until it no longer smells raw and starts turning slightly pinkish. Mix in the soaked gram, salt and chilli powder. Knead to a soft dough. Flatten out into round discs and deep fry till golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature and immediately store in an air-tight container.
Spicy sweet-potato fry
When I visited my physician for the annual check-up, I shared my general diet chart with her and asked for suggestions. She mentioned to include sweet-potatoes at least once a week, given the enormous amount of Vitamin A and other essential nutrients it contains. But that posed a bit of a challenge as my husband does not like anything sweet as part of his meal (unless it is explicitly a dessert). So, I had to come up with a way to suppress as much of the sweetness as possible. When I made this recipe, he was racking his brain as to what it was, but couldn't make out that it was sweet-potato fry!


Ingredients:

sweet potatoes - 2 (peeled and grated)
red chilli powder - 1 tsp
salt - 1 tsp
turmeric powder - a pinch
asafoetida - a pinch
curry leaves - a twig
oil - 1 tbsp
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1 tsp
curry powder - 1/2 tsp

Method:

Heat oil. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and black gram. When it splutters and starts turning golden brown, add asafoetida, curry leaves, salt, turmeric powder and red chilli powder. Stir to mix and add the grated sweet potatoes. Stir and allow to cook for about 5 to 7 minutes until soft but not mushy. Add curry powder, mix well and serve fresh.

Notes:
Grate sweet-potato in medium to large-sized julianne, so it gets cooked properly without turning mushy.
Quinoa chocolate halwa
We have tried different things with the nutrition-rich quinoa, but I wanted to figure out how well it lends itself to a sweet dish. Quite surprisingly, its nutty flavor passed the test with flying colors! I should confess that I needed a good amount of vanilla extract to mask its smell which put me off a bit, but the added flavor did the trick and it tasted great!


Ingredients (serves 4):

quinoa - 1 cup
milk - 4 cups
sugar - 1 cup
cocoa powder - 2 tbsp
ghee (clarified butter) - 4 tbsp
sliced almonds - 3 tbsp
vanilla extract - a few drops

Method:

Cook quinoa in 2 cups of milk. Cool and pulse in a food processor with 2 cups of milk, to form a smooth paste - well, as smooth as possible (it is difficult to grind whole quinoa to a completely smooth paste). Heat sugar with 1/4 cup water. Once it dissolves, add quinoa paste. Dissolve cocoa powder in a little milk and add to the quinoa-sugar mixture. Add vanilla extract and cook for a few minutes until the mixture thickens. Mix in the ghee and 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds. Stir until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Decorate with the remaining sliced almonds and serve warm.
Chayote Squash Stew

Chayote squash is probably not a major favorite in any household. It is one of those less-talked-about vegetables that seems to vanish into the background of the veggie world. This simple, tasty, fiber-rich stew is the only recipe I make with chayote squash, which is one of the few vegetables my husband eats without complaining.


Ingredients:

chayote squash - 2 (Peeled and chopped fine)
mung beans - 1/2 cup
green chillies - 2 (adjust according to taste)
sambar powder - 1 tsp
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp (or ginger - 1 inch piece - peeled, chopped fine)
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
turmeric powder - a pinch
asafoetida - a pinch
oil - 2 tsp
lemon juice - 1 tbsp
salt - 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Method:

Heat a teaspoon of oil and add cumin seeds, asafoetida and green chillies. Then add washed mung beans and fry for a minute. Add chayote squash, turmeric powder, sambar powder and salt. Pressure cook with about 3 cups of water until the beans are done. Mix in the lemon juice. Heat the remaining oil with mustard seeds and black gram. When the gram turns golden, pour over the stew and cover immediately. Leave covered for a minute and serve hot with rice or breads.
Whole-grain Chinese vegetable fried rice
My husband and I are usually on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to Chinese food. This version of Chinese fried rice is the only exception. The colorful medley of vegetables combined with the goodness of whole grain and the crispiness of bean sprouts, simmered in Chinese seasoning, caters to every taste.


Ingredients: (serves 2)


long grain brown rice - 1 cup
scallion (spring onions) - 1/2 cup (chopped fine)
diced carrots+peas - 1/2 cup (cooked separately)
bean sprouts - 1/3 cup
sesame seed oil - 1 1/2 tbsp
vinegar - 1 tbsp
light soy sauce - 2 1/2 tbsp
crushed ginger - 1 tsp
sesame seeds - 1/4 tsp
pepper - 1/4 tsp
salt - 1/2 tsp

Method:
Soak brown rice in 6 cups of water overnight (or soak in warm water for a couple of hours) and microwave for 35 minutes (or until cooked). Keep aside and allow to cool. Heat sesame seed oil in a wok and fry scallion till done. Add prepared rice, carrots+peas and ginger. Mix in the soy sauce, vinegar and bean sprouts. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle sesame seeds and serve fresh.

Notes:
Adjust seasoning according to taste.
Grilled veggie sandwich
This has been a "back to basics" week for me - getting back to good health, starting off on a new project, minimal cooking, etc. Just to give a fresh start to my kitchen as well, we settled for this refreshing bite today.


Ingredients (makes 5 sandwiches):

whole grain sandwich bread - 10 slices
red bell pepper - 1
green bell pepper - 1
yellow squash - 1
mozzarella cheese - 5 tsp (grated)
zucchini - 1
olive oil - 3 tbsp
hot paprika or crushed red pepper - 1/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
turmeric powder - a pinch (optional)
salt - 1/3 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Method:

Cut bell peppers into 4 slices (removing the seeds, stem, etc.) Cut zucchini and squash into 2 or 3 parts (about 2.5 inches long each), depending upon the size of the vegetables. Then cut them lengthwise into half (as shown in the picture).

Mix olive oil, paprika/red pepper, salt and turmeric in a small bowl. Brush a coating of the spiced oil mixture over the vegetables and bread on both sides. Grill each type of vegetable and bread separately as per your grill's instructions for each.

Assemble the sandwiches by placing a layer of each vegetable on a slice of grilled bread while still warm, sprinkling a teaspoon of mozzarella cheese, followed by a slice of bread on top. Serve warm and fresh.
Stuffed mushrooms with creamed spinach and nut filling

Most party foods, especially appetizers, end up being rich and greasy. This is a great option for someone looking for a healthy appetizer that would be a definite party hit. Well, it does take a while to prepare, but the results are well worth the labor!



Ingredients:

large mushrooms - 30 (stems removed)
bread crumbs - 1/4 cups
olive oil - 3 tbsp (for brushing)
broken cashews - 2 tbsp (roasted)
creamed spinach - 1/2 cup (refer link for recipe)
salt to taste

Ingredients for creamed spinach filling:

spinach - 5 oz (about 150 grams)
cream cheese - 2 oz
mozzarella cheese - 2 tbsp
parmesan cheese - 1/4 cup
cayenne pepper - 1/2 tsp

Method:

Add a little salt to the olive oil. Brush mushrooms with the salted oil. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the creamed spinach (refer link for receipe). Stir the bread crumbs into the creamed spinach. Drain any excess liquid from the baked mushrooms. Arrange the mushroom cups on a baking tray and fill them with some roasted broken cashews, followed by the spinach mixture. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top and bake for 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

Notes:
Any nut of choice can be used.
Vegetable sago
Sago is widely used as a "fasting food" especially in North India. This recipe is slightly different and quite tasty - something I would love for a change, although I've not found any particularly appealing information on health benefits as such from sago.


Ingredients:

sago - 1/2 cup
potato - 1
peas+carrots(diced) - 3/4 cup (cooked with a little salt)
roasted crushed peanut - 1/4 cup
green chillies - 3 (adjust according to taste)
broken cashewnuts - 1 tbsp
oil - 2 tsp
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1/2 tsp
curry leaves - a twig
coriander leaves - a few (chopped)
turmeric powder - a pinch
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
lemon juice - 1 tbsp

Method:

Soak sago until soft. Drain on a kitchen towel and keep aside. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Heat a teaspoon of oil. Fry potato pieces with a little salt and keep aside. Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black gram and cashewnuts. When the mustard seeds start spluttering and cashews start turning light brown, add green chillies and curry leaves. Add sago, cooked carrots+peas, turmeric powder and salt. Fry for a couple of minutes. Add fried potatoes and broken peanuts and fry for a minute. Mix in the lemon juice and top with chopped coriander leaves.

Notes:
Soaking time will vary depending on the sago - if it is instant sago, just wash and drain. If it is the hard sago, it needs to be soaked for a few hours, preferably in warm water so that it soaks faster. (Do not use hot water).
Roasted red pepper snack with cream cheese topping
The first thing I need when I get home after a long day's work is a light snack. Needless to say, a person starving for a snack wouldn't have a lot of time or energy to prepare it. If it is a healthy one, that is definitely an added bonus. Most of my evening bites are sweet, but there are times when I need something salty and spicy. This is an adaptation from a delightful appetizer by the American Heart Association.


Ingredients:

red bell pepper - 1
flavored or fat-free cream cheese - 4 oz.
powdered almonds - 3 tbsp
ground pepper - 1/2 tsp
sliced almonds - 1 tbsp
oi - 1 tsp
salt to taste

Method:

Cut red pepper into 1 inch squares. Heat oil in a frying pan. Add sliced red peppers and stir fry with a pinch of salt and ground pepper for a couple of minutes. Leave it on for a few minutes. Remove from fire when the peppers just start getting grilled, while they and still crisp. Arrange on a serving plate.

Mix cream cheese with almond powder and beat until combined. Place cream cheese mixture in a piping bag
or cake decorator. Run it imaginatively on each pepper slice. Decorate with sliced almonds.
Creamed Spinach
A versatile, simple, easy, healthy and delicious dish, I could enjoy the creamed spinach any time! It can be made ahead, especially to be used as a filling later, but I prefer making it fresh, as it can be made in minutes.


Ingredients: (makes about half cup)

spinach - 5 oz (about 150 grams)
cream cheese - 2 oz
mozzarella cheese - 2 tbsp
parmesan cheese - 1/4 cup
cayenne pepper - 1/2 tsp
salt to taste

Method:

Boil the spinach, cool it and pulse coarsely in a food processor. Mix in the cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, cayenne pepper and half the parmesan cheese. Stir on low heat until cheese melts and the mixture is creamy. Add a little salt if necessary. Mix well and serve as a side-dish or use as a filling.
Vermicelli noodles in yogurt sauce (Thayir semiya)
This is an interesting south Indian recipe, occasionally served in wedding feasts. I would consider it as a combination of a few south Indian recipes - the vermicelli upma, yogurt rice or raita. My husband and I like this version - it seems to contain the goodness of them all, yet so easy to prepare and serves as a guilt-free one-pot meal.


Ingredients:

vermicelli - 1 cup
carrot(diced)+beans(cut)+cabbage(grated)+peas(boiled) - 1 cup
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
green chillies - 3
yogurt - 1 1/2 cups (beaten)
cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
chaat masala - 1/2 tsp (optional)
curry leaves - 1 stalk
cashewnuts - 2 tbsp (broken)
raisins - 1 tsp
salt - 1 tsp (adjust to taste)
asafoetida - a pinch
oil - 1 tbsp

Method:

Heat 2 1/2 cups of water along with vegetables and salt (for about 2 minutes if you use the microwave). Keep aside.

Add cumin powder, chaat masala and a little salt to the beaten yogurt. Mix well and set aside.

Heat oil in a frying pan and add mustard seeds, urad dal, cashews, cumin seeds and asafoetida. When it splutters, add green chillies and curry leaves. Then add vermicelli and roast until it turns light brown. Add the water+vegetables and cook until done.

Mix in the yogurt mixture. Decorate with raisins and serve fresh.

Note:
Upto twice the quantity of the yogurt sauce can be used, depending on the consistency and taste you like.
Mini Strawberry cheesecake (low-fat)
When it comes to desserts, portion-control has always been a problem for me. These delectable, bite-sized cheesecakes are an ideal solution. They are low in fat and sugar, topped with the natural goodness of  fruits - for an almost guilt free indulgence.... If only cream cheese manufacturers can produce unsalted cream cheese, I'll be a very happy customer.....has anyone else felt so? Even better, is anyone aware of any brand that carries unsalted fat-free cream cheese (in the US)?


Ingredients (makes about 20 cheesecakes):

fat free cream cheese - 16 ounces
white chocolate baking squares - 4 ounces
sugar - 1/3 cup
fresh strawberries - 20 (approx.)
vanilla extract - 1/2 tsp (optional)

Ingredients:

Melt the baking squares. Mix in the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract. Blend well using a hand blender. Line a muffin pan with paper cups and spoon the cream cheese mixture until each muffin cup is about three-fourths full. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 20 minutes. Remove from muffin pan and cool at room temperature for an hour. Remove the muffin paper cups and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Just before serving, top the cheesecakes with fresh strawberries cut to 1-inch from the tapering end.

Notes:
1. Dried cherries can also be used for topping.
2. I use smaller muffin cups for this cheesecake - the regular-sized muffin cups can also be used, but that will produce about 12 cheesecakes.
Spicy potato and spinach curry (Alu palak)
Potatoes and spinach are an irresistible combination of taste and health. This curry is a great crowd-pleaser too. The fact that it doesn't take too long to prepare is an added advantage. Every time I prepare this, it vanishes in a flash!



Ingredients (serves 2):

potato - 1 large
spinach - 2 cups (chopped)
tomato - 1 (chopped)
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp
garam masala - 1/2 tsp
red chilli powder - 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)
cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
oil - 1 tbsp
lemon juice - 1 tsp
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Method:

Cut the potato into 1 inch cubes. Fry potatoes in oil with a little salt till they turn golden brown. Drain and keep aside. In the remaining oil, fry cumin seeds and tomatoes. Add chilli powder, garam masala, ginger paste and salt. Fry for a minute and add spinach. Fry for a couple of minutes. Add potatoes and cook covered for 5 minutes. Squeeze some lemon juice on top and serve fresh.
Avocado parsley chutney
Avocado is one of those powerhouses of vitamins and minerals, with heart-healthy fats and great for the eyes. But is it easy to get our families to eat this bland fruit? I tried adding the flavor of parsley and a touch of tanginess to make it more likeable, and it is now one of the favorite chutneys in my home!


Ingredients:

avocado - 1 (peeled and pitted)
parsley - a small bunch (stems removed)
tamarind paste - 1 tbsp
red chillies - 3
coriander seeds - 1 tsp
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1 tsp
black gram - 1 1/2 tsp
oil - 2 tsp
lemon juice - 1 tbsp

Method:

Heat a teaspoon of oil. Add a teaspoon of black gram, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. When it starts turning light brown, add red chillies. Then add parsley leaves and fry for a minute. Add tamarind paste and fry for a couple of minutes. Allow to cool and add avocado slices. Add lemon juice and blend to a smooth paste.
Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil and add mustard seeds, remaining cumin seeds and black gram. When it splutters, pour over the chutney.

Notes:
Cilantro can also be added to the mix. Parsley can be replaced with cilantro in case you do not like its taste.
Grilled eggplant panini
When a quick bite is all we need, a sandwich is the first thing that comes to mind. When we want to make it healthy and tasty, a grilled veggie panini is a great option. Eggplant particularly lends itself to grilling. My husband is allergic to eggplant, but I love eggplant. So, the grilled panini is our perfect solution, where I can use eggplant in mine and other vegetables in his sandwich. This is one of my favorite panini recipes.


Ingredients (makes 3 to 4 sandwiches)

eggplant - 1 large
whole grain sandwich buns - 6 to 8
olive oil - 1 tbsp
paprika/red chilli powder or flakes - 1/2 tsp
salt - 1/4 tsp
mozzarella cheese - 3 tbsp

Method:

Take olive oil in a bowl and mix in the paprika and salt. Cut eggplant into 1/2 inch circles. Brush eggplant and sandwich buns with seasoned olive oil mixture. Place eggplant pieces on a panini/sandwich press and grill on high until done. Grill the sandwich buns separately. Assemble the paninis by placing an eggplant piece on a sandwich bun, topping it with a tablespoon of cheese, placing another eggplant piece on top of it and covering with another sandwich bun. Serve fresh and warm.

Notes:
1. Any cheese/cheese singles can be used as per preference.
2. I use the large eggplants we get in the US - if a different variety of eggplant is used, the quantities need to be adjusted accordingly.
Red Pumpkin Milk Stew
My side-dishes for flat-breads are mostly spicy. When I felt like having something slightly sweet for a change, there was the slice of red pumpkin in the refrigerator - rich in Vitamin A and fiber, low in calories. My mom used to make a stew called "parangikai pal kootu", which I decided to try.



Ingredients (serves 2):

pumpkin - 2 cups (peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes)
milk - 3/4 cup
sambar powder - 1/2 tsp
ginger paste - 1/4 tsp
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
green chillies - 3
grated coconut - 2 tbsp
cumin seeds - 2 tsp
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1/2 tsp
lemon juice - 1 tsp
oil - 1 tsp

Method:

Grind coconut, green chillies and cumin seeds to a coarse paste in a food processor and keep aside. Heat oil and add mustard seeds and black gram. When it splutters, add pumpkin, salt, sambar powder, ginger paste and coconut mixture. Fry for a couple of minutes and then add milk. Allow to cook for a few minutes. Once the mixture just starts becoming mushy, add lemon juice, mix well and serve hot with rice or breads.

Notes:
This dish is kind of sweet and spicy. The traditional recipe calls for a touch of jaggery, but because the pumpkin in the US is already extra-sweet, I skipped this step.
Instant honey-glazed Nut balls
Quick, heathy, fresh, home-made snacks for weekday evenings are, to me, the most challenging to find. Nuts are high in fats, but these are "good" fats that help in lowering the "bad" cholesterol. After a long day's work, I made these energizing honey-nut balls in a jiffy, and they also disappeared in a jiffy!


Ingredients:

almonds - 2 cups (broken)
raisins - 1/2 cup
honey - 3 tbsp
olive oil - 1 tsp

Method:

Take almonds in a saucepan. Roast on medium heat for a couple of minutes and add raisins. Mix well and turn off the heat. Add honey and stir well. While the mixture is still warm, grease your hands with olive oil, take a handful of the mixture, press firmly and roll out into tight, lemon-sized balls.

Notes:
Any nuts or combination of nuts can be used, as per individual preferences.
Fried gram and beans stir-fry (Beans paruppu usili)
Paruppu Usili is my husband's top favorite. But I just can't get myself to prepare it - as it takes at least an hour to prepare, involves a lot of utensils and vanishes in a flash, but doesn't quite fit my "quick and healthy" bill. By the time I'm done, I'm so exhausted that all my plans for the rest of the day are thrown to the winds, and worst of all, it doesn't always taste so good either. So, mastering this dish is not something I would have ever attempted, but for my sister-in-law. She makes amazing paruppu usili, without needing a dose of glucose after the "ordeal". When she visited us this holiday season, she gladly offered to prepare it for her brother and let me share her recipe on my blog. This recipe goes to Akila's event Dish name starting with F.


Ingredients (serves 4):

beans - 1 lb (about 450 grams) chopped fine
red gram - 1/2 cup
red chillies - 5
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp (or peeled ginger - 1 inch piece)
oil - 2 tbsp
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
black gram - 1/2 tsp
curry leaves - 1 stalk (optional)
turmeric powder - a pinch
salt - 1 tsp

Method:

Soak gram in warm water for half an hour. Drain and grind with minimal necessary water to a thick paste, along with red chillies, turmeric powder, ginger and half the salt. Steam-cook the gram paste, cool and disintegrate into tiny lumps. Keep aside. Microwave the beans with the remaining half of the salt for 5 minutes (or until cooked) and keep aside. Heat oil in a saucepan. Add black gram and mustard seed. When it splutters, add curry leaves and gram lumps. Fry for about five minutes, until the gram lumps start turning golden brown. Add cooked beans, mix well and allow to fry for a couple more minutes. Serve as a side dish. Makes a particularly great combination with morkuzhambu.

Notes:
1. To steam cook, the gram paste can simply be placed on an idly plate over a thin layer of covered boiling water for about 8-10 minutes.
2. Frying the gram properly is the very essence to make or break this dish.
Brown rice bisibele bhath
The last few weeks, my primary focus on the blogging front was renovation - replacing some of the old photos with "new and improved" pictures taken with my new Canon Rebel T2i. Well, a new camera is not going to magically improve my photography skills, but it's a start! Coming to the recipe, this is another tiny step towards replacing the empty calories of white rice with the nutritive value of whole grain brown rice. Statistics reveal that people who have 5 or more servings of white rice a week have a 17% increased risk of contracting diabetes while those who take 2 or more servings of brown rice a week have 11% lesser chance of developing the disease. This recipe particularly tastes great with brown rice. I would never ever make this with white rice again!


Ingredients (serves 2):

brown rice - 1/2 cup
split yellow pigeon peas (toor dal) - 1/4 cup
red gram (masoor dal) - 1/4 cup
tamarind paste - 1 tbsp
sambar powder - 1 1/2 tsp
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp (or a 1-inch piece of ginger - peeled and chopped fine)
mixed vegetables - 1 cup, peeled, grated/cubed as required (I use carrot, peas and cabbage)
salt - 3/4 tsp
bisibelabath paste - 1 tsp (optional)
clarified butter (ghee) - 2 tsp
cumin seeds - 1 tsp
fennel seeds - 1 tsp
cashewnuts - 1 tbsp, broken
curry leaves - 1 stalk
water - 4 cups

Method:

Heat a teaspoon of ghee. Add cashewnuts, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and curry leaves. When the cashwes turns golden, add washed brown rice, pigeon peas, red gram, vegetables, ginger, sambar powder and tamarind paste. Fry for a minute and add 4 cups water. Mix in the salt and pressure cook until soft. Stir in the bisibelabath paste and heat for a couple of minutes. Garnish with a teaspoon of ghee and serve hot.

Notes:
The cooking time for brown rice is much more than that of white rice - almost twice the time, depending on your equipment.
Baked Plantain Crisps
In another attempt at a healthy snack, I started out briskly getting my ducks in a row - peeling the plantains, preheating the oven and pulling out the mandoline slicer, convincing myself "This time I will use this slicer without chopping off a chunk of my finger". Just as I was thinking so, ouch! A pool of blood and again, there goes a little piece of myself. Never once have I used my mandoline slicer without an accident, but on the bright side, I can take pride in my perseverance! Well, at least the results were worth all this trouble :)


Ingredients:

plantain (raw banana) - 2 large
red chilli powder - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
turmeric powder - a pinch
oil - 2 tbsp
salt - 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Method:

Peel and slice the plantains evenly (without hurting your fingers unlike me ;) Heat oil in a sauce pan. Add red chilli powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder and salt. Mix well. Add plantain slices and mix well, just to allow the seasoning to coat the plantain slices. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) for about 30 minutes to make it crispy.

Notes:
Baking times vary from oven to oven. Bake for lesser time if you like it soft instead of crispy.
'Brown' Pongal
My latest quest is to replace as much of white rice with brown rice in my cooking as I possibly can, given the health benefits. This is relatively easier with mushy dishes like pongal. When I first prepared it, I was expecting the pongal to have a brownish tint, but the color was almost exactly the same as that of the regular savory pongal. And it is the same every time I make it. This recipe goes to Kurinji's Pongal Feast.


Ingredients:

brown rice - 3/4 cup
mung beans - 3/4 cup
clarified butter (ghee) - 2 tbsp
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp (or ginger - 1 inch piece - peeled and grated)
cumin seeds - 1 tsp
pepper corns - a few
broken cashews - a few
curry leaves - 1 stalk
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
asafoetida - a pinch
green chillies - 2 or ground pepper - 1/2 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Method:

Soak brown rice in 6 cups of water for 15 minutes. Do not drain. Add mung beans and pressure cook with salt. Heat ghee in a frying pan. Add cashews, cumin seeds, pepper corns, green chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida and fry till cashews become golden brown. Add the cooked rice and beans. Mix in the ginger paste and give a dash of fresh ground pepper if required. Serve hot with chutney.

Notes:
Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice (almost twice the time).
Cracker Nachos!
Another result of my quest for a quick, healthy snack! My husband loves to gorge on chips anytime, and especially during game time. All my rantings on junk food fall on deaf ears. One evening, when he was all set to submerge himself in a football game on TV, surrounded by junk food, I handed him a plate of cracker nachos after a sermon on junk food. The only reason he took it from my hand was so that I will stop disturbing him from watching the game. Five minutes later, I was in for a major surprise - he actually asked me if I could make him one plate of cracker nachos!
This goes to Priya's event "Fast food not Fat food".


Ingredients:

salted whole wheat crackers - 7
whole grain tortilla chips - 7 to 9 (optional)
cucumber - 1 (chopped fine)
tomato - 1 (chopped fine)
nacho cheese - 3-4 tbsp (melted, warm)
cilantro - 1 tbsp (chopped fine)
fresh garden salsa - 3 tbsp
lemon juice - a few drops

Method:

Mix cucumber, tomato, cilantro, garden salsa and lemon juice and keep aside. Arrange crackers on a plate. Drop spoonfuls of vegetable mixture and melted cheese on each cracker. Health freaks, stop here! Others, arrange a layer of tortilla chips between the creackers. Place vegetable mixture and melted cheese on the chips as well and serve fresh.

Creamy Beet Soup
Beetroot is another one of those vegetables that my family loves to avoid. So, here I go - up against another challenge - to spice up this vegetable. The cold weather calls for something warm and comforting - well, that probably adds up to present the perfect solution!


Ingredients: (serves 4)

beetroot - 3 (medium)
tomato - 1 (chopped)
potato - 1 (medium)
dill - 1 bunch (chopped)
yogurt - 1 cup (beaten)
vegetable stock - 2 cups
butter - 1 tbsp
lemon juice - 1 tbsp
ginger paste - 1/2 tsp
pepper - 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)
salt - 3/4 tsp (adjust according to taste)
fresh cream for topping (optional)

Method:

Pressure cook the beetroot and potato. Cool, peel and mash. Pulse beetroot, tomato and potato in a food processor, with some vegetable stock in case more liquid is needed, to get a coarse paste. Add the remaining vegetable stock, ginger paste and salt. Boil for a few minutes. Once the soup has reached the required consistency (thick, but not too thick), add the beaten yogurt and heat for just about a minute. Remove from fire before it starts boiling, mix in the dill, lemon juice, butter and pepper. Garnish with cream and serve hot.

Notes:

1. The slight coarseness and little lumps adds that extra touch of chunkiness to the soup.
2. The vegetable stock usually contains enough salt - so, add extra salt only if that is not sufficient, and adjust seasoning carefully, according to personal preferences.
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