Friday, November 30, 2012

Pear Bran Muffins

Bran can be milled from any cereal grain like rice, wheat, oats, etc. It is rich in dietary fiber and contains essential fatty acids. In baking, most commonly used bran varieties are wheat and oats. I make banana nut oat bran muffins frequently, so I wanted to try something different. I hate wasting stuff, especially fruits. It so happens that I completely forget the fact that I have some fruits staring at me every day and then end up tossing them away when they get overripe. I admit I am getting better these days in using them up before they get to that stage. So, I had one pear which was ripe but still firm. The easiest thing to do was to bake it into muffins and enjoy a healthy anytime snack. 


1 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup oat bran (or wheat bran)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 firm ripe pear, peeled and diced (or grated)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
5-6 raw almonds, thinly sliced
1 tbsp raw sugar, for sprinkling
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup which made it mildly sweet)
1 cup almond milk (or soy milk)
2 tbsp oil



Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat 12 standard muffin pan cups with cooking spray. 

In a large bowl, combine whole wheat pastry flour, oat bran, light brown sugar, baking powder, salt and ginger powder and mix well. Add pears and slivered almonds, and toss gently to coat them.

Combine almond milk, vanilla essence and oil and stir to blend. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well.

Spoon the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Sprinkle top of the muffins with sliced almonds and raw sugar. Bake 20-22 minutes, or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Serve warm.

These muffins turned out moist and got a nice texture from the softened pears along with a slight crunch from the almonds. For a variation, try using 1 tsp cinnamon powder instead of ginger powder. You can also use chopped walnuts or any other nuts to suit your taste. For a more gingery taste, add candied ginger as a topping.

Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Garam Masala Powder

For a while now, I have been thinking of adding a section called ' How-To / Pantry Basics'. This section will serve as a reference for the cooking essentials, be it homemade ginger-garlic paste, making your own oat/quinoa flour or any spice blend. 

The first of the series is 'garam masala'. Garam masala is a blend of spices ground finely that is widely used in indian cuisine. Several versions of garam masala exist with some consisting of dry ginger, nutmeg, fennel, etc. The spices are roasted and ground to bring out its flavors. So, here is my version.


2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp mixed peppercorns (1/2 tbsp each white & black peppercorns)
1 tsp cloves
2 cinnamon sticks (medium pieces)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp green cardamom pods (approx. 10 pieces)
2 dry red chillies
2 star anise


In a pan, on medium heat, dry roast all the ingredients for 6-8 mins until they turn slightly brown.

Allow it to cool and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container and use when required.

Note: This powder was used in the dhal makhani recipe.

Makes 1/2 cup.

Dhal Makhani

Thanksgiving officially sets the holiday mood and the onset of my lazy days until the rest of the year. The long awaited thanksgiving weekend was busy and it flew by so soon. My black friday shopping was time restricted (was trying to get back before the baby woke up, so got a decent 2 hrs to shop) and as usual I ended up with stuff I don't really need but just bought it as it was hard to pass it off (I am easily tempted, what can I say??). So, did I buy the ice cream maker that I have been intending to buy for a long time now? Nope!!! But got a whole bunch of other stuff. You are probably thinking, what's the big deal about an ice cream maker. Well, no biggie but its just an excuse to get something that I had on my 'to buy' list for a long long time. Either way, no more waiting...definitely planning to get an ice cream maker before the end of this year and I can't wait to try a whole bunch of frozen treats :)

Anyway, coming to the recipe, Dhal Makhani is a popular punjabi dish. Dhal Makhani mainly comprises of whole black lentils (black urad dhal) and red kidney beans (rajma). It is a rich and creamy gravy packed with flavors traditionally cooked for a day or so. Nowadays, most recipes have a shortcut version, so why wait to enjoy a tasty bite?


3/4 cup black urad dhal
1/4 cup red kidney beans
1 big onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
3/4 cup tomato puree
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/4 cup coconut milk creamer (increase quantity, if you like it creamier)
1 tsp fenugreek leaves, crushed and powdered
3-4 cinnamon sticks (small bits)
4-5 cloves
1 tsp vegan butter (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp oil
Salt, to taste


In a bowl, soak the black urad dhal and red kidney beans overnight.

Pressure cook the black urad dhal and red kidney beans using a weight for  3-4 whistles. Mash the cooked dhal and beans and set aside.

In a pan, heat oil and vegan butter, add cinnamon, cloves and onions. Sauté until the onions are slightly brown (add little salt to cook the onions faster). Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté till the raw smell is gone.  Add tomato and cook until it gets pulpy.

Now, add turmeric powder, chilli powder, garam masala powder and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for few mins until it blends with the spices.  Add the mashed dhal mix and salt to the gravy and cook for 8-10 mins. 

Add the coconut milk creamer and crushed fenugreek leaves to the dhal and mix well. Cook for few mins. If you find the gravy too thick, add 1/4 cup water and stir well.  Serve hot with rotis.

Makes 5-6 servings.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thanksgiving, as most of you know, is a tradition that is followed to celebrate the yearly harvest. Although, it has changed over the years and these days, its all about the turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and the usuals....

To me, any celebration is an excuse for friends and families to get together and have fun.... that's what matters the most.  For thanksgiving, some like to take the traditional route and prepare the classics but change is good... at least it gives you a chance to try out different foods and may be come up with a totally innovative dish, who knows??? So, most of the time, when we friends meet, its more like fusion cuisine with couple varieties. Of course, I wanted to contribute and not be the person taking desserts to the gathering as always!! So, I made few quick recipes like spicy kale chips, herb-seasoned baked potato wedges, rice pudding (recipes to follow in the upcoming posts) and zucchini carrot cake. It felt like lot of dishes but fairly simple yet tasty and healthy too.

All said and done, at the end of the day, it was fun catching up with friends, often side tracked by kids running around, screaming and keeping us occupied. Close to the end of the day, working our game plan for the mad shopping spree to follow tomorrow. I have a whole bunch of stuff to pick up, with an ice cream maker as my pick of the day...let's see how it goes and what else I end up with???

Happy Thanksgiving !! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Zucchini Carrot Cake

I feel strange saying this, but, I have never eaten a carrot cake, anyone with me on this one??? Although, I have eaten combo cakes like date carrot cake and zucchini carrot cake... all thanks to my aunt who brings over goodies whenever she visits us, its surprising that I still haven't had the chance to try a carrot cake!!

The last time I went grocery shopping, I had this sudden urge to pick up some zucchini exclusively to try out few recipes, with zucchini carrot cake, topping my list. Every year, few families in our friends circle have a get together and host a thanksgiving lunch, usually being a potluck. Since I was making couple dishes, I wanted to have a simple cake to bake and decided to give the zucchini carrot cake a try. 

Adapted from Kitchen Simplicity


1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup powdered raw sugar (increase to 1 cup, if you like it sweeter)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder (reduce to 1/4 tsp, if you find it a bit strong)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup zucchini, finely grated
1 cup carrot, finely grated
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Maple Glaze (optional):

3 tbsp powdered raw sugar
2 tbsp organic pure maple syrup, grade A, medium amber


(Zucchini Carrot Cake with Maple Glaze)

Finely grate the carrots and zucchini and set aside.

In a  large bowl, add sieved whole wheat pastry flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder, salt and chopped walnuts. Mix well.

To the dry ingredients, add applesauce, carrots and zucchini and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a bundt cake pan (or any other cake pan) with cooking spray and pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30-35 mins. Insert a toothpick in the center to check if its baked all the way through. Cool for 10-15 mins. Using a spoon, spread the maple glaze over the cake (my glaze was thin, you can use 6-8 tbsp raw sugar with  2 1/2 tbsp maple syrup or adjust to taste, to make a thicker glaze).

For a variation, try using 2 tbsp light brown sugar with 1/4 - 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder and 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Spread the mix in the cake pan before pouring the cake batter to get a sweet sticky topping (almost like sticky buns...yumm!!!).

Here's the sticky topping cake (my favorite among the two):

I wish I could have taken some photos of a slice of cake (with maple glaze) but had to take them over to our friends place. Everyone was surprised at how moist the cake was and the best part, they got their share of veggies for the day :) Give this cake a try, you sure can't stop with one!!

Makes 10-12 servings. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mushroom Peas Pulao

Mushrooms are known for their meaty texture although not considered as a vegetable but contribute as good source of vitamin B. They taste good no matter how they are used, be it grilled, sautéed or cooked any other way. In the past couple weeks, mushrooms have been frequenting my kitchen in some form or the other.

Normally, I take an easy route to making dishes, nothing too complicated, no elaborate procedures...that's me!! There have been days when I don't really cut anything but manage to make a good dish with things at hand...I'll save that story for another day. 

Now, coming back to mushrooms, I am sure many of us have several different ways to cook them. I like spicy food, so I decided to make mushroom peas pulao (the other version of pulao I make, is by adding coconut milk and using green chillies and skipping other spices). 

Here's a recipe that doesn't take too long but makes no compromise on your taste buds...


8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 big onion, thinly cut lengthwise
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, washed and soaked for 1/2 hour
1-2 green chillies, cut lengthwise (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste 
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp black pepper powder (fresh is better but store-bought will do too)
2 1/2  cups water
1/4 cup cilantro, freshly chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice (adjust to taste)
Salt, to taste
3 tbsp oil
3-4 cloves
3-4 cinnamon
3-4 bay leaves


In a pan, heat oil, add cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. Add the onions and green chillies and fry for few minutes. Now, add  the ginger-garlic paste (preferably use home-made, big difference in flavor) and fry until the raw smell fades away.

Add the chopped tomato and cook until it gets a bit pulpy. Add chilli powder, coriander powder, garam masala and black pepper powder and mix well. Add the mushrooms and peas and cook until it blends well with the spices. Add the basmati rice, and fry for 3-4 minutes until the rice starts to separate.

Add water and salt to the rice and allow it to boil. As it starts boiling, add lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Close the lid and reduce to medium flame. Allow the rice to cook for about 10-12 mins. Remove from heat and stick it in the oven (a tip I learned from my grandma) - (just regular, not preheated oven) for about 5 mins. The heat generated from the rice lets it cook longer and remains grainy. This tip works flawless every time!! So, no more pans with sticky rice at the bottom :). Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Date Rolls

Dates are one of the most popular tropical fruit which is packed with essential nutrients required for good health. Many varieties are cultivated with few popular ones like 'Medjool'. It is rich in iron, potassium and a  dietary fiber, so works as a laxative too (sorry, I guess too much info). Personally, I feel ladies don't get too much iron from their daily diets and it is good to eat a handful of them whenever you get a chance. The better option would be to have some date smoothie or end up making date rolls like me.

I am not sure if it even qualifies as a sweet. But looks very festive with the dates and nuts and mildly sweet which is perfect for the occasion.  In the spirit of diwali, here's another sweet that is easy to make and healthy too. 


1 1/2 cups dates, pitted & chopped (I used california dates but you can use any variety)
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped (reduce to 1/4 cup, if you don't want too much nuts)
1/4 cup cashew nuts, chopped
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 tsp vegan butter (like earth balance)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cardamom powder (optional)

For coating:

1 tbsp poppy seeds, roasted for 5 mins OR
1 tbsp shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) OR
2 tbsp almond meal

Note: You can pick any coating of your choice, I used 3 different coatings to try out  - each one of them covers one log,


Dry roast the poppy seeds for 5 mins and set aside.

In a food processor or blender, coarsely dry grind the chopped dates and keep aside.

In a pan, add the vegan butter and chopped nuts (almonds, cashews & pistachios - chop the nuts into small pieces unlike me....I am a bit lazy!!!). Roast the nuts until they are slightly golden brown. Add the date paste and mix well with the nuts. Add the cardamom powder (you can also try adding nutmeg powder or skip it) and mix again. If you like your rolls little sweeter, you can add agave/maple syrup or any sweetener of your choice.

While the date and nut mix is still warm, knead the mix for a minute or so. Separate the mix into 3 or 4 partitions depending on what size you want your rolls to be. Make each partition into a roll (like a log). 

Pick a coating of your choice - poppy seeds or almond meal or coconut (my favorite was the poppy seeds and almond meal coating) and spread them on a plate or wax paper. Roll each log on the coating with slight pressure so that it sticks well. Repeat for the remaining logs.

So, when all the logs are coated, they will look similar to:

Okay, I agree that they are not the prettiest looking pics but I tried...

Now, cover each log tightly with aluminum foil or cling wrap and freeze it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (just make sure you remember to take it out on time, it would get really hard otherwise).

Remove the foil or cling wrap and cut each log into slices. Enjoy!!

Makes 40 pieces.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Almond Fudge (Badam Burfi)

Diwali (popularly known as 'Festival of Lights') is one of the most celebrated festivals in India where family and friends get together, share sweets, wear new clothes and have fun bursting crackers. It is a feast to watch all the houses well lit with diyas (lamp made from clay) and everyone living up to the spirit of the festival. 

Diwali is always special to me as it reminds me of good old memories since childhood. My normal routine on diwali day would be to get together with my cousins at my grandparents house to celebrate diwali and spend the entire day with everyone. Back then, we were excited about wearing new clothes and getting ready to burst crackers and pack on some pounds by enjoying all the sweet treats, especially my grandma's badam halwa/burfi (almond fudge). Almost like a tradition in the family, every single year, diwali breakfast would be accompanied by badam halwa... it kinda felt incomplete otherwise. Well, this tradition stuck with me, so after marriage, I continue to follow it by making this sweet every diwali (of course, with few others too). 

Diwali is meant to be celebrated with friends and family. Although, its been a while since I celebrated diwali with my family, after all, friends are like family too.  So, I started making badam burfi and chivda (savory snack made with puffed rice, nuts and some spices) to share with friends.

Badam burfi is an easy dish to make but just takes a little patience. It is probably one of the few dishes (as far as I can think of) that can be enjoyed in either scoopable or fudge-like consistency. It also happens to be the first time I am making this without using ghee (clarified butter) which I tend to use a bit liberally in this recipe. After trying it, I didn't miss the ghee at all and most of all, lot less guilt without any of the butter fat that would normally be added to it.


1 cup almonds, blanched 
Few strands of saffron
1 tbsp vegan butter (optional) + little extra for greasing the pan (I used earth balance)
4 tbsp almond milk (or any milk of your choice)
Pinch of salt

For the sugar syrup:

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water


Soak the almonds in hot water for one hour. Peel the skin and keep aside.

Make a paste with the almonds and little milk (not very fine but slightly coarse for texture). If you want a scoopable consistency (badam halwa), add about 6 tbsp milk.

As far as I know, the rule of thumb is to compare your almond paste and take equal measure or little less amount of sugar (the way I learnt it from mom) and add enough water to melt it for about 6-7 mins till it reaches a sticky consistency (also referred to as single string consistency).

Now, add the almond paste to the syrup and keep stirring.  After 10-12 mins, add little vegan butter, pinch of salt and mix.

After 30-35 mins (around 25 mins for halwa), the paste starts becoming lumpy without sticking to the sides of the pan. Remove from heat and spread the paste on a greased cookie pan (lined with either parchment or wax paper) and smoothen the top to get an even layer.

Wait for about 6-8 mins until the mixture cools down and then cut into diamond shaped pieces or any other shape of your choice.

Here's a pic of the badam halwa (not sure if you can see the difference in consistency) which is softer than burfi but slightly firmer than halwa. This consistency works well if you want to send to friends, each wrapped individually in wax paper .

Makes 30-32 pieces (depends on how big or small you cut them).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Drunken Noodles with Vegetables

Drunken noodles, also called Pad Kee Mao, is made with broad rice noodles, soy sauce, garlic, meat or tofu with some vegetables. The star ingredients are the basil leaves (this one ingredient seals the deal for me!!!) for the distinct flavor and thai chilli that gives the right amount of spiciness. Although the original recipe uses holy basil, I haven't really seen them in stores, so, I used thai basil which works for me.  If you want to be all authentic, try using holy basil in this recipe. My version might seem like there are too many veggies but feel free to add/limit your own choice of veggies.


7 oz oriental rice stick (banh-pho), medium size
1 medium onion, cut lengthwise
1 medium carrot, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup green onions, chopped (only green part)
1/2 cup napa cabbage (although I used regular green cabbage), cut lengthwise
1/2 cup baby corn, cut into halves
1/2 cup water chestnuts, sliced
5-6 broccoli florets
2-3 thai chillies, cut lengthwise
1/2 cup thai basil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4-5 tbsp light soy sauce (adjust to taste)
2 tsp light brown sugar (adjust to taste)
1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
1 tbsp white vinegar
3 tbsp oil (I used canola but you can also use toasted sesame oil)
1 tbsp chilli paste (optional)


For the noodles, I used a medium sized flat noodles but you can also use a much broader rice noodles. Cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions. You can drizzle some oil to the noodles when cooking it to avoid it from sticking. 

If you want to add tofu (like you didn't have enough veggies to begin with :)), shallow fry them in little oil, drain and set aside. 

In a wok, heat oil, add the minced garlic, thai chillies and crushed pepper flakes. After the garlic turns slightly brown, add the onion and vegetables (carrot, napa cabbage, baby corn, water chestnuts and broccoli). Keep stirring and cook the vegetables until they are half done (to give a slight crunch) for about 6-8 mins (cook for 2-3 mins longer if you want your veggies nearly done). Add few tablespoons of water (you can use the water from the noodles) to avoid things from sticking to the wok. 

Add the noodles and mix with all the veggies. Add little water if things are sticking to the bottom of the wok (make sure you don't add too much water otherwise your noodles will end up being a mushy disaster). 

Fry the noodles and veggies for 2-3 mins and add the soy sauce, brown sugar and the chilli paste and mix well. Add the vinegar to the veggies and stir well. Finally, add the basil leaves (pick the leaves only, not flowers) and mix well with the noodles. When the basil starts to wilt, remove from heat and serve.

Fun Fact: When trying to look up on how this recipe got its name, pad kee mao in thai means stir fry ('pad') for someone who drinks too much ('kee mao'). Oddly enough, it happens to be a cure for hangover (personally, I don't think you should test it out but if you are still curious, go ahead and enjoy) but tastes good no matter what!!!

Makes 4 servings.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tofu Scramble

Tofu has been a common ingredient in Thai and Chinese cuisine, especially, if you are a vegetarian, most of the dishes have tofu in some form. Back home, when I tried tofu for the first time, I didn't like the taste much as it had a distinct flavor. But after I came to the U.S., it has been an ingredient that I started including more often in my cooking. I have used them in many forms from soups to desserts. A couple years ago, when I lived with my aunt's family, I had the chance to eat different kinds of foods which I wouldn't normally think of trying on my own. One day, she decided to make scrambled tofu for breakfast (FYI, it was exclusively for me as my aunt hates tofu). At first, I hesitated as I don't like the consistency of scrambled eggs and secondly, didn't know how the taste would turn out. Suprisingly, I enjoyed the scrambled tofu and ever since, it has been on my list of breakfast items. Generally, people use silken tofu to make this dish but I made some tweaks to my aunt's recipe and also used firm tofu as I like the texture better. This recipe can be used as a filling for a sandwich or you can make tofu rolls (similar to my paneer rolls) and coat it with crushed cornflakes or cornmeal (either fried or baked) to enjoy a crispy and protein packed appetizer.


14 oz firm tofu (crush them with your fingers to get a crumbly texture)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
5-6 broccoli florets, finely chopped (fresh or frozen, if using frozen thaw before use)
3 green chillies, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
1 1/2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste


In a skillet or a pan, on medium heat, add the oil, onions and green chillies. Sauté until the onions turn slightly brown.

Add the broccoli and red bell pepper and sauté until vegetables are half done (if you don't like the crunch, cook them longer). Add the tofu and stir well. Now, add the salt and pepper  and cook for 8-10 mins until the tofu is done.  Sprinkle some chopped cilantro and add the nutritional yeast and fry well for 1-2 mins. Serve hot with toasted bread. 

Makes 2 servings.