Monday, December 31, 2012

Vegetable Au Gratin

Gratin originated from french cuisine and is prepared with any kind of vegetables or meat in béchamel sauce (made with a roux of butter and flour and gradually whisking the milk/cream until the white sauce thickens). It is usually topped with breadcrumbs and cheese and baked until it forms a golden brown crust. Au gratin is a popular cooking technique used in preparing meat, vegetable or pasta dishes. Most common of gratins are the potato, cauliflower and aubergine gratins which can be prepared in a similar way.

Although, I enjoy cooking, I try and make two dishes less frequently - lasagna and vegetable au gratin. Well, it is easy to put together once you cut the vegetables (the time consuming part) and either boil or sauté them, as required. I thought it would be a simple and rather healthy way to kick off the new year and so, I made the veg au gratin and served it with some jalapeno biscuits.


For the vegetable filling:

1 cup cauliflower florets, parboiled
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into strips, parboiled
1 medium zucchini, cut into half and sliced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced, parboiled
1 small green bell pepper, cut into strips
1 tbsp nutritional yeast, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the béchamel sauce:

2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (optional)
2 + 1 tbsp vegan butter
1/2 tbsp light olive oil
1/2 -1 tsp crushed red chilli flakes (optional)
1 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to  375° F.Grease a 9" x 9" baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

Bring water to a boil in a pan and cook the cauliflower florets for 5-6 mins. Drain and set aside.  Repeat the process similarly for carrot and potato (its easier to cook the potato in a microwave) . 

In the baking dish, add the cauliflower florets, carrots, zucchini, potato and green bell pepper. Add salt, pepper and nutritional yeast, toss well and spread evenly.

In a sauté pan, on medium heat, add 2 tbsp vegan butter and light olive oil, chopped onion, green chillies and garlic. Sauté until the onion turns translucent. Now, add the wheat flour and mix well. Slowly, add the milk and whisk until the sauce is smooth without lumps. Add crushed red chilli flakes (optional), salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the sauce thickens.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables and gently toss until all the vegetables are coated with the white sauce. 

In a small bowl, add the panko bread crumbs, italian seasoning, nutritional yeast, crushed red chilli flakes (optional) and melted butter. Mix well and spread the topping over the vegetables. Bake for  35-40 mins or until the top forms a golden brown crust. Serve hot with toasted bread or baked biscuits.

Makes 4-5 servings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Persimmon & Coconut Mousse

Persimmons is one of the recent additions to our list of fruit consumption. It comes in two varieties - hachiya (astringent: contains high levels of tannins, so they need to be fully ripened to be consumed) and fuyu (non-astringent: less astringent before ripening). I haven't come across the hachiya variety yet. Fuyu variety tastes good when eaten fresh (crunchy like an apple) or ripened. The flesh is very sweet and so doesn't require too much of additional sweetness when using it in desserts. The very first time I tasted it, I felt that it would be a good ingredient for a mousse (tasted similar to palmyra palm fruit found in India). This recipe is a nice variation to the regular kind of mousse.


4 fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced.
1/2 fuyu persimmon, peeled and petite diced
3-4 tbsp powdered raw sugar 
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (optional)
2/3 cup coconut cream, whipped
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp pecans, chopped


Peel the persimmons and dice them. In a blender, make a purée of the persimmon, 1 tbsp raw sugar and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a bowl, add the coconut cream and whisk well using a hand blender for few mins. Add sugar (adjust to taste) and vanilla extract and beat the cream until it forms soft peaks.

In a mixing bowl, add the persimmon purée and fold the coconut cream (add little by little) gently until it blends together.  Spoon into serving dishes and top with diced persimmon and chopped pecans (it is optional but you can add some whipped coconut cream before topping with persimmon and pecans). Chill for 3-4 hours and serve.

If you don't like the flavor of coconut, you can use silken tofu and blend it along with the persimmon purée.

Makes 3 servings.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bottle Gourd Dry Curry

Bottle Gourd (calabash/long melon/lauki) is grown for its fruit but widely used as a vegetable. They come in several different shapes with some popular ones that are small and bottle shaped and hence its name. Calabash is also used for utensils in rural areas. In India, the calabash juice is considered to have medicinal values that is good for health. It is usually prepared as wet or semi-dry gravy and sometimes used in sweet preparations such as lauki/dudhi halwa. From what I know, it is advised to boil the bottle gourd for 5-6 mins and drain the water (this is done to avoid catching a cold as it contains cooling properties that could cause a cold). Boil the gourd again using fresh water and add the desired spices. Drain the water and use as required.

This recipe is one of the many that I have learnt from my mom. It is simple yet flavorful.


2 medium bottle gourd, peeled and petite diced
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chilli powder
Salt, to taste
2 big cloves garlic
1/2 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts

For tempering:

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp urad dhal
Few curry leaves


In a pan, add the diced bottle gourd and water (enough to soak the vegetable) and allow to boil for 5 mins. Drain the water.

In a same pan, to the bottle gourd, add water, turmeric powder, chilli powder and salt. Let the vegetable boil until it is about 3/4th done. Drain the excess water and set aside.

In a blender, coarsely grind the garlic cloves and roasted peanuts. Keep aside.

In a deep pan, heat oil, add mustard seeds, urad dhal and curry leaves. After the mustard seeds crackles, add the boiled bottle gourd and mix well. Add 1 tsp chilli powder (adjust to taste) and salt to taste. Fry for few minutes until the raw smell of the chilli powder is gone. Now, add the coarsely ground garlic-peanuts mix. Mix all the ingredients together and sauté well. Serve hot as a side for rice or rotis.

Note: For variation, you can use chayote squash and follow the recipe. If you don't like peanuts, you can use coarsely ground roasted split dalia with garlic cloves.

Makes 4-5 servings.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies

Cookies...cookies....more cookies!! It all started with trying out Katie's Peanut Butter Secrets which led to cookie baking weekend. Of course, this is the season for candy cane, so I bought a box of candy canes to try out few recipes. The idea behind making my flourless chocolate cookies was to make the chocolate peppermint sandwich cookies. Although, I enjoyed the soft and chewy texture, I wanted to make them slightly firmer to hold the filling. I made these bite-size, so you don't feel guilty about having them. These cookies were not too minty but just the right flavor to set you in the holiday mood.

Adapted from Katie's Chocolate Brownie Cookies


For the chocolate cookies:

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp oil
2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:

1/2 tsp peppermint extract (optional)
2 peppermint candy canes, crushed 
3 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 tsp oil (preferably, flavorless)


In a bowl, add the spelt flour, cocoa powder,salt, baking soda, baking powder and brown sugar and mix well. 

In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients (oil, applesauce and vanilla extract). Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix and stir well to combine. 

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Make small balls using the dough and place them on the sheet and flatten the cookies. Bake for 8 mins. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins.

Place the candy canes in a plastic bag and crush them using a rolling pin. Set aside.

Using a double boiler (set a bowl over a saucepan with hot water over low heat), melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips. When the chocolate begins to melt, add the oil and stir well. Now, add half of the crushed candy cane into the melted chocolate and mix well. If you are using peppermint extract, add it to the melted chocolate and stir well.

Using a spatula, spread the above filling on the back of a cookie and sprinkle little crushed candy cane on top of the filling, use another cookie to seal the top by slightly pressing it to make them stick together. I spread a little of the melted chocolate on the side of the sandwich cookie and rolled it on the crushed candy cane to make it look a bit more festive but its totally optional. Repeat the process for the remaining cookies.

For a variation, you can try using white chocolate instead of semi-sweet chocolates. I am not a fan of white chocolate (since its technically not chocolate), so I used semi-sweet chocolates chips.

Makes 18-19 cookies (approx. 9 sandwich cookies).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chocolate Cookies

Cookies are probably one of my most favorite baked treats. Recently, I was craving cookies (most of my cravings occur during late nights) and needed a quick fix recipe. I have been making a list of  a whole bunch of recipes to make before the end of the year with the holidays in mind. Before I could go ahead with the other recipes, I wanted to try making cookies without any of the usual baking flours. Browsing through my pantry, I came across a packet of almond meal, so I decided to bake a small batch of chocolate cookies (started out more like a trial and error kinda thing).Who can go wrong with chocolate anyways??  It ended up being delicious. Occasionally, I enjoy eating soft cookies but these ended up being chewy too (usually, not a fan of chocolate but surprisingly, hubby enjoyed them the most). 


1 cup almond meal 
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda 
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp vegan butter (like earth balance), optional
3 tbsp light brown sugar (reduce to 2 tbsp, if you like it less sweeter)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2  - 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce (I added 2 tbsp)


In a bowl, add the almond meal, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar and mix well. 

In a small pan, melt the butter and add the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Stir well and mix till the chocolate melts completely. Set aside.

Now, add the chocolate sauce to the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the vanilla extract and unsweetened applesauce and stir well. The dough will be slightly wet and sticky but if you prefer your cookies to be less chewy, use 3 tbsp of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 1/2 tbsp applesauce.  Let the dough rest for about 10 mins or so (although I couldn't wait that long). 

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and drop the dough using a cookie scoop or a spoon (for medium cookies, use a teaspoon measure).  Bake for 10-12 mins. 

The cookies might seem underdone but cool for 5-10 mins until they firm up. Enjoy!!

Note: The 2nd batch I made, I forgot to add the brown sugar and it tasted just fine. So, you can omit the sugar and enjoy your soft cookies.

Makes 10 cookies.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fruit Cake

Fruit cake is one of the most popular cakes during the christmas season. Back home, all through my growing up years, every christmas, someone or the other used to bring home fruit cakes (also known as plum cakes in India) which kinda got boring after a while and probably that's why I wasn't fond of fruit cakes. I suppose one of the other reasons was the distinct flavor, bakeries tend to go heavy on the rum, which was a turn off for me.

A couple weeks ago, one of my good friend asked if I could make a plum cake for her. I had to be modest and ended up telling her that I have never made a plum cake before but will surely bake her one. So, I took it up as an assignment to find a recipe to bake the perfect cake. Trying to find a good recipe is a challenge by itself and eventually I came across one that I liked. Although the original recipe uses eggs, I made some tweaks and was very happy with the outcome. I agree that the cake didn't turn out as dark as it needs to be, but the taste was spot on. The cake that I actually baked for my friend was half-gone couple hours after I baked it and so ended up making another one exclusively for her.

So, here's a delicious fruit cake perfect for the holiday season...

Adapted from Kitchen Secrets 


1 1/4 cup organic spelt flour + 1 tbsp (or whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice powder
1/2 cup fruit cake mix (I used SR brand fruit mix) 
2 tbsp raisins
2 tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp cashewnuts, chopped
2 tbsp almonds, blanched and chopped
1/2 tsp rum extract (for darker rum flavor, use 1 to 1 1/2 tsp rum extract or 1-2 tbsp rum)
1/2 cup orange juice, no pulp (you can reduce it to 1/4 cup for a firmer texture)
5 tbsp vegan butter (I used earth balance)
2 tsp flaxmeal
1/4 cup light brown sugar (or raw sugar)
1/2 tbsp powdered sugar, for decoration (optional)
1/2 cup red cherries, halved, for decoration (optional)

For caramel:

1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup water + 1 tbsp


To prepare the caramel sauce:

In a deep pan, add the raw sugar and 1 tbsp water and allow to boil on medium heat. When the sugar starts boiling it, it will turn gooey, remove from heat and add 1/4 cup water while slowly stirring the sauce. Place the pan back on medium-low heat and keep stirring occasionally till the sugar dissolves completely and the caramel starts turning from golden brown to dark brown. The entire process takes about 10-12 mins. Make sure the caramel doesn't turn too dark otherwise it will give a bitter taste. After it cools down a bit, add the rum extract, mix well and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the fruit cake mix (or you can also use a mix of cherries, dates, apricots, dried pineapples, candied orange peels or the zest of 1/2 orange), walnuts, almonds, cashewnuts (or any nuts of your choice). Add 1 tbsp of the flour and mix well to coat the fruits and nut mix.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a bowl, sieve the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda, allspice powder, flaxmeal and salt. Mix well to combine evenly.

In a bowl, add the butter and light brown sugar and beat well (if you are in a hurry like me, melt the butter in the microwave for 10-12 secs, cool for a min and use) until fluffy. Add the orange juice and whisk well. 

Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix well until combined. 

Now, add the fruits and nut mix and caramel to the batter and mix well.

Grease a baking pan with cooking spray (or 1 tbsp butter) and pour the batter. Bake for 36-38 mins. Insert a toothpick to check if the cake is done otherwise bake it for another 5-10 mins (mine took about 36 mins). 

Cool the cake completely (unlike me, I was too tempted to wait and hence a slight crack when overturning it) and sprinkle the powdered sugar on top and decorate with red cherries (or serve as-is). Cut into slices and serve. Enjoy!!

Makes one 8" round cake.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mixed Vegetables and Peanuts Curry

Normally, for lunch, most indian homes prepare a gravy and dry roast with vegetables that is served with rice or rotis. My mom makes a whole bunch of vegetarian items, some of which are my favorites that never fail to please me. Generally, not a fan of eggplants (don't even get me started on the remaining veggies that I absolutely detest) but I do manage to cook them every now and then with some of my standard recipes. You can prepare this gravy with your choice of veggies. Personally, eggplants, radish and drumsticks (or replace either of them with chayote squash) work well in this dish. There is a whole bunch of variations, you can try with this curry. This is a simple curry but very satisfying in every bite. Give it a try!!


1 cup raw peanuts, pressure cooked and boiled
6-7 indian eggplants, quartered
1 cup radish, halved and sliced
5 cups water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2-3 tsp chilli powder
10 nos cut drumstick, frozen, cut in halves (yields 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 to 2 1/2 tsp tamarind paste (adjust to taste)
Salt, to tase

For the paste:

12-15 raw almonds
1 1/2 tbsp roasted split dalia

For seasoning:

1  1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 tsp urad dhal
Few curry leaves


In a pressure cooker, add the raw peanuts, 1/4 tsp salt and pour enough water for it to cook. Pressure cook for 3-4 whistles. Drain the water and set aside.

In a deep pan or stockpot, add the vegetables (eggplants, radish), onion, tomato and water enough to cover the vegetables. Add turmeric powder, chilli powder, tamarind paste and salt. Allow to boil until vegetables are half way done.

Now, add the frozen drumsticks (cook in microwave for 2-3 mins before adding) to the curry and cook for few minutes. Add the boiled peanuts (or you can also use boiled black-eyed peas) and allow the curry to boil for few mins.

When the curry starts boiling, add the ground paste of almonds and roasted dalia (or you can also use ground coconut paste) and continue boiling until well combined. 

In a small pan, add the oil, mustard seeds, urad dhal, and curry leaves. Once the mustard seeds start crackling, pour the seasoning over the curry and mix well. Serve hot with rice or rotis or dosas.


In South India, there is a spice called 'vadagam' which is a blend of whole bunch of spices like cumin seeds, urad dhal, mustard seeds, chopped onions and garlic, fenugreek seeds, turmeric powder, curry leaves and salt.  All of these spices are combined together to form round balls that are allowed to harden under sunlight for about 45 days or longer and then crushed and used as a seasoning for curries. This blend adds a lot of flavor to a dish and I use it frequently in sambar (lentil curry with mixed vegetables), spinach curry, lima beans curry and even in this dish. Although, I use a homemade preparation of this seasning, I have been told that they are available in indian stores back home. Since I am totally out of it, I replaced it with mustard seeds and urad dhal.

Makes 5-6 servings.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Paruppu Usili

Paruppu Usili (lentil crumble) is a south indian dish that is healthy (good source of proteins) and easy to make. It is typically made with dhal and cluster beans. It is one of my favorites among many of my mom's vegetarian recipes. It is a dish that I make frequently as a side for rice but tastes good on its own too. For a variation, try using different vegetables like cabbage, broccoli or asparagus.


3/4 cup channa dhal (soaked for 1 hr)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt (for the dhal paste)
5-6 dry red chillies
3 1/2 cup green beans, chopped

For seasoning:

4 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
Few curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida


On medium flame, steam the finely chopped green beans for 10-12 mins until they are half-cooked.

In a blender or food processor, add channa dhal, dry red chillies, cumin seeds and salt and grind coarsely. 

In a pan, heat 4 tbsp oil (it seems like a lot of oil but really helps to get the crumbly texture), add mustard seeds, a pinch of asafoetida and curry leaves. 

Once it splutters, add the ground channa dhal paste. Fry well on medium flame for 6-7 mins until it resembles a crumbly texture (doesn't darken, bad lighting in the above picture).

Now, add the green beans and mix well with the dhal. Fry till the raw smell goes and toss well. 

For a healthier version, steam the channa dhal mixture for 10-12 mins, use 1 1/2 tbsp oil and then follow the rest of the recipe.

Serve warm as a side dish with rice.

Makes 5-6 servings.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sweet Potato Doughnuts with Maple Icing

Doughnuts (or donuts) are popular sweet treat found in many countries. Doughnuts are either made in ring-shape or filled with fruit spreads or cream. For a long time, I kept thinking that doughnuts were baked until I saw them being made at Krispy Kreme (not that it stopped me from having them) couple years ago. No wonder their doughnuts have a melt-in-your-mouth kinda texture!!

Last month, I purchased a doughnut pan and have been anxiously looking forward to bake my first batch of doughnuts. I wanted to try something simple yet different, so ended up making sweet potato doughnuts. They turned out to be mildly sweet with a good nutty crunch from the pecan topping. Here's a doughnut that can satisfy your sweet craving with lot less guilt when compared to their fried counterparts.


For dough:

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cooked mashed sweet potato (1 medium potato yields a little over 1/2 cup)
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1/3 cup powdered raw sugar (increase to 1/2 cup, if you like it sweeter)
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For topping:

4 tbsp powdered raw sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup (or use 1/8 tsp maple extract)
1/2 tbsp almond milk


Boil one medium sweet potato (wash and cut into chunks) and cook until fork-tender. Allow to cool, peel the skin of the sweet potato and mash well using a fork.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Coat the doughnut pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, add the sieved whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon powder, baking powder, powdered raw sugar and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a small bowl, add the mashed sweet potato, almond milk, canola oil and vanilla extract.  Whisk well together.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well until combined.

Spoon the batter into the greased doughnut pan.

Bake the doughnuts for 18-20 mins (mine took 18 mins) until they are slightly firm. 

Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, add 4 tbsp raw sugar, 1 tbsp maple syrup and 1/2 tbsp almond milk (forms a thin to medium maple icing). Whisk to mix well.

In a small plate, spread the chopped pecans. Now, dip the doughnut into the small bowl with maple icing. Use the glazed side of the doughnut and slightly press the doughnuts over the chopped pecans to form a nice and crunchy topping. Serve warm.

Makes 6-8 doughnuts.