Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bitter sweet and delicious!

I may have just discovered my plan of action for my recipes, a tad late, for the coming year.

Ever wonder what is it about special diets that make them appear more sickly than the poor unwell patient they are prescribed for. I mean, just because someone's metabolism deviates from the 'normal' range does not always mean that they need to be 'condemned' into eating food that does nothing for the visual aspect of the culinary experience.

After a chance 'brush' with the American Diabetes Associations Food related website, I realized that as much as there are ingredients that are 'banned' there are an equally large number of ingredients that are recommended. so why not bring together those ingredients into culinary creations that everyone (with and without whacked out metabolism) would love to savor?

An underlying theme behind all the restricted ingredients is that most of them appear to be in the 'processed foods' column. Crystalline sugar, All purpose flour, white rice, in short anything that's come into ample contact with mechanized, electrified gadgets that arose after the invention of the Steam Engine & the Industrial Revolution. Michael Pollan's advice of it came from a plant, then yes, if it was made IN a plant, the NO holds so true.

Its said that food is medicine & vice versa. It holds true only when the ingredients are not stripped of the surrounding elements. Ee.g. crystals of sugar extracted & purified from all the wonderful supporting minerals & micro nutrients found in a stalk of sugar cane, Or white rice stripped of its bran and the vitamins found within. If only we could determine with a certain statistical level of confidence that the rule is universal & that the same applies to pharmaceutical compounds... (Just think about it.. GMO Monsters (a.k.a Monsanto & its ilk) and the profit seeking aspect of pharmaceutical companies wiped out in one swipe.. ok ok.. let me stop day dreaming!)

The recipe in this post highlights all the ingredients that have been shown to be low glycemic and even proven to be effective in controlling blood glucose, Bitter melon by itself is a hard vegetable to love, for obvious reasons. But, paired (& stuffed with)  with low glycemic sweet potatoes and simmered in a vegan gravy thickened with almond flour, it makes for a dish whose rich decadent appearance belies its  healthful qualities. Of course, its important to remember that moderation is the key.

Sweet Potato stuffed Bitter Melons in a Tomato & Almond gravy. (serves 6-8)

You need:

  • 6 - 8 medium sized Indian Bitter melons (a.k.a Karela)
  • 2 medium sized Sweet potatoes (Any color, white, purple or the orange fleshed tubers -  Yams as they're known as in the US of A)
  • 1/4 cup Garbanzo flour (Besan) + 2 extra tablespoons for a paste
  • 2 tablespoons mixture of crushed coriander, cumin and fennel (take equal amounts of the three spices, crush them and use 2 tablespoons worth)
  • Cayenne pepper powder as per taste (~1/4  - 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil (sesame or peanut)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 large onion diced finely
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/3rd cup almond meal
  • Water as required
  • salt to taste
  •  Cilantro for garnish.


Boil, peel and mash the sweet potatoes and set aside.

Prep the bitter melons as follows: after cleaning the vegetable, scrape off the rough pebbly surface using a peeler. Make a longitudinal slit along the length  of the vegetable. Gently pry it open and scoop out all the pith and seeds using a small spoon. Take care to ensure that you don't tear the karela open.
Rub salt into the  cavity and all over the exterior and set aside to drain for about 15-20 minutes. This tends to reduce excessive bitterness in the vegetable.

Take about 2 tablespoons each of whole coriander, cumin and fennel seeds and crush  them lightly using a mortar and pestle. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet and add the crushed spices. 

Once they begin to 'bloom' and emit their characteristic aroma add the cayenne chilli powder and 1/4 cup of garbanzo flour and toast it until it begins emitting a nutty aroma. Add this mixture along with a bit of salt to the mashed sweet potatoes and knead lightly to combine all the ingredients well.

Shake of all excess liquid from the salted Karela and use a kitchen towel to wipe the outside and the interior cavity. Stuff the Sweet potato mixture into the karela, The vegetable will be less firm now that it's lost a lot of moisture, so dig in and stuff away.

 Mix in an extra couple of tablespoons of the garbanzo flour with a little water to make a thick paste. Generously apply the paste over the opening in the karela. For extra caution, tie up the stuffed specimens using bakers string.

 In a steamer basket, Steam the karelas for 15 minutes. (this cooks the karela and reduces the need to deep fry the vegetable in oil in order to prep it).

Untie the bakers string after the vegetables have cooled completely.

Heat the oil in a skillet and pan fry the Karela, carefully turning it over  at regular intervals so that they get browned evenly. Remove and place on absorbent paper. You may want to fry them in two batches for the convenience of turning them over with the tongs and to avoid overcrowding the pan.

 In the same oil, add the diced onions and fry until they turn translucent. Add the Garam Masala followed by the tomato paste and cook down until the mixture is really thick and the tomato paste loses its 'raw' aroma. Add the almond flour and water and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil.

Add in the karelas into the tomato/almond gravy. lower the heat, cover and allow to simmer gently for about 10 minutes until all the flavors combine.

Transfer the karela pieces onto a serving dish and spoon the gravy over. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm with fresh whole wheat Roti.


 Here's to healthy eating!

Bon appetit!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The 'We knead to bake' project 2015 -Breaking bread with Pane siciliano

I can't think of a better way to start my blogs than with a great bread, There is something so primal,  so satisfying about bread, I wonder sometimes if there is an evolutionary aspect to bread and the effect its aroma has on the human physiology. The glorious 'umami-ness' (if there does exist such a word), the caramel colored crust and the pillowy chewy crumb within.

Aparna's pick for January's bread was a simple Pane Siciliano, which is made from Durum Semolina flour rather than the standard all purpose flour. The result is a  bread whose crumb isn't quite 'airy' , but rather fine. The addition of a pre- ferment (the Cresciuta as its called in Sicily) adds a depth of yeasty flavor.

For once, I didn't add to or tweak on the original recipe, In fact, I made sure that I stuck to the original list of ingredients and followed the recipe to a T.

Pane Siciliano (Sicilian Sesame Seeded Semolina Bread)

(Adapted from Mary Ann Esposito's recipe from

You need:

For the Pre-ferment/ cresciuta/ Biga

1/4 cup Lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon Active dry yeast
1/4 all purpose flour

For the dough:

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons honey
All the Pre-ferment
2 cups durum semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon wheat gluten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 little milk for brushing on the bread
3 tablespoons sesame seeds for topping the bread

Whisk in the yeast with the lukewarm water in a bowl and gradually incorporate the all purpose flour to make a 'slurry'. Leave the yeast alone to bloom in a warm place for at least  four hours (preferably overnight). The resulting pre-ferment will be a stringy wet mass by the time you're ready to make the dough.

To make the dough, whisk the yeast, honey and the lukewarm water together in the mixing bowl of your processor (fitted with a dough hook). Allow it to rest for about 10 - 15 minutes until the yeast blooms and froths up. In a separate bowl sift in the semolina, wheat gluten and the salt.

Keeping the machine on at the lowest setting, add in the cresciuta and allow it to mix well into the liquid without any lumps. Gradually add the semolina mixture into the processor bowl along with the olive oil and knead until the flour forms a smooth ball of dough. Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover loosely and allow to rise until double in volume (~ 1.5 hours).

Remove the dough onto a rolling surface and shape it into a 'snake' (about 30 inches in length). 

Line a large baking sheet (I used a pizza plate) with parchment paper and transfer the dough onto the plate. Shape the rope into a sine shaped wave with about 6 - 7 inches left. Gently place the end of the 'tail over the curled up dough without tucking it under. Cover and allow the shaped dough to double in size. 

Preheat the oven to 375 F . Brush the surface of the inflated dough with milk and generously sprinkle sesame seeds over the surface. Pat down gently to ensure that the seeds stick to the top of the dough.

Bake for about 30 minutes until the top browns nicely and the bread  sounds hollow when tapped lightly. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. I served up the loaf with a smear of Neufchatel cheese and thin slices of cucumber. The open sandwiches were perfect with a cup of hot tea.
Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cookies for Santa and Carrots for Rudolph.

Who says you need to belong to a particular religion to celebrate the culinary traditions of their festivals? Growing up, any festival meant that we either gave or received a platter of delicious goodies from neighbors and friends, depending upon the festival, and in doing so, there was a certain bond of appreciation and understanding that prevailed. So unlike the narcissistic, holier than thou attitudes that's being marketed by the 'For Profit' evangelical outfits (and their political patrons) that seem to proliferate nowadays.
Santa was very much a presence during my childhood, even if there was no tree. (Bombay is a tropical city and in those days the only artificial trees that used to go up for sale resembled bottle brushes stuck into a wooden pole (not unlike a Festivus pole!). The stocking was my dad's sock and somehow Santa would always turn up on Christmas Eve ~ 8:00 pm, sometime when I was eating dinner in the kitchen and would squeeze in my gift in the sock that had been placed on a step-stool in the balcony. a little wind up car, and a bar of Cadbury's  Five Star chocolate.

Fast forwarding from Nostalgia to a couple couple of  decades later, and Christmas at home is celebrated with a real Frasier Fir Tree & a plethora of desserts that the kids dig in. The only thing that seems to be missing is playing 'Mary's Boy Child' on Christmas morning, something my dad did without fail, with the same enthusiasm as he played bhajans and the Suprabhatam on other days.

This year's line up was a delicious trio, the kids wanted brownies, I was craving my signature Carrot Halwa blondie bars, and there was half a gallon of cream top whole milk in the refrigerator just waiting to be used.

Egg less chocolate brownie cupcakes with orange zest

My signature Carrot Halwa Blondie bars in a cupcake/muffin avatar
The milk was eventually reduced to a fifth of its original volume and sweetened to make a classic Indian milk pudding called Rabbdi. It doesn't require a recipe, just lots of time to make it! ( I'll post the recipe soon!)

Santa however got a brand new cookie, with Cashew Flour (I was hoping to make it completely gluten free, but decided to play it safe at the last minute by adding some all purpose flour into the cookie dough.

Here's the recipe:

Cashew Cookies spiced with Cardamoms & cloves (makes 24)

You need:

1.5 cups cashew meal/flour (Trader Joe's has a ready-made bag available, I used that)
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup demerara or dark brown sugar
12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoons orange zest
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon spice blend*

* For the spice blend,
Combine the seeds from 6 pods of cardamom with about 5-6 cloves and crush into a powder. Use as much as required.

Pre heat oven to 350 F.

Sift together the cashew meal, all purpose flour and the baking powder.

In the bowl of the stand mixer combine the sugar and the softened butter and cream together till its 'fluffy'. Add in the orange zest and the spice blend.

Keeping the mixer running on a low setting, gradually add the flour mixture  spoon by spoon until its incorporated well into the creamed butter and sugar.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie dough scoop (~ 2 oz scoop) scoop out the dough onto the lined baking sheets (12 on each sheet). Using the back of a moistened silicone spatula, gently flatten the dough.

Bake in the oven for about 20  minutes. Remove the trays and allow the cookies to cool on the tray itself for about 10 minutes, before transferring to a cookie rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin once completely cooled.Serve with a hot cup of tea or a mug of steaming hot cocoa.

Optional side.. serve it up with a fresh carrot for Santa's reindeer!

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