Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kids say the darndest things - Coconut Popcorn

Inspiration comes from the most unexpected of sources, it's up to the individual to use and interpret the signal and filter it from the surrounding noise. Call it signal processing or an interpretation of the Bhagvad Geeta or simply neural transmission and the brain processing the sounds it hears and making sense of it. you know its a winner of an idea if something constructive comes of it.

Yesterday, it was a random babble session with my 6 year old, she came up to me insisting that we had to make some coconut popcorn -  when I asked her who told her that she invoked a character from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It seemed such a cute conversation that I shared it simultaneously on Facebook. I was rather clueless about what she wanted, since her palate is extremely restricted, Rice and Pasta to be precise. And sure enough, my friends rallied with possible interpretations.

Knowing how much my kid does NOT care for anything sweet that I make (told you she keeps me grounded, I have to work to get her culinary approval), the first thing I could think of was the traditional coconut rice prepared South Indian style. In the meantime, she had already pulled out the popcorn air popper and an open bag of kernels, and was all set to make a batch. I had no time to think about any other suggestions and went with my first instinct - and I could not ask for a better 'Panfusine' finale for the year 2015.

South Indian Style coconut popcorn (Makes ~ 4 cups)

4 cups air popped popcorn
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Urad dal
1/2 cup broken cashewnuts
1 - 2 birds eye chile, finely chopped or 1 broken Arbol Chile
1 sprig torn curry leaves
Salt to taste
1 pinch asafetida (optional)

Heat the coconut oil in cast iron skillet and add the mustard and urad dal. When the mustard pops and Urad dal turns a light brown,  add the cashew nuts, chilies, curry leaves and salt. Allow these to bloom and emit their signature aromas and flavor. Toss in the shredded coconut, and then empty the entire the contents of the skillet into the bowl holding the popcorn. Fold with a spatula to evenly disperse the coconut tempering throughout the popcorn. Serve immediately.

Now, get yourself a nice chick flick or masala movie over Netflix or your DVD, a nice cup of tea, sit back and look forward to a fantastic New year 2016!

Wishing everyone of you, my precious readers a wonderful New year. Thank you so much for all the support during this past year.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Blending with OXO - A recipe for 'Nimona' - Green Pea soup with pan fried gnocchi and Cilantro Pesto.

When I signed up to Oxo's latest blogger opportunity showcasing their new range of small kitchen appliances, , my initial plan was to make something as simple as Lassi. I even had a name for my blog post - 'Lassi Galore' - obviously because liquid probiotic yogurt  isn't exactly in that glamorous category of beverages like say, a boozy cocktail.

All that changed last week at the eleventh hour last weekend, when a group of blogger buddies got together at Anu Rao's  ( We were treated to the most elegant dinner (with all the bells and whistles, place settings, matching napkins - the works). The menu, in a delightful ironical twist comprised of dishes from Bihar, an Indian state whose cuisine is unheard of for all practical purposes. And Voila, I found the perfect dish to showcase the new immersion blender from OXO.

My old immersion blender is a relic from last century - 19 years to be precise, from my graduate school days. Every other accessory it came with has moved on the the great 'discarded appliance' pile in the sky,  and truth be told, I just could not find a suitable replacement that I was comfortable with. Well, from this point onward the old Braun will be relegated to churning soap.

The first feature about the OXO immersion blender that grabs your attention is the difference in length compared to the other blenders in the market - significantly 'taller' and thus can be used in tall soup pots without the fear of getting scalded when blending large batches. 

The fact that the blade is completely detachable from the motor at the mere touch of a soft button is a feature I missed in my old appliance. As ridiculous as it seems, no more wondering if all the fibers from the spinach you pureed years ago were completely washed out! And no more fear of accidentally turning the machine on while rinsing, or getting the motor drenched. (it still makes good sense to unplug before you take the blender, whole or in parts, anywhere near the sink).
The top half of the blender also has this unique LED feature that casts a soft glow over the ingredient being prepped and allows for effectively gauging the level of blending that is needed.

You can also adjust the speed (something not found in many of the competitive products) at which you want you blender to spin. there is a dial at the top of the appliance that enables you to execute tasks from gentle blending to hardcore pureeing. An indispensable convenience for making soups. I found that I could get a silky puree without having to strain the soup afterwards.

The recipe in this post is a variation of a traditional dish from North India. Nimona is a stew made with green peas and potatoes and is a winter specialty when green peas are in season. The method of preparation varies between states, Bihar / Jharkhand  dishes exemplify the use of raw/uncooked forms of seasoning like raw onions, etc. I used the pesto to highlight the crisp vegetal flavors involved. Being a complete stranger to this dish, I take inspiration from a recipe posted by my fellow blogger Anjana Chaturvedi ( Adding the gnocchi instead of potatoes and the Cilantro Pesto is my personal touch.

Nimona (serves 4)

For the Soup:

  • 1 lb bag frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons Ghee / brown butter
  • 1 two inch stick cinnamon
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon ginger - chilli paste*
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely crushed mix of coriander and cumin tied into a bouquet garni
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Wedges of lime for serving

* : Mince a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger root and 1-2 green chilies (as per your heat preference) together to a paste.

For the Gnocchi:

  • 2 large russet potatoes, boiled, peeled and crumbled well
  • 2 teaspoon corn flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • oil/ghee for pan frying

Cilantro/pistachio Pesto

  • 1 bunch cilantro (just leaves)
  • 1/3 cup pistachio soaked for an hour in hot water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 green chilies (as per taste)
  • salt to taste
  • juice of 1/2 a lime

Boil the peas in 2-3 cups of water until they turn soft, but retain firmness and their green color. Transfer the peas (reserving the water its boiled in)  to the blending beaker accessory and puree the peas at the highest speed. Add some of the water to make the puree as per your preferred consistency. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the ghee and add the whole spices , i.e cardamom, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon, when these bloom and emit their aroma, add in the ginger-chilli paste and stir for a couple of minutes.

Pour in the puree along with the bouquet garni and allow the soup to simmer on low heat (~ 15 mintues). Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bouquet garni and the whole spices and transfer to a tureen. Allow to cool a bit while you make the gnocchi.


Mash the potatoes, cornflour salt and pepper into a smooth ball of dough. Pinch off marble sized bits, roll them into a sphere and run these down a gnocchi board to get the ridged oval shapes.

Heat the ghee/oil and fry these bits in batches until golden brown. Drain onto a paper towel.

Cilantro / Pistachio Pesto.

Combine the cilantro, hydrated and drained pistachios, garlic cloves, green chilies and the lime juice in a food processor and blend together until it forms a thick pesto, Add salt, taste for seasoning and adjust for taste. Store in the refrigerator. this pesto tastes great for sandwiches as well.

To serve, ladle the warm soup into bowls, add a couple of the fried gnocchi (and reserve the rest for your guest to add as they choose) and a dollop of the chilled pesto.

A big vote of thanks to OXO for the opportunity to test and showcase the new immersion blender. Honored to add it to my arsenal of kitchen gadgets.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 - Apple Pie, Tirunelveli style?

There's a new Thanksgiving tradition that's taken root at home for the past five years that I've been blogging. A new dish added to the repertoire, its not one of those things you put together at the spur of the moment, -- Thanksgiving is way too special for quick hacks even if its just the immediate family at the supper table. No, its always a recipe with seasonal ingredients with a unique 'Panfusine' twist infused.

This year,  I may have very well tossed  the quote 'As American as Apple pie' out the window. All along I've always referred to some standard measurement of what apple pie should be, what spices should traditionally be added, etc.  Those time honored notions went south this time around, and I mean it in a literal and figurative sense.

I'm not really a fan of cinnamon and vanilla the way its unilaterally used in practically almost any dessert found in Western cooking, in tiramisu and cinnamon buns yes, in apple pies, I just about tolerate it.
The large pie plate stayed in storage this year. I had just treated myself to these small personal tart / quiche pans (Cuisinart, I picked these up for a song at my local Home Goods store) and they came in handy since I could go ahead and make different pies according to the family's preference. The kid wanted blueberry pie, and he got his wish.

There are two mystery ingredients in this apple pie. The first, a South Indian equivalent of Chai Masala (In the southern Indian states, coffee is the caffeine fix of choice) - its called 'chukku kaapi podi - Chukku is the Tamil term for dried ginger and as the name implies, dried ginger is the primary ingredient. the blend also contains coriander, cumin, long pepper (thippili), galangal and so on . (store bought blends lave a laundry list of ingredients, but these five spices are basic and essential. Note - No Cinnamon!

 Instead of the traditional brown sugar I used a mix of Toddy palm Jaggery  dissolved into a thick molasses like consistency and its sugar crystal equivalent (panam sakkarai as its known in Tamil). It may be available rarely in Indian stores in the US (Kalustyans probably carries it under the name 'Khajurer Gud'), but for those lucky enough to reside in Chennai, I'm pretty sure you'll have many many outlets that still sell these wonderful local artisanal sweeteners.

The recipe for the pie crust is tweaked from Kristen Miglore's Genius recipes . I used one whole stick of butter instead of a combination of butter and shortening. The 'genius aspect in this recipe is using Vodka along with chilled water to form the dough. (No worries, the alcohol completley evaporates off during the baking process, leaving behind an absolutely flaky crust)

Tirunelveli Apple Pie (makes Four 5 inch mini pies or one 9 inch pie)

You need:
Pie Crust (adapted from Cooks Illustrated's Foolproof pie crust)

1 1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 stick butter (chilled and cut into small cubes)
3 tablespoons Chai spiced Vodka
2 tablespoons chilled water

Combine the vodka and water in a small bowl and set aside. (adding ice cubes to the liquid will ensure that its kept chilled)
Combine the sugar, salt and one cup of the APR in a food processor and pulse to mix well. Add the butter in installments, keeping the food processor running. Stop to scrape down the flour butter mixture intermittently. Once the mixture resembles that of coarse sand, tip the contents of the food processor into a mixing bowl. Using your finger tips or a silicone spatula, knead the mixture while adding the vodka/water teaspoon by teaspoon. Bring the mixture together into a ball of dough that is slightly sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator for an hour.

Apple pie filling:

4 large granny smith apples - peeled, cored, halved and sliced
3 tablespoon chukku kaapi spice blend
4 tablespoons palm sugar crystals
1/2  cup toddy palm jaggery, melted and strained
pinch of salt
2 heaped tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespoons ginger extract.

To make the ginger extract, grate a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger root and squeeze out the liquid.

Combine the apple slices with the remaining ingredients, and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. The palm sugar crystals will not dissolve completely and that is quite OK.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Divide the pie dough into 4 and roll out each portion to 1/8 inch thickness. Carefully place over the pie pan and press down. Use a fork to perforate the dough and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pie tins halfway through until the crust is golden.
Fill the crust with the apples. Roll out the left over dough and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, arrange them over the top of the filling.

Alternatively, you could use a fettucine roller like I did to cut out even strips of dough and make a lattice topping (as seen on the blueberry pie fillings)

Bake at 425 F until the pie filling is bubbly and the dough covering over the pies have turned a golden brown.

I served this up with a dollop of Lehiyam Gelato from my earlier blog posts from November, but it works perfectly well with a scoop of classic vanilla ice cream.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy Hanukkah - Spaghetti Squash Latkes

Facebook seems to be better at keeping track of my recipes than I do. they promptly reminded me of the very first time I made latkes way back in 2010. a South Indian style recipe spiced with turmeric, chili powder and a pinch of hing. those were my nostalgic day of my faithful Canon point and shoot (my kid decided to literally prod it until it  conked out). My old kitchen with the Formica counter tops. When Le Creuset pots and pans were a dreamy luxury rather than a 'necessity' I have completely convinced myself of, not to mention filled my redone kitchen with so much that I've moved some of the bigger pans down to the basement - And they're the best investment I've made when it comes to Kitchen gadgets. As they say in Hindi - Poora Paisa Vasool (complete value for money).

5 years down the line, I felt the need to move away from the root vegetables and zucchini Latkes seems to be done to death. I'd already gone completely esoteric with Banana stem Latkes - a recipe that I've yet to post despite making it over a year ago. Actually it was a choice between that or my other recipe for sweet potato latkes with Fenugreek greens that I had the opportunity to share with Deb Perelman on the Leonard Lopate show.

This year, the ingredient of choice was Spaghetti squash. I've dabbled with these golden orbs over the years but never posted any of my creations until today. Roasted spaghetti squash is surprisingly sturdy even after roasting to a golden brown and seems to be perfect to fry into a golden pancake.  except its not exactly conducive to crisping up the way potatoes or other tubers do. Well, there's a solution for that and its given in detail in the recipe.

Spaghetti squash Latkes: (makes ~ 8 pieces)

You need:
1 medium sized spaghetti squash sliced into two parts around the 'equator'

1/4 cup yogurt (bonus points if you can get hold of plain Greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons Chickpea flour (Besan)
1 teaspoon Garam masala
1 teaspoon Aamchur (dried Mango powder)
3/4 -1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne chile powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt to taste
Oil for frying and brushing

Liberally brush the cut surfaces of the spaghetti squash. place on a baking tray and into an oven preheated to 450 F. Bake the squash halves for 30 minutes or until the flesh appears to peel away from the thick skin. Allow to cool completely.

 Using a fork scrape away the strands of squash into a large bowl. Separate the strands before you add the other ingredients.

Combine all the ingredients along with the roasted spaghetti squash (except the oil of course) into a thick consistency. Divide the mix into 8 or nine equal portions. The Panko is  critical for this particular latke for the crunch value. Latkes made without the breadcrumbs tended to be rather soft and squishy.

Heat oil in cast iron or non stick skillet and place 3 patties at a time onto the hot surface. Allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes on medium high heat. Carefully flip the pancakes using a spatula and cook the other side for another 4 minutes. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

I would ideally have served these up with a thick yogurt raita, except this particular batch was made for my kid who prefers ketchup on everything!

Without the Panko...and

with Panko added.

Here's wishing everyone a blessed Hanukkah.
Hanukkah Sameach! 


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