Lavender Spiced Chai Latte

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things. ~SakiImage

This is my second post on tea and I guess the quote affirms my love for tea- that is if you could see the absence of great quotes from other posts :-)   I would never ever refuse a cup of tea and always had a great company at home and outside to enjoy the small cups of goodness.

A great contrast to my “tea-crazy” self,  my husband is not much of a “tea” or a “coffee” person.  When he first told me of this, I asked him- “Seriously? what kind of person are you??   Five years into marriage, the tea evangelist in me finally managed to get him to (occasionally) enjoy the masala chai that I make at home.

So when this Friday he asked me for a cup of the chai, I tried a slightly different version of the regular masala chai that turned out great.

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Ingredients:

  • Water- 4 cups
  • Loose black tea leaves- 3  tsp, I used Darjeeling tea
  • Cinnamon- 1 Tsp (coarsely crushed bark).
  • Ginger (grated)- 1 tsp
  • Cardamom- 3-4 pods crushed
  • Grated nutmeg- a pinch
  • Dried Lavender buds- 1/4 tsp

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Instructions

  • Place 3 cups water in a small saucepan.
  • Add cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and Lavender.
  • Add sugar per taste if you are using or any sweetener)
  • Bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce heat to low
  • Simmer until the mixture (and your kitchen) smells aromatic, about 10 minutes.
  • While the tea is simmering, prepare the milk.
  • If you have a milk frother at home, go ahead and use it.  I do not have one, so I  used the following trick that turned out pretty well.
  • Heat milk in microwave for about a minute. Transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid.  Shake vigorously for about 30 sec.
  • Open the lid carefully and with the back of your spoon hold off the froth.
  • Strain the tea into cups and add milk.
  • Spoon the froth and top off the chai.
  • Dust lightly with cinnamon powder and enjoy

Note: I used 2% milk and the froth was good enough.  You can use whole milk for thicker froth.

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Smoky Spiced Eggplant with Yogurt

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Serve me eggplants is any style, I eat it up.   Make it anyway- baked, grilled, roasted, deep-fried, sautéed, stuffed, or in this case – smoked, this loyal vegetable never fails the taste buds.   Naturally, it is a staple food in my kitchen but it has never occurred to me to write a post on this versatile vegetable.  So, when Azita said that she also likes eggplants in every which way, I decided to get this recipe onto this blog.   For Azita’s recipe of yummy picked Persian style eggplant, check here.

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Note:  Traditionally the eggplants are either cooked directly over fire or grilled over charcoal, and when made this way, the dish is infused with the smoky flavor that I find so wonderful.  In absence of a cook top that runs on a gas,  an alternative is to use the outdoor grill on fire or the oven. Broiling imparts the smoky flavor to an extent.

Ingredients

  • 2 Large Aubergine
  • 1 Cup Fresh Curd/ Yogurt
  • Coriander (Handful)
  • 3 Green chillies
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Coriander seeds-Coarsely crushed (optional)

For seasoning:

  • 1 Tbsp Oil
  • 2 Dry red chillies
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • A pinch of asafoetida

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Recipe:

  • Brush the eggplants lightly with oil.  Punch holes with a fork or a knife tip.
  • Scorch the eggplants by holding them over medium gas flame. Using tongs, turn them periodically so that they are done evenly inside. Alternatively, heat them under the broiler. (Even a plain roasting at 375° F also would work).  Keep turning them until the skin is blackened on all sides.
  • Set aside until cool, peel of the charred skin and mash lightly.   I prefer leaving off specks of the charred skin to the eggplant, as they add to the pleasant smoky flavor.
  • Combine the chilli, coriander leaves and the seeds in a blender and grind to a coarse paste.   I used my stone mortar and pestle to get the right consistency, but a blender would work. 
  • Whisk the yogurt lightly. 
  • Add the yogurt and the chilli-coriander paste to the mashed eggplant.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds.  When they start spluttering follow with the remaining ingredients.
  • Add the entire seasoning to the eggplant yogurt mix.
  • Sprinkle some freshly cut coriander leaves.
  • This dish of total awesomeness goes well with rice and roti.

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Lavender Lemon Bars

Am I the only one who dreams about how a certain recipe tastes? I guess not.  I recently came across an email from Taste of Home on Lavender Lemon Bars.  Even without reading the entire recipe, I fell in love with it.   I was dreaming about how it would taste and could almost taste it on my tongue. Now, don’t be so surprised, for I never had a lemon bar before, forget it with lavender. I was sure that the sweet taste of lavender would perfectly complement the tartness of the lemon and it sounded like heaven.  

I tried it out this weekend (having ordered for the lavender buds on Amazon.com) and it did not disappoint me or my family.

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Lavender Lemon Bars Recipe

Ingredients
For the Crust:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
  • 2 teaspoons lemon peel-grated

Topping:

  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Substitute for 4 eggs (see the note below)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Note:  I do not use eggs and as a substitute, I have added 1 tsp of Baking Powder and 1/4 tsp baking soda to 1 cup of yogurt, let it sit for 3 min till it froths up.   For those of you who use egg, actual recipe calls for 4 eggs.

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  • In a small bowl, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar. Add the flour, lavender and lemon peel; beat until crumbly.
  • Fill a13-in. x 9-in. baking pan and pat till even.
  • Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  • Meanwhile, in a another bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking soda, the yogurt mix/eggs and lemon juice; beat until frothy.
  • Pour over the warm crust. Bake at 350° for about 25 minutes or until light golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

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Oven Roasted Aloo Gobi- (Cauliflower and Potato)

Aloo Gobi (Cauliflower and Potato curry) a North Indian curry- a comfort food.  It is one of my all time favorites and a dish that I make regularly. 

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The original version to make from the scratch takes some time like most of the other Indian recipes.  So, it is natural that when I came across Suvir Saran’s recipe for oven roasted style, I literally jumped with joy.  The recipe is super easy, takes less time than the original one and tastes just as good.  Mine tasted even better!

  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 head cauliflower torn into medium florets
  • 2 Medium potatoes- chopped
  • 1 medium red onion,  thinly sliced
  • Coarse salt
  • Red Pepper powder
  • Turmeric powder (optional)
  • Coriander leaves for garnish

For Seasoning (Totally optional)

  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 1/2 Tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
  • Curry leaves

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a gratin dish or any large baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
  • Coarsely grind cardamom, cumin, coriander. I used a pestle and mortar.
  • Arrange potatoes, onions and cauliflower in a large dish.  Add oil, spices, salt and turmeric. Toss to coat.
  • Transfer vegetables to the baking dish. 
  • Roast until tender for about 30-40 min stirring in between.
  • Season with salt and pepper powder.
  • Transfer to a serving dish.

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Optional step: In a small pan heat some oil, add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Let them splutter. Add curry leaves. Add to the roasted vegetables and mix well.

Good Food, Great Stories- Being Hyderabadi- II

This post is a continuation of the previous one, please refer to the earlier post for more information on “Being Hyderabadi” and the yummy biryani recipe.

Double ka Meetha is a bread pudding dessert where you fried bread slices soaked in hot milk with spices and saffron. It is popular dessert in Hyderabadi cuisine, served at weddings and festivities. The name, I too thought it was quirky, when I first heard it.  But the milk bread is called “Double Roti” in the local language because it swells up to almost double its original size after baking 🙂

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During our exchanges on a bread pudding recipe, Ken from The Garum Factory said that I need to take out my running shoes when I am thinking of my recipe and his recipe, a great one, check it our here. And he is quite right too.

But that’s okay, we surely have the privilege and luxury of indulging ourselves, once in a while.  And then, out come the running shoes people!

Now to the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup ghee/ butter
  • 6-7 slices of bread
  • 6-8 cardamoms
  • 1 Tbsp pistachio
  • 1tbsps cashewnuts
  • Milk- 2 cups
  • ¼ cup sugar (increase or decrease as per your taste)
  • Saffron strands

Directions

  • Remove the crusts from the bread slices
  • Tear into pieces and fry them in ghee until golden brown.
  • Blot the fried pieces onto a paper towel.
  • Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, boil milk.
  • Lower the heat. Add cardamom, saffron and sugar.
  • Add the fried bread pieces to the milk and simmer until the bread pieces turn soft.
  • Mix lightly.
  • Serve out into bowls and sprinkle the  crushed nuts.

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Good Food, Great Stories- Being a Hyderabadi- I

Even while I was planning on the current post, I realized it was going to be long.   But when I completed it, it was way longer than I expected or wanted it to be.    So, I modified what I was writing and my thinking.  The result is the series:  Good Food and Great Stories.

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Now into the post:

Why is food as an experience important? At least to me it brings back memories.

My first trip abroad all by myself was to attend a conference in Dresden, Germany when I was 24 years old.  The coffee that I had in a quaint cafe overlooking River Elbe is still in my memory.  That September afternoon by myself, the smell of coffee and the awesomeness of the moment. IT WAS GOOD.  I am sure most of us relate experience to good memories.  When it comes to experiences, good food definitely plays a part.  The taste of some dishes or in fact even the smell of it, transports us back in time, it evokes such strong memories that you can consciously and vividly recall an event related to it.

As mentioned earlier, this post is the start of a series on good food and all the great memories and stories associated with it.  I believe and I think so do you that there is no dearth of memories or experiences when food is involved. Grandmother’s secret recipe or those exotic dishes you ate when you were visiting places.    Here is to all the awesomeness involved in food, stories and memories.

It is festive season in Hyderabad.  And you can only relate to it if you are from Hyderabad or if you have visited Hyderabad especially during Ramadan.   The spirit of the city is such that it transcends everything else and is a representative of the culture.  So in one word, it does not matter what you are and whom you believe, you are A HYDERABADI.

I was born in Hyderabad and was raised a few years before my family moved to our hometown, the beautiful Visakhapatnam, a quaint coastal city in Southern India.  My father because of his work, had to stay in Hyderabad most of his working life till he retired.   So, while we were in our hometown most of the year, we spent few months in Hyderabad whenever we had school off and later when I completed my education, I worked in Hyderabad for a while.

So, I can relate to being a Hyderabadi, as they call it and feel great about it too.   While the spirit is always festive in the city, the month of Ramadan is even special.  And the best part of the entire season- food!!!  All you can find at this time is big stalls on the roads where delicious food is served. Now Hyderabadi food is a gift of the Nizams, who have ruled Hyderabad for close to 4 centuries.   The locals fondly say that Hyderabadi food is made out of leisure and love for it.

Even if it is this particular season under discussion is over, a true Hyderabadi will eternally love the Irani chai, Osmania biscuit, Paradise Biriyani and Qubani Ka Meetha.  The list goes on!

In this post, all I intend to do get a little spirit of Hyderabad and the great food into this post.  I might not be very successful, but I still want to give it a try.

To satiate my senses AND my memories, I made the special Hyderabadi Biriyani and a dessert “Double ka Meetha” last weekend.

Here comes the first entry on back to back posting on ” Good food and Great stories- Being Hyderabadi”.

ImageHyderabadi Pakki Biriyani

Before that I need to assert:

The authentic biriyani uses lamb and sometimes chicken. I being a vegetarian, used vegetables.  The technique is same, just substitute meat for vegetables.

There are two traditional methods of preparing the Hyderabadi Biryani: Kachchi Briyani is prepared with raw meat which is marinated in yogurt and then cooked along with the rice by sealing the vessel.   Pakki briyani the meat, (in my case, the vegetables) is cooked and layered with the cooked rice.

For the vegetables:

  • Potatoes, carrots, beans – Diced and cut
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • Green chili, ginger and garlic made into a paste -2 Tbsp
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2 Tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 Tsp red chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns – crushed
  • 2 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Coarsely chopped mint leaves- 3 sprigs

For the Biryani

  • 2 cups Basmati rice, washed, and soaked in water for 20 min. Drain in a colander and set aside.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 green cardamoms
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • Grated nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp ghee
  • Salt to taste

Other items needed for layering

  • Fried onions
  • Yogurt- Saffron mix- Whisk yogurt with saffron. Add a little water or milk and whisk well. Keep aside, we will need it during the layering.

Biryani

The process:

Vegetables:

  1. Add all the ingredients from the vegetable section to cut vegetables and marinate for 2-3 hours.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the marinated stuff and cook till it is done.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.

Rice:

  1. Cook the rice along with the spices: bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, grated nutmeg and ghee.  Add salt. Cook till the rice is 3/4 done.
  2. Now proceed to the layering part.
  3. Layer some rice at the bottom of the vessel.  Arrange some fried onion followed by the cooked vegetables.
  4. Sprinkle some yogurt-saffron mix.  Follow with another layer of rice, onions and vegetables.
  5. Repeat till the entire rice and the vegetables are done.
  6. Top off with some rice.
  7. Garnish with some mint leaves.
  8. Cover tightly.
  9. Complete the cooking in microwave for 5 minutes.
  10. Serve with Raita.

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Note: Since the post was getting longer, I decided to break it in two parts.   Please follow the second part of this series for the dessert.

Mango Graham Cracker parfait with coconut

When fresh fruit is in season, I try and use it as much as possible for most of my meals, either the fruit by itself in its entirety or included as an main ingredient in the recipe [hear, hear.. as if you couldn’t make out from my entries].

So for the summer it is mango and peach (obviously) and more specifically mango.  Nothing against the peaches, I still have ’em stocked up, but mangoes being my favorite fruit will dominate this blog at least for a week more.

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I make my own yogurt at home and on the very day it is made, I prefer using it for something fancy when it all set very solid.  Fresh fruit and freshly set yogurt- here comes Mango graham crackers parfait as an afternoon snack for my little one and of course me too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup diced mango
  • 2 mangoes- pureed in a blender
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Graham crackers- 1/4 cup (I used the breakfast style Graham crackers- Three Sisters brand)
  • Sweetned coconut flakes- optional

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Instructions

  • Crush together crackers and sugar in a bowl
  • For the parfait, place some mango puree in a glass followed by the yogurt.  Add some fresh fruit followed by the graham crackers.
  • Repeat till all the yogurt and the puree is used up.
  • Top off with some diced fruit and some crackers.
  • Sprinkle some coconut flakes and serve.

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Spice Roasted Fruit and Sweet Rice

Inspiration for this post?  Lot of leftover fruits that begged for a clear up and a lot of whim like most of my other recipes.   I recently read about a spiced tropical fruit recipe in a book somewhere and tried a similar version with the left over half fruits that I had.   In fact it is a back to back posting of fruit related recipes.  A day earlier I had made a fruit salad and then comes this Spice Roasted Fruit with Sweet Rice.

 

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Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup short grained rice (any rice will work)
  • 1 cup milk
  • few strands of saffron
  • Crushed Cardamom pods
  • Cinnamon stick
  • 1 nutmeg, grated
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Apple, cored and cubed
  • 1 cup Pineapple cubes
  • 2 peaches, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Few pistachios, chopped

Recipe:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  • Place the fruit in an ovenproof dish.
  • In a saucepan, place the butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom pods and sugar and heat gently stirring until melted.
  • Pour the mixture over the fruit.
  • Roast in the oven till the fruit is browned (20 min in my case).
  • For sweet rice: heat milk with saffron and cardamom till it simmers.  Turn down the heat. In another pot, melt butter and lightly saute the rice for about a minute or two.  You can see a translucent sheen on the rice grains.  At this stage, add lemon rind.  Slowly add milk to the pot, a ladle at a time, till all the rice is cooked. (alternatively, you can add all the ingredients and cook till rice is done).
  • Divide the roasted fruit into serving dishes and spoon over the rice.  Top off with some more fruit and garnish with  pistachio.

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Note: If you do not want to use rice, you can completely let go off the step using the rice and serve the fruit with some cream instead.   The flavor comes from the fruit not the rice.

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Coconut Milk and Mint Charu

A jewel of a dish from Southern India.   Charu is a simple stew consisting mostly of lentils, tamarind, herbs flavored by spicy curry powder.  While the basic version with only lentils and tamarind in itself is a great comfort food, little tweaked up versions are absolutely amazing.  One such is Kobbari pala Charu or Coconut Milk Rasam.  It is however an unusual version of the charu and an exclusive recipe from a small region of Southern India.  I have never heard of this particular version before (Charu/Rasam is a part of everyday diet for us) until an year ago.

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Ingredients

For the Charu

  • 1 cup of uncooked split red lentils or Masoor.
  • Coconut Milk-  Add 3 cups of water to 1 cup of fresh grated coconut and blend.  Strain and collect the liquid (coconut milk).  Repeat with 2 cups of water. Alternatively you can also use canned coconut milk found in most of the International grocery stores (like the Hmart) and every Indian grocery store.
  • Mint leaves- 3-4 sprig
  • Shallots- few
  • 3 green chillies- Split lengthwise
  • Turmeric- a pinch (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • Crushed coriander and fenugreek seeds (optional)

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For Tempering

  • 1Tbsp oil
  • 1/4 Tsp Mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp Cumin seeds
  • 2-3 dry red chillies
  • Curry leaves

Recipe

  • Cook split red lentils until they are done.  If you use a pressure cooker, you can add 1/2 cup of dal with 1 cup of water. If you do not have a pressure cooker, add 1/2 cup of dal and 1 1/2  cup and boil in a heavy bottomed vessel on a stove top.  Once the lentils are done, mash the cooked lentil to a soft paste.
  • In a saucepan, add cooked lentils, coconut milk, chillies, mint leaves, shallots, salt and turmeric.
  • Add crushed coriander and fenugreek seeds if you are using
  • Bring to a boil and lower the heat and let it simmer for about 10 min.
  • Turn of the heat
  • For seasoning, heat oil and add mustard seeds.  Once they splutter, add remaining ingredients and add it to the prepared charu.
  • Goes well with plain rice.

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Note:

  • Original recipe uses split red gram or tuvar dal.
  • If you are using canned coconut milk, 1/2 can would be sufficient.  I have always found it to be  heavier and richer than the homemade coconut milk. NEVER use the sweetened coconut milk for this recipe.

Tapioca pudding with fruits

Growing up, tapioca pudding was a common dessert at home.  I was and still am partial to regular rice pudding but once in a while I like experimenting with tapioca pearls when I make a pudding.

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So last week,  when I had some tapioca pearls left out from a different recipe, I tried out the following recipe, which turned out to be pretty good considering the very minimal “thought” and effort that went into the recipe.   I say “thought” because I put in everything that came to my mind and hand.  I really did not think out the recipe while I was making it.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup tapioca pearls
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped apple, peaches and banana
  • Pinch of Saffron strands soaked in warm milk
  • Candied rose petals/rose water (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Ghee/Butter
  • 1 Tsp Cardamom powder
  • 1 Tbsp slivered almonds and pistachios

Recipe

  • Soak the tapioca in a cup of water for 2 hours, drain and lay a paper towel over the tapioca to absorb excess water.
  • Heat ghee or butter in a pan and fry the tapioca till they turn translucent. Turn of heat and set aside.
  • In a heavy  bottomed pan, bring milk to boil.  Add saffron, cardamom powder and the fried tapioca.
  • Cook till it the tapioca turns plump.   When you press a single pearl between your fingers, it should not appear starchy.
  • Add sugar, turns off the heat and let cool.
  • In a serving bowl, arrange the chopped fruits and nuts.  Transfer the cooked pudding, mix well.
  • Stir in candied rose petals or a Tbsp of rose water.
  • Garnish with slivered nuts and serve.

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Note:

  • Frying the pearls in totally optional.  You can skip the entire step and add soaked tapioca to the milk.
  • Since you are using a lot of fruit to complement the dessert, add sugar with caution.  I started with 1 Tbsp of sugar but ended up adding 3/4 Tbsp.

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Tapioca Pudding