fermented foods | amla or Indian gooseberry in brine | the best way to make brine fermented pickles

I have been using the Indian Gooseberry aka Amla or Aonla as it is called in Hindi, a lot these days. Amla starts appearing in the markets in the autumn season and keeps coming till the winter lasts. As if to provide immunity towards winter ailments in the country where winter can be really harsh and there are no central heating in homes. Winters are short but come with a few ailments thanks to lowered immunity during this time. Amla helps boost immunity but there are many people who don't like the taste of amla and completely ignore this seasonal bounty of nature.

While we love the boiled amla chutney and instant amla pickle (amle ka achar) along with random green chutneys made with coriander and mint greens and a few amla berries thrown in, there are people who detest the slightly astringent taste of amla. This amla coconut chutney is one where nobody has detected presence of amla as yet, the chutney is served with idli and dosa.

Some readers on my facebook page (Healthy Living With Sangeeta Khanna) asked me how to make brined amla so everyone in the family can eat it regularly and I was reminded of the brined amla I had tasted at a Maharashtrian friend of mine. Those were small amlas, brined whole in heavily salted brine that they serve to start with the meal as a palate cleanser and digestive.

Later I tried with segmented raw amla and sliced raw amla and both ways it was a great pickle to have on hand. I still have a kilo of brined whole amla in my pantry and use those slightly darkened berries to make green chutney sometimes. But the sliced amla works really well for salads and sandwiches or served as it is on the side just like you serve pickled jalapenos, vinegared onions or pickled gherkins etc. Sliced amla makes the brine pickle more versatile in use as you can throw a few slices in any chicken, boiled egg, tuna or sausage salad along with other greens.

You can actually make brined pickles of any vegetables you wish. Cucumbers, cabbage, ginger and garlic behave really well along with grapes, radish, turnips, carrots, beets, knol khol etc. try with any of these vegetables and add slice jalapenos, bell peppers or any other sharp spices if you wish.

How to prepare the brine? 

Brine is just a solution of 30-35 gm of table salt and a Liter of filtered water. No heating required. Just mix both till the salt dissolves.

Now you can use any vegetables sliced in bite sized pieces and pour the brine over them. Just make sure you pour enough brine to cover the vegetable slices to make sure the fermentation in anaerobic and no contamination happens to the floating slices of vegetables.

The vegetable slices start getting sour by the next day, it means the fermentation has started. Watch out for the desired sourness and once you get your kind of sourness and softness of the vegetables, just refrigerate the brined pickle and use it for a month** or so.

** the longevity of the brined salad will depend on the vegetables used. Cucumbers get really soft and loose texture after souring for 3-4 days on room temperature but stays well if refrigerated after a day of souring. But will stay good only for a month or so. Amal will get perfectly soured and free of astringent taste within 3 days and will keep well on room temperature for a year or more. So it all depends on how well the vegetable slices behave with souring and softening the tissue. Amla slices remain firm and crisp all the while.

This is how amla looks when freshly brined along with a few slices of ginger..

Ginger gives a nice pink colour to the brined pickle. See how it looks after 4 days of fermentation. This colour stay for about 6 months and later it started darkening a bit but the taste and benefits remain the same.


Few points to keep in mind when brining the vegetables..

  1. Use sterilised glass jars or ceramic jars for brine pickling.
  2. Use as much vegetables as you wish but do not fill the jar to the brim. Keep some space for the brine.
  3. Wash and clean all vegetables being used really well. Clean the knives and chopping board properly before chopping the vegetables on them.
  4. Pour the brine solution just after chopping the vegetables. Do not keep the cut vegetables open for long. 
  5. Most vegetables keep submerged if you pour enough brine over them but some vegetables like cabbage or mature radish etc may float to the surface and keep exposed to the air, put a small sterilised bowl or plate above the brined pickle to keep all vegetables submerged. This is to provide anaerobic fermentation condition to the pickle.
  6. Open the lid once a day to check contamination and taste the pickle about sourness and desired softness of the vegetable being pickled.
  7. Refrigerate once the pickle is fermented enough for your liking.
  8. Note that brined Amla doesn't need any refrigeration.
  9. You can even brine raw mango slices, Amda (Hog plums), sour plums and even small sour apples this way. All these can be used to make salads, chutneys, pesto and as a souring agent for curries and stews as desired. 
  10. Add seasoning and spices as desired.

For the above cucumber brined pickle I just sliced cucumbers and jalapeno peppers (bhavnagri mirchi) and poured brine over it. There is a kick of chilly heat in this pickle that everyone likes.

The tall bottle in the background is store bought pickled capers. We don't get capers here but you can make your own pickled capers too following the same recipe and method discussed here or just like this blogger does.

Some people make brined amla with boiled amla but that is not the best way to bring out the flavours and that is not a probiotic pickle as well. I recommend this brined pickled amla for multiple health benefits.

See this apple and red cabbage pickled salad I make with home made vinegar of different types. The probiotic benefit from all these pickles is similar but the taste and longevity of the pickles will be different depending on the vegetables/fruits and pickling solution used.

This is the season for amla to be brined so go ahead buy some amla and slice them fine. I even added the remaining stone of the amla along with some remaining flesh after slicing to the brine and the pickle is being picked up on the dining table quite frequently.

seafood promotion at the rooftop restaurant – Le Bevedere at Le Meridien and a recipe of king scallop in chilly bean sauce

Seafood is something we crave for, something we always look forward to as we don't normally get good quality fresh seafood around here in Delhi. We do get our quota of seafood when we visit INA market and stock the fridge but that doesn't happen very frequently because of the hassle of cleaning the seafood at home. It is much more easier to order chicken or meat and start cooking immediately without any hassle of cleaning. Yes, sometimes I compromise on cooking some of my favourite foods because of cooking and cleaning hassles and prefer eating out whenever we get a chance. And we have always loved the seafood served at Le Belvedere (at Le Meridien, New Delhi) with a nice view of Lutyen's Delhi.

 It was a coincidence that Purba asked on Twitter whether we can meet any time soon and I suggested why don't we meet at Le Belvedere. It was the occasion of a preview of the soon to be held seafood promotion at the restaurant and we lapped up the opportunity. Love for seafood and joy of meeting friends after a while both being nurtured together. It was a fun lunch with sips of wine and laughter.

I started with a clear chicken soup that is one of my favourites even at home. Simple flavours with fresh crisp vegetables and generous chunks of chicken breast that comfort the soul. I started my soup late and the main course had arived by that time and the soup was so good I kept having in between my main course bites.

Pomfret in hot bean sauce was very delicately flavoured, soft and fresh but many of us found the bones a little distracting. I have always loved their lobster and this time too it was the same old good taste with fresh ingredients and flavourful sauce to accompany. Perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned I must add.

The whole red snapper looked sad in the face but packed a punch taste wise. We tasted the king fish in black pepper sauce and that was good too. But the unanimously favourite dish was the king scallop in chilly bean sauce. Chef Balkishan Chauhan was generous enough to part with the recipe for all of you. Perfect texture that results from great timing while cooking and fresh crunchy vegetables to pair it with. Loved the black mushrooms as a base and crisp snow peas.

Here is the recipe for you all. All this seafood was polished off with stir fry noodles, plain boiled rice and sticky rice. My choice is sticky rice for sure.

Pan roasted king scallop in chilly bean sauce

(4 servings) 

Quantity                          ingredients

 400 gm                         King Scallop
    2 tbsp                         Corn flour
    1 no.                           Egg
    To Taste                     Salt
    ½ tsp                          White Pepper Powder
    30 ml                         Cooking Oil
    2 tsp                          Chopped Garlic 
    2 tsp                          Chopped Ginger
    2 tsp                          Chopped Black Bean
    1 tbsp                        Red Bell Pepper
    1 tbsp                        Yellow Bell Pepper
    2 tbsp                        Green Bell Pepper
    2 tbsp                        Onion
    2 tbsp                        Spring Onions
    1 tsp                          Chilly Paste
    1 tbsp                        Soy Sauce Dark                        
    2 cup                         Fish stock
    2 tsp                          Chinese cooking wine
    2 tsp                          Sesame oil

METHOD

1.   Take king scallops and wash them properly. Keep aside in cool place.
2.   Wash and cut bell peppers, onion and spring onion into dices.
3.   Marinate scallops in a mixing bowl with salt, white pepper, egg, and corn flour.
4.   Keep marinated scallops in refrigerator for ½ hr.
5.   In a wok heat the oil, add marinated scallops and cook it until golden brown in colour or tender. Keep aside.
6.   Heat oil in a wok, add chopped ginger, garlic, black bean and sauté it. Add bell pepper, onion, and spring onion toss it well.
7.   Add chilly paste, soy sauce dark, fish stock, salt, and sugar in to the mixture and bring it to boil.
8.   Add roasted scallop with mixture and heat it well check the seasoning and adjust the consistency With slurry (Corn starch and water)
9.   Add Chinese cooking wine and sesame oil and mix it.
10.       Remove from heat. Serve hot.

11.       It can be served with sticky rice or noodle.  


Try the recipe at home and recreate the magic that Chef Balkishan creates with king scallops.

Desserts were not needed but Anasuya and Chef Balkishan insisted and we tried the date pancakes and toffee banana. I took a bite of date pancake it was well made, rich flavours. Toffee banana was praised by those who tried it.



Here are the crazy bunch of people who spent a lovely time together that afternoon. 
Sipping illy coffee after the lunch and catching up on gossip.



The seafood promotion starts from 14th of this month. You might like to go and experience the view from 20th floor and the yummy seafood too.

101 gluten free breakfasts : stir fried fresh water chestnuts (water caltrops) with coconut and curry leaves

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and can make or break the day for some people. I am one of those who keeps switching between a light breakfast, full lunch and light dinner routine to a heavy brunch and early dinner kind of routine. For me it depends on my work routine, my sleep cycle that keeps changing like seasons and of course my mood. I love savoury breakfasts for myself and the husband likes his pancakes and porridge, fruits and muesli all sweetened lightly with honey or unrefined sugar. I am sure you already know our breakfast habits well if you have been reading this blog for some time. There are a few breakfasts we both like and I usually reserve them for weekends when we eat together in leisure.

I meet many people who wonder how to not eat bread everyday for breakfast and still keep the breakfast filling and tasty. Including vegetables for breakfast is also a huge problem with those with a habit of toast and egg scramble type of breakfast. I have posted loads of healthy breakfast recipes in the past but more are required I felt. A series of gluten free and vegetables based breakfasts would be good to have and hence this new series of 101 gluten free breakfasts. Hope you would find it useful if you have been trying to avoid gluten for whatever reason.

The first recipe is the wealth of this season, the fresh water chestnuts (water caltrops, singhada or paniphal) that we get for 2-3 months just before the winter starts. This is one vegetables (technically a nut) we both like and even Arvind wouldn't mind a savoury breakfast if it is made using fresh water chestnuts.

He loves singhada so much he would peel while watching TV and keep them ready if required. But I get them peeled by the house help mostly and it is a great convenience if one has to make a quick snack or salad or a breakfast like this. Here is how the peeled fresh water chestnuts (caltrops) look.

I keep making salads with fresh water chestnuts (singhada) and even some curries and soups as well, but having them peeled in the fridge makes one greedy and have more of this seasonal bounty of nature, that is singhada.

I made this stir fry with a south Indian tadka for breakfast on a weekend and we had it with masala chai with fresh cream. We never shy away from fresh cream and ghee as these are healthy fats but I have noticed we feel better if we keep our gluten intake minimal. Please note that gluten is not bad for all but can be really nasty for some people and can be mildly problematic for others. Read my post on how gluten is not a monster but needs to be taken with caution.

ingredients
(2 servings)

chopped fresh water chestnuts (singhada) 2 cups
urad daal (skinned, split black beans) 1 tsp
chana daal (skinned, split chickpeas) 1 tsp
black mustard seeds 1 tsp
dry whole red chillies 2 broken
curry leaves 3 springs
fresh grated coconut 2 tbsp
salt to taste
black pepper powder to taste
ghee 1 tsp

preparation 

Heat the ghee and tip in the mustard and the lentils. Let them sizzle and get aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Now add the broken red chillies and curry leaves in that order and stir them so they release flavours in the ghee.

Add the chopped water chestnuts, salt and stir to mix. Cover for 2 minutes on low flame and stir once again. It may need further cooking for 2-3 minutes but keep stirring to make sure it doesn't get burnt at the base. Add the grated fresh coconut and black pepper powder and mix well to coat everything.

If the water chestnuts a little mature they would need about 6-7 minutes of total cooking for this quantity. But they are great even if half cooked as they can be eaten even raw.

Serve hot for breakfast or for a tea time snack. You might like to add a few drops of lime juice but we like it as it is. It can be a great salad to be served on the side with a multi course meal as well.

I cook this stir fry with a totally different seasoning and we love it both ways. This one is fragrant with cumin and freshly crushed black pepper corns.

We like this water chestnuts stir fry with prominent notes of cumin if it is for an evening tea time. In this case I add a liberal amount of cumin seeds to the ghee while tempering and stir fry the finely chopped water chestnuts for a little longer time so it gets more aromatic and nutty. A final sprinkling of salt and crushed peppercorns makes the flavours linger on for long. I add roasted peanuts to the same sometimes.

I am sure even you would like this fresh water chestnuts stir fry for a snack or for a breakfast. It is so quick to make once you have peeled singhade.

This series of 101 gluten free breakfasts will be an eye opener for many as there are many Indian breakfast recipes that are normally gluten free. All idli and dosas are gluten free, besan ka chilla is a common breakfast in North India and mung ka chilla, pesarettu is eaten almost all over India. Poha is another popular breakfast dish that is naturally gluten free.

Tell me if you still find it difficult to have a gluten free breakfast, I shall try and bring recipes that suit your requirements.

how to use beetroots to make tasty salads? | two salad recipes with beetroots


Beetroot salads are a great way to include this antioxidant pigment rich root vegetable in everyday meals. One can always make smoothies with beetroot or can add it to curries or raitas but a simple salad is more suitable for a meal when you are alone or when you need a good looking salad for an elaborate meal served to family and friends. I have seen huge bowls of salads disappearing in minutes when served to friends or when the both of us make such salads for weekend lunch. So whoever says salads are boring, has never had a good salad I say.The beetroot salads I am sharing today have all the potential to become family favourites as we have had these salads numerous times and even after refrigerating them for a day or two. Even the roasted or boiled beetroots stay well in the fridge if drizzled with some balsamic vinegar or any vinegar of choice. Without vinegar the cooked beets stay well for 4-5 days easily. Keeping them ready to use is a great help when considering beets are so messy to chop and shred.

Top reasons why you should include beetroots in your diet everyday…
  • Beetroots lower blood pressure owing to the presence of Nitrates in them which converts to Nitric oxide in the body and dilates and relaxes the blood vessels.
  • Beetroot consumption is known to enhance stamina by the action of Nitrates as well as betaines found in them.
  • Betaines help fight inflammation in the body too, good for heart health and overall fitness and performance.
  • The pigment profile of beetroots makes it a good anti-carcinogenic, the anti-oxidant property helps the body take care of ageing and wear and tear.
  • Beets are rich in essential minerals, fiber and immune boosting Vit C, and B Vit folate, great for healthy skeletal system and internal organs.
  • Beetroot helps cleanse the system and make the liver and GI tract healthier.


How to make salads more balanced nutritionally…

  • A great salad would always include ingredients that pair well taste wise and their nutrient profile is complementary. All the ingredients should contribute nutrients in a way that it helps better absorption into the system. 
  • Like if one ingredients is iron and calcium rich, there should be some other ingredient that is rich in Vit C as the minerals wont be absorbed in the absence of Vit C. 
  • Likewise if there are antioxidant pigments of the carotene family thee should be some fat (oil) dressing in the salad or in the same meal, as all such antioxidants and Vitamins are fat soluble and would be wasted if you did not add any oil or natural fat like Avocados or coconut.  
  • Adding nuts or cheeses to such salads makes sense in adding protein as well as good fats to improve the nutrient profile of the salads.
  • Adding cooked chicken breast or fish or bacon is a good idea to bring more proteins and healthy fats into the salads. Add moe greens like lettuce, rocket or baby spinach or micro greens in such salads to make them tastier and Vitamin rich.
  • Lime juice and tamarind extract are great for the acidic ph that helps absorption of many minerals. Yogurt or buttermilk dressing also serve the same purpose while vinaigrette is more common in salads.


I must add if you find the salads insipid with the available ingredients, just whiz everything up and make a smoothie. Like this beets, black grapes, amla and ginger smoothie is yummy and nutritionally balanced as well.



recipe of beetroot papaya salad with feta cheese…

I tried this recipe once when the papaya I had bought turned out to be very insipid in taste. I found the balsamic pickled beets added the much needed flavour to the papaya and pomegranate seeds brought the much needed texture. I Used some home made feta cheese and rocket leaves from the garden and this salad was an instant hit. The salad has been a frequent weekend lunch for us since then.
ingredients
(2 large meal servings or 4-6 as a salad on the side in an elaborate meal)

cubed papaya 2 cups
**pickled beets 3/4 cup or a bit more
pomegranate seeds 3/4 cup
cubed feta cheese 1/2 cup (replace with 3 tbsp chopped roasted almonds or walnuts of you don't get feta cheese)
orange segments 1/2 cup
kala namak (black salt) 1/4 tsp
table salt 1/4 tsp or less
ginger juice 1 tbsp
rucola, arugula or baby spinach a handful (or just use mint leaves)

**To make pickled beets I just cook the beets in microwave, chop them in small slices and douse them with a little salt and a generous pouring of balsamic vinegar. It keeps well in the fridge for a month or more. I use the pickled beets for many salads or just as it is.

procedure..

Just toss everything together and mix well. Add the pickling liquid of the beets as well. Serve after 10 minutes so the flavours get some time to mingle. This salad stays well for a day or two in the fridge, but everything will look deep pink after a while. 


recipe of beets, pumpkin and sweet potato salad with a south India tadka dressing..

I used pan grilled pumpkin and sweet potatoes along with microwave cooked beetroot slices for this salad. Once the cooking of the vegetables has been done the salad can be put together in seconds. 

ingredients

(for 2 servings)
2 thinly sliced pumpkin wedges (300 gm)
2 small thin sweet potatoes (100-120 gm)
one large beetroot (120-150 gm)
hung curd (full fat or 3%) 1/2 cup (about a cup of fresh yogurt used)

for tempering dressing..
curry leaves 3 springs
urad daal (split and skinned black beans) 2 tsp
mustard seeds 1/2 tsp
asafoetida (hing) one pinch 
broken dry red chillies 2
sesame oil 2 tsp 

procedure

Pour the yogurt in a fine mesh strainer (or lined with muslin) and prop it over a bowl. Keep this hung curd contraption in fridge. It takes about 3 hours minimum to get hung curd but it stays well in the fridge for 2 days. Keep it ready to use.

Peel, cut into half and microwave the beets for 3 minutes. Chop in bite size pieces and cool down.

Clean the sweet potato, retain the skin but remove any blackened skin. Slit lengthwise and keep aside.
Clean the pumpkin slice, retain the skin and keep aside.
Heat a skillet, brush with butter or oil and arrange the pumpkin slices and sweet potato halves on it, sprinkle salt and cover to cook on medium heat. Turn and cook on the other side for 3-4 minutes or till both sides are lightly charred (browned) and the flesh is soft (but not mushy).
Remove from pan and chop in small bite size pieces. Cool.

Now mix the beets, pumpkin and sweet potato pieces. Now invert the hung curd over the vegetable mix. Now you can actually mix the yogurt with the vegetables but it will get pink immediately. So I keep the hung curd like this till we actually eat this salad. Looks good too.

Now is the time to make the tempering dressing. Heat the oil and tip in all the tempering ingredients. Let them get aromatic and then pour everything over the disc of hung curd.

Let it sit till the salad reaches the table. Mix it when you want to eat it. Mixing it on lightly the table is an exciting activity as I find people getting curious about it.

I was very skeptical about Arvind's choice as he wont eat pumpkin so easily in a salad. He loves his kaddu ki subzi but would think twice before picking up kaddu (pumpkin) is a salad. I didn't tell him when I made it for the first time. He could recognize only sweet potatoes and beets in this salad and when I told there is kaddu in it too, he exclaimed Oh Yess… and picked up another fat piece of kaddu :-)
 We are a salad couple now. There is a salad meal almost 3-4 times a week and we both love it. Although I keep making some quick salads for myself in the day time and eat them all alone too. Can't live without vegetables even though I eat so many other things too.

Hope you like these two different types of beetroot salads and try them in your own kitchen. Please do let me know if you like beetroots a bit more after trying these salads..

Cheers.

2 desserts using fresh water chestnuts : using seasonal produce to make diwali desserts , a panna cotta and a chocolate pot de creme recipe with fresh water chestnuts

Diwali is a time when the winter vegetables and fruits are already in the markets and many of them are here just for a couple of months. Water chestnuts are one of those seasonal produce that stay for a couple of months only around diwali season. Most people in North India use water chestnuts during Navratri fasting, in our home we keep eating them all through the season and always get a huge bagful of water chestnuts from our weekly market. We eat them raw or stir fried, or we boil them and add them to salads or eat as is.

A water chestnut and sweet potato salad with feta cheese and a mung sprouts, sweet corn and water chestnut salad keeps repeating in some or the other form at out our table. A really tasty halwa with fresh water chestnuts (actually a pudding) is a perennial favourite in my home.

Peeling them is quite time consuming but once you take care of that it will be a pleasure on the table. Using water chestnut to make a quick dessert for Diwali would be wonderful if you want to avoid the regular mithai and cake-donut rut. I know you are extremely wary of the store bought mithais (if you are reading this) in the festive season as all those are prepared quite early to meet demands on the D-day and is loaded with sugar, trans fats and artificial colours apart from the regular culprit white flour (maida) and others of that ilk. I also realise we don't usually have the luxury of making mithais at home for a festivals and buy the stuff just to get the feel of the festival.

Making some quick desserts that look good too will be quite sensible if you ask me. I am sharing 2 of those here, each one can be cooked within in 15 minutes flat and then chilled before serving.

Here is a fresh water chestnut panna cotta that I cooked some time back and sent the recipe as guest post for Pratibha's blog.

Water chestnut is used as a thickener in this recipe and a gelling agent too as it sets into a nice jelly when it is cooked and chilled. I use the same procedure with some tweaks to make a few more desserts as the gelling property of fresh water chestnut puree can be used to make pudding like desserts easily.

For this fresh water chestnut panna cotta I cooked 200 gm pureed fresh water chestnut puree along with 80 ml heavy cream and 50 gm sugar till the mixture starts thickening and big bubbles arise and burst spitting out hot air. Added 2 tsp rose water and mixed well, poured into serving glasses and chilled. That's it. .

Use the mature and hard water chestnuts for this recipe as those have more starch and gel well. If you have tender water chestnuts you can add 1-2 tsp of corn starch to enable the panna cotta to set well or a little gelatin if you wish.

Garnished with pistachio slivers and rose petals this dessert was an instant hit and has been repeated a few times already. You know Arvind loves desserts for dinner and he would eat 2-3 servings and not have anything else for dinner. This is the reason I need to make our desserts healthier but thankfully he likes them very lightly sweetened and loves all the healthy desserts I make. But to be honest I don't like anything sweet so I can barely finish one serving of this panna cotta, although I love the taste too.

The detailed recipe of this fresh water chestnut panna cotta is shared on Pratibha's blog here.

Another dessert of the same type I made was very different in taste and aromas. The dark beauty that treats the taste buds with some Tryptophan in dark chocolate along with whatever flavours you add to it.

This is a chocolate pot de creme that doesn't use cream. Since fresh water chestnut puree is a good gelling agent and makes the dessert creamier, I used only full fat milk for this pot de creme and it was quite rich tasting. I used good quality dark chocolate (Callebout 72%) and a dash of nutmeg and cherry brandy to get deeper flavours in this chocolate pot de creme but you can add rum and your choice of spices to get desired flavours too.

I sprinkled some seas salt crystals on top of the pot and it tasted really good.

Ingredients
(5 medium servings)
fresh water chestnut puree 1/2 cup
full fat milk 1 cup
2 tbsp brown sugar
dark chocolate chips (pellets) preferably 72% or at least 60% 3/4 cup or a bit more
dark rum or cherry brandy 2 tbsp (optional)
nutmeg powder a pinch
sea salt crystals 1 tsp use as required
hazelnut chopped for garnish

procedure 

Mix the water chestnut puree and milk in a saucepan along with the sugar and heat it on high flame. Keep whisking all the time till it starts bubbling.

Take the saucepan off the fire and add the chocolate pellets and whisk till a smooth creamy mixture is formed. Add the liquor and nutmeg and mix well.

Pour into serving glasses or bowls and chill before serving. Add the chopped nuts and sea salt at the time of serving.

 I have clicked these pictures while the chocolate pot de creme was still hot hence the sea salt crystals have sunk into the chocolate dessert. But it doesn't affect the taste at all.

Now I must tell that I am myself not too fond of chocolate and hot chocolate is the only form of chocolate that I like and crave for in winters. So this chocolate pot de creme was diluted the next day with more milk and reheated in microwave and was had like a real thick and creamy hot chocolate. One of those desserts that even I would like as my dinner sometimes, piping hot in a large mug to wrap my fingers around. The nights are getting nippy.

You would know how good this chocolate pot de creme tastes once you make it. And how easy it is to cook in a jiffy. Very low fat and mildly sweet so you can enjoy this treat even if you are on a diet.

Do let me know if you cook these desserts using fresh water chestnuts. There is a thing in the seasonal bounty that makes it bursting with taste and fresh water chestnuts get a refreshing nutty taste when cooked with butter, ghee or cream this way. I have just exploited that property of fresh water chestnuts to makes these Panna cotta and pot de creme.

Wishing you all a happy Diwali. It will be healthier too if you eat the right things. Please take care of what you put into your mouth in festive season too and trust me it is very much possible.

PS : I must add to tell you that this pot de creme was so delicious when diluted with milk, heated in the microwave and had like a hot chocolate. Deep dark creamy hot chocolate to enjoy at the end of the day when winter is just knocking at the door.
Also, please note that dark chocolate (72%) is not everyone's idea of a good chocolate. So if you are the milk chocolate person of like something between 55-60% dark chocolate, please go ahead and use your own favourite chocolate. I realised after serving it to someone who likes her chocolate really sweet and light.

how to choose the best ripe avocado and how to use them to get the best nourishment from them | a recipe of avocado strawberry yogurt

Avocados are super food, great for skin and hair and very good for those who want healthy dose of fats nourishing the body every single day. Just about 1/4 of a large avocado will be enough everyday to provide a sizable amount of daily requirement of Vitamins E,C,K and B6 and minerals like Iron, Phosphorus, Manganese, zinc and Magnesium. Avocados have soluble and insoluble fiber that helps the probiotic gut flora, hence the fruit falls into the category of prebiotic foods.

I wish Avocados were available easily all over India but we can plant some saplings anywhere and grow them in our backyard. I have already planted one in a pot because I am fed up of getting rock hard Avocados in the market that refuse to ripen and become blackened at the margins even if they decide to ripen. This happens when the Avocado was plucked too early from the tree and was not ready for ripening.

The right Avocado is the one that has been plucked off the tree when it is ready to ripen but it will be good to know that Avocados do not ripen on the tree. After plucking the fully grown avocado ripens within 2 weeks but if the avocado was plucked early, it may not ripe well and would not develop a good flavour even when ripe. Raw avocados are a horrible taste so don't ever try to use them else you will be put off this wonderful fruit for ever.

How to choose the best ripe Avocado…

1. The avocado you pick up should not be rock hard. It should be give in to pressure just like ripe mangoes. When you press the skin a small dent should be formed. This is the right stage to use Avocados but a little harder than this fruit would need 2-3 days or a week to ripen.
2. The skin colour of Hass Avocados turns a nice purplish red or brown when fully ripe. Hass Avocados are the ones with a crinkled skin so look for the colour and texture shown in this picture.

3. The area adjacent to the stalk sinks a bit when the fruit is ripe and the stalk comes off when pulled. I have tried to show this in the picture above.

4. The skin peels off the avocado easily when it is fully ripe.

5. The green skinned Avocados available in India are the Hall and Choquette varieties. These have smooth and shiny skin but it turns a bit dull and brownish as the Avocado ripens. So look for the right skin colour and how the skin gives in to pressure to ensure the avocado it ripe when you buy.

6. If you decide to pick up slightly raw Avocados and use it after a few days, just wrap them up in a brown paper bag along with a ripe Banana to the Ethylene released by ripe Banana helps the Avocado to ripen. Never Microwave the Avocado to make it soft when it is still raw, as it results in a horrible taste.

How to get optimum nourishment from Avocados, the best ways to use Avocados every day…

1. Let them ripen naturally and use them uncooked. Avocados are best when uncooked as they contain omega 3s (including Oleic acid) and phytosterols (see here) and the fatty acid structure changes a bit when it is heated. Although it doesn't get harmful when cooked. But getting a best nourishment form an expensive fruit makes sense for me.

2. Eat Avocado along with some yogurt or citrus fruits to help absorb all the Calcium, Fatty acids, Iron and other minerals from both categories of food.

3. Peel off the skin thinly and do not discard the dark green flesh just adjacent to the skin as this is the part where most carotenoids of the Avocado are concentrated. It is better o let the Avocado get ripened to the stage when the skin can be peeled off just like a banana peel (picture above) and not to scoop put the flesh from the halves.

4. If the Avocado is used along with lettuce greens, Rocket and carrots etc, the Carotenoid and Lycopene absorption increases many fold even if there is no oil in salad dressing. The fat in Avocado is enough to enable better absorption of these pigments and provide benefit of these antioxidants.

5. If you want to use Avocado for soups you can cook a stock or body of the soup along with seasonings and add chopped or pureed Avocados after the cooking is over. This step preserves the nutrients in the fruit.

6. If someone doesn't like the taste of avocados make mayonnaise or dips using Avocados and add seasoning and herbs as per taste. The pureed avocado takes on whatever flavours you add to it. This may or dip would fit into any kind of meal plan.

7. Use the Avocados as soon as they are ripe. It can stay well for 3-4 days in refrigerator but the nutrients start diminishing once the flesh starts blackening.

8. If you need to store chopped Avocados in refrigerator, take care to douse them with either lemon juice or yogurt or an acidic salad dressing depending on how you are going to use the chopped avocados. If stored exposed the avocados turn black and look unappetizing, nutrient value is affected only marginally.

Would you be eating more Avocados after reading this? They really are a versatile ingredients and not just a healthy fruit you must bring home. Here are a few recipes I love making again and again.

Avocado strawberry yogurt recipe


ingredients
(2-3 servings)

Avocado flesh from half a fruit
Strawberry preserve (preferably home made) 2-3 tbsp
hung yogurt 1 cup ( I used 3% fat)

procedure

Chill all the ingredients before assembling the dessert and serve it right away if so required.

Whip the hung yogurt nicely. I did not add any sugar to the yogurt as the strawberry preserve is sweet enough.

Now add the strawberry preserve and mix lightly, making streaks of red and white. Taste for sweetness and add a little more if required.

Now chop the avocado flesh in small cubes and add to the yogurt and mix lightly. Fill in serving glasses and serve right away.

You can refrigerate the dessert for a day but take care not to keep any bits of avocado exposed to air on the surface of the serving glasses. Push all the avocado in the middle so it gets covered with yogurt, else it will get black.

I invariably end up eating this the next day and always feel the flavours get enhanced the next day. This dessert can actually stay well for 2-3 days in the fridge is the container is sealed well with cling film. The yogurt keeps it fresh and creamy although the colour may get a bit dull after 2 days.

If you have extra Avocados just make smoothies with them. I say make smoothies even if you have to buy Avocados just for the smoothies, the y are totally worth in a smoothie as well.

This Banana avocado almond smoothie is a super satisfying smoothie that keeps you full for more than 4 hours trust me. I have depended on it whenever I am expecting a late lunch and want to skip lunch for some reason.

The avocado strawberry yogurt is a rich dessert too. I recommend it in small servings if you are serving it after a heavy meal, but large servings are okay with a lighter meal.

This avocado strawberry yogurt could be a dessert for a diwali party as well. Would bring you some brownie points for sure.

Review : Hass Avocados from New Zealand, the perfect ripe Avocado and some recipes with them

Avocados are super food by any definition. These are nutrient dense fruits rich in minerals, Vitamins and all the good fats we need. Avocados are grown locally in India for the last few decades but it is mostly in the southern hill areas of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. North India gets Avocados either from the southern states or the imported ones. The Avocados grown in the north eastern state Sikkim is a native variety which is smaller in size but the flesh is equally good. I wish we grew Avocados more in the north India too and the availability was a bit better.

I love this fruit and often find rock hard Avocados in the market and have been forced to throw away this expensive fruit just because it refuses to ripen. I learnt choosing the right avocados after numerous hits and misses. Will share my experience on finding the right avocado soon with a few recipes as well.

Recently the New Zealand embassy launched the Avocado season and introduced Hass Avocados from New Zealand (Avanza brand) and we witnessed various Indian foods being cooked with Avocados. The talented Chef Kunal Kapoor was showcasing some culinary experimentation with Avocados and he cooked a Meen Moily style curry with Avocados, a Papdi chaat, Avocado cheese paratha and various desserts and soups using this wonder fruit. He mentioned that Avocados can easily be adapted to any cuisine pertaining to it's bland taste and yet rich texture it adds to any dish. Even Avocado oil is good to use in salad dressings and smoothies if you can get your hands on a bottle.

We tasted Avocado cucumber shots, tarts made with asparagus and avocado, kababs served with avocado dips and chutneys and toasties topped with avocado and mixed vegetables. It was an Avocado feast to speak literally. We even tasted a kulfi made of Avocados and loved it and a sago kheer with bits of avocado added, I loved that one too as it was very lightly sweetened.

These were definitely the best Avocados I had found till date and I am glad these will be available in town till February end. Although I love using local produce but a few exceptions would include Avocados too. I am trying to grow them and have even planted a sapling.

I grew this sapling from seed and am waiting patiently to reap good quality Avocados from my own yard some time in future. That would be the ultimate luxury for me. But the sapling needs a bigger pot and then will be planted in ground ultimately to grow taller and bear fruit.

Till then I would have to depend upon the local or imported avocados. I have been adding them to my salads, smoothies and the good old Guacamole, the seeds always end up being planted regardless of whether they germinate or not.

While New Zealand High Commissioner Grahame Morton unveiled the Avocados and spoke about how these will be available easily in India now, we met a few blogger friends and discussed food and photography and our experiences with raw avocados.

Meeting Chef Saby and Chef Kunal is always a pleasure. The creativity and passion that they put into the food they cook is always infectious. Chef Saby talked about how he loves Avocados and has done s spa menu with Avocados being used liberally.

Here is the talented Masterchef Kunal with his papdi chaat with avocados.

These Hass avocados from New Zealand are vaaialble in single and twin packs in INA market and a few high end grocers. We got a single Avocado pack each as a parting gift. Fully ripe, brownish red skin and perfectly soft flesh of this avocado has the best taste and texture. The avocado is fully ripe when the skin can be 'peeled off' the fruit easily and these were just perfect.

 I always use the Avocados in raw recipes and add them in soups when the soup is cooked so the avocado flesh doesn't get exposed to high heat. There is a significant nutrient loss when the avocados are cooked. I made this yummy fruit yogurt with them, using just three ingredients. Hung yogurt, home made strawberry preserve that I made last season and freshly cubed avocados. These made a dessert that is nutritionally balanced so the minerals and Vitamins in these help optimal absorption of the desired nutrients. Will share the recipe in my next post, it is largely inspired by my strawberry and quark mousse I have shared earlier..

Another use of these avocados I did was to make a yummy avocado mayonnaise. This is such a delightful vegan mayonnaise that can be used just about any which way you like.

This mayonnaise was used to make a salad and with a chicken burger we had for dinner. Could not take pictures of my dinner but the recipe of this mayonnaise will be shared really soon.

Stay tuned. There are these Avocado recipes and a few Diwali special healthy desserts coming your way.

a nutrient packed salad with beets, carrots and pomegranate seeds and stories from Mysore

It has been quite long since I wrote here hence I am trying to compensate the lack of nourishment with a deep red antioxidant rich beets-carrots-pomegranate seeds salad that I craved for. I was away for 2 weeks, visiting Mysore during the famous festival of dassara that they celebrate at the palace of Wadiyar Kings. That is where I had tasted this beets and carrots salad and was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of this pigment rich salad.

Arvind had some official work and I found an opportunity to work at the ISKON Mysore kitchen during this break. I had been asked to provide them some healthy recipes for prasadam (offering to the Lord Krishna) and was trying to work with them online for some time but I wanted to see the local produce and the local palate of the people better so I can accommodate those flavours in the recipes.. Arvind's official trip gave me an opportunity to visit and work with them hands on, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I trained the Chefs and volunteers to bake a few whole grain breads, whole grain cookies and muffins as well as a few salads, curries, chaat style salads, snacks and a few desserts including this apple kalakand that was so popular last Diwali.

I visited vegetable markets with the ISKON volunteers first to see the local and seasonal produce they would use in the kitchen and was smitten by the simplicity of the markets and the feisty women selling almost everything on the roadsides and in the shops. I love talking to them, clicking pictures and exploring the way they cook and use the fresh produce.

But later I explored all the markets of Mysore although I could not buy much thanks to the restricted luggage allowance by the airlines. I wanted to buy at least half a dozen cast iron skillets from Devaraja market but bought only one, and carried it in my cabin luggage. The things I do to have my way. I had bought 2 cast iron skillets from Gangtok too and carried them the similarly by the way.

I shall be sharing more on what all we did in Mysore. Great food, many days of birding, roaming around the markets and clicking pictures endlessly was all I did during the 2 weeks. Training the ISKON volunteers was a blessing though I could not click any pictures of the kitchen as I was working with them hands on and the camera was forgotten conveniently. Although I clicked a few pictures from my phone and shared on instagram, follow me there (@sangeetaamkhanna) if you want to see.

This beets and carrot salad I tasted at the ISKON kitchen one day and loved it so much I wanted to make it as soon as I came back home. That one was simpler flavours with just salt and lime juice in it but I added a little zing with chaat masala and balsamic vinegar to add depth of flavours. Loved the result so much that I used all the beets in the fridge to make the salad 3 times over. I added finely chopped ginger once and red onions the other time but the combination of simply the beets, carrots and pomegranate seeds had made such a simple and honest salad that I came back to the original quickly.

ingredients

(2 large servings)
beetroot peeled, cleaned and chopped finely 3/4 cup
carrots peeled cleaned and chopped similarly 1 cup
pomegranate seeds 1/2 cup
chaat masala 1 tsp (optional)
black salt 1 tsp (or use table salt)
pepper powder 1/2 tsp
balsamic vinegar 1 tbsp (or use malt vinegar or sugarcane vinegar)
lime juice or orange juice 2-3 tbsp (I used orange juice as that was handy)
little sugar if required (I did not use, you would need if you use lime juice)
any salad dressing oil 2 tsp ( I did not use*)

procedure

Mix everything together and toss well. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. The salad stays well for about 4 hours at room temperature so I could pack this salad to Arvind's lunch box as well.

*I did not add any oil in the dressing as I had this salad with a meal that already had some ghee and oil. If the salad is consumed as a meal it needs oil in it to enable the vital vitamins to be absorbed.

I had this salad with the best comfort food to come back home to. Khichdi is that comfort food for me, I can have it every single day. We had great food in Mysore, explored many places in the city and loved the Mysore masala dosa, idli and the best coconut chutney, variety of palya and loads of Coorgi food as well. But home cooked food has it's own charm and one always wants to come home and have a warm meal in the comfort of home. We were back after 2 weeks and it felt like ages. Khichdi was the order of the day.

There is a reason khichdi is called super food. It is the most nutritionally balanced food if some vegetables are added to it, the turmeric and asafoetida used in khichdi make it anti-inflammatory and healing too. I made a quick baingan ka raita with it and had a lavish meal with fresh buttermilk to wash down all this.

Let me know if you would like to know the recipe of baingan ka raita. I love it for all the minerals it adds to the meal in the most yummy way. Loads of insoluble fiber to cleanse the gut as well. In fact this whole menu is healing and cleansing type so you can have it whenever you want to wash your sins in the best enjoyable ways. This is a mung, short grain rice and bottle gourd khichdi.

Beet-carrot-pomegranate salad made a new pairing with the khichdi that had loads of bottle gourd in it too. I include loads of vegetables in my meal everyday and was craving for these as it is not always possible to eat lot of vegetables when traveling. I had to compensate for all the lack of nourishment and cleanse my travel eating sins too.

making breakfast dosa interesting with vegetable based chutneys | making chutneys with ivy gourd and long beans

Including vegetables in everyday meals comes naturally to many of us as we eat loads of raw salads and stir fry vegetables for every meal of the day. Are you on my side eating loads of vegetables?

Oh no? You hate them? Or don't know how to eat vegetables in every meal?

I do come across many of those people too who are clueless on how to include vegetables in every meal of the day and breakfast is the most difficult meal of the day if they want to have vegetables. Who eats vegetables for breakfast many of them exclaim. I understand as even my husband is one of those people. He is totally a fruits and pancakes person when it comes to breakfast but he occasionally likes these dosa (savoury crepes or pancakes) and chutney for breakfast too. In fact when I make a large bowl of chutney and keep it on the table, he takes second helpings if the chutney is not too hot.

Eating a vegetable based chutney can make you consume about 200 gm vegetables with your breakfast. Just remember to make the chutney really tasty and keep the heat quotient lower than usual if you hate to start your day with spicy hot breakfast.

Ivy gourd or kundru is one such interesting vegetable that has natural tangy taste and responds really well to chutney recipes. And what is more interesting, that kundru can be eaten raw as well. Although I like raw slices of kundru in some tossed salad, I usually half cook the vegetable while making chutney as it enhances the taste and helps balance the flavours.

Ivy gourd (kundru) chutney recipe…

ingredients
(2 large servings)
tender ivy gourds sliced 250 gm
red onion one medium sliced (about 70 gm)
curry patta 20 springs
mustard seeds 1 tsp
chana daal (split chickpeas) 1 tbsp
dry red chilies 2-3 or as per taste
fresh grated coconut 1/4 cup
salt to taste
sesame oil or ghee 2 tsp
tamarind 1 tsp

procedure

Heat oil in a pan and tip in the mustard seeds, red chillies, curry leaves and split chickpeas in that order. Let them sizzle and get aromatic and then add the sliced onions. Caremalise the onions on low flame for about 5 minutes.

Add the ivy gourds (kundru) and salt and cook covered for 2 minutes. Take off the stove and let it cool.

Add the tamarind (paste or extract) and blend in food processor or mixie to make a smooth paste. Serve as desired.

This chutney is great with idli, dosa, chilla and savoury crepes. Even with parathas for breakfast along with some yogurt.

I make another chutney with lobiya (long beans) that has become a favourite. It was made as an experiment one day when I found that the maid had chopped a lot of lobiya and I needed to finish it. I decided to add a lot of ginger to it and it tasted hot gingery when fresh. But I was surprised to know that the chutney taste way better the next day, the flavours more balanced and no strong ginger taste. So if yo are planning to eat the chutney fresh, add a little ginger and if you are planning to eat it the next day as as much ginger as you want. I mean add loads of fresh ginger root and see how the chutney becomes a 'hot' favourite.

Recipe of long beans (lobiya) chutney…

ingredients
(2 large servings)
long beans chopped finely 250 gm or 1.5 cup
chopped onion 60-70 gm or 1/2 cup
cumin seeds 1 tsp
minced ginger 1 tbsp or more
dry red chilly 2-3 or to taste
curry patta 15-20 strings
grated fresh coconut 1/4 cup
sesame oil or ghee 2 tsp
salt to taste
tamarind 2 tsp (paste or dehydrated)

procedure

Heat the oil or ghee in a pan and tip in the cumin seeds, chillies and curry patta and let them fry till fragrant. Add the ginger and then the onions. Let these cook till the onions get pinkish brown.

Add the lobiya (long beans) along with salt and stir fry for 2-3 minutes and then cover and cook on low flame.

Take off the stove, add coconut and tamarind and blend the chutney as desired. You might like a coarse consistency in this one. I like it any which way.

I enjoyed this lobiya chutney with a buckwheat dosa one day along with a dry methi (fenugreek) chutney that I had brought from Pune last year. The dry methi chutney is so good I am hoarding it in my freezer.

I have another lasun chutney from the same place and I love adding that too sometimes to my plate. The other day I made a besan ka chilla with loads of onions and mung sprouts and had with these yummy chutneys.

Sometimes my maid eats her breakfast at my place (whenever she is late) and she tasted one of these mung spout chillas along with the chutneys and was curious to know what was this. After all it doesn't look like any conventional breakfast but she enjoys these and eat slowly relishing each bite. She has been seeing my food pictures and now even gives ideas on using utensils for the same. I find it really sweet :-)

These chutneys helps make friends. My maid took some of the lobiya chutney home and said she shared with her neighbor and got complements.

And, she did not tell what this chutney is made of :-)

poriyal style warm salads : 2 healthy poriyal recipes for everyday meals

Poriyal is a stir fry of finely chopped vegetables tempered with curry leaves, some mustard, red chilly and lentils etc.. topped with a generous amount of freshly grated coconut. The vegetables used for poriyal may vary from cabbage to beans to beets, carrots, okra or even some squashes like Chayote squash or Zucchini. The vegetables are cooked lightly for poriyal, keeping the textures alive but he flavours from the tempering are rich and Earthy and that makes a poriyal the perfect warm salad for me.

Poriyal is a dry stir fry of Tamil origin but it is cooked in Karnataka as well, known as Palya in that part of the country. I used to know this stir fry as Foogath or Foogad as my mom had learnt it from one of her friends and this name had stuck with us. The name could be a matter of origin of the stir fry, may be with a few changes in the tempering or the final taste but the stir fry remained a favourite with me owing to it's simplicity and quick recipe. The vegetables need to be finely and uniformly chopped for poriyals but I love my knife and the chopping board and often chop my vegetables again even after my maid had kept them cleaned and chopped her way. Like I put my cleaver to good use and chopped the cabbage fine after my maid had kept it diced and ziplocked for the day.

I like the poriyals served as salads more than a side dish as a subzi. I often make poriyal into a fancy appetiser serving like these tart shells filled with a broccoli poriyal. Adding mung sprouts to my poriyal is another change that I love doing. Those who swear by authenticity may squirm at this, but I don't shy away from experimenting and trust my own taste buds rather than an authentic recipe.

Recipe of cabbage d mung sprouts poriyal…

ingredients
(serves 2)
finely chopped cabbage 1.5 cup
mung sprouts 1 cup
grated fresh coconut 1/4 cup (loosely packed)
lime juice 2 tsp
salt to taste
pepper powder to taste

tempering ingredients..

sesame oil (or any oil you wish) 2 tsp
hing (asafotida) 1 pinch
curry leaves 10 springs
mustard seeds 1 tsp
urad daal (split) 1 tsp
chopped chillies 1 tsp
minced ginger 2 tsp

procedure..

Heat oil and tip in hing and mustard seeds first and then the other ingredients together. Let them all sizzle for a few seconds and then add the chopped cabbage. Toss and stir fry for about 2 minutes, add salt and pepper. Mix well and add the coconut, sprouts and mix again to coat everything together.

Take off the stove, add lime juice and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Another most frequently made poriyal in my kitchen is this green beans and carrot poriyal with mung sprouts. I sometimes get lazy and use dehydrated coconut shreds rather than grating it fresh. The trick is to re hydrate the shredded coconut in hot water before using and add it a minute before you take the poriyal off the stove. Making poriyal with more than one vegetable can be a bit tricky if both vegetables have different cooking time. I microwave the beans for a couple of minutes before adding it to the tempering. That saves time and keeps the texture and colour of the beans nice and fresh.

Note that tempering for the different poriyal variations will be the same. Just the way the vegetables are cooked, the way they are added one after the other would change.

Recipe of beans-carrot-mung sprouts poriyal..

ingredients
(2 servings)

finely chopped beans 1 cup
finely chopped carrots 1/2 cup
mung sprouts 3/4 cup
shredded fresh coconut 1/4 cup
salt and pepper to taste
lime juice to taste

Tempering ingredients will be similar to cabbage poriyal.

procedure…

Steam the green beans till half done. I prefer microwaving it in a covered bowl for 2 minutes.

Prepare the tempering while the beans are steaming. Add the carrots as soon as the tempering sizzles and stir fry for a minute. Add the hot steamed beans and cook for another minute of two, tossing it all the while.

Add the coconut and sprouts, mix well and take off the heat. Mix lime juice and serve as desired.

How do you like these poriyal salads? Try making them with gourds and you would see how tasty the gourds become. Okra tastes great with such a tempering but needs a bit more cooking time. I sometimes add a bit of rasam powder to my poriyal salads to make them more zingy.

Make changes as per your taste but use fresh seasonal vegetables for poriyal salads. These will be full meals when you want a light yet satisfying meal for yourself. Ar just add a couple of table spoons of cooked plain rice or couscous to poriyal salads and see how it turns into an absolutely hearty meal.