Monday, March 24, 2008

Simple Pineapple Sorbet

I normally do not have a craving for sweets- I just never had a sweet tooth- except for diet coke I guess.

But once in a while, it does hit me, and I then go for not-too-sweet desserts- dark chocolate, coconut laddoos (without sugar), Splenda-ed apple pies and fresh sorbets.

The last addition is the newest to the list, since I specifically am really not into sorbets and ice-creams- way too sweet. And then I figured out how to make my own, low-sugar, low-cal version, thusly:

- 1 cup frozen pineapple (thats what I used, but just wash and freeze ur fav sorbet-worthy fruits: berries, melons, etc.- overnight)
- 1/4 cup green tea, cold- you could substitute this with any fruit juices, per preference.

- Sugar or artificial sweetner of your choice, per your sugar-level preferences- I didn't add any.
- A few sprigs of mint or basil.

Dump everything into your mixer, and hit the "crush ice option". After a while, you will have a very thick smoothy. You can drink this up as such, or put in a container and freeze for about an hour for some perfectly decent sorbet.

It looks pretty, and is very refreshing, esp. with the mint/basil thing going on. I also felt super virtuous, since pineapple is supposedly a negative calorie food.


1- Because I used unsweetened tea, as well as basil, the pineapple's sweetness as well as tartness were subdued- you could use this as a palate cleanser between courses, rather than dessert.

2- I used unsweetened, cold green tea as the liquid addition to reduce the sweetness in my sorbet. You could sweeten it, or try any of the following fruit-liquid combos, or try one of your own; just ensure that the fruit is frozen and the liquid cold:

  • Strawbeeries and mango juice
  • Mangoes and green tea
  • Oranges and jasmine tea (not steeped too long)
  • Blueberries and Orange
  • Melons and lemonade
  • Peaches and jasmine tea (not steeped too long)

Aside: I got a chance to trot out my little Chinese tea cups for serving, which have been in the family for 15 years, and had never been used until today :)

Disclaimer: I do not have an affiliation with any brands mentioned in this posting.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This Oatmeal at breakfast thing works! I've lost 9.2 lbs this week (or 4.2 kgs)

The only life style change I made for real was to have oatmeal for breakfast the entire week and limited myself to 2 diet sodas- earlier I would either avoid breakfast altogether, or grab cheezits and diet coke from the vending machine about 10am-ish.

So obviously, I am not going to be able to loose 9 pounds a week into perpetuity just by eating Quakers- I need to come up with a doable action plan here. Starting this morning, loaded up on high-protein-ized oatmeal- yep Quakers has that, and it can be found in your grocery store. Then hit the gym, after like 6 months :D. I hope to get to the gym twice a week, and at least do simple yoga every day at home- that should help the blood pressure.

Had a strange experience with Japanese curry last night. I came home about 9pm-ish, and was craving some. Broke open some "chicken mushroom balls" I had picked up at the San Gabriel Superstore, and added those to the curry as an experiment- they actually absorbed the curry, and swelled from 1" to about 2.5"!!! I bet they had tofu as a component, which I couldn't decipher on the mostly Chinese-lettered packaging. Strange, but tasted just fine.

Japanese curry is the easiest thing in the world; get a box from the Asian section of your grocery store, and follow directions on the box. I've been experimenting for two years+ with it, and you can pretty much drop anything into this curry. My favorite combos: spinach & mushroom; beef; corn, cilantro & lamb- it may be assumed that making this also serves as a refrigerator cleaning device- just dump all produce in :)

Disclaimer: I do not have an affiliation with any brands mentioned in this posting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

For Beth: Dal Makhani

When you travel in Northern India, particularly in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, one sure bet in terms of road side food options is Dal Makhani. It is a prime example of slow cooking, and is relatively easy to do- the waiting is the hardest part. Literally meaning Butter Lentils, this is a mix of a number of dark lentils, which should normally include kidney beans as well, the whole garnished with oh maybe 2 sticks of butter (yes, really!).

That said, here is a relatively lighter version, which you can amp up to your taste. Where as I have used a specific kind and number of lentils, you will find equal success with other dark lentils, or even yellow/red ones- the recipe is pretty much fool proof, and easily translates to all lentils/beans alike. The recipe LOOKS long, but I've tried to break down every step so it is easy to follow.


Dry lentils:
1/2 cup black masoor lentils (any Indian grocery)
1/2 cup brown Spanish lentils (not per tradition, but it works)

1 small can of kidney beans
1/2 can of black beans (not per tradition, but they work!)
1 small can of tomatoes, or 3 whole crushed tomatoes

3 heaping tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste (or simply pound 1 small head of garlic and 2 inches of ginger together)

2 medium onions, or 1 largish oninions

1 jalapeno, minced

1/4 cup heavy cream, or 1/2 cup regular

1/2 stick butter

You can either go w/ 3 heaping tbs of Garam Masala,

or choose my way, visit the Indian grocery store, and get all these:
  • 1 longish cinnamon stick
  • 3 large black cardamoms
  • 5 green cardamoms
  • 6 cloves
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp Cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp Coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp whole black peppers
salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced

  • Soak the dry lentils in water- leave on the kitchen counter overnight.
  • Dice all the onion (about 1/2")- this too can be done the day before, and stored in the fridge.
Next day:
  • Add all the dry spices to a large pan, and dry roast for about 1/2 a minute, until the smell hits you- that means they are roasted. If you are using Garam masala instead, just skip to the next step.
  • Throw in 1/4 of the diced onions, spray in some olive oil, and fry.
  • When the onions begin to brown, add the ginger-garlic paste and all the tomato, and fry away (you don't need to add any more oil), until the mixture becomes a brown-red, and thickens somewhat- about 5 minutes. Don't let this stick to the pan.
  • Now add in the soaked lentils (discard the water), and dry roast some more for about a minute. Add salt to taste (you NEED to add some salt at this point- just do it- seriously). Add in 3 cups of water, and bring the whole to a boil. Now reduce to a bare simmer, cover and walk away for about an hour. I did my laundry :)
1 hr later:

Drop in the jalapeno, cream, rinsed black beans and black beans, adjust for salt, and dump in another 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer, cover and walk away for 45 minutes. I folded my laundry :)

45 minutes later:
  • Add the garam masala powder to your lentils, and mix- taste. adjust for salt and pepper, more garam masala if needed. If the lentils are too thick, add more water. If too thin, just boil away.
  • In another, smaller pan, spray some olive oil, and fry all remaining diced onion, until it turns a darkish brown. This should take 15 minutes, by which times your lentils should be done.
  • Check your lentils, which should be soft by now. If they aren't, no sweat- add more water, boil, cover and simmer until they are soft enough. Yes this sound like a long process, but if you barbecue, it isn't.
  • Once you are comfy with the done-ness of your lentils, check the viscosity- Dal Makhani is normally really thick, with the spatula barely able to stir things around- but you its your choice really. If you like it thinner, add water, and boil to desired viscosity as well.
  • Once you are all done, add in the fried onions, and as much butter as you like. I put in 1/2 a stick, since this IS Dal Makhani, but purists would add in 2. Keep in mind, by this time, you probably have enough Dal to feed 4 very hungry people.
  • Garnish with 1/2 cup of minced cilantro stirred in, and serve hot with steamed white rice or garlic naan, as I did.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yagh- A Haiku

15 hours of work
bags under my eyes
6:30 am meeting tomorrow
shampoo night



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Keeping it real

Kinda hectic today, and my schedule was a bit thrown, but it all boiled down to keeping things real, which I am struggling to do.

Worked a bit on GMAT prep last night, which was long overdue, and finally sorted through the screen caps for my next posting on my other blog. Woke up screaming with pain in the morning, since I had basically overexercised and walked almost 6 straight hours on Sunday, and my calf muscles are more or less pulled to the max. So no stretching or yoga today.

Food diary:
No breakfast- totally need to go to Costco tonight, and stock up on oatmeal. For all of you folks out there who have high cholesterol as well as high BP, try Trader Joe's cereals with Flax Seed- that stuff really regulates cholesterol- my husband fixed his in 3 mos.
Mid morning snack- handful of dried apple slices & chrysanthemum tea.
Lunch- A Trimana burger, but threw out 1/2 the bun and 1/2 the fries. Trust me, this was hard to do by my standards- while our friend Siddharth quotes pizza as his weakness, fries are mine, especially w/ Trimana's garlic mayo- so bad yet so addictive! The part I felt really bad about was the diet coke that came with the meal- I had forgotten my water :( Next time, I'll stick to iced tea.
Evening coffee run: handful of dried apple slices
Dinner: Soup at Palms Thai in Hollywood- not a bad option, since its basically lean cuts of beef, onions, cabbage and spices boiled together.

Need to exercises tomorrow- must- will- shall. No change in weight- but never fear- we can do this gentle reader, and we will.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Houston we have a BP problem

So I've been having these terrible headaches for a few days, and on Saturday, when I visited my parents, my dad noticed that I was sort of breathless. One thing lead to another, and they suggested I check my blood pressure- turns out it is way up on the charts and was the source of the headaches as well.

Therefore, since Sunday, I've been monitoring my blood pressure, begun yoga and have been avoiding sodas. I know I need weight and salt-intake control (that is SO hard!). And I've been trying.

I haven't had soda in 2 days (and counting), having replaced it with water and green tea, which I used to have a ton of anyway, so its not a huge change. I am struggling to replace junk food with other stuff: instead of the cheezits and coke, I carried my food and bought more that was relatively healthier:
Breakfast: 1/2 a cup of cinnamon oatmeal with chrysanthemum tea.
Mid-morning snack: A handful of dried apple slices.
Lunch: Had 1/2 of a small Panda meal.
Evening coffee run: Grande green tea and pasta-tuna salad from Starbucks.
Dinner: 2 poached eggs on 2 rye toast. 1" slice of chocolate cake (!!!)
- all this food, plus lots of water all day long.

Checked my weight- Have lost 5 pounds in 2 days- its looking good. Everything is a number- some are better higher, others lower.

My favorite salad

This is my favorite salad; a spin on the classic tomato and basil combo- can serve as a dinner salad for 2, or as tapa-size appetizers for 6.

3 cups of grape tomatoes, sliced in half (you could use any kind really- I just like these 'cos they are pretty)
1 red onion, cut in 1/2" strips.
1/4 cup of thinly julienned basil
3 endives- separated into leaves (I used 2 white and 1 red- you can mix it whatever way you like).

3 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

Gently mix it all together in a large bowl, BY HAND. Seriously, this matters- do not use a salad spoon etc- your hands treat the ingredients way better. Do not toss- the tomatoes are delicate, as is the endive.

Once mixed, cover the bowl with a lid/foil and refrigerate for about 2-3 hrs. This gives a chance for all the flavors to blend- the basil and pepper will permeate everything, the endives will lose their bitterness, the onions will become sweeter and less sharp, and the the tomatoes will lose some liquid, therefore adding to your dressing.

After the refrigerating, taste it and adjust for seasoning again, since the flavors will have matured considerably. Serve immediately.

1- You may want to play around with the amounts of suggested lemon/salt/balsamic, depending upon your preference and the tartness of your tomatoes.
2- If you decide to store this overnight in your fridge, you will find it way too tart to be salad in the morning, but give it a whirl in your processor, and you'll have some pretty good salsa!

Monday, March 10, 2008


So my soul-sucking hell hole of a job has me just sick and tired- or perhaps I am just bored with being in the same place for too long. I've lived in this city for about 6 years now, which has frankly gotten to me. I've also been with the same firm now for 3 years, which is the longest I've done before bouncing out of anyplace.

The weekend came and went- I was very unproductive, just sitting around motionlessly, not even watching TV or blogging as I normally tend to over my Sundays.

One of my high school friends asked me for advice re: moving to the US for work- in the current mood I am in, it was certainly not the right question to ask, but I tried to restrain myself :) I told him he would be leaving behind all the minor daily hassles of India to embrace primo soul-suckiness- not sure how he took that :D

It'll all be behind me one day.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Do you know how to boil water?- Part I

I thought I did.
But it took me a while before I realised its nuances (yes, boiling water has nuances- who knew?)- to be discussed over the next few postings.

The most basic thing about tea-making is boiling water, and so many of us seem to overlook that, that bad tea is a common phenomenon striking tea-cups worldwide!

I've only recently begun to appreciate tea: just a simple tea bag in boiling water with a spoonful of honey.
What is difficult to decide though are the amazing array of products to choose from, and how to extract the right flavor. There are a many boutique tea brands here in Southern California, with offerings ranging from corn (yes corn) tea to ubiquitous fruit teas and Chinese herbal teas, each nuanced with an accenting herb/fruit. These are usually fabulous- the more local and organic they are, the crisper and yet more soothing the taste appears to be.

Aside from the boutique herbal concoctions, we have "real" tea in 4 basic types:
- Black (the Black African from Tazo is good),
- Green (basic Salada- cheap and available in any supermarket, and the Indian Tetley's brand are both good- the former is stronger tasting than the latter, which is light and lemony),
- Oolong (basic Chinese tea, which you'd get w/ dim sum at your local China Town. Good, but gives me cravings to rush to Princess Garden downtown), and
-White (rare- very mild. You may be told you are buying white tea, but this kind normally can only be bought by the ounce at some Chinese speciality stores- at least in Southern California- the branded stuff is crap).

Whatever you may choose to drink, I find that leaving the bag in the cup, and puring the boiling water on top works best for me. And yes, like I said at the beginning, it should be boiling water- tiny bubbles do not indicate boiling, they should be large and bubbling- if in doubt, get one of the whistling teapots that all your local Linen 'n Things, Target, Walmart, even Ikea carry now. I got one that is clear, which allows me to ensure that there is no sediment collecting from salt deposits inside the pot overtime. The minute the water boils, it lets off a sharp whistle, and you know you can proceed. You could also try electric teapots- for some reason, mine is reserved for travelling.

Tea connoisseurs may laugh at my "tea bag" approach, but I honestly do not have the time to sit with tea leaves and strain a cup- its good if you do! I don't believe in letting the tea steep too long; the flavors appear sharper when the liquid is a deep color, but still clear. If steeped too long, the tea begins to release tannins and looks murky, which can happen in as quickly as a few minutes, so I do have to watch my cup.
I have friends who like to leave the bag in for as long as they take to finish the drink- its just too bitter and "un-pretty," for me! I know another friend who literally boils loose tea in a pan of boiling water for hours with herbs, proclaiming it good for general health- I am not sure I sympathise with this idea much. In India, it is common practice to add a stick of cinnamon, pieces of ginger, cardamoms, even whole black pepper to the water, and then boil it- this practice I believe actually serves better to soothe flu-like symptoms or the common cold.

In conclusion: super hot boiling water results in good tea- its all about timing. Watch the water bubble, hear the kettle whistle, and smell the tea fumes as the water hits the cup- that's the perfect cup of tea!

Disclaimer: I do not have an affiliation with any brands mentioned in this posting.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Spice of Life

I grew up unlike the average Indian girl of my generation- my parents never encouraged me to enter the kitchen- even to pour myself a glass of water. Therefore, about 5 years ago, when I actually got into cooking, it was a bit of a surprise to everyone all around. I am a self-taught home cook- when a dish strikes my fancy, I research different ways of preparing it until I figure out one of my own, which normally involves few/no powdered masalas and less oil (my foremost criteria).

Which brings me to the title of this blog: I have a strong aversion to packaged "curry powder". Its essentially a screwed up form of garam masala, put together by the British during colonial rule in India. It doesn't taste like any Indian food I have ever eaten :)

For that matter, I am not a big proponent of powdered spices (masalas). I just dont fare well w/ them, though I always keep some red chillie, coriander (dhania), turmeric (haldi) and garam masala powders at hand, for when I need to add a quick kick to whatever may be cooking. After you open a box of powdered spice, the freshness goes away in a matter of days, and there is no way you can finish a entire box of red chillie powder in a day. So I try to substitute: I prefer fresh green chillies, plucked from the little plant I keep, or store bought jalapenos. Dhania and haldi are hard to replace, period. As for garam masala, I simply use its main ingredients in whole spice form: large black cardamoms, small green cardamoms, anise, bay, pepper, cumin, cinammon sticks. This actually adds texture to the food as well, and if you dont like biting into a bay leaf, either discard when your cooking is done, or have your guests LOOK at what they are eating. This may make it a bit difficult for the kids, in which case you can go the bouquet garni way: simply tie all your spices together in a thin mesh cotton cloth, and add to the dish, to be removed when done- I am personally not a big fan of this- when I have kids- they'd better like their spices :D You could also choose to grind your own spices, but honestly, who has time for that?

Spice cooking: Most Indian cooks will throw in a splash of oil in a hot pan before adding spices- this prevents the spices from burning. But you don't have to do this. You can start with your spices already in the pan, and then put it on low heat. This way, the pan and spices warm together, and the spices get gently roasted without oil.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I love cooking Dum Biryani- a traditional Indian melange of rice, spices and either a meat/vegetarian main ingredient, all baked together in a tightly closed utensil . I like to make some about once a month, and have modified the traditional recipe to suit a Southern Californian kitchen. Since I do not like oily food, the recipe is also stripped down to a lighter, fat-free version.

This past weekend, I made a vegetarian (for Dad and Steve) and a chicken Biryani (for Sunil and mom), and here is how the veggie option looked after it came out of the oven:

  • Main ingredient: 1 lb cubed chicken OR beef OR lamb (with or without bones)- OR paneer cheese OR a bunch of vegetables of your choice.
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 huge or 3 regular sized red onions OR use a box of french fried onions
  • 1 cup plain yogurt

  • A teaspoon of saffron threads
  • 1 longish cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 large black cardamoms
  • 6-7 green cardamoms
  • 6-7 cloves
  • 6-7 whole black pepper seeds
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • salt to taste
2 star anise, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 chopped jalapeno.

The rice:
Soak the rice in salted water for about 20 minutes, and get busy with julienning the onions (below).

The onions:
This is probably the hardest part. All the onions get julienned into thin strips. It is then recommended that we deep fry this, which I refuse to do- instead I suggest caramelizing in a large lightly oiled pan on low heat. work in batches, and get other stuff done while the onions turn a deep brown. Add salt to taste. You can do this step in advance and store the onions in the fridge for up to a week. If you are using a box of french-fried onions, you get to skip this step!

The main ingredient:
You can use pretty much any kind of "main" ingredient, but my favorite is lamb, which is the closest I can get to mutton here. What ever it is that you use, try not to mix different main ingredients- that's a paella, not a biryani.

Add all the spices to a pan, and dry roast for about a minute, till the smell of spices begins to hit you. Add your main to the pan with the jalapeno (if using), and brown on all sides. This will take the longest time if you are using lamb, and the shortest if you are using paneer. Spray olive oil to get the brown-iness of your choice. Add salt to taste.

Keep in mind, this step is to add color to the main ingredient, not cook it to death. Once you are happy with how it looks, take it off the heat.

Mix the cup of yogurt with 1 cup water, and the saffron, and microwave for about 30 seconds. This brings out the color of your saffron.

Drain the rice of all water. The rice should have turned opaque by now.

Get a baking dish, or your rice cooker container.

Taste everything for salt, and adjust accordingly.

Start layering: In your baking dish or rice cooker container, add 1 thin layer of rice, sprinkling 1 layer of prepped onions on top, and some of the main ingredient on top of that. Keep repeating layers, and finish with a layer of onions.

Slowly pour in the yogurt-water-saffron mix, evenly all over the surface. The liquid will sink in, and help in steaming. If you are not serving immediately, and the kitchen isn't hot, you can keep the dish at this stage for about 1 hr without issues, until you are ready. It is of course better if it goes directly to cook.


If you are using the oven, tightly cover your baking dish with tin foil, and place in over at about 350 degrees for a good 20 minutes.

If using the rice cooker, put in on "white rice" setting.

In either case, check your rice after 20 minutes, and see if you have enough/liquid or steam.
In the oven: If the rice is getting too moist/done, you have the option of taking off the foil- the top will crust a little, in a nice way, and the liquid will evaporate. If the rice looks under-done (check the bottom of the dish with a fork), add a little water.
In the rice cooker: its a no brainer- the cooker will tell you when it is done. Just make sure you open the lid in about 20 minutes- the rice musn't dry as sand either, which my rice cooker likes to do!

  1. The most crucial part of this dish is the timing on the rice. Keep in mind that the soaking softens the rice somewhat, and therefore you must be exact with your measurements.
  2. The dish feeds 3 hungry people- if you must multiply it, just remember 1 part rice to 2 part liquid (since there are meat/veg in there to steam cook as well).
Its done- Eat!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Reasons for this blog

I had almost stopped writing about food, but then began to receive requests for certain recipes and other writing, and just couldn't bear to continue jumbling up everything on Apni- it would offend my auditing instincts in the worst way :D

Therefore, in the next few weeks, I shall be transferring all recipes and food related writing from Apni to here. New postings are ready to go- the Biryani made this weekend will feature first!