Palak-Paneer Parathas / Spinach-Cottage Cheese Parathas

I am a summer baby, maybe that’s why I am not such a huge fan of the winters. But even my all encompassing dislike for the season cannot keep me from going bonkers over the veritable feast of vegetables and fruits it brings. Especially the lovely leafy greens… so much greener, fresher and bursting with flavors. And from amongst them all, spinach is the closest to my heart. I absolutely adore it.

So dinner yesterday was a family favorite and lovely combination of two of my favorites, spinach / palak and cottage cheese /paneer in a paratha!! Yep Palak-Paneer Paratha!! Absolutely simple, quick to make and delicious to boot. You have just got to try it!!!

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What goes into it
100 gms of spinach
A few sprigs of mint leaves
2 cups of whole wheat flour
200 gms of paneer
1 onion
1 green chilli
4-5 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of oil + more the roast the parathas
Salt to taste
Water

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How to go about it
Grind to a fine paste, the spinach and the mint leaves. Use as little water as possible to grind. Take the paste out into a mixing bowl. In the grinder jar add a cup of water and reserve the water. Add flour and salt to taste to the paste and knead into a medium soft dough. Use the reserved water if and as needed. Use the oil to make a smooth crack free dough bowl. Cover and leave to stand while you assemble the stuffing.
Dice the onions and paneer into large cubes, slit the chilli and run it through the food processor. You want a crumbly consistency, so a couple of whizzes should do it. Season with salt and keep aside.
Place the girdle on heat to preheat it. Break a piece of dough and roll it into a chapati / round disc. Spoon a couple of spoons of the paneer mix into the centre of the chapati and fold it over enclosing it in, from all sides. Dust with flour and turn over. Gently flatten with a rolling pin, creating a thick paratha.

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The girdle should be hot enough by now. Place the paratha sealed side down and let it cook on medium flame for about a minute or so. Run a metal spoon with about a tsp of oil or ghee around the perimeter of the paratha. The paratha will sizzle and begin to puff. Cook for about 10 seconds and flip. Cook till it puffs completely, about a minute at most. Even if it doesn’t puff, a liberal splattering of golden brown spots indicates doneness. Take off the heat, repeat process till you run out of stuffing.

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Serve cut into quaters with bowls full of thick home made curd.
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Grilled Sandwich with a Creamy, Spicy Potato-Onion Stuffing

My husband is a simple man, not particularly fussy about food. Requests are rare, complains even rarer.

I was pleasantly surprised when the other day, out of the blue, he challenged me to reinterpret the classic Bombay Vada Pav. More so because he is a complete Bombay boy, absolutely in love with the ubiquitous dish.

I have been mulling over it for the last few days and have a few ideas up my sleeve. Today I committed to one of them. This is the laziest of versions and while it doesn’t quite translate literally, it comes pretty close. It will definitely be one of my go to sandwich stuffings. Besides he loved it too ūüôā

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What goes into it

10 slices of bread
3 medium sized potatoes, grated or finely diced
1 medium sized onion, finely diced
1 green chilly, chopped fine
1 tbsp coriander, chopped fine
1 tbsp ginger paste
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp red chill powder / paprika
1 tsp tumeric
1 tbsp fresh cream / malai
1 tsp of lemon juice
2 tbsp of oil
Salt to taste
Water to cook the potatoes

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How to go about it
Place a non stick pan on medium flame. Add the oil, the potatoes, the onions, the green chillies,  the ginger, the coriander, all the dry spices and the salt.

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Mix well, allowing the spices and the oil to coat the potatoes and onions. Add about a half cup of water and cook covered. Add more water if and when required and cook till the potatoes are nice and soft.

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When the potatoes are done, mash them and add a tbsp of cream. Cook till all the moisture evaporates. You’ll be left with a creamy mixture.

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Place about 2 tbsp of the mix between 2 buttered slices of a bread of your choice. Slightly butter one side of a pre heated sandwich griller. Place the sandwich, butter the top side of the bread and grill for a few minutes. Cut and serve hot with chips, chutney and cola.

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Vegetables cooked in a Roux based sauce

I pride myself over my well stocked refrigerator and pantry. You will almost never catch me running short of ingredients, at least the very vital basic stuff. But every rule has an exception and pride is always humbled.

This weekend was my grand-niece’s first birthday, yes my grand niece and no I am not a hundred, it is just one of those things. Both sets of her grandparents live¬†in the next town and so the party was more of a weekend getaway for the extended clan. In all that excitement and flurry of activity over the week, I somehow completely overlooked my¬†fast depleting vegetable resources. A plethora of chores and work deadlines literally feasted on my Monday morning and noon. When evening rolled in it brought with it the realization of the¬†dismal state of the fridge’s veggie compartment.

There was one carrot holding court with a handful of peas and corn, while a sad bit of cauliflower tried to engage the three different colored peppers. The potato-onion tray was represented by the last surviving member of each clan. Various variations of mixed vegetable subzis has ruled the roost over the weekend so there was no way I was making another.

A tin of boiled pinto beans, an abandoned pre-weekend idea’s reminder, and a loaf of bread were like beacons of hope. And just like that I was sorted. Dinner was set. My Pinto Beans and Vegetable Rice served with curd (to stand instead of the missing sour cream) and Vegetables cooked in a Roux based sauce with lightly toasted bread.

Pride restored, I was back in business ūüôā

Do not be fooled by the long fancy names, both the recipes are simplicity itself and so forgiving you can experiment fearlessly. For the rice recipe click here and for the Vegetables in a Roux based sauce read on.

Roux, is a flour and clarified butter thickening agent used as a base in a lot of mother sauces. Water, stock or milk are added to make it into a sauce. While it is not rocket science, roasting the flour is the key to achieving the right color and flavor. I have lightly roasted whole wheat flour and homemade clarified butter to achieve a blonde sauce. Milk, cheese and healthy pinches of dried herbs and chilli flakes completed my sauce.

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Making the sauce is the toughest bit of this entire recipe, the rest is child’s play. So let’s get cracking

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What goes into it

1 small potato, cubed small

1 medium sized onion, finely chopped

1/2 each of all the three colored peppers

1/2 cup of corns

1/2 cups of peas

5 florets of cauliflower broken into smaller florets

1/2 a carrot, finely chopped

1 tbsp of oil

1 healthy pinch of dried mixed herbs

Salt to taste

Water to cook the vegetables

For about 2 cups of the Roux based sauce

2 tbsp whole wheat flour

2 tbsp clarified butter / ghee

2 cups of milk

1 tbsp mixed dried herbs

1 tbsp chilli flakes (increase or decrease based on your palate. I prefer it mildly spicy)

2 inch cube of cheese, grated. I have used a basic processed cheese, but cheddar or parmesan can also be used to great effect.

Vegetables in a Roux

How to go about it

In a non stick pan add the oil and lightly sauté the peppers and onion till the onion. Salt the vegetables. Saute for about a minute or two. Put aside.

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In the same pan add all the other chopped vegetables,  about a cup of water, salt to taste and cook covered till the potatoes are done. If required add more water. Add the herb mix and the onion-peppers mix and give it a stir. Remove for pan and keep aside.

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In the same pan, add two tbsps of clarified butter, let it warm a bit then add the flour. If it looks dry initially do not worry, as the butter melts the flour will get incorporated. Constantly stir it, scraping the sides and bottom to ensure even cooking. Your roux is done when it emits a lovely aroma and has become a lovely cream shade. Slowly add milk and stir to blend. If your roux was done right there should be no lumps. Follow the milk with the shredded cheese, the spice mix and the chilli flakes. Add salt to taste and gentle incorporate everything. Let the sauce simmer for a while and thicken.

Be careful and stir often to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom or the sides and burning. Once done simple add the cooked veggies and mix. All done. Lightly toast some bread and enjoy your meal.

Pinto Beans and Vegetable Rice

I am not a huge fan of rice. As in I do not hate it but I cannot have it everyday for every meal. At least not the same, plain steamed rice!! But my family… fanatic rice lovers, steamed rice lovers… No meal in my home is ever complete without rice.

I often skip rice altogether and do not have to put much thought into how to cook it. But on the odd day that I find myself wanting to eat rice, I like to pair it with veggies and some sort of protein. My pinto beans and vegetables rice flavored with taco seasoning kills two birds with one stone. I get a rice variation I absolutely love and my family eats beans they otherwise cringe at the sight of. It is a win-win. Maybe I should call it my win-win rice…,humm

Oh and a couple more positives, it is a one pot dish that does not really need any accompaniments.

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What goes into it

1/2 cup pinto beans, boiled

1/2 cup of rice

1 cup of mixed vegetables (anything goes, here I have used, colored peppers and corn)

1 1/2 tomato, finely diced

1 1/2 tbsp of taco seasoning (I use McCormik’s Perfect Pinch, but you can substitute with whatever brand is available)

Salt to taste

Water to soak and cook the beans and rice

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How to go about it

The recipe is simple, but calls for a fair bit of planning and prep.

Soak the pinto beans in water overnight, or for at least 6 – 8 hours. Half an hour before you intend to begin wash and soak 1 cup of rice in about 1 1/2 cup of water. Pressure cook or boil the beans with salt. Cook them till just done, they will cook further with the rice and the vegetables, and you want them to hold shape. Do not throw away the water you cook the beans in. Finely chop all the veggies and the tomatoes and keep aside.

With all the prep done, now to the real cooking bit. In a wide deep pan, toss the rice, beans and corn. Add a cup of water and let it come to a gentle simmer.

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At this point the rice has just started to sort of bloom. Add salt and the reserved beans water and cook covered on a medium flame, till the rice are almost done.

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Now add the chopped tomatoes, veggies and the seasoning. Check for salt and seasoning, correct if required. Add about 1/2 cup of water and gently stir the mix. Cook covered till done.

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Check periodically and add more water if required. Do not stir too much or too vigorously either, just gently with a fork if required. Serve warm, with a dollop of sour cream or thick yoghurt.

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Enjoy ūüôā

Paneer Makhanwala

At the risk of repeating myself, I love paneer. I can eat it every single day for every meal and still not tire of it. And I cook it in so many different ways, I bet if you joined me, you would love the ride too ūüôā

Recently on Facebook group of food lovers, that I am a part of, we had a vegetarian protein event. Given my love for protein, I just had to participate ūüôā
One of the paneer posts struck a chord, it reminded me of a long forgotten recipe. My Paneer Makhanwala. At the University, dog years ago, this was one of my go to one pot meals. What I love about this dish, it really doesn’t need any accompaniments. One thing and you are sorted.

One more thing, don’t be fooled by the name, there is no makhan (butter) in this. The creamy dreamy curry is courtsey, cashews and freshly grated coconut. Totally indulgent and frightfully simple…

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What goes into it
250 gms paneer, cubed
3 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1cup freshly grated coconut
8-10 cashew nuts
3 whole dried red chillies
1 tbsp kasuri meethi (dired fenugreek lsaces?
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 bit of mace
8-10 peppercorns
1 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
Oil to temper
Water

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How to go about it

Soak the whole red chillies in about 2 tsps of water for about 10 minutes. Do this in the grinder jar you intend to use for making the gravy paste. Use this time to chop, the onions, tomatoes and paneer. Now toss the cashews, coconut, peppercorns, cinnamon and mace into the grinder jar and grind to a fine paste. Add water as required.

In a pan, drop 2 teaspoons of oil, once warm add the paste and cook covered for about 5 minutes. To this add the chopped tomatoes, salt and red chilli powder. Hold the kasuri meethi in one of your palms and with the heel of the other lightly crush. Add this in. Mix everything well and cook covered till done. Add paneer cubes and about 1/2 cup of water, if required. The consistency you want, is of a thick paste to envelope the paneer cubes, not a gravy soup for them to float about in. Cook for about five minutes and you are done.

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Notes
The peppercorns bring heat to this dish, so increase or decrease their quantity to affect the spice component.

Cashews, coconut and onions bring a natural tinge of sweetness, allow for that when correcting for salt and heat.

Mushrooms with Penne Pasta

I absolutely love mushrooms. But unfortunately, none in my family do. So I very rarely cook anything mushrooms.

But one long, lazy afternoon, I was home alone and there was a bag of beautiful button mushrooms chilling in the refrigerator. There was no doubt my lunch was going to revolve around them. The plan was to make a decadent cheesy béchamel to pour on my penne and stud it with lightly sautéed garlicy mushrooms. God! makes me drool to just think back.

I started with sautéing the garlic and mushrooms. About 2 minutes in I thought of replacing the béchamel with a mushroom sauce. Whimsy? Yeah! So about an hour and a cup of milk and a dash of pepper later I had lovely, creamy, dreamy, saucy mushrooms. I tossed my penne in and with the first fork full went to heaven.

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Wouldn’t you like to go there too? Then you have to have to try this. You can thank me later. :mrgreen:

What goes into it
200 gms finely chopped mushrooms
1 cup milk
1 cup penne pasta
10 – 15 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps olive oil
A dash of pepper
Salt to taste
Water to boil the penne

How to go about it
Clean and finely chop the mushrooms. Crush the garlic cloves. Heat the oil, add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds. Then add the chopped mushrooms. Cook covered for 30 minutes.

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At this point the mushrooms would look shriveled, but don’t worry. Add warm milk and cook covered for another 30 mins.

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Simultaneously, boil water to cook the penne. This way the pasta and sauce will be ready around the same time.

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The sauce is done when the mushrooms have soaked up some of the milk and look plump again. Add the pepper, salt and pasta. Toss well and cook for a couple of seconds. And you are done.

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Dig in and experience heaven on earth :mrgreen:

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Lachko Dal

Dals or lentils are a part of everyday Indian cooking. And the cooking variations are so huge, I would think you could have a distinctly new version each day and probably not repeat one for a few months. I was never a great dal fan, though, which is sort of odd, given how I love most forms of vegetarian proteins. But that is just me.

Growing up, it was not such a huge issue, since ma was not too crazy about them either. But once I got married, the scenario changed. My new family ate dal for both lunch and dinner. To compound my misery, we also had a ‘everyone eats everything’ rule. It was okay to¬†not eat a portion full, but sample, you must. Yikees!!! Poor non-dal fan me ūüė¶

Over the years, I have learnt to ‘like’ dal, a few favorites have also emerged and helped make the journey easier. And since the kitchen became my domain, those favorites, star in my culinary shows ūüôā

One of these stars is the Lachko Dal. Unlike most dals, this is not curry like, you do not sip / drink (yes drink, I know people who drink dal!!). It is more paste like. Made of split skinned Toor / Tuver / Arhar / Pigeon Pea and served with a dollop of ghee as a side , accompanying rice and kadhi (a yogurt based curry). The basic flavor of Toor / Tuver / Arhar / Pigeon Pea comes through boldly with hints of heat and sweetness.

It is a simple dish, nothing too elaborate, but it does bring a feeling of completeness.

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What goes Into It

100 gms split and skinned Toor dal / Tuver dal / Arhar dal / Pigeon Pea

2 1/4 cups of water

1 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp red chilli powder

2 whole dried red chillies

1 tsp of jaggery

a small pinch asafoetida

some curry leaves

1 tbsp ghee to temper

Salt to taste

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How to go about it

Soak the split and skinned Toor dal / Tuver dal / Arhar dal / Pigeon Pea in 2 cups of water for about 30 mins. They should soak up all the water and look nice and plump

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Add salt, turmeric red chilli powder and jaggery to the dal and cook, till it is just done. You do not want it to completely dissolve, the grains need to be distinctly visible. So if you are using a pressure cooker, it would be 3 whistles with 1/4 cup of water. If using a heavy bottomed vessels, add water as required and check often.

Once cooked, transfer to the serving bowl. In a tempering pan, heat the ghee, add the mustard seeds and the whole red chillies; as soon as the start to splutter, turn off the heat. Quickly add the asafoetida and the curry leaves. Careful tip the tempering over the dal and give it a gentle stir to incorporate. You want to be very quick with the tempering, since ghee heats up quickly and starts to burn. A good tip would be to keep all the tempering ingredients ready.

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Garnish with a generous dollop of ghee and enjoy with rice and kadhi.

Variations

If you are running short of time, you can temper the soaked dal and then cook everything together.

Ladvo / Laadu / Balls of pure heaven

Like the Lion is the King of the Jungle and the Mango is King amongst fruits, the Ladvo / Laadu is the King amongst Indian sweets, at least, it is to me. I love sweets of all sorts, and there are so many types, but my absolute favorite is the typical Gujarati Gol no Ladvo (Jaggery Laadu). If heaven were a sweet, it would be this.

A perfectly made laadu is a beautiful sight, a lovely brown speckled with white poppy and cream sesame seeds and hints of golden coconut. As you pick one up, the delicate aroma of the cardamom and nutmeg teases your nostrils then the soft laadu melts in your mouth, leaving behind the memory of an almost sinful experience and the intense craving for a repeat assault.

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While it is certainly not of the low calorie variety, it is supposed to be super healthy despite the copious amounts of ghee and jaggery in it. Primarily made of coarsely ground whole wheat flour, jaggery and ghee, it is not difficult to make, but quite time and labor intensive.But the final product is so worth the effort. Make it when you have the time to appreciate the process and maybe a little help. Gossip and laadu making are a legendary pair.

What goes into it

250 gms Coarsely ground wheat flour (If you do not have it, use regular Whole Wheat Flour (WWF), replace 3 tbsp of WWF with 3 tbsp of semolina / rava / sooji to replicate texture.

250 gms of ghee (approximately, do keep a little extra at hand, especially if using WWF+Semolina)

250 gms of jaggery (approximately, do keep a little extra at hand, especially if using WWF+Semolina)

1 bowl dried coconut shavings / sukha kopra

3 tbsps sesame seeds / til

1 healthy pinch of powdered cardamom and nutmeg, each

100 gms of poppy seeds / khus khus

Oil to fry

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How to go about it

In a large mixing bowl, take the flour and rub ghee into it (should look like crumbled bread crumbs).

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Heat the oil for frying dumplings. Simultaneously, knead the flour into a hard dough using ghee and very little water (if and as needed, the lesser water you use the less oily your dumplings will be, when fried). Pinch of pieces and shape dumplings like these. The dents ensure the insides of the dumplings cook evenly.

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Drop the dumplings in the oil and fry them on a medium flame, till they become a lovely golden brown. The aromatic seduction, begins here. Do not stir the dumplings or they will disintegrate. Fry each side for about 7-10 minutes You could use ghee to fry, if you want a richer laadu.

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Traditionally the fried dumplings are crushed using a mortar and pestle. But you may use a food processor. Let the dumplings cool a bit and then break them into small pieces. Be very careful here, because though the outside may be reasonable cool the insides will be pretty hot. Do not grind before they cool down to room temperature. Grind in short burst, sieve and return the crumbs to the processor for a further grinding. Set aside when done

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Take about 4 tbsps of ghee in a deep frying pan / kadhai. Fry the coconut shavings and the sesame seeds / til, till the coconut turns a light brown.

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Add these to the powdered flour. In the same frying pan / kadhai heat another 4 tablespoons of ghee and melt the jaggery in in it. Do not wait for the jaggery to start bubbling, or you will have a slightly sticky ladu.

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Pour this over the flour too. Use a ladle and mix well. Once done add the cardamom and the nutmeg and mix again.

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The mix should be of shape holding consistency. If not heat and add some ghee. Beginning from the edges, take handfuls and make laadus. Roll each in poppy seeds and set aside. Leave uncovered to cool.

I usually make them at night and leave them overnight. Pack in boxes the next morning and store in the refrigerator. Enjoy

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Brinjal Fry

Brinjals / Aubergines / Eggplant / Baingan, call it what you may, to me, it is the most awesome among vegetables. I can eat brinjals for all my meals everyday and still not complain. I love it, maybe a bit beyond the range of normal. It goes without saying I cook it in a number of ways.

But there is this one recipe, a South Indian cousin of the Bengali Baingan bhaja… if you haven’t tried it, your life has been a waste (too dramatic!!! yes, but you get how much I love it, right?)

It is a lovely play of delicate flavours and a myriad of textures. The rustic semolina, compliments the smooth rice flour, while the garlic whispers sweet nothings, the heat of the red chilli mixed with the powdered cumin-coriander runs away with your sanity.

But don’t take my word for it, try it.

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What goes into it

1 medium sized round brinjal

2 cloves of garlic, roughly crushed

1 tbsp semolina

1 tbsp rice flour

2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp cumin – coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 cup of water

Oil

Salt to taste

How to go about it

Slice the brinjal into roundels and soak in salted water. This keeps them from discoloring. Mix the semolina, rice flour, the spices and the salt in a plate. Take each roundel and coat it in this mix. Since the bringals are wet, the mix will stick to them. In a non stick pan heat the oil and add the crushed garlic to it and saute for about 30 seconds. Drop the roundels in the pan and cook on each side for about a minute. Serve.

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Bharwa Bhindi / Stuffed Okra

I am a born again vegetarian, so it goes without saying that I love my veggies. But there are a few notable exceptions to that rule. One of the more prominent of those are bhindi or okra or lady’s fingers … in true shakespearean style a okra by any other name would still be just that… unpalatable. I lucked out when the man of my dreams also disliked them with equal fervor. We were two peas in a pod, happy and united in our mutual dislike for bhindi (okra). But then as is wont, the cruel world intervened…his parents love…like absolutely adore bhindi (okra). So we suffered through many lunches and dinners, mixing it with curd or sev or pretending it was something else….but nothing really worked. And then one day while I was reading something about amalgamation, a brain wave struck. A germ of an idea, to make the dreaded bhindi (okra) go down a bit more smoothly.

I love all sorts of stuffed food, the textual play fascinates me. So the typical stuffing for bhindi (okra) in Gujarat (where I am from) is spiced besan (finely ground bengal gram flour). But the smooth pasty texture of the mix and the inherent sliminess (for the lack of a better word) of the bhindi (okra) sort of compliment each other and make it very….. meh. So I added a bit of twist ūüôā Intrigued? Read on

Bharwa Bhindi

What goes in to in

300 gms of Bhindi / Okra¬†/ Lady’s fingers slit length-wise with both tips intact

2 medium sized onions chopped, in rather big pieces

1 small handful of channa dal (bengal gram, split and skinned) soaked in water for about 20 minutes

3 heaped tablespoons of coarsely ground raw peanuts

3 heaped tablespoons of besan (finely ground bengal gram flour)

3 heaped tablespoons of dessicated coconut

1 large green finely chopped green chilly

2 tablespoons of finely chopped coriander

3 teaspoons of red chilli powder (use more or less depending on your palate)

2 teaspoons of turmeric

4 teaspoons of dhana-jeera (finely ground coriander and cumin seeds)

1 tablespoon of sugar (optional, it doesn’t lend a sweetness, just enhances the flavor)

a pinch of asafoetida

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons of oil

1 cup (approximately) of water

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How to go about it

Start by soaking the the channa dal (bengal gram, split and skinned). Next chop the onions into eighths, slit the bhindi (okra) and keep aside. In a large plate mix all the dry ingredients, add to these the finely chopped coriander and green chilly. Then add the coarsely ground channa dal (bengal gram, split and skinned). The mix should be moist but not at all paste like. Check seasoning and adjust as per your palate, you want a slightly salt tolerant, slightly spicy lingering flavor.

Stuff the slit bhindis (okra) with this mix.

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Heat 1 tablespoon of oil, add a pinch of salt and the onions to it. Let the onions get to a mellow golden.

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Now start placing your stuffed bhindis (okra) into the pan. Add all the leftover stuffing too. Sprinkle the reserve 1 tbsp of oil and cover the pan. Stove should be on a medium low. Cook for a minute or two.

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Then give it a gentle stir and sprinkle water (about 1/4 of a cup) and cook covered till done, about 20 odd minutes on a medium low flame.

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Keep checking that the stuffing is moist enough so that it doesn’t burn. Add water if it goes to dry. Do not add all the water in one go otherwise the bhindis (okra) will get very squishy and slimy, conversely too little water and the stuffing and the bhindis (okra) will char.

Once done serve with rotis, raita and papad. Enjoy ūüôā

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Variations

You could try cooking it in the microwave, instead of the stove top, it might bring down the cook time.