Thursday, July 29, 2010

Zucchini Slider Sandwiches

Inevitably, summertime means grilling time for many people. I was trying to come up with lighter, summer-appropriate fare for my latest dinner party, and grilling immediately came to mind. Though I don't own an actual grill, I was sure I could certainly achieve more than acceptable results using the stovetop. However, I have never been a fan of pre-packaged, frozen veggie burgers, so I decided to improvise my own vegetarian burgers with a mediterranean flare, keeping in line with the Greek Htipti. Thus arose these aromatic, titillating delights. I promise, you'll never miss the meat in these sliders(mini-burgers). Packed with pungent spices, these sliders make a delicious, healthy alternative to falafel, as they are grilled(well, on the stovetop at any rate) as opposed to fried and contain zucchini in addition to the garbanzo beans. They require very little time to prepare, and the best part is that you can make the sliders beforehand and just keep them warm in the oven until you are ready to serve. But be warned, the scent of roasted cumin will permeate well-beyond your kitchen, rendering your guests impatient as they wait to sample this sumptuous culinary concoction.
Zucchini Sliders:
2 large zucchini
2 cups canned garbanzo beans
1/2 red onion, medium-chopped
about 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs, unsalted
1 tsp. roasted cumin powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1.5 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp. oil
Shred the zucchini, and very lighty salt it. Place it in a strainer over a bowl to let the water drain out. In the mean time, mash the garbanzo beans together with all the spices and salt. Add in the drained zucchini and enough breadcrumbs to be able to form patties. Preheat stovetop grill pan. Form 20 mini-patties of roughly equal size, about 2" in diameter. Oil the grill pan well, let the oil get hot, and then place 10 patties(or as many as the pan will hold) on the pan. Grill on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes on each side, or until each side is well-browned. Repeat until all sliders are finished. If you are not serving the sliders right away, place them in a 200F preheated oven to keep them warm until you are ready to serve them.

Tahini-Yogurt Sauce:
1.5 cups yogurt
1/2 cup tahini from roasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Place all ingredients together in a mini-food processor and whirl until thoroughly combined but some pieces of cilantro remain.
To serve, use fresh ciabatta bread, and cut it into individual sandwich-size portions. Spread both sides of the bread generously with yogurt sauce, and place 2 sliders on top of one side. Top as desired-I used romaine lettuce and pepperjack cheese, whch gave it a nice zing. Enjoy!
Yield: 5 sandwiches

Monday, July 26, 2010

Htipiti: Feta Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

I hosted another dinner party this past weekend, this time with a Mediterranean-themed menu. For an appetizer, a cool but flavorful dip of some sort seemed like the perfect option. However, I certainly wanted to serve something other than the typical hummus or baba ghanoush. I thought about some of my favorite ingredients commonly used in mediterranean-style cooking. Feta cheese and roasted red peppers immediately came to mind. So after searching, I came across this fabulous, yet strikingly simple recipe by Kevin of Closet Cooking for Htipiti, a roasted red pepper and feta cheese dip, made entirely in the food processor. It tastes phenomenal. Feta cheese provides all the necessary creaminess, and the sweetness from the roasted red peppers well balances the tanginess of the feta. I have modified the recipe only slightly, using crushed red pepper flakes in place of the jalapeno pepper, and the heat provides that slight kick that rounds out the overall flavor of the dish perfectly. I also used garlic powder in place of raw garlic, as I do not care for the strong aftertaste left in your mouth by raw garlic. Leftovers make for a great sandwich/wrap spread and would also serve as a tasty alternative to pasta sauce.

Htipiti (This is the original recipe; I tripled it):
1 roasted red pepper
4 ounces feta cheese
2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes
scant 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 green onion
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and process until well-blended but still slightly chunky. Add oil from the sun-dried tomatoes if you need to thin the dip out. Garnish with olive slices and crumbled feta, if desired.

Serve with good crackers, pita chips or fresh veggies.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Birthday on Bastille Day!

My friend J. is spending the summer here in town, and since she celebrated her birthday last week, I just had to bake her a cake. I should mention that, as indicated in the title, her birthday falls on the French Bastille Day, which is of special significance to the two of us given our Francophilia. So, I figured that I should try to incorporate at least some French element into the cake. Well, that element came in the form of the cake base, Clotilde's recipe for French Yogurt Cake. This recipe never fails me, and it comes out moist, fluffy and scrumptious every time. That however, was the extent of the French element. I turned the basic cake into a dark chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, as J. loves both chocolate and peanut butter. Though ever-popular here in the U.S., the French just don't seem to adore this combination nearly as much as we do. Oh well, nothing beats this classic combo in my eyes. And of course, no one complained while eating the cake :)


Cake(adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini):
3 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole-milk yogurt
3 eggs
1.5 cups sugar
1/3 + one-half of 1/3 cup ghee or canola oil
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 ounces of good-quality dark chocolate, grated

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Gently combine yogurt, sugar, eggs, oil/ghee and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda in another bowl. Mix the grated dark chocolate into the dry ingredients Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture and mix together until just combined. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the greased cake pan, and bake it until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let it cool completely before frosting.

Peanut Butter-Cream Cheese Frosting
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
About 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Cream butter and cream cheese together until fulffy. Beat in the peanut butter and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and beat it in completely. If more sweetness is desired, add the remaining 1/4 cup. Spread on top of cooled cake.

Decorate as desired. I used chocolate chips to spell out "Happy Birthday Mon Ami." I wrote "Mon Ami" just to add a bit more of the French element, as I could not fit "Anniversaire", the French word for "birthday."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Spaghetti with Vegetarian "Meatballs" and Spicy Red Sauce

My mom used to make the most amazing vegetarian "meatballs", which she called "wheatballs" while we were growing up. I used to love eating them with spaghetti, in sandwiches smothered with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, and even just plain as a snack :) However, that recipe called for deep frying, which I did not want to do. Fortunately, I found another recipe for baked vegetarian meatballs, which turned out just as delicious as the original recipe, if not more so. I served them with spaghetti and homemade red sauce for a vegatarian version of the classic spaghetti and meatballs, and we simply loved it. The meatballs were dense yet soft, and the crunch of the walnuts provided the perfect contrast. The tangy flavor from the sharp cheddar melded perfectly with the herbs and the heat from the red pepper. A. could not stop uttering "Mmm..." and "Aah..." between bites. She looked at me after just a couple of bites, "Ameya, you must make this again!" I have mentioned before that she is a rather picky eater, so the dish must be truly phenomenal for her to say that! I will certainly make these delicious "meatballs" again, although next time I will bake them with the sauce and serve them without the pasta so that I can eat more of them :) They'll also taste spectacular in sandwiches!


Vegetarian "Meatballs"(adapted from Allrecipes.com)
1 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup walnuts
2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp. dry basil
1/4 tsp. dry oregano
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix eggs, cheddar cheese and cottage cheese in a food processor until combined. Then, add onion, basil, oregano and salt. After, add in walnuts and pulse a couple of times until the walnuts are just coarsely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and mix in the breadcrumbs. Form 8 balls of equal size, and place in a baking dish. Bake uncovered until a tester toothpick inserted in the center of one of the balls comes out clean, about 25 minutes.(See original recipe if you want to bake the meatballs with sauce).


Spicy Red Sauce:
4 fresh tomatoes, pureed
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp. dry basil
1 tsp. dry thyme
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1.5 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Heat the oil in a pot. Saute the onion over medium heat until transluscent. Add the garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until it just begins to brown. Then lower the heat, and add the rosemary, basil, thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Then, add the fresh tomato puree, and cook over medium heat until the puree turns a deep red, about 2-3 minutes. Add the canned tomato sauce, and let the mixture come to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and sugar, taste, and adjust as needed. Add as many meatballs as you plan to serve into the simmering sauce, cover, and let the sauce continue to simmer for about 7-8 minutes. Spoon sauce over the meatballs periodically. Serve sauce and meatballs warm over spaghetti.

Yields 4 servings.



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hummus Salad

Looking back through my posts, I realized that very few of them have featured vegetables. Don't think that I don't eat evegtables. In fact, as a vegetarian, I do eat a lot! But for some reason, I just haven't written about many of the vegetable-based dishes that I prepare. I love almost all vegetables, the two exceptions being bottlegourd and guvar(both commonly used in Indian cooking), and I really pride myself on the fact that my mom never had to coax or force me to eat my veggies while growing up :)
Today, I am going to share one of my all-time favorite salad recipes with you. Though very simple to toss together, the bounty of flavor and freshness will greatly appeal to your tastebuds, especially in the summer heat. What distinguishes this salad is that rather than the traditional oil/vinegar-based dressing, I used hummus as the dressing. Sounds strange, right? Yes, people typically eat hummus on sandwiches or crackers, or as a dip, but actually, it makes for an extremely tasty and healthy salad dressing, protein-rich, yet not at all heavy like many oil-based dressings. A good quality store-bought hummus works wonderfully, although you can certainly prepare your own. Try a flavored-hummus, such as spinach-artichoke or roasted red pepper, for a greater gusto.

Hummus Salad (Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side):
3/4 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
1 tomato, chopped(save as much juice as possible)
1/2 cup black olives, drained and chopped
1 ripe avocado, diced
2 stalks of green onions, chopped
2 ounces feta cheese, cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons parmesean cheese
1/3 cup hummus(I used spinach-artichoke)
a bit of black pepper
salt if needed(the hummus will already have salt, so you probably will not need any more)


Toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl until all the vegetables are evenly coated with the hummus.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gulab Jamun: My First Large-Scale Cooking Experiment

I haven't posted as regularly these past couple of weeks because things have been so incredibly hectic. My sister Anagha performed her solo debut of Bharat Natyam, a form of classical Indian dance, yesterday, and this past week especially was crazy with preparations for the event and many out of town guests. To top it all off, my mom and I, being my mom and I, prepared all the food for the reception ourselves instead of opting for the convenience of a caterer. The menu consisted of: samosas, bhelpuri and gulab jamun, my own contribution, along with fresh watermelon.
I must say, I was quite intimidated by the task of preparing 600+ gulab jamuns. Gulab jamuns require concentrated effort, patience and skill to prepare correctly. Even though my mom 's recipe from the past 15+ years furnished truly spectacular gulab jamuns, her recipe contained bisquick, which we wanted to avoid using due to the trans fat it contains. So, we spent two weeks experimenting with different recipes and variations of them to find one that yielded gulab jamuns which held up to our standards. Towards the end of the experimentation process, after several trials and tribulations of jamuns that either fell apart while frying or flattened while soaking in the syrup, Aai(which is the Marathi term for "mother") and I got so exasperated that we almost decided to just use the original recipe. But I decided that after exerting this much effort, we had to keep going and come up with a working recipe. So to reduce wastage, we began to make quarter batches of each new variation we tried. Finally, after 4 attempts, we discovered the magic recipe that yielded the perfect gulab jamuns. The jamuns turned out firm enough to hold their shape, but soft and spongy on the inside, with the syrup soaking well into the jamuns. Again, this dessert requires patience to properly prepare, and they must be fried at the proper temperature. Otherwise, they will soak up the fat if the heat is too low or remain uncooked on the inside if the heat is too high. However, in spite of the rather labor-intensive procedure, the end result indeed proved worth it. Hey, after all, this is what professional chefs do day in and day out as they work to devise their own recipes.
Gulab Jamun (adapted from Manjula's Kitchen):
3 cups milk powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 and 1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup whole milk at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup ghee and 2 cups canola oil for deep frying
1 tsp. cardamom powder
3 cups sugar
2 cups water

For the jamuns:
Heat oil and ghee in a deep-frying vessel on medium-heat. Mix together the milk powder, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
Mix in the butter thoroughly.
Knead in the milk completely.
The dough will be very soft and sticky, but let it sit for a couple of minutes to firm up only slightly. It should still be soft though.
Knead the dough, and divide it into 60 equal-sized balls, of about 3/4" in diameter.
Check the temperature of the oil-ghee mixture by dropping a small piece of dough into the fat. It should rise within a few seconds. If it sits, the temperature is too low. If it rises immediately, it is too hot. Fry the jamuns over medium-low heat until well-browned, about 5-6 minutes.
Drain the prepared jamuns on a paper towel, and let them cool slightly.

For the simple syrup:
Combine sugar and water in a large pot, and bring the mixture to a boil. When the sugar is completely dissolved, add the cardamom powder. Add as many jamuns as will fit in a single, even layer on the bottom. Let them sit until the syrup comes back to a boil, the turn off the heat in just a few seconds. Place the jamuns in a tray, and let them come to room temperature. If need be, save the syrup for any remaining jamuns that need to be soaked. Once they are all finished, pour the syrup evely over all the jamuns, and refrigerate them overnight after they have cooled to room temperature. Enjoy cold or warm-they taste awesome either way! If you eat them warm, try them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This makes for a fabulous combination :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cauliflower Raita

I wanted to prepare a cool, refreshing vegetable dish to accompany a spicy egg-tikka gravy(coming in a later post) that I prepared for dinner the other night. Raita seemed like the perfect choice. However, I wanted something out of the ordinary. Cauliflower is one of my most favorite vegetables, and even though it is not traditionally used to make raitas, I decided to concoct this cauliflower raita to see how it tasted. I was not disappointed! The combination was perfect-the cauliflower provided the prominent flavor, with the coconut and peanut nicely accentuating it.


Cauliflower Raita (Serves 4 as a side):
2 cups yogurt
1/3 of a large head of cauliflower, chopped and steamed until tender
3 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
2 heaping tablespoons roasted peanut powder
salt to taste
1 tbsp. oil
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. hing(asafoetida)
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 green chilli pepper, chopped

Heat oil in a small kadai(a wok-like vessel). Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, lower the heat and add the cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds begin to brown, add the hing. Add the curry leaves, and after a few seconds, add the chopped green chilli pepper. Turn off the heat immediately. Let this tempering cool slightly.
Mix the cooled chopped cauliflower with the yogurt. Mix in the tempering. Add salt to taste. Serve as an accompaniment to any spicy, gravied dish.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Spanish Tortilla

This dish stirs some of my most memorable experiences during college thus far. I love to cook dinners with my friends on weekends, and I first tasted Spanish tortilla when my friend and I prepared this in her dorm as the main course for one of our dinners. Well, our first attempt was not exactly the best, as we found the tortilla very difficult to flip and ended up partially burning it! Nontheless, it tasted quite good, and I always have fun cooking with friends :) However, I was determined to successfully cook up a Spanish tortilla. Normally, I just whip up regular omelettes when I want to use up eggs, but today I thought why not give Spanish tortilla another go? I must say, I was very pleased with the result. Although it does not look as neat and presentable as it could, I was thrilled by the taste. It requires a bit more time than regular omelettes, and it proves even harder to flip without breaking! However, the end result will leave you wanting more :)

Spanish Tortilla (combined recipe from The Boston Globe and MyRecipes.com):
5 eggs
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into crescents
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/8" thick
1 tsp. salt, divided
1.5 cups packed fresh spinach
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. roasted cumin powder(a little goes a long way)
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large(10"-12") skillet. When hot, add the onions, and cook on medium heat until they become limp, about 5-6 minutes. Then, add the potatoes, stir, cover, and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Stir a couple of times in-between, and add 3/4 tsp. salt(or to taste) towards the end of the cooking time. While cooking, beat the eggs with remaining 1/4 tsp. salt(or to taste), black pepper and roasted cumin powder. When the potatoes are cooked, add the spinach, and cook just until it begins to wilt. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the potato mixture. Cook on medium-low heat until the bottom is set, but the top is still slightly runny (I cooked it for about 7-8 minutes). Run a spatula under the tortilla so that it does not stick to the skillet. Slide it onto a large plate. Carefully pick up the skillet by its side handles (it will be hot), and invert it over the plate. Then, invert the plate on top of the skillet so that the top side of the tortilla lands face down. Return to stove, and cook for another 5-6 minutes, or until the bottom side is set. Cut into wedges and serve.
I served the tortilla with homemade guacamole. Even though not a traditional combination, the fresh flavor of the guacamole paired perfectly with the warm, spiced tortilla. You can also serve the tortilla with toast, spicy mayonnaise, or anything else that strikes your fancy :)
 

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