Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Ratatouille is a rustic vegetable stew which has its origins in the South of France - the region of Nice to be precise. It also goes by the name of Ratoutille Nicoise for that reason. This dish can't get any simpler- it literally means to stir together. What does one stir together - vegetables like eggplants, zucchini, bell peppers, courgettes, tomatoes - all slow cooked together till the flavours meld and the juices combine.

This dish is usually cooked on the stove top for upto an hour; but one of my favourite weekday cookbooks - Good Food - 101 Healthy Eats - has a nice recipe which cooks up fast and turns out delicious too. Though this could potentially be a convenient fridge clearing recipe, I would recommend using fresh vegetables as far as possible.

I'm sending this fabulous recipe to this month's edition of Heart of the Matter - Budget Friendly Recipes; this event which is focused on recipes which are heart friendly ("low in saturated fats (lean meats and fish), be low in salt (sodium), and abundant with vegetables or fruit") is hosted by Michelle of the Accidental Scientist. and Ilva of Lucullian Delights. This month's edition is about trying to eat food which is healthy but at the same time doesn't pinch our pockets in the time of recession. What better dish than this ratatouille which has just vegetables and no exotic, expensive ingredients which may make us think twice?

Adapted from Good Food - 101 Healthy Recipes
2 red or yellow peppers ( I used 1 yellow pepper and 1 green pepper)
4 large tomatoes
1 large aubergine (bharta baingan), cut into large chunks
4 small courgettes (I used zucchini) , sliced thickly
1 onion, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
salt to taste
1 tbsp coriander leaves chopped
2-3 tbsp olive oil

1. Peel the peppers (if possible) and cut into 1" squares. I was able to peel the peppers because they were fairly large and firm. Next time I will skip this step!
2. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds, plunge into cold water immediately. Peel, chop and deseed. Make a small cross on the base of each tomato before blanching to enable the skin to come off easily.
3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the aubergines for about 5 minutes, till soft. Remove and keep aside
4. In the same oil, fry the courgettes till golden, adding a little more oil if necessary. Fry the bell peppers, onions, paprika powder and garlic.
5. Add the vinegar and sugar, the tomatoes and coriander as well as the aubergines with some salt, pepper and cumin powder and cook for 10-15 minutes, till the vegetables are cooked but not mushy.
6. Serve warm with soup on the side.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dad's Spanish Omelette

Sunday breakfasts cooked by Dad were really special. While he was in Iran, he learnt to make a mean Spanish omelet from the Swedish engineers he worked with there. The last time he made this for me was on my birthday 4 years back and he hadn’t lost his touch. It was simply delicious – thick wedges layered with potatoes, stuffed with slowly browned onions and capsicums, topped with cheese. Hmmm… reminds me, I should ask him to make it again the next time he visits.

When I grew up and started reading more about food, I found that in Spain this is called a “tortilla” and is widely served as a snack or a light meal in Spain – especially in Tapas bars. Quite a different concept from the breakfast dish I had always known it as. In Britain it is called Spanish omelet, while in Italy there is a version which is called “Frittata”. They are all flat open faced omelets with a large variation in the fillings and while the bottom is cooked on the stove top, the top is finished in the oven. Read more here.

I made this recently on a Sunday morning (for some reason I can’t wrap my head around making this on any other day! I guess the tradition continues...) Along with the potatoes I also tossed in some sliced sausages and topped it with feta cheese, dried herbs and fresh coriander. The combinations for a frittata are endless - feel free to experiment with bell peppers, mushrooms and any other ingredient you fancy.

Frittata cooking on the stove top

Go easy on the salt if you are using feta cheese since it is naturally salty. Even my daughter gets to share this lovely breakfast because I sprinkle the crushed pepper and some chilli flakes only on 3/4th of the frittata leaving one wedge for her to enjoy.

Frittatas usually use anywhere between 6 to 10 eggs - thats how you get those thick wedges which you can cut. Which is why I usually make these when we have friends staying over with us....makes for a nice brunch of sorts without too much time spent in the kitchen. This time, since it was just the three of us (2.5 actually!), I used 3 eggs. I don't have a smaller non stick pan so I used the normal one which is why it is much thinner than usual.

When making the frittata with 6 eggs or more, I use a round oven proof tin - first on the stovetop and then later in the oven to set the top. This time I put the non stick pan inside the oven - not a good idea at all.
a. Non stick pans are as such a bad idea because of the teflon coating (am trying to find some good cast iron frying pans I can season and use) and one inside the oven isn't a good idea either.
b. I kept in there for about 3-4 minutes, but it might melt the plastic handle of the frying pan.

So, what I'm going to do in future (and would suggest the same for anyone trying this) is to use an oven proof pan which I can also use on the stove top. Think pie pans, roasting tins....

I am sending this recipe on to Family Recipes - the event which brings memories of family, food and fun - the brainchild of Shelby and Laura.

Dad’s Spanish Omelet


Eggs - 6

Milk - 1 tbsp

salt and pepper to taste

Potatoes - 2, sliced thin and cooked in water for about 8 minutes, till almost done

Mushrooms/sausages/bell peppers - 1/2 cup sliced thin

Red chilli flakes/paprika powder - 1 tsp

Fresh coriander & mint - 1/4 cup chopped

Dried herbs (optional) - 1/4 tsp

Feta cheese - 100 gm

Oil - 1 tbsp


1. Heat oil in an oven proof tin and arrange the parboiled potato slices at the bottom of the tin and cook each side till golden, about 5 minutes.

2. While that is cooking, beat the eggs and the milk along with the salt and pepper. When the potatoes are almost done, add the mushrooms/sausages/bell peppers to the pan and cook on low for about 5 minutes till they wilt.

3. Pour in the egg mixture and wait till it spread evenly. Sprinkle the fresh herbs, dried herbs, red chilli flakes and feta cheese. Pre heat the oven to 180C

4. After about 2-3 minutes, the egg would have set and the bottom would be almost cooked; Put the tin into the oven (or under the grill) and bake for about 5 minutes till the top is cooked and golden. The cheese will also have melted. Serve warm, cut into wedges along with a hunk of bread on the side.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Divine Chocolate Cake

A dear friend in Chennai, used to make this absolutely divine chocolate cake - a bit fudgy at the centres and the lovely rich taste of chocolate in very bite. We loved having it at every celebration - birthday, Christmas and other special occasions. I had taken the recipe from her but never really bothered making it - why mess with perfection! But I missed it a lot after moving here two years back and finally decided to make it myself.

The intense richness of this cake, I believe, comes from pouring the boiling water over the cocoa and coffee powders. You know the perfect chocolate cake recipe you were looking for? - well this is it! I will be experimenting with a whole wheat & low fat version, but I think we should all be a little decadent sometimes and indulge ourselves :)
I am sending the first picture to Click - Bi colour this month - the popular photography event hosted by Jai & Bee of Jugalbandi.
Divine Chocolate Cake

Refined flour (maida) - 1 1/4 cups
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
1/2 cup cocoa powder, (I used Cadbury's)
1 cup boiling water
Vanilla essence - 2 tsp
Butter at room temperature - 1.25 cups
Castor sugar - 1 cup
Eggs - 2
1. Take a largish bowl and beat the butter in it with an electric mixed on medium for about half a minute.
2. Add the sugar gradually and cream together till shiny and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat the first well before adding the second one.
3. Meanwhile, heat the water till it is boiling and then pour over the cocoa powder in a bowl. Mix well till dissolved. Cool and then mix in the vanilla essence.
4. Sieve the flour, baking soda and baking powder together. Add the flour mix a little at a time to the butter sugar egg mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, beating continuously with the mixer on medium continuously. When it is combined well, beat on low for another half a minute.
5. Pour the cake batter into 2 pans (I used a 8" round pan and a smaller rectangular pan) which have been lined with parchment paper on the bottom and greased and floured on the sides. If not using parchment paper on the bottom, I would recommend heavily greasing and flouring the bottom instead. The cake turned out really soft and broke a bit when I tried to turn it out onto a plate.
6. Pre heat the oven to 190C and bake for about 25 minutes - a toothpick inserted should come out moist but not uncooked. Cool completely before attempting to take it out.
7. Warm slightly before serving.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Udipi Sambar

One of the things I missed most when I moved out of Mumbai was something I had taken for granted all those years when I was growing up - Udipi restaurants. They dotted the landscape, especially the King's Circle and Matunga neighbourhood where we lived, and we loved the food they dished out. Clean, efficient and cheap - these were places we went to whether we wanted an early morning South Indian breakfast on a Sunday morning or a pav bhaji in the evenings. College saw us practically camped in one of these places as our burgeoning appetite never matched our wallets - we enjoyed their paper dosais and masala uttapams, their thick milkshakes and cold juices.
Anand Bhavan was a particular favourite of my Dad's for their rasam wadas, while I preferred the AC Udipi Cafe. Mom loved the South Indian "meals" at the Udipi place near Matunga station - unlimited food for Rs. 40!. Shree Sundars came much later when I had just started my degree in Podar and it became an instant favourite with our gang. Then there were the die hard fans of Mani's behind Ruia college where they literally drank the chutney! What is your favourite Udipi place to eat in Mumbai?

When I moved to Chennai and ate my first idli outside of home at Saravana Bhavan - I didn't like it! Because they didn't have the Udipi sambar to go with it, nor the flat, large, coarse idlis. The sambar at the eating places in Chennai were almost like what we made at home - there was no tantalising hint of sweetness at the edges nor was there coconut in the masala. The sambar at Udipi restaurants have their own fan following - on Sunday mornings in Anand Bhavan we found it amusing to see people coming and ordering plates of idlis and dosais as take away; they would bring those steel many-tiered dabbas to fill up extra "sambhur"!

It was then that I got hold of this recipe and whenever the urge struck, I would make Udipi Sambar at home. I love this sambar and often serve it with idlis or dosai or just with rice for lunch. Its the jaggery and the coconut which make all the difference. I used drumsticks and small onions - but feel free to substitute with pumpkin, ash gourd or even just small onions alone.

Everytime I go back to Mumbai, I make it a point to visit our old haunts. A visit to Udipi itself is on my travel list, but don't know when that will happen. This month though we are likely to have a virtual food tour of Udipi & Mangalore courtesy this month's RCI theme - Udipi & Mangalorean cuisine - being hosted by Sia of Monsoon Spice.
This event was originally the brainchild of Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

Udipi Sambar


Tur dal - 1/2 cup (cooked in 3-4 cups water in a pressure cooker till soft, then whipped or mashed till smooth)
Tamarind - small lime size ball soaked in 1 cup water and pulp extracted
Small onions - 10-12, soaked and peeled
1 tsp jaggery
1-2 drumsticks, chopped into 2-3" batons

Masala paste:
1/4 coconut grated (fresh)
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
1/2 tsp urad dal seeds
1.5 tsp coriander seeds (dhania)
dried red chillies -6
curry leaves - handful
1 tsp oil

Roast all ingredients, keeping the coconut and curry leaves to the last few minutes. Cool and grind to a paste

mustard seeds (rai) - 1 tsp
urad dal seeds - 1tsp
green chilli - 1 slit
curry leaves - handful
asafoetida (hing) - pinch
2 tsp oil

1. In a heavy pan, add the oil and when it is hot the tempering ingredients. Saute the onions and then add the drumstick pieces and cook in half a cup of water till just tender.
2. Pour in the tamarind pulp, salt to taste and jaggery - add 1.5 cups water and bring to a boil. Lower flame and simmer for about 10-15 minutes till the raw smell disappears.
3. Add the mashed dal and the masala paste and simmer for another 5 minutes, adding some more water if it is too thick.
4. Transfer to a serving dish and serve with idlis.