Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Som Tam Mia Noi - Thai Cucumber Salad

Thai food has become very popular in India in a very short time - it has Chinese food to thank of course, for laying the ground for "phoren cuisine" in India. (It is a different matter, that most Chinese food served here is not even halfway authentic!). But it is undoubtedly the fact that Thai cuisine has a lot of similarities to Indian cuisine which has made it so readily acceptable to our palate. My South Indian roots definitely play a large part in making me salivate at the thought of coconut milk based fiery curries served over steamed rice.

But there is a lot to Thai cuisine other than its Red, Yellow and Green Curries. Thai cuisine is about striking a balance between the five different flavours - sweet,sour,pungent,bitter and salty. There can be umpteen variations in the sources of these flavours but achieving a harmony between them is what makes Thai cuisine so interesting and flavourful. Many dishes also have regional variations depending on whether they come from the North, North East, Central or South of Thailand.

There aren't many restaurants which make Thai food without overloading their curries with coconut milk and even fewer ones which use authentic Thai ingredients. Many Chinese restaurants also have a Thai section which may have a couple of noodle dishes, a few curries and some of the popular soups but don't go beyond that. When I was in Mumbai I used to love Thai Ban in its 6 table version when it began on Turner Road, Bandra - we enjoyed a lot of cheap but amazing meals there. I have been again to its swankier version about 5 years back and wasn't impressed at all - and if some of these reviews are anything to go by, it isn't even exclusively Thai anymore.

In Chennai, I loved Benjarong on TTK Road - they have an excellent variety of dishes and though the fish sauce has definitely been toned down to defer to predominantly vegetarian sensibilities, you can make out that they use traditional Thai ingredients as far as possible. Lotus at The Park in Chennai will also be remembered by me as a place where I had one of my most memorable meals and probably one of the most expensive too! Their fish steamed in pandanu leaves was exquisite.
Delhi has me still looking for a good reasonably priced Thai meal; I was sorely disappointed by Ego Thai - their curries were so creamy and bland and when I asked why it didn't have the traditional pungency, the waiter offered me chilli sauce!!! Kitchen in Khan Market does a fabulous Tom Yum Soup and two curries but not much else by way of Thai, since they have a mixed menu.

Which is why, when I'm really craving Thai food, I prefer making it at home. A friend and her daughter were visiting from Australia and after deciding that they would have been plied with enough 'desi" food for the last month or so they had been in India, I decided to go for Thai.

There was a variation of the Som Tam salad, Thai Noodle Soup and Thai Red Curry with steamed rice. It was a really soul satisfying meal for me - I hoped my guests liked it too! I will start with the salad and be posting the recipes of the other dishes in subsequent posts.

Som Tam ("som" means sour and "tam" means pounded) usually refers to a raw papaya salad which is spicy, sour and sweet - what I made was Som Tam Mia Noi - where Mia Noi means a "minor wife" - something which is explained here as referring to the variation in ingredients like a husband who has many wives!

Well, after that delightful explanation - lets get down to basics. I used just cucumber and cherry tomatoes since I wasn't sure whether the 8 year old (like many her age!) would be fussy about certain vegetables. You can use carrots, beansprouts and even cooked prawns. Since it was a vegetarian meal, I substituted the fish sauce (nam pla) which is usually a key ingredient, with soy sauce and palm sugar with a bit of jaggery. Pounding the garlic, chillies and jaggery along withn lime juice really combined the flavours and I would recommend it to simply mixing them together. I also added a dash of Fab India's Salad Dressing Thai Style - topped with some crushed and roasted sesame seed and peanuts it was really delicious.

Som Tam Mia Noi
goes to A Fruit A Month (AFAM) - Cucumbers, which is being hosted by Neha of easyntastyrecipes and whose original creator is Maheswari of Beyond the Usual.

Som Tam Mia Noi


Cucumber -2 medium, fresh - peeled and cut into strips or slices
Cherry tomatoes - 5-6 halved

1 green chilli chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tbsp grated jaggery
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp Thai Style Salad dressing
Salt to taste
1 tbsp roasted and crushed peanuts
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

1. Pound the ingredients for the dressing together and keep aside. Add salt carefully since the soy sauce and salad dressing will both have salt in them as well as the seasoned cucumber.
2. Slice the cucumber and keep aside for 5 minutes after sprinkling a bit of salt so that the water drains out of it - don't keep it for too long, else it will turn dry.
3. Mix in the cucumber and the cherry tomatoes with the dressing and serve - I like it chilled.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Carrot Coconut Muffins

A special family occasion always calls for something which warms the heart as well as the palate. And when we are talking about celebrating the joy that our little girl brings into our lives, her twinkling eyes and impish smile which make every day a new wonder - then it has to be something which screams "Sunshine"!

These carrot coconut muffins do just that - their warm orange colour seems to be a shade of happiness itself and their moist insides burst with the goodness of carrots and apples. I saw them first quite sometime back on the Joy of Baking website and later on Meeta's wonderful blog "Whats for Lunch, Honey".
These muffins are the easiest thing to bake and use ingredients which we usually have at hand. My daughter loved making it with me and couldn't wait for them to bake and then cool to see how they turned out - very much the way she pestered us that whole morning for mehendi and then as soon as it was on she wanted to take it off and see the colour "NOW"! :)

I didn't make the cream cheese frosting since I didn't think they were needed at all - warm them just a little in the oven and you're good to go. I used homemade unsalted butter instead of the oil in the original recipe and toned down the sugar a wee bit.These muffins are apparently also called "Morning Glory Muffins" - I can see why!

Carrot Coconut Muffins

1 1/2 cups maida
1/2 cup wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1.5 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

2 cups grated carrots
1 apple, peeled and grated (should be crisp and not the mushy kind)
1 cup grated coconut (I used fresh coconut)
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted, peeled and chopped
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (For some reason everytime I combine cinnamon and salt, the dish seems to get over salted, so this time I did away with the salt in the original recipe,completely)

1. Sift the flours and the baking powder,cinnamon powder and soda together.
2. Beat the eggs and keep aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together till creamy.
3. Mix in the eggs and vanilla essence into the butter and sugar and then add the flour, grated carrots, apples, chopped walnuts and coconut mixing just until combined.
4. The key to spongy muffins is not to mix the ingredients too much but just till they come together.
5. Spoon the batter into lightly greased muffin pans or you can line the muffin pans with muffin papers and then spoon the batter into them.
6. Bake in a pre heated oven at 180C (350F) for 22-25 minutes till a skewer inserted comes out clean. Rest for 10 minutes and turn out of the muffin pan and let it cool completely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Middle Eastern Cucumber Yoghurt Dip

I simply love planning menus when we have people over - to me, half the fun of cooking is in the planning. This time I planned a Middle Eastern theme centred around a Moroccan Meatloaf (I had seen on Simply Recipes) accompanied by a Carrot, Black Olives and Orange Salad, Rice Pilaf and this Chickpeas & Apricot Tagine. I also made Cumin Flavoured Chicken Patties with Muhammara Sauce as an appetizer - the only thing I was left looking for was, something to go with toasted pita bread triangles.

Which is when I came across Labneh, Tzatziki and Jajik- the first is a hung curd dip which is served with olive oil while the second and third are Greek and Lebanese versions of a kind of raita made with yoghurt and cucumber. I decided to go with a version which had very little cucumber (I wanted it to remain thick through the evening) and included garlic, mint and coriander gently mixed into hung curd. It was perfect for the evening and the creamy goodness of it balanced the slightly grainy muhammara sauce which is made of roasted red peppers and walnuts.
This picture below is going to this month's edition of Click where the theme is Wood. Click is the monthly food photography event hosted by Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi.
Its sheer coincidence that they have also posted Jajik in their entry for Click!

Middle Eastern Cucumber Yoghurt Dip

750ml yoghurt
1 big clove garlic, minced
4 tbsp cucumber, chopped fine (seeds removed and pieces left to drain for about 5 minutes)
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp chopped mint
1/2 tsp lemon juice

1. Hang the curd in a clean, thin cloth for about 2 -3 hours with a bowl beneath to collect the whey. Since it's turned warm here, I preferred hanging it inside the fridge by rigging up a sort of pulley contraption.
2. Turn the hung curd into a bowl and gently mix in the cucumber, garlic,salt,mint and lemon juice.
3. Keep in the fridge for a couple of hours till the flavours all meld together. Serve with toasted triangles of pita bread or carrot sticks.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spinach & Corn Quiche

The Quiche which is now considered predominantly a French dish, originated in a region in ancient Germany which was renamed Lorraine when it became part of France. Ergo - the term "Quiche Lorraine" ( "quiche" from the German word "kuchen' for cake).
Larousse Gastronomique describes it as "An open tart filled with a mixture of beaten eggs, creme fraiche and pieces of bacon, served hot as a first course or hors d'oeuvre". The cheese and onion additions, among others, came much later and it was the Quiche Lorraine which became fashionable in the United States in the 1970s as an appetizer. Since it adapts well to a variety of ingredients, soon innovative quiches with fillings like anchovy, olives and ham became the favourite of creative cooks. However, it was done to death in that decade and by the Eighties it lost its favoured status.

The quiche, however, remains a favourite of mine since I discovered it, and it's a bad restaurant which manages to put me off with an "eggy" smell or by smothering it in cheese. An interesting filling with a nice crust is all a good quiche needs and though I hesitated making the crust for a long time sticking to "crustless" quiches, I finally took the plunge. I'm so glad I did - it was really much easier than what I thought it would be.

This quiche from Jugalbandi had the most amazing crust and this quiche on Sunita's World a very interesting filling - so I did what any self respecting Gemini who had to choose would do - I combined and adapted both the recipes! :).

What I got was a lovely quiche with a nutty crust and a great tasting filling. Spinach and corn seem to be the most popular quiche filling and it's easy to see why, once you eat just a slice of this quiche. I kept the egg and the cheese to the minimum and let the sesame seeds in the crust and the spinach in the filling do the talking. This made for a great meal with soup on the side and I even had a leftover slice for a snack the next day.

1 &1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats and 2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted and powdered
1/4 cup chilled water
5-6 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

1 cup sweet corn
1/2 cup chopped spinach
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp Freshly crushed black pepper
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tsp dried herbs
salt to taste
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp cheese grated

1. Rub all the ingredients for the crust together, in a large bowl, except the water. Adding the water slowly, mix the ingredients together till just combined into a smooth but not sticky dough, taking care not to knead.
2. Lightly grease a pie dish (preferably with a removable bottom) and place the ball of dough in the centre. Pat with both hands downwards and outwards till it spreads to cover the bottom and the sides of the pie dish. Prick all over with a fork, wrap in cling wrap and chill for half an hour.
3. Pre heat the oven to 220 C, remove the pie dish from the 'fridge and cover with foil. Fill it with kidney beans (rajma) and bake blind for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Cool and keep aside.
4. While the crust is baking you can start on the filling. Heat the oil and saute the onions till they turn soft and translucent - 5 minutes. Add the garlic, basil leaves, dried herbs, chilli flakes, corn and salt and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and coriander leaves and saute for just a minute and remove from flame. Cool the filling.
5. Break the eggs in a bowl and beat along with the eggs and a pinch of salt. Pre heat the oven to 180C
6. Spoon the cooled filling into the baked crust and smooth over with a spatula. Pour the beaten eggs and milk over the filling covering it evenly. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes till set, at 30 minutes, remove the pan, sprinkle the grated cheese over the quiche and bake for the last 5 minutes. Let rest for a bit and then cut and serve warm.
7. If you need to warm it, use the grill or oven and not the microwave.

PS - I made this again on the weekend, this time using the tofu filling in J&B's recipe and it was equally fabulous! I substituted the chard with spinach and the basil and thyme with coriander and mint leaves, made the crust a day before -perfect for an appetizer though my spice quotient left some of my guests gasping! I blamed the really fresh red chilli flakes I got from Dilli Haat for that! ;)

So go on, try this one out, don't let the idea of French cuisine daunt you - its as easy as pie ;)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tomato Orange Soup

Remember the time when Tomato Soup was the must-have item on every "fine dining" restaurant menu? - even more popular than the Sweet Corn Soup which was served in every dimly lit, red and gold decorated Chinese restaurant?
Well, I used to have those soups every single time we went out for dinner and my mother used to keep experimenting at home to get the "restaurant taste" so I would have it at home too. I guess she didn't account for the cornflour and mashed potatoes :)

Then there were those terrible versions we got served on the trains every summer vacation when we travelled down South (just tasted it on the Shatabdi last month and apparently Mr Laloo hasn't made a smidgen of difference!). And of course, the instant "packet" soups full of MSG and additives - not sure how much better or worse they are than the canned versions we have started getting from the US of A....

I soon started having tomato soup only at home - so much better and not complicated at all. So when I saw this recipe for a Tomato Orange Soup - it seemed really exotic and a must-try. Not to mention that so many people seemed to endorse it. I adapted it (just couldn't figure out what the baking powder was for!) and it was a delicious twist on the usual tomato soup. Its a light soup, so perfect for warmer weather too - it's become a favourite of mine.

I am sending this soup to Souper Soup Challenge - Volume Three at Running With Tweezers

Tomato Orange Soup

2 tbsp butter
1 onion medium chopped fine
5 tomatoes - blanched, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Fresh Orange juice from 1 orange
2 tbsp fresh cream whipped

1. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed pan, add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes till transluscent.
2. Add chopped tomatoes, salt and dried thyme, bring to boil and then simmer on a low flame for 15 minutes. Add the crushed pepper and remove from flame.
3. Cool and puree in a mixer. Return to the pan and add the orange juice. Heat gently for a couple of minutes, adjust seasoning and serve with a dash of cream.