Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Asian Style Baked Basa with Crispy Noodles

Basa is the name some marketing dude has coined for Vietnamese Catfish (like the Patagonian Toothfish became popular on menus around the world as Chilean Sea Bass). This fish has become very popular in India in recent years - the restaurants were the first to begin and now it is available in most metros at neighbourhood frozen food outlets. In just a few years, the annual import of basa has crossed 1,500 tonnes with Kolkata alone consuming 500 to 600 tonnes - that local seafood loving city!

With its firm, white flesh which lends itself to almost any kind of dish, and lack of "fishy" smell, it has become much favoured by the local palate especially for grilled and Oriental dishes.  The supply chain supports this demand by making perfectly frozen fillets available at competitive prices. My neighbourhood guy sells it at Rs. 450 /kg - I got 6 servings out of it, enough for 2 meals for 3 people. Compare this with Rs. 600-Rs. 700/kg for sole or even local fish like surmai or pomfret which are between Rs 350 - Rs 400 per kg. 

Of course, I would never use basa to replace local fish in Indian curries - but it seems perfect for appetizers and grilled mains. This time I used Asian flavours to marinate the fish and then baked it and served it over stir fried noodles. Delicious.

 Asian Style Baked Basa with Crispy Noodles
Serves 2

Basa Fillet - 1 large - about 350gms
Marinade/Dipping Sauce
Fish Sauce - 1 tbsp
Soy Sauce - 1 tbsp
Sriracha Sauce (or any Hot sauce) - 1 tbsp
Olive Oil - 1 tbsp
Garlic - 1tbsp, finely chopped
Ginger - 1 tbsp, thinly shredded

For the baking process
Rice wine vinegar - 1 tbsp
Lime juice - 1 tbsp
Coriander - 2 tbsp chopped
Olive Oil - 1 tbsp
Freshly crushed black pepper
salt to taste

Spring Onions - 2 sliced (reserve the green tops)

Green chilli - 2 slit

Noodles - 200gms (I was out of noodles and used spaghetti)

Olive oil  - 1 tbsp
salt to taste
Garlic - 2 cloves chopped finely

1.  Mix all ingredients for the marinade, lightly whisk and keep aside.
2. Divide the Basa fillet into two portions and marinate in the prepared marinade for about half an hour to an hour
3. Pre heat oven to 180C. Mix the rice wine vinegar, Olive oil, lime juice, chopped coriander, salt and pepper.
4. Pour the prepared vinegar mixture into a baking tray, remove the fish fillets from the marinade (reserve the marinade for the spaghetti) and place on the baking tray. Top each fillet with half of the chopped spring onions and one green chilli
5. Bake in the pre heated oven at 180C for 15 minutes, till the fish is just flaky.
6. While the fish is baking, bring a pot of water to boil, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cool till just done (al dente). Takes about 6-8 minutes.
7. In a wok or heavy bottomed pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add the finely chopped garlic cloves and saute for half a minute. Add the reserved marinade mixture and boil 2 minutes.
8. Add the spaghetti to the wok and stir fry for 3-5 minutes till slightly crispy, season with a little salt if needed, usually the marinade mixture has ennough salt in it from the sauces.
9. To serve, divide the noodles between two plates and place one fillet of fish on top of each pile. Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and a wedge of lime.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Milk Chocolate Macadamia Biscotti for Christmas

 Biscotti is a crisp (some would say hard) biscuit of Italian origin,traditionally enjoyed  (in Italy) with a wine or orange juice and in places outside Italy with a steaming cup of coffee. The word Biscotti describes its preparation - it is derived from the Latin word biscoctus which means "twice cooked/ baked". It describes foods which were cooked / baked twice so that they lasted longer and could be used to feed soldiers or travellers on long journeys and during wars. Their origin being the town of Prato, they are known as Biscotti di Prato; but they are also commonly called "cantuccini" in Tuscany and Sicily.

The traditional recipe only uses flour, sugar, almonds and eggs while not incorporating butter or yeast. The dough is baked in slabs and when fresh and warm cut into slices and baked once again till crisp. Recent recipes have started incorporating other nuts like hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts; baking powder and butter have also been included along with flavourings in the form of almond or vanilla extract and some spices like anise and cinnamon.

I love my cookies a bit crisp and crunchy and don't much prefer the soft ones, so I have always wanted to bake Biscotti. Never got around to doing it though until now. The thought of baking them twice and the fear of them crumbling while cutting them into slices after the first round of baking made it a little daunting, but it was actually all very smooth when I did get around to baking it.

I used milk chocolate (I had a large Cadbury Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut slab a friend had gifted my daughter and she - like me- doesn't always prefer "things" coming in between her chocolate. So I decided to cut it up into chips and use it in the biscotti. I also had some macadamia nuts lying from my trip to Australia and decided to use those as well. I adapted this recipe from Canadian Living.

I had my daughter's best friends over when I was making this so the tiny hands all wanted to shape the logs and they did a good job! My oven couldn't accomodate 14" logs, so I just divided the dough into 3 parts and made three smaller logs. The kids couldn't wait for the logs to be baked and then cool a bit so we could cut slices and I had a tough time restricting how much of the freshly baked logs they could consume - LOL! The slices cut quite easily with a serrated knife - you have to take care to use firm strokes to cut and not linger too much. The middle part of one of the logs was crumbling a bit, but there were a lot of takers for the crumbs, so I didn't have a problem with that :)

The Biscotti came out beautifully flavoured, not too sweet and with just the right amount of crunch from the nuts. They were crisp and made for a lovely snack with just the right amount of hardness. This is definitely a recipe to repeat since it has become a favourite in our house - none of my other cookies have won such all round approval satisfying the picky husband (when it comes to sweets) and the savoury liking daughter.

I have also baked my Christmas Cake with the kids - the one which I have been doing for many years and it is luscious with all the dried fruit inside - I sliced one portion and am dousing the other round cake with small spoons of orange juice till it is ready to be eaten on Christmas. I have another batch of dried fruit soaking with which I am going bake another Christmas cake when my niece arrives and we will have that one for New Year with friends and family. This is a different recipe I'm going to be using for the first time, lets see how it turns out. Have you baked your Christmas Cake - try this recipe here, its easy and you will love the flavour! If you haven't soaked dried fruit, ust steam the fruit for about 7-8 minutes gently in orange juice or rum and rest for 30 minutes, before proceeding with the recipe. Recipe here

Now back to the Biscotti.

 Milk Chocolate Macadamia Biscotti

Butter - 1/2 cup, softened
Sugar - 3/4 cup
Eggs - 2
Flour - 2 cups
Baking powder - 1.5 tsp
Salt - 1/4 tsp
Almond Essence - 1 tsp
Vanilla Extract - 1 tsp
Macadamia Nuts - 1/2 cup, chopped (can replace with almonds)
Milk Chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate bar chopped up into small pieces) - 2/3 cup


1. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl, beat till smooth and shiny.
2. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well.
3. Mix in the almond essence and vanilla extract into the egg mixture
4. In another bow, sieve the flour and baking powder together. Add to the egg mixture and combine with a light hand till it comes together into a soft dough.
5. Add the chopped nuts and the milk chocolate pieces and mix into the dough.
6. With your hands, divide the dough into 2 or 3 parts, depending on the size of your oven/baking tray.
7. Shape each part into a log about 10-12" long and place on a greased baking tray, then flatten slightly while still leaving the edges rounded, making each long about 3-4" wide. Use flour while shaping the logs in case they are sticking to your hands.
8. Pre heat the oven to 180C and bake for 25-20 minutes, till the tops are just turning golden and the logs are firm. Cool for 10 minutes
9. Cut the logs with a serrated knife diagonally in a firm, swift motion into 1/2" slices each.
10. Stand the slices upright in a baking tray and bake at 180C for 20 minutes, till dry and crisp and base is slightly browned.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mushroom, Miso, Tofu Noodle Soup

One of  my dear friends who is now in Hong Kong sent me a packet of miso paste (among other goodies!!). I have heard a lot about miso and even had it in a lovely miso soup in a Japanese restaurant called Ai in South Delhi. The umami flavour it imparts to a dish is amazing.

Miso is made out of fermented soybeans, salt and the same bacteria which is used in making soy sauce and sake. This bacteria, I coincidentally found out, boosts the good flora required for digestion in the intestinal tract - which means its particularly good for me! It is also supposed to be good for the immune system - so perfect to keep those sniffles away just when they are about to begin. Read more here.

I used mushrooms, spinach and tofu to make a very flavourful vegetable miso soup and added noodles so it became a nice one pot meal. Perfect for a cold, winter's day but light enough for the summer as well. The miso did really add a very unmistakable flavour to the soup and left you wanting for more - I suggest larger quantities next time!

Mushroom, Miso and Tofu, Noodle Soup
Miso paste – 1 tbsp
Spinach – 1 cup sliced into small strips
Carrot -1,  sliced into rounds
Mushrooms – 100gms, sliced
Tofu – 100gms, cubed
Noodles -150gms (I used egg noodles, you could use Udon or Soba)
Onion – 1 medium , sliced
Spring onions – 2 sliced (white part, reserve green for garnish)
Ginger – 1” piece, minced
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced
Green chillies – 2 slit
  1. Heat 1 tsp oil in a large pan and sauté the onions, chillies, garlic and ginger for a minute.
  2. Add the carrots, mushroom and sauté 1 minute and then add 8 cups water and bring to a boil. Add ¼ tsp salt and simmer, covered, for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook as per package instructions.
  4. Meanwhile, dissolve the miso paste in 3 tbspof the soup from the pan and add back to the pan.
  5. Taste and add more miso to the soup if you require a stronger flavour.
  6. Add the tofu cubes, spring onion slices and the spinach and cook for another 2 minutes.
  7. Serve noodles in soup bowl and then ladle the soup over the noodles. Garnish with spring onion greens.
This is a superb soup to have anyway, so if you don't have the miso paste, just make it using a stock cube and it should be a comforting, delicious meal.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Orange and Chocolate Chip Muffins with Sprinkles

    Do you know what happens when your 6 year old bakes muffins? -  you digress so far from the original recipe that it bears only a slight  resemblance to what you intended to bake. Almonds get turned down (because nuts are good only with chocolate, Amma), chocolate chips get added in (there's so little left in the packet Amma, lets finish it) and finally the muffins miraculously sprout sprinkles on top (Please Amma, can we have sprinkles on top - Please, please pleaaaaaase).

    I started with The Cooker's recipe for some delicious Orange, Oats and Almond Muffins - they seemed delicious. K had a compensatory holiday last Friday, after her Sports Day in school and was bouncing off the walls at home. So we decided to bake - and she said she would do "everything".  I helped her measure out the ingredients,  and as she poured and stirred and whipped, she slowly took over the kitchen till the recipe morphed into something else with a life of its own! 
     But she was so thrilled at the fact that she was doing "everything", that I didn't have the heart to turn down her suggestions. After all, what's a few choc chips and sprinkles between friends - am sure the Cooker wouldn't mind the transformation of her recipe! 
    And this was also K's gift to Amma and Appa on their 14th anniversary :) - how much sweeter can it get? The muffins rose beautifully and were soft and fluffy. Must be all the love and enthusiasm which went in with those tiny hands.
    This also goes out to my best friend S whose anniversary it is today - Happy Anniversary S and A - here's wishing you many more!.

     Orange and Chocolate Chip Muffins with Sprinkles

    ½ cup Quaker Oats ground coarsely
    1 ¼  cup flour
    ¾  cup whole wheat flour
     ½  cup butter (or oil)
    ½ cup sugar (I used castor sugar and would probably increase the quantity a tad bit more next time)
    2 eggs
    1 cup orange juice
    ½ cup yoghurt
    ½  tsp baking powder
    ½ tsp baking soda
    ½ cup yoghurt
    ½ cup multicoloured sprinkles
    ½ cup chocolate chips
    1 tbsp orange zest, grated

    1. Mix the refined flour, whole wheat flour, oats, salt, baking soda, baking powder and orange zest in a bowl.
    2. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together till shiny, then add the eggs one by one and beat for 2 minutes each.
    3. Add the orange juice, yoghurt and chocolate chips into the egg mixture and mix till combined.
    4. Gently fold in the flour mixture, one third at a time into the egg mixture till just combined; do not overmix.
    5. Pre heat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease 2 muffin trays (6 muffins each).
    6. Spoon the batter into the muffin trays till they just graze the top of the moulds. Decorate with sprinkles on top/
    7. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes – a skewer inserted should come clean. Cool completely before unmoulding. 

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Parippu Vadai / Masala Vadai (Crispy Spiced Lentil Fritters) for Terra Madre - Slow Food Day

    Parippu Vadais are Fritters made out of a Lentil Based batter. We usually make them for festivals without onions - and then for a snack, you add onions and some more spice and lo! you have Masala Vadais!  They are part of traditional Tamil cuisine and am sure found in other avatars in other Southern states as well. 

    These vadais are particularly  delicious because they have a great crunch to them which is achieved by grinding the lentils to a coarse batter which leaves some of the lentils whole. These turn crispy and nutty when fried and taste great.  The key is not to add too much water while grinding the batter and just enough to keep the blender going till you have a coarse batter.

    I remember enjoying masala vadais at the non descript stations the train from Mumbai to Chennai, used to halt at. The vendor would wrap up our order in newspaper and thrust the steaming packet into our hands before going on to the next window - heaven on a plate! The last time I had this outside was last December in Chennai at Sangeethas in Mylapore. That was delicious too. But who needs Sangeethas when you can make these at home (and don't have to fret about the perfect hole as in the case of Medu Wadas!) These are far simpler and very delicious.

    These vadais are specially for Terra Madre Day which was on December 10. Terra Madre Day is an annual event celebrated on December 10 every year by the Slow Food network around the world. The objective of this day is to underline the importance of eating locally. Activities to celebrate Terra Madre Day take place all over the world: in cities, rural areas, schools and community centers, cinemas or on farms, restaurants or at home. Its important that we preserve our local and regional cuisine - especially in our country which has hidden gems around every turn - in the frantic pace of globalisation and franchising uniformity, lets not forget the quirks of enjoying a wide variety of cuisines which change every 200km or so!

    As Rushina of  A Perfect Bite says "Spread the word amongst your circle of friends, speak to people you know in the food industry or simply mark the day by serving local foods, cooking up traditional recipes and promoting better food systems to your friends family and loved ones through the days of 9-19 of December.This is a very special celebration. That of food. Your food, my food, global food. You do not need to pay anything, you do not need to leave your house. All you need to do is cook local seasonal, regional, traditional foods because the only way to keep traditional foods alive is by cooking them."


    Parippu Vadai / Masala Vadai (Crispy Spiced Lentil Fritters)
     Chana Dal (Bengal Gram lentil) - 1 cup
    Tur Dal (Pigeon pea lentil) - 1/2 cup
    Urad Dal  - 4 tbsp
    Dried red chillies - 5-6
    Saunf (Fennel Seeds) - 1 tsp
    Curry Leaves - handful
    Onion - 1 small. chopped (optional)
    Salt to taste
    Oil - enough to deep fry the vadais

    1. Soak lentils together in  4 cups of water for about 2 hours.
    2. Drain water and grind along with the red chillies, curry leaves, salt and fennel seeds till you get a coarse thick batter, using as little water as possible. There should be some whole pieces of the lentils sticking out of the batter.
    3. Heat oil in a kadai or a heavy bottomed deep pan. Add the chopped onions to the mixture and shape into balls. Flatten the balls a little on your palm and then gently slide them into the hot oil. Fry on a medium high flame till golden brown and crispy. 
    4. Taste and adjsut the batter for salt if needed and continue making vadais in the same way with the remaining batter. Serve hot.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Murungakkai Kathirikai Thokku (Drumstick Eggplant Curry)

    It's only after posting on the blog that I realise how many of my MIL's recipes have been included in our home cooking routine. I'm glad of course, since its always a good thing to carry forward traditional recipes so they aren't forgotten, but its happened very unconsciously. The Mudaliar style of cooking was a bit different from what I had been used to growing up and since I love trying new things I ended up liking quite a few dishes (ok, still can't deal with the omelet with sambar rice combinaton which is a favourite in some of his cousin's homes!) from her repertoire. This Brinji and this Urulai Roast are great examples of the delicious dishes she turns out and much appreciated in our home as well as whoever has tried it out. And of course that one pot wonder called Bisebele Bhath!

    The dish I have posted today features an unusual (to me atleast, since I hadn't come across it before) combination of drumsticks and eggplants. Drumsticks (for those in the West who may not know about it) are a vegetable (Moringa Oleifera  from the Tamil word Murungakkai) of the genus Moringa. They are thin and slender stick shaped (hence the name) - hard outside and fleshy inside. They are rich in calcium and phosphorus. The leaves are cooked and eaten too when tender and are known to increase breast milk production in lactating mothers. The flowers too are cooked and in some places the roots as well.

    Drumstick Sambar is one of my favourites - the flesh takes on the flavours of the tamarind and spices and its just great to scoop it out along with the soft seeds and savour the taste. This dish combines the drumsticks with eggplants in a slightly spicy, tangy, tomato based curry. Its a semi gravy dish we call thokku (and usually much thicker than what's in the pic; this was for the lunch box so made it with a litte more curry than usual). MIL adds sambar powder to the spice mix andI feel it really brings out the flavours. The soft eggplant along with the drumstick make for a great combination, especially dunked in that lovely curry. A must try!

    Murungakkai Kathirikai Thokku (Drumstick Eggplant Curry)


    Drumstick - 1 big or two small, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
    Eggplant (Brinjal) - long variety, cut into long fingers and dunked in salted water to prevent browning
    Onion - 1 big, chopped
    Tomatoes - 2 medium, chopped
    Tamarind extract - 5-6 tbsp (if using readymade pulp, 1tbsp should do)
    Chilli powder - 1 tsp
    Coriander powder - 1 tsp
    Sambar powder - 1/2 tsp
    Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp

    Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
    Curry leaves - a handful

    Oil - 1 tbsp
    Salt to taste

    1. Heat oil in a wide, heavy bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds and when they pop add the curry leaves. Meanwhile par boil the drumsticks in water for about 5 minutes (they should not be fully cooked)
    2. Put in the onions and saute till soft. Add the tomatoes and fry till pulpy, then add the spice powders - chilli, coriander, sambar and turmeric - and saute on low till the oil shows through - about 5-6 minutes
    3. Add the eggplant and fry for 3-4 minutes till they soften a bit, then add the drumsticks and salt and 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for another 5-7 minutes till the vegetables are cooked through but not squishy.
    4. Add the tamarind juice and some more water if needed and simmer uncovered on a medium flame for another 5 minutes till the raw smell goes away and the curry thickens.
    5. Serve with rotis or rice.