Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easy Gazpacho

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I haven't been to the gym in a week. I've fallen way behind schedule on my weight-loss goals. I've consumed unpardonable amounts of butter and sugar in the form of cakes, cupcakes, pretzels and sweetbreads. I've remorselessly sunk my teeth into juicy hot dogs and burgers. And cheesy pasta. And worked my way through bags of chips. Drunk galleons of wine. And beer. And coke. Not to mention, coffee. With milk AND sugar.

I'd been inordinately proud of the progress I'd made in the last month. Sure, eight pounds in a month doesn't sound like much, but for a person who has only put on weight in the last twenty five years of her life, it is nothing short of ecstatic to know that her body can move in the other direction as well. Plus, whatever little success I'd had was made even  sweeter by the fact that , this time, I'd actually accomplished it on my own terms, without following some crazy diet, depriving myself of the food I love or working out till I my lungs imploded on themselves everyday.

It is all a rosy picture while it lasts. But like I've realized the hard way, one tip in the wrong direction, and it all comes down like a stack of dominoes. And before you know it, you haven't worked out in a week, have fed your body with all kinds of junk and are four pounds behind in your weight-loss goals. Fifteen pounds in two months seemed like an easy target a fortnight back. Not so much anymore.

BUT. No time to mop around. Need to make a quick comeback. I have another two weeks to go for my two-month deadline and seven whole pounds to lose. Off to the gym RIGHT NOW.

And oh... a giant bowl of gazpacho for dinner.

Easy Gazpacho

This is possibly the easiest soup recipe ever. No boiling, cooking down or blending. Chop a few veggies fine and drown them in some spiced up tomato juice. And it's the best option when the weather is playing the kind of tricks it's playing nowadays - going from 50 degrees to 82 degrees farentheit in half a day's time. Nothing like cold soup on a hot day!

This one is adapted from Ina Garten's recipe, but tailored down to suit a weight watcher's needs. Meaning, easy substitutes for expensive ingredients and one-tenth of the amount of oil that she uses!

1 seedless cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 cups of tomato juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
Juice of one half lime
A sprig of coriander
Salt and crushed black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Chop all the vegetables into chunks and pulse them a couple of times in the food processor along with the fresh coriander and garlic until they are all chopped fine. (You could do this with a knife as well but it takes forever. On the other hand, if you like a more hearty texture, you can go ahead n just chop all the veggies like you would do for a salsa)

2. Mix the tomato juice, lemon and lime juice salt and pepper and add it to the vegetable mixture. Drizzle olive oil on top. Garnish with slices of avocado or bread croutons.

The longer it sits, the better it tastes. So if you are making it in advance, make sure to add the croutons just before serving so that it doesn't get soggy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A [very] long post, a pretty salad, and... awards!

For one glorious day, all kinds of weight-watching, calorie-counting, gymming, non-snacking and salad-chomping was put on hold.

It was the Malayali New Year, Vishu, my favourite festival of the year!

Come April, and the whole of Kerala wears a festive look in anticipation of Vishu and Easter. The schools are closed for summer, mango and jackfruit trees are laden with fruit, and most importantly, every garden, backyard and bend in the road greets you with an explosion of sunshine yellow: the konna flowers that bloom only during this time of the year. You see the konna tree laden with festoons of brilliant yellow, and you know Vishu is just around the corner!

So, last Friday, P and I switched off our alarms at the crack of dawn, and stumbled out of the bedroom, our eyes still tightly shut, across to our puja corner, so that we might open our eyes to this:

An auspicious sight to begin the New Year, in the hope that the rest of the year turns out equally good. Figurines of all our favourite gods for divine presence throughout the year, fresh fruit and rice (denoting fresh produce of the harvest) for prosperity, new clothes, gold and money for good fortune and riches. All these in the ethereal glow of a traditional lamp lit with ghee. Of course, had we been back home, this tableau would have included a giant jack-fruit and ripe mangoes from our backyard, and an excess of the konna flowers, which we didn't have here in the US. 

After breakfast, cooking ensued. The house was filled with the smell of coconut oil and curry leaves. Coconut in all its glory- freshly ground with green chillies and cumin for avial, dry-roasted and ground with other spices for sambhar, fried with mustard seeds and curry leaves for elissery, and coconut milk for payasam… you get the drift! (Sorry, no photographs, I was too busy cooking and eating!)

Vishu was indeed a grand affair. But now that it has come and gone, and the excesses of the day are threatening to form a fresh layer of fat around my waist, it is time to detox! And what better way to detox but to go back to chomping down some crunchy veggies again?!

I call it my Ultimate Summer Veggies Ribbon Salad. I know, complicated name, huh? Thankfully, the salad itself isn't as complicated- all you need is some fresh, colorful summer vegetables, and a peeler.

(Wasn't the best photo I took, but i somehow like how the light from the window falls on the veggies- sort of like the vegetables lined up like a prisoners' drill and the peeler hovering over them like a jailer!)

May I take the opportunity to introduce you to my trusty peeler, Mr Spuds? A little cockeyed, but still my hero, nevertheless! ;)

Of course, you could do this in one-tenth of the time using your food processor, but I just happen to luurve hangin’ out with ol’ Mr Spuds!

UH, dunno if I can say the same about Spuddy here, though! :P  

Anyways, job done, and you have a bowl of colourful ribbons that attack your eyes with all the subtlety of a brilliantly-hued rainbow.

Now, for the dressing. Many a lovely salad has been brought down by the wrong dressing. It would be a crime to use something heavy like mayonnaise or sour cream for a salad that so great in its own right. What you need is just the right amount of tart and spice that will lift the natural flavours of the vegetables without bogging them down with gloopy dressing. So, I went with a vinaigrette of lemon juice and olive oil, with salt, pepper and just a hint of cumin at the end. Why cumin? Because that was the one ingredient that went well with all the veggies I had. If you make this with a completely different set of vegetables, go ahead n change the ingredients in your dressing too! 

Summer Veggies Ribbon Salad with Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette

3 cups of vegetables of your choice, in thin long ribbons. (I used green, red and yellow peppers, carrots, asparagus and cucumber)
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Mix the lemon juice, salt, pepper and cumin together in a bowl, and drizzle in the olive oil slowly while stirring the mixture with a whisk/fork until an emulsion is formed. 
  2. Toss the festooned vegetables together, and pour just enough dressing onto it to cover all the vegetables lightly. 
  3. If making the salad in advance, prepare the vegetables and vinaigrette separately and toss together just before serving 
  4. Garnish with some whole cumin (for crunch) and serve. Enjoy!  

And now, for my favourite part of this post, which I've saved for the last….the AWARDs! I was thrilled to bits when I read Ankita’s comment in my last post saying that she had a bunch of awards waiting for me in her blog! Thank you SO much, Ankita! Being such a newbie-foodblogger, every comment, every follow and every award, means the world to me! :)

So, as per tradition, I need to spell out 7 facts about me. Here goes:
  • I love experimenting in the kitchen but I have a mental block against randomly bringing two different cuisines together- you would never find me making/posting stuff like macaroni upma, or Thai-style lasagna. I feel like each cuisine has a definite allure of its own, and arm-twisting it to fit flavors from a completely different style just kills its spirit altogether!
  • I’m a baker at heart. If I had it my way, I would be up to my earlobes in flour, eggs, butter and sugar from dawn to dusk, and spend the rest of the day eating what I made! Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, scones, crumbles, crisps, pies: these are the stuff my dreams are made of! But sadly, now that I’m in weight-watching mode, I’ve kept the baker in me on a tight leash. No more baking till I reach my weight loss goals!
  • I heart potatoes. If the world was coming to an end, I’d lug home a sack of potatoes and roast them with garlic and rosemary for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all meals in between until judgement day. 
  • Oh, actually, scratch the last one out- I’d probably save at least one meal a day to have my favourite dish in the whole wide world – Olan. It’s a keralite vegetarian dish in which beans and pumpkin are stewed together in spicy coconut milk gravy.! Gives me goosebumps to even think about it!
  • Some women have shoe fetishes, some are crazy about bags. Me-I’m crazy about stationery. Drop me at a Staples outlet and I’d be like a kid in a candy store! Colourful post-its, felt pens, marker pens, fancy notebooks, clip boards, white boards, magnetic boards, I drool over them all! :)
  • I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to movies! Chick-flicks and Bollywood love stories rule my DVD collection and Netflix queue!
  • Phew! Last one. This is much harder than I thought. Okay. I’m a HUUUGE Harry Potter fan. Way more than you can possibly imagine. I’ve read the entire collection at least ten times, and still read it religiously at least once a year. Hate the movies, though!
I’d like to pass on this award to some of my favourite food bloggers…

Rules to claim and share these awards:
  • Thank and Link the blogger who has given you the award.
  • Copy and paste the Logos in your blog.
  • Pass these on to 15 other Great Blogger friends
  • Comment on the most recent post and let the nominated blogger know of the award
Phewww! That was such a long post! Till next time then, and bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fruit Salad with Green-tea Jelly

What? It's cloudy again? Weather gods, send us some sun please!

And to make things worse, its friggin' HOT! Which means, the option of sipping hot chai all day is pretty much out of the window. What i need on a day like this is something cool and refreshing, but bright enough to beat the gloom outside.

Like...oranges. Sweet, cool, refreshing but zesty and bright. Perfect.

But of course, you didn't come all this way to hear me tell you to go eat oranges. Oh, no. I've got something extra special for you, which is....(pregnant pause for effect)


Full to choking with antioxidants and all good things in general. But lets face it, on its own
Which is is why we infuse it with a little mint. And later, a wee bit of honey and lemon juice to perk it up further.

And while we are waiting for the tea to steep, why not sprinkle soak some some gelatin and dissolve it in the hot tea? Pale, delicate, milky cubes of flavored green tea. Genius? Genius.

What next? Salad dressing. Easy peasy. Another tablespoon of honey, some orange zest, orange juice and freshly ground black pepper. Done.

Now for the real deal. Greens: Crunchy iceberg lettuce. Citrus: Orange (Duh!). Other fruit: Whatever you can fish out of your fruit basket- all i had was strawberries. And then, if you are a texture junkie like me, some granola, or toasted almonds for crunch. Pour dressing, toss and finally, top with cubes of green tea jelly.

Fruit Salad with Green-tea Jelly

For Green tea Jelly:
2 cups water
3-5 mint leaves
2 green-tea bag
1 and a half tbspn honey
Juice from half a lemon (the last two can be adjusted according to your taste)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  1. Boil water with the mint leaves, dip the teabags in the boiling water and allow it to steep for a few minutes.
  2. In the meantime, sprinkle the gelatin in a little cold water and allow it to soak.
  3. Discard teabags and mint leaves, and add the honey and lemon juice to the tea.
  4. Add the gelatin to the hot tea and stir until mixed properly.
  5. Pour the tea into a flat pan (I lined it with cling-film so that i could take jelly out easily)
For Dressing: 

I tbspn honey
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbspn orange zest
1 teaspoon of fresh crushed pepper
  1. Mix all the ingredients together

 For Fruit Salad:
1 cup chopped lettuce
2 oranges
5-7 strawberries
1/2 cup granola or toasted almonds
  1. Chop lettuce; peel and segment oranges; halve strawberries
  2. Mix the greens, fruits and granola together, pour dressing and toss. 
  3. Top with green tea cubes before serving.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A quick question....

Shiva from FatChicGoesSlim (check out her blog-pretty awesome stuff in there!) commented that the Follow button in my blog didn't work for her... It seems to be ok at my end, but has anybody else had this problem? Could you please let me know?

Scroll down to read my recipe for the day... And if you like it, do drop a comment- would love to hear from you! Enjoy!

What to do on a rainy day

I woke up to steel grey skies yesterday.

I don't mind the rain- not when there is thunder and lightning and raging winds and rain pouring down in sheets. Its great to sit in the warmth of your home, sip a hot chai and watch the storm play its course out of the window. What i can't stand, however, is gloomy, overcast skies (like yesterday)and  the constant drip-drip of a half-hearted drizzle that never seems to stop. Wake up to such depressing weather, and you can be sure that your whole day will turn out in the same manner.

In such cases, there are only two things that can manage to bring a smile to my face.

One - A stiff shot of hot brandy

Or- the smell of hot peppery Rasam boiling away on the stove.

I decided to have both! :)

Okay, for all my non-Indian readers out there, Rasam is a classic from the South Indian kitchen. It's hot, spicy and tangy -a single gulp of it is enough to warm you from within. It's thin and runny as soup. Have it with rice, have it as soup, take a swig of it by itself, its great however you have it. It is one of those traditional dishes that follow a different recipe in each household, and every mom/grandmom would claim that theirs is the best. And there a million different versions out there too- dal rasam, tamarind rasam, lemon rasam, tomato rasam, pepper rasam... This recipe is from my dad-a combination of  all the different types- and of course, the best of it all! :D

What's different about this Rasam?

1.There is no coriander powder used- instead, we make up for it with fresh coriander which imparts a beautifully verdant flavour to the finished product

2. No tamarind- the tang comes from the lemon and tomatoes alone

3. The heat in this dish comes from green chillies, chilli powder and black pepper, each adding a different note, this making the flavour more complex


1/4 cup cooked and mashed toor dal (available in all indian stores)

One full bunch of fresh cilantro/coriander (Should amount to 3/4 cup if chopped - we aren't using any coriander powder, so don't skimp on it!)

2 medium sized plum tomatoes, quartered

3 green chillies

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp asafoestida powder

Juice of one full lemon (this may vary according to how tangy you like it- taste and add accordingly)

Salt to taste

1 tsp of browm sugar/ powdered jaggery

1 and a 1/2 tsp ghee (its clarified butter- available in Indian stores)

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin

2 dried red chillies

Few sprigs of curry leaves

1. Cook and mash the toor dal. Slit green chillies. Quarter the tomatoes.

2. Throw the mashed dal, green chillies, tomatoes and the full bunch of coriander into a pot with 2 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Reduce to simmer, add chilli powder, turmeric and crushed black pepper and allow it to simmer until the tomatoes are cooked.

3. Add salt and take the rasam off the flame. Add the lemon juice. The tomatoes add to the tangy flavour as well- so, make sure to taste before you pour all the lemon juice into the rasam.

4. Just before serving, heat the ghee in a small pan and  add the mustard seeds and dried chillies. Once the mustard seeds start to splutter add the cumin and then the asafoetida. Add the curry leaves to it  and pour the entire mixture into the rasam. Serve hot!

NOTE:A full bunch of wilted coriander floating around a bowl of clear soup doesn't make for a very appetizing appearance. So, I usually tie the bundle of coriander (rather like a bouquet garni) before I cook it in the rasam and fish it out before transferring the contents into the serving bowl. Garnish the dish with a teaspoon of fresh coriander.

Post script: A couple of shots of brandy later, i got a little adventurous - Tried mixing the brandy with some of the hot rasam. Wish I hadn't. All i can say is - do NOT try this at home! :P

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Oats n Raisins Granola


It isn't so bad.

Not when served with a giant slab of butter, a good glug of rich maple syrup, and generous sprinkling of brown sugar.

Or when topped with browned butter and caramelized bananas.

With cinnamon-baked apples and whipped cream.

Berries, orange zest and heaped spoonfuls of vanilla sugar.

See, told ya. Not so bad.

But sadly, not one of these delicious tricks work when you are on a diet. And I was sick to puking with force-feeding myself bowls of boring porridge day after day. You know, fat-burning food, full of goodness, keeps your tummy full all short, your basic healthy, diet-worthy, unavoidable  nightmare.

God, I have a bone to pick with you. Why, oh, why did it take you SO long to plant the thought of GRANOLA in my head?

It's baked oats. It's tasty. Crunchy. Healthy. Have it with milk in the morning. Sneak mouthfuls of it in the subway. Top up your fruit and yogurt for dessert at night. Wake up to a rumbling tummy at midnight and stuff your face again. It's good for you. You know, fat-burning food, full of goodness, keeps your tummy full... in short, the diet-food of your dreams.

Enough said.  Let's get baking.

Oats 'n Raisins Granola

(Recipe adapted from JoytheBaker)

2 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup slivered raw almonds

3/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup craisins (dried cranberry)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

A pinch of salt

1 and a 1/2 tablespoons butter

1/8 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farentheit. Line baking sheet with parchment paper

2.Whisk together oats, slivered almonds, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

3.Melt together butter, oil, honey and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil.    Take off the heat and add vanilla extract. Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and toss together to  ensure the entire mixture gets moistened by the sugar and oil syrup.

4.Spread onto prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 to 35 minutes,  making sure to stir the oats every  ten minutes. Remove from the oven, add raisins and other dried fruit, let cool and store in an airtight container.

[This is not so much a recipe, as an idea for a recipe. Add whatever you might wish to add to the oat mixture - raisins, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, flax seeds- let your imagination run riot! :) ] 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I love avocado.

Repeat after me,"I love avocado".

Come on, with all your heart, once more..."I LOVE AVOCADO!"

I stayed away from avocado for the longest time in my life. For one, it was called 'butter fruit' back where I grew up. And for someone who has always been on the heavier side, the name instantly conjured images of eating raw butter by the pound, loading my digestive system with unwanted grease, and adding inches to the waistline. Plus, it wasn't as tasty as the mango and jackfruit, which we had in abundance anyways. So, if ever a butter fruit made its way home from the fruitseller, chances were that it would end up on my skin as a face pack.

All until, I met this unassuming guy here, on a chance trip to Mexico:

Guacamole. I was converted. The 'fat' in the avocado suddenly became 'monounsaturated fats' which did good things for the body, and the former but-it-isn't-even-sweet fruit suddenly became a vitamin-ridden,rich and creamy staple in my fruit basket. Now, i make guacamole all the time - I use it a dip for parties, spread it on bread instead of butter, mix it up while making omlettes , hell, i even added a dollop of it into the batter when i baked savoury scones the other day.  It's genius- one of those everyday things that just blows your mind with its sheer simplicity.

So, if you are one of those who cannot make up your mind about the avocado, hang on. Your life is just about to change. Trust me.


1 ripe avocado
Half of a medium onion
one small tomato
Half a lemon
2 green chilles
Few sprigs of fresh coriander(cilantro)
Salt to taste

1. Cut the tomato in half and take out the seeds so as to remove excess water. De-seed green chillies. Finely chop the onion, tomato, green chillies and coriander.

2. Cut avocado in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the flesh from the skin mash it into a homogeneous pulp using a fork.

3. Add the chopped ingredients to the mashed avocado, squeeze fresh lemon juice into the mixture and season with salt.

It could be served with tortilla chips, or if your feeling especially healthy, with carrot, cucumber and celery sticks. We didn't have any of the above at home yesterday, so P (the significant Other in my life, you'll hear more about him the coming posts!) had it with some roasted  pappadoms. As for me, I slathered a healthy serving of it into a slice of multi-grain toast and topped it with some leftover tomato fry from the the day before. Deelish!

(Sorry about the quality of that last picture. Was in a hurry to gobble it down!)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tomato Fry

Tomato Fry is something I ate a lot as a kid. It followed no definite recipe: it could be tomatoes in any form -sauted with onions and green chillies in coconut oil; cooked down to a pulp and seasoned with spluttering mustard seeds and curry leaves; roasted and ground it into a chutney with ginger and garlic - but however they were prepared, they all made their appearance at the table as the humble tomato fry. It was my mom's ultimate go-to dish -it was something to be whipped up quickly after a late day at work, it was the afterthought addition to the menu when the prepared portions seemed inadequate for the dinner party, and it was the last resort when the vegetable basket was empty of real vegetables, and only the ubiquitous onion and tomato remained. There was always something apologetic about it, it was always something that we had to make do with, and (despite the fact that it was almost always quite tasty) it was always met with with an air of resignation at the table as well.

And then one day, mom was away and it was Dad's turn to cook. There is a definite buzz of excitement in the air. If mom's forte was comfortable, familiar, home-style cooking, then dad's was exotic, high-end, gourmet fare. He rarely entered the kitchen, but when he did, it was akin to a carnival. Every pot, pan, spoon and ladle would be out, every burner in the stove would be blazing,the air thick with floating bits of onion and garlic peel, the kitchen sweltering and smoky, the pressure cooker shrieking, thw exhaust fan rattling in the back ground and my brother and I fidgeting around, long past our dinnertime, fully sure that the feast at the end of it all would be well worth the wait. So, you can imagine our faces when, that particular day, he announced that the special for the night was going to be... Tomato Fry!

There was no impatient scurrying around or sneaking into the kitchen for tidbits that day. We went about our chores listlessly, occasionally throwing him dirty looks which plainly said, "You too, Brutus!". Until we were summoned for dinner and and he placed a serving dish at the centre of the table, lifting its lid with a flourish. This was no lumpen mass of half-cooked tomatoes. On the plate were juicy slices of tomatoes, either side roasted to perfection, laid out on a delicious bed of caramelized onions. There was a smattering of finely chopped coriander on top, and the earthy smell of cumin and garam masala wafted from the dish. He had knocked it out of the park. Just the memory of it makes my mouth water now. Safe to say, tomato fry was never the same at our place again.

I tried recreating the dish at home yesterday. And even though true masterpieces can never be replicated in full measure, what can we do but try. And try some more. ;)

Tomato Fry

1 tablespoon oil
2 medium onions
3 plum tomatoes
1  teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon aamchur
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

1. Halve onions and chop into thin long slices. Wash tomatoes and cut into thick slices (apprx. 1/3 inch thickness)

2. Mix the various ground spices together and keep aside

2.Heat oil in  a flat-bottomed pan (i used my trusty cast iron skillet, but any heavy bottomed pan can be used!) and add add chopped onions. Saute until its cooked and caramelized

3. Add the ginger garlic paste and 3/4th of the prepared spice mix. Saute under low fire until cooked.

4.Remove the onions from the pan and keep aside. Deglaze the pan with another teaspoon of oil if required, and lay the slices of tomato face-down on the pan. Sprinkle half of what is leftover of the spice mix evenly over the tomatoes.

5 After a minute or two, flip the tomatoes so that the other side can get roasted as well. Sprinkle the rest of the spice mix on the tomatoes.

6. Arrange the confit-ed onions on a plate and layer the tomatoes on top of it. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Enjoy! :)