Vegetable Khichidi Recipe

I have a confession to make. I call myself the Pantry Diva but there are times when even my pantry is bare. We were on vacation this past week and were eating out often, and I did not do my usual grocery shopping. Of course my lack of meal planning had no impact on my family’s incessant daily hunger pangs. One evening, we just returned from the beach and everyone was starving. I needed to make something fast and with literally no ingredients on hand. I decided to make khichidi, which is a one pot meal of rice and daal and vegetables and spices.

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I use basmati rice and masoor daal for my khichidi

You can throw any veggies or spices you have on hand, but usually less is more as it is a simple dish and you don’t want to have too many flavors competing with each other. So, while everyone showered I soaked the daal and rice (as I am too paranoid to buy a pressure cooker) and then quickly cooked the khichidi. I usually rate any dish’s success not by its taste or ease of cooking but instead by if my kids eat it or not…and they devoured it! (OK they were starving but hey I take any cooking successes I can get!)

As everyone was scarfing down my khichidi, I was putting all the spices back in my cupboard and I noticed one in particular: Hing.

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Hing (Asafoetida) can be bought in Indian grocery stores.

Hing? Although I have been using it for years, I realized I didn’t know much about it. I wondered what exactly is this strange spice and why does it make the khichidi taste so good? After some googling I found out Hing (Asafoetida in English) is a dried and ground resin extracted from a plant. Based on its unpleasant smell in its natural form, hing has been called such names as “Devil’s Dung” or “stinking gum”. This initial information was not encouraging me to find out more about hing. But I kept reading, and it got better: We usually buy hing from the supermarket in its commercial form not fresh form, so the flavor and smell is much more mild. It adds a savory flavor to the food similar to sautéed onion and garlic. In addition to being a flavor enhancer, it also has some health benefits such as aiding digestion and reducing gas. You can find more information about Hing here and here.

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Because the khichidi recipe is so versatile, you can add any combination of veggies and spices. I have made it both with and without hing and trust me, you need it. Although it has a subtle flavor, hing is the one spice that is essential in a tasty khichidi. You don’t notice it when it’s there, but you definitely miss it when it’s gone. And remember, a little hing goes a long way…you don’t need to use much. You can find it in any Indian grocery store if your local supermarket doesn’t have it. Apparently it is used in many other Indian dishes too so feel free to experiment. Add Hing (Asafoetida) into your pantry today!

Pantry Diva Tip: This khichidi recipe required grated fresh ginger, and I had no time to go shopping. Store your fresh ginger in the freezer, it keeps for a really long time. When a recipe calls for fresh ginger, just take it out of the freezer, grate what you need, and put it back in. No need to run to the store each time you need ginger!

Vegetable Khichidi Recipe

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INGREDIENTS:

1 Cup Basmati Rice

½ Cup Masoor Daal

2-3 cups water 

NOTE: I tend to add more water (about 3 cups water) as I like the khichdi texture kind of “goopy”and stuck together, not like separate grains of rice. Feel free to reduce amount of water. But, if you have NOT presoaked the rice and daal, you can add more water and increase cooking time.

2 teaspoons cooking oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 teaspoon ginger, grated

1 bunch coriander, chopped (optional for garnish)

1 teaspoon Hing (Asafoetida)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)

½ teaspoon turmeric

Red chili powder,to taste

Salt, to taste

¾ cup peas (frozen ok)

Yoghurt (optional – to serve with khichidi)

NOTE: My recipe above is just a guide. You can add any vegetables you have on hand such as grated carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, etc. You can also add different spices, such as coriander powder, cumin powder, garam masala, black pepper, ginger, garlic. Just remember that this is a simple dish and you don’t want too many flavors competing with each other. Less is more!

PREPARATION:

1. Wash rice and daal and soak for 20 minutes. Note: You do not need to soak beforehand but then you must increase water and cooking time.

2.  Heat oil in a pot, and when hot add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and hing and stir for a minute.

3. Add chopped onion and stir until very light brown.

4. Add ginger, chili powder, turmeric, and salt and sauté for a few minutes.

5. Add drained rice and daal and mix.

6. Add water and peas and any additional vegetables. Heat until boils.

7. Cover pot and and cook on low heat until rice is done. It is usually done when there are little holes on top of the rice and the water has evaporated.

8. If desired, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with yoghurt or raita.

Barbecue Delights in Downtown Dubai and Banjan Borani (Afghani Eggplant) Recipe

Being a food blogger definitely has its perks, and one of them is receiving invitations to fabulous foodie events around town. Barbecue Delights, a restaurant specializing in Pakistani, Afghani, and North Indian cuisines, was hosting a lunch at their newest location in Downtown Dubai, and I was one of the lucky food bloggers invited.

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Barbecue Delights downtown location

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Upon walking into the restaurant, I was immediately drawn to the beautiful artwork on the walls, inspired by the colorful way in which trucks are designed in Pakistan. The restaurant had commissioned an artist from Pakistan who makes “Truck Art,” and he flew all the way to Dubai to see the panels fitted together and mounted on the wall. The finished result is striking.

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Beautiful “Truck Art”

On a side note, my husband is Pakistani. When I visited Pakistan, I loved seeing all the colorful busses and trucks driving around, and was constantly pointing out how beautiful they were. I even bought a postcard with the colorful trucks on it, much to the amusement of my local Pakistani family. So seeing the “truck art” on the wall was a fun (and beautiful) reminder of those memories.

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So back to the meal. After being seated we were welcomed with a refreshing beverage of green mango blended with cumin while we perused the menu’s selection of appetizers which were about to arrive. The starters were a Rocca Salad, both Aloo and Keema naan, and an Afghani Mutton Rosh, which is a hearty stew of mutton, vegetables and aromatic spices.

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Afghani Mutton Rosh

After the appetizers, came a selection of naan and barbecue items such as Malai Boti, Gola Kabob, and Hara Fish, boneless cubes of fish marinated in fresh herbs. But the real star of this course was the Mutton Ribs, a fall-off-the bone tender rack of mutton steamed and grilled in a rich and spicy marinade. I was told Barbecue Delights sources all of their mutton from Pakistan from the best high quality suppliers. The ribs were a testament to that quality.

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Malai Boti, Boneless chicken marinated in cream, milk, and herbs and spices

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Although I was stuffed at this point, I realized the main courses still hadn’t been served. Before I knew it, Chicken Karahi, Prawn Masala,  Afghani Pulao, Daal, and Banjan Borani was placed before me. The Banjan Borani seemed to be the blogger favorite of the afternoon. It is an Afghani eggplant dish, with a garlicky yoghurt and tomato sauce. It has simple yet bold flavors and an elegant presentation. I have written the recipe at the end of the post so you can create your own Banjan Borani at home.

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After the mains we finally moved on to dessert of jalebi, kheer and pistachio ice cream. I cannot end any meal without dessert, even a very very large filling one, so I gobbled a few jalebi before leaving, loving the sticky sweetness of every bite. As we left, we received a beautiful parting gift of a colorful little rickshaw so I can showcase a little “truck art” style at home.

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Barbecue Delights Locations:

Downtown Dubai-Clarens Building

Mohd Bin Rashid Boulevard (formerly Emaar Boulevard)

Tel: 04 4343 443

 The Walk in Jumeirah Beach Residence

Adjacent to Sofitel Hotel, Dubai

Tel: 04 4230632

Lamcy Square, Oud Mehta Road

Near Movenpick Hotel, Dubai

Tel: 04 3359868/69

Note: I was a guest at a lunch hosted by Barbecue Delights. Some of the images in this post are from Barbecue Delights

Barbecue Delight’s Banjan Borani – Afghani Eggplant RecipeImage

INGREDIENTS:

500g (About 1 pound) Eggplants, cut into round slices

500g (About 1 pound) Yoghurt

15g (1 tablespoon) Garlic paste

5g (½ teaspoon) Cumin seeds

5-10g (1-2 teaspoons) Olive oil

100g (about ½ cup) Tomato paste

15g (1 tablespoon) vinegar

Salt and Pepper for seasoning

Coriander for garnish

Olive oil/Cooking oil for frying

PREPARATION:

1. Fry OR bake eggplant slices until cooked.

If frying, heat oil in pan and fry on both sides for a couple minutes until cooked.

If baking, brush each side of eggplant slice with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt. Bake at 450F for about 10 minutes each side or until done. Remove and cool.

2.  Add garlic paste into yoghurt. Saute cumin seeds in oil and add into yoghurt. Mix well.

3. Mix tomato paste and vinegar in a small bowl.

4. Spread a layer of yoghurt on serving dish. Place cooked eggplant slices on yoghurt. Spread the tomato paste mixture on top of eggplant slices. Add a bit of yoghurt on eggplant. Garnish with chopped coriander.

Spinach, Feta and Onion Quiche

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When I first moved to Dubai, it was all about brunch. Friday brunch is an institution in Dubai, and since I was not yet a mother, Friday brunch had soon become my weekly tradition.  I had endless hours to eat, drink, and be merry. (I also had endless hours to recover the next day, as I used to do this thing called “sleep.” ) But now that I have two very rambunctious boys, I cannot just laze around for hours doing brunch. With my new time constraints, I have now moved on to breakfast or shall I say “brekkie.” It fits into my current lifestyle well as breakfast is so early in the day, an essential quality for my little early risers, as well as being a relatively quick meal so we can go out and do other things.

At first I was not accustomed to eating much at breakfast. In the past, I never had much appetite early in the morning (probably because I was still sleeping). But if I did happen to be awake, I would eat some cereal at the most. Soon, as my brekkie dates got more regular, I noticed I would always order the same thing: quiche. I loved how no matter what type of quiche I would order, it would always taste good…smoked salmon and chives, artichokes and onions and cheese, roasted red pepper and feta…the delicious combinations were endless.

The funny thing is that I always thought of quiche as something I could only buy at a restaurant, and not something I could make at home. Homemade crust? I thought that must surely take ages and won’t be easy to do with my little monkeys running around.  It was not until I went to my friend’s place for breakfast (who has 3 kids) and served me homemade quiche at 9:30am straight out of her oven that I realized quiche was a home made brekkie possibility. I did try one version here, but I have since simplified it and have an even easier, tastier and healthier version I make now. I am constantly trying to get my kids to eat more veggies, and they actually like this!

This recipe takes less than 30 minutes to prepare so it is definitely something you can throw together quickly (and clean up while it bakes), or even make ahead and rewarm later. I would love for you to try it and let me know how it turns out. I would also love to hear your favorite quiche recipe or flavor!

Pantry Diva Tip: Feel free to use up any veggies or cheese you have hanging out in your fridge, quiche is a great way to clean out that veggie drawer!

PS. Hubby eats this too…yes men do like quiche, they just don’t always admit it!

Spinach, Onion and Feta Quiche

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Crust Ingredients:

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

¼ cup melted unsalted butter OR 1/4 cup olive oil  OR 1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup ice  water (I use refrigerated water)

Filling Ingredients:

1 red onion

2-3 cloves garlic

2 bunches fresh spinach, chopped, thick stems removed, or baby spinach (6-8 cups)

4 eggs

1  ½ cups lowfat milk OR ¾ cup whole milk and ¾ cup heavy cream if want a denser and creamier consistency (I use lowfat milk and it tastes great!)

Reduced fat low salt feta cheese, or any cheese you prefer

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Crust Preparation:

1. Mix flour and salt with fork.

2. Beat oil (if using) and water with fork to thicken and pour into flour and salt. If using butter, just pour directly into flour with water.  Mix with fork until the dough holds together.

3.  Press dough into 9″ round pan OR roll out dough on silpat liner with rolling pin and press into 9” round pan. (I prefer the roll out method as it is faster and more uniform, although it does compromise on the flakiness of the crust. Either method is fine!)

Filling Preparation:

4. Chop onion and garlic in chopper.

5. Heat olive oil in pan and sauté onion and garlic for a couple of minutes, then add chopped spinach and sauté until it is wilted. Season with salt and pepper and let cool. Add spinach mixture into the prepared crust.

6. In separate bowl, beat eggs, milk ( and cream if using) with salt and pepper with mixer. Pour over the spinach mixture in crust.

7. Top with crumbled low fat reduced salt feta cheese, or any cheese of your choice.

8. Bake at 200C/400F until done, around 35-45 minutes. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting.

Watermelon Curry and Pantry Diva Live at Blogger Week

I am one of those people who fantasize about having my own cooking show on TV. Sometimes when I’m in my kitchen, I pretend I’m on the Food Network show “Chopped”, where I have a mystery basket of ingredients and have to make an amazing dish for the harsh judges before time runs out.  Actually now that I think about it, this scenario isn’t too far off from the daily dinner rush at home with my family of angry judges hungry kids.  

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Although winning “Chopped” would be amazing, what I really want is to have my own cooking show where I connect with my fans and share delicious recipes. This Friday I got to do just that, when I took part in the “Meet the Blogger Week” event sponsored by Lootah Premium Foods at Lafayette Gourmet.

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It was an amazing experience to put on the microphone and make my watermelon curry in front of a live audience. The live interaction with the crowd really forms a connection you just cannot get from behind a computer. Blogger week is still going on until September 23rd, with cooking demos at 12 noon and 4pm. You can also win a trip to Mauritius by posting your picture from the event on Instagram; just caption it #LPFbloggerevent and tag @Lootahpremiumfoods.

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My dish for the event was a Rajasthani watermelon curry. Although it is called a curry, I think of it more as a light first course (served chilled or room temperature like a borscht or a spicy soup), or as an additional side dish complementing other sides (like daal or sabzi) in an Indian meal.  The watermelon curry can be eaten hot or cold and is a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. I find is especially refreshing to enjoy during the scorching summer months in Dubai.

Pantry Diva Tip: This is a great way to use up excess watermelon after a barbecue or party. This is also an easy dish to make if you are short on time and need to quickly dash to the store, as all the ingredients should be in your pantry except the watermelon!

Watermelon Curry

ImageINGREDIENTS:

 2kg (4.4 pounds) watermelon pieces cut into 1.5 inch cubes (seedless watermelon if possible)

1 teaspoon paprika powder

½ teaspoon red chili powder (to taste, leave out if prefer mild flavor)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 ½  teaspoon coriander powder

1-2 teaspoon garlic puree

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

 Juice of 2 large lemons

Sugar to taste (optional)

Coriander (for garnish optional)

PREPARATION:

1. Cut watermelon into 1.5 inch cubes, and divide 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) for the curry, and 500g (1.1 pound) for the juice.

2. Take 500g (1.1 pound) watermelon cubes and make sure there are no seeds. Puree in food processor to make juice. To the juice add: paprika, turmeric, chili, and coriander powders, garlic puree, and salt. Set aside.

3. Heat vegetable oil in wok and add the cumin seeds, and after 20 seconds add the juice. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the liquid reduces by a third. If using sugar, add now, and also add the lemon juice. Cook for another minute. (I prefer to leave out the sugar as I feel the watermelon is sweet enough).

4. Add the 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) cubed chopped watermelon and cook over a low heat for 4-5 minutes. Gently toss while cooking so all the pieces are covered in the spice mixture. Turn off heat and garnish with coriander if desired.

Serves 4 as a first course or 6-8 as a side dish

*Recipe inspired by The Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi

My first post as Pantry Diva – Shakshuka: Poached Eggs in Tomato and Chickpea Sauce

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Hello Everyone! So this is my first post as Pantry Diva instead of Khana Mama. This change came about because when people would ask me, “So what is your blog about?”, I always found myself struggling to come up with a succinct answer that would summarize the idea of my blog. So during a brainstorm session with friends, the concept of Pantry Diva was born. I am rejoicing that I now have a tagline: “Making fabulous things from everyday ingredients found in your pantry.” Oh joy!

The main difference in Pantry Diva is that I now have a clear direction in writing. But the theme of simple, healthy recipes will remain the same. And by the way, all of the old Khana Mama posts have been transferred to Pantry Diva so nothing has been lost. I still have a bit of reformatting to do, but that will come in time. Please bear with me!

It is actually lucky that I already have my blog in place, because my first recipe required the finesse of a true Pantry Diva. Yesterday, the 46th floor in my building had a broken pipe, and water was spewing down the whole building. This flood had forced the temporary closure of all our elevators. I was home with hungry children and dinner time was quickly approaching. I live on the 21st floor so my options were:

A. Walk down to grocery store to buy items and then walk back up and cook.

Yea right.

B. Walk down with children to restaurants below.

Assuming we would even make it, this would cause them to be hungrier and crankier.

C. Order food and make the poor delivery guy walk up to our place.

Tempting…but again not the healthiest option and unsure about delivery time.

D. Look in the old pantry and see what I can whip up.

Walking is not something we do much here in Dubai, and no I will not send my maid down in this heat…so ‘option D’ was the winner.

As I was looking through my well stocked pantry I remembered this past summer when I was visiting my family in California and needed to throw together a quick meal without a trip to the store…I made my version of Shakshuka and everyone loved it. It is traditionally a Middle Eastern breakfast dish of poached eggs in a tomato sauce, but you can enjoy it anytime. You can serve it with Arabic bread, pita, rice, or any bread you have lying around. I like to eat it plain too!

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 Shakshuka: Poached Eggs in Tomato and Chickpea Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

2-3 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 jalapeños, seeded, finely chopped (optional- pickled jalapenos in a jar work too)

½ cup of roasted red peppers (optional – I just had these lying around so I added them in)

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne or red chili powder (optional or to taste)

2 14 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes

¼ cup toasted pine nuts (optional for garnish)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup coarsely crumbled feta (goat cheese or any cheese you prefer)

6-8 large eggs

Small bunch chopped fresh coriander (Or any herb you like – you can keep extra fresh herbs frozen in olive oil or just chopped and frozen in ice cube trays so you have some on hand all the time)

Warm pita bread (or rice or any bread you like)

PREPARATION:

1. Preheat oven to 425°F (220C). Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and jalapeños; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add paprika, cumin, and cayenne and chickpeas and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.

2. Add canned tomatoes and their juices. Add red peppers if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Sprinkle feta evenly over sauce.

4. Crack eggs one at a time and place over sauce, spacing evenly apart. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until whites are just set but yolks are still runny, 5–8 minutes. (I kept mine in for 8 minutes and they were pretty much cooked through. Also it’s better if you keep the eggs on the surface instead of making little wells and letting eggs touch the bottom of the pan otherwise they overcook immediately).

5. Garnish with cilantro and pine nuts. Serve with pita for dipping.

By the way, if you hate eggs, just leave them out! It is delicious without them too.

Shakshuka  recipe inspired from Epicurious.

Black Bean Salad

In most countries, when you meet someone for the first time, a good ice breaker is to talk about the weather. But in Dubai, since the weather rarely changes, it doesn’t provide for much conversation.  Because Dubai has a huge expat community with many different nationalities,  many conversations instead begin with, “So where are you from?”.

At first I thought people were genuinely interested to know more about me, but actually they just wanted to confirm the stereotype they already had based on my appearance. This conversation has almost become a daily ritual for me. It generally goes like this:

Random Person: So where are you from?
Me: American.
Random Person: (Clearly unsatisfied with my answer) No. Where are you from?
Me: Indian
Random Person: (Growing more agitated) No. You do not look like an Indian. Where are you from?
Me: Mexican
Random Person: (Not knowing what to say) OK.

There are a few slight variations that can occur:

1. Sometimes the “Random Person” is a South Asian person who has never left their native country before coming to Dubai, so they will just say “UK?” and the  “Where are you from?” is only implied. So for example, they will see me and just say, “UK?”. After a couple of minutes,  I will realize what they are talking about and go into my usual country list.

2. I can never tell  if “Random Person” is asking about my nationality or ethnicity, so I might  say “American” or “Indian” first, but whichever I say, they are still not satisfied with my answer.

3. If I am tired that day, I will just say “Mexican” in the beginning and then all conversation will cease as most people in this region don’t know too much about Mexico.

If you are wondering why I chose Mexico, it is not only because I can pass for Mexican if needed, but mostly, because I love the food. Growing up in California, I was surrounded by Mexican culture and food, so Mexican cuisine has many flavors and ingredients I enjoy to eat and cook. This black bean salad is inspired by the flavors of my adopted nationality.

Black Bean Salad Recipe:

Ingredients:

2-3 cups cooked black beans (canned and rinsed OK too)
1 large red onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 cup corn, (thawed frozen corn OK)
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 cup coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
Cayenne, to taste
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon diced jalapeno (optional)

Preparation:
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir. Refrigerate for a couple of hours so all flavors come together. Serve chilled or at room temperature and garnish with more chopped green onion and coriander.

NOTE:  I prefer to put in refrigerator overnight as it tastes even better the next day. You can use this as a main dish or side salad or even as a filling in a taco or in a quesadilla – just add some cheese and melt inside a tortilla in a hot pan.

Spiced Roasted Chicken with Garbanzo Beans and Cherry Tomatoes with Yoghurt Sauce

Have you ever noticed how certain things can trigger different emotions? Maybe you have an outfit that makes you feel amazing so you can walk into a meeting with confidence and authority. Or perhaps you hear an old song on the radio and it brings back fond memories of your first school dance. For me, all my emotions revolve around food. If I’m happy, I eat, if I’m sad, I eat. Even if I’m happy for someone, I make something and go eat with them.  

I have a recipe that brings me utter joy, and a recipe everyone will thank me for. It is a recipe that will save you on a weekday when you don’t have time to cook. It is a recipe that you can cook and take to a potluck or bring to a friend. It is a recipe that the whole family will enjoy.  It is delicious, nutritious and has minimal preparation and cook time. I will not say much more about this recipe but will only relay my emotions about it:  I feel  love that I have found it, joy when eating it, and now happiness that I can pass it along.

Spiced Roasted Chicken with Garbanzo Beans and Cherry Tomatoes with Yoghurt Sauce



Inspired by a recipe from Epicurious

INGREDIENTS:
3-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoon ground cumin
cayenne powder to taste
½-1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lowfat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
4 chicken breast halves with bones or 12 drumsticks (I like to use drumsticks because easier for kids to grab and eat)
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 12-ounce container cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh coriander, divided
Cous Cous, Rice, or Pita to serve with, if desired

PREPARATION:
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Put olive oil, garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne and salt in large bowl and mix. Place chicken inside bowl and mix so it is covered with the mixture. Take out spice covered chicken and place in  roasting tray.
2. Pour chickpeas in same large bowl chicken was in. Put ½ cup coriander in as well and mix around. There should still be a bit of spice inside the bowl to coat the chickpeas. Pour the chickpeas over the chicken in the roasting pan.
3. Put the tomatoes on the chicken and chickpeas in the roasting pan and put in oven at 450F for 30 minutes or until done.
4. While chicken is in oven, put yoghurt in a small bowl and add a ½ – 1 teaspoon of cumin, and cayenne and salt to taste. Add water to thin yogurt to desired consistency. Set aside.
5. If desired, make rice or cous cous or salad to serve with chicken.
6. Take chicken out of oven when done, and sprinkle with remaining coriander. Serve with rice or cous cous or pita and yogurt sauce.

Baked Spinach, Feta, and Sundried Tomato Quinoa Cakes with Roasted Pepper Sauce

Sometimes it’s hard having a different opinion than the rest of the group. This is especially true in the food world. For example, try telling a chocoholic you don’t like chocolate and they will start to question your character.  What do you mean you don’t like chocolate? What kind of person are you??

Usually food preference is pretty subjective but some foods are so widely loved that expressing dislike towards them causes anger. I have somehow provoked outrage when I told people I didn’t like jello, or doughnuts, or scones, or even coffee. Sometimes I really want to like something because everyone else does, but my stubborn taste buds just won’t do it. Such was the case with quinoa.

It was initially just a food trend, but over the past few years quinoa has slowly become a food staple, and for a few years I have been trying to make it palatable. After every unsuccessful quinoa dish, I plan to never eat it again, but then I am bombarded with people raving about its’ great health benefits, and I find myself trying to cook it again.

This time I vowed not to listen to anyone anymore. But some voices you cannot ignore, such as the voices of your close family and friends. Every time I post anything about quinoa on facebook, it always gets more likes, more comments and more recipe requests than any other dish. So I decided to try quinoa one more time. My solution was to make a dish with enough additional ingredients to mask the quinoa “look” and a dipping sauce to mask the quinoa flavor. This scenario worked well for me as I get a nutritious meal with minimal quinoa flavor and my quinoa-hungry Khana Mama fans get a recipe with their apparently favorite ingredient.

Now if only I can find a way to make my kids eat it…

Baked Spinach, Feta, and Sundried Tomato Quinoa cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


Ingredients for Quinoa Cakes:
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups cooked quinoa, cooked as per package instructions
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned, rinsed chickpeas ok)
5 oz fresh baby spinach, sautéed and chopped with excess water squeezed out OR 1 cup frozen chopped spinach thawed with excess water squeezed out
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup feta cheese
1 small finely chopped onion
4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
1-2 tsp cumin to taste
Cayenne to taste

PREPARATION for Quinoa Cakes:
1. Preheat oven to 200C. Spray nonstick spray on cooking sheet.
2. If using fresh spinach, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Drain in colandar and squeeze out excess water. When drained completely, chop.
OR
Defrost frozen chopped spinach and squeeze water out with paper towel.
3. Coarsely mash chickpeas in food processor. Add in sundried tomatoes, spinach, feta, garlic, onions, and coriander and mix in food processor until combined.
4. Combine egg, flour, tahini and vinegar in a bowl. Stir in COOKED quinoa and spices. Stir in remaining ingredients from food processor then mix (or mash) together until mixture is firm enough to shape in little patties.
5. Shape mixture into 1/4 cup patties and put on cookie sheet. Patties should not be too flat, and they will bake to the shape you leave them in.
6. Bake at 200C for 15 minutes then flip patties and bake another 10- 15 minutes or until brown and lightly crisp.
Serve with red pepper sauce.

INGREDIENTS For Roasted Pepper Sauce:

3-4 peeled roasted bell peppers NOTE: I like to use a combo of red, orange and yellow. (Peppers from a jar ok or you can roast them yourself: Just put them on baking sheet for 30-40 mins at 225C, remove from oven and cover with foil until cooled, then peel and throw away seeds)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1-2 cloves garlic, grated
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Cayenne, if desired

PREPARATION For Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:
1. Puree all ingredients listed for sauce in a food processor.
If you have extra sauce, it is great on burgers, quesadillas, crackers, or really anything!

Arabic Lentil Soup and Baked Pita Chips

After reading my last post, everyone kept asking me about the magical Arabic lentil soup that was  nutritious, great tasting, easy to make, and kid approved. In addition to making the soup, I have found myself cooking several Arabic dishes lately, because so many of them have these wonderful qualities. Sometimes I go through phases of cooking one type of cuisine. Currently I am in my Arabic phase. I’m finding Arabic food is the perfect blend of the spices of the east and the flavors of the west.

My first cooking phase was Indian food. As much as I loved the amazing spicy flavors and healthy veggies I was cooking, I was annoyed at all the steps and subsequent work that went in to making just one dish. All the chopping and mincing was even more difficult with two toddlers running around. I tried some shortcuts such as freezing 1 tablespoon portions of garlic and ginger pastes in an ice tray, so I could just pop them into the dish I was making, or plan my meals ahead so I could soak, chop, and marinate in advance.  But for a tired  unorganized spontaneous mother of two boys, advance planning did not always happen. So I figured it was time to switch cuisines.

I then moved on to western food which was easier to prepare, but often lacked the bold flavors my palette was accustomed to. I generally like things on the spicier side, and often in western cuisine there just wasn’t enough…spice. Sometimes the only seasoning would be salt and pepper and maybe lemon zest. So I found myself constantly altering recipes by either tripling the garlic, grating in more ginger, or adding cayenne or cumin or even Sri Racha.

Then I discovered cooking Arabic food. Although I had been eating it for years, I never made any Arabic dishes at home. I soon found out it is often easy to prepare, easy to clean up as many dishes can be cooked in one pot, quite healthy, and very tasty as it has enough spices to add a lot of flavor but not a lot of heat to overwhelm the ingredients.

So here is my variation of Arabic lentil soup. I like it heavy on the garlic and spices and veggies, but you can personalize it to your own taste. My kids especially like eating the soup with a dollup of yogurt and sprinkle of zaatar on top, as well as baked pita bread (recipe also below) to dip inside. Feel free to make your own version and let me know how yours turns out!

Arabic Lentil Soup and Baked Pita Chips


INGREDIENTS:
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
Salt, to taste
1-3 teaspoon Arabic Spices, to taste.  (You can find these in the spices section of the supermarket labeled “Arabic Spices”or “Arabic Masala”. Or check at your local Middle Eastern grocer.)
1 Maggi Chicken or Vegetable stock cube  (You can leave this out but it really tastes better if you add it in!)
2 teaspoons Olive oil
1 cup masoor daal, soaked.  (Soak if possible, but not necessary. It does shorten the cooking time. See picture below for type of masoor daal to use.)

Masoor Daal

SOUP PREPARATION:
1. In a large pot fry onion in olive oil until softened and lightly browned. Add garlic and fry for a couple minutes. Add in carrot, bell pepper, daal, salt, and Arabic spices and saute for a few minutes.
2. Add in about 8 cups of water and bring to boil. Keep cooking until daal is cooked and vegetables are softened. Add more water as needed. Add in Maggi stock cube and make sure is dissolved.
3. After all is cooked, blend with stick blender until smooth. Check salt.

Serves 3-4 people. Serve with Baked Pita Chips (Recipe below) or bread sticks or sliced crusty baguette.
Baked Pita Chips

INGREDIENTS:
5 slices Arabic bread
1 teaspoon Oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, to taste
Olive oil

PREPARATION:
1. Cut bread into slices and arrange on baking sheet.
2. Brush with olive oil.
3. Sprinkle with oregano, garlic powder, and salt.
4. Bake in oven at 190C for 5 minutes or until crispy. Watch the oven as the pita crisps  and browns pretty quickly.

Vegetable Fried Rice

I could write a novel about the many times my kids have refused to eat what I have cooked. At first I thought their resistance was because the food I was making wasn’t appetizing. (Broccolini and quinoa salad, anyone?). But after careful observation, I have deduced the only reason they won’t eat my food is because they know I am the one making it and they just want to drive me crazy!

This realization became evident during dinner, which was chicken curry and fresh chapattis. Although my kids normally like this meal, this time they did not touch it. Luckily I had also made some vegetable fried rice (or “wice” as my young one calls it). Unfortunately, the wice was denied as well. I was starting to panic as hungry boys become crazy rowdy destructive boys in about 2 seconds, and I had no desire to clean or make anything else. At that moment my phone rang. It was my dear friend calling to say she had made lentil soup and was sending it over for dinner. I knew my kids hate soup but I was desperate.

As the soup arrived I quietly put it in their bowls and waited for their screams of protest. I kept waiting but all I could hear was the sound of soup being slurped down so fast I was afraid they weren’t breathing.
 
Then my older son finally spoke: “Mommy….?” he asked.

Hmmph. Finally a complaint, I thought. But he then said, “Mommy can I have this as my snack at school tomorrow?”

I think to myself:  Ok, let me get this straight. You don’t even like soup and now you want it at school too?? I am fuming.

Then he speaks again:  “Mommy can I have some more? This is soooo good!”

I am still in shock as I am refilling their bowls and giving them some more crusty bread to dip inside. Just then I hear my son singing an impromptu song: “Soup, soup, soup, soup…I love soup!”

My ego was bruised and I was pondering where I went wrong in my cooking. But instead of being upset I was happy they had eaten a nutritious meal and actually liked something. My thoughts were interrupted by my two year old who was trying to tell me something. He kept puckering his mouth in an ‘’o’’ position and I thought he was trying to give me a kiss. I was so touched at his sweetness. But then out came the sounds: “sh…shou…shouu…….shouuup!”

I promise I will post the recipe for my friend’s lentil soup soon, as it was delicious and clearly the dinner champion of the evening. But for now you must settle for the runner up, my vegetable fried rice.  It is all my fragile ego can handle.

Vegetable Fried Rice



INGREDIENTS:
Medium pot of cooked rice.  Day old, leftover rice is best.
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic,  finely chopped
1 bunch chopped scallions (both white and green parts)
1 large tomato, chopped and deseeded
Salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2-3 large eggs
1 small bunch chopped coriander,
Lime and cucumber slices for garnish

Note: Can also add any meat of your choice, tofu, or additional veggies such as broccoli or peas

PREPARATION:
1. Heat the oil on high. Add the onion. Stir well and when it’s softened lower heat slightly and add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
2. Add the rice and stir well. Add the tomatoes and mix. (If you are adding any other blanched or steamed veggies add them now)
3. Push the rice to the side of the pan and add a bit more oil. Crack the eggs into the oil and cook. Mix with rice.
4. Add the soy sauce and salt and pepper. Season to taste. Remove from heat.
5. Add most of the scallions and a little cilantro into the rice and mix.  Garnish with the rest of the scallions and coriander, lime, and cucumber slices.

Note: If you are adding meat, cube it and cook it first. Then add into rice at step 4.