Zucchini Bread

It’s funny how easy it is to get difficult things done in Dubai, such as building 163 floors of the Burj Khalifa in only 5 years, yet it’s often difficult to get easy things done, such as ordering a zucchini. Here’s an excerpt from today’s order from my friendly neighborhood grocery store:


Me: Hi, can I order a zucchini?

Grocery man: No, don’t have. You want courgette?

Me: Yes, that’s fine.

Grocery man: No, don’t have. Have baby marrow.

Me: Huh? What? (Then remember baby marrow is a local vegetable that is kind of zucchini-ish). Oh ok, I’ll try that.

Grocery man: Wait, we have in yellow.

Me: What? The baby marrow?

Grocery Man: No, zucchini. You come look.

Me: OK. I’m coming. (Do my fat lazy expat stroll to the store…)

After arriving at the store, of course there are about 50 zucchinis on the shelf. I actually found the man I spoke to earlier and informed him, only to have him say:  Ohhh, you want Za-co-ni. Why you not say before?

Normally I would have been amused at this whole exchange. Living here has taught me patience, an invaluable virtue to have, especially for raising two crazy boys. But today I was just not in the mood. In fact, this ordeal made me feel kind of homesick. So instead of making my farfalle with zucchini ribbons as initially planned, I decided to make some zucchini bread.  It’s delicious and something I haven’t seen anywhere but in the U.S. and reminded me a bit of home.

Zucchini Bread


Original Recipe found here, Yield 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts

PREPARATION:
1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).

2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.

3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.
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Aloo Tikki with Coriander and Mint Chutney

My son’s current favorite bedtime story is the Gingerbread Man. He especially loves the part “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man!”  So when he asked if we could make our own gingerbread man I happily agreed. After quickly finding a recipe online and scanning the cupboard to make sure we had all the ingredients, we started. 

As we were rolling out the dough I noticed one item I did not check I had: the gingerbread man cookie cutter. Not wanting to alarm my adoring spectator I decided to cut out the gingerbread men freestyle with a knife. This task was not as easy as it would seem. Each gingerbread man came out more deformed than the next, with lopsided or broken limbs or with heads growing out of arms. None of them seemed like they could run like the one from the story, or even limp for that matter. Nonetheless, after they were baked and decorated, my 3 year old loved them all. Whew!

So after that ordeal, I needed something easy to make for dinner. I decided to make aloo tikkis since they are easy to shape (round!). Again I didn’t anticipate one small detail: everyone in my house likes to eat them differently.

1. I prefer my tikki slightly warmed with a side of green chutney mixed with a splash of kechup.

2. My husband makes a sandwich with a cheese bread roll, the bottom slice spread with green chutney and ketchup. He then adds a layer of crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos and then smashes the tikki on top. He covers the top slice spread with mayonnaise.

3. My one year old likes aloo tikki in a bowl with yogurt and ketchup all mashed together.

4. My three year old didn’t even eat one bite since he was so full with gingerbread men :).

I love how the simplest dish can be enjoyed different ways. I am already imagining tomorrow’s chutney sandwiches I am going to be making with the leftovers….

Aloo Tikki with Coriander and Mint Chutney



INGREDIENTS for Aloo Tikki:

3 large potatoes – boiled with skins on, then peeled
1-2  teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 chopped green chili (I leave this out when I make for kids)
½ teaspoon red chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch chopped fresh coriander
1 bunch chopped green onion
2 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying
**Note all spices can be adjusted to taste.

PREPARATION For Aloo Tikki:

1. Mash potatoes in large bowl, when potatoes are still slightly warm. Add all spices and chopped coriander,  green onion and green chili if using. Mix well. Taste and adjust spices and salt if necessary.

2. Shape the mixture into 3” flat rounds. Makes about 8-10 tikkis.

3. Beat 2 eggs in bowl and keep aside.

4. Lightly coat frying pan with cooking oil. Keep on medium high heat.

5. Take one potato round, dip in egg, then put in hot frying pan. Fry 2-3 minutes per side. Repeat  with remaining rounds.

6. Serve with coriander and mint chutney. Recipe below
.
INGREDIENTS for Coriander and Mint Chutney:

1 ½ bunch coriander
½ cup mint leaves
¾  cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 green chili (optional)
Red chili powder (to taste)
Salt (to taste)

PREPARATION for Coriander and Mint  Chutney:

1. Put all items into a blender and blend into a fine liquid. Taste and adjust spices if necessary.

Mixed Vegetable Sabzi

I am always looking for cooking shortcuts. My hungry boys eat 6 times a day so if I don’t cut some corners I will never leave the kitchen. My latest creation is the “Arabic Pizza” for those days when I am really in a time crunch. I get some Arabic bread, and quickly warm it on the skillet.  I then add some ketchup and oregano and grate some cheddar or feta on top and blitz it for a few seconds in the microwave. The finishing touch is to cut it into pizza slices using the pizza cutter so it looks more “real”.  But I knew I had gone too far when we went out for pizza and my kids actually preferred mine! I was shattered that I had ruined their developing taste buds. At this rate we will never enjoy a true NYC slice together and I absolutely cannot have that.

So, I decided to make something more  interesting, more spicy, and to incorporate vegetables. I came up with this mixed vegetable sabzi that uses ingredients I always have on hand and I can make in a flash. (Although not as fast as the Arabic Pizza!).
MIXED VEGETABLE SABZI




INGREDIENTS:

1 large chopped onion (Indian red onion)
1 peeled chopped potato (can microwave for couple minutes before if you prefer for faster cooking time in sabzi)
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 chopped green chili
1-2 tomatoes
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
¾ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
1-2 teaspon coriander powder (you can roast whole coriander seeds and finely crush for a bolder flavor if you prefer)
2-3 tsp cooking oil
1 tbsp garlic, grated
1 teaspon ginger, grated

PREPARATION:

1. Heat oil in pot. Add onion and cook until softened. Keep on medium high heat.

2. Add in ginger and garlic and sauté for a couple minutes. 

3.  Add potato and sauté for a few minutes. Add the vegetables and the tomatoes and green chili and sauté. Add salt and all spices and mix.

4. Cover and put on medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes or until all veggies cooked and flavours incorporated.  Season to taste. Garnish with fresh coriander if preferred.

Broccoli and Tofu Stir Fry

I was doing so well. These past months have been spent eating (relatively) healthily and exercising (Zumba!) pretty regularly. 

But then it happened. The holiday season started. And with each holiday came one calorie filled delicacy after the next. First came Diwali. By the light of the little diyas, I happily ate one mitai after the next, only pausing for a savory chakli break, and then resuming on the gulab jamun.

Then came Halloween. I actually tried not buying any candy this time. I even made Ry take a healthy dish of hummus and veggies for his school Halloween party. But despite my self control, the candy and chocolate flowed into my home from various parties and events and friends. And I am ashamed to admit, when the kids went to bed after trick or treating, I raided their candy bags to my heart’s content.

Now it is almost Eid, and my dear hubby has already bought some chocolate and sweets to celebrate. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, it is unlikely I can control the glutton within.

So even though chocolate and cupcakes are on my mind, I am instead going to post a super healthy and tasty recipe I found on EatingWell to help me get back on track. I just started fitting into some of my old pre-pregnancy jeans and as comfortable as they were, I am not going back to the elastic waistbands of maternity wear!

Broccoli and Tofu Stir Fry with Brown Basmati Rice



INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth (I usually steam my frozen broccoli beforehand, so just reserve some of that water)
1/4 cup dry sherry (see Note) or rice wine or few teaspoons of rice vinegar (non-alcoholic version)
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste
1 14-ounce package extra-firm water-packed tofu, drained
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
6 cups broccoli florets (frozen ok too, just cook beforehand)
3 tablespoons water
·          Tilda Brown Basmati rice , cooked

PREPARATION:

1. Combine broth, sherry (or rice wine), soy sauce, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, sugar and crushed red pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Cut tofu into 3/4-inch cubes and pat dry, then sprinkle with salt. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a large bowl. Add the tofu; toss gently to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tofu; cook, undisturbed, until browned, about 3 minutes. Gently turn and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.
My tofu is somehow never crisp, but still a bit soggy, although it is hard enough to not break apart. Any tips on getting a nicer crust on my tofu would be much appreciated.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, garlic and ginger, few chili flakes; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli (and water  if fresh broccoli); cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender-crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir the reserved broth mixture and add to the pan. Cook until the sauce has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the tofu to the pan; toss to combine with the broccoli and sauce.
4. Serve over brown basmati rice and a bit of Sriracha sauce.

Broccoli Soup

One of my pet peeves is after my son asks me for something to eat, I dutifully make it, and then he doesn’t want it. As I have no intention of making him another meal, it takes some creative maneuvering to rebrand my original dish and trick him into eating the same thing he previously rejected. 

Today he wanted some “green soup”. I quickly had broccoli soup on the table, only to hear, “No mommy, I want red soup. Not green soup.”  Although my wrath was brewing inside, I put a fake smile on my face and swiftly took the soup back to the kitchen to come up with a plan. I transferred the soup to another bowl, grated some cheddar on top, and as it melted, put a red ketchup happy face over the cheese. (Ry is obsessed with happy faces and sad faces lately).  
As I was walking over to him, I hear “No mommy, I want yellow soup.” My eye started twitching. Oh God please let him eat this. I really don’t want to order pizza right     now…  
With the bowl in front of him, he looked it over, and was satisfied at the yellow of the cheese and the red of the ketchup, and ate the whole thing! Success!  
But then he said, “Mommy, can I have more soup please? I want purple.” 

Hmmm…another day, another battle!

Easy Broccoli Soup





INGREDIENTS:

5 cups Broccoli florets (frozen OK)
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
2 cloves garlic
1/4 – 1/2 cup whole milk
1 small onion, chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
cheddar cheese, greek yoghurt, breadsticks for garnish if desired


PREPARATION:

1. Cook broccoli and potato. Put the potato and garlic in a saucepan, add enough water to just cover the potato, and boil until cooked.  Put the broccoli in the steamer on top so they cook at the same time. Drain and set aside, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. 

2.  Finely chop onion and saute in olive oil until softened. Add back broccoli and potato with reserved water and milk. Simmer.

3. Puree in food processor or with stick blender. Add more liquids for desired consistency. Season to taste.

4. Garnish with cheddar and greek yoghurt. 

Dal Tadka

It’s all relative. When it comes to things like camping, I am not very adventurous. If we aren’t staying in a 5 star hotel, I am not pleased. But when it comes to food, you might as well call me Indiana Jones. I am happy to try any cuisine, be it from Ethiopia, Yemen, Korea, Sri Lanka, or anywhere really. I have eaten  from the (probably Hepatitis infected) Pani Puri stands on Chowpatty beach in Mumbai, to Gordon Ramsay’s elegant cuisine at Verre, and even tried garlic fried mealworms in my college Entomology class.
I feel that food tastes even better when you are enjoying it with someone who shares your passion for it. So imagine my agony when I found out my true love did not share my same palate. He thought foie gras was foie-gross and unagi was u-nasty. And needless to say, he was horrified at the fried insect “snacks” from the food carts we saw in Bangkok.  
After we got married, I tried to tempt him with my savory salmon cake draped with caviar and dill, or attempted to entice him with my Moroccan pumpkin tagine. But alas, he was not impressed. No matter what I did, it did not remind him of the taste of “home.”  Then I realized I was going about it all wrong. It wasn’t about being grandiose or fancy, it was more about simplicity and comfort and familiarity. And what would bring him that gustatory satisfaction? A mere dal chawal. Dal and rice. The most humble dish.
At first I turned up my nose. Dal? That’s it?? But then I realized how perfect this simple dish was. All at once it was healthy, tasty, budget friendly, and finally with some training, easy to make. Because dal is so versatile, and there are so many varieties, nearly everyone makes it differently. So the last time I was in Lahore, my hubby’s talented sister showed me how they made it in their home. I stood by with a notebook in hand trying to jot down approximate measurements, and after a lot of practice, have made this dal so that even my picky Lahori munda asks for seconds.
It’s funny how food really connects two people. Now after ten years of knowing each other, I can easily tuck into a hearty biryani at Daily Restaurant and he can have black cod with me at Nobu.  In fact, just the other day, we went to Laduree and he ordered the Madagascar chocolate macaron. After taking a bite, he looked at me, and said, “These are good. But yours are much better.”
And he meant it. If that isn’t true love, then I don’t know what is. 


Dal Tadka




INGREDIENTS:

1 cup Moong dal (rinsed – on left, see picture below)
1 cup Masoor dal (rinsed – on right, see picture below)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chili powder (to taste)
1 tbsp grated garlic (to taste)
1 tsp grated ginger
2 small Indian red onions (finely sliced)
2 small tomatoes (chopped finely)
1-2 green chillis (optional)
1 bunch fresh coriander (chopped finely)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
water
PREPARATION:

1.  Add in large pot:  Both Dals, Garlic, turmeric, chili powder and 6 cups water. Bring to boil. Lower heat to medium to medium high and partially cover. Check water level periodically and add additional water as it cooks. Cook for approximately 25 minutes.  (Dal is cooked after tasting,  it should be very soft and liquid is not clear.)
2.  While dal cooks, chop vegetables. In separate hot skillet add 3 tbsp  oil. Add onion and cook until golden brown. Add ginger, then tomato, then green chilis (if using). Add coriander and fry until becomes a paste. You may have to add a little water so it doesn’t stick to pan. When all a paste, add into hot (already cooked )dal and mix.
Serve with steamed basmati rice. Garnish with lemon if desired. Generously serves 4 people.

NOTES:
If you let this sit around for a bit before serving it, it tastes even better as the flavors come together. Dal tastes really good the next day, and is suitable for freezing.
I also serve this to my babies. It is a bit spicy, so I usually add in a couple scoops of yogurt  to the dal and rice and blend it all together. You can also make a separate batch with no chili powder if your kids are very sensitive.
This version is done on a stovetop instead of a pressure cooker since both my husband and I are afraid of pressure cookers exploding. Even with this stovetop method, from start to finish the whole process takes me about 45 minutes max.

Spinach and Parmesan Cakes

It was around 11am today when Ry gave me the look.  The “mommy I’m hungry” look. So I proactively inquired before the “mommy I’m hungry tantrum” started.


Me: What would you like to eat?

Ry: Green.

Me: You mean like green beans? (Knowing full well he would NEVER ask for those).

Ry: No, like the color.

Ok. So he wants to eat the color green. Not too bad a request. As much as I just wanted to boil some peas and put them  in a green bowl and give him a green fork to eat them with, I decided instead to be a bit more creative. I mean, it’s not like he asked for Chartreuse or Magenta or something. Green had so many options.

I decided to go with something spinachy since it is green, healthy, and most importantly, I already had it at home.  I finally decided on spinach and parmesan cakes. I had found a version of these on Eating Well but mine are much more flavorful and spicier. The best thing about these is that they are great finger foods for kids and easy to pop in a container for a quick snack or light meal on the go.  After I made these, I did end up putting them on a green plate with a green fork and my little man was very happy.
Spinach and Parmesan Cakes


(Using a 12pc muffin tin, Makes 8 cakes if you fill up to the top, or 12 if you fill up half way)
INGREDIENTS:

·         10 – 12 ounces frozen spinach (I used about 11 cubes of the Waitrose frozen spinach), Thawed and drained
·         1/2 cup cottage cheese (low fat ok if you prefer)
·         3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
·         2 large eggs, beaten
·         2 clove garlic, minced (if you don’t love garlic as much as me, 1 large clove is ok)
·         2 tbsp minced red onion
·         Red chilli pepper flakes
·         ½ tsp cumin
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
PREPARATION:
1.     Preheat oven to 400°F.
2.     In a medium bowl, mix thawed and drained spinach, cottage cheese, Parmesan, eggs, garlic, onion, and all spices. Stir to combine.
3.     Coat the cups of the muffin pan with cooking spray. Divide the spinach mixture among the 8 cups (they will be very full, or 12 cups half way full. (I usually do 12 since I use the smaller portions for feeding the kids).
4.     Bake the spinach cakes until set, about 20 minutes. Let stand in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife and remove from pan. Serve warm, sprinkled with more Parmesan, if desired.

Breakfast Burrito and Salsa

My baby has the most delicious thighs. Little pudgy rolls of yummy goodness. As I pulled him out of his highchair after breakfast today, a piece of strawberry and a couple of cheerios fell out from between his thigh rolls! At first I was amused. But then I silently prayed,  Oh God please don’t let me ever get that fat so that could happen to me.

Truth be told, I did look at the positive side in case I did get in that condition. For example, suppose I had to work through lunch. Instead of starving, I could just lift up my skirt, give my leg a little shake,  and out would pop a pizza and a few fries. Pretty convenient, yes?  But no, the social and health problems would definitely outweigh (haha) any advantages.

So, out of fear of raising the next generation of thunder thighs, I am always challenging myself to find healthy but tasty meals to feed my family.  Breakfast in particular has always been a hard meal for me to cook since I was never much of a breakfast person myself. I never knew what to make. Then one morning, I came up with this breakfast burrito with tomato salsa recipe that is extremely satisfying and my go-to recipe for when I’m stumped on what to cook. It is also versatile, you could eat it for any meal of the day, and it can even be made with store bought salsa if you are in a time crunch. 


Easy Breakfast Burritos with Fresh Tomato Salsa  (Makes 2 Burritos)



INGREDIENTS for Burritos:

2 soft corn or flour tortillas
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
Prepared tomato salsa (recipe to follow)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Fresh black pepper and salt to taste
Avocado, Sour Cream, Spring Onions for garnish

PREPARATION:

Heat a skillet on high, then coat skillet with cooking spray. Add the eggs, 2-3 tablespoons of salsa, and ¼ cup cheese. Add some fresh black pepper. Scramble all together until eggs scrambled and most of water is evaporated.  About 2 minutes. Keep aside and keep warm.

Heat a clean skillet on high heat, then coat skillet with cooking spray.  Lower heat to medium and add tortilla and flip a couple times,  about 3 seconds per side until tortilla is hot.  Put ¼ cup cheese in a line down middle of tortilla and heat until cheese is melted.  Transfer tortilla to plate.  Immediately add half the egg mixture on top of the melted cheese and fold over both sides of the tortilla so it looks like a burrito. Top with salsa, sour cream, spring onions and avocado slices, or garnish as desired. Repeat whole process using rest of egg mixture and other tortilla.





Fresh Tomato Salsa  (Makes approximately  1 ½ cups prepared salsa)


INGREDIENTS:
3-4 medium tomatoes
1 small piece white onion  (approximately one square inch)
1 small cilantro bunch (stems removed, about ½ cup)
Few sprinkles Garlic powder
2 – 3 slices pickled jalepeno (more or less depending on how spicy you want it)
¼ tsp salt (or to taste)

PREPARATION:   Halve tomatoes and put in food processor (NOT blender)  with the rest of  ingredients. Pulse until desired consistency.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  

      Banana Muffins

      Oh, do you know the muffin man,
      The muffin man, the muffin man,
      Oh, do you know the muffin man,
      That lives on Drury Lane?



      My kids love that song. And I must admit it is rather catchy. Luckily it was stuck in my head as I was wondering what to do with my toddler this afternoon. 


      Muffins! We will bake muffins! After trolling online through seemingly endless muffin recipes I finally found one that satisfied my holy trinity of baking recipes:  healthy, easy, and delicious! It seemed too good to be true. But these banana muffins from Cat Can Cook looked amazing! So, measuring cups in hand, we hoped to make our muffin magic.


      With over 1000 positive comments on her site for this recipe, Cat was right. Not only were these moist and delicious but  they were so easy that my 3 year old practically made them by himself. What a fun and yummy afternoon of mommy-son bonding. 


      Banana Muffins (makes 12 muffins) from Cat Can Cook


      3 or 4 Large bananas, mashed (the more bananas the moister, so I use 4)
      1/2 cup white sugar (original recipe calls for 1 cup, but I don’t like them too sweet)
      1 slightly beaten egg
      1/3 cup melted margarine or butter
      1 teaspoon baking soda
      1 teaspoon baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1 1/2 cups flour
      Mix the mashed banana, sugar, egg and margarine together. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Mix wet and dry ingredients all together. Pour into greased muffin tins, and bake in 350 degrees F oven for approximately 12-18 minutes. Enjoy!