Curry Pumpkin-Bean Soup

I’ve been moving at the speed of light these days. I’ve spent many early mornings and late nights at the airport as of late, and I think the allure of being transient is quickly wearing off. I miss my home and my bed and my kitchen!

I was fortunate enough to have a moment of peace yesterday, and I wasn’t about to let my pesky cold or the decreasing temperatures hold me back from making myself a yummy meal. Because I’ve been traveling so much, I haven’t really found the need to go to the grocery store, which left me with some strange options for dinner last night. But I managed to throw something pretty delicious together and I had to share!

Curry Pumpkin-Bean Soup
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: <5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
1 15oz can pumpkin purée
3-1/2 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 15oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp cream cheese

1. In a large pot, stir pumpkin, broth, beans, Italian seasoning, curry powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 7-8 minutes.
2. Using a blender or immersion blender, blend until smooth. Return to pot and reheat.
3. Stir in cheeses until melted. Serve hot.

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Coconut Curry Soup

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I’m only mildly obsessed with coconut. Once upon a time, I wouldn’t go near anything coconut, and while the texture of raw coconut is still somewhat off-putting to me, the flavor is like magic. See, it started when I accidentally bought almond-coconut milk instead of just almond milk. I was upset at first, but then I tried this new milk in my Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie and was hooked. I decided to try new coconut recipes by incorporating coconut oil into many dishes and using coconut milk (the thick kind in a can, not the drinking kind).

Where has coconut milk been my whole life, by the way? It is an elixir sent from the heavens, I think. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the versatility of coconut milk, and that it is used in probably 99% of my favorite Thai dishes. It’s thick and creamy and slightly sweet and has this beautiful coconut flavor without being too overpowering. In an effort to be calorie and nutrition conscious, I generally buy a lite version of coconut milk, but those few and far between times when I let myself indulge and buy the full fat version… it’s magnificent.

Chirag and I love Asian foods of all kind: Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and of course Indian. There was a time when we ate some kind of Asian food, either take out or at a restaurant, at minimum once a week. But I’ve come to realize that Asian food is deceptively unhealthy. Those wonderfully delicious sauces in which my veggies and tofu swim are fully of oils and salt. My crispy tofu is fried. My veggies are too. Asian foods don’t have to be this way! Making these recipes at home saves you calories, as well as time and money. Additionally, my wok is probably my most underutilized kitchen item, even though it’s easily one of the best items I own. Also, I love using meatless products by Gardein in lieu of meat (obviously) and tofu. I’ve found that, since these products are mostly frozen, they are quicker and easier to cook with than tofu, and because they have so many products that can be used in so many different ways, it’s nice to have a few packages on hand.

Coconut Curry Soup 
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:
1/4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp garlic-ginger paste
1 package Gardein mandarin orange crispy chick’n (discard sauce package)
16 oz. (1 bag) frozen vegetable stir fry mix (or separately: broccoli, snap peas, red bell peppers, carrots, water chestnuts, and/or other vegetables to your liking)
4 oz. frozen yellow corn
1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
15 oz. lite coconut milk
2 Tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce, or to taste

  1. Heat coconut oil in a wok or a large saute pan over medium-high. Add garlic-ginger paste, stir and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add Gardein crispy chick’n, and cook according to package instructions.
  3. To the chick’n, mix in frozen vegetables, and stir until all vegetables are no longer frozen, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  4. Mix in red curry paste. Use the back of your spoon or cooking spatula to break down the paste, and to evenly coat the vegetables and chick’n.
  5. Slowly pour in coconut milk and sriracha. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 5-7 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked but still slightly crisp.
  6. Serve hot, either alone as a soup or over a bed of jasmine rice.

 

Corn Nu Shaak

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As a little girl, I would cry whenever my mom made Indian food for dinner. And not just cry — I would sit at the table for hours and hours, sobbing with each bite my mother made me eat, refusing every step of the way. My poor parents. I sometimes wonder why they put up with me at the dinner table.

Nowadays, I am kind of obsessed with Indian food, and I try to make my own. I’m not nearly as talented as my mom was, or my aunt and grandma are, but I’m slowly understanding the ins and outs of Indian cooking. The most intimidating part of Indian cooking isn’t the actual cooking — it’s the lengthy list of ingredients that precedes each recipe, ingredients that are half in English and half in my family’s language, Gujarati. Many years ago, my aunt, Swatimasi, gave my mom a beautiful handmade cookbook with pressed flowers on the cover, and earthen colored pages. The recipes are beyond delicious, and as I scanned each page (after Swatimasi translated certain words for me), I realized, Indian food isn’t actually that difficult. It takes a little practice to get it right, but once you nail the basics down, it’s simple to just throw a meal together in a snap.

I recently was craving my favorite Indian vegetable dish which consists of spiced okra (bhinda nu shaak), but alas, I couldn’t find okra anywhere. I decided to keep the recipe the same, but substitute corn instead. There are vegetable dishes (also known as shaak or subzi/subji) that involve corn, but none of them are my favorite and tend to involve a lot of tomato. I wanted the base flavors of my bhinda, but with corn instead. I used my rice cooker to cook up some fluffy basmati rice, and made a nice big bowl of Gujarati Khadi (warm, tangy, spiced yogurt soup — recipe coming soon), and served everything up with a generous portion of nostalgia.

Corn nu Shaak
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients (see notes):
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1-1/2 cup frozen yellow corn
1/4 tsp dhana jeera powder (ground cumin and ground coriander blend)
a pinch of asafoetida
A pinch of turmeric
A pinch of red chili powder or cayanne pepper powder, or more to taste
Salt, to taste
1/4 Tbsp lemon juice

  1. In a medium sauce pan with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Test heat of oil by dropping one cumin seed in — if the oil begins to sputter, then it is ready. Add cumin and mustard seeds and saute for about a minute.
  2. Add corn, dhana jeera, and asafoetida, and stir well to coat corn evenly.
  3. Once the corn is no longer frozen in the pot, add turmeric, red chili powder and salt. Mix well and lower stove heat slightly. Cover for 5-7 minutes, or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add lemon juice, and mix. Serve hot with chapathi, rice, daal, and/or kadhi.

Notes:
Some of these ingredients may seem slightly foreign to you, but fear not! Every ingredient can be found in a specialty Indian or Asian grocer, and most can be found in Whole Foods, World Market, or a specialty spice store.

Dhana jeera can be purchased as a blend in Indian markets; however, you can always buy ground coriander and ground cumin separately, and mix your own blend.

If you haven’t cooked with asafoetida, here’s a warning: it smells insane and mostly unpleasant. But once cooked, it adds great flavor to a dish. A little goes a long way with this one!

Oven-Grilled Naan Pizza

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mmm pizza. There is something about the combination of warm tomato sauce and melted cheese that just drives me crazy. I could probably eat pizza every day. In fact, I have before — oh, college. Despite my fondness for pizza though, I’ve never come up with the perfect pizza. For me, prepared dough never cooks fully and evenly, and homemade dough takes WAY too long to make. Pre-made crusts taste funny, and ordering pizza from the local pizza shops can get pricey and unhealthy really fast.

On Sunday, before our flights home, Kinjal made us all pita pizzas — individual sized pizzas on pocketless pita bread. It was the perfect size for an early dinner/late afternoon pre-flight snack. When I got home, I wanted more. I was officially hooked. When I started experimenting in my kitchen, I remembered the one summer that my mom wanted a grill for her birthday and mother’s day. My dad bought her an amazing outdoor grill, which she used every single day during the summer. Everything we ate had some grilled element to it: grilled corn, grilled veggie burgers, grilled tostadas, and grilled pita pizzas. Kunal and I laughed on Sunday as we remembered how many grilled pita pizzas we had. At least 100, or so we claim. But they were delicious, so it’s a really wonderful memory.

I wanted to recreate that grilled crispiness, but I am limited by my apartment, and the fact that it’s getting cold, not to mention that it gets dark by 6pm now. Further limiting, my grocery store was also out of pita bread (what?!), so I picked up a package of garlic naan (2 large pieces, 4 servings per package) and figured, they’re kind of the same.

But I moved forward. I fired up my oven, threw my grill pan in and got everything hot, then baked my naan pizza until it was crispy and melty and yummy. What a success!! One major warning though: don’t forget to wear oven mitts when touching the grill pan… it gets SUPER hot. And don’t have a grill pan?? A baking sheet or cast iron skillet will work just fine. Just use the same method. Although, I highly recommend a grill pan, just in general. Mine has changed my life in so many good ways!

Oven-Grilled Naan Pizza
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes (see notes)

Ingredients:
2 large pieces, garlic naan (or plain naan, rubbed with garlic, or plain pita bread, rubbed with garlic)
1 jar, traditional pizza sauce
1/2 cup, reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup, baby spinach
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning

  1. Place oven-safe grill pan in oven, and heat oven to 425°F. Once heated, remove grill pan carefully, and place on high heat-safe surface.
  2. Place naan on grill pan, and top with sauce, cheese and spinach. Sprinkle half of the crushed red pepper and Italian seasoning onto the top of the pizzas. Bake for 8-12 minutes (see notes), or until naan is crispy on the the bottom and sides, and cheese has melted and is bubbly.
  3. Sprinkle remaining red pepper and Italian seasoning onto the top of each pizza.

Notes:
Depending on the size of your grill pan and naans, you may need to cook each naan separately. Bake each for 8 minutes separately, or 12 minutes together.
One serving is half of a naan pizza.
Use this recipe to make your favorite pizza, with all of your favorite pizza toppings!

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Pav Bhaji

This past weekend was wonderful. I spent three and a half days at my brother, Kunal’s, home with his wife, Kinjal, and their little baby, Sonia. Chirag came too, and we surprised my dad, who had a long layover between flights. I cannot describe how truly great is was to have the whole family together after such a long time. Also, having a 3-month old baby around makes every day so much better. I have officially become that creepy aunt who is obsessed with her niece, but I can’t help it! I just love her so much!

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Anyway, the weekend was spent playing with the baby, and endlessly chatting with Kinjal, and of course, eating! Kinjal is literally a super mom — she spends her days caring for Sonia, who at 3-months is the most adorable handful, but she also spent the weekend baking cookies and making delicious meals for us. I was so grateful to get such lovely homecooked meals during my visit, and I know Chirag was too.

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One of the best meals we had was pav bhaji. This meal is a staple for our family. It is super easy to make, really satisfying, and everyone always loves it. Whenever we are all together, there’s a good chance we’ll be having pav bhaji for at least one meal. Kinjal and I made it for dinner on Saturday, but it’s one of those meals that you can make in the morning, or the day before, and just reheat it when you’re ready to eat. Leftovers keep really well for about 3 days in the fridge, or a week in the freezer. You can also use leftover pav bhaji to make a toasted sandwich, which is super yummy too! The bhaji is a mixture of cooked vegetables and spices which is packed with nutrients and flavor. The bhaji is served with pav, or lightly toasted, buttered buns. Together, they make an “Indian Sloppy Joe” of sorts!

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Pav Bhaji
Serves: 6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
3 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets (about 3-4 cups) and boiled until soft
1/2 cup carrots, chopped and boiled until fork tender
1/3 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 green chilli peppers, slit lengthwise (optional)
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
Salt, to taste
2-3 cups tomato puree
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 Tbsp pav bhaji masala, or more to taste (see notes)
1 Tbsp butter, or butter substitute
1 Tbsp lemon juice, or more to taste
6 low-fat hamburger buns, lightly buttered

  1. In a large bowl, mash together potatoes, cauliflower and carrots until combined. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, and add onions and chilli peppers. Saute until onions start to become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add turmeric, red chili powder and ginger-garlic paste, and saute for an additional 2 minutes, or until onions are soft.
  3. Add cooked onions and chilli peppers to potato mixture, and stir to combine. Season with salt. Stir in tomato puree, frozen peas and pav bhaji masala until well combined.
  4. Return seasoned potato mixture (bhaji) to the large pot, and simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in 1 Tbsp butter and lemon juice.
  5. In the meantime, toast buns (pav) on a stovetop griddle, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides. Serve the pav and bhaji together, with sliced onions, lemon juice and/or spicy mango pickle.

Notes:
Pav Bhaji Masala is a premixed blend of spices that can be found in an Indian grocery store. Alternatively, you can make your own using this recipe.

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One Pot Taco Stew

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Today was one of those days where the dress code consisted of sweatpants and messy hair, and I spent the majority of my day lounging while Chirag watched football. It was wonderful, and lazy, and the restful day that I needed before another long work week begins.

I took Chirag to the airport this evening, and had to drive home in torrential downpour. The rain was necessary, but even in the 30 second walk from my car to the front door of my apartment, I was soaking wet and cold. I needed something warm and filling for dinner, and something that would pack up well for lunch tomorrow. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking, and I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning. I needed a “one pot” dinner that wouldn’t take a lot of energy, and I really think that I struck gold with this one! I love the tropical combination of coconut oil and lime, with the rich mixture of beans and creamy cheese. Salsa fills out the dish without making it heavy.

One Pot Taco Stew
Serves: 6 generous portions
Preparation Time: <5 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 cup brown rice
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added black beans
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added pinto beans
1 can (15 oz) no sodium added diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp salsa
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 wedge Laughing Cow Light Queso Fresco & Chipotle
3 Tbsp low fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup baby spinach
Suggested garnishes: cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa, Greek yogurt, lettuce, avocado, baked tortilla chips

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions, and cook until translucent. Add in rice, stir to coat with oil, and cook for about a minute.
  2. Add in black beans, pinto beans, tomatoes, salsa, lime juice, oregano, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, cumin and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a bowl, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Stir occasionally until rice is fully cooked through.
  3. Remove pot from heat, and stir in cheese wedge and shredded cheese until melted and stew becomes thick. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Serve hot.

Notes:
This dish can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for 3-5 days, or frozen in an air-tight container for 2 weeks.
Instead of coconut oil, olive oil can be used.

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Spinach-Cheese Balls with Angel Hair Pasta

There are very few foods that I sometimes feel like I’m truly missing out on as a vegetarian. I’ve always thought that chicken wings were really fun looking, and a good cheeseburger would hit the spot. But as a young girl, one of the things I really, really wanted was a meatball. Do you remember that old song and story, “On Top of Spaghetti,” the one where someone sneezes and the meatball onto of a pile of spaghetti rolls away? I think that was my first introduction to meatballs, and they seemed fascinating.

My mom used to make a pretty amazing substitute to meatballs. Indian-style cheese balls, filled with paneer and green chilies. They were spicy and crunchy, yet soft, and took a considerable amount of time to make, so in our house, they were rare. Saved only for special occasions, or when Kunal and I begged relentlessly and mom caved, they were the highlight of pasta night. Kunal and I bickered over the biggest ones and the crunchiest ones and, of course, the last one, because they were so important to us. I mean, we argued about all things food related, and sometimes still do, because food is just that important.

Last night, my BFF Alli came over for a “Vampire” themed dinner, in celebration for the season premiere of our favorite show, “The Vampire Diaries,” and the series premiere of its spin-off, “The Originals.” Yes, a night of really beautiful vampires. See below for exhibit A.

Alli brought spooky looking red sangria and fizzy black raspberry sodas (that looked just like blood!), and made yummy pumpkin cheesecake brownies. I made roasted garlic crostini (because you know, vampires and garlic), olive tapanade crostini, and beet and fennel salad. We made the entree together in a tag-team effort: Alli made the pasta and sauce, while I made a more Americanized version of cheese balls. Alli’s palate doesn’t tolerate a lot of spice and heat (even though you’re getting better, Al!), so I didn’t think that chilies would be a great idea. I also wanted to incorporate vegetables into the dish, because there were a whole lot of carbs on our menu, so I threw some spinach. This recipe is adapted from here.

Some pictures from the night!
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Spinach-Cheese Balls with Angel Hair Pasta
Serves: 20
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
9 oz (1 box) frozen chopped spinach
1 egg, beaten
1 cup shredded reduced fat mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
Cooking spray
Serve with: cooked angel hair pasta with marinara sauce.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or baking paper.
  2. Remove spinach from pouch, and place in colander. Rinse with warm water, turning and breaking apart occasionally, until completely thawed. Drain well. Using a paper towel, squeeze spinach to remove water.
  3. In the meantime, mix together egg, all cheeses, sour cream, olive oil, salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder and oregano. Stir until well combined.
  4. Stir in spinach, and mix well.
  5. Slowly add flour, a half cup at a time, until a stiff dough is formed.
  6. Shape spinach-cheese mixture into 1″ balls (about 40 balls). Roll spinach-cheese balls in breadcrumbs to coat evenly, and place on baking sheet.
  7. Spray the tops of the spinach-cheese balls with cooking spray, and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown.
  8. Serve on top of angel hair pasta with marinara sauce.

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