Grilled rustic bread with a tomato topping

By Shalini Kolluri

Grilled rustic bread can support a variety of toppings. However, the cherry tomato and olive topping is my favorite. Not only is this recipe quick and relatively easy, it is also light and full of flavor. One bite into this delicious appetizer and you can appreciate how beautifully the flavors and aromas work together.

Dill – This is a unique plant as its seeds and leaves can be used for seasoning. This herb originated in Russia and Scandinavia. Over time, it has made several appearances in today’s fusion food and central European cuisines. It contains a full array of nutrients such as, fiber, sugars, sodium and amino acids. The wispy and fern like leaves have a soft and sweet taste.

I prefer using dill in this recipe as it subtly compliments the other ingredients used here. You could substitute it with thyme or basil too.

Hope you like this recipe. Let me know what you think.

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Ingredients:-

8 slices of rustic bread (1 inch thick)

1 clove of garlic (cut in half crosswise)

Salt

½ cup olives (sliced)

1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in halves

Dill springs (for garnish)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon Chili flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Method:-

Heat grill to medium. Toast the bread slices until golden brown, for 4 minutes on each side. (or you can toast the slices on a skillet on medium-high for 2-3 minutes on each side.)

Remove the toasts from the grill and immediately rub with cut side of garlic head. This brings out the fragrance of garlic.

Drizzle the olive oil generously on the toast. Sprinkle with salt and oregano.

Toss tomatoes and olives with vinegar, a drizzle of oil and chili flakes.

Spoon onto toasts and garnish with a few dill springs. Best served immediately.image

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Sesame asparagus

By Shalini Kolluri

Did you know that water makes up 93% of asparagus? It is low in calories and low in sodium level too!! Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, let me be a sweetheart and give you some more good news.This wonder vegetable is a great source of vitamin B6, dietary fiber, folic acid and potassium too!

Asparagus is most commonly eaten in Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Turkey. Although, the first time I ate it was at a local restaurant in China town.I remember being  blown away by its subtle and unique taste.

Freshness is key to the perfect flavor of asparagus. It is always good to check if the stems are firm and have a velvety sheen. The tips should always be firm and intact. Trimming off the rough ends before cooking is advised since they don’t get tender like the rest of the vegetable. Asparagus does a great job of working with various flavors and absorbs the essence of garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame or lemon. The best way to know is to start experimenting with different kinds of flavors.

The wonder that is sesame oil –

Sesame oil can improve heart health by reducing the risk of coronary damage and lowering your blood pressure when it’s high. Not only is it a great anti-oxidant and anti-cancer agent, it also makes your skin glow like nothing else! Receiving massages with sesame oil is really popular in India. According to ayurveda, this practice, is supposed to increase the blood circulation to your skin, calm your nerves and sleep better at night!

I prefer doing most of my stir frying with sesame oil. Hope you love this recipe as much as I do.

Ingredients:-

1 splash of olive oil

2 teaspoons sesame oil (heat pressed)

1 pound fresh asparagus trimmed (cut off the rough ends)

½ tea spoon kosher salt / Himalayan black salt

4-5 teaspoons water

A pinch of ground pepper

¼ teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)

Method:-

In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil over high medium-high.

Add the asparagus into the oil and then add the salt and pepper to this.

Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes.

Add the water, and continue to cook until easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, for another 3 minutes.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds and the remaining 1 teaspoon of sesame oil and serve.

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Bitter melon love

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By Tenzin Kheshong

Bitter melon is a hard vegetable to sell to someone who hasn’t eaten it before. It’s not one of those vegetables that people easily fall in love with. It’s an acquired taste, I tell my husband. Unfortunately he doesn’t buy (or bite, rather) that theory. It doesn’t help that the melon looks as it does. Nonetheless, I have tried to cook it more often at home so that he slowly gets used to its taste and we lead a somewhat healthier life.

20151023_154347The first time a non bitter melon-eater tastes it, they will probably swear it is their last time too. I don’t blame them. I felt that way too when I first started eating it. Even now, I can’t eat it any other way but fried. The crispiness takes away a bit of the bitter taste in the mouth. But I didn’t like that fact that it was soaked in oil. Frying it sort of defeats the purpose of this very healthy vegetable.

I knew bitter melon was good for diabetes. But a simple search on the web shows that this vegetable is great for treating many other ailments – from cancer to digestion. This website has more details of the health benefits of bitter melon.

Last spring my aunt visited my sister and me and she brought with her, a new, healthier bitter melon recipe! Ever since then, I’ve changed the way I cook this vegetable. Just a little salt and butter is all it takes. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

-Bitter melon

-Salt

-Butter

Method:

  1. Cut the bitter melon into thin slices
  2. 20151023_154247I add the salt at this stage and let it rest for at least an hour (so that I can squeeze out a bit of the juice and the bitterness later)
  3. 20151023_155124On a non-stick pan, add a small amount of butter. I add enough to coat the pan when the butter melts.
  4. If you are okay with all the bitterness of the vegetable, you can add it to the pan at this stage. But I squeeze out the juice a little (it’s more palatable for my husband) and then add it to the pan.
  5. 20150329_140952On medium flame, let the bitter melon cook. Spread it across the pan so that it cooks evenly. Stir it as a few times to cook both the sides of the bitter melon.
  6. 20150528_111018It should take about 15 to 20 minutes to become crisp.
  7. IMG_2529Notes:

-To me, this recipe tastes best eaten immediately because it is still crisp.

-I always make this a side dish. The taste can be overpowering even for me, so I blend the strong flavor of this vegetable with a main course.

-If you are trying bitter melon for the first time, I suggest you don’t buy too many. Maybe two is enough just to get a taste of the vegetable. But I assure you, as you eat it more often, you will soon start enjoying the bitterness.

Cashew onion dip

By Shalini Kolluri

I usually prefer eating my roasted potatoes with the creamy cashew onion dip.

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A well made cashew dip can serve as a starting point for those of you who just like me, want to start weaning off cheese.  Although it isn’t the perfect substitute, it is still finger-lickin’ good. Once you get the hang of making a basic dip, it is so much fun to start playing around with different flavors. You could make a basil cashew dip or a garlic cashew dip depending on your taste. I’ll be happy to include a few different versions of the cashew dip later on in the blog.

Ingredients:-

1 cup cashews soaked for 2 hours

½ teaspoon lemon juice

½  hot green chili (or 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes)

5 tablespoons plain water

Cilantro (washed and chopped for garnish)

½ small red onion

Salt to taste

Method:-

Put all the ingredients except the water and cilantro into the blender / food processor and pulse.

Gradually add the water into the mixture depending on how thick you want your dip to be.

Once the desired consistency is reached add in the cilantro.image

Skillet roasted potatoes

By Shalini Kolluri

Russet potatoes, sometimes known as Idaho potatoes are perfect for baking and frying due to their low water and high starch content. Though I usually like my potatoes baked, this time however, I’ve decided to roast them the good old fashioned way.

I love potatoes because they are really multipurpose. They can be baked, mashed, fried, sautéed and pureed. They can be savory or sweet. They can be the main course or a snack.

Ingredients :-

1 clove garlic (minced)

3 table spoons canola oil

¼ cayenne powder

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ cup cilantro (washed and finely chopped)

3 large russet potatoes

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

Pinch of turmeric (optional)

Method:-

Wash the potatoes in cold water, drain well; and peel them. Chop them into cubes or wedges.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed non-stick skillet over medium-high. Add garlic and cumin seeds.

When the oil begins to sizzle and the garlic turns fragrant, put the potato pieces in the oil cut side down in a single layer and allow them to turn golden brown without stirring them

After 8 minute, with the help of a pair of tongs turn the potato pieces over to the other side in order to make sure that all sides of the piece maintain contact with the sizzling oil and turn golden-brown.

Cook the potatoes until they are tender (Paring knife can be inserted into the potatoes without resistance)

When they are tender and golden brown, stir in the salt, cayenne powder, lemon juice and cilantro.

Remove from stove. Best eaten with a yummy dip!

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-By Shalini Kolluri

Whole Wheat pasta with roasted sugar pumpkin chunks

By Shalini Kolluri

Pumpkins are synonymous with the upcoming holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Be it Jack-o’- lanterns, pumpkin pies or pumpkin spice lattes, this orange gourd is a quintessential representation of fall. This holiday season, I take it upon myself to make thorough use of my favorite kind of pumpkin, the sugar pumpkin.image

Four awesome reasons to eat your pumpkin-

  • They are rich in anti-oxidants that boost your immunity and offer anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • The seeds and the pulp are high in magnesium that is great for your bone health.
  • They contain fiber that helps you drop pounds and maintain digestive health.
  • Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tryptophan that helps elevate your mood. So long gloomy days!

Ingredients:-

½ small sugar pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon Manuka honey

8 ounces whole wheat pasta (medium shells pasta)

3 garlic cloves minced

¼ cup chopped parsley leaves

¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

½ cup grated Parmigiano – Reggiano

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

Method:-

In a skillet heat 1 tablespoons of olive oil.

Roast the pumpkin chunks until tender or slightly charred.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water until it is cooked.

While the pasta is cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and the garlic in a small skillet over low-medium until fragrant.

Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta. In a large bowl, toss the pasta with ½ a cup of pasta water and stir in the pepper, garlic and cheese. Season with parsley and oregano.

Add the roasted pumpkin and Manuka honey. Mix and serve.

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Spicy cilantro eggplant

By Shalini Kolluri

The rich aromas of fresh cilantro and fried eggplant bring back fond memories of my childhood. My mother almost always made this recipe during family gatherings and feasts.

She often advised me to balance the sour flavor in my recipe with a pinch sugar. This little tip not only enhanced the taste but, also delicately counterbalanced the pungent acidity that many ingredients bring to the food.

Take marinara for instance, adding carrots or some sugar to the sauce neutralizes the acidity in the tomatoes beautifully. Sometimes, a hint of agave cleverly masks the sourness of vinegar in a salad dressing.

Traditionally this south Indian recipe uses tamarind (sour) and jaggery (sweet). The two strong ingredients that compliment one another. However, I have decided to use raw honey and lemon juice instead.

The goodness of honey:

Honey is also called ‘Madhu’ in the Ayurvedic texts, which means ‘the perfection of sweet’.

Honey is a natural super food as it contains valuable vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, natural sugars and enzymes that aid digestion. To extract the maximum benefits from honey, it is best not to use it very hot (above 40 degrees C) or with very spicy food.

Hope you enjoy making one of my favorite versions of eggplant!

Ingredients:-

2 tablespoons canola oil
4 Japanese eggplants
Salt as needed
2 cups cilantro (washed and chopped)
1/2 table spoon raw honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 or 2 cayenne chili peppers

Method:-

Dice the eggplant in thin circles. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high. Add the eggplant in. It may splatter a bit, especially during the first minute or so of cooking.

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Fry the slices on each side.

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In the meantime, while the eggplant slices are cooking, add 1 cup of chopped fresh cilantro and 1 or 2 cayenne chili peppers into a blender. With a teaspoon of water blend the ingredients into a coarse paste.

Add the cilantro chili paste to the eggplant once the slices are golden-brown and tender.

Stir in the salt and reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from stove and wait for it to cool down. Add honey and lemon juice and mix.

Serve with brown rice.

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Stir Fried Spinach and Tofu

By Shalini Kolluri

When Popeye ate his spinach I knew he became strong enough to beat up Bluto, but little did I know that he was also reducing his chances of having asthma, constipation and heart disease.

Spinach is extremely versatile. It has made its mark in almost all the cuisines of the world today. It not only adds a lovely color to your dish, it makes it super healthy too.

Being a self-taught student of Ayurveda, I understand that spinach is more than just a source of fiber, minerals and Vitamin K. In ancient India it was known to be a cooling medicine that helps your skin glow and keeps those nasty headaches at bay.

Eating raw spinach in salads is really popular now, but that may not be the best way to consume it since it has a high content of oxalic acid that promotes gout and arthritis. Boiling spinach is the best way to decrease the content of oxalic acid.

Here’s one simple recipe that uses my favorite leafy vegetable.

Ingredients:-

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ package extra firm tofu

Coarse salt as needed

1 red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon Cumin seeds

½ teaspoon ground pepper

½ teaspoon Coriander seeds crushed

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

1 pound baby spinach

2 tablespoons low-fat yogurt

2 cups brown rice

Method:-

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium flame. Add tofu and cook, until golden brown for about ten minutes. Add pepper and salt. Stir it and transfer it to a plate.

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Heat the other tablespoon of oil in a pan. Add garlic, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and crushed coriander seeds and cook, stirring, until the spices are toasted.

Add the spinach and cook, until just wilted for 5 to 7 minutes.

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Remove from stove and wait for it to cool down.

Stir in the yogurt and add salt as needed. Serve with brown rice.

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R-Rated Blackstrap Molasses Muffins 

Have you ever tasted blackstrap molasses?  It has a bittersweet robustness that rounds off well into a smooth aftertaste. I substituted it in muffins  for sugar while adapting from a recipe published in the Tassajara Bread Book and I managed to concoct some of the most sprightly muffins I have tasted in a long long time. But I must add that the muffins, tempered in sweetness and resplendant in a molasses-ness, are more suited to an adult palate; perfect for those seeking to infuse their diets and bodies with deliciuos yet nutrient-rich foods. However, my two-year-old, who has adventurous taste buds, is gobbling them up too!

The recipe is yours to have but first a little background on blackstrap molasses, a kickass ingredient that has the potential to be the next big thing, toeing the same line as culinary stalwarts such as bacon and cayenne.

Blackstrap is the dark viscous molasses that is left over after vigorous extraction of sugar from sugar cane. The third boiling of sugar syrup leads to this beauty.

Unlike refined sugars, BS is rich in iron, calcium, other minerals and vitamins. Also, it has no fat, making it a fantastic sweetener for both health nuts and weight watchers.

Now the recipe that got my heart racing and fingers blogging after a phenomenally long time —

You will need: 

(For 12 muffins)

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

1/2 cup blackstrap molasses

3/4 cup fruit juice – mango, orange, guava or berry or a mix of any of them.

3/4 cup milk

Two heaped teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder

Method —

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix the dry ingredients and then the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients till it forms a smooth batter. Do not over-mix.

The fruit juice gives the muffins some additional natural sugar and the cocoa deepens the brown and gives the muffins an appetizing look.

Once the batter is smooth, add the batter to the cups of a greased or lined muffin pan.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Once done, store in airtight containers. If you are freezing them, use a plastic wrap.

All the best. Let me know what you think.