As someone who loves a good meal, cooking one, came to me as a natural passion. I belong to a family where meal times consisted of not just food, but also noisy conversation centered around the events of the day and discussing the menu for the next. (ah yes, we are a greedy lot! )

For the most part of my life so far, my contribution in the kitchen was assisting mom and my duties were limited, to chopping veggies and laying the table. Then along came the great Indian wedding, and I was suddenly the queen of my very own kingdom. My curiosity about this magical world, coupled with an enthusiastic sous-chef (my husband, Vineet), led me to take on the challenge of preparing meals on a daily basis, and not succumbing to the convenience of hiring a cook.

This blog is a product of my experiments with food (not all are life threatening :D) for my fellow culinary enthusiasts - especially the newly weds and hungry bachelors and is dedicated to the women who've inspired me in the kitchen;
Aji (s),Ma and Nigella Lawson.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pesto Spaghetti with Garlic Prawns & Oven-roasted Tomatoes

Phew! Its been a marathon blogging session today. I've been a bit slow with these posts and had them lying around in my drafts for the past couple of weeks. Therefore, today I am on a mission. To bring all you folks up to speed with all the gorgeous stuff that has been cooking in my kitchen these past few weeks!

A little while ago an item on the menu of this restaurant I eat at occasionally caught my eye. They were serving a Pesto penne with sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and grilled chicken.
Vineet and I loooove fresh basil pesto, so I whipped some up and decided to make my version of Pesto pasta for dinner last Friday.
Long golden strands of Spaghetti, coated in a fresh, flavorful basil-pecan pesto, with some divine sauteed garlic prawns and roasted cherry tomatoes... just SO good!

Ingredients for Pesto: (Makes about 1 cup)
- 1 large bunch of Basil leaves, rinsed and drained and roughly torn
- 2-3 cloves of Garlic, peeled
- 1/2 cup Pecans (or Walnuts), lightly toasted and roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp Sunflower seeds, lightly toasted (optional)
- 1/2 cup good Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt, to taste
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)about 1/2 cup

Ingredients for Pasta: (Serves 2)
- 2-3 handfuls of Spaghetti
- 10-12 large Prawns, de-veined (tail-on prawns just make for a better presentation!)
- 2-3 cloves of Garlic, finely minced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- EVOO, a couple of table spoons
- 1/2 cup good Parmesan cheese, grated
- Salt & Pepper, to taste.

1.)  To make the pesto, place all the ingredients except the salt and EVOO in a food processor. Pulse till the basil and other ingredients are well minced. Add the Olive oil little by little and buzz after each addition till the whole pesto comes together to a smooth (or chunky if you like it that way) consistency. Lightly season with salt. Set aside.

2.)  Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Line a baking sheet with some aluminum foil. Scatter the cherry tomatoes and drizzle with some olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25-30 mins or till their skins are wrinkled and they are slightly charred in parts. Keep warm.

3.) While the tomatoes roast, place the prawns in a bowl. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil and lightly season with some salt and pepper. Add the minced garlic and allow the prawns in soak in all the flavours.

4.) Cook the spaghetti in a pot of boiling, lightly salted water till al dente. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Pour the prepared pesto and gently toss to coat the pasta evenly. Cover and keep warm.

5.) Right before its time to serve, heat a non-stick pan until very hot. Lower the heat a little and add the prawns along with the oil and garlic that they have been marinating in. Saute the prawns until nice and golden on both sides.

6.)  Plate the pesto-coated Spaghetti as elegantly as you possibly can. Arrange the garlicky prawns on top and dot the pasta with the roasted cherry tomatoes. Grate some Parmesan cheese and garnish with some fresh basil.

Oh this stuff is so good! The mild yet prominent flavors of the pesto with the prawns and the charred acidity of the tomatoes.... that is magic right there! Buon appetito! :)

Brinda's Bengali Style Mustard Prawns

My dear Brinda,
I owe you the biggest apology. I have made this recipe a gazillion times after the first time I had this at that lunch party you hosted oh-so-many Sundays ago and it is only now that I am getting around to posting it.
I'm sad that you are moving back home to India, but thrilled because you can now mail me cartons of Kasundi :) So, this one is dedicated to you my friend. Burrrrp!

OK, given the delayed-ness of this post, I will give you guys quick description about this gorgeous Bengali style prawn curry made with mustard oil, fresh coconut and green chiles.
The star ingredient of this curry however, is the humble "Kasundi" - a tangy, pungent mustard sauce made with fresh mustard, vinegar and chiles and a host of other stuff that we don't need to worry about because we buy this ready-made in a bottle.
For folks in Singapore, Kasundi is sold at Mustafa centre (big surprise! right? LOL). For folks in Pune, I stocked up on my supply at Dorabjees during a recent trip back home, and for those in Delhi, make your way to the nearest Bengali market.
For those in other locations, please beg (or threaten) your Bengali friends for some or ask where you can get your hands on this... its worth the effort. Trust me!
Brinda, like the true blue Bengali she is, makes this using ONLY fresh prawns, but when I'm craving this, I've  taken the easier route and used frozen ones.

I've recently learnt an interesting trick to cheating and making frozen prawns taste as good as fresh ones -- marinate thawed prawns in plain salt for abt 10 mins. Then rinse. The salt helps 'plump' up the frozen prawns and lends them that fresh seawater flavour ;) Hooray for short cuts!
OH and BTW, this whole thing comes together in less than 15 mins from start to finish because its a microwave recipe, which makes cleaning up a breeze!

Ingredients: (Serves 2)
- 15-20 large frozen Prawns, thawed & de-veined
- 2-3 cloves of Garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp Mustard Oil
- 1/2 cup Kasundi sauce
- 1 green Chile (2 if you like it spicy!)
- 3/4 cup fresh grated Coconut
- 1 small Tomato, finely chopped
- Salt, as per preferance

1.)  In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the mustard oil and crushed garlic together. Tip the cleaned prawns in and toss gently to ensure each prawn is coated in the marinade. Set aside.

2.)  While the prawns marinate, blend the Kasundi sauce and green chile in a food processor till the chile is nicely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the grated coconut. Pulse till the whole mixture comes together nicely.

3.)  Pour the mustard-chile-coconut paste over the marinated prawns. Add the chopped tomato and mix well. Season with salt.

This curry isn't very runny, so if you like it on the thinner side like Vineet and I do, then add a few tablespoons of water to the mix.

4.)  Now, cover the bowl allowing a little gap for the steam to escape and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Uncover, gently mix and microwave for another 5 minutes...and... Done!

Enjoy this with some steamed rice. YUM!  

Moroccan Beef Keftas in Tomato-Date Sauce

A couple of weekends ago I was watching this new show on the Food Network called "Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco". Minutes into the show I found myself drooooling over the Beef Kefta Kebabs that she was cooking up, complete with a Tomato-Date Sauce served over a bed of fluffy Couscous... sigh! Food heaven! I'm guessing that the fact that I had skipped lunch that afternoon fueled my imagination and I actually pictured myself weightless and floating through the air toward the TV, much like a Tom & Jerry cartoon!!
But ofcourse, I had to read up on what these gorgeous Kefta's were all about and cook them that very weekend!
Kefta, one of Morocco's most popular streetfoods, are seasoned, spicy meatballs that may be cooked on a grill or also in a pan. I was surprised when I saw that the list of ingredients that went into this dish, aside from the ground meat and tinned tomatoes were very standard pantry staples in my Indian kitchen!
This recipe was so simple and the ingredients so easy to source that it hardly needed any substitution or reinventing from Jenny's original. My only intervention was adjusting (increasing) the amount of powdered spices as I felt the original quantities did little for my Indian taste buds, as well as including chopped mint in the kebabs. In cases like this where there are so many spices going in, I'd encourage you to follow your gut and adjust them to your liking and to use the numbers that I've put down as just a guideline.

Also, I made a big batch of Kebabs (about 30) and froze half to use for later. The sauce on the other hand is quantified for one time use for about 2-3 persons.
Serve these up along with some Couscous  or some steamed brown rice for your next exotic dinner party, or a nice romantic meal for two... and I guarantee you wont care who's looking when you're licking the plates clean! :)

Ingredients - for the Kefta Kebabs: 
(Makes about 30 kebabs)
- 500g ground/minced Beef or Lamb
- 2 medium Onions, finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves of Garlic, crushed
- 1-1/2 tsp ground Fennel seeds (saunf powder)
- 1 tsp Nutmeg powder
- 1 tsp (more if you want it hot!) Red chili powder
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- 1 tsp Cinnamon powder
- Small bunch coriander or parsley finely chopped
- Small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried mint will also do)
- Salt & Pepper, as per taste

Ingredients - for Tomato-Date Sauce:

- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 med. Onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves of Garlic, crushed
- 1 tin chopped Tomatos
- 1 tin whole peeled Tomatoes
- 1 handful seedless Dates
- 2 long Brinjals (aka Eggplants), thinly sliced along the length
- 1 tsp Fennel powder
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- Salt, pepper & dried red chili flakes, as per taste

1.)  To make the keftas, combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well using your hands to ensure even distribution of all the seasonings and shape small scoops of meat into bullet shaped kebabs (see photo above).
If you're making the big batch of 30 like I did, arrange half on a grease proof paper and freeze. Once they harden, you can transfer the kebabs into a ziplock bag and stash them in the freezer.

2.)  Heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan and shallow fry the keftas till they're nice and golden and almost cooked through. Drain on a paper towel and allow them to cool down a little bit.

3.)  Meanwhile, get started on the Sauce. Heat the olive oil in a thick bottomed pan. Add the crushed garlic and the Onions and saute for a couple of mins till they take on a slight golden colour. Add both the tins of tomatoes and the seedless Dates, followed by the Fennel and Cumin powders.

4.)  Lower the heat and allow everything to bubble away for a few minutes while you slice the Brinjals length wise. This admittedly was the most tricky part... so if you are'nt feeling up to the effort, just dice the brinjals into 1 inch cubes and toss it into the sauce. But if you are in the mood, slice them thin enough so you are able to wrap the kebabs in 1 slice.

5.) Once you have all the brinjal "ribbons", wrap a kefta in each and secure if necessary with a small toothpick.

6.)  Gently add the wrapped kefta's to the sauce and simmer for another 6-8 minutes till the keftas are cooked through and piping hot. Season with Salt, pepper and red chili flakes.

Serve over a bed of fluffy couscous or steamed brown rice and garnish with some chopped corainder and mint.

As for the remaining kefta's, my stash came in handy when I had my cousins over for dinner a few days ago. I grilled them up and served them along side some Harissa spiked Greek yoghurt (as a dipping sauce) to make for a delicious appetizer!