September 26, 2013

Mini Paneer Tikka Skewers


After my brief trip to New Delhi a couple of weeks ago, I was re-inspired to make another Indian recipe, since it's been a while since I've cooked Indian food for myself!

I know Indian cuisine has a reputation for being overly complicated and difficult to cook, but as long as you have a few key spices, you can make simplified versions of classic Indian dishes, like these miniature bites inspired by paneer tikka!

Paneer tikka is a vegetarian alternative to the popular dish of chicken tikka, and is basically just cubes of paneer cheese marinated in a creamy spiced sauce and grilled on a skewer with vegetables like onion and peppers.


For my version, I kept things pretty simple by making an easy marinade for the paneer out of yogurt and spices and cooking everything on the stovetop, since I don't have an authentic tandoor oven!

Once you've browned the paneer and cooked the pepper and onion, you just have to assemble one piece of each item and stick a toothpick through them to make these cute miniature skewer bites!

While these may not be perfectly authentic, I think they're a fun idea to serve as an appetizer at a party if you're looking for something new and different to bring. I brought these to a party last week and they all got eaten up, even though they were cold by the time I served them. They aren't too spicy so they're a good option to serve a crowd of people who have different levels of spice tolerance, although you could serve them with a bowl of spicy cilantro chutney for people who want an extra flavour kick!


Mini Paneer Tikka Skewers
Adapted from The Spice Tailor and Sanjeev Kapoor

1 (350g) package paneer cheese
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger or 1 tsp ground ginger (I used ground)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (the Indian spice, not the Mexican one)
1/4 tsp turmeric
Dash of salt (to taste)
1 tbsp chickpea flour (gram flour)
1 red or green pepper
1 medium red onion
1-2 tbsp olive oil
chaat masala (optional, if you have some)


Slice the paneer in half horizontally so that you get two bricks the same size as the original. Slice each brick into equal sized cubes (about 12 pieces per brick).

In a bowl or blender, mix the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, spices, and chickpea flour until smooth. Pour some of the mixture into a shallow baking dish or a large ziplock bag. Add the paneer cubes, then pour on the rest of the liquid mixture. Let the paneer marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Slice the pepper and onion into about 1” square pieces (you want approximately equal sized vegetables, and they should be about the same size as your paneer cubes).

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Remove the paneer cubes from the marinade and add them to the pan. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes, then flip over and cook the other side, until all sides are lightly browned. Remove paneer cubes from pan and let sit.

Meanwhile, toss the pepper and onion pieces in the leftover marinade while the paneer is cooking. Once the paneer is done, add another tbsp of oil to the pan (or spray with cooking spray) and add the vegetables. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers and onions are softened.

To assemble skewers, place one piece of pepper and one piece of onion on top of a paneer cube and skewer with a toothpick. Repeat until all the vegetables and paneer are used up. Sprinkle assembled skewers with a bit of chaat masala spice.

Serve warm or at room temperature. You can pour a bit of the leftover marinade over the skewers, or you can eat them dipped in a chutney (I would recommend a spicy green Indian chutney).


Makes about 24 mini skewers.

September 23, 2013

What I Ate in India

  

The past month or so has been a busy one for me, since I've been lucky enough to squeeze in two international trips to different conferences, and the latest one took me all the way to India!

I've talked a lot about my love for India on the blog before, especially the food there. Not only do I love the flavours and variety of Indian dishes, but I can't think of another country that I've visited with such a high prevalence of vegetarians and vegetarian options at restaurants - quite different than my experiences in other countries like Japan!

My last trip to India in 2010 (when I did an internship there) was mostly based in Mumbai, so I was excited to have the chance to visit the capital city of the country this time, New Delhi. It was a pretty short trip and most of my time was spent at the conference center (the amazing Taj Palace Hotel - highly recommended if you ever visit New Delhi!). I did have one full free day though, so I took advantage of being so close to the Taj Mahal and made a day trip of going to see it. Now I know why it's considered one of the seven wonders of the world - it is absolutely beautiful!

But on to the food, since that's why you came here in the first place!



This was my first meal the morning after I arrived in New Delhi. From my limited experience, Indian hotels tend to offer amazing breakfast buffets, and this one was especially good because they made fresh dosas to order! Dosa is basically a large, thin, crispy crepe that comes plain or with a filling. I got a masala dosa, which is stuffed with a potato mixture, and of course I ate mine with lots of coconut chutney (in the middle of the plate), which I love too!

I also love the Indian style coffee they serve for breakfast - it's extra milky and sweet, which makes it taste like a treat instead of just my regular morning caffeine dose!



Every day there were new items at the breakfast buffet, so I always filled my plate with lots of different things to try, which would keep me full for a long time! Above are some of the dishes that I tried - in the interest of keeping this post short, I won't explain what they all are, but I've labelled them so that you can look them up if you see something that interests you (or I'm happy to try to respond to any questions in the comments)!




For my first dinner, I was still pretty jet-lagged so I just went down to the hotel restaurant, which actually turned out to be really nice! If you're visiting India as a tourist, you can definitely get some attentive service at many hotel restaurants - I was never allowed to serve myself from my own plate, and I had at least 3 different waiters constantly checking on me, not to mention the chef himself who came out at the end!

I ordered the delhi chaat platter because I love chaats (street food snacks), and it came with an assortment of four different chaat items: palak patta chaat (fried spinach leaves topped with yogurt and chutneys), dahi gujiya (lentil dumpling soaked in yogurt and chutneys), ragda pattice (potato patties topped with a split pea gravy and chutneys), and raj kachori (crisp puri shells stuffed with a potato mixture and various chutneys).  I loved the combination of yogurt with sweet and spicy chutneys in each of the dishes! The meal also came with complimentary pappadums to start, mini naans with pumpkin chutney (top right), and a bite of sweet dessert!




The next day I travelled about 4 hours to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, as I mentioned at the start of this post. After a long day of travelling and sightseeing, I was starving by the time I finally got to sit down at a restaurant for a (very) late lunch! I stuck with things that I knew I loved - mulligatawny soup, freshly made butter naan, and a mango lassi to wash it down. It wasn't the best lassi I've had (since mango season is over), but the naan was so good!




We were also fed pretty well during the conference days. I looked forward to our morning and afternoon refreshment breaks because they always had delicious drinks and snacks waiting for us! My favourite drink was the masala tea (what we Canadians would call chai) - it was perfectly spiced and milky, and I liked the little clay pots that it was served in!



They also offered a different cold beverage each time, and it was always in a new colour! These were a few of the options - rose milk water (a bit strange), khus sharbat, and ginger juice.




I also enjoyed my vegetarian lunch box, which came with a salad, croquette, mini roti rolls filled with paneer, rice, and yogurt, with a sweet almond halva and a banana for dessert - pretty good for a boxed lunch!  I was a bit disappointed when they switched to a Western style lunch the next day...




On the first conference night, I was a bit tuckered out and not feeling up to venturing out in the city at night, so I ordered room service instead and was so glad that I did! Not only did I enjoy the elaborate table setup, but the khichdi that I ordered was really good too. Khichdi (a mix of rice and lentils with spices and tomato) is my idea of Indian comfort food and one of the only dishes that I learned to make when I was in India the last time - I'll have to post a recipe on the blog soon for you guys!




On the last night of the conference, we had a group dinner and I ordered the vegetarian set menu, which ended up being a ton of food! The meal started off with a tasty amuse-bouche of paneer with a pomegranate seed (top left), followed by a corn soup (top right), and two appetizers: a lentil patty and paneer tikka (bottom left). Plus we had a selection of pre-dinner appetizers - carrot sticks, mango pickle, and crispy pappadums with chutney (bottom right).




For the main courses, we were each served portions of several shared dishes (vegetarian or non vegetarian depending on preference). My vegetarian choices (clockwise) included a vegetable mixture, creamy malai kofta, very rich lentils, creamed spinach with corn (not pictured) and biryani, served with a few different types of naan. Since everything was in the North Indian style of food, it was a bit too rich for me, but still very good!




And as if that wasn't enough food, we also got three different desserts: gulab juman (which tasted like an extremely sweet fried donut soaked in sugar syrup), chenna payas (cottage cheese balls soaked in coconut milk), and kulfi (Indian style ice cream served on a stick). The kulfi was definitely my favourite of the desserts!

Most Indian meals at restaurants end with a selection of mouth fresheners, which usually includes fennel seeds, sugar crystals, and other seeds. This tray also came with areca nut (which almost broke a tooth!) and paan leaves, none of which I was adventurous enough to try!




On the last day, I wanted to try something other than North Indian food (since I was still recovering from the previous night's dinner!) so I ordered a South Indian dish for lunch - uttapam! Uttapam is like a giant pancake made from soaked and ground rice and lentils, with extra ingredients like onion and tomato mixed in. I loved the pancake on its own, but it's even better topped with tomato and coconut chutneys and the sambar (spicy vegetable stew) that it comes with!


If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me through so many pictures! If you love Indian food as much as I do, then hopefully you enjoyed seeing a reminder of what makes the cuisine so good! And if you're not that familiar with Indian food, then maybe you'll be inspired to go out and try some of the variety of dishes, or to try some Indian cooking at home!

I'll be back later this week with a new recipe inspired by my trip!


September 17, 2013

Tomatillo & Blood Orange Salsa


I always look forward to the end of summer because it means I can finally get fresh tomatoes that actually have some flavour, and when I visit my parents' place with their garden full of tomatoes, I try to eat as many tomato sandwiches as I can!

I feel like I somehow missed most of tomato season this year though, since I was out of the country for the end of August and again in the beginning of September.

So while I haven't been able to try out any new tomato recipes this year, I do have a recipe to share featuring a relative of the tomato: tomatillos!


If you've ever had salsa verde made from tomatillos before, then you know that tomatillos may look similar to tomatoes (other than their bright green colour of course), but they actually taste pretty different - rather than being juicy and sweet inside, tomatillos are firm and more tart. Once cooked, however, they soften and take on a deeper flavour with more sweetness.

When I picked up a bag of freshly picked tomatillos from the market a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to make some kind of a salsa with them, so I looked up some recipes for inspiration and got right to work peeling their skins off and starting the broiler for a warm, smoky salsa.

I also threw in a jalapeno for some heat, but little did I know it happened to be a deathly hot jalapeno, and I could barely eat a teaspoon of the salsa without setting my whole mouth on fire!


Luckily I still had a few tomatillos left after that first failed attempt, so I tried again a couple of days later, and ended up with a nicely balanced salsa with a mix of sweet, tangy, and spicy dimensions.

After broiling the tomatillos and only half of a jalapeno this time, I blended everything up into a chunky puree and added some shallots, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice to go along with the Mexican notes. And since I love adding fruit to my salsas, I also added some chopped blood orange for a bit of sweetness. You could use a regular orange instead, like this recipe that inspired me to add a citrus fruit, but I liked the sweeter blood orange because the salsa was already tangy.

While I still love traditional tomato-based salsas, I also like trying out new flavours and ingredients when I make my own salsa, so this tomatillo and blood orange combination was definitely a different and tasty new version!



Tomatillo & Blood Orange Salsa
Inspired by this recipe on Serious Eats

3-4 tomatillos, skins removed
1/2 a jalapeno, seeds removed (Note: my jalapeno was very spicy, so I used less than half. Use up to a whole one if yours is a mild jalapeno)
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1 small shallot (or half a large shallot), minced
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp agave or other sweetener
1/4 tsp salt
1 blood orange


Preheat oven to broil.

Place tomatillos, jalapeno, and garlic on a foil-line baking sheet and broil for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until the everything is softened and browned (I left my tomatillos in for a couple minutes longer, 12-13 minutes). Remove from oven and transfer everything directly to a food processor. Process until everything is broken down (it’s okay if it’s still a bit chunky).

Meanwhile, soak the minced shallot in a small bowl filled with cold water (this will help remove some of the bite of the raw shallot).

Add the cilantro, lime juice, agave, and salt to the food processor and process to mix. Drain the shallot and add that to the bowl as well. Pulse briefly to mix. Transfer salsa to a bowl.

Peel the orange, or remove the skin with a knife (I used the knife method). Separate the segments, and cut into small pieces. Stir the diced orange into the salsa.

Serve warm, or let sit in the refrigerator for about an hour to chill.


September 04, 2013

Peach Snack Cake


I know a lot of bloggers are already moving on to Fall recipes now that it's September, but I still have one more summery recipe that I made a couple of weeks ago to share before I can even start thinking about Fall!

Both of my sisters have already tried their first Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes of the season (a sure sign for me that Fall has arrived!), but I'm still trying to make the most of things like corn, zucchini, and tomatoes. I do love Fall, but I also want to hold onto summer for as long as I can!


So before I get into baking with apples, I wanted to share this snack cake highlighting fresh local peaches.

I love making snack cakes because they tend to be super easy, requiring only one pan and a single layer, and I like being able to slice off as much or as little as I want at a time!

This peach snack cake is soft and fluffy inside, kind of like a muffin, with chopped walnuts throughout and a light oat crumble on top for a bit of extra texture. There's very little oil in it, which gives it a texture that I personally love in low-fat baked goods.


I also loved the pockets of juicy peaches in each piece, which helped add some sweetness to the cake so that I could keep the amount of sugar lower.

As far as cakes go, this is a pretty light and healthy option that would make a great after-school snack if you have kids, or a morning snack to eat at your desk.  September is looking to be a busy month, so I'll need lots of healthy snacks to get me through it!



Vegan Peach Snack Cake

1 tbsp ground flax
3 tbsp water
1 ¼ cup non dairy milk
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cane sugar (use up to 1/2 cup total for a sweeter cake - I found mine not quite sweet enough with only 1/4 cup of sugar)
2 ripe peaches, diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Topping
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tbsp cane sugar (can substitute brown sugar)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp softened coconut oil


Preheat oven to 350°F and spray an 8x8” square pan with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and water. Set aside to thicken as you prepare the other ingredients.

Mix the milk and lemon juice and let sit for about 5 minutes, then add the vanilla extract and melted coconut oil. Stir in the flax mixture.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (whole wheat flour to cane sugar). Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and gently mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Fold in the diced peaches and walnuts.

To make the topping, mix together the oats, sugar, and cinnamon. Use a fork to mix in the coconut oil until most of the oats are moistened.

Pour cake batter into prepared pan, using a rubber spatula to smooth out the top if necessary. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the batter and gently press it down with your hands so that it sticks.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top feels firm, the edges are lightly browned, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then invert the pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 16-20 squares.

Note: I found this did not freeze very well, so it's best to eat it all within a few days!

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