Pearing Off: Pear and Boozy Currant Frangipane Tart

Pear and Boozy Currant Frangipane Tart

Pear and Boozy Currant Frangipane Tart

Sometimes there are a lot of strange things in my fridge. I don’t know how I manage to do this, but I often end up with rather random items that need to be used up before some blight hits it. In a city like Mumbai, you never know when weevils will end up in the rice, shiny beetles will demolish your cardamom, or, in the case of this recent monsoon, a storm of red fire ants will attack your kitchen from various crevices and go for any food in sight (or out of it!). When a new bag of almonds and a small packet of black currants looked like they were going to become the latest victims, I plonked the almonds into a bowl of water without thinking to get rid of the ants, which resulted in a whole lot of soaked almonds that I had no plans for. As for the currants? I had about 60ml of whiskey left in a bottle that had been hanging around for ages… and somehow alcohol and currants seemed to be a good match given all of the christmas puddings from years past that my mother had put together.

At the end of my vermin-hunting kitchen exodus, I ended up having to throw away a lot of food, and was left with the following items in my fridge: soaked almonds, boozy currants, and a couple of pears. With no eggs in sight, it looked like I wouldn’t be able to do anything with these ingredients – until I hit upon a thoroughly successful gluten-free recipe quite by accident. Do keep in mind that I threw this together with very vague measurements, so you’ll have to gauge accordingly for the tart dish you may have. You will need 2 mini tartlet pans with a removable base. Hooray for necessity and invention!

Ingredients (makes two mini tartlets)

First, soak 2 cups of almonds in water for a couple of hours, and chuck about 2 tbsp of raisins or currants into about a shot’s worth of whiskey or rum or any good booze you have on hand for as long as you can manage.

For Tart Shells:
~1 cup of the soaked almonds
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cold butter
1 tbsp flour

For Filling:
2 medium ripe pears | sliced thinly
1 tbsp flax seed | grind to a powder *replace with 1 egg if you have it
~1 cup of the soaked almonds
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp brown sugar | *can replace with regular sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
boozy currants and soaking liquid

Start with the tart shells. In a food processor, grind up the  cup of soaked almonds with the sugar until it resembles a coarse paste. Add the butter and flour and pulse it till it comes together uniformly – it shouldn’t stick to your fingers, so if it does, add tiny bits of flour till it doesn’t anymore. Scoop it out of the grinder and divide between your buttered tartlet pans. Use the tips of your fingers to press the paste down into each pan and spread it out over the base and up the sides.

Heat your oven to 190 degrees C and bake the tartlet bases for about ten minutes or until they don’t look ‘raw’ anymore. I have a mini OTG so it heats up a lot faster than a conventional oven. Remove bases and allow to cool.

While bases are baking, put the flax seed powder into a tbsp of water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. You can skip this ingredient if you have an egg on hand. In a grinder, grind up the second cup of soaked almonds till it has a fine crumby texture. In a bowl, mix the ground almonds with the brown sugar, flour, vanilla essence, about a tbsp of the boozy liquid from the currants, and flax mixture (or egg). The mixture will now look like a thick gooey batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two tart shells. Arrange pear slices over the batter and press in slightly. Poke in some of the currants between the pear slices.

Bake the filled tart shells for about 30minutes at 190 degrees C or until the crust browns a little bit and the mixture between the pear slices isn’t too gooey anymore. The mixture will not be totally dry, but it will appear more ‘puffy’ than when you put it into the oven. Remove and let the tartlets cool before transferring them to a plate. Ideally the tarts should ‘settle’ for a bit so that the mixture around the pears hardens a bit more upon cooling. You can do this in the fridge.

The smell of almonds and brown sugar baking is like heaven. Enjoy the free side effect of a fragranced home!

Salad Daze: Warm Lentil Salad with Beets and Caramelized Onions


Lentil Salad with Vinegar-Roasted Beets and Onions

There are days in this hot city when all I want is a salad that’s light enough to get me through the day without making me fall asleep, but still hearty enough to keep my brain working and make sure I don’t resort to unhealthy snacky options. I came up with this recipe as a good in-between, with a sweetish vinaigrette to act as a nice counterpart to the light caramelizing on the vinegar-roasted beets and onions. I don’t normally find ways to integrate beetroot into my diet, but this is a really quick and easy way of doing so without my plate (and teeth!) looking like a zombie apocalypse hit it!

Ingredients (serves 1 for a light lunch)

1 small red beetroot | peel, remove top and tail, cut into 4 wedges
1/2 small red onion | sliced into half rings
1 cup of mixed sprouted lentils (can substitute with moong or any sprouts)
1/2 cup of white beansprouts
a few cherry tomatoes | cut into halves
1 yellow bell pepper | sliced finely
a few sprigs of parsley | chopped very finely
2 tbsp white wine vinegar  (can substitute with any mild or sweetish vinegar like coconut vinegar)

For Vinaigrette:
1 clove of garlic | minced
juice of 1 lemon
1 spring onion | chopped finely
3 tbsp white wine vinegar

Start with a small roasting pan or baking sheet. Sprinkle a bit of oil (olive oil, preferably), and arrange your beetroot wedges and onion rings in a single layer. Toss with a bit of oil and the 2tbsp vinegar, and roast in the oven for about 10-15min or until the beets are cooked through and onion rings are a little brown and caramelized. Keep aside to cool to room temperature.

While the beets are roasting, boil up 3 or 4 cups of water in a saucepan. When boiling, chuck in your lentils and beansprouts and let them cook for about 5 minutes, then drain, rinse in cold water, and keep aside.

In a small bowl, pour in your 3tbsp vinegar and the lemon juice, and whisk it quickly together with a fork. Add the minced garlic, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Add in the spring onion and let it sit in the vinaigrette while you assemble your salad.

In a salad bowl, toss together (gently!) the cherry tomatoes, cooled lentils and sprouts, bell pepper, and parsley. Slice your cooled beetroot wedges into several thinnish half-moons and add to the mix along with the caramelized onions. The oil from the roasted ingredients will be enough to lightly coat some of the salad so you don’t need to add any. Finally, mix in your vinaigrette. The salad will be slightly warm and perfect for a sunny afternoon. Enjoy the sweet and sour elements dancing on your tongue!

Are You A Mexi-can or a Mumbai-kar? Proudly Unauthentic Chile Rellenos with Pineapple Salsa

Proudly Unauthentic Chile Rellenos with Pineapple Salsa

When I was studying in the States, I hated Mexican food. To me, the cuisine was limited to (seriously desperate) food breaks at Taco Bell on long haul road trips to Vermont, or an occasional margarita-fest involving greasy, cheesy, rather bland one-size-fits-all bistro meals at the imaginatively named Margarita’s. Maybe it was the fact that I was in college on the East Coast, nowhere near to the border and lacking the sunshine required to sit back and have a siesta after all that cheese.

Strangely enough, I only truly appreciated Mexican food when I came back to India. I’ve come to appreciate it as one of the few cuisines that the vegetarian communities here can claim and modify. I used to think that Mexican food was incomplete without meat, but my eyes have been opened by the proliferation of Indianized Mexican restaurants in Bombay, built by, and relying on, the vegetarian community. Of course, the food in most – nay, all – of these places are nowhere near authentic; the dishes are often as bland as that of the establishment’s bistro counterparts in the US. However, as in the case of Bombay residents’ origins – upon whom a politically correct “Mumbai” has been foisted by interested political parties for no logical reason except to divide and conquer – authenticity is not the question at hand. What these places serve to tell us is that the vegetarian side of Mexican food is often overlooked, and if it takes some indigenous adjustment to make it appealing to the wider masses, so be it.

Ingredients (serves 1.. no leftovers)

2 mild Indian peppers (long and light green)
1 red pepper | seeds removed, cut in 4 halves
1/2 medium sized onion | peeled and chopped roughly
2 large ripe tomatoes | chopped roughly
1 clove garlic | chopped roughly
1 cup grated cheese (I mixed gouda and cheddar, but any melty cheese will do)
1/2 green chilli pepper | seeds removed and chopped finely
olive oil

For the Pineapple Salsa:
1/4th of a pineapple  | cut into 2″ chunks
1/2 medium sized onion | chopped finely
1 tbsp coriander | chopped finely
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 green chilli pepper | seeds removed and chopped finely
sprinkling of red chilli powder or paprika 

For the chile rellenos, start by blitzing 2 halves of the red pepper, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and green chilli pepper in a grinder or blender till you get a puree with no chunks. In a wide, flat ovenproof dish, pour a little olive oil to grease and then pour the puree into it to cover the bottom.

Separately grease a baking pan with olive oil, and place the mild green peppers and the other 2 halves of the red pepper in the pan,  coating them with some oil and seasoning them with a pinch of salt. Grill them in your oven at around 200 degrees C until they wrinkle and blister a bit. Remove from the grill and place them neatly on top of the puree. Sprinkle the cheese over the whole thing (I didn’t use a lot of cheese but this part is up to you), and bake at 180 degrees till the cheese browns a bit on top. ¿Te gusta?

For the salsa, heat up a frying pan with a tsp of olive oil, toss in the pineapple chunks and let them caramelize on high heat; the chunks should still remain fresh but it should get a bit brown on all sides. Remove and cool. In the meantime, mix up your onion, coriander, and chilli pepper in a bowl. Add the pineapple and mix well. Pour the lemon juice over it and sprinkle with the red chilli powder depending on how spicy you like it. ¡Qué Sabor!

Fancy Schmancy: Chicken Roulade with Bacon-wrapped Tarragon Ricotta, Side of Sauteed Greens and a Fried Quail Egg (phew!)

Chicken Roulate with Bacon-Wrapped Tarragon Ricotta, and a side of Sauteed Greens with a Fried Quail Egg

While I love trying out new things, I try not to let my dinners get too “fussy” or complicated – there’s nothing worse than slaving all evening to make an improvised recipe, only to see it fall apart before your very eyes. However, I love meals where the outcome *looks* way more fussy and complicated than it actually was to make! Easy roast chicken breast is one of my fallbacks – the only thing to think about in advance with this recipe is defrosting it well in time. Sauteed greens are pretty healthy and make a perfect compliment to the meat. The great thing about roast chicken and veggies is that you can basically improvise with anything you have on hand; this version came out of having a bunch of nice ingredients in the fridge waiting to be used, but you can cut out or replace almost anything in here.

Quail Eggs!

A note about the quail eggs – I happened to come across them at a gourmet food store, apparently there’s a quail farm close by that is addressing the dire need for tiny, speckled, cute little eggs to add an element of fussiness to dinners everywhere. If you don’t have quail eggs, a regular egg will do; they taste virtually the same, perhaps slightly more egg-like. However, you will miss out on the miniscule glee!

Ingredients (serves 1 hungry eater)

1 boneless chicken breast | keep the skin on!
a handful of baby potatoes | don’t peel these either
3-4 cloves of garlic | peel 1 clove and slice it finely, leave the rest intact
1 tsp cold butter
3 slices of bacon
2 tbsp of tarragon (can substitute with any fresh herb with character, like rosemary or parsley) | chopped finely
3 tbsp of ricotta cheese (can be substituted with soft, fresh paneer)
a sprinkling of lemon zest
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning

For the Greens:

1 cup of frozen peas (fresh would be nice too, just boil them a bit in advance)
small bunch of spinach | chopped roughly
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp butter
pinch of white or brown sugar
sprinkling of parmesan to garnish*
quail egg*

* = optional, but fun if you have it.

In a saucepan, boil the baby potatoes for about 15min till they’re almost cooked through.

Flatten the chicken breast out on the counter so that the “inside” of the breast is facing you. Massage it well with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay the strips of bacon across the breast so that it wallpapers the inside as much as possible. In a small bowl, mix the tarragon, ricotta, a bit of salt, and lemon zest. Smear it thickly over the bacon.

Next, tightly roll the right part of the breast towards the center, then do the same with the left part. Horizontally “pin” the two parts together down the middle with toothpicks… you will see the two ends of each toothpick sticking out from either side, with the middle going through the meat.

Turn the rolled breast around so that the stitched side is on the bottom. Make tiny cuts in the chicken skin with a sharp knife, and push small chips of cold butter along with slices of garlic inside the skin, over the meat. When the skin starts to roast, the butter and garlic will crisp it up and melt over the meat, making it extra delicious.

Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil, and place the chicken breast stitched side down on it. Throw the baby potatoes and the unshelled cloves of garlic into the pan, and move them around so that they are coated with a bit of grease. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over them, and put into a preheated oven at about 200 degrees C, for anywhere between 40min to an hour depending on the size of your oven (I use a dinky little toaster oven so it only takes about 45min – eyeball it, the skin should be crispy and things should be sizzling – if truly in doubt, lever a sharp knife through the deepest part and check; the meat shouldn’t have any pinkness left inside)

For the greens, heat up a large nonstick frying pan and pour the olive oil in, then the butter (this prevents the butter from burning). If you’re using frozen peas, fling them in now, and cook for 3-4 minutes until the ice melts off. (If the peas are fresh, remove the shell, pre-cook the peas a little bit in some boiling water, then add it to the pan along with 2tsp of the water). Toss in the spinach leaves and sugar and keep the pan moving over the heat. The moment the spinach leaves start to wilt, squeeze in the lemon juice and mix well, then take off the heat. Transfer to a dish, grate some parmesan or other nice distinctive cheese over it, and top with a fried egg. Epicurean bliss!

Exotic Lives: Banana Flower Salad with Beansprouts, Sweet Peas, and Peppers

Banana Flower Salad

Banana Flower Salad with Sweet Peas, Beansprouts, and Bell Pepper

I’ve been told that I wouldn’t make a good economist. Apparently, a good economist is someone who, when faced with a menu at a restaurant, always chooses something that he/she has tried before, and that he/she knows to be delicious. A bad economist (who, presumably, cannot logically weigh risk), will choose something that she/he hasn’t tried on the menu and is curious about, in the chance that it might be better than the known. Of course, there’s a chance it might be worse – hence the “bad” tag. Well, I’m happy to be a less-than-satisfactory economist. I’d consider myself a food adventurer (Foodventurer?), and I can’t pass up the chance to try something new and exotic (to me) in a menu and the grocery aisle.

What this means is that I jumped at the chance to buy the deep purple, smooth bulb, veiled with white, that I saw this past weekend – a banana flower. For some reason, I assumed that it would taste, well, like a blossomy banana. Was I ever wrong! When it came down to it, I came to the bitter realization that unless you have some seriously acquired tastes, you have to discard approximately 60% of it to get to the real stuff.

A perfunctory Google search turned up some good links on how to peel and prepare banana flowers, but I finally found that it’s best to treat it like an artichoke – peel off the dark petals outside, chop off most of the stem, discard the “baby bananas” that you come across (apparently these are edible but they taste like raw banana peel, so not really my kind of thing), and when you get to the whiter part of the bulb, carefully remove each petal and cut into strips, and chop the soft inner core. Immediately dunk the remaining edible bits into lemony water so it doesn’t go black, and then put it on a stove and bring to the boil. Then boil the heck out of it for about 10minutes or till it loses any bitterness or stickiness.

The following recipe isn’t terribly home-grown; it’s more of an exotic experiment with some very un-Indian veggies from the gourmet grocery aisle. I’ve suggested substitutions for many ingredients if you don’t have these available, and combined various aspects of Vietnamese and Thai recipes found around the web. The overall taste is tangy and fresh, like a raw papaya salad, with bits of sweetness from the peppers and sweet peas, and a very earthy, nutty flavor from the cooked banana flower. It looks quite pretty served in one of the outer purple petals with basil strips scattered over it.

Ingredients (serves 1… for 2 meals!)

1 banana flower | prepared as described above
1/2 red bell pepper | sliced thinly
1/2 yellow bell pepper | sliced thinly
small handful of sweet peas
1 carrot | julienned ie. chopped into 1″ matchsticks
a cup of white beansprouts (can be substituted with sprouted moong)
1/2 knolkohl/kohlrabi* (can substitute with mild white radish) | sliced into thin half-rounds
2tsp sesame seeds
5 basil leaves
For the Dressing:

1 clove of garlic | minced finely
1/2 tsp fish sauce*
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon
1/2 tsp sugar

* = optional, but adds a lot to the recipe if you have it.

Boil a few cups of water and toss in the white beansprouts and sweet peas for a minute. Make sure they have some bite – they shouldn’t become limp or discolored. Drain and rinse in cold water, and let them cool to room temperature. Mix together all the other ingredients except the sesame seeds, basil, and dressing ingredients. Add the beansprouts and peas, and mix well.

In a small bowl, squeeze the juice from the lemon. Add the fish sauce and mix with a fork. Pour in the olive oil and whisk quickly with the fork till it starts to get a little cloudy. Add the sugar and garlic and let it sit aside for a few minutes. Pour over the vegetables, toss, and sprinkle the sesame seeds. Use a scissors to cut the basil into neat little strips over the salad so you can feel upscale, or just rip it up, plunk it in, and eat!

ps – this keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, and takes on a marinated quality like pickled vegetables.

Something Simple : Pasta with Aubergine and Zucchini Caponata

Eggplant (Aubergine) and Zucchini Caponata over Pasta

Eggplant (Aubergine) and Zucchini Caponata over Pasta

I must confess, the picture above doesn’t represent a “real” caponata, as it’s missing some ingredients that I often have on hand, but not today. Regardless, it’s one of those versatile recipes that will stand you in good stead if you have some sturdy veggies, nice tomatoes, and pasta on hand. Use a supple pasta like Fusilli or Penne to hold its own alongside the vegetables. The key here is to have even-sized chunks (nothing bigger than an inch across) that aren’t too soft and slushy. Strictly, I believe that caponata is supposed to go with seafood. This would go nicely on top of some fish too, but as fish is something I rarely cook for just myself, I’ve written out a vegetarian version.

Aubergine is something I used to hate when I was younger… it had a strange texture and was too bitter for me. I think it’s been a bit of an acquired taste, helped along to some extent by the entry of non-Asian eggplant, with firmer insides and almost nonexistent ‘caviar’ or seeds. Choose a fresh, firm, shiny and dark-skinned one, but avoid (as much as possible) the genetically modified “BT Brinjal” that you find in the Indian market nowadays – it has no taste and takes ages to soften!

Ingredients (serves 1.. of course!)

1 small zucchini | cut into coins, then cut each coin in half
2 medium tomatoes | cubed roughly
1 medium eggplant/aubergine/brinjal | cut lengthways, then dice into 1/2″ cubes
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic | sliced thinly
2 cups of penne or fusilli pasta (less if you prefer topping overload, as I do)
1 small red or white onion | chopped roughly
1 stick of celery * | chopped finely
2 tbsp capers*
white wine vinegar (regular cooking vinegar or regular white wine will also work)*
a small bunch of basil (if you don’t have this, replace with 1 tsp of mixed italian seasoning, dried basil, or, as a desperate resort, one of those pizza seasoning sachets)
olive oil

* = optional, but adds a lot to the recipe if you have it.

Sprinkle some salt over your zucchini so that it sweats out some water and breaks down faster when cooking. Get a saucepan of water on a side burner so that it will boil by the time your caponata is ready. Put a large frying pan on high heat and pour in about 2 tbsp of olive oil. When it’s hot, toss in your garlic, let it sizzle, and throw in the onions. Give it a minute to soften, then put in the dried herbs, if using. If you’re lucky enough to have basil, wait till the end to put it in as it’ll lose its flavor if it’s kept on high heat.

Add a pinch of pepper, then put in the firm veggies – aubergine, zucchini, and celery. Stir around to cover with the seasoning and let it sit and soften for 5 minutes.

At this point your saucepan water on the other burner should probably be bubbling away, so throw in the pasta there and set a timer according to the packet instructions.

Now’s the point where you add some acidity to the veggies so that they break down in time for the pasta to be ready! White wine vinegar is something that I think is a good pantry staple, it’s useful for all kinds of vinaigrettes and adds a light dimension to European dishes. It’s also great for when you don’t want a lemony taste but you still need an acid in there. So sprinkle some vinegar over the vegetables, if you don’t have it, don’t worry, the tomatoes will also help to do something similar.

Add your tomatoes and any associated juices at this point. If you have capers, throw them in now too. If you have a cover for your pan, cover it up and let it steam itself soft, if not, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of water if it’s looking too dry or sticking to the pan.

… And you’re pretty much done! Test your pasta for doneness, stick a fork in a cube of aubergine and taste it to see if it’s cooked or still rubbery. It should still retain some structure. Aubergine is the toughest veggie in there so if it’s done, it’s all done. Take your caponata off the heat, tear up your basil if you have any, and stir it in. Put some pasta on a plate and top with the caponata. Enjoy!

The Singleton’s Kitchen

Yes, it has indeed been a month since I started this blog. And in that month, I have posted…nothing. This is for two reasons: 1) I’ve been cooking things so late at night that photography is out of the question 2) I wanted my first real food post to be useful, not a quickie snack I threw together on a 3pm post-freelance binge.

When I started really living by myself, there are several things I wished someone had been able to tell me about setting up a kitchen in Mumbai. Things such as:

– People deliver stuff. (<—this saved my life! I wasted 2 months slaving around in the sun, haggling with paan-chewing veggie wallahs.) Ask around, or make one visit to the farmer’s market and get everyone’s numbers. Be vague about where you live if you’re female.

– The vegetable guy, egg guy, ‘foreign’ veg guy (basil/broccoli/red peppers/bok choy), meat and seafood guy, and packed goods guy are all different people. Not counting the larger supermarkets if you are lucky to live within walking distance of one, but aforementioned peeps have the added bonus of home delivery and non-stampeded produce.

– Never assume that things like milk, juice, bread, onions, or soda are in stock. Always buy ahead or you’ll be sorry when you hear that there’s been an onion drought / the veggie guy’s delivery boy is sick / there’s a power cut at the dairy so the city is milkless.

Okay, now for the basics. If you want to make sure that you always have something on hand to eat, even at your most drained moments, this is what you need stocking your pantry.

KITCHEN BASICS {Things You Should Always Have in Your Kitchen}

– In Your Fridge:
> Short Shelf Life – Green Beans, Coriander, Spring Onions, Dill, Cucumbers, Lettuce, and a leafy green like Bok Choy/Spinach/Fenugreek (methi)
> Decently Long Shelf Life – Red Onions, Potatoes,  Mushrooms, Capsicum, and a few sturdy vegetables like Cauliflower/Cabbage/Carrots
> Once in a while add variety to your fridge with – Broccoli, Red/Yellow Peppers, Long Green Peppers, Okra (bhindi), Gourds, Pumpkin, Taro Root (arbi), Lemongrass, Basil
> Yoghurt, Mayonnaise, Milk, Eggs, Butter, Cream, Ghee (which will last forever), Olive Oil (essential) , Soy Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Fish Sauce (not essential but awesome)

 – In Your Freezer: Frozen Peas, Pizza Bases, Meats, Bread (as a last resort), freshly minced Ginger (so useful!), Coffee (in a ziploc bag)

– In Your Cupboards:
> Cumin (jeera) powder, Coriander (dhaniya) powder, ground Cinnamon, Sesame Seeds (til), Cloves (lavang), Bay Leaves (tej patta), Turmeric powder (haldi), Red Chilli powder or Paprika, small packet of Walnuts/Almonds

note: If you live in a hot climate like Bombay, bottle these and keep them in the fridge, or you will learn the hard way that insects dominate humans here.

> Packets of pasta (get the best you can; penne, fusilli, and farfalle are always useful), Hakka Noodles, Rice Noodles (the flat, medium wide kind)
> White flour (maida), Chickpea flour (besan), Masoor Dal, Urad Dal, Basmati Rice, Red Lentils (rajma), Chickpeas (channa)
> Vanilla Essence (real pods are always better, get them if available), Tomato Puree and Cream (vaccuum packed), Tinned Coconut Milk
The first two categories will need to be restocked on a semi-regular basis, while the remaining things will last you for a while. I guarantee you that if you have these in your kitchen, you will never go hungry, even at your least inspired moments. You can whip up a quickie pasta salad, roasted potato dish, creamy lentil curries, gourmet salad, awesome stir-fries, and more, in less than an hour. Recipes for quickies coming soon.