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A simple summer spaghetti recipe and a long story

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Some days Most days, I cook just to get done with a meal and don’t put too much thought when my only aim is to whiz in and out of the kitchen. I always wonder how my mom did it. These days, I have far greater respect for her than she could imagine. As a working woman in the 80’s with school going children, a bed ridden mother in law, a blind brother, rambling house, pets and assorted creatures living and a retinue of permanent and semi permanent house guests, I wonder how she managed. Not that I or my brother gave it much thought, but we always had a welcoming if sometimes messy home, hot freshly made food on the table at all meals and some non negotiable rules about things such as eating what is on the plate and rudeness quotient for behaviour.

Everything else was pretty much flexible. We didn’t have maddening schedules but we had to help around the house. I cannot remember not being a house / kitchen help since I was 5-6. We had strict rules about eating as a family at the table and no TV while eating. Duties were gender neutral and included bathing and dressing ourselves, laying and clearing the table, filling bottles with drinking water from the blasted water filters and feeding and bathing the pets.

I cannot remember her asking for ‘me time’ or ever laboring over what to cook. Favorites were made by rotation on the weekend, but that apart no fuss about food was entertained. She discharged her duties with utmost responsibility and made sure everyone was taken care of without feeling smothered.

What's an occasion that isn't marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

What’s an occasion that isn’t marked with a selfie? Enroute the hospital for the surgery

Yesterday Amma had an eye surgery for cataract. This is in today’s time a simple 15 minute procedure. In her case, it is far more complicated because she has only one eye. A few years ago, after multiple operations to help her with her eyesight failed, Amma became fully blind in one eye with an irreversible damage to her optical nerve. The last couple of surgeries had to be abandoned because of complications and contributed to the rapid loss of her eye. The other eye has 30% vision and that made this operation even more critical.

She travels between my brother’s home and mine alone, manages her daily routine, even reads the newspapers with a magnifying glass, chops vegetables and cooks full meals. She is determined to make the best use of whatever vision she has and not be a bother to anyone around. She has a busy circle of friends and family that she keeps in touch with. Watches her favourite TV programs sometimes relying only on the dialogues to figure out what is happening and freely gives her opinion on everything from how clumsy I sometimes am to football teams in the current world cup :). We were fortunate to find a doctor who invested almost 2 years to understand her case and gain her trust. He reassured her that he would operate only when it was absolutely needed and only in her interest.

So last week when the doctor told her at the end of a routine check up that it was time, though she was anxious, she agreed. She spent the week preparing mentally for being sightless for atleast 6 hours post operation. She counted the steps from her bed to the washroom and dining table and back and practiced with her eyes closed. She made little packets of her medication and kept them ready so that I wouldn’t have to help her figure out which ones to take. She told the doctor that she was in his hands and that he was in God’s hands as she walked in for her procedure.

After a half day’s stay at the hospital, we came back home yesterday. The procedure went well and the doctor has said that he was happy with the outcome. He was able to successfully remove the cataract and some growth that would help her see a little clearer than before. Amma is recovering well. She has eaten all her meals by herself with a spoon, seated at the table. While I was busy in the kitchen, she found her clothes, freshened up, changed herself and combed her hair. I am scanning all phone calls from her close circle of trusted friends and family who are checking on her progress. She is tenacious and determined not to ask for help unless needed, yet she knows her limitations and wont jeopardize herself by taking unnecessary risks.

If I turn out to be even a fraction of what she is as a person, I will be very happy with myself.

The recipe I am sharing today is unlike what Amma would have rustled up. On the busiest day too, the table would be laden with rice, rotis, dal and atleast one vegetable or meat dish, all made from scratch. The kitchen appliances and other conveniences I so much take for granted were not available, no pastes, no frozen masalas, no fuss.

I turn to pasta when in doubt. When I need to feed just myself, when I couldn’t care less about what to cook. This is an ingredient that lends itself so well to any situation. It is a summer pasta and inspired by what I saw my current TV chef obsession David Rocco cook in an episode while travelling in India. My fellow salivator over David Rocco, R too made something similar and when I saw her post, I thought I should post this recipe of easy pasta (do I ever post anything that I don’t claim is easy to make?) too.

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti

Summer Spaghetti Recipe (serves 2)

Spaghetti or any other dry pasta for 2 servings

1/2 piece of Green Zucchini (About 4-5 inches, sliced)

6-8 button Mushrooms, washed (yes they are dirty in India), wiped and quartered

1 large Roma or other firm ripe tomato, chopped into 8 pieces

2-3 tablespoons of Extra virgin olive oil (be generous)

a small sprig of fresh basil (1/2 teaspoon of dried)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 pods of garlic, peeled and sliced finely

2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese (optional, I never have this on hand)

In a wide pan, bring about 2 litres of water to a rolling boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt to it.

Add the spaghetti and cook stirring till done the way you like it. I do not like it al dente, so I cook it 1 minute more than that. By all means cook the pasta the way YOU like eating it 😀

Drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the water. Set aside the cooked pasta.

In another pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and fry the garlic till just turning a shade darker. Add the zucchini slices and cook till they are turning golden around the edges, turn over gently and repeat. Remove the zucchini slices to a plate.

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the remaining hot oil and toss till they are beginning to wilt about 2 minutes but retain a crunch. The idea is not to cook them till mushy so cooking time is flexible as per your taste. Add the cooked spaghetti, zucchini slices and toss well. Add salt and pepper to taste and the torn basil leaves. Toss well. Add a little of the reserved cooking liquid if it is very dry.

Turn off the heat. Drizzle on the lemon juice and toss well before serving it out into bowls and top with some parmesan cheese if you have it or drizzle the remaining olive oil. Serve.

This is a simple dish and can be served with a nice soup or salad on the side. For a non veg version, grilled chicken or prawns can be added to the mix. The simple flavours are so refreshing from the loaded with tomato / sauce / cheese pasta dishes that we usually reach out for.

Mango cupcakes with mango buttercream frosting

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Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

I am nothing if not a mango fiend. I brave the summers in Hyderabad only because of the fabulous array of mangoes we get here. The most popular and commercially successful one is the Banaganapalli. While my favourites are Shakkar gutli (a small apple sized mango that is sweet as sugar – shakkar +sugar) and Imampasand for its flavour, the humble banaganapalli is a good fruit to use in bakes and desserts.

I made my basic vanilla cupcake recipe and swapped out the vanilla for a dash of mango essence and pulp. The result was a moist, subtle mango cupcake. I went a few steps further and slapped on some mango flavoured buttercream. My mantra seems to be “when in doubt, go the whole hog”

I made this for a party and it was a huge hit. Try this with fresh mango pulp while the last of the season slowly inches out or with frozen if you cannot get fresh mangoes in your part of the world.

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

Mango Cupcakes (makes 12 medium ones)

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar (I used regular sugar, powdered for ease of mixing)

2 eggs ( use 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt for an egg-less variant)

1 teaspoon mango essence

1 ½ cup all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1/2 cup of mango puree (mango pieces chopped and pureed in a blender with a splash of water)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenhiet or 175 Celsius and line muffin trays with paper liners

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the yogurt (or eggs, beating well after each addition) and beat well. Beat in the mango essence.

In another bowl, whisk the flour with salt, baking soda and baking powder

Add the mango puree and flour to the butter-sugar mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour.

Evenly fill the paper liners with batter and bake for 18-20 minutes or till a tester comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Edited to add: Sometimes the consistency of the mango pulp/ puree can make the batter thicker than desired. Adding 2-3 tablespoons of milk / water to the batter to get cake batter consistency will help.

For the mango butter-cream frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

11/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar / icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon mango essence

1 pinch of salt

1/2 cup mango puree

Whip the butter for 1 minute on medium speed with a hand whisk/ blender until creamy. Add the sugar in 2-3 batches and whip on low speed till it has mixed well. Add the salt, essence and mango puree and mix till blended. Use as required. If the buttercream is too runny, add upto 3/4 cup more icing sugar to make piping consistency.

I used a star tip nozzle to pipe swirls on the cooled cupcakes. Added a few slivers of chopped fresh mango as garnish.

 

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

Mango Cupcakes with Mango Butter-cream

 

Beat the Heat series ~ Watermelon Mojito Popsicles

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Remember when as children, everyone strained their ears for the tinkle of the bell that the ice cream vendor would sound? Kids would rush out and pick their favourite frozen treat. Popsicles are by far one of the easiest things to make. It is as simple as making a fruit crush/ juice and freezing it and doesn’t need any specific recipe. They are also one of the best ways to beat the summer heat. I tried my hand at quite a few of them recently for an article I was writing and was quite happy at how simple it was to make them with whatever fruit is lying about at home. Devoid of artificial colour and excess sugar, these make for a nice treat.

Kulfi or ice cream moulds with the sticks are easily available in metal or plastic in supermarkets or any store selling utensils. They are also inexpensive to buy. Make sure the mould is filled right till the top for it to freeze better. If the moulds are unavailable, plastic disposable cups can be used with an ice cream stick stuck in the middle. These ice cream sticks are easily available in most grocery store.

I made a mint tea by boiling fresh mint leaves in a little bit of water as K does not like whole or crushed mint leaves except in a chutney. I think adding fresh mint leaves as they are will add a nice contrast to the popsicle, so do try it out if your family is less picky than mine!

Watermelon Mojito Popsicles

Watermelon Mojito Popsicles

Watermelon Mojito Popsicle (Makes 6 medium popsicles)

2 cups Watermelon chunks (deseeded)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons white rum

1/4 cup water boiled with 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves and 1/4 cup sugar to make a simple syrup, strain out the mint leaves and use the syrup.

Method

Chop the watermelon and remove the seeds. Add all the ingredients in a blender jar and blend till it is smooth.

Pour this equally into the popsicle moulds and close with the lid. If not using the moulds, divide equally between 4 paper cups and place a wooden stick in the middle.

Freeze for at least 8 hours for best results. Rub the moulds between the palms to warm it slightly and pull the stick gently to unmould. Enjoy it immediately.

Beat the Heat Series ~ Rose Falooda

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Rose Falooda

Rose Falooda

This blogging is a dangerous activity, yes it brings you in touch with like minded people, you make friends, you connect offline, but it also means that you can get quite obsessed with making / cooking what someone else is eating because you are bombarded with pictures or descriptions!

R of Hungry and Excited blog, was talking nonstop for a couple of days about replacing her meals with Falooda that she made at home to combat the heat and I was insanely jealous. I usually make falooda at home. We love having it to beat the hot summers here in Hyderabad. There are also a lot of popular places where one can have falooda that people flock to. But it was past 10:30 PM and I didn’t have ice cream on hand so I made K drive me to the nearest place and slurped more than sipped this sickeningly sweet but yummy drink/ dessert.

kesar falooda

kesar falooda

We had the special kesar falooda with dry fruit. The other popular flavours are pista, khus and ofcourse kesar

Falooda is by no means a low calorie indulgence. It is sugar laden and very filling. No wonder R was replacing her meals with it.

Falooda (makes 2 servings)

2 cups chilled milk

4 teaspoons sabja seeds soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained (basil seeds)

1/2 cup falooda sev (if not use regular semia, cook in 1/2 cup water with 2 teaspoons sugar)

3 scoops butter scotch/ vanilla or pista icecream

1/4 cup rose syrup / rooh afza

Divide all the ingredient equally as you layer in the glasses first add the rose syrup next add the soaked and drained sabja seeds

Next add the cooked falooda semia and gently pour the chilled milk so that it doesn’t mix with the rose syrup

Top with icecream & drizzle some more rose syrup, serve immediately

Instead of rose syrup any other syrup like khus / pista or kesar syrup can be used.

The pairing of icecream is as follows khus/ pista syrup with pista icecream

kesar with butterscotch or vanilla icecream

rose syrup with vanilla or strawberry icecream

Tabbouleh Salad with Jowar Pearls (Gluten Free)

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Note: If you would like to attend the Escapades Culinary Studio Class on salads this week, send me a message on our FB page.

 

I love Mediterranean food. As is evident from my attempts to make non deep fried falafels and pita bread from scratch. I also love the freshness of the salads that are served. Simple fresh ingredients, light and summery dressings and a meal or a side is ready in as much time as it takes to chop all the vegetables.

Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh salad is popular as a side. It uses bulgur wheat. I teach this in my salads class, and it is a very big hit with everyone. I’m sharing it here for the readers of this blog. Use jowar pearls as per this recipe for a gluten free version of this salad. The original uses bulgur wheat which can be substituted with broken wheat rava used for upma etc, cooked millets of any kind such as foxtail or even cooked brown rice.

I like to eat this salad spread on a roti wrap with either a sliced boiled egg or grilled paneer and make it a complete meal.

Tabbouleh Salad with Jowar Pearls (Gluten Free)

Serves 3-4

Jowar pearls                                              ½ cup, soaked for 4-5 hours, cooked in a pressure cooker with ½ teaspoon salt

Parsley                                                        11/2 cup, leaves tightly packed

Mint                                                              ½ cup, leaves only

Cucumber                                                  1 medium, retain the skin, remove seeds and chopped small

Tomatoes                                                  3 medium, chopped

Onion                                                          1 small, finely sliced

Feta Cheese                                             ¼ cup, crumbled (use fresh paneer to substitute)

Pine Nuts                                                  1/4 cup, toasted (use walnuts or almonds to substitute)

For the dressing

Lemon Juice                                          2-3 tablespoons (adjust according to taste)

Salt and freshly cracked pepper    to taste

Extra virgin Olive oil                          1/3 cup

 

* Wash all the greens and lay them to drain on absorbent towels.

* Chop the tomatoes into small squares. Remove the seeds from the cucumber and chop to the same size of the tomatoes. Finely chop the onions and set aside.

* Finely shred the greens – parsley, mint

* Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing and do a taste test. Adjust seasonings and set aside.

* In a bowl large enough to toss everything up, add the chopped greens, cucumber, tomato, onion and jowar. Mix well with a large spoon. Pour over the salad dressing and mix everything well. Let stand for at 10 minutes before serving. Top with crumbled feta cheese and toasted pine nuts just before serving.

 

Dessert for Breakfast ~ Parfait with Mango and Muesli

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Breakfast Parfait ~ Muesli, yogurt and mango

Breakfast Parfait ~ Muesli, yogurt and mango

Give me a hot savoury breakfast each morning and I am a happy camper… but there are the summer (now gone) months to get through when I will eat anything that is below room temperature! I made this simple breakfast parfait, actually just assembled everything because this is a no cook recipe. It was healthy, filling and very yummy. The muesli is also a no cook one if you discount the minimal hot dry pan roasting that is needed. You could make the Muesli and store to eat as is without the parfait trappings.

Breakfast Parfait with Mango

Serves 4

For the Muesli

Cornflakes                             100 grams (or wheat-flakes, whichever is preferred)

Oats                                          100 grams

Dried Fruit                            ½ cup (use dried dates, cranberries, figs etc)

Nuts                                         ¼ cup (use almonds, cashews, pistachios etc)

Sesame Seeds                       ¼ cup

For the Parfait

Yogurt                                    500 grams

Mango                                     2 cups, peeled and chopped

Honey                                     4 teaspoons (optional)

Method

To make the Muesli, dry roast the oats and chop the dried fruits into small bits. Roast the nuts and sesame seeds till they are changing colour. Cool it and mix together with oats, cornflakes, dried fruit and nuts. This can be stored in an air tight container and eaten with yogurt or milk and a dash of honey.

Put a muslin cloth over a wide soup strainer and add the yogurt to this. Set aside in the fridge for 2-3 hours to allow the water to drain away from the yogurt. I usually do this overnight. Once done, if using, add the honey and whisk the yogurt till no lumps remain.

To serve, assemble the parfait add a few tablespoons of the yogurt at the bottom of the serving bowl. I used a juice glass. Add the second layer with 4 tablespoons of the granola. Add another layer of yogurt, top with chopped mango and granola. Repeat till everything is used up. Chill for 10 minutes and serve.

Breakfast Parfait ~ Muesli, yogurt and mango

Breakfast Parfait ~ Muesli, yogurt and mango

Beat the Heat Series ~ Kairi ka Panna/ Aam ka Panna

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This is a thirst quencher for hot summer days. Of which there seems to be no end in sight in my part of the world. But since there are mangoes as compensation, I will not crib just a little :).

Raw mangoes are almost on the wane now, so before they finish, i made kairi ka panna. Its an easy to make drink that can be made and stored in the fridge, either as a concentrate or diluted in a ready to drink form. It keeps in the fridge for about 10 days in a closed bottle.

Kairi ka Panna

1 cup pulp of raw mangoes (i skinned and sliced about 2 medium sized raw mangoes)

3/4 cup sugar (adjust according to the tartness of the mango)

2 cups water

large pinch of salt

in a pan (i use the pressure cooker and cook upto 3 whistles) add the mango pulp, sugar and the water and boil till the mango is fully cooked. cool and add to the liquidiser and pulse till it forms a frothy mix. this will be like a thick sauce. add the salt, check and adjust salt / sugar. this is now the concentrate.

To serve: dilute with chilled water in a 1:5 ratio, top with ice and serve. Alternatively dilute the whole amount with 1.5 litres of water and store in bottles.

Note: a lot of recipes will call for a spice mix of pepper, black salt and cumin to be added, but i prefer it plain. go ahead and add the spices if you enjoy it.

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