Monday, December 21, 2009

Crispy Okra Cocktail Snack

This is a simple but stunning hors d'oeuvre, best made just before serving time. Make sure the okra is very fresh and tender, so there is sufficient moisture when it is sliced, and an adequate amount of spice mix adheres to it. Fry gently until crisp. This way the okra will remain crunchy for a few hours. If leftovers get limp, bake them in the oven on low heat for about 20 minutes until crispy. The crisp okra can double as croutons and are delicious over light soups.

1 pound fresh okra
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Vegetable oil, for frying

1. Rinse the okra and pat it dry; snip off both the ends. Using a sharp paring knife slice each okra pod lengthwise into 4 thin slices. Place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the lime juice.

2. In a small bowl combine the chickpea flour, salt, cayenne and cumin, and mix well. Sprinkle the spice mixture over on the okra and toss to coat.

3. Fill a large wok or heavy saucepan with oil to a depth of 1½ inches and heat over medium-high heat until very hot, 375 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer, add a small piece of okra to the oil to test; if it comes to the surface immediately, bubbling and sizzling the oil is ready. If okra browns instantly, that means the oil is too hot, if it stays at the bottom then the oil is not hot enough. Adjust heat accordingly. Using a slotted spoon, carefully add the okra, in small batches without crowding, to the hot oil. Reduce the heat to medium and deep-fry slowly, separating each piece with a fork; do not allow slices to stick to each other. Cook until crisp and lightly golden, turning once, for 3 to 4 minutes. Use a skimmer or slotted spoon to transfer the okra to a tray lined with paper towels. Repeat with the remaining okra. Transfer to a warm serving platter and serve immediately. Serves 6 or so as a snack or an appetizer

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crispy Wheat Canapé Crowned with Savory Topping

I am cooking a big 20-course dinner for 50 people tomorrow. I have uploaded an appetizer that is part of the menu for you to enjoy or make it part of your carte du jour.

1 large Yukon gold or russet potato
1 cup finely chopped onion
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
Plain yogurt, whipped
½ cup sweet chutney sauce (see recipe below)
½ cup hot chutney sauce (see recipe below)
Chaat Papdi (Indian crispy fried whole wheat rounds), available at Indian stores or substitute potato chips
½ cup or more thin chickpea flour noodles (sev), available at Indian stores

1. Cook the potato in boiling salted water until tender; drain and let cool. Peel and dice the potato, and place in a large bowl.

2. Add the onion and cilantro to the bowl; toss gently to mix. Season with salt and mix well.

3. Drizzle with yogurt, sweet and hot chutney sauces and mix very gently. To serve, spoon about a tablespoon of the mixture onto individual Indian crispy chaat rounds or chips. Sprinkle sev noodles on top. Serve immediately. Serves 4

Sweet Chutney Sauce

Use this as a dipping sauce for crudités onion rings or fritters.

½ cup raisins
2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate dissolved in ½ cup water
1 slice of ¼ -inch thick knob fresh ginger
½ tablespoon sugar
¼ cup water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin

1. Combine the raisins and tamarind liquid in a medium saucepan. Cook over moderate heat until raisins are very soft 6 to 8 minutes. Cool and transfer to a blender or food processor.

2. Add the ginger, sugar, water, salt and cumin to the blender. Process to a smooth puree; stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the container. Transfer to a serving bowl. Let stand a few minutes for the flavors to meld. Cover and refrigerate the chutney sauce if not using. It keeps well for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup

Hot Green Chutney Sauce

Add more chiles if hotter taste is desired.

2 cups packed fresh cilantro with stems
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 fresh green serrano or jalapeno chiles, stemmed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup water

1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Process until smoothly pureed, stopping from time to time to scrape down the sides of the container.

2. Transfer to a serving bowl. Let stand a few minutes for the flavors to meld. The chutney can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Makes about 1½ cups

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Glistening Brussels Sprouts Recipe from my Cookbook

Someone called me this morning to tell how much she enjoys the vegetarian dishes from my cooking classes as well as my cookbook, “The Dance of Spices.” I thought you too might like to cook this lighter version.

Glistening Brussels sprouts are stunning with peppercorns and sesame seeds. This dish makes a great topping for freshly cooked brown or wild rice.

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 cup sliced onion
2 fresh green serrano or jalapeno chiles, stemmed and chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed of outer leaves and quartered
1 teaspoon salt
Dried or fresh grated unsweetened coconut (optional)

1. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until the seeds are aromatic and uniformly reddish in color, for 4 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Transfer to a coffee mill or spice grinder and grind coarsely. Set aside.

2. Have a spatter screen ready before you continue. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, immediately cover with a spatter screen, and cook until the seeds stop popping, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and chilies and cook until the onion is very soft and just beginning to turn brown at the edges, 4 minutes. Add the pepper and sesame seeds and stir for a few seconds. Add the brussels sprouts and cook, stirring, until the sprouts are coated. Sprinkle with salt and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until the sprouts are crisp-tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

3. Transfer to an attractive heated serving dish. Garnish with the coconut, if desired, and serve. Serves 6 as a side dish.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fragrant Mussel Chowder

Whilst shopping in my local market I came across gorgeous green lip mussels, very large and firmer than the regular ones. To go with the sweet and flavorful mussels I had bell peppers, limes and kari leaves in my garden. I envisioned meatier, plum pillows nestled in their shells in a vegetable-laden soup I was in the mood to cook and share something dynamic.

You can substitute oysters or scallops or use a combination with the mussels. Serve with basmati rice, or thick slices of grilled bread, along with a salad of young greens.

1 pound fresh mussels, preferably New Zealand green
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
15 fresh kari leaves (optional) or cilantro
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped ripe tomatoes
1 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup fresh or canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 limes cut into wedges

1. Rinse the mussels well and remove any stringy “beards” trailing from between the mussel shells. Set aside in a bowl.

2. Have a spatter screen ready before you continue to view the ‘dance of spices’. Heat the oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, immediately cover with the spatter screen and cook until the seeds stop popping or dancing, about 30 seconds. Add the kari leaves if using, onion, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring, until the onion starts to brown at the edges, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat, add the coriander, pepper, cayenne and fenugreek and stir for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the mussels and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Add the water and salt, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mussels have opened, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and cook, uncovered, until very hot. Discard any mussels that do not open. Ladle into warm soup bowls, and pass lime wedges for everyone to squeeze into the soup, as they like. Serves 4

Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali is Mainstream

We just celebrated Diwali with family and friends. It is the brightest feast and forms the grand finale of all the festivals in India. Even our cool President Barack Obama talked about Diwali in his address. It has become mainstream, PepsiCo Inc. and Target Corp. picked New Jersey to test a new kind of holiday promotion this month – Diwali marketing.

Feasting is part of special occasions in India; I have pleasant memories as a child of the pre-festival arrangements that would begin several days in advance in our home. The professional cooks hired by my parents would bring their own enormous utensils and set up a wood-burning stove in the backyard to make boondi laddu and other snacks. Observing them was quite an education. My sister and I would watch them steadily stirring the sugar syrup and frying tiny droplets of chick-pea flour. With great expertise, they combined the still hot mixture with the syrup, rolling it in seemingly heat-resistant hands into plump, round balls. We would pack large quantities of these and other sweets and snacks in baskets or trays lined with colorful napkins and distribute them to friends and neighbors to convey affection, appreciation, and joy.

Despite of countless dishes that were prepared I insisted on the following favorite recipe and my mother always made it special.

Fudge Balls in Rose-Perfumed Syrup

(Gulab Jamun)

The ability to make this dish is one of the hallmarks of a good Indian cook, and when I first came to America I naturally wanted to continue to make it for my family. But one of the key ingredients, khawa (condensed milk), was hard to obtain, and making my own was too time-consuming. So I tried various recipes including instant baking mix, trying to recreate the texture and flavor I remembered. Carnation, dry milk turned out to be the best substitute. And while I am usually not a fan of vegetable shortening, it makes fudge balls that are even fluffier and moister than the original. Serve them at room temperature with the syrup spooned over the balls. Makes a perfect ending for a special family meal.


1-1/2 cups sugar

2-1/2 cups water

Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed

2 teaspoons rose water

Fudge Balls

2 cups nonfat Carnation dry milk

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup melted vegetable shortening

1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk

1 tablespoon water

Mild vegetable oil for frying

1. For the syrup, combine the sugar and water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes to reduce the volume slightly. Turn off the heat and stir in the cardamom and rose water.

2. Combine the dry milk, flour, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually pour in the melted shortening. Mix until crumbly. Add the milk and water and knead into smooth pliable dough. To make the dough in the food processor: Combine the dry ingredients and shortening in the work bowl and process until crumbly, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the milk and water in a steady stream through the feed tube. Process until the dough begins to clean the sides of the bowl. Form the dough into a smooth ball. Set aside.

3. Fill a wok or skillet with oil to a depth of 2 to 2-1/2 inches and heat to 225-250 degrees F (or set on medium heat). Pinch off portions of dough and roll between your hands into smooth balls about 1 inch in diameter. Slip about 8 to 10 balls carefully into the hot oil; after about 30 seconds, stir them gently so they brown evenly (do not stir them immediately or they may break). Fry until golden brown all over, 4 to 5 minutes in all. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain briefly over the oil, and add to the sugar syrup. (If the dough starts to crumble or develop cracks while you are making balls, return it to the food processor or the bowl and mix again with 1 tablespoon water to restore the consistency.) Cool completely, cover and let the fudge balls soak for at least 3 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Makes 35 medium fudge balls (10 to 12 servings)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Laxmi's Delights supports Breast Cancer Awareness

Please check out Laxmi's Delights organic flaxseed spreads and sweet spiced roasted nuts on You'll notice that our products are featured on the specialty shop to support Breast Cancer Awareness!

Support Breast Cancer Awareness: 20% of sales will be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure!
Thank you for participating and supporting such a great cause.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Prized Precious Pumpkins

When I make the pumpkin kofta dish, it takes me close to home, in India. These sentiments are enough to transport me back to girlhood. One particular childhood recollection of mine is inspired by the annual summer visits to my grandmother's farmhouse. Those wonderful afternoons spent in my grandma's house eating her pumpkin koftas simmered in rustic leafy greens sauce and the pumpkin chewy bars made with Indian condensed milk bring back cheerful childhood memories.

When I visited my grandma's farmhouse from the front door, I could see straight through to the back garden where the plump gourds were hanging. I would accompany and trail behind her when she was in the garden. Nestled between the walkway and a stone rimmed pond (in which the blue and pink lotuses floated, she called them the jewels of the pond), pumpkin galore rambled through the garden trailing along the fence and climbed up the arches and trellises. The moist earth smelled sweetly of hay. There were the miniature pumpkins that would fit into my palm, and others so large and heavy would certainly win a blue ribbon in a county fair. I would help grandma cut young pumpkin leaves with tender stems to turn into a greens-lentil stew. She would first offer the big gourd to the goddess.

Afterwards, she cracked it open with her sharp sickle and peeled the skin off with the help of a sharp knife with her fragile hands. The pumpkin meat was grated and turned into numerous culinary concoctions. Grandma entertained with cleverness and kindness. She loved nothing better than to be cooking and talking about food with her peers. She even used the pumpkin seeds indigenously and served them as snacks. She coated the seeds with butter, sprinkled with salt and minced garlic and toasted them until they exuded a nutty aroma.

Here is one of the cherished recipes.

Pumpkin Koftas in Rustic Sauce

This is a vegetarian version of meat balls, fresh grated pumpkin replaces the meat. Serve with rice or flatbreads. These golden balls of squash can be served as a starter with any of your favorite dips accompanied with chilled Indian beer. For variation, serve over pasta with the sauce spooned onto the koftas.

Pumpkin Koftas:

1-1/4 pounds fresh ripe pumpkin, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)

2 fresh hot green chiles, stemmed and finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2/3 cup chick pea flour

Mild vegetable for frying

Rustic Sauce:

3 tablespoons mild olive oil

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

5 cups chopped kale (6-8 large leaves)

1 bunch trimmed and chopped fresh spinach (or 10 ounces frozen spinach,


1-1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the kofta ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix well with your fingers. Form into 1-inch balls. (The moisture from the pumpkin and lime juice should be just right to bind the koftas.) If the mixture is too moist, stir in a little more chick pea flour.

2. Heat the oil to a depth of 2 inches in a wok or deep fryer to 350oF. (To test the oil, drop in a tiny piece of the mixture; if it comes to the surface immediately the oil is ready for frying.) Fry the pumpkin balls in batches, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

3. For the sauce, heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the ginger and spices and cook until aromatic about 1 minute. Add the kale and fresh spinach; stir and cook until the leaves start to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add the water and salt. Stir in the thawed spinach at this point, if using. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

4. Puree the chard mixture in a food processor until smooth. Cook until heated through. Transfer the sauce into a shallow dish and place the koftas in the center. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kandahar Chicken Kofta In Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice

I would like to share this recipe from my cookbook, “The Dance of Spices” published by John Wiley & Sons.

Here is my twist on chicken kofta (meatball) curry this one is more delicate with subtle spices and a hint of heat to balance the sweetness of grapefruit juice. Serve this delicious entrée with crusty bread or rice.

For the Kofta (meatballs)
1 pound ground chicken
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup good chicken stock, or water

For the Sauce
8 large cloves garlic
2/3 cup cashew pieces
2 medium ripe tomatoes, or 2/3 cup canned pureed tomatoes
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup ruby-red grapefruit juice, preferably fresh
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Chopped chives, for garnish

1. To prepare the kofta: Place the ground chicken in a bowl. Separate the clumps of meat with a fork. Add the cinnamon and salt and mix thoroughly. Using a small ice cream scoop for even size, scoop about a tablespoon of the meat mixture at a time and shape into a smooth 1-inch ball with your fingers. You should have about 24 koftas. Place the koftas in a heavy skillet. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cove and simmer, turning once, until koftas are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. To prepare the sauce: While the chicken is cooking, place the garlic in a blender with 3 to 4 tablespoons water and grind to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl. Add the cashews to the blender with about ½ cup of water, process to a smooth paste, and transfer to a bowl. Blanch the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for about 1 minute to loosen the skin. Transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Peel, core, and chop coarsely. Transfer to a blender and process to make 2/3 to 1 cup of puree. (Skip this step if using canned pureed tomato).

3. Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic paste and cook, stirring, until it is fragrant and starts to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cayenne and stir for a few seconds. Add the cashew paste and cook, stirring, until well blended and the oil starts to separate, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water and salt, and bring to a boil; cook, stirring until the sauce is thickened and takes on a beautiful reddish hue 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the grapefruit juice, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cream, the koftas along with their cooking stock and the nutmeg. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, top with chives, and serve hot. Serves 4