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.