Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mezze and More.

One of the best things about residing in a country other than your own is the fact that you can become a part of the local flavor - whether its the language, traditions, way of life or quite simply the FOOD. The UAE has always been described as the ultimate melting pot of cultures and to begin with this is evident in the way various Middle Eastern nationalities come together here ... be it Syrian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Emirati and just like in India, each culture adds something unique to the overall cuisine.

One thing that I always look forward to is the drive back from work every evening. I take a coast road past the ocean line and the route is dotted with an old port complete with quaint boats docked to unload goods, Iranian roasteries where the best nuts and spices are to be had and of course any number of "Shawarma" and "Falafel" fast food places where I stop for a bit and have a wrap, a salad or simply a glass of juice (kiwi fruit and blended avacado with ice cream to name a few!).

Although a lot of Arabic cuisine is meat based and fried, the overall eating culture is really bursting with good health with a lot of emphasis on accompaniments that are fresh, yogurt or salad based and washed down with great fresh juices or "Laban" which is a truly delicious version of buttermilk and is used in a variety of ways including for dips. A typical Arabic meal usually starts with Mezze or starters and includes dips (baba ghanouj, hummus bi tahina, garlic paste), sambusek (puff pastry with cheese filling), stuffed vine leaves

salads such as Tabouleh

which uses cracked wheat and parsley or Fattoush which is a really tangy green salad and toasted pita bread combo.

All local restaurants will first serve you huge trays of salad vegetables such as whole cucumbers, red radishes, scallions and carrots served with neatly wrapped Khubz or flat bread and at least 2 dips - usually Hummus and garlic paste. This comes with any meal and is not charged for. There is a certain charm in the way the way each tray has its own paring knife and one literally prepares a salad straight from the garden as it were and enjoys the dips while waiting for the main meal.

The street I live in has at least 5 wonderful Arabic restaurants and two specializing in just Arabic sweets like the semolina based "Konafa", and all I have to do is walk a few steps if I want a light, flavourful, local meal. Sometimes however, I do make local food at home and last night was one such stay-at-home occasion when I thought that my small family would like some Arabic.

I laid out some store bought Khubz (substitute with naan or tandoori roti if unavailable),

soaked chickpeas for a hummus dip, put together some Fattoush and started up a meat based stew for the husband and son who are both carnivores and like a little meat at dinner. That and a pitcher of Moroccon tea to wash it all down. I would have put on harem pants if I had them - ok, maybe not! But you get the idea ...

Menu :

1. Fattoush
2. Hummus bi Tahina
3. Bamia
4. Pita Bread
5. Moroccon tea

For Fattoush:

- 2 or 3 tomatoes, cubed
- 2 cucumbers with skin on, cubed
- 1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced
- A few scallions or spring onions chopped
- 1/2 small lettuce, shredded
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped parsley
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint
- 1 pita bread (or 2-3 slices of bread), toasted and cut into cubes. I actually tore the pita and put it directly into the toaster :).
- A dressing made from olive oil and lemon juice in a 3:1 ratio and seasoned with salt and black pepper.


Combine the vegetables, herbs, and bread. Make the dressing, pour it over the salad, toss well, and chill for half an hour minutes before serving.

For Hummus bi Tahina(Chickpea and Sesame Dip)

- 125 gms chickpeas (chole), soaked for a few hours and pressure cooked or you can use ready canned as well.
- juice of 2 lemons
- 3 Tbs. tahina (if you can't get ready made paste, make your own by putting about 2 tbsp of sesame seeds in the blender and grinding until smooth. Then add about 1/2 tsp sesame (til) oil and about 1/2 cup warm water in a slow stream to get a thick sauce. This can be stored in the fridge for repeat use).
- 2 garlic cloves
- salt to taste
- 1 tbsp olive oil and some red chilli or paprika powder for garnish.


Process the chickpeas in a blender (or food processor) with the lemon juice, tahina, garlic, salt and enough of the cooking liquid or water to obtain a soft creamy consistency.

Serve on a flat plate, garnished with a dribble of olive oil, a dusting of paprika and a little parsley.

3. Bamia : Consists of lamb (mutton), whole Okra pods (lady fingers), chopped tomatoes, garlic and tamarind juice.

This is a fragrant, simple stew that uses very little oil and I made it from here.

And there was this Moroccan tea to go with the meal:

- Pour 4 cups of boiling water into a pitcher containing about 4 tsp green tea, 2 cups of fresh mint leaves and about 1/2 a cup of sugar (I drastically reduced the quantity to suit my taste)

- Allow the tea to steep for at least 3 minutes before serving. It was quite warm last night so we added a lot of ice tall glasses and poured the infusion topped with more mint for our with dinner drinks.

- Make sure to stir the pitcher with a long spoon before serving.

And synchronicity happened when husband walked in from work with a tray of Konafa from the Tripoli Lebanon sweet shop across the street to thus end a great meal.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Easy Matters and some Methi Rotis

First up, Archana from that wonderful storehouse of veg goodies "Archana's Kitchen" thought that I was deserving of the "Nice Matters" award! The award was meant for "good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. It is also for those who have a positive influence on our blogging world."

It simply made my day and just makes me want to come up with innovative food ideas to share.

So realised that I hadn't had any greens yesterday and in the interest of upping those perpetually low haemoglobin levels, decided to make something with the Methi that was in the vegetable basket. Here goes ...

Masala Methi Rotis


1. Whole wheat flour (Atta) : 1 large cup
2. Roasted channa flour (Besan) : 2 cups
3. Cleaned and chopped fenugreek (methi) leaves : 1 bunch
4. One tsp each of red chillie powder, turmeric powder and ajwain seeds (optional)
5. Pinch of asafoetida (hing)
6. 1 tbsp of melted ghee or butter
7. Salt to taste
8. Water for kneading


1. Sift together the flours, dry masalas, ajwain seeds (if using), salt and hing.
2. Pour the melted ghee and rub through the dry mixture.

3. Add the cleaned methi leaves and knead without water till mixed well.
4. Now add water a little at a time to make a hard dough (this is necessary as the methi leaves will make the dough softer by the time its ready for use).

5. Stand for 15 minutes.
6. When ready to cook, take small balls of dough and roll out like chappattis.
7. Cook on a hot gridle (tava) on both sides and then roast directly on the fire till brown spots appear.
8. Smear with a little ghee or butter and serve with curds and a bowl of dal tadka or any pickle of your choice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Three for the Box

Early morning chaos is something that my 4 year old is blissfully unaware of. He makes his debut in the kitchen at 6.30 a.m. for his morning cuppa (horlicks) and does a casual inventory of his lunch box to see if all is in order. He's just learning about healthy foods and has his own personal list that includes fries, chocolate and cookies. He's magnanimously relegated processed chips to the "not healthy" category. But he always expects to see something different in that mini box and I spend 30 minutes every evening suffering from performance anxiety on this score!

I went to the mart last evening and found some nice cherry tomatoes, sliced pineapples

and together with a pack of sundried tomatoes I had in the fridge, this morning was relatively easy.

1. Salad : One cup of halved cherry tomatoes and diced pineapples topped with mozarella cheese. I made a savory version for my own lunch without pineapples but with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, oregano and chillie flakes instead. If cherry tomatoes are hard to come by, just use regular ones as long as they are red and firm and dice them just like the pineapples.

2. Hash Browns :

This is the quick version. Peel and grate one large potato directly into a dish of salted water. Heat a few drops of olive oil in a frying pan. Take a handful of the potato, squeeze out as much water as you can and place it directly on the sizzling oil.

Flatten with a spatula and sprinkle with salt, pepper, herb and grated cheese. As the oregano and mozarella were already on my counter, I used these but the choice is yours and is even optional. I had a few sundried tomatoes soaking in a bowl of water

and I topped a few of the browns with these for a burst of flavour. Again optional. The hash browns are crunchy and filling with taste just fine with nothing but salt and pepper. These can be served with eggs and some fruit for a balanced breakfast.

3. Shammmi Kababs : I usually pre-mix the kababs and freeze, so all I had to do was shape and shallow fry them. I will put up this recipe in a separate post soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Semolina Laddoos

A friend of mine had been hounding me to make her some of these ...

she remembered having eaten them at home when she was expecting and she REALLY wanted them again :D . I finally got around to doing them on Friday and some of them found their way into my stomach even before I was finished. This isn't exactly the healthiest recipe in the world but makes up for that by being scrumptious!


1. 250 gms or 1 large cup Semolina (chiroti rava)
2. One tbsp clarified butter (ghee)
3. 150 gms fresh, grated coconut
4. 150 ml warm milk
5. One tsp powdered green cardamom (elaichi)
6. Approx. 50 gms raisins and cashewnuts
7. 100 gms sugar (increase or decrease as per taste).


1. Place the semolina in a pan, top with ghee and fry till slightly brown. Keep aside in a tray or large plate.

2. In the same pan, brown the dry fruits and keep aside.

3. Add the coconut and roast till just beginning to change colour. Remove from heat.

4. Add the cardamom, dry fruits, sugar and coconut to the sugar and toss well.

5. Now pour milk a little at a time while taking handfuls of the mixture and shaping them into balls (laddoos).

Zimble? Happy cooking :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Khatte Baingan

Although the name suggests the use of tamarind in this recipe, I make a variation using yoghurt to give it a creamier texture. People are ambivalent about the big ole eggplant but fortunately for me everyone at home loves eating this tasty vegetable as much as I do.


1. 1/2 kilo long purple brinjals, cut into roundels and soaked in salt water.
2. 1/2 cup or two medium sized sliced onions.
3. One large ripe tomato sliced.
4. Whole garam masala (1 inch stick cinnamon, 3-4 cloves, 3 green cardamoms).
5. One tsp each of turmeric powder, chillie powder and corriander seeds powder.
6. 1 cup thick, beaten yoghurt.
7. Salt to taste.
8. 3 - 4 Tbsps vegetable oil for frying.


1. Heat oil in a deep frying fan.
2. Drain water from the brinjals and fry lightly. Remove and keep aside on a kitchen towel.
3. To the same oil, add the garam masala till it splutters.
4. Immediately add the onions and fry till golden brown and still slightly limp.
5. Add the dry masala and stir for a few seconds till oil separates.
6. Now add the sliced tomatoes and stir the mixture till soft (tomatoes shouldn't be too mashed).
7. Toss in the fried brinjals at this stage and pour the beaten yoghurt over them.
8. Season with salt and mix gently to avoid breaking the brinjals.
9. Cook on a low flame for 2 minutes (cooking any longer will separate the yoghurt), remove and garnish with a small dollop of cream or corriander leaves (optional).

Khatte baingan work well with dry phulkas but can be had as an accompaniment with dal and rice as well.

Hey, any Srilankans out there who know how to make a good sambal ? Then please write in :). Happy cooking!

Quick three chicken curry.

I'm finally getting down to talking about what I really love to do best. Cooking. Nothing has ever beaten the sense of satisfaction that comes from creating a meal from available ingredients for people I care about. Except perhaps making and giving food to those who have never had enough. But this blog here will focus on the positive aspect of food and all the goodness it signifies.

So without further ado, I'd like to start by sharing an easy recipe for chicken curry with rice for those nights when you're tired after work but still want to have something a little special.

I call it the quick three because it basically uses three main ingredients:

1. Brown onion paste (slice, deep fry and grind to a paste 2 medium size onions for about a kilo of chicken).
2. Tomato paste. Not the store bought variety as that is too tangy for this recipe. Bring a pot of water to the boil and immerse 3 ripe tomatoes in it for 30 seconds. Make a criss cross on the skin before that so they peel off easily. Grind to a puree and you will get a mild orange paste like this:

3. Cashew paste. Soak a handful of the nuts in a milk and once you've made the above 2 pastes, grind them and keep aside.
This entire process will take less than 10 minutes with two gas burners. And you will have this:

List of ingredients:
1. One medium size chicken dressed and curry cut.
2. Two onions for the paste (explained above)
3. Three ripe tomatoes for puree (explained above)
4. Approximately 50 gms of cashews for nut paste.
5. 1 tsp each of turmeric powder, jeera powder and chillie powder
6. Salt to taste.
7. Two tbsp of your regular oil for frying (I use half and half of Olive oil and trans fat free sunflower oil).

1. Once the pastes are ready, heat oil in a pan.
2. When hot, add the onion paste along with the dry masalas (Ing no. 5) and fry for a few seconds or till oil separates.

3. Now add the tomato puree and bring to a rolling boil.
4. Simmer and add the washed and cleaned chicken pieces with salt and cook till tender.
5. Top off with cashew paste and cook for 3 - 5 minutes till thoroughly blended.

6. Serve over basmati rice.

This took me 30 minutes after office to put together and was thoroughly enjoyed even by my son aged 4 as it wasn't too spicy. Happy cooking!