Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tomato Pesto Cheese Sandwich – quick lunch for kids (or adults)

With the first day of school just around the corner, I must once again start thinking of what to pack for my son for lunch.  Even though our school district has started offering many healthy, vegetarian choices, he prefers to take food from home.  

I think I have mentioned before - he does not like to take anything that he has to sit down to eat, or anything that requires utensils.  So that leaves me very few choices.  He mostly takes bagels with cream cheese or this sandwich, and an occasional burrito. 

A friend of mine introduced me to this and I make it regularly.  My kids take this when they go skiing too.  On a recent ski vacation, we made these sandwiches and they were a big hit with both adults and kids alike.   It is really easy to make and tasted good even if it is cold.  This is very similar to the mozzarella tomato Panini sandwich that you get at Panera Bread, and is so easy to make that even your kids can make it themselves.

Here is what you need (for one sandwich)

  • 1 torta roll/ciabatta bread
  • pesto to spread  on the sandwich (I used store-bought)
  • 3 – 4 slices tomatoes
  • 2 slices gouda cheese

Slice the ciabatta bread.  Spread pesto on both halves.  Layer the cheese and tomato slices.  Put it in a panini press/tabletop grill and grill till the cheese melts.  You can toast this in a toaster oven too.  Serve with chips/veggies and fruit for a filling meal.

 Note:  You can add sprouts, lettuce and cucumbers also to this sandwich, but only after grilling.  I make these as open faced sandwiches in the toaster oven if I want to add these veggies.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


I’ve only started making guacamole fairly recently.   My kids used to prefer tortilla chips with salsa.  Though my oldest would eat guac, my youngest would not even go near it.  He has since developed a taste for it and loves it so much that he helps me make it these days.  Sometimes, if we have avocados at home, he even asks for guacamole as an after school snack.  He is also my official guacamole taste tester.

I make guacamole fairly regularly now for parties and get-togethers.  It is such a simple and healthy appetizer to make, and is a big hit with both kids and adults.  Homemade guacamole tastes a lot better than the store bought version.  I think the reason is that it is fresh and also you can customize it to suit your taste.

The recipe below is enough to serve 2 people.  If I am making it for parties, I typically use 6 – 8 avocados (assuming that I have salsa also for the chips and some other appetizers)


 Here is what you need:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 roma tomato
  • ½ medium onion, diced fine
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ½ tsp. cumin powder
  • ½ tsp. red chili powder
  • juice of 1 lime
  • chopped cilantro

Here is how I made it:

  1. Slice the avocado in half.  Gently squeeze the half with the seed so that it pops out.  Now score each avocado half so that you have diced the flesh into small chunks.  Scoop this out into a bowl.  Mash this with the bottom of the spoon.
  2. Cut the roma tomato in half.  Remove the inner pulp and seeds. You can use this in another dish or in soups.  Dice the tomato.  Add it to the bowl.
  3. Add onions, jalapenos, minced garlic, salt, cumin powder, and chili powder.  Mix well, mashing it some more. Taste and adjust spice level if necessary by adding more jalapenos or salt.
  4. Add lime juice and cilantro.  Mix well.

Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Samosas made with uncooked flour tortillas

Everyone likes samosas – right?  I mean  - what's not to like?  Crispy flaky crust filled with a spicy potato filling - especially on a cold or rainy day - served with a steaming cup of ginger chai - can't ask for anything more!

I don’t think I have ever tried making samosas at home.  If we feel like having samosas, we either buy them from the Indian store or at the local restaurant.  It seems like such a chore to make the dough, then make the filling, then roll out the dough, fill it, and fry it.  The toughest part for me is to make the dough and roll it out.  I make a lot of dishes from scratch – some a lot more elaborate than samosas, but I have this aversion to rolling out dough.  I don’t make rotis or phulkas also for the same reason.  If I feel like having homemade rotis, I rely on my good friend to invite me over for some.


Anyway, when we went on our ski trip in December with five families, my friend suggested that we make samosas.  I was really apprehensive, but she kept assuring me that with a few helping hands, it will get done very quickly.  Her trick was to use uncooked flour tortillas (from Costco) for the covering.

We recruited a couple of helpers - my husband was one – and it did go very quickly.  We had garama-garam samosas and chai after a cold day on the mountains.

My husband became very confident after this and thinks of himself as the samosa-making expert in our house.  We were having a few people over for dinner recently, and when I suggested that we make samosas – he was ready to help!  We made the samosas the night before the party and warmed them up in the oven just before our guests arrived. 

It really does get done quickly when you have a couple of helpers.  My mom is visiting us.  She and my husband made the samosas and I did the frying.  We were done making about 40 samosas in less than an hour.

Here is what you need:

For the filling:
  • 8 – 10 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled, and diced
  • 3 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 – 4 green chilies, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tsp. red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. amchur (dried mango) powder
  • chopped cilantro

For the samosas:
  • uncooked flour tortillas
  • a thick paste of flour and water to seal the edges
  • oil for deep-frying

Here is how we made it:

To make the filling:

  1. Heat oil in a deep pan.  Add cumin seeds and hing.
  2. When the cumin seeds change color, add the onions and green chilies.
  3. Fry till the onions start turning slightly brown.  Now add the potatoes and all the dry powders – including salt.  Mix well.
  4. Let this cook for a few minutes.  Add the chopped cilantro.  Mix well and turn off the heat.  Set aside.

To make the samosas:

Heat oil for deep-frying in a kadai or pot with deep sides.
Take the flour tortillas.  You can take a few at a time - I am showing one here to give you an idea.

Cut the flour tortillas into thirds.

Make a cone – as shown in the pictures below.  Smear a little bit of the flour paste along the edges and press to seal.

Fill the cone with enough potato mixture, making sure that you can close it without the filling overflowing.

Again smear a little bit of the flour paste and seal the edges.

Once you have a few ready, put them gently into the hot oil and fry till they are golden brown, gently turning them to make sure that all sides are cooked.

Serve hot with cilantro chutney and chai

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mumbai Pav Bhaji – recipe from the back of a box

Even though I had traveled quite a bit while living in India, I had never been to Bombay (that is what it was called when I was still living in India).  I had heard so much about the place - the shopping, the beaches, the food, the people.

On one of our trips to India a while back, we decided to visit my husband’s uncle and aunt (mama and mami).  They have lived in Mumbai forever and had been inviting us to spend time with them – and we decided to take them up on their offer.  

It was a fantastic trip! We had a great time with mama and mami.  He is my husband’s youngest mama and they get along great.  Both my husband and his mama have similar personalities and also have the knack of annoying their wives with very little effort :)

Mama and mami took us around Mumbai and showed us the sights.  We saw the Gateway of India, the Taj Palace Hotel, Marine Drive, Juhu, Versova Beach (my husband insisted on visiting this to see where numerous smuggling scenes have been shot in Hindi movies) and various other attractions.  We even took a ferry ride on the Arabian Sea!  It was a fantastic trip!

Before we left on this trip to India, my friend Swati - who was born and brought up in Mumbai, gave us some tips on things that we have to do and food to try.  On her list were vada pav, dabeli, and Mumbai pav bhaji.

Though mama and mami were a bit apprehensive about letting us try street food on the street, mainly because they didn’t want us to fall sick, we managed to sample some authentic Mumbai street food! 
We had pav bhaji in a decent food stall and vada pav from a street side shop near their house.  I loved the food so much that I decided to pick up some masalas to bring back with me.  One of those was called Mumbai Pav Bhaji Masala (I think it was Everest brand).

When I came back here, I used this masala to make Pav Bhaji.  It came out great!  I just followed the recipe on the back of the box.  We get Mumbai Pav Bhaji Masala in our Indian store now (Badshah brand). I have made this several times and each time, it has been a hit. 

Other than some very slight modifications, I follow the recipe on the back of the box.  I use oil to sauté the onions first and then add butter later in the recipe.  I also don’t add garam masala.  I use veggies I have on hand and tend to use more cauliflower than potatoes.  I don’t grind the veggies, but mash them up with a potato masher.


Here is what you need:

  • 3 - 4 medium potatoes
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced  (you can add cabbage, peas or other vegetables of your choice)
  • 4 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. hing
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp. ginger garlic paste
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 – 6 green chilies, diced
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 – 4 cloves
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. Mumbai Pav Bhaji Masala
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • 2 tsp. coriander powder
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. amchur powder
  • 3 Tbsp. butter

Here is how I made it:

  1. Boil the potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower (or any other vegetable you are using)
  2. Peel the potatoes.  Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a big pot.  Add hing and after a minute add onions.  Sauté for a few minutes till they turn translucent.  Add the ginger garlic paste.  Mix well.
  4. Now add green bell peppers.  Sauté for a few more minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, green chilies, cumin seeds, cloves, pav bhaji masala, salt, red chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and amchur powder. Mix well.
  6. Let this cook for a few minutes till the tomatoes become mushy and all the masalas have blended well.
  7. Now add the butter.  After it melts, add the boiled veggies and potatoes (kind of mash up the potatoes while you are adding it to the pot).
  8. Mix everything together.  Take a potato masher and mash up the veggies.  Taste and adjust seasoning – adding more pav bhaji masala and salt if necessary.
  9. Turn off the heat after about 10 minutes.

To serve
  • pav buns
  • butter
  • finely chopped onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • lime/lemon wedges 
  1. Heat a tawa.  Melt some butter on it and toast the pav buns so that they turn golden brown on both sides.
  2. Put these on a plate with a generous ladle full of bhaji (vegetable), garnished with onions, cilantro, and lime/lemon wedges.
  3. Enjoy

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One-pot Tomato Rice – perfect for a busy day

We just got home after a wonderful three-day camping trip with four other families.   As with any other trip with friends, it was filled with food, fun, campfires, tough hikes, many cups of chai, conversations, and lots of laughter.  The location was perfect – we had a large group site, with no one else in sight.  The kids could be as loud and boisterous as they wanted to be, and even though there were only a couple of vault toilets, we had it to ourselves.

After two days of no showers though, I was so ready to get home.  This is the toughest part of camping for me.  I really love the national and state park campgrounds, because the tent sites are not too close and the locations are gorgeous.  I think I have camped at KOA only once and did not enjoy the experience at all.  They do have pools, flush toilets, and showers, but it somehow feels like the tent sites are one on top of the other, with no privacy at all.

Anyway, since I only had done camping specific grocery shopping before we left, I had very little to work with at home for lunch.  We were toying with the idea of going to our local Indian restaurant for a lunch buffet, but no one was in the mood.  My husband suggested Maggi, but I didn’t feel like it.

After my much needed shower, I looked at my available options and decided to make tomato rice.  I had a couple of tomatoes, some spinach, onions, garlic, and potatoes.  This is an easy one-pot meal, and can be made with whatever you have on hand.  It takes less than 30 minutes to make from start to finish.


Here is what you need:

(I used potatoes and spinach because that’s what I had.  You can add any vegetable you have on hand – carrots, beans, cauliflower, peas, cabbage – all work well)

  • 2 – 3 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 3 green chilies, slit lengthwise
  • ½ medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 2 cups basmati rice, washed in several changes of water


Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a kadai or pot.  Add mustard seeds.  When they sputter, add the cumin seeds.
  2. When the cumin seeds change color, add green chilies, onions, and garlic.
  3. Sauté on medium heat till the onions turn translucent.  Add tomatoes, salt, turmeric powder, and chili powder.
  4. Cook on medium heat till the whole thing gets a bit pulpy.  Add potatoes (or whatever vegetable you are using).
  5. Cover and cook till the potatoes are half done.  Add the chopped spinach and rice.  Mix well.
  6. Now add 4 cups of water.  Bring this to a boil.  Turn heat to low.
  7. Cover and cook till the rice is done (about 12 – 15 minutes)

Serve with papads and raitha.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pani Puri/ Gol Guppa/ Puchka

I think Shanthi Vihar was the first place in Chennai where I had pani puris.  For the longest time, it was the only place that served chaat.  I lived in the Adyar area.  We would occasionally go to Mylapore to shop and would wind up eventually at Shanthi Vihar.  


After a while, places like Gangotri  and Ajnabi opened up, and also started serving authentic chaat.  A trip to one of these places was not complete unless we had a plate or two (or three) of pani puris. . 

On one of my recent trips to India, we went to Kolkata.  I have been wanting to go, mainly to see where my husband grew up.  We visited his childhood home, went to his school and also got to meet a lot of his friends.  The whole trip was fantastic!

Anyway, after hearing so much about Kolkata chaat, we had to try it out for ourselves.

One of my husband’s friends took us to a street-side puchka wala.  This guy had a cart with his ingredients with a small lantern and some small bowls made of dried thick leaves – talk about environmentally friendly!  

The puchka wala stood behind a big pot with the pani (water), a big bag of puris hanging off to the side of the pot.  He also had the filling, a sweet chutney and a spicy chutney near by.  He gave each of us a small dried leaf bowl (dhonnai - in tamil) to hold so that the pani didn’t drip on our clothes.  Once he had our orders, he picked up a puri, punched a hole in it, filled it with stuffing, and depending on our spice tolerance, adjusted the chutneys, dipped this whole thing into the pot, filled it with the pani and placed it in our bowl – all in a matter of seconds.  And no matter how many people were around him, he did not lose count of the number of puris each of us had eaten or everyone’s preference in spice level.

My older son loves pani puris and I have got them before from stalls in Chennai – but always only after making sure that they used mineral water to make the pani.  Even with this, my son would sometimes fall sick. 

This puchkawala made no claims about the kind of water he used, and looking back on it now, it was probably not the best place to take my kids to eat, but the puchkas tasted sooooo good that even if we had fallen sick later, it would have been totally worth it!

Surprisingly, even though this guy did not use mineral water, nobody fell sick!

We don't have a place that serves chaat here in the Boulder area, but I do make pani puris occasionally for parties.  The last time I made it, there was a heated debate between my husband and my friend about where pani puris originated.  He claims it was Kolkata and she insists it was Delhi.  I don’t think we ever resolved this issue.  

While the pani puris I make are nowhere close to the street side puchkas of Kolkatta, they are a big hit with my friends and family.

I made some for a family reunion and made some more for a couple of my friends who visited this week.

Here is what you need:

To make the puris:
(makes around 40 - 50)
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
  • salt to taste
  • club soda

Put the semolina, flour, and salt in a bowl.  Mix in the club soda a little at a time to make a stiff dough (like pizza or chappati dough)  Cover with a wet cloth and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Make small balls of the dough (about the size of cherries).

Using a puri press (roti maker/tortilla maker), flatten these into puris, a few at a time.
Heat oil.  Put about 6 – 8 puris pressing them down to help puff them up in the oil.  Fry till they are crispy and golden.  Drain in a colander and store in an airtight container till you are ready to use them.

For the filling (your choice of any of the following):

  • boiled potatoes, peeled and diced
  • kala channa or yellow peas, soaked overnight
  • moong sprouts

Add salt, chaat masala, and chili powder to the potatoes.  Mix well.  Set aside.
Boil the kala channa or yellow peas in a pressure cooker with salt and hing.  Drain and set aside
Bring the moong sprouts to a boil with a little bit of water.  Turn off after about 5 minutes.  Mix in some salt.  Set aside.

For the pani:
(quantities will vary depending on the amount of pani you are making and on how sweet or spicy you want the pani to be)

pani puri masala
cold water
green chutney (coriander and green chili chutney)
imli chutney (tamarind chutney)
chaat masala
chopped coriander
chopped mint
boondi (optional)

See my post on papdi chaat for chutney recipes.

To make the pani:

Take the amount of water you  need in a bowl.  Add some pani puri masala.  Mix well.  Now add a little bit of the green chutney and imli chutney.  Mix well.  Add chaat masala.  Taste the pani.  Adjust ingredients to get the desired spice level.  If it is too spicy, add some water.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and chopped mint.

To assemble the puris:

Have some imli chutney and coriander chutney available so that people can add it to taste.

Poke a hole in the puri carefully.  Put desired filling into it.  Fill it with pani.  Pop the whole thing into your mouth and enjoy!

Note:  You can make the puris ahead of time - store them in an airtight container for about two weeks.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Puli Milagai (Green Chilies and Tamarind Chutney)

Puli Milagai is a side dish that is versatile enough to eat with rotis, dosais, idli, pongal, upma or even yogurt rice.  It has a tangy taste with a kick.  The jaggery counters the heat from the green chilies and the tamarind makes you want to lick your fingers.  I can’t believe I don’t make this more often!  My mom used to make this to eat with dosas.  Since this is quite spicy, she did not make it when we were kids, but has made it a few times when she visited us.

Green chili/Tamarind Chutney

Recently, I bought a ton of green chilies without realizing that I already had some at home. And since I was making idlis and dosas for some friends visiting us, I decided to make puli milagali to go with that.  My friends loved it! 

This lasts for a while in the refrigerator - so you can make a batch and store it for about a week to 10 days without it getting spoiled.

Here is what you need:

  • 2 – 3 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • ¼ tsp. hing (asafetida)
  • 25 – 30 green chilies diced
  • pinch of turmeric powder
  • small lime sized tamarind, soaked and the juice extracted (don't make this too watery)
  • salt to taste
  • jaggery to taste (about 1 – 2 tsp. powdered)

Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil.  Add mustard seeds and hing.
  2. When the mustard seeds sputter, add the green chilies carefully.  Sauté on medium heat for a few minutes, till the chilies get slightly browned.
  3. Add the turmeric powder.  Mix well.
  4. Gently pour the tamarind juice and add the salt and jaggery.  Mix well.
  5. Bring this to a boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or so.  Taste to make sure that flavors are well balanced.

Serve with dosas, adai, pidi kozhukattai, pongal, or curd rice.

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