Category Archives: Chutneys/Dips

The ‘Hummus’ Revolution (with recipes for Beet Hummus & Kashmiri Chilli Hummus)

Hummus, a simple rustic chickpea dip that has somehow bridged geographical, cultural and religious borders. Today it graces our dinner tables in a zillion avatars, from simple to gourmet.

I love hummus, not just for its soul-satisfying taste, but because it is a taste of my childhood. Growing up in the Middle East, there was no way you could avoid this condiment. And it was such an integral part of the food we ate, because hummus was one of the very rare dishes that my dad would eat outside the traditional Kerala cuisine. So it made its appearance constantly sitting unassumingly alongside a platter of kebabs and tikkas.

And when we returned back to India, it was one of the main things that we missed; so much that my mom would request every friend who travels from Dubai to get her a bottle of tahini (which was very difficult to source in India at that time).

Today, we aren’t just talking about hummus as a dip, but as a medium for social and religious cohesiveness…..and it’s through the #spreadhummusnothate campaign spearheaded by Lina J, an award winning food blogger and the creative force behind ‘The Lebanese Plate’.

I have been following Lina’s work on Instagram for quite a while now and I really appreciate the work that she is doing to spread awareness and help address unwanted social and religious stigmas we have as a society. So here are excerpts of an interview with Lina and the significance of the #spreadhummusnothate campaign.

The first question and perhaps the most relevant one to this conversation….Where were you born? Are you an Australian?

I was born & brought up in Sydney.

Why #spreadhummusnothate? Could you tell us what led you to take up this campaign?

This campaign came about after coming across the hashtag #spreadhummusnothate. I felt there was increasing negativity towards people from diverse backgrounds & especially people of Muslim faith. I used the hashtag online but really felt that I needed to take it off line into our everyday lives in order for it to have a lasting effect. This is when I came up with creating opportunities for everyday Australians to sit & converse with everyday Australian Muslims & literally ‘spread hummus’ together.

You are an award winning food blogger but is that the only reason why you chose ‘food’ as the medium to express your opinions?

I don’t even think of myself as ‘award winning’ to be honest!

Working with & around food naturally led me to use it as the basis for this campaign. I think we tend to take for granted the power of food, not just as something to nourish the body, but also as a tool to bring people together.

 Is it a single person initiative or do you have a team working along with you in this campaign?

It is just me really. I have certainly had people help here and there along the way, but mostly just something that I have been pushing on my own.

What is the primary message that you want to spread through this campaign? And how do you go about it?

That all it takes is one conversation (over food) to break down barriers. I hope that people will be able to see that although we have some difference, we actually have a lot more in common. Life isn’t about agreeing with or being exactly like the next person, it’s about understanding & respecting our differences & still be able to converse in a positive way.

 How has the response been so far?

I would say 99% of response to this campaign has been quite positive, which really gives me hope.

I have seen on your Instagram account that you host events in relation to the campaign? How are these done and is it open to the public?

The events have been smaller gatherings up until this stage. I am currently in some collaboration talks with some lovely people who really want to help take this to the next level, where hopefully there will be more opportunities for a wider range of people to attend such events. There’ll be more detail soon about these events on my social media.

What are the different ways in which anyone who interested in this campaign be of help?

A number of people have helped spread the word, which is really important! But a number from my Insta family have assisted in providing goods for the #SpreadHummusNotHate Brunch, cake & desserts, meat & poultry, fresh fruit & veg. Couldn’t thank these people enough for their support.

And on a lighter note, you have become the ‘queen of hummus’ platters with all sorts of flavours including beautiful looking ones like the beet hummus. But which is your favourite?

I do love the Beet hummus, especially topped with a marinated feta, but at the end of the day, the original hummus will always be my favourite!

Do check out her blog and Instagram page (for some amazing photography and mouthwatering food).

Of course, I cannot leave you without sharing any hummus recipes so there are two delicious ones today. First, it’s the super gorgeous beet hummus recipe, one of Lina’s favourites which she has kindly shared with all of us. And second will be my signature hummus recipe with Kashmiri chilli (you will love this!)

So let’s #spreadhummusnothate

Beet Hummus

Beet hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Photograph courtesy – thelebaneseplate.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup dried chickpeas; soaked overnight
  2. 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (optional)
  3. 250g roasted beetroot
  4. Salt, to season
  5. 3 cloves garlic
  6. ¼ tsp ground cumin
  7. 1 tbsp  tahini paste
  8. 1/3 to 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  9. olive oil for serving
  10. 1 tbsp Persian feta (optional, for serving)

Method:

  1. Beginning the night before, soak the dry chickpeas in a bowl of (approximately) 3 cups water with the teaspoon of bicarb. The chickpeas will need to soak overnight and will double in size.
  2. The following day, rinse chickpeas and place in a pressure cooker (see note) with plenty of fresh water. Lock the lid and turn to the LOW pressure setting. Once it comes to pressure (mine begins to whistle when at full pressure), turn heat to low and cook for a further 20 minutes. Take pressure cooker off heat and allow the pressure to release and cool naturally. This may take a further 30 minutes or more depending on the type of pressure cooker you have.
  3. As the chickpeas are cooking, preheat oven to 200ºC and prepare beetroot for roasting. Cut off greens and scrub beetroot thoroughly. Using a large enough piece of baking paper, wrap beetroot loosely and enclose by folding both ends into the middle and folding up ends to create a bag. Place paper bag with beetroot on an oven tray and into the oven. Roast for approximately one hour, or until beets are soft and cooked through. Remove from oven; allow to cool before peeling skin.
  4. Once pressure is released from the cooker, drain away as much liquid as you can leaving only chickpeas behind. You will find that the chickpeas look mushy, but do not fret…that’s exactly how you want them! I find using the pressure cooker softens and almost melts away the chickpea skin that you don’t need to remove them.
  5. Place the garlic, salt and cumin into a mortar and pestle and crush to create a paste. Set aside with the lemon juice.
  6. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and blend until a smooth puree is formed.  Add the beetroot and continue to whiz until you have a vibrant puree.
  7. Add tahini, garlic, salt and cumin paste and blend some more. While processor is on, add 1/3 cup of lemon juice in a steady stream. Stop to scrape down sides and taste for more lemon juice.
  8. Serve with Persian feta and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

NOTE: If you do not own a pressure cooker, use a large saucepan instead. Add chickpeas to pot with plenty of cold water and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least an hour until chickpeas are very soft.

Kashmiri chilli Hummus

I used dried Kashmiri chillies for this recipe which can be easily found in any Indian/Asian store. These chillies have a beautiful deep red colour but very less heat when compared to other varieties.

Kashmiri chilli hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup dried chickpeas; soaked overnight
  2. 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (optional)
  3. 3-4 Kashmiri chillies (soaked in warm water)
  4. Salt, to season
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 1 tbsp  tahini paste
  7. Juice of 1 lemon
  8. 1 tbsp thick greek style yoghurt
  9. olive oil for serving
  10. Dried chillies (for garnish)
  11. Green olives (for garnish)

Method:

  1. The first step (just as in the beet hummus) is to soak the chickpeas overnight with bicarb. Canned chickpeas can be used if you are really rushed for time but soaking and cooking the chickpeas yourself makes a big difference to the taste.
  2. Next day, rinse the chickpeas well and cook in a pressure cooker or pan till well done and lightly mushy. Season the chickpeas with salt while cooking.
  3. While the chickpeas is cooking, soak the Kashmiri chillies in warm water for at least 15 minutes or more if possible.
  4. Using a blender, grind the chillies, garlic and a pinch of salt to a coarse paste.
  5. To this add the drained chickpeas (reserve a little for garnish), tahini paste, yoghurt and half the lemon juice. Blend till a smooth consistency is achieved (you may need to scrape down the sides in between). Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as required.
  6. Transfer to a bowl and serve with olive oil. Garnish with the cooked chickpeas, sliced olives and crushed dried chillies.
  7. Enjoy

Kashmiri chilli hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Spicy Aubergine Chutney

Cheese platters are my thing!

I find it an utterly satisfying and relaxing experience to bring out my beautiful boards, pop on some delicious varieties of cheese (atleast one new type each time) and then fill up the platter with figs, grapes, crackers, cold cuts and chutneys. And of course, pop open a really good bottle of white….and unwind on a Friday evening.

It’s been a while since I had indulged this way; the past couple of weeks were work hectic which combined with poor time management skills left me thoroughly exhausted and drained out. So mid last week, I was a lady on a mission – to create a delicious platter experience for my small family catching up over some much needed ‘us’ time.

I always stock up on small batch chutneys in my pantry, both homemade and others that I pick up while travelling or from local businesses. But this time, I realized that I had run out of most of them and what was available wouldn’t really go well with the platter I had in mind. So what do you do? Just make one yourself….

Out came my cookbooks and my eyes fell on one which I had borrowed from a friend and totally forgotten about. The title, ‘The Preserving Book’ by Lynda Brown – just perfect! To cut a long story short, I narrowed in on this Spicy Aubergine (Eggplant/Brinjal) Chutney for two reasons. First, I loved the play of spices in this one and second; aubergines do not feature in my favourite list of vegetables so this would be an interesting way of eating it.

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - deliciously sweet and spicy - thespiceadventuress.com

I got a bit lucky while shopping for aubergines at my local veggie store. Found baby aubergines, the deep dark purple variety quite commonly used in India especially in South India. They were ripe and just perfect for the chutney. Remember to get really ripe vegetables when making chutney, also forget about the most beautiful and polished looking ones. (The food waste statistics of Australia scare me so I make it a point to pick up assorted shapes and sizes of vegetables especially if I am going to cut it up for the dish. How do the looks matter?)

A good chutney is all about balance and the perfect play of flavours so while the measurements that I have outlined would give you a delicious end product, I strongly urge you to taste along the way and make adjustments as I did while adapting the recipe from the book.

Apple cider vinegar and a dash of tomato paste add acidity which is counterbalanced by the sweetness form the raw sugar and sultanas. While there are other spices involved, what makes this chutney truly unique in flavour are the Nigella seeds and ginger.

Baby Aubergines - Food styling and photography - thespiceadventuress.com

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - deliciously sweet and spicy - thespiceadventuress.com

This chutney can be left to mature in flavour for a month before using and if preserved in the right manner, will last upto a year. So a great option if you are making in bulk. But I am a small batch person so prepared just 2 small bottles and also opened it within two days.

So here we have the deliciously sweet and spicy Aubergine chutney….the perfect condiment for your cheese platter. In fact, it is the perfect condiment to just about anything…..a dash of it with roast lamb cutlets or as a traditional chutney with your Indian meals. Fingerlickin good!

(The cheese that I picked up for the board include a soft creamy Brie, smoked cheddar with Native Australian pepperberry and a blue veined cheese)

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - makes a delicious addition to your cheese platter - thespiceadventuress.com

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - makes a delicious addition to your cheese platter - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 450gm baby aubergines
  2. 1 medium red onion; finely chopped
  3. 3/4 tbsp tomato paste
  4. 220ml apple cider vinegar
  5. 250gm raw brown sugar
  6. 60gms sultanas/raisins
  7. ½ tsp chilli flakes
  8. ½ tsp cayenne pepper/hot chilli powder (optional)
  9. 1 cinnamon bark
  10. 1 tsp Nigella/onion seeds
  11. 1 ½ tsp freshly grated ginger
  12. Salt, to season

Method:

  1. Wash the aubergines and pat dry. Slice the aubergines and place in a heavy bottomed pan along with the onions and salt. Also add the tomato paste and stir well to combine.
  2. Cook for a minute or two and then add the vinegar and sugar; mix well and then add the sultanas, chilli flakes, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger and Nigella seeds. Stir well and cook on medium heat till the sugar has almost dissolved. Turn the heat up and bring to boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible, cover the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  4. Open the pan and continue to cook on low heat stirring occasionally so that the mixture does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. The chutney is ready when it has turned thick and sticky; also taste and make sure that the vinegar has been absorbed well or it will taste acidic.
  5. Remove the cinnamon stick and allow to cool well. Ladle into sterilized jars with tight lids. Refrigerate.

Note – If you want to preserve the chutney, then add the chutney to sterilized jars and make sure there are no air gaps. Cover the lids with waxed paper discs and use non-metallic lids. Seal and label the bottle. Leave to mature for a month in the pantry. Refrigerate after opening.

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - deliciously sweet and spicy - thespiceadventuress.com

Spicy Aubergine Chutney - deliciously sweet and spicy - thespiceadventuress.com

 

 

 

 

 

No Udder Dairy Free Yoghurt + Recipes for Green Smoothie and Coconut Yoghurt Zucchini Dip

Important: Please read this before you proceed. 

No Udder and NuLac Foods has bought to my notice that the coconut yoghurt has been recalled due to a cross-contamination issue. Those of you who are allergic to dairy products or vegan or do not include dairy products in your diet for any personal/medical reasons, kindly return  the products to your nearest supermarket for a full refund.

For anyone else, this product is not dangerous in any manner and poses a risk to only those mentioned above. The company assures me that the product will henceforth be released only after revised and strictly enforced quality checks. Please get in touch with the company if you need further clarification on this.

Here is the statement from the company;

‘A statement from the owners, John Gommans and Penny Gandar.

We are taking note of all your comments and we fully appreciate all your concerns.

Our first priority in the recall was to protect those at health risk from the dairy contamination. We have followed the Health Department guidelines in this recall. As well as following these proscribed procedures we also wish to convey that we are personally devastated that this need for a recall has occurred. We are acutely aware of the needs of our allergen free, dairy free and vegan customers and to provide a product people could trust.

We do also process dairy products, our procedures and staff training have always been committed to preventing contamination. Our staff are dedicated and care very much about the quality of our products. We have only sought and used ingredients certified to be allergen and dairy free and are shocked to find that a contamination has recently occurred. We are re-testing and investigating all aspects of the ingredients and manufacture but until this is completed we are unable to give a definitive reason for what has happened. We deeply regret what has occurred and that we have lost the trust of our dairy free and vegan customers.

We are truly sorry.’

 

My love for smoothies has become legendary on my Facebook page.

It all began when I started sharing pictures of my daily morning smoothie with my readers. And soon, there were so many people writing to me asking for more recipes, tips, blender brands, dairy-free options etc…. While I could answer most of the queries, I really did not have much information when it came to dairy-free or vegan friendly options.

So, I was quite thrilled when NuLac Foods wanted to partner with me to develop some recipes for their new range, No Udder Dairy Free Yoghurts. Just what my readers were asking me…..

NuLac Foods is an Australian company that develops both dairy and dairy-free products. All NuLac products are prepared from the highest quality ingredients which are sourced from their own and other farms across Australia. And above all, the products are free of preservatives, colours, additives or flavours – natural and pure. Love their philosophy of being a local business using local ingredients which always reflects on quality.

NuLac has several different brands and two of their highly popular ones are ‘No Udder’ and ‘Alpine’. And it’s No Udder that I will be speaking about today as it is the dairy free and vegan friendly one. The range includes No Udder Almond Yoghurt, Coconut Yoghurt and Coconut Probiotic Drink.

Available at most supermarkets and independent stores in Australia.

No Udder Almond Yoghurt Green Smoothie:

The dairy free almond yoghurt is a great substitute for milk in your daily smoothies. It is not only a good source of calcium but very low in saturated fats and contains a good amount of dietary fibre.

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I admit I was a little skeptical about how it would taste but I actually liked it very much. It was sweet and creamy with that hint of almond flavour; but somehow it also reminded me of this coconut milk pudding.

And since we are on the topic of good health and nourishment, I decided to use the No Udder almond yoghurt as the base for my green smoothie. There is a good amount of pre- and probiotics in this one and at the same time, it is super delish too.

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Ingredients:

Makes 3 glasses

1. 1 ripe avocado
2. 1 ripe green pear
3. ½ ripe red apple
4. ½ banana
5. 2 cup greens (I used chard, use any you wish to)
6. ½ cup parsley
7. 1 tbsp chia seeds
8. 200 ml No Udder almond yoghurt
9. Water/ice
10. ¼ tsp cinnamon powder

Method:

Blend all the ingredients with enough water or ice until smooth.

Note:

• The beauty of this recipe is that it is a basic guideline to making your favourite green smoothie. As mentioned, use any kind of greens you wish to.
• Rotate between chia, flax or hemp seeds and add nuts if you wish to.
• Use coconut yoghurt instead of almond for a sweeter and creamier smoothie.
• You can use regular milk or yoghurt too.

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No Udder Coconut Yoghurt Zucchini Dip

With live probiotic cultures, the No Udder Coconut Yoghurt is an extremely healthy option and one that is dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian friendly. It is sweet and creamy, perfect for smoothies, desserts or as a snack but I am thinking savoury.

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Yoghurt dips are a common feature of most meals in Meditteranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. In India, it is often referred to as ‘raita’ in Hindi. And there are hundreds of raita varieties that exist depending on the cuisine of each region.
Today’s recipe is a savoury yoghurt dip, adapted from a common preparation of Kerala known as pachadi.

The coconut yoghurt is sweet and deliciously creamy which makes it the perfect base for finely chopped zucchini sautéed with shallots and a hint of spices. This is a delicious yoghurt dip that makes the perfect accompaniment to flatbreads for your mezze platter or to accompany your favourite lamb curry or to pair with that delicious pilaf/pulao.

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Ingredients:

1. 1 medium zucchini; finely chopped
2. 400ml No Udder coconut yoghurt
3. 2 shallots; finely chopped
4. 1 tbsp crushed cashewnuts (optional)
5. 1 tbsp vegetable oil
6. ½ tsp mustard seeds
7. ¼ tsp turmeric powder
8. ½ tsp red chilli powder
9. 2 sprigs coriander leaves; finely chopped
10. Salt, to season

Method:

• Whisk the coconut yoghurt till smooth and without any lumps.
• Heat oil in a pan and crackle mustard seeds.
• Then add the shallots and zucchini; sauté for about 2 minutes on medium to high heat stirring constantly.
• Next lower the heat and add the turmeric and chilli powder. Mix and also add the crushed cashews.
• Sauté for another few seconds, remove from heat and mix through half of the coriander leaves.
• Allow to cool.
• Once cooled, add most of the mixture to the beaten yoghurt and season with salt. Mix well to combine.
• Garnish with the remaining mixture and coriander leaves. Refrigerate till serving time.

Note:

• Again, a very flexible recipe; substitute zucchini with baby aubergines, squash, beets or just nuts.
• Use cow’s milk yoghurt if you wish to.

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Disclaimer – This post was brought to you in partnership with NuLac Foods but the recipes and opinions expressed remain my own.

Grilled Steak (with curry flavoured smoked sea salt) with Chimichurri Salsa and Fennel Salad (dressed with strawberry port wine vinaigrette)

Quite a mouthful title, isn’t it?

It had to be because today’s post is my dedication to the farmers and food and wine producers of the panoramic Yarra Valley.

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Travel, for me, is not about just visiting a destination. It is about the whole experience of discovering what that place has to be offer, albeit at a small level. It is about bringing back not just memories but also intimate knowledge about the culture, food and life of that region. So when I got this amazing opportunity to visit Yarra Valley as part of the regional food group tour, I bought back some incredible food products and wine using which I created today’s recipe.

From the Gateway Estate, I bought home this bottle of strawberry port wine which I used to make the salad dressing. I really wanted to bring back some dry aged steak but unfortunately travelling by public transport didn’t allow me that luxury.

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While walking around the regional farmer’s market at Yering Station, I came across the Smoke and Roast stall. Getting to hear about my fascination with spices and the like, the owner offered me a sample of their signature curry flavoured smoked sea salt which I have used in today’s recipe as the spice rub for my steak. I also bought a pack of their original smoked sea salt and this gorgeous looking salt container.

While I have used plenty of smoked sea salts before, I have never come across a curry flavoured one. Bang on flavour; totally recommend this one for your spice pantry.

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I also picked up a bottle of Yering Station ‘Old Beenak Road’ Shiraz 2013. A single vineyard wine, I could not have asked for a better pairing to my steak. It was rich yet velvety and smooth with the hint of ripe blackberry fruit and peppercorn spices. The wine tasting session did improve my knowledge and helped me pick a really good bottle.

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Our final stop in the journey was at the Locavore Studio from where I didn’t bring back a product but rather recipes and cooking skills. I learnt to cook the perfect steak and also picked up a great chimichurri salsa recipe, both of which are put to use today.

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Usually I photograph the food for the blog beforehand for optimal light conditions. But today, I am inviting you to our dinner table – no unwanted props or stylized food; this is how we eat whenever I make something special at home.

So come along on this delicious journey……

Ingredients:

For the fennel salad:

1. 2 cups mixed salad leaves
2. 1 fennel (white bulb); sliced lengthwise finely
3. 1 small red bell pepper; sliced lengthwise finely
4. 1 small red onion; sliced lengthwise finely
5. Fennel fronds; for garnish
6. For the vinaigrette:
• 4 tbsp strawberry port wine
• 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• Salt, to season
• Freshly milled black pepper, to season

Note – If you do not have strawberry port wine, use vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic or any other port wine. Orange juice is also a great one to experiment with.

For the chimichurri salsa:

1. 1 cup fresh continental parsley leaves; finely chopped
2. 1 cup fresh coriander; finely chopped
3. 3-4 fresh mint leaves; finely chopped
4. 1 garlic clove; crushed and finely chopped
5. 2 tbsp strawberry port wine (red wine vinegar can also be used)
6. ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
7. Salt, to season
8. Dried chilli flakes; a pinch (or more to suit your preferences)

For the steak:

1. 3 Scotch fillet steaks (the best quality you can buy)
2. Smoked curry flavoured sea salt rub
3. Olive oil
4. Freshly milled black pepper, to season

Note – If you cannot get the smoked sea salt rub, use any spice rub of your choice or just salt and pepper.

Method:

To prepare the salad:

• Cut all the vegetables and place in a bowl. Refrigerate till serving time.
• To prepare the dressing, mix all the ingredients given under vinaigrette. Vigorously shake well to form an emulsion and keep aside.
• Dress the salad just before serving (remember to shake the vinaigrette again) and garnish with fennel fronds.

To prepare the chimichurri:

Combine the chopped leaves, garlic, port wine, olive oil, salt and chilli flakes. Taste and adjust balance if necessary. Refrigerate till serving time.

To prepare the steak:

• Heat the grill to smoking hot; most people make the mistake of not heating the grill enough so make sure its smoking hot.
• Crush the smoked sea salt lightly (the salt crystals were chunky).
• Rub olive oil onto both sides of the steak well and then rub the smoked sea salt all over the steak.
• Place the steak pieces on the grill lengthwise; after a minute turn the steak breadthwise on the same side to get the nice criss cross marks. Half a minute later, flip the steaks over and repeat the same (almost one minute each). This is an approximate time for a medium done steak.
• Remove and rest for 1-2 minutes before serving.

Note:
• If you prefer medium well, then place in the oven at 180°C for 2-3 minutes.
• Timings are always an approximate as the cooking times will vary according to the cut and quality of meat that you are using. So go by the feel of the meat and cook to your preferences.

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Baba Ghanouj with Minced Lamb and Pine Nuts

As I have always said, food can be a glorious medium to break barriers and make friends from around the globe.

Such is my friendship with Feda Queen (isn’t it a beautiful name!). I have never met Feda or know much about her except that she hails from Lebanon and lives in Sydney. I also know that she is an amazing cook, willing to share her wealth of knowledge about Lebanese cooking to all those who wish to learn.

I ‘virtually’ met Feda on Facebook and was instantly drawn to her honest, down-to-earth, style of cooking. Soon, she became my window into the world of everyday Lebanese cooking. It was an eye-opener, really – my experience of the cuisine so far was based on memories of childhood tastes and a bunch of cookbooks.

Feda enjoys cooking for her family and she takes great pride in it in spite of having a full time banking career. She runs a small Facebook group, just a bunch of us who really want to learn Lebanese cuisine. No marketing, no unnecessary chit chats; just food in all its honesty for a bunch of us hungry souls.

Most of us would have heard of Baba Ghanouj – the eggplant and sesame seed dip which comes a close second to hummus in terms of popularity. This dip which is often a part of the mezze platter originated in the regions of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

I have made Baba Ghanouj plenty of times. In spite of being a ‘non-eggplant’ lover, I love the smoky, charred flavours that the eggplants lend to this creamy, slightly tangy dip. But Feda introduced me to a different version of eating Baba Ghanouj – topped with spiced minced lamb and toasted pine nuts.

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My instant reaction on seeing this dish was WOW! That’s a complete dinner….some freshly baked pita and a fresh salad would make a great weekday dinner. This dish hardly takes much time and is a great way of bringing the family together. Don’t bother with individual plates; you have to eat it the Middle Eastern way. A big platter of Baba Ghanouj with the lamb and nuts, a bowl of salad and pitas on the side – all the family members coming together and sharing from a single plate, amidst plenty of talking, giggling and smiles. It’s such an enriching and happy experience.

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Now this is a dish for both the vegetarians and non vegetarians. If you eat lamb, you can enjoy the whole dish but if you don’t, then you still have the Baba Ghanouj – a deliriously flavoursome dip with the smokiness of the roasted eggplants married with the creamy nuttiness of the tahina (sesame seed paste), some tanginess from the yoghurt and a good drizzle of olive oil and lemon. And top it off with some gently spiced lamb mince and toasted pine nuts.

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Ingredients:

To make Baba ghanouj:

1. 2 large eggplant/aubergine/brinjal (purple variety)
2. 1 big lemon
3. ¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
4. 2 garlic cloves
5. Salt, to season
6. 1-2 tbsp natural yoghurt
7. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the minced lamb topping:

8. 500 gms of minced lamb
9. 2 medium onions, finely chopped
10. 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped
11. 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
12. 1 tbsp tomato paste
13. 1 tbsp chilli paste/sauce
14. Salt, to season
15. Freshly milled black pepper, to season
16. 2 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
17. 2-3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

Method:

To make the Baba ghanouj:

• Grill the eggplant till the outsides are really charred and the flesh inside has become soft. (I do it on the stove top but you can use an oven or a charcoal fire). Cover with a cloth and keep aside for 2 minutes.
• Peel the skin off while still warm; cut and chop the flesh roughly.
• Place in a mortar and pestle, food processor or grinder and add garlic, tahini, yoghurt and half of the lemon juice. Blend for a minute or two.
• Season with salt and check the taste. Add more tahini or lemon juice if necessary.
• Transfer to a large serving plate and drizzle the olive oil on top. If you prefer a creamier consistency, add the olive oil and blend again.
Note – Some households add parsley too though I didn’t.


To make the minced lamb topping:

• In a large pan, heat ghee and add the minced lamb; fry for a couple of minutes till it has browned lightly.
• Add the diced onions, followed by the rest of the ingredients except pine nuts. Fry till the tomatoes have broken down and the moisture absorbed.
• Toast the pine nuts taking care not to burn.
• Cool slightly and spoon over the baba ghanouj.
• Garnish with the toasted pine nuts.

Though a tabbouleh would have been a good accompaniment to the meal, I made an avocado salsa along with Lebanese pita breads to complete the meal.

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Tomato Egg Chutney

Indian cuisine is perhaps, the most diverse in the world. The cuisine, produce, ingredients, techniques do not just differ from state to state but can be unbelievably diverse within the different parts of a state.

Having spent an entire childhood abroad, my vision of Indian cuisine was largely restricted to my home state, Kerala. Apart from the occasional mithais/sweets that our Gujarati neighbour gifted us for Diwali, I thought everyone ate the same kind of food in India.

That perception largely changed when I settled back in India for my college studies and decided to make the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu as my home. The stark difference in the cuisine surprised me and this coupled with my blossoming interest in culture, food and travel soon opened my eyes to the vibrant, layered and deeply rich Indian cuisine.

Again, the cuisine of Tamil Nadu varies from widely from region to region from the rich and vibrant Chettinad cuisine to the vegetarian fare of the Madras Brahmins. As my life unfolded in this state and post marriage into a Tamilian household, I learnt of the influences, styles and techniques that have given rise to the present day cuisine.

One of the first recipes and probably the simplest that I learnt from my mother-in-law is this tomato egg chutney which was a breakfast regular especially with piping, hot dosas. I did get a bit of a shocker when she told me about adding the egg to the chutney. I simply couldn’t comprehend the flavours inside my head.

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The important thing with this chutney is the texture. The egg is added at the very end and immediately taken off the heat to ensure it stays creamy and does not go scrambled. Reminded me of the shakshuka but the end result was very different.

So, here is the tomato egg chutney – the perfect accompaniment to dosas (I have it as a spread too, slathered on my favourite toast).

This tomato egg chutney is rich with bold flavours, creamy, colourful and of course finger-lickin good!

To this day, my hubby wants to believe that I cannot make this one ‘like his mom’…though I know I make it quite well indeed!

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Ingredients:

1. 4-5 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
2. 1 small red onion, finely chopped
3. 2 sprigs Curry leaves
4. 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
5. ½ tsp Mustard seeds
6. 1/4th tsp turmeric powder
7. ½ tsp Red chilli powder
8. 2 green chilli, slit lengthwise
9. 2 tbsp vegetable oil
10. Salt – to taste
11. A pinch of sugar
12. 1 whole egg

Method:

• Heat oil in a pan and crackle mustard seeds.
• Then add chopped garlic and onion; sauté till light brown.
• Add the curry leaves, green chilli and then add the chopped tomatoes.
• Saute on high heat for about 3-4 minutes and then lower the heat.
• Add the spices along with salt.
• If necessary, add water. (Sometimes, the tomatoes are ripe and juicy in which case extra water may not be required).
• Cover the pan and simmer gently till the chutney consistency is reached.
• Crack in one egg, remove from flame and mix in thoroughly to get a creamy consistency. (If you continue to cook, you end up with scrambled eggs)
• Serve hot with idly, dosa…just about anything.

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PS – This recipe has appeared before on my blog, but I re-shot the pictures and hence the new post.

Puli Inji/Tamarind Ginger Chutney

A classic, traditional chutney of Kerala, Puli Inji which means tamarind ginger chutney is unheard of in other parts of India and of course, rest of the world.

While the sweet tamarind chutney of the Northern regions of India achieved a cult status because of its use in the chaats (Indian street food), Puli Inji remains virtually unknown.

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Puli Inji/tamarind ginger chutney is a common feature in most Kerala households, but especially prepared during the festival of Onam; it has a very important place on the banana leaf feast sitting right next to the pickles.

This tamarind ginger chutney is my absolute favourite and I would request my mom to prepare a bottle for me every time I came home for vacation. She would make two, fully knowing that I would like to carry a bottle back to the hostel (it made the hostel grub much more edible).

I always thought that making this chutney involved a lot of expertise which is why till now, I refused to learn how to prepare it. But this Onam (which went by in September and yes, this post was due long ago), I decided to give it a go and called up my mom for the recipe. She was surprised to hear that I thought it’s a complicated chutney to prepare. After reassuring me that it was indeed very simple, she gave me a detailed recipe with instructions; you know how moms are – even if they know u can cook, they will start from switching on the gas stove.

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I was delightfully surprised that this tamarind ginger chutney was indeed an easy affair. I got it right in the very first attempt – a taste of my childhood perfectly captured.

Traditionally, puli inji is served as an accompaniment with rice and other curries but you can use in any way your taste buds desire.

If I had to describe puli inji to anyone, it would go like this…..a tangy chutney with the freshness of aromatic ginger, fiery green chillies balanced by the sweetness of jaggery. Lipsmacking!

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Ingredients:

1. 300 gm seedless brown tamarind (or remove seeds before use)
2. ½ tsp turmeric powder
3. 1 tsp red chilli powder
4. 200 gm ginger, finely chopped
5. 6 green chillies, finely chopped
6. 3 sprigs curry leaves
7. 80 gm jaggery
8. ½ tsp roasted fenugreek powder
9. 2 tbsp rice flour
10. ½ tsp mustard seeds
11. ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
12. 3 dry red chilli
13. 2 sprigs curry leaves
14. Salt, to season
15. 2 tbsp coconut oil

Method:

1. Soak the tamarind in one litre of lukewarm water for 15 minutes. Then grind it into a paste. Strain into another bowl.
2. Place on low heat and add turmeric and red chilli powder.
3. Add the chopped ginger, chillies and curry leaves; continue to cook on low heat till bubbles appear at the edges.
4. Add the jaggery and season with salt.
5. At this stage, it is important to taste and adjust the flavours; it should be a perfect balance of tanginess, heat, aromatic ginger and sweet. If you feel any of the flavours are out of proportion, adjust accordingly.
6. Add the roasted fenugreek powder and mix well.
7. Lightly roast the rice flour and add to above, to thicken the chutney.
8. Once the chutney has thickened, remove from heat.
9. Add a tempering with oil, mustard seeds, fenugreek, dry red chilli and curry leaves.
10. Cool and store in air tight bottles or containers. This chutney can be stored for upto a month when refrigerated; i.e. if it lasts so long!

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Murgh Dahi Kebab with Spicy Mint Pesto

Ever since I became a food blogger, I have been on a cookbook winning spree. I am not particularly sure how this happens, but I seem to win most giveaways I enter especially if the prize features a cookbook. And I must say, it’s quite a pleasurable thing; building up my cookbook library!

One of the first ones I received is a copy of the cookbook,‘Around the World with the Tadka Girls’ by Ranjini Rao and Ruchira Ramanujam. These beautiful and spirited girls are the faces behind Tadka Pasta, where you can find a large repertoire of fusion recipes.

I won this cookbook as part of a giveaway hosted by ‘My Diverse Kitchen.’ Thanks a lot Aparna for the opportunity and sorry for blogging about it so late. Since the contest was open only for those with an Indian address, the book was shipped to my home back in India and it took a considerable time to get it to Melbourne.

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A bit about the book; it is a simple cookbook with a bunch of well tested recipes and a lot of fusion twists. What strikes one immediately is the humbleness of the book and the passion of the authors. It is not one of those fancy coffee table cookbooks with glossy photographs but one that prompts you to cook from it every single day.

One of the recipes I tried out from the book and especially loved are these Murgh Dahi Kebabs which I served a la burger style with Spicy Mint Pesto.

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There is a bit of history about the origins of this dish in the book. The use of yoghurt or thick curds to flavour and tenderize the meat is an ancient Middle Eastern practice which arrived in India too. Whether it is Turkey, Athens or Rajasthan, you will find dahi kebabs a prominent feature with variations according to the region.

In India, hung curd is used which is a thick, creamier version to the regular yoghurt/curd. A very easy procedure which can be done right at home, hung curd adds the rich, creamy and delicious texture and flavour to the chicken kebabs.

In this recipe, there is of course the tadka twist which is the addition of a medley of Indian spices to the chicken mince and hung curd. The kebabs are succulent and you can serve it as a starter or in a burger format like I did with a spicy mint pesto.

Coriander mint chutney is the traditional Indian accompaniment to these Murgh dahi kebabs but of course, inspired by the tadka girls, I also ended up with a twist of my own. Delicious, fresh pesto flavoured with mint and a hint of chilli is perfect with these juicy kebabs.

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Recipe for spicy mint pesto adapted from here.

Ingredients:

For the hung curd:

1. 2 cups regular yoghurt/curd
2. Cheesecloth

For the kebabs:

3. 400gms chicken mince
4. 1 cup fresh coriander leaves
5. 1 cup fresh mint leaves
6. 2 spring onions
7. 5 green chillies
8. ½ cup hung curd
9. 1 tsp cumin powder
10. ½ tsp garam masala
11. ½ tsp black pepper powder
12. ½ tsp kasuri methi/dried fenugreek leaves
13. Salt, to season
14. 1 tsp vegetable oil
15. Vegetable oil, for shallow frying


For the mint pesto:

16. 2 tbsp. toasted pinon nuts (pine nuts)
17. 1 cup packed mint leaves
18. ¼ cup olive oil
19. Juice from one lime
20. 1 raw garlic clove
21. 1 tbsp. minced onion
22. 1 tsp honey
23. ½ tsp. red chilli flakes
24. Salt, to season

Method:


To prepare hung curd:

• Line a cheesecloth in a bowl and add 2 cups of yoghurt/curd into it. Gather the sides of the cloth into a bundle, knot at the top and hang to let the excess whey drain out, for at least 6-8 hours or overnight. Since it was cold here, I let the cloth hang over my sink; you could place it in your refrigerator too, especially if keeping overnight.


To prepare kebabs:

• Finely chop ingredients 4-7 in a processor or by hand.
• In a pan, heat 1 tsp oil and sauté the chopped ingredients for just a minute.
• Add this to the chicken mince along with hung curd and the spices. Season with salt.
• Mix well and shape into small patties. Keep aside or refrigerated till it’s time to cook.
• In a flat pan, heat oil and shallow fry the kebabs till done.


To prepare pesto:

• Lightly toast the pine nuts.
• Put all mint pesto ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.
• Transfer to a serving container and refrigerator until ready to use.

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These Murgh dahi kebabs can be served as a starter with this spicy mint pesto dip. Or serve it in a burger style with the kebabs inside a bun and spoon over the mint pesto.

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Byron Bay Guacamole – A Guest Post for Simplify.Create.Inspire

The modern Australian cuisine is a true representation of the multicultural camaraderie of this country. The culinary influences of other cultures are a marked feature of the food here and when combined with the beautiful produce of this country puts Australia at the top of the gourmet world map.

The same goes for today’s recipe too. In his book Mercurio’s Menu, Paul Mercurio writes about his visits to Byron Bay where he was introduced to Russian garlic. This experience inspired him to come up with the ‘Byron bay guacamole’ in which he used jalapenos and Russian garlic to spice up this much loved Mexican dip.

Now, I couldn’t find Russian garlic in the area where I live but came across some beautiful ‘single clove garlic’ at the farmer’s market in Dandenong plaza. Also known as solo garlic or pearl garlic, this is my first experience with this type of garlic. Smaller in size with purple striations, I found it has a milder ‘garlicky’ taste and has a beautiful smell especially when roasted.

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I would strongly recommend using a mortar and pestle to make this guacamole. I prepared mine using this beauty from Kitchenware Direct.

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And this dish is a guest post I did for Holly of Simplify.Create.Inspire. To describe her in a nutshell, a mother, a blogger, and an ex-prison officer now studying to be a psychologist (wow!), Holly’s blog is all about her journey through life staying in touch with her creative self. So hop over not just for this amazing recipe but also to get creatively inspired.

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So, here’s the recipe for Byron bay guacamole – creamy avocado chunks infused with the sweetness of roasted pearl garlic and spiced with rustic smoky jalapenos.

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Roasted Okra Raita…..and taking baby steps towards a long cherished dream!

Change – the only constant in my life!

I get bored easily and possess an intense, almost obsessive need for change every now and then which reflects in all my aspects of my life. Be it career, fashion or daily menu – I crave for new experiences all the time. But I guess my intense craving for change is most glaringly obvious in my career changes.

Overlooking the fact that I wanted to be a carpenter when I was 3, my first real ambition in life was to be a journalist. I wanted to travel across the world, covering high profile stories of wars, poverty, children, politics…..following in the footsteps of Barkha Dutt, one of the famous award-winning female journalists of India. But that ambition died as suddenly as it began since my family was not keen on having their daughter globe-trotting or getting into trouble (as they saw it).

Well, like all Mallus (the sweet nickname given to those hailing from Kerala), the options were a career in Science or Maths. Arts is for the dumb-headed, didn’t you know that! I chose science, not because I was interested but simply because I could tolerate it better than Maths. And that’s how I ended up with a Master’s degree in Laboratory sciences and a career as a scientist. Well, that of course didn’t last long; I jumped out of it and went into scientific publishing! A 9-5 boring desk job; all I could take was a year of it before calling it quits. To cut a long story short, since then I have been through a couple of careers as a laboratory technologist, content writer, mystery shopper, scientific editor and my very recent, food blogger status. And now, I have come a full circle. I recently got the opportunity to freelance as a journalist/reporter with the leading Indian magazine in Australia, Indian Link.

Started off doing a couple of articles for their food column and before I knew it, I was given an opportunity to cover and write on the latest news, doing interviews etc… For someone with no formal training or experience, it is my passion that paved way to this opportunity. And thus, I embark on another new career…I honestly don’t know how long it will last, but I finally feel as I have got some closure. I am finally doing the two things I am most passionate about….writing and food!

Today’s dish is a true tribute to Indian vegetarian cooking. Raitas or yoghurt dips are a frequent addition to every meal; simple and understated but is the perfect accompaniment to lift any meal. This roasted okra raita is simple to prepare and full of robust flavour. Besan or chickpea flour is added to provide a crispy texture to the okra and also to thicken up the dip. Addition of besan as a thickening agent is a common practice in many parts of India especially in Maharashtra

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I paired this roasted okra dip with stuffed onion paratha and a quick Indian style bell pepper potato stir-fry. A meal to die for….

Recipe courtesy – India, the vegetarian table by Yamuna Devi

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Ingredients:

1. Okra/bhindi – 3 cups, cut into ½ inch slices
2. Garam masala – 2 tsp
3. Cayenne powder/paprika (alternatively, you can use red chilli powder)– ½ tsp
4. Coriander powder – ½ tbsp
5. Chickpea flour – ½ cup
6. Vegetable oil – for drizzling
7. Yoghurt – 2 cups, beat well till smooth
8. Cumin seeds – dry roasted and coarsely ground, ½ tbsp
9. Salt – to season
10. Coriander leaves/cilantro – 2 tbsp, chopped

Method:

• Preheat the oven to 450°F.
• In a bowl, combine the okra, cayenne, garam masala, coriander powder and chickpea flour. Season with salt and mix well.
• Spread the okra mixture in a baking tray and roast till richly browned. The original recipe said 15-20 minutes but it took me a good 40 minutes to achieve this. So check every now and then and remove when the okra has browned well.
• Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight container till serving time.
• Just before serving, place the beaten yoghurt in a bowl, add the okra crisps, crushed cumin and season with salt.
• Garnish with chopped coriander leaves

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