22 Dec 2011

Tomato, Garlic, Olives and Bread Tapas

My mom and I love appetizers. We can make a meal out of them. Currently we are trying to understand more about Spanish cuisine, particularly the concept of tapas. Everyone knows that they are perfect for cocktail parties and the stories about their origin are numerous. But the one that intrigues me most is the vision of wealthy Spanish nobles lounging on couches and consuming food. Apparently they did not like to use cutlery as they reclined on their left arms and used only the right arm for eating! This is how the concept of finger food or nibbles, as I call them, was introduced in Spain.

Olives and tomatoes are like my comfort food. I love lounging with a book and a plate of olive and tomato tapas by my side.

Once the tomatoes are blanched and chopped, these are pretty simple to make. The use of brown sugar and lemon impart a different sort of tangy flavor. I suggest that you keep the flavor simple and do not add any extra garnishes.

Tomato, Garlic, Olives and Bread Tapas
Adapted from Graphiti
 Serves 4

4 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped
4 – 5 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
Zest of ½ lime
1 tbsp lime juice
1 ½ tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
A few black olives finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
6 slices brown bread
Black olive slices for garnish

  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan, add garlic and sauté until it starts to brown.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, brown sugar and lime zest. Cook stirring, until tomatoes turn mushy.
  3. Add olives, lime juice and remaining oil, mix well and cook for another 6 – 8 mins.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, remove from fire and set it aside.
  5. Toast the bread slices and cut into 4 squares each.
Spoon the tomato, garlic and olive mix onto each piece. Garnish with olive slices and serve immediately

18 Dec 2011

Wine Poached Pears

Wine poached pears and the company of good friends. My friends J and V came over one evening and helped me make these pears. Or rather, the sauce for these pears. While V was on the phone the entire time, J helped by stirring the sauce for me. The sauce caramelized (oh, no!) but we had the best time pulling “strands” from the pot and watching it harden in the cold December air. We then proceeded to eat these “strands” and all the wonderful “shapes” we had tried to make in the “air.”  My sauce definitely got ruined (and needless to say my New Year’s resolution is going to be to work on reducing my sauces – especially after the orange marmalade disaster. But that is another story). But the hard wine candy was surprisingly good. In fact I even broke it up and kept some away for foodie.

The next thing was to take pictures. Since my camera had gone on a holiday with my parents, V had to get his. We bounced around the house trying to get the perfect props and lighting in place and V was still on the phone. Though I could not get a very good picture, I now kind of have an idea on the best places to photograph in the house. What followed was a veritable feast of poached pears, vanilla ice cream, wine candy and chocolate sauce. This time V got off the phone!

I would suggest that you start with firm pears. The soft ones will not hold their shape and tend to become lumpy. You can water down the wine a little bit if you prefer. If you do so, a good proportion would be a ratio of wine to water – 3: 1. Add any spices that you like. I put in a stick of cinnamon and 3 star anise. I have a feeling that some orange peel will be great too. The amount of time needed for poaching depends on the kind of pears used and whether you have put them in whole or in pieces. A whole pear takes longer to poach and the firm Asian pears (the ones I used) will also take longer. See how you like them – if you like a bit of crunch, then poach for less time than if you like them to be very soft.  

If you scared of reductions (like me) then just leave the pears in the liquid. If not, reduce the liquid for 5 – 10 minutes or until it becomes half its quantity. This is your sauce. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Wine Poached Pears
Adapted from David Lebovitz


2 firm Asian pears, peeled
375 ml red wine
125 ml water
130 gms sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 -3 star anise

  1. Pour the wine and water in a large saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon and star anise. Heat this until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Add the pears and cover the pan so that the vapor does not escape.
  3. Keep the liquid on a low boil and simmer for around 45 minutes. Flip the pears on their other side at 22 minutes. Check to see if they are cooked.
  4. Remove from heat and let them cool in their liquid.
  5. Serve with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

12 Dec 2011

Travelling Diva by Ritu Dalmia

I first came across Ritu Dalmia through her TV show Italian Khana. Her episode on truffles and the dogs hunting them left me staring at the tv set for more than half an hour without blinking. The second time was when a friend promised to tell me when the chef was coming to the city to conduct her classes. She “forgot” and I had to make do with the recipes but without the expert advice accompanying it.

What actually prompted me to buy this book was Ritu Dalmia sitting on a glorified scooter, basket of veggies on the back seat, having the time of her life! Well, that and the great discount I got.

This cookbook has over 120 recipes ranging from wok fried variations of rice and noodles from the streets of Beijing and Bangkok to the very Caribbean jambalaya; the tastiest Swiss roesti to the quintessential Javanese chicken and coconut curry; wicked Austrian desserts to the American red velvet cake; crisp and light Philippino spring rolls to her own version of Bhindi Bhojpuri. Not to mention cookies, dips and other munch worthy tidbits that promises to change the way we snack!

The book is divided into sections such as ‘Sole Food, Soul Food’ – those are easy one – dish meals to pamper oneself with, ‘More for the Merry’ – fun finger food for a party, ‘The Morning After’ – for brunches and picnics, ‘Table for Two’ – for special occasions and ‘After Hours’ – easy snacks for when a craving hits.

It also has sections on tools and ingredients required for the kitchen and a basic recipes chapter that deals with a few sauces and stocks. The stores and suppliers list is exhaustive and covers all the major cities in the country. More than any other chapter, these 3 chapters were the ones I was most appreciative about as Dalmia speaks only for the Indian cook and the Indian kitchen. This means that she doesn’t use fancy ingredients and tools that would be nearly impossible to find – in fact all of the stuff she mentions can be found in Kolkata (which is a very very rare occurrence).

She also has a chapter on where she eats when globetrotting. She recommends “overpriced” as well as “tiny family run shops” in places like London, Scotland, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Turkey and Spain as well as places closer home like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

There is a special introduction to each chapter and not just a general one for the entire book. In each introduction she writes about why she has included the recipes she has. Each chapter starts with a funny quote like, “if we are not supposed to eat midnight snacks, why is there a light in the fridge?” Dalmia does not mess around with different serving sizes for each recipe. There is a general serving size for each chapter and every recipe in that chapter conforms to it. Each of them also come with a personal anecdote mixed with a bit of history about the dish that makes a fun read – yes, many of them had me snickering away by myself! Her style of writing is clear, concise and easy to read. Almost none of the recipes are over a page long.

Though the book deals with a mix of cuisines, it does not seem forced. The categories of chapters are also unique and not your usual appetizers, mains, desserts and drink sections. Personally I could do with a few more pictures but the quirky illustrations at the bottom of most pages (like a fish and pig in a chef’s hat) made up for it. Also, with difficult to understand dishes like the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, she has step by step pictures that clearly illustrate the techniques.

The Chef suggests variations that can be made to each dish at the bottom of most recipes. What I especially love is the fact that she has made most of the recipes veg and has a non veg option to it instead of leaving out the vegetarians altogether. She has a variety of menus at the end of each chapter with titles like ‘Light on the Stomach,’ ‘Ultimate Aphrodisiac Dinner,’ ‘Brunch in the Garden,’ ‘For Those who Love their Greens,’ and ‘For those who Love their Meats.’ And I can say this a millions times – I love the fact that she doesn’t ignore vegetarians!

Having made her deluxe tomato sauce from page 10, I can safely say that it is not only her writing which is brilliant, but her recipes too. She gives you enough creative liberty to spice things up your own way but makes sure you get the techniques right. This is the first time an Indian chef has bothered to write such a book – international food for the Indian audience all the way! Its definitely worth a buy.