Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Tuscan" White Bean Soup

For a few days now, I have been sniffling away- yep, I got the cold! And I was craving for a nice bowl of warm, hearty and flavorful Tuscan White Bean soup. So off I went to the store the other day to get the ingredients- basically for a couple cans of white beans. I found the Great Northern kind (apparently there are 3 kinds of white beans- Cannellini, Great Northern and Navy [white beans that got popular in the Navy.......hence the name]). Picked up a couple cans and a few other items and came back home. I later realized that I forgot to get swiss chard that I was intending to use in the soup. Well, decided to make-do with spinach, that I usually have in my refrigerator.

The Ingreds: 

1. 2 cans of white beans
2. 1 good size red onion
3. 1 carrot
4. 3-4 cloves of garlic
5. 2 Veggie Stock cubes (you could use chicken or beef or any meat stock, if you like)
6. Herbs (I used sage, thyme, rosemary) &/or herb blend
7. Salt, pepper, some oil or butter or a combo (why not?!)
8. Spinach (Swiss chard would be better)

The Basic Ingreds
The Method:

1. Get that pot going on the stove with a little bit of oil or butter or both.
2. Throw in the garlic and onions. Sautee for a couple minutes and then add the carrots in. Sautee again. There is no need to really cook the onions and carrots as they will anyway get cooked in the next couple steps.
3. And then you add the lovely white beans to this. Now I usually prefer to drain canned beans and give them a quick wash before incorporating them into my cooking. But in this case, I don't mind using them straight from the can because the beans are soaking in salt water without any added preservatives. At least that's what the label claims! Pretty sure they can't lie about that, can they?
4. At this point I also add herbs and a couple cubes of veggie stock--- you know, to get the flavor going. I add an extra cup of water to get the desired consistency. There is no real need to add extra salt as the beans themselves have the salt and the veggie stock has the salt. Cover the pot and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
5. After 15 minutes have elapsed, I open the lid and with my ladle, mash up some of the beans right there, in the soup. This helps add some more creaminess to the soup. And finally, after switching off the stove, I add the spinach (swiss chard would be better) leaves right on top of that soup and cover the lid. The spinach will wilt because of all that heat from the soup.

Spinach on top of the soup
Hearty, Creamy & Flavorful!
And then before serving, I sprinkle some freshly ground pepper and the soup is ready to be eaten!

Aah! That soup smelled, looked and tasted delicious, full of flavor (thanks, veggie stock and the other herbs!). The best part was that there was no added cream nor all purpose flour--- the beans are pretty creamy by themselves and the consistency turns out perfect because of the mashing of some of those beans (See Step 5). And we didn't miss the swiss chard either! We had some whole wheat rustic bread on the side to dunk into that soup-- mmm, so satisfying!

Not sure what was "Tuscan" about the soup, but there, I fulfilled my craving for that nice bowl of warm, hearty and flavorful "Tuscan" White Bean soup!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eva's Apple Salad

I have lived in this neighborhood for almost 8 years now and over the years, have made some wonderful friends. Three of us, Anita, Beth and I, started doing this whole Girls' Nite Out thingy where we would once a month, usually a Friday night, pick a restaurant to go to and just do what we normal girls like to do---chat away to glory, eat some good food and laugh like crazy. And then soon we included three more neighbors, Michelle, Oindrila and Dawn. Now there's thirteen of us and what a wonderful diverse group we are!

Ever since February, we have stopped going to restaurants and instead, are into Potluck Parties. Anita hosted it first and made these amazing Polish Golumpkis- stuffed cabbage rolls-- delicious! Last Friday Dawn hosted the party and we again had some awesome food. We sure have some great cooks in our little group! In all that, there was this very simple looking apple salad that Eva, our newest member, had brought.

The first thought that comes to my mind about apple salad is chop up some apples and toss 'em with lemon juice so that they don't turn brown, sprinkle some salt and pepper and there, you have an apple salad. Well, this particular one changed my entire outlook on apple salad. One bite and there was this explosion of flavor and texture and it was extremely addictive. We pretty much wiped out that salad like we'd never eaten an apple salad before. Come to think of it, yes, we had indeed never eaten such a delicious apple salad before! Of course, I had to get the recipe from Eva, which I did and I made it yesterday. My family sure loved it!


1. A couple Fuji apples (or any other sweet apple of your choice)
2. 1 clove of garlic
3. Good olive oil
4. Manchego Cheese (this is what Eva specified--got it from Whole Foods. Spanish cheese made from Sheep's milk)
5. Lemon juice

The Ingreds, don't forget lemon juice

1. Chop up the apples and squeeze some lemon juice to prevent oxidation.
2. Crush the garlic and add to the chopped apples.
3. Chop up the Manchego cheese into little cubes (about the same size as the apple cubes).
4. Drizzle some good olive oil (EVOO works great) and toss everything together.
5. Chill it in the refrigerator. I added some freshly ground black pepper before serving.

Don't go by its simple looks!

The garlic and olive oil add such a wonderful unexpected twist to the salad and the firm yet buttery Manchego blends really well with the crunchy apple to create a textural delight in your palate. I wouldn't go by its simple looks. You have got to try it to actually realize what a genius salad this is!

The next potluck is going to be hosted by Judy. Wonder what new recipe I'll learn?!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Going Gourmet with Albino Asparagus

I love asparagus. Back while growing up, my dad used to take us to this Chinese restaurant in Bangalore (I forget what it was called) where I would always order chicken-asparagus soup that was THE best chicken-asparagus soup I have ever eaten. Now apparently the restaurant does not exist anymore. Anyway, so coming back to asparagus- I usually buy the normal green kind and cook it the standard way- you  know, either steamed, grilled or quickly sauteed and then sprinkled with some salt, pepper, crushed garlic, lemon juice. Oh and a drizzle of good olive oil. Sometimes add a dab of butter. Simple and delicious!

I happened to see albino asparagus yesterday in the store and decided to buy some for the first time. Was thinking of a nice gourmet meal for dinner. After thinking hard, I decided to stick to that standard recipe of quickly sauteeing the asparagus. And so, washed the asparagus.

White/Albino Asparagus
I got my pan going on the stove, threw in the asparagus, drizzled some good old olive oil, followed by some kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper as well as some dried herb powder. Within 3-4  minutes, it was done. It looked pretty good at that point. I then tasted it, starting with the tip. Hmm, nice- definitely milder than green asparagus. Then it began to taste bitter and stringy (peel). I figured that perhaps the bitterness is what makes it "gourmet!" Later, upon looking it up online, I learned that I should have peeled the asparagus. Oh well! Now I know!

Baked Salmon & Albino Asparagus
Finally we did have a gourmet meal that comprised of this beautiful mildly bitter (and not peeled!) white asparagus with baked salmon and brown+wild rice.

Gourmet Meal
I intend to buy white/albino asparagus again and actually cook it the right way. Well, I wasn't off by that much, really- the only thing I didn't do was to peel 'em. Next time I'll perhaps try to recreate that chicken-asparagus soup that I remember from childhood........I might be successful!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stars Revisited

Almost a year ago, I had jotted down my thoughts on some Food Network Stars  ( I don't watch that much Food Network anymore. The only shows I follow are Chopped, 10 Dollar Dinners and Good Eats that I just record on my DVR and then watch them later when it is time to unwind. However, on occasion, if I happen to linger around in my room during the day doing some chores, I switch on Channel 675 by default and the last few times I have watched Barefoot Contessa, yes, the sophisticated Ina Garten's show, I have actually liked her! Yes, shocking indeed- but I quite like her now and her cooking and her sophistication!!

I like Ina now!
What a change of opinion, eh? I mean, just last year I said that being sophisticated is boring. Well, I am afterall an average human being and we average human beings can be hypocrites!

About the other stars- can't say much about them because, like I said before, I don't watch much Food Network anymore.
My opinion on Paula is the same, though. I still like this Southern gal.
As for the "Food Encyclopedia" Mr. Brown--- I DVR his show, don't I?!

It is funny how my thinking has changed and is changing with the years. I am not just referring to my thoughts on Barefoot Contessa, but about life in general. Yeah, yeah- go ahead, say it--- Aparna, you are growing OLD!!!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Love those Sprouts!

You must have heard about sprouts and how good they are for your body. They are packed with easy-to-digest protein and a good deal of vitamins and minerals, in addition to being low in calories and carbs. They have the highest nutrition value when they are eaten raw, as with most veggies.

The good thing about sprouts is that you can actually "grow" them right in your kitchen! Take mung bean sprouts, for instance: take a handful of dried mung beans, wash them and soak them in water overnight. Then transfer them into a muslin cloth (or any thin wash cloth kind of cloth) and tie it up. Keep the cloth damp- leave it (they say in dark) for about 8-10 hours and make sure the cloth is damp throughout. This will aid in germination. Ta-da! At the end of the germination period, you will have "grown" some beautiful mung bean sprouts. Easy!

Luckily for me, the Indian store I go to carries mung bean sprouts- all ready to use. Not that I can't make them myself at home.......but you know, when it is available out there, might as well get it!

Here's a very simple mung bean salad recipe. All you need is a couple carrots, a handful of mung bean sprouts, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Yep, that is all!

1. I grate the carrots. If I am in the mood, I hand-grate them, else I just use the food-processor.

Grated Carrots
2. I open that little package of sprouts and give them a quick wash.
3. I throw in the washed sprouts onto the grated carrots. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice as per taste and mix it all up.

Mung Bean Sprouts
Mung Bean+Carrot Salad
4. And the salad is ready to eat!

Isn't this an extremely simple and fast recipe? The end product is extremely healthy too. You can go all creative and add other ingredients to this salad. Pomegranate seeds would be a great addition. You could throw in finely chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumber etc--- endless possibilities.

Go grab some sprouts today. Even better, "grow" them yourself in your very own kitchen. You will be proud of yourself!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spinach Raita

"Raita" is a yogurt-based dip that typically goes well with spicy Indian food. The standard kind is the one with onions and tomatoes and then there is the "boondi" raita, cucumber raita (quite similar to the Greek tzatziki) and the very delicious mint raita. There's the even more delicious beet raita and you can even make apple or pomegranate raita! So yeah, as you probably guessed it- you can make raita with pretty much any vegetable or fruit.

I make spinach raita quite often. Mostly because it literally takes 2 minutes and of course, is delicious. Also note that it is pretty healthy. I mean, think about it- you have that spinach loaded with Vitamins A and C plus calcium as well as iron and a lot of other good stuff. Mixed with that yogurt loaded with tummy-friendly lactobacillus. How much healthier can it get?!

I take:

1. Spinach- I just use the baby organic spinach that is all clean and ready to use. Frozen spinach will work just fine (thawed, of course)

2. Plain yogurt

3. Some oil, dried red chillies, salt, mustard seeds (you may omit this if you are going totally oil-less), Salt to taste.


1. I take a bowl and throw in chopped spinach. Sprinkle some salt (you don't need much salt- spinach by itself is a bit salty). Run this in the microwave for about a minute. Yep, that's all it takes to shrivel up the spinach. You don't even need water as the spinach will release water as it heats up. You want to retain that green color.

Spinach ready for the yogurt!
2. Next I spoon in the yogurt into this spinach and mix it all up.

At this point, it is pretty much ready. But then, if I am having a party, I like to dress it up a bit with some good old "tadka."

3. The Tadka: I take my cute little wok (
and pour in a teaspoon of oil and get it going on the stove. I then put in some mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds begin to splutter, I quickly add one or two dried red chillies (broken up) and I pour this onto the beautiful spinach raita.

The Tadka
Dressing up the Spinach Raita
4. Before serving, I give it a quick stir. Delicious!

Delicious, Healthy and Cool on your Tummy!
The next time you make some spicy Indian food, do make this raita. Even if you don't make some spicy Indian food, do make this raita and eat it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bread Pakoras

Where I live, it is always cloudy with a chance of rain; well and then there's about 3 months of sunshine. Some people think that this weather is rather depressing. But I think that it is actually quite romantic. A good excuse to snuggle up with your better-half. And a good excuse to eat some good old fried junk! Everybody likes some fried junk once in a while. I mean, come on, admit it, anything fried is "junkilicious!"

"Pakoras" are deep fried fritters- you can make them with onions, potatoes, cauliflower, spinach etc-- whatever you want. You can make chicken and fish pakoras too. And you can even make pakoras with bread.

1. The basic requirement for any kind of pakora is "besan," i.e. chickpea flour. You make a not-too-thick-not-too-thin smooth batter (you don't want lumps in there) with chickpea flour and water. Add salt, red chilli powder and any other spice of your choice. I, for instance, add cumin seeds, caraway seeds (ajwain), little bit of turmeric powder and sometimes even a pinch of garam masala. You could add some finely chopped green chillies and cilantro. Anything your mind desires.

2. Then take that bread. If it is sliced bread, I just cut each slice into four equal parts- so you get 4 little squares.

Chickpea batter and Bread Squares

3. Meanwhile pour in some oil in a pan/pot and get it going on the stove.

4. To check if the oil is hot enough or not, I just dip my finger into the batter and let that batter drop into the oil. I know that the oil is ready if that little droplet quickly sizzles and rises up and floats atop the oil. At that point, you start the frying process. Dip each bread square into the batter and then into the hot oil. I usually fry 5 to 6 squares in one go. Within a minute or two, one side will have browned up. Then you gotta flip all the squares so that the other side gets fried up too.

Dip the bread into the batter

Then put it into the hot oil

Frying up  one side

Flip to fry the other side
5. Once all the squares look nice and golden brown, you ladle them out with one of those slotted ladles. I put them onto a couple paper-towels just to blot out the extra oil (yeah, yeah, I know, it is anyway deep fried, so why bother......but hey, it is more for the esthetics).

Golden Brown Bread Pakoras!
6. Then you eat those hot, crisp junkilicious bread pakoras with ketchup or chutney or just by themselves! If it is raining outside, make yourself some lovely spiced Chai (tea) and you have the perfect combination! Mmm!

Junkilicious indeed!!

The next time it is cloudy outside and it is starting to rain and you are about to grumble about the weather, STOP! Go grab that bread and make yourself some bread pakoras and some spiced chai. Believe me, it'll make you happy. As for those extra calories, hey, knowing you, you probably would have already worked out a good sweat earlier during the day. So no sweat!