Sunday, May 1, 2016

Recipe of the month: Paneer Paratha (Cottage Cheese Stuffed Flatbreads)

In a previous aloo paratha post, I have highlighted how making parathas doesn't come naturally to me. Being South Indian, parathas weren't among the staple fare at home so most of my experience with them came from eating at restaurants and dhabas. Sure, my mum did make them occasionally and those would constitute "special" items which me and my siblings would look forward to eagerly. But acquiring any kind of skills or tips/tricks that were essential to making good stuffed parathas was never a part of my early culinary education.

I love all kinds of stuffed parathas. The best thing about them for me (aside from the obvious taste factor) is that a side dish is not required. Give the parathas a good lashing of ghee (yes lashing!), serve with some plain yoghurt, a smidgen of pickle on the side and you have a done deal.

I think over the years, after struggles of every kind, I've gotten infinitely better at making stuffed parathas. I make them regularly for my little ones too and that has also helped me better my technique. From personal experience, I find that using good quality whole wheat flour, adding a little ghee or oil to the dough, kneading the dough with warm water, letting the dough rest, ensuring that the stuffing contains as less moisture as possible and using a gentle pressure while rolling out the parathas are key aspects in paratha-making. I still find it a challenge to get the shape perfectly round but that doesn't bother me anymore. As long as they taste good, I'm good! While aloo parathas still rule the roost and rajma cheese parathas make an appearance every now and then, I seldom try other varieties. I have only vague recollections of making gobi parathas, mixed vegetable parathas and peas parathas in the past. Note to self: MUST broaden paratha repertoire!

I can't even remember the last time I made paneer parathas. It certainly has been a while. I didn't even recall which recipe I had consulted previously. The only thing I recall was that ajwain and paneer go well together in parathas (my mum uses this combo). I didn't follow any particular recipe and just improvised as I went and ended up with this version. It turned out good enough to merit a feature on the blog and so without further ado, here it is 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Why you should visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a historical tropical garden nestled in the heart of Singapore. This is an attraction I have visited multiple times yet I never get enough of it. Whenever we have family or friends visiting us, we take them to the Botanic Gardens and it never ceases to cast its magical spell. Unsurprisingly, the Gardens has been ranked Asia's top park attraction since 2013, by TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards. A visually stunning, pristine oasis right in the middle of a concrete jungle, it is one of the most popular weekend retreats for residents. Locals and tourists alike can enjoy a stroll at the gardens, take in the fresh air, soak in the greenery, lap up the tranquility, enjoy a picnic or watch musical performances at the Symphony Lake.

Over our numerous trips, I have accumulated a bevy of photographs which lay scattered in different folders. Since the Singapore Botanical Gardens was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year, I thought it deserved an exclusive blog post. I finally got around to doing so last week and had to spend considerable time combing through albums dating back to 2006!

The Singapore Botanic Gardens helped to transform the island into a tropical 'Garden City', a moniker for which the nation is widely known. In 1981, the hybrid climbing orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, was chosen as the nation's national flower. Singapore's "orchid diplomacy" honors visiting head of states, dignitaries and celebrities, by naming its finest hybrids after them; these are displayed at its popular VIP Orchid Gardens.

Pssst....while on the subject of celebrities, Indians take note - there is an orchid named after Shah Rukh Khan too!

Some  facts and figures for you:
  • The Botanic Gardens spans 74-hectares and includes the National Orchid Garden which has over 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids on display
  • Singapore's Botanic Gardens is the only one in the world that opens from 5am to 12 midnight every day of the year
  • The Botanic Gardens receives about 4.5 million visitors annually
Pretty cool eh? 

The Gardens is currently based on a three-core concept. The three cores are comprised of Tanglin which is the heritage core retaining the old favourites and charms of the Gardens; Central, the tourist belt of the Gardens; and Bukit Timah, the educational and discovery zone.

The 156-year-old sprawling Singapore attraction joins more than 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites spawning 160 countries. It is the third Botanic Gardens to be listed as a World Heritage Site, and Singapore's first World Heritage Site. A matter of great pride for Singaporeans 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Baker's Corner: Spinach and Mushroom Whole Wheat Rolls

I'm in one of my healthy eating phases right now. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I go through these 'episodes' twice or thrice a year. During this time you see the more 'healthy' recipes showing up on my blog. LOL! I'm too much of a foodie glutton to make it a permanent thing though. Come to think of it, I actually hate the word 'diet' (it has the word 'die' in it, duh!). Methinks, I should remove it completely from my vocabulary.

Like most normal human beings, I get peckish in the late afternoons and feel the need to nibble on some munchies. It generally helps stave off the mid-day energy slump. And having to chase after two super active puffs the whole day makes it an absolute necessity. If given a choice, I wouldn't think twice before reaching out for that bag of chips or some other unhealthy snack that I can get my hands on. But since I've been opting for sensible food choices, I made sure to stock up my fridge with a whole bunch of fruits and decided that I would turn to them when the PM hunger attacks strike. Well, guess what? I didn't last two days! On day three, I gazed scornfully at the guava in front of me and decided I couldn't do it without the risk of mindless binge eating later on. I needed something savoury and something a bit more substantial. And BOOM! These spinach and mushroom whole wheat rolls were born!

I may lack the motivation to adhere to my diet food intake regimen but I seldom lack the motivation to cook  

This recipe was a spur-of-the-moment thing born out of my desire to eat something hot and savoury with the ingredients I had on hand. I had absolutely no idea how they would turn out. I had whole wheat flour, tomatoes, onions, garlic, baby spinach, mushrooms and cheese so I just put everything together and said a little prayer. The fresh-out-of-the-oven rolls were soft, delicious and comforting. I could have rolled the dough a little thinner but that was the only minor failing that I perceived. I wanted a second opinion so I waited till my husband got back from work, pestered him for his verdict and was relieved when he concurred.

These rolls are great as an evening snack along with a hot beverage or even as an on-the-go breakfast. You can tweak this recipe to appease your taste buds. Be sure to scroll down to the notes section for possible variations and substitutions.

Happy healthy eating!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Recipe of the month: Kidney Bean, Chickpea & Avocado Salad with Feta

OMG! The day has finally come when my blog is graced by a salad recipe! *pats self on the back* 

What took so long, you ask? I consider salads to be blah and I don't do blah. It is as simple as that.

Sure, I can have a small serving of salad alongside a substantial main course but give me a bowl of measly 'garden' salad and tell me that it is all I get to eat and I may just suffer a panic attack! You know those skinny girls who go to a restaurant and order just a salad? I'm not one of them (and well, I'm not skinny by any stretch of imagination either but that's not the point!). Come to think of it, I actually envy anyone who can make do with salad as a main meal. I am a perpetually hungry girl and I like to eat (and by eat I mean good hearty food and not rabbit food).

Now that I've established that I'm not a huge fan of salads let me tell you how I came to change my equation with them. Me and my hubby had been to Vietnam a few years ago on holiday and it was there that I was completely blown away by the kind of salads that most of the restaurants offered. They were fresh, flavourful, balanced and satisfying. I had a taste epiphany while I was there! I don't think I have ever had that many salads at one stretch of time in my entire life. I would actually get excited by the prospect of eating my next salad (and that had NEVER happened to me before). Of the many salads I ate there, I distinctly remember a gorgeous banana flower salad, a deceptively simple salad of julienned radish in a honey garlic vinaigrette topped with toasted sesame seeds and a spectacular beet salad with goat's cheese and hazelnuts. My opinion on salads definitely changed for the better while I was there. 

After coming back to Singapore, I vowed I would make more of an effort to incorporate salads into my diet. I do make salads at home but honestly, it isn't on a regular basis. I sincerely hope that can change. The good thing is, at the moment, I am on a self-devised weight loss regimen so in addition to swimming and brisk walks, my daily menu relies heavily on healthy greens and veggies to keep my ballooning weight in check. Salads are a no-brainer there, right? I consider lettuce to be boring and much prefer the likes of mesclun, arugula, watercress, baby spinach, basil, parsley, mint and microgreens in my salad. And I especially love protein-packed salads - those that have legumes, beans, nuts and/or boiled eggs in them.

This particular salad is something I made recently and fell in love with! Salads earn a bad rep for being plain and uninspiring (and a lot of them are) but this one is anything but. The four main staples of every salad include greens, protein, healthy fats and carbs and this one checks all the boxes. It has kidney beans, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, garlic, red onion, lemon, herbs, avocado and feta cheese. The lemon gives it that freshness and zing, the cherry tomatoes provide bursts of sweetness, the avocado and feta impart creaminess, the kidney beans and chickpeas make it hearty and everything else adds oodles of flavour. Yeah I know it has feta cheese but you know what? A little cheese never hurt anyone! Buy a lighter version or use less if it bothers you.

You can enjoy this salad as a side dish to a main meal or else use it to make delicious wraps or a topping for crostini. It is naturally gluten-free and can be transformed into a vegan version if you replace the feta with tofu. This is a win-win dish in that it looks good, tastes great and doesn't contribute significantly to your weight woes. 

Try it and if you feel the same way about salads as I previously did, you may just change your mind with this one!