Saturday, May 19, 2018

Recipe of the month: Karnataka Speciality - Ragi Rotti (Finger Millet Pancake)

I'm back from my India sojourn! Home visits mean a lot to me - it offers a chance to reconnect with family, make new memories and recharge those drained out batteries ๐Ÿ˜Š

This post is courtesy of my recent trip you guys. Since the past few visits home, I have had the pleasure of savouring these ragi rottis for breakfast. My mom has had some much-needed help in the kitchen since the past three years and hailing from Mysore, these women have re-introduced the rural staple ragi rotti to our Tulu Nadu tastebuds. Having not eaten much of this dish during my childhood, I have to admit, I have taken an immense liking to it now. 

Ragi rotti is a breakfast dish from the state of Karnataka, India. It is most popular in the rural areas of southern Karnataka. It is made of ragi (finger millet) flour. Ragi rotti in the native language Kannada, literally translates to finger millet pancake. While on the subject, don't confuse ragi rotti with ragi roti. The latter is more like a chapati with ragi flour incorporated into the dough. Ragi rotti on the other hand, is prepared in the same way as the more well-known Akki rotti. The ragi flour is mixed with salt and water and kneaded well into a soft dough. While making the dough, chopped onions, grated carrots, chopped coriander, cumin seeds and more can be added to enhance the taste. A few drops of oil is spread over a griddle (tava) and a ball of the dough is thinly patted over it to resemble a thin pancake (rotti). Again, a little oil is drizzled over it and the tava is cooked over medium heat till the rotti turns crisp. Ragi Rotti is served hot and is usually eaten along with coriander or peanut chutney.

So my mum's current cook is a kind, matronly woman from Mysore who makes really yummy ragi rotti. I've eaten them twice before and this visit, I decided that I would jot down the recipe and observe how she makes them. Compared to most ragi rotti recipes that I have come across, she adds an extra step by making a finely ground mixture of roasted chana dal, coconut and green chillies and mixing it with the rest of the ingredients to form a dough. Her reasoning is that it improves the taste and texture of the rottis. I concur! The rottis she makes are soft yet crispy and packed full of flavour. She makes a moreish chutney on the side and slathered with a knob of butter and my mum's fabulous filter coffee, this makes for one dynamite breakfast! 

I've said this before in my previous Instant Ragi Dosa post - ragi has high protein content, is a rich source of minerals, helps control diabetes, keeps weight in check, battles anemia, reduces 'bad' cholesterol and has anti-cancer properties. You don't really need to go looking for any other trendy and overpriced  'superfoods'. This ancient and cheap wonder grain does you a world of good and makes you feel full. This dish in particular is easy to make, nutritious, vegan, gluten-free and tastes wonderful too! That is checking all the boxes for even the most specific dietary needs, don't you think?

So I hope I have convinced you to give this dish a go, especially if you have never tried it before. Let me know what you think ๐Ÿ˜Š

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Baker's Corner: Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti

Look who decided to finally show up on the blog ๐Ÿ˜ I know folks....sporadic appearances are no good. Just as I wrapped up a long and eventful holiday to India and was getting into the groove, I will be leaving in a few days for yet another trip to the homeland ๐Ÿ˜› What's more is that after I get back from this trip, I have my parents visit to look forward to at the end of the month. But after they leave, I will be staying put for a while (I think!) and don't expect any other visitors (but one never knows!) so that should free up some of my time and energy to commit to blogging. 

Biscotti known also as cantuccini, are Italian almond biscuits that originated in the city of Prato. The word originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning "twice-cooked". It encompassed oven-baked goods that were baked twice, so they became very dry and could be stored for long periods of time. Biscotti are oblong-shaped, dry and crunchy biscuits that can be enjoyed as is or served alongside a beverage (traditionally, sweet fortified wine such as Vin Santo).

Not everyone has a thing for biscotti. They may be considered as glorified rusks to many but modern versions incorporate ingredients and flavours to make them more fancy and interesting. And they are great to dunk in coffee, tea or even plain milk so they can double-up as a mid-morning or evening snack. I swapped the traditional almonds for pistachios and used dried cranberries (which I love!). For flavour, I added fennel powder, cardamom powder and nutmeg to give the biscuits a spice-infused perfume. You may use chocolate, citrus zest, any kind of dried fruit or nut and spice powders such as cinnamon, anise seed and five-spice. 

Don't let the twice-baked tag fool you into thinking these biscuits are fiddly. They are truly simple to make, do not require any special cooking equipment and are easily customizable (you can control the amount of sugar and the flavorings to suit your preference). Moreover, biscotti can last for eternity! Well, not exactly eternity but you get what I mean right? ๐Ÿ˜† Since they are baked twice, there is little to no moisture in them and can keep as room temperature for several weeks. I stored mine in an air-tight box and kept them on the dining table and they were gone in no time. These biscuits also make for the perfect edible gifts. 

I'm off to finish sorting, packing and making never-ending lists! I'll be back with more stuff real soon. Meanwhile, if you have absolutely nothing else to do and bored out of your mind, you can always catch snippets of my home trip on Instagram ๐Ÿ˜›

Ciao ๐Ÿ™‹

Monday, April 2, 2018

Vietnamese-Style Vegan Summer Rolls with a Peanut Dipping Sauce

Think summer. Think colorful veggies, fresh greens and aromatic herbs. Think of a light, healthy and flavourful meal. These Vietnamese-style summer rolls checks all the boxes! 

These fresh summer rolls or salad rolls are made from featherlight rice paper wrappers encasing fresh crunchy vegetables partnered with cold proteins, fresh herbs, and sometimes rice vermicelli noodles. Although they are Vietnamese in origin, there are plenty of variations that have popped up.

I have always had a thing for spring rolls. Who doesn't like the universally popular deep-fried snack? We eat spring rolls all the time at home (just for the family and also while entertaining) as well as at restaurants. My domestic helper makes delicious spring rolls and this is an appetizer I ask her to make regularly. The only time I had the fresh translucent kind of rolls was in Vietnam and even though I found them refreshingly different, delicious and a much healthier alternative to the deep-fried kind, I had not tried them for myself. With my current healthy eating plan going on in full swing, I felt it was high time to make these low-calorie packages of summer goodness. I had plenty of inspiration from my brother and sister-in-law who have been making summer rolls for a while and who had recommended that I try them. 

Now, pardon me but I'm not sure about the origins of the terms 'spring rolls' and 'summer rolls' and if they refer to two separate entities or even if the term 'spring roll' can be applied to both varieties but for this post, I'm sticking to the term summer rolls. Kapish?

I knew what veggies and herbs I was going to use but for the protein, I wanted to elevate the tofu to make it extra special. Psst...while on the subject of tofu, I'll let you in on a `secret - I actually hate tofu in its natural unmodified form. Don't like its texture one bit and I find it horribly bland. So, I made sure to transform it into something much more appetizing before it made its way into the rolls. And of course, I was also going to to a spicy flavour-packed dipping sauce on the side. Peanut butter and sriracha make a trendy combo and together, they are bound to result in an explosion of flavours that excite the palate. 

These summer rolls are highly customizable so you can add whatever veggies or greens you like. But understand that using fresh and colorful produce is paramount in summer rolls. Of course, you can use leftover ingredients like rice noodles or meat to fill your rolls but, you do want to make sure you include at least two to three elements with a crunch, like carrot, cucumber, bell peppers, bean sprouts, or lettuce. Fresh herbs will do wonders for capturing the Vietnamese fresh summer roll flavor. Just a few leaves of thai basil, mint, or cilantro can brighten up the flavor of the rolls. Also, garnishes like crushed peanuts and sesame seeds help to bring in even more flavour and texture. 

Setting your ingredients up in an assembly line on your workstation is key. It makes things much easier, less messy and you can trust that you won't forget any ingredient. 

Now doesn't that look appetizing? 

I think that Vietnamese fresh summer rolls are one of those things that people would like to eat but always assume are too cumbersome or difficult to make at home. I won't sugar coat it - there is considerable prep involved (mostly chopping) and it does take time to assemble the rolls but a lot of the steps can be done ahead of time and with a little bit of planning, you can get these done without feeling like being in the kitchen forever. Moreover, if you have a little help, it definitely makes things much easier. Get the partner, kids, siblings, parents, friends....whoever is around involved! Also, if it is your first time handling rice paper, you may fiddle a bit with the first few (and even destroy them!) but trust me, you will get the hang of it with a little practice. 

So if you haven't tried making these summer rolls yet, I suggest you waste no more time. My version here is a vegan and gluten-free one so I'm assuming it can cater to almost everybody right? These summer rolls can serve as a cool summertime appetizer, a wonderfully light lunch or dinner or a grab and go snack. They can be enjoyed room temperature or even cold. These light yet satisfying, nutritious and adaptable summer rolls must be included in your menu plan for the week. 

So let's get rolling shall we? 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Baker's Corner: Chocolate Coffee Cake with a Mocha Whipped Cream Frosting

Don't judge me based on this rich and indulgent recipe okay? For those following me on Facebook and Instagram you would know that I am still faithfully committed to my weightloss journey with a 5kg reduction since the start of this year (not too bad, eh?). I've doubled my intake of water and fruits, tripled my intake of whole grains and veggies and drastically cut down on refined sugar and processed foods. I'm still tossing up salads galore and trying to make conscious and healthy substitutions during every meal preparation (except on weekends of course ๐Ÿ˜›). I solemnly swear that I will be back with some delicious and healthy savoury recipes soon but for now, I have another sweet bake for you! 

This post is a prelude to my previous post. Earlier this month, it was my  husband's birthday and I thought I'd be a Stepford wife and bake him a nice cake ๐Ÿ˜† I asked him if he would like a fruit-based cake, a chocolate cake or a coffee flavoured cake and his almost immediate reply was that he would prefer either a chocolate cake or a coffee cake. Since chocolate and coffee compliment each other brilliantly (the coffee making the chocolate taste richer, darker and more intense), I decided to pair both flavours together in my cake. I knew for sure that I didn't want to go the buttercream route so I zeroed in on whipped cream. I am intimidated by whipped cream and usually steer clear of it when it comes to cakes so I was determined to get it right this time. The week before his birthday, I browsed through several recipes, jotted down proportions, made notes and outlined the recipe I was going to try out. 

Turns out that the previous day of his birthday I started to feel feverish right from the time I woke up in the morning. It was unfortunate timing since I had actually planned to bake the cake and make the frosting that evening so I could decorate the cake and stash it in the fridge the next day before I left for work. So, after getting home from work that day, I ended up doing nothing and instead lay bundled up on the couch in a thick jumper and an even thicker quilt because I couldn't stop my teeth chattering from the chills in the midst of a blazing fever. To make things worse, a bout of coughing fits and a terrible sore throat completely put me out of commision. I had even lost my voice so a few indistinct croaks was all I could manage in the name of communication. Looking at my woebegone state, my husband cancelled the dinner reservations we had made for his birthday. He spent the rest of the evening taking charge of the household and looking after the kids while I could get the rest I so desperately needed. 

The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn feeling even worse than the day before. Fantastic right?! ๐Ÿ˜’ I knew there was no way I could go to work so I quickly texted my boss that I would be calling in sick. A session of steam inhalation, salt water gargling, a visit to the GP, 5-6 different kinds of medications, a few lozenges and copious amounts of hydration later, I started to feel marginally better. While the kids were at school I even took a nap and by afternoon the fever had subsided, I was in better spirits and able to converse in an audible language as opposed to frantic gesticulations. 

Racked with guilt that I put a damper on his birthday plans (not that he was even bothered!), I decided to go ahead with the birthday cake. I felt like it was the least I could do. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a stash of mouth masks and latex gloves in my medicine cabinet and began to make the cake with my protective (albeit ridiculous) garb on. It is another matter that I looked more like a surgeon than a baker ๐Ÿ˜ But then again, I couldn't afford the risk of spraying the birthday boy's cake with a cocktail of my nasty germs, could I?

In the end, the cake turned out to be quite the success story - the cake itself was very easy to make, the consistency and flavour of the whipped cream frosting came out better than I expected, the frosting and piping didn't take me any time at all and the cake was chocolatey, perfumed with coffee, dense and moist at the same time without being too sweet. Everyone gave it the thumbs up. And most importantly, no one fell violently ill after eating my cake! ๐Ÿ˜‚

So for all the efforts I took to make this cake, don't you think you should be a dear and try out the recipe? And remember, reader feedback is important to me so please leave a comment if you do ๐Ÿ˜Š

Here's to chocolate and coffee.....the two great loves of my life!