Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Tandoori dishes originated in the northwest part of India (near the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan).  A Tandoor (clay oven) was used to make flatbread for the community – dough in the form of “tandoori roti” or “naan” was patted into flat round or tear shaped disks, moistened and stuck to the clay oven which was set over hot coals.  It was also used to cook skewered meat or chicken, with the tip of the skewers placed in the coal so the meat could be could cooked by both radiant and convection heat.

My first introduction to tandoori chicken was in Old Delhi at a very well known restaurant called Moti Mahal.  There was not much to the atmosphere but the restaurant was always packed – the food was outstanding!

Tandoori food is pretty simple to make at home if you have a grill, and even using a standard oven. I used to make Murgh Makhani using tomato puree, but came up with an even easier and tastier short cut-  using tomato soup. I have been using Trader Joe’s Tomato, or Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper soup which comes in a carton. This can also be made as a vegetarian dish substituting paneer (indian cubed cottage cheese) or tofu.

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Ingredients

1 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1/2″ cubes

Marinade:

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon each, garlic and ginger paste

2 tablespoons Tandoori spice mix OR the next 4 ingredients

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 cup yogurt (non fat or regular)*

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon orange food color (don’t use red as it will turn the marinade pink!)

Sauce:

3 cups tomato soup (if using condensed soup dilute with 1/2 can of water)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Preparation

Mix all of the “marinade” ingredients together, and then stir in the chicken. Keep in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

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Skewer the chicken. Grill or broil on each side, about 4 minutes, until the chicken is cooked (about 8 minutes total). If using the broiler, place the rack one level from the top.

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Remove from skewers and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter on low heat, till it is melted. Add the cayenne pepper, salt and coriander powder.

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Stir and add the tomato soup.

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Simmer for 5 minutes; then add the tandoori chicken pieces.

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When heated through add the whipping cream, simmer for 3-5 minutes.

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Serve with rice or Naan.

* I prefer Greek yogurt, as regular yogurt makes the marinade more watery, but I use whichever I have on hand.

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Millet Patties

On my recent trip to India, my sister in law told me that she had recently started cooking with Millet. She explained that it has nutritional benefits similar to Quinoa and some other grains but cheaper and easier to find. Millet is a drought tolerant plant which has been grown in many countries pretty easily whereas Quinoa is pricier because it is mainly grown only in the Andes region of South America. Although not a complete protein like Quinoa, it still has quite a high protein content.

Millet is a leading staple grain of India – it is ground and used as a flour to make “rotis” (indian unleavened bread) and also eaten as “ragi” porridge. Though I remember as a child I was given this porridge and I did not like it at all!

Substituting millet for rice was an easy way to start experimenting with recipes, so I used the hulled millet which was available at Whole Foods. I toasted the millet and cooked it like rice. Everyone seemed to eat it though the consensus was that they preferred rice.

The next day I decided to do something different with the remaining cooked millet. After looking online at a few recipes for cutlets and croquettes, I decided to try making my own version combined with leftover vegetables which was a big hit!  It seemed like the perfect grain for making these cutlets, perhaps because of the starch in the millet, egg or breadcrumbs aren’t needed to bind or coat the patties.

I used my favorite frying pan which is my cast iron pan – very little oil is needed and it is practically non stick. (I use my cast iron pan daily… to make pancakes, grilled cheese, chapatis or dosas to name a few!)  The pan does take a little while to heat up – I usually turn it on to medium heat and then after 5-10 minutes or when it is hot, I turn the heat down to low. The patties turned out crisp using the cast iron skillet and I didn’t need to add much oil.

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Ingredients

1 cup hulled millet

2 1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup coarsely grated carrots

2 cloves garlic, grated

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1-2 small green chilies, finely cut up

1/2 cup cooked corn kernels

1/4 cup finely diced green or red bell pepper

2 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

oil for sauteing

Preparation

Toast the millet in a skillet for 3-4 minutes till the millet starts to pop. Add the millet to a saucepan and add 2 1/2 cup water and the salt and bring to boil, simmer till the water is absorbed and the millet is cooked.

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Using a potato masher , mash the cooked millet. add the remains ingredients.

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Take about a 1/3 cup of the mixture, flatten into patties.

Heat a cast iron ( or non stick skillet ) and add 1 tablespoon oil to it and add the patties. Cook on low to medium heat, and cook on low heat for 5-8 minutes till the patties and brown and crisp.Serve immediately or keep warm in a warm oven .

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Spicy Swiss Chard , Spinach and Corn

My very good friend from Spain introduced me to Swiss Chard. She told me she would buy it regularly, but the stores in Columbia didn’t carry it at the time. So, she asked one of them to stock it for her. Now I know why; it is a delicious leafy green vegetable which is full of antioxidants, Vitamin K, and Calcium. It’s easy to digest and all of the nutrition is great for bone health!

The first time I made it I combined it with baby spinach because I had some left over from a previous meal. It cooks quickly and is easy to make – Swiss Chard has become a frequent guest at our table. Instead of corn, you could add Paneer (Indian cottage cheese), tofu cubes, or mushrooms!

Ingredients

4-5 cups Swiss Chard leaves, chopped coarsely (discard the the thick stems)

4 cups baby Spinach (or regular Spinach)

2 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 green chillies, cut fine

1 cup onions, cut fine

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup corn, cooked

Preparation

Put a large pot of water on high heat. When it starts boiling, add the swiss chard and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the water. Blend the greens with this water until smooth.

Heat oil in the same pan; add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Stir for 1 minute till the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and green chilies and cook until the onions become light brown in color.

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Add the blended greens , salt and turmeric; stir for 2 minutes.  Add the corn; simmer for a few minutes until done.

Shredded Cabbage with Peppers

IMG_2152Cabbage is not the most popular vegetable, but one of the healthiest.  I found this recipe some time ago which my family enjoys – it is quick to make and a nice addition to most meals. I like the texture, flavor and color that red bell peppers add to the dish, but any other vegetable like potatoes, peas and carrots can be added instead.

The most timing consuming part is chopping the cabbage. You can either buy the pre-packaged “coleslaw” cabbage in the salad section of the grocery store, or use an adjustable slicer like a mandolin which makes it easy to cut the cabbage very thin.  To cut it by hand, cut in half and remove the core first.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1-2 green chillies, slit (or dry red chilies)

3 cloves garlic, sliced thin

4 cups finely shredded cabbageIMG_2147

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 large red (or green) bell pepper, thinly sliced

Lemon or lime

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Preparation

Heat oil in a wok, add mustard seeds, cover pan until the seeds start popping.

Remove cover, add the chili’s and garlic, and stir for a few seconds till the chili’s just start to turn brown. Add the cabbage, salt and turmeric.  Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes.

Add the red pepper and continue to stir for another 3-4 minutes until the cabbage is crisp tender.

If you like cabbage to be a little more tender, continue to stir till the cabbage is cooked a bit more.

Add a squeeze of lemon or lime and garnish with cilantro.

Black-Eyed Peas Stir Fry

Black-eyed peas are one of the most versatile legumes to make. They are very nutritious – high in iron, Vitamin B, C, zinc, soluble fiber and protein. Down here in the South (we live in South Carolina), black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Years Day as they are considered to bring “good luck” for the coming year. I use canned or dried… depending on how much time I have to prepare the meal. If using the dried beans I soak them overnight with a pinch of baking soda, which reduces the cooking time. We (and most Indian families) have a pressure cooker, which makes it even quicker to cook dried beans and lentils – black-eyed peas cook in 5 to 7 minutes with a pressure cooker, versus 45 minutes to an hour on the stove top. This recipe is very flavorful and a good one for children as well. IMG_1963

Ingredients

2 cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed OR .. 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and cooked in water for about 45 minutes till peas are tender  (just reserve about 1/2 cup of the liquid)  Cooks to about 2 cups of cooked peas. 1 tablespoon oil 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 small onion, chopped 1-2 whole green chilies, slit 1 teaspoon salt lemon juice 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)

Preparation

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add the onions and sauté for 3 minutes until light brown. Add the green chilies and stir for 30 seconds. IMG_1956 Stir in the cooked black-eyed peas and salt, stir for a minute and add about 1/2 cup water and simmer for about 3 minutes. IMG_1955 Stir in lemon juice and garnish with cilantro.

Chilli Cheese Toast

Growing up in India, Chilli Cheese Toast was served often at “tea time”, when we would have a snack along with a cup of hot tea at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  Cheese toasts originally were deep-fried – needless to say they were delicious!  No one thought about calories back then or about all that fat we were consuming!

As time went by, a healthier version was created – lighter but as flavorful and quick to prepare. The toasts are perfect for lunch on a cold day along with a salad or soup, or served as an appetizer.

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 Ingredients

4 slices of firm whole wheat bread

2 cups finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely cut onions

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

1-2 finely chopped green chillies

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder (or a mustard spread)

 

Preparation

Place the bread in the oven, on broil, to brown one side of the bread.

Mix the remaining ingredients to a smooth paste.

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Apply the cheese spread to the side of the bread which was not toasted.

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Place under the broiler until light brown.

Cut into quarters or in half.

Serve immediately.

6-Minute Peda (Milk sweet)

IMG_1892This year Diwali or Deepavali (as it is called in the southern part of India) is celebrated on October 23. The “Festival of Light” changes every year according to the Lunar calendar, and is typically the darkest, new moon night. The festival signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Diyas (traditional earthenware oil lamps) or candles are lit around the home and a puja or prayer to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity- is offered.

 In India, desserts, sweets, or “Mitai” traditionally were made just for special occasions or festivals such as Diwali.  Peda, with a similar consistency of fudge, is one of the more popular desserts and one of my favorites.

I never made Peda before I found this recipe, because it was such a tedious process. The traditional way can be quite time consuming as the milk has to be boiled down to make a thick paste called “khoya” so it can take hours.

In this recipe, the “khoya” is replaced with milk powder and condensed milk to make this dessert easily at home. It also freezes well.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 can condensed milk

2 cups Carnation milk powder

1/2 cup chopped almonds or pistachio

Few strands saffron steeped in 2 tablespoon hot milk (optional)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder (optional)

Preparation

Add the first 3  ingredients to a large microwave casserole.  DO NOT MIX.

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Microwave for 3 minutes on HIGH for 3 minutes.*

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Stir till all the ingredients are throughly mixed.

If using, add the saffron mixture, cardamom power and stir again.

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Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes.*

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Let cool until the mixture can be comfortably handled. Divide into small balls, flatten slightly and decorate with nuts.

*NOTE: Microwave cooking time can vary – older microwaves may need an extra minute or so.

Sprouted Mung Bean Salad

The Mung (Moong) bean is small green bean commonly found in Indian and other Asian cuisines. It is one of the easiest beans to sprout- it takes about 3 days.  Mung bean sprouts can be used in sandwiches, added to leafy green salads or stir fried with vegetables and meats. My favorite way of eating these sprouts is to use them in this salad recipe below.

Mung bean sprouts are easy to digest and and high in protein, Vitamin B and fiber.

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Ingredients

1/2 cup dry green mung bean

1 large tomato, chopped,

1 medium cucumber, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1 small green chili, finely chopped (remove the seeds)

2-3 tbsp chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper (optional)

1 lime, squeezed

Preparation

Soak the mung beans overnight. The next morning, drain and rinse the beans, place in a sieve or strainer, cover with a lid or foil and place in a dark place such as inside a kitchen cabinet.

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In the evening, rinse the beans and put them back in the cabinet. You will see sprouts appear in a day or so – repeat this every morning until the sprouts are about 1/2″ long or more as desired. Refrigerate in an airtight box if not using it at once.

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Add the sprouts to a large bowl. Mix in the remaining salad ingredients, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

NOTE: Some people prefer sprouts to have a softer texture. If so, add the sprouts to a large bowl, pour boiling water to cover the sprouts. After about 5 minutes, drain and cool the sprouts before adding the other ingredients.

Chicken 65 (or Tofu/Cauliflower 65)

The most frequent question I receive about this South Indian recipe is… why is it called Chicken 65??  There are lots of theories, such as the fact that it was created in 1965, or it has 65 ingredients (which it does not have!)  All I can say is that this dish has a wonderful distinct flavor that comes from using a generous amount of curry leaves.

Restaurants typically serve Chicken 65 as an appetizer, but personally I like to serve it as a main course since we enjoy it so much. Also, in the traditional recipe, the chicken is deep fried – but as a healthier option, I simply stir fry it and find that it is just as tasty!

You can also make Gobi 65 (Cauliflower) or Tofu 65 – no need to marinade, just start by stir frying the tofu or cauliflower. Continue with the preparation below – simply leave out leave out the last step (don’t add the extra garlic, ginger and yogurt).

 

 

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Ingredients

1 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1/2″ pieces

Marinade:

1 tsp each, garlic and ginger paste

1 tsp red chili powder (to taste)

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup curry leaves, chopped fine (it is quicker to do it in a spice grinder)

1/4 tsp Tandoori food color or a few drops of red or orange food color

Coating:  2 tbsp white flour and 2 tablespoons cornstarch

2-3 green chillies, slit

3 sprigs of curry leaves

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp each, garlic and  ginger paste

1 tsp coriander powder

1/4 cup yogurt

2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped

1 lime

Preparation

Mix the marinade ingredients together and toss with the chicken. Marinade for several hours.

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Coat the chicken pieces with the flour mixture .

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Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add about 1/2 of the chicken pieces and sauté for about 4-5 minutes till cooked (no longer pink inside). Remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces adding oil as needed.

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Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the wok, add the green chillies,and curry leaves and stir till the curry leaves are crisp. Remove and set aside.

In the same pan add the garlic ginger, salt, coriander powder and stir for 30 seconds. Add the yogurt and stir for a minute on low heat.

Add in the chicken pieces into the yogurt mixture and  stir for about 2 minutes.

Squeeze lime over the chicken.  Garnish with cilantro and fried green chillies and curry leaves before serving.

Baklava Rolls

A friend recently asked me to help her make Baklava for her son’s wedding as I had made it many times in the past. It might look difficult to make but it’s pretty simple, and also freezes well… so it is the perfect pastry for a big event!  Since I know another friend who makes them quite often, I called her to compare our recipes and in addition, got a few extra tips from her.

I typically prefer to use the Athens brand of filo(or phyllo) dough which has 2 sealed packets of rolls so if I don’t need a large quantity I can halve the recipe. (There are other brands which come in long rolls with only one sealed packet.) IMG_1749Its easier to roll up the pastry, versus making the traditionally shaped baklava.  I froze the baklava in the cookie tray that I baked them in, covered with heavy duty aluminum foil.  When ready to use them, simply thaw out and arrange the pieces on your serving platter.

Ingredients

1 package of filo dough, thawed
3 cups shelled walnuts, pulsed in a food processor (not too fine or coarse)

IMG_17363/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
4 ounces (1 stick of butter) melted till the solids separate out (or ghee)

Syrup:

1 1/4 sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lime juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Use a cookie sheet with sides, and brush the entire pan with butter.

Remove 2 sheets of filo pastry, (keep the remaining pastry sheets covered by a damp cloth) brush very lightly with butter.IMG_1739

Fold the pastry in half, and then take about 2 tablespoons of the nut mixture and place it along one side.

IMG_1741Roll the pastry up tightly. Brush again with butter and stack along the width of the cookie sheet. Continue with the remaining pastry sheets.IMG_1742

Trim the ends and score into 5 to 6 pieces along the entire length (not cut cutting all the way through). As you can tell, I completely forgot to trim the ends before baking to make it look neater!IMG_1737

Bake for 25 minutes until the rolls are medium brown. While baking, make the syrup.

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Syrup:

Place the sugar, water, honey and lime juice in a saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar has melted. Continue to simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes.

Pour the hot syrup over the rolls as soon as they come out of the oven. When cool remove to serving platter. (If freezing, cover with heavy duty aluminum foil) Garnish with extra chopped walnuts.

Makes about 144 rolls. IMG_1747

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