Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's a vegan world - Thai

Dear Foodies,


Update: Find the round-up of recipes from this event Here and Here!

Whenever I've participated in food blog events or see others enthusiastically host one at their blogs, I watch woefully. I long to host one, but could never muster up the courage to seek out an event to do it. I was too chicken for it :D But while sending my entry to the Italian edition of IAVW, I added an extra line to my email, offering to host the event if needed. A few weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to see Vaishali's reply, inquiring if I was ready to take up the offer! Yes! Oh yes! So here it is, Vaishali's brainchild 'It's a Vegan World' is moving out of its home and coming to stay with me all this month. It's a first for me and this blog in hosting an event. I am feeling really nervous and I need all the help I can get, from you :) I've already been having nightmares about having an empty mail box at the end of the month :(

Most of you might already know Vaishali, she hosts a wonderful blog called Holy Cow!. She has a way with words and I enjoy reading her posts. Her love for animals is more than evident from the stories she shares with us about her adorable pets. By extending that love towards her food options, she chose to be vegan and treats us to tonnes of delicious vegan food at her blog. 'It's a Vegan World' is an event she created to celebrate the cuisines of the world, vegan style! We've traveled to beautiful Italy and enchanting Mexico over the last two months. Now pack your bags again, because we are heading a little further, to Asia, and will land at the exotic Kingdom of Thailand! I invite all of you to join me on this wonderful tour, introducing - 'It's a Vegan World - Thai'

Thailand is an independent country nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia. It's cuisine is popular the world over and is widely known to be hot and spicy, and for having a perfect balance of the five basic flavors - hot, sour, sweet, salty and bitter - in all its dishes. The cuisine makes use of fresh ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, lime, chilli, garlic, coriander leaf and coconut, that are locally grown in this tropical wonderland. As is seen in many Asian countries, rice is a staple food and forms an essential part of most Thai meals. The popular, sweet smelling Jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand along with 5000 more varieties of rice which are preserved in a rice gene bank to treasure them forever. With its fiery and flavorful dishes, use of exotic & familiar ingredients, Thai cuisine easily finds its way into the hearts of most food lovers.

Thailand's official name was Siam until June 23, 1939. It is interesting to note that the name was derived from the Sanskrit word 'Syâma (श्याम, meaning "dark" or "brown"), a word also used to describe Lord Krishna. Here are a few stats pertaining to the country - its the world's 51st-largest country in terms of total area, roughly equal in size to Spain, and the 20th most-populous country, with approximately 63 million people! Thailand is also one of the most devoutly Buddhist countries in the world. It's one of the only Southeast Asian countries never to be colonized by the Europeans (more info...; Image source)

Thai cuisine, like most cuisines of the world has been influenced by its neighbors. The cultures and traditions in Thailand are significantly influenced by those of India, China and other western countries. You will notice many Indian spices and flavors as part of a Thai curry, but its almost impossible to confuse one with the other. The addition of local spices and ingredients like Thai holy basil, lemongrass, and galangal (Thai ginger) give it a completely distinct identity. Other countries near Thailand, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, and Malaysia have also pitched in their flavors, creating a very unique and complex blend of spices that we have come to love in Thai food. (more info...)

The other wonderful thing about Thai cuisine is that, it is easily adaptable to vegetarian/vegan food choices. Thai curries usually are bursting with colors from the variety of vegetables and herbs used in them. With Spring creeping up in most parts of the world, its also a perfect excuse to enjoy fresh, local produce. Tofu, which is a food of Chinese origin, is an essential source of protein in a Buddhist's vegetarian diet. With the rise of the religion in Thailand, tofu found varied use in its cuisine. The use of dairy products in most dishes is also limited. With its inherent use of coconut milk and the very versatile tofu in most dishes, makes it easy to veganize a Thai dish.

So are you ready to join me on this culinary tour of Thailand ?
It's a Vegan World - Thai
A few guidelines for participation: Deadline for submissions is April 30th, 2009
  • Make sure your dish is vegan, that means no meat or meat products like -honey, eggs, gelatin; no seafood, no dairy products like - cheese/ghee/milk/yogurt/butter - to name a few. You can surely use vegan meat or cheese substitutes.
  • I would prefer if you could cook specifically for this event :-)
  • Link back to this page & Vaishali's event announcement page.
  • Feel free to use the event logo on your blog/post to spread the word.
  • Bloggers, send your entries to akshayapaatram at gmail dot com, using the subject line 'IAVW-Thai'
  • For the Thai food lovers who don't have a blog, go ahead, cook up a storm and send me the recipe along with the pictures to the above email. I will post them here with due credits before the round-up.
Also include in your email
  • Your name:
  • Blog name:
  • Name of the dish:
  • Post permalink:
Since its my first time, I still have not decided the format for the round-up. So I don't have any specifications for the photographs, I will take them from your blog when needed (with your permission) If you have any questions related to this, do email me :)
Here are a few websites to help you get started - Vegan Thai food, Popular thai dishes. The Jugalbandits have recipes for vegan curry pastes and a glossary, here; I also found some on Sia's blog and at Pel's. Check if your local library has this book or this one. Ready made vegan curry pastes sold by this brand are widely available. You will find tonnes of recipes on food blogs and other online sources. I, along with you, will be cooking up Thai dishes all this month and sharing more about the exotic land in the coming weeks. Happy cooking and I hope to see all you in a month's time, at the round-up. (fingers crossed)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Dear foodies,

Earth hour, 8:30Pm-9:30PM local time, March 28th, 2009

Switch off your lights and participate in this world wide event to spread awareness about climate change and global warming, and saving energy. We've taken energy consumption for granted for too many years now and are slowly starting to pay the price for it!

The amount of energy saved through this effort last year is amazing, look at a few stats on the Wiki page. This year Las Vegas is one of the flagship cities, and they will be dimming down the lights on the strip, for the whole hour. The strip is so brightly lit all through the year that it can be spotted from outer space. They've never dimmed their lights for more than a minute in the past and their support this year, is considered to be huge (News Link)

There are ghost stories related to power, not the ones that you share when there is no power, but the kind that draws out power (and money!!) slowly, yet steadily from your home. Its called Vampire Power aka stand by power. Its the power that appliances use to stay on stand by, its the red light that your DVD player lights up to show its 'OFF', the power your microwave and stove use to display time. I live in an apt and have just one extension cord that connects my TV, DVR and DVD player, and stays ON all day, that is a vampire. The savings from keeping a check on this for me might be a small percentage of the total cost of utilities. But in larger homes, the savings might be quite substantial. No matter what the amount though, its good to keep a tab on how we use electricity and to be conscious of how we spend it. A few weeks back I stumbled on this page, its the results from a design competition held for green gadgets. A few of the ideas are very innovative, but I also found a few entries to be lame, not well-thought out perhaps.

play of lights
When I was a kid, the summer power cuts were a boon rather than a bane in the evenings. It was our cue to round up all the kids on our street and chit chat or play games. Our parents could not force us to stick to our books and they could also catch up with our neighbors, and probably exchange ideas to discipline us :)) The candles and glass chimneys (filled with kerosene every day) and matchsticks were always close on hand, just in case :D Here I buy scented candles but they stay forever cos I don't have the heart (or the need!!) to light them. Today could be the day, you could also make that a weekly/monthly ritual as well if you have a group of frnds/family to get together with.

So tonight at 8:30PM, switch off the lights, and appliances that can safely stay without power for an hour. Safety does come first, so do it at your own discretion. Have a great weekend :-)

I am leaving you with a video of the fountain show in front of Bellagio casino on the Las Vegas strip. Pardon the poor video quality though. I loved the show, the music and the way the fountains are choreographed is absolutely stunning. They are spaced 15mins apart I think, and we stayed around to see 2-3 of these that night.

video

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ugadi Subhakankshalu

Dear Foodies,

Happy Ugadi and Gudi Padwa to all of you who celebrate the start of a near year today.

For the rest, I hope I can atleast say Happy Spring :-)

Spring is here :-)

I plan to make some Ugadi pachadi, mango pulihara & masala vada's. Thats the plan, you'll know how far I get tomorrow :) What are you cooking today ?

Tomorrow, March 28th, 8:30PM - 9:30PM (local time) is Earth Hour. Remember to turn off your lights and enjoy a candle lit dinner, exchanging stories with your friends and family :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brown rice Burrito bowl

Dear Foodies,

I cannot count the number of times I had a veggie burrito bowl from Chipotle during my Masters. The place was really close to the University, the food tasty and filling, at a good cost too. You can't beat that combo when you are looking for something quick and easy to fill you up. When it was not the burrito bowl, it was the veggie taco salad from the food court. Mexican food with its use of chilli peppers, rice and beans endears the Indian palate to it immediately. The familiarity of ingredients is what draws you in initially, but soon the flavors take over, and you realize you are hooked to it. I can love the cuisine just for their liberal use of coriander/cilantro leaves :D With the salsa's and dips you savor fruits and vegetables showcased in their freshest forms, and the rice and beans can be mixed together in various combinations that will keep you coming back for more.

A few weeks back I was craving a burrito bowl but I had a bad stomachache the last few times I order it outside. I wasn't sure what was causing it and was in no mood of experimenting on myself. So I headed to the grocery store instead and bought some ripe avocados and fragrant cilantro to make it at home. I used brown rice to make it more healthier and filling.

Brown rice Burrito Bowl
Brown Rice
  • Cook about 1-2 cups of Brown rice ( or white, if you so choose)
Tomato Salsa
  • 1 cup - ripe Tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup - Red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup - Cilantro
  • 1 tsp - Jalapeno, minced
  • 1/4 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • Salt and lemon juice to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Using a spoon slightly mash the tomaotes to release their juices. Cover and set aside for about 30mins to allow the flavors to blend.
Corn & black bean salsa
  • 1 cup - Corn kernels, I used thawed, frozen corn
  • 1/2 Cup - Black beans, again a shortcut, rinsed beans from a can
  • 1/4 cup - Red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup - Cilantro
  • 1/4 tsp - roasted Cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp - Jalapeño, minced
  • Salt and lemon juice to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and check for seasonings. Set aside for about 30mins to allow the flavors to blend.
Guacamole
  • 1 nos - ripe Avocado (The ripe ones are more brown in color and ever so slightly yield to pressure)
  • 1/4 cup - Red onions, diced
  • 1/2 tsp - Jalapeño, minced
  • 1/4 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup - Cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
  • juice of one lemon
  • Salt to taste
Halve the avacado, de-seed and scoop the pulp with a spoon. Dice it into rough chunks and drizzle the lemon juice all over it to avoid discoloration. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. I mash some of the chunks with the spoon, retaining the rest. Taste and season to get the right balance.

Sautéed Bell pepper & Onions
  • 1 cup - Red onion, sliced
  • 3/4 cup - Green bell pepper, sliced length-wise
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 + 1/2 Tbsp - Olive oil
Use a skillet wide enough to hold the onions and peppers in the single layer. On medium heat, drizzle some olive oil and when hot, layer the onions and cook for 3-4 mins, toss and repeat until they start to brown and char around the edges. Salt them and set aside on a plate. Add the bell peppers next and saute until they soften and get a slight char as well. Salt and set aside.

Assembly
Once all the trimmings are done, grab a bowl and you are all set to create the burrito bowl. Add the rice first, top it with warm fajitas and the salsa's. You could also add some chopped lettuce and if you are not sticking to a vegan menu, add a dollop of sour cream. Sit back and enjoy your very Mexican delight.
Do I even need to say if I liked making and eating this dish!! It has just a Tbsp of oil used for sautéing the peppers, no cheese or sour cream and a whole grain in the form of brown rice. The rest are just an assortment of veggies, get started on your bowl soon :)

And if you have some of the salsa left and don't feel like eating a burrito bowl the next day, you do the most obvious thing, make bhel puri! :D Yes, the most perfect chaat. Heat about a tsp of oil in a pan, add some chilli powder, turmeric (for the gorgeous color) and some asafoetida. Toss in the puffed rice/murmura and roast for a few minutes to make them crisp. Combine together a spoon of pudina chutney & Maggi hot n sweet ketchup. Toss in the corn & bean salsa, tomato salsa, diced cucumber and the chutney along with the puffed rice. Garnish it with some aloo bhujia and enjoy a perfect bowl of bhel ready in minutes :) It has all the flavors you use in a traditional bhel, but in a slightly different package.

Off this goes to dear Vaishali, who is hosting 'Its a Vegan world: Mexican' this month. You can already find quite a few delicious Mexican creations springing up in the blogs. If you haven't joined the party yet, you have until the end of this month. I'll be your host next, so be sure to drop by next week :-)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Going green - Swiss chard stir fry & Peas chapathi

Dear Foodies,

I am not sure when this happened, but from a stereotypical 'greens' hating kid, I became a person who loves having a leafy vegetable as part of my meal. As a kid I gave my mother a tough time finishing up the keerai dish. I don't think I even bothered to savor the taste, if it was green, I had to hate it, simple :D But that never effected the frequency or variety of greens that my mom used. We had a keerai lady who would come by nearly every other morning, selling fresh greens. She would have this huge round basket on her head, filled with a minimum of 6-7 varieties of greens and one of us would have to help her lower it down. If she had a rarely found variety, she was sure to market it the right way and leave us with more greens than we needed. Apart from the usual suspects - coriander, mint and spinach, she would have a variety of thotakura (amaranth), menthi kura, ponnaganti keera (water amaranth) and many others that I've forgotten! When it was exam time she was a lot more tough on us & there was no escaping her. But having someone come to your doorstep and sell you fresh greens on a daily basis is a luxury now.

Spinach is what I use the most, and because it was the only familiar one in the grocery store aisles here. But gradually I started trying out the other ones on the shelf. Cooking the new greens in a familiar Indian recipe is the safest way to introduce it. Collard greens & Kale take a little longer to cook, but can be used in simple stir fry's and substituted for other greens in most recipes. I add greens to soups, upmas, rice, dals, sambar, majjiga pulusu and even puffs. Mustard greens have a slightly stronger taste, and are a nice change from the usual. Swiss chard, with its choice of colors is fun to use and cooks in a jiffy.

So how about some green therapy for St. Patricks day ? Here's Swiss chard kura and green peas chapathi
Swiss chard kura/stir fry
(serves two as a side)
Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch - Swiss chard, washed
  • 1/4 tsp - Mustard seeds/aavaalu
  • 1/4 tsp - Cumin seeds/jeera
  • 1/4 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • pinch of Asafoetida
  • 3 nos - Green chillies (each chilli was hardly an inch long)
  • 2 Tbsp - grated Coconut
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp - Oil ( I used olive oil)

Method:
  1. Wash the Swiss chard thoroughly and remove to thick rib running through the center of each leaf. The thinner portions closer to the tip of the leaf can be retained. Roll up the leaves and roughly slice them into strips.
  2. Heat oil in a wok/wide skillet. When hot, splutter the mustard and cumin seeds. Add the turmeric, asafoetida and the chopped greens. Cover with a lid and cook and medium-low heat for 5-7 mins.
  3. In the meantime, finely mince the green chillies, and thaw the grated coconut if using frozen. When greens looks wilted, add the chillies and coconut and cook for a few more minutes allowing the flavors to meld.
  4. Finally season with salt and serve warm with chapathi's or rice.

For the peas paratha, I microwaved about half a cup of frozen green peas with a finely minced green chilli and salt for 2 mins. Cover and let it sit for a few more minutes. Mash it up with a fork and add 2 Tbsp of low-fat sour cream when cooled. You could also make a fine paste by using a blender, I was just too lazy. I added this to 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat atta, with a little more salt and 1/4 cup warm water. Knead it well until an impression of a finger pressed into the dough, holds for a second and slowly bounces back. Let the dough rest for about 30 mins before making the chapatis. This dough was softer than my usual dough and so were the chapathi's. I got about 10 chapathi's from this.
Simple ingredients => flavorful dishes, proved yet again. The delicate flavor of the chard isn't lost in the cooking process and is only complimented by the coconut. I ate half the stir fry right from the pan, it was that good. My usual spinach stir fry has red chillies and garlic in the tadka/poppu. They have a strong flavor and are more suited to heartier greens like spinach, collard greens and kale. The chapathi's were soft and look good with speckles of green running all through them. The peas though, do not contribute much flavor-wise, but it was just another way to include a veggie into my meal.

A cup of the stir fry along with a chapati, yogurt and an orange (aren't they at their juiciest best these days) was my dinner last night, what was yours ? Happy St.Patrick's!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Happy Holi!

Dear Foodies,

Its Holi today, and I miss it so dearly every year that I am away from home and can't celebrate it. Its been a long time since I played with colors!

I had a blast when I was kid, we were about 10-12 kids on our street and by the end of the day we would be so fully covered in colors that even we couldn't recognize each other. The first few hours were for allocated for dry colors and going around the neighborhood wishing everyone we knew. The second part, the most fun part, was playing with colored water. Our house was the place we all gathered up for it. My mom would fill two huge drums with water and we would add colors to it and start drowning each other :)) Not all of us had the pichkari's or hand-held water pumps and we would use mugs and buckets and whatever else we could lay our dirty hands on. It was just sooo much fun and feel lucky for it now :)

The rest of the day though would be lost in scrubbing the color off our skin. It was my mom's worst nightmare I guess. She would bring out the best from her arsenal - oil, shikakai, soapnuts (kunkudikaya), shampoos etc, and the scrubbing process would take for ever and just barely reduce the color at the end of it :)) The next day we would be off to school with pink cheeks or ears (the toughest part) and hands, and it would turn inta a competition among friends :)) Those were good memories, of days of complete abandon, no worries about water shortage or chemical laden colors, but just about having fun and enjoying it with those you love.

A very colorful and safe Holi to all of you. If you are using colors, make sure you use chemical free ones and be conscious of the people around you. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Pasta with roasted veggies

Dear foodies,

Pasta's are my go-to dishes most nights. Simple to prepare and they hold well until next day's lunch too. There is no fixed recipe that I follow for it, I toss in vegetables and spices in random depending on my mood that night and its ready. Most often its a warm and spicy dish but sometimes I turn it into a cold salad too, especially when using orzo or cous cous. The only time I looked for a recipe was when I made lasagna for the first time I guess. But even with that, once you know the method you can start experimenting.

I am not a fan of pasta's drowned in sauces though, specially in a bland & boring tomato sauce. If I buy marinara style sauces I use them over pizza's or other dishes but never with pasta. Spaghetti and marinara is known to be such a classic combo, but I have it stuck in my brain that the combo sucks :D When I order pasta in the restaurants I have it either with a flavorful pesto or with roasted veggies where you can taste each ingredient and not have to go fishing for it in a sauce and making a mess around you :) I know I am exaggerating, but still :D I prefer to make my pasta dry, with loads of veggies in it. A very convenient way to incorporate them into my daily quota when its a one-pot dish that I am making. As an added bonus the resulting dish is much more colorful.
Pasta with roasted vegetables
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups - dry Pasta, I used chiocciole
  • 1 cup - Chickpeas, pre-cooked or canned
  • 1 cup - Red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 no - medium sized Yellow squash, cubed
  • 1/2 cup - Onions, cubed
  • 1/4 tsp - Garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp - Red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp - Cumin powder
  • 1 Tbsp - Olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro/coriander leaves for garnish
Method:
  1. Boil water for the pasta, add salt, pasta and cook until al dente. Don't salt the water until it comes to a boil or it will never come to a 'boil'. Meanwhile, heat a wide pan with the oil, add the garlic and red pepper flakes when the oil is still cold. This infuses the oil with their flavors as it heats up.
  2. Drain and pat the chickpeas dry with a tissue. Add it to the oil and saute on medium high heat until the chickpeas start to brown. Add the onions and red bell pepper next and saute a little longer until the soften and also start to char around the corners.
  3. The yellow squash goes in next as it takes lesser time to cook. Also add needed salt and cumin powder now. Adjust the amount of cumin to your liking, it gives the veggies a warm and smoky flavor.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain it well. Reserve about a 1/4th of the cooking liquid and add it to the veggies. Toss in the cooked pasta and combine, the added liquid will help bring them together and flavor the pasta as well. Mix well to incorporate the veggies and then cooked undisturbed for a couple of minutes so the pasta gets a slight char too. Turn off the heat and garnish with cilantro and serve warm :)
I totally enjoyed eating this pasta dish and like how it turned out. Whenever I add chickpeas to a dish I cook it this way so it has a little crunch to it and is not a complete mush. The charred veggies along with the smoky cumin were an excellent pairing. The slight browning on the pasta worked really well too and it gave it a different texture. The shape of the pasta I used is called chiocciole, meaning shells in Italian. It added to the fun of the dish cos the chickpeas found a cozy corner to nestle into. Do you see them peeking out of the pasta ? :D

With spring coming right up with its bounty of vegetables, you can play around with the combination. I am sure some roasted asparagus would be really good in this. You could conveniently use the oven to roast the veggies and finish it off in a pan on the stove top. I went to a Italian cooking class yesterday and got this interesting tidbit about selecting red peppers. Look on the side of the red pepper opposite to the stem, select one that has 4 or more points. The more points it has the sweeter the pepper is supposed to be. So next time you visit the store, start counting, I surely will :D



This dish is off to Soma who is hosting HHDD this month at her blog. Its an event facilitated by Bron and she was the winner last month :) Its time for all of you to come out with your delicious pasta recipes now :)



Blogging tips