No rules in my kitchen!

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Frankly, I was very reluctant when my husband asked me to try some Lebanese food. ‘How will I like it? I have never eaten it in my childhood!’ I said. Yes, as kids, we had pizzas, pastas and Chinese noodles, but not Shawarma. Thanks to this restaurant, Lub Lub Lebanese here in Gurugram (run by a Masterchef India contestant), which had rave reviews with the food that was fairly priced too, we went ahead and ordered a Paneer Shawarma. And, after a few weekends, we ordered a Lebanese platter that changed my thoughts about this cuisine. It was mouth-watering, the platter; everything in it, from the dips to the Paneer Shawarma.

After ordering this platter for the fifth time, I thought it’s time that I make this platter myself. But, where are the recipes? I started researching for the recipes on YouTube, and let me tell you, it wasn’t so easy. There were so many sauces and dips and spices, I started to think that it’s going to be one expensive task, this one.

So, weekend after weekend, I started to collect courage to try the entire platter. And last Saturday afternoon, I hit a gourmet store with a huge list of ingredients. Now, I decided to make everything from scratch. I’ll tell you what; local food companies literally loot us when they sell a Tzaziki Sauce. It’s so freaking simple to make; why pay so much for a bowl of it? And, when I saw the prices of Tahini sauce, Harissa sauce, etc. I was all the more surprised to see the prices. If I’m getting a Lebanese platter for Rs300, why should I pay Rs300 for each sauce and dip and make it an affair of Rs3000? Just saying.

Here’s how I went about it. I researched all the recipes from scratch and picked up all the local veggies only. In fact, I used all the Indian spices that I had with me. You know, this is what I have learnt from my experience. I end up buying all the expensive ingredients and then the bottles and packets go waste in the fridge.

My husband kept telling me that he could order the platter from the same restaurant, as he wanted to save me from the drill, but I didn’t listen to him or cared for his expressions. It was almost 5.45 PM when I entered the kitchen and the platter was ready by 8PM. Yes, it took me almost two hours to make this entire spread, but I did it.

One of my resolutions this year was to try authentic world recipes, and that’s what inspired me to go crazy for this one. Was I happy? Of course! We ate for almost 45 minutes, and then, gave up. There was no space in our tummies for anymore; we had stuffed ourselves so much.

So, dear readers, here’s how I went about it. Hope you like the recipes; in spite of all the local ingredients in it. I couldn’t get the recipe of Paneer Shawarma that I liked from the Lub Lub Lebanese restaurant platter, but I tried to go as close to the dish as I could.

For the recipes, I would like to send my huge thanks to the YouTubers, BaytBushra (you’re awesome) whom I referred for Musabah and Muhammarah, Akis Kitchen (run by a passionate chef) whom I referred for the Tzatziki sauce, and Cooking with Jen (owned by a sweet home chef) whom I referred for the Harissa Sauce recipe. I would ask you guys to subscribe them and spread some love.

Recipe: Indian-inspired Lebanese (Mezze) Platter

  1. Tahini Sauce

Now, this is something that you’ll need a lot, so, make this one first. Churn some white sesame seeds with a little olive oil, two cloves of garlic, salt and two tbsp ofwater (I just couldn’t get the right consistency without it).

  1. Musabaha (or Hummus)

Soak some chickpeas overnight, and boil them. In a small grinding jar, add 3/4 cup of boiled chickpeas. Add 2 tbsp Tahini sauce,olive oil, two cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp lemon juice and all the spices (salt, pepper, cumin powder and red chilli powder). And your Musabaha (as chef Bushra likes people to call it) or Hummus is ready. Serve it with a drizzle of olive oil on top with a sprinkle of cumin powder.

  1. Tzatziki sauce or dip

This was the best dip on the platter, and I’m always going to have it my fridge. I love the smell of the dill leaves; it’s so fresh! By the way, both the ts are silent here, so you actually have to pronounce it as Zaziki. And I couldn’t stop repeating it in my head.

For the Greek yogurt, all you need to do is take a colander or strainer, put a cheesecloth or muslin cloth on it. You can also use an old but clean white handkerchief. And add two or three cups of fresh curd. Now, twist the cloth and keep it on a deep plate (for the excess water to drain off). After about six hours, you’ll see that the curd has become half, and you’re left with a waterless yogurt called the Greek Yogurt.

Now, to a cup of Greek yogurt, add half grated cucumber, 1 crushed clove of garlic, a tsp of distilled white vinegar (or white wine vinegar as chef Akis Petretzikis highly recommended on his channel), and some chopped dill leaves (my local veggie vendor had it; didn’t go to gourmet store for it and saved some bucks). Don’t forget to add a good drizzle of olive oil and season it with some salt and freshly ground pepper.

  1. Muhammarah (Red bell pepper dip)

All right. So, the ingredient list of this specific dip freaked me out. I didn’t have pomegranate molasses, and nor did my local gourmet store had it. I felt a feeling of guilt while trying this recipe. But here’s what you can do. I googled what it is, and it’s basically a concoction of pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice. So, don’t freak out or buy that pricey bottle of pomegranate molasses; just make your own. I skipped it for this dip, but I can do this recipe for later surely.

For this recipe, add a roasted red bell pepper (deseeded) in a grinding jar with a handful of walnuts, 2 tbsp Tahini sauce, 1 toast of bread, and a drizzle of olive oil. Grind it to a paste. Now, add 1 tbsp of water (I used it for a smoother texture), and season it with some salt and red chilli powder.

  1. Falafel

In a grinding jar, add two cups of boiled beans, 1 cup chopped coriander leaves, 2 to 3 chopped green onions (optional), 5 cloves of garlic. Blend it, but mind my tip-off. I grinded it so much so that it became a runny thin paste. You don’t want to do the same. Add water only to blend it all. You want to make a thick paste for the Falafel tikkis or balls. Don’t make the mistake that I made. I had to use huge amounts bread crumbs to make it thick. So, always check in between while grinding this paste, as we are looking for a thick paste. To finish it off, add the spices (salt, pepper, coriander powder, red chilli and cumin powder) with a ½ tsp of baking soda. Now, you need to make tikkis and deep-dry or shallow-fry them. As you like it.

  1. Pita Bread

I just made some dough with my whole wheat flour and a pinch of salt. Then, I made 3 thick parathas with no ghee or butter. Just roasted them on the griddle. And cut it with my kitchen scissors.

  1. Paneer Shawarma

All right, so this was the most difficult recipe to find on the net. I wanted to make the exact Paneer Shawarma  that we order from Lub Lub Lebanese restaurant. But, there was no way I could phone the chef and get the recipe, no? I had to find its recipe, and I just couldn’t figure out how. But, then, I knew there was Harissa Sauce in it. So, I found a YouTube video wherein the home chef made the sauce. I tried her recipe and added a few things for that zing. And it worked. So, here’s what you can do for this.

In a hot pan, add cumin and coriander seeds. Roast it for some time. Now, some olive oil, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 1 chopped onion, 2 red chilli pepper (I used the local thick red chillies), 1 clove of garlic and salt. Roast everything until you can smell the aromas. Now, let it cool and grind it to a paste.

In the same pan, add in the paste, 3 tbsp tomato ketch-up, 1 roughly chopped tomato, and cook it. You might want to add 2 tbsp of water to improve its texture. Now, add some chopped pieces of homemade cottage cheese or paneer (recipe: boil 1 litre milk and quickly add juice of 1 big lemon; switch off the flame and strain it in a colander that’s covered with a muslin cloth. Twist the cloth and put something heavy on it for 2 hours). Finish it off with a dash of lemon juice.

  1. Salad

In a bowl, add some length-wise cut red bell pepper, capsicum, lettuce (I didn’t have it at the time), beetroot, onion, etc. Whatever you have in hand. Mix lemon juice, vinegar, salt and black pepper and give it a mix.

My husband was happy when he tasted the platter, and it was fun to prove him wrong. My dishes were almost there, if you know what I mean. A total win-win this one. Also, I have saved the dips and sauces for later. I will share how I use them this week. Until then, happy cooking! And, remember, always keep an open mind when you try new cuisines and know that you can cook anything in your kitchen because there are no rules!

Break the monotony

There’s something about me and Asian flavours. I feel like I was born to like Soy sauce. Add this sauce to my rice, soup, noodles and even my salad, and I will eat with a big smile. So, last weekend, I was raking my brains yet again, as to what to cook! Seriously, there’s no dearth of inspiration on the net, but there’s just so much in my kitchen, and only so much I can make of it.

Cucumber is one thing you’ll always find in my fridge. English cucumber, to be precise. So, I  happened to scroll for some recipes on YouTube, and I found this weird recipe of smashed cucumbers. Chef John of Food Wishes is one of my favourite YouTube food vloggers, and I loved how he made this salad, and I went ahead and tried it.

You know, you always like the steps involved in a recipe, and the many ingredients that it calls for, but in reality, only simple recipes can save your day. Because when you’re really hungry, all that matters is how quickly you can cook up a dish.

Raw dishes like salads are something I’ve always enjoyed. Contrary to my weight, which is extremely low, I should be eating fat, carbohydrate, protein and high-calorie food items. But, who cares! There’s something about the freshness, crunchy texture and dressing that I’m always lured towards all sorts of salads, and recently, Asian salads have taken the focal light. No wonder, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on my bowl, and I will never leave my salad.

Recipe: Chinese-style Smashed Cucumber Salad

Okay, first things first, it’s not compulsory for you to take only cucumbers. You can always take more veggies like bell peppers and spring onions, for colour. But I liked how chef John made it, and I don’t want to disturb his dish much. I didn’t have rice vinegar, so I added lemon juice. And you can always add more seeds like toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds to make it more healthy.

Ingredients

1 English cucumber, washed
1 tsp red chilli flakes
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sesame oil
½ tsp sugar
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp soy sauce
½ tsp toasted sesame seeds

Method:

It’s all about smashing the cucumbers. I covered mine with a muslin cloth, and lightly smashed the green boy with my pestle (copper hamam dasta). This is done to give you a taste of its natural flavour. Also, you don’t have to completely murder it. Just crush it from the middle and quickly cut it with a knife. Add the chopped cucumber in a bowl, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Garnish it with toasted sesame seeds, but believe me, do as you please. You don’t have to follow any rules!

Coconut diaries

IMG-20160228-WA0009For the longest time, I wondered how can I prepare coastal food in my kitchen. I know, this majorly covers sea food, but I wanted to try vegetarian coastal food. What were the options I had? Coconut is one such ingredient that is hugely consumed in coastal regions. And I started to get a few ideas. I still remember the first time I smelt cold-pressed coconut oil. Its aroma took me back to the sea, for some reason. And, so does grated coconut, that I use in my cookies. And, so does coconut milk for that matter.

My sister-in-law, who lives in San Francisco, recommended Thai cuisine to try, a few years back. Those were our early marriage days, and we never turned down an opportunity to step out of the home. So, we went somewhere at Palladium mall, in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and tried this cuisine. At the restaurant, I found the Thai Green Curry somewhat appealing, and somewhat bland. I knew I could make a better version of it. It was just a matter of convincing myself to do so.

Last year, I got my hands on a can of coconut milk at a gourmet store, here in Gurgaon. And I thought of the options, and, I put it back at the store’s rack. Later,  we went to a nearby Thai restaurant. It was jam-packed and meanwhile in the queue, we saw the menu card kept at the entrance gate. The prices made me think of that can that I left at the gourmet store, and I thought, it would be much better for me to try this green curry at home. We were no more that newlywed couple, and being at home seemed far more appealing to us. And, the restaurant didn’t seem to go empty anyway.

So, there I was. Looking at this can of coconut milk, and thinking, can I do this? I finally took the plunge to cook some Thai Green Curry myself. Quickly, I google-ed the recipe, and purchased the ingredients, and went home.

The process looked a tad bit long when I stood inside my kitchen with the bag of ingredients. “Please help me cook this dish,” I said to my husband. He was hungry, and so helping me make this dish was the best option he had. And then he went on with the list of ingredients. I chopped the veggies and herbs and did exactly what he said. I was way too doubtful and tired, when I reached the middle of the cooking process, if I can say so myself. But, it did give me a break from local flavours. For once, preparing something exotic excited me. Just when I added the coconut milk in my skillet, I knew I’m going to love this recipe. Which I did.

Last weekend, I prepared this Thai Green Curry again. Though I twisted the dish a bit with whatever was available in hand, it turned out to be good. And filling to the hilt. This nutritious curry tastes amazing, all thanks to coconut milk, the star of the dish. Although the whole preparation does need a bit of patience, as the ingredient list is long, I know it’s a matter of practice. All that said, the one thing I’m sure of is that I’m going to use coconut milk more often!

By the way, I have got a new job, and I’m finding it fulfilling too. What about you? What’s that one thing in your life that makes you feel accomplished?

Recipe: Thai Green Curry

Okay, so here’s a confession. I didn’t use all the ingredients mentioned in the usual recipes of this dish. Below is my version of it, where I have used a few local ingredients instead of the exotic ones. There are three basic steps to cook this dish. One, is making a paste in the grinding jar. Second, boiling the veggies and collecting its stock. And third, cooking it all with coconut milk. Lastly, it’s not compulsory for you to get all the ingredients. If you have coconut milk and a few veggies an herbs, you can go for it.

For the green paste
2-3 green chillies
1 tbsp coriander powder (or seeds)
1 tsp ginger, chopped
1 tsp dark soy sauce (optional)
a handful of basil leaves, chopped
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped (this will give a nice green colour)
3-4 lemon leaves
1 onion, roughly sliced (optional)
salt to taste
3-4 tbsp coconut milk or water

Veggies (cut them as you like it)
red capsicum (for the lovely colour)
green capsicum
broccoli (clean it well, cut it and soak in hot water for a minute and strain it)
a handful of French green beans
1 small carrot
1 small potato

Other ingredients
1/2 cup thick coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut oil
a handful of basil leaves
1 cup vegetable stock water
150 gm cottage cheese, cubed (you could use Tofu as well)
a handful of roasted cashew nuts (optional)

Method
1. Grind all the ingredients together, mentioned for the green paste. Keep it aside.
2. Boil all the veggies that you think needs it. You can skip capsicum. Also, don’t forget to save the vegetable stock.
3. Heat oil in a skillet. Once hot, add the capsicum. Roast it a bit.
4. Add the green paste, and cook it for 2 minutes.
5. Now, add the coconut milk and once it gives a boil, add the stock.
6. Throw in the veggies and basil leaves. Also, salt, if needed.
7. Lastly, add the cubed cottage cheese pieces.

Serve this fresh and nourishing Thai green curry with steamed rice.