Tagged: main dish

Spiced Tomato – Coconut Soup

Tomatoes. Fresh, luscious, straight-off-the-vine. glistening and full of flavour!

The actual association of tomatoes with physical summer has come about more for me after moving out of India. Back there, not only are good tomatoes available all year round, the sunshine is more or less always there too. But here, one waits till summer to have the truly tantalizing tomatoes. The rest of the year we make do with what we can get. They are certainly better than no tomatoes, but not a patch on the summer freshness of the pomme d’amour in season.

There’s nothing more alluring about summer than the tomato. They are everywhere in the markets, ripe and ready, simply there for the taking. You slice one up and inhale the heady bouquet. There is sunshine all around you even on a cold day in July. Yes, you heard that right. Cold day in July. I’m not talking about the southern hemisphere either. While the rest of the country is sweating it out and bitching about heatwaves (as a friend of mine up in Seattle so delicately puts it), we are having shivery days under thick blankets of grey-white fog. While I do love the cold and am not too crazy about heat, I do miss the sun. I’ll take it where I can find it, and nothing delivers like new seasons’ tomatoes.

It is strange how much I love the nightshade family of vegetables (though some are technically fruits). Maybe I dabbled in poisons in a past life? At any rate, the potato, the chilli peppers (self-evident how I feel about those) and the tomato; poisonous they are not. What they are, is tops on my list of favourites. There is no better sandwich than a good tomato, cut into thick steaks, on good white bread with some cheese, salt and pepper. For me, there wasn’t a better sandwich for years. Tomato, bread and cheddar, that what I demanded for lunch every time I had to take a packed lunch; to school, for the school picnic…or simply because it was Tuesday.  There is something inherently comforting sitting with that tomato sandwich, the piquant juices oozing into the bread and running down your fingers. You experience an unexpected lifting of your spirits. It is like metaphorical sunshine for your soul.

It was also here that I discovered the heirloom tomato. Ever since, I’m torn between the scarlet red tomatoes and the rich greens, yellows, and purples of the heirloom variety. Also the ridiculous shapes crack me up. They are the funniest looking veggies around, unless of course, there’s some ginger around. (What can I say! I’m an architect! We respond to form.:)) Sometimes I end up with quantities of both. This is a major no-no in my tiny apartment, which can look like it is drowning in tomatoes even if I only have a couple of dozen or so on the counter. Tomatoes are best stored out of the refrigerator. This is exactly where I found myself after a recent trip to the market. Fortunately, I also have this recipe for a sublime tomato soup.

Given the recent weather in San Francisco, a soup is completely apropos. This recipe is essentially one for a saar, a thin type of curry eaten over rice. But many dals and curries make a comfortable transition to soup, just like that of a sauce. This is another of my mother-in-law’s gems, a genius recipe for a cold summer.

Tomato soup with a twist

Tomatoes – 6, medium to large
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Peppercorns – 4-5
Coconut milk – 3 tbsp
Honey – 1 tsp
Chickpea flour – 1 1/2 tsp
Canola oil- 2 tbsp
Curry Leaves – 4
Asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Cilantro for garnish

– Put the tomatoes in a large pot. Pour enough water to cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to a boil along with the tomatoes. (about 15 to 20 minutes).
– Pick the tomatoes out of the water and plunge into a bowl of cold water. This should loosen the skins which you should remove.
– In a blender, add the skinned tomatoes, peppercorns, coconut milk and chickpea flour and puree until smooth.
– Pour back into the pot and add salt, chilli powder and honey. Bring the soup to a boil over medium heat.
– In a small pan, heat the oil. Temper the oil with cumin, curry leaves and asafoetida.
– Pour the tempered oil into the heated tomato soup.

Ladle into bowls to serve and garnish with cilantro.. and a few croutons, if you like.

Cook’s notes:
The tomatoes shine through brilliantly in this soup. It looks a bit like a light cream of tomato, but is infinitely healthier. The little bit of chilli powder you add, coupled with the peppercorns give the soup a deep heat that rise up on your tongue just behind the piquant sweet and sour taste of the tomato and honey, rounding off the flavour nicely. Wonderful as this is served over rice, as a soup it acquires an unadulterated dimension, the tomatoes singing in your mouth with each spoonful. The coconut milk gives the entire thing a silky smooth finish, barely there as it is. I worked my way through two and a half bowls without pause. It was impossible to put down the spoon. Amey was over the moon as he worked his way through the rest of it, mopping up remaining splashes with the piece of bread we didn’t bake into croutons. I’m sure this would taste just as great served cold.

It may be a real summer where you are. Even so, if you find yourself in possession of a few tomatoes and at a loss of something new to do with them, give this recipe a try. Summer tomatoes are so rarely turned into a soup, even though they do very well as one. This recipe celebrates it as well as your favourite tomato standby. It will not disappoint.

Pasta with Broccoli in an Orange-Cream Sauce

Between work and exams and one of my favourite pop stars dying (RIP MJ), I’ve been reading Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia (which by the way is a pretty wicked read!). Readers of her long-completed cooking project and blog must be familiar with her engaging style, which is very much what drew me to the book. Though I discovered the blog after the project was completed, I still haven’t managed to make my way through all of the postings and it’s really hard to wrap my head around her successful endeavour, which certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. I know being a ‘sometimes meatatarian’ there is no way on earth I could have pulled that off. Plus being the aforementioned type of meat eater, just having read the passage about the bone marrow extraction made me want to sear the images my brain supplied permanently out of it. And there is no way in hell that I am plastering eggs all over my kitchen in order to learn to toss an omlette. Just the idea of an egg-plastered kitchen had me breaking out in hives.


While Ms. Powell and I certainly don’t see things the same way (I fervently hope the level of wastage she describes is artistic license and far from the truth, my mom would have various choice things to tell her about starving children) several passages of the book had me chortling in empathy. And what I am loving most about the book so far is how much a part of everything her husband is, actively or passively. That resonates so much with me because Amey is practically always part of my maddening (for him) ideas of the time, sometimes willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming. But he is always supportive of them, half-baked schemes though they may be. Like the time that I thought I could live through a no-sodium, no fat, no flavour (kill me now!) diet, telling him confidently that I could do it. In my zeal for the thing, I chose to ignore the fact that the diet included fish, something that I could never eat and no salt, something I can’t live without. After three days of scrabbling around, steaming, baking and boiling several veggies, meats and halibut (god, what was I thinking??), I enthusiastically started the diet on the fourth day. One bite of the prescribed morning breakfast of steamed, unsalted, peppered fish had me throwing up in the sink and simultaneously howling and babbling incoherently on the bathroom floor about all the fish in the fridge I was delusional enough to think I could eat. While Amey handed me a glass of orange juice to stop the gagging until I calmed down, he packed his lunch, two cautious little boiled halibut sandwiches with salt on the side. And that was his meal for two days until he gamely worked his way through the fish. I’ll bet he gagged through it, that stuff was vile! Amey isn’t even much of a fish eater. Truth be told, he must have eaten five fish dishes in his entire life. But that’s what he does when my plans get out of hand. *Sniffle* gotta love him! Julie Powell would understand exactly what I mean.


Life throws the guy many such curve balls since he has me for his wife. So he was understandably quite nervous when I eyed our gigantor pile of oranges and pronounced I was making pasta. I had wanted to bake a cake for a friend which required a couple of oranges but since a packet of six was on sale I’d happily bought the entire thing thinking I’d juice the rest or something. Well, in middle of a mercurial last two weeks, the cake didn’t get baked and there were oranges all over our tiny counter. Something had to be done and for no reason in particular I decided that I had to make a sauce out of the oranges. Not an orange sauce. But a sauce, a savoury sauce, using oranges. I’m sure it’s been done, there’s nothing new under the sun. But I’ve never done it before. All I had for instruction was something I’d read in one of the Jamie Oliver tomes about “Orange being best friends with (a couple of things).” Amey guardedly offered the wisdom that maybe this was not the best idea. Couldn’t I try a tested orange sauce recipe first? But the oranges were staring forlornly at me and had to be given a fitting send-off. They couldn’t all be juiced. So two of them met their timely end in this unctuous sauce.

Pasta and Broccoli with an Orange Cream Sauce

For the sauce:-
Red onion – 1/2 or Shallots -2, diced fine
Juice of two navel oranges
Zest of one orange
Cream or Half-and-half-
1 cup
Ancho Chilli Powder – 1.5 teaspoons
Cumin Powder – 1/2 tsp
Gruyere cheese –
1/2 cup grated
Vegetable stock – 1 cup
Ginger – 1 tsp, grated or minced
Corn Starch –
1/2 tsp
Habanero Chilli sauce – to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper
to taste
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp

Pasta – we used 1 pack of rotini
Broccoli- one crown sliced into thin florets
Garlic – 3 cloves, sliced thin
Chilli flakes – 2 tsp
Olive Oil- 2 tsp

– Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water and drain when cooked al dente.
– While the pasta is boiling, in a skillet, heat the oil and add the garlic. When the garlic is gently browned, add the broccoli florets and saute for a minute or two, then add chilli flakes. Saute until the broccoli is cooked through.
– In a saucepan, heat the sauce portion of olive oil and add the shallots. Cook until translucent.
– Then add the ginger and stir for a minute. Add the orange juice. Turn up the heat to boil.
– Turn the heat down a bit to simmer. After a few minutes, add the orange zest and cream and turn the heat back to medium.
– Add the veggie stock and Ancho Chilli and cumin powders. Stir to incorporate. Add the cheese and stir until it melts into the liquid.
– Add the cornstarch and stir to incorporate completely. Let the sauce simmer for a while until it thickens slightly. Add the habanero chilli sauce at this point if using.
– Add salt and pepper to taste. The gruyere is already salty so you may want to taste it just a bit before you add salt.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss along with the sauteed broccoli. Serve hot with grated or shaved parmesan.

Cook’s notes:-
Sweet oranges do make a pretty decent savoury sauce. I admit I was a little worried when I saw swirls of orange once all the liquids had been mixed. I thought I might end up with orange juice floating on a stock and cream mixture. But once the cornstarch and cheese were added, everything came together pretty well. The sauce turned into a lovely kumquaty-yellow-orange. The pasta itself smelled citrusy yet earthy at the same time and the first bite broke into spiced orange flavours in the mouth. The sauce is light and just coats the pasta with none overflowing in the pot or plate. It worked well with this shape of pasta, though I’m pretty sure it would work with penne too.

What surprised us is was how well the garlic-sauteed broccoli worked with the background hints of orange and chilli. The ancho chilli powder isn’t very spicy, just adding a gentle heat to the proceedings. That’s why the habanero is optional; to be used if the chilli flavour is to be kicked up several notches. Use paprika if you don’t have ancho chilli powder. Fortunately, this mad scheme could be categorised under fairly successful. At least it’s not messy flaked fish for Amey to have to finish off. Maybe I should have had some anchovy paste on hand, that would have been nostalgic! Come to think of it, it probably would have worked real well in the sauce.

Sev Puri

Crossing continents has meant adapting to new ways. And for the most part this has been fairly painless. But sometimes I do miss the most ridiculous things. Like tea-time. Not because tea-time is ridiculous, oh no, far from it. It’s ridiculous because I wasn’t much of a tea-drinker back home and yet, I feel a twinge of nostalgia thinking of it. Or maybe that’s just that horrible cup of yoghurt that I ate for lunch today. (Raspberry yoghurt can’t be blue, I tell you!)

Food-minded as I am, I liked how the day was clearly marked into meals, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Without tea-time there just seems to be too long a time between lunch and dinner. You see all kinds of food products and fast food vying to be your ‘in-between go-to food’. But then of course, they are promoting the wrong fourth meal. Tea-time is where it’s at. And the reason I was so fond of it was while everyone else savoured their tea, I loved the snacks that went along with it.

If you are thinking along the lines of delicate madeleines and cucumber sandwiches, let me stop you right there. That’s not what tea-time is about where I’m from. Bring out the Nan khatai (yummy shortbread)  and the khari biscuits (a rough kind of puff pastry biscuit that’s heaven dipped in a cup of tea) and Parle-G. Sometimes it was stuff you got in stores. Sometimes it was home-made, like this recipe I’ve mentioned before. But that’s the stuff you had on an ordinary day. When it was a special tea-time, (which in case you’re interested could be anytime between 3 and 5 in the afternoon), the day we had guests, especially a collection of her friends, tea was an absolutely special meal. Such times were also known as the days my mom lost her sense of humour.

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Pav Bhaji

There are probably very few cities in this country where I could live without pining for Bombay very often. In San Francisco, I know I have found one of them. The easy access to many things Indian is icing on top of the fabulous cake that life in these wonderful climes is. But then suddenly, a random fragrance or vivid colour will send my mind spiralling back to India. Especially where I grew up. Bombay. There is quite literally no other place like it. Hustle and bustle take on an entirely different meaning in this city that truly never sleeps. It was a big city even back then, the Bombay I knew, loved and grew up in. Though it was immense and teeming with life of all kinds, not for a second did I ever feel unsafe in it. It’s true we don’t have largely famous forts or gorgeous old temples, but we have our very own rich history, written and perpetuated by the people who lived there and carry a piece of it wherever they go, as I do. The attitude of Bombayites (or Mumbaikars as they are now known since the city was renamed Mumbai) is unique in India. There is at once a sense of openness with a strong background of tradition behind us. And it is the eternal dream city. So many people from all over the country aspire to live there. The city is always assimilating yet keeping true to itself. And the cultural influence has helped Bombay develop a cuisine in which you will recognise many things from many places It is a veritable melting pot.

It is ridiculous but also very cool, how food minded this city is. Throw a stone around from anywhere in it and you are liable to hit at least three food establishments. Granted, one of those ‘establishments’ may very well be a guy with a tokri (large woven basket) selling peanuts or raw mango laced with salt and chilli (slurp!!). But you will never, ever want for variety in food in this city. When I lived in it, there were enough food joints that you couldn’t try each and every one in your life time. Today, you could probably make that a few life times. Globalisation has brought with it all kinds of food and India as a whole is happily enjoying the boost to the palette. Thai, Japanese, Mexican, you name it, and you will find it there. You may not recognise it, because of course just as there is the adaptive General Tso’s chicken here, there is the Maharaja Mac and McAloo Tikki there. We’ve always been great at taking things and adapting them to make them our own. India’s history is filled with foreign elements vying for dominion. They didn’t last but the things they brought with them stayed with us, several of them in our food. It is hard to imagine that some four hundred years ago, the Indian foodscape would have looked very different in the absence of, among other things, the potato, the tomato and what so many people automatically associate Indian food with, the chilli peppers.

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Jamie Oliver’s Apparagus, Mint & Lemon Risotto

There was a time right in the beginning when I wasn’t as enamoured of San Francisco. While you stifle shocked gasps, allow me to explain. I arrived here from the bright sunshine and scorching heat of Texas in the month of June. Right away it felt like the world as I knew it had turned topsy-turvy. It was bleak and gray and cold….brrr..warm jacket cold, in summer! My first glimpse of the city was Tenderloin, which as anyone can tell you is an acquired taste, and certainly shouldn’t be the first thing you see in San Francisco. As I shivered in a friend’s tiny studio apartment and wondered where the sun had gone, the weather seemed to mirror the greyness in the soul of my then just graduated jobless self. It was the last recession. Another friend Viral was very surprised to learn that I didn’t like San Francisco right away. Having lived here a couple of years, he already loved it. And as I found a job, stayed here and learned to love it very quickly, his quiet confidence that I’d been mistaken in my first assessment stuck with me.

Viral is at once a charming and easy person to like. He’s an architect who is a study in contrasts. While he loves to meet people, he also enjoys being on his own. While we have a lot in common, like where we grew up, our profession and college, that is one thing I have in common with him that I don’t often have with many people. He’s a good friend and a good guy, kind and helpful. And its been a long year for him too, like it has been for so many of us. So I was thrilled for him when he got a chance to take a vacation in Europe last month. It is fun living vicariously sometimes and couldn’t wait for his stories when he got back. But he did me one better by sending me this charming postcard on my birthday. With his birthday wishes was a brief glimpse at his Italian experience. Gazing at the beautiful Piazza Navone and the fascination of Rome got me thinking about the beautiful country of Italy and invariably, its food. I went through my cookbooks book-marking all kinds of Italian-base recipes. But last night Amey beat me to the punch, by very neatly adapting a risotto recipe from Jamie Oliver’s book.

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