Feng li su (pineapple cake) is a classic Taiwanese dessert inexplicably intertwined with their culture. They follow a tradition of wishing their nears & dears good fortune by gifting a box of feng li su, especially during their New Year. My husband’s colleagues in Taiwan never missed bringing us a box of feng li su during their visits here. When I first saw these cute little cakes I was of the impression that they can be baked only by a skilful professional, and I did not believe that I could bake them in my kitchen as these gorgeous delicacies pampered our palates with the burst of milky flavour & crumbly texture.
Rose cookies (rosette cookies) are traditional Christmas cookies prepared in Scandinavian & a few European countries and also in most of the Southeast Asian countries. In India rose cookies are prepared for Christmas and also for Diwali, and they are known as achu murukku in Tamilnadu, achappam in Kerala, gulabi puvvulu in Andhra Pradesh, and Rose De Coque in Goa. Traditionally rose cookies are dusted with icing sugar and served with tea or coffee.
Hummus, an ancient Arabic appetizer, took the western world by storm a few decades ago and is also available in stores across India. Traditional hummus is nothing but the creamy blend of chickpeas & sesame seeds. Now there are different flavors of hummus available in the market to satisfy the ever growing demands of consumers across the world. Nevertheless, it is hard to find the hummus with local flavors, and I have tried spicy hummus with the burst of flavors that suit our palates.
Spinach curry is one of the most popular Indian curries not only for Indians but also for the people across the globe. It is a traditional winter curry prepared using leafy greens & cottage cheese (paneer). Spinach curry with paneer is commonly prepared using palak (Indian spinach), whereas saag paneer is prepared using mustard leaves. Here I have prepared spinach curry with the South Indian spinach namely Amaranth leaves (mulai keerai). Actually it is as delicious as palak paneer and creamier than palak paneer.
It is the peak of festive season here, Diwali is in the air, young girls & boys are on a shopping spree buying clothes, accessories, electronic gadgets, fireworks, etc. to celebrate this Diwali grander than the previous years. Men are looking forward to spend this weekend with his near & dear. Women are toiling away in the kitchen to treat her family & guests with scrumptious goodies. We usually prepare coconut burfi a couple of days before Deepavali as it is made using fresh coconut meat that won’t stay fresh longer.
Basil seeds (sabja seeds) are one of the most sought-after summer ingredients in Asia. According to Indian Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), basil seeds are useful to lower the heat of our body. So it is a good idea to add basil seeds into our diet during summer to keep us cool & hydrated. This summer I have baked a loaf of egg-free banana bread using soaked basil seeds as a substitute for the egg.
Jerusalem is one of my favorite cookbooks for the traditional middle east recipes written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. You may download the e-book here. I find several vegetarian recipes that we, Indians, could very well try without demur since most of the ingredients are readily available here. Helbeh is one such recipe that caught my attention as it is an exceptional semolina cake prepared with fenugreek seeds and almonds.
Women of all virtues are regarded as goddesses in our society even today, we could find men treating his worldly-wise mother as Sarasawathi, the goddess of wisdom & knowledge, his caring wife as Durga Devi, the goddess of strength & protection, and his lively daughter as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Our prime minister, a devotee of goddess Durga, inducted a righteous woman into his cabinet of ministers as the national defence minister. We could also find several references in our ancient literature that stress the need for the respect of women in unequivocal terms.
A long time ago I read through an eye-opening piece of information published in almost all the newspapers & magazines about the special menu meticulously planned by the top chefs to ease the tension during the talks between Indian premier & Pakistan president at Agra summit in 2001. It made me to realize for the first time that the food we ingest not only nourishes our body but also influences our mind, mood, or thoughts as well. It also struck me that it is possible to tame the tantrums played by kids, or to channel the teens’ minds to set their goals by serving mind-calming foods. Apparently every mother could play a crucial role for the physical, mental & emotional well being of her children by serving appropriate food to fulfill their needs.
Despite the fact that peanuts can cause ama (indigestion), my father, an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, encouraged us to snack on peanuts even at a young age mainly for 3 reasons: Peanuts are the only legumes that grow underground hence the rich sources of micro-nutrients than any other legumes; they are beneficial to vegetarians for being the greatest sources of plant-based protein; it is possible to rid of ama while taking peanuts. Raw peanuts and roasted peanuts cause ama but not the steamed peanuts, so we can avoid taking raw peanuts altogether. Instead, we can take roasted peanuts along with jaggery, some spices, or herbs that aid in getting rid of ama. Here I have prepared a peanut butter using jaggery and added it into my mug cake.
It is quite hard to find someone who finds samosa unappetizing. Samosa is a scrumptious tea-time snack with chewy flavorful filling enclosed by crispy thin layers of pastry. Typically samosa is prepared by deep frying pastry sheets stuffed with spicy vegetables or minced meat. Lately, I switch to baked vegetable samosa as deep fried ones have always been my guilt pleasures.
Earlier elders in our family were of the opinion that baking cakes is a painstakingly strenuous procedure, and hence nobody in my family dared to bake cakes at home. We usually devour the cakes bought from the renowned bakery in our locality. During Christmas we had opportunities to relish home baked cakes like dark brown fruit cake, pale yellow semolina cake, etc. shared by our friends & neighbors. Those days home-baked cakes were so special for people like us as it was rare to find such soft scrumptious old-fashioned Christmas cakes even in the city’s premier bakery. Later we all bought the oven and bake spongy cakes at home even with local flavors. Here I have baked an eggless fig upside down cake using whole wheat flour & foxtail millet flour.
There were plenty of healthy snacks like boiled peanuts & Palmyra sprouts, roasted corncobs, and locally grown fresh berries & fruits sold in our school canteen. We relished them as much as the deep-fried snacks like puffs, samosa, chips, or sugary snacks like candies, chocolates, ice cream, ice pops, etc. during intervals or at the time of dispersal.
I am grateful to the creator of the well renowned TV series, The Popeye show, for motivating my son, a picky eater, to have a liking for an insipid spinach even at his tender age. Though he did not like to take spinach with rice, he enjoyed taking plain spinach just like his hero, the great Popeye, gobbled it up! This cartoon show successfully conveyed a profound theory, “we are what we eat”, even to the kids. Hence it made my job easier to convey the importance of taking all the greens including Chinese spinach.
Actually, I am not a soup enthusiast as I remember taking soups when I fell sick during my childhood days. Besides, it is a hot & humid climate almost 75% of the days here, so I would like to take hot vegetable soup only during winter or monsoon. Nevertheless, I like the idea of serving simple yet wholesome soup & salad for dinner as it makes us feel absolutely satiated. Sweet corn soup with sprouted moong salad is one such hearty and healthy meal that can be prepared with little efforts.
We grew up relishing sweet fruity beetroot pachadi served in every wedding feast, it was an unforgettable experience for us to relish the beautiful reddish-purple puree infused with the flavors of native fruits. Nowadays, this traditional fruit dessert has not been included in the menu prepared for the feasts, and beetroot jam is replaced by vanilla ice cream with fruit salad.
My father never missed to treat me with a glass of delicious mixed fruit juice whenever he took me out for shopping during my childhood days. I still remember how I relished this refreshing drink particularly during hot sunny days. This fruit juice can be enjoyed by chewing but not by sipping through a straw as it was served neither diluted like juice nor concentrated as smoothie. My father always preferred to take fresh mixed fruit juice without ice & sugar, hence I got motivated to prepare fruit juice without ice (or ice cream) and to use unprocessed sugar in place of refined sugar. My father also made us to realize that taking the food made of assorted fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, or lentils is essential for children’s growth as it prevents vitamin deficiency.
Generally, we prefer to take moist spongy homebaked cakes drizzled with honey, fruit juice, or chocolate syrup than the ones with buttery sugary frosting sold in the bakery or restaurants. When we bake a cake at home we have the liberty to use healthy ingredients. We could replace plain flour (maida) with whole wheat flour, butter with vegetable oil, sugar with other guilt-free sweeteners, etc. Besides we can add fresh fruits, nuts & seeds to tease our palate. Now I have baked a spongy cornmeal cake with delicious jackfruit glaze using cornmeal & whole wheat flour.