Masala Vada - Khara Kadabu / Spicy Chickpea Dill fritters - steamed cakes

Masala vada as the name symbolizes, is spicy dough made of masala (ginger, garlic, and garam masala). This is the most common appetizer we make during festivals. I love the way south Indians use such healthy ingredients and create beautiful blends one after the other. This authentic classic has been handed down generations. They can be made into a healthy steamed snack or a crunchy fritter. 

What I used: Makes 12-20 fritters or steamed cakes
1 cup kadale bele / channa dhal / split chick peas
6 green hot chilies or more if you like
2 cups fresh dill chopped
2 cups onion chopped
1 tsp whole garam masala (4 cloves, 2 inch cinnamon bark)
1 tsp fresh ginger grated
1 tsp garlic cloves
Salt to taste
Oil to fry – about 2 cups or more

Soak the split chickpeas in ample water and let them soak for 4 to 6 hours until they are soft. Drain and put them in a food processor. Add the green chilies, ginger, garlic and garam masala. 

Grind it to a coarse paste. If you grind it to a smooth paste, the vada will not be very crunchy; it is the coarseness that gives it a lasting crunchy texture, even when the fritter gets cold. Mix the chopped dill, onion, chickpea mixture and salt to make it into a dough consistency. 

You may prepare the dough a day before and refrigerate it too. Just mix the onions, dill and salt before you make the vada or steam cake. This prevents the dough from getting watery.

To make the fritters:
Heat about 2 cups of oil in a fry pan. Wet your hands and make little lemon sized balls. Place each ball on a plastic sheet or palm of your hand and pat it down to flatten it to form a patty. 

Check the oil temperature by adding a pinch of dough into the oil, if it foams and fries, we are good. Gently lower each patty into the oil. Once the lower side is golden, flip it over, cook the same way on the other side.  Serve it hot with chutney of your choice. 

To make the steam cakes:
Many of them prefer this version, that is healthier and fat free.  Mix the chopped dill, onion, chickpea mixture and salt to make it into a dough consistency. 

Wet your hands and make little cylinders. Steam cook them like you would steam your vegetables for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat (or Indians, use an idli pan). Enjoy!

Cauliflower and corn stir fry


What I used: (Makes 6 wraps or serves 4 as a lunch/dinner side dish)
3 cups fresh cauliflower, diced, soaked in warm water and 1tsp salt for 15 minutes, drained.
2 cups corn fresh or frozen
1 cup red onion diced
1 cup tomato diced
1 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp each: chana dhal, urad dhal, cumin and mustard seeds
Salt to taste
1tsp olive oil
2 sticks of fresh cilantro, chopped.

Heat a large skillet on medium-high, add oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the dhals, roast until they are slightly brown. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, and let them splatter. Toss in the onions and tomatoes, let the onions get transparent. Add the cauliflower and corn. Cook for 3 minutes on high.

Turn the heat to low now. Pour in all the powders. Sprinkle a little water. This prevents the dhals from charring. Cook uncovered for 4 minutes. Don’t let any vegetable cook all the way through. It is good if the top layer is soft. Turn off the heat. Garnish it with cilantro before it is served. 

I usually cook this stir-fry for dinner, as a side dish. If it remains, I wrap it into chapathi/tortilla rolls for lunch the next day. Enjoy!

Sausage and vegetables with fettuccini


What I used: Serves 4
1-1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausages
1 cup carrots cut into 1 inch rings
1 cup beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 colored bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup water or dry red wine
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
16 oz. fettuccine pasta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
3 tsp olive oil

In a large skillet, place sausages and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain sausages and continue cooking over medium heat until sausages begin to brown.

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to package directions and drain well.
Remove sausages from skillet and slice into 1-1/2" rings or larger as you need. Return to skillet along with onion, garlic, peppers and fennel seeds. After the onions turn transparent, add in the carrots, beans, tomatoes, basil, and thyme. Pour red wine or water.

Cook on medium high until the sausages are thoroughly cooked. Add the cooked pasta into the mixture and give it a good toss. Add salt and pepper. 

Top with Parmesan cheese and serve hot. Enjoy!

Choco chip cookie bars

Makes about 3 dozen cookies or bars
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups white chocolate chips (I had to improvise with 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sieve the flour, baking soda and salt together. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large bowl with mixer until creamy. Add eggs; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well. Stir in chocolate chips. 

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. 

You may also spread the batter into a greased 15x11 inch rectangle pan and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely; cut into bars. Simply delicious and truly homemade. Enjoy!   

Vodka Pork chops

Pan seared pork chops in a vodka cayenne marinate and juicy caramelized onions paired with sweet mango and cilantro salad. An amazing combination, try it!

What I used: Serves 4
4 boneless pork chops
2 cups onions chopped
1 tsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
Marinade:
½ cup vodka (I used pomegranate vodka)
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp red chili powder/cayenne pepper
½ tsp pepper powder
1 tsp ginger and garlic paste
Salt to taste

Beat down the pork chops slightly with a meat tenderizer. Mix all the marinating ingredients together to make a paste. Massage it into both sides of the pork chops, put in a plastic wrap to chill in the fridge for about an hour.

In a large skillet, add butter and oil together, on medium high, as the butter melts, add in the chopped onions, after about a minute, place the pork chops, and let them brown, untouched for 4-5 minutes. 

Flip them over, and cook covered until they are completely cooked, and the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.  

Keep tossing the onions around them, so they caramelize evenly. Turn off the heat. Remove the chops and let them rest aside on serving plates. Top the chops with the juicy caramelized onions. Serve hot with sweet mango and cilantro salad. Enjoy! 


Avarekai Pilaf


Avarekai is one of my favorite beans, and I try making as many dishes as I possibly can with it. This is pretty easy to make, as it is all cooked in one pot. You may use the crock pot if you like. The key to a great pilaf is slow cooking. 

What I used: Serves 4/5
2 cups rice
2 cups avarekai / fresh or frozen green kidney beans
1 cup onions diced
1 cup ripe tomatoes diced
2 tsp fresh ginger and garlic chopped
2 tsp cilantro finely chopped
A stick on fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp Whole Garam masala (1/2 inch cinnamon, 2 cardamoms, 4 cloves, 1tsp fennel seeds)
1 tsp red chili powder
¼ tsp turmeric
2 tsp ghee/oil
Salt to taste
First, soak the raw rice in cold water. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Add ghee into a medium pan. Over medium heat, add the whole garam masala, and fennel seeds. Stir in whole mint leaves, chopped ginger, garlic, and onions. Once they turn soft, add chopped tomato. Stirring attentively, cook on medium-high till they are soft and pulpy. About 5-7 minutes.

Add in the avarekai and powders (chili powder, turmeric and salt), cook for a few minutes. To this mixture, pour 4 cups of hot water (lesser if you like your pilaf flaky, more if you like it soft and mushy) and bring to a boil. Now drain the soaked rice and add it into the bubbling mixture slowly. Let is simmer on high for 3 minutes.

Add in the lime juice, then, cover the simmering mixture on low heat for the next 10-12 minutes. Stir occasionally, very gently. All the liquid will evaporate. Test to see if the rice is cooked. If it is watery, let it stay on low heat for a few more minutes. Turn off the heat. Smear the top of the pilaf with 1tsp ghee just before it is served. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Paneer/Tofu Fried rice

This rice dish is surely a vegetarian’s delight. Filled with golden crisp paneer cubes and colorful vegetables, it will be the center of attraction at that special dinner or potluck party. It can be eaten as is, but also beautifully blends in with spicy curries and other side dishes.

What I used: Serves 4-6
2 lb paneer cut into cubes and shallow fried to a golden brown
2 cups raw rice
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp vinegar
1 tsp pepper powder
Salt to taste
3 tsp oil
Veggies:
1 cup colored peppers, diced
1/2 cup carrot, diced
1/2 cup peas
1 cup cabbage, finely chopped
1 cup onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 green chilies, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions and/or cilantro (optional)

Soak the rice for 30 minutes in cold water. In a large pan, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt and 1tsp oil. Add in the raw rice, and cook. When the rice is 75% done, drain and set aside to cool.
On a parallel stove, in a small skillet, add a couple of tsp oil, and shallow fry the paneer cubes to a golden brown. Set aside.

Cut all the veggies required. In a large wok/pan, add oil over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, toss the garlic and green chilies; then the onions.

Work your hands constantly for the next 10 minutes, as you add in the vegetables. First the beans, peas and carrot, fry a minute. Now add the salt, pepper, soy sauce and vinegar. Fry until the soy sauce steams and 70% is soaked in to the vegetables. Add the fried paneer cubes and sauté for a minute, so it absorbs flavor. Add the diced colored peppers and the cooled rice now. Toss and mix thoroughly until very hot. Sprinkle with scallions/cilantro. Remove from heat. Serve hot!


Black bean and pasta shell soup

This soup is mellow and soothing. As the potatoes cook, they give a smooth texture and thickness to the soup. The shells and beans are a good combination for my kids to eat as they play ‘try to catch the beans in the pasta shells’.
What I used: Serves 4
2 cups or 1 can of cooked black beans
2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Bay leaves
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1 cup uncooked shell shaped pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp vegetable oil

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat.
Saute bay leaves and cumin, then add onion and garlic in oil over medium-high heat until translucent. Stir in potatoes, tomatoes, black beans and water. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add pasta shells and cover, simmer 20 minutes more on medium high, or until pasta is tender. You may add more water at any time to adjust consistency. Serve hot. Enjoy! 

Fresh Spring Rolls

These are cool crunchy rolls unlike all the greasy appetizers I make and fatten my poor guests, This is a breath of fresh air, crisp and low in calories :-) . They are made and served chilled in Asian restaurants. They use cooked shrimp and chicken in their rolls, I have made a vegetarian version of it. You can find the rice papers in any Asian store, I found it at Wal-Mart. Makes a great appetizer.

Serves 6 : Makes 12 rolls
 ½ cup boiled and drained rice vermicelli
 12 medium sized rice wrappers
12 sprigs of cilantro
12 lettuce leaves shredded (or whole as you like it)
1 cup of cucumber chopped into match sticks
1 cup carrots chopped into match sticks
2 leaves lettuce, chopped (I had to improvise with shredded cabbage)  

For the dipping sauce: 
 3 Tbsp hoisin sauce
 1 tsp finely chopped peanuts

Fill a large plate with warm water. Dip a rice wrapper into the hot water for a couple of seconds to soften. Lay it flat on a towel.
 
Arrange a few sticks of carrots, cucumber, cilantro, and a handful of vermicelli and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. 

Fold opposite sides towards each other. Then cover one edge over it and roll it all together tightly down to the open end. Do the same to the rest of the rolls. 

Make dipping sauce by mixing hoisin sauce and peanuts. Serve rolled spring rolls with the hoisin sauce mixture. Enjoy!


Chicken vermicelli with vegetables

What I used: Serves 4
2-8oz pack dried Chinese rice/bean noodles/vermicelli
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, minces
2 cups carrot finely chopped
1 cup peas
2 cups green onion/scallions finely chopped
2 cups boneless chicken finely shredded
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp vinegar
1 Tbsp chili sauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until al dente; do not overcook, or they will become mushy. Drain.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute ginger and garlic until tender. Stir in the chicken and let it brown, add in the carrots and pas, stir well for a few minutes.
Add the noodles and season with soy sauce, chili sauce, salt and pepper. 
Garnish it with chopped green onion.Serve hot. Enjoy!
 

Chocolate-Strawberry cheesecake bars

I had made this one for Valentine’s Day a few days ago, just packed the last bar into my husband’s snack box. It was so yummy! I really dint have the mood to do it from scratch, so used a fudge cake mix that was lying in my pantry. It is a no mess, surely tasty bar. I made a mistake of cutting the bars before cooling them completely; hence you can see those crumbles and uneven edges. Please cut it when they are chill, they will be perfectly wonderful.

For the first layer:
1 pack chocolate fudge cake mix and the ingredients it needs.
For the second layer:
2 8 oz packs of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
For the third layer:
1 cup strawberry jam
A few fresh strawberries

Heat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease bottom only of 13x9-inch rectangle pan. In a large bowl, mix the cake fudge ingredients together according to directions on the box, pour the cake batter into the baking tray. This is the first layer.

In another bowl, beat cream cheese, yogurt and sugar together on medium speed until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time until blended. Pour over the cake fudge mixture. Place the tray in the oven and bake about 45-50 minutes or until center is set. Refrigerate uncovered at least 2 hours. Spread well beaten strawberry jam to make a third layer, and cut into bars, decorate it with fresh strawberries before serving. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows. Store covered in refrigerator. Enjoy!

Cilantro chili breaded fish


I marinated fish fillets in a cilantro and chili paste, and then rolled it in bread crumbs and sesame. Shallow fried it in very little oil on a frying pan, it was simply beautiful. I did over roast it a bit though.

What I used: Serves 4-6
4-6 boneless tilapia fillets
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup sesame seeds
Marinate:
½ cup fresh cilantro
¼ cup green hot chilies/lesser if you like
½ tsp white pepper powder
½ tsp cumin powder
A pinch of turmeric
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
4 tsp lemon juice
3-4 tsp olive oil
Salt to taste

Grind all the marinating ingredients into a thick paste, massage it into the fish fillets and coat them on both sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Set a large fry pan on medium heat. Coat the fish in a generous amount of breadcrumbs and sesame on both sides. Add olive oil on the pan, or spray oil on the pan. Place all the fillets and cook until the crust is brown, flip it over gently. Do the same on the other side. Serve it along with some corn or vegetables. Enjoy!

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