No Croutons Required - The Winner of the March Challenge

We received lots of tempting entries for the March challenge, but the most popular was Soma's flavour packed Roasted Vegetable Stew with Coconut Milk. Congratulations Soma! I can't wait to try this gorgeous stew.

Holler will be hosting the next edition of No Croutons Required. The theme for April is tomatoes. Vegetarian soups or salads featuring any type of tomato will be accepted. Holler has added an additional twist this month. Holler's birthday falls on the first day of the challenge, so she is asking for a menu to go along with your submission. You don't need to cook everything on the menu, just the soup or salad you submit for the event, but do include in your post what you would serve along with it for Holler's birthday!

Cheddar, Dill and Beer Biscuit Muffins

Cheddar, Dill and Beer Biscuit Muffins

Always keen to try quick bread recipes to complement a variety of meals, I immediately took note of Holler's recipe for Cheddar & dill beer bread rolls. Once upon a time, I used to consume a healthy quotient of beer, but I have since changed the glass to accommodate red wine. All the same, I was tempted by the idea of baking with beer — especially a dark, rich and flavorful beer, like the Newcastle Brown Ale that I used. The result was a kitchen filled with baking aromas that will not fail to stir the most stuffed tummies. Soft on the inside with a golden crisp exterior, they have the tantalizing taste and feel of dinner biscuits, but they're bake in a muffin tray, making them incredibly easy to make too.

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Sweet and Spicy Rice

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Hot and simple … two of my favourite words to describe food. This fast and easy-to-make rice packs a fiery bite on top of a welcoming sweetness, and is delicious served steaming hot. Slightly adapted from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries— a book I'm finding increasingly indispensible — sweet and spicy rice makes a wonderful contrast with more earthy legume or vegetable curries such as Chopped Cabbage with a Crumbly Chana Dal Sauce.
Sweet and Spicy Rice

1 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, sliced
6 dried whole red chilies
2 tablespoons rapadura or demerara sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt

Rinse the rice well in a fine strainer. Transfer to bowl, cover with water, swish it around a few times, drain and repeat until the water is relatively clear and no longer cloudy. Drain, cover with water and soak the rice for about 20 minutes or longer. Drain and set aside to air dry for 15 minutes or so.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds, cover, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and chilies and stir fry until the onions are well browned, about 10 minutes. Now add the rice and stir to coat the grains with oil. Pour in 1 2/3 cups cold water and stir in the sugar. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 12 minutes or until the water has been absorbed.

Remove from heat, fold in the salt, and serve hot. Serves 4.
If you liked this recipe you may also enjoy:
Green Tea & Curry Rice
Spiced Urad Dal Rice
Methi Rice
Spicy Fried Rice

Chopped Cabbage with a Crumbly Chana Dal Sauce

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
For all its nutritional and economic value, cabbage is often one of those vegetables I buy at the market without the slightest idea what I'm going to do with it once it's home. But as with so many ingredients not native to the land, Indians have discovered some of the most delicious and inventive uses for cabbage I've found yet, such as the cabbage poriyal I discovered recently, and now this colourful and delicious cabbage prepared with Indian spices and a delightful and creative dry chana dal sauce adapted from Raghavan Iyer's indispensible 660 Curries.

Pre-soaked dals and chilies are ground to a paste and steamed to form a dry, crumbly and savoury sauce that is combined and re-moistened with the cooking cabbage in Iyer's version, but I've fried the paste for ease of use instead here. Either way, the soft crumbs of dal provide an enjoyable contrast in texture with the crunch of lightly cooked cabbage, as well as a wholesome and delicious added layer of flavour.

Chopped Cabbage with a Crumbly Chana Dal Sauce


1 cup chana dal or yellow split peas
6 dried whole red chilies
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon olive oil


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon urad dal
1/2 medium head green cabbage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
handful fresh or dried curry leaves
handful fresh coriander, chopped

Rinse the chana dal or yellow split peas under running water. Place in a bowl and cover with water. If the water turns cloudy, drain and repeat until the water remains relatively clear. Add the chilies and soak for 3 to 4 hours.

To prepare the sauce, drain the dal and chilies and process in a food processor until a thick gritty paste is formed. Stir in the salt and asafoetida. Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat. When hot, add the olive oil, wait a few moments, then swirl around to coat the pan. Spread the dal paste over the pan and fry, turning over pieces of the paste occasionally, until the pieces are lightly browned on all sides and the dal is dry throughout — a toothpick inserted in the pieces should come out clean. Remove from heat and set aside.

Now heat a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil, wait a few moments again, and swirl around to coat the pan as before. Toss in the black mustard seeds and fry until the seeds start spluttering, a few seconds. Add the urad dal and stir until golden brown, about a minute. Add the cabbage and stir to coat the pieces with oil. Stir in the salt, cayenne, turmeric and curry leaves, add 1 cup of water, and turn down the heat to medium-low.

Break the dal pieces into small crumbs and stir into the cabbage. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has absorbed the liquid, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in the coriander, and serve. Serves 6 to 8.
If you liked this recipe you may also enjoy:
Cabbage Poriyal
Chickpea and Cabbage Soup
Spicy Indian Cabbage and Green Peas

Corn Pancakes with Fresh Chunky Salsa

One of my favorite blogging events is Tried and Tasted, a monthly event started by Zlamushka. Each month a different blog is featured and participants are invited and encouraged to browse through and cook from the archives. Considering how many recipes I bookmark and print off to try, having a focus is certainly welcomed.

The event is hosted this time around by Tasty Curry Leaf, and Tasty Palettes, run by the talented Suganya, is the featured site for March. I was excited by this choice, as I've long been a fan and enjoyed more than a few of her creations. Asides from her stunning photography, Suganya's recipes are always a treat and a welcome addition to the dinner table. Even her easiest dishes add a gourmet element to the meal.

The hardest part of this challenge was to actually settle on a recipe as all of Suganya's recipes are tempting. I was originally going to go with this cheese stuffed Baked Portobello but instead decided to make her Corn Pancakes with Gazpacho Salsa because I liked the idea of a filling savory pancake dish to serve for dinner. I did make a few changes to the original recipe. I used yogurt instead of milk for the pancakes because I didn't have any milk in the fridge, and I changed the salsa around somewhat, most notably by making a chunky version instead of a blended version.

The result was a fresh and satisfying dinner, and though spring is slow in coming, I am already craving summer. This recipe can easily be doubled if you have more tummies to satisfy.
Corn Pancakes with Fresh Chunky Salsa

For the Corn Pancakes:

3/4 cup of unbleached white flour
3/4 cup of cornmeal
1 1/2 cups of corn (fresh or frozen - thawed if frozen)
1 cup of milk (I used yogurt)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 of finely chopped fresh cilantro
olive oil for frying

For the Salsa:

2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 hot green chili, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
sea salt to taste

To make the Corn Pancakes, combine the flour, baking powder, corn meal and salt in a medium large bowl. Add the corn and stir in the milk (or yogurt) and cilantro until just combined. If the mixture is too dry, add more milk or yogurt.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Spoon in roughly 1/4 - 1/3 cup of batter per pancake (roughly 2 inches wide). Cook until browned - roughly 5 minutes - and flip and cook the other side until browned. Add more oil as necessary. Keep the pancakes warm in a 150 degree oven until ready to serve.

To make the Chunky Salsa, combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir well to combine. Serve over the hot corn pancakes.

Yields roughly 2 - 4 servings.
You might also enjoy:
Spicy Potato Pancakes
Rice Flour Pancakes
Blueberry and Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

No Croutons Required - Indian Vegetarian Soups and Salads

Eager for spring and dreaming of warmer climates, I chose Indian or Indian-style soups and salads as the theme for the March challenge. Sensible vegetarians who are in harmony with good nutrition and exciting taste sensations will be sure to find some inspiration from this month's challenge. Settle in and have a look at all of the mouthwatering entries we received. Though the choice won't be easy, please vote for your favorite in the comment section or by email. Please note that neither my submission, nor Holler's, is eligible for voting.

Our very first entry is from Rama who is relatively new to the blogging world. She shares this easy, earthy Carrot and Lentil Soup that she based on a Rasam recipe she learned from her sister-in-law. Carrots and toor dal are seasoned with some salt and pepper and fresh coriander. We don't have a picture of this soup, but I can image it is very colourful. (USA)

VnV of Veggie Monologues enter the challenge with this nourishing and chunky Lentil and Garbanzo Soup with Choy Sum. The legumes and choy sum are pleasantly flavoured with ginger, garlic, chilies, onion, garam masala, cumin and cilantro. Sounds like an ideal soup to serve along with some flatbread for a most satisfying meal. (Northern California, USA)

Our next entry is this stunning Mulligatawny Soup from Rita of Asparagus and Raspberries. Her version of this popular Anglo-Indian soup is made with potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, parsnips, apples, corn, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, coconut milk, pistachio nuts, lemon and lime juice and lots of spice. Packed full of nutrients and flavours, this soup won't fail to cure and nourish. (Denmark, Scandinavia)

Next up is Priya with this vitamin rich Spinach and Dal Soup. Spinach and moong dal are simmered with onion, tomato, garlic, pepper, cumin, nutmeg and some cream. This tasty creation is then blended together into a creamy soup and served with some toasted bread. Sounds like a fine lunch or dinner solution to me. (Paris, France)

Arundathi shares this creative Pineapple Salad. The flesh of the pineapple is combined with cilantro, onion and green chilies and dressed with lemon juice, chat masala and salt and pepper. Served in the shell of the pineapple, this fresh and inspired salad would certainly be an impressive addition to a summer meal. (India)

Trupti submits this pretty Green Pea Soup. Consisting of peas, corn, coconut milk, onion, ginger, veggie stock and chili powder, this delightful pureed soup can be served chilled or at room temperature making it a fine addition to any meal, any time of year. (Virginia, USA)

From Soma of eCurry we have this gorgeous Roasted Vegetable Stew with Coconut Milk. A synthesis of a Madhur Jaffrey recipe and her mom's, this healthy stew is made with roasted carrots, potatoes, squash, and bell pepper, in addition to tofu, asparagus, beans, milk, curry leaves, green chilies and spices. Serve this hearty stew with some bread or crackers on the side for a unique and fulfilling cold weather meal. (Plano, Texas, USA)

Pavani of Cook's Hideout comes up with this colourful Curried Rice and Bean Salad. A meal in itself, this salad has brown and white basmati rice, black-eyed peas, shallots, garlic, curry powder, cherry tomatoes, arugula and is dressed with lemon juice and salt and pepper. This pleasing recipe is easily adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand. (USA)

Next up is this citrusy South Indian Lemon Rasam from A&N of Delectably Yours. Inspired by N's mom, this warming rasam is made with toor dal, lemon, tomato, ginger, cumin, turmeric, green chilies, and fresh coriander. Serve with rice and perhaps some papadums in place of croutons for a lovely Indian meal. (Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

Dhivya of Culinary Bazaar offers up this beautiful Red Lentil and Coconut Soup that is packed full of nutrition and flavour. Lentils and coconut milk combine with onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, paprika, lemons, scallions and some fresh cilantro. This vibrant soup was served for lunch with a nice slab of crusty bread. Nothing subdued about that if you ask me! (USA)

My contribution this month is this Mung and Tamarind Dal that I based on a recipe from Dakshin, a highly valued cookbook featuring South Indian dishes. Essentially a sambar, this fiery soup is made up of mung beans, tamarind, lots of green chilies, turmeric and tempered with black mustard seeds, dried red chili, asafoetida and curry leaves. Those who enjoy the heat of Indian dishes will want to try this tasty dal. (London, Ontario, Canada)

Our next entry is this colourful Varuthu Araitha Kootu (Roasted Ground Medley) from Suganya of Tasty Palettes. Moong Dal, and mixed vegetables cooked with some turmeric, are then combined with a fresh spice mixture of red chilies, black pepper, urad dal, grated coconut, asafoetida, and some curry leaves and then tempered with some mustard seeds. A excellent dish to make if you have veggies left over in the crisper, though I'd be tempted to make it anytime and often. (USA)

Sweatha of Tasty Curry Leaf enters this month with a unique and inspired, thick and creamy, North Indian-style Almond and Vegetable Soup. Potatoes, cabbage, green pepper and onion come together with some milk and roasted almonds and salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Certainly this soup would be the star of any meal. (Bangalore, India)

My treasured friend and co-host of No Croutons Required prepared this lovely Turnip, Cumin and Coriander Soup for our event. Holler spices up squash, potatoes, turnip and onion, with garlic, ginger, cumin, chili powder, black pepper and a generous handful of fresh coriander leaves. Anyone invited into Holler's kitchen is sure to experience culinary bliss. (Scotland, UK)

Last but not least, lovely Maninas contributes a taste sensation with her Punjabi Green Lentils with Deep Brown Onions and Garam Masala and illustrates how patience and willingness to experiment will yield mouthwatering results. Green lentils are simmered with turmeric, and then seasoned with a tarka of cumin seeds, browned onions, ginger, garlic and of course garam masala. No picture, as the family camera is occupied, but I am sure you can use your imagination. (Croatia)

Holler will be hosting April's edition of No Croutons Required. Check back at the beginning of the month for the theme.

Red Kidney Beans with Turnip

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
There's plenty of room in most kitchens — and more than enough in mine — for fast and simple recipes to feed a family on the go with a filling, nutritious and delicious meal. Kidney beans, vegetables and gentle spices combine in this recipe — adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's out-of-print Taste of India — for an earthy, satisfying and quick dinner.
Red Kidney Beans with Turnip

1 cup dried red kidney beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into wedges
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
3 hot green chilies, seeded and minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Rinse the kidney beans and soak overnight covered in several inches of cold water with a little yogurt whey or lemon juice added. Drain and put the beans in a medium saucepan. Cover with several inches of fresh water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Drain and set aside along with the cooking liquid.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil, wait a few moments, then swirl to coat the pan. Add the turnips and fry until browned on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel, and set aside. Add the onion to the saucepan and fry until the edges begin to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Turn down the heat slightly and add the garlic. Stir for a few moments, then add the chilies, ginger, cayenne and turmeric, and stir to coat the onion.

Now stir in the turnip, beans, and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid from the beans. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the turnips are tender, adding a little extra of the beans' cooking liquid if necessary. Remove from heat and season with salt.

Serve on a bed of hot white or brown rice. Serves 4 to 6.
If you enjoyed this recipe you may also like:
Curried Red Kidney Beans with Paneer Cheese
Nigerian Red Kidney Bean Stew
Red Bean and Squash Soup

Mung Bean and Tamarind Dal

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Yet another recipe adapted from Dakshin, a treasured cookbook focusing on traditional South Indian culinary delights. Easy to prepare, it's sure to please those who crave spicy dals, though you can reduce the number of chilies used if you want a milder version. I served this fiery mung dish alongside a tempering Tamarind Rice.

This is my submission to the March edition of No Croutons Required. The challenge this month is Indian or Indian-style soups or salads. You have until the 20th of this month to send in your entry.
Mung Bean and Tamarind Dal

1 cup of whole mung beans
3 cups of water
a lemon-sized piece of tamarind pulp
1 cup of hot water
6 fresh green chilies, seeded and cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of sea salt

For tempering:

2 teaspoons of ghee, or a mixture of butter and oil
1 teaspoon of brown or black mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, broken into bits
1/2 teaspoon of asafoetida powder
a handful of dried curry leaves

Rinse the mung beans in a stainer. Cover with water and soak overnight. Drain, transfer to a large pot and cover with three cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally and cook until the beans are buttery soft - roughly 45 minutes. Set aside without draining.

Soak the tamarind in 1 cup of hot water for 20 minutes. Strain the tamarind water into another bowl, and squeeze as much liquid out of the tamarind pulp as you can. Discard the tamarind pulp and set the tamarind liquid aside.

For tempering, heat 2 teaspoons of ghee in a heavy saucepan. When hot, add the mustard seeds, red chili, asafoetida powder and the curry leaves. When the mustard seeds turn grey and begin to pop, add the green chilies, tamarind juice, ground turmeric and salt. Simmer for 5 minutes or so. Add this mixture to the cooked mung, return the pot to the stove over medium-low heat and simmer for another 10 minutes to blend the flavours.

Garnish with some curry leaves or fresh parsley or coriander if desired.

Serves 4.
Other Mung Bean dishes you will want to try:
Spicy Mung Bean Soup with Coconut Milk
Indian Sour Mung Bean Soup
Indian-style Spicy Mung Beans

Tamarind Rice

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Tamarind Rice

I'm perfectly content with plain basmati rice, perhaps moderately adorned with some melted butter and fresh lime juice. I just adore rice that much. Rice lover that I am though, I do enjoy taking a bit more time to create a rice creation that seriously competes for the wow factor of the meal.

And I must recommend this memorable experience of perfect textures and flavors adapted slightly from my trusted copy of Dakshin, a glorious collection of traditional vegetarian south Indian recipes. The steps to prepare the tamarind chutney essential for making this dish can be found here.

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Creamy Split Pea & Vegetable Soup

Creamy Split Pea & Vegetable Soup

Spring might — and I mean might — be finally peering at us around the corner here in southwestern Ontario, but whether it's bitterly cold or just cool there's nothing more warming or comforting than a hot bowl of hearty and nourishing split pea soup. This creamy split pea soup is loaded with chunks of delicious vegetables, takes little time or effort to make, and is most satisfying with thick slices of fresh bread.

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Tamarind Chutney

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Tamarind Chutney

I made this wonderfully layered spicy, sweet, sour and tangy south Indian tamarind chutney in preparation for this tamarind rice dish. Made with fried spices and toasted sesame seeds and coconut in addition to the tamarind, this recipe comes from Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan, a lavishly illustrated and informative cookbook focusing on traditional fiery vegetarian Indian dishes from the south. Dal and rice dishes are nicely balanced with vegetable creations, condiments, sweets and snacks and essential spice powders. Included is a helpful glossary of ingredients and cooking terminology common to Indian Cuisine. It's quickly become one of my favorite Indian cookbooks.

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Indian-Style Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Indian-Style Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry

This lovely curry is sweet and spicy, nourishing and delicious … but most importantly, oh so simple and quick. A curry in a hurry for families on the go, and a delightful meal whether served up on a bed of hot white rice or scooped up from the plate in fresh flat breads.

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Spicy White Bean and Turnip Soup

Spicy White Bean and Turnip Soup

Aside from actually traveling to the Mediterranean and dining at a seaside cafĂ©, the next best way to cope with a relentlessly long and cold winter might be to set a big soup pot full of hot and nourishing Mediterranean vegetables and beans to cook on the stove. This hearty, colourful and slightly spicy Croatian recipe is adapted from Martha Rose Shulman's wonderful Mediterranean Harvest both to boost the vegetables and to deal with the fact I didn't have parsnips on hand — in went the turnips instead, and to delicious effect.

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Spicy Mung Bean Soup with Coconut Milk

Visit the Indian Food Glossary for information on the ingredients in this recipe
Spicy Mung Bean Soup with Coconut Milk

Spring tempts and tickles with rather frosty tendrils, but the tease is not enough to resist the lure of a warming bowl of nourishing soup. Craving mung beans, I came up with this creamy soup that includes a good little handful of hot peppers, but the coconut milk tempers the chilies and the spice resulting in a flavorful but somewhat subdued dish that goes well with some nutty brown basmati rice. An added bonus is that the soup tastes even better the next day. Next time I make this, I'm going to increase the spices a wee tad and add dried red chilies for a slightly fiery undertone.

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No Croutons Required - The Winner for February and the Theme for March

Congratulations to Alisa of One Frugal Foodie for winning the potato soup and salad challenge with this lovely Creamy Potato Miso Soup. She certainly had some tough competition.

I'm especially eager for Spring right now and after much thought, decided to focus on a cuisine from a warmer area of the globe and to go with a theme that falls in line with my specialty. For March, the challenge is to come up with an Indian or Indian-style vegetarian soup or salad. Soupy dal dishes are also welcomed. You have until the 20th to email us your entry. For a recap of the submission guidelines, please go here.