Toor Dal and Spinach Curry (Toor Dal Palak)


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Toor Dal Palak

Indian food may appear exotic to many North Americans with its extraordinary array of unfamiliar ingredients and spice blends, but exotic does not have to translate to being difficult or challenging once you have the ingredients on hand. In fact, Indian food is quite often the friend of the working family with little time to spare for preparation or cooking but with an appetite for nourishing and delicious meals.

Little could be faster or simpler than this tasty, filling and easily digestible toor dal and spinach curry, an elegantly flavored thick paste of protein-rich pulses and mineral-rich greens that makes a complete light meal when served on a bed of hot rice. Toor dal (or toovar dal — split pigeon peas) has a warm earthy taste and satisfyingly meaty texture that complements simple spice and vegetable additions, and is easily available in any Indian grocer along with the other ingredients in this dish. Nevertheless, split yellow peas may be substituted in a pinch, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves may be added at the same time as the ginger to replace the asafetida if you don't have it on hand.

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Tuscan-Style Pinto Bean Soup with Kale

Tuscan-Style Pinto Bean Soup with Kale

Italian food has a knack for appealing in all weathers, hot or cold. Light and hearty at the same time, I couldn't resist one more kick at the old bean and vegetable soup can before the summer finally kicks in and lighter dinner fare takes over. And besides this soup looks lovely with a little summer sun streaming in through the window.

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Mushroom, Miso and Seaweed Soup

Mushroom, Miso and Seaweed Soup

I've known about the health benefits of eating seaweed for years now, but earlier attempts to incorporate this mineral and vitamin rich sea vegetable into my diet didn't last for long. It's not because I didn't enjoy the salty strips, but I was less creative in the kitchen back then and didn't really know what to do with it, so usually I would end up nibbling on some dulse seaweed from the package.

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Ricotta Crumpets

Ricotta Crumpets

Ricotta cheese is a staple in my kitchen, so when I saw Nina's recipe for these scrumptious crumpets, I immediately decided to serve them for dinner alongside a fresh vegetable salad. Nina topped hers with a lovely mulberry sauce, but looking for a sweet and spicy twist, and lacking mulberries besides, I topped mine with some jalapeno and apricot cheese spread. The possibilities for toppings are as endless as the imagination of the cook and they would be enjoyable for breakfast or brunch as well as dinner. I'll certainly be making these again.

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Kidney Beans in a Slowly Simmered Tomato Sauce with Shredded Paneer (Rajma)


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Kidney Beans in a Slowly Simmered Tomato Sauce with Shredded Paneer (Rajma)

This rich and gritty kidney bean curry is adapted from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries, an extensive and creative collection of Indian creations that are straightforward to follow and easily changed to suit the preferences of the cook. This collection is not vegetarian, but even if you took out the meat and seafood recipes, you would still have a fat cookbook with lots of inviting vegetarian recipes.

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Red Wine and Sun-Dried Tomato Biscotti

Red Wine Biscotti

Over the Easter weekend, I tried some red wine biscotti and wanted to recreate the taste experience at home. I used very little sugar, but the addition of wine actually results in a savory yet strangely sweet biscuit even though I used a dry red wine. Maybe it was the sun-dried tomatoes that I added! I prepared the biscotti to serve with some homemade Kalamata olive tapenade, but these are an enjoyable snack all on their own.

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Quinoa Breakfast Hash

Quinoa Breakfast Hash

With a nearly perfect amino acid balance and a good supply of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins B and E, quinoa is just about as healthy a way to start off a day as you will find. Fried with vegetables and tossed with toasted sesame seeds, its naturally appealing nutty flavor is enhanced for a delicious contrast with the earthy saltiness of tamari sauce in a wholesome, gluten-free and extraordinary breakfast hash. It's also a great way to used leftover quinoa — substitute 1 cup of cooked quinoa for the dried quinoa in the recipe. Try this hash as a light lunch as well, with a fresh green salad on the side.

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Indian-Style Tomato and Corn Salad


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Indian-Style Tomato and Corn Salad

I was originally going to make a tomato soup for this month's No Croutons Required, but eager for spring, I decided to make this fresh and spicy Indian-style tomato and corn salad instead. With a zesty homemade lime and chat masala dressing, this simple salad is as vibrant as a warm summer day. If only eating salads could bring about a quick change in the weather!

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Kalamata Olive Tapenade

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

If you are an olive fan, then you will want to whip up a batch of this delightful sharp and tangy olive paste that I was inspired to make after seeing Ivy's version. I used plump tasty purple Kalamata olives and omitted the capers and anchovies that are usually included in traditional recipes, adding some garlic, a shallot and some soft creamy goat cheese instead. Make sure to use good quality ingredients, and especially avoid buying jarred olives. If you live in London, Ontario, the best olives I've found to date can be purchased from The Perfect Bakery.

If you can resist the urge to eat it by the spoonful, serve with crackers, crusty bread, as a dip with vegetables, or with some pasta. Or for the ultimate taste experience, spread the tapenade over some red wine biscotti. Simplicity at its most seductive.

Kalamata Olive Tapenade Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Recipe by
Adapted from Kopiaste
Published on April 15, 2009

Sharp and tangy Kalamata olive tapenade

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Ingredients:
  • 1 generous cup Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Instructions:
  • Put all of the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a thick paste. Adjust seasonings according to taste.

  • Refrigerate in a sealed container for up to 3 to 4 days.

Makes 3/4 cup

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

Other suggestions for olives:
Olive Hummus
Goat Cheese Olive Balls
Olive Cheese Balls
Olive and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Chocolate Orange Cookies

Chocolate Orange Cookies

It's been a while since I have shared a sweet baked treat with my readers, but thanks to Holler, who tempted me with these chocolate orange cookies, the dry spell has been broken. Much like a biscuit with big chunks of dark chocolate and a gorgeous fresh orange flavor, these cookies will stay moist for a few days stored in an airtight container provided they are not devoured shortly after coming out of the oven.

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Beetroot Rasam


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Beetroot Rasam

When I first starting cooking Indian, shortly after my transition to a vegetarian diet, my focus was mainly on dishes common to the Northern region. As I became comfortable with the cooking techniques and ingredients commonly used, I started experimenting more, coming up with fusion style dishes. Lately I'm captivated by traditional south Indian cuisine, and Chandra Padmanabhan has certainly been an inspiration and helped expand my culinary horizons. Dakshinwas my first introduction to her recipes and so impressed was I with the results, I hunted down a copy of Southern Spice. My copy arrived a few weeks back and this cleansing beetroot rasam stood out right away.

Traditionally served as the second course of the meal after thick and spicy sambars, rasams are generally soupier and thinner, commonly made up of fresh spice powders, tamarind, tomatoes and lemon or lime juice.

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Scalloped Potatoes with Coconut Milk and Mushrooms


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Scalloped Potatoes with Coconut Milk and Mushrooms

This past weekend I was treated to a visit from my Dad. I always make a point of making a special meal for him and knowing how much he enjoys potatoes, I immediately thought of this recipe for scalloped potatoes with coconut milk and chilies that I found in my treasured and generously post-it-noted marked copy of 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I've made several versions of scalloped potatoes in the past, but the idea of a spicy version was too much to resist. Indeed! This one received rave reviews from my dinner guests.

The only significant change I made was to add some sliced mushrooms to the dish. You will need to mix up some of this fiery red chili and vinegar paste (balchao masala) in preparation. Alternately, you could come up with your own fresh chili and spice paste, but I really think the balchao masala adds an essential kick. For a slightly thicker sauce, whisk a few teaspoons of unbleached white flour or chickpea flour into the coconut and masala paste.

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Miso Soup with Wild Mushrooms

Miso Soup with Wild Mushrooms

Ironically, the first robin I spotted this season was hanging around just outside my kitchen window in the snow. As I paced back and forth, flipping through pages and pages of recipes, thinking of what to make when I didn't soak a whole grain and/or bean the night before, and too lazy and skeptical to step out into the wind to pick up some fresh produce, I conjured up the idea of a warming bowl of soup made with staples on hand — yes, mushrooms are a staple in my kitchen! — to go along with some ricotta cheese biscuits.

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Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)


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Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)

Fresh spice blends, pastes and sauces are an essential element in many Indian dishes. The longer I immerse myself into the art of Indian cooking, the more I find myself making my own preparations. A complexity is imparted to the food that simply cannot be recreated by using ready-made versions produced outside of the kitchen of the cook looking to add a unique touch. And for the most part, the effort involved is minimal.

This recipe does come with a warning. The spicier the better is my motto, but even I was gulping water and spooning some cooling yogurt into my mouth to ease the heat after tasting a scant 1/2 teaspoon of this pungent, fiery paste on its own. When incorporated into curries and their accompaniments, however, the heat is a necessary and sufficient condition. This potent paste has the advantage of lasting for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and can be stored in the freezer too.

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Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

Cheesy Scrambled Eggs

After many attempts, I have finally perfected my popular cheesy scrambled eggs. The addition of ricotta, or heavy cream if you prefer, results in a nice fluffy batch.

Often in the past I have used yogurt in the beaten eggs but sometimes the results turned out a bit watery. I've experimented with various types of cheese for finishing the scrambled eggs, and found extra old Cheddar works well, as does asiago along with some grated Parmesan. This time I used paneer cheese, as I had some left over after making shredded paneer with tomatoes, chilies, mushrooms and chickpeas. This might be my favorite version to date. Filling enough to serve for dinner, and easy enough to prepare for a fairly quick breakfast, the only risk is the temptation to overindulge.

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Rice Pongal


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Rice Pongal

Rice is served more than a few times a week in my kitchen, and although I do enjoy plain basmati rice with some butter or some curried dal poured over top, I like to experiment with various flavor combinations. My latest preparation was inspired by Dakshin, a beautiful cookbook featuring some jewels from South India. Pongal is a dish consisting of rice, lentils and spices. Rather moist in consistency, it's balanced enough to be served as a meal by itself, perhaps with some flat breads, or you can serve it as part of a larger meal with another legume dish, and some vegetables.

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Shredded Paneer Cheese with Tomatoes, Chilies, Mushrooms and Chickpeas


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Shredded Paneer with Tomatoes, Chilies, Mushrooms and Chickpeas

Craving some silky paneer cheese, I came up with this spicy curry that includes some of my favorite textures and flavors — soft buttery chickpeas, tangy tomatoes, hot chilies and mushrooms. Truly a taste experience, it gets better with each bite. A colorful addition to any Indian meal, it could be served over steaming hot fresh cooked white rice for dinner, or as a side to compliment other vegetable and dal dishes. I served some of the leftovers with buttered toast for breakfast.

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