Category: Dried Fruits and Nuts

In Season: Asparagus with Buckwheat Noodles

Houston has spring like weather since third week of February. That means the beginning of planting season. I had been in the garden, cleaning the garden beds, starting seedlings and planting vegetable plants. Kind of lost in spring sunshine, and who can resist the spring charm?

Spring means asparagus is in season. I bought a bunch of tender asparagus last weekend and prepared a Thai inspired Buddha’s bowl for today’s meal. A complete vegetarian one-pot meal with asparagus and buckwheat (soba) noodles in homemade sweet and sour peanut sauce. You can of course, buy ready-made sauce but the sauce is easy to prepare at home using the ingredients that are already in pantry and that’s what I did. Buckwheat noodles which are prepared from buckwheat flour have a unique texture and flavor that I enjoy. With fresh asparagus and in flavorful sauce, it was a nutritious, filling Buddha’s bowl. Imagine PF Chang’s restaurant but without all the hoopla and waiting to get a table.

Asparagus with Buckwheat Noodles
(serves 4)

    12 ounces of buckwheat (soba) noodles
    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    1 cup, shallots or red onion, cut into matchstick length thin strips
    2 cups, fresh asparagus, cut into matchstick length pieces
    2 cups carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
    2 cups unripe, green papaya, cut into thin matchsticks
    1 cup, fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
    1/2 cup, roasted pistachios or peanuts
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    For the sweet-sour peanut sauce:
    1/4 cup, roasted, unsalted peanuts
    2 teaspoons, chilli flakes
    1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
    1 tablespoon, palm or cane jaggery pieces
    1/4 teaspoon, sea salt
    Add the above in a mixer and blend to creamy, smooth sauce.

1. Cook the buckwheat noodles according to the instructions on the package, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside.

2. Heat sesame oil in a wok or wide pan until hot. Add onions, asparagus, carrot and green papaya. Saute for 10 minutes, turning frequently, until the vegetables are tender and browned.

3. Add the sweet and sour peanut sauce to roasted vegetables. Sprinkle salt and quarter cup of water. Simmer on low heat for five minutes.

4. Toss in the buckwheat noodles and stir coat them in the sauce. Heat through for two minutes and then spoon into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle cilantro, pistachio and little bit lemon juice on top and serve immediately.

Asparagus with Soba Noodles
Asparagus with Buckwheat Noodles ~ Under Spring Sunshine

Variation: Use whole-wheat or rice noodles instead of buckwheat noodles, if you wish.

Chocolate Date Cake

I baked a chocolate-date cake for two adorable little girls last week. Charming chocolate and demure dates, energizing and detoxifying at the same time, they just seem to belong together. It was a moist, dense cake and the girls liked its comforting taste.

Chocolate-Date Cake Batter

Chocolate Date Cake
(for 12 generous servings)


2 cups, all purpose flour (unbleached)
1 cup, semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup, fresh dates, pitted and chopped, soaked in a cup of warm milk for 30 minutes
1 cup, pecan pieces (or walnut pieces)
1 1/4 cups, cane sugar
2 eggs or 1 ripe banana, mashed, about a cup
1/2 cup, ghee or peanut oil
1/2 cup, fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon each – baking powder and baking soda
1 teaspoon – vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Generously apply ghee or oil to a cake or bread pan.

2. In a bowl, beat the eggs or ripe banana, sugar, vanilla extract, orange juice and ghee or oil into smooth mixture. Then add and fold in the flour, chocolate chips, dates plus the milk they soaked in, pecans, baking powder and baking soda. Pour the batter into cake pan.

3. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, until the cake is firm and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then invert on to a wire rack or plate to cool completely before serving.

Chocolate Date Mini Cakes
Chocolate-Date Mini Cakes

Coconut~Pecan Burfi

It’s so cold outside today, the brain prefers to stay numb rather than focus on work. The weather will remain frigid all this week, and there is also snow forecast for tomorrow. Houston’s is really mild compared to what Northeast and Midwest US are facing right now. Winter is really too much this year and spring can’t come soon enough!

Even in this bitter cold weather, we get great quality fresh coconuts, thanks to local Asian and Mexican shops in Houston. With those fresh coconuts, we prepared coconut-pecan burfis for a friend’s birthday celebration last weekend.

You remember the pecans I gathered from neighborhood pecan trees last October? I had no idea before about how time-consuming the pecan shelling process can be. The first attempt was a test for my patience. Now I keep the breaking and shelling pecan nuts to need to bake basis and only for special occasions. And, I had to shell some more, patiently for this preparation.

The dessert idea started with plain coconut burfi, then we thought why not buddy up the coconut with pecans. The combination was a success and they made a darling duo in burfis. Coconut-Pecan burfis are wonderful dessert for special occasions. Give a try.

Fresh Coconut and Pecans
Fresh Coconut and Home-Shelled Pecans

Coconut Pecan Burfi
(makes about 20 to 24, 1×1-inch sized burfis)

Ingredients Preparation:

  • Break two coconuts open. Save the coconut water to sip later. Grate the white part inside with a coconut grater. We need 4 cups of fresh grated coconut for this recipe.
  • Add one cup of pecans to a food processor or mixer and coarsely crush the pecans tiny pieces.
  • Open four cardamom pods and shell the seeds in a mortar. With a pestle, crush the seeds to fine powder.
  • Take three and half cups of cane sugar in a bowl.
  • Apply a tablespoon of melted ghee to a flat tray (to pour the burfi mixture).

Burfi Preparation:

  • Combine two cups of water and the sugar in a heavy-bottomed, big vessel and place over moderate heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely and then raise the heat to gently boil until sugar reaches “soft-ball consistency”. To know the right consistency – do the cold water candy test. Take quarter cup of water in a small bowl, add few drops of sugar syrup to water. When the syrup holds its shape and doesn’t dissolve in the water (softball), then it is at the right consistency.

  • Add the grated coconut and pecan pieces to sugar syrup when the syrup is ready. Keep the heat on medium and cook, stirring continuously to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. In about 10 to 15 minutes, the mixture will start to firm up and come away from the sides of pan easily – this is the signal to turnoff the heat. Stir in cardamom powder and immediately pour the mixture on a flat, ghee applied tray. Level it evenly with a spatula, and cut into squares. Let cool.
  • When the burfi is thoroughly cool, cover the tray with another tray. Reverse and gently tap to loosen the pieces. Separate the squares and store them in a container. Coconut-Pecan burfi will stay fresh up to two weeks.

Coconut Pecan Burfis
Coconut and Pecan ~ The Best Buddies for Tasty Burfis

Chikkudu Vittanaala Kura for Sankranthi

Chikkudu (Telugu) also known as papdi lilva (Hindi) is a type of broad bean from India. The tasty pods and plump seeds are culinary delight and part of the menu on Sankrathi festival in our part of Andhra.

The photographed chikkudu are from my garden. I shelled those seeds last month just before the onset of freezing temperatures. With that hearty harvest, it was a glorious goodbye to plentiful 2010-growing season.

Broadbeans, Chikkudu Vittanaalu
Indian Broadbean Seeds (Chikkudu Vittanaalu, Papdi Lilva)

Chikkudu Vittanaala Kura (Chikkudu Seeds Kurma)
(for 2 to 4, for 2 to 1 meal)

Chikkudu Seeds: 3 cups. Bring 2 cups of water to boil. Add half teaspoon of salt to water. To the boiling water, add the chikkudu seeds. Partially cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the water and set aside the seeds.

Masala Paste: In a skillet, toast a cup of unsalted peanuts. Cool and remove the peanut skins.
In the same skillet, add 1/4 teaspoon each – cumin seeds and black peppercorn, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, 4 cloves and one inch piece of cinnamon stick. Toast to fragrance on low heat constantly stirring. Cool.
Take roasted peanuts in a mixer. Add the toasted spices and also 1×1-inch piece of fresh ginger, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp and 2 tablespoons of crushed jaggery. Add quarter teaspoon of salt. Blend everything together into fine paste. Add half cup of water for easy blending.

Chikkudu Seeds Kura: In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil. Do the cumin tadka.
Add the chikkudu seeds and masala paste. Add about a cup of water. Season with quarter teaspoon each – turmeric, chili powder and salt. Mix well. Taste for salt, spice and sweetness, and adjust to your liking. Cover and simmer the kura on medium heat for at least ten minutes, until the seeds have reached buttery texture.

Serve warm with rice or roti. For Sankrathi festive meal experience, serve the kura with pongali or sajje rotte with some ghee and pickle on the side.

Chikkudu Seeds Kura
Chikkudu Seeds Kura with Chapati and Lemon Pickle ~ Meal on a Cold Day

Almond Burfi (Badam Burfi)

Special occasions need something sweet that is simply wonderful. Almond burfi is one such simply wonderful, quick and easy sweet that is nutritious as well. This classic Bharath mithai is a favorite of mine and one of the sweets I made and took to London. Almond burfis are the perfect dessert for the holiday indulgent mood, my sister and family enjoyed them.

Almond Meal
Fresh Almond Meal

Almond Burfi (Badam Burfi)
(for about 40, 1×1-inch square sized burfis)

Ingredients:
6 cups, whole almonds
6 cups, cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon, finely crushed cardamom seeds

Equipment:
food processor
a big, sturdy pan and ladle
a flat tray to pour the burfi mixture

Method:
1. Prepare the Almond Meal:
In a big bowl, cover the almonds with water and soak for at least 4 hours. The soaking process helps loosen up almond skin and the skin peels off easily.
One by one, peel the almond skins. When you are done with peeling, gently pat and dry the now skinless, white almonds with a clean kitchen towel.
Take almonds in one to two cup batches in a food processor. Pulse and grind to fine meal.
From 6 cups whole almonds, you will get about 8 cups of almond meal.

2. Prepare the Sugar Syrup:
Combine two cups of water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed, big vessel and place over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves completely and then raise the heat to medium and gently boil until sugar reaches softball consistency. To know the right consistency – do the cold water candy test. Take quarter cup of water in a small bowl, add a drop of sugar syrup to water. When the syrup holds its shape and doesn’t dissolve in the water (softball), then it is at the right consistency.

3. Prepare the Almond Burfi:
Add the almond meal and cardamom powder to sugar syrup when the syrup is ready. Keep the heat on medium and cook, stirring continuously to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan.
In about 10 to 15 minutes, the mixture will start to come away from the sides of pan easily – this is the signal to turnoff the heat. Immediately pour the mixture on a flat, ghee applied tray. Level it evenly with a spatula, and cut into squares. Let cool.

When the burfi is thoroughly cool, cover the tray with another tray. Reverse and gently tap to loosen the pieces. Separate the squares and store them in an airtight container. Because the burfi doesn’t have any milk products, almond burfi will stay fresh for up to a month.

Almond Burfi
Simply Wonderful ~ Almond Burfis (Badam Burfis)

To decorate the burfis, place edible silver or gold foil over cooled almond burfi, and gently press slivered almonds into each square for the festive feel.

Autumn Americana ~ Pecan Picking

Happy Deepavali, dear friends and readers. I have missed the web world, and it is good to be back and blogging again. Right now, it’s pecan harvest time in Houston. Mature, pecan trees line up the streets where we live and during autumn season you will see families with baskets and bags picking up the pecans that are fallen under the trees. We also joined the fun this year and picked up about five pounds of pecans from our neighborhood pecan trees. There are still plenty more pecans to pick and share. The shelled pecans were of good quality and very tasty.

Vijay and I, we both like pecans very much and we add them to kosambaris, cakes, pies and pralines. Pecans were one of the gifts that we chose to carry to Nandyala on our last India trip. We wanted our families back home have a taste of this wonderful americana treat. As we had hoped, they loved the pecans, particularly the jaggery-pecan pralines we prepared. Pecans truly are autumn wealth, and it’s good to get some directly from generous pecan trees.

Pecan Harvest
Pecan Harvest from Neighborhood Pecan Trees

Shelled Pecans
Shelled Pecans ~ An Autumn Wealth

Brinjal Sesame Kura

Bigger isn’t better always. You always know that for making delicious dishes, what is needed is not a big house, even bigger multiple kitchens. Sometimes, bigger things bring bitter results. All you’d need is a tender heart that responds to love and affection to make food that touches the other hearts. I have come to know that this applies to brinjal harvest as well. When you grow your own brinjals, pick as soon as they are just big enough to eat, when their skin still has high gloss finish and inside is tender. When you slice open and find brown flesh and dark seeds, you have waited too long. Bitterness claimed the brinjal soul, and it isn’t a culinary friend any more. The younger ones with angelic pulp and barely developed seeds taste better than bigger and bulky brinjals.

Here is traditional brinjal recipe with sesame I made last weekend for Janmastami with my brinjal harvest. Brinjal and sesame are a good combination and it is just not Bharath, many other world’s cuisines favor this endearing combination. The soul is the same, the dress-up and names are different from country to country. If you have never tried brinjal sesame combination before, try it once. It’s good and tasty, worthy of festival feast.

Homegrown Brinjal from the Backyard Garden
Homegrown Brinjal

Brinjal Sesame Kura
(for 2 or 4, for 2 to 1 meals)

Brinjals: Pick 8 to 10 small, fresh looking brinjals. Wash and remove the end. Take water in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of salt. Cut brinjal into bite sized pieces and drop the pieces into salted water.
Slice one red onion or shallot thinly lengthwise.

Sesame: Place a stainless steel pot on stovetop and heat. When the pot is hot, add 6 dried red chilli, a tablespoon of coriander seeds, half teaspoon black peppercorn, quarter teaspoon cumin, 6 cloves, one-inch piece of cinnamon stick in listed order and at the end 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds. Constantly stirring, roast the spices to fragrance. Remove them to a plate and cool. Take them in a blender. Add a garlic clove, a tablespoon each – , chopped fresh ginger, tamarind pulp and jaggery pieces, and half cup of water. Blend the ingredients to superfine paste.

Brinjal Sesame Kura: Heat the stainless steel pot again. This time, add a tablespoon of sesame or peanut oil and when oil is hot, do the curry leaf tadka. Add and saute onions to soft. Remove the brinjal pieces from water and add them in the pot. Sprinkle half teaspoon of salt and pinch of turmeric. Cover and cook on medium heat until the brinjal pieces are tender, for about five to eight minutes. Stir in the sesame-spice paste and half cup of water. Adjust salt, sour(tamarind) and sweet(jaggery) levels according to your taste. Mix well and simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat.

Serve immediately and politely accept the applause from your guests. Sesame brinjal kura tastes great with Pongal rice and sorghum roti with some ghee and pickle on the side.

Sesame Brinjal Kura with Pongal
Brinjal Sesame Kura with Pongal and Red Chilli Pickle ~ Good Meal for a Hungry Soul

Badam Beerakaaya (Almond Turia)

The badam-beerakaaya combination is a new recipe that I have come up with the beerakaaaya harvest. This recipe really concentrates the flavor and brings out the sweetness of both beerakaaya and badam. Dice the beerakaaya, saute and add ground badam paste. Simple vegetable curry with some protein profile, badam-beerakaaya makes a delicious filler for chapatis or pav-wiches on low appetite days.

Beerakaaya (Turai/Turia)

Badam-Beerakaaya Kura
(for 2 or 4, for 2 to 1 meal)

    3 beerakaaya – fresh and firm, about arm length each
    3 tablespoons - badam butter paste (ground almonds)
    4 green chillies – finely chopped
    1/4 teaspoon – turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon -salt or to taste
    For curry leaf talimpu:
    1 tablespoon, peanut oil, 1 sprig of fresh cury leaves, pinch each-cumin and mustard seeds

Peel the beerakaaya ridges. Wash and dice beerakaya to bite-sized pieces.

In a big pan over medium heat, heat peanut oil until hot and do the curry leaf talimpu. Add curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds. Saute to fragrance, stirring frequently.

Add beerakaaya and chilli pieces. Cover and cook on medium heat. After about ten minutes, remove the lid and stir in ground almonds, turmeric and salt. Mix well and cook for another five minutes or until the beerakaya juices have reduced and sweetened with almond paste.

Serve badam-beerakaaya kura warm with chapati, bread or rice and dal for a tasty meal.

Badam-Beerakaaya Kura with Chapati
Badam-Beerakaaya Kura with Chapati ~ For Meal Today

For Homemade almond paste:
Soak 8 almonds in water for about an hour. Drain the water and peel the almond skins. In a mixer or mortar, take almonds, add a pinch of salt and grind to smooth paste.

Beach Snack ~ Boiled Peanuts

Bottlenose Dolphins in Galveston Bay
Bottlenose Dolphins in the Galveston Bay

Last weekend, we went to Galveston, a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s about an hour drive from my home. We spent time watching bottlenose dolphins and on the sea on a free ferry ride. The weather was balmy and the beaches were crowded. Still it was fun, thanks to brief rain and cooling breeze. I packed some boiled peanuts to snack. Shell and eat, within minutes they were gone. Salty and succulent, they were the perfect snack for a beach day. Being from the India, I think we are destined to crave boiled peanuts.:) They are very addictive.

Boiled Peanuts
Boiled Peanuts ~ for a Beach Day

For those of you, who would like to engage your tastebuds in a salty succulence with delicious boiled peanuts, here is the recipe.

    2 pounds, raw, fresh peanuts
    2 tablespoons, sea salt
    Big pot or pressure cooker and a colander

Wash peanuts in plenty of water. Take them in a pressure cooker. Add salt and enough water to cover them.
Close the lid and on medium-low heat, pressure-cook the peanuts to tender. Slow cooking produces excellent results with soft and salty peanuts.
Pour the cooked peanuts in a colander and drain the water. Cool for few minutes.
Break open and enjoy the tasty boiled peanuts. Yum!

Gongura Peanut Pachadi

Thanks to the frequent rains this summer, my gongura plants are thriving. In fact, there is a surplus of fresh gongura leaves and that allows me experiment some new recipes. You know the peanut chutney in which we add tamarind or lemon juice to perk up the pachadi? I thought why not replace them with fresh gongura leaves. Gongura’s tangy taste should be a perfect compliment to nutty peanuts. It has turned out a good recipe with gongura.

Fresh Gongura Leaves
Gongura Madi

Gongura Peanut Pachadi

    1 tablespoon, peanut oil
    2 garlic cloves, skin peeled and chopped coarsely
    1 red onion or shallots – coarsely chopped, about a cup
    6 to 8, fresh or dried chillies, Indian variety
    Fresh gongura leaves – about 6 cups, tightly packed
    Roasted, shelled, skinned, unsalted peanuts – 3/4 cup
    1/2 teaspoon, salt (or to taste)

1. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Saute to soft brown. Remove them into a cup.

2. In the same skillet, stir in the gongura leaves. It will seem an enormous quantity but the leaves reduce rapidly to less than half the volume. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat for about five minutes. If the gongura is very fresh, the mixture will be juicy. Remove the cover and continue to cook until the water has evaporated, for another two to three minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

3. In a blender or mortar, take the peanuts. Add salt. Grind or pound into a fine powder. Add the cooked onion-gongura mixture to peanut powder. Stir in half cup of water. Blend the ingredients to smooth pachadi. Remove to a cup.

Gongura-peanut pachadi tastes good with breakfast items, rice or roti.


Gongura-Peanut Pachadi with Ponganalu ~ for Meal Today

Cubed Zucchini in Cashew Sauce

Because zucchini is being so generous in my garden, I decided to return the favor and treat it royally. I picked two zucchinis. Diced them into bite-sized cubes and added them to rich cashew sauce. Zucchini looked like it was in a state of Zen, and that made us happy. This is a good zucchini recipe for those of you who would like to avoid tomatoes but still like to indulge in sauces.

Yellow Zucchini and Cashews

Cubed Zucchini in Cashew Sauce

Ingredients:
2 young and tender, yellow zucchini, cubed to bite-sized pieces
1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup crowder peas fresh or frozen (or any beans you prefer) for protein
1 tablespoon, peanut oil
1/4 teaspoon each – turmeric, salt and chilli powder (or to taste)

For cashew sauce:
2 tablespoons, roasted, unsalted cashew pieces
1 teaspoon each – coriander seeds and cumin seeds
4 cloves and half inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 x 1/2 inch piece ginger
Blend the above ingredients to smooth paste in a blender or mortar.

Method:
In a saucepan or skillet, heat oil.
Do the tadka (toast a pinch each cumin and mustard seeds).
Add onion and saute to soft.
Add zucchini and the peas.
Add the cashew paste and also turmeric, salt and chilli powder. Add about half cup water. Mix well.
Cover and cook for about ten minutes. Do not over-cook. Zucchini should remain crisp and tender.
Serve as a side vegetable for chapati or rice or with upma or dosa.

Yellow Zucchini in Cashew Sauce with Dosa
Yellow Zucchini in Cashew Sauce with Dosa ~ Meal on the Weekend

Badam for Breakfast (Almonds for Breakfast)

Wake up. Get ready. Pack lunch for Vijay. Have some breakfast – A fistful of badam and a full glass of ragi malt. Then leave home – Vijay to his work and me to gym for aerobic and yoga classes.

This has been our routine for the past few months. Of all the breakfast options we enjoyed over the years, we are finding this badam breakfast a no hassle, tasty delight, and a good fit for our current weekday lifestyle. Particularly when we came to know that badams (almonds) are concentrated with protein. A quarter-cup contains 7.62 grams-more protein than that is provided by a typical egg. Fortunately, although one-quarter cup of badam contains about 18 grams of fat, most of it is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They are also very good source of vitamin E, vitamin B2 and manganese. And one ounce of shelled badam (about 22) gives only 170 calories.

With all this information on hand, I can surely say that Badam for Breakfast is a good alternative to sugar packed, commercial breakfast cereal for a morning rush.

Almonds
Almonds in Water

Badam for Breakfast (Almonds for Breakfast)
(for two)

2 fistfuls of shelled almonds
2 cups of water

Soak almonds in water overnight. Drain the water in the morning. Your ready to eat breakfast will be ready. Enjoy the divine almonds with some ragi malt .

I find that soaking in water makes almonds soft and sweeter.

Badam (Almonds) for Breakfast
Badam for Breakfast Today, and for
Jihva-Breakfast at Lovely Suma’s Veggie Platter

Notes:
Almonds Nutritional Profile Source : WH Foods
Badam (Telugu) = Almonds

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