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

Weekend Kittaya

Kittaya in Winter
Winter Warmth ~ Cozy Kittaya in My Old Sweater

Spicy Spaghetti with Indian Spices

Throughout the past, spices sacrificed India. Spice routes were formed, land was looted, blood was shed and a lot was lost due to others’ search of Indian spices. After all that sacrifice, you would think that adding spices would receive approval and appreciation. It seems not. Particularly adding spices to “pasta” group. Some sneer at any effort to spice up the spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle Indian spices, the severe sermons start. “Do not violate the sanctity of spaghetti with garam masala, it’s sacrilegious to spaghetti sauce”, they lament and ridicule the efforts.

If you disagree with this thought process, then this recipe is for you. The bland spaghetti mingles with moderately Indian-spiced tomato-garlic sauce. And the end result is delightful tummy filler, worthy of India’s spice sacrifice. Spices are no small matter. Long live spices. May they always enliven our food and guard our health!

Spicy Spaghetti with Steamed Vegetables
Spicy Spaghetti with Steamed Vegetables on the Side

Spicy Spaghetti with Indian Spices
(for 4 generous servings)

1 tablespoon, olive oil
1/4 teaspoon, cumin seeds
1/4 cup, Kasuri methi
1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup of diced carrots and fresh peas mix
4 cups, homemade or store-bought, organic tomato sauce
1 tablespoon, garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon each – chilli powder and turmeric powder
Salt to taste

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and add to it the cumin seeds and kasuri methi. Toast on low heat to fragrance. Add onion and garlic. Saute on moderate heat. When garlic and the onion are transparent, add the vegetables and tomato sauce. Season with garam masala powder, chilli powder, turmeric and salt. Mix well and partially cover the pan. Simmer on moderate heat for about 15 minutes.

Serve the sauce hot over freshly cooked whole-wheat spaghetti for tasty, spicy spaghetti.

Indian Party Menus ~ Friends Get Together

Some delicious options for different occasions, that’s “Indian Party Menus”.
Hope you would find this series helpful when planning your party food menu.

Get Together Party at a Friend’s Home

Theme: Casual Get Together
Attendees: 8
Time: Dinner
Venue: Home
Preparation: Homemade

Party Menu:
Red Beans Kosambari with Tomatoes and Corn

Lemon Sevai and Coconut Sevai with Fresh, Homemade Sevai
Jeera Basmati Rice
Plain Chapati and Ghee Chapati
Thayir Sadam (Daddhojanam), Sweetened with Red Grapes

Mor Kuzhambu Vadai
Coconut Chutney
Green Mango Pickle
Bengali Alu Dum
Punjabi Rajma

Dessert:
Comforting, Semiya Kheer
Rava Kesari in Flower Shapes
Coconut-Pecan Burfi with Pecans from the Neighborhood

Drinks:
South-Indian Filter Coffee with Cafe Du Monde’s Chicory Coffee

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

Indian Party Menus ~ Birthday Party Menu

Some delicious options for different occasions, that’s “Indian Party Menus”.
Hope you would find this series helpful when planning your party food menu.

Birthday Party at a Friend’s Home

Theme: Friend’s 41-year birthday celebration
Guests Number: 8
Time: Dinner
Venue: Home
Preparation: Homemade

Party Menu:
Brown Rice and White Rice
Tomato Pappu (Tomato Dal)
Broccoli-Sweet Potato Stir-fry
Plantain Curry
Eggs Vepudu
Coconut Pacchadi
Tindora Pacchadi
Majjiga Pulusu (Tadka buttermilk)

Dessert:
Birthday Cake with Pound Cake
Ravva Kesari

Gifts from Guests:
Coconut-Pecan Burfi (prepared by us)
German Chocolate Fudge Cake

Broad Beans with Baby Green Brinjals (Vankaya Chikkudu)

This is another dish I prepared with my winter broad bean harvest. In this recipe, I have paired the plump, proteinaceous broad beans with delicious baby green brinjals. Green brinjals should be small, with firm texture and barely-there white seeds. Recognizing these qualities in green brinjals will make this a tasty, successful dish.

Baby Green Brinjals and Broad Beans
Baby Green Brinjals and Broad Beans

Broadbeans with Baby Brinjals (Vankaya Chikkudu Kura)
(for four, for one meal)

Prepare the Ingredients:

    Take 10 small green brinjals. Wash and trim the ends off and cut lengthwise into thin slices. Add them to salted water to prevent the onset of bitterness. Shell broad beans from plump pods. We need a cup of broad beans (Chikkudu Vittanaalu or Papdi Lilva).
    Ginger-green chilli paste: Take 1×1 inch piece of fresh ginger. Peel the skin. Take it in a mortar or mixer. Add 4 green chillies and pinch of salt. Pound or grind to smooth paste.

Prepare the Kura:

    Heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a cast-iron pan over moderate heat.
    When the oil is hot, do the hing tadka: Add a pinch each – cumin, mustard seeds and hing (asafetida) and toast for couple of seconds.
    Add brinjal pieces and broad beans. Saute until two-thirds cooked, for about ten minutes.
    Stir in the ginger-green chilli paste, quarter teaspoon of turmeric and salt to taste. Mix well and continue to cook for another five minutes. If desired, sprinkle a tablespoon of sesame powder or fresh grated coconut for some extra taste.
    Serve hot over rice or with chapati.

Broad Beans with Baby Brinjals
Vankaya Chikkudu Kura ~ for Meal Today

Indian Party Menus ~ Birthday Party Menu

Some delicious options for different occasions, that’s Indian Party Menus.
Hope you would find this new series helpful when planning your party food menu.

Birthday Party at a Friend’s Home

Theme: 3-year old baby boy birthday celebration
Guest number: 70 (50 adults+20 children)
Time: for lunch
Venue: Home
Preparation: Restaurant food from Mayuri, Houston & Pizza Hut Pizzas

Party Menu:
Masala Vada
Vegetable Manchurian
Coconut Chutney

Vegetable Salad
Vegetable Biryani
Tandoori Roti
Poori
Paneer Tikka Masala
Navaratan Kurma
Stuffed Brinjal Curry
Boondi Raita
Daddhojanam (Curd Rice)
Mango Aavakaaya and Ginger Pickle

Vegetable, Pineapple and Cheese Pizzas for Kids

Dessert:
Carrot Halwa
Peechu Mithai (Cotton Candy)

Party Favors:
Gifts for Children

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

Indian Party Menus ~ Sankranthi Menu

Tiyya Pongali (Sweet Pongal with Jaggery)
Pulagam
Chikkudu Vittanaalu Kurma (Indian Broadbeans Kurma)
Peanut-Jaggery Pachhadi
Peanut Pacchi Pulusu
Mirchi Bajji
Ghee
Dahi

Happy Sankranthi, dear friends. What’s on the menu for Sankranthi?

Fresh Orange Juice

We went through a severe case of winter sniffles last week. Fever and cold, loss of taste and low appetite, it was fighting time for the immune system. I couldn’t prepare anything at home and whatever we brought from outside tasted so unappetizingly bitter. The only thing we found palatable are the fresh fruits mainly adorable oranges. Both fresh oranges and freshly squeezed orange juice became our mini meals, filling enough to put the body on the road to fast recovery.

Orange Juice
A Cup of Comfort ~ Fresh Orange Juice

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