Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baked Pineapple Spaghetti

For whatever reason, cheesy, creamy things never attract me! Stark opposite is my dear hubby :) He ensured there was a baked vegetable in white sauce kinda dish in our wedding feast. If you've had an Indian wedding you must be aware what eating at your own wedding is like! I could *see* how good the food was, but not a morsel went down my throat! But yes I did manage to taste that creamy baked vegetable dish and in spite of all the wedding nerves I couldn't help but appreciate it :)

A few days later we went to this restaurant called "Bawarchee" in Ahmedabad. They serve some wonderful Punjabi food. Parthiv ordered this Baked Spaghetti with pineapple, and as my disposition goes, I was quite wary! No marks for guessing that it was amazing! For once I had found something creamy and cheesy that I liked :)

Once we returned to the US loaded with lots of Amul cheese we tried to reproduce our beloved pineapple spaghetti - doesn't come close to the original, but we love it anyways! (Amul is an Indian brand -read phenomenon, with a wide variety of dairy products)

Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 Cups (of cooked) Spaghetti (I also throw in some tri-color rotini sometimes)
1 cup mixed vegetables - I use peas, diced carrots, frozen corn (optional)
1 cup pineapple chunks (I use canned)
2.5 cups milk (1% reduced fat works just fine)
1 tbsp Butter/Margarine
2 tbsp all purpose flour
Salt, black pepper, sugar to taste
1/2 cup shredded white cheese (Amul cheese works the best. I use Monterey jack normally, any cheese that melts well will do)
1. Cook the spaghetti with salt (per instructions on package). When half way through, add all vegetables too.
2. While spaghetti is cooking make the white sauce. Heat butter in a sauce pan. Add flour to it and saute till it turns light pink and fragrant.
3. Add milk and stir constantly. If lumps are formed, blend the mix.If you use a lot of butter the chances of lumps are lesser, but I prefer to blend the mix rather than adding more fat.
4. Simmer the sauce stirring constantly till its thick. Add some sugar, salt and black pepper. Stir and taste. The sauce should taste milky and smooth. A little sugar kicks up the flavor.
5. Drain spaghetti as soon as its cooked . Mix with the white sauce. Add pineapple chunks.

6. Now prepare a baking dish. Grease the dish and spread some grated cheese at the bottom. Now spread the spaghetti mix. Top with another layer of cheese
(you can top this with some thin pineapple and bell pepper slices - looks good and both these things bake well).

7. Preheat oven to 350 F or so. Bake for 15-20 mins. You need to bake till the cheese on top begins to turn brown. Increase oven temperature if it looks like its
gonna take forever!
8. Serve!!

We enjoy this with a bit of ketchup :) Makes a hearty meal by itself or with some bread on the side. Cooks really fast, as you can do a lot of things in parallel. Put the spaghetti on the stove, chop carrots in the meanwhile, if you have frozen corn and peas, no more work required there. You will have enough time to prepare the sauce before the spaghetti cooks. And while its baking, you can clean the kitchen and set the table :) Which makes me think I could send this over to Ruth for her Presto Pasta Nights event. It is an ongoing event at her blog with roundups every Friday! Thank you for hosting Ruth.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Parsi Dhansaak

JFI which stands for Jihva For Ingredients celebrates an ingredient every month, it is the brainchild of very talented and thoughtful Indira of Mahanandi. This time around it is being hosted by sweet and generous Linda of Out of The Garden. Every time I look at her passionately cooked Indian food I have to remind myself that this energetic lady is not an Indian! Linda chose Toor daal as the theme for JFI - December.

Toor daal is the backbone of Indian food. It is an omnipresent feature of Indian main course. This is how toor daal is normally made in Indian homes:
1. The basic cooking of this lentil requires cooking it with water and salt (and turmeric many times) till 'done'. The definition of 'done' varies. Some people like their daal to be so mushy that you can't distinguish the grain where as some people prefer it to be firmer. For the large part I think the former is more common.
2. The consistency of the daal varies again! Some people cook it to be very thick whereas in some homes its more diluted and thin.
3. The seasoning - I think daal in every home tastes different thanks to the variation in texture, consistency and mostly the tempering. Tempering/tadka/vaghar is normally prepared with hot ghee/oil, mustard/cumin seeds and asafoetida (basic ingredients), then there is no end to what you can do - use fenugreek (methi seeds), cloves, cinnamon, dry red chillies. Different combinations of fresh ingredients like - tomatoes, tamarind, lemon, green chillies, cilantro, curry leaves, ginger, garlic are quite common. Many versions of toor daal have a hint of sweetness by means of sugar or jaggery. Gujarati daal also contains cooked peanuts, which adds a wonderful flavor and fullness to the normally thin daal.

Toor daal is cooked in combination with a variety of vegetables which adds up to some great nutritive properties and makes some fantastic dishes!
1. Sambhar (that Linda *loves*) is Southern India's delightful gift to the rest of the country! It is made with a special spice mix made with common Indian spices like cumin, coriander, fenugreek etc, fresh vegetables and coconut (sometimes).
2. Daal-palak (Spinach and toor daal) is another lovely combination cooked in a thousand different ways. Silken toor daal works very well with all green leafy vegetables like fenugreek, amaranth to name a couple.
3. Dhansaak (Dhan = Daal + Saak = Vegetables)is a Parsi delicacy made with a variety of daals, vegetables and meat. It can easily be adapted into a vegetarian version. Read more about Parsi cuisine here.

I make toor daal in various ways and just love Sambhar. But I wanted to cook something different for this event and Parsi dhansaak seemed like a good choice!

I used a recipe our sweet friend N sent me and tweaked it to suit our taste and the ingredients I had on hand. If I still remember correctly her recipe was inspired by Tarla Dalal's.

Serves 4 easily
1/2 cup toor (arhar) dal (split pigeon peas)
1 tbsp yellow moong dal (split yellow gram)
1 tbsp masoor dal (split red lentils)
1 tbsp urad dal (split black lentils)
1-2 cups butternut squash chopped
1 tbsp fenugreek (methi) leaves, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp tamarind paste (mine is quite concentrated, if making your own increase quantity to 2 tsp)
2 tsp oil
salt to taste

To be ground into a paste
1 green chilli
3 whole red chillies
2 large cloves garlic
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
A small piece of ginger
1 green cardamom
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Handful of chopped coriander

1. Clean and wash the dals.
2. Combine the dals and butternut squash with 3 cups of water and pressure cook for 3-4 whistles. Keep aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan, add chopped onions and sauté till translucent. Add chopped methi and tomatoes and sauté for 2 mins.
4. Add the prepared paste and sauté for 2 minutes.
5. Add the dal and vegetables, tamarind paste and salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Sprinkle a pinch of cardamom powder (the original recipe called for cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder).
7. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with hot rice.

Dhansaak is traditionally served with brown rice. I did not have time to make it but I can imagine the combination would be wonderful. A delightful kachumbar (salad) made with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, carrots, coriander and seasoned with lime juice, red chilli powder, salt and roasted cumin powder is served as an accompaniment to dhansaak and brown rice.

I think dhansaak is supposed to be made with more vegetables - the original recipe called for potatoes, eggplants, pumpkin and bottle gourd. I just increased the amount of butternut squash. Zucchini, carrots would work well too. Spinach should be a great addition!

Also, according to the recipe - the cooked daal + vegetables were supposed to be pureed, I just couldn't get myself to do that! I'd rather overcook my daal and veggies to a mush :D

Dhansaak was bursting with flavors. Tasted better the next day! I loved it with roti too. We found the taste of garlic a little overbearing, but that is just because we don't like it much. All in all a very healthy, balanced dish with some amazing combination of flavors!