20140204_200923Ouch! I’ve just been re-diagnosed with high cholesterol, No, said the doctor, it doesn’t matter that you do yoga twice a day, nor that you’re vegetarian, nor that you walk 1 hour in the bitterly cold winter that’s toronto, nor that you think positive.. or hang out with positive people, this is genetic. you have to be on drugs. Luckily to combat all this sad news ( I simply can’t tolerate medication of any kind & crestor especially), I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of excellent healthy eating ideas from friends and family.. One such idea was to include flax seed in my diet. Given that I like spicy food, I thought. Why not take a Brahmin staple and convert it into a healthy modern alternative. Gunpowder is not actually its real name. My Delhi friends called it that coz’ it would just add that nice heat as a side to rice & lentil pancakes. Its served like a pesto, rubbed in with some oil & as a side to many many southern Indian dishes. I even have it on toast, that’s how much I love it!

Enough said, on to the recipe. My version calls for roasted small brown chickpeas, flax seeds, and dry whole cayenne pepper.

Spice Mix
1 cup whole dry red cayenne pepper
1 cup flax seeds
¾ cup roasted brown small chickpeas
Salt to taste

Method
• Heat pan. Dry roast dry whole red chilies. Set aside. SOS I used kashmiri red chilies. They are milder and yet add a vimagesibrant bright colour.

• Dry roast flax seeds & then add the roasted small brown chickpeas. SOS small brown chickpeas are found in East Indian grocery stores already roasted & lightly salted so reduces your work. Let everything cool.

• Grind to a coarse powder in spice mill. You can grind finely if you like.. I prefer a bit of texture.

Sprinkle on top of stir fries, salads, cut fruit. I like it best mixed in with yoghurt as an afternoon snack at work. It has proteins and good chili to cleanse sinuses plus of course nourishing flax seeds.

Hope you enjoy my take on gunpowder. I packed my lunch — brown rice & lentil pancakes with a jar of gunpowder I plan to share with my coworkers.

 

– soul of spice –

20140127_192047“Oh No! I used the wrong cardamom”, worried Pauline said to me one morning at work. She was trying out a malay dish that needed garam masala. Dutifully heading to the grocery store for a key ingredient, untitledcardamom, she brought back the little green spice which bursts open to reveal the fragrant seeds. No, NO, green cardamom yields a sweet taste and is used mainly for desserts I told her. You have to use brown cardamom. What, was her response, I thought there was only 1 cardamom. Smiling, I promised to make her a batch of garam masala so she wouldn’t have to go shopping for ingredients & accidentally bring the wrong ones home again. Here’s a pix of brown cardamom.

Heating spices for cold winter months, Garam Masala is a blend of spices that’s used as a sprinkling on the top of many northern Indian foods.

My garam masala blend includes 5 spices: brown cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, cumin seeds, cilantro seeds.

Spice Mix
2 brown cardamom (moti elaichi)
2 cloves
1 cm cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cilantro seedsMakes about 3 tablespoons

Method
• Split open cardamom and gather seeds. Throw away the peel and reserve seeds.
• Dry roast all spices, including cardamom seeds until you smell a nutty, musky aroma.
• Remove from heat and let cool.
• Grind to a fine powder in spice mill. I used mortar & pestle since my spice mill hadn’t dried since my last wash. That made my spices a bit more chunky, nevertheless no loss in fragrance.

Sprinkle on top of channa masala, Indian stir fries, pulao, even chili. Virtually everything you can think of. Garam masala will do well on. Just remember to use sparingly as it is a heating spice, great for cold weather in moderation.

20140127_204208

–soul of spice–

20140108_215918Succulent pumpkin, prepared with just 5 spices. That’s how simple it gets. This is PURE LOVE!!! I’m sure you’ll agree when you try it out. While working in the UNESCO office in New Delhi, my coworker & friend Rekha would bring this to lunch. And share her lunch with me, while she tried my south Indian food. This was the most luscious pumpkin I’ve ever had, and here’s my attempt to recreate using minimal ingredients.

Ingredients
4 cups cubed pumpkinServes 2
Spice Mix
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 kashmiri dry red chillies, broken in half
¼ tsp onion seeds(kalonji in hindi)
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp fennel seeeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
10 curry leaves
Pinch hing

1 tbsp coconut oil

Method
• Wash and peel pumpkin. Cut into 1.5” cubes. Set aside.

• Heat oil in pan.

• Add spice mix. When mustard seeds splutter, add pumpkin to the pan. I used kashmiri chilli as its less spicy, and adds just that hint of heat. Its easily available in east Indian grocery stores in Mississauga. My mom is always surprised when she asks me what to bring from India, and I tell her nothing.. we get everything here. Feel free to use any other kind of red chili that is locally available.

• Add salt & cook on low heat with pan covered.

• In about 10 minutes pumpkin will have cooked and be deliciously stringy.

• Remove from heat.

• Typically served with puri(deep fired bread). I served it hot with chapatti.

Pumpkin or kaddu in Hindi is considered a very auspicious vegetable. Its prepared during fasts, thanksgiving and prayers. Its considered very sattvic, meaning it has high nourishing qualities, plus its so tasty. .I’m sure you’ll find yourself reaching for this recipe again & again.

1601259_1413108575595118_1973449449_nSouthern Indian Brahmins love their upma. Every kitchen has its unique secret touch.. passed down by generations. When you see how easy it is to make, you’ll realize why we love this dish…. Studded with crunchy mustard seeds, and other lentils, caressed with finely cut carrots and dressed with some freshly squeezed lime juice, this is a must make and eat cereal. You can even serve it as a main meal.

The inspiration for this recipe is Monica, who took a yoga class at my home studio, the first of many more to come. She encouraged me to teach and enthusiastically showed up for a 9 AM start on the cold wintery Sunday that was yesterday. When I served her upma after class, she shared a super tip on dry roasting the cream of wheat that makes this recipe even easier!

Ingredients
1 cup cream of wheat or wheatlets
½ cup chopped red onions
2 tbsp finely diced carrots
2 tbsp green peas
Juice of 1/4 lemon
2.5 – 3 cups waterServes 2-3
Spice Mix
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 green chilli, sliced thinly
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp urad dal
½ tsp split yellow peas
4-5 curry leaves
Pinch hing

1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp butter or ghee

Method
• Dry roast cream of wheat in hot pan till golden brown.. Stir in the butter/ghee at the end (dairy free option – use oil instead of butter or ghee to roast). Transfer roasted cream of wheat to plate and allow to cool.

• Add coconut oil to pan, then mustard seed. When they splutter add the urad and split yellow peas. Saute a bit till golden brown.

• Add curry leaves, ginger, green chillies and hing.

• Add onion & sauté till cooked and soft. Adding salt at this stage cooks onions faster.

• Now add the carrots & peas.

• Pour 3 cups water to the pan.. SOS water-cream of wheat ratio can vary depending on the texture of your cream of wheat. If fine, add lesser water, if coarse add more. To be on the safe side, maybe add 2.5 cups of water.

• Let boil and then quickly pour in the roasted cream of wheat.

• Add salt, give everything a stir.

• Turn of heat. Cover with lid & let sit for 2 minutes.

• Remove lid, Stir in lemon juice.

• Fluff up the upma with a fork.

• Serve by itself, or with yoghurt and maybe a red peanut chutney.

If you’re looking for a delicious, nutritious and light breakfast cereal. Then you’ve found it here in Upma.. Just remember the best upma is soft and fluffy and best served piping hot.

20131230_130116This has to be the absolute best, most flavourful channa masala I ever made, even if I say so myself :)

While working in the Unesco office in New Delhi, sometimes my co-worker would invite me home to dinner at her place and sometimes I’d invite her over. It was easy enough to do! Our moms did the cooking with a bit of help from our lovely maid. Yes!! We had the absolute good fortune to be blessed with hired help that I miss a lot here in Canada. I have to confess modern conveniences can sometimes be more of an inconvenience. Where each of us has to wear way too many hats in a day..the industrialized west does make us all a rather exhausted nation. And for that I turn to yoga. Just back from an amazing yoga retreat in the Bahamas..

20131216_144105_LLS

Returning to the cold in Canada recently struck by an ice storm was hard.

What made it easy was a visit by a fellow yogi. Having been in a retreat for about 3 months, Carolyn was used to mildly spiced food.. So I turned to this recipe.. courtesy my coworker’s maid. Tart and mildly spicy, it uses my favourite bean – chickpeas in another avatar.

I modified the recipe slightly using a technique in Indian cooking called Potli. It means a bundle and is a mix of spices like cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorn. Spices are tied with a string and allowed to simmer with the food. Or they’re wrapped in muslin cloth and when the food is cooked and ready, the spices are tossed out. The beauty of the potli .. Potlis enhance food flavour without overwhelming and you don’t; have to crunch on raw spice.

I also know that you my dear reader may not have a cupboard stocked with Indian spices to give that unique tartness. You know the one I’m talking about, that amazingly unique one-of-a-kind taste you only get in Indian restaurants. So I’ve given you some north American options.. to still get that lip smacking flavour.. Its our secret.. so next time someone tries to impress you with their knowledge of Indian spice, you can smile knowingly.. knowing that you managed to do what they do with very little sweat 

Ingredients
1 cup kabuli channa(or big white chickpeas)
½ cup chopped red onions
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp coconut oil

Garnish
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
½ tsp crushed red chilli flakes(optional if you need more heat like I do :)

Serves 3

 

Spice Mix
1 tbsp fresh minced garlic
1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 slit green chilli
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp roasted and ground cilantro seeds
Pinch hing
The Potli Spice Mix
2 cloves
2 black cardamoms-bigger than the regular ones
1 cm cinnamon stick

Method
• Wash chickpeas thoroughly in running water, using a fork.. Try not to use your hand to rinse it.. a tip I learnt from my mother-in-law.. Note: I NEVER ever use canned chickpeas.. I prefer to soak and cook. Its a habit I find hard to break. No chemicals leaching from can is the obvious benefit. Besides all it takes is the extra soaking time, so If can allow yourselves some planning time, you’ll benefit from eating fresh, satvic food(yogic language for food that is nourishing and cooked with full attention and love.. more on that later)

• Soak in 2 cups fresh water overnight and keep covered. Next morning rinse again. You’ll see bubbles rise to the top, you need to skim off this so do take your time to rinse thoroughly, so that the chickpeas are easily digestible. What is all that scum anyway? Anti-nutrients, that’s what! And those anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are going to be in your gut causing you gas, heartburn, reflux and whatever other digestive ills beset you when you eat something that isn’t particularly digestible unless you soak your beans before cooking them. Traditional cultures took great care to prepare legumes with a long soak before cooking to enhance digestibility and nutrient absorption. Sarah explains it well here.

• Cover with 2 cups of water and pressure cook till soft.

• Meanwhile peel onion and chop coarsely.

• Thinly peel ginger and chop finely. Peel garlic and also chop finely.. Slit green chilii.

• Heat pan and add coconut oil. I’m a complete coconut oil convert now and use Costsco Harrington farms organic coconut oil.

• Add hing, cumin and the potli spice mix. Then quickly toss in chopped onion, ginger and garlic. Saute till onions are cooked completely. Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT skimp on this step, otherwise your final dish won’t meet fragrance high standards.

• Add roasted cilantro powder, slit green chili, turmeric powder.

• Add chopped tomatoes. Here’s my slight departure from fresh.. I use canned tomatoes and freeze them in ice cubes so its easy to take 3 cubes.

• When tomatoes are cooked, add the cooked chickpeas to the pan.. Press down on about 2 tbsp of chickpeas to break them up. This is what makes the channa chunky and adds that interesting texture.

• Add salt and let come to boil. Take pan off heat. Discard whole spices.

• Stir in lemon juice. Here`s my secret revealed. Lemon juice & tomatoes give the tartness in place of the hard-to-find spices like pomegranate seed, mango powder or tamarind paste..Voila!!!

• Garnish with cilantro.

• I made chapatti to go with these chickpeas, but you could serve it equally well with some cooked basmati rice.

20131230_130656Fun facts
The French use the same technique. But call it way more elegantly as Bouquet Garni! The name, doesn’t it conjure up images of a fragrant bouquet of spices.. I`ll leave you with this parting fragrance. I really, really want you to try this recipe for your own special dinner and let me know how it turned out.

–soul of spice–

017

This slurpy dish gets its creaminess from freshly soaked and ground up almonds that add not only amazing taste but also act as a healthy thickening agent. Fresh peas & fresh tomotoes from your local farmer’s market is what makes this dish shine. And if you grew fresh herbs like we did this summer, feel free to pinch some fresh cilantro from your back yard for that sizzling garnish. Gardening is one of the things I’ve been busy with lately hence the blogging break.. but I also went for laser eye surgery.. will post details next time.

Ingredients
2 cups paneer cubed(Indian cottage cheese) or tofu
1 1/2 cups fresh peas(frozen if you cant find fresh)
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped tomato
Spice Mix
1 tbsp fresh minced garlic
1 tbsp tsp fresh minced ginger
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp coconut oil
Pinch hing
½ tsp turmeric powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
6 almonds soaked in ½ cup water
Serves 4

Method
• Heat sauté pan. Add ½ tsp coconut oil. Place cottage cheese cubes on heated pan, turn when underside is lightly browned. Remove from heat when cubes are lightly browned all over. Set aside. SOS if you want to make your own paneer check out this step by step how to from a talented fellow blogger Vini. FYI -substitute tofu if you are daily intolerant..

083
• Heat wok. Add 2 tbsp oil. Add cumin, hing and chopped onions. Saute till onions are cooked and soft.
• Stir in chopped garlic and ginger & let cook. Add turmeric, cayenne pepper. Add tomatoes and let cook.
• Meanwhile peel soaked almonds and grind to paste with ¼ cup water. Set aside.
• Tomatoes are cooked when water separates from oil. Then add the ground almond paste. Add 2 cups water & let come to boil.
• Add fresh green peas, stir in salt, let come to gentle boil so peas absorb al that slurpy goodness. Turn stove off.
• Add in sautéed cheese cubes. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Don’t these organic cilantro leaves that Mom grew from seed look divine. They’re real easy to grow, just need lots of sun and some water.

011
• Serve hot with chapatti or any bread that you can use to scoop up the delicious gravy.

008Sweet and sour! fresh and succulent pineapples are the main ingredient in this no-fuss no-dressing salad. Cucumbers, thinly sliced red onions and a dash of crushed pepper flakes round off this amazing salad.

Last Monday my workplace brought in a juice bar. After filling up on all the fresh fruits juiced right in front of us, there were leftovers fruits.. Oranges and kiwis went fast. There didn’t seem to be many takers for the whole pineapple. I took a green one home. It was ripe just in time for today’s salad. Its also super easy to cut pineapple. See instructions in a helpful link below. So don’t let the pineapple skin deter you. I hope you’ll get to try this refreshing salad.

Ingredients
2 cups chopped pineapple
1 cup peeled and chopped seedless cucumber
½ cup thinly sliced red onions
Spice Mix
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro
½ tsp crushed red chilli flakes
Serves 2 Pots n pans
Salad Bowl

Method
• Wash pineapple. Cut into 2 cm cube chunks. Check this helpful site on how to easily cut pineapple.
• Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into big cubes, about 2 cm size chunks same as pineapple.
• Peel onion. Slice thinly.
• Add cilantro and crushed chili flakes.
• Toss everything together. Serve cold or room temperature. I love it by itself or with crackers, or rice.

Years ago every Saturday a group of children would gather at a home for singing lessons with me. All that lung exercise would make us very hungry after class. The hostess would generously prepare lunch for everyone. This recipe(a bit modified by me) is courtesy her kitchen.

–Soul of Spice –

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