Monday, July 31, 2006

spring onion and cherry tomato omelette

i woke up on sunday morning craving something spicy and garlicky. maybe it was because it felt a bit crisper than it has felt in weeks. it was so nice to wake up to some chill in the morning after weeks of sweltering heat.

i was browsing through my favourite cookbooks for some breakfast ideas. i really wanted to make buttermilk pancakes but i didn't have buttermilk in my fridge so had to pass on that. i found a very simple recipe for spring onion and tomato omelette in jamie's dinners that sounded like it was going to hit the spot. and i couldn't believe that i actually had some salad onions (a decent substitute for spring onions in a pinch) and cherry tomatoes (substitute for big ripe tomatoes) on hand which the naked chef's recipe called for. such alignment of the stars can only be a sign of a fabulous treat ahead!

slice the spring onions diagonally. slice the cherry tomatoes in halves. heat an omelette pan on medium heat. add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. add the spring onions and cherry tomatoes and cook for about three to five minutes.

beat two eggs with a fork until the yolks and whites have just mixed. add a finely chopped red chilli, some sea salt and pepper.

fold the eggs into the pan. use a fork to shake up the eggs and make sure that they are cooked to your liking. pull off the heat in less than a minute.

i ate the omelette with toasted garlic baguette slices. i just loved the fiery taste of the spring onions and red chillis in the omelette. and the cherry tomatoes set off that heat perfectly with their delicate sweetness.

wash down with freshly squeezed orange juice or homemade lemonade.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

beurre de cajou

as i write this post, i'm reminded of a quote from salvador dalí that i read about yesterday afternoon while exploring the dalí universe at the county hall gallery. it's something along the lines of judging a creative based on how much they inspire others rather than how much they are inspired themselves.

in the food blogging world, one of the many blogs that i get very inspired by is clotilde's chocolate and zucchini. this inspirational french food blogger constantly shares interesting and unusual food ideas that you just don't find in cookbooks or cooking magazines.

clotilde's recent post on beurre de cajou or cashew butter was so compelling that i rushed to my pantry to see if i had any cashew nuts or peanuts on stock because i wanted to make this butter immediately. i did have about a cup of unsalted cashews so i immediately roasted them for about five minutes at 400 degrees F in my toaster oven. i waited for the roasted nuts to cool for about ten minutes and then i put them in my food processor and started grinding.

the process of the nuts turning into butter is wonderfully magical. they first disintegrate into fine cashew dust and then slowly, as you keep grinding, the fine dust starts releasing the oil and all the powder starts sticking together to form a buttery texture. i suppose you can keep grinding till the butter is as smooth as you like but i quite like it a bit chunky so i stopped after a few minutes of the butter forming.

you can spread the cashew butter on your morning toast or use as a filling in a dessert crepe. it also makes a great spread on sliced apples. i'm going to try making peanut butter soon. i just can't imagine ever wanting to buy the commercial variety ever again!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

steamed wontons

wonton in chinese refers to irregularly shaped pasta that has some kind of finely minced vegetable or meat filling and is then deep-fried or steamed. other names include dumplings, potstickers and gyoza.

wontons are super easy to make and very fun to eat. i love the melting in the mouth sensation of just made steamed wontons. here's the recipe i use from asha khatau's vegetarian chinese cook book.

16 wonton wrappers
10 cups water
1/4 cup finely chopped beans
1/4 cup finely chopped spring onions
1/4 cup finely chopped spring carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped spring cabbage
1/4 tsp each crushed ginger and garlic
1/2 tsp each sugar and pepper
1 tsp soy suace
3 tbsp oil
salt to taste
a pinch of MSG (i don't use)

in a frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil on a high flame. add all the vegetables, ginger, garlic and MSG. fry for 1 minute. add sugar, salt, pepper and soy sauce. take it off the stove. allow to cool.

place a single wonton wrapper on cutting board, put 1 tbsp filling on it and gather the edges together in the desired shape. seal it with a mixture of corn flour and water. wontons can be folded in various shapes like nurse's cap, moneybag, envelope etc.

i find moneybag the easiest. dip your fingers in water and rub along all four edges of the wonton skin after you have placed the filling in the centre. then just bring all edges to the centre and press together.

while you are folding the wontons, set water to boil. you can steam your wontons by either using a bamboo steamer or dropping in boiling water directly.

if you use a bamboo steamer, place the steamer in a big wok that has boiling water. make sure that the steamer does not touch the water - use a stand. place the wonton in the steamer, cover and allow to cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

i found that dropping the wontons in boiling water and allowing them to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes is a more reliable method to get the job done.

to make fried wontons, dry the folded wontons for 10-15 minutes and deep-fry them in oil. serve with sweet and sour sauce or chilli sauce.

Monday, July 24, 2006

loon fung chinese supermarket

i made a trip to chinatown yesterday. h suddenly had a craving for chinese food and had visions of steamed wontons, spicy eggplant and sauteed bok choy in garlic sauce. i went to waitrose on high street kensington to buy all the ingredients but was utterly disappointed by the lack of specialty chinese items. i couldn't even find chinese eggplant or chilli garlic sauce leave alone wonton wrappers. agh! how i missed my kalustyans and whole foods in new york.

i had to find an authentic chinese grocery store. all i knew about chinatown in london was that it was somewhere near soho. i did a few searches in google and discovered a grocery store not far from leicester square tube in central london. i took the circle line from high street kensington and changed to the piccadilly line at gloucester road, my old tube stop. once i got out at leicester square, i was in the heart chintown within minutes.

i went in search of loon fung supermarket on gerrard street. it was really easy to find. i was reminded of india bazaar in the bay area. these guys stocked everything you need for cooking chinese food - from fresh vegetables, fruits and meats to spices and oils, utensils and dinnerware to frozen meals. it was mostly chinese people shopping. you could tell that the few non-chinese in the store were hard core cooks or total novices like me who had to ask where each and every item i was looking for was located in the store.

i bought the things i needed for the dinner i planned to make as well as random stuff that caught my fancy including peanut oil, canned litchis, wonton wrappers and bok choi. however, my two important purchases were a wok and a bamboo steamer. i've been wanting to buy a wok for a while now having been dissatisfied with using a big sautee pan for stir frying but had just been pure lazy in actually making the purchase. loon fung stocked woks in a variety of sizes and i couldn't resist a 13 inch one which looked perfect for anything chinese i wished to make. i also remembered watching a uktv food show in which they showed a bamboo steamer so i decided to pick that up as well.

stay tuned for some chinese recipes coming up next at lulu loves london!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

bombay pav bhaji

"pav" is bread and "bhaji" is mashed vegetables. put the two together with butter and lots of spices and what you get is one of bombay's best known fast foods. sarkar's and sukh sagar are two popular places in the city for buttery, garlicy, spicy pav bhaji which is lip smackingly delicious. imli in london does a pretty decent version.

to make at home in a pinch i've found a tarla dalal recipe from her chaat cookbook that hits the spot every time. a few key ingredients are butter (do no substitute with oil!), kashmiri red chillies and everest brand pav bhaji masala. i'm not very particular on the bread to accompany the bhaji - i use whatever is available freshly baked in the store whether it is a sourdough submarine or a hamburger bun.

prep time: 15 min
cooking time: 20 min
serves: 4

for the pav
8 pieces of bread
4 tablesppons butter
1 teaspoon pav bhaji masala (optional)

for the bhaji
1 1/2 cups potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 cup cauliflower, finely chopped
1/2 cup green peas
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup capsicum, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups tomoatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 1/2 tablesopons pav bhaji masala
1/2 teaspoon black salt
4 tablespoons butter
salt to taste

to be ground into a chilli-garlic paste
3 to 4 kashmiri chillies, soaked in warm water
4 to 6 cloves garlic

for serving
1 large onion
4 lemon wedges
1 tablespoon chopped coriander

1. boil the cauliflower, peas and carrots till they are soft. drain out the excess water.
2. heat the butter in a large pan, add the onion and capsicum and saute for 2 minutes. then, add the prepared chilli-garlic paste and saute till the onion softens.
3. add the tomatoes and simmer till the oil separates.
4. add the turmeric powder, chilli powder, pav bahji masala, black salt and salt and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
5. add the boiled vegetables and potatoes and mash thoroughly using a potato masher, adding 1/2 cup of water if required
6. slice each bread into 2 horizontally. apply a little butter to each side and sprinkle with a little pav bhaji masala, if required.
7. heat a large tava and cook the pav on both sides till the pieces are lightly browned.
8. serve the hot bhaji on 4 individual plates and top with the onion and coriander.
9. serve with the hot pav and lemon wedges.

Friday, July 21, 2006

james street for outdoor dining

i love london in the summer. it doesn't get dark till around 10 pm at night and the air is just ripe with fun and frolic. it's so hard to go home and read a book or cook dinner when you can sit outdoors at a lovely cafe, sip sangria and watch fashionable people sashay along all evening long.

one of my favourite casual hangouts is james street in west london which is a two minute walk from bond street tube and about ten minutes from marylebone high street. the street is densely packed with a wide variety of cafes and restaurants all the way from wigmore street to oxford street.

if you're in a mood for some mint tea and an apple hookah, swing by ayoush. cafe creperie is awesome for an afternoon pick-me-up like nutella crepe. and la tasca is the perfect choice for tapas with your close friends. all the restaurants have outdoor seating though it may be hard to get a table later in the evening. in case you can't find a restaurant you like, you can always pop into selfridges close by.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

polli (jaggery pancake)

at my cousin's wedding in bangalore, i rediscovered the delectable taste of polli, a traditional south indian pancake with a jaggery and coconut filling. best enjoyed when slightly warm and with dollops of ghee, i absolutely love the combination of saltiness and sweetness that you get in every bite.

i haven't yet tried to make this at home, but here's a recipe from chandra padmanabhan's dakshin that i will use when i do feel like giving it a shot.

prep time: 20 minutes
cooking time: 2 hours
makes: 20-25

2 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3/4 cup sesame oil
water as required
a few plantain or banana leaves or oiled polythene sheets

for the filling:
1 1/2 cups chana dal, picked over and rinsed
1/2 cup toor dal, picked over and rinsed
8 cups water
1 coconut, grated
1 1/2 kg jaggery, powdered
4-6 whole cardamoms, powdered

wash the chana dal and toor dal well. drain and place dals in a heavy saucepan. cover with 8 cups water and bring to the boil. when boiling, cover pan with a lid, leaving slightly ajar. lower heat, and simmer the dal gently for 1 1/2 hours. stir several times during the last 30 minutes of cooking. set aside dal without draining.

in a heavy saucepan, dry-roast the grated coconut for 2-3 minutes. add the powdered jaggery and simmer on a low heat until the jaggery completely melts.

add the cooked dals and continue to simmer until the mixture blends and thickens. set aside to cool. place the cooled filling in an electric blender or food processor. add the powdered cardamom. blend ingredients into a fine paste.

sift the flour, salt and ground turmeric into a large mixing bowl. make a well in the centre and add 1/4 cup sesame oil and sufficient water to make a kneadable dough (it should resemble a chapati or unleavened bread dough). knead slightly and form into a ball. pour the remaining sesame oil over thr dough. set aside for 20 minutes, then mix.

brush the plantain or banana leaves with sesame oil. take a small ball of dough and place it on an oiled leaf. flatten the dough with your hand, until it resembels a chapati. take a small lump of the filling and place it in the centre of the flattened dough. fold the dough over the filling. once again, flatten the pancake with your hand.

heat a tawa or griddle. add very little sesame oil and cook both sides until done, as you would an ordinary pancake.

serve warm with ghee!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

bangalore diary: bangalore club

the bangalore club is one of the oldest clubs in india. it was started by the british over a hundred years ago along the lines of the old english country clubs. it was originally meant for the exclusive use of those serving the british army but is now mostly a civilian club. sir winston churchill was a member of the club as was the maharaja of mysore who was the first indian to be granted membership.

i had sunday brunch at the club last weekend after ages. when i was growing up in bangalore, i spent almost every sunday at the bangalore club for more than ten years. my mom was a fabulous badminton player and my father a fabulous tennis player so they spent every sunday playing their respective games all morning long. this was then followed by a typical bangalore club brunch - a never ending flow of draught beer, roasted penauts with raw onions and chillies, paneer tikkas and lots of other salty and fried snacks!

this was always topped up with a special treat to my favourite ice cream - kwality's chocobar. plain vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate. simply delicious.

it was so fun to relive a little bit of my childhood last weekend. though bangalore has changed drastically (population, pollution, traffic etc), the club itself has retained its quintessential colonial charm. the old trees, the lush lawns, the century old buildings and the archaic club rules are a nice antidote to the increasingly urbanised city that is hurtling at break neck speed. when i am at the bangalore club, i feel like time has been suspended and i'm in a universe of its very own. quite a lovely feeling.

Monday, July 10, 2006

bombay diary: kebab korner and dome bar


the intercontinental hotel on marine drive in bombay has a lovely restaurant called kebab korner that serves delicious punjbai/north west frontier cuisine in a stylish ambience. i enjoyed a sumptous dinner there with my family on saturday night and was truly impressed with the quality of food and the highest level of service.

we ordered three starters which were outstanding - grilled paneer, pudina tikkas and corn kebabs. they were served with white (yougurt and spices) and green (mint, coriander and spices) chutneys. main course was baingan bartha and dum aloo with kulchas.

earlier in the evening, we had a few cocktails at the dome bar at the top of the intercontinental. the all white and linen decor gives the place a very dreamy feel. add to that the lovely breeze from the arabian sea, the massive windows and stunning night views of the glittering queen's necklace to get a winning formula. adjacent to the bar is a 20 yard swimming pool on the terrace as well. it reminded me somewhat of the very hip ganzervoot hotel in the meat packing district of manhattan.


in all honesty, the cocktails were a bit disappointing. my dad and i ordered margaritas and mojitos and neither was really upto standard. but given how much i love the ambience and would love to come back, i'll probably just stick to wine or beer next time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

amaya, knightsbridge

amaya is a very upsacle contemporary indian restaurant in knightsbridge. it is most well known for its tapas style small plates of vegetables and meats. they do a very good paneer which literally melts in your mouth and is delicately flavoured. the mushroom kabab is also delicious and completely vegetarian.

i've been to amaya twice and thoroughly enjoyed the food and atmosphere both times. but i was really annoyed the last time i went there because i was ticked off by the waiter for taking pictures of the food. i've eaten in so many restaurants in so many countries but never once have i been forbidden from taking photos. what is up with that?!!

one reviewer on "london-eating" talked about how paranoid amaya was in disclosing descriptions of the food they served. they do not provide an online menu, fax you one or even read out the menu on the phone! i'm not really sure what all the secrecy is about.

i'd much rather spend my time and money at chutney mary or veeraswamy.

ps - i guess i should be thankful that they did not confiscate my camera!

Monday, July 03, 2006

chunky vegetable paella

i stole an amazing cookbook called "the ultimate vegetarian cookbook" by roz deny from arvi, my cousin, almost six years ago. i had just moved to the bay area from bombay and was newly married. never having cooked in my life, i was looking to all sources of inspiration to get going. during my first week in california, arvi had invited me over to his stylish pad in santa clara and had cooked me a lovely south indian dinner of rasam, rice, potato curry and curd rice.

i was very impressed that this cousin brother of mine (who as a kid i had considered to be the ultimate source of authority on everything in life) actually knew how to cook. inspired i was but i was not impressed that he rarely ventured beyond the south indian food that we grew up on. so i stole this big and colourful recipe book that adorned his bookshelf. it had over 200 mouthwatering recipes shown step-by-step in 800 photographs. it didn't seem like he used it or had any plans to in the near future so i didn't feel guilty at all though i probably should have since it was the only source of recipes he had other than nirmala periamma's handwritten recipes for all his childhood favourites.

i've learnt many an interestng recipe from this cookbook but my all time favourite is the chunky vegetable paella. it turns out so very delicious every time that i don't dare deviate from the recipe which is quite unusual for me as i hate to follow the exact letter of the law.

h and i used to host an annual tapas party at our place in redwood city and the paella was always the main dish to accompany all the other finger foods like patata bravas, tapenades, warmed olives, roasted sweet peppers and more. and of course, the sangria was always freely flowing..

here's the paella recipe which calls for a nice pinch of saffron strands...

serves 6
good pinch saffron stands
1 eggplant, cut in thick chunks
6 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
2 tsp paprika
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
2 1/2 cups veg stock
1 pound fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
ground black pepper
4 oz sliced mushrooms
4 oz cute green beans
1 x 15 oz can chick peas

1. steep the saffron in 3 tbsp hot water. sprinkle the eggplant with salt, leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes, then rinse and dry.

2. in a large paella or frying pan, heat the oil and fry the onion, garlic, peppers and eggplant for about 5 minutes, stirring ocassionally. sprinkle in the paprika and stir again.

3. mix the rice, then pour in the stock, tomatoes, saffron and seasoning. bring to boil then simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, shaking the pan frequently and stirring occasionally.

4. stir in the mushrooms, green beans and chick peas (with the liquor). continue cooking for a further 10 minutes, then serve hot from the pan.

if you're looking for a crowd pleaser at a dinner party, look no further than the chunky vegetable paella.

ps - arvi is getting married in bangalore next week. i will be on holiday from friday onwards and will be in bombay and then bangalore. i'll definitely take lots of pictures of all the wedding food but not sure how often i'll be able to blog given all my other duties at the family wedding!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

a gift of saffron

my friend and fellow food blogger amy gifted me a precious box of the best saffron in the world which she had brought to london from her recent trip to barcelona. the place where she bought the saffron is a century old food shop called e&a gispert which i'm told is a must see for any foodie visiting this spanish city that i'm just do dying to go to. between the architecture, the food and the thriving shopping, barcelona sounds like a very exciting city to check out. and amy think i would like it more than any other european city and that i must go there as soon as possible!

amy asked me what i would use the saffron in. she uses it for risottos and fish dishes. i tend to use saffron in paella, shrikhand (an indian yogurt dessert laced with saffron), badam kheer and hyderabadi vegetable biryani to name a few.

i'd love to hear what your favourite uses of saffron are. do tell as i have the best quality saffron at my disposal and am looking for new recipe ideas.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

chocolate foundue fountain

i loved good chocolate. especially when it is flowing without any end in sight. there's nothing better than dipping a succulent strawberry or a crisp biscotti in melted chocolate. one big trend in london these days that i hadn't seen in america is the chocolate fondue fountain. it's a nifty little contraption and it's popping up everywhere these days. i was at a wedding a month ago at which the only dessert was a massive chocolate fountain surrounded by fresh fruit pieces. and the other day we had tea time at our company hosted by the finance department (!) and we were very imprerssed with their creativity - they had set-up a chocolate fountain with strawberries, cherries, pineapple chunks, banana slices, marshmallows and mini doughnuts. we were given wooden skewers with which to dip the fruits in the chocolate. it was super fun to stand around dipping into the fountain and having chocolate dripping everywhere.

you may want to consider the chocolate fondue fountain if you're looking for a show-stopper at your next big event!

cooking holidays

i found out about on the menu at taste of london a few weekends back. i was aware of cooking schools but the concept of cooking on holiday was quite new to me. it sounds super fun and adventurous. flipping through the gorgeous brochure, i was immediately excited just thinking about learning from the locals in exotic destinations like marrakech in morocco, san miguel de allende in mexico, hoi an in vietnam, arezzo in tuscany and goa in india to name just a few. on the menu's ethos is to deliver "undaunting and hands on cooking" in lovely locations. the emphasis is on having fun. it's about shopping at local markets and cooking with fresh produce. about meeting new friends with the same passion for cooking and travel. and about soaking up a new culture through the lens of is cuisine. personally, i can't think of a more fun holiday!

i'm planning to take a cooking holiday to marrakech for four days in august. i would take the longer full week holiday to morroco that is also offered but work is unfortunately relentless and i won't be able to get away for that long on top of all the other little trips (croatia, amalfi coast) that i'd love to sneak in this year as well. we'll be staying at an exqusite small hotel located within the walls of the old medina in marrakech close to the bustling jemma el fna. cooking lessons are in the kasbah in the gardens by the pool. our teacher will be a traditional cook who is supposed to have hands of gold. she'll be sharing some secrets of moroccan cooking from how to make a flawless briouate dough to cooking the perfect couscous that defies gravity. we'll be cooking with fresh vegetables from the hotel's kitchen garden and eating under the olive and fig trees. there'll also be plenty of time to go shopping in town or laze in the hotel's sumptous hammam.

here's what's included in the four day weekend:
- 3 night luxury accomodation with breakfast daily
- 2 cooking lessons with a traditional moroccan cook
- lunch of what you've created after each session
- an escorted trip to the souk
- arrival and departure airport transfers

what your significant other can do if not taking the lessons with you:
- shop at the fascinating soukd for tagines, spices, carpets, cermacs and jewellry
- visit the museum of moroccan art
- spend a day trekking in the atlas foothills
- have massages and mud baths or just soak up the incredible atmosphere

can't wait to experience this holiday!