FRENCH ONION SOUP – VEGETARIAN

I have to make a confession – I did not want to mess with a classic. It is a favourite in our household and my son will order it whenever we dine out during winter. Due to COVID restrictions my son missed out on his graduation ceremony. So I made the vegetarian version for his graduation celebratory dinner (French themed) we had at home a few weeks back.

Traditionally made with a robust beef stock, I struggled to find something that would offer the same richness and depth of flavour. A few experiments later, I came up with this winning formula for a robust vegetarian stock.

You cannot whip up French onion soup in the space of half an hour. Please allow yourself plenty of time so you don’t rush the slow caramelisation of onions.

French Onion Soup

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1.2kg onions, finely sliced

3-4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed

500ml dry white wine (Riesling)

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ANDHRA STYLE LEMON PICKLE

Pickling is a way of preserving vegetables and fruits. Pickling likely first originated in the Indus Valley Civilization in northwest India around 2400 BCE.

The pickles in South Asia are different to pickles in the rest of the world. Mustard, chilli powder and some fenugreek are the most commonly used spices. South Indian pickles do not use any vinegar and the preserving agent was mostly salt and oil – so anaerobic if you want to get scientific.

Growing up in India, we had a distinct “pickling” season. Mostly mangoes were pickled during the height of summer in May. I fondly remember the time when mum shopped around for the best chillies and mustard along with mangoes, the variety being specific for the type of pickle she wished to make. In addition to mangoes, there was lemon, tomato, sour greens, fresh red chillies and gooseberry later in the year to be pickled. The pungent smell of ground mustard and chilli would linger in the air for a few days with the promise of taste tests in the ensuing days.

Andhra style lemon pickle

My lemon pickle recipe is a Westernized version and I like to make it because it adds zing to the blandest food. Believe me, it is most comforting to eat lemon pickle and steamed rice when you are recovering from the flu.

INGREDIENTS

10 large juicy lemons

Juice from 4 lemons

10 tablespoons salt

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KADI – ONION PAKODI IN A YOGHURT SAUCE

There are several regional variations of kadi. This one is with onion pakodis but you can substitute spinach for the onion. In the South, they use vegetables like choko or okra to make kadi.

Kadi – onion pakodi in a yoghurt sauce

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PAKODIS

150g onions, diced

3 tablespoons chick pea flour (besan)

1 teaspoon Kashmiri chilli powder

Pinch of baking powder

Salt to taste

Oil for deep frying

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APACHULU (RICE CRACKERS)

By now you may have guessed that I am trying to introduce you to more South Indian home cooking. This is another popular homemade snack from Andhra. These are crunchy, gluten free and really very moreish even if I say so myself.

Apachulu (Andhra style rice crackers)

INGREDIENTS

½ cup heaped rice flour plus more for dusting

2tsps channa dhal (split chick peas), soaked in water for ½ hour

1 heaped tsp cumin seeds

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MASALA VADA

We all love masala vadas and these are my mum’s speciality. I think she makes the best and the smell wafting from the kitchen is very telling of the spice and crunch that is to follow.  You can say they are a bit like falafel in the sense that they are made with 2-3 different kinds of lentils. I have tried making these a few times and until now, they were a flop. The trick is to soak for three hours or so, not grind it too much (pulse a few times) and lastly keep the lentils separate. Follow my tips and you can have mouth-watering vadas at home.

Masala vada

INGREDIENTS

1 cup urad dhal

½ cup channa dhal (split chick peas)

½ cup red lentils

2tbsps finely chopped ginger

2-3 red or green chillies

200g onion chopped

Salt to taste

Oil for deep frying

METHOD

Combine the channa dhal and red lentils. Rinse well and soak for three hours. Rinse the urad dhal well and soak in a separate bowl for three hours.

After soaking, wash well (a sieve works well) and using a food processor, grind the urad dhal with salt. Pulse and try to grind without adding water. If you must add only a spoonful at a time. Remove and set aside.

In the same food processor bowl, grind the channa dhal and lentils along with chillies and ginger. Add salt to taste and pulse. The lentils should be combined and half of them will be left whole and this is okay.

Heat oil to 180 degrees C (or if you add a small piece of lentil, it should spring up to the top immediately) in a kadai or a small sauce pan. Section the urad dhal and lentils mix into three equal portions. In a separate small bowl, combine one section of urad dhal and lentils mix. Mix in a third of your chopped onions.

Masala Vada

Wet the palm of your less dominant hand and shape a small lime sized mix into a patty or vada. You can also use a banana leaf or a plastic sheet instead of your palm. You want them fairly thin – too thick means they will take longer to cook and also won’t be as crunchy. Slide the vada very gently and carefully into the hot oil. Repeat with the remaining. Fry till golden (can take up to two minutes on each side) and serve hot. Makes about 30 medium sized ones.

BAINGAN BHARTA

I suppose this is India’s answer to baba ganoush. There are several versions but one common factor is charring the egg plants on open direct flame. This gives a unique smoky flavour. This is great with flat breads.

Baingan Bharta

INGREDIENTS

600g egg plants

100g onions, finely chopped

75g tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

2tbsps tomato paste

1 generous handful of coriander leaves and stems, finely chopped

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ROAST BUTTERNUT AND SHALLOT SALAD

I know that round here we refer to butternut as butternut pumpkin but in other parts it is called butternut squash. Squash or pumpkin it is really yummy roasted and makes a strong case for a salad being a meal.

Roast butternut and shallot salad

INGREDIENTS

1 kilogram butternut pumpkin, seeds removed, cut into wedges

250 grams of small shallots (I used baby ones)

1 cup of buckwheat groats

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons harissa

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AVOCADO, BUTTER BEAN & CELERY SALAD (ABC SALAD)

Barbecues and salads go hand in hand. Being a vegetarian, I am always experimenting with flavour combinations for protein packed salads that are a bit more than tossing leaves from a bag. This is an interesting and easy salad which works well for school /work lunches.

Avocado, butter bean and celery salad

INGREDIENTS

2 x 400g tins butter beans, drained and rinsed well

2-3 large sticks celery, peeled and sliced at an angle

1 large avocado, cut into fairly large chunks

1 small red onion, sliced thinly

2-3 sprigs Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Dressing

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

30ml lemon juice

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