Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sesame Asparagus and Green Beans

I am not a tech-head, that’s a prelude to explaining my delight at finding an entire website dedicated to asparagus. (I can just imagine my sister’s face now – that same expression she had when I asked her what Pinterest was. Anyway she was the one who bought the asparagus and left me to find out a way to cook it). So here’s a dish that turned out surprisingly well on the first try. I’ve given the adapted version. The original recipe is called Sesame Asparagus’ and can be found at

What I used:
½  tablespoon olive oil and ½ tablespoon sesame oil
1 ½ cups sliced asparagus
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ small red onion, chopped, more or less a tablespoon
½ cup green beans, frozen
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼-½ teaspoon salt or to taste

What I did:
1. Heated oils in pan (used a mix of oils instead of sesame oil alone as the latter heats too quickly). When hot, added ginger, garlic and red onion. Fried for a few seconds, before adding asparagus, green beans (still frozen) and sesame seeds. Stir fried until beans lost their frozen texture. Then added red pepper; cooked for a few more minutes before adding soy sauce and salt. Stirred through until well-coated and it’s done.

Carrot Soup with Yoghurt and Rosemary

Having a week off in winter is perfect weather to stay indoors, pop Vitamin D pills and trawl the internet for recipes. (Yes, I’m living the high life…). This carrot soup came from a site dedicated to carrots and was promoted as healthy, despite having heavy cream and butter. As I didn’t think half a kilo of carrots was enough to counteract all that fat, here’s my attempt to make this ‘Creamy Carrot Soup’ a bit more ‘healthy’. Also the original recipe had ginger, but I prefer garlic with rosemary so made that substitution as well. If you’d like to see the original version, go to

What I used:
1 large onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
500g carrots, sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
2 cups stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 cup yoghurt mixed with 1 cup milk (used full fat - still lighter than heavy cream!)
½ - ¾ tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
½  tsp salt
¼  tsp fresh ground black pepper

What I did:
Heated oil, added onions and fried until golden brown. Next added carrots, potatoes, chopped rosemary and garlic. Stir-fried for a few minutes, then added stock. Covered and cooked until vegetables are tender, about half an hour.
Turned off heat; added yoghurt, milk, salt and pepper. The yoghurt curdled (aargh!) but pureeing the mixture solved the problem (phew!) and the soup was creamy, ‘healthy’ and yum-licious.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chickpeas and Chana dal in minted sauce

Over the week, I experimented with one of my not-so-favourite herbs: mint. I like mint in tea and chocolate but not so much in anything else. Until now. This dish is called Paraati Chana  in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian and I am now a mint convert and this recipe has now become my favourite preparation for chickpeas.

What you’ll need:
* 1 ½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
* ¾ cup chana dal or yellow split peas, washed and drained
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
* 3 hot green chillies, finely chopped (didn’t have any, so left out and it still tasted good)
* 1 cup mint leaves
* ¼ cup oil
* 2 medium onions (used both red and brown), sliced
* 400g can diced tomatoes (the original recipe calls for 500g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, but they don’t sell 500g tins of tomato at the local supermarket and I hate using 100g of a separate can!)
* 2 ½ teaspoons salt
* 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
* 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
* ½ teaspoon garam masala
* 3 tablespoons thick tamarind paste or fresh lemon juice to taste (used tamarind paste which is a product of Sri Lanka and sold at the Pakenham Sri Lanka food and grocery store)

What to do:
In a large pot, add pre-soaked and drained chickpeas and 7 cups of water. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for an hour. Add split peas, cover and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours or until chick peas and dal is tender. Set aside.
Blend garlic, ginger, green chillies (if available) and mint leaves. The original recipe recommends adding 6-8 tablespoons of water to puree the mixture, but I left out the water and ended up with a chunkier alternative.
Heat oil in a pan, brown sliced onions.  Add tomatoes until reduced and the gravy turns oily at the edges. Add mint paste, stir through for a few minutes, then add pan mixture to chickpea pot, along with salt, coriander powder, cumin, garam masala and tamarind paste. Mix well. Cover and simmer for half an hour.

South Indian Cabbage

My dad really likes this dish but I ignore  the friendly hints and don’t make it often because of the amount of oil used. 'Absence does make the heart grow fonder' but maybe making this dish once a year, in the middle of winter is a bit too harsh. Well here’s more or less the original recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

What you’ll need:
*1/4 cup oil
*Generous pinch of asafetida (this is not a Sri Lankan household must, so I always substitute 1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic)
*1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
*1 teaspoon urad dal, chana dal or yellow split peas (I added 4 teaspoons of urad dhal - like the taste!)
*5-6 whole fenugreek seeds
*2-3 whole dried hot red chillies
*10 fresh curry leaves
*750g cabbage, core removed, and leaves shredded
*1 to 1¼ teaspoons salt
What to do:
Heat oil in wok or similar pan over medium heat. Add asafetida (if using) or add mustard seeds and dhal. When mustard seeds start popping, add fenugreek seeds and red chillies. Fry until dhal is reddened and chillies darken, then add curry leaves and chopped garlic, followed by the shredded cabbage. Add salt. Stir through. Cover and let cabbage wilt in it’s own steam, then taste for salt. Fry for a few minutes uncovered (to get rid of any excess moisture) and serve.

Creamed Fennel Soup

Warning: This is not a low fat soup, but it’s delicious and perfect for cold, rainy winter days like today (in the southern hemisphere). It’s also super easy to make - which is what I like. So here's the adapted version from the Sensational Vegetable Recipes by Bay Books. 

What you’ll need:
*2 potatoes (used medium-sized)
*1 medium fennel bulb (had a rather large one)
*60g butter (added half that with a couple of tablespoons of oil)
*500ml (2 cups) stock - added an extra cup of vegetable stock to make the soup less thick
*125g cream cheese
*1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped (didn’t use)
*1 tablespoon lemon juice (haven’t used)
*Pepper to taste
*Salt if needed (usually don’t)
My variation: 2-3 raw garlic cloves

What to do:
Fennel bulb
The recipe calls for chopped fennel bulb to be cooked in melted butter over low heat. I lightly brown the potatoes in butter and oil, then add sliced fennel into the pan over the potatoes, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes. Then add stock, bring to a boil, cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked. Leave to cool a bit . Then add cream cheese and raw garlic and blend until smooth. And it’s good to go.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Malaysian Sweet Potato Curry

Found this recipe several years ago, when I was looking for something to make with sweet potato that was soupy without actually being a soup. What attracted me to this dish was the use of almond meal in the curry, and it always turns out good even with a bit of tweaking here and there. The untweaked version is by Nick Nairn and can be found in the Ready Steady Cook book published by BBC Books in 2003. Got the book on sale at the Pakenham book shop, which sadly is no more.

What you’ll need:
*500g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
*1 red onion, sliced
*1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
*1 teaspoon chopped garlic
*2 red bird’s eye chillies or 1-2 teaspoons chilli flakes
*1 lemon grass stalk (didn’t have any so used a couple of lemon grass leaves from the pot plant that’s too juvenile to have thick stalks, combined with a kaffir lime leaf), finely chopped
*2 tablespoons ground almond (sold as ‘almond meal’ in Australia)
*2 tablespoons oil
*1 teaspoon cumin powder
*1 teaspoon coriander powder
*1 teaspoon red chilli powder
*½ teaspoon turmeric powder (the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon)
*300ml vegetable stock/water (or water plus one stock cube)
*400g coconut cream/milk
*1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
*juice of 1 lime (have never used it)
“Chopped fresh coriander leaves for garnish (wasn’t used today, as I was serving the curry with the green bean dish that follows this post).

What to do:
The original recipe calls for the onion, garlic, ginger, fresh chillies, lemon grass, almonds, oil and spices to be pureed, then stir-fried.
I’ve never liked the prospect of cleaning out the oily mess left behind in the food processor, so prefer to the following method:
Fry sliced onions in oil until edges brown, then add garlic, ginger, fresh chillies. Stir fry for several minutes, then add sweet potato chunks. Fry until sweet potato is well coated, then add spices, including salt, pepper and almond meal. Stir fry until fragrant. Then add water/stock and coconut cream. Also add kaffir lime leaf and lemon grass. Bring to a boil. Then simmer for 15-20 minutes until sweet potato is cooked. Take off fire, and if using, add lime juice and chopped coriander leaves.

Green Beans with Sesame Seeds

This adaptation of a recipe came after we ran out of coconut and I only found that out (as is often the case in this household) in the middle of cooking. Fortunately, we all preferred the adapted dish to the original, which came from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.

What I used:
*500g frozen green beans
*¼ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
*2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
*1-2 fresh chillies, used both green and red
*2 tablespoons sesame seeds
*1/2 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds
*1 teaspoon salt
*1/2 tablespoon chilli powder
*1-2 tablespoons butter with 1-2 tablespoons oil

What I did:
Melt butter in oil. Add sesame and mustard seeds, fry for a few seconds, then add chilli powder. Stir through the seeds, then add frozen beans (still frozen). Fry until the beans are cooked through but still crunchy (15-20 minutes, on high heat, uncovered). Then add garlic, salt and fresh chillies. Fry for 5-10 minutes more. Take off heat, stir through fresh coriander leaves and it’s ready to serve.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tart, Tasty Chickpeas

The first time I made these Indian-spice flavoured legumes, my relative Dineshi wanted me to put the recipe on this blog. That was several months ago and I have been procrastinating. Then last weekend, during a pot luck dinner with my workmates, again this easy-to-make dish proved unexpectedly popular and I got requests for the recipe. Finally, thought of writing out this recipe several times over has propelled me out of my lazy ways! Here goes…

What you’ll need:
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained
2 medium onions (either red or brown), sliced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
1-2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced. (Substituted 1/2 tablespoon of red chilli powder)
½ teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoon oil or oil/butter combo
400g diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon coriander powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional, or use 1 tablespoon)
2-3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

What to do:
Fry sliced onions in hot oil until they brown at the edges, then add ginger, garlic and turmeric. Fry for several minutes more. Add tomatoes, cook until pulpy (generally 10-15 minutes), then add coriander powder and drained chickpeas, with about a cup of water. More water can be added if the gravy is too thick. Partially cover pan and cook for roughly half an hour. Then during the last few minutes of cooking, add garam masala (and lemon juice if using) and chopped coriander leaves. Stir through and take off fire.  This is good with rice or Indian roti. The last time I served this was with ready-made paratha and cucumber raita.

Cucumber Raita

I used to make this Indian dip without the cumin. Then I saw an Indian friend add unroasted, raw cumin powder to a similar yoghurt dish and really loved the resulting taste.

What you’ll need:
1 large green cucumber (guess any cucumber will do)
1-2 scant teaspoons salt
½-1 teaspoon cumin powder
2-3 cups plain yoghurt
2-3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint or ½ to 1 teaspoon dried mint

What to do:
Grate cucumber. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Squeeze as much moisture from the cucumber. Mix in yoghurt, mint, cumin and remaining salt (add this to taste). Mix and serve.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Black-Eyed Peas with Trinidadian Seasonings

I’d never heard of or seen black-eyed peas until I came to Australia. Now the Sri Lankan food shop in Pakenham stocks these peas as well as lots of other legume/pulses or dried beans which allow home cooks like me to experiment using other people’s recipes. This one was taken from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

What you’ll need:
* 1 ½ cup dried black-eyed peas
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 2 scallions (sold as spring onions in Melbourne supermarkets), sliced (both green and white parts)
* 1 celery stalk, diced
* 1 carrot, diced
* ½ green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
* ½  teaspoon dried thyme or 1 ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (used fresh, and was generous with the quantity)
* 1 teaspoon paprika (or cayenne aka red chilli powder)
* ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed dried chilli pieces
* ½ teaspoon ground allspice 
* ½  teaspoon ground mustard powder
* 1 ½ teaspoon salt

Black-Eyed Peas
What to do:
Soak black-eyed peas overnight. Drain and set aside.
In hot oil, stir fry spring onion, celery, carrot and green pepper (the books says for five minutes, until ‘vegetables start to brown’. Waited longer than 5 minutes and couldn’t see anything browning, so waited a little longer…then added) drained peas, 4 ½ cups water, thyme, chilli powder, chilli pieces, allspice and mustard. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until peas are tender. Add salt, stir and simmer for another 20 minutes. And it’s done.

Banana Peppers in coconut milk

Banana peppers (known as Malu Miris or capsicums in Sri Lanka) have been making an appearance at the Asian Veg shop in Dandenong Plaza. Back home, we’d have these peppers stuffed with spicy potato or fish filling, crumbed and fried. Yummy, but time consuming. So here’s a much simpler method of cooking malu miris from the cookbook, Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon.

What you’ll need:
* 500g banana peppers, whole (or sliced)
* 1 cup thin coconut milk (half cup coconut cream mixed with half water)
* 1 teaspoon salt
* Sprig of fresh curry leaves
* 4 tablespoons chopped onions or shallots (finely sliced 2 small red onions)
* 3 fresh green chillies (didn’t have any, so left out)
* 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
* 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
* 3 tablespoons thick coconut milk (or about half a cup of coconut cream)
Banana pepper/capsicum

(Note: the original recipe also asks to add 2 teaspoons of pounded Maldive fish, omitted as this is for vegetarians).

What to do:
Simmer all ingredients except coconut cream in a pan until peppers are soft and gravy has thickened. Then add coconut cream, bring to a simmer. And it’s done.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Green Beans with Onion, Garlic and Tomato

Even with two phone calls in the middle of cooking, this dish still turned out quite well, so I guess the plus points for this recipe is that it’s easy and fairly indestructible. Modified slightly, it’s from the Philippines according Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East, Vegetarian Cooking.

What you will need
* Green beans (1 ½ pounds/680g)
* 2 mediums onions, peeled and sliced
* 6 cloves of garlic, minced (the original recipe called for 2 cloves of garlic!)
* 400g x tinned, chopped tomatoes
* 4 tablespoons oil (used olive oil)
* 1 ½- 2 tsp salt
* Freshly ground black pepper

What to do:
Cut beans into preferred lengths- chose inch-sized pieces. Heat oil in a pan. Add garlic, then sliced onions (or the other way around as I did). When onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant, add green beans and fry for a while (this is supposed to help retain the ‘green-ness’ of the beans, but I got a bit distracted, so wasn’t able to fry it for long enough). Then add the tomatoes,  cook for several minutes, then add half a cup of water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes (10-15 minutes. Less is better). Then take off fire as soon as the beans are done.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Raw Carrot Sambol

Had the house to myself this Sunday. Took the chance to cook with music blasting away the cobwebs. The food wasn’t as rocking as the music, with my first choice being a sedate Carrot Sambol, adapted from Chandra Dissanayake’s Ceylon Cookery, which takes minutes to make in a food processor.

What you will need
* 4 small carrots (12oz/340g)
* 1 small red onion
* 3-4 green chillies  
* 3/4 to 1 cup desiccated coconut
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 tsp pepper
* 1 tsp lime or lemon juice
What to do:
Peel carrots and onion. Roughly halve or quarter. Then put all ingredients into food processor. Process until finely mixed. (Note: Halving the salt, pepper and lime/lemon quantities brings out the sweeter flavour of the raw carrot.)