HAPPY UGADI 2014

Happy Ugadi

 

I would like to wish all my readers a wonderful UGADI.

Hope this new year brings to you and your loved ones the inspiration to move out of your comfort zone,

the courage to fall,

the strength to get up again & move forward,

the joy of reaching the goal,

and most importantly,

that you grow in your journey.

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Glimpses of Vietnamese & Cambodian Food

I’m back from a wonderful trip to Bangalore, and to beautiful South East Asia. Although I was gone for about 3 weeks, my Vietnam & Cambodia trip was for 9 days with a group of 18 women. The tour company I used is aptly named WoW (Women On Wanderlust) Club . Catering exclusively to women ‘wanderers‘, our group included people from all over India, and from various backgrounds and ages (22 – 76 years old). We visited not only the touristy sights, but also had plenty time to take in the local culture, sights, happy hours, food, and indulge in amazingly cheap ($6 for 60+ minutes!!) accupressure body massages on a regular basis. Each time I heard about the brutal cold across USA, I was thankful to be spending leisurely days in beautifully sunny mid-70*F weather :).

I am focusing this post on an overview of food from the region; a quick photo journal on the sights will follow soon. The cuisine in this region focuses on simple, fresh ingredients. Meals were light, incorporated many flavors and textures, and were colorful.

Located in a tropical zone, both Vietnam & Cambodia are a fruit lover’s paradise!!! The sweetest papaya, pineapple, watermelon, mango & dragon fruit were served at most breakfasts. My mom & I decided to have a variety for fruits for dinner on 3  nights out of the 8. We hoarded jack fruit (peeled & packed in containers) in our hotel room for afternoon and late night snacks. Check out some of the fruits we sampled on the trip:

Vietnam & Cambodia - Fruit Lover's Paradise!!

I couldn’t muster up the courage to cut and taste the Durian – considered the World’s Stinkiest Fruit. In fact, hotel rooms had large signs posted on the door forbidding durian on their premises! But I did get a small sample of a durian shake which was not too bad; it tasted mild and custard like.

Dragon Fruit

We also had our fill of Dragon Fruit, which tastes like a mix of peach & mango, but not exactly. It has small black seeds like a kiwi, but is not as tart. The regular variety of dragon fruit has white flesh and the special variety has a vibrant pink color. Our waiter (pictured above) on the roof-top bar by Mekong River is serving Dragon Fruit Martinis. The orange drink (pictured above, bottom right) is a Tamarind Chili Margarita. YUM!! It was a happy hour indeed! Dragon fruit is available in the USA at ethnic / Korean supermarkets like Lotte.

The French occupied Vietnam for almost a 100 years, till the mid-1900s, and their  influence is obvious on Vietnamese cuisine. One popular item is the delicious French baguette (about $0.25 each) – light & airy – made with an addition of rice flour. It is used to make the famous Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, stuffed with grilled meat, corriander, and pickled vegetables.

Vietnam French Baguette Vendor

(Photo credit: dialaflight.com) I forgot to take pictures of these vendors who were at almost every street corner.

Banh Mi

The sandwich in the picture above was definitely one of the tastiest I have ever eaten! They were stuffed with grilled meat, onions, tomato, red cabbage, cilantro, a touch of hot sauce & mayo, then quickly grilled on a panini press. Delicious, quick & cheap. (Approx. 21,000 Vitenamese Dongs = $1 US. Lunch was less than a buck fifty, including tip.)

Another thing I noticed is that the cuisine includes less meat compared to the West. Chicken and pork were popular – it seemed like the internal organs were not wasted either – but more as an accompaniment to the rice and vegetables rather than the main dish itself.

Fresh Seafood

Fresh seafood is abundant – everywhere from the pavement vendor to the fancy restaurants. Many stores also sell dried fish, shrimp, crab and other fried items by weight.

Dried Seafood & Organs

Rice is a staple of South East Asian diet, and is eaten at all meals. It differs from the long-grain fluffy rice we are familiar with; the Vietnamese & Cambodians use glutinous (sticky) rice. We came across many types of stick rice preparations – usually lightly sweetened – and seasoned with coconut, sesame seeds, and/or palm sugar. Below, you can see one version wrapped in a pancake, another stuffed and cooked in bamboo, and yet another version that is wrapped and tied in (bamboo?) leaves.

Sticky Rice with Coconut

THE REST OF THIS POST GETS INTERESTING!! Consider yourself warned!! If you have a strong stomach, continue to scroll down. 

The drive from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap took us about 7 hours, with a few rest and shopping stops along the way. About 2 hours from Phnom Penh, we stopped at the village of Skuon – also know as Spider Village. During the height of the Khmer Rouge, when food was severely scarce, starving Cambodians had to make do with whatever was available for eating. The spiders (large black tarantulas) are caught from the neighboring areas and allowed to breed in holes in the ground. They are then defanged, deep fried and seasoned with salt and spices. Large platters were piled high with fried palm sized spiders and other deep-fried bugs of various sizes.

Spider Village

While it is delicacy in the Skuon area, not all Cambodians share the same taste for the creepy-crawlies. Our group did include a few adventurous foodies who didn’t hesitate to chomp down. What do you think I did????

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 The look on my mom’s face is hilarious! If you are curious and want to see more, just Google Spider Village, Cambodia for interesting images & videos.

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Hope you’ve enjoyed this small taste of Vietnam & Cambodia. I will follow up soon with recipes from this region that do not use bugs :)).  If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave a comment below, and share with your friends.

Travels to Vietnam & Cambodia

Hope all of you are having a wonderful start to the New Year. While I haven’t been prompt in updating the blog, I am getting together a ton of new recipes to post soon. But, it will have to wait till mid-February.

I am leaving tomorrow to visit my family in India, and then heading to Vietnam & Cambodia for a mother-daughter trip. SO excited!!! I will be back home early next month, and will start my posts here right after.

Thank you all for bearing with my random updating schedule. I promise to try to get more consistent this year. Wish me luck :))

In the meantime, please take a moment to leave a note about what kind of recipes you prefer to see here:

Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian?

Indian or International Cuisine?

Looking forward to hearing from all of you.

Tri-colored Antioxidant Rich Salad

Tri-Colored Antioxidant Rich Salad

How’s everybody doing after Thanksgiving holidays? We just got back Sunday night from a 5-day  family reunion that involved excessive amounts of food, wine, gossip, and couch time. I don’t think I can eat anymore junk for a few more days. This afternoon, I realized that my fridge and freezer were almost empty, and the only things in the vegetable crisper were 4 oranges, a handful of pomegranate seeds, and the last handful of organic spinach. Lunch had to be a salad and a cup of Brown Lentil Coconut Soup that I had frozen a few weeks ago. As I put all the fruits & veggies on the countertop, the colors struck me and I got thinking about how Vitamin C in citrus helps with iron absorption from spinach. Pomegranates are also considered a super food, rich in immune-boosting and anti-oxidant properties. The salad came together with simple ingredients that almost every kitchen will have. I must say, for someone who is a salad-hating carb junkie, this one was DELICIOUS!!

The ‘recipe’ really is made to taste and I didn’t measure anything. All measurements below are approximate; taste and adjust as you like.

Tri-Colored Antioxidant Rich Salad

Tri-Colored Antioxidant Rich Salad

(Serves 1)

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh pre-washed organic spinach
  • 1 orange (peeled & sliced)
  • handful pomegranate seeds
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds / chopped nuts of your choice
  • 1/2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt *
  • dash of pepper (optional)

1) Spread spinach on a plate.

2) Top with the orange slices.

3) In a small bowl, use a small whisk or fork and mix together honey, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper for a few seconds till it is well incorporated.

4) Pour over the spinach and oranges.

5) Top with pomegranate seeds and nuts. Enjoy!

*Adding a pinch of salt to the dressing brings out the sweetness, and makes you use less honey. Of course, if you prefer not to, then by all means leave it out.

Diwali Lighting Ideas

Diwali Lighting Ideas

I’ve shared some ideas for lighting up your home this Diwali.

The first two photos on the top show the easiest way to go; cover your table with a bright colored table cloth and top with a festive runner / dupatta /stole in complementary colors along the center. You can even use matching gift-wrap paper that is folded down to size as an easy & inexpensive alternative. Line the runner with clear votives and use tea lights in them. If you want to use decorative votives, use a plain runner. Consider using decorative chargers, mirrors, or silverware to hold your votives.

As with any source of fire, be careful and never leave it unattended, especially around children and pets.

The remaining four photos have been decorated to mimic henna / mehndi. Henna candles are all over Pinterest and I wanted to give it a try. Problem is, when henna dries, it shrinks and flakes off the smooth candle surface. The easier option was to use brown puffy paint (3D paint) instead. First, the paint adheres well to the candle surface; second, it does not need to be sealed when dry like actual henna. If you are experienced, make the designs freehand directly on the candles. If you are a novice like me, wrap the candle with a piece of blank paper and cut to size. Draw your pattern on it and trace onto the candle with graphite / transfer paper. Trace over the design and allow the paint to dry completely – about 24 hours. Burn the candle for a short while before your party so it forms a well by the wick. This allows the light to show through the candle and give a wonderful glow. (My candles are by no means perfect – I don’t have a steady hand – but the way to perfection is practice, isn’t it 🙂 ) The last candle with the peacock design is battery operated, making it the safest bet.

**UPDATE: – Verizon problems, and my Internet connection has been going haywire the past few days. The post that went up yesterday was just an incomplete draft!! Not sure how it got posted. Anyway, here’s the updated version, and I hope the post makes more sense now.

I’ve also included links for other interesting ideas on the web. Hope you enjoy them. So many ideas – so little time! Lesson learnt – start getting blog entries ready early! Way Early!!

Check out how DECOR IN A SNAP uses beaded cuffs to make pretty and interesting tealight holders.

ODE TO INSPIRATION  has a simple tutorial on making beautiful Moroccan lanterns in jewel colors. Definitely on my to-do list; hopefully for next Diwali 🙂

Morrocan Lanterns

http://odetoinspiration.com/2012/07/ramadan-countdown-to-eid/

Sharing some more beautiful photos of Moroccan lanterns for inspiration:

DIY-Project-Idea-Moroccan-Glass-Jar-Candle-Holder-Votive-Lantern-Light-Upcycle-Craft-Tutorial-Blog

cremedelacraft.com

Savory Quinoa Pongal

Savory Quinoa Pongal

Comfort food!! – traditional pongal made with rice. I had tasted this ‘lighter’ version at a friend’s house, and liked how the quinoa didn’t bring on carb-coma. Simple & quick, typically a breakfast dish, it was a hit at dinner last night (and husband ate the last bit for breakfast this morning). It tastes delicious with a simple coconut chutney. I remember seeing a recipe for the rice version online, and the author called it “rice and lentil risotto’ 🙂).

I hate to start cooking first thing in the morning, and try to keep things atleast half-prepared / prepped, so I can enjoy my morning tea without rushing to get breakfast on the table. Besides pancakes, muffins, etc., I keep a batch of homemade “Instant Upma” and “Instant Pongal” handy. Check out these recipes and see how easy they are to make.

Savory Quinoa Pongal

(Makes 5 one-cup servings)

  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed and drained)
  • 1/2 cup yellow split moong dal
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp ghee or oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorn
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1 small sprig curry leaves
  • 1-2 whole red chillies (optional)

1) On medium flame, dry roast the moong dal for a few minutes, stirring constantly, about 3-4 minutes. Do not brown. Pour into a pressure cooker pan.

2) Add rinsed and drained quinoa, ginger, water and salt. Stir well.

3) Cook on medium-high flame till the pressure cooker whistles thrice. Let it sit for a few minutes so the pressure is released and the lid can be opened.

4) Meanwhile, in a small saute pan, heat the ghee / oil.

5) Add pepper & cumin seeds and allow to pop. (Add chilli if using, and roast few seconds).

6) Add the curry leaves and cover partially with a lid. The moisture in the leaves will make them crackle and pop, and it might splatter out.

7) Add cashews and roast till light golden in color.

8) Add this seasoning to the quinoa & dal mixture and mix well. Serve hot topped with ghee and a side of coconut chutney.

NOTE: To make the traditional version of pongal, substitute quinoa with white rice.  

If you do not have a pressure cooker, add the first 5 ingredients in a pan with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a rolling boil uncovered. Stir and reduce heat to low. Cook covered for about 25-30 minutes till the quinoa / rice and dal is soft. Add another 1/2 cup water in the end if needed and cook few minutes. Mix in the seasoning and serve.

Savory Rice Krispies Chivda

Savory Rice Krispies Chivda

Savory Rice Krispies Chivda

  • 4 cups rice krispies
  • 4 Tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 3 garlic pods (crushed) – optional
  • 1/3 cup peanuts
  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • scant 1/4 cup roasted channa dal
  • 3 dry red chillies – broken in half
  • 1 medium sprig curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp amchur powder / citric acid**
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

1) In a large wide pot, heat oil on medium flame.

2) Add mustard seeds and let it pop. Cover pan partially to keep from splattering.

3) Turn flame to medium low. Add the crushed garlic pods and fry till just starting to brown (if using; if not, skip to next step).

4) Add the peanuts and roast for about 30 seconds; add cashews and roast approximately another 30 seconds; add channa dal and red chillies and roast further till everything is light golden.

5) Add the curry leaves and cover the pan partially to avoid splattering; let it pop and crisp for a few seconds.

6) Stir in raisins and fry for few seconds till puffy.

7) Turn flame to low, and pour in the rice krispies.

8) Add all the powders and mix well, making sure it does not burn. Alternately, close lid and shake the pot vigorously till everything is mixed well.

9) Remove from stove and cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.