Vegetarian Concoctions

February 27, 2007

Potato and Leek soup

Filed under: Barley, Celery, JFI, Leeks, Mixed Veggies, Orzo, Parsley, Potato, Soup's on, Soups — Hema @ 4:43 pm

It is crunch time!  I did’nt realize February has but 28 days. It has been a busy month and I have missed out on posting a strawberry treat for AFAM. Reading my previous post on hot and sour soup, Asha suggested that I send my soup for Alanna’s “Soup’s on” event. I sent in the link to Alanna without even mentioning the event in my post:) hehe…stupid me. That, obviously is not acceptable. So, here is another soup that I brewed up keeping in mind the deadlines for two events: the “Soup’s on” and ……..yeah, you got that right “JFI-Potato“. This time, it is my chance to say ‘Ek pathar se do shikaar‘(two prays with one stone). I mixed and matched ingredients from 4 different recipes in 3 different books (Potato, leek and pea soup, Spinach and orzo soup, spring soup with barley and leak and carrot soup). Hence, the recipe is very versatile and additions and deletion can be made according to taste…just make sure you use the potatoes and leeks though, if you want to retain the name on it. Potato gives the soup its texture and leek its fabulous flavor. Here is what you need:


Potatoes – 2 nos medium sized

Leek – 1 no

Bay leaves – 2 nos

Red onions – 1/2 medium sized

Garlic – 2 cloves

Parsley – 1/2 bunch

Celery – 1 stem

Barley – 2 tbsp uncooked

Orzo – 2 tbsp uncooked

salt to taste

pepper to taste

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Water – 5-6 cups

Chop up the potatoes, leeks and celery to 1/2 inch pieces. Heat up olive oil and saute the onions till they are translucent. Add the garlic and bay leaves and saute for a minute. Add all the veggies and cover it up with water. Add salt and let this simmer away till the veggies are cooked well. Take half the soup out, let it cool down and then puree it. To the other half that is on the stove, add uncooked orzo, barley and chopped parsley. Continue cooking till the pasta is done. Dilute it further if required. Now add the pureed half and add salt and pepper according to taste. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.


February 23, 2007

Hot and sour soup

A Chinese soup. Well, Indo-chinese to be precise. Chinese was the first international cuisine to crop up in India with the ever famous hakka-noodles, manchurians and chow-meins. They had the same chinese names, but the flavour was suited to the typical Indian tongue – hot and spicy. I have, till date not visited a chinese restaurant in the USA. The reason – within the first few days of my arrival, I was enlightened by some of my fellow Indian-students who got here before me, on various food issues for a vegetarian in the USA.

First of, Chili is not chilli but beef. Always notice the number of ‘L’s in the word. (The restaurant ‘chilis’ caught my attention soon after I arrived and was dissapointed to find out what the word actually meant. The red chilli logo was decieving too. I have never visited chilis either.) Pepperoni toppings on pizza can very well be misunderstood for tomatoes. Hot dog is not actually dog meat. Chinese is not the Chinese we get in India – very very bland here. Thai food is closer to IndoChinese food than Chinese.

Based on the vital advices of my seniors, I drew lines on where to eat and where not to. I have now realized that the Chinese we get in the US is lot more authentic than what we get back home. In fact Indo-chinese is an entirely different cuisine. I have seen menu cards at Chinese restaurants and a lot of dishes look and sound delicious and the best part of all is that, they carry a number of vegetarian items too. Who cares if it is bland? I can always add an extra splash of hot sauce to my order. So, once I convince my husband, we will be heading out to a good chinese restaurant soon.

Until then, I shall seek solace in the taste I believed to be Chinese. This recipe for hot and sour soup is adapted from the my new recipe book – Tarla Dalal’s Chinese recipes. (BTW did you know she has her own blog now?) As always, I checked the list of ingredients and put in my own measurements with a few additons and subtractions:


Shredded carrots and cabbage – 2 cups

Spring onions – 10-12 stems

Soya sauce – 1 tbsp

Balsamic vineger – 2 tsp

Cornflour – 1 1/2 tbsp

Grated ginger – 1 tsp

red chilli flakes – 1 tsp (adjust according to taste)

oil – 1 1/2 tsp

sugar – 1/2 tsp

salt to taste

pepper to taste

Ajinomoto (optional) – a pinch

Thai peanut sauce – 1 tsp

Mix the cornflour with a little water. Switch your stove to the maximum heat level and let your pan heat up till it is scotching hot. Add the oil and immediately the veggies. Saute for a minute and add the red chilli flakes, ginger, sugar, salt and the ajinomoto. Add 2 cups of water and reduce your flame to medium heat. Add the soya sauce and the cornflour. My secret ingredient – Thai peanut sauce. Just a tsp to soften the flavor of the soya sauce. Taste for salt and heat and add pepper accordingly. Let this simmer for a couple minutes and you are ready to serve it.


February 20, 2007

Vegetable pot? pie???

Filed under: American, Cheese, Mixed Veggies, Pie, Puff pastry and phyllo sheets — Hema @ 12:05 pm

What would you eat when hubby is not in town for a weekend and you are at home looking after your toddler? Left overs? Maggi noodles? Yeah, thats what I usually do especially since he does not travel that often. My attitude – ‘Why cook for one person?’. And then the little one keeps me busy. So, it is not like I have nothing to do.

This was one of those occasions, H was out attending a conference. (BTW, I have no idea why they need to start registration on a Saturday and have the key note speech on a Sunday. What are weekdays for?) Anyway, I was at home craving Italian and actually decided to make some pasta for myself.  But guilt pricked at the wrong time…how could I eat something he likes and then enjoy the meal? And worse still – I couldn’t believe I was thinking like my mother.  I had always made fun of her about being too sentimental over such things.

Now with the pasta plan ruled out, I was still craving something interesting. I did what was most logical under such a circumstance. Cook something that I love and hubby detests. And, that was easy – eggplants, paneer(yes, paneer! can you believe it?), molten cheese, white sauce…..I had quite a few options. I was not in the mood for Indian food. The thought of having white sauce as a base made my mouth water…that day. Right now, as I write this sentence, I am thinking paneer…yummmm:)

I always wanted to make my own vegetarian version of chicken pot pie and this was the day! I scrambled through each shelf in the refrigerator and brought out some veggies, including eggplant. Milk, butter, cheese and a pack of puff pastry sheet came out too. I did not have an oven safe circular bowl of the right size to make it look like a pot pie, but this is what I ended up doing:


Mixed veggies – eggplant, shredded carrots, onions, bell pepper, celery – about a cup

Milk – 1 cup

Shredded pepper jack cheese – 1/4 cup

Butter – 1 tbsp

Olive oil – 2 tsp

All-purpose flour – 1 tbsp

Puff pastry – 1 sheet

Salt and pepper to taste 

Start with the veggies. Add the olive oil to a pan and then the veggies. Saute for 3-4 minutes and transfer it to a bowl. In the same pan, Add the butter and once it melts the flour goes in. Roast it till the raw smell goes and then add the milk. Let this thicken up and then add the cheese, salt and pepper to the simmering white sauce. Add the veggies, give it a stir and switch off the stove.


Let this cool down and fill it into a puff pastry sheet. Poke some holes on it and bake according to manufacturer’s instructions on the puff pastry carton.


What I made was actually nothing close to the classic pot pie. The pot pie usually has a biscuit crust and I substituted it with a puff pastry sheet. There was no cream, mushroom or potatoes in it. It was something I seeked refuge in for the day but I did have a meal that was not just delicious, but utterly filling too! I loved it and now, I am waiting for my husband to attend another conference:) The next time, I would cut the quantities in half and also use the oven-safe bowl that I bought soon after.

February 13, 2007

Sourdough bread

Filed under: All-Purpose flour, Baking, Breads — Hema @ 11:00 am

It was a cold, lazy weekend afternoon early last year. The little one was happily tucked away into her blanket for a nap and dear hubby was watching football. I was flipping through one of the baking books I had bought recently and a recipe caught my attention – Sourdough bread. We both love this bread and always bought it from the store. Can it be made at home? Then, began an extensive research for methods and ingredients on the internet.

What I found was quite fascinating. You mix all-purpose flour and water and leave it in a warm open place for a few days with frequent monitoring. The batter picks up yeast and bacteria from the environment, starts bubbling and turns sour. This would be the starter. The quality of a starter would depend on where you live and whether the batter picks up the right guys. San-Francisco starters are supposed to be the best. Also, once someone has a starter going, it is fed periodically and kept alive for a long, long time – for generations sometimes.

I tried. The first time, nothing happened. February was a cold month (Yeah! sometimes, even in Florida) and so, I decided to wait for the spring. I gave it another shot in March. This time it looked like things were happening and I saw some bubbles on day 3. It was exciting! I added half a cup of all-purpose flour and warm water everyday, for the next 4 days. It got bubblier. It was time to try out my very own bread….or so I thought! I mixed more flour, sugar, salt and waited for it to rise to twice its size. I waited, waited and waited even more! It rose but not to the extent described in the cookbooks and internet sites. With a heavy heart I punched it back in for the second rise. Waited for 3 more hours for the rise and baked it. What came out was a shame. The crust was too thick, the inside was no-where close to being called soft and the taste…I had…ahem…added a little too much salt.

Totally frustrated with my first attempt, I put off the thought of baking bread for a while. I still kept the starter alive for a few more months. It was not before June, that I made my second unsuccessful attempt and dumped my starter in disgust and decided not to venture into the bread making business anymore.

Then, in September,  THIS happened! I read through the post at least 3 times before I left a comment. Few days later, she baked her first biscuits. Now, this was exciting. I left another comment and she replied ‘Thanks, Hema! If you want to give it a shot, I’m more than happy to pass along some starter anytime’. Really? I wrote back to her with my mailing address and sure enough received this package with some dried starter and a lovely little note with instructions. She actually took time and dried some starter for me. Yes, she is our very own ‘Out of the wor…garden – Linda!’.


Thanks Linda! You are awesome!
I stored the dry starter in the refrigerator for over two months before I got a chance to get working with it. I followed Linda’s instructions and pretty soon the starter was bubbling with activity.


A day before I decided to take the plunge, I added a cup of flour and half a cup of warm water to the starter. Next morning, I took a cup of starter for the bread and stored the rest in the refrigerator. With it went in ½ tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt. Then, I cheated (blush). Well, you see I have had horrible sourdough experiences in the past and really wanted soft bread this time. So, I added some commercial yeast…just a pinch, actually (blush, blush). Dissolved it in a tbsp of warm water and added it to the dough after 5 minutes. Then I added flour(about 1 cup), one spoon at a time till the consistency felt right – soft and workable, but not sticking to your hands. I brushed some olive oil on it and let it rise in a warm place (oven with lights on).


It rose to twice its size in about 2 hours! YAY! I punched it back in and this time put it into my loaf pan for the second rise. 2 hours later, I made a slash on the top and popped it into the 425 F preheated oven for 8 minutes and then reduced the temperature to 375 F and baked it further for another 20 minutes till the crust turned golden brown.


Out came my precious bread, with my home smelling like a bakery:) I let it cool and gave hubby the honour of cutting my first bread and taking this picture.


It was soft and tasted almost like what we get at stores..a little less sour, but that maybe because of the extra yeast I added. Now, I can proudly say baking bread is not a big deal’. Thanks Linda. Could’nt have done it without your help.

February 8, 2007

5 things the world doesnt know about me!

Filed under: General, Meme — Hema @ 11:52 am

was tagged by Coffee of My Khazana. Thanks coffee!

1. Let me start with something my blogger friends don’t know about me. I am an Environmental engineer approaching the big 3-0. Yeah, that feels old. Crossing 25 did’nt feel that bad. From, a career oriented graduate in search of a challenging job 5 years back, I have now transformed into a wife and a mom, whose priorities have changed for good. I still work and sure I love my job, but more so because it is not challenging and allows me to spare the time I need for my family.

2. I hate football. Yes! I cant stand the game and can’t get myself to watch it. Americans give me wierd looks and/or are offended when I tell them this and I can very well understand their sentiments. Football to Americans, is like cricket to Indians.  It runs in their blood! I would hate it if anyone speaks ill of cricket. Sadly though, I just find the game too rough for my likings. I am sure a lot of you may be shaking your head in disgust right now, but if it makes you feel any better – I hate rugby too 😀

3. I have rotten molars. Yeah,  I never brushed ‘twice a day’ as a kid, how much ever my mother begged and pleaded and then my teeth bore the brunt of eating all those chocolates  at bedtime. 2 root canals and 4 fillings at age 15! The good part is,  I can now show my daughter what could happen to her teeth if she didn’t take care of them well.

4. I love gazing at stars on a clear night. I feel, there is nothing more breathtaking than the beauty of the black sky sprinkled with glittering stars. Oh! how I miss our terrace back home.

5. I hate snakes and I hate driving at night. What’s the connection? I often have this thought – What do I do,  if I find a snake in my car while driving on a freeway at night? It gives me the creeps. Dont laugh now, give me a solution to the problem! I have not been able to come up with one yet. Keep in mind, I will not be in my right senses at that time.

Now, that was fun. Not sure who has already been tagged and who hasn’t. So, here are a few names I picked just because I see they do not have anything written up yet. Play it if you want to, Prema, Priya, Mythili, Archana and Archana!

February 6, 2007

Aamla (Gooseberries) in brine

Filed under: Gooseberries (Aamla), Snacks and Appetizers — Hema @ 11:11 am

Yesterday, I spotted a bag of frozen aamlas at the Indian store and grabbed it greedily. This was the first time I had laid eyes on amlas in the 5 years that I have lived in the USA. Well, I should say, this was the first time I noticed. Last month when I spoke to amma, she said aamlas were available for Rs.10 a Kg. What I bought was maybe a 200g bag of frozen aamlas for $1.99 (quick and rounded calculation – Rs.100). I could have bought 10 kgs of amla for the same price! 

It has been a while since I did such calculations. New to this country as a student, back in 2001, it was my regular habit to convert dollars to rupees for every purchase and go ‘Rs.2000 for a week’s worth of grocery?’ or ‘Rs.150  for a cup of coffee at starbucks?’. But now, when I  go to India, I do the calculations other way around and feel happy about how much I saved. I still can’t tune my brain to work in miles, faranheit and pounds though. Why the US doesn’t follow the metric system still beats me. The ‘think metric’ photo at  Mythili’s blog really made me smile.


Anyway, back to aamlas. The best way I like to eat them is by soaking them in brine for a few days, which is what I did right after getting back home. You need a glass bottle with a leakproof lid. Make brine with water and required amount of salt. I would say about a tablespoon for every cup of water. Add some turmeric and drop in the aamlas. Make sure you give the bottle a good shake once in two days. In about 4-5 days they will soak up the salt and swell up with flavour. Enjoy!

February 1, 2007

Ever wondered?

Filed under: General, Space — Hema @ 4:42 pm

Have you ever wondered how a launch would look from realms beyond the earth?  I got these snaps as attachments in an email. Just thought I could share them with you. Here’s something that you don’t see every day…….


Space Station happened to be passing by when the Shuttle ‘Atlantis’  launched. The launch, as seen from the International Space Station (09/09/06).


Is it not beautiful?

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