A Giveaway! And Chocolate Cake for One (Vegan, Gluten-free).

It’s been almost a decade since I last lived on my own, in a poky little flat above a veterinary clinic in North-West London. It was furnished with mismatched, tired looking pieces, and in the kitchen was a washing machine which I initially thought was cactus.  One day, a couple of kicks and a few expletives later, it miraculously came back to life and worked surprisingly well from then onwards.

The flat shared an entry with the clinic’s waiting room, and so I would often find myself sidling past curious wet noses who would sniff eagerly at my bags of groceries on the way in or garbage on the way out. The bathroom was adorned in lustrous, cracked maroon tiles with gold accents that may have had its’ glory days in the 1970’s. Entertainment was provided intermittently by the patrons of the Irish pub next door and by another neighbour who would regularly and loudly assure the entire neighbourhood that ‘Jesus would save them!’ at convenient times such as four o’clock in the morning. The apartment was what the kinder of us would call ‘full of character’, an apt introduction to the colourful place that is London.

At the time, I bought myself a book called Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis, whose cover declared it to be ‘A 1935 Bestseller’. The quirk in me couldn’t resist as not only was it on the ‘3 for 2’ table at Borders, but it boasted chapters titled A Lady and Her Liquor, Pleasures of a Single Bed and the intriguing You’d Better Skip This One.

Ms Hillis’ advice, although many decades old, is strangely still relevant. She advises against self-pity at being alone, warning that “Not only will you soon actually be all alone; you will also be the outstanding example of the super-bore”.  She doles out practical advice on the merits of saving money, for example, and cautions that “…..eventually, if no husband has turned up and no obliging relative has died, there comes a horrid conviction that putting aside a little something for a rainy day is not such a bad idea.”  In a chapter delightfully headed When A Lady Needs a Friend, Marge gets straight to the point with “….the truth is that if you’re interesting, you’ll have plenty of friends and if you’re not, you won’t- unless you’re very, very rich”.  Truest of all are her words on furnishing and decor, “This is your house, and it’s probably the only place in the world where you can have things exactly as you please.”

And the discovery that I could do just what I wanted in my space was a delightfully liberating one. Bake cookies at midnight! Paint the wall bright blue! Accumulate framed art that I never hang! Walk around without pants on! (Close the blinds first!!)

Oh…..and chocolate cake for dinner!

I want to equip you with this recipe, for those times when nothing but chocolate cake will do. This is a recipe for chocolate cake for one, made in the Tefal Cook4Me electric pressure cooker (which I have gushed about previously in my last post), so that it’s nice and moist.  If you are interesting enough to have a friend or a chocolate-loving date over, then just double the recipe and divide it into two ramekins.  It is gluten free, can be easily made vegan, and is (gasp!) even nourishing, with its healthy fats and proteins.  Most importantly, it is quick to make and fuss free.

choc pud 2b

Oh! Oh! Oh!! I also have some gorgeous Tefal 17cm Santoku knives to give away to you, my dear readers! To enter, drop me a comment here.  What I want to know is, what do you enjoy doing when you have the house to yourself?  Please keep it clean, obviously! I will pick a couple of my favourite revelations to send these gorgeous, soft-handled knives to.  I can only send to Australian addresses, and you can enter as many times as you want with separate comments.

So tell me, what is your favourite home-alone activity or indulgence?

*Cook4Me and Santoku knives were kindly provided by Tefal, however all opinions are my own.

choc pud 3

Pressure Cooker Chocolate Cake for One

Get:

1/3 cup almond meal
1 tbsp buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder or raw cocoa
2-3 tsp brown sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or powder
Tiny pinch salt
2 tsp milk (use non-dairy milk for vegan option)
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp full-fat youghurt or aquafaba (for vegan option)

1 1/2 cups water

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the water in a small mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Place in a ramekin.

Remove the steamer basket from the Tefal Cook4Me. Pour 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of the main pot. Place the ramekin in the main pot. The water should come up to about halfway up the outside of the ramekin.

Close and lock the lid of the Tefal Cook4Me. Choose recipes, then choose the ‘Chocolate Sponge Pudding’ setting.  Press enter through all the steps and then accept the cooking time.

When cooked, carefully remove the hot ramekin from the cooker and eat the cake straight out of the ramekin with a dollop of cream, ice-cream or Greek yoghurt. Feel free to enjoy for dinner without judgement or disapproving eyes.

Notes:
Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chick peas or beans, or the cooking liquid from the same. It is full of protein and a great vegan egg replacer.

Advertisements

Tefal Cook4Me and Spiced Chickpeas with Coconut

I’m the first to admit that I have control issues in the kitchen. The stove is a ship and I, its captain.  This makes it near intolerable for anyone who dares to help me put together a meal.  It also makes it very difficult for any sophisticated appliances to be truly useful in my kitchen.  My need for control means that I must stir the pot myself, pottering between that and chopping of the next ingredient to be added, while simultaneously shooing out anyone who ventures in.

Cook4Me 3 colours

When Tefal asked me to trial their Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker, I have to admit I was sceptical. I am a stovetop pressure cooker user from way back, refusing to be swayed even by an exploding-dhal-from prematurely-opened-cooker incident a few years ago.  Would I still be ‘hard core’ with an electric pressure cooker, I wondered?

I don’t know exactly when I officially joined the Tefal Cook4Me camp. Was it the heart-achingly moist, buttery fish fillets I made using the ‘Sweet Chilli Salmon’ recipe?  Or the realisation that I didn’t have to pay attention and count the whistles from a stovetop cooker in order to ensure my lentils were cooked but not pureed?  Whatever the trigger, the result is that I now use my Tefal Cook4Me almost every day.

You guys, this thing not only cooks things to perfection, retaining moisture and flavour, but it also tells you how to do it!! It is programmed with loads of gorgeous recipes that take you through the cooking process, step by step, for 2, 4 or 6 people. Even an intuitive cook like me is quite happy to minimise the firing of neurons at the end of the day and still end up with a delicious, healthy meal.  Also, this thing is one sexy looking machine! I know, I know……I saved the most important bit till last.

Picture 4166
Picture 4166

A lot of things are supposed to change your life these days…..appliances, cars, cosmetics. The Tefal Cook4Me may not change your entire life, but it sure will transform the way you cook, especially if you like quick, healthy, simple meals that are easy to clean up afterwards and so, so good to eat.

Oosli, or Spiced Black Chickpeas with Coconut, is a traditional South Indian Dish, popular during festival times but made throughout the year. It is a protein rich dish, perfect for those who rely on non-meat sources of protein, but also delicious as a filling workday lunch.  The earthiness of the legume is offset by the freshness of coconut and a subtle-but-definitely-there hint of lemon.  If you can’t find black chick peas, you can also use regular chick peas.

Tefal Cook4Me was kindly provided by Tefal Australia, however all opinions are my own.  Cook4Me images are from Tefal.

Spiced Chickpea coconut  (4 of 5)

Spiced Chickpeas and Coconut (Oosli)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

1 cup dried small black chick peas, soaked overnight
2 tsp coconut or vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch asafoetida
½ to 1 hot green chilli, split down the middle
2 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
8-10 curry leaves
3 tbsp fresh or fresh frozen (thawed) grated coconut
Salt
Lemon Juice
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Special Equipment:
Tefal Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker

Make:

Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas. Place in the Cook4Me pot with plenty of the water (chick peas should be completely submerged with about 1 cm of water above them).  Choose manual on the Cook4Me panel and reduce the time using the dial to 2 minutes. Press ok to start.  Once your Cook4Me beeps to indicate that it is finished cooking, allow the pressure to dissipate (about 5-10 minutes).  Open the lid of the Cook4Me and remove the pot to drain the water from the chick peas.  The chick peas should be cooked through but firm.

Replace the empty pot into the Cook4Me and use the manual option to choose the ‘Browning’ setting. With the lid now left open, heat the oil in the Cook4Me pot.  Add the mustard seeds. Once they have popped, add turmeric, asafoetida, red chillies and green chilli.  Cook, stirring gently for 1-2 mins.  Add 4-5 curry leaves (they will splutter so step back or momentarily lower the lid).  Once the curry leaves have crisped, remove the green chilli and discard.

Drain the cooked chick peas and add to the pot. Add 1/2 tsp salt to start with.  Stir and leave to cook, with the lid lowered (but not latched), for a couple of minutes.  Add the coconut and remaining curry leaves, toss through.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Stir again.

Turn off the Cook4Me and add 1 tsp lemon juice. Toss through, taste and add a little more lemon juice to taste.  The dish should be a little lemony but this shouldn’t be a dominant flavour.

Sprinkle with coriander just before serving. Serve as a side dish or as a vegan protein-rich main dish with flatbreads.

Notes:

All the ingredients should be available in Indian grocery stores.

Spiced Chickpea coconut (3 of 5)

True-Brown Aussie

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (1 of 3)

My first long haul flight was when I was just over the threshold of eight years of age.  I’m afraid my memories of it are scant, the strongest one being that I had the special job of carrying the mantapa, the small Hindu altar that my great-grandfather had carved out of rosewood.  A close second is the memory of the confusing emotions that each of us, myself and my parents, carried with us.  A healthy scoop of excitement stirred through a pinch of sadness and a heaped tablespoon of apprehension at the thought of starting a new chapter at our destination, Australia.

I had no appreciation of how brave my parents were then, leaping into a new life in a country they had never even visited.  Approaching with a few thousand rupees, a weak currency against the dollar even then, and a pocketful of hope, we were Sydney-bound with very little idea of what to expect.  As a family, we learnt our way around not only the Sydney streets, but also the Australian culture and vernacular.  We learnt fairly quickly that “How ya going?” invited an answer of “Good thanks!” or “Not bad!”, and not the reply “By bus!”.  It was a hard lesson when we realised that ‘Bring a plate’ meant a prepared dish, not what the phrase implies in a literal sense.

More than twenty-five years later, we are about as Australian as the average Australian.  We make pakoras on Christmas day, party on New Year’s Eve and go to the temple for Hindu new years.  When asked about our background we identify as Indian but while travelling outside Australia we are fiercely proud to declare ourselves Aussie.  We wear saris and bindis at Diwali to exchange gifts of new clothes, and gorge on chocolate eggs at Easter.  Rather than barbeques laden with meat and onions on Sunday afternoons, we spread dosa (south Indian rice crepes) onto hot pans and dunk them in chutney and sambhar.  On  Australia day, we have the added celebration of Indian Republic day, an interesting coincidence.  Some years, to be honest, it’s simply rest-day or spring-cleaning day!

The mantapa now inhabits my spare room, enclosing my small shrine.  It is where I pray before I go forth to conquer the day and before I sit down to a meal, whether Indian, Italian, Thai or Australian.  Like me, it is Indian-manufactured and Australian-developed, it’s wood as solid and un-weathered as my cultural identity.

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (3 of 3)

There are days when I feel not Indian enough and a few cents short of Aussie enough.  And other days when I know I am standing comfortably in the middle of the see-saw, perfectly balanced.  I am more a True-Brown Indian-Australian than a True-Blue Aussie, and this seems to work just fine.

Mangoes and coconuts are well-loved ingredients in both India and Australia and the Mango-Macadamia combination is a popular on in my adopted country.  These truffles pack all the flavour of mangoes, with the textural elements of coconut and macadamia butter.  They are vegan and free of refined sugar and gluten.

Happy Australia Day and Indian Republic day folks!

Mango mac coconut truffles onesmallpot (2 of 3)

MMC (Mango, Macadamia and Coconut) Truffles

Get:

100g dried mango, soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1/3 cup macadamia butter
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp protein powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp quinoa flour (or another 2 tbsp protein powder)
1/4 cup shredded coconut + more for coating
Coconut oil (optional)

Make:

Drain the water from the soaked mango.  Pulse the mango with all the ingredients, except for the extra shredded coconut and the coconut oil, in a high-speed food processor, until a smooth mixture forms.  Roll into tbsp sized balls, adding a little coconut oil if the mixture is too firm. Toss the truffles in the extra shredded coconut and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.

Better with time

Being away from this space for four months has been tough.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be here, that I just wandered off without a care.  I thought about it a lot, I did! But this here little world of mine was crowded out by a new challenge, a study related one which according to the experts in my life makes me a glutton for punishment.

channa masala (1 of 4)

You see, if I post here, I want to be all here, giving it all I have.  This space needs nurturing.  It needs balance, the right amount of everything.  It is a cocktail, to be balanced with the right dash of spirit, a touch of sweetness and a zip of acidity.  It is a curry, spices tempered before the star of the show enters.  Cold tomato puree meets sizzling oil and popping cumin seeds.  The temperature plunges, then climbs again, liquid spluttering as the fire under the pot catches up.  In goes the protein and enough moisture to engulf it, stewing it in heat and flavour.  This is when you step back a little, letting the good things happen.  Chick peas that are firm to begin with, left to simmer in a sea of flavour, to soften slowly until they are barely holding together.  And when they meet a spoon or a tooth? All bets are off.

Those slowly softening chickpeas don’t ask for much.  A bath that is voluptuous with flavour.  For the sharpness of the chilli to tingle the tip of the tongue, then let others shine before it leaves an impression that accumulates with every bite.  That the slightly sour acidity of the tomato sings its song to brighten the palate.  That the sweetness of the onion and tomato develops with time, but never becomes more than an undertone.  And the salt? It’s the last to join the cacophony, in careful increments, giving all the other elements the power to do what they do best.

The chick peas soften, greedily absorbing spicy, sour, sweet and fragrant.  And we wait.  We cover, we simmer, we stir.  We stir first lovingly, then impatiently.  Most importantly, we taste and we tweak and we wait.

channa masala (3 of 4)

Like so many things, the flavour gets better with time.  A nice long simmer, yes but if you manage to make a big enough batch to save some for the next day, a type of magic happens overnight in that pot.  The kind of magic that makes yesterday’s curry strike an even deeper chord than it did when you first made it.  You see, a night together allows all the ingredients to get to know each other, to understand each other’s strengths and limitations, to work out how to interact harmoniously.  To wind up so flavourful that you can’t help but “Oh!” when you come back to it a day later.

There are probably a hundred or more minute variations to this classic dish. This is how I like it.  Plump, yielding chick peas.  A full-bodied sauce.  Sliced onions, a little firm and prominent enough to partner the chick peas.  And time.

Love, patience and time.

channa masala (2 of 4)

Channa Masala (Chick Pea Curry)

Get:
1 1/2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight or 2 tins of chickpeas
2 tbsp vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
1 onion, halved then sliced in half-rings
1/2 onion finely diced (you will use the other half in the sauce)
2 tsp Channa Masala
2-3 Bay Leaves
4 Cloves
3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp amchur powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
Salt
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Plain yoghurt (optional)

For the Sauce:
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled
4cm fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 tin tomato, or 4-5 ripe fresh tomatoes, quartered
2 hot green chillies
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Make:

If using soaked dry chick peas, they will need to be soaked overnight.  Once soaked, cook them in a pressure cooker or over a stove until they are cooked but still quite firm.  If done over the stove, they will take at least 30 minutes.  Drain once cooked and set aside.  If using tinned chick peas, drain and rinse in cold water.

Lightly toast 1/2 tsp coriander seeds with 1/2 tsp cumin seeds in a pan, until fragrant.  Grind these together to a rough powder with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder.

Add to all the other sauce ingredients and 1 cup water in the bowl of your food processer. Pulse a few times until a reasonably smooth consistency is reached.

For the tempering, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Do not allow the oil to reach smoking stage, use a moderate heat.  Add the 3 tsp of cumin seeds and when they have sizzled for a few seconds, add the cloves and bay leaves.   Add the diced onion half.  Fry for a few minutes on low-medium heat, taking care not to burn the cumin seeds, until the onion is a little softened.  Add the channa masala and chilli powder (for a spicier curry). Fry on low heat for another minute or so.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Add about 1/2-1 cup water to the food processor, blitz a few times, then add this water, with the remains of the sauce, to the pan.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Taste and add a little more salt or chilli powder if required. Drain and rinse the chick peas.  Add these to the pan, stir and cover.  Bring to the boil again and simmer on low-medium heat for about 30 min, stirring intermittently. Cook until the chick peas are softened and just holding together (they should not be allowed to disintegrate).  Add the sliced onions, separating the layers with your fingers, a few minutes before the chick peas are at that stage. If the sauce becomes too reduced, add a little water along the way to maintain a gravy consistency.

Taste and ensure the flavour is balanced how you like it.  Add a little more salt, chilli powder or amchur if needed.  if adding more chilli powder, cook for a few more minutes, stirring intermittently.  If you find the curry is too spicy, stir through 1-2 tbsp of plain yoghurt just before turning off the stove.  For a vegan option, leave out the yoghurt or use a little coconut cream.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with your favourite Indian bread, with raita or plain yoghurt on the side.  Like all other curries, this one tastes better the next day.

Notes:

Dried chick peas, Channa masala and amchur (dried green mango) powder, along with the other spices are available in Indian grocery stores.  Channa masala is a spice mix made specifically for this dish.

To speed things up use 1/2 tsp each of cumin powder and coriander powder instead of grinding these from whole seeds.  However I steer clear of bottled minced ginger and garlic.

Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegie Bowl (Vegan)

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (2 of 5)

I guessed that by this time of the summer, the mint scattered along the side of the house would have flourished, perhaps even enough for a pesto.  The crop started many years ago as a couple of tiny plants, one of regular mint and one of chocolate mint.  The chocolate mint has never served a purpose per se, but I defy any of you to walk past a cute little pot of emerald green leaves that smells ever so slightly of an After Eight mint without wanting it in your garden.

At some point in the history of the garden, both plants escaped the pots, intermingled and took up their sprawling residence in the garden bed along the side of the house.  It’s a little unruly, this part of the yard.  Little chartered territory given a slightly more dangerous edge by the stump of the lemon tree that my dad had to chop down owing to its infestation of ominous looking black citrus bugs with their toxic venom.  Definitely not for barefoot wanderings.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (4 of 5)

Be-sandaled and armed with a basket and scissors, I made my way around the Tulsi (holy basil) and picked my way among the weeds, past the stumpy citrus.  Squeezing around the water heater, I was met with a lush mint crop large enough to supply a toothpaste factory.  A pesto was surely in order.  I tossed it with freekah (a type of cracked wheat) and with a few fresh vegetables, it made the freshest, most healthful lunch I’ve had in some time.  Sweetcorn is a must I think but as far as other vegetables go, You can pretty much pick your favourites.  I threw in carrot and snowpeas, but cherry tomatoes, blanched asparagus or broccoli, or pan-fried zucchini would work beautifully.

Want more healthy and filling vegetarian salad ideas? Try this lentil salad or quinoa salad.  Or screw the salads and make this fudge 🙂

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (1 of 5)

Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegetable Bowl

Get:

3/4 cup dry Freekah
1 ear of corn
Olive oil
Other vegetables according to preference
Small handful sunflower seeds.

For the Mint Pesto:
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp almond meal
1/2 hot chilli
Small garlic clove (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Make:

Place Freekah on the stove with twice the amount of water and 1 tsp salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins until cooked.  It should be tender but still a little firm and nutty. Drain, rinse  and set aside.

At the same time, boil the peeled corn in salted water in another pan for about 10 min.  Rub the corn with olive oil and char on an open flame or in the grill.  With a knife, carefully cut the corn off the cob.  Prep the other vegetables.

To make the pesto, blitz all the pesto ingredients (start with 1/2 tsp salt and add more to taste) in a food processor until a rough paste is formed.  Taste and add salt or lemon juice as needed.

Toss the pesto through the freekah.  Divide into 3 or 4 bowls.  Top with corn and whatever vegetables you choose. Finally, sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (3 of 5)

Christmas Chivda (An Indian Street Snack)

Separating the beach from the road was a thickness of stalls that sold juice, tea, pav bhaji, fritters and other street snacks, the many-layered flavours of which could never be replicated in the sanitary conditions of a restaurant.  Rickety square stalls with torn calico coverings were stacked side by side, each a busily functioning unit within itself, much like cells in biological tissue.

Cries of vendors declaring the delights on offer were carried on the warm Bombay breeze alongside the scents of deep-fried chickpea batter, a myriad of masalas and the inescapable, faint undertone of sewage.  Juhu beach stretched beyond the bustle, less populated but still littered with vendors, children’s rides and sand artists with their temporary sculptures.

I would always ask for a paper cone, either filled with roasted peanuts or a dry street snack, Chivda.  They were portable, neat and most importantly allowed me to keep walking, the little girl trailing behind her parents.  They were also considered ‘safe’ to eat……not a drop of water or unwashed vegetable in sight.

Chivda (1 of 4)

When the lovely Claire of Claire K Creations organised the Foodie Secret Santa, I jumped at the chance to participate.  The idea is to make a Christmas treat and send it out to the three people you are allocated.  Soon enough, each blogger receives three treats from different bloggers.  So far I’ve received some moorish roasted peanuts and chilli jam from Claire herself, and some divine pecan balls that were reminiscent of a favourite childhood biscuit from another blogger who seems to wish to remain secret!

Chivda (2 of 4)

As Christmas is not a traditional festival for me, and I guessed that there would be plenty of sweetness in the air during this season as it was, I decided to make an Indian savoury street snack, Chivda.  This is my mum’s version, using flattened rice as the main ingredient.  We usually have a big bottle of this nestled in the pantry at any given time, to snack on with tea or to serve with cold drinks. The light, crisp rice flakes are dotted with crunchy peanuts and pleasantly interrupted by chewy coconut. A little salty with a suggestion of sweetness, it is naturally gluten free and vegan. Frying the poha (flattened rice) on a low heat does require some patience but after that, the process is fairly quick and uncomplicated.  This recipe makes a large quantity which can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a month or for longer in the fridge.

Here in Sydney the lead up to Christmas has been a sombre one, with the horrific tragedy of the Sydney Siege and news of other atrocities elsewhere in the world.  It seems all we can really do is pray for the human race and hope that the people affected can somehow go on to lead positive lives.  Despite everything, I wish you all, with all my heart, a Merry Christmas.

Chivda (4 of 4)

Chivda

Get:

 4tsp + 4 tsp vegetable oil
6 cups thin dried rice flakes (poha)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 cup raw peanuts
8 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp asofoetida
25-30 fresh or dried curry leaves
1 cup coconut flakes
Salt to taste
3 tsp sugar

Make:

In a large heavy-bottomed frypan, heat 4 tsp oil.  Add the poha and reduce the heat to very low.  Toast the poha, stirring constantly to make sure the flakes are evenly toasted.  The poha should curl around the edges and gain a little colour very gradually over about 20 minutes.  When the poha has slightly browned and crumbles easily between your fingers, pour it into a large bowl and set aside.

Turn the heat up to medium and heat the remaining 4 tsp oil.  Add the mustard seeds and when they have finished popping, add the peanuts.  Take care not to burn the mustard seeds.  Fry the peanuts on medium heat, stirring constantly until they are a golden brown colour.  Add the turmeric, asofetida and curry leaves and fry, stirring, until the curry leaves have crisped.  Add the coconut flakes and fry, stirring, until they have browned a little.

Add the toasted poha back into the pan with the other ingredients with about 1/2 tsp salt and the sugar. Stir to mix well, but this time be gentle so that you do not crush the poha too much.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed, then stir again.

Transfer the chivda to a large bowl and allow to cool completely before packing into an airtight container.

Notes:

Poha, dried red chillies and spices are available at Indian grocery stores.

Chivda (3 of 4)

Kale and Cranberry Toss

It’s been an indulgent couple of months largely owing to a cavalcade of Hindu festivals.  Starting with Ganesh Chathurthi, then Navrathri and the ultimate excuse for overeating, Diwali.  Dotted between them were birthdays, dinners out, a trip to a food bloggers conference where of course there was no shortage of incredible food, and Halloween.  In the middle of it all, I’ve found myself actually craving greens.  The timing couldn’t be better when I was sent the latest cookbook by accomplished chef and author Annabel Langbein, titled Through the Seasons (ABC Books) after her TV series.

Kale Cranberry Toss (1 of 3)

As the title suggests, this is a collection of fresh, delicious ways to use seasonal produce, real food at its best.  It is divided by the seasons with each section progressing from starters and salads, to mains and sides, ending as all good things should, with desserts.  There are also useful ‘how to’s’ such as making yoghurt and growing things from seed.  After my few months of excess, I for one have my eye on the Beachside Ceviche, Cucumber Salad with Dan’s Secret Sauce and the Baked Eggplant with Kasundi.  My sweet tooth won’t be able to resist trying the Chocolate Orange creams and Mexican Hot Chocolate.  The recipes are complimented by stunning photography that creates the mood for each season.

For now, we have a Kale and Cranberry Toss, a simple green side dish whose recipe I halved and slightly modified according the ingredients I had on hand.  What you end up with is orange scented, slightly softened kale dotted with tangy cranberries and the crunch of pepitas.  Kale is insanely good for you, and for those of you who haven’t quite been able to embrace it yet, this is a good way to start.  Also, I’m sure this one at least partially erases the over-indulgences of festivals gone by.

Just in time for the excesses of Christmas.

*Through the Seasons was a gift from ABC Books and Harper Collins.  As always, words and opinions are my own.

Kale Cranberry Toss (3 of 3)

Kale and Cranberry Toss

Serves 3-4 as a side dish

Slightly modified from Through the Seasons by Annabel Langbein

Get:

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot or small eschalot, thinly sliced.
1 small clove garlic, finely sliced
12-16 kale leaves
Finely grated zest of 1/3-1/2 and orange
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp orange juice
1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 heaped tbsp dried cranberries
2 tbsp pepitas, toasted
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Make:

Heat oil in a large frypan or pot and cook shallots or eschalots and garlic until soft, about 2 mins.  Tear kale leaves off stems and roughly chop.  Add the chopped leaves to the pan with orange zest and water.  Cook on medium heat, tossing, for 2-3 minutes.  Add orange juice, vinegar and cranberries and cook covered for 1-2 minutes until kale is slightly softened and cranberries are plumped.  Uncover and cook for another minute or so until all the liquid has evaporated.  Turn off the heat and toss through a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Taste and add a little more seasoning if needed.  Serve with toasted pepitas sprinkled over the top.

Kale Cranberry Toss (2 of 3)

Diwali, Coconut & Quinoa Kheer and Win Flights to India!

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (2 of 5)

Of all of the stories that are associated with Diwali, the tale of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman has to be the one that is dearest to my heart.  It is a tale of honour, exile, self-control and eventually, triumph.  This part of the epic Ramayana begins with the self-imposed exile of Rama after an administration bungle involving his stepmother and the throne.  Despite the pleas of his father the King, honour drives Rama into the forest, where he is willingly followed by Sita and Lakshman to begin what is to be an adventure-filled, fourteen year camping trip.

And what of Sita?  Her adoptive father, also a King, discovered baby Sita in the fields (one assumes she was discovered by one of his staff as what King would toil the fields?).  He is delighted with his find, which if you ask me is a refreshing change in the attitude of that time, when female babies were generally considered a consolation prize to sons.  He raises her as his own and when she is of marriageable age, hosts the equivalent of a celestial weight lifting championship to filter out the men from the mice.  Thus, Rama is found.  He is known in Hindu mythology as Purushottama, literally the Supreme Being, or Perfect Man (thereby confirming that on Earth, one may find Mr. Right but can forget any hopes of finding Mr. Perfect).

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (5 of 5)

So after having to suffer through watching keen suitor after keen suitor attempt to lift the heaviest bow in the world, the Princess Sita finds her perfect man, marries him and is rewarded with a honeymoon of more than a decade in the woods with no mobile phone connection and barely a hairdryer to her name.  As if having to wander around in the forest with your husband and the third wheel his brother wasn’t trying enough for the poor lady, she manages to get herself kidnapped by Ravana, an obnoxious demon with appalling table manners.

So Diwali marks the return from exile of the trio, after Rama proves his perfection by slaying the evil Ravana, rescuing his wife and bringing her back to civilisation before she can get herself into any more trouble.  Known as the Festival of Lights, an important feature of Diwali is the lighting of lamps and of firecrackers.  The flames and bursts are a symbol of good triumphing over evil, of light obscuring the darkness.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (1 of 5)

In Sydney, the law dictates that we be content with the lighting of sparklers and of small oil filled lamps, or diyas.  When I was in Mumbai as a child however, it was a different story.  Weeks before the much anticipated festival, we would stock up on firecrackers of all shapes, sizes and colours.  Then the day would come and after the religious rituals were duly observed and obscene amounts of food eaten, all of the inhabitants would gather in front of the apartment block, the youngest kids hoisted safely onto their fathers’ shoulders.

We would often start softly, with flower pots that would spray a bouquet of light upwards and chakkars (wheels) that would spin madly when lit, spraying colourful sparks unpredictably in all directions.  Some of the braver boys would venture onto rockets, placing them in used soda bottles. These had to be lit quickly, legs in take-off position, so that the mad dash to safety could be done before they launched.  The grand finale would be strings of tiny ‘Dum Dum’ crackers, named so for the deafening cavalcade of explosions that began when they were lit, leaving ears ringing till Christmas.  When the boxes of firecrackers had all been systematically reduced to burnt paper and the air was heavy with the strangely intoxicating scent of over-done popcorn, we would all head back into our homes (or each others’) to enjoy a vast array of sweets for dessert.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (3 of 5)

Firecrackers and sweets jostle for first place among the highlights of Diwali and in Australia, where the law is limiting, sweets win every time.  There are no rules against sugary, milky gratification and indulge we do, with at least three different types of sweets every year.  This year, I played with a variation on kheer, a popular condensed milk and rice pudding.  In this version, the quinoa lends a nuttiness which cuts through its creamy, mildly sweet coconut vehicle.  There is a pleasant coating of the tongue of thickened coconut milk and the delicate balance of the cardamom, saffron and vanilla that it carries.  Jaggery lends a warm, caramel sweetness, but you could use brown sugar if you don’t have any on hand.  An abundant drizzle of toasted, crushed nuts is mandatory and gives the molars something to work on in an otherwise soft world.  I chose almonds and also used some Persian fairy floss that I happened to find strutting around in the pantry.  From a nutrition perspective, quinoa is mostly protein and therefore a healthier option to rice.  Also, the natural sweetness of coconut products means that only a small amount of sweetener is required.  Serve in small bowls, as both quinoa and coconut milk are filling entities and the last thing we all need is dessert fatigue*.

Now onto the competition! St.George Bank is giving away 2 tickets to India this Diwali (see the video below), and if I hadn’t spent my leave galavanting around Tuscany and the UK, I’d be entering.  To enter, all you have to do is snap a pic of some aspect of your Diwali celebrations.  Post the pic on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, with the #StGeorgeDiwali by 12 noon Sunday, October 26.  The best entry will win flights for 2 to India!  The competition is open to NSW, ACT and QLD residents.  For further info, including T & C’s, head to http://www.stgeorgediwali.com.au/

So whether your Diwali consists of Dum-Dums and squealing children, or quiet rituals and too much food, may it be filled with light, love and sweetness.  Happy Diwali!

Looking for other eggless sweet options? Try these chocolate burfi. or this raw mint slice, or these truffles or these ones.

This is a sponsored post, but words, opinions and ramblings are my own.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (4 of 5)

Coconut and Quinoa Kheer (Pudding)

Makes  8-10 serves

Get:

1/2 cup quinoa
1 tin coconut milk
1 tin coconut cream
50-70g jaggery, powdered, or brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
The insides of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/8 tsp (generous pinch) saffron strands
1/2 or 1 whole vanilla bean
About 1/4 cup crushed, toasted nuts of your choice

Make:

Boil the quinoa in plenty of water for 6-8 mins. Drain and rinse the quinoa well.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the drained quinoa, coconut milk, coconut cream, powdered jaggery or brown sugar, powdered cardamom seeds and saffron.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the bean into the pan.

Bring gently to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the pudding has thickened to a porridge consistency.  Crush and toast the nuts in another pan while this is happening.  Serve topped with crushed nuts and whatever else happens to be serving a purely decorative purpose in your pantry.

 

Notes:

*We all know dessert fatigue is a myth, but the weak amongst us claim it exists.  Also, I may have made way too much of this and eaten it for breakfast 3 days in a row.

Jaggery is an unrefined Indian brown sugar that you can pick up at Indian grocery stores.

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute with vanilla extract or paste.

Coconut Quinoa Kheer Pudding (7 of 2)

 

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal Curry + Nourishing Spinach Broth

The young man always set his stall up just outside the main gate.  He would line the steel canisters up on the cheap plastic table, leaving the lids on until the first few walkers would trickle past.  The gate behind him led into a paved path, which encircled a large man-made lake called Sankey Tank.  Every morning, the sweetly smiling, crisp shirted young man would peddle his wares to the local residents who walked or jogged the popular Bangalore path.

Two large signs rested against the front row of vessels.

Nutritious and Healthy Hot Soups are Available Here explained the first one

Next to it, the other sign went on to list the options: Hot Ragi (millet).  Palak and Methi (Spinach and Fenugreek). Vegetable. Baby Corn.  Aloe Vera and Wheat Grass. 

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 2

In the earlier part of the morning, it was mainly the office-goers he served, confidently ladling hot liquids until he achieved the mixture that each customer looked forward to.  They would drink quickly, blowing into their cups between sips, then rush off with a wave to begin a new day.  Later in the morning came the housewives and retirees, often in pairs or threes.  There was no air of urgency about this bunch and they would linger a little longer around his stall, sipping the spiced, healthful broth and exchanging news.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 1

He wore no watch, but guessed the time according to the regulars.  The old man who fed the pigeons arrived at precisely eight am, and left at nine fifteen.  There was the trickle of school children that would begin at around 8.30 and trail off around nine. And the aunty who always wore a woollen beanie, regardless of the weather, usually arrived around ten.

Then, at around ten thirty, when all the walkers had walked, joggers had jogged and soup drinkers had drunk, the young man would meticulously pack away his things and head home.  Every day he would take pleasure in the lightness of the canisters at the end of the morning.  It made him happy that people liked his soup, so full of nourishment.  And it made him even happier that the cycle home from Sankey Tank at the end of his shift was always easier than the one he had done in the wee hours of the morning.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 4

Spinach, Baby Corn and Mung Dhal curry

Get:

2 large bunches English spinach, leaves and tender stems only, finely chopped
8-10 fresh baby corns, sliced to 2-3mm pieces
1/3 cup dried split mung dhal
Salt
Lemon juice
Boiling water
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp chilly powder
2-3 dried red chillies, broken into large pieces

Make:

Boil the spinach in 2-3 cups salted water (enough to submerge it) for 5-7 minutes.  Drain and reserve the water.

In a large non-stick saucepan, dry roast the mung dhal, stirring continuously until they have gained a little colour and are fragrant.  Remove from the saucepan and set aside.

Boil the sliced baby corn in plenty of salted water until they are starting to become tender.  Then add the roasted mung dhal and cook until the dhal is mostly but not completely cooked.  Drain and reserve the water.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds.  When the seeds have popped (adjust the heat to prevent burning them), add the other tempering ingredients.  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes, then add the baby corn and mung dhal.  If the mixture is a bit dry, add a little of the spinach water.  Add salt to taste- start with 1/2 tsp.   Stir through, taste and add more salt if needed.  Cook, covered,  until the baby corn is fairly tender and until any excess water has evaporated (you may have to cook uncovered for a few minutes at the end).

Squeeze in a generous about of lemon juice (start with a tbsp, add more according to taste) and stir through just before serving.  Enjoy with your favourite Indian flatbread.

Nourishing Spinach Broth:

Get:

The spinach and baby corn water from the previous recipe
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chilli, split down the middle
1-2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and lemon juice to taste

For the Tempering:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
Make:

Boil all the ingredients (apart from the oil, cumin and lemon juice) in a pot for about 15-20 mins.  Add salt only if needed after tasting.  Strain the broth to remove the garlic and chilly.  In a separate small non-stick pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds.  When they have popped, add the mixture to the broth and stir.  Add lemon juice to taste.

Notes:

Mung Dhal, dry red chillies and all the spices are readily available in Indian grocery stores.

Spinach Baby Corn Mung 3

Raw Mint Slice for The Sweet Swap 2014

The punch of peppermint is what first makes

It’s presence known in the rich nutty base

Then sexy dark chocolate, creamy with coconut

Widens the smile on the indulger’s face

Mint Slice 3

So as a nibble with tea

Or an after dinner zing,

This raw mint slice will make

Your taste-buds sing!

Mint Slice 4

Ok so a poet I clearly am not.  But I am kinda tickled pink with this recipe, and boxes of the decadent yet goodness-filled squares went out to three lovely bloggers.  Amanda of Chewtown, Bryton of Food in Literature and Cassandra of Journey From Within each received a box of these gluten-free, low sugar, raw goodies.  In turn, I welcomed sugary goodness in the form of Butterscotch Pecans from Fiona of Tiffin and Raw Date and Almond Truffles from Karla of Get On Up.  In its second year, the Sweet Swap, organised by Amanda (Chewtown) and Sara (Belly Rumbles) is a fun, innovative event that brings Aussie bloggers together and benefits a worthy cause.

Raw Mint Slice

Makes 24 squares, approx 4cm x 4cm

Get:

Base:
3/4 cup cashew or macadamia nut butter (homemade or store bought)
2 tbsp milk powder (or pea protein powder for a vegan option)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 tbsp rice syrup
4 drops peppermint oil (available at cake supply shops)
1 1/2 tsp spirulina powder (for colour, optional)

Topping:
120g good quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp thick coconut cream* (see note)

To Sprinkle:
Small handful cacao nibs or shredded coconut

Make:

See the note below first regarding coconut cream.  Prepare a tray lined with grease-proof paper.  To make the base, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir.  It will probably be a little too thick to stir, at which point you can knead with clean hands.  If the nut butter you use is on the runny side, you may need to add a little more milk or protein powder to achieve a bread dough consistency.  Press the mixture down into the tray to roughly a 6-8mm thickness.

To make the topping, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  When it is fully melted, quickly stir through the coconut milk before the chocolate seizes up.  Quickly spread the mixture evenly over the base and sprinkle with cacao nibs or coconut.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before slicing with a sharp knife.

Notes:
Use coconut cream with no additives (I use Ayam brand), and pop the can in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Then, open the tin without shaking and use the thick part of the cream off the top of the tin.

Mint Slice 2