Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Basil Pesto

I am a late entrant to the basil pesto fan club but I am a loyal fan now. Think of basil pesto as an Italian take on the ubiquitous mint-coriander chutney that is so common in Indian cooking. In fact, I can match ingredient for ingredient between the two recipes! Let's try that out...

Coriander and mint leaves == Basil leaves
Roasted peanuts == Roasted pine nuts
Garlic == Garlic (Well, garlic isn't really a mandatory ingredient for coriander-mint chutney)

Ok, the standard pesto departs from coriander-mint chutney at this point but the important points are covered, don't you think?

So, you start with fresh basil. I picked a bunch from Harry's Farmers Market. The packet mentioned that it's grown hydroponically (not sure what that means), and if I keep the roots submerged in water, it'd last longer.

Chop it finely. Put in the mixer jar. 

I didn't have pine nuts at home. So I roasted some walnuts on a skillet (be attentive to the skillet or else you'll end up with a bunch of burnt walnuts!) and used them instead.

Next chop up some garlic and throw that in there as well. Most times, I don't have garlic at home. But this time, I did and so I used it. I am sure purists will disagree but I have made pesto before without any garlic and it tasted perfectly wonderful.

Pesto also contains cheese (mostly Parmesan or Romano, as this recipe mentions). I had paneer at home, and so I used that instead.

Pulse it all together. Don't forget to add salt and pepper. Pour in some olive oil while it's getting pulsed. I bought this brand from Dekalb Farmers Market. You can also see the smaller bottle of chili oil next to it, the Braggs bottle behind and possibly the can of sesame oil towards the right of the picture. Hmmm, just giving a mini-tour of the oils and seasoning cabinet for all of you... :)

You can also add the oil later after the pesto is made. You end up with a shiny and creamy fresh basil pesto that's pure YUMMINESS.

Slather it over toast, toss it with noodles... any other ideas? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Braggs Liquid Aminos

Some of you may know that I am an instructor and volunteer with the Art of Living Foundation. It was at the international Art of Living Center in Montreal, Canada that I first came across Braggs Liquid Aminos.

There was a bottle of Braggs (as we called it) on every other table in the dining area. I saw people drizzle it over salads and soups. I did the same and found that it really enhanced the flavor of food. It has a slight saltiness and so, if you plan to season your soup/salad with Braggs, it is a good idea to go easy on salt during the cooking part.

Braggs is made of non-GMO soybeans and contains 16 amino acids. It is gluten-free.

have been cooking with Braggs for a while now. I generally cut up vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, pretty much any vegetable that can be eaten raw or lightly cooked) and tofu and let them soak in a mixture of Braggs, soy sauce, ginger oil and chili oil. I cook pasta al dente and then toss it with the soaked vegetables. It's a one-pot dish that comes together in a matter of minutes, is incredibly flavorful and tasty, looks fantastic, and is easy to digest. Moreover, it tastes wonderful cold also!

Here are some pictures of pasta salad I made a while back.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Super-Secret Underground Food Truck Extravaganza

Last evening, we went for a fun event to support the campaign to bring street food to Atlanta.

There are a couple of notable food vendors in the city. Specifically street food vendors, I mean. Yumbii is one of them. Yumbii has its own Twitter feed that announces the location of the truck for the day. The food is Korean BBQ flavored burritos, tacos, quesadillas. Not too many options for vegetarians although the burritos and tacos do come stuffed with stir-fried tofu. The other vendor that's really popular around the city is King of Pops. They sell hand-crafted popsicles in the most wonderful flavor combinations. Have you heard of Arnold Palmer, Mexican Chocolate, Cucumber Jalapeno, Pear Cardamom and Watermelon Peppercorn? The guy has quite a following and of course, he has a Twitter feed that announces the daily flavors. Don't you think that he has hit upon the perfect name for his business?

Yesterday's event included many vendors.  Korean BBQ tacos, hand-crafted popsicles, cupcakes, ice cream, cones, New Orleans delicacies... So what did we eat?

Yumbii also had a truck and we got the Korean BBQ taco with stir-fried tofu. The tofu was nestled with some lettuce and seasoned with a sweet-n-spicy sauce (reminded me of Sriracha sauce) in a crisp tortilla. P liked it a lot. Hmmm, it was fairly good, I suppose. But really, it could do with SO MUCH more. The vegetarian palette is full of flavors and fillings and this taco offering was so limited. Just check out any Indian street food cart and you'll see what I mean! A taco isn't too different from the Frankie, a snack that's an integral part of Bombay street food and loved by many. Take a look at the sheer variety of fillings, seasonings, sauces and spices. This taco is a decent start but it's no star of the show, sad to say.

Obviously, we had to sample every vegetarian dish on display. So the next one was a curry cone. Imagine a waffle cone filled with a samosa filling, topped with cilantro and mint yogurt. Tall promise but the final effort fell quite a bit short. The samosa filling was oh-so-cold (!) and lacked salt. Not a little salt, a lot of salt. It was not a topping of mint yogurt, more a drizzle. Btw, full disclosure - the waffle cone contains eggs but I went ahead and got it anyway.

Next up was a quesadilla filled with sweet potato, pickled okra.

Pretty nice and an innovative idea, I think! This catering company had an attractive array of sauces that they displayed.

I had to absolutely get an ice cream scoop from Westside Creamery. Now I have been waiting to get some ice cream from here a long time now. With flavors as salted butter caramel and honey+apricot listed, who wouldn't? I think they also have a stand at the Sandy Springs Farmers Market. Well, I got a scoop of the salted butter caramel yesterday.


I went back and asked the woman if she sprinkled salt or if the ice cream had salt infused in it. Turns out it's the latter or else I'd have asked for more salt! This was just plain sweet caramel flavored ice cream. Reminded me of the Malai Matka Kulfi you get in so many Indian restaurants. Nice but nothing like what salted butter caramel should taste like. This ice cream simply tastes of milk that you cook for hours on a low gas until it becomes thick and sweet.

We got the chocolate-mint cupcake. The frosting was delicious but the cupcake, hmmm - not so much. Maybe I am not such a cupcake person after all. But P, who has sampled cupcakes before, says that he has eaten better ones. So the case rests.

The King of Pops was here too!

How could we pass those up? So we got a Cucumber Jalapeno and a Raspberry Lime popsicle each.

P liked the Cucumber Jalapeno one. He felt that it was an excellent combination of cool, sweet and spicy. That jalapeno did have a kick to it. I, for one, wasn't sold on the idea because I couldn't discern this elusive sweetness that P liked so much. But it's a really innovative combination. no doubts on that. The Raspberry Lime was wonderful. Sweet and slightly tart, it was a perfect summery combination. Loved it. These pops cost $2.50, a price that's rather high for a popsicle, you might think. But they're handcrafted, heavenly tasting, and pretty large sized. I'd need a partner to share one with.

All in all, a cool event with a hip crowd, decent food, good weather! I am not talking about cross-contamination issues with street food here. Some things you pretty much end up turning a blind eye to, be it Bombay or Atlanta!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Basil Pesto Noodles

I know this blog is really about resources for vegetarians but I simply couldn't resist putting up two pictures.

Both are pictures of a most perfect platter of basil pesto noodles. Now the noodles were soba style but made of spelt, if I remember right. I got them from Dekalb Farmers Market. I probably got the red and yellow peppers from there as well.

Now the basil pesto, the oh-so-heavenly, fragrant and verdant pesto... I bought a bunch of fresh basil from Sandy Springs Farmers Market. Made a batch of pesto right after I got home. Put it in the refrigerator until I made these noodles.

It was the most spectacular and memorable plate of basil peso noodles. Oh, now that I am looking at the pictures, I think I also added in fresh tomatoes. Yes, oh yes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saravana Bhavan

Madras Saravana Bhavan used to be a veritable institution in Georgia. People thronged the restaurant for the super-crisp dosas, excellent sambar and chutneys, and South Indian tiffin and snack items. They also served regular North Indian fare. Then the restaurant had a change of management (and probably ownership also). A new name, changed decor, modified menu... Saravana Bhavan came to Atlanta. Many South Indians are familiar with this name. As I understand, this chain of restaurants was started in 1981 in South India and now has branches in various countries across the world.

While growing up, Mom would be mortified at the idea of going out to eat South Indian food. Why would you do that when you get the best of its kind at home itself? No debating with that! Even my friends can vouch for the sheer deliciousness that is Mummy's cooking. "As soft as flowers" is how my grandfather used to describe the idlis she made. Maybe I had scant appreciation for her cooking back then but now I can only fantasize about our wonderful Sunday mornings spent with steaming hot idlis and coconut chutney, coffee, Sunday Mid-Day and TV. Mmmm, that's the kind of stuff awesome childhood memories are made up of.

But I digress! So, Saravana Bhavan does a decent job of the South Indian dishes on the menu. They also have a thali option that serves rice, pooris, and an array of South Indian curries and vegetable preparations. I have always wanted to order the thali but my stomach quails at the idea of the stupor that'd follow after the meal. Maybe one day, I'll steel myself to go ahead and order it.

So yesterday, P and I went over for lunch. We happened to be in the neighborhood and both of us wanted to have something light and easy. I ordered a plate of Rasa Vada which basically comprises of two Medu Vadas submerged in a bowl of Tomato Rasam. P liked the dish although I found it a tad too salty for my taste. The Rasam comes with a liberal garnish of coriander leaves (or cilantro, as it's called here in the United States). The Vadas were fairly okay. I found them a little bland but overall, it was a good start to the meal.

I wanted to steer clear of potatoes, and so I ordered the plain Rava Dosa. This is a great dish to order if you are in the mood for something relatively light. The dosa is made of semolina (anyone wish to confirm that for me?) and it's served with an array of chutneyssambar. The dosa was very crisp; it literally cracked on the plate! It's a fairly large-sized dosa too. P ordered the Biryani. I have ordered it before and I really like how they make it. What we were served yesterday was milder on spice. I do like the spicier version, though. It comes with vegetable raita that is a great accompaniment to biryani always! and

All in all, a satisfactory meal that would have been perfect had I ordered a glass of the South Indian coffee but I forgot... :( Dessert would have been a great finish also but they only had three desserts - Gulab Jamun, Paayasam and Rava Kesari. Hmmm, not for me.

Go to Saravana Bhavan, really. They do a nice job of South Indian snacks and tiffin items. Service is good too.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Farmers Market Goodies

Sandy Springs Farmers Market is soon growing to be a place I love. I visited this morning and what did I come home with?

Tender okra, potatoes, summer squash, juicy figs, ripe tomatoes and one green pepper. Well, I had to get home soon or else I'd have picked up some mozzarella, herbs and some peppers, maybe?

The freshness and succulence of the produce is what makes me look forward to going there every weekend.

Last week, I went to Dekalb Farmers Market. I had resolved that I wouldn't buy a thing that came from the West Coast. Well, California, actually. Would you believe that I got hardly any produce? This huge farmers market in GA stocked very little from the home state and got most produce from CA. I walked away from Turkish Figs, peaches, beans, apples... It was quite disappointing.

The idea of eating local and seasonal produce wasn't something that I really followed. It's so much easier to go to the market and buy what your heart desires to eat. Well, you cannot always do that if you buy local and seasonal produce. Anyway, as I started buying fruits and vegetables that grew close to GA and were in season, I could very easily discern the difference in taste. Now why I know why people make the weekly trek to farmers markets. I am one of them now.

The figs I got home this morning... so ripe and juicy.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yet another summer sandwich

Nothing says summer like basil. Or peaches. Or figs. Or tomatoes. Well, you get the picture. Summer brings us such a bonanza of fruits, herbs, vegetables. Everything tastes juicier, fresher... oh so succulent! Whether you bite into a ripe tomato or a peach, it feels like such a complete indulgence.

So this last weekend, we went to the Sandy Springs Farmers Market and got home a big bunch of basil among other things. I made a batch of pesto. What you see below is lunch today. Sandwich flats and mozzarella came from Trader Joes, tomatoes from Harrys Farmers Market (I ensured that the variety I picked came from Tennessee - no more West Coast produce for me!), freshly ground black pepper.

Summer is fleeting; Fall is almost here. Let's celebrate the remaining days of this magical season!