Saturday, December 29, 2007

Butter and sensory overload at the hibachi

Driving home from a New Jersey Xmas sleepover party, we stopped for lunch at restaurant called Imperial 46 on Route 46. We were looking for Chinese, which my kids and husband love. But when we saw it had a hibachi, Benihana style, we opted for that. It turned into another new experience for the twins - and one more case of being close to the cooking action.

It was a revelation to see the amount of butter used in this genre of cooking. I thought it would be a lot healthier that it was. I also wasn't excited about the fact that all our dishes (veggie, salmon and chicken) landed up tasting pretty much the same, with a lot of teriyaki sauce.

However, it was fun to see the fiery volcano the cook set up (see photo). It did freak the kids out just a bit at first. The lunch was well worth the spectacle, though I wouldn't make it a habit (unlike shabu shabu, which I would!)

Eatin' out right with some shabu shabu

Shabu shabu (think fondue without the cheese) is definitely a contact sport - and a great way to get some uncomplicated veggies into kids. Once again, it's the experience of participating in the experience that gets the kids excited about it all.

We went in for an early dinner to Cafe Swish on the UWS. Each spot at the table is set up as a small (very safe) stove, and you order a base (flavored veggie or chicken stock), and a bunch of additions (dumplings, thin slivers of chicken, tofu, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) and noodles. There's a variety of sauces to choose from - even the lettuce "saucers" that the ingredients came in were chomped up once they were dipped in some of the great peanut sauce. As the stock comes to a boil, you pop in each of the additional ingredients you've ordered. You get a small sieve and chop sticks to fish out the cooked ingredients - let the kids drop in the ingredients and fish them out. My kids landed up eating tofu, cabbage and noodles with relish. I'll have to figure out a safe way to set this up at home -- tell me if you have any suggestions!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


We were walking past the little triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Columbus a couple of weekends ago with kids in tow. A couple of farmers from Wood Homestead Maple Farm, grit under their nails and all, were selling varieties of syrup. They had roughly cut pieces of waffle, and small cups of syrup to dip and test. I was intrigued by the murky brown liquid called sorghum...and by golly, it was delicious!

This morning, I cooked up some pancakes (1 tbsp butter, 1 cup milk, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 egg, a dash of salt -- I mix in some strawberry extract just for fun.) The kids went wild over the sorghum, clearly preferring it over the store brands. Ah, to be young and calorie-free....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Uppumma: A 15 minute meal!

Apropos my past post around anti-cancer super foods, with Broccoli cited high on any list of such foods, I've tended to incorporate it in all kinds of foods. This morning, I tossed it into an Uppumma that the twins will have for lunch. Cooking it up took me just around 15 minutes!

While Uppumma can be made with a variety of base ingredients (rava, noodles, chopped up idlis, etc.), the base ingredient used most commonly is Rava (aka Semolina, Sooji). The prep is pretty easy.
  • Start by measuring out one cup of rava into a heated pan or pot. Rava tends to be close to white. Roast it till it is golden brown (hope you can see the "before and after" difference in the pix above.) PUT IT ASIDE on a dry plate. Roasting the Rava ensures that you don't end up with a soggy mess at the end of the process!
  • Heat about two teaspoons of oil in the pot, and flavor it when hot with a pinch of mustard seeds.
  • Chop 1/2 an onion into small cubes. Fry the onions in the oil till they are slightly browned.
  • Toss in about 1 cup of mixed veggies, peas or broccoli flowerets. Cook for about 5 minutes
  • Add 2 cups of water to the mix, and bring it to a boil. You might also mix it up a bit, replacing 1 cup of water with chicken broth (1 cup water, 1 cup broth.) Using only broth may overpower the dish a bit. Note: Don't be startled by all the roiling and bubbling you'll have when you pour in the liquid into the heated veggies. It's normal....
  • Flavor the mix with a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper.
  • Once the mixture comes to a constant boil, reduce the flame to medium or low, and evenly pour in the rava, continuing to stir.
  • The Rava will soak up the liquid in about 2 to 4 minutes, and is ready to serve!
  • OPTIONAL: Ghee is a great way to flavor Uppumma. One option is to start with two teaspoons of Ghee. If you're worried about the fattening effects of Ghee (I do!), you can avoid it OR you can just pop a teaspoon of it into the dish while the rava is soaking in the liquids.

Health food junkies

Once in a while, on a rainy afternoon, one of the kids will look up at me and say, "do you think we can try a junk food snack today". Given all the dogmatic discussions out there about how we should talk about food with kids, I'm not sure whether schooling kids on good foods and bad is recommended. Anyway, it's done. The kids know that eating fried potato crisps isn't doing them any good...and in fact, they don't see it lying around the house much.

I've been intrigued about the anti-cancer food campaigns, having seen one of those extremely hurried PSAs a couple of weeks ago. I didn't get to take down the url - which was convoluted and not very intuitive. The tag line went something like: "Protect your kids from cancer with healthy diets...." Anyone who knows what I'm talking about?

Found a couple of decent articles on good old www, though: in iVillage and truehealth (scrool all the way down to see the recommended foods). As I see it, Broccoli and Blueberries rock.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kulfi dreams

A shout out to Vikas Khanna from the lovely Purnima . The man's a culinary genius. I won't ever forget the paan kulfi (betel flavored Indian ice cream) he served at my dad's 70th birthday.
...I think you have to be from the subcontinent to truly enjoy it, though. Happily, everything else on the menu is universal and classic!

Easy Peasy (OK, not Peas -- Garbanzos)

Wadya do when you pop awake at 6am, don't really feel up to going to the gym yet, but can't wait to get cracking? Plan the kids' lunch....

I love garbanzos: they're nutritious (I think), extremely adaptable and can be cooked up in a snap if you're ok with canned goods. Seriously, all you need is a medium sized onion, half a tomato (yes, half), oil, ginger and garlic pastes, garam masala, mustard seeds, a 15 oz can of garbanzos and a small pot.


  • Cut the onion so that you have a little less than a quarter set aside

  • Chop the larger bit into chunks, and do the same to hal a tomato

  • Blend the chunks of tomatoes and onion with a teaspoon each of garlic (diced or paste) and ginger (preferrably the paste)

  • Blend till it's just short of a smooth paste

  • Chop the rest of the onion into small squares

  • Drain the liquid from garbanzo can

I like flavoring my oils lightly - in this case, tossing in a small pinch of mustard seeds into the oil as it heats. Don't let the oil get to smoking point, but wait for a couple of minutes so that the seeds pop when they're introduced in the oil. Careful - step back a tad so you don't get a seed popping out onto you.

Pop in the chopped onion (NOT the paste, yet). Fry till they start turning brown. Put in a spoon-ful of garam masala and stir this around for about a minute on a medium flame. Pour in the garbanzos, and stir them around till they're all coated with the garam masala/ onion mix. Wait a couple of minutes, pour in the blended onion/tomato/ginger/ garlic paste. Add a tea-spoon of salt and let simmer for about 10 minutes. You need to let the dish cook for at least that long, or you'll have the odd taste of uncooked, blended onions. Not a personal favorite.

If you're new to Indian cooking, you might want to pass on the mustard seeds and maybe cut down on the garam masala. Additionally, you might use just half the blend (you can put it in the fridge to add flavor to another curry, but use it within about 3 days or it ferments), and add some water to get enough sauce.

I usually serve it with parathas (Indian flat breads) that I buy frozen and cook on a tava.

The whole meal takes about 20 minutes to assemble!

Grand (Central) thoughts....

My husband and I shared a commute this morning (now that's a great way to catch up on family news, holiday planning and chore updates!) As we walked through the Shuttle corridor, we gazed at the wonderfully svelte ladies pretending to pop luscious Godiva chocolates, and I blurted out..."Yeah, like she's gonna eat one of those!"

Made me think of a simple treat - try it with the kids. Blend a cup of mango pulp (I like Swad's Kesar mango pulp), about a cup of non-fat yogurt and a half-cup of milk. Blend till it's reached a smooth and even consistency. Some optional additions: sugar to taste (don't go past 2 teaspoons, though) or a similar amount of honey. You might also add some Kesar (saffron) - just a thread or two will do the trick.

You can serve it as a drink for the kiddies and grown-ups OR, pour some in pop moulds and freeze for a faux - but yummy- kulfi (an Indian ice cream).

Coming soon

  • Photographs: I'm going to try and get the kids to help me take pics of dishes we cook
  • Some favorites: Uppuma, couscous, channa (garbano curry), dosas and pancakes

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chicken Saag-wala: My favorite chicken dish (with spinach!)

Some thanks for this recipe should go to a college-mate from Oxford, but I've taken all kinds of liberties with it, of course.

Components of this great dish:
  • About 2 pounds of chicken ( ~ 2 breasts, and 2 legs)
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • garlic paste
  • ginger paste
  • cloves
  • cardamom
  • bay leaves
  • 2 boxes frozen chopped spinach (10 oz each) OR about 2 medium bunches
  • Heavy cream (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Optional: a cup of chicken broth, One 6oz can of tomato paste


  • Start by cubing the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes, and halve the legs. I've found that the curry tastes better when you have some pieces with bones in them, hence the leg pieces.
  • Chop the onions into think slices.
  • Cube the tomatoes.
  • Turmeric, garam masala and chili powder (all available in the cool lil' Indian stores on Lexington and 28th in NYC. For other cities, look for stores that stock regional cooking ingredients.)
  • Defrost the spinach. (If you're going with fresh spinach, rinse the spinach BEFORE you chop it up, since you'll lose nutrients if you wash after you chop the leaves.) The reason I prefer frozen spinach is that it's easier to fit into the pot. Fresh spinach will first take up a lot of space, but will settle down as it get's heated up.

Cooking time!

  • Heat 2 table-spoons of olive oil in a large cooking pot (I love non-stick pots, since you can use less oil.)
  • Flavor the oil with a couple of cardamoms, a clove and a large bay-leaf.
  • Reduce the heat to medium. Put in a teaspoon-ful of ginger paste and garlic paste, then add in the onion and cook till they are translucent.
  • Toss in the tomatoes, and cook till they get separate out into a bit of a sauce-like consistency.
  • Put in a large table-spoon of garam masala, a quarter TEA spoon turmeric and stir.
  • This is when you make a bit of a decision about chili powder. If you, or the kids, are new to spices, then DON'T use chili powder, but add in a dash of pepper. If you're ready for the taste explosion, I'd suggest about a half teaspoon of it. Stir in well into the onion and tomato mix.
  • Mix in the chicken, so that all the pieces are covered in the onion-tomato mix. A good technique is to ladle the mixture to one side of the pot, lay the chicken on the bottom, then move the mixture onto the chicken pieces. Keep going around the pot, till all the chicken is nicely coated with the mixture.
  • Let the chicken cook in this mixture for about 15 minutes on a medium flame. Ideally, there will be water coming out of the chicken that keeps it moist. If you're worries, you can pour in a cup of chicken broth.
  • Test the chicken (it should be flaky at the end of 15 minutes). Stir in the spinach.
  • Let the mixture simmer on a low flame for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in one cup of cream to give the curry a creamy flavor (If you're watching the calories, or can't mix meat and dairy for dietary or religious reasons, you may choose to skip this step, or use the can of tomato paste instead.)
  • Take the dish off the heat once the spinach gets very tender and the chicken goes from flaky to very tender.
  • Serve with rice.

As with everything, you have a couple of choices to make, depending on your audience and taste. How much chili powder you use can be critical to a good experience (you know you've used too much if your pals all turn a little red! Yogurt is great for mitigating the effects of a flaming curry!). I've also stopped using cream in my cooking, but it makes for a delicious curry.

Quick vegetable pulau

A great, simple way to get veggies into the kids...
  • Heat 3 teaspoons of butter in a sauce-pan (you can also use olive oil.) Flavor the butter or oil with 2 cardamoms and a clove.
  • Toss in a cup and a half of chopped vegetables (I like peas and carrots). Frozen, defrosted vegetables always work, though it's also nice to work with quarter-inch sections of organic baby carrots.
  • Saute the veggies for about 5 minutes, then add in 2 cups of rice. Keep stirring. Don't brown the rice, just watch for some of the rice grains so at least half of the rice goes from looking translucent to white.
  • Put the rice and veggies into a microwaveable bowl, add 5 cups of water. Cook for 20 minutes and check for the rice to be firm and well-cooked. (see the previous entry for how to ensure cooking to the right consistency).

Good ol' rice (with a microwave twist)

Rice will get the kids excited, especially if they've helped make it. Here's an easy way to make an aromatic focal point to a yummy meal (thanks to Deepa kunjamma for teaching me the microwave trick!)

  • Have the kids help you measure out two cups of rice into a microwaveable bowl. (I like basmati rice, since it won't fall apart and smells beautiful.) Have the kids help you measure in a couple of tea-spoons of olive oil into the rice, and pop in a dash of salt.
  • The kids will enjoy measuring and pouring in the water - about 2 and a half cups of water to each cup of rice. So, have them pour in 5 cups of water into the bowl of rice.
  • Pop the bowl into the microwave, full power, for 20 minutes.
  • Carefully, take out the bowl after the 20 minutes, and stir the rice. If the rice from the bottom of the bowl seems soggy, stir well, then pop the bowl in for another 5 minutes. (Results will vary, depending on your microwave's settings. An easy way to establish the perfect settign would be to start with 15 minutes for 2 cups of rice, then stir to check for cooking. Put in for increments of 5 minutes, till the rice is firm, cooked, and not soggy.)
  • The grains of rice should be firm, but well cooked.

    The kids will love the aroma. Serve it with yogurt or one of the curries I'll share in a bit.

Remember: set up cooking experiences for kids in a safe spot - away from the stove and microwave, since you don't want them coming in contact with very hot food or dishes. Set them up with a clean working space (and in an area you don't mind getting very, very messy!)

Mini Pitas

Went shopping at Gourmet Garage with my son, who was at the perfect height to see the Pita shelves and ask why these ones were so small...well, 'cause they were a pack of 8 Mini Pitas (from Damascus Bakeries, who's tag line seems to suggest they are America's original Pitas!)

They reminded me of something I'd experimented with a couple of years ago. Now that D&K have their own aprons, they're into the idea of helping make dinner.

The trick is to have the components of this meal all ready on the counter (imagine you're one of those TV chefs.) Last nights, the components were:

  • 4 mini pitas

  • carrots & mushroom

  • French brie


  1. Slice a small crescent off the top of each pita (the kids have trouble with this). The idea is to open up a small section of the pita, then gently open out the "pocket" of the pita.

  2. Prep the stuffing: Take about 2 cups of chicken broth (I like the salt-free College inn broth you can get in large tetra-packs), bring to a boil and toss in about a cup of sliced white mushrooms and a cup of chopped baby carrots, cut to half-inch sections. Since mushrooms take a little longer to cook, put them in a couple of minutes before you put in the carrots. Cook for about 10 minutes or till the broth is all absorbed/ evaporated. I prefer the veggies crunchy, and dry. If you like the veggies mushy, go ahead and add more broth and cook longer, but it could make for a soggy meal.

  3. Brie: You can't go very wrong with Brie. Get one that's billed as a 60% Brie, since it'll be pretty spreadable (it'll have some body, so tell the kids to take big chunks and work it into the pita pocket)

Put a pita pocket on each kid's favorite plate, have them spread in copious amounts of brie inside the pocket. Remind them to be gentle, since you don't want them to tear the pita. Give them a small bowl of the veggies and have them push them into the pocket.

You'll have to help them, of course. But, that's it - a nice, interactive meal, ready to eat!

About Roopa's Recipes

I've gone online for a couple of years, searching for inspiration as I stand in front of the fridge trying to figure something nice, nutritious and nosh'y for the kiddies. Hopefully, this blog can help other moms...and for that matter, anyone looking for some serendipitous food ideas.

A couple of ways I think of these recipes: by main ingredient (chicken, couscous, rice, etc.), provenance (Indian, Middle East, etc.) and kid category (mid-morning snack, intro to spice, etc.)

As a working mom in NYC, I've tended to make the kitchen and cooking a dynamic part of my time with the kids. They hang out on tall chairs on the other side of the counter, chatting with me, snacking on ingredients, and more and more these days helping me cook! When the kids were younger (...and not quite up to the task of sitting up, etc.!), I would wake up at 5 am and cook up breakfast and lunch before leaving for work. I made sure that I hung out in the morning and fed them breakfast, and used that time to chat about the day, their friends, and bond over their fruit, eggs, cereals.... They still cried copiously as I left and I still ached as I got in the elevator. Knowing they were eating well was one of the many things that got me through the days at work (apart from the cool work I was doing!) Nowadays, I make sure to cook lunch and dinner about 3 days a week, and of course the weekends are cook-fests! The kids have their own spatulas, and aprons, and are real mini-chefs, and it's one big party most weekends!