Thursday, August 29, 2013

Whole Wheat bread - it is 100% this time :-)

It has been exactly 2 weeks since I wrote my last post. Anybody missed me? Just say yes and make me happy:-), won't you?. Hope everyone is having a great time cooking, eating and chatting away especially with the Hindu festivals lined up this month. I did all of that and much more, we had a bunch of friends over on varalakshmi habba and made little Krishna's favorite snacks for Gokulashtami/Krishnashtami/Janmashtami. With so much food around me, why wasn't I still posting anything? This is when you guys ask me what was the thing that consumed me so much without feeling the urge to blog about food. Well, without going into a lot of personal details I will tell you, we had the time of our lives as our DD performed solo and did her Bharatanatyam Arangetram. She did a splendid job and we are so very proud of her. An Arangetram is sorta graduation for an Indian classical dance student where she or he presents a solo performance with the blessings of the teacher or Guru in the presence of family, friends and a gathering. The learning doesn't end but the event grants the dancer permission to pursue it with additional passion, get deeper into the art with a more mature perspective. DD has been learning for a decade now and all her hard work and dedication to the art sparkled in last weekend's performance. Last two weeks were hectic not only for the dancer but for the rest of the family and now we are feeling completely dazed out and drained out :-) in a very happy way. The young dancer is taking rest while her parents are trying to tidy up the house, get back to work, push for the photos, video etc. So that is where I have been these last two weeks.

Let me return to our usual chatter about food after that glimpse into my personal life. I cooked up a storm as we had loads of people but didn't stop to take any pictures and also didn't experiment much as I was focused on being efficient and making tasty food for the people that had gathered at home. While I am yet to revert back to my picture taking regimen again, I do have a few posts in the draft with a whole bunch of pictures that I made recently and I plan to use those as fillers. Old or new, every recipe is tested and tasted and certified :-).

I had earlier posted a whole wheat bread (not 100% whole wheat, there was an honest declaration in that blog post), today's post is a 100% whole wheat with no trace of all purpose flour and this is one of the best and healthiest wheat breads I have ever had. It is very easy to make if you are game for a 15 minute kneading exercise, if not you have alternatives - buy a bread machine, recruit the spouse to do the kneading, everything is fair in love, war and bread making. I saw this recipe first on King Arthur's website and while I wanted some more testimonials when I saw it on our versatile baking whizz Priya's website, and I knew I had the right recipe :-).
The best part of this wheat bread is you make it at home and the sturdy loaf is ready in under 4 hours and the wonderful aroma of the fresh bread fills your senses the whole day. You can freeze the slices for upto a week so if you eat bread regularly, go ahead, double the recipe and bake 2 loaves. I made this bread 3 times in the last few weeks as my FIL is on a diabetic diet and I feel comfortable feeding him this home made bread instead of the store bought version since I know exactly what goes into it.

I don't have kitchen scales or a thermometer. So when I say warm, it should pass 'baby test', remember how you would put a drop of the warm milk on the back of your fist before giving the bottle to the little one? Just repeat that test and it works like a charm :-)
What do you need to make (100%) whole wheat bread?
Makes 1 regular loaf (9X5 bread pan)
3.5 cups whole wheat (I used Bob's Red mill flour)
2.5 Tsp Rapid rise yeast (also called bread machine yeast)
1/4 cup oil (I used canola, choose any non-flavored oil)
2 Tblsp honey
1+1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup dry milk powder (I used fat free)
1 Tsp salt
1 stick of butter - no you don't use all of that, infact any of it, it is just easy to hold the stick and brush it on top of hot bread :-), think 2 drops of melted butter if it makes you feel better

How do you make (100%) whole wheat bread?
  • Heat the water for 30 seconds in microwave or until water is luke warm.
  • Bring all ingredients into a large bowl, add water and mix it until the dough comes together.
  • Put the dough on a flat surface and knead it for 10-12 minutes until the dough becomes supple.
  • Put it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with an lightly oiled cling wrap and set aside in a warm place for an hour or until the dough increases 1.5-2 times in volume.
  • At this time, take the dough out onto a flat surface, gently punch it down and shape it into a loaf (see here for detailed instructions on shaping the dough)
  • Put the prepared loaf in the bread pan, cover with the cling wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Mean while preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the top, turn it half way once at 15 minutes or so. 
  • Take it out of the oven, let it stay in the pan for 5-7 minutes, turn it over onto a cooling rack, brush butter lightly on the bread. 
  • Cover it with a thin wash cloth and let it cool completely for 2-3 hours. 
  • Slice the bread with a sharp knife and enjoy it hot or cold, toasted or untoasted in any combination that pleases you.
  • Add 1 cup of water first into the bowl and then slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup as needed. The resulting dough is not sticky but soft and firm. Since I do not weigh the flour, the measurements depends completely on how you use your measuring cups.
  • This dough does not need extra flour while kneading.
  • If you are kneading by hand, there is not really an 'over knead' possible so go on and switch the timer for 12 minutes, whistle a tune or two and knead it.
  • I like to sprinkle a spoonful of oats or flax seeds at the bottom of the pan and on top of the loaf before baking, this gives a nice crunch while eating.
  • You can substitute molasses or maple syrup in place of honey depending on your taste preference.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Biscotti - here comes an egg free version loaded with nuts

Long before India became independent from the colonial rule, Rabindranath Tagore wrote this beautiful poem visualizing a new, awakened India. It was later translated to English by himself and included in his Nobel prize winning collection Geetanjali. I remember reciting this on many occasions during my school years and every time it was a surreal experience. Now after so many years, making home in two countries and loving them both with my heart, Independence day holds a special significance. While the generation of our elders that took part in India's independence struggle is slowly vanishing, while we still have a lot more to do before the dream becomes a reality,  I wanted to share this beautiful piece with all of my readers.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
Happy 67th Indian Independence Day!
Those of you familiar with my blog already know that I am part of a group called Baking Partners started by Swathi. We bake savories or sweets every month and post it on the 15th. We usually get a couple of related recipes to choose from and the challenge is flexible to accommodate egg free, gluten free, high altitude revisions to the original recipes. While I chose to break free from my egg aversion for the last 2 challenges, this time I wanted to try it without eggs. Of the 4 recipes Swathi sent us, the family voted for the Italian Biscotti.

Biscotti (biscotus in singular form) have an Italian origin meaning 'twice baked bread' referring to the baking process. Fresh baked bread is allowed to cool very slightly before being cut into oblongs and baked for a second time until they are crunchy and hard. These stay well on journeys thus making them popular during travel and war!

If you have never had Biscotti before, imagine a much less dryer version of the tea time favorites - Rusks. Biscotti are not overly sweet and are traditionally served with a drink such as orange juice so it can be dunked in the juice if preferred. Good biscotti hold shape and do not crumble, elegantly sweet and is a party in the mouth as you can mix & match flavors you like. I chose to do a simple biscotti flavored with orange tangerine rind and loaded with walnuts, the end result was a crisp, sweet treat that had walnuts popping in every bite with a burst of citrus flavor.

So far I have tried 2 different egg replacements in my baking experiments, you can use flax meal soaked in water to replace the eggs in cakes or use fruit sauces in cookies. These work really well and you just need to be cognizant of which one works where and the amount for the replacement. I had book marked a few of those recommendations and tried apple sauce in my biscotti today. I also reduced the butter from the original recipe and upped canola oil slightly. Biscotti were delicious, perfectly crunchy without being hard and disappeared just like hot cakes :-) since I made the first batch yesterday.
What do you need to make Walnut Biscotti?
1.5 cups All purpose flour
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Tblsp butter (at room temperature)
6 Tblsp unsweetened apple sauce
1 Tblsp grated rind of orange/tangerine (replace with lemon rind if you prefer)
3/4 Tsp baking powder
1 cup walnuts
2 Tblsp canola oil (or any other non flavored oil)

How do you make Walnut Biscotti? 
  • Preheat the oven to 325F, spread the walnuts on a cookie sheet and bake them for 5-7 minutes or until they are toasted crisp. 
  • Remove the walnuts from the oven, let cool slightly and chop then into small bits. 
  • Bring sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat them with a fork until smooth. 
  • Mix oil, apple sauce and the orange rind into the bowl. 
  • Sift flour and baking powder into the bowl and mix everything together to make a soft dough. 
  • Prepare a cookie sheet by spreading a layer of parchment paper on it. 
  • Dust your hands slightly with AP flour and divide the dough into 2 pieces and shape them into logs. 
  • Place the logs on the parchment paper leaving a couple of inches between them. 
  • Bake for 28-30 minutes and take out the cookie sheet. 
  • Let the baked logs cool for a couple of minutes before slicing them with a sharp knife. 
  • Place the cut biscotti back on the parchment paper with one of the cut sides down, put it back in the oven for 8 minutes, flip them over and continue to bake for another 6-8 minutes or until you see the biscotti developing a golden hue all over. 
  • Remove from the oven, let cool (pop a few in the mouth as you wait, they taste delicious when warm) completely before storing them in air tight container. 
  • I cannot tell you how long they will stay fresh as my biscotti are all gone :-)
  • Original recipe asks you to wait for 10 minutes between the bakes but I found it easier to cut through the softer (and hotter) logs and did it after letting it sit for a couple of minutes. 
  • Original recipe asked to add a Tblsp of crushed coriander seeds, I didn't do it as DD doesn't like coriander seeds flavor especially when she gets a piece in the mouth. 
  • I added tangerine rind since that is what I had on my counter top and the flavor was immensely pleasant. You can experiment with other citrus fruits you like. 
  • Reducing the butter from its 4 Tblsp to 1 Tblsp really didn't matter at all and I have started to think if all that 8 Tblsp would have made it way too buttery for our tastes. I am sure the apple sauce helped provide the required texture and the little bit of butter brought in the required flavor  - a win-win for all. 
  • A couple of popular Biscotti variations are almonds, hazelnuts, chocolate, pair them with a good vanilla or almond extract. I am thinking cardamom will lend a wonderful aroma to biscotti too.
  • When you take out the biscotti after the second bake, they do not have to be very crunchy as they turn harder on cooling.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Zucchini crab cakes - no they don't have crab meat in them

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade and a hundred other things and when it gives zucchinis you run to the internet to collect zucchini recipes :-). You see, zucchini is not a native vegetable where I grew up and all I could think of when I saw it was to put it in a standard dal or make a chutney or add them in paddus (think cucumber, bottle gourd, etc) which can get pretty repetitive and boring if you were to finish a seemingly unending supply of fresh zucchinis from the back yard. That is when you learn to appreciate the capabilities of search engines as it brings you pages and pages full of zucchini recipes as soon as you hit the enter button or move your finger on it :-). While I am putting the search results to good use, I will write about the ones we most relished and those that have been added into my standard repertoire.

I found a zucchini crab cake online which is a derivative of the popular recipe from the Chesapeake Bay area which can be either vegetarian or non vegetarian. Typically crab cakes have meat, eggs, mayo and spices and are griddle cooked until crisp on both sides, very similar to Indian tikkis and cutlets. I modified the zucchini crab cake recipe eliminating meat, eggs, mayo, all spice and pretty much everything from the original recipe :-), so what did I preserve? obviously the name (because I liked it), zucchini (that is why I went recipe hunting) and the concept of cooking it on the griddle (very appealing tea time snack). So here you go with a vegetarian reincarnation of zucchini crab cake a.k.a zucchini cutlet.

Take my word when I say these were some of the best tea time snacks I have made/had. Fresh Zucchinis, tender and delicious mixed with a few bites of crunchy onions, spiced with green chilies mixed with bread to give it body and cooked to crispiness on both sides, yumm.. makes your tea taste better.
On another note, I have been going slow on my blog posts and visits to my favorite blogs. Things have been very busy and exciting at home. I will try to post as often as possible until next month but will take pictures and preserve posts for later as I cook. Will catch up normal speed and more chit chat next month.

What do you need to make Zucchini cakes?
3 cups grated zucchini
1 Tblsp finely chopped onion
2 slices of bread
2-3 Tblsp bread crumbs
1-2 green chilies
4-5 sprigs of fresh cilantro
1/2 Tsp salt
2 Tblsp oil
How do you make Zucchini cakes?
  • Wash, remove the ends of zucchini and grate it using the big holes on your grater.
  • Keep the grated zucchini aside for a few minutes, squeeze the water out and take the zucchini gratings into a bowl.
  • Soak the bread slices in water for 30 seconds, squeeze out the water completely and add it to the zucchini.
  • Add the remaining ingredients, mix in. Take a golf ball sized mixture, pat it into a cake (about 1/2 -3/4 inch) and put it on a hot griddle.
  • Drizzle a few drops of oil on top and let it cook on medium heat until the bottom turns a nice brown, flip it over and let it cook on the other side.
  • Enjoy hot zucchini cakes with ketchup, sauce or chutneys.
  • Do not squeeze the zucchini completely, a little moisture makes the cakes succulent without being soggy.
  • Measurements given here are approximate and what worked best for me. You can alter the amount of onions and chilies to suit your taste. I used home made wheat bread and had pretty thick slices. Also, adjust the bread crumbs quantity depending on how watery your zucchini is.
  • You can add boiled potatoes or other vegetables but I would strongly recommend retaining zucchini as the focal point. The tender and delicate flavor of zucchini is something you will fall in love with easily and keeps the cake light and healthy.
  • I grate the zucchini without peeling the green outer skin, this not only splashes pretty specks of green in the cake but is also healthier.
  • Cook these cakes on medium heat slowly allowing the raw zucchini and onion to cook.
  • I have added both soaked & squeezed bread which gives body to the cake and dry bread crumbs which helps make the mixture dry and renders crispiness.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Green tomato chutney - a North Karnataka specialty fit for a hot Summer

While many Indian food blogs have moved on from summer recipes to talking about incessant Monsoon rains, cool temperatures, I am still savoring my share of summer which has been extra kind this year and we are enjoying week after week of sunshine. With that bright energy flourishes my vegetable garden and I take every opportunity to pick a handful of fresh veggies and drop them in my dishes, yumm!. I know, I can get pretty boring to most of you talking about the weather or gloating about my garden, so I thought I will do something else for a change today :-).

I think, the younger bro and I had some of the most wonderful summer vacations and adventures during our elementary school period. I remember us getting packed up and off to some place. If we didn't go anywhere, there was enough to keep us busy in the huge back yard and visiting cousins. We never had a grand parents' village or home to go to, as the grand parents had passed on by the time we were in school. I vaguely remember my paternal grandma who used to carry me around - imagine a plump, heavy baby riding on a frail old lady - that very much describes us :-). Apparently my ajji took me with her on all her visits in the neighborhood. My sister says that is how I got initiated into the world of exaggerating and story telling as I accompanied ajji to her sessions with her friends :-). What is life if you can't find the positive things in it to savor and enjoy? Part of savoring is weaving the details, remembering the teeny tiny pieces that make up the big picture...and the picture is as rich as you see it..So, don't forget to tuck away a few strands of memories into your own personal pensieve so you can retrieve and relive them whenever you want.

Of the few 'village living' experiences from childhood, one that is very close to heart is the lone summer I spent giving company to Akka in the far away, dry, scorching heat of a tiny village in Raichur (a district in North Karnataka). Akka had just graduated medical school and it was part of her rural posting experience. Thinking back, I wonder how anxious my parents should have been to send her off to an unknown place like that, the family took turns to make sure some one older & wiser was with her during her entire tenure. And when the school closed for summer, in addition to nammamma who was already there, the 2 little monkeys were packed and sent off on a bus. There were so many firsts to that trip including riding a bus through the night and was pretty exhilarating to a pre teen. After a very loud and buoyant welcome by many people who had gathered at the bus stand to receive us, we were marched off towards home with major pomp as though we were some heroes returning from a voyage or something :-). Brother & I knew immediately we were in for a different summer experience than any we had had so far.
The mornings always started early with one or more families making bhakris or the jower rotis. If you  haven't witnessed this magical 'pat a roti', go visit one of the Kamat restaurants in Bengaluru that serves jower bhakris. They let customers stand by the kitchen and watch the ladies make the bhakris. A twirl, a twist, a pat repeated in sequence is all it takes to make a perfectly round, no tear bhakri which then goes on the hot griddle sprinkled with water on top and roasted before the hot bhakri with a dollop of butter falls into your plate.

My favorite memories from that summer include the really hot weather made almost unbearable with frequent power cuts rendering the ceiling fans useless, plump rats running all over the huge bunglow making us kids run screaming & screeching louder than the rats, and my amma going down a narrow, winding stairs to fetch potable water. It was different in many ways for us city bred kids but I would love to go back there to experience it all one more time.

Tomatoes hiding behind the leaves
Picked tomatoes in the basket
The village hospital was the only source of medical aid for many communities around and entire families used to come in bullock carts and camp out in the hospital premises until all their health needs from small to big were addressed or they had to go back home to attend to chores :-). So they came prepared to cook and eat for a couple of days. Me & younger bro have tasted many a bits of delicious bhakris and extremely spicy red chili chutney or other chutney with it. Nammamma wouldn't have approved if she knew but for us kids it was a novelty watching the process of patting the bhakris and getting to taste the delicious stuff :-). This was my first exposure to the very different tasting North Karnataka food and over the course of Summer we were treated to some really delicious food. Since climate is dry and drought is not unheard of, you do not find very many green vegetables, but when has lack of ingredients stopped any good cook from dishing out yummy stuff, right? Over the years I have had many friends from the region and have always enjoyed their food. 

While today's post has nothing to do with bhakri or the red chili chutney, it has everything to do with a green, spicy chutney from North Karnataka. One of my friends gave me this chutney last Summer and I enjoyed it every bit and then I got another box full of the chutney a couple of weeks back and she mentioned that her dad who is visiting here made it. It was much more flavorful than the last time and she attributed the difference to the addition of sesame seeds which apparently the authentic chutney has. Thank you A & dad for re introducing me to the forgotten flavor. I was waiting for my tomatoes to reach a decent size before I could pick them without feeling guilty and here I am with a fresh, green tomato chutney North Karnataka style. 

What do you need to make Green Tomato chutney? 
2 large firm green tomatoes (should make 2.5 cups when chopped)
1/4 onion - chopped thin
2 Tblsp raw peanuts
1 Tblsp white sesame seeds
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)
4-5 sprigs cilantro
3 Tsp oil - divided use
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
4 stalks of spring onion (optional)

How do you make Green tomato chutney? 
  • Peel and slice the onion, wash, pat dry and chop the tomatoes. Slit the green chilies, Discard the roots and chop the spring onion finely.
  • Dry roast the peanuts until crisp, keep aside. Alternatively you can use store bought dry roasted peanuts, adjust salt in the recipe depending on whether you use salted or unsalted peanuts.
  • In the same pan, roast sesame seeds for a minute until it slightly changes color and starts to pop. Keep aside. 
  • Add 2 Tsp oil to the same pan, add slit green chilies and let them roast for 20-30 seconds or until blisters form on their skin (make sure you cut or slit the chilies so they don't pop)
  • Add thinly sliced onions and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the chopped green tomatoes, salt and cover and fry for 6-8 minutes on medium heat. Stir occasionally and continue until tomatoes break down and becomes mushy.
  • Add the cleaned cilantro sprigs, give it a mix with the hot mush in the pan, take it out and let cool.
  • Keep aside to cool. 
  • Add a Tsp of oil in the pan, add the finely chopped spring onions and fry for just a minute and half until the pieces crisp up a little. Keep separately until ready to use. 
  • Once cool, take all the ingredients to a blender and blend into a smooth paste without adding water. Start by pulsing and then go to grind mode to be easy on your blender motor. 
  • Take the chutney in a bowl, add the roasted spring onion on top. Serve with dosa(e), idli, rotti or rice.
  • Spring onion as garnish is probably a family favorite as my friend mentioned it when we were discussing the recipe. The chutney tastes great even without it. 
  • Peanuts add body to the chutney but be careful not to go overboard with it or you will end up with peanut chutney :-)
  • I have not added any tamarind in this recipe since the green tomatoes were tart. If you prefer, you can add a small piece of tamarind. 
  • Remember this is a thick chutney scooped up like a dip, do not dilute the consistency unless you prefer it that way. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Stuffed Bell Peppers - Colors of Summer

I grew up calling them Shimla Mirchi or Capsicum or Dappa/DoNNe Menasinakayi. Shimla Mirch alluded to this flavorful pepper from the North India while the local language simply called it like it saw - Dappa/DoNNe in colloquial Kannada refers to big or fat because of its size compared to the regular chilies in India. I first heard it being called pepper/bell pepper/green pepper when I reached the shores this side of the world. Pepper was a word reserved for black pepper back home and in that jet lagged, loopey state of mind, I was only happy to bring home some really green looking, HUGE bell peppers and didn't care what they were labelled. The Bell peppers I get here are atleast twice the size of those in India, much fleshier and are devoid of the familiar Bell pepper smell. So, they got chopped and dutifully went in to make some gojju, flavor enhanced with the spices. Although I like the bell peppers from the super market, I have always longed for a smaller, more flavorful variety. After I started gardening and planted bell peppers in the back yard, I realized that I could get close to that flavor if I picked them fresh, young and small and that is what I do in Summer when my garden starts to produce these beautiful peppers.

Armed with a few small green peppers, I gathered a few ingredients for the stuffing. Have I told you that I spent quite a few years in the Midwest corn belt? We lived in a new and upcoming suburb and the town still had huge farms all around and grew corn and soy beans. During Summer, I drove through a narrow road to work that had tall, almost ripe corn husks kissing my car windows on both sides. If I had rolled down the windows at any time, I could have picked an ear or two of fresh (doesn't get any fresher than this, trust me) corns as I drove by - I didn't do it though. I promptly went to the local farmer's market and brought bushels of corn home. So, corn defines my Summer every year and I do not ever mistreat fresh corn, we love it sauteed, grilled, boiled, roasted, cooked and any other form it can take and I liberally doze my dishes with fresh corn whenever I can. Having been pampered with fresh corn, I go to extremes to avoid frozen or canned corn.

The stuffed bell pepper is a guideline and not a recipe, so here is how it works. You can stuff it with anything that you fancy and like to bite into and is a crowd pleaser. You can serve it with or without the gravy. I made a stuffing with pink hued sweet potatoes which very ably brought in a hint of sweetness, added a handful of bright yellow fresh corn kernels, and threw in a few green beans and bright orange carrots, added a pinch of this and pinch of that masala wise (no secret, it is all given below :-) for you to replicate) and loaded the bell peppers with it, baked in the oven until the peppers turned soft. Drizzled a bit of gravy on top and around and there it was - my colorful, summery stuffed bell pepper, delicious with warm chapatis. What are you waiting for? before Summer is gone and while the fresh vegetables are aplenty, dash into your kitchen and make this stuffed pepper or bharwan mirchi :-), drop in a line to let me know how you liked it.
What do you need to make stuffed Bell pepper?
Stuffing the Bell Pepper: 
6 small, young green peppers (see notes for alternatives)
2 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 cup tender sweet corn
2 medium sized carrots
2 Tblsp finely chopped onion
10-12 green beans
1 Tblsp oil
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/2 Tsp garam masala powder
1/8 Tsp Amchoor/dry mango powder
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tblsp finely chopped cilantro
For the gravy:
1 big onion minced - about 1.5 cups
2 medium tomatoes chopped - about 2 cups
10-12 almonds soaked in watm water for 1 hour
1/2 Tsp cumin
1X1 inch piece ginger
3/4 Tsp garam masala
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/4 Tsp Amchoor/dry mango powder
1/2 Tsp kitchen king masala (optional but recommended)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tblsp plain yogurt
1 Tblsp oil

How do you make stuffed Bell Pepper? 
Stuffed Bell Pepper
  • Wash, peel and grate carrots. Wash, pick ends and chop green beans into tiny pieces.
  • Boil sweet potatoes in water until fork tender, peel the skin and mash it.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add cumin and let it sizzle. 
  • Add the finely chopped onion and fry for a couple of minutes until it turns translucent. 
  • Add the finely chopped green beans, grated carrots and corn kernels. 
  • Add salt, cover and cook for 4-6 minutes until the vegetables soften up. 
  • Add the dry powders, mashed sweet potatoes to the pan, mix it well and give it a taste test and adjust if needed. 
  • Add the chopped cilantro, mix well. 
  • If you are not making the gravy, this stuffing should have all the flavors you want in it. 
  • Cut a thin horizontal circle at the stem end of the bell pepper and remove it along with any seeds and discard. 
  • Take spoonfuls of the stuffing and stuff it into the bell pepper. 
  • Preheat oven to 400F, layer a cookie sheet with aluminium foil or parchment paper, arrange stuffed bell peppers on it. 
  • Brush oil on the outside of the peppers. 
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the bell peppers shrivel up and look cooked. 
  • Switch the oven to broil high, broil for just 2 minutes (keep a close watch so it doesn't burn up) and remove it into a serving dish. This gives a nice crispy top layer.
  • You can serve them as they are or scoop some gravy on top and side of a stuffed bell pepper and relish it. 
Making the Gravy
  • Puree the tomatoes. Soak almonds in water for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. 
  • Peel the outer skin of almonds and run them in your blender with a couple spoons of water to get a thick, smooth paste. 
  • Heat oil in a heavy, wide pan, add cumin and let it sizzle.
  • Add minced onion and cook it for 4-6 minutes on medium heat until it turns a shade darker and loses the raw smell. 
  • Add finely chopped ginger and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the pureed tomatoes and continue to cook until the raw smell is gone - about 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the almond paste and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes. 
  • Add the masala powders, salt, adjust the consistency with water. 
  • Let it come to a good rolling boil. 
  • Add smoothly whisked yogurt, mix it in and switch off. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Stuffing idea 1: Cooked rice sauteed with onions, chopped nuts or cooked beans (garbanzo, whole moong etc) topped with grated cheese
  • Stuffing idea 2: Boiled, mashed potatoes with other cooked vegetables and spices of choice.
  • Stuffing idea 3: Couscous salad fortified with nuts.
  • Stuffing idea 4: Roasted gram flour (besan), chopped cilantro, lemon juice and spices of choice.
  • You can use other colored bell peppers but be aware that they tend to be sweeter than the green variety. You can also use the mild banana peppers. 
  • You can cook the stuffed bell peppers on stove top, Prepare a shallow thick bottom pan with a drizzle of oil, lay out the stuffed bell peppers, cover and cook on low heat turning them around until skin looks evenly cooked all around. Remove the cover and let it brown a little bit towards the end.
  • I sometimes cut the bell pepper in half vertically, remove the seeds and stem and stuff it. This looks more presentable if you are making it for a party and can be served as an appetizer.
  • Choose bell peppers of the same size to allow even cooking, smaller the better.