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Indian Inspired Carrots and Lentil Soup

Carrot and Lentil soup 3

Sometimes, there is nothing better than a simple soup to satisfy the soul. A soup that is easy to make, with familiar flavors but presented differently, that warms you from the inside on a cold, cold day.

Weekends are mostly lazy time. There are days when I wake up with a whole elaborate meal planned out in my head all dreamed up over the course of my restless sleep, muttering about ingredients and sauces and stuff. And, more often, I wake up and open the refrigerator hoping there is something that can be whipped up into something else without a whole lot of effort.

So, when I saw the bag of sweet carrots and pretty much nothing else in the fridge, I stared at it for a while. The idea of heading to the grocery for more stuff didn't appeal. It was one of those muggy mornings and even around noon I was still too groggy (we live such happening Friday nights, you see... slothing in front of the tube and mindlessly watching re-runs of Grey's Anatomy.. very exciting stuff!).

Carrot and Lentil soup-1

Anyway , for as long as I remember, I have not like cooked carrots. I just don't like the texture. So, well, finally, after what seemed like eternity (now that I think back.. at that time.. it seemed much more spontaneous..), it struck me that I could make soup with perhaps something else to add more body to it. More foraging and hazy thinking later, I had an 'Aha' moment. Why not make a dal type soup with carrots. Perfect! It's simple to make. I love dal flavors and it's different without being shatteringly jolting...

So, there it was.. a simple soup with red lentils and pureed sweet carrots with a touch of garam masala for spice and extra warmth. Poured over day old crusty bread and topped with Parmesan it was a fabulously easy lunch and so satisfying too!

Carrot and Lentil Soup

1/2 cup red lentils, washed and drained
1 cup sweet carrots
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 cup water
fresh grated parmesan, as needed
day-old baguette (optional)
salt and pepper as needed
olive oil for garnish

Par boil the carrots in a pot. Drain the carrots and reserve the cooking liquid. Cook the lentils in the carrot water with the turmeric until completely cooked.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil. Add the cumin and garam masala and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in the carrots and lightly toss to coat with the spices. Once the dal is cooked, add it to the mixture. Cook for 5 more minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Puree the mixture to the consistency you like. Add the puree back to the pot along with the water and bring to a boil. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Season to taste.

To serve, place a couple of pieces of day old crusty bread at the bottom of the bowl. Pour the hot soup over the bread. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and garnish with sliced raw carrots and parmesan.

Ratatouille Mille Feuille

Ratatouille I

One of my all time favorite movies, I must say, is Ratatouille. Well, the fact that the plot is built around food and the theme of "Anybody can Cook!" is in itself appealing to the foodie me. But above and beyond that, it even managed to portray furry Emile and his kind as lovable fur balls and something to be coddled rather than the scary creatures that they really are! :)

In fact, I had not heard of the French country classic until this movie and as soon I saw it (with much laughter and warm fuzzy feeling), we went hunting for French bistros that served the dish. Well, in NYC, you are apt to bump into every style of French cuisine; from rustic to haute couture!

So, we ended up in this little cafe that we now simply, simply love - Cafe Henry in the Village. They serve the rustic version (like the one Ego had in this childhood) wrapped in crepes with or without meat. It's delicious and satisfying! However, I am yet to find a place that serves the fancy version that Emile executed.

Ratatouille single portion

So, I decided to make it myself and in the process, debut my new Le Creuset baking pan. I have the one in red one; love it! It's just fab! I just made a simple version, based on what I saw in the movie. But, try as I might, I could not plate it as beautifully as he did.. LOL.. But hey, it looked gorgeous in the pan! :))

Ratatouille Mille Feuille
(serves 3 for appetizer-ish portions)

1 zucchini
1 Italian eggplant (the long, thinner variety)
1 tomato
1 medium sized russet potato
1 cup home made tomato/marinara sauce (you can use the
recipe here skipping the bacon)
2 T olive oil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

Evenly spread the tomato sauce as a base at the bottom of a 8 inch oval baking pan. Using a mandolin (careful!) thinly slice all the vegetables. In my experience, it is easier to cut the soft fleshed veggies, like egg plant and tomato, with a knife rather than a mandolin.

Arrange the veggies, in an overlapping fashion, alternating all the vegetables, around the circumference of the pan. Fill the entire dish with the overlapped pieces.

Brush the top with the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Cover the pan with foil. Bake at 350F for 30-35 minutes, until the zucchini is translucent. Let rest for five minutes, unwrap and serve with sauce.

Oil tarts are in!

Yes, you read it right! Not butter.... oil. When I first came across the recipe for a tart shell with oil instead of butter on Passionate about baking, I was instantly inspired to make it! I have long wondered if oil could create that wonderful flakiness that is most loved about a butter crust. After all, the Indian paratha has a lovely flaky texture and is made with oil or ghee. So, armed with a recipe to help me out with the measures, I was ready to test my hypothesis .

Recently, a friend of ours introduced us to a small farmers' market in midtown Manhattan (52nd street between 8th and 9th avenues). Bang in the center of prime real estate, it carried fresh produce at admirably reasonable prices. When I found a butternut squash that was perfectly sized for two, I was sold!

As soon as I saw the squash, I decided to make roasted butternut squash tart with the new healthy version for the crust. That crust experiment unfortunately, did not go as well as I expected. As I followed the recipe, I felt that the dough was a bit dry and tough and it stayed that way after being baked as well. The tart filling was moist but the crust was way too hard. But, I did not give up. I decided to give the oil tart another chance, this time, with some modifications.

For take #2, I decided to make rosemary tart with a layered filling of ricotta, marinara and zucchini, like a lasagna. I made the crust with minced fresh rosemary. I also upped the amount of water and substituted half the olive oil with canola oil. The result was much better than the previous time.

The crust was soft, supple, light yet flavorful. But, it did not turn out flaky! A butter crust definitely has a better texture and arguably a richer flavor. However, I liked the oil crust quite a bit. It is a pretty good, much healthier version, which, is a whole lot easier to work with (especially with no constraint to work quickly to prevent the butter from melting!).

Oil Tart Crust
adapted from

1-3/4 cup spelt wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp minced rosemary
1/2 cup + 2T ice cold water (I did this more on a add as you go basis. So it could be a bit more or less)
1/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup canola oil
2 tsp oil

Sift together flour, salt, pepper and rosemary. Add the oil and mix it in with a fork. Add water slowly, mixing it in and kneading the dough until it comes together into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the out into a circle large enough to fit your tart pan. Transfer the dough carefully into the prepared pan and line it without stretching. Trim off the excess dough with the rolling pin. Refrigerate for atleast 30 minutes.

Blind bake the crust in oven preheated to 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and continue baking for five more minutes. Dial down the oven to 350 degrees.

Fill the tart with filling of choice (suggested recipes below). Return to oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the tart is fully cooked. If using mozzarella on top, reserve the cheese until the last 7 minutes, then sprinkle over and cook until the cheese is melted.

Remove the tart from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the top with parmesan, chives or other garnish and serve.

Roasted Butternut Squash Tart

1 oil tart crust blind baked
1-1/4 cup homemade (or store bought) marinara sauce
1 cup roasted butternut squash dices
3/4 cup grated fresh mozzarella cheese
2 tsp chopped chives or scallions for garnish

Spread half the marinara sauce at the bottom of the tart shell. Top the layer with the roasted butternut squash pieces and then a half cup of grated mozzarella. Spread another layer of marinara sauce.

Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the tart in the last 7 minutes and finish baking. Garnish with chives/scallions and serve.

Zucchini Lasagna Tart
adapted from
101 cookbooks

1 oil tart baked as above
1 medium zucchini thinly sliced
1-1/4 cups marinara sauce
1-1/4 cups ricotta cheese
1 T grated parmesan cheese

Spread half the ricotta cheese on the bottom of the tart. Then, spread a third of the sauce over it. Line the zucchini slices around the tart in an overlapping fashion.

Repeat the cheese, sauce and zucchini layers. Top of with the remaining sauce and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until tart is fully cooked.

Let tart rest for 5 minutes, garnish with grated parmesan and serve.

Serving up nostalgia in a cup - Curried Egg Pastries

Growing up in India, one of my favorite snacks was puffs. The flaky pastry pockets with a spicy filling of vegetables, egg or chicken were the ultimate after-school/college comfort snacks. They are like the turnovers you get here in US, only savory. My mom would get them from my favorite bakery and it would be waiting, warm and delicious, along with my evening tea. Incidentally, it was also my grandad's favorite snack and tussle we did for the last one! LOL

When I first came across frozen puff pastry sheets at the grocery store, the first thing that popped into my head was "Puffs for tea time, Yipee!!". I think I made them with mushroom filling that time. Oh! were they satisfying?! Ever since, I have made many savory and sweet versions of them. By the way, you can fill them with berry jam and serve warm with a big scoop of ice cream and toasted nuts for a scrumptious dessert!

And, ofcourse, they make perfect finger food at parties. So, that is exactly what I did for a recent house party we hosted. I deconstructed the concept of the puff to make delicate pastry cups filled with curried egg and topped with a dollop of sour cream for a bit of fresh flavor. You can easily substitute the eggs with shredded cooked chicken or shrimps.

Its is just a fancy way of serving up the same childhood flavors that we grew up with and reliving those carefree memories .... :)

Curried Egg Cups
(makes 12)

1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
3 eggs, hard boiled
1 medium onion, julienned
2 tomatoes, diced fine
1 T tomato paste
4 Indian green chillies or 1 jalapeno, diced fine
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T spicy salsa
12 tsp sour cream
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
a bit of coriander/parsley for garnish
salt to taste
2 T oil
1 muffin pan

Saute the onions in oil until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a couple of minutes more. Add the turmeric, cumin, cayenne and season with salt as needed. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and 2 T of water and cook till fully done and the sauce is thick. Rough chop and toss in the eggs into the onion-tomato mixture and cook for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the over to 400 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to an approximate 9" x 12" size. Make 12 square pieces of the pastry. Line each muffin cup with a pastry and arrange so as to form a cup inside. Spoon in egg mixture into each cup.

Place the pan in oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until the sides are puffed and golden. Let the pastries cool for a few minutes. Top each cup with a teaspoon of sour cream and garnished with a spring of coriander/parsley.

Arrange on a decorative serving platter.

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