Healthy, Low-Fat and Vegan Broccoli Almond Soup

If you live in India, there are very few times you truly enjoy the warmth that a rich, hearty soup provides. Fortunately, we are having some wonderfully chilly weather here in Baroda and a soup was just what we needed. Dinners are best served outdoors and piping hot! I love winter so much and wish it’s a little longer this time. I can then think of going about my herb garden.

Broccoli was one of those things I used to detest as a kid. The green color in any food triggers the response that its going to be bitter or bland and not really that yummy. I am ashamed to admit, I still carry some of those feelings! For that reason, I rarely enjoy any green soups and go straight for a tomato soup or a mushroom soup. But, the other day, I had some broccoli in my fridge and wanted to do something with it. I wanted something that wouldn’t taste very broccoli-like (Go figure!). I decided to try to make a broccoli-almond soup that seems to be on every menu in India. When I Googled it, the recipes all contained cream or a roux base (butter and flour base) which just didn’t sound healthy and just didn’t appeal to me. After a lot of searching, I found a recipe that worked perfectly for me! With a few changes, I made this into a healthy, low-fat, vegan soup. It is very lightly flavored and is very easy to make! Even the most inexperienced cannot fail at this!

Broccoli-Almond Soup

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup broccoli florets

1 small onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

6-8 almonds

5 cups vegetable stock (Make your own!)

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Method

  • Heat the oil in a non-stick pot on a medium-low flame. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and the onions.
  • Fry until fragrant and the onions have become translucent, about 6 minutes.
  • Next, add the almonds into the oil and stir them around for 30 seconds.
  • Finally add the broccoli florets and stir them with the oil for about one and a half minutes or until they take on a beautiful green shade.
  • Add the 5 cups of vegetable stock to the broccoli mix and cover the pot with the lid. Allow it to come to a boil and leave on a medium-low flame for 8-10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender.
  • Turn the flame off and allow the mix to cool.
  • Once cooled, add the mix, in batches, in a blender and blend until smooth
  • Return the smooth mixture back to the heat. Season with salt and plenty of fresh pepper.
  • Once the soup has heated, ladle into bowls and serve.

Note: If the soup is too thick for your liking, simply add some more vegetable stock. If you don’t seem to have more vegetable stock on hand, heat 1 cup of water and add 1/2 tsp of mixed herbs like dried garlic powder, rosemary, parsley, mint, oregano or Italian Seasoning. Allow the water to come to a boil and turn the flame off. Cover with a lid and let it sit for about 5 minutes for the herbs to flavor the water. Drain the water and use the flavored water to thin the soup out.

Happy Cooking everyone!

 

 

Pea and Mint Soup – The Perfect Winter Soup

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Winters are the only times I actually enjoy eating soup. I think it is very hot through the rest of the year to able to actually enjoy soup. I had this combination a pea and mint soup for the first time at The Westin, Pune where I was just a tad hungry and a soup seemed like the perfect option. It was a rich, creamy soup and I loved the combination and of mint and peas. Since neither my mom nor I enjoy soup that much, I never looked up the recipe.

Fast forward a few months and winter is finally here! The season for hot soups, chocolate and cocoa! I was going to make whole wheat  pizzas for dinner and needed an accompaniment. I could either make a salad or a soup. I decided to go with soup and remembered the pea and mint soup I had. I was lazy. I didn’t really want to look through the recipe books in hand so I decided to Google for the recipe. A lot of the recipes I went through had cream or butter or sour cream and I really wanted something healthy and simple since the cheese on the pizza was going to make me feel guilty enough. I found this recipe which seemed just perfect for me! I decided to omit the sour cream to have a vegan and super healthy soup. In India, we do not get pre packaged vegetable stock and I absolutely refuse to use the Maggi stock cubes considering how much sodium they have! Vegetable stock makes the process a little longer but its worth it.

Pea and Mint Soup

Adapted from here 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock (recipe below)
1/3rd cup mint leaves
400 grams frozen peas or fresh peas
salt and pepper to taste
Method

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Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
Next, add the chopped onions and cook until they turn transparent and soft, about 6 minutes on a medium low heat. We do not want to caramelize the onions and just want to reduce their bite.
Once the onions are cooked, add 4 cups of the vegetable stock to the onion-garlic mix and allow the stock to come a boil.
As soon as the stock comes to a rolling boil, add the frozen or fresh peas and the mint and cook for 8 minutes for frozen peas and about 5 minutes for fresh peas. Cook until the peas are done.
Allow the mix to cool before putting in the blender in small batches.
After you have reached a smooth consistency of the pea-mint mixture, put it back on the stove and allow to warm up. At this stage, season it with salt and pepper.
Ladle into soup bowls and you are ready to serve this warm, thick winter soup!
Note:
This soup is quite thick and if you would like it thinner, add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock more.
Add the salt and pepper only once you have blended the soup to avoid over salting.

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Vegetable Stock

For 5 cups
Ingredients:
6 1/2 cups of water
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and cut into half
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tomatoes, cut into thick chunks
1 piece of carrot
7-8 French Beans
1/2 teaspoon mixed  herbs  like oregano, rosemary, thyme, mint
a pinch of salt
Method:
Add the 6 cups of water in a large saucepan and allow to simmer.
Once the water has begun to simmer, add all the vegetables in the water, with a pinch of salt and the herbs, and allow to boil for at least 30 minutes.
Once the stock has boiled and cooled, drain the vegetables and use the liquid in soups and gravies.
You can also add other vegetables that you may have in hand like celery, capsicum, potatoes and add whatever herbs you enjoy.
This is a very basic stock recipe and you can make it with a lot of variations. Mix and match and find the stock recipe that works best for you!

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Perfect soup to share with people and it might seem like it’s very difficult to make when you taste it but it could not be simpler!

Happy cooking!

My absolute favorite: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

We all have those one absolute favorite dessert that we eat even when we know we shouldn’t. I don’t think I can think of a combination more addictive and tastier than chocolate and peanut butter. Oh wait! Add some Nutella to it and it will drive me crazy!

I love cookies. I love chocolate. And I love peanut butter. What happens when you combine all of them? You get the most amazing, the most sinful and the most addictive things of all! I came across this recipe in 2010. We were young kids excited to be baking and wanted to make something sweet. All our previous attempts had resulted in something burnt or something spread out or something half-baked. But we weren’t disheartened. We were happy to scrape off the burnt bits and eat whatever little is edible or scoop it all up with a spoon. It was another ‘baking day’ and we found a jar of peanut butter in the fridge. Now, I LOOOVEE peanut butter! Give me a jar and some jelly and Nutella and I’ll be the happiest person on this planet. Anyway, we decided to try making these cookies and they turned out so good we gobbled up the first batch just out of the oven. Of course we had to make more and were more patient the second time around. From then on, when we bake these cookies, we always double the recipe and it has never lasted more than 48 hours.
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Fast-forward to a couple of years later, I still love the simplicity of this recipe and they are my comfort cookies. I stopped making them with all-purpose flour and make them now with whole-wheat flour. The texture does change, they aren’t as chewy, but I’m willing to make that little bit of a compromise to eat a little healthier. The ingredients are easy to stock and I began using brown sugar in baking only after discovering this recipe. I sometimes add a little Nutella and cut back a little bit on the peanut butter for an extra flavor kick. I also tend to sometimes add creamy peanut butter and other times, add chunky peanut butter. Either ways, they taste good.
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These are super rich cookies and very indulgent so they’re excellent as a treat. I would bake these and take them as a gift for someone who loves peanut butter. I can’t praise this cookie recipe enough and I don’t want to experiment with it at all! If you do try making it, please let me know what you think!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Adapted from a recipe by Canary Girl

Ingredients:
• ½ cup of butter (Use unsalted to control the saltiness in the cookies)
• ½ cup sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• ¾ cup Peanut Butter (creamy gives a better texture)
• 1 cup flour (I used whole-wheat)
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• a pinch on salt
• 1 cup chocolate chunks
Method:
• Pre-heat oven t o 375 Fahrenheit or 175 Celsius. Line a cookie sheet with grease-proof paper and set aside
• Cream the butter and both the sugars until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes, with an electric beater if possible. Make sure the butter is at room temperature to speed up the process.
• Add the egg and vanilla and beat them in the mixture.
• Using a wooden spoon beat in the peanut butter until well incorporated in the butter-sugar mixture.
• Next, add the flour, salt, baking powder and stir to combine.
• Add the chocolate chunks and mix them in the dough.
• Drop spoonfuls of the dough on to the cookie sheet, leaving some space between each cookie because they will spread.
• Bake for 12 minutes or until slightly golden.
• Remove them from the oven and allow them to rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

These taste best when they’re warm with a glass of cold milk on the side. Happy baking everyone!
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Chocolate Covered Oreos

With some White chocolate drizzled over the oreos to look pretty!

Holiday seasons are the best for two reasons:

  1. You get to meet your family and friends
  2. You get to make/eat ridiculously yummy things!

Diwali is one of the biggest festivals for Hindus. On this day, it is said, the Lord Rama returned back to Ayodhya from his 14-year exile in the forest. To celebrate his return, the people of Ayodhya lit the entire city with lamps. To this day, the tradition of lighting house with oil lamps or diyas continues. It is one of the most beautiful sights in any city. There are so many lights and lamps and colors all around. All the shops are lit up, houses are beautifully decorated and there is a festive spirit in the air. Firecrackers burst every few seconds and in some cities, it is almost impossible to carry out a conversation because the noise of the firecrackers refuses to let you! Nevertheless, this is the time when family and close friends surround everyone. It is the perfect season to get dressed up – its not too hot nor is it too cold. I love wearing my brightest colored Indian wear and accessorizing with big earrings.

This is also the time when people visit each other and give each other gifts and wishes to celebrate the New Year. Sending something sweet – either Indian sweets, chocolates, dry fruits along with candles or diyas is the norm. I decided to make some chocolate covered Oreos to send across to some friends.

This recipe is easy and perfect to make with children. There is very little ‘cooking’ involved and you can change the basic recipe to suit your tastes. It hardly took me 30 minutes from start to finish these. After two hours in the fridge, these were ready to be eaten! I love the combination of peppermint and chocolate so I added some peppermint flavoring to the chocolate. I loved the flavors and will probably experiment with a few more flavorings soon! These are perfect to gift for any season, including Christmas.

All ready to spread the joy!

 Chocolate Covered Oreos 

(Adapted from a recipe from The Sunday Paper)

Ingredients:
  • 12 oz (340 grams) of semi-sweet chocolate
  • A package of biscuits (This much chocolate can coat about 40 cookies)
  • 1 tablespoon of Vegetable shortening
  • 50 grams of white chocolate chips, to drizzle on the finished biscuits
Method:
  • Mix the chocolate and 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening and set over a double broiler.
  • Allow the entire chocolate to melt evenly.
  • In the meanwhile, prep a baking pan or cookie sheet with Aluminium foil or parchment paper
  • Remove the chocolate from the heat. Drop a cookie into the chocolate mixture and turn it in the chocolate using a fork.
  • Once the cookie is covered in chocolate, lift it from the mixture using a fork and tap it against the side of the bowl to get rid of excess chocolate.
  • Place the cookie on the prepared sheet.
  • Repeat for all other cookies.

Just out of the bowl – chocolate covered Oreos

  • Once the cookies are all covered in chocolate, refrigerate them for about 10 minutes.
  • While the chocolate-covered cookies are setting, melt some white chocolate with 1/2 teaspoon of shortening, if desired.
  • Pull the chocolate covered cookies out of the fridge. Using a cone or a fork, drizzle the white chocolate over the cookies and put the trays back in the fridge.

With some White chocolate drizzled over the oreos to look pretty!

  • The cookies should be set in about an hour in the fridge!

I never knew the difference between extract, essence and flavorings till I made this recipe.

  1. Extract: Real spices (like vanilla, chocolate) are infused in alcohol or a liquid base.
  2. Essence: Completely artificially created flavors meant to imitate extract.
  3. Flavoring: Spices infused in vegetable oils, made from natural or artificial substances. These are free from alcohol or water hence, perfect to use with melted chocolate.

If you want to know more about the difference between the three I recommend reading this article.

I had a great time making these. I tried most with peppermint flavoring and I am waiting to get my hands on some more flavorings so I can experiment making these with all kinds of flavors!

The chocolate covered oreos lightly drizzled with white chocolate.

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful time making these with the family and sharing them with the ones you love!

Happy No-baking!

 

Quick White Cheese Sauce

One of the most well-traveled and well-known dishes is definitely pasta. Its versatility and simplicity has made it popular in almost all countries. Pizzas and pastas have become something that you know you can always depend on. They can be modified to your taste and are always fresh. I love how pasta is interpreted in so many ways. Every city I go to, it has a different taste. In the US, pasta is a rich, creamy dish that is almost like a staple in every household. The pasta is usually cooked al-dente and the sauces have beautiful flavors coming through it. In the UK, the flavors are lighter and I often feel the need to add a dash of pepper on the table and as most Indians need, the spice element. In India, depending on the city and the restaurant, you have so much variety. In the Little Italy chain of restaurants across India, you have somewhat authentic pasta. After trying some other Italian restaurants, I have come to realize that the food served in their restaurants definitely have a strong Indian influence.  Dario’s in Pune makes more authentic Italian food with fresh ingredients. It has definitely become my favorite place if I am ever craving some nice pasta! I may have been to the wrong restaurant but in Ahmedabad, India, their understanding of pasta is a dish filled with cheese. Honestly, not my favorite kind of meal!

 

Making a white cheese sauce was one of the first recipes I ever adapted and learnt. I used to make a giant mess while making a white sauce from flour and butter and milk. It would always be lumpy or burnt. What trick I did learn later was to take the melted butter and flour mixture off the heat and gradually add milk. I started whisking the milk in instead of trying to mix it in with a wooden spoon. I also learnt that if it does lump up, take a hand beater to it or put it in a blender, after its cooled, to get rid of the lumps.

 

This white-cheese sauce is a take on a traditional Alfredo sauce, though it is not at all technically like an Alfredo sauce. I am confident this sauce has a lower fat content but probably the same calories as an Alfredo. This sauce requires 2 separate pans for the two sauces.

 

Sauce 1: The basic white sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil

3 tablespoons whole wheat flour

1 – 1.5 cups milk

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

 

Method:

  • Heat the butter or oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Once hot, add the whole-wheat flour and stir constantly using a wooden spoon for about 1 minute.
  • Once the flour has browned slightly, take the pan off the heat and pour 1 cup of the milk in. Whisk briskly to make sure there are no lumps. If the mixture seems to thick, slowly add the rest of the milk, while whisking constantly.
  • Return the mixture to the heat. Allow it to boil for 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly.
  • Add the crushed garlic, salt and pepper and reduce the flame to low. Allow it to cook for another 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to cool slightly.

 

Sauce 2: Cheese-Herb Sauce

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons plain cheese spread
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried chilly flakes
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon pepper powder
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

 

Method:

  • Heat the oil in a non-stick pan on a medium flame. Add all the dried herbs and pepper and allow the oil to become flavorsome for just under a minute.
  • Reduce the flame to low. Add the cheese spread and allow it to melt. Be sure to constantly stir it and mix all the herbs in the cheese.
  • Once the cheese has melted, add all the milk and stir. Make sure there are no lumps.

 

Proceed:

  • Once the 2nd mixture is ready, add the white sauce mix to the cheese-herb sauce and mix well.
  • Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

 

Your quick sauce is ready! Toss your favorite pasta in this mix!

 

I spice it up by adding some tobacco or peri-peri sauce once it’s cooked. Alternately, substitute the ½ cup of milk in the cheese-herb sauce with ½ cup of white wine to give a different flavor. Feel free to add more herbs or change the herbs based on your taste!

 

Some variations:

  • Add some corn to this mixture and allow it to thicken a little more and fill in canapés.
  • Use only the cheese-herb sauce and throw in some finely chopped button mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to sweat and then for the mixture to thicken. Once thick, spread over toast and you have mushrooms on toast ready!
  • I use the cheese-herb sauce in risotto recipes as well.

Happy cooking!