Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dinner Dance

You may graduate from college in four years, but graduating from the college lifestyle can take longer. I have trouble getting up for those early meetings. I am forever running 10 minutes late for everything. Dinner is something I get in the stomach, not necessarily on the table. While I am growing out of these habits slowly and steadily, there are crazy days that I absolutely need to conjure dinner in less than 10 minutes. Most often this is because I am absolutely dying of hunger at the end of the day. I call this my weekday dinner dance. Today being an exemplary day of swooning to the rumblings beats of hunger, I turned the stove on, rummaged for my favorite pan, drizzled a few drops of oil it and placed the pan on the stove. Then I tapped off my shoes and washed my hands. From the freezer, I picked out some veggies – chopped mixed peppers, broccoli or cauliflower, threw in a handful of them in the hot pan added some seasoning. As the veggies rocked and rolled on the stove, I morphed into my pyjamas and washed up. I ran a knife through whatever combination of fresh aromatics I had on hand – onions, garlic, cilantro, and chili peppers and dropped them into the party. Thinly sliced tofu and aimed them into to the pan with seasonings of salt and pepper. The tofu and vegetables browned as I checked out the day’s mail and separated the bills from the junk. Two huge fistfuls of dry thin rice noodles went to the pan, with a cup of water. Now I did some on the spot walking as I patiently let the noodles cook up and the water get absorbed or evaporated. Noodles were transferred to a plastic container and eaten right out of the container. The leftovers were left over in the same container for the next meal which may be the next day’s lunch.

Such is the joy of cooking that satisfies your basic human needs.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Granola bars - bhel puri ishtyle

I have become a breakfast person. I still have difficulty waking up in time for breakfast, but I can have breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and quick cooking oats fan. I love my dosas, idlis and vada sambars. If I were to skip a meal before bed, I would dream about the white fleshy doughy morsels of idlis soaked in a spicy mixture. True to my Indian born thirst for the complex spices, I will run a marathon (heck, a triathlon) if the reward was a bellyful supply of chaat – pani puri, bhel puri, pav bhaji and the likes.

And I like crunchy cereal and granola bars. My only peeve is that most American breakfast foods (whatever is vegetarian-izable) is laden with sugar and cannot be enjoyed if you have a spice tooth. Why do granola bars have to be based on honey and sugar syrups. The three primary seasonings in our culinary world are salt, pepper and chili powder – why can’t we have a granola bar or a health bar that actually uses one of them? I decided to break the trends and create the spicy granola bar. The ultimate go-to snack chaat bar. I would base it off the classic Indian street food – bhel puri.

The main challenge involved in steering the sweetness out of the bar – find a sticky substance powerful enough to bind the ingredients together and not fall apart. Bhel puri is like a salad or crumbly granola of sorts made of puffed rice, fried dough chips (papdi – vernacularly translated), chopped onions, tomatoes, spices with a dressing of tangy, sweet, spicy chutneys. Now puffed rice would readily get soggy at the first hint of moisture and that would make for bhel that tastes like cotton. And making the bhel-puri bar healthy would not be a bad idea.

So off I went to the neighborhood Whole foods and spent a leisurely evening of food label reading. I came back with the following

Crispy Brown Rice Cereal (substitute for the rice puffs)

Old fashioned rolled oats (it is a granola bar of course)

Sliced almonds (initial thought was peanuts, but figured almonds are healthier)

Baked pita chips (substitute for the papdis)

Dates (sticky substance + sweet taste)

Tamarind paste (sticky substance + sour taste)

Mixed dry fruit – cranberries and apricots

My game plan was this – just like a traditional granola bar, I would toast the oats and nuts while I create the binding sticky substance. I contemplated using molasses as the sticky agent. But that would be sweet all over again. I decided on using egg replacer as a thickening agent and if ever it shows properties similar to the egg, when baked it should coagulate and bind its neighboring particles together. If all else fails, I may not end up with a bar – it may just be a crunchy granola mixture. But, it shall be spicy and it shall be healthy.

1 cup sliced almonds

1.5 cups old fashioned rolled oats

Spread on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven at 300F for 10 mins. Allow to cool

2 cups brown rice crisps cereal

1 cup baked pita chips broken into bits

Mix together with the toasted ingredients and set aside

2 tbspoon tamarind paste

5 dates (pitted)

A handful of coriander leaves

A few curry leaves

Salt (about half tsp)

Any hot sauce (for desired spice level)

.5 tsp Cumin seeds

Using as little water as possible blend into a nice sticky paste.

2.5 tsp Ener-G egg replacer

1 tbspoon water

Dissolve the egg replacer with water and combine into the sticky paste.

Now in a convenient mixing bowl combine your dry ingredients with the sticky ingredients

Grease a baking dish slightly and transfer your mixed granola. Press down firmly to allow all ingredients to acquire stickage.

Bake at 300F for 10 minutes or till nice and crunchy

Allow to cool overnight and then cut into bars.

I still need to let the bars cool overnight. I may not have achieved the desired level of stickiness – but the bars are still quite warm to touch. I did hazard a taste and not bad ladies and gents, it may be a worthwhile experiment. I forgot to include the dried fruit in the bars – but I can eat those while I wait for the bars to cool.

Whats the verdict? not bad for experiment #1. I still have not dropped the idea completely.

If folks out there want to try making the traditional granola bars, look know further than the Alton Brown recipe.