Thursday, October 6, 2011

Palak Paneer - Spinach with Tofu or Paneer Cheese

I'm a borderline addict to hot and spicy food.  In fact, I may have recently crossed the line when I was asked to verify if I truly meant 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper in a recipe.  Needles to say, Thai and Indian food top my list of spicy favorites.  My love of spice began at an early age when my dad introduced my sister and I to an Egyptian hot chili pepper sauce "Shatta" and Indian curried picked Mango "Anba".  Both sauce/chutney could be enjoyed on sandwiches, mixed in with rice to give that extra punch without altering the true essence of dish.  A condiment, sauce, chutney should be a compliment to the flavors and not overpowering.
Indian food has become something of an obsession over the years.  In my early 20s, I had a flavor epiphany when I had my first vegetarian Indian meal. The combinations of heat, smokiness, tang and cream made for the most light and filling meal.  My first love was, Mattar Paneer* - lightly sauteed onions and peas in a creamy red sauce that was dotted with cubes of paneer*.  Another favorite is Channa Masala, and of course, Palak Paneer.  Typically, I'm a carnivore, but when it comes to vegetarian Indian dishes I don't miss the meat all.  In fact, I eat mostly vegetarian meals when I'm trying to drop some pounds.  Delicious meals don't have to be bland and boring folks.  You just have to know the spices and flavors you enjoy.

Palak Paneer is a dish that I often prepare for many of my health conscious clients.  They often ask if the meal was truly healthy!  This recipe lends itself to being a vegan version by using tofu in place of paneer*, soy or almond milk in place of cream.  Trying to cut a few calories?  Then use tofu and fat free half and half or yogurt.  Use what you have in your fridg or pantry.
A few things before we get started on with this recipe.  *Paneer is an acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese or curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with lemon juice or other food acid.  This cheese can be found at Dekalb Market, Patel Brothers, and some health food stores (Harry's, Whole Foods, etc.).  If you live in the Kennesaw/Marietta Suvidah is a well stocked Indo-Pak Grocer.  Or you can make your own paneer please check out this video.
If your local, and would like to accompany me the next time I visit Suvidah then email me and we can set up a time - you  may have to buy me ice cream while we are there.
Palak Paneer - great as a side or main dish
serves 4/6


1 10 oz package of chopped frozen spinach or 2 (5 ounce) bags baby spinach
8 oz. of paneer or 1 package of extra firm tofu - drained 
2 medium tomatoes pureed or 8 oz tomato sauce
1 small onion chopped (not traditional, but I find that it adds depth to the flavors)
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 teaspoon coriander powder (dhania)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed (jeera)
Pinch of asafetida (hing) - optional
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil - canola, vegetable, peanut
1/4 cup heavy cream, yogurt, sour cream, fat free half and half, soy milk, etc.-- you get the picture 

If using frozen spinach, thaw, drain, and puree in a food processor for a minute so the spinach has a creamy texture but without becoming pasty. On occasion, I use chopped frozen spinach and skip this step completely if I don't have time.
If you use fresh spinach then cut spinach into shreds and cook in 3 tablespoons water until tender; remove from heat and process in a food processor or blender.
In a small bowl mix the turmeric, chili powder, paprika, garam masala and tomato puree and set aside.
Cube the paneer or tofu into 1/4 inch pieces and saute them on medium high heat just for few minutes so paneer become very light gold in color, take paneer out on paper towel so extra oil can be absorbed.  Or you can cut them into thirds, fry, then cube which is my preferred method because it's easier than flipping individual pieces of tofu and paneer.

Drain all but one tablespoon of oil.  Return pan to heat, test the temperature by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if it cracks or pops immediately then the oil is ready.  Add the rest of the cumin seeds, hing, onion, ginger and garlic.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add tomato mixture, cover, and cook until its reduced by half about 20-30 minutes.
Add spinach and salt - cook for 10 minutes.  Mix in cream or yougurt and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Gently fold in the paneer or tofu cubes and cook for 2 minutes.
Serve with toasted naan bread or rice.

Cooks Note: if you would like a hotter version add another 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne to kick up your dish.  Good time to adjust salt.  - Do this prior to adding the paneer or tofu.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Favorite Cardamom Ice Cream

Here is my favorite recipe for cardamom ice cream.  This recipe is adapted from Jill Norman's "Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference.

2 cups 2% milk or light cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6-8 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed or cardamom seeds
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (use less sugar if you don't enjoy sweet ice cream)
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon rose or orange blossom water (optional)

Put the milk, or light cream, vanilla bean and crushed cardamom pods into a heavy pan and bring slowly to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let infuse for 20 minutes. Take out the vanilla bean and scape the seeds into the liquid. Remove the crushed green cardamom pods.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Gently reheat the milk or cream and beat a little of it into the egg yolks. Pour the egg mixture into the cream and return the pan to a low heat. Stir until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; it will take several minutes. Do not let it boil, or you'll get pieces of scrambled egg.
Remove the pan from the heat and continue to stir until it has almost cooled. Whip the whipping cream lightly and fold it into the custard. Add the 1/8 teaspoon of ground cardamom and rose water (if using). Freeze in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer's instructions.

Helpful Hints
Be careful not to add too much cardamom to the recipe. Cardamom is a very strong flavor, and too much of it can cause a soapy taste.

Serve with toasted pistachios or toasted coconut.

Short Cuts

If you are short on time then you can purchase a good quality vanilla ice cream.  Allow to soften then fold in 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, pistachios/coconut.  Return to freezer for 5-10 minutes.  Then serve and enjoy :)

Middle Eastern Spice Blends - Baharat

Baharat is a Middle Eastern spice mix used in many countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, Baharat simply means "spices" in Arabic. This blend is often used to season lamb but is an all-purpose flavour enhancer useful for fish, chicken, beef, tomato sauces and soups. It’s a great addition to lentil dishes, pilafs and can even perk up plain old meatloaf. It can be useful as a rub for virtually anything on the barbeque. A traditional baharat mixture is used similarly to the way Indians use garam masala and may be used as a final flavour booster after a meal has been prepared. It is also commonly added to the pan with a little butter to disperse flavours before frying.
The Turkish style baharat is similar to the Arabic versions but often includes mint. Chefs in Turkey use this blend as an all-purpose seasoning for meat dishes such as kofte, grain pilafs, and vegetable dishes. Excellent as a rub on lamb prior to grilling, it also has an affinity for eggplant, or you may even try perking up your next batch of ratatouille with these flavors of Turkey. Cassia, nutmeg, cumin, coriander and black pepper round out this blend.
It's preferable to use these spices whole then dry roast them in a pan and grind together - however, you can use a short cut and blend powdered spices. Baharat can be bought at Middle Eastern groceries and markets but it is also quite easy to make fresh for yourself and keep it stored in a spice jar. There are many different variations, all based on the basic ingredients of black pepper and allspice. I'm going to share several variations by region.  You should try them all - super delicious and a good way to add flavor without added calories.

Recipes for Baharat

Baharat (Most common blend)
2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Turkish Baharat
2  tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
2  tablespoons ground cumin
1  tablespoon ground coriander
1  tablespoon ground mint
1  tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of ground cinnamon

Syrian Baharat
2 teaspoons allspice
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons cloves

Tunisian Baharat
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried rose petals
1 teaspoon black pepper

Kebsa spices (i.e. Gulf baharat)
1 tablespoon red paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground loomi (dried lime)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground coriander

I hope you gives these spice blends a try.  Let me know if you have any questions.  ENJOY!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cheesy Chicken and Zucchini Enchiladas

If you have your own vegetable garden during the summer months then you definitely have experienced an over abundance of zucchini or squash at some point.  This recipe was developed to solve exactly that problem.  What to do with all that zucchini?  Zucchini bread, grilled zucchini, zucchini casseroles, but I wanted something spicy, light, and great to reheat for leftovers.

I recall seeing a recipe or two floating around for vegetarian zucchini enchiladas, but at my house, some type of protein is necessary.  I decided to add some roasted chicken to sauteed shredded zucchini and make my own chipotle enchilada sauce.  Perfect topped with cilantro, scallions, jalapenos, sour cream or all of the above.

1 chicken breast, or one cup left over chicken (shredded)
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 small onion, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 medium zucchinis, grated
salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)
1 1/2 cups grated reduced fat mexican blend cheese 
4 Large Whole Wheat tortillas
chopped scallions (optional)
chopped cilantro

Spicy Enchilada Sauce Recipe

1 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (less if you don't like it spicy)

1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot chipotle chili powder 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup fat free vegetable broth or chicken broth
salt and fresh pepper to taste


First start by making the enchilada sauce.  In a medium saucepan, spray oil and sauté garlic. Add chipotle chile, chili powder, cumin, broth, tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.   Set sauce to the side until the enchiladas are ready.
In a non-stick saute pan, sauté garlic and onions in olive oil over medium heat for about 2 minutes; add zucchini, salt and pepper to taste and cook about 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and add shredded chicken and cheese.

Spray a medium baking dish with non fat cooking spray then ladle about 1/4 cup of sauce in the bottom of the pan.

Lay tortilla on a flat surface.  Fill each tortilla, roll and place seam side down in a baking dish.
Top with enchilada sauce and cheese.  Bake until hot and the cheese is melted, about 20-25 minutes.

Add your favorite toppings and enjoy!!  Yummy!

Chicken Rollatini Parmigiana

This recipe is simple, reheats well, and a complete crowd pleaser.  A great one dish supper than can easily be paired with a salad or or a light orzo side.  Even the pickest of family members will love this dish!  I mean who doesn't like Chicken Parm?  This is such a versatile "method" to prepare chicken.  Select your favorite cheese - mozzarella, goat cheese, cheddar - or your favorite green veggies - spinach, broccoli or shredded and sauteed zucchini.

8 chicken cutlets,
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs or Italian Panko

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
3 eggs
5 oz frozen spinach, or broccoli squeezed dry of any liquid
6 tbsp ricotta cheese, goat cheese or Greek yogurt (part skim if your cutting calories)
2 tbsp Parmesan, shredded (the real stuff please)
olive oil non-stick spray
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning (oregano, basil, red pepper flakes - be creative)

Pre-heat oven (or toaster oven) on 450.
Dry chicken cutlets, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, paprika and 1 tsp. garlic powder.

Mix together ricotta cheese, 1 egg, spinach or broccoli, garlic powder, Italian spices.  

Scramble the remaining eggs, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Create a dredging station, by filling a shallow plate, or paper plate with bread crumbs.  Set Aside.

Arrange chicken breasts on a flat surface.  Top and spread each piece of chicken with the spinach and cheese mixture.  Starting from the shorter end, roll up chicken.

Dip in  egg mixture then roll in bread crumbs.  Spray baking dish with non-stick spray or olive oil.  Arrange chicken rollatinis in a pan then lightly spray with non stick spray or olive oil.
Bake for 25 minutes.  Then remove from oven top with sauce (tomato or alfredo) and or your favorite cheese.
Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 5 more minutes. Serve with additional sauce on the side and grated cheese.

Iraqi Style Eggplant Stew - Morgat Bathenjan

Eggplant is the only vegetable I refused to eat as a child!  I tried many times, but it made me ill.  Luckily, my parents never forced me to eat it since I ate liver, okra, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and just about everything else.  If my mother made Eggplant Parmesan, then I would simply eat around it.  It was odd really because my sister LOVED eggplant and she was always more than happy to eat my serving.  Ironically enough, I enjoy Baba Ghnough which is a roasted eggplant dip.

Over the years I have found a few varieties of eggplant that I enjoyed like Thai and Chinese.  Last summer, I realized that I was allergic to the classic variety of eggplant. My Farmers Market friend Mr. Haley, gave me 2 eggplants that he did not sell.  I decided to make Baba Ghnough since it was the only eggplant dish that I enjoyed.  I cut and and prepared the eggplants and noticed my hands began to itch.  I went on to roast and then prepare my dip.  After eating a couple of spoonfuls I realized that my throat and body were begin to itch. I guess I was a pretty smart kid - apparently I'm allergic to classic eggplant.
None the less, I've now found Japanese eggplant that I very much enjoy.  A few weeks ago, I was hired to cook for a client and her husband for their Anniversary Dinner.  We decided that an Iraqi feast would be a fun dinner.  Here was the menu:

Jajeek Dip - Yogurt, cucumber, garlic and sumac
Shiraz Salad - Cucumber, Tomatoes, Onions and Feta
Entree: Eggplant Stew served with Basmati Rice
Dessert:  Cardamom Ice Cream with Toasted Pistachios

Here is my recipe for the Eggplant Stew - Morgat Bathenjan


1 large eggplant, sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 (1lb) lamb shanks or lamb stew
fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic- crushed
1 large can of tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons baharat
2 teaspoons ground coriander


If you are using traditional eggplant then you will need to do the following: In a bowl, dissolve 2 teaspoons of salt in a 1 quart of water.  Add the eggplant, cover with a plate to keep the slices under water, soak for 30 minutes. Drain the eggplant and pat dry.

In a large dutch oven or heavy bottom pot, heat 2 Tbl of the oil. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, turning once until well browned, about 5 minutes per side. Add the onion and garlic.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened about 10 minutes. Add 1 quart of water, can of tomato sauce, tomato paste, turmeric, baharat, salt and coriander and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes stirring and skimming every so often.  

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbl of the oil. Add 1/3 of the eggplant and cook over med-high heat until browned, 3 minutes per side; transfer to paper towels to drain. Brown the remaining eggplant in the 3 Tbl of oil. Add the eggplant to the lamb and simmer over low heat, stirring until the lamb is tender, 45 minutes.

Transfer the lamb to a rimmed baking sheet, remove the meat from the bones and cut into 1-inch chunks. Boil the stew over high heat, skimming, until the liquid has reduced to 3 cups, about 40 minutes. Return the lamb to the stew and season with salt and pepper. 

You may serve the stew with toasted pita bread or basmati rice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lentil Soup - Shorbat Adis

In honor of the month of Ramadan I thought I would share an Iraqi classic first course soup.  This is the Iraqi  version chicken noodle soup - nourishing, healing, and comforting.  This soothing combination of  creamy lentils and noodles is the food that lights up my memories.  The aroma of just cooked Adis perks up palates and warms your stomach to prime you for the courses to come.  A staple during the month of Ramadan - enjoyed during the summer or winter.  A delicious soup that is accessible even with the smallest food budget as a cup full of lentils, a few noodles, and spices is all that required to create this hearty soup.

Creamy Lentil Soup - Shorbat Addis
1 cup red lentils
5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 onion, chopped
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-4 oz vermicelli noodles

Wash and drain the lentils - be sure to pick out any rocks.

In a large pot, heat a tablespoon olive oil.  Add the noodles and toast until golden brown.  Remove and set aside.   Next add the onion, cook for 2-3 minutes or until the onions have softened.  Then add in your spices, lentils, toasted noodles and broth and stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, the allow to simmer on medium low for 35 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent the lentils from sticking or burning.
Garnish with your favorite herbs and a generous dollop of Greek yogurt.

Quick Interesting Facts about lentils: they are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. In addition to its beneficial effects on the digestive system and the heart, soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Steamed Meatballs in a Creamy Yogurt Sauce

As the weather warms up and bathing suit season approaches we are all looking for healthy and delicious recipes.  When I talk to clients and customers looking for cooking classes the question that comes up is how to cook healthy and how to do it afford-ably.  

Before I left for work yesterday, I pulled a 1/2 lb. of ground sirloin 80/20 and placed in the fridg.  I decided to use a frozen pack of mixed vegetables and small bag of Edamame.   Frozen vegetables are great to have on hand for quick suppers.  Plus they are packed at the peak of freshness making them a great alternative to fresh.

I wanted to make meatballs, but it seems that acidic tomato sauces have not been kind to me therefore I choose a light cream sauce.  I steamed the meatballs to keep them moist, light and delicious.

Steamed Meatballs in a Creamy Yogurt Sauce
4-6 servings


1/2 lb. ground sirloin or ground chicken
2 tablespoons bread crumbs (plain or Italian)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg
3 ribs of celery
1/4 of a large onion or a small onion
1 garlic clove
1 cup water + 2 tablespoons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 package frozen vegetables
1/2 cup frozen edamame 
1/4 cup low fat yogurt or sour cream

1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup quino
2 cups water or beef broth
1 teaspoon salt  (optional)


In a small food processor: place onion, garlic and celery and shred.  Remove the vegetable mixture and place in a paper towel or cheese cloth and squeeze out the water/moisture.  Be sure the vegetable mixture is dry.

In a large bowl, combine ground beef through egg plus the shredded vegetable mixture.

Allow the mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine quinoa and brown rice in a microwave safe bowl.  Add water or broth and salt then cover with plastic wrap.  Microwave for 8-12 minutes (depending on microwave).

In a non stick saute pan, add one cup of water and the Worcestershire sauce, bring to a simmer.  While the water comes up to temperature form the meatballs.  Then place in the saute pan, cook for 2 minutes on one side then flip and cook for another minute.  Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Add your frozen veggies, and edamame to the now beef flavored broth.  Cook for 3 minutes or until the vegetables are warmed through.    

Combine cornstarch, water and yogurt.  Add into the vegetable mixture and stir to combine.  Place the meatballs into the pan and allow to simmer for 8 minutes.

Scoop 1/4 cup of the rice and quinoa then top with the meat and sauce.  


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Asian Beef Stir Fry

I'd like to apologize to everyone for taking such a long break from blogging.  So much is going on the home front that I decided to take some time off to re-energize.  Over this break I have been testing out some new healthy and budget friendly recipes.  Eating healthy is all about making smart choices, portion control and getting outside for a little exercise.  While it would be nice to have grilled shrimp and salmon every night that's just not affordable for everyone's budget.

For this recipe I'm using 1/2 lb of ground sirloin or 90/10.  Then I used veggies I had on hand like celery, carrots and onions.  I decided to only make two servings for this meal because I wanted to be sure I didn't go back for seconds.

Asian Beef Stir Fry

1/2 lb. of 90/10 ground/minced meat
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 celery ribs, washed, and sliced on the diagonal
1 small bell pepper
1 small white onion
1 tablespoon ginger root, grated
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 
1/2 cup water
1-2 tablespoon garlic chili paste (add more or less depending on how hot you like your food)
1 cup rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon of salt

In a large non-stick saute pan add ground beef and cook for 2-3 minutes, then toss in the carrots and 1/4 cup water.  Cook until the beef is no longer pink and the carrots have softened.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine rice, 1 1/2 cups water, and salt in a microwave safe bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and cook for 8-12 minutes in the microwave.

Wipe out the pan with some paper towel.  Heat the pan on high heat for a minute then add the oil.  (The next part goes by quick so have all your ingredients handy). 

Add garlic and ginger stir for one minute, then toss in celery and onions.  Cook for two minutes.  Then add in chili garlic paste, soy sauce and hoisin sauce.

Toss ingredients to combine. Reduce heat to medium, then add the ground beef mixture, bell pepper and water.  Allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes.  

Taste the mixture to see if you need to add in additional soy sauce or chili garlic paste.  I added some coarse ground black pepper at the end for some additional punch.

On a plate add 1/2 cup of rice and top with the stir fry mixture.  ENJOY!!