February 23, 2015

Breakfast

February 23, 2015
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Many of us grew up thinking breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it provides fuel to the brain and body after an overnight fast (thus the name: “breaking the fast”). There is, however, an ongoing debate about good food habits, and some studies indicate that skipping a cereal, toast and jam may not – metabolically speaking – be as noxious as believed. It would be interesting to know how many of these researches are done with a weight loss rather than a healthy and balanced lifestyle in mind.

Arguments aside, my personal experience is that more regular way I live, hungrier I feel in orderly intervals. Every three or four hours the acoustic signals of my stomach are pounding like a heavy metal band, making me cranky and disoriented, if I don’t turn down the volume by eating a wholesome snack or meal. Such sensation of hunger is the body’s way to communicate the need for energy and, despite of being a nuisance, it is a healthy sign. When the metabolism becomes too weak to send out a distress call, the belly no longer growls in the absence of protein, carbohydrates and fats. By then, there are probably other silent malfunctions related to the liver, hormones and glands, too.
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An ideal breakfast depends on a person; there is not only one way to start a day. I approach it as the most exciting and nutritious meal of the day because I have a ferocious appetite, and I also see how much strength and vitality it gives. Actually, I “break the fast” already upon waking up by drinking two cups of hot water with lemon juice as a liver and kidney tonic. Then, after my morning duties and meditation, I eat an apple or two. Apples are high in malic acid, pectin, dietary fiber and potassium, and tend to kick stagnant bile, increase digestive flow and slow down insulin response. For the main breakfast, around 8 or 9am, I choose homemade dairy, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes and gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa or basmati rice.

I recently – and finally – bought a pressure cooker which makes it so effortless to prepare chickpeas and other beans and lentils in a jiffy! Instead of boiling the legumes for an hour, it takes from five to ten minutes, and saves energy. I recommend it to every vegetarian.

To make seeds and nuts more digestible, soak them overnight in clean water because, like legumes, they have enzyme inhibitors that otherwise force the pancreas to work overtime and use its own enzyme reserve, causing bloating and heaviness in the abdomen. In a long run, “un-sprouted” nuts may weaken digestion. Germination will increase the availability of additional enzymes, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.

To activate the enzymes:

  • Soak the seeds for 12 hours
  • Rinse the seeds several times to remove any liquid containing enzyme inhibitors
  • Eat the seeds immediately or store in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It may be a good idea to aerate or dry them before storing because, as wet, they are more susceptible to spoiling.
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BREAKFAST (serves 2 to 4)


Ingredients
125 ml (1/2 cup) chickpeas
500 ml (1 cup) different nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts
1 liter milk for paneer + lemon juice
2 avocadoes
100 g (4 oz) baby spinach and other greens (2 – 3 generous handfuls)
2 handfuls of sprouts (alfa alfa, mung, broccoli)
Coconut slivers
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Black pepper powder
Hing powder
Cayenne powder
Kala namak powder
Himalayan salt

Cooking method
Wash and soak the chickpeas for 8 to 12 hours. Rinse and cook them in fresh water until soft but not mushy.

Wash and soak the nuts for 8 to 12 hours. Rinse and chop them coarsely.

Make paneer from 1 liter of milk and lemon juice. Strain it for 10 to 15 minutes and break it into chunks. Save the whey for a later use.

Mix the cooked chickpeas, nuts, paneer, peeled and cut avocadoes, baby spinach, sprouts and coconut slivers in a bowl.

Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, spices and salt in a separate bowl or jar, and add it to the salad just before serving.


Thank you.





February 4, 2015

Saffron Paneer

February 4, 2015
Say cheese!

Nutritionally, cheese is concentrated milk with a longer shelf-life and many uses. Despite that it may smell like old shoes, people – especially Europeans – have cultivated an acquired taste for it since prehistoric times.

The fermenting process was likely accidentally discovered by storing milk in containers made from animal stomach, in which it naturally curdled as a reaction to rennet. Gradually it led to using the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber of slaughtered, unweaned calves as the main coagulation agent necessary for making hard, ripened cheese.

By Roman times, pressing curds, and salting and aging them, was already an established art. Today, Europeans are still the world’s top cheesemongers and consumers, closely followed by Americans who started to produce their cheddars in an assembly-line as early as in 1851. Although at the dawn of 1900s scientists developed microbial starters to replace the more laborious and expensive animal rennet, there are some cheeses – like Parmesan – that solely rely on traditional ingredients and methods.
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For those who follow dietary cultures of Hinduism, Judaism or Islam, or even the ethical codes of vegetarianism, eating cheese that requires slaughtering is out of question. From the point of view of sattvic (pure) lifestyle, the process of ripening itself is questionable because it is actually nothing else than controlling spoilage: many of the odor and flavor molecules in an aged cheese are same as those found in rotten foods.
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In India, acid-set soft cheese known as chhena could be perhaps called "the mother-cheese" that predates recorded history. It is prepared by adding lemon juice (or some other sour-agent: yogurt, buttermilk or citric acid) to boiling milk to separate the curds from the whey. It is the simplest kind of fresh cheese widely used both in savory and sweet preparations.

When you wrap these curds in cloth and press them under a weight until they turn into a solid mass, which you can dice and use in curries or salads, you get paneer. It is probably the best known Asian cheese in the West, and you have likely bumped into it when dining in an Indian restaurant. Does palak paneer, kadai paneer, matar paneer, paneer butter masala, paneer tikka, paneer korma or shahi paneer ring a bell?
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It’s no secret I love paneer and usually make it once or twice a week. For me, it personifies the generosity and kindness of cows. It is luscious and comforting. These are my tips for making light and fluffy paneer:
  1. Use only organic full-fat milk
  2. Cook it in a heavy bottom pan over a moderate heat
  3. As soon as it reaches the boiling point, turn off the heat and add gradually as little lemon juice as it takes to curdle the milk (about 1 lemon per 3 liters / 12 cups milk)
  4. Stir the milk very gently (not vigorously)
  5. Drain and wrap the curds in cloth, and press the bundle under a weight (a pot filled with water, for example) only for 5 to 10 minutes: paneer will remain moist but you are still able to cut it into cubes
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Although this dish is all about paneer, it’s also about aromatics and texture to which paneer lends a plump body. There are countless spice combinations you could opt for, but I have used a simple and subtle one today to highlight the unique hay-like fragrance and vivid pigment of saffron.

There is a lot of inconsistency in the potency of saffron. Look for deep crimson stigmas and don’t compromise the price!

Just because I found a coconut loitering in the kitchen this morning, I utilized it, but I’ve made the recipe succesfully with cream or even with homemade yogurt instead of coconut milk. If you go for the yogurt, add it after the cashew paste has properly thickened and simmer it over a low heat to prevent it from curdling.


SAFFRON PANEER

Ingredients:
Paneer from 3 liters / 12 cups organic full fat milk
2-3 tomatoes
1 long red, seeded chili (mild), or to taste
A thumb-size piece of peeled ginger root
A little bit of water to paste the chili and ginger
125 ml (½ cup) cashew nuts
125 ml (½ cup) whey (or water)
A half of fresh coconut
500 ml (2 cups) whey (or water) to make coconut milk
2 Tbsp ghee (or butter or oil)
2 tsp freshly ground coriander powder
1 tsp freshly ground jeera powder
125 – 250 ml (½ - 1 cup) additional whey (or water) for attaining desired consistency
2 generous pinches of freshly powdered saffron
1 generous pinch of freshly powdered cardamom
2 tsp Himalayan salt or to taste

Cooking method:
Make the paneer as instructed in the text above. Press it for less than 10 minutes. Preserve the whey.

Wash and peel the tomatoes, and remove the stems. Purée the tomatoes in an electric spice mill or food processor. Set the purée aside.

Make a paste from the chili, ginger and as much water as needed. This amount of chili gives only mild heat. Use more, if you want a stronger taste. Set the paste aside.

Make a paste from the cashew nuts and whey (or water). Set it aside.

Cut the coconut half into smaller chunks and blitz the pieces with whey (or water) in an electric spice mill or food processor. Place thin cheesecloth in a sieve and place the sieve over a bowl. Now pour the coconut paste onto the cloth, make a bundle and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set the milk aside and use the coconut meat for chutney or other cooking.

Heat up the ghee (or butter or oil) in a pot or pan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the coriander and jeera powder, mix once with a spatula and immediately pour in the chili-ginger paste. Cook it for about 10 minutes until the ghee (or butter or oil) separates from it. You may want to mix it a couple of times to prevent it from scalding. Always grind the spices as needed because they quickly lose the aroma.

Pour in the tomato paste and cook it for another 10 or 15 minutes until the ghee (or butter or oil) separates from it.

Add the cashew paste. Mix it well and then add the coconut milk. Lower the temperature and simmer until the sauce thickens. You may add some more whey (or water) to achieve a desired consistency.

Finally add the saffron, cardamom and salt. Mix well. Then add the paneer dices. Let the flavors infuse for a couple of minutes before serving.


Thank you.



January 25, 2015

January 21, 2015

Buckwheat Roti

January 21, 2015
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One cup buckwheat flour, a good pinch of Himalayan salt, one tablespoon of ghee (or oil), and about a third of a cup water (or as much as needed for an elastic dough) – that’s the basic recipe for making buckwheat flatbread, or roti. For softer dough, use dairy – milk, yogurt or buttermilk – rather than water. Being gluten free, buckwheat doesn’t have viscosity and tends to dry up and tear apart easily. Dairy functions as glue.
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Rub the ghee into the flour and salt mixture with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Fold in the liquid gradually. If you slip in too much water, add flour. There is no need to excessively knead the dough. As soon as you have formed a smooth ball, cover it and let it rest at least for thirty minutes.
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Should you become an adventurous baker, incorporate mashed avocado to the flour mixture. Reduce the amount of water accordingly.
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Potatoes and buckwheat go well together. Make spicy roti by adding ground jeera and black pepper, chilli, and fresh fenugreek seedlings or chopped cilantro along with the potatoes.
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The stovetop baking method is straightforward. If you want fully blown, feather light breads you need two sources of heat.

First, place the flatbread on a medium hot skillet (preferably cast iron) and let it bake until tiny bubbles appear on the top and the edges curl. If you roll the bread thinly, it takes only about thirty to sixty seconds, but if you make a thicker bread, it may take one and half to two minutes to reach this point. Using metal tongs, lift the bread and place it on the top of a direct flame. It should instantly fill with hot air. If you don’t have access to fire, place a mesh a few centimeters (1 inch) above a hot burner and flip the bread over it. As soon as it puffs, remove and cover it with a cloth.

I usually skip the second part and bake the bread on a skillet by flipping it over continuously while tenderly pressing and encouraging it to cook properly. At some point I brush a little bit ghee on the top. With this method, the bread formulates many smaller air pockets instead of becoming like a balloon.

Happy baking!
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Thank you.