Tag Archives: vegetarian

[Sibling Rivalry or Taste Preferences?]: Spicy Lentils Soup aka Masoor Aamti

I love lentils. I should clarify. I love lentils now. My sister S adores lentils – masoor aamti along with (as she would say it), “hot hot” rice. One of our favorite family story is when she was 6 years old she woke up in the middle of the night crying. Apparently she forgot to eat masoor aamti with rice! Since then whenever my mom cooked masoor aamti she made sure S ate it with rice to her heart’s content!

I, on the other hand, loved sprouted vaal usal (field beans curry). It deserves a separate post since it is a popular regional speciality. Tedious prep work but still my favorite! S hated it.

Around the same time (I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade) I stopped eating masoor aamti. I can’t seem to remember the exact reason besides the fact that we each had our favorites.

Few years later I finally gave in and went for a cup of masoor aamti. The tomatoey-spicy concoction has a meaty and rich flavor that was and still remains memorable. I couldn’t believe it — I stayed away from it for years!

Now that I’m a genetic counselor by profession I am intrigued how genetics plays a role in our taste preferences. I came across an interesting article on the Smithsonian website called, “The Genetics of Taste”, that concludes genetics, nature and of course nurture play pivotal roles in what we enjoy and avoid!

My favorite the sprouted vaal usal (field beans curry) I have to say has a mild bitter taste. Our tongue carries a receptor called TAS2R, some people carry a ‘sensitive’ form of this receptor and are able to taste bitter chemicals. The TAS2R gene might explain whether we enjoy certain veggies with open arms or  move them to the side of our plate. A version of the gene in turn can play a role in our sweet preferences!

My masoor aamti dilemma though was not resolved. If we have “bitter genes” and “sweet genes” I’m sure we have “sibling rivalry” one as well!!

Masoor aamti is a perfect weekday recipe! Any kind of lentils need some time to soak in water to speed up the cooking process — doesn’t have to be too long. To work smarter I typically soak it in the morning before I head out to work and cook them in a pressure cooker (2-3 whistles) or use slow-cooker in the evening. The cooked lentils then get mixed with the spiced onion-tomato mixture I describe in detail below.

The recipe I’m sharing uses a slow-cooker (crockpot) – the thought of lentils simmering in the spices is comforting and perfect as a soup for the wintery months ahead!

Origami Kandil (Lantern) for Diwali by my sister S!
Rangoli (art using powdered colors) for Diwali by my talented & artistic sister S!

To learn more about genetics and taste check out:

  1. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-genetics-of-taste-88797110/?no-ist
  2. http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060918/full/news060918-1.html
  3. http://www.monell.org/news/news_releases/sweet_genes
We both have paternally inherited “travel genes”
“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien – birthday cake for S from Love, Sugar, Dough bakery in Mumbai!

Adapted from: myMom’s recipe

[recipe title=”Masoor Aamti” servings=”2″ cooking time=”2 hrs (slow cooker recipe)/30 mins (pressure cooker) Prep ~2 hrs (soak) + 20 mins” difficulty=”easy”]


  • 1.5 cups whole lentils (whole masoor daal)
  • 1.5 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1.5 cup finely chopped tomato
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 finely chopped green chillies
  • 1 pinch asafoetida
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4-5 curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tbsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin-coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • cilantro (finely chopped for garnish)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Water


  • Rinse and soak the lentils in water for minimum 2 hours.
  • In a medium-size slow cooker — add the pre-soaked lentils + 3 cups water + turmeric powder. Set on high for ~ 1 hour.
  • In the meantime, heat a pan, add olive oil followed by asafoetida, mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once the seeds start to splatter add curry leaves, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste. Stir well and add onions.
  • Cook for few 5-8 minutes until the onions are nice golden brown.
  • Add the tomatoes, stir and add all the spice powders.
  • Stir until the tomatoes soften and you can see oil coming out from the sides (~5-8 minutes). Turn off the heat.
  • Once the lentils are cooked in the slow cooker for an hour — add the spiced onion-tomato mixture. Stir well and set the slow cooker on high for another hour.
  • Check if the lentils are cooked. Add salt, adjust spices, garnish with cilantro.
  • Enjoy warm-hearty masoor aamti as soup or with “hot hot” basmati rice. [/recipe]

[Entertaining bites]: Chicken tikka tartlets & Four mushrooms crostini!

perfect bites!

At a friend’s wedding last year one of the hors d’oeuvres that left a lasting impression on my taste buds (and sight): mini-tartlets with buffalo chicken and blue cheese. They were spicy, tangy, crispy and (blue) cheesy! I loved the chef’s take on popular buffalo wings. Complete awesomeness in one bite. They inspired me to make an Indian version using chopped up chicken tikka kebabs. Kebabs are traditionally not super-spicy but definitely flavorful. I added in colorful peppers for a crunch. During Thanksgiving I serve them with a cranberry chutney — what can I say — it is a perfect combination! They are always a crowd-pleaser at potlucks, reunions with friends and my family loves it too.

easy breezy yet fancy?!

myrule 1 for entertaining: Advance preparation!

The chicken tikka kebabs can be marinated and even oven-baked in advance. Assembling them in the tartlets, garnishing with colorful chopped peppers/cheese and baking until crisp can be done once guests arrive! For a vegetarian version — paneer (Indian cottage cheese) can be substituted for the chicken in this recipe.

Chicken tikka is a versatile dish — serve as kebabs, or wrap in a roti or add to a creamy-tomato sauce to make a popular “British/American” dish, yes, you guessed it right, the famous chicken tikka masala! For the tartlets, the kebabs don’t necessarily have to be oven-baked (on skewers) — I have made this dish by even sautéing the marinated chicken in a pan. That works great as well! Just make sure you don’t add any liquid when you fill the tartlet shells. I am all about minimizing steps and simplifying recipes.

IMG_0603 IMG_0609

Kebabs can be served as is it as well!

myrule 2 for entertaining: 2 appetizers = 1 non-vegetarian + 1 vegetarian.

If you love mushrooms — you will enjoy the earthy, wild and umami flavors of shitake, porcini, portabello and cremini mushrooms. Sauté the finely chopped mushrooms in butter, olive oil, lots of garlic and red chili flakes. This recipe is inspired from something my mom used to make for my sister and I as after school snack. We called it “mushroom cheese toast”. An Indian version of the crostini – sautéed button mushrooms with onion, tomatoes and spices. Baked over small triangular pieces of sliced bread with melt-y Amul cheese! Nostalgia.

The mushrooms mixture can be prepared in advance. All you need to do before your guests arrive is bake the mushrooms on top of baguette slices. Top it off with some cheese and it’s ready to serve!

[recipe title=”Chicken tikka tartlets and Four mushrooms crostini” servings=”8″ time=”45 mins Prep 20 mins” difficulty=”moderate”]


    • 1/2 pound boneless/skinless chicken breast/thigh pieces
    • 2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
    • Spices (1/2 tbsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tbsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp cumin-coriander powder, 1/4 tsp cardamon powder)
    • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • Sea salt to taste
    • 2-3 drops red food coloring (optional)
    • 10-12 bamboo skewers
    • Mini-phyllo sheet shells/tartlets (available in the frozen section of the grocery store
    • 1 chopped green/red/yellow peppers
    • Grated parmesan cheese (for garnish)
    • 1 chopped green scallion (spring onion) or cilantro (for garnish)
    • 1/2 pound Mushrooms (Shitake, porcini, cremini, baby portabello)
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp butter + more to apply on the baguette
    • 4-6 chopped garlic cloves
    • 2 tbsp red chili flakes
    • Salt to taste
    • Grated parmesan cheese (for garnish)
    • Chopped cilantro or parsley (for garnish)
    • French baguette


Chicken tikka tartlets

  • Marinate the chicken pieces (1/2-1 inch) in yogurt, spices, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, olive oil, red food color, salt for few hours (or overnight in refrigerator).
  • Making the perfect chicken tikka is all about getting the perfect spice combination. To make sure the seasoning is as per taste — I bake one chicken skewer and taste it once it is cooked. Adjust spices, salt as needed and only then bake the rest of the chicken.
  • Heat oven to 400 F. Skewer the chicken and bake for ~20 mins (or until cooked).
  • If you don’t have enough time you can sauté the marinated chicken in a pan with little olive oil — works fine.
  • Once cooked roughly chopped the chicken tikkas pieces and add cilantro, green/yellow/red peppers.
  • Add spoonfuls to the mini-tartlet shell, top with some cheese and baked for 5-8 mins in the oven (350F). Follow any additional instructions as listed on the frozen mini-tartlet box.
  • Garnish with cilantro or chopped green scallion and serve.

Four mushrooms crostini

  • In a pan heat olive oil and butter, add garlic, crushed red chillies, sauté for 1 minutes. Once you get a nice garlic aroma add in chopped up mushrooms and stir until cooked (3-4 minutes). Add salt to taste and remove from heat.
  • Apply little butter to the baguette slices (cut diagonally) and add spoonful of mushroom mixture, top with cheese. Arrange the slides in a cookie sheet.
  • Bake in the oven (350 F) until the cheese melts. Garnish with finely chopped cilantro or another herb.
  • Alternatively, the baguette slices can be toasted on a grill or a pan with grooves for the grill marks. Topped with the mushroom mixture, garnishes and serve warm.


Vegetarian Seekh Kebabs

vegetable seekh kebabs
vegetable seekh kebabs

I love kebabs – I associate them with delicate yet bold flavors, marination being the key and the chicken/lamb or seafood is really the star. There is no curry to complicate the flavors and rice or couscous are just sides. Today’s challenge was to make vegetables the star of the evening!

Let me back up a little bit. My husband, V prefers vegetarian food (as predominantly eaten in India – lacto vegetarian with no eggs, seafood or meat).  Secondly, his friends are mainly vegetarian so when they invited us over for a BBQ night  I really wanted to try out something that is vegetarian, in the category of kebabs and of course delicious!


The good part is you can use any vegetables you prefer but potatoes are the key since they help with binding and of course the flavor. The first step is to boil and mash the potatoes. I cooked some veggies in a little olive oil – finely chopped french beans, carrots, cabbage and green chillies for the spice. Added in boiled corn kernels, green peas, ginger-garlic paste and roughly chopped cashew nuts. While the veggies cook down you can add in some spices such as cumin powder and chaat masala for some tanginess. The recipe I reviewed also calls for few tablespoons of roasted besan (gram flour) which adds an additional layer to hold the kebabs on the skewer.

Finally I added the veggie mixture to the potatoes and made medium size balls. One skewer at a time I individually pressed in the one or two balls along the skewers (until they looked like in the photo above). This step does require some patience – if the mixture does not hold on to the skewer feel free to add in some bread crumbs.


Once all the skewers were ready they went in the oven (400 deg F) for 25-35 minutes with one or two oil/butter basting(s) and the kebabs were ready! The day I made them I pre-cooked them for 15-20 minutes  in the oven and then finished them on the grill just before serving.

Garnish with some thinly sliced onions, sprinkle with some chaat masala and lemon juice. Yum!

mythoughts: Vegetable Seekh kebabs are healthy but time/labor intensive compared to non-vegetarian kebabs. Definitely crowd pleasers if you have multiple vegetarian friends or family members at a party. If you skip the bread crumbs (which I did) they are gluten-free.


Adapted from http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com

[recipe title=”Vegetarian Seekh Kebabs” servings=”4″ time=”60 mins Prep 20 mins” difficulty=”moderate”]


  • 2-3 medium size potatoes (boiled and mashed)
  • 1 1/2 cups french beans (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup spinach (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup carrots (finely chopped)
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 1/2 cup cabbage (shredded)
  • 2-3 green chillies (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2-3 tbsp gram flour (besan)
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp chaat masala
  • 1/4 cup cashewnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter (for basting – optional)
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)
  • 10-12 bamboo skewers


  • Pre-heat the over at 400 F.
  • Heat a pan, add olive oil followed by green chillies, ginger-garlic paste, gram flour, veggies (all except potatoes), chopped cashews and spices.
  • Cook for few 5-8 minutes.
  • Add the cooked veggies to mashed potatoes and mix well. Add salt to taste. Adding green color is an option. Make medium-size balls.
  • One skewer at a time individually pressed in the one or two balls along the skewers (until they looked like in the photo above). This step does require some patience – if the mixture does not hold on to the skewer feel free to add in some bread crumbs or a small boiled potato.
  • Once all the skewers are ready arrange in an oven-proof dish and place in the oven (400 deg F) for 25-35 minutes with one or two oil/butter basting(s) and the kebabs were ready!
  • Sprinkle chaat masala and lemon juice and serve with slice onions. [/recipe]