Easy and Wildly Inauthentic “Tilgul” (dairy-free, gluten-free sesame energy bites)

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Every other year or so I have attempted (and failed at) “Tilgul” – a sweet treat made with sesame seeds (“Til”), jaggery (“Gul”), coconut and a whiff of cardamom, sometimes rolled into balls (“Laddoos”), or formed into bars. There’s many different kinds too, with different levels of complexity (and corresponding failure rates). Some varieties are fudge-y and moist, while others are crunchy and almost brittle-like.

No matter the way, I find it tricky to make Tilgul at home especially with the variation in the jaggery available in the US. It seems to have a lower moisture content sometimes, and other times it liquifies too fast and hardens into a rock. It’s not that my Tilgul attempts have been complete disasters, but they haven’t been as perfect as they should be, or could be (unless you call dismantling it and eating it like granola with your cereal a success).

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Pasta with Pea-Mint Pesto

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When I first read about a pea pesto, it sounded (and still does) so perfect – why rely on temperamental herbs like basil which look perfect when you buy them at the store and are sure to wilt by the time you get around to making the pesto? Pea pesto is easy, substantial, and can be made from things you already in the kitchen – frozen peas, almonds or pine nuts, a bit of hard salty cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (although I often times skip it to keep things dairy-free), garlic and good olive oil!

Hot pasta tossed in freshly made pesto with a splash of pasta water is all you need to have a great, perfectly light spring or summer meal, in less than an hour. The pesto can be made while the pasta water boils, and while the pasta cooks, maybe you can set the table, make a salad maybe (but you already got the green covered in the pesto so not necessary) and pour yourself a glass of something white and chilled!

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Mushroom and Potato Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

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My obsession for dumplings is well-documented. Whether it’s chicken and dumplings, or potstickers, or Indian Chakolya (called Dal Dhokli or Varan Phal; these are mildly spiced whole wheat and gram flour dumplings cooked in a spicy lentil stew) or wontons, or Dhokle Papdi (bite-sized gram flour patties stewed in flat beans and spices) my love for all things doughy knows no bounds. It’s what I crave on Sunday nights, cold evenings, or after a long tiring day.

I first made pelmeni and pierogis couple years ago, after my husband visited Russia and simply could not shut up about them. He brought me back some cookbooks from Moscow and I got right to it, I was blown away by how simple and scrumptious they were! Pelmeni are a type of Russian/Ukrainian rustic, savory dumpling filled with meat or mushrooms or potatoes or cheese. I made the pelmeni with a potato and mushroom filling similar to what I’ve shown here, and a handful of pierogis with diced apples. As someone living in the United States for so many years, I felt like I needed to alert the authorities – the apples were NOT tossed in cinnamon, nor were they dusted with it. The serving recommendation was to just serve them piping hot with some butter. I resisted the urge to add cinnamon and was rewarded. Something happens to the apples inside the pierogis that we cannot explain.

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Russian Cabbage Soup (Shchi)

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This soup is essentially a warm hug.

Russian soups tend to be meat-heavy for all the good reasons so it’s difficult to find something vegetarian and light in the soup category; I do make a vegetarian Borscht from time to time but this time I wanted something light, bright and clear, and this Cabbage Soup, or Shchi, totally hit the spot.

This soup is basically a Russian mixed vegetable soup starring cabbage, carrots and potatoes, in a base made with onions sautéed in butter. Bay leaves and whole peppercorns are added, leaving the soup clear, bright and sharp (not muddled due to addition of ground pepper). Sometimes sauerkraut is added, as are greens, but I’ve added neither to keep it simple. I also used this soup as a vehicle to use up odds and ends in the fridge (I’m looking at you, diced celery and turnip from 2 weeks ago).

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Chickpea Stew with Coconut Milk, Spinach and Turmeric

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Ever since Alison Roman’s “The Stew” became all the rage on Instagram last year (have you made her cookies “The Cookies” yet?) I have been obsessed with this stew. I’ve made it several times with my own tweaks and updates, and verbally shared the recipe with many. I also typed up my version of the recipe for my mom few months ago, when I should have just written this post to make it easier to share.

Because, The Stew is absolutely worth sharing and making, and making again! It is so nourishing, indulgent, warm and satisfying, not to mention easy, quick enough for a weeknight and do you see how gorgeous? Over the past year, I’ve made it with canned vs home-cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), with canned vs boxed (lite) coconut milk, in chicken broth vs vegetable broth vs water, with kale vs spinach vs chard, and inhaled it with grilled naan, or basmati rice, or just by itself. It is vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, lactose-free, gluten-free, and definitely one of the best things I’ve learnt to make from Instagram.

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Time for penance (not really)

While I love to bake and cook elaborate meals on weekdays and some weeknights, on a day to day basis I like to keep it light yet fun. These smoothies and juices are so easy to make, especially if you have the Vitamix (seriously, that thing could pulverize, well…anything)!

In my opinion, the best thing about the Vitamix is the convenience of keeping the smoothie/juice ingredients portioned-out, frozen and ready-to-go. The “frozen” part of it lends a great body to the juice/smoothie. The same result can be achieved without the Vitamix, but crushed ice will have to be used with chilled ingredients.

A great way to reduce the number of calories and natural sugar in these drinks, is by replacing regular milk with dairy-free alternatives, such as Almond Milk (Califia is a great brand, usually stocked in Lucky or Whole Foods) or Coconut Milk (can’t go wrong with So Delicious plain Coconut Milk).

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