Savory Tea Biscuits (shortbread cookies with carom seeds)

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It’s not often that the world changes so dramatically in a span of just a few weeks. When I started this tea pairing challenge a few weeks ago, none of us had any idea what was coming our way. In most parts of the world at this point in time, life as we know it is upended. In some parts of the world, people are fighting for a chance to live in the resources their hospitals can afford them, while elsewhere, others are separated from their families, far far away. Such stories are normally reserved for third world countries, but it is heartening to see it happen in US and Europe. This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and we don’t know how life will be in its wake.

Whoa, not something you would expect to read if you were browsing for a nice teatime biscuit recipe, huh? Well, it is rather uncomfortable – talking about tea and biscuits like everything is alright in the world. I’ve written myself into a corner here – there are no elegant segues from this topic to tea pairing, so I’m just going to put a pin in it for now (as we are all trying to do by self-isolating…here I go again!), and talk about my favorite thing in these bleak times: tea.

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Tiranga Dhokla (Tricolor Savory Sponge Cake)

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Every year around January 26th and August 15th, depending on how many Indian people you know and follow, you may have noticed your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds bursting with the Indian tricolor of Saffron, White and Green, or  the “Tiranga” (“Tir” = three, “Ranga” = color). If you are not sure why, it’s because January 26th is India’s Republic Day and August 15th, it’s Independence Day! Flags are hoisted in every institution all over the country, and the tricolor waves proudly throughout the country in the hope of a more secular, open and better tomorrow for my motherland!

And, if you are obsessed with food as I am, you might see elaborate tricolor preparations all over your feed too – tricolor rice, desserts, parathas (flatbreads) and the like. I myself try to make something new each year; this past year I made Tricolor Dosas (rice and lentil crepes), and for 2019, I am applying the “Tricolor” filter to one of the India’s favorite snack, the Dhokla (pronounced Dhow-klaah).

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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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Garlic Whipped Parsnips

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As someone who routinely dreams of sleeping on a pillow made of mashed potatoes, the carbs add up. I think they add up even if I’m innocently thinking about potatoes; one doesn’t even need consume them.

So one must look for alternatives that are lower in carbohydrates, still good with respect to fiber, and yet don’t taste like pressed sawdust. Parsnips happen to live in just that precise neighborhood, and in the winter months, are just begging to be enlisted to be whipped into perfection. Lower in calories, higher in fiber, a slightly sweet taste – if I wasn’t a potato-head I would switch to them permanently. Just kidding!

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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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