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epikaur

Butternut Squash & Thyme Oats

Recipes

Oats are usually a forgotten breakfast option at home. Strangely enough, the thought of eating oats is far less comforting than actually eating a hot bowl for breakfast. We prefer savoury recipes to sweet ones, and I try doing something different with them every time to keep things interesting. Butternut Squash in this recipe is often swapped with other winter squash varieties based on what I have at home.

Ingredients
About 80 gm rolled oats, coarsely ground
Extra-virgin olive oil, as desired
Few sprigs of thyme
1 small onion
1 small garlic clove
1 cup grated butternut squash
Up to 2 cups of boiled water
1/2 cup almond milk or any milk 
Salt per taste
Cracked pepper
Any hard cheese to grate on top (optional), I used aged cheddar

Method
1. Warm some olive oil in a pot, add leaves from a few thyme sprigs and cook for a few seconds until fragrant. Add finely chopped garlic and onion and sauté for a few minutes until the onions soften.
2. Add grated butternut squash and sauté for another few minutes.
3. Add oats, about a cup of boiled water, salt per your taste and let it cook for a few minutes. Add more water as required and cook for about 5 minutes or until the oats are fully cooked.
4. Add almond milk and cook for a few more minutes until the oats have a risotto-like consistency.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl, finish off with grated cheese and cracked pepper.
6. Optional: In a small pan, fry some thyme leaves in a few tsp of olive oil and spoon on top before serving.

Notes
– Use any other winter squash instead of butternut squash.
– You can use any other herbs like rosemary, oregano, or sage. Follow the same process as thyme in step 6 the recipe.
– You can either choose to peel the butternut squash or grate it with the peel. As its grated, the tough skin won’t take long to cook.
– I use rolled oats and coarsely ground them in a food processor to quicken the cooking time and get a more creamy consistency.
– Serve topped with roasted nuts or seeds if desired.
– I make a small batch of almond milk at home for this and similar recipes. My Indian mixer grinder’s chutney jar comes in handy. You can also use a small jar on a NutriBullet. To make the milk, soak about 20 almonds overnight. Peel almonds, and blend in a jar with ~50ml cup water until you have a thick, smooth paste. Add another 50ml water and blend again to combine.

Whole Green Moong Dal

Recipes

A weekly staple at home, calling this dal is a bit of a misnomer. Moong or mung bean is not a lentil, but any split form of moong is called dal in India. This version, made with whole beans, has always been called dal at home probably because the cooked dish is a mushy, dal like consistency.

The tadka, albeit simple, is versatile and can be used for any other dal or vegetables. The recipe does not use many spices or garam masala, as that’s how I prefer most of my food, but feel free to add if you like.

Ingredients (serves 2)
70 gm whole green moong / mung bean, soaked overnight
Some oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large or 2-3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
About an inch of ginger, finely chopped
1 large tomato, puréed
1 tbsp kasuri methi (dried fenugreek)
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 to 1 tsp red chili powder, based on potency
Salt, per your taste
Coriander, a little handful – finely chopped 
Water, as required

Method
1. Soak moong overnight in enough water. Soaking helps activate the dal for easier digestion and quickens cooking time.
2. Before cooking the dal, rinse, throw away soaking liquid.
3. Add a little salt and ~ 2 cups of water, cook in a pressure cooker for 3 whistles. Open only after the cooker depressurises. Mash dal a bit with a dal ghotni, whisk, or ladle by stirring continuously. Mashing will give your dal a thicker and even consistency. Keep aside to mix in step 10.
4. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook in a pot until the dal is mushy and fully cooked; add more water in the pot as it cooks if required.
5. For the tadka, add about a tbsp of oil or ghee to a pan. Once warm enough, add cumin seeds and let them splutter.
6. Sauté onions, ginger, and garlic on moderate heat until they are softened and a little browned.
7. Turn off heat and add turmeric and chilli powder (stops spices from burning). Mix well and let it sit for a minute or so.
8. Add puréed tomatoes and turn the heat back on. Let it cook until the spices fully cook and oil separates. Add a splash of water if required.
9. Add hand crushed kasuri methi and cook for a few minutes on low heat.
10. Add cooked dal to this tadka, mix well, season with salt, and cook further for 5-10 mins on medium-low heat. Add boiled water if you want a runnier dal consistency.
11. Finish it off with chopped coriander and a spoonful of ghee (skip if vegan) before serving. Serve with steamed rice or roti.

Notes
– Serve with steamed rice, rotis/phulke, or plain parathas.
– If your kasuri methi is a bit moist and won’t crush, dry roast for about a minute on a low flame. Let it cool and crush in between your palms.
– The same tadka can be used for any lentil or bean variety. Kasuri methi pairs best with green moong or black urad. Skip for other beans and lentils.
– Make a single portion or double it up to last two meals. Have leftovers? Mix your dal in whole wheat flour with some spices and additional seasoning to make dal ke parathe.

Sabudana Khichdi

Recipes

Growing up, Sabudana (tapioca pearls) always reminded me of thermocol balls, nothing remotely edible to me. I never understood the appeal in eating it, in any form. And as fate would have it, I got married into a family whose daily-bread was tapioca. My father-in-law has been in the sabudana trade for decades, and the family is an expert in all things sabudana. Papa’s work desk has more sabudana samples than papers, and he can distinguish between qualities with the blink of an eye. With all this knowledge, they are also experts on how to best cook Sabudana.

The first time I did enjoy a plate of sabudana khichdi was almost a decade ago. Dushyant cooked the standard version with potatoes and crushed peanuts, and it was far better than the clumpy, oily versions I had eaten before. Cut to today, we still hardly eat any sabudana at home. We usually bring back a few packets from India trips, and they sit in the pantry for months. In pursuit of better rotating the pantry these past months, the sabudana got some attention, and we cooked this version a few times before finally writing down all the measures. No peanuts in my variation, because of intolerance and we prefer this mixed seeds version far more to the peanut one.

Ingredients – For 2
200gm sabudana (sago pearls)
Water, as required for soaking
~1.5 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
~ 1inch ginger, finely chopped
8-10 curry leaves
~400 gm mixed vegetables, chopped (I used potatoes, beans, carrots and corn)
20gm pumpkin seeds
20gm sunflower seeds
10gm white sesame seeds
Salt, per your taste
½ tsp sugar
Handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped – to garnish

Method:

Prepping sabudana:
1. Soak sabudana in water for 20 mins. Ensure there is enough water for it to soak and fluff up (water level around an index finger above the sabudana). After 20 minutes, drain all the water using a colander. Ensure all the water is completely drained but don’t squeeze the sabudana.
2. Place the drained sabudana in a wide bowl and leave it overnight. This gives a better bite and texture while retaining its form, and not turning it sticky after cooking.

Preparing the khichdi:
1. Roast sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame seeds lightly until fragrant and pound them coarsely in a mortar pestle. Alternatively, coarsely grind in a food processor or mixer grinder jar.
2. Gently mix this into the overnight prepped sabudana with ~ 1/2 tbsp oil, a little salt and sugar.
3. In a deep pan, add ~ 1 tbsp of oil. Once warm enough (not hot), add cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add curry leaves, ginger, and chillies. Cook at low heat for about a minute, until fragrant.
4. Add chopped vegetables, a little salt, and let it cook on low flame with a lid on. Cook vegetables until they are tender with a bite. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
5. Once the vegetables are cooked, add sabudana. Gently mix for about a minute and adjust salt if required. Cook for about 2 minutes on low flame with lid on. 
6. Turn off heat, don’t open the lid, and let it sit for 5 minutes.
7. Garnish with coriander and serve.

Notes:
– Typically, sabudana khichdi is made with peanuts but I have replaced it with a combination of seeds as I don’t eat peanuts. Feel free to use peanuts, following the same method – roast and coarsely ground. 
– The quality of sabudana ultimately determines the end result of your khichdi. Some might result in a mushy, sticky khichdi. We have been using Varalakshmi Sabudana (not sponsored) for years and it works like magic.

Restaurant Locavore – Ubud, Bali

Eating out Travel

Locavore is one of my favourite places to dine in and it’s only fitting to start my posts of restaurant experiences writing about them. I have now been there 4 times and the next visit is planned for June later this year. Annual trips to Bali are planned because my husband, Dushyant and I love how our hearts feel content in Ubud and the place has some of the best vegetarian food to offer with Locavore being a unanimous favourite.

Our love affair with Locavore and Ubud started over 3 years ago when we had just relocated to Singapore from India. We had the busiest few months before our move and Bali was our first vacation before we settled fully into our new lives in Singapore. Among the touristy things we planned to do in Ubud, we planned to have at least one special meal during our stay. It was sort of a travel ritual we wanted to develop henceforth, come back with memories of special meals and not a ticked off checklist of must-see spots in the destination. Dushyant’s online research kept throwing up Locavore’s name and we thought it was the perfect choice with their full-fledged vegetarian – herbivore – degustation menu. In all honesty, up until we dined here I thought our eating out expenses were moderate and this seemed a little far-fetched. We had just moved from India and like any other Indian were converting every penny back to Indian Rupees. Years later, today we conveniently convert our eating out expenses to Singapore Dollars and don’t feel as guilty about indulgent meals, after all, they still cost a fraction compared to fine dining meals of similar standards here in Singapore.

Locavore opened us to a world of vegetarian food we had never experienced before and changed our eating out preferences for the better. I was still in a MasterChef Australia hangover like many fellow Indians and had only seen such dishes on the show or food magazines, which continue to remain a great source of food inspiration. I love how Locavore’s and its food has refined over the years yet their humbleness maintained even though they are much more sought-after today. They have gone from being unknown in the Asia dining scene to be the best in Bali and 21st best in Asia per the 50 best restaurants in Asia 2018 list. Much deserved!

Restaurant concept and style of cuisine:
Locavore, as the name suggests, is all about making local produce shine. The restaurant serves modern European fare with an Indonesian flair. Almost all of their produce is sourced from different Indonesian islands and their food philosophy is respecting and maximising the use of produce – both plant and animal – with minimal wastage. Open for both lunch and dinner, reservations are recommended as the restaurant is very popular and fully booked weeks in advance.

Chefs:
Locavore is the creation of Chef Eelke Plasmeijer, a Dutch chef who moved to Bali after a short stint in Jakarta and Chef Ray Adriansyah, a business management student who switched mid-way to chef training and later started his career as Chef Eelke’s sous chef in Jakarta. They both have worked together since in Jakarta, Alila Ubud and shortly after opened Locavore alongside restaurant manager Adi Karmayasa who worked in the same capacity in Alila’s Plantation restaurant.

Menu:
The restaurant offers a meat-based ‘locavore’ and a vegetarian ‘herbivore’ menu both in 5 or 7 courses with drinks pairing as an option. It is a rare menu where equal preference is given to both meat-based and vegetarian diners. Book ahead and let them know about any specific food preferences and they’ll be happy to accommodate your dietary needs.

The restaurant is constantly innovating and their menu changes every season. In my visits, almost all of the dishes were new concepts never served before barring some of their signature off the menu dishes.

Food:
A number of small courses served gratis set the tone for your meal at Locavore. One dish that has featured in all our meals over the years is a dish that heroes’ tomatoes. A quenelle of their bloody mary tomato sorbet perfectly balanced on a slice of cherry tomato finished with a serving of tomato consommé at the table. The flavours of tomato are sublime and the hot and cold is a constant play in your mind on what to finish with last.

We have had little bunches of leaves and flowers out of beautiful vases on one occasion. On others, there have been black bean croquettes, turmeric pillows with lemongrass cream that disappear in your mouth, local spinach tempura, the list goes on. Their pre-meal snacks also include bread which was previously a beautifully baked sourdough bun with a coconut oil passionfruit gel and a lemon basil pesto but in the recent years has been replaced with a local flatbread with sambal, peanut relish and coconut. Of the two, the sourdough with its sides is a clear winner.

Their main menu, of which we greedily always choose the 7 course is a play on different cooking styles, textures and flavours. Enjoy them with an open mind and most them should impress you. We have had a few mediocre dishes over the years but those are far and few and don’t dilute the overall experience.

One dish that has stayed with me over the years has been their ‘Umami’ dish we ate in September 2016 when I visited with my little sister. If Locavore gave me a choice to pick one dish to be re-created from their past menus, this one would win hands down.  The intense flavours of Mushrooms were singing in our mouths long after we had finished the dish.

A Tomato Tartlet we ate in the same year has been another standout dish. A charred fermented garlic pie crust filled with baby heirloom tomatoes, beetroot, black pepper yoghurt, basil and young goats cheese.

Eggplant is another vegetable that has appeared a few times on their menu. Once as an eggplant in disguise, chargrilled and covered in a white curry sauce and crispy black rice. The dish looks deceptively simple but full of flavours. Another time steamed eggplant topped with a herbed brioche and aged goat cheese crumble served in a locally handcrafted wooden tray adorned with baby tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers.

Some other dishes that I enjoyed were the cucumber curry, a play on cucumbers and dill served on a dill flavoured bed of tapioca pearls. Another was a carrot and a perfectly made hasselback baby potato dish called selat solo, the sauce that brought the whole dish together.

Their desserts have equally been on par. Given their meat-based ‘Locavore’ menu has different desserts, we always request the staff to give one diner dessert from the Locavore menu. This means we have more variety to savour on our table!

On our first visit, we ate a dessert ‘banana and coffee’. I loved this because it’s the first time I enjoyed banana in a dessert. It included a coffee ice-cream and banana sorbet with the hero ingredients used in multiple textures on the plate.

Another time it was a fluffy cloud-like apple pie mousse. The light mousse came in a wooden tumbler topped with delicate cinnamon blossoms. Close your eyes and little clouds of apples and cinnamon are disappearing in your mouth.

Local chocolate desserts are another great feature on their dessert menus. Locavore makes it just the way I enjoy it – intensely dark with a mild sweetness. Don’t expect it to be the most luscious chocolate you ever tasted but they do a great job of marrying different local ingredients with the chocolate to present innovative desserts. Their kluwek dessert has been a standout here – kluwek a poisonous fruit made edible by fermentation is combined with local chocolate, nuts, banana, rice and pandan.

Bubur Sum Sum, a refreshing version of coconut and rice flour porridge is finished with all the great flavours of the tropics – gula Bali, lemongrass, mango, pandan leaves and lemon balm.

Just when you think you are finishing a fantastic meal with all those innovative desserts, the team presents you with a variety of beautifully made petit fours. On our first visit, we ate the most beautiful warm madeleines with a creamy vanilla custard. While I thoroughly enjoyed them, I felt they were too heavy after an already indulgent meal. Over the years, the restaurant has considerably changed the portion sizes, their petit fours are perfectly tiny and often just disappear in your mouth in one bite.

One of the most beautiful ones served was a pandan, passionfruit, ginger and coconut dollop of cream topped with delicate cinnamon flowers. Chocolate makes a regular appearance in the form of truffles. The flavours of madeleines still appear but they are now bite-sized topped with a blob of vanilla cream. They also feature a seasonal local fruit part of the petit fours – we once enjoyed juicy segments of chargrilled oranges; in another instance, a snake fruit jelly was served in a rather dramatic manner on a bed of snake fruit skins.

 

I haven’t touched upon drinks pairing with all the courses. While we enjoyed most of the drinks when we took pairings on our first visit, we thought it was too much alcohol for us with an already extensive meal. In our later trips, we have chosen to enjoy some of their innovative cocktails with the one with Tamarillo fruit my most preferred.

We usually finish our 3+ hour dining experience here with some local coffee sourced from Seniman Coffee Studio, before heading out on the streets of Ubud strolling and slowly digesting our indulgent lunch!

Chow-chow Poriyal | Chayote stir-fry

Recipes

Growing up, I remember seeing baskets full of Chayote with most vegetable vendors in Bangalore. For us, it belonged to a section of vegetables that were alien to the Punjabi kitchen and they never featured in any of our dishes. Curiosity has caught up over the years and I now try to learn more about different vegetables I come across and incorporate them into my cooking. Sometime last year, my Ayurveda specialist recommend I introduce more vegetables from the Gourd family in my diet as they are cooling in nature for our bodies. A little research on internet threw Luffa, Bottle Gourd and Chayote as the most common ones and Chayote was the only one I had never cooked with but had seen them in plenty here in Singapore as well.

Poriyal as they call it in Tamil Nadu or a vegetable stir-fry to simply put it is a regular side in our meals. I usually make it with beans, carrots or beetroot and found recipes with Chayote as well. Chayote or chow-chow as it is called in South India is a low calorie, slightly sweet fruit and enjoyed best with light flavours that don’t overpower the taste of the fruit. I usually serve it with sambar and steamed rice.

Ingredients – For 2
Chayote: 1 medium sized, chopped into 1 cm cubes
Cooking oil: 1 tsp (I used coconut oil)
Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Urad dal (dehusked split black gram): 1 tsp
Curry leaves: about 10-12 leaves
Green chilli: 1 small (less or more per your liking)
Ginger: about ½ inch finely chopped (optional)
Freshly grated coconut: 2 tbsp
Salt: per your taste

Method
1. In a pan, add oil and let it heat. Add curry leaves, mustard seeds, urad dal. Let it cook for about a minute until mustard seeds pop and urad dal is slightly browned.
2. Add chopped green chilli, ginger and chayote. Cover with lid and let it cook for about 5-6 minutes.
3. Add grated coconut and salt and let it cook for another minute.
4. Turn off heat, leave the lid on for 5 minutes. Serve.

Notes
– You can either leave the skin on or peel the Chayote, younger ones with soft skin don’t require peeling. If you are peeling it, the skin leaves a little slime once peeled which can cause a little skin irritation. Wear gloves or peel under running water.
– Some varieties have thorns on the skin, ensure these are scrapped off if you don’t intend to peel it.
– The seed of the fruit is edible, there is no need to discard it.
– I like my Poriyal crunchy and cook it for a shorter time, feel free to increase your cooking time if you would like it to be softer.
– I add salt at the end of the cooking process as it retains a more vibrant colour.

Tomato Rasam

Recipes

We talk a lot about recipes and their origins and often look for authenticity in regional dishes. What may seem like an authentic dish today might have been different decades or centuries ago and was probably tweaked out of necessity. This Rasam recipe definitely falls outside the authentic recipes realm as Tomatoes are a new introduction to India, they arrived with the Portuguese around the 16th century.

I don’t know much about the correctness of this recipe compared to the origins; it is the only Rasam my Punjabi mother cooked at home growing up and she learned it from another friend. I love it because it is the sweet taste of nostalgia and takes me back to my childhood when getting home cooked sambar rice or rasam rice was a rare treat! This recipe is effortless and full of tangy tomato and tamarind flavours with a generous hit of black pepper. You are sure to have open sinuses after a hot cup of this Rasam!


Ingredients (serves 2)

Ripe Tomatoes: 2, medium sized
Tamarind: 5grams
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Whole black pepper: 1 tsp
Curry leaves: 12-15 leaves
Mustard seeds: 1/2 tsp
Whole dry red chilli: 1-2 small
Oil or Ghee: 1tsp (oil for a vegan option)
Garlic cloves: 2-3 medium sized mashed with skin
Salt to taste
Sugar: 1/4 tsp
500 ml water (more if required)

Recipe
Wash and chop tomatoes into about 8 pieces chunks. Cook tomatoes and tamarind in a pot of 400ml water for about 15-20 minutes or until they are soft and mushy.
In a separate pan, dry roast black pepper and cumin until lightly browned and fragrant, coarsely grind in a mortar and pestle and set aside.
Strain the cooked tomato and tamarind mix to get rid of the skins and seeds of the tomatoes. Add more water through the strainer to get maximum flavour out of the leftover pulp and discard the pulp. Set aside in the pot in which the tomatoes were initially cooked.
To temper – in a pan, add 1tsp ghee or oil, heat and then add mashed garlic pods, whole red chilli, mustard seeds, curry leaves and cook for about a minute on low flame. Add coarsely ground pepper and cumin and cook for another minute.
Add a ladle full of the rasam to this and mix it all back into the pot of Rasam.
Add salt and sugar, cook for another 5-10 minutes on low flame before serving.

Notes
– For more rounded, deeper flavours especially garlic, leave the Rasam for at least an hour before serving.
– Enjoy with steamed white rice, khichdi, or as a pre-meal soup.