I have been on a break from work for nearly a month and a half now, and am surprised how time flew away. I haven’t achieved half the things I had set for myself to do and yet I find this is one of the happiest breaks in a long time! The home was to be re-done and it still isn’t, because P and I did not seem to agree upon most elements till a couple of days ago. I meant to complete the crochet frock I had started making for my daughter when she was three, thinking it would make an ideal gift for my young neighbour if turned into a skirt. The idea never took off! I did what was needed most which incidentally is the latest trend – listening to my body. It had only one thing to say to me – rest and sleep. And I did! I have been taking my afternoon siestas seriously to such a point that I am afraid its become a habit. Just a half hour’s break spent lying down can refresh the mind and body so much. It’s a pity bosses at work do not seem to agree with the fact!
On the brighter side, I baked a lot, photographed, caught up on movies, music, dvds, friends and restaurants. I attended some very informative vegan workshops, made a trip to Bangalore to my parents home. Spent a happy Diwali, visiting my ninety year old grandmother, my aunties and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews and of course gorging on some lovely homemade vegan goodies specially made by my mum. I will be telling you a lot about my holiday in Bangalore in my forthcoming posts. A trip to my native place is so invigorating that it would do no justice to try and encapsulate it all in one tiny post. I met talented blogger, Madhuri of Cook Curry Nook. She baked me some great tasting and pretty vegan cupcakes. Here’s a glimpse. You can find the recipe on her blog.
On the personal front my daughter seems to be having some food allergies and we are still in the process of figuring out the allergens. Right now we know she is allergic to certain nuts like pine nuts and cashew nuts. She is also on a gluten free, vegan diet that has reduced her allergies a lot though her skin hasn’t restored itself completely. I remember being challenged and upset by these developments earlier. Thanks to many gluten free blogs, I have been able to adapt and cook gluten free, vegan breads and cakes that satisfy the gluten eating vegetarians and vegan, and the gluten intolerant as well. Her allergy has added another dimension to my vegan explorations, and so far they prove to be the healthier alternative for all of us.
For vegan enthusiasts as well as the health conscious people in Mumbai, I came to know of a wonderful team of people who are coming up with actually ‘zero-oil’ vegan tiffin services soon. I will keep in touch with the team and let you know more about the service when it is launched. The news was part of a vegan lunch organized by the partners with a discussion session headed by Dr.Nandita Shah. I must say that though the discussion was good, this was a do where the food was in the main. The entree consisted of stuffed baked potatoes and tomatoes, and sweet potato squares. The salad was a wonderful mix of vegan mayo with red amaranth leaves (lal maat or lal shaak, leaves of cheru payaru) and nuts. The main course consisted of steamed brown rice and Burmese khao suey. The dessert was brown rice sheera. If zero oil food tasted as good as this, I could be a low cal eater for life! More on the tiffin service when it is launched.
I had taken my daughter along with me and ever since we got back she has been going on and on about the stuffed potatoes. “Mummy, did you see how they were disappearing? The tray was placed and within seconds, whoosh, all gone!” What she did not notice was that ‘mummy’ was very much part of the ‘whooshing’. She could not enjoy the starter as it contained a generous nut topping. Yesterday I recreated them at home for my children in both versions, a vegan cream cheese filling for us and a pesto filling for my daughter. The recipe that follows is my adaptation. I made this to taste similar to what we ate. I have used my favourite alternative to cheese, i.e., raw cashews in my filling. If you are nut allergic, you can substitute the cashews with firm silken tofu. Please note that my version is low on oil but not ‘zero’.
Dish: Baked potatoes stuffed with vegan cheese and herbs
Yield: Serves 12 nos.
Potatoes (Starchy variety or Russet) – 6, medium sized
Basil pesto (Optional) – 2 tbsp.
Olive oil – 1 tsp.
For the ‘uncheesy’ cream cheese filling:
Raw cashews, soaked for at least an hour – 1/4 cup
Zuchhini, diced fine – 1/4 cup
Roasted peanuts, split (optional) – 1 tsp.
Cayenne pepper – 1 pinch
Coriander leaves, chopped fine – 1 tbsp.
Fresh thyme, picked – 2 tbsp.
Alfalfa sprouts (optional) – About 1/2 a tsp. on each potato
Lime – 1, squeezed to extract juice
Garlic powder (optional) – a pinch
Onion flakes or powder (optional) – a pinch
Himalayan pink salt (Saindhav namak) – 1/8tsp., as per taste
Olive oil – 1 tbsp.
Water – 1/8 cup or more as per consistency needed
Steam or bake potatoes till cooked through. I steamed as it takes less time. Baking takes about an hour or 70mins at 220 deg. Cel. You must scrub well, pat dry and coat the potatoes with oil before placing it in the center of a pre-heated oven.
Peel the potatoes and carefully cut into halves lengthwise. If baked, you can keep the skin on as baked skin tastes really good.
Scoop out the centre leaving half a centimeter on the circumference. Coat each potato with a little pesto.
Drain the soaked cashews. Grind with the water and oil.
Mash the scooped out potatoes. Mix the other ingredients for the filling along with the mashed potatoes and the soaked cashews. Add water or oil to bring the filling to the consistency of a thick sauce.
Place the potatoes in a greased foil on the oven tray. Bake in the center of a preheated oven at 220 deg. Cel. or 425 deg. F. till the potatoes are heated and develop brown specks. Skip this step if the potatoes were cooked by baking and not steaming.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and fill the centre of the potatoes with a table spoon of the filling. Top with crushed peanuts or alfalfa sprouts.
Serve hot and watch the demolition!
The herbs, peanuts and vegetables are optional additions to the filling. I like the crunch of salads as well as the flavour of herbs to contrast with the smoothness of the cheese hence recommended.
Baking the potatoes tastes better than steaming but takes a longer time. It also gives a more appetizing look.
The pesto coating is optional but does add a very nice flavor. You might want to use any one herb rather than as many flavors as I have used.
Instead of baked potatoes, substitute with scooped zuchhini or cucumber and use the same filling. Makes a great raw appetizer.
Try different herbs such as chives, green onions, leeks roasted peppers or asparagus, sauteed mushrooms or caramalized onions in the filling. Simple salt and pepper flavouring also works great.
You can bake the potatoes along with the filling too but I feel it stabs out the flowing texture of the sauce.
For me it is only simple food with flavours that work. I use less salt and spices in my preparations so that the taste of each ingredient is felt. The heat to my meal, if any comes from a dash of pickle on the side and that too is not what I miss. Adjust salt, spice and oil as per your needs.
Just baked potatoes taste great too. Click the picture to go to the recipe.