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Dubai Adventures: Desert Safari

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One of the most popular things to do in Dubai is to go out in the evening for desert safari. Depending on the tour operator that you choose to go with, it includes dune bashing, sand skiing, camel rides, dinner in the desert with belly dancing, henna painting etc.Dune bashing was the highlight of the trip. Vipul couldn’t stop raving about it. I skipped as it was too much for my 28 week pregnant self to handle and of course I didn’t want Varun to partaking in it either. The ride is crazy rough (how crazy depends on your driver).

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We booked the tour after we reached Dubai and went with Arabian Nights. Apparently more exclusive (read expensive) tour operators take you out to a conservation area to talk about desert conservation, bedouin lifestyles, falconry etc, but this tour was a pure “entertainment”.Even though it is evening safari, we were picked up from our hotel around 3:00 pm and then dropped off by 9:30 pm.They dropped Varun and me at the desert camp and went with others to the dune bashing area. They were still setting up the camp so Varun and I wandered around the small dunes, watching camels and sunset from a ridge.

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Vipul loved the sand bashing part – roller coaster rides amongst dunes so high that it was impossible to keep up. He only got a sense of how vast the desert is when they stopped for sunset photo ops. The sunset watching area was crowded with all tour operators descending on the same spot for sunset and then whisking the tourists away to various camps for dinner.

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As Varun and I were at the camp before everyone else, we bagged some prime seats. After sunset, it began to cool a bit and the freshly made shwarma and falafel were what we needed. Even Varun enjoyed the falafel and freshly baked bread from tandoor.

Fortified, we went out to try the camel ride ( a joke of a 2 minute ride), henna painting, seeing the falcon and trying the sand skiing.

Over dinner, we got to see an amazing Tanoura  dance. Although not local to the area, the Tanoura dancers are a sight to watch. With their colorful long flowing skirts they twirl around at dizzying speeds. The origin of the dance is in Sufi tradition and is to symbolize union between Earth and Heaven with the twirling motion indicating seasons, movement of earth around Sun as well as around Mecca. Here the whole act was to entertain us tourists and earn a living. Maybe some day when we go to Egypt we will experience the dance the way it is intended to be. But for now, it got us hooked!

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

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Followed by the Tanoura dance was a belly dance – again not a regional dance but something to keep us entertained. She was good as belly dancers go. Folks milled around over food, Arabic coffee, sheesha while the belly dancer entertained.

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The good part about the camp setup was that the sheesha hut was setup away from the main seating area. So we were not bothered by the smoke. And other family friendly activities like henna painting, sand art, dressing up in local garb, souvenir shop etc were away from sheesha hut.

After dinner and entertainment, we headed back to our hotel. It was about an hours ride away. Folks we shared the car with were sloshed and slept all the way. Varun didn’t want to come back. He was happy playing in the sand and digging up a storm while we had dinner. Needless to say there was some crying involved but he slept en-route as he was tired to.

If you have one day in Dubai, do this tour. There is nothing more entertaining and adventurous than this! And of course this is what everyone back home will ask you about (besides Al Burj) ;)!!

Baked Basil Pesto Chicken Breast with Spanish Rice

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One of the first few things that we cooked in our apartment post the move, is basil pesto chicken with spanish rice. A staple at our house, this is one complete meal that can be cooked in about 30 – 40 mins. Its rich with veggies, protein and is gluten-free.

It comes together with the starter ingredients listed in my previous post on setting up a new kitchen. Leftovers make a flavorful lunch the next day.Serve with a green salad to add more veggies or with some garlic bread and wine to make it more festive.

Note:

1. Cooking time will vary based on rice used. Jasmine rice will cook faster than brown rice or basmati rice. Follow the timing instructions from the rice packet.

2. Rice to liquid ratio will also vary by the kind of rice used. Basmati rice uses 1: 2 while jasmine needs 1: 1 1/4. Follow this proportion from the rice cooking instructions. For drier rice, use 1/4 cup less liquid than mentioned on the directions.

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Baked Basil Pesto Chicken Recipe 

  • 2 Chicken breasts thawed and cut into 1 – 2 inch cubes

For Marinade

  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley (dried)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (dried)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

For Baking 

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon pesto sauce

1. Marinade the chicken breasts with all the ingredients listed above and set aside for at least 15 mins. You can use the time to make and prep the Spanish Rice ( recipe below).

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F ( 180 C).

3. Grease an oven safe dish with olive oil. Spread 1 tablespoon of pesto over it. Layer the chicken over the pesto taking care not to overlap them. Spread the remaining pesto over the chicken.

Wrap foil over the baking dish.

4. Bake for 10 – 11 mins. Test with a fork to ensure juicy but cooked chicken.

Serve warm.

Spanish Rice Recipe

  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely diced garlic
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper finely chopped
  • 2-3 brocollini florets finely chopped ( including their stems)
  • 1 roma tomato finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cups – 2 cups chicken broth or water
  • Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a pot and add garlic. Once the garlic sizzles ( but is not brown yet), add onion. Cook till the onion is translucent for about 2 mins.

2. Add pepper and brocollini and sauté them for  a minute. Then add the roma tomato. Cook for another 2- 3 minutes till the tomatoes cook and wilt.

3. Add rice and sauté for another minute allowing rice to cook in the juices from the veggies.

4. Now add the chicken stock. or water. Add paprika and salt to taste. Stir well. Cook on medium flame for about 10 minutes till rice is cooked.

Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Andhra Special: Gongura Chicken ( Chicken in Sorrel Leaves Gravy)

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For my 201’st post, I thought I should post a regional recipe. When I first moved to US in 2001, we all had packed food items from home – be it pickles, papads or even pulses. While we were getting adjusted to the new life there, we all bonded over homemade simple meals. News,updates,learning’s were shared. Daal-chaawal for the dil ( aka Chicken soup for the soul).

Most folks from Andhra had a bottle of gongura pickle.The tangy sour sorrel leaves picked in a hot oil tempering. The combination is amazing and most Indian stores across US stock this.  It soon became a staple in our house and even today stands next to mom’s sweet and sour pickle.

When we moved to Hyderabad, we were introduced to another Andhra specialty made with red sorrel leaves – Gongura chicken. And the pairing is classic. Italians have their Chicken with Spinach, North Indian with fenugreek leaves (Methi– chicken) and Andhra has it with gongura leaves.

Renuka making chicken

Alas not all places make it well and we have had varying degrees of luck. Some places it was too sour,others it was too bland. Till recently, Renuka, our cook made it when she saw chicken and gongura leaves. And it was lip-smacking good. So, good that I asked to make it again when we had friends over.

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She willing shared her recipe and blushed when I told her I would share it with you all on Internet.

I hope you all love this tangy chicken recipe as much as we did 🙂

Gongura Chicken Recipe

Serves 4

  • 1 lb chicken(boneless skinless cubed into bite sized pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 cup red onion diced
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup coriander leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups Gongura leaves – washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon – turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon – garam masala powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons -coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons – red chili powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups water

For the Marinade

  • 2 tablespoon yogurt
  • 3- 4 garlic pods minced
  • 1 inch ginger root peeled and grated
  • 1 green chilli diced
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon ( about 1 tablespoon)
  • Salt to taste

 For the Coconut Paste

  • 2 teaspoons Desiccated coconut ( thawed if frozen)
  • 10 -14 cashew nuts ( unsalted)
  • 3 garlic pods -roughly chopped
  • 1 green chilli – roughly diced

1. Marinade the chicken in the ingredients listed above. Set aside for 30 minutes to an hour.

2. Heat oil in a pressure cooker ( or a pot with tight fighting lid). Add onions and fry till translucent. Add the coriander and mint leaves and saute them for about 30 seconds till wilted.

Then add gongura leaves and saute them for about a minute.

3. Now add all the spices – turmeric powder, chili powder, coriander powder, garam masala and salt. Keep stirring as you add the masalas so they wont stick to the pan and burn.

4. Add the coconut paste and cook through for another minute.

5. Finally add the chicken along with the marinade. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add water.

Pressure cook for 2 whistles or cook till chicken is cooked through but not tough about 8 – 10 minutes.

Serve hot with rice or parathas.

The Daring Cooks June Challenge: Mutton Meatballs With Apricots

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Long long ago in mid May, the Daring Cooks posted there June Challenge on Meatballs from around the world. Meatballs being a family favorite,I wasted no time in making them. In fact I made 2 types of meatballs.

They were made and devoured the first weekend after the challenge was posted and amidst all other things never mentioned. Not on the Daring Cooks internal forum nor here when the “day” we can go public with our challenge.So, while it’s still June I must correct this oversight.

One of my friends mom had made these Turkey meatballs stuffed with apricot and light spiced gravy a few summers ago. They were really awesome. Juicy, flavorful with the sweetness from the hidden apricot. Spices from the northern state of Kashmir – cardamom, saffron and cinnamon. Or so, I recalled of that dinner.

When the challenge was posted, I decided to use spices common to the northern state of Kashmir and extend that to the flavors of Silk Route. Ingredients sourced and recipe built from a variety of sources – memory of that turkey meatball, lingering taste of kafta kebab and shammi kebab.

Here I had a recipe that was great on paper.When I actually made it, it turned out a bit dry and not so juicy. An egg or two should help with that problem. I was hasty and added the kebab to the gravy before they achieved their golden – brown color. Cooking them in gravy instead of adding at the last-minute to get the flavors to meld was another rookie mistake. Here is a modified recipe that I am sure would work. I just need another free weekend to re-try this.

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Mutton Meatballs With Apricots Recipe

  •  10 – 15 dried apricots soaked in water for an hour, seed removed
  • 1 lb Mutton or Turkey mince ( use ground and mix of dark and light meat to make juicy meatballs)
  • 1 red onion finely chopped
  • 1 green chili finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 3- 4 cardamom pods , shelled and seeds powdered
  • A pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 3 -4 cloves of garlic finely minced
  • 1 inch ginger root, grated
  • 1 egg
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoon oil for frying

Gravy:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves finely diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  •  2 inch  cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 Red Onion finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon yogurt
  • Salt to taste

Make Meatballs

1. Mix all the ingredients listed except the oil and mix well. Adjust seasonings per taste.

2. Form the meatballs, stuffing an apricot in the center of each. Set aside.

3.Heat oil and fry the meatballs on medium-low flame till golden brown. Set aside.

Make Gravy

1.Heat oil. Add spices once the oil is hot but not smoking. Add onions and fry till cooked through. Add yogurt and let onions cook in this yogurt base.

2. Crumble a meatball in the crazy and cook through so that the gravy thickens.

3. Add salt and adjust seasonings to taste.

To serve

1. Add the meatballs to the gravy and cook together for few minutes till heated through.

2. Serve warm with rice or rotis.

Enjoy!

Easy Peasy Whole Wheat Olive Focaccia

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My apologies for being a bit tardy in posting last week. Work got in the way and I didn’t have enough time to blog. I promise to do better this week.

Last night, I was mentally prepping menu’s for weekend and the week so I can shop accordingly. A fried egg sandwich came to my mind. Hmmm…that with coffee would be a good strat to the weekend. While thinking about bread, focaccia came to my mind. Only problem – I haven’t found focaccia in the supermarkets or even in a bakery here in Hyderabad. I needed a hearty bread for brunch.

So I looked up online to find an easy focaccia recipe and found one that needs minimal effort. Just mix all the ingredients up and let yeast do its work. The dough rises and flavours meld.  A few hours later with minimal effort we had a chewy focaccia. It was denser due to whole wheat flour but I am sure half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour would result in a lighter bread while still being healthy. Olives added saltiness to the bread. Herbs in the bread enhanced its flavour so we could eat it as is. Which is exactly what Varun did after removing olives.

The recipe is very simple and requires very little effort beyond the initial kneading. If you have a food processor or a stand mixer then even that is minimal. Also, it  is very versatile. Change the herbs – lemon – cilantro, roasted garlic, smoked paprika – sun-dried tomatoes per your mood. Play with toppings, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, red onions. Its bound to surprise you with its flavour.

Give it a try this weekend. It can be dressed up into an elegant brunch with salad and wine or into a memorable breakfast with fried eggs and bacon.

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Easy Peasy Whole Wheat Olive Focaccia Recipe

  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for topping + 1 tablespoon to grease the pan
  • 1/2  cup olives

1. In a large bowl, mix sugar in the water and add then add yeast. Set aside for 10 minutes till the yeast proofs.

2.  Once proofed, add all the ingredients listed (other than olives) and knead for about 10 minutes. It will be sticky which is fine. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to double. It takes about 3- 4 hours here but can take longer. Have patience with the first rise. Else the bread will not be soft.

3.   Punch down the dough, and knead for 30 seconds again. Oil a baking pan well and spread the dough in this pan. You can leave this free form. Using your fingers, make dimples in the dough. Insert an olive in each dimple. Brush with olive oil.

Set aside for another 45 minutes to rise.

4. Pre-heat oven to 180F/350 C and bake the bread for 30 – 35 minutes till golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool in pan.

Cut and serve warm. It goes well with salads, soups, or in an open faced sandwiches.

Pan Fried Tofu – A Quick Dinner Idea

Pan fried Tofu

Do you get in a salad rut? I know I do.

I get bored with eating it and look for ways to add some sizzle to them. In US, I used to buy baked savory tofu. I haven’t found it here. So instead of marinating and baking tofu, I pan-fried it.

And let me tell you it was a delicious accident. I wasn’t sure how this will turn out. But over salad, it was perfect. Crisp on the outside, flavorful and soft on the inside.

The tofu that I had on hand was firmer and drier than ‘extra firm’ kind in US. You may need to keep the tofu sandwiched between plates and with weights to take excess moisture out before marinating the tofu. While the tofu marinates, chop the salad. Add dressing of your choice ( simple lemon juice works too). Pan-fry the tofu slices and then serve over salad.

Gotta love quick and easy recipes! And serendipitous accidents!!

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Pan Fried Tofu Recipe

  • 1 block Extra Firm Tofu
  • 1 tablespoon Siracha sauce
  • 2 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Few mint leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled and  freshly grated
  • 1 inch lemongrass stalk chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon oil

1. Remove the tofu from its package. Keep it pressed between 2 plates and weigh the plate with some canned beans or  books.  After 15 – 20 minutes, enough water will be removed from tofu that it can be sliced and marinated.

Slice it into large pieces.

2. Mix all the marinade ingredients and pour the marinade over the tofu. Set aside for 10 -15 minutes.

3. Heat oil in a pan. Fry tofu slices till golden brown.

Keep an eye out this chars quickly and no one likes charred tofu 😉

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