Warm Spinach & Pomegranate Salad with Walnuts and Pan Seared Halloom

Growing up in Karachi it seemed to me that all of my friends ate more or less the same food my family did. Except for one. My friend A has a Syrian grandmother and thanks to that influence the food at her house was always so different and so darned good. I shamelessly invited myself not only to her house, but to her grandmothers on more than one occasion because I simply could not get enough of the clean bright flavors. Everything was no muss no fuss delicious. I suspect the novelty of it made it seem even more delicious because once I was telling her something was really good and she said “it’s just aalu gosht with no masala for Godssake!”

Clearly she didn’t appreciate it as much as I did.

Warm Spinach Salad w Walnuts, Pomegranate and Pan Seared Halloom

This warm spinach salad is one of her family recipes. The lemony garlicky spinach provides the perfect base for some lovely healthy winter flavors. The bright pomegranate seeds and the toasted walnuts provide flavor and crunch that is perfectly complemented by pieces of pan seared halloom (my addition). For those of you unfamiliar with it Halloom is a salty firm Arab cheese that lends itself well to grilling or searing as the insides melt, but the outside will turn a lovely crispy brown while still holding shape. It is now commonly available in most grocery stores in Toronto much to the delight of Zara, my 4 year old Halloom fiend.

This salad comes together quickly and is infinitely adaptable. Just use the spinach as a base and add whatsoever your heart desires. I imagine it would be equally good with some feta or goat cheese and I happen to know it is yummy without any cheese at all. We usually have prefried onions in the pantry (readily available and they keep well), but if you don’t then you are welcome to make your own or omit them entirely.

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Achari Bhindi or Okra in Pickling Spices

Let’s talk about achar – it is that very subcontinental of condiments that includes a range of spices that give the achar it’s depth and fiery heat. You can make an achar out of many things but I suppose the most common ones are mango (the unripe kind), carrots, green chillies, lemon, and garlic. Me? I am not such a fan of the stuff. My husband? He probably secretly fantasizes about a day when we have no food in the house and he can just eat achar and roti (bread) – or achar and rice. I used to think of his fondness for achar as a cute quirk until Daddy Jafri pointed out that ‘that says a lot about what he thinks of your cooking’. Pfft.

So anyway, I have learnt to adapt and have added things like this dish to my repertoire. My favorite part? Thanks to the existence of frozen chopped Okra I just toss a bunch of stuff together and then let it cook. Eassssyyyy Peassssyyyyy.

As a disclaimer there is a family of ingredients that will give you that ‘achari’ taste and if you are missing some then you probably will not get the same flavour but it will still be quite delicious. The one element of this recipe that I skip quite frequently is the ‘kachri’ powder which I believe has the unique capability to hide when I need it.

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Hand Pies i.e. Pot Pies to Go!

People it is cold outside. And snowy. I have now been more or less home for a week now. What is a girl to do, but turn to some good old comfort food and what could be more comforting than Pot Pies that little hands can pick up and dig in to? I tried this recipe from Sophistimom some time ago and was very pleased with the result. It is flavourful and reheats well. I used store bought pastry dough, but next time I will make my own so I get something that is sturdier and less salty. Making this recipe vegetarian would be very easy, just swap out chicken boullion for veggie boullion, omit the chicken and up the veggies.

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Perfect Pasta with Mushrooms

Some time ago when I had posted the Jamie Oliver Cheat’s Fresh Pasta recipe a friend of mine had asked about the pasta with mushrooms that I had made when she was visiting. While I was meandering through the grocery store (which is what happens when I leave my list at home) I saw a box of mixed mushrooms and figured why not.

And I am so glad that I did. I had forgotten just how incredible this simple dish can be. I usually make this with the meatier Portobello mushrooms, but today I picked up a mix of shiitakes, chanterelles and baby portobellos and it was perfect for a spring day. Flavorful,  but not too over the top, satisfying yet I could still move from point A to point B after. This recipe is a modified version of a Jamie Oliver recipe that I tried several years ago and have made countless times since. The original recipe is at the food network site here – yes, I am a gigantic wimp and scaled down the red chilli. Those dried red chillies are really spicy okay! Do I get points for increasing the garlic? Well, given what it does for this dish, I certainly think I should 🙂

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Deliciously Easy Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes. Pasta. Balsamic Vinegar. Ten minutes. One Meal. Sold yet?

Okay so when I say ten minutes I am not factoring in the time it takes my pasta water to boil, but really ten minutes of active cooking time for one meal is pretty amazing as far as I am concerned. This recipe is from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution book, also known as, the start of my love affair with J.O. I am not a fan of the ‘cheffy’ dishes as he calls them, I do not grow pea shoots in my back yard, I am not entirely sure I want to make a dish that requires many lengthy steps (lasagna is a notable exception), and at the end of it I want my food to be homey and flavorful so for the longest time J.O. and I did not see eye to eye. This book/show changed things. I have tried many recipes from the book and they have been mostly home runs.

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I once made the mistake of using suspiciously watery grocery store brand balsamic vinegar in this dish and it did not work at all. Currently we have some really good balsamic vinegar that we bought at a specialty store in the Distillery District in Toronto. It has a very deep flavor and as such I only used about a tablespoon and a half and found it to be perfect as is. I also make this with whatever pasta I have on hand. Check out how fun the shape I used today is – it is like the edge of a lasagna noodle!

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Spicy White Beans

Creative cooking is generally not my thing. I am a baker you know – we don’t make up amounts as we go along.  Working with a tried and true flavor base – now that’s my jam so to speak. I recently soaked and boiled an absurd amount of northern beans and only have so much room in my freezer. By only so much room I mean I think I can jam one Ziploc bag worth of beans into my freezer if I try really hard. And never open the freezer door again. You get the picture.

Anyway so here is what I came up with, it is light and spicy at the same time and makes for a really good quick lunch.

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