Neer Dosas

Neeer Dosas with chutneys served on a banana leaf

The world of bread in India is an unending rabbit hole of textures, flavors, and preparations. Seriously. You could fill an entire year just working your way through them all. It’s a journey I would be happy to take.

Some breads you no doubt have heard of like naan and chapati. But, there are plenty of lesser-known regional varieties like litti that are hard to find locally.

Unlike the bread baskets on the tables of restaurants in the US, Indian breads are an important part of the meal, not just a filling accompaniment. Forget forks, Indian breads are usually how you get those flavors to your mouth.

While I would never refuse a fresh and piping-hot piece of naan, I do like to seek out other options when I can. My favorite non-naan? That would be a tie between chapati and dosas. But, puri are great too.

Dosas are very thin South Indian pancakes that are similar to crepes and are most commonly served with chutneys and Indian pickles as a snack. They are a favorite of mine both for their flavor and because they are a fantastic vessel for tasty vegetable tidbits, sauces, and even soups. The issue with dosas is that there are plenty of ways to make them, adding another level to that rabbit hole.

I recommend starting with the most basic version when trying something new at home. While the most familiar dosa batter is made from rice and lentils that have been fermented, a Neer Dosa is made from only 3 ingredients and is not fermented at all. This makes it much lower maintenance and a great place to start—because making dosas can take a little time and practice to get them right.

Just like their better-known cousin, neer dosas should be served with a wide variety of chutneys and pickled veggies.

Neer Dosas Recipe
Yields about 8 dosas Read more…

Vada Pav

Indian Street food, Vada Pav, a potato patty served on a bun

Vada Voom
One of my favorite things to experience when traveling internationally is the street food. In my opinion, it is the best way to learn about a different culture. And, honestly, while a 3-star Michelin restaurant can be amazing, sometimes the snack from the cart on the corner is the best meal you will have.

Except for the NYC hot dog cart, the US doesn’t really have much street food culture. The closest we come would be food trucks. But, in a place like India, street food is unavoidable. I experienced this firsthand when my then fiancé and I spent some time with a good friend and his family in Mumbai.

Not gonna lie, eating the street food made me nervous. But, here’s what I learned from that experience. It is darn near impossible to avoid GI issues when traveling in India—no matter how careful you are. It may be TMI, but you need to be aware. Just go prepared. Preferably with a prescription.

Trust me it’s worth it because the real flavors of India are found on the streets. Except for that life-changing Tandoori crab…but I digress…

Picking a favorite snack, a.k.a chaat is impossible. But, Vada Pav would definitely be in my top 10. Keep in mind, my sample size in India is small, and consists only of Mumbai and Goa. I haven’t had the chance to go everywhere and find more options….yet.

To be frank, there’s a reason you purchase these. It’s a lot of prep and cooking for something that is just a snack. But, while I am sure someone somewhere is making these in the Bay Area, I haven’t been able to find them. So, when I feel a craving coming on, there’s nothing left to do but roll up my sleeves and get to work!

Vada Pav Recipe
Adapted from Chaat by Maneet Chauhan
Yields 4 servings

Vada Pav (a.k.a. Bombay Burger) consists of a deep-fried potato dumpling placed inside a bread bun. Vada is usually accompanied by green and coconut chutneys and fried green chili peppers. Although Vada Pav originated as a street food in Mumbai, it is now served in food stalls and restaurants across India.

For the Vada
3 russet potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for deep-frying
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon hing (asafetida)
4 fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri or other red chili powder
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled with a spoon and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
1/2 cup lightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons chaat masala
Fresh lime juice
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 teaspoon ground coriander

For the Chaat
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 flaky white buns, such as potato or brioche buns
Green Chutney (we recommend Indian Life)
Coconut Chutney, store-bought or homemade
Vada Pav Dry Garlic Chutney
Pan-fried serrano chiles (optional)

Cook the potatoes
In a saucepan, combine the potatoes and enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until tender (about 15 minutes).

Drain the potatoes, and once they are cool enough to handle, peel them using your fingers (the skin should slide right off). Place the potatoes in a bowl and mash them with a fork until they are still slightly chunky.

Toast the spices
In a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until it glistens. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and sauté until they begin to hiss (about 2 minutes). Add the hing, curry leaves, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, and garlic. Sauté, stirring often, until the garlic is tender (about 4 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Make the potato mixture
Add the potatoes, cilantro, and chaat masala to the spice mixture in the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated. Season the mixture with lime juice and salt to taste.

Form the patties
Form the potato mixture into four 2-inch balls and arrange them on a plate in a single layer. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside at room temperature.

Make the chickpea batter
In a large bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour and enough water (begin with 1/4 cup) to form a paste resembling a thick cake batter. It should not be runny. Stir in the coriander and season with salt.

Fry the vada
Line a plate with paper towels to absorb the oil.

Pour 5 inches of oil into a deep heavy-bottomed pot and heat the oil to 350°F on an instant-read thermometer. Dredge the potato balls in the chickpea batter until they are well-coated. Shake to remove any excess.

Using a slotted spoon, gently lower a vada into the oil and fry until golden brown on all sides (about 4 to 6 minutes). Turn the patty with the spoon as it fries to ensure even cooking and browning. Transfer the vada to the paper towels to drain and season with salt. Repeat with the remaining vada.

Fry the serrano chiles
Fry the serene chiles (if using) in a pan with a little oil until they begin to blister (about 3 to 4 minutes),

Assemble the chaat
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Split the buns and place them in the pan, interior-side down. Fry the buns until they are a light golden brown (about 1 minute). Place one bun with the interior sides facing up, on each of the four plates. Slather both sides of the bun with green chutney, then spoon coconut chutney on top.

Place a vada on the bottom bun and top with fried chiles (if using). Serve with additional chutneys on the side.


Plate of Dolmades

Midday Mezze
Readers who have followed this blog for a while might remember a post I wrote in September of last year about crawdad lunch. For those of you who are not familiar, crawdad lunch is what my family calls a lunch that consists of salami, cheese, crackers, and maybe some fruit. It has evolved over the years to something a little more sophisticated.

I still have crawdad lunches—especially when the weather is warmer. In fact, I had one yesterday, but this was not your five-year-old’s crawdad lunch. My lunch consisted of pita bread instead of crackers, salami, grapes, mixed pitted olives, some hummus, and, lastly, dolmades.

If you are not familiar with dolmades, they are cigar-shaped stuffed grape leaves and they are yummy. They can be made the classic way with meat but are just as tasty in their vegetarian form. Dolmades can be eaten on their own with a squeeze of lemon or dipped in some tzatziki for a pop of tartness. Either way, they make for a perfect lunch.

I made these over the weekend for my daughter who is having a busy week and wanted to food prep her lunches. Dolmades are a great choice because they will last 3 to 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. And, they have a bit of everything you need to get through the day—carbs, protein, veggies, and of course, flavor. They are also extremely portable for those beautiful Spring days when you want to be outside and need to pack a lunch.

This recipe makes quite a few, so feel free to half it.

Dolmades Recipe
Adapted from The Mediterranean Dish
Yields 60

This flavorful, traditional Greek dish is made by stuffing grape leaves with a delicious mixture of rice, meat, and loads of fresh herbs and warming spices. Then they are cooked in a bright lemony broth. Read more…

Amy’s Tzatziki

Amy's Tzatziki Sauce in a bowl

Spin Cycle
My sister’s washing machine blew up a few weeks ago, which is never good. Besides the inconvenience of not being able to wash your clothes, she now has to deal with getting the repair person out, having them figure out what’s going on, and all the rest of the hassle. The good news is that she lives five minutes from me which is so much better than the laundromat. And, it is why we found ourselves having a throwback Sunday family dinner while she did a few loads of laundry.

Growing up, Sunday nights meant dinner at my grandmother’s house—which I loved and hated at the same time. I loved having dinner with my grandparents because the food was fantastic. But, I almost always was dragged kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to stop playing out in front of our house with my friends, not to mention having to shower and put on decent clothes.

Anyway, when I got the call from my sister asking to use my washing machine, I immediately started planning for a Sunday dinner a la Gammy which meant some sort of roasted beast. I opted for a leg of lamb. Now, a leg of lamb isn’t cheap. And, normally it wouldn’t be my first choice. But, I had ulterior motives.

I knew that a leg of lamb would be too much for the number of people eating. But, I also knew that the leftovers would be great the next night wrapped in warm pita bread with tomatoes, sliced onions, and one of my favorite things in the whole world, tzatziki.

I love tzatziki and have been known to have just that with some fresh pita slices for dinner. You can buy pre-made tzatziki from the store and it will be tasty. But, it is so worth the minor effort it takes to make it fresh. Plus you have the opportunity to customize it to your liking. I go pretty heavy on the garlic. Thankfully, my husband likes it that way too. Otherwise, we would be sleeping in different bedrooms because of lingering garlic breath…

Amy’s Tzatziki recipe is good on so many things like lamb meatballs, kababs, and sandwiches. Use it as a veggie dip or chip dip. Any way you can think of to get some in your mouth will work. Bonus…because it’s made with yogurt, tzatziki is pretty good for you, too.

Amy’s Tzatziki Recipe
Yields 4 to 6 servings

Tzatziki is a creamy cucumber yogurt dip or sauce made from simple ingredients that are both tangy and garlicky. It is made from yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, lemon, and sometimes fresh herbs. A full-fat Greek yogurt works well in this quick-to-prepare recipe. Read more…