Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma

One of the big lifestyle changes that I have made since I have come back home is in the food I eat. I have been on a diet for the past seven weeks. Well, its not a diet but rather mindful eating. I have been cognizant of the macronutrients of the food I eat, whether it’s processed or not and if meets my daily nutrient requirements. There are pros and cons to mindful eating. A big advantage is challenging myself to make healthier foods by coming up with new recipes. There are negatives to mindful eating too– mainly that for the most part I have had to give up alcohol, bread, and sugar. If you have been following my blog you would know that leaving sugar wouldn’t be hard for me at all (if you need context check this out). However, leaving bread and alcohol was very difficult.

Coming back home felt like a clean slate. This needed to be a new chapter and for that reason, I felt that this mindful eating exercise had to be a part of the process. I committed to the regime. Woke up every morning and did an hour of crossfit training followed by a 300 calorie breakfast composed of 6 egg whites, a bowl of oats in soy milk with dried figs; an apple and cold brew coffee for mid day snack; black chickpea salad for lunch; and grilled chicken with one carrot and one cucumber for dinner. This is what I have been eating most days day. This comes to about 1,400 calories with a good mix of carbs, protein, and fat. It took some time to get used to this regime but now it feels strange when I deviate. Of course, I change the meals a little every now and then but the end caloric intake remains about the same.

The high intensity interval training and diet have resulted in me losing a little more than 10 kgs (22.05 lbs) in 7 weeks. The transformation, while physically doesn’t look like much, has been great for me mentally. I feel more energetic and am getting to a point where I feel comfortable with my body, more so than I have been in a long time.

Every now and then however, I get cravings which usually land up conveniently on a weekend. I seize such opportunities to make what I would call a feast. A no holds barred meal wherein I throw mindfulness out the window and create something based purely on the pleasure of taste. This oven-roasted shawarma is a product of this weekend’s feast. Shawarma is a middle eastern preparation of marinated meat that is cooked evenly and eaten with pita bread and a host of delicious accoutrements. I have made this in the past but each time the spice blend I used didn’t do justice to food. It always ended up tasting a lot like chicken tikka instead. There are two big differences between Indian and Middle Eastern marinades. The first is that in Indian marinades the meat is soaked in yogurt as a layer of additional fat whereas, in middle eastern marinades that fat is provided by olive oil. Secondly, middle eastern preparations focus more on the taste than on the aromatics. Hence, they do away with things like cloves and cardamom and only keep spices that enhance the flavors. I made this dish in the most traditional way possible. I left the chicken in its marinade for almost 12 hours, cooked in an oven for twenty minutes sliced and further fried off half the pieces in a skillet to get a crispy outer coating. What I was left was a mix of tender and crispy pieces of meat that was accompanied with store bought pita and a homemade mint white sauce which I love so much that I plan to make a lot more very soon. The feast was absolute success. Both my dad I overate which resulted in a high that comprised of antacid and soda bicarb. No regrets though.

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I have loved making all these amazing recipes. I have been hearing back from a lot of friends and family  about the things that they have been making. Please share, like, and send pictures! Looking forward to the next feast day though I have been mandated by my vegetarian mother to make something for veggie lovers instead of just meat guzzlers. Hang tight for that recipe soon!

Ingredients

3 limes, juiced

1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon of olive oil

6 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons red chili powder (paprika works as well)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

A pinch ground cinnamon

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 kilogram (~2 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 large red onion, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Step 1

Prepare marinade for the chicken. Combine lime juice with 1/2 cup of olive oil, garlic, salt, black pepper, cumin, red chili powder, turmeric, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and chicken into a large bowl. Mix well, cover and keep for a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 12 hours. 

Step 2

Heat the oven to gas mark 6 or (425 F). Grease the pan with some oil and set the chicken. Coat the onions in the marinade and place in the pan as well.

Step 3

Put the chicken in the oven for not more then 30 minutes or until the outer edges of the chicken begins to crisp and darken. Once cooked, let the chicken rest for 2 minutes. Slice thinly. If you want to make the chicken more crisp, add a tablespoon of olive oil on a skillet at high heat and cook until chicken begins to curl tight. Serve with Hummus, white sauce, fresh veggies, pita, and pretty much anything you desire!

 

 

Pad Thai

Today I begin my first full time job. I will be working in digital marketing in a PR company and while four years ago, I wouldn’t even think of this as a potential occupation, my experiences and degrees suggest otherwise. One of the things people have started telling me is that “Oh, Archit now that you have started working you will have no time.” I found this constant opinion that in college I had time and now I won’t, hilarious. College was hard y’all! I’m not going to lie, my last semester was a lot less busy but every other semester, I was constantly moving from a class to a meeting to working on homework. In fact, because I lived on campus I didn’t even have commuting time which I could use as respite from constant engagement.

In all this craziness, I also had to keep myself fed which meant either eating the same food in cafeterias or actually cooking. While I love cooking, it’s a little time consuming: prepping, the actual act of cooking, and washing dishes all add up. Therefore, I had to think of recipes that needed less equipment and minimal prep time. Enter Pad Thai. All it needs is rice noodles, any (or all) of the veggies you have in your fridge, and a sauce with which to caramelize everything. The important thing here is the sauce. All the flavors are introduced by the sauce which means it needs to hit the three palette tenets of asian food- spice, sweet, and savory. The traditional pad thai recipe asks for tamarind paste but I substitute that with lime juice and rice vinegar which simulate the tang and acidity of tamarind.

I miss original thai food all the time. One of my favorite places to eat in college was a small thai restaurant called Royal Thai, which was run by this tiny but energetic woman that we called “Thai Queen.” She used to love us and always gave us free refills of thai iced tea. I do miss college, but food like this keeps those memories alive. This week I had an unique opportunity to head back to Denison and begin a life there but I chose against it. I do believe that I made a good choice of starting a life in a country that does accept me but I guess only time will tell how smart of a choice this was.

Anyway, I hope you like recipe and give it a try. I have been hearing back from people who have been making some of the recipes and I am excited that you seem to like them. Send me pictures so that I can blog about them!

Pad Thai

 

Ingredients

Serving Size: 2 people

4 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoons Sriracha

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic minced

2 red chillies or 3 green chillies

200 g of chicken breast or shrimp

2 well beaten eggs

15 large cremini mushrooms sliced thinly

1/2 red or green peppers

250 g of rice noodles (3 mins on boil)

6 Spring onions

handful of coarsely chopped cilantro

handful coarsely chopped peanuts

Preparation

Step 1

Boil noodles for 3 minutes or as per package instructions.

Step 2

To make the sauce: add sriracha, fish sauce, lime juice, rice vinegar, and sugar. Mix well.

Step 3

In a wok, add oil and heat on high until oil begins to smoke. Add Shrimp or chicken and cook a minute under it’s done. Remove protein, and add garlic, ginger, and all the veggies. Cook well and add rice noodles. Add the Beat the egg whites in the center along with your pad thai sauce

Step 4

Reduce the heat and let the sauce caramelize. Mix well and serve with peanuts.

 

Chai Spice Chicken with an Orange Soy Sauce

My last year in college was when I started taking cooking very seriously. I had to cook everyday than just something I do when I have a craving. I therefore had to move from just pastas and sandwiches to things that were a little more healthier. I felt the need to stop eating cheese and wheat and so I looked at more rice based recipes. Stir fry’s were one of the most popular things that popped up when I searched for rice based dinners. They are amazingly easy dishes which don’t need a lot of elements for them to be good. They can be customized with your favorite proteins, veggies, and sauces to make them fit your palette. This means that once you have an idea of how to cook the dish, you can create your own renditions. Donal Skehan is the king of easy dinner and stir fry recipes. He uses great ingredients, appreciates complex flavors yet makes it easy enough for a novice cook to give it a shot. One of his dishes was a five spice orange chicken stir fry. He marinades and cooks the chicken in garlic, sesame oil, and a five spice mix— an asian blend of cloves, star anise, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel. Further, he stir fries a variety of veggies adds the fragrant chicken and mixes with a sauce made of soy, orange juice, and sugars. The chicken takes in the flavors of the garlic and cinnamon, while the star anise and cloves add aromatics making the chicken a great tasting and great smelling protein. On the other hand, the orange reduces the saltiness of the soy sauce and adds flavor to the sugars we add that caramelize into this thick sticky sauce coating each element equally.

On paper (and video), this recipe sounded amazing but I soon realized that I don’t own any five spice or have raw spices to make my own. I also lived in the middle of nowhere Ohio and without a car, getting some spice for just this recipe would be hard (and SO much work). After perusing my pantry I found some Chai Spice that I probably brought from India. It was a blend of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and black pepper. Essentially things that on puts in a hot cup of tea in the freezing cold or in the rains. This seemed promising. I added some streaky bacon to the chicken. It imparts some fat and smokiness. The fat melts away and reduces the amount of oil we use. Instead of fresh orange juice, I used Tropicana. It’s sweeter and tastes the same every time I make it. The last adjustment I made was to reduce the amount of sugar. Donal puts a lot of sugar, to a point where I wonder if he even eats the food he makes because his physique does not match his affinity for ingredients diabetics cant eat. Reducing the sugar doesn’t reduce its taste. It makes it a little less sticky but I kind of like that because then I can cover all my rice in the sauce. Un-sauced rice gives me hiccups haha!

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When should you make this:

  1. Daily meal! It’s an amazing dinner meal that is easy to whip up
  2. Date night. It has just enough elements that your date would be super impressed even though you really aren’t doing much

I hope you are all liking these recipes. Let me know how you made it!

Ingredients

Serves 2

2 chicken thighs, boneless & skinless, cut in bitesize pieces

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely minced.

1 red chili, finely sliced

2 tsp Chai Spice (or ground up cinnamon, black pepper, star anise, and cloves)

1 tsp sesame oil

1-2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying

Basmati Rice, to serve

For the sauce:

1/4 cup Orange Juice (no pulp)

2 tsp honey

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tsp Sriracha

For the vegetables:

1 red onion, finely sliced

8 large button or cremini mushrooms

1 medium green/red/yellow pepper cut lengthwise

1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned

Preparation

Step 1

Marinade the chicken. In a bowl add chicken, garlic, sesame oil, and chai spice. Mix well, cover, and leave in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Step 2

Add orange juice, honey, soy sauce, sriracha, and rice vinegar. Mix well. Its okay if the sugar doesn’t completely dissolve.

Step 3

Add half the amount of veggie oil in a skillet and wait until the pan is smoking. Add the chicken. Don’t move the chicken at all. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side until a nice brown color appears on the surface. Flip the chicken and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove the chicken but keep the juices of the pan.

Step 4

Add the veggies and flash cook them Add more oil if needed. Bring back the chicken. Make a tiny well in the middle of the pan and add the sauce. Reduce the heat and let the sauce caramelize. Two minutes would be enough. Remove from pan and serve with rice.

Pesto Pasta

I LOVE pasta. I mean it’s not something rare but I genuinely have a deep appreciation for how simple ingredients like flour, water, and eggs can make something so delicious and versatile. Pasta comes in a multitude of shapes, colors, and sizes. However, there is one thing intrinsically about any pasta– It can absorb flavor. The reason why we love pasta is never just the pasta alone, it’s the flavor that we infuse it with (though there are some people like my roommate that can eat it with no flavor and if he is really hungry, raw). It’s the sauce that has made Italian food so versatile. With a base like a flavorless noodle, the real magic is in giving the base character.

My go to sauce is Pesto. It’s traditionally a basil, pine nut, and olive oil infusion that has a variety of new combinations. Its fresh, light on the palette and works extremely well with long strand pastas such pappardelle or linguine. While its light on the palette, both the olive oil and pine nuts give it the fat content of a filling meal. Which means, that it really doesn’t need an accompaniment of a protein (such as chicken or shrimp) or veggies. I usually cut the fat with lemon and fresh cherry tomatoes, as a way to introduce some fresh elements to the dish.

When to make this dish?

  1. When you are alone, hungry, and are in the middle of a master of none binge session.
  2. Date night: its easy enough that you don’t get into a fight with your boo thang but intricate enough that you don’t think it was take out.
  3. When you have a lot of people coming over: It’s not hard to find the ingredients to make a large quantity of this dish and its very filling. Only caveat, you might have to add veggies or protein because not everyone can appreciate a simple dish.

Pesto Senior Year 2

Give the recipe a try. It’s a little different and based on my taste. Being an Italian sauce you can literally change any of the elements. Let me know how it was!

Ingredients

1 Cup Fresh Basil

1/3 Pine Nuts

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1/2 Cup Parmesan (though I have tried it with Gouda, Manchego, and Mozzarella all tastes good)

1/2 a lemon

A fist full of your favorite pasta cooked according to the cooking instructions

Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional: 10 cherry tomatoes cut in halves, 1 tbsp of toasted pine nuts

Preparation 

Step 1

Wash the basil well rinsing about 3 times and submerge water as you prepare all the other ingredients. In the mean time, start boiling water and cook pasta as per the instructions.

Step 2

Start by emulsifying the fats. Add the pine nuts, olive oil and garlic into a food processor and pulse until the nuts are well ground into a paste

Step 3

Add the basil lightly draining the water, along with cheese, salt & pepper. Pulse until a thick green paste is formed. Approximately a minute. Check in the middle for consistency. Finish by adding lemon juice and mixing with a spoon

Step 4

Add 2 tablespoons of pesto into your pasta and mix well. Add some pasta water if the mixture looks too dry. Garnish with fresh cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts

Changing Angles

I have been trying to write this one article about my recent trekking experience however for some reason I just am not able to compose it properly, so I decided on writing about something else.

Part of the Chinese exchange was that the exchange students come to India as well. They came in August of 2012, just as school started. School meant a lot of workload, tuitions after school and then hanging out with my Chinese counterpart, Zhang. Zhang was quite okay with it, he understood the demanding nature of our studies as he came from a similar  education system. In some ways, actually, their teaching methods were worse. On average we have 30 kids in each class. Zhang had 60 kids in his class. The teacher actually wore a portable mic for her voice to reach the far end of the class!

As part of their visit we went to Agra to show them the Taj Mahal. It was hot, and dirty and hot some more times. Agra has been one of those iconic places where every Indian has planned a trip around. I had been there once before with my parents. I remember walking and being pushed by innumerable people to enter the garden that acts as a metaphoric ‘red carpet’ towards the mausoleum. The gardens have a central water body with fountains  spouts which I have seen working in action. The ‘red carpet’ is sprinkled with benches for people to sit and look at the beauty of the white marble structure and the two buildings around it. However the people that come to visit use it as a stool instead. Parents tell their kids to stand on them and pose in such a way that it looks as if you are holding the Taj Mahal from its tip. I hate how people do that. It diminishes the majesty and engineering marvel that the Taj Mahal stands for. Sadly, the young me loved it. I have a couple of photos like those that no I will not like to show you.

The Taj Mahal hadn’t changed since the last time. Though what had changed were the level of concern the government had for maintaining the building. Instead walking barefoot on the cold marble we were now forced to wear shoe socks. The number of people entering the mausoleum was also monitored. I was impressed by the level of concern and commitment that was being shown by the government. However this meant a long line both getting in the mosque as well as getting (we had a big group who weren’t all allowed at once) On the plus side, though, thid gave me the chance to take pictures! Sitting outside the Mahal’s main building I was looking up when I could a single bird hovering, gliding past one of the four pillars that embody the building. That was when I clicked this picture;

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I simply love this picture and its not because it took me over thirty minutes to chase behind the bird to get this shot; Its because of the various elements that can be seen in the picture.  You get this beautiful angle of the Taj Mahal with its inlayed walls, one of the four pillars and this beautiful bird flying through it. A majestic bird meets a majestic building.

Another great thing about the picture is that if someone sees they automatically identify it with the Taj Mahal, even though you can’t see the iconic dome shaped roof or any of the other usual indicators. This picture was a learning for me to really think out of the box while visiting places of historical importance. It has motivated me really understand the beauty of such architectural marvels and why people love them so much.

I can’t wait for the heat to subside here in Delhi so that I can go visit places like Qutub Minar.

I did take another picture with my Chinese colleagues that I love a lot. Have a look!

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Chandini Chowk: A feast for all the senses

There was this article (2011) in the National Geographic Magazine commemorating the fact there are now 7 Billion humans on this planet. The author, Nigel Holmes talked about what it would be like to have a party where the whole world is invited. He said that an elevator allows about two to three square feet of space per person, however this is a party and he wants everyone to have some space to dance, giving them six square feet of space. This means that the party would need a space of about 1500 square feet. Holmes then said that such a kind of party space would be found in places like the complete city of Multan, Pakistan or all the 118 islands of the French Polynesia. After reading this article I spent the next week thinking how this party would be like, how it would be to party with so many people in such a small place.

Chandini Chowk is an apt example of how such a party would be like. Correction, its an exact example of how crowded it would be. Chandini Chowk is a small district in the older parts of Delhi. It overlooks the Red Fort and was and still is used mainly as a large marketplace for the masses. I have gone there thrice. The first time was when I was ten and we had to go meet some relative. I hated it. I was ten and forced to walk through crowded, poo infested streets and I didn’t even get a Mc Donald’s burger for lunch because there weren’t  any in a twenty mile radius (I was growing through a phase where everything was too spicy and dragging me out of my house to meet relatives costed my parents a burger).

The second and third time was quite different. Six years after growing taste buds and an increased temperament to the Indian sweaty crowd, my opinion about the place changed. In 2011 I went with my parents with no real agenda of my own. It was the winters and weather was perfect to walk around tiny lanes with the greasy smell of paranthas. Chandini Chowk was really the first place I took an interest in macro photography. We walked to a never ending strip of markets specialized for selling just spices. It was really an amazing sight. The heaps of raw spices were a visual, however they did give a good battering to my olfactory senses with that strong, pungent smell.

Chilies

I experimented quite a bit with such spices walking through the heavily scented area. Apart from the chillies another favourite picture among the spices is a picture of a bowl of mixed spices, the star of the picture being incidentally, a star anise.

Star anise

There is stark religious divide in Chandini Chowk. The complete shopping area is divided in a Hindu and a Muslim market. The Hindu markets are in close proximity of the Red Fort and is also where you would end up if you ask any local for the way to Chandini Chowk. The Muslim market overlooks giant mosque called the Jama Masjid. The two areas (the latter is called Chawri Bazaar) are different is some ways. The people in both the areas speak the same language but have different dialects, the colors that dominated the Hindu side were red and mustard, and the muslim side were white and hues of blue. I don’t know if the colors are really a difference, it was just an observation. India is known to have a somewhat deep religious divide even though on official paper we are “secular” nation. India is known to have fights based on religion. However, such a divide is not observed in the people residing there.

The most recent time I went to Chandini Chowk was with my school friends. We had gone there with the aim to take pictures though the heat and one friends insistence to buy kilos of sweets put me down. I did however enjoy going with them. There was no time limit being hounded on me by my dad my mum insisting me to put sunscreen due to the heat. I was truly allowed to get lost. It was also the first time I ventured into to Chawri Bazaar. I was able to click a couple of pictures. This one is of a trio of wheel barrows that are stuck in a traffic jam.

trio

Another picture I took was of a bowl of peppercorns. Those tiny black spherical seeds really were able to express nature’s ability to create colors. Each corn was of a different hue of black or brown. It’s beautiful to think how many different colors were actually needed to get that color.

Pepercorn

I have not seen a place thiscolorful, hot, noisy, dirty, and tasty as Chandini Chowk. I cant wait to go again, beat the odds and click satisfying pictures and meeting interesting people, be it in the Jama Masjid or in the newly opened Mc Donald’s.

Spice Street

From paper to pulp to paper, again

Take one mug full of pulp and the sheet you get is thin and dilapidated; take one and a half and the sheet you end up making is thick at the edges and thin in the centre. Take one mug full and a tiny sliver more and you get the perfect 100 GSM sheet of hand made, recycled paper. This is something I learnt from The Kalyanmayee Paper Factory.415357_566017986753515_1634622851_o

The paper factory is situated in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi and is part of the Airport Authority of India’s CSR policy. Their work at the factory is remarkable. They collect paper from 80 airports around India and convert it into usable stationary for the AAI. I was impressed by the NGOs commitment to sustainability it only uses harvested rainwater from its factory’s in-house catchment areas and the drained water is then re-used as a solvent for the pulp.

The factory had come with great products but they had no name or popularity. They were doing this amazing work but no one knew about it. Thats when I decided that in order to publicise the factory I should bring people in to see what they doand allow them to buy their products. However then I thought what if you invite school students during the summer holidays for an internship. Students learn about the interesting and tedious process of paper making, which makes them understand and feel for the work they do.

538613_405498349472147_573830156_n  This is how in 2011 “The Kalyanmayee Project” came about. Our original batch consisted of 18 students that worked 5 hours for 15 days. They designed and made their own products and then sold them later on. The money generated would be donated to an NGO chosen by the students of the batch. Till date their have been two batches of the internship from which we have generated more than 11,000 rupees.

The aim of the project was to create an awareness about the work the factory was doing, however as the internship progressed further, the aim became far deeper;to instill the need for recycling and environmental sustainability within the students.The internship program had students working for not only production of products but also had the job of making a documentary and blog where the interns would talk about the work that they did.

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By 2012, the internship had a big name in Delhi amongst students. So much so that I had to hold interviews to screen the students and choose a select few. Being a student myself I  somewhat enjoyed the authority I held. The 2012 batch were a bit more enthusiastic. Their enthusiasm led to incorporating full schools into the Kalyanmayee program. The Shri Ram School started collecting waste paper from staff rooms and administration offices and sent it to the factory in return for printer friendly paper for their internal use.

The students that came here had their own agenda. Some came to cut their holidays, some to make new friends and some even came to beef up their resume for colleges to look at. However I am happy to know that at least a some of them were inspired. These inspired students are now heading the 2013 internship, which will commence this june.