Monday, 8 February 2016

Aloo Paratha (Potato stuffed Indian flat bread)

Today I will be sharing a very simple recipe of one of my favorite comfort foods, Aloo Paratha or Indian flat bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

It is one of the most popular recipes of Punjab but is equally popular and enjoyed all over India from north to south. Aloo paratha is a type of Indian flatbread which is stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes, pan roasted with some clarified butter or butter and served hot with yogurt or pickles. Enjoyed as a breakfast dish in north India, I personally like to have aloo parathas for lunch or dinners. 

Aloo parathas bring back fond memories of my school days. I always used to relate aloo parathas with picnic as it was the the most popular item on the picnic menu in our household. I still remember my mom packing hot parathas in aluminum foils along with some sandwiches for most of my school picnic outings. I still remember how me and all of my friends used to gather all excited and sit in circles for lunch with our packed homemade goodies. They were my favorite picnic meal then and it still is now especially when it comes to preparing something easy yet delicious.  

Initially it took me quite a few trials to make good parathas. Most of the times the stuffing would come out of the dough while rolling it making the rolling pin and everything around completely messy. Other times I was just not satisfied with how the filling tasted, at times it tasted bland and there were times when the dough to the filling ratio was just not right. I started making aloo parathas quite frequently after my move to US. And so after a lot of trials, errors and practice, I can now make fairly good parathas without any blunders :D.

Some quick nutrition facts about potatoes:

Before you start judging the poor potato as being unhealthy think again. If you remove all the deep frying, sour cream, cheese and all of the unhealthy dressing from the potatoes it is actually a healthy food source.

  • Potatoes are very high in Vitamin B6
  • They are a good source of potassium, copper, manganese, pantothenic acid,  phosphorus, niacin and dietary fibre
  • All in all they are good for our bones, heart health, digestion, metabolism and skin. 

So if you skip the french fries, chips and all the unhealthy dressing and include them in your diet in a healthy way and in moderation they can be quite good for you.

Hence you can enjoy parathas as well provided they are drizzled with very little oil or ghee/clarified butter. 


The key to making good parathas is obviously the stuffing. The stuffing should be dry or else it will come out while rolling the dough. Here are some useful tips that I have learnt when it comes to cooking the potatoes correctly:

1) I prefer cooking the potatoes by boiling them. Rinse the potatoes under running water first. In a sauce pan add water, half a teaspoon of salt and mix. Always start with cold water for even cooking of the potatoes. The water should be just enough to submerge the potatoes. Cover and cook in gently boiling water till tender. It takes anywhere between 15 - 25 mins for medium sized potatoes. Check if they are cooked by inserting a small knife, skewer or fork. If the knife easily slides without any resistance to the centre then its done.

2) Try steaming them if possible. This ensures that the potatoes become tender but without all the excess moisture. This may take more time comparatively. 

3) Avoid starchy potatoes like russet because they can absorb water while cooking. I usually use white or yellow potatoes. 

4) Do not overcook the potatoes, this will result in a very gooey and mushy potatoes and they won't work well for the stuffing. If you have a perfectly cooked mashed potatoes then the rest of the steps are very easy. 




This recipe will yield anywhere between 6 - 8 medium sized parathas

Ingredients:

For the stuffing:
2 -3 peeled and boiled mashed potatoes
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garlic grated/paste
1 tsp ginger grated/paste
1 green chili chopped
1/4 tsp of turmeric powder
1 tsp of kashmiri red chili powder (you can also use regular chili powder)
1/4 tsp of garam masala
1/4 tsp of chaat masala or amchoor powder or lemon juice
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro/coriander
2 tsp oil for tempering

Note: If you don't like the flavor of ginger garlic and want to keep it simple, skip it completely or you can also use only ginger paste. You can also add onions if you like. Skip the green chilis and reduce the amount of chili powder if you want the stuffing less spicy. This recipe will yield mildly spicy stuffing. 

For the dough:

1 - 2 cups of whole wheat flour
Water as required
Salt to taste
1 tsp of oil
Dry flour for dusting

Method:

Preparing the dough:

1) In a large bowl add the whole wheat flour and salt. Mix well.

2) Now start adding water little at a time and start mixing with hand. Keep on adding little water at a time and knead till all the flour comes together and forms a dough.

3) Knead well to form a soft dough. Now sprinkle oil and knead again. Cover the bowl or cover the dough with cling wrap and keep it aside for 15 - 20 mins. Meanwhile you can start preparing the stuffing.


Preparing the stuffing:

1) Cook the potatoes by boiling them as mentioned above. Depending upon the size of the potatoes the cooking time can vary. Remove from hot water and let them cool for few mins. Peel them when its cool enough to handle. Mash the potatoes using a masher or a fork. Mash it real good till looks nice and even so that there are no lumps.

2) Heat oil in skillet or pan (I used very little oil for tempering you can use more if you wish). Once the oil is hot add the cumin seeds and let it splutter.

3) Now add the ginger garlic paste and saute for few secs on a low to medium flame till the raw smell goes away. Now add all the turmeric powder and chili powder saute for few seconds.

3) Add the mashed potatoes, salt to taste and mix thoroughly. After around 1 - 2 mins add the garam masala and amchoor/chaat masala powder/lemon juice. Mix thoroughly again. Finally add cilantro leaves and then check for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the gas stove and let the potato mixture cool for few mins.

Note: This is how I like my stuffing. You can skip the tempering and instead add all the masala directly to the mashed potatoes and use it for stuffing. 

For making the Paratha:

1) Heat a round griddle or tava on medium flame. While the skillet is getting warm start preparing the paratha. 

2) Pinch out and make balls from the dough and the potato mixture. The size of the dough balls and potato mixture should be somewhat same.

2) Take one dough ball and start rolling the dough on a rolling board with the help of a rolling pin to a circle of approximately 5 inch in diameter. (Before rolling the dough you can coat the dough with some dry flour and then start rolling to avoid the dough sticking on the board. I usually avoid this step as I don't like too much of dry flour on the paratha)

3) Place one ball of potato mixture in the centre of the rolled dough (as pictured). Now start lifting the dough from the sides and fold it to the centre (as pictured below). Make sure to seal it from above in the centre. Flatten it with hand and coat it with dry flour on both sides. 

4) Start rolling the stuffed ball carefully like we do for roti/chapati. Keep rolling it till you get a round paratha of approximately 7 inch in diameter. 



5) I usually keep the thickness of the paratha medium. If you wish you can make them a bit thick. However do not try to roll it very thin else the stuffing will start oozing out. 

6) Grease the griddle/tava with some ghee or butter.( I used very little ghee that is less the 1/2 tsp on each side to keep it healthy.) 

7) Place the paratha on the griddle and cook it on a medium flame till you can see bubbles forming on top. Add some ghee on the top as well and then flip it and cook the top side. Flip the paratha 2 to 3 times until its nice golden brown on both the sides. You can add more ghee during this stage as per your liking. I added it only once initially to keep it healthy and less greasy. And thats all, remove the paratha from the griddle/tava and similarly make rest of the parathas. Serve hot aloo parathas with pickles or yogurt. :)











Thursday, 4 February 2016

Amaranth and Dates Energy Bars (No sugar and no bake energy bars)

Long post Alert!!!! :D :P

Since the past few months (from the month of September 2015 to be precise, you will know if you have read my previous post about hiking) I have been consciously trying to workout more, cutting down refined sugar, processed and all kinds of unhealthy food from my diet as much as possible. Although i won't say that I have completely cut down chocolates, cakes, cookies, ice creams, pizzas etc entirely but yes I am trying to eat in moderation and incorporating all healthy organic food in my diet as much as I can.   

Being a foodie it becomes a bit difficult or should I say challenging :P to control what you eat and you tend to go off track very easily. It becomes even more difficult especially when you live in a place like US where you get the opportunity to try cuisines from all over the world. Believe me it was not that easy initially. But I have done this before and I tried to look back to the "old me" who was very much thin.

Few years back prior to my wedding I used to work a 9-5 job which also involved lot of traveling. I hardly bothered when it came to exercising and ate whatever I liked. The amount of sweets and sugary stuff that I ate during that period was extensive. Then came a day when I said to myself "that's it", I had to do something about all this weight. And that is when i decided to cut sugar, fried and processed food completely from my diet no sweets, no chocolates or ice creams. I started walking whenever I could and took stairs rather than the elevator to office. It took time but slowly and gradually after 6 - 7 months I has lost almost 10 - 12 pounds (5-6kgs). Only by cutting down on sugar and eating mindfully and in moderation, I had lost all the unwanted weight. I strongly disagree with any form of dieting. I continued eating our regular Indian food. But everything in moderation. My goal was not only on shedding all the excess weight but I wanted to be healthy at the same time. I reached my target weight and maintained it for a good 2 years.

Post marriage and after moving to US, after 3 years I yet again find myself struggling to stay fit and healthy. I have gained so much weight that this is the heaviest that I have been in years. And its definitely not a good feeling. No I am not interested in being a size zero (I love my curves) or shedding weight just because people started pointing out that I look fat. I want to look and feel healthy, I want to be fit physically and feel strong from within. All this weight gain has caused a number of changes in me like lethargy, lack of interest in doing anything, weakness, unhealthy looking skin, hair fall.. to name a few. Just imagine even after having all the time in the world (yea I am on H4 so currently not working hahaha) I did very little to stay healthy. The only time I lost some weight and stayed healthy was when we lived in Austin, Texas. It's not like I didn't want to, I think I was not motivated enough.

One fine day I read this quote on Instagram "Take care of your body, it is the only place you have to live", that is when something in me switched on and I decided enough is enough. This powerful quote coupled with a strong motivation from my husband has been the driving force on my road to leading a healthy life.

To stay healthy we have to eat healthy as much as possible. . Well there are cheat days involved but even on those days I make sure I never go overboard. Cook your own meal, eat at home, homemade is always good because you know what goes in your food and you have complete control on what you add. Choose healthy snacking to fight the hunger pangs during the day. That is the reason why I always have dates, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds etc handy in my pantry. Eat a handful in place of fried chips and other processed stuff to satiate your hunger pangs late in the afternoon.

Healthy lifestyle had led me to avoid all kinds of packaged stuff and that includes energy bars. I make mine at home. This way I always know that my energy bars are free of preservatives and all that sugar. Have you checked out my previous energy bar recipe? If not then click here.

My husband requested to make a completely sugar free energy bar. And this Amaranth and Dates bars are just that. Super easy, no bake and no sugar energy bars . They are perfect as a pre workout snack or you can even carry them in your purse when you are on the go for a quick energy refill.



This is a super easy recipe. All healthy ingredients minus sugar and homemade makes this energy bar a must try. If you don't have amaranth at home skip it add more oats and nuts. Feel free to add your favorite nuts in this recipe and enjoy this healthy snack but try and limit yourself to one small bar at a time because this can be very addictive :P.





Ingredients:

1 cup of puffed/popped amaranth
1 cup of oats (traditional or quick cooking. I used quick cooking oats and toasted them on a skillet for few mins)
1 and 1/2 cup of crushed medjool dates
1/2 cup of unsalted peanut butter (at room temperature)
2 tbsp of goji berries
1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
1 tbsp of chia seeds
1 tbsp of flax seeds

All of the above ingredients used were organic.

Method:

1) Throw the pitted medjool dates in a blender and give a few pulses until it is gooey in texture. If you are using dates that are a little hard, soak them in warm water for few minutes.

2) In a large bowl add the crushed/pureed dates and peanut butter. Mix thoroughly.

3) Now add all of the above mentioned dry ingredients and mix everything until nicely combined. The texture will be such that you should be able to make a ball of the mixture easily.

3) Transfer the ingredients into a lightly greased 8" x 8" inch baking pan or any pan in which you can spread the mixture easily to make bars. I lightly greased the pan with some coconut oil.

4) Press the mixture with the back of a spoon and pack tightly in the pan. Cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 -2 hrs. And thats it.

5) Cut the bars in any shape of your liking and enjoy this perfectly healthy no sugar energy bars :)




We have only one life and one body to care for, and we better do it right - Novak Djokovic

So until next time, stay healthy, stay happy :D

Monday, 25 January 2016

Marvelous Peru - Part 2 Machu Picchu

So here it is finally, Peru trip Part 2.........Machu Picchu with tons and tons of photos.

We saved the very best for the last. Our final and the most awaited destination at Peru, one of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu.

Have you checked out my previous post on Peru? If not click here

Surreal, breathtaking and indeed a wonder. 
The only way to get to Machu Picchu is by train or by walking the Inca trail. A 3- 4 hr train ride to Aguas Calientes (the little town that is located below Machu Picchu) and from there a short 20 - 25 min bus ride, will take you to the main gate of Machu Picchu. The Inca rail and Peru rail, these are the 2 train company options that you can choose from. We opted for the Vistadome by Peru Rail. Vistadome had some really good reviews and the fact that it offered a panoramic view from the train sounded impressive. The tickets also included buffet lunch at Hotel Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.

As the hotel where we stayed in Cucso (Tierra viva Cusco saphi) serves breakfast very early in the morning by 5am, we quickly grabbed something to eat (I don't function empty stomach in the morning :P), checked out and then left for the train station at around 5:30am. The reporting time at Poroy station was 6:10am and departure time was 6:40am. The hotel staff offered to look after our luggage till our return. So we only carried stuff that was needed for our 1 night and 2 day stay at Aguas Calenties.

All the trains to Aguas Calenties starts from Poroy station, which is around 20 - 25 minutes from Cusco. We asked the hotel staff to book a taxi for us a day before and the taxi driver also offered to pick us after our return. It will cost no more than 25 to 30 soles from Cusco to Poroy station. 

Some important things to carry for the trip:

  • Print outs of train tickets
  • Payment receipt of entrance to Machu Picchu
  • Print outs of hotel bookings
  • Passport (very important)
  • Rain ponchos/rain jackets/waterproof jackets/Fleece
  • Backpack
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellant (the sand fly bites at Machu Picchu can get really nasty and very itchy)
  • Camera (we carried both DSLR and water proof camera)
  • Water
Once we boarded the train from Poroy station it took us around 4 hours to reach Aguas Calientes. The ride to Aguas by Vistadome was a pleasant one. The train was overall very spacious, comfortable clean with air conditioning/heating. Food and service were good. The large panoramic windows and the windows on the roof of the train provide an amazing view of the beautiful landscape. There was also a cultural dance performed by the staff on our way back from Aguas Calientes to Poroy station.

Windows on the roof  
These huge windows are definitely a plus. We clicked a lot of photos on our way. 



Aguas Calientes

We reached Aguas Calientes at around 10am. We quickly freshened up at the hotel left our luggage and decided to some sightseeing of the little town followed by lunch.

Aguas Calientes, is a charming little town located below the ruins in narrow valley between the mountains and surrounded by forests. You will find a lot of restaurants, shops selling souvenirs and also many massage salons. 





Some of the narrow lanes leading to the restaurants are very steep. 

Delicious lunch at Tree House. I particularly enjoyed my quinotto (risotto made with quinoa)

We had lunch at Tree house and dinner at El Indio Feliz. I would recommend both of them good food and great ambience.





Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a without a doubt the most surreal and one of the most beautiful historical site. If simply put in words this place is magical in every way and should definitely be on your must see bucket list. 

However to make your trip up to see the most beautiful Inca ruins memorable, it is always better to be prepared well in advance. I have listed some of them below.  

The very first glimpse as we entered 
Be prepared and keep in mind the following things:

1) We booked the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu online in advance. Once booked we received an email with attachment of the payment receipt. But remember this is not the original ticket for entrance. We showed the payment receipt at hotel reception where we stayed for a night and they gave us the confirmation printouts. We took this confirmation printouts with us and bought the original tickets at the counter located near the bus stop. Please make sure that you have your tickets one day prior or the night before. Buying tickets on the same day of your visit is not recommended as it becomes very very crowded in the morning with people lining up for the bus as well as for tickets. This way you save a lot of time and will reach up early. 

2) The first shuttle bus to Machu Pichhu starts at 5:30am and people start lining up very early in the morning. We were at the bus stop by 5:00am and were surprised to find a really really long line. But the line moved pretty quickly as there were many buses heading up. So try to catch the earliest bus if possible if you want to watch the sunrise. 

3) DO NOT forget to carry your passport. They check the tickets and your passports at the entrance. 

3) Carry your very own water, snacks and lunch. Generally all the hotels at Aguas Calientes offer to prepare and pack lunch for you so ask about this at the reception. Although there is a cafe near the entrance but it is pretty expensive. 

4) Keep your tickets safe with you. You can reenter only once after you exit.

5) Two major downsides, the first been availability of restrooms/washrooms. Once you enter the main gate at Machu Picchu there are no restrooms/washrooms, you will have to walk all the way back to the entrance where the only restroom is located and line up there as well :(. Second downside, since this is one of the most popular tourist attractions, it does get very crowded. So don't be surprised.

6) If you are feeling adventurous you can hike up to Machu Picchu, or the other easier option is to take the shuttle bus up and hike back down.

7) Check the weather and be prepared in case of rain showers as well.

8) Gather as much information as possible online before planning your trip so that you are not in for any surprises during your trip.

9) If you don't have a train back to Poroy the same day, you can spend the entire day at Machu Picchu. Checkout the Sun gate and the Inca bridge. If you are interested in checking out Huana Pichhu you will need a separate ticket for it. 


It was a very cloudy day and as we entered the clouds were enveloping the ruins completely. All we could see were glimpses of the ruins here and there.


We kept moving up and up for a good clear view
Waiting for the clouds to clear up


We started ascending for a good clear view. As we reached the top we couldn't see anything initially. The clouds were playing peekaboo with us for a good amount of time. Just as we were waiting for the clouds to clear up it started to pour cats and dogs. We did check the weather before and it did mention few rain showers but it poured for straight 2 hrs. Since our train back was late in the afternoon, we still had enough time and so we waited patiently for the rain to stop. 

And when the rain started to dwindle we decided to checkout the Inca Bridge. The Inca bridge (pictured below) is believed to be a secret path that lead to Machu Picchu. It is small hike (around 20 25 mins) and the trail is well marked. There are a few places where the trail gets narrow be careful and hold on to the metal and rope hands along the trail whenever required. 




View along the trail to Inca Bridge 
We were hoping to watch the sunrise but unfortunately it was so cloudy that day, the sun was nowhere to be seen :P.

The rain finally stopped after around 2 2-1/2 hrs later and we could finally see a clear view of the citadel. We took of our back back, sat on the near by rocks and kept gazing at the incredible view in front of us. 

And as the clouds started to clear up we clicked as many photos as we could. :) Sharing some of them here. 






Closeup of the ruins
You will also spot many Lamas grazing around 



Time to exploreeee the ruins upclose.....
And yes that is how my hair looks when exposed to humidity :( :(  hahaha...I dont care though :P 























Hope you enjoyed this post and the photos :). So until next time. 


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