Dates are in season again as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is upon us. Fasting is mandatory in Islam for all Muslims and we must not eat or drink (not even a sip of water) from sunrise to sunset. It is certainly a very testing month of our faith for all Muslims but we somehow manage and soon the 30 days get over and we get back to our regular eating. Dates are always eaten when breaking the fast at sunset because dates are highly nutritious (dates are very rich in iron, manganese, potassium and copper). It is recommended to eat 2-3 dates when breaking fast because dates provide the body with natural sugar, helping to restore the low blood sugar after fasting all day. And it helps to kickstart the digestive process.
So, I happen to be in a supermarket the other day and was thrilled to see boxes and boxes of dates displayed all ready for the approaching fasting month. I quickly grabbed two boxes and brought them home only to have my husband requesting a loaf/bread/cake or bars using the dates. You see, its always a challenge to please my husband's taste buds when it comes to confectionaries because he is so particular about the usage of butter, sugar and eggs. So whatever recipe I come across online, I have to tweak it to replace the butter (for this recipe I used coconut oil), eggs and reduce or sometimes completely omit the sugar. And I am not always successful.
The following recipe gives a no-butter no-egg Date and Walnut Oatmeal Crumble - essentially a date and nut filling sandwiched between two layers of crispy crumb mixture.
Ingredients (Yields around 18 crumbled squares)
For the Crumb Base and Topping
1 3/4 cups rolled oats (or even fruit-free muesli)
1/2 cup brown granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup coconut oil
For the Date Filling
250 gm dates
1/4 cup brown granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup grated white coconut
1) Firstly, you have to pit and chop the dates into small pieces. This is the most time consuming step of this whole recipe.
2) Then, place the chopped dates, water and brown sugar into a small pot. Boil till the dates become soft and mushy. This will take roughly 5 mins on low heat. You can mash the date mix to speed up the process.
3) Then, add in the chopped walnuts, grated coconut, vanilla and coconut oil and give it a good mix.
4) Switch off and let this date mixture cool.
5) Take a medium sized mixing bowl and add all the ingredients - plain flour, rolled oats or fruit free muesli, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and coconut oil. Mix it well and divide into 2 portions.
6) Spread out half the crumb mixture into a greased 10inch by 6inch glass baking dash.
7) This will be followed by the date filling. Use your fingers, to spread it out evenly, if you need to. That's exactly what I did!
8) Top off with the remaining crumb mixture and spread it out evenly.
9) The side view.
10) Bake in a preheated oven for 30-45 mins at 180 deg C or 350 deg F. Once baked, let it cool down bwfore slicing the block into squares.
11) It wasn't easy to cut into perfect squares because of the sticky date filling but they tasted so delicious! The sweet filling complemented the not-so sweet crumb mixture very well.
Vietnamese spring rolls are made using thin rice papers as the base, filled with vegetables, cooked meat and boiled rice vermicelli. These spring rolls are not fried like the regular Chinese spring rolls (Egg rolls). Fresh herbs are essential to the quality of these spring rolls. They are then dipped in a spicy tangy sauce and enjoyed as a light refreshing snack or an appetizer.
During my cooking class last weekend, I was introduced to these spring rolls by another instructor Ann who made them using pork and shrimps. When I asked her if I can make it vegetarian, I was met with a reply 'Yes but it won't be nice!' Well, obviously, she is quite ignorant of the culinary advances in vegetarian cuisine. But a participant in the audience quipped, 'But Ms Nilo, you are such an experienced cook. I am sure you can come up with a vegetarian version which would be equally or more delicious!'. What a wonderful accolade and appreciation of my cooking skills. Thank you Lucy, I really appreciate your compliment. It is a definite boost to my culinary confidence.
Grilled tofu strips will be good substitute for the meat. Remember, you hv to work quickly as the rice papers are very thin and will turn sticky quickly. It will be difficult to roll thereafter. These rice papers and hoisin sauce can be found in any Asian store.
Ingredients (for 6 spring rolls)
6 pieces of Vietnamese rice paper (see picture below)
6 pieces of lettuce leaves, medium sized
1/2 cucumber julienned
1/2 carrot julienned
50 gm rice vermicelli, boiled and strained
12 pieces of mint leaves
Ingredients for the Dipping sauce
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 red bird's eye chilli
Ingredients for the Hoisin sauce
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp crushed peanuts
1) Get all the ingredients ready. From top left in clockwise direction - julienned carrot, julienned cucumber, lettuce leaves, mint leaves and in the centre, boiled rice vermielli.
2) Get the rice papers out of the packet and get a cutting board ready for the rolling.
3) Dip the rice paper in a bowl of water, lift and place it on the cutting board. Moisten the inside of the paper as well.
4) Place the mint leaves and the julienned carrot in alternate fashion on top. This is important so that end appearance of the rolls will be pleasing to the eye. Then place a lettuce leaf in the middle. Place strands of julienned cucumber and rice vermicelli on to the lettuce leaf. If you are also using tofu, place the strips here. Roll up this lettuce leaf.
6) Tuck in the sides of the soft rice paper. Be gentle as it can tear easily
7) Start rolling from the bottom, tuck inthe sides and finish rolling to the top.
8) Roll the others the same way. To make the dipping sauce, place the sugar, lime juice and soy sauce in a small bowl. Whisk them all together till the sugar dissolves. Add in the sliced red chilli and serve with the rolls. In another bowl, pour the hoisin sauce and top it off with crushed peanuts.
Okra Onion Fritters or Okra Pakora is best served when you really need a new variation of using okras. I came up with this when at one time my fridge was loaded with okras and i was looking for a way to unload them. A hit with my girls but not so with my husband (he is not fond of anything fried), Okra Onion Fritters is an easy snack to prepare and the whole dish takes only an hour, including marinating time.
Ingredients (Makes 20- 30 small batches)
7 big okra pods or 10 small ones
1 medium sized onion
1/2 red Chilli
6-7 curry leaves
1/2 tsp minced or pounded ginger
4 heaped tbsp rice flour
4 heaped tbsp besan flour
1/2 tsp Chilli powder
3/4 - 1 cup water
Salt per preference
Slice the first four ingredients very thinly. It is important the okra slices are very thin. Otherwise, you'll get a raw okra taste even after frying. Place all in a mixing bowl.
Add the ginger, both the flours, chilli powder and salt.
Wear a disposable glove and use your hands to give all the ingredients a good mix. Leave it aside for 30 mins for the flavors to mix and marinate.
Heat a deep pot of oil and fry the okra onion mix in small batches.
Serve warm with any of your main meals. Or as an appetiser or a snack to accompany your tea or coffee.
What follows is a twist to my earlier recipe on 27th Jan 2015 Grilled Feta Cheese and Potato Cutlets ...I have simply added cauliflower florets instead of just having plain potato cutlets. The cauliflower blended well and we could hardly make out that it was hidden in the cutlets. Another great way to integrate vegetables in kid loving great snacks. These delicious cutlets always add a wonderful addition to our meals. You won't comprehend what I mean until you taste it for yourself :)
(Makes 18-20 cutlets)
2 medium potatoes
200 gm cauliflower
1/3 cup of chopped scallions
1 cup of feta cheese crumbles
2cups of bread crumbs - 1 for mixing with the cutlets and another cup for dredging
1 cup of skim milk
Oil for grilling
Steam the potatoes and the cauliflower seperately till soft and then mash well.
Mix the mashed potato and cauliflower with scallions, feta cheese, 1 cup of bread crumbs and salt. Watch out for the salt as Feta cheese comes with its own salt load.
Shape into 2 inch patties and then dredge in the skim milk and then breadcrumbs after.
Grill on a low pan with minimal oil on medium to high heat till golden brown on both sides. Again, because of its rather delicate nature, handle the flipping very carefully.
Enjoy with, well....with anything !!
This dish uses very few ingredients that costs so little but it sure does pack plenty of flavor! Plenty of heat too - goes very well with Jasmine Rice for a simple meal.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
2 tbsps. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced/pounded
1 red bird's bye chilli, sliced
1 tbsp. mushroom seasoning
2 tbsp. light Soy Sauce (or more per your liking)
13 oz (375gm) Sugar Snap Peas, deveined
1 block of firm tofu, cubed and grilled
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Heat the oil in a big wok and start frying the garlic and bird's eye red chilli.
Once lightly browned, add the seasoning and light soy sauce.
After a minute, add in the sugar snap peas and grilled tofu cubes.
Let the flavors infused with the vegetables and cook until the sugar snap peas are bright green in color. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Serve immediately with steaming Jasmine Rice and with scallions and extra sliced bird's eye red chilli on the side.
Vegetable Fritters or Pakoras are a favorite among Indians. Predominantly served as a snack during tea times, parties or gatherings, these vegetable fritters are basically vegetables dipped in a combination of Bengal gram flour and rice flour batter with other ingredients and then deep fried. Oven baking these fritters will give an equally good result. Alternatively, you can try using Air Fryer.
These vegetable and tofu skewers will brighten up any barbecue or parties. An easy marinade and an even easier way to get all the ingredients grilled, Who wants to bite into uncooked mushrooms or onion? Simple Fried Rice as a side dish helps to complete the meal. Vegan and Vegetarian. Gluten and Dairy Free.
These skewers can be prepared and cooked in 30 minutes (or an hour if you are marinating longer) and the simple fried rice prob another 30 mins? This whole meal can be prepared in an hour flat. In fact, I constantly challenge myself to cook a meal, be it lunch or dinner, in 1 hr. Do you think I succeed?
Ingredients for Vegetable and Tofu Skewers( 4 sticks)
1 small zucchini, sliced medium thick
8 white mushrooms, stems trimmed and washed
1/2 yellow onion, cut into big pieces
1/2 block of firm tofu, cubed medium
2 red baby bell peppers, sliced medium thick
Oil for grilling the tofu and Vegetables.
2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
3 tbsps EVOO
Freshly Ground Pepper
Method for Vegetable and Tofu Skewers
Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.
Immerse all the vegetables and tofu in the marinade and keep aside for 30mins to an hour. The longer the better as the flavors would have then infused in the vegetables and tofu.
After an hour, take a grilling pan and heat 2 - 3 tbsp. canola oil. Grill the vegetables and tofu, turning over, until they are cooked and tofu is golden brown on all sides.
Pierce the vegetables and tofu with a skewer in an alternating fashion.
Serve warm with a Simple Fried Rice.
Ingredients for Simple Fried Rice (Serves 4)
1.5 cups of Jasmine Rice, cooked and cooled
2 tbsps. canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
3 Garlic cloves, pounded
1 cup of mixed vegetables (carrot, peas, beans and lima beans)
1 tbsp. sambal oelek or any other chilli paste.
1 tbsp. mushroom seasoning
Light Soy sauce per your preference.
Method for Simple Fried Rice
Heat a deep pot and fry the onion and then the garlic till light golden brown,
Add in all the seasonings and the mixed vegetables and cook for 5-10 mins.
Put the cooked rice in and combine well.
Serve warm with any vegetable and tofu dish.
Homemade Garlic Bread or Bites beat the store bought ones because you can use a healthier bread as your base and you can use fresh garlic in olive oil instead of frozen herbed garlic butter loaded with preservatives and salt!
These bites make great accompaniment to soups or they can be served as party appetizers. I have used a lot of garlic, an entire bulb to be precise, but if you are not a fan of this pungent but health miracle, reduce to your preference. The same goes for the scallions.
And if you are a garlic fan like me, then would you agree that there is nothing more heavenly than the beautiful aroma of fried garlic?
Here is the recipe for my last post (for the time being) in my series of Bites :
Ingredients ( for 6 Garlic Bites)
2 tbsp EVOO
10 garlic cloves, pounded or ground
6 slices of multigrain baguette
2 stalks of scallions, sliced thinly or 1 tsp dried chives
A pinch of sea salt
Heat a pot with EVOO and fry the pounded garlic till very light golden brown.
Add in the scallions and toss in the pinch of sea salt. Not too much because the baguette usually comes with sufficient sodium.
Switch off the fire after a minute and spread this garlic scallion mix over the baguette evenly.
Grill in the toaster for 5 minutes or till golden brown around the baguette slices and on the top. If you grilling large quantities, you can use the oven at 350 deg F or 180 deg C for 5-10 mins. Do keep an eye so that baguette slices don't burn.
Continuing with bites, I added mixed cocktail fruits to tomatoes to give the regular bruschetta a sweet tropical twist. I liked the sweet flavor but you be the judge when you make them on your own. Another super easy recipe but a sure winner!!
I simply love Avocado - that creamy buttery fruit mostly found in South American and Mexican cuisines. Did you know that Avocados are also known as alligator pears or buttery fruits??!! Well, I didn't.. The versatile avocado is the only fruit that provides a substantial amount of mono unsaturated fat. They are a nutrient dense food and contain nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.
These Avocado Bites are so easy to prepare and it requires minimal preparation time. They would be great as sides or as party appetizers. When I had prepared these today morning, the bites were rather cold by the time I could eat them after the photographing. Imagine, if they had been served warm straight from the toaster or the oven....Mmmmm.
1 multigrain baguette, sliced into 1/2 inch slices (You can use any other type of baguette but I personally like the taste of multigrain because of the added nutty taste and flavor)
1 ripe avocado
Sea salt and Black Pepper Grinders
Red Pepper flakes
Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
Brush the baguette slices with olive oil and toast them lightly till golden brown (roughly 5 mins). Remove from oven and arrange them on a large serving plate.
Peel the avocado and cut them thinly into 1 inch slices to fit on the baguette.
Arrange the avocado slices on the baguette - roughly around 3-4 per baguette slice.
Sprinkle lemon juice all over the avocado slices to prevent oxidizing (believe me - it doesn't look pretty with those dark patches) and then grind sea salt and pepper over the bites. Toss red pepper flakes for added heat.
Sprinkle more olive oil over the bites and serve warm immediately.
On a personal note :
Most days, when I have ripe avocados at home, I would sprinkle lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and gobble it up with my egg white omelette for breakfast. Its another simpler way to enjoy this delicious fruit.
Hi guys! I have shared my dishes here for you to cook for your own family with love and most importantly with their long term good health in mind.