About Prathima Rao

Born & brought up in South India amongst hard core food enthusiasts, cooking & food has always been an important part of my growing years, with every family gatherings accompanied by a scrumptious & elaborate meals. A brief stint in an auditing firm and then later my increasing passion for food led me to explore the wonder world of vegetarian and vegan cooking full time. My forays into the culinary world involve recreating the almost-lost traditional Indian recipes to experimenting with easy to make international vegetarian dishes or making a pleasing yet simple and healthy home cooked meal. My style of cooking is simple to cook dishes from easily available ingredients peppered with the occasional indulgence with new techniques and ingredients. I try and look for healthier options wherever possible but do not compromise on the taste. This passion for cooking led me to start my own food blog Prats Corner which includes traditional recipes I grew up with, other Indian cuisines, fusion and international dishes, bakes and some of my own experiments in the test kitchen.

Dry Fruits Burfi

A perfect sweet recipe to make if you have not yet made any for this diwali or short of time to try out elaborate sweet dishes. The recipe does not call for addition of any sugar or jaggery! Just some dry fruits and nuts of your choice combined together till well mixed. This has got to be the simplest yet a royal sweet recipe I have ever come across!

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Mom makes this quite often, festivals or not. I enjoy having it even as a mid morning snack!

Diwali is just round the corner and so there isn`t much time for elaborate talk. And so today I move on straight to the recipe..

And while you are here, do not forget to check out some more recipes that can very well go as part of your diwali menu..

Some visuals of the process, mom is making them & I was just clicking!
DRY FRUITS BURFI
Recipe source – my amma
Ingredients
The following measurements are rough approximates. You can easily vary as per taste but let dates be of more quantity than the rest as it helps to bind the ingredients together easily.
Dry dates (khajur) – 500 gms
Almonds/ badam (whole) – 100 gms
Cashew/ kaju – 100 gms
Raisins/ draksh – 100 gms
Dry figs/ anjeer – 100 gms
Pistachio/ pista (plain) – 100 gms (optional)
Ghee – 2 to 3 tbsp or as needed
Method
Deseed dates and chop fine or pulse for 2-3 times in mixer to chop them up very coarsely. Do NOT make a paste. Chop badam, cashew, pista (if adding) coarsely with knife or pulse in mixer to chop very coarsely. Chop anjeer.
Grease a tray/ thali with ghee, set side.
In a wide and thick bottom pan/ kadai put in all the chopped dry fruits, nuts, raisins. Mix once.
Add a tablespoon or two ghee, keep the pan over heat and mix and heat, stirring constantly till all the ingredients bind and stick together, forms almost one mass. You can add 1-2 tbsp more ghee if needed for sheen.
Transfer to greased tray and pat/ flatten on top to smoothen. Let cool. Cut into squares and store in airtight container.
Notes
1. The measurements given are rough approximates. You can easily vary as per taste but let dates be of more quantity than the rest as it helps to bind the ingredients together easily.
2. You can skip anjeer too and make the same with dates and the remaining dry fruits/ nuts.

Crispy Sesame Fried Tofu

Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside with a hint of nuttiness – this Japanese appetizer is a perfect summer treat when served along with some chilled lemonade. Or relish this vegan starter with some sweet & spicy Asian flavored dipping sauce. This appetizer is a perfect side to some light and clear soups too! It is easy to put together but is a nice touch to your vegan or Asian or summer menu!

 

Preparation Time : 15 mins

Cooking Time : 10-15 mins

Makes 12 pieces

 Ingredients :

Tofu – 12 pieces of 2″x1″

Vegetable oil – to pan/ shallow fry

Spring onion greens (optional) – to garnish

For the batter :

Plain Flour – 1/2 cup

Cornflour – 2 tbsp

Baking powder – 1/4 tsp

Black pepper powder – 1 tsp or to taste

Salt – to taste

For crispy coating :

Cornflakes – 1/2 cup crushed or as needed

Black sesame seeds – 1 to 2 tbsp

To Serve :

Sweet Chiili Sauce or Chilli Jam

 

Method :

1. Take tofu block and put it in a bowl of hot water for 3 to 4 mins (not more). Drain well. You can keep this tofu in  a muslin cloth and put it between two wooden blocks for few minutes to drain well as tofu contains large quantities of water. Cut into cubes.

Crush the cornflakes with hands or in a blender till almost fine (leave it slightly coarse).

2. In a bowl combine all the ingredients for the batter. Add enough water to make a thick batter of fritters batter consistency.

3. In another shallow bowl/plate  combine the crushed cornflakes and the sesame seeds. Mix lightly.

4. Dip the tofu cubes in the batter, roll in the cornflakes mixture and pan fry in few tsps oil till they turn golden brown on all sides.

5. Garnish and serve hot with Sweet Chilli Sauce.

 

Notes :

1. You could add white sesame seeds instead of black.

2. Soaking tofu in hot water will help to remove impurities if any and soften them enough to absorb the flavors of the other ingredients well.

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season to Be Baking

It is the season for puddings and pies and cakes and cookies. The kitchen is the warmest place during this time with so much baking being done! The house smells heavenly. And you cant help but revel in this glorious time of the year!

And so here is another cookie recipe that can be mixed and baked quite quickly. The topping with a light hint of cinnamon gives a nice crunch to it. And then its dotted with some tutti fruity to give a lovely color like little jewels embedded in them and for a lovely fruity bite!

This same cookie dough can be used to make different variations in flavors. Call it Tutti fruity cookies or Xmas cookies or Almond cookies or Walnut cookies. Each version is equally addictive & more-ish!

Cookie
Xmas Cookies / Tutti Fruity Cookies
Makes about 25 cookies
Ingredients
For cookies :
Butter – 120gms – at room temperature
Icing sugar – 100 gms
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
Maida/ plain flour – 170 gms
Baking powder – ½ tsp
Tutti fruity – 3 tbsp or per taste
Orange juice – 1 tbsp or as needed for dough – optional
For coating (optional):
Demerara sugar (brown sugar)
Pinch cinnamon powder
Method
In a mixing bowl beat together softened butter and icing sugar with hand whisk  in one direction to creamy, light and fluffy.
Add in the essence and beat once.
Sift the flour+baking powder into the creamed butter and beat again once to mix.
Then add in tutti fruity and combine together gently with hands till it forms a dough. Do not over knead the dough.  You could add in a tbsp orange juice for a hint of orange flavour or even in case you need to add some moisture to bring the dough together.
May wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate at this pint for about 15 to 30 mins to firm up the dough for easier handling.
Preheat oven @ 1800 OR 1700 C for 10 mins. Grease (and line if preferred) a baking tray. In a plate mix together the coating ingredients.
Shape the dough into walnut sized balls. Dip one side in the coating mixture and flatten slightly as you dip or between palms. Arrange in baking tray. Repeat for entire dough, keeping them in baking tray about 1” apart.
Bake for 10 to 12 mins (or 15 to 20 mins @ 170 C) or till underside is golden and edges start to turn pale.
Remove and transfer to wire rack. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer and store in airtight cookie jars.
Notes
1. For variations you could try Orange Almond cookies – add some orange juice as above for the cookie dough. Then instead of demerara sugar, dip cookies in almond flakes or chopped walnuts.
2. You could add orange zest also to the cookie dough.

3. Make choco chip cookies by adding chocolate chips instead of tutti fruity. Skip the coating.

Tarte aux Pommes

APPLE TART

The final result of the tart was worth all the time spent in mixing and chopping and waiting !! Do not look for too many shortcuts to reduce the time to make a flaky and delicious apple tart but the entire process is actually a real stress buster! A nice way to relax one Sunday morning, with the slightly cool breeze suggesting the coming winter, and having this as a dessert to end a lavish Sunday meal.

A traditional French Apple tart recipe calls for the apple filling to be covered with apple slices placed in concentric circles before the final baking. But here I have replaced it with a crumble topping. It gives a nice buttery crunch on top.

TARTE AUX POMMES OR APPLE TART

Ethnicity – French

Total time- 2 hours  

Makes one 8” to 9” tart base

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

For tart base

Plain flour (maida) – 200 gms

Butter, unsalted & chilled – 100 gms

Salt – ½ tsp

Castor sugar – 1 to 2 tsp

Ice cold water – ¼ cup (approx)

For apple filling

Apples – 3 big or 4 medium

Brown sugar – 3 tbsp

Cinnamon powder -1/2 tsp

Lemon juice, freshly squeezed – 1 ½ tbsp

Lemon zest – ½ tsp

Raisins – 3 tbsp

Corn flour – 2 tsp

Butter – 2 tsp

Water – about ¼ to 1/2 cup

For crumble topping

Plain flour – ½ cup (approx)

Demerara sugar – 2 ½ tbsp

Chilled & chopped butter – 4 tbsp

Oats (quaker, quick cooking) – ¼ cup

Method

For the tart base

Chop the chilled butter and keep on fridge again to chill till you sift the flour.

Sift together plain flour, sugar, salt in a bowl. Add the chopped chilled butter and rub into the flour with fingertips gently until it resembles breadcrumbs i.e pea sized pieces of butter remain.

This process of mixing butter into flour can also be done in a food processor. Blend at low speed intermittently (not continuous) till mixture turns crumbly. Then transfer to a mixing bowl.

Now make a well in the center of  the crumbly flour-butter mixture add 1 tbsp water and knead lightly and quickly just until the dough holds together, adding more ice cold water only if necessary. Water should be added 1 tbsp at a time. It is important to work quickly to incorporated all the ingredients into a dough so that butter does not melt/ soften too much because of warm fingers.

When kneading to a dough, crush any big lumps of butter if any with the heel of your hand and press them back into the dough to combine. Do not add too much liquid, else dough will be sticky and tough. Do not overwork the dough.

Gather the just formed dough together and form into a thick disk (flatten very slightly). Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for minimum 30 mins or maximum 24 hours.

At the time of blind baking the base, grease a 8 to 9” tart tin.

Roll out the chilled dough between 2 cling film sheets to 1/8 inch thickness and slightly larger in diameter than the tart tin. Transfer rolled out dough onto greased tart tin with help of rolling pin. Using your fingertips gently press the dough into the tin to make a neat fit. Pinch off any excess dough around the edges to neaten. Refrigerate the base for 15 to 30 mins to chill again.

Preheat oven at 180 C for 10 mins. Remove base & prick all over to prevent it from puffing up. Then blind bake (to bake the base alone without the filling) for 15 mins or till very light golden.

Remove and cool slightly.

For the filling

Wash, peel apples and cut into dices. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent from darkening. Transfer all the ingredients for filling, except butter and corn flour, into a saucepan and cook over low heat till just soft, about 10 mins or so.

Remove from heat and cool a bit. Then add in the corn flour and butter, stir once.

 

For crumble topping

Mix together flour, oats, demerara sugar. Add chopped, chilled butter and mix with fingertips or fork till it resembles breadcrumbs/ is crumbly. Do not overmix as the butter might melt.

Proceed

Pour the apple filling onto the tart base and spread to cover the base evenly. Sprinkle the crumble topping all over the top.

Bake in preheated oven at 180 C for 15 to 20 mins till top is golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sliced with some crème anglaise or whipped cream or vanilla custard, ice cream or as is.

Store leftovers in refrigerator for upto a day. May microwave before serving or serve chilled!

Note

As I had some bits of the base remaining, I rolled them out and cut into leaf shapes and kept few on the top alongside crumble topping & baked. This is optional. If you want to do lattice work on top instead of crumble, use 250 gms flour (instead of 200 gms) & 125 gms chilled butter for the base. Keep ¼ of the dough aside. Roll out remaining for base and fit into the tin. Roll out ¼ th portion, cut into strips (or any shape desired) and do lattice design (or any design desired) on top after keeping the filling. Brush with little milk and bake till top is golden (180 C for 15 to 20 mins).

Evaluating the success of your tart base

1. When rolling out dough, small pieces of butter should be visible for a flaky tart baked base. If the butter pieces are too large, fold the dough several times and roll it our again. Too large pieces of butter will form holes when baking base. Also, overworked dough will be too elastic.

If no small butter pieces are visible, it means the dough was overworked and the butter has melted into the dough. So the baked pastry will not be flaky.

2. If the dough is too crumbly and cracks when rolled out, not enough water was added. If the dough is extremely soft even after chilling, too much water wad added.

3. The base/ pastry should be tender and flaky when baked.

Spaghetti in Marinara Sauce

Think ‘Italy’ and you are instantly your mind is flooded with images of well dressed Italians, the Collosseum,  the gondola   and of course  – pasta! What are the reasons that make Italian cuisine so popular and acceptable worldwide – the liberal use of olive oil? the freshly plucked tomatoes? the aromatic herbs used in cooking? Probably all of them and many more reasons make up the highly addictive Italian cuisine!

Under pasta alone you have bewildering variety of pasta available – spaghetti, penne, macaroni, fussili, lasagne, gnocchi, ravioli, fettuccine, tagliatelle (flavoured fettuccine) and so on.

And when it comes to sauces, you are spoilt for choices! You have simple garlic based aglio oglio or tomato based spicy sauce or basil flavoured or  béchamel sauce, pesto and so on. The key feature of all these sauces is the fresh produce and herbs that goes into making these delicious sauces.

Marinara sauce or the ‘mariner`s’ sauce is a Southern Italian tomato based sauce garlic, onions and few herbs. The flavourings may be varied to taste and so you may find some versions of marinara with olives or capers. Traditionally this sauce has been used to flavour pasta, pizza, rice. While tomato sauce alone in Italy is referred to as salsa di pomodoro, the term marinara is used only in association with other recipes in which the sauce is used.

For instance,  you have the spaghetti alla marinara which literally translates to “mariners wife spaghetti”.

The version given below is delicious and creamy yet low cal. Vegans can easily skip the cheese and yet enjoy a comforting and lip smacking version of Spaghetti in Marinara Sauce.

 SPAGHETTI IN MARINARA SAUCE

Type : vegetarian/ vegan ; Ethnicity : Italian

Serves : 6

INGREDIENTS

[ Note : Quantity of uncooked spaghetti required per person is approximately how much you can hold in your fist.]

Spaghetti (uncooked) – 6 handfuls OR 300 gms (yields ~6 cups boiled)

Salt – to taste

Olive or cooking oil – 2 tbsp

For garnish (optional or select any of your choice) :

Extra virgin olive oil – to drizzle on top

Grated parmesan OR cheddar cheese

Chopped black olives

For Marinara sauce : (Makes ~ 3 cups)

Olive or vegetable oil – 2 tbsp

Onions – 2,  medium

Carrot – 1,  large

Green capsicum – 1, large

Garlic cloves – 5, medium

Tomatoes – 1 kg/ ~2 pounds

Tomato puree (tetrapack) – 3/4 cup

Jalapenos – 1.5 tbsp, chopped (optional)

Chopped cheddar or parmesan cheese – 2 tbsp (optional)

salt – to taste

sugar – to taste (optional)

black pepper, freshly ground – to taste

Mixed dry herbs/ pasta seasoning – 1 tbsp or to taste

Bay leaf – 1

 

METHOD

1. To cook spaghetti, boil plenty of water in a deep saucepan. Add salt, 1 tbsp oil, pasta and cook/ boil. Stir in between. Cook for about 7 to 8 mins till al dente (almost soft but yet firm stage). Remove pan from heat and set aside for 2 mins. Drain. Refresh cooked pasta with some cold water. Drizzle 1 tbsp oil to prevent sticking and mix gently. Cover and set aside till required.

OR

Cook the spaghetti as per instructions of the packet.

2. Wash and chop the onions, capsicum. Wash, peel and chop carrots. Peel and chop garlic.

Mark an ‘X’ in the bottom of tomatoes and blanch in hot water till skin peels off easily. Peel and chop the tomatoes.

3. To make the sauce , in a saucepan heat olive/vegetable oil, sauté onions, carrots, capsicum and garlic. Cook until vegetables turn tender.

4. Then add in the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, pepper, sugar if needed,  mixed herbs, bay leaf. Bring to boil. Simmer for about 15 mins or till required consistency. Lastly add the jalapenos and chopped cheese if adding.  Remove from  heat.

Discard bay leaf. Now you could either toss cooked pasta in this chunky sauce OR puree half of the sauce and mix with the remaining chunky sauce. Pureeing half of the sauce gives the sauce volume and yet has the bite from vegetables.

5. At serving time, reheat the sauce. Add the sauce to cooked spaghetti/ pasta just enough to coat or as per taste. Let warm through and garnish and serve immediately with some warm and crisp Garlic Bread!

 

NOTES

1. In place of readymade tomato puree, you could add 3 to 4 tbsp tomato sauce/ ketchup.

2. For a vegan version, simply skip the cheese.

3. Replace spaghetti with any other pasta of your choice.

4. Adjust spice level, seasoning and cheese as per taste.

 

 

 

 

Raisin Pillows

Its that time of the year again. Time to bake plum cakes and cookies, lavish meals being planned and families are eagerly awaiting the Christmas lunch with loved ones. Christmas trees are being decorated with star lights, there are carols being sung. All in all, its music and lights and laughter and sharing everywhere!

As part of the Christmas menu, these soft, melt-in-your mouth pillows are simply perfect! `Pillow‘ is the right word to name these cookies. For the outer layer is just that, soft and delicate with the delicious aroma of butter and vanilla. The `pillows` are sandwiched with soft raisins having a hint of freshly squeezed lemon that perfectly complement the butter-y-ness of the cookies.

Skip the filling and make plain butter cookies, adding flavorings of your choice – orange zest, lemon zest, all spice, vanilla and so on..
Happy baking & Seasons Greetings!

Raisin Pillows

Raisin Pillows

Makes about 7 to 8 pillows OR 15 to 20 plain butter cookies, depending on size

Ingredients

For the cookie dough
Butter – 100 gms, at room temperature
Icing sugar – 100 gms
Vanilla extract – ½ tsp
Maida/ plain flour – 200 gms
Baking powder – 1/8 tsp
Salt – a pinch, only if using unsalted butter
Milk – 2 to 4 tsps, as needed

For the raisin filling
Black raisins – 100 gms
Lime juice – 1 ½ tsp
Water – 2 to 3 tbsps
Sugar – 2 tsps
Cornflour – ½ tsp

 

Method  

For the cookie dough

In a mixing bowl, beat together softened butter and icing sugar (sieved in case of lumps) till light and fluffy, about 6 to 8 mins. Add in vanilla, beat again to blend.

Measure 200 gms flour in measuring cup, add in the baking powder  and salt if adding.

Seive the dry ingredients together into the creamed butter-sugar mixture. Beat lightly to mix the ingredients.

Then knead gently to a semi stiff dough, adding 2-3 tsps milk as needed to form dough. Do not over knead and avoid adding too much milk as it can result in a tough cookie. Add just enough milk do bring the dough together.

Wrap dough in cling film and let chill in refrigerator till the filling ready.

 

For the raisin filling

In a saucepan put in all the ingredients and stir once to blend well. Keep the pan over heat and simmer on low heat for 4 to 6 mins or till raisins are plumped up. There should not remain too much liquid but the filling must be moist and soft.

Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Proceed with making pillows

Preheat oven at 1800 C for 10 mins. Grease (and line if preferred) baking tray.

Unwrap dough and divide into 3 portions for easier handling. Roll out one portion by dusting rolling pin with some flour to avoid sticking OR keep the dough between 2 plastic sheets and roll out into 1/8 inch thickness.

Cut into desired shape/ size with cookie cutter. I used a 3” diameter cutter. Take one cut cookie, keep 1 to 2  tsp filling in the centre. Cover on top with another cut cookie and press very lightly at edges. No need to seal completely as it will stick on baking. Be careful as you sandwich them as the dough can be very delicate.

Repeat for entire dough.

Place the pillows on prepared baking tray. Bake for 10 to 12 mins or till just start to turn pale golden at edges. Remove and cool 5 mins in the tray and then transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. Store in airtight cookie jars at room temp for 2 to 4 days. These pillows are soft yet firm and buttery.

 

For making plain butter cookies

Preheat oven at 1800 C for 10 mins. Grease (and line if preferred) baking tray.

Skip the filling. Unwrap dough and divide into 3 portions for easier handling. Roll out one portion by dusting rolling pin with some flour to avoid sticking OR keep the dough between 2 plastic sheets and roll out into ¼” thickness.

Place cut cookies in prepared baking tray. Bake for 10 to 12 mins or till edges just start to turn pale golden. May go upto 15 too depending on your oven.

Remove and cool 5 mins in the tray and then transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. Store in airtight cookie jars at room temp.

Pomegranate Cooler

Raising a toast..

…with some Pomegranate Cooler

Cooler

I am in the mood to celebrate today. To raise a toast for all good things in life. I want to appreciate and revel in this bright and glorious day with the sunlight streaming in through the window and lending the room a heavenly, almost magical glow.

The trees outside seem to be dancing and singing along with the breeze as it gently caresses the few remaining leaves. The birds seem to be a tad more cheerful in their singing than yesterday.

Is it this pleasant weather that is inducing me to sing along with nature? Or is it that I am here posting another recipe after a longer pause than intended?

Well, it is hard to say that winter is in full bloom in my hometown. For these days, every day is a season in itself!

While it was a scorching hot day yesterday, its quite breezy and pleasant today. But I am sure the weather has more plans for the residents of this town for later in the day!

Besides the weather playing ‘guess-the-season-today’ there is yet another reason for me to turn on the celebration mode and do a happy dance..

Cooler2
Any guesses?

You see, I am happy to be posting here after a longer pause, yes, and also it being the first post after having shifting home in the world wide web!

Prats Corner has now moved to its own domain..!

It has been a little over 2 years now since my blog was born and it was hard to imagine then I would last long enough to move to my own space.

Along this culinary journey and amidst the moving `et all, I have picked up lessons and tips that I would carry with me for lifetime. I have met and made new foodie friends who are ever enthusiastic to assist and give me guidance on food topics or any other technical blog details whenever I ask for it – which is pretty much a regular thing, my constant queries that is!

At home, dad was the one who encouraged me that it was time for the move, mom of course was excited too because what brings joy to me, makes her happy. And then there is my little sis. She was all smiles when I told her about all this. But I suspect part of sis`s  joy is that she was all the while thinking as I explained to her – new home means more cooking and that translates to more eating!

Anyways, I am happy to see the excitement in them, with few cracks and jokes thrown in, like always – about yours truly & her food diary of course! 🙂 And each time I become the victim of some humor, I vow to never cook any of their favorite dishes, ever. But then with all the loud laughter filling the room, its hard for me stay sulking for too long. And so I join in all the drama too. So now yet another happy memory created!

So now you see, it is no wonder I am in the mood to celebrate and raise a toast to all good things in life – my new home, supporting family and friends, the awesome weather, the bright new day….

P.S. – You might want to add some more good things in your life which deserve a smile and a celebration – they can be as small as a good joke shared with a friend. The key is to count your blessings, every day and in every way and soon you will find that life is less of a hassle and more of simpler joys than initially assumed! Most of the times, its all in the minds!
So raising a toast with some Pomegranate juice or Pomegranate cooler or Pom mocktail, call it whatever you fancy. Whatever they are called, a glass of this fresh drink never fails to make you refreshed and energized..
And did you know pomegranates are regarded as the swiss-army knife among fruits. The reason being – pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, reduce LDL aka bad cholestrol, promote digestion, helpful in case of acid reflux, prevent dehydration to name a few.

And finally, here is the recipe for the refreshing, energizing & nutrient rich concoction..

POMEGRANATE COOLER
Ingredients
Pomegranate (whole) – 1
Pudina/ fresh mint leaves – 5 or per taste
Lime juice, freshly squeezed – ½ or 1/ per taste
Sugar (optional) – per taste
Water, chilled or room temp – as needed
To serve, optional – ice cubes, lime slice & mint leaf sprig for garnish
Method
Cut the top and bottom of the pomegranate. Mark with a knife into wedges along the sections divided by the white membrane. Now separate the wedges & discard membrane and remove the pomegranate pearls and use as needed.
For a detailed picture description on how to cut pomegranate, click here.
In a blender/ mixer put the pomegranate pearls, mint, lime juice, sugar if adding and little water & blend. Then strain the juice & discard seeds.

To the juice add some more water as needed. Stir to blend. Pour into glass jar and serve chilled or at room temperature.