CHIA PUDDING TWO WAYS

Chia seeds have become one of the most popular food items in the health community. They are packed with nutrients and benefits. Moreover, they are easy to digest and maybe added to our diet in a variety of ways. Be it in cereals, smoothies or yogurt they may even be added in breads or even had raw. They are not only rich in fiber and protein but are also a very good source of healthy fats, namely, omega 3 and many other dietary minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

Chia seeds maybe tiny but they pack a punch.

I love adding them to my diet and I tend to consume them almost on a daily basis. Very recently I thought of adding them to some milk and yogurt and making a pudding. I ended up making two different types of chia pudding, a refreshing, zesty and tart version and a rich and decadent one. Find my recipes below.

Lime and avocado chia pudding
To really enjoy this one make sure the lime is really fresh and juicy and the avocado ripe.
Ingredients:
1. Juice of one lime. Retain the skin for later.
2. Half of a ripe avocado.
3. Low fat yogurt – 1/2 cup.
4. Low fat milk – 1/4 cup.
5. Honey- 1 tablespoon. You may of course add more or less as per your taste or even use sugar.
6. Chia seeds (whole) – 1 tablespoon.

Directions:
1.Mix the yogurt, milk and avocado together. You may use a blender or even stir it manually. I would suggest that you experiment with both to discover which texture you enjoy more. I liked the smooth blender version over the hand churned one.
2. Add the juice of the lime followed by the honey. Give this mixture a buzz in the blender.
3. Finally add the chia seeds and stir the mixture well to distribute the seeds evenly throughout the pudding otherwise the seeds have a tendency to stick to each other and form lumps.
4. Now grate a bit of the lime rind for that fresh zestiness. Be careful to not overdo this as it will end up giving the pudding an unsavoury bitter aftertaste.
5. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or preferably overnight.
6. Garnish with a wheel of lime.
Serves one.

Coffee and cocoa chia pudding
Ingredients:
1. ¼ cup cold brewed coffee. If you find instant coffee more convenient, by all means go with it. Maybe 1-2 teaspoons.
2. ¼ cup low fat yogurt.
3. ¼ cup thick coconut milk.
4. Freshly grated coconut- 1 teaspoon.
5. Cocoa powder – 1 teaspoon.
5. Chia seeds (whole) – 1 tablespoon.
6. Honey- 1 tablespoon.

Directions:
1. Mix the coffee, yogurt, cocoa and coconut milk together. Once again you may experiment with the blended and hand churned version. With this one I found the hand churned version to be smoother than the blended one as the blended one tends to get a bit frothy on top which was not what I liked in my pudding.
2. Add the honey and mix well.
3. Now add the chia seeds and stir the mixture well.
4. Refrigerate fot at least a couple of hours or preferably overnight.
5. Finally garnish with a bit of grated coconut.
Serves one.

The refreshing lime and avocado chia pudding and the decadent coffee and cocoa chia pudding.

That’s how you can enjoy your dessert without any guilt and eat healthy too.

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TYPICAL HOMEMADE CHICKEN CURRY

Cricket has been an integral part of my life since I was a boy of ten or twelve especially the five day format, where the players after playing for two hours take a forty minute breather. This is called the lunch break.

During our school vacations my father, brother and I would play the beautiful game amongst the three of us and Baba on finding his enthusiasm waning would urge us to take a break for lunch as the cricketers conventionally do. Of course, we didn’t relent that easily but when we did we demanded Baba arrange for us the same menu that the players were offered. He convinced us that since the cricketers had to take the field again after the break they would have a light but filling lunch and the standard menu was chicken curry with rice. Being kids, we had no reason to disbelieve an elder so that’s what we ended up having for lunch on most weekends.

The light and delicious chicken curry.

Chicken or mutton (goat meat) curry with steamed rice remains a firm favourite across many a Bengali household. Comfort food, as they say. Till this day, before indulging in our weekly gully cricket on Sundays my brother and I keenly look forward to lunch only for this chicken curry never failing to share a nostalgic anecdote or two at the dining table.

Here’s what still gives us comfort, nostalgia and satisfaction.

Ingredients:
1 medium chicken – cut into curry sized pieces or as per convenience.
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
2 medium onions – ground into a paste
4-6 cloves of garlic- ground into a paste
1.5 inch ginger – ground into a paste
Turmeric powder – half a teaspoon
Red chilli powder – half a teaspoon
Freshly ground garam masala – a pinch
Two medium potatoes – peeled and cut in four quadrants
A quarter of a medium raw papaya- peeled and cut into same size as the potatoes.
Salt to taste.

Directions:
In a wok heat the oil on a medium flame. Once the oil is hot enough add the ground onion, once that takes on a whitish pink hue add the ginger and garlic paste. Let the condiments cook until they release their aroma. Then add the chicken pieces and start coating them with the paste. When the flesh turns white add the turmeric followed by the garam masala. Mix it all well and then add two cups of water. Now add the potatoes and raw papaya. Add the salt. Cover the wok and let it simmer for 25-30 mins. By now the chicken will have been cooked and the potato and papaya pieces would be soft enough. If not then cook for 5-10 more minutes but chicken usually cooks quite fast.

The delicious golden chicken curry with steamed brown rice.

Serve with steamed rice and enjoy your ‘lunch break’.

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WHEN IN ROME IV

With my wife I had in the previous three days seen a lot of ancient Rome’s history and architecture. Not just that, we had eaten our way through Rome thanks to the great Anthony Bourdain. All of our big meals were had in places situated far away from the touristic hubbub and frequented by locals. You can read more about them here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-iii/. But we had saved the best for the last.

On our fourth day we had another typical Italian breakfast of cornetto and caffe and a sweet bread of some sort and set out for the Foro Romano (Roman Forum). Thankfully, luck was on our side and it was a bright and sunny but relatively cool day. Since we were in a laid back state of mind the thirty minute walk from our hotel to the Forum got extended to a three hour stroll dotted with caffe and gelato breaks.

The sprawling ruins of the Foro Romano.

Entering the Forum and walking on the same surface as some of Rome’s high and mighty emperors like Julius Caesar and Nero was an experience that we cherish till this day. To have stood on those ancient cobblestone pathways and the same slabs of marble on which only time had left its mark feels surreal even today. The Forum being thousands and thousands of years old had rendered some parts inaccessible but many of the monuments, temples, shrines and other well preserved antiquities seemed timeless. Some of the artefacts and buildings drew gasps of awe from many a people. The Arch of Titus, the temple of Romolo and the church of Santa Maria were some of the ruins that existed in a much better condition than the others. We took our own sweet time in the vast sprawl of ruins and by the time we had walked up to the Pallatine Hill it was almost dusk. Like the rest of the day we took it easy and soaked in the amazing 360˚ views from the hilltop. We left the Foro Romano using Rome’s oldest thoroughfare the Via Sacra ending up right in front of the Arch of Constantine by the Coloseo.

The Arch of Titus.
The view from the Pallatine Hill.

Betto E Mary
After 70 minutes in public transports and a twenty odd minute walk we reached Betto E Mary. Our first impression from the outside brought us disappointment. The entire trattoria had a deserted look with the chairs upturned on the tables, not a soul around the place. Would it be the second Bourdain visited eatery that we would find closed? But on my wife’s insistence we stepped in to inquire and were relieved to be greeted in broken English by an all in one chef, maître d and usher clad in dishevelled attire and a stained apron with a pen and notepad in a makeshift pocket. We were taken all the way to the back of the trattoria into an open courtyard and seated at a rustic looking table with two benches on either side. I excitedly began looking forward to my meal while my wife expressed her apprehension about the same.

Most people think of pizza or pasta or both when they think of Italian food. While those maybe two of the most popular foods around the world Italian cuisine however, has much more to it. Gelatos, Panini sandwiches, fishes like anchovies, tuna and sardines, a huge variety of sausages and cured meats (think prosciutto), an equally huge variety of cheeses (Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fontina etc.), aromatic breads and even the popular risotto are just few of the easily available and widely consumed Italian foods. The story of my last meal in Rome though is of a food which has lost its popularity over the years but remains an integral part of Rome’s peasant style of food.

I discovered these pickled anchovies in one of the many trattorias in Rome.

The reason I write ‘my meal’ is because the wife had chosen not to go for what I had in mind. However, even I had no clue that I had a surprise in store for myself. When the friendly owner arrived and sat down by my side to explain their menu, they didn’t have a formal printed menu card, and how they cooked their dishes. I informed him clearly what I wanted to eat after hearing which he expressed surprise. I still remember him asking me, “My friend why do want to eat the tripes (the cow’s stomach) when I have better things on the menu?” When he saw that I was insistent he countered me with an even more heightened sense of insistence that he would bring me something better than tripes and that is when he surprised me by exclaiming he would get his signature Roma Mix, a platter which would contain not just tripes but also ox tail, veal tail, veal thyroid gland, lamb lungs, heart, liver, kidney, intestines and rectum. All of these he explained further would be grilled and then finished in herbs and sauces. Some of them would be cooked in fragrant rosemary and garlic sauce and some in a rich tomato sauce. And because I ordered the Roma Mix he said he would throw in a small jug of house red wine to go with my platter.

The adventure of the Roma Mix.

I am sure most of you are crunching up your nose in disgust and cringing as you read what I ate for dinner that night but I honestly enjoyed that meal as much as any other memorable meal that I have had in my life. Besides Tony Bourdain wrote in one of his books, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” The various textures of the offal and their respective flavours were nothing less than a ride in an amusement park. The tripes were chewy and rubbery having a floral aftertaste, the thyroid was a cross between a liver and a fleshy chunk of meat, the tails were like thin strips of meat on bone, the liver, lungs and kidney had their own distinct crumbly and mineral-y textures, the intestines were again chewy but unlike the tripes not rubbery and the rectum was soft and fleshy almost identical to the texture of a scallop. Only the heart was as close as it could get to being a piece of meat. The two sauces in which he finished the various meats were delicious to say the least.

As we finished our last meal in Rome and commenced our long journey back to our hotel we felt a twang of sorrow in our hearts. Our time in the eternal city of Rome that had given us memories and experiences to last a lifetime was finally over. Early next morning as we bought our cornettos and caffes and hopped on to the train that would take us to Napoli we concluded that Rome is where the heart is.

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WHEN IN ROME III

On our third day in Rome we woke up early and decided to go and join the queue at the Vatican. If you haven’t yet read about our previous two culinary adventures you may read them here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/ and here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/ respectively. Enroute to the bus stop we grabbed another typical Italian breakfast of ‘cornetto’ and ‘caffe’. Thankfully, the queue was not a very long one and it seemed to be moving ahead at a relatively fast pace. The St. Mark’s Basilica was a bizarre mix of opulence and tranquillity abuzz with a constant humming sound that one comes to expect in a crowded place. After spending a good two hours looking around at various statues, crypts, sarcophagi, frescoes and tombs we were glad to exit the church to find a fountain gushing with cool and clear water. It was one of those moments when one realises the value of the smaller things of life. After quenching our thirst to our hearts’ desire we decided that the time was just right for a gelato.

When in Rome and if it’s the only thing you’ll eat, although why on Earth would anyone ever want to do that is beyond me, eat your weight in gelato. Most gelaterias have multiple options of cones to choose from but for us on most occasions the humble cup more than served our purpose. In Rome the gelaterias dole out really generous portions at a measly sum of €1. The cup was always so overfull that we could manage to squeeze it only after a relatively fair application of pressure. I could never have enough of the fruity flavours like watermelon, strawberry and fig but the best flavour according to me was definitely the lemon.

Two of my favourite flavours were the fragola (strawberry) and the limone (lemon).

So after a couple of gelatos each we decided on paying a visit to the hallowed Pantheon. Two evenings prior to this we had chanced upon the Pantheon and it was a sight to behold but it was closed at that point of time. This time though, it was morning and the sun was beating down hard which made the Pantheon’s cool interiors a source of immense relief to us. It is the best preserved of Rome’s ancient buildings. We learned this was because the building had been under constant use and still continues to be used as a Catholic church for Sunday masses and rare weddings. The most impressive things about the Pantheon are the oculus at the dome’s apex which is its only source of light and the drainage system below the building that handles all the rain water which the oculus lets in. This architectural marvel speaks volumes of the engineers and architects of ancient Rome.

The famous oculus of the Pantheon
The hallowed Pantheon.

I Porchettoni
By now lunch time was approaching and it also seemed like a good opportunity to use our Roma Travel Pass to get to I Porchettoni. Another of Mr. Anthony Bourdain’s suggestions, this place was situated in one of Rome’s less touristic neighbourhoods which was a bit of a distance away from its ancient centre and famous for its porchetta, one of Italy’s culinary wonders. A deboned whole pig with skin and fat intact is slow roasted on a spit for over eight hours. The result is mind boggling. The owner upon hearing that I was a big fan of Tony Bourdain invited me to sit at the very table that he had taken when he visited I Porchettoni. Although he told me that he offered Tony’s table to all his fans unless it was occupied I was elated to share that very table with my wife. The restaurant was a casual and rustic family run joint and they had been serving the same porchetta recipe for three generations.

Naturally I ordered for a portion of the porchetta and my wife not being a fan of fatty cuts of meats went with a dish of pasta. I was told and remembered from Anthony Bourdain’s show that the porchetta had been roasted overnight and would be served at room temperature with a hunk of fresh and hearty Italian bread. I ordered a Peroni the famous Italian beer to go with my meal. When the plate was set in front of me what stood apart firstly was the aroma of fresh fennel, rosemary and oregano. The next thing that amazed me after I took a bite was the crunch of the skin. It was almost as if I had bitten into a thick piece of potato crisp. And finally the meat itself could not cease to impress me. It was aromatic, tender and most importantly moist. I realized that even though the beer paired really well with the meal it was not really necessary to order one to go with the meat. The friendly owner told me with Italian pride that he sourced all his pork from a particular farm in a village that was an hour’s drive from Rome. There the pigs were treated almost like pets or members of the family and sows and piglets were rarely killed for meat. His team supervised by him slow roasted the pigs in the spit overnight using an age old family recipe. As we finished another memorable meal at Rome and prepared to leave the restaurant he showed me his photograph with the great Tony himself.

A classic Italian combination, porchetta with Peroni.

Tony once said, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.” I still wonder sometimes if sitting in a family run joint in a residential neighbourhood of Rome eating a wonderfully succculent pork dish while conversing with the passionate Italian owner made the porchetta taste even better.

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WHEN IN ROME II

By the first morning we had started to get a feel of the eternal city. Having reached Rome the previous afternoon, my wife and I had dined that evening at Trattoria Cacio e Pepe, a household name in Rome famous for their Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe simply means pepper and cheese. It is one of the simplest of simple pasta dish which comprises of spaghetti, pecorino cheese from Rome and freshly cracked black pepper. You can read more about that experience here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/.

History is to be discovered in every nook and corner of Rome. We had already been to the Spanish Steps and the mighty Pantheon the previous evening and it was all due to an aimless walk. Without a plan and destination in mind we had set about on foot, walking past many beautiful ancient buildings and simply happened to chance upon the Spanish Steps and then the Pantheon. On the first morning we had a rough idea of what we wanted to see on that day and of course what we wanted to eat. A typical Italian breakfast in Rome comprises of a cornetto which is the Italian cousin of the French croissant, only softer and probably less butter-y, a rusk like bread or variations of typical Italian sweet breads and a coffee. My wife not being a big fan of the espresso went with a cappuccino or caffè latte. I on the other hand had the caffè Italiano, a shot of espresso with just a bit of sugar stirred into it to cut the bitterness. That is one of the thing I absolutely love about Italy; simply walk into a cafe and ask for uno caffè (one coffee) and without asking the barista puts a shot of espresso in front of you usually served with a tiny glass of water and a bowl of sugar. After our breakfast we hopped on to a bus that would stop near St. Mark’s Basilica, the seat of the Pope.

The crowd at the St. Marks square scared us off.

Upon reaching Vatican City the snaking queue managed to convince us in no time at all that we had to leave it for another day. We soon learned that it being a Wednesday the Pope himself had made his weekly public appearance on the balcony of St. Mark’s and we had missed that by a whisker. However, we left with no regrets at having missed the Pope given the sheer number of people that had gathered at the square. It was mutually decided that we would perhaps come back another day and gladly made our way to the Vittoriano.

The impressive Vittoriano.

The Vittorianno is a monument dedicated to the first king of Italy, King Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument apart from being interesting also provided us with much needed shelter from the sweltering heat. By the time we stepped outdoors again the sun had become a bit more oppressive but the first sighting of the majestic Coloseo (Colosseum) made it all bearable.

The first sighting of the legendary Colosseum from the top of the Vittoriano.

We wasted no time and made our way towards it. The closer we got the more surreal the immense ancient structure appeared. Thankfully, there was a really short queue which was moving rather swiftly and in a matter of minutes we were inside the very structure where once a lot of blood had flown. The more we saw and heard on our electronic audio guide the more gooseflesh we got. Despite all the brutality and cruelty that had transpired within the confines of the Colosseum, in the end for me personally, it was a dream come true.

Mesmerized and rendered speechless.
Man vs man, man vs animal and even animal vs animal fights were staged in this arena.

Pizzarium Bonci
By now it was rather late in the afternoon and we were ravenous and I still had four more of Mr. Bourdain’s culinary shrines to tick off my list. So for a late lunch we decided to head over to Pizzarium Bonci. One of Italy’s best kept culinary secrets is its takeaway pizza slices. Pop in to a pizzeria that serves pizza slices, order a pizza you like and walk out with it. It’s as simple as that. In Rome however, they do pizza al taglio. The pizza is baked on large rectangular trays and then sold by weight in rectangular slices in a wide variety of toppings. We availed the same bus as the one that took us to the Vatican and after a breezy ride of about twenty minutes we stood right in front of Pizzarium Bonci.

It seemed like we were in pizza wonderland. They had pizza with anchovies, pizza with proscuitto, pizza margherita, pizza with eggplants, pizza with spinach and even pizza with truffles. It would have probably been easier to count the kinds of pizza toppings that they do not serve. The chef patron claimed to have invented over 1500 different pizzas but that is not all. The bacterial culture or starter that he uses in his pizza dough is from a strain that has been preserved with utmost care and is over 200 years old. We caught a glimpse of the man Bonci himself at the back of the open kitchen and he came across more as an artist than a chef.

Pizza wonderland.

Even at 16:00 odd hours in the afternoon which is way past the Italian lunch hour the pizzeria was brimming with people, not just tourists but locals as well. We managed to convey our order of a slice of pizza each with truffles, procuitto, anchovies and spinach. Our pizzas were sliced and weighed right in front of us and served on a parchment paper lined tray. No frills only pizza. While each topping added its own flavour and texture to the pizza the base remained consistently delicious. Crunchy on the exterior and really soft and airy inside but still had that chewy property that lets the base spend those extra few moments in the mouth not as something that is difficult to swallow but as something that makes you enjoy the process of chewing. It was unlike any pizza either of us had ever had anywhere. I could not decide whether I enjoyed the pizza with truffles more or the one with anchovies but in hindsight it seems that the pizza base was what Pizzarium Bonci was all about.

Pizza al taglio at Pizzarium Bonci.

Later that night we made a trip towards a suburb of Rome for another Bourdain food quest but we were ten minutes too late. The place had closed down for the evening thus making it the only place that I could not tick off my list. Perhaps it was for the best. Perhaps the day belonged to Chef Bonci. Whether or not he uses a 200 year old strain I cannot say but the taste of the pizza there will remain with me for life.

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