Cooking Spells

toil and trouble free yummylicious vegetarian concoctions

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Had a Valentine’s Day Party last Saturday.  And while my husband and I don’t really celebrate this day, I found it to be a good excuse for a dance and fun night.  Sharing some of the highlights.









Hand made invitations pack more warmth than an E-vite.  Hobby Lobby or any other craft store is your best friend. I had to watch videos to learn how to tie the perfect bow as in the the first pic.  The second pic was actually the first pic of the first trial card I made.  You can see the sloppy bow 😦


I converted this beautiful chest into a chocolate/candy bar.  The silver chest holds goody bags containing chocolate hearts and mints.  I snuck in some small LED lights behind the translucent net fabric goody bags which added a flickering glow which was more visible when we turned off the incandescent lights and turned on the disco lights for dance time.  Curious guests were prying behind the bags to figure out where the glow emnated from and were pleasantly impressed.



There was tons of food.  Pictured here are the gourmet cheeses with assorted crackers, salsas and the big time hit-Avocado Feta Salsa (Recipe follows). Not pictured are the stuffed mushrooms,  pasta salad, and spanish rice (courtesy a friend)  and spinach cheese dip (courtesy a friend).


I had planned three games:

Tie a Tie-Wives were asked to tie a tie for their significant other.  First to complete the task according to acceptable tie tying criteria won. (Husbands were allowed few minutes to teach the wives). You can also let them know ahead of time so they may practice.

Valentine Puzzle– I picked up identical valentine cards (@ 2/$1) from the dollar store, cut them into 20 pieces and placed them in individual envelopes which were then sealed.  First couple to solve the puzzle wins. (Did not take more than 5 minutes).

Balancing the Dice-I picked up craft sticks from Hobby Lobby. You can also use popsicle sticks. Husbands were asked to hold the stick in their mouth and wives were asked to stack 6 dice as fast as possible.  This game I got from the TV show – A Minute To Win It, and modified it.

Recipe for the super duper hit; Avocado Feta Dip:

An hour before the party, combine 2- quartered and chopped roma tomatoes, 3 medium avocadoes, 2 tbsp diced onions, juice of 1/2 a  lemon, olive oil drizzled evenly, (should be twice the amount of the lemon juice), salt to taste, 2 cloves garlic grated, fresh chopped cilantro. Refrigerate. To serve: Place in a wide mouthed decorative bowl and garnish generously with crumbled feta cheese.



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Black Lentil Dal


  • 2 cups black lentils
  • Tomatoes- 2/3 cup pureed fresh tomatoes or pureed canned tomatoes
  • Salt 2 tsp (to taste)
  • Water ~ 5 to 5 ½ cups
  • Cumin Seeds- 1tsp
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • Coriander powder 1 tsp
  • Cumin powder 1 tsp
  • Cayenne pepper ½ tsp or to taste
  • Paprika ½ tsp
  • Turmeric Powder ½ tsp
  • Garam masala ½ tsp

Soak the Lentils overnight (if you’ll be using a slow cooker) OR soak the lentils for 30 minutes to an hour if using a pressure cooker.  The recipe that follows is for pressure cooker cooking.  If using a slow cooker you might have to replenish the water level as it evaporates. You want to cook the lentils until they slightly break down and thicken.

Rinse the lentils well and place with 5 ½ cups of water in the cooker.  Add the salt and pureed tomatoes. Place on medium heat and cook until steam is released.  You might have to adjust the heat between med to med high. Reduce to simmer for 3 more minutes. Turn off and keep the cooker aside to cool.

In a separate wok, heat2- 3 table spoons of vegetable oil.

Sprinkle in the cumin seeds and let them crackle a bit.

Add the diced onions and cook until slightly golden brown. Add more oil if required.

Add the chopped garlic and stir for a few seconds.

Reduce heat and add the coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper, paprika and stir quickly for a few seconds so it doesn’t burn.

Pour the cooked dal into this mixture and mix well. Allow to cook for 5 -7 more minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally.

Sprinkle ½ tsp of garam masala over the dal and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro.  Let it sit for 7-10 minutes before serving. This will help it thicken so it’s not runny.

Serve over a bed of rice with a side of Cucumber Clery Raita.

NOTE: If you don’t have the spice powders (coriander, turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, cumin powder) you can use 2-3 teaspoons of curry powder.  The powders are readily available at Indian grocery stores in generous quantities and at reasonable prices.

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Banana Cake

banana cake

My mother-in-law makes this really moist, delectable banana cake, and the thing I love about it the most is that it doesn’t require any eggs. With my sharp sense of smell, I can sniff the raw egg smell in baked goods-cakes and flan. I altered the original recipe slightly by replacing some of the white sugar with brown sugar. This lends it that textured bite. Occasionally I like to add 1/2 cup of chopped pieces of dried pineapple or dates (from the baked goods aisle).  It took me 14 years and the swine flu to get this recipe.  In 2009 when I was bedridden with the pig flu, I told my husband that I craved banana cake.  He immediately called his mom and within minutes this was emailed to me 🙂

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter softened
  • 4 oz cream cheese softened
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups bleached self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup buttermilk or sour cream or beaten plain yogurt
  • 3 mashed ripe bananas
  • walnuts ~1/2 cup (optional)

Mix by hand butter, cream cheese, and both sugars. Add mashed bananas and buttermilk and chopped pineapple or dates. Mix baking soda into the flour and then add to the banana mixture. If consistency is hard add a little more buttermilk but keep it a little thicker than cake batter. Pour into a greased and floured 9” by 13” baking pan or bread pan. Sprinkle top with walnuts. Bake in the center of the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. It is done when a toothpick inserted at the center of the batter comes out clean. Cool and cut in to squares or slice accordingly.  If using a bread pan, grease the bottom and sides and line the bottom with parchment paper cut to size.


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Banana Halwa/Halva/Pudding

DSC_4271Yesterday I was in dire need of a warm hug- from the inside that is.  That translates to – “I need some comfort food.”   Cold overripe bananas stared at me and I cringed at the thought of having to trash them.  I don’t know anyone who would crave boring cold fruit when sick with a cold, but I didn’t want to be besieged by guilt of throwing them out either.  Images of ooey gooey goodness of brown sugar and cinnamon flashed across my mind mixed in with troubling images of overripe bananas making their way to a plant bed.  And then I had it!!! My aaahaaa moment!!!  Just the inspiration I was looking for. I remember when Yesh (my husband) had visited me for the first time in India in the year 1995.  He had cooked up some sliced bananas in butter and drizzled them with ground white sugar and honey.  Everyone stood around at a safe distance watching him work his way in the kitchen. I automatically got assigned the role of sous chef.  Our household help (Arti I believe her name was) couldn’t stop blushing and giggling at the sight of this strange Indian who spoke no Hindi.  Several spatulas, blenders and a sugary mess later we had it-sliced bananas cooked in butter and drizzled with ground white sugar and honey. That AHAA moment and the flashing images in my mind produced today’s ultimate goodness. So here it is –my concoction for a cold, dreary sick day – BANANA HALWA with TOASTED ALMONDS.
  • 2 large ripe bananas sliced
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • Butter or Ghee 3 tbsp
  • 4  tablespoons brown sugar packed
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder or to taste

In a wide iron skillet or non stick pan, melt and heat 1 tablespoon butter or ghee.

Work on low to medium heat to keep the butter from turning brown.

Add the sliced almonds and toast until golden brown.  This should take no more than 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat completely and remove the toasted almonds from pan into a separate bowl.

To the same pan add ½ tablespoon of butter, slightly increase the heat to melt and warm the butter

Add the sliced bananas. Use a spatula to toss the banana slices. Try to get them to be a slightly golden color. Increase heat to medium or medium high. At this point some of the slices will start to loose their shape which is normal. Remove in a separate bowl.

In the same pan add 1 and 1/2  tablespoons of butter and heat.

Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and stir till well till dissolved.

Add the golden bananas to the brown sugar sauce and carefully mix to coat the the slices.

Turn up heat to medium high, stirring occasionally.

Once the mixture starts sizzling, continue to cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Place some banana pudding /halva in a dessert bowl. Sprinkle with the almonds and enjoy right away.

You may also serve with a small dollop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

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Bootylicious Chili Tofu

  • Firm or extra firmTofu           2 bricks
  • La Choy Soy sauce                 4 tbsp
  • Ketchup                                  3 tbsp
  • Red Onion chopped                1 – 1 and ½ cups
  • Cilantro chopped                    1/3 cup
  • garlic and ginger                     1 tbsp ( finely chopped 3 cloves garlic and ¼ inch ginger)
  • Green chili pepper                   1 tsp -1 tbsp, depending on personal preference
  • Green onion (optional)            ½ cup chopped
  • Red Chili paste, the kind offered in thai and Chinese restaurants, (according to taste bud immunity to peppers)


  1. Wrap the Tofu in paper towels and dry as much as possible. Cut in cubes.
  2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large open non-stick pan and stir fry the tofu until golden. Stir fry the tofu in batches adding extra vegetable oil to the pan between batches if needed. It is advisable to shake the pan and not handle the tofu with the spatula too much until the tofu looks slightly golden brown. Flip occasionally and press down on the tofu, to brown evenly and until moisture evaporates.  Remove from pan on a dish lined with paper towels.
  3. In the same pan, pour in the soy sauce; squirt the ketchup, and the red chili paste.  Heat until it starts to bubble (within a minute or so).
  4. Stir in the tofu well until it is coated with the sauce.
  5. Allow it cook on medium high, till the tofu absorbs the juices and flavors~ about 5 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle evenly the chopped onions, green onions, cilantro, ginger garlic paste and green chili pepper and give it a quick stir.  Cover for a few minutes before you serve as an appetizer or over rice for a hearty meal. If you plan on eating this with rice, add 2 tbsps of water to the sauce while cooking.
  7. NOTE: Some soy sauces are extremely rich and thick and only a little might be required.  (In that case you might want to add some water to the sauce mixture). La choy soy sauce is your regular soy sauce, a little more on the dilute side.









P.F. Chang Who? Vegetarian Lettuce Rolls

Lettuce Wraps

This makes for a great appetizer or lunch.  One time I took this to a party and it was a super hit.  I was asked for the recipe by several people. The serving dish was down to bare bones within seconds.

  • Tofu Firm                               2 bricks
  • Soy sauce                                3       tbsp
  • Green leaf lettuce                    leaves      cleaned and dried with a paper towel
  • Cilantro chopped                    1/3 cup
  • garlic                                       3      big cloves garlic
  • ginger                                      1 ½      cms ginger
  • Red      Chili paste                       on      the side
  • spicy      mustard                          on      the side
  • Vegetable      Oil                          2-2      ½  tablespoons


  1. Dry the tofu using paper towels to get as much moisture out as possible.  Don’t squeeze lest you crumble it.
  2. Dice into 1*1.25 cms.
  3. Heat a heavy bottomed wide skillet or pan and add 1 ½ tbsp of vegetable oil.
  4. Heat the oil for 2-3 minutes on medium high heat or until hot.
  5. Add one of the diced tofu to the skillet and give the skillet a few good shakes.
  6. Use a spatula to carefully handle the tofu, stirring occasionally without      crumbling the tofu.
  7. Adjust the heat to medium high and let tofu cook for 10 minutes, stirring      occasionally and adjusting heat as needed until tofu looks golden.
  8. Remove from skillet onto a paper towel lined plate and repeat with the second brick      of diced tofu.  You may want to add      another ½ or 1 tbsp of oil if needed.
  9. While the tofu is cooking, place your cilantro, garlic and ginger in a chopper and chop till finely chopped.
  10.  Add the soy sauce and stir to coat all the tofu and cook for another 3-5 minutes on medium high heat.
  11. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro, ginger and garlic and give it a quick stir.  Turn off heat.
  12. To serve arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter and place the tofu over it.
  13. Serve with spicy red chili paste and spicy mustard on the side.

NOTE: If taking this to a party, keep the lettuce and tofu separate until ready to serve.  Place the lettuce on a platter. Place the tofu in a microwave safe dish.  Cove with a moist paper towel and heat the tofu.  Place it on the lettuce bed and attack.