Monday, January 30, 2012

Caramelized Onions and Swiss Cheese Sandwiches

I grew up at a time when food companies were elbowing their way into homes across America. Like many children of the 70s & 80s, I can still hum the catchy jingles that were sandwiched between The Flintstones and Looney Tunes. Our family ate Indian scratch cooking nearly every night. But with persistent pestering, I was allowed Oreo Cookies, Apple Jacks, and other packaged foods.

During the day, my sister and I ate in the school cafeteria where most meals were cooked from scratch. One of the lunch ladies was Italian-American, and once a week ate her family's recipe for spaghetti with meat sauce.

I always looked forward to field trips which called for a packed lunch. I got to sneak a peek at the things my classmates ate at home. Many kids retrieved baloney sandwiches from their lunch box. I longed to bite into a layer of the oddly uniform meat that tasted like hot dogs. But mom was fiercely opposed to baloney. She always made me a ham sandwich topped with lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a spoonful of mustard.

I rarely eat meat now. So my days of ogling at baloney in the refrigerated aisle are over. When I want to warm up this time of year, I make French onion soup. If I'm too busy to cook up soup, I toast some French bread and layer it a heaping spoonful of caramelized onions and Swiss cheese.

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370

Friday, January 6, 2012



This is one of my favorite South Indian breakfast dishes. Imagine a moist, robustly seasoned couscous dish. Traditionally, each serving is topped with banana slices or a fried egg.


Serves 4

1 1/2 cups semolina or 2 1/2 minute Cream of Wheat
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
2 tablespoons urad dhal, skinned and split
1 cup finely diced onions
Half a small jalapeno, seeded and quartered
3/4 tablespoon minced ginger
20 curry leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups of water


Put the semolina (or Cream of Wheat) in a skillet over medium low heat. Dry roast, stirring frequently to ensure even cooking. Remove from the heat when it becomes a shade darker, about 10 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. Cook until they begin to pop. Add the urad dhal. Cook until it becomes honey brown.

Add the onions, jalapeno, ginger, and curry leaves. Cook until the onions become totally translucent. (This is very important step as the texture of the onions should be very soft in the final dish.)

Add the water and salt. Stir. Bring to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Slowly pour in the semolina, stirring constantly. (Note: It will spit and sputter!)

Cover and set aside for at least 5 minutes to allow the semolina to soften completely.

Serve with bananas or top each serving with a fried egg. Uppamavu can also be eaten with small side of hot pickle.

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Green Bean Thoran

In the winter, I thank my lucky stars for green beans. The grocery store varieties taste remarkably similar to their farmer's market cousins. (If only that were true of the tomatoes. I stay far away from them.)

On most occasions, I give beans a quick stir-fry with a dash of garlic and some salt. But during a recent trip home, my mom spoiled me with her much more full-flavored green bean thoran. Like other thorans, the dish gets much of its richness from unsweetened coconut. What makes green bean thoran really unique though is the way the beans are cut in short segments. The shape offers a little more chew and a little more give in every bite. Sounds strange, but I swear it's true.

Traditionally, the final step of the green bean thoran recipe calls for flavoring oil with mustard seeds and sauteing the steamed beans in the oil. My mom (who hates to cook, but always tends to my belly) suggested I share this more simple yet still yummy version! Enjoy!


Serves 4 to 6


1/2 pound green beans
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 a jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 freshly ground cumin
2 tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
Salt to taste
Dash of turmeric
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coconut oil or canola


Trim the ends off of the beans.

Line four to five beans together on a cutting board.

Slice them into very short segments.

Place the beans, onion, pepper, garlic, cumin, coconut, salt, turmeric, and water in a saucepan. Stir.

Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes. Stir again.

Cook until the water has evaporated, about 3 minutes.

Mix in the oil.

Serve with white rice and yogurt.

Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370