I am sure when we talk about pasta; it is one such thing that is loved right from children to the adults in each and every home.

It is a staple Italian food. There are 2 varieties of pasta:
1. Fresh Pasta
2. Dried Pasta

Pasta is generally made from durum wheat flour. Durum in Latin means ‘hard.’ The protein content in the durum wheat is high and hence, the dough stretches very well. Traditionally, pasta is made without addition of any water. Only eggs are used to knead the dough and it is kneaded with hands.

Today, we have bigger machines in which pasta dough is kneaded. Many hotels use imported refined flour and semolina to make the pasta instead of durum wheat. To make eggless pasta, eggs are replaced with water. The ingredients that traditionally make the pasta dough are flour, eggs, salt and olive oil.

The procedure goes somewhat like this: the pasta dough is made and then it is passed through a pasta machine. The machine rolls the pasta dough evenly. The attachment has different thicknesses and you can adjust the thickness of the pasta accordingly. There are attachments for different shapes of pasta as well. Once your dough is rolled, you need to pass the dough through different attachments depending upon the choice of the shape.

When the pasta is made in the factory, it is passed through big dough sheeters that roll the dough into desired thickness. It is then passed through different moulds to get the desired shapes. The pasta is then dried in an electric dryer. The temperature of the dryer is maintained at 65°C.

Pasta is categorized into Distinctive Shapes.

Nowadays, pastas are made with different natural colours. The green pastas are normally made with spinach chlorophyll. The red ones are made from tomato paste or puree. The black pasta is made from squid ink. Today, the whole wheat pastas are also available in the market.

Pasta Sauces:

Some of the classical sauces that go very well with pastas are-

1. Pesto sauce: the sauce is made from fresh basil leaves,
Parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil.
2. Bolognaise sauce: minced meat and tomato based sauce.
3. Carbonara sauce: the main ingredients are eggs and bacon.
4. Napolitana sauce: tomato and basil based chunky sauce.
5. Aglio olio: garlic and olive oil based sauce.

While cooking pasta, make sure that you have a deep pan of boiling water. Add salt and oil to the water. Salt is added initially so as to season the pasta before it is being cooked along with the sauce. If you do not add salt to the pasta water, it will be very difficult for you to adjust the salt level later in the sauce. The oil is added so as to avoid pasta sticking to each other. The pasta is put into the boiling water and is boiled for ten to twelve minutes depending on the time mentioned on the packet of the pasta. The pasta should always be cooked al dente or to the bite as the Italians say. It is always advisable to cook the pasta a minute or two less than the time mentioned on the packet. It can be cooked further along with the sauce. However, the Indians prefer their pastas a little bit more cooked than al dente. Once you boil the pasta, drain the water. Spread the pasta on a tray if you are not going to use it immediately. Sprinkle some olive oil and keep the pasta aside till further use. Fresh pasta takes much less time to cook as compared to the packet pasta. Fresh pasta is generally made and frozen in batches. Plunge the frozen pasta in a pan of boiling salt water and it will get cooked within two to three minutes.

We Indians prefer our pastas with much more sauce than is normally served in Italian restaurants. Chilli flakes is a very common ingredient used in Indian versions of pastas.

If we look at Indian food, dal dhokli which is a Gujarati delicacy can be considered as a type of pasta. Dough is made from whole wheat flour and gram flour (besan). It is then rolled out, cut into stripes and cooked along with dal.

One of the unique pasta dishes that I had made happens to be of the ‘Pasta Cake’ which I did while doing a cookery show. I tossed the pasta with some tomato sauce, added some white sauce and baked in a cake tin. Pasta is not only limited to authentic Italian food, but it can also be used in different stews, soups and salads.

Here are a few recipes that you could try out at home.


      Pasta Cake                      Pesto Pasta       Tropical Chicken and Farfalle Salad



Everything’s fair in love, war and…chocolate!

 Yes, everything is fair when it comes to this sinful, yet so lovable thing called “chocolate.” As far as I know, I haven’t seen or met anyone who does not like chocolate, in one or the other form! To be true, I can have dozens of chocolates, but just don’t have them so often for health sake and even if I end up gorging, I make sure to run that extra mile to burn it. This is the reason, why I had to come up with a book which was all dedicated to this incredible ingredient – aah! Chocolate is out on stands now, and I’m sure if you get it, you will definitely not regret!

From being one of the most popular flavours in the world to an aphrodisiac, chocolate surely is sinful in the truest sense! Rightly termed as the wonder ingredient, who knew that the discovery of an ordinary bean from the tree Theobroma cacao found in the jungles of South and Central America would become a hot favourite of all ages around the world.

Existing since ages
The cacao plant, from which the cocoa powder is made, is said to have originated in the Amazon area of South America in 2000 BC. The earliest record of chocolate being consumed as a beverage, dates from over 15000 years ago in the rainforests of Central America, where conditions for the growth of the cacao tree were perfect. The Olmec, one of the first civilizations in America, are believed to have been the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop.

The Mayan word for the cacao tree was cacahuaguchtl and the word cacao means ‘God Food.’ We get the word chocolate from the Mayan word xocoatl, meaning ‘bitter water.’

The cacao tree was held in high esteem by the Mayan civilization and by AD 300 cacao was used in ceremonies to celebrate life and fertility. Evidences of cacao pods have been found in the carvings remaining on temples and palaces. Later, archeological finds have included whole cacao beans and wood fragments from the cacao trees in Guatemala. Vessels found to come from around 600-400 BC in Belize and 1100 BC in Honduras have been found, on scientific examination, to contain residue of theobromine and caffeine, which are both contained in cacao beans. Cacao is named in text on one of the vessels, which had a stirrup handle and a complicated locking lid.

There are several mixtures of cacao described in ancient texts, for ceremonial and medicinal uses, as well as culinary purposes. It was used as a remedy and a way of delivering other herbal medicines. The cacao beans were roasted and pounded with chilli and maize for added flavour and then mixed with water. The bitter, unsweetened mixture was left to ferment and was originally reserved for ceremonies and for drinking by the rich, influential and religious elite. Women prepared the brew but, usually, only men drank it, as it was considered too strong or possibly even toxic for women and children. Some mixtures included maize, chilli, vanilla, peanut butter and honey. Chocolate was also mixed with a variety of flowers, and sometimes it was thickened with corn gruel to make a kind of porridge.

Chocolate origin
This fantastic ingredient hails from the cocoa beans of the cacao tree, majorly native to the tropical and subtropical countries, at about 15º-20° N-S of the equator on the world map. The source of the cocoa bean plays an essential role in deciding the quality of the chocolate, relating to which, regions such as South America, West Africa, Ecuador, Madagascar, etc. are some of the places where you would find the most superior quality cocoa beans. The four major varieties of cacao beans are Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Arriba/Nacional.

Cooking with chocolate
The two broad categories, into which chocolate is divided into, in terms of cooking, are ‘Couverture’ and ‘Coating’ chocolate. The latter is also known as Glazing and Pate Glace. When comparing, which among the two is best suited for cooking, the ‘Couverture’ scores over the ‘Coating’ type, inspite of the ‘Coating’ type being cheaper and easy to handle. Some obvious reasons for the ‘Couverture’ type to be better are: it provides a better flavour to the recipe, it provides a better mouth-feel, it makes the recipe the most appealing and it is healthier.

Easy to store and handle, the ‘Coating’ type is usually darker and bitter and also seen more in the market. On the other hand, you must look for a fruity taste, acidic nature, cocoa content and cocoa butter content in a piece of chocolate to get the best quality of ‘Couverture’ chocolate.

Components of the cocoa bean
The two main components of the cocoa bean are basically the ‘fats’ or the ‘cocoa butter’ and constitutes about 50-55% of the whole bean. The rest of the bean is composed of ‘non-fat solids’ and together, both these components make the ‘cocoa mass’ or ‘cocoa solids.’

Cocoa butter (fats) is colourless, the flavour carrier and is responsible for giving the texture and mouth-feel to the chocolate. On the other hand, non-fat solids are the flavouring component and gives taste in the chocolate.

The more preferred category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Couverture’ chocolate, is made by combining the ‘cocoa mass’ with sugar, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin (usually extracted from soya) where as the inexpensive category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Coating/Glaze’ chocolate is derived by combining the ‘non-fat solids’ with vegetable fat, sugar, vanilla and emulsifier lecithin.

The separation of the ‘non-fat solids’ from the cocoa bean results in what is commonly known as ‘cocoa powder’ with some variable fat content. The higher the percentage of fat content in the ‘cocoa powder’, the superior is the quality. Also, this powder is acidic in nature, so it is treated with an alkali, in a process called Dutch Process, to make it richer, darker, less acidic and has less tendency to settle out when combined with liquids. This way it is also made suitable for dishes that call for baking powder.

The white partner
There’s a white counterpart of the rich, dark brown chocolate called ‘white chocolate’ that is nothing but cocoa butter along with sugar, milk powder, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin. One thing to keep in mind while buying a good white chocolate is to make sure that it contains cocoa butter as some inferior brands contain vegetable fats.

This rich, creamy, sweet and subtle-flavoured chocolate makes it best suited for baking purposes as it complements other ingredients. This chocolate is very delicate and thus, should be always melted on very low heat in order to avoid burning. Also while setting, it happens to be softer than the dark chocolate as it contains milk solids.

Melt thy chocolate – right!
Have you ever experienced that while melting chocolate in a double boiler, the steam from the pot under the bowl gets into the chocolate and solidifies it? The chocolate is ruined isn’t it? Let us see what causes this and how can we repair the damage.

Chocolate has many moods! Sometimes it melts to a satiny pool of liquid chocolate and sometimes it becomes a grainy mess. Chocolate while being melted simply cannot tolerate small drops of water. In this case, the steam escaping from the bottom of the double boiler is sufficient to put the chocolate in trouble. The same thing will happen if you cover the pan in which chocolate is melting. Then moisture condenses on the inside of the lid and drips down on the melting chocolate with the same result. Once chocolate has solidified it is not easy to coax it back to liquid form. When melting chocolate, make sure the water in the bottom of a double boiler is hot, but not boiling. Or consider melting chocolate in a very heavy saucepan with a metal ring placed on the element to insulate it from direct heat. Or better still melt it in a microwave oven.

Store thy chocolate – right!
Improper storage causes ‘bloom’ (discolouration) in the chocolate, which could be one of the two substances: it could be cocoa fat that rises to the surface of a solid chocolate mixture that is stored for too long at room temperature, or it could be sugar that is drawn to the surface by the condensation of a loosely wrapped, refrigerated chocolate mixture. The moisture extracts sugar from the mixture’s interior. Although it might look a little less appetizing than a lustrous, rich chocolaty-brown piece of sweet, chocolate that has suffered bloom is still okay to eat! You may find the texture of sugar-bloomed chocolate to be a bit grainy on the outside, but it should still taste good. To prevent this from happening to your chocolate, simply use proper storage methods.

Since chocolate can easily absorb flavours from food or other products stored alongside, chocolate should be tightly wrapped and stored away from pungent odours. The ideal temperature for storage is somewhere between 18°C-20°C. If stored properly, you can expect milk chocolate and white chocolate to be good for up to six months. Other types of chocolate can have an even longer shelf life.

Chocolaty tips
•When melting chocolate, make sure all the equipments are completely dry. Any moisture in the utensils/container may cause the chocolate to stiffen. To rectify the error, stir in half to one teaspoon of melted shortening for every ounce of chocolate.

•In order to minimize the cooking time, chop chocolate bars into squares or smaller pieces before melting them.

•Chocolate melts easily in a microwave and there is less danger of scorching.

•Store grated chocolate in the freezer. It is easier to work with frozen chocolate, since you can scoop out as much as you need.

•White or milk chocolate make better chocolate shavings because they are a softer chocolates and will curl better.

•While melting chocolate add a spoonful of butter to the chocolate for a smoother consistency and richer flavour.

•To prevent your chocolate cake from having white streaks on the brown crusts, dust greased cake pans with cocoa instead of flour.

•For bananas that are ripe and ready to eat but you have too many, peel the bananas and freeze them then dip in melted chocolate and freeze again, this makes a nice treat!

•Have a bag of chocolate chips in hand? Just sit with the whole bag in a bowl of very hot water, and mush the bag up every couple of minutes until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out the melted chocolate directly onto the cake.

•When you are looking for dark cooking chocolate remember that it can be available as pure unsweetened chocolate under the name of bitter chocolate or baking chocolate.

•When making chocolate cake, add dried and powdered orange peels for yummy taste.

•Never use a wooden spoon to stir chocolate because it adds unwanted moisture.

And in the end, I have made pizzas with chocolate and fruit topping and many times I have also stuffed the favourite samosas with chocolate. Pair it up with almost anything and everything, and still you will have a surprise to yourself! Such is the marvel of this super ingredient. As for now, try some dishes like Chocolate Kheer, German Chocolate Cake, Peach and White Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Rice Pudding, choco-coconut Laddoo’s from my website and enjoy those chocolaty moments!


 Choco-coconut Laddoo       German Chocolate Cake     Chocolate Kheer

French Fries

Some years ago, when my daughters were still in their pig tails, they used to demand to be taken to the nearest fast food joint at least twice a week, where it was customary to order for bowlful of French fries along with burgers. Now of course, as they are in their teens, they have become weight conscious and these outings have become few and far between.

I am sure most of you are sailing in the same boat. Not only children but even adults like us love to eat French fries. Little wonder then that French fries with burgers, wraps and soft drinks top the menu at all Fast Food joints.

Many brands sell their French fries along with different dips like cheese, mayonnaise, Sichuan sauce. Some brands even sell flavoured French fries. They have masala fries, salt and pepper fries, Italian spiced french fries, Mexican french fries which are normally served with a tomato salsa.

All that is really yummy yet we would still want to be sure about the quality of food our children eat outside, don’t we? And why not… so let us explore how to make them healthier.

French Fries are something that can be easily prepared at home. Homemade food, as we all know, is anytime better as compared to what our children would get to eat outside. To make French fries at home, the first thing to do is to shop for non starchy potatoes. Non starchy potatoes are also called new potatoes which have less amount of starch as compared to old potatoes. Now you may well ask why we need to use non starchy potatoes to prepare French fries. It is because when the starch is exposed to heat, it breaks down into glucose, which is a form of sugar. Sugar when heated caramelises and turns into golden brown colour. Since the quantity of starch is less in non-starchy potatoes, it takes time for the starch to break down into glucose, and the potatoes do not turn brown very fast and remain crisp.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into even sized fingers. These days you get cutters which give you even sized fingers making your job less laborious. Plunge them in salted boiling water and boil till they are half cooked. Drain them thoroughly and pat dry on a kitchen towel. Once completely cooled, divide them into portions and pack them into separate zip lock bags and freeze. I said pack into separate bags so that whenever you want to use them, you can take out just as many as you want. Do not thaw them, just take them out of the zip lock bags and fry in hot oil. As simple as that but do it in batches, because overcrowding the frying pan with too many fingers at a time, will bring the temperature of the oil down and the fingers will become soggy and limp instead of crispy.

You can make potato wedges too in similar manner: cut the potatoes into wedges, keep the skin intact. Parboil the wedges in salted water. Drain and put them on a kitchen towel to dry off excess water. Roll in seasoned refined flour and freeze for 6-8 hours. Just before serving, take them out of the freezer and deep fry in hot oil. You can even bake the wedges to make them healthier. Nowadays frozen French fries and potato wedges are easily available not only in the supermarkets and even in smaller shops.

100 grams of French fries contain 327 calories and that is quite a bit considering you cannot stop yourself with just that much. However you can have them occasionally without much guilt pangs. Well after gorging on them, run a mile or two more so as to burn off the excess calories consumed.

Well there is some good news for you. These days, air fryers are easily available in the market, which consume 80% less oil as compared to deep frying in the conventional way. All you need to do is brush the food with a little oil, place them a basket that fits into the body of the fryer and adjust the temperature depending on the food you want to cook. The food gets cooked in hot air and hence a boon for the health conscious. I use it frequently and gorge on the supposedly fried goodies without feeling guilty.

Recently while doing a live show, I came up with an innovation. I made fries from sweet potatoes instead of using regular potatoes. I used oil spray to spray a little oil on the fries and baked them in preheated oven till crisp. Tossed them in chaat masala, red chilli powder, some salt and a dash of lemon juice, I served them with great flair and believe me they were super hit.

So learn how to make the basic recipe of fries and then sky is the limit. You can then serve them with a variety of dips and sprinklers and see them disappearing faster than you prepared them. Bingo!

Here are some recipes to get you started!

       French Fries                  Country Style Fries             Baked Potato Wedges