Saturday, March 23, 2013

Whole Wheat Pitas

Woke up this morning from what my friend, Harsha, calls 'a food coma'. Oh boy..not pretty at all, need a second cup of tea. Last night was one of the best homemade meals ever. And it was sooo simple..Hummus & Whole Wheat Pita. Ummm...Pita...whole wheat pita!!
Stack pitas and wrap in clean kitchen towels as they come out of the oven
 I am a sucker for Greek food and a huge fan of the fluffy pita. Make it whole wheat and I am a happy trooper. Oh oh and love me some pickles and pickled turnips..yummy yummy in my growling tummy!! Yesterday, was in the mood for baking some whole wheat pitas and decided to go down The Galley Gourmet. The recipe is great. The pitas turned out absolutely soft and fluffy, but no pockets :(..Nonetheless they were delicious and we definitely over ate.

Next time I am going to try a few tips from Smitten Kitchen's Pita Bread post. If you get time, read up because the recipe is exactly the same, its all in how you bake it and Deb does a great job at explaining that. I will surely try and obviously share results :)

Whole Wheat Pitas
yields 6, 7-inch pitas
adapted from The Galley Gourmet

1 tablespoons Honey
1 cup Warm Water plus 4 tbls as needed, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast, (two 1/4-ounce packages)
1 1/2 cup Unbleached All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour (I use Indian store bought Atta..and that's the best for this recipe)
1/2 tablespoon Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons EVOO plus some more for coating
Cornmeal for dusting (I didn't use any..didn't need it)

Kneading the flour is very similar to the Whole Wheat Pizza Dough directions, and I have detailed pictures which you can check out for reference.

Begin with stirring Honey and water in a bowl of a standing mixer or a bowl you'd like to knead the dough in. To this, add the yeast and set aside for 5-10 minutes undisturbed, until the yeast blooms.
Add to the same bowl both flours, salt, 2 tablespoons oil, and a cup of warm water. Begin mixing at the stir speed until the mixture is smooth and elastic, adding up to 4 tbls more water, one tablespoon at a time, as needed. Continue kneading for at least 4-5 minutes more. Finish the dough by hand. Knead for a couple of minutes and shape it into a ball. Drizzle some EVOO in the bowl and on top of the dough ball. Turn to coat all the dough and bowl with oil. Cover it with a kitchen towel tightly tied around the bowl, or a greased plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place to rise. I use the oven with the Oven light ON, always does the trick, especially in the cold months. Let it rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough and let rest for 20 minutes.  Divide the dough into 6 even pieces. Shape each piece into a ball in your hands. I like to lightly oil my hands to avoid using any flour while rolling the pitas out. Roll out each piece of dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle, about 7-inches in diameter; keeping the remaining dough balls covered with a sheet of plastic wrap.
Set each rolled out pita on a large baking sheet without overlapping. You can lightly dust the rounds with cornmeal to prevent them from sticking. I didn't use any.

Cover the dough with a lightly damp towel and let them rise for 1 hour.

The pitas should be puffy, not necessarily double in size.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ยบ F. Bake the dough rounds one baking sheet at a time until the pitas are puffed and lightly golden, about 5 minutes.

Serve piping hot with hummus or let cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for upto a month. We didn't need to freeze..remember the overeating part? :P :D

Tips & Notes:
The key to having pita pockets is keeping the rolled out pitas moist and free of excess flour. I didn't have to use any flour when rolling them out. Try not to use any. Also, keeping the towels moist when allowing the rolled out pitas to rise will give you fluffy and soft pitas. You could spray the rolled out pitas with some water just before baking. That's something Deb from Smitten Kitchen followed. I will try that next time and hope I get the pitas to have some pockets :)

Enjoy & Happy Pita Pitting!!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Added Salt Please!

When I began blogging, the first ever blog post was a sad looking 100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough..:P..Sad because there are no pics. I just wanted to jot down the directions for myself, so I don't forget. Also, I was so anxious to START somewhere that as soon as I finished writing it up I kicked it out the door without pics. Poor guy..still hanging around with no views. So, I decided to do a new post on the Whole Wheat Pizza definitely deserves the respect.

 The whole premise of me cooking at home and everything from scratch is the title of this post..No added Salt Please. Like everyone around, we ate out a lot when we first came to the US, back in 2005. We also didn't have a choice, cos we were students with very less time to cook and clean. Obviously with no work outs and always studying late, we packed on a lot weight with time. Fast forward, Vaibhav & I got married here in 2009. Our parents visited us to get us married off. That's when the cycle of eating out completely broke. Mom stayed with us for a good 3 months during which we hardly ate out. The result..I dropped 4 dress sizes without working out a single day. I had no restrictions on food whatsoever, including desserts...still a consistent weight loss. I wish Mom had visited 3 months before we got married...I would have been slimmer on my wedding day..sheeesh!

Jokes apart it truly put a perspective in what I ate and how I managed my health. Two things I noticed
A) The portion sizes seemed huge to me and B) Any dish that I ate out seemed way too salty to me. The same food that I loved, gobbled up and cleaned my plate with no problems, seemed absolutely huge and salty now. Since then, I always find myself saying, "No added Salt Please"..of course apart from that I always have leftovers now. That's how my quest to cook everything at home began. I am scared of packing up so many calories and so much salt and fat in just one meal, that we almost everyday end up cooking at home..and Love it!!!
Sorry for the messy dish in the background..The pic was taken at night time and this angle was the best for light!
You can read my I don't eat Pizza story in my original post. Here, I am only going to reiterate, that this pizza dough is very light and delicious. If you are heavy on eating the white flour pizza then obviously, this will take time to grow on you. However, if you are health conscious and want to make healthy replacements of usual goodies, then this is sure to impress you.

Ingredients (yields 1 Large Thin Pizza crust..with a little left over that I freeze in a ziploc bag)
Original Recipe from Stepahanie's post at
  • 2 1/2 cups Whole Wheat flour and more for dusting; all divided (Indian store bought atta works like a charm)
  • 1 packet Active Dry yeast
  • 3/4 th teaspoon Salt
  • 1 cup Warm Water (It should be warm just enough so you can easily touh the water, but warmer than room temperature. If you have a kitchen thermometer, the ideal temparature is between 100-110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon EVOO
  • 2 teaspoons Sugar

In a (2 cup) measuring cup, combine water and 2 tsp sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Happily Bubbling away!
In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups whole wheat flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour the yeast mixture and 1 tbsp EVOO.

Now begin Stirring at the Stir speed using the dough attachment, or use a rubber spatula if kneading by hand.
The dough should just come together, it will be very sticky at this point.

Continue kneading in the mixer or by hand while adding more flour in 1 tbsp at a time (from the remaining 1/2 cup flour). Try not to exceed the 1/2 cup limit, it is easy to get carried away, cos the dough is so sticky. This should take about 3-4 minutes or make sure to knead that long to work the gluten in the dough.
Add only as much is needed to pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and is no longer sticky. At this point even I like to finish by hand. Lightly oil your hand with EVOO and knead for a couple of minutes with your hand.

Shape dough into a ball. Lightly grease the bowl, or a separate bowl with EVOO. Also lightly grease the dough bowl, place it in the greased bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel tightly tied around the bowl, or a greased plastic wrap.

Place it in a warm place to rise. I use the oven with the Oven light ON, always does the trick, especially in the cold months. Let it rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled in size.

Punch down the risen dough, shape into a ball and place on a lightly floured pizza pan (or stone, I don't have a stone).
Roll it out in a circle of desired thickness, I made a thin crust large pizza. Let it rest about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Add the toppings of your choice. Place the pizza in oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until crust turns golden brown and toppings are baked enough.

Let pizza rest for 10 minutes before serving.

These were the longest 10 minutes...Vaibhav oggled at the pizza with a timer in his hand and kept looking at it every 10 seconds..Is it up yet?? No..Is it up yet?? Nooooo!!

Hope you try and enjoy this Whole Wheat Pizza Crust. Happy Kneading!!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lowfat Wheat Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

Have you ever tried to bake or cook something over and over again and never get quite the results you want? But then as soon as you decide to make it for someone it just works, like it was a piece of 'muffin' :D

I love blueberries. I can have anything blueberry..yep, have tried a blueberry bagel with blueberry cream cheese..just yummmm. I was on a hunt for a healthy Blueberry Muffin and have tried numerous recipes. I used buttermilk, then yogurt, some with whole wheat, others with just milk and how can I forget the blueberry jam swirled in..ufff..None worked. I mean they would bake, but I absolutely never got them to rise beautifully. Also, either they would be too dry or way too wet. I failed..TERRIBLY.

This past weekend our close friends, Bhawna & Vishal, were having us over for lunch. I know how much Bhawna loves blueberries and co-incidentally I had lots of fresh blueberries on hand. How convenient..I know, right?? Well I wanted to bring the Hosts a Thank You goodie and so I finally tried one last recipe that I had bookmarked long long ago. And this time it worked. The couple loved the blueberry muffins I made them, especially the blueberries that burst in there while baking. They tasted good but, when she asked me for the recipe the wires in my head started jolting.
A little under-baked I believe and a bit too dry..didn't cut it for me.
 I came home and started dissecting the muffin. I had replaced half the white flour with whole wheat flour which I felt made them a little dry. I also felt they were under-baked, in that they did not have brown tops. These were good muffins and a little dry..good but not awesome. I really needed to make these better before I passed on the recipe to B. She loves blueberry muffins, these better work for her. So, off I went to make a brand new batch.

Then the wires in my head jolted even more. Didn't I say I wanted to make them healthy? I know healthy is a very relative term. Besides anything that has sugar, egg, flour and fat is not healthy. But, I definitely wanted to make these more healthier. So, I decided to replace the oil in the recipe with Applesauce. Switched the baking powder to baking soda and the muffins turned out great. They rose gorgeously, not dry at all and tasted perfect.

Only this time, yeah there always is a twist..the muffins stuck to the liners. I would lose about 1/4th of a muffin to the silly liners. Vaibhav picked up one and peeled the liner and said, "Should you have sprayed the insides of the liners with some PAM?" Imagine what happened to the wires in my don't have to..just watch Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory when he is highly caffeinated or thinking too hard.
Perfect looking Muffin tops..and low fat too!! Me likey!!!
I researched over the net and Vibes was right..this is a rare occurrence guys..but he was right. Turns out lowfat muffins, obviously, because of no grease tend to stick more to the liners. An easy fix is to spray the liners with some oil. I know, defeats the whole purpose of a liner, but oh well, whatever helps me keep it lowfat.

So I baked yet another batch...Ha like the wires would have stopped jolting..they never do. SUCCESS..These are incredibly moist, light and fluffy muffins without the fat and no more sticky liners. You can make them Blueberry, or Chocolate Chip, of course with the same batter. Please see notes for the variations.
Lowfat Blueberry Muffins
I would officially like to Thank Vaibhav for putting up with all these baking experiments and providing valuable inputs like 'spray PAM' while munching away the goods.
Lowfat Choc Chip Muffins
Vishal & Bhawna, Thanks so much for having us over and the wonderful food. Maybe you guys can guest post the awesome Minced Chicken Skewers you made :)

Presenting the Lowfat Blueberry Muffins for ya!! Enjoyyyy!! :)..If you did like the ones I brought you, simply follow the original recipe with only 3/4th cup sugar.

Lowfat Blueberry Muffins
yields 6 standard size or 12 mini muffins* (See Notes)
adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen

1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour (Indian store-bought flour - atta works great for me)
1/2 cup White Flour*
1 Cup Blueberries
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) Sugar* (See Notes)
1/2 cup Buttermilk* (I make my own..See Notes)
2 tablespoons Unsweetened Apple Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda* (See Notes)
3/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon*
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil (I use great)
3/4 teaspoon Vanilla
1 Egg
Turbinado Sugar for dusting (optional)

Place the oven rack in middle. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Line a Muffin tin with paper liner. I tend to use the center muffin cups, which leaves 3 cups on each side empty. Grease the liners lightly with a cooking spray. Alternately, you can also use simple foil liners. My research shows they are best for lowfat muffins. I have got to buy some.

Rinse the blueberries in a colander and drain well. Pat dry with a paper towel. Keep aside.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Don't skip the sifting, it's what makes the muffins light and fluffy.

To this sifted flour mixture, add 3/4th cup blueberries. Reserve the remaining 1/4th cup for later.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla. Whisk well.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and combine using as few stirs as possible. Stir only until combined, the batter will be rather lumpy and a little runny. You will also be able to see the buttermilk and soda producing lumps. Do not over-mix. As few strokes as possible.

Fill each muffin cup all the way to the top with batter. Now distribute and add the remaining 1/4th cup blueberries between the 6 cups. Don't push them inside, these will burst on top while baking giving it a wonderful blueberry flavor.

You can even sprinkle the top of each muffin lightly with turbinado or coarse sugar. This will add some sweet sparkle and texture to the top of each muffin. This is optional, I skipped it. However, next time I may try a mixture of Turbinado Sugar with some Cinnamon for dusting. Try it and let me know how that turns out.

For Baking: The muffins should be baked for a total of about 16-18 minutes at 400°F.

Begin with baking the muffins for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes rotate the muffin pan 180 degrees around to ensure even baking.

Bake for additional 6-8 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean and the muffin tops are springy to touch. Start testing at the 6th minute mark and immediately remove the muffins as soon as their tops turn springy. They continue to cook after removed from the oven, so do not overcook.

Let them cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes and then allow them to further cool on a wire rack.

Dig in!! Happy Muffining!!

Recipe: The recipe yields 6 standard muffins. Simply double the recipe to make a dozen. It doubles with no problems at all.

Buttermilk: I make my own. For a 1/2 cup of buttermilk; add 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar to an empty measuring cup and then add milk to bring it to the 1/2 cup measuring mark. Let stand for 10 minutes until the milk curdles. I use 2% milk.

White Flour: I haven't tried the recipe with Whole Wheat flour only. I am definitely going to experiment with it. But, if you do happen to experiment before me, please let me know your findings. As usual, I will blog about mine.

Sugar: I don't like overly sweet muffins, hence I use 6 tablespoons of sugar only. However, if you like it to be more sweet feel free to add 2 extra tablespoons of sugar to it.

Cinnamon: Cinnamon gives this muffin batter a kick. It takes the recipe to whole new level. I also feel you don't need extra sugar if using cinnamon.

Baking Soda: The original recipe calls for Baking Powder, however, I used baking soda because the vinegar in buttermilk goes very well with soda to give the muffins their much needed rise, height and beautiful muffin tops.

Variation: You can use this same batter to make Chocolate Chip Muffins. Simply switch the blueberries for 2 ounces of Dark chocolate. I use 70% dark chocolate bar. Chop it up and mix them with the dry ingredients. Once the muffin cups are filled, sprinkle a few semisweet chocolate chips on top. Oh, and keep the cinnamon even while making them Chocolate tastes divine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy Birthday Mom!!!..and Eggless Chocolate Cupcakes!!

Happy Birthday Mom!!! Hope you have a wonderful, fulfilling year ahead. Wish all your wishes come true ;)

Made you an eggless if only you could have it. :P On this occasion, all I can say is Thank You for everything. Whatever I know and am, I owe to you. I Love you and hope to bake all these goodies for you to savor very very soon <3

This is a wonderful moist eggless recipe for a chocolate cupcake. The recipe is so easy to put together with ingredients almost always in the kitchen and really quick too. Top it with the ganache frosting to make it absolutely irresistible and incredibly delectable.
Thanks to Elise Bauer for sharing this great recipe at Simply Recipes. The gorgeous ganache is courtesy of Alice Currah at Savory Sweet Life.

The Chocolate ganache as Alice explains, can be used in three different ways. I wanted to try piping it out and hence decided to make the ganache first and let it cool down to room temperature where it can be stiff enough to be piped onto a cupcake.

For the Piping Chocolate Ganache
adapted from Savory Sweet Life

12 ounces Chocolate, chopped finely (semi-sweet, sweet or dark..use as per your choice)
1 Cup Heavy Cream
3 tablespoons flavored Liqueor (optional, I just added an extra 3 tablespoons of cream)

Chop the chocolate fine.
Heat heavy cream on medium high until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately add the chocolate. Stir quickly until completely melted and glossy.
For piping or frosting, allow the ganache to completely cool and set up at room temperature. When you are able to spoon the ganache and it can hold its texture, it is ready for piping.
I used Wilton's 4B star tip for piping swirls on my cupcakes.

For the Eggless Chocolate Cupcakes
adapted from Elise Bauer's recipe on Simply Recipes

1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Brewed Coffee (or 1 cup of warm water mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder or instant coffee granules)
1 Tbsp White Vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
6 Tbsp (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp) Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Prepare a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt until there are no visible clumps. Cocoa tends to clump up, so make sure you get rid of those.

In a separate bowl, mix together the coffee, vinegar, vanilla extract, and olive oil.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir only until combined. Do not over mix, the mixture should be thin and rather lumpy.

Ladle the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about two-thirds of the way full.

Place in oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check at the 16th minute mark. I took the cupcakes after 16 minutes and they cooked up perfectly.
Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and let cool on a rack.
 Frost them up once cooled.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sugarless Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread first ever reader request Post!! Requested by none other than a very very close family friend of ours..Poonam Di, this one's for you :)

Di or Didi is how you respectfully address an elder sister in Hindi. Poonam Di and her family are very dear to us..we have a lot of fun with them. She is a wonderful cook herself and believes in homemade food a lot. In fact, although I loved cooking, as a student I didn't find much time. After moving to the Bay area from Chico State, seeing her cook in her kitchen was truly inspiring. She made and still makes so many things from scratch, grinds fresh garlic and ginger in a mortar and pestle and kneads flour in a food is all quite balanced, wonderful and delicious.
The Whole Wheat Banana Bread has a funny story. The first time I made it, Vibes & I quickly visited them to share it. Coincidentally, Poonam Di had 2 loaf pans baking in the oven of..guess what..Banana Bread. That was some really good Banana bread..agreed it had all the good things in it, but was a wonderful wonderful recipe..hmm, now I think I should ask if she has it.

The whole wheat bread, on the other hand was a lot chewy, not moist and very dense. The results with white flour have to be different, but what I wanted to work for my recipe was the sugarless part of it. The sweetness in my bread comes from Dates. The idea came from my father's silly joke. He would always pop a couple of dates after dinner. When asked , "What are you eating Papa?" The answer would always be a goofy, "Poor man's dessert..Dates." Dad has had healthy food habits forever, so he would always choose dates over an ice-cream, which is what we would have occasionally. (Anyone remember Choco Bar? ;) :D..Anyways, the ice-creams were quite expensive, at least for he would mock at us by calling dates as a poor man's dessert..LOL

This is a very healthy recipe. No sugar, no butter, made with  wheat flour and added nuts make it the best evening snack when we come home from work with a super growling tummy :). I have been working on it for over 3 years now. Every batch is better than before. I have too many notes and alterations, but today I played with a few more ingredients, and may I say, it is the best batch ever. It rose perfectly. The wet dry ingredient proportion seemed to finally work. It is moist and very much bread like. I sometimes have it as a quick breakfast, while stepping out the door. Definitely Growling Tummies Approved..Oh and an original Growling Tummies recipe too. (Copyrights Reserved ;)

Sugarless Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread
Original recipe by Jyoti Choudhary
2 1/2 cups Wheat Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
3/4 cup Walnuts
1/4 cup Raisins (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Cinnamon (optional, but awesome)

4 medium sized Ripe Bananas
1 Whole Egg + 1 Egg White
1/2 cup Buttermilk (See Notes Below)
1 cup Chopped Dates
2 tablespoons Honey

Mix the first 7 dry ingredients well in a big enough bowl. Whisk and keep aside.

Blend 1 cup chopped dates with 1/2 cup buttermilk to get a smooth paste. If you do find the dates to be a little tough to grind up, add a banana to this paste and you will start to get a shake like consistency.

Add the remaining 3 bananas one at a time and keep blending the mixture well.

Add this date/buttermilk/banana blend to the flour mixture in the bowl. Mix well.

Add the eggs and honey and mix well. The batter will be thick.

Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with some cooking spray (Pam)

Pour batter in the prepared loaf pan. Smooth out the top with a spatula. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes in the pan.

Meanwhile, arrange the oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 350°F

Place the pan in the oven once heated, for 40-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean. After the 30 minute mark keep checking every 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Unmold and allow the bread to cool completely on a wire rack.

All set to be buttered up..Pair it with my Cinnamon n Spice Peanut Butter..or make it into a French toast..tastes great!! Let me know how you like it!!

  •  Buttermilk: I make my own. For a 1/2 cup of buttermilk; add 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar to an empty measuring cup and then add milk to bring it to the 1/2 cup measuring mark.
  • Aluminium or Stoneware Loaf Pan: I use a stoneware loaf pan and it took me 50 minutes with my oven. If you are using an aluminium loaf pan the baking time may differ. It is said that glass baking dish attains and retains the heat around cakes and breads, hence takes less time to bake. So, in my head the bread could take a while longer, so always keep checking with a toothpick after the 30 minute mark.
  • Eggs: I used 2 whole eggs but experimented by eliminating one egg yolk and the results were great. Next time I might use 3 egg whites instead. If you try this, please let me know the results.
  • Flavors: You can really mix it up to make different flavors of Banana Nut Bread. I have used a teaspoon of Cinnamon in here. But, I have used 3 tablespoons of Unsweetened Cocoa powder to give it a lovely chocolate flavor. I have also added 2 tablespoons of Instant Coffee, lovely lovely coffee flavor.You could also add 1/2 teaspoon of Vanilla essence, if you like that...Let your imagination wild.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tell me a story...Zao's copycat Thai Curry Soup

Once upon a time there was a Zao's Noodle Bar. A lovely lady worked close to one in Palo Alto. Each day she would walk down to the joint with a growling tummy and be back with a huge bowl of Yellow Curry Soup full of flavors, vegetables and Noodles. She was so addicted, that she introduced it to her then boyfriend (now hubby), who got hooked on to it, despite vegetables (I had to crack this joke;)..Ahem.. Soon she no longer worked close to it, but the love for the Yellow Curry soup was very strong. Both morons would drive 20 min each way, at least twice a week for a take out, and it was the same freaking order each time..2 Yellow Curries! So much so, that the servers and staff would write the order down as soon as they heard 'This is Rao' over the phone.
That's a bowl of pure goodness!!
Soon they realized it wasn't a practical dinner option, so she decided to take the plunge and tried to make this at home. Alas, the soup did not taste well. Then Zao's closed down..their hearts ached..she tried again but failed terribly..then gave up...But one day..Let's just fast forward to 5 years, cos I don't intend to bore you with my terrible story telling anymore!

Story telling is an art I don't possess..My Dad, yes..Papa is the best story teller ever. Growing up, my sister and I have heard the best, most innovative and beautiful stories at bed time. He had a flair to produce these most beautiful characters with lovely personalities and strong values. These stories were not regular fairy tales..he created them from was his way to inculcate values and teach us some morals and life lessons. Today, my niece enjoys his wonderful stories at bed time and also tells me some with self-interpreted morals :). I am so thankful for those bed-time interactions. I have learnt to reflect on everything, try and learn from it and maybe better it next time. Thanks Papa!!!

The result, such gorgeous looking bowls of fulfilling soup!!! :D..The moral of the story, 'Try & try till you succeed (without breaking the my niece would say it!! ;).'
The color is vibrant and the gingery aroma so inviting.
The flavors are complex..begins a bit salty from the soy sauce, then a bit sour from the lime, spicy from all the chilli in there and ends sweet from the palm sugar/jaggery/brown sugar, just how I remember at Zao's. It's actually these 4 ingredients that when added in a balanced way, produces this flavorful soup. Be ready to taste and test as you go.

Look at the lovely colors of all the vegetables..who could possibly say no to that. These do look like a lot and there is a fair amount of chopping in this recipe. So, yeah if possible get some help. Vibes always helps, but I have done it all by myself and the whole meal from start to end took about 40 minutes, including chopping..not bad eh?

It's a very versatile recipe too. First, I use all the ingredients usually available at home. You don't have to run around to hunt for lemongrass or galangal or even palm sugar. Who needs another bag of sugar? (I have 4-5 different types..phewww) You can make it completely vegetarian or add your choice of meat to it.
This is a perfect recipe for people wanting Thai food without any meat interventions. I don't use fish sauce in the recipe. For the protein, I usually use Tofu..but don't think you have to be bound to eating it veg only. I have added shrimp and chicken instead of tofu and it tastes great. For the broth I use low sodium Veg or Chicken hard and fast rules.
This is a perfect one pot meal on a cold cold night. Definitely Growling Tummies APPROVED!!!!..actually it's also Growling Tummies Created..pat on the back ;)

Thai Red Curry Soup (Zao's copycat)
Recipe by Jyoti Choudhary © (I have tears rolling own recipe)
For the Broth
1 Bunch Green Onions, finely diced (dice both, the green and white portions)
1 1/2 tablespoons Fresh Ginger, finely minced
1 1/4th tablespoon Red Curry Paste (Available at Whole Foods. I have used many other, but the Thai Kitchen brand suited our tastes the best)
1 can unsweetened Coconut Milk (I use full-fat..Feel free to use the light version. I have tried it .,'s a nice lighter soup..but we love the full-fat version for this soup ;)
2 cups Water (Use the same can and add 1 1/2 can of water..Use less if using the light version of Coconut milk)
1/2 cup Low Sodium Broth (Chicken or Veggie, does not matter..but try to use Low Sodium)

The Bulk (Veggies/Meat/Noodles)
Feel free to make any substitutions here. Let the creative juices and personal tastes flow :)
6-7 Crimini Mushrooms, finely sliced
1-2 Baby Bok Choy, chopped
1 small Broccoli Head
6-7 Baby Carrots, chopped
1/2 Red/Orange/Green/Yellow Bell Pepper, sliced lengthwise
1 Zucchini, sliced
1 Yellow Squash, sliced
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/4 cup Water Chestnuts (optional, if you can find them)
8-10 Basil Leaves, add whole or chiffonade
1 packet Light Firm Tofu, cubed (if making vegetarian)
2 Chicken Breasts or 1/4th pound Shrimp, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces (if making non-veg)
Just a handful of Noodles (Divide a regular Stir-fry Noodle packet into 5..I use Brown Rice Noodles from Whole Foods)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped Cilantro (optional for garnishing)

For Flavoring
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Fresh Lime/Lemon juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon low sodium Soy sauce
2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons Jaggery/Palm Sugar/Brown Sugar
1/8 th teaspoon Turmeric Powder (optional)
1/4 th teaspoon Chilli powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Chilli Sauce (I use Ching's..but Sriracha should work too..Also, adjust per your taste)

Bring a pot of water to boil for the noodles and cook it to al dente as per the instructions on the box. I do this half way through the soup. I like to dump freshly drained noodles directly into the soup, so they don't get cold and sticky. So feel free to do so, this is just a reminder if using noodles at all.

Drain the tofu (if using) cut up into cubes. Heat a wide pan on medium flame and spray very lightly with Pam. Gently place the tofu on the pan and allow it to crisp up on low-medium flame. I never salt the tofu, but you can if you like to. Keep an eye on the tofu though. If using chicken or shrimp, you could either bake or pan fry them similarly with some salt and spices. Keep aside.

Meanwhile, in a separate deep pot on medium flame, heat a tablespoon of oil (I use olive can use any other). Add the minced garlic and saute until aromatic. Add the chopped green onions and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add the Thai Red curry paste to this and saute until aromatic. Add 1/4th teaspoon chilli powder and an 8th of teaspoon of turmeric powder. Saute for a minute and now it's time to add a cup of your fav broth. To this add vegetables that would need some time to cook. I like to add the zucchini, bell peppers, chopped baby carrots and squash at this point.

Add the can of coconut milk and use the same can to add a can and a half of water. Add all chopped vegetables of your choice, except spinach. I add baby bokchoy, broccoli, mushrooms and few basil leaves if I have any. Lower the flame.

Time to flavor the soup and taste test it. Begin with 1/4th teaspoon of Lime/Lemon juice and equal amount of Soy sauce (Soy sauce and lime juice are in 1:1 proportions). Then add desired amount of chilli sauce like Sriracha or similar. I use Ching's easily found in India grocery stores, and add about a teaspoon of it, sometimes more.

Finally add 1 1/2 tablespoon of Palm Sugar/Brown Sugar or Jaggery. Jaggery is easily found in Indian grocery stores. A full cube corresponds to 2 tablespoons of sugar. I usually cut 3/4 of the cube and throw it in. Now mix well and taste it. Adjust the flavors as per your liking. In my experience, the best combination is 1/2 teaspoon each of Soy sauce and lime juice with 2 1/4 tablespoon of palm sugar for the recommended amounts of liquid.

Once you are happy with the taste, you can add your protein in there. Tofu, meat and noodles go in the end. Give it a good stir. Add baby spinach or some cilantro leaves if you like and give it final boil. Keep stirring or the coconut milk does tend to curdle a bit..and I don't like that ;). Serve hot. This is a whole one-pot feel free to take 2 servings :D

It is a very rewarding soup once you master it. I always have left overs for lunch the next day and I savor every sip of it :)..Happy Chopping ;)