Monday, July 11, 2011

Pumpkin Halwa

Follow your heart – three words that can be spoken so easily but can be so difficult to do.  In fact I have noticed that the seemingly easier and more flowery sentences are, the more difficult they are to be put into action.  “Forgive your enemy”, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching” or then “Love thy neighbour” – simple and forthright sentences but try putting them into action.

I have always admired people who say that they “follow their heart”.  But I think it takes a lot of courage to do this.  My heart has always told me that I should have a restaurant or catering business where I could fulfil my dream of cooking, creating and feeding others.  But that dream entails a lot of risks – resigning from my job, taking a loan to start up something and then not very sure if I would be successful at what I would do.  Or imagine following your heart to pursue a career which would take you away from your family and friends – is it more important to follow your heart here or to be there for your family? 

I do follow my heart though in things where the impact is smaller – like following my heart to cook what I want for dinner or following my heart to plan the weekend getaway with the family – but I could never “follow my heart” to do things that would have big impact not only on my life, but more importantly the lives of others.  Am I being too cautious here or too sacrificing or too scared…no one can tell, but in such matters I would rather follow my head than my heart.

Preparation Time:  45 minutes
Serves: 6


1 small butternut squash or any winter squash or pumpkin (4 cups when grated)
4 tablespoons butter or ghee
2 tablespoons cashew nuts
2 tablespoons raisins
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
250 ml coconut milk
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons almond meal or ground almonds
A pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon saffron


  1. Peel the butternut squash or pumpkin using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Halve it and scoop out the seeds and membrane. Cut it into large chunks. Using the coarse side of a box grater, grate the chunks. (A food processor will make the grating easier). You should have about 4 cups of grated squash.
  2. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, wide, non-stick skillet. Add cashews, raisins, and cardamom. 
  3. When the cashews get golden, add the grated butternut squash or pumpkin. Cook while stirring for about 2 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add the milk and condensed milk. Cook uncovered on medium heat for 15 minutes or till the squash is cooked, but still holding its shape. Stir the halwa occasionally so that it doesn’t burn or stick to the pan.
  5. Add almond meal and cook another 4 minutes. The halwa is done when it has thickened and the liquid is no longer runny, approximately 20 minutes on a low flame. The halwa will get firmer when cool. 
  6. Add the salt and saffron at the end of cooking.
  7. Cool the halwa a little, then shape into balls (optional) or serve in little bowls.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Coconut Salmon

You meet the nicest people sometimes in the most unexpected of circumstances or places.  And is it not refreshing to meet such lovely individuals with lofty ideals and thoughts when you least expect it?  I met one such person this last week.  I have had a garden shed which has been accumulating garden equipment and products for the last eight years, not to mention dust and cobwebs too.  So I decided it was time to do a major clean up of the place – dispose of what is not used or needed and rearrange everything else.  I knew it was a huge task and I needed outside help.  So I contacted one of the work agencies to see if I could get someone to come and help.  Help arrived in the form of Nestor – a Filipino man I was told who would be at my place at the appointed hour and time.

On the expected day Nestor did arrive.  A bulky man – too bulky if you ask me for a Filipino who are usually very small built and petite.  I wondered how such a big man would be able to remove things, move things around, dust, clean and sort everything back in place.  So I decided to help.  This gave me an opportunity to get to know Nestor more.  He had moved to Belgium 9 years ago with his wife and two children leaving his two older children in Philippines to finish their university.  An electrical engineer by profession, he could not work in that line any more because of the language barrier.  But he was still a very happy man – he earned an honest living and was a pastor at the local church. 

He was someone who enjoyed doing what he did – no matter what the job, had Faith and hope in a better world and was a good conservationist.  We spent the next 6 hours working and cleaning and chatting.  By the end, my shed was tidy, I had disposed off half of the contents of the shed and met a good person on the way.

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4


2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chilli powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon table salt
4 salmon steaks, about 175 grams each
3 tablespoons corn oil
1 onion, chopped
2 fresh green chillies, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1” piece ginger, grated
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
¾ cup coconut milk


  1. In a small bowl, mix half the cumin with the chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt.  
  2. Place the salmon in a single layer in a non-metallic dish and rub all over with the paste.  Cover and leave to marinate for 30 minutes.  
  3. Heat oil in a wide, deep-sided frying pan and fry the onion, chillies, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes.  
  4. Scrape the mixture into a food processor or blender and process to a paste.  Use a hand-held blender if you prefer.  
  5. Return the paste to the pan.  Add coriander and remaining cumin.  
  6. Now pour in the coconut milk, stirring constantly.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  
  7. Add the salmon steaks and spoon the sauce over them.  
  8. Cover and cook for 15 minutes until the fish is tender.  Serve with spring onion rice.