Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels

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Fennel Virgin and a Pot of Soup

It took me three years to muster up enough courage to buy a bulb of fennel. Normally, I steer clear of a particular set of vegetables and this licorice-flavored little veggie has always topped the list. So this week on my trip to the grocery store, I stopped at the greens isle for a minute longer and picked up a bulb of fennel. I was planning to roast it along with carrots, asparagus and make a salad but stopped myself in time. I wanted to do something more adventurous so I decided on a pot of soup (see, that is me trying my hands at subtle sarcasm).

Tomato-fennel soup

The verdict: I loved it! I am generally not a fan of celery, the other veggie known for its licorice flavor but this was more peppery and my taste palate-friendly. Will I buy it again? For sure but this time I should find better ways to use fennel.

This is how I made my pot o’ soup…

Roasted Tomato-Fennel Soup

Five Roma tomatoes, halved, seeded and cored

One medium-size head of fennel, cleaned, cored and diced into chunks

Half a huge white onion, diced into chunks

Five pods of garlic

Two Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

One Tbsp chopped fresh thyme

One tsp fresh lemon zest

Four Tbsp low-fat cream cheese

Scant half a cup reduced fat milk

Two cups water or low-sodium vegetable stock (I used the former)

A pinch of chili flakes

Half a tsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional, recommended for heat-seekers)

One tsp brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Three Tbsp good olive oil


Pre-heat the oven at 400°F. Prepare two sheet trays. Arrange the tomatoes and fennel in one. Pour olive oil on the vegetables, one Tbsp of rosemary, little salt and pepper. Arrange the onions and garlic in the other sheet pan and replicate the seasoning. Roast the onions in the oven for twenty minutes and the tomatoes and fennel for ten minutes more. Once done and cooled down, transfer to the blender, add the thyme and lemon zest and blend it well.

Pour the soup in a pan and heat it. Add the rest of the flavorings, milk and water and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat and add the cream cheese and whisk it until thick and creamy. Check for seasoning. Serve with a dollop of cream cheese, a splash of olive oil and grilled cheese sandwiches. Ooh, yumm!!

Serving Size: half a cup

Total carbs: 16.9g

With sandwich: 40g

Tomato-fennel soup 2



Quick Spring Salad

This is more of of a summer salad because it has been 80°F in the ‘Bama land for the past few weeks. I know you are probably going “Hmm, summer and roasted veggies? You must be crazy.” But I’ve always loved roasting anything I could get my hands on. The market was full of fresh asparagus and eggplants last week and I couldn’t help but buy some because they are what we call free food in a low-carb diet. Which means apart from the 30-45 gms of proteins I get to eat every big meal, I can eat these as much as I want to and I consider this a huge asset because now, I can go crazy with creativity and caramelize my veggies in the oven.

spring saladSo this salad, it has balsamic-roasted eggplants, asparagus, onion and garlic in it along with fresh lettuce and tomato. I seasoned it with dry basil flakes (wishing I had planted basil this year too. Oh well, it is never too late to!) and fresh mint for that extra herb-y kick. I finished it with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Although I would suggest serving this with a dinner roll (for the carb part of the plan), I ate it all by itself and fell deeply in love with the wonderful sweet-spicy flavor from the balsamic and Sriracha.

Roasted Spring Veggies Salad with Blasamic Vinegar

Half a large eggplant

One huge purple onion (I used yellow because I didn’t have purple in my pantry)

Ten spears of asparagus

Four garlic pods

Two cups lettuce

Two Roma tomatoes, diced

One and a half tsp Sriracha or one tsp chili flakes

Three Tbsp balsamic + more for finishing

Few chiffonaded leaves of fresh basil (I used 1 1/2 tsp of dry flakes)

Few fresh mint leaves

Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)

Parmesan cheese

Three Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Dice the asparagus and onion into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, mix one Tbsp of olive oil with little salt, little pepper, one tsp Sriracha, One Tbsp balsamic vinegar and half the basil. Toss the cute vegetables along with the garlic and spread it on a aluminum foil-covered baking sheet. Roast it in the oven for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, cut the eggplant into bite-size pieces too. In the same bowl, mix together another Tbsp of olive oil with salt, pepper, rest of the Sriracha, one more Tbsp of balsamic vinegar and the rest of the basil. Toss the eggplant and roast it in a pan until caramelized and crunchy. You could also save time and roast it all together but I have let the fire alarm go off many-a-times while roasting eggplants. Hence, didn’t want to take a chance again.

In the bowl, make a vinaigrette out of the remaining oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss the lettuce and diced tomatoes. When the vegetables are done roasting, mix them together and sprinkle the cheese and mint leaves over the hot mixture.

To serve: make a bed of lettuce and tomatoes. Serve the roasted vegetables over it with another sprinkle of cheese, cilantro and finish it off with a splash of balsamic.

Carbs: 7.5 gms

Carbs with a dinner roll: 22.5 gms

(That is 7.5 gms less than the minimum allowed limit for a meal and the maximum allowed limit for a snack. Hah!)

spring salad2




Garlic Kuzhambu à la Chettinad

Saying that Chettinad cooking is the South Indian alternative to Tandoori is a mere understatement. For the uninitiated, Chettinad(u) is a region in Tamil Nadu, native to Natukottai Chettiars, a sect of Tamil-speaking people, primarily (wealthy) entrepreneurs. Chettinad is famous for its cuisine amongst other beautiful things like art, architecture and sarees.

Contrary to popular belief that meat rules Chettinad cuisine; garlic, eggplant (knows as brinjal in India) and a vegetable knows simply as drumstick back home also form a major part of Chettinad food. This cuisine is specifically spicy and every dish that comes out of a Karaikudi kitchen bursts with flavor. Needless to say, many cities all over India  have Chettinad restaurants that serve dishes like Chettinad Chicken, Kara Kuzhambu (spicy gravy) and Paniyaram (little pancake rounds) and people throng these establishments.

I am not from Chettinad. I have never been there. But I have read about it, I have friends who are Chettiars and most importantly, I am a huge connoisseur of Chettinad food. I love the food so much that I strongly wish Antony Bourdain had visited this part of the world before he decided to bid his good-bye to No Reservations. Ah well, his loss.

So, I have collected a lot of vegetarian Chettinad recipes in the past two years but my favorite will always be the garlic Kara Kuzhambu. No matter what, I always come back to in when I need a Chettinad fix. Disclaimer: This recipe has been picked off the internet, modified for spices and flavoring over the past two years. The end-result may not be an authentic, straight from a Chettinad kitchen gravy but it is close enough.

Spicy Chettinad Garlic Gravy


Ten small shallots (plus two to grind into paste)

Ten garlic pods (plus two to grind into paste)

One huge tomato, chopped

3/4 Tbsp Tamarind paste dissolved in three cups of water (add more tamarind if you like more tang)

One tsp salt

One Tbsp sesame/vegetable oil

Half tsp mustard seeds

Half tsp Channa Dal

A few curry leaves

To be dry roasted:

One tsp Channa Dal

One tsp Tuar Dal

A few peppercorns

Two dried red chilies (the kind you get in Indian/Mexican stores)

1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds

One tsp cumin seeds

(you could replace coriander and cumin seeds with one tsp each of coriander and cumin powders. Just add them after roasting the rest)

Two puffs of Asafoetida (optional)

Method: Dry roast the spices. Mix the shallots and garlic reserved for grinding and give it a whirl in the food processor.

In a pan, add the oil, mustard seeds, Channa Dal and curry powder. Let it splutter. Add the shallots and the garlic and saute for a few minutes. When they start getting soft, add the tomato and saute for a few more minutes. When the tomato begins to turn mushy, add the ground mixture and fry. Now add the tamarind water and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and let the gravy create magic. It is done when the gravy loses its raw tamarind taste and  condenses into a semi-solid mixture. At this stage, you can check for seasoning. If it is too tangy, add a little more water. We eat this with rice and a curry on the side.

My mother’s secret weapon is jaggery. This is an Indian sweetener, made from sugarcane. We use jaggery extensively in our sweets and wherever recipes call for sweeteners. My mother adds a tsp of this ingredient to any spicy gravy she makes. You could do that. If you don’t find jaggery, use brown sugar. It is a great substitute.

The beauty of this gravy is that it is so thick that you can use this as a sauce. No kidding. I wonder how it tastes with biscuits…

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So, Artichoke?

If you have come across a very porcupine-ish vegetable lying there, looking completely Pavam amidst prettier vegetables, you can safely admit that you know what artichoke is. Well, to me it was conundrum until I decided to set my unreasonable fear aside and tackle it.

The bulb of artichoke that I had bought two weeks ago sat staring sadly at me through its prickly eyes and I certainly ended up melting. I should probably mention now that I was saturated that day and did not have anything decent in my pantry to make in time for the five-thirty hunger pangs before you go aww. Anyway, I looked for help on google and instantly found a million links to tips on cooking artichoke.

First, I had to boil the tough piece of veggie to make it approachable. After enjoying a 45-minute Jacuzzi bath, the artichoke was ready to be cut, snipped and molded into an edible entity. I gave it ten minutes to cool down and then, taking the pair of kitchen scissors in my hand, I went snip snip and off came the fleshy leaves.

The leaves are supposed to be eaten… in a weird way. I did and they were quite delicious. More on that later. So the leaves trimming revealed a fuzzy ball of fiber known as the “choke” for obvious reasons: you eat it, you will choke on it. Not a pretty picture, I know so I hurriedly cleared this up. The artichoke heart finally decided to appear and I was still not excited.

Imagine holding a small disk like gray-colored object. I didn’t know if this was it or I was supposed to dig deeper. Since the link had specific instructions, I decided to give in and accept that I had indeed touched the “heart”. The mister had tasted artichoke heart during our Anniversary getaway and this is what it had looked like.

Now, I had to ask me that unavoidable question: what am I going to make with it? Like a kitchen wizard (I do flatter myself unnecessarily sometimes) I cut an onion, two pods of garlic, the cooked artichoke and sauteed them in olive oil. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and milk and let the concoction coagulate on medium heat while giving it an occasional stir. Finally came dried Italian seasoning, pepper and salt. Since I already had some cooked pasta at hand, I did not have to go through the trouble of boiling water and such. I finally added the pasta and then some Parmigiano for good measure.

And fluke voilà! The pasta was ready. The mister made a face when I announced “Pasta” for the evening but ultimately ended up loving the lighter, yummier version. In his defense, he pictured a marinara sauce and cheese soaked pasta. Who woulda thunk, eh?

Ps: The leaf, yes. So you clench the leaf between your teeth and pull it. What you will taste is a fresh, leafy treat that is sure make you fall in love with the tough vegetable. It sounded gross to me too in the beginning, rather like an experiment we would have done at five with neem leaves but this was so much better!

I couldn’t take pictures since my brain was jammed that day. I am sure to make it again, I’ll click a few decent ones then. Apologies!