Friday, July 17, 2015

Treats for Tots: Cheese and Lentil Cake

When we got married, the husband and I could, between us, make hard(est) boiled eggs, omelettes, rice, sambar, and instant noodles. Occasionally, the urge to bake would strike me (usually when I missed my mother and had overripe bananas), and I'd bake a cake.

I didn't know how to cook and the fact that everything I ever made tasted horrible kept me from learning. Then we had our daughter E.

Suddenly, we had a little baby who was happy with the most basic of foods like steamed vegetables and boiled lentils. Who, because she was tasting adult food for the very first time, loved everything we made. I went into the whole steaming and puréeing just to see a face that lit up over something insipid like pumpkin.

E was completely done with purées when she was around 11-months old. When she started getting fidgety every time I approached her with a spoon, I realised that my baby was ready to feed herself. However, my cooking skills were still limited to steaming and puréeing. Time to resort to my other barely-honed skill - baking.

Baking was our thing. Amma would have me measure out ingredients and add them to the cake mixer and we'd chat, bicker, and tease each other through it. She may not know this, but every time I preheat my oven, I remember her anxiously gaze into the oven, praying for her cake to be perfect. And it was. Every time.

Even as a child, I knew I would bake with my child the way Amma did with me. So it has now become important to me to be a really good baker by the time E knows what any of that means. The funny thing is that since I started cooking for E, I'm beginning to enjoy the process - experimenting with basic flavours and textures and building complexity using just a few ingredients.

In a sense, E and I are both developing our palate. I'm getting more confident with my cooking while she's gaining the confidence to feed herself. Thus, the need for food that is simple with a few flavour profiles and that is easy to make for me and lift from plate to mouth for her.

Cheese and Lentil Cake is great because:
  • it covers major food groups
  • babies love cheese
  • it is easy for baby to eat (soft yet portionable)
  • you get a tasty evening snack for yourself
  • it's super easy to make
  • you have an oven
Cheese and Lentil Cake

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 15-30 minutesServes 3 adults and 1 baby
  1. Wash 1 cup of masoor dal (red lentils) well till water runs clear. Rural legend has it that failure to do so will result in a gassy baby.
  2. Put it in a pan with 2 cups of room temperature water. Bring dal+water to a boil.
  3. Reduce flame and simmer till dal is soft and all the liquid is absorbed (around 10 minutes). Don't pressure cook the dal because you need to skim off the froth that forms. Part of the same rural legend.
  4. Drain the lentils (there will be some liquid even after the dal is cooked) and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Meanwhile.
  1. Heat ghee (clarified butter) in a frying pan, add chopped onion and garlic. How finely you chop the onion is a matter of taste - I like to mix it up as it changes the taste and texture of the wedges to develop our budding palate. 
  2. Let the onions sweat for a while on low heat to get rid of its sinus burning sharpness. In a few minutes, it will get translucent and soft. Take it off the heat when you know it's at that beautiful, sweet place that gently cooked onions get to. 
  3. Combine the delicate onions with the masoor dal.
To this mixture, add 
  1. 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese, 
  2. 1 beaten egg,
  3. 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (whizz 1 slice of bread in your chopper)
  4. Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste,
  5. 1 teaspoon dried herbs. I mix up the herbs to get a sense of what flavour each herb lends to a dish. Tarragon works well with this recipe. Basil, not so much.
At this point, you could freeze the whole thing. Or you could:
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 9" pan
  2. Transfer mixture to an oven-proof dish. I use a borosil bake and store glass dish that does the job perfectly. 
  3. Pack the mixture well into the greased dish using the back of a spoon and bake for 30 minutesYou could also run the combination function on your microwave oven (combi cook with microwave on low) for 15 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool slightly, then cut into pieces. Serve warm or cold. 
Make it this weekend!
E is at that age where she's tripping out on dipping so I serve this cake with a raita of hung curd and grated European cucumbers and/or grated sambar onion. She eats her dinner in amazement at the taste of all the textures. 

Either that or she's gobsmacked by my phenomenal cooking.






1 comment:

  1. Love this one slightly more than your other posts. :) you will surely become a great cook

    ReplyDelete