Baking is usually synonymous with rich cakes and chocolaty cookies, good only as occasional treats. However, your oven can be your waistline’s best friend. It is also a cooking technique that can be used to make healthy lower calorie foods.Baking is not new to India – the traditional tandoor was the country’s first oven-like instrument. The tandoor, using hot coals for high heat cooking, created our renowned naans and tandoori foods. With modern convection ovens there is a uniform heat from the oven’s internal fans evenly circulating hot air to the set temperatures. Roasting and grilling can also be achieved in an oven. Usually it is just a matter of terminology – you bake a cake but you roast a chicken – all in the same oven, sometimes at the same temperature. In traditional grilling, the juices of the meat fall into the coals giving rise to aromatic smoke which adds flavour to the marinated meat. Minus the smoke, this form of cooking can also be achieved in a convection oven.

Meats, vegetables, eggs and beans, all can be cooked in an oven. And not only American, European or the all encompassing “continental” foods that can be baked, many of our Indian foods are easily adaptable to oven cooking. Love those extra crunchy subjis – then add a bit of masala to your favourite cut vegetable, a dash of oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes on 210 degrees Celcius, turning once in between.

One caveat for oven use – unless you are an experienced cook and know your oven’s personality well, you must be around in the kitchen to ensure your food does not overcook or worse – burn! Making our daily vegetable subjis on the stoves is easy and fast (especially if you have a cook) so who wants to hang around in the kitchen for so long? But once mastered baking can be tasty, healthy and quick.

You do not need any fancy gadgets such as oven thermometers or meat thermometers – at least not just yet. You do need to be ready to do some trial and error with your oven. Each brand of oven has its own behavior, some heat up more quickly, some may brown on the top quicker, and in some the temperature is actually much higher than you had set. After you get used to your oven then baking efficiently will be achieved.

Like with any recipe, read the entire recipe first before beginning any steps – and remember to hang in or around the kitchen to pay attention to what is happening with the food.

Here are two sample menus where many of the dishes are baked.
Menu 1
Baked Fish or Paneer
Roasted Cauliflower
Possible Accompaniments: Mashed or roasted potatoes, garlic bread, or baked beans

Menu 2
Roasted vegetable sandwich
Soup of your choice
Baked Apples with cinnamon

Recipes

Baked Fish –This is a simple but delicious family favourite. You can also experiment with different marinades.
Ingredients
4 large fish pieces – either fillets or cut pieces. Surmai, Pompfret, or Rawas work best
1 tbsp olive oil
2tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp pepper flakes(optional)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp fresh parsley – finely cut
½ lemon

Method:
Mix oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and marinate fish for one hour at room temperature.
Preheat oven to 180°C
Place fish on a baking tray and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Check with a fork — if done, the flesh of the fish will separate easily.
Add parsley and squeeze lemon on top while serving.

Roasted Cauliflower
Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 ½ tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt to taste

Method:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius. Mix oil, rosemary and salt. Toss gently with cauliflower. Roast for 50 minutes or until the cauliflower tips are light brown and caramelized.

Baked Apples with Crisp(adapted from the Food Network)
Ingredients:
2 apples – any type
1 tsp. lemon juice
60g strawberry jam or preserves
2 tbsp. plain flour
30g butter, cold and diced
3 tbsp. brown sugar
45g instant oats
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch salt

Method: Preheat oven to 180°C. Cut each apple in half horizontally. Using a small pearing knife, cut out each side of the core, creating a rounded hole. Rub exposed apple flesh with lemon juice. Place 1 tablespoon of jam into each hole.

For the topping: in a small bowl mix together flour, butter, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and salt. Press this mixture on the top of each apple, covering jam.

Place in a baking dish filled with about a 1-cm of water. Bake until top is golden brown and apple is tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich
Roasted Vegetables:
Ingredients:
5 cups mixed vegetable of your choice. Capsicum, onions, brinjals, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, red and yellow peppers all work well. 5 cups yields about 3 cups after roasting.
5 cloves crushed garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Mix oil, salt, pepper and garlic and toss onto vegetables. Roast at 230°C, stirring occasionally until tender and starting to caramelize. Let cool.

Pesto sauce – Mix together the following in a mixer: 3 cloves garlic, 2 cups fresh basil leaves,3 tbsp walnuts,1 dash salt and pepper, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated(optional)

For Sandwich: Spread mixture on both bread halves. Top with vegetable mixture and grill on a pan with a few drops of oil until warm.

Published in Pune Mirror, June 20, 2011

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