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April 07, 2009

Monica Bhide's Modern Spice Lends a Twist to Easter

Savory Cheesecake
Bhide's savory cheesecakes
topped in jewel-toned chutney.

Washington D.C.-based food writer Monica Bhide started out as an engineer. Now, with her latest cookbook Modern Spice, she's on a mission to get people to rethink Indian food and appreciate spices. Bhide was nice enough to lend the Daily Traveler her recipe for Savory Mini Cheesecakes with Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney, and we think it's just the right appetizer for a modern twist on Easter supper this Sunday.

Savory Mini Cheesecakes with Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney

"Plain savory cheesecakes provide a great base for showing off spicy chutneys," Bhide writes in the book. "I use my Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney but you can use any one for this dish. This is always a smash hit at parties and super easy to make."

Makes 30 pieces
Prep/cook time: 25 minutes

Nonstick cooking spray
30 mini phyllo shells
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 medium egg
5 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange the phyllo shells on the sheet.
2. Whisk together the cheese, egg, and sour cream until well combined.
3. Place 2 teaspoons of the mixture into each shell. Bake for 15 minutes or until the filling is firm and set.
4. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
5. Top each cheesecake with about 1/4 teaspoon of the chutney and serve.

Read after the jump for the chutney recipe.

Red Pepper and Green Tomatillo Chutney

"I used to love a spiced green tomato entree with unusual elements like onion seeds and fenugreek that a friend would make for me. I tarted up the recipe a bit and converted into a yummy and tangy chutney. This chutney has a bit more liquid than most chutneys. I like it this way to spoon it over entrees. If you like a thicker consistency, allow the chutney to simmer a bit longer."

Makes 1 generous cup
Prep/cook time: 40 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 or 6 fresh curry leaves
Pinch of asafetida
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon onion seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 whole dried chiles
2 cups diced green tomatillos (10 to 12 medium tomatillos)
1 cup seeded and diced red bell pepper (1 medium pepper)
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon table salt

1. In a medium skillet, heat the vegetable oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the curry leaves, asafetida, and the cumin, fenugreek, fennel, onion, and mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to sizzle, about 1 minute, add the chiles, tomatillos, bell pepper, ginger, and sugar. Mix well.

2. Add the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue on a gentle simmer for about 35 minutes, until the tomatillos and the bell pepper are soft and the liquid is syrupy.

3. Add the salt. Mix well.

4. Remove from the heat. Remove the whole chiles, if you like. Transfer to a container and cool.

5. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Note: Be careful when using fenugreek seeds. They add bitterness to a dish, so a little goes a long way. Also, they are not substitutes for fresh fenugreek or dried fenugreek leaves; the flavors and texure are miles apart.

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