Saturday, September 29, 2007

Support Burma's peaceful protest for Democracy

The past week the news have been full of images of the peaceful march of the Buddist monks in the streets of Rangoon against the Military dictatorship. What started as a protest by monks has become a massive protest. The brutal dictatorship of the military junta for the past 45 years had brought untold miseries on the Burmese people.

While coming home from work yesterday I saw a passenger on the train with a placard which said, I don't remember the exact words but "Support the people of Burma", the word Burma caught my attention and started to talk, he was returning from a rally in front of the Chinese Embassy. China and India do not support the demonstrations in Burma, China and democracy we all know about that one, but why the terrible silence from India, shameful how quiet they have been. He asked me if I supported the movement "of course I do". I asked him what I could to to help.

I have a Srilankan Tamil friend who tells me "If you have any problems here you have a country to go to! Where shall we go?". This sentence has haunted me and I am thankful and greatful for my motherland but while bringing to sharp focus the problems of people like my friend. Someone very close to us is from Burma. They and their family members are refugees in countries like India, USA and others and increasingly tough for those still in their homeland.

Please support the cause of the People of Burma.
Visit U.S. Campaign For Burma to learn more about what we can do.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vambotu Pahi (Tangy, Spicy Eggplant)

I have a Srilankan friend who is a wonderful cook, the fish, shrimp and chicken dishes she cooks are spicy tasty and though stuffed to the gills is never enough. She also cooks this amazing Eggplant dish which has become my all time favorite. I have always enjoyed this dish at their house and never attempted to cook it myself because if I want more I can always go back there, she lives close by :). The last time we were at their house, I asked for the recipe (had a bunch of eggplants from the garden and this recipe was foremost on my mind) in addition to the recipe directions she also gave me her favorite cookbook, The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon. I did not deep fry the eggplant, nor make a paste of the onion, ginger and garlic like it had called for and I also added some tomatoes, drastically reduced the amount of oil because I did not deep fry. My friend bakes the eggplants, I sauteed them on high heat in a wok.

This recipe also incorporated mustard paste which I have been wanting to, ever since Sandeepa's Shorshe Chingri Bhape. Now I get it! Cooking in mustard paste is like no other and I can imagine(and almost taste) how it would be perfect with fish or shrimp. They are going to be tried real soon. I tasted a little bit of the mustard paste and it tasted slightly bitter but I trusted Sandeepa's confidence in the mustard paste and added it to the curry with a prayer. I was not disappointed. Well if something had gone bad it would have all been her fault :). On the other hand if I were trying this recipe before I had heard so much about mustard paste I would have just left it out and it would have been a totally different dish.

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1. 2 long purple Eggplants
2. 6 Purple round eggplants
3. 3/4 of a Medium Sized red Onion sliced thin and cut in two.
4. 6 Green Chillies slit and shake the seeds out
5. 1 1/2 tbsp of grated ginger
6. 6 garlic cloves sliced
7. 1 tbsp mustard seeds
8. 1/4 cup vinegar
9. 2 tsp chilli powder
10. 1 tsp turmeric powder
11. 3/4 tbsp corriander powder
12. 1/2 tbsp cumin powder
13. 1 tsp chicken masala powder
roast 1 tbsp corriander, 1/2 tbsp cumin, 1 tsp fennel seeds roasted and powdered
14. 4 small tomatoes chopped fine
15. 1 tbsp oil
16. 1 stick cinnamon
17. 1/2 Cup tamarind pulp from a lime sized ball of tamarind.
18. 1 tbsp jaggery

Eggplant Prep
1. Slice the eggplants thin, rub with salt and turmeric, let them stand for an hour or so.
2. Squeeze out the water and place them in the sun till ready to be cooked.

Mustard Paste
1. Take the mustard and about 1/2 of the vinegar and blend them to a paste, add the vinegar little by little, too much liquid the mustard just sloshes around.

1. In a wok or a kadai pan heat oil and when smoking hot add the eggplant slices. Saute till they
are comkpletely roasted and there is no sign of any moisture. Remove and set aside.
2. In the same add a bit more oil if needed add onions, green chillies and the cinnamon stick and saute till they are soft
3. Add the garlic and ginger and saute
4. Add the tomatoes and saute till they are soft.
5. Add the powders and mix well.
6. Add the mustard paste and let it cook a little bit
7. Add the tamarind pulp and when it starts to bubble add the eggplants
8. Check for salt and simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
9. Almost towards the end add the sugar and simmer till the required texture is reached.
(Friend's dish is dry mine had a little bit of moisture in it)

Mix with rice and savor, the sour tangy taste is simply wonderful and I am now a true mustard paste convert.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Raw Banana Fry - Plantain Fry - II - Vazhakkai podimas

If being stuck in traffic gridlock was an Olympic sport, DC area could go for gold, says this story in the Washington Post that offers the dubious distinction of being stuck in traffic for more hours than the average vaction hours. I take the bus and metro to reach work, it does not by any means reduce the number of hours stuck in traffice but atleast I am not the one behind the wheel. Riding the bus or metro gives an opportunity to read a book, sleep, or chat.
If only more people would do the same and expense wise it probably might even work out cheaper than driving the car. What has Plantain Fry got to do with traffic?

This goes to Ahaar for the JFI this month which features Bananas and Plantains are accepted too.

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The recipe posted earlier for plantain fry is the simplest and quickest way to cook them. If you are ready for a little bit more work and some extra time this recipe is one to try. But the ingredients and cooking itself is very easy.

1. 3 Green Raw Plantains
2. 1/2 Red Onion Chopped fine
3. 2 Red Chillies broken in half and seeds removed
4. seasonings - cumin 1/4 tsp, mustard seeds 1/4 tsp, 2 tsp urad dal and Curry leaves
5. Oil 2 tsp
6. Salt to taste


1. Steam the plantains till they are half way cooked and grate them in a grater.
2. In a pan heat oil, add the seasonings, urad dal when it starts to brown, cumin, nustard seeds and curry leaves.
3. Add the red chillies followed by onions and saute till they are translucents.
4. Now add the grated plantains and salt and saute till they are roasted or the texture you desire.

Serve with any rice dish.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Idli with Podi/ Idli with Sugar for lunch!

Is there any packed lunch that evokes memories of the good ol' days? Idli with Podi or Idli with ghee and sugar is that lunch for me. I am sure there are a quiet a bunch of us who carried it for lunch to school. Though I don't pack it for myself I do it regularly for DD. I have the mini idli pan which makes things a lot easier. DD does not much care for PBJ sandwiches or rice in her lunch box which leaves me with a very few choices. The trick is to pack a lunch that is nutritious and also seems like it is fast food. What better choice than Idli with podi, together with a cup of fruit or a yogurt makes it a pretty healthy lunch. Mom made some idli podi before she left to India. DD2 is very unhappy with the fact that grandma had to leave. DD1 has been subdued too.

Paruppu Podi
1. 3/4 Cup of Urad Dal
2. 3 Tbsp of Channa Dal (Kadalai Paruppu)
3. 3 Red Chillies
4. Few Curry leaves
5. Small piece of Asfoetida
6. Salt

1. Dry roast the ingredients one after the other, roast urad dal and channa dal till they start to turn color
2. Cool and blend to a smooth powder.

Tastes good with Idlis, dosais or steamed rice

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Idli with Podi/ Idli with Sugar
1. Cook Idlis.
2. Mix podi with ghee, (I usally use ghee or sesame oil), liberally apply on both sides.
3. For a few of them apply ghee on the idlis and then sprinkle with raw cane sugar.

Empty lunch boxe everty time.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is it illegal for a woman to be President?

Of the USA? When an 8 year old asks you that question after reading through the list of Presidents and not seeing even one woman in the 43 and being primary season you cannot go without reading about it in the newspaper or hearing it on TV, Presidential politics is all around you, no matter what you cannot run away from it! I make a mental note to support and fervently hope that Hillary Clinton will become president. At this point I am not interested in her politics, her policies her agenda, if she is getting campaign cash from felons, cheats whoever whatever nothing matters. I want a woman to be president period. It is truly amazing, in the United States which stands first for many things and which is beacon for many countries, and fact this ought to bother if not everybody at least the 50% of the population.

Does it matter who is President? Absolutely it does! But how much worse can it really be? The last 6 years have not been a honeymoon for anybody (then again I maybe am wrong I keep forgetting Haliburton and the Big Oil, they have never had it this good!). We have seen our Civil Liberties erode, and the country turning fundamentalist, there is no clear separation of state and church. And what in the world does "Moral Values" really mean, and those moral custodians are lying, cheating, twisting the truth hurting people in the process, things for which even my Moral Science teacher (yes we had a subject like that in school till 12th grade) would have punished me for life leave alone the heavenly father. Infidelity is the last thing I care about when looking for a president. Maybe with a woman being president we don't have to worry about that useless fact.

I want a woman president and she well might gain back the respect and good will this country has lost. That would be sweet.

The timing is right, we have the first Woman Speaker and may be just may be the time is right for the first Woman President.

Several developing countries have had and are having Women Presidents/ Prime Ministers. Is it not time for the Most Powerful nation in the world to have a Woman President too?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Answer Time!

Linda is getting impatient!! Let me out the answers!

ANI got the first one right - they are ripened bittegourd seeds. Lovely color right?
I loved Richa's guess candied apricots :)

Most of you guessed the second one as eggplant but you only get half credit :), it is a ripened green eggplant!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Colors they are Changing! Guess?

Do you like Fall? As a matter of fact I am not too fond of it. Fall means winter is not far behind and the diminishing day light hours generally makes me fee blue.

All around the plants are starting to change color and it is time for a Guessing Game!

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Kongu Foods 1 - Kambu Dosai (Pearl Millet Dosai)

I have often referred to Kongu food in these pages and for many years now I have eaten these Kongu dishes pretty much every day but I have never consciously tried to find out what Kongu cuisine is all about. I set about trying to find out more and also employed the services of my dad in this quest. Here is the first installment of my analysis.

Where is Kongu Naadu?
The areas of Salem, Namakkal, Erode, Coimbatore, Karur districts in Western Tamil Nadu is what is referred to as the Kongu Naadu region. The people of this region speak Tamil with a very specific accent which is very respectful and it easily distinguishes people who belong to this region (for those who watch and are familiar with Tamil movies, actor Sathyaraj anyone). This is a region very well known for its hospitality and guaranteed no one leaves a Kongu home without a satisfying meal.

What exactly is Kongu Food
I don't know if there is something as specific as Kongu food but it is mostly about the foods that is common among the people of this region. The occupation of most Kongus was in one way or the other related to farming and dairy and hence fresh fruits and vegetables and milk readily available and most dishes incorporated them.

Any well balanced diet contains both Macro Nutrients which include Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins and Micro Nutrients which include Vitamins and Minerals. Almost all regional foods incorporate them into the diet by way of local ingredients available easily. Using local ingredients and supporting local farmers is hip now but it was a way of life not too long ago and it made perfect sense.

Cereals or grains
Best the other ingredients Kongu foods also included a lot of cereals. Foods made with cereals, (these are grains which are seeds of cereal plants) such as Ragi(Finger Millet), Cholam (maize) and Kambu(Pearl Millet) were common. These grains are rich in fibre and can be good alternatives to rice. My grandma talks of Kambu Saatham and Chola Saatham being common during her childhood. The love affair with rice and moving away from rotation crops which include most of the cereal grains have proved harmful to both the land and the humans. Besides overworking the lands and drawing on the ever scarce water resource has also added to the lack of diversity in the carbohydrates we consume.

Besides being suited to grow in semi arid regions, cereals are very close nutrition wise to rice and wheat and in most cases even better. These grains besides being gluten free also don't have the high glucose content of rice and are also richer in vitamins and minerals compared to rice. I am surprise at why they lost popularity as as a staple. They could be eaten cooked and also used in dosais and paniyarams. Due to their abundant protein and are a main source of energy and protein for vegetarians and dad says it is described as "poorman's meat". This might not be valid anymore as more and more it is the rich man after his ultra rich fatty glucosy diet has been advised by his doctor to switch to a more appropriate diet which includes more of these cereals.

I will attempt to recreate some dishes which are popular and common today and some that are not so common. I have probably touched on the most common ones already, I will attempt to find ones that are mostly forgotten.

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Kambu Dosai
I had bajra flour left over after my experiment with making bajra roti, the slight bitter taste of the bajra made the roti unpalatable and did not know how to make them correctly. In one of my pantry cleaning sprees I was getting ready to toss it into the trash but MIL stopped me suggesting we make dosai with the flour. And boy was I glad that she did. The dosai was absolutely delicious. It should only taste so much better with some whole Kambu.

For the batter
1. 1 Cup Kambu/Bajra (1 1/4 Cup Bajra flour)
2. 1/4 Cup rice
3. 1/8 Cup Urad Dal
Soak the above overnight
4. 1/2 Medium Red Onion
5. 1 tsp cumin seeds
6. Curry leaves
7. 3 Red Chillies
8. pinch asfotetida
9. Salt

Add the first 3 to the grinder/blender and when it is halfway blended add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a consistency of dosai batter, smooth but not too watery. If using the bajra flour add it right after 2 and 3 are blended.

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1. Heat a dosai pan or griddle and when hot add ladle full of batter and spread it around as a circle. It should not be thick.
2. Add oil on the edges
3. When cooked, flip and cook on the other side.

Serve with chutney of choice, usually a mild one because the dosai is on the spicy side. Coconut chutney goes well. We had it with some sweet pepper chutney. Mildly sweet it went well with the dosai.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Broiled Bittergourd (Pavarkai Varuval)

Schools have started the roads are clogged, the office has full attendance more or less now that every one is back from vacation and the day light hours are decreasing and the sad realization that relaxed summer days are almost over. One nice thing about summer is the fresh veggies from the garden. The Bitter Gourds have never disappointed me. This week I got about 6-8 of two different varieties one is dark green and other one lighter close to white. Remember Poori Aunty, this recipes is again thanks to her. Quick and easy and extremely tasty. I invariably tend to make tamarind based curries when cooking bitter gourd but this one is really a great way to cook bitter gourds.

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1. 6-8 Medium sized Bitter Gourds, Cut into rounds and remove the seeds.
2. 3/4 Red Onions Sliced
3. 4 Green Chillies cut into 2 (if not adding sambhar or chilli powder)
4. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
5. 1 tsp amchur powder
6. 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
7. 2 tsp of sambhar powder or chilli powder
8. Salt to taste
9. Oil


1. In a pan heat oil and season with the cumin seeds
2. Add the onions and Bitter Gourd, saute a little bit
3. Add the Green Chillies if doing so, close the lid and cook till the bitter gourd is almost cooked.
4. Open the lid, add the powders and mix, saute for a few more minutes. Turn off the heat.
5. Set the Oven to Broil setting, spread the bitter gourd mixture on a baking sheet
6. Place in the oven and mix them around to avoid burning.
7. Switch off when the desired crispness is reached.

I like it slightly soft and not completely crispy.

Serve as a side or as a snack, the bitterness is hardly noticeable.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Tamarind Chutney with dired cherries and dates - for Bhel Puri

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What is with packages that make you so happy? A package reached me last week with goodies all the way from Michigan via New England, with some lovely pink cherries and an agate lady stone. Thanks Linda that was awfully nice and sweet of you. Eating the tarty sweet cherries was a treat by itself. With cousins visiting from Florida, Illinois and brother from New York making Bhel Puri seemed like a great idea, there is no Bhel Puri without Tamarind Chutney. How about some Cherry, Tamarind Chutney even better.

Dried Cherry Tamarind Chutney

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Tamarind Chutney with dried cherries and dates Ingredients

1. 2 Cups of Tamarind pulp from a small lemon sized ball of tamarind
2. 15 Dried Tart Cherries (Michigan Cherries all the more better :)) (substitue black or red raisins)
3. 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
4. 1 tsp cumin powder
5. 1/2 tbsp Red Chilli powder
6. 2 Dates
7. Salt
8. 1 tsp oil

9. 2-3 tbsp jaggery (optional)
Method 1:
1. In a pan heat oil when it is smoky add the cumin seeds.
2. Pour the Tamarind juice and add the chilli powder and cumin powder.
3. When it starts to boil, add the cherries and dates.
4. Add salt.
5. Boil till it cooks down about a 3rd. If the mixture is too tart add the jaggery.

6. Cool and blend.

Method 2:

1. Soak the cherries, dates and raisins if using in about a cup of boiling water for about 20-30 minutes.
2. In a pan heat oil when it is smoky add the cumin seeds.
3. Pour the Tamarind juice and add the chilli powder and cumin powder and let it come to a boil.
4. Blend the soaked dried fruits with the water and add to the boiling tamarind pulp, add salt.
5. Add jaggery if the mixture is very tart.
6. Boil till it cooks down about a 3rd or the consistency desired.

Serve over Bhel Puri Mix or just plain roasted pori (puffed rice), cooked Channa, cut red onions and tomatoes. Perfect snack for any occasion.