Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Celebration with Carrot Halwa

Wishing you all a Joyful and a Very Happy New Year!

As 2008 passes into the history books we usher in 2009 hoping for happier tidings and a little less of history.

Nothing brings memories of holidays like a train journey. In most parts of the world travel is synonymous with train journey unlike here in the US where train journey is not that common. Train journeys in India are enjoyable affairs (yes sometimes dirty, annoying and loud) when in a group. The highlight of course is the packed food, packed in a layer of banana leaf over which is wrapped a newspaper. The smell that emanates when unwrapped has to be experienced. The noise and clutter of the various vendors selling kaapi (tea) and goodies in every station is another enjoyable and often anticipated feature of the train journey. The kids were highly thrilled when we went on a train journey to Kerala during our last visit. We could call it their first long distance train trip and still think fondly of that trip. I am sure everyone remembers their first real trip on a train. I do, mine was a trip to Vijawada when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Do you remember yours?


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We have been planning on taking a train trip here in the US ever since. The problem with taking a train here is the duration of the trip. Compared to flying it is at least 6-10 times longer. We finally found the time to embark on the much anticipated train journey during the holidays. We were visiting our friends in Chicago and there was no strict schedule to adhere. It also did not hurt that the tickets on Amtrak were far cheaper than the plane tickets. Even the coach class which we chose to travel by was several measures more comfortable than the First class plane seat. With ample leg room, reclining seats, freedom to walk around, a dining car and a lounge car we did have a comfortable albeit a long journey. The kids had fun and we had a lot of family time like DD reasoned. The train travels through some of the less travelled areas. The train travelled along river valleys and mountains with a picture perfect spectacular view of the river all through the B&O route. The numerous small waterfalls along the way were just an added bonus.


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If you have room on your New Year resolution sheet be sure to include a long distance train trip as one of them. You won't be disappointed.

It is traditional to start anything with a sweet. I wanted to make one that was gluten free and not too sweet. Carrot Halwa fit the bill perfectly.


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Carrot Halwa
Serves : 4
Ingredients
1. Approx. 3 1/2 Cups of grated carrot
2. 2 Cups Milk
3. 3/4 cups of sugar
4. 2 pods cardamom powdered
5. a handful of raisins and cashews
6. 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp ghee

Method
1. In a heavy bottomed pan take the milk and carrot and let it cook on a medium low flame till the carrot is cooked and most of milk has evaporated. (20-25 minutes)
2. Add the sugar and continue to cook till all the liquid is gone (10 minutes)
3. Now add the cardamom powder and ghee and let it cook till the ghee separates out.
4. Keep stirring thorough out the cooking process so not to stick to the bottom.
5. In a separate pan roast the cashews and raisins in a bit of ghee.

Serve with the nuts garnished on top.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bread Upma (Stir Fried Bread)

When we were growing in India bread was what you ate when you were sick. When you visited someone in the hospital you carried with you a loaf of bread, a bag of oranges and a bottle of Horlicks. To eat bread otherwise it had be dressed up to not look and taste like bread. I would like to think of Bread Upma as a dish that came in vogue in the 80s. The bread available in India at that time was invariably sweet, soft and white. In contrast now bread is such an integral part of my life. I have this feeling of missing something if I do not have a loaf of bread in the house. But of late buying ready made bread makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Ever since I started reading the food labels the number of ingredients in bread has always bothered me and reading Michael Pollan's: In Defense of Food only confirmed the fear. This is what he says about bread:

Consider a loaf of bread, one of the "traditional foods that everyone knows" specifically singled out for protection in the 1938 imitation rule. As your grandmother could tell you, bread is traditionally made using a remarkably small number of familiar ingredients: flour, yeast, water and a pinch of salt will do it. But industrial bread - even industrial whole-grain bread - has become a far more complicated product of modern food science (not to mention commerce and hope).


Then he goes on to list the ingredients found in Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Whole Grain Wheat Bread which runs close to about 50 ingredients. Rule of thumb as stated by Pollan is not to buy food that has unfamiliar ingredients and unpronounceable ingredients. Try as I might with the dazzling array of bread available in the super market bread aisle I cannot find a loaf of bread with just the stated five ingredients. So depending on how much time I have on hand, I first avoid buying breads with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and then spend time looking for those with the fewest possible ingredients.

The ingredients from the loaf I picked up recently, Peppridge Farm - 100% Natural 100% Whole Wheat Whole Grain Bread are as follows:

Whole Wheat flour, Water, Crushed Wheat, Wheat Gluten, Sugar, Yeast, Raisin juice concentrate, Soybean oil, Contains 2% or less of - Wheat Bran, Molasses, Whole Wheat flakes, Honey, Vinegar, Lower Sodium Natural Modified Soy Lecithin and Enzymes.


Not bad! other than the Soy Lecithin part I was able to recogonize most of the ingredients still not sure what the enzymes meant. All this is leading to my New Year resolution. Bake my own bread. The no knead bread has given me lot of hope. I am not a baker by any means, successfully baking a loaf of bread and being able to do it regularly would be just wonderful.

Bread Upma can be both a snack and a breakfast item. With eggs, bread and a sprinkling of cheese it can serve as a good breakfast. If you have old bread that needs to be used this is a perfect way to dress it up.

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Bread Upma
Serves: 3-4

Ingredients
1. 10 slices of Whole Wheat Bread (or any bread) cut into cubes
2. 3 Eggs (optional)
3. 1/2 Red Onion chopped fine
4. 1/2 tomato chopped fine
5. 1 tbsp Tomato Ketchup (or any sauce to suit your liking)
6 chopped green chilies, chopped coriander leaves (optional)
7. 1 tsp red chili powder (again optional)
8. 1-2 tsp oil /butter
9. a small slice of monterey Jack Cheese
Method
1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and saute the onions till translucent, add salt.
2. Now add the tomatoes and saute till soft. If adding green chilies add now
3. Add the tomato ketchup and chili powder and mix
4. Add the cubed bread slices and toss so the sauce is well coated.
If not adding eggs it should be done at this stage. Go to Step 8.

5. Now make space in the center and break the eggs cook them in the heat and then toss them with the bread slices.
6. Continue to cook till the eggs have been completely cooked.
7. Sprinkle the coriander leaves if using and toss one more time.
8. Grate chees on top.



Friday, December 19, 2008

Dal Chapathis and My Beloved City! - Simple Lunches 16

Home Away From Home! That is Washington D.C. is to me and my family. I do not take kindly the disparaging the city gets from politicians of all stripes. Now you know why the republican VP candidate did not endear herself to me. Sorry for bringing her up if you have already forgotten her and moved on but not so fast she might still be able to haunt us in the years to come! Bush and friends made the exact same mistake by calling themselves outsiders when they had more connections to the city than many of us would ever have even if we lived here for a few more life times. I sincerely hope the incoming Obama folks don't do it. They fought tooth and nail to get here, so they better take the city for better or worse.

For those of you not clued into US Politics. It has become a tradition of sorts to run as an outsider and call DC all kinds of names and portray yourself as an "outsider" meaning you are not part of the establishment. This apparently endears you to the rest of the country. "DC" say that in the most demeaning way possible and that's is how politicians refer to the place but fight tooth and nail to get here. What I resent most is the equating DC to everything sleazy, though the city and its people have nothing to do with the sleaze. It is the lobbyists, cronies and advisers brought in by these people from different parts of the country who are the sleaze.

The city is planning its biggest bash ever soon, so folks treat the city gently when you visit. I like the gentleness of this city when compared to say New York City for instance and the way it does not take itself seriously with so much power surrounding it. You could go down to the mall on a bright sunny or for that matter an overcast gloomy day for a game of soccer or tag or whatever. If you packed a picnic lunch no worries, you can pick a perfect spot and just hope the picnic tastes as good. You would never know you are walking in one of the most powerful places in the world. But you might not be able to take in the city and relax if you are visiting during inauguration, the city is just about to be packed to the brim.


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Happy Holidays!


Visiting the city during the Holidays is always a joy. The Capitol Hill and White House Christmas trees and the decked out Union Station are all fun places to visit. If it is a moon lit night even better :)

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Dal Chapathis

Just like writer's block,I get cooker's block (!?) now and then. It happened to me a few days ago. Lunch time was nearing and all I could think of was dal and I wanted a one dish quick and easy meal. The usual dal and rice did not sound appetizing. So the next best thing was to combine dal and wheat flour with some spices. I did not expect them to turn out as tasty as they did. The addition of the dal made it a lot easier to roll them out. These dal chapathis can be served as an evening snack with a dash of cream cheese. No side dish was required really but I made some onion/tomato/green chilies(sauted) raita.


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Simple Lunches - 16 (Dal Chapthi, Onion - tomato raita and sliced cucumbers)




Ingredients
1. 1 Cup toor dal and red lentils (masoor dal) cooked with a pinch of turmeric and a dash of sesame oil
2. 1 1/2 cup of Wheat Flour
3. 1/2 tbsp sambhar powder
4. 2 tsp cumin seeds
5. 1/2 inch piece of ginger grated
6. salt to taste
Method
1. Mix the Wheat flour, sambhar powder, ginger, cumin seeds, salt along with the cooked dal and knead to a dough resembling chapathi dough. Sprinkle water if required.
2. Now take small lemon sized ball and roll them out into chapathi circle.
3. On a hot tava, cook the chapathis on both sides, spray a dash of oil/ghee if required at the end.

Serve with yogurt or raita.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quick Sambhar for a quick breakfast


Something came to sharp focus the last few days, the fact that I and pretty much a lot of people are slave to the Internet. It has fast moved from being a communication tool to a essential utility just like electricity, water and gas.
If you say I am late in my realization then that's what it is.

Sometime last week we started having problems with connecting to secure web sites which means practically everything these days - banking, email, investing, credit card bill all of it and most importantly logging on to blogger. You must know how traumatic that must be for someone who has blogging addiction, worse was not being able to log on to my google reader! It took exactly 5 days to resolve the issue. Verizon who is our provider would not accept it was their problem to begin with "must be something with your computer". Lucky for us we have 3 Operating Systems, 2 version of IE and Firefox to test it out. We thought it was our router but a quick call to a neighbor revealed it was not that either, he was having the exact same problem. But by magic the issue got resolved by the afternoon but the relief did not last long, the issue came back Sunday afternoon. More weird as for a few of the other neighbors it was just fine depending on how their connection is routed I guess. Googling DH found a forum online and thereby a few others in the same geographic having the same problem. Finally after much frustration the problem was finally resolved this afternoon. Hopefully I have not spoken too soon!!

But the whole episode underscored a deeper problem for which I don't have a solution. I was going through my Bank statement and I noticed a check written for a big amount and no recollection of why or who it was made out to. Normally I would login to my bank and that would be that. I am glad we have not made the switch to VOIP yet. Imagine if I were a day trader calling an agent to do a stock trade is going to cost twice as much as doing it online and the munutes I spend holding for a rep is going to be bad. I am not sure how to deal with this problem but I am going to try and see if my dialup works still :)

Now on to more pleasant things like this Sambhar. Cooked the old fashioned way with old fashioned ingredients but with quick instant result. If you consider Pressure Cooker low tech that is. My mom makes these for breakfast usually and it is a perfect accompaniment for dosais or idlis. Absent tamarind or any strong spices this is the perfect start to the day. Listed are 2 different ways to cook the sambhar. I like to saute the onions so usually follow Method 1, my mom generally follows Method 2. Can't tell the difference between the two in terms of taste.


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Wheat Dosai with Sambhar



Serves: 3-4

1. 1/2 cup Split Moong dal slightly roasted
2. 1 juicy ripe tomato
3. Pearl onions or shallots 8-10 peeled and sliced
4. 3-4 green chilies
5. 1 tsp sambhar powder (purely optional)
6. handful coriander leaves
7. seasonings: mustard, curry leaves
8. 1 tsp oil
9. Salt to taste

Method1:
1. Pressure cook the moong dal till soft and mushy.
2. In a pan heat the oil, add the seasonings, saute the onions slightly, add the tomatoes and green chillies and saute till tomatoes are mushy
3. Pour over the cooked moong dal, mix
4. Add the chopped coriander leaves on top, sambhar powder if adding and salt to taste
5. Cover and pressure cook for 1 more sound.

Method2
1. Add all the ingredients 1-6 and pressure cook for 2 sounds
2. Now in a small pan heat the oil add the seasonings and when the mustard pops pour over the cooked dal. Add salt and mix



Ready to serve in a jiffy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Butter Beans Pulao

I read somewhere that sadness stays with you longer than happiness and I think it is the same in my experience as well. On the other hand this recent study has found that happiness spreads faster and to a larger group than misery which is slower and is not that far reaching. If you are interested in reading in detail : link. Hoping the research is true and my gloomy outlook for the long winter won't spread. I dread this cold miserable weather, gloomy and raining and I dearly miss the Sunshine. What can I say I grew up in a place which more or less had sunshine for at least 360 days of the year.

Speaking of sunshine watched this movie "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind". Though the title has a nice ring to it, a line borrowed from a poetry, it is not worth even the rental money, lucky for me I borrowed the DVD from the library. I don't remember the reviews from the time the movie was released. Jim Carey in a subdued role without his usual exaggerated facial gestures. The only feature of interest was Hindi music playing in the background in one of the scenes.

As I sit here typing I see the sunshine playing in the windows which is a good sign don't you think? My SAD has taken a back seat for the day at least.

I have always been a big fan of Beans and Lima Beans or Butter Beans as they are called are one of my favorites. When I saw this Double Bean Pulav on Masala Magic, I had to try it. With just a simple raita as side it makes a perfect one pot meal. The recipe is more or less the same with just few additions and omissions. I do not use cardamom in savory dishes only the sweet ones. I rarely if ever make a ginger,garlic paste, usually mince them. I used Sona Masoori rice in place of the Basmati. If using Sona Masoori, it is important to soak the rice for a half an hour. I like to cook the beans before using them in the rice. The beans are harder and not fully cooked otherwise.


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Recipe Source: Double Beans Pulav


Ingredients
1. 1 Cup Sona Masoori rice soaked in water for half hour - (2 1/2 cups of water)
2. 1 Cup Double Beans cooked (if using pressure cook for 1 whistle)
3. 1 Red onion sliced lengthwise
4. 5 garlic cloves, 1 inch piece of ginger, 5 green chillies, handful of coriander leaves minced in a food processor
5. 2 tsp coriander powder
6. 1/2 tsp cumin powder
7. 2 tsp red chili powder
8. 3 cloves, small piece of cinnamon and half a flower of star anise (make a smooth powder)
9. salt to taste
10. 2 tsp of oil, 1 tsp ghee
11. seasonings: saunf, curry leaves and cumin seeds
12. salt to taste



Method
1. In a pressure pan, heat the oil and add the seasonings. Now add the powdered whole spices (clove,cinnamon,anise) and saute for a second or two.
2. Add the onion and saute till translucent.
3. Now add the ginger,garlic,gc,coriander mince and saute till the raw smell goes.
4. Add the coriander,chili and cumin powders and mix well.
5. Now drain the rice and mix it well with the masala. Let it continue to saute while you heat the water required in a sauce pan. Add salt.
6. When the water comes to a boil, add the cooked lima beans to the rice and mix, add the water, test for salt and spice and let it cook for about 5 minutes till the rice is about half cooked.
7. *Close the lid and cook for 12 minutes. Switch of the heat.

* Do not have to wait for the whistle to sound.

Serve with raita of choice.




This will be an entry to MLLA, Sixth helping hosted by Suganya of Tasty Palettes, an event started by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Other Butter Beans Recipes
1. Bean Rice
2.Butter Beans Varuval (fry)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quick Chicken Stir Fry

Our local temple had a fundraiser last evening. It is usually a low key affair with a few cultural programs interspersed with dinner and refreshments. Yesterday actor Napolean who is a friend of one of the patrons came along according to him to see a gathering of his hometown folks. He was not an advertised attraction, just came there with his friends. He donated generously and when the light music troupe asked him join them and sing he sang a song from Seevala Peri Paandi with panache. I had no idea the guy could sing so well. What was most striking was he did all what people asked without hesitation, no airs nothing.

Anyway if you are wondering why this is a big deal for an actor and that he was just doing his job. That's was not the whole deal, he said he visits the DC area every 3 months because his software company has an office in the area besides the UK and New Zealand. That was exactly what caught my attention. Well anyway...

One dish the kids would eat without complaining it is hot or spicy is chicken. When even sambhar can taste spicy there is nary a peep when they are presented with the spiciest of chickens. I am not too fond of eating bland chicken so I am glad the kids can take heat when it is on chicken. This is a quick stir fry dish without grinding or much effort. If you have precut chicken this hardly takes more than 20 minutes max.


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Serves: 3-4

Ingredients
1. 1 1/2 lbs of Chicken Thighs with bones chopped to bite size pieces
2. 1/2 cup shallots chopped
3. 6 garlic cloves sliced
4. 2 inch piece of ginger grated
5. 1/2 tbsp chicken masala powder (I used the readymade version but fresh is even better - recipe here)
6. seasonings - cloves - 3, small piece of cinnamon, cumin and fennel seeds, a sprig of curry leaves)
7. 1/2 tbsp of chili powder
8. 3 tsp turmeric powder
9. lemon juice from half a lemon
10. oil - 2 tsp

Method
1. Clean the chicken and marinate in turmeric, chili powder and lemon juice. [This is not a required step, I had an errand to run so left the chicken to marinate]
2. Heat oil in a kadai or wok and when hot add the seasonings, fry for a minutes
3. Add the chopped shallots and saute for a minute followed by the garlic and ginger
4. Add the masala powder and mix
5. When they are soft and turning color add the chicken and saute for a minute or two. Close the lid and let it for about 8-10 minutes till the chiken is soft.
6. Open the lid and saute till the water evaporates.
Serve with rice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Caulifower and Peas in Coconut Sauce

Indian food and clothes have held fascination for a lot of people. These two are topics that are easy to handle and I think I have just about enough knowledge to handle these questions and provide information most of the time. But of late I have been getting some serious questions that stump me. A lady once asked me to talk about Yoga, since India is the birth place of Yoga and I being an Indian should have an answer. This was about 5 years ago, all I could manage was "Yoga is more popular outside of India than it is in India and I do not have formal training". Now that awareness of India has been steadily increasing people have been posing more nuanced questions.

Questions about why I wear a red spot on my forehead, if arranged marriages are still practised and if mine was one are all gone when finally I have devised smart answers to all these questions. A few weeks ago on a lunch with some of my ex-colleagues one question really stumped me. One of them asked me if the behavior(usually obnoxious and bossy) of a certain Indian employee stemmed from the fact she belonged to a certain caste. All I could do was open and close my mouth like a fish out of water.

Idli Success
I had success with making Idli batter with the rice that is available. Thanks Nirmala, Shn, Nupur and Kay. I used a combination of the techniques suggested and came close to what I used to do in those early days when all we got was long grain rice. Before I started with long grain rice and tried to include par boiled rice which is a big no no and what was the major problem. The batter was bloby and slimy and unsuited for dosai or idli. With the new technique, the proportion that worked for me was 1 cup - urad dal, 4 cups - sona masuri rice, 2 cups - cream of rice. I had some lovely idlis and picture perfect dosai. I craved for idli but did not realize the kids craved for them as much as I did.

There are a few cauliflower recipes that I cook very often. One is Aloo Gobi, the other is this cauliflower curry for lack of a better name. This time along with a head of cauliflower also had some fresh shelled green peas and wanted to make something with both. I used onion and coconut for the masala paste, onion can be omitted by increasing the quantity of coconut. Also reduce the water level depending upon the consistency preferred, my family likes slurpy slightly watery gravy to go with the rotis.


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Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
1. 1 small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized pieces
2. 1 cup of Green Peas (fresh or frozen)
3. 1/4 onion chopped
4. 1 juicy red tomato
5. seasoning : cumin and curry leaves
6. Salt to taste

For the Paste
1. 1/2 medium sized red onion cut into chunks
2. 2 tbsp of fresh/frozen grated cocounut (increase to 4 if not using onion)
3. 6 red chilies (i used a combination of round red chilies and Kashmiri chilies)
4. 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
5. 2 tsp of poppy seeds (soak in warm water for a few minutes)

Saute the onions, red chilies,fennel seeds and towards the end slightly warm the coconut as well. Now mix and blend to a paste.

Method
1. In a pan heat oil add the cumin and saute the onions till translucent
2. Add the tomatoes and a dash of salt and saute till soft.
3. Now add the cauliflower and peas and saute for a few more minutes.
4. *Add the blended paste with a cup of water, salt and let them cook till the cauliflower is soft.

* Alternately blanch the cauliflower and peas and reduce the water to 1/4 of a cup
** Do not close the lid while cooking, it makes the coconut curdle

Serve with rotis


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Puli Sadam (Tamarind Rice)

The helplessness and a feeling of despair that I was feeling for the last couple of days at the events unfolding in Bombay has been replaced by anger. Anger at the politiicans who walk around with a heavy security that they seem to worry more about their own survival than doing what they are elected for. Madame Gandhi makes her staunch supporter Shivraj Patil resign and hands over the Home Ministry to another equally staunch supporter of herself P.Chidambaram. Like the reshuffling is going to improve anything!! When is she going to resign? The utter disrespect and contempt that the general public is feeling for the politicians both in the ruling party and the opposting party is more than justified.

    Green Earth Recently we have been seeing a lot of squirrels in and around the house scurrying around. Just the other day we saw one come very close to the back door. They are usually very skittish and do not venture that close to human beings though they like to snack on my tomatoes and blue berries. The sightings of black squirrels which is very rare has been increasing. But these observations came to mind only after seeing this article "Where have the Acorns gone" in the newspaper this morning. Looks like the acorns have completely disappeared this year, leaving the squirrels and other creatures depending on them for food to starve. Hopefully the disapperance of the acorns is part of the boom bust cycle and nothing more.


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Tamarind Rice has been a favorite of mine from as long as I can remember. The tangy spicy rice was always welcome with some fried vadagamas (Indian chips). This is also a handy dish to carry when travelling because of its ability to keep even when the weather is very hot and humid. The sauce for making the rice is cooked down to remove any moisture. It tastes better and better as it ages. We pack this quiet often when going on road trips. Along with thayir sadam (Curd Rice) makes for perfect travel food. I usually add onions and garlic while making the sauce, which I did not do here. This particular batch was made for the temple and I remember a friend mentioning that onions and garlic should not be added to the food offered at the temple. To explain further this food is not offered to the gods but for people who want to buy food to eat when they visit the temple. I do not particularly subscribe to this belief but wanted to respect the others who do. The dish did not miss the absence of onions and garlic. The next time I make it I am not going to add them either.

    Recipe for 3 Cups of Rice
    Ingredients
    1. 3 Cups Basmati rice cooked with sesame oil and a few pinches of salt.
    Spread the rice to cool on a platter
    2. Tamarind pulp from a lemon sized ball of tamarind
    3. Seasonings: Curry leaves,asfoetida, mustard
    3b. 2 tsp each of Chana dal and urad dal and 1 heaped tbsp of roasted peanuts
    4. 3 tsp of turmeric powder
    5. 1/2 tbsp Sesame oil
    6. Salt to taste
    7. 3 tsp canola oil (use sesame oil if preferred)



    For the Spice Powder

    1. 1 1/2 tbsp Chana Dal (Kadalai Paruppu)
    2. 3/4 tbsp urad dal
    3. 6 red chillies
    4. 1/2 tsp methi seeds
    5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
    6. a few pepper corns
    Roast the above and blend to a powder (I made it slightly coarse, a fine powder is ok as well)

    Method
    1. In a wide mouthed kadai heat the canola oil and when hot add the chana and urad dal and let them brown, add the asfoetida, mustard seeds and curry leaves.
    2. When the mustard starts to pop add the peanuts and saute for a minute.
    3. Now add the tamarind pulp with a bit of water, liquid should be about a cup and half
    4. Add the turmeric powder to the liquid. Continue to boil till the raw smell leaves and the tamarind starts to thicken. Add salt.
    5. Now add the spice powder and continue to reduce till no moisture is left.
    6. **The sesame oil can be added at this point and cooked for a minute or more. (optional)
    7. Let the savce cool for a while
    8. Add the sauce to the cooked and cooled rice, mix gently so as to not break the rice.
    9. Now heat the sesame oil slightly and pour over the rice and mix.

    ** I follow this method when preparing the sauce ahead of time. If adding sauce to cooked rice immediately this step can be skipped.


    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Two Chickpeas White and Black and Two Curries

    Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

    The food I cook everyday in the kitchen does not closely resemble the food I grew up with. The basic methods and techniques are the same but a lot has changed. Back home elaborate gravies with vegetables or beans was not an every day thing. In fact it was rare. The masala grinding was done for chicken/goat or fish dishes and these were weekend affairs for the most part.

    Most of the dishes made everyday were lentils or dal based. In detail in this post.

    The gravies that I prepare today make use of onion,ginger and garlic for the basic gravy and the addition of tomatoes or coconuts or tamarind pulp. This is a technique I have acquired trying to create gravies that were enjoyed on visits to restaurants. This method of gravy preparation is common it seems to North Indian cooking were blended onion is used as a base for a lot of gravies and curries.

    For me it all started with learning to cook Channa Masala. I first started making this dish blending onions to a paste along with ginger, garlic paste and perfecting the "bhoona". It took forever to brown the onions and see the oil leave the sides. I tried chopping the onions fine and sauteing them, this cooked much faster but the onions bit could be noticed and the chickpeas and onions stood out separately like they had a quarrel. Finally the technique that best works is to chop the onions,garlic and ginger in the food processor and use a pressure cooker. This method works the best and it is a real time saver. We could add energy saver to the list by all means. Once I learnt to cook a decent Channa Masala I moved on to trying more exotic gravies.

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    Purple cabbage

    The first of the gravies here is the traditional Channa Masala with white chick peas. The second is a gravy with black channa but using cabbage to create the gravy. This technique I learned from my cousin. His mom, my aunt uses this technique to generate gravy for dry kheema mutton. This is a brilliant idea for making side dishes when you are not looking forward to blending and frying and the whole bit. A super duper way to use up that last piece of cabbage lying around in the fridge.

    Channa Masala


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    Serves: 4
    Ingredients
    1. 2 Cups of soaked White Chick Peas cooked in a pressure cooker for 2 sounds
    2. 1/2 - 3/4 onion chopped in a food processor
    3. 4 garlic and an inch piece of ginger chopped in a food processor (if desired add
    green chilies to the mix)
    4. 1/2 tbsp chilli powder
    5. 2 tsp coriander powder 1/2 tsp cumin powder
    6. 1 tsp amchur powder or 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
    7. 1 1/2 large tomatoes run through the food processor to be mashed completely
    8. coriander leaves for garnish
    9. 2 -3 tsp oil
    10. salt to taste
    11. curry leaves and mustard seeds for seasoning

    Method
    1. In a pressure cooker add oil and when hot, add the seasonings.
    2. Add the chopped onion and saute till they become brown and the raw smell is completely gone.
    3. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and saute for a few seconds
    4. Add all the powders but the amchur and saute for another second
    5. Now add the tomato and let it come to a boil.
    6. Now add the cooked chickpeas and 3/4th of the coriander leaves and give a good mix.
    7. Add the amchur powder and if required 1/2 cup of water and cook for 1 sound or about 6 minutes. Turn off the heat
    8. Garnish with the coriander leaves on top.




    Black Channa with Cabbage

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    This gravy can be made with or without the optional ingredients. The milder taste from leaving out the powders is delightful in itself.



    Serves: 4
    Ingredients
    1. 2 Cups of soaked black chickpeas
    2. 1/4 onion chopped fine (optional)
    3. 3-4 green chilies chopped and a handful of coriander leaves
    4. 2 cups of chopped purple cabbage (green will work fine as well)
    5. mustard,cumin, fennel seeds and curry leaves for seasoning
    6. 1 tsp of oil
    7. 1/2 tbsp curry powder/paste or roasted coriander,cumin and a bit of clove and cinnamon (optional)
    8. 1/2 tbsp tomato paste (optional)
    9. salt to taste

    Method
    1. In a pressure cooker heat oil and add the seasonings and saute the onions if using and the green chillies and coriander leaves.
    2. Add the cabbage and saute them for about 4-5 minutes
    3. Now add the curry powder and mix, add in the tomato paste.
    4. Mix in the soaked channa and let it cook for 6-8 minutes.
    5. Add salt and about 2 cups of water and pressure cook for 2-3 sounds.



    Serve with rice or chapatis.

    This I realize could be an entry to Susan's My Legume Affair
    at briciole by Simona who hosts the fifth helping of the event.

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Kollu Rasam II (Horsegram Soup)

    The auto industry today reminds me of what the computer programmers were going through in the late 90s when new technologies were leaving COBOL programmers behind. Retooling was in order and everybody took responsibility and moved on. As I recall there was no government bailout.

    When the Asian car manufacturers were coming up with smaller, sleeker, energy efficient and cheaper models, Detroit was still churning gas guzzling SUVs. I still remember a decade and half ago people had twitches of conscience buying a Japanese model not anymore, things have turned 180 degrees it would be unpatriotic to buy yourself a Detroit behemoth now. The day GM released its new Hummer model with much fanfare was the same time Toyota Prius had a huge waiting list. What exactly were they thinking?

    Like the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says how these companies have devised a perfect system where they keep all the profits and we the public - the tax payer is left holding the bag. It is a very informative show on Credit and Credibility. Do watch if you find time

    With the chill going on everywhere a nice warming cup of rasam to chase away the colds and gloom was in order. Down home remedies to keep the cold at bay and also a perfect meal on a cold windy day. If you are not in a mood to cook horse gram but ok with roasting it a bit for a quick rasam, this recipe is the one.

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    Serves: 4

    Ingredients
    1. 1 1/2 tbsp horse gram
    2. 2 tsp coriander seeds
    3. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
    4. 1-2 tsp pepper corn (reduce pepper if adding red chilies)
    5. 1/2 red chili
    6. a bit of red onion or small onion smashed and chopped roughly
    7. 3 garlic cloves smashed and chopped rougly
    8. 1/2 tomato chopped
    9. seasonings: hing, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves
    10. coriander leaves for garnish
    11. 1/4 cup worth of tamarind pulp from about a small chery tomato sized
    12. salt to taste

    Method
    1. Toast the horse gram till it starts to splutter, set aside
    2. Toast the coriander, cumin, peppercorn and red chili and cool
    3. Now powder the toasted ingredients to a slightly coarse powder
    4. In a pan heat a bit of ghee, add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to splutter add the onions and saute till translucent
    5. add the garlic and saute followed by the tomatoes till they become soft
    6. Now add the powdered horsegram and mix well.
    7. Add the tamarind pulp with about 3 cups of water.
    8. Let it come to a boil. Add salt, garnish with coriander leaves.

    Serve as a soup or with rice.



    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Simple Lunches - 15 (Mushroom Raita)

    Is it only me or has it gotten colder a lot earlier this year? We saw flurries in the evening and snow was expected overnight but none came. The kids were disappointed but I am happy the white stuff did not make its presence felt yet. Some folks like the change in season, I for one would be happy with just one, the hot summer season. The heat does not bother as much as the cold does. Well anyway winter has not astronomically started yet and I am moaning already.

    One thing winter invariably does is make you crave for sumptuous food. Chapatis, aloo gobhi, aloo paratha would all fall into that category but these are dishes that not too long ago, were considered restaurant fare and to a certain extent exotic food. Cooking these dishes did not come naturally nor did they fit in neatly with the menu of the day. Chapatis were always accompanied by a watery gravy and aloo gobhi would have been considered too dry for a side. This all changed when I started cooking for myself, aloo gobhi, aloo parantha all make their appearance once a week and are considered down home food. The only thing I make sure is to have a raita of some kind to substitute for the watery kurma/gravy of childhood.

    Anita's Sookhi Aloo Gobhi with chapatis and a mushroom raita on the side makes for a complete meal enjoyed by all. We used to visit a hole in the wall place, infact a very dirty dhaba place for their samosas and this aloo gobhi. The food was tasty and for Indian food very very reasonably priced but cleanliness was a BIG problem. There was always a big queue waiting to buy samosas and the rotis, parathas, naans were all cooked right before our eyes and my consolation was they were made fresh so can't be all bad. Eventually their Food Service License was suspended and place was shuttered for rat and roach infestation. Did not surprise me though I have wondered often why the guy (a respected ex-professor) could not keep the place clean. But no worries there, once armed with this recipe I no longer miss the hole in the wall place anymore.

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    Mushroom Raita
    Ingredients
    1. 2 packs Baby Bella mushrooms washed and sliced
    2. 1 1/2 tsp sambhar powder
    3. Salt to taste
    4. 1 1/2 Cups Yogurt
    Method
    1. In a wok heat oil and add the sliced mushrooms
    2.The mushrooms will shed water, add salt and on high continue to cook till the water evaporates.
    3. Add the sambhar powder and saute for a minute.
    4. Cool completely and add to the yogurt.



    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Stir Fried Bell Pepper and Cabbage with Black Eyed Peas

    I need HELP! I am starting to crave idlis. Idli rice is out of the stores and trying to make batter with the other types of rice available has not yeilded good results. It is not like idli rice was always avaialable, it is only in the last 5-6 years they became common place and ofcourse not anymore. I have used other types of rice that work but I am not able to recall the kind of rice and in what proportion to use to get some nice fluffy idlis. If a combination works for you please do leave a comment. I have tried long grain rice, parboiled rice with no luck and the batter is not good even for dosais unless mixed with ragi flour or wheat flour.

    I brought home couple of red bell pepper hoping to make bell pepper coconut chutney but never got around to it. There was also a half purple cabbage left over after a stir fry. Both had to be used. I forgot to soak black beans overnight so decided to use black eyed peas instead which requires just about an hour or less of soaking. I used Patak's Curry paste with cumin and tomato which was left over from a previous trip. If not using curry paste use any curry powder with a bit of tomato paste.

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    Serves: 4

    Ingredients
    1. 2 Bell Pepper cored seeds removed and chopped
    2. 1/2 Purple cabbage
    3. 1 cup Black eyed peas soaked for an hour and cooked
    4. 1/2 Red Onion chopped
    5. 1/2 tbsp curry paste or 1/2 tbsp curry powder and 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
    6. seasonings: Curry leaves, mustard and cumin seeds

    Method
    1. Heat oil in a pan add curry leaves and mustard and cumin.
    2. Add the onions and saute till translucent
    3. now add the bell pepper and saute till they become shiny
    4. Now add the cabbages and saute for a minute or two
    5. Add the curry paste and mix
    6. Add the cooked peas and mix and let it cook till the cabbage become soft.
    Serve with rice or with chapatis.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    A Snack ... Spicy Stir Fried Chapatis

    Snacks not the store bought kind but the ones that home cooks create in kitchens everyday are the ones whose taste linger in your mouths for days to come. When kids get home in the evening, they are hungry and after a packed or school lunch you are anxious to give them something nutritious and at the same time offer something that is not boring. Lets take for example Idli and tasty coconut chutney, though considered as a great breakfast dish, might not be looked at with relish as a evening snack. Same goes for dosai/sambhar or chapathi kurma. All of these dishes might be perfect meal dishes by themselves but not popular as snack items like say Maggie Instant Noodle. Though easy and is a hit everytime I feel guilty offering Maggie Noodles everyday.

    So consider this, there is bunch of idlies left over from breakfast or there are chappathis from the lunch. From this dilemma is I bet how Idli upma was born. But don't quote me on the historical accuracy of that. I was in a similar dilemma a few days ago, the roasted veggies had been offered once too often and so was the egg omelet. What I had in abundance were chapatis. Hence was born this new chapati creation, not so new perhaps, has been around the blogsphere in various avatars like this Chilly Crepe at Spicyana. By the way Archana how have you been? So decided to use the leftover chaptis, a few eggs and come with up with stir fried chapatis. Needless to say it was a well enjoyed snack and one that would be made often.

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    Serves : 2 hungry kids
    Ingredients
    1. 3-4 chapatis torn up roughly into bite sized pieces
    2. 2 eggs
    3. 1/2 onion chopped roughly
    4. 1 small tomato chopped fine
    5. 3 garlic chopped
    6. 1/4 inch piece ginger grated
    7. 1-2 tsp chilli garlic sauce
    8. 1-2 tsp masala chili sauce
    9. coriander leaves for garnish
    10. 1-2 tsp oil

    Method
    1. In a pan heat oil, add the onions and saute till translucent
    2. add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few minutes
    3. now add the tomatoes and saute till they get soft
    4. Add the sauces and mix well.
    5. Now add the chaptis and heat them through.
    6. Now add the eggs and saute till the eggs are coated.

    Serve hot.


    Though the chapatis by themselves tasted great prepared this way, the addition of eggs added a new dimension to the taste.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Pasta with Marinara Sauce

    Pasta that common ubiquitous food is not so common in our house. The most important reason being the pasta sauce and the texture of the pasta itself. The family though loves pasta so occasionally I would pick up a jar of pasta sauce from the grocery store but the amount of sodium gave me pause. Sometimes I would pick some "authentic" pasta sauces from World Market with a "Made in Italy" giving me the only reason to pick them up. So the quest for a good tasting pasta sauce continued till recently.

    A few months ago caught an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS and saw this amazingly simple Marinara Sauce. This is so simple to make and tastes so fresh and light. Cooking pasta sauce at home also gives control over the fat besides the sodium that goes in. I am not for a minute suggesting this is an authentic pasta sauce or pasta by any means. This is spiced up to suit our taste buds. I am not fond of oregano so I left it out.

    Green Earth
    What is Clean Coal?
    How can coal which is inherently polluting be associated with clean? The way politicians talk about clean coal you would think it is brand new thing compared to the dirty coal that we all know about. Clean coal refers to the technology that would reduce the impact on the environment and improve its efficiency. To me it looks like a clever tactic to wrap dirty coal in a shining new wrapper with the name clean slapped on it but what do I know. Politicians are now fond of citing clean coal as the best thing to get them out of dependence on foriegn oil.

    Environmental groups are up in arms over the term "clean coal" calling it an oxymoron.

    Wouldn't the resources be better spent on truly clean technologies like solar and wind.




    Recipe Source: America's Test Kitchen Marinara Sauce

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    Ingredients
    1. 2 Cans whole Tomatoes in juice
    2. 1 Red Onion chopped fine
    3. 5-6 garlic cloves chopped fine
    4. 2-3 tsp chili powder
    5. kosher salt to taste
    6. 1/4 cup Red wine (I used merlot)
    7. 3/4 tbsp canola oil (Use olive oil if preferred)

    Method
    1. Drain the tomatoes and reserve the juice
    2. Squeeze the drained tomatoes and set aside
    3. In a wide pan add oil and when hot add the onions and saute on medium low heat till they start to turn brown
    4. Add the garlic and saute for a few seconds, do not let them brown.
    5. Now add the tomato solids and let them saute till they start sticking to the bottom and turning brown
    6. Now add the wine and let it simmer for a few minutes
    7. Add the tomato juice and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
    8. Towards the end add the chili powder and salt and cook for a minute.
    9. Add Coooked pasta and toss, let sit in the heat for a few minutes. Turn off the heat, mix and serve with paramesan cheese.

    Friday, November 7, 2008

    Simple Lunches - 14 - Paasi Paruppu - Moong Dal (Simply seasoned Moong Lentils)

    What a difference a few days can make! It was only a few days ago I was reveling in the jubilation of participating in the American Democratic process but today I long for the sights and sound of home.

    I was browsing through Bri's Figs With Bri after reading Bri's husband Marc's moving farewell. I only wish I had known her earlier. She comes across as a warm, vibrant personality, full of life making it all the more hard to accept the news.

    One of the blog posts I came across was Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie through which I landed on this episode Southern India: The Spice of Life. Watching the episode was what bought on the bout of longing for home.

    The other most everyday scene that makes me feel this way is that early morning hour when it is still dark and each house has a newspaper on their driveway. The lights are gently flickering and the sun is just about to peep over the horizon.

    What better way to banish those thoughts, than to cook up simple comfortable everyday food. Food is one connection that is hard to severe. The smells and tastes wafting from these simple dishes almost always succeeds in making everyone happy.


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    Uppu Paruppu (Paasi Paruppu), Vendaikkai Pulikulambu(okra in Tamarind sauce, squash poriyal (Butternut squash Stirfry)


    This is a typical lunch in many a Kongu household. The meal would also include rasam and Yogurt.

    Paasi Paruppu (split moong dal with simple spices)


    Ingredients
    1. 1/2 Cup of Split Moong dal with skin (slightly roasted), toor dal or masoor dal (with 1 1/2 cups of water so the dal is cooked nice and mushy)
    2. 3 green chilies slit
    3. Seasoning: Currly leaves, mustard seeds
    4. 1/2 tsp of ghee

    Method
    1. Pressure cook the moong dal or alternatively use an earthenware pot to cook the dal.
    2. In a pan heat the ghee, add the seasonings, when the mustard seeds splutter add the green chilies and saute for a minute.
    3. Pour the dal (no water is required unless you require it watery).
    4. Add salt and mix, switch the heat off in a minute.

    Serve over rice with dash of ghee and Vendaikkai Pulikulambu and a squash poriyal on the side.


    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Spicy Avarakkai (broadbeans) Curry

    As I sit here watching the election results, several things go through my mind. First of all is the high turnout of voters. The other more serious thought is of the hopes that were raised by the Obama candidacy. The promise of taking the high road and hopes of a better standard in governing. Unlike President Bush who promised to unite and pretty much split the country and pushed it so much to the extreme right. The millions of young people who were inspired to campaign and hope that he will elevate the status of America in the eyes of the world and change the dangerous course America has been taking the last few years. I only wish their hopes and aspirations would be elevated.

    As voters we have done our job, now it is the new President who should do his.

    Visiting the voting place and standing in line (and in my county it is like the UN with people from pretty much all over the world) with all those people who take their duties as a citizen seriously gave me a sense of jubilation much like a highly anticipated party. The number of people I saw there was much larger than the previous few elections I have voted in. The kids were off from school so it was like a holiday almost.

    With overcast skies and rain expected later in the day, called out for something spicy and hot. The curry turned out exactly right.


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    Serves: 4-5
    Ingredients
    1. Avarakkai - 4 cups (stringed and cut in half)
    2. 1/4 cup shallots chopped
    3. 4 -5 garlic sliced
    4. 2 juicy medium sized tomatoes
    5. 1 tbsp tamarind pulp (optional)
    6. 2 tsp turmeric powder
    7. seasoning : mustard, cumin and curry leaves

    To Blend
    1. 10 small onions
    2. 1 tbsp coriander seeds
    3. 1 tsp cumin seeds
    4. 5 red chilies (2 hot and 3 kashmiri chilies)

    In a bit of oil toast the coriander, cumin and chilies remove to blender, saute the onions till brown. Cool and blend to a paste with a little bit of water

    Method
    1. In a pressure pan heat oil and add the seasonings and then the onion and saute till translucent.
    2. Add the garlic and saute a bit and then add the turmeric and mix. Now add the tomatoes and saute till they get soft. Add salt
    3. Now add the beans and saute for a minute or two.
    4. Now add the blended paste and required amount of water (if you want it dry add only 2 -3 tbsp of water)
    5.If adding tamarind add it now and mix (I did not add any because my tomatoes were sour)
    6. Check for salt and close the lid and cook for 1 sound or about 5-6 minutes.
    7. If too watery once the cooker cools open the lid and saute on medium heat for the desired consistency. (I wanted mine with a bit of gravy)

    Alternate Method
    1. If not using pressure cooker, precook the beans with a bit of salt and continue with the method described above.



    Goes well with both rice and rotis. We had ours with rotis.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    Feeling LEFT out but ...

    Vote I must and so must you. If you live in one of the safe red or blue states you would understand exactly what I mean. As a safe blue stater and living in one of the most liberal counties in the country the outcome of our voting pattern has been predetermined a long time ago!. This means one thing, Democratic canditates take us for granted and the Republican don't even bother campaigning here. But just across the Potomac river the voters are courted and dated like they are royalty. If you sense a bit of envy maybe thats what I feel. They live in one of the so called battle ground states. So the parade of presidential canditates happens every other day. VA has been slowly trending Democratic with the growth of the high-tech industry in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Democrats have been hoping they would go Blue in this year's Presidential election. Obama has made more trips these 2 years than I can count while we just a few miles north did not warranty a stop over even a single time :(

    There is a silver lining in all of this, we have not been bombarded with numerous advertisements like these battle ground staters. The few that we have seen I have not paid much attention. DD has been paying more attention and analyzes what each candidate has been saying in their ads. With the sense of fairness only a 10 year old can muster her analysis has been that McCain ads have been very negative without highlighting what positives he has, whereas Obama's have shown what great things he can do/done and is not very negative about the opponent.

    After the intial silence, the last few weeks we have seen a spike with the "Spread the wealth" ads. Obama is supposed to have said this to "Joe the plumber". This particular one has me gritting my teeth as well. Does McCain suggest that it is ok to spread the wealth from the bottom to the top but the other way around is not acceptable? The number of times these rich guys have gone before congress to bail them and their failing industries has been greater than the number of years Bush has been in office. Started with the airlines, the oil industry even though they have declaring record profits quarter after quarter, the Wall Street, now the auto industry and don't forget the subsidies rich farmers have been getting all this time and this entitlement is pretty much untouchable. So the workers at the bottom whose wages have been stagnating while their bosses have been getting richer and richer and not without a big helping hand from the so called evil government cannot and absolutely have wealth spreading from the top to the bottom. This alone would be considered Socialism? Well I don't get it!

    There are many things I don't get about one candidate or the other but there is a clear choice to be made in which direction we want the country to head. The choice is in each of our hands.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Peas Pulao (Pulav)

    The Christian Science Monitor website is one of my favorite websites for getting news. Though I have never been a subscriber of their newspaper, kind of sad to read that they are stopping their daily newspaper and shifting to a web based format only, from 2009. Nov 25 will be the 100th anniversary of the newspaper. On the other hand I am glad they plan to enhance the web site.

    Winter seems to be here already though it is still Fall :( Old Farmer's almanac predicts a colder and snowier winter!

    Pulaos in my mind have always been party dishes more than everyday kind of food. I tend to cook Briyanis lot more than Pulaos for some reason, does not make sense but thats how it has been. So what better way to start Pulao making than Peas Pulao. The Pulao requires a gravy side dish whereas Biryani is perfect with just a raita. We just had this Pulao with a bit of yogurt on the side and it was perfect that way.

    Before I move on to the Pulao, I have had queries on how to use horsegram besides the chutney and rasam,if you are one of them head on over to Kay's One bite at a time for a taste of a very tasty Kollu Kulambu. I tried it and I am hooked.

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    Serves : 2-3
    Ingredients
    1. 1 Cup Basmati Rice, washed and soaked for about 1/2 hour [Rice:Water :: 1 : 1.5]
    2. 3/4 Cup Fresh or Frozen Green Peas
    3. 1/2 Onion Cut into thin strips
    4. 4 - garlic cloves
    5. 1 inch piecs of ginger
    6. 6 green chilies (or according to taste)
    [ Mince the garlic, ginger and green chilies in a food processor]
    7. 2 tsp red chili powder (optional)
    8. seasonings, cloves, small cinnamon stick, fennel seeds a few and cumin seeds
    9. 1 tsp ghee, 1 tsp oil

    Method
    1. In a Pressure cooker heat oil abd add the seasonings when they start to brown add the onions and saute till translucent.
    2. Add the ginger,garlic,green chili mince and saute till the whole mass turns slightly brown
    3. Now add salt and the green peas and saute for a bit
    4. Add the rice and mix it well.
    5. Now add water check for taste. Adjust salt, heat. I added red chili powder at this stage because it was too sweet.
    6. Let the water come to a boil and the rice 3/4th cooked and most of the water is gone.
    7. Close the pressure cooker and cook on low medium for 7-8 minutes. Turn off heat and take the cooker off the stove and source of heat.
    8. Open the lid when the cooker cools downs and fluff up the rice.

    Serve with Vegetable Kurma in the recipe substitute beans, carrots, cauliflower for the peas.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Black Eye Peas with brinjal in tomato coconut sauce

    I started to wonder what it was about this particular woman VP candidate that gets my goat. It surely is not just the betchas and gotchas that she sprinkles liberally in her speeches. It not her extreme right wing credentials either. What gets to me most is her dummification(as in dumb down) of the American electorate. Besides her utter lack of grasp of the challenges facing the country today she seems to suggest that the American people like her because of that. Though the dummification started 8years ago with the current occupant of the White House, she is seems to be a master at focusing on just that. She seems to propagate the myth that she is popular because she sounds dumb and portraying Americans to be dumb. Far worse is the tendency to cater to the baser instinct of human nature magnifying differences and ideologies all in the name of getting votes. Why do some of the countries run by right wing idealogues have problems? precisely because of what she is whipping up.

    Growing up in India when you are old enough to understand politics and politicians you develop a healthy dose of cynicism for the political process and for politicians even worse contempt. So I was kind of surprised at how much respect Americans give their President and the office he holds. The lady is anathema to all of that.

    The one that really gets to me is the utter disrespect for education and especially science education. Like the success and prosperity American enjoys today came without hard work and education and it is ok to be contemptful of anyone who who had the gal to get a good education. She might have required 6 different universites to get her undergrad from and she might not even care if her kids gets educated or not but for the majority of Americans it is by far the surest ticket to the American dream. Whats more is the hypocrisy of it all, do anything and say anything, everything else be damned.

    Now that I have vented and cleared up my mind, we can move on to the recipe on hand in a better frame of mind.

    Black Eyed Peas comes in very handy if you have run out of vegetables and forgot to soak those other beans overnight. Paired with Brinjal or any other vegetable like bottle gourd, zucchini it is a curry that comes in handy in a pinch.


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    Serves: 4
    Ingredients
    1. 1 Cup Black Eyed Peas soaked for an hour
    2. 2 Medium sized brinjals chopped
    3. 1/2 onion chopped
    4. seasonings: mustard, curry leaves and cumin

    To Blend
    1. 2 tbsp grated coconut
    2. small onions or shallots about 10
    3. 2 tomatoes
    4. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
    5. 1/2 tsp cumin
    6. Few pepper corns

    Roast the above coriander, cumin, red chilies, pepper corn first in a bit of oil, set aside. Next saute the onions and tomatoes and coconut. cool and blend to a paste

    Method
    1. In a pan heat a tsp of oil, add the seasonings and saute the onion.
    2. Add the brinjal and saute till the skin starts to turn color.
    3. Now add the soaked black eyed peas and mix well.
    4. Add the ground mixture with 2 cups of water and let it simmer in medium heat till the peas are cooked and desired consistency is reached.
    5. Add salt when the peas are almost cooked.
    Serve with rice or rotis.

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Almond Burfi for Deepavali

    Happy Deepavali! everyone.


    Isn't "cool as a cucumber" a great trait to have? Watching the third presidential debate the thing that struck me most was what a cool cucumber Obama was. Man, it sure is a great asset to have. I am thinking of the many situations that would have turned so totally different if only I had that kind of cool head on my shoulder! Sigh! Well I can console myself saying you need ying and yang to balance everything.

    A Cool head would have gone a long way in my burfi making attempts if we count the number of times I started off making burfi but ended up with halwa. Be it almond, choclate or milk my barfi making has invariably ended up as halwa. It tasted good alright, with sugar, milk and nuts nothing can go wrong in the taste department anyway just that instead of biting into it, you have to slurp it. This time I kept my cool and the resulting burfi spoke for itself. This is an easy sweet and nothing can go wrong it really if you don't mind the halwa in the end that is.

    A friend gave me the recipe, hers was white but mine turned well an almond color. I used milk to blend the almonds whereas she had asked me to use water, that could have been the reason. I almost halved the amount of sugar and added it directly to the almond paste. She had suggested making a sugar syrup to string consistency and adding the almond paste to it.

    I did not blend the almonds into a smooth paste, this would help in shaping the burfi. Mine was coarse but the texture turned out great.


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    Makes: 20-25 burfis
    ofcourse depending on the size they are cut.
    Ingredients
    1. 2 Cups of almomds soaked in hot water and skin peeled
    2. 1 1/4 Cups of sugar (original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar)
    3. 1 cup of milk (1/4 or 1/2 cup should have been sufficient, more the milk longer it takes to set)
    4. 4 tbsp butter (melt in a pan)

    Method
    1. Blend the almonds to a paste
    2. In a heavy bottomed pan add the almond paste and sugar and in medium heat keep stirring. At this stage it does not stick to the bottom but watch it regularly about 15-20 minutes.
    3. When it starts to get frothy add the ghee a bit by bit on the sides
    4. Continue till the mixture comes into one big mass and a bit taken can be rolled easily into a ball another 30 minutes or so.
    5. Pour into a greased pan and let it cool for a bit and slice into desired shape.
    (It is good to have someone help pour and the other spread the mixture)



    Soft and melts in your mouth and with the reputation almond has even healthy ;)

    This goes off to Cooking 4 all Seasons: Announcing JFI – Nov’08 – Festival Treats!

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Pinto Beans with Ridge Gourd

    Isn't it usually the small things that make life interesting? One thing common about most evenings is the fact that we are always rushing and on this particular evening we rushing out of the swimming pool around 8 in the evening and I was preoccupied with dinner combinations going through my mind as everybody is starving by this time and we'd eat each other if dinner is not ready in like 3 minutes after we get home. At this moment DD2 poses a query "Can we take the alligator today?" I was not really paying attention and reply "Alligator? We will visit the Zoo soon and see if they have one there" DD2 "No today, it is right here in the swimming pool" by then every one in the locker room is getting interested about the alligator.
    DD1 exasperated jumps in "Amma, all she wants to do is go up in the elevator". We all burst out laughing.


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    When the weather started cooling off a bit the ridge gourd started bearing clumps of fruit, they did not grow to the size they were growing during the summer months but we still got a few every other day. I have never eaten so many ridge gourds in my life! The frost few days back killed off the plant and we had a bunch of young tender ridge gourds to be used up. They taste great with any type of legume or even lentils like bengal gram, horse gram or whole moong dal. Sra's is hosting the fourth instalment of 'My Legume Affair' started by Susan and seemed like a good time to send it off to her. Very simple recipe but packs a nutritious punch.

    If you do not have ridge gourd, zucchini, snake gourd or bottle gourd can be used as well.

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    Serves: 3-4
    Ingredients
    1. 2-3 Tender ridge gourds, ridge scrapped and chopped into tiny pieces (I used about 6 because mine were really tender)
    2. 1/2 red onion or 1/2 cup shallots chopped
    3. 1 Cup of Cooked Pinto beans (black, kidney beans would also work)
    4. 3/4 tbsp sambhar powder (substitute with coriander powder and chili powder)
    5. seasonings - cumin and mustard
    6. salt to taste

    Method
    1. Cook and drain the Pinto beans and set aside
    2. Heat oil in a pan, crackle the seasonings and saute the onions till translucent.
    3. Now add the chopped ridge gourd pieces and saute for a few minutes, add salt close the lid and let cook it soft but the ridge gourd should still be crunchy about 8-10 minutes.
    4. Open lid add the sambhar powder and beans and mix.
    5. Cook for a minute or two more and switch of heat.
    Perfect side ready for chapathis or rice.




    We had them with chapathis and some onion,tomato raita.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Garden Orchard Salad

    I caught the tail end of the conversation between Terry Gross the host of "Fresh Air" and Micahel Pollen on our local NPR affiliate WAMU. He was describing how salmon caught in Alaska was shipped over to China to be filleted and chicken raised in California were shipped over to China again to be packaged. I mentioned this to DH who immediately asked if they were being shipped alive. That part was not mentioned but I doubt that they'd be shipping them alive, anyway it is a quiet a while from harvest to plate. The more I know about our food sources and food processing techniques the curiouser it gets.

    While it is very easy to eat local during the spring and summer months I have found it is almost impossible trying to do the same during the winter months. Last night's frost ended the harvest from the backyard for the season. I also made probably one of my last visits to the local Farmer's market for the season on Sunday. On a cold windy day the Farmers market was still doing brisk business. There were apples, pumpkins of all sizes, bell peppers of all colors and broccoli. I also picked up a bunch of my favorite green, multicolored swiss chard. There was a researcher from the University of Maryland Maryland Cooperative extension doing a demonstration of healthy tasty salads.

    I am not a big salad fan but I stopped by to pick some of the recipes she was handing out and taste the Garden Orchard Salad. It tasted really good, for somebody who does not eat broccoli even when cooked to have found this salad tasty with raw broccoli is surprising in itself. I also found out that the salad dressing had vanilla yogurt! I was able to pick all of the ingredients at the market and was ready to cook it for dinner. I was not disappointed, it tasted fresh and crispy and ofcourse the peanuts made a lot of difference as well. I steamed the broccoli but feel free to use it raw.


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    Note: If you like Vannila yogurt, the honey in the recipe is not required. If spice is not your thing leave the chili garlic sauce dressing as well.

    Recipe Source: Agriculture Cooperative Extension, University of Maryland

    Serves: 3-4
    Ingredients
    1. 2 Cups worth of broccoli heads
    2. 1/2 cup worth of asparagus with the hard end chopped and then cut into about 2 inch pieces
    3. 1 carrot grated into slightly bigger pieces
    4. Apple cored and chopped
    5. 2 tbsp of roasted unsalted peanuts chopped roughly
    6. 1/2 cup of yogurt whisked to smooth (I used home made plain yogurt)
    7. 1/2 tbsp honey
    8. 1/2 tbsp garlic chili sauce

    Method
    1. Heat water in a sauce pan, add salt and cook the broccoli and asparagus for 4-5 minutes and pour cold water immediately and drain - this step is not needed if you like it raw.
    2. Chop the broccoli and asparagus into smaller pieces.
    3. In a bowl toss the broccoli, asparagus, carrots, apples and the peanuts
    4. Separate the yogurt into two containers, whisk the honey into one and the chili sauce into the other.
    5. Separate the salad into 2 containers, add the honey yogurt into one and the chili yogurt into the other. Let it sit for a few minute (OR)

    drizzle the dressing over the salad when you are ready to eat.


    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Cucumber (Dosakaya) Chutney

    Is it just me or have others noticed that the Oprah Show has morphed into another celebrity show these days. It is stopped being a show that imparted some good information for women to being another celebrity focussed show. So I rarely watch the show anymore. The other day while channel flipping I landed on the show which was about "How we treat the animals we eat" well represented by folks from factory style animal raising and free range. It was pretty informative. Seeing animals being raised in pens that are only slightly bigger than the size of the animals was disturbing. California has a ballot initiative to decide the issue while for the rest of us the only way to do it is buy responsibly at our respective grocery stores.


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    The fresh dosakayas that my neighbor gave was made into dal, it was tasty but nothing to crow about but the chutney was another matter altogether, it was delicious. I googled for a recipe, once I knew the Telgu name it was easy, like Sra pointed out pretty much all Andhra blogs had a recipe for it. Sra I am sure you'll be glad to know that yours was number 4 on the list when I searched for dosakaya chutney. I gave the recipe to my mom, with a few slight additions she had some delicious lip smacking chutney. The texture reminded me of coconut and would serve as a good substitute.

    Ingredients
    1. 2 Indian Cucumbers, skin removed and chopped roughly
    2. 6-8 shallots chopped
    3. tamarind a small grape sized
    4. 2 red chilies
    5. 1 tsp channa dal
    6. 2 tsp urad dal
    7. 1 tsp coriander seeds
    8. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
    9. 2 cloves garlic
    10. salt
    11. seasonings - curry leaves and mustard seeds
    12. 1 tsp of oil

    Method
    1. Heat a tsp of oil and brown the dals, coriander and cumin seeds. set aside
    2. saute the red chilies and set aside
    3. now add the shallots and garlic and saute till translucent
    4. towards the end add the tamarind and remove and cool
    5. add salt and the dosakaya pieces and blend to a paste
    6. now heat oil in a pan, crackle the mustard seeds and curry leaves. pour over the chutney.

    Tastes excellent with rice.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Rasa Vadai with Red Bell Pepper, Coconut Chutney

    One look at Jugalbandi's Rasa Vadai realized I had not had this favorite of mine for a really long time. Having first tasted them in a restaurant called Udipi Palace and have been hooked ever since. Not quiet as popular as its illustrious cousin the sambhar vadai, but for those of you who love Rasa Vadai you already know what I am talking about.

    Every festival celebration requires a pairing of the sweet and spicy, so along with the Rice Pudding Rasa Vadai was chosen as the spicy accompaniment. Made the traditional way, deep fried in oil with a hole in the middle because I have the luxury of my mom visiting :) For those in the household who are not fond of rasa vadai there was sambhar and Coconut chutney with Bell Pepper. Addition of bell pepper gave the chutney a beautiful pink color.

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    Just a few notes while making uzhundu vadai. Grind the dough as close to the vadai making time as possible, do not add salt. Put the dough in the fridge if not using immediately. Onions and Green chilies are to be added just
    before making the vadais.

    I like the rasam in which the vadais are dunked to be tangy and bit spicy. Here is how my mom made the rasam.

    Spicy Rasam

    Ingredients
    1. 2 tbsp of toor dal cooked with plenty of water and mashed
    2. a small ball of tamarind soaked and pulp extracted
    3. 1 medium sized tomato chopped
    4. coriander leaves for garnish
    5. seasoning: mustard, curry leaves,cumin and asfoetida

    To Powder
    1. 2 tsp coriander seeds
    2. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
    3. 3-4 red chilies (or per taste)
    4. 1 tsp pepper corns (this quantity can be increased and red chilies decreased depending on which heat you prefer)
    5. 2 tsp chana dal
    6. 1 tsp toor dal
    7. few methi seeds

    Roast the above and make a powder

    Method
    1. In a pan heat oil add the seasonings, saute the tomatoes, add the powder and the tamarind water and let it boil for about 4-5 minutes
    2. Now add the dal water with as much water as you want.
    3. Add salt and coriander leaves and switch of the heat when you see bubbles on top.

    The rasam tastes great with dosai as well.



    Bell Pepper, Coconut Chutney

    Ingredients
    1. 1 Red Bell Pepper seeds removed and chopped
    2. Coconut about 3 tbsp
    3. 2 tbsp roasted channa dal (dahlia )
    4. 2 red chilies
    5. Seasonings: mustards, split urad dal and curry leaves (few of each)
    6. 1 tsp of oil

    Method
    1. Heat a bit of oil and saute the red bell pepper and red chilies
    2. Together with the coconut and roasted channa dal and salt grind to a slightly smooth paste, remove to a container.
    3. now in a small pan, heat oil add the urad dal, when brown add the mustard and curry leaves and pour over the ground chutney.

    Excellent with the vadai or with idli or dosai.

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    An article for Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

    This is an essay for Blog Action Day

    Poverty as defined by your circumstances.
    As children growing in India, we were always of the fact that poverty was all around. The haves and have nots lived side by side. The minute you step out the door it right there staring at you. We learned from a very young age that it is not a guarantee that we'd get anything and everything we asked for. It still had not become a use and throw society. Blatant consumerism had not caught on yet. India today is a vastly different in terms of consumption but still the majority of people do live below the poverty line and not something that can be easily hidden.

    Contrast this to my kids growing in the US. Poverty is not something that is obvious unless you live in a city like Washington DC or Baltimore. More often than not we avoid areas in these cities where poverty would be obvious since they are also the same areas too dangerous to afford a leisurely stroll. The only way we ever wound up in those areas is to have gotten there by mistake. Lots of people pass a lifetime not knowing what poverty feels like. School children walk for the homeless and collect money or school supplies for kids who cannot afford them, but I am not sure the kids can visualize and realize what poverty feels like - not able to afford three meals a day or having a proper place to live. Hunger is just one aspect of poverty, the other indignities it affords I am sure are many.


    Be Informed of your elective representatives actions
    The pictures and programs about India never fail to mention the fact that poverty is everywhere and it cannot be hidden whereas in the US since it is not visible poverty is not something that people talk about. Watch the Presidential elections the 'P' word has not been uttered by either of the candidates. Since it is not obvious those in power (read Congress, President, Senate, the local governments, state governments, etc.,) find it easy to cut programs for the poor, out of sight, out of mind. In the western world and among the rich countries, US has the highest rate of poverty with recent census figures putting the numbers at close to 40 million. But there are several conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation who still quibble with the definition of poverty giving one more reason for those in power to completely ignore it or sweep it under the carpet. Welfare queens are the ones who get all the press and harming million others who are struggling to make ends meet. What is the responsibility of a president who wages war against a country under false pretenses when the money spent here at home would have made US a much safer,secure and saner place to live, economically speaking?

    What has greed got to do with it?
    Poverty is not a genetic condition, it is absolutely possible for anybody to contract this dreaded disease. In today's troubled economic times it is even harder for non governmental and charitable organizations to effectively do what they set forth to do. With the next economic crisis just around the corner, it is nota far fetched idea that for a log of middle class folks, staring at poverty is just one pay check away. Without the bold intervention of the government it is almost impossible to eradicate poverty and in a society that does not understand, saving for a rainy day it is that much harder.

    Studies have shown that while the pay for the wealthier Americans has risen the pay for the lower wage workers keeps going further down sinking several more people into poverty. We have all read about and seen the vast gulf between the rewards that the CEOs give themselves and how they think they are entitled to huge payoffs even when their companies are failing spectacularly. These CEOs are unashamed to take bonuses and keep their golden parachutes intact even while they get handouts from the government. I don't get it. If I screw up I end in poverty, if the Exxon Mobils and AIGs of this world screw up the government bails them out. There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture. Where is the accountability?

    Will the lawmakers make policies that will keep these CEOs who run public companies in check? Somehow I doubt it. The Congres and the legislative branch of the government is as corrupt or even more corrupt than some of these CEOs. Though studies suggest that the lower strata of society benefits when the Democrats are in power. I am cynical about either party doing the right thing!

    In parting here is something to think about,
    As someone who considers Washington D.C home, I take strong offense to politicians talking about DC in such derogatory terms. If it is such a bad place why do they fight tooth and nail to get here? I know that is rhetorical question! But please when you elected officials land in DC step out of your Watergate hotels and go around the city to take in how the common folks live.

    I know I have a lot of questions but answers for none and that is precisely what makes me so scared. What can I as a food blogger do about it? Moreover what can I do as a citizen of the US?
    Blog Action Day website has ideas and suggestions on what individuals can do.

    Sustainable Living
    The way we shop and source our food here in the US can affect the lives of poor farmers in far flung regions of the world. Supporting stores and companies that take sustainable food practises seriously and being aware of the path that food takes to reach your plate is one of the ways to participate in protecting the livelihoods of farmers and food producers half way around the world. Food sufficiency is vital to the well being of the world and is the first and foremost to tackling Poverty. Being interconnected as we were nobody is immune to the vagaries of climate, food shortage and availability of food. Availability of fresh water is also going to be a big deal. Like the saying in Tamil goes "small drops of water are what make a ocean" each one of us have the parts that need we need to play cut out for us. It is urgent and it has to start now.



    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Brinjals and Banana Peppers in a peanut sauce - Tried and Tasted

    With all that is going on right now, the calmest and the happiest thing to do right now is to be in the kitchen cooking with garden fresh vegetables. With the temperatures falling, the garden is starting to sport a forlorn look. If only I can prolong it by a bit with some Fall vegetables. I should have started earlier I guess.

    I am also on the look out for vegetables and greens that might survive through the winter outdoors in the North East. I don't know any and it would be great to find a few and fresh vegetables in the winter. What would be suitable for a container garden indoors?


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    I might have just harvested the last of the brinjals for this season though I still see a lot of buds and flowers. The curry I chose to make with them is Indira's Bagara Baingan (Nune Vankaya Kura) This would be an entry to Zlamushka's Tried and Tasted event. This has since become one of my favorite ways of cooking brinjal. I have cooked them stuffed or just added the brinjals to the sauce. Both are tasty.

    Indira's love and appreciation for food and its preparation comes through in each and every one of her recipes. Though I have tasted and relished Andhra food, never actually cooked them the traditional way till I stumbled upon food blogs and Mahanandi in paticular. The majority of the dishes are similar to what is cooked up in Tamilnadu but the recipes are slighty different. Besides peanut chutney, I have never really noticed peanuts being used for sauces in TamilNadu cuisine. The peanut based sauce especially for brinjals is like a match made in heaven. Since I did not have enough brinjals added a few fresh banana peppers given by DDs piano teacher, harvested from her garden. They added a lovely color to the dish as well.

    Serves : 4-6
    Ingredients
    1. Purple, White small brinjals 15-20 (mine were tiny) - slit but not cut in two
    2. 4-5 Banana Pepper cut into rings and the seeds and fiber removed
    3. 1/2 red onion chopped fine
    4. seasoning: mustard seeds and curry leaves
    5. tamarind a small lime sized soaked in water
    6. 1 tsp jaggery

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    For the Paste
    1. 1 1/2 tbsp of peanuts
    2. 1/2 tbsp of channa dal
    3. 2 tsp of split urad dal
    4. 3 dried red chilies
    5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
    6. 1 1/2 ts cumin seeds
    7. few pepper corns
    8. few methi seeds
    9. 1 tbsp grated coconut

    Dry roast ingredients 1-8 and heat the coconut for a bit and then blend together into a paste

    Method
    1. In a heavy bottomed pan/ kadai/pressure cooker heat oil, add the seasonings and the onion and saute till translucent
    2. Add the slit brinjals and saute till they start getting black spots on top. Add the bell peppers
    3. Now add the blended paste, along with the tamarind and about a cup of water and let it cook for a bit.
    4. Add salt and close the lid and cook for a whistle if in pressure cooker/ or cook till the brinjals are soft and cooked completely.
    5. Open and let it cook if too watery, add the jaggery and turn off the heat.

    Tastes best with rice but goes well with rotis as well.