Thursday, December 30, 2010

Simple Lunches - 23 (Frozen Okra stir fry)

The year that was ...
I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to learn about the sources of the foods we consume and in the process share them in the blog. I learned a lot and along the way got disheartened that so much of what we consume today is loaded with chemicals, sugar and salt. But every dark cloud has to have a silver lining right? So over the course of the year I have come to an uncomfortable truce with the supermarkets.

I try my bestest to follow Michael Pollan's advice to keep away from foods which have more than 5 ingredients and to avoid foods that grandma would not recognize. But try finding foods within that ingredient count. That is another matter altogether. Climbing Mt.Everest is probably easier. Often these rules get broken for foods that have to be bought - bread, cereal, muffins and bagels. Sometimes for frozen stuff which come in very handy for those hungry evening times.

The debate over whether organic, locally grown or conventional produce is best is an ongoing one. Price, quality or sustainability? I do what works best for me, there is no hard and fast rule. If I see an organic head of cauliflower alongside a locally grown one I pick the locally grown one. I tend to always buy organic milk and preferably free roaming organic eggs. Chicken I buy only from my beloved Amish market. Organic, fresh (truly) and very reasonable. What more can one ask. I am sorry to admit I have cut down greatly on eating fish for the simple fact that I am afraid. This will change in the coming year.

To tell you the truth the best time was in the spring/summer when I was able to grow my own vegetables. Besides being a soothing and rewarding activity the taste was hard to beat. This has only increased the longing to go back to my grand-folks profession. One can dream can't they?

Coming from a culture where clean plates is emphasized meaning you eat everything that has been served I have changed enough to emphasize not to eat more than it is possible, and that to simply clean the plate because there are several others in the world without food. We cleaning our plate is not going to help them. We have to find ways to deal with that problem. So I ask my kids to serve what they can and to serve more only if they want more. In the unlikely event when they over serve they are not to stuff themselves.

Obesity is the biggest epidemic of our times and to learn from a young age not to overeat is not just an important lesson but an essential one. The one thing that endeared me to the First Lady was her Let's Move campaign. This is one campaign that everyone leaving aside party stripes should jump on blindfolded.

It is best to ignore hypocrites like Sarah Palin(got my goat with her recent comment) who have no clue the changed circumstances and world order that the US finds itself in today. Disparaging Hollywood and then encouraging your daughter to act and dance on TV is one thing, spewing hateful rhetoric and then accepting millions for the books from the same elites she so freely condemns but making fun of a campaign that emphasizes kids to eat healthier and become more active?. I know it is best not to pay heed to dimwits like her. But,

She clearly crossed the line when she made fun of the Let's move campaign. Let the mama grizzly feed her kids tons of sugar and fat and park them in front of the TV to watch the inanities she spews but leave the rest of our kids out. She who sees conspiracy in everything also wants kids to exercise their god given right to eat junk. So be it but keep it among your family. Thank you.

Seriously how did eating locally, healthier become elitist? Isn't this how our forefathers lived? How did eating right become a liberal agenda?

Take a look at this post by my friend Kay in her healthy living blog.

To round out the year here is a simple lunch suggestion. Buying okras has always been an unpleasant experience(broken stems anyone?). Bhindi subji is a big favorite in DD's friend's house. It is in ours too but buying them is a chore. On checking with her friend's mom she mentioned that she never bothers with fresh okra and uses frozen ones. I was skeptical at first wondering about the slime and the hours it was going to take to get that out and how soggy it was going to get. I was wrong on all counts. Cooks very fast, the slime is not noticeable and the end product is far from soggy.

The trick is to not thaw the okra and add it directly to the pan to cook. Never cook okra without lemon juice or amchur powder. Yogurt or even tamarind pulp works. They all help in reducing the slime. I do not know the science behind it but it works.

Frozen Okra Stir Fry
1. 1lb Cut frozen okra
2. 1/2 cup onions sliced
3. 1/2 tbsp sambhar or red chili powder + 1 tsp turmeric powder
4. 2 broken dried red chilies
5. 1 tbsp lemon juice or 2 tsp amchur powder
6. seasonings: curry leaves, cumin seeds, mustard seeds
7. salt to taste
8. 2 tsp of oil

1. In a wide mouthed pan, heat the oil and add the seasonings, when the mustard splutters add the red chilies and when it turns slightly black
2. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes till they are translucent
3. Now add the okra and let it cook covered for 4-5 minutes till the okra pieces are separate
4. Open the lid add the lemon juice or amchur powder, turmeric powder and sambhar powder and saute for a few minutes
5. Close the lid again and let the okra get fully cooked. Open and stir gently occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom
6. Open the lid and saute till the desired texture is obtained
We like it a little bit soft but if you like it crunchier saute a bit longer.
Lemon juice, amchur powder, tamarind pulp or even yogurt all help in reducing the slime. They generally add some tartness so use accordingly.

Serve as a side for soft chapatis or any rice dish.

Wishing you all a Very Happy New Year with good eats and lots of laughter.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mysore Rasam

Season's Greetings! It is the holiday season alright and it is raining cookies all over. The blogs have been full of mouth watering attractive cookies. Our newspaper has been carrying recipes and pictures of cookies for a few weeks now. The kids have been behind me, imploring me to make atleast a few. I have a couple of recipes bookmarked.

Baking does not come naturally so any excuse comes in handy but with a resolution to get to it before the year end. Hopefully. I bet this rasam makes up for the lack of cookie baking :) Just kidding guys.

The only South Indian restaurant around our parts for a long time - Udipi Palace had this Rasa Vadai which became a huge favorite. I am going under the impression that was Mysore Rasam, could have been Udipi Rasam for all I know.

The rasam unlike the rasams I make is thick and serves as a combination of both rasam and sambhar. This is perfect remedy when you are under the weather and want to wake up your tongue with a zing.

What is also different about the Mysore Rasam is the addition of coconut and jaggery. I skipped the former and added a bit of the latter. The other ingredients to be roasted and powdered are very similar to this hotel sambhar. The more I read about the rasam I realize the origins of this rasam is not Mysore but somewhere in Tamil Nadu. But who cares it is tasty.

Mysore Rasam
1. 1/2 cup of toor dal cooked with 4 times the water till it is soft and mushy
2. 1 tbsp chopped onions or shallots
3. 2 garlic cloves chopped
4. 1 cup tamarind pulp from a small lime sized ball of tamarind
5. 2-3 tomatoes chopped (the redder the better)
6. salt to taste
7. 1 tsp ghee
8. seasonings: curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds
9. handful of chopped coriander leaves
10. 2 tsp of jaggery

For the spice powder
1. 1/2 tbsp channa dal
2. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
3. 1 tsp cumin seeds
4. 1/2 tbsp pepper corns (adjust to taste)
5. 1/2 tsp methi seeds
6. a small tiny piece of asfoetida
7. 1 tbsp coconut (optional, I did not add)
8. 1 tbsp dried curry leaves powder
9. 6-8 red chilies

Roast channa dal first till brown and the rest of the ingredient till they change color. Roast the coconuts last. Make a powder in a spice grinder or a paste in a blender

1. In a wide mouthed vessel, heat the ghee and add the seasonings.
2. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and let it cook
4. Now add in the tamarind juice and the spice mix and let it cook for 4-5 minutes and the liquid comes to a boil
5. Pour in the mashed dal with as much water as required
6. Add salt, jaggery, coriander leaves and switch of the heat when the first bubbles start to appear

Serve with rice or eat as a soup.

Have a great holiday. Will see you all shortly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A cure for common cold ?

It is an absolute bummer when friends and family are visiting and you are struck down with an annoying cold. Winter, Holidays and Cold - unfortunately all seem to go hand in hand. The cold does a number on your well made holiday plans and besides you being miserable makes everybody around you miserable too.

Well it does not have to be that way. A few years ago DD got a nasty cold and having found the perfect host it just wouldn't go away. As I was talking to DH's sister, she asked me why I had not tried the kollu paruppu (horsegram) treatment? How could I have forgotten that? Well... But that amazing lentil my friends is the surefire treatment for common cold.

Last week, started sneezing on Friday, head ache and body ache by Saturday with nose watering like a tap. While sleeping under the blanket felt great I dragged myself out of bed and made some kollu paruppu and what do you know by Monday morning I was well on the mend. It also fixed DD2 who had a severe chest congestion along with a bad cold.

You don't have to take my word for it when you come down with a cold, give it a go and see for yourself.

Don't forget to drink plenty of water. Water cleans out those germs. Don't forget to throw in a grape fruit into the mix now and then.

Where can you get Horse gram in the US?
1. A few of the Indian grocery stores carry them.
2. I have also seen a few online stores carry them.
3. Bring them along when you visit India, which is what I do.

The recipes for the Kollu Paruppu and Rasam are here. I also make a slightly watery chutney and skip the rasam. The recipe for which follows.

Kollu Paruppu is one of those recipes which is not going to make you want to taste it by its looks. It is a rustic and down to earth lentil with an earthiness that makes you feel warm all over.

Kollu Paruppu Chutney - II
1. 2 Cups of horsegram picked through and washed
2. 2 -3 tbsp of shallots or red onions chopped
3. 3 garlic cloves chopped
4. 4-5 red chilies (or to taste)
5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
6. 1 tsp cumin seeds
7. 1/4 tbsp pepper corns
8. a sprig of curry leaves
9. 1/4 cup of tamarind pulp for a small grape sized piece of tamarind
10. salt to taste
11. coriander leaves for garnish

1. Cook the horsegram in 4-5 times the water in a pressure cooker for 10 whistles and let cool. (Horsegram takes a while to get soft. If not using a pressure cooker soak them for 3-4 hours before cooking)
2. In a pan heat a tsp of oil, saute the onions, garlic and when the onions are brown add the red chilies, coriander, cumin and curry leaves and let them turn color
3. Cool and blend to a slightly coarse paste
4. Mash the lentils coarsely (I use a hand blender) with a masher roughly using a blender
5. Add in the tamarind juice and let it boil for 5 minutes
6. Add salt, the ground paste and let cook for another 4-5 minutes
7. Add in chopped cilantro. (The consistency depends on your liking)

Taste best with rice and some ghee. Goes well with idlis or dosais too.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bisi Bele Bhath Spice Powder

The first thing that needs attention when I enter the house is the kitchen sink filled with dirty dishes. Once that is done the evening rush at home starts. Whatever help is available to make the dinner preparation is welcome.

One pot meals with rice and dal are the easiest and quickest. After lunch at the office one day got bisi bele bhath stuck in the head and just could not get it out. The good thing about bisi bele bhath is the rice, dal and the vegetables are all cooked to mush and there is no pressure to keep the rice shiny and separate.

The only involved process is making the powder. Making a slightly larger quantity makes another day's dinner faster. Roast and powder all the spices but the coconut for storage. Roast and powder the fresh grated or dried coconut just before making the rice.

I skipped all of the aromatic spices from the recipe to keep the flavors simple. Please free to add cloves, cardamom or cinnamon if you prefer.

the spices blended with the roasted coconut

Based on the recipe from Monsoon Spice

Bisi Bele Bhath Powder
1. 1 tbsp channa dal or Bengal Gram
2. 2 tbsp of Urad Dal
3. 15 dried red chilies
4. 1 tbsp coriander seeds
5. 2 tsp cumin seeds
6. 1/2 tbsp peppercorn
7. 1/4 cup washed and dried curry leaves
8. 1/4 tsp asfoetida
9. 2 tsp methi seeds
10. 1 tbsp of grated or frozen fresh coconut (one serving)
11. 5 cloves, 1 inch piece of cinnamon, 1-2 cardamom (optional)

1. Dry roast the channa dal first and set aside
2. Add the urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin, pepper corn, methi seeds and roast till they start to turn color
3. Roast the red chilies and asfoetida
4. Place the curry leaves in the microwave for 2-3 minutes or roast for a couple of minutes till they get crisp
Cool and make a coarse powder and store in an airtight container.

When you are making the rice,
5. Roast the coconut till it is nice and brown, cool powder and mix with the spice powder and use.

3-4 tbsp of the powder is required for 1 1/2 cups of rice and 1 cup of dal + 2 cups of vegetables.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Savory Muffins with Butternut Squash, Feta Cheese and Flax Seeds

I don't bake all that much but I gawk a lot at food blogs that bake I mean. It is much easier that way. No precise measurements, no oven temperatures to monitor, no rising or sinking to worry about. But it is the season, all this gawking gets to you and you are forced to give a few of them a try.

I have several bookmarked cookie recipes but I am not there just yet. Muffins on the other hand have not disappointed me yet. I caught sight of these savory muffins on 101 Cookbooks and they looked fantastic.

What impressed me most was the usage of butternut squash. I had one of them sitting on the kitchen counter that was harvested during the summer. Yes, squash, pumpkins and their like store for a long time in a cool dry place. Feta cheese was another winner and the big jar of flax seeds that needed to be used up. The recipe did not call for flax seeds but lot of you had mentioned that baking was a good way to use up the flax seeds and what better opportunity than these muffins.

ready for roasting

Let me warn you, if you are going to roast squash be sure to roast twice the amount. They were under constant threat before they went into the batter. Roasted squash is too tasty to resist.

muffins ready for the oven

Recipe Source: 101 Cookbooks
Muffins with Butternut squash, Feta Cheese and Flax Seeds
1. 2 cups of butternut squash
2. 2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
3. 1/2 cup of flax seeds powdered
4. 1 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp olive oil
5. 1 tbsp pepper (or to taste)
6. 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper
7. 1 - 1 1/4 cups of milk
8. 2 eggs
9. 2 tsp baking powder
10. 1 tsp salt or to taste
11. 1 cup of feta cheese
12. 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese

1. Peel and dice the squash, I made really small dice. Sprinkle them salt, olive oil, pepper(I used both cayenne and black pepper) and place on a cookie sheet in a sing layer and roast for 15 - 20 minutes till soft
2. Meanwhile sift the flour and baking soda
3. Whisk the eggs and add in half the milk butter and olive oil and whisk a bit more
4. Add half of the roasted squash (should be cool by now), Parmesan cheese, black pepper and cayenne pepper
5. Add the squash mixture to the eggs and add the flour a little by little and get it mixed into the liquid followed by the flax seed powder. Add more milk to get a moist batter.
6. Line the muffin tins, scoop in the batter, top with the roasted squash, feta cheese and bake for 20 minutes.

Perfect for a snack or a meal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Quick and Easy Mint Rice

15 years ago a few of our friends were visiting from Minneapolis. It was before America lost its naivete and terrorism was made an everyday word. I get nostalgic for those days once in a while. No long queues in the airports. Reach the airport a mere 5 minutes before the plane leaves and you still make it with plenty of time.

Just like now, it was a time when the Republican's were in control of the Congress and 'Contract with America' was in effect. President Clinton refused to blink when the Republicans threatened to shutdown the government and the Federal government went into shutdown.

This in no way stopped us from visiting DC and enjoying the sites. Around 8.00PM we slowly meandered towards the Capitol Hill. We were not asked for tickets, no patting down to check for God's knows what. Anyway after we finished our self-guided tour we wandered towards the Senate chambers. The guard posted there asked if we would like to witness Senator Dole who was the Senate majority leader at the time give a speech in the chambers. Of course we did. Besides a few spectators and a few more in the chambers there was hardly anyone. Open government at its best even when it was shutdown.

These days nobody gets to anywhere inside the Capitol Hill without a ticket and not a second after 4.00PM. Let that not stop you from visiting, it is one majestic symbol of a free country.

All this came into mind with a sense that those days are never going to come back when President Clinton took over the White House podium from the current one and held forth on a variety of subjects last Friday. I am not sure why the guy(I mean the current President) is called a great orator, his tongue seems to be stuck to his jaw and the umhs and aahs more pronounced than ever. Looks like someone who is in deep agony and his face shows he is not enjoying the job. Oh Well!

Now on to the recipe,
If you have mint or coriander handy this recipe takes exactly 15-20 minutes to put together. The abundance of mint from summer gets frozen and I always have mint handy during winter. One evening tired and hungry this recipe proved to be a life saver.

Set the rice to cook while the mint paste is getting done. I use an electric cooker to cook the rice so they are nice and separate.

Quick and Easy Mint Rice
1. 1 1/2 cups of Basmati rice cooked with a few drops of oil
2. 1 cup of mint leaves or coriander leaves
3. 1 cup onion sliced
4. 4 cloves of garlic + 1 inch piece of ginger
5. 6 green chilies or 4 red chilies (as per taste)
6. pulp from a small piece of tamarind 2 tbsp worth or a tomato
7. seasonings : 1/2 tbps split urad dal, curry leaves and cumin seeds
8. 1 -2 cups of green peas and corn kernels (any vegetable of choice can be used)
9. salt to taste
10. 2 tsp of oil

For the paste
1. I a pan heat a tsp of oil and add the ginger and garlic, let them saute for a few minutes, add in the chilies and saute for a minute more. Finally add the mint leaves and saute till they are nice and wilted. Cool and blend with the tamarind pulp to a slightly coarse paste.
2. In a wide mouthed pan heat the rest of the oil. Add in the seasonings first the urad dal when they turn color add the cumin and curry leaves, followed by the onions and saute till they turn translucent
3. Add in the peas and corn with salt and let them cook for a few minutes
4. Now add in the blended mint paste along with a 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water and let cook for 8-10 minutes. Check for salt. There should a little bit of moisture left when the rice is added
5. Now add in the cooked rice and mix it in well and let the rice heat through

Serve with raita and potato chips/sticks.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Flax Seed Idli Podi - III - Spiced flax and dal powder

What does one do when life (DH) hands you a bag of flax seeds more than you have ever seen in your life?

It was supposedly bought to make the onerous task of making the texture of oatmeal better. But oatmeal being oatmeal not much can be done who get it single and separate. So I have all of this flax seeds and not many recipes that come to mind. The only one that came to mind and I was capable doing quickly was Idli Podi.

The formula I usually use is 3 cups of dal to a cup of dried chilies. In this recipe, half a cup of flax seeds was substituted for one of the dal. Going by the end result a cup would not have been a bad idea. There is always a next time and no dearth of flax seeds.

What are the other recipes possible with flax seeds? Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Flax Seed Idli Podi
1. 1 cup of split white urad dal
2. 1 cup of split moong dal
3. 1/2 cup of horsegram (kollu)
4. 1/2 cup of flax seeds
5. 1 cup of red chilies
6. 1 cup of loosely packed curry leaves
7. a small piece of asfoetida
8. 2 tsp of salt

1. Roast the dal one by one till they start to turn a nice and golden brown
2. Roast the horse gram till they start to make the pat pat sound
3. In a very very low heat saute the flax seeds - in half a minute they star to bounce and fly so remove it quickly from the heat. If you are not careful you will have more flax seeds on the floor than in the pan
4. Toast the red chilies for a minute or two
5. Toast the curry leaves in the microwave till they are nice and crisp and all the moisture is completely gone
6. Toast the asfoetida and salt for a minute

Cool, and blend to a fine powder.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cocotte Eggs with mushrooms served with spiced cheese breadsticks

Who would have thought that volunteering in schools would be so exhausting. Well I am not the one exhausted this article in the NY times says there are moms who have burnt themselves out volunteering at their kids' schools. I have mixed feelings (guilt) about not being to volunteer for the field trips, holiday celebrations and what not that requires parents volunteer. I am eternally grateful to parents who infact do it.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against volunteering. In fact I appreciate everybody who takes the time to volunteer at their place of choice. I do like to volunteer but I do not bend over backwards to volunteer at my kids schools. I go every now and then maybe to put to rest my guilty conscience?

I console myself thinking how I would have felt having my mom turn up at school to help my teacher. Ugh! I would have hated it. One of the kids in DD's class whose mom seems to live in the school begs her mom not to be there on every field trip.

I have heard parents say how they rearrange their jobs to make it to their children's field trips and every other occasion that the school hosts. Laudable but one I would never attempt or even aspire to.

Do your regularly volunteer at your kids school? Do you like it?

Last weekend our usual weekend breakfasts - idli, dosai, upma did not sound all that exciting. I had bookmarked just the recipe for my egg loving family from Jacques Pepin, my favoritest TV chef.

If you are looking for a fancy holiday breakfast or brunch recipe you just have to give this a second look. The ramekins I had bought for making a recipe that still has not materialized proved to be very useful. If you watch the show Pepin uses a dish similar to a small cream jug but any small dish should work.

While you are getting the eggs ready hand over the making of the cheese bread sticks to the kids.

You will need a wide mouthed pan with lid large enough to place the ramekins to cook.

Based on the recipe by Jacques Pepin on the TV show More fast food my way.

Cocotte Eggs with Mushrooms
1. 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped mushrooms (I used cremini)
2. 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or white onions
3. 1/2 tbsp pepper (or to taste)
4. salt to taste
5. 2 - 3 tbsp of milk
6. 4 Eggs
7. 1 tsp of butter

1. Heat a pan with the butte and add the chopped onions and let them saute till they are brown.
2. Add in the chopped mushrooms and let it cook for 5-6 minutes.
3. Add the salt and pepper and let the mushroom cook completely
4. Add in the milk and turn off the heat.
5. Spoon in 2-3 tbsp of mushroom mixture (3-4 tbsp depending on the size of the dish)into the ramekins
6. Crack an egg on top of the mushrooms
7. Fill the pan with water just enough to submerge half the ramekin and let it come to a boil. Place the ramekins inside cover with a lid and let cook for 6-8 minutes or till the egg is cooked as much as you like.

Spiced Cheese breadsticks
1. 8-10 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread cut into sticks
2. 2 tbsp of parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper and cumin. Mix all three together
3. 1/2 tbsp of olive oil

1. Sprinkle some olive oil on a cookie sheet or toaster pan
2. Place the bread on it and sprinkle the cheese mixture
3. Set to toast for 4-5 minutes

Spiced Breadsticks with the eggs and mushrooms is ready for savoring.