Saturday, January 29, 2011

Karuvepillai thokku (Curry leaves relish)

The events unfolding in Egypt brings back memories of some of my best times. Not the events but the place. It has made me glued to the TV watching all the seemingly impossible events unfolding.

Besides India and US, Egypt is the only other country I had spent a considerable amount of time. It was also the first foreign country I ever visited and hence occupies a special place in my heart. It was the mid 90s and a carefree time. I always knew when I left Egypt I would have to find a job and become responsible and that life in general would catch up.

Remember fondly of the friendly people and being able to communicate without knowing a word of Arabic. Of course we visited all the historic places this is where my palate got adjusted to foods outside of those I knew at home.

Most Egyptians on the street stopped to ask about India and about Bollywood movies and Amitabh Bachaan in particular. The foods from the freshly roasted corn sold by street vendors, falafel, Koshary and Phool all made me feel right at home food wise.

The presence of armed guards on most tall buildings was enough to remind that the political system in the country was not quite that of India or US. The will of the people cannot be suppressed for long can it?. It is not wrong to ask for freedom of expression and speech is it?

My cousin visiting from Florida and he brought a lot of curry leaves. A friend of his has quiet a few trees in his backyard and he usually packs enough to last a long time. Fresh curry leaves are a delight when used for seasoning we all know that. We also know that curry leaves made into curry is tasty besides packing a nutrient punch.

Priya of Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes had just the right recipe for the curry leaves curry I was looking for.

Karuvepillai thokku
1. 2 -3 cups of curry leaves with stems removed
2. 1/2 cup of finely diced red onion
3. 6-8 garlic cloves halved
4. seasonings: Cumin and mustard seeds
5. 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil (use a much or less as you want. See Note)
6. 1 cup of raw peanuts
7. 1 tbsp jaggery
8. 1 cup of tamarind extract from a lime sized piece of tamarind (soak and extract the pulp)
9. 2 tsp rice - roast and powder (optional, I did not use it, see Notes)

For the Paste
1. 6 red chilies
2. 1 tsp toor dal
3. 2 tsp coriander seeds
4. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
5. 2 tsp pepper corn

Dry roast the above first the toor dal till it turns slightly brown keep aside. Roast the rest of the ingredients and set aside to cool. In the same pan roast the curry leaves for a minute or two. Blend the above to a smooth paste with the required amount of water.

1. Boil the raw peanuts and drain completely
2. In a wide mouthed pan (kadai) heat the oil and add the seasonings. Add the onions and saute till it turns slightly brown
3. Add the garlic and let it saute for a minute
4. Add in the tamarind pulp and let it come to a boil
5. Add in the curry leaves paste,salt and let it boil and thicken. Drizzle more sesame oil at this point
5. Add in the peanuts,jaggery and let it boil for 10 minutes more. If you used a couple of tbsp of oil you will see oil separating at this stage

Will stay for a few days without refrigeration.

Mix it with rice and this curry leaves thokku is irresistible with some crispy chips or vadagam.

1. Use a minimum of 2 tbsp of oil if you want to preserve the thokku for a longer time.
2. Cook down to remove all the moisture so it stays fresh longer
3. If the paste gets too watery add the roasted and powdered rice to thicken the sauce

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Green Beans and Corn Bhaat

When I asked on this blog post how important commute time was in taking up a job, most of you said it was very important.

Which stage in life you are plays a big part in the decision. If you are just starting out necessity trumps all other concerns. Commute time perhaps does not enter the equation.

My first job here without a car, with public transportation the only option made me leaving home around 4.30AM and reaching home close to 6.30PM. I learned to survive on Potato chips and Doritos as the cafeteria food for someone new in a foreign country just was not appetizing enough.

In this situation some thing's gotta give and it was homecooked meals. Breakfast was I guess some sugary stuff like doughnut, muffin or toast. I do not do cereal so that was out. No time to pack lunch and dinner was a rushed affair. The cycle repeated itself for the entire work week. Weekend was spent cooking 3-4 different curries to last the week but by mid-week even the sight of it was nauseating.

Luckily being in my 20s and at an age where even stones can be digested it did not matter or did it? For someone who had no worries gaining extra weight I was packing on extra flab without realizing it.

Commute time is relative. Americans some but not all, do not think too much of driving 100 miles to work and there are others for whom even a 10 mile commute is too much. If you live in a place like DC a 10 mile commute can easily become a 45 minute affair. DC now has the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic delays having wrestled that from LA. The point is, commute adds on frustration, road rage and an unhealthy life style.

I had 2 colleagues both Caucasians who were married to Asian women. Both mentioned that their FILs advised them on finding a good job and then finding a place close to it to live. Asian fathers know a thing or two about these things I assume. (Just saying, don't want to start a war like Amy Chua did with her essay) Maybe a generation ago people worked with one employer their entire life so it made sense finding that job and then buying the house. These days nobody has an employer for their entire work life.

In a housing market like now owning a home is a liability. It ties you down to a specific geographic location. On the other hand is owning a dream home worth being tied to a bad job. Tough call.

No surprises, that when I started to look for my next job commuting distance became the top most reason, so much so that I turned down interesting and better paying jobs to be closer to home. Even time does not dull those regrets I guess.

Once children get into the picture the whole equation changes. It was the go-go 90s and I found a job where I could work from home. To some it might sound as perfect work condition. Working in your PJs right after jumping out of bed might seem perfect. Reality is not so rosy. Working in your home requires loads of discipline and determination. Resisting the temptation to do the umpteen things that can done around the house which has nothing to do with work - like doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen or doing prep work for meals, put your leg up and watch TV or run quick errands for yourself or other members in the family.

The worst kind is requests from friends with same age kids as yours to babysit while you are supposedly working! Lots of people think that working from home means a free pay without actually having to work.

To be upfront with your employer about your situation at home is very important if you want to keep the job. While DD was tiny and still not ready for school I informed my employer that I would be working before 8.00AM and after 2.30PM and so during the day when they called me they were not surprised to hear baby noises in the background.

I won't downplay the benefits foremost of which is not spending countless hours in traffic. There are also many down sides to working completely at home. You are not clued in to the office politics, the best projects that come about, changing ownerships of the team and the camaraderie that comes with working in a real office.

Right now I work very close to home. I have time in the evenings to prepare meals, take the kids out to their activities, enjoy some down time, watch TV, pursue my interests, exercise, relax, blog :) Is it the best job in the world? NO. But the benefits far out weigh having a perfect job. Compromise is the name of the game. In the end it is after all a job and it is important not to drop the ball on the other more meaningful things in life.

Not to forget even having choices is a great thing while there are many for are not that fortunate.

So in summary what are the conclusions?

1.Everyone's situation is different. Family situation, lifestyle, commitments all play a role in making a decision.
2.Increase in commute time is indirectly proportional to the time available for other pursuits. Commute time also takes away from time that could be spent on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes preparing healthy meals.
3.An altered and possibly bad lifestyle might be the burden of a longer commute.
4.Dream home or dream job?
5.Not all have the choice.

I am always on the look out for recipes that are quick, gives an opportunity to use stuff from the pantry or fridge. When I come across one of those I do not let it go without giving it a try. I came across one such recipe on Masala Magic for Tendli Bhaat. Having no tendli cannot be a reason for not giving it a try. So green beans and corn were substituted. The Double beans pulav that I had tried once before from Masala Magic has become a go to recipe for what to cook days.

Green Beans and Corn Bhaat
1. 2 cups of green beans cut to 1 inch pieces
2. 1/2 cup of corn (I used frozen corn)
3. 1 1/2 cups of sliced oniones
4. 1/2 tbsp of grated ginger + 3-4 garlic cloves minced
5. 3-4 slit green chilies
6. 1 tsp red chili powder (or to taste) + 1 tsp turmeric powder
7. 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
8 1 tsp cumin powder
9. 1/2 tbsp chicken masala powder (original recipe calls for goda masala)
10. 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon, 2 cloves powdered
11. 2 bay leaves + 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
12. salt to taste + 2 tsp oil
13. 2 cups of rice (I used a small grain raw rice, Basmati can be used)
14. 1 tsp of ghee
1. Wash and soak the rice
2.In a pressure cooker heat oil add the bay leaves and cumin seeds and powdered whole spices(from 10 above), followed by the onions and green chilies, saute till it turns translucent
3.Add in the ginger and garlic and let it cook till the raw smell leaves
4.Add all the powders and let give a good mix
5. Add in the green beans and corn and salt and 1/4 cup of water and let it cook for 5-6 minutes
6. Add in the rice and mix into the masala well. Add the required amount of water and let it come to a boil and let it cook till the rice is half cooked. Add in the ghee
7. Place the lid with weight on and cook for 7-8 more minutes and turn off the heat. Do not wait for the whistle

Serve with raita and chips.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Persian Bean Soup aka New Year Noodle Soup

Cold winter nights call for soups that are hearty, hot and spicy. Soups are also no fuss and quite easy to make. Noodle soups especially make perfect one pot meals. From being someone who thought soups were boring and blah, have come a long way to actually enjoying them and looking for new recipes.

I saw this recipe for a soup called New Year Noodle Soup on and it was perfect.

Do you think it is weird that I think of what to cook for dinner while driving to work in the morning? That is what I did last Friday remembering the recipe that I had seen a few days earlier. Called home to catch DH and gave instructions to soak chick peas and small white beans. I can't for the life of me figure out how white beans can sound like fava beans. Anyway I come home to find chick peas and fava beans (the fava beans that I thought was over and done with) soaking. I suppress the urge to shout and instead try sounding out white beans and fava beans to find how one can be mistaken for the other.

I had initially thought of skipping the lentils from the recipe altogether but since there was no white beans I decided to add them which was perhaps the best part. The lentils gave heartiness and lots of flavor. I used puy lentils but whole massor or any other lentil would work fine.

1. 3/4 cup chickpeas soaked for 4-8 hours
2. 3/4 cup Puy Lentils
3. 1 1/2 cups of onions sliced
4. 1 bag baby spinach about 2 cups packed washed and cut into fine ribbons
5. 1/4 chopped cilantro
6. soba noodles as required
7. 2 -3 cups of stock or water (I used chicken stock)
8. 2 green chilies chopped
9. 1 tsp cumin powder + 1 tsp turmeric powder
10. 1/2 tbsp black pepper (or to taste)
11. 2 tsp red chili powder
12. 1 tsp sugar
13. lemon juice
14. salt to taste
15. 1 tbsp olive oil
16. 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed and minced

1. Cook the chickpeas and lentils till soft (not mushy) and set aside
2. In a sauce pan heat oil and saute the onions till it starts to brown. Set some of the onions aside
3. Add the chopped green chili and saute for a minute
4. Add in the turmeric, cumin, chili and pepper powder and saute for a minute more
5. Add in the stock and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile set the water to cook the soba noodles. Sprinkle sugar on the saved sauteed onions and let them roast in the oven for a few minutes till caramelized.
6. Add in the cooked chickpeas and lentils
7. Let it come to a boil and cook for 10 more minutes
8. Add in the chopped spinach and cilantro, salt, a squeeze of lemon
9. When the soup has simmered for about 20 minutes, add in the partially cooked soba noodles and cook for a couple of more minutes

Serve hot with some olive oil, cream or butter on top along with the caramelized onions.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Simple Lunches - 24 (Beans Kootu with Moong Dal)

The heart feels heavy. The shooting rampage of last Saturday is heavy on my mind with feelings ranging from sadness, anger to helplessness.

I would so like to lay the responsibility for this on Sarah Palin's feet. She has a big mouth and would probably talk anything to get a few popularity points. She and her other shouting, screaming, frothing Talk Show friends, all of them. They have lowered the civility and intelligence of the civil discourse and though they claim to have America's best interest at heart, sorry it is only their self interest that they care about most. So I am no way feeling sorry for the heat they are getting. But to lay the blame on them is perhaps a stretch.

It is rather sad that besides a few editorials nobody is talking about the root cause of most of these mass killing and shootings. Namely the predominant gun culture and the power and might of the NRA in making it almost impossible for meaningful gun control laws. Palin is an easy scapegoat but I would not say she does not deserve it. It is a perfectly easy way to gloss over the real problem. In most societies disagreements are settled with a few scuffles or loud words. But not here, we exercise our second amendment right.

None of the sad episodes would have happened if the access to guns are restricted like they are in other civil societies. The second amendment was written at a different time and age and to hide behind that is a shame.

I am shocked every time I witness the extent to which guns are woven into this culture.

I was speechless when I learned that for less than $100 I could be armed and dangerous. Almost too easy. It is much easier than admitting your child to a school.

Every time a mind numbing gun violence happens the country goes through a period of soul searching. We debate about civility, being good to our neighbors and those with views different than ours, the mental health system and the lack of access, but always a deafening silence about the ready access to weapons.

Come on, this is a country where a sitting Vice President shot someone thinking he was a duck and never found the need to report it until someone else did.

I live in perhaps one of the most liberal counties in the country and you'd think things would be different here. Nope. This obsession with all things guns starts at an early age. From toy guns kids graduate to real ones by middle school I suppose. I was at DD's school on a Saturday volunteering as a Math tutor. I was tutoring 2 boys and they were paying attention and learning. That is until another boy(the son of the organizer) walks in with a gun catalog. In less than a nano second my tutees had jumped out of their seat and were near the catalog.

Seeing a gun catalog brought to school was itself a shock to my system and then the Principal of the school walks past and sees the boys involved in the discussion of the merits of each model and she never baits an eyelid! I expected her to do something. She did not. Maybe it was not in her job description. The whole thing bothered me enough.

DH warns me every time I honk at someone on the road I am in danger of having my head glown off. Yes! my friends road rage is another popular reason to use the weapon.

Now that one of their own is a victim maybe Congress will wake up and get its act together and do something about it. Australia did it Scotland it but then again not so fast, this is America we are talking about.

None of the violent incidents - Columbine, VA tech and Tuscon would have happened if owning guns were illegal like it is in most parts of the world. You'd think any sane person would see the connection.

Talk about gun control and you are sure to be branded a whacko. No wonder no politician would not even touch the issue with a 10 feet pole.

Let's move on to the recipe now that I feel a little lighter.
I fall back on kootu when I have had enough of sambhar for the week. The recipe I follow is a standard one that I learned from my mother. The spice paste is simple and is made while the dal is getting cooked and the whole process takes less than 1/2 hour.

I saw this recipe for kootu on Akshayapaatram where the spice mixture is different from mine. I tend to use green beans, cabbage and occasionally squash when I make kootu. Any of those vegetables or brussels sprouts like Priya has done in the recipe should all work.

1. 1 cup of split moong dal
2. 1-2 cups of finely chopped green beans
3. 1 tsp turmeric powder
4. 3 green chilies slit
5. seasonings: curry leaves, mustard and cumin seeds
6. jaggery (optional, I did not use it)
7. salt to taste + 1 tsp oil

Spice Powder
1. 1 tbsp urad dal
2. 1 tsp channa dal
3. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
4. 1 tsp cumin seeds
5. 1/2 tbsp peppercorns
6. 3 red chilies
7. 1 sprig curry leaves
8. 1 tbsp grated coconut (I used frozen and thawed)

1. Roast the chana dal and when it starts to turn color add the urad dal roast for a minute and then followed by the coriander, cumin and peppercorns and red chilies. When the chilies get a slightly black tinge remove from heat
2.Now add the curry leaves and coconut and roast them on low flame till the coconut turns brown
3. Cool and powder in a blender without using water

1. Pressure cook the moong dal with excess water with the beans with the turmeric powder and a drop of oil till mushy
2. Dissolve the spice powder in about 1/2 cup of water and add it to the dal and let it cook on low flame for 8-10 minutes
3. Meanwhile heat a tsp of oil or ghee in a small pan and add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to pop pour it over the dal
4. Add salt and the jaggery if doing and turn off the heat in a couple of minutes

Goes well with rice or chapati

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Javvarisi Upma (Tapioca pearls Stir Fry) Sabudana Khichdi

The first time I saw upma made with tapioca pearls I was surprised because in my mind at least it was reserved as a dessert ingredient.

Tapioca pearls are easy to deal with when they are used in say a payasam or a pudding but in something like an upma they have to be separate and not be mushed together. This is going to happen only after a few mishaps. So be prepared.

One of my co-workers is a Gujarati and lives with her in-laws. She seems to be fasting a few times a week - for someones who does not fast at all it seems an awful lot. Sabudana Khichdi as she calls it is a fasting food, so she brings this often for lunch and after tasting a few time asked her for the recipe. The part I failed to listen or she failed to mention was the time to soak the tapioca and the amount of water to use in the soaking. I would consider this to be the most important step in this whole recipe.

On my first attempt I soaked the tapioca pearls in twice the amount of water and almost let it sit overnight. Yes exactly! It was a disaster and the resulting mush would have been great for starching clothes. Alas! I did not have the need.

I asked again and did some googling and got the general idea.

Before moving on to the recipe I have a question for all of you readers.
When looking for a job or changing job how much importance would commute time have in making the decision? Let me know.

Javvarisi Upma - Tapioca Pearls Stir Fry
1. 2 Cups of tapioca pearls
2. 1 Potato chopped fine about 1/4 - 1/2 cup
3. 3 tbsp of roasted peanuts
4. 2 red chilies broken and seeds removed
5. 2 tsp red chili powder
6. 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice
7. seasonings - curry leaves, mustard seeds and cumin seeds
8. salt to taste
9. 2 tsp of oil
10. coriander leaves

1. Soak the tapioca pearls in 2 cups of water for about 2 hours and drain out the excess water. The tapioca pearls were still not translucent at this point. So I brought another 2 cups of water to boil and put the pearls into it and let it sit for 15-20 minutes and drain the water completely and set aside
2. In a pan heat the oil and add the seasonings followed by the red chilies
3. Add the potatoes 1 tbsp of water and let it cook but not too soft
4. Now add the peanuts and chili powder and give it a good mix
5. Add the tapioca pearls and mix it well
6. Add the lemon juice, coriander leaves and salt
7. Cover the pan and in very low flame let it remain in the heat for 4-5 minutes
8. Switch off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before opening the lid and fluffing it up.

Great for breakfast or even as a snack.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pistachio and Cardamom Cookies

Did you all have a good New Year's celebration? Made your resolutions? As for this blog, read on.

When I wish family and friends "A Very Happy Prosperous New Year" it seems a bit contradictory sometimes. I am sure you are wondering if I have come down with something. Bear with me as I explain myself.

Prosperity is a loaded term. But what exactly does prosperous mean? Does having a lot money mean prosperity or is it something else altogether? Let's just take the literal meaning good fortune. To prosper you have to work hard, very hard actually unless you were Paris Hilton and bequeathed with a lot of fortune.

Yes, US is supposedly a prosperous country. I am not really sure if that is a true statement anymore with all the borrowing and debt. Though it is certain that this prosperity has come at a huge cost. I personally feel this and I bet so are many others who are taking on more and more load hoping for that promotion or the big bonus.

Americans work some of the longest hours in the Western World while enjoying some of the fewest vacation days. Modern gadgets have tethered the American worker to his job even more. Add to this the hours spent on the road , the work day easily stretches to 10 hours or more.

Does earning more translate to more happiness. Apparently not. Research says that happiness peaks at $75,000 annual income. More apparently does not necessarily mean more happiness. If all the sacrifices made to achieve more is added into the mix I am not sure where the happiness index will stand.

What is lost in all this rush to make more and buy more is quality of life. We spend fewer hours doing things that really does bring happiness.

This year I am hoping to explore those issues that directly or indirectly affect quality of life, perhaps using the goings on in my life.

It is perhaps time for the government to step in and do something but that is never going to happen not in this country. Working long hours will somehow be linked to freedom and god given right and democracy. Read this article though - Less Work, More Life.

I had promised to make cookies for the kids over the holidays and had bookmarked a recipe in the Washington Post. I have not achieved 100% success with baking in all these years. This recipe is no different. I also know with butter, sugar and flour there is not much that can go wrong with the taste. While baking cookies especially shaping each one to be the same size matters a lot and also using the correct baking sheet and rack position in the oven also matters.

Don't go by the looks, these cookies are very tasty and very addictive, so for the bakers out there, this recipe might do wonders in your hands so give it a go.

The original recipe is vegan. I substituted the butter substitute with butter and almond milk with regular milk.

Recipe Source: Pistachio and Cardamom Cookies

Pistachio and Cardamom Cookies
1. 2 2/3 Cups Unbleached all purpose Flour
2. 1/2 cup raw sugar (run through a blender once, I did not do it) + 1/4 cup honey
3. 2 tsp crushed roasted unsalted pistachio
4. 1/4 cup milk
5. 2 cups butter
6. 1 tsp vanilla extract
7. 1 tsp lemon zest
8. 2 tsp powdered cardamom

1. Beat the sugar with the butter for 3-4 minutes till nice and smooth (DD2 beat for at least twice that amount of time) Add the vanilla and beat for a minute more
2. Stir in the lemon zest, milk and pistachios and gently mix it in to the butter mixture
3. Sift the flour, add the cardamom and slowly add it to the butter mixture, gently mixing it in with a spatula to form a soft dough
4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I chilled it for 4 hours
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place a tbsp of dough an inch apart, makes approximately 40 and gently flatten the dough with hand.
7. Place the cookie sheet in the top most rack and bake for 13-15 minutes in batches
8. Leave it in cookie sheet for another 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool

Buttery and soft, these cookies were tasty and delicious.