Thursday, March 31, 2011

Indian style multicolored Bell Pepper fried rice

Yesterday dawned like every other day for me here in North America. While a continent or two away a billion people in my motherland were brimming with optimism, hope and nail biting tension. I started the day as usual in a rush doing this and that without any of the tension. The radio came on as I got in the car to drive DD to the bus stop(we don't want to be late for that one). Just as I was turning to head to the office interview Steve Inskeep's interview with Mukul Kesavan about the India Pakistan World Cup Semifinal (Cricket)came on surprising and jolting a bit. India has definitely arrived in the World scene if NPR is talking about or was it was the Indo Pak rivalry that got them interested. Whatever, it reminded me of something I would have missed otherwise. If anyone is interested in the article in the Economic Times of India. It is here. A good interesting read.

As it dawned on me that I had slept through an important part of history I turned around and headed home to watch what was left of the Indian innings(gone are the days when we paid hundered of dollars to watch live cricket matches we watch them free now) needless to say the Indian team which was playing well till then got themselves into a rut but finished IMO at least with a fighting total.

Then life interevened and I had to head to the office. My office is a tiny extension of the state of Andhra, there are more people from Andhra than from the country in which the office is situtated. So watching of the match continued with everybody passing checking on the status of the match.

In the evening in the middle of my chauffering duties I hear again on NPR a piece about the historic cricket match and India defeating Pakistan. A twinge of pride swells inside and a tiny bit of sadness at not being able to breathe that air and be part of the excitement. Yes I do listen to a lot of NPR!!

NPR even had a blog article on Tendulkar missing his 100th 100.

Having expended all that energy is there any left for the World Cup Finals on Saturday? I agree with Mukul Kesavan the writer of the Economic Times article, Indo Pak matches are exhausting. No it will not stop me from watching the game on Saturday. How about you guys?

Now on to the recipe, the colorful bell pepper being put to good use in this Indian style fried rice. Very very simple but flavorful rice. If you have some cooked white/brown rice leftover even faster.

Bell Pepper fried rice
1. 2 Cups of Basmati Rice (cooked with 2 tsp of oil, I use 1 : 1.5, rice:water)
2. 4 Medium sized bell peppers sliced thin, core removed
3. 1 Medium sized onion (2 cups) sliced thin
4. seasoning: fennel seeds
5. Salt to taste
6. 1/4 cup roasted peanuts coarsely powdered

Spice Powder
1. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
2. 1 tsp cumin seeds
3. 1 tbsp urad dal
4. 3 red chilies
5. 2 cloves
6. a small piece of cinnamon
7. optional 1/2 tbsp dried coconut flakes (I did not add any)
8. 2 tsp of oil + 2 tsp of sesame oil or ghee

Dry roast the above till they turn slightly brown. I brown the urad dal first and the rest together. Cool and blend to a fine powder

1. Cook the rice fluff it up and let it cool a bit
2. In a fairly big sized kadai heat 2 tsp of oil, add the fennel seeds followed by the sliced onions, let them turn slightly brown
3. Add the sliced bell pepper and cook till they are soft and still have some crunch
4. Add the spiced and mix well and saute for a minute or two
5. Add in the rice and mix it into spice mixture.
6. Sprinkle more salt and add the sesame oil and mix it into the rice
7. Add the peanut powder and mix it gently

Ready to be served with some vegetable chips.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cornmeal Dosai (Cornmeal crepes)

The very mention of dosais brings to mind a lot of hard work and worries about fermenting and sticking to the pan while cooking. Leave alone non-Indians it is surprising how many of my North Indian friends request Idli or dosai and sambhar /coconut chutney when they visit.

Idlis are a category unto themselves causing challenges even to the most experienced cooks. Dosais on the other hand in addition to bringing out the creativity of the cook can also provide opportunity for some tasty variation with ingredients that are commonly available.

Red Chillies has been running the dosa series for a couple of weeks now and it is a tasty collection of dosais with some amazing array of ingredients. The one that called to me was the Corn Meal Dosai. With all kinds of corn meal readily available having a recipe that works would be a blessing for a quick meal.

I made a few modifications skipping rice flour in favor of wheat flour. It was one excellent dosai going by the number each one wanted and also the speed they were disappearing as they come off the stove. I initially had the batter a bit too thick and the dosais were not lacy. I added a lot more water to have a very thin batter and that seemed to be the right consistency. Keep in mind the consistency of rava dosai. There is no fermentation required so the dosai is ready to be made as soon as the batter is mixed.

I follow my mom's way of adding crushed/blended chilies, curry leaves, cumin, ginger and coriander leaves instead of adding them chopped. The amazing aroma this blended mixture adds to the dosai is another plus.

Cornmeal Dosai
1. 1 Cup stone ground Cornmeal
2. 1/4 Cup Cream of Wheat
3. 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
4. 1 tsp turmeric powder
5. 3 green chilies
6. handful of chopped coriander leaves
7. 2 sprigs of curry leaves
8. 2 tsp of grated ginger
9. 1 tsp cumin seeds
10. salt to taste
11. 2-3 tbsp of yogurt whisked with 1/2 cup of water(this is optional and use as much or less as you want)

1. Blend green chilies, coriander leaves, curry leaves, cumin, grated ginger with a tsp of salt and set aside
2. Whisk together cornmeal, cream of wheat and wheat flour with turmeric and yogurt
3. Add in the blended mixture, 2 cups of water and salt if required. The batter should be very loose
4. Set aside for 30 minutes. No fermentation is required of course
5. Heat the dosai pan or griddle and pour the batter (it is not spreadable) around to form a lace pattern
6. Spray or add oil to the edges and let it cook on one side. Flip and cook on the other side

Serve with chutney of choice. Recipes for chutney here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quick and easy (dried) Green Peas curry

A cousin of DH's is running for election through an organization which is engaged in routing corruption in India. We all fervently hope for the success of these candidates and applaud what they are attempting to do. Looking at what they confront in the form of the current ruling party and the main opposition party the task of winning in my absolutely corrupt home state seems like an uphill task.

While surfing the depths of the WWW I hit upon a news channel from my home state. The news caster read that the CM has announced laptops for college students and free bus passes for senior citizens. Not to be left out the opposition party leader announces freebies for women voters in the form of mixies(blender) and grinders. If the news reader did not have a serious face I would have assumed it was a joke. In spite of the treasury being wiped out and on the other hand the personal net worth of these so called civil servants reaching astronomical heights people are reluctant to choose the right candidates in elections.

Let us all wish the candidates who are hoping to make a difference best of luck and success in their pursuit of good.

Now on to the recipe, a simple and easy one and if you make extra it freezes beautifully for the latter part of the week. There is nothing fancy or special about this curry just requires some premade masala powder.

Dried Green Peas Curry
1. 2 Cups of dried green peas soaked overnight
2. 1/2 cups of finely onions (1 red onion)
3. 4 garlic cloves sliced
4. 1 tbsp of grated ginger
5. 1 tbsp of masala powder
6. 3 green chilies slit (or 2 tsp chili powder)
7. handful of chopped coriander leaves
8. 1 cup of finely chopped tomatoes
9. seasoning: cumin seeds, curry leaves
10. salt to taste
11. 1 tsp of oil

1. In a pressure cooker heat oil and add the seasonings followed by the onions and garlic
2. When the onions get brown add the ginger and saute for a minute
3. Add the soaked green peas,green chilies and saute for a few more minutes
4. Add masala powder and chili powder saute, followed by the chopped tomatoes and 2 1/2 cups of water
5. Add the salt and let the water come to a boil
6. Put the weight on and cook for one whistle (cooking longer will make the peas mushy)

Serve with rice or rotis.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Corn Bread with Cottage Cheese

In India, back when I was in college if you got yourself a non-Science/Math degree your chances for employment were considered very dim. You might mutter to yourself it is the same Science/Math degree that has made you an immigrant in another country! I am not sure if math and science education has the same elevated status back in India today but from what I hear and read job opportunities for the other side are just as plenty.

In the US on the other hand, there was never an over emphasis on science or math education, arts and humanities had equal opportunities in the job market. This was till globalization took over and suddenly everyone is worried about STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics) education and US kids not being educated enough. Steps are taken to get kids interested in math and science education at an early age.

While Asians here in the US are generally good in math, science and technologies, their inadequacies come through when they have to creatively present something. Their lack of education in the creative arts puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Put more bluntly their presentation and creative skills just doesn't cut it. Like everything there are always exceptions but I am talking about the majority.

The same me that had the tendency to go ballistic if DD comes home with bad grades in Math would just let the same bad grades in Reading/Writing slide. This was till I realized that the key to success lies not only in a good Math and Science education but also being educated in creative writing and expression. These skills are every bit as essential for success.

That said would I pay those exhorbitant fees for my kids to get themselves a nice liberal arts education sheared off any technical education? Probably not.

What do the two tech giants of our times have to say on the matter?
Bill Gates believes college students should be encouraged to enter “well-correlated to areas that actually produce jobs.”

Steve Jobs has this to say “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”

What do you all think? What type of education is important?

As for the recipes today, I would like to talk about corn bread again because it so versatile and lends itself to a lot of variations. I had some cottage cheese on hand and decided to add that in and they made the muffins moist and creamy.

Corn bread is a go to recipe for breakfast during weekends. Takes less than 15 minutes to put together, baking time not included. The recipe for Sweet or savory is here.

I added the cottage cheese into the batter after the wet and dry ingredients were mixed together.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aloo Matar Sabzi - Potato Peas Gravy (Potatoes, Peas, et al in an onion- tomato-coconut gravy)

There is so much going on around the world that for once I have nothing to say. Will stick to food and the comfort that brings.

Potatoes get a bad rap as being too starchy, carb overloaded, fatty and every other bad book you can throw at it. But it reigns supreme in my kitchen and is everybody's favorite in our house. It adapts itself beautifully boiled, steamed, roasted, curried, gravied whatever. As long as it is not double deep fried and ends up as a French Fry there is nothing really to complain about. This is the first real vegetable I learnt to cook as a youngster.

My office lunch room is no different. Potatoes take up different tasty avataars and there is not much I can do to keep away. This aloo matar recipe which I hear is a Punjabi classic took a detour to Andhra added on some more delicious characteristics and morphed into this delicious gravy. Perfect as a side for any kind of Indian flatbread.

I had some leftover soaked navy beans which was added to the mix. I usually saute the garlic before blending but you could blend them raw as well.

Aloo Matar (Potatoes, Peas in a tomato-onion-coconut gravy)
1. 4 medium sized potoes (3 cups more or less) peeled and cubed
2. 1 cup of peas
3. 1 cup of navy beans soaked overnight and precooked for about 8-10 minutes (optional)
4. 1 large red onion (1 1/2 cups) onion chopped fine
5. 4 tomatoes (1 cup) chopped fine
6. 2-3 tbsp of coconut
7. 5 cloves of garlic
8. 1 inch piece of ginger
9. 2 tsp red chili powder
10. 1/2 tbsp Kashmiri chili powder
11. handful of chopped coriander leaves
12. 1/2 tbsp of masala powder (I added Kitchen King chicken masala powder)
13. 1 tsp cumin powder
14. salt to taste
15. seasonings: fennel seeds and cumin seeds
16. 2-3 tsp turmeric powder

1. In a pressure cooker/pan heat a tsp of oil. Season with fennel seeds.
2. Add whole garlic cloves and saute for a minute or two and fish them out and blend it along with ginger, coconut, cumin powder and the masala powder to a fairly smooth paste and set aside
3. To the oil in the pressure pan add the onions and saute till they are nice and brown
4. Add the chili powders and turmeric powder and give a good mix
5. Add in the cubed potatoes and the navy beans and saute for 3-4 minutes
6. Add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook till they are mushy
7. Add the blended paste, about 2 cups of water, peas and chopped coriander, salt
8. Close the presssure cooker and put the weight on. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or till the first whistle whichever comes first

Delicious with rotis or parathas. The aroma is what gets to you first.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wheat and Millet(Ragi flour) Pancake with blueberry sauce

If you consider cereal, muffins(store bought) and doughnuts to be too sweet, sugary and over processed, breakfast becomes a huge task. There is only so many days you can make kids eat oatmeal without having them protest. I am not a fan of frozen pancakes and waffles either. Sorry if I sound annoying. I am eager and open to breakfast suggestions that you follow and works for your family.

Bagels, Cereal, Oatmeal, bread w/egg and pancakes make up the week day breakfast routine not necessarily in that order but it seems to work. I like to follow Michael Pollan's rule "Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce" which he explains in his book the Omnivore's Dilemma - as much as possible while buying prepackaged food.

I don't always stick to the rule 100% of the time but give a good solid try. Bob's Red Mill pancake mixes work best with very minimal ingredients and mostly ingredients that I know.

If you have a pancake mix handy making millet pancakes is quick and easy. I mix equal parts whole wheat pancake mix and ragi flour for some fluffy and good tasting pancakes.

Wheat and Millet Pancake
1. 1 Cup of Whole Wheat pancake mix (any pancake mix would work)
2. 1 Cup Ragi flour
3. 1/2 cup of fat free milk + water as required

Whisk together all of the ingredients to make pancake batter with the required consistency.

1. Heat a pan, spray oil. Pour a laddle of batter cook on one side, flip and cook on the other side till golden brown spots start to appear.

Blueberry sauce
1. 1 Cup of fresh or frozen blueberries
2. 1/2 - 1 tbsp sugar

1. In a saucepan combine sugar and blueberries and cover cooked for 5-8 minutes till soft. Mash it with a back of the spoon

Spoon over pancakes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Last minute Chocolate Cake Revisited

Heart feels heavy and I am sure most of you all feel the same way too. Humbled by the ferocity of what nature can do.

The kids wanted cake any cake, this cake came to the rescue appropriately named 'last minute chocolate cake'. The original recipe is from Ruth Reichl's book. Almost the texture of a brownie with a very chocolatey but not too sweet taste.

Elaborate recipe is here. I added chopped walnuts and skipped the orange juice. Raisins or currants would be a good addition too.

Takes less than 20 minutes to do the prep work. Bake and voila, cake is ready in an hour.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mixed Vegetable Pickle

When I was little (it was a long time ago) my parents need not have worried about me following strangers who offered candies but they sure should have been afraid of strangers offering pickles. Anyone could have offered a spicy piece of any pickle and I would have gladly followed them wherever. Fortunately nothing like that happened.

The spicy/salty stuff that was sold in front of the schools which had a millions of flies on them? Of course I tasted every single one of them even though I was repeatedly warned against not doing so. Oh they tasted so very good.

Strangers and candies reminds me of an incident with DD, DD2 and their cousins. In front of my in-laws house is a big park with path for walking and a small play area for children. It is a busy park with early morning and late evening walkers. The kids run there to play most evenings and on one such outing came home with candies clutched in their palms. One thatha (grandpa) (in India everyone is a grandpa or uncle based on their ages) had given them each a mango candy. DD at 10 the oldest in the group had a lot to answer. Hopefully they learned a lesson that day from seeing the adults a little frustrated that all the lessons had come to a naught. DD is ashamed every time I bring up story as a sample when she is frustrated that I am overemphasizing a point.

Anyway all this talk because once I see a pickle there is not much self control left in me. The minute no make that the second I saw Anita's Gobhi Gajar ka achaar post I knew I was going to make it. I had some good carrots and a cauliflower and a weekend after a very long time free to do whatever I pleased. The end result was this tasty pickle. I did not have mustard oil and was not keen on using my old white vinegar and not in a mood to rush to the store. So I changed the recipe around to suit the ingredients I had on hand. Cook the vegetables the previous night and don't be hesitant to use the toaster oven to dry them out.

Mixed Vegetable Pickle
1. 1 small or medium sized cauliflower florets separated
2. 2 small carrots peels and cut into 1-2 inches long
3. 1/2 cup garlic peeled and sliced if too big
4. 1/4 cup ginger cut into match sticks of 1-2 inches long
5. 1/4 cup green chilies slit
6. Juice for 6 medium sized lemons a good 1/2 -3/4 cup worth of juice
7. 2 tbsp of red chili powder + 1 tbsp kashmiri chili powder
8. 1/2 - 1 tbsp cane sugar
9. 1 1/2 cup of sesame oil
10. 1 tsp mustard seeds
11. 1/4 tsp methi seeds
12. salt to taste

1. Boil water in a pot. Add the vegetables and blanch for 2 minutes drain and spread them out on towels and let them dry overnight
2. The next day there were still a little wet but not wanting to postpone the pickle making I dried them out in a toaster oven. First let them sit in the toaster at the lowest possible heat setting for 3-4 minutes and then in the broil setting for 2 minutes. Make sure they go in the oven in batches in a single layer
3. Heat the oil in a pan and when it is hot add in the garlic, ginger and green chilies and let them cook for 2-3 minutes. Add in the cauliflower and carrots and let them cook for another 3-4 minutes
4. Now add in the lemon juice and let it come to a boil about 5-6 minutes
5. In the meantime heat the mustard and methi seeds and make a slightly coarse powder
6. Add salt, chili powder and the jaggery and give a good mix. Sprinkle the mustard methi powder and turn off the heat

7. Cool and store

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tomato Cholam Ragi Dosai (Tomato Millet Dosai)

In the food world we differentiate ourselves usually by the kinds of food we eat. Vegetarians, non-Vegetarians, flexitarians, Vegans and many many flavors of vegetarians ones who eat diary and the ones who don't, the ones who eat seafood and the ones who don't etc.

I/We are flexitarian, most Indians I know back home who fall into the category of non-vegetarian are generally flexitarian meaning they eat predominantly a vegetable based diet and also eat chicken, fish, lamb or goat occasionally. The meat in the diet is usually once a week or once in two weeks. Eggs are included in the diet regularly to supplement the protein intake.

My family includes both Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarians. My mother's side of the family does not eat meat of any form not even egg but include diary in the diet. My father's side on the other hand were/are non-vegetarians. My mother occasionally ate meat but now she has switched back to eating only plant based food. My aunt on the other hand has stuck to the ways of her parents and does not eat touch even eggs though she regularly cooks non-vegetarian fare.

As a movement Veganism has done a lot to increase the awareness of sticking to a vegetarian diet and the benefits of doing so. Vegetarian food encompasses all food groups that are essential as per the food pyramid. There is absolutely no need to depend on animal products. I know this for a fact but I don't see the need to switch to being vegan because I still enjoy chicken, fish and all that good stuff.

Even with all these plus points there is something that bothers me about the vegan food movement. It has increased our consumption of over processed food all in the name of sticking to a vegan diet. Read Mark Bittman's article here. If you have given up eating meat products why is there is a need to go looking for a fake meat products? The same applies for products made with soy which to the meat eater turned vegan gives the pleasure of tasting something similar in texture and taste. If you given up including diary products why is there a need to go looking for fake butter?

I particularly don't care what a vegan is eating or not eating but I abhor the rise in over processed so called vegan foods which is most cases are harmful to the environment and health than just eating the real thing. I am particularly alarmed at the variation of soy products that seem to pack the food aisles whose claim to fame is that they are all vegan products.

A lot of vegan food blogs also promote these over processed foods as substitutes for meat products. I know I am stepping into a mine field when I am talking about vegan and vegan substitutes. I needed to talk about this because vegan does not necessarily mean a healthier life style!

If you are practicing vegan and still reading and not fuming please give your perspective on these so called vegan processed foods.

Now onto this truly vegan recipe which uses whole grains. Did you know coconut oil is making a comeback as an alternative baking. Read this article in the NY Times,
From Villain to Health Food.

I usually make chola dosai using this recipe. I changed this around a little bit added ragi to the mix increased the amount of urad dal and like this recipe better. There is no need to ferment the batter just soak the grains over night.

Tomato Cholam Ragi Dosai
1. 1 Cup Cholam (Pearl Millet)
2. 1 Cup Ragi (Finger Millet)
3. 1 Cup whole urad dal
4. 2 tomatoes
5. 1 tsp cumin + 1 tsp pepper corn + 1 small piece of asfoetida + 4 red chilies + handful of curry leaves
6. salt to taste

1. Soak the ragi, cholam and urad dal for 8-10 hours
2. Blend the urad dal first remove and then blend the soaked cholam and ragi to a smooth batter
3. Towards the end add the chopped tomatoes and the cumin, pepper corn, asfoetida, curry leaves and red chilies and let them also blend
4. Add salt. Add just enough water for a pourable consistency
5. Heat a dosai pan or griddle add a laddle of batter and spread like you would dosai, spread or spray oil on the edges. Cook till the edges turn brown, flip and cook on the other side

Serve with any chutney of choice.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Andhra Style Spinach Dal(Pappu)

In the US every third person you meet is a published author. I might be exaggerating a bit but more books are published here than any other place on the planet. No subject is off-limits and with the network readily available to publicize the book and its author. Most make money I presume or so many books would not be published.

The more radical the writing the more air time devoted by radio and TV stations for the authors and their books. One of my favorite radio stations an affiliate of NPR has a Talk Show where mostly sensible and very civil discourse takes place. I had lot of respect for the host and also the staff who I thought I did a pretty good job of researching and promoting and giving air time to the mostly well written and historically correct books. This was until my opinion took a nose dive after lisening to this guy a Kashmiri educated in Delhi for free took to disparaging India to an extent that Indians and a few non-Indians called in to complain about the historical inaccuracies he was passing off as truth. This is scary especially because most of the world tends to believe what is written in a book to be true.

If a subject is confined to matters related to the US the text of a book rarely deviates from the truth unless it is an opinion piece. But most publishing houses, literary personalities, journalists all drop the ball when the subject matter moves beyond the border. For e.g. more often than not information presented about India has inaccuracies which is difficult to detect unless someone spent a considerable amount of time there and are familiar with the country. This perhaps is true for information presented about other countries as well.

Do all these books make Americans better informed than the others? Do they even know what is happening in their own country? When George W. Bush first ran for President he was asked who the PM of India and his answer was Benazir Bhutto!!!! What do you think? Or what has been your experience? Share your thoughts.

Now on to the the recipe,
This is another recipe garnered from the lunch room. Where I came from paruppu(mashed dals) is cooked toor/moong dal lightly seasoned with onions, green chilies, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Eaten with rice generally with a spicy/tart puzhikuzhambu on the side. Just across the border in Andhra I have learned exists a huge variety of paruppu or pappu as they call it and are generally cooked with different kinds vegetables or greens. Vegetables/greens and dal are cooked together with green chilies, tomatoes or tamarind, onions and garlic and lightly mashed and seasoned. This opens up a whole new array of dals to dazzle the pallette. One of my lunch room buddies rents a room from an aunty and lucky for her the aunty cooks great food and packs it for her.

One day was this aromatic spinach dal which was absolutely delicious. She had made it with toor dal. I have tried with both toor and moong and my preference is toor dal.

Andhra style Spinach Dal
1. 2-3 cups of fresh spinach washed and chopped coarsely
2. 1 cup of moong dal or 1 1/2 cups of toor dal
3. 3 tbsp of chopped shallots or red onions
4. 3-4 green chilies (I did not have any)
5. 4 garlic cloves minced
6. 1/2 tbsp of sambhar powder (if adding green chilies skip or reduce)
7. 1 medium tomato chopped (or 1 tbsp of tamarind pulp)
8. 1 tsp of methi powder (roasted and powdered methi seeds)
9. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
10. salt to taste
11. 1 tsp of sesame oil
12. seasonings: ghee, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves

1. In a pressure cooker add the dal, spinach, onions, tomato, green chilies, garlic, sambhar powder, turmeric powder along with 3 cups of water and cook for 2-3 whistles
2. Mash the dal gently and set it on low flame. Add more water if too thick and let it come to a boil (Do not over cook just gently heat for a couple of minutes if not adding extra water)
3. In a small pan heat the ghee and add the seasoning and pour over the dal and sprinkle the powdered methi powder on top. Add salt and turn of the heat

Goes best with rice.