Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zucchini chutney (watery)

In India food is a big deal. There are special foods for every occasion and I have met no one I mean back home who is not fond of eating. Mostly no one ate for the vitamins and minerals or the individual parts that made a whole. They ate for the taste and the joy of eating and sharing.

One thing we were particular about was having a time and place for eating. Noshing throughout the day was uncommon.

That was the first thing that caught my eye when I first came to the US. I was very surprised that people ate all the time. While driving, they munched on not just easy to eat with one hand kind of foods but even foods like chicken wings. Compared to the stuff that people do while driving these days eating is probably is one of the least offenses anyway. One other eating habit that shocked me was the constant munching that people did while working. Jars of candies, cookies and pretzels(I hate those) jostled for space on the desk.

In India eating is a communal affair even at work. Let's say a packet of potato chips was opened, it most definitely would be shared with everyone on the team. (Have things changed now?)

On the other hand in the US eating food has no such restrictions. It mostly is a lonely affair which perhaps is what encourages indiscriminate eating. I have never seen a society that is so conflicted about food and looks for benefits in everything they eat but still ends up eating the worst kinds of foods.

Why did I suddenly have these deep thoughts about the eating culture of the two countries? Two reasons.

1. Mark Bittman's article Is Junk Food Really Cheaper made the point that social acceptance of eating anything anytime is another reason for the indiscriminate eating and the whole array of problems it brings about.

2. The news that the inventor of Doritos passed away. The invention that ushered the snack age. Marion Nestle calls Doritos as the prototypical junk food born out of no natural ingredients but an array of engineered ingredients. Read the article here. Doritos you will all agree is the ultimate loner snack. Mostly because it is hard to share as they are addictive. The main reason I do not buy Doritos. My kids fight over them :(

I have lived in the US for a long time now that I have also learned some of the bad habits regarding food and eating. I was a junk eater even in India. The difference being they were home made with whole grains and not engineered ingredients. So I just took to the junk eating culture like a fish to water. Me who hardly gained an extra ounce with all that eating in India suddenly found it that it was not all that hard to pack on the pounds.

Now on to the recipe,
Ridge gourd was one vegetable I was not particularly fond of back home. My attitudes towards a lot of foods have changed since leaving home. Ridge gourd has gone through that cycle and when cooked this way is a great side for dosais or idlis or even mixed with rice. Ridge gourd is not available all the time but Zucchinis believe it or not makes a good substitute. My mother made it once and now I am a big time convert.

Zucchini Chutney
1. 2 Zucchini diced
2. 1/2 onion chopped
3. 1 tomato diced (optional)
4. 4-5 green chilies
5. a pinch of cumin and 1/4 tsp pepper coarsely ground
6. seasoning: few mustard seeds and curry leaves
7. salt to taste
8. 1 tsp ghee

1. In a pressure cooker add the ghee and when hot add the seasonings. Add the onions and green chilies and saute till the onions are soft and translucent
2. Mix in the cumin - pepper powder. Add the tomatoes if using and saute for a few minutes till they soften.
3. Add the zucchini and salt , close the pressure cooker and let cook for 2 whistles. If cooking on a stove top sprinkle a bit of water (1 tbsp or so) and let it cook till it completely soft and falls apart.
4. Cool and mash with a back of spoon.

Goes well with idli or dosai or mixed in with rice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What happened to my vegetable garden this summer?

Vegetable Gardening is never a sure thing was proved this summer. I had assumed that heat loving vegetables like egg plants, bitter gourd and okra would love the unrelenting heat we had in July. Unfortunately it was a bad assumption.

The heat got to the vegetable plants too. Okra did pretty well. I was very surprised at the eggplant not doing well. Wasn't the heat supposed to do wonders for the eggplant production? Looks like just heat enough (duh!) but also rain. No amount of hand watering made the plants flower and fruit.

Though Irene got all the hype (not to downplay the damage it caused but it spared our area), it was Lee that brought wide spread rain, flooding and road closures. The rain did wonders to the plants. They started flowering and fruit has started to set. I am just hoping the real cold weather does not hit very early so I can enjoy the benefit of fresh brinjals.

The snake gourd plant that was climbing on the wall also fell to the ground with all the wind and rain. The fruit is mishapen but the taste is still the same.

Did any of have similar experience with your vegetable garden this summer?

Want to thank to all of you who took part in the poll. It proved my experience that people who have watched the documentary 'Food Inc' have changed their buying habits.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Green Peas curry from Sukham Ayu

I have been reading this book - 'On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft' by Stephen King. It is teaching me a thing or two about writing in an engaging manner. The readers of this blog are the lucky ones I hope who will reap the benefits of my reading this book. You all have to tell me if my writing is getting any better :)

It is a great book for Middle School and High School kids who are interested in learning to write better and so is 'Elements of Style' by William Strunk Jr and E.B White.

At the end of the day what other reading material can be engaging and the end results delicious that makes everyone happy? No prizes for guessing that one. Sukham Ayu is one of those books that keeps on giving. I am enjoying the pleasure thanks to my dear friend Linda.

Peas Curry
1. 1 cup of dried green peas soaked overnight (substitute with fresh or frozen peas)
2. 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
3. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder or as per taste
4. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds + 1 tsp of cumin seeds
5. a small piece of cinnamon (see note)
6. few cloves
7. 1 bay leaf
8. a few mint leaves
9. salt to taste
10. 1 tsp oil or ghee

1. 1/2 cup chopped red onions
2. 3-4 garlic cloves
3. 1 inch piece of ginger
4. 2 tbsp grated fresh coconut (I used frozen coconut)
5. 1 tbsp of chopped walnuts (recipe calls for pumpkin or sunflower seeds)

1. Cook the green peas and set aside
2. Saute the onions, garlic and ginger and blend to a paste with the coconut and walnuts using as little water as possible
3. Roast the coriander, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf very gently and blend to a powder
4. In a pan add the oil/ghee and when hot, add the paste and saute for a few minutes
5. Add the powders and saute for another 2-3 minutes
6. Add the cooked peas, mint leaves, salt and 1 cup of water. Cook partially covered for another 5-6 minutes till the desired consistency is reached

Serve with chapathis or parathas.

1.Use garam masala powder in place of the cinnamon,cloves and bay leaves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kadalai burfi(coarsely ground Peanut fudge)

Please take a look at the Food Inc poll in the right sidebar and vote if you have not already done so. Thank you.

Have you seen the advertisements for Corn Sugar recently? Though I am not particularly fond of HFCS which is the most famous (by)product from corn but readily agree with what they say about sugar - sugar is sugar. The ill effects of sugar are the same no matter what the raw material for sugar is.

Of course cane sugar is much more expensive than sugar made form corn. Processed food manufactures have now resorted to printing bold letters saying "Made with Cane Sugar" like some sort of health claim.

It is amazing even with so much exposure lots of people still think eating fat free stuff is better than the full fat version. Couple of months ago I had a tough time explaining to a friend that fat free yogurt in this case was not all that better than the full fat version. She was adamantly convinced that fat free was better. The added sugar and other fillers more than make up for the lack of fat making it not all that better and maybe even worse.

Even among sugar not are made equal. The highly processed white sugar and corn sugar cause the same negative effects. 'Made with Cane Sugar' on a box of Oreos really does not make it a health food.

Unrefined sugars like jaggery on the other hand are a much better alternative. Jaggery contains minerals and iron besides sucrose while refined white sugar contains just sucrose and is in a state that is readily absorbed into the blood stream. Read this article Jaggery vs Sugar to get a better idea.

The taste of jaggery is far superior to that of white sugar and that is reason enough to use them more. I had left over jaggery after making kozhukattai and it was decided that some peanut candy would made with it.

The amount of sugar directly affects the brittleness of the candy. Lower the boiling point softer the candy will be. If you want brittle candy the sugar should reach candy stage. A little before that stage will lead to softer candy.

Peanut Burfi
1. 3 cups of coarsely powdered roasted unsalted peanuts (see Note)
2. 1 3/4 cups of powdered jaggery (substitute with any other sugar)
3. 1 Cup water
4. 1 tsp of ghee

1. In a pan add the jaggery and just enough water to cover it. Let it heat up and the jaggery completely melt
2. Now filter the sugar solution through a cheese cloth to remove the dust and the hay particles
3.Clean the pan and return the filtered solution back to heat and let it come to a boil and bubble and check for thickness (keep a small cup of cold water, when a drop of the boiling sugar solution is poured it should not dissolve, for candy stage you should be able to roll the sugar into a ball)
4. Keep a greased (apply the ghee) plate ready to transfer the peanut sugar mixture
5. Add in the powdered peanuts and mix it into the sugar solution quickly
6. Transfer the contents onto the greased plate and smooth the top with a spatula. Make marks for the candy to be broken into pieces when it has cooled and set

Cool and transfer to an airtight container.
1. Split the peanuts and remove the small nodule on top which hold both the pieces together.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raw peanut and mango relish

Have you watched the documentary 'Food Inc'? Did it in any way change the way you purchase your food especially meat products? Increasingly I am hearing from a lot who made the decision to stop eating meat completely and gone vegetarian, others have become discriminating in the way they source their meat and a few others are thinking about it and searching for alternative sources to purchase their meat.

I am curious to know which category you belong to. Can you indulge me and take part in a small survey? Available on the right side bar. Thank you.

Obesity is no more just an American problem. Obesity is a growing problem in India as well. While in the US it is an acute problem among the poor and lower income people with no easy availability of fresh produce or simply cannot afford the cost associated with purchasing fresh food. Money of course goes farther when purchasing fast food.

In India it is the opposite in the demographic that is affected by obesity. It is the affluent that seem to be the most afflicted with weight related diseases. They have the purchasing power to indulge in overly processed packaged, rich foods that feed empty calories. Moreover the once active Indian society is increasingly becoming sedentary with children rarely playing outside but spending a large amount of time watching TV. No wonder children are the group that is also affected.

Part of the problem lies in not being able to differentiate good and bad foods. In a country where being fat is considered being prosperous, obesity is the last thing people worry about I guess.

With growing affluence and demand for meat rising sharply, I bet the factory method of raising animals practiced here in the US is probably already adopted in India as well. It would be a couple of decades before someone does a documentary on issues related to factory farming in India.

It would certainly help to know more about the farms and the conditions in which animals are raised. So if you get a chance please watch this documentary.

Now on to the recipe,

I saw this delicious looking Hot and sweet mango relish on Amma's special and as luck would have it there was a raw mango sitting in the fridge. The thought of combining raw peanuts and raw mango in a relish came to mind and that is what I did.

Raw mango and Raw peanut relish
1. 1 raw mango washed and cut into cubes
2. 1 cup raw peanuts
3. 6 dried red chilies
4. a tiny pinch of asfoetida
5. 2 tbsp jaggery
6. 1 tbsp red chili powder
7. 2 tsp fenugreek seeds + 2 tsp mustard seeds
8. seasonings - mustard seeds , curry leaves, urad dal
9. 1 tsp turmeric powder
10. salt to taste
11. 2 tsp of oil
12. 1 tsp sesame oil

1. Heat oil in a pan, add the urad dal, mustard seeds and curry leaves
2. Add the chopped mango pieces and the turmeric powder and about 1 1/2 cups of water and let it cook covered for about 10-15 minutes
3. In the meantime boil the peanuts drain and set aside
4. Roast the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds and make a powder
5. Once the mango is soft add the powdered mustard fenugreek powder and chili powder and give a good mix and let cook for 2 minutes
6. Now add the peanuts and mix
7. Add the jaggery, sesame oil and salt and let it cook for another 5 minutes

Goes for anytime you want a sweet, hot and sour relish.

1. The peanuts add a crunch and a slightly different taste
2. Follow the original linked recipe for a pure mango relish
3. It tastes best a day later when the peanuts have absorbed the spices
4. Put in the refrigerator after 2 days

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kozhukattai (Sweet and Spicy steamed Rice Dumplings)

Though festivals and religion go hand in hand IMHO the former brings people together while the latter pulls people apart. If people who regularly visit the temple or fast on certain days of the week or carry out rituals even in a foreign land are considered religious then I certainly do not fall into that category.

sweet filling

Don't get me wrong I am neither agnostic nor an atheist. I certainly do believe in a higher power. We take the kids to what could be called Sunday school for learning culture an offshoot of which is also learning religion and performing rituals.

I try to remember the one important tenet of Hindu religion. To be a good Hindu one need not visit a temple or perform rituals rather doing one's duty to the best of one's ability is itself considered prayer. There is God within each person and seeing God in everyone around us is worth many visits to the temple no?.

I am also of the belief that symbolism and rituals should have their place. Celebrating festivals and partaking in rituals besides bringing happiness and satisfaction also brings people together. Foods associated with festivals have a special place all their own. It often reminds me of good times had during childhood and also kindles a desire to recreate a small bit of that happiness for my kids. I don't always succeed but sometimes I do.

To tell you the truth all those years I lived my mom would have made kozhukattai perhaps less than a handful of times. I remember eating kozhukattai as with everything else at my grandparent's place and those tasty ones shared by friends.

This year my mom armed with recipes from her friend was determined to make kozhukattais both the sweet and spicy kind. DD2 just couldn't stop saying kozhukattai till she finally got a chance to see them being made and tasting them.

I had this notion that they were hard to make as the rice flour tends to become stick and hard very easily. None of my fears came to pass. The process was very simple and other than a few mishaps shaping them the kozhukattais for the most part turned out just fine.

We made the filling for the sweet ones with coconut and jaggery. The spicy one was made with urad dal (split white lentil) and the filling threatened to disappear even before the kozhukattais were made. I am hooked I am bet they will be made very often. I am sure they would be great in a usli like preparation with string beans.

1. 2 cups rice flour
2. 3 cups of water
3. 1 tsp of salt
4. 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
5. 1-2 tbsp all purpose flour

Spicy Filling
1. 1 cup split or whole urad dal
2. 8 green chilies
3. salt, asfoetida and 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1. Roast the urad dal for a few minutes, don't let the dal change color. Let soak, drain and blend coarsely with the rest of the ingredients.

Sweet Filling
1. 1 cup of grated coconut
2. 1 cup of jaggery
3. 1 cardamom powdered
4. 2-3 tsp of ghee

1. Blend the coconut to slightly finer pieces. Powder the jaggery and mix it with the coconut.
2. Heat ghee in a pan and add the coconut jaggery mixture and saute for a minute. Add the powdered cardamom. Set aside

1. Heat the water, add salt and oil and let it come to a boil. Turn off the heat.
2. Add flour a little at a time and mix it without any lumps. Cover with a damp cloth.
3. As quickly as possible the kozhukkatis have to be made without the flour gets too hard.
4. Make small round balls, flatten them in the palm of your hand or place them under a clear plastic paper and use a heavy vessel to flatten.
5. Place about a tbsp of filling and fold over. Alternatively make a depression in the dough and place the filling and pinch the sides so the flour covers the filling.
6. Place them in a steamer and steam for 6 minutes. I used the idli plates for steaming.