Saturday, April 28, 2012

Methi and Collard Greens Sambhar (Vendaya keerai sambhar)

The other day I was in the grocery store standing in front of the red machine which loans movies(DVDs). As I was browsing through the list of movies a group of teen age girls stopped by the machine. They peered over my shoulder while one came close and peppered me with questions like "What move are you renting?" I said I am looking to to see what I should rent. She replied "Do you want a romantic comedy?" for which I said "No I am still looking to see what I should rent".

She continued "Tell me what you want to rent?". I did not have a movie in mind and was hoping to read the synopsis displayed and decide on one that I would rent. At that point I was beginning to feel a bit harassed and told her, that I am going to browse around a bit and decide for myself what I was going to rent. She turned to her friends and said in a slightly injured voice said "I was only trying to help".

Believe me when I say I really liked her coming to help. Kids these days are so hesitant after being repeatedly told not to talk to strangers and giving them the feeling that everybody is out to hurt them. So a teenager stepping up to talk to a stranger is a good thing.

The reason I brought up the story is I feel like the teenage girl when i keep repeating that sambhar made with green especially chard, methi and even collard greens taste only next to drumstick sambhar in terms of taste.

The slightly bitter taste of the greens, the tangy taste of tamarind and the spice from the sambhar make it a unique combination. We like to eat the sambhar with idlis but it tastes equally good with rice. You got to take my word and try this one alright?

If Chard leaves is what you like, here is the recipe link - Swiss Chard Sambhar.

Methi and Collard greens sambhar
1. 1 Cup toor dal washed, turmeric powder, drops of sesame oil
2. 1/2 onion chopped fine (or shallots sliced fine, these are the ones used back home)
3. 1 bunch of fresh methi leaves, leaves picked + 1 cup of collard greens (optional)
4. 1/4 cup tamarind extract from small lime sized ball of tamarind.
5. 1 tbsp sambhar powder
6. seasonings: curry leaves, mustard, asfoetida a tiny bit, cumin and methi seeds
7. 1 tsp oil, salt to taste
1. Add toor dal to the pressure cooker with 2 cups of water, a pinch of turmeric powder and few drops of sesame oil and cook for 2 whistles or if cooking on a stove top cook till soft and falling apart.
2. Transfer the contents to a container, now in the same cooker heat the oil add the seasoning, saute the onions till translucent.
3. Add the methi leaves and collard greens and saute them for about 4-5 minutes and add the sambhar powder and mix together.
4. Now add the tamarind extract and mix well. Cook for 8-10 minutes till the leaves are cooked.
5. Mash the toor dal and add it to the cooker and if the dal is too thick add one more cup of water. Add salt.
6. Let cook for another 6-8 minutes.

Serve with rice or idlies.
Note: Use chard leaves if you do not have methi or collard greens. Or substitute one for the other.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Collard Greens with Toor dal (lentils)

Back home I was familiar with 2 greens and they were the ones that were cooked most often. One was thandu keerai (Amaranth green) and the other was manathakkali keerai (Nightshade greens) . There were a lot of  other greens which were cooked every now and then whenever they became available. 

Once here the 2 greens mentioned above were not readily available unless I grew them. For a long time spinach was the only green and that was till I discovered Chard leaves. Now chard leaves are one of my favorites. I never quiet like spinach all that much but we have learn to live with it.

So the other day I found myself face to face with a bunch of fresh collard greens. Collard greens are tougher than both spinach and chard leaves and not slimy like spinach tends to become when cooked. Being tough it lends itself to be cooked a bit longer and not get mushy. This recipe is quick and it turned out far better than I expected.  A great week night recipe if you ask me.

Collard Greens with toor dal
1. 1 cup toor dal
2. 4 cups of packed collard greens chopped with stems
3. 1/4 cup onion chopped
4. 1 garlic chopped (optional)
5. Juice from half a lemon
6. 1 tbsp sambhar powder or 1/2 tbsp chili powder
7. salt to taste
8. seasonings: cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves

1. In a Pressure cooked add the dal, collard greens, onions, garlic if using and sambhar powder with 1 1/2 cups of water (see note).
2. Cook for 2 whistles or on a stove top till the dal is cooked but not falling apart.
3. Open the pressure cooker and on a slow flame add salt and lemon juice.
4. In a small pan heat 1/2 tsp of oil and add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and when it starts to pop add the curry leaves and pour over the cooked dal and turn off the heat.

Serve over rice.
1. Add just enough water to cook the dal. It should not be mushy like for sambhar. The cooked dal should retain its shape.

PS: Who else is having problems with the Compose window after the blogger upgrade?. I agree the overall upgrade does have some good features. But they messed up big time with the Compose tool and it is like a generation behind what was already there. 3 thumbs down Google on that one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Roasted Asparagus Soup with Croutons

Asparagus to me is a gentle woodsy vegetable with a delicate taste and a very short shelf life. Whenever we buy asparagus the kids like to eat them roasted with a sprinkle of oil, salt and chili powder or black pepper. I never gave it much beyond that simple fact till I read 'Animal, Vegetable Miracle A Year of Food Life By Barbara Kingslover'.

Reading the book I learned a lot more information about how the vegetable is grown and the short window that it is usually available - a 3 week period in Spring. You have got to be patient if you are growing this vegetable in your garden. It is the third year after planting that it can be harvested. If you are thinking of some fresh delicate Asparagus the window is now.

I would never have attempted soup but DD decided to cook it and need I say the soup was far more tastier than I thought it would be. Croutons were even more tastier.

Recipe Source: Food Network - Roasted Asparagus Soup...

Roasted Asparagus and Potato Soup with Croutons
1. 12-14 stalks of asparagus (should make about 3 cups when chopped)
2. 1 Medium sized potato peeled and chopped
3. 1/4 red onion chopped
4. 2 cloves garlic minced
5. 1 tbsp olive oil
6. 2 bay leaves
7. 6 cups of Vegetable broth or Chicken broth
8. 2 tsp chili powder (or per taste)
9. 1 tsp black pepper powder
10. salt to taste

For the Croutons
1. 4 slices of whole wheat bread cut into 1 inch cubes
2. 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
3. 1/2 tsp olive oil

1. Toss the asparagus in olive oil, sprinkle salt and chili powder and roast the asparagus. We usually do this step in a toaster oven at 400-450F. Cool and chop.
2. In a sauce pan heat the remaining olive oil and roast the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
3. Add the bay leaves and cook for another minute .
4. Add the asparagus, potato and the broth and let it simmer in medium heat.
5. Taste and add black pepper if required. Turn of heat when the potatoes are soft.
6. Remove bay leaves and puree the contents till smooth.

1. While the soup is cooking, toss the bread slices slightly in the olive oil and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on the bread cubes.
2. Roast the bread cubes in the toaster oven for 8-10 minutes or till the bread is slightly toasted and turn golden brown.

Ladle the soup with the croutons added on top along with a dab of butter which is purely optional. (see note)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ripe Mango and Plum Salsa (Salad)

A couple of years ago we visited my cousin in Florida. He cut up a few mangoes and it was the first time I had tasted mangoes that were both tasty and aromatic in the USA. From the aroma to the taste they were close to the ones we get in India. But I am not really a good judge because I have been away from the mango season in India for a long time now. A colleague of his who has these mango trees in her backyard brings them to the office. The mangoes apparently disappear as soon as she brings them in. I forget what each one cost though. There is no chance that some of those excellent mangoes were going to reach our neck of the woods anytime soon.

But around here we make do with yellow mangoes. Last week we bought home a case of Champagne mangoes. Champagne is also called Ataulfo mangoes and come from Mexico. These yellow mangoes the best in terms of texture without the strings that are common in most varieties of mangoes available here but with none of the mango aroma with which ripening mangoes announce their presence back home. If we did not take a peek every now and then we would have just missed the ripening of these mangoes altogether.

I like the mangoes when they are fully ripe but not mushy and that is the texture you want for this salsa. The inspiration and recipe for this salsa is from this article in Mother Jones magazine. If mangoes are not available in your neck of the woods or you want to go local use Peaches when they are in season like the article suggests. I am going to try some Peach salsa once peaches are in season here.

DD2 suggested adding plums to the mix. In India where the Mango season is just starting sky is the limit for this recipe.

Mango and Plum Salsa
1. 2 ripe mangoes peeled and diced (I used slightly bigger dice about 1 inch)
2. 2 plums pitted and diced (the ones I used where slightly sour) - optional (see Note)
3. 1 tbsp minced red onion (add more if needed)
4. 1 garlic minced ( I did not add this)
5. 2 green chillies seeded and minced
6. 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
7. 2 tsp lemon juice + 1/2 tbsp lime juice
8. a pinch of salt
9. 1 tbsp roasted roughly chopped almonds (purely optional, see Notes)

1. Take the minced onion and add the lime and lemon juice and salt to it and let it sit for a few minutes. This removes the pungent raw onion taste and smell.
2. Now mix together mango, plum, green chilies into the lime and onion mixture. Give a good toss.
3. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
4. Sprinkle the nuts just before serving.

1. The slightly sour taste of the plum added one more dimension to the taste.
2. The amount of onions can be increased as per preference
3. I skipped the minced garlic altogether because of the smell and taste of raw garlic.
4.Skip the nuts if you do want them. But the provide the crunch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sarkarai Pongal (Jaggery Sweetened rice with lentils)

I was at the traffic light this morning having missed the green light by mere seconds that this philosophical thought entered my mind. As in traffic light so is life isn't? We all seem to indefinitely rushing towards one thing or the other just missing catching most by mere seconds. A few we do catch does not seem to matter. Maybe we need to linger on the ones we catch not dawdle too much on the ones we miss.

Well, the light turned green again putting an end my thoughts and  on my way to DD2's first dentist appointment her first in 7 years. I am a bad parent yes? DD2 did not waste a moment and explained to all the nurses, receptionist and the doctor that this was her first. She also informed the doctor that there was no floss in the house and a parent does not watch over her when she brushes her teeth. Lucky for me she did not have any cavities and I did not have to hang my head in shame.
I dashed out of the dentist's office as fast as I could before DD2 revealed any more of our well guarded secrets.

I am sure you don't want any more of my philosophy and we will jump right to the recipe. Sarakarai Pongal is a sweet rice dish made during Pongal or harvest festival. But the dish is also made for other auspicious days like New Year, festivals etc. It is also great for a relaxed weekend breakfast. When preparing in large quantities like for breakfast I increase the quantity of lentils and reduce the quantity of sugar.

Sarkarai Pongal (Sweetened Rice with lentils)
1. 1/2 cup of rice (preferably raw rice)
2. 1/2 cup of split moong dal skin removed
3. 1/2 cup of split green moong with skin
4. 1/2 cup of jaggery (see note)
5. 3/4 cup of milk
6. 4 tbsp of broken cashews
7. 2 tbsp of golden rasins
8. 1 tbsp of rock sugar (kalkandu) - optional
9. 2 tbsp of grated coconut - optional
10. 2 cardamom pods crushed
11. 1 tbsp of ghee (or more)
Roast the yellow moong and green moong separately till they just start to turn brown.
1. Pressure cook the rice and lentils with twice the amount of water normally used and milk. The cooked rice should be mushy.
2. In the meantime take the jaggery in a sauce pan and add water just above the quantity of sugar and let it come to a boil. All the sugar should be dissolved. Filter with a cheese cloth. Jaggery comes with a lot of impurities which need to be filtered out.
3. Roast the cashews and raisins in ghee. Start with the cashews and when they are just about to turn brown add in the raisins
4. Now open the cooked rice and set it on very low flame. Add in the jaggery and mix it into the rice. Add the ghee and the crushed cardamom.
5. Add in the cashews, raisins, coconut and rock sugar.
6. If the rice is too thick add in half a cup of warm milk. Turn off the heat and remove from the stove. The heat from the stove will thicken it further.

1. If using brown sugar in place of jaggery reduce the quantity of sugar by a 1/4 - 1/2 because it is much sweeter. No filtering is required so check and add.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mango Thokku pickle with garlic - Shredded mango relish

If I see a green mango in the store I can't walk past it without conjuring up images of delicious pickles. Visions of every single one of them that I have tasted in the past dance before my eyes.

shredded mango

trusty old grater

The one I had picked a few weeks ago entered the refrigerator and away from my eyes the visions disappeared and it sadly languished there till it started getting dark spots on the skin.

pickled and ready!

I salvaged it a couple of days ago. With the skin peeled it was good as new. This was the first time the mango I bought was sour. I should have picked a few more. I will during the next visit.

With mangoes both raw and ripe flooding the markets, it is time to give this a try.

Mango Thokku Pickle
1. 1 firm green mango peeled and grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
2. 6-8 garlic cloves cut into halves and then lengthwise
3. 1/2 tsp mustard + 10 methi seeds + 2 red chilies (roast and powder)
4. 2 Tbsp of red chili powder
5. salt to taste
6. 1/2 cup of sesame oil + (more if required)
7. seasonings - 1/4 tsp mustard seed + few curry leaves + a pinch of asfoetida + 1 broken red chilli
8. 2 tsp jaggery

1. Grate the mango on the slightly bigger hole in the grater
2. Heat a wide mouthed pan and add half of the oil. When hot add in the asfoetida first followed by mustard seeds, curry leaves (see note) and the broken red chillies.
3. When the mustard has spluttered add in the grated mango and let it cook. Half way through add the garlic pieces (this will be after approx. 10 minutes)
4. In the meantime roast the mustard, methi seeds and red chilies and make a powder (coffee grinder works best for this). Set aside
5. Add in salt and the mustard powder and let it continue to cook. The time to add in the chili powder is when most of the bubbles have subsided.
6. Add the rest of the oil cook for 5 minutes more and then add in the jaggery and cook for 5 minutes more. Turn off heat.
7. Cool and store in a clean glass jar.
1. Wash and dry the curry leaves and roast them or microwave for a minutes before adding. This is to avoid oil splashing.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Pear and Date Loaf with bran

I am bit miffed, I am supposed to be the cooking expert, the head chef in my kitchen right? DD cooks no bakes something and it turns out perfect and the loaf vanishes within 1 hour of it stepping out of the oven.

I have tried baking with fruit - apple, bananas and the inside is always soggy and kind of feels uncooked but this loaf she bakes comes out crumbly and perfect. Do I sound like I am 'J'? No really I am just proud of her accomplishment.

This is Spring break week and from the minute I showed DD this recipe on Exclusively Food she has been behind me to make it.

Couple of days ago her friend had come over and she started the request all over again. So I happily assigned the task of baking to them. We did not have all of the ingredients at home. They set off on their bikes to the grocery store, finished their purchase and completed the baking while I had a few undisturbed moments to concentrate on my work.

ready for the oven

As for hiccups just one. They used my carefully roasted almonds for blanching instead of the raw ones. Not a big disaster no.

The experiment was so successful she wanted to give it a try again and baked another load yesterday before I came back home, to enjoy some warm slices for evening snack.

I want to add a few words about Exclusively Food - a blog I have been following for a long time now. Fantastic and clear instructions are the hallmark of this lovely blog. Makes even the most complicated baking recipes seem very simple.

Recipe Source: Bran, Pear and Date Loaf

Pear and Date Loaf with Bran
1. 1 cup Wheat Bran (Kellog's Wheat All Bran cereal)
2. 1 6 oz Greek strained yogurt
3. 1 1/2 tsp of honey
4. 1 1/2 tsp of maple syrup (3 and 4 in place of golden syrup)
5. 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
6. 1/3 cup + 3 tsp raw sugar
7. 1 cup of deseeded Deglet Noor Dates chopped into 1/2cm bits
8. 1 ripe Bartlett pear peeled and chopped into 2 cm dice (chop when adding to the mix)
9. 1 egg
10. 1/2 cup self-raising flour
11. 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
12. 1/3 cup + more for nibbling blanched roughly chopped almonds (if using raw almonds see Note)
13. 1/2 tsp of baking soda
14. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a mixing bowl add yogurt, all bran, sugar, honey, maple syrup, olive oil, chopped dates, egg and vanilla extract. Mix together with a spoon.
2. Butter a 9 * 5 * 2 1/2 inch loaf pan and set aside. Preheat the pan to 365F
3. Peel and cut the pear and add it to the mixture. combine.
4. Sift the flour and baking soda and add it to the sugar mixture.
5. To Note: fold the flour into the batter with the spatula (do not mix).
6. Pour the batter into the pan and even with the spatula. add the almonds on top.
7. Bake in the middle rack for 40 minutes. Check for doneness and bake for another 5-10 minutes (see notes)

Cool and slice and see it disappear in minutes.

1. If using raw almonds, heat a pot of water and add the almonds and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Peel the skin, dry completely.
2. for checking doneness, insert a skewer in the center and if there is nothing sticking on the skewer then the cake is baked.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chocolate Fudge with or without Nuts

Were you also among the millions who spent close $1.5 billion as of last Friday to take a shot at the $640 million mega million lottery? The odds were one in 176 million or something outrageous like that but we all took our chances. Someone in MD did win but unfortunately it was not me :( I wasn't planning on playing but my cousin from Florida called to ask me to buy a few because his state was one of the few that were not part of the mega million.

I am not a regular lottery buyer I do buy whenever the jackpot is huge and everyone is talking about it. How about you all? Do you play the lottery regularly or occasionally?

Though there was no winning involved when we decided to make these delicious fudge which are ready in a blink of an eye really. For a sweet and chocolate addict like me these are a god send. Just a 1 inch square is enough to satisfy my sweet cravings for the day.

I was in 2 minds about adding nuts and kept going back and forth so decided to add just a few instead of half a cup. Almonds and chocolate go so well together so next time nuts are going to be added in larger quantity. Nuts or no nuts these are delicious.

Chocolate Fudge
1. 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
2. 1 lb of chocolate chips ( I used a combination of Dark chocolate mini chunks 70% cocoa and chocolate chips semi sweet 45% cocoa)
3. 1 tsp of vanilla extract
4. 1 tbsp of butter
5. 2 tbsp of roasted coarsely chopped almonds (optional)

1. In a sturdy non stick sauce pan add the chocolate chips, condensed milk and in low medium flame melt the chocolate.
2. Add in the vanilla extract and the butter and let them melt together (about 4-5 minutes or 8 minutes max)
3. Add in the nuts if using and mix it in.
4. Line a square cake pan with wax paper and pour out the melted chocolate mixture.
5. Refrigerate for about 2-3 hours or overnight.
6. Once cool cut into squares.