Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pepper Mushroom

I don't own a smart phone. I still carry around my key pad phone. The phone perhaps shows my age but it fits neatly in my pocket and it serves my purpose for making and receiving phone calls, text when I want to and it is the maximum extent to which I use my phone. I don't tweet,blog or facebook with a phone and when I meet people I actually want to talk to them and not keep looking down on my phone.

I know a few people who just can't be without looking at their phones. This topic of people who prefer to have a conversation virtually rather than converse with people they meet face to face has been beat to death. Sadly nobody seems to be getting the hint. Most people I assume do not realize that they are insulting the person standing in front of them.

The other day in fast moving traffic I am stuck behind this guy who is breaking without reason and straying into the neighboring lanes and also driving well below the speed limit, perfect conditions for road rage when one is trying to get to work or get home. Of course I can change lanes and keep going which is what I did but should he be using that smart phone while he is operating a vehicle?

I don't deny that these smart phones are useful and serve a purpose. I also have seen these things being a big distraction at work and that is a shame. One manager had a rule "phones cannot ring and nobody can answer or look at them" during the meeting. On the other hand I have been in meetings where a few of them had no idea what went on in the meeting because they were busy checking their phones. It is sad that these people do not realize that being distracted means the others have to fill them in and everybody else being in the room lot longer than they want to and the job wasn't getting done.

Why did I bring all this up? I got my cell phone almost a decade ago out of fear. It was during the time 10 years ago when the snipers were terrorizing the area. Just a year before America as we had known had come to an end. Even simple things like going to the grocery store or pumping gas had become dangerous activities. DH was on a traveling job and it was just DD and me. I had to instruct her on how to use the phone if she had to.

Cell phones had just started getting to be a necessity rather than luxury and they had become from brick sized to fairly decent size that they can fit in a pocket.Like life the cell phone evolution has come a full cycle, phones are going back to being bricks what with them being capable of doing more and more functions. If you are smart don't let the phone get in the way of personal interactions. Life is too short to be communicating with an electronic device rather than to the people around you.

Can you share something with me? If you do own a smart phone have you done something that has got you in trouble? One more, are Mushrooms Vegan?

Fresh mushrooms are a delight and I have a sort of love hate relationship with them meaning sometimes I am eager to cook with them while other times I can't stand the sight of them. Anyway I was going through one of the hate phases which came to an end when I brought home a bag of crimini mushrooms with this mushroom biryani in mind. After seeing this recipe on Edible Garden, I decided to make some pepper mushroom instead.

  1. 3 Cups of sliced crimini mushroom
  2. 1 cup of slice red onions
  3. 4 green chilies chopped
  4. 2 tsp of black pepper
  5. 1/2 tbsp of tomato ketchup or tomato paste
  6. salt to taste
  7. 2 tsp of oil
  8. Lemon juice (optional)
  1. Take a skillet, heat a bit of oil and add the sliced mushrooms and let them cook in high heat with salt added till all the moisture evaporates. Set aside.
  2. To the same skillet add the rest of the oil and when hot add the green chilies and onions and saute till the onions start to turn brown
  3. Now add the pepper powder and give a good mix. Add in the tomato sauce, mix it into the onions and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Now add in the mushroom mix it into the spices and let cook for another 3-4 minutes.Check for salt and add if needed.
  5. Finsh with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Serve with steamed rice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kale Stir Fry

If you are from South India stir fries (poriyal) are as common for lunch as idlies for breakfast. Most stir fries are prepared pretty much the same way with a tiny bit of variation here and there. Though the greens I grew up with are not as common here there are greens here that lend themselves to a pretty good stir fry.

One recent find for me is kale as you all know from this post - Kale and Potato Soup. Though kale blended well with the potatoes and made the soup tasty enough my favorite recipe by far is the stir fry made of kale.

Kale leaves unlike spinach or swiss chard do not become soupy when cooked. They retain the shape pretty well and the bitterness disappears when it is cooked.

OK, while I am extolling the virtues of kale let me also offer a word of caution from an article I read in the Health Section of the Washington Post. You can read the whole article but in an nutshell too much of raw kale (juiced or in salad) is not a good thing. You knew that already, there cannot be too much of a good thing of anything. Oh well it is a bitter green and eating raw is not my style, if it is yours read the article.

The stems of the kale is tough but I used that and the leaves in the stir fry. The slightly bitter taste of the greens, sweet taste of the onions and the crunch from the lentils made it tasty enough for me to want to write about it.

Kale Stir Fry
  1. 1 bunch of kale (about 4 cups when chopped, cut them about 1/4 inch apart with the stem) wash and drain the water completely
  2. 1 cup of chopped onions
  3. 6 red chilies broken and seeds shaken out
  4. 1 tbsp of channa dal (bengal gram)
  5. 1/2 tbsp of split urad dal
  6. seasonigs:mustards seeds, a pinch of cumin
  7. 1 tsp of oil
  8. salt to taste
  1. In a pan heat oil and when hot add the channa dal and let it start to brown, add in the urad dal at this point and let it start turning brown, add in the seasonings at this point and when the mustard starts to pop add the red chilies and saute for a few seconds.
  2. Add the onions and saute till they turn translucent.
  3. Add in the kale leaves and let it cook for 4-5 minutes. The leaves and stem are mostly cooked at this point. Add salt.
  4. If there is moisture left turn the heat to high and cook for another 3 minutes or so till the water evaporates.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kitchen Utensils - 101 - Poori Press (Recipe for Poori with Potato Masala)

What do you want for breakfast? My mom asks the DDs in the mornings when we are visiting in India. The response invariably is pooris, the puffy deep fried piece of wheat dough. When I was growing up pooris were far more common than chapathis ever were. Pooris were a favorite weekend breakfast item as it was too much work for a weekday rush and not enough time to experience the joy of eating those deep fried beauties. This is South India where rice is the staple and rolling out dough does not come as naturally as swirling out a dosai!

Rolling pin and board is used by some to roll out the pooris but that is somewhat of a time consuming task. I have seen most people using poori press to roll out the dough so the most of the energy can be spent in deep frying and that one person can easily do the cooking.

Using the poori press is very simple. Roll out a small lemon size piece of dough. Oil both the plates of the press and place the dough ball between the two and press down on the handle. The pictures should give an idea of how it is done.
Once you have the poori press on hand the rest is simple. The dough is similar to the chapathi dough. Just be cautious while adding water, add just enough water for the dough to come together, sprinkle the water do not pour. If the dough is watery the pooris tend to absorb too much oil.

Here in our house we move the deep frying to the backyard to avoid oil fumes inside the house and most times it becomes an impromptu backyard picnic.

Poori Masala
For the Poori
  1. 3 cups of wheat flour (I used the Indian whole wheat kind *)
  2. 1/2 tsp salt
  3. water as needed
1. In a wide mouthed bowl (like a cake batter mixing bowl) take the wheat flour and salt and add about 2 tbsp of water. Incorporate the water into the flour, sprinkle more water 1/2 tbsp at a time till the dough comes together. Do not add any moisture than required. Cover and set aside.

For the Potato Masala
  1. 4 Medium size potatoes washed and cooked till soft. I use the pressure cooker
  2. 1 cup of onions sliced lengthwise
  3. 8-10 green chilies slit
  4. 2 tbsp of roughly chopped tomatoes (optional)
  5. 1 tbsp grated ginger
  6. seasonings : mustard , curry leaves and a few methi seeds
  7. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
  8. 1 tsp of oil
  1. Peel the cooked potatoes and roughly chop them and set aside.
  2. In a wide mouthed pan (wok) heat the oil and when hot add the seasonings
  3. Add the green chilies and onions and saute till the onions become translucent.
  4. Add in the ginger and saute for a few more minutes.

  5. Add the turmeric powder and mix it.

  6. Add the tomatoes and salt and let it cook till the tomatoes become mushy.

  7. Add the potatoes and 1 1/2 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Turn off heat.

* use the regular aata for light colored poori but I prefer the whole wheat kind.
Use a bit more water if you like the potato masala to be runny

Variations of the Potato Masala
Potato Masala with Peas
Potato Masala Delhi style - Delhi Aloo

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I made...

Not very original I know,

Some readers of this blog correctly guessed that I made tomato thokku pickle. The trick to make tomato pickle last for a while without refrigeration provided you don't finish it off for that long is to really cook the tomatoes till they are almost roasted. Bright red to almost maroon color.

Once you have the tomato pickle, they can be used as a spread for toast or sandwich, mix for steamed rice, used to make fried rice and as a dip when mixed with yogurt.

If you have an abundance of tomatoes go ahead and give it a try. Set aside about 1 - 1 1/2 hours and that is how long it takes to get some totally tasty pickle.
Use any of the recipes listed here,

1. Tomato Pickle

2. Green Tomatoes Pickle

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kale and Potato Soup with Cracked Wheat

Have you heard of the ANDI score?

"ANDI stands for "Aggregate Nutrient Density Index." An ANDI score shows the nutrient density of a food on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities"

From Whole Foods website

DH came across ANDI scores for vegetables while shopping at the Whole Foods Market. The ANDI system itself was designed by Dr. Joel Furhman, Eat Right America founder. The chart that follows has also been developed by his organization/him.

Picture from Fooducate Blog
We have been trying to eat a lot more green leafy uncooked vegetables. As most Indians can attest I am not particularly fond of eating uncooked anything. Anyway we have active children in the house, DD does 13-15 hours of active sports every week and starting to look all bones and skin.

Eating predominantly carbohydrates is not going to be enough. We(read DH) made a conscious decision to include more green leafy vegetables which means more salads and with the right salad dressing I am slowly developing a liking towards them too. This has in turn caused a different kind of problem with the kids eating but I will not go there for now.

This is where ANDI scores come in. Who does not like a big bang for their buck? Kale is a powerhouse it seems with high ANDI scores. So we have been trying to come with ways to use Kale. Kale leaves are tough so eating them raw is out of the question. I was debating if to make something like this - greens and toor dal or make a simple stir fry with onions and red chilies.

On a whim decided to make some soup. Beans would have been nice but I only had a bag of cracked wheat and that simply had to do. It is very simple recipe and one that was much loved.

Some home made croutons and some shredded cheese make a great accompaniment. Rub whole wheat breat with butter or olive oil and broil in the toaster oven for couple of minutes on each side.

Kale and Potato Soup with Cracked Wheat
  1. 6-8 stems of kale leaves about 4-5 cups of leaves loosely packed
  2. 2 Potatoes scrubbed, peeled and diced into fairly big cubes
  3. 1/4 - 1/2 cup of cracked wheat (it swells to almost 4 times when cooked) soaked for 30 minutes
  4. 1/4 cup of chopped onions
  5. 4-5 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
  6. 2-3 tbsp of finely diced tomatoes
  7. 2 tsp cumin powder
  8. 2 tsp of pepper powder + 2 tsp of red chili powder
  9. salt to taste
  10. 1 tbsp olive oil

  1. In a dutch oven or a thick bottomed pan heat the olive oil, add the garlic and onion and saute till they get to be translucent. Add in the chopped tomatoes
  2. Continue to saute till the tomatoes are mushy
  3. Drain the water from the soaked wheat and add it to the pot and saute for 3-4 minutes
  4. Add the potatoes and saute them for a minute or two
  5. Add the cumin and chili powders and saute for a minute more
  6. Add 8 cups of water (or more if you want a thinner soup) and bring to a boil
  7. Add the kale leaves mix it in a bit and cover the lid and let cook for 20-30 minutes checking in between.
  8. The soup is done when the wheat and potatoes are cooked

1. Vegetable or Chicken broth can be added. Chicken bouillon cubes can be added.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tomato rice with ground spices (Tomato Bhaath)

Do you buy Organic produce? I certainly do. Did the study that was done by two Stanford scientists a few days ago change your opinion about buying organic products? I would like to hear all of your opinion on that one.

Here is my take on organic foods and why I purchase them. I was never under any misguided impression that organic foods were more nutritious than conventionally grown ones. I know organic produces can be just as tasteless. I have to admit though there are organic produce that are supremely tasty and sometimes so are conventionally grown ones. As far as taste and nutrition go I never thought one was better than the other.

Where I knew that organic held an edge was where pesticides, hormones and synthetic fertilizers. The main reason why I always buy organic milk, egg and chicken but gave a pass where vegetables were concerned.

I learned to be skeptical of organic claims when I found a box of organic ice cream cones with a cost that was twice as much as the regular ones. There are lot of food companies willing to charge extra and make an organic claim if they can get away with it so it is upto us consumers to make the distinction.

with Ponni parboiled rice and fresh lima beans

I personally think a more broader study analyzing the environmental factors and the effects of pesticides would have been more useful.

Now on to the recipe, I know there are many tomato recipes out there and this blog has two of them. I wanted to post this just the same because it is tasty and different than the ones I usually make. On our recent visit to India we stayed for a few days with DH's cousin in Bangalore who is a fantastic cook. This is her recipe for Tomato Bhaath and of course with my modifications.

I had some fresh lima beans which I added one time and some fresh green beans the next time.

with seeraga samba rice and green beans

Tomato Bhaath
1. 2 cups of rice (I usually use Seeraga Samba rice or parboiled Ponni rice, Basmati rice could be used too) soaked for about 20 minutes.
2. Fully ripe red tomatoes 1 1/2 cups chopped
3. 2 cups of lima beans / green beans (optional)
4. 1/2 cup of onion
5. seasonings: cumin seeds, fennel seeds, curry leaves and a bay leaf
6. salt
7. 2 tsp of oil

Spice Paste
1. 3 tbsp of onion
2. 5 cloves of garlic
3. 1 inch of ginger cut roughly
4. 2 tbsp of coconut
5. 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
6. 3-4 cloves
7. 4-5 red chilies (adjust to taste)

Take all of the above and blend to a smooth paste

1. Take a pressure cooker and heat the oil and the add the seasonings and when they start to turn brown add the onions and saute till they are translucent.
2. Now add the Spice paste and saute till oil starts to show on the sides (about 10-12 minutes).
3. Now add the tomatoes and continue to saute till the tomatoes become mushy and mixed well with the spice paste.
Add in the vegetables you are planning to add at this time. Sauté for a minute.
4. Add the rice and saute till all the liquid has been absorbed.
5. Now add the required amount of water, salt and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let the rice cook to about 3/4 th cooked.
6. Close the lid of the cooker, place the weight and let it cook for 8 minutes in heat to slightly less than medium. Turn off the heat and let it sit for about 10 more minutes before opening the lid and giving a good mix.

Serve with raita of choice.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kitchen Utensils - 101 - Pressure Cooker

When someone traveling to the US from India asks me what is the one utensil they need to bring with them my answer invariably is you guessed it - a pressure cooker. It is equivalent to having 3-4 different kinds of dishes in one. Besides taking half the time to cook compared to an open vessel the pressure cooker is also convenient for sautéing, steaming, cooking and roasting.

Cooking rice and lentils, making curries, making biryani or other mixed rice dishes, roasting vegetables or meat, steaming vegetables or idli all are easily accomplished using the pressure cooker.

While pressure cookers are making their appearance in stores here in the US, the variety of sizes and types that are available in India is far more superior. Most of us of a certain age are familiar with a cooker exploding it's contents because of built in pressure. The same physics that makes cooking faster also lends itself to built in pressure. Put that fear to rest, the pressure cookers of today have safety features like pressure release valves which prevent the contents of the cooker from exploding. I have not seen anything explode in my kitchen over the past 15 years I have been cooking.

Aluminum Cooker

When you are shopping for a cooker of course you look for the size and the shape. One other feature you want to look for is the material that it is made of. I own both stainless steel and aluminum cookers.

Stainless Steel Cooker

The stainless steel is heavier with a base that retains lot more heat and cooking is faster. While this is durable and sturdy and perhaps perfect for certain cooking there is always the problem of food sticking to the bottom if you are going to cook food directly in the cooker.

Pressure Pan

So here is the general rule of thumb that I follow,
If cooking with a vessel insert I use the stainless pressure cooker but if I am cooking directly in the cooker like making a rice dish or a curry I use the aluminum pressure cooker.

The cooker capacity is another variable you want to look at. I have 3 pressure cookers and a pressure pan with capacities of 8, 5 and 3 liters. An 5 liter cooker is ideal for a family of 4. While an 8 liter cooker is big it comes in handy when you want to steam or cook multiple items at the same time and also for a 4 level idli mould to fit in.

cooker lid with gasket inserted cooker lid and the stem where the weight is inserted
gasket weights and pressure valve

While purchasing your first pressure cooker make sure you buy the inset vessels and the ildi maker that go in the cooker. These days you can buy puttu maker that go in the cooker as well. Anything that can be steamed can go in the cooker.

multi deck steamer with no holes, rice in one, lentils in another etc., idli steamer
steamer basket vessel that goes inside the cooker
puttu steamer, this one has holes in the bottom mutlti shaped vessels that go in the cooker

While Indians have known for a long time the benefits of using a pressure cooker for quick and easy cooking, Americans are just now waking up to the possibility. They have learned that cooking beans and lentils is done in a jiffy which take forever on the stove top and switching to cooking meats in the pressure cooker which took the better part of the day when done in the oven make for far lesser time spent in the kitchen and not to mention the savings in fuel.

Just follow the general guidelines like keeping enough water in the cooker while steaming and while cooking you will have a joyous time using the cooker to prepare foods quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Zucchini Puttanesca where the Zucchini is the Pasta!

If you are in Whole Foods during the evenings and on Friday evenings in particular you get to taste sample foods. Sometimes it is a recipe with the seafood they have on sale for the day. Other times it is a recipe with some new condiment they are promoting or some new cheese (or old) or a cake or a chip.

After dropping off kids at their class in the evening we spend our time browsing the shelves at the nearby Whole Foods usually with a hungry stomach. No wonder when we sample those foods they taste nothing short of delicious. The last time we were there we tasted this Zucchini Puttanesca and need I say it good? The lady in charge helpfully handed out printed recipes. Of course I got the recipe and tried it the very next day. It wasn't my rumbling tummy, it really did taste good.

If you have vine ripened tomatoes and fresh zucchini from your garden you got to try this. If aren't that lucky store bought would do and that is exactly what I did. I have to confess that eating salads (which includes everything that is not cooked) is not my cup of tea. Keeping that in mind when I say this tastes good you got to believe me and is also very easy and quick to put together.

Recipe Source: Whole Foods
Zucchini Puttanesca
1. 2 Zucchini
2. Tomatoes (any kind you like - heirloom, cherry tomatoes) - I used some homegrown small round tomatoes - 3/4 cup
3. 3 tbsp of olives chopped into tiny pieces
4. 2-3 garlic cloves minced (I skipped this)
5. 1/2 tbsp of capers
6. 1-2 tsp of black pepper powder
7. 2-3 tbsp sunflower seeds
8. 2 tbsp of basil pesto

1. Julienne the Zucchini or use the vegetable peeler to make ribbons (just cut the center rind into very thin slices once the outer flesh has been peeled.
2. Cut the tomatoes into small dice
3. Now toss the rest of ingredients other than the sunflower seeds together.
4. Sprinkle the sunflower seeds on top while serving.