Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cooking Millets

I have sweet/sugar problems. I can't completely stop eating sweets. It is shameful even the kids have been recruited to watch my sugar addiction. Anyway staying off sugar completely is never going to happen. Instead there is one thing I can do. Reduce the carbohydrates. Instead of just alternating between rice and wheat I have decided to try a variety of grains and seeds that I can get my hands on.

Cattail Millet

Back home in KonguNadu before rice became popular in the 50s several kinds of millets were part of the diet. Once rice took over especially the white rice most of these other grains simply fell of the radar. When we were kids pearl millet was cooked and made into balls and kept soaked in water to be eaten during the hot summer afternoons. This was my grandfather mostly and we kids mostly kept away from it. While pearl millet was the most common one back home. Here in the US the millet that is available is cattail millet or Kambu.

Soak the millet and then cook in boiling water.

I bought some millet from Whole Foods a month ago. It cooks pretty quickly and just as easily substitute it for rice. The millet by itself does not have any taste. Perhaps for taste buds used to glucose as in rice getting used to millet might be a little difficult. With a spicy curry on the side that problem can be easily overcome.

Cookeing Millet
Preparation Time:10 + 30 (soaking time) minutes
Cooking Time:20 minutes
  1. 1 cup of millet (Cattail millet)
  2. 2 - 3/12 cups of water (the amount of water depends on how long the millet is soaked)
Stove Top Method - soaked
  1. Soak the millet in plenty of water for about 30 minutes at least. Wash in several changes of water.
  2. Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil. Keep 1/2 cup of water aside. Add the washed millet to the boiling water, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes first in medium heat. Stir with a spoon and cook for another 10 minutes in medium low heat.
  3. If the millet is still whole at this point add the reserved 1/2 cup of water. (I did not need it.) When the water is all absorbed turn off the heat. Keep covered for another 5-10 minutes before serving.
  4. Note: Watch the millet as it is cooking, if the waters get too low and if the millet is not cooked add the reserved water.
Pressure Cooker Method - unsoaked
  • Wash the millet is several changes of water.
  • In a pressure cooker add the millet and 3 1/2 cups of water and cook for 3-4 whistles.
  • Let the pressure subside naturally and then open and fluff the cooked millet.
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    Tuesday, December 24, 2013

    Coconut Macaroons

    Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas!

    "Do you believe in God?" asked the receptionist at my office. Here it comes I thought. People have always been trying to convince me that "God" means 'The God' that they pray to. I was taken aback because these kind of questions are not PC in an office. While I am not particularly happy about the Political Corectness (PC) that goes on here I have always welcomed the fact that religion fell into that untouchable category.

    I hesitated for a moment and then said "Yes! I do believe in God". The next question was if I had a Christmas tree at home. I said yes the kids usually put it up just for the Santa and gift factor not for any religious reasons. "There you go" she said following it up with another question. "You do know that Christmas is a religious holiday right?". I answered in the affirmative. I have absolutely no problem in people wishing me a Merry Christmas. It does not have to the PC "Happy Holidays". But when she asked me if I celebrated Christmas I had to tell her that we were not Christian and Christmas was not something we celebrated by the strict definition of the word.

    Prepared batter

    Another lady who also works in the office who had walked out the door with me stopped by and joined in the conversation. She turns towards the receptionist and said "She is not a Christian Yet!" with an emphasis on the yet as if she knew something that I did not. At that point I felt the need to reiterate the fact that there was absolutely no chance of my conversion. They looked at each other with an expression that seemed to say, they all say that.

    Anyway I went to Catholic schools for 14 years of my life. For a long time I knew a lot more about Christianity than my own religion. I have been to mass and have been blessed by priests countless times. I had felt relief and calm sitting quietly in the cool interiors of those beautifully built chapels. I absolutely adore the high ceilings and the certain quiet calm that they bring on you just by being there.

    There is absolutely no religion at least for me that is better than the other. Each come with their own twists and turns. The basic teaching of all them is the same. Do good unto others what you expect for yourself. SO it really does not matter what religion you belong to does it? As for celebrating religious holidays it is absolutely up to each one to take part in the festivities.

    I live in the US after all so the spirit of the season does grow on you. Putting up a tree or baking cookies is what we do to celebrate the season. Usually I plan on baking cookies during the season and start collecting recipes but when it comes to execution most of the time it does not happen.

    This year I actually I followed through. Well not exactly me but DD. We had brought the ingredients a couple of weeks ago and it finally got done today. Coconut macaroons are a favorite around our house. I do not buy them too often because they are usually gone in a day. But holiday time calls for making such favorites at home. The preparation is quite easy and there are not many ingredients. I followed the recipe from Food Network by Ina Garten

    These macaroons turned out so good and DD was very proud. Crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

    Coconut Macaroons
    Preparation Time:15-20 minutes
    Cooking Time:40 minutes
    1. 1 14oz bag of sweetened coconut flakes (substitute with fresh or frozen grated coconut)
    2. 1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
    3. 1/4 tsp of salt
    4. 2 large eggs (at room temperature) (we used 3 eggs and that was bit too much and the batter was slightly runny)
    5. 1 tsp vanilla extract (I did not add any)

    1. Preheat oven to 325F.
    2. Separate the eggs from the yolk and beat the egg whites with an electric beater till medium peaks form.
    3. In a mixing bowl combine the coconut, salt, vanilla essence(if using) and the condensed milk. Fold in the beaten egg whites and mix gently.
    4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (I used my oven tray lined with aluminum foil and sprayed with oil spray). Scoop about 2 tbsp of the batter and drop on to the prepared tray.(see Note:)
    5. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes till the macaroons start getting brown on top. Cool and they are ready to eat.
    6. Note: The recipe called for each macaroon to be 2 tsp of batter and we used 2 tbsp so the baking time was longer. So adjust accordingly.
    7. It is important to first set the time for about 30 minutes and then slowly increase by 5 minute intervals till completely done.

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    Thursday, December 19, 2013

    Beans Sambhariya

    On our Indian trip this summer I spent a lot of time watching 'Food Food' channel on TV especially when we were on our Leh trip. I made note of some of the recipes that were interesting and looked tasty. Turban Tadka was one of my favorite chefs on that channel since his recipes were easy to make and was absolutely entertaining the way he went about doing it.

    One of the recipes I watched and made a note of was beans sambhariya. Beans recipes are always welcome. Beans here are plentiful but the recipes are a few. The bland tasting beans needs some serious spices to make it interesting. That is exactly what this recipe does.

    The original recipe called for using roasted Channa Dal (pottukadalai, dalia) but I chose to use cooked Channa Dal (Kadalai Paruppu). The channa dal should be just cooked and not mushy (mine got mushy). The end result would have been much better if I had controlled the cooking time.

    Saute the ginger, garlic and green chilies along with the other seasonings. Add cooked beans and the turmeric, chili and coriander powders
    Add the cooked dal (or roasted dal) coconut and salt and let cook till everything comes together.

    Beans Sambhariya
    Preparation Time:10 minutes
    Cooking Time:20 minutes
    1. 2 cups of finely chopped green beans
    2. 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
    3. 5 green chilies finely chopped
    4. 1 tbsp of grated ginger
    5. 1 cup cooked channa dal (kadalaiparuppu) or roasted channa dal (pottukadalai)
    6. 2 tbsp of grated fresh or frozen coconut (I skipped this)
    7. 2 tsp turmeric powder
    8. 1/2 - 1 tbsp red chili powder
    9. 2 tsp coriander powder
    10. 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
    11. salt to taste
    12. seasonings: cumin seeds, curry leaves
    13. 2 pinches of asfoetida
    14. 1 tsp of oil

    1. If using Channa dal cook it but let it maintain its shape slightly undercooked would be fine.
    2. Cook the green beans sprinkled with water and covered with a lid for about 6 minutes. Set aside. Do not use plenty of water, just sprinkling a tbsp or two should be sufficient. When cooked all of this water should be gone.
    3. Heat oil in a wide mouthed pan and when hot add the seasonings. When the mustard starts to pop add the asfoetida, green chilies, ginger and garlic and saute till the chilies are nice and crispy. (You will not be able to fish out the green chilies later so make sure it well roasted).
    4. Add in the cooked green beans, give a gentle mix. Add in the turmeric, chilli powder and coriander powder. Mix them together.
    5. Add in the cooked channa dal, coconut and salt and let it cook for 5 minutes.
    6. Sprinkle the coriander leaves on top and cook for another 5 minutes.
    7. Note: This should be a dry kind of dish. Overcooking resulted in mine getting a bit mushy. Use roasted dal for a much better results.

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    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

    Whole Wheat Naan on the stovetop

    Just like Pizza, Naan seems to be another favorite around the house. Naan has always been store bought or restaurant bought. First reason obviously is not owning a Tandoor which I guess is no reason at all. The second is just the trepidation to try something at home which is generally thought of as a restaurant only food item.

    Once I bit the bullet and made dough for pizza making naan was the logical next step. Both are yeasted breads that need rising time. Check this post about how to make the pizza dough.

    Roll out the naan like you would any bread into a desired shape. Cook on one side. Drizzle with oil and cook on the other side.

    The excess dough was refrigerated with oil applied to the surface of the dough and covered with a slightly wet towel. Making the dough is not as hard as I thought. Once you have the dough, making naan is quick and easy. By no means am I saying you got to refrigerate the dough. It can be used once it has risen. Punch it down knead it and use it right away.

    Once I had the dough ready making the naan was the easy part. Cooking the naan on one side and then using the oven to cook on top would have give even better results. But with hungry mouths to feed that would have a time consuming exercise.

    These whole wheat naans were soft, puffy and very tasty. The chewy texture of restaurant white flour naans completely absent. Give it a try you will be very happy.

    Whole Wheat Naan
    Preparation Time:1-2 hours
    Cooking Time:20 minutes
    1. Whole Wheat Dough - Refer here and use the pizza crust recipe
    2. oil for cooking
    1. Knead the dough till smooth.
    2. Pinch out lemon sized balls of the dough, make smooth balls, dust some dry flour on the rolling surface. Roll out dough into desired shape.
    3. Heat a hot griddle, smear a bit of oil. Place the rolled dough. Cook till you see bubbles rise on the surface. Apply oil, flip and cook on the other side.
    4. Use a towel to keep warm till ready to eat.

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    Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza Crust - Vegetable Pizza with Homemade Pizza Sauce

    "Gut Bacteria" is all the rage now! Just kidding guys. In the last couple of weeks I have read and heard 2 articles regarding gut bacteria. We all know that good bacteria are necessary for our intestinal health. The reason we are advised to eat yogurt(curd) after a course of antibiotics.

    But wait that is not all, gut bacteria might explain why some people are depressed and the others not so much. The gut bacteria might be doing good work or not. Read/Listen to learn more - Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds. Who knew that bacteria played such an important role. All of us know that bacteria cause nasty diseases to be banished with a heavy dose of antibiotics. Of course, Of course there is good bacteria and bad bacteria but we don't pay too much attention to the good kind. Don't forget to eat your yogurt and the good bacteria is made by good diet.

    And then in a recent article in the Washington Post - Gut Check. I read that these very same microbes maybe the reason why someone is fat or thin. Interesting isn't?

    Moreover how does one get the desired microbes rather than the ones that you don't want? Diet of course. Now that we have learned more than we ever want to know about bacteria in the gut let us move on to some tasty fare.

    Who doesn't like pizza? Raise your hands! I knew it not that many. I do not go looking for pizza but if I come across one I don't have the self control to reject it. Eat it and feel bloated and miserable. The problem is the cheese and the oily nature of store bought pizzas. The kids behave like I never feed them any food at all once they look at a pizza gobbling them up like nobody's business.

    (1) Flour along with the oil, salt and yogurt. (2) Yeast after 10 minutes of sitting in sugar and water solution.
    (1)Prepared dough, apply oil and cover with a moist kitchen towel and place in a warm place. (2)After an hour in the oven.
    Roll out the dough and arrange the desired toppings.

    It was time to conquer my fear of yeast and make some pizza at home. On hindsight I should have done it much earlier. It was kind of too easy. The only problem when I made the pizza was to add the water recommended in the recipe and that was not such a great idea. It is good to use the liquids measurements as a guideline and go with what the texture of the dough is saying to your hands.

    I followed this recipe for whole wheat pizza on a website called Tablespoon. I made one small change and added yogurt to the mix. I double the recipe and made naans with the leftover dough so make more than what you need and refrigerate the rest for some bonus treats the next day.

    When you are making pizza it is also good to decide what toppings you are going to use and have those ready. We used mushrooms, pickled jalapenos, roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese. I made a very simple pizza sauce at home since I forgot about that entirely. But as luck would have it I had a container of leftover Pomi tomatoes and that my dear friends is the best tomato for sauces. Period. If you only have fresh tomatoes on hand never you mind, puree them and use. But seriously you should have a few of those in your pantry. I am not a big fan of canned anything and rarely if ever buy canned stuff but these tomatoes they are something else altogether.

    I doubled the recipe and made 3 pizzas and save the leftover dough. Recipe coming up next. These pizzas were one of the lightest, airy and crunchy pizzas we have ever tasted.

    Whole Wheat Pizza
    Preparation Time:1-2 hours
    Cooking Time:45 minutes
    For 2 Medium sized pizzas

    Ingredients - For the Crust
    1. 2 1/2 cups of Whole Wheat Flour - I used a combination of unbleached Whole Wheat Flour and White Whole Wheat Flour and some Chapati flour
    2. 1 packets of pizza yeast or 2 1/4 tsp of active yeast
    3. 1 heaped tbsp of yogurt (optional)
    4. 1/2 tsp of salt
    5. 1 tbsp of sugar
    6. 1 tbsp of olive oil
    7. 1/2 cup of warm water - this is only a guideline (use enough to make a slight loose but pliable dough good enough for rolling out)
    1. Combine the yeast, sugar and about 2 tbsp of water and let it sit for 5 minutes or so.
    2. Heat the water and let it get warm (not hot) enough to the touch.
    3. Combine the rest of the sugar, flour,salt, yogurt and the olive oil in a mixing bowl.
    4. Add in the yeast and slowly add the water so the dough becomes soft and pliable. The dough should be slightly loose but pliable and ready to roll, so don't add too much water. If you do don't worry but you have to do some extra work. (see Note:)
    5. Apply some oil over the ball of dough and set it in a warm place for an hour. The dough should rise with all the yeast action. Punch it down knead a bit and separate into 2 balls.
    6. Roll them out using a roller into a thin crust or grease a pizza pan and pat them out with your fingers into a thin crust into any shape that emerges.Let sit for at least 10 minutes.
    7. Preheat oven to 500 F. While the oven is heating arrange the desired toppings(see below). Brush the sides of the crust with olive oil.
    8. Bake for 15 minutes till the crust is golden on the sides. Let sit for 5-10 minutes and then slice and serve.
    9. Note:If your dough is too loose after it rises you have to add more flour. On a clean surface add more flour(I used chapati flour for this but whole wheat flour is fine too) and knead the dough, bring the dough together with dry flour so it gets pliable and is not sticky and loose to the touch. I had to add about 1/2 cup extra flour because I added a bit too much water.

    10. Refrigerate the extra dough after applying some oil on the surface. Cover it with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel.

    11. I used the pizza pan with holes for the baking.

    For the Pizza Sauce
    1. 1 cup of thick tomato Puree (I used POMI brand chopped tomatoes)
    2. 3 cloves of garlic chopped fine
    3. 1 tbsp olive oil
    4. salt to taste
    5. 2-3 tsp of red chili powder (black pepper will work too, we wanted this on the spicy side)
    6. In a pan heat the olive oil add the garlic saute for a minute and then add the tomato puree, along with salt and chili powder.
    7. Let cook for about 15-20 minutes on medium low till the tomatoes are cooked and slightly thick and the oil leaves the sides. Set Aside.
    Toppings - Making the Pizza
    1. Bell Pepper, Mushrooms, Jalapenos, Mozarella Cheese
    2. Cut the Bell Pepper into strips, drizzle with olive oil/grape seed oil and roast for about 10 minutes. Set aside
    3. Slice the mushrooms into slices and set aside.
    4. Cut the mozarella cheese into slices
    5. On the rolled out pizza dough, spread the pizza sauce on top, I like only a meagre amount but feel free to add as much as you want.
    6. Arrange the vegetables first, top with the mozarella cheese and slide into the oven for baking.
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    Thursday, December 5, 2013

    Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins with Nuts

    The death of Nelson Mandela affected me more than I thought it would. I was born long after India had gotten it's independence from British rule. The freedom struggle and sacrifices of a lot of Indian leaders was what I had studied and learned through history books. Around the time I was learning of India's long and arduous fight for freedom in history books, in another part of the world people were fighting for their freedom through non-violent means that Mahatma Gandhi had used for the freedom struggle in India. So in many ways that fight for freedom seems more closer than the struggle for Indian independence because we were hearing about it as it was happening.

    I bet the fight of Nelson Mandela and his people struck a chord among Indians who read about it. It was also in South Africa that Gandhi as a young lawyer stood up for his rights. So hearing of his death brought on a reaction that is hard to explain. Sadness for South Africa that has lost leader who is very hard to replace. I am sure his passing away has affected a lot Indians and rightfully so the India government declared 5 days of mourning.

    The US government on the other hand had a long and complicated relationship with Nelson Mandela but even here there was wall to wall coverage of his death. There is absolutely no body who can ignore what Mandela has done for his country. May he rest in peace.

    Didn't mean to make anyone sad but moving on to the recipe,

    We are a family it seems that loves muffins. While even the word oatmeal brings groans and fake cries of misery, even the sight of muffins brings pure joy to those very faces. I do not have a problem with muffins for breakfast but the fact that it has as much sugar as a cupcake. Eating that for breakfast just does not sit well with me. It is perhaps OK for the kids but for the adults in the house trying to avoid the mid bulge it is not such a great thing.

    Anyway I have meaning to regularly bake some whole wheat muffins with the amount of sugar that is just enough and never got around to it. I had avoided buying muffins and it was not going to last any longer. So I got down to it and made some muffins.

    I consulted a bunch of recipes and settled on the Pioneer Woman's recipe. While Smitten Kitchen's recipe also looked good, I did not want to add butter. So sought of took elements from both.

    Mixed batter, check the consistency - should be thick and barely wet.
    Out of the oven and ready to eat.

    I used Greek Yogurt and that is perhaps why I had to add milk so the batter would be the right consistency. If using plain yogurt the milk might not be needed. The consistency of the batter should be thick ice cream scoopable consistency. Should not be loose. If it is loose the muffin will not cook properly and will be soggy inside. I added 3/4 cup of sugar first and then added another 1/4 cup because it was bit too bland.

    Looks pretty good inside - crumbs.

    The whole wheat flour did not change the texture of the muffins. They are not as soft as the white flour but not so dense that they don't look like muffins anymore. Try these once and you will not go back to white flour muffins.

    Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins
    Preparation Time:20 minutes
    Cooking Time:30-35 minutes
    For a 12 muffin tin, 4 ramekins and a 4 1/2 inch cake pan
    1. 3 cups flour (2 cups of White unbleached Whole Wheat Flour and 1 Cup of unbleached Whole Wheat Flour)
    2. 3/4 - 1 cup sugar
    3. 2 tsp of baking powder
    4. 1 tsp of baking soda
    5. 1/4 tsp of salt
    6. 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
    7. 1 egg
    8. 1/2 cup olive oil (vegetable oil can be used)
    9. 1 cup Greek yogurt (plain yogurt should work too, if using plain yogurt do not add milk or reduce accrodingly)
    10. 1 cup Milk
    11. 2 cups of blueberries
    12. 1/2 cup of light roasted pecans chopped
    13. butter or spray for the baking dishes
    1. Preheat oven to 375F.
    2. Grease the muffin tins and all the other baking dishes you are using.
    3. Whisk together flour, soda, baking powder,salt. Set aside.
    4. Beat the egg till it is nice and frothy. Add the yogurt, oil and the sugar and beat all together till smooth.
    5. Now add vanilla extract and the egg mixture to the flour and gently mix them in (using minimal strokes as possible to mix). Use the milk if the flour is still dry. I had to add all of the milk but use only as much as required to get a very thick batter. Mix in the blue berries and pecans with a few strokes as possible.
    6. Scoop the mixture into the muffin pans, ramekins and the cake tin filling them only 3/4th of the way.
    7. Bake for 25 minutes. The bigger baking dishes needed 30 minutes.
    8. Cool for 10-15 minutes.
    9. I am never going back to store bought muffins.
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    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Thakkali Kuzhambu for Idli or Dosai - Spicy Tomato Curry - For a Crowd

    In India unexpected guests was not the exception but the norm. There is no concept of asking the guests not to stay for a meal because they did not call ahead. Everyone responsible for feeding the unexpected guests - yes usually the mothers or the cooks have a few easy recipes up their sleeve. The ingredients that go into these dishes are also things that are readily available in the kitchen.

    I am sure everyone has a few tomatoes and the mandatory coconut in the house. Most everyone also has idli or dosai batter always in stock. Guests during lunch time are usually easier to deal with because nobody cooks just enough for that meal alone. Here is one of MIL's recipes which is perfect for unexpected guests.

    I do not talk much about MIL's cooking in this blog because I have never stayed long enough with her to learn her way of cooking. Some of the dishes that I learned were when she was visiting us here or when we were visiting India. Her cooking is of course very different from my mother's or grand mother's but very familiar nonetheless. Kongu areas of TamilNadu all have different techniques but the taste is usually unmistakably Kongu.

    DH's house is always filled with people. With 4 siblings, their families it is a large crowd to cook any time of the day. This thakkali kuzhambu lends itself nicely for feeding that crowd and everybody likes it and that is a big bonus. Goes well with idli, dosai, paniyaram or even chapathis. Generally no vegetables are added. Potatoes, peas or carrots and beans might be good additions. I like it with a lot of onions. The list seems long but it is very simple to make.

    Here is another Thakkali Kuzhambu recipe.

    Thakkali Kuzhambu for Idli Dosai
    Preparation Time:10 minutes
    Cooking Time:25 minutes
    For 8 people
      For the Masala
    1. 6-8 Tomatoes chopped (red and fully ripe) - I used the small Roma variety - set about 2 tbsp aside
    2. 2 tbsp Channa Dal (Kadalai Paruppu)
    3. small 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon - 4 cloves
    4. 1 tbsp Coriander seeds
    5. 1 tsp Cumin seeds
    6. 6 Red Chilies
    7. 1/2 cup of chopped onions (shallots or red onions)
    8. 1 tsp of fennel seeds (sombu) - I use this for seasoning but can be ground as a paste
    9. 3 tbsp of fresh or frozen coconut
    10. For the Kuzhambu
    11. 1 cup of finely chopped onions (I prefer shallots for this)
    12. Seasonings - a pinch each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and curry leaves
    13. a handful or as much as you want - Coriander leaves
    14. salt to taste
    15. 2 tsp of oil
    1. In a wide mouthed pan heat 1 tsp of oil and when hot add the channa dal saute, let it start to get brown. Now add the cinnamon, cloves and fennel if using and saute for a 1/2 a minute.
    2. Add the coriander seeds and red chilies and saute for a couple of minutes till they start to give a nice aroma and change color a bit. Remove them to the blender leaving behind as much of the oil as possible.
    3. Add more oil if needed to the same pan and saute the onions till it become nice and translucent and the edges start to turn brown.
    4. Add in the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes till it is mushy. Add the coconut and saute for a minute more. Transfer the onion and tomato mixture to the blender. Let cool. Blend to a fairly smooth paste adding as much water as required. [Note: You can first blend the spice mixture with the dal and then add the onions and tomatoes and blend.] Set aside.
    5. Now in a deep bottomed add the remaining 1 tsp of oil and when hot add the seasonings when the mustard starts to splutter add the curry leaves followed by the onions. Let the onions get translucent. You can add the tomatoes that were set aside now and saute till it is soft.
    6. Now pour the blended mixture along with 2-3 cups of water (should be slightly loose than the consistency you require. Add salt, mix well and let it boil for 8-10 minutes.
    7. Add in the coriander leaves (I like the leaves to be cooked). If you like them raw add them towards the end.

    Simple but delicious.

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