Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guacamole - Avocado,onion and tomato salad

I bet every immigrant understands this feeling of acute longing for home (country) some time or the other, triggered by sights, smells or an image. Mine was brought on last week when I was listening to a conversation on PBS. Charlie Rose was interviewing P.Chidamabaram and I chanced on it by accident while channel surfing. Maybe it was something he said or seeing a very familiar face on TV here I don't know which I felt this yearning to pack up and go home. If you were to judge him only by his interview he comes across as sincere, articulate and suave. India can stand proud (not).

It is amazing how he talked about corruption in India with a straight face. He is a politician after all and also part of the problem. The wealth he has amassed might be rivaled only by his boss - the madam from Italy.

That was that everyday details interfered and I forgot about that.

Now to the recipe of the day,

Hard to imagine I have spent a good portion of my life here in the US running away from Avocado. As for guacamole it just did not look appetizing enough. Like with everything else in life stuff happens. There was a period in my life when I was hooked on to Chipotle food that is when Guacamole became palatable enough and now I am actually quite fond of it, the homemade version that is.

It is a very easy condiment to make and is a great side for burritos or quesadillas and also for corn chips. Good enough to skip the store bought salsa and sour cream. I like the guacamole to have just enough avocado but feel free to add more if you like it more creamy. For people like me who are not fond of raw onion, the lime juice takes the pungency out.

Is Avocado available in India? By that I mean is it grown there? Just curious?

Guacamole - Avocado, Onion and Tomato Salad
Preparation Time:30 minutes
  1. 1/2 White Onion (Red works fine too) about 1 cup chopped fine
  2. Grape tomatoes cut into 4s about 1 cup cut
  3. 1 -2 Avocadoes (do not cut it till you are ready to add it to the onion tomato mixture)
  4. 1 tbsp chopped pickled jalapenos
  5. juice from 1 -2 limes
  6. 1/4 tsp salt
  7. 2-3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  1. Combine the tomatoes and onions with the lime juice and let it sit for 20 -25 minutes. Longer the better.
  2. Cut the avocado in half, use the sharp end of the knife to pick out the stone, remove the flesh and mash it as smooth or coarse as you like. We like it with a few chunks.
  3. Add in the chopped jalapenos, salt and coriander leaves. Give a good mix and the guacamole is ready.
  4. Note: Mix the avocado as close to your eating time as possible to avoid discoloration.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Vendakkai poriyal - Roasted Lady's Finger (Okra) stir fry

All of us have food memories. Some of them are of foods made on special occasions. The others are simple everyday foods that just makes us feel comfortable.

This okra stir fry is an every day affair made without much fanfare. What comes to mind when I think of them are those half days of school on Saturdays. The bus dropped us off around lunch time. We ran inside washed ours hands and sat at the dining table ready to eat. My memory of this lady's finger stir fry is from just such a day and it does not mean it was not cooked on other days. It was cooked often.

The recipe is nothing special but it is one of my most favorite ways of cooking and eating okra. The kids love it too when it is cooked this way. Nutty and sweet it has a taste all its own. If that is not enough incentive okras is supposed to sharpen the brain and improve Math skills!.

The problem with okra bought here is they are not as fresh which means they have to be dried pretty well after washing them so they do not get very slimy. I spread them out on a kitchen towel and lay them out in the sun. The way the okra is chopped also influences the taste of the stir fry as does the amount of oil. Liberal use of oil will result in a crispier result.

Vendakkai Poriyal - Roasted Lady's Finger (Okra) Stir Fry
Preparation Time:20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 - 45 minutes
  1. 3/4 lb of okra washed and dried completely with a kitchen towel or in the sun
  2. 1/2 red onion chopped fine
  3. 8-10 green chilies slit and shaken to remove the seeds
  4. 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
  5. seasonings: curry leaves, split urad dal, cumin and mustard seeds
  6. salt to taste
  7. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
  8. 2-3 tsp of oil
  1. Slice the okra into thin rounds, thinner the better.
  2. In a wide mouthed pan heat the oil. When hot add the urad dal, followed by the cumin and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop add the curry leave followed by the onions and green chilies.
  3. Saute till the onions turns translucent. Add the turmeric powder and the sliced okra.
  4. Now it is time for some endurance, keep sauteing the okra, add the lemon juice if there is a lot of slime. Add a bit of oil in intervals. Add salt and continue to saute till the okra is completely cooked and as crispy as you want it to be.
This is a perfect side dish for chapathis but we usually have it with rice as as side.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dried Figs and Blueberries Fudgy Bar

I had some dried figs in the pantry leftover after making this Fig Fruit Cake. Chanced upon a perfect way to use it when I came across this tasty recipe on a beautiful blog - Lite Bite.

The kids eat a lot of cereal bars but filled as they are with sugar I wanted something that has a little bit less sugar like these Lara Bars which I have tried with blueberries and cherries.

blended dried fruits cooked fruit paste halfway done

These fig bars are somewhat similar but requires cooking because of the water used in blending the soaked fruits. I used blueberries but any dried fruit - apricots or dried cherries would all work good. I made the nuts close to a powdery side for texture leaving a few bigger pieces.

These bars serve as 2 in 1 as energy bars and as a tasty treat.

Recipe Source:Lite Bite - Raisin and Dried Fig Fudge
Dried Figs and Blueberries Fudgy Bar
Preparation Time:20 minutes + overnight soaking
Cooking Time: 30 - 45 minutes
  1. 1 cup dried figs
  2. 1 cup dried blueberries
  3. 1/2 cup of slightly roasted and nuts (pecans, almonds and pistachios) chopped coarsely but closer to the powdery side. Set 2tbsp aside for garnish.
  4. 2 tbsp of palm sugar + 2 tbsp of turbinado sugar or brown sugar (I used brown sugar)
  5. 2 tbsp of ghee
  1. Soak the figs and blueberries in as little water as possible preferably overnight and blend to a smooth paste.
  2. In a pan heat half of the ghee and add the blended paste and cook it till comes together about 25 minutes or so.
  3. Add the sugar and the chopped nuts and continue to cook till the sugar is incorporated into the fruit mixture and cook for another 20 minutes or so till it reaches soft ball stage.
  4. Pour the mixture into a prepared pan which has been greased with some ghee. Spread the mixture evenly in the tray.
  5. Let cool and cut into square bars. Sprinkle powdered nuts on top.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Avocado Cottage Cheese Hearty Sandwich

Schools in our area (I bet every area) are notorious for giving days off when there is no reason. Professional days, end of marking period etc., The poor parents of course has to get to work on these days. Anyway there is telecommuting to tide over these tough spots if there is nothing earth shattering that requires your presence in the office anyway. Thank God for that or at least till it gets taken away.

This presents another problem the need to provide lunch, one has to eat holiday or not. There is not much time to slog in the kitchen, we are supposed to be working after all.

This recipe was born on just such a day. I had a tub of cottage that I had bought to make these stuffed croissants . I make sure to have avocados just because they are so versatile. Sandwiches can be made just with the avocado. Lunch time called for something more substantial.

This is more of an idea than a recipe modify to suits your needs,

Avocado Cottage Cheese Hearty Sandwich
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 5-10 minutes
  1. 6 slices of whole wheat sandwich bread (we used the multi-grain one) or use a chapathi and roll it
  2. 1 avocado seeded and diced
  3. tomato slices
  4. 1 heaped tbsp of cottage cheese for each sandwich (substitute with scrambled egg or paneer)
  5. pickled jalapeno slices
  6. Harrisa spread about a 1/4 tsp for each sandwich(use any spread you prefer, hummus or mustard works too)
  7. salt and pepper to taste and a drizzle of lemon juice
  8. butter or ghee for toasting the bread slices
  1. Spread butter on the bread slices and in a pan or toaster toast them till they acquire nice golden spots. No need to toast but toasting with butter makes them tasty obviously, you'd agree.
  2. Spread the harrissa paste on both the slices.
  3. Spread the cottage cheese and place the avocado, tomato slices and jalapeno slices on top, sprinkle salt and pepper and squeeze lemon juice.
  4. Place them on each and other and the sandwich is ready.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Paasi Paruppu Payasam - Moong Dal (green gram dal) Kheer

Paasi Paruppu Payasam is comfort food for me. Even the thought of it makes me feel warm and loved. I was not particularly fond of it when the best payasam was readily available but now it is more the thought than the actual taste that I remember. I preferred the javarisi(tapioca pearls) payasam any day.

Ammayee(maternal grandmother) made this payasam often for all special occasions and like anything she makes this was also delicious. With home made jaggery and the freshest of coconut why won't it? A kongu specialty that is required in all functions.

Shame on me, this is the first time I have made it. I got the recipe from my aunt a few months ago and I had to make it because today and tomorrow we celebrate DH's birthday and the Tamil New Year. It is absolutely delicious and I fail to understand why I did like it back then. Better late than never. Even more comforting a container of this in the fridge could very well serve as a fantastic breakfast as well.

Dear Reader Wishing you all a Very Happy Tamil New Year!

வாசகர்களுக்கு இனிய தமிழ் புத்தாண்டு நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்

Preparation Time: 10 - 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Paasi Paruppu Payasam - Moong Dal Kheer
  1. 1 cup roasted paasi paruppu (split green gram dal, I used one with skin, yellow works fine too)
  2. 2 tbsp of raw rice wash and soak in about 4 tbsp of water
  3. 1/4 - 1/2 cup of jaggery (depending on how sweet you want it)
  4. 2 tbsp of regular sugar (I used turbinado sugar)
  5. 2 cardamom pods (soak it with the rice)
  6. 1/4 - 1/2 cup of grated fresh or frozen coconut
  7. 2 tbsp of ghee (skip for a vegan version)
  8. 1/4 cups of cashews and golden raisins
  1. Cook the moong dal preferably in a pressure cooker with 2 1/2 cups of water till it is soft and mushy
  2. Blend the coconut,soaked rice with the water and the cardamom to a smooth paste. You could set aside some of the grated coconut aside for garnish.
  3. Make a syrup with the jaggery (no string requirements here just let the jaggery dissolve so it is easier to remove the impurities) with about 1 - 1 1/2 cups of water)
  4. Mash the moong dal with the back of the spoon, add the rice-coconut mixture and the jaggery syrup into and in medium low heat cook it for another 5-10 minutes till it thickens up a bit. (If you have added a bit more water cook it a bit longer till it thickens. Add the ghee about 1 1/2 tbsp towards the end of the cooking time.
  5. As that cooks roast the cashews and raisins till they are golden and when ready to switch of the heat add it in.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thattu Vadai Kongu way - Rice based savory crunchy snack

DH says I am good at asking cross questions! Maybe I should have become a lawyer. Could it be because I have been interested in fictional court room drams like forever having started with Perry Mason (Erle Stanley Gardner) and continued with John Grisham and I read every author whose protagonist is a lawyer.

When I first set foot in this country the biggest event on TV was the O.J Simpson trial and spent a quite a bit of time enthralled in that real life drama which was helpfully telecast live!. I have never set foot in a real court room till about a month ago when I visited one as a witness.

I have not grown tired of my current profession yet but I am wondering if I have secretly harbored the wish of becoming a lawyer one day. Back then I had to make a choice of a profession when I was about 15 years old. The education minister of our state at that time decreed that kids had to decide in 10th grade if they want to choose the biological sciences path or Math(or Commerce or Arts). All I knew then was I wasn't interested in Biology because my parents were both doctors and I was not going to be one. So by default I fell into the Math path and lucky for me I actually liked Math. I got fairly good grades and ended up in an Engineering college. Not complaining about any of what happened just saying.

The other influence perhaps was genetic. My maternal grandfather was a skilled criminal lawyer and apparently a very good one at that. I have heard of his fine oratorical practicing as he was in the 1950 and 1960s when most courtroom deliberations were conducted in English which obviously was not his mother tongue. We are talking of a time when English medium schools were not common and most learned English only when they hit college. Even well into his 80s he was immersed in those law books.

I now live in a country where second, third and even fourth careers are fairly common and I have a lot of time to pick up a second career. Maybe I will become a lawyer one day.

Dear Readers how about you all? Are you happy in your current career? Are you secretly harboring a desire for a different career? It will be interesting to know. Share please!

Now to the recipe. Spring break time is when DD is free and I have a helper to do some frying. So craving for some crunchy stuff we decided on making some thatta vadai which I how we called it or thatta vadai like it is called every else. In Kongu Naadu murukku or thatta vadai is made by soaking rice blending it and mixing it with roasted channa dal and urad dal powder whereas every where else it is usually made with rice flour. I followed the Kongu way after a phone call to mom who checked with her friend a neighbor and confirmed the proportions.

The trick to nice crispy thatta vadai is to pat them into even thin layers else they will turn soft (they still taste fine though). Some of them turned a little soft till I got the hang of patting them out. A rolling pin or the poori press would come in handy here.

Thattu Vadi Kongu way
Preparation Time: 3 1/2 hours
Cooking Time: 1 hour
  1. 2 cups of idli rice or ponni boiled rice
  2. 2 tbsp roasted urad dal powder
  3. 2 tbsp roasted channal dal (pottukadalai) powder
  4. 8 red chillies
  5. a pinch of asfoetida
  6. 2 tbsp of butter
  7. 1/3 of channa dal soaked for a couple of hours
  8. salt to taste
  9. oil for deep frying
  1. Soak the rice and red chillies for about 2-3 hours and blend it to a smooth paste by adding as little water as possible. Important thing is the blended rice should not be loose. The batter should be tight enough to make a stiff dough when the urad dal powder and channa dal powder.
  2. Add the dal powders and then add in the salt, asfoetida,butter and soaked and drained channa dal to make a stiff dough.
  3. In a wide mouthed pan set heat the oil till hot.
  4. Make a small lemon size ball of the dough and pat into on a clean white towel/cloth. Alternatively place a plastic sheet of paper on a poori press and apply some soil on it and place the ball of dough and press it down lightly so it is nice and thin.
  5. Drop the pressed/patted dough in to the hot oil. The vadai is done when the bubbles subside and they are nice and golden on both sides.
  6. Remove from oil and place on a paper towel. Continue with the rest of the dough.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Kids Lunch - Bread and Omelette with Cheese

Did you know that chewing bubble is good? Not something to be annoyed about when it gets repeatedly chewed on and blown bubble with?

When you are in the checkout aisle and those little hands reach for that shiny box of bubble gum don't tap it away. Chewing gum is supposed to boost brain power! No I am not making it up because I get succored into buying bubble gum a lot more than I would like. It is the truth based on research done by a team of researchers at St. Lawrence University. Don't trust me still? Check this link here.

Though my kids seem to chew a bubblegum for like forever(?!). I guess I can chill now that I know its going to make them smart! That must have been some fun research!

Anyway I cannot pack that for lunch so the recipe for today is an idea for packing a kid friendly lunch especially if cold cut meats is not something that your kids are fond of.

If you are like me and struggling to pack lunch for your kids you need to take a leaf out of the Indian boarding/hostel menu items like I did. Huh? you say. Let me explain. I have been at a couple of hostels and a boarding school by that time I finished my schooling in India. Every one of them had bread either on their breakfast or dinner menus for one day of the week. They were served with jam in one of the places and a runny curry in another. That curry still gives me nightmares even to this day. Anyway the best had always been bread and egg combination. My friend loved eating bread with a bulls eye a.k.a sunny side up and that is one of my favorites combinations too. The other much loved combination is bread with omelette - like it is made back home with onions and green chillies.

Who would have thought that would be the combination that is a sought after packed lunch for school. Easy for me to do. The difference here is no onions and green chillies but cheese. Whole wheat, multi-grain or jalapeno bread bought from our favorite Amish market all work great.

Bread and Omelette with Cheese
Preparation Time: 2 min
Cooking Time: 5 min
  1. 1 egg
  2. 2 slices of bread
  3. 1 tbsp grated cheese (I like using Pepper Jack Cheese)
  4. salt and black pepper to taste
  5. oil spray or a dab of butter
  1. In a small saute pan spray oil or spread some butter and break an egg on it and spread the yolk with a spatula.
  2. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook on one side, flip and while it cooks on the other side spread the cheese on the cooked side and let it melt.
  3. Nothing like toasted bread, so spread the bread slices with butter and toast them on both sides.
  4. Place the omelette between the 2 slices of bread and wrap it in a paper towel first and then with foil.
There lunch is ready.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Karuvadu kathrikai Kulambu- Dried Fish with brinjals sour and spicy curry

Karuvadu or dried fish is either delicacy or a smelly preparation that makes you hold your nose. Growing up I would never have been exposed to these tasty morsels of fish if not for my neighbor(lovingly known as peiamma). I do not remember the taste but only a vague remembrance of having eaten it there.

I am afraid karuvadu is not as popular in the Kongu regions of TamilNadu where we moved to after the first few years of life in Madurai where we could get all kinds of seafood. Add to this my mom's vegetarian side of the family whose food preparations and habits is what I have largely adopted it is even a wonder I have the guts to cook dried fish in my own kitchen. If not for the love of fish I would not have gone any where near it.

I purchased some dried seer fish from a Srilankan store when I went there with my friend. From fish sambol to seeni sambol and everything fish in between my occasional visits to this store is well worth it.

Since these dried fish are heavily salted they need to be appropriately cooked for it to be tasty.

Every region in Tamil Nadu has its own version of dried fish kuzhambu. Here is mine. I added brinjals because brinjals and dried fish like a match made in heaven are so good together. Even drumsticks would be a good addition but I decided to give it a pass.

Karuvadu is something I would not cook very often but occasionally having the house smell a bit fishy is not a bad thing. From wrinkling her nose at the smell of the fish to enjoying it DD2's range of emotions from when I started cooking it to when she tasted it and asked for more is the typical reaction of most people tasting this for the first time.

For those who are worried about the smell it is only initially when it starts to cook then there is hardly any noticeable smell.

I watched this you tube video-Vathalagundu Karvadu kulambu and that is what propelled me into the kitchen to cook the dried fish I have been saving for close to a year. I used some ideas from there but it was kind of surprising the cook did not use any tamarind.

To keep it vegetarian skip the dried fish add more shallots, a few pieces of drumsticks and a potato or beans like val(mochai).
Karuvadu Kathrikai Kuzhambu - Dried fish with brinjals sour and spicy curry
Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 30 min
  1. 200gms of dried fish (I used Seer dry fish)
  2. small purple brinjals 6-8
  3. 4-6 garlic cloves sliced
  4. 3/4 cup of shallots diced
  5. 1 tomato sliced
  6. 6-8 red chillies
  7. 1/2 cup of thick tamarind pulp
  8. 1/2 tbsp of kuzhambu thool or sambhar powder
  9. 1 tsp red chili powder (optional)
  10. 1 tsp turmeric powder
  11. 2 tsp of jaggery (optional but brings out the sour and spicy taste of the curry)
  12. salt to taste
  13. 2-3 tsp of oil
  14. seasonings: mustard seeds, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds (methi)
  15. roasted and powdered fenugreek powder about 1/4 tsp
    Masala Paste
  1. In a pan add a tsp of oil and saute 1/2 cup of the onions and red chilies and saute till the onions are brown, add in the tomatoes and saute till they are mushy. Cool and blend to a smooth paste adding a tiny bit of water if required.
  2. In a wide mouthed pan heat the rest of the oil (2 tsp) and add the seasonings, first mustards seeds followed by the rest.
  3. Add the chopped onion and saute till translucent followed by the garlic and saute for a couple more minutes.
  4. Add in the dried fish and saute it in the oil for about 3-4 minutes and fish them out. ( I do this because the brinjals have to cook and don't want the fish to fall apart).
  5. Now add the slit or cut brinjals and let them saute for 3-4 minutes or till brown spots appear on the brinjals. Now add in the masala paste and tamrind juice and 1 cup of water and let them come to a boil. Simmer till the brinjals are cooked and the sauce thickens a bit.
  6. Add in the fish pieces and check for salt in about 5 minutes and add more salt if required and the jaggery if using. I like to add a tiny bit to any tamarind based curries.
  7. Sprinkle the powdered fenugreek (methi) powder and turn off the heat.
Absolutely have to serve it with steamed rice. Tastes even better the next day.