Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tomato Chutney with Bengal Gram - Kadalaiparuppu thakkali chutney

One cannot have too many chutney recipes. I am now wondering how back home they managed to make a chutney every single day for breakfast. Alternating between coconut, tomatoes and occasionally another vegetable is what I seemed to do a lot. So I do not mind having several variations of tomato recipes on hand. This one made with Bengal gram or kadalai paruppu is slightly different in taste from the tomato chutney made with coconut.

While a breakfast of soft idlis and chutney is what I crave during weekend mornings and these days I seems I prefer idlis over dosai. What a change a few decades can make? The kids on the other hand prefer crispy dosais over idlis but the one thing that will make them eat idlis without complaining is the chutney that goes with it when it is something they are fond of. They like all the tomato based chutneys, and also other chutneys like onion chutney, carrot chutney their favorite and coconut chutney.

Here is a quick and easy chutney to have on hand. I have realized one thing, home grown tomatoes especially heirloom and sun ripened tomatoes make a great difference in taste. Store bought tomatoes have absolutely no taste, you have to get the taste from the spices that are added whereas with good tomatoes all you need to do is add the spices just to bring out and heighten taste of the tomato.

Roast the bengal gram, followed by the urad dal and spices and set aside. Now in the same pan, saute the onions and tomatoes with salt. Cool.
Roast the bengal gram, followed by the urad dal and spices and set aside. Now saute the onions and tomatoes with salt.

The ingredients are very similar to how regular tomato chutney is made but the amount of kadalai paruppu is increased from 2 tsp to 2 tbsp.

Tomato Chutney with Bengal Gram - Kadalaiparuppu thakkali chutney
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
  1. 2 tbsp of Bengal Gram or kadalai paruppu
  2. 2 tsp of urad dal or uludham paruppu
  3. 1/2 tsp of coriander seeds + few pepper corns
  4. 3-4 dried or fresh red chilies
  5. 4-6 medium sized tomatoes about 2 cups of chopped tomatoes
  6. 1/2 cup of chopped shallots or red onions
  7. 1 1/2 tsp oil
  8. salt to taste

  1. In a wide mouthed pan or a saute pan add 1/2 tsp of oil and when hot add the Bengal Gram till it starts to brown. Add the urad dal at this time and continue to saute till they start to brown as well.
  2. Add in the coriander seeds and if using dried chilies add and saute for a minute.
  3. Remove the roasted dal and spices to a blender.
  4. In the same saute pan add more oil if required and saute till it starts to brown. At this point add the tomatoes and fresh red chilies if using, salt and saute for 5-8 minutes till the tomatoes are mushy. Let Cool.
  5. Powder the sauteed dal and spices to a powder. Now add the cooked onion, tomato mixture and blend to a fairly smooth paste.

Goes well with idlis, dosais and even with rotis. It is extremely tasty in a toasted bread.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Watermelon Dilemma and Refreshing Watermelon Cooler

Before I talk about the watermelon dilemma I want to talk about the Pope's visit to DC. I am definitely not a Catholic and for that matter a Christian either but I went to Catholic schools for 14 years of my life. That alone should give me a honorary membership in the Catholic church :) Doesn't matter I am not enamored with any religion. The teachings that say to see the goodness in every human being and to pay respect to mother nature is what I would consider as best forms of religion, For those who care about my religion affiliation ;)

Anyway I put aside my plan to go to DC to catch a glimpse of the pope because of the crowds that were expected there, traffic problems and setting aside a whole day for just that. Pope Francis looks very much like a man of the people and more accessible than any other pope in recent memory. Not that I am a papal watcher. The cute little Fiat that he has been traveling around in has become very popular with the security SUVs towering around the tiny little car. Anyway I was just as happy watching the whole thing on TV.

One event where nobody is taking sides and everyone looks happy and the spontaneity with which he interacts with youngsters and the general public is special. Like one of the school students who met him mentioned on TV, the pope was both humble and holy at the same time. In DC it is surprising to see everybody happy and smiling leaving aside their cynicism and partisanship. Absolutely amazing.

Now to my watermelon story,

I have not grown watermelons before. In fact I have not seen a watermelon on a vine. So it was thrilling and a bit mysterious at the same time. How can a small vine like that support that big of a fruit. The fruit is perhaps 3/4 water. What started as a tiny seedling started to grow and spread like crazy. With most fruits it is easy to tell when it ripens, the color changes obviously or you could at least use your nose to point in the right direction. All this does not work with watermelons. It starts out green and remains green. I search on the internet (where else?) to figure out how to sort this out. The internet was helpful but when it came down to it, it was still hard :)

Tiny Watermelon

To complicate matters further I had 2 kinds one was smaller and the other one was huuge or maybe it was the same seed and 2 different sizes grew, if you want to know, the watermelon is considered ripe if the side on the ground turns slightly yellow but turning around a huuge watermelon without snapping the vine is not that easy. So the first couple were for sure not ripe enough but it was still sweet mot to worry that was made into a refreshing cooling drink. The inside was a pretty pink color and another couple we harvested thinking they were ripe was still pink inside :( No worries DD2 loves watermelons ripe or not and can polish off a huge one in a couple of days.

Our neck of the woods has been under a dry smell for a month and a half. I have not been regular in watering these plants either. But it is still amazing how much water these fruits pack.

Big Watermelon

When the DDs were talking to their grandfather he mentioned that non-hybrids ones usually do not get red inside like the hybrids do. Did I mention that these had seeds inside?

The not so ripe ones and the ripe ones were put to good use - they became juice. With the addition of a couple of squeezes of lime and a few drops of honey, this was the best drink we have had in a while.

Tiny Watermelon

Watermelon Cooler
Preparation Time:15 minutes
  1. 1/2 watermelon
  2. 2 tsp of honey for 2 cups of juice
  3. 1 tsp of lime juice
  1. Cube watermelon seeds and all and add to a blender. Run the blender till it is pulped.
  2. This step is totally optional, you could either strain to remove the pulp. I strained to remove the seeds.
  3. Squeeze in the lemon juice and honey and mix it well.
  4. Chill and then serve or serve right away with ice cubes.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tomato Jelly (Jam)

I have tried making tomato jam before before and taste is actually quite good considering it was made with tomatoes. I was reluctant to make tomato jelly to begin with but with the amount of tomatoes I had on hand and with the choice to either use them quickly or compost them I decided on making jelly. We had run out of jelly and it seemed the perfect time to make some.

There are recipes for tomato-jalapeno jelly, but I don't much care for sweet spicy jelly so decided to stick with tomatoes. They were good. Making tomato jam is easier because there is no straining and the skin and seeds are not removed like in the recipe linked above.

A jelly on the other hand requires straining to remove the seeds and skin but the jelly is smooth and shiny and doing away with some of the tomato seeds did not seem like a bad idea. I used home grown Abraham Lincoln tomatoes. I am not sure how the tomatoes got that name but the ridges on the tomato do look like Lincoln's beard :) They are delicious tomatoes, bright red when ripe and without too much liquid in them. Perfect for making pickles or jellies.

I did not add pectin because the tartness from the tomatoes and the lemon juice were sufficient. Refer to this ketchup post about how to strain and get out the pulp. For the jelly recipe there is no need to blend but if you want to use a hand blender to break it down that should be fine as well.

Tomato Jelly
Preparation Time:20 minutes
Cooking Time:1 1/2 - 2 hrs
  1. 5 lbs of tomatoes
  2. 3 - 3 1/2 cups of sugar
  3. 2 tbsp of lemon juice

  1. In a thick bottomed pot cut the tomatoes and cook them for about 30-45 minutes till the tomatoes disintegrate and it gets mushy. Let come to room temperature. If needed use a hand blender to break down the tomatoes further. I did not use a blender but used the back of a ladle to mash it a bit.
  2. Now run the cooked tomatoes through a strainer to remove the seeds and skin.
  3. Take the strained tomatoes, sugar and half of the lemon juice in a heavy bottomed pot and continue cooking till the mixture becomes nice and shiny. This will take another 20-30 minutes. Do a thickness test. In a small bowl with cold water drop a few drops of the cooking mixture. If it does not dissolve it is ready. Continue cooking till the jelly thickens to a consistency you prefer.
  4. The jelly continues to thicken as it cools, so turn off the heat when it is close to the stage you want.

Great on some buttered toast or with pancakes or with dosai and roti as well.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Quick Fish Kofta - Pan Roasted

I had a tin of salmon sitting in the pantry. It was soon approaching its end of life when I saw this recipe on Bong Mom's Cookbook for Fish Kofta curry and that was the perfect recipe and inspiration that I needed.

I also had planned for the Mirchi Ka Salan and thought these small fish koftas will work perfectly in the peanut gravy. It will also reduce the heat if some of those jalapenos I was using turned out to be too spicy. What ended up happening was, while a few got added to the gravy the rest ended up as appetizers and evening snack. They tasted great when dipped in that home made ketchup.

These koftas are extremely easy to make and can be baked like Sandeepa did or pan roasted like I did. I wanted them to be done quick and the cast iron pan usually makes it quick. Once the koftas are pan roasted or baked they can be dropped into the gravy. The gravy can be prepared using this recipe.

Drain the moisture completely from the canned fish and add the cooked mashed potatoes.
Add the spice powders, ginger and garlic and salt along with the bread crumbs. Mix them together and shape into koftas.
Pan fry the koftas till they are golden brown on both sides.

Quick Fish Kofta - Pan Roasted
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:20 minutes
  1. 1 tin of salmon or about a cup of cooked flaked fish
  2. 1 large Idaho Potato pressure cooked till soft
  3. 1 tbsp of grated ginger + 1 tbsp of chopped garlic
  4. 2 tsp of coriander powder
  5. 2 tsp of red chili powder
  6. 4 tbsp of bread crumbs
  7. salt to taste
  8. 1 tbsp of oil
  1. If using the tinned salmon, pour the fish into a colander and drain the water completely. Or if using cooked fish flake the cooked fish.
  2. Pressure cook the potato, peel the skin, mash it and add to the salmon.
  3. Add the ginger, garlic and the coriander powder, chili powder and bread crumb with the salt and mix it well.
  4. Form into kofta shapes and set aside.
  5. Heat the cast iron pan, add the oil and place the formed koftas in a single layer.
  6. Let the koftas cook on side, flip and cook on the other side till golden brown.
  7. The koftas can be added to any gravy or served as appetizers.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Mirchi ka Salan - Jalapenos in a peanut sauce

Some families are big on tradition. They have things they do on special occasions together. Ours is slightly different in that regard. We do things mostly on whim. But without realizing it we seem to have developed a tradition. Nothing fantastic. We visit the National Book Festival in DC every year. The kids seem to derive immense pleasure in visiting the book festival.

When we were growing up reading the newspaper from front to back was a morning ritual. Sometimes we fought over it when there was more than one person wanting to read it. Anyway I wanted my kids also to derive pleasure in reading the newspaper and by chance they might also learn about what is going on in the world around them. It obviously improves their vocabulary and also teaches them to hold their attention span when reading something that is not interesting in the sense of a novel or fiction.

Sadly the opposite happened. While the first few sections which is were the news is, is skimmed over. The Style section with its color print and comics seems to hold their interest most. I have not given up on making them read the other sections but the Comics seems to win hands down. There is nothing wrong in reading comics but my opinion is that it doesn't teach them anything. But whenever some topic comes up they seem to know about it. Apparently the comic section is not all about heroes and outrageous stuff that I grew up with, it also addresses serious issues and relevant topics.

So it is only natural when the National Book Festival had these comic book authors headlining and signing books we had to go. The first time I saw lines snaking for the book signing I was surprised at their popularity but understood it very well. They do the amazing job of breaking down complicated stuff in a humorous way and a lot of people seen to identify with that.

DH and I struggled with kids reading a whole lot of comics. We have arrived at an uneasy truce in the form of balancing how much comics is read with books of other kinds. But if your child loves reading comics and nothing else, it is not a bad thing seems to be the conclusion - Using comic books (like ‘The Avengers’) to get kids to read.

The comic book author we waited in line for this time was Stephen Pastis who writes a comic strip called "Pearls Before Swine" which appears in our local newspaper The Washington Post. Anyway I have not heard of him or paid any particular attention to him except read the strip a few times when the kids show it to me. DD2 managed to get his signature even though we were late and the door to the signing room was closed. That is a story for another day. Following the signing he also had an interview where he talked about how he became a graphic novelist. Very interesting and obviously how these things usually go he was a fantastic talker too. Before he got established in writing comic strips he was a lawyer defending insurance companies, yes! that and hated every minute of what he had to do.

These days obviously he does what he loves and people pay him to do it. Well that is the sentiment that I want to share now. The intro in the first paragraph is to arrive at this moment. Though we visit the Book Festival for the kids I seem to learn a something every time. Loving what you do for a living is a gift. I know there are a few lucky ones who are in similar situations like some of the bloggers I read about. There are many of us who find it almost painful to go to work everyday but don't have a choice. For some of us it is not the work itself but the people we have to work with who mess it up. But sticking with something you love and trying your best seems to be the common theme of most of the people who have made it in their chosen field.

Take blogging for instance, there are bloggers who are very successful and for whom this is their main job while for some like me this is a hobby that gives great pleasure in doing and I am even more glad there are readers for this blog. Thanks to all of you who read this blog.

Now on to the recipe,
You never know what plant is going to do well in a particular year. This year the bumper crop is jalapeno peppers. I have become an expert in cooking stuffed jalapeno peppers and it has become a hit around here. I was wondering what else I can cook with jalapeno peppers when I realized I hadn't cooked that famous Hyderabad recipe - Mirch Ka Salan. All of us love peanut based curries so this one was double fun.

(Use kitchen gloves)Cut the top of the pepper. Make a slit on one side, do not slit the pepper in half.
Use the tip of the knife to remove the white ribs and seeds in the pepper.

I usually do not have sesame seeds and did not add it to this recipe. The gravy was still delicious. I strongly recommend using kitchen gloves or in the absence of those rub your hand with sesame oil to avoid your hands from burning like mine did because I was bone headed and thought I could deal with it. It burned for almost a day :( I strongly recommend removing the ribs and seeds or the gravy would up too hot to be enjoyed. On the other hand if you like mind numbing heat you can leave it be. I added 2 red chilies for the paste but if you are using chilies that are hot, skip it.

In a cast iron pan saute the cleaned pepper till you see blisters.
Get the ingredients for the paste ready in a blender, add in the peanuts and blend to a smooth paste. In a wide mouthed pan, saute the seasoning and onions and add the peppers.
Add the blended paste and the tamarind pulp and enough water and cook till it is of the required consistency.

It is totally amazing how sweet these peppers get when they are roasted but be ready for the occasional one that get a bit hot to the tongue.

Mirchi Ka Salan - Jalapenos in a peanut sauce
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:25 minutes
  1. 1 lb of jalapeno peppers or about 15
  2. 1/4 onion chopped fine
  3. seasonings: cumin and mustard seeds
  4. salt to taste
  5. 1/2 cup of tamarind pulp from about a small lime sized ball of tamarind or 2 tsp tamarind paste
  6. 2 tsp of red chili powder (use only if needed)
  7. 3 tsp of oil
  8. For the Paste
  9. 1/4 cup of roasted peanuts, skin removed
  10. 1/4 cup of onions or shallots chopped (optional)
  11. 2 red chilies
  12. 2 tbsp of grated fresh or frozen coconut
Cleaning the peppers:
  1. Make a cut on the pepper but do not slit the pepper in two.
  2. Use the edge of the knife and remove the white ribs and seeds.

  1. Clean the peppers and set aside.
  2. In a cast iron pan or wide mouthed pan, heat a tsp of oil and saute the cleaned peppers till blisters appears on the skin (about 8-10 minutes)
  3. While the pepper are sauteing heat oil in a saute pan and when hot add the onions and saute till they are just starting to turn brown.
  4. Add in the red chilies and saute for a minute.
  5. Add in the coconut and saute for 2-3 minutes more. Cool and take in a blender.
  6. Add the roasted peanuts and blend to a smooth paste with addition of about 1/4 cup of water. Set aside.
  7. In a wide mouthed pan add the rest of the oil and when hot add the seasonings.
  8. Add in the onions and saute till they are translucent. Now add the roasted peppers, saute for a minute.
  9. Add the blended paste and a 1/4 cup of water if it is too thick. Let it come to a boil.
  10. Now add the tamarind pulp and salt and let cook on medium low heat for about 5 minutes or more.
  11. Check for heat and add chili powder if it is bland or you think the gravy needs a bit more heat.
  12. The curry get thicker as it cools so make sure you add enough water to keep it in the correct consistency.
Goes well with naan or even rice.

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