Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sorakkai Halwa - Bottle Gourd Halwa - Farm to Plate

During the summer months when the plants are most productive, the need to create new dishes is always in the back of the mind. The bottle gourd plants left us with plenty of bottle gourds to spare. While the usual curry route was exhausted, had to figure out another way of putting them to use. Making desserts with vegetables seems to be a guilt free way of enjoying sweets without all those calories along with the satisfaction of putting vegetables to use in a productive way :)

When mom suggested that we make some halwa, the only time consuming part of this is grating the bottle gourd. If grating is not your thing, you can always use a vegetable chopper and chop them into tiny pieces. The texture of the halwa comes from the sugar you add. I added 1/2 cup of raw sugar for every cup of the grated bottle gourd. About 2 tbsp of ghee or however much or less you want.

Recipe in pictures,
Peel the skin on the bottle gourd, slit the gourd in half and remove the spongy white insides.
Grate the bottle gourd or use a vegetable chopper to chop the bottle gourd to tiny pieces. I did both.
In a wide mouthed pan, heat some ghee and saute the bottle gourd for about 4-5 minutes, add the milk and let it cook till the bottle gourd becomes soft.
Add in the ghee, cardamom powder and the sugar and let it cook till the moisture is completely gone and the halwa starts to glisten. Takes about 25-30 minutes.

This kind of vegetable based sweets don't have to be overly sweet, the right amount of sugar gives it the delicate flavor that everyone can enjoy without any guilt :) The added benefit the vegetable grew in the backyard.

Sorakkai Halwa
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
  1. 1 medium sized bottle gourd - 4 cups of grated bottle gourd
  2. 2 cups of sugar
  3. 2 cups of milk
  4. 1/4 cup of ghee or more if needed
  5. 1/4 cup of roasted cashews (skip if you do not want nuts)
  6. 1/2 tsp cardamom powder

  1. Peel the bottle gourd, cut the bottle gourd in half and remove the spongy insides. Now grate the bottle gourd or use a vegetable chopper to chop the bottle gourd in tiny pieces.
  2. In a heavy bottomed wide mouthed pan, add about 1/2 tbsp of ghee and saute the grated bottle gourd for about 5 minutes or so.
  3. While stirring add in the milk and let the mixture cook till the bottle gourd is completely cooked. This takes anywhere between 25-30 minutes.
  4. In a saute pan add ghee and roast the cashews till golden.
  5. Add a tsp of sugar to the cardamom and powder it in a coffee grinder or using mortar and pestle.
  6. Once it thickens add in the sugar and the rest of the ghee or more if needed. Let it cook till the sugar melts and the halwa thickens.
  7. Add the roasted cashews and turn off the heat. Stays outside for 3-5 days and for a month or more refrigerated.

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Monday, October 8, 2018

Growing Peanuts (Groundnuts)

We eat a lot of peanuts, roasted, boiled, blended into paste for curries, sprinkled on stir fries and salads for crunch and much more. My favorite way to eat peanuts by far is the boiled kind. Occasionally we get fresh peanuts at the local Indian grocery store but if you miss the short window when they are available you are out of luck. While the roasted peanuts are pretty affordable the fresh kind is pretty pricey.

Young Plants

So this summer I decided to grow them myself. Not much around 15-20 plants just to see how they grow and if the soil conditions we have around here are suitable for their growth. What do you know? They did pretty well.

Yellow Flowers

Boiled peanuts are not popular in the North East but they are popular in the South. Once we leave the DC suburbs that we live and start driving south, boiled peanut stands dot the sides of the roads during the summer. But taking a trip to the south just for boiled peanuts did not work out as often as we wished. So the next best thing grow them yourself.

Mature plants

While plenty of adults know that peanut is a leguminous plant, most of them have never seen a peanut plant with the cluster of peanuts on the roots and hidden in the ground. For the amount of peanuts we eat pretty much all of us should be familiar with where the peanuts comes from don't you think?

Freshly pulled from the soil

Growing them is not a specialized skill but you need loose soil so you are able to harvest the peanuts easily. Shell the seed peanuts and the seeds that are inside, the ones that we eat are the seeds that go in the ground. Plant them about 1-2 inch deep, cover with soil and water regularly.

Harvested peanuts

In a week or so they sprout. In good warm summer weather they thrive and though this summer has been extremely wet and extremely hot so they did well. I am not sure if our yield was good or not since we have never grown peanuts before.

Red Peanuts!

The peanuts I grew were called "Tennessee Red Valencia Peanut" as the name suggests, fully mature peanuts look red and are 3 or sometimes 4 to a pod. They are excellent with a sweet mild taste. They take about 110 days to mature. They produce small yellow flowers around 40-50 days which self pollinate and fall off just when the peanuts are beginning to form.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tomato Peanut Chutney

Summer rains are a much sought after phenomenon. The parched earth laps it up and cools itself down. But like everything too much of a good thing is also a problem. Last week we were deluged with rains, had a breather for few days and this weeks seems like a wet one again. While this is the time for fruiting, all the excess water makes them get more leaves which is not good for me the farmer. Hopefully the sun will return and the plants can do their thing.

Here is a sample of vegetables that went out on a recent CSA delivery.

Growing food is a hard thing. Bugs, drought, animals which like to gnaw on the fruit, determining when to water when to stop, when to add compost and when not to, when to harvest and when not to. Not that I did not have before but I am only in awe of people who do this for a living. It is frustrating as it is rewarding. There is no comparison to farm(backyard) picked fresh vegetables. Support your local farmer. The job they do is back breaking without a lot of financial benefits. The taste and the quality is going to be rewarding for you to give it a chance.

I like adding peanuts to chutneys. Just enough so it does not overpower the taste of the main ingredient but just enough to give that smooth texture to the chutney.

Tomato Peanut Chutney
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
  1. 4-5 medium sized ripe tomatoes chopped
  2. 1/4 cup of roasted peanuts (skinned or leave the skin on)
  3. 1/2 cup of chopped red onions or shallots
  4. 3-4 dried or fresh red chilies
  5. 1 tbsp frozen or fresh grated coconut (optional)
  6. a few sprigs of coriander leaves
  7. few cumin, coriander and pepper corns, 1 tsp split urad dal
  8. salt to taste
  9. 2-3 tsp of oil

  1. Heat a wide mouthed pan and add about a half tsp of oil, saute the split urad dal(ulutham paruppu), when it starts to brown add the cumin, coriander, pepper corns and the red chilies and saute for a 1/2 minute more and remove to the blender. You can add the red chilies here or with the onions.
  2. Add the remaining oil to the pan and saute the onions till they start to brown.
  3. Add in the tomatoes and saute till they get mushy.
  4. Add the coconut if using and the peanuts and saute for a minute more.
  5. Add salt and turn off the heat.
  6. Transfer the contents to the blender and when cool blend to a fairly smooth paste.
  7. Serve with idli, dosai or as a spread for toast.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Spicy Smashed Garlic Roasted Baby Potatoes

Has summer been treating you all well? Looking towards the sky for rain has been my ritual this summer. Can't complain as the rain gods have been pretty alright.

I usually try to grow potatoes during the summer but did not this summer. Having newly grown baby potatoes would have been even better. Garlic and potatoes are a match that can set anybody's taste buds sing with joy. Potatoes can be cooked in several different ways but nothing can beat the taste of roasted potatoes right?. While baby potatoes work best for this recipe, if all you have is bigger potatoes cut them into smaller pieces and proceed with the recipe.

Recipe in pictures,

Wash and boil the potatoes for 8 minutes, drain and cut them in half.
Smash the garlic remove the skin and chop the garlic into fine pieces. Heat the cast iron pan and add oil.
Add the garlic and saute it for a minute. Fish out the garlic if you prefer, add in the potatoes.
Add chili powder and salt and saute till the potatoes are well roasted. Will take about 15 minutes.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes
  1. 1 lb of baby potatoes both red and yellow
  2. 6 cloves of garlic
  3. 1/2 - 1 tbsp of chili powder (use as much or less as you want, this amount will make it spicy)
  4. salt to taste
  5. 1 tbsp of oil

  1. Wash and cut the potatoes in half, if they are really small leave them whole.
  2. Boil the potatoes for about 8 minutes in total. Not to cook but to just soften them a little bit.
  3. Mash the garlic with the back of a knife and then chop them into smaller pieces.
  4. To a cast iron pan add oil and add in the garlic. let it flavor the oil, you can fish them out and then add the potatoes. (see note:)
  5. Saute the potatoes for another 15 minutes or so till it well roasted. Towards the last few minutes of roasting add the chili powder and salt and saute for a couple more minutes.
  6. Note:Garlic tends to burn quickly so remove them from the heat and add them towards the end. I fished them out towards the middle and added them in the end.

Goes well as a side or an appetizer by itself.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Farm to Plate - Currant Jelly

I have seen currants on a lot of European blogs. They looked kind of pretty and when I had the chance to grow them in my farm, I planted a couple of baby currant bushes. The first three years the plant grew vigorously and I was reluctant to trim it. The berries were hard to reach and the few that ripened were hidden in a mass of leaves. Last year I started reading about pruning and figured out how to prune the bushes. Pruned them in early spring as recommended. This summer we have an abundance of fruit but the problem now seems to be how to harvest them. The 3 lbs of fruit that we harvested was made into jelly.

The fruit are not that great was eating like other berries. They have seeds and are tart. But they are perfect for making jelly. I used the recipe from Martha Stewart for the measurement of sugar and fruit. I had a little over 3 lbs of currants. Using a recipe that calls for fruit but uses the juice is always tricky because the given measurement of fruit does not give the required amount of juice or pulp. Adjust the sugar quantity of the juice the fruit eventually produces. The recipe from Martha Stewart said 4 cups of juice for 3 lbs of currants. I got about 3 cups of juice for the same quantity.

If you want a plant that regularly produces fruit for a jelly but you don't want to do too much work, currant bushes are the plants for you. If planting and then harvesting fruit seems like something you don't want to do, look for them in farmer's market or see if a friend grows them ;)

The jelly making process is pretty easy. Making jelly at home means you can control the amount of sugar and the ingredients that go into it. Here it is just 2. What more can you ask?

Wash and drain the currants and add to a thick bottomed vessel with about 1/3 cups of water.
Cook the currants till they are soft and mushy. Use a hand blender or a back of a laddle to break them down further.
Strain the currants through a mesh strainer to get the juice.
Add the sugar to the juice and let it come to a boil.
Cook for about 20 - 25 minutes till a drop placed in a plate of water does not dissolve.
Transfer to sterilized jars.

With some bread toasted with butter or ghee morning breakfast is fun and delicious.

Currant Jelly
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
  1. 3 1/2 lbs of currant which yielded 3 cups of juice
  2. 2 1/4 cups of sugar

  1. Wash the currant and remove the stems. Take them in a thick bottomed pan with about 1/3 cup of water. Let it come to a boil and become soft about 8-10 minutes.
  2. You can use the laddle to mash the fruit. I use the hand blender to further break down the fruit.
  3. Use a fine mesh strainer to strain the skin and seeds to get the juice.
  4. Take the juice and the sugar in a heavy bottomed pot. Let it cook for about 20 - 25 minutes till a drop poured on a plate with water does not dissolve in the water.
  5. Transfer to sterilized jars.

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