Monday, December 21, 2009

Mirchi ka salan

The first time I had 'Mirchi ka Salan' was at a restaurant near my office in Chennai with friends and absolutely loved it. I ordered it again the next time I went there. One day, my colleague in the US, Latha, brought it for lunch and I thought I'll make it at home, but that did not happen. I am in Chennai now at my mom's place. My mom had bell peppers which she wanted to cook the same day. She was going to cook drumstick leaves and she said she is going to add bell peppers to that. I love bell peppers and felt it would be a weird combination with drumstick leaves. So, I told her I'll make something with the bell peppers and the first thing that came to my mind was 'Mirchi ka salan'.

Mirchi ka salan is a Hyderabadi side dish that is served with rice and biriyani. It is prepared with mild varieties of peppers like Anaheim, Poblano, bell peppers, banana peppers and sometimes Jalapenos. In Chennai, it is generally prepared with 'Bajji molagai'. The original recipe uses a flat-bottomed copper vessel and is covered with dough while cooking over low heat to enrich the flavours. The roasted and ground spices makes it so aromatic and it has a wonderful nutty flavour from sesame seeds and peanuts.

Bell peppers - 1 lb cut into large cubes
Oil as required
Salt to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves - few
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Juice of a small (1/2 lime sized) piece of tamarid

To grind set 1:
Onion - 1 large diced
Tomato - 1 large diced
Ginger - 1 inch piece
Garlic - 4-5 cloves

To grind set 2:
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Red Chilies (whole) - 5 - 6 or to taste
Sesame seeds - 1 tsp
Peanuts - 2 tbsp

Dry roast cumin, coriander and sesame seeds separately and grind all set 2 ingredients together. In little oil saute cubed bell peppers until slightly wilted, remove and set aside. In the same vessel heat some more oil and fry ginger, garlic, onion and tomato. Cool, grind and set aside. Heat little oil, add curry leaves and once the spluttering stops, add mustard seeds and allow it to crackle. Lower the heat and then add ground set1 paste and mix well. Next, add ground set2 powder, salt, turmeric powder and tamarind juice, mix well and bring it to boil. Now add the sauteed bell peppers and allow to boil for 30 seconds, remove from heat and enjoy hot with rice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mainland China in Chennai

Situated in Sterling Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, 'Mainland China' kind of hides behind Quality Inn. It is an upscale restaurant, surely not an affordable place to eat very often, but a perfect place for special days and celebrations. I have dined there few times in the last five years with family and friends and was never disappointed. As the name clearly suggests, they serve Chinese cuisine. The names of the dishes in the menu and the food presentation are authentic Chinese, but the food is of course Indianised Chinese which makes it more delicious. The decor and lighting are really good too - perfect for a quiet little celebration. They have weekend lunch buffet with a great variety of Veg and Non-veg dishes (including steamed dumplings - which my mom loved a lot). It used to cost around Rs. 250 per person few years ago and I'm sure it is a lot more expensive now.

Recently, I took my parents, sister and my aunt and uncle who were visiting from Singapore, there for dinner. The food was really good and the service was exceptional as usual. My uncle was really impressed with their service. I was surprised to see that the restaurant was almost full on a regular Tuesday night, that too towards the end of the month. We ordered Pepper lemon vegetable soup, Sweet corn soup, Crispy chilli corn and Crunchy spinach (was not in the menu card - suggested by our waiter) for starters. The soups tasted amazing and was not loaded with corn starch as done in most Chinese restaurants. The starters were crunchy and had unique flavour. For main course, we ate Vegetable fried rice, Crispy noodles with sweet and sour vegetable, Exotic vegetable clay pot and Pepper lamb curry. All the dishes tasted great except the lamb. My uncle and aunt felt that the lamb was imported frozen lamb and hence was tough and not as tender as Indian mutton. We ordered Date pancake with Vanilla ice cream for dessert. It took really long to get our dessert to the table and we were getting a little restless at the end. As expected, the pancake was fantastic. We paid about Rs. 2300 for six people - which is expensive yes, but truly worth it. I would rate Mainland China with 4 1/2 stars out of 5 (1/2 star less because of the lamb and long wait for the dessert).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Paneer Burji

We are in India right now and the first three weeks have been very busy with festivities. We have gotten out of jet lag, finished my dad's 60th birthday at Thirukadayur, went to Thirupathi, celebrated Karthigai deepam and have finally settled down. I have some breathing room before the preparations for my bil's wedding would start and decided to utilize that in my blog.

Paneer Burji is a very simple and easy dish and can be served as a side dish with roti or separately as a breakfast entree. It is very nutritious and high in protein. 'Pal curry' (Curried milk), as my mom would call it, is made when she has excess milk or when she suspected the milk would turn sour soon. She would boil the milk, curdle it using lemon juice or curd, separate out the curds from whey water by filtering through a 'veshti' (dhoti) cloth and hang it to drain the excess water. Then she would crumble the paneer with her fingers and use it in the curry. As a kid, I somehow never liked this dish and that thought stayed in my head. When I prepared it at home for the first time, I was apprehensive about the taste. I took the first spoon expecting it to taste bad. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I realized that our tastes grow with us and our horizons widen each day.

My version here uses store bought paneer for ease, and can be substituted with home-made paneer. I made this recently as a side dish when we had invited a couple of Murali's (husband) colleagues home, for dinner. We loved it so much that the four of us finished all the burji made from about a pound of paneer (apart from the other dishes). My little son liked it too - which was an additional plus.

Paneer - 400 gms pack grated
Onion - 2 finely chopped
Tomato - 3 finely chopped
Green chillies - 4-5 or to taste
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Cilantro - 2 tbsp finely chopped (optional)
Oil - 2 tsp
Salt - to taste

Heat oil over medium heat, add cumin seeds and fry until brown. Add onion and green chillies and fry for a minute. You can add little salt at this stage to bring out the sweetness of onion. Now add ginger paste and garlic paste and fry until the mixture turns light brown. Keep stirring to avoid burning. Now add tomatoes and fry for 2 minutes. Add salt (include salt for paneer too), garam masala powder, turmeric powder and add little water and cook covered for 5 minutes. Now add the grated paneer and mix well until heated through. Add cilantro mix well, remove from heat and enjoy hot.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Double frenzy - long vacation and moving

I have been cooking all morning... food for this entire week. We are traveling to India on a 2-1/2 month long vacation. We are also vacating our apartment and storing our belongings in a mobile storage. This works out more economical for us. The storage container will be delivered to us tomorrow (Sunday) morning and we have until Wednesday morning to load it... Since, I'll be busy packing, and then cleaning, and I'll have to pack up my kitchen too, I cooked for the rest of the week and stored food in yogurt containers in my refrigerator. When done, I would just dump the containers in the recycle bin after a quick rinse - No washing or storing :))).

I generally cook in the evenings (dinner). So, my food pictures have to be shot indoors under artificial light. I do not have any studio kind of lighting, nor a great digital SLR camera (I am planning to invest in one soon). Most of my pictures are shot in normal room light without flash in macro mode in my simple Olympus but good (18X optical zoom) camera. Obviously, my pictures do not turn out great. Why am I talking about all this?? Hmmm... now I remember... to explain the picture in this post... Today, I cooked in the morning (unlike other days). The peas carrot and corn poriyal (sauteed vegetables) that I made, looked so colourful, the day was wonderfully sunny and I could not resist taking a picture. I don't say this picture turned out great either. Before I could get the perfect shot, my camera gave up on me with drained batteries. My replacement batteries were not charged either.... I could neither shoot anymore, nor anything else I cooked. Amidst all the other things, I did not have the patience to charge and then take pictures.

My mission for today's cooking was to use up all the veggies that I had in the fridge. I made apple, pear and mango - blueberry purees for my son's oatmeal. Frozen Suran (Indian Yams) from the freezer and sambar from the previous day went into the Suran black eyed beans curry (kuzhambu). Frozen peas, corn and carrots went into the poriyal in the picture. Half a bottle of salsa went into Aloo mirchi mutter. I wanted to take a picture of that too as it was tasty and colourful, but, that did not happen. I made dal chutney (paruppu thogayal) with left over red cabbage and 1/2 bunch of cilantro. I made dal with all the other veggies I had in fridge and freezer (I counted 13 of them other than onion and tomato :) ). I made a huge batch made idly / dosa batter few days ago. I am retaining the electric rice cooker and will leave it in the car. Roti, we will bring from store. With all this we will survive for a week without cooking. I think, we may have leftovers too, but have to be trashed :(. At the end, I am left out with 2 potatoes, 1 whole bulb of garlic, 1/2 packet frozen mangoes, 3/4 packet frozen pineapples, 1 1/2 packets of frozen coconut (they had buy 1 get one free during last week's grocery trip - unfortunately, last week than any other time...) and of course some fruits for rest of the week. Considering this, I would say "Mission Accomplished".....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lemon rice with a healthy twist for brunch

On both Saturdays and Sundays, my husband and I eat brunch around 11.00 AM. I leave my little one out of it... He gets to eat his regular 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. For me, brunch should be easy, quick, tasty and at the same time a wholesome and nutritious meal. I would not want to stand around the kitchen for long on a weekend morning.

One Tuesday, during our regular walk back from the library after the story time for kids, Rose and I were taking about healthy eating. Rose said that she has seen her friends eat 'just coloured rice' for lunch (like lemon rice, tamarind rice), which is only carbs without any vegetables or dal. Another day, when we were having a potluck, Smita suggested adding spinach to lemon rice and I thought it was a great idea. I tried it out and we all loved it.

Raw rice - 1 cup
Chopped spinach - 1 lb (I used frozen as it is quicker)
Whole peanuts - 2 tbsp
Channa dal - 1 tbsp
Urad dal - 1 tbsp
Red chillies - 5-8 broken into halves
Hing - 1 pinch
Curry leaves - few
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons or to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Salt - 1 1/4 tsp or to taste
Oil - 2 tsp

Cook rice with 3/4 tsp salt and 2-3 drops of oil. I use a rice cooker. Once cooked, separate the rice granules with a fork, spread on a large plate and let it cool for 10-15 minutes. This makes the rice granules separate and do not squish while stirring.

Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Add hing and curry leaves and fry till the spluttering stops. Add red chillies and mustard seeds and fry until they start to crackle. Now add the penuts and fry for a few seconds. Then add the channa dal and urad dal and fry until golden brown. Now add the spinach and stir until slightly wilted (about 30 - 45 seconds). Turn the heat to low, add lemon juice and turmeric powder and stir well. Now start adding the rice in portions and continue stirring until heated through. Tasty spinach lemon rice is ready to serve. I served it with mung beans sundal (cooked and sauteed mung beans with onions tomatoes and spices) for the protein. We relaxed and enjoyed the brunch in front of the TV ;-)

This is my entry for 'Monthly Mingle (Brunch)' hosted by 'What's For Lunch Honey?'.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Beans paruppu usili - Green beans with lentils

Paruppu usili can be made with green beans, gover beans or banana flower. It is a traditional side dish and tastes wonderful with rice and rasam or mor kozhambu. I love paruppu usili, but do not make it very often as it takes a bit of effort. This time, I served it with mor kozhambu, we all loved it and I felt, it was the best paruppu usili ever.

There are two basic variations in cooking the dal (lentils).
1. Soak, grind and saute
2. Soak grind, steam and saute
Steaming before sauteing makes the usili taste better and consumes less oil (and of course takes longer to prepare)
Green beans - 1 pound cleaned and cut into about 1 inch long pieces
Toor dal - 3/4 cup
Channa dal - 3/4 cup
Toor dal - Channa dal proportion can be varied slightly based on the final texture you would like to achieve. Toor dal makes it softer and channa dal makes it crispier.
Oil - 2 tsp
Asafoetida (hing) - 2 pinches
Curry leaves - 6-8
Red chillies broken into pieces - 4-6 or to taste
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Ginger paste - 1 tsp

Soak toor dal, channa dal and 3-4 red chillies in water for 2-3 hours (not longer). Grind into a coarse paste. Place dal balls on oiled idly plates and steam for 10 - 15 minutes. Cool, remove from idly plates and break into very small pieces using your fingers. Cook the beans in microwave oven with water sprinkled on, until 3/4 cooked. Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida and curry leaves and fry until the spluttering stops. Add mustard seeds and when they start crackling, add the remaining red chillies and urad dal. Fry until urad dal turns golden brown. Add ginger paste and fry for about 30 seconds. Now add the steamed dal and cooked beans and mix well. Fry on medium-low heat until dry and desired crispness is reached. This may take about 20 - 30 minutes of patient stirring. Then, enjoy the reward of your patience :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Asparagus in orange vinaigrette

Asparagus is one of our favourite vegetables. It has a unique crisp wonderful flavor to it. I have used canned and frozen ones couple of times, but never bought the fresh ones. My husband wanted to buy them many times and I said no because they were a bit expensive. Finally, last week we decided to bring home the fresh ones and I made this quick, easy and yummy recipe.

Asparagus stalks - 2 pounds washed and trimmed
Chopped raw unsalted nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds - 3 tbsp ( I had only cashews and sunflower seeds at home)

For Vinaigrette:
Extra virgin olive oil - 2 tbsp
Orange Zest - 1/4 tsp
Freshly squeezed orange juice - 3 tsp
Freshly squeezed lemon juice - 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Coarsely ground pepper to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients for vinaigrette, cover with a plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Dry toast the nuts in a pan on stove top or in oven until golden brown and crisp. Boil water with salt, add asparagus stalks and simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Do not over cook. Drain using a colander and shock with cold water. Transfer to a serving tray, pour the vinaigrette and sprinkle nuts on top. Simple, healthy and yummy.

Spiced and baked Sweet potato wedges

Eating sweet potatoes is a better way to get your starch. It is abundant in Vitamins A, high in fiber and low in fat. I buy sweet potato for my son in 3 pound bags and end up using just 1 or 2 a month for him. The rest, I try to cook up for us in different ways. Sweet potato wedges is one of my favourite and after few trials and errors, I have perfected this recipe which we all (including my son) loves.

Sweet potatoes - about 4 medium sized, peeled and cut. I cut into 1/4 inch wedges to entice my son. Cubes or just rounds would work too.

For Marinade:
Olive oil - 1 1/2 tsp
Grated onion - 2 tbsp
Ginger paste - 1/2 tsp
Garlic paste - 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1/4 tsp or to taste
Salt - 3/4 tsp or to taste
Sugar - 1/2 tsp to help in browning
Italian seasoning - 1/2 tsp - optional(You can use dried oregano, rosemary, basil or thyme)
Now, the secret ingredient, Soy sauce - 2 tsp

Mix all the marinade ingredients and transfer into a quart size zip-top bag. Add the cut sweet potatoes, close the bag and mix well to coat. Let it sit for 1/2 to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Coat a baking pan with cooking spray. Transfer the contents of the zip-top bag into the pan. Arrange the pieces into a single layer. Bake for about 20 minutes. Stir and bake for another 20 minutes (Oven time varies based on the size of the pieces). Then broil for about a minute and enjoy. Sweet potato wedges do not get crispy like potatoes wedges. They are a little soft, chewy and yummy of course!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Paneer and Vegetable Tikka - using the oven

Paneer is Indian cottage cheese made by curdling milk and filtering out all the whey water. Paneer tikka is traditionally made in a Tandoori oven. Vegetables like onion, tomato, bell pepper, cauliflower and cucumber and fruits like pineapple are skewered, grilled and served along with paneer

This is my husband's recipe and when he made it the first time, I took a bite and felt all the wonderful flavours explode in my mouth. I just closed my eyes and cherished it, like Remy the rat in the movie 'Ratatouille' (one of my favourite animated movies). This is a simple and easy recipe, but takes time, as paneer and vegetables need to be marinated at least for 6 hours before baking in the oven. Your patience will be rewarded.

Paneer - 400 grams (about 14 oz) cut into cubes
Colourful bell peppers - 2 - 3 cut into big pieces
Onion - 1 cut into big pieces
Cauliflower - 8 -10 florets
You can use other 'grillable' veggies and fruits of your choice
Bamboo skewers - 15-20

For marinade:
32 oz cup of Yogurt (I used fat free) - 1
Cumin powder - 1 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder - 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Bay leaf - 1
Cloves - 5
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Ginger paste - 3 tsp
Garlic paste - 3 tsp
Salt - 1 tsp
Juice of 1 lemon

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade. Add cubed paneer and vegetables, toss well with hands to coat each piece, cover and refrigerate for 6 - 12 hours, mixing every 2-3 hours (you can skip the mixes when left overnight ;-) Mix before going to bed and then in the morning).

Preheat oven to 425F. Soak the bamboo skewers in water for few minutes. Skewer paneer and each of the vegetables in separate sets of skewers, as the grilling time is different for each one. Place the skewers supported by the edges of a baking pan to collect the dripping marinade. Make sure paneer and veggies do not touch the bottom of the pan. Bake until the edges turn brown. It takes about 20 minutes for paneer, 30 minutes for bell pepper and cucumber and 45 minutes for onions, cauliflower and pineapple. Once done, remove from skewers and enjoy when hot as an appetizer with green and sweet chutneys or as a side for roti. Optionally, you can toss with chat masala, coriander leaves (cilantro) and lemon juice before serving.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Braised red cabbage and apple (Rotkraut)

Rotkraut is supposed to be a German classic. I saw this recipe on Alton Brown's 'Good Eats' on 'Food Network'. It seemed interesting and I tried it on a Friday evening. (I generally experiment on Fridays, as I don't have to worry about the next day's lunchbox.) I served it with garlic-chilli-cheese toast (will post soon).

Shredded red cabbage - about 5 cups
Tart apple - 1 cored and sliced (I used Grammy Smith - since the skin is thicker, I peeled it)
Onion - 1 small chopped lengthwise
Butter / oil / margarine - 1 tbsp
Caraway seeds - 1 tsp (try to get caraway, otherwise substitute with 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds)
Sugar - 1 1/2 tbsp (Brown sugar preferred)
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Apple cider vinegar - 1 tbsp

Heat butter (or any fat that you are using) in a pan. Add caraway seeds and fry for few seconds. Add onion and fry until transparent. You can add a little salt at this time to bring out the sweetness of the onion. Add cabbage and fry until it is slightly wilted. Now add apple slices and mix well. Add salt to taste and few tablespoons of water and cook covered on low heat for about 15 - 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure it does not burn. Now add sugar, vinegar and ground pepper, mix well and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

This dish tasted very different from most dishes I have ever tasted. It had an interesting sweet, sour and salty taste to it. My 18 month old son loved it the night I made it and ate more than he would generally. But when I gave him the little bit I saved for him the next day, he refused to even try it and looked at me like "what the heck or you trying to feed me?" I am still wondering what made him like it so much the first night and not the next morning!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Adhirasam - Traditional and totally yumm!!

Adhirasam is a deep fried traditional south Indian sweet made from rice flour. It is a must at our home for Diwali and I've always loved it. I grew up seeing my mom and grandma working together to get the jaggery syrup to the right consistency and then, mixing in the rice flour using a long special ore shaped spoon ('Thuduppu' in Tamil), every year before Diwali day. On Diwali day, grandma would make the dough balls and flatten it over a banana leaf, mom would deep fry it and I would squeeze the oil out using a special wooden press. After all this hard work, we will have to wait until the pooja is done to get the first bite!!!

I made adhirasam by myself, for the first time, this Diwali. I was a little scared (as it is one of the difficult and tedious sweets), but it turned out great.

: (makes about 30 adhirasams)

Uncooked raw rice - 3 cups (about 1/2 kg)
Jaggery broken into small pieces- about 1 1/4 cups (200 gms)
Sugar - 1/3 cup
My mom uses just Jaggery or just sugar, and never mixes both. By combining both, I could get the taste from jaggery and the crispiness from sugar. If you would like to use only jaggery, use about 400 - 500 gms depending on your sweet tooth.
Cardamom powder - 1/2 tsp
Dry ginger (sukku) powder - 1/4 tsp
Oil for deep frying

My mom always prepares adhirasam from home-prepared rice flour and she says it does not come out good with store-bought flour. So I went ahead and prepared it at home.

To prepare rice flour, wash and soak uncooked raw rice for about 2-3 hours in water. Drain all the water and spread rice over a clean towel and let it dry. When rice is about 3/4th dried, powder it very fine. In India, we would take it to a mill for powdering. But, here in the US, I just used my dry grind attachment in my blender. Cool and then sieve the flour through a fine sieve. It can be stored in an airtight container for about a week. This preparation is common for all the traditional deep fried sweets and snacks that use rice flour.

The next crucial step is to get the syrup to the right consistency. In a heavy bottomed pan, combine 50 ml (1 2/3 oz) of water, jaggery pieces and sugar. When the jaggery dissolves, strain to remove any dirt. Wash the pan and transfer the syrup back into it and bring to boil on low heat and keep stirring. When you put a drop of the syrup into a small bowl of water and gather using your fingers, it should make a soft ball and should not dissolve. This is the right consistency of syrup. Now remove the syrup from heat, add cardamom powder, dry ginger powder and add the prepared rice flour little by little and mix well without lumps. The resulting dough should be in the consistency of chappati dough. flatten the top of the dough in the pan using the spoon and smear some oil on top (to prevent drying) and leave covered at room temperature overnight (about 6-8 hours). The dough can be frozen up to 3 months.

The sugar syrup consistency is the actual make or break of this dish. If it is not boiled long enough to get to the soft ball consistency, the adhirasam will break when dropped into oil. If boiled too much, the adhirasam will be too hard.

Heat oil for deep frying in a pan. Oil your palm and a plastic bag (like ziplock). In India we use banana leaf. Make a lime-size dough ball and flatten (to about 1/4 inch thick) over the plastic bag. If the dough is too hard, mix few drops of milk or soy milk. Start with just a few drops. You need a lot less than you think you do. Flip flattened dough into your palm and drop into the oil. Fry both sides until it becomes dark brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and squeeze the oil out after about 10 seconds. At home, we have a special wooden press to squeeze out oil from adhirasam. Since I did not have it here in US, I made my own make-shift press. I placed a large plate at the bottom. On top, I placed a smaller inverted plate. I placed the hot adhirasam on top of the smaller plate. I placed another small plate on top of the adhirasam and pressed using potato masher (as shown in the figure). Cool and store in a air tight container lined with paper towel.

This time too, I had to wait until we finished pooja on Diwali day to taste my adhirasam. When I took the first bite, a little smile embraced my lips and I felt a wonderful sense of satisfaction :)

This is my entry for 'A Sweet Celebration' hosted by 'Fun & Food Cafe'.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Margarine's story - as told by Jana

Jana and I were discussing (via emails) about cooking with butter and margarine. In one of those mails, she detailed the history of margarine and her experience with it. I found the mail interesting and decided to post it in my blog with her consent. Hope you enjoy it too!!

"I think most Americans stopped using butter about 30 years ago - when it became publicized that animal fat caused high cholesterol which contributes to heart attacks. Margarine used to be a POOR substitute for butter and was only used by people who couldn't afford the real thing. It used to come with a squeeze packet of yellow dye that you'd add to make it look like butter (it was white, otherwise). That was before my time, though, like in the 1940s during WWII when luxury items like meat and butter were rationed.
Somewhere along the line, in the late 60s, I think, people started paying attention to their health and their diets. They wanted something that would substitute for butter that would be healthier. Technology advanced and margarine improved to the point where most people couldn't really tell the difference between that and butter and those (like me) who could tell the difference, liked the margarine better.
When I bake cookies, I buy margarine in the sticks. The consistency works better for baking than the soft margarine does. Otherwise, there's no difference. My dad, however, still prefers the taste of butter and uses it on toast and other things where the taste is prevalent and a substitute won't do. He uses margarine for cooking and in situations where the taste will be masked by the other ingredients. Jim (Jana's roommate) says "but butter tastes better" but in reality, he can't tell the difference.
Vegetable products like Crisco and Mazola oil were introduced in the early 1900s, but didn't really catch on until the 1960s. First, we stopped using animal fat for frying at home, then later the fast-food industry switched from animal fat to vegetable-based oils for frying. That happened in 1985-1986.
I remember my Grandma being really upset when she could no longer buy lard at the grocery store. That must have been in the 1960s, since that was the time my Mom went back to work and I started staying with Grandma more. My Dad also took over her grocery shopping duties at about that time and I went with him on Saturday mornings. We bought her that first can of Crisco and I watched as she used it for making pie crust. She complained the whole time, but it turned out just fine. An added plus was that the Crisco didn't have to be refrigerated like lard did. I never heard her complain about the unavailability of lard again.
I'm sure that's more than you ever wanted to hear about margarine!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Murukku with my evening tea

I am a coffee lover and always start my day with fresh filter coffee my husband makes every morning. Very rarely on cold winter evenings, I make myself a cup of hot tea and relax with some munchies. This time it is some home-made 'Mullu Murukku'. Murukku is a traditional south Indian snack and is made back home during almost every festival. It is not very difficult to make, as many people think. You need a 'murukku press', which is a mold to press out the dough into the shape as in the picture. I got my press from India, it may be available in Indian stores too.

This is how I (or my mom and grandma) prepared it.

Uncooked raw rice - 2 1/2 cups
Lightly roasted, ground and sieved urad dal - 1/4 cup
Ground and sieved dalia (pottu kadalai) - 1/4 cup
Butter - 25 grams (about 2 1/2 tbsp) Butter makes the murukku softer. You can use less, then it may end up a little hard to bite into.
Sesame seeds - 1 tsp (optional)
Salt to taste
Chilli powder - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Oil for deep frying

Murukku tastes best if made from home-prepared rice flour. But if you are pressed for time, or just not in the mood, you can use store bought rice flour (which I do once in a while).

To prepare rice flour, wash and soak uncooked raw rice for about 2-3 hours in water. Drain all the water and spread the rice over a clean towel and let it dry. When the rice is about 3/4th dried, powder it very fine. In India, we would take it to a mill for powdering. But, here in the US, I just used my dry grind attachment in my blender. Cool and then sieve the flour through a fine sieve. It can be stored in an airtight container for about a week. This preparation is common for all the traditional fried snacks that use rice flour.

Dry roast the rice flour lightly over low heat. If over roasted, the murukku will turn out darker and would not look very appetizing. In a large bowl, mix the rice flour, butter and all the other dry ingredients with water to make a stiff dough. This would require about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water. If you add more water, the murukku will end up being oily.

Heat oil for deep frying in a pan. Oil a plastic bag (like ziplock - In India, we would use banana leaf). Using the murukku press, make spiral shape on the plastic bag. When the oil is hot enough, flip the shaped dough from the plastic bag into your palm and drop it in the oil. Fry until the sizzle subsides and murukku turns golden brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Cool and store in an airtight container. Enjoy whenever you want for the next 15 - 20 days (if it stays that long).

This post is my entry to 'Monthly Mingle' hosted by 'My Diverse Kitchen' under the theme 'High Tea Treats'.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Carrot Halwa

Couple of weeks ago was my hubby's birthday. I always make some kind of sweet for all our birthdays. This time I had been a little busy with other things, that I had not planned on the sweet until the end. Since I had some carrots in the fridge, and carrot halwa is relatively easy and quick to make, and it is the only halwa my husband likes, I made it after he left to work on his birthday. We took it to the temple in the evening for 'prasad' and it was over in few minutes!!

Carrots - about 2 pounds grated
Ghee - 3 tbsp
Cardamom powder - 1/4 tsp
Saffron - few strands (optional)
Milk - 1 1/2 cups
Sugar - 3/4 to 1 cup (based on your sweet tooth)
Raisins - as required
Cashews - as required

Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed deep pan. Fry the cashews until golden brown. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside. Next, fry raisins until they bloat up like balloons. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside. In the remaining ghee fry the grated carrots on low heat until the raw smell is gone. You can add little more ghee if required. Keep stirring to avoid burning. Add sugar and mix well. Once the sugar is melted, add milk, cardamom powder and saffron and cook covered in low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and keep stirring until all the milk is evaporated. Remove from heat and garnish with raisins and cashews... Serve hot or chilled or at room temperature. Hmmm.... Yumm!!! Warm carrot halwa with ice cream (strawberry or vanilla) is one of my favourite desserts...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cucumber and Cauliflower cooked in Coconut milk

My friend Raveela had made this side dish on her son's first birthday party. Last week, Smita had given me few home-grown organic cucumbers. It was more than what we could eat as salad, so I got the recipe from Raveela and made it for dinner yesterday. The flavours in this dish are a little different from most other Indian curries. It kind of feels like a blend of Thai and Indian cuisines - perhaps, from the coconut milk.

Medium cucumbers - 2 - Peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
Cauliflower florets - 2 cups (cut into bite sized florets)
Coconut - 2 cups grated (or equivalent pieces)
Cumin seeds - 2 tsp (1 tsp for grinding and 1 tsp for tempering)
Coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Green chillies - 3 to 4 or to taste
Red chillies - 2 or to taste
Cinnamon - 1/2 inch piece
Curry leaves - 6-8 leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
salt - to taste

Extract coconut milk (thick and thin) with 1 tsp of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, green chillies, red chillies and cinnamon. To do this, grind all the above mentioned ingredients in a blender with 2-3 cups of warm water. Using a strainer, squeeze out all the liquid, reserve the residue and set aside. This makes the first or the thick milk. Grind the residue in the blender again with 1 1/2 - 2 cups of warm water and squeeze out the thin or the second milk. Discard the residue now.

Boil the cucumbers and cauliflowers with the thin coconut milk until cooked. Now add salt and the thick coconut milk and remove from heat. Add the juice of 1 lemon and mix well. In a separate small pan heat oil, fry curry leaves and remaining cumin seeds and add to the cooked vegetable. Enjoy hot with plain or jeera rice.

Raveela told me that the same preparation can be done with cabbage, bottle gourd (loki), white pumpkin, cucumber and cauliflower - solo or mix n match.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hara Bhara Moong (Green gram beans)

I had made Moong beans (pacha payaru) sundal for Saraswati pooja and most of it was left over. So, I made this dish and served it with roti.

In little oil, I sauteed few green chillies, chopped ginger, few garlic cloves, one bunch of coarsely chopped cilantro and one cup mint leaves. I ground them into a paste with 4 tbsp of grated coconut and set aside.

I sauteed finely chopped onion, tomato and diced red bell peppers. Then I added the moong beans sundal (can be substituted with cooked moong beans), salt and little water and brought the mixture to boil. Then I added the ground paste mixed well and removed from heat. It turned out really good. After dinner, I ended up eating the remaining with plain yogurt.... Hmmm... wonderful!!

Dosakai kootu - Dosakai with Toor dal (red gram)

I have always seen this green-yellow-orange ball-like vegetable in Indian grocery stores, but did not know what it was... One day, I saw a lady picking it up and I asked her what it was and how to prepare it. She said that 'dosakai' (also refered to as Indian cucumber or kani vellarikai) is an Andra delicacy and gave me her recipe which was very simple. She also guided me in selecting the right ones. I picked up a few of those 'balls' to try it out that week and we loved the veggie and then, I started buying it regularly.

Dosakai belongs to the cucumber/ melon family. It has cucumber like seeds in the center and has a sweet - tart taste. To prepare it, I peeled the skin, cut through the center, removed the seeds and made bite-sized pieces. I pressure cooked it with chopped onions, toor dal and sambar powder (can be substituted with red chilli powder, cumin powder, jeera powder and very little rice flour) for 4-5 whistles. Then, I added salt and mixed well. Then I did thadka (tempering) with hing (asafoetida), curry leaves, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and red chillies. It tastes great with both rice and roti.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vazhaipoo poriyal - Banana flower with spices

Not many people have actually seen banana flower (or plantain flower) and very few know that it is edible. Banana tree (technically an annual herb), is one of those plants in which every part is used in some way or other. Banana inflorescence (collection of flowers) contains multiple flowers in layers covered by brightly coloured leathery bracts (used as the serving dish in the picture). Think I am getting very technical here (Botany was my favourite subject in my 12th grade), lets get back to cooking.

I do not cook vazhaipoo (banana flower) very often because, cleaning it takes quite a bit of time. Each flower has a hard stalk like thing (style and stigma) in the center which remains membranous even after cooking and hence has to be removed. As we move towards the center of the inflorescence, the flowers become smaller and just snipping off the top of each flower would do. At one point, it becomes impossible to remove any more bracts, then, the whole remaining inflorescence may be cut into small pieces. The flowers that were removed and cleaned need to be finely chopped. Cleaning vazhaipoo stains your hands (and clothes on contact), so make sure you apply oil to hands before you start. Vazhaipoo has a mild bitter (yummy) flavour and you can add some sugar or jaggery to mask the bitterness, I never do it though.

Cleaned and chopped banana flower - 1
One hand full moong dal - soaked in water for about 2-3 hours
Onion - 1 small - finely chopped
turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Grated coconut - about 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Hing - 2-3 pinches
Curry leaves - 6-7
Red chillies - 3 -4 broken into half
Urad dal - 1 tsp
salt to taste

Mix turmeric and salt into cleaned and chopped banana flower and set aside for about 30 - 60 minutes. This step can be skipped if you don't have as much time, add salt and turmeric while cooking.

Heat 2-3 tsp of oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add hing and curry leaves and fry for few seconds. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When mustard seeds start to crackle, add red chillies and urad dal and fry until urad dal turns golden brown. Now add chopped onion and mix to coat with oil. At this point little salt can be added to bring out the sweetness of the onion. Fry until onion is transparent. Now add the marinated banana flower and soaked moong dal. Mix well and add about 1/2 cup of water and cover to cook. When both moong dal and banana flower are cooked, add grated coconut mix well, remove from heat and serve.

This time, my vazhaipoo poriyal turned out really yummy, I think the vazhaipoo was very fresh...

Monday, September 28, 2009

A new comer to my kitchen - Couscous

I learnt about couscous from Food Network. Couscous is a type of Middle Eastern pasta made from semolina flour and dried. Traditionally, It is cooked by steaming for a long time. The varieties sold in the grocery stores are pre-steamed for convenience and are ready in 10 minutes. Even though, it is a pasta, it neither looks nor tastes like regular pasta, but like cracked wheat.

When I saw couscous on TV, I thought it was interesting and picked up a box of whole wheat variety from Trader Joes during our next shopping trip. It was just lying in my kitchen cupboard until I decided to try it one Friday evening. I decided to prepare a cold salad with garbanzo beans and vegetables and a hot and spicy vegetable dish.

I found the salad recipe online at and followed it word to word. It turned out great. Being a hot day, the cold salad was a relief.

For the vgetable dish, I sauteed garlic, red chilli flakes, red onion, tomato, tomato paste, zucchini, carrot, red and green bell peppers and green olives in olive oil and cooked them with vegetable broth (red wine or white wine reduction may be used too). I added salt and pepper to taste. Then, I added the cooked couscous, mixed and removed from heat. Finally added some chopped parsley, mixed in and served hot. It was yummy and an interesting alternative to pasta.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Adai - A south Indian delicacy

Adai is a variety of dosa made using channa dal, toor dal and rice. Adai - Avial is a popular combination in most south Indian restaurants. Adai is more nutritious than dosa as the proportion of rice to dal is 1:1 (more protein and lesser carbs) as opposed to 3:1 to 7:1 in dosa.

We had a potluck with a few friends at my home and I decided to make adai. Adai, like any dosa, tastes great when hot and just out of the skillet. I made them right when we started eating. It went on to the plates directly from the skillet and was delicious. I served the adai with tri-colored chutneys (Cillantro, coconut and tomato) and was big hit.

Channa dal - 1 cup (Can be replaced with kali channa as it is more nutritious)
Toor dal - 1 cup
Moong dal - 2 tbsp
Urad dal - 2 tbsp
Rice - 2 cups
Fenugreek seeds - 1/4 tsp
Red chillies - 4 -6 or to taste
Salt to taste
Center (seed area) of 1 bottle gourd (loki) - optional
Your favorite veggies and/or herbs grated or very finely chopped - to be added at the end - optional again

Soak the dals, rice, fenugreek seeds and red chillies for 2-4 hours (If using kali channa, soak it overnight). Grind the soaked mixture and the bottle gourd center together with water into a slightly coarse batter (thicker than dosa batter). Bottle gourd center makes the adai soft and fluffy. (When I cook bottle gourd, I remove the center portion and save it in the freezer. I thaw it to room temperature before grinding in to the batter. As mentioned before, it is optional and does not affect the taste.) Add salt to taste and mix well. The batter can be used right away or fermented. I prefer to ferment as it gives the subtle sour taste. To ferment, I leave it in the oven with the oven light on overnight (6-8 hrs) and the batter will rise. Once fermented, mix the batter well and it can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.

Now add your veggies and herbs and mix in. This time, I added onions and cilantro. You can add grated carrot, cabbage, spinach, parsley, mint, green onions, any kind of greens i.e. keerai or mix n match as you wish. Make adai like normal dosa but a little thicker and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taste the difference....

Have you noticed that even small variations in the order of steps while cooking makes the same dish taste different? For example, when you want to make onion and tomato paste - the taste is different when you saute the onion and tomato before grinding and when you grind them raw and then saute the paste. The same holds good with ginger and garlic paste.

While cooking beans (garbanzo, red kidney etc), soaking them over night and pressure cooking them with salt makes them retain the shape (not becoming squishy) and soft and flavorful at the same time. Just playing with onions can bring out taste and texture differences. Adding a little salt while sauteing onion brings out its sweetness and makes the whole dish taste good. Even chopping the onion in different ways brings out subtle differences in texture and taste...

You'll find the difference in aroma and texture between using red chilli powder and red chillies slightly roasted and ground at home in a blender. Just by changing a few things, you can make the same dish taste different each time and will never be bored about cooking the same dish again... Mix and match, experiment and have fun :-)

White pumpkin and channa (Garbanzo beans)

I had never tasted this dish until my mother-in-law prepared it when she was visiting us here in the US. It was a unique combination and I liked the taste and the recipe is very simple. This time, I prepared it as a side dish for rasam and hence I made it drier. If made a little more watery, it can be served with plain rice. I think, it will go well with roti too, but have not tried it yet!

white pumpkin - about 1 pound
Channa (Garbanzo beans) - 1 cup soaked overnight
Salt to taste

To grind:
Red chillies - 4-5 or to taste
Jeera (Cumin) seeds - 1 tsp
Dhaniya (Coriander) seeds - 1 tsp
Grated coconut - 3 tbsp (Can use fresh coconut pieces)
Tamarind - i inch piece (a small piece)

For tempering:
Hing (Asafoetida) - 2 pinches
Musrard seeds - 1 tsp
Jeera (Cumin) seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - 4-5

Peel and cut white pumpkin into 1 inch cubes and cook it until tender. (I used microwave oven). Pressure cook the soaked channa with a little salt.

Dry roast red chillies, jeera and coriander seeds and grind with tamarind and coconut into a smooth paste. Combine the cooked pumpkin, channa and the ground paste and bring it to boil over medium heat. Add salt to taste (remember channa was cooked with salt, so adjust accordingly). In a separate small pan, heat oil and temper hing, curry leaves, jeera and mustard seeds and add to the pumpkin mixture. Mix well, remove from heat and serve.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Green Bean Casserole - An American classic

I was introduced to Green bean casserole by Jana, my room mate in Phoenix. She would cook vegetarian versions of dishes using soy burgers instead of meat for me to try. She has made vegetarian chili and vegetarian spaghetti and meat balls just for me. She used to add extra Jalapenos in my batch to spice things up. She introduced me to Mac n cheese, baked beans, quiche, grilled cheese sandwich, black licorice, blue cheese and many more... Looks like I am becoming nostalgic here... She used Campbell's mushroom soup in her recipe, but I made white sauce and sauteed mushrooms separately.

Green beans - about 1 1/2 pounds
Mushroom - 8 oz (I used the brown crimini variety)
Celery stalks - 3 to 4 diced
Onion - 1 large diced
Butter - 2 tsp
Salt, red chilli flakes, ground black pepper to taste
Cheese as much as desired (I used pepper jack) - grated

For white sauce:
butter - 1 1/2 tbsp
flour - 1 1/2 tbsp
milk - 1 1/2 cup

To prepare white sauce, melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Add flour and fry till very light brown. Add milk slowly and mix well without lumps. Keep stirring and remove sauce from heat when the mixture starts to boil. (can be removed when you see the first bubble). Add salt, pepper and red chilli flakes (for the entire dish) to the sauce and set aside.

Wash and cut green beans into 1 1/2 to 2 inch long pieces. Microwave green beans with few sprinkles of water about 7 - 10 minutes (or until half cooked) and set aside. I learnt from "Food Network" that mushrooms become leathery in texture when washed and it is enough if they are wiped with wet cloth or paper towel. Clean and slice mushrooms. Heat 2 tsp of butter over medium heat and saute onions for about a minute. You can add very little salt now to bring out the sweetness of the onion. Add mushrooms and saute for another 30 seconds. Add celery stacks and saute for 30 more seconds and remove from heat. Add the microwaved green beans and mix. Remove the vegetables to a oven proof casserole dish. (My casserole is stove top safe too, so I used the same for sauteing and baking. One less dish to wash :-) ) Add white sauce and toss in. Top off with grated cheese and bake covered in the oven at 400F for about 30 -35 minutes (until cheese melts completely and the mixtures bubbles over). Remove the cover and broil for 3-4 minutes for the cheese to brown slightly. Remove from oven. I sprinkled some French fried onions (out of the can - available in most grocery stores) for a little crunch. Tasty GBC (as I call it) is ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Last week's eat out - Zeni Ethiopian restaurant

Our family eats out once every week (mostly on Saturdays) and we try to taste non-Indian cuisines often. Last Saturday we took another family with us to Zeni in San Jose for dinner. My husband and I had eaten there once before on valentine's day (2009) and really enjoyed the food. This time, the other family was keen on eating in an Indian restaurant. But, we gave them all our good reviews and took them to this Ethiopian restaurant and were not disappointed at all.

They serve food for the group on a single plate. They place a large injera (an unleavened bread made from teff flour - similar to dosa) on the plate and place the different side dishes (or should I call them main dishes??) on it. They also serve rolled up Injera separately. One needs to take a piece of injera and scoop up the side dishes and eat - like the Indian way. They do not give fork, spoon or knife unless asked for. According to Ethiopian tradition, people eating from the same plate do not betray each other. Ethiopian food is nicely spiced up, very aromatic and lentils and beans are used in many dishes, similar to Indian food.

The interior decor and lighting is elegant too and we got to sit around one of their colorful hand-made bamboo tables. We ordered sambussa for appetizer - a lentil savory puff. For the main course we had vegetarian combination plate, Shuro Wot, fouul. My husband had the Ethiopian coffee which was dark coffee with spices. I tasted it and found to be something like "Masala Coffee".

They have live Ethiopian music playing every Saturday. Now, the only downside - The girl who took our orders said that we have to order at least 3 entrees, since we were a party of 4 and did not let us taste the combo plate and decide on the 3rd entree later. This policy, I felt was a bit wierd. Other than that all was fine. Zeni is a restaurant worth checking out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dal Makhani - Creamy black lentils

Dal Makhani is a very popular north Indian side dish. It goes well with both roti and rice. "Makhani" literally translates to "Buttery" or "Creamy" and so, I thought the recipe would call for a lot of butter or cream to make it rich. Later I realized, the creaminess comes from the Urad dal itself and not from cream or butter. I used 1/2 cup of 1% milk, 2 tbsp fat free yogurt and just 1 tsp of butter for this yummy dish. Here is how I prepared it.

Urad Dal (with skin) - 3/4 cup
Masoor Dal (with skin) - 1/4 cup
Rajma (Red Kidney beans) - 1/3 cup
Onion - 1 large, finely chopped
Tomato - 2 medium sized, finely chopped
Ginger paste - 3/4 tsp
Garlic paste - 3/4 tsp
Red Chilli powder - 1/2 tsp or to taste
Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1/2 tsp
turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
sugar - 1/4 tsp
Milk - 1/2 cup
Yogurt - 2 tbsp
butter - 1 tsp
salt to taste
oil - 2 tsp
Garlic cloves peeled and slit in the middle (for tempering) - 4-6

Soak all the 3 dals in water overnight.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Add onion and saute until transparent. You can add a little salt at this time to bring out the sweetness of the onion. Add ginger and garlic paste and fry for a minute. Keep stirring to avoid burning. Add tomato and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the drained dals, salt, sugar, red chilli powder, cumin powder, garam masala powder and turmeric powder and cover with water and pressure cook for 10 - 15 minutes or until dals are tender (4-5 whistles). Let stand for 15-20 minutes before opening.

Open the pressure cooker, add milk, stir well and bring to boil again. Add yogurt, turn the heat off and stir well. In another pan, melt 1 tsp of butter and temper garlic cloves and add this to the dal mixure. Tasty dal makhani is ready :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tasty and healthy Ragi Dosa

Ragi (finger millet) is a super grain rich in calcium and fiber. Some people (including my husband) does not like the taste of ragi. This recipe makes even the ragi haters like this dosa.

Dosa is generally of 2 types - aracha dosai (Dosa for which the batter is ground) and karacha dosai (Dosa for which the batter is mixed -i.e. using flours). Ground dosa batter is poured in the center of the skillet and spread out. Mixed dosa batter is poured all around starting at the rim of the skillet.

It was my mom's tip to combine both these types by replacing 3 parts of rice in dosa batter by 3 parts of ragi (or any other like whole wheat, millet etc) flour.

Urad dal - 1 cup
Rice (Boiled or Idly rice preferable) - 2 cups
Ragi flour - 3 cups
Methi (fenugreek) seeds - 1/4 tsp
Green chillies - 3-4 or to taste
Salt to taste
your favorite veggies - to be added at the end - optional (I used grated carrot, finely chopped onion, cilantro and cabbage)

Soak urad dal, rice and methi seeds for at least 4 hours. Grind them into a smooth paste in a blender. Add Ragi flour and salt and mix well (mixing with hand allows better fermentation). You can use the batter right away or allow it to ferment. I prefer fermentation, as it brings out the fluffiness and gives a mild sour taste. In India, we would just leave the batter at room temperature overnight to ferment. Here in the US, it is a lot colder than in India so room temperature fermentation does not work. There are many techniques out there - the best one that worked for me is to leave the batter in the oven with the light on overnight.

After fermentation, mix the batter well. Add thinly sliced green chillies and your favorite veggies and mix again. Then make dosa in a skillet like ground dosa (Heat the skillet over medium heat. Take a laddle full of batter and pour in the center of the skillet and spread in circular motion towards the ends. Drizzle little oil along the edges of the dosa. Turn when cooked and allow to cook on the other side. Remove from skillet). Enjoy with chutney or dosa milagai podi.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Onam feast at Shweta's

Happy Onam!! My friend and neighbour Shweta (and Nikhil) invited us over for their onam lunch. She said it was going to be simple and not many dishes... We went there just around lunch time and she was done with her cooking and was frying applam (papad). I was so surprised to see so many dishes... She managed to prepare all that by lunch time with a 1 year old toddler, and she called it simple... Wow!!!

She served food the traditional way on a banana leaf and we ate sitting on the floor. We had banana, banana chips, sweet chips, beans poriyal, potato stew, dal and potato sabzi, white pumpkin dal, avial, applam, rice, sambar, rasam and buttermilk. The food was delicious and we ate to our heart's content. This was my first onam feast and I loved it!!

Easy appetizer - spinach potato savory puff

Vegetable puffs are very common in India. But here in the US, I have seen puffs to be sweet rather than savory (except in Indian restaurants/ bakeries). Making puff pastry involves rolling out the dough very thin and layering with butter. It is a lot of hard work and I prefer to get puff pastry squares (available in all grocery stores) which makes this recipe a lot simpler. I substituted half the portion of the potato with spinach.

To make the filling, I sauteed cumin (jeera) seeds, thinly sliced onions, boiled and mashed potatoes and chopped spinach (if frozen thawed, if canned drained) in 1 tsp oil. I added salt, cumin powder, red chilly powder and turmeric powder and mixed well. I added little water and covered to cook. Then I removed the cover and stirred continuously (to avoid burning) until all the water is evaporated. I cut the puff pastry squares into triangles, placed the filling, folded into half, stuck corners with water and baked at 375F for 10-15 minutes. Tasty savory puffs are ready to be served.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The best Idly Milagai podi ever!!

This recipe is a combination of my mom's and mom-in-law's. After a few trial and error episodes, I have arrived at the right combination that my family loves!!!

I love curry leaves and, I end up adding a generous heap, but it is optional. Curry leaves can be saved for a long time by separating the leaves from the stems, washing them, patting dry and then microwaving on a paper towel for about 1 to 2 minutes (microwave times vary). Cool and store in zip-top bag in a dry place.

I use 2 kinds of red chillies. One for spiciness (Thai or Tezpuri red chillies) and other for aroma and colour (Kashmiri or mild Mexican red chillies)

Urad Dal - 1 cup
Channa Dal - 1 cup
Thai red chillies - about 30 numbers or to taste
Mild chillies - about 10 - 15 numbers
Dried curry leaves - to taste (optional)
whole black pepper - 1 tsp
salt - 1 1/4 tsp or to taste

Dry roast the ingredients separately on medium-low heat until slightly brown. Roasting the red chillies with salt tends to reduce the intensity of the fumes. When roasting dal, do not over-crowd the pan. Roast in batches, if required. Allow to cool. Grind in a blender / Dry grind attachment to a coarse powder. Mix with sesame oil (gingely oil) when needed and enjoy with idly / dosa. This can be mixed with yogurt and eaten as dip for Chappati and parata.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dinner Tonight - Hearty Vegetable Soup with Rosemary Bread

It does sound like a simple dinner... Yes it is... But, I baked my own bread for the first time!!! I know nothing of bread making - not even witnessed someone making it.. So I was exited!!

It all started with some fresh cut rosemary someone gave me. I dried it and bottled it up and went about searching for a rosemary bread recipe. I followed a recipe word to word from I used wheat flour (the chapati type) instead of all purpose flour (Maida). I killed my first batch of yeast as the water was very hot. The recipe called for kneading by hand for 10 minutes or using a food processor for 5 minutes, which I do not have. I kneaded by hand on a hot summer afternoon (100 degrees), sweating like crazy, and it was a great workout :).

Now coming to the bread, I am not sure what went wrong - I messed up with the dough consistency or messed up with the yeast may be... it turned out not as airy and fluffy as it was meant to be. But it tasted pretty good. The smell and flavor of rosemary was great. My husband did not like the texture much, so I toasted it up a little and it was a bit crispier and he ate it. I'll surely try and perfect this one again...

The soup turned out wonderful. It was one of the best soups I have ever tasted!! Really!!! I am not a big soup fan (My husband is) and still loved it!

I soaked red kidney beans (Raajma) overnight and pressure cooked it with salt. I sauteed slit garlic cloves, diced onions, diced tomatoes and tomato paste (added in the same order) in little butter. Then added diced carrots, red and green bell peppers, celery stems and few leaves, and potato and sauteed for some more time. I added vegetable broth to cover the veggies, salt to taste, red chilly powder and cumin powder and covered to cook. Then added the cooked beans and brought it to boil again. I turned the heat off and added chopped green onions and cilantro. I finished it of with the juice of one lime. It was better than "Sweet Tomato" hearty vegetable soup (which we love).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Badal Jaam - Spiced and baked eggplant (Brinjal)

I did not know such an Indian side dish existed until I saw the episode of "Rachael Ray's vacation" on Food network in which she visits San Francisco. She eats Badal Jaam in an Indian restaurant in Berkley and also gives a glimpse on its preparation. I searched food network site for this recipe and found that it involved shallow frying. Instead, I tried to broil in my oven to reduce the amount of oil used. I served it up with good old Jeera-saffron rice and chunky cucumber raita and it tasted wonderful. Here is how I prepared it.

Eggplant - 2 medium sized
onion - 2 medium sized, finely chopped
green bell pepper - 1 diced
tomato - 2 medium sized, finely chopped
green chillies - 4 or to taste, finely chopped
red chilly powder - 1/4 tsp
turmeric - 1/8 tsp or a couple of pinches
ginger paste - 3/4 tsp
garlic paste - 3/4 tsp
coriander - 1 tbsp finely chopped (save some for garnish)
cumin (jeera) powder - 1/2 tsp
lemon juice - 1 tsp
garam masala - 1 tsp
salt to taste
mango powder and/or chaat masala for garnish (optional)

Cut eggplant into 3/4 inches thick slices. Rub both sides with salt and let it sit for 10 minutes. This will make the eggplant lose some water. Pat the slices dry with a paper towel. Line a baking pan with foil and smear oil on it. brush little oil on both sides of the eggplant slices and smear garam masala. Preheat the broiler at high heat and broil the slices 8 inches under the source of heat for 7-8 minutes (Broiler times vary, so keep an eye. It can burn food very quickly). Turn the slices over and broil for another 6-7 minutes and set aside.

Preheat the oven at 400 F. In the mean time, saute the onion, green chillies, ginger paste and garlic paste in a tbsp of oil. You can a little salt at this stage to bring out the sweetness of the onion. when the onions are slightly brown, add tomatoes and bell peppers. Saute for another 2-3 minutes. Now add the remaining salt, turmeric powder, cumin powder and red chilly powder, and 1/2 cup of water. Mix well, cover and let it cook for 5-7 minutes. Then remove the lid and stir until all the water evaporates. Turn the heat off and then add lemon juice and coriander and mix well.

Divide the vegetable mix equally among the eggplant slices and spread evenly on each one. Now cover the baking pan with foil. close the ends tightly and bake for about 20-25 minutes (Baking times vary). Let it stand for 3-4 minutes before removing the foil. Garnish the slices with a dollop of yogurt, chopped tomatoes, coriander and dry mango powder and serve.

Note: If your yogurt is not very thick, hang it in a muslin cloth to remove excess whey water.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Krishna Jayanthi

This is my first blog and my first post and decided to start with the festival we celebrated recently - Krishna Jayanthi ( Gokulashtami).

I am an East Indian living in U.S. for the last 3 years. I love to celebrate festivals the traditional way and try to do as much as my busy life would let me. All festivals go with their own mouth-watering food and that's an added plus.

For me any event requires a bit of planning - especially with a one year old toddler running around...

The following are varieties that I prepared this year

Savory snacks:
1. Murukku
2. Thattai
3. Seedai
4. Ribbon/ olai pakoda

1. Theratti paal
2. Aval payasam
3. Vella seedai
4. Rava Laddu

Main food:
1. Pongal, Chutney and Sambar
2. Thair Sadham (Curd Rice)

I had invited few of our friends (about 15-20 people) for the puja. The festival was on 23rd August (Thursday). I had planned out all the cooking starting Saturday.

1. Saturday - Preparation of Flours (Rice, Urad and Dhalia)
2. Sunday - Murukku and Ribbon pakoda
3. Monday - Seedai and Thattai
4. Tuesday - Rava Laddu and Vella Seedai
5. Preparation of flower decoration and cut veggies for cooking the next day
6. Thursday (The festival day) - Theratti pal, Aval payasam, pongal, chutney, Sambar and Curd Rice.

The celebration went on very well and I received praises from my friends (and my folks back home who saw the pictures) about making so many varieties. All the food tasted great. A little planning goes a long way.

I'll post the recipes very soon.