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.