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...