Sunday, October 31, 2010

Persimmon - The passion of fall

It is fall. There is chill in the air and leaves everywhere... The first thing I look forward to during fall is the persimmon fruit and it perfectly matches the colour of fall.

I tasted it for the first time, when a friend at work brought slices in a box and I instantly fell in love with it. She told me the name of the fruit, but it did not register. In fact, I heard the name for the first time and 'persimmon' was not a easy one to remember... I had seen only the slices and not the whole fruit and I don't know the name... Hmmm... I din't know what to look/ ask for in the grocery store.

Next fall, I was at the farmers market and saw this beautiful pumpkin orange fruit (I din't even know if it was a fruit or vegetable). I went ahead and tried the sample and immediately knew it was the same one I had at work. I spoke to the lady at the stall and learnt about the two popular varieties, how to pick the right fruit, when to eat etc. Read more about persimmons here. I picked up few fuyus (the variety that can be eaten when crunchy) and enjoyed them. They have a sweet crunch - more like a cross between apples and chicoo (sapodilla). All in all they tasted awesome.

This fall, I picked up a couple of Hachiyas. The guy at the stall asked me to keep them tied in a plastic bag with apples to let them ripe. These have to be left to ripe until soft, before you can eat. if eaten earlier, it would leave a powerful astringent flavour lingering in the tongue. the first one was totally soft, I cut the top and scooped the pulp with a spoon and enjoyed the goodness. Tasted very similar to chicoo. The next one was soft, but had some hardness left - just a little, I'd say... I tasted it and wished I hadn't. It was that bad!

This wonderful fruit has such a short season, from late September to late October. Before I eat my heart's content, the season is over and they are all gone!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ragda Patties - A Mumbai street snack

My husband (M) was born and lived his childhood days in Mumbai. He has some wonderful memories of food, from there. Few of them are kulfi from the street cart vendor, pani puri, gola ice (the Indian popsicle which is a cross between granita and popsicle) and ofcourse, Ragda patties. I have never tried it in India, but have tried in a few Indian restaurants here in California. According to M, none of it tastes as good as what he had in Mumbai as a kid. I thought, 'May be we should try it at home sometime'.

I am a big time planner. I plan my menu for the next week by Friday, make a list based on that menu and then shop for groceries. This way, I don't shop a lot (which I tend to) and by end of the week my refrigerator is almost empty and ready for re-stocking. One day, while planning the week's menu, I remembered ragda patties and asked M if he would help me make it that Sunday. He agreed and I shopped for the ingredients. This dish comes in two parts - 'Ragda', which is cooked dried peas (white or green) with onions, tomatoes and spices, while 'patties' is a plain old potato patty. Instead of using just potatoes, I insisted on using carrots, peas, cilantro and soy granules too. We invited few friends for our Sunday chat indulgence. We had dosa, ragda patties, pani puri, spinach rice and rasgulla (brought in by Smita) and most of all had lots of fun!! We gave ourselves an hi-fi as M thought that the ragda patties tasted very close to those in his memories. One more thing to add here is, this is the first good food picture I have shot indoors under artificial lights with my point and shoot! We have recently purchased a DSLR - hoping to shoot better pictures soon.

Recipe for ragda:
  • Soak dried peas (I chose white) for 4-6 hours. Cook it with water and turmeric powder until soft, preferably in a pressure cooker.
  • In a saucepan add 2-3 tsp of oil. Saute finely chopped onions, ginger paste, garlic paste and finely chopped tomatoes. Add the cooked peas, salt to taste, red chilly powder, garam masala powder and required amount of water, cover and bring to boil. Then simmer for 5 minutes.
Recipe for patties:
  • Steam potatoes, peel and mash them. Add salt and red chilly powder to taste and mix well.
  • Prepare soy granules (I like granules to chunks as they are smaller in size and blend in better) as directed in box.
  • Grate carrots, thaw/ drain peas, if using frozen/ canned, finely chop onions and cilantro
  • Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a sauce pan, saute onions, carrots and peas. Add salt and red chilly powder to taste and mix well. Add very little water and cook covered for a minute. Heat until all water evaporates and the mixture is dry. Add potatoes, soy granules and cilantro and mix well.
  • Make patties, roll over bread crumbs and pan fry in a non-stick pan.
Serving suggestion:
Serve patties and ragda separately. Additionally serve finely chopped onions, grated carrots, finely chopped cilantro and lemon wedges for garnishing. Green (mint - cilantro) chutney and sweet (tamarind - date) chutney always accompany any Indian chat.
To assemble, place 1 0r 2 patties on a place, smash them slightly with a spoon, add ragda on top, add your choice of chutneys, then top off with your favourite garnishes and enjoy!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wrapped with fun

What do I call this wrap? 'Mediterranean wrap'?, as I used Mediterranean ingredients and Middle-Eastern flat bread? Or 'Creme cheese wrap'? when I smear creme cheese on the base? Or 'Masala wrap'? when I use 'Indian' ingredients? I think, 'As you like it wrap' might be appropriate as you can throw in anything you love.

'Wrapped with fun'... Yes!! This is one preparation we absolutely have fun with, every single time. Want a recipe which is quick, healthy and the whole family can have fun at dinner time? This is the one!! My creative friend Purnima told me about the creme cheese and sun-dried tomato wrap that she makes for her office potlucks. I derived my inspiration from there and prepared it for my son's first birthday party (for the first time). All our guests enjoyed it a lot and asked me for the recipe. It is so simple and quick, that with a little help even my 2 1/2 year old son can make it :)

I bought 'Lavash' (Middle-Eastern flat bread) from my local 'Trader Joe's (whole wheat option available). This flat bread is rectangular and that makes it easier to wrap. I would smear either creme cheese (for kids), or humus or pesto (for adults) on the bread. Then I would sprinkle any of my favourite ingredients on top, wrap it up and cut it into halves and enjoy. This time, I used sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (oil squeezed out), chopped fresh spinach, basil chiffonade*1 and sliced green olives. I sprinkled some chilly flakes for a little extra punch (lots on my hubby's). As I stated earlier, you can virtually use any ingredient. I guess, any kind of cooked and shredded meat would go well too (We are vegetarians and hence have not tried this option - but guessing it would work).

You can put the ingredients in separate bowls and let your family assemble their own wraps at the dinner table. Have family fun and less work for you at the same time. Isn't that nice?

*1 - Chiffonade is just a fancy term for thin shredded strips (generally used for herbs). Before cutting basil chiffonade, you may want to sprinkle a few drops of vegetable oil on the leaves and gently rub to evenly coat the leaves. This will prevent them from darkening. Stack several basil leaves and roll them into a tight tube length-wise. Slice the leaves width-wise into narrow pieces to create long thin strips.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Masala vadai

Food sometimes makes me wonder... How can some dishes from two different cuisines, belonging to different parts of the world, be so similar? Like tortilla and roti , Thai curry and kuruma, ingera (Ethiopian bread) and dosa, Chinese dumplings and kozhukattai.... I once saw an episode in discovery channel titled 'The real Eve', which talks about the first woman of the world who was from Africa and all of us are her descendants. Does this similarity in food prove that theory??? Anyways, today's recipe is an addition to above list of similarities. Masala vadai (or vada), an authentic south Indian dish which is very similar to the Middle Eastern falafel.

Masala vadai is deep fried channa dal (skinned, split and dried garbanzo beans) balls with spices. It is a must at our home during Diwali. My mom is such an expert at making it, that not just us at home, but all our friends love it too. Recently, when my husband's friends came home for dinner, I made this (for the first time) for appetizer.

Channa dal - 2 cups
Onion - 1 large, finely chopped
Cilantro - 2 tbsp, finely chopped (optional)
Curry leaves - 2 - 3 strands, chopped
Green chillies - 3 - 5 (or to taste), finely chopped or ground
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 1 1/2 tsp
Sonf (fennel seends) - 1 tsp coarsely ground
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying

Soak channa dal for about 2 to 3 hours. Grind into a coarse paste with very little water. A chopper (if you have one) works better than blender or mixie. Add all the other ingredients (except oil) and mix well.

Heat oil in a frying pan or kadai for deep frying. Take a small lime sized ball of the channa dal mixture, flatten slightly on the palm and slide into the hot oil. Fry on both sides until golden brown. Remove into a plate lined with paper towel. Enjoy the crispy treat hot, warm or at room temperature. You can also serve with coconut chutney or tomato ketchup on the side.
Note: Start the frying process as soon as all the ingredients are mixed in, else the mixture will become watery making it difficult to handle and the vadai will end up oily.

Monday, October 4, 2010


How long has it been since I wrote anything here!!! I've missed you all and the blogging...
Hmmm... Lets see... I went to India, came back to the US, found a new place to live, moved into the new place, took up a new job, started sending my son to pre-school, went to India again for my sister's wedding, came back, welcomed my sister here, helped her a little bit to settle down and now taken a small break from work.... So, got back to blogging about my favourite thing - FOOD!!! and hoping I'd continue....

Mondays are roti days. Since I've been working, have not been able to make roti at home. I'd just pick up some from a restaurant on my way back home. Since I'm on a break now and was at home today, I decided to make it myself...

Actually, making roti has always been a challenge for me. It was one of those unconquered territories! My mom, a great cook (and my cooking inspiration) is a bad roti maker too! worse than me - can you believe that? Being rice eaters, this never made our everyday food any less delicious.

Roti, screams 'Indian'. When I call my self an Indian cook, I am supposed to make good (if not great) rotis. I set out on this mission... Made them over and over... not very successful or consistent in making the perfectly soft rotis. My MIL makes wonderful rotis and (unlike me) she never feels they were labour-intensive. This time when I was in India, I carefully observed her making rotis every time. When I got back this time, I replicated her method - viola!!! soft and great tasting rotis every time. Mission accomplished!!

Tonight, I used multi-grain atta (Pillsbury) and couple of table spoons of flax seed powder. I added chopped fresh basil from my garden, salt and couple of teaspoons of oil. Kneaded the dough with fingers, (new technique learnt - don't use the palm and don't put excess pressure while kneading) rolled the rotis and cooked them on a hot griddle. We really enjoyed our dinner and I felt a great sense of accomplishment.