Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Culinary Makeover 101


I've been going over this point ( almost ad nauseum) about how South Indian cuisine lags so far behing when it comes to plating & have also given some possible reasons as to why this is so. Without belaboring on this much further, let me get to the point. A before and after makeover for that much loved comfort food that most Tam Brahms go crazy for... Idli & Chutney. Mind you, the end result as far as the taste is concerned is identical and would pass muster with the most orthodox in-house senior resident.
 Recipes for Idli and chutneys are available for download by the dozen but here is the basic list of ingredients:
3 measures parboiled rice (or Idli Rice)
1 measure whole Urad dal (both available in ethnic Indian grocery stores)
 Wash & soak the rice & lentils separately for about 5-6 hrs. Grind the rice till the consistency resembles that of pourable concrete!. Do the same for the lentil except that the lentil batter ideally should be that of thick whipped eggs. ( the Urad Dal has a mucilaginous texture when made into batter, which helps the idli hold up its shape and spongy texture).
 Add salt to taste and half a tsp of baking yeast to kick start the fermentation, especially if you do not live in the tropics. Mix thoroughly & let it rest overnight in the oven ( with the light on). Grease the idli molds with sesame oil, pour a ladle of batter into each mold & steam for 10 mins. Allow to cool slightly before extracting from the molds

 Idli in its most traditional form, is steamed in concave molds giving rise to the ubiquitous lentiform idli that we are familiar with. Traditionally, it would be served as with 2 bowls, one  containing coconut chutney, the other with sambhar and. at times, a little pile of  'milaga podi' with sesame oil spreading out on the plate, meant to be mixed . (but not before its coated part of the idlies, and the bottom of the stainless steel katories with the chutney & sambhar)!


This is the time honored method of making Idlis..


Now, I believe in the  idiom "Necessity is the mother of Invention" or to put it slightly different a la the one & only Calvin, "Mothers are the necessity for Invention". Either way you look at it, there is nothing that delights a child more than a cutesy variation of a comfort food. and miniature idlis, I discovered, will only take you so far.
 Most kids adore cupcakes in any form & guess what? Idlis are no exception, So I started making idlis for my kid in silicone cupcake molds. This process it turns out is great, since its very easy to remove the idlis without distorting them and also made for an elegant presentation when guests come home.
So here is my process for plating: Add a dollop of green chutney to the center of the plate & swirl around. Place 2 idlis inverted on the chutney, drizzle with sesame oil & sprinkle with desired amount of podi!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

okay, one of my biggest questions regarding Tam Bram cuisine has been that why has it never been presented well.. I mean, take a look at any Indian cook book, recipes from the southern part of India can be literally counted on ones fingers. Yes, Tam Brams and South Indians in general, are a bit short on advertising themselves compared to their northern counterparts, and when they do, they may come across as snobbish & oh so aware of their cerebral aspects.. ( May I suggest reading Chetan Bhagats latest novel '2 states'. You'll get an idea of what I mean), hence any pride about Tam Bram cuisine is relegated to some cliched, 'politically incorrect' comments about how your run of the mill 'dilliwala' tends to order a 'bucket' of Sambhar ( or 'Sambhur' -- rhymes with Ben-Hur) with an order of idlis on the side.

Anyone watch the Food networks Iron Chef.. Its an intense challenging show where 2 well known chefs have to create 5 dishes in an hours time using ONE mystery ingredient as the central theme. points are awarded for originality, taste and presentation.. Of these three, Tam Bram cuisine would fall flat when it comes to presentation. Not being critical here, but dining in a typical middle class South  Indian household isn't ( & never has been ) about laying the table with appropriate table settings and linen and sitting around leisurely as a family catching up on the days events. A generation or two ago, the prevalent formal dining practice (on Festival & feast days) was laying a whole banana leaf, and ladling about 6- 10 different varieties of vegetable/lentil/yogurt based dishes, plus dessert & poppadums ( all in a specific order). Women served the men of the household and once that session was over, gathered around and had their lunch/dinner. On regular days, the menu would usually consist of a lentil or yogurt based gravy (Sambhar/kuzhambu), a clear piquant tamarind/lime based broth, spiced with pepper ( YES: The original MULLIGATAWNY! - Rasam), 2 vegetables prepared in different ways, Rice, Yogurt & pickles. all served in mounds on a plate or leaf & eaten according to a personal preference, either mixed up together or a bite of this & that!, so no opportunity really, of presenting  food that would meet with an Iron chefs approval.
I believe in creating opportunities where there are none and so, I plan to start with makeovers. ( you know, those before & after beauty makeovers that Cosmo & Vogue feature in their magazines)
 So come back in a couple of days & find out which run of the mill Iyer food goes glam first!
till then, bon appetite!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Homage to the mother goddess!

Any new endeavor is usually undertaken with a prayer on ones lips & this blog is no different, I hence dedicate this posting to the First lady of South Indian cuisine.

The first Lady of South Indian Food with out any shred of doubt in my mind ( & in my humble (not!) opinion, shouldn't be in any one elses) is MEENAKSHI AMMAL! She is & will be forever reigning Goddess of comfort food for all nerdy Southie Geeks that keep Silicon Valley going. I'm not going to go into the details about her in this blog, Instead I'll link the web page for her trademark publication, Samaithu Paar, a kind of veritable bible for most South Indians emigrating from India to the farthest corners of the world.
She was to to traditional Tamil Brahmin (which I may or may not choose to refer to as TamBram in future postings) cuisine what Julia Child was to French cuisine. & yes, she did all this with less than 1% of the opportunities & advantages that Julia was privileged to have!

(**IDEA!!! ( a gazillion watt one, maybe I'll cook my way thru Samaithu paar & this blog will be made into a blockbuster Bollywood movie!! Ahem.. ahem... Do Mani Rathnam or Raju Hirani ( or their significant others), read foodie blogs??)

Hey... Can't type any more about this amazing lady without getting wistful, so I'll just end this blog with a link to the Samaithu paar website..http://www.meenakshiammal.com/

till the next time!

about me..

I'm a die hard South Indian Foodie, who believes that appreciating food is akin to appreciating a valuable work of art or music ( except that the sensory tool used is the tongue rather than the eye or ear). I owe a lot to my late father who taught me to appreciate food & not get intimidated into being referred to derogatorily as a 'theetripatteri' ( a scornful term in the Tamil language loosely translated as a 'gourmand').
about the title of my blog: I belong to the Iyer community, a Tamil Brahmin vegetarian sect originally from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. A housewife on a sabbatical from the 9 to 5 career arena. I admit, I spend a lot of time watching the food network and at the same time an active member of Weight Watchers, keeping track of my caloric points. It has been great creating food (palatable works of art as opposed to Salads & bean curd which passes off as vegetarian food in the minds of a LOT of people). I doubt I will ever reach the heights of a Mario Batali or Bobby Flay, which is why I claim that I'll always be a 'chef wannabe'.
It has been quite a journey in getting to where I am, to be able to put my views on the net with a certain level of confidence, which I hope will not transform into an arrogant brashness. The views expressed here are my own.
my plan for this blog is to oscillate between discussing foods I create, talking about the restaurants/ addas i frequent & my opinions on what other 'well known' food critics talk about.
so here goes!

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