Monday, November 22, 2010

MO GO (make one get one) Thanksgiving!

This was such a crazy caper that I wasn't even sure if I should post it as a recipe with any shred of respectability. Making 2 different dishes with the exact same veggies (& yes I mean the same, Not two portions of vegetables cut up & used differently, NOOO, that was the weird part, ended up reusing the same vegetables..But hey... it seemed the eco friendly  thing to do..), but then the end result was pretty tasty & was worth repeating a second time for the Camera. & so here it is. *Drumroll*

1. A Roasted cream of pumpkin soup ,

2. A mixed vegetable dip served with Pita bread. (which can alternatively be served as a vegetable with Indian Roti or Paratha)

The take home message from this pair of dishes is that a spice can singularly  & absolutely redefine the culinary origins of a dish irrespective of the  chief ingredient used. The soup is, for practical purposes, the quintessential all American offering, the key herb here being Sage which is Mediterranean in origin. (For More info about Sage, check out the Wikipedia entry ). The dip is inspired by a humble North Indian vegetable dish called ' kaddu ki subzi' where the primary spice used is fenugreek. And there you have it, Two dishes with flavors reminiscent of 2 different parts of the world & yet, both stem from the same starting point of vegetables. A true example of fusion!

Makes for a great healthy Fall supper.

For these dishes, you need:
2 cups of pumpkin, cubed
1 head fennel bulb sliced thin
3 leeks cut lengthwise (just the white parts)
Sea Salt as per taste,
1/2 tsp coarsely crushed black peppercorn
1 Jalapeno pepper
2 portions of (one for the soup & the other for the dip)
4 tbsp Olive oil
Apart from the common ingredients listed above you need:

For the Soup:
12-15 fresh Sage leaves,
2 garlic pods crushed
1/2  cup crushed tomato
1 cup whole milk (adjust as per preference)
1 tbsp olive oil
Suggested Garnish: A handful of deep fried potato sticks with dried rosemary

For the dip:
Curry leaves.. Optional! i.e I forgot to add them & it worked out just fine!)
1 tbsp olive oil 
1/2 tsp cumin seeds,
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (Available as kasuri methi in Indian grocery stores)
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes,
1/8 tsp  cayenne powder (adjust as per taste)
Salt to taste
Finely chopped Cilantro & Lime wedges for garnishing

In a large mixing bowl Combine the pumpkin, leeks & fennel with the olive oil, salt & crushed peppercorn. Marinate for about 10 minutes.

Transfer onto a baking tray & roast in an 350 F oven for ~ 20-30 minutes till the vegetables begin turning a golden brown.
On the stove top, grill the Jalapeno pepper till the skin gets charred. Allow to cool & scrub off the blackened skin using a paper towel. Cut lengthwise, remove & discard the seeds & chop roughly. Keep aside.

In a skillet, Heat 1 tbsp of oil and add the sage leaves & garlic. When they begin to soften add the crushed tomatoes & cook on medium heat till the raw smell of the tomatoes disappear.

Combine the tomatoes, chopped Jalapeno & the roast vegetables into the bowl of a a food processor.

Process till semi smooth, adding water if the mixture is too thick. Strain the mixture through a sieve, till all the puree is extracted. Reserve the vegetable residue for making the dip/subzee.

Heat the puree  with desired amount of milk to make a smooth soup. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with julienned fried potatoes if desired.

 For the Dip /Subzee:

Heat Oil in a skillet till smoking hot. Add the cumin & fenugreek seed. Stir till they turn a golden brown & then add the dried fenugreek leaves. Stir till combined & add the crushed tomatoes, cayenne pepper powder & salt. Cook on a medium flame till the tomatoes lose their raw smell.
Add the strained vegetable residue & cook till any residual liquid evaporates on a low flame. Garnish with chopped cilantro & serve warm with Pita bread as an appetizer. Alternatively you may serve it as a vegetable entree with Indian Roti or Paratha.

The best part of making the food.. SCARFING it down!!

happy cooking! & Bon appetit!

(Entering this recipe into Edible Entertainments Healthy Cooking Challenge)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cabbage with Muscles: Brussels Sprouts!

Ever seen those cartoon shorts where there is this endearing looking lil baby animal with Bambi eyes looking so helpless? & the BAM!!! it suddenly lunges at you with fangs & claws bared? (Didn't they have such a lizard in Jurassic park as well, timid chirpy thing that squirted a tarry toxin??). Every time I look at a Brussels sprout, that is what comes to mind!
The first instinctive reaction to a brussels sprout is the same as that towards any tender baby vegetable, the expectancy of a delicate & mild texture.. but make no mistake, one feel of an outer leaf from a sprout instantly reminds you of a leafy equivalent of shoe leather!

for more info, click on

This cabbage relative packs a punch in terms of flavor & textural mouth feel. It has a more robust flavor compared to regular cabbage & does not release as much liquid when sauteed. This makes it an ideal vegetable to be roasted or stir fried.
This thanksgiving offering of Brussels sprouts is sauteed in a traditional South Indian Tam bram style. To give it an additional dimension of flavor, I've incorporated a toasted coconut masala (Pitlai masala)to finish the dish. Although not pictured, a handful of crushed toasted salty peanuts tossed in prior to serving kicks this side dish up another notch.

For this dish you need:.

2 cups tightly packed shredded Brussels sprouts
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 tsp Urad dal
1 sprig curry leaves
Salt to taste

Pitlai Masala: (Adapted from Viji Varadarajan's  recipe for Pitlai podi from her book SAMAYAL, Page 120 )

Disclaimer: I ran out of coriander seeds & substituted some Dhania Dal, worked great in a pinch!

3 tsp  coriander seeds
1 tsp Chana dal
1.5 dried arbol chillies
pinch of Asafetida powder
2 tsp grated coconut

Toast all the ingredients to a golden brown on a hot skillet. Combine & grind to a coarse powder.


heat oil in a hot wok and add the mustard & Urad dal. When they begin to sputter, add the brussels sprouts along with the torn curry leaves. Saute for 5-7 minutes till the shredded leaves begin to go limp. Add the masala powder & combine well. Transfer into a serving bowl & serve with hot steamed rice.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lavender Badaam (Almond) Cake

It seemed SUCH a sacrilege to trifle with something that is such an integral part of South Indian dessert  confections, that the crazy part of me JUST had to do it!! Of course, I did justify to my self in my head & one of the most valid sounding excuses for the Badaam cake was.. Hmm.. Almonds are very much a part of Mediterranean cuisine & the best Saffron is supposed to come from Spain (Also Mediterranean).. & Guess what? So is Lavender.. or some such convoluted logic like that!
The Traditional Badaam cake was always a Diwali tradition growing up along with such fantasy confections such as Wheat Halwa (Fantasy, only because I could NEVER get it done the way my mom used to & I don't even want to try!!). As one progresses in age, the nostalgia of all things associated with ones childhood comes to the fore & begs to be passed on to the next generation. Yes, our mothers used to drum it into our heads & the full extent of their words settle upon us when we take over the mantle of Parenthood.

It was indeed surprising how well lavender blends with almonds. & yes, very little is required to infuse the entire batch with a mild aroma reminiscent of citrus. Sorry.. No pix since I whipped up this late last night & have completely run out of the necessary ingredients for an encore!

For this you need:
1 cup raw almonds (soaked overnight & skinned)
1 cup Full Fat milk (or half & half)
1- 2 tsp dried Lavender blossoms (as per personal taste)
3 cups icing sugar OR 2 cups regular sugar
2 tbsp ghee + some more if preferred
A baking sheet or plate coated generously with butter or ghee

Add the lavender to the milk & heat till it comes to a boil.
Strain the milk and add to the almonds.Discard the lavender.
Grind the almonds to a coarse paste with the lavender infused milk. (you may wash out the blender jar with some extra milt & add it to the paste)
In a heavy bottom skillet, heat the ghee and add the almond paste.
Stir well till the ghee & almond paste combine. Then, add the 3 cups of icing sugar ( the reason to use this instead of regular sugar is that it melts almost instantly).
Cook on a slow flame stirring constantly & pushing down the almond paste from the sides of the pan. (I recommend using a silicone spatula instead of the traditional ladle.)
Cook down until all the moisture has evaporated & the mix begins leaving the sides of the pan (the mix should drop off in sheets from the spatula).
Transfer the mixture onto the buttered plate. Spread evenly & smooth out.
Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

(and NO.. The color remains the same as the traditional version..NOT a mauve lavender hue!!)


Sinfully Divine: 'Lehiyam' Truffles

Ask any South Indian Tam Bram about the most defining aspect of Diwali goodies & chances are that the reply will be 'Lehiyam'. Whatever the traditional offerings may be from home to home,' lehiyam' is a mandatory part of Diwali prep.
For those of you unfamiliar with 'lehiyam', the closest comparison I can think of is a 'Chyawanprash'. If you're unfamiliar with both these terms, Lehiyam is a spicy tonic made primarily with fresh Ginger with a blend of other  spices (which vary between family recipes) in a syrup made from Gud (Jaggery).
This confection literally started out as a joke when my husband asked me what I was making for Diwali but surprisingly its turned out to be a great variation for truffles & Boy am I glad I stumble upon this at home rather than @ the Godiva parlor. That would have been such a 'Now why didn't I think of it' moment.

For the Lehiyam you need:

Image courtesy:
1 tbsp Coriander seeds,

1 tsp Cumin

Image courtesy:
4-5 Long pepper

4-5 black peppercorns
1/4 cup of fresh ginger root ground to a fine paste
1/3 cup of gud (jaggery) OR Brown Turbinado sugar
1 tbsp ghee

Made a fine powder of the coriander, cumin & the 2 varieties of pepper. Add to the fresh ginger root paste & combine well.
In a skillet, heat the gud or sugar till it melts and forms a brown color syrup. Add the ginger paste & the ghee & mix well. cook till the moisture has evaporated & the mixture resembles a thick paste. remove from stove & set aside to cool completely. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

 To make the truffles you need:
1 bar semisweet chocolate,
1/4 cup heavy cream.
Lehiyam pieces, Chilled in freezer & rolled into balls.

Melt the chocolate & heavy cream in a double boiler till it forms a smooth mixture. MAKE SURE that the chocolate does not come into contact with water as this can make the chocolate 'seize' (looks like curdled chocolate).
Keeping the chocolate mixture warm & flowing, dip the lehiyam spheres into the chocolate to coat them evenly. Remove with a dry fork, making sure any excess chocolate drips out & place into paper cups. Cover & leave in a cool dry place to set.
Bon Appetit & a happy Diwali

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thattai Biscotti

The most well known of all savory 'snack' or 'Bakshanam' offerings in South india are indubitably the 'Murukku' & 'Thattai'. The former are those 'snake like' coiled things that Chetan Bhagat describes in his book 2 States & the latter is christened with an  unflattering moniker that literally translates as 'Flat' in English. But, these are staples in the South Indian pantry, savored at leisure with the afternoon tumbler of Filter 'Kaapi' (Coffee).
As beloved as these snacks are, the art of making them at home is going extinct. For one thing, they're both deep fried and Murukku atleast, is notoriously labor intensive. (For a beautiful nostalgic description of the entire murukku  making process, I'll refer you to Ammini Ramachandran's book 'Grains Greens & Grated coconut,  page 241)
 For many of us in the US, we have adapted to an alternate comfort snack that we relish with our Starbucks coffee. The Biscotti. On a personal level, I miss the biscotti when I'm scarfing  my Thattai  & quite often, vice versa.
This Panfusine offerring has been through a number of iterations & I'd like to thank Panfusine followers Nita Ashok & Jyoti Ananth for being voluntary guinea pigs. I finally decided to go through the preparation as per standard techniques followed in baking. As in dry ingredients together, wet ingredients together & then mix the two & bake.

For the Thattai Biscotti (or as my other half calls it, a 'thattai cotti') You need:

1/3 cup rice flour toasted lightly
2/3 cup  urad flour toasted golden
1 cup all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
Salt to taste
~ 1 tsp Red chilli powder (adjust to your personal taste)

Sift the above ingredients into a mixing bowl & set aside.
4 tbsp melted butter
Water as needed

For the Tadka:
1 tbsp Mustard seeds
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 sprig curry leaves torn to small pieces
1/4 tsp asafetida powder
1 tbsp sesame oil.

Heat the oil till smoking and add the mustard seeds. When they sputter add the sesame seeds & wait till they pop. At this point add the curry leaves & asafetida, taking care to avoid any spattering oil. remove from fire and add to the dry mixture.

Add the melted butter & combine till the dry ingredients are incorporated well.

Add required water and knead lightly to form a ball of dough. Shape into an elongated  loaf

Bake @ 300 F for 30 minutes till the surface is slightly hard. Remove from oven & let the loaves rest for about 15 min.
Using a Sharp knife slice the loaf diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices. (This can be tricky since the curry leaves tend to get caught in the grooves of the knife yanking off chunks of the loaf. Just do the best you can!)

Lay the slices flat on the baking tray & toast in the oven (@ about 200 F)  till the sides are golden brown & crisp. Remove from the oven, let it cool & store in an airtight container.
Serve with Hot Filter coffee or Masala chai (or a Venti Latte!).

(& this was my lil 'dough' Ganesha for the good luck!!)

Okkarai health bars

Okkarai: Funny name, Yummy treat..

I've no clue as to how this dish got its name & have always felt its a cross between a sweet sundal & a kozhakattai filling. but heck its delicious & that is what counts..

 Diwali is to Hindu's what Christmas is to Christianity. Its the festival of lights, a day signifying the triumph of good over evil,  a celebration of wealth & all the nice things in the world! Take your pick.. or not, you do not need a reason to celebrate.

 Growing up in India, you knew that Diwali was around the corner when shops began displaying fireworks prominently. It was time for women to get cracking on making treats that were part of their respective family traditions. Chivdas, Chaklis, Halwa, Burfee & amongst South Indians, the Diwali 'Lehiyam', a tonic meant to counteract any possible ill effects of overindulging on the other stuff.. (Nobody ever talks about the consequences of OD ing on Lehiyam, which happens all the time!)

Okkarai basically consists of exactly 2 primary ingredients, Channa (Chick pea) dal & Jaggery (gud), flavored with cardamom & ghee. The secret in its flavor is toasting the channa dal to bring out a nuttiness, that is the characteristic of this dessert. The original version is crumbly & is eaten with a spoon. A very healthy combination of proteins from the chickpea & carbs from the sugar (No comments on the quantity of ghee added which varies from household to household!)

Retaining the primary chewy nuttiness of the chickpea, Panfusines take on Okkarai incorporates toasted almonds, walnuts & pumpkin seeds to give it that extra dimension of a crunch. I omitted ghee for the most part confining its use to greasing the baking sheet. I refrain from calling this a granola bar since It does not include oats.

You need:

1 cup split chick pea lentil (chana dal)
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup Walnuts
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup Jaggery
1/2- 1 cup brown or regular sugar (adjust this according to your personal preference, you may even use only Gud if you prefer.. It still behaves exactly like sugar does when cooked!).
seeds from 10-12 cardamom pods, crushed
Ghee/ butter for brushing.
Aluminum foil/parchment paper lined baking tray.

In a skillet toast the chana dal till golden brown. Pressure cook with minimal water till soft & separate but not mushy. Grind the  dal in a food processor to a coarse consistency, adding water as needed. (It should be a gritty mixture, NOT  a batter).

Place the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet & toast till they become golden brown & start emitting an aroma.
Coarsely crush the nuts in a food processor into small pieces. Set aside.

Repeat with the walnuts & pumpkin seeds  , but instead of processing these, just break the toasted walnuts into little pieces by hand. Leave the toasted pumpkin seeds whole. Combine with the Cardamom.

In a heavy bottomed skillet combine the jaggery & sugar with very little water & heat to form a syrup. When the syrup reaches a 'soft crack' (the syrup forms thin malleable threads when dropped into cold water) stage, add the dal mixture and the nuts. Mix to combine all ingredients. At this stage the mix will seem a bit soft, even runny due to any residual water in the cooked dal.

Transfer the mixture to a greased & lined baking sheet & spread into an even layer.

Bake in a 250 F Oven for about 20-30 minutes till  sugar at the edges appears to caramelize. Switch off oven & let the mix rest inside for ~ 10 minutes.
At this point you could drizzle with melted chocolate for a delicious variation. Using a pizza cutter, cut  the okkarai sheet into bars.

Remove bars after its completely cooled & store in an airtight container.

(& thats my hand holding the bar before it went down my hatch!!)


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