Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Carrot Halwa Blondie Bars - an Update..

This has been one of my all time favorite recipes that I had created when I began writing this blog.. Just as a child who's distinguished him/herself and making a parent proud, Today, I'm so humbled & proud that my recipe for Carrot Halwa Blondie Bars has been picked by Cooking Channel as the  winner in the Indian Category. The show is called 'The Perfect 3' and I've been invited to tape a webisode at the Food Network Studios in New York City in February with Kelsey Nixon, the host of the show.

Thanks so much for the support & encouragement from all of you readers!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Taste from Waste II - Pumpkin 'Brain' Chutney

Yeah OK, we're at the end of pumpkin season, waiting anxiously for that yoda like rodent, that prognosticating groundhog from Gobbler's Knob, Punxsutawney, PA to announce to the world about when spring 2012 will be here (sheesh!, the best weather predicting satellites & software & we still defer to the groundhog!).
Well, as long as the cold weather is here, we'll be making do with potatoes, pumpkins, and greens from the Brassica family such as cabbage, cauliflower & kale, not there is anything to complain. In fact, personally, I could live on potatoes alone!
Having said that, the topic of food waste still buzzes within the cranium and a pumpkin is one example of multiple components of the vegetable used up. The flesh needs no introduction, its baked, roasted boiled & pureed (thats 4 potential recipes for the future right there), the toasted seeds are used for stadium snacks, an aromatic gourmet oil & in granolas & topped over muffins. All that is discarded is the tough peel and the fibrous center encasing the seeds, colloquially referred to as the 'brains'...

The fibrous center has been the star of a chutney recipe handed down from my great grand mother. (yep.. the cauliflower relish 'paati's' mother), and within the family, it goes by a rather strange name.. Yaanai thalai thuvaiyal (Elephant's head chutney). The reason, I'm told, was that the old lady would reprimand my dad (when he was a young kid) about scarfing down large quantities whenever this was made, and the rather colorful description was likened to the volume of an elephants big head!. Whatever the reason, it seemed to make all the more sense when I came across a  website describing the central webby part as pumpkin brains!

The fibrous part from a freshly cut pumpkin has a yielding crispness which wilts pretty quickly, so its advisable to pick the center out, remove the seeds & refrigerate or freeze in a ziploc if not using immediately.

Yaanai Thalai thuvaiyal:
 1 cup central filaments from a medium sized pumpkin (without seeds)
1/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup Cilantro leaves
1 sprig curry leaves
2 tablespoon Tuvar dal
2 tablespoon Split, dehusked Urad dal
2 dried red arbol chiles
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder
Salt to taste (~ 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp (NOT concentrate)

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds arbol chiles & the dals. toast over medium heat till the dals turn a reddish brown, the mustard starts popping, and the arbol chiles begin to change color. Add the Asafetida powder, and transfer in a bowl to slightly cool.

In the same skillet, add the pumpkin filaments and sautee till it releashes water & cooks down, add the torn curry leaves give it a stir and transfer to a blender jar along with the toasted dal mixture.

Add the coconut, salt, cilantro & the tamarind pulp and blend until the ingredients combine into a semi fine consistency, similar to guacamole.

Transfer to a serving dish & serve along with plain boiled rice and pappadoms.

Here's to recipes from scrap! Bon appetit!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Taste from Waste - Cauliflower stem relish!

In the interest of full disclosure, I missed watching Food Networks special show 'The Big Waste' and am scrambling to catch it in bits and pieces via YouTube.. Its shameful the amount of food that is discarded in what can only be described as cavalier. I remember getting quite shocked when watching Rachael Ray's show 30 minute meals & seeing her rrriiiip out 2 layers of onion before dicing.  and Iron Chef America... don't even get me started!

Blame it on my Indian sense of thrift, but I'd always seen the papery layer peeled out carefully to retain the fleshy parts and just the bare minimum of the root end gouged out. Ditto with a multitude of other produce put to completely full use, peels, seeds, shoots, even the occasional coconut 'going south',  you name it, there is quite possibly a wonderful dish centered around it.

Given the shocking statistics regarding food waste, I was quite curious to find out how my local grocey store Wegmans dealt with produce . I went about asking the gentleman at the ready cut produce counter what they did with the stems from cauliflowers and was quite delighted to find that they used the stems to make soup (or most probably, stock for the soup). Oh well, that just meant that I had to buy a whole head each of broccoli & cauliflower to get to this weeks recipe.

The  cauliflower stem relish was a staple at home in Mumbai, cut into 'oh so tiny perfect cubes' by my foodie fanatic dad. I believe the original idea was from my uber thrifty grandmother. (She could drive everyone up the wall with her brand of 'reduce, reuse, recycle'.) The attention to detail showered on the knife work takes the final product up to a higher level. Yes, you could make easy work by simply shredding the center stem, but then, the textural aspect leaves a lot to be desired.

Quick Cauliflower stem relish

You need:

1 central core from a medium sized head of cauliflower
1 central core from a smallish head of broccoli
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne chili powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder
1 tablespoon  coarse  black mustard powder
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sesame oil

Remove the 'branches' of the cores and peel the tough fibrous outer layer. Dice the crisp central 'marrow' into a uniform small dice to yield about 1 cup (8oz).
Add the salt and all the other ingredients except the lime juice and oil. Toss till the seasonings are dispersed evenly

Heat the sesame oil in a cast iron pan till it just starts smoking. Pour the hot oil right over the seasoned cauliflower/broccoli stem. The oil should be hot enough for the whole thing to sizzle loudly!

Stir in the oil to cover the produce and also cool slightly. Stir in the lime juice. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving as a condiment alongside rice, dal, or any traditional Indian curry.

Here's to creating great food from scrap! Bon appetit!

For more tips on minimizing food waste, take a look at this link

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Heralding the Sun God - Sankranti

With the advent of the New year as per the Gregorian calendar, comes the first wave of festivals celebrated throughout India (We Indians simply LOVE to get the day off, celebrating festivals, religious as well as social, Heck, when no religious conforming to our personal faith is in sight, We'll happily participate in other festivals from other religions and I'm not joking). Christmas morning at home would be heralded by my dad playing 'Mary's Boy child' & Silent Night (the only Christmas related songs we had on a cassette tape at home).

Fifteen days into the year arrives the first Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving known in Tamil Nadu as 'Pongal' ( Literally translated as 'bubbling over). It marks the end of the month of Margazi (generally considered a non auspicious month where everything is left dormant, perhaps because it fall during the winter solstice). 
The advent of Sankranti marks a new beginning, old stuff is tossed out to make way for the new, and prayers of thanks are offered for the new harvest.

Up North, the season is marked by the festival of Lohri, celebrated with bonfires and offerings of Gajjak & Revdi, two confections made with Jaggery & Sesame seeds. In the west in the state of  Maharashtra the festival is marked by offering rolled sesame brittle to friends & family with the saying' Til Gul ghya aani goad goad bola' (partake of this offering of sesame brittle and may you only have nice things to say)
Gajjak (the slices) & Revdi (the bite sized morsels)

But as all fun festivals have in common, there's awesome food. The traditional South Indian offering is the sugar (Shakkarai) Pongal which is basically newly harvested rice, Toasted mung, milk & jaggery (unrefined sugar)  flavored with cardamom. The traditional pot is adorned with leaves from the Ginger & turmeric plants and set over a fire to cook, when the pot begins to bubble over, the family gathers around to chant the words 'Pongal o pongal' wishing for a prosperous year ahead bubbling with happiness.

At the cost of turning a bright Beet red (or whatever my wheatish complexion will turn into), I don't have any  photographs (& consequently any written recipes) of the traditional versions of the dishes, thanks to a RAM malfunction on my previous laptop which went south even as the sun stated its northern journey. But here is a compilation of recipes that I've created over the past year that would be made (in their traditional avatar) in a typical South Indian home

Venn Pongal (savory Mung & Rice Kedgeree)

Medu Vadai (one of my earliest posts, and experiments)

Paal Poli (Mille Feuille style)

 Lentil Fritters

Wishing everyone a great, happy & Prosperous year ahead!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stairway to Heaven - South Indian Style Kale stir fry

The 5th of January marked the auspicious day (according to the Hindu Calendar) of  'Vaikunth Ekadashi' (Vaikunth - Paradise, ekadashi.. The 11th day of the lunar cycle). As per Hindu tradition, this day signifies 'open house' in the Lord's abode when anyone leaving the mortal world to meet their Maker is assured of salvation, free of the cycle of birth & death.
The day is marked by prayer and fasting. Perhaps the best way to explain the significance of this tradition is to refer to Devdutt Pattanaik's article on the topic. But unlike other occasions, the fast is not broken by decadent culinary offerings  but with a simple pepper flavored gravy, plain rice and a stir fry made with the leaves of the hummingbird tree (Sesbania grandiflora). Known as 'Agathi Keerai' in the Tamil language, it finds applications in Southern Indian & Thai cuisine.

Image credit : indiagardening.blogspot.com

The texture of the leaves is somewhat leathery and to be frank, it is an acquired taste, almost eaten because of tradition rather than preference. Its more of a textural treat than taste, but sometimes, it becomes nostalgic, and when craving sets in, inventiveness sets out to find a suitable substitute.
I had picked up a bunch of Dinosaur Kale (a.k.a lacinato, Tuscan, or black Kale, but calling it by a prehistoric moniker makes it sound like fun!), not knowing what I was going to do with it, when I got a call from a dear friend from Mumbai, Jayashri. As is bound to happen, during the course of our hour long chat, she happened to mention Agathi keerai & also describe  her mother-in-law's recipe technique. Inevitably, that set off a wave of homesick longing for a comfort food & the Kale's fate was sealed, deliciously it turns out!

 South Indian Style Kale stir fry: ( technique courtesy: Mrs. Saraswathi Gurumani, Jayashri's MIL)

1 bunch Tuscan Kale
1/4 cup split dehusked yellow mung dal
1/4-1/3 cup fresh grated coconut
2 tablespoons Sesame oil
1 teaspoon Black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Urad Dal
1 red Arbol chile, broken in two
1 pinch Asafetida
1 sprig Curry leaves
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon  salt

Wash the Kale leaves, remove & discard the thick central vein. roll up and chop the kale into small bits.

In a  Saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to boil and add the yellow mung dal. Cook until the mung dal is soft and cooked through, but not mushy. Drain the water and reserve the mung dal.
In a large skillet, heat the oil till almost smoking. Add the Mustard seeds to sputter, followed by the Urad dal and the broken arbol chile.
When the Urad dals begins to turn pinkish brown, add the asafetida & the torn curry leaves.
Stir to combine and add the chopped kale. Saute till the leaves wilt and soften. Add the salt, cook for about 2-3 minutes more and then add the cooked mung. Stir to combine, and cook on medium heat till  all the water (exuded by the greens) evaporate.
Stir in the grated coconut, leave on heat for about a mnute more, and then transfer to a serving dish. Serve warm as a side to traditional South Indian fare such as Rice & Sambhar.

Bon Appetit!


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