Monday, December 31, 2012
There is a fable in the Ancient Hindu text, the Shiva Purana. Shiva, the lord of destruction tells his other half, Parvati, that nothing in the world (including food) is really necessary since the entire world is but Maya or illusion. (turns out Neuroscience actually verifies this from a certain perspective, but that is another story). Upset by his statement (he had, after all renounced the world and preferred not to have any attachments and had overcome the pervasive, all consuming EGO), Parvati, the goddess of all things material leaves his desolate abode, Mt. Kailash and moves to the ancient city of Kashi (Modern day Benaras / Varanasi). In due course, pangs of hunger start gnawing on Shiva and he goes looking for sustenance to appease his hunger, only to discover that there is simply no food to be found. He hears that no one ever goes hungry in Kashi because the resident goddess there provides food to all those who sought it. He reaches Kashi, to find Parvati, in the form of Annapurna doling out food to everyone. Admitting that he was wrong to dismiss food as an illusion, he reconciles with her. (another take home message here.. The Female of the species is ALWAYS right, even in the divine world!).
Food is so so important to the existence of life that the Hindu scriptures refer to it as 'Anna Mya Kosha' or the corporeal sheath of the body, nourished by food. It is common in Indian homes to offer a portion of Rice, salted dal and a drop of ghee as a daily offering before reverently consuming the food as a gift or Prasad from the Almighty . (I suppose the equivalent of saying Grace before dinner) .
A Rose by any other name ... SO goes the adage. In terms of Indian cuisine, I can't think of any dish that is singularly relished as a daily comfort food in practically every corner (& the middle) of India.
Call it what you will, Varan Baath, Parruppu saadham, Dal chawal. It reigns as Numero Uno in Indian homes.
You will seldom find the basic form in any restaurant, but please take my word, the flavors of the Dal with a touch of sea salt and a generous dollop of melted ghee over steaming hot rice is simply unbeatable.
2 cups plain cooked Basmati rice
1 cup Tuvar dal
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon red chile powder
1 sprig curry leaves
1 large pinch asafetida
juice of 1/2 a lime / lemon.
Rinse the dal, add about 3 cups water and the turmeric. Cook in a pressure cooker until its completely mushed. Allow to cool before adding salt and mashing the lentils completely into a smooth paste.
Heat oil in a skillet and add the cumin seeds to sputter. Add the curry leaves followed by asafetida and the chile powder. when the spices 'bloom' add the mixture into the dal and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice prior to serving.
Wishing everyone of you a wonderful & Happy 2013!
Sunday, December 30, 2012
I'm actually breaking into song as I write this up. Albeit in my head, Frank Sinatra is crooning his timeless classic.. My Way..
Jan 1st 2012, Siri Pulipaka , the author of cookingwithsiri.com was just winding up her own daily blog ( of everyday events) and was encouraging others to experiment with similar projects. On a pure whim, I got myself a blogger page, with nary a thought about how I was to complete 366 dishes. It was never my intention to add recipes for classic day to day fare, just links if a particular dish was made using a recipe from other sites.
But, just as a new mother forgets everything about the intensity of her labor pain after seeing her infants face, I cannot recall anything hard or negative about this annual project. In fact, the support I received from everyone of you simply increased my motivation to kick back any lethargy and support every dish I could with recipes. The effort has paid off in terms of a repository of recipes that I hope to fine tune for future use. Thank you for making me go the extra mile.
My penultimate dish is a classic snack, the Samosa. Although this is a firm favorite in every corner of India, It may be safe to say that it is definitely a recipe from North India. (Yes, there are umpteen variations, but, the classic version is what I preferred to make for the family today)
Samosas with a Potato & Green Pea filling:
For the Casing:
1 cup All purpose flour
1/2 - 1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Bishops weed (Ajwain)
Water as required
Sift the flour, salt and ajwain together, add the butter and rub the flour between your finger tips. Work in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. drizzle in the oil and just enough water to bring in the mixture together into a dough, Knead lightly and cover with a wet tea towel until you're ready to make the samosa casings.
For the Filling:
2 large Idaho potatoes, boiled and mashed
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed and boiled
1/2 teaspoon Dry mango powder (aamchur)
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
2 thai chiles finely minced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
6 green chilies with stems, slit lengthwise
Oil for deep frying
Combine the potatoes, peas, the chile powder, salt and the aamchur. Heat the oil in a small skillet. When it just begins to smoke add teh cumin and the coarsely crushed coriander. When the cumin seeds split, add the garam masala. Allow the spice blend to bloom before adding it to the potatoes. Mix to evenly disperse the spices. Add the lemon juice, taste and adjust for seasoning. Make 12 ping pong ball sized portions from the filling.
Divide the dough into 6 balls. Using four as required, roll out the dough into a 6 inch circle. Using a Pizza cutter divide the rolled out dough into two semi circles.. Fold each semi circle and press down on the edges to make a 'cone. Place a portion of the filling and seal the open edges firmly to make little pyramid. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Heat 1/2 L of oil in a cast iron wok. When the oil begins to shimmer on the surface, place 2 samosas at a time into the oil. Cook on medium heat until the the samosas are golden brown. Remove the samosas using a spider skimmer onto absorbent kitchen towels. Once the samosas have been fried, add the slit green chiles to fry up in the residual heat. remove and sprinkle the chiles with a dash of sea salt. Serve the samosas hot with a choice of spicy green cilantro mint chutney and sweet & sour tamarind chutney. Pair with a cup of piping hot Masala Chai.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
To me personally, I prefer to refer to her as 'Bharati' (Indian) . She represents each and every one of us Indians, women in particular, who have just discovered that their worst nightmare (for themselves, their mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters) has just manifested into a terrifying reality.
My religion teaches me to revere the female form, literally on a pedestal. She is Saraswathy, The goddess of knowledge, without whom creation is impossible, She is Shri Devi (goddess of wealth) & Bhoo Devi -- Mother Earth , crucial to sustaining & preserving life, in the form of food & riches, and she represents Shakti , Power, which manifests itself in various forms from the gentle Gauri ( a mother who has the power to shape a human being), Durga, the gorgeous warrior woman who can beat the crap out of any creep, all the way to the terrifying Kali, who bays for ( and drinks) the blood of evil doers (of the 'XY' chromosomal kind).
Even as the 'Kali' inside me mind begins to entertain unholy gory painful thought process of retribution for the horrible experience, this innocent angel went through ( Anesthetic drugs are specifically banned from these scenarios), there is a furious Durga that is moving beyond Gauri , just hugging my children, and trying to figure out how such a tragic event never ever happens to any woman, in India or the world. For we must face the realization that there are similar gory events that go unnoticed all over the world. Just as the winter solstice marks the beginning of brigther days ahead,its time for women to change the prevalent culture and mindset to slowly dig ourselves out of the abyss we've allowed ourselves to sink into. It will take a generation or two, but let this be the dawn of a new era (Maybe there is something to the Mayan calendar after all).
- We, as women, need to start with drum it into our sons that women are precious jewels to be treasured & respected, even if it means that 20 years later, as mothers-in-law, we have to gracefully yield to the incoming lady of the house.
- Let us teach our daughters to be politely forceful in ensuring their rights, so that they will never kow tow & bow their heads (in the name of respect, tradition and culture) to a tyrannical older woman. For this only ensures that the daughters may breed that same toxic thought process to take control later. At the same time inculcate a sense of empathy so that they may have compassion towards their spouses parents.
- If we can successfully eradicate Polio by going door to door, surely we can educate the women about their rights. The Hindu texts prescribe a four pronged approach when dealing with an opponent (which in this case is the chauvinistic patriarchal mindset) its called 'Sama Dana Bheda Danda' (conciliation, bribe, divisiveness and punishment). Although I'm sure these manipulative methods are embedded in the minds of the politicians, There should be a way to use this to bring about a cultural change especially with the help of social media. It will take time but eventually there should be a stigma attached to be even remotely associated a criminal who crosses the line with women, instead of the stigma being attached to the victim.
One of the last coherent statements Bharati made to her mother was that she wanted to live. Even though that has become a moot point, Let us all conspire to fulfill that last wish. For we owe it to ourselves, our maternal mitochondrial lineage , and to our children to make sure that her death is not in vain. It is said that 'The Hand that rocks the cradle rules the world' Let us start by rocking it right!
Rest in Peace, Dear Angel.
I had planned to pay a tribute to a dish from Eastern India with Alu poshto, I'll simply refer you to my friends blog Bong Mom's Cookbook, a treasure trove of classic Bengali recipes. I ended up omitting several steps in the original recipe thanks to my lack of focus but the end result was still mouth watering & delicious. The differences, I used Panch phoron, instead of Cumin in the tempering and out of sheer necessity had to make do with black poppy seeds for the 'Poshto' paste.
Alu Poshto - A recipe for Poppy seed spiced potatoes by Bong Mom's Cookbook
Friday, December 28, 2012
Continuing on my final spin, I've finally been able to muster the courage to tackle a dish that I've been secretly so in awe of. I'm referring to that classic Kerala dish - Puttu , A steamed cake made with fragrant toasted rice flour and coconut. The dish requires a specific tool to make it. An instrument called a 'Puttu kudam' which is essesntially a little container fitted with a cylindrical inset that holds the rice flour and coconut mix. Traditionally, Puttu was steamed in bamboo logs which conferred a unique vegetal flavor. For more details about Puttu, just follow this link to Ammini Ramachandran's guest post in Shalini's blog 'A Cookery year in Coorg'.
It may be that I put off making this signature dish simply because I did not have the required tools. The realization that I may have serendipitously stumbled upon a perfect hack, just means that I won't be craving a puttu kudam even if I came across it in a store. (naah, I'll still probably invest in one but not quite in such a hurry)
I've had this Tea infuser from Teavana sitting in my kitchen for ages. I picked it up at one of those after Christmas sales a couple of years ago for five bucks. Recently I've been putting it to good use, and there it was, sitting on my counter when I hit upon the idea of using this to steam the puttu flour blend. And it worked, PERFECTLY!
I'm simply going to cut and paste the recipe for Kadala Curry from Mrs. Ramachandran's post. I simply followed the recipe to a T and it is perfect!.. Just like all of her other recipes!
Kadalakari - Kerala style chickpea curry, by Ammini Ramachandran.
2 cups Indian brown chickpeas
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup freshly grated coconut
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
5 or 6 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chilies (or less for a milder taste)
Salt to taste
For seasoning and garnish:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder (optional)
12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
Heat half a tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium heat, and fry the grated coconut, stirring constantly, until it turns golden brown. Add the coriander seeds and red pepper, and fry for another minute or two. Remove from the stove, and let it cool. In a blender, grind the coconut and spices with just enough water to make a thick, smooth puree. If there is excess water in the chickpeas, drain some of it. When the spice puree is stirred in, the curry should be fairly thick. Combine the spice puree and the chickpeas, add salt to taste, and simmer for six to eight minutes.
Heat oil in a skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili pepper, asafetida, and curry leaves. Remove it from the stove, and pour it over the kadalakari. Garnish with thinly chopped cilantro leaves. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to allow flavors to blend. Serve hot with puttu.
Puttu: (Recipe source: Grains Greens and grated coconuts by Ammini Ramachandran, p.224)
2 cups coarse rice flour
1½ cups freshly grated coconut
1 tablespoon ghee
Salt to taste
Add one cup of the grated coconut and salt, and mix well. Sprinkle a half-cup of water over the flour, a little at a time, and mix well.
(The trick in making real soft puttu is in the moisture content of rice flour. The rice flour mixture should be wet but not lumpy. Take a little of the flour mix between your index finger and thumb, press gently and let it fall gently. If it holds its form as it falls, the flour is damp enough. )
Stir in the ghee. Though not called for in the traditional recipe, it adds to the flakier texture of puttu.
In a deep saucepan, add about an inch of water and place a steamer basket over it. Line a Tea infuser (the large cup shaped ones) with a moistened piece of cheesecloth . Fill halfway with the rice and coconut mixture. Layer a tablespoon of fresh coconut. Fill up to the top with more of the rice and coconut mixture. Fold over the flaps of the cheesecloth.. Place the infuser over the steamer basket. Cover the saucepan and steam for about 10-12 minutes.
Once the infuser has cooled down enough to be handled, gently pull out the cloth from the infuser and 'unwrap' the puttu.
|Just realized that I'd forgotten to add the extra coconut for this one!|
Cut the log into wedges (or simply crumble it up lightly), Add a generous dollop of Kadalakari and serve warm.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
So now, I'm down to the final five dishes for Dish a Day.. and strangely enough, I feel I'm in the culinary equivalent state of 'I have nothing to wear'. A part of me is scrambling to come up with some supercalifragilistic creation that I can post with a flourish, -- but then again, Dish a day was never meant to be about Alinea or French Laundry like creations (with due apologies to Grant Achatz & Thomas Keller respectively). Its all about what the average home cook (& I'm going with what I'm familiar with, i.e the Indian household) with an affinity for cooking does for her family. An array of different flavors and tastes, some a rocking hit of a favorite for the whole family, some that evoke a 'Oh no!, not this..' and then the others that we don't even give a second thought to before scarfing it down. It takes all kids of dishes to nourish a family!
I have no clue what the next four (make that the last three) days will bring, but today, its a tribute to a classic dish from 'Aamchi Mumbai' (My/Our Mumbai) in the western state of Maharashtra. Kothimbir Vadi , Addictive fried morsels of a steamed chickpea dough flavored with lots of fresh cilantro. I picked up a recipe from 'Vegetarian Maharashtrian cuisine' by Sugandha Patil, but decided to tweak the recipe to a gluten free version.
1 cup Chickpea flour
1/2 Bajra (Millet) flour
2 tablespoons Oat bran
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 large bunch cilantro (~ 2 cups), chopped fine (Mainly the leaves)
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Chili powder
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon Asafetida
1/4 cup sesame seeds. toasted
2 green Thai chiles
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
1 cup Kefir or soured yogurt
Oil for pan frying
Sift together the flours, Oat bran, along with the cayenne chile powder, turmeric, asafetida and toasted sesame seeds. Crush the garlic and the Thai chiles (with a bit of salt to assist in pulverizing) in a Mortar and Pestle and add to the flour along with the cilantro.
Add Kefir / soured yogurt to make a pancake like batter. Pour the batter into two 9 inch circular pans. Place these pans on a steamer and steam each plate for 15 minutes until the batter sets into a firm pancake. Allow to cool completely
Using a 1 inch diameter cookie cutter, cut out the pieces and perforate lightly with a fork (aka just poke the pieces once or twice with a fork).
Heat about 1/4 cup oil in a skillet and place about 6 of the steamed pieces at a time to pan fry for about a minute. Flip over and repeat on the other side. Remove onto kitchen towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve up hot with a cup of Masala tea .
And yes, the classic Sriracha Sauce is by far the best condiment I've had to pair the little bites with. Its simply a perfect pairing!
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
When it comes to gifts under the tree, I think I morphed into a child as much as my kids, if not worse.. (I 'm officially guilty of tearing open into my secret Santa Gift on Christmas Eve, rather than the next day morning). My gift was from my Secret Santa 'gingerroot' from Hawaii. She is a Food52 superstar, having contributed some timeless classic recipes to their two volume book.
For the past two years, 'Enbe' a graduate student from Tuscon has been instrumental in organizing a wonderful Secret Santa food swap amongst members of the Food52 community. She sends us each a name amongst those who've signed up and we have the privilege of sharing foods (mostly cookies and condiments) and little gifts with someone with whom we've forged a bond online through Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs' unique venture.
I loved each and every thing that gingerroot had so thoughtfully put together in my box. A bag of the biggest & best Macadamia nuts, Native Hawaiian raw honey, chocolate a ginger citrus soap (which my 7 yr old laid claim to and immediately ran off to jump into the shower, just so that he could use it!) , home made cookies which my three yr old went for even before she opened her presents from Santa, and a bottle each of Yellow tomato/pineapple & eggplant preserves. Thank you so much Jenny, for making this holiday season so special!
It was love at first taste with the pineapple preserve. So much so, my head cannot decide on how many things I should use it on . For starters, I made a batch of 'easy peasy' thumbprint shortbread cookies that really showcased this delectable jam. This is also my birthday recipe gift for my Aunt, Lakshmi Ramanathan (Chithi as I call her) who turns a young 60 today.
A shout out is also owed to Perfect purees of Napa Valley for their awesome Caramelized Pineapple concentrate . A tablespoon of this excellent ingredient in the shortbread dough, really highlights the preserves.
Thumbprint shortbread cookies with Yellow tomato & pineapple preserves (makes about 30)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Caramelized pineapple concentrate ( or 1 tablespoon of orange zest)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Your choice of preserves
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour along with the concentrate/ zest. Using your finger tips, gently work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Bring the dough together into a ball. Using a cookie scoop divide the dough into little spheres of about 1 inch diameter. Place on the baking sheet 2 inches apart from each other, gently press down with a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon to make a little well.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes (at this time, the cookie would have risen, obliterating the well. remove and press down with the same spoon to make the indentation before turning the sheet around and placing back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes on the sheet before spooning 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves into the wells. Allow to cool completely.
Here's wishing you a fabulous 60th Birthday, Lakshmi Chithi!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
December 25 is not really a day to spend in front of the laptop, trying to compose a post about a new recipe. This is a day to revel in the joy of watching the kids opening their presents and the jaw dropping realization of how quickly they're capable of trashing a room in minutes, but then again, my resolution is getting the better of me. As Indian style breads go, there is no dearth to what may be mixed into the dough and with each new ingredient , there is a different unique flavor profile.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Its Christmas Eve, so in the true spirit of things, there is the enevitable flurry of excitement that only Kids can excel at. First there was the Class Christmas party that I had helped out. Got the kids involved in a fragrant project that they seemed to love, making a little single serve mulling spice sachet for their parents, complete with a recipe instruction.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
One of the oft repeated dishes at home has been a Rajasthani variation of a chickpea curry, using the smaller brown Bengal chickpeas. This variety of chickpea is smaller than the Mediterranean one with a brown skin that adds a lovely texture to the finished dish.
The recipe for Jaisalmer chana as the dish is referred to is a classic one with multiple variations of spice combinations. The constant ingredients however, are the brown chickpeas, and the gravy consisiting of a yogurt and chickpea flour (Besan) blend. I've deliberately worked my way through 3 different recipes in a search for my favorite. Recipes from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, an old recipe book by Nita Mehta and the third by Tarla Dalal. Nita Mehta's recipe is delicious, but calls for a detailed list of dry whole spices that one may not have on hand every time. Tarla Dalal's recipe is a total disaster. Yes, I know I'm being blunt and may invite harsh comments and protests, but unfortunately the ingredient list is heavy on Chili peppers in 3 forms. (green chili ground to a paste with ginger, dried red chiles in the tempering (although these are the kashmiri chiles) and finally in the form of cayenne chili powder). While I pride myself of being capable of a high tolerance for chili pepper heat, her variation has no sense of balance with other spices. The finished product was rather inedible, despite using my discretion about the chili (I halved the amount), with no real sense of an integrated flavor profile.
Ultimately, I have to defer to Chef Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe for being the optimal version, given its choice of easily available ingredients and that crucial 'lip smacking' factor. I did take the liberty of adjusting the heat to accommodate kiddie palates and slightly varied the cooking technique.
Jaisalmeri Chana (recipe by Chef Sanjeev Kapoor)
|1 cup Black Bengal gram (kala chana), soaked overnight|
|1 cup Yogurt|
|2 tablespoons Gram flour (besan)|
|1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder|
|Salt to taste|
|1/2 Red chilli powder (adjust to taste)|
|2 teaspoons fresh crushed Coriander (lightly broken into halves)|
|1 teaspoon Garam masala powder|
|1 -2 Green chillies, minced|
|2 tablespoons ghee+ 2 tablespoons olive oil|
|1 pinch Asafoetida|
|1 teaspoon Cumin seeds|
|Fresh cilantro leaves,chopped for garnish|
Cook the soaked chickpeas in adequate water until soft, but not mushy. set aside , reserving the cooking liquid.
Whisk the yogurt with the chickpea flour, chili powder, and turmeric.
Heat the oil and ghee in a skillet and add the cumin seeds when the oil begins smoking. Once the cumin sputters, lower the heat and add the crushed coriander, garam masala, asafetida and the green chile. stir and allow the spices to bloom.
Add the chickpeas along with the cooking liquid and salt. Cover and simmer until the flavors have blended.
Add the yogurt blend to the chickpeas and cook on a low heat until the mixture barely begins to simmer gently (you do NOT want to allow the gravy to boil).
Remove from heat, transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm with Roti or plain rice.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Of all the countless New Year's resolution I've made over the past decades, I cannot really recall a single one that I've kept and seen through over the next 365 days. And when I started my other daily blog 'A Dish a Day' on a whim on Jan 1st 2012, I honestly never really expected to go past April (counting all the dishes I had whipped up for this blog and the numerous community picks that I've had the privilege of testing for Food52). This is not taking into account the inherent lethargy that I was sure , would make me skip days at my whim.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
One of the quirkiest statements I've heard my dad make (& he had his fair share of quirky but true observations about life that never failed to elicit a chuckle or two) was that when he was old and had lost his teeth, he hoped that his fondness for murrukku (a crunchy deep fried savory South Indian snack) was satiated enough that he wouldn't have to ask anyone to grind up the murrukku in a coffee grinder to feed him. Its odd that my recipe for this week could be interpreted as exactly that by those who are familiar with the dish in its original form and its deconstruction.