Friday, August 31, 2012

Tomato, quinoa and stirfry vegetables soup

Soups are always a welcome change to my usual dinner options. I make soup quite often and especially when we have been experiencing dull weather, all I could think of was a nicely colourful and hearty soup that would lift our mood. This one offers a power pack nutrition from the ingredients that have been added into it.

Not long ago I found few packets of quinoa in the aisle of a store here and as mentioned earlier i picked some extra lest the store does not restock the same. I have been cooking this wonder grain very often now since both of us at home like it very much., so much so that I powdered it and along with almond milk  made kheer  for the neivedhyam on Janmaashtami festival.
I had baked some pav bread and had some extra after we used a few for dinner. So I thought of making a hearty soup and consume the bread with that. going through the vegetable tray in my refrigerator I was glad to find a variety of vegetables that will be good and two big round tomatoes.
All of that was enough for me to set out making this soup for our dinner that night.
This is a very simple soup to combine but very filling if you have a bowl full with the bread.

2 ripe and fairly large tomatoes
1/4 cup quinoa
1/4 cup vegetables cut in fine long strips
2 stalks spring onions
2 pods garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
Salt to taste

Wash and cut the tomatoes in halves.
Crush the garlic and the carom seeds coarsely and mix with a few drops of olive oil.
Rub the above coarse paste on the tomatoes. Place them in a foil and in a baking tray. Oven roast them for 20 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade.
Remove from the oven, remove the peel off the tomatoes and blend them to a fine puree.
Meanwhile, roast very slightly the quinoa with 1teaspoon oil and add sufficient water and some salt to cook the quinoa.
Similarly stir fry the vegetables until crisp using the rest of the oil along with the chopped spring onions.

Mix the cooked quinoa and the tomato puree, white pepper and simmer the soup to desired thickness.
Top with the stir fry vegetables and serve hot with dinner rolls.
This soup uses practically no added fat other than the olive oil.
I have used cabbage, colour peppers, carrot and beans with some green peas. the combination of vegetables can be according to your taste and availability.

The soup was perfect for the gray and cloudy days that we were experiencing. Hope you shall be making this too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kamarkhat - Sweet memories with this sweet

With few festive celebrations falling within a fortnight, I had more than our regular requirement of  coconut at home. As I was chopping the coconut to run it in the mixer, to freeze it, my husband suggested I make something with it. We then discussed some sweet dishes when he asked me "how about kamarkhat?" It brought back a flood of memories from our childhood. These were simple sweets that were usually sold outside the school gates.

Those days not many of us were given pocket money to spend nor were we allowed to just buy anything that were sold so in the open. We were advised against buying from any such vendor as it was not hygienic. My parents and grandparents were sure happy to please us with better stuff, home made or store bought, but buying any such which carried potential threat of illness was a definite "NO". Thus we have even been treated with such sweets home-made only.
However, we have all had 'bites' from friends who bought them occasionally. Giving what is called 'kaakka-kadi' always was a thrill as much fun putting something on the floor and trying to break pieces with whatever you could lay your hands on. Those are days that will never come back however much you want them to. No cares, no worries only the fear of being caught red handed and being disciplined.
One sweet I really want the manufacturers to bring back in the market is the small coin size coconut toffee wrapped in transparent cellophane paper with 'parrys' written in white on it. It is the ultimate refined version of kamarkhat, I would say.
However, I took upon myself to fulfill my husband's wish buy making the crude -school gate vendor- style kamarkhat with the coconut that I had then.

In all you need three ingredients, little water and few drops of ghee or oil to grease your palms. And you can create these wonder fudges. You can alter the consistency too according to your taste. I liked them hard and made them so. You can shape balls or can spread and cut squares, choice is all yours.

2 cups finely shredded coconut
2 cups powdered jaggery
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon rice flour

Coconut oil to grease your palms

Make sure that the coconut is in fine scrapes. Run it in your chutney grinder if there are bits to make them fine.
Place a heavy bottomed pan on medium heat and roast the shredded coconut until lightly brown. Transfer to a dish and set aside. Add the rice flour to the coconut. You may add powdered cardamom if you desire to flavour your kamarkhat, but it is usually plain.
Meanwhile dissolve the jaggery in the water, strain out the impurities. In the same pan boil the dissolved jaggery to achieve a hard ball syrup. Check for the consistency by pouring out a teaspoon of syrup in a small bowl of water, rolling it in a ball and dropping it back into the water. If it drops with a clang, the consistency has been achieved.
Now lower the heat to the minimum and quickly transfer the prepared coconut - rice flour mix into the solution. Give a few quick, brisk stirs and switch the heat off.
Keep stirring until the whole blends and can be gathered in a huge lump.

Allow to cool just a bit and pinch out marble size portions. Grease your palms and roll the pinched out portions in balls. Place them slightly apart from each other on a  flat dish. Allow to cool and store in airtight jars.
If you choose to not roll them in balls, grease a flat surface and spread the blend evenly with a rolling pin. Cut small squares or desired shapes.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable sweet which can be cooked without much effort and made in bite sizes to pop in your mouth when you crave for a sweet.
Since the coconut is roasted well, this can be stored for a few days at room temperature.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Showcasing One Ingredient -An Exercise in Food Photography

                                     Lens18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 at 95mm, f/5.3, 1/3s ISO 200

Many times we cook and click pictures of dishes we want to share and pay much attention to setting up the dish in order to make it appealing in the photograph. We do not think of the ingredients that have made the dish as good as it looks while tasting even better.

Though I am not very obsessed with cutting the vegetables in uniform sizes or measuring out every grain, I do have the patience not to mess the kitchen counter as I work there. I tend to keep them arranged in some orderly manner as I work. this is not an obsession but training.
So when this month's photography exercise was announced by Aparna, I thought that I will have many options to show, and thus kept taking pictures of whatever my eye suggested as the ingredient. I might have clicked and discarded many just for this one exercise.The few i have selected that I can put them in this post are which I thought were good, though they are not the best. I need more practice with the setting up and angles and many more aspects.
The area at home which receives abundant natural light is just outside the kitchen where the South East side is a glass door. There is no other window to let light in from any other direction. And many times it is not direct or harsh light which may be an advantage.

 Focal length 120mm, f/6.3, 1/40s, ISO 100
As young children it was compulsory that we had fruits and my mother would meticulously peel the oranges, make us sit and share it among us sometimes sprinkling some sugar on the top. She would peel them thus and remove the seeds before we consumed them. Till date she peels her oranges for the juice and does not use the citrus juicer. I had some oranges from the festival season at home and wanted to make juice. As I was placing them back on the tray, they looked neat enough to be in a picture.                                                                    
Just back from the market and putting them away, the garlic wholes fell out of the bag and I pulled out one pod and shot  two pictures. While my husband liked one, my daughter approved the other.

   In both the pictures the settings are the same  with just a slight difference in the shutter speed.
They were both shot at 90mm, f/5.3 and ISO 100 while one was at 1/13 seconds the other was at 1/15 seconds.



Though we get locally grown tomatoes, the one in the picture below is good for soups and making stuffed tomatoes. I buy them occasionally as they are expensive to pick them on a whim. And so are the peppers as compared to the regular green capsicums that are very small. While I use these too for stuffing, I do use them in other dishes.

The green gram in this picture has been measured (in those jars) for making maalaadu, a very famous South Indian sweet which I am aiming to post soon.

 Lens 18-55mm  f/3.5 - 5.6, Focal length 55mm,f/4.8, 1/8s, ISO 200

Hope you have enjoyed the pictures. Stay tuned for some recipes with these right here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thiranga cocktail idlis

At one point of  time idlis were something I had wanted to run away from; for in the college hostel mess it used to be a regular for three days a week and sometimes hard, sometimes under steamed and always with some coconut chutney where the water and the coconut had fought with each other.
To add to it all my mother-in-law has them for her breakfast and her night dinner, thus we were forced to have them every morning save the weekends or the days the batter shall take the form of dosa. But it was my mother-in-law's idlis that I would miss when I first went to live elsewhere. The type of rice available was not suitable for idli. Her idlis are the softest I have ever had. She times her grinding like a science experiment and her steaming is just perfect. She had a large size wet grinder and I was only allowed to help her lift the grinding stone after the process is complete for fear that anyone but her will mess the consistency.
I never bought a wet grinder and would make do with the heavy duty mixer grinder until a decade ago. I followed her measurements and did my own time calculations ( which now I have all forgotten and do not adhere to). Now I can judge the quality of rice and / or the urad dhal and alter the proportions too. We still have idli for breakfast about once or twice a month.
I would not have made a post for idli  because it is such a staple South Indian recipe that everyone does it well. But the other day someone having had the idli at my place sent me a mail requesting the rice and urad measures and grinding method. So I decided to post here. Even then plain idlis are not as cheerful as these to celebrate India! On the eve of the Indian Independence Day this is my tribute to my country.

Basic Idli Batter:
3  heaped cups par boiled rice
1 cup level urad dhal
3 teaspoons fenugreek
Salt to taste

Soak the fenugreek seeds in water.Wash the rice and dhal well and soak them separately. Rice shall be soaked for about 6 to 8 hours while the urad dhal needs to be soaked for just about half an hour to forty minutes.
The fenugreek can also be soaked for so long as the rice.
If you soak the urad dhal at the same time as the rice, place it in the refrigerator until the rice is ready.
When the ingredients are ready for grinding, place the fenugreek and the soaked water in the grinder. Run the grinder until the fenugreek grinds well and add some water to it. The paste will be frothy after some minutes.
Drain the water from the urad dhal and add to the grinding. Add mall quantities of water at intervels and grind the urad to a fluffy batter. Once ground, the urad will be light and will float if a small portion is dropped in some water. Transfer the urad paste to the bowl in which you would store the batter.
Grind the rice in a similar manner until the rice is slightly coarse just short of being done fine.
Mix the rice and the dhal paste in a batter. Add the salt and mix well.

See to that the utensil is large enough to allow room for fermentation. Allow 10 hours to overnight for fermentation.
Just before pouring on the idli moulds, give the batter a brisk stir. Grease the idli mould with little oil and spoon the batter to fill the dent.
Place them in a steamer. Allow a steady steam to flow and reduce the flame a bit to regulate the flow.
Steam for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the steamer and allow to cool a bit before scooping out the well steamed idlis.

Serve with coconut chutney, thakkali vengayam chutney and sambhar.

For the cocktail idlis, the batter is  poured into the mini size moulds and steamed. Once removed they can be deep fried with added condiments or served with chutney of choice.

For my thiranga, I have made use of the sambarapuli (coriander chutney) for the green and the ellu milagai podi for the orange.

Mix the dry coriander chutney and the milagai podi with small quantity of oil separately. Gently roll the mini idlis in these until they are well coated with the chutney/ podi.
Arrange them in small bamboo skewers and serve with chutney of choice.
This is ideal for parties as starters especially when children are in your guest list. They will certainly relish the taste and even if they refuse to eat further, these will take care o their hunger.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vella cheedai for Krishna Janmaashtami Version 2

Of the traditional sweets we make for the Krishna Janmaashtami vella cheedai is my favourite. Though it is a sweet you can make and have anytime, most often than not i make it just once a year on the occasion of the birth of the Lord. Somehow we have associated certain recipes to particular festivals and strictly observe them. The cheedais are always made for Krishna.
Vellacheedai is a simple sweet that uses just powdered rice and jaggery as key ingredients and deep fried in oil. But it can prove tricky if the consistency or the quantity of the jaggery is altered. I have already shared the recipe in an earlier post. However, that one deals with having the jaggery to be boiled until just before it gets to the syrup consistency. That part of the recipe often misleads many of us. also if the jaggery is of a very good quality and yields more, there is a possibility of the cheedais to disintegrate in the oil while cooking.

Hence I wanted to share this other version where the rice flour can be cooked along with jaggery and then deep fried. This method is ideal when we have too much to do in limited time on the day of the festival when you are making a variety of dishes.
2 cups raw rice

2 cups powdered jaggery
1/4 cup roasted urad dhal flour
1/4 cup fresh coconut scrapes
2 teaspoons cardamom powder
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Oil for deep frying

Wash the rice well and soak in water for about an hour.
Drain the water and spread the rice on a clean cloth to absorb excess moisture.
Powder the rice to a consistency just short of fine.
Transfer the powdered rice to a heavy pan and dry roast well until the rice acquires an evenly pink tinge. Some lumps of the moist rice will form during this.
Cool the rice flour and pass through a sieve. Pulse the lumps in the mixer and add this to the roasted powder.
Measure this powder to level in a cup. Measure out the exact volume of water in another heavy pan.
Meanwhile add about few tablespoons of water to the jaggery and dissolve it. Strain the impurities in the dissolved jaggery.
Add the jaggery solution to the water and add the coconut to this. Allow to come to a boil.
When the solution is boiling reduce the heat and add the roasted rice flour to it. Cook to a well formed lump texture and then take off the heat.

Allow to cool down and add the powdered roasted gram, cardamom powder and the sesame seeds.
Knead this well to blend them. Knead further for about five minutes.
Pinch out fairly large marble size balls.
If the dough is too stiff, sprinkle a teaspoon of warm water and roll the dough in balls.
Deep fry in oil.
You can make the dough ahead also. Just before frying knead the dough well and pinch the balls out for deep frying.
This method ensures that the vella cheedais will not break open in the oil and also they will be very crisp.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Baked herb potatoes

Two mails that made us so delighted and at the same time humbled awaited me in my yahoo mailbox that I have been considering deactivating as we get loads of spam mails there. However this one was not. This was from the children of our  Chennai neighbours inviting us to be part of the joyous occasion of the 80th birthday celebrations of their father. We were very touched because after the initial few years of exchange of mails and occasional visits to their home when we visited Chennai, we had not kept in touch.
The parents had been very kind and caring for me and my daughter when we were alone in the apartment. Now that there is a milestone occasion and they had thought about us was very touching. thank you God for such people who we were lucky to have associated with.
The other mail was from a neighbour again. A mail forward with loads of information oh food and health  with an attachment titled Encyclopedia of food, knowing well that I might like to read and follow the tips given there. Added to that they wanted to share news of  them awaiting to become grandparents to a grandson sometime later next month.
The many pages attached discuss nutritional facts and how to effectively use them and what health benefits can be achieved and so on. It also had few good recipes that can be cooked easily at home. I bookmarked some salads and fruit dishes and this recipe.

It was sheer chance that I had picked up four large potatoes with the idea of making Harini's accordion potatoes. Now that had to give way for this dish to be tried. I am so glad that I did because these tasted very good and with the size of the potato that was a complete meal with just a very quickly combined salad.
Though I have not followed the recipe strictly as shared therein and made my alterations, I have picked up the idea from that source.
All you need is fairly large potatoes, few pods of garlic, few teaspoons of oil and some garnish and you are ready to go. However, I have added some herbs that were made in a paste and scantily filled in the dents.

2 large size potatoes
2 teaspoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Salt to taste

For the paste:
Few mint leaves
2 pods of garlic
1/2"size ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
A pinch of salt

Wash and scrub the potatoes clean.
Cut them in two halves lengthwise and retain the skin.
Using a sharp knife, run a few deep cuts along the length. (Gently scoop out a miniscule portion off the potato near each cut to enable you to fill with the herb paste and the crushed garlic)
Place the potatoes in a steamer and steam for just a few minutes. You may skip doing this if you would rather only bake.
Take off the steamer and allow to cool.
Meanwhile grind the ingredients listed to paste in a coarse paste.
Rub the salt on the top surface of the potatoes. Gently prise open the dents a bit and fill with the crushed garlic and the paste.

Pre heat the oven to 220 Degrees Centigrade.
Brush the potatoes with the oil and place them in a baking tray. Place a bowl of water in the oven while baking to help the potatoes to retain the moisture.
Bake for about 45 minutes until they are golden all over.
Remove from the oven and garnish with some sliced carrots and parsley.
Serve with a salad as an appetizer or you may choose to have it as a light meal with a bowl of soup.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gongura Chutney - Pulichcha Keerai thogaiyal

I do not remember having cooked gongura leaves before. It was not so commonly found green in my hometown and even during the few years in Madras, I may have come across them but was ignorant to recognise them. Though I may have tasted the very famous gongura chutney sometime, I cannot recall the taste.
The many cookery books that I have collected list a recipe of this with many of them making it sound very flavoursome with added ingredients. I might just read those and let them be. However, there came a day when I had to spot them and not just pass it on, but buy and try making the chutney! Finally!!!!
Last week when I had already loaded my green grocer shopping bag with fruits that I might need for the Varalakshmi poojai at home and a few random vegetables, I had to wait for my driver, who had gone looking up a florist's address for me.
I was next to the greens aisle in the shop where I found some fresh amaranth and as I requested the assistant to pick me one bunch, he said that they were GONGURA GREENS. I was wondering that he used the Indian name for the red sorrel leaves, and corrected him that the greens he gave me were amaranth. He still insisted that he had the gongura and showed me those in the other section, which indeed were the gongura leaves. I bought them also.
At home they were washed, patted dry and rolled inside a cloth bag and off they went into the crisper tray of the refrigerator and forgotten until the beginning of this week. As luck would have it, they had not wilted and where in good condition to be cooked. Thus my chutney was to be cooked and tasted at my own kitchen.
I chose to make the simple form of the chutney with just basic ingredients and no flavours. Only while trying to take pictures did I feel that the chutney looked plain and brown and that some onions and garlic may give it a boost both looks wise and in taste. Nonetheless the chutney tasted great and I consumed it with dosai, rice and anything I could pair it with.


2 cups red sorrel leaves / pulichcha keerai / gongura
8 to 10 dry red chillis
4 green chillis
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons sesame seeds oil (or any cooking oil)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Few dry red chillis

Wash the greens, pat them dry and remove the petiole and the midrib, if necessary and dry them well spread on a cloth.
Dry roast the fenugreek in a heavy pan until a pink - red tinge forms. Keep aside.
In the same pan heat half of the required oil, add the chillis and coriander seeds. Toss them until they are well roasted and add the salt, turmeric and asafoetida. Remove from the fire after a few seconds of this addition.
Transfer these to the jar of the blender along with the fenugreek.

In the same pan toss the gongura leaves until they wilt to a brown colour.
Allow them to cool.
Grind the roasted ingredients initially to a slightly coarse powder and then add to the jar the gongura leaves.
Blend well until a thick paste is achieved. No water is to be added and the chutney will blend well with the moisture in the cooked leaves only.
Heat the rest of the oil in the pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop add the chilli and finally add the chutney. Toss the chutney in the hot oil for about three minutes and switch the heat off.

 Cool the chutney and store in clean containers.
This chutney keeps well for a week.
If you desire to store this as a pickle, you may dry the leaves in the sun and increase the quantity of oil. Cook the chutney for a longer period in the final step until the contents are well reduced and the oil forms a layer over the surface. This way it can be stored for as long as six months too.