Friday, December 30, 2011

Jam and Fruit Tart

We bid the year 2011 a good bye today....a year that had brought mixed fortunes for many of us. While we rejoiced on occasions of weddings and welcoming new lives, we also were saddened by loss of near and dear ones. Such memories that the year leaves behind will stay etched for a long time.
This year also brought eight 'dare to experiment' bloggers together in a group. In April, Madhuri put the idea forth and we were themes and 'out of the usual' ideas were experimented in our kitchens and shared in posts on bases of monthly themes. We skipped November and Mridhubashini put forward a very colourful theme for the eighth round, which also will welcome the new season in 2012.
Colourful??? very...for she chose to give us all each a colour from the VIBGYOR and White so we cook a rainbow of dishes. Few of us decided that we might make three dishes and my last two posts were in line with the theme for I got to make RED.

I baked this simple fruit tart with a jam centre for the dessert...bidding farewell 2011 with a sweet that isn't all too sweet but just right to enjoy.

My jam was home made adapted from my very respectable author S.Meenakshi ammal and the tart base was an adaption from LG microwave oven cook book.

I chose to make one tart, more like a pie base and fill with the jam, then decorate with red plums. I did not have a good pie dish too, hence I baked in a normal round tin, folding the edges inwards in a plait. The plum slices sat exactly on those folds and covered all the bad patches :)

Recipe for the jam:

350 grams ripe yet firm tomatoes
200ml level cup sugar (you can reduce the sugar to 175 ml, if you want the jam less sweet)
1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon (the recipe says cardamom, I preferred cinnamon)
1 tablespoon lime juice

Wash the tomatoes and drop them in hot water. Place the utensil on a high flame and cook for a good five minutes.
Drain the water, allow the tomatoes to cool and peel the skin off.
Blend the tomatoes in a puree. Wash the blender jar and add the little water to the puree.
Take the puree in a heavy bottom bowl. Keeping the fire medium, cook the tomato puree until it has thicken and falls off the spoon when dropped in thick chunks.
Add the sugar, cinnamon powder and the juice of lime.
The sugar will melt and later cook and thicken the syrup.
Cook until a thick jam is formed.
This can be stored in clean jars for about a week at moderate temperatures and in the refrigerator for a week longer. There are no preservatives in the recipe and the earlier it is consumed the better.

For the tart:
1 cup all purpose flour (240 ml level)/ 120 grams
60 grams cold, diced butter
2 tablespoons/ 30 grams castor sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Few drops vanilla essence
Few tablespoons ice cold water ( I needed 3 tablespoons)

For filling and decorating:
About 75 grams/ 1/4 cup tomato jam
2 red plums cut in 8 wedges

Pre heat the oven to 230 degrees Centigrade.
Sift the flour and baking powder and add the sugar to the sifted flour.
Take this in a bowl, add the vanilla essence and rub in the butter with nimble fingers. (you may choose to do it in the processor or use a dinner knife to cut in; I lost my cutting blade attached to the processor in one of the many moves, and for this small quantity the fingers were sufficient)
When the butter and flour are incorporated in a bread crumb texture, add ice cold water little at a time and form a slightly stiff dough, again handle the dough gently.
Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with a cling film. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
Roll the dough out in a 1/4" thick base, rolling gently between two sheets of baking paper or plastic.
Butter the pie plate or tin generously and dust with some flour.
Transfer the rolled out dough on to the plate.
Leaving about half an inch wide circumference spread the jam on the surface evenly.
Fold in the edges and seal the jam at the edges. The middle portion has to be left open.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Allow to cool well and shift the tart to wire racks to cool completely.
Transfer to a serving dish and place sliced fruit wedges to decorate the tart.

Now hop on to the fabulous recipes my freespirit blogger mates Anupama, Deepti, Dhivya, Madhuri, Mridhubashini, Nagalakshmi and Siri have posted to complete the rainbow. Be warned that they are sure to bowl you over.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Filled and Grilled Red Peppers

Having tempted you with a starter course let me add to my Free spirit bloggers' Rainbow/ VIBGYOR theme Red assigned to me by Mridhubashini, this rice dish for the main course.
We love bell peppers and will mostly have them stuffed. The stuffing varies as per mood on that particular day and the availability of ingredients. Sometimes I use up left overs to make some stuffing recipe and use that up. However, this time I must say that I cooked specially for the stuffing, taking care that the recipe also fell in line with my RED theme and used red colour peppers to grill.
The stuffing is rice cooked with spiced channa masala stewed using more tomatoes and carrots to bring out the red colour. I made this recipe for channa masala from my earlier post. That recipe does not list tomatoes. But I have used few tomatoes and 2 carrots to achieve the colour.

For the channa rice:
1 cup Basmati rice
1/4 cup channa (white chick peas)
½ cup coriander leaves washed well and dried over a cloth
3 big red onions
4”piece of ginger
2 teaspoons redchilli powder
2 tablespoons any brand channa/chole masala powder
1 marble size ball of tamarind
2 large tomatoes
2 medium carrots
3 teaspoons powdered jaggery
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cuminseeds
4 green chillis slit lengthwise
2 tablespoons ghee/oil

For the peppers:
(the above rice will be sufficient to fill 5 numbers large bell peppers)
5 red bell peppers
3 tablespoons yoghurt (I had cashew yoghurt and used that)
1 teaspoon kasuri methi
1/8th teaspoon carom seeds
1/2 teaspoon dry mint leaves
1 teaspoon green chilli paste
1 tablespoon coriander leaves
Salt to taste

Soak the chick peas overnight. Drain the water in the morning and pressure cook the peas until they are soft.
Wash the Basmati rice thoroughly and spread on a cloth for few minutes.
Heat two teaspoons ghee in a pan and roast the drained rice. Take care not to break the rice kernels. Transfer the rice to a cooking pan and add two cups of water to the same. Allow it to stand for about 20 minutes.
Next step is to marinade the peppers.
Wash the peppers and pat them dry.
Using a sharp knife, slice a slit on the top until a small portion is still holding in place with the lower part.
Carefully scoop the seeds and membrane out.
Grind rest of the ingredients listed under the peppers in a marinade paste.
Gently coat the insides of the peppers with the marinade and let them stand for about half an hour.
If the peppers do not stand still, slice the bottom evenly so that they do not fall.

While the peppers are marinating, the rice can be prepared.
Steam the carrots until tender. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 20 seconds and drain. Allow to cool and peel the skin off.
Grind the chopped onions and ginger along with the coriander leaves and the small marble size tamarind.
Grind the tomatoes and carrots to a puree.
Heat a generous tablespoon of ghee in a heavy pan.
Add cumin seeds and the green chillis. Saute' and add the ginger onion paste. Cook over a low flame until the fat separates. Now add the tomato and carrot puree, salt, the rest of the spice powders, jaggery and the cooked peas. Boil and simmer until the gravy is very thick.
Place the rice bowl on heat and bring the water to a boil. Close with a lid and lower the flame.
When the rice is half cooked, add the channa masala and cook further until they blend well and the rice is soft yet grains can be separated.
Pre - heat the grill. I set my microwave to grill 1.
Gently fill the marinated peppers with the rice. Close the tops. I did not seal them, just flapped the top back in place.
Place them in a baking dish. I used my bread trays to stand the peppers in.
Grill for about 7 minutes. The peppers will be well roasted and the skin might start peeling and in some places they may also char a bit.
Remove from grill and transfer to serving dishes.
Serve hot decorated with salad leaves and favoured vegetables.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

White and kidney beans falafels and spicy hot vandikkaran chutney

There are times that you want to try something different from the usual fare and the dish is a hit with guests. Year after year, for navrathri, we make sundal recipes. I do that too; but at times I add something extra to make it more interesting, like making a chat style or adding some crisp to the regular sundals and such. However, this year while shopping for the legumes I chanced to add to my grocery the white haricot beans. They looked quite tempting and when I soaked for the sundal they soaked quickly too. I had, without thinking, soaked a bit too much that I had to reserve some for later use.
On the day I invited ladies from our compound, I decided to make use of the soaked beans. I soaked some red kidney beans/ rajma that day and made use of both beans in one dish - falafels. I made the very easy and hot 'vandikkaran chutney' variation using the locally grown fresh chillis and tomatoes. Both the falafels and chutney paired very well.
This time on the all eight of us, free spirit bloggers have made one round of dishing out various themes and for this month Mridhubashini chose a very colourful theme for the festival season. I have been asked to cook 'RED' dishes for the Rainbow. I opted to do one each of starters, main course and a dessert for the theme, as with other mates. Thus the three posts in succession will feature my "free spirit's rainbow red'.

Ingredients for Falafel:

1/2 cup white haricot beans
1/2 cup red kidney beans
1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Cooking oil for deep frying

For the Chutney:
5 medium red tomatoes
1 small marble size tamarind
6 medium size and very hot red chillis
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons oil
(the regular vandikkaran chutney is a smooth blend of just salt, tamarind and dry red chillis. I tweaked a bit as I had those fresh chillis and wanted to use them)

For falafels:
Wash the legumes clean and soak them in water for about 8 hours/ overnight.
Drain the water well and pulse to a coarse dough in the blender.
Add the red chilli powder, tumeric powder, cumin seeds and the salt.
Heat cooking oil in a pan and when the oil reaches optimum heat, make small balls of the dough, flatten slightly in your palms and slide them in the oil as many as would fit in.
Deep fry well on both the sides and remove the crisply fried falafels with a slotted ladle.
Place them on absorbent tissues before transferring to a serving dish.

For the chutney:
Wash and pat the chillis and tomatoes clean and dry.
Soak the tamarind in very little water, enough to soften it up for grinding.
Chop the chillis and tomatoes in very tiny pieces.
Heat oil in a pan and toss the chillis for a few minutes.
Remove from the pan and keep aside.
In the same pan toss the chopped tomatoes until they are cooked to a pulp.
Cool the tomatoes to room temperature.
Transfer the tomatoes, soaked tamarind, saute'ed chillis and salt to the jar of a blender. Grind to a very smooth paste adding sufficient water.
Once done transfer to a serving bowl. Clean the jar with a little quantity of water and extract the adhering paste. Add this to the chutney.
This chutney is not usually tempered or garnished. But if you feel like it you may do so too.

Serve the falafels accompanied with the chutney and enjoy!
Don't thhey both have a very lovely RED?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Breakfast stop spots for Black and White Wednesdays

Some refreshing coffee and small bites at a nice, chic cafe in the Union Station, Kansas City, MO were all we needed after waking up at unearthly hours, to catch a train to St. Louis.

Having visited Lawrence, we decided to make the trip to St. Louis to visit a fellow blogger friend and her family. Needless to say, we had a thoroughly enjoyable time with them. With Sahana monopolising Raja's attention completely, Shoba had some time on her hands for me! We returned home, with lots of great memories and loads of photographs!! Thank you so much, Shoba, for having us over for a brilliant time, with you, Shrini, your mom and the two beautiful girls!

After term closed for Niki, we made a trip to Denver and Boulder. We had the opportunity to meet Namita and Manoj. With tasty Sadhya, an enriching conversation covering a wide gamut of topics, and their two adorable children, we had a blast of an evening at their home.

With a long trip to Boston, and NJ/NYC coming up over the next week, we are looking forward to meeting family and more friends!

The two pictures above are being sent to Susan's Black and White Wednesdays.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Parangikkai badam kheer

Did I not tell you that my sister comes up with some fun ideas when it comes to food? She tries to add variety to everyday cooking and most times those dishes are simple to make and a small change here, an addition there makes it taste very different.
Just before Navrathri, a friend of mine left with me one whole small pumpkin before she left on a holiday. I knew that my husband is not very fond of the vegetable. Hence I saved it for an occasion to have guests, so I can finish the vegetable in one go. I planned to make a kootu; however, I was discussing my menu for a weekend lunch party with my sister and she thought I was making a long list that is going to fill my refrigerator with left overs. Both of us cut the list short enough to make the menu appear elaborate at the same time we could minimize work in the kitchen as well as left overs. That is when she suggested I make this kheer.
I was game for experiment though I warned my husband that I am trying this and he is free not to partake if he felt so.
I was in for a pleasant surprise for not just my guests, but my husband too liked it quite a lot. I had added enough almonds fearing that the taste of the vegetable will be overpowering. Surprisingly it did not; in fact, both had blended well and only upon my suggestion that people realized that it was not just badam kheer but had a vegetable base to the same.

1 cup cubed pumpkin
1/4 cup ground almond powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 litre whole milk, boiled and cooled to room temperature

For garnish:
Few strands of saffron
Chopped cashews dry roasted
Chopped pistachios
Cardamom powder

Place pumpkin cubes in a bowl, add 100 millilitres milk and pressure cook until the pumpkin is well cooked.
Allow the pumpkin to cool.
Add some warm water or milk to the ground almonds.
Take both the cooked pumpkin and the soaked almond powder in the jar of the blender and puree to a very smooth liquid adding sufficient milk.
Transfer to a heavy bottom cooking utensil and top up with the rest of the milk.
Place on a very low heat and stirring continuously, allow to cook until the raw taste subsides.
Coating the rim of the utensil with a thin coat of ghee will prevent the boiling milk from spilling over. (a new tip I learnt from a guest who watched me boiling milk for coffee)
Add the sugar and cook until the sugar blends well and the kheer thickens a bit.
Allow to cool, refrigerate and serve chilled topped with the garnish of nuts, saffron and cardamom powder. You may also add almond essence if necessary.
If the kheer is very thick and a drinking consistency is desired, add sufficient milk.

There will be no unwanted hint or taste of raw vegetable and even without essence it will taste good.
I have made it the second time without almonds too. Then I left the puree a bit coarse too. It tasted good.
This is best enjoyed chilled.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jeeraga rasam ready mix powder

There are quite a few Indian dishes that can be made in preserves and stored. Lately the trend of ready to eat meals has caught up and I see so many varieties of food in small cartons stocked up in the local Indian store aisles. Though I might like to keep some of them handy for a lazy day, I am also apprehensive as they use lot more oil than we normally would and sometimes preservatives.

So when I have to travel and my husband has to cook for himself, I prepare a few stuff at home and he makes a quick meal using these almost ready to eat mixes. For want of time he prefers to keep these stuff to make his job easier.
Not only me, but my sister's mother-in-law who travels every alternate year to stay with her other son prepares much more stuff for my sister before she leaves. It is easy for my sister to manage home alongside her work with some stored quick meal options readily available.

The jeeraga rasam is a quick idea rasam as it does not need the dhal to be pressure cooked. Making the jeeraga rasam fresh at home? Follow this recipe. However, if you think you would like to store some powder and mix it in a quick rasam, try the following.

My aunt (sister's mother-in-law), powders only the dhal, chillis, salt , cumin and other condiments. Her powder requires to prepare the tamarind extract fresh. But I have taken it a step further. I have powdered the mix along with tamarind and hence it is just 'mix with water, bring it to a boil and add tempering and you are ready to serve' recipe.

150 grams (1X 175 ml cup) thoor dhal
60 grams (2/3rds of the 175 ml cup) cumin seeds
10 to 12 dry red chillis (they weighed less than 5 grams)
2 tablespoons sea salt ( I use salt crystals; if you want to use table salt, adjust accordingly)
50 grams (1/2 of the 175 ml cup loosely packed) tamarind
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 teaspoons asafoetida powder

Dry roast the dhal until just about warm. transfer to a flat dish and allow to cool.
Dry roast red chillis until they are brittle and then add to the same the cumin seeds. Toss them around for about two minutes. Transfer to the same dish as the dhal.
Likewise, dry roast the asafoetida powder, salt and the turmeric powder just a little bit.
Clean the tamarind and tear it in pieces. If possible dry the tamrind in hot sun or dry roast gently on a low flame. This exercise is to ensure that the tamarind is dry enough and the powder is uniform without clogging in lumps and removing the moisture.
Take the dhal and condiments in the dry spice blender and pulse. Add to this the tamarind and grind to a fine to slightly coarse powder.
Cool and store in airtight containers.

To make the rasam, mix a 2 table spoons of this powder in two and half cup hot water.
Pour the mixed solution in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring off and on to avoid formation of lumps as the dhal cooks.

Switch the heat off soon as the rasam foams.
Heat a teaspoon ghee in a pan and add mustard seeds. When they crackle add the curry leaves and transfer the tempering to the prepared rasam.
Garnish with fresh chopped coriander leaves if you have them on hand.

This rasam will be rare in density and can be had as soup also.
Enjoy with steamed hot rice and any vegetable of choice.
This powder and some other ready mix powders have been stocked now in my pantry for my husband as he will fend for himself for about twenty days when he leaves ahead of me from our holiday in the US of America.
We will be leaving shortly and spend most part of December with my daughter.
See you all when I get back to routine in January 2012!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spices for Black and White Wednesday

"Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go".

Erma Bombeck

So would I, and these jars will have to go along.....Take a look at my jars.....

Susan's Black and White Wednesday -a culinary photo event runs the 21st week today and my spice jars are being sent to her.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Karuveppilai kuzhambu ready mix powder

I usually make a few 'almost ready to eat' type of dishes for my husband whenever I travel. He finds it hard to eat out every meal. Earlier he may not have wanted to cook for himself, but lately he is happy to have rice with a simple rasam or upma and such. My refrigerator door will be filled with 'post it strips- instructions' for him. I partly cook some dishes and freeze in individual packs like stuffed parathas, roast the vermicelli, onions and microwave the vegetables and so on.

Likewise my mother and one of my aunts have lot more 'pack and carry to wherever you live' ideas for us. For instance, I find it hard to buy fresh curry leaves off the grocer sometimes. My mother's garden has an abundant supply that people in our street just walk in and take bunches for their needs.

Amma would pluck them, clean and dry in shade for me to pack with my other groceries. I store that in bottles and use them. Though this might not match the taste of fresh leaves' they are good enough. The Egyptians will store mint in a similar fashion. Hence my pantry stocks up such leaves too, and my deep freezer will always have a supply of few cut and boiled vegetables for emergencies.

When my daughter started her own cooking in the university, along with rasam powder, paruppu podi etc., my sister's mother-in-law prepared this kuzhambu podi also. It is so easy to make karuveppilai kuzhambu with this powder; just mix in warm water and bring to a boil with some oil added in the start of the process and the kuzhambu is ready to eat.

That recipe is what I am sharing here. The regular recipe for making karuveppilai kuzhambu with fresh curry leaves and spices can be read in an earlier post.

This makes about 200 ml powder which might last a while for you only need two teaspoons for one cup (200ml) of water which will boil and reduce to about 170ml kuzhambu.

2 cups Fresh curry leaves
100 -120 grams Urad dhal
50 grams Thoor dhal
15 Dry red chillis
1 tablespoon Black pepper corns
2 teaspoons Cumin seeds
1 big lemon size ball of Tamarind
3 teaspoons Sea salt (if using table salt, adjust accordingly)
1 teaspoon Asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 tablespoon powdered Jaggery
2 teaspoons Oil

Dry roast separately the two dhals until golden in colour and an aroma wafts from the roasting.
In the hot pan add the salt and roast it until very warm. Tear the tamarind in small bits and toss it n the same pan with the salt for about 5-7 minutes.
Heat the oil and roast the red chillis, pepper and cumin.
Remove these and add to the roasted dhals and the other roasted ingredients.
On a low flame, toss the curry leaves until they wilt and become brittle.
Allow all the roasted ingredients to cool.
Transfer the ingredients, saving the curry leaves and the jaggery to the bowl of the spice grinder and pulse until they are coarsely powdered.
Add the curry leaves and grind further until a fine powder is achieved.
Finally mix the jaggery in this.
Cool well and store in clean glass jars.

To prepare kuzhambu:
In one cup of very warm water dissolve two teaspoons of the powder and mix well without lumps.
Heat 2 tablespoons of gingely oil in a pan. Add some mustard seeds and allow to crackle.

Pour the above mix and cook until the mixture boils and simmer for a further few minutes.
Serve with hot steamed rice, dosais or arisi upma kohukkattai and paruppu adai.

I made this now because I am on a longer holiday with my daughter and my husband gets back to work in order to accommodate his colleagues who are heading home for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Little everyday rituals that live on - Black and White Wednesdays

It is a fast changing world and rural India is no exception. My small town decades ago, is today a big city sporting tall buildings, colleges, departmental stores and shopping arcades. What used to be a vegetable market has now given way to the expanded bus station and has been shifted to a proper roofed market place to name a few.

But some small and nice things live on.....we still witness loads of everyday activities that happen. I get to see all my neighbours clean up their front yards and draw beautiful kolams; vegetable vendors and the bakery boy on his bicycle visit the neighbourhood religiously, and the paper boy on his cycle deftly tosses the dailies into the compound and so on.....

One more such scene is, in this age of HTST processed packet milk and UHT processed longlife carton milk, the milkman bringing fresh milk in his large cans. The only change in his case is that he has a motorcycle in the place of the bicycle.

See the women folk have a small gossip session just then :-)

This man has been supplying milk for many years in our locality and we can be assured that he will have some extra milk in those cans to supply you if there is an unexpected guest around tea time!

I love being there...more than just to be in the comfort of my parents' be reminded of these fond memories!

Pleased to share these pictures in Susan's Black and White Wednesdays - culinary photo event.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stuffed potato floats

To say the least, this culinary experience of cooking and sharing recipes as made me more experimental and daring. Many times I fail to impress myself with an attempt and do not feel good about sharing, yet many other times, I feel it is all worth the experiment.
Isn't it true that if encouraged, one tries to do ordinary things extraordinarily? However limited my husband's choices were with vegetables, and I enjoyed most others too, he would add them to the shopping and will partake a miniscule spoonful of the end product. But I always combined such with his choicest potatoes and tomatoes that he was left with no option but to consume.
Then there was a phase that I cooked for friends who always had nice compliments that thrilled me and thus made me look for interesting things. Sharing recipes in my blog has taken it to newer dimensions. One such experiment is the recipe in this post.

I had tried making koftas with mashed potatoes and filling the core with different stuff, baked them and then stuffed the centres and some such dishes. Recently, I had some handsome looking potatoes that I scooped the centres out and filled with other stuff and floated them in a gravy. It was one dish that my guests were going for more helpings.

Ingredients: (serves for four people)
For floats:
6 medium to large, firm potatoes cut in halves

For the filling:
2 tablespoons almond meal
2 tablespoons raisins
2 green chillis chopped
1 large tomato chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons oil
Salt to taste

For the gravy:
1/3 cup moong dhal
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons sambhar powder or rasam powder
2 medium tomatoes
1 large red onion
5 cloves garlic
3 dry red chillis
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon oil
Salt to taste

Other ingredients:
cooking oil required to saute' the potatoes

Preparing the potato floats:
Wash the potatoes and scrub them very clean. You may peel the jackets prior to scooping or choose to steam them with the skin on and then peel.
Cut the potatoes in half in the middle.
Using a sharp knife, scoop out carefully a sizable chunk of potato from the centre of each half, leaving a slightly thick wall on the sides.
Slice a small portion of the bottom for stability.
Keep the scooped centres aside and steam the cup like potatoes until just about tender and the peel comes off. Steam separately the scoops and mash them well.
Keep these aside until required.

Preparing the filling:
Heat the oil in a pan, add all the ingredients for the filling and toss them for a while.
Add the mashed potato and blend the filling well.

Fill the dents in the potato floats with the prepared filling. Heat oil in the kuzhi paniyaaram pan/ Aebleskiver pan. Place gently the filled potatoes with the filling showing upwards and shallow fry them until they are roasted.
Since the filling has already been cooked well, there is no need to turn them over and roast.
Once the potatoes are roasted remove from the pan and place them on absorbent tissues.

For the gravy:
Roast the moong dhal a bit until aromatic. Pressure cook the moong dhal with turmeric powder until very soft and mash the same. I run it in the blender and made it to a soup-like consistency.
Chop the onion, tomatoes and the garlic.
Heat oil and add the dry red chillis, coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Add the chopped onions first and few minutes later the garlic. Cook them well.
Allow to cool and blend well in a mixer adding the sambhar powder, garam masala powder. Blend the chopped tomatoes separately.

Add this to the mashed dhal and salt and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and allow to simmer and thicken to desired consistency.
Few minutes before removing from the stove, place the potatoes gently. Allow them to simmer in the gravy and absorb the flavours.
Switch the heat off and transfer the gravy to the serving dish. Add fresh coriander leaves for garnish. I had some grated carrots and fresh red chillis that I used also.

Serve hot with chappathis, naan , phulkas or rotis.

This dhal based curry is being sent to Priya's Cooking with seeds event currently running in her own blog with Moong beans.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lachcha Parathas

Chappathis and parathas, paired with some nice curry make a winning combination for dinner time.
Most regularly, I might make the normal phulkas or rotis and a simple dhal tadka, vegetable kurma or if craving for something rich malai kofta or such gravy dishes.
Naan and few other parathas are not regularly enjoyed but when I am in the mood for something out of the ordinary, I tend to cook any of those.
Lachcha parathas fall under one such list. For the reason that it needs a bit more patience than my usual, I try them rarely. Moreover, they can be very filling and mostly during night we tend to eat light. But if you really want to have a hearty meal you could try them. There is a fair amount of cooking process, but the result will surely please you.
I have adapted methods from two cookbooks, one of Tarla Dalal and the other from S.Meenakshi Ammal and combined the processes to make my recipe.

Ingredients: (makes 10 to 13 parathas)
2 cups (500ml) whole wheat flour
Salt to taste
Few spoons cooking oil

For spreading between the layers:
2 tablespoons clarified butter
3 tablespoons -1/4 cup very fine rice flour (pounded rice flour sieved through a muslin cloth)

Other ingredients:
Flour for dusting
Few spoons of cooking oil

Combine flour, salt and the cooking oil well. Add enough water and mix in a soft dough. Knead repeatedly to form a very pliable and elastic dough.
Smear few drops of oil on the surface and cover with a damp cloth.
Take the ghee in a fairly large plate. Rub the same with the inner palm providing heat through the process. The ghee will become creamy. Add the very fine rice flour, little at a time and bring them together in a very light cream-like paste.
Pinch out medium size balls off the dough.
Roll one of those balls as thin and as large as possible, dusting with flour very lightly.
Cut thus rolled dough in strips of an inch and a half in width.
On the surface generously spread the prepared ghee rice flour paste.
Arrange the strips one on top of the other with the paste spread face facing top.

Finally roll this in a tight ball. Keep aside.
Repeat this procedure with the rest of the dough.
Once the entire dough has been rolled, Take each at a time and keeping the layers at a slight angle, roll the ball in a medium circular disc, not pressing on the dough heavily.
Place the pan on the stove and when the optimum heat has been reached, transfer the rolled paratha on to the pan.
Cook this well smearing oil until well cooked on both sides.

Repeat the same for all the rolled balls.
Serve hot with any gravy of your choice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rolling stones of the wet grinder - Black and White Wednesday

We are a household that does not eat light breakfast. My husband does not feel satisfied with a bowl of cereals or flakes. The lightest I might cook would be upma on many days. However, having a prepared batter to steam some idlis or spread nice crisp dosais is such a comfort, especially in my home.
For until my late teens, my mother did not insist on a wet grinder - a heavy duty appliance for tough grinding! She had a domestic help who did the grinding on the traditional mortor, we call attukkal or kallural. We were asked to lend a hand sometimes too. In fact, during holidays in our grand parents home, these were considered fun activities for girls and boys alike!
I too made do with my mixer grinder for many years. Finally when I had to entertain guests, grinding with the mixie was a task, that I decided to purchase a wet grinder and am happy that I did.
I put this to use quite often for all types of batter grinding and on one such day, I took some pictures of the process.....and sharing them through this post.
The pictures below show the soaked rice being processed to a batter for the sevai / shavige or string hoppers that was the picture of last week.

The picture below is a view from the top....the drum revolves in a clockwise motion, the stones each rotate on an axis and the ingredient that has been dropped in is crushed and ground to a batter. The hand on the side regulates the flow of the ingredients being ground.

Capturing motion was fun!

Half way through the process, some grains have been stuck to the face of the roller stone.

I had not expected to see grains of rice when the batter is almost ready.

Near end....a thick batter which will eventually be diluted with the water that will be used to clean the drum and the stones.

Small portions of batter flying off the roller stones and casting shadows in the batter and reflections on the inner walls of the drum go unnoticed unless you are taking pictures.

Sending these to Susan's Black and White Wednesdays - A weekly Culinary Photo Event.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roasted tomato and bell peppers soup

Once in a while, when I find that my mind is blank on dinner ideas and am exhausted dishing out some upma or another, I decide to make soup and have. Between me and my husband, I can live on soups and salads while he isn't a fan of either. Yet he has a few exceptions, though he may not admit that he quite likes them.
Few days ago, I craved for the comfort of a warm bowl of soup. I had earlier baked the potato bread and so I paired it with this soup, which I hoped was detox after all the deepavali bakshanam consumed.
The recipe was printed and handed to me by the chefs in The Gateway Hotel, sometime in July earlier this year. I had perfect large and firm yet ripe tomatoes and red bell peppers which are main ingredients in this recipe. However, as I proceeded with the soup, I strayed far beyond the printed leaflet on hand.
Recipe for russian potato bread is an earlier post in this site. Spread some garlic butter to the bread and enjoyed with the soup.

1 large red bell peppers
1 large tomato
1/2 of one small size red onion chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 small sprig thyme (or use dry thyme about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon butter
Water as required
Fresh cream just to finish

Wash the pepper and tomato. Pat them dry.
Carefully, roast the pepper on medium flame directly, turning on all sides until they are charred at the surface. Immediately, wrap this in a cling film. Allow to cool.
Similarly, using a mesh over the stove, place the tomato and roast the same lightly, just until warm. Or for better roasting, grill the same in an oven until short of getting charred. Just as with the pepper, cover the tomato also and leave it to cool.
Once both have cooled to room temperature, rub the cling film so that the charred outer skin of the vegetables fall off. Chop them both coarsely. Keep aside.
Melt butter in a heavy pan. Add the chopped onions and roast them well. Add the garlic and the thyme. Saute' and then add the chopped tomato and peppers.
Add enough water and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame and simmer for about five minutes.
Allow to cool and then puree in a blender.
Pass this though a sieve. Top this with cream to finish.
Serve hot with a basket of warm bread.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Badam Kheer - a vegan version

Time and again, I set myself the task of reading the Sundara Kandam from the Valmiki Ramayana . There are a few set reading rituals as ordained by our elders viz. read all 68 chapters in one day, split them over two/three/five or nine days and so on. Recently, I did the reading and on the concluding day I desired to make some sweet and some urad dhal vadais for offering.
It so coincided that on that Saturday, I wanted to also try my hand on the 'one day vegan challenge' set by Harini.
Pondering upon the sweet dish that I might make without the use of any dairy and coconut (as I had already done an overdose of coconut usage for one day), I remembered the kadalai paruppu payasam in S. Meenakshi Ammal's Samaiththu paar volume two. That recipe uses milk and I was sure I can skip the milk and use almonds to compensate the lack of the same.
During the initial days of my working, the staff of our office preferred to party at a particular restaurant that was just a stone's throw from the office building. Mostly it was a Saturday lunch and invariably the featured sweet dish was a poor attempt at Badam Kheer, which we always detested having it there. We used to jokingly discuss the ingredients and preparation. On one such occasion one of the senior staff recognised that it had the flavour of gram flour. Then on we would joke that it was water added gramflour to which few drops of essence and food colour was added.
However, during the later years, I discovered that indeed you could make a faux badam kheer with grinding bengal gram and milk, add few drops of essence and it works!
Now I had the task of not using cow's milk on that day and I took a look at the recipe in the book.
The author had suggested that if you add a few almonds and grind it along with the channa dhal, it would taste as nearly as badam kheer which has a thin consistency, yet delicious in taste.
I set out to try the recipe substituting the cow's milk with almonds that were ground to a fine milk texture. The result was quite an amazingly rich kheer that had the real flavour of the almonds and the roasted gram. The consistency was that of a drinkable kheer, thicker than badam milk, but not quite thick as regular payasam/ kheer.
For the garnish, I dry roasted on a very low flame the chopped cashews and pistachios.

1/2 cup split Bengal gram / channa dhal
1/4 cup (loosely packed) whole almonds
1/2 cup sugar (adjustable according to taste)

For garnish:
2 tablespoons chopped cashews and pistachios
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
few strands of saffron

Cooking Procedure:
Soak the almonds in very hot water for a few minutes. When the water has come to room temperature, skin the almonds and discard the water and skin.
Soak them again in one cup of very warm water.
Meanwhile, heat a pan and add the channa dhal to it. On a moderate heat, toss the dhal until it roasts to a golden brown and gives away a strong aroma.
Soak the channa dhal in another bowl in one cup of water.
When both the almonds and the dhal have cooled, grind them separately adding the same water that you soaked them in. the pastes should be very smooth and of fine texture.
Take the ground channa dhal in a bowl. Mix some water to make a very thin liquid and place this on the stove.
Also in another bowl take the ground almond milk and bring that to a boil.
Stir both the liquids frequently to avoid them getting burnt. Simmer both until the raw taste is lost.
Then mix both the liquids in one of the bowls, stir in the sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves.
Then add the cardamom powder and the saffron strands. Allow the mixture to thicken a bit.
Without any fat, dry roast the chopped nuts until they are golden.
Cool the kheer well and serve with a garnish of the nuts.
This kheer tastes best served chilled.
You may opt to cook both the liquids together, or to grind both the soaked dhal and almonds together and proceed, if making a small quantity. That saves fuel and time.

If desired, you may also add few drops of almond essence that will enhance the flavour, though it is not necessary. The roasting of the dhal and the addition of cardamom are sufficient to make this kheer delicious.
For those who would cook with milk, reduce the quantity of water that you add to either paste; but you will have to cook them well until the raw taste is lost. Add boiled milk to the cooked mix and bring to a boil with the sugar.
You may also roast the garnish with ghee or any form of fat.
My earlier post on the regular Badam Kheer can be read in this page.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No 'moar'-kuzhambu and eating vegan through a day

'What is there to change in a South Indian diet when most of it is nearly vegan' is what my husband commented as I discussed the idea of staying vegan through a day. I had to convince him to join in, you see. I listed out the dairy that we use on a regular basis and I could see that I might be losing his support.
Eventually, we agreed upon a menu, I suggested then that I will serve him black tea (for green tea would have put a full stop to the plans then and there). He chuckled thinking of the teas he might have at work, and agreed. To coax him enough, I made puri and kizhangu for breakfast and neer dosa for dinner! Having set that, I worked though the lunch where I had my trump card for him!
The one thing I had forgotten was the morning tea! Which household in our regions does not wake up to a steaming hot filter kapi or a blissful cup of chai? However, he was a good sport and had the black tea without fuss.
Thus a Saturday of cooking and eating vegan was otherwise novel. I had not thought it would be easy to forgo 'nei' and thick home set yoghurt even for a day!
I had earlier made the vegan cashew yoghurt from Harini's post and used in the Badami mixed vegetables recipe. The yoghurt had set so well and tasted very good that I used other ingredients to set yoghurt - peanuts once and coconut milk a few times.
The method I used was always the same; warm the coconut milk until moderately warm and drop about 15 chilli crowns in it and allow that to work. Initially, I had, without knowledge, used the second extract and found that the yoghurt was not as thick as I would like it to be.
With a few trials, I learnt that while the chilli crowns are indeed a good option, setting this with a bit of other vegan set yoghurt, for instance the cashew yoghurt, expedites the process. This yoghurt set in about five hours on warm days. I had planned to use this yoghurt and try the regular moarkuzhambu that uses a fair amount of churned yoghurt as key ingredient.
Having made up my mind on that, the lunch menu was also set : Vendaikkai vathakkal kari, vegan moarkuzhambhu, steamed rice and a kootu which uses a base of legumes (a recipe, I thought will help just in case my husband is not inspired to eat a vegan moarkuzhambu).

I have not posted the poori-kiazhangu until now; (I am making a mental note of that). Neither have I discussed vendaikkai vathakkal kari, other than from Aparna's recipe for a days' lunch. All of these will be posted in the near future.
However, today's star recipe is the 'Vegan moarkuzhambu'.

1/2 cup/125ml preset coconut-milk yoghurt (recipe discussed below)
Salt to taste
1/4th teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4th teaspoon asafoetida powder
Suitable vegetable cuts of your choice (I used brinjals)

Grind the following to a paste:
1 teaspoon split bengal gram / channa dhal
1/2 teaspoon thuvar dhal
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon raw rice kernels
3 large green chillis
Soak these in a small amount of water for a few minutes and grind to a smooth paste.
I skipped the usual addition of fresh grated coconut as the yoghurt already has a fair portion of the same.

For garnish:
2 teaspoons coconut oil (or any cooking oil)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4th teaspoon cumin seeds
Few sprigs curry leaves
Chopped coriander leaves (if available)

Setting coconut milk yoghurt:
Take one cup of first extract coconut milk in a bowl. Warm this on a moderate flame until the milk is warm. Do not boil the milk.
Remove from the stove and drop about 15 numbers fresh chilli crowns in the same.
Set this in a warm place and leave undisturbed for about six to eight hours.
The coconut yoghurt will set. Remove the chilli crowns and discard.
You might notice that the thicker yoghurt like substance is floating over some watery mass below. But do not worry. Stir the same and you have your yoghurt ready.
You may use, if you have on hand, some vegan yoghurt to set this and not use chilli crowns.
However, expect that this yoghurt does not set as thick as dairy yoghurt; nor it has the rich creamy flavour of the cashew/ almond yoghurt. You might sense a slight tinge of coconut oil also, if your coconut has been very mature. But this blends well while cooking and adds to the flavours. You will be surprised that this has a nice slightly sweet taste while it also has enough tang that makes it suitable to use in such dishes.
I have used it in aviyal the following day and carried for a potluck. My guests did not find it different, until being told that it was vegan.

Use 1/2 cup of this yoghurt for the moarkuzhambu.

Method for the moarkuzhambu:
Cut the vegetables that you are using in the kuzhambu.
Take the vegetable and turmeric powder in a pan with water and cook the same.
Meanwhile prepare the paste as listed in the grinding.
Add about 100 ml water, asafoetida powder and salt to the paste.
When the vegetable has become tender, add the above and cook on a medium flame until the mixture thickens. Stir off and on to avoid forming lumps.

When the mixture has cooked well with all the raw tastes subsiding, add the coconut yoghurt.
Reduce the flame a bit and allow this to come to a boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest, simmer just for a few seconds and switch the stove off. Over heating will curdle the coconut milk.
Heat the oil for tempering in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once they crackle, toss the curry leaves in the same and add this to the kuzhambu.
If you have fresh coriander leaves, wash them and add chopped leaves to the above.

We did not detect that it was a non-dairy kuzhambu at all. It was just as good as the usual yoghurt based recipe. In fact I had an unexpected guest who found it hard to believe. That success gave me confidence to prepare aviayal with the coconut yoghurt for about a dozen others. Needless to say that was largely welcome too!

Added to the vegan cooking, that day as I had completed one reading of the Sundara Kandam, I prepared a no milk badam kheer (recipe is my next post) and urad dhal vadas for the evening.
A night's dinner with neer dosa and thakkali-vengayam chutney made a whole day of keeping off non-vegan products.

Harini is hosting a giveaway through the 12th of November. She had set this challenge and I wanted to join in. Thus this post came by and a thoroughly intriguing day long vegan meal. There is an interesting guest post by Preethi and Srinivas of Krya -creating vegan awareness in Tongue Tickers. Please have a look and I am sure you will also want to try the challenge, like I did.

String Hoppers for Black and White Wednesdays

We had an extended weekend with the Eid festival being celebrated on Monday. Our friends decided to have the deepavali parties during this period; thus our lunch and dinner menus and timings took their own pattern. This afternoon's lunch was string hoppers at home. String hoppers are sevai in tamilian homes or shavige as it is known in South Canara.

My husband willingly opted to press the prepared dough while I took pictures.
I am sharing one such picture here; can you see the steam rising from the just steamed and pressed rice balls as they fall in neat strings through the pores?

This picture goes to Susan's Black and White Wednesdays.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Black and white Wednesday - worked overtime

Deepavali has just been celebrated; these were the over worked kitchen gadgets during the week before the festival.

Recipes made using the murukku press can be read in earlier posts.
Ribbon pakodas, Nylon ribbon, Jantikalu and Muththusarai are a few that have been made using this gadget.

This picture is for Susan's Black and White Wednesdays.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mushroom pulav

At home, my parents never forced us to eat anything if we refused to. Thus, the three of us grew up avoiding many vegetables, fruits and food as such without much ado. There were some that one of us might hate to eat while the rest of us were fond of. So such dishes were cooked and enjoyed by the ones who liked it; one's loss was someone's gain.
Even if my mother would have tried to force anything upon us, we stood our grounds and looked for our grandparents to support us. That is possibly the reason why my younger sister has lot many on the 'no, never to try' list! I had spent a few years with an uncle and his wife had seen to that I eat everything that was cooked and was acceptable for a child.
However, growing up in rural India in the 70s and 80s meant that we were not aware of the existence of many vegetables that are so easily available today. For instance, I came across broccoli and asparagus sometime in my late twenties. Even some of the regular vegetables were kept aside on specific days in our home and some vegetables had a 'no entry' limit.
I was introduced to mushrooms as fungi, for the wild mushrooms grew like everywhere in our back yard once the rains came down. And their health benefits were unheard of.
Then on my husband's first appointment with a shipping agency, he moved to Khor Fakkan in UAE. There the containers that carried food items were strictly subject to checking by the Ministry of Health.
As a representative of the line, my husband's job included that he facilitated such inspections.
The official and a dietician will randomly open some of the packs and take away samples for inspection before certifying them fit for consumption and clearing the consignment. Those randomly opened cartons were distributed to the dock workers by the consignee. Sometimes they might leave a pack or two with the line's office also. That way we have tasted some very good quality biscuits to some rancid crisps.
On one such occasion he was handed two tins of mushrooms. I had no clue as to how to cook them. Our neighbour, a doctor, suggested that they were acquired taste and since we were not seafood eaters, we might not like the taste. She offered to cook the same at her place and share the dish with us. Possibly, the apprehension stemmed from the mention of seafood and I did not truly like the taste.
Many years later, my sister cooked mushrooms in pulav and gravy and fed my daughter. She seemed to like them then. Thus, mushrooms gained their entry into my kitchen, but only for my daughter to eat. My husband would pick the tiny mushrooms out from his pizza wedges and I might swallow them without biting into those pieces.
I hope you have guessed where all this is leading to. Yes, our freespirit blogger pal Anupama suggested a theme for this month. She wanted us to make something that we have hated (still hate) and would avoid given the opportunity. Or, she said, if you were one of those who never refused something, try some ingredient that you have never used so far.
I am one who has more on the likes list than the counterpart. As a youngster, I avoided elephant yam, I never had even a sip of coffee until I went to work, even worse, as a youngster I would not drink anything if milk has been added to it in my presence. That was so long ago and a far away time. Today, I eat, drink, consume many things without sniffing at it.
Thinking hard and pondering on the theme, I had to decide on mushrooms only, for I had to give myself and my husband a chance to try them. I purchased a small can of sliced button mushrooms, called my sister to share the recipe, cooked it at home, conveniently on a day when I had a friend for lunch.

But, to be honest, I think I might include these once in a way for they seem to carry a 'HEALTH" label all over them.

2 cups Basmati rice (brown rice or any long grain rice)
150 grams sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup coconut milk
1&1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1' piece cinnamon
5 units cloves
2 pieces maratta moggu
2 petals of star anise
1/2 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon green chilli paste
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon crushed dry mint leaves
1 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves
2 medium onions
3 tomatoes
Salt to taste

For garnish:
1 tablespoon ginger juliennes saute'd in olive oil
1 small piece bay leaf
Few cashew nuts (fried) (optional)

Wash the basmati rice clean and spread on a cloth to drain excess moisture.
Slice half of one onion finely. The rest, chop coarsely as you may be grinding them.
Grind the coarsely chopped onions, dry mint and fenugreek leaves along with the garam masala powder to a fine paste.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in the pressure cooker, add the drained rice and saute' for a few minutes.
Transfer the rice to another bowl and add a cup and a half of water to the same. Keep aside for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile cook the tomatoes in boiling water for a few minutes, cool and puree them.
Heat again 1/2 teaspoon oil and fry the onion slices until soft and transparent. Keep aside.
Heat the rest of the oil in the pressure cooker. Add the cinnamon, cloves, maratta moggu and star anise. Then add the ginger paste and then the green chilli paste. In a few seconds add the fine ground onion paste and then the garlic paste. Cook them in the oil on a very low flame until the raw taste subsides.

Drop the mushrooms in and add the salt. Toss until the mushrooms acquire a coat of the masala and then add the coconut milk.
While on a medium flame allow the coconut milk to warm and then add the rice along with the water and the tomato puree. Add another cup of water to the ingredients that are cooking. If the rice has been aged, you may require some more water.
Bring the above ingredients to a boil and place the lid of the pressure cooker on.
Soon as it steams, place the cooker weight and when the first whistle comes on, reduce the flame to the lowest and allow an extra minute to cook.
Switch the stove off and allow the pressure inside to subside.
Open the lid and give the cooked pulav a toss to fluff the same.
Transfer to a serving dish and add the saute'd onion slices and the ginger juliennes.
Serve hot with a curry of choice. I served mine with Lauki Koftas stewed in a gravy of ground almonds, cashews and onions.

Please stop by other Freespirit bloggers to check what ingredients were not their fancies, yet they wanted to try their hands on.

I am pleased to send this to Kavi's Healthy Lunch event, which is part of Smita's Healthy Cooking Challenge.