Friday, October 19, 2012

Pittu - Neivedhyam for Navrathri Vellikizhamai

Navrathri, the festival of nine nights (and days) started this Tuesday and I have arranged a 'Kolu' and my regular menu related to the festival is being cooked and enjoyed. Traditions differ from place to place. Though the arrangement of the dolls, inviting people and few of the offerings remain common, some people make few extra special dishes on particular days and celebrate the festival.
Today's recipe is a common tamilian dish cooked on no particular occasion. However, I was aware the people who arrange the 'kolu' in Madras specially prepare this on the Friday during the navrathi. It was not a practice in my parents' town nor in other parts of Tamil Nadu.

I am fond of dishes that are prepared using jaggery to sweeten the dish and i usually opt for payasam and kheer with jaggery. thus I wanted to make this dish for navrathri. I have two books from renowned authors detailing this recipe. However, the process seemed a bit intimidating. Then it struck me that my mother's sister used to make pittu for Shivrathri . It is believed that lord Shiva enlisted His services in construction of a dam across the Vaigai river when it was mandatory that one member from each family offer their services. There was an old widow who was a devotee and had none to enlist. The Lord offered to do her the favour and in return wanted pittu.

My aunt will always work difficult recipes around and use her tricks and shortcuts to make them as tasting good while easy on the labour. With an authenic source right at home, all I needed was to make a call and take notes as she dictated.
I am glad to have tried it today and happier sharing one success recipe. This is possibly one of the few times that I cooked a dish and am writing the post almost immediately. The flavour of roasted flour and the flavouring cardamom is lingering in my fingers as I type this.

200 ml raw rice
200 ml powdered jaggery
50 ml shredded fresh coconut
30 ml thuvar dhal
2 tablespoons ghee
15 pieces cashew nuts
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

Wash the rice clean and soak in water for about two hours.
Drain the water and spread the rice on a clean sheet of cloth for a few minutes.
Powder the rice and sieve to a fine powder.
Soon after the entire rice has been made flour and whilst still moist, take the powder in a heavy bottom pan and roast until you are able to drop the roasted powder in a neat line.
Since you are roasting moist flour, you will find lumps forming as the flour cooks.
Allow the flour to cool and sift again. Transfer the lumps back to the jar of the grinder and powder again.
Add this to the already roasted lot and put the pan back on heat. Now roast the entire flour untli golden red.
This powder can be made ahead and stored to be used when required.
If you measure this powder again it will be somewhere equal in volume of the rice that you started initially. When soaked, drained and powdered the quantity will almost double in volume and when you roast it will reduce back to a lesser quantity.
When this powder has cooled to room temperature spread it on a flat dish.
Heat some water in which salt has been dissolved. Sprinkle the lukewarm water gradually to the flour and mix just as stiff that the flour holds in a lump inside your fist, but crumbles when loosened.
Tie this flour in a loose bundle in a cloth. Place the cloth inside a container and cover with a lid.
Place this utensil inside the pressure cooker and cook until three whistles, or for 8minutes on a uniform hiss of the cooker after the first whistle.
By the end of this process the flour mix would be quite soft but will hold the crumbling texture.
Pressure cook the dhal until soft and breaks when pinched between the fingers but holds shape. 
Meanwhile heat 1/2 a tablespoon ghee and fry the cashews and the coconut.
Dissolve the jaggery in some water and strain the impurities. Boil the solution down to a hard ball syrup. that is when you take a small portion og the syrup and drop in a small bowl with water, the syrup cools immediately and you can roll it in a hard ball that drops with a clang when dropped back into the water.
Spread the cooked rice flour on the flat plate. Add to it the dhal, coconut and the cashew nuts.Add the cardamom powder.
Add the syrup mixing it to incorporate. The mix will blend well and form a soft textured yet crumbling mix.The texture will be between soft and just about dry.
Add the ghee and mix well.

Enjoy this mildly sweetened pittu as it is.
Priya Vasu is hosting an event to mark this wonderful festival and is inviting us to share our Navrathri dishes. There is a giveaway also in her blog which is just a click away from here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chutney filled mini loaves

For few years now, bloggers around the world observe World Bread Day and bake bread and enjoy them. I have been a part of a group  'Chef at large' on facebook and have been enjoying the discussion about food that takes place in that group. Few days ago, Aparna suggested that we shall bake for the World Bread Day this year and share our pictures and recipes for the event. An amazind array of breads were baked and showcased through the week. I  too joined them in baking bread for the event.
I tried three breads in all with notes that I had copied off the back of a pack of bread flour that I had used many years ago. The basic recipe was the same but I tried my variations with some filling inside. First I baked the Butter top loaf following the recipe in the notes. That turned out very good, which gave me the confidence to alter the recipe to reduce the butter and add some spiced and sweet fillings.
The recipe I am sharing today has been adapted from the pack BLUEKEY Quick Bread. I have a mini loaf tin which I purchased just to bake mini bread and the following recipe will make 13 such loaves, a baker's dozen. I reduced the measurements and baked one lot of four and a small braided bread.

The Chutney I have used is a variant of the Koththumalli thokku, I had posted earlier. This is just sautéed and grinded thogaiyal. The post cooking with oil has not been carried out.

Ingredients :
For the bread:
500 grams all purpose flour
3/4  tablespoon active dry yeast
300 grams water (1 and 1/2 cup in a 200ml measure)
Salt 1 teaspoon
Sugar 60 grams ( I have used 2 teaspoons sugar for the yeast and cut this sugar out as my bread has a savoury filling)
Butter 50 grams

For the filling:
1 cup fresh coriander leaves chopped
2 table spoons split urad dhal
1 table spoon channa dhal
4 dry red chillis
A small marble size ball of tamarind
Salt as required
2 teaspoons oil

For the filling:
Heat the oil in a pan and add the red chillis. When they turn bright and shining, add the channa dhal and the tamarind,  and two minutes later the urad dhal. Toss them in the pan for a few minutes and finally add the salt.
Remove from the stove top and add chopped coriander leaves. Give a brisk stir of the contents and allow it to come to room temperature.
Grind to a smooth paste.

For the bread:
Warm 100 ml of the water just until lukewarm. Add sugar to the yeast and pour this water. Sprinkle some flour and cover to allow the yeast to proof.
Stir the salt in the flour and whisk the flour and aerate it.
Keep the butter at room temperature and soft.
Once the yeast has become frothy, add it to the flour and the rest of the water also to the flour. Mix in a loose dough and turn it on to the working surface. Grease the fingers and palms with the butter and knead the dough well.
Continue to incorporate the butter in the dough all the while kneading it to a soft and elastic dough. This exercise may take about 15 minutes. The dough is fully kneaded when it can be stretched to form a thin transparent film.

Place the dough in a glass bowl and cover with a cling wrap or damp cloth.
Allow it to double in volume.
Deflate the dough by gently kneading again. Divide the dough in small portions. (I divided in six) Roll in a rectangle and generously spread the prepared thogaiyal on the surface.
Roll the dough in a cylindrical roll with the chutney well covered inside.
Place the rolled dough in one of the prepared loaf pans.
Repeat the spreading, filling and rolling process with the rest of the dough.
Sprinkle some sesame seeds on the top if desired.
Once all the dough has been rolled and in place, cover  with a damp cloth and allow it to rise again and fill the pans.
Switch the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade and pre heat.
When the oven is ready bake the bread initially for 15 minutes. Take out and brush some sugar, milk and butter mix to glaze if desired and bake again for another 7 to 10 minutes at 190 degrees centigrade.
Turn on to wire racks and allow to cool.
Since mine were very small in size, the baking time was considerably low.
If you plan to bale in one big loaf, increase the baking time to 25-35 minutes.

This bread goes well to be consumed as breakfast or can be had with a bowl on hot soup on a rainy day.
Prepare the bread tins while the

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pachcha Sambhar - Right out of my mail box to table

Can you comprehend that this post  has been possible because of a discussion thread on facebook?
I opened my facebook to see Aparna 's status message about the 150th edition of the Saveur magazine. That triggered a very long discussion on Sambhar the staple in many South Indian homes.
This thread had so much input from many of us and some interesting insight into how our mothers and grandmothers had used their own techniques and fine tunings to sambhar. We even discussed how it is pronounced and much more. In all that was a very interesting discussion to follow even if you were not a participant.
In the course of the thread food writer and cookbook author Ammini Ramachandran suggested this sambhar she had shared in her book.
I do not have a copy of her book Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts. So I simply requested her to share her recipe which she was kind enough to oblige.
I have copied her message and shared here verbatim. Now read on in Ammini's words the recipe.

"Hi Lata,

Here is the recipe for pacha sambar.It is a light version, does not taste exactly like sambar. Look forward to your verdict after you try it.


Pacha Sambar: Sambar with Fresh Green Spices

Sambar is a staple curry of South India. It is always served with rice and often served for breakfast. Pacha (“green” in Malayalam) sambar is a version prepared only with fresh spices. In this curry, not only must the vegetables be fresh, most of the spices are also green (not dried). For tartness, many curries rely on tamarind; here, it comes from lemon juice.

1 cup tuvar dal
1 medium russet potato or 3 taro, peeled and cubed
2 medium tomatoes cubed
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
¾ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
¼ cup finely chopped fresh fenugreek leaves (preferred, if available)
or ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
6 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), thinly sliced (less for a milder taste)
4 tablespoons lemon juice

For seasoning and garnish:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder
20 to 25 fresh curry leaves

Wash and clean the tuvar dal in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. If you are using oily tuvar dal, the oil must be washed off before starting to cook.
Place the tuvar dal in a saucepan with two and a half cups of water and a half-teaspoon of turmeric powder. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, then turn down the heat, and cook for twenty-five to thirty minutes. (As an alternative, you may use a pressure cooker to cook the dal, following the manufacturer’s directions. It will take about six to eight minutes to cook in a pressure cooker.)

As the dal cooks, it should be fairly thick but still liquid; stir in another half-cup of water if it is too thick. Mash the cooked tuvar dal thoroughly with a spoon, and set it aside.
Combine the potato (or taro), tomatoes, salt, turmeric, and two cups of water in a saucepan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil. Stir in the cilantro, fenugreek, and green chilies. Reduce the heat, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cooked tuvar dal, and simmer for four to five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Remove it from the heat, and set it aside.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a small skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili, asafetida, and curry leaves. Remove it from the stove, and pour the seasoning over the cooked curry. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Serve hot with rice."

I had all the ingredients on hand only had to substitute the chillis with the locally available ones.
I am thankful to Ammini for sharing a wonderful dish recipe and for all of friends on facebook who made this possible to learn a new dish.

Vearkadalai - the indulgent peanuts

For the past few days now in order too follow the world Twenty20 matches live, I have scheduled  some of my easy errands around the telecast time. That makes me think up some light snacks for the evening because if the match is played the full scheduled time then I can offer those to my husband with tea and still get back to watching.

I had bought some freshly harvested groundnuts in the vegetable shop. They were selling them whole and shelled. I purchased the shelled ones that looked very good. I love them roasted while my husband would opt for the boiled and salted ones. Of course there is yet another option of making sundal with them which I am making for navrathri this time.

My easiest option to roast them is to place them spread on a microwave safe flat dish and microwave for just about three minutes or slightly longer, depending on the quantity. Cool and remove the peel.
But this post is not just that! It is the conventional way of roasting them in hot sand and sprinkling salted water as you work them.
My home town and the villages nearby depend on the well irrigation for agriculture and hence such crops are grown through the year. Millet, tapioca, groundnuts and onions grow abundantly. My father's clients always brought us bags full of fresh from the soil ground nuts and we boiled them with the shell and then extract the peas inside. That was a fun task as the tender shells would have absorbed the salted water and the water would sprout as you break them.
Often we were given the task of separating the peas from the shell for storing or sun drying them. These will be used as and when needed.
There were strict instructions not to buy anything sold on streets with few or rare exceptions. I remember having enjoyed the kuchchi ice, the modern days popsicle which was top of the list of non-consumables. But the roasted vearkadalai was allowed, for the push cart man never added more than about 30 peanuts in his paper cone and offered for just 10 paise. Such small quantity will not harm your health, would it?
More than the kadalai, I was fascinated with the whole set up of the cart and the man's roasting operation which he would perform with the precision of  a seasoned juggler.

The wooden platform of the four wheel push - cart was his ground. A thick sack will cover the wood, also protecting it from fire mishaps. There will be a wicker basket holding the raw ground nuts, a tin container to store the roasted ones and a row of neatly rolled cones stacked up. also there used to be a wide mouth (Horlicks) bottle that contained salted and boiled water. His equipment were a portable gas stove, a cast iron wok, a slotted ladle of the same iron and a small measuring cup, was it only 50 ml in size, I wonder. To protect the fire, the burner was covered by the iron stove that was usually used at homes with the fire wood. The wok will sit rested on the frame and the sand inside will be kept roasting hot with the temperature adjusted accordingly. As he walks the street he will be roasting the nuts. How he would push the cart, turn the sand over and sprinkle the salt on the nuts all in some uniform and precise action was a wonder to watch. To announce the arrival on the street he would tap his ladle loudly on the rim of the wok and all the children will run out at the invitation. We hardly bought, but still would run to watch. Likewise, I can recall the soan papdi man who would make his turn slightly after dark with a big Petromax lamp and his glass jar. Those were fancies for a child's mind.
Now having narrated this, the recipe I am sharing only calls for to be worthy of sharing the experience. Yes, I sand roasted my peanuts and savoured the crunch and salted goodness. The other day I had boiled them too and there is not much of a recipe to follow, I wanted to share nonetheless.

The very popular My Legume Love Affair, the brainchild of The Well Seasoned Cook is running the Edition 51 at Desi Soccer Mom's Space and since she would accept entries until the 5th of October, I would join the event with my all time favourite snack.

Ingredients: For the roasted version
2 cups shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons salt dissolved in water and boiled, then cooled

A heavy cast iron or aluminium pan / kadai/ wok.
A big slotted ladle
Sand to fill half the volume of the pan.

In India most of us who do not have ovens to bake use sand for baking. Sand is used for other purposes like to spread on the floor while performing some rituals where fire is lit and kept burning through the ritual.So it is more likely there is a small bag of sand stored somewhere.
I had scooped a bagful from the Aswan bed for setting up the 'PARK' for the navrathri. I have been packing the same through all the moves and it came handy now.
Place the sand in the pan and set the pan on the stove. Allow the sand to warm up moderately.
Drop two or three fists full of the fresh groundnuts in the hot sand. Turn it around repeatedly. At intervals, sprinkle the salted water and keep turning.
The groundnuts will roast and the immediate skin will crack. Check if they have been roasted by rubbing one nut between the index finger and thumb. The skin will just come off the nut and the inside will have a slight tinge of brown.
Scoop the nuts with the sand and sieve the sand back into the pan.
Transfer the roasted nuts to a dish and dust them using a cloth.
Repeat the process with the rest of the ground nuts.
If you need to reassure, you may use a finer sieve and sift the roasted nuts to remove any trace of sand.

For the boiled version:
Pressure cook 1 cup of fresh, shelled ground nuts with some water and salt until they are soft. Drain the water and consume.

I am sure most of you would enjoy the simple snack whether boiled or roasted.