Sunday, February 7, 2016

Avarekalu (hyacinth beans or papdi lilva) curry - a versatile side dish in any meal plan

Happy Superbowl Sunday everyone :-), The fact that I am sitting here, writing my blog post clearly indicates I am not loyal to either of the teams playing the big game today and I am not such a sports fan that I watch the game for the sport itself. My love for the game is restricted to watching the local team and I am happy to stay away from the big screen otherwise. So while majority of my fellow Americans are glued infront of their TV screens cheering Broncos or Panthers, I am infront of my small screen writing to my heart's content. If you are watching the game, wishing you all a good game experience no matter which team you support!

Did you ask what I have been doing since the last post (which seems like eons ago), oh lots and many things I enjoy. Reading a bunch of books, my new favorite is Amy Tan, a Chinese American author. Finished two of her books recently, liked them both. If you haven't read any but like a good fiction, check out her Kitchen God's wife and The Hundred Secret senses, both are good, well told stories of times that are fast becoming rare. Something very relatable in her books to my South East Asian origins and acquired American sensitivities. I am also reading a couple of history books (I started enjoying the history books when my daughter started high school and would have probably learnt and enjoyed a lot more tangible history if I had these books to study during my school years instead of roting the dates and events). All in all, my bed side shelf is full and it makes me happy and contented :-). Cooking and blogging is not far away from mind but I am just letting things take their own course of action instead of forcing anything. Needless to say I will be here (and as often as I can).
The other day I was in the library browsing through the books and was standing close to the chekout/help desk in the front of the building when a conversation I heard made me smile nostalgically. It was a harried looking mom with her little girl in tow talking to the library staff at the desk. She was asking if there was any way of finding a school library book her daughter had accidentally returned to the library. I had this sudden urge to turn around and hug the little girl and tell the mom not to worry but the library staff did his job wonderfully well too. He explained that though there was no way of him picking up the book for her from the returns, all was not lost as the library periodically separated the school books or anything else that didn't have the public library seal and returned it to the rightful owners. So she had to just let the school authorities know that there would be a delay of about a week before the book found its way back to the school.

Not that the system is flawless and books won't get lost occasionally but it is pretty robust and works well. I have been that mom years back and it was not once or twice we returned the books to the wrong library as DD's room would always be FULL of books from every possible library :-). Time flies, she hardly has time to read other than her school work now, but I am sure the love for books is a strong love that continues to live deep within and she will always find the company of her books to be the best world.
I am also trying to go back to some activities that engage my hands and brain with my limited artistic abilities. I had this phase during high school and college where I would pick up some project/craft work during school breaks, didn't become proficient in any but have a few things to remind me of my temporary obsessions. I am trying to see if any of those would interest me now and keep me engaged, I will show you my work if anything turns out 'show worthy'. I am a person that gets easily bored if I am not physically and mentally active and boredom makes me a real pain for those around me :-). Oh boy the joys and pains of empty nest..

Ah the other thing that is keeping me busy is to do with movies. With the latest Star Wars movie out in December, BH finally realized that his beloved wifey had absolutely no idea who Jedi masters were and for that matter was totally ignorant of great characters such as Obi Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader. Here is what happened, when we were in Disney Land during the December holidays, I was blissfully walking around the park feeling happy with the Mickey, Minnie and such while he went into one of the stores and came back wearing a green color hat (psst, that is the problem, I had no idea it wasn't just a hat but Yoda's head) and I associate green color with Okra and Ogres and the movie Shrek having watched it multiple times with DD and was oblivious to the fact that I was offending BH when I asked him why he was wearing a ogre hat :-). He tried telling me how many people on the way from the store bowed infront of him calling him the 'great master' while I had this blank expression on my face.
That night when we returned home to the place we were staying, BH made me sit through a video of how Star Wars was made as my introduction to the mesmerizing world of Jedi, 4-LOM, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Han Solo, Jabba, Skywalker, Princess Leia .. and ofcourse the visionary George Lucas :-). He would have loved to show me all the movies right then to rid me of my ignorance but we were tired and had 2 more days of park admission purchased, so had to get to bed. Then we came back home, were busy with DD and a nephew visiting and when everybody went away to schools and we were left alone, he went and got the DVDs and we did a marathon of 3 Star Wars movies over a weekend thus successfully completing my initiation. While he now smiles with the satisfaction that the wife is no longer the ignorant ogre she once was, I am yet to recover from the after effects of Star wars. Honestly, I liked the movies (don't say it aloud because I know there are still 3 more to go and we haven't gone to the new one yet!!), it is a very futuristic story and if you stop to think when they were made initially you will be impressed with how well the movie is made. Without the animations we have today, the movies are well made and lovable and for BH they are the Harry Potter series of his daughter's generation, different story lines but the same intense fan following. I have had my Star Wars fill for a while now and like to stay away for a while. May the Force be with you all!!

Onto food matters today, it is Feb and my favorite beans would have gone out of season long back if we were in India but where I live they make their brief appearance right around this time and I wait for them to show up like the thirsty Chataka (mythical rain birds that drink nothing but the direct rain drops) birds waiting for the rains. I found one good batch while DD was here and ofcourse it went into her favorite kadubus, she doesn't even want to hear about any other recipes with avarekalu. I got some more last weekend and didn't want to make the kadubu so ended up refreshing my memory on this lip smacking side dish where the beans are the stars.
This is not a huli or sambar as there is no dal or lentil except for the beans. The spices used are close to the huli masala yet different. Nammamma always paired them up with eggplants and onions. I am surprised that there is no definite identifier for this dish as it is a cross between huli and gojju, I simply chose to call it 'curry' in honor of everyone that love Indian curries :-). Nammamma made this as a side dish for chapathi or pooris if it was tiffin time or as a dip for the Karnataka special raagi mudde which was a favorite with everyone at home. It tastes delicious mixed with steamed rice too. I love to eat it just like that from a bowl with a spoon :-)

I made this for our weekend brunch today with raagi mudde for me and methi roti for BH as he is not as good with the 'gulp'ing of mudde, still working on it :-). You can also add potatoes or replace eggplants with potatoes in this recipe. I love the eggplant, onion combination and like the texture of thinly sliced onions. Skip it if you are not a fan.
What do you need to make Avarekalu curry?
1.5 cups peeled avarekalu/papdi lilva (use frozen if you don't have the fresh)
1.5 cups cubed eggplant
1/2 (or more if you like) cup thinly chopped onion
1 key lime sized tamarind
1/4 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1.5 Tsp salt (divided use)
1/2 Tsp poppy seeds/gasagase
2 Tbsp grated coconut
2-3 Tbsp oil (divided use)
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
To roast and grind: 
1 Tbsp coriander seeds/dhania
1 Tsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 Tsp cumin
1 inch piece cinnamon
1-2 cloves
3-4 dry red chilies
1 Tbsp chopped onion
Seasoning: 
1 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make Avarekalu curry? 
  • If you are lucky enough to get fresh avarekalu in the pod, peel the pods and separate the beans. Remove any that do not look healthy. 
  • Wash the beans a couple of times in water, add 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt and pressure cook for 3 whistles. 
  • The fresh beans take a little time to cook compared to frozen beans, adjust the cooking time so they are well cooked and soft but not mushy. 
  • Let the pressure subside naturally. 
  • Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup of water for 30 minutes and squeeze out tamarind extract, discard the pith, seeds if any. Keep the extract aside until ready to use. 
  • Slice onions into thin long strips (my preference, but you can cut any which way that you like :-)) 
  • Cube eggplants into bite sized pieces and keep them in cold water to avoid discoloration. 
  • Heat 1 Tsp oil in a pan, add all the ingredients except onion listed under 'To roast and grind' and roast in medium to low heat until they give out a nice aroma and the dals turn golden brown. 
  • Add poppy seeds, grated coconut and chopped onion, switch off the stove and let it cool down. 
  • Heat a big kadai/pan with 1 Tbsp oil, add thinly sliced onions and let it cook for a minute and half. 
  • Add the cubed eggplants, 1/2 tsp salt and turmeric powder. Give a good mix, cover the pan and let the eggplants cook until soft but not mushy, takes 5-6mins.
  • Add the cooked beans along with the water to the pan. 
  • Add tamarind extract and let them come to a boil on medium heat. 
  • Grind all roasted & cooled ingredients along with a spoon of cooked beans into a smooth paste with 1/2 cup of water. Adding cooked beans gives body and thickness to the gravy. 
  • Add the masala paste to the vegetables along with jaggery and let the mixture cook together for about 5 minutes. 
  • Test taste and adjust salt as needed. Also add water to get the desired consistency. 
  • Add chopped cilantro and continue to cook until the mixture comes to a good rolling boil.
  • Heat a small pan with remaining oil, add mustard and fenugreek seeds and when they pop add asafoetida. 
  • Switch off and add the seasoning to the curry. 
  • Cover and let it sit for atleast 30 minutes before serving. 
Notes: 
  • Another great combination with the beans is cubed potatoes. I didn't use them today. 
  • I like my eggplants soft but holding their shape, it is a personal choice, so adjust the cook time accordingly. 
  • Do not roast poppy seeds, coconut or onion along with the rest of the ingredients, the heat of the pan is sufficient to warm them up. 
  • If you are using fresh beans and not pressure cooking, be prepared for a long cook time (atleast an hour) in open vessel. 
  • It is important to salt the beans while cooking and the eggplants while they are roasted, so remember you are using salt at different points in this recipe and make sure you don't over salt it. 
  • Adding jaggery brings out the other tastes in this dish and is a signature Mysorean way of cooking gravies. Skip if you do not want the extra sugar.