Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baalekayi-Alasande kaalu kootu

I know the name is a mouthful, but the peppery taste of the kootu is something you will remember long after tasting it. This is a winter recipe as it has pepper and helps warm up the system and the gravy goes well with rice as well as roti. This recipe is different from the bisi kootu (hot kootu) you are served in kannadiga weddings, I will post that sometime later.

Nammamma makes kootu with different vegetables but there is always a well defined combination such as balekayi(raw/green banana)-alasande kalu (black eyed beans), balekayi-badane kayi(brinjal/eggplant), southekayi (cucumber), mixed vegetables (beans, carrot, raw banana) among others. The consistency of the end product varies based on the vegetables combo, some tend to be naturally thick while others are more watery. Though kootu tends to have cooked dal - typically togari bele (Tuvar dal/split red gram), I avoid it if I am using whole grains or other pulses as you already have your share of proteins in it.

I love balekayi or raw bananas or plantains, I know I say it for all vegetables :-), I am a veggie girl. I really don't have any vegetables on my 'not like' list. Yes, I do have my preferences and it changes based on the season :-). We had banana plants at home in Mysore but nammamma would make sure they were of the variety you eat after it is ripe, usually the small, sweet elakki bale kind and not the green variety because she thought it will be a waste having a full bunch of green bananas. I remember my doddamma had a green banana plant in her back yard when we visited them in Erode in Tamil Nadu long time ago. She lived in a colony and had regular kitty parties with her huge group of friends. They used to make yummy, hot balekayi bajjis (raw banana fritters) in the afternoons with the fresh picked green bananas from the backyard.

We like spicy, warm dishes during the cold winter months, I tend to make a lot of soups, kootu, one pot spicy rice dishes like pongal & khichdi and have it with roasted papads. This is one such meal when I found fresh green bananas in the grocery store.
This picture is from my Akka's backyard of her banana plant, this is a ripe fruit variety also. They had to support the big 'go-ney'(bunch of bananas) with 2 poles as it was heavy and lugging the poor plant with it to the ground.
What do you need to make Balekayi kootu? 
2 fresh raw bananas - peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces (see pic)
1 cup black eyed peas/alasande kalu/lobhia (soaked in hot water for 2 hours or soaked in cold water for 4-5 Hrs)
4-6 curry leaves
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
2 Tblsp milk (I used 2%)
For the masala:
1 Tsp chana dal/kadle bele
1 Tsp cumin seeds/jeerige
1/2 Tsp coriander seeds/dhania
1 Tsp black pepper corns (adjust to heat tolerance)
1 red chili broken into two
2 Tblsp grated coconut (fresh/frozen)
1 Tsp cooking oil or ghee/clarified butter
How do you make Balekayi kootu?
  • Cook the soaked black eyed peas until it is soft but holds shape.
  • Cook the raw bananas until it is soft to touch.
  • Mix the bananas & cooked peas.
  • Heat the ghee/oil and roast all ingredients listed under masala except for the coconut until the dal turns light brown and a nice aroma envelops you in the kitchen.
  • Let the masala ingredients cool to room temperature and grind it with the coconut & 2 Tblsp of cooked peas into a smooth paste by adding water.
  • Add the ground mixture to the cooked vegetable, adjust water to the consistency of choice and bring to a boil.
  • Tear the curry leaves and drop it into the boiling mixture. 
  • Add the milk and let it boil for a few minutes, switch off. 

  • As I mentioned above, you can make kootu with other vegetable combinations but make sure match the crunch, taste of the veggies before mixing them. Traditionally, kootu never has veggies such as radish/mulangi, ladies finger/okra/bendekayi which have unique taste of texture. Kootu should have the over powering flavor of roasted pepper and cumin. 
  • Choose fresh raw bananas for best taste, if they are already limp when you get them home, make something else like cutlets where it gets mashed into a pulp anyways :-).
  • Start cooking the black eyed peas in a big vessel and add the banana pieces when it is 10 minutes into cooking process, they both tend to cook fast and will be ready together.
  • Do not cook the raw banana in pressure cooker unless you know your pressure cooker really well, one additional minute will render completely mashed bananas which is no good for the kootu. I prefer open vessel cooking for this recipe where I can control the cook time. 
  • Adding the cooked peas into the masala gives it body and makes the kootu thick, you can skip this if you want a flowy consistency to the kootu. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Perfect travel companion - Minapa rotti or Dibba rotti

What do you carry when you travel and know for sure you will crave for some home cooked food? I usually make puliyogare, rotis, gojjavalakki, curd/yogurt rice in addition to crunchy snacks when we go on road trips. Minapa rotti goes on our travel menu very often. We love to drive long distances and though we eat outside on the road, I pack one or two meals worth of home cooked food. I had not heard of minapa rotti until I got married, it is a favorite food here at home. It stands travel well and is delicious eaten with a side of spicy avakkai (mango pickle from Andhra).

Since everyone at home likes it, amma makes it even during 'non travel' times for a lazy breakfast or dinner. My inlaws usually carry these when they travel and pack it with avakkai, infact every time they head home from here I get a request for 'double roast' minapa rotti and sajjige for the air travel :-). Packed with proteins, eaten with the heavenly avakkai, minapa rotti-avakkai combination is just delectable. The crispy outside is called 'pechhu' in Telugu and we have fights over who gets the most pechhu at home as all of us like the crispy part.

The rotti is called minapa rotti as it is made from minapa pappu or urad dal and also known as dibba (thick/fat) rotti since it is atleast 1/2 - 1 inch thick. The batter is very similar to idli dough and does not need as much fermentation as the idli dough. So you don't have to wait for it to ferment but can make these the same day you grind the dough.

Minapa rotti with Avakkai (Thanks Rajyam atta for the delicious avakkai)

What do you need to make Minapa rotti?
1 cup urad dal/minapa pappu/uddina bele
2.5 cups idli rava
1 Tsp methi seeds/menthilu/menthya
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
3 Tblsp cooking oil

How do you make Minapa rotti?

Preparation of the dough:
  • Soak urad dal & methi seeds in water (the dal should be completely immersed in water) for about 4 hours.
  • Wash and soak idli rice separately for about 4 hours.
  • Grind urad dal + methi seeds with limited water to a smooth paste, the consistency should be that of thick cream.
  • Squeeze water from the soaked idli rice and add it to the ground paste.
  • Add salt and mix it all well to form a homogenized mixture.
  • Cover & set aside for 4-6 hours in a luke warm place.
Batter ready for minapa rotti
Preparation of Minapa rotti:
  • Heat a pan with edges, put 1 tsp of oil.
  • Ladle in the dough and let it slowly spread until it reaches the edges.
  • You need to put enough dough to make the rotti about 1/2 inch or more in thickness.
  • Drizzle drops of oil on top, cover and let it cook in medium heat for about 3-4 minutes.
  • When you shake the pan, the rotti needs to slide easily to indicate it is done, avoid lifting the rotti off its base till done. 
  • Carefully flip the rotti (if you have master chefs at home, ask them to do the cool chef trick and flip it over) and drizzle drops of oils around the edges and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes without covering. 
  • Crispy outside, melting soft inside minapa rotti is ready. 
  • Slide the rotti into the plate, serve it with avakkai or any pickle/chutney of your choice. 
Minapa rotti flipped over
Notice the peeled off 'pecchu' from one of the pieces :)
  • You can add thin cut onion strips - once you ladle in the dough, spread onion strips on top before covering it, this gets cooked well when you flip the rotti to the other side and forms a nice onion coating. 
  • You can add grated vegetables to make it more nutritious.
  • Minapa rotti dough should not over ferment, the taste needs to be sweetish unlike the idli batter. So do not set it aside longer. 
  • Minapa rotti has to be thick and cooked in medium heat to get that crispy outside - melt in the mouth inside texture, do not spread it thin, it will not be worthy of travel and will taste like a burnt dosa or something :-).
  • Do not spread the batter in the pan, help it to naturally find the edges by tilting the pan a little.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guilt free Gobi ka Kofta (Cauliflower balls in gravy)

Cauliflower or Gobi or Hookosu (Hoo/huvu~flower, kosu~cabbage) was not a vegetable I grew up with, it was a real late entry into my life. It was not a very eye catching veggie in the street corner veggie shop in Mysore since it would usually be wimpy and also pricey due to the fact that it was not a native of the South Indian climate. Nammamma never brought this vegetable home and we grew up without eating it though its much cheaper, versatile sister cabbage was a quite regular fare at home. Once when I asked nammamma why she didn't get the gobi home, she said 'it is stinky :-)', well that applies to the regular cabbage also but she made curries and sambar with it, so why not this one? After probing a little bit, she said 'it looks like chicken when you cut it' :-)). You have to give it to nammamma, a staunch vegetarian, she has never had chicken in all her life and I am confident she has not seen it from close corners either. So here was my amma who told me that she didn't use gobi because it looked like chicken, give it up for stereotyping :-).

I think I tasted gobi  at home for the first time after I got married, amma makes gobi bhath, gobi fry etc when it is fresh and within reach of common man. I have grown to like it and frequently make it at home.

Cauliflowers are low in fat, low in carbs but has high fiber content, water and vitamin C and hence is a great addition to your recipes. While I love a good kofta and order it almost with every restaurant meal, I am never satisfied with the quality/taste of it. Either I find it too greasy, koftas too hard and come back home chiding myself for having ordered it again. The cycle repeats again and life goes on... The other day, I was browsing books in a Half price book store (Yes, in case you didn't know, sometimes you get good deals there) and found an Indian cook book by Nita Mehta, the book was not in a very good shape and I saw a recipe for Gobi kofta without onion. I came home and tried it from memory but made some changes to suit our palate.  I wanted to retain the nutritional value of the vegetable at the same time not compromising on the taste factor. So here comes a keeper recipe for 'Gobi kofta - the slim way' adapted from Nita Mehta.

What do you need to make Gobi Kofta?
I will break the ingredients into 2 sets, one for the kofta and one for the gravy.

Kofta Ingredients:
1 medium sized cauliflower/gobi - ends removed and florets grated
1 sweet potato - boiled, peeled and mashed into a pulp
1 potato - boiled, peeled and mashed
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 Tsp corn flour for binding
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
2 Tsp cooking oil

Gravy Ingredients: 
3 medium sized tomatoes chopped into 4 pieces each
1 medium sized shallot/red onion - about 2 Tblsp chopped fine
1 Tblsp ginger paste/2 inch ginger root chopped fine
1 Tsp Garlic paste/1 clove garlic chopped fine
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp garam masala powder
1 Tsp dhania-jeera powder (or use an additional spoon of garam masala)
1 Tsp red chili powder
1 Tblsp kasoori methi
1 Tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 small tej patta/dry bay leaf
1 Tsp cooking oil
2 Tsp of almonds/cashew nuts (soaked in warm water for 15 minutes)*
1/2 cup milk (I used skim milk)
Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves for garnish
* I use almonds as they are I am a health(y) nut :-)
How do you make Gobi Kofta?
Making Kofta:
  • Stir fry grated gobi in a pan and add salt until it softens up a little bit for 10-12 minutes.
  • Once the gobi is cool to touch, add mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn flour, red chili powder and mix well.
  • Form small lemon sized balls from this mixture and keep aside for 15 minutes.
  • Now comes the waist line friendly part of the whole dish, I use my non stick 'imported from India' paddu pan (see picture below), this is also available at stores here as Aebleskiver or Ebleskiver pan.
  • Heat the paddu pan, drizzle with drops of oil and place the gobi balls in gently as they are still fragile at this stage.
  • Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes on each side and flip it (remember 'gentle') and cook it until both sides turn golden brown and crisp. 
  • Exhaust all the gobi balls you made the same way and store the gobi balls on the side until the gravy is ready, it is very tempting to just pop one of those balls and keep munching on them but you will end up with gravy sans kofta in that case :)
Making Gravy:
  • Heat oil in a wide pan, add cumin seeds and let it sizzle.
  • Add the ginger & garlic, stir it for 2 minutes.
  • Add the chopped onion and stir frequently until onion turns light pink. 
  • Prepare a puree of tomatoes, tej patta and the soaked nuts.
  • Pour the puree into the pan, add salt and let it simmer for 15 minutes until the raw smell of tomatoes is gone.
  • Add the dry powders and let the flavor cook into the gravy for 5 minutes.
  • Add the milk and water to get a pouring consistency, the sauce thickens up as it cooks and cools.
  • Let the sauce simmer for another 5 minutes. 
  • Crush the kasoori methi in your palms and sprinkle it on top of the boiling gravy, switch off the stove.
NOTE: The process takes time but does not need constant baby sitting. I was in fact working on the day I made this, set my kitchen timer at various points and continued to work. 

To serve: 
  • Keep the gravy warm until it is time to serve.
  • Drop the gobi koftas in to the gravy and coat them with the gravy just before serving
  • Serve delicious, melt in the mouth gobi koftas garnished with cilantro as a side dish to roti or rice. 
  • When you make the gobi balls, you can keep a raisin and cashew nut in the middle of the gobi balls for that extra restaurant touch, but my koftas were naturally sweet with the sweet potatoes.
  • You can omit onions for the gravy like in the original recipe.
  • You can replace milk with cream for a richer gravy, I found my gravy to be just perfect.
  • Once you make the gobi balls, keep them outside for about 15 minutes for them to naturally dry a little bit, this makes it easier to fry them.
  • I have tasted koftas made with gram flour or besan which gives a strong pakoda-like taste, corn flour is very non intrusive in taste and acts as a good binding agent.
Here goes my Gobi kofta to Vardhini's Healing Foods-Cauliflower event started by Siri

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eat your greens - Menthya soppina bhath (methi leaves rice)

I love greens and usually end up bringing home atleast 2 varieties of greens with every round of grocery shopping I do, honestly there are so many different ways you can cook greens and it is easy to incorporate the nutrients in every day meal. I am sure I can cook greens for more than a week without repeating a preparation, will keep the counting to another day :-). Though I like all types of greens, menthya soppu/methi leaves/fenugreek leaves have a special place in my heart, just because they are so naturally flavorful. This is one of things that vanish very quickly from the Indian grocery store isles every week on the 'fresh veggie day', I know there are lot methi fanatics just like me out there. Methi is very easy to grow even in pots and that is exactly what I do from time to time to beat the crowd :-).

Menthya soppina bhath (methi leaves rice) is a one pot dish, very easy to prepare and needs only the usual suspects you will have in your kitchen. Bhath is a generic term used in Kannada for various rice preparations such as Vangi bhath, bisi bele bhath, vegetable bhath etc, they have some common and some unique spices in each and the proportion and preparations turns each one quite distinct from the other. Nammamma is an expert 'Bhath' cook, she has a trick up her sleeve for most preparations of this genre which I am going to share with you today :-). Again, this recipe is very flexible and forgiving, so you can add/delete some of the ingredients based on availability and your taste, I will show you how in the variations.

What do you need to make Menthya soppina bhath?
1 big bunch of methi leaves - pick the leaves, wash them thoroughly and chop finely
1 cup cooked white rice - make rice in your usual method insuring that the grains are well cooked but separate
Juice of a small lime sized tamarind soaked for 20 mins in warm water or 1 Tsp of tamarind paste
2 Tblsp Vangibhath powder (I used MTR brand, will post my home made powder soon)
2 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 medium sized potatoes boiled to hold shape and cut into bite sized pieces
1 Tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tblsp fresh/frozen grated coconut
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1 Tsp cooking oil
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
Fresh Methi leaves picked and washed

Ingredients for Vaggarane/seasoning:
1 Tblsp cooking oil
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp urad dal/uddina bele
1 Tsp chana dal/kadle bele
2 Tsp raw peanuts
1 pinch asefoetida

How do you make Menthya Soppina bhath?

  • Heat 1 Tsp oil in a pan, add the finely chopped methi leaves and let them wilt for a few minutes stirring once in a while, keep the pan on medium heat
  • Once the methi leaves are cooked, add salt, vangibhath powder, turmeric powder, tamarind paste or tamarind juice, jaggery/brown sugar and keep stirring for a few minutes until any water content is absorbed and it becomes a semi solid paste.
  • Add the coconut gratings and give it a stir.
  • Spread the cooked rice in a wide bowl/plate and pour the methi paste on top of it.
  • Toast the cooked, cut potato pieces in the same pan until they crisp up a little and keep it aside. 
  • When the rice is cool, mix it together by hand so the grains are well coated by the paste, taste and adjust salt/jaggery. 
  • Add potato pieces and mix lightly.
  • Prepare vaggarane or seasoning: Heat the oil, add asafoetida, mustard seeds, dals and peanuts and stir it until mustard crackles and peanuts are done. Pour it on top of the rice and mix it well. 
  • Add the ghee and mix the rice once more and keep it aside for atleast 30 minutes to settle in before serving. **
  • A faintly sweet, spicy and methi flavored bhath is ready to eat, you can serve it with a yogurt based raita or roasted papads.
Cooked methi leaves with the masala
Menthya soppina bhath ready with Vaggarane

NOTE: Adding the ghee and leaving the bhath for a 'settling time' enhances the taste greatly, but I assure you that impatient ones will not be disappointed if they were to taste it right off the the stove like BH does at our home :-)

  • You can omit potatoes, use green peas - if using frozen, defrost and fry them along with the methi leaves. If using dry peas, soak overnight and boil them till tender. 
  • You can add 1 Tsp grated ginger while frying methi leaves to get a slightly 'gingerish' flavor
  • You can use dry coconut (kobbari) gratings instead of fresh coconut for a nuttier flavor.
  • Cook rice with a 1:2 (rice:water) ratio to get fluffy rice, add a few drops of cooking oil to keep the grains separate. 
  • Let the rice cool down before mixing the paste to get the  right texture.
  • Pouring hot methi paste on top of steaming rice gets the juices to flow into the rice and make it flavor rich. 
  • You can choose to omit the ghee if you are health conscious, I put it only when I have company.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Start your day with a bowlful of healthy Oats ganji

One of the things BH & I have been consciously working on is making our eating habits healthier, we are not a family that eats outside a lot. At home I try to frequently stir fry, boil, steam as alternatives to deep frying. Nammamma's cooking does not have a lot of oil in it, her taste enhancer is the fresh coconut, she loves her coconut so much that she will put it into coffee if she had her way :-) and since my cooking is heavily influenced by her style, I tend to use less oil naturally and do not miss anything. I completely understand that many health issues are genetically pre determined but I am more of the 'prevent than cure' person. You will be pleasantly surprised to find that you won't find a lot of difference in taste by making small changes in your cooking pattern. I also firmly believe that the taste is induced primarily by the freshness factor of the ingredients you use in making a dish.

Growing up, we had a routine at home, since Anna (my father) used to leave for college around 9ish, he would eat a meal that was the usual Kannadiga fare with rice, saaru/huli and vegetables, come back in the afternoon and eat what is called 'Tiffin' with coffee and have dinner at 9.15pm sharp. He had a mechanical wrist watch that needed winding every day and he would match it to the 9pm English news beginning on radio since it was reliable (unlike TV programs). We would be ready with the plates, water and wait for him to finish the 15 minute news and come for dinner. Since nammamma would be busy in the morning getting the meal ready for father, anyone that needed to leave earlier for school/college will have mosaranna with uppinakayi (curd/yogurt rice with pickle). We will have our full meal later in the day. It changed once anna retired from work though.

I have for many years skipped breakfast during college and working days, grabbed a banana to go instead but I realize it is not a good start to the day. I prefer the weekday breakfast to be something I can prepare in a jiffy in addition to being tasty and healthy. If you noticed the dishes I have so far on my blog I am partial to the 'hotness' coefficient in my meals, I cannot eat a sweet for an early morning breakfast, oat bars, cereals, granola is ok once in a while, I don't like them on a regular basis. The tingling taste of curd (yogurt) I ate for years for breakfast is still fresh and so I have made my own yummy weekday breakfast now with some changes.

I am not going to bore with the health benefits of regularly eating oats, abundant information on the topic is available just a mouse move away. Quick facts are: eating oats on a regular basis is helpful to a healthy heart, it spreads the rise & fall of blood sugar in the body and is rich in its fiber content.

Oats is surprisingly very adaptable to Indian cooking, I have used it in dosas, appams/paddus, upmas with finger smacking results. We didn't like it in idli since it made the idli collapse and become mushy. So, here is a delicious healthy start to your day.
What do you need to make Oats ganji? 
1 cup of oats (I used old fashioned oats)
4 cups of water (adjust water since you need a flowy consistency)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3 green chilies (cut into small pieces)
6-8 curry leaves (chopped fine)
1 small red onion (chopped fine about 2 Tblsp)
1 inch piece of ginger root (chopped fine)
1 Tblsp of yogurt (whisked smooth)
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp of cooking oil
Oats in a bowl ready to be microwaved
How do you make Oats ganji?
Preparing Oats - follow cooking instructions on your oats package, I put it in a microwave safe bowl, add water and microwave for 3 minutes to get soft oats ready. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard & cumin seeds.
  • Once mustard crackles, add the green chilies, curry leaves and ginger.
  • You want the green chilies to roast crisp so you can bite into it.
  • Add the chopped onion and salt, let the onion sweat a little.
  • I like a little crunch to the onions, so I don't wait until it softens completely, it is a matter of preference.
  • When your onion is sweating, cook the oats (see instructions above)
  • Pour the cooked oats into the pan, add water if needed to get the consistency
  • Let it come to a boil, add the whisked yogurt, mix and switch off.
Onions turning pink
 Microwaved oats
 Oats ganji starting a slow boil

Your 'Good Morning Healthy World' bowl of oats is ready to be relished

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow storm and a warm lunch - Poori & Saagu

So, when we moved to the Pacific Northwest from the midwest, we thought we were done with the snow, every one we talked to whined about how rainy the area is and gloomy it becomes in winter. I am 'romantic to the core' and was completely in awe of the beautiful surroundings, mountainous terrain and the sky reaching ever greens and fell in love with my new home. I love the slow rains (unlike the thunderstorms), moderate temperatures (warm summers and cool winters) and was happy when the old timers said 'It doesn't actually snow but gets gloomy', I was done with snow and so settled in happily at my new home :-). Well.. looks like somebody had different plans, Seattle area is seeing the snow storm it hasn't in 27 years, so we are home bound, working from home and school is closed. But I am not complaining, I just realized again that I love snow especially when I don't have to maneuver the roads.

When the three of us are home on a week day which is a rare occassion, it is lunch time and cold outside, what do we collectively wish for? Something hot, deep fried (sinful), which is exactly what we had for lunch when it was snowing outside - poori (deep fried Indian bread) with potato saagu and maagai (an Andhra delight made with raw mango).

We eat Poori with potato saagu or vegetables saagu or potato palya (dryer version of the saagu) or chole (a North Indian delicacy made with garbanzo beans) and always with maagai (I know this is the second time I said that name on this post, I promise I will post the recipe soon). The potato saagu I have here is not very spicy but flavorful and usually what you get in Mysore restaurants if you happened to order pooris.

Amma got married when she was just out of high school (yes, it was a child marriage :-)), she left the sheltered life at mother's place for the first time and moved to the unfamiliar place with her new husband. My FIL got her samosas to snack when he came home from work and amma wondered it was poori-bhaji but didn't dare ask her new husband why it was packaged like that :-), she broke open the samosa and ate the outer shell with the stuffing like she would eat poori-bhaji at home. She has learnt to eat samosa now and loves her poori-bhaji any day. So this one is for my lovely amma.

What do you need to make Pooris?
1 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup water
1 Tsp salt
Oil to deep fry
1 Tsp ajwain seeds/om kalu/vamu (optional)
wheat flour, salt & ajwain seeds

Poori dough resting

Dough made into small balls, ready to be rolled

Rolled out discs, ready to be fried

How do you make Pooris?
  1. Make a stiff dough with the flour, salt, ajwain(if using) by adding water little by little.
  2. Keep it covered to keep the moisture intact for 15 minutes
  3. Heat oil to deep fry
  4. Pinch off a small lime sized dough, smoothen it and roll it into circular discs of about 1/2 mm thickness. 
  5. Deep fry the discs one by one in the hot oil, slowly turning it over till both sides becomes light golden
Puffed up poori

Poori turned over to cook on the other side
  1. Do not keep the dough for more than 20 minutes as pooris absorb more oil.
  2. The dough should be stiffer than regular chapati dough. 
  3. Ajwain seeds not only give a nice flavor to the pooris but also help in easy digestion of the deep fried stuff.
What do you need to make Potato saagu?
4-5 medium potatoes - boil, peel and mash them with some chunks 
1 medium onion - choped into thin, long slices
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 inch of fresh ginger root - cut into thin julienne
a small bunch of cilantro/coriander leaves
2-3 green chilies - slit vertically into half
1 cup of water
1 Tblsp of cooking oil
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp cumin

How do you make potato saagu?
  1. Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, cumin, let mustard crackle
  2. Add cut chilies and chopped ginger and let it roast in oil for a minute
  3. Add chopped onions and let it become light pink
  4. Add the boiled, mashed potatoes in with salt and add in the water to bring it to a gravy consistency
  5. When the saagu starts to form small bubbles, add the chopped cilantro and let it all boil together for a couple of minutes
  6. Switch off the stove
Potato Saagu

Ready to bite into..
  1. Add frozen green peas to the saagu if you like.
Teaser about Maagai: 
This is a summer special pickle from Andhra, BH just loves it. It is preserved and used the whole year. It is a concentrated, spicy pickle and we make pachadi (chutney) using the concentrate with seasoning and mix it with home made yogurt/curd while serving.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sankranthi Pongal - delayed post :-)

I have been cooking up a storm in the kitchen for the last week or so now, first it was the ellu-bella preperation and then we had friends over for dinner on the weekend, followed by actual Sankranthi habba. It was a very busy and tasty week in the Sattvaa kitchen, so my Sankranthi pongal is coming in after the fact. Pongal is a staple comfort food in South India while khichdi/Khichri takes its place with the North Indian flavors and variables. It is a one pot dish that is easy to make and tasty to eat.

I make different variations of pongal, sometimes overlaying it with the khichri concepts and adding vegetables and sometimes very plain with just the dal and rice. Amma makes a slightly dry version of pongal called 'pulagam' which is eaten with spicy rasam for dinners when the cooks are tired :-). BH likes the runny version of Pongal with some chopped cucumbers in it, my daughter loves it with rasam and roasted papads.

Pongal happens to be a common offering to God in many Indian temples and as all dishes made in the temples it has that special taste. I love the Pongal they give you after the pooja in Pittsburg Balaji temple - this is not the same as the one you get in the temple kitchen afterwards although that is quite delicious too. The one you get inside the temple after it is offered to the Lord comes in limited quantity - like most good things in life :-) and is doused in fragrant ghee and has the right amount of pepper and cumin to take you on that heavenly journey. I am quite satiated with one morsel of this Pongal.

On Sankranthi festival, nammamma made sweet and khara (savory) Pongal and the khara Pongal would have avarekalu. I made the plain khara Pongal and instead of the sweet pongal made Pappadri.

What do you need to make Khara Pongal?
3/4 cup Moong Dal/Hesaru bele/pesaru pappu
1 cup Rice (do not use Basmati rice variety)
1 Tblsp pepper corns, crushed slightly
1 Tblsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves, chopped into small pieces
2 Tblsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tsp cashew nuts - broken into half
5 cups of water

How do you make Khara Pongal?
Pappadri, Ellu-bella & Khara Pongal
  1. Roast the Moong Dal in 1 Tblsp of ghee on medium heat until it turns slightly pinkish and gives a roasted aroma
  2. Add the rice and roast for a couple of minutes until the rice becomes slightly transparent. 
  3. Take both dal & rice onto a plate. 
  4. Heat 1 Tblsp of ghee in the pan you are going to make the Pongal (preferably pressure cooker) 
  5. Add mustard seeds, chopped curry leaves, crushed pepper, cumin seeds and cashew nuts until mustard crackles and cashews turn golden brown
  6. Add the fried dal & rice mixture, add salt and water and give it a mix with a spoon
  7. Cover & cook until soft, if using pressure cooker cook it for the same duration you would use for your dals. 
  8. Let the steam come down, mix everything together and serve with a dollop of ghee on top. 
Our Sankranthi offering to God
  1. Moong dal to Rice ratio is an acquired taste and you can experiment with more or less dal, the above proportion works for us.
  2. Moong dal with husk variety gives you a really rich Pongal if you want to try that and enhances the taste.
  3. Add a Tsp of grated ginger while cooking if you like ginger. 
  4. Add a Tsp of grated fresh coconut to the pongal just before serving. 
  5. Adjust the amount of water based on your preference, the amount I used above made a soft Pongal

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wishing a bountiful harvest in everyone's life with Ellu bella

This weekend is Makara Sankranthi and Bhogi, harvest festival celebrated in many of the Indian states. This is also the first festival Sattvaa is celebrating with its online friends. So here is wishing you all a Very Happy Sankranthi/Pongal.

Sankranthi is typically celebrated on the 14th of January every year and on the 15th on leap years. This festival commemorates the beginning of the harvest season in India and is celebrated with major fanfare. Different states in India have different local flavors in terms of  rituals, celebrations, food etc.

As a kid, I loved Sankranthi for 2 reasons, the first was the delicious ellu bella made at home and the second was the actual distribution of ellu-bella. Ellu (sesame seeds), bella (jaggery) is a dry mixture of fried ellu, bella, dry coconut, peanuts and gram dal. There is no recipe to this but the process involves some patience, effort and lotsa love:-). Nammamma would make this mixture in huge quantities and we used to go to all the friends in the neighborhood and distribute the mixture along with fruits, sugar cane and sugar candies. You would see colorfully dressed girls along with protective brothers going from house to house to distribute the ellu bella. Leaving home we would count the number of ellu-bella packets, sugar cane pieces, fruits (bananas or oranges) and the little figurines made from sugar to make sure we had enough for the houses we planned to visit and didn't have to come back home again until our rounds were over :-).

Making the sugar figurines is a tedious process and the sugar syrup has to be the right consistency before it gets poured into the wooden moulds. Nammamma makes the best, melt-in-mouth and snowy white acchus and her friends used to come over to our house the previous week in the afternoon to make the acchus in bulk.

Preparation of ellu-bella is time consuming, there is no recipe or long cook time involved. What I remember most about this from childhood is how my parents used to become a team starting from the selection of the best ingredients, frying them individually and slowly to the right perfection. Anna (my father) would go to his regular store in Mysore and buy large quantities of sesame seeds(had to be real white in color), peanuts (small nuts and uniform in size), bella (fairest of the jaggery blocks), dry coconut and kadle (gram dal). They would both work on it diligently every day starting about 15 days before the festival and painstakingly clean, fry, deskin, separate, peel, cut the ingredients and sun dry them. Both were very picky about the quality of the raw material and also the fact that all the pieces had to be uniform in size & shape. Nammama used an Indian nut cracker (called 'adike kattari') to cut the jaggery pieces. I remember their camaraderie as they went through the steps every year and feel fortunate to have seen it from close quarters. Now all of us kids are grown up and in our own homes, nammamma doesn't make ellu anymore..

We started helping in our small ways as we grew up, and since our 'help' usually made the quantity reduce drastically :-), nammamma used to ban us from going near the ingredients unless we promised to behave. She would mix it all together the night before Sankranthi and we would get the first taste of the mixture the next day after bath and pooja along with hot pongal usually made with avarekalu (lilva beans) that would be in season.

My in-laws also celebrate Bhogi in addition to Sankranthi and I love the practice of the early morning bonfire, roasted sweet potatoes and the heavy breakfast afterwards. Bhogi happens to be a big deal since it is also my FIL's birthday. Infact, they shared their 2012 Bhogi manta with us on skype earlier this evening.

Here is a pictorial of the Ellu-bella we made this year, with a lot of 'help' and involvement from both R & N. The proportion I use is: 1 cup each of peanuts, gram dal and dry coconut pieces, 1.5 cups of jaggery pieces and 3 Tblsp of fried sesame seeds.
Day 1: Jaggery pieces, kept in the open for them to dry and firm up a little
Day 2: Kadle being cleaned, all broken and 'ill-fitting' pieces are removed
Day 3: Peanuts dry roasted on slow heat so they don't get charred, these will be deskinned 
Day 4: Dry coconut, skin scraped and cut into small pieces
Day 5: White sesame seeds, dry roasted on medium heat
Day 6: All ingredients mixed

May your new year be filled with the bounties of freshness, Happy Sankranthi to all!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sweet affair with a bitter gourd - stuffed bitter gourd or stuffed kaakarakaya

I think the world can be divided into people that love bitter gourd in any form, shape and those that run miles away having to eat a preparation made with this vegetable. I belong to the former category and so does the BH. We are still working on the daughter to make her a convert, she loves the crispy, baked bitter gourd rings but is yet to enjoy the gojjus (gravies) and dry curries I make with it. Last week, when I made this stuffing for the gourd, she ate a piece and said 'Amma, it actually tastes good' :-), ah I can see the light at the end of the tunnel ..

The bitter gourds are known for their low calories, high vitamin C, vitamin A & flavonoids. They contain polypeptide-p, a plant based insulin which helps to reduce blood sugar levels and is recommended in pre-diabetic & diabetic diets.

This recipe is from R's family, the way it came to my kitchen is round about. We were visiting R's cousins a few years back and the cousin's wife had made this for lunch, needless to say I fell in love with it immediately and asked for the recipe. She got it from her MIL (R's atta) who got it from her younger sister (another atta of R) - this is starting to sound like the time when Ron & Harry had fought in the Goblet of Fire and Ron asked Hermoine to tell Harry to meet Hagrid :-), I know I have confused everyone enough but couldn't resist that bit from Harry Potter series.

So before you run away from the blog, here is a recipe for a delicious stuffed bitter gourd (hagalakayi/kaakarakaya) for all the bitter gourd fans and future fans. If you shy away from the bitter gourds because of the 'bitterness', trust me you won't feel any of it in this dish.

What do you need to make stuffed bitter gourd?
4-5 medium sized bitter gourds/hagalakayi/kakarakaya - scrape the skin lightly with a peeler, cut into 1.5 inch long pieces (see picture)
1 very large red onion - chop into bite size chunk
1 Tsp cumin seeds/jeerige
1.5 Tbslp salt (adjust to taste)
5 dry red chilies
1 small piece of tamarind
pinch of turmeric
4 Tsp cooking oil
water to boil
Bitter gourd pieces cut and ready to be cooked with tamarind, salt & turmeric

How do you make stuffed bitter gourd?
Cooked bitter gourd pieces
  1. Put the peeled, cut bitter gourd pieces into a microwave safe bowl, add tamarind, 1/2 Tblsp salt, turmeric and pour water to sufficiently cover all the pieces
  2. Microwave this for 20 minutes until the pieces become soft but hold the shape firmly, alternatively you can put them in a pressure cooker and cook it for one whistle.
  3. Take the chopped onions, red chilies and cumin seeds into your blender and blend into paste - this will not require any water to grind as onion leaves a lot of water.
  4. Heat 3 Tsp of oil in a wide pan, pour the ground paste into into it and add salt.
  5. Cook the paste, stirring frequently until raw onion smell is gone and the paste looks semi solid. This will take about 25-30 minutes.
  6. Once the bitter gourd has cooled, drain the water and take out the pieces - discard the tamarind
  7. Take a small spoon and scoop out the seeds from inside the pieces, it falls out easily
  8. Stuff the cooked onion paste generously into the bitter gourd pieces and arrange them in the same pan
  9. Add the remaining Tsp of oil and let the pieces crisp up a little (5-6 minutes).
  10. Serve it with hot rice or bread. 
Ground onion-cumin-red chilies paste
Cooked paste after 30 minutes
Stuffed bitter gourd piece
Pan fried stuffed bitter gourd