Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Everything is easily explainable in life except Life itself

Life throwing curve balls is not anything unexpected, right? But I have realized that no matter how rational and prepared you are, when things go bad around you, rationalizing takes the first flight. She is a person that has been there in my life always, someone that nurtured me, loved me, corrected me and cheered me on for every small step I took. I took her for granted and assumed it will be like that forever. Why is there a gut wrenching pain when someone that was the very backdrop of your life is taking another step closer to the Lord? Why does it render you completely non-functional when someone that gave birth to you and took care of you always and loved you more than everything else in this World is becoming a child herself in old age as though completing that circle of life is important?

Nammamma is in the hospital, she is unable to speak coherently to any of us, after biting my nails for 48 hours, I took the flight and landed here yesterday. Looking at her on her hospital bed, in a night gown she never wore in her life, I can't make any sense of it at all, I feel like we are the adults in her life now. For someone, who deftly managed things and took decisions, it feels like she has left it all in the hands of her children.  My always strong mentally & physically nammamma seems to be slipping in and out of consciousness. It hurts so badly I can hardly breathe. I am glad she smiled a little this morning, asked after everyone in the family. For that we are all grateful, small little things that brighten up the day.

I hold her frail hands, tell her we are all here for her, beg her to stay with us bravely fighting the odds as she has done since my father passed - she sometimes nods and says that she will be alright. Just a month back when we called to wish her a Happy Birthday' she said, "One thing I am very proud of in life is my children and my husband. They all loved me, took care of me and respected me so much that I never missed anything". I fervently hope that is what she remembers all the time as she drifts in and out.

Keep us in your prayers, Sattvaa will be on a hiatus until I can put words around my recipes and weave stories around my blog posts. I will definitely come back at some point as I have loads of recipes that I want to post about, many stories I want to share.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pita bread - A flat bread that refuses to stay flat :-)

There are moments of pure joy in life especially when you do something nice and the outcome is beyond the expectated good. As I keep saying, bread making is therapeutic for me starting from the time that yeast rises beautifully in the cup to the soft, pliant kneaded dough becoming double its original size, I watch it like a kid in a candy store. May be it is because I started baking recently and everything is still fresh and enchanting. I look with complete adoration at some of the bloggers out there who post recipe after recipe of baked goodies and make it all sound so easy. For me, it is all still a learning process, in no hurry to reach anywhere yet, taking the journey at my own pace. So before you get bored, see the perfectly puffed up pita and the well formed pocket and tell me whether I have really earned some bragging rights or not :-). Feel free to skip to the recipe if you don't want to listen to my going 'gaga gaga..' over what/how I did with my beautiful pita breads :-), but take a minute to go through the recipe because it is definitely a keeper and I promise you won't be dissappointed when you try it.

I fell in love with pita breads some years ago when I had gone to a Turkish restaurant for lunch from work and they served fresh, soft, warm pita bread as a starter. Cut into wedges, dipped in flavored olive oil and topped with Hummus, these were so good that I stuffed myself greedily even before we ordered the main course :-). We like the Trader Joe's whole wheat pita breads, they are perfect to stuff a slightly dryish palya into and pack up for lunch. DD loves the combination of pita bread stuffed with cabbage stir fry and sprinkled with a spoon of chutni pudi, it is one of her favorite grab and go-es. We ate it with the Hummus and also stuffed a cabbage-beans stir fry into it.
Although, we have been eating pita for a while now, I never thought I could make it at home especially given my baby steps in the baking department. I came across Peter Reinhart's breads a while ago and have been experimenting with them (more to come on that soon) and found an easy enough looking recipe for Pita bread here which referenced the master and was hooked to it. The dough itself is quite close to a pizza dough and I thought this shouldn't be difficult. Armed with the recipe, I looked up for some wisdom on making a perfect pita bread at home and took the ones that made sense to me. See the result for yourself - a perfectly puffed up pita with a nice pocket and 2 grinning faces around me telling how much they loved the yummy, home made pita bread with the Hummus.

A little bit of bookish gyan on Pita bread - Pita bread is a middle Eastern flat bread. Pita, Pitta or Pide (Pide is the Turkish name of this bread) has a characteristic pocket also called mutbag that is formed due to the way this bread is baked in very high temperatures.
Note: The original source of this recipe has accurate measurements by weight of the ingredients and the prepared dough if you want to look it up. I followed the cups & spoons measure as I don't own a kitchen scale and followed the recipe & instructions to the tee. I also wanted to do a slow rise bread and took this opportunity to try it, I was completely satisfied with the taste.

What do you need to make pita bread? 
Recipe source: Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 pitas
3 cups All purpose flour + 2 Tblsp for kneading & dusting
2 Tsp salt
2 Tsp active dry yeast
2 Tblsp olive oil
11/4 water
How do you make pita bread? 
  • Take all ingredients listed except for the 2 Tblsp flour in a big mixing bowl until the water moistens the flour and everything comes together. 
  • If you are not very confident of your yeast, go ahead and proof it like you would for any other bread instead of adding it directly to the flour. 
  • Dust a flat kitchen surface with some dry flour and dump the contents of the bowl on top. 
  • Keep mixing the dough together sprinkling as little dry flour as possible for 5 minutes, cover and let it rest for 20 minutes. This needs to stay a sightly moist dough, so go easy on the dry flour and add it only as needed.  
  • Take out the cover and knead it for 10-12 minutes until the dough turns supple and soft. Put the dough in a big bowl, cover it tightly with cling wrap and let it rise.
  • At this stage, you can leave the dough outside to rise at normal room temperature for about 1.5 - 2 hours or until it doubles in size and proceed with making pita bread. Or you can push the covered dough into the refrigerator for 24-48 hours for a slow rise. I let it stay put in the refrigerator for about 30 hours and we liked the wonderful taste. 
  • Preheat the oven to 475F along with the baking sheet or stone or pan on which you will be baking the pita bread. 
  • Take the dough out of the refrigerator and punch it down and knead for about 2-3 minutes. Cut 12 equal pieces of the dough. 
  • Form smooth balls of each piece, lay them on a baking sheet, cover it with cling wrap and let rise for about 30 minutes.
  • Uncover the sheet to just retrieve one ball at a time and roll it into a round disc of about 1/4 inch thickness. 
  • Place the rolled disc on the pre-heated pan and bake for 3-3.5 minutes. Pita bread is not brown in color, 3 minutes or until the bread puffs up is good baking time. Do not over bake it as it will turn crisp & hard.  
  • Take out the bread and repeat for the remaining dough balls. Cut the warm bread in half to open up the pocket, stuff with stuffing of choice or cut the bread into wedges and serve it with Hummus.
  • Place the oven rack and the baking sheet/stone/pan close to the source of heat, I pushed the rack to the first groove from the bottom and placed my baking stone on this shelf.
  • It is critical that you preheat the oven and keep the temperature at 475F in the oven during baking. Avoid keeping the oven door open for long (and curb your temptation to take the puffing pita pictures :-)) as this will bring the temperature down. 
  • The dough will be sticky initially and the 20 minutes resting period settles it and makes it easier to handle. 
  • The slow rise for a long time in the refrigerator gives a wonderful taste to the pita, try to follow this although you can get the same texture and everything else if you used a just risen dough. 
  • Original recipe says to monitor and punch down the dough if it doubles too soon(within the first hour or so) but mine actually rose slowly and I just let it sit in the refrigerator undisturbed until I was ready to make the bread. 
  • You can cook the pita bread on stove top if you have a good quality, heavy gauge cast iron pan. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hummus - a deliciously healthy Mediterranean dip

Travelling and staying away from the comfort zones of food one grew up with is a nice growing up experience. It expands your horizons and makes you try things you wouldn't normally have tried otherwise. As I look at my repertoire for food (both what I eat outside and what I make at home) I feel blessed to have had these experiences in life. When I first ventured out of home, I hardly ate anything and preferred biting into some non descript stale food over going into a restaurant I hadn't heard of. I am thankful to BH for slowly coaxing me into taking a small bite at a time and now I am confident of experimenting with unknown cuisines. Also I think my inhibition was mainly from being a staunch vegetarian, I was very wary that I wouldn't find veggie choices in most places. In all fairness, it was true to a large degree especially a decade or so back when we first moved out of India. I have had to explain what a vegetarian plate would not have (no meat, no chicken, no fish, no seafood) over what it should have. Things have changed and I notice that people are more aware of vegetarianism and it is becoming an accepted way of eating food after all.

I have also learnt over the years that vegetarian options are available in every cuisine of the world if you are only open to trying something that may not taste like the regular curry you are used to at home. I love Mediterranean food for the plethora of choices it offers, most of it is very healthy (try not to think baklava with layers of philo dough and oodles of butter :-)) and this cuisine has remained one of my favorite eat out options when we travel.

I made some Mediterranean meal at home over the weekend and as usual will share my joy of achieving this restaurant quality, home made dishes with you here.

Hummus is a very popular Mediterranean spread or dip (depending on how you use it) found in almost everyday meals in the region. Depending on the part of region, this versatile dish will have its variations in the ingredients used though the basic ingredient remains constant - cooked, mashed chickpeas. This very healthy, fiber and iron rich dish allows you to customize its taste depending on your pantry supplies and your taste buds. One of the other common names you will see in all Hummus recipes is 'Tahini' or sesame paste which is nothing but toasted sesame seeds ground to paste with olive oil.

If you are trying Hummus for the first time and not inclined to make large amounts of Tahini or are just making a small batch, go ahead and powder the roasted sesame seeds and add it into Hummus while grinding.
What do you need to make Hummus? 
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans/kabuli chana/white chick peas
1 Tblsp Tahini paste (see below for recipe)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic (see notes)
1 inch piece jalepeno/anaheim pepper - deseeded
2.5 Tblsp olive oil - divided use
1 Tblsp chopped parsley
1/8 Tsp baking soda (only if using dry chickpeas)
Tahini paste
  • Dry roast 2 Tblsp of white sesame seeds in a hot pan for 2-3 minutes until the sesame seeds start to glisten with the oil. Take out and let cool. 
  • Grind it into a paste with a Tblsp of olive oil. 
  • If you are making Tahini paste in big batches, you can also microwave the sesame seeds, spread in a single layer in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 2-4 minutes with breaks after every 1 minute or so. 
How do you make Hummus? 
  • If you are going to soak the dry chick peas, follow the next 2 steps. If you are going to use the canned, boiled chick peas, skip the next 2 steps. 
  • Soak the chick peas (1 cup of dry chick peas will yield about 1.5 cups of soaked and cooked peas) overnight in plenty of water.
  • Drain the water, wash the soaked peas and pressure cook them until soft (3 whistles in my pressure cooker) with 1/8 Tsp baking soda.
  • If using canned chickpeas, pour out the preserving liquid and wash the peas thoroughly under running water. 
  • Take all the ingredients listed except for olive oil, lemon juice and parsley to a food processor or blender and pulse them until they turn crumbly. 
  • Add the lemon juice and about a Tblsp olive oil and blend it to get a nice soft and thick puree. 
  • At this stage the hummus can be refrigerated in an air tight box for about a week. 
  • To serve, scoop out spoonfuls of hummus into a bowl or plate and pour the remaining olive oil on top and garnish with chopped parsley. 
  • I find parsley to be much milder than cilantro (talk about my Indian seasoned tongue), so I sometimes cheat and garnish with chopped cilantro instead :-)
  • What I have above is a pretty basic version of Hummus and you can jazz it up by adding other herbs such as thyme, chive, mint, oregano or basil and also add other ingredients such as sun dried pepper, sun dried tomatoes, roasted onions etc. Make this dip your own by adapting it to suit your taste. 
  • As you can see from above, the amount of garlic I add is very low given my limited tolerance to garlic. Garlic lovers can bump up this ingredient to make it really garlicky. 
  • Adding a small piece of deseeded jalapeno enhances the flavor and also makes the hummus look pretty with small green flecks contrasting the pale yellow of the chickpeas. 
  • If you like a really smooth textured Hummus, peel the chickpeas and discard the outer covering before grinding them. We like the slightly grainy texture when using it as a dip which is what I did this weekend and hence didn't peel the skin off. 
  • The shelf life of Hummus can be extended by grinding it sans water, use the lemon juice and olive oil instead.
Serving suggestions: 
  • Traditionally Hummus is served with either fresh baked soft pita bread or the baked pita chips as a dip. 
  • Hummus is also used generously in Mediterranean wraps or sandwiches as a spread. 
  • You can serve this healthy dip with your chips or sliced vegetables as an appetizer. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ragda Patties - a bowl full of tastes

I had to squeeze in my Sankranthi Sweet Pongal recipe instead of continuing the chitchat about the chats. A little bit of bad planning on my part but no harm done. You guys liked my Sweet Pongal and we loved it at home. Ellu-bella went to conference rooms at work with some description about what the fantastic tasting mixture was and why exactly it was not a variation of one of the trail mixes :-).

Back to the unfinished chatting about chats (Ok, I promise to stop doing that), I really don't know how or when my love affair with these foods started. For someone that was not used to eat out much, these must surely have come later on .. But I have always enjoyed bold flavors and favor a lot of spicy hot, khatta(tangy) tastes over bland food. Akka makes fun of me that one of the reasons I fell in love with a Telugu guy is because of the spicy food Andhra is known for. But I completely lost out there as my inlaws having travelled out of AP most of their life and their cooking influenced by other regions, eat pretty mild flavored food at home. I have mellowed on my usage of spices (read fiery hot chilies) over the years giving in to my akka's threats and if i really feel like it, I splurge on one very bold dish once in a while and will be content with myself for some time to come after that.

Coming back to chats, it is not really just spicy, a bowl of chat put together well is a perfect combination of different tastes and makes you perk up immediately. The best thing about these chats is that they need not be unhealthy at all and most of them do not have a big component of deep fried ingredients in them. Chats are always best eaten fresh, all my memories of chat eating are standing by the road side cart, holding a plate in hand, teary eyed as a result of the heat (both temperature and spice) but still licking the plate clean. Me & akka used to go to a chat center in Hotel Maharaja (fancy name ha, it was one of the better hotels and had a chat center on the lawn outside open to all)in Mysore and then it was the favorite Eat out in Malleswaram, Shanthi Sagar or Gundappana Bakery in Bengaluru. A few years back when I was in Bengaluru, one of my friends introduced me to a gaadi bhaiya in front of her apartment complex, the neat thing was cell phones were just becoming 'every man's thing' and she would call him from the house on his cell and order an array of chats and he would ring the door bell within minutes with hot plates of chats for akka. What perfect service! She could see him put the chat plate together from her kitchen window and I think just for that reason he used to give the plates an extra dip in the water before making chats in them:-)
Honestly I never made chats at home when in India as there was absolutely no need to. We could just run around the corner and find a perfectly decent place in terms of hygiene and gobble up plates of chats from a selection of menu. But since moving to the US, this is something I miss terribly, the quality of chats I have tasted in the so called Indian restaurants here are at best 'lame excuses' to the real deal. Not one comes even close to my 'good bowl of chat' definition and I come back thoroughly disappointed most times. We have a chat place near our home here who puts bottled tomato ketchup in everything he makes and I have a good mind to tell him that none of the real masala puri or ragda patties have any ketchup from bottle in them and I might do it if we go back there ever again.  We went there once on a friend's recommendation when we moved but have stayed away from the store all these months.

Making chats at home is not difficult, it surely involves some longish steps but you can prepare ahead and even bedazzle your guests for a party. Chats are never 'one size fits all' and each plate has to be customized to the person eating it. I usually let my guests build their plate (much like 'build-a-bear') and I arrange all the ingredients on the table. If there are people that have never had a chat before, I assemble a plate for them and tell them which of the smaller bowls make it sweeter, spicier etc so they can modify their plate to taste. With that I have something called 'chat bowl essentials', these are the things the chat bhaiyya lays out on his working bench before he opens up the store to customers. There are some additions and changes based on what you are making and today's post has everything you need to assemble a mouthwatering plate of Ragda patties. For all my passion about cooking, I don't like to stand infront of the stove for hours, so trust me when I say this is not going to take too long.
Today I will use the chutneys I made earlier for my Ragda patties, Ragda (~gravy with beans & spices), patties (patties made with a mixture of boiled potatoes and other spices) is just that - patties served with a gravy and embellished with the addition of other 'chat bowl' ingredients. With a bowl full of cooked beans and potatoes it is a very filling and fulfilling meal in itself so plan for a good weekend treat and enjoy yourselves.
Although list of ingredients and process look tedious, do not be alarmed. There are prep steps you can get done and out of the way, just assemble the chat and enjoy the home made deliciousness.

What do you need to make Ragda Patties? 
Serves 4 people 
For Patties: 
4 medium sized potatoes
1 Tblsp finely chopped onions
2-3 stalks cilantro - chopped fine
1 green chili - finely chopped (optional)
small piece of ginger finely chopped (optional)
1/4 Tsp garam masala powder
1/4 Tsp Amchoor powder/Dry mango powder
1/4 Tsp Red chili powder
1/8 Tsp Turmeric powder
1.5 Tblsp coarse bread crumbs (you can get a ready tin from the store or make your own at home, see notes below)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 Tsp oil to shallow fry the patties

For Ragda:
1.5 cups dry yellow peas
1 medium onion (preferably red onions) - chopped fine
1 large tomato - chopped fine
2 green chilies - trimmed and slit vertically
1.5 Tsp garam masala powder
1 Tsp red chili powder
3/4 Tsp Amchoor powder
1/2 Tsp grated or crushed ginger
1/2 Tsp garlic paste (optional)
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste) - divided use
1 Tblsp oil
Water for the gravy

Chat Bowl essentials: 
1/2 cup Tamarind-dates chutney
1/4 cup coriander-mint chutney
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1 Tsp red chili powder
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sev (deep fried, thin, besan crispies - home made or store bought)

How do you make Ragda Patties? 
Making of the Patties:
  • Cut the potatoes in half and cook them either in pressure cooker or microwave or stove top(if you have time) until soft. 
  • Let cool, peel the skin and mash them to a pulp without any lumps. 
  • Add the remaining ingredients listed under patties and mix well. 
  • Pinch off handfuls and shape them into patties. 
  • These are good make-aheads, store them in the refrigerator upto 2 days in a tightly covered vessel. Even if you are making it the same day, keeping the patties aside for atleast 30mins to an hour will help them absorb flavors and also gain a firm texture. 
  • Heat a flat griddle, place the patties on it with an inch of space in between, drizzle drops of oil and roast until the patties turn golden brown on both sides, keep aside until ready to assemble. 
Making of the Ragda:
  • Soak the dry yellow peas overnight, wash and drain water. Take them to a pressure cooker with 1 Tsp salt and cook until the peas are cooked well but barely hold shape. 
  • Take a large, heavy bottom pan, heat oil in it and cumin seeds, let them sizzle. 
  • Add the slit green chilies, ginger and garlic paste and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the chopped onions, remaining salt and fry until onions sweat and turn soft. 
  • Add chopped tomatoes and continue cooking until tomatoes turn mushy. 
  • Add the dry powders and cook for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add the cooked peas, mash a little with the back of the spoon, add water to bring the ragda to the desired consistency - it should be of pouring consistency.
  • Taste and adjust spices if needed, let the ragda come to a boil and continue to boil for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Keep it hot for serving. 
Assembling and serving Ragda patties: 
  • Take a slightly deep, wide plate or bowl and place 2 patties on it.
  • Add chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro. 
  • Drizzle the chutneys, sprinkle a bit of red chili powder.
  • Pour the hot ragda over this.
  • Top it with some extra chopped onions and sev and cilantro. 
  • Go ahead and dig in slightly mixing the contents with a spoon to make sure every bite has all the rasas(tastes) in it.
  • My SIL taught me a trick to cook potatoes in microwave, wash and cut the potatoes in half, put them in a clear plastic bag (I use the bags we fill veggies in the grocery store but microwave sturdy zip locks/freezer bags can be used as well), sprinkle a couple of spoons of water and microwave it for 7-8 minutes or until potatoes are soft. It cooks much faster than stove top and with a nice texture and does't need a bowl to hold your potatoes either.
  • Patties ingredients can be altered to suit your taste, I sometimes add lemon juice instead of amchoor or skip garam masala completely. 
  • Peas should be cooked to the state where they are almost falling apart but not 'pasty'. 
  • Making bread crumbs at home - toast a couple of slices of wheat or white bread in in the toaster oven until crisp, pulse it in the mixer until they break down to a thick rava consistency.
Make-ahead strategies:
  • Make the patties the previous day or a couple of days before and freeze them, thaw them for a couple of hours on the day of serving and reheat them in a oven pre-heated to 350F for about 10 minutes. Alternatively you can reheat them on a hot griddle or in the microwave. Griddle and oven method makes the patties crisp while microwaving them tends to soften them. 
  • Make the Ragda previous day and refrigerate it. The peas in the ragda tends to make it thick, so be prepared to add water and thin it down. Taste to make sure everything is in order before serving. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sweet Pongal for Makara Sankranthi

Happy Makara Sankranthi/Bhogi/Pongal to all my readers. I am taking a break from my chatty chat posts and blogging about a very traditional, just divine recipe of sweet pongal which also goes by the name Sakkare Pongal (Sakkare = sugar) although it is made of jaggery (or the less refined and less processed sweetener).

Some well known facts about Makara Sankranthi - Makara Sankranthi (or Sankramana in Sanskrit) is the day when Sun moves from Saggitarius to Capricorn. Sankramana  refers to Sat or samyak (~good) Kramana (~movement) and the period of the year beginning with Makara Sankranthi is considered to bring in the light of wisdom. While all Hindu religious festivals follow the lunar positions, Makara sankranthi follows the Solar positions and hence falls on the same day (Jan 14th every year except for the leap year) in the Gregorian calendar.

Makara Sankranthi has a spiritual, cultural and social significance. The day according to scriptures was the beginning of the new Year in Hindu calendar. As the Sun moves through the zodiac signs, the weather & climate changes from a dark, cold winter to brighter Sunny days, it is heralded as the beginning of the period suited for pursuing nobler goals and taking up spiritual practices. Many regions in India have the practice of burning all of their old clothes and other things thus marking a new beginning. As the time of the festival coincides with new crops being harvested in many farming communities, this day also celebrates a bountiful harvest.

Nammamma usually makes a khara pongal with avarekalu (papdi lilva) as it is in season and this sweet pongal for Sankranthi. A plate filled equal portions of these two complementary tastes will fill you up totally. We also used to have an entire evening (starting late afternoon) of fun with all the girls visiting friends to share the ellu-bella. This being the harvest festival, after the crops are harvested, the tools including the animals used in farming would be cleaned and given rest. The sight of the cleanly bathed cows, draped in colorful pieces of cloth, walking slowly with their bells tinkling and making a very musical sound was all part of the Sankranthi evening.
I mixed all my ellu-bella ingredients last night and made the sweet pongal this morning. The golden hue of the pongal cooking in milk & jaggery, aroma from the edible camphor and cardamom are all very reminiscent of the Sankranthi I always remember from my childhood.
What do you need make Sweet Pongal? 
3/4 cup rice (use sona masoori preferably)
1/4 cup moong dal
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 cup water
1.5 cups grated jaggery
1 Tsp edible camphor (crush it gently in a mortar & pestle)
1/8 Tsp powdered cardamom
2 Tsp ghee - divided use
1 Tblsp cashew nuts
1 Tblsp raisins
How do you make Sweet Pongal? 
  • Wash rice and moong dal together in 2 changes of water. Pressure cook with 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of water for 3 whistles (or until it cooks completely)
  • Let the pressure release completely.
  • Take a heavy bottom pan, add the grated jaggery and a quarter cup water, bring it to a rolling boil on medium heat. 
  • Reduce heat to low, add 1 Tsp ghee, pour the cooked rice and moongdal mixture into it and give it a good mix and let it boil in the jaggery syrup for about 15-20 minutes. 
  • The color of the pongal changes gradually from a light tan to a nice golden brown, the raw smell of jaggery goes away and the pongal becomes soft and slightly more solid. 
  • Add the crushed edible camphor and cardamom powder, mix well. Switch off. 
  • Heat a Tsp of ghee, add the raisins and cashew nuts and fry until raisins plump up and cashews turn golden brown and crispy. 
  • Pour this over the pongal (take some gorgeous pictures :-)), mix it in and serve warm. 
  • Cooking rice & moong dal in milk gives the pongal a very rich taste and lets you cut down on the ghee. 
  • Edible camphor gives this pongal a very 'temple made' taste and flavor. If you do not have access to it, increase cardamom powder to about 1/2 tsp. 
  • There is no syrup consistency in this recipe, the jaggery needs to melt completely and come to a rolling boil before you add the rice & dal mixture.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2 chutneys for chats & snacks

Happy Sankranthi/Pongal to all my readers. Sankranthi was the first festival celebrated on Sattvaa and for that reason it is always special for me. It also feels good to see that I am starting to repeat festivals which is a perfect indication of the passing time. I am almost ready with my ellu-bella for tomorrow. I am debating whether to make lot of goodies as it is a week day and also we went overboard at a local Punjabi sweet shop earlier this weekend and purchased a whole bunch of jalebis and basan laddoos and kala jamoons. I will come back with my festival specials later on in the week.

When I was recently organizing my posts for the recipe index, I realized there was a category missing in it - this is something all of us at home are absolutely crazy about and something I make almost every week at home :-(. So why was I not posting some of my favorite recipes? How ever much  I tell myself that this is a food blog and make sure my recipes are easy to follow and they satisfy most people's palates, I do see the impact a good picture can have on somebody reading this blog post. I am guilty of that prejudice myself, visual appeal is very important especially when there are hundreds of food blogs with similar recipes. With that I felt somehow my pictures never justified the real deal in many cases. As I get better at food photography, I plan to go back to some of my posts and update the pictures if that makes sense. So with good pictures being the barrier, I had not put a single recipe from this genre for the entire year and I plan to fill that void in the space on my blog this year. So watch out for many mouth watering recipes in that category. Oh, I never mentioned what I was referring to, did I? Of course it is the chats or the Indian street food or the Desi fast food.

Chat is a Hindi word which means 'to lick', these dishes very apt to their name will have you licking your fingers, plates, bowls or whatever you eat them in :-). So why are chats so 'chatable'? A life long chat lover's personal perspective is that chats are in a class of their own with their perfect blend of little sweet, little spicy, little sour, little salty, little crunchy and little chewy. Does that sound like life to you? It does to me, a perfect bowl of chat is a portion of life itself with the nava rasas (nine emotions) and completely irresistible.

As any chat lover will tell you, the first step to making a good chat are 2 very essential chutneys. Once you have these ready in the refrigerator, you can go in there and start putting the remaining 'rasas'/tastes to make up your bowl of chat. So let us start with these basic chutneys today and I will bring a plate of mouth watering chat in the next post. While there are variations especially as you move from region to region in India with some of the basic ingredients that goes into these 2 chutneys, here are the tried, tasted, tested and well liked versions. Give it a try and decide for yourself. All I can say is you won't go back to the store bought jars once you get used to this home made, brimming with flavor chutneys.
Tamarind dates chutney
Recipe source: Sanjeev kapoor khazana
Makes 3 cups of chutney, can be preserved in refrigerator for over a motnh

What do you need to make Tamarind-Dates chutney? 
1 cup tamarind
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup grated jaggery
9 cups water
1 black cardamom
1 bay leaf
1/2 Tsp dry ginger powder
1 Tsp red chili powder
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3/4 Tsp saunf/fennel seeds
1 Tsp oil
How do you make Tamarind-Dates chutney? 
  • Heat a big pan on medium heat, add tamarind, jaggery and pitted dates along with the water into it. 
  • Add the red chili powder, dry ginger powder, cardamom, bay leaf and salt and let it all come to a boil. Taste and adjust as needed.
  • Continue to cook until the water reduces to about 2/3 of the original and the sauce thickens slightly - takes about 45-50 minutes. 
  • Heat oil in a  small pan, add the fennel seeds and let them sizzle for half a minute. Pour this into the thickened sauce. 
  • Take a big sieve and pour the sauce through it, mash the contents gently with a spoon and collect the strained chutney in a bowl. Let it cool and refrigerate. 

Tip from the original chef: do not blend or grind the sauce at the end. Just sieve it and give gentle squeezes to the contents with a spoon. Grinding this will bring out a bitterness from the black cardamom and bay leaf. If you do not have a sieve or prefer grinding, fish out these two before adding the sauce to the blender.

Green spicy Chutney (Mint & Coriander chutney)
Makes a cup of chutney
What do you need to make Green spicy chutney? 
1 packed cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
1 Tblsp chopped onion (I use red onion)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)
small piece of ginger
1 Tsp lemon juice.

How do you make green spicy chutney?
  • Blend green chilies, onion and ginger into a smooth paste. 
  • Add the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice and blend them into a slightly coarse chutney, use a tblsp of water if needed to run the blender. 
  • Take out in a bowl, add lemon juice and mix well. 
  • This can be refrigerated upto a week, make sure you do not use wet spoons to serve it. 

  • Do not use tamarind paste or concentrate in this recipe, open up the tamarind if it is hard and coiled in a ball to aid the boiling process. 
  • I get soft dates here, if you have the hard ones, soak them in water for about an hour and add it in. 
  • Notice that the Tamarind-dates chutney has equal proportion of tamarind, dates and jaggery, this is how we like it and I have used standard cup this time as I needed to make a big portion. You can increase or decrease the quantity by adjusting the spices while keeping these 3 ingredients equal in proportion. However all these 3 ingredients have a mind of their own and sometimes tend to overpower each other, when the boiling starts taste the chutney and make any adjustment so it gets incorporated as it continues to boil. 
  • Adding the seasoning of oil roasted fennel seeds gives this chutney a wonderful fennel flavor in the background. 
  • Consistency of the chutney is a personal preference and I stop boiling it when I see a slight stickiness from the tamarind and the chutney is easily spoonable on to chats. If you plan to serve this with snacks, let it boil longer and become thicker.
  • These chutneys can be made ahead so you can concentrate your time on preparing the chat if you are making it in large scale. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Raw banana dry curry - an aromatic experience

Raw bananas also called plantains or green bananas are used extensively in Indian cooking. While all varieties that are suited to be eaten ripe are not good for eating when raw, there are some varieties grown with the purpose of consuming when green. Given the bland taste, mellow flavor and texture, green bananas make a good replacement for potatoes in many dishes including cutlets. While I love this vegetable, I bring them not so frequently and only when I know I can use them up immediately as they tend to go brown and mushy on me if I leave them longer than a day. All that transport and travel would have made the green bananas spend their better youth in some long distance trucks and they are just barely holding up their color and shape for some unsuspecting customer like me to bring them home before they lose all that artificial vitality and slump. 

I did get some good ones this week and made this dry curry, green bananas are sauteed with an aromatic spice powder and coconut and seasoned. You can make this a little bit soft if you like by adding some water and letting the banana cook a little longer but we like to eat this as a side dish with anna-saaru (Rice & rasam). I have noted a couple of variations at the end if you are interested. 

I met an acquaintance the other day and we were generally talking about stuff while book reading came up in the conversations. I think in this super electronic times we are living in, book reading (I mean holding a real paper book, feeling the pages and smelling a new book) is becoming a thing of the past. I am kind of old fashioned in that respect, no audio or electronic books for me, I keep my paper books on my night stand always. Though the reading has come down dramatically for both self and BH from the old times, we still love to cuddle up with a book whenever possible. I found a few good ones recently and thoroughly enjoyed them. One of them was 'The Reading Promise' by Alice Ozma. The book itself was a reminder that no matter what other media takes over, there is no replacement to holding, touching and feeling a paper book.

This is a heartwarming journey of a daughter and her single parenting father through the books they read as part of a promise. It is a story of a promise that gets kept through the years, a commitment that is fulfilled under many adversities of life. Told by the daughter as a memoir the book paints a wonderful, touching father-daughter relationship and their shared love for literature and reading.  It is a funny, witty read with enormous insights into the life of a dedicated father who inculcates the love of reading in his child while imparting beautiful life lessons.

The book begins with slightly contradicting memories of father and daughter about how they started ‘The Streak‘ and takes you through funny anecdotes about their secret boy hating club of America which meets strangely in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, losing a pet, becoming a motherless family, helping Dad make the biggest sales in his school book fair,  understanding adult grief and helping her dad to feel better about his own father’s death, getting her first C grade on her favorite subject but realizing her countless blessings. What shines through all the chapters is the father’s unwavering commitment to being the best parent he can. It is about being curious and always striving to learn something new.

I was reminded of my own little girl at various points in the book for her love of devouring any book she lays her eyes on, it is changing slowly with the electronics she is surrounded by but I am happy to see reading is still her first love.

After a good read, here I am, back to a lazy day luncheon with some anna-saaru and raw banana (Baalekaayi) palya.
What do you need to make raw banana dry curry? 
3 raw firm green bananas
3-4 dry red chilies (adjust to taste)
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to tatse)
1 Tsp crushed jaggery
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp chopped cilantro - for garnish
To roast and powder:
2 Tblsp grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
2 Tblsp coriander seeds
1 Tblsp cumin
small piece of tamarind or 1 Tsp lemon juice
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
2-3 curry leaves

How do you make raw banana dry curry? 
  • Wash and peel the bananas, cut in half vertically and chop into thin slices. Put them in a vessel containing cold water until you are ready to use them.
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, add coriander seeds, cumin and pieces of dry red chilies and dry roast them for 3-4 minutes until you get a nice aroma from the roasted spices. Add the tamarind piece and roast for a minute. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Heat oil in a  wide pan on medium heat, add mustard, cumin and curry leaves. Let mustard crackle. 
  • Add the chopped banana slices in, mix it well and let it cook for a minute. 
  • Add salt, turmeric and cover the pan and let the pieces cook for 5-6 minutes or until the pieces are tender but hold shape well. 
  • Powder the roasted spices into a fine powder, add them to the cooked banana pieces along with grated coconut and jaggery. Give it all a good mix and continue to cook for a couple of minutes and switch off. 
  • If you are using lemon juice instead of tamarind, add it at this stage to the curry just before switching it off. 
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm as a side dish.
  • I make thin slices for this dish since it cooks fast and also has the right bite while eating. 
  • Smear a couple of drops of oil on your hands and the knife before cutting the raw banana to avoid and easily remove the sticky stuff.
  • You may add finely chopped onion (about 2 Tblsp) while seasoning for flavor. 
  • You can grind the roasted spices along with coconut and 2 spoons of water to make it slightly wet curry.
  • Roasting tamarind removes any moisture content and helps in dry grinding into a powder. If your tamarind is soft/wet make sure you roast it a little longer to make it feel dry. 
  • If you want to use tamarind concentrate, add it directly into the pan when you start to cook the banana slices. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lemon Gojju - Awaken your taste buds with a spoonful

I write a lot about gojjus in my posts since I think this dish really deserves all the attention. What can you expect from someone who cleans up bowls of gojju without bothering about the main dish served on her plate :-). For such a humble name, this genre has so many variations that you don't feel the repetition at all. The name 'Lemon Gojju' makes me drool and I consider this one of nammamma's 'always made to perfection' dishes. Given that she is from the generation that doesn't tolerate tasting while cooking, I just can't explain how she achieved that consistently perfect taste every time.

Nammamma made this usually with the avarekalu kadubu or pumpkin idli and as she calls it is a total tongue cleanser. If you have had string of parties and eaten too much greasy food or sweets and feeling lethargic, this is the gojju to go to as it hits your taste buds in the right spots, awakens your senses and brings you back to life. This is a very simple recipe by any standard, get a couple of juicy lemons and you are on your way to tasting something totally out of this world. There is however a surprise ingredient in this gojju that you don't normally see in any of the other Karnataka gojjus. Nammamma says adding milk in this recipe is to beat the raw tangyness of the lemon juice and mellow it down and I totally agree with it as I have experimented with & without milk, so take my word and go with the milk. I use milk straight from the gallons here, nammamma used the usual boiled, cooled milk in India.

BTW, if you haven't noticed, I added a Recipe Index page over the weekend. Well.. the page got published over the weekend but had it coming for a while as I started to organize and group my various posts sometime over the Holidays. I was pleasantly surprised to see it coming together nicely though I haven't planned my posts in any order. Give it a look and let me know if you have any comments.
What do you need to make Lemon Gojju?
Juice of 2 good sized lemons - about 4 Tblsp
1 Tblsp Urad dal/uddina bele
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds/menthya
1 Tsp white sesame seeds/ellu
4-5 green chilies (adjust to suit taste, see notes)
2-3 sprigs cilantro
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp crushed/grated jaggery
2 Tblsp milk
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp white sesame seeds
2-3 curry leaves

How do you make Lemon Gojju? 
  • Heat 1 Tsp oil in a thick bottom pan, add urad dal and fenugreek seeds and broken green chilies and fry them on medium heat.
  • Add the sesame seeds to the pan as the urad dal begins to change color slightly and continue to roast until urad dal turns pink and blisters form on green chilies. 
  • Switch off and let cool.
  • Grind the roasted ingredients, coconut, cilantro, salt, jaggery with a couple of spoons of water to a very smooth paste. 
  • Take out the ground mixture to a bowl, add lemon juice and milk and give it a good mix with a spoon. 
  • Heat oil for seasoning, add mustard and sesame seeds, let them splutter, add curry leaves and pour the sizzling seasoning over the gojju. 
  • Let the gojju sit for about 30 minutes for it to absorb all the flavors before serving this lip smacking accompaniment with akki rotti, kadubu, pumpkin idli or Ragi mudde or anything else that you like. 
  • This gojju will have a slightly thick pouring consistency (in between a dosa and an idli batter). The proportions above yield 2 cups of gojju. 
  • It is important to let the gojju sit for about 30 minutes, so prepare ahead if you need. The seasoning can be done later to keep the crunch. 
  • The jaggery, salt, green chilies and lemon juice should balance each other and also outpower each other in this recipe, make adjustments to suit your taste buds.
  • Always remember to break or cut green chilies before roasting them as they will pop otherwise. 
  • Roast the urad, fenugreek and green chilies on low-medium heat and make sure urad is roasted nicely without changing color too quickly to avoid the raw smell of the dal in the gojju. 
  • Use brown sugar in place of jaggery if needed.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Ottu shavige - Dreamy white, Indian angel hair pasta with rice flour

Some memories are a full 4D IMAX experience, don't you agree? They have picture, sound, smell and taste. All I have to do is close my eyes to relive those moments. Some other memories leave you searching for details but you can't forget the impact they have had on you. Both are good and needed for a wholesome experience. Since the time I posted my Lemony rice noodles recipe here using a short cut, I have been craving to write about the real deal. What is the big deal, you may ask? It is, it was a huge deal growing up and lot of planning and preparation went into making those melt in the mouth ottu shavige(ottu~pressed, shavige~noodles).

Anna spent a year in Mangalore as part of the usual government transfers while we stayed back in Mysore for schools & other things. Anna used to visit us once a month or so and we would all be eagerly waiting for him to reach home from the bus stand. Once when he came, he had a heavy box on his shoulder and we were all dying of curiosity until he had his dinner and opened the box. He had bought a ottu shavige maker in Mangalore (I don't think it was easily available in Mysore at that time) and brought it with him on the bus and carried it home. Thus started our ottu shavige experiences. This sturdy machine dished out huge quantities of ottu shavige for many, many years until it was retired to a top shelf (to give company to many other 'not anymore used' large family utensils) quite recently.

While Anna didn't really cook on a regular basis, there were days he would enter the kitchen and make something so delicious and spoil us that we refused to eat if nammamma made the same dish equally well :-). Making Ottu shavige was like a festival, it would be on the menu if family was visiting or if there was a reason to celebrate. I have a picture of my parents in our Mysore kitchen both bent around the ottu shavige machine on the floor, nammamma feeding the steamed balls into the machine and moving the plate underneath to ensure the noodles didn't form a lump in one place while Anna kept turning the handle above to produce those thin noodles - well I don't have an actual photo, it is in my heart. Making the basic noodles is only half the job done, and there several options to serve it depending on whether you like a sweet shavige or a savory one. Nammamma usually prepared one sweet kind and one savory kind, look for serving suggestions below.

There are 2 ways of making the ottu shavige, the first one involves preparing the dough, making the noodles and then steaming them which is very popular in Tamil Nadu & Kerala and the second one is where the dough is prepared, balls steamed and then noodles made which is what nammamma does and I follow this 2nd method. If you have the press kind of murukku maker, the first one is better suited and if you are using the rotate kind of murukku maker, the second option works well. I don't have a ottu shavige maker but make do with this fantastic murukku maker I found in my Indian store, if you get the dough right and employ a strong, muscular person in the kitchen you can make this on large scale without breaking a sweat :-).

When nammamma made the ottu shavige, she prepared the rice powder at home. Rice would be washed, drained and set to dry inside in shade until the moisture is gone. Then it is fine powdered and used in Ottu Shavige or Bili Rotti. I buy the idiyappam flour from the store which works perfectly well and skip one step to make it easier. If you have the time and inclination, go ahead and make the rice powder at home, see detailed procedure at the end of this post.
What do you need to make basic Ottu Shavige? 
Serves 4 adults for a heavy breakfast, makes about 6-8 steamed balls
3 cups idiyappam flour** or home made rice powder
4 cups water
1/2 Tsp oil
**I used Nirapara brand and the proportion of water & rice powder works perfectly.

How do you make Ottu Shavige?
  • Heat water with the 1/2 Tsp oil in a big pot and bring it to boil.
  • Add the rice flour and let it cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes while the water boils over the flour and makes it all wet, do not disturb this for the 2-3 minutes. 
  • When water has bubbled over all the dry powder, take a strong wooden spoon and vigorously mix the powder in to the water to form one big mass.
  • Switch off the stove and let it stand for a few of minutes until you can comfortably handle the dough (the dough should not cool off though).
  • Keep a wide bowl of cold water ready to dip your hands in. 
  • While the dough is still warm, dip your hands in the cold water (but do not carry any extra water to the dough)and pinch off tennis ball sized dough, knead a little to make a smooth cylindrical shape, arrange them in a pressure cooker or steamer vessel. 
  • When all the dough is made into balls, steam it in the pressure cooker or steamer for 15 minutes - Do not use the pressure cooker weight, this is similar to making idlis. 
  • Switch off the stove, get your murukku press ready and wet the inside walls of the murukku press with a few drops of water. While the steamed balls are still hot, put them inside the murukku maker and press into strings of thin noodles. 
  • We like this thin and I use the smallest hole plate for the murukku maker, you can change it according to your preference. 
  • Press the shavige into a wide plate, moving the murukku maker around the plate so the strings form a sparse layer and not become lumpy. Transfer over to a big bowl by inverting the plate on top of the bowl and leave it to become cool before you season them. 
How do you serve Ottu Shavige (some suggestions, follow your heart and taste buds)?

Savory variation 1: Lemon Shavige
Heat 2 Tblsp of oil, add 1/4 Tsp asafoetida, 1 Tsp mustard, 1 Tblsp chana dal, 1 Tsp urad dal, 2 Tblsp peanuts, a few curry leaves, 1/4 Tsp turmeric, 2-3 chopped green chilies. Roast them until the dals and peanuts are crisp. Pour it over the ottu shavige, add salt to taste, lemon juice, 2 Tblsp grated coconut and mix gently breaking the long strands ever so softly. 
Savory variation 2: Hasi chutney shavige
See procedure here

Savory variation 3: Chutney pudi shavige
Take a bowlful of the white noodles, add a couple of spoons of home made chutney pudi, 1/2 Tsp oil and a pinch of salt to taste. Mix  it in gently and enjoy.

Sweet variation 1: With Gasagase payasa
Serve the rice noodles with a bowl of warm gasagase payasa. Pour the payasa on top of the noodles, mix gently and slurp it in. 
Sweet variation 2: Ellu-bella
Roast 2 Tblsp of white sesame seeds for 2 minutes. Powder them in a dry grinder, add 2 Tblsp of grated jaggery, a pinch of cardamom powder, 1 Tblsp grated coconut and mix it all with fingers. Add this to the white noodles and enjoy the flavorful sweet shavige.

Others: In Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu, the white noodles are typically served with stew.

Procedure for making rice flour at home for ottu shavige:
  • Wash 2 cups of rice in 2-3 changes of water and drain the water. 
  • Spread a thin cotton cloth inside the room and spread the washed rice on top of it. 
  • Let the moisture go away by drying it in shade for a couple of hours. The rice should feel dry & brittle to touch.
  • Make a powder of this dried rice and sieve it get a very fine powder, take the residue back and run it in your blender. Repeat until all the flour is superfine. 
  • Store it in air tight containers for use in ottu shavige or rotti etc. 
  • 2 cups of rice yield about 2+1/4 cups of the powder.
  • There is a very huge difference in taste and texture between the store bought rice noodles and the home made ones and it is definitely worth the effort. 
  • If you are using store bought idiyappam flour, follow the rice to water proportion on the package. 
  • Do not let the dough become cool before making balls or before pressing them into noodles. This will render shavige hard and also make it very difficult to run the murukku maker. 
  • I don't put salt while making the dough as we usually eat it both sweet & savory, mixing salt later works as well. 
  • As you can see, this is a 2-people task atleast until you get comfortable with it. So make sure you ask for help in the kitchen.