Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beetroot salad - Get ready to be dazzled by this cool, crunchy and bright salad

I like salads because of their philosophy which is a very live and let live concept, do you agree? In a good bowl of salad every ingredient holds its unique taste and texture while blending together to present a dish that appeals to all. It is a 101 about team work, no one gets lost in the team, every person has a worthy contribution to make while presenting a unified end result. I think we human beings can take a lesson or two from the humble salad. Ok, I am shutting down my soap box :-). Personally I love raw salads, there is something about their cool, crispy texture and the unmistakable citrusy flavor that appeals to me. I can eat a bowl of salad for lunch and feel full and happy.

A few years ago, I was interviewing at an IT company in Bengaluru that had its huge campus on airport road. It was quite a distance from home. I was told I would most likely have to meet multiple people as part of the process and was asked to come prepared to spend the day at the campus. I was going for an interview and carrying my lunch pail from home would look weird, right? :-). So I left home after breakfast and spent an hour and half in commute. I met with 2 people before lunch time and the big boss wanted me to meet another person who was not available until post lunch. So he took me for lunch in their cafeteria. It was a regular office lunch with rotis, some curry, rice, dal etc. What caught my eye was a bright red salad. I know, I know, I was interviewing for a job while being the foodie I am :-). While I love beetroots in palya, I had not eaten them raw until then. I took a spoonful gingerly as I didn't want to make a face infront of a prospective boss if I didn't like it :-). A crunchy peanut, an earthy beetroot, a small hot green chili brought together by fresh lemon, yumm. I believe I took second helpings of the salad and I have made it at home many times since then. For anyone interested, I was offered the job (not in the cafeteria though) but I made my choice elsewhere, not relevant discussion for this post at all :-)

Salads belong to the same genre as kosambari and are almost always healthy and nutritious. Though I have added toasted peanuts here, you can replace it with sprouts, boiled chana and other ingredients of choice.

It is already hot Summer in many parts of India. Every time I call home, I hear that heat is already unbearable in April and Monsoon is still ways to go. Bengaluru was known for its cool temperatures. BH recalls fondly his memories of Bengaluru citizens on their morning walks wrapped in shawls, sweaters and monkey caps as he went to school. Mysore is usually a few degrees higher than Bengaluru but still the weather was perfect. I think what made Bengaluru's all season weather were the greenery and trees. It is no longer the case, the city has grown on all sides, is bursting at the seams, greenery is gone, pollution and traffic rampant :-(. Effects of Global warming... Here is a bowl of cool salad to keep you company in the hot Summer as you can avoid going near the hot stove completely.
What do you need to make beetroot salad? 
2 medium sized beetroots
1 Tsp finely chopped onions
2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tblsp lemon/lime juice
2 Tblsp chopped cilantro
2 Tblsp roasted peanuts - crushed coarsely
How do you make beetroot salad? 
  • Wash, trim the ends, peel and grate the beets. 
  • Wash, trim and chop the green chilies finely. 
  • Crush the peanuts roughly in a mortar & pestle. 
  • Put all the ingredients together in a bowl, mix well, taste and adjust if needed. 
  • Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes minimum for the flavors to mingle. 
  • Use slightly bigger holes on the grater while you grate beets as you want it to retain texture and not become mushy. 
  • I used store bought salted, dry roasted peanuts. You can toast the peanuts in the microwave or stove top. De-skin them before using for this recipe. 
  • I sometimes use oven roasted chana or sprouts in place of peanuts. 
  • You can add grated carrots to give a slight sweetness, don't let them over power beets though. 
  • Roast and powder a Tsp of cumin seeds and add it to the salad for another flavor burst. 
  • The quantities given are how I like it, go ahead and adjust to suit your palate. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pudina chutney - a minty fresh experience

I love to be outdoors, and I prefer walking in lush green woods to be outdoors as in malls. It is just a personal preference. While it is enjoyable to run on the treadmill set up inside the house, it definitely is much more therapeutic to go outside and get some fresh air along with the exercise. If all this talk is giving the impression that I am some kind of a fitness freak, let me correct the wrong notion because I am just a conscious person about my well being. On another note, I tend to believe that weight (or the lack of it) is not related directly to how healthy you are although I would love to lose a few pounds just for the sake of being able to get into those college days pair of jeans I keep hidden in the closet always :-).

Well what is outdoors got to do with today's post? Bear with me while I set the stage and take you there. With the weather being what it is currently, I am just setting out on my long walks almost every evening and BH has been a very willing companion if he makes it home in time. I take the saying 'take in the smells and enjoy the nature' literally when I walk outdoors. If I see a Magnolia tree full of white or pink blossoms at a distance, I pace myself so I am inhaling when I am closer and around the tree, if I smell anything fragrant, I stop and look around until I spot a lilac bush or a jasmine creeping out of a neighboring fenced backyard :-). So I understand completely when BH said the other day that walking with me was very similar to walking Flora (our part lab, part terrier 50 pounder) except that we go after different kinds of smells, ha ha ha..
A small lake by the side spotted on one of the walking trails - surreal & beautiful
And why am I talking about aromatic experiences? But I am coming to the point, I promise. I am almost there. Before leaving India, I knew what mint or pudina was, that wonderfully fragrant herb which literally carries the pulavs and biryanis of the world on its fragile shoulders. But life was very simple back then, I used to go to the corner vegetable shop and ask for a bunch of pudina if we were out of the herb in the back yard or the lady with the wicker's basket would bring it along with many other fresh greens early in the morning. When I went to the farmer's market here for the first time and tried to pick a bunch of mint, I was offered a choice of varieties of mint - spear mint, pepper mint, curly mint, apple mint, ginger mint and some more. I stood there completely lost and then tried to smell each of them in the hope that I might be able to recognize some familiar aroma. I think I finally got home some spear mint since pepper mint sounded like a candy to me and the other mints were totally unfamiliar. This morning, we went to a garden store to get some saplings for our summer kitchen garden, ended up buying stuff for another raised bed (yes, we are both crazy about gardening though we haven't found our green thumb flourishing since we moved here), seeds to start and some plants for a head start. And I found a couple of new mint varieties named grape fruit mint (smelled heavenly, milder mint with a hint of citrus) and chocolate mint (not for me, too strongly minty) and I have brought a small grapefruit mint plant home. I will keep you posted on the progress as it takes root in the backyard.

Last year, one of my generous friends and DD's music teacher not only gave me a big bunch of pepper mint grown at home, she also gave me a rooting to plant. I put it in the pot since mint is notorious for hogging space and growing wild, used it a couple of times before winter set in. Through the winter, the pot looked completely devastated and its chances of springing to life seemed really bleak. But nature takes over and communicated with the plant through the temperature changes and 2 weeks back, there was a definite green patch all around the pot's top surface and then it just grew big in no time. Here is how the pot looked yesterday before I harvested some to make my all time favorite pudina chutney.

There are different recipes of this chutney and amma makes it without coconut but I love nammamma's version with the coconut. Flavored with home grown pepper mint, this was one delicious chutney. This is the same chutney I added to my pesto pasta once. Mix it with rice, eat it with dosa or idli or bread - it tastes refreshingly divine.

What do you need to make pudina(mint) chutney? 
1 big bunch of fresh mint - leaves picked (makes about 2 packed cups of leaves)
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
marble sized tamarind
2 Tblsp chana dal/kadle bele
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste) - broken/cut into two pieces
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp oil
How do you make pudina(mint) chutney? 
  • Heat oil in a wide pan, add the chana dal, fenugreek seeds and green chilies until dal turns light pink and green chilies form blisters on their skin. 
  • Wash and tap dry mint leaves. 
  • Add the mint leaves to the pan and roast it stirring frequently for about 4-5 minutes or until the leaves wilt and become limp. 
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Take the roasted ingredients along with tamarind, salt and coconut to the blender and grind into a slightly coarse textured paste using water as needed. 
  • Use lemon juice for tartness instead of tamarind. Add lemon/lime juice to the chutney once it is ground and give it a good mix. 
  • I keep one of the green chilies aside without roasting and add it while grinding. This gives a little 'aha' feeling on the tongue because of the raw chili. 
  • If your mint is tender, use the stalks too in the chutney. Avoid if it is too think or looks fibrous when you break it. 
  • I usually add the tamarind piece to the pan just before switching off the stove to make it softer and more amenable to grinding. This is not needed if your tamarind is soft and sticky. 
  • You can skip the chana dal and use roasted chana (also called kadle in Kannada and chutney dal generally) you get readily in Indian grocery stores for an easier chutney. Nammamma used both as kadle gives more volume to the chutney. I personally prefer to up the volume with chana dal as I like that taste better. 

Beginner tip: Whenever roasting green chilies in oil, make sure you have either cut it or broken it in to pieces to avoid it popping all over. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Savory rice cakes - make over for left over rice

Do you ever have left over rice in your kitchen? Ok, that is a pretty stupid question to ask I suppose. Everybody at some point will have left over rice in their kitchen, right? Atleast most of us do. With nammamma, it was a given thing to always have atleast some cooked rice and some bit of curry after every meal, this was something she was used to because her kitchen had no defined boundaries of breakfast, lunch, dinner etc. We always had a constant flow of visitors (family and friends and us kids) and her meals seemed to kind of just merge and overlap into one another. I don't remember ever going into the kitchen without finding something to eat. Refrigerator came much later and the left overs would usually be preserved in various cool spots of the kitchen to prolong their life.

Rice being the staple, any left over would usually get carried forward into the next meal or get converted into chitranna or mosaranna or my favorite vaggarane anna for us kids next morning. On summer nights, if the weather was not amiable to keep left overs overnight, nammamma would wait for the sound of a lady who used to come late in the night asking for food. Any left over would be given off to this lady with a kid on her arm, she used to have this hanging cloth bag on her shoulder or an old battered aluminium vessel in her hand which would hold everything she could gather that night. I always wondered how that concoction tasted. Those were also the nights I helped out amma with washing the front door and learnt to put the rangoli (floral designs on the freshly washed ground made with either rice flour or the special rangoli powder).

After I got married and was pregnant with DD, I used to have these midnight cravings for plain mosaranna (yogurt rice) and amma started to make some extra rice and keep it in the refrigerator for me. Given my preference to spicy, deep fried food, everyone was quite surprised that I actually craved for the bland mosaranna, nature has its way of balancing I guess :-) or it was probably my beautiful daughter overruling my natural instincts during those 9 months. Hmm.. I digress much from the left over rice.
So what do you do when you have left over rice? I make a few things, vaggarane anna being my most favorite item. I know, I know, I said that name twice already and I don't have a link to the recipe on my blog, what a shame, right? I will put it up soon, it is a very dear recipe for many reasons and I just want to present it right :-). The other day I had made rice for lunch and also had made some pathrode, no prizes for guessing which one got left behind. I had a bowlful of rice and I was about to call it a night with some mosaranna when I suddenly remembered this recipe I had seen some time back. It was a pop up thingy on a Kannada news portal and I remembered thinking that it was a pretty attractive dish for left over rice. I wish there was a link I had captured for that recipe, but it just popped up on the side bar as I was browsing through the news. The video was by a lady named Hema Subramanian. The problem with these dynamic pop ups is that I cannot reproduce them when I want them. I will keep an eye and if I see it again, I will get some details.

With a bowl of left over rice and some stashed away pictures from memory, I set out to make these savory rice cakes. It was such a huge success that rice was purposefully left over :-) twice in the next week and we made these rice cakes multiple times. I have used both white and brown rice and it is consistently tasty. It is crispy on the outer layer but soft when you bite into it. If you do not have left over rice, go ahead and make it so you can have some, it is that tasty really :-). I am sure you can embellish it with other ingredients but we are in love with this basic formula for now. It makes a great tea time snack too. A very worthy recipe for left over rice.
What do you need to make savory rice cakes? 
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 - 3/4 rice flour (adjust to get the batter consistency, see procedure below)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
2-3 green chilies - chopped
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 inch long fresh ginger - peeled & chopped fine
2 Tblsp finely chopped cilantro
1 Tblsp oil + oil to roast the rice cakes
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tblsp chana dal/kadle bele
1 Tsp urad dal/uddina bele
How do you make savory rice cakes? 
  • Grind the cooked rice with 1/2 cup water until it is mashed completely. 
  • Add the dry flour, salt and grind it once to mix homogeneously. The batter should be slightly thicker than the regular dosa batter. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida and let it sizzle. Add mustard and the dals and fry till mustard pops and dals turn pink. 
  • Add the chopped green chilies, ginger and onion and fry until onion turns translucent. 
  • Switch off and pour the seasoning into the batter. 
  • Add chopped cilantro and mix well. Adjust the batter consistency with water(makes thinner) or rice flour (makes thicker).
  • Heat a flat griddle or dosa pan, pour a ladle of batter and spread very lightly. Add a couple of drops of oil around the edge and cook it on medium flame until the underside turns light brown. 
  • Flip it over and cook until the second side develops light brown spots. 
  • Serve it hot with any choice of chutney, pickle, sauce etc. 
  • Adding rice flour makes the batter easier to handle, reduces the stickiness of the cooked rice and gives a nice crispiness to the roasted rice cakes. 
  • Sauteed onions and chilies in this batter gives it a nice crunch and flavor. Try them raw for a different taste if you prefer. 
  • Roast the rice cakes on medium heat as you want it to develop a non-sticky texture when done. High heat burns the rice cakes but doesn't cook the insides thoroughly. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gojjavalakki - Spiced tamarind poha

Since we missed our Ugadi earlier this year, we did a weekend celebration of Sri Rama Navami yesterday. Sri Rama navami is celebrating the birth of Lord Rama and since the climate would have already turned hot in most parts of India, the usual items made on this day are kosambari & paanaka (lemonade or seasonal fruit juices) or flavored buttermilk (called vaggarane majjige in Kannada). The idea is to keep it light and cool to suit the weather. I made this easy gojjavalakki which does not need any elaborate cooking and some flavored buttermilk.

Gojjavalakki also called huliavalakki is a tangy, spicy, aromatic dish made with avalakki or poha that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner :-). Paired with yogurt, this makes a full meal and keeps you full for a long time. Gojjavalakki is a very popular recipe among Mysore Kannadigas. If I were to compare this with anything else known, I would say it is similar to the tamarind rice but made with avalakki or poha/beaten rice. There are a few variations from family to family based on the individual preference for flavors. I follow nammamma's recipe faithfully and what I like about it is the addition of the freshly roasted and ground spices that elevates this dish. I will show you where you can stop alternatively if you are in a hurry or do not want to take the trouble of roasting and grinding the spice powder but I strongly recommend you try the full blown version as it is really very simple and easy to make.

Nammamma had planted some turmeric bulbs once in the yard and I am not sure if it was the soil or her tender care, the plant grew gigantically and we had turmeric leaves the size of a banana leaf. Fresh turmeric leaves are very aromatic and since we didn't know how else to use those beautiful leaves, she used to harvest them and cut them into 2 or 3 pieces and serve snacks on them. When anything hot touched those leaves, the aroma of fresh turmeric was almost intoxicating and it made everything put on it taste yummy, you would end up eating seconds and more of whatever was served :-). One such dish I remember eating on the turmeric leaves is this gojjavalakki. Then one of her Udipi friends discovered this coveted leaves in our yard and we came to know about the delicious patholi or kadubu in which turmeic leaves are used to wrap the batter. But the plant had spread so much in the yard by then, we were left with many leaves even when the neighbor picked them periodically for her patholi. By the way, I ate this patholi after a long time made by my friend S's mom last Summer and it was as delicious as I remembered, it is on my list of things to make and I will share the recipe with you when I do get to it.

I should have posted this recipe a long time ago given how much we enjoy eating it at home and how frequently it gets made in my kitchen. But I usually make this in large scale as it stays good and well suited for travels (no hassle of liquid spilling, no need to reheat or you needing anything else to accompany it) and really wanted to give measurements for a person attempting it for the first time too. And then there was obviously the photography to be kept in mind :-). I call this a 'no fuss' recipe and usually make these on the days I am pressed for time and will not stop to do justice with the pictures. Anyways, everything seemed to come together yesterday and here I am with a very well tested and tasted recipe from nammamma's kitchen. we ate this for breakfast, went and walked a 5K, came back and had it for lunch with yogurt :-)

Couple of things to keep in mind is to get the right kind of avalakki/poha. I have seen many 'thick' variety avalakkis, some labelled medium thick, extra thick and thick. I like the medium thick variety as it fluffs up nicely and also soaks quickly. You can use the extra thick variety, make sure to adjust the water and also let it soak longer for it to absorb the liquid. But never use thin or nylon avalakki used in chiwda as it tends to clump up upon soaking rendering it unsuitable for gojjavalakki. When done and ready to eat, the texture of gojjavalakki should be crumbly without being dry. For all my many friends who have tasted this in my kitchen and loved it, here is the recipe to make it your own too.
Humble offering of Gojjavalakki & majjige for Sri Rama Navami
What do you need to make Gojjavalakki?
Feeds 4 people for a meal
5 cups thick avalakki/poha
1 Tblsp crushed jaggery (use brown sugar as an 'ok' alternative)
1 Tblsp salt
1/4 Tsp turmeric
1/2 Tsp red chili powder/rasam powder
1 medium lemon sized tamarind - soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
To roast:
1 Tblsp chana dal/kadle bele
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp coriander seeds
3/4 Tsp black pepper
3-4 red chilies (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp white sesame seeds
2 Tblsp grated dry coconut (kobbari) + little for garnish
For Seasoning:
2 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tblsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
2 Tblsp peanuts
8-10 curry leaves
1-2 red chilies (optional)

How do you make Gojjavalakki? 
  • Take 1-2 cups of avalakki at a time(depending on the size of your grinder vessel) and pulse it to make a coarse powder. The grains should be slightly bigger than upma rava/sooji. 
  • Soak tamarind in warm water for about 30 minutes and extract juice adding water to make about 1 cup of tamarind extract. 
  • Wash the powdered avalakki in running water once so it is completely soaked, add the tamarind extract, salt, turmeric, crushed/grated jaggery, rasam powder or red chili powder. 
  • Mix it together with very light fingers and keep it aside for about 30 minutes or until the poha soaks up all the liquids. If it looks very dry, sprinkle a couple Tblsp water on top. 
  • Heat a thick bottom pan and add the ingredients under 'To roast' starting with chana dal, give it a head start of 30 seconds, add fenugreek seeds, let them roast for 30 seconds together, add cumin, coriander seeds, pepper and red chilies. Let them fry for the next minute before adding sesame seeds. By this time the chana dal would be turning light pink and fenugreek would change color too. Continue to roast all the ingredients stirring once or twice for the next minute or so until the dal is light brown and sesame seeds start to pop. Add the grated dry coconut, mix everything together and switch off. Let it cool down. 
  • Take the cooled roasted ingredients to a coffee grinder and make a dry powder. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida and let it sizzle, add the remaining ingredients under 'For Seasoning' and fry until mustard pops and peanuts turn crispy. 
  • Once the poha has rested for 30 minutes, fluff it up with a fork and add the ground spice powder and the seasoning, mix well. 
  • Enjoy the gojjavalakki plain or with some home made yogurt. 
  • If you have a really flavorful rasam powder, you can skip the spice powder and just season the poha once it has soaked up the liquids. Garnish with some grated dry coconut and add a Tsp of sesame seeds in to the seasoning for extra crunch.
  • Texture of poha should be like coarse rava to get the right consistency of gojjavalakki without it becoming too lumpy or too dry. 
  • If you are unsure, err on the side of less water when you soak the poha, this can be remedied by sprinkling a little bit more water before adding the spice powder and seasoning. 
  • Do not let the water+tamarind juice stand above poha layer as this will definitely be in excess of what can get absorbed and will result in lumpy gojjavalakki. 
  • Gojjavalakki is a blend of sweet, hot, sour tastes, adjust according to your preference. 
  • Gojjavalakki stays good for 2 days outside (moderate temperature) and stays good for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Moong dal Dhokla - discovering non greasy snacks with a cuppa

I don't want to sound like a person who has waged a war against use of oil in cooking, because I am not. I do understand the need to consume oil so the body functions normally. I just like to cook being conscious of what goes into my food, that is all. Deep fried food is my personal weakness and I try to avoid making them very frequently. There was a time when I oil fried snacks on a regular basis, ate them and fed family and friends. I am surprised and glad that I have discovered other equally tempting, less harmful snacks to munch on. well, I will get off my soap box before you get bored/scared and go away from my blog :-)

The other day I was watching something on you-tube and you know how you get carried away sometimes following one link after another, I landed up with some Indian show that had this guy visiting different places in Gujarat and exploring local food. One Ahmadabad eatery showcased 50+ varieties of dhoklas. Traditional dhoklas deep fried, sauced up like the Manchurians, dipped in various sweet and savory sauces :-) and so on. It reminded me of Ganesh Darshan in Jayanagar famously known as Dosa corner with his umpteen varieties of dosas.
When I wrote my Dhokla post previously, I mentioned about a friend who actually soaked, ground dal and made the most moist, fluffy dhoklas. The instant, gram flour dhokla is very tasty and popular among my family and friends but I always wanted to try the real deal once. My inlaws have a psychological block about certain ingredients in the kitchen and besan is one of them, they fear that besan is not good for their system. I feel bad when they don't enjoy besan based dishes but it is deep rooted and I totally respect their opinion. Amma only makes moong dal pakoda or urad dal peruggarelu etc but not the regular besan dipped pakoda, bajji or bonda. So when I set out to do the dal soaked dhokla, I decided to try my hands with moong dal, this infact is a traditional Gujarati Dhokla recipe. I took some help from the great Gujju chef a.k.a Tarla Dalal and made it spicier to suit my taste.

These moong dal dhoklas turned out to be perfectly moist and fluffy just like the other one and since moong dal soaks quickly, there is not much wait time either. So this gets added to my list of 'frequently made snacks' especially for the Summer when in laws are going to be visiting :-).
What do you need to make moong dal dhokla?
Makes about 25 1X1X1 inch piece 
1 cup moong dal/hesaru bele
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1/2 Tsp sugar
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup oil
1 Tblsp besan/gram flour
1/2 Tsp eno fruit salt
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
Seasoning & garnish
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard seeds
3/4 Tsp white sesame seeds
1 Tsp grated coconut (optional)
1 green chili chopped fine (optional)
1 Tsp finely chopped cilantro
1 Tblsp lemon juice

How do you make moong dal dhokla? 
  • Wash and soak moong dal in 3 cups of water for about 2 hours or until the dal plumps up completely.
  • Wash and drain the moong dal. 
  • Grind moong dal, green chilies, ginger into a smooth paste, add a Tblsp or so water if needed. Wet moong dal usually grinds easily without needing any additional water. 
  • Take the ground dal into a bowl, add whisked yogurt, oil, salt and gram flour and mix lightly to incorporate. Consistency of the batter is similar to idli batter (dropping but not flowing)
  • Add the eno fruit salt and immediately pour into a pressure cooker vessel or any deep plate that fits into the pressure cooker. 
  • Cook without weight for 15 minutes on medium heat once steam starts coming out. 
  • Let the steam subside, open the pressure cooker and keep the dhokla vessel/plate outside to cool. 
  • Heat oil in a seasoning pan, add mustard seeds, give it 15 seconds head start, add sesame seeds and green chili pieces (if using) and let them crackle. 
  • Switch off, add the lemon juice, spoon the seasoning all over the dhokla. 
  • Garnish with grated coconut and cilantro. Cut into pieces and enjoy. 
See notes from here 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sprouted horsegram saaru - rustic & homely to make you all warm & cozy

Oh, I could have sworn we entered Spring officially a couple of weeks back. The temperatures do not seem to agree with the calendar though :-). After a wonderful Spring like weather, this week feels chillier and breezier. But what the heck, I am not complaining as I love the rains and the greenery it brings. This is how the sky looked after a quick storm earlier this afternoon.
Came back late Friday and just been lazying with family over the weekend. Had a good business trip, no flight related tales this time around :-) and I am home safe and sound. We missed celebrating Ugadi last Wednesday, though DD & BH were all talks before I left about how they will make the Ugadi pachadi by themselves, it just didn't happen :-). But DD made sure I got a green mango last evening when we went for groceries and I will be making some (post Ugadi) pachadi this week. Here is wishing all of you a Prosperous, Happy, healthy new year 'Vijaya'. I love the ring of that name.

As I haven't picked up on cooking and clicking yet this week, I was looking through the drafts I have and found this perfect-for-today's-weather Molake Hurali kaalu saaru a.k.a Sprouted horse gram rasam, looking at the pictures made me all warm and happy and got into the mood for writing this post :-). The name is a mouthful and do not flinch if you have never heard of horsegram or tasted it before. It is very well suited for human consumption and in fact I find it to be one of the tastier proteins. The last time I made this was before my hurried India trip in January and the pictures promptly had gone into the draft folder.

Today's recipe is a very authentic recipe from nammamma's kitchen. Full of sprouted goodness, this is one of those ultimate comfort foods when you crave for home tastes and eating a bowl of this warm stew makes you feel all comfy and contented in your elements. Nammamma made this combination of saaru and palya mostly in winter. I believe it is the inherent warming properties of the grain that helps you keep the system warm and cozy. A plate made of green banana leaf from the backyard, hot rice, piping hot saaru with a side of the palya and may be a roasted papad would be a meal in culinary heaven. Sit down on the floor cross legged, manage the rice and the saaru deftly so it doesn't flow out of that banana leaf and eat warm morsels, I can feel warm and cozy all over just thinking about it.
Amma either made this sprouted version of the saaru & palya or she would mix soaked horsegram with other pulses and make a sweet and khara curry. I love both. I will show you how to make the sweet and khara palya another day.

The Kannadiga saaru has many different avatars. Some have lentils and use a pre-prepared powder (saaru pudi), some are made with just tomatoes and some special ones like this and the bassaru are prepared with fresh roasted and ground masala. Sprouted horsegram saaru is by no means the usual saaru, the consistency is much thicker than a regular saaru, it is almost like a stew. It is also unique in flavor and taste as it uses freshly roasted and ground masala. One of my friend's amma makes it with an overdose of garlic which they relish but I usually compensate that flavor with onions and roasted coriander seeds. This is thicker than the regular saaru and hence can be just eaten by itself from a bowl :-), perfect for a chilly afternoon lunch or dinner. In our house, nammamma always kept aside a cup or two of the cooked sprouts for the usali in addition to making this saaru which is a wonderful accompaniment for rotis or can be eaten as an afternoon snack.

Usali is a common term in Kannada used for semi dry curries made with either sprouts or plain legumes & pulses. If making on festival days, there will not be any onion flavors but on other days there was no restriction and would depend on what you fancied. The commonality between usali (which is also called Sundal in other South Indian languages) and the quintessential Kannadiga palya is that the palya is usually only vegetables while usali is only pulses, dals and legumes.

You need to plan ahead for this dish as sprouting generally takes 2-3 days depending on the weather.

What do you need to make sprouted horsegram saaru? 
3 cups horsegram sprouted
1 medium onion - roughly chopped
1 small tomato- roughly chopped
2 Tblsp grated coconut
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
small lime sized tamarind - soaked in water for about 30 minutes
1-2 cloves of garlic (optional - I have not used it)
Spices to be roasted: 
2 Tblsp coriander seeds
1 Tsp cumin
6-8 red chilies (adjust to taste & fieryness of the red chilies you have)
2 pieces cinnamon - 2 inch long
1 clove
2 black pepper
1 Tsp oil
Palya ingredients:
1 cup sprouted horsegram
1/2 cup thinly chopped onion
1 Tblsp grated coconut
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
2 green chilies - slit vertically
4-5 curry leaves
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

How do you make sprouted horsegram saaru? 
  • See notes below for tips on sprouting the horsegram. 
  • Add 4 cups of water to the sprouts along with 1/2 Tsp salt and cook it in a pressure cooker for about 3-4 whistles. Note: Horsegram takes time to cook and it is not efficient to open cook it. 
  • Run the sprouts through a sieve and reserve the water. 
  • Heat a Tsp of oil in a pan and roast all ingredients listed under 'Spices to be roasted' until you smell a nice aroma of the coriander seeds and cinnamon - takes 4-6 minutes depending on the heat. 
  • Let the spices cool down, take them to a mixer, add grated coconut, chopped onion, garlic (if using), tomato and soaked tamarind along with 1/2 cup of cooked sprouts. Grind it to a smooth paste adding water as needed. 
  • Bring the reserved water to a boil, add the ground masala, 2.5 cups of cooked sprouts and salt. Let it boil for 5-7 minutes on medium heat or until there is no trace of the raw smell of onion and tomato.
  • Switch off and serve warm or hot with rice or roti. 
How do you make sprouted horsegram palya? 
  • Heat oil in a wide pan, add mustard, slit green chilies and curry leaves. Let mustard pop. 
  • Add asafoetida and mix it in. 
  • Add the chopped onions (if using) and salt. Stir and continue to cook until onions turn light pink and become limp. 
  • Add the strained, cooked sprouts (1 cup), salt and grated coconut and mix it well. 
  • Let cook for a couple of minutes until it becomes slightly dry. 
  • Serve warm along with the rice & saaru or as a snack by itself. 
  • Making horsegram sprouts: Pick and clean horse gram if needed. wash it 2-3 times in running water and soak it in 3 times water overnight or 8-10 hours. The next morning, drain out the water, put the horse gram in a cheese cloth or thin towel, wrap it nicely and keep it in a warm and dark place. Sprinkle a couple of spoons of water every 6 or 7 hours as the towel gets dry. Do not open and peek in :-) for 24-30 hours. If your sprouts have an accelerated growth, you will start to notice the whiskers trying to poke out of the cloth. 
  • I like to cook pulses and sprouts with a little bit of salt as it gets applied uniformly to every grain. So remember that you have added salt initially. 
  • Sprouts need to be cooked until soft but holding their shape. 
  • I usually grind the soaked tamarind along with the other ingredients after removing any seeds and strings. This helps get a smooth texture. You can squeeze the tamarind juice and add it to the saaru before it starts to boil. 

Updating the post to send this over to Healthy Diet - cooking with Sprouts event hosted by Roshni, started by Priya. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Curry leaves powder

If there is one Indian kitchen aroma I love any time of the day, then it has to be curry leaves. A few curry leaves instantly elevates your dish to another plain. Growing up in India, curry plants were a backyard feature in almost every household. I remember nammamma's efforts to get a curry plant going every time we moved to a new house, it was part of her settling in process. She would have friends give her a young sapling and turn into a devoted mother, nurturing it and taking care of it as if it was her baby. Every morning, her routine included breaking a fresh coconut :-), inspect the curry leaves to make sure there were no bugs eating the precious leaves away, taking her rounds around the Tulsi plant (holy basil) before she started cooking. I used to watch her talk to her plants in the garden. Infact as kids we were urged to practice our music lessons every day and one of the side effects noted was that the plants grew healthier listening to good music. So you want good curry leaves in your backyard, take up some music lessons, if your curry plants seem droopy after you started the music lessons, it is time to stop them and play some recorded music (not yours :-)). The extent of tricks parents resort to, to make the young ones listen :)

She would not pick the leaves until the plant grew sturdy and even then it would be the oldest of the leaves from the bottom of the branch. The plant would get strained tea leaves as fertilizer and once a week treatment of either very thin buttermilk or water used to wash and clean the rice as part of the scheme to enhance the flavor of the leaves. We used to call it beauty treatment for the curry plant. Though I have not dug into the science behind the buttermilk and rice water, I do believe completely that it helped the plant. I gave up my 5 footer to a friend when we moved from the midwest, it was my pride and joy in the corner of the kitchen. I only have a really small sapling now and the cycle has begun again.

Curry plants are not the easiest of the plants to grow even if you had a green thumb but once it gets going needs very minimal maintenance. Sometimes these plants (or trees) survive generations of human beings. Akka mentioned recently their 2 generation old curry leaves tree finally gave in, I still can close my eyes and smell those leaves. The tree was so huge and tall that we would go to the second floor balcony to pick the leaves. These trees are symbols of childhood, part and parcel of your growing up and you only realize how much attached you were to a plant when you lose it.

Curry leaves are the star of this show called curry leaves powder. Though this powder can replace the regular chutney pudi at a conceptual level, in my house the flavor of curry leaves is what is showcased in this powder. So you will notice that the normal chutney pudi ingredients are either absent or show up in minute quantities. Nammamma always makes this powder with black pepper corns as it brings out the curry leaves flavor better than the red chilies. Also this is one of the powders that the young nursing mothers are allowed to eat and black pepper is considered more suitable for their palate than the red chilies. I do not use dry coconut or asafoetida in this recipe for the above mentioned reasons.

Not to be mistaken - this is not the curry powder that has become popular in non-Indian cuisines trying to bring Indian flavors. I am really not sure what that curry powder is as the ingredients seem to change from one brand to the next but it is used in flavoring gravies/curries and I would rather put it in the league with Garam masala or Vangibhath powder and such. This curry leaves powder is mainly mixed and eaten with steaming hot rice though there is no rule you can't use it in curries :-)

The key to a good flavored powder is to roast the ingredients on medium heat and with frequent stirring. I find a cast iron pan distributing heat evenly and if you don't have one, use any heavy gauge pans. Cast iron pans retain heat for a long time, so if you are a first time user, be careful handling the pan and also watch for roasting times as you switch ingredients.
What do you need to make curry leaves powder? 
2.5 cups packed curry leaves (fresh & tender)
1 Tblsp chana dal/kadle bele
1/4 cup urad dal/uddina bele
1 dry red chili (optional)
1 Tblsp black pepper corns
1 tsp oil - goes a long way
small piece of tamarind
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
How do you make curry leaves powder? 
  • Dry roast urad dal on low-medium heat stirring frequently to distribute heat for 5-6 minutes or until the dal turns light pink. Keep aside to cool.
  • Dry roast chana dal on low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the dal turns light pink. Keep aside to cool.
  • Add pepper, chili and tamarind piece with 2 drops of oil and roast for 2 minutes. Keep aside to cool.
  • Roast curry leaves on low heat with a couple drops of oil to coat the leaves until they crisp up. Take care not to burn or brown them. Takes 5-6 minutes in a hot cast iron pan on low-medium heat. The leaves should break crisply when you touch them.
  • Let cool, make a coarse powder of the dals, pepper, chili & tamarind. 
  • Add curry leaves in batches and grind into a semi coarse powder. 
  • Seal the freshness in an air tight container and eat it mixed with steaming hot rice and a dash of ghee. 
  • Use tender and fresh leaves in this recipe for best taste. 
  • The tamarind I get is usually very dry as it is packed for export which works very well in powder recipes. If you find your tamarind to be wet and sticky, roast it by itself  in a dry pan (no oil) for 2-3 minutes.
  • An Indian style mixer/grinder works well for these powders but a coffee grinder works as well too for small quantities. 
  • It is important to first grind all the ingredients into a coarse powder before adding the curry leaves to get the right texture. 
  • If you grind the powder in batches, make sure you mix them all well before storing/using. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

7 layer bean dip - perfect to scoop with your chips

Growing up in India, our idea of snacks was defined by what was cooked at home. Though there was a range of sinfully delicious deep fried goodies, most days the snacks were simple items ranging from a churmuri or avalakki vaggarane to a roasted papad. When I left India, small packets of Lays potato chips were just entering the market and bakeries used to dangle these from a thick thread infront of the store. And there was not much of celebrity endorsement either to those chips yet. When I first came to the US, I was really shocked by super size chips bags in the grocery stores. To add to that there were umpteen varieties of chips to choose from sour cream & onion to barbeque flavors, kettle roasted to reduced fat, increasing the health quotient (!) with vegetables added and on and on. There was a period (like it happens to most people) when we fell into the allure of eating chips by the bags but then I am glad we found our footing very soon to stay away from that almost mindless snacking on the chips. Now it just bothers me to see people especially kids munching on chips like they were the most nutrient and healthiest of all food.

During one of those initial days, we had an office party and everyone was signing up bring stuff and I saw an entry that said chips & dip. Intriguing, to someone that had not eaten a lot of chips, the idea of eating chips dipped in something was totally new. I sat there waiting for the chips and dip to appear on the day of the pot luck but honestly was disappointed with that store bought dip as it was not appealing at all to me. Several exposures to chips and dip and I was still craving for a perfect dip that fit my imagination when I finally ate this layered bean dip at a friend's house. It was delicious.

So does this post have anything to do with chips? Not really. Infact the dip in this post is so delicious that you end up eating more of that than the chips which is what I look forward. Made with protein packed beans and nature's own butter avocado, this is a healthy dip for all ages. Give a plateful of the dip decorated with a few chips and I promise you won't hear anyone complaining.

There is no serious recipe here, it is essentially an assembly of layers. Although it is called 7 layer dip, I have eliminated one layer as we are not great fans of olives. Go ahead and add it by all means. I made a huge tray full of this dip last weekend for our Holi celebrations and needless to say that the tray was wiped clean. The heartening part was that the kids came back asking for more dip :-). Below is my take (spiced with Indian spices) on the traditional 7 layer dip but this versatile dip will allow you to play with the ingredients and personalize.

Traditional 7 layer dip uses the refried beans from cans but since most store bought refried beans contain meat, I prepare my own bean layer as this also gives me the freedom to jazz up the bean layer to suit my family & friends palate. I have used canned black beans (which are cooked and preserved in liquid). Go ahead and try this sure party pleaser for your next get together. This is one of those attested by mom, loved by kids recipe, so totally risk free.

How do you make the (7) 6 layer bean dip?
You will need a large enough plate or a dish to build the dip.
Layer 1:
2 cups cooked black beans (if using the store bought cans, drain and rinse a couple of times)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste, canned beans already has some salt)
1/2 Tsp roasted cumin powder
1/4 Tsp red chili powder
1 Tsp oil

Heat oil in a pan, add onions and fry until they sweat and turn light pink. Add the cooked beans and mash it in with a masher. The beans should become pulpy. Add salt, red chili powder, cumin powder and mix well. If the beans look very dry add a couple of spoons of water and mix it in.

Note: If cooked in a Southern kitchen, you will find this bean layer spiced with Taco mix but I prefer the flavor of roasted cumin and the heat from the chili powder.

Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes and spread it in your plate or dish as the first layer.
Layer 2:
1 cup sour cream (use fat free if you like) or 1 cup of thick home made yogurt

Pour the sour cream or yogurt on top of the bean layer and spread it out.
Layer 3:
1 cup guacamole, see recipe here

Spread the guacamole on top of the sour cream.
Layer 4:
1 cup finely chopped green onions

Layer 5:
1 cup chopped tomatoes.
If you want the dip to be spicy, here is your chance. Instead of layering plain chopped tomatoes on top, mix them with a few chopped green chilies, cilantro, salt and lemon juice and make a quick chunky salsa and then spread it in a layer.
Layer 6:
1/4 cup shredded cheese (increase or decrease the quantity to suit your taste)
Layer 7:
Traditionally this is where a few fresh chopped or whole olives are found but as I mentioned before, I skipped it.

Once you assemble the dip, press the top gently so the tomatoes and green onions get implanted in the layers below, cover the dish with a cling wrap so no air goes in and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour for the flavors to get together. The 7 layer dip is a Southern (US) Mexican dish and typically served with tortilla chips or corn chips. But you can eat this delicious, summery fresh dip with any kind of chips.
  • You can make the layers as thick or as thin as you like.
  • I sometimes layer shredded lettuce or cabbage in this dip and it tastes wonderful too.
  • Replacing sour cream with yogurt is a personal choice and makes it healthier.
  • Add spices to the bean layer, make the guacamole spicier or salsa brighter and personalize this dip. I kept the embellishments to the basic as there were lot of kids at the party.
  • While you can make this dip ahead of time, be sure to wrap it tight and refrigerate it until ready to use. Once you open it, you will want to finish it at one go as the avacados turn a dirty green spoiling the look of the dip.