Thursday, May 30, 2013

Alu-Gobi(Potato-Cauliflower) masala - Simple, yet very flavorful side dish

"Remember the five constant spices in every Punjabi dish - salt, turmeric, red chilies, coriander powder and garam masala" - Krish from 2 States (Chetan Bhagat)

I read books, lots of them. Sometimes I have more than one book going on and depending on the mood of the day when I sit down to read, I pick up the appropriate book :-). Some of my reads, I consider as classics, I go back to reading them multiple times and some I read once and move on. And then there are books I read purely from a 'time pass' perspective though that has become an anomoly lately but a very good example of such a reading is when I travel. I prefer reading to watching movies so I have some travel reads I take along. One such read I did was Chetan Bhagat's "5 point someone", but I read the book after we watched the movie '3 Idiots'. While the movie was hilarious, I thought the book didn't have the same charm.

If you are introduced to a story via a visual platform, flipping the pages may sound not so exciting or so I thought and wanted to try another book of the same author and read "2 states". Personally, I think it is an ok book with some good moments so it promptly fell into my 'travel read' category. In this literally exaggerated personal story of the author, the 2 main characters are from 2 different regions in India, how they fall in love and how they get married after convincing both sides of the family about their true love. Hard to believe in Today's India. Except for the fact that it is his personal story, there is nothing new that is not already talked about before. I will take DDLJ over this book any day if you are talking about a convinced parent. I will not go into the story but tell you something that piqued my foodie brain a little. Krish, the protagonist (or hero since these seem to be written mainly for movies) is from Punjab and while working in Chennai and trying to win his girl friend's family, constantly misses his buttery naan/roti and his mom's Alu-Gobi as he floats in Sambar along with the idli/dosa. On the other hand, when Ananya (female lead :-)) who lacks basic skills in cooking tries to cut Gobi for his favorite Alu-Gobi, Krish's mother sniggers at her lame attempt. Food forges an unmistakable identity every where.

Well, now you know why I blabbered about books in general and Chetan Bhagat in particular and his "2 states" - as always it leads to a recipe :-). I have had Alu-Gobi in many places before and have always liked the mild flavors that seem to magically come together along with the comforting texture of soft but not mushy Alu & Gobi. The dish is traditionally cooked by letting Alu & Gobi mingle with the masalas over low heat and long time. It takes effort to get them to cook to the right spot, so if you eat this dish in restaurants, you will find that they would have dunked the vegetables in hot oil partially to get the crispy texture but more importantly to speed up the cooking process. You can do that or follow the simple parboil method I will show you here. Great taste doesn't have to be high calories.

I tried my hands at posting Punjabi recipes here and here. Those have been our favorite at home and I make them often. When it comes to recipes that are not part of what I grew up eating, I hesitate a little since my sources may not always be the authentic sources and also I usually tailor them to suit my family's palates. Nonetheless, every recipe I post on my blog is made at home and something that we have enjoyed eating. So with a disclaimer on the authenticity, I present this very Punjabi Alu Gobi masala. It is a moist curry without flowy gravy, the spices used are minimal but impart a very delicious flavor to the curry. I served this flavorful Alu-Gobi with some roti and a very South Indian Majjige Huli, afterall it is a tale of 2 states isn't it? :-). Give this a shot in your kitchen and let me know how you liked it.
What do you need to make Alu-Gobi masala? 
2 medium potatoes
2 cups cauliflower florets
1/4 cup frozen or fresh peas (optional)
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup finely chopped tomato
1/2 Tsp grated ginger
1/2 Tsp crushed garlic (adjust to your liking)
1 Tsp cumin
1.5 Tblsp oil
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1/4 Tsp coriander powder
1/8 Tsp amchoor powder (adjust tangyness based on tomatoes)
1/4 Tsp garam masala
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1.5 Tsp salt - divided use
chopped cilantro for garnish
How do you make Alu-Gobi masala?
  • Peel and cut the potato into cubes. Add a little bit of water, sprinkle a dash of salt and microwave it for 3-4 minutes or until potato parboils. Remove and strain all the water, keep aside until ready to use.
  • Wash cauliflower florets, sprinkle a dash of salt and microwave for 3-5 minutes, keep aside until ready to use.
  • Heat oil in a wide pan, add cumin and let it sizzle. 
  • Add minced onion, salt and cook until onion is soft. 
  • Add ginger & garlic, mix it in and cook for a minute. 
  • Add chopped tomatoes and continue to cover and cook on low heat until everything in the pan turns into a mush and comes together. 
  • Add the dry powders and mix it in. 
  • Add the half cooked potatoes, frozen peas and par boiled cauliflower into the pan, mix gently to coat the masala on all the pieces. 
  • Cover, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but hold the shape. 
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and enjoy as a side dish with roti/phulka or naan. 
  • If you are using fresh green peas, cook them separately al dente before adding. Frozen peas do not need any extra cooking time and can be added directly. 
  • Traditionally, potatoes and cauliflower are cooked in the sauce itself to make every bite flavorful, however this takes long time and given the different cooking times needed for the 2 vegetables, you need to be on guard to get the right consistency. 
  • Par boiling the vegetables ahead of time with a sprinkle of salt prepares them well for the cooking process and helps absorb the sauce quickly. 
  • If you do not own a microwave or do not want to use it, boil water in a sauce pan, add a sprinkle of salt, add the potato chunks, switch off and keep it covered for 3-4 minutes before draining off the water. 
  • To par boil cauliflower, follow the same process but do them separately to get them out before they become too soft.
  • Resturants kitchens usually dip the potatoes and cauliflower in oil (read deep fry) to get the crunch, extra taste and a whole load of extra calories. This is a time saver but I do not personally prefer it or recommend it to anyone unless you are on a diet that requires you to intake a few extra fatty calories. Go ahead and indulge :-)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Roasted eggplant pachadiS - Vankaya pachadi 2 ways with the same roasted egg plant

This is a vegetable I have gone on the spectrum from 'I don't like' to 'I don't care if you make it' to 'Hmm, this is kinda nice' to 'wow, this is really yummy'. Growing up in Mysore, we used to get the slender, light green, about a finger long brinjals called 'eeranagere (name of the place) badanekaayi (brinjal in Kannada)' and Nammamma made delicious Vangi bhath with it. This variety has enough meat to hold shape when cooked but not become watery or goopy like the other varieties. Then there was the purple, small, round mullu badane kaayi named so because of the thorny texture at the base of the brinjal. These tasted divine when made into ennegaayi or a dryish sort of curry with home made spice powder. I have not found the long, light green variety anywhere here in the market though sometimes I have come across the longer, purple ones which have a buttery texture and generally seedless. During Summer, I also get a white brinjal and shades anywhere in between the white and the dark purple.

I had not eaten any other kind of brinjals until I got married. And then things changed :-). When the vegetable finds its way on the lunch/dinner plate atleast 3-4 times a week, my take on it was 'if you have to eat it, you better enjoy eating it' but then I found myself actually falling in love with it. Amma makes a number of side dishes with this vegetable and the most common varieties we get home are either the small, round, purple ones or the large, seedless eggplant. With a slight change of spices or the way it is cooked, the vegetable transforms into a delicious side dish. I am a convert now and enjoy this vegetable in all its glory.

Eggplants or brinjals or Aubergines as they are called are low calorie, high nutrient vegetables. Just watch the way you cook and the amount of oil used and you can prepare a delicious side dish that is also healthy.

Of the many different ways Amma cooks this vegetable, here is one of my most favorite one. I love, love the charred, fire roasted flavor of the eggplants. Though it is a messy way of cooking and leaves your stove top begging to be cleaned, the flavor from open fire makes this curry extremely delicious. Since I do not own a gas stove anymore, I use a couple of tricks to get as close to the smokey flavor as possible. If you have a gas stove, go ahead and roast the egg plants directly on the flame, be forewarned that the juices will flow out as the vegetable cooks and get settled on your stove top (not a pretty sight and definitely not something you would like if you like a spotless kitchen :-)).

I said 2 pachadis in my title of this post, so here is how that works. You roast the eggplants in the same way, half the pulp (or any other division depending on which version of the pachadi you favor more) and then proceed to make the 2 really yummy pachadis. You don't have to make both on the same day, infact we don't. I just made it for the ease of photos and blending them into a single post. Amma usually serves the one with tamarind as a side dish to fresh Kandi podi rice and the one with yogurt is typically mixed with hot rice. But, there is no food police out there and you can enjoy them any which way it pleases you. So let us get started, shall we?
How do you make roasted eggplant pachadis?
Variation 1: Tamarind based a.k.a Vankaya pulusu pachadi
1 large eggplant (see notes for selection)
1 lemon size tamarind
1/2 Tsp crushed/grated jaggery
1 Tsp salt
2 Tblsp finely chopped onion
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
3-4 dry red chilies (broken into pieces)
1-2 green chilies broken into pieces(optional)
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
4-6 curry leaves
1 Tblsp finely chopped cilantro
1 Tsp chana dal (optional)
3/4 Tsp urad dal (optional)
Variation 2: Yogurt based a.k.a Vankaya Perugu pachadi
1 large eggplant
1.5 cups home made or store bought plain yogurt
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp sugar
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp cumin
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
4-6 curry leaves
3-4 dry red chilies broken into pieces
1-2 green chilies broken into pieces

How do you prepare the eggplants for the pachadis? 
  • Wash and pat dry the eggplant. 
  • Brush a drop or so of oil all over the surface of the eggplant. 
  • Make some incisions all over the eggplant with a sharp knife, this helps the eggplant to cook uniformly without it bursting open. 
  • If you have a gas stove, roast the eggplant on the flame, turning it once in a while to ensure even roasting. 
  • If you do not have a gas stove, you can either do this on a grill (heated to the maximum setting) or oven roast the eggplant at 400F for 50 minutes to an hour turning it once or twice in between. 
  • If you are oven roasting the eggplant, once it is done, switch the oven to high broil and keep the eggplant inside for 2-4 minutes just to get a faint smokey flavor. 
  • Take out the eggplant and let it cool slightly. Chop the stem end and discard.
  • The skin will come off easily to your finger pull, take out the skin and mash the pulp gently to a coarse paste. You can put this in a food processor or chopper and give it a quick whirl to get the right consistency. 
  • Below are the 2 ways you can make the pachadi, choose either one that appeals to you or make both of them as I did today :-).
How do you make Vankaya Pulusu pachadi? 
  • Soak tamarind in water for about 30 minutes to soften it and extract juice. Add water to make about a cup and half of tamarind juice, keep aside. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida, mustard, fenugreek and the dals (if using) and let the mustard start to pop. 
  • Add the broken red chilies, curry leaves and mix it in. 
  • Add the chopped onions and fry until they turn soft and pink. 
  • Add the salt, jaggery and tamarind extract. Let it come to a boil.
  • Switch off the stove, add the mashed eggplant pulp and the chopped cilantro and give it a good mix. 
  • Vankaya pulusu pachadi is ready to be eaten, as I said it makes a good accompaniment to Kandi podi anna or patholi and hot rice.
How do you make Vankaya perugu pachadi? 
  • Take the yogurt, salt, sugar in a bowl and whisk it into a smooth blend. 
  • Add the mashed eggplant pulp and mix it well. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add asafoetida, mustard and cumin and let mustard start to pop. 
  • Add the red chili pieces and curry leaves. 
  • Pour the seasoning on top of yogurt mixture and give it a mix.
  • Enjoy the delicious, cool pachadi with rice or roti.
  • Select eggplants that feel heavy for their size, these will have good amount of core in them and also stand the heat well. 
  • As it cooks, the eggplant shrinks in size and the juices will start oozing out. You need to cook until it feels soft when poked with a knife or the back of a spoon. 
  • For the tamarind based pachadi, the onions do not have to be very tender, a little crunch adds to the texture. 
  • Both pachadis do not have a lot of spices and are generally milder, you can bite into the green or red  chilies for an extra dose of spice while eating :-)
  • Tamarind based pachadi is usually of pouring consistency while the yogurt based pachadi is more of dropping consistency. So adjust the tamarind water for the first one. 
  • The tamarind extract needs to just come to a rolling boil for this recipe and there is no need to thicken the sauce. 
  • Taste the tamarind mixture as it boils and adjust salt, jaggery as needed. The pachadi is a slightly tangy, with a hint of jaggery in it. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Baked Kale crisps - 'guilt' is not the emotion you feel while gorging on this nutritious snacks

The other day when we went out, we took a ferry and went to a charming little island 30 minutes off of downtown. It is a little town in the middle of water (well, I guess that is what they call as islands :-)), hilly roads to walk up and down, a quaint little downtown and beautiful waterfront trails. We saw some boards for bike rentals but unfortunately they were closed on that day. Though it has every potential to be a typical 'touristy' place, I am glad it was not too crowded, mostly just the locals hurrying towards their weekly farmer's market. Yes, that was the highlight, we found ourselves in a small farmer's market lot after a good walk and a very filling panini. I didn't want to purchase a whole lot since we were dependent on public transport but wanted to check out the farmer's market at this new place. Yes, I have this self declared affinity to farmer's markets, for one these are seasonal in most American cities and towns and are open only during the summer months and secondly a visit to the farmer's market invariably is a 'lift me up' on my spirits as I get lost in the memories of the bylanes of Mysore and Bengaluru vegetable markets. And then there is definitely the bonus of bringing home something fresh and locally grown.

So off we went exploring the farmer's market here on the island. The first thing to catch my eye was this gorgeous looking fresh Kale. Now, I love all leafy green vegetables, and I use them in umpteen different ways. Kale is a green on steroids (before I alarm anyone, it was just an expression), it is called 'Queen of greens' for no mean reason. Infact adding a regular dose of Kale in your food has the advantage of cancer protection and lowered cholesterol. If you are a seeker of knowledge, continue reading here for some good information. Since it was not going to be heavy on the back packs, I got a bunch and came home :-). 
I was not sure what I would be making with it when I bought it, I thought may be a good dal or a stir fry or put it in a Huli/sambar. But then I had come across these Kale chips/crisps recipes many times in magazines and online and had also seen a packed bag in our grocery store.  So, I set out to try the new taste. Honestly I didn't have any intention or rather expectation of writing a blog post on Kale chips, there is no recipe really here. But when the first batch came out of the oven, they looked so crispy and crunchy and tasted just like a good chip should - delicious and addictive and convinced me that they did deserve a place on the blog. So here are some last minute (read completely unplanned) pictures to explain the process. As I said before, there is no recipe here so I will try to show you what I did with my pictures and point out the obvious to get the right consistency of the final product.

The only problem with these delicious crisps is that they are not a camera (wo)man's joy and they are not great models for photography. Infact DD said they looked like dried leaves found abundantly under trees during Autumn :-). What can say other than reminding you that looks are deceiving.

How did I make baked Kale crisps?
Pick leaves, wash and wipe thoroughly with no trace of water on the leaves - this is important as any residual water will make the crisps very 'uncrispy' :-) and soggy.
Lay upside down on a cutting board, cut out the middle thick stem and discard. Tear or cut into big pieces, remember it shrinks in size after baking and too small a size will make it burn fast.

Put the leaves in a wide bowl, add salt and freshly ground black pepper on top, drizzle olive oil (just enough to coat the leaves) and work it with your fingers to coat all the leaves uniformly.
Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes in a pre heated oven at 350F.
When you take it of the oven, they look like they are stuck to the sheet, gently run your finger (if you are ok with the hot surface) or use a spoon to give it a little nudge, crackling, crispy chips are ready to eat.
I also made a batch of sweet potato wedges flavored with salt, pepper and some dry oregano. Dinner plate looked more inviting and healthy with these additions :-)
The crisps look deceivingly like the fallen autumn leaves but go ahead and give it a try. You will be bowled over by the distinct flavor of Kale and the crunchiness of this healthy snack.
  • 8 minutes per batch was perfect for my oven settings, you may want to check after 7 minutes and determine the best time for your oven settings. The leaves should not turn black. 
  • You can add any other flavorings of choice. Sea salt on top would definitely enhance the flavor. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pepper-Sesame rice - A fragrant, no add on needed easy lunch box recipe

Hope you all had a good weekend. We did. The last couple of weeks have been hectic and blurry with work, school and everything else going on around. Finally, this Saturday with DD away on a weekend event from school, me & BH decided on an impromptu Seattle visit. Weather was nice, neither sweaty hot nor nippy cold so we hopped on a bus to down town, did some ferrying and a lot of walking around in the down town. Were back home in time for Flora's dinner. Since I didn't pack any food, we gorged on a delicious veggie panini and some falafel before finishing off the day with a home made quick bhel puri. All in all, a wonderful day.

Here is one of my cell phone captures - the many moods of the Seattle needle. Enjoy.
Since it is the weekend, I thought I will share a little commentary of a movie I watched. No, this is not a regular feature on the blog, I promise before you stop visiting my blog :-). Maybe some day, I might start sharing the books I read and the occasional movies I watch. I will give you enough warning though :-). This was one of the movies I loved watching in a long while. I saw Silver Linings Playbook that won Jennifer Lawrence her best actress award in the recent Oscars. For starters, she deserves the award every bit. But the movie itself is so well made that I thought every one especially the director deserved an award. Some subjects are very delicate and at the same time hard to make a movie of and I felt the director came out with flying colors on this one. While there is enough comedy in the movie, it is not a light hearted take on the subject. The movie (based on a book) does not attempt to change any person to bring about a happy ending but shows that acceptance of the situation enables one to find the silver lining in life no matter how high the odds are staked against you. There is some really harsh and raw language, not recommended for kids at all.

Back to today's recipe, this is one of the rice varieties nammamma made infrequently. I am not sure what the reason was, especially since it is delicious and easy to put together. I had almost forgotten about it until I tasted it a few years ago in the temple here. Someone had brought it in on a Sunday as an offering and we all got to taste the prasadam afterwards. It is a proven fact (to me :-)) that the food you get to eat in temples is one of the most delicious food, somehow you don't seem to get the same taste when eaten else where. I think it is a combination of the food and the surroundings. So I got rehooked again and made it at home. Both BH and DD loved it and so this has become a frequent rice item in our kitchen.

It is a very fragrant rice with a combination of roasted dal, pepper and sesame seeds. I add the dry coconut just like nammamma to mellow down and balance the pepper a little bit. Amma also made the seasoning using ghee instead of oil which made the final product almost divine in taste :-). You can try that sometime when you are not watching calories. The powder stays fresh when frozen, so if you want to gain some time, make this powder in larger quantities but be sure to lock the fragrance in either a good zip lock bag or a container with tight lid immediately after grinding the powder. This rice itself taste better after it has sat for a while which is a big plus if you are planning to make this for parties, picnics or everyday lunches.
What do you need to make Pepper-Sesame rice? 
1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup urad dal
1 Tsp black pepper (adjust to spice tolerance)
1.5 Tsp white sesame seeds
1/4 cup grated dry coconut (Copra/kobbari)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1.5 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
1-2 broken dry red chilies
4-6 curry leaves
2 Tblsp raw peanuts

How do you make Pepper-Sesame rice? 
  • Cook rice so the grains are fully cooked but not mashed. As soon as it is done, spread it in a wide bowl and let it cool down. 
  • Heat a thick pan on medium heat, add the urad dal and fry for a minute until it becomes warm. 
  • Add the pepper corns and continue to roast until urad dal turns light pink, keep the heat on medium and continue to stir frequently.
  • Add the sesame seeds once the dal turns pink and continue roasting for a minute. 
  • Add the grated dry coconut, switch off and let cool.
  • Make a fine powder of the cooled ingredients, and mix it along with salt into the rice with light fingers taking care not to break the rice grains or mush them up. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the seasoning ingredients and fry until mustard crackles and peanuts are roasted well. Add the seasoning to the rice. 
  • Let the rice settle in with the flavors for 10-15 minutes before eating. 
  • Freshly cooked rice is best in this recipe though you can use left over rice. Make sure to break up the rice grains if using left over rice. 
  • This rice becomes fragrant with the roasted urad dal and pepper and it is important to dry roast the ingredients on medium to low heat taking care not to burn them. 
  • You can make the dal powder in a large quantity and freeze the remaining in a zip lock bag or a container with a tight lid. 
  • I do not use asafoetida or turmeric powder in the seasoning as I like the flavor of roasted urad and pepper. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New York Style pizza - a veggie supremo served at home

Blogging, I have learnt makes you look at food in ways you probably won't realize possible. For one, there is the excitement of blogging about it when it turns out delicious and you also become lot more open to trying new things you probably wouldn't have done otherwise. When I started blogging about a year and 5 months back (Gosh, has it been that long already??), honestly I was not this adventurous in my cooking. Cooking has always been a stress buster for me but it was limited to what I was familiar with. Given my own personal 'don't eat this, don't like this', I always stuck to the known and stayed safely away from the unknown. Baking, as I have mentioned umpteen times here on the blog is something I have eyed for a long time but only recently found the courage to deep dive into. For all purposes, I am still a novice in this area. Looking at all the yummy breads and cookies Baking Partner's were making these past few months, I gathered up some bravado to join the group and this is my very first challenge on the  group and I got lucky with a New York Style pizza recipe.

Pizza was an alien food in my childhood, see I grew up during the simple times of Iyengar bakery masala bread or a churmuri for snack. Pizzarias were not even heard of in my neighborhood in Mysore. Now every street corner has a Pizza Hut or a Pizza Corner or some other joint serving very Desi flavors of toppings on pizza in addition to the usual toppings you will see world over. Pizza is one of the things at the top of the list that every Indian will try when they cross the proverbial 7 seas :-), we also came armed with wisdom such as pepperoni is not pepper, pepper is another name for Shimla mirch and cheese burger is not a vegetarian burger etc generously provided by friends that were already conversant with how things worked. So we did try pizza at Pizza Hut (isn't that where every one goes?) and fell in love with the thick crust or the pan pizza and there was no looking back.

Then once when we were visiting the gambling city Las Vegas a few years back, we took the inlaws and the little girl to an Italian joint for dinner and ordered pizza. When the really thin, flappy pizzas came to the table, nobody relished it. Coming from the land of fluffy idlis and thick masala dosas we like to have that texture and meat in everything we eat and so our first experience with thin crust was a total disaster and year after year, pizza after pizza we stuck to our pan pizzas.
I have made Peter Reinhart's pizza a few times over the last 6 months and we are not new to home made pizza anymore. But when I saw this challenge about New York style pizza, I told family that atleast for the sake of pictures, I had to make a thin crust pizza. To define what constitutes a New York style pizza, I went to our omni-present, free source of gyan - Google and did what every one in  my situation would do, asked some questions (well, I typed them :-)) and was flooded with so much information overload that almost fried my brains. That was too cheesy (even for a pizza post), ok I will stop right here with my PJs. Here is a summary of what I learnt, thank me if you find it useful and truthful but feel free to blame the un-validated information on the free internet if any of it is useless or not true :-).

New York style pizza - by pizza standard this is a thin crust pie, the crust though thin is not crackly crisp. The slice when held up should bend down but not break or tear. I also read that there is a strong belief that the special minerals in NYC water is what makes this pizza special and hence a lot of restaurants get water from NYC to make the pizza dough!!!!!. I find that a great tasting pizza is made when you mix the dough, put it in the refrigerator for over 72 hours before baking the pie. I would however issue a warning here, do not tell your family you are planning to make pizzas when you mix the dough, you will be inundated with, "is it ready yet? has it not fermented enough" every few hours that it reminds you of the long past toddler days when the question used to be, "are we there yet? how much longer?" :-). Coming from both the teenager and the much older father, this can be a bit overwhelming.

The cold ferment or known otherwise as slow rise where the dough is pushed into the refrigerator soon after it is mixed in and allowed to very slowly ferment over 3-4 days develops a wonderful flavor for the pizza. And then there is the sauce, a pizza crust is after all a form of bread and the sauce is one of the layers that takes it closer to being pizza.
And then what is a pizza without toppings? The best part of a home baked pizza is each to his/her own can make a personal pizza with the toppings they relish. So, I prepare a bunch of toppings and keep them ready and we put as much and as many of those on our individual pizzas. In addition to the canned pineapple and grated cheese that DD loves, I also semi-char a few other vegetables such as  sliced onions, asparagus, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes (yes more tomatoes), zucchini.

“There's very little in my world that a foot massage and a thin-crust, everything-on-it pizza won't set right.” ~ G.A. McKevett

Needless to say, this was one hit pizza at home, I made it twice in the last 3 weeks and used different toppings each time, so rest assured, all the pictures on this post were taken in my kitchen albeit on different days. 

Recipe sources as suggested by Baking Partners
Pizza sauce -
Pizza crust

What do you need to make New York style pizza? 
Makes 2-14 inch pizzas
For the pizza dough
3 cups high protein flour (also called bread flour)
1/2 Tsp instant dry yeast/rapid rise yeast 
1+1/4 cup water (room temperature)
1+1/4 Tsp salt
1.5 Tsp olive oil
For the pizza sauce
4 large size ripe tomatoes (or you can use 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes as the original recipe says)
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tblsp butter
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 Tsp dried oragano
8-10 fresh basil leaves (or use 1 Tsp dried basil)
1/2 onion sliced thin
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 Tsp sugar
1/2 Tsp red chili flakes (adjust to taste)
Other ingredients (quantities based on personal preference)
Flour to dust
Toppings of choice (suggested vegetarian toppings - egg plants, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, asparagus)
Grated cheese (mozarella)
How do you make New York style pizza? (
Making the pizza dough
  • Pour water into a big bowl.
  • In a separate dish, sieve flour once, add salt and yeast and mix it well. 
  • Pour the flour mixture into the bowl with water and mix it by hand and bring it together into a single mass. Sprinkle a Tsp or so water if the dough is very hard. 
  • Once all the dry flour is mixed in, add the oil, take the dough ball onto a flat surface and knead it for 3-4 minutes. 
  • Smear the sides of a big bowl with a couple of drops of olive oil, put the dough ball into and cover it tightly with a cling wrap. 
  • Put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rise for the next 3-4 days (remember longer the better taste)
  • If you are using fresh tomatoes, make slits in the skin, put them in a bowl with water, microwave for 6-8 minutes or until the skin starts to fall apart. 
  • Let cool and peel the skin off. take the tomatoes and pulse them in the blender. You can leave it a little chunky or grind it smoother depending on your personal preference. 
  • If you are using the canned tomatoes, just open the can and pulse the tomatoes and keep it ready. 
  • add minced garlic, oregano, chili flakes and salt and roast for a minute to two or until it is fragrant. 
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, add the oil and butter, let the butter melt.
  • Add the tomato, shredded basil leaves, sliced onions and sugar and let it come to a boil on medium heat. 
  • Reduce the heat and let it bubble slowly stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens and reduces by half. By this time your kitchen will be smelling heavenly. 
  • Switch off, let cool and refrigerate until ready to use. 
Assembling the pizza
  • Take the pizza dough out of the refrigerator atleast 2-3 hours (depending on the climate) and let it come to room temperature. This will also increase the dough in size. 
  • Gently press down the pizza and divide it into 2 balls (or 3 if you want smaller diameter pizza). 
  • Pat the dough ball gently into a circle and roll it out into the size you prefer. 
  • Preheat the oven to 500F with a pizza stone inside it, if you do not have a pizza stone, you can bake it on top of an inverted cookie sheet.
  • Spread a layer of the sauce on the crust.
  • Put toppings of choice and top it with grated cheese. 
  • Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake for 7-8 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown. 
  • It is important to pre heat the oven to the temperature. 
  • Yeast in this recipe is strictly on a "as needed" basis, it is a small quantity that kicks off the fermentation but so small that it doesn't kill the sugars in the flour and render your pizza tasteless. If you are in a hurry, reduce the cold fermentation time by keeping it outside but never increase the amount of yeast used.
  • Pizza is typically hand tossed but it takes some practice to get to that stage. I normally pat the pizza base into shape and use my rolling pin for a thin crust. 
  • The sauce stays good up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator, so you can make it in larger quantities and use it multiple times. 
  • I usually either saute my chopped vegetables in the cast iron pan on high heat with a drizzle of oil or roast them in the grill. Make sure, you don't actually cook the vegetables soft, they just need to lose the raw bite.  

This is part of Baking Partner's challenge recipe

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day - a story of my 2 moms and a fusion recipe from 3 kitchens

I wrote some personal notes last Mother's day on my blog, didn't think Mother's day would come around so quickly or things change so much in the short span of a year. I am sure many of you have very similar stories to share about your mothers, I would love to hear from you. I seem to get all sentimental when I think about my mom and I value this blessing more and more as I grow older in life. When I came back from that trip to India in February, I was barely functional. It is difficult to be normal when you are hurting. I am glad I am able to take control and immerse myself in things I enjoy most and keep moving. I promise I have a recipe here and a very tasty one too, if you don't believe me see for yourself :-)
I have no memories of her sitting with me to do something as mundane as daily homework from school, but she was always around either prepping vegetables for the next day or finishing up the night's dinner, and knew exactly how we were doing. I do not remember her asking any of us what we wanted for the next day's bf, lunch or dinner but somehow dishes would magically appear day after day as if she had an uncanny knack to read our minds and know exactly what we wanted. She made sure I learnt the basics of Carnatic music even though I had to change multiple teachers for various reasons, she dragged me to innumerable singing competitions though she knew my stage fear at that age, I understand she did that for the love of art and because she believed that I had some potential. Though I didn't turn out to be a professional singer, I remain always an ardent lover of good music and sing when it pleases me. She introduced me to Kannada literature long before my father took me to the enchanting world of Rotary and British libraries and opened up the World literature for me to gobble up, creating a book lover for life in me. She never told any of us to sit and pray but created the atmosphere at home by setting up a puja altar and naturally guiding us in that direction, I am glad I have a belief that helps me stay grounded and take on life. She is a story teller and her stories are always multi dimensional and layered with emotions - it was a way for us to remember things and also be able to communicate with others. I try to tell my stories though not always successfully. She just showed me the way by living it and I am proud I am capable of making good choices. Although I grew up a daddy's girl and would run to him every single day after school (and college) to recount the happenings of the day, she sat there in the same room listening to everything I had to blabber on.

For someone who had a college degree uncommon in her times for girls, nammamma settled into domestic life completely and made her family and kids a priority. Her family not only included inlaws but also siblings and cousins of all ages and stages of life. Being a teacher, my father was always on the crusade of spreading the love of learning at home and outside. Though he never coached any of his own kids, there were always cousins and relatives that stayed at home preparing for various exams under his guidance. She stood as his support through thick and thin in life and they smiled together and shed some tears too. I have seen marked changes in my mom since my father passed on a few years ago as if a part of her was gone but she has bravely tried to fill in with both roles for us. The first time she visited us here after he passed away, she teared up standing infront of the roaring Half moon bay beach and remembering my water loving father, and then turned towards us with a beaming smile and said "what are we going to see next"? for her he is everywhere, always. She has a wonderful sense of humor and I think that is what keeps her smiling through life. Even now, in her home away from home, the first thing she tells me every time I call is not to worry about her and that she is doing well and we should take care of ourselves. Wish there was something more I could do for her not just today but everyday. I love you amma.

For someone who finished her formal education with high school, my mother in law is extremely well read and well traveled.  She became a bride at 15, a mother at 16 and is the pillar of strength in the family. She has created her own identity very well supported by her life partner. She looks at the world with a child like curiosity, learning every day as she is exposed to new people, culture, experiences. She took to computers and internet as easily as any of us with formal training, manages her emails, stays in constant touch with family and maintains her own blog with a collection of her literary creations in Telugu. For me, she is a person with very high emotional maturity and resilience. Never one to raise her voice, it is amazing the amount of respect she commands. She taught me the ways of my new family gently along with a new language so I never feel like an outsider. She has been part of my support system in the last few months sitting with me in the hospital as I tended to Nammamma. Thank you for being there amma and I love you.

For two women that are contrasting in many ways, I find their strength of character and unending love to be an overwhelmingly common thread. Here is wishing my two beautiful moms all happiness on this Mother's day, aren't they both gorgeous?
Both these moms sat outside the labor room supporting me through my own journey of becoming a mom waiting to see their grandchild and wishing that their daughter didn't have to go through so much pain but then forgot all about me when the baby girl came out wailing :-).

Over to the recipe, I have a very easy, instant pickle I learnt from amma. This is how nammamma makes mango pickle at home but without jaggery, I had never heard of bellam avakkai (jaggery in pickle) before I got married and thought it was amma's creation since she loves bellam (jaggery) but then realized that it is a very popular avakkai recipe in Andhra. Although the traditional bellam avakkai is made with a jaggery syrup, here is a quick version of the same great tasting pickle for all you pickle lovers out there. It is spicy hot, tangy, a little sweet, a little salty - just like my 2 moms and their lives. The pickle is simple to make, is ready to eat at the end of the process and tastes delicious.
And here is the twist as the pickle came out of Sattvaa kitchen, I made the bellam avakkai by not using the mangoes :-), well I made them with tart green apples. Ever since I used green apples in gojju to the delight of my family, I have been trying to use them in other recipes. Green apples stand a little bit of cooking without getting mushy but work very well in recipes that uses them in raw form. I have grated and put them into chutneys instead of using tamarind or lemon juice and they taste great.So here is a converted bellam avakkai recipe from amma made with green apples.

What do you need to make Bellam apple avakkai?
1 green apple
1 Tsp lemon juice
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3/4 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp crushed jaggery
1 Tblsp oil
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
How do you make Bellam apple avakkai?
  • Wash and wipe dry the green apples. Choose firm ones without any blemishes on the skin. 
  • Cut into quarters and remove the seeds and core. 
  • Slice the apples into small pieces. 
  • Add the lemon juice and mix it well. This step prevents apples from de-coloring due to oxidization.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and give it a good mix. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, give a head start of 10 seconds, add fenugreek seeds and let them splutter. Add asafoetida, switch off and pour it onto the mixed pickle. 
  • Let it sit for 15 minutes for the flavors to develop along with a little bit of juice, enjoy. 
  • Like all pickles, be careful to keep all knife, cutting board or the spoons and containers used completely dry.
  • This pickle does not have a long shelf life, you can use it upto a week if you refrigerate. 
  • Follow the same process for making the avakkai with green mangoes, use firm, tender ones. 
  • I used 1/2 Tblsp of mustard oil and 1/2 Tblsp of sesame oil to give a good flavor. You can do this or use only one of them or use canola or sun flower oil. 
  • I use a Tsp lemon juice to bring about the apple's tartness and also help create some juices. 
  • I get green granny Smith apples for this pickle, do not use if the apple is soft or sweet to taste. 
HAPPY MOTHER's DAY to all mothers out there. Cherish and celebrate.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spicy peanut powder - call it a powder or an instant chutney

It is one of those really long, never ending week days when you haven't had a proper lunch either and have spent a good amount of after work time in chauffeuring the kid from one activity to the other. By the time you reach home, the entire family has reached the peak of crankiness and you find the refrigerator is devoid any re-heatable items. Didn't you & dear spouse have a discussion on the umpteen left overs only the previous week and decided not to cook too much at one go and fill the refrigerator? I am sure many of you will empathize with what I am talking about.

Is there a go-to dinner item you guys prefer when you are tired, it is a week day and your stomach is growling by the time you reach home? We love godhi dosa on these ocassions, it is easy to whip up, nutritious and always turns out delicious. But like I said in my godhi dosa post, we have this combo thing going and have to have peanut chutney whenever godhi dosa is made. If I put a bowl of peanut chutney on the table, an extra dosa goes inside for DD :-). Being a mom, I can't pass on that opportunity to over feed my kid.  But since it is one of those "I am late, tired and hungry" days, roasting peanuts, letting them cool, grinding them into a chutney all seem extremely tedious. That is when this powder comes to the rescue. I can turn the powder into a mouthwatering chutney in 2 minutes, in fact BH gets it ready while I mix the godhi dosa batter and start making dosas, we have done this so many times, it is almost like clock work now. The cranky family that entered the house a few minutes ago return to their usual happy and civilized state as soon the hot, lacy dosas dipped in tangy, spicy peanut chutney hits the stomach and things are all cozy once again :-). I love these life saving, instant mixes.

I am quite a nut when it comes to nuts in my cooking. Nuts are my go to snacks when craving hits (and I can actually stay away from the ever appealing jar of deep fried Indian snacks :-)). Nuts though are not great protein sources, are very high up there as energy boosters and hence come in handy when the clock strikes 4pm. An Indian vegetarian diet is inherently loaded with legumes and nuts. Take any North Indian gravy for example, they will invariably have some cashew nuts or almonds to bring in creamy richness. South Indian kitchens stock up on powders made with many a nut or lentils. So needless to say I grew up with a number of pudi or powders in our very South Indian household. But surprisingly was never introduced to peanut powder until after my wedding.

Then again, peanut powder is not an Andhra original either, amma apparently learnt it from a Maharastrian neighbor when they lived in Nigeria :-), I am convinced that good food travels the World and stands the test of time. I have blogged about peanut chutney here. Today it is the turn of peanut podi or powder and how you can make an instant chutney with this powder. Now this powder is one of my pantry staples since it is so versatile and I use it in multiple different ways. I will talk about its other uses on other posts.
What do you need to make peanut powder? 
Makes 2 cups peanut powder
2 cups raw peanuts
6-8 dry red chilies(adjust to taste)
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

How do you make peanut powder? 
  • Take a heavy bottom, wide pan and heat it on medium heat. 
  • Add the raw peanuts to the pan and stirring occasionally  roast the peanuts until they start to pop and develop some black spots on the skin. 
  • Peanuts will become crisp and lose their raw smell. take them off the stove and keep aside to cool. The roasting process takes about 10-12 minutes on medium heat. 
  • In the same pan, add the dry red chilies and fry for a minute (open the windows and/or switch on the exhaust to allow air to circulate), add cumin and roast for 30-45 seconds, switch off and take them onto a plate. 
  • At this stage, you can either choose to de-skin the roasted peanuts or grind them as they are. I make it both ways depending on the 'mood of the day'. 
  • If you plan to remove the skin of the peanuts, once cool, put them in a ziplock bag, close it and give a couple of hard rubs on the outside so the skin peels. Put them on a flat plate and gently blow through them to separate the nuts and the husk. Preferably do it in the backyard where you can sweep off the husk easily:-). 
  • Making the powder - Take the ingredients to the mixer along with salt and make a powder, remember this is not a fine powder, you need to run your mixer on pulse a couple of times and then run it full speed once mixing the ingredients in between. If you run the motor for long, peanuts become an oily mass and your only choice is to make a chutney of the whole thing and consume it quickly. The powder can be stored up to 2 weeks at room temperature or longer inside the refrigerator. You can mix this powder with rice and use it with idli/dosa as an accompaniment.
  • Making instant chutney from the powder - Take 4 Tblsp of the peanut powder, add 2-3 Tblsp of whisked yogurt to get the right consistency of your choice. Make a seasoning with a pinch of asafoetida, 1/2 Tsp mustard, 1/4 Tsp cumin seeds, couple of curry leaves and 1 or 2 pieces of broken dry red chili. Pour the sizzling seasoning on top, mix it well and enjoy with dosa, idli and such. 
  • It is important to roast the peanuts well, under done peanuts leave a really bad after taste while over done or burnt peanuts are no good either. 
  • Peanuts can be roasted in the microwave but you will need to watch the times closely depending on your microwave power. 
  • You can use a combination of red chilies to get the desired color and heat (thumb rule - Byadagi chilies are milder but give a radiant color, Guntur chilies are spicier but lack the color).
  • If you are pressed for time, you can make a quick fix powder using the store bought, dry roasted, salted peanuts. I personally like to roast raw peanuts at home. 
  • Many times, I do not remove the skin of the roasted peanuts but grind them as they are. This is much more convenient since I just add red chilies and cumin seeds to the same pan a minute or two before switching off the stove. 
  • Like anything else with nuts, things tend to go rancid after a long storage, while 2 weeks is a decent period, I don't recommend storing the powder for too long since it will also lose the flavor.

I am sending this to Priya's Cooking with seeds - Peanuts event.