Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kadala Curry or Chick peas gravy - of roasted coconut, curry leaves and fennel seeds

My Kerala experience is from the one house boat trip we went on a few years ago. I loved the place, its serene beauty, lush greenery, vast pockets of water, sudden showers from above and people crossing the waters on natively built rafters. Our chef on the boat treated us to many wonderful Kerala delicacies including the Puttu and Kadala curry and the lacy appams. I came back loaded with bags of fresh chips, wheat halwa and other goodies. Though it was a short trip,  the memories are etched forever.

My SIL is from Kerala and her mom is one of the greatest cooks I have come across. This aunty is very elaborate, follows the traditional methods of cooking to date and spends long hours in the kitchen dishing out one yummy dish after another. She has always humored me with recipes whenever I have asked her for some. I have tasted one of the best Puli inji in her kitchen. She tells me that a good avial is not only defined by what vegetables go into it but also by how they are cut as each different kind of vegetable has to be cut and cooked separately to reach the desired consistency. The sweet lady that she is, she hands me a packet of fresh home made jack fruit or banana chips for me to carry whenever I visit.

The other day, I was home waiting for a garage door repairman to come and fix something. It was a rainy day and the grey skies just made me miss home terribly and everything and everyone connected with home. I was really not in the mood to cook much as we had had a dinner party over the weekend and been eating off of left overs, I badly craved for something yummy in my tummy that would also soothe me down. I found some plump black chick peas and knew exactly what I would make for lunch. I just followed my instincts to recreate a magic I had a few years before.  I had a few hand written notes for this recipe, had a general idea of how it is cooked and had seen many versions flashing in the blogosphere but I have not followed any specific recipe here rather gone with the way my senses guided me. While I do not claim this to be the authentic Kerala Kadala curry (notice, I didn't call it Kerala Kadala curry :-)), it surely is a great tasting curry. For that matter, you may never find one authentic recipe of this dish since there are so many variations based on which pocket in Kerala it came from and who cooked it.

As I was finishing up cooking, my garage door guy finished up fixing the door and came in to collect his check. As soon as I opened the door, his first reaction was, "God, what is this awesome smell", so I asked him if he wanted to try some and shared a piece of puttu and the curry. He sat there spooning it down and told me stories of how his wife cooks a red curry and a green curry and how old his kids are, how the younger one is starting full day kindergarten in the Fall etc. And I gave him my 5 minute gyan on why there is no such thing as 'curry powder' and the name curry is a misnomer at best :-). Seeing him enjoy the curry made me feel totally gratified. Well, that story was just to prove a point and encourage you all to try this delicious curry in your own kitchens.

What gives the most flavor to the kadala curry is the roasted coconut - be patient and roast it over medium heat. Fennel seeds bring in the 'oh so heavenly' aroma to the dish, I have used this spice in a few other recipes and am totally in love with it. Fennel seeds have the right instinct of being all encompassing yet not overbearing and when used in the right amount, they wield the power to make you crave for more. I have seen recipes using garam masala and coriander powder but I skipped both and used a few fresh whole spices to create the magic. It was like walking into your lush green back yard (complete with a few coconut trees swaying and curry leaves on a tree exuding the fragrance), the only thing missing was the vast Vembannad lake and the sultry climate but my Seattle rains and the grey skies more than made up for its absence.

And once the curry was made, seeing that it turned out so good, I made some puttu with brown rice flour on an impulse. Now, I have made puttu before and keep a packet of puttu flour handy but had never paired it with the Kadala curry. They are a match made in heaven, what makes the marriage rock is a bowl of home made yogurt on the side and your gastronomic journey is totally blissful.
What do you need to make Kadala curry? 
1 cup dry black chickpeas
1 cup coconut
1 Tsp fennel
1/2 Tsp pepper
1/2 Tsp coriander seeds
4 dry red chilies (adjust to taste)
2 cloves
1 inch piece cinnamon
10-12 curry leaves
3 Tblsp oil (divided use)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tblsp roughly chopped onions
2 Tblsp roughly chopped tomatoes
2 Tblsp finely chopped onions
1 inch piece ginger grated or chopped fine
How do you make Kadala Curry? 
  • Soak chick peas in 4-5 cups of water overnight, they will plump up to double their size. 
  • Drain water and cook the peas in pressure cooker until soft (mine took 3 whistles) with 1/4 Tsp salt and 3 cups of water. 
  • Heat a kadai and roast grated coconut on medium heat for 8-10 minutes until the coconut turns light brown and gives out a wonderful nutty aroma. Keep aside.
  • Heat 1 Tsp oil in the same kadai, add the fennel, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and red chilies. Fry on medium heat for 2 minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Add the curry leaves and fry for 30 seconds. Keep aside. 
  • Heat 1 Tsp oil, add the roughly chopped onion and fry for 2 minutes, add the tomotoes and continue to fry for 4-5 minutes until onion and tomatoes wilt and turn limp. Keep aside. 
  • Once cool, Grind all the ingredients from step 3, 4 & 5 together into a smooth paste adding some water from the cooked chickpeas. 
  • Heat remaining oil in the same kadai, add the finely chopped onion fry for a minute, add the grated or chopped ginger, mix it in and let them cook for another minute or so until onion cooks and turns slightly crispy - The crunchy onions here take your dish to the next level popping up in unexpected bites, yumm :-)
  • Add the cooked chickpeas, ground up masala and salt. adjust the consistency with water (use the chick peas cooked water to start with) and let it come to a good boil. 
  • Add a few fresh curry leaves on top when it is boiling for added flavor. 
  • I served it with puttu but it goes equally well with rotis or plain rice. This is not a very spicy hot dish but extremely flavorful because of the ingredients.
  • Take time and roast the coconut on medium heat until it turns light brown and gives out a wonderful nutty aroma. 
  • You can add red chili powder and/or garam masala while boiling the curry to suit the taste but this dish was perfect as is and I didn't add anything. 
  • You can fry pieces of tomatoes before adding the boiled chickpeas instead of grinding them but I usually grind up tomatoes to avoid DD picking at tomatoes. 
  • Do not skimp on curry leaves, get fresh ones and load the curry with them. 
  • Use black or brown chickpeas (smaller than Garbanzo beans) in this recipe as they taste better. 
Since this protein rich curry is so loaded with legumes, I am sending this off to My Legume Love Affair 60 hosted by Nupur of One Hot Stove. This event is one of the longest running events in the blogosphere started by Susan, The Well Seasoned cook and now maintained at Lisa's Vegetarian kitchen. See you all there with your own creations.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beetroot tambuli - Cool, cool tambuli - Summer essentials

Summer is officially here, I don't mean the weather. With schools out and a 2 month 'no school' period, it really felt like Summer but the feeling was short lived as DD packed her bags and left for a 10 day trip, visiting her cousin and off to a summer camp. It is back to the usual run at work, come back and do 'non work' stuff at home for the two of us :-). I am dreading the day when the little girl goes off to college :-(.  My childhood summers are always associated with unrestricted play time - our gang used to be all over the place, running around in streets, putting up a play in someone's back yard with hand made costumes, accessories and make ups or belting out songs we had learnt.  There were 3 older girls in our neighborhood who always had exams a month or so after ours ended and they used to be so mad at us for making all the racket through out the day and into the long evening hours not allowing them to study in peace :-).  Then we didn't really care.. My daughter's Summers are way different than mine, especially this one looks more packed than her regular school time. Times have changed and I am just going with it always hoping that she is having a great time and making memories for later on.

Summers are also the time for leisurely enjoyment of food, while the heat doesn't let you stand in front of a stove for long, there is no dearth of cool, cool dishes that define Summer. Tambulis are quintessential Kannadiga fare. Sure, there are distant cousins of this genre in other cuisines but the distinct aroma of roasted cumin, pepper and either the herbs or spices used in Tambulis are very unique. If you visit the Malnad region (Chikmagalur belt and the western ghats) or South Karnataka (Mangalore, Udupi), you will see a lot of tambulis in everyday home meals. Most common Tambulis are usually made with herbs (doddapatre ~ Cuban Oregano) or spices (fenugreek, sesame seeds) etc. I have written about ginger tambuli here. These are considered coolants because of the yogurt in them and hence you will see them frequently during Summer.

If less is more think how much more more should be :-) ~ Frasier Crane from Frasier
But when you come to Tambulis, less is actually more. It uses a very few ingredients and dishes out a flavorful and yummy side dish. By altering the consistency, you can use this as a dip or something to mix your rice in. 

My favorite tambuli is the doddapatre (dodda~big and patre~leaf) tambuli, it has an exotic flavor. The leaves are used to make deep fried bajjis (a delicacy) and also used to treat common head aches. I had a thriving bush of doddapatre in a pot before we moved and the leaves used to be picked often as all my friends liked it, I am waiting for my baby doddapatre to grow tall and strong here before I pick them. Then I will treat you all to the Doddapatre tambuli. The closest to this flavor is oregano which you can find in most garden stores but the regular Italian Oregano is not as thick or sturdy as the doddapatre. I finally found out that there is a Cuban oregano which is the real doddapatre, haven't found in stores anywhere here though it seems to be available online.
In Mysore, we always had this herb in the side garden, it used to grow wild and we would have frequent tambuli treats :-). I have a friend here from Mysore who also misses her tambuli and while I was talking about it to another friend who happily eats them in her Bengaluru home, she told me to make beet root tambuli instead as it is commonly prepared in Malnad homes. I don't remember nammamma making this ever but I followed the same basic ingredients of tambuli and made it with beets. It tasted fantastic and a very attractive pink hue (my picture does no justice to how it looked) made my day and satisfied my cravings for a good Tambuli. The dish is slightly sweetish because of the beets so balance it by using a day old (preferably home made) yogurt. Here is the recipe for all of you to try.

What do you need to make Beets tambuli? 
1 medium sized beet (1.5 cup grated)
3/4 cup yogurt
1 Tsp cumin
3/4 Tsp black pepper
1/4 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
1/2 Tsp ghee or oil
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tso cumin
4-5 curry leaves
How do you make Beets tambuli? 
  • Wash, peel, remove ends and grate (medium size) the beet root. 
  • Heat the ghee or oil in a wide pan, add pepper and cumin. Fry for 30 seconds. 
  • Add the grated beet, salt and mix well. 
  • Cover, lower the heat to simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes or until beets soften up and loses the raw smell. Stir occasionally to ensure it doesn't get burnt. 
  • Switch off and let cool completely.
  • Blend into a smooth paste, adding coconut and yogurt. 
  • Take out into a serving bowl. 
  • Heat oil for seasoning, add mustard, cumin and let pop. Add curry leaves, switch off and pour it over the tambuli.
  • Tambuli is usually on the thinner side or has a runny consistency. Beets in this recipe add body, and I made it slightly thick today as we also used it as a dip. Adjust the consistency of the tambuli by adding buttermilk or water. 
  • It is important to cook the beets well in this recipe until the raw smell is gone. You do not need water but make sure, you lower the heat and cover the pan so it cooks in the steam. 
  • Use good quality yogurt (preferably home made) in this recipe. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jeerige kashaya - A sinusitis relief from the old world, spices lead the way all the way

Those of you that suffer from bouts of sinusitis, I am sure will empathize when I say it is one of the worst kind of pains. There was a period in my life I used to have cold, sniffles visiting me with such accurate periodicity that I could count my days of the month by it :-). For a perfectly healthy and active adolescent, this was a bane of existence. And then the seemingly normal cold & cough would turn into splitting head aches and completely blocked nasal passages, not a pretty picture, ha? First time akka told me it was sinusitis or an infection of the nasal passages, I was actually glad that there was an official medical term describing it. It used to be very disruptive and according to my Engineering school classmates, I lacked resistance and hence my nose needed to be fitted with a couple of mega ohms resistors from the electrical lab. I know, I know, Engineering students and their PJs, the brain is exhausted running semester marathons.

So once the diagnosis was made, I used to be on a course of antibiotics and tall glasses of this kashaya to make me feel better. I liked the kashaya better than the medication but I know Akka will say it was the latter that helped more :-).

I am not a doctor nor am I qualified to provide any authentic claims of health benefits from this kashaya but this post is all about my personal experience with the kashaya. Kashaya is a slightly sweetened herbal drink and uses different Indian spices. And there are many variations to the kashaya recipe depending on what it is trying to be a medicine for. Just search for the health benefits of each of the ingredients that go into the kashaya and you will get a lot of information and I will leave it to you to sieve the facts from fiction.
In many Indian homes, cumin/jeera/jeerige is the first 'go-to' spice after a heavy meal as it is meant to help in the digestion. BH promptly reaches out to a spoonful of cumin after a sumptuous meal, it is a habit from his grandmother. Alternatively, you can be prudent while eating and avoid over eating also :-).

Nammamma never uses white sugar in the kashaya, it is usually the kallu sakkare/kalkandu/rock candy, there are 2 versions you generally get in stores and the red/pink colored ones are considered better in medicinal drinks compared to the white ones. I got some saffron flavored rock candy a few weeks back from a Farsi friend and I used that. If you do not have access to rock candy, use jaggery or bella.

Over the years, my frequent cold/cough became infrequent and I am practically free of this nuisance, but when I do occasionally get it, I come down not just with a bang but a thud and them moan and bemoan some more until I can get all the attention and TLC from the family :-). So when I fell sick this past weekend with a jumbo cold, cough and infected sinus, poor BH was incharge of making sure that the World didn't come to a stand still. The man is full of good intentions, he promptly went, boiled a glass of milk, crushed some lot of pepper and put a big pinch of turmeric with some sugar and brought it to me. While that drink felt wonderful that afternoon, by evening the remaining portion had turned bitter with the turmeric. So, after I got up the next day, I made some kashaya and here it is promptly going on the blog so BH has a reference when the wife climbs the bed sniffling and coughing and generally looking pathetic. I love blogging for all these fringe benefits :-)

So if you have a blocked nose from cold, make this kashaya, keep a box of tissues handy, bend your face down and gulp the hot (not warm), soothing kashaya and mentally follow it as it passes through your tongue and throat. You will see your nose clearing up and your hand reaching out to that box of tissues. A couple of tall glasses of kashaya and you are good to go.

Tip: Adjust the pepper to a little higher than your normal tolerance level.
What do you need to make Jeerige kashaya? 
4 cups water
1 Tsp cumin
3/4 Tsp black pepper
small piece of ginger
1/2 Tsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tsp honey
1 inch piece of rock candy or kallu sakkare/jaggery
1/2 cup milk
How do you make Jeerige kashaya? 
  • Take the pepper, cumin and coriander in a mortar & pestle and pound them lightly so they open up. Do not crush into fine powder.
  • Wash, peel and cut ginger into thin julienne. 
  • Add water in a big sauce pan, add all the spices into it and let it come to a boil.
  • Simmer and let it boil for 5-7 minutes, let the spices show their magic. Water will reduce a little bit.
  • Add the rock candy and honey and boil just until they dissolve. 
  • Add the milk and let it continue to boil for another 2-3 minutes. 
  • Switch off the stove. 
  • Use a fine sieve and filter the kashaya into a glass and drink it hot. 
  • Do not make a fine powder of the spices as it tends to add a bitterness to the kashaya. 
  • The sweetness from the honey & candy sugar is to balance the spices but do not over do it. You can skip one of them if you choose to or increase the quantity slightly. 
  • The color of the drink changes based on the ingredients used, if you use regular jaggery, you will get a much darker shade of brown. Since my sweeteners were light colored, the drink has just a light hue pushing it away from milky white. 
  • I like to make a couple of servings of kashaya at a time to keep it fresh. You can reheat the sieved kashaya to make it hot. 
  • There are other types of kashayas that use different herbs and spices, I will get to them sometime but this is my favorite one.
It was purely coincidental that I noticed a message on the FB about an event and I think my Jeerige Kashaya is a perfect entry to the Hearth & Soul blog hop. 
Hearth & Soul Hop

Saturday, June 15, 2013

French Gougeres - A very cheesy affair for Baking Partners Challenge

This is my second month taking part in the Baking Partner's challenge. Last month I successfully baked a New York style pizza following one of the recipes Swati gave us. That was a dish we all enjoyed and I have made multiple times in the last 2 months since I got hold of the recipe. So I was really looking forward to the 'unveiling' of this month's challenge but when I saw Swati's email with 'Pete a Choux (paht a shoo)' and Gougeres and eclaires recipe details it was like a balloon gone 'phut' :-). She didn't ask us to make 3 different things, hold on for just a second while I will get to explaining what these 3 words mean if you are unfamiliar with French pastries  but before that .. first things first..

As I saw last time, Swati did a great job not only collecting the recipes but also following up with details, videos etc but all the information overload kind of made me back off a little bit since I personally do not enjoy 'elaborate' cooking and also do not ever weigh my ingredients or follow a recipe to the Tee. That explains why I am not running my own bakery :-). So looking at the recipes (a couple of them with weighed in ingredients), my immediate instinct was to come up with an excuse and tell Swati that I would not be participating :-)), but I don't give up easily. So over the next couple of weeks, I went back to study all the information she sent out and finally concluded that (weight or no weight), the recipe was pretty simple and as long as I stuck to the basic principle of getting the process right, I should be churning out (or baking in this case) something delicious. So, I considered myself 'in' and started gathering the ingredients.

Pete a choux is a versatile dough made in its basic form with flour, butter, water & eggs. I saw some variations including milk and water. The unique feature of this dough is that the flour is partially cooked on heat with butter and water. The dough can be used in savory pastries (Gougere being the most popular French pastry) or sweet versions (Eclaires filled with cream or ice cream and topped with glaze is the most popular sweet version). So my next task was to decide whether to make the savory or the sweet version.
Given that this recipe defied all my self-imposed rules about high calorie, butter laden goodies :-), I went the Gougere way as I wasn't sure that the three of us would do justice and consume the sweet version if I made a large batch and I definitely didn't want to feed this to my unsuspecting friends the first time I made it :-). The recipe called for a Swiss cheese called Gruyere. I had never brought this cheese home and didn't remember if I had seen it in my grocery store. Some of the other choices called for Cheddar cheese which I knew would be easily available. But I found a block of Gruyere cheese and was on my way to make the Gougeres.

Verdict: These are light and fluffy and the dough is really versatile as you can jazz it up with any favoured choice of spices. I tried black pepper and kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves) but you don't have to be bound by these, be imaginative. The pastries reminded me a little bit of the popular kiddie snack - Gold Fish but I would think it was because of the cheese and the baking. This is a definite party finger food as the dough can be made ahead and frozen upto a day before you bake them.

For me, the eggy flavor was unpalatable though BH and DD didn't seem to mind and enjoyed the pastries. I may not make it again unless it is for a party where I know for sure people will enjoy nibbling on them :-). As I said before, this is a rich pastry, so watch out when you pop them into the mouth.

Thank you Swati for collecting all the information and sharing it with us. If not for Baking partner's I don't think, I would ventured into making a French pastry so early in my baking career :-)

What do you need to make Gougeres(Goo Zhehr)? 
Makes about 18 Gougeres
1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/4 Tsp salt
1/2 stick butter (cut into small cubes)
1/2 Tsp fresh ground black pepper (replace it with any other spice/flavoring of your choice)
1/2 cup + 1 Tblsp grated Gruyere cheese (use Cheddar if you can't get your hands on Gruyere)
2 large eggs

Egg wash:
1/2 egg + 2 Tblsp water beaten until homogeneous
How do you make Gougeres? 
  • Heat a sturdy, thick bottom sauce pan on medium heat. 
  • Add water, cubed butter, salt and pepper into the pan and bring it to a boil. 
  • Take the pan off heat, add the flour at one go and stir it in vigorously making sure no lumps are formed. 
  • Bring the pan back to heat, reduce heat to low and cook for 2 minutes stirring continuously until the dough comes out from the sides. 
  • Switch off and add egg one by one and beat the dough with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon until the egg is completely incorporated into the dough. 
  • Repeat with the next egg. 
  • Add 1/2 cup grated cheese and give another 2 rounds of mix. 
  • Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F.
  • If you have piping equipment, you can put the dough inside the piping bag and pipe out cute little Gougeres. 
  • I used 2 spoons to spoon out the dough onto the parchment paper, leave about an inch between two Gougeres. 
  • Brush the egg wash lightly on top. Sprinkle a little bit of the grated cheese on each Gougere. 
  • Bake in the 400F oven for 5 minutes, reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until the Gougeres look golden brown on top. 
  • If you do not own the piping equipment - Take a scoop of the dough with one spoon and use the other to slide the dough onto the parchment paper. 
  • My Gougeres seemed flatter than some pictures I saw on the web, I didn't use a piping bag and it may have been because of uneven spooning of the dough. They were flaky and light inside though. 

These Gougeres can be enjoyed along with other Baking Partner's goodies you will find here. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hasiru Palya - An accidental recipe from Nammamma's kitchen

Most of our morning breakfast while growing up used to be a fortified left over. Dosas or idlis saved the day if there was dough or it would be a quickly converted fried rice from left over rice or an adhoc huli+anna heated and jazzed up with some seasoning and ghee, that would also go into the lunch dabba or on extremely rushed days it would be mosaranna with uppinakayi. While we all left at different times starting a little before 7 and came back for lunch or a little later, my father left later, didn't come for lunch nor take dabba from home. So he ate his lunch before leaving home in the morning, a proper rice-saaru/huli/gojju kind of meal. Having 4 kids with different demands on time, nammamma just wanted to get us all out with something sumptuous and healthy and then make meals for the remainder of the day.

We had this concept of tiffin in the afternoon and that is when we had all the yummy things mostly made for breakfast in other homes such as Avalakki, dosa, idli, etc. This was our weekday routine but Sundays used to be different starting with a lazy breakfast in the morning followed by a lazier lunch and then a tiffin and dinner, you get the idea, looks like we didn't do much other than eating :-). We did loads of other stuff and ate too, the best part about the weekend food was that everyone will be around and amma mostly served stuff hot off the stove. All this changed once dad retired and my parents became empty nesters. They morphed into a light breakfast, late lunch and light dinner routine unless any of the kids were home. I loved amma's chapatis (plain paranthas), try as I might I will never get those soft layers, uniform thickness, geometrically perfect triangles and the faintly crunchy top of the chapatis. Though all the side dishes she made for chapatis were yummy, my favorite to this day is this Hasiru Palya literally translated as 'Green palya/curry' because of the tender green color of the finished dish.

When I was talking to nammamma a few years ago as I started cooking on my own and mentioned this palya she smiled and said that it was a poor man's saagu. You see Saagu is a very popular side dish served with set dosas and pooris in restaurants in Karnataka and has many vegetables. You will find potatoes, cauliflower, beans, carrots and other veggies in a saagu. This slightly spicy dish that makes you go 'ha' in the back of your tongue is a perfect accompaniment for plain or slightly sweet tasting dosas, pooris or plain rotis.  But amma explained that one day when she didn't have all the vegetables in her kitchen basket, she just put some cabbage (which is something that was always found in there because it was available year round and also cheap) and some fresh green peas, used similar spices as saagu and called it Hasiru palya. Everyone at home ate it, licked there fingers, let out a satisfied burp and the rest was history as the recipe attained an official status with a humble name :-).

Many people don't seem to like cabbage but I do and so does BH. A quick stir fry of crunchy cabbages and grated carrots is a satisfying dinner for us many times. I make cabbage bhath, cabbage huli and other recipes regularly. I just avoid packing cooked cabbage in any form in a lunch box, don't do this unless you have a colleague that you want running out of office :-). While I bring a cabbage head home from my grocery shopping, it usually goes and waits patiently in a far corner of the vegetable crisper until I polish off all the delicate (use me today or else I die on you) kind of vegetables and reach out purposefully for that lone head of cabbage. Recently I have been on a conscious effort to clear up my refrigerator and pantry before going out and overstocking them again and all I had was this cabbage and a bag of frozen peas along with some other random vegetables. It had been so long since I made this Hasiru palya at home that I had almost forgotten. So remembering what amma said, I picked up the cabbage smiling and set off to make the delicious Hasiru palya.

If you are familiar with the Karnataka saagu, you will notice similarities in taste - the aroma of cinnamon and the tongue ticking heat of clove but the combination of cabbage and peas brings its own soothing uniqueness to the dish. You can make this with some gravy or cook it until the consistency is more like a dry side dish, the choice is yours to make depending on what you serve it with. So next time, when you are racking your brain for a quick and delicious side dish for your rotis, you don't have to look beyond that sattvik head of cabbage.

What do you need to make Hasiru Palya? 
3 cups shredded (or chopped) cabbage
1 cup fresh/frozen green peas
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
To Grind:
1/4 cup grated coconut (fresh/frozen)
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp poppy seeds
2 - 1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 cloves
1 Tblsp chopped onion
1/2-3/4 cup chopped cilantro

How do you make Hasiru Palya? 
  • Take shredded cabbage & peas in a pan, add salt and a couple of Tblsp water. Cover and cook until the vegetable softens (do not over cook)
  • Grind all the ingredients listed under 'to Grind' to a smooth paste adding 1/4 cup water.
  • Add the ground masala to the cooked cabbage and let it continue to cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the masala gets completely incorporated and the mixture looks uniform. 
  • You can make this dish with a little gravy or keep it on the stove until the water evaporates. It tastes great either way. 
  • This palya is best eaten with chapatis/rotis.
  • If using fresh green peas, cook it separately until tender and add it to cabbage as it takes a little longer to cook than frozen variety
  • The palya becomes sweeter as it settles with cabbage and peas, if you like spicy stuff make sure you have enough green chilies to cover you :-)
  • Don't skimp on cilantro, it gives the curry a nice green hue. 
  • There is no turmeric or tamarind in this recipe.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fada Ni Khichdi - comfort in a bowl, a Pongal equivalent from Gujarat

Welcome to yet another bright, Summery week. I realize I have been going slow on my posts, it is just the weather and I feel like going out and soaking in the Sun whenever I get a chance instead of sitting in front of the laptop which I any way do for a living :-). Yesterday we had our Balvihar annual day celebrations and the kids had some really good cultural programs and presentations including my own teenager that skipped most classes this year citing her exams and school work. With that comes my Summer break until September before we start classes again so few more hours to do other things and enjoy the Summer.

What is your ultimate imagination of 'culinary comfort' or what do you crave for as the 'go to food' that seems to make you all warm and nice inside no matter what the weather is :-)? When I ask this, most times I hear people (including myself) say 'Pongal or khichdi'. I think it is rightly so since a bowl of warm khichdi flavored with home made ghee and cumin and pepper can just melt away the blues. And it provides an easy choice to stock up on some proteins in the vegetarian diet.

This is such a popular comfort food all over India and that is how you see 'Huggi' in Karnataka, 'Pongal' in Tamil Nadu, 'Pongali' or 'pulagam' in Andhra, 'Khichdi' in many parts of Northern India which are regional variations of the same basic concept. You change the dal in some recipes, vegetables added into some others, cook them open or in pressure cookers but ultimately they all serve the same uplifting purpose of making you smile with happiness :-). My ultimate pongal experience is at the Pittsburgh SV temple. If you are one of the lucky people inside the temple at that time, you get to taste this heavenly, delicious blob. A bucketful of pongal vanishes in no time and all you are left with is the lingering aroma of the ghee and the roasted pepper if you miss those few precious minutes.

I already have 2 recipes(3 if you count the sweet version) in this genre on the blog here, here and here, so I wondered if today's post merits its own space on the blog and decided quickly that it did. For one, this version is also loaded up with many vegetables (tastier :-)) and is made with broken wheat instead of rice ((hmm, I told you this was healthy) and lastly it is another addition to my Gujarati recipes.

We had been to a dear friend's house for lunch one weekend. N thinks that I make better food just because I write a blog so when we talked before the lunch she told me that she had made something very simple and hoped that we would all like it. Then she served us with this Fada Ni Khchdi with raita and a few more delicious dishes. I was hooked to the khichdi totally. N is not from Gujarat and when I asked how she made it, she promptly sent me the recipe on email the next day. I also went back to Tarla Dalal's books for reference and found it there. Again, as with any dish, the recipe changes from region to region even in Gujarat and what I have below is my version of this healthy, hearty Khichdi.
We like the consistency to be like the above picture, dal & broken wheat cooked soft and coming together, vegetables cooked well but not disintegrating. Also, I like equal quantities of dal & broken wheat but you can play around with the proportion with 1:3/4 (1 cup dal to 3/4 cup broken wheat). This is a versatile dish that you can mold to suit what you have in the refrigerator and pantry, but is very forgiving and every time turns out delicious. Because you replace rice with broken wheat, this is also diabetic friendly dish.

What do you need to make Fada Ni Khichdi? 
1 cup broken wheat (called Fada in Gujarati)
1 cup moong dal (de-husked)
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
1/2  cup cubed carrots (wash, peel and cube carrots)
1/2 cup cut green beans (wash, string, chop ends and cut into 3/4 inch pieces)
1/2 cup cubed potatoes (wash, peel and cube potatoes)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper (optional)
2 Tblsp oil (use ghee/clarified butter if you prefer)
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste) + 1 inch piece of ginger - crushed into a coarse paste
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp cumin seeds
2-3 1 inch piece cinnamon
2-4 cloves
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/8 Tsp asafoetida powder
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
6-7 cups water
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp Red chili powder (optional)
1/2 Tsp Garam Masala powder (optional)

How do you make Fada Ni Khichdi?
  • Wash and soak both moong dal and broken wheat for about 30 minutes or until the dal plumps up and broken wheat becomes soft. 
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan, add oil (or ghee), add mustard and cumin seeds and let it pop. 
  • Add the whole spices (cloves, cinnamon, bay leaf and pepper) and fry for a minute until the aroma surrounds you. 
  • Add asafoetida followed by sliced onions and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the ginger and green chili paste and mix it in. 
  • Add remaining vegetables, turmeric powder and fry for another 2 minutes as they get coated in the oil and turmeric. 
  • Add the soaked and drained moong dal and broken wheat, salt, red chili powder and garam masala (if using) and give it a good mix. 
  • Add salt and water, cover and cook on low heat (stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom) until the dal & broken wheat cook till they are soft and slightly mushy. 
  • Serve the khichdi warm with a side of raita or yogurt. 
  • Soaking broken wheat and dal helps to cook them faster. 
  • Cutting vegetables to the same size helps in uniform cooking. 
  • You can add other vegetables (preferably those that do not have a strong odor or flavor) or skip some from the list I have above.
  • Last time I made this, I threw in about 2 Tblsp of chopped fresh coconut pieces, it brought in a wonderful crunch to the Khichdi.
  • You only start with the vegetables to give them a slight head start and coat them with the spices. Do not fry them for too long as they will become mushy by the time the khichdi cooks.
  • I prefer to cook this in the pressure cooker as a faster and healthier option but sometimes (like when I want to take pictures :-)), I cook it in open vessel. Open vessel is easier to control the consistency of the khichdi. 
  • I have seen different thickness of broken wheat (named either fine, extra fine, medium etc or #1, #2 etc depending on the brand) and I usually get #2 or medium which works well in the khichdi and salads. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Indo Chinese - Vegetable noodles, spicy, tangy and made in a jiffy

A decade or so ago when access to International food in India was very limited, Indo-Chinese cuisine was one of the most sought after cuisine after our special Dosa and the very Indian chats. Gobi Manchurian became such a popular dish that it is now main streamed into Indian snacks :-). I have heard my Chinese friends say that Indo-Chinese doesn't taste anything like Chinese and not anything like what they cook at home :-), I understand the sentiment totally which is how I feel when I go to an Indian restaurant. The food has to adapt to its surrounding culture and sensibilities for survival.

According to Wikipedia - Indian Chinese cuisine is the adaptation of Chinese seasoning and cooking techniques to Indian tastes. This brand of cooking is thought to have originated in Kolkata started by the 1700s Chinese immigrants to India. I found a nice article about Sino-Indian cooking and its popularity in CNN travel here, it is about 3 years old but a good read.

There was a restaurant close to where I worked in the heart of Bengaluru before our offices moved all the way out of city and after I started working, I found out that it was a favorite joint for most office parties. It was right across from the street, had decent and spacious dining rooms and served good food. The first time I went there, I found that the food was Indo-Chinese which I had never tasted thus far. After pouring over the menu and customizing the order, I had a plate of Vegetable Fried rice. It was very different from the Fried rice I was used to and there was a very distinct flavor in it which I later found out was the Soy sauce. When I told BH about my lunch adventure, he said that I should have tried their noodles. I did eventually and liked it.

Both BH & DD love pastas and noodles while I am indifferent to them. So I started making them at home to see the happiness quotient go up and the pesto pasta has been a favorite with both of them. I was not very sure of this vegetable noodles being a success with DD as she picks out bell peppers (with the exception when grilled). But to my pleasant delight, the bowl was wiped clean and there was not a single whiny sound about 'why I had to have bell peppers in the dish' :-). Buoyed by the success, I made it again the next time when she had a friend visiting and both the girls enjoyed it thoroughly. This is now a favorite at home. I have used the Angel Hair pasta I get here and not the Chinese Hakka noodles, you can use either one or any other thin spaghetti in this recipe.

Some highlights of Indo-Chinese cooking are that the vegetables are never mushy but always retain the crunch and crispiness. The dish is almost always doused with a generous dose of soy sauce. I do not use ajinomoto or MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate) in my cooking and with the limited knowledge I have, I do not recommend it but will show you how to make a really awesome Indo Chinese noodles loaded with vegetables and gets ready in a matter of minutes. I have a secret ingredient which makes this dish irresistible but will also show you alternative ingredient should you not have access to it :-)
What do you need to make Indo-Chinese vegetable noodles?
2 cups cooked noodles (angel hair pasta/hakka noodles/thin spaghetti)
2 Tblsp sesame oil
1/2 cup thinly chopped onion - preferably red onions or shallots
1/2 cup french cut green beans
1/2 cup carrots - chopped into thin match sticks
1/2 cup finely shredded cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced bell peppers - mix colors if you have
1/4 cup chopped green onions/scallions/spring onions
1/4 Tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 Tsp salt (divided use)
1 Tblsp soy sauce
1 Tblsp Maggie hot & sweet sauce (or use 1 Tblsp Tomato ketchup + 1/2 Tsp regular chili sauce)
How do you make Indo-Chinese vegetable noodles?
  • Cook the noodles per package instructions until al dente and as soon as it reaches the right texture, switch off, pour it into a sieve, and run cold water on it for 15-20 seconds. 
  • Heat oil in a wide wok on high heat, add onions and give it a stir. Add green beans, carrots and cabbage.
  • Cook for a minute stirring continuously. 
  • Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Add the bell peppers followed by the sauces.
  • Add the cooked, drained pasta and mix it well. 
  • Top it with chopped green onions, give a mix.
  • Serve warm. 
  • Keep the heat on high and ensure that the entire bottom surface of the pan/wok is heated uniformly. This is important to get the vegetables cooked right. 
  • I use sesame oil for the flavor it adds to the dish but you can use any other regular oil you use in your kitchen.
  • Use a tong and spoon to quickly mix and serve the noodles.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Halasina beejada huli a.k.a jackfruit seeds sambar - Summer sensations from India

Are you wondering why I am talking about jack fruit, well not even the fruit but the seeds while everyone is presenting beautiful creations of the Summer fruit - Mango? Jack fruit is also in season in the hot climates of Asia from Mar-Aug (covers the Summer, doesn't it?) and it is every bit as delicious as the mango though the tastes and textures are very different. Lastly, for me, sitting here in my home far away from where I grew up, jack fruit is in season whenever I spot it in the aisles of my grocery store :-). So that is where the story began. For the first time in over a decade, I found some cut jack fruit pieces in my grocery store a few months back and I didn't even trust my sense of smell until I actually saw the quartered pieces nestled among the vegetables next to some melons. I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn't dreaming, picked it up and then the smell just engulfed me. I didn't think DD would remember eating this fruit while in India but she did and she loved it just as much as her ajji (grand mother) does. BH feigns allergy to jackfruit though I think it is non existent but I don't force him to eat it for selfish reasons :-). So whenever I find the fruit in the store, I bring a piece home and as we opened up the jack fruit to get to the yummy 'fruit' part, I started collecting the seeds that come with it. I made about 2 cups (25-30 seeds) in a matter of few weeks :-)

Back in India, as soon as the jack fruits appeared in the market, my father used to ride on his 2 wheeler and choose a humongous, ripe jack fruit, stand it up in front of his drivers seat (imagine Bajaj Chetak) and support it with his feet (I know it was not the safest way to ride a 2 wheeler but I can't find fault with my dad, ever, let us just say he was a safe driver :-)) and ride back home. We would run to the scooter with an old, partially torn gunny sack, help Dad ease the fruit on to it, hold the corners of the sack and bring it inside. Then, Anna would change into his work clothes - jack fruit cutting is a very messy job, involves smearing the knife, cutting board and your hands with a layer of oil if you don't want the sticky, gooey stuff hanging on to you hours later. Then, we would spread old news papers on the floor, move the fruit with the sack onto the paper, generously apply oil to our hands and sit around expectantly. Anna would prepare the big sharp knife and the smaller slightly blunt ones and cut the fruit into half, then quarters and 1/8ths (yes, it had to be a lesson in fractions even then :-)) and then picking one of the small pieces, would deftly go through all the protective layers to reach the fruit, take one out and say, "Give it to Amma and she will know if it is ripe" :-). My mom who doesn't go overboard with any food, can gorge on jack fruit, it is one of her favorite fruits. He did this year after year as far as I can remember as it was one of Amma's favorite fruits. And he knew how to pick the juiciest, sweetest jack fruit by looking at their outside crocodile like skin and the spacing of the spikes on it.

We would all get our own cut pieces to work through the layers and eat the fruit. There is a saying in Kannada, "Hasidu Halasu tinnu, undu maavu tinnu" which roughly translated means - jack fruit should be eaten on an empty stomach and Mango on a full stomach. Jack fruit can be very filling and that is what we filled ourselves with whenever the fruit was brought home. Some cut portions went to the neighbors and we ate a lot, kept some stored away for later but all the seeds were collected onto a separate plate or news paper sheet. Amma would wash and remove the top layer and keep it for drying. These taste great whether you fire roast them or cook them until soft. The seeds have a buttery texture, taste resembling walnuts. While the fire roasted seeds were sprinkled with salt and consumed as a snack, the cooked ones mostly went into a Huli/sambar or a Palya/dry curry with coconut.

So what is this Huli I am talking about? While Sambar is World (well, almost) famous as an accompaniment to Idli and Dosa, in Karnataka we call it 'Huli' (literally meaning 'Tangy'). It is similar in concept to the sambar but has its own variations from family to family. Huli is a staple dish served with cooked white rice in Kannadiga homes, in fact eating sambar with Idli or Dosa is not a common home style food in Karnataka but more of an acquired taste from the neighboring states and also due to the popularity of restuarants. Idli/dosa is almost always accompanied by chutney or other special items at home. Huli is made with a home made spice powder or using freshly roasted and ground spices. Huli always has lentils (usually Toor dal) and tamarind and Karnataka style of making it includes a single vegetable or some well known combinations such as Aalugedde-eerulli (Potato-onion), badane kaayi-kaalu (eggplants - some whole grains like chick peas or cow peas etc). Jack fruit seeds Huli is special given its seasonal nature and Nammamma made it without adding any other vegetables while I have included some onion and carrots here.
I don't make/keep a lot of Huli pudi or Sambar powder at home since our Huli consumption is limited and I like to freshly roast and grind the spices whenever I make the Huli. Also, since I add or delete a few ingredients in the spice mixture depending on the vegetable used, it works out well for me. You can use your regular sambar powder for this recipe, look at the notes for tips to enhance the flavor.

What do you need to make Halasina beejada Huli? 
3/4 cup toor dal
1.5 cup (more or less) jack fruit seeds
2-3 carrots (optional) - peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
1 medium onion - chopped roughly
2 Tblsp grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 gooseberry size tamarind - soaked in water and juice extracted
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
To be roasted and ground:
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tblsp coriander
2 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp fenugreek
2-1 inch pieces cinnamon
1 clove
6-8 red chilies
Seasoning :
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
4-5 curry leaves
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make Halasina Beejada Huli? 
  • Heat a Tblsp oil in a pan, add all the ingredients listed under "to be roasted and ground" and roast them for 3-5 minutes on medium heat until you start getting a nice aroma and the dals turn pink.
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Take all the roasted ingredients, grated coconut, 1 Tblsp of chopped onion and grind into a smooth paste adding about 1/2 cup of water. 
  • Wash the toor dal and jack fruit seeds in a pressure cooker vessel, add chopped onions, carrots and 2 cups of water and cook for 3-4 whistles  - this timing depends on your pressure cooker but the dal needs to be cooked completely and the seeds become tender. 
  • Let the pressure subside before opening the cooker, mix the contents, add salt, turmeric and the tamarind extract. Let it come to a boil before adding the ground masala. 
  • Mix well and adjust the consistency with water as needed and let it come to a roaring boil before switching it off. 
  • Heat oil for seasoning in a pan, add the mustard and fenugreek seeds, let them pop, add asafoetida and curry leaves. Switch off and pour the sizzling seasoning over the Huli. 
  • Serve Huli warm or hot with rice or even rotis. 
  • You can add 1/4 of a medium tomato while grinding the spices to enhance taste. Adjust tamarind based on the tang from tomato.
  • Huli always has a tiny bit of jaggery added to it but I don't add it in this particular one since the jack fruit seeds have a faint sweetness to them.
  • The consistency of this Huli is generally slightly thicker compared to most other pouring consistency sambars and hence not very well suited for Idli/Dosa accompaniments. Eat it either with rice or rotis. 
  • You can skip roasting and grinding the fresh powder and instead use 2 Tblsp of home made or store bought sambar powder. Try dry roasting 2- 1 inch piece cinnamon, take the Sambar powder, roasted cinnamon, 1 Tblsp raw onion, 2 Tblsp shredded coconut and grind it into a paste and add it to the gravy. This brightens up the Huli so much you don't recognize your dated Sambar powder in it :-)