Sunday, September 29, 2013

Potato-Kadala stew (Ishtu) - Going Minimalistic on ingredients for a burst of flavors

I am not a movie buff, by that I mean I am not the kind of person that has the need to go catch a movie the day it is released and nor am I the kind of person that watches all/many movies. There are some genres I favor over others but my movie watching at best is far and few. With Netflix making streaming movies so easy and accessible, I don't even feel the urge to go to the crowded theatres any longer. My own family room, a pot of home made butter less popcorn, fruits on the side, some throws to keep me warm and cozy - best theater in the World :-). But then yesterday DD had to go watch a Spanish movie for a class credit and paired up with a classmate. We went to drop the girls off and since we didn't have anything else planned for the rest of the afternoon (wonder how that happened??), on a whim decided to go watch a movie ourselves. It was a toss between 'Enough Said' - a story of two middle aged divorced parents or 'Prisoners' - a dark thriller starring Hugh Jackman. Since the facial expression on BH's face was enough to understand that he had obviously written off 'Enough Said' as a sure fire chick flick, I decided to go with him to Prisoners as it promised Hugh Jackman on the big screen if nothing else :-).
The movie is well made, not so suspenseful as I kinda knew who the real culprit was (this is what comes of watching too many Law & Order episodes on Netflix I guess) but it is a movie that grows on you and makes you think or atleast ponder a little bit. There is no spoiler alert here but if you want, just google it and Wikipedia has the entire story typed out. It is rated R for violence and language so definitely not for younger kids, both HJ and Jake Gyllenhaal act well and get into the skin of their respective characters. I would watch Les Miserables any day over this movie if I wanted to catch a glimpse of HJ, the bonus being beautifully sung songs. Here is the story line - HJ's 5 year old daughter is kidnapped along with a friend from the neighborhood on Thanksgiving day and he believes that a man whom police have confirmed as not a suspect has the key to finding his daughter, abducts him, imprisons and tortures him. While I could empathize with the father that has lost his daughter, I couldn't condone his treatment to the other man especially since he knew all along what he was doing :-(. So how far do you go when you are pushed to the wall or options are limited? Is compromising on core values ok if that is the only way to get at where you want to be? Does the end always justify the means? I didn't think so, I realize I am being judgmental here, but something to ponder over. Well, so much for a fun Saturday evening.
But then we had a great Saturday brunch at home before the movie and a heavy one at that. Home made, silky smooth akki shavige with gasagase payasa and for a change some Kerala special stew instead of our usual lemon shavige or other savory options. There is a restaurant in the neighboring town which many of our friends kept giving glowing recommendations, and we kept putting off going there for a while now. It is quite a drive from home, not on the way to any place we generally go to, so it didn't get bumped in priority. Finally we made it a couple of weeks back with visiting family. Food is totally worth the drive and the wait. Menu is limited and quantity is just right, the best part of the experience was it felt like eating fresh Indian food after a long time. DD tried their Idiyappam and Kappa-Kadala stew and loved it. The mild flavors of this curry made her wipe her plate clean (and the fact that she was hungry and had not eaten in hours :-)). Since I have never tried my hands cooking Kappa and do not know how to select one (I welcome any tips on this from you guys as I do want to try this vegetable at home), I chose to try the same dish with potato replacing kappa and the end result was delicious and extremely flavorful.

This stew or Ishtu or Eshtu as it is called in Malayalam, is a very mild (no strong spices at all) but bursting with flavors curry and usually served with Idiyappam or Appam. If you are like me and love fresh ginger and curry leaves, this stew is for you. Very easy to make if you have some fresh coconut milk on hand (or go ahead and purchase a tin from your Indian or Thai store), gets done in a jiffy and stays with you a long time on a happy tummy. The important thing is to let cook the vegetables along with ginger and green chili. I found that mashing up/pounding part of the ginger to get the juices going helps concentrate the ginger flavor.
What do you need to make Potato-Kadala Ishtu?
1 cup cooked black chana/black chickpeas
1 cup cubed potatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots (optional, I added to enhance the nutrition boost)
2 Tblsp onion - chopped small
1.5 inch piece fresh ginger
2-3 green chilies
1 inch piece cinnamon (broken in two)
2 cloves
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp oil (coconut oil for extra flavor or any other oil if you prefer)
1 cup coconut milk
12-15 curry leaves
How do you make Potato-Kadala Ishtu?
  • Soak black chick peas the previous night, rinse and cook until soft in pressure cooker with a pinch of salt.
  • Wash potatoes and carrots and chop them into similar sized cubes (bite size pieces work perfectly)
  • Clean and peel ginger, chop them into thin juliennes, mash half of them in a mortar and pestle to get the juices going.
  • Clean and slit green chilies vertically.
  • Heat a deep pan, add oil and add cinnamon and cloves. Let them sizzle for 30 seconds before adding chopped onions.
  • Mixing frequently, let the onions sweat and turn translucent, do not fry to make them crisp or change color.
  • Add the ginger (juliennes and the mashed), green chilies and half of the curry leaves. Mix them in the oil.
  • Add the chopped potatoes and carrots along with salt and a cup of water. Cover, reduce heat to medium and let cook for 8-10 minutes until the vegetables are fork tender.
  • Add the cooked black chick peas, add the coconut milk and let it come to a gentle boil.
  • Tear the remaining curry leaves roughly and add it in.
  • Switch off when the curry starts to boil, cover and set aside for 5-10 minutes for the flavors to mingle.
  • Serve warm with Idiyappam, appam, dosa or rotis. Yum!
  • I do not use coconut oil in my cooking so I just seasoned with my regular sun flower oil.
  • Coconut milk: Use fresh grated coconut and grind one cup of grating with 1.5 cups of water to get the milk. I used a store bought tin this time which worked well too.
  • I find that roughly tearing up curry leaves before you let them float in boiling liquids brings out their flavor better, try this trick when you throw in curry leaves into your curries, sambars etc.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Veggie Burger - Ready in 45 minutes

I am not kidding, just to keep myself honest, I actually put the timer and counted down as I went through the exercise of making these delicious home made burger buns for the 'I have lost count' th time I am making them since I discovered this no-fail recipe. What is there to not like when you can have a 'made from scratch, 100% whole wheat, just like the Burger Joint bread' and feel completely safe knowing the ingredients that went in? Just for the fun of it, I also made my chick peas patties to go with the burgers and with a little bit of planning and multi tasking, had both the burger buns and patties ready to be eaten in under an hour. Go ahead and try it out yourself, and don't forget to time it so you can vouch for that 45 minute burger buns next time :-)

Here is a confession: I don't eat burgers outside home, first it was the hesitation of it not being vegetarian and then it was the fact that the veggie patty tasted so tasteless, I would rather eat something else. We discovered Subway quite early when we came to US, it being one of the joints I could easily go in and ask for a vegetarian sub and could see the ingredients that went into making my sandwich - such a relief :-). Infact, one of my down town office buildings had a cafeteria in the ground floor and Subway was one of the vendors there. The guys were so used to a group of us vegetarians that they would very sweetly put on new gloves before starting to assemble our orders. While this may be the norm in many places to avoid cross contamination, I really appreciated the fact that they did it every time even during the busiest of lunch hours. While I love the whole grains and Honey oats bread Subway serves, I still stick to my veggie fare and an occasional avocado but never get the veggie patty ever since I tasted a bite out of DD's sandwich once. It tasted bland and the texture didn't seem right.
Then I saw the masala veggie patties at Trader Joe's, if I haven't told you before, I love that store. DD loved the patties and it was easy to sandwich it between 2 slices of bread for her breakfast or lunch. Like always, I tried to read the ingredients, break down the taste and recreate it at home. First time I made it, it was almost like the regular Indian tikkis and DD didn't seem convinced. Though she ate it, she was like 'this is so not a burger' :-), I started experimenting and also changed the base to use chick peas. This patty is loaded with vegetables and the best part is you can throw in pretty much any vegetable you like or have on hand in addition to any combination of spices/flavorings - Indian or International. Chickpeas make the bulk of it and give it a wonderful taste.

Once the patties was sorted out, experiment with the bun recipe started. Indulge me a little bit here, since I am baking at home, I feel it necessary to find a recipe that meets all of my criteria - for health and taste. I know I can be such a sore sometimes. I kept looking for a healthy burger bun recipe that was easy to make and found a seemingly easy version here. First time I made it following the recipe to tee, used AP flour and an egg. The buns were delicious but my trained nose could smell (imaginary!) the egg. Next time, I skipped the egg completely and the buns didn't seem to mind it at all. Buoyed by the success, I went ahead and replaced AP flour with wheat flour and out popped delicious smelling buns that looked just liked the ones you get in the stores. I have reduced the amount of sugar from the original recipe since we don't like the buns to be tasting so sweet especially when I am assembling them with veggie patties.

If you haven't come across this recipe on the internet, take my word and book mark this post. This is one of the easiest (no additional gluten etc needed), no-fuss (I have made this in Summer, winter and every season in between and have always got delicious buns) recipes ever. Bonus being, there is no knead, no long rise time so you can make this at the last minute too. And what about health quotient - did you see me adding butter? I rest my case.
What do you need to make the buns?
Makes 10 medium size buns
3c whole wheat flour
1.5 Tblsp yeast
1C+1 Tblsp warm water
1/3 c oil
2 Tblsp sugar
1 Tsp salt

How do you make the buns?
0-2 mins:
  • Warm water (30 seconds in microwave), Dissolve yeast in water, set aside until foamy.
  • Preheat oven to 425F.
2-5 mins: 
  • Add oil, sugar and salt - give it a good mix with a spoon. 
  • Add flour, a cup at a time stirring until incorporated. The dough is not sticky but soft.

5-9 mins:
  • Knead for 3-5 minutes until soft and pliable.
  • Make 10 equal sized balls from the dough, shape them without crease lines, slightly flatten them to avoid a sharp peak on the bun.
  • Prepare 2 cookie sheets by spraying a light coating of non stick spray.
  • Arrange the buns on the cookie sheet keeping the balls about 3 inches apart.
  • Cover with a cling wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes.
30-40 mins:
  • Bake @ 425F for 8-10 minutes turning once halfway for even cooking.
  • Take it out and let cool on racks for 10 minutes before slicing.

What do you need to make Chickpeas burger patties?
Makes 12 patties
2 cans or 3 cups cooked chickpeas
2 cups grated carrot
1 cup finely chopped green beans
1/2 cup corn, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 green chilies
1 piece ginger
1 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp red chili powder
1/4 Tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tblsp wheat flour
2 TBlsp olive oil
1-2 Tsp oil to brush
How do you make Chickpeas burger patties?
  • If using canned chickpeas, rinse them well before using.
  • Take chickpeas, ginger, green chilies, chili powder, black pepper powder and salt to the blender and pulse them into a coarse crumble.
  • Add wheat flour and olive oil and run the blender for a few seconds until it gets incorporated.
  • Take the mixture out into a bowl, add all the remaining veggies, mix well and do a taste test.
  • Divide into 12 portions and shape them into patties.
  • Heat a plain griddle or grill pan, brush the patties with a couple drops of oil on both sides and roast them on medium heat until cooked well on both sides.
  • These patties can be frozen upto a month, use wax papers to layer them and store in a box.
How do you enjoy (the most delicious) veggie burger?
  • Take a bun, slice in half, start with a layer of lettuce, add a patty, top it with sliced onions, tomatoes, cucumber (anything else you fancy), some ketchup or mustard. Put the top half of the bun, press it lightly.
  • Hold it in both hands, take a bite to include all the layers and chomp away.
  • Ensure you have good quality, potent yeast. Once you add it in, if you don't see it foaming on top within a couple of minutes, discard and start over.
  • Addition of wheat flour in the patties makes it absorb moisture and makes the patties firm and hold shape. You can add soaked and squeezed bread slices instead.
  • If using dry chickpeas, soak them in water over night, cook it in pressure cooker with 1/2 Tsp salt and a pinch of baking soda until soft but firm.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tomato Juice - Bidding adieu to comfort zones and embracing changing seasons

This day was inevitable and I saw it coming for quite some time now. Despite all the preparations - both physical & emotional, it was a very nervous moment. We stood by silently watching her pack her bag, check the wallet for the insurance proof and the newly acquired driver's license, as she turned around, gave a hug each and said before I could open my mouth, "I will call as soon as I reach there, Amma", that seemed to surge a flood of emotions inside. I stood there at the front door, anxious but trying not to show it to the little girl as she picked up the keys and confidently strode over to the driver's seat. We watched until the car turned the street corner and went back to purposefully cleaning the living room until the phone rang and we heard the dear voice say, "I am here, will call you later". The cleaning went a little bit more briskly after that and the air didn't seem to hang so heavily around us.
It was not a long drive, less than 15 minutes from home, she knew the roads well as we take those every week. The only difference was that she got her own license last week and drove there all by herself for the first time. A big deal for us parents and many a anxious waits until she calls in. The little girl is not a toddler anymore but a confident teenager rearing to explore the world and also do things on her own. Wish I could hold on for just a little longer for those years when I had to lower my eyes to talk to the tiny girl hopping along with me every where I went, the little girl that used to sing in the back seat while fishing up snacks from her bowl as we drove back home or the tired one that dozed off in front seat on the way home from a long drive or the chatter box that never stopped talking excitedly about her day at school or a camp she attended or the dorky one that would be thinking about some homework due the next day. Every change indicates she is growing up into her own person and not dependent on us any longer, it is how it should be and I feel happy that she has the conviction  to take on her challenges and learn along the way, yet at the same time, I feel that this inevitable change is coming too soon. Letting go is never easy especially when you love someone so dearly. I think about my parents as they saw us pass through these different phases and makes me appreciate and understand them a little bit more. It is a strange period in my life as I look back to see my parents' generation slowing down, sun setting and look forward to see a bright horizon with opportunities for my kids' generation, bitter and sweet at the same time.
Sunday is officially the beginning of Autumn, while bidding adieu to a bright and beautiful Summer, I want to embrace the Autumn and its colors with equal gratefulness and poise. Summer was glorious contrary to what many predicted but then who says Autum is not going to be good? I am looking forward to sweaters, long walks on the crinkly crisp fallen leaves and multitudes of hues all around. After all, it is nature's way of growing and growing up, right?

My tomato vines are still going strong and I picked another bushel of bright red, ripe tomatoes yesterday and made a simple, flavor packed juice to celebrate and say 'so long' to Summer. There is no recipe here, but I give you a few lines of 'how to's in case you want to see it. Also, I caught some really nice pics that totally captures the soul of this simple juice. Here is to changing seasons, growth and change in general.
What do you need to make Tomato juice?
Makes 3 servings
3 ripe, juicy medium sized tomatoes
1 Tsp lemon/lime juice
3 Tsp sugar (adjust to taste)
5-6 mint leaves

How do you make Tomato juice?
  • Wash, pat dry and chop tomatoes.
  • Take all ingredients to blender except water and make a smooth puree.
  • Sieve the puree through a fine sieve to catch seeds and tomato skin.
  • Taste & adjust to your liking. Add water for desired consistency.
  • Chill and serve :-)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cauliflower handvo - a savory bake with Cauliflower and woes of a failed cooler

I have been slow with my blog posts for the past month or so, anyone noticed:-). All valid reasons, first it was work & the Arangetram, then it was work & house guests and later (which is now) has been work & work :-) and underneath all of this was the fact that my 3 year old laptop decided to die on me. Well, it didn't exactly die but is going through a very painful and noisy phase since the cooling fan decided to shut down and not work any more. For the initial couple of days when we were running around completely brain dead trying to finish up last minute tasks, the machine started humming and then graduated into really loud noise like something was coming down. No prizes for guessing that all logistics details were on my lap top. I asked the BH to take a look which he did cursorily, decided that my hard drive was on its last leg and told me to shut it down once I had made a back up of everything precious I had. That is when I realized how dependent I had become on this little piece of machinery. I had to keep it switched on long enough to atleast get some files transferred over so I could continue to function, make a back up on to a hard drive and then put the PC to sleep (Err, rest in this case).

After all the guests had left, I made another attempt to switch it on, the noise seemed to have decreased on decibel but when I switched on it made a very clear, dummy proof opening statement that said the cooling fan was not working. BH said a non working fan was better than a dying hard drive and very generously offered to call the geek squad to get an estimate but after the phone call he was convinced that I was better off buying a new PC instead of spending a fortune on the old one :-). Then it took a little while for us to get our home & affairs in order since lotsa things were happening together and I was set up with a temporary solution of an external fan to keep the cool (of my PC - not me definitely). While this allowed me to login & out for short durations, I was totally handicapped since I couldn't lug all that paraphernalia to wherever my creative mood directed me to go and sit. So, finally I decided to call it quits and got my new shiny PC earlier today :-). Yep, it is shiny but is also factory made with the latest OS I had been resisting upgrading my older laptop to so there is some learning curve. While the tech savvy (ier) and already experienced BH & DD snigger around I am determined to conquer this new challenge in a matter of minutes (or hours or days or weeks, who is in a hurry?) but in the mean time am trying to minimize fat fingering apps on this touch screen and look forward to visit my favorite blogs and be more active on my own.
On to today's recipe, this is something I saw on a You tube channel one day while generally surfing the big bad web. As I have said before, I am extremely partial to savory/spicy dishes, finger foods/snack items and especially Gujarati food. This dish fit the bill perfectly on all counts and tried it the next day, took it to a friend's house as I was visiting and it was very well received. I made it for a second time the same week and then the next and so on. When my in laws were here last month, I tried it on them and they liked it too especially the fact that it is baked. So, it is another much loved cauliflower recipe. I have packed this on travels and it stays fresh upto 4 days if kept in the refrigerator. I make the traditional Handvo often which requires some pre-planning, soaking, fermenting etc but this is a very easy and quick recipe with 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

I have experimented with the amounts from the original recipe and what I give below is my optimum quantities for ingredients, cauliflower brings in its flavor full force, the final dish is moist without being wet and crumbly. Make your own changes, keeping the spirit of the dish and I am sure you will love it just like we do. This is a perfect snack when the craving hits to have with your favorite cuppa.
What do you need to make Cauliflower handvo?
3 cups grated cauliflower
1.5 cups besan/gram flour/chick pea flour (plus or minus a couple of spoons, see notes for details)
1  cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 inch piece ginger
2-3 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
1 cup grated coconut
2 Tblsp oil
2 Tblsp bread crumbs
How do you make Cauliflower Handvo? 
  • Pre heat oven to 400F.
  • Clean and pund ginger & green chilies to a rough paste using a mortar & pestle.
  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl except for besan. Add besan slow to form a moist dough that you can hold in your hands and drop in clumps. 
  • Prepare a 8 inch round pan with cooking spray.
  • Put the mixture into the pan and gently even the top surface. 
  • Sprinkle bread crumbs on top.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a knife comes clean. 
  • Let cool for 10 minutes before taking the handvo out of the pan. 
  • Lay it upside down on a flat surface and let cool slightly before slicing and serving. 
  • Like the traditional handvo, you can add grated carrot, grated zucchini or bottle gourd to this recipe. 
  • As the recipe contains raw besan/gram flour, it is important to cook the handvo thoroughly. Adjust your baking time until a tooth pick comes through clean from the center of the pan.
  • Adjust the amount of Besan depending the moisture in your cauliflower, onion and cilantro. You can increase or decrease the above mentioned quantity by 2 Tblsps.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tomato Tokku - when it rained tomatoes in the Northwest :-)

I haven't done a garden update here on the blog in quite some time, while we got a squash a day harvest for a while, the surprise of the season has been Tomatoes. Yes, these are big, juicy and incredibly tasty tomatoes and have made me turn my back permanently on the waxy, store bought excuses. I am worried about the soon to be here winter months when my garden will hibernate:-(. But until then, I am cooking up all sorts of Tomato deliciousness in my kitchen. 

It all started with 4 small saplings we planted in the middle of Spring, sun shine was abundant this summer (not sure where the gray, cloudy weather rumor spreads its wings:-)) and my tomato plants grew big and tall like the bean stalk in (well, what else but..) Jack and the bean stalk. I saw the plants bending and flexing on the ground with its own weight before BH & I could scurry around to build a support structure for them. We lifted them gently, placed them inside the support structures when we noticed small, yellow blooms which heralded the possibility of tomatoes some time in the future. So, we waited patiently and then forgot about them for a while with the Arangetram excitement and when we did remember to go back to the back yard and look, the plants were lugging huge tomatoes, some turning red but mostly green :-). I did and still have been making a whole lot of green tomato recipes (believe me they are all yummy and will be showcased here on the blog soon) and then started picking the red ones. I am not exaggerating when I say it really is raining tomatoes in my back yard and all of them looking so deliciously juicy and flavorful. 

We are a family of 'saaru' lovers, saaru is a staple in my home and is comparable to 'Rasam', it is either sipped as a appetizer or mixed with rice and enjoyed. There are many different kinds of saaru but then, this post is not about the 'saaru', right? It will suffice to say, I made many, many saaru with the freshly harvested ripe tomatoes before my saaru crazy family was deploring me to put the ripe tomatoes in another recipe :-). So, best way to use pounds of ripe tomatoes? Make this wonderful tasting tokku that has multiple uses. It will make you 'tomato happy' for life :-).

Tokku is a common word used to describe a pachadi or chutney in Kannada, the difference being Tokkus almost always stay fresh for long while regular chutneys are for quick consumption. This makes Tokkus preferred accompaniments during travel. In addition to topping the usual suspects such as bread, roti, idli, dosa or crackers with Tokku, Nammamma also mixed spoon fulls of tokku (usually mango tokku) with cooked rice, seasoned it with asafoetida, mustard, chana dal and peanuts to make a quick, ready to eat or lunch box friendly rice variety. Try it and you will be hooked. 

Tokku does not call for many or even exotic ingredients, one thing that helps is to make sure the star ingredient is fresh and tasty. Whether you are making mango tokku or tomato tokku, make sure you have good mangoes or tomatoes. The rest of the procedure is very simple but needs time and patience. After tokku is done, handling it is very similar to that of pickles - make sure you store it in a dry, airtight container, use only dry spoons to serve for the longevity of the tokku. 
What do you need to make Tomato Tokku? 
1 lb fresh, juicy tomatoes
2-2.5 Tblsp red chili powder (adjust based on spice tolerance)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1.5 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida powder
1/2 cup oil
1 Tsp mustard
10-12 curry leaves
1-2 dry red chilies (optional)
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery
How do you make Tomato Tokku? 
  • Wash, wipe and cut tomatoes in half. 
  • Remove the stalk end part and chop into small pieces. 
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom, big pan (big enough to hold all tomatoes and let you stir them around easily).
  • Add mustard seeds and dry red chilies, let mustard pop. Add asafoetida and curry leaves, toast for 15 seconds before adding chopped tomatoes in. 
  • Mix it in, add salt and red chili powder. Let the tomatoes cook on medium flame stirring occasionally so it doesn't get burnt at the bottom. 
  • In the mean time, dry roast fenugreek seeds on low to medium heat stirring frequently (about 5-7 minutes) until they turn a deep brown without burning the seeds, let cool and powder in a spice grinder. 
  • Tomatoes first break up and then turn mushy and most of the juice evaporates eventually, keep an eye on them and let them cook until oil starts to ooze from the sides of the vessel - takes about 2-2.5 hours depending on how juicy your tomatoes were to start with and the volume reduces by a third. 
  • Add the powdered fenugreek and jaggery, reduce heat and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes. 
  • Switch off, let it cool completely before storing in dry, air tight containers. This tokku stays fresh for months if you make sure you keep it in a cool, dry place and also do not use any wet spoons or hands to serve. 
  • The tiny bot of jaggery helps bring out the tastes well, my recommendation is not to skip this ingredient. 
  • There is no baby sitting involved to make this tokku, though it takes time, you can set the timer to 15-20 minutes between stirrings and continue doing whatever else you need to be doing. 
  • Chopping tomatoes small will speed up the process. 
  • I do not peel the tomatoes for tokku as we like the texture it imparts, if you like grind and sieve tomatoes before you drop them in the seasoned oil. 
  • Tokku tastes best after some settling time as the tastes get time to mingle, let it cool down and stay put for half a day before you start to liberally use it as a spread or dip. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kuchida Kadubu - may be you know me as Kozukattai or Kolakatte?

What is in a name? Everything if you ask me. I can be blissfully ignorant to the mention of a kozukattai while the word kuchida kadubu makes me drool and salivate without any shame :-). With Ganesha Chaturthi this week, there are hundreds of versions of Kozukattais as they are called in Tamil Nadu and there are umpteen number of Kudumulu - a close relative in the same genre as they are called in Andhra Pradesh. If you want to go International, look up momos and dumplings. I will stick to my own Kuchida kadubu which is a steam cooked kadubu made for either Ganesha chaturthi or Nagara Panchami in Kannadiga homes.

As I said before, Gowri-Ganesha festivals used to be the biggest celebrations at home and in the community for us as kids. While we didn't have much to do other than dress up, participate in the pooje and eat and eat more of the goodies, parents had a lot to do in terms of planning the festival. By the time of these festivals, nammamma already used to be inundated with lot of other poojas and preparations during the previous month of Shravana and her entire family would have already started to resemble little Ganeshas with all the festive food. So she used to intersperse high calorie with lower calorie options, mix and match laborious preparations with easier ones and find a balance. She never told me this so it could be my imagination but I have seen my mother at the peak of her organizational skills and I honestly think a lot of planning went into it.

Just for the fun of it, I googled kuchida kadubu last week and came up with hits I could count on the fingers of one of my hands. Then I typed in Kozukattai and I was looking at oodles of search results - traditional recipes, new twists and everything else in between. So I decided to pay a tribute to this delicious dish I grew up eating and use the name I am familiar with though it may sound strange to a lot of you if you haven't heard it before. There is a little bit of work involved but nothing you can't pull off for a healthy, tasty breakfast.

If I were to demystify this strange named dish and were to introduce it to someone, I would say it is 'shuffled up' idli. Let me explain why - what does the traditional, authentic idli have for ingredients? -rice and urad dal. How is a traditional idli cooked? - by steaming. Bingo. Kuchida Kadubu has rice and urad dal in it and is also steamed but instead of grinding rice with urad dal, it is made into a cover to hold the dal. Innovative? I would think so. The end result is not the bland idli one is used to but an artistic presentation of the same ingredients in a form that feasts your eyes and palate.

Nammamma made this with moong dal & chana dal fillings sometimes with minor variations though the version I have below was by far the best loved and favorite of all in the family. If made on the Ganesha festival day, Nammamma also made sweet kuchida kadubu with coconut & jaggery filling but I skipped it since I made Hayagreeva this time.
What do you need to make Kuchida kadubu? 
Makes about 20 kuchida kadubus
For stuffing: 
1 cup urad dal
2-3 green chilies
1 inch piece of ginger
5-7 curry leaves - chopped fine
1 Tsp salt
2 Tblsp chopped fresh coconut (optional, highly recommended for the crunch)
2 Tblsp chana dal
1/4 Tsp freshly ground pepper
For outer covering:
1.5 cups rice flour (use home made flour preferably or store bought idiyappam flour)
1 Tblsp rice flour for dusting
3 cups water
1/2 Tsp salt
2 drops oil

How do you make Kuchida Kadubu? 
Stuffing Preparation: 
  • Wash urad dal in two changes of water, soak it in 3 cups of water for 4-5 hours. 
  • Drain the water out and grind it with as little water as possible (just like you would grind for idli) along with ginger and green chilies until you get a smooth, slightly foamy dough.
  • Take it out into a bowl, if preparing the previous evening, add washed chana dal to the dough, cover and refrigerate. 
  • If using immediately, wash and pre soak chana dal for about an hour and mix it into the ground urad dal paste. 
  • Add salt, pepper, curry leaves, chopped coconut and mix it well. 
Outer covering preparation: 
  • Bring 3 cups of water to a gentle boil along with salt and 2 drops of oil. 
  • Add the rice flour and mix it with a wooden spatula quickly so it forms a mass without any lumps. 
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes, switch off and let rest for 5 minutes. 
  • Take the dough out on to a flat surface, knead it into a smooth dough and divide into small key lime size balls. Put the prepared balls back into a vessel and keep them covered with a wet dish cloth. 
  • Take one ball at a time and roll it into thin (1 mm) circle dusting with dry rice flour as needed, put them in a plate and keep covered with another wet dish cloth until ready to use. 
Assembly & cooking Kuchida Kadubu:
  • Get your pressure cooker or steamer ready to go.
  • Take a rolled out rice flour circle, spoon a Tblsp of the stuffing in the center, spread it out gently and fold the circle to bring one edge over the other. 
  • The edges do not need to be sealed, we kind of refer to this as the overloaded Ganesha's tummy, gently place one end of the circle on top of the other. 
  • Arrange these in vessels and steam them for 20 minutes. 
  • Switch off and let the kadubu rest for a few minutes before taking them out with a gentle nudge from the back of a spoon or a butter knife. 
  • Enjoy these milky white marvels with some coconut chutney on the side. 
Making rice flour at home: 
The rice flour used in this recipe is the same as the one used in making ottu shavige or bili rotti. You can prepare it in bulk. Wash 2 cups of rice a couple of times, drain the water and spread it on a thin dish cloth, keep it indoors in shade and let it lose all moisture. Make a fine powder of this rice, sieve it to get the fine powder and return big crumbs back to the mixer. Stored in air tight containers, this stays for a couple of months easily. 
Alternatively use the store bought idiyappam flour (I bring Nirapara brand) which works very well.
  • The stuffing is not a dry stuffing, it is slightly thicker than the idli dough in consistency. 
  • It is very important to keep the outer covering dough moist and soft. Make sure your knead it well - dough should not show any marks, breaks on it. Keep it covered with a wet dish cloth on both the balls to be rolled and the rolled out discs. 
  • If you are in a hurry and want to avoid making the outer cover altogether, follow this short cut - Use a banana leaf or an aluminium foil cut into small rectangles (2X3inches) and fold them over the stuffing. You will have to peel the leaf or the foil before eating though. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hayagreeva - a fitting sweet naivedya for the remover of all obstacles

It is that time of the year already when I am celebrating my favorite festivals with all of you on the blog. Happy Gowri-Ganesha festival to all of you celebrating it.

Gowri-Ganesha festivals were a great big deal growing up for us. My regular readers may remember the 3 part series I did last year and the goodies that went with it. This year with all the adrenaline rush of last few weeks, we kind of took it light as I still had house guests and we had been eating a whole lot of food - savory, sweet and everything else in between :-). We still did the regular pooje but cut down on the calories slightly. After a little bit of initial confusion about the dates of celebration, we chose to do the pooje today since it was Sunday and as we had an elderly uncle leave in the morning. Since I wanted to get some of the dishes ready before he left, I chose to make simpler dishes for the naivedya this time without compromising on the taste at all.
Nammamma used to make Hayagreeva for Ganesha festival if Gowri & Ganesha festival happened to fall on the same day, she used to tell us that since Ganesha has had too many kadubu & modakams in all the other houses, we would offer him something special. Cooking in my own kitchen, now I see the reason behind this change in menu, Hayagreeva is a decadent sweet dessert that involves no elaborate processing and gets ready very quickly. If Gowri & Ganesha festivals came on the same day, she would already be cooking so many items for the 2 separate offerings and making deep fried kadubu would only stretch her day longer. We all loved the soft, sweet Hayagreeva so no one complained or whined about the absence of karigadubu.

If you haven't tasted Hayagreeva before, think about the hoorana (stuffing) that goes into the obbattu. This is a close relative of that in concept but has a different texture, consistency that enables it to stand on its own as an independent dessert. Soft and sweetened chana dal with raisins to bite along, flavored with roasted poppy seeds, cardamom etc - Ganesha would love this dessert any time.

And yes, many of you may recognize the peeping white delicacies next to the bowl of Hayagreeva. If you are from Karnataka, you will immediately know what I made for the savory treat to beloved Ganesha. I will be back with that in a separate post as soon as I can in the next couple of days. Until then, enjoy your festivities, share, savor and be happy.
What do you need to make Hayagreeva?
1 cup chana dal
2.5 cups grated/powdered jiggery
1.5 cup water
1 Tblsp grated dry coconut (called kobbari, available in Indian stores)
1/2 Tsp cardamom powder
1 Tblsp poppy seeds or khus khus or gasagase
2 cloves
1 Tsp ghee
1 Tblsp raisins
1 Tblsp cashews (broken into small pieces)
How do you make Hayagreeva?
  • Wash chana dal in 2-3 changes of water, add 1 & 1/4 cup of water and pressure cook until the dal is soft to the core but holds shape when pressed.
  • Let the pressure cool off. Drain off any excess water and keep chana dal ready. The water used for cooking chana dal can be used as base for other dishes.
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, dry roast the poppy seeds for a minute until you get the aroma, keep aside to cool and then make into a coarse powder in the spice mill.
  • Add ghee to the same hot pan, add raisins, cashews (if using) and cloves, stirring frequently fry for a minute and half until raisins plump up.
  • Take these aside until ready to use.
  • Add the grated/powdered jiggery to the pan along with 1/4 cup water, let it come to a boil on medium heat and let jaggery dissolve completely.
  • Add the cooked chana dal to the jaggery, add cardamom powder, grated dry coconut, powdered poppy seeds and mix in well.
  • Let it cook for 8-10 minutes until the additional water evaporates and it comes together as a blob.
  • Switch off, add the fried raisins and cloves, mix well.
  • Serve warm or cold after you offer it to the Lord :-)
  • Chana dal should be cooked soft but not be mushy. Personally I like the texture of the non mushy hayagreeva, if you like go ahead and experiment.
  • Freshly pounded cardamom gives the best flavor.
  • Once chana dal is added, 8-10 minutes on medium heat is all it takes for the dish to be ready, do not keep it on the stove for long as it tends to become dry.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Oats-broken wheat idli - making healthy choices tasty and acceptable

Let us say you are hungry and famished and you reach a table where there are 2 things - a bowl of boiled spinach and a platter of fried spinach pakodas (if you are a spice lover like me) or a bowl of gulab jamoons(for those of you with a mean sweet tooth). How many of you reach out to the boiled spinach? Not many (unless you are popeye himself), I thought so. I am guilty of this too. Food is a very complex thing - it encompasses taste, visual and sensory appeal but beyond all this there is a sub conscious effort that feeds the decision making process. Most of us just refuse to eat things that are touted as 'healthy' as we seem to brand it immediately to be 'tasteless' or worse 'bad tasting'.

If I haven't said this before, I am a person who thinks prevention is better than cure. A few years back, I started looking for healthier choices in the kitchen and started to experiment to include ingredients not familiar to me. I strongly believe that the diet my parents (and ancestors) followed was a good one but diet alone does not contribute to a healthy life. Our life styles have changed vastly from what it used to be in my grand parents or parents life time. My Dad brisk walked every day as long as I can remember, his morning walk is when I learnt my cycling with big brother to put me and get me off of the bicycle until I learnt how to do it myself :-). I only knew how to steer the cycle and keep peddling, my brother sat me on the cycle and ran next to me until I was ready to get off.  So it was exercise time for the family. My dad also did what he called 'Shatha Patha (literally meaning 100 steps)' after every meal sometimes outside in the compound wall, some times inside our huge rectangular living room. Nammamma had no dearth of physical activity given her cleaning, washing, walking etc. My day doesn't resemble either of that now, I am plopped infront of my laptop most of the days either for work or (you guessed it) for blogging and surfing. If I go out somewhere, it is a drive and not a walk. So, even if I were to follow the same fantastic diet my parents did, there is no guarantee I will be blessed with the same excellent physical health they had, right? So I need to make adjustments to compensate.

Since I am not a dietician, I read, absorb and use common sense to make my food choices. Without overdoing anything, I try to get the benefits from old and new ways of living and I hope it works :-). The mantra for me atleast for now is 'less processed', I will let you know if it changes after I read some more and analyze more..

So on that note, here is a healthier than regular rava idli made with a combination of oats and broken wheat. If you are averse to introduce 2 new ingredients in your rava idli, go ahead and keep the regular upma rava but I strongly encourage you to use the broken wheat, it tastes more wholesome and the idlis are truly delicious. A healthier option you will not regret trying.

What do you need to make Oats-Broken wheat idli?
1 cup oats (I used old fashioned oats)
11/4 cup broken wheat
2.5 cup yogurt (preferably home made and a day old)
1/4 Tsp baking soda
2 Tblsp grated coconut
1 big carrot
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tblsp chana dal
1 Tsp black pepper
5-6 cashews broken into pieces (optional, I didn't use it)
8-10 curry leaves - chopped fine
fistful of cilantro (I didn't have any this time and skipped it)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

How do you make Oats-Broken wheat idli?
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, add oats and stirring frequently roast for 3-4 minutes until it starts to crisp up. Keep aside.
  • Add broken wheat to the pan and roast it for 4-5 minutes stirring until it just starts to change color and you can smell the roasted flavor. Keep aside.
  • Once cooled, make a powder of roasted oats.
  • Wash, peel and grate the carrot.
  • Add oil to the pan, add mustard seeds, chana dal, black pepper and cashews (if using) and roast them stirring continuously until mustard pops (30seconds to a minute)
  • Add the chopped curry leaves followed by grated carrot and coconut.
  • Fry for a couple of minutes until carrot turns limp, add the powdered oats, roasted broken wheat, salt. Give it a good mix and switch off the stove.
  • Whip or vigorously mix the yogurt to make it homogeneous.
  • Once the mixture is cool to touch, add baking soda, mix it in well.
  • Add the yogurt to make a dropping consistency batter (just like regular idli dough)
  • Take a table spoon at a time and drop it into oil smeared idli moulds.
  • Steam like regular idli without weight for 20 minutes on medium heat.
  • Switch off, let it stand for 2 minutes outside the cooker and remove using a spoon or butter knife.
  • Enjoy the healthy breakfast with chutney, spice powders or sambar.
  • There is no fermentation involved in this idli and the dough should not be kept for long once the baking soda is added. If you are making large batches than your idli mould can hold at a time, mix soda and yogurt to small batches and steam them immediately. If you let the batter sit for long with soda, the idlis tend to fall flat.
  • Coconut gives it taste and helps to make idlis lighter and fluffier. You can omit this if you do not use coconut.
  • I used a finer variety of broken wheat (called #1 on the packet), this is slightly bigger grain texture than upma rava and works fine. If you get much coarser grained broken wheat, run it in the mixer to break it slightly.
  • Roasting oats until they crisp up makes the idli not to have a sticky texture (which is what cooked oats tend to be), when you squeeze the oats between your fingers, it should crackle and break and not bend over.
  • Just like rava idli, this tastes good if the yogurt is slightly sour, I keep the yogurt out on the counter top over night to make these idlis in the morning.