Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gobi-Palak chi bhajee/Cabbage & Spinach curry - just one out of the 660 curries

I know, I know, it is almost Deepavali or Diwali time and what am I doing blogging about every day cabbage while the entire blogosphere is buzzing with mouth watering sweets and savories in preparation for Deepavali? Let us just say I like to be different :-) or that I am watching my calories and staying away from an overload of sugar and oil or that I am plain lazy to cook anything elaborate right now. It is the last one and I know you guessed it :-). Nammamma has this unusual habit of eating a bowl of plain yogurt rice with a really soft and juicy lemon pickle on festivals. She says, she is so tired of smelling and being around all those goodies that she craves for something plain and different, I know the feeling. If you are looking for something to perk up your appetite after all the deeply rich Deepavali sweets and savories, here is one such dish. And the bonus is, you can make it on Diwali day also, it doesn't have onions or garlic and is suited for the saatvik festival menu. So, go ahead and book mark it or better still try it out immediately and let me know how you liked it. I will bring something nice and festive (don't know what yet as I haven't decided) next week, until then this perky cabbage-spinach curry will keep you company. 

I kept coming across the name Raghavan Iyer and his massive collection of curries again and again as I educated myself more and more in the foodie world. I keep a 'one note' list on my laptop with different pages to capture reminders about different faces of my life. Some pages are dedicated to my work, some have interesting items such as list of books I intend to read, blogs I plan to visit, movies I want to watch, some hold mundane shopping lists. Hey, what can I say, I have OCD when it comes to organizing. Beauty of it is, I can access it from anywhere and so I will have an electronic list handy even if I left home without a clue as to what I needed. Anyways, I had this list the other day and was browsing the aisles in 1/2 price books (the # of times I refer to this store, some one ought to think I get paid by them for advertising, well no such luck, it is all on my own dime and time) and chanced upon a fat book in the cooking section that said, "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer. Now if you are like me, you will understand totally what I did next, I broke into a wide grin like I had found some treasure, grabbed the book, did a quick happy twirl (does it matter if it wasn't graceful?) in the air and looked around to see no one was watching me or calling the cops, walked quickly to the check out, and paid for the book. After all the accolades I had read about the book and the author, I had to own it, and experience it myself.

My family is highly gifted, they read my face the moment I walk through the doors and guess how my day had been (or I have such a non poker face). On this particular occasion, both BH & DD said almost simultaneously, "What is it? What did you find?". One look at the fat, yellow book and they decided to take a short cut to their respective corners in the house and leave me alone with it. You see, they share my love of food with me completely but not my love of reading up about food :-). So I took the book to bed that night and a few nights after that and read through the recipes and marked some up to try. This book is indeed a treasure chest even if you merely count the number of pages or the number of options it offers to make a meal. It has everything you can imagine from ordinary dishes made on ordinary days in traditional Tambram homes to jazzed up, restaurant style contemporary/fusion curries categorized into easily readable/skippable sections. The recipes are explained in lot of detail, sometimes becoming annoying if you are just reading it as a book and not looking up a particular recipe as the steps are repeated in every recipe (For Ex, how to wash and prepare a legume or cook rice etc.) I would have loved it if they were part of a section you could look up. 

It is a great collection by a talented chef and lot of effort has gone into the recipes but my biggest grouch with the book is that it is totally devoid of any pictures. I am a visual person when it comes to food, not really the aesthetics or presentation but I believe a good picture gives so much information about the texture and final look of a dish which is very important to me. This book disappoints me completely in that regard. I have tried a few of the recipes and loved them (not even 10% of the book yet). Though it is titled "660 curries", it is not just curries, there is a whole slew of curry cohorts which includes rice varieties, rotis/bread, pickles, raitas etc. It is a wonderful book to have on your kitchen shelf and you will find one or more recipes to use up your refrigerator contents wisely, a big bang for the buck. But you have to trust the author since he doesn't show you how a dish looks and take some risk in the absence of pictures.

I am currently on a refrigerator cleaning spree (I do this every so often so I can actually clean up the nook and cranny of the big box and start afresh) and have not gone to the grocery store in over 10 days. So last night when I was planning my menu, I only saw a half cabbage and some baby spinach in the crisper. Raghavan Iyer to the rescue and I zeroed in on this recipe. Sometimes you look at the list of ingredients for a recipe and don't think they are going to come together. That is how I felt when I read it but I am glad I tried it. It was one of those 'made for each other' combinations with rotis and we enjoyed it with a side of my favorite oralu kallu chutney made in the electrical blender :-).

Whether you like cabbage (I do, I love it) or not, try this dish out and you will love the flavors of the ingredients. Spinach & cabbage work together very well and give a nice texture to the bhaaji. This is not a gravy but a wet curry, perfect with bead or rice. I made a few minor changes from the original but the core is same. By the way, this curry is not a looker so don't judge by the very non-assuming pictures here. Take a leap of faith like I did and try it out, I am sure you will enjoy the pleasure of its taste.

What do you need to make Cabbage-spinach bhaaji?
4 cups cabbage
2 cup spinach
1/4 cup raw peanuts
1.5 inch piece fresh ginger
3-4 green chilies (slit & cut)
2 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
2 Tsp mustard
2 Tsp coriander seeds
2 Tsp cumin
1 Tblsp lemon/lime juice
Seasoning(This is optional & my addition):
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp urad dal
1 dry red chili (optional)
4 curry leaves
1/8 Tsp asafoetida

How do you make Cabbage-spinach bhaaji?
  • Take mustard, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in to a spice blender and make a powder. Cover and keep aside until ready to use.
  • Coarsely powder peanuts, a few small bits is good for a bite but it should be mostly powdery.
  • Peel and finely chop ginger.
  • Remove stems from green chilies, slit vertically and chop into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • Heat oil in a wide pan, add the powdered peanuts, chopped green chili and ginger and sauté on medium heat for 5-7 minutes until you start to get the fragrance of roasted ginger and peanuts and the peanuts look browned slightly.
  • Add the powdered mustard+coriander+cumin mixture along with salt and turmeric powder and roast for a minute.
  • Add the chopped cabbage and 1/4 cup of water, mix it well so the spice mixture gets coated, cover and let cook for 5 minutes until cabbage becomes tender.
  • Add the chopped spinach, mix and cook for another 3-4 minutes until spinach wilts.
  • Switch off and add lemon juice.
  • Heat the oil in a seasoning pan, add asafetida, followed by mustard and urad dal. Let mustard pop and when the dal turns golden pink, add the dry red chilies, curry leaves and switch off.
  • Pour the seasoning over the curry and give it a mix.
  • I shredded the cabbage finely (long, thin strips) as I like the texture it provides. The original recipe calls for 1/4 inch pieces of cabbage.
  • The curry tastes sharp if you eat it as soon as it is made because of the raw mustard. As it settles, mustard mellows down and cabbage & spinach add a natural sweetness to it.  
  • The powdered mixture is very potent and I am thinking of using it in other bland or slightly sweet vegetable curries.
  • Amma makes an Andhra special curry called 'Aava pettina koora' by cooking cabbage with a paste of ground, soaked mustard but she doesn't add the other ingredients.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nuchinunde with hasi majjige huli (steamed lentil balls with yogurt dip) - a Mysore special

2 weekends of training with a full work week sandwiched in between, I feel like a zombie. Brain is woozy and information seems to be floating all around. I feel the need for some quite time and then I will be ready to be up and run with another week. Yep that is the impact of professional development training on me :-). So, as you noticed, I went light on my blog posts, cooked a little less than usual, spent a lot less time with family than usual and missed talking to you all. I am done with training (not with studying though) today, caught up on some late afternoon blissful sleep while BH & DD very sweetly did their own thing and let me snooze, I am up and fresh and can't resist the urge to chat with all of you again, blogging is addictive -{sigh}-.

Sometimes I wonder why I started or am writing this blog, I like cooking, I like feeding people, I also like to talk and I like to write - all good reasons but is it worth the time I spend on it? After 200+ posts and 120+ likes, I am totally convinced that it is worth the time, hope you feel the same way my dear friends who drop in and make me feel special. It feels good when people visit and leave genuine comments or feedback, I also get flustered when I see the obviously spamming messages but have learnt to put them where they belong (right in to the trash can) and move on. I have made some friends who inquire after me offline and that I think is the highlight of this journey.
When I started writing, the only 'not-so-encouraging' thing BH said was that I should make sure I had enough recipes to post so I don't suddenly come to a screeching halt, ever the wise man. I finished my 200th blog post recently and don't feel like I have even scratched the bottom of the barrel with the recipe repertoire I have, and I am learning so many new dishes as part of my 'blog visits' with like minded bloggers here. But then, just sharing recipes was never the the focus of my blog, I wanted to capture what went on in familiar kitchens when those dishes were cooked, reaction of people to certain dishes, stories behind the traditional recipes, experiments and heart aches while learning new recipes and all so often about my thoughts, events in my life, something that just made me stop in my tracks and slow down a tiny bit. Most times, writing a blog post is free flowing especially when I hold a recipe close to my heart but there are times when I have had to struggle to personalize a really yummy dish and present it to you all.
I had this dish marked down for my 200th post as I wanted it to be something special, then Navaratri came, the quick made Rasmalai became a hit and I thought why not do the 200th with a sweet treat. Things change, that is why you make so many baselines (I couldn't resist that one, I had to share something from my training of the last 2 weekends with you guys :-)) and Rasmalai it was last week as we celebrated Navaratri. So my very humble and healthy Nuchinunde kind of stayed back in the draft mode.
Nuchinunde gyan - in Kannada (nuchu~broken tidbits, unde~balls), it means balls made of broken tidbits of dal. When almost everybody was a farmer and grew their own rice and lentils, as the lentils were harvested, cleaned, there always used to be some collateral broken lentils as a result of all the processing. Somebody smart found a great use to convert this 'not wholesome looking' dal into a delicious dish. But since it tastes so great, we now bring perfectly 'wholesome looking' dal from the store, break it into pieces and make the nuchinunde :-). Nammamma always made this with toor dal, I have tasted versions with a combination of toor and chana dal or only chana dal too. They all taste great and it is a matter of preference. It is a ground coarse paste of dal, mixed with herbs, onions and coconut, made into balls (or ovals as nammamma did and I make), steam cooked. Have it with a smear of ghee on top and a majjige huli, you will be cleaning that plate in a jiffy and asking for more.

This is not a dish you will find in restaurants and its appearance at home cooked meals is also becoming few and far. For me, it is one of those dishes that brings back memories of that childhood kitchen, where we would all be salivating as nammamma soaked the dal early in the morning, the quantity would be huge to serve the family and drop in visitors and it would very soon start sounding and smelling like a festival was in the air. As soon as they were cooked, amma would put a few in a plate, dab a smear of home made ghee on top of each, pour some deliciously spicy sour majjige huli on the side and set it infront of us. Dip the hot, steam effusing nuchinunde into the majjige huli and take a bite, you will not ever stop at one bite. A perfect balance of spices, deliciousness of onions and coconut - this is a very simple dish that gives you that protein boost with every small morsel.
Nammamma also served this with a Hasi majjige huli (no cooking needed) without vegetables as a dipping sauce, see below for recipe. You can also serve it with the ginger tambuli, or other yogurt based dips or chutneys.

What do you need to make nuchinunde? 
Makes about 15 undes
1 cup Toor dal
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 Tblsp finely chopped coconut pieces (optional, gives a nice bite)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
pinch of baking soda (less than 1/8 Tsp)
How do you make nuchinunde? 
  • Wash, pick toor dal and soak it in water for 2-3 hours until it softens. 
  • Rinse and drain the water from the dal. 
  • Grind the soaked dal with green chilies and ginger into a coarse paste without using water. Tip: use the blender in pulse mode, make a paste of ginger and green chilies first and then add the dal. Moisture from the soaked dal helps in grinding. 
  • Take the ground paste into a bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and mix it well. The consistency should be such that you can press a fistful of mixture in the palm and it holds shape. 
  • You can make real round balls to stay true to the name or make longish ovals like I do, aesthetics here is a matter of personal choice. 
  • Arrange the balls in a lightly greased (1-2 drops of oil) vessel in a single layer, steam it for 20 minutes on medium heat or until the nuchinunde gets a nice shiny coat on top. 
  • I use my pressure cooker and steam them like idli (without the weight). 
  • Let the steam subside, take out the nuchinunde, serve them hot with a dab of ghee and the majjige huli. 
How to make Hasi majjige huli? 
  • Take 2 Tblsp kadle (roasted gram dal), 1/2 cup grated coconut, 1 Tsp cumin seeds, 2-3 green chilies, 1/2 Tsp salt to the blender and grind them to a smooth paste with 1 cup of sour yogurt. 
  • Adjust the consistency with more yogurt if you like.
  • Heat a Tsp of oil, add 1 Tsp mustard, 1/2 Tsp cumin, a few curry leaves, 1-2 pieces of dry red chilies and 1/8 Tsp asafoetida. Once the mustard pops, switch off and pour the seasoning over the ground paste. 
  • Baking soda helps make the nuchinunde lighter, coconut serves the same purpose also in addition to adding to the taste. If you do not feel like using the baking soda, skip it and increase the grated coconut by a Tblsp or so. 
  • Do a taste test before you steam them and make sure the spices are right for your taste, note that the undes will mellow down once steamed so you want to make them a little spicier on the tongue.
  • I add finely chopped dill leaves (sabsige soppu) or fresh fenugreek leaves (methi) to the paste along with onions and coconut for flavor sometimes. 
  • If your blender is not cooperating without addition of water, go ahead and add a few spoons of water and then add a Tblsp or so of besan/chick pea flour to get the right consistency to make the balls.
  • I like to break a day old nuchinunde and mix it with hot rice and a little bit of oil and relish it. It tastes really yummy. 
I am a self declared lentil lover and what better way to show it than entering this protein rich dish into one of the longest running events in the blogospehere? I am sending this to I am sending this off to My Legume Love Affair 64 hosted by Princy of Spicy Food. The event originally started by Susan, The Well Seasoned cook is now maintained at Lisa's Vegetarian kitchen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bombayi bonda - indulging in the sinful eats

Ok, first things first. When I was growing up in Mysore, this Western Indian metro was called 'Bombayi' not 'Bombay' and not 'Mumbai'. This bonda apparently travelled the distance and reached Mysore to become a favorite in our house by which I mean many house holds in our tiny little Southern Indian city. What I didn't know then was the fact that this delicious bonda was called vada in its home town and especially served sandwiched between 2 slices of bread or pao and enhanced with drizzles of spicy chutneys. And people - rich & poor, famous, infamous and unknown line up infront of every non descript bhaiyya to get their daily share of this drool worthy snack in the city of Bombayi. Yep, it is the vada from the renowned vada pao (pav). While Mysoreans didn't take to the entire package of vada pav, they pulled the sandwiched vada, reduced its size, modified the shape a little, added their own spices to the stuffing and called it bonda. It became Bombayi bonda to keep the legacy of its origin.
I was reading a food history book (yep, I do that for fun :-)) titled Eating India by a Harvard educated Bengali Indian - Chitrita Banerji. It is a good read with loads of interesting information, check it out if you like. She has authored other food related (mainly food, culture & history, not recipes) books and in this one takes a trip across India trying to understand how the historical events influenced our cuisine from east to west and south to north and presents her argument about authenticity, which I thought was pretty accurate. Anyways, this book has a chapter about Bombay, city by the Sea.

Here is a piece of interesting history, all of you who have visited the city or live there, leave a comment and let me know if you knew about it. I had not studied it as part of any of my history lessons. Early entrants from Portugal wrested 7 small islands from sultans of Gujarat and collectively called them Bom Bahia which meant 'Good bay'. Later these islands were given to the British by Portugese as part of dowry (!) when Catherine of Braganza married King Charles II in 1662. They were leased to the British East India company by the king in 1668 who called it Bombay and turned it into an enormous port with unimagined trading potential. Recently in 1995, the name was changed to Mumbai. Call it by any name, for us Mysoreans, this will always be Bombayi bonda :-)
Bombay was the first out of state trip I took by myself, I went there immediately after my graduation travelling in a train from Bengaluru. It was both exhilarating and stressful. My cousins were at the train station to pick me up, take me home and also make sure I reached my place of interview the next day. Coming back in the evening I was all by myself as cousin & husband were both at work. I was given the bus number, the stop where I should get off and all the details I would need. Cell phones had not yet come into the pocket of every middle class person, definitely not a fresh out of college graduate like me. I boarded the bus, took the ticket correctly, got off a stop before my destination. I can never forget the panic I felt thinking about all the things that could happen to me in that big, bad city but miraculously traced back and walked the rest of the way home and was greeted by my cousin who had just come home too. Didn't tell anyone, so nobody was any wiser. Next day was spent merrily in lot of sight seeing and shopping with family and then I came back home to Mysore. I fell in love with this vibrant city during that short trip, the people, the buses, (no tram experience for me) never seemed to rest there and I felt like they were all in a perpetual motion.

While browsing my recipe index the other day, I noticed that I hardly had any of the deep fried snacks that I am so known for in my family. These spicy snacks are my love and I go all weak in the knees and just can't stop eating them. So, to prevent myself from the binging that I obviously am not capable of controlling, I resort to making them occasionally at home. "Out of sight, out of mind" does the trick (well mostly). But then, I don't really want to deprive myself and others at home of these goodies and so they are prepared on special occasions when there are lot of other equally delicious distractions on the table and many generous friends to share them with :-). Dasara/Navaratri is definitely such a celebratory occasion and since I had friends coming over to see our gombe habba, I put this on the menu. Everyone loved it and I wish I could say it was all over but since I (as always) made double the quantity from what was needed, we were left with many of them the next day. In an attempt to keep the temptation away, I put them all into a big zip lock bag, wrote the ingredients list on top and sent it along with a few other sweets and snacks to BH's office.
Now, work places here are known for their welcoming attitude towards food. Take anything edible and put it on a table where people can see it, it will be gone promptly. I had a candy lady in my previous office who always had a candy jar filled on her table every morning and it would empty by evening. And she was always the first one to know what was happening in and around the office, yep food encourages and develops grapevine very easily :-). Anyway, BH called around lunch time and said everything was gone without a trace when he walked by that table earlier, I am happy for the anonymous enjoyment of my bondas.

What do you need to make Bombayi bonda?
Makes 12 lemon sized bondas
For the stuffing or palya:
4 large potatoes
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp chana dal
2 Tblsp chopped cilantro
2-3 green chilies
3/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder

For the outer cover or dipping batter:
3/4 cup basin/gram flour
1 Tblsp rice flour
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/8 Tsp asafetida
1/4 Tsp ajwain seeds
pinch of baking soda (this is just a pinch, the amount you can hold between your forefinger & thumb, I know it is not scientific but works just as well)

Other ingredients:
water to make batter
oil to deep fry (1.5-2 cups)

How do you make Bombayi bondas?
Making the stuffing or palya:
  • Wash the potatoes, boil them in water until soft.
  • Let cool, remove the skin and mash the potatoes so no big lumps remain.
  • Slit the green chilies vertically and chop them fine.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, let it pop, add chana dal and roast until it turns pink. Add chopped green chilies and roast for 30 seconds.
  • Add the asafetida and turmeric powder and switch off.
  • Pour the seasoning over mashed potatoes, add chopped cilantro, salt and mix them well.
  • Do a taste test for salt and spices and adjust as needed.
  • Take small amounts and make balls out of them, keep them on a plate until ready to use.
Making the dipping batter:
  • Sieve gram flour and rice flour together to remove any lumps formed during storage.
  • Crush the ajwain between your palms to release the flavor, add it to the flours.
  • Add the remaining ingredients listed under batter and mix them all in.
  • Add water slowly to make a batter of dripping consistency. When you roll your stuffing ball in the batter, it should stick to the potato ball uniformly (no thick lumps).
Making Bombayi bondas:
  • Take a wide, heavy bottom pan and heat oil in it.
  • Drop a tiny bit of the batter to test if the oil is ready, if it comes to the surface immediately, then you are ready to deep fry the bondas.
  • Dip the potato ball in the batter (see notes), coat the batter all around it, drop it in hot oil.  
  • Based on the size of your pan and the amount of oil (all bondas should be immersed in oil when they get dropped and there should be enough space for them to move around), you can fry multiple bondas in one batch.
  • Once you drop them in hot oil, it will take a few seconds for them to come up to the surface, do not disturb them during this time.
  • Once they all show up on top, gently separate any conjoined twins or triplets with the help of a spoon so that they get roasted on all sides.
  • Give them a couple of minutes to become golden brown on the bottom before turning them over.
  • Move them around gently so the bondas turn golden brown on all sides. Deep fry should be done on medium heat and takes about 6-8 minutes for one batch.
  • Once the sizzling of the oil stops, take the bondas out with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper napkin.
  • Enjoy hot bondas with coconut chutney or ketchup, don't call me if you cannot stop eating them :-)
  • I skipped onions since some of the invitees wouldn't eat onion during Navaratri. You can fry onions along with the seasoning and add it for a flavor boost.
  • You can add fresh/frozen green peas to the potato stuffing, give a nice green burst and some protein.
  • Nammamma didn't add any masala powders (garam masala & others) as it is typical in Mysore. You can add garam masala, amchoor (dry mango powder) to enhance flavors.
  • Add chopped curry leaves along with rest of the seasoning for the stuffing.
  •  If you are making large quantities, do not mix water to the flours at one time as the baking soda starts working when you mix water and the longer it sits, the bondas become softer.
  • I have seen a friend double fry - take out a batch of bondas and put them back into hot oil for a second time after about 15-20 minutes of the first fry. While this makes them crispier, think about the oil consumed by it. I do not do it but it is a technique if you want to use. These bondas will anyway become softer when they cool as there is stuffing inside.
  • When you dip the potato ball in the batter, make sure it is coated with the batter all around. Lift it up, scraping your fingers on the edge of the vessel, dip it into the hot oil turning over so the bottom comes up. This trick will ensure that your fingers will take away as little as possible of the batter and also reduce the tails that form as you drop them in oil.
That is how you sit and enjoy the bondas :-)

  • I chop the green chilies really small and season them before mixing in with potatoes, this makes the stuffing spicy but without having to bite into bits of green chilies. You can reduce or increase the amount of green chilies per taste.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pumpkin bread - a visit to Tilo's land of spices

Autumn, harvest, Halloween - what do they all have in common? For me for the last many years I have been living in North America, all these words scream pumpkin. Large, round, bright colored pumpkins come into the market as soon as the temperature goes South. Coming from India where pumpkins were normal sized (= quite small compared to the ones here), these seemed to be on a hormone injected growth spurt. My parents with their love for gardening, always had a home garden with loads of flowering plants and vegetables whether the patch was big or small. One of the houses we had rented had a huge yard and the soil was very fertile. We had many plants that came up on their own such as the 'not so good' pomegranate, 'very delicious' heralekayi(a citrus fruit used in pickles), 'can't eat any more, we are so bored' papaya trees and so on :-). Vegetable patch almost always had green beans, okra, brinjal, greens and pumpkins. While there were experimental ground nuts (peanuts), the green chana (soppina kadle kayi in Kannada) fared well a couple of times. Once a rogue white pumpkin or winter melon or ash gourd as it is called in India, spread all around in the yard and yielded humongous gourds. These were very happily consumed in many a sandige and majjige huli and kasha halwa preparations :-). Well, I digress, that is not the pumpkin I am going to talk about today.

It is that time of the month to bake something with my baking partners. Having missed last month's challenge, I was looking forward to this one as an excuse to bake but was definitely not prepared for the heady spicy aroma that engulfed us as the bread baked in the oven. This being October, Swathi very aptly gave us a pumpkin recipe infused heavily with spices and what a wonderfully flavored bread it was. Now, if you are wondering about the title of this post and thinking who Tilo is, here is a little explanation to set records straight. A few years back I read a book called 'Mistress of Spice' (by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni). I believe it was made into a movie with Aishwarya Rai. The protagonist of the book is Tilo, she runs a spice store in the bay area and has magical healing powers but is severely restrained in her own personal happiness. The book is at once magical and sad but what I wondered most during that reading was coming across that exotic spice store in San Franscisco whenever I went there and getting some magical spices from Tilo :-). When I made the pumpkin bread the other day, I was reminded of this book and thought the house smelled like Tilo's store from the book, at once mysterious and enticing with a combinational aroma.
Back to the baking partners' challenge, as always we were given different options to try and I chose the vegan bread recipe. As Navaratri was approaching and I had other work related things going on, I wanted to make this bread at the first opportunity and be ready with the pictures so I used the ingredients from my pantry. The only change I did was to use honey instead of maple syrup since I was out of it which makes this bread non-vegan but you can always replace honey with maple syrup if you like. There is no yeast in this bread but works with baking powder and baking soda as leavening agents. The bread was very moist and soft, almost tea cake texture. It had enough sugar to satisfy our sweet cravings and I didn't add any glaze on top. The best part was making the pumpkin puree at home, I added whole spices while cooking the pumpkin and it brought out an intoxicatingly spicy aroma and definitely made the house smell like Tilo's house of spices :-)

What do you need to make pumpkin bread?
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup All purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup pumpkin puree (see below to make your own delicious smelling puree)
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tsp baking soda
1/2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1 inch piece ginger (or 1/4 Tsp dry ginger powder
1/2 nutmeg (or 1/2 Tsp nutmeg powder)
2 - 1 inch piece cinnamon (or 1/2 Tsp cinnamon powder)
4-6 cloves (or 1/4 Tsp powdered cloves)
1/2 cup oil (I used canola oil)
2 Tblsp honey (original recipe has 3 Tblsp maple syrup)
3 Tblsp water
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (original recipe calls for 1/2cup, we like nutty breads)
How do you make pumpkin bread?
Making pumpkin puree
  • Peel and chop pumpkin into chunks, take about 2 cups of chopped pieces.
  • Take a sauce pan, add the pumpkin pieces, 1/4 cup water and the whole spices (slightly crushed nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger juliennes and cloves), bring it to boil.
  • If you are using spice powders, reserve them for use later on and just boil the pumpkin pieces in water.
  • Cover and cook for 6-8 minutes or until pumpkin pieces are cooked completely and start to fall apart.
  • Switch off, keep it covered until it cools down.
  • Take the cooked mash into a blender and blend into a puree, you can fish out cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves at this stage if you think the flavors have infused enough for your taste, or go ahead and grind them along.
  • Pass the ground mixture through a fine sieve and collect the smooth puree. Use one cup of this for the bread recipe below. I used remaining portion in my pumpkin-celery soup.
Making pumpkin bread
  • Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a bread loaf pan with a coat of non stick spray and sprinkle a couple of pinches of flour.
  • Take a large bowl, sieve the flours, baking soda, baking powder and the salt.  If you are using the spice powders, add them at this stage.
  • Add brown sugar to it and mix well.
  • In another bowl, combine pumpkin puree, oil, honey (or syrup) and water until oil integrated with the rest of the contents.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, fold in gently with a spoon until everything comes together. Do not over mix it.
  • Add the chopped nuts and mix it in.
  • Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 40 (to 45) minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Take out let it rest for 10-15 minutes before removing the bread from the loaf. Use a butter knife to nudge the bread from the sides.
  • Let the bread cool down completely on a wire rack before slicing.
  • Enjoy with a cup of chai :-)
  • I felt adding the whole spices to make the puree infused the spices much better than adding dry powders but the choice is yours especially if you are using a store bought pumpkin puree from the can.
  • Like all breads, stay away from it until it is cooled down before slicing however strong the temptation is :-)
Linking this post to Baking partners

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy VijayaDashami - celebrating with a luscious Bengali treat

Loads of food, many friends to share and enjoy food, lots of music and masti, another Navaratri season comes to a memorable end. I feel the traditions and culture remain active and vibrant as long as it is practiced in some form, it is true things change and morph and adapt to the surroundings but the core intent remains intact. Yesterday's event reminded me so much of my Mysore days where almost every one - boys & girls, young & old sang songs and made merry infront of the doll display. There were music lovers and musicians and singing of all expertise level.
I do not have a sweet tooth, but I have a particular weakness for soft, juicy desserts that explode and melt in the mouth. Bengali sweets belong to that category for me, mostly milk based, delicious in every one of their forms from Sandesh to Rasgolla to Rasmalai, each one distinct and superlatively yummy. Have I talked to you guys about a sweet shop in the heart of buzzling Malleswaram market in Bengaluru called Asha sweets? It is a totally non descript narrow store on the main road that has been serving sweets and equally delicious savory eats. On a recent trip, DD & I along with a dear friend and her daughter tasted their badam milk (almond milk), DD swears that it was the ultimate drink she has had so far :-) but I believe it was the whole package of walking down those streets, standing infront of the crowded store, laughing carefree with a friend she made and enjoying a sip, that is what food is all about, who you share it with and how you enjoy it makes it memorable, do you agree?
When I think Bengali sweets, the one place that immediately comes to mind is the K.C.Das on St.Marks road in Bengaluru. It was the first KC Das in Bengaluru at the time while there are so many branches all around now. It was very close to my work place and we used to go there for soft, puffy, pale golden Luchis and a bowl of the rich dessert, my favorite being Ras malai. I never did really enjoy the Rasgolla as I find it too syrupy and sweet but give me a katori of chilled Rasmalai made flavorful with crunchy pieces of almond, pistachio and strands of saffron and I am a happy camper:-). And you know where this discussion is going, right? Yep, Rasmalai it is today on Sattvaa. But this is a semi home made version and I was not planning to put it on the blog yet. But the overwhelming response to this dessert from friends who tried it last evening and the repeated requests for the recipe made me put this ahead of line.

I am also completing a milestone here on the blog today, this marks my 200th recipe, discounting all those posts I do just to chit chat with you guys :-). When I started the blog, I had no bars set on any stats, but did it with an urge to share and document my way of cooking. I have had so many people come to this small space of mine, leave lovely comments, edit and suggest corrections to my posts and many have stayed back and liked my facebook page to become regular readers. Hope to keep seeing you for a long time. Here is a bowlful of sugary, creamy dessert to say thanks to all of you :-)
Last couple of days put a damper on the celebrations and preparations as we sat glued to the news updates on the Orissa cyclone Phailin, BH has a very personal connection having grown up in the area. Kudos to the administration and volunteers as they made sure that the impact of cyclone didn't directly translate into the number of lives lost, such a great stride and progress from the last similar natural disaster in the area. Things are not normal yet, people are displaced from homes but they are together and cared for. There is promise of things returning back to good times as we celebrate Vijaya Dashami today.

So here is my quick and easy recipe to make Ras Malai, with some help from the store to kick start the process. Typical store bought Ras Malais are flat in shape compared to the round Rasgollas, but the shape really is secondary and only a hang up of the mind if you ask me :-). The freshly made badam milk enhanced with additional saffron strands makes a world of difference to this. I have another 'made from scratch' recipe starting all the way with a home made paneer and badam powder which will also have the traditional flat shape but that will have to wait for another post.
What do you need to make Ras Malai?
1 tin store bought Rasgolla (I like Haldiram's brand)
2.5 cups milk (I use 2% milk)
4 Tblsp sugar (adjust to taste)
4 Tblsp MTR badam mix
6-8 strands of saffron
1 Tblsp slivered almonds or chopped pistachio
How do you make Ras Malai?
  • Open the Rasgolla tin, drain out all the juice using a sieve.
  • Run cold water over the sieve for a couple of minutes turning over and washing every one of the Rasgolla pieces thoroughly.
  • Pick a Rasgolla at a time, gently sqeeuze out all the water and any remaining juice from it and let them rest in a plate.
  • Bring milk to a boil in a wide vessel, add badam powder and sugar and mix it well so there are no lumps formed.
  • Add the saffron strands and let it come to a rolling boil. Do a taste test and adjust sugar or badam mix as you prefer. Continue to boil for another 10 minutes as milk thickens very slightly. You are not looking for a condensed milk consistency here but just for the badam mix to do its magic.
  • Turn the heat down to low.
  • Drop the Rasgollas one by one into the milk, let it continue to boil for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Switch off, let it cool to room temperature before putting it in the refrigerator.
  • Roast the nuts on the stove or in microwave until they are crunchy, chop them into small bits.
  • Ras Malai soaks up the milk in a couple of hours, serve them topped with a few bits of nuts and maybe a scoop of ice cream on the side.
  • Take care not to break the Rasgolla as you squeeze out the juice from it.
  • Make sure you reduce the heat to low as you drop the Rasgollas in to the boiling milk so as not to break them.
  • Take a wide vessel so each rasgolla has enough breathing space around it and is able to swim freely in the badam milk as it absorbs the flavors.
  • Ras Malai tastes best chilled, remember to keep it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before you serve it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kadle Kalu Usli a.k.a black chana Sundal a.k.a sauteed black chick peas - easiest offering during Navaratri

Nimellarigu Navaratri Habbada Shubhashayagalau (Wishing everyone a Very Happy Navaratri festival)

Today is the 7th day in the Navaratri series and is typically started off with Saraswati pooje or by praying to the Goddess of knowledge. We had this discussion with kids last weekend at our Balavihar about what kind of knowledge was worth seeking, there were some really enlightening kinds of responses. Any adults up to playing along? Of the nine nights, the first 3 days are dedicated to Goddess Durga who is worshipped to kill the ego within each of us and everything that hinders a path of self realization, the second 3 days are celebrated in the worship of Goddess Lakshmi to provide us with the wealth of tools to seek knowledge and make us equipped to make the journey and the last 3 days are celebrated in the worship of Goddess Saraswati to bless us with the actual knowledge or the self realization. It is the wisdom to realize who I am (for each of you to know who you are :-)). Beautiful, yet very hard to come by. Takes years of practice and quest which we are all on - different paths, stages, speeds and means but same goal.

With that thought on the significance of Navaratri pooja, I will take you to my kitchen to share one of the most commonly prepared offerings during the festivals in the South India. It is popularly known as Sundal in Tamil Nadu while we call it Usli or Usali in Karnataka. Andhra Pradesh has a sibling of this dish called vada pappu but the legumes are uncooked and is more like the kosambari but without any garnishing or seasoning. A protein rich dish, easy to put together and is completely saatvik in the traditional form(no onion or garlic is used in these recipes).
There are uslis made from a variety of legumes and dals and you will see these when you visit homes during Navaratri. The basic principle is the same while replacing the star of the dish. Some of the popular varieties of Usli in Karnataka are - Kadle Kalu usli (Chick peas - either black/brown colored or the golden garbanzo), Hesaru kalu usli(whole moong), Alasande kalu usli (cow peas), Hurali kalu usli(horse gram), Kadle bele usli (chana dal), hesaru bele usli(moong dal). You will also find peanut usli, green peas usli, corn usli etc. You get the picture, right? Take a legume, follow a few simple steps and you will end up with a delicious snack. Yes, this can be eaten as a snack, side dish during a festive meal or any time you prefer :-)

Basically, the legume is cooked (how you cook and how much you cook entirely determines the deliciousness and the presentation of this dish), sautéed with herbs, coconut and green chilies. Lemon or lime juice is added for the tartness. That is all there is to it. Now, pick a legume of choice and make this easy usli. The ingredients I have given are the whole traditional nine yards for this dish, but don't panic if you don't have the curry leaves or if you choose to skip green chilies and use red chilies or put less or more coconut than suggested. It will still be a delicious usli. I would strongly recommend asafetida though as that is the flavor I identify a festive usli with :-), it reminds of care free childhood days, nammamma in her kitchen wearing a silk seere and scurrying about to get all the dishes and arrangements ready. Ah, the smells, sounds, taste and nostalgia, doesn't take much to transport me to Mysore.
In Mysore, when we went to visit the doll displays around the neighborhood, we would get an equivalent of current day return gift called baagina. Neatly packed in eco friendly cups made from leaves and dried to hold stuff (we call it Donne in Kannada) and sometimes put inside another small pouch, the baagina would be different for adult women and little girls which I thought was very unjust. So the moment we were out of a friend's house, I would grab nammamma's packet and compare notes. Anything interesting would shift to my packet while all uninteresting stuff would stay in hers :-). And here is a very important discovery based on facts that this is not just a childish gesture but a gene with a very definite marking and gets transferred from generation to generation. I saw DD do the same thing last weekend when we went to a friend's house as her bag didn't have the usli in it :-). Obviously, she has not seen me do it and I am usually pretty careful sharing the not-so-proud moments of my childhood with her :-). By the time we reached home, the usli packet had journeyed involuntarily into her bag and thus became rightfully hers.

I have 2 ways of preparing usli - both delicious but slightly different based on who I am serving it to. If there are  a lot of younger kids and people that do not eat spicy food, I follow the easier/milder version and if I am preparing it for people that enjoy a little spice in the dish, I follow the easy/spicy version:-). So here are both ways of making a usli and you get to choose how you will make it for your loved ones.

Enjoy the usli, go out and dance some Garba or Dandiya if you can manage and don't forget to come back as I have lined up a few delicious recipes. See you all soon again.
What do you need to make Kadle kalu usli?
1 cup dry black chick peas (see notes for alternatives)
1/4 cup grated coconut
1/2 Tsp salt
2-3 green chilies
1/2 lemon/lime (equivalent of 1-1.5Tsp juice)
1 Tblsp chopped cilantro
2-3 curry leaves
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp asafoetida (* very important flavoring agent)

How do you make Kadle kalu usli?
  • Wash, pick over dry kadle kalu and soak it in 3 cups of water over night or atleast till it plumps up and doubles in size (minimum 8-10 hours)
Perspective of dry and soaked chick peas, notice the moistness and size on the right
  • Rinse, wash and pressure cook for 2 whistles with salt and 1.5 cup of water.
  • Let it cool before opening the pressure cooker.
  • Drain the cooked kalu, reserve water to be used as a nutritious stock in soups, rasams and the like.
Easier & Milder version:
  • Remove stems of the green chilies, slit vertically and cut into 2 or 3 pieces horizontally.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, let it pop, add the green chilies and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the asafetida and curry leaves followed by cooked & drained kadle kalu, add grated coconut, chopped cilantro and mix well.
  • Add the lemon/lime juice. Taste test and adjust salt or lemon juice to taste.
  • Switch off, you can serve this hot, warm or cold.
Easy & spicier version:
  • Take the grated coconut, half of cilantro, and the green chilies to a blender and pulse them into a coarse crumble without adding any water preferably.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard and let it pop, add the curry leaves and asafetida followed by cooked & drained kadle kalu.
  • Add the coconut paste, mix it well. Add the lemon/lime juice and the remaining cilantro.
  • Taste test and adjust salt or lemon juice to taste.
  • Switch off, you can serve this hot, warm or cold.
  • You will have to control the cooking time based on the legume you choose, some need the pressure cooker to cook fast and some fall apart if you use pressure cooker. The idea is to cook them soft and juicy but not mushy. For example, I always cook whole moong in an open vessel, takes about 15-20 minutes if you have soaked and plumped the moong before cooking.
  • Soaking the dry legumes not only reduces the cook time but also gives the right texture to it. So plan an evening before and soak it in plenty of water over night.
  • If using canned chick peas (I haven't seen black chick peas in cans though), be careful to choose a brand that doesn't have the peas cooked too soft that they break while sautéing.
  • If using frozen coconut, thaw it and bring it to room temperature.
  • Sautéing green chilies in oil tones the spice down and also spice intolerant people can fish out the big pieces of the chili while eating and avoid the heat.
  • If you have to use a couple of spoons of water to make the coconut paste, increase the heat once you add and let the water evaporate before finishing it up.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pumpkin-celery soup: Make way, here comes the vegetable of the season

A very happy Navaratri/Dasara to all my readers celebrating the festivals. We are getting ready for our traditional doll display (Bommala koluvu) and meeting and greeting some friends over the next week. Yes, I will make sure I will get atleast some of the recipes captured on the blog this time for future reference. I really suck at making festival specials ahead of time, but am hoping to build that recipe collection over time here so you & I can come back in a few years and look up all recipes related to a festival or an event :-). Big promises, with honest intentions to fulfill them. Until then, walk with me as I make those recipes during the festivals and post them afterwards. We started off Navaratri this year on Saturday with a delicious banana sajjige. I usually start the bommala Koluvu on the 7th day or Saraswathi pooje day and then the daily offerings will follow too.

Today's post is nothing about Navaratri but a quick and easy bowl of comfort to keep you company as you try and ward off those stuffy noses and scratchy throats which comes with the change of seasons. Did I tell you I have a burst of colors in the trees all around me? last week's rains dampened them a little bit but then things perked up totally with the bright and sunny weekend we have had. I see orange, I see red, I see yellow and I see green, how does your neighborhood look?
Autumn signals the end of Farmers markets here, bye bye until next Spring but there are lot of signs for pumpkin and apple picking. Stores are already flooded with Halloween and harvest goodies and before I realize they will be replaced with year end, festive sales. I do Halloween and Navaratri decorations hand in hand, get some pumpkins and candies for the former and make Indian recipes for the latter, works well every year.
So while I was picking up some jack-o-lantern pumpkins for the front yard, I also got home some edible fresh pumpkin to cook. I have a mouth watering recipe coming up later this month (part of an event) but until then, enjoy this seasonal delicacy to send warm signals all through your system. This is a soup you will not get bored of eating again and again as the spices added make it refreshing. We have been having some soup-salad dinners lately and this is one of the family favorite soups.

Pumpkin (or any of the winter squashes) are made for soups if you ask me, they cook fast, puree smooth and have a neutral flavor bordering on sweetish, so it is easy to pair them off with different spices for variety and give the soup a new look every time. I generally use regular pumpkins or butter nut squashes in soups and flavor them with an array of spices & herbs. Celery adds a very slight sharp taste like flavored water and brings in a whole sleuth of health benefits. I usually throw in carrots to most of my vegetable soups for taste and color.
You can use store bought pumpkin puree or make it at home yourself. Peel and chop pumpkin into bite sized pieces, add 1/4 cup water and bring to boil with spices of your choice. Cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves bring out the best flavors in pumpkin. Once pumpkin is cooked soft, let it cool and lend into a fine puree. You can either strain and use it or use it directly depending on the dish. There you go, no preservatives, no added salt, home made puree that can go into pies, breads, cakes and hearty soups.

What do you need to make Pumpkin-Celery soup?
2 cups chopped pumpkin (or 1 cup pureed pumpkin)
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 cup chopped carrots (1 large carrot)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger - julienned into thin slices
1 clove
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tblsp milk
1/4 Tsp freshly powdered nutmeg
1 Tblsp oil (use a mild oil like canola or sunflower)

How do you make Pumpkin-Celery soup?
  • Heat oil in a pan, add ginger juliennes, let it roast for 30 seconds.
  • Add chopped onion and let it cook for 2 minutes until it becomes soft.
  • Add the chopped vegetables along with 1/2 cup water, salt, cloves and nutmeg.
  • Cover and cook on medium heat for 12-14 minutes until the vegetables are soft and cooked.
  • Let it cool down to room temperature.
  • Take all the cooked ingredients to the blender and make a smooth puree.
  • Pour the puree into a sauce pan, add fresh ground black pepper, milk and bring everything to a rolling boil.
  • Serve hot with saltine crackers, bread and a salad for a hearty meal.
  • Cooking nutmeg and cloves along with vegetable infuses the spices well into the soup making it very flavorful.
  • You can use butter instead of oil for sautéing the vegetables.
  • The amount of water and milk given here makes a thick, creamy soup. If you want, adjust the consistency with either water or milk.