Monday, November 25, 2013

Cranberry Tokku - 3 perspectives + some thoughts, giving Thanks and cooking with Cranberries

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. November is my month of contemplation for many reasons besides the traditional Thanksgiving celebrated this week. So here is my rambling on the topic, feel free to skip and go to the recipe but I promise I have links to some great reads below that might interest you :-).

All this started a couple of months back when a dear friend of mine shared an article titled "Why Women still can't have it all" by Prof Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of Politics and International affairs at Princeton University. If you follow news and trends regularly you are probably familiar with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean in' concept. This article is a little taunt for 'leaning in'. I understand both points of view at some level but don't agree with either 100%. 'What does having it all" mean to you? What you need/want is never a constant, it changes through out life and is true for both men and women. Life is more complicated than it was in my mom's generation but that doesn't mean you cannot enjoy it. I am neither glorifying a working woman having a family nor do I consider a non working mom to be deficient. My mom never worked outside home though she was qualified to do so and I have plenty of friends who make it seem so effortless as they work outside home and come back and take care of things at home too. So, 'having it all' is defined by you as an individual and there is nothing more to it.
The second perspective came when a colleague of mine sent this link - it does a good take on why nobody should apologize for having a life outside work which is very true and has taken years to come to be accepted. I still remember when I first started work, it was a taboo to talk about family commitments or tell your manager you had leave to take care of your child. It was an unspoken thing that you would compromise your career if you did that. I remember the early days of DD's day care experience when both of us used to be wreaks by end of the day. In the late 90s in India, corporate world was not mature enough to consider women taking time off for maternity, child care or there were no options to work from home or work part time like there are today. It is wonderful to see things changing and work places recognizing and respecting personal lives of their employees.

Finally, I saw this movie (one of my treadmill movies :-)) called "I don't know how she does it" which has the glamorous Sarah Jessica Parker who does not look glamorous at all in the movie & Mr.Bond, Pierce Brosnan. It is an affable comedy, of a working executive who also happens to love her family and is trying to balance her 2 worlds. There is a MIL who constantly tells her how things were different (and obviously better) in her times, there are a couple of exaggerated stay at home moms from the school that find fault with everything she does, a robotic female assistant who works long hours and shuns marriage but finds herself as a single mom and there is a male colleague who stops nothing short of stealing ideas and sabotaging efforts at the last minute. It made me smile as she puts a store bought pie into an old container at home so everybody at her daughter's school thinks that she made it herself for the annual bake sale. It is very relatable as she has to bail out last minute on a family Thanksgiving dinner to attend a client meeting. All in all it is a fun watch. The movie ends with her taking a stand refusing to make a business trip on a weekend and telling her boss, "Sorry, I am unavailable, I got to go make a snowman.". Oops, spoiler, but I am sure you would guess the end as you watch the movie, so it is all fair :-)
When I think about all this, I find myself extremely fortunate to have been brought up by a father who encouraged his little girls to do anything they wanted to in life just as he cheered his boys. He was of a generation where working women were not prevalent but he just looked at us as individuals with ambitions of our own and gave us opportunities every step of the way. Wish he was here still. I married this guy when in my twenties who thinks that my dreams are as valuable as his and willingly accompanies me when I take the leap. He never thinks low of my pursuits but instead has molded part of his own journey to accommodate the co-traveler. I feel blessed to have these wonderful people in my life.

With that we celebrate our Thanksgiving with a fingerlicking cranberry thokku, I am giving a miss to my Thanksgiving traditional lunch this time as we are headed out for a much needed break this long weekend. Looking forward to signing off from work on Wednesday. Cranberries have become such an integral part of my Thanksgiving celebrations, I love these tart berries as they are very amenable to Indian cooking. I made some no grate, no grind tokku this time, it is a much less time & effort consuming Tokku compared to these here & here and has a gorgeous, inviting garnet color and delicious taste. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving season, count your blessings and share some. I will be back next week to talk to you all.
What do you need to make Cranberry Tokku?
4 cups fresh cranberries (you can use frozen ones too but not the dried cranberries)
1 Tsp methi/fenugreek seeds
1 Tblsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
pinch of asafoetida
3 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp mustard seeds
8-10 curry leaves

How do you make Cranberry Tokku?
  • Wash Cranberries by soaking them in a vessel filled with water. You will be able to easily rinse them with hands and pick out any mushy cranberries out.
  • Heat a pan and roast the methi seeds without any oil on low to medium heat constantly stirring until the seeds turn light pink. Let cool and powder it in a mortar & pestle or using your spice grinder.
  • Add oil to the same pan (my economic way to reduce dish washing, you can use different pans if you have the luxury :-)), add mustard, let it pop. Add the curry leaves followed by washed cranberries.
  • Add salt, stir it all in so the cranberries get a coat of oil and let it cook on medium heat.
  • Within a couple of minutes, you will hear the cranberries popping, stir once or twice to move the berries around so they get a contact with the hot pan and pop open.
  • The idea is to have all the berries open up and become a mushy goop. This will take about 7-9 minutes. The berries do not leave a lot of water but it is important to cook on low heat so the rawness goes off completely.
  • Add the red chili powder, mix it in and do a taste test for salt or red chili powder and adjust.
  • Let this cook for another 8-10 minutes until oil starts to ooze out from the sides, do not expect a lot of oil to come out of the sides since we have used a small quantity to begin with.
  • Add the powdered fenugreek seeds, mix and switch off.
  • Once completely cooled, store it in dry, air tight containers. This will stay fresh for a month if you use dry spoons to serve. Makes a great spread on toasted breads, rotis, chapatis etc.
  • Roast the fenugreek seeds slowly on a low-medium heat, burnt seeds spoil the taste entirely.
  • Make sure all berries pop open, give them a little assistance if needed by crushing them with the back of your spatula. This helps them absorb the flavors better.  
  • One of the ways Nammamma used many of the thokkus made at home was to convert it into a quick and delicious one pot rice item. Here is how - Cook rice until soft but grains are fluffy and separate. Add desired amount of the thokku and mix it in. Make a seasoning of mustard, chana dal, urad dal, curry leaves and peanuts in oil and add it to the rice. You will have a quick and yummy rice to fill your lunch box with. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Milk peda (milk fudge, Doodh peda) - when the weather calls for instant gratification and popular applause

Some days are like that, may be the weather or may be something going on at work or on the home front. You feel like you need a quick pat on the back and a cheer me up. And those are the days when you don't want to engage in long drawn cooking or toil in the kitchen keeping tab of exact measurements, defining consistencies etc. I have those days too, thankfully not often. And when it does happen, I like to try something quick but perks me up immediately. On one such days recently, I made these sweeeeeet and grainy milk pedas also known popularly in India as Doodh (Milk) pedas.

If you are a regular on this blog, you probably know that I generally make 'not so rich' dishes and unless an occasion calls for it, stay away from heavy on butter, sugar or oil recipes. But let me not give you the impression that my life is depraved in any way, because it is not :-). We are all normal  healthy people relishing every meal that I make at home. I have a quirk, while I love to cook and make a huge spread of things whether it is a regular meal at home for 3 or I am entertaining a small group of close family members or a large groups of friends, I do not like to spend a long time on any single dish. I multi task in my kitchen, plan and make lists the previous night, so I am done and out of the kitchen in a matter of a couple of hours at the most. My least favorite thing to do in the kitchen is to keep working on the same dish while doing nothing else but watching the concoction in the vessel to change color or reach a certain consistency, not my cup of tea, I am too impatient for that kind of an activity. I like active engagement where my hands, legs are working along with my brain. This literally makes so many of the time consuming recipes a rarity in my kitchen, but I do have some of my favorite recipes marked for the blog and you will see them in due course. Oh the joys of being a food blogger :-)

Well, the other day I needed to make something to take to my Balvihar classes, we have a bunch of about 40 kids and one family gets some prasada (munchies to eat after the classes) every week. It was my turn and I was looking for something all kids (and parents) would enjoy which also needed to be not juicy so we could distribute it easily without the youngest kids dropping it all over and I suddenly remembered seeing a lot of Peda recipes for Diwali. When you look up doodh pedas, you will get a variety of them made from milk, khoya, paneer, ricotta cheese or milk powder. The day I was supposed to make them, I was a little tired and definitely not in the mood to make anything elaborate. So I chose these quick and easy microwave version of the pedas and a hundred of them were gone as kids and the parents kept coming back for seconds and thirds :-). So if you are looking for something that becomes the star of your party, go ahead and try this out without even spending a half hour on them. The best part, only one vessel and a spatula to clean and both are non sticky :-)

If you are from Karnataka, at some point you would have had an encounter with the state government owned Nandini Milk Diary. When all we had for source of milk was the cow or buffalo around the corner in Mysore, the Nandini booths came up as a refreshing change. Not only did they guarantee a certain level of quality as far as the milk was concerned, the novelty was in the fact that they hugely popularized many milk based drinks including the homely buttermilk (vagaarane majjige) sold in plastic pouches. My BIL, nephew and DD are all huge fans of Nandini milk peda and the cold badam milk. On one of the vacations to India, DD who was all of 8 years at the time found her calling in running down the slopes of the street to the corner Nandini milk booth while her parents or grandma were allowed to watch her only from a distance. She would hand the man in the booth exact change and get her own bottle of chilled badam milk with a straw inserted and come back home jumping and singing :-). I love the Nandini peda and the Kalakand. Unlike the pasty peda you get in some bakeries in India, these are grainy in texture and just melt in the mouth, they do not have an overdose of sugar in them either and ofcourse they are made from milk unlike my version of today.
Depending on the region you hit in India, you get different version, textures, sizes and shapes of these pedas. And there are umpteen flavors of them too from the traditional kesar (saffron) and cardamom to the new age chocolate pedas. Go ahead and try any or as many that appeal to you.

The pedas here are close to (I won't claim they are like Nandini Pedas as mine are not made from fresh milk) the Nandini pedas in texture. I used non fat dry milk and sweetened condensed milk. We didn't need any additional sugar for this peda as both milk sources have sugar in them. So if you are pressed for time, but need to impress your guests, try these under 10 minutes pedas and give a big smile, but don't ask me for the calorie information on them, all I will say is - they are sky high:-)
What do you need to make doodh pedas?
Sourced from multiple web sites
Makes about 20 pedas
2 cups dry milk/milk powder
1 - 14Oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 Tblsp butter
8-12 strands of saffron
2 Tblsp milk to soak saffron in using
1/8 Tsp freshly ground cardamom powder

How do you make doodh peda?
  • Take a microwave safe bowl, add the butter & microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Take the bowl out, give a shake and if the butter is not completely melted, microwave for another 30 seconds.
  • Add the dry milk and using a spatula turn it around to coat with butter. Add the condensed milk and give it a good mix and return to the microwave for another minute.
  • Mix, add soaked saffron along with the milk and return to MW for a minute.
  • You should see the mixture losing the wetness from condensed milk at this point and when you mix it, the mixture feels lighter than when you started.
  • Mix and return to the microwave for 45 seconds to a minute, keep an eye on the bowl from outside and if you see the mixture spilling over the sides of the bowl (it happened to me), switch off and take it out.
  • If you hold a small piece of the mixture, it comes together easily into a ball, add the cardamom powder, mix and pour the mixture into a wide plate (it cools down faster and is easier to handle).
  • Grease your palms with a bit of ghee, gently bring together cooked mixture with fingers for a minute so it gets a smooth surface.
  • Pinch off gooseberry size from the mixture, roll it between palms, shape it into a ball and flatten it slightly.
  • If you plan on garnishing it with nuts or fruits, make a small dent with your thumb on top and add the nuts or dry fruits there. Set the pedas on a plate to dry out a little bit before storing them.
  • One batch took me 3 MW cycles of 1 minute each, as each MW is different in power settings, watch the consistency changing and do not let the mixture dry out in the microwave as it makes chewy pedas.
  • If you like chocolate, use cocoa powder (1 Tblsp) along with the dry milk and follow the rest of the process, I would not add saffron to this version though.
  • You can toast and add coarsely ground nuts (almonds, pistachio work great) to the mixture for a crunch in the pedas.
  • Do not over knead or put pressure on the mixture before making balls as it makes the peda chewy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pataqueta - a traditional Valencia orchard bread for Baking Partner's challenge

I am posting back to back recipes this week which is so unlike me :-), but I am enjoying every minute of it. I really wanted to post about the Nallikai chitranna as we celebrated Tulsi habba on Thursday, then Swathi had asked me to be part of the World Diabetes day so came the healthy, diabetic friendly Barley upma. Today is the middle of the month and as has been the tradition over the last few months, I bake with my baking partners group and we all post our experiences and success stories about the month's challenge. Each of the recipes this week is a personal favorite - both for their taste and what they represent. All in all a fulfilling and exhausting week from blogging perspective, my hats off to bloggers who post daily and stay so active in this virtual world. Here I am with my last post for the week :-), hope I didn't bore you with my frequent ramblings. I will see you all next week, have a great weekend.

Taking a slight deviation from her usual choice of recipes for the challenge, Swathi offered us a single recipe this time, a traditional Spanish bread which is known to have been in existence over 300 years. I was excited to try an old world recipe. The bread is traditionally baked in a shape resembling a crescent moon. The ingredients are very minimal as befits a homely bread but the taste and texture are outstanding. This is easily one of the best breads I have baked at home. Originally baked in Moorish ovens, Pataquetas were fed to people as they left home for work. I can imagine why, they are hardy yet soft, stand well either dipped in a soup/stew or made into a sandwich. This delicious bread reminds me of the bakery purchased Italian bread especially Ciabatta. These are no longer cooked regularly at home but are pre ordered on occasions. Thank you Marisa for introducing us to this wonderful bread. Crisp and crackly outside with a beautifully soft inside, perfect with a soup or a spicy chutney, tastes divine.
All happy endings are not necessarily pain free travels. My journey of making Pataqueta had its own challenges. I made the ferment last week and following the instructions, refrigerated it. 48 hours later, the ferment didn't look any different from what had been pushed in, so to say I was a little worried would be an understatement. I panicked and sent an SOS to the baking partners' group. Swathi responded back promptly asking the right questions like if my yeast was active and suggesting I try putting the ferment out for a couple of hours before going any further. I had made a whole wheat bread using the same batch of yeast just a couple of days back and didn't think it was the culprit so took the ferment out in the morning and kept stealing glances at it the whole day to see if it would take some pity on me and show a change. No such luck. Not daring to go forward with that ferment and waste additional flour, I chucked it down the drain and started over. And incidentally my yeast also got over.

So went and got a fresh stock of yeast and made my starter. Taking some cues from the previous disaster, I kept the ferment out on the counter top for about 15 minutes and started seeing bubbles after the first 10 minutes which made my heart sing a happy tune. After this reassurance, the ferment went into the refrigerator. I left it in there for 2 full days before taking it out, the starter didn't seem to have doubled or increased in size, in essence it was pretty much the same as the last time :-(. My heart sank at the sight but I just braved on to make the dough hoping for some edible bread at the end of it. But then life is full of surprises and I ended up with a delicious bread which we all enjoyed. DD, who was home when I baked it, polished off 3 or 4 Pataquetas at one go with a heap of Pudina chutney on the side :-), a Spanish & Indian match made in heaven. We ate it with a hot bowl of soup for dinner, just perfect on a wintry night. By the time Marisa enlightened us about the way it is eaten in Valencia (sliced in half and used as a sandwich bread), we had polished off the bread :-), so the plan as DD says is to make it again soon so we can try the sandwich way.
The recipe is very simple and the ferment doesn't actually rise in volume, since the consistency of the starter is a slightly liquidish. So learning from experience, my first starter would have worked just as well if only I had not thrown it away. The surprising part of this bread is that there is not a single drop of oil or any fat. The ingredients are just flour and water mixed with a leaving agent. The recipe we were given as part of the challenge had a link to a Spanish website so my Spanish studying daughter volunteered happily to read it and translate it for me as I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing out anything in my translated English version :-).
What do you need to make Pataqueta?
Ferment or starter ingredients:
100 ml water (room temperature)
1/3 cup All purpose flour
1.5 Tsp instant yeast or 2 Tsp Active dry yeast
1/2 Tsp sugar
Bread dough ingredients:
3 cups bread flour (you can substitute with AP flour if you like)
200 ml luke warm water
1.5 Tsp salt
all of the ferment from above
1/2 Tsp flour to dust on top

How do you make Patequeta?
Making the ferment:
  • Take water in a bog bowl, stir in the yeast into the water.
  • Add the flour and sugar and mix it.
  • This is not a flowing liquid neither is it a tight dough.
  • Keep the mixture on counter top for about 10-15 minutes for the yeast to start working.
  • You may see some tiny bubbles on top if you have used rapid rise yeast.
  • Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and refrigerate for upto 48 hours.
  • This helps develop yeast slowly and enhances the taste of the bread.
Making the bread dough:
  • Keep the refrigerated ferment out for about 30-45 minutes.
  • Add the flour, warm water to the bowl and bring them together using a spoon or a scraper.
  • Take the dough on to a flat surface and knead it for about 8-10 minutes - you will not require any dry flour, the dough feels a little sticky to start with but as you work on it becomes soft and pliable.
  • Add the salt and continue to knead for another 15 minutes, you will feel the dough changing texture under your fingers, it is such a satisfying feeling if you ask me :-).
  • At the end of 20 minutes, you will end up with a soft, pliant and elasticky dough.
  • Divide the dough into equal sized balls (I made 14 balls) and roll them gently to remove creases.
  • Set them on a tray for 20 minutes to settle down, cover it with a cloth.
  • Take out the balls one by one, press it into a disc with hand, make a sharp cut in the bottom half and gently lift the dough sideways to make the shape - watch this video to get an idea.
  • Make another horizontal cut in the middle.
  • I made all balls but 2 in this shape and used the last two to make some regular rolls.
  • Set these shaped breads on cookie sheets an inch apart, cover with a cloth and let them rise for an hour.
  • Mine did not exactly double in size but just looked poofy and soft. So don't let the size deter you.
  • This bread is steam baked so take a wide baking tray or a oven safe dish and put it in the bottom rack of the oven as you preheat the oven to 390F.
  • Take about 4 cups of water and set it to boil.
Making the Pataqueta:
  • Take a Tsp of flour in a fine sieve and dust it over the bread lightly.
  • Open your oven door, pull the bottom rack and quickly pour the boiling water into it.
  • Put the baking sheets with Pataquetas inside the oven on the top rack and close it.
  • Bake for 26-30 minutes.
  • Enjoy fresh baked, hot bread with soup or chutney as we did. Marisa says it is traditionally eaten as a sandwich bread, so go ahead and make your own filling.
The delicious Pataqueta baked as part of Baking Partner's challenge for Nov, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Barley Upma - World Diabetic Day - spreading awareness through food

On this World Diabetic day, Swati asked a few of us bloggers to blog about the disease in an effort to create awareness. Diabetes is a condition of the body when there is excess sugar/glucose in the blood stream. Type 2 diabetes found most commonly in adults is caused when the body either does not create enough insulin or the insulin does not work as intended. This insulin resistance creates a build up of glucose (sugar) in the blood stream impacting the body function and leading to complications with major organs in the system. Bleak as this diagnosis sounds, diabetes is a treatable condition with a combination of well managed diet, regular exercise and medication.

Coming from a South Asian community, most of us are pre-disposed to diabetes. While genetics play a major role in diabetes manifestation, individual life styles contribute greatly to it too. So, you are not spared if your parents or grand parents didn't have the condition, you could be the first one to start the trend as a sedentary lifestyle and obesity can trigger diabetic diagnosis. However, a diabetes diagnosis doesn't have to make life unbearable. 
One thing that helps most is to be consistent and consciously make healthy choices. 

As a kid, I had seen a couple of my relatives eat 'Godhi anna' which is cooked broken wheat instead of the white, fluffy rice the rest of the family enjoyed. It used to be mostly bland and devoid of any frills and many of these people also took daily insulin shots which meant that the diabetes was quite advanced. While every person has unique needs, there are some 'free foods' such as herbs to enhance the flavor, vegetables such as cabbage to add volume which can create miraculously yummy treats without them being 'bad' on your blood sugar. Key to diabetes regulation is to watch for foods that tend to create a spike in the blood sugar. Foods that digest slowly (high in soluble fibers) are considered best in diabetic diet. Your best source of advice should be from your health care professional or physician. With that disclaimer, I do want to share some things that I have learnt over the months now as I journey towards helping a family member keep diabetes regulated. 
While regular exercise helps everybody, it becomes a more essential need in diabetic care. Make sure you add regular exercise to your routine, simple changes like moving around instead of being glued to the chair can be a great first step.

When it comes to diabetic diet one should aim to eliminate or atleast limit the intake of processed foods. Replace your all purpose flours with whole wheat flour, upma rava with broken wheat as simple gestures that go a long way in controlling blood sugar. Sweets do not need to be totally off limits if included as occasional treats. Whole grains, beans, pulses make some of the best vegetarian diabetic friendly choices. Whole grain essentially means grains that have all 3 components - germ, bran and the endosperm (or starchy part). Oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, cracked wheat, millet are some of the commonly available whole grains. These foods are high in soluble fibers and create a slow release of nutrients and hence does not spike sugar level in the blood. Reduce oily substances and use vegetable/plant based oils whenever possible. Freshly prepared food in place of a can of soup is a very welcome change in diabetic diet. Equally important is to control your portions at every meal and space them so there is no long stretches of starvation to the body. 

Here are some additional websites to go to if you are looking for diabetes related information -
International Diabetes Federation
American Diabetes Association

With that, I have a simple and delicious variety of upma (when you are in doubt or lack creative juices to name a dish, call it Upma and it works just fine :-)) made from Barley. I used some nutrition enhancers like garbanzo beans/chick peas and fresh Kale which is a protein power house. These additions make the dish different and yummy. You can use any other cooked beans or leafy greens instead. I hope this post is not all preachy but has some good take aways if you are looking for diabetic friendly recipes. I can guarantee that all of us at home enjoyed the Barley upma very much. Some of my other diabetic friendly recipes can be found here and here.

Side bar conversation: I was torn by conflicting reports on the inclusion of coconut oil in a diabetic friendly diet, while some reports say the high saturated fat content in coconut oil is a 'no-no' for diabetes, some swear by the lower GI effects of this oil. Again, I am not the expert in the subject, so I leave it to others.  

What do you need to make Barley Upma?
1 cup barley
2&1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cooked garbanzo
1 cup fresh kale
1.5 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
2-3 green chilies
1 inch piece ginger
3-4 curry leaves
2 shallots/3 Tblps chopped red onion
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder

How do make Barley Upma?
  • Soak Barley in 4 cups of water overnight.
  • Scrub and rinse barley in the morning, drain the water a couple of times to remove any impurities.
  • Bring 2&1/4 cup water to boil along with a pinch of salt. 
  • When the water starts to boil, add barley and let it come to a boil, keep stirring at this point.
  • Once the bubbles start again, cover and bring the heat to low and cook or 20-25 minutes until water is absorbed and barley is cooked.
  • Switch off and keep it covered for 10 minutes.
  • In another pan, heat oil and add mustard. When mustard seeds pop, add chopped green chilies, ginger and curry leaves and saute for a minute.
  • Add chopped shallots/onion, followed by remaining salt, turmeric powder and saute until onion turns limp.
  • Add chopped kale leaves and continue to saute until they wilt about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the cooked chick peas, cooked barley and give a good mix.
  • Do a taste test, add lemon juice if you like, serve hot.
  • Cooked barley is a little chewy (similar to brown rice texture).
  • Soaking barley reduces the cooking time drastically, you can otherwise cook barley in pressure cooker.
  • Adding salt to the boiling water helps barley absorb some salt and brings out its taste better.
  • Add other cooked vegetables (beans, carrots, peas etc) to enrich this dish.
  • Sprouts & cooked beans make a healthy addition too.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nallikayi chitranna (seasoned gooseberry rice) - a Karthika maasa special

Most traditional Hindu homes have a Tulsi (Holy Basil) plant in the front yard. The 12th day in the Lunar calendar after the Deepavali new moon is celebrated as Tulasi Habba where the Holy basil is worshipped. As the festivities start dwindling down towards the end of the year, this day is used up to invite friends, sing and distribute food and fruits among other things. The uniqueness of this day is all the invitees get to sit outdoors (in the chilly November weather :-)) infront of the Tulasi katte (plant is housed inside a brick structure which stands for generations in ancestral homes). Dark evenings made bright with glowing lamps or Deepas, little kids instructed to protect the wavering lamps from the chilly wind, smell of poha cooked/mixed with jaggery and a mandatory (sort of) inviting kosambari with cucumbers or carrots, such a nice and cozy way to celebrate end of the year (almost) and bring cheer to the cold climate.

For me, highlight of Tulsi habba was the cardamom flavored poha-jaggery mix and the promise of something very yummy the next day. The anticipation starts building up from the day before when we get a freshly cut branch of gooseberries. These berries would start showing a little before Deepavali and people pick them up for pickles and other preserves. While the berries are available in abundance during the month, the prices would surreptitiously go up the day before Tulsi habba. Amma would pick some of the really nice and big gooseberries out, scrape a little piece off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. The top cut is used to hold a wick dipped in ghee while the bottom cut makes the roly poly gooseberry stand firm. The wick would be lighted and used as part of the pooja. The branch with all remaining berries would be placed in the Tulsi katte next to the Tulsi plant. The day after, all the gooseberries would be collected from that branch and made into a delicious, tangy chitranna which is what I would be waiting for :-). 
These gooseberries are called bettada nallikaayi in Kannada to differentiate them from another related variety and are light green in color, about the size of a key lime, not too sour in taste and are usually found in the wild. The other variety of gooseberries are smaller, have a beautiful yellow color when ripe and are tangy in taste. These are called Kiru nallikaayi in Kannada (Kiru~small, nallikayi~gooseberry) and can be grown in the back yard. When they are very young, they taste bland to bitter but as they become ripe, the tang sets in, They make a perfect snack when dipped in a mixture of red chili powder, salt and a pinch of sugar and also make the most notorious cause (according to my mom) for the incessant coughing among us kids during those months :-). As kids, we knew how to create an uncomplicated web of simple barter to sustain and get the best of the snacks, home work help in exchange for a handful of those tangy berries was considered a fair trade as was an exchange of some of the popular snack items :-). I always got my share of the berries every year given my reputation for being the class nerd and also aided greatly by the fact that my mom made some of the very popular snacks.

There was a small shop inside my high school campus run by this very able lady we all called Taati and her store carried small eats such as spicy roasted peanuts, coconut burfis, small oranges or these gooseberries (whichever was in season) among other things. She would lightly boil these berries in salted water (so it absorbs the salt) and sprinkle chili powder. I don't think there ever was a girl in the school that resisted the mouth watering berries in brine. Young girls in pleated, ironed skirts, with flying pigtails, socked feet dangling down the steps while the shoes lay orphaned on the floor somewhere in the vicinity, holding paper cones becoming a wet mess slowly from the juice of the berries.. those play ground stairs must have seen generation after generation of girls squealing with joy enjoying their little treats in life. You would start by slowly licking the outer layer before biting into the luscious berries, keep a few bites on the tongue, close your eyes and enjoy the burst of salt and spice. Can life get any more uncomplicated than this? I didn't think so..
Did you ask what was special about the Nallikayi rice? I agree that it is a close cousin of lemon rice, you use gooseberries instead of lemon juice. But if you haven't tasted it, give it  try, it tastes very different from lemon rice, gooseberries leave a lingering after taste on the tongue and mixed with the right amount of green chilies, salt and crunchy seasoning, this makes a very good lunch box menu. You can make a large batch of gooseberries mixture (called chutney) and store it for future use. You have to take care not to have the gooseberries come in contact with water and preserve them in dry, air tight containers. Use wooden spoons to scoop it out. This makes an instant nallikayi anna, just mix it with cooked rice, add seasoning and you are ready to go.

I got a packet of frozen gooseberries last week and made this rice. As Tulsi habba is a couple of days away, it is just in time too. If you can get fresh ones, go for it and grab a couple for me too :-).

What do you need to make Nallikayi (Gooseberry) rice?
2 cups uncooked rice (sona masoori variety preferred, you can other long grained, non sticky rice also)
1 Tblsp chopped cilantro
To grind:
2 cups chopped gooseberries - about 25-30
1 cup grated coconut
3-4 green chilies
1/4 Tsp asafetida **use less if you have a good wet asafetida like the SSP brand
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
1.5 Tsp salt
Seasoning (very close to the chitranna seasoning here or here):
2 Tblsp oil - divided use
1 Tsp mustard
1.5 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
2 Tblsp peanuts
4-6 curry leaves
1-2 green chilies
1 dry red chili broken into pieces
How do you make Nallikayi rice?
  • Cook rice so that the gains are soft but separate.
  • Spread it in a plate and let cool.
  • If you are using fresh gooseberries (LUCKY you :-)), wash and pat dry them thoroughly, using a sharp knife cut them open and discard the seeds.
  • If you using frozen gooseberries (YAY, LUCKY you :-)), thaw them and pat them with a dry kitchen napkin to absorb the moisture content.
  • Take the prepared gooseberries along with the ingredients listed under 'To grind' and make a coarse paste by pulsing the blender several times. Try not to use water unless it is absolutely needed. As the berries break down, the juices will help run the blender. We are looking for a crumbly mixture (no pieces of gooseberries though). - This is the chutney and if you are like me, go ahead and taste a few spoonfuls.
  • Heat 1 Tblsp oil, add the ground mixture and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the mixture loses some of the moisture and also the rawness from the chilies. Put this on top of the cooked rice.
  • Heat the remaining oil for the seasoning, start with mustard followed by the dals and peanuts. Once the mustard starts to splutter add the chilies & curry leaves. Let it roast until the dals & peanuts turn crunchy.
  • Switch off and pour the seasoning on the rice.
  • Once the rice is cool, mix everything together with light fingers, do a taste test for salt and adjust as needed.
  • Cover and set aside for 30 minutes to let the juices mix in.
  • Serve with papads on the side.
  • Usually for variety rice items rice:water ratio is 1:2, but this depends on the quality of rice. Adding a couple of drops of oil while cooking rice helps to make fluffly, non sticky rice.
  • Choose light green colored, firm gooseberries without dents or black spots on them for best taste.
  • You can use basmati rice but I generally avoid it in this recipe as the smell of basmati rice can overwhelm the rest of the spices.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Granola bars - keep those famous mid morning hunger pangs at bay with a healthy treat

Do you have some 'grab & go' kind of recipes you keep handy? Much as I would love to sit down and eat every meal in a relaxed way with my family, it is not realistic. Especially, the week day mornings, we seem to hardly have time to eat something nutritious without worrying about it also being delicious. If both of us start the early morning off with meetings/calls, it sets a different pace and tone to the rest of the day and I try to plan for those frequent occurrences.

Then there are days I am out, need to be heads down in work or occasional travelling, I prefer to keep some ready made stuff that my folks can fall back on if their mega plans to make an elaborate meal in 'amma's absence' comes to a stand still for some valid but mostly invalid reasons :-). While BH & I enjoy our morning bowl of Oats most days, I have not been able to make DD fall in love or even tolerate the gooey stuff. So she gets other stuff for breakfast which is a mockery of breakfast because most days she has all of 2 minutes to eat before she has to run out the door. And then her carb and correspondingly energy levels are down by mid day. I should put this on my list to ask my mom on our next phone call about what I did when I was a teenager :-), hope what she says doesn't crush my ego.
High school is a huge transition from lower grades, all those circle time, snack time are long gone and so are the gold fish, cheese & crackers. In high school, most teachers seem ok with kids eating in the class as long as they do not disturb/distract others or make a mess. So DD likes to pack something to curb her mid day hunger pangs. Most days it is her favorite chick peas + avocado salad, or some saltine crackers but ever since I made this granola bars at home a couple of months ago, it has been granola bars that she carries every day. Says she could eat oats in that form any time :-), makes me laugh with joy as I can load them up with ingredients I know are good for her.

Why make granola bars at home when there are atleast a hundred different varieties stacked up, nicely wrapped for easy carrying in the grocery store aisles? Not trying to be a 'super mom' by making everything from scratch and at home. As you know I have my semi home made tricks to save my day when needed. Alluring as it was to bring a box of granola bars from Costco and stick it in for quick energy refreshers, as we tried different brands of these bars over the years, we found some to be too chewy (like card board), some way too sweet, some had ingredients we didn't care to put in our systems - what can I say, we are a picky bunch. We gave up the search for the perfect family approved nutri bars after many attempts while I kept coming across multiple versions of home made granola bars.
You will see an ingredient in the list below that may not sound familiar unless you have a background of Middle Eastern or Persian food. Don't worry if you do not have it, it is not a deal breaker here. Zereshk is a berry in dry form, rich in vitamin C with a sharp acidic flavor. Dried version tastes closer to dried cranberries but more tart. A good friend shared an entire bagful with me earlier last month, these berries are used as garnishing in Persian rice and give a very yummy burst of tang. I have just been popping handfuls into the mouth so far and added them into the bars here.

This is a very easy to make granola bar, you can customize it with your choice of dry fruits and nuts and make it your own. I started with 3 Tblsp brown sugar and have reduced to 1 Tblsp now, I will not recommend changing the quantity of the liquids very much because you need them to coat the dry ingredients an provide enough binding strength. You can add honey instead of maple syrup or keep it vegan as I did here.

What do you need to make Granola bars?
Source: Various on internet
Dry ingredients:
3.5 cups oats
1/2 cup coconut flakes (I used sweetened variety)
1 Tblsp brown sugar
**10-12 almonds
6-8 wlnuts
6-8 pecans
6-8 pistachio
1 Tblsp each of raisins, dried cranberries, dried blueberries
1 Tsp Zereshk (I used it since I had it))
Wet ingredients:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
1 Tsp vanilla

1 Tblsp nutella :-) - key to my daughter's happiness kingdom
** Nuts & dry fruits should make approximately 1 cup
How do you make Granola bars?
  • Prepare a baking pan - I used a 11X7in baling pan with edges and the bars were about an inch & quarter in thickness. Cut and lay out a sheet of parchment paper in the pan and tuck in the corners. Give a light coating of non stick baking spray, I used my canola oil spray.
  • Pre heat oven to 325F.
  • Arrange the nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, sunflower seeds or any other choice) in a baking sheet and toast them until fragrant (7-8 minutes, watch the oven so they don't burn) - Pre toasting the nuts gives a very fragrant aroma to the bars though you can use raw nuts directly.  
  • Take the nuts out, let them cool a little bit so you can handle them, chop up into small bits.
  • Mix oats, toasted nuts, coconut flakes and all other dry ingredients in a big bowl until they are uniformly distributed.
  • Add the wet ingredients and mix it well so that everything is coated nicely.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and using a flat & heavy dish, smoothen the surface while packing them up tightly - This is important to get the bars without them crumbling up, keep pushing the mixture down all the time - See notes below.
  • Spread nutella on top - make designs if you are creative :-), see notes below to know what I did.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, take out the pan and let it cool completely before cutting them up as bars or squares, use a sharp knife to cut through the bar.
  • I spread another layer of parchment paper on top of the mixture and use the bottom of a heavy, flat cup to actually hit it down. Don't directly use your hands as oats keep getting stuck :-)
  • Since nutella refuses to fall down in dignity, I put it in a zip lock bag, cut a tiny hole at the bottom (very much like the cones you make for piping pastry toppings or henna designs) and pipe it out.
  • The reason my nutella is seen in blobs at some places is because I didn't notice that my zip lock came with its own hole which added to the double squirt, but then DD said nutella chunks tasted great, a win-win :-)
  • You can use melted chocolate instead of nutella or skip it altogether.
  • We like the texture of whole oats in this bar, if you like make a coarse crumble (do not powder) of oats.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Saaru pudi(Rasam powder) & (Mysore) Saaru - a sought after recipe for a home made Rasam powder

Hope everyone started their New Year on a great note. My wishes to all of you. I am going to start this year's blogging with a recipe so common, so popular that it needs no introduction to anyone with even a tiny bit of exposure to Indian cuisine. It is special because it comes from my favoritest most favorite (before my grammar addict DD catches me on this) kitchen in the entire world. This is what I grew up on literally.
Before I start talking about anything else today, I want to unload something with you guys. It is a pet peeve of mine to see something called 'Mysore Rasam' because as far as I know, there is no such thing as Mysore Rasam. I was born and raised in Mysore and spent the first 20 years of my life in this beautiful city but have never heard another Mysorean say, "I made Mysore Rasam for lunch today" :-) simply because it doesn't exist. I think it was the MTR quick mixes of the world that coined the name to distinguish it from the neighboring Madras Rasam(is there a Madras Rasam BTW, any Chennaites?) and the name some how stuck. For one, we don't call it Rasam in Mysore, it is a 'saaru' and saaru tastes different from kitchen to kitchen within the boundary of Mysore depending on the individual tastes and preferences of each family, so generalizing something as Mysore Rasam is a gross understatement. Since the rest of the world has gotten used to this misnomer, I will indulge everyone with it albeit unwillingly. But for a hard core Mysorean, it will always remain 'Saaru'. Whew, now that I took it off my chest, I am back to my happy self and we can continue our talk in a much lighter vein for the rest of the post.

Since I started this blog 2 years back, I have had many requests for home made powders, while I do post them from time to time, there are some I still haven't brought to the blog. Saaru pudi is such a quintessential condiment in a South Indian home that each of us learn it by watching moms and grandmoms in the kitchen. Saaru fares regularly in our menu and I used to stock my pantry with MTR Mysore Rasam powder for a long time whenever my imported pudi from Nammamma's kitchen got over. Though I knew the ingredients that went in to making the pudi, I had never attempted it on my own until recently. One day when I was picking through my recipe books including the hand written one I have, a piece of paper fell down that had saarina pudi recipe. It is from some 6 years back when nammamma was here visiting us. Having hit the jackpot, I went to the kitchen and made it that day and then a week later and again 2 weeks later. This here is nammamma's saaru pudi and I don't find the need to buy MTR anymore :-)
Since I said saaru tastes different in different kitchens, let me also state that nammamma made one of the best saarus I have ever had though she didn't ever think so and has never been a big fan of her own saaru, she prefers Huli (which is known as sambar in Indian culinary dictionary). Basic definition of saaru is a spiced liquid with or without lentils in which vegetables are most notably absent except for tomatoes and in some special cases onions. The saaru usually has a much thinner consistency compared to a Huli/sambar and is served as either an appetizer or as the second course to be mixed with rice in a meal or more famously to dunk deep fried vadas in. While I was writing this post and thinking about the different varieties of saaru made at home, it occurred to me that a picture might be more useful to show you what I had in mind instead of writing sentences. So I applied a little bit of my professional skills to draw the below, it is hand drawn so pardon the 'unstraight' straight lines. Hope you guys enjoy the neat picture and if you didn't know, you just read a basic flow chart :-)
Making saaru pudi is an art, while you may get the list of ingredients and the proportions from a recipe, the major trick is in roasting those ingredients. Under roasted or over roasted spices turn a possible master piece into a failure very quickly. In Nammamma's kitchen, pudi making days were actually marked on the calendar, she would make sure there were no other events happening on that day, ingredients were purchased and kept ready, kids were at school (you don't want them either sneezing on you the whole time or tugging you at arm for snacks, so they had to be out) and she would also plan the breakfast & lunch for the day ahead so she can get it out of the way and clear the kitchen area. Once the daily cooking was done, the kitchen would get a round of cleaning, the gas stove with 2 burners would come down to the floor and she would sit there roasting all the spices. All this was essential since she made big batches of the powders and usually made 3 or more different spice powders on the same day and in quantities big enough to sustain the family for atleast a month and half before the cycle repeated.

Once the spices are roasted, you take them to the flour mill in the neighborhood. These mills were small rooms, low ceilinged and housed 2 or 3 huge machines that ran continuously and generated so much heat that standing inside that room was no less than an adventure sport. Nammamma would send one of us kids as messengers the previous evening to let the mill owner know we had a batch of powders to be ground so he could plan ahead. What planning, you ask? Here is the deal - the machine has a wide feeder on top from where the roasted lentils/spices would be fed and the ground powder would come out through a much narrower pipe - it was actually a stump that was extended longer with a stitched cloth, imagine a leg of trousers. We would keep a container at the end of it to collect the powder. Pretty ingenuous, huh? But the problem with this is the powder invariably gets attached to the inside of the cloth and if you didn't want multiple flavors mixed up in your powder, you had to invert that trousery thingy and make sure all attached powder got detached/dusted off :-) and would sneeze and cough laboriously in the process. And then the blander powders (like Menthya hittu - recipe coming up sometime soon for this favorite powder of mine) had to be ground first before you would start on the spicier powders. After a strong flavored powder was done, the cloth tied to the output tube would be flipped reverse and any powder sticking to the inside would be dusted off completely before starting the machine again. On top of all this, the machine was controlled by request to produce fine powder (as in saaru pudi) and coarse powder (as in Chutney pudi).

The powders would get home by evening and the next day would be a sort of celebration trying out the various powders. I made small quantities and used my mixer to grind the powder.
What do you need to make Saaru pudi (Rasam Powder)?
1 cup coriander seeds/dhania
2 cups broken red chilies - preferably a mixture of Byadigi & Guntur, see notes below.
1 cup picked curry leaves
1/4 cup black pepper/menasu
1/4 cup fenugreek seeds/menthya
1/4 cup cumin/jeerige
1 Tblsp mustard/saasive
1/2 Tsp ghee
2 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp asafetida - I like to use the non powder form (SSP brand has good asafetida), if not available, use the powder
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder or a small piece of dried turmeric root if you can get it
How do you make Saaru pudi?
  • Heat the skillet on medium heat until warm, add fenugreek seeds. Roast them by continuously stirring until they turn light pink. Keep them aside in a wide plate.
  • Add cumin to the pan and fry until light brown. Take care not to smoke cumin. Keep aside.
  • Add mustard and stir them to roast until they pop, keep aside.
  • Add ghee to the pan followed by black pepper and roast them until fragrant and start to pop. Do not smoke the black pepper. Some black peppers do not pop, so watch while roasting and take them aside as soon as they become fragrant.
  • Add oil to the pan, add the broken pieces of chilies (get your exhaust fan going and open a couple of windows to help air circulation) and roast by stirring continuously until chilies turn crisp. Take care not to blacken them. Keep aside.
  • Add the curry leaves to the pan and roast until they are crisp. Keep aside.
  • Add coriander seeds and roast them until they heat up and become warm completely, add turmeric powder and asafetida just before taking the seeds out of the pan and stir them to get coated.
  • Let the roasted spices cool completely before grinding them to a very fine powder.
  • Store in air tight containers. This will stay fresh for atleast 3-4 weeks when kept outside. If you are making large quantities, put it in the refrigerator for longer storage.
Once you have made saaru pudi, next logical step is to make the saaru or Rasam. So I combined both in this post. The saaru I have here is just one of the ways of preparing it and is delicious. You can skip tomatoes completely, use tamarind instead for a different variation. If you have had a taste of this heavenly broth and want to recreate it at home, remember a good saaru starts with a good pudi, add a pinch of jaggery (Mysore touch) and a spoon of milk (to get that beautiful hue, nammamma's wisdom), you are all set to go :-).

What do you need to make Tomato Saaru?
1/3 cup toor dal
2 medium tomatoes
3-4 curry leaves
2 Tsp saaru pudi
small piece of tamarind (adjust this based on the sourness of your tomatoes)
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric
1/2 Tsp jaggery
2-3 twigs of cilantro
1 Tsp shredded coconut
1 Tblsp milk
1/2 Tsp ghee
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
pinch of asafetida
How do you make Tomato Saaru?
  • Wash, pick and cook toor dal along with the curry leaves and 1 whole tomato and another 1/2 of it in pressure cooker until soft.
  • Chop the remaining 1/2 tomato into small pieces and keep it aside for later use.
  • After the first whistle, I simmer the heat down completely and let it cook for 15 minutes. This works perfectly for me. Depending on your stove, lentils quality and the pressure cooker itself, you may need to adjust this time. Idea is to cook until soft.
  • Let pressure subside, take out the cooked tomatoes onto a plate and whisk the dal to form a homogeneous puree.
  • Once the tomatoes cool down, remove the skin, take it into a blender jar along with salt, saaru pudi, grated coconut, tamarind and grind it into a smooth paste.
  • Bring the mashed lentils to a boil with turmeric, jaggery and the ground paste along with chopped tomatoes.
  • Once it starts to form bubbles, add finely chopped cilantro (use the cleaned stalks along with the leaves), milk and let it boil on medium heat.
  • Heat ghee in a small seasoning pan (preferably iron/cast iron), add mustard and cumin. Once the mustard pops, add hing and pour the seasoning into the saaru.
  • Serve delicious saaru with steaming white rice and a drop of ghee or drink it up as an appetizer.
Saaru Pudi wisdom:
  • Really important to remember while making this powder is to get good quality ingredients especially asafetida and roast them with love and patience. Nammamma has a technique of combining different ingredients while roasting as she knows the combinations that need the same roasting time but I go for an easier technique (to remember that is) and roast each of them separately until done. Follow the order I have above to keep dry & oil roasting separate.
  • Use a heavy gauge skillet or cast iron pan to roast the ingredients as it helps distribute heat evenly and adds flavor.
  • Thumb rule for mixing red chilies - Guntur variety gives heat and Byadigi variety gives the color. Adjust according to your preference. Amma's recipe calls for 1 cup coriander seeds to 2 cups broken red chilies.  
Saaru wisdom:
  • Add 2 drops of oil to the pressure cooker so lentils cook well.
  • Saaru should boil but not spill over for best taste, adjust the heat.  
  • This saaru is not too sour, if your tomatoes have sourness, skip the tamarind.
  • Adding a little bit of tomato pieces to the saaru enhances its texture. Same with cilantro stalks. If you have had this saaru in any Karnataka wedding, you will see that they use cilantro along with stalks liberally, so go for it.
This is a really special recipe for me because all my guests & friends that have tasted this saaru always like it. If you try this at home, I would love to hear back from you whether you liked it or otherwise. Enjoy!!