Sunday, April 13, 2014

Neeru majjige (spiced buttermilk) - A Rama navami offering and summer special (delayed post by every account :-))

Last Tuesday we celebrated Sri Rama navami and as is customary, I made some neeru majjige, payasa and a kosambari in the evening. Took some pictures and put them in the draft as I was too tired to write that day. For the next 3 days, I was in all day training sessions at work which meant I was busy listening to presentations and talks that saturated my brain completely and when I returned home all I wanted to do was cook, eat and sleep :-). Notice the first verb in that last sentence, I love to cook and it relaxes me like no other activity. I am in my element in the kitchen and can cook after a long day of work but haven't found the energy to sit after a heavy meal and blog about it. I am taking pictures so that all the dishes will present themselves in due course.. but until then my posts will be a little erratic to say the least :-).
This weekend was gorgeous with temperatures touching 70F (yep, that is perfect summer weather for us :-)) and BH & I went back to our yearly routine of gardening. While the saplings are not yet ready in the stores, we prepared the bed, cleaned up the weeds, transported pots back to the outdoors so they can get some direct sun light instead of it being filtered through the windows. Well, here is how it mostly worked, while BH toiled in the Sun pushing our small tiller and squatted in the mud to pick up stubborn roots and large stones, I mostly stood looking very knowledgeable and called out smart decisions at regular intervals and was an integral part of planning the vegetable patch :-). I didn't make the saying "Behind every successful man there is a woman", I just follow it. Looking forward to enjoying some home grown bounty in the next 3-4 months. If no vegetables show up, atleast we will enjoy the green plants. Will keep you all posted. Last week, I went to the farmer's market during a lunch break as the weather was warm and very inviting, the walk down the hill for 2 blocks was a breath of fresh air and I loaded up on my quota of Vitamin D for the day, here are some pictures of the busy roads and busier people!
Back to the neeru majjige, which literally is yogurt thinned down with lotsa water and spiced with some herbs and spices. This is a staple in most homes in India during the hot summer months. The festival of Sri Rama navami celebrating the birth of Lord Rama comes in the month of March or April when Summer is typically starting and temperatures are soaring. So it is no surprise that most of the offerings during this festival have a cooling ingredient. We love neeru majjige any time of the year and I just make Ramanavami an excuse to churn some home made yogurt and make majjige. There is no big recipe here today, I will show you some variations I have seen and make but you can play with the herbs and spices used in the preparation to suit your palate.

Neeru majjige or buttermilk is considered healthier for daily consumption compared to thick yogurt, nammamma always churned and served buttermilk in lunch and dinner while yogurt was usually reserved as a side with rotti or dose(a) or avalakki during breakfast. Most South Indian meals end with a course of rice mixed with yogurt or buttermilk and it is served in all the weddings as the last course of a festive meal. I crave for that extra watery, lightly salted butter milk that falls on hot rice at the end of a very heavy meal. If I can have a piece of ripe lemon pickle on the side, I will probably eat just that one course without asking for anything else :-). Try that heavenly combination at home, very delicious and homely.

I recently had an Iranian/Persian version of spiced buttermilk in a friend's house and it was delicious. They call it Doogh and has a very strong mint flavor but is creamier and thicker than the butter milk I make at home.

Making home made yogurt is easy if you can get a good starter culture from some one :-). I some how have not grown used to the store bought yogurt and buttermilk except on rare occasions and like to make yogurt at home and I distribute generously to friends who ask for it since I will have a much wider network to ask for a starter from when I come back home from long vacations or if my yogurt goes bad for any reason :-).
A few things to keep in mind if you want to make yogurt regularly at home:
1. Always boil milk before attempting to make yogurt.
2. Always cool the milk to luke warm temperature (very similar to the warm water used for proofing the yeast since the yogurt culture will also die if the milk is too hot)
3. Use clean vessels to boil milk and set yogurt (nammamma and amma and now I all have separate vessels used only for the purpose, we do not use these vessels otherwise).
4. If you can get a good quality earthen pot, it works best for setting thick yogurt as it holds the temperature well, steel vessels work well too.
5. Here is the last of my tip I learnt from a friend (thanks S :-)) - once you add the starter yogurt to the warm milk, mix it well with a spoon, infact she told me to churn/whisk it once to get homogeneous, thick yogurt/curds.
Neeru majjige can be tailored and made in different ways. I sometimes use a whole lot of chopped cilantro and sometimes use just curry leaves shred into pieces. While I season it with oil roasted mustard and cumin sometimes, I just add ginger and green chili paste. In the very basic form it is whisked butter milk, thinned down with a lot of cold water and lightly salted. I personally like the yogurt to be a day old and slightly sour for added taste. So it is entirely up to you as to how you make it.

What do you need to make neeru majjige? 
1 cup home made (a day old) yogurt
4-5 cups of cold water
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 small green chilies
1 inch piece of ginger (cleaned and peeled)
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Optional seasoning: 
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp cumin
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make neeru majjige? 
  • Clean and crush green chilies and ginger into a rough paste using a mortar & pestle.
  • Take yogurt in a big bowl, add salt, crushed ginger-green chili and churn/whisk it using a hand whisk or a traditional wooden whisk (called kadegolu in Kannada)
  • Once the yogurt is homogeneous, add water to bring it to the desired consistency, mix well. 
  • Heat oil and add the seasoning ingredients, roast until mustard pops, add it to the buttermilk. 
  • Taste and adjust spices as needed. 
  • Keep aside for 20-30 minutes, serve chilled. You can sieve the buttermilk through a tea strainer to make a clear liquid. Longer you set it aside, the flavors get incorporated better. 
  • Use chopped mint or curry leaves in place of cilantro
  • If you have a garlic crush, add a clove or two to the seasoning. 
  • Crushed ajwain/carom seeds/bishop's weed imparts a wonderful flavor in buttermilk. 
  • Skip green chilies completely if you do not want a spicy buttermilk. 


sashi said...

use hand blender after adding starter yogurt. In this case you don't have to wait till the milk cools down and yogurt sets quicker

NamsVeni Pothas said...

nice recipe for summer .
happy Rama Navami to sattvaa readers

Kannada Cuisine said...

Yay!!! reminds me of summer vacation :) Ram Navami is about school closure and mangoes and summer vacation

Priya Suresh said...

Neeru majjige is just asking me to drink some rite now, beautiful healthy drink.