Sunday, March 29, 2015

Avarekalu-Menthya soppina bhaath - a single pot rice dish needing no pre-made powders

Before I forget to wish you all, Happy Sri Rama Navami to all my readers celebrating the birth of Lord Rama. By the time I got to writing this post, Ramanavami for 2015 had already slid into the past making me late again with my wishes. But as I always say, "better late than never". Hope you all had a good celebration, ours was simple with kosambari, panaka & hesaru bele payasa. Filling, very satisfying and saatvik :-).

On my not posting regularly, I won't even go there :-(.  I was thinking yesterday of making a really catchy poster to adorn my home page and say something to the effect of, "Gone missing, will be back as soon as life slows down a teeny bit" but then I thought if I have the time to think up and make up fancy posters, I might as well sit myself down and write the posts for some of the recipes that have been languishing in the draft folder for a while now. Ironically enough, I was attending a 3 day talk last weekend about life management and managing time was the topic of day-1 :-).

Here I am with a family favorite and extremely easy to cook up, one pot rice dish that brings together 2 of my favorite ingredients - fresh fenugreek leaves for its characteristic fragrance & taste and avarekalu (papdi lilva) for the love of beans :-). I have another delicious version of rice made with fenugreek leaves that uses Vangibhaath powder, check it out here if interested.
I believe I have already professed my love for avarekalu and written my ode to this humble beans many times over on the blog, here, here and here. Recently a reader from Michigan reached out to ask some questions about averekalu and I felt as glad as he did when he wrote back a week or so later to say he did find them in his local grocery store and made yummy dishes with it. It feels good to come across folks with similar tastes and I am glad my little posts spread some (avarekalu) love to others living away from home.

Nammamma made this version of the bhaath towards the end of avarekalu season when the beans would be mature and plump but not very juicy or fragrant. Back home in Mysore, the beans would first announce their arrive with that very distinct fragrance and as soon you picked them, your hands would undoubtedly be coated with a thin layer of sticky substance (we called it 'sone' in kannada, not sure if it has a name in other languages) which was all part of the avarekalu experience. Adding methi or fenugreek leaves perfectly complements the flavor in this rice. I made this rice recently knowing fully well that my few weeks of avarekalu enjoyment was coming to an end here.

This dish does not need any pre-made spice powders and is very easy to prepare. It has carbs(rice), protiens (beans), nutrients & flavor (fenugreek leaves) and hence makes a perfectly wholesome meal. This can be done in a single vessel from start to end - less cleaning, less wastage and environment friendly :-)
What do you need to make averekalu-menthya bhaath? 
2 packed cups of fresh fenugreen leaves
1-1.5 cups avarekalu (Papdi lilva)
2 cups rice (use sona masoori preferably)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 Tsp cumin
1 inch piece of ginger
1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 cloves
4-6 black pepper corns
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 Tsp salt (Adjust to taste)
2 Tbsp oil
How do you make averekalu-menthya soppina bhaath?
  • Chop washed fenugreek leaves. 
  • Wash and soak rice for about 20 minutes (this speeds up the cooking process)
  • Take a heavy bottom pan (or pressure cooker) and heat it on medium heat. 
  • Add cinnamon, black pepper & cloves and roast for about a minute until they warm up and become fragrant. Take them aside and let cool. 
  • Make a rough powder of the spices when cool, add ginger, green chilies and coconut to the blender jar, use 1/4 cup water and grind into a fine mixture. 
  • Add 1 tbsp oil into the pan (or cooker) and let it heat up. 
  • Add cumin and when it sizzles, add chopped onion and let it sweat lightly.
  • Add chopped fenugreek leaves and fry until they wilt, 2-3 minutes. 
  • Add the averekalu (or other beans you choose) to the pan and mix it with the fenugreek leaves. 
  • Add salt and mix them together. 
  • Add the ground masala mixture and let it cook for just a minute. 
  • Taste and adjust salt if needed. 
  • Drain all the water from the soaked rice and add it to the pan. 
  • I use 1:2 (rice:water) ratio for making these rice preparations, and add 3 & 3/4 cup (discount 1/4 cup used for grinding) water into the pan. 
  • Let it come to a boil. 
  • Close the pressure pan with the weight and cook it for 3 whistles. 
  • If you like to open cook, reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook until rice is soft. 
  • Let it stand until it is warm. 
  • Fluff it gently with a spoon, and serve it warm with any kind chips, fryums or yogurt based raita. 
  • You can precook rice (make sure you use the right amount of water to get fluffy rice) and mix the rest of the ingredients, I think the flavor is more enhanced when you cook them all together. 
  • If you don't get avarekalu, replace it with mutter or green peas, frozen lima beans or other beans you prefer. 
  • The spice comes from the black pepper, ginger & green chilies - adjust them to your liking. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Nuttery Buttery brownies - no eggs in this otherwise rich version

I have tried to stay away from the numerous groups of foodies online trying to cook to a theme, creating a dish out of special ingredient or cooking statewise food and many such wonderful experiments only because of time constraints. Not that I don't cook anymore but I just am not sitting down regularly to blog about it. Life seems to be on the fast track with no brakes, but the journey is what matters and I am having a blast. Will be more regular at blogging in a few months :-)
Having said that, I couldn't resist Gayathri's Eggless baking challenges which she re-opened up a month or so ago. I have seen her decadent baked goodies and have been in awe of how she figures out a perfectly eggless recipe for an otherwise much known eggy recipe. My baking love is extensively with breads as the process of mixing and kneading the dough to perfection relaxes me but I shy away from the more decadent, richer, sweet baked goods except on occasions as I don't normally use a lot of fat in my daily cooking nor are we as a family very fond of baked sweets. But then there is an exception for everything and a time for making exceptions, right?

I signed up with eggless baking group last month but didn't find the time nor the overwhelming desire to make the recipe as it seemed too rich, then the month rolled on, a new recipe was given to the group and not only did it look delicious but also seemed doable to me. And then the weekend happened, I had folks to share the richness with, so ventured in and made this eggless, dark chocolate, nut laden brownie today and can declare it as a successful bake. I blindly followed Gayatrhri's suggested egg replacements barring a minor change, result is a keeper brownie that is on the cake-y side.
And there was an occasion to bake this brownie too. BH & DD had been out of town travelling south from home for the last 4 days and then when they came back, BH got a couple of shot glasses (did I ever tell you, I collect shot glasses? just something I love to pick up from places we visit as a memento) and also got a dark chocolate guitar (totally edible), a super cutesy thing (DD said 'eeww' in a loud voice when she saw it and declared we were the weirdest set of parents one could have :-)) which I don't have the heart to break and consume. So it is all wrapped up pretty and sitting primly in the refrigerator. But as he handed me that guitar, I had the urge to make this brownie and take a picture with it so I could share on the blog (once a blogger, always a blogger and a foodie sees food in everything).
Reason #2, the recipe called for dark chocolate and I had this bag of superlicious Ghirardelli chocolates in the refrigerator that I had picked up sometime in December when I saw them during the holiday season and couldn't resist. I had no idea what I would make with them but since Ghirardelli is one of my favorite chocolates, I thought I would make good use of them some day.
So, with all the ingredients at hand, and Gayathri's accurate egg replacements, I whipped a batch of the brownies in under an hour (baking takes 35mins while prep takes about 10mins) and I was khush, so were everyone that ate it. I have a few packed up to take to work tomorrow.

I used regular home made yogurt instead of sour cream but kept all liquid to flour proportions same as the original recipe. This cakey brownie didn't miss eggs at all and it is a rich treat for any occasion. I would personally reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup next time as I like it a little less sweet. Other than that, this is a keeper.

Engage your spouse to be a helper in the kitchen but watch all the spoons and whisk if he is a chocolate lover like mine as they get licked off clean without any need for washing :-), the batter is delicious!

What do you need to make eggless brownies? 
1+1/4 cup all purpose flour/maida
1/2 cup or 1 stick (US measure) butter
1 cup good quality baking dark chocolate chips
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 Tsp vanilla essence
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts (I used slivered almonds, pine nuts and pecans)
How do you make brownies? 
  • Preheat oven to 350F, line an 8 inch cake pan with a parchment paper.
  • Put butter & chocolate chips in a glass bowl, microwave for 1-1.5 minutes until they melt in. 
  • Stop at 1min and give it a mix. 
  • Add vanilla essence and cocoa powder and mix in until homogeneous. 
  • Sieve the flour, salt & baking soda together and keep aside. 
  • In a large bowl, take yogurt, milk and sugar and whisk until they blend in (1-2 mins with a hand held whisk)
  • Add the melted butter, chocolate mixture and give a good mix. 
  • Add the flour mixture little by little and mix it in well without any lumps or dry powder. 
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smoothen the top surface. 
  • Sprinkle chopped nuts generously on top and bake for 30-35 minutes. 
  • The center of my brownie collapsed a little but was cooked completely. 
  • Take it out as soon as a tooth pick pushed in the middle comes out without a gooey sticking batter. 
  • As it cools, the brownie becomes a little more solid. 
  • Cut into shapes and serve. 
  • This is a cake like brownie and not fudgy. 
  • Do not wait for the tooth pick to be clean completely before taking out of the oven or it becomes very crumbly. 
Linking this to Gayathri's Fun with Egg Free Baking event
funwithegglessbaking.jpg (476×696)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Doddapatre (Cuban Oregano)Tambuli - Cooling the body and the soul and some exciting chukbhuk news :-)

Last week has been such a rushed one what with amma complaining about a back pain that pretty much tied to her room and bed for a couple of days. She is the backbone of the family and when she is down, typically life seems down too :-(, Woman power in our household in not at all exaggerated. On that note, Happy Women's day everyone!
Then BH started coughing and sneezing and like always didn't go to the doctor until it brought him down royally during the midweek, makes me wonder if my 'nagging' abilities are kind of becoming diluted over time :-). Finally, when he couldn't sleep for 2 straight nights and also kept the rest of the house up & awake, realization dawned on and he came back from the doctor with a handful of antibiotics. He is on the mend, slow and sure recovery. I am hoping to not catch any bugs for a while but then they don't really listen to me, do they?

On a positive note, my Maddur vade post got published in Indian railways Railbandhu magazine. You write something that is close to your heart not even thinking about the audience it may reach and then someone from the other side of the world finds it and reaches out to you. It is exhilarating. I wasn't even aware that Indian railways had a magazine and when they contacted me in Jan stating they liked the post (not just the recipe but the write up about train journeys) and wanted to publish, I was more than happy to nod my head. The entire post is not on the magazine for lack of real estate, however it is an abridged version of my original post. If you are in India and travel in railways, look up the magazine if you have time. I received a pdf version of the monthly and here is a picture of the same. Happiee me..
I have a very simple, homely, almost rustic recipe today that won't be on the menu in any restaurants. You will have to knock on the doors of people who continue home cooking in Mysore region and ask them for a bowl of this delicious tambuli. Yep, that is the only way to get your hands on this ever green, soul happy dish. I have a couple of recipes for tambuli on the blog, here & here but what I have today is the queen (it could have been king I suppose but since I am writing the post on International Women's day :-)) of tambulis made with doddapatre (dodda~big, patre~leaf) or cuban oregano.

This is my favorite tambuli variety, nammamma always had this bush growing in the yard as far as I can remember and it used to be on the menu regularly and more frequently in summers. She would serve it as the first course on a hot afternoon and the taste & fragrance of the leaves just freshens you up. I have had it in pots for over 8 years now. The herb like the regular oregano is easy to grow and grows wild if allowed but pots seem to restrain the free growth. Some of my Tamil speaking friends have borrowed it to be used as medicine, I believe the leaves are crushed and the juice is applied on the forehead to get relief from common cold and congestion. It may not be easily available in your garden stores around the world but you can order it online. Growing it in the pot is easy, don't expose it to extreme temperatures and harvest the leaves regularly. DD loves it so much that she won't eat anything else on the days I make it for lunch.
My inlaws live on the outskirts of Bengaluru in a self contained educational campus filled with students but devoid of any of Bengaluru city's pollution (atleast thus far). The air is clean, mornings are filled with the music of birds & stray dogs, unadulterated cool breeze freely fills the surroundings. While staying so far away from the city has these advantages, it also becomes essential to be self sufficient. The surrounding villages have stepped up along with the college itself reserving land for farming. You get the fresh vegetables but also get the instant maggi noodles and the likes to satisfy the student population :-). I guess everyone thrives. The people who live on campus (other than students) are typically the teaching staff and management and the housing has developed in to a colony.

On our last India visit, DD & I were generally walking around on our last day in Bengaluru around the campus and came across a small park not far from the house. There is an elderly lady who lives right across and is a mega gardening enthusiast. She has plants all around her house and also have adopted this park to grow plants of all varieties, you will find vegetables, fruits, flowers which just makes the area so colorful and chirpy. She invited us to come see her park and we went with her. As I was admiring the pomegranates, guavas, chikkoos hanging from the branches, DD saw something that made her jaw drop and she quietly sat down. Curious, I went near her to see what she had found and burst out laughing.
There was the doddapatre plant creeping so generously all over the ground that she had never experienced the abundance in our restricted pot growing. The lady thought we didn't know what it was and started to explain the medicinal values, looking at DD's face I knew what I had to do and asked the lady if I could pick some leaves. As soon as she said yes, we went to her house to get a small bag and picked the leaves to our heart's content, here was the catch, we were heading back that night. So the leaves got all washed up as soon as we reached home, roasted in ghee and ground with coconut and yogurt. The freshness of the leaves still in our throats, we finished our 'head out' meal and made our way to the airport. BTW, this makes an excellent dip for maddur vade if you want to try them together :-)

I recently read an article about why Indian food is so tasty where the research says that Indian cooking seems to blend flavors that are vastly contradictory unlike others where things that complement each other are used in a recipe. I don't know all the science behind it but one statement caught my eye which read that typical Indian recipes are complicated medley of ingredients and usually have upwards of 6 ingredients. Here is my very humble, simple yet exotic in taste and medicinal value - Doddapatre tambuli for all of you to try with a small set of ingredients.
What do you need to make doddapatre tambuli? 
30-35 medium sized dodda patre (cuban oregano)
1 Tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 Tsp black pepper corn
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup grated/shredded coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 cup yogurt (home made and a day old preferred, or use plain yougurt from the store)
How do you make tambuli? 
  • Wash the leaves under running water a couple of times and pick any stems that might have made their way. 
  • Heat ghee in a thick pan on medium heat
  • Add pepper & cumin seeds, let them sizzle (1-1.5 minutes)
  • Roughly chop the cleaned leaves and add it to the pan. 
  • Add salt and mix well. 
  • Roast for 3-4 minutes until leaves turn into a mush and leave water.
  • Switch off and let cool completely. 
  • Grind the roasted mixture along with coconut into a smooth blend, use the water that is in the pan. 
  • Add yogurt and run the mixer a couple of times to get a homogeneous mixture. 
  • Serve it with piping hot rice and enjoy the unforgettable experience. 
  • Slightly tangy yogurt brings out the best taste, if your yogurt is too plain, add a small piece of tamarind and grind. I have done this and DD was none the wiser so it is a great tip :-)
  • Use ghee in this recipe instead of oil if you can, it really brings the taste. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Punjabi Chole - vibrant colors, bold flavors, everything that reminds you of Punjab

Hope everyone had a great weekend and getting ready to the week day routine. Weather Gods seem to have developed an unusual love for Seattle folks and it has been warm, sunny, bright this entire weekend while the neighboring ever sunny California is flooded with rains, hails and storms. I am not sure if this is a good sign of things to come but the optimist in me tells me to be grateful in the present. Beautiful Pacific Northwest is waking up from hibernation to show its colors. We went to visit some blooming daffodils yesterday, miles & miles of happy, sunny, yellow colored blooms had lit up the valley and it was gorgeous. Had a great couple of hours walking around in the open air, sitting down next to rows of daffodils and ofcourse taking pictures. The early spring is doing its magic and flowers are blooming earlier than usual.
All those rows of yellow flowers brought me memories of my all time favorite 'Dilwale Duhaniya Le Jayenge' :-) and I had to cook something from my Punjabi menu to feel totally satisfied. So it was all about a Punjabi brunch in our South Indian kitchen today.

Garbanzo beans are hearty, healthy and very satisfying whether you put them in a curry or a salad or a hummus. There is something very earthy about these beans that brings instant gratification and cheer. We have a couple of Punjabi joints in our area which we frequent and one thing that stands out is how creatively they use this bean in different dishes. From curries like saag-chole (greens cooked with garbanzo) to chats like Ragda patties, these beans take on a very key role. While I love them, I prefer my dry green peas in chats, they seem lighter than garbanzo beans.

I come from a state longitudinally opposite to Punjab and have been there only a couple of times as a visitor. So all my knowledge about Punjabi food is acquired. When a recipe is not something I have grown up with, I use my deductive tasting abilities to try and break down as many recipes as I can get my hands on and decide which one I like. Some of the recipes call for cooking garbanzo beans with tea bags to get that authentic color while some swear by making a potli (small bag made of muslin cloth) of spices and immersing it in beans as they cook to infuse flavor. Some recipes claim to be authentic pindi chole while some claim they are the best combos for Bhatura (deep fried, leavened bread made using flour & yeast). For a South Indian like me, this is all confusing and when it gets too much, I just stay away from the propaganda and let my own brain & heart (and ofcourse tongue) tell me what to do :-).
But the quest to get an authentic recipe never leaves my side. Authentic is defined as 'homely' in my dictionary and I pester folks to part with recipes from their private kitchen. I had seen this recipe on one of the foodie groups I happen to be a member of, while I make chole at home with my own spices and also using store bought powder, what drew me to this recipe was the title of the post which said, "mom's jagat famous chana masala". Like most of you, I am a sucker for something that comes from a mom's kitchen. So I had book marked this recipe for trying out and did that a couple months back. The flavor of the spice powder turned out far superior to any store bought masala I had used and it dished out a very authentic looking and authentic tasting chole when I cooked with it. I am completely hooked to this home made powder now and have already made it twice.

The first time I made the spice powder, I had a very fine anardana (pomegranate) powder in my pantry which kind of semi dissolved on heating and further liquified in my blender jar. The spice powder though lumpy (and totally un-photogenic) was extremely tasty :-). I had followed the proportions in the original recipe and had enough masala for 4 uses. When it got over recently, I went to the store to buy a better quality anadana powder (coarser) which stood strong to the heat. All is well and I have not only a good looking spice powder but totally delicious which makes taking pictures a pleasurable activity :-).
I will show you how to make a much simpler, tangy, tomatoey chole another day which has lot more gravy and is perfect with pooris or rice. I roast spices fresh and grind it along with onions & tomatoes in that recipe. But today, it is all about Punjabi chole from a Punjabi mom, so enjoy this succulent, spicy chole with your favorite roti or naan.

What do you need to make chole masala? 
Recipe source:
1/2 cup dhania seeds
8-10 dry red chilies
2 Tsp cloves
5 bay leaves (medium sized)
10 black cardamom (Badi elaichi)
10 pieces of 1 inch cinnamon
5 green cardamom
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1 Tbsp black pepper corns
1 cup anardana (pomogranate) powder
1/2 cup kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
How do you make chole masala? 
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat and add the first 9 ingredients listed above. 
  • Roast until fragrant (takes about 5-7 minutes) stirring frequently for even distribution of heat. 
  • Once a heavy aroma of the spices fill the air, add anardana powder & kasoori methi, mix well and roast for 1 minute. 
  • Switch off and let the spices cool down in the pan. 
  • Once completely cool, grind to a fine powder, store in air tight jar until ready to use. 
What do you need to make chole? 
2 cups dry garbanzo beans or 2 can cooked garbanzo beans
1 Tsp kala namak or black salt
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 inch piece ginger - julienned
1 medium sized ripe tomato - chopped into chunks
2 Tbsp chole masala (adjust according to your spice tolerance)
1 Tbsp oil
pinch of asafoetida
pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp sugar 
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro - finely chopped
How do you make chole? 
  • If using dry beans, soak them in plenty of water overnight. 
  • Next morning, wash the soaked chole, cook it in pressure cooker along with 3 cups water, black salt and 1 tsp salt until soft. 
  • If using canned garbanzo, rinse them thoroughly under running water until the preservatives and the liquid runs off. 
  • Put the cleaned garbanzo in a bowl, add 1 Tsp salt and 1 tsp black salt, mix well and let it stand until you are ready to use (atleast 15 minutes marination is recommended)
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan (kadai), add asafoetida, turmeric powder and cumin seeds
  • Once cumin starts to sizzle, add finely chopped onion and 1/2 Tsp salt. 
  • Cook until onion turns translucent. 
  • Add the tomato chunks and cook until it becomes a mush. 
  • Add the chole masala and mix well. 
  • Add the cooked garbanzo along with the water it is cooked in (if using canned, add a cup of water), mix everything together. 
  • Taste test, add more masala powder or salt to taste and adjust the consistency to your liking with water. 
  • Add chopped cilantro on top, sugar, cover and let it cook on low heat for atleast 30-40 minutes for the flavors to develop. If you have a slow cooker, take it out and use, you can dump the prepared chole in to it, switch it on low and let it come to a slow boil. 
  • Open cooking works too if you are using a heavy bottom pan and stir it once every 15 minutes or so. 
  • Serve hot chole with a wedge of lemon, sliced onions and oil roasted green chilies as a side dish to naan, roti or Batura. Perfect meal and a sure ticket to siesta :-)
  • I use anardana powder as I don't easily get the dry seeds here. Buy the coarse variety since the fine powder becomes sticky on heat and spoils the powder (lesson learnt by mishap :-))
  • Adding a bit of sugar brings a soft touch to the spices and enhances the taste, skip it if you like the spice flavors as they are. 
  • I don't personally like the bay leaves flavor to overpower so have mentioned medium sized leaves, original recipe specifies big sized leaves
  • The amount of ingredients makes about a cup & half of masala powder, store it in airtight container and use as needed. 
  • You can make this chole with gravy or almost dry depending on your preference - adjust water
  • If you make the drier version of chole, turn it into a yummy snack/chat by serving with a few roasted potatoes, chopped onions, tomatoes, topped with sev :-)