Sunday, April 26, 2015

Avalakki payasa (or pongal?) - kheer made with flattened rice

I made this avalakki payasa yesterday for a celebration and was about to write the post when I caught up with the news and saw the devastation in Nepal. Totally lost my taste for the sweet payasa and got up to do something to distract my mind. All my prayers to the people affected by this wrath of nature, hope us humans are able to stand support and help them rebuild their lives.

After a day of deliberation, I figured I would write this post anyways because it is special for more than one reason. First, it was my father's favorite payasa (or rather his favorite deity's favorite dish :-)). This is a popular offering from the Udupi math, very simple to make, extremely delicious and homely, at the same time perfect fit for any occasion. Second reason being that we were indeed celebrating a milestone yesterday. The baby is ready to fly the nest and experience life without her parents by her side, this is a bitter sweet moment for us as parents and as proud as we are of our little bundle of joy that has grown up into a fine young woman ready to move out of the safety net of home, we are at the same time trying to choke back the heavy feeling in the throat. Can't imagine coming back home in the evenings that would be devoid of the chirpiness characteristic of our little girl, or getting to work without that warm arms around the neck wishing a Good Morning and everything in between. But that is another 3 months away and I won't think about it until then as there is lots to do between now and then :-)
DD finalized her college choice yesterday and is excited about beginning a new life on campus while we are torn between feeling elated and anxious at the same time. I have been thinking of my father and wishing he was with us still to share the joy and also offer those ever ready shoulders of his when I needed to lean on and anchor myself. I have never spoken of my father except in passing on this blog, even after all these years (time doesn't fill certain voids in life) it is not easy for me to talk about what he meant to me and the rest of his children. He would have been one proud & supportive grandpa for all his grand children cheering them on at every one of their achievements and offering the best practical advice when they needed some.

Avalakki payasa is a thicker form of payasa or kheer made especially on Janmashtami or Krishnashtami as avalakki is known for its popularity with the Lord Krishna. I make this any time we feel like eating a quick sweet since it hardly takes time. Given avalakki's innate thickening quality, this payasa tends to resemble the sweet pongal rather than a flowy payasa :-). You don't have any lentil and so it doesn't officially quality for being called a pongal. If you really didn't care about the name, then this is a perfect cup of dessert to dig into as part of any celebration - big or small.
I love sweets with jaggery more than white sugar. You can substitute jaggery in this recipe with white sugar if you prefer, that retains a bright white color in the payasa. I add ground coconut (ground to a fine paste almost resembling thick coconut milk), you can use coconut milk instead or make it with regular milk.

So here is my humble avalakki payasa as we get go through a happy life changing event. Being a weekend, I made poori, saagu and green apple tokku for brunch and we ate our avalakki payasa to finish off a perfectly sleep inducing brunch :-).

Note: If you notice the color or hint of saffron strands in a couple of pictures and wonder why I didn't call out that ingredient in the list, please note that it is not an essential ingredient. BH was helping me out in the kitchen on this said morning and he loves to open my cupboards and pantry and keep adding stuff into the pots and pans on the stove :-). Adding saffron was one of his experimentation (nammamma would feel very proud of the SIL since she loves to sprinkle the expensive saffron into most of the sweets too :-)). I don't discourage you from adding saffron but it is not needed.
What do you need to make Avalakki payasa? 
1 cup avalakki/poha/flattened rice (use the medium variety)
3/4 - 1 cup jaggery powdered (based on your preference for sweetness)
2 cups milk
1 cup grated coconut
2 green cardamom
2 cloves
1 Tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tsp raisins
1 Tsp cashews
How do you make Avalakki payasa? 
  • Take a heavy bottom pan and heat it to warm up. 
  • Pick any dirt from avalakki and pour it into the pan.
  • Roast it for 2-3 minutes until it crisps up slightly and loses the raw smell. 
  • Take it out onto a plate. 
  • Add jaggery pieces/powder to the pan along with 2 Tbsp water and let it dissolve.
  • Jaggery starts to bubble up once it mixes with water, at this stage add the roasted avalakki and mix it in. 
  • Make a smooth paste of coconut, cardamom and cloves with 1/2 cup milk in a blender. 
  • Let avalakki cook in the jaggery syrup for 5 minutes or until it becomes soft. 
  • Add the coconut paste at this stage along with the remaining milk. 
  • Mix and let it come to a good boil on medium heat. Take off heat. 
  • Heat ghee in a small pan, add raisins and cashews and roast until raisins plump up and cashes turn golden brown. 
  • Add this to the payasa and give a mix. 
  • Serve it warm or cold. 
  • You can use thin or paper avalakki in which case just rinse it under water and add it to the melted jaggery. 
  • If you are using white sugar instead of jaggery, bring 1/2 cup milk to boil, add sugar and let it dissolve. Continue with the rest of the process as above. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jicama(Hee Ka ma) cutlets with Broccoli - a heart healthy, green cutlet

With the weather warming up substantially and week days a blur of work and more work, I fell into a rare saturday afternoon, post lunch siesta last weekend. The groceries for the week were not yet shopped for but the body just refused to get up and do anything at all and I succumbed to the call of sleep. It doesn't happen regularly, if I sleep in the afternoons, I get up heavier in the head and clogged in mind and feel lazier than I did before. It also makes me toss and turn late into the night and messes up the routine badly. But then again, there are days where I just can't fight the urge to lie down after the brunch and this was one of those weekends. And when I sleep, I dream, mostly they are dreams I wake up happy about but sometimes they are nightmares (or daymares if there is something like that :-))

Now if you are thinking I am next going to talk about my visits to the shrink and effects of dreams/nightmares, you are totally wrong. First off, I don't go to the shrink and secondly these are harmless, harmless, everyday sort of dreams that everybody gets once in a while :-). This particular one though left me shaken and that is why I thought I would share it with you.
It was something of the sort of Alice in Wonderland (did I mention that masterpiece by Lewis Carroll as one of my favorite books? not so much the movie they made with Johny Depp) afternoon, perfect for lying down under a tree with warm sun rays striking your body, with a book in hand and go to the dreamland, only I ended up in my local Indian grocery store :-). As I do every time I visit the store, I first go to the fresh produce section and pick up all kinds of greens, veggies and fruits along with herbs and chilies. Ouch, that is where the problem was, while the store seemed to be full of fresh vegetables, there were no chilies to be found anywhere. I marched up & down 3 times before determining that they didn't indeed have chilies and thought I would go to the other indian store in the vicinity. Since I had already purchased enough vegetables to last me the week (and some more), I went straight to the place where they store green chilies, cilantro etc.

Again to my horror there were no chilies and no empty baskets either, I would have atleast consoled myself that someone had bought all the chilies just before I came and the store guy would replenish it in no time but all the baskets seemed to be full of something but other than green chilies. Not wanting to think about the world of 'no-chilies', I went & asked the lady at the counter if they had reorganized and kept chilies else where and was told that there was a ban on green chilies for the area and they wouldn't be getting any atleast for another 3-4 weeks. My family tells me that I take after my paternal ajji (grandmother) who was a spice lover and green chilies for me are like the best form of spiciness in life. They are my best friends in the kitchen, for all my savory dishes, green chilies go in some form or other (roasted, chopped, cut, ground etc) and imagining a sojourn in the kitchen without these tiny, shiny, green objects just makes me sad. Here is the sadder and more frightening part of the story, I wasn't sleeping anymore and hence wasn't dreaming, not even day dreaming. I had actually gone to the store (after I got up from the afternoon siesta ofcourse) for my weekly grocery shopping and was told that green chilies had gotten into some problems and won't be available for a few weeks :-((. Total bummer.
I ended up picking up a handful of serano peppers (peppers are thicker skinned, much less sharp in their spiciness and I don't typically use them in my south indian cooking :-(). I have been counting the days which seem to be going really slow so far. If any of you are in seattle area and know of a store you have seen carrying regular Thai chilies, would you mind dropping me a line on the blog with the store location? I think I am already in withdrawal from the absence of green chilies in my life, miss them so much.

As I felt cheated without the green chilies, I ended up buying a very foreign (from Central America) vegetable, rather tuber/root called Jicama. If you have been to San Jose (San Hose), you already know how to say the name of this tuber, it is 'Hee ca ma' and not 'Ji ca ma'. I brought it and there it sat on the counter for an entire week before I could get my hands on it. That is one of the beauties of this tuber, it is hardy & sturdy and doesn't go bad on you easily. Amma looked at it suspiciously, asked me for the name and stayed clear from it. She tends to stick to known vegetables in the kitchen which is pretty much limited to potatoes, brinjal/egg plants, beerakayi and a few others. The week whizzed by and I tried to deal with 'no green chilies' by throwing myself deeper into work. Weekend happened again and when I still couldn't find green chilies, I decided to clean up the counter top, refrigerator, pantry etc to take my agitated mind off of 'green chili' thought - cleaning, scrubbing seems to help and found the jicamas (oh I forgot to mention the tiny detail right, I bought not just one but two of them :-)) sitting there feeling totally ignored and unloved.
I have eaten jicama before, cut into thin strips and added to salads and I love the crunchiness it provides and the unassuming taste that lends itself into a pot full of salad ingredients. But with inlaws at home who don't really care for a salad, I had to quickly think of an alternative way to use them. They are tubers and starchy like potatoes. What comes to your mind when I say potatoes - yep, fries, cutlets would be on the top of the list for all spud lovers. My family is no exception, starting from the oldest to the youngest, everyone loves potatoes. I decided to sneak in jicama in some of the most favorite potato recipes and viola they were a huge hit too. And serano peppers didn't disappoint me as I ground them (a little more than I would have if they were Thai chilies), lending a beautiful sharpness and balancing the bland jicama in a yummy cutlet. I also added a bunch of broccoli florets to make it very heart healthy and green :-). Here I present my jicama-serano-broccoli cutlet and some baked jicama fries that nobody in the family guessed was not made of potatoes.
This root is known for many health benefits. The raw jicama resembles kholrabi sans the unmistakable cabbage smell & taste. It is rich in fiber infused with inulin, which has zero calories and doesn't metabolize in the body. Inulin promotes bone health by increasing absorption of calcium. With a very low glycemic index, it is great for diabetic recipes. It can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes absolutely delicious.
I had a half of french bread that was 4 days old and had turned hard, cut that into cubes and run them in the blender to make my own bread crumbs.

For those of you who really care about me :-): I am doing ok without the green chilies. For all the drama I make in their absence, I have actually fallen in love with the serano peppers. They hold their shape when you add them to the dal towards the end and are not too spicy to bite into. I might try other peppers like anaheim, haberno and others if the ban on chilies continues. Will tell you all how they turn out in my recipes and any tips.

What do you need to make Jicama-Broccoli cutlets? 
2 cups grated jicama
2 cups steamed/cooked broccoli (about 12-14 florets)
1/4 cup tightly packed mint leaves
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup bread crumbs
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2-3 green chilies (adjust to taste)
2-3 Tsp oil (I used cooking spray)
How do you make Jicama-Broccoli cutlets? 
  • Separate broccoli into florets and boil them in 2 cups water and a pinch of salt for 10 minutes or until they are soft. 
  • Drain the water (use this for any gravy you are making or in mixing roti dough), let the broccoli cool down
  • Wash, peel jicama and grate it (use the largest holes on the grater, this gives the crunch when you eat cutlets). 
  • Take green chilies, salt and mint leaves in a blender and pulse it to a semi smooth paste. 
  • Add cooked broccoli and pusle until it is shredded completely and mixes with the mint-chili paste. 
  • Add 3/4 cup bread crumbs and give it a whirl. 
  • Take the mixture onto a plate, add grated jicama, chopped onion and mix everything together into a lump. 
  • Taste and adjust salt or spices as needed. 
  • Heat a flat griddle, spray it with oil or cooking spray. 
  • Take golf sized balls out of the mixture, flatten into a pattice (or any shape you desire), dredge it in the remaining bread crumbs. 
  • Put it on the hot griddle, reduce heat to medium and cook until the under side is light brown. 
  • Flip them over, spray oil all around and cook until both sides are light brown (if you like them crispier, cook them further until they turn dark brown)
  • Take them out and serve them with any chutney, sauce or ketchup. 
How do you make Jicama fries? 
  • Wash, peel jicama and slice them into 1/2 inch thick pieces. 
  • Cut the pieces lengthwise into strips 
  • Mix 1 Tsp all purpose flour, 1/2 Tsp corn flour, 1/4 Tsp red chili powder, 1/2 Tsp salt, 1/8 Tsp asafoetida and 1 tsp of crushed kasoori methi. 
  • Pre heat oven to 400F, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. 
  • Put the jicama pieces into the flour mix and move them around to give a light coating of the mixture. 
  • Arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, turning them over once midways. 
  • Switch off and enjoy the crunchy, spicy fries. 
  • Fries take longer than regular potato fries, take them out (about 50 mins) when they have reached the desired crunchiness. 
  • Jicama by itself is a mildly sweet tuber and blends well with any spice. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ghassi - a delectable Konkani fare when you really don't want to make the regular huli/sambar

"Ah, music! A magic beyond all we do here!" - Albus Dumbledore
From Harry Potter & Sorcerer's Stone 

Well, that is what I have been doing these past days, more than I normally do. Listening to music, more music and good music. Outside of reading, if there is another activity I most love, it is listening to music. Cooking & music go hand in hand. We have some music going on most of the time at home, no matter what other things we are doing. But last week was slightly different as we went to Cleveland to attend the annual Tyagaraja Aradhana. For those of you familiar with Carnatic music, you would have attended some celebration of this festival wherever you are and even performed as part of it. I grew up listening to the Pancharatna (5 gems of compositions by Saint Tyagaraja). DD has been attending the festival for a few years and really wanted to go back this year. Despite missed practices and last minute chaos with all her intertwined college visits, the program went off well and we came home after enjoying some good, live music.
It amazes me every time that even in the proverbial cold country that Cleveland is, during these 10 days the city seems to come alive with people hustling and bustling across streets and more and more kids participating in various activities. Also, you get to see and display your precious Indian wardrobe and fine jewelry that merely sits at the back of the closet for the rest of the year :-). More than anybody, the grandparents who attended for the first time were beaming with joy the entire time :-). Where there are people, there is food and here is the simple, homely yet delicious lunch served on the first day.
Back home, music still filling the ears and the soul. Lots of travel, extremely hectic schedule at work have marked the last couple of weeks. Trying to balance it all and looking forward to things settling down in a month or so. Will keep you all posted. Cooking continues without a break so does eating, only hiccup is in blogging :-), hope to get better at it as things settle down.

As a vegetarian, what is my typical everyday food? I try to add in as many nutrients as possible yet keep the taste fresh and interesting enough day after day. I plan to have atleast a good serving of proteins which translates into pulses, lentils, legumes in my plant based food world and add in different kinds of veggies (roots, stalks, leaves, fruits and more) so every meal is close to being a complete meal. When you have a 'hard to please' teenager at home, also compounded by the diet restrictions or lack there of of elderly parents - making the same dish over & over again won't fetch you any favorites and you get pushed to cook outside of your comfort zone.
When I was little, nammamma had a pattern to lunches, it would be a saaru & palya or saaru & gojju or a single huli (also known as sambar outside of Karnataka). The rationale was saaru is typically devoid of vegetables but is loaded with lentils while the palya/gojju brought in the veggie servings to the plate. On the other hand a Huli was an 'all in one' dish with both lentils & vegetables. She made food interesting by little tweaks and turns, using seasonal vegetables or with a variety of lentils & whole pulses, sprouted & non sprouted. There were always the tiny, tantalizing chutneys or pudis on the side. This worked perfectly too since we all sat together for lunch & dinner. Things have changed and my 5 member family doesn't always sit together for meals, especially week day lunches when eating out of lunch boxes is the norm for 3 of us.

But I continue to work around the idea of feeding the necessary nutrients to my family at the same time juggling to satisfy different age groups and palates:-). Variety is key to a happy tummy, feed the same stuff for 2 meals continuously, I am sure I will have a coup on my hands :-). I take refuge in this Ghashi when I don't feel like making the standard huli/sambar. This strikes all the right keys and tastes while providing both legumes and vegetables. The spices used are minimal and generate a mild yet tantalizing taste. You don't have to worry about cooking lentils/dals, but can prepare it in a jiffy with a little planning. Even if you didn't plan ahead, look in your pantry and pull out a chickpeas/garbanzo beans can reserved for emergencies like I did(believe me, it was an emergency earlier this week when I came home late in the evening and had the brain power the size of a teaspoon and couldn't really concoct anything elaborate). The best part of this recipe is that it stays well and makes a good lunch box addition. So, go for it whenever you are looking for a change.
Mangalorean cuisine is close to my heart given their liberal use of coconut, I am a nut when it is especially prefixed with coco :-). Broadly there is Tulu food without any meat or non vegetarian and then the Konkani food which makes use of seafood in addition to other meat. My father spent a year in Mangalore alone when we were little kids (since we were all in different stages at school & college and it would  have been uprooting to the family to move out of known and much loved Mysore). He grew a fond appreciation of Mangalore cuisine especially from the Udipi region. We got our Shavige oralu (handy tool to make rice noodles) from there and also some of the recipes rubbed off on Nammamma. Depending on which side of the coast you move up or down, the cuisine also leans heavily with either Kerala dishes or Goan recipes and hence tastes totally different. I have a couple of different variations of Ghashi from my different Mangalorean friends, one uses coriander seeds (which tastes very similar to huli and so I skip that) and another one makes use of fenugreek seeds which is what I have today.

There are different combinations of ingredients for Ghassi too, some popular ones are in the Notes section.
What do you need to make Ghassi? 
2 medium sized green plantains
1 cup cooked chick peas
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
1 Tsp jaggery/brown sugar
small piece tamarind (about 1tsp of dry tamarind)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
To roast: 
1 Tbsp urad dal
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
4-6 dry red chilies (per taste)
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
4-6 curry leaves
2 dry red chilies (broken into pieces)
2 cloves garlic (optional, I didn't use it)
How do you make Ghassi?
  • If you are using dry chick peas, soak them in water overnight and cook them with a pinch of salt until soft. 
  • I skipped this step and used canned, cooked chickpeas. Drain water completely and rinse it a couple of times under running water. 
  • Peel the plantain, remove ends and chop into bite sized pieces. Keep them immersed in water until ready to cook to prevent them from blackening. 
  • Heat a wide kadai or heavy bottom pan, add a Tsp oil and roast the red chilies until they crisp up (30-45 seconds). Remove them to a plate. 
  • Roast urad dal & fenugreek seeds in the remaining oil until both turn light pink in color (2-3 minutes). Remove onto the plate. 
  • Once cooled, take all the roasted ingredients along with coconut, tamarind, jaggery, add 1/4 cup water and grind to a smooth paste. 
  • Add the chopped plantain pieces to the pan along with 2 cups of water, salt and turmeric powder. Let it cook until plantain is just soft. 
  • Add the cooked chickpeas, ground masala to the pan and mix well. 
  • Let them come to a good boil on medium heat. Adjust consistency with water and salt as you prefer. Switch off. 
  • Heat a seasoning pan with the tsp of oil, add mustard, curry leaves and dry red chilies and garlic if you are using it. 
  • Once mustard starts to pop, add asafoetida, switch off and pour it onto Ghassi. 
  • Serve this warm or hot with steamed rice or rotis. 
  • Other favorite combinations for Ghassi - red pumpkin with cooked black eyed peas, sprouted whole green with potato, raw jackfruit with black chana. Idea is to mix to add vegetables and whole lentils together. 
  • If you want to bring in the authentic konkan flavor, use virgin coconut oil for the seasoning, yummy :-)