Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cranberry saaru - a wild berry hits the road towards south(India)

Do you have any funny bones in your body? let us check it out with a quick test today, shall we?
Q: What do I like best? Brexit or Thanksgiving?
A: Brexit, because it made me lose pounds :-)

Ok, I should confess that I am considered somewhat of a stand up comedian at home because of the PJs I keep cracking when in company. So far it has been my family and some close friends that have the privilege(!!) of listening to suffering through my PJs and I thought why not share some with you guys as well since you are all virtually family now. I promise I won't do it very often (nothing to jeopardize the readership on the blog) and also will release only certified & quality controlled jokes here on the blog. By that I mean, I will sift and select from my vast repertoire of 'no-good' jokes to find those rare gems that brought atleast a hint of smile on BH's face, the poor guy on the other hand has no choice but to listen to them in person and also read them on the blog :-), double whammy!! Let me know how you enjoyed the funny line (I can see BH holding his breath and hoping I won't get a lot of encouragement on this path..)
But jokes aside, I seriously ate a lot during last weekend, it seemed like the entire universe was conspiring me to just let go of all reservations and eat. DD was home, I was happy, there was easy access to good food, weekend was cold and needed to be fueled and on & on.. all good reasons to gorge on food right? This is what I call stress free eating :-). I still have a few more calorie rich, terrific items in the drafts but I needed to post something that is non greasy, plain, not too creamy but flavorful dish right now and hence the other recipes will have to stay in the drafts for a little longer until I can actually bring myself to look at all those other(mouth watering) pictures.
I have mentioned about our Thanksgiving family tradition and as always went to get some fresh cranberries for the chutney. I love the color of these berries and honestly think they are the best looking berries too. Just because it was on sale(don't judge me, doesn't the 'on sale' label get to most of us mortals?), I got 2 - 12oz packets of the fresh berries. The first packet was opened and made into a lipsmacking south indian chutney loaded with roasted fenugreek and mustard while the second one got left out in the vegetable crisper for 5 days. After DD left, BH & I wanted to try eating a lot of vegetables with no or very little rice/millet/oats/wheat etc.. We have done this a few times before as well and while I don't like to call it 'cleanse diet', it definitely is cleaner and simpler food (lot of fresh salads, lentils, flavored butter milk and loads of sauteed & seasoned vegetables) and we don't feel the need for adding rice or roti. Surely something I hope everyone gets to experience once in a while purely out of choice. Disclaimer: This diet definitely is not for all age groups and people with varying degrees of physical activity because it has missing food groups.

Every time I opened the refrigerator, the plump, pink berries would look at me and ask if I had any plans for them. As I was attacking vegetables most of the week, day after day, I kept disappointing them and ignored their plea to be out of the refrigerator. Weekends & holidays are my 'think' days as far as cooking is concerned. Weekdays are just a mad rush and I prefer to cook 'tried & tested stuff' which brings me comfort & joy in cooking and eating while avoiding any brain activity needed for new recipes or inventions. The best benefit of cooking on weekdays (other than ofcourse creating yummy food to eat) is that I unwind as I cook. I am all for improvisations as it goes with the flow and helps me relax but most days I am not upto creating something new. So come Saturday, a week after Thanksgiving I was ready to pick up these beautiful berries and play with them. And play I did. The regular chutneys and thokku would not work because there are still multiple varieties of chutneys in the fridge slowly getting finished and I had to think of something different & new.

Come to think of it, a cranberry is a sour, tangy berry with a unique flavor. I decided to make a south indian saaru (or rasam) which is a flowing liquid with or without lentils, seasoned with spice powders or fresh herbs and served as an appetizer or first course drink. I could have called this pink drink as soup instead of saaru but since I seasoned it with mustard I feel saaru is a more aptly suited name than soup. At once tangy and spicy with a faint hint of sweetness, this drink can don on multiple hats and doesn't really care how you address it. You may decide to skip the seasoning and make it truly 'soup-ey', I will leave that to you and won't even claim copyright on it :-)
I was thinking of the quintessential lemon saaru while making this one and hence ended up adding a piece of ginger. Sometimes accidental discoveries are worth more than you imagined. The combination of cranberry & ginger is unique and totally delicious, and the possibilities are endless. So do give this a try. The saaru turned out just perfect, as a drink and as an accompaniment with rice. The color reminds me of the rasam made with kokum (another tamarind substitude used widely in the Konkan regions), a very pleasing pink. Now that I know cranberries work in my dishes, I am going to use the remaining ones in Huli/Sambar today. If you look for presentation quotient in your dishes, then use cranberries for that beautiful hue it imparts to the dishes, I simply love the color.
What do you need to make Cranberry saaru?
1 cup of fresh cranberries
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3-4 dry red chilies
1 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup grated coconut
few curry leaves
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbsp oil (use ghee if you like)
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/8 Tsp asafoetida

How do you make Cranberry saaru? 
  • Pour cranberries into a bowl of water and pick out any mushy berries and discard. 
  • Wash the remaining berries. 
  • Add cleaned berries, salt, chopped ginger and pieces of dry red chilies into a blender along with 1/2 cup of water and blend into a fine paste. 
  • Transfer the ground paste into a stock pot, add water to get it to the desired consistency. 
  • Tear the curry leaves and add it in, add jaggery. 
  • Bring the saaru mixture to a gentle boil on medium heat. 
  • In the meantime, take the grated coconut to a blender jar along with 1/2 cup water and grind into a very smooth paste. I did this to avoid extracting coconut milk and also to not discard coconut. See notes for alternatives. 
  • Add chopped cilantro (if using), let saaru boil for a couple of minutes before switching it off and setting it aside.
  • Heat oil in a seasoning pan, add mustard & cumin. When mustard starts to pop, add asafoetida. Let the seeds crackle before pouring it into saaru. 
  • Cover the vessel and let the flavor mingle. 
  • You can serve this as a appetizer or use it to mix with rice. 
  • I used dry Byadagi chilies and did not roast them before grinding. If you wish, roast the chilies in a couple drops of oil until they crisp up and use. 
  • Use green chilies instead of or in combination with red chilies if you like that taste. I wanted to preserve the color of the berries and didn't want to add specks of green. 
  • I intentionally avoided saaru pudi/rasam powder in this recipe to keep the flavors simple. 
  • If you want the saaru consistency to be very thin, extract coconut milk from the ground coconut and add only the milk. 
  • You can use store bought canned coconut milk or regular milk in this recipe. Keep the milk at room temperature and reduce heat before adding it. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Shahi Paneer - saying thanks to all the beautiful blessings in life with a royal dish

As I pass the empty room, I stop to look in and assess the damage of 4 days. To my surprise, there are no soiled clothes on the floor, bed is pretty much made and no used cups, plates on the bed side table either. My phone charger that didn't belong to me for the last 4 days has been put back in its rightful place in the study. It reminds me of the countless mom-daughter fights we have had, me telling her to be responsible, keep the room clean and her telling me to either not sweat (when she was in good mood) or telling me to stay off her room (if she was tired). I no longer have to do that nor engage in unnecessary battles with her. Sometimes the very changes you wished for end up being the things you wish had stayed just the way they were for longer :-(. She hugs me before heading out and says, "I will be fine amma!" as if she read my mind. The little girl that was here just a little while ago seems grown up, she no longer gives me a reason to tell her to pick up after her, or be the constant reminder nagging her to do things. I count this to be one of the greatest blessings in my life though I sure wish the baby phase continued on forever..or for a long time atleast :-)

Thanksgiving is behind us already which means there are only a few days left for the rest of the year to come to an end. Feels like I started 2016 only recently :-). The joy of going to the airport to pick her up is already replaced by the melancholy of the house when we return home after dropping her off. She will get busy with school, finals and friends and we will get busy with work and other activities and we both start counting the days until the next break when she would be home. Until then, I reminisce the time we had together this past weekend. The 4 days of holiday was good and all three enjoyed the much awaited time with each other and also get some good rest. Flora heartily joined us for the eats and the snoozes though if you ask me she doesn't need the snooze any more than she already has :-). And food, oh yes there has been plenty in the last days, I cooked more than I had in the past month or so and in the name of feeding the famished college student, the parents also enjoyed some yummy and great food :-), no complaints from anyone.
Thanksgiving is definitely a tradition for us, both interms of the food and what we do (or don't do :-)) during the 4 days. I don't have to plan, don't need to invent anything for the lunch as our menu is set. We do a brunch that lasts us for the entire day and as usual, we had our masala dose, roasted sweet potatoes and cranberry chutney. I made the cranberry chutney in a very typical Andhra pachadi way this time and it tasted delicious and very flavorful. I have a couple variations of the chutney on the blog but if you are interested in this particular version, let me know and I will be happy to post that as well. The masale dose with the potato stuffing and the various chutneys on the side and inside along with roasted sweet potatoes made us feel stuffed for the entire day without needing anything for the most part.
I had got a pie pumpkin with plans of making something with it but just didn't get there. The pumpkin still sits in the corner beckoning me to make something, so look for some new pumpkin recipe on the blog soon if I continue the cooking enthusiasm and feel adventurous than usual (or I might end up falling back on the tried and tested favorites that are already on the blog :-) and won't post anything new). So the morning after Thanksgiving, I wanted to keep it simple, easy and tasty and ended up making this shahi paneer with some of DD's favorite peas pulav. The richness of the shahi paneer complemented perfectly with the simple and toned down peas pulav I had made. We enjoyed it hot and fresh for lunch, warm and well marinated for dinner :-). Yep cook once and eat twice is the mantra especially when there is so many tiny, little, medium and big sized containers already in the refrigerator full of left overs.

Ever since DD grew up to be a college girl, it seems like the parents live for the days between the holiday breaks :-(. I usually ask DD what she wants to eat whenever she is heading home for holidays. She has a bunch of favorite amma made food and is game anyday if I make from that list, but I feel like I make the same dishes every time if I don't plan ahead. Having eaten the dorm food for weeks at length, she is happy to eat anything I make when she is home (a huge change from before she went away to school and used to nitpick every meal :-(). Paneer is one thing she has some access to at school as every time they head out to enjoy some Indian food outside the campus, paneer dishes are always ordered as they are everyone's favorites and also pretty decently made in the places they go to. She loves paneer in most forms and I wanted to make something with it this time since the last two breaks she was home, it never made it to the menu.
Paneer is probably one of the universally loved ingredients especially for people from the Indian sub continent. This humble ingredient finds its way to numerous north Indian dishes and always seems to take them a notch higher than if they were to be devoid of paneer. Personally I am not fond of paneer or any kind of other cheese (! I know, I have had a hard time explaining this to many people in the past), I spoon the gravy liberally when we order a paneer dish while eating at a restaurant leaving the paneer pieces to BH and DD who are happy to gorge on amma's share too. So we don't waste food and it works out for everyone. This is what I do at home as well when I make a paneer dish. If you are looking for some of the favorite recipes with paneer, my versions of the dishes are right here on the blog at palak paneer, paneer butter masala, paneer tikka masala and mutter paneer. A new addition to the paneer family on the blog couln't be anything less than royalty, could it? so here is shahi paneer today. I used help from store bought paneer this time since the days around Thanksgiving were hectic and I didn't have thee time to make it at home.

Shahi is royalty, kingly :-). This dish is made rich with cashews and cream (I cheated a little as usual since we don't need to be that 'shahi' anyways :-)). The texture of the gravy is smooth and silky, the ingredients are ground into a very fine paste before they are combined. This is an easy way out to putting together a resturant grade shahi paneer without toiling infront of a hot stove trying to saute raw onion and tomato paste for a long time until they are well roasted. If you are looking for a short cut without any compromise on the taste, this recipe is for you. I found it originally on a you tube channel by chef Vikas Khanna. Cooking them with spices until soft not only gives you a head start on cook time (you don't have to saute onion & tomato paste until fat oozes out from the side) but also ensures that the aroma from the spices are captured in the gravy and held secure there. Adding honey is the chef's touch, I would have added a spoon of sugar to cut the sourness of tomatoes but honey made perfect sense as it added the sweetness and also aided the silky smoothness of the gravy. This is a perfect accompaniment for a bland rice (such as jeera rice or plain steamed rice) and for roti/naan.
Paneer Trivia: 
Cottage cheese is an easy and understandable term when you are trying to explain paneer to a person whom you are trying to introduce to Indian cuisine. Though cottage cheese and paneer and used interchangeably, they are not the same. The process of paneer making ensures that all the whey is removed by keeping the curdled milk under weight for a couple of hours where as cottage cheese is hung up and retains some whey in it. Also usage of paneer is mostly in cooked dishes while cottage cheese is consumed in its raw form. Paneer is extremely easy to make at home and best consumed within a couple of days of preparation. So how do you explain paneer to a novice (that understands cheese ofcourse?) - it is curdled milk and similar to fresh farmer's cheese :-)

Cheese for vegetarians: 
I was reading a book recently and it had a description of how cheese was made in the pioneer days. I never had paid a lot of attention to the note that said 'no animal rennet' on the paneer packet before but now understand that cheese was made with animal rennet in the olden days and the practice continues today. There are plant based rennet available and if you are a vegan or a vegetarian who would like to avoid animal rennet, you just have to make the choice. A rennet is essentially an enzyme that curdles milk and helps separate into solid curds and liquid whey. Plant based sources of the enzyme include fig leaves, melon, safflower and ofcourse by the fermentation of the fungus.
What do you need to make Shahi Paneer? 
Recipe source: Chef Vikas Khanna
6 Oz paneer (roughly a cup & half of cubed paneer)
5 medium tomatoes (4 cups chopped)
3 medium onion (3 cups chopped)
1 inch piece cinnamon
2-4 cloves (adds to the heat)
1 black cardamom
2 green cardamom
2 byadagi/Kashmiri red chilies (this gives the authentic orange-red color)
10-12 cashews
1 inch piece ginger
2 cloves garlic (skip if you don't like garlic)
1 Tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 Tsp honey
1/2 Tsp red chili powder (use a mild, bright colored variety like Kashmiri)
1 Tsp kasoori methi
1/4 Tsp garam masala powder
How do you make Shahi paneer?
  • Take a big cooking pot, add chopped tomatoes, onion, cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms, red chilies and cashews into it along with 1 cup of water and 1/2 tsp salt. 
  • Let it cook down covered on medium heat for about 20 mins until tomatoes are mushy and onions are soft. 
  • Switch off and let it cool. 
  • In the meantime, wash, peel ginger and crush it into a fine paste along with garlic.
  • Cut paneer into pieces of desired shape and size and keep aside until ready to use. 
  • Remove the black cardamom (I feel the taste is very pronounced when ground into paste) and take the remaining contents of the pot to a blender and grind into a very smooth paste.
  • Heat a kadai on medium heat, return the ground paste to it along with the ginger-garlic paste and let it start to get a few bubbles on top. 
  • Reduce the heat to low and add milk while stirring the gravy continuously. 
  • Let it cook for another 4-5 mins or until it starts to boil again. 
  • Add the red chili powder, garam masala powder, crushed kasoori methi and salt and mix well. 
  • Adjust the consistency if you desire with additional milk and taste test to adjust any dry powders to your liking. Let the gravy come to a gentle boil. 
  • Add the paneer pieces and mix lightly, let it cook for a minute or so before adding the honey and switching it off. 
  • Cover and let it rest for atleast 15mins before serving it. 
  • Make sure you get the paneer out of the freezer a few hours before you need to use it in the recipe especially if it is store bought. The block needs to be soft enough to cut into pieces or you will end up fighting with it and breaking it into crumbs. 
  • Bring milk to room temperature or warm it for a few seconds before adding to the gravy. The tomatoes in the gravy can curdle if you add refrigerated milk directly to the hot gravy. 
  • This is a thick, creamy gravy, do not add a lot of water (one cup used while boiling the tomatoes and the milk provide sufficient quantity of liquid). 
  • The flavor of cardamom is very pronounced when you first start the gravy (also the reason but mellows down after the addition of spice powders, milk etc. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stuffed chili bajji - easily one of the best from south Indian street food

Have been 2 eventful weeks since I last blogged. Nothing to do with my personal life but everything that would impact my personal life. I don't talk about my political convictions in public ever but the recent presidential election & the results in my adopted home as well as the demonetization efforts in my native home have made me do a lot of introspection these past few days. Does everything that looks like progress, really so? By the same token, is anything ever so easily understandable? I decided to stay off the grid for a few days not to be influenced by outside opinion (there is plenty of it right now) but the addiction to news media is so real that I came back online soon :-(. I have decided to keep the blog away from any kind of political banter, so you won't be subjected to my political/non-political opinions here. Let us be kind to one another, accept every other person with respect and the dignity we all deserve.
We saw the new Marvel movie Doctor Strange last weekend, it was a special birthday weekend. The movie is fun and Benedict Cumberbatch (if you are a hard core fan of the BBC Sherlock Holmes series like me) makes the marvel movie more marvelous :-). We went to the movie after a heavy brunch of jolad rotti and badnekaayi palya (yep, will post it sometime soon), and I would have most certainly snoozed in the darkness of the theater if it were not for Cumberbatch.

Now that work seems to be kind of reverting to normal load after nearly 3 grueling months, I am going back to my other favorite activity. Went to the public library and got a basket full of books. Happiest part of the weekend was to be able to get my hands on books, move my fingers along the spine of those books that I had wanted to read for a while, get them home and actually be able to read them in the evening. Just started reading '32 Yolks' by French chef Eric Ripert. It started off well and I have a feeling I will like the book. It was a recommendation on one of the radio stations I listen to regularly and I have had it on my list. Can't say enough about how grateful I am for the public library system. I will share more on the book once I finish reading it.
Jumping to food matters or food that matters most, it wasn't my intention to post two chili related recipes back to back, it just happened unexpectedly. The last post (red chili pickle) was sitting in the backlog since summer and I had to post that authentic recipe sooner than later on the blog. And then, when I sat down today to look into my ever growing list of 'yet to be blogged' content aspiring to clean up some before the holiday rush starts here, pictures of this recently prepared favorite caught my eyes and I just gave in for another virtual indulgence as I write about this most craved for street food from India. It is a personal favorite though I don't make it often.

We had been to India about 4 years back for a family wedding, it was one of the rushed trips we have ever made, the entire trip including the travel was a week long. The positive side of the trip was that we didn't even give our bodies a chance to experience the jet lag, we were back before it ever realized that we had traveled twice across the Pacific :-). One of BH's young cousin's got married and we didn't want to miss the wedding. It was DD's first full on exposure to a traditional Telugu wedding and she had a blast as some of her favorite cousins made it as well. We flew in to Hyderabad and traveled to Vizag where the wedding was performed. The wedding food was delicious but I really wanted to try the famed mirapakaya bajjilu (chili pakodas) that defines the Andhra street food and something I had heard so much about.
My sis-in-law is my partner in crime when it comes to spicy, oily food:-) and we dropped enough hints around the wedding group. We wouldn't have been able to go out and enjoy the food from the street side vendor in all our wedding splendor and the busy schedule. Most people didn't have the time to pamper us with the bajjis and it was not on the menu for the 3 days of wedding festivities. But there is always atleast one kindred spirit in every group and BH's aunt Padma atta got 6 chili bajjis wrapped in their signature old news paper packets for us when she went out to get some flowers from the market. Not one to make a big fuss, she quietly got the packet to the room where we were all getting ready for the next event and handed it to me. The warmth of the oily looking packet and the aroma coming out of it was enough to divulge the secret inside:-) - fresh out of kadai with that unmistakable Indian street food stamp on it was the delicious mirapakaaya bajji. Nothing to hold us back, the two of us (and a couple other people that happened to pass by the room at that time) finished up the entire packet in no time and went downstairs to take part in the wedding. Even after 4 years, I can just close my eyes and talk about those yummy bajjis as if I was enjoying them right this minute. BH says he wasn't even aware that we ate it and has stuck to his claims that we ate it all up by ourselves. We may have done it in our blind love (and greediness) induced by those yummy snacks but I can't believe that we didn't share it with anyone, especially not even BH. One of us is clearly lying in this case, and the debate is still ongoing :-).
A punjabi family opened a restaurant in town here a couple of years back. They specialize in huge, thick punjabi paranthas, chole-bature and also serve pani puri on premises. We love their paranthas with more than generous amount of stuffing inside and have tried almost all different flavors. BH chanced upon their mirchi (chilli) bajjis in the menu's Indo Chinese section (? don't ask me why it landed there) and ordered them. We were taking it home that day and were pleasantly surprised to find 2 huge chili pakodas cut in half. The stuffing though was made of mashed potato. My personal peeve with using potatoes is that they tend to take center stage, I am yet to find a person that doesn't like potatoes but the moment you add them to a dish, you mostly forget about the other ingredients in the dish :-(. Much as I like those stuffed with potatoes, I have a preference over the south Indian version where the chilies are stuffed with roasted cumin or ajwain and lined with tangy lemon juice. The layers of smoky cumin and tangy lemon makes these irresistible and also helps not to overpower the flavors from the chilies.
So what am I going all ga-ga over? Well, this is the deep fried, sinfully delightful mensinkaayi bonda (Kannada) or mirapakaaya bajji (Telugu) that you should try once atleast. Let me warn all of you health food geeks out there. There is nothing healthy about this recipe :-). However the heavenly taste only deserves that you surrender completely and let go of your reservations completely before you dig in. That is not too much to ask for, is it? And you can't be eating 'only good food' your entire life, some indulgences here and there are absolutely necessary to make life spicy (pun intended). Now that I have done all the talking and also gotten the guilt off my chest by way of excuses, let us go into the kitchen and make some 'to die for' mensinkaayi bajji (chili pakoda) that is capable of giving your street vendor some tough competition.

Though it is made of chili peppers, there is nothing 'hot' about it as the spice quotient is reduced by removing the seeds and using a special variety of peppers that are inherently milder. In India, these are made with a special variety of chilies called 'bajji mensinkaayi' in Kannada, though I don't get those here, there are alternatives. Do not use Jalepeno since their thick skin makes it difficult to hold the batter coating. Serrano are better suited. Banana peppers being the sweet pepper varieties are good too but I find them way too huge for making bajjis with. Go ahead and use them if you find smaller sized ones.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! There is a lot to be grateful for despite things not seeming that way, take a moment to say thanks to the many, many blessings in your life. I am looking forward to the long week off from work and making some of DD's favorite dishes as she comes home for the weekend. Share your bounty with others, spread the love and kindness.

What do you need to make stuffed chili bajji? 
I am going to give you the quantities sufficient to make 6 pakodas
6 green, fresh serano or other mild varieties of peppers
Oil for deep frying (I use peanut oil)
1 Tbsp cumin
1/2 Tsp ajwain/carom seeds
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon/lime juice
Batter for outer covering:
1.5 cups gram flour/chick pea flour/besan
1 Tbsp rice flour
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
pinch of baking soda
water to make batter
How do you make stuffed chili bajji? 
  • Wash the peppers in water and pat dry them. 
  • Make a slit vertically from the stalk end to the tip of the pepper with a sharp knife. The purpose of the slit is to open the pepper out and not cut the pepper in half. 
  • With the back of a steel spoon or butter knife, scoop out all the seeds from the pepper making sure you don't injure or tear the pepper apart.
  • Do this for all the peppers and keep aside.
  • Roast cumin in a dry pan on low heat until it gives out a smokey aroma and starts to pop a little (about 3 mins). 
  • Let it cool and grind to a coarse powder with ajwain. 
  • Take the powder in a cup, add salt, lemon juice and mix it well. 
  • Now take a big pinch of the powder between your index and ring finger and rub the inside walls of the pepper generously with this mixture. 
  • Let the peppers rest for 10-15 mins while you prepare the batter. 
  • Take all the ingredients listed under batter except for the baking soda and water in a deep bowl and mix them well. 
  • Add water slowly to make a thick, pouring consistency batter. Using a fork or whisk, beat the batter for a minute to make it fluffy. This ensures your bajjis are crispy as well. This resembles idli batter. 
  • Add baking soda and mix well.
  • Heat oil in a wide kadai for deep frying. 
  • Once the oil is hot (my thermometer-free way of checking is to drop a tiny pinch of the batter into the oil and if it starts to sizzle and comes up quickly to the surface the oil is ready), take the stuffed pepper, holding its stalk dip it into the batter and swirl it all around so the batter coats evenly. 
  • Hold your batter bowl closer to the kadai and transfer the coated pepper into the oil. 
  • You can add as many peppers as your kadai will hold without overcrowding them. 
  • Deep fry the bajjis turning them a couple of times to ensure uniform frying all around
  • Once they reach a crispy, golden color, life them with the help of slotted spoons and take them onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. 
How do you serve stuffed chili bajjis: 
  • Obviously a cuppa (tea or coffee to suit your preference) works great with this dish. 
  • You can eat them dipped in a mild coconut chutney or a ketchup. Make sure they are cooled for a few minutes as they will be really hot inside for a bite. 
  • Cut mirchi chat - Cut the fried bajjis into bite sized pieces, serve it with finely chopped onions, a dash of lemon juice and a sprinkle of chat masala on top. Yummmmm!!!

  • Choose peppers that are firm, blemish free and have a radiance to them. Don't take saggy ones for this recipe. Flavor of the peppers need to be strong. 
  • Always sieve gram flour before mixing it in to avoid lumps in the batter. 
  • The batter needs to be thick for this recipe, unfortunately I missed clicking pics, will update next time I make them. If you take a bit of batter between your fingers and try to drop it, it should fall deliberately, slowly and in a clump. Do not make it free flowing or liquidy. See pictures here to get an idea. 
  • The street side bajjis and those served in restaurants always are crispier than home made ones because they are double fried. I draw a firm line on double frying since it is way 'unhealthier'. The rice flour addition gives it the crunch it needs. 
  • If you really want to achieve the vendor made bajji results, take them out when they are 3/4 done, let them rest and cool for about 10 mins before returning them to the hot oil for a second round of frying until they are as crispy as you wish.  
  • The lemon juice added to cumin powder should be just enough to wet it, don't make a paste. 
  • You can adjust the quantity of cumin and ajwain to suit your liking. Adding lemon juice not only adds the hint of tanginess but also brings down the heat of the peppers. 
  • If you have any left over batter, add finely chopped potatoes, onions, cilantro, mix them well and drop tiny spoonfuls into the hot oil. These make delicious vegetable pakodas. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Red chili pickle(s)/Mirapa pandu pachadi - get ready for an out of the world experience with this 'tongue on fire' pickle :-)

I am pretty sure that what I am going to post today is not a recipe that everyone would love or even make but that said there is definitely a great fan following for this recipe none the less. It is mostly regional and relished by the people during the hot summers of Andhra Pradesh especially in the chili growing region of Guntur. I was not born in Andhra, have not gone to Guntur, so this is not a recipe that is organic to me, with all that explanation what is my affiliation to this recipe, you ask? For one, I am spicy food crazy and I love pickles and pachadis of all shapes and tastes. Would I make this again? Definitely, if I get fresh, red, pickle chilies (may be next summer). Did I like it? Personally, yes though it was hot and spicy, it is at the same time a foodie delight and a ride you want to savor in the spicy world.
Many years ago, when we were new here, a young couple with a baby girl on their shoulders, family mostly spread over the continent, no one really close by (driving distance) and we were missing home hopelessly, we used to crave to meet family and friends on weekends and extended holidays. One of BH's cousin and family lived the closest, about 3 hours drive from our first home in US and had two adorable little girls, one 3 years older and the other a year and half younger than our own 2 year old girl. DD loved their company, sandwiched between two girls and turning the situation to her advantage, cooing as and along with the baby when she wanted more attention or acting all grown up when she wished to be left alone. The three cousins really loved to get together and spend time as did the adults. They were a little more settled, had many friends in their neighborhood than we did and we loved visiting them. I am just reminded as I write this how all three girls have blossomed into beautiful young ladies and spreading their wings in the world.
One summer weekend, we drove the 3.5 hours with a toddler in the back seat who went, "are we there yet?" in her never exasperating, sweet voice every 5 mins or so :-), we understood she was eager to see the cousins especially after a promise of backyard swimming pool fun. They lived in a town that sees temperatues almost akin to those of Guntur itself and cousin B being a native of Guntur felt right at home in the foreign land. We reached home just as they were getting ready for lunch and we all crowded around the dining table. Plates were set, dishes with the regular homely south Indian fare was all over the table. Cousin B passed around the rice and as I reached out for the vegetable, asked me to wait and doled out a spoonful of bright, red chili pickle from a small porcelain container(called 'jaadi'). I have shamelessly made my family aware of my unconditional love for all things spicy and they pamper me with it every chance I get. She also told me to mix it with rice, add some butter and eat it. That was my first time eating the famous Guntur kharam or Korivi kharam, a pickle unlike anything else you have ever tasted, a sensation that is both delirious and delicious at the same time. I was given the gyan that day about how people eat the kharam in the hot summer back home. The small jaadi was just a tiny holder for the daily dose of the pickle while the motherload sat in a big container inside the pantry and it had come all the way from her mom's kitchen in Guntur. I ate only the pickle for that entire lunch and brought some home for later too :-).
Years passed and I never ventured to make the pickle at home since I never saw those red chilies here in the local market. Some of my Telugu friends told me that they would use the frozen red chilies from the Indian stores when craving hit them for that home reminding pickle taste. I was ok eating it occasionally, made by a mom or a mom in law of some friend and brought lovingly across the seas as they traveled here. They shared some with me and I never felt the need to make it myself.
Earlier this summer, as every other year, BH and I regularly visited our local farmers' market which runs May-Oct every Saturday. He likes to get the fresh fruits, wipe them on the sleeve of his shirt and bite into the juiciness right there while I generally wander around between stalls and vendors, stopping wherever fancy catches me from vegetables to fruit to bread to hand made art. For someone bored of the waxy, travel weary tomatoes in the super markets, the farmers market tomatoes are like a breath of fresh air and I try to make most of those 5 months of fresh produce since I cannot stretch them over the entire year. The eggplants, greens, tomatoes, berries, apples all taste super tasty and smell good as well :-). On one of the Saturdays, I came across this store that announced they had varieties of chilies and I went in thinking of getting a few jalepenos and may be green peppers for cooking but when I entered that small tent, was totally hooked on to the bright, red chilies they had. Despite the label saying "Thai Dragon Chilies (Super hot)" in bold letters, I picked up a couple handfuls as they looked way too inviting and super cute in their tiny, red avatars. Honestly, I didn't know what I would make at that time. I sent a message with a picture of the chilies to amma who was home as well. When we reached home 40mins later, she was waiting in the kitchen to see the chilies, she is like that, all child like in her curiosity and always supportive of all my sensible and oh-not-so-sensible decisions :-)
In those 40 mins, from the time I had the chilies in my bag at the market to the time we cycled back home, I had made up my mind that I would make the Guntur red chili pickle with them. Amma doesn't make this ever, her pachadis are mostly the "fresh, eat it today, gone tomorrow" kinds with the exception of her yummy avakkaya and maagaya. Her spice tolerance is way down and she steers clear of all the spicy stuff completely. So the only problem with me making up my mind? I didn't have a recipe and nor did my spice hesitant mother in law. But what we knew was a source that we could completely depend on for an authentic recipe. This is one of the times I love the family WhatsApp group chats :-). Amma sent an SOS on my behalf to the family group explaining our predicament of having brought a bunch of chilies without knowing how to make the pickle and asked for help and just as I was hoping, the response came from one of BH's aunt's daughter. Aunty is known in the family circle for her pickles, vepudus (stir fries), pachadis, and pretty much everything she cooks and I have had the privilege of eating in her kitchen more than once and have also asked for recipes every time :-). When the WA message went around, cousin G replied immediately with not only one recipe for the Guntur chili pickle but another pachadi version which she explained was easier and quicker to make. I set out to work immediately. She also was very sweet answering all my newbie questions over messages and sharing wise tips as she consulted with her mom.
Mosaravalakki (spiced yogurt & poha) with chili pickle - another great combo
I made the pachadi right away (well right away except for the time it took to clean, dry the chilies, fry them and grind them) and mixed with a bowl full of steaming pearly white rice. I skipped the butter as the pickle had a generous amount of oil in it already. Amma ate one morsel of the rice and made a dive for the grapes on the counter top. My FIL conveniently used the excuse of a heavy lunch(yes, lunch was over by the time the pachadi was ready but we made space in the stomach for the yumminess) :-) and refrained from trying the new, fiery pickle totally. BH & I sat leisurely at our dining table and emptied the entire plate enjoying every handful that went into the mouth. The second version was ready by the end of the week and we had another family of cousins visiting us who are true blue spice loving Andhra folks and we shared it with them. Aunty said it tasted very authentic though she had stopped making it herself :-). I can't take any credit since I just verbatim followed the instructions sent to me.
Chilies Galore!!!
The red chilies used in these pickles are not dry red chilies but a variety that are born red and have a distinct taste. I used the Thai red chilies since I don't have access to the Guntur chilies here, they were hot, spicy but rolled in with the spices, flavors and oil, make for a treat altogether. You can't eat a pickle as you would a sweet, that is common sense but note that this pickle is flavorful and not just "hot". Like I mention in the notes below, the pachadi version is mellower than the korivi khaaram. 'Korivi' refers to the raw, unrestrained heat which could be hard to handle for most people so always follow the recommendations of eating it with a dollop of butter or ghee, diluted by mixing with rice if you are new to this taste.
A truly flavorsome, delicious recipe shared generously by cousin Geetha and Radhatta, thank you both for your love and a special thanks to the family WA group :-)

Type 1: Mirapa pandu pachadi (can be made quickly and eaten immediately)
What do you need to make mirapa pandu pachadi? 
20-22 red chilies
1.5 Tbsp mustard
1 Tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 lemon sized tamarind
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
1/4 cup oil

How do you make mirapa pandu pachadi? 
  • Wash the chilies thoroughly in water and let them dry on a kitchen towel indoors until all the water is gone and chilies are completely devoid of water. 
  • Wipe down with a cloth to make sure there is no trace of water
  • Remove the stem ends and chop the chilies into 1 inch pieces. 
  • Heat a big pan/kadai, add 2 Tbsp oil and let it become warm. 
  • Keeping the heat on low, add the fenugreek seeds to the oil.
  • Let fenugreek roast for about a minute before adding the mustard. 
  • Stirring frequently roast both until mustard pops and fenugreek turns beautiful golden, add tamarind & asafoetida, roast for 30 secs. 
  • Take them on to a plate leaving the oil back in the pan. 
  • Return the pan to the stove, add the remaining oil, chopped chilies and fry for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat or until the chilies soften up and develop slight blisters on the skin. 
  • Add salt to the pan, switch off, remove onto the plate, let it all cool completely. 
  • Take all the ingredients into a blender and grind to a coarse paste without adding any water. 
  • Take it into a dry, air tight container or ceramic cup and store it. 
  • It tastes delicious after a few hours of settling time and keeps well in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days if handled with dry spoons. 
Type 2: Kori/Korivi Khaaram also known as Guntur khaaram (Needs 3-4 days of marination time)
What do you need to make Kori Khaaram? 
25-30 red chilies
1.5 Tbsp fenugreek
1 small orange size tamarind
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
1.5 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp oil
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1/2 Tsp mustard
a few fenugreek seeds (optional)

How do you make Kori khaaram? 
  • Wash the chilies thoroughly in water and let them dry on a kitchen towel indoors until all the water is gone and chilies are completely devoid of water. 
  • Wipe down with a cloth to make sure there is no trace of water
  • Remove the stem ends and chop the chilies into 1 inch pieces. 
  • Take the chilies, salt, turmeric powder in a dry blender jar and pulse it to make a coarse paste.
  • Separate the dry tamarind into small bits, remove any seeds and pith. 
  • Take a flat bowl, make a bed of tamarind pieces, top it with the ground chilies paste. 
  • Cover and let it marinate over night in a cool, dry place. 
  • Using a completely dry spoon, mix the contents gently to help the tamarind juices to flow, cover and set aside for another day. 
  • Repeat this process for 3-4 days so tamarind is soft and the chilies have marinated well in the juices. 
  • On the 4th day, take the marinated ingredients in a dry blender jar and grind into a course paste. 
  • Dry roast fenugreek on low heat until the seeds are golden and start to pop. 
  • Set aside to cool and make a fine powder. 
  • Mix this powder with the ground ingredients thoroughly. 
  • This is now ready to be stored for months in a dry container. 
  • When you want to use it, take a Tbsp of the pickle (remember small amount goes a looooong way :-)) in a small cup.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil, add asafoetida, mustard and fenugreek (if using). Roasting on medium heat, let mustard pop. 
  • Add this seasoning to the pickle in the cup and mix well before serving. 
Both the varieties taste delicious mixed in with steaming white rice, a serving of ghee on top, mixed in gently. BH & I relish it with a side of chopped onions and a mild sambar/huli or a cup of yogurt or the tangy Andhra pulusu. Try this combination or make your own. 
  • Use gloves while handling the chilies or always use spoons to handle them. 
  • Wash your hands in cold water and buttermilk if you feel the burning sensation in your hands.
  • Use the dry grinder jar of your blender to facilitate easy grinding. DO NOT USE WATER as it spoils the pickle. 
  • Separate out the tamarind layers, remove any seeds, pith and strings from it before using. 
  • Always use dry cups, spoons, blender jars and keep the area water free. This is the secret to the long life of the pickles. 
  • The variety of chilies determines the heat from them, you may need to adjust the tamarind, salt and oil based on that to suit your taste. 
  • I loved the pachadi version better than the Kori kharam since the roasted mustard, fenugreek add a wonderful aroma and also frying the red chilies mellows the heat a notch down. I think it is also a matter of being able to handle that raw heat from the khaaram since the chilies are not roasted in this version. 
  • You can adjust the amount of mustard and fenugreek in the pachadi version based on the flavor tilt you prefer.