Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spinach -Tamarind pachadi and some random chat about stereotypes

Spring has made its way surely and steadily. I don't want to jinx it but except for the big storm in Jan, winter overall has been kind to everyone and especially moderate to us. Our Camalias think it is totally safe for them to bloom and for their sake, I hope temperature just continues to rise up and not make a nose dive. Here is one gorgeous bloom from my front yard, just fills my day with happiness as I look at the entire plant come alive with these tender beauties all over. As far as my tropical plants in pots, I will wait another month and half before bringing them out to the deck. Hope everyone is enjoying the weather they have!
Buoyed by the beautiful surroundings, I made a more than the normal weekend lunch today. Here is how our lunch plates looked :-) and it was delicious. Before you get ideas, this is not the norm, just an exception. We are happy eating a one pot meal most weekends and in bowls without bothering to set a plate out. The fire roasted papad was a perfect cherry on top for the traditional lunch thali. 
Yesterday was one of those Saturdays when both BH & I didn't feel like going out. Talked to DD online for a while during the day when she had time and we both decided to stay home, warm and cozy infront of the big screen. As we were browsing for something that would keep both of us engaged, I happened to notice this movie called 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' on Netflix. I am glad we ended up watching that movie. It reinforced the fact that many people have been thinking about how we stereo type and categorize everything in the world. For one, it was a very cute and refreshing movie and both the lead roles have delivered good performances. I am not a movie critic by any standards but thought the plot was definitely praise worthy especially in the times where we all seem to adore heroines that perfectly fit the stereotype and can slip into size 0 outfits effortlessly. I have nothing against slim or non-slim women but it enrages me to think that our movies have been misleading an entire generation of women to lose their self worth just because of how they look. 

Though the plus sized heroine is the focus in the movie, the story also deals well with the frustrations of the un(der)educated husband and the world surrounding them which includes a show off friend who happens to have a slim and beautiful wife, a lower middle class family and parents who go hunting for an educated daughter in law that will earn and bring supplemental income to the household. I am sure the movie could have been morose or taken a totally different tone for addressing the story but this one has a lively and funny treatment all through. And the best part is that the hero & heroine fall in love despite the fact she doesn't transform into a physically stunning goddess by the end of the movie and stays firm on her plus size :-). I thought it was well worth a watch and something to be proud of for breaking the stereotypes. I recommend the movie to all like minded people :-)
'Breaking of stereotypes' talk reminds me of another story making the rounds in facebook recently about an Indian designer finding her model in a house maid. I saw some pictures attached to the story and thought it was pretty impressive that she transformed a girl who was absolutely unaware of the fashion world into a confident model that sat and posed with her designer wear, pretty cool, ha? I don't know how things will turn out for this accidental model but wish both her and the designer a good future.

Ok, I know many of you come here to check out the tasty, mouth watering recipes and are not really as interested in my commentary about a movie I liked, so let me take you to today's recipe showcase. This has got nothing to do with breaking stereotypes by the way and I am here with a very traditional, age old recipe from South India that I was reminded of in my favorite cook book '660 curries'. He calls it 'puli itta keerai' due to his Tamilian background but this is also known as palak pachadi or palak chutney in other parts of South India. It is a totally no-fuss dish that not only adds color to your plate but a lot of nutrients and taste too.

One of my friends recently posted a picture of an omelette she made and said she had her quota of greens for the day because of the amount of cilantro she put in it :-), quite sneaky, right? I called it 'cheating'. If you are looking for a tasty recipe that also gets in a good load of the mighty spinach into your body, here is one for you. The slow roasted and ground urad dal adds a lot of flavor to the dish. Go ahead and try this recipe that uses the usual ingredients found in any staple Indian pantry.
I may watch a little bit of Oscars tonight, how about you? Any favorites? Talk to you again next week.

What do you need to make Palak tamarind pachadi? 
3 packed cups of roughly chopped spinach/palak leaves
2 Tbsp shredded coconut
1.5 Tbsp oil - divided use
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
To roast: 
2 Tsp urad dal
1 Tsp chana dal
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
2 green chilies
2 dry red chilies
2 1-inch pieces of tamarind
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp urad dal
pinch of asafoetida

How do you make Palak pachadi? 
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a pan (use a big pan and you can reuse it to saute spinach leaves too).
  • Lower the heat to medium, add all the ingredients listed under 'To roast', chop or slit green chilies to avoid them popping out. 
  • Stirring frequently, roast the dals until they turn golden red and lose all their raw smell and taste, about 3 minutes.
  • Take out the dals onto a plate and let them cool. 
  • In the same pan (I told you to take a big one :-)), add the chopped spinach leaves and saute them for 3-5 minutes until the leaves wilt and become pulpy. 
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Take the roasted dals, chilies and shredded coconut in a blender, add salt and blend it to a coarse paste without any water. 
  • Once the ingredients come together but you can still feel the texture of dals, add the sauteed & cooled spinach to the blender and give a couple of quick pulses to bring everything together. Make sure you do not puree the mixture. 
  • Take it out into a bowl. 
  • Heat the remaining oil, add the ingredients listed under 'seasoning' and let mustard pop. 
  • Add the seasoning to the pachadi and give it a mix. 
  • Serve it with hot rice and a drop of ghee (or millet like I did) or with roti/chapati. 
  • Roasting the dals on a low flame is key to this recipe. Urad dal when not fried sufficiently tends to be sticky on grinding and also has a raw smell which is a no-no in a pachadi. So take time to roast them well. 
  • The pachadi is slightly chunky and spinach does not get pureed. 
  • Add chilies and tamarind to balance the blandness of spinach, the pachadi needs to be a little spicy and tangy for it to taste best. 
  • Don't add salt to the spinach while sauteeing, it increases the amount of water that comes from the greens, add it to the blender while blending. 
  • The sauteed spinach has enough moisture to make the chutney, do not add water to this.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Avalakki with Cilantro masala - a twist to your favorite breakfast

How many of you think breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I am sure a lot of you do. How many of you want to eat healthy and sumptuous for breakfast, again it probably is a vast majority. How many of you actually eat healthy at breakfast? I am not talking about a cup of yogurt parfait or a banana and a bar of granola or an oats porridge. Granted, these are healthy options and good for breaking your fast in the morning and feel energetic for longer in the morning. All good options for a week day 'run out of the door' mornings. What about those beautiful weekends, when you are not rushed to breeze out of the front door? When morning is not exactly (ahem) morning but almost noon, what if you are looking to hit 2 birds with a single stone? Yes, I am talking about the brunch here, and what if you are looking for a 'shuddha Desi (pure Indian)' option for a lazy brunch?

My sugar tolerance is very low which is not a medical condition by any means but rather a personal choice. This immediately rules out a lot of the common western breakfast options for me. I don't like to eat bagels every day of my life either, a bread toast reminds me of the flu season in India where for some reason (that totally escapes my rationale) white bread dipped in warm milk is considered as the perfect food for patients :-). Imagine my plight when 3 out of 5 days bread toast would be on the table during my year and half at the hostel :-(. I like something hot or atleast warm for my breakfast, it also needs to be salty and spicy (atleast not sugary).
After uppittu (/upma), avalakki or poha must be the most popular breakfast and snack item in all of India. I am no exception to this general rule, I fit the stereotype perfectly, I love poha in all its avatars. North to South, East to West, this humble ingredient shines in both savory and sweet recipes. It is a treasured offering for little Krishna every year in many homes. But it can get boring if you were to make the same recipe over and over again, thankfully the raw ingredient is such a sport for any and all kinds of experimentation. So if you are bored of the usual Western Indian kanda poha (onion with poha), batata poha (potatoes with poha) or the Southern favorites like the gojjavalakki, mosaravalakki etc and would like to taste a new flavor loaded with some good vegetables, this recipe is waiting for you.
I am a self declared herb snob (as I am a yogurt snob and fresh veggies snob, ...etc), and really pamper my herbs when I get them home. I usually do the shopping on Friday so I can spend some one on one time with my herbs as soon as I get home and give them the TLC. The freshness and the flavor it adds to any dish is just not easy to describe to someone who is not familiar with it. I am addicted to cilantro and curry leaves and use them liberally in my cooking. Growing up in India, every little kid would know to go to the street corner shop and get a cilantro bunch paying 10 paise if you were one of the families that didn't grow these every day herbs at home or needed a little extra that day. Well, I am talking about the long gone times in India and the new Reliance Fresh and such super markets do not bring you the same level of fun as going to your local grocer.

Cilantro though available in abundance and year round here, due to long journeys they make to get to the super market shelves, would already have spent a good amount of their life in the transit. They look fresh in the stores only because fresh water is sprayed on them periodically. If you do not take care of them as soon as you get them home, their future is very bleak. All that water on them keeps them looking green in the stores but you need to get them dry and remove the moisture content if you want them not to start decaying. I chop the root off while the bunch is still held together and wash the good stalks and leaves thoroughly in water to remove any trace of mud or dirt. Once done, I pick out any dry looking or mashed up leaves and spread the rest on a paper towel until all the moisture is gone. Take a large container with lid, put a dry paper towel at the bottom, spread the washed and pat dried leaves on it and cover it with another dry paper towel before closing the lid.
This way, cilantro stays fresh for a week and more if you continue to prune and pick out any leaves that show dryness or decay as the days go by.

I had a lot of cilantro smiling at me when I opened the refrigerator on Saturday, so I knew I had to use them in my brunch prep. Then the other star of this recipe is the chayote squash or 'seeme badane kaayi' as it is called in Kannada. Some people refer to it as Bengaluru Badanekayi though it has no relation or resemblance to the eggplant :-). This is a squash, so has a lot of water content in it and hence very light in calories. This is a very unassuming vegetable that can play either a stellar main role in a recipe or an equally wonderful supporting role. This is another vegetable nammamma used frequently and I loved her 'sihi palya' or sweet stir fry with loads of shredded coconut, some crunchy seasoning and a tiny bit of white sugar. Perfect side for a hot steamed rice and saaru combination :-). Well that palya will come on the blog later. I get the chayote squash frequently as I like to make not just the palya but also grate and add it to my akki rottis, yumm!!

I used chayote squash in my poha recipe instead of the ever popular potatoes. These bites hold their shape unlike the other varieties of squash and mixed with the cilantro masala, they taste delicious. Even if you are a die hard fan of the tubers, you should give this a try, I guarantee you won't miss the carbs of the potatoes but more likely you will be happy you added this vegetable to the dish to simply elevate its nutrient value.
I get a Nepali red avalakki here in the stores which I love for the taste and also the thickness. It is a tad bit healthier than the white variety, just like white rice Vs brown rice. Give it a try if you haven't. Different types of avalakki take different soaking times and usually the thick variety is used in the savory items as they get cooked for a little while and need to stay on the hot stove.
What do you need to make Cilantro Avalakki? 
3 cups of medium avalakki **
1 medium sized chayote squash
1.5 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp lime/lemon juice
1/2 Tsp sugar
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1 Tsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
1-2 dry red chilies (optional, I used it for color and later discarded them)
To Grind: 
1.5 cups roughly chopped cilantro (use the leaves and stalks for more flavor)
1 Tsp chopped onion (optional)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3-5 green chilies (per your spice tolerance)
2 Tbsp grated coconut

** Poha is also called flattened rice or beaten rice.
How do you make cilantro Avalakki?
  • Wash the chayote squash, remove the two ends and peel off the skin. This tends to get sticky, so as soon as you peel the veggie, wash thoroughly again. 
  • Cut it in half vertically, remove the seed in the bottom half of the vegetable. Chop the two halves into bite sized pieces. 
  • Cook the vegetable for 8-9 minutes along with 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 Tsp of salt. It should be tender but hold the shape. Drain all the water and reserve the cooked pieces. 
  • Wash avalakki in water, pick any dirt. 
  • If medium variety is used, just let the washed avalakki sit for about 5 minutes. If using thick variety follow steps in the notes. 
  • Take all ingredients listed under 'To Grind' in a blender jar and blend it to a smooth paste without using water preferably. Start by pulsing to break down the ingredients and then run the blender for 30-60 secs to get a paste. 
  • Heat a wide pan with oil, add mustard, cumin and the dals, let them roast until the mustard starts to pop and the dals turns golden. 
  • Add the ground paste and mix it in. Fry for 30-45 seconds to remove any extra moisture. 
  • Add the cooked chayote squash pieces and salt and mix well. - Here is a great stir fry if you want to stop and eat this :-)
  • Add the soaked and fluffed up avalakki and sugar to the pan and give it a good mix. 
  • If it looks very dry, sprinkle a Tbsp or two of water on top, cover and let it cook on very low heat for 2-3 mins. 
  • Open, give a stir, add the lemon juice and switch off. 
  • Serve topped with cilantro and grated coconut and some sev mixture if you are eating this in the evening or have it with a dollop of fresh yogurt if you are breaking your fast. It tastes divine either way. 
  • ** Do not use the thin or paper avalakki in this recipe, the soaking and cooking will turn it into a textureless mush. I use what is called as 'medium' avalakki here which fluffs up in under 5 minutes. Use this or the thick variety. 
  • If you use the thick variety, it will need longer soaking time. Wash and soak in water just a millimeter above the avalakki. Once it fluffs up (about 10-12mins), squeeze out handfuls and remove excess water. 
  • If you make the masala paste too watery, it takes time to evaporate the water and the extra cooking time also dilutes the nutrients. So make the paste as thick as possible with your blender. 
  • If you like peanuts, add a few when you roast the mustard and dals

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hagalakayi (bitter gourd) palya - An unusual love affair

Happy Valentine's day everyone! Hope you all had a good celebration of the precious love in your lives and I hope it continues to get stronger through the rest of the year and life.

We had a good Sunday, got up late, cooked a storm in the kitchen and had a great brunch. Nothing typical of what you would expect on a Valentine's day lunch plate :-) but everything me & my valentine love in food was there. Other than that it was any normal Sunday.
Since the blogosphere is bursting with overdose of sugar for the Valentine's day, I thought I will step in and save the world from the risk of mass diabetes and deviate from the theme a wee (more than a wee) bit with my post. We were talking to parents in India on Friday and amma reminded me to make some payasa on Saturday as it was Ratha Saptami. Dutiful DIL that I am (and since we were both craving for something sweet and yummy :-)), I immediately followed up on it and made a delicious anna-payasa or rice kheer which after an hour on the stove became creamy and irresistible. I had every intention of making just a cup of it but with the rice and jaggery and milk, I ended up with substantial quantity that extended into Sunday too :-). Once cold in the fridge, it was so delicious. Thus our Valentine's day started with a ready to eat sweet item. And I didn't have to specially make anything sweet for the Valentine's day.

Somehow the concept of Valentine's day didn't grow on me, we used to make cards and cookies when DD was in grade school so she could take it to all her classmates and teachers but she outgrew that too. The innocence of bulk valentine day cards gave way to adolescent "yew, who gives cards and heart candies to boys" soon. Today I message her in the morning and wish Happy Valentine's day and she writes back a hurried 'Mwah, mwah". I am an insistent mom and ask her, "what is special for Valentine's day"? and get a "what Valentine's day? Mom, I have assignments upto my nose and am studying for my psych exam next week, stop being silly". I know some day it will change again :-) and I am not in any hurry for her to get there either. For me personally, celebrating love on a specific day feels restrictive, being in love is eternal, is a life long thing for me :-). Not that I don't appreciate flowers and gifts on the day but I prefer to take the pressure off of us of having to do something cute on this day to stay cool. More than anything else, it is also a great excuse for not having to come up with creative ideas to celebrate Feb 14th which suits the lazy me very well :-)
So on this Valentine's day I have a to make a confession of my our love to this vegetable. Not many people love it and it doesn't make the main stay in meals but I have openly talked about my feelings for this vegetable here, here, here, and here on the blog. If that is not sufficient proof of the intensity of this love affair, what is? We love to eat bitter gourd any form or shape though there are a few 'favoriter' recipes that have an edge over others. And then I keep adding to my repertoire of bitter gourd recipes as I come across them. Some make a mark and stay on and some just breeze in and out of my kitchen with a single occurrence. I first found this in a cookery book, the source mentioned it as a Gujarati dish, then I also saw it on an online Telugu cookery show. I combined the best of both worlds, made a few changes to suit my palate and viola, created a keeper recipe I have made multiple times.

The Gujarati version called it bitter gourd dry chutney and the Telugu version called Kaakarakaya chutney podi :-). Gujarati version was low on chili powder but added lot of crushed peanuts while the Telugu version skipped peanuts and poured red chili powder to the delight of a hard core spice lover. I chose to tread the middle path and combined ingredients from both. My version is not as dry as a spice powder and I don't think it fits a 'chutney' label, so I am kind of undecided on the category. I am ok calling it palya (stir fry) or subzi for now. No matter what you call it, it tastes delicious and if bitter gourd is one of your valentines (that is an overloaded statement right there, we will get back to that later :-)), give it a try and I am sure you will fall in love all over. The flavors are intense from the gourd, peanut powder and the sesame. Pair it with a mild yogurt based curry like majjige huli and enjoy.
Disclaimer: For those of you who are not bitter gourd fans, don't try to judge me for posting a recipe with this vegetable for Valentine's day, "har prem kahhani anoukhi hoti hai, jaroori nahin ki sub log use samjhe" (every love story is unique, not that others always understand it) :-). Each to his or her own taste.

What do you need to make bitter gourd palya? 
3 medium sized bitter gourd
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/4 Tsp tamarind paste
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
3/4 Tsp salt
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp peanut powder or coarsely crushed peanuts
1/2 Tsp mustard
2 green chilies - chopped
6-8 curry leaves - chopped
1 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1 Tsp chopped cilantro
pinch of turmeric powder
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make bitter gourd palya? 
  • Wash, cut the ends and scrape the outer skin on bitter gourd lightly. 
  • Slit them vertically into halves and remove the seeds. 
  • Reserve about a Tbsp of tender seeds for later use and discard the remaining. 
  • Grate the bitter gourds on the big hole side of a grate or process them in a food processor or chop them finely. Idea is to get really tiny pieces without making a paste. 
  • If you want to reduce the bitterness, add a pinch of salt and turmeric to the grated gourd, set aside for about 20 minutes, squeeze out all the juice that is generated. Wash the bitter gourd under running water and squeeze out the vegetable. While this removes the bitterness, it also removes a lot of nutrients.
  • I like to retain the natural bitterness and go to the next step directly. 
  • Heat 1.5 tbsp oil in a pan, add mustard and let it pop. 
  • Add sesame seeds, chopped green chilies and curry leaves and let roast for 30 secs.
  • Chop up the tender seeds reserved and add them to the pan, let them roast for a minute. 
  • Add chopped onion followed by salt, asafoetida and turmeric powder and let the onion sweat and soften up. 
  • Add the tamarind paste and jaggery.
  • Add the grated bitter gourd and spread it in the pan in a thin layer - this helps to roast quickly and lose moisture. 
  • Cook on low flame, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Use the remaining 1/2 Tbsp of oil as needed.
  • Once the extra moisture is gone and the bitter gourd is soft, continue cooking until it reaches your desired dryness and crispiness. Mine took about 25 minutes for the quantity above. 
  • Add red chili powder and the peanut powder at this stage along with chopped cilantro, mix well. 
  • Let cook for just a minute, switch off and serve. It tastes great as an accompaniment for roti/chapatis and also mixed with steamed rice. 
My lunch box with Majjige huli, anna with bitter gourd subzi
  • You can store this in a dry container in the fridge for a week. 
  • Use tender and firm bitter gourd for this recipe
  • I prefer a non stick pan if I am making a large batch so I can use less oil and still fry it without getting sticky at the bottom. 
  • I used my home made peanut powder for this recipe, you can also just add coarsely crushed peanuts for crunch. 
  • The seeds used give a nice crunch and the tender ones are usually not bitter at all. If you do not like them, skip this from the recipe. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Avarekalu (hyacinth beans or papdi lilva) curry - a versatile side dish in any meal plan

Happy Superbowl Sunday everyone :-), The fact that I am sitting here, writing my blog post clearly indicates I am not loyal to either of the teams playing the big game today and I am not such a sports fan that I watch the game for the sport itself. My love for the game is restricted to watching the local team and I am happy to stay away from the big screen otherwise. So while majority of my fellow Americans are glued infront of their TV screens cheering Broncos or Panthers, I am infront of my small screen writing to my heart's content. If you are watching the game, wishing you all a good game experience no matter which team you support!

Did you ask what I have been doing since the last post (which seems like eons ago), oh lots and many things I enjoy. Reading a bunch of books, my new favorite is Amy Tan, a Chinese American author. Finished two of her books recently, liked them both. If you haven't read any but like a good fiction, check out her Kitchen God's wife and The Hundred Secret senses, both are good, well told stories of times that are fast becoming rare. Something very relatable in her books to my South East Asian origins and acquired American sensitivities. I am also reading a couple of history books (I started enjoying the history books when my daughter started high school and would have probably learnt and enjoyed a lot more tangible history if I had these books to study during my school years instead of roting the dates and events). All in all, my bed side shelf is full and it makes me happy and contented :-). Cooking and blogging is not far away from mind but I am just letting things take their own course of action instead of forcing anything. Needless to say I will be here (and as often as I can).
The other day I was in the library browsing through the books and was standing close to the chekout/help desk in the front of the building when a conversation I heard made me smile nostalgically. It was a harried looking mom with her little girl in tow talking to the library staff at the desk. She was asking if there was any way of finding a school library book her daughter had accidentally returned to the library. I had this sudden urge to turn around and hug the little girl and tell the mom not to worry but the library staff did his job wonderfully well too. He explained that though there was no way of him picking up the book for her from the returns, all was not lost as the library periodically separated the school books or anything else that didn't have the public library seal and returned it to the rightful owners. So she had to just let the school authorities know that there would be a delay of about a week before the book found its way back to the school.

Not that the system is flawless and books won't get lost occasionally but it is pretty robust and works well. I have been that mom years back and it was not once or twice we returned the books to the wrong library as DD's room would always be FULL of books from every possible library :-). Time flies, she hardly has time to read other than her school work now, but I am sure the love for books is a strong love that continues to live deep within and she will always find the company of her books to be the best world.
I am also trying to go back to some activities that engage my hands and brain with my limited artistic abilities. I had this phase during high school and college where I would pick up some project/craft work during school breaks, didn't become proficient in any but have a few things to remind me of my temporary obsessions. I am trying to see if any of those would interest me now and keep me engaged, I will show you my work if anything turns out 'show worthy'. I am a person that gets easily bored if I am not physically and mentally active and boredom makes me a real pain for those around me :-). Oh boy the joys and pains of empty nest..

Ah the other thing that is keeping me busy is to do with movies. With the latest Star Wars movie out in December, BH finally realized that his beloved wifey had absolutely no idea who Jedi masters were and for that matter was totally ignorant of great characters such as Obi Wan Kenobi or Darth Vader. Here is what happened, when we were in Disney Land during the December holidays, I was blissfully walking around the park feeling happy with the Mickey, Minnie and such while he went into one of the stores and came back wearing a green color hat (psst, that is the problem, I had no idea it wasn't just a hat but Yoda's head) and I associate green color with Okra and Ogres and the movie Shrek having watched it multiple times with DD and was oblivious to the fact that I was offending BH when I asked him why he was wearing a ogre hat :-). He tried telling me how many people on the way from the store bowed infront of him calling him the 'great master' while I had this blank expression on my face.
That night when we returned home to the place we were staying, BH made me sit through a video of how Star Wars was made as my introduction to the mesmerizing world of Jedi, 4-LOM, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Han Solo, Jabba, Skywalker, Princess Leia .. and ofcourse the visionary George Lucas :-). He would have loved to show me all the movies right then to rid me of my ignorance but we were tired and had 2 more days of park admission purchased, so had to get to bed. Then we came back home, were busy with DD and a nephew visiting and when everybody went away to schools and we were left alone, he went and got the DVDs and we did a marathon of 3 Star Wars movies over a weekend thus successfully completing my initiation. While he now smiles with the satisfaction that the wife is no longer the ignorant ogre she once was, I am yet to recover from the after effects of Star wars. Honestly, I liked the movies (don't say it aloud because I know there are still 3 more to go and we haven't gone to the new one yet!!), it is a very futuristic story and if you stop to think when they were made initially you will be impressed with how well the movie is made. Without the animations we have today, the movies are well made and lovable and for BH they are the Harry Potter series of his daughter's generation, different story lines but the same intense fan following. I have had my Star Wars fill for a while now and like to stay away for a while. May the Force be with you all!!

Onto food matters today, it is Feb and my favorite beans would have gone out of season long back if we were in India but where I live they make their brief appearance right around this time and I wait for them to show up like the thirsty Chataka (mythical rain birds that drink nothing but the direct rain drops) birds waiting for the rains. I found one good batch while DD was here and ofcourse it went into her favorite kadubus, she doesn't even want to hear about any other recipes with avarekalu. I got some more last weekend and didn't want to make the kadubu so ended up refreshing my memory on this lip smacking side dish where the beans are the stars.
This is not a huli or sambar as there is no dal or lentil except for the beans. The spices used are close to the huli masala yet different. Nammamma always paired them up with eggplants and onions. I am surprised that there is no definite identifier for this dish as it is a cross between huli and gojju, I simply chose to call it 'curry' in honor of everyone that love Indian curries :-). Nammamma made this as a side dish for chapathi or pooris if it was tiffin time or as a dip for the Karnataka special raagi mudde which was a favorite with everyone at home. It tastes delicious mixed with steamed rice too. I love to eat it just like that from a bowl with a spoon :-)

I made this for our weekend brunch today with raagi mudde for me and methi roti for BH as he is not as good with the 'gulp'ing of mudde, still working on it :-). You can also add potatoes or replace eggplants with potatoes in this recipe. I love the eggplant, onion combination and like the texture of thinly sliced onions. Skip it if you are not a fan.
What do you need to make Avarekalu curry?
1.5 cups peeled avarekalu/papdi lilva (use frozen if you don't have the fresh)
1.5 cups cubed eggplant
1/2 (or more if you like) cup thinly chopped onion
1 key lime sized tamarind
1/4 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1.5 Tsp salt (divided use)
1/2 Tsp poppy seeds/gasagase
2 Tbsp grated coconut
2-3 Tbsp oil (divided use)
1/2 Tsp turmeric powder
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
To roast and grind: 
1 Tbsp coriander seeds/dhania
1 Tsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/4 Tsp cumin
1 inch piece cinnamon
1-2 cloves
3-4 dry red chilies
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make Avarekalu curry? 
  • If you are lucky enough to get fresh avarekalu in the pod, peel the pods and separate the beans. Remove any that do not look healthy. 
  • Wash the beans a couple of times in water, add 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt and pressure cook for 3 whistles. 
  • The fresh beans take a little time to cook compared to frozen beans, adjust the cooking time so they are well cooked and soft but not mushy. 
  • Let the pressure subside naturally. 
  • Soak tamarind in 1/2 cup of water for 30 minutes and squeeze out tamarind extract, discard the pith, seeds if any. Keep the extract aside until ready to use. 
  • Slice onions into thin long strips (my preference, but you can cut any which way that you like :-)) 
  • Cube eggplants into bite sized pieces and keep them in cold water to avoid discoloration. 
  • Heat 1 Tsp oil in a pan, add all the ingredients except onion listed under 'To roast and grind' and roast in medium to low heat until they give out a nice aroma and the dals turn golden brown. 
  • Add poppy seeds, grated coconut and chopped onion, switch off the stove and let it cool down. 
  • Heat a big kadai/pan with 1 Tbsp oil, add thinly sliced onions and let it cook for a minute and half. 
  • Add the cubed eggplants, 1/2 tsp salt and turmeric powder. Give a good mix, cover the pan and let the eggplants cook until soft but not mushy, takes 5-6mins.
  • Add the cooked beans along with the water to the pan. 
  • Add tamarind extract and let them come to a boil on medium heat. 
  • Grind all roasted & cooled ingredients along with a spoon of cooked beans into a smooth paste with 1/2 cup of water. Adding cooked beans gives body and thickness to the gravy. 
  • Add the masala paste to the vegetables along with jaggery and let the mixture cook together for about 5 minutes. 
  • Test taste and adjust salt as needed. Also add water to get the desired consistency. 
  • Add chopped cilantro and continue to cook until the mixture comes to a good rolling boil.
  • Heat a small pan with remaining oil, add mustard and fenugreek seeds and when they pop add asafoetida. 
  • Switch off and add the seasoning to the curry. 
  • Cover and let it sit for atleast 30 minutes before serving. 
  • Another great combination with the beans is cubed potatoes. I didn't use them today. 
  • I like my eggplants soft but holding their shape, it is a personal choice, so adjust the cook time accordingly. 
  • Do not roast poppy seeds, coconut or onion along with the rest of the ingredients, the heat of the pan is sufficient to warm them up. 
  • If you are using fresh beans and not pressure cooking, be prepared for a long cook time (atleast an hour) in open vessel. 
  • It is important to salt the beans while cooking and the eggplants while they are roasted, so remember you are using salt at different points in this recipe and make sure you don't over salt it. 
  • Adding jaggery brings out the other tastes in this dish and is a signature Mysorean way of cooking gravies. Skip if you do not want the extra sugar.