Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bitter gourd + Onion subzi with gram flour - a zunka of sorts with my favorite vegetable

Olympics games in Rio come to a close :-(, another 4 years of wait for the next round of heart warming sportsmanship, rush of medals, breath taking competition.. I am not a huge sports fan, there are select games that I enjoy watching and when it is Olympics, gymnastics catches all my attention. I had fun watching the US women's team and the fabulous girls that not only bagged the medals but also stole hearts of the viewers. This year, I also closely followed the badminton finals :-). Since it was during work hours, I had to satisfy myself my periodic updates and not really watching the game. 2016 games are memorable also because of the 3 unassuming girls from my home country that had an entire nation rally behind them, each playing a different sport, each from a different region of India, but each one showing what true sportsmanship was, here is to Sakshi, Deepa, Sindhu and Aditi, may they continue their passion in the games.
For the past week, all my social media feeds have been abuzz with the stories, jokes, controversies and news of how the girls are saving the Indian subcontinent from shame in the games, they secured not one but two medals in the games, the only two that Indian team got to take home. Every time some one speaks about gender inequality, I think of my father. Growing up between 2 completely boyish brothers and an older sister, he never for once treated us any differently than his boys. I got lucky in marriage too. I think my personal experiences sometimes make me blind and gives me the false sense that girls are treated equal to boys all over. Whenever the discussions happen, my first reaction is disbelief and then I cringe if someone talks derogatively of girls/women. Hopefully the recent accomplishments of these achievers will help a generation of girls and women back home and every where else too.
I have something yummy today (as always :-)), made with a vegetable that doesn't have a very huge fan following. I am an exception and so is BH, we both love, love the bitter gourd. If you are not convinced of our love for this veggie, look up the recipes on this blog to find the variations I make with this vegetable, there are already too many of them to list. But I understand completely when people say no to anything that spells bitter gourd in the list, it is bitter and not many people like the taste, I get it. So, why am I posting another recipe with the same vegetable again? Hmmm, let me think.. oh I know, it is because I am sure I will have some converts when you taste this recipe, it is that good.
Don't believe me? here is a simple anecdote, the parents do not like the bitter gourd at all, I have never seen amma buy it or make anything with it. They are very sweet and polite though and slyly avoid the dish if I make something with it. So, normally at home, I will make an additional choice of vegetables if bitter gourd is on the menu. Now that the inlaws are visiting, I always remember this rule of additional non bitter vegetable :-). But a couple of months back when I made this dish, the entire content vanished right infront of my eyes and nobody even seemed to care for the other item on the menu (I don't even remember what that was). Thinking about it, I was convinced that the other item was so bad that made the bitter gourd recipe a better choice. But I made it the second time to see the same results and then realized that they infact liked it. So I have 2 converts at home now and I have made it more than a couple of times in the past few months.
Zunka/Junka is a dry subzi from North Karnataka and Maharashtra regions in India. This is a preferred side dish for the jowar (pearl millet) rotis. It is easier to make, stays good for a couple of days and easy to pack for travels. Zunka is made with just onions or spring onions and then there are a few versions of zunkas with bell pepper too. The hero of the dish is gram flour and the whole idea is that you make a side dish without a vegetable. But I added bitter gourd and onion in almost equal proportions, I like the crunchiness that onions impart while also further reducing the bitterness of the dish. But the treatment to the cilantro takes this recipe to a new height, don't sprinkle or garnish cilantro on top after the dish is made but add it to the hot oil so it leaves the flavors and aroma right into the dish. Go ahead, try it and let me know how you liked it.
I won't hold you to use the same proportions I have below, look at this recipe more as a 'method' than as the exact proportions. You can tailor it to your liking. Here is the ratio of ingredients I prefer, change it any way you like. 1 cup chopped bitter gourd, 3/4 cup chopped onion, 3/4 cup gram flour, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Rest of the ingredients according to taste :-). The idea is to have enough gram flour to coat every bite of bitter gourd and complement the bitterness of the gourd with an equal amount of sweet onions.

What do you need? 
3 medium bitter gourds/haagalakaayi/kaakarakaya = 2 cups chopped
1.5 cups thinly sliced onions
1.5 cups gram flour/besan
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
5 Tbsp oil (Oops, this is one recipe I won't advise skimping on oil)
a quarter size tamarind
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp asafoetida (be generous, it enhances flavor and also helps digestion)

How do you make? 
  • Wash and pat dry bitter gourds. Remove the two ends and scrape the skin lightly with a peeler.
  • Slit the gourds vertically and scoop out all the seeds from the center. 
  • Discard the peeled skin and seeds and gently wash the gourds. 
  • Cut each half further vertically and chop into thin slices. You can chop the gourds any shape and size you like but this works well for me. 
  • Take a microwave safe bowl, add the pieces into it, add water so the pieces are all submerged in water along with turmeric, tamarind and 1/4 Tsp of salt. MW it for 6-8 minutes or until the pieces are fork tender. 
  • Take it out and let it stand for 15 mins before straining out all the water, pick out the tamarind pieces and discard. Squeeze the gourd pieces to remove any extra water and keep aside. 
  • Remove the stalks of chilies and cut them into small roundels.
  • Heat a non stick kadhai/pan, add 2 tbsp of oil. 
  • Add mustard, cumin, and asafoetida and let the seeds pop. Add the green chilies and let them cook for about 30 secs.
  • Add most of the chopped cilantro (keeping a spoonful for garnish) into the hot oil and fold it in. 
  • Add the sliced onions along with the remaining salt and let it sweat a bit until onions are soft. You do not need to brown them. 
  • Add the gram flour and mix it well with onions & cilantro. 
  • Add the cooked bitter gourd pieces. 
  • Mix everything together until well combined, add the remaining 3 Tbsp of oil, cover the pan, reduce heat to low and let cook for about 12 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes to avoid burning. 
  • After about 12 minutes, you get the nice cooked smell of gram flour and the mixture in the pan seems light when you stir/fold it. 
  • You can even taste and check for salt at this stage and also confirm gram flour has lost its raw smell. 
  • Switch off, garnish with remaining cilantro. Serve warm with roti or rice. 
  • Use tender bitter gourds that are green and firm to touch.
  • I am ok with the MW technology for short durations, if you don't use MW go ahead and cook the pieces on stove top until tender. 
  • I like to keep onions and bitter gourds about the same size and shape, someone it makes the distribution even and aesthetically good :-)
  • You can use 1/2 - 3/4 Tsp red chili powder instead of green chilies. 
  • Using non stick pan helps reduce the oil usage a bit and also ensures that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. 
  • Pre cooking bitter gourd with turmeric, tamarind & salt reduces the bitterness, so does the scraping of the skin and the double washing. 
  • If you don't have cilantro in the fridge, use curry leaves chopped fine. My preference is for cilantro and especially when it is blistered in the hot oil, it leaves the aroma that lifts the dish a notch up. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gongura Pulihora (Spicy seasoned rice with sorrel leaves) - Summer comes to a close and a new year begins

We are literally baking here for the past few days, temperature is at its northern tip as far as PNW is concerned and us poor folks pampered year long with moderate temperatures are now whining and complaining as loudly and as often as we can. At our home, this is the time of the year we seriously think of getting an air conditioner but by the time we get off our seats and put the thoughts into action, the weather would have changed and temperature gotten normal :-), so has been the story for last 5 years and the same continues this year as well. I don't feel justified spending money on something that I would use for a minuscule percentage of the year, also we spend a big part of the day in air conditioned offices as the week starts where everything is cool and nice, so the AC has been just a passing thought until now, maybe as the glaciers start to melt and the heat becomes unbearable in a few years, we will give it some serious consideration :-). Until then, let me enjoy the abundant sunshine and the naturally available vitamin D. The plants and flowers outside seem to be in complete agreement with what I say. 
I have turned into an infrequent blogger recently and had not even checked the blog for comments or the facebook for reactions in a while. As I logged in today after a couple of weeks of inactivity, a very pleasant surprise awaited when I saw the FB likes is now up beyond the count of 1000. A small but definite milestone and surely a nudge for me to get back to active blogging :-). I promise I will do the best, thank you all for visiting, stopping by to say hello and spreading the word. The recipes I blog about are very close to heart and the stories that go with it are from personal experiences, it makes it all the more fun when strangers stop by to read it. I am in my 5th year of blogging, I do this mainly for my own selfish purposes using the blog space to chronicle the happenings of my life and to document the recipes I cook at home. The pictures are by no means top class but I hope they support the story I write around the recipe and most of all they are fruits of hard work. I feel genuinely happy when this little space gets some TLC and attention.
As I was looking at the stats on my pages, I also saw a few discussions about a recent episode of plagiarism. If you are active in the food blogging world, you probably have read/heard about it by now, I have been just slow to catch on. I don't intent to shame anyone personally but this blogger apparently became popular with hits in the scale of 100,000 on her youtube videos and the website within a span of mere months. Days of instant gratification and personal glory, right? Turns out that most of the recipes were lifted word by word from some of the well established food blogs without so much as an acknowledgement. With the modern tools and easy access to content at fingertips, all you need for a starter kit is a laptop, browser and some good search key words. What gets lost in this crazy craving for popularity is someone else's hard work and effort put into creating the original piece.

Food blogging is a strange world, if you were to take a recipe there isn't much that any of us are creating afresh but the presentations are morphing, the need to have food appealing to eyes is now a well recognized fact.  The recipes by themselves are mostly handed down from generations and enjoyed by many people. Outside of small variations,personal taste differences and the trend of fusion, the core of a recipe is generic across geographies. So if they are all the same, what is plagiarism in the food blogging world? Plagiarism is when you lift content (recipe, pictures, presentation) from another blogger's space without due permission, plagiarism is when you reproduce another blogger's content without any acknowledgement and claim it as your own. Every food blogger worth his or her salt has painstakingly spent time to document what is in the family for ages, been generous to share the recipes with everyone. You will appreciate the effort that goes into each blog piece only if you are a blogger yourself. Just to put things into perspective, it takes me about 5 hours on an average to get a blog post out from the time of cooking, picture taking, processing, thinking of a context to present the content, actually writing the blog, proof reading and publishing it. Some days, it just doesn't come together at all no matter how hard I try while on other days it flows like an easy normal delivery. I do it only because I am passionate about it. So if someone is using the content or pictures from my blog, I would expect them to have the courtesy to acknowledge it. What was heartening about this particular incident was that there was active protest from the bloggers that literally brought the plagiarizing youtube channel and the website down but what is not so good is that this youtube channel is back in business within the week claiming that all non-original content has been removed. I sincerely hope that is the case. Please help food bloggers by identifying stolen content if you see one.
Other than the high temperatures, for me personally it feels like summer is over with DD heading back to school and starting another year. Can't believe the little girl is no longer a little girl but a fine young lady we are extremely proud of. Her summer though short at home was eventful, full of new adventures, memorable with lot of life lessons. We mostly stood on the side lines as she ventured into unknown territories and faced challenges as she always does - with a smile on her face. For me, acknowledging the fact that she is growing up is easy but letting go when needed is the most difficult part and I am trying my best to overcome my urge to try and guide her every so often. I intend to keep at it and hopefully become good decent at it in a few years decades :-)

Both times when she came home from her new adventures, DD was so happy to come back to the familiar kitchen, her own old dining table and have home food. I made this gongura pulihora 2 weeks back when she came home after a 7 weeks stay away and took it to the airport as we went to receive her in the afternoon. The first thing she noticed was the aroma as she climbed into the car and as a spoon full of rice went into her mouth, all she said was, "Ummm..". I made it again a few days later since she liked it so much and even after a week of home food, she was happy to polish it off clean.
This pulihora is a Telugu version of puliyogare or tamarind rice and replaces tamarind with sour sorrel leaves. The tangy rice with the freshly roasted and powdered spices makes it a delectable home coming recipe. It is simple to make, genuine in flavors and brings that comfort feeling when you eat it. Gongura or sorrel leaves are the pride of Telugu cuisine, if you like these tangy leaves, you can get them easily in the stores (Indian or Asian groceries are the best places to find these) during summer. We make pachadi, pappu on a regular basis but the pulihora got added to the repertoire recently. If you are craving for something spicy and South Indian, if you love rice, this is a heavenly eat. It is easy to put together and tastes better as it ages (best eaten the day after or a few hours after making it). You can roast the gongura leaves and store them in refrigerator for later use.

Happy Independence day to all my fellow Indians and people of Indian origin across the globe!
What do you need to make Gongura pulihora? 
1 cup gongura leaves
1 cup cooked rice (use long grained rice such as sona masoori)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tbsp oil
Spice powder: 
1 Tbsp chana dal
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1/2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tsp white sesame seeds
1 Tsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin
2-3 dry red chilies
1.5 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tbsp chana dal
1 Tsp urad dal
2 Tbsp peanuts
5-7 curry leaves (optional)
1 dry red chili broken into pieces
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder

How do you make Gongura Pulihora?

  • Pick gongura leaves from the stems and discard the stems. 
  • Wash the leaves in a couple of runs of water and spread them on a dish cloth or paper towel to remove all the moisture. Or pat dry the leaves if you are in a hurry. 
  • Heat a Tbsp oil in a wide pan, add the leaves and fry them until they wilt and become a single soft mass, takes about 3 minutes on medium heat. 
  • Switch off and take the cooked leaves onto a plate. This can be put into a zip lock bag and stored in the fridge for upto a month. 
  • Cook 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of water and a drop of oil (oil helps to keep the rice grains fluffy)
  • Once cooked spread the rice in a wide plate or mixing bowl and let it cool. 
  • Dry roast all the ingredients listed under 'Spice powder', start with the dals & fenugreek and once they turn light pink, add coriander, cumin, sesame seeds and red chilies. Roast them until fragrant and the chili crisps up. 
  • Let the mixture cool, then grind it to a powder with a slightly coarse texture. Add this on top of the rice along with salt. 
  • Add the cooked gongura leaves on top of the rice. 
  • Heat oil for seasoning, add mustard, peanuts, let them roast for 30 seconds. Add the dals, asafoetida, turmeric powder and curry leaves (if using). Stir it with a spoon and roast until the peanuts start to pop and the dals turn golden. 
  • Pour the hot seasoning on top of the rice. 
  • Once warm enough to handle, gently bring everything together with fingers. Don't put a lot of pressure or the rice will turn mushy. 
  • Taste and adjust salt, gongura as needed. 
  • Let this rice sit for atleast 30mins for the flavors to mingle together before serving. 
  • The leaves can be roasted like described above and stored in the refrigerator for weeks. You can pull out the required quantity and use it in the pulihora, pappu or pachadi. 
  • Spice powder can be made ahead of time too and in larger quantities but I prefer to make it fresh. 
  • Add cashew nuts in place of or in addition to the peanuts for seasoning if you like. 
  • The tanginess in Gongura leaves varies with the variety, taste the rice and adjust if you need more tang, do not add all the leaves at once. 
  • I like to use whole leaves in this recipe as they look pretty in the final recipe, if you don't like it, go ahead and chop them before frying in oil. 
  • Letting the rice to rest for a half hour is very important for the flavor to come together, allow time for this.