Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hurgaalu/Hurigaalu - a healthy, protein rich, spicy trail mix I will give my life for :-)

Happy Deepavali to all of you celebrating the festival of lights! Wishing you all hope, love and joy forever.   

This weekend being Deepavali, I am carried back to my Mysuru Deepavali memories where every year nammamma and anna would place tiny home made lamps all around the compound wall and in the portico and go around lighting one by one. Neither of them cared for the fire crackers but the lamps and lights was an integral part of Deepavali celebration at home as was the traditional oil bath and the yummy food. We did the lamp lighting here this year as well though food part was mostly kept very simple.
I started this week long series of home made dishes from Nammamma's kitchen last Sunday as my humble way of sharing my love for my mom. When I wrote my blog post after a couple months of gap, I was looking at it mostly as an outlet to say things that I haven't been able to say verbally and also to remember my mom through some of her best loved dishes. What I didn't expect though was the flood of personal emails and notes from so many of you, sharing your experience of loss of a loved one and supporting me to deal with my pain with the help of your kind words. All I can say is a heart felt thank you to every one of you, beyond any words can possibly express.
I started the 7 day marathon blogging with Puri Unde - Nammamma's signature sweet dish and a very traditional sweet from Karnataka and I want to end this week long blogging with another one of her signature recipes, a savory one this time, called Hurgaalu/Hurigaalu. I haven't blogged at this frequency even when I started the blog 4+ years back :-). It was draining to keep doing it every day, tiring to sit down for another few hours of blogging after a long day of work, but at the end of it I enjoyed chronicling some of nammamma's yummy dishes and I am glad I did it. I don't claim that I have documented all of the recipes she used to make, there are still many more to come and I will definitely tag them as I bring them onto the blog here, I chose some really simple ones and every day dishes this past week just because of the memories connected with those dishes.
Plumped up kadle kaalu after overnight soaking
My earliest memory of Hurgaalu is when nammamma made these on a very large scale welcoming her first grand child. I was in grade school when akka was expecting her baby and nammamma was almost delirious with happiness to have a grand child at home, she would prepare special food every single day and feed akka for the 2 months she was in Mysuru. It was like a 'foodie dream come true' for me and the younger brother without even taking the effort to dream :-) since we would be given every one of those delicious delicacies. Thinking about it, I am sure that the two of us ate most of what was prepared and akka mostly just sampled them, she never over eats anything :-). Out of all the goodies prepared, this one is by far my most favorite.
Plumped up Alasande kaalu after overnight soaking
It is not surprising given the fact that I love spicy food, I adore crispy, crunchy snacks and I can eat them almost any time of the day. It is labor intensive and not something Nammamma either had the time to prepare often nor had the inclination if I had left her alone. But eating the delicious hurgaalu at akka's baby shower got me totally hooked on it, so I used to beg her every so often to make these at home. In that innocent childhood, I had even told her that I would have atleast a dozen kids just to be able to eat her hurgaalu every time :-). Well, that didn't happen, I mean the dozen kids part but I am sure that she made it more than a dozen times just to please the demanding kid I was.
Plumped up matki after overnight soaking
It wasn't just me craving for her hurgaalu, almost every one that has eaten her home made hurgaalu swears by it. She had this custom of making yummy dishes for any pregnant woman in the colony. I have seen her frequently make something special for an expectant mom whether it was a friend's daughter, daughter in law or a new neighbor. They all knew that my mother was a sucker when it came to pregnant women and their 'cravings' :-). Many of them openly asked amma for a specific dish or two while a few newly acquainted ones dropped hints about how she loved to eat a certain something nammamma made. Either case the person was sure to receive whatever they had wished to eat from nammamma's kitchen, she would prepare it with all the love and care and carry it over to them :-). Yes, it is part of the perks of living in a tight knit, small community where every one knows each other. None of us minded since we all got our share of it as well. She was like the surrogate mom for many young mothers in our neighborhood. That is who she was, generous with everything she had, making people around her feel cared for, loved by always. Even when things were hard she made it a point to share what she had.
Hurgaalu is like a trail mix, a mixture of roasted beans of different varieties and jazzed up with the right amount of red chili powder and salt. Nammamma had her touch of using the lemon juice to make the spice paste which I believe is sheer brilliance as it enhances the taste of the final product by many folds. She also had perfected the proportions of the different varieties of beans to make the mix taste just right. A few years back, I stopped troubling amma to make this at home knowing that she would willingly start soaking the beans the moment I opened my mouth and asked for it. I didn't have the heart to put her through all the effort and started looking for alternate sources of getting hurgaalu. I have tried many stores in both Mysuru and Bengaluru, some are more delicious than the other but not one of them came close to what nammamma used to make. I hesitated making hurgaalu at home because of the nagging feeling in my head that it will fall short of my own expectations but made it recently when there was a finality that I would never taste nammamma's hurgaalu again. The family received it with genuine compliments and I feel confident that it is as close to nammamma's hurgaalu as it gets.
Plumped up hurli kaalu after overnight soaking
The process is really simple if you pay attention to a few key tricks (see the notes below), a little goes a long way as the beans get mixed together. So start small, get the hang of the roasting and you can make this delicious, healthy snack at home any time. If I were to break down hurgaalu making for a novice, here is how it would look like - Take dehydrated kaalu -> hydrate them in water over night -> dehydrate them back on slow heat -> add spice paste -> go get your favorite book -> take the hurgaalu in a big bowl -> find a quiet spot -> get lost from the world :-)
Nammamma had the advantage of 'bhatti' in Mysuru, these are small shops with professional grade roasting equipment. There used to be a street in old Mysuru that had a couple of these bhattis, you would take your ingredients there and the shop owner would roast them for you. They had huge, wide, thick kadais called bandle in Kannada, half filled with clean sand (for even distribution of heat), they would put the beans one group after another in to the hot kadai and roast them on wood fires. It would take less time than if you were to do it at home but nammamma stood there the entire hour or so, chatting with the bhatti owner and making sure he roasted them just to the point she wanted. The inside of the stores would be hot, humid and not at all comfortable, so if we accompanied her, we would be asked to sit outside and wait.

Once the roasting was done, the entire content of the kadai would be passed through a fine sieve that was just the right size to hold the beans but let the sand pass through. He would put the roasted beans back into their individual container they originally came in and hand it over. Nammamma brought it back home, mix it with the spice paste before the second roast in multiple batches. After adding peanuts, kadle and coconut, the mixture would be ready to start munching on. Hope you try this at home and enjoy it as much as I do :-)

Happy Halloween everyone, Have a safe and spooky tricking and treating!!

What do you need to make Hurgalu? 
1 cup whole moong/mung bean/hesaru kaalu
3/4 cup whole black chickpeas (this is not garbanzo, see the picture)/kadle kaalu
1/2 cup black eyed peas/alasande kaalu
1/3 cup moth beans/matki
1/2 cup horse gram/hurli kaalu
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1/2 cup roasted gram/kadle
1 cup chopped dry coconut/kobbari

For the spice paste: 
1 Tbsp red chili powder (adjust to your taste buds)
1/2 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1.5 Tbsp lemon/lime juice

Needed kitchen gadget: A heavy gauge, thick bottom kadai/skillet. A damp kitchen towel or paper napkin. 

How do you make Hurgalu? 
Preparation (previous evening):
  • Take each of the beans (1-5 in the list above)in a separate bowl. 
  • Pick any dirt/small stones from the beans.
  • Wash the beans in 2 changes of water, soak overnight in double the quantity of water.
Making of Hurgalu:
  • Next morning, drain water from each bowl using a sieve.
  • Spread a thin, clean cotton cloth in your kitchen or any other area of the house indoors that is dry and shaded. 
  • Spread the washed bean on the cloth, still keeping each variety of bean separate from the other. 
  • Let it dry and lose the dampness (about 4.5-5hrs), but not dry completely. 
  • Heat a really thick bottom kadai/skillet on medium heat, reduce the heat to low and add raw peanuts. 
  • Roast them until they get brown spots on the skin and give out a nice roasted aroma. Take them onto a plate, let cool and remove the outer skin. Keep aside until ready to use. 
  • In the same kadai, warm the roasted gram for a minute and take it out to a plate. 
  • Next, warm the chopped dry coconut pieces for a couple of minutes until it turns a very light brown, keep aside.
  • Add horse gram, stirring frequently, roast until the kaalu shrinks back to almost the original dehydrated size and starts to pop. 
  • Taste test a couple to make sure they are crispy and light. Take it off the kadai and pour into a wide mixing bowl. 
  • Repeat the process for the remaining 4 types of beans and as they get done, add them to the same mixing bowl.  
  • Here is a cheat sheet for the roasting times for the quantity mentioned above and on low heat. It may vary slightly depending the heat and the kadai gauge. 
    • Hurlikaalu - 15 mins
    • Kadle kaalu - 25 mins
    • Alasande kaalu - 25 mins
    • Matki - 10 mins
    • Hesaru kaalu - 15 mins
  • In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the spice paste and mix well, the paste needs to have a dropping consistency. Add a spoon of water if needed to get the consistency. 
  • Once the roasted kaalus cool down slighly (give about 15mins wait time from the last batch of kaalu), add the spice paste to the bowl and using your hands toss them well to coat the spice onto all the beans. Use gloves if you want to avoid the heat of the red chili powder. 
  • Once all the beans are well coated, return them to the kadai on low heat, stirring frequently roast for another 12-15 mins until the moisture from the spice paste is lost. Add peanuts, kadle and coconut pieces prepared earlier, mix well with the beans and roast for another 2 minutes. 
  • Switch off, transfer to a wide bowl, let it cool down completely before storing in dry, air tight containers. 
  • Hurgaalu stays good for a couple months (use good quality coconut) and can be enjoyed as a high protein trail mix any time. The perfect company for this snack is a good book :-)
  • There is no hard and fast rule for the amounts of the different beans in this recipe. Nammamma struck a perfect balance of bigger Vs smaller beans in the mix and I follow the same proportions. You can up or down any variety (even add a favorite bean or skip) based on your preference. 
  • Soaking the kaalu overnight is one of the crucial steps to get a really crispy hurgalu. 
  • The mung beans are notorious for what are called 'kallagaalu' or really small sized beans that refuse soften even after an overnight soak in water. Pick the ones that are at the top of water and leave the hard ones at the bottom, do not use them in the hurgaalu unless you want to spoil the experience with rock hard beans popping in the middle of a blissful munch. You can leave these hard ones soaked in water for another day till they soften and use it in cooking or eat them raw as salads. 
  • Drain all the water from the soaked kaalu and let it dry in a cool, shaded place indoors. At the end of the 4.5-5hr period, kaalu should feel moist but not wet. 
  • As soon as you add the kaalu to the kadai/skillet, keep stirring it as they will stick to the bottom because of the moisture. If you are not paying attention at this stage, the kaalus will get cooked and not roasted :-)
  • Each set of kaalu is to be fried until it reverts back to its original pre-hydrated size. 
  • After every batch, remember to wipe the kadai with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any remnants from the previous batch sticking to the surface of the kadai. 
  • When you return the beans for the second roast after mixing with the spice paste, make sure to open the kitchen windows and switch on the exhaust, because when the spice paste hits the hot kadai, it can start off a coughing fit. 

  • How to remove roasted peanut skin - roast peanuts on a slow and low heat for best results. Once cool, put them in between 2 layers of a kitchen towel and rub the top layer gently to peel off the skin. pick the skinned peanuts and use them in the recipe. You can also put the peanuts in a ziplock bag and do the same thing. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Saagu - home made version of vegetable medley from the heart of Mysore region

Anyone that likes Indian food is familiar with the deep fried pooris that are popular all over the sub continent, right? Growing up, I was completely unaware of the fact that the entire universe outside of my little world was making pooris from wheat flour. Because nammamma made them with rave/sooji/semolina always :-). She rolled them small and a little thick so they puffed up completely and were crispy, flaky and delicious when hot. But she always reserved a few to roll into very thin pooris and deep fry them at the end, these would be flat and kurkure like papads and anna loved to eat them dipped in warm milk & powdered sugar :-), yumm, this was a short cut to Karnataka's much loved delicacy called "chiroti"!!  North East India (especially West Bengal) makes pooris with maida or All purpose flour and they are called Luchis. I don't know how many of you have eaten rave poori or even know poori made with rave, but this is how nammamma made them.
It is a little bit more work to make the rave pooris compared to the ones from wheat flour as rave doesn't have the same gluten advantage as wheat flour. It needs a lot more kneading to get it to a smooth dough consistency. In the old world kitchens, one of the gadgets was a long wooden pole called 'Vanake/Onke' and we had one in Mysuru kitchen. This wooden pole is smooth and used to pound the dough for poori, obbattu, etc.. Nammamma would mix the semolina with a little water into a crumbly mixture that would not resemble a dough by any comparison, put it into the stone grinder dip and start to pound it with the vonake, sprinkling water as she went to make a smooth and tight dough.
Depending on the quantity, this would take anywhere between 30-45mins and done in batches. The dough needs to rest before making the pooris. I don't have the gadgets she used in my kitchen, though I could have used the mortar and pestle, I chose to use my upper arm power and knead it with all my might for about 8 mins. So if you want to taste these delicious rave pooris, start with the fine semolina (called chiroti rave) and add water slowly as you work the dough. Remember to give it a rest of atleast an hour before proceeding to roll and deep fry them in oil. These taste delicious and you should try it atleast once.
I don't remember nammamma making pooris frequently, it almost always remained a 'special' day dish meant to treat someone on their birthday or when folks were visiting. The infrequent appearances made it all the more appealing and we would wait eagerly for the 'poori day'. Paired with the vegetable saagu, it was always something we looked forward to and it would always be a lip-smacking foodie experience. My little family loves pooris, though I make them mostly with wheat flour just avoiding the extra work involved. I pair it with chole or potato saagu/palya to go with it sometimes, we all love this saagu combination the most.

But I digress, poori is not the focus of this blog post, it is actually what accompanies the poori aka the decadent, flavorful vegetable saagu. Saagu is served all over in restuarants and darshinis in Karnataka. Set dosa-saagu is a delicious combination though it can be eaten with any dose/dosa. It makes a perfect accompaniment with rotis, phulkas and ofcourse pooris.

But there is a marked difference between the hotel served saagu and this home made version. This is a more saatvik version, there is no onion/tomato sauteed in oil, infact there is no oil at all in this recipe. How cool is that? It might as well be because it is generally savored with the oil overloaded pooris :-). The hotel versions also add saunf (fennel seeds), a spice that nammamma hardly ever used. While I like a well made hotel saagu, I prefer this home made version better. The taste is different but delicious none the less.

Pooris are always made and served right out of the oil and they are relished hot and fresh. Pooris are quick to make especially if you have a person to roll them out and one incharge of the frying. Very soon fluffy, golden, puffed up beauties would be lifted off the hot oil and placed into a serving platter. On poori days, plates would be set and everyone would sit on the floor. Atleast one big platter full of pooris had to be ready so everyone got a couple of pooris in their plate to start off. But when the family is large and full of "poori hungry" people, a time would soon come when the rate of consumption far outbeat the rate of production :-) and that is when the saagu was a life saver. While we waited for the poori to drop into the plate, we would be eating saagu without wasting time and licking the plate (I know, absolutely no table manners!) clean so every time a new poori came to the plate, another serving of saagu had to be done as well :-)
The most common vegetables are green beans, carrots, peas, potato, cauliflower and chayote squash. The criteria is two fold - the vegetables should hold their shape on cooking and should not impart any unnecessary flavor/smells in the dish. That means, those smelly stinky radish, cabbage, kohlrabi are out as are the slimy okra and eggplants :-). The amount of veggies is a personal preference, while some like more veggies and just enough gravy to connect them all, some prefer a few veggies floating in the flavorsome gravy. I like a balance, with both gravy and the bites. Nammamma never added cauliflower because it was not a vegetable she preferred to use :-). I have grown to like it and my family loves all things cauliflower, it goes well with the rest of the vegetable choices in this saagu. It doesn't change the saagu in anyway, so feel free to skip it if you don't have it handy. I didn't have it when I made it this time.
This gravy does not have the usual herbs(curry leaves & cilantro) used in the south indian cooking and there is no seasoning/tadka either. The flavoring agents are cinnamon, cloves and poppy seeds. Go ahead and try this super flavorful, creamy saagu for you next poorisession.

What do you need to make saagu?
2 cups of mixed vegetables (green beans, carrots, chayote squash, potatoes, green peas) - I used about 1/2 cup of each
1 Tsp chopped cilantro (optional for garnish)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
pinch of turmeric (optional, just to bring a little hue to the gravy)

To grind: 
1/2 cup coconut
1 inch piece of ginger
2 -1inch piece of cinnamon
4 cloves
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1 Tbsp gasagase/poppy seeds
1 Tbsp roasted gram/kadle
6 almonds (soaked in hot water and de-skinned) - This is my addition
4-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)

How do you make saagu? 
  • Clean and chop vegetables keeping the size and shape similar on all of them. 
  • Cook the vegetables in 1.5 cups of water until they are about half done but still crunchy (about 6-8 mins on med heat). 
  • Grind all ingredients listed under to grind with 1/4 cup of water to a smooth paste. 
  • Add the ground paste to the cooked vegetables along with salt and cook for about 10mins on low heat until well blended and starts to boil. 
  • Switch off the stove and add cilantro on top. Cover and let it rest.
  • Common saagu problem & correction: A good saagu has a creamy consistency and homogeneous texture. If the water is separating from the vegetables when you boil, the amount of thickening agents(coconut, roasted gram or almonds) is to be adjusted. You can grind another Tsp of roasted gram with a spoon of water and add to the gravy to thicken it. 
  • Vegetables need to have an opportunity to boil in the ground masala paste, cook them only half done before adding the paste and then continue cooking on low heat. 
  • Almonds do impart a rich taste to saagu, however take care not to over do the nuts as it tends to make the gravy texture very different from the Mysore saagu. Stick to the quantities given above for 4 servings of delicious saagu. 
  • There is no seasoning in this dish and it tastes awesome without it. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Green beans (ಹುರಳೀಕಾಯಿ) palya - glorious in its simplicity, an all time favorite stir fry

Palya in Kannada is the name for a vegetable stir fry. There are no bells or whistles on this dish, it is a vegetable in its purest form, sauteed in a teeny bit of oil and seasoned with a minimal number of flavors, this recipe is a must on occasions both auspicious and otherwise. Festival menus are generally multi coursed meals with a defined structure. In Kannadiga festivals or weddings, the meal is served on a fresh banana leaf, and it begins with a sampling of all items as the first course. You get a spoonful of everything served on the leaf before the meal can officially begin and then there are well defined courses that follow one after the other each meant to carry you to a higher gastronomical ecstasy from the previous one (if such a thing is possible):-). These meals are well balanced with all the required nutrition as long as you are disciplined enough to stay in control.
What I appreciate most about the way food is served in Karnataka is that you get an idea of the dishes to come in the bird's eye view picture painted in the first course. The only ones you don't see at the beginning are the very special 'dessert of the day' and the 'always present and always last course' yogurt. This serving style lets you be the responsible citizen and decide what & how much of each item you want to eat during the meal :-). Good system, huh?
Even with all the special food on the banana leaf, my preference has always been on the fresh palya and kosambri(salad made with lentils and either cucumber or carrots) at the top half of the leaf. These two items somehow hold an irresistible allure for me. The first course or the sampling course would conclude when hot steaming rice is served in the center of the banana leaf with a spoon of tovve (gently seasoned lentil broth) and a dollop of ghee on top. While the elders were expected to wait until this stage was reached and the customary prayer was said, the little children are generally excused if they cannot extend their patience or hold out on being kids :-). When we were little kids, the palya and the kosambri would be gone within a minute of it being put there :-).
This palya is not only made on special occasions but is a very frequently spotted dish on every day meals as well. Called poriyal in other regions palya has the stamp of Mysuru cuisine. There are no spices (ground or whole) used in this recipe. Fresh green chilies and curry leaves impart the subtle flavors to the natural taste of the vegetable. The south Indian special asafoetida is the only bold flavor you will notice in this dish. Even in the absence of spices or complex tastes/flavors this stir fried vegetable manages to capture attention both on a wide spread festive platter or as part of a simple everyday meal. DD calls this palya version 1 since I make different variations with combinations of vegetables.
There isn't much interms of recipe here but it is something I relate directly with home meals. Almost everyone in the Mysuru region make this pretty much the same way, may be with minor alterations. Nammamma, true to her style of cooking added generous amounts of grated coconut, a small spoon of sugar which makes this palya unusually delicious. This unassuming, simple dish is a reminder of simpler, carefree days from childhood for me.
What do you need to make green beans palya?
1/2 Lb tender green beans
2 tbsp grated fresh coconut (if using frozen, make sure you bring thaw it)
2 green chilies
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp sugar
1 Tsp lemon/lime juice
3-5 curry leaves
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp urad dal
1 Tsp chana dal
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
How do you make green beans palya? 
  • Wash and pat dry the green beans, chop the two ends off and chop the beans into tiny bits (smaller the better :-))
  • Slit the chilies vertically and chop them fine.
  • In a big kadai, heat 1 Tbsp oil and add the seasoning ingredients and roast them on low heat. 
  • Once the dals are golden brown, add the finely chopped green beans, chopped chilies, chopped curry leaves, sugar, salt and mix well with the seasoning so the oil coats the vegetable. 
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 mins until the beans are tender but retain a slight bite. 
  • Add grated coconut and lemon/lime juice, mix well and switch off. 
  • Makes a great side dish for chapatis or rotis as well. 
  • You can slit the green beans vertically and chop them into bits to get smaller pieces.
  • Roasting the seasoning ingredients on a low heat ensures that they hold on to their crunchiness for longer. 
  • If you are feeding little kids or people with low tolerance for the heat from the chilies, you can make a coarse paste (without any water) in a mortar and pestle instead of chopping which gets in the bites. Adjust the amount of chilies to suit your taste. 
  • The quantity I have here is small and does not need any water to cook as long as you keep the heat on low and cover and let it cook in its moisture. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Menasina/mensin saaru (Pepper Rasam) - you don't need to be under the weather to enjoy this

I grew up in a place that had 3 distinct seasons in a year - summer, winter and monsoon season tucked in between those two. There was no Autumn as I know here and both summers and winters were very mild in Mysuru. All we needed was a hand knit sweater to get us through the winter. But as with any place, when the seasons shifted, it was invariably accompanied by a sore throat, a sneeze or a head cold. It just wasn't called flu season :-) and instead of the preventative flu shots I have grown so accustomed to now, there were a number of home remedies. It feels to me like we as human beings are losing all of the natural defenses of the body as years go by and cannot repair any damages without the help of strong chemicals :-(, which is scary to say the least.
As a child, even with a sister studying to be a doctor, I remember a lot of simple home remedies. A sore throat was dealt with a hot kashaya, a cold was given its due with a spicy tasty mensin saaru, an upset stomach with a soothing yogurt+fenugreek+sugar mixture or better still advised to stay away from food for a more natural healing, a fever was administered bland food devoid of all spices (what a nightmare :-)). I continue this practice even now before reaching out to a bottle of tylanol or something stronger and it works for me.

Some of these home remedies are so delicious that we used to 'fake' sickness just to get nammamma to make a hot and yummy mensin saaru on chilly nights. This saaru is a natural comforter and healer for most weather related, minor illnesses. Even if it didn't cure anything, it was more psychological and I always felt that my sore throat had gotten better after downing a generous tumbler of mensin saaru :-) and would be ready to go on again. We all simply loved this special saaru that seemed to suit the cozy winter evenings so perfectly.
I went to Mysore when DD was born and was welcomed warmly and with much love by nammamma and anna who had become empty nesters by then with all the children having flown out of the nest. The extremely busy lives they had led until recently seemed to have had a break all of a sudden and they had so much time on their hands and were relearning to live their lives with just the two of them. It probably was the first time they were by themselves in any place in the nearly 5 decades of married life. The hurried pace was gone, replaced with a more mature, deliberate and synchronous pace that worked for both of them and the kitchen for the first time seemed to be almost inactive as she didn't have to cook much at all for the two of them. They were ecstatic to have me home for a few days before and after the baby came. While the pre-baby food was all fancy, spicy and exotic, the post-baby phase was focused entirely on nutrition and what was good for the little one :-). Suddenly the house seemed to come alive with family coming over to visit the expectant mom or the new mom & the infant. Just like that nammamma was back in her busy kitchen making all kinds of yummy food.
Nammamma had this saaru on the top of the list of 'allowed food' for women post a child birth. The combination of pepper, cumin and ghee is an accepted post delivery diet food :-). I didn't complain when she served me the mensin saaru day after day following the birth of my baby for an entire month. It was the time for hot steaming rice, warm mensin saaru and a big dollop of home made ghee specially reserved for the new mom but more than all that it meant two doting parents/grand parents sitting by watching me eat the food :-) while the infant made cooing sounds in the background. 3 generations of the family, sharing love and joy with each other! Nammamma would coax me to eat a little more even though I had had a full share of what I could eat :-) and would sit by the side cradling the baby in her arms. We would talk of all things from when she became a mom for the first time to when she became a grand mom for the first time and everything in between and around those time periods. Those couple of months of having my parents all to myself is one of the best memories I hold close to heart. She took extra effort to make sure, I had the freshest of the food and at the right times during the day. There was no stopping her as what I ate and how I felt was not only was affecting me but her new born grandchild as well :-). And I gave in willingly as well.
Mensin saaru continues to be a favorite saaru version even now. DD loves this and her unusual combination is to eat it with plain idlis :-). She likes to dip her idli in a slightly thick consistency mensin saaru and enjoy. We are currently under the weather :-) in every sense of the word. Rain is coming down steadily for the last couple of days and the temperatures have started their journey down south. In addition to the daily 1000mg of Vit-C and a preventative flu shot, I make the mensin saaru regularly. Some days, we drink it up as a soup and on some days, we use it as a side dish. Somehow magically it continues to have the ability to rid us of the annoying flu symptoms!!
This is how wet and gorgeous my neck of woods looks right now
Tip of the day: Use ghee in this recipe to roast the spices instead of oil. Ghee and pepper are known to be a match made in heaven and the difference in taste is miles apart. Our bodies have a better metabolism in winter than summer and you can easily jog/walk away the extra calories :-) but don't replace with a lower fat oil option please!!

Note: There is no tamarind or any kind of tangy agents in this saaru, tamarind is considered to be off limits during a head cold and this saaru tastes divine with the pepper, cumin and ghee.

What do you need to make mensina saaru? 
1/3 cup Toor dal (see notes for variations)
1/4 cup grated coconut
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp ghee/clarified butter
2 Tbsp milk
To roast:
1 Tbsp urad dal
1/4 Tsp chana dal
1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 dry red chili
2-3 curry leaves

How do you make mensina saaru? 
  • Wash, pick any dirt from the toor dal and pressure cook it with a pinch of turmeric and 1.5 cups of water. 
  • Cook for about 15mins on low heat after the first whistle to get a really mashed up dal. 
  • If you are cooking in an open vessel on stove top, I highly recommend soaking the dal for 30-60mins before cooking. 
  • Heat ghee in a small pan, add all ingredients under 'to roast' and on a low flame, stirring frequently, roast until the dal turns golden hue (ಹೊಂಬಣ್ಣin Kannada)and you get a heady aroma of the pepper and cumin. 
  • Switch off and let it cool
  • Grind the roasted ingredients with coconut and 1/4 cup of water until it turns into a smooth paste. 
  • Once the pressure subsides from the cooker, open the lid, mash the dal with a whisk and make it into a homogeneous mixture. 
  • Add the ground masala paste to the dal along with salt and adjust water to get the right consistency. Remember the saaru thickens as it boils due to the urad dal in the paste. 
  • Once it comes to a gentle boil, add milk and let it boil for another couple of minutes. 
  • Switch off and let it rest for a few minutes. 
  • Serve hot or warm and never cold :-). If you are mixing it with rice, add a dollop of ghee for extra flavor. 
  • You can use either toor dal (split pigeon peas) or moong dal (split green gram) for this saaru. 
  • The consistency of the saaru is entirely dependent on the intent of its usage. If you want it for drinking make it a thin, butter milk consistency. If you are using it to mix with hot, steamed rice, make it a little thicker. 
  • The consistency is controlled two ways, one with water and the other with the amount of dal you add. 
  • If you want it as a drink, reduce the amount of dal to about 1.5 Tbsp and add 1/2 cup more of water. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sautekaayi saasve (raw cucumber curry) - cooking a delicious dish without actually "cooking"

She gets up at the crack of dawn, takes a bath and enters the kitchen. The kitchen is her work shop where the artist and the scientist in her compete and collaborate with each other to bring out the best. It is a large family that she has to feed and the demands are varied. A husband who goes off to work in the morning and doesn't return until evening, he doesn't carry a lunch pail with him so the first meal of the day has to be nutritious and sustainable (add fibers, lentils or pulses that digest slowly and release energy over time), an older daughter who always rushes out in the morning (what is it with college kids and getting up late in the morning:-)) without time for a sit down breakfast (make something that is quick and easy to eat, and no there were no cereal bars available at the time), oh she needs a lunch box too as she doesn't get home until late in the evening (something that is not too dry nor too watery to carry easily on the bus). And then there are 3 younger ones in different grade schools that need to be fed nutritious meal as well(in goes vegetables, some ghee to make it rich and healthy). All taken care of? well not really, this dish was made just last week and this vegetable was in 2 meals ago, the same old, same old is not going to cut with this family..
Sounds familiar? I am sure it does ring a bell with most of you reading it. I try to close my eyes and imagine this routine of nammamma for decades. At the beginning of her married life, she was part of the larger, joint family with parents in laws, sister and brother in laws that she took care of and towards the end it was the extended family of sons and daughters in laws and the grand children. The routine kept changing shape like boggarts do depending on the phase of life she was in but the busy schedule itself didn't change much. There were hardly any back up plans or substitutes for her work and much was taken for granted..
I was probably the pickiest of all her children. While the rest of the family was happy eating what was prepared, I would be the one troubling her to make 'something else' but never telling her what I really wanted :-). Her immediate reaction whenever I said I was hungry was to make something and feed me, I get it, I am a mom now and that is a very easy to idenitfy with 'mommy nerve'! After a long day of being in the kitchen, all she probably wanted to do was to sit back, have some 'me' time and read a book. The moment one of us started the hunger siren she would be scrambling to get something infront of us. Even with my nitpicking, there were always a number of favorites that I would never say 'no' to and she knew the trick very well :-). Spicy dishes have been my weakness and if she offered me something from that genre, I would immediately back off my protests and sit down to eat. I think that was the beginning of reverse psychology moms so effectively use on kids :-)
This Sautekaayi saasve is one such dish I never refused. The recipe is unimaginatively simple. There is no cooking involved - chop the vegetable, grind a spice paste with all raw ingredients, mix the two together. You have a tantalizing side dish/salad ready to eat in a matter of minutes. This recipe is from the heart of Malenadu/Malnad (known for its simple, homely and mouth watering dishes with a big emphasis on fresh coconut  and mostly sweetened with jaggery:-)). Malnad cuisine is a great example of food made with easily available ingredients and the vegetables are almost always from the backyard as the region is blessed with abundant rains and fertile soil. The food is saatvik, onions and garlic are rarely used.

Saasve is the Kannada name for mustard. The dish is also called saasve in this case as mustard is the central flavor in it. Coconut and roasted gram add body and taste to the curry while mustard elevates it with a unique flavor. Since there is no cooking involved (if you discount the seasoning ofcourse), this is also called hasi (raw) gojju (curry). I like to eat it as a 'dressed up' salad but it is great to mix with rice or have with rotis.

What do you need to make Sautekaayi saasive? 
1 big cucumber (I used the English cucumber which are tender and hardly have any seeds)
To Grind:
small key lime sized tamarind
1/2 Tsp jaggery
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp roasted chana/kadle
3/4 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1-2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut

1 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tsp mustard
1 dry red chili (broken into pieces)
pinch of asafoetida
2-3 curry leaves

How do you make Sautekaayi saasive? 
  • Wash, pat dry the cucumber. 
  • Peel and chop into tiny pieces (see picture for to get an idea of the optimum size, smaller or bigger is your choice :-))
  • Take all the ingredients listed under 'To Grind' and grind to a smooth paste. 
  • Mix the ground paste with the chopped cucumber. Add water if needed to bring to your desired consistency. Remember cucumber leaves additional water when mixed with salt, so start with a slightly thick gravy. 
  • Heat oil on medium heat, add items under 'seasoning' and let mustard pop. Switch off the stove.
  • Add the seasoning to the gravy, mix and let it sit for 10 mins before serving. 
  • How easier than this can making a curry get :-))
  • If you are using regular cucumbers that are mature, remove the tiny bits from both ends, peel and remove the seeds before chopping it. 
  • Soak tamarind in a couple spoons of water to soften it up before grinding. 
  • I like to refrigerate this for about an hour before eating since I mostly eat it by itself as a salad. The resting time helps the flavors mingle together. 
  • This curry needs to be a balanced on all the tastes - sweet, sour, salt and spice. Feel free to adjust to suit your palate.