Sunday, March 19, 2017

Black eyed beans vada - a quick and delicious "pick me up" snack

DD and her friends went back to school last sunday and the house feels completely empty and silent. The past week was laced with lot of sounds, songs, dance accompanied by unexpected sudden shrieks as they found something exciting to share. Even when they were silent or sitting still, there was an expectation of something fun happening. Flora has been lying in her bed with a long face having been pampered so much by the doting girls, not to even mention all the treats they sneaked to her when mom wasn't around or looking over her shoulders. I have grown so used to 3 pairs of hands and arms reaching out at different times in to the chakli dabba or walking in looking for 'something to eat' as I worked in the kitchen. They enjoyed taking home food on their daily drives and outings and always came back looking forward to the dinner time. As for me and BH, we are trying to be more mature than Flora and get back to our activities and enjoy them though it honestly takes time to make sense of the quietness so soon coming after the merry week.
I have been offered a new job as a chief, "non resident" chef by the girls. They want me to move to the college town and cook food for them. As with any job offer, there are caveats and do & dont's such as - I can't force myself to stay with them in their apartment next year, stay at a non intrusive distance from them, can't drop in at any random time at the pretense of delivering food, can't put on mommy hat when I see a pile of laundry on the floor, should abstain from reaching out for the camera every time they break into a practice dance or song session ...etc. So while I would love to stay in the same town and cook for them (and many more that will drop in apparently), I am reconsidering given all the constraints and haven't made a decision yet. The other deterrent was that they are yet to come up with a way to pay me for my services :-) and I will need to find another way to be financially independent. What do you all suggest?
Work in its regular form resumed from Monday for both of us, BH was in a week long work related conference and announced on Sunday night that he didn't want bf, lunch and dinner for the next 4 days. I had a little bit of left over to last me a day and then a whole bunch of assorted veggies ranging from sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, asparagus, peppers and cauliflower. Since I was meaning to try some different kind of meal from my usual, I decided to skip the roti and rice completely for a week and make the most of the fresh vegetables before they started going limp and mushy on me. We drove with the girls to a small Bevarian town at the Cascade foothills and I brought home a bottle of jalepeno flavored olive oil :-), it is soooo good that I am very tempted to make some at home. For now, the bottle will last  me for a while. So ended up roasting a huge batch of vegetables in some of the flavored oil and salt and took it for lunch and ate it for dinner with a bowl of home made yogurt sprinkled with roasted cumin and salt, yummm.. . I have realized that I can not only survive but also eat heartily and enjoy a meal as long as it is sufficiently salted and there is a crunch in there somewhere, doesn't matter if there is no rice or flour as long as the meal has character and some spunk to it :-) I did the roasting on Sunday night and the batch of roasted vegetables lasted me until Friday. I hardly switched on the stove or cooked anything after that this past week. It felt like the cooking fairy had taken her wand and just gone phooooosh out of my kitchen window.
BH came back home on Friday evening and was totally shocked to see the empty fridge devoid of leftovers in tiny, small, medium, large boxes which is usually how my fridge is stocked. Seeing him crave for edible stuff also made me miss my cooking and so I decided to get back in action over the weekend. As the weather has been playing with us and gray skies & a chilly breeze were to welcome the next morning, I couldn't think of anything better than a special meal of BBB with some raita. A side of papads was replaced willingly with a more elaborate plate of deep fried, crispy vadas in the plan. Only I didn't have a decent amount of chana dal in the pantry. Ended up soaking some black eyed beans over night and made some really light, crispy, delicious vadas with them. We skipped bf and proceeded to make an elaborate brunch. By the time the pot of BBB was ready, we were too hungry to wait until the vadas got done and I am not a good photographer on a hungry stomach and waning patience :-). So the plan changed slightly as we ate the first dose of BBB with a bowl of cool raita and put off making the vadas until later in the afternoon. Had them garma-garam (piping hot) with a cup of tea and then with a bowl of BBB on the side, mission accomplished :-). Oh wait, I broke a few vadas into quarters and immersed them in some home made yogurt and stuck them in the refrigerator for some cool vadas to enjoy later.
Since it was an after thought and not a very well planned event, I threw in whatever I thought made sense into the vada batter such as a handful of mint leaves, some chopped fresh coconut pieces. None of these are mandatory but add to the taste. Black eyed beans have a distinct taste and you will be glad you added some flavor enhancing substances like mint, onion, ginger etc. Dill leaves are another good option. These vadas taste best when hot and just out of the oil, but also retain a layer of crispness as they cool down. Most of South Indian dal vadas (ambode, chattambode, masala vada) are all similar in preparation with minor changes so I was debating between elaborating on the recipe (and boring to death a skilled reader) versus making it concise (and disappointing a novice cook that visits the blog) :-) and have made some effort to strike a balance. Notes at the bottom have the tips and tricks to make a great crunchy vada. Feel free to message me if you are trying this and have questions.
Makes a wonderful snack for a rainy afternoon with a cuppa. Our weather here has been as unpredictable as it can be. According to weather bureau, we had one of the driest January in history only to be broken by one of the wettest February! and March is marching in the footsteps of February so far with very few dry & sunny days while the rains have taken the front seat. I am enjoying the rains as always and hoping the plants do too. To get myself back into the groove after a week of break from cooking and to celebrate the joy of rains, I made these crispy, crunchy vadas and they not only lifted our spirits but also seem to have had an influence on the weather as today started with blue skies, golden sun and a bright morning :-). Now after binging on these through out the weekend, may be it is time for some control starting tomorrow??

Black eyed beans are also called alasande (kannada), bobbarlu (Telugu), Chawli or Lobhia (Hindi) and are one of my favorite beans. They don't need a very long soaking time and you can even get away by washing and cooking dry beans directly in pressure cooker if you are pressed for time. They are great in Usli and gravy dishes as well.
What do you need to make black eyed beans vada? 
Makes about 20-22 vadas
1.5 cups dry black eyed beans
2 Tbsp chopped fresh coconut (skip it if you don't want)
1/2 cup (more or less according to taste) chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup finely chppoed onion
salt to taste
4-5 green chilies
1 inch piece ginger
oil to deep fry (I use peanut oil)
How to make black eyed beans vadas?
  • Soak the beans overnight or atleast for 5-6 hours
  • Wash and drain the soaked beans.
  • Grind with green chilies, ginger into a coarse paste leaving out some beans in halves and quarters. 
  • Take the ground paste into a bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. 
  • Heat oil in a deep kadai. drop a small amount of the batter and check if the oil is hot (if it sizzles right away and comes to the surface immediately it is ready).
  • While the oil is heating, make small key lime sized balls of the batter, flatten them a little to form discs and keep them ready. 
  • Once the oil is hot, add as many prepared vadas as your kadai holds without piling them up and fry until golden brown on both sides. 
  • Take them out onto a paper towel lined plate and enjoy with a hot cup of tea or coffee. 
  • Keep the heat on medium once you drop the vadas and fry slowly so the inside gets cooked completely. 
  • Grind the paste in pulse mode and do not add any water. Grind in batches to make it easy on your blender. 
  • Grind it to a coarse blend and avoid either making a smooth paste or leaving whole beans in the mixture. 
  • If you end up adding water while grinding and the batter doesn't hold its shape, you can try adding a Tbsp or so of besan/gram flour and give it a mix. 
  • All the add-ons such as onion, mint, dill, cilantro, green chilies, ginger etc are to taste, adjust the quantity to suit your palate. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Vegetable fried rice - a continental favorite

Happy Women's day all you wonderful women out there!! More love, more empowerment to all of you. I am grateful for the influence and impact of several women in my life. I also want to acknowledge the role of many men that simply allowed me to be 'me'. If it hadn't been for a father who never once held me back from doing what I wanted to do, if it isn't for a husband who always supports every "crazy to good" ideas I come up with, if it isn't for the 2 brothers that never treat me differently because I am a girl (I know this for a fact because they never spared me in fights and treated me like one of their own:-)), I am sure my life would have been vastly different. I realize that my life is not the norm everywhere, wishing all the girls same opportunities to spread their wings and grow.
Finally spring break is here :-) and DD is home after more than 2 months. While it may not be spring break for all ages and in all parts of the world :-) I am sure you will share my joy this week. Lotsa love, food, laughter and stories..this week at home. For us, spring break seems to be here triple fold as DD came home with two of her friends. Home seems to be fuller, more alive and happier :-). The girls are having fun doing things on their own, driving in and around PNW and braving the unusually chilly weather.

I don't know how many of you notice the change in eating patterns when kids come home from school. With DD the change is very visible, almost 'in my face' kind of thing. There is no longer any fuss about the food, everything amma makes is delicious and she is almost always hungry. Looking at 3 of them this week has me really sad at whatever the school cafeterias serve as food. Even the simplest of the dishes make them happy and contented.
This fried rice is possibly one of the simplest recipes I have blogged but DD's explicit instructions this time is to make sure I blog it so she can use it when she starts to cook :-), so here I am, the dutiful mom catering to her wishes.

Long time ago (think a decade and half ago) when the Indian food diaspora was not bursting like it is today, all we had access to as quirky teenagers and 'acting' grown up young adults was Indian food at home and outside home. This was the time when the nation's obsession had not gone completely international on the food front. The number of restaurants was very small and the food choice just seemed like an extension of what we normally ate at home, forget the fancy American, Italian, Mexican food. One would go to a hotel (that is what we called them when we were kids) to eat a dose/dosa that had taken an oil bath or a plate of mirchi bajjis that you would not make at home on a daily basis.

But even in those days, one international (??) food had made its way surely into the food scene. Everyone from small road side cartwallahs to decent and trendy restaurants served a genre of food called Indo chinese food. This included the manchurians, crispy, spicy noodles and the very distinct fried rice. I have not visited china (unless you count the couple of lay overs in Hongkong :-)) and am not an expert at anything China, but I have a lot of friends, colleagues from the Chinese community, I would think that makes me somewhat of an authority :-). Indo-chinese food was and continues to be a craze in India even though people are getting exposed to other cuisines. What we know of chinese food in India is really a very Indianized version of the food, many dishes being unheard of and unknown in mainland China :-). But that is the beauty of good food, right? it evolves, morphs and adapts to suit the palate of the people that enjoy eating. I am pretty sure there is a cook's license akin to a poet's license and the creative freedom sets you free.
In any case, not being someone that frequented restaurants, my first bite of the Chinese fried rice was at a hotel infront of my office in namma Bengaluru. BH would stop during lunch time if he happened to be in my part of the city and we would try and catch some time together in the midst of schedules, projects and the deadlines. He being more worldly wise and definitely having visited this place many times before took me there for lunch one day and ordered the veggie fried rice. Crunchy vegetables exuding sesame oil flavor was a new taste on my tongue but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was full by the time the bowl was half empty though. Those days, restaurants didnt encourage customers to take home the left overs and sadly I had to let it go waste :-(.

We didn't stock the necessary ingredients for making the rice at home in those days and so it became one of the frequent orders when we dined out. I make this often at home as we all love it. I wonder why it had stayed a restaurant food for such a long time given the simple ingredients list. We have a south indian joint here in town and he serves veggie fried rice along with his chettinad specials and dosa/idlis :-) and it is pretty good. So here is an easy to whip up and lip smacking vegetable fried rice.

What do you need to make fried rice? 
1.5 cups short grain rice (I used sona masoori)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1.5 Tbsp chili sauce
1 Tsp white vinegar (optional but recommended)
1/8 Tsp black pepper coarse ground
1.5 inch ginger made into a paste
2-3 cloves of garlic made into a paste
3/4 cup finely chopped green beans
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup thinly chopped cabbage
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup finely chopped assorted colored pepper (I haven't used any this time)
1 Tsp salt
3 Tbsp oil (preferably sesame oil for that authentic flavor)
How do you make fried rice? (as you will see, it is very easy and simple :-))
  • Get the vegetables chopped and keep them ready
  • Wash & soak rice for 20-30 mins 
  • Heat 6 cups of water in a big pot and bring it to a gentle boil
  • Drain the water from the soaked rice and add rice to the boiling water. Add a couple drops of oil and stir it in. 
  • Lower the heat to medium and let it cook for about 10-12 minutes or until rice is just about done. 
  • Switch off and drain all the water out. I let this water cool completely and use it to water my potted plants (nammamma said that it actually helps bring out the flavor in the curry leaves plant and I follow the advice)
  • Run cold water on cooked rice, fluff it up with a fork and let it cool
  • Heat a big wok and add sesame oil. Let it heat up almost to its smoking point. 
  • Add chopped onion and saute for 30secs. 
  • Add ginger and garlic paste followed by finely chopped carrots & beans
  • Let them cook on high flame for a minute, add cabbage and half of the spring onions. 
  • Stir the vegetables constantly on flame and let them turn slightly tender.
  • Add the sauces and vinegar to the vegetable mixture along with salt. 
  • Add coarsely crushed pepper. 
  • Add cooked rice and stir them together. 
  • Taste test and adjust spices & salt to your liking. 
  • Garnish with reserved spring onions. 
  • Serve hot/warm.
  • BH and I added 1/2 Tsp/per serving of a green chili chutney to make a little hot for us
  • The girls scrambled a couple of eggs with a dash of salt and pepper and added it to the rice. 
  • A favorite way of serving this fried rice in India is along with a side of gobi manchurian, I didn't make them this time :-)
  • Vegetables in this rice are cooked al dente and retain a crunch.
  • Using a wide wok and keeping it on high flame is key to a well blended fried rice.
  • Make sure rice is cooked so as the grains are separate and fluff