Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Udipi Sambar

After nearly 2 decades of writing this blog, the archives sometimes feel like an archeological site. There are long forgotten gems hidden in here. I remembered one such recipe recently. 

The Southern Indian staples of idli and dosa are recipes that I've standardized for myself after years or trial and error. I cautiously feel like I now have them nailed down.  However, their standard accompaniment sambar- the spicy lentil and vegetable stew- has not been a recipe I've felt like I've nailed down. 

There are so many regional variations of sambar. Growing up in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, the source of most of our idlis and dosas were local Udipi restaurants where the sambar is laced with coconut and slightly sweet with a tinge of jaggery. The other version I'm familiar with is the Tamil sambar which is decidedly NOT sweet. The latter is what I normally make. Only last month I remembered, wait, I think I've made a very good Udipi sambar at some point and then completely forgotten about it. Sure enough, I found this post from a decade ago. 

I made the sambar and ate it blissfully. THIS is now my go-to sambar recipe and I won't forget it in a hurry. Step 2 in the recipe below, when you start frying the ingredients for the masala paste, is when the unmistakable savory aroma will hit you and make you feel like you're sitting in your favorite Udipi restaurant. Grinding a fresh masala is a bit more work than using a sambar powder like I usually do, but it is well worth the trouble. 

I buy fresh frozen coconut- it comes as an icy sheet. When I bring it home from the store, I thaw it slightly, enough to break it into chunks and then portion the chunks into smaller containers or bags. That way I can pull out a portion and use it without defrosting and refreezing the entire package. Coconut is an important ingredient in my kitchen but I use it judiciously and in modest quantities. 

Udipi Sambar


 1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.

2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste. 
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add saltred chili powderturmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes until veggies are just tender.

5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

Idlis dunked in sambar
 

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Dill Pickles, and Jalapeño Achar, and Cowboy Candy

Condiments are the home cook's not so secret weapon. Jars and bottles lined up in my pantry and fridge door are nodding in agreement. Added to a meal or served with a meal, pickles and sauces transform everyday food, uninspiring leftovers and plain ingredients into something you can eagerly dig into. In the traditional Maharashtrian taat (thali or platter), two condiments are a must- a chutney and a pickle. Along with a small mound of salt and a half-wedge of lemon, so you can doctor up the meal to suit your tastes. 

Today in my kitchen in the US South, two types of pickles coexist in harmony- American pickles of cucumbers and other vegetables soaked in sweet/sour/salty/garlicky brine, and Indian-style pickles (achaar or lonche) which come in a breathtaking variety. Of the latter, mango pickles, mustardy green chili pickles, sweet grated mango chhunda, lemon pickles are typical favorites and I'll always have one or two store-bought varieties open in the pantry. 

Pickled cucumbers are popular everywhere in the US, often served as the default side to a sandwich. In the US South, pickles are A THING. Restaurants will often serve small plates of pickled vegetables as an appetizer- not just cucumbers but carrots, okra, onions and other veggies. My daughter has been a pickle lover all her life; when she was just two years old, her breakfast every morning for several months was a fried egg with a pickled okra on the side. 

When we drafted a summer bucket list in May, one of the items was "Make pickles". We weren't about to take on anything as challenging as canning, but refrigerator pickles could not be easier. The hardest part, honestly, was finding pickling cucumbers, which are seasonally available. (Pickling varieties of cucumber are less watery and more dense than salad cukes.)

We used this recipe and it worked beautifully. In fact, my daughter did all of the work of chopping cucumbers and garlic cloves and arranging them in clean jars with sprigs of fresh dill. Then we made a brine by boiling water and vinegar with some salt and a touch of sugar, and pouring cooled brine into the jars. Pop into the fridge and enjoy pickles over the next few days and weeks! We would have made this recipe again and again, but I haven't been able to find pickling cucumbers in the store. 

My former coworker and good friend T came to dinner one evening and brought along a bag of home-grown jalapeños- 24 beautiful specimens, plump and jewel-like. (I love the color of jalapeños so much that I chose this exact shade of dark green when we painted an accent wall in my living room last month.) I decided to make small batches of two different pickles with this haul. 

The first is the sweet kind amusingly called cowboy candy. I adapted this recipe and boiled some vinegar (a combo of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar) with sugar and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin-coriander. Into the syrup went slices of peppers to be cooked for a few minutes- they turn wrinkly and dull green. That's it- cool and refrigerate. The sweet-spicy peppers are a great addition to many dishes like sandwiches and tacos.

Cowboy candy- jalapeno slices added
to pickling syrup to be boiled

Cowboy candy atop deviled eggs

The rest of the peppers went into an Indian-style pickle or achar. I used this recipe and it worked beautifully, using ingredients that I already had on hand. Here the peppers aren't cooked at all, just tossed in spices, salt, lemon+vinegar for acidity and some oil. The resulting pickle is crunchy and perfectly balanced. I enjoyed it in countless meals of dal and rice, and in wraps and more. 

Jalapeño Achar 

(makes one jar)

1. Wash 12 fresh jalapeño peppers and set them on a dishcloth to dry thoroughly.

2. Make the pickling spice mix by toasting together the following for a few seconds: 
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds (saunf)
  • 1/2 tsp. carom seeds (ajwain)
Let the toasted spices cool down, then grind them into a powder.

3. Heat 1/4 cup cooking oil. Add a large pinch of asafeotida and set the oil aside to cool. 

4. Juice 1 lemon, and add 2 tbsp. white vinegar to the lemon juice. Set aside. 

5. Assemble the pickle:
  • Slice the jalapeño peppers and place them in a large bowl
  • Add the pickling spice mix, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1/2-1 tbsp. salt (to taste) and mix together
  • Add the lemon-vinegar mix and cooled oil and toss everything together
  • Spoon into a clean jar
  • Let it sit at room temperature for several hours, then refrigerate and enjoy over the next month
My second batch of achar made just this afternoon-
about twice the quantity in the recipe

In my two previous posts on making versus buying, pickles fall more on the "buy" side than the "make" side, although I'll make them every now and then, like this quick carrot pickle. However, now I'm wondering why I don't make pickles more often! They are easy and fun to make and so good.

Are you a pickle lover? Have you made pickles at home?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Cupcake Cake, and other Summer Treats

Summer 2022 is going by in the blink of an eye. I don't have a recipe today, just a few pics and notes about things I've made recently. 

1. First up, our little boy turned 6 this month and we celebrated outside at a local park with a few of his little friends. This park has a splash pad as well as a playground, and the kids had a blast running around and eating cupcakes, sandwiches, watermelon and chips. 

The birthday boy loves ice cream cones so I made a cupcake cake shaped like an ice cream cone. The idea came from (where else but) pics I've seen online. The cupcakes were a double batch of this funfetti cupcakes recipe, made the night before, with the "cone" cupcakes in cocoa frosting and the "ice cream" cupcakes in strawberry cream cheese frosting, with Mike and Ike candies as sprinkles. The "cherry" cupcake was dipped in red sanding sugar. 

 

2. A staple of summer is summer rolls. They are refreshing, colorful, and wholesome, a mini hand-held salad, if you will. We made this batch for a small gathering. I prepped everything and then my daughter made the rolls. Yes, it is nice to have a sous chef around. They are fun to make and absolutely delicious to eat. While the weather is hot, I hope to make these a couple more times for a light meal. 


3. Next up, we've been making chutney sandwiches. I always think of them as "Bombay sandwiches" because they're sold as street food in Mumbai. Waaay back in 2005, I wrote about these on a post about the green chutney spread that makes these sandwiches so tasty and special. Recently, I've discovered that Trader Joe's sells Yemeni zhoug sauce that's so very close to the hiravi chutney. When I buy that tub of sauce, sandwich making is just a matter of slicing veggies and assembling everything. 


4. Eggplant is my favorite vegetable, and when eggplants are in season in summer, it is time to try all those bookmarked eggplant recipes. This stuffed eggplant parm was one I got around to trying and it was delicious. However, the effort it took to scoop out the eggplant halves, and the way the eggplant shells did not bake evenly means that I am unlikely to make this again. 


5. Pickles! My daughter adores pickles and eats ungodly amounts of them. We always tell her about her unusual daily breakfast when she was just 2 years old- a fried egg and a pickled okra! This time, we tried making these refrigerator dill pickles and they were so easy to make, and turned out perfect. The only problem is pickling cucumbers are not easy to find. 


6. For a recent brunch with friends, I decided to try making a pan of cinnamon rolls. I used this recipe but the way I rolled and cut the dough yielded about 16 medium rolls rather than the 24 mini rolls I was going for. But they were delicious! I made an icing drizzle rather than the cream cheese frosting.


7. Last on the list, a sewing project. I made a set of quilted coasters with some of my favorite Indian block prints. They are easy and fun to make- pattern here


Other than these little kitchen projects and craft projects, summer has been full of work, driving kids to and from various camps (botanical garden camp, interior design camp, barn sanctuary camp, gymnastics camp...), a little outdoor swimming, some reading, some spring cleaning...and before we know it, the new school year is almost here. 

How is your summer going?

Monday, June 27, 2022

Hash Brown Casserole

Some recipes go into the meal rotation immediately when I try them and this is one of those. It uses common ingredients, is hearty and tasty, and take only a few minutes to put together. I make it frequently when we have company for brunch, but also often for dinner when I'm out of ideas and short on time. 

I made hash brown casserole for my parents when they visited a few months ago, and of all the dishes I made during their trip, this was the one my mother loved the most. The casserole holds well in the fridge and can be cut into rectangles and warmed in the microwave- making it a good meal prep breakfast. 

I've standardized the recipe for the 9x13 rectangular baking dish. It fits 7 patties perfectly. Hash brown patties are sold in packs of 10 in the frozen section of the grocery store (the potatoes section). I often buy them in packs of 20 from Aldi but they are sold in many stores. The other perfect use for these hash brown patties is for aloo tikki chana chaat. Most of my cooking is from scratch, but these patties are one convenience product that I am happy to buy. 

In the recipe below, I do steps 1-4 and let the frozen hash browns thaw out as the oven preheats. 

Hash Brown Casserole

Makes 8 hearty servings

  • 7 frozen hash brown patties
  • 1 cup loosely packed shredded cheese (Cheddar, pepper jack, mozzarella or a mix)
  • 8 large eggs, room temp
  • Splash of cream
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
  2. Beat together eggs with cream, salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Scatter 1/2 cup of shredded cheese in the greased baking dish.
  4. Arrange 7 frozen hash brown patties in a single layer- 4 vertically and 3 horizontally
  5. Pour the egg mixture evenly on the patties.
  6. Add the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until the eggs are cooked and the cheese is golden.
Patties in a 9x13 dish

Before baking

After baking

That's the most basic recipe, and here are some variations:

1. Indian omelet style: Scatter minced onion, cilantro and green chillies on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture.

2. Creamy: Instead or in addition to the cheese on top, add dollops of cream cheese. 

3. Pesto it up: Use mozzarella and parmesan cheese and add dollops of pesto on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture.

4. Add vegetables- singly or any combination- on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture. I frequently use leftover veggies from other dishes. Some ideas- chopped steamed broccoli, frozen chopped spinach (thaw it and press out excess water first), sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers. 

    * * * 

Duncan- 9.5 years old in summer 2022
Sweet as ever! 

What is your to-go dinner when you're out of ideas and low on ingredients?

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Indian-Style Coleslaw

Memorial Day at the start of this week marked the unofficial start of Summer 2022. Our family has already taken a long trip to the UK earlier this year to visit family, so we're staying close to home this summer. My daughter and I drew up a summer bucket list to get us excited for the two months ahead. It includes some activities at home (make pickles, learn embroidery, make ice cream...), some outdoor things (go on a walking tour, go to a water park, go tubing...), and many others miscellaneous fun things (try a new cuisine, volunteer with animals, go thrifting...). 

Our summer got off to a great start with a short visit by my sister and nephew. Over 4 short days, we went to the botanical garden, walked to a bakery for fresh croissants, went to a trampoline park and a board game cafe, watched movies and read books. We crossed off two bucket list items (Have a picnic and Try a new ice cream place) yesterday by going to a lake beach for a swim followed by a lakeside picnic with pesto-mozzarella and chutney-cucumber-tomato sandwiches, chips, strawberries and lemonade, and then driving to a new-to-us ice cream place to try Mexican ice cream flavors. 

For a potluck pool party on Memorial Day, I brought chana masala wraps and this colorful, refreshing Indian-style coleslaw. Really, it is a typical Maharashtrian kobichi koshimbir. It is a vegan and gluten-free recipe, and holds well in the fridge for 3 days or so, which is good because the quantities below make a big batch! This light recipe is a nice change from the more typical mayo-heavy slaws. 

The slaw itself has two types of cabbage, and carrots. Onion and cilantro add a bite of fresh flavor and color. Then there is a savory tempering, and a dressing of crushed peanuts for texture, and salt, sugar (I actually used some pickle juice from a jar of sweet and spicy pickled jalapeños), and tang from lemon juice (lime juice would also work here.) A true medley of flavors in a simple homely salad.

If you want to make it even easier, skip the tempering and just stir in a spoon or two of prepared Dijon mustard instead. 

I used a food processor and that did much of the heavy lifting- shredding disc for the red cabbage and carrots, and slicing disc for the green cabbage. The rest of the prep came together in minutes. I can see myself making this slaw many times this summer. 

Indian-style Coleslaw

  • Half of a medium head of red cabbage, shredded 
  • Half of a medium head of green cabbage, shredded 
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • Cilantro, minced
  • Tempering
    • Oil
    • Mustard seeds
    • Curry leaves, thinly sliced
    • Asafetida
  • Dressing
    • Crushed roasted peanuts
    • Lemon juice
    • Salt
    • Sugar 

Mix the prepped veggies together in a big bowl. Heat the oil and make the tempering. Pour it into the bowl. Season with dressing ingredients. Toss everything together and refrigerate. 

Cabbage is one of the most inexpensive and accessible vegetables in the supermarket. I love that it holds in the crisper for a week or three. Other cabbage recipes on One Hot Stove:

Self-saucing cabbage curry- a flavorful stir-fry

Zunka- a typical Maharashtrian dish of cabbage and besan

Cabbage pachadi- a salad with a yogurt dressing

What are your plans for the summer?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Spreadsheet of Home Cooking, Menu Planning, and Three Books

When I was in college in Mumbai, I lived with my maternal grandma's family, including my aunt who was a very good cook. Day after day, she would churn out lunches and dinners for six, not counting frequent visitors and guests. I remember her fretting and saying, "The hardest part is deciding what to make day after day. Once I know what to make, cooking it is no big deal". 

Do you agree or disagree with this? Now that I am the primary cook in my household, I find my aunt's statement quite relatable. It is tiresome to decide what to make, day after day. It is certainly no use asking my spouse or kids what to make. The spouse says, "Anything will do" while the kids say "Pasta"! 

My solution to many of life's problems is to make a spreadsheet. So I made one a couple of years ago, listing all the different dishes that I know how to make, in different categories. Here's the spreadsheet for anyone who wants to take a look. When I find myself in a cooking rut, I can glance at the spreadsheet and see what I haven't made in a while and put it back into the dinner rotation. 

When friends come over for a meal- which they used to practically every weekend before March 2020, and have started to do much more occasionally and carefully now- planning a menu is quite fun and easy because I choose a dish or two from different categories in this spreadsheet. 

I should mention that this spreadsheet is still a work in progress. On this blog alone, I have hundreds of recipes from 17 years of blogging- many of which are lost to my memory. I need to spend some time and dig through the archives to find long lost favorites. 

The brunch tab is the first and the best. Brunch is my favorite meal both to plan and cook (and eat). I have a brunch menu formula which I find very effective- you'll see it on the spreadsheet. 

The Thanksgiving tab is another favorite. It seems strange to devote a whole tab to a meal that I cook once a year but the fact is that I make Thanksgiving dishes from November to February- they're all the hearty, comforting, cold-weather ones. 

My kids eat lunch at school so I don't pack lunch boxes regularly during the school year. But starting next week, they will be attending summer day camps and taking snacks and lunch from home daily, so I believe my picnic/lunchboxes tab will get some use and also need some updates. 

Tell me your favorite recipes that are missing from my spreadsheet and I'll give them a try! 

* * *

I read a lot of books- I'll always maintain that reading is my favorite hobby, maybe even above cooking. Most of the books I read I give a rating (whether it is on Goodreads or just in my head) of 4 out of 5, or 3/5. There are certainly ones that I don't finish and put away and don't even bother to rate. This past month I hit the reading jackpot- I read three books that I rated unequivocally as a 5/5. All are non-fiction books. 

1. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking. This posthumously published book contains a series of 10 short essays where the legendary cosmologist Stephen Hawking tackles the big questions of life, the universe and everything. I'm giving it five stars for the first essay alone- Is there a God? Some of the essays are directly related to Hawking's work in cosmology, others are more speculative. All are written with wit and compassion and Hawking's skill in conveying complex concepts to lay readers. 

2. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado, Vince Rause. This one is a memoir, one of the best I have ever read. I read this book for the Read Harder 2022 prompt "Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author." Written by an Uruguayan author, the adventure was something he (and his rugby teammates- all young men and their travel companions) had thrust upon them after a plane crash on a glacier in the remote Andes mountains. Truth is always stranger than fiction and this memoir is a great example of that. The other striking thing is that Parrado writes with complete honesty and transparency and in a very accessible way. 

3. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. I read this for the POPsugar 2022 reading challenge prompt "An Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner". I had not heard of this book award before and learned this: The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. This book won the award for 2013 for Nonfiction. What an incredible work it is. A thick tome of 700 pages (nearly a 1000 if you count notes and bibliography) and so engrossing that I whipped through it in under a week. The central idea of the book is that some traits are transmitted- through DNA, but also through shared cultural norms- as vertical identities between parents and children (generally speaking, race, language, religion, nationality). But sometimes children have traits that are very different from their parents, and these are horizontal identities. Solomon deeply investigates several of these horizontal identities- dwarfism, deafness, genius, Down syndrome and others. His candid interviews with families are remarkable and engaging. There is much content here to open the eyes of even the most progressive thinker and so many things to ponder. I don't agree with everything Solomon says but I am so glad I read this book. 

Tell me what you're cooking, eating and reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Potato-Cauliflower Masala Dosa Filling, and other Instant Pot Subzis

One of the cornerstones of Indian home cooking is a simple stir-fried vegetable preparation commonly known as subzi (Hindi) or the bhaaji (Marathi). It can be made with one vegetable, or a duo (aloo gobi, or potato cauliflower is a classic example) or a medley. Far from being a side dish, it is the center of the everyday lunch or dinner plate, to be rolled up in a roti, or eaten with dal-rice or yogurt-rice. I love stuffing leftover subzis into a sandwich or a quesadilla. 

My sister gave me an Instant Pot for my birthday nearly 3 years ago and I quickly embraced it as the workhorse of my kitchen. Among its many uses, I find that the Instant Pot (or any electric pressure cooker of this sort) makes excellent subzis- in minutes, with very little supervision, and with the vegetables cooked until just tender. 

The general method is simple:

1. On saute mode, heat a bit of oil and add spices (some combo of mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chili powder, one of the masala mixes like goda masala or kitchen king masala) and aromatics (some combo of ginger, garlic, onion, curry leaves) for tempering and flavor.

2. Add diced veggies and just a bit of water. I generally use fresh veggies but some frozen veggies like green beans work well.

3. Turn off saute mode and pressure cook on HIGH- 3 minutes seems to be my magic number for veggies that are tender but not mushy.

4. Release pressure immediately.

Cabbage subzi made with the 
general method above

Frozen green beans subzi

A few days ago, I made a filling for masala dosas very quickly in the Instant Pot following this same method. It is the typical potato masala, only I reduced the amount of potato and added some cauliflower. Typical dosa filling, to me, has a nice tempering, with aromatic curry leaves and mustard seeds, and crunchy chana dal and urad dal. And the other hallmark is plentiful onions, cut thinly lengthwise. 

Potato-Cauliflower Masala

  • 1 medium onion, sliced finely lengthwise
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cut in small dice
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut in small dice

Turn Instant Pot to saute mode. Heat 1-2 tsp. oil and temper it with mustard seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, ural dal and chana dal

Add onions, turmeric, salt, small dab of ginger garlic paste, either finely minced green chillies or red chili powder (your choice, for heat), and coriander cumin powder. Saute for a couple of minutes until onions are translucent. 

Turn off saute mode. Stir in diced potato and cauliflower and 1/4 cup water. 

Pressure cook on HIGH for 3 minutes. Release pressure immediately. 

Because the veggies are cut in small dice, they will be very tender. Mash the veggies roughly. Let cool and use as dosa filling.

* * *

Dosa and dosa-related recipes make a frequent appearance on One Hot Stove