Saturday, June 25, 2005

IMBB 16: An Eggsotic Biryani Feast!

This month's IMBB, hosted by Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant, has a theme that is dear to my heart. Something that can be savored at every meal, starting from breakfast to the last luscious bite of dessert, and for an ovo-vegetarian like me, it is a very valuable source of nourishment indeed. It is the incredible edible egg!

The number of ways in which I use eggs are truly countless, so this time I wanted to make something a little elaborate, something I do not get around to cooking very often. It is one of India's most-beloved feast dishes: a layered rice dish called biryani. Biryani is a labor of love. One does not make biryani for a quick supper. It is made at leisure, and consumed at leisure. And after a biryani meal, the proper thing to do is to flop on the sofa like a beached whale and take a nap.

Egg Biryani, in a few easy steps
(for 4-6 servings)
1. The aromatic saffron rice: 
  • Cook 2 cups Basmati rice with about 4 peppercorns, 4 cloves, 2-3 cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick.
  • Set rice aside to cool, then toss it with 1 tbsp. ghee.
  • Drizzle the rice with 1/4 tsp saffron that has been soaked for a few minutes in 1/4 cup warm milk.
2. Garnishes: Fry the following in some vegetable oil, then drain and set aside-
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 large potato, cut into fingers
  • handful of cashews
  • handful of golden raisins
3. Curry:
  • Slice 2 onions. Heat oil in a saucepan and fry the onions till pink.
  • As the onions are frying, make a thick paste of 1 bunch cilantro, 1 bunch mint and 1 tbsp. yogurt.
  • Add ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala and the herb chutney into the onions and fry well.
  • Add 1/2 cup tomato puree, simmer for several minutes and set aside.
4. Eggs
  • Hard-boil 6 eggs
  • Peel them and cut them into quarters.
Now the components are made and set out neatly and I am ready to start making the layers:
Layering: Grease a large pot or Dutch oven. Add layers in following order: rice, curry, eggs, garnishes. End the last layer with garnishes.

Cover the Dutch oven tightly and place it on low heat till the biryani is steaming hot. The rice at the bottom may get dried out and crispy, but that only makes it tastier.

Raita is the perfect accompaniment for biryani. Dice up some onions and tomatoes, add yogurt and cilanto, season with cumin and salt and toss everything together. The raita is a cool counter-point to the spiciness of the biryani.

There you have it- an egg-sotic feast fit for royalty!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Meme: The Cook Next Door

I've been tagged by Mika for my very first meme! I have enjoyed reading this meme on other blogs, and am thrilled to share my own version with you. So here goes-

What's your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
My parents loved to entertain, and my mother would organize dinner parties for 30-40 people, and one of my first jobs was to make fruit salad for such a party. On other days, our long-time cook Anji (we consider her a family member) often recruited me as a sous-chef, to do small jobs like peeling vegetables and mashing potatoes. When I was about 14 and moved in with my aunt to study in Bombay, she trusted me enough to let me use her kitchen freely. I remember making spaghetti, ragda-patties (called aloo-tikki in other parts of India), saag paneer as my early tried-and-tested dishes. I even typed them into a little cook-book in MS Word and distributed copies among some friends! All in all, the seeds for this blog were sown early on.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
All the wonderful women in my family. My mother works full time but always found time to make birthday cakes, special dinners, treats for the lunch-box and throw lavish dinner parties at home. My grandmom is an great cook too; she is known for her meat specialties (which I stopped eating when I turned vegetarian at the age of 14), and for her hand-molded chocolates. Many of my aunts are people whose hands simply have the gift of turning out great food day after day. Anji, the lovely lady who cooks lunch in my parents' home, invented "cooking under fire" before anyone thought of making that show! She cooks in 5-6 households everyday and her meals sustained me growing up. My current influences are all the wonderful bloggers out there, amateur cooks who amaze me with their creativity and skill. I learn from them every day.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world?
All my birthday photos growing up are evidence of the culinary expertise in my family. My parents would bake and lavishly decorate a cake for my sister and me for each and every birthday. They came up with the most creative ideas. My first birthday cake was a merry-go-round. Other cakes have been a swimming pool (complete with swimmers), a summer hat, butterflies etc.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Desserts (other than simple cakes) make me panic when I see the amount of sugar and butter that goes in! I think I would rather just buy them from a patesserie and remain blissfully unaware of the caloric content :)

What are your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
I LOVE my Braun immersion blender...I think it is so much value for money. I use it for pureeing soups, making batters and beating eggs. The pressure cooker is certainly another gadget I cannot live without, for quick pilafs and cooking dals and beans. The biggest letdown was the "Turbo Cooker" :D, an As seen on TV gadget that I bought for a ridiculous amount of money. What can I say, I'm a sucker!!

Biggest disappointment?
I once tried making paneer from supermarket cottage cheese. Boy that was a sorry mess and a waste of good cottage cheese! In cooking the mess a good non-stick pan was ruined. Never again.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else does.
This is not really weird, but I love potato chips with dal-rice.

What are the three edibles or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
Potato chips. Instant Noodles. Doritos. I'm a bad, bad girl.

Your favorite ice-cream
It is an ice cream sundae called "Special Cocktail" served by one "Imperial Ice Cream Parlor" in my home town of Kolhapur. They take a tall glass and layer chunks of fruits and nuts, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a scoop of rose ice cream, cubes of jelly, with mango smoothie poured on top. I don't have a sweet tooth at all but "Special Cocktail" rocks!

You will definitely never eat...
Foie Gras. Caviar. Miracle Whip (Have you read the ingredients on a can of Miracle Whip? The only miracle is that it is edible).

Your own signature dish...
These days it is the Sri Lankan egg curry that I have already posted in April. It is always requested by friends who are coming over, and the pot is always licked clean. It takes about 10 minutes to make, but hush, don't tell anyone.

My own added question...

What is your most memorable meal?
When I was about 10 yrs old, my parents and a bunch of their friends took all their families to the sea-side resort town of Goa for a vacation. Back then, Goa was about seafood and ONLY about seafood! I hated the smell of fish and basically starved for a week, only eating French fries. When we were driving back, we stopped for lunch at a tiny cafeteria that served plate meals. They had a meal of plain boiled rice with yellow dal with a squeeze of lemon juice. I ate and ate and ate. That's got to be my most delicious meal ever.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Meet the Ridge Gourd

Have you ever met a ridge gourd?
It is a rather pretty vegetable; dark green, ridged (duh!) and tapering. Ridge gourds are well beloved in India, atleast the region I come from (they are called "dodka" in Marathi), and I love ridge gourd cooked into a tasty peanut curry. However, ridge gourds are not native to the US so I have to look for them whenever I go to the Indian grocery store. Today I decided to cook the beauties I bought last week.
The first step is to wash and peel the ridge gourds, and to cut them into chunks like so...
The rest of the vegetable preparation is very simple, perfect for a weeknight.
serves 2-3
4 ridge gourds, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 potato, diced
4-5 curry leaves
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup roasted peanut powder
1 tsp jaggery (or brown sugar)
1 tsp tamarind paste
Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, when they sputter, add curry leaves and onion. Stir till onion is transluscent. Add turmeric, salt, chili powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala and stir for a few seconds. Add ridge gourd and potato and stir for 2 minutes. Add a cup of water, peanut powder, jaggery, tamarind paste and let simmer on medium heat till potatoes are tender and curry is thickened. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rotis or yogurt-rice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

SHF#9: Rosy Apple Tartlets

Just last week I was reading the February 2005 edition of Martha's "Living" when the dessert of the month made me gasp! That very day, I saw that Life in Flow has decreed that the SHF#9 shall be Tantalizing Titillating Tempting Tarts and right away I put two and two together...I would use Martha's idea of rosy apple tarts. The pastry shells filled with cream and topped with roses fashioned from apples ended up looking too good to eat.
Rosy Apple Tartlets
(adapted from Martha Stewart "Living" Feb. 2005)
Step 1: Poach the apples: Bring to a boil in a small saucepan 1 cup sugar, 2 cups water and 1/8 cup fresh lemon juice. While the mixture is boiling, take 2 red apples and core them. Rub the exposed flesh with lemon wedges to avoid browning. Use a mandoline to cut the apples cross-wise into thin slices. (I tried doing this with a knife but that did not work well. You need a really sharp knife and even sharper cutting skills to achieve this with a knife. So the mandoline gifted by my mom during my last visit to India came in very handy). Once the syrup has boiled, take it aside and place apple slices into it. Cover the surface by placing a parchment paper directly on it (I don't know why this is done but Martha said it had to be done and thats good enough for me :)). Let syrup cool down completely.
Step 2: Make the puff pastry cups, or as I like to think of them, the tiny "vases" for our rosebuds. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Take a thawed sheet of puff pastry and cut it evenly into 12 rectangles. Press each rectangle into a cup of a 12-muffin pan and prick with a fork. Bake for about 12 minutes till pastry is golden all over. Cool the pastry cups.
Step 3: Whip up he filling...Whip a cup of heavy cream till soft peaks form. Into the whipped cream, fold in 3 tbsp of confectioner's sugar and a tsp of cinnamon. Spoon the cream into the puff pastry cups.
Step 4: Assemble the roses: Take a poached apple slice and cut into semi-circle, now twist it into the form of a bud, with peel-side facing you. Take another semi-circle and wrap it around the bud to make a bigger flower. The pictures probably shows you best how this was done. In school, we kids would make similar roses from pencil shavings (Thanks S for reminding me of this). The apple roses are simply tucked into the cream in the pastry cup. A garnish of tender basil leaves adds a nice contrasting color. Somehow the roses have this very pretty rosy color could be the color of the red skin leaking off into the poaching liquid or the partial slight browning or reddening of the cut apples , or a combination of these two factors.
So what did this taste like? Wellll, like a mouthful of puff pastry to tell you the truth! The roses taste wonderful (sweet and lemony) and go very well with the cinnamon cream...but the puff pastry overwhelms the overall taste. So I won't be making the exact same recipe ever again. I will, however, make the roses often and use them as an adorable decoration for other desserts. Imagine a chocolate cake topped with roses and cream! They look like perfect decorations for bridal shower and baby shower confections.
This is what the roses in Martha's magazine looked like:
And my life has been rosy ever since I made these...just yesterday I went to the rose exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden and stopped by to smell some real roses! Its a beautiful life...
Please visit Life in Flow for a full round-up of Tantalizing Titillating Tempting Tarts!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A Primer on Sprouting Lentils

The goal: To convert dry whole beans and lentils into lush sprouted beans and lentils in just a couple of days.

Why would you want to sprout? The nutritional value of beans and lentils goes through the roof once they are sprouted. You simply end up with more bang for your buck. Sprouting can also make beans and lentils more digestible.

How to sprout, the low tech way: I assure you that every kitchen has the tools to make sprouts at home. All you need is a strainer or a colander and a clean cotton cloth or dishcloth.

1. SOAK. Take a cup of lentils ( I used the brown supermarket variety). Place them in a bowl and rinse 2-3 times. Then leave them soaked in warm water for 6-8 hours. By this time they get hydrated and plump up like so-

2. SET UP. Take a colander and line it with a clean cotton cloth (such as an handkerchief) or layers of cheesecloth. Place the plumped lentils in the colander and fold the cloth over them.


3. RINSE and REPEAT. Place colander under a sink and flow warm water over it for few seconds. Let the water drain and leave the lentils for 12 hours. Repeat the rinsing twice a day for a couple of days (say in the morning when you are making coffee and at night when you are clearing up after dinner) and this is what you end up with.

So with the minimum of effort, you now have 3-4 cups of fresh wonderful sprouts. For my first IMBB ever, in the days before my own blog existed, I made this recipe. There are many other ways to use sprouts however. Here is what I did with these lentils: I nuked them for 7-8 minutes (in bursts of 2 minutes) to get them slightly tender. Then I added halved cheery tomatoes, halved baby vidalia onions and dressed with lemon juice, salt and "chaat masala" to make a nice summer salad.