Sunday, September 25, 2005

C is for Chivda and Chavli Amti

This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

C is for Chivda and Chavli Amti
We continue our journey with the letter C...another letter that has great recipes associated with it. The most important C in Marathi food in my opinion is the Chapati...a humble flatbread made with whole wheat flour. Clare over at Eat Stuff impressed me very much with her delicious-looking chapatis recently. She made them using her roti-maker. Rolling out chapatis manually is a skill that needs practice, something I am still working on!
C also stands for chutney. Deccanheffalump over at the Cooks Cottage recently wrote a beautiful and informative post about the various chutneys that are invariably part of the Marathi meal. Deccanheffalump has to be credited with putting Marathi food on the international foodie map with her consistently beautiful blog set in the city of Pune, Maharashtra. She called chutneys the "pesto of the East", how apt!
Another of my favorite "C"s is the tropical fruit Chikoo. A small brown nondescript fruit, it opens up to reveal a sweet creamy interior reminiscent of butterscotch. I have made chikoo ice cream before. Indian stores often sell frozen chikoo, perfect for making smoothies.
C stands for a bunch of crispy crunchy snacks: Chakli, Chirote, Chivda, as so many of you pointed out. We often forget that packaged snacks are a relatively recent invention, and that in years past, cooks made a stash of snacks to be eaten over several days. In Indian homes, small dishes of snacks are often enjoyed at tea-time. One hallmark of Indian families is their hospitality, a trait that is common to homes across the nation, no matter what their economic status. As soon as you enter an Indian home, you will be seated and offered something to eat and drink. These home-made snacks often come in handy when unexpected guests drop in. All of these snacks are traditionally made at Diwali, the festival of lights, although I love them any old day of the year. Chakli is made with a spicy batter formed into swirls using a mold and deep-fried. I don't own a Chakli mold so thats out of the question. Chirote are an absolutely amazing sweet snack. Home-made puff pastry is rolled delicately into little nest-shapes, fried and sprinkled with fine sugar. Waaay out of my league! The third snack, Chivda luckily is very easy to make. The base is poha, or parboiled pounded rice. It is available in Indian stores in two forms, a thick variety that is soaked in water and used to make a savoury dish, and the thin kind is made into the dry snacky chivda. It is wonderful to have a jar of Chivda sitting around...a handful is enough to spare you hunger pangs in the evening while you are getting dinner ready. A warning: this stuff is addictive! Its almost like Trail Mix...a potpourri of flavors with a satisfying crunch, and the nuts and whole grain make it a pretty healthy snacking option.

Chivda
chivda
2 cups thin poha
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
Method:
1. Heat oil in a kadai/wok/pan. Pop the mustard seeds, add cumin seeds, curry leaves, peanuts and raisins. Fry till the peanuts and raisins are golden.
2. Add salt, sugar, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for a few seconds.
3. Add the poha and stir fry on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes till poha is coated with all spices and lightly toasted.
4. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
For a delicious variation, add 2-3 garlic cloves to the stir fried spices. For another variation, use fresh green chillies instead of red chilli powder. This chivda is addictive and delicious by itself, but you can add come minced onion, minced cilantro and lemon juice to it to make instant "bhel" for an afternoon snack.

Another "C" is the often-underused Chavli or the black-eyed pea. Whats not to love...this bean is pretty , tasty, nutritious! In Marathi homes, it is used to make a tasty curry which is served as a main dish with rice. Today I will share a recipe that I got from an authentic Marathi cookbook. It demonstrates the concept of "Vaatan" or grinding, in which spices are fried together and ground along with the curry bases of onion and coconut, to make a fragrant paste that gives the curry its heady aroma. The "vaatan" method is a bit more time-consuming that plain stir-frying but so worth it for a great weekend meal!

Chavli Curry
chavli
(adapted from the Marathi cookbook "Lajawab Curries" by Sudha Maydev)
Serves 4

1 cup Whole Black-eyed Peas (Chavli), soaked overnight and boiled till tender
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1/2 cup tomato puree/1 tomato, chopped fine
1 tsp curry powder of your choice (garam masala/sambar masala etc)
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

For tadka;
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves
1/8 tsp asafoetida
1/2 tsp turmeric

For masala paste
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp chana dal
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
3-4 red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion, chopped
3 tbsp grated unsweetened coconut

Method:
1. Make masala paste by frying all the ingredients in the oil till lightly toasted and then grind fine.
2. Make the tadka by heating oil, then adding the rest of the ingredients and frying for a minute or two. Add the sliced onion and fry till well browned.
3. Add tomato, salt, sugar, curry powder and masala paste and fry well.
4. Add the boiled chavli, bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then serve hot garnished with cilantro.

That does it for C. Next week we journey on to the letter "D". Any suggestions for this one?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

WDB #2: Dale's Story

Its the weekend, time for Weekend Dog Blogging! Do head over to Sweetnicks and check out the canine beauties!
Dale-out Dale is officially my fiance V's dog and he has an interesting story to tell...I thought some of you might like to hear it so here goes: V has wanted a dog all his life, and decided to get one as soon as he could. In September 2001, the World Trade Center attacks caused an overflow in the NYC animal shelter system due to many homeless pets, and people were being urged to adopt animals so that more could be accomodated. So the time had come...V made a bee-line for the ASPCA and I went along with him to help choose a dog. V fell in love with one of them right away, a big black dog who was curled in his cage and made whimpering "take me home" sounds. The note on his cage said that the ASPCA had named him Dale and that he was had been rescued from an abusive owner a few months before. Enough said. The formalities were done and Dale was brought home.
A month later, V got a rather startling call from the Discovery Channel network Animal Planet asking if they could come film him with his new pet. "I guess", V said uncertainly, not quite sure what this was all about. It turned out that Animal Planet was doing a show called Animal Precinct tracing the stories of rescued animals. Dale had been tracked from the time he was rescued to his time in the ASPCA and now with his happy ending in a loving home. Well, they filmed V and Dale and left and we never heard from them again. V does not get Animal Planet on his cable TV so that was that.
A few weeks later, people on the street started recognizing V and Dale when they were walking outside. People would stop and say "Omigod, you're that guy and dog from that show, man, that story is so amazing". We did not know the story ourselves! Then a lady at the dog run graciously called some friends and got them to send us a tape recording of that episode, Episode #16 in Season 1. When we saw the show (finally, after everyone else had seen it), it was shocking beyond words. It turns out that Dale and a bunch of other dogs were neglected in a backyard in Queens, a borough of NYC. Dale had a huge tumor the size of a grapefruit hanging off his neck. This was all shown graphically in the show. ASPCA officers rescued the dogs. When asked about the abuse, the owner did nothing but shrug. A wonderful vet over at the ASCA surgically removed Dale's tumor, luckily a benign one, and saved his life. Its a very touching show and I am told that they show re-runs all the time, so maybe some Animal Planet watchers will catch it sometime.
What a journey this dog has been on! Today, Dale is a proud dignified dog as you can see for yourself. He put on 20 lbs since V got him, his coat is glossy black and healthy. Dale has learnt to trust and love people again, and learnt to play well with other dogs. V lavishes him with love and care that we hope makes up for the sad abuse he went through earlier. We are so grateful to the ASPCA for saving his life! They are doing so much good work, and I hope many of you will consider making a small contribution to them and helping them save more of our best friends.

Monday, September 19, 2005

WDB #1: Dale Loves People Furniture

For many weeks, Clare of Eat Stuff has been hosting a fun Weekend Cat Blogging (WCB) event and now Sweetnicks is being totally sweet and hosting a Weekend Dog Blogging (WDB) event for all of the canine-lovers in our midst!
I'm late for the first edition, but here is our beautiful Dale (5 yr old hound-lab mix), who has a BIG comfy bed of his own but loved people furniture far more. He will hop onto this chair every opportunity he gets! And when we catch him doing it, he gets this guilty puppy-dog expression :)
dale1
Do head over to Sweetnicks and check out the round-up!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

B is for BHENDI FRY and BHARLI VAANGI

This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

B is for Bhendi Fry and Bharli Vangi
B stands for lots and lots of good Marathi eats: thank you all for giving me awesome suggestions! The highest number of votes went to Bhakri. This is a flatbread made with different flours like bajra (millet) and jowar (sorghum) and patted into shape rather than rolled out. Nutritious and filling, bhakri is the staff of life, especially in rural Maharashtra. I would have loved to try making Bhakri, but shied away from it because I have only an electric range and a stainless steel skillet and doubt if someone without experience can make successful bhakri without the proper pan ("tava"). Maybe someone out there has some bhakri-making tips for me.
Two popular street foods also are "B" words: Batata Vada is a favorite snack and I have already written about it. Bhelpuri is a mixture of fried tit-bits and sweet and spicy chutneys and I am sure to write about this soon. Another favorite "B" is Besan ladoo, a sweet treat made with chickpea flour, sugar and ghee, which I will make for the festival of lights, "Diwali", coming up in a month or so. Finally, some of my favorite vegetables are "B" words: Batata (potato), Bhendi (okra) and Bhopla (pumpkin) to name just three. So what did I finally decide to make? Both dishes on my "B" menu are traditional vegetable preparations. Every family has their favorite recipes, and these are the versions as I remember them.

My first offering is "Bhendi Fry" or okra fry, a family favorite. This is my grandma's recipe, something that my cousins and I really looked forward to during our annual summer visits to grandma's place in Bombay. Aji (grandma in marathi) served this with boiled white rice and plain yellow dal called "Varan". If you are one of those who are grossed out by the sticky slime of okra, this recipe is for you. The final product is crispy and tasty with no sliminess whatsoever. Just make sure the okra is completely dry before you chop it.
Bhendi Fry
Bhendi
makes 2 servings
2 cups chopped okra (wash, dry completely with a kitchen towel and chop fine)
3 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1/4 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
oil for frying
In a bowl, toss together all the ingredients except for the oil. The okra gets a nice coating with the besan and spices. Heat 1/4 inch oil in a skillet and shallow fry the okra, draining it onto paper towels. Serve immediately as a side-dish with plain dal and rice.
Note: "Varan" is made by cooking and mashing toor dal (yellow split peas), adding some salt and curry leaves, then simmering for a minute. The simplicity is deceptive...this dal tastes wonderful.

Next is a very traditional Marathi dish: Bharli Vangi or "Stuffed Eggplant". Almost every cuisine has traditional recipes for stuffed vegetables, and eggplant especially lends itself well to being stuffed in a variety of ways. This Marathi recipe is delicious and easier to make than it sounds. It illustrates the wide use of peanuts and coconuts in Marathi cuisine. If you don't get baby eggplants, I don't see why this recipe could not be adapted to bigger eggplants, slit multiple times and stuffed.
Bharli Vaangi
3-4 servings
6-8 baby eggplants, slit open
stuffed
For stuffing:
2 tbsp dry grated unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup peanuts
2 tsp sesame seeds
3-4 dry red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
Place all these in a skillet, roast on low heat and grind together to a fine powder. To this powder, add...
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp finely minced onion
salt to taste
Mix together the stuffing, using some water to moisten it if necessary to form a thick paste. Stuff inside the baby eggplants as shown in the picture.
Cooking the eggplants:
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet. Pop 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, add 1/2 cup minced onion, fry till transluscent. Add the baby eggplants and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low heat. Check every few minutes and add some water to the pan if necessary till eggplants are cooked through and onions are golden. Garnish with minced cilantro.

BharliVangi
Bharli vaangi and bhakri is the traditional combo. For people who can make bhakri that is :) I will learn in due course. Meanwhile I hope you will join me when we explore "C" next week. Any guesses for "C"?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A is for AMTI

This article is first of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case the cuisine that I grew up with.

A is for Amti.
Every evening, in millions of homes in Maharastra, the following dinner is served: Amti-Bhaat-Bhaji. Translated as lentil dal, rice and vegetable. So amti is the special way of preparing lentils or dal in Maharashtra. Amti is a little spicy, a little sweet and a little tangy. The word amti can also used to describe other curried preparations, but the amti dal stands solid as the pillar of everyday food, making it a perfectly fitting start to our food journey.

Amti is a good illustration of the generous use of jaggery or unrefined sugar in Marathi cooking. Sugarcane is a very important crop in that part of the country and jaggery is produced and used in abundance, lending a slight sweetish tinge to savory foods. Amti is a very basic dal and only requires a spice mixture that can be easily made ahead of time and stored. Last time I visited my home-town of Kolhapur, I visited a friend of my mom's. As luck would have it, she was grinding a huge batch of amti masala for herself that morning and when she asked me if I would like some, I said "yes, yes, yes" very quickly before she could change her mind and got myself a hefty bag of wonderful authentic amti masala. How's that for good timing? For my readers, here is a amti masala recipe from a Marathi masala handbook.

Amti Masala
(from "Lajjatdar Masale" by Mrs. Vaijayanti Kelkar)

12 cup coriander seeds
14 cup cumin seeds
2 tsp. Shahi jeera (black cumin seeds)
10-12 cloves
1 inch cinnamon

Roast all the spices together on very low heat till they turn a couple of shades darker. Then grind together to a fine powder and store in a dry container.

On to the amti:

Amti

  • 1 cup toor dal , cooked

Tempering:

  • 12 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 12 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch asafoetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves


  • 12 cup diced onion
  • 1 tsp. amti masala
  • 12 tsp. turmeric
  • 12 tsp. red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tsp. jaggery
  • 1 tbsp. minced cilantro for garnish

  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. 
  2. Temper it with mustard seeds, jeera seeds and asafoetida. 
  3. Add curry leaves, onion and fry till onion is transluscent. 
  4. Add amti masala, turmeric, salt, chilli powder and fry for a few seconds. 
  5. Now add the cooked dal and enough water to make it the desired consistency. 
  6. Finally stir in tamarind, jaggery and bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes and your amti is ready. 
  7. Taste it and adjust the salt, tamarind and jaggery till you are happy with the balance of flavors. 
  8. Garnish with cilantro if desired.
Amti is best served with fresh steamed rice and a dollop of ghee. I served amti with rice, radish-cucumber salad and an eggplant-potato dish, with a side of papad for a very satisfying dinner.

Watch out for the letter "B" in a few days. Any guesses what "B" will be?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunshine Oatmeal

I'm always looking for small ways to improve my diet. "Baby steps" that make me feel like I did something small to improve my life just a little bit. A wonderful food I introduced into my diet a few months ago is oatmeal. Somewhere along the way I realized that there there were too many reasons that I should stop ignoring oatmeal...the high fiber, heart benefits and so on.

That's when I tried some of those flavored oatmeal sachets and nearly gagged on them. The taste was just awful. Mollie Katzen came along to the rescue with her wonderful breakfast book Sunlight Cafe, a great resource for those who want to get off to a better nutritional start ever day.

Katzen has a great recipe for Chai Oatmeal that I modified a little bit. Here are my favorite things about this recipe-
a) It takes 8 minutes to make from start to finish. Morning are a rushed time, but 8 minutes I can spare. Not all of it is hands-on time, so really your breakfast gets made as you make tea/coffee, check mail etc.
b) The recipe contains yummy spices and nuts, so you feel like you are eating dessert...makes for a happy start to the day. Yet it is not cloyingly sweet.
c) The fiber in the oatmeal really fills you up, so you don't get hunger pangs all the way until lunchtime.
d) This recipe can be tweaked to make different variations.

Sunshine Oatmeal

oatmeal
For 2 servings, you need:
2 cups liquid (any combo of milk/soymilk/water works fine)
1 cup Quick-cooking/Instant oats (the 1-minute cooking ones)
1 tbsp sweetener (honey/sugar/Splenda)
1 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp cashewnut pieces
1/4 tsp turmeric (for color and slight flavor)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
6-7 strands saffron
pinch of salt

Method:

  • In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups liquid, and all ingredients except for oatmeal, and bring to a boil. 
  • Then add the oatmeal and stir around for a minute. 
  • Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for a minute.

Enjoy the oatmeal. The variations are that you could add different types of nuts and dried fruits like dates, fruits like banana, and other flavorings like vanilla or cinnamon. The possibilites are endless, and you end up eating the breakfast of champions!

Note: Joey over at the lovely blog 80 Breakfasts is sharing a recipe for oatmeal with apple-walnuts, check it out.

PS: Since writing this post, I quickly switched to old-fashioned oats instead of the quick-cooking instant oats and I love them so much more. This recipe can be made with either.