Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Royal" Burji...

...hits the spot in this lazy Sunday brunch. Burji is simply Indian-style scrambled eggs; "royal" because it contains a spice mix with a regal name.

It started when Bhags posted this simple dal called Bachelor tadka. She braved a "queue of shoes", smelly socks and mountains of unwashed clothes to fearlessly obtain this recipe for us, so the least I could do was give it a try. The other intriguing feature of this recipe was an ingredient called Kitchen King Masala. I started to think that this was some sort of brand name, but a little investigative work via Google revealed that it is actually a generic name for a particular blend of spices, and that several brands sell their versions of this Kitchen King masala. I wonder who came up this spice blend; the name "Kitchen King" suggests that it must be a fairly recent invention. In any case, I bought myself a packet of Kitchen King Masala (Badshah brand is what I found). Badshah (emperor) and Kitchen King! If that isn't a royal combination, I don't know what is :D

2008_44Simply put, Bhags' bachelor tadka rocks. In no time at all, it has climbed right to the top of the list of "Things That Practically Cook Themselves And Keep Me Sane On Weeknights". The whole dal gets made in the pressure cooker itself, and the combination of the ghee tadka and the masala results in the most appetizing aroma as the pressure cooker hisses and whistles madly. This recipe carries an unconditional guarantee that everyone in the home will stop by the kitchen and ask that coveted question: "What smells so good?"

I must be the last person on the planet to discover Kitchen King masala; people are busy using it in all kinds of simple and tasty dishes like potato curry, egg curry, veg pulao, masala masoor and okra-spinach curry. For despite its majestic name, the Kitchen King masala is best suited as a multipurpose masala that is best used for throwing together tasty and impromptu dishes for everyday meals for us commoners. Like this spicy burji that follows.

Egg Burji

(serves 2-3)
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 tomatoes, chopped fine
2 t oil
1/2 t red chilli powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 heaped t Kitchen King masala
1 T ketchup
salt to taste
handful of minced cilantro
Beat together
4 eggs (could omit a yolk or two)
1 T milk
salt to taste

1. Heat the oil (medium heat) and saute onion until translucent.
2. Add red chilli powder, turmeric, KK masala and salt and saute for a few seconds.
3. Stir in tomato and ketchup and saute until the mixture is almost dry.
4. Lower heat to medium-low, then stir in the egg mixture. Gently cook the eggs, stirring once in a while, until they are barely set.
5. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

I served the burji with some whole-wheat tortillas for a satisfying brunch.

*** *** ***

Musical uses her surprise Arusuvai ingredient in the most innovative way. Take a look for yourself!

*** *** ***

The stinker Thinker. Dale ponders the meaning of life...

...and a minute later, ponders the inside of his eyelids.

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sig's Butternut Squash Erissery

Anyone who reads this blog probably knows that I love "cooking from the blogs". I treat the food blog world as a virtual culinary school populated by the most talented teachers. It was quite natural for me to jump in and participate in an event called Taste and Create, hosted by Myamii at For the Love of Food. The premise is that she randomly pairs up bloggers, and they taste-test one recipe from each other's blog. What a neat way to learn from each other.
I do have my favorite blogs that I often try recipes from, but here was my chance to perhaps discover a new blog and its hidden treasures. As luck would have it, this month, I am paired with Sig of Live to Eat, a blog that I have been reading almost since it came to life!

Sig's blog is a unique blend of many fun-loving features, including reviews of Seattle restaurants (often eye-popping fancy-schmancy ones!), some talented mixology (I could use a gitatini right about now) and tastes of global cuisines. But this is what I treasure most about Sig's blog- her posts about the cuisine of Kerala, the Southern coastal state of India that is her native land.

"Heaven must be a bit like Kerala", says Madhur Jaffrey in her book A Taste of India, completely won over by the subtle and aromatic cuisine of this land; and reading Jaffrey's words makes me even more eager to learn more about Kerala's cuisine. Sig's recipes for classic Kerala dishes such as thoran and olan are exquisitely simple, bearing the promise of authentic home-style flavor. Most of Sig's vegetable recipes have been sitting in my bookmark folder for months on end and this was my chance to actually try one of them.

This being the season for butternut squash, I chose a coconut-based curry with a lyrical name, erissery. Butternut squash is folded into a silky paste of garlic, chillies and coconut, and then tempered with aromatics to make this festive dish which is traditionally part of the harvest feast of Onam. I was pleased to get a chance to use shallots in this recipe; that is an allium that I don't use very often.

Sig's Butternut Squash Erissery

(Source: this recipe on "Live To Eat")
2 C peeled and diced butternut squash
salt to taste
3/4 C grated coconut (fresh or frozen, thawed)
1-2 green chillies
1 clove garlic
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves
1-2 dried red chillies
2 shallots, sliced thinly
2 T grated coconut
1. In a saucepan, place the butternut squash and add a cup or so of water, and salt to taste. Cook the squash until tender.
2. Meanwhile, grind the "paste" ingredients until smooth, adding a little water if required to make a smooth paste.
3. Stir the paste into the cooked squash and simmer for a few minutes.
4. In another small pan, heat the oil. Add the "tempering" ingredients (all except coconut) and fry until the shallots are golden. Stir in the coconut and fry until golden. Add the tempering to the curry, mix well, heat for a minute and then turn off the heat.

As Sig directed, I served the erissery with freshly steamed rice, papad and pickles. The erissery was everything I thought it would be- flavorful and delicate all at the same time, with the sweetness of the butternut squash contrasting with the rich coconut flavor and the heady aroma of curry leaves, garlic and shallots.

Hungry for more Kerala fare?
RCI Kerala Round-Up
Essence of Kerala

Thanks, Sig, for a "keeper" recipe! Sig made Mushroom Chettinad from One Hot Stove. Thank you, Myamii, for hosting this enjoyable event.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Simple, Warming Soup

For all the time that I have been cooking on a regular basis, I have been a one-dish kind of gal. No matter how much I would love to spend hours cooking up a delicious spread, life usually hands me about 45-60 minutes to put dinner on the table. No wonder then, that the most beloved recipes in my repertoire are the ones that combine grains and vegetables and legumes or eggs all together in one happy pot. I love the efficient nature of one-dish meals, and am always thrilled to find a new one that we love.

But this weekday dinner rule has changed somewhat in the past few months. I now focus on making two-dish meals. The second dish is one of three- a soup, a salad or a roasted/stir-fried vegetable dish. I use the terms "soup" and "salad" in their most general sense; the former would include a kadhi or rasam and the latter is some concoction with raw vegetables- as likely to be koshimbir and raita as anything else. The two-dish rule has resulted in many good changes: I can go easy on wolfing down the "main dish" and take second helpings of the side dish instead; it makes it much more likely that we will have enough leftovers for two complete lunches; and we get a chance to enjoy more servings of vegetables. Most importantly, these second dishes add nothing to my cooking time because they are the simplest of recipes that take minutes to put together.

So I am very excited that two blogs, Lisa's Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes have started an event called No Croutons Required with a simple theme: vegetarian soups and salads.

Here is our simple yet exquisitely satisfying meal from a couple of nights ago. Grilled cheese and Tomato soup. To stretch the calorie-heavy cheese, we shred it rather than carve it out in hunks. We also stuff the sandwiches with shredded vegetables- this time it was onion, cabbage and a poblano pepper. I say "we" but I mean V- he makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever tasted. The cream of tomato soup contains no cream whatsoever except for a swirl on top; a less-than-successful attempt at food styling. In honor of one of the hosts, the soup is made with tinned tomatoes! Also because there are no decent fresh tomatoes within a few hundred miles of here at this time. I love tomato soup but don't like it when it is mouth-puckeringly tart, as tomatoes sometimes are. Here, a little bit of milk and some sugar balance out the flavors.

Tomato Soup

(Adapted from "How To Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman, makes about 4 servings)
1. In a pot, heat 1 T extra-virgin olive oil.
2. Add 1 sliced onion, 1 diced carrot, salt and pepper. Saute until the vegetables start getting soft.
3. Add 2 C tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1.5 C vegetable stock (or water), 2 t sugar and 1 t dried oregano (use any favorite fresh or dried herb here).
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat, add 0.5 C low-fat milk, then blend the soup leaving it as chunky or smooth as desired. Serve piping hot.

More soup inspiration...
20 ideas for simple soups from the Washington Post blog that illustrate how soups can be rustled up from pantry staples.
Watching your weight? Eat soup! from Susan over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

*** *** ***

Here's one way to deal with bone-chilling winter weather: don your favorite jet-black fur coat* and bask on the comfy futon by the sunny window...

*No furry creatures were harmed in the writing of this post. One furry beast did get a belly rub.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Huli Pudi

For a few months, the Arusuvai friendship chain has been active among food bloggers in India, pioneered by the Yum blog and Bhags and Bharathy, with the premise that food bloggers send little surprise ingredients to each other. After all, the pantry of each avid home cook is full of coveted treasures and to share these with people that you have come to know virtually is a lot of fun.

I have been watching from the sidelines as all sorts of mystery ingredients have been crisscrossing the country.
Logo courtesy "The Yum Blog"

Thank you, dear Latha, for kicking off this fun event here in the US and for sending me your precious homemade gift. It was so exciting to get something in the mail besides the usual junk mail and bills. My patience got the better of me and I ripped the envelope open while I was still in the elevator. The color and aroma of this mystery powder enveloped me right away!

I must say that no one guessed the answer *precisely* but a whole lot of people came very close! Most of you guessed sambar powder. Latha says that "it is what is called "Huli Pudi" which is very similar to Sambar powder". If I understand correctly, huli in Kannada means "sour" but is also the word used for a curry or sambar. It sounds like this is a go-to spice powder for Kannada cooks- with potential uses in sambar, dry vegetable curries, gravies, and those delicious rice dishes such as vangi bhaat and bisi bele huli anna. Here is Latha's beautiful post with the recipe and uses of huli podi. My first use of this precious powder is a predictable one- I made a simple sambar.

Huli-Pudi Sambar

(serves 4-5)
3/4 C toor dal
1.5 C mixed vegetables cut in chunks (I used onion, eggplant, endamame and carrots)
1/2 t turmeric
1 T tamarind pulp
1 T jaggery
2 t huli podi (or to taste)
1 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
10-12 fresh curry leaves
1. Soak the toor dal for 15 minutes and rinse well.
2. In a pressure cooker, combine soaked toor dal, vegetables, salt and turmeric. Add water to cover and pressure cook the mixture.
3. Soak the tamarind in 1/2 C hot water and extract the juice.
4. Heat oil, temper it with the ingredients listed. Add the dal-veggie mixture, tamarind, jaggery, huli pudi and salt. Add water if required. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.

I served the sambar with idlis for a perfectly heavenly Saturday morning brunch. The huli pudi gave the sambar a gorgeous color and irresistible flavor! Now that I have tasted this powder, I can't wait to use it in non-indicated ways- especially with potatoes, as Anita suggested. That would make one delicious filling for masala dosa!

Where does the Arusuvai Friendship chain go from here??
I am sending little mystery packages to
1. Musical, who gives us an unforgettable peek into the Punjabi home kitchen,
2. The Cooker, who always has inspiring and innovative ideas to share, and
3. Mandira, who started the Amish Friendship bread starter chain, which led to the arusuvai chain in India which in turn inspired the arusuvai chain in the US. She was the butterfly who started this butterfly effect, and it is only fitting that the trail leads back to her!

In addition, I plugged the names of all you good sports (whether you are a food blogger or not) who played along in the guessing game into a spreadsheet and used a random number generator to pull out 2 names from the hat- the "winners" are Superchef and AA!! If you would like a surprise ingredient (and a treat!) from my kitchen, please e-mail me your address.

Also, two of those who played along are "local people", so dear Bek and Seema, e-mail me if you would like a surprise too, and I shall deliver one to you :) Any other St. Louis bloggers/ readers (you don't need to have a blog), let me know if you want to play along and I'll be happy to share a surprise ingredient with you too.

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Want a sneak peek into the headquarters of One Hot Stove? Head over to The Perfect Pantry to get a glimpse of my own highly imperfect one! Thank you, Lydia for this chance to reveal a little bit of my kitchen :)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Arusuvai has landed!

The Arusuvai Friendship Chain has arrived at my door! Thank you, dear Latha.

I tried my best to guess what it was, and could not :D Can you help me?! What do you think it is, and what would you cook with it? The person with the wildest guess will get a surprise ingredient from me (er...if you live in the US, that is) :) This little drawing is closed...but check back for two "winners" later.

Sorry, but there is no way the heady aroma of this powder can be transferred through cyberspace. Google is still working on that!



I'll be playing with this surprise ingredient over the weekend, and will come back to tell you all about it. See you then!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Onion-Cheese Kulcha

On a snow day, an unexpected day off from work, a responsible person would:
(a) start organizing her income tax return
(b) work on her term paper
(c) do some spring-cleaning
(d) ignore (a) through (c) and bake some bread!

No prizes for guessing, unfortunately! Here is the bread I made- a tandoori bread no less (or my version of it, anyway): Onion-Cheese Kulcha. It all started with this tempting article from eGullet. Monica Bhide and Sudhir Seth provide a basic naan recipe that can used as a base for many breads, including an onion kulcha. I don't really know the difference between a naan and a kulcha. Perhaps kulcha is simply a term for a stuffed naan. Perhaps the two come from different regions. If anyone knows, please tell us! In any case, the article is worth a read, and there are pictures of a traditional tandoor oven at the end.

The recipe below is adapted from the onion kulcha recipe in that article. I altered the naan recipe to one that is yeast-based, and with half whole-wheat flour, and omitting the egg (because I had none on hand). I altered the kulcha stuffing to use cheese as a binder instead of potato (had no potatoes on hand is a lean pantry the day before I go grocery shopping). Of course, this last substitution made V's day! Because I made so many changes to the original recipe, I am rewriting it here. But please do refer to that article for pictures of each step along the way.

Onion-Cheese Kulcha

[there was a little tear in this kulcha and you can see the onion peeking through and the cheese oozing through] (Adapted from this article, makes 8 kulchas)
1. Make the dough
(a) In a large bowl, mix together 2 C bread flour, 2 C white whole-wheat flour and 1 t salt.
(b) Mix 3/4 C water and 1/2 C milk in a bowl. Microwave it until it is barely warm. Add 1 t yeast and 1 t sugar to the milk mixture and let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until frothy.
(c) To the flour mixture, add 3 T yogurt and the yeast mixture and mix well to make a dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm spot for a couple of hours.
2. Make the filling: Mix together 1 C (lightly packed) shredded cheese such as sharp cheddar, 1 medium onion minced finely, 3 T minced cilantro and red chilli powder and chaat masala to taste.
3. Preheat a pizza stone to 400F. Divide the dough and the filling into 8 portions each. Make filled kuchas using the same method we use for stuffed parathas (see the eGullet article for pictures). Dab each kulcha with a few drops of ghee and sprinkle with nigella seeds (could use garlic slices or poppy seeds or cilantro). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the kulchas are puffy and have brown spots.

I served the kulchas with some rajma (kidney bean curry). It made for a very special dinner! When you bite into the kulcha, the cheese is all melty and gooey and the onions are cooked. Now, I don't know if the flavor of the onions came through as much as I would have liked, but the whole thing was quite delicious to say the least.

This onion-cheese kulcha is being rushed over to Radhi as an entry for JFI: Onions.

*** *** "Your moment of Zen"*** ***

Dale rests his head on V's lap as he ponders life, the universe and everything...

This is quite an unusual picture, because Dale is not a cuddly-wuddly type at all. He is a dignified creature who likes his space. This one time he was quite happy to snuggle up!

*** ***Happy Birthday, One Hot Stove*** ***

Tomorrow, this little blog will be three years old! Me and my blog, we are growing old together :) By now I have gotten used to living my double life, shuttling between my roles as a regular person and a food blogger. In real life, I am decidedly not a "people person" and quite prone to being "dark and twisty inside" (as they say on "Grey's Anatomy"). When I write this blog, I am able to relax and slow down; cooking and writing does make me warm and happy and I seem to chirp on endlessly about some recipe or the other. I enjoy my conversations with fellow foodies, through the comments and the e-mails and through connections with other food bloggers. As with all other ventures in life, blogging does come with its hassles in the form of those infernal plagiarizers, and the occasional rude comment or e-mail . But as long as the balance is tilted this way, this blogger will keep on blogging. Thank you, dear reader, for your continued support and encouragement!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Shengdana Chutney

We have a snow day today! That can mean only one thing- I have time to log on and ramble on and write a post. This is an entry for My Legume Love Affair, an event hosted by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. I have been indulging in a not-so-secret love affair with legumes for most of my life, and hardly could pass on an opportunity for this PDA :D

Often disparagingly called the Poor Man's Meat, the family of lentils, including peas, lentils and beans, are finally being recognized as the culinary gold that they are. Full of fiber, iron and protein, and low in fat- they are a tasty way to break away from a meat-guzzling diet ( as Mark Bittman calls it) and into one that places a high value on plant-based foods. Legumes are some very selfless and community-minded plants: as they grow, they convert atmospheric nitrogen into "fertilizer" and enrich the soil. Remember the nitrogen cycle from elementary school science class?

I never met a bean or a lentil that I did not love, but my heart belongs to peanuts! Well, those peanuts too, but mainly these:
Yes, although peanuts are classified as nuts in the kitchen, they are botanically part of the legume family- rather unusual members of this family because they grow under the ground. In fact, one of the common Marathi names for peanuts is bhui-moog which literally translates as earth-beans (am I right?); the other, more common name is shengdana.

I grew up in a peanut-growing region of Maharashtra (in fact, a region that grows all sorts of cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, tobacco in abundance, and has the prosperity to show for it), so peanuts have always been a big part of my life. In season, when fresh newly-dug peanuts arrive on the market (with dark soil still caked over the shells), it is time for one of life's greatest edible pleasures: boiled peanuts! Peanut oil is the natural choice for a cooking medium. Even today, my mother buys peanut oil straight from a refinery- every few months, she hops in her car with two stainless steel jerry cans, drives to a tiny oil-pressing unit in the heart of town and waits as they fill the cans with still-warm peanut oil. It is sold by the kilogram. The peanut residue, which remains quite nutritious, is pressed into cakes and fed to cattle (who also live in the heart of town with their owners). Only in Kolhapur!

Recently, my love for peanuts was intensified even more when I heard a talk by a local doctor who is doing some incredible work in the African nation of Malawi- he has developed a peanut-based ready-to-eat paste that has shown impressive results in being to rescue severely malnourished children. I admire a lot of things about this Project Peanut Butter, including the fact that locally produced peanuts are being bought to make this nutritious paste, thus helping the local economy while saving tiny lives (the majority of food relief programs rely on surplus cheap grain being shipped in from far away).

Today, I am making a dry peanut chutney, one of a family of dry chutneys that are very popular in Maharashtrian homes. A scoop of flavorful chutney can liven up even the simplest of meals. It is actually very similar to a number of chutneys I have written about before, such as this garlicky one. This one is heavy on the peanuts, but also contains other flavors that I love, such as coconut and sesame and garlic and coriander, in a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fashion. I have tweaked the proportions over countless batches to get the taste that I happen to like the most. Use my proportions, or feel free to tweak them to your own taste. I often make this chutney to give as a small gift from my kitchen, and most people who taste it seem to like it.

Shengdana Chutney
(Dry Peanut Chutney)


1 C peanuts, roasted lightly and skinned
2 T sesame seeds
2 T unsweetened dry coconut flakes
4-5 dried red chillies (or to taste)
10-15 fresh curry leaves
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1 T coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1-2 t tamarind pulp (not paste) (optional)
2 t sugar (or to taste)
1 t salt (or to taste)
1. Heat a heavy skillet (low-medium heat) and add the peanuts first. When they are lightly browned, add the sesame seeds, coconut, chillies, curry leaves, garlic, coriander and cumin. Keep stirring and roasting until all the ingredient are toasty and fragrant.
2. Let the mixture cool down completely (the curry leaves will be crispy and dry by then). Place in a food processor/ mixie bowl with the tamarind, sugar and salt. Process until the mixture is uniformly powdered. Keep processing until the oil starts to be extracted from the peanuts and the chutney starts to clump together (not until it becomes peanut butter, mind you). Taste for a balance of flavors and adjust them if necessary.
3. Store in an air-tight bottle at room temperature for 3-4 weeks or so. This recipe yields about a medium jar of chutney- perfect for a family of 2-4.

How do you enjoy this chutney? Let me count the ways...
1. Spread on little buttered crackers to make chutney toasts like in the picture above. They make great little snacks!
2. Stir into yogurt for an instant dip.
3. Sprinkle on hot buttered toast for a spicy breakfast treat.
4. Eat as a podi with ghee and rice.
5. Mix with untoasted sesame oil to make a chutney for idlis and dosas.
6. Serve in a little heap as an accompaniment to any home-style meal such as dal and rice, yogurt rice or chapati and vegetables. This is the way it is traditionally served.
And creative readers mentioned other ways of enjoying it
7. Sprinkle on pizza instead of red pepper flakes (Bee)
8. Sprinkle on buttered bread, then toast the bread on a tava (Shankari)
9. Add some yogurt to the chutney and enjoy with poli/chapati//fulkas (Anjali, Manasi)
10. Eat with hot poli/chapati and ghee (Musical)
10. Eat with vada pav (Pooja)
11. Eat with dhokla (Coffee)
12. Use as a masala over shallow fried green chillies (Roshni)

Enjoy your weekend!