Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tucking into Taquitos

Myamii's Taste and Create event pairs up participating food bloggers randomly and they get to taste-test one recipe from each other's blog. This month, I was paired up with a blog that bears the intriguing name of Peanut Butter Etoufee. PBE is written by three gals who say that, "food is the axis on which our family turns"- now that is something I can certainly relate to.

Every food blog has recipes worth trying, but my favorites are the "secret recipes" that have been created as a result of much trial and error, and then generously posted on the blog to share with the whole world. When it came to choosing a dish from PBE, a little bit of browsing led me to just such a post. It all concerns a Mexican snack called the taquito ("little taco"...isn't it the cutest name?) that consists of a rolled filled taco that is usually deep-fried. Moon, one of the PBE trio, writes about a Mexican food stand in downtown LA where her family has been buying taquitos for nearly half a century. She raves about the unique sauce that the taquitos are served in. Moon finally managed to replicate the recipe and you can sense her excitement in being able to come awfully close to that "restaurant taste" that is so elusive. I knew I had to try the recipe.

I love salsas of all persuasions, but I don't think I have ever tasted any salsa of this description- a tomatillo salsa blended with avocado and fresh cilantro and gently heated to cook it ever so slightly. It is supposed to be a very thin sauce, thinned with some stock. My sauce is a bit of an adaptation of Moon's recipe. I made the tomatillo salsa from scratch and did not thin down the salsa, preferring to leave it as a rather thick dipping sauce.

PBE's Taquito Sauce

(adapted from Peanut Butter Etoufee, makes 1-2 cups)
For tomatillo salsa
4 medium tomatillos
½ C diced onion
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 fresh green chilli, diced
Salt to taste
1.5 C water
Other ingredients
1 medium ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 fresh green chilli, diced
½ packed fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Combine all ingredients for tomatillo salsa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until tomatillos have cooked through and collapsed.
2. Turn off the heat, then add the rest of the ingredients (avocado, cilantro, chilli pepper) to the saucepan.
3. Using an immersion (stick) blender, combine all the ingredients together into a fairly smooth sauce.
4. Taste for salt and heat, and adjust the flavors if necessary. Check the consistency of the sauce and thin it with some vegetable stock if required.
5. Turn on the heat and simmer the sauce briefly (2-3 minutes).

Now that I have the taquito sauce, I need some taquitos to serve it with! I found this Cooking Light recipe that calls for the taquitos to be baked to a crisp finish instead of being deep-fried.


(adapted from this CL recipe)
For the filling
1 small onion, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t olive oil
½ t cumin powder
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 pack veggie (soy) granules (see note)
1 small can mild diced green chiles, undrained
Other ingredients
1 pack corn tortillas (I used blue corn tortillas)
1 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese (could use Cheddar or other cheese; non-dairy cheese for vegan version)
Cooking spray/ oil for brushing

1. To make the filling, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until fragrant and translucent. Stir in the rest of the ingredients listed under "filling" and stir-fry until warmed through. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Spray a baking sheet.
3. Sprinkle the tortillas with some water and microwave them for 15 seconds to make them warm and pliable.
4. Place 1-2 T of filling at one of each torilla, sprinkle with cheese, and roll it tightly into a cylinder. Place seam-side down on the baking sheet.
5. Spray/brush all the filled tortillas lightly and bake them for 15 minutes or so, until slightly brown and crisp. Serve with taquito sauce!

Note: Veggie ground round is a minced meat substitute found in the refrigerated section. But it can be replaced with re-hydrated TVP/Nutrela granules if that is what you have on hand. This filling is completely customizable; I can see a vegetable or bean filling working beautifully here.

Verdict: Holy Guacamole! This meal was such a treat. The baked taquitos are crisp and delightful, and pair wonderfully with the sauce. The sauce itself is a delight, to say the least. The avocado gives it an irresistible creaminess and a luscious flavor. I am sure my sauce tasted nothing like the original, but we loved it and will be making it often. I served it with some tortilla chips as a dip and it was a hit!

I'm sending the platter of taquitos to DK, who is AWED by Mexican Cuisine this month.

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Baking update: Last week, I decided to make some crowd-pleasing chocolate cupcakes for a bake sale to raise some money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life (I walked part of it last night). The recipe was this one for this one for Easy Chocolate Cupcakes from Baking Bites. The joys of this recipe: it makes *24* cupcakes all at once (now that has Bake Sale written all over it), and uses basic pantry ingredients. I managed to mix up the batter in minutes, and used cupcake liners that do not need a muffin tin (I don't have muffin tins to make 24 muffins at once). Except for using powdered buttermilk and cutting down the sugar a bit, I followed Nic's recipe quite closely.

The frosting: my favorite chocolate-peanut butter frosting from Jugalbandi. In the face of stiff competition from such delights as oreo-white chocolate fudge and some adorable strawberry mini cupcakes, my cupcakes did not sell out (to V's relief, there were a couple left for him), but I absolutely enjoyed their deep chocolate taste and the fact that they are not cloyingly sweet. The recipe is a keeper!

My frosting skills sure need some work! I have a feeling it is going to be several decades before I produce any baked goods even remotely as adorable as Cathy's cupcakes or Namratha's cake. But meanwhile, these cupcakes tastes delicious if nothing else.

I'll be back in early May. See you then!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Little Things, BIG Excitement

Every few months, Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness does exactly that; spreading happiness all around by hosting an event called Blogging By Mail. The premise is a simple one: bloggers are secretly assigned someone to send a box of treats to, and in turn get a box of treats from another blogger. This time around, BBM had the theme "Little Things".

My "secret Santa" was Marye from Texas Kettle and Cup, a blog about (what else but) tea and coffee. Marye also writes another blog called Baking Delights. I opened her box and here's what tumbled out...
Coffee: Fair-trade Whole Bean Espresso
Tea: Berryblossom white tea and "Herbal Revive"
Chocolate: Dark chocolate with orange and spices and Dark chocolate with cranberries and almonds!

Two ways with Chipotle: Chipotle Pepper spaghetti, and a bottle of chipotle granules. Now this is going to be well-used in my spice-lovin' kitchen!

Pretty baking cups in cheerful spring colors.

Herb seed packets: Lime Basil and Cilantro. I'll be planting these soon! Cilantro is my very favorite herb, and the lime basil sounds heavenly.

Anise-Lavender goat's milk soap: I have to say this is a most unusual and almost intoxicating fragrance, spicy and floral all at once! It perfumed the whole box, in fact, and I am sure the postal carrier wondered what was in there :)
Plus, a set of bright note-cards and a magazine to relax with.

I loved everything in the box, but this is the very very best: home-grown organic pecans, from the native Texas pecan trees in Marye's own backyard! We had never even seen pecans in the shell, and to get home-grown ones...I feel so lucky. I will be using them in many ways; Marye's Maple Pecan Donuts look so tempting, don't they?

Thank you so much for putting together this generous and delightful package, Marye! I know you were busy dealing with real life challenges like floods on your property and it means even more to me that you took the time to send me these goodies.

To Stephanie: one BIG hug for all her work in putting BBM together!

My package went to Everyday Vegetarian.

See you in a few days!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dhokaar Daalnaa

Here is my second entry for Sandeepa's Regional Cuisines of India event; we are celebrating Bengali cuisine this month.

This one comes from my beloved friend Sujayita, who indulged me with mega-doses of tea and sympathy for several years. We kept up an impromptu book club during that time, with shared tastes for many genres. But she stubbornly refuses to read cookbooks as if they were novels, and I insist on ignoring science fiction, although I will grudgingly agree with her that Asimov's "I, Robot" is fantastic :D

Sujayita shared a festive and elaborate dish called dhokaar daalnaa. She describes it as pieces of fried chana dal burfis in tomato-coconut gravy. Mitushi, you guessed right :) In this dish, chana dal is cooked not once, not twice, but three times. Move over, biscotti, triscotti is here! Chana dal paste is first cooked and patted onto a surface. Then diamond shapes are cut from the slab of cooked chana dal and pan-fried to a crispy golden brown. Finally, the fried diamonds are simmered in a flavorful gravy. The recipe that follows is Sujayita's adaptation of the traditional recipe; adapted and tweaked to her taste. She explained that most Bengali vegetarian food is made without onions and garlic ("saatvik" type) and the traditional recipe is also sans onion and garlic. But she likes flavoring the daalnaas with garlic, and her sauce is unusual too, with coconut adding a beautiful richness.

Sujayita's Dhokaar Daalnaa

(serves ~4)
For the savory diamonds:
1 C chana dal
1 clove garlic
1-2 green chillies
salt to taste
1 T oil
For the gravy:
2 t oil
1 T grated ginger
pinch of asafetida
1 large onion, ground finely into a paste
1 C tomato puree
¼ C thick coconut milk (or coconut paste)
salt to taste
pinch of garam masala
1. Soak chana dal overnight. Rinse well and grind to a thick batter with garlic, chillies and salt. Add only as much water as required.
2. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the batter until it turns a darker shade and "smells cooked". See note below.
3. Pour the cooked chana dal onto a greased flat surface and pat it down. Let it cool a bit, then cut into diamond shapes.
4. Fry the diamonds in a lightly oiled skillet until golden brown on both sides.
5. For the gravy: heat oil and fry the onion paste, ginger paste and asafetida.
5. Add the tomato, salt and fry until the oil separates.
6. Add coconut milk, 1.5 C water or so, and simmer for a few minutes.
7. Add the fried diamonds and simmer for a few minutes more. Sprinkle with garam masala just before turning off the heat.
8. Serve with freshly steamed rice.

Note: I had a bit of trouble with the chana dal paste sticking to the pan as I tried to cook it. Perhaps I will try to steam or bake the mixture next time. Or perhaps there is some trick I am missing here. Updated: Cathy helpfully pointed me to this recipe which offers a microwave alternative to cooking the chana dal mixture (scroll down to the end of the page).

The elaborate preparation was well worth it; we loved the dhokaar daalnaa! There are very few spices in this dish; instead it is the fresh ginger and chillies that make it flavorful rather than spicy. It is a rich and sumptuous meal, fit for a leisurely weekend lunch followed by a long nap. Sujayita has fed me many meals when I was writing my thesis, and this is yet another meal that she has fed me today! For her chholar dal recipe, see this post.

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Shhh...the bhu-bhu is napping...

Have a great week ahead, everyone!

What's Cooking?

What Bengali dish is being made (rather inexpertly) in the picture below?

Care to guess??

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cozy Kichuri Comfort

Sandeepa is hosting the Regional Cuisines of India event this month, and what theme could a self-proclaimed Bong Mom choose other than Bengali cuisine?

I have never visited Bengal, and know very little about Bengali cuisine, having lived all my life in the diametrically opposite corner of the subcontinent, but I do have two very dear friends who are Bengali. I turned to each of them and demanded sweetly asked for a home-style Bengali recipe to share on One Hot Stove. Here is the first of the two recipes.

This one comes from my darling friend Sutapa, who has been a close pal and confidante, acting as my multipurpose unpaid therapist for nearly a decade. She shared a recipe for Kichuri, the typical Bengali way of making khichdi- that medley of rice, lentils and vegetables that is made in its various glorious avatars in all corners of India.

Sutapa says, "Typically, this khichuri is eaten with eggplant slices fried in besan batter (which has a sprinkling of kalonji and red chilli powder) or fried fish (ilish) on rainy days. Also this is literally food for the gods since it is offered as "bhog" during the Pujas. Paired with tomato chutney and chaler payesh (good old kheer) for dessert, kichuri-beguni is a complete lunch on navami". Navami is a Hindu festival day.

Sutapa's Kichuri

(serves 6-8
1 C Basmati rice
¾ C Yellow Moong Dal
3 C mixed vegetables (Sutapa suggests using cauliflower, green beans, carrot, peas and potato; I used cauliflower florets, carrot, lima beans and potato)
½ t Turmeric powder

1 T oil
4 bay leaves (tejpatta)
4 dried chillies
2 t cumin seeds
1 inch piece of ginger, grated to a pulp
1 t cumin powder
salt to taste

1 t ghee
1 t sugar

1. Soak the rice in some water.
2. Roast the moong dal until golden and then soak in some water separately.
3. Heat a little oil in a pan and lightly fry the vegetables, with a sprinkling of turmeric, until they pick up a little color and are about half-cooked (they will finish cooking later). Set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T of oil in a large pot. Temper it with bay leaves, red chillis, cumin seeds and ginger and stir around for a few seconds.
5. Add cumin powder and salt and stir for a few more seconds.
6. Add the (drained) moong dal and stir for a minute.
7. Add 4 cups of water, cover and let it come to a simmer.
8. Add the par-cooked vegetables and (drained) rice, stir and cook, covered, until the water is absorbed and the rice is just tender.
9. Stir in the ghee and sugar gently. Do not overmix. Serve hot!

Vegan version: simply skip the ghee, or add a dollop of vegan margarine instead.

I served piping hot kichuri with some shallow-fried eggplant slices. One spoonful of this kichuri, and I knew I was eating something very special. The kind of food that nourishes body and soul. The kichuri is redolent with the flavors of cumin and ginger- spices that are warm and soothing. The very same qualities that I love and admire most in Sutapa. The only thing that would have made this meal perfect was if she was sitting at the table sharing the kichuri with me!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More Dosa Love

Srivalli's Dosa Mela ("dosa" is a family of Southern Indian crepes/pancakes and "mela" is a gathering or fair) has me all excited. I have two recipes to take along to the dosa mela today: my version of the classic Mysore Masala dosa and then, specially for certain people who can't get dosa batter to ferment, a simple goduma dosa, that needs no soaking, grinding, fermenting or any other form of molly-coddling whatsoever.

Eating out at a dosa restaurant is always a lot of fun. Generally, the menu is long but predictable and having a working knowledge of dosa vocabulary goes a long way in making informed decisions about what dosa to choose from the menu!

What to expect when you are expecting dosa to be served :D
Dosa: An airy pancake/crepe made with fermented rice-lentil batter
Rava Dosa: Instead of the regular dosa batter, this dosa is made with a semolina (rava) batter; it is a dosa that looks lacier and has a different taste
Masala: Normal usage: spice; in the dosa context, this is a spicy, turmeric-tinged potato filling
Sada: This refers to "plain", sans potato filling
Mysore: This is a beautiful city in Southern India. In the dosa context, it means that the dosa will be smeared with a spicy chutney (either a paste or a powder)
Paper: An extra-crispy dosa that is as thin as paper
Ghee: Indian clarified butter will be used in copious amounts in the making of this dosa

So when you read "Sada Rava Dosa" or "Paper Masala Dosa" or "Ghee Mysore Dosa" on the menu, you know exactly what they are referring to. South Indian restaurants specializing in dosas are becoming more popular in the US, thank goodness. In NYC, I highly recommend the gunpowder masala dosa at Chennai Garden (they call it gunpowder for a reason, trust me). In St. Louis, I am told that a restaurant called Priyaa serves dosas, but I have yet to eat there. Of course, if you live in St. Louis, you can be nice to me and I'll be happy to invite you home for dosas ;)

The Mysore Masala Dosa is not difficult to make but I will say that it a multi-component dish: you need to make coconut chutney and sambar (who ever heard of a proper dosa meal without those fixings?) and for the dosa, you need some potato masala (my recipe for the potato masala is exactly like Sailu's) and chutney. The chutney that I am accustomed to seeing in Mysore dosas is the powdered kind (podi). This is not difficult to make at home, but I chose the lazy way out and used store-bought MTR chutney powder. The recipe for the dosa batter comes from the booklet 100 Tiffin Varieties by S. Mallika Badrinath. This tiny and inexpensive booklet is full of good ideas and recipes (well, a hundred of them, as advertised). Apart from a bunch of dosa recipes, she has 2 "Dosa Bonanza" tables (one for the soaking/grinding variety and one for the ready-mix variety) which cover about 20-some dosas in the space of 3-4 pages by cleverly putting columns in a spreadsheet: name of dosa, ingredients, seasonings, method of cooking, yield etc. Very efficient!

Mysore Masala Dosa


(From Mallika Badrinath's 100 Tiffin Varieties; serves 2-3)
Soak together for 5-6 hours:
½ C Brown rice
½ C Sona masuri rice (or other white rice)
1 heaped T urad dal
1 heaped T toor dal

¼ C poha (flattened rice flakes)
1 t salt (or to taste)

½ t sugar
1 ½ T rava (semolina)

1. An hour before grinding, soak the poha. Then, drain the soaked poha and add it to the soaked ingredients. Grind everything together into a smooth batter.
2. Add salt and ferment in a warm spot for 12-16 hours or until utterly bubbly.
3. An hour before making dosas, stir in the sugar and rava into the batter. The batter should be easy to pour- add some water if it is too thick.

Make thin dosas, using the back of the ladle to spread the dosa out on the skillet. These thin dosas only need to be cooked on one side. When the top of the dosa is dry, sprinkle some (or a lot!) of the chutney powder and a little bit of the potato stuffing. Fold, serve, eat...right away.

I think the little bit of rava makes this dosa extra crispy and delicious. This was such a wonderful meal!

For a gorgeous version of Mysore Masala dosa, check this recipe from Ruchii. What's more, she is from Mysore!

In case you are still hungry, here is the second dosa. You mix two flours, pour in water to make a batter and make dosas. Easy breezy but delicious. The concept of using atta (fine whole wheat flour) for dosa is completely new to me. I followed Krithika's recipe for Goduma dosa, and halved it to get just enough dosas for two, and one little dosa just for Dale (he loves dosa like you would not believe; sits and begs by the stove until I feed him some). I did not bother to let the batter rest, and made sure that it was a very thin batter. These dosas are unlike any I have made before, the batter pours on the skillet and turns into this lacy pattern as it dances over the hot surface.

I served these crispy dosas with Indosungod's Tomato Carrot Chutney- a clever recipe that uses carrot instead of coconut.

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In the past couple of weeks, I have been trooping all over town meeting food bloggers here in St. Louis. First it was a St. Louis Food Bloggers potluck, hosted by Stef. Just as expected, it was a wonderful event, with good company and great food. Among other goodies, I tasted these lavender-pear cupcakes, gawked at IronStef's creations and could not get enough of this gorgeous orzo with roasted vegetables.

My own contributions to the potluck: Ragda-Patties with the works, and Carrot Halwa (although those posts are old ones, and the recipes I now use have been tweaked a bit).
I was in a silly mood, and shaped the patties as hearts. It turned out not to be such a bad idea after all; the heart-shaped patties have better stacking properties and I could fit more patties per square inch on the baking dish!

It turns out that Stef's husband, Jonathan, is a professional photographer. Here is a gorgeous photo he took of my date-tamarind chutney being poured onto a patty:

Then, yesterday, I got a chance to have coffee with Seema, just in the nick of time as she relocates to India in a few days. It was wonderful to sit and talk with her and get to meet her family, including an adorable toddler. Here's wishing Seema good times in her new home and plenty of good eats in her new kitchen in India.

Meeting up with food bloggers sometimes results in funny conversations in real life.

When I told my friend M about the bloggers potluck...
M: A Food Bloggers' potluck?? Can regular people go?
Me: No, you have to be a food blogger or be married to one!
M: Oh :( loose associations with food bloggers don't count, eh?

And when my friend J (who has no idea about this blog) asked about my weekend plans...
Me: I'm going to have coffee with a friend...she is relocating to India and I want to meet up with her.
J: How do you know her?
Me: Umm...I met her online...

Have a great week, everyone!