Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Scientific Pasta

My Mom made this quick and tasty pasta quite often in India. At the time, the only pasta shapes available in India were spaghetti and macaroni so it would be either of those two, with good ol' processed Amul cheese. It was mmm...mmm...good.

I was in the supermarket a few days ago and started laughing when I found a Barilla pasta shape called Pipette. Pipette means "little pipe" but of course that's not why I laughed. It is because I work in a research lab and we use instruments called pipettes day in and day out to transfer liquids around. Our pipettes look nothing like the little pasta though!

I thought it would be fun to try this scientific-sounding pasta tonight, when I need dinner ready in a hurry. The recipe calls for a basic bechamel sauce to be made separately and added to sauteed peppers but I am too lazy to wash too many pots and adapted the sauce recipe for a single pan.

  • First, a pot of water was put to boil for the pasta, salted and the pipette pasta was boiled till just tender. 
  • Meanwhile as the pasta was cooking, I made the sauce by melting 2 tbsp butter in a pan and sauteeing a diced green pepper in it. 
  • Then I added 1 heaped tbsp white flour and stirred it around till it was aromatic. 
  • I added a cup of milk, dash of salt and pepper, dash of red pepper flakes, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese and stirred everything into a nice smooth sauce. 
  • I finished the sauce with a cup of tomato puree and 1 tbsp cream
  • Finally I stirred the drained cooked pasta into the sauce and topped with more cheese and pepper.

The hollow pipettes catch the creamy sauce perfectly. It is a mild and comforting pasta that is ready in a jiffy. What more can one ask for on a Tuesday night ?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"Chaat" and Chat

I have been enjoying this warm sunny Saturday...and I just finished a wonderful lunch with my BFF. She comes into the city every Saturday to train for a marathon, and after several weeks of not being able to meet up, we finally had a chat-fest over lunch.

I wanted to make a cool summer appetizer and settled on one of my favorite chaats or Indian street foods- Dahi Vada or lentil balls in yogurt.

Dahi Vada
(makes about 20 balls and serves 3)

For the Vadas:

  • Soak 1 cup urad dal in warm water for 4-8 hours. Drain and process the dal in a food processor or blender to make a thick smooth batter. 
  • Add 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 finely chopped chillies to the batter and mix. 
  • Drop teaspoonfuls of batter into hot oil and deep fry to make golden-brown vadas.
  • After frying, drop the vadas gently into a bowl of warm water.
  • After soaking for a few minutes, remove each vada, press it between your palms to squeeze out excess water and then refrigerate them to chill.

For the Yogurt Sauce, whip together:

  • 2-3 cups yogurt
  • milk if needed to thin the yogurt
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cumin-coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp minced cilantro
  • dash of red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp chaat masala

To serve: Simply place the vadas in a bowl and pour yogurt sauce on top. Add a spoonful of sweet chutney (such as tamarind or date chutney) and enjoy a tangy chaat.

In many ways it is a perfect appetizer- it can be made in advance, chilled and needs no re-heating. It is not much to look at, but it tastes great.


Monday, July 04, 2005

"Fast" Food My Way: Sago Khichdi

Almost every culture has some days when a "fast" is observed...a days when the intake of regular food and drink is restricted, a day of religious observence and prayer. When I was growing up, there were several days of the year which were thus observed. Luckily for us, the rules were rather relaxed: although a great many everyday foods like rice, onion, turmeric were forbidden, there was an equal number of foods that were "allowed" and they made for many delicious dishes indeed. We kids certainly ended up eating twice as much on "fast" days ;)
Sago (called sabudana in the local language), or the pearls of the sago palm, is one food that is eaten on these fast days. I'm not religious at all but I love eating preparations of sago and often make sago khichdi for breakfast any old day of the year. This is what the pearly white sago looks like:
Looks pretty innocent, but its very easy to mess up sago preparations! All recipes call for soaking the sago to rehydrate it and if this is not done right, you end up with a gummy disaster. In addition, the sago is tasteless almost and needs careful seasoning. Making sago khichdi is an art and I would love to share a couple of tips I have learnt.
*Soak 1 cup of sago by placing it in a bowl, then rinsing once with water, then adding enough water to just cover the sago in the bowl. Cover and leave overnight. This results in perfectly fluffed sago. I was visiting my friend C's lovely lovely place in Goa last December when her mom visited and shared this tip with me.
**Season the fluffed sago by adding 3/4 cup coarsely powdered roasted peanuts, salt to taste and 2 tbsp sugar. I know thats a lot of sugar but its a trick taught to me by a lovely lady known as "tai"...she made a mean sago khichi and shared this tip of bringing out the flavor by adding lots of sugar. Tai passed on last month but her culinary legacy will live on and on.
*** Saute a tsp of cumin seeds in a pan containing {1 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp ghee...or just 2 tbsp oil}. Add 3-4 slit green chillies and one diced potato. Cover and cook till potatoes are tender. Then add the seasoned sago and saute for 5-7 minutes, cover and cook for another couple of minutes and taste for seasoning. Finally, garnish with minced cilantro and sprintz on some lemon juice and you are done! This is fast food in more ways than one!