Tuesday, February 27, 2007

WHB: Ginger-Pear-Saffron Cake

One of the most popular (and long-running) events in the food blog world is Weekend Herb Blogging started by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. I always learn about new and interesting vegetables, herbs and spices through this event, but don't get around to participating much. Now, I am going to use WHB as a motivation to write about some new foods as they find their way into my kitchen.

My obsession with wanting to make this particular dessert started the minute I glanced at this picture and recipe in the November 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I just *dearly* wanted to make this beauty of a cake: studded with pears (V's favorite fruit) and the color of sunshine because of the saffron. I also imagined that the pairing of pear with ginger would be spicy and delicious. Last weekend, I was assigned to bring dessert to a large potluck-style party. This was just the perfect opportunity to try a new recipe on some unsuspecting guinea pigs!

The recipe called for a few ingredients that I never keep on hand: candied ginger, ground ginger and buttermilk. Thus was the candied ginger introduced into my kitchen for the first time. I bought it from Trader Joe's and the ingredient list was gratifyingly short: just ginger and sugar.
Candied ginger is a simple form of preserved ginger where the ginger is boiled in sugar syrup and dried. You can certainly make your own using a recipe like the one on this page. Generally, after soaking, the candied ginger is rolled in more sugar, resulting in crystallized candied ginger but the one from TJ's is uncrystallized and smooth. I prefer not having that extra sugar, actually.
What can you use candied ginger for? A combination of candied ginger and ground dried ginger gives a great spicy kick to any ginger-flavored sweet food like ginger cakes, gingerbread, ginger shortbread or ginger pancakes. Or this decadent chocolate-ginger tartlet. You can just pop it into your mouth for a sweet gingery treat.

Making the Saffron-Scented Pear Upside-Down Cake...see the recipe here.
1. I pulsed together saffron and sugar to make, well, saffron sugar. It smells so good! The saffron sugar was creamed with butter and spread on the bottom of an oiled pan. I needed to make two cakes to feed the crowd, so I doubled the recipe.
2. Layering the pear slices: now this was the tricky part. The recipe called for Comice pears, but I was only able to find red Anjou pear. Martha says to peel and core the pears, then thinly slice them (by hand, or using a mandoline). Well, Martha must have a much better knife than I do, as well as vastly superior knife skills, because the pears I had were too unripe to be cut into silky, thin slices. I ended up with something far uglier...this was for cake A. For cake B, I decided not to peel the pears at all, just slice them using the mandoline. Much better! The slices were layered on to the saffron-butter mixture.
3. Next: the batter. This contained buttermilk, eggs and vegetable oil but no butter, and was liberally sprinkled with minced candied ginger and ground ginger. The batter was poured into the pans, and into the oven they went.

As I started cleaning the kitchen after popping the pans into the oven, I clapped my hands to my forehead: I had forgotten to add vanilla extract! The next 40 minutes were spent trying to come up with a way to remedy this. A google search of "forgot vanilla cake trouble-shooting" and other such incoherent phrases yielded no useful information. As the cake baked, the lack of the warm vanilla scent kept reminding me of my foolish omission. I decided to taste the cake, and if it tasted eggy, or if I really missed the vanilla, I would make some honey-vanilla whipped cream to serve with it.

This is what the cakes looked like: Cake A, the ugly one:

Cake B, slightly prettier:

The verdict: I tasted a generous slice from cake A ( resulting in the pac-man-like avatar seen here) and was relieved to find that with the ginger and saffron, I barely missed the vanilla. The cake was quite delicious with a surprisingly prominent saffron taste. The pear layer was too skimpy; next time I will layer the pears on some more, and might use riper pears for a more fruity taste. I think this cake would be best served as a snack, at brunch or tea-time. It does not work so well as an after-dinner dessert by itself, but may work with some caramel sauce or a fruit compote.

And now I have all this buttermilk to use up. What is your favorite recipe using buttermilk? Has anyone tried using store-bought cultured buttermilk in Indian recipes for "kadhi" style recipes? Thanks for your ideas!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

E is for Egg-Fried Rice

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

The "E" of Indian Vegetables

The letter E inspired 11 exotic Indian flavors!

To start off, one E vegetable and seven preparations, all showcasing the beloved eggplant, that purple beauty of a vegetable, cooked and relished in a hundred different ways in India.

First up, eggplant chutney, a spicy combination of eggplant, tomato and onion to be devoured with idli and dosa, shared by Priya of Aahaar. See the recipe here.

Next, eggplants-stuffed, a cherished family recipe for baby eggplants stuffed with nutty and mild daliya powder, contributed by Suma of Veggie Platter. See the recipe here.

Then, two eggplant recipes by Pinki of Come Cook With Me, the traditional Bengali begun bhaja or eggplant fritters fried to a crisp, and a lovely stuffed eggplant dish.

Next comes a mouth-watering eggplant in coconut gravy, a curry made with the sweet long Japanese eggplants by a *huge* eggplant fan (see her post for proof), Pavani of Cook's Hideout. See the recipe here.

Bilbo from Smorgasbord comes up with a quick and easy guide to eggplant stuffed to the gills! Click here for the recipe.

Finally, the ever-creative Linda of Out Of The Garden sings well-deserved praises of the "incredible edible eggplant", along with links to her favorite eggplant recipes, and creates a one-of-a-kind recipe for eggplant with jackfruit seed gravy! It looks amazing, and you can find the recipe here.

E also represents a traditional Kerala curry, erissheri, also spelled as erissery! We are lucky enough to have two versions of this regional festival dish in the round-up.

First up, Bee of Jugalbandi relates an engaging account of the beautiful harvest festival of Onam and presents a delectable family recipe for erissheri: a combination of golden pumpkin, coconut and spices. See the post here.

Next, Asha of Aroma Hope made an unusual and delicious version of erissery using cauliflower instead of the more traditional root vegetables and gourds. See this version here.

Finally, as every kindergartener knows, E stands for egg! While not a vegetable, the "incredible edible" egg is used in combination with vegetables in many Indian dishes.

First up, spicy egg pakodas, a hearty snack by Swapna of Swad. See the recipe here.

And finally, I combined eggs with loads of vegetables and some left-over rice to make egg-fried rice.

E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables

A typical vegetarian meal in an Indian home is likely to contain three components: a carbohydrate (rice or rotis or both), a protein (usually in the form of dal) and a tasty vegetable dish. Indian cuisines have come up with many innovative ways to mix and match these components into an array of dishes; for instance...
rice + vegetable = pulao
rice + dal + (vegetable) = khichdi
roti + vegetable = stuffed paratha
dal + vegetable = sambar...
to name just a few combinations that are possible!

My friend Laureen has a sign on her desk that says...

"Quick. Good. Cheap. Choose Two"

How very true for most of life's situations! But rice-and-vegetables dishes such as pulaos and khichdis and fried rice are quick and cheap and very very good. In my eyes (those of a home cook who is always looking for quick, economical and nutritious dishes), the combination of rice and vegetables is a life-saver on busy weeknights.

For the vegetable-and-rice segment, I chose an unlikely candidate, egg-fried rice, from the hundreds of dishes possible, for three reasons:
1. I love eggs, and the combination of rice and eggs is something I have enjoyed ever since I was a kid.
2. I wanted to give a nod to Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine at some point in this series. It is such a beloved cuisine in India now (even in really tiny towns!) and it would be a shame not to acknowledge that.
3. This is a great dish to use up leftover rice and the odds and ends from the vegetable crisper for an economical meal.

Egg Fried Rice

(serves 3-4)
Main ingredients:
3 cups cooked rice (from 1 cup raw rice)
3 eggs
3 cups mixed vegetables, sliced fine (I used snow peas, mushrooms and carrots, but the other veggies that work well in this dish are peppers, cabbage, bean sprouts, peas etc.)
3-4 scallions, green and white parts sliced separately
1 tsp ginger-garlic sauce
Low-sodium soy sauce
Hot sauce (I use sriracha red chili-vinegar sauce)
Toasted sesame oil
1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir in the white parts of scallions and ginger-garlic paste until fragrant.
2. Add the mixed vegetables and stir-fry for a few minutes.
3. Add soy sauce, sriracha sauce and fresh ground pepper (all to taste). The soy sauce is salty enough that extra salt is not generally required.
4. Stir in the rice and fry until steaming hot.
5. Add a few drops of toasted sesame oil and the green parts of scallions.
6. Whisk the eggs with some salt and pepper. Make omelets with the egg and cut them into thin strips. Mix half the strips into the rice and use the other half as garnish. Serve the rice hot!

Variations on a theme
1. Use noodles or brown rice instead of the white rice.
2. For a vegan version, simply leave out the egg or use some mock-chicken strips instead for a protein boost.

Delicious vegetable-rice dishes from fellow bloggers:
Three combinations of pulaos (rice and veggies)...
Peas Pulao from Hooked on Heat,
Vaangi Bhaat or eggplant rice from Masala Magic,
Carrot Rice from Food-In The Main
Two one-dish-meal khichdis (rice and dal and veggies)...
Bisi Bele Huli Anna from Luv Bites
Vegetable Pongal from Mahanandi

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: The "Dum" Method of Cooking

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Dale at play
When we first got Dale home years ago, we bought the usual assortment of toys to keep him entertained. He ignored them all. We were baffled, until someone reassured us that every dog has at least one kind of toy that they absolutely love, it could be tennis balls, squeaky toys, whatever. It is just a question of finding out what your dog likes. Well, after dropping off wads of cash at pet stores and coming up with toy after toy that was sniffed and summarily rejected, we found *it*. The magical toy that Dale will play with is a rope!


Go see all the pups at play over at Sweetnicks!

And some weekend jabber...

Move over "fast food", slow food is here! I was delighted to find that Slow Food St. Louis has started their own blog. It will be a great resource to learn about interesting foodie events that are going on around here. If I can find some team-mates, I might even participate in their food trivia quiz next month.

I have tried a couple of recipes from blogs with great success recently. One of our new favorites is Spaghetti with arugula and red chili pepper from Karen of Family Style food. Such a delicious and comforting pasta recipe! I loved the slightly bitter taste of arugula paired with the hearty bite of whole wheat pasta.

I also made Chocolate Pudding from Alanna of Kitchen parade/ Veggie venture. Using four pantry staples- cocoa powder, cornstarch, sugar and milk- and about five minutes of your time, you are rewarded with a delicious, comforting pudding! I jazzed it up a bit by layering it with some honey-whipped cream and a berry compote (frozen mixed berries sprinkled with a tablespoon of water and some sugar and boiled for a few minutes until they fall apart into this dark lovely syrup). Our friends enjoyed it very much.

I'm enjoying the participation of fellow bloggers in the A-Z of Indian vegetables. If you want to know what the next letter is and what the deadline is for the letter, take a look at the "Upcoming events" section in the right side-bar.

Finally, a big hug and hearty congratulations to Indira! Her blog, Mahanandi, was voted the "Best Indian Food Blog" for 2006. What an awesome achievement!

We meet again for the round-up and post of the E of Indian vegetables, probably late Sunday night or early Monday morning as I will be out all day Sunday. See you then!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recipe request: Vaalache Bhirde

Suma B., a reader, mailed me a few weeks ago. She had tasted a typical Marathi dish somewhere and loved it and was looking for a recipe for it. Well, it turns out that I love this dish too, so I'm only too happy to share the recipe here. What is the dish? A creamy coconut-based curry made with sprouts of a dal called either vaal or dalimbay, and the preparation is called a bhirde making it either vaalache bhirde or dalimbyache bhirde (quite a mouthful if you don't speak Marathi)!

This curry has a special place in my heart because I associate it with my aji (grandma) in Bombay who makes a delicious vaalache bhirde. It is a truly exceptional dish because it captures five flavors of food in one single spoonful: the spicy heat from chillies, sweetness from jaggery, a tangy note from tamarind, a hint of bitterness that is natural to the vaal; all bound together with a touch of salt. Add to that the creamy deliciousness of coconut and you have yourself a winner!

To make the bhirde, you have to start a couple of days ahead to allow time for spouting. I had talked about the vaal-sprouting process in this post, but will repeat some of it here:
(a) Take dried vaal. These beans are often sold in Indian and international stores under the name "Surti Val" (I spell it "vaal" because I think that is a more accurate transliteration of the word).
(b) Soak vaal in plenty of warm water overnight (8-12 hours): they will swell up.
(c) Drain and place in a colander, covered with a damp cheesecloth. In 36-48 hours, the vaal will sprout.
(d) Peel the sprouts by placing them in warm water; the peel should pop right off. Discard any beans that are discolored.

Peeling the sprouts is a necessary step and can be a little labor-intensive. I personally don't mind doing this task when I am relaxing on the couch watching TV or chatting with friends. Putting the curry together is a snap once the sprouts are peeled and the result is worth all the time spent!

Vaalache Bhirde

1. Take 1 and and half cups of vaal beans and soak, sprout and peel them as above. Set aside.
2. Soak 1 heaping tsp tamarind in 1/4 cup hot water to extract the juice (if you use tamarind paste, it does not need to be soaked).
2. Make a coconut paste as follows: In 1 tbsp oil, fry 1 large onion cut in large chunks until slightly browned. Add 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and 1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut and 1-3 (more or less, depending of hotness desired) fresh or frozen green or red chilies. Stir around until coconut is fragrant, then blend to a fine paste using a little water as required.
3. In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, 5-6 curry leaves. Add 1 small onion, minced finely and fry it for a few seconds. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and salt to taste.
4. Add the peeled sprouts and stir well. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are just tender.
5. Add the coconut paste, tamarind extract and 1 heaping tsp of jaggery. Add some water if the curry looks too thick. Simmer the curry for 10 minutes. Taste for the balance of flavors and add a little more tamarind/jaggery/salt if required.
6. Garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with steamed rice or rotis.

This curry really brings back the taste of home! To make a delicious pilaf with the same vaal beans, try making this dalimbay bhaat.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

D is for Dum ki Arbi

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

The "D" of Indian Vegetables

The letter D inspired nine delectable Indian flavors!

To start off, three D vegetables and four preparations, all vegetables that are relatively unfamiliar to me and that I have never cooked with (what a learning experience this is turning out to be for me).

First up, daikon, the beautiful peppery vegetable that is simply known as radish in India but as daikon in the US and other countries, that was made into a delicious Daikon-Coconut Chutney by Suma of Veggie Platter.

Next up, not the drumsticks that are popular additions to sambar, but the drumstick leaves that are stirred into a nutritious and unusual Drumstick leaves pulao by Inbavalli of Here Now.

The drumsticks themselves were not forgotten, however, and were paired with some tangy mango in a lovely Konkani Drumstick dal by Ashwini of Food for Thought.

Then there is the unusual cucumber called the dosakaya, made into a very creative, sweet-and-aromatic Dosakaya Breakfast Bread by Linda of Out Of The Garden.

Next come two D ingredients that are staples in Indian cooking.

One is dal, the nutritious lentils and pulses that form the basis of Indian vegetarian cooking, made into an tasty Dal Moghlai by Pavani of Cook's Hideout who adds vegetables to make the dal a two-in-one deal.

The other ingredient is dahi or yogurt, cooked into a tangy sauce with potatoes in the Gujarati dish Dahi Batate Nu Shak by Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

Next, there are two D styles of cooking.
One is the handi (pot) style of cooking, used in a royal medley of mixed vegetables called Diwani Handi Sabzi by Latha of Masala Magic.

The other is the dum (steam) method of cooking in my entry below.

Finally, when the kitchen is running short of all vegetables except the pantry staples- onion and tomato- you can still whip up the tasty and comforting Dadpe Pohe by Manasi of A Cook At Heart, a favorite Marathi snack!

Many thanks to all the participants and hats off to their creativity!

D is for Dum ki Arbi: The "Dum" technique of cooking

Dum, dum pukht to be precise, is a slow, time-honored method of cooking that originated in Moghal cuisine. Dum (pronounce the "d' as in the "th" of "them" and not as in the "d" of "dull") actually means steam, and the basis of dum cooking is to seal the pot completely with some dough and let the contents simmer to perfection, infusing the dish with a heady aroma rather than allowing the flavors to escape. I wanted to name this post: "Dum is the new smart" but thought that people were sure to groan and throw their saucepans at me! :) Read more about dum cooking in this article.
In any case, when I started this series, I had two intentions. One was to share my favorite ways of cooking up vegetables with Indian flavors, and the other was to explore ways of cooking vegetables that were unfamiliar to me. Well, this letter presented itself with two opportunities: to try a style of cooking that is new to me (dum) and to cook a vegetable that I have never cooked with before, and only eaten a few times (arbi).
Arbi, also known by various aliases as arvi and taro and colacassia, is a root vegetable. In fact, it is the root of the plant whose giant leaves are used to make those delicious savory rolls called patra or alu wadi. Read more about this delicious but underrated vegetable here.
So off I went, the intrepid cook :) in search of some arbi. I found the smaller variety of arbi in the local international market. Frankly, the knobby, hairy roots terrified me!
Back home, preparing them was easier than I expected. A word of caution: the juices released when arbi is peeled can be slightly irritating to the skin, so one might want to wear food-prep gloves or coat the hands with some oil at the very least. First, I yanked the hairs off the arbi (surreal, I can tell you) and then used a peeler to peel off the tough skin. Then the vegetable is quite easy to dice up.
I had chosen a rich-sounding recipe from the popular Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor. An easy-going guy with a charming personality, he gets a lot of credit for bringing restaurant-style cooking to Indian homes through his books and TV shows. This recipe, in typical restaurant style, I might add, calls for deep-frying the arbi and then going through several complicated steps to pull the dish together. I took ruthless short-cuts and ended up with good results anyway. For starters, I roasted the arbi instead of deep-frying it. I tasted a piece after roasting it, and loved the buttery taste. Interestingly, arbi is perfect for this sort of slow-simmered dish, because after roasting, the pieces did not fall apart in the curry at all, they stayed intact and yet absorbed all the flavors.

Dum ki Arbi

(heavily adapted from a recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor, serves 3-4)
1. Roasting the arbi: Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the arbi, wash it and cut it into bite-size pieces so you have 2-3 cups arbi in all. Toss it with a tbsp of oil and some salt and pour it on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray. Roast the arbi until it is golden-brown and tender. This took me 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the arbi from the oven and set aside.
2. Make the yogurt mixture: In a bowl, combine 1 cup yogurt, 1 tsp red chili powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder and 1 tsp coriander powder.
3. Make the masala paste: Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Fry 2 onions, roughly chopped, until they start browning. Add 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste, 2 heaping tbsp white poppy seeds, and fry for a couple of minutes more. Blend this mixture to a fine paste and set aside.
4. In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup of atta (whole wheat flour) with some water to make a firm dough (this is for sealing the pan) and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp oil in the saucepan (it is convenient to use the same one that the onion was fried in). Fry the masala paste for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the fried arbi, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg powder, 1 tsp garam masala, 1/2 tsp cardamom powder and salt to taste.
5. Stir in the yogurt mixture and mix well. Add a cup or so of water if the curry appears too thick.
6. Now put a lid on the saucepan. Roll the prepared dough into a long "snake" and press it down firmly to seal the lid on the pan all around, like so:
7. Simmer the sealed pan on very low heat for 20 minutes. Break the seal only when you are ready to eat.
8. Garnish with some chopped cilantro and a dollop of cream, if desired.

The verdict:
Delicious, delicious! I feel good about trying a new vegetable, and we really enjoyed eating it in this rich, royal dish. The "dum" method is a treat because of the heavenly aroma when the seal is broken. When I broke the seal, V was standing behind me, and we both gasped involuntarily at the heady scent that wafted up!
Next time, I will increase the amount of water that I add before sealing the pot, to give the result more gravy...this time, the dish was fairly dry. The curry could also use some acidity, so I might add some tomato puree next time (and there will certainly be a next time).

How do you serve this dish?
I served it with some freshly steamed basmati rice and simple dal fry and the combination was very tasty. This curry would also go well with some rotis or naans (flatbreads) as part of a typical North Indian meal.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious dishes cooked using the "dum" technique:
Dum Aloo (potato) from Food For Thought ,
Another version of Dum Aloo from Recipe Junction,
Dum Bhindi (okra) from A Recipe A Day, and
Vegetable Dum Biryani from Healthy Home Cooking.

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Vegetable Biryani for a Crowd

B-I-R-Y-A-N-I. The very word conjures up images of a dish that is rich and exotic, redolent with spices and packed with "good eats". And so it is, a layered rice dish of Persian descent, introduced to India via Mughal cuisine. When I was growing up, Chicken Biryani was my Mom's specialty, a labor of love that took her all of Sunday morning to prepare and resulted in a delicious and heavy Sunday lunch to be followed by a sumptuous weekly siesta. This is her style of making biryani, Vegetable Biryani this time around. This is probably the most labor-intensive dish in my entire repertoire for sheer hands-on cooking time, and I allocate about 2 hours of non-stop work to its preparation. It just seems silly to make vegetable biryani for two, and I have adapted it to a larger scale that justifies the labor and feeds a crowd. If you are lucky, there will be leftovers, and biryani tastes even more delicious the next day!
I layer this biryani in a standard Pyrex 9x13 inch dish, which makes sense for many reasons. The Pyrex dish is sturdy and can go from refrigerator to oven to table, so I can make the biryani a few hours ahead of time, heat it until steaming hot, and serve right from it; and the size is generous enough to feed a crowd, say, at a potluck party. This recipe results in a mild biryani which hopefully will appeal to everyone regardless of their spice tolerance. Traditionally, biryani is layered in a metal pot and heated through until the rice at the bottom becomes crispy and delicious, but I am forgoing that for the convenience of using a glass dish. This might not be a dish for a beginner cook to make, but the truth is that it is far simpler than it looks if you follow the steps, so if you have a little experience with Indian cooking, give it a shot!

Here is the recipe, step-by-step...

Vegetable Biryani

1. Saffron-scented rice: Take 1/4 cup warm water or milk in a small bowl. Add 15-20 strands of saffron and leave it aside to soak. Take 2 cups of Basmati rice in a large pot. Rinse it three times to wash off the excess starch. Add 3 and a half cups of water and bring the rice to a boil, then simmer until rice is just tender. Turn the rice out into one or two large platters. Sprinkle with salt to taste, and mix in the saffron milk. Leave the rice to cool down, then cover and set aside.
2. Fried goodies: Peel one large or two medium potatoes, and cut into small cubes. Heat some oil in a non-stick skillet, and fry the potatoes until golden, then drain and set aside. To the same pan, add more oil if necessary, and then fry 3 onions, sliced thinly, until golden-brown. Then fry 1/4 cup each of halved cashew nuts and golden raisins. I prefer to shallow-fry these "goodies", but you can deep-fry them if you wish.
3. Vegetable Curry: I use my usual-suspects mixed veggies- cauliflower florets, peas, diced carrots and french beans. I like this combination for its easy availability and the pretty contrasting colors. Prepare about 4-5 cups of mixed vegetables of your choice and steam them until barely tender.
Then, make the masala paste by grinding together 2 onions, 2-3 green chilies, a few stalks of cilantro, 1/4 cup of mint and 2 tbsp poppy seeds. In a pan, fry the masala paste until fragrant, and then add 1/2 cup tomato puree, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tbsp of a nice aromatic garam masala. Add salt to taste. Stir in the steamed veggies and fry for a couple of minutes.
4. Cilantro: Mince 8-10 stalks of cilantro and set aside.
5. Layering the Biryani: Now for the really fun part! Take a 9x13 baking dish (or equivalent) and grease it with some ghee or butter or oil. Start with half the rice, followed by some fried onions, nuts, raisins and potatoes, and half the cilantro, like so:
Then the whole of the vegetable curry, spread out as evenly as possible, like so:
followed by the rest of the rice, fried goodies and cilantro. Drizzle with some ghee if desired and you are done...Ta Da!
6. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then bake at about 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, until steaming hot, or store in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.
7. Biryani can be served by itself, or with a simple raita or some yogurt on the side.
See you tomorrow, with the D of Indian Vegetables!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A to Z of Indian Vegetables: An Invitation

Inviting all food bloggers to participate in the A to Z of Indian Vegetables on One Hot Stove: If you would like to play along with me, here are the details.
For every letter, make a dish with three criteria:
1. The dish should start with the particular letter.
2. The dish should have predominantly Indian flavors.
3. The dish should feature vegetable(s) in a prominent way!
Please note that old posts from a blog archive are not acceptable.
Mail me the permalink (URL) of your entry according to the following deadlines for inclusion in that letter. My E-mail ID can be found in the right side-bar. Get creative and enjoy! Thanks, Lakshmi, for suggesting that I invite participation in this series.

The schedule:
R: May 26
S: June 2
T: June 9
U: June 16
V: June 23
W: June 30
X: July 7
Y: July 14
Z: July 21
My post for each letter will appear on the following day (Sunday).

Weekend Jabber, and a Meme

Dale is taking the day off...he reminded me that even busy pooches need their break from modeling!

Introducing a new feature on One Hot Stove: A free, easy-to-sign-up E-mail subscription. This is for anyone who would like to like new posts delivered to their inbox. This system only sends out mails once a day, so it may take up to a day to get a new post. Your e-mail address is always safe and secure, no danger of spammers here! So, sign up if you wish! On the right side-bar, just below my profile, you can type in your e-mail address and click on "subscribe me".

I tried two new recipes from the bloggers last week: One was Chili Paneer from Hooked on Heat. What an easy and delicious dish! In my home, we get frequent cravings for "Indian-Chinese" and this was the perfect side-dish to a vegetable-noodle stir-fry. Next time, I will try it with tofu.
The other recipe was Carrot-Ginger Soup from What's For Lunch, Honey? It was the perfect way to use up a bunch of carrots left in the frig...warm, comforting and nourishing for a winter night. This recipe was part of JFI: Ginger. See the delicious round-up here, and many thanks to Rosie for hosting this JFI!

Karen of FamilyStyle Food tagged me for this meme:

Five Things Most People Don't Know About Me...
1. I love eating breakfast foods for dinner and leftover dinner for breakfast.
2. I love TV and hate movies. I watch one movie every year on average, but hundreds of hours of TV.
3. My all-time favorite sitcom is M*A*S*H.
4. Zoos depress me.
5. I wake up at 5:00 am every day.

Want to share 5 things most people don't know about you? Consider yourself tagged!

Friday, February 09, 2007

C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
Bazu, one of your guesses was correct: The C of Indian vegetables uses a beautiful orange-hued winter vegetable...the carrot! Desserts came early in this series, but of course we had to devote one post to the use of vegetables in Indian desserts. And carrots are the quintessential dessert vegetable, with their vibrant color and inherent sweetness. The two most popular veggie-based desserts in India are probably dudhi halwa and gajar (carrot) halwa. The latter wins hands down in my book, because carrots are inexpensive and ubiquitous, unlike the dudhi (bottle gourd), which is difficult to find here in the US.

If you are looking to be sneaky and smuggle in some vegetables into dessert, there are a number of recipes that lend themselves to easy modification. One is the aforementioned halwa, where grated veggies can be cooked in some milk and sugar and then mixed in with some khoya (milk that has been thickened almost to the point of becoming solid). The resulting halwa has the consistency of a thick pudding. Another dessert that is readily "veggie-fied" is kheer. Halwa needs khoya and kheer merely calls for milk or evaporated milk, making it the more low-maintainance choice. The links at the end showing recipes from other bloggers will give you an idea of how one can cleverly make an array of vegetable-servings-masquerading-as-desserts!

I have already made one version of carrot kheer last year. Since then, I have made it numerous times and it is a definite crowd-pleaser. For this series, I was looking for a variation, and came across the recipe for carrot-cashew payasam in one of my favorite cookbooks: Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan. Payasam is the Southern Indian counterpart of kheer. A combination of pureed carrots and raw cashew paste, it looked creamy and decadent and I just knew I had to make it for this series.

Carrot-Cashew Payasam

Adapted from Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan
(serves 4)
1. Soak 1/2 cup raw cashew nuts in 1 cup of warm milk for 20-30 minutes.
2. Grate 1/2 lb carrots, then saute them in 2 tbsp ghee for a few minutes until just-tender.
3. Bring 6 cups of milk to a boil, keep stirring and simmering until the milk reduces to half the original volume.
4. Meanwhile, drain milk from the soaked cashews (save the drained milk!). Place cashews and sauteed carrots in a food processor or blender and make a coarse paste, adding some of the drained milk as required for the grinding.
5. Add the cashew-carrot paste and 1/2 cup sugar to the milk. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
6. Stir in 1 heaping tsp powdered cardamom and stir well. Remove from heat.

The verdict:
I did enjoy this kheer a lot, but the rich taste of the cashews was a little lost in the preparation, I thought. I also don't love the pureed carrots, preferring to leave them in the grated form. In the end, I keep going back to my old version of the carrot kheer. This recipe is worth trying, though: both variations of carrot kheer have their own unique taste.

How do you serve this dish?
This kheer is very rich, and best enjoyed chilled, served in a small bowl (katori). It can also be served warm, as a side-dish to some hot, puffy puris (fried flatbreads). You can get creative and try it as a sauce for some vanilla ice cream, but I have not tried that yet! Warm carrot halwa and ice cream are a classic combination, often served at Indian wedding receptions.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious vegetable-based desserts. Here are some of my favorite finds:
Two classic Indian desserts...
Carrot Halwa from Kitchen Chick,
Beet Halwa from Green Jackfruit,
Two regional sweet potato desserts...
Ranga Alur Puli from Lima-Delhi,
Sweet Potato Kheer from Food For Thought,
And two very unusual veggie-based desserts...
Green pea and Chickpea Ladoo from Happy Burp and
Onion Kheer from My Dhaba

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sweets For My Sweet!

'Tis February, and love is in the air. Aptly, the theme for Meeta's Monthly Mingle is Sweet Love. Not a problem at all. Because my sweet, unlike me, does love his sweets quite ardently. A little light bulb went off in my head when I read the theme: I knew just the dessert I wanted to make. It is the sweet treat that V loves at any time of day or night, and something he prefers even to a chocolate dessert: Lemon-Poppy Seed Cake. For all the years that I have known him, V has been rather loyal about his brunch and snack comestibles: either a walnut-raisin cream cheese schmeared bagel or a lemon-poppy seed muffin.

For an equal number of years, I have been planning to make lemon-poppy seed cake and just never got around to it. In truth, it is one of the simplest cakes to make: light and citrusy, with only the addition of the crunchy black poppy seeds and a slight tang from the lemon. Now, armed with a new set of baking dishes, I was all ready to make it. A quick google search revealed this recipe on Epicurious, taken from the book The Cake Bible, and I did follow this recipe exactly.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

Recipe Source: This recipe on Epicurious.
The method was a little different from the cream-the-butter-and-sugar step that I have started dozens of cakes with. Here, the dry ingredients, cake flour, sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds, and lemon zest were mixed together. Then, softened butter and a milk-egg-vanilla extract mixture were added and mixed in to the dry ingredients. This was a breeze with my **new hand-held mixer**, an unexpected and very thoughtful gift from Alanna!
See anything funny in the picture?
The prepared batter was poured into a greased and floured loaf pan and baked at 350 degrees F. In 50 minutes, the cake was done (a little bit over-done actually). I then spread some lemon juice-sugar glaze on it and kept it overnight before slicing it.
The verdict: The cake itself was light and very tender, just delicious. The glaze, however, made the cake unevenly soggy instead of the moist result I was looking for. Plus, the glaze was too tart. Anyway, V loved the cake, and so did the colleagues that I compelled him to share it with. Meanwhile, I shall keep looking for a recipe that I like better. I remember seeing one in a Cook's Illustrated cookbook...I'm going to hunt for that one again.

Thanks, Meeta, for hosting this event...for finally inspiring me to make a sweet treat that has been years in the making!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

B is for Bharli Mirchi

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
After the quick and easy stir-fried aloo gobi, we are ready to take vegetables to a more festive level. Stuffed vegetables are beloved in many cuisines. From the Eastern European stuffed cabbage rolls to the classic appetizer of stuffed mushrooms, we do love hollowing out veggies and stuffing them with something delicious. The final dish is so much more than the sum of its parts.

In India, stuffed vegetables are a beautiful way to showcase an array of vegetables and prepare them for special occasions. There is something immensely satisfying about choosing the perfect vegetable, loving prepping each one by hand, filling it gently with some spicy goodness and cooking it to perfection. From the rich bharwa bhindi (stuffed okra) of North India to the nutty stuffed baby eggplants of many South Indian cuisines, there are dozens of recipes to choose from.

When I wondered what stuffed vegetable to make for this series, my thoughts jumped back to meals of my childhood, when I would be unfailingly delighted to find bharli mirchi being served for lunch. Bharli mirchi- literally translating as stuffed pepper in Marathi- is a dish of green peppers stuffed with a spicy potato mixture and fried to the point where their skin is charred and the whole pepper is luscious and juicy. Each bite is a delicious combination of succulent pepper and tasty mashed potato. It is truly a special dish for me, and this was my first time making it myself. I put together the recipe based on what I remembered about this dish from years ago, and at the first whiff of the heavenly aroma and the first bite, I was delighted at how much it tasted like the bharli mirchi of my memories!

Bharli Mirchi

1. Prepare 4 green peppers by washing them, then making a long slit length-wise and pulling out the stem and most of the seeds and membranes, like so:
If your peppers taper at the bottom, cut a thin slice off so the pepper can stand up.
2. Make the stuffing: Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan. Temper it with 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and a pinch of asafoetida. Add 1 medium minced onion and 2-3 minced cloves of garlic. Saute until the onion is just browning. Turn down the heat. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp red chili powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and salt to taste. Stir in 3 large boiled, mashed potatoes and mix well to incorporate the spices. Continue cooking until the potatoes are heated through completely. Turn off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice and 2 tbsp minced cilantro. The stuffing has to be very well-seasoned for the final dish to be tasty.
3. When the stuffing is cool enough to handle, divide it in four portions and stuff the peppers gently.
4. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a deep skillet. Place the peppers, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt and then proceed to fry them on medium-low heat, turning every few minutes so that the skin on all sides gets charred. As the peppers cook, they release juices that can sizzle and splatter in the pan, so keep the skillet covered except for turning the peppers every few minutes. Don't forget to place them on their top and bottom so those sides get cooked too. It took me about 30 minutes to cook the peppers completely.
5. There you have it: Marathi-style stuffed peppers. Serve warm or at room temperature. They might not be much to look at, but they taste divine, and this dish is a must-try!

Variations on a theme:
This dish would be lovely with different kinds of peppers, such as sweet Italian peppers or the long tapering banana peppers. It would be nice to serve a platter of assorted stuffed peppers.

How do you serve this dish?
I love bharli mirchi with rotis or parathas. It is wonderful rolled up in any flatbread, basically. Bharli marchi tastes good hot or at room temperature, making it an unusual and delicious picnic treat.

Here is a round-up show-casing some delicious Indian-style stuffed vegetables from fellow bloggers :

Green Peppers stuffed with Kidney Beans from Lima-Delhi,
Stuffed Tomato in Makhani Gravy from Past, Present and Me,
Stuffed Baby Eggplants from Mahanandi,
Stuffed Okra from Aayi's Recipes,
Stuffed Ridge Gourd Curry from Sailu's Food, and
Mixed Stuffed Veggies from Spice is Right.

Any ideas for the C of Indian vegetables? See you in a few!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Caught on camera!!
Dale is found on people-furniture...again! See that guilty look?
Go see all the puppies having their weekend fun over at Sweetnicks.

Also, today...

Happy Birthday, One Hot Stove!!

My wee blog turns TWO today. For the occasion, I tried, in my highly painstakingly and inexpert way, to give the blog a fresh coat of paint and a brand new banner. Many thanks to the unknown artist who knitted the beautiful Marathi thali, a perfect example of folk-art and creativity. If you would like to know the names and descriptions of the food on the thali, see the end of this post. Thanks to everyone who gave suggestions and advice, and more suggestions are always welcome. People are divided about the orange color of the banner background. I do love that shade of pumpkin, but 'tis true that a lighter color would bring out the color of the thali more. hmm...

You will notice that the drop-down recipe index in the side-bar is gone. In its place, I have made a new blog with links to all the recipes featured here: One Hot Stove Recipes. The Marathi recipes have a link of their own. I will add all the typical Marathi recipes there whether they were made in the A-Z series or not. It *is* the house specialty so it deserves a page of its own.

The blog birthday is also the time for me to thank everyone who makes food-blogging such a fun part of my life. First off, V, the un-fussiest (and most appreciative) diner on the planet and guinea pig par excellence! Family and friends who cheer me along (you know who you are). Fellow bloggers who inspire me and set standards that I can only aspire towards, and all the wonderful readers who spend precious minutes reading my words and leaving me feedback. It is incredible how in the short span of two years, food blogging has become, by far, the most fulfilling hobby of my life.

This is also the time for me to reflect on where I stand as a cook. In the last six years of cooking on an everyday basis, I sure have learnt a little bit, but have a very long way to go. This coming year, I will be working on some basic recipes that I have neglected so far: like how to make bread (Indian and otherwise) from scratch. Meanwhile, here are the top 5 things that I have learnt over the years that made the biggest difference to my ability and efficiency as a home cook. Surprisingly, I find that they have less to do with actual cooking methods and more to do with organization. I'll share my tips, and you share yours. Deal?

5 tiny steps that make a big difference in my kitchen:
1. Start on a clean slate: Nothing ruins the joy of cooking like a chaotic kitchen where you are scrambling to find anything and there is not a square inch of clean counter space. No matter how rushed I am, I take 5-10 minutes and completely clean the kitchen before I start cooking. That means doing the dishes, putting away stuff from the counters and wiping all surfaces down with a damp sponge. Then I start afresh, actually looking forward to cooking. It also helps to clean as you go along. Those few minutes while you are waiting for something to come to a boil are perfect for rinsing and putting away stuff, clearing vegetable peels, etc.
2. Wear a kitchen apron: I am dumbfounded at those apron-less chefs on Food Network...surely there was room in the production budget for an apron or two? Wearing an apron in the kitchen (a) saves your clothes from all kinds of food stains, (b) makes you feel more at ease to move around, knowing that clothes are safe and (c) puts you in Cooking Mode! I have to thank my mom for getting me into this habit very early. She also keeps me supplied with aprons, many of them beautifully hand-sewn!
3. Keep a running grocery list: Every time you use *any* ingredient, give a quick glance to how much is left, and jot it down if it is running out. It is so annoying to start making something and realize that you are out of a key ingredient. This is my preferred method for maintaining a well-stocked kitchen.
4. Organize the refrigerator: I have one zone in the frig reserved for prepared food (meal leftovers etc) which is a reminder to use them up or pack them for lunch. One small space is reserved for ingredients that need to be used up soon: partial contents of a can of tomato or coconut milk, half a cauliflower etc. This small tip really minimizes food wastage.
5. "The secret ingredient": In one episode of the TV sitcom Will and Grace, Will is making soup for his sick friend Grace. Grace's husband, Leo, is waiting for the soup to be made so he can take it home to Grace. Will says something like "The soup is almost finished, but look away for a minute, Leo, so I can add my secret ingredient...I don't want you to know what it is". When Leo rolls his eyes and looks away, Will leans towards the pot and blows a heartfelt kiss into it. Groan if you like :) but the infusion of love into a dish *is* the secret ingredient. I only cook for the people I love, and I definitely put my heart into it. All those times when I am tired and grouchy and not in the mood for cooking, I thrown down the apron and dial for a pizza or rip open a packet of instant noodles.
Now its your turn: Over the years, what have you learnt in the kitchen?

Stay tuned for the "B" of Indian vegetables, coming in the next day or two!