Sunday, April 29, 2007

N is for Nargisi Kebab

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.

Welcome to the second half of our alphabetical journey...

The "N" of Indian Vegetables

The letter N inspired fourteen novel Indian flavors! Truly, the entries in this round-up are extra-creative, no two are alike, with bloggers making the most of a pretty challenging letter...

Let's start with an N flower...the Neem Flower. The neem tree is a beautiful evergreen with great medicinal value and a plethora of uses. But I had no idea about the culinary use of the neem flower! Suganya of Tasty Palettes shows us how sun-dried neem flowers can be used to make a flavorful Neem Flower Rasam. Suganya is a new blogger, and looking at her beautiful posts and pictures, I am looking forward to more of her posts!

The two N vegetables are rather unusual ones.

First up, we have the lotus root, known in Hindi as Nadur or nadru. An uncommonly beautiful vegetable (I think of it as Nature's artistic cutwork), the nadur is used extensively in some Northern regions of India, but is a completely new vegetable to me. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi share a traditional way of making the lotus root, a delicate yogurt-based preparation called Nadur Yakhni.

The second N vegetable is Nuggekayi, the Kannada (language of Karnataka) word for drumsticks. Suma of Veggie Platter uses these slender, tapering and tender green pods to make a simple and delicious curry called Nuggekayi Palya.

Next come a big bowl of N fruits...

The Nariyal or coconut is so much more than a mere fruit! Coconuts have religious significance in Hinduism, are widely grown in coastal India, and are the superstars of Southern Indian cuisine. It would take me years to list the delicious (sweet and savory) recipes in which the coconut is used. Here, the nariyal is richly represented with a very traditional preparation. Reena of Spices of Kerala uses the coconut to make Aviyal, one of the most well-known and well-loved dishes from Kerala, and also shares two lovely tales about the origin of this wonderful dish.

Next, we have two citrus fruits.

Nimbu or lemon/lime, is on the weekly shopping list of most Indian households. The tangy and fresh flavor of lemon adds zing to so many dishes. Here, Asha of Aroma/Foodie's Hope lets the lemon take center stage with her unusual recipe for some tasty Nimbu Masala.

Navel Oranges represent our longing for the sunny days of summer. Sreelu of Sreelu's Tasty Travels shares some cool-looking, dreamily creamy Navel Orange Ice Cream Cups that are sure to be a hit at your next summer soiree!

...and two rather unusual fruits, both shared by A Cook of Live to Cook. Naraththai is a Tamil word for a type of sour orange and it is added to dough and made into bright orange, beautiful Naraththai Puris. Nellimulli is Tamil for dried gooseberry, and is blended into a delicious relish called Nellimulli Pachidi.

Then, we have one N bean: the Navy Bean, a small white bean that is the traditionally the most popular bean of England and North America. Anglo-American they may be, but here, navy beans get the traditional Palakkad treatment when Sheela of Delectable Victuals flavors them with an aromatic spice mixture to make Navy Beans Paduthoval.

Coming up next, a N cereal, the pearly grains of the finger millet, known in Hindi as ragi and Marathi as Nachni. This cereal is a wonderful example of an unglamorous food that nonetheless provides inexpensive and invaluable nutrition to millions of people in Asia and Africa. Mahek of Mahek's Kitchen shows us how we can include nachni in our everyday cooking with her recipe for a soft and wholesome Nachni Roti.

The next food is a perennially popular one: Noodles! It would not be an exaggeration to say that Maggi Noodles occupy a special place in the heart of a lot of kids who grew up in urban India (certainly me!). Tee of Bhaatukli uses instant noodles in a very creative way when she tosses together fried noodles, sauteed vegetables and bean sprouts to make a tasty Noodle Bhel.

Then comes that important N quality that we are always seeking in our food...Nutritious! Aarti of Aarti's Corner gives us a recipe for sneaking in veggies and grains into our diet in a delicious way. She combines assorted flours, grated bottle gourd and a selection of spices, and then rolls our some piping hot Nutritious Doodhi Parathas.

And now, for the first time in this series, N destinations! So, let's pack our bags and hop on a plane to Southern India.

Our first stop is Nagapattinam, a small and picturesque district in Tamil Nadu with a beautiful coastline. Read about it here. Swapna of Swad uses an authentic Tamil cookbook to make some Nagapatinam Patani, a simple yet delicious stir-fry of green peas.

Ayesha of Experimenting on Taste Buds then takes us further on our N journey, going from the sandy coast to the lush and imposing Nilgiri hills. Ayesha gives us a taste of the cuisine from this region with two festive recipes for Nilgiri Korma and Nilgiri Curry.

The final entry of the round-up is probably the most unexpected...where N stands for Nylon! What could a synthetic polymer have to do with food, you ask? I'm going to let Richa of As Dear As Salt explain that to you, as she tells us how to make an Nylon Khaman Dhokla Sandwich that is not only edible, but completely delicious.

N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs

Forget the boxed mac-and-cheese, and the heat-and-eat soup. In my opinion, the greatest convenience food in my kitchen is that little cardboard box in the fridge, containing a dozen brown eggs! Now, one definitely does not *have* to eat eggs in order to have a nutritious and balanced diet, but for those of us who do choose to eat eggs, they provide an easy and inexpensive way to include quality protein in our diet. Eggs take up a lot of "culinary space", with hundreds of recipes and variations thereof. They can be boiled and fried, poached and coddled, and they certainly find their ways into sweet treats like cakes and custards.

In this series, I knew that I wanted to show-case eggs in one of the posts, and today, eggs form a pair with potatoes in some Nargisi Kebabs. Now, a kebab is a kebab, but who is Nargis? Well, it is a woman's name, and perhaps the most famous "Nargis" in the world is this beautiful actress. So, in the tradition of Caesar Salad, Fettucini Alfredo and the Elvis Sandwich, this is a food named after a person. I found a recipe for Nargisi Kebab in an old tattered cookbook, and it consisted of hard-boiled eggs wrapped in some spiced minced meat. Well, here I am using my "culinary license" and making up a recipe for something that I will insist on calling Nargisi kebab.

In this recipe, hard-boiled eggs are halved, and the halves are swaddled with a fresh green chutney in a soft potato dough, then dipped in an egg wash and fried to a golden-brown. Want to learn how to make the perfect hard-boiled eggs? See these helpful primers by Kalyn, Alanna and Cate. Want some tips on choosing eggs in the supermarket? See this post.

Nargisi Kebab

(P.S.: This is the first picture on the blog taken with my brand new camera...a thoughtful birthday gift from V last week. I'm looking forward to figuring out the features on this new toy (which is quite a bit fancier than the 6-yr-old point and shoot that I have been using all along). What can I say, I am a lucky, lucky girl! Er, and this recipe makes 8 BIG kebabs.)

1. Make the potato dough: Boil 5 medium potatoes until tender, then peel and mash the potatoes with 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste and salt to taste. Knead the mixture into a lump-free dough and set aside.
2. Boil eggs: Make 4 hard-boiled eggs. Cut them into halves lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Make the chutney: Grind together 1 packed cup cilantro, 1 tsp dried mint (can use fresh), 2 fresh green chilies, 2 tbsp onions, pinch of sugar, 1 tsp lemon juice and salt to taste, all into a thick green chutney. I like adding one tablespoon of nuts or beans while grinding to help get a smooth consistency without too much water (this time I added some canned cannelini beans because I had some on hand). You want to avoid a watery chutney here since it needs to be filled into the kebabs.
4. Assemble and Cook: Divide the dough into eight equal portions. To make a kebab: take one portion of dough and divide it in two. Pat each half down in the palm of your hand. Place 1 tsp chutney in one flat half, place the egg half on it, then cover with the other portion of the flat dough and seal the seams to make a kebab. If some filling leaks out, don't worry about it. This part is a little tricky and may need some patience and a bit of experience to get it right. Beat an egg into a shallow bowl. Dip each kebab in the beaten egg, then shallow-fry, turning until it is golden-brown on all sides. Serve with any chutney that is left over, or even with a dollop of ketchup.

How do you serve this dish?
1. Cut into neat quarters and serve as an appetizer. The kebabs can be assembled several hours ahead of time and refrigerated. At the last minute, just dip them in egg and fry them.
2. Serve a couple of kebabs as a light lunch.
3. Stuff inside a roll for an unusual sandwich.
4. Pack into lunch boxes and picnic hampers.

Variations on a theme
Use your favorite chutney recipe in this kebab. You could even use a pesto- like the traditional basil pesto, or a sun-dried tomato pesto.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many savory recipes combining vegetables and eggs. Here are some of my favorite finds:

Two breakfast dishes...
Poro: Parsi Omelet from Saffron Trail,
Eggs with Vegetable Medley from A Mad Tea Party,

Two egg curries with vegetables...
Ridge Gourd and Egg Curry from Tastes From My Kitchen,
Capsicum Egg Curry from Sunita's World,

A potpourri of creations...
Paratha Frittata from Mahanandi,
Scrambled Egg in Coriander Curry from Aayi's Recipes,
Egg Thoran with Tomatillo from My Treasure...My Pleasure.

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: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer
L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables and Lentils
M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Rainbow Chard-Mushroom Sandwiches

Jihva for Ingredients (JFI) is an online blogging event started by Indira of Mahanandi. Weekend Breakfast Blogging is another event, started by Nandita of Saffron Trail. This month, to celebrate JFI's first anniversary, Indira is hosting a joint JFI-WBB party, and the theme of the event is colorful and nutritious: Green Leafy Vegetables! Read all about the event here.

Recently, nutrition experts have been telling us to Eat The Rainbow. No, no, I don't mean taste the rainbow, but to actually eat it, by tucking into lots of brightly hued vegetables. The vivid colors of the veggies are a sure sign that they are brimming with phytochemicals that reverse a lot of age-related damage in our cells, among other benefits. The latest issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine has a great little article that talks about how to eat right and eat bright by including vegetables and fruits from all five color groups: Red, Yellow-Orange, Green, Blue-Purple and White.

With all this talk of rainbows on my mind, imagine my delight when I walked into Whole Foods Market and found this dazzling Rainbow Chard.
Rainbow chard is basically Swiss chard, a beautiful green leafy vegetable which happens to be a nutritional powerhouse. Chard stems can come in different colors- and when chard with red stems, white stems and yellow-gold stems are bunched and sold together, the result is this gorgeous rainbow chard, with stems and veins of red, white and gold contrasting brilliantly with the deep green color of the leaves.

As the days are getting hotter, I am more inclined to making and eating lighter fare. Inspired by a recipe from Vegetarian Times, I paired the rainbow chard with some flavorful cremini mushrooms and made some quick sandwiches. You could certainly use portabella mushrooms, and use regular Swiss chard instead of rainbow chard, as was used in the original recipe.

Rainbow Chard-Mushroom Sandwiches

(Adapted from this recipe, Vegetarian Times July/Aug 2006)
1. Roast the mushrooms: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove stems off cremini mushrooms and place them, stem side up, on the baking sheet. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake in a 400 degrees F oven for 20 minutes or so, turning once half-way during baking, until mushrooms are tender. Set aside. Green kitchen tip: If you are baking small quantities, use the toaster oven instead of a conventional oven to save energy. Toaster ovens often come with mini baking sheets that are very handy for baking small amounts such as these.
2. Cook the chard: Wash the chard, then chop it into thin strands. Remove and discard any tough stems, but you can use the tender stems. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. Add 2 cloves of garlic, sliced, and cook until lightly browned and aromatic. Stir in the chard, and a couple of tablespoons of water, and stir around until the leaves are wilted. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the chard is tender. Remove off heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. Other prep: Cut the roasted mushrooms into halves or quarters (depending on their size). Take your favorite sandwich rolls (I used demi-baguettes) and split them length-wise. Thinly slice a small onion (using a sharp knife or a mandoline). Tear 6-8 leaves of fresh basil into shreds.
5. Assemble the sandwiches: Layer the botton half of bread with chard and mushrooms. Top with onion slices and shreds of fresh basil. Drizzle generously with the dressing. Top with other half of bread, and take a big bite!

The verdict: This simple sandwich made for a memorable lunch on a hot and sunny day. The mushrooms and greens are a terrific combination. The whole sandwich comes together very well, and tastes like something you would eat at a nice bistro. Seriously! V added some cheese (gouda) to his sandwich, and reported that it tastes excellent.

Thanks, Indira, for hosting. I'm looking forward to the round-up for lots of inspiration to cook more greens! I'll be back on Sunday, with the N of Indian Vegetables.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pleasing Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Alanna is challenging us to try some new vegetables all this month with her Vegetable Contest, so here are my attempts to try some vegetables that are new to my kitchen.

When it comes to buying pantry staples like onions and potatoes, I blindly grab the first ones I can find and walk right on. So I have to give credit where credit is due: V made me buy these potatoes last time we were out grocery shopping- cute little purple potatoes. Once we got them home, I was rather excited to use them. You would think the odd color has been specially bred into the potato for novelty value. But no, this is no new potato on the block. V informed me that purple potatoes were the first potatoes ever cultivated, in Peru, and from there, they have grown and spread and become one of the world's most popular vegetables (certainly the most popular vegetable in the US). Well, after realizing that these little purple beauties are the forefathers of our white and yellow and red potatoes, I suddenly had a new-found respect for them!

On a more practical note, purple potatoes get their color from the plant pigments called anthocyanins. These pigment function as antioxidants (which perform protective functions in our cells), and that is why we are always being told to eat brightly colored vegetables. Unlike red potatoes, which are only red on the outside, purple potatoes are purple inside and out. The dull purple peel gives way to a beautiful, jewel-like purple interior. They can be used anywhere you would normally use potatoes, and end up giving the dish an interesting and unusual look. Read more about them here. I used them in two dishes, one was an experimental version of poha and the other was the popular street food sev-puri.

Experimental Poha


Poha is a pantry staple in many Indian kitchens. It is nothing but white rice that is par-boiled, then flattened into flakes. Because it is par-boiled, poha cooks up quickly and is most often used in two dishes. One is a dry, trail mix-like snack called chivda- see recipes here, here and here; and the other is a cooked breakfast dish often called simply poha- see recipes here, here and here.

This poha was experimental for two reasons:
1. I used purple potatoes instead of the usual ones.
2. I used a mixture of regular poha and flakes of multigrain cereal instead of the poha alone.

It started when I bought a box of County Choice Organic Hot Multigrain Cereal as an variation to my usual oatmeal. This cereal is nothing but flakes of whole wheat, rye, oat and barley mixed together. When I tasted the cereal, I thought it was delicious, and not as gummy or mushy as oatmeal often is. In short, it might work in a dish such as poha. Pictured: regular poha on the left, multi-grain cereal flakes on the right.

(serves 4-5)
1. Mix 1 cup multi-grain cereal and 1 and 1/2 cups poha in a large bowl. Add warm water slowly and mix into the poha mixture such that all the flakes get moistened well (don't immerse it in water, however). Cover the bowl and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Do the other prep: dice one medium onion, dice one medium/ two small potatoes, finely chop 1-2 fresh chilies, mince a few stalks of cilantro.
3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Make the tempering: 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida.
4. Add onion, chilies and 8-10 curry leaves and saute until onion is translucent but not browned.
5. Stir in potatoes, 1/3 cup green peas (frozen works great) and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Add a few tablespoons of water and let the potatoes cook, covered, until just tender.
6. To the soaked poha mixture, add 2 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Mix well, then add the mixture to the pan and stir well. Add a few tablespoons of water to generate steam. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes or until cereal/ poha is cooked.
7. Turn off the heat. Stir in 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot, sprinkled with some crunchy roasted peanuts, if desired.

Verdict: Poha is such a beloved dish of mine that I was loathe to experiment with it. But I'm glad I did! The whole grains added great flavor and texture to the dish, and made the poha more filling, so you can get away with a smaller portion size. The purple potatoes made the dish look more colorful and fun to eat, and tasted just like regular potatoes.
Two other healthier versions of poha here and here.

Now, scooting over from a healthy breakfast to a guilty-pleasure snack...

Sev Puri

Sev puri is a very popular street food (and made at home, evening snack) in India. The little tasty crunchy bites of sev puri consist of a deep-fried flour puri topped with minced onion, boiled potato, minced cilantro, sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney, spicy mint-and-cilantro chutney and garnished with sev (fried strands of chickpea flour).

I had not tasted sev puri for years, because fresh and good puris are not easy to find, and I'm too lazy to fry them myself. Last week, I came across a new product at Trader Joe's: Wonton chips. Basically, they are pieces of wonton wrappers, deep-fried, making them practically the same thing as the puris for sev puri. I used these chips to make sev puri, topped with everything I have written above, with some boiled, peeled, diced purple potatoes instead of regular ones. I can't tell you how authentic and delicious they tasted! The purple potatoes made the sev puris look quite cute, and the wonton chips are a perfect substitute for real, live puris. If there are no Trader Joe's stores where you live, you might want to try using these newly-launched chips. I'm betting they are also quite similar to the puris for sev puri.

After all this purple goodness, I'll see you in a couple of days with something green! Bye for now!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

M is for Malai Kofta

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 "M" of Indian Vegetables
The letter M inspired twenty-seven mouthwatering Indian flavors!

Off to a start with the M vegetables, two green beauties and one root vegetable...

...we have those delicate pearls, the green peas or Matar (mutter), as they are called in Hindi. Tee of Bhaatukli starts us off with a healthy and tasty appetizer: she mashes some green peas and spices together and shapes the mixture into some yummy Matar Kababs.

...and after green peas, we have a green leafy vegetable, Methi or fenugreek. Methi hold pride of place in an Indian kitchen, playing multiple roles as a vegetable, herb and spice. Pictured: Three forms of methi...fresh methi leaves, dried methi (kasuri methi) and methi seeds.
Today, the versatility of fresh methi is being celebrated with four delicious entrees:

First up, Richa of As Dear As Salt comes up with an unusual (and addictive!) combination: she cooks together fresh methi and ripe bananas into a sweet-and-savory Gujarati dish called Methi Kela Nu Shaak.

Next, methi comes to the rescue when you are in the mood for some good ol' comfort food. Dee of Ammalu's Kitchen transforms plain chickpea flour into a steaming hot bowl of Methi Pitla with the addition of a handful of aromatic methi leaves.

Dal and rice are two of the most basic dishes on the Indian vegetarian table. I'm always looking for variations on both of these. Latha of Masala Magic shows us how fresh methi can be used to jazz up our old favorites with two great recipes for Methi Dal and Methi Rice.

The third vegetable is a pungent but well-loved root: the Mooli or radish, and is usually available as either the large snow-white radish or small globes of red radishes. We have two great home-style ways of using the radish here:

Musical of Musical's Kitchen writes an informative post about the diverse uses of the radish in Indian cooking, and goes on to make a typical Punjabi dish combining radish and Punjabi masala wadis (a dried cake of lentils and spices) into one hearty Mooli-Wadi Subzi.

TC of The Cooker makes a Marathi-style salad with the radish, combining grated radish with some cilantro, peanuts and tempering to make a fresh and tasty Moolya-chi Koshimbir. This is TC's debut post, so let's give her a warm welcome to the food blog world!

An M herb that remains a favorite of cooks (for its bold and bright aroma) and gardeners (for its prolific growth) is Mint! Summer's coming, and we will see an abundance of mint from the kitchen garden, plus a hunger for lighter fare like sandwiches. Sreelu of Sreelu's Tasty Travels puts the two together and comes up with a flavorful Mint Tea Sandwich that is sure to be a hit at picnics and tea parties.

Next, an M fruit that is so much more than just a fruit: it rules the Indian psyche and holds our memories captive: the Mango! I'm so thrilled that M for Mango is coming around in mid-April, for this is the peak of mango season in India. While ripe mangoes are prized for eating out of hand, and blending into milkshakes and ice creams, the tangy raw mangoes are equally, if not more, prized for their versatility in the kitchen.

First, a mango pickle! Pickles are a tasty way to preserve mangoes for the entire year. All regions of India seem to have their own favorites. Pickles vary on the sweet-sour-spicy spectrum, in the use of different spice combinations, and in the form of the mango itself- tender baby mangoes are pickled whole, larger raw mangoes might be cubed or shredded. One such extremely tasty and popular pickle involves mixing grated mangoes with a freshly ground spice mixture to make a mouth-watering Mango Thokku -a recipe shared by Sharmi of Neivedyam.

Other dishes featuring raw and ripe mangoes are made and savored specially during the mango season, making them all the more treasured and desirable.

Sigma of Live To Eat shares a traditional way in which raw mangoes are used in Kerala, blending green mango and coconut with other aromatic ingredients (ginger, chilies and shallots) into an amazing Green Mango Chutney. Conventionally, the chutney is served as a relish with meals, but Sigma shows her creativity in using this chutney as a dip for chips.

Sheela of Delectable Victuals chooses a traditional yogurt-based South Indian salad, and mixes tradition with ingenuity. She blends ripe mango with some Mexican flair, adding pickled jalapeno and dried ancho chilies, and then folds in some yogurt to make a cool (in more ways than one!), creamy and inviting Mango Pachadi.

Bharathy of Spicy Chilly also has her own unique spin on a classic! Instead of yogurt, she chooses to use some thick, creamy coconut milk, and mixes it with sweet-and-sour semi-ripe mango and a selection of fragrant spices to make a perfectly delicious Mango Salad.

After all those delicious mango salads and relishes, our appetite is whetted for some main courses, right? Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi serve up two traditional Southern Indian recipes, Mamidikaya Annam and Mango Thokku, using the raw mango. Each recipe comes from a new cookbook in their collection. The first dish is a tempting raw mango rice, combining tangy shredded mango with cooked rice, a delicate tempering and some cool coconut. The second is a shredded mango pickle that looks just fiery and inviting: the mango thokku.

In our final mango recipe, Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook makes another main dish, the dal. The humble everyday dal is elevated to new levels of flavor with the addition of sliced raw mango, chilies and tempering, resulting in a Mango Dal, known more lyrically in Bengali as Tak er Dal or "dal which is a little sour in taste".

Next, a whole slew of M dals that are an integral part of the Indian pantry: Masoor and Moong and Matki. A example to explain the nomenclature: the whole seed is called " sabut masoor" (sabut=whole or intact) or just "masoor" and when the masoor is split by removing the skin, it turns into the "dal" form, as in "masoor dal". I love the whole lentils/ pulses because they can be sprouted to make them even more nutritious, and I love the split lentils because they cook up quickly and are very convenient to use. Pictured: Supermarket-variety whole brown lentils or "masoor", pink and skinless split lentils or "masoor dal" and a bean that I just love but that is not sold in American stores: "matki", also called "moth".
Today, we have four dishes with all these little gems, a complete meal with appetizer, two main courses and dessert:

First, a rich and elaborate appetizer: Ayesha of Experimenting with Taste Buds makes a dough with cooked masoor dal and potato, then stuffs the dough with a rich savory egg mixture to make patties, then fries and garnishes the patties with egg whites and fried onions. All this labor of love results in a Masoor Dal Kebab that is fit for royalty...or just for the king or queen in your life!

Asha of Aroma/Foodie's Hope uses the tasty little "matki" beans and combines them with rice and spices to make a Matki Pulao that looks perfectly delicious and very versatile.

Swapna of Swad intended to make the traditional moong curry "moogambat" but ended up inventing a delicious recipe of her own: her Moogambhaat has rice and sprouted moong, and tons of flavor. Very clever way to save the day!

Aarti of Aarti's Corner, a brand-new food blogger (Welcome, Aarti!), gives us the final dal entry, a luscious and nutritious Moong Dal Kheer, made by blending cooked moong dal with some aromatic cardamom and saffron.

The next M dish is a popular one in restaurants: Malai Kofta. There are dozens of interpretations of this dish, although in broad terms, "malai" is cream and "kofta" is dumplings. Here are two home-made versions...

Pinki of Come Cook With Me makes a rich and festive version of Malai Kofta, complete with nuts and fresh cream.

NC of The Good Food makes two restaurant-style dishes, a version of the malai kofta and another that represents one of my favorite "M" foods: the mushroom! See her Malai Kofta and Mushroom Matar post here. This is NC's debut post, so here's wishing her lots of fun in the food blog world!

M also stands for mixed, the more veggies, the merrier! We have two ways of mixin' it up...

Mika of The Green Jackfruit can't really decide on one single "M" vegetable, so she cooks 'em all in a colorful and tempting Mili Juli Sabzi: mili-juli is a cute Hindi word that roughly translates as "all together" or "mixed".

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine makes a festive curry studded with vegetables called Mixed Vegetable Chalna.

Some regional "M" words...

April is "Tamil Month" over at Lakshmi's regional food event, so it is only fitting that we start with four Tamil recipes.

Murungakai is drumstick in Tamil. This tasty and off-beat vegetable is cooked into a traditional Murungakai Vetha Koyamb by Ranjani of Eat and Talk.

Mor is buttermilk in Tamil. Prema of My Cookbook makes a beloved buttermilk curry called Mor Kuzhambu that is made even tastier with the addition of an assortment of veggies.

Manathakkali is quite an unusual berry, the black nightshade/sunberry that is often used in its dried form in Tamil cuisine. Santhi of Me and My Food Thoughts provides a traditional use for this berry with her recipe for Vatral Kuzhambu with Manathakkali.

The final Tamil dish is a technique rather than an ingredient. Masiyal is a way of mashing cooked greens. Nandita of Saffron Trail shares her mom's traditional technique of making Spinach Masiyal and also tells us the various ways in which spinach is cooked in the Tamil kitchen.

The next dish comes from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Mirapakaya is peppers in Telugu. Suma of Veggie Platter combines peppers and potato into a spicy and delicious curry called Mirapakaya Aloo Koora.

For the final dish (and what a finale!), we travel north all the way to Punjab. Coffee of The Spice Cafe tempts us with a Punjabi classic: Missi Roti with Sarson ka Saag. The Missi Roti is a classic roti made with a combination of wheat flour and chickpea flour, and served with some spicy mustard greens, or sarson ka saag, it is a match made in heaven!

M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings

D-U-M-P-L-I-N-G: the word itself is so cute and cuddly! Dumplings of all forms and shapes can be found in a multitude of cuisines. They can take the form of little packets of dough enclosing a surprise filling- such as some of the dim sum treats of Chinese cuisine, or the Polish peirogi; or they can be little balls of dough in a flavorful sauce or stew- like the matzo balls of Jewish cuisine or the Italian gnocchi. Fried or steamed, savory or sweet, dumplings are just plain fun to make and eat!

In Indian cuisine, dumplings stretch across the spectrum from appetizers to desserts. Some examples of dumpling dishes I can think of are...
Appetizers: samosa, with flaky dough encasing a spicy potato-peas mixture,
Entrees: kofta curry, in which shredded vegetables are mixed with chickpea flour, shaped into balls, deep-fried and dunked into a spicy tomato-onion curry; kadhi-pakoda, in which dough-based dumplings are added to a buttermilk sauce,
Desserts: modak, made with a sweet coconut-poppy seed filling inside a pillow of steamed dough...the list goes on and on.

Today, I am making a trimmed-down version of a restaurant classic: malai kofta. As the name "malai" (cream) would suggest, the restaurant version consists of deep-fried dumplings soaked with a heavy, creamy sauce. I have seen two different categories of malai kofta in restaurants: one is based on a a pale white milky curry which is almost more sweet than spicy, and the other is a typical tomato-onion based spicy brown curry. My own version is infinitely lighter than anything you would find in a restaurant, but to me, it is quite delicious and I don't think I am sacrificing any taste. Just that artery-clogging fat :)

Malai Kofta

A. The curry base:
1. Soak 2 tbsp white poppy seeds (khus-khus) and 10-12 cashew nuts in 1/4 cup of warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then grind together to a thick and fine paste.
2. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Saute 1 large onion, finely chopped, and 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste until golden brown. Stir in 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp red chili powder and salt to taste.
3. Add 1 cup peeled chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 tsp garam masala and cook for 10 minutes on low-medium heat.
4. Add the cashew-poppy seed paste and stir well. Using an immersion blender, blend the curry to get a smooth sauce (you can use a conventional blender, but be careful as this stuff is hot; you can also leave the sauce chunky and not blend it at all). 5. Stir in 1/3 cup cream or milk (I used 2% milk). I also added 1/2 tsp of my Mom's magic masala (equal parts cinnamom, cardamom and cloves, toasted and ground together). Set the sauce aside.
B. The dumplings, or kofta:
1. Make the stuffing: Mix 1/4 cup green peas, 1/4 cup finely chopped green beans and 1/4 cup finely diced carrot. Cook until tender (I microwaved for 2 minutes). To this add 1 fresh chili, minced fine, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/3 cup shredded paneer, 1 tbsp golden raisins (I substituted with some dried apricot instead), 1 tbsp cashew nut pieces, and a sprinkle of salt.
2. Take 3 medium potatoes, boil, peel and mash them. Add salt to taste and knead into a dough. Make golf-ball sized balls of the potato dough. Take each ball into your palm, flatten it, add a tbsp of stuffing, then fold the edges of the potato to encase the stuffing. Flatten into a patty. Make all the patties, then shallow-fry them in a little oil until golden-brown.
When ready to serve, arrange the patties on a serving platter, pour the sauce over the patties and garnish with fresh cilantro.

How do you serve this dish?
Serve malai kofta with some parathas or naan to sop up the thick curry. Alternatively, serve it with a peas pulao or jeera rice.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious dishes with dumplings. Here are some of my favorite finds:
Beetroot Kofta Curry from My Foodcourt,
Low-fat Kofta Curry from A Mad Tea Party,
Palak Kofta Curry from Sailu's Food,
Gheea Koftey from As Dear As Salt,
Marbled Minty Kofta from Mysoorean,
Punjabi Kadi from Neivedyam,
Kadhi Gole from Swaypakghar.

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: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer
L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables and Lentils

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Vatral Kozhumbu: Tamil Comfort Food

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Each month, we will be making the food of one region/ state of India. This month, we travel to the Southern tip of India to the state of Tamil Nadu to cook up some delicious Tamil Cuisine. You can take a look at Tamil Nadu at the far South-East tip of India in this map.

The Southern Indian states of India have a wonderful tradition of vegetarian cuisine, and as I am learning to cook, it has been gratifying to replicate the tastes of South Indian food that I have only ever glimpsed in restaurants before. Tamil food is especially close to my heart, because I might not be Tamilian, but I *am* married to one (V has never actually lived in TN, and remains a born-and-bred "bambaiyya", but so what?). My forays into Tamil cuisine have thus far been limited to a regular turnout of idli-sambar and the occasional dish like eggplant rasavangy. I own two cookbooks that I find quite useful as an introduction to Tamil cuisine: Dakshin and Samayal. But really, the most useful way for me to learn more about Tamil cuisine has been through all those wonderful blogs that are written by home cooks who are well-versed in Tamilian cuisine. To give just one example, this post from Priya's blog Sugar and Spice was very helpful in explaining different Tamil preparations.

Today, for the event, I decided to go with a popular Tamil dish called Vatral Kozhambu. Actually, I have heard about this "curry" (for lack of a better word) for years but only tasted it three weeks ago. In graduate school in NYC, when friends would gather together for a meal, the conversation would often turn to discussions of our favorite comfort food. This is not very surprising, because two prominent characteristics of grad students are (a) they are always hungry, and (b) they are stressed-out and tired more often than not. Comfort food takes care of both needs! During these conversations, my half-Tamil friend Revati would invariably sigh and begin talking about vatral kozhumbu. When I would ask her what it was, she would vaguely refer to this "amazing is basically tamarind and spices....soooo good" etc., and her words would be accompanied by more sighs and nostalgia. I never did figure out exactly what this magic stuff was.

Then, just three weeks ago, our friend H dropped by with a tupperware container of vatral kozhumbu so I could finally taste it. As luck would have it, that was just the time when I had a terrible cold and allergies and was in no state to cook anything at all. That vatral kozhumbu literally sustained me for 2-3 days while I recovered. Mixed in with ghee and steamed rice, with some leftover cauliflower subzi on the side, it tasted like a little bit of heaven and brought back my appetite. I then realized that vatral kozhumbu is the Tamil version of the Marathi pithale: something that can be turned out in a short amount of time with minimal ingredients, and is the ultimate comfort food to those who grow up eating it. I had to learn how to make it!

From what I understand, vatral refers to dried (preserved) vegetables and kozhambu is a general term for a thick liquidy preparation that is eaten with steamed rice. Although the true-blue version calls for certain dried berries that are quite new to me, there are forms of vatral kozhumbu that use onions or other fresh vegetables instead of the berries. I asked H what recipe she used for the amazing stuff she gave me, and it turns out that she used a modified version of a recipe from the beautiful blog Married To A Desi. Many thanks to Kanchana for sharing her recipe! This is how I made it, from Kanchana's recipe, with helpful suggestions from my friend H.

Vatral Kozhambu


1. Make the vatral kozhambu powder: Mix together 2 tbsp each of chana dal, toor dal and urad dal. Add 4-5 whole black peppercorns.
Roast together on low heat until aromatic, and a couple of shades darker (be careful not to burn the stuff). Cool and then grind to a fine powder in a spice blender or coffee grinder. Store in an air-tight container and use as required in the recipe.
2. Make the tamarind paste: In one cup hot water, soak 2 heaped tbsp tamarind for 20 minutes (Ready-made tamarind extract should ideally NOT be used here because it can impart a slightly bitter flavor. Since the dish is based on tamarind, use your favorite brand of tamarind pulp. My personal favorite is actually a Thai brand, which has a lighter color but a sweeter, more well-rounded flavor and a softer, more scoop-able pulp). Squeeze out all the tamarind pulp and discard the solids. You should end up with a cup of thick tamarind juice.
2. In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp sesame oil (this is untoasted sesame oil, different from the one use in Chinese cooking, and is available in stores selling Indian supplies. It is alternatively called "til oil" or "gingelly oil"). Make the tempering with 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp toor dal, 1 tsp urad dal, 4-5 fenugreek seeds (any more and you risk making the dish bitter), pinch of asafoetida and 8-10 curry leaves. Saute for a couple of minutes until the dal turns golden.
3. Now add 1 small onion, cut into half, then sliced thickly. Saute the onion slices until the edges turn golden. H's tip: you could use okra or eggplant or even pieces of papad.
4. Stir in 2 tbsp vatral kozambu powder, 1 tbsp sambar masala, 1 tsp red chili powder and salt to taste. H suggested the use of sambar masala for more flavor without too much heat. Add the tamarind juice and a cup or so of water. Bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer for 5-10 minutes or until as thick as you like it. All done!

Vatral Kozambu tastes even better the next day, in my opinion. It can stay well in the refrigerator for 4-5 days, making for an instant delicious meal. I mixed some vatral kozumbu with steamed rice and ghee and enjoyed a wonderful lunch, with a side of brussels sprouts poriyal, straight from Krithika's recipe.

Thanks, Lakshmi, for hosting this event. I am learning so much about Tamil cuisine this month from expert home cooks!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mmm...Mustard Greens!

Alanna is challenging us to try some new vegetables all this month with her Vegetable Contest, so here are my attempts to try some vegetables that are new to my kitchen.

A whole category of vegetables that I have hardly gotten to know are the green leafy vegetables. Apart from spinach (which I love and buy every week) and arugula (which I have just started using in pasta dishes in recent months), I barely use any greens.

It is a real shame, because there is an amazing delicious world out there: from collard greens to kale to Swiss chard. What keeps me from buying more greens? Well, greens are much more fragile than other vegetables like, say, carrots and cauliflower. While our everyday staples can sit in the vegetable crisper for a few days while we get around to cooking them, greens bruise and wilt easily and need to be cooked within a day or two of buying them. Tender greens are sometimes too delicate for the produce sellers too, and in many supermarkets, the greens will look too torn and ragged and I'm just not tempted to buy them. To make a long story short: when you see a bunch of bright, crisp, tender, perfect-looking greens being sold in your supermarket/store/Farmer's market, grab it with both hands and RUN! Well, this weekend, I managed to find just such a perfect bunch of mustard greens, the very first time I got a chance to cook them.

How should I cook them? I had a few options. One highly popular way to cook mustard greens in India is to blend them with spinach and make a delicious Punjabi dish called saag. I also had a recipe jotted down from Vegetarian Times for some yummy-looking garlicky green dumplings, dim-sum style.

But I decided to go with a recipe that was simple and would let me taste the goodness of the greens themselves, and I turned to my favorite resource for such recipes:
Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.

Jaffrey has a beautifully simple recipe for Sri Lankan Greens. It calls for very simple ingredients: greens, curry leaves, onion, hot chilies, turmeric, salt and some grated coconut. No other spices, no tempering, nothing. The best part is, this recipe works well for any greens at all, so it is a good one to have in the repertoire for emergency moments when you find a great bunch of greens but don't have too much else in the pantry, or are short on time.

Sri Lankan Mustard Greens
(adapted from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey)

1. Take 1 bunch mustard greens.

2. Wash the leaves. Chop them into very thin, long strands (discard any tough stems). You can do this by cutting out stems from a few leaves, then stacking them into a pile and cutting the pile into thin shreds. Jaffrey stresses that no matter what greens you choose to use in this recipe, they should be shredded thinly.

3. Cut 1 medium onion into half, then into strips. In a large skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of oil on medium heat. Add onion, 8-10 curry leaves and 2-3 fresh chilies (cut into thirds). Use more or less chilies depending on how your preferred level of hotness. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the edges of the onion start to brown.

4. Now add the shredded greens, 1/2 tsp turmeric and salt to taste. Stir around and mix well until the greens start to wilt.

5. Now lower the heat, cover the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the greens are cooked and tender. In my case, the leaves were tender and the water clinging to the washed greens was enough to cook the leaves in their own steam. If one uses greens that are a bit tougher, a couple of tablespoons of water may be added to the pan. At the end of cooking, stir 2 tbsp of grated fresh or dried unsweetened coconut into the greens.

The resulting greens were absolutely flavorful without being bitter or harsh in the least. I served the Sri Lankan mustard greens with an egg curry: Eggs cooked in a Sri Lankan Coconut Milk Sauce (recipe from the same book) and some steamed rice, for a wonderful Sri-Lankan themed Sunday night dinner. I love World Vegetarian more and more every day!

This is one side dish that is going to be very versatile: it would go well with any Indian meal (it would be amazing with some simple dal and rice) and could be used creatively in wraps and sandwiches too. I'm so glad I tried mustard greens, and can't wait to eat some again.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

L is for Lasuni Dal Palak

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 "L" of Indian Vegetables

The letter L inspired eighteen luscious Indian flavors!

Let's start off with a bright and cold splash of color. L stands for laal which is the color RED in Hindi and a bunch of other Indian languages. We have two red favorites represented here...

Vee of Past, Present and Me chooses the intensely vivid beet, that vegetable (or is it a food dye?) which will paint your kitchen red if you let it. She cooks some beets and beet greens into a colorful and nutritious (not to mention kid-friendly) Laal Bhajji or red greens!

Manasi of A Cook At Heart uses a more delicately hued vegetable that is popular in many parts of India, lal bhopla, literally, the red pumpkin. Given the round shape of the pumpkin, this poor vegetable is often colloquially used to describe the number "zero" or to refer to "zip zilch nada". Manasi gives the lal bhopla the respect that it deserves and cooks it into a light and tasty Lal Bhoplyachi Bhaji.

The L vegetables...

A very popular vegetable in India is the lauki or bottle gourd, also popularly known as the dudhi. A large vegetable with a mild taste and a high water content, the lauki is widely available in India and lends itself to a variety of preparations, from mild to spicy, from savory to sweet. To convince you of its versatility, we have here a complete meal of four dishes based on the lovely lauki!

First, a tasty appetizer to start off our lauki meal. Richa of As Dear As Salt takes slices of lauki and stuffs them with a flavorful mixture of home-made paneer, potatoes and spices, resulting in a delicious platter of Lauki Bharwa.

Next, a simple, ready-in-a-jiffy entree: Pooja of Creative Pooja makes a traditional Gujarati preparation with the Lauki, stir-frying lauki with split gram and mild spices to make a nutritious and flavorful dish of Lauki Chana-Dal by .

Then, it is time for a rich entree, a lazeez (a delicious-sounding word that indeed means delectable) dish. Ayesha of Experimenting on Taste Buds takes whole lauki, stuffs it with nuts, spices and khoya (khoya is basically milk reduced to its solids, although the bland term "reduced milk" does not even begin to describe it), then cooks the beautiful stuffed lauki in a delicate saffron sauce to make an amazing, rich platter of Lazeez Lauki. For more L goodness, Ayesha serves the dish with lacha paratha, a crispy, layered bread.

I hope everyone saved room for dessert, the final course of the lauki feast! Suma of Veggie Platter cooks grated lauki with ghee, nuts, sugar and cardamom to make a dessert that is beloved and highly popular all over India, Lauki ka Halwa.

The next L vegetable is the Lady's Finger, a decidedly more picturesque term for the long, tapering, elegant vegetable better known as okra! Here, we have a restaurant-style dish, Lady's fingers stir-fried with onions and spices into a golden Lady's Finger Masala by Reena of Spices of Kerala.

The L beans...

The first bean is the beautiful black-eyed pea, often known in India as Lobia/ Lobiya (spell it as you will). Here are two zesty ways to use them.

First, an appetizer recipe. Lobia are tossed together with a variety of appetizing ingredients like onions, boiled potatoes, tamarind chutney and fried goodies to make a big lip-smacking bowl of Lobiya Chaat by Pinki of Desi Fusion Corner.

Then, an entree recipe. Recognizing the rather bland and mild taste of lobia, Musical of Musical's Kitchen jazzes up the beans with green peppers and cooks them into a tasty tomato-onion curry to make a typical Punjabi-style Lobia Shimla.

The next L bean is the Lima bean! Lima beans also have an unfair reputation for being bland and monotonous. Swapna of Swad is about to change all that. She combines lima beans with eggplants (also called brinjal), a culinary match made in heaven, and with the help of a spicy coconut masala, transforms lima beans into a savory curry of Lima Beans with Brinjals.

Next, an L fruit, the Lemon, which often plays a supporting role in our kitchens, but here, takes center-stage with four great recipes...

First, Sheela of Delectable Victuals shows us a way to take leftover cooked rice, add some simple touches of tempering and a generous dose of fresh lemon juice, and transform the rice into some tasty Lemon Rice that looks perfect for summer picnics and road trips.

Next, Ranjani of Eat and Talk makes a delicious breakfast/ brunch dish of Lemon Sevai with simple pantry ingredients like delicate rice noodles, frozen peas and some fresh lemon juice.

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine gives us another appetizing version of Lemon Sevai, made in typical Tamilian style with a tempering of chilies and curry leaves, garnished with roasted cashews, with lemon juice adding the final tangy note.

Lemon's powers to perk the palate and soothe seasonal coughs and colds is invoked in our next recipe. All kinds of flavorful ingredients- cumin, pepper and tomato- mingle with fresh lemon juice in the Lemon Pepper Tomato Rasam by Sapna of Indian Monsoon. I want to reach into the screen and take a sip right now!

While we are on the subject of sipping something tasty, here are two wonderful drinks that are just right for the upcoming sweltering summer months...

Lassi is a common term for chilled yogurt-based drinks that can range from sweetened versions to spicy, minty ones. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi take Lassi to a whole new level by blending yogurt with herbs and cucumber into a frothy beverage- a delicious way to drink your vegetables.

Sigma of Live To Eat comes up with a beautiful drink using lemon's cousin, the Lime. She combines lime juice with seasonal blood orange juice to make a thirst-quenching Limeade with Blood Orange- the color of sunset.

We can't talk about L foods without bringing up the beloved Indian sweet treat, the Laddu. Here, these goodies are represented with a recipe for heavenly Laddus with Coconut by Asha of Aroma/Foodie's Hope.

Finally, an anonymous cook known only as Cooker e-mailed a recipe using an L vegetable that was absolutely new to me: Lacinto Kale, also known as Dinosaur Kale, a highly nutritious green leafy vegetable related to the cabbage. In Cooker's own words, "Lacinto Kale??? That was my response a couple years ago. But now, this vegetable has been fully integrated in our Puneri kitchen. From Kale Amti, KaleKoshimbir to Kale Bhaat, we enjoy Kale in all its avataars. Here is a simple, weekend bhaat recipe. Not spicy but very satisfying."

Lacinto Kale Bhaat
2 cups cooked rice
2 cups chopped kale, loosely packed
1 cup carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 mirchi, chopped
1 tbsp dhana-jeera powder (cumin-corriander powder)
2 tsps oil
1 tsp mustard seeds,
Pinch of hinga
½ tsp turmeric
Juice of half (average sized) lemon
Salt to taste
1. Do the phodni/ tadka (Heat the oil in a kadai. When hot add the mustard seeds, when most of the mustard had sputtered add the hinga and then the turmeric).
2. Add the garlic and mirchi. Let them cook for a minute, don’t let the garlic brown.
3. Add the carrots, stir and put on a lid and let them cook for a few minutes.
4. Add the kale, stir.
5. Add the lemon juice. Put on the lid again and cook for 3-4 minutes on medium-low heat.
6. Add the dhana-jeera powder and salt.
7. Mix in the rice.
Many thanks to Cooker for introducing this vegetable to me and providing a lovely recipe too.

P.S.: Do you love thinking of vegetables by alphabet? I do! Now that the veggie evangelist, Alanna of Veggie Venture, has put up a new alphabet of vegetables. Alanna is also challenging us to try new vegetables this month with a contest. Check it out!

P.P.S.: Last week, I was very dismayed when Swapna pointed out that I had left out her entry from the K round-up. I do try to be very careful about including all entries, and yet this happened...I sincerely apologize for this omission! Please check out her entry in the updated K round-up.

L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables with Dal

We are nearing the half-way mark of the A-Z series, so it is exciting to finally reach the letter where I am celebrating the combination of vegetables and beans/lentils in Indian cuisine. Vegetables are delicious by themselves, and dals and lentils need no company to produce a tasty dish, but when the two get together- the combination of beans and vegetables can only be described by the Hindi expression sone pe suhaga, an idiom that is loosely translated as "better than awesome"!

In putting together a well-balanced Indian vegetarian meal, the cook has to make sure to include a protein-rich dish, usually a dal or bean curry, as well as a dish or two of vegetables. All in all, complete Indian meals often call for the investment of time to prepare multiple dishes. Dishes that include combinations of veggies and dals are a two-in-one deal that can save time and effort. As a bonus, the combination also maximizes the nutrients that the body is able to absorb from food. For instance, the Vitamin C that is abundant in many vegetables helps the absorption of iron from beans and lentils.

Some combinations of beans/lentils and vegetables that I know about, that are classics of regional Indian cuisines:
1. Sambar, that tangy and versatile dal found in different avatars in the Southern Indian cuisines. Sambar can be made with single vegetables or combinations of vegetables. In recent years, fellow bloggers have inspired me to try okra sambar and radish sambar, two examples of how tasty and special single-vegetable sambars can be. But I often just made sambar as a fridge-cleaning recipe, using up whatever odds and ends of vegetables I have on end, and the result is always satisfying and nutritious, even if not very authentic!
2. Kootu, a Tamilian dish, which combines lentils and vegetables into a thick curry.
3. Paruppu Usili, another interesting Tamilian dish. Dal/ lentils are ground to a thick paste that is shaped into balls and steamed. Then the steamed lentil balls can be crumbled into several vegetable stir-fry dishes to add an instant boost of protein and flavor.
4. Marathi cuisine has two methods to quickly add dal-power to vegetables. First, soaked chana dal is often added to vegetables as they are cooked into simple stir-fries. I always add chana dal to cabbage and cauliflower, for instance. Second, chickpea powder (besan) is sprinkled on stir-fries of vegetables such as cabbage, spring onions and green peppers.
5. Punjabi dishes of rajma (kidney beans) and chana (chickpeas) often include vegetables such as onion, potato and tomato. Potato gets a bad rap these days, but we often forget that it is a rich source of vitamin C and potassium, and is very nutritious when cooked in such curries.
Any other common dishes than I have forgotten to mention? Please leave a comment on how your favorite dish combines veggies and lentils/beans.

Today, I decided to go with a classic Northern Indian style dal that combines a common dal (toor dal or yellow lentils) with a common vegetable (spinach) and a common spice (garlic) to make a uncommonly delicious dish of lasuni dal palak or "garlicky lentils with spinach"! Garlic, beloved spice of so many cuisines, is called Lasun in Hindi (and Marathi, although pronounced differently). I can't think of many scents more heady and appetizing than the aroma of garlic and spinach being sauteed together. In this dish, I use golden-brown slices of garlic as a garnish. Raw garlic can be quite over-powering, but cooked garlic has a delicate taste all of its own.

Lasuni Dal Palak

(about 4 servings)
1. The prep: Cook 3/4 cup of toor dal. Chop 2 packed cups spinach into strips (I used fresh baby spinach, but frozen spinach could be used too). Chop 4 cloves of garlic into thin slices. Chop another 2-3 cloves of garlic finely. Chop 1 small onion into thin slices. Chop 1 fresh or canned ripe tomato into cubes.
2. Heat 1 tbsp oil. On medium heat, gently fry the garlic slices to a pale brown (takes only a few seconds, be careful as garlic burns quickly and becomes bitter). Remove the slices with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds to the oil and let them sizzle. Add the minced garlic and sliced onion. Saute for a few minutes until the onion is lightly browned. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp red chili powder, salt to taste and chopped spinach. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the spinach wilts.
4. Stir in the tomato and fry for a minute or two. Add the cooked dal and a cup of water (more or less, depending on how thin or thick you prefer your dal).
5. Add 1 tsp garam masala and simmer the dal for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (don't skip the lemon juice as far as possible- it enhances the taste, plus the Vitamin C from lemon juice helps the body absorb much more iron from plant-based foods like spinach that it can otherwise). Garnish with the reserved fried garlic slices and serve hot.

Variations on a theme
Another recipe for Lasooni Dal Palak from Saffron Trail, and this one is from a real five-star-restaurant chef, no less!

How do you serve this dish?
Make a thicker dal to serve with breads, such as rotis or parathas. Make a thinner dal to serve with steamed rice, with any vegetable stir-fry on the side.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious combinations of lentils/beans with vegetables. Here are some of my favorite finds:
Pacha Sambar from Mahanandi,
Okra Sambar from Masala Magic,
Matki with Green Beans from Happy Burp,
Methi Chana from Food-In The Main,
Mixed Vegetables Kootu from Mysoorean,
Pappu Pulusu from Sailu's Food,

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: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging, Weekend Jabber

Ever since my weekends were taken over by the A-Z event, poor Dale (the official mascot) has been unceremoniously booted off the pages of One Hot Stove. He's been rather miffed about it, let me tell you, so here he is!

Dale's life has a singular purpose: To Scout Out New Surfaces To Nap On. Last weekend, we bought a little space-filling rug (a desperate and inexpert effort to decorate a still-bare home) and laid it in the living room just to see what it looked it. Dale scooted right over and made himself comfortable on it within SECONDS! Ever since, it is his new favorite place to nap on. He starts by settling in...pinning back his ears:
ponders his surrounding for a few minutes:
then gives in to gravity, his head sinks to the ground and he slips into slumber; another busy day in the life of a dog!
Oh, Dale has a message: "Hi, Kamini! Woof! I missed you too!" :)

A bit of weekend jabber:
I tried out three recipes from fellow bloggers recently, and loved 'em all...
1. Apple Cake from Nami-Nami. A simple batter with loads of diced apples (I actually used one apple and one red Anjou pear instead of two apples), and a cinnamon-y crumb topping. It made for a delicious brunch cake, moist and fruity. The only problem was that the kids I made it for decided that they did not like fruits in cakes, and painstakingly removed every last bit of fruit before eating the few crumbs that were left behind! Oh, well, I guess you cannot please everyone! The rest of us enjoyed it, and I will certainly be making this cake again. The picture that I took does not do much justice to this cake, but here is a peek at it anyway:
2. A couple of years ago, I had never cooked with, and rarely ate sweet potatoes. Now, I buy them nearly every week and am always looking for new ways to cook them. Sweet potatoes are such a nutritious food that it would be silly not to. Well, I found a great way to use these orange beauties as appetizers: Sweet Potato Tikkis from Is That My Bureka, a recipe that I found via Coffee. This recipe is a keeper, and I followed it pretty closely, only subbing more cashews for the sunflower seeds.
3. Finally, I made a double batch of this delicious Mushroom Masala from Recipe Junction when we had an impromptu dinner with friends. It is totally restaurant-style stuff and just the ticket to satisfy mushroom lovers. Another keeper recipe!

After years of reading blogs the "old-fashioned" way (clicking on links, I mean), I decided that the number of blogs that I wanted to regularly read was getting out of hand, and streamlined it a little by subscribing to the "feeds" instead. I know I am very late coming to the RSS party, but that's me! Here is how I did it: I registered on to Bloglines. There are many alternatives out there...I just went with this one because I quickly saw that it was free, user-friendly and very quick. Once you have your own "page" there, you can add the URLs of all your favorite blogs. Then, every time these blogs are updated, you will see it highlighted in bold and can go read the new post. I *love* it! For one thing, it is efficient, and for another, I am saved from that little pang of disappointment that I feel when I visit my favorite blogs and find that there is no new post for me to read! Now, when I settle down with my first cup of tea every morning, I'm off to bloglines, and then to all the freshly-updated blogs for my daily fix of food-mania.

See you all tomorrow for the L of Indian Vegetables!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Green Blog Project: Methi and Basil

The Green Blog Project is a beautiful and meaningful event started by Inji Pennu of Ginger and Mango. The idea is to inspire food bloggers to grow produce in their own homes and cook with it. This time around, the Winter-Spring leg of the Green Blog Project is being hosted by Mandira of Ahaar.

I have been a silent admirer of the gardening skills of my fellow bloggers. I was awe-struck at the last round-up of the Green Blog Project. You see, I am sorely lacking a green thumb. A few years ago, my friend Revati gave me a trio of African violets as a birthday gift. Three weeks later, one succumbed to my poor care and I hastily relinquished the rest to V's care. In his hands, they thrived and grew and my poor gardening ego took a fall. Then, when I read the announcement for Winter-Spring round-up of this project, I was determined to participate in my own little way and give gardening a fresh start. In the company of bloggers who are far better gardeners, my two little herbs will look quite silly, and I was almost too embarrassed to write this post, but you have to start somewhere, so here I am. The following text is for gardening newbies like me and not meant for more experienced folks!

Methi (Fenugreek) Plant

I used a recycled plastic container as a pot. You need to drill quite a few holes in the bottom of the container for adequate drainage. I used "Scott's potting soil for seed starting". To give the plants a head start, I sprouted the methi seeds before planting them (take store-bought methi seeds, soak overnight in warm water, then drain and place in a damp cheesecloth for 2 days until you see sprouts emerging). Plant the sprouted methi seeds just below the surface of the potting soil, leaving some space between seeds. In my case, about a third of the seeds failed to emerge (a high infant mortality rate!) so plant a few more seeds than you think you need. Keep the plant by a window, keep the soil moist (without over-watering) and within a week or two, you will see saplings emerging! I watched the seeds grow with all the excitement and wonder of a 5-year old growing seeds in her kindergarten science project :)
Now, I find that as the methi stems are growing, they are keeling over from their own weight. Any solutions for that?

Fresh methi is one of my favorite herbs. I think it adds a wonderful pleasantly-bitter flavor when sprinkled on Northern Indian dishes. Baby methi, the kind I have, is hardly bitter at all, but very aromatic. I used some of this methi for two dishes already: I used it as a herb in some Paneer Kati Rolls and added it to potato parathas that I made for brunch last week. My dish for the green blog project is...

Gajar Methi (Carrot-Fenugreek Stir-Fry)

The combination of carrots and fenugreek is a popular North-Indian dish. Sweet carrots and bitter-ish fenugreek complement each other perfectly, and the contrasting colors make for a pretty presentation.

Method: Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and 2 tbsp finely minced onion. Stir for a few minutes until onions are transluscent. Add 2 cups carrots, cut in small dice and 1/2 cup finely minced fresh fenugreek. Add a touch of turmeric, red chili powder, garam masala and salt. Stir-fry for a minute, then cover and cook for a few minutes until carrots are just tender. Serve hot with rotis for a delicious and healthy meal!

Basil Plant

I also have a little basil plant that is growing quite well. This, I started with a conventional clay pot and a seed packet. I planted the seeds right away, without any sprouting, according to directions on the packet. Other than the fact that the plants are crowded, this one seems to be doing well.
I'm waiting for the leaves to get bigger before I start plucking and using this basil. Come summer, I know I'm going to use it a lot in omelets, pasta, pizzas and salads!

My next gardening ambitions: to have a chili pepper plant and a curry leaf plant. Since I live in a small apartment with limited space, I am realistic enough to know that I can't grow large quantities of produce. Instead, I would like to grow those herbs and condiments that I use in small quantities, where store-bought sizes are too big for my needs and I could just pluck a few leaves when the need arises. Would anyone care to answer my questions:
1) Can you grow a chili plant from the seeds of store-bought dried red chilies? Any tips on doing that?
2) How do you obtain a curry leaf plant? Any reliable sources out there? Or do you ask your local nursery to order one for you? Do you think a curry leaf plant would survive and thrive indoors in a place like Missouri?
Thanks for the inspiration, everyone, and thanks, Mandira, for hosting! This is a wonderful learning experience for me.