Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Of Brown Rice and Brownies

A few weeks ago, I realized with a start that in two-and-a-half years of blogging, brown rice has been a rare commodity on this blog. How did that happen? It has something to do with my complicated relationship with brown rice: On one hand, I love the nutty and chewy texture of brown rice, and want to embrace its healthful properties. Brown rice has been a presence in my kitchen for several years and I do serve it now and then. But I still can't wrap my head around eating brown rice on a regular basis, relegating white rice to the status of an occasional treat. I can't fathom eating amti or pithale or sambar with brown rice, and I am not too thrilled with the idea of making lemon rice or tamarind rice with brown rice.

So, for some ideas and inspiration, I turned to my culinary gurus: the food bloggers. Here are some of my favorite experiments with brown rice, all truly delicious!

Idea 1: Adding brown rice to dosa batter. I got this idea from Manjula's recipe for Brown Rice and Barley Dosa. I started making dosas on a regular basis only this year, using the standard proportions of 1 C urad dal: 2 C white rice. For this first experiment, I took a cue from Manjula and used 1 C urad dal: 1 C white rice: 1 C brown rice. The result was very delicious, and definitely a small yet significant improvement, nutritionally speaking.
To go with the dosa, I made a Konkani version of sambar, using Shilpa's authentic recipe for Kolmbo. My variation: I halved the amount of spices in the masala mixture to account for our rather wimpy taste buds. Even so, this was the spiciest sambar I have ever tasted- very flavorful and delicious.

Idea 2: Brown rice khichdi. I had all kinds of pre-conceived notions that khichdi, my favorite food, should not be messed around with. Then I saw Musical's recipe for Mothaan di Khichdi and it called for my beloved matki/ moth beans and, surprise, brown rice! I made it the very day she posted it, and followed the recipe directions religiously. With a dollop of tangy mango pickle, this meal was nothing short of *divine*.
Last night, I made a variation of it: Using 2 C of mixed sprouts (matki, moong, masoor) instead of the half C of matki. I cooked the rice together with the sprouts...sprouts cook very quickly and do not require the pre-cooking. This version was as delicious as the original. What a simple and fantastic recipe! Serve it with any stir-fried vegetable (subzi/ bhaaji) for a complete and utterly satisfying meal.

Idea 3: Pairing brown rice with a spicy curry or stew. You need something robust and full-bodied to match the nutty flavor of brown rice, and rajma (a traditional Punjabi kidney bean stew) is the perfect example! I am happy to inform you that I have found THE rajma recipe that I have been seeking for years (the essay on the post is such a fantastic read; the author of the blog is a well-known writer in Bombay). The combination of rajma with plain boiled brown rice was such a treat. I cook my brown rice on the stove-top [1 C rice (soaked 15 minutes, then drained) : 2 C water]. For more tips on cooking plain brown rice, see this DH post.
The rajma recipe calls for all of 6 ingredients and turns out something soooo delicious. I think this is a wonderful recipe for anyone who is new to Indian cooking and intimidated by long ingredient lists. This recipe calls for kidney beans, onion, tomato, salt, oil/ghee (butter could be substituted) and red chili powder (cayenne pepper). These are very common ingredients in most pantries. Dare I say it...one could make a version of this with canned beans in a pinch. My variation: I did soak the rajma for a few hours and rinsed it thoroughly before pressure-cooking it. Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe religiously. I did not even "speak while eating"!

Finally, while we are on the subject of "brown", here is some dessert! I wanted to bake something sweet for my parents when they were visiting, and what could be more American than brownies? Via Trupti's MBP post, I found this recipe for Low-Fat Brownies that I liked at first sight. Applesauce is used to add moisture while cutting down on the fat and it calls for a great deal of cocoa powder, making the resulting brownies very chocolate-y indeed. With only half a cup of sugar, these brownies are not very sweet at all- just the way I like my "sweets"! My variations: (a) I used only 1 tsp vanilla extract (b) added 1 tsp instant coffee to the dry ingredients (c) added half cup toasted chopped walnuts to the batter. We loved the taste of these low-fat treats just by themselves, but on that day, I served them with vanilla ice cream, garnished with some apple roses.
I've made these brownies a couple of times since then, and everyone likes them. This recipe goes straight into my folder of "keeper recipes".

Idea 4: Oven-Baked Brown Rice For anyone struggling to make brown rice on the stove-top, Alanna shares a fool-proof method from Cook's Illustrated Magazine. Her Oven-Baked Brown Rice was very easy to make, and turned out just perfect: every grain of rice fluffy and perfectly cooked! It is nice to make a big batch of brown rice and use it over 2-3 days (it re-heats perfectly in the microwave).

Idea 5: Fried Rice Any left-over cooked brown rice can be easily used to make a "fried" rice with vegetables like onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, green onions (any combination of these). See an example here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Y is for Yam Phodi

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 "Y" of Indian Vegetables
The letter Y inspired nineteen joyous Indian flavors!

Let's begin with the Y vegetables...

The first vegetable is the Yam! The terminology of yams can be highly confusing, but here is what I understand: As far as vegetables are concerned, yam is a common term for the edible tubers (swollen storage organs of a plant) that belong to a particular group of vines. Yams are starchy veggies, and generally pretty bland-tasting: they can be flavored in many different ways. The confusion arises because in the US, sweet potatoes (which come from another plant altogether, and have a sweet taste and are not as starchy and bland) are *mistakenly* called yams. In my book, sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes, and yams are yams :) and the two terms are not interchangeable! Otherwise, we would be calling potatoes "yams" pretty soon. But everyone has their own ideas about this, and we see some sweet potatoes sneaking in here (but we always welcome them; sweet potatoes are brimming with nutrients) :D

Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi use the "proper" elephant yam (called suran in Hindi) and make a traditional stir-fry from Kerala: cooking cubes of yam in coconut oil with mustard seeds and curry leaves to make this flavorful Yam Mezhukkuparatti.

Musical of Musical's Kitchen provides a sweet disclaimer, then goes on to combine nutritious sweet potatoes with fiber-and-antioxidant-rich black blacks into a beautiful stew of Yam with Black Beans.

Tee of Bhaatukli, in her own words, "advantage of the fact that Sweet Potatoes are called Yams here in the US" :) and cooks them into the most fantastic three-ingredient recipe ever: her Yam Caramelized in Jaggery Sauce take "candied yams" to the next level.

Aarti of Aarti's Corner cooks sweet potatoes with milk, sugar and cardamom into a creamy and delicious Yam Halwa that looks like a real treat.

You can always count on Live2cook of Live To Cook to come up with something unusual for this series! This week, she tells us all about Yampi, a yam variety from Jamaica. Here, the yampi is cooked, the leathery and rather formidable-looking skin is peeled off, and the yampi is stuffed into dough to make these crispy and inviting Yampi Paratha.

The next vegetable is one I never would have thought of: Yardlong beans! These bright green lanky beauties are widely used in Chinese and South-Asian cuisines. Laavanya of Cookery Corner turns them into a flavorful side-dish: her YardLong Beans Thoran has tender beans cooked with a tasty coconut paste.

We now come to an array of sunny and summery Yellow vegetables; the deep yellow color of these vegetables is a hint that these veggies contain a burst of healthful pigments.

First up, the Yellow Capsicum, adding sweetness and a splash of color wherever it is used. Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope cooks them in a typical Kannada style to make a tasty side-dish, Yellow Capsicum Gojju.

Next come the gorgeous and rather unusual Yellow Beets. TC of The Cooker tosses cooked yellow beets with nuts, herbs and lemon juice to make a bright Yellow Beet Salad.

The last yellow vegetable is very much in season at this very minute: the Yellow Squash. Here are three exciting and innovative ways to cook it:

Cathy of My Little Kitchen cooks up a feast: she combines masoor dal, yellow squash and whole spices to make a flavorful Yellow Squash Dalcha, and serves it with Yellow Yogurt (Carrot Raita) and brown rice for a healthful and utterly satisfying meal.

Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen makes something that looks like a work of art: her Yellow Squash Baked Boats consist of hollowed-out yellow squashed stuffed with a savory mixture of herbs and rice, baked to perfection.

Linda of Out Of The Garden uses the freshest squash possible: it comes straight from her mother's garden. Linda cuts thick juicy slices of the squash, then dredges them with flavorful sambar powder and fries them in pure ghee to make this elegantly simple ode to summer: Yellow Squash Saute.

The next vegetable is Yelimichangai, which means lime in the Tamil language. Tangy limes bring a burst of fresh flavor to so many Indian dishes. Raaga of The Singing Chef gives them the spotlight with her recipe for Yelimicha Sevai- a simple stir-fry of thin rice noodles perked up with fresh lime juice.

Hima of SnackORama takes up the challenge of the rather difficult letter Y and comes up with a whole Y Vegetable Andhra Thali. This plate contains an arraY of delicious home-style vegetable dishes: Yellow Squash dal, Yam curry and Yogurt Chutney.

The next Y food is cool and creamy Yogurt. It is highly prized in the Indian diet, especially during these hot summer months. Yogurt is often eaten by itself as a accompaniment to the meal, but can also be combined with vegetables with fantastic results.

Nothing is ever wasted in the traditional Indian kitchen: Suma of Veggie Platter shows a typically Andhra way to use up sour yogurt. Snake gourd is cooked until tender, then combined with whisked yogurt and a spicy ginger-chilli paste to make a tasty dish of Yogurt with Snake Gourd.

Madhuli of My Foodcourt shares a fiery recipe for a chutney that is as kicked up as it can possibly get: Fire-roasted green chillies are blended with cooling yogurt to make this tantalizing Yogurt Mirchi.

Dhana of Fresh Kitchen makes a crowd-pleasing dish: Crispy fried okra is mixed in with tempered yogurt and a hefty pinch of turmeric to make this gorgeous Yellow Dahi Bhindi.

The next dish is full of simplicity and goodness: Jyothi of Andhra Spicy mixes cooked rice, tempered yogurt and lots of fresh cilantro and a few crispy dried chillies to make an inviting bowl of Yogurt Rice.

Manasi of A Cook At Heart celebrates her first blog-birthday with a bowl of Yogurt Wadas- a cool and delightful treat in summer.

We end with two Yummy snacks, both a lovely shade of Yellow! G V Barve of Add Flavor makes a crunchy duo of Yellow Cornflakes Chivda and Yellow Jalebi.

Y is for Yam Phodi: Vegetables as Themselves

After months of cooking vegetables in all kinds of dals and curries; and combining them with eggs and yogurt and all kinds of other vegetables, this post is dedicated to celebrating vegetables in their own right! And lucky for you, since I just returned from a trip and am a little tired, this post will be a short one :)

For the letter Y, I turned to the one Y veggie I could think of: the Yam! I wanted to use the Indian purple yam, often called suran. Beneath a nondescript skin lies this gorgeous color, and the pattern reminds me of tie-dyed fabric:

This was the very first time I ever cooked yam, and I decided to go with Shilpa's recipe for Rava Phodi. Slices of vegetables are smeared with a tasty tamarind paste, then dipped in semolina/ rava and shallow-fried: the result is a crisp and delicious side-dish that can turn a simple meal of dal-rice into something quite special. This was the very first time I cooked purple yam, and I was expecting a rather bland and starchy taste. The truth is, purple yam tastes sweet and delicious!

Yam Phodi

(serves 2, adapted from Shilpa's recipe)
1. Wash, peel and slice purple yam to yield about a cup or so.
2. In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp tamarind paste, salt, chili powder and turmeric to taste, and a pinch of asafoetida. Smear each of the yam slices with the paste and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. In a small dish, combine 1/4 cup of rava (semolina) and salt to taste.
4. Dredge each slice of yam in the rava mixture and shallow-fry until crispy on each side.
5. Serve right away as a snack or a side-dish.

Here are some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers, featuring vegetables as themselves...
Phodis from Past, Present and Me
Sweet Potato Crisps and Chips from Jugalbandi,
Roasted Tindora from Towards a Better Tomorrow,
Simple Fried Eggplant from Salt and Pepper,
Oven Fried Banana Chips from The Spice is Right,
Tandoori Vegetables from The Spice Cafe,
Grilled Corn (Bhutta) from Manpasand,

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
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs
O is for Onion Chutney: Vegetables in Chutneys
P is for Pattagobi Pachadi: Vegetables in Salads
Q is for Quick Carrot Pickles: Vegetables in Pickles
R is for Radish Paratha: Root Vegetables
S is for Spinach Amti: Green Leafy Vegetables
T is for Tomato Red Pepper Saar: Soups
U is for Undhiyu: Regional Delicacies
V is for Vegetable-Cheese Sandwiches: Mixed Vegetables
W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits, Nuts
X is for eXploration: Pattypan Squash Sambar

Monday, July 23, 2007

Crunchy Granola

This is my entry for the monthly Weekend Breakfast Blogging, an event showcasing my favorite meal of the day! WBB is the brainchild of Nandita from Saffron Trail. This month, WBB is being hosted by Madhuli of My Foodcourt. Madhuli is encouraging healthy eating by choosing a whole grain as the menu for the month: OATS!
A few years ago, I decided that, given the overwhelming evidence that oats are good for the body, it was in my best interest to learn to love them. I started with quick-cooking oats, which was an unfortunate thing, because quick-cooking oats are rather gummy (regular old-fashioned oats are a better choice, I now realize), but even those were very tasty when I cooked them into the kheer-like and optimistic-sounding Sunshine Oatmeal. I graduated to eating hot oatmeal with different toppings, and I did learn to like oatmeal. My favorite oatmeal recipe for the past year or so: Peanut Butter Oatmeal, thanks to Alanna and Kalyn. I top it with a little honey for a sweet-salty taste.

For those who do not like the mushy taste of hot oatmeal porridge, there is always crunchy golden granola! The store shelves of gourmet stores and health food stores are simply groaning under the weight of granola of all different flavors. Most of these have one thing in common- they are ridiculously expensive!! Home-made granola is much better value for money, plus you get to control how much sweetener and oil goes in. You also get to choose your favorite combination of nuts, seeds and fruits to make your own signature granola.

I looked at several granola recipes and saw that they are all just minor variations on a theme. The general ingredients are:
1. Oats! Most recipes call for rolled oats or old-fashioned oats.
2. Nuts and seeds: eg. walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
3. Oil: to toss with the oats before baking, ensuring that the oats gets golden and cunchy
4. Sweeteners: eg. honey, brown sugar, maple syrup
5. Flavoring: eg. cinnamon, vanilla
6. Dried fruit: eg. raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dates, candied ginger

The general method is: Toss together oats and nuts and seeds. Mix together sweetener, oil and flavoring, then toss with the oat mixture. Bake until golden, then add in the dried fruit. Simple as that!

In addition to this basic formula, granola can be personalized in a hundred different ways. Some recipes call for the addition of soy protein powder to increase the protein content of the granola. Others add oat bran for extra fiber or flaxseeds for omega-3s. One could also add orange zest for a burst of citrus flavor. One look at the recipe will tell you that while it is full of natural goodness, granola has lots of calorie-rich ingredients. The secret is portion size: eating only 1/3 to 1/2 cup of granola in a serving. Here is how I made it, based on ingredients that were available in my kitchen:

Crunchy Granola

(makes 5-6 cups; serving size is 1/2 cup)
3 C rolled oats
1/2 C chopped walnuts
1/2 C almond slivers
1/2 C sunflower seeds
1/2 C dried coconut flakes (I used the unsweetened kind)
1/2 t salt
1/3 C canola oil
1/3 C honey
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 C chopped dried apicots
1/2 C golden raisins
1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with oil spray and set aside.
2. Combine ingredients from oats to salt in a large bowl.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, honey and vanilla. Pour onto oat mixture and mix well with your hands, being sure to coat everything well.
4. Spread on the baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden, stirring every 10 minutes.
5. Let the granola cool down. Then stir in the dried fruit and store in an airtight container.

Serving granola for breakfast...
V prefers it with some plain milk or soymilk:

I prefer it as a crunchy topping on some fruit-flavored yogurt (I simply mix plain low-fat yogurt with any ripe fruit I have on hand):

Granola can also be served with dessert: a friend recently made raspberry frozen yogurt, served with a raspberry sauce and a crunchy granola topping. It tasted wonderful! Finally, granola can be enjoyed as a snack, just by itself.

For delicious ideas for eating oatmeal for breakfast, go see Madhuli's round-up of this event.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

X is for eXploration!

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 "X" of Indian Vegetables
The letter X inspired fourteen Xciting Indian flavors!

We start with a bona fide X dish, a Goan curry that goes by the eXotic name of xacuti ( pronounced sha-gu-ti). We have four delicious versions here, made with a variety of vegetables...

Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi provide a great deal on interesting history behind this tasty curry, and share their version of Xacuti, made with cauliflowers and potatoes.

Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope shares a hot and sweet version of Xacutti made with baby carrots.

Pooja of Khana Pina, who happens to be a Goan, shares the secrets of authentic Xacuti; her version is full of juicy mushrooms.

Suma of Veggie Platter blends 11 different spices to make a flavorful xacuti masala, then experiments with the masala, ending up with two Xacuti dishes: xacuti - Vegetarian Style and xacuti Masala Rice.

Next, we come to the intrepid bloggers who took on the X challenge! Each of them has taken on a vegetable that was unknown to them, and cooked it in style. Here is a listing of these delicious eXperiments:

Chhollia: The tender, fresh version of the bean that most of us know as the dried chana. Raaga of The Singing Chef cooks it in the style of a very popular coconut-based Konkani dish called ghasshi. Her Chhollia Ghasshi looks rich and aromatic.

Endamame: Fresh soybeans, sometimes eaten along with their tender green pods. Saju of Chachi's Kitchen steams the whole endamame, then tosses them with salt and chat masala, to make a delicious and healthy Appetizer to go with your favorite wine.

Gobo: Also called burdock root, it is the taproot of young burdock plants which can be used as a root vegetable. Dhana of Fresh Kitchen takes these slender roots and goes wild with them! She ends up with Two Tasty Gobo Dishes, gobo pickle and masala gobo.

Jalapeno: A spicy chili pepper prized in Mexican cuisine. Aspiring Annapoorna of Kadchhi ka Kamaal takes some Jalapeno powder and uses this Mexican spice in a pasta sauce with a desi kick. Her Tomato-Jalepeno Sauce is certainly an international sensation.

Kohlrabi: A member of the cabbage family with a stout swollen stem. Swapna of Swad takes the effort to peel the tough skin off the kohlrabi, then cooks it into a Spicy Kohlrabi Stew with Tomatoes that looks juicy and tempting.

Okra: The tapering immature fruits/ pods of the flowering okra plant. Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen comes from Slovakia and now lives in Sweden, and has never tasted okra before. She cooks the okra into a simple Okra Stir-Fry and serves the colorful vegetable with a beautiful dal for a true Indian meal.

Lamb's Quarters: A green leafy vegetable that grows almost like a weed, and is often harvested from the wild. TC of The Cooker cooks them in the most delicious way: cooking lamb's quarters into a spicy filling, then stuffing it into whole-wheat pockets to make these Stuffed Buns.

Tomatillo: A small fruit enclosed in a papery husk; it has a very tangy taste. Tomatillos remind Suganya of Tasty Palettes of green tomatoes, and she cooks them with moong dal in this tangy and tasty Tomatillo Dal.

Xiao Baicai: Also known as bok choy or pak chay, it is an Asian member of the cabbage family, with a spoon-like white stalk and bright green leaves. Live2cook of Live To Cook, who is never afraid of trying something new, cooks two delicious dishes with this veggie: Pak Chay Paneer and Pak Chay Palya.

Finally, let's end with something sweet and rich...

Aarti of Aarti's Corner shares an Xtra-Rich Patiala Lassi, with full-fat yogurt, aromatic spices and dry fruits.

Hima of SnackORama makes an Xtremely Delicious Fruit Kesari, with nuts, raisins and chunks of juicy fruits.

X is for eXploration: New Vegetables, Old Ways

I live and cook in a place that is diametrically opposite the globe from the place where I grew up. So many of us are the same way: having to live for short or long periods of time in a different city or a different region of our country, or in a foreign country, or on a different continent altogether. Along with dealing with a different culture and perhaps a different language, we deal with a whole new set of foods, with unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. When I started cooking on a regular basis in NYC, I stuck to vegetables that were familiar, the ones that I knew how to prepare. I missed my favorite Indian vegetables- fenugreek leaves, ridge gourds, baby eggplants- and would travel all the way to Queens to seek them out.

Slowly, though, I had more and more reasons to buy vegetables from local sources, and try the local vegetables that were new to me. For one thing, getting to live abroad for a few years provides a wonderful opportunity to expand one's culinary repertoire. It is just plain exciting to try new vegetables- to try them in the context of other cuisines, and also to experiment with them in Indian dishes. Several Indian dishes lend themselves very well to being experimented with: for instance, dals taste wonderful paired with all sorts of vegetables, Indian subzis or simple stir-fries can be made with different vegetables, parathas can be stuffed with all kinds of veggies. When you eat the veggies that the Romans eat, so to speak, you also get a chance to eat seasonal food that is locally produced, and thereby support the local economy and reduce your food miles. Finally, here at my favorite international store in St. Louis, the vast majority of the "foreign" vegetables are sold on styrofoam trays, wrapped in layers of plastic wrap, and the trash that this generates is enough to kill my appetite. For all these reasons, I have significantly cut down on buying vegetables that are specifically Indian, and am trying to make the most of seasonal local produce as much as possible. Fresh produce simply tastes better, and is at its nutritional peak.

When my parents were visiting us last month, they were not really interested in doing any of the touristy stuff in St. Louis: they had done enough of that on a previous trip to the US. Instead, they enjoyed doing other things: browsing through books at the public library, exploring this gorgeous cathedral in our neighborhood, and accompanying us on grocery shopping trips. They were eager to try all the new vegetables that they spied. They loved asparagus (which we enjoyed in a simple roasted form: once with a balsamic vinegar marinade, once with a tandoori marinade) and brussels sprouts, which I cooked as a simple poriyal (stir-fry). They thought that brussels sprouts, with their miniature-cabbage appearance, looked just adorable. At some point, they saw an avocado being used in a cooking show on TV and were curious about it, so I made a simple guacamole for them, and they said it was buttery and delicious. They were also curious about rhubarb when they spotted it in the store, and I was delighted when a friend brought them custard with rhubarb sauce. Now that was a treat!
Anyway, on a trip to Soulard market, V and I went hunting for the X vegetable. Both of us spotted it at the same time: large flying saucers with ruffled edges, in a pretty shade of pastel green. It is the Pattypan Squash!
They were being sold 3 for a dollar, and I bought three and made off with them. A few minutes later, I was stuck with a mild case of buyer's remorse. I remembered that it is generally baby pattypan squashes that are tender and delicious, and the ones I bought were literally as large as saucers, 4-5 inches in diameter. Would these be quite tough and inedible? I had to try and cook them and discover for myself.

How should I cook them? The best way to take advantage of that pretty shape would be to create a stuffed vegetable. But when I cut horizontally across the disc and saw how juicy the vegetable was, I changed my mind. I would make an easy sambar instead, because I absolutely love the presence of juicy chunks of vegetables in sambar. Pattypan squash does not need to be peeled, and the ones I bought has no seeds inside: it is an easy vegetable to chop up, and the whole vegetable can be consumed with no waste at all. In terms of texture, taste and appearance, pattypan squash most resembles a tender version of our Indian doodhi (bottle gourd). This sambar recipe makes no claims to authenticity, it is just how I make it. While mixed vegetable sambar is an all-time favorite in our home, I have recently started to make single-veggie sambars which always turn out so delicious. I particularly love the ones with okra, radish and cauliflower. Sambar masala is an aromatic blend of spices- you can buy it from Indian stores, or make your own (several blogs have authentic recipes). V's mom keeps us supplied with our sambar masala.

Pattypan Squash Sambar

pattypan2(makes about 4 servings)
3/4 C toor dal
1 large pattypan squash
1 T tamarind pulp
1 T sambar masala (see note above)
salt to taste
2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
7-8 curry leaves
1/2 t turmeric powder
1/2 t red chili powder
1. Soak the toor dal for 10-15 minutes, then rinse well and cook. Set aside.
2. Wash the pattypan squash, cut it into bite-size chunks and set aside.
3. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. When they splutter, add the other tempering ingredients and stir around for a few seconds.
4. Stir in the pattypan squash chunks. Add salt to taste and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer until the squash is just tender.
5. Stir in the sambar masala, tamarind and dal.
6. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

I served the pattypan squash sambar with steamed rice and roasted eggplant slices (eggplant slices sprinkled with a mixture of rice flour, salt and red chili powder, then roasted on a baking sheet in a toaster oven until tender). The tender juicy chunks of pattypan squash in the sambar were just irresistible! This is a very versatile vegetable: I used squash #2 in place of bottle gourd in Musical's recipe to make a delicious vegetable-chana dal. Squash #3 was used in place of ridge gourd in this home-style recipe with very tasty results. So my one dollar purchase of pattypan squash yielded 3 different main dishes! Not bad, eh? The joys of eating in season!

Here are some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers, all illustrating the concept of Indian ways with "new" vegetables...
Asparagus Patoli from Jugalbandi
Avocado Parathas from The Spice is Right,
Bok Choy Masoor Dal from Bong Mom's Cookbook,
Broccoli with Cumin and Garlic from Tigers and Strawberries,
Brussels Sprouts Curry from Neivedyam,
Collard Greens Pathrado from Past, Present and Me,
Kale Thoran from My Workshop,
Leek-Stuffed Kulcha from Tasty Palettes,
Snap Pea Pods Masala from Live To Cook,
and a refreshing drink at the end...
Applesauce Panha from The Cooker.

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
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs
O is for Onion Chutney: Vegetables in Chutneys
P is for Pattagobi Pachadi: Vegetables in Salads
Q is for Quick Carrot Pickles: Vegetables in Pickles
R is for Radish Paratha: Root Vegetables
S is for Spinach Amti: Green Leafy Vegetables
T is for Tomato Red Pepper Saar: Soups
U is for Undhiyu: Regional Delicacies
V is for Vegetable-Cheese Sandwiches: Mixed Vegetables
W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits, Nuts

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Monthly Blog Patrol, and a Meme

Every month, Coffee from The Spice Cafe sends us off on a mission called the Monthly Blog Patrol: the idea is to browse our favorite blogs and choose some recipes that make us want to run to the kitchen and try them, and, well, run to the kitchen and *actually* try them, instead of just drooling all over the keyboard. The theme for this month is Preserves!

Garlic Chutney

When Archana from Tried and Tested Recipes made Lasnichi Chutney (garlic chutney) for RCI: Maharashtra, my heart skipped a beat. This chutney is a permanent feature of the everyday menu in my parents' home, but for some strange reason, I had never attempted to make it.

So I did: I used Archana's recipe with only two additions of my own: 1 T sesame seeds and 1 t cumin seeds. I roasted these briefly with the garlic, then let everything cool down before grinding it in the food processor. You need a few minutes of processing before the chutney gets to the right consistency. Here is the result, filled into an old peanut butter jar:
It was delicious, and will now be a permanent feature in my home too! It is a versatile chutney: I love it with simple dal-rice and yogurt-rice, sprinkled on toasted buttered bread, as an accompaniment to potato patties. The dry garlic chutney can be mixed with some yogurt to make an instant dip.
Last night, we enjoyed a light dinner: yogurt-chutney with aloo parathas, a simple two-bean stir-fry (green beans and soybeans), and no-oil lemon pickle.

Lime Squash

To sip alongside this meal, a refreshing Lime Squash from Anita of A Mad Tea Party. LimeSq
Squash is a term that, in India at least, refers to fruit syrups that are either home-made or store-bought. Once you have these at hand, you can mix up a refreshing drink in seconds by mixing the syrup with some cold water. I halved Anita's recipe but otherwise followed it closely. The result was awesome- citrusy and tangy-sweet and oh-so-restorative in this weather! The only thing is: I was not able to peel the limes as well as Anita (just look at the pictures on her post) and I managed to peel off too much of the "white portion" of the lime, making the syrup just a tad too bitter than it should have been. I enjoyed it anyway, and will be making the syrup again!

For a delicious collection of pickles, jams and powders, check out Coffee's Round-Up!

* * * * *
In the past few days, I was tagged for the "7 random things about me" meme by Arundathi, Suganya and Srivalli. I have written a similar 5-things-about-me meme before, but decided that I contain enough randomness for one more meme :) So, here it goes...

1. Apart from food and cooking, I love reading. One of my favorite genres is the short story. I fell in love with it while reading O. Henry's and Saki's and Arthur Conan Doyle's stories as a middle-schooler. There are dozens of short stories that I remember years after reading them. I noticed that some of my favorite stories can be found online in their entirety: Saki's The Open Window, Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter, Woody Allen's The Kugelmass Episode and Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. Of course, the proper way to enjoy them is to curl up on a couch with the book, not scroll down hastily on a screen! I'm old-fashioned like that.

2. My other favorite genre: books by the South Asian diaspora, i.e., Indian authors writing in English. It took me years and years to get to Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. It is a mammoth book and I never felt like I had the time to do justice to it. This January, I finally had more time on my hands and lugged the book home from the library. I read it over 2-3 weeks, and it was a most delicious read.

3. My favorite short story collections from the South Asian diaspora: Swimming Lessons by Rohinton Mistry, The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri and Bangalore Stories by Lavanya Sankaran. Any other bibliophiles lurking here? You might like this link to some eco-friendly reading tips.

4. The most enjoyable thing I am doing these days (even more fun than reading books, or writing this blog): cooking at Campus Kitchen. I'll tell you more about it some other time.

5. I don't like traveling at all. Don't get me wrong: I like living in different places, and also enjoy visiting them for meetings and conference. It is *vacations* that I cannot stand. My friend Megha once sighed, "Nupur is always happier and more excited on the flight back". There is no place like home!

6. I hate shopping with all my heart. I hate shopping for clothes and shoes most of all. When I stand in stores staring at itty-bitty skirts on the mannequin, I consider the fact I will have to buy that body before I can buy the skirt. My mom buys all my clothes. Unlike me, she shops with the determination of someone pulling the economy out of recession.

7. I can juggle. Only 3 balls at a time. I never did progress beyond that.

See on on Sunday with the X of Indian Vegetables! All entries are due on Saturday.

Want to share your favorite book(s)? Please leave a comment!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

WaterLemon Ginger Ale

Maheshwari of Beyond the Usual has started an event called A Fruit A Month that seeks to take fruits beyond the usual! The challenge is to try a recipe using the fruit of that month. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi are guest hosts this month and they are celebrating the season with the WATERMELON! See details about this event here. Every weekend this summer, V and I have been trekking to the Soulard Farmer's market, and ritually choosing and bringing home a huge watermelon. Here is one we bought last week: it is a Missouri-grown seedless variety called Black Diamond.
That creamy yellow spot on the belly of the watermelon tells us that this guy was sitting on the ground, ripening in the sun. Inside, the watermelon is bright red, turgid with juice, with a crisp texture and a thin rind.

All week, we carve out chunks from the melon and slurp the abundant nectar, sticky juice running down our chins. That is the way I like my watermelon: just the way it is, "simply unfooled around with" :) But Jai and Bee came up with their challenge, and I went hunting for a recipe. If you can call it that! This summery drink is simply watermelon juice spiked with ginger and lemon. The inspiring recipe called for ginger *syrup*, but with the sweetness of the melon, I felt that it was completely unnecessary to add all that extra sugar to the drink. Also, a few chunks and fibers in the drink don't bother me at all, so I don't strain the watermelon juice. This can hardly be called an exact recipe...the proportion of ginger, lemon and sugar are all to taste.

(This icon means that we are celebrating local produce fresh from the Farmers' Market. Many thanks to Alanna for sharing this icon with her fellow bloggers!)

WaterLemon Ginger Ale

(adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, makes 6-10 servings)
1/2 of a medium-large watermelon
Juice of 2 lemons
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1. Make the ginger infusion by combining ginger, sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring it to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Let it cool down completely, then strain it to remove the ginger pieces.
2. Make watermelon juice by cutting the watermelon into cubes, removing seeds if there are any, and putting the cubes through a food processor (a blender may also work).
3. In a large bowl, combine the watermelon juice, lemon juice and ginger infusion. Taste and adjust sugar if necessary. Serve chilled, adding ice cubes just before serving.

Verdict: I served this drink to friends a couple of evenings ago, and we all loved it! It was utterly refreshing. One of my friends said that it reminded her of sugarcane juice- and once she said it, I had to agree: this drink has many of the same flavor notes of sugarcane juice, something that I really miss drinking :(
You could add some black salt or chaat masala to this drink, as a variation. I like it just the way it is.

This week is all about exploration and experimentation, as we cook with unfamilar veggies for the X of Indian Vegetables. Just to remind all enthusiastic participants, entries are due Saturday!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts

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.
A reminder about the X of Indian Vegetables: Next week will be the turn of the letter X. This represents a challenge for this series, and calls for another loophole, I think! In mathematics, the letter X represents an unknown value. X is the letter of mystery, so here is the challenge for X: Choose any fruit or vegetable that is unknown to you...either you have never tasted it, or never cooked with it. Then, use it in any dish of your choice that uses Indian flavors. Here is your chance to scour your grocery store or farmer's market, or go find some exotic ethnic store in your town, and try something fresh and new, do some Xploration! It should be Xciting :) Do you have to take up this challenge for this letter? No, if you come up with something else that fits the X theme, that would be welcome too!

The "W" of Indian Vegetables
The letter W inspired twenty-two wonderful Indian flavors!

First, some wholesome W vegetables. Let's start with something bright and fresh. Green leafy vegetables are always welcome in the diet! Here are two delicious recipes using them.

TC of The Cooker uses Wild Arugula, a salad vegetable that is much more peppery and flavorful than its cultivated counterpart. The pleasant bitterness of the wild arugula forms a beautiful counterpoint to buttery potatoes in this simple yet tasty Wild Arugula Batata Bhaji.

Saju of Chachi's Kitchen highlights two flavorful power foods: Watercress and Walnuts. The walnuts are ground to a tasty chutney with cilantro, then tossed with pasta, the peppery green watercress and tomatoes to make a tempting dish of Watercress, tomato and Walnut Chutney Tagliatelle.

Next come Whole White Potatoes, a beloved comfort food for so many of us. Whole potatoes make for a delightful presentation. Suma of Veggie Platter bathes whole fork-tender potatoes in a savory sauce with her party-ready recipe for Whole White Potatoes in Spinach Gravy.

The next vegetable is a crunchy and delightful tuber. Water Chestnuts are not well known in most Indian cuisines, but are very popular in other parts of Asia. Unlike most vegetables that soften on cooking, water chestnuts retain a crisp texture even after being cooked.

Raaga of The Singing Chef uses them in the simplest and tastiest way: Butter Garlic Water Chestnuts.

Live2cook of Live To Cook boldly experiments with the nutty water chestnuts and comes up with two exciting Indian ways to use them: check out her recipes for Water Chestnut Masala and Water Chestnut Mor Koottu.

The next vegetable is very much in season right now: pearly and sweet White Corn. Manasi of A Cook At Heart cooks the juicy corn niblets, along with some rice, into an easy and tasty weeknight White Corn Pulav.

Linda of Out Of The Garden gets creative...she blends an abunadance of White Vegetables into one Warm and comforting salad. White potatoes, mushrooms, beans and cucumber combine with snow-white yogurt to make one Warm White Salad.

Come to the W Fruits...

We start with a sweet and juicy W fruit that brings welcome relief during the summer months. While the "red part" of the Watermelon is eagerly eaten out of hand, the rind, along with the bland "white part" is often just tossed into the trash. But frugal and creative cooks know that the white of the watermelon, with its bland and crisp taste, can be used as a vegetable.

Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi write a beautiful post about the many uses of watermelon rind, and go on to show us how to use the Watermelon Rind, three ways: to make delicious batches of muthia, olan and mor kozhambu.

G V Barve of Add Flavor turns the bland watermelon into a lovely fudge: Watermelon Wadi.

Next up, we take a break from the sweltering heat to take a look at the Winter Melon. Live2cook of Live To Cook enjoys a wonderful dessert, and years later, she learns to make this memorable Winter Melon Dessert and shares the recipe with us.

The next W food is a worthy addition to any diet: Whole Moong, sprouted, are a tasty and nutritious treat. Aarti of Aarti's Corner shares a recipe for a colorful and fresh Whole Moong Salad.

Now comes a food that is indigenous to North America: Wild Rice. Wild rice is not really rice, but like rice, it is the edible grain of a grass that grows in the marshy areas near the Northern lakes. Suganya of Tasty Palettes cooks the chewy and nutty wild rice into a gorgeous Wild Rice Pulao.

We now come to a W food that is one of the staple foods of the Indian diet: Wheat, often called the "Staff of Life". Different forms of wheat are commonly found in the Indian pantry: broken whole wheat and whole-wheat flour being two popular ways of using this grain.

Whole wheat flour forms the basis of some many nourishing Indian flatbreads. Raaga of The Singing Chef shares two tried-and-tested recipes for stuffed breads: the Whole-Wheat Aloo Parathas are stuffed with a savory potato filling and the Whole-Wheat Paneer Parathas have a spicy cheese mixture hidden inside.

Priyanka of Lajawaab Ahaar remembers a simple and delicious dish of cracked wheat made by her mother. She uses that time-tested recipe to turn out a Wheat Khichdi with Vegetables: it does look like the ultimate comfort food!

Raaga of The Singing Chef uses cracked wheat to make a healthier (and no less tasty) version of the popular dish "upma", with her tempting recipe for Wheat Dalia Upma.

Wheat dishes need not be savory...it lends itself to the dessert course as well!

Viji of Malabar Ruchi uses wheat flour as the base for a sweet and rich Wheat Halwa: redolent with ghee and studded with fruits and nuts.

Tee of Bhaatukli provides a detailed step-by-step route to a decadent and creamy Wheat Pudding: brimming with the goodness of milk, coconut, nuts and raisins.

The next three entries have something in common. They all rely on a wise way of traditional Indian cooks: of taking advantage of the blazing heat of summer to prepare sun-dried foods that will last all year.

One way to store potatoes for the year is to cut them into Wafers and dry them to a crisp in the sun. Aarti of Aarti's Corner gives a simple method for making sun-dried Potato Wafers. Traditionally, potato wafers are deep-fried right before they are served: but these can be microwave-cooked as well!

Another sun-dried food that is a pantry staple in the Punjabi kitchen is the Wadi: little cakes of spiced lentils. Once you have these on hand, they can be used to add a tasty protein boost to vegetable dishes.

Musical of Musical's Kitchen shares a mouth-watering home-style way with the Wadi: cooking it together with ridge gourd or zucchini into an authentic Wadi Toriyan di Subzi.

Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope creatively makes a fusion dish: she adds Wadis to a traditional tangy coconut dish called "ambat" and comes up with a delicious platter of Wadi Ambat.

The final dish is a rather whimsical one. Musical of Musical's Kitchen makes a Wagochan...err, she does not make a "wagocha" so much as cook a rustic Punjabi dish that also goes by that name. Confused yet? Read her post to find out more!!

W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits and Nuts

The W of Indian vegetables is dedicated to the non-vegetables! The botanical definition of a vegetable, as far as I know, is a rather vague one: it refers in general to the edible parts of a plant. In a culinary sense, we think of vegetables as those parts of a plant that are generally eaten cooked or in savory preparations. Fruits, on the other hand, are usually sweet and can be eaten out of hand.

Leaving these vague definitions aside, I merely want to acknowledge that non-vegetables, such as fungi, fruits, nuts and seeds add so much to the variety and taste of countless Indian vegetable dishes. Mushrooms, although not a vegetable at all, have the same properties that we seek in veggies: they are low in fat, have many nutritious properties, and can be cooked into tasty dishes. Fruits such as mango, pineapple, and oh, really all fruits as long as they find themselves in the hands of a capable and creative cook, can take the place of vegetables in a savory dish. Nuts bring a lot to the table too. The addition of nuts to vegetables does much to amplify the taste, texture and richness of the dish. Yes, nuts do add fats and calories, but "good fats" are good for you, and nutty dishes are best served as an occasional festive treat anyway.

For the W dishes, I have chosen two that are quick and easy. Or just simply lazy, depending on your point of view! The first is an easy everyday rice dish, and the second is a dessert that takes only minutes to put together.

Wild Mushrooms have an earthy, woodsy taste that is simply incomparable. Truly wild mushrooms, those foraged from the wild, are waaayyyy beyond my current culinary scope. They need a thorough knowledge of poisonous and non-poisonous varieties of mushrooms, not to mention someplace wild that you would pick them from! For a city girl like me, "wild" mushrooms are the more exotic varieties- Porcini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, Chanterelles and the like, that are acquired, rather tamely, from the grocery store or the Farmer's market. In the following recipe, I use the rich stock of mushroom to cook rice in, and the resulting pulao (flavored rice) is a mushroom lover's delight. Minced mushrooms contribute to a flavorful stock while the thick slices of mushrooms are juicy to bite into. Green onions stirred in at the end add a fresh note. In the interest of full disclosure, let me confess that I used only cremini (baby bella) mushrooms for the pulao- wild enough for me!

Wild Mushroom Pulao

(makes about 4 servings)
3 C fresh mushrooms (any combination of your favorite varieties, I used cremini)
1 C Basmati or other long-grained rice
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
3-4 green onions (spring onions/ scallions), both green and white parts sliced thin
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder
1/4 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
2 tsp oil
1. Wash the mushrooms. Cut half of them into a small dice/ mince. Cut half into thick slices.
1. Heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until fragrant and lightly browned.
2. Stir in the turmeric, red chilli powder and salt.
3. Add the mushrooms, stir around and then cook, covered for 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms start releasing water.
4. Add 2 cups water to the mushrooms, let it come to a boil.
5. Stir in the rice and garam masala. Cover and cook on low heat until the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the green onions and serve hot!

I served the mushroom pulao with Anita's Baingan ki Boorani, a rather non-traditional combination which worked *very* well! I knew I had to try this recipe the minute I laid eyes on Anita's post...although I confess that I did bake the eggplant slices (with the turmeric-garlic paste smeared on them, a paste that I made in minutes in a mortar and pestle). The combination of the flavorful mushroom pulao and the garlicky and creamy eggplant was just exquisite!! Let me say it again: the Baingan ki Boorani is a must-try. Thank you, Anita!

Walnuts are such a special treat, they taste great, add contrasting flavor to sweet dishes, and are rich in health benefits.Here, they find their way into a delicious instant kulfi. It is just another version of the Fig Walnut Kulfi that I have posted before. The kulfi base used in the recipe comes from the book Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Cherries are in season right now, and the combination of sweet juicy cherries and nutty, bitter walnuts in the creamy kulfi base was just delicious!

Walnut-Cherry Kulfi

1. Toast 1/2 cup walnuts. When cool, break into small bits.
2. Pit and chop cherries to yield 3/4 cup. I used fresh, but frozen cherries could be used too.
3. In a large bowl, mix 1 can evaporated milk (low-fat OK), 3/4 can sweetened condensed milk (low-fat OK) and 1 cup heavy cream.
4. To this, add 1 tsp cardamom powder, half the walnuts and half the cherries. Blend together using an immersion blender/ regular blender.
5. Stir in the remaining walnut bits and cherry pieces.
6. Freeze the kulfi mixture for several hours, until solid. You could freeze in a single container, individual molds or popsicle molds. I chose to make kulfi in katoris (small bowls) for individual servings (the picture above shows the mixture ready to go into the freezer). This makes 12 or more servings!

Here are some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers, featuring...
Succulent Mountain Mushrooms from Trial and Error,
Guchhi te Paneer di Sabzi from Musical's Kitchen,
Ambe Ananas Sasam from Aayi's Recipes,
Orange Peel Gojju from Ruchi,
Kaju Capsicum from La Gourmet Chef,
Mango Peanut Chutney from AkshayaPatra.

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
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs
O is for Onion Chutney: Vegetables in Chutneys
P is for Pattagobi Pachadi: Vegetables in Salads
Q is for Quick Carrot Pickles: Vegetables in Pickles
R is for Radish Paratha: Root Vegetables
S is for Spinach Amti: Green Leafy Vegetables
T is for Tomato Red Pepper Saar: Soups
U is for Undhiyu: Regional Delicacies
V is for Vegetable-Cheese Sandwiches: Mixed Vegetables

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eating Out while Eating In: Vegetable-Paneer Korma and Naan

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, we will be cooking up specialties of one region/ state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Richa of As Dear As Salt. The theme is Punjabi Cuisine, i.e., the cuisine of the Northern state of Punjab.

Punjabi cuisine: if ever there was a regional cuisine that has found iconic success, this is it. In Indian restaurants in all the far-flung regions of this planet, whether they are fancy-schmancy ones or pokey holes-in-the-wall, Punjabi cuisine is ubiquitous. People who know absolutely nothing about India will nevertheless be familiar with aloo gobi and saag paneer. In the 80s and 90s in places where I lived, when families went out to eat, it was almost always to restaurants serving Punjabi cuisine. It was also the cuisine of choice for celebratory dinners, such as birthday and wedding buffets. It is hardly surprising that I associate Punjabi food with good times, and crave it every so often.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of restaurants serving Punjabi food, it is quite a challenge to find a place which does a good job with it. Tired of eating lurid orange curries that are too greasy and salty, and with slim pickings of paneer and vegetables, I decided to try making something at home that satisfies my longing for restaurant style Punjabi food. This stuff should not be confused with real Punjabi home-style cuisine, which I'm only just starting to learn about. It is just my recreation of that lovely rich taste of restaurant curries that I remember from "eating out" over the years. Health food it is not, but I promise you: this dish is a lot more wholesome than anything you would find in the India Palaces and Curry Houses of this world.

I am giving this rather generic curry a suitably non-specific name: I'm just going to call it a korma for lack for a better term. The stars of this dish are paneer cubes and juicy vegetables. Here, I used onion, green pepper, tomatoes, peas and carrots. Sweet red, yellow and orange peppers are also wonderful in here. The curry base is made with tomato puree, along with a cashew- poppy seed powder that adds the requisite thickness, richness and flavor, turmeric adds a subtle flavor and a lovely hue and red chili powder throws in a fiery kick. A generous pinch of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek) lends an indescribable flavor which does much to spike up the "restaurant taste". This dish would be incomplete without the use of the aromatic spice mixture known as garam masala. Here, I use my mom's magic masala, a blend of equal parts of cinnamom, cardamom and cloves, and nothing else. It is heady stuff. In most recipes, cashews and poppy seeds are ground into a paste for such curries, but in my food processor, this never works well. Instead, I make a powder in a spice grinder, which works beautifully.

Vegetable-Paneer Korma
(serves 3-4)
1 heaped cup paneer cubes
1 large onion, cut into large cubes
1 green pepper, cut into large cubes
1 large ripe tomato, cut into cubes
1/2 cup green peas
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. oil, divided
1/4 C cashews
1 heaped tbsp. white poppy seeds
1 t kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
1 t garam masala (I used "magic masala": see recipe introduction)

  • Cashew-poppy seed powder: In a dry skillet, roast the cashews and poppy seeds until toasted and a shade darker. When cool, grind together to a fine powder.
  • Heat 1 T in a saucepan and shallow-fry the paneer cubes. I find that if paneer is fried to a dark brown, it gets too chewy, so I prefer to leave it barely golden. Remove paneer and set aside.
  • Putting together the dish: Add 2 T oil to the same pan, on medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry until it starts to brown around the edges. Add the pepper and fry for a couple of minutes more.
  • Now add kasuri methi, turmeric, red chili powder, salt and ginger-garlic paste. Stir around until the spices are aromatic.
  • Stir in the tomato cubes, peas, carrots, tomato puree, sugar and cashew-poppy seed powder. Add 1-2 cups of water (depending on how thick you want to korma to be) and simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring once in a while.
  • Add paneer cubes and garam masala. Stir for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat.
Garnish with a dollop of cream and some minced cilantro, if desired. Serve with sliced onions and lemons on the side.

To soak up with flavorful korma, this is my first attempt at home-made naan. I shied away from making naan for two reasons: one is that naan uses all-purpose flour, something that I'm trying to avoid eating a lot of, for nutritional reasons. The second is that the really awesome naan requires a super-hot tandoor oven. I had my doubts about using the oven at home.

But I've seen lots of gorgeous naans in the food blog world in the past several months. The ultimate temptation was this olive-onion naan from the Cooker, using this recipe from Evil Jungle Prince. To simulate the high heat of the tandoor, a pizza stone is used. A pizza stone is nothing but a flat piece of stone or ceramic. It makes beautiful crisp pizza crusts by (a) absorbing the moisture from the dough and (b) retaining a very high temperature and creating a very hot surface to bake on. I own an inexpensive pizza stone that is a permanent resident of my oven. I just leave it in there even when the oven is being used for other purposes (it makes no difference to the stone, and take care of the problem of storing such a large and heavy object in a small kitchen), and use it every few days for home-made pizzas.

I also liked the Cooker's idea of using white whole wheat flour to make the naans. This recently-developed flour has more of the pale look and the mild taste of all-purpose flour, but has the nutritional profile of whole wheat flour. Just what I was looking for! I believe traditional naan is simply kneaded with yeast and allowed to rise naturally, but here, some baker's yeast is added to speed the process along.

(makes 5 naans, inspired by these recipes)
1. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup warm water, 1/2 tsp honey and 1 tsp active dry yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and bubbly.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the dough blade, place 2 cups white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp melted ghee. Pulse until well-combined. Process, adding a few drizzles of water as required, so that the dough comes together in a slightly sticky ball.
3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise for a couple of hours, until doubled in size.
4. Pre-heat oven to 450 F, with pizza stone inside, for at least 30-40 minutes, to allow the pizza stone to get fully heated.
5. With oiled hands, divide the naan dough into 5 portions. Flatten each one into a roughly triangular shape. Sprinkle with your favorite toppings: I used black poppy seeds, onion rings and a sprig of cilantro. Drizzle with a few drops of ghee or melted butter.
6. Place on the hot pizza stone and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown. I found that the baked naans could be lifted off the pizza stone quite easily with tongs, even without sprinkling the pizza stone with any flour or cornmeal beforehand. Serve the hot naan right away.

The combination of home-made korma and naan was quite a treat!
The naan tasted so wonderful...I am going to be making it quite often. It is much easier than rolling out rotis!

The korma lends itself to lots of variations. These days, I often make an All-Vegetable/ Vegan version by skipping the paneer and using mixed vegetables instead. My favorite combination, with Red and Yellow Peppers, chunks of sweet Carrots and lots of succulent Mushrooms, made more "saucy" than the paneer version above. These vegetables all have a sweet and juicy profile and they go together very well. The picture shows what I do with the leftover korma when all the naans are gone and there is no rice left- sop it up with some crusty bread!


Other Punjabi-inspired dishes I have posted before:
Gobi Paratha
Aloo Gobi
Paneer Pilaf

Love Punjabi cuisine? Here is Richa's delicious Round-Up, featuring 130 delectable Punjabi recipes.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

RCI Maharashtra: Round Up Part III


Today we wrap up the round-up of the Regional Cuisines of India: Maharashtrian Cuisine event!
Part III completes the meal, with some protein-rich entrees made of dals and beans, eggs and meat; then the staples, breads and rice dishes, and finally, we end on the right note with an array of sweet treats.

Any plagiarizers lurking around, leave now! All pictures are the sole property of the bloggers who sent them in as entries. Do not copy!


One of the pillars of the meal: dishes made with lentils and beans, both split and whole.

Varan-Bhaat & Amti-Bhaat: TC of The Cooker

Varan: G V Barve of Add Flavor

Katachi Amti: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Vatali Dal: Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook

Varan Phal: Dhana of Fresh Kitchen

Masoor Dal with Goda Masala: Madhu of Ruchi

Soybean Usal: Asha of Foodie's Hope

Moogachi Usal: Richa of As Dear as Salt

Matkichi Usal: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Sprouted Beans Usal: Indira of Mahanandi

Chawlichi Amti: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Chavli Amti: Hima of SnackORama

Ragda Patties: Deepika of From My Kitchen

A representation of the range of flatbreads found in Maharashtrian cuisine.

Ghadichi Poli: Tee of Bhaatukli

Phodnichi Poli: Tee of Bhaatukli
Phodnichi Poli

Jwarichi Bhakri: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Tikhat Mithachi Puri: live2cook of Live To Cook

Masala Puri with Tendli Curry: Kajal of Kajal Dreams

One of the staples of the main meal- everyday meals contain plain boiled rice, but a festive occasion like this one calls for a variety of flavored rice dishes.

Masala Bhath: Suma of Veggie Platter

Masala Bhath: Srivalli of Cooking for All Seasons

Lagnacha Masale Bhaat: Manasi of A Cook At Heart

Masala Bhath: Roopa of My Chow-Chow Bhath

Mixed Vegetable Pulao: Cathy of My Little Kitchen

Vangi Bhat: Raaga of The Singing Chef

Vangi Bhaat: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Khichdi-Kadhi: G V Barve of Add Flavor

Goley Bhat and Kadhi: Archana of Tried and Tested Recipes

Phodnicha Bhath: G V Barve of Add Flavor
Podnicha bhathGVB

A typical way to serve eggs as an entree.

Egg Curry: Asha of Foodie's Hope

Two dishes with mutton or goat meat; I have often heard that Kolhapur district in Maharashtra has the highest per capita meat consumption in the whole of India.

Kolhapuri Mutton: Srivalli of Cooking for All Seasons

Ghati Mutton: Deccanheffalump of The Cook's Cottage
Ghati Mutton

There is no separate dessert course in the traditional Maharashtrian meal- sweets are simply served as part of the thali. Nevertheless, I have collected all the sweet dishes into one category for easy reference. You will find the sweet bread and rice dishes included in this section.

Ukadiche Modak: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Ukadiche Modak: Priyanka of Lajawaab

Modak: Dhana of Fresh Kitchen

Karanji: Viji of Vcuisine

Sabudana Kheer: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Shevai Kheer: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Shrikhand: G V Barve of Add Flavor

Amrakhand Puri: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Amras: G V Barve of Add Flavor

Shikran Poli: TC of The Cooker

Kelyacha Shikaran: Anjali of Anna Parabrahma

Shikran: G V Barve of Add Flavor

Bharleli Keli: Asha of Foodie's Hope

Gulpoli: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Puran Poli: Coffee of The Spice Cafe

Puran Poli: Aarti of Aarti's Corner

Sanjachi Poli: Anjali of Anna Parabrahma

Amba Khava Satorya: Anjali of Anna Parabrahma

Sakhar Bhaat: TC of The Cooker

A heartfelt thank-you to each participant for their delicious entries! Events such as these bring attention to recipes that might otherwise be restricted to one single community. Several people were enthusiastic enough to send multiple entries, and I specially want to mention Aarti and G V Barve for sending in a couple dozen entries each! They shared their love for Maharashtrian cuisine so generously.

It was interesting to see the dishes that got multiple entries- it says something either about the popularity or the iconic nature of the dish. The award for the most popular dish in this round-up (with four entries) goes to Masale Bhaat, the spicy rice and vegetable dish that is the star of the traditional Maharastrian wedding feast, and is also served on many other special occasions.

Some other popular dishes (three entries each) were Sabudana Wada and Sabudana Khichdi, two tasty and clearly, crowd-pleasing dishes made with sago pearls; and two desserts that are in stark contrast to each other. Shikran, sliced bananas in milk, is as home-style and comforting a dish as you could hope to find. Modak are delicate stuffed dumplings that are usually reserved for specific festive days; they can take years of practice to perfect.

Like exploring Indian regional cuisines? Head over to the blog As Dear As Salt, where Richa is hosting the next month's RCI. The theme will bring a smile to the face of every lover of Indian food: Punjabi Cuisine!