Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carrot Almond Halwa

Sometimes it is only a mental block that keeps me from trying recipe variations. For instance, I am so accustomed to dairy-based Indian desserts that wrapping my head around vegan Indian desserts can befuddle me. A few years ago, I cooked lunch for a group of vegan guests. The appetizers, main dishes, salads and sides all were a breeze but I tripped up while planning dessert and  resignedly served a platter of fruit.

Vaishali's posts are doing much to help me make vegan versions of Indian desserts- she makes delectable vegan halwas of every hue with no dairy in sight. Using her gajar halwa as my inspiration, I made this version yesterday. To mimic the gritty texture of cooked-down milk/khoya, I used some almond meal.

Gajar Halwa That Just Happens To Be Vegan

(serves 4)
  1. Shred 2 lbs. organic carrots using a hand grater or a food processor.
  2. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. Earth Balance buttery spread.
  3. Saute the carrots until bright red.
  4. Stir in 1 cup almond milk and 4 tbsp. almond meal (or finely ground almonds).
  5. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture reduces and the carrots are cooked.
  6. Stir in 1 tsp. cardamom and sugar to taste (I only needed a quarter cup or so).

The taste of the gajar halwa was wonderful. It is light and nutty and something I will be making again and again, whether or not I have vegan guests.
I shared this halwa at a cook-out last night with a group of St. Louis food bloggers. We met in the incredible teaching kitchen of the Kitchen Conservatory (candyland for foodies), and I'm so glad Alanna put in the time and effort to organize this event. St. Louis has many creative and clever food bloggers. They do all sorts of fun things like keep bees and grow garlic and match shelter dogs to families!
If you are a food blogger, have you met other food bloggers in your city?
On The Bookshelf

I read more than my fair share of novels and magazines, but one of my favorite genres will always be non-fiction. They say truth is stranger than fiction and I certainly believe that based on the non-fiction I've read.

When written with humor and expertise, non-fiction books can give us a crash course in a serious academic discipline and connect abstract concepts in maths and science and technology with real life. I recently read The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and it was a most entertaining glimpse into the role of statistics in everyday life. Another highly fascinating and riveting read was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is a great detective story of a physician chasing a microbe (and sparking off the science of epidemiology) even though he did not even know it at the time.

This morning I awoke at 4 AM to finish reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, the real story of a family in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Eggers is a talented writer. The story is written so simply but the narrative is gripping and you get deeply engaged with the characters as the story progresses. I highly recommend this book.

There are two non-fiction books that I read in recent months that had rich and meaningful content but where the writing was unfortunately very jagged and rambling, in my opinion, which took away from the reading experience. These were Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen about one man's struggle to build schools in remote regions of Central Asia and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about the life and work of Paul Farmer in bringing healthcare to the most impoverished regions of Haiti. But these are the kinds of books that are worth reading, because they make me want to do something meaningful and with my life and stop making excuses already.

Next on the non-fiction list, I'm going to start with a  memoir called In Hanuman's Hands by Cheeni Rao; I read Kamini's stunning review of the book and checked it out from the library this weekend.

Have you read any interesting non-fiction lately?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blog Bites #2: The Copycat Edition

The first edition of Blog Bites was fun for me, but before we get to the round-up of last month, here's the theme for the next round:

Blog Bites #2 is the Copycat Edition!

The idea is quite simple. Think of some food or beverage that you enjoy but have never made at home. It could be something you enjoyed at a restaurant, on vacation, at someone else's home, at a catered event like a wedding, from a street vendor, or something you typically buy from the store in a package or jar or can. Chances are, some other food blogger has made this at home and blogged about it. Use their inspiration and make this dish at home, then tell us about it.

There are many reasons why you may want to replicate something at home. It can be a money saver, because restaurant dishes can sometimes be replicated in the home kitchen for a fraction of the cost. You have greater control over the ingredients and can skip a lot of the additives and excess salt and sugar that are abundant in store-bought food. You may simply want to make something that you tasted in a place hundreds of miles away or a couple of decades ago. I for one get a particular thrill from chasing restaurant-style recipes and getting them close enough after a few attempts. 

The Rules
  1. From now until April 25, make something at home that you have previously only eaten at a restaurant or from the store or in someone else's home. 
  2. The recipe has to come from another blog. This is the whole premise of the Blog Bites event, so please turn to other blogs for inspiration. Entries that do not meet this rule will not be accepted. 
  3. Write a post telling us about the recipe you tried, with the following: (a) a link to the recipe on the other blog that inspired you, (b) a link to this post, (c) a picture of your final dish.
  4. Please do not copy recipes word for word from another blog- that would be both illegal and unethical. If you want to note the recipe on your blog, re-write it in your own words, with whatever modifications you made to it. Or just give us the link to the original so we can find the recipe there. I am calling this the copycat edition because we are trying to replicate the taste of something we enjoy, not to encourage plagiarism.
  5. Send me the link (URL) of your entry, either by leaving a comment on this post, or using the contact form. 
  6. You can send in as many entries as you like.

This time, I won't do a running round-up. Check back on April 26 to see all the entries. 

And now for last month's theme- cookers. Over two dozen bloggers sent in some incredible entries that show you just how versatile cookers can be. Pressure cookers were the favorite, hands down! 
Here are some great ideas for what you can do with the cookers in your kitchen. For the juicy details of who made what and what their inspiration was, please visit the running round up

Pressure Cooker



Curries and Dals


Meat & Fish


Rice Cooker
Main dishes


Slow Cooker

Thank you for your participation, I see so much inspiration here. I look forward to your entries next month!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Singing Chef's in my Kitchen

Thanks to everyone who played along in the guessing game at the end of my last post. There were several guesses along the lines of edible stuff as one might expect to see in a cooking pot, including noodles, sevai, vermicelli, spaghetti squash and sev for falooda, which is one thing I really wish I was making!

Milli was the first to guess the correct answer, which is that I was dyeing wool in the pot. Others, including R, Pavani, Amruta, Shirley and Garden Dreamer also guessed that this was wool/yarn.

The picture indeed was of white wool being dyed with unsweetened orange kool-aid (an artificial drink mix, similar to the brand Rasna in India), a technique described in this Knitty tutorial. It is as easy as heating wool in bright kool-aid solution. The wool soaks up the dye leaving clear water behind; it is quite fascinating to see dye being pulled out of the orange water.

I ended up with this skein of yarn. I was going for a saturated orange color for a particular project so it looks like I have to buy a couple more sachets and give this skein another dunking.
It is a little scary to think that people drink stuff that can permanently dye fibers, but maybe that's not an entirely fair statement. After all, turmeric is an all-natural plant product and has terrific culinary and medicinal uses but also dyes fabric permanently as many cooks find out only too late when their favorite dishcloth or apron or outfit is adorned by a bright yellow turmeric stain. Ask me how I know.

* * *
This Sunday, I was watching PBS Create on TV and stumbled on an episode of this show called Bloggers: Confessions of the Food-Obsessed. They interviewed Pim and I turned to V and said- the pad thai that you love, I got the recipe from her blog. They interviewed David Lebovitz and I said to V- the butterscotch candy that you love, I got the recipe from his blog. It is true, most of my favorite recipes come from other blogs and I always think of the blogger with gratitude when we sit down to dinner and enjoy a particular dish.

So I was excited to see that The Singing Chef was chosen as blog of the month for this month's edition of Tried and Tasted, hosted at Dil Se. Raaga has hundreds of recipes for everything from baked goodies to everyday vegetable dishes. One of my grandmothers was Konkani and I grew up tasting some of that wonderful cuisine, so I especially like the typical Konkani dishes that Raaga shares.

The first recipe I tried was panpole, meaning leafy dosas. I have a theory that recipes that call for very few ingredients are often the most challenging to make. This one has all of two ingredients, rice and coconut, ground together to a batter. You need a bit of water for the batter, salt for seasoning and oil to make dosas, and that is it.

The dosas were just a little tricky to make in the beginning. My first two could not be called "leafy" by any stretch of the imagination. But I caught on and began making fairly good panpole after the first few attempts.

These dosas are fragrant and delicate and absolutely melt in the mouth. We enjoyed them with some incredible podi from the famous Ambika store in Chennai, a kind gift from a friend.

Another recipe that I tried from Raaga's blog was Chow Chow. I love recipes with  goofy names. Before reading her post, I had no idea what chow chow could mean, other than slang for "eating". Well, her post taught me some three different definitions for this term; talk about getting an education. It is a dish invented by a clever caterer that uses a medley of vegetables and cooks them in pickling spices. I'm sold. I adapted Raaga's recipe, so I'm jotting it down here.

Chow Chow
(adapted from Raaga's recipe)

1. Make a thick paste of
1 tsp. mustard seeds
5-6 peppercorns
8-10 fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
3 tbsp. fresh/frozen grated coconut

2. In a pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil. Temper it with
12 tsp. mustard seeds
12 tsp. turmeric
12 tsp. red chilli powder
Pinch of asafetida
Sprig of curry leaves

3. Add the following vegetables (or other vegetables that you have on hand) and saute well
1 large carrot, diced
2 Japanese eggplants, diced
1 large potato, diced

4. Add salt to taste, a little water and cover and cook the vegetables until they are barely tender.

5. Stir in
1 tsp. tamarind paste
2 tsp. tomato pickle 
Ground spice paste

6. Cook for a few more minutes.

This is an unusual and excellent vegetable dish- the mustardy paste makes the dish very tasty. What a great way to clean out the crisper.

I'll see you in exactly three days with the round-up of Blog Bites: Cookers and an announcement of the theme for the next edition.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dal Fry Under Pressure

As in many Indian kitchens, my kitchen is presided over by a large and noisy beast- my pressure cooker. If there is one appliance that will pay for itself many times over in terms of time, energy and money savings, this is it.

Walking around typical neighborhoods in India around 11 AM in the morning, it is common to hear hissing, shrieking and whistling noises made not by people but by pressure cookers, as lunch is cooked in homes everywhere. Many people who are quite adept at handling sharp knives, whirring food processors and red-hot ovens are scared of using pressure cookers. In fact, pressure cookers have safety devices built into them and will result in no more accidents than any other appliance. Famous last words?

The one and only pressure cooker we currently own was bought by V some 5-6 years ago and is a Prestige Handi-shaped hard anodized pressure cooker. The handi (this shape; like a pot) is cute as a dumpling and certainly very roomy, but the one distinct disadvantage is that it does not hold the conventional stacked cooking vessels that allow you to cook multiple different things at the same time. I end up using my pressure cooker almost every day, for beans and lentils, lentil-rice combos, soups and for cooking potatoes.

Pressure cookers have very distinct personalities. It is difficult to specify cooking times with pressure cookers because each one seems to have a mind of its own. You just have to get to know your own cooker and estimate its cooking times for various dishes. My pressure cooker is efficient to a fault. Things get overcooked in it in the blink of an eye. I soaked and cooked lima beans the other day to make an eggplant-lima bean subzi (one of my favorite combos) and my pressure cooker steamed the lima beans to a liquid mush in just one whistle. I sighed, poured in some tempering into the soupy lima beans and called it a dal instead.

Today I'm posting a recipe that I learned from Crazy Curry. Bhags of Crazy Curry is not posting lately, but I sure thank her mentally every time we enjoy this tasty dal. Read her original post to learn about the origin of this dal and why she calls it the "Bachelor tadka dal". Since trying it, Kitchen King masala has a permanent place in my spice cabinet. When I made it last night, I snuck in a lone eggplant that I needed to use up, but the recipe below is the dal in its pure, unadulterated form.

Tadka Dal
(adapted from this recipe on Crazy Curry)

1. Rinse 1 cup toor dal several times, soak for 20-60 minutes if you have the time.

2. In the body of a pressure cooker, heat 1-2 tbsp. ghee.

3. Temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds

4. Add 1 medium onion, cut into thin slices and fry until translucent.

5. Add
12 tsp. turmeric
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1 heaped tsp. Kitchen King masala
3 chopped tomatoes
Salt to taste

6. Add the toor dal and 4 cups water. Pressure cook.

7. Add a generous handful of minced cilantro. Serve with jeera rice or parathas.

I'm sending this over to my own event, Blog Bites, where this month is all about cookers. There's a few more days left to participate, if you'd like to send in an entry.

Guessing Game

What's cooking? Take a guess!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ven Pongal and Eggplant Gothsu

Blog hopping in search of new and interesting rice cooker recipes, I stumbled on this rice cooker ven pongal from Sukanya's blog. What an enticing picture it is- definitely the sort of recipe that makes you want to run to the kitchen and cook it right after you have tried pawing at the screen. Which is exactly what I did last night, the cooking, not the pawing at the screen.

Yes, ven pongal (a soft mushy combination of rice and lentils, a cousin of the khichdi) and gothsu (a tangy eggplant curry) are traditional breakfast fare in Tamil Nadu but I have always embraced the idea of breakfast for dinner.

The ven pongal was a breeze to make in the rice cooker- simply cook the lentils and rice with some salt, then add the tempering and mix. Could it be simpler? The only slight problem was that the lentil-rice mixture bubbled and frothed ferociously as it was cooking, resulting in some clean up at the end.

Ven Pongal
(adapted from Sukanya's recipe)

1. In the rice cooker bowl, soak the following for 30 minutes:
1 rice cup measure Sona Masuri rice
34 rice cup measure moong dal

2. Rinse well. Add the following and put on "cook" mode:
5 rice cup measures water
1 tsp. salt

3. When the rice and lentils are a comforting mushy mess, stir in a tempering:
2 tbsp. ghee
1 tsp. cumin seeds
8-10 peppercorns, crushed
2 sprigs curry leaves
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
Handful of broken cashews

For the accompanying spicy eggplant, I turned to a cookbook that is full of Tamil classic recipes.

Kathrikkai (Eggplant) Gothsu

(adapted from Samayal by Viji Varadarajan)

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and a pinch of asafetida.

2. Add
1 medium onion, cut in small dice
3 Japanese eggplants or 10-12 Indian eggplants or 12 Italian eggplant, cut in small dice
2 tomatoes, cut in small dice

3. Add
12 tsp. turmeric powder
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. sambar powder
1 tsp. tamarind paste
Salt to taste

4. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add a little water if required to help the cooking process along. Garnish with plenty of cilantro.

This is the comforting khichdi meal taken to a new level with all kinds of aromatic additions.  I'll be making this again and again.

I am sending this post to the first edition of my own Blog Bites event. There's one more week left to send in your entries- to participate, simply try a rice cooker or pressure cooker or slow cooker recipe from another blog. We're already collecting tasty entries. Thank you for your participation!

Dale's Tales
When I see creatures of the puppeh and kitteh and bebeh variety, the unbearable cuteness makes me lose my grasp on normal language. I start babbling and calling them all kinds of silly names. Dale is not amused at being referred to as a sticky dessert. But it is when I call him a "baby kitty" that he gets really indignant.

My friend Bek looked at the picture above and sent me this cartoon :D

I'm trying a rice cooker dessert tonight- if it works out, I'll come back and tell you about it. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Date Tamarind Chutney and Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat

Whew, that's a mouthful of a post title. But a tasty mouthful, I promise you.

Over my decade-long stint as a home cook, there are several things for which I have made the journey from home-made to store-bought and back full circle to home-made. The sweet and tangy date-tamarind chutney is one of these. It is one of the first things I learned to make from scratch, in Bombay. Once I was running my own kitchen in NYC, bottled store-bought date tamarind chutney had a permanent place in my fridge door. Then in the last couple of years, I was annoyed at buying something that is so simple to make at home, and I'm back to making my own. 

This tamarind chutney is a minimalist version calling for, count 'em, all of 4 ingredients: dates, tamarind, jaggery (unrefined sugar) and cumin-coriander powder. OK, salt and water too. 

In the recipe below, I have written down approximate quantities for each ingredient but the truth is that dates, tamarind and jaggery are all ingredients with unique personalities. One brand of tamarind may have a different degree of sourness than another brand, and so on. These ingredients are also not easy to measure. Try wrestling nuggets of jaggery into a measuring cup or scooping out exact quantities of sticky tamarind. The solution is to just use approximate quantities of the ingredients and rejoice in the fact that every batch of chutney you make will also have a unique personality.

All the ingredients are available wherever Indian groceries are sold. In the Middle Eastern aisle, I discovered something called "baking dates", which is nothing but pitted dates packed into a rectangular cake and ready to be used as date pulp. It is very convenient to keep on hand and I like using it for this chutney.

The chutney does need to be strained to get rid of the stringy tamarind fibers. I would suggest using a sieve with large pores (like the one below) to avoid spending a frustrating amount of time doing this. 

Date Tamarind Chutney

1. Mix together
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup soft pitted dates or 12 pack of pitted baking dates
  • 14 cup jaggery
  • 14 cup tamarind
  • Salt to taste
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Use a spatula or potato masher to press down on the tamarind and dates and extract as much of the pulp as possible. Stir well to dissolve all the ingredients. Taste and add more of tamarind or jaggery or salt to get the sweet/tangy/salty balance you like best.

3. Pass the mixture through a large-pored sieve to remove the fibers. Chutney that is too thick may be difficult to strain so dilute it with filtered water if necessary. Add cumin-coriander powder and cayenne pepper to taste. Refrigerate.

Update (Nov 2013): If you use bottled/jarred tamarind extract, you can simply blend the simmered ingredients and not have to sieve them, making this recipe even easier.

Pour on anything and everything and pretend you are enjoying chaat from your favorite vendor. I made this chutney specifically for some Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat. It is the North Indian cousin of the ragda patties. I don't know if what follows is a particularly authentic recipe; it is just my way of making it.

Chana for Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat

1. Soak 1.5 cups chickpeas overnight. Rinse them well and pressure cook them until tender.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil and fry 2 minced onions until lightly browned.

3. Add the following and saute until fragrant:
  • Ginger garlic paste
  • Turmeric powder
  • Red chilli powder
  • Coriander-cumin powder
  • Chana masala (chhole masala), the best you can find or make
  • Amchur powder
  • Salt to taste
4. Add 3-4 chopped tomatoes and fry for a few minutes.

5. Add cooked chickpeas and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Mash in some of the chickpeas to thicken the curry. 

To assemble the chaat, layer the following in a bowl: 
  • Aloo tikkis: I make them very simply, nothing but boiled mashed potato and salt (and sometimes bread as a filler) formed into patties and shallow-fried, as shown in this recipe. You can add spices to the tikkis if desired.
  • Chana 
  • Minced raw onion
  • Minced cilantro
  • Sev
  • Date tamarind chutney
  • Whipped yogurt (optional)
There you have it, chaat that feels like a special treat but packs in plenty of nutrition among the layers of flavor. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Sometimes, a little vegetable goes a long way. I bought a modest wedge of pumpkin last Saturday, and sweet and nutrition dense as it is, it fed us three times over- I used a third of the wedge for pumpkin kaap (made the same way as these but using pumpkin slices instead of eggplant), a third for the excellent pumpkin dhansak from Nandita's blog, and the last portion for this soup.

The inky, muddy look of black bean soup is just a facade; underneath the surface is nothing but tasty goodness. Pumpkin adds a beautiful sweetness that sets off the earthy legume. As soups go, this one is fairly simple, with three main ingredients, pumpkin, black beans and tomatoes, and two seasonings, chipotle chillies and cumin. I debated about adding other ingredients like bell peppers and corn, but in the end, the simplicity is what makes this soup special.

The recipe below is infinitely flexible. If you don't have access to chipotles in adobo, use any chilli powder, or Mexican/taco seasoning or hot sauce instead. If you don't have pumpkin on hand, any winter squash such as butternut squash or acorn squash would be a wonderful substitute. Sweet potatoes would be equally at home in this recipe. For the stock, I used this homemade vegetable bouillon, a sweet gift from Alanna. It is wonderful stuff! 

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
(makes 6 generous servings)

1. Soak 1 cup black beans for 8 hours or so, then rinse then thoroughly.

2. In the body of a pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.

3. Saute 1 medium onion, diced, and 4 minced garlic cloves until fragrant.

4. Add the following spices and seasonings and stir for a few seconds-
1 heaped tsp. cumin powder
1 minced chipotle pepper in 1 tsp. adobo sauce (or to taste)

5. Add-
4 cups pumpkin cubes
Soaked and rinsed black beans
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt to taste, only if required

6. Pressure cook. Once the pressure is released, mash or puree the soup together, or leave it chunky. Adjust the consistency of the soup by adding water if necessary.

7. Stir in a large handful of minced cilantro and squeeze in some lime juice.

I loved the soup in its pure form, but you could top it with a dollop of thick yogurt or sour cream, some shredded cheese, or crushed tortilla chips.

I am sending this soup over to My Legume Love Affair. The 21st edition is hosted by Superchef @ Mirch Masala.

*** *** *** 
We enjoyed the soup with an unlikely side- pesto eggplant pizza. I had two dough balls in the freezer, and an eggplant lurking in the crisper, and just put the two together.

The pizza dough recipe is my new favorite- it is Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough posted here on 101 Cookbooks.

I made the recipe by hand and followed the instructions very closely. It is a strange recipe, in the sense that you use chilled flour and ice cold water to make the dough. The recipe made 6 pizza dough balls, and each is sufficient for an individual sized pizza- depending on the individual. I know certain individuals (who shall go unnamed) who can scarf down a couple of these in one sitting!

Another thing I learned was to place the pizza stone on the floor of my gas oven instead of on a rack. When baked at 475F, the pizzas were cooked to perfection (when I used a higher temp, the bottom of the pizza burned before the toppings were bubbly).

But, wow, the pizzas are incredibly close to what you get in "good" pizza places, like The Good Pie here in St. Louis. This recipe uses no whole grain, but for an occasional restaurant-style treat, that's OK by me.

*** *** ***
Last week, I undertook what has to be the quickest craft project ever. 15 minutes from start to finish. But it was 18 months in the making.

I had a large bolt of cotton fabric from Ikea, an impulse purchase which was sitting in a corner of the closet for more than a year. The big idea was to use it to make a tablecloth from it, and if there was fabric left over, to make some cloth napkins. But I don't own a sewing machine to make the hems and keep the edges from fraying and so the project was shelved, quite literally.

Well, your comments on this post were inspiring to say the least, and they spurred me into action. I did a web search for "no sew cloth napkins" and found this. An hour later, I ran into my next door neighbor in the elevator and asked her if she happened to own pinking shears. Minutes later, I borrowed her pinking shears and folded and ripped the bolt of fabric into one tablecloth and 16 cloth napkins. Ta da!

We had a dozen friends over for an Oscar-watching potluck party on Sunday night and I was so proud that we used regular plates and glasses (so what if they were all mismatched), metal cutlery and cloth napkins. No waste from disposables. It is the little things that make me inordinately happy.

Please keep sharing the green tips- I'm always looking for inspiration.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Rice Cooker Upma

I was weighing the pros and cons of buying a rice cooker and did the sensible thing- I asked my wise readers to weigh in. My tiny kitchen space necessitates that all appliances go through a lengthy vetting process before being allowed in. When I asked about rice cookers, I was rewarded with dozens of great suggestions via comments and e-mails. The Cooker wrote in to say that you can make excellent  वाफे भरला (a Marathi term meaning full of steam) upma in the rice cooker. Ooh, that's just the kind of incentive I needed to go buy a rice cooker.

I tried it just this morning for a leisurely Sunday brunch, and she's right- the rice cooker makes excellent upma. All you do is make the tempering and get the vegetables started in a small pan on the stove top, then add these to the rice cooker with rava (cream of wheat) and water. Then walk away and come back to luscious upma wrapped in fragrant steam.

In Indian stores, you often find something called "roasted upma rava", which is coarser than regular rava and pre-roasted. If you are using the regular kind, roast the rava before you use it in this recipe.

Rice Cooker Upma
(makes 3-4 servings)

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a medium saute pan and add the tempering-
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
Pinch of asafetida
1 tsp. urad dal
1 tsp. chana dal
1 sprig curry leaves

2. Stir in the following and cook until onions are translucent-
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
Handful chopped cashews (or peanuts)
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 hot green chillies, chopped in thirds

3. Stir in 2 cups mixed vegetables, cut in small dice. I used carrots, peas and green bell pepper this morning; corn, green beans, spinach, potato, lima beans, cauliflower work too. 

4. Now turn off the heat and transfer the contents of this pan to the rice cooker. 

5. To the rice cooker, add-
1 rice cooker measure roasted upma rava (my rice cooker came with this measure; it holds 180 ml versus 240 ml in a standard US cup)
Salt to taste
12 tsp sugar
3 12 rice cooker measures water

5. Plug in the rice cooker and let the upma cook. It will shift to the "warm" mode when it is done.

6. Stir in the following-
1 tbsp. ghee/butter (optional)
Handful of minced cilantro
Handful of grated fresh/frozen coconut
Lime or lemon juice

7. Serve with podi or pickles and something crunchy, if you like. 

This was incredible! I don't make upma very often because I don't like the frequent stirring, and the rava clumping and clinging to my spatula, then forming little volcanoes and spitting steam on me. This takes the fuss right out of it. Brunch just got a lot easier.

On the Bookshelf
I took a break from reading a couple of non-fiction books and the rather heavy Pulitzer prize winners to read something more entertaining.

Tarquin Hall has written a detective novel and his character is India's Most Private Investigator, Vish Puri. The book is set in contemporary Delhi, with trips to Jaipur and Jharkhand. It is a quick read and an engaging mystery, capturing the frantic energy of urban life in India, and is written in typically Indian English (which I love, because I speak it), sprinkled with phrases like "outside food" and "thank you, ji" and "listen, na".

There are countless references to food, like when Vish Puri devours green chili pakoras against his physician's orders-
"...he sank his teeth into another hot, crispy pakora and his taste buds thrilled to the tang of salty batter, fiery chili and the tangy red chutney in which he had drowned the illicit snack."
A reader named Vijaya recommended this book to me in a comment on this post; if you are reading this, thank you Vijaya!

What's on your bookshelf these days?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Back to Basics: Eggplant and Potato

"But is it blog-worthy?"

This is a question that I seem to ask myself quite often. Some of my favorites never make it to these pages because they seem too simple, somehow. Like this homely eggplant potato bhaaji (subzi, a combination of a braise and stir-fry) that I made last night. But these are the recipes I keep returning to, that I have made so often that I can cook them on auto-pilot, and for that alone, they are definitely blog-worthy.

This recipe is almost stereotypical in its use of ingredients favored by Maharashtrian home cooks. A textbook example of the Maharashtrian way to cook vegetables.

It has the typical phodni (tempering) trio of halad, hing, mohri, that is, turmeric, asafetida and mustard seeds.

It uses flavorful (but not hot) dhane-jeere pud (coriander cumin powder). Simply mix cumin and coriander seeds in equal quantity, toast very gently, just enough to wake up the spices, and grind to a fine powder. I make this powder in half cup batches and am always amazed at how I run through it in a matter of days.

It uses goda masala, which has a smoky, savory flavor that is hard to describe in English but has a Marathi word- khamang. I stock up on this black gold on trips to Maharashtra. You can find it in some US stores, or make your own.

Jaggery or gool lends a complex sweetness and a glossy finish to the sauce clinging to the vegetables. This is the stuff that elevates the everyday bhaaji to a lick-your-fingers classic.

Peanut powder or danyacha koot makes a thick and nutty sauce. I roast peanuts, skin them and powder them coarsely, you want to retain a bit of texture. I store a jar of roasted powdered peanuts in the fridge and use it in typical Maharashrian ways like bhaajis, koshimbir and for sabudana khichdi.

You can use almost any combination of vegetables in place of the eggplant and potato. The salt draws out water from the vegetables that then cook in their own steam, which results in a concentrated flavor. But if you feel like the vegetables are sticking to the pan, feel free to add a few tablespoons of water to get the process going.

Vaangi Batata Bhaaji
Eggplant and Potatoes, Maharashtrian Style
(serves 6-8)

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wide pan. Temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
12 tsp. turmeric

2. Give a quick stir and immediately add
1 medium onion, cut in small dice
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

3. Saute the onions on medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Then stir in
1 medium Italian eggplant, cut in large dice
4 medium potatoes, cut in large dice

4. Add the powders
1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. cumin-coriander powder
2 tsp. goda masala (or garam masala for a different taste)
14 cup roasted peanut powder

5. Add salt to taste and 2-3 tbsp. crushed jaggery.

6. Cover and cook the bhaaji for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Garnish with a large handful of minced fresh cilantro.

Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

We enjoyed this bhaaji with rotis and radish raita. It is also perfect with yogurt-rice and dal-rice.

Dale's Tales
Dalu is a creature of routine. His day is a regimented line-up of naps, walks, treats and social visits with Tony, the newspaper guy on the corner, which result in more treats. Most dogs are so eager to please their humans; not this one. If I call out to him while he is basking in the sun, he looks slyly from the corner of his eye to see if I am offering him a treat or reaching for his leash, otherwise he quickly squeezes his eyes shut and pretends to be asleep. Don't call me unless you have something tangible to offer- that's Dale's motto.