Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Today's special: Naan - Indian bread home made

I watched a movie recently called 'Today's Special', it is an adapted screen play of Aasif Mandvi and has Aasif as this aspiring sous chef, Madhur Jaffrey and Harish Patel as his immigrant parents living in Queens and Naseeruddin Shah as the cab driver/chef. He is sweating it off as a sous chef in an upscale Manhattan restaurant while his father runs this dilapidated Indian restaurant in Queens. Samir is forced into looking after the family restaurant when his father suddenly falls sick. Akbar is the NY cab driver who was a chef earlier in life. It is such a feel good foodie movie and I totally recommend it to any similarly interested people. It is filmy, meant to be so and events happen fast and the protagonist always gets what you were rooting him to get :-), but I already told you it is a feel good movie.

It was a treat for me because I have adored Madhur Jaffrey, go read her "Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India"  and I guarantee you the nostalgia it is bound to bring out in you. Though she doesn't have a big role, it is good to see her twinkle whenever she is on screen. Then there is Naseeruddin Shah, the prolific actor that gets into the skin of any role he plays. Aasif Mandvi himself is so perfect as Samir. It is a journey of rediscovery of one's passion. I am not going to give away the story but will tell you why the movie made an impact on me.

The foodie that I am, I love to watch and read food related material. My cooking is a lot like 'Akbar's' cooking in the movie. I know the taste I want to produce, I know the ingredients I have access to but I don't usually follow any recipe to the T because that is just not how my brain (or heart?) works. As Akbar says 'cooking is a little bit from the brain, little bit from the heart and little bit from the stomach', I let my senses guide me when I cook in my kitchen and yes there are times I have a total flop show but then there are times when I am surrounded by accolades (no less flattering even if it is just a hearty slurp from my own family). And fortunately the good times far out number the flop shows :-)

Today's recipe is not related to the movie, well not directly. Given the popularity of Naan: the Indian bread in all corners of the World, my recipe is no big deal but this is very easy to make at home and you can match it with any number of side dishes. And yes, this is perfected after a few trials and errors.

Once when we were driving from Delhi to Agra in a car, the car broke down on the highway, conveniently very close to a road side Dhabha. For those of you unfamiliar with Indian Dhabhas, all I can say is experience it once and you will be hooked. It is not the same if you go to a neighborhood Punjabi restaurant which claims to dish out Dhabha style food. If you can be oblivious to the noise from the high ways (Dhabhas originated to cater to the long distance truck drivers and are situated off of a main road or highway) and don't peek into where the food is being prepared (I am sure most would not pass a hygiene test), you should go and enjoy a dhabha meal.

It was sweltering hot, lunch time and we just didn't mind the really long time the driver took to find a mechanic and fix the car while we sat on a charpoy under the shade of a huge tree and downed naan after naan with butter and punjabi chole and paneer butter masala. There was an unlimited supply of salads with slices of onions, cucumber, green chilies, carrots and a glass of fresh salty lassi the owner of the dhabha kept refilling. Yumm..those were some of the softest, freshest, buttery naans I have eaten :-).

I have made these naans in my oven and stove top with equal amount of success but BH got me a pizza stone from Costco the other day and I am in love with it for the even heat distribution it does. It is well worth every cent of money we spent on it.
What do you need to make Naan? 
Makes 6 naans
2 cups all purpose flour+2 Tsp for dusting
1/2 cup water
2 Tblsp yogurt
2 Tsp cooking oil
3/4 Tsp sugar
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tsp quick rise yeast

How do you make Naan? 
  • Bring water to lukewarm temperature, add sugar and yeast. Mix it and let it sit for 7-8 minutes until it becomes frothy with bubbles. 
  • Sift AP flour in to a wide bowl, add salt, yeast water, yogurt and oil and mix it into a soft, pliable dough. 
  • Gently knead it to bring all the flour together, cover with a wet paper napkin or towel and leave it to rise for 3-4 hours in a warm place. 
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down and knead it for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Pinch off golf ball sized dough and roll it into an oval of 1cm thickness. (see notes)
  • Heat your oven to 375F and place the rolled naans on the oven rack in a single layer. If you have a pizza stone, put 2-3 at a time on the pre-heated pizza stone. 
  • Bake for 2-3 minutes, flip the naan over and bake for another 2-3 minutes till you see light brown spots and naan fluffs up. 
  • Remove it and serve it with curry of your choice and a side of raw cucumbers and carrots and onions for that dhabha touch.
  • If you do not have access to the oven, put the rolled naan on a heated skillet and roast it both sides. 
  • Yeast is what makes the dough rise, do not use it if the product is old. You should see water bubbling in about 4-6 minutes if the yeast is active. 
  • This dough is soft and not very sticky, you can just pat it into shape by dipping your hand in dry flour and not using the rolling pin.
  • The naans are generally thicker than the regular rotis and turn out softer.
  • Add a Tsp of kasoori methi or other dried herbs while mixing the dough for a herb flavored naan.
Now to Today's special (the other special), when I logged into write my post about Naan earlier, I was so tickled to see an email from Smitha of Kannada Cuisine. I recently discovered her blog and have been following her posts regularly. She thought I deserved to be nominated for the Food Stories award, I am touched you thought about me, thank you Smitha. 

Now to a random thing about me, I love to chop vegetables and I can do oodles of vegetables at a time and I prefer my cutting board and  trusted knife over any chopper. What most people find boring and mundane gives me the space to think and plan. I love festivals and parties where I can chop, chop and chop some more :-) in the kitchen.

I nominate these other bloggers I frequently visit Raks, Jay, Prathibha, Sums and Deesha.
 Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytellinge

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Paneer Butter masala - healthy bhi and tasty bhi

Well, to start with let me confess there is no butter in this paneer butter masala recipe. But wait, that doesn't mean I compromised on the taste, not even a little. I am not against use of butter, there are recipes that need butter to taste as well as they do but then there are some that can taste as well or even better by alternate use of ingredients. And for me and BH, given that 8-10 hours of our day is very exciting sitting in our offices except for those long walks to the loo or the next office cube, we can avoid butter in the paneer butter masala by all means:-).

Long long ago, BH & I were in a hill station on our very first outing as a married couple. The weather was perfect, surroundings beautiful, company endearing :-). We ate a lot, walked a lot and ate some more. The day we were leaving from there, we discovered another joint we had not been to and had a brunch of naan, dal and paneer. I think he called it paneer butter masala. Oh, why do I still remember that taste as if I had it just a few minutes ago? May be it was the magic of the moment, I have had naan and the said paneer butter masala but that taste always eludes me and I come back disappointed yet again with the paneer butter masala not measuring up to the high standards set by that hill station taste. And I don't see the bell pepper either in the paneer butter masalas I have since eater (Kadai Veg or Kadai paneer has less gravy than I would prefer with rotis, so that is out even if it has bell pepper in it).

DD loves paneer and whenever we go out to Indian restaurants, if we have naan, she will have a paneer something with it and we end up ordering a separate side dish for ourselves. Because of her, I started making paneer based curries frequently at home and whenever I make the paneer butter masala, I try to recreate the magic of that day. The taste in this dish comes from the almonds and not from butter.

All of us in the US have an extended weekend and we are enjoying the beautiful weather.
What do you need to make paneer butter masala?
2 medium sized ripe tomatoes
1/2 medium sized onion - chopped into chunks
10-12 almonds
2 cloves of garlic
1 inch ginger root - cut into thin pieces
3/4 cup of bite size pieces of green bell pepper/Simla mirch
1 cup of paneer pieces
1/2 cup milk - I used 2%
1 Tblsp kasoori methi/dry fenugreek leaves
1 Tsp garam masala powder
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1/2 Tsp amchoor/dry mango powder
1.5 Tblsp + 1 Tsp  cooking oil
1 Tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1.5 - 2 cups water to adjust consistency of gravy
How do you make paneer butter masala? 
  • Soak almonds in warm water for 30 minutes
  • Blanch tomatoes in water until the skin peels (See notes)
  • Keep the paneer pieces in warm water until ready for use.
  • Heat 1.5 Tblsp oil in a heavy bottom pan, fry the pieces of bell pepper on high heat until the skin is charred, 5-6 minutes, keep aside until needed (See notes for alternate frying instructions).
  • To the same pan, add ginger julienne, garlic and fry for 2 minutes.
  • Add onion slices and salt and fry until onion turns light pink in color. 
  • Switch off and let it cool. 
  • Peel the skin of blanched tomatoes. peel the skin of almonds.
  • Take the tomatoes, fried onion mixture and peeled almonds to a blender and make a very smooth paste by adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water.  NOTE: Make this mixture very smooth to avoid grainy consistency of the gravy and bring a buttery texture to it.
  • Heat a tsp of oil in a heavy pan, add cumin seeds and let it splutter. 
  • Add the ground masala and fry for 6-8 minutes on medium heat until it is cooked. 
  • Add the dry powders and crushed kasoori methi. mix and adjust consistency and taste by adding water. 
  • Add milk and let it simmer for 4-5 minutes. 
  • Add the paneer pieces and the fried bell pepper, give it a mix and switch off. 
  • Let the flavors come together for 20-30 minutes before serving.
  • Blanching tomatoes par-cooks them, rendering them tasty in gravies. Immerse them in water and microwave for 5-7 minutes (depending on your MW power) or boil water on stove top and add tomotoes, switch off after 2 minutes. 
  • Always remember to make a diagonal slit on tomatoes before blanching them whole since the expansion of the skin causes it to burst and you will have a mess to clean up later. 
  • The bell pepper in this dish should not be cooked soft but remain crunchy while having a smoky taste. I sometimes brush them with oil, put in in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Best flavor is if you grilled them :-), try that for a smoky flavor. 
  • Keeping frozen paneer in warm water helps it to stay soft and also absorb the gravy faster.
  • If you really are feeling bad that there is no butter in the paneer butter masala, go ahead and replace the cooking oil with butter :-) but trust me with this recipe, with no butter and processed ketchup, this one makes you reach out for more. 
  • Replace almonds with cashew nuts for a heavier gravy. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avakkaya - Tasty Andhra pickle demystified

Well, I wanted to make sure I told everyone that I made avakkaya at home all by myself, I definitely had a lot of help from BH and DD but all by myself means no experienced avakkaya maker supervision. Here is the story, last week, on my grocery shopping spree I found a bin of these small mangoes (not the regular big green ones you see in most Indian stores) but the same kind of mangoes we used to get in namma Bengaluru for avakkaya making. Now, I write a food blog and I find some mangoes which are even labelled 'Pickle mangoes', isn't that destiny screaming avakkaya? What does it matter if I already have avakkaya and maagaya brought from India, carefully vacuum packed to last me for another year :-). So, I went ahead and brought home about 10 mangoes all jazzed up to make the avakkaya and called my resident avakkaya expert and got the proportions and got a refresher on the procedure. Last Sunday, I made these beauties and after a couple of days of settling time, here I am with the pictures, proportions and procedure to make this famous avakkaya at home.

After I got married and when we lived in Bengaluru, I went to the Yashwantpur market - it is a wholesale/retail fresh produce market on the north side of Bengalure where vendors come with their produce ranging from fresh greens to veggies to meat and spread them on push carts, make shift stalls or even on the road. It is an experience to walk through these extremely noisy, somewhat unhygenic streets where you will also find some of the freshest of ingredients. My love for these fresh produce bazars in India started very early, I used to go with my father on his 2-wheeler and bring home 2 huge cloth bags full of produce before festivals or special occasions. Though the bazaars are makeshift and most of the vendors operate without licenses (?), these places run on loyalty and regular visits. If you are a frequent customer, you know the vendors by name(and vice versa) and the exact place of their stalls in the chaos and you have a certain negotiating power on the prices quoted. There are smart vendors who will always start high and let you in on a lower price reserved just for customers like you :-) while there are smart customers who threaten the vendors that they have already seen the prices in 4 other stalls and know where to go and have the price reduced :-). It works both ways (or it doesn't :-)).

So back to Yashwantpur market, I accompanied amma on an early morning in Summer to that same vendor she had been going for years, bought the mangoes and have him chop them into fours. Yes, this is necessary you see, because the mangoes for avakkaya are not really tender, they are green and firm but they need to have a solid middle part (called Tenka in Telugu) and a seed should have started forming. The pieces (or mukkalu) are pickled with this part for longer term storage and your kitchen knife is not very handy in cutting these mangoes open. So, amma would choose the mangoes, put them in a basket and tell the guy to cut them. He would use his medium sized axe and an wooden board and chop each mango into 4s and drop the pieces in to the basket. Back home, the pieces were thoroughly washed and wiped dry before the pickling process began. Since my grocery store doesn't carry an axe and will not chop the mangoes for me, I did them at home :-)

Avakkaya is easy to make if you have the right quality ingredients. And when preserved right, stays over a year. I usually put my pickles from India in the refrigerator as we don't consume a lot of them.
What do you need to make Avakkaya? 
10 medium sized firm, hard green mangoes (See notes)
3 cups red chili powder
2 cups salt (See notes)
3 cups mustard powder
3 cups oil (traditionally sesame oil is used for its fragrance, I used my regular sun flower oil)
2 Tsp fenugreek seeds
Pickle making is all about ensuring the longevity of the pickles. To this end, make sure your hands, spoons, pans and pots are all completely dry without any trace of water.
Prepare a jaadi (porcelain containers with lids) if you have access to or use glass containers like I did - wash them and wipe dry. Let the container sit in Sun for 2-3 hours to remove any traces of water.
How do you make avakkaya? 
  • Wash the mangoes thoroughly to remove any dirt on the skin. 
  • Wipe them dry and make sure they are not damp. 
  • Keep them on a wooden cutting board, and break them into two with a sharp knife. Now cut the halves into as many pieces based on your preference for size.
  • Powder mustard in your blender/mixer into a fine powder. This is called Aava pindi.
  • Take a dry, wide bowl, add salt, red chili powder, mustard powder and the fenugreek seeds and mix them well. 
  • Add oil to the powders and mix it into a wet masala. 
  • Now add the cut mango pieces - a handful at a time and coat the masala on each of the pieces. 
  • Finish up by mixing it all homogeneously and let it stand for half hour. 
  • Carefully scoop out the masala mixed mangoes into the prepared containers, close them and keep them aside to marinate flavors for 3 days before using. 
  • When you open the containers after 3 days, you will notice oil floating on top of the pickle, this means that the proportions have worked well, if the pickle looks too dry, add some more oil and mix with a dry spoon. 
  • Per amma, 1 Kg of mangoes, 3 cups each of red chili powder, salt and mustard powder. My 9 mangoes weighed a Kg and hence I have given the above proportion but reduced salt as I used table salt. 
  • Choose mangoes that are green and hard - your best bet to have a hard inner core (or tenka), some of my 9 mangoes were not very hard. 
  • I reduced the salt from amma's proportion as I used table salt which is much saltier than the traditional coarse rock salt used in India, adjust salt to suit your taste.
  • The smaller mustard seeds are more flavorful than the big seeds, use them if you can or add a half cup more of mustard to the recipe. 
  • Over time, fenugreek seeds become soft and completely absorb the flavors of the pickle and makes for a wonderful explosion in your mouth when you eat it. 
  • Avakkaya has a lot of pindi (the masala) in it as this is typically mixed with hot rice and enjoyed. We did that on the day I mixed the avakkaya to get the most bang for buck, added hot rice in the avakkaya mixing bowl and ate it :-)

The Avakkaya made above is the plain version where mustard takes center stage, Prathibha is posting many variations of the avakkaya with her mother in law to help her out, check them out on her blog. I took 2 handfuls of the mixed avakkaya separately and embellished(!) them with peeled garlic pods because both BH and DD are great garlic fans while I don't like them in my pickle. So we have 2 cute little containers on the dining table with avakkaya now - one with garlic and one without it :-).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tatte Idli - Special masala idli

Tatte in Kannada is plate, idlis made in small little plates that can be set up in their own stand and steamed. Why is this special? Well, for one the shape is different from regular idlis but more importantly because this idli can be eaten just by itself without much side dish fanfare. The idli batter is already decked up with fresh masala ingredients to enhance the taste.

When I was writing this post, I realized that I have not started any serious dose(dosa) or idli recipes yet on the blog. What a shame J, I will get to it some time in the very near future.

Back to Idli batter, there are number of versions each working really well for the people that make them. Some people swear by their proportion of urad dal and rice,  some by the time of grinding and fermentation methods while some go by the actual mixing. In Karnataka and Andhra, idli is made with the rice rava and not by grinding rice. Nammamma makes some of the pure white, light and airy idlis using the rice rave that resemble the fully bloomed pristine jasmine flower from my home town and hence called mallige idlis.

I alternate between the rava and rice method depending on my mood, time available for grinding the rice etc. The texture of idlis made using the rava is slightly more grainy and feels soft and crumbly when you break into them. On the other hand, idlis made with rice is more bouncy and smoother to the bite. Hallmark of a good idli in either method is a light and airy end product. 

Now if you do not have a tatte idli stand, doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Use the pan that comes with your pressure cooker (the one you use to make rice or dal) and spread the idli batter to about ½ inch thickness in the pan. Or use your regular idli plates to make the idlis.
What do you need to make Tatte idli?
I use the same batter for normal idlis
Idli dough ingredients:
1 cup deskinned urad dal(or deskinned whole urad)
2.5 cup rice rava
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tblsp salt
3/4 cup water to grind

Masala ingredients:
1 Tblsp black pepper corns
1 Tblsp cumin seeds
4 Tblsp chana dal
4 Tblsp thinly sliced fresh coconut (see notes)
2 Tblsp chopped cilantro
How do you make Tatte idli?
Making Idli dough:
  • Wash urad dal in atleast 3-4 changes of water, scrubbing the dal as you drain the water.
  • Soak urad dal and fenugreek seeds in 4 cups of water for 4-6 hours.
  • Soak rice rava separately in 3 cups of water for 4-6 hours.
  • Wash the urad dal one more time, drain out the water.
  • Grind the dal and fenugreek seeds in a grinder/blender using not more than 1 cup of water at different intervals until you get a really smooth dough (see notes).
  • In the meantime, take fistfuls of soaked rice rava, squeeze out the water and put in in a wide bowl.
  • Scoop out the ground dal on to the squeezed rava, put salt and with a light hand, mix them all together into a homogeneous mixture.
  • Cover and leave it in a warm place over night to ferment. 
Making the tatte idli:
Note: Each tatte idli is approximately equal to 3 regular idlis
  • Pound the pepper and cumin in a mortar and pestle into a coarse crush, DO NOT POWDER THEM. (see notes)
  • Soak chana dal in 2 cups of water for about 45 minutes or until they plump up, drain the water.
  • Chop the coconut into thin, longish juliens – idea is to have to bite into coconut pieces when you eat the idli.
  • Add the coarsely crushed pepper-cumin, soaked chana dal, chopped cilantro and chopped coconut pieces into the fermented idli batter, give it a mix.
  • Prepare the tattes (or the cooker pan) by smearing a drop of oil all around it. Pour the batter to about ½ inch in the plate.
  • Set the plates (or the pan) in the idli cooker or regular cooker and steam it for 20 minutes on medium heat.
  • Remove the idli stand from the cooker/steamer and let it stand for 2 minutes. 
  • Using a blunt knife, remove the idlis from the plate by working around the edges first. 
  • Grinding urad dal into a really smooth, bouncy dough is half the battle won, use as little water as needed to run your mixer. Using fridge cold water helps your mixer/blender motor to survive longer. 
  • Pepper and cumin seeds are crushed enough to release flavor, do not make a powder of them. Pepper powder also makes the tatte idlis spicier. 
  • I have seen two varieties of rice rava in the stores here - one is slightly larger grains than the second. I prefer the smaller variety. 
  • Scrubbing the urad dal helps remove any remnant black skin and result in a white idlis. 
  • One of my cousins stops making idlis and dosas in winter as she does't believe you can ferment them well, what works for me is to preheat my oven to 170F (minimum my oven will go down to) and switch it off. Place your idli batter bowl inside the oven overnight. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Strawberry Agua Fresca - Thirst quencher for the hot summer

Don't go by the name in the title, Agua Fresca literally translates to Agua (~water) and Fresca (~Fresh). This light, natural, lemony drink made with succulent summer fruits is not only delicious but also manages your calories compared to milk shakes or bottled/canned drinks.

Strawberries are one of my favorite fruits. I was bowled over these beauties when we first came to CA, some of our wiser cousins who had already been exposed to the local charm took us on a drive in Spring where farmers had put up road side stalls to sell freshly picked strawberries in all sizes of crates. Though you get strawberries year round in super markets, the actual harvest cycle is Spring/summer and fall. Smart farmers extend this cycle to the entire year.

Couple of years back, the big time garden enthusiasts me & BH are, we fell into the trap of growing strawberries in our back yard. We had a United way sale going on at work and I brought home 6 small saplings of Strawberry marked for early Fall harvest. We planted those tiny things in the ground, made sure Flora didn't trample when she excitedly jumped over them, fed, watered and cared for the plants. Come August, saw tiny blossoms and then small, little fruits emerging. It was a wonderful experience to see the strawberries growing organically in our own yard. DD was super thrilled that she could pick and eat fresh fruits from the plant at home :-). We infact harvested a few cups of not so big but very juicy strawberries and enjoyed them. Then the weather turned chilly and cold, we moved our potted plants inside for hibernation and left the strawberries out in the cold. When Spring reappeared the next year, I was happy to see that the strawberries had survived the harsh winter and started growing again, but very soon we realized the extent to which this hardy plant can go and take over your back yard. It was almost a strawberry infestation, the plants go beneath the top layer of soil, put out roots and every few inches, a new leaf and a new plant springs up :-). We moved from that home with all the memories tucked in and I decided not to grow strawberries in the back yard again so we have space for other plants.  May be I will give into the temptation some time in the future years :-), I am back to buying the huge boxes of the fruit from Costco in the meantime.

As I said earlier, Strawberry agua fresca is a strawberry flavored, slightly lemony drink that is perfect for a hot summer picnic.

What do you need for Strawberry agua fresca?
12-15 juicy, unbruised strawberries
2 Tblsp sugar (adjust if the fruit is sweet)
juice from 1.5 lemon (about 1/4 cup) - adjust if the fruit is tart, see Notes below.
6-8 cups of water
How do you make Strawberry agua fresca?
  • Take the first 3 ingredients listed above and blend it till smooth. 
  • You can strain the blended mixture and then mix water, but I prefer to use directly and not lose the natural fibers from the fruit - This step is your choice. 
  • Add water to thin it down to a drink consistency.
  • Chill and serve.

Enjoy the strawberry agua fresca at home or pack with ice for a picnic. We are off to do some hiking on this balmy day here. Have a great weekend. 

  • While you want the drink to pack the punch, you do not want the lemon juice to overpower. Remember it is strawberry agua fresca. 
  • Other fruits you can use to create yummy agua frescas are melon (watermelons, cantaloupes), pinneapple. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stuffed Okra - Story of an Ogre turning into a Prince(ss) charming

What is green all over and slimy? If you thought I was talking about Ogres in general or Shrek in particular, you are way off track. I am here to talk about one of my favorite vegetables which in its unprocessed or under processed form resembles slimy green ogres very much :-).

Stuffed okra is a Gujarati recipe which I had seen in a Tarla Dalal book but had put off making. Sometimes when I see a recipe in a book/magazine/show,  I deliberate on it unless it is love at first sight convincing myself it is the right choice for me and my family in terms of the ingredients. Also with books and magazines, sometimes I feel distant from the original cook as I do not know them and do not relate them to real people. But if I taste something or someone cooks it and talks about it, I go hook, line and sinker.  I know, my brain is weird that way :-).  Back to the stuffed okra, I recently saw the recipe here and then googled it some more to confirm people were infact making it at home and gave it a shot in my kitchen. Boy, I am glad I did. Simple ingredients, fresh, tender okra turns this into a mouth watering dish with your rice or roti. We had ours with rice and rasam.

When I posted my Bendekayi gojju earlier, I mentioned a few tips to create a slime free okra dish. Okra or ladies finger or bendekayi requires a tart acidic substance like tomato or tamarind or yogurt or even dry mango powder and some TLC in the form of slow roasting and avoiding extra mixing to let go of its sliminess. Remember to follow these and you will be pleasantly surprised with the versatility of Okra.

And a side note on Ogres, I love the Shrek series - Shrek, Fiona and Donkey and all the other characters not just for the great animation but for the fact that the movie and the book do not change Shrek or Fiona's physical appearances for a happy ending. They remain ogres and not turn into the stereo typical good looking girl and handsome boy before living happily ever after. I love that kind of ending:-)

Here is the recipe for a Gujarati Bhindi Sambhariya - a yummy stuffed ladies finger dish.
What do you need to make stuffed okra? 
20-25 tender, fresh okra (increase or decrease this quantity based on the # of people you are planning to feed)
1/2 cup grated coconut - fresh or frozen
1/2 peanuts
1 Tblsp white sesame seeds
1 Tsp coriander cumin powder (I used store bought, make fresh if you prefer)
1 Tsp amchoor (dry mango) powder
4-5 green chilies
2 inches fresh ginger root
1 Tblsp salt
5-6 stalks of fresh cilantro - chopped fine
1 Tsp sugar
1 Tblsp cooking oil

Others - patience, do not attempt this if you are in a hurry, stuffing okra takes time
How do you make stuffed okra? 
  • Wash, pat dry okra, remove the stubby end and slit it length wise ensuring the okra remains whole with just enough opening for stuffing.
  • Roast the peanuts (see notes below), let cool, make it into a coarse powder by pulsing it in your blender. 
  • Pound green chilies and ginger in a mortar and pestle into a coarse paste.
  • Mix grated coconut, peanut powder, amchoor, coriander-cumin powder, salt, sugar, sesame seeds and chopped cilantro in a bowl. 
  • Mix in green chilies-ginger paste. Check and adjust salt, sugar or spices. 
  • Stuff this mixture into slit okras, work the stuffing into the tips of the okra where sliminess is more. 
  • Heat oil in a wide, flat pan, load the stuffed okras stuffed side up and preferably in a single layer and cook it open for 5-7 minutes on medium heat. 
  • Slowly turn the okras over and cook the other side for another 5-7 minutes. 
  • When okras turn soft and wilt a little and the color changes to darker green, switch off. 
  • Serve it warm with rice or rotis. 
  • You can pan roast peanuts until the outer skin turns light brown and you hear small pop sounds or alternatively you can put them in a  single layer in a microwave safe plate and microwave them for 5-6 minutes mixing them after every minute and half. 
  • The original recipe mentioned garam masala which I didn't use. 
  • Select small (1-1.5 inch), tender okras for this recipe.
  • When you mix in the ingredients for stuffing, the moisture from coconut, chilies-ginger paste and peanut powder is sufficient to make it binding, do not add water. 
  • Avoid mixing or turning over okras too much, they need to cook slowly and left to themselves they cook beautifully, just maintain heat on medium or lower. 
  • While okra renders itself well in curries, by itself it is bland. Make sure you really stuff the okras to get delicious Bhindi Sambhariya. 
  • If you do not like coconut too much, increase the amount of peanuts.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ginger tambuli - cool yogurt based side dish for the summer

Kannadiga homes such as the one I grew up in have lot of tambuli and bajji varieties. Bajji is usually referred to mosaru bajji with yogurt and not the fried onion bajji/bhajia, btw those are called pakodas. Tambuli is considered to have the cooling effect on your body and is a usual fare at home meals during the hot months.

We in the Pacific NW have been having beautiful weather for the last couple of weeks with glorious sun shines, warm temperatures and beautiful Rhododendron and Azaleas blooms covering the entire plant. The landscape here is so different from others we have lived in and makes a pretty sight all through the year. I love it all including the gray skies and rain showers, it reminds me of my visits to Chikmagalur, a small town nestled in the western ghats in Karnataka known for its coffee plantations. Chikmagalur is also part of the region known as Malnadu famous for its tasty food and unique recipes. My doddamma and family lived there and that is where I have tasted the best roasted jackfruit papad and horse gram papad. More about it in another post.
Tambulis are quintessential Malnadu recipes and Nammamma says eating hot rice with tambuli and ghee as the first morsel of food on a hot day is good for health. I can eat ginger tambuli for an entire meal as I love the ginger taste. Tambuli is usually thinner in consistency compared to chutneys but can be used as a dip or chutney by making it a little thicker.

Here is a very easy tambuli recipe with fresh ginger as the star ingredient.
What do you need to make ginger tambuli? 
1 cup peeled, chopped to bite size ginger
2 Tblsp coconut - fresh or frozen
1 cup fresh yogurt
1 Tsp cumin seeds
1 Tsp black pepper corns
3-5 fresh cilantro stalks
1 Tsp cooking oil
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

For seasoning: 
1 Tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp cumin
How do you make ginger tambuli?
  • Wash, clean the ginger roots, peel them and chop them into small pieces.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add cumin and pepper corns, let them sizzle for a minute.
  • Add the chopped ginger pieces and stirring frequently, fry until ginger turns light pink and the raw smell disappears, takes about 8-10 minutes on medium heat.
  • Let it cool to room temperature. 
  • Bring the fried ingredients, coconut, cilantro and salt to your grinder/blender and blend it to a smooth paste using the yogurt. 
  • Adjust consistency to your taste by adding smoothly whisked yogurt.
  • Prepare seasoning - heat ghee on medium heat, add mustard and cumin seeds, let the seeds crackle. Pour the seasoning on top of the tambuli. 
  • Mix it in with rice or enjoy as a side dish/dip to your rotis.
  • Choose fresh and tender ginger roots for best taste, do not use old/mature ginger as it tends to be stringy. 
  • Cut ginger into thin pieces to help cook faster and evenly. 
  • Fry ginger on low-medium heat as it has to get cooked thoroughly.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Akki Rotti - Mother's day Special

Updated on 8/31/12: I got some pictures of the avarekalu akki rotti from Akka's kitchen, thanks to GAC who remembered to click at the right time and send it over. 

A Very Happy Mother's day to all of you mothers out there.  Hope you had(ve) a wonderful day with your loved ones. 

Personally, I do not celebrate 'the' days so much as I believe the thoughts and sentiments expressed on 'the' day should be part of every day, but I do find it beautiful that people actually celebrate and find so many ways to share love and joy on the designated days.

As with everyone else, my mother is special and I love her dearly, there are so many things I remember fondly about nammamma now that I am away from the home I grew up in. I constantly think back on what she would have done in situations where my mommy skills are needed as she is my benchmark for mommying. Considering how I turned out, she did a pretty good job :-). With all the ups and downs she has gone through in life, she is a pillar of strength for us and a reminder that we can get through life with its umpteen turns and twists.

I got lucky a second time when I got married as my other amma turned out to be just as dear as nammamma. I sometimes tell BH that she made me miss all the fun I could have had with my friends complaining about my MIL if only she had been more like a mother in law and less like another mom to me :-). She is an image of dedication and extreme patience and boundless love where her family is concerned.

My other mother is a sister, best friend and mother rolled into one. When I was a little girl, she took care of me as a mom and as I grew up we became best friends. She continues to be that listener and eternal source of practical advice for me. She does not love cooking like I do but when she goes to the kitchen and makes something, you will think she is one of the best cooks ever, and I believe it is only because she gives her best whether she is delivering a baby or making uppittu in the kitchen.

I had a wonderful mother's day with thoughtful gestures from DD and BH and we are ready to call it a day in anticipation of next week. As a mother's day special recipe, here is my akka's famous avarekalu akki rotti - rice flour rotis patted into shape and made special by mixing in cooked avarekalu. I have this every single time I go back to visit home, she has two very old, battered pans specially for akki rottis and they just turn the rottis soft yet crispy and tastier than any I have eaten. There are many variations of akki rotti - each equally yummy but the one with avarekalu is a delicacy from Avarekalu loving regions of Karnataka. Try this and I guarantee you will fall in love with this version of the akki rotti.
What do you need to make Avarekalu akki rotti? 
1 cup cooked avarekalu
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tsp finely chopped green chilies
1/2 cup grated coconut - fresh or frozen
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp cumin seeds
2 Tblsp chopped colantro
Water to make a soft dough
2 Tblsp of cooking oil
How do you make Avarekalu akki rotti? 
  • Cook the avarekalu till soft and let it cool. 
  • Add all the ingredients except for water in a wide bowl and mix it in.
  • Add water (you can use the water used to cook avarekalu) slowly and mix the ingredients into a semi firm dough - it should be easy to pat on a flat surface. 
  • Take an aluminium foil and put an orange sized dough in the center and make it into a thin (1/2 MM) circle by patting it with your fore fingers. Dip your fingers in cold water to help the patting process. 
  • Heat a flat tawa/pan on medium heat, drizzle a few drops of oil on the tawa and put the aluminium foil on top with rotti facing down. 
  • Let it cook for a couple of minutes and you can remove the foil easily from the top. 
  • Drizzle oil on top of the rotti and let it cook until golden brown and crisp. 
  • Flip the rotti and cook a couple of minutes on the other side too. 
  • Remove it onto a plate, top it with ghee for additional flavor and serve it with pickles, chutney or yogurt. 
  • Back home, akka and nammamma both have what is called as Bandle or a deep circular pan and rotti made in this bandle is more popular than the flat variety. Since I do not have a bandle and my stove is not compatible for a non flat bottom pan, I pat my rottis on the aluminium foil before transferring it to the pan. 
This is an updated picture from my akka's kitchen and that is the old bandle that has been in her family for years now.
  • If you have access to fresh banana leaves, pat the rottis on a washed and pat dried banana leaf for a flavorful rotti. 
  • If you do not have fresh avarekalu handy, don't fret, use the frozen stuff (called papdi lilva). 
  • Do not skimp on the amount of coconut in this recipe. 

I didn't want to make this post personal but I guess I failed at it, but then mothers are personal. I leave you with a funny exchange about a mom with a second grader, enjoy..

Q: What kind of a little girl was your mom? 
A1: My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff. 
A2: I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be 'pretty bossy'
A3: They say she used to be nice.