Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Yard long beans palya with moongdal - a simple homely side dish

Is there such a thing as blogger's block? How does one overcome it? I am trying to write my post for the last 2 days and it is not going anywhere. I have pictures in my draft but not happy with the way my words come together. I like to write about a recipe, the story behind it, who made it and why it is dear to me before I post it and I am struggling to put words to my expressions. Not sure if it is because I am exhausted  by the time I sit down to write or I am just bringing work home and not able to focus on the blog post, I sure hope this is a temporary thing...

So I will hold on to some of my special recipes until I can make a come back and will write about a very simple everyday palya - most common fare in any Kannadiga household. There are equivalents in all other Indian regional cuisine I am sure. Though common and simple, there are umpteen varieties of palyas, some are stir fried, some sauteed and some pressure cooked. Some of them are just put together with a simple seasoning or vaggarane while some are made with palyada pudi or spice powder. Palya is typically a dryer curry eaten as an accompaniment to either rice or roti  while the main entree is a saaru (rasam) or Huli (sambar). Nammamma puts a garnish of grated coconut in almost every palya and makes it delectable :-).

Palya made with a combination of moong dal & vegetable is one of my favorites as it combines proteins and vitamins into one dish. Yard long beans are tender beans that are used before the seeds plump up. These beans have tougher skill than the regular green beans and take a tad bit longer to cook. Tender yard long beans chopped up, cooked with moong dal and seasoned with coconut and a dash of lime will set you up for a fulfilling and healthy meal.

What do you need to make yard long beans palya? 
12-15 tender yard long beans (alasande kaayi)
1 cup moong dal/hesaru bele
1 Tblsp grated coconut
2 Tbslp finely chopped onion (optional)
1 Tsp lemon juice
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
For seasoning:
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp urad dal/uddina bele
1 Tsp chana dal/kadle bele
4-5 curry leaves
2 dry red chilies
1/4 Tsp asafortida
How do you make yard long beans palya? 
  • Wash the moong dal and bring it to boil with 1 cup of water and salt.
  • Wash, cut the ends of the yard long beans and chop them into small pieces.
  • Add the chopped beans to the moong dal, reduce heat to low-medium and let cook and until moong dal is soft but holds shape. Will take about 8-10 minutes. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add the seasoning ingredients and let cook until mustard pops and the dals turn light pink. 
  • Add the chopped onions (if using) and fry until it turns pink.
  • Add the seasoning to the cooked moong dal & beans along with grated coconut and lemon juice. Mix well. 
  • Serve warm with rice or roti, we had ours with the makki roti last week. 
  • You need to control the amount of water in the palya as it should stay dry. Start with 3/4 cup of water and add small quantities to help cook the moong dal. 
  • Do not over cook moong dal as the texture and taste differs vastly when overdone. 
  • Onions are optional and I make this palya with and without them, both taste good. 
  • I usually use equal volumes of moong dal and chopped beans, you can increase or decrease to suit your preference. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Corn bread - native, hearty, festive and quick

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Laura who lived with her Ma & Pa, older sister Mary and baby sister Carrie. They left their Big Woods home in Wisconsin and started to move towards the wild Western states in search of better life, wild west was also known as Indian country. They had to travel for many many days in their big caravan and camp at nightfall.

''..Pa brought water from the creek, while Mary and Laura helped Ma get supper. Ma measured coffee beans into the coffee-mill and Mary ground them. Laura filled the coffee pot with the water Pa brought, and Ma set the pot in the coals. She set the iron bake-oven in the coals too. When it heated, she mixed cornmeal and salt with water and patted it into little cakes. She greased the bake-oven with a pork rind, laid the cornmeal cakes in it, and put on its iron cover. Then Pa raked more coals over the cover, while Ma sliced fat salt pork. ...The coffee boiled, cakes baked and they all smelled so good that Laura grew hungrier and hungrier..."

That is a small excerpt from the Little house books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read this over & over with my little girl. It is an autobiographical series from the late 1800s where much of America was still unpopulated and life was farming based and pre-industrialization. The stories are very heartfelt, makes you fall in love with the Ingalls family as they go through their ups and downs in life but more importantly I think it is a story from the times when family values were held high. If you have little girls and boys and looking for bed time reads, I would strongly recommend these books.

Well, back to today's recipe, I made some corn bread for our Thanksgiving brunch, corn bread is a very native American recipe that is hugely popular for its simplicity and taste. As you see above, in the olden days the humble corn bread was cooked with just salt and water and may be a little bit of fat if you could manage it. The easy bake cake has morphed into suave variations and Mexican immigrants have added their own touch with peppers in these corn breads. These keep well and taste good when cold also and hence easy to carry on travels. Southern corn breads usually are sweeter and have eggs in them. I like it spicier, skip the egg and reduce the sugar.
Indiana is known as the cornfields of midwest and I have seen corn fields and corn until your 'eyes can tire of the sight'. As you drive by, you could reach out and touch the ripe corn cobs by the roadside. Corn  is put into many uses including fuel generation.

There are many variations of eggless corn bread on the web and here is my adaptation from a few different sources. This corn bread is perfectly moist and 'just right' crumbly in your mouth.
What do you need to make corn bread? 
Makes a 8" pan about 2" cooked pieces
1 cup corn meal (I used coarse yellow corn meal)
1 cup all purpose flour or maida
1.5 cups milk (Use soy or almond milk to make it vegan)
1.5 Tblsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tblsp sugar
3/4 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1 Tsp baking powder
1/4 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
2 Tblsp oil
1 jalepeno pepper, washed, deseeded and chopped into small pieces (Optional)

How do you make corn bread? 
  • Pour milk and cider in a bowl, mix with a spoon and set aside for 5 minutes. 
  • Add the flour, corn meal, salt, sugar, corn kernels, baking soda & baking powder in a wide bowl and mix them until well incorporated. 
  • Pour in the milk+cider mixture, add oil and mix lightly until everything folds in together. 
  • Pre heat oven to 425F, prepare a 8" pan with a spray of cooking spray. 
  • Pour the batter and add the jalepeno pieces on top. 
  • Bake for 25 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean. 
  • Let cool and cut into wedges. 
  • You can use plain vinegar and increase the amount of sugar by another Tsp if you like it sweeter. 
  • You can bake the mixture in small muffin cups for individual serving. 
  • I add the jalepeno on half of the pan and leave the other half for heat intolerant people.
  • You can be creative and add other spices to make the corn bread customized to your taste - I add roasted, ground cumin sometimes.
Here is a view of our Thanksgiving brunch with the mysuru masala dose, cranberry chutney, baked BN squash, baked sweet potatoes, pomogranate mosaranna and corn bread

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cranberry chutney - spicy way to say Thanks on Thankgiving

Thanksgiving & Christmas have become family traditions for us after we moved here. As leaves change color, trees become bare, Summer gives way to the chill, jackets & heavy clothing wrap the body, holiday spirit sets in and the twinkling lights, shopping malls will suck you in for sure. We have over the years enjoyed these holidays with friends, family, co workers and others. Thanksgiving is very similar is spirit to the Sankranthi festival that it celebrates a plentiful harvest and lets people come together over food and say Thanks. The first Thanksgiving is thought to have been observed in the US in the 1600s.

I used to watch my co-workers & friends prepare for Thanksgiving for many days in advance. It takes a lot of planning to host a Thanksgiving family dinner where extended families sometimes travel to meet each other. It is a time for reunion, laugh & reminisce over some a spread of good food. Being a vegetarian, I only used to listen to the food stories around the holidays, remember I am not much of a baker and so didn't feel confident about the pies, cakes, brownies either. Then one day few years back, things changed. We used to go to Chinmaya Balavihar in Michigan and got invited to the Thanksgiving celebration, it was a vegetarian fare but with a focus on the local food traditions. There was roasted sweet potatoes, cranberry chutney, masala dosa (yes, that was our stuffed turkey equivalent).

We celebrate Thanksgiving at home with masala dosa, an Indianized cranberry chutney, oven roasted sweet potatoes & butternut squashes and corn bread. So I use most of the harvest ingredients and make the menu my own which I think is a wonderful way of customizing the celebration. Earlier this week, walking down the isles of Whole Foods market, I found an entire section dedicated to vegan Thanksgiving, it had Tofurkey, squashes, cranberry sauces and other things.

Cranberries are those super berries with a lot of health benefits. The tart berries are known to help fight against diabetes, cholesterol build up and urinary tract infections. Cranberry sauces I get here in the stores are too sweet for my taste and almost jam like, so in my usual tradition of finding a spicy alternative I have zeroed in on this recipe of a spicy chutney. All you need are 3 basic ingredients with some salt thrown in and 10 minutes of cook time, you will have a delicious spread. I have heard you get frozen cranberries in India also, go ahead and give this a try for a refreshing change in your chutney varieties. One of my friends who ate this when she came home for the Bommala koluvu has been asking me to put the recipe on the blog, so here it is for you N. Enjoy..

We had a very relaxing Thanksgiving brunch earlier today and enjoyed the food. As I reflect on what I am thankful for, there is indeed plenty. I am blessed in a lot of ways starting with a wonderful, loving family, host of friends that care, good health, my work. This year has been extra special with the blogging and I am very grateful for the happiness blogging gives me. It is fulfilling and relaxing and I am very happy for all the friends I have made through my blog. Thank you All!

For those of you in the US of A, if you are planning on a Black Friday shopping, stay warm, stay safe. We don't have any big shopping agenda but will hit the malls for a few hours just to be part of the fun :-). See you later this week.
What do you need to make Cranberry chutney? 
1/4 pound cranberries (I used fresh, bagged ones)
6-8 dry red chilies (adjust to taste)
1/4 of a medium onion chopped into thin strips
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
a few curry leaves

How do you make Cranberry chutney?
  • Dry roast fenugreek seeds on medium heat until the seeds turn pink and start to pop. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Heat a Tsp of oil in a pan and roast the red chilies for a minute, set aside. 
  • Add the sliced onions to the same pan, add salt to hasten the cooking process and roast for a minute or two until onion turns limp. 
  • Add the washed cranberries to the pan and continue to fry for 5-6 minutes. 
  • The cranberries pop, turn into a mush, at this stage switch off the stove and let it come to room temperature. 
  • Make a dry powder of the roasted fenugreek seeds and red chilies. 
  • Add the cranberry & onion mixture and pulse it in your blender. Avoid adding any water and make it into a paste by pulsing it. 
  • Make a seasoning with mustard, asafoetida and curry leaves roasted in oil and pour it over the chutney. 
  • Seasoning is optional and if you do not want to season the chutney, add the asafoetida while grinding the other ingredients. 
  • Cranberries are quite tart in taste, make sure you balance the taste with a good amount of red chilies and salt. 
  • Avoid adding water while grinding and let the ingredients cool down completely before grinding them.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ompudi - crispy savory treats with chickpea flour

What does a family get together mean to you? For me, it is lot of hugs, non stop chatter and unending supply of food whether you are meeting each other after a long gap or you have seen each other just last week. Moving away from India a decade back, the one thing I constantly miss is the impromptu visits of family & friends. I don't remember nammamma ever making food just enough for the people at home for any meal, she would always cook extra as we almost always had someone drop in unannounced. Growing up as the youngest of the cousins in the family, I saw nammamma prepare akki rotti after akki rotti for my college going older cousins during breakfast, cooking up big pots of flavorful masala uppittu for friends that dropped by on their way to some place. She would always have anna, huli/saaru (typical meals in most South Indian homes) ready for someone that might show up at lunch time or decide to stay over the night in Mysore. I have that habit ingrained in me and find it very difficult to cook in smaller quantities but am consciously making an effort to reduce the large spreads as I don't like to waste food.

Summer times were meant to be fun and completely adhoc with us kids unlike the totally planned 8-6pm summer camps my daughter is used to :-(, Summer also meant constantly looking for food in the kitchen and running out to play with friends. Nammamma used these 2 foot long metal tins we referred to them as akki dabbas - I am not sure if it was because they usually held the rice or they were meant for rice storage. These tins were also used to hold snacks (especially the savory variety) such as chaklis, kodubales, ompudi etc. While I was an impartial lover of all things spicy and all things deep fried, the ompudi held a very captivated audience in me. A bowl of ompudi and one of my favorite novels, a bowl of ompudi and a few friends to laugh around with, a bowl of ompudi and a drama club in the backyard.. you get the idea. Younger brother with a sweet tooth gave me full claim on the savory snacks in those tins as he could be easily whisked away with a couple of rave undes which I would happily give up any day for his bowl ompudi :-), I was sneaky.

I always envy my friends that somehow end up living in the same city as their siblings/cousins/family here in the US, it is so very precious. I look forward to having family over whenever possible and I am glad that we are atleast within reasonable distances. When brother & family came over for the weekend, as both me & my brother have the same unending appetite for deep fried snacks, I made some ompudi following nammamma's recipe. Weather was perfect and we made the best use of time with some outing and some time spent at home watching a movie.

On that note, have you guys watched Kahaani - the recent Vidya Balan's movie? I think she is one of the best actresses in Bollywood that can pull off any role. We liked the movie too, very well made and nicely told story. Watch it if you haven't yet. I believe it ran well in theaters in India too and it is heartening to know that people do watch a movie with a pregnant woman as protogonist, without any heroes or songs sung while dancing in parks. Not that I have anything against them and I thouroughly enjoy my quota of DDLJ too. But Kahaani is a different kind of movie which is worth your time and money spent on it.

Having finished the ompudi over the weekend, here I am with the recipe. Let me warn you that this is a very addictive snack and unless you have amazing control over mind (which I completely suck at) you won't be able to stop eating them.
What do you need to make Ompudi?
Keeps 4 snack greedy people happy for 48 hours
4 cups of basan/chickpea flour/kadle hittu
1 cup rice flour
1 Tblsp butter
1 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp ajwain
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
pinch of baking soda
About 1.5 cups water
Oil to deep fry (I used Sunflower oil)
For making ompudi mixture: 
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup kadle/chatney dal/fried gram
1/2 cup grated dry coconut
1 Tblsp mustard
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
10-12 curry leaves

How do you make Ompudi? 
  • Bring the butter to room temperature by keeping it outside refrigerator for 20 minutes or so. 
  • Powder ajwain coarsely.
  • Sieve the basan, rice flour, salt, ajwain, red chili powder and baking soda together into a wide bowl. 
  • Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the dry flours, work it into the flour with your hands until it incorporates well. 
  • Heat oil in a wide pan. 
  • Add water slowly to the flours and mix well to get a soft and slightly sticky dough. 
  • Prepare the chakli/murukku press with the thin holed plate, add a handful of dough and press the mixture directly into hot oil.
  • Leave it untouched for a minute before picking up and turning over the entire ompudi with a slotted spoon. Let cook for another minute until the bubbles die down and the ompudi becomes crispy. 
  • Lift it out with a slotted spoon, drain out the oil and repeat for the remaining dough. 
How do you make ompudi mixture? 
  • You can stop at the above step and start eating the crispy ompudi, if you want to take it another notch up, follow the process below. 
  • Take a few of the ready ompudis in to a wide bowl. 
  • After finishing up all the dough, fry the peanuts and kadle in the same hot oil for a couple of minutes until peanuts start to pop and kadle turns light pink. Pick them up with a slotted spoon and drop them on top of the ompudi. 
  • Add the curry leaves into the hot oil and as soon as they turn crispy, remove them from oil and add to the peanut + kadle bowl.
  • Take a Tsp of oil, add asafoetida, mustard. Let mustard cracle, pour it over the ompudi.
  • Add the grated dry coconut on top. 
  • Crush the ompudi gently with fingers to break them into 1/2 inch long pieces, mix with the other ingredients. 
  • Take a vacation and enjoy the bowl of ompudi mixture. 
  • The recipe can be scaled up or down by adjusting the ingredients, keep the basan to rice flour ratio at 4:1. 
  • Cutting the butter into small pieces and working them into the flour gives a nice crispy texture to the ompudi. 
  • Adding chili powder is optional, you can skip it if you want it mild. 
  • If you are making a huge quantity, add water to only portions of the flour and mix them afresh as it is consumed. Else, baking soda will make the ompudi turn supple. 
  • I sometimes enjoy the ompudi mixture as a quick chat by adding a Tblsp of chopped onion (per bowl of ompudi mixture), a very finely chopped green chili, a Tblsp chopped cilantro. Mix it well and serve immediately. 
  • Keep the heat on medium high, each batch of ompudi will only need 2-3 minutes to completely cook.
  • Every time after the dough in the murukku press is finished, I smear the wall of the press with a couple of drops of water as this helps in pressing the ompudi and also makes it easy to handle the murukku press. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Apple gojju - Autumn specials

Hope everyone had a great Diwali celebration. We did too. I am kind of going slow on my posts as things are moving very fast at home & work but all the pictures I take are going into drafts and they will show up pretty soon on this space. We are expecting family over this weekend and looking forward to spending time together. If you are tired of all the sweets and the deep fried goods made for Diwali, here is a very easy spicy apple gojju to bring your taste buds to life.

Growing up in South India, apples were mostly considered as expensive, seasonal delicacies. The one variety I remember clearly is the Kashmiri apples (small, roundish ones, very juicy and sweet to taste). I would never have believed such easy access to apples and I am sure would never have imagined all the different varieties of this fruit if I had not traveled across the seven seas (we all know that is just an expression :-)).
Apple picking is a favorite Fall time activity here in many states of USA. Vast farms full of apple trees bending low from the weight of the fruits of different colors, taste and sizes, families of young & old wrapped in warm clothing to ward off the chill, warm cider and hay rides are all part of the package called 'U-pick apples' open to public during the season. You end up coming home with not only an apple overloaded stomach but bushels of fresh picked apples. You enjoy them the 1st and 2nd day, hand it over to friends & neighbors you happen to meet on the 3rd & 4th day, try to get to as many of them as possible before they go bad over the week all along wondering what the heck you were thinking of bringing home such a large quantity of apples when there are only three people to eat them :-). But the experience of U-pick in itself is wonderful so you get over the temporary dislike you have developed for the apples and head right back to the farms at the next opportunity :-)).

Well, some of the apples find their way into home made apple sauce (Yumm.. apples & cinnamon) but as we do not enjoy the sweet versions so much, I tend to look for spicier alternatives. I tasted the apple gojju in one of my friend's house, made some modifications (adding roasted sesame seeds brings it so much more closer to South Indian gojju) and it has been part of my recipe repertoire for a long time now. This is a very easy to fix, quick to prepare and delicious to eat gojju. We missed apple picking this time as things have been busy but I got home some very firm and fresh looking Granny Smith apples from the store and turned them into this yummy gojju.
Apple picking, climbing on daddy's shoulders to reach those beauties. She doesn't need them (shoulders I mean) anymore
What do you need to make apple gojju? 
4 servings
2 medium sized firm green apples (I used granny smith, use any tart variety you get)
1/8 Tsp tamarind concentrate (see notes)
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1/2 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp white sesame seeds
1 Tblsp oil
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds
4-5 curry leaves
1 Tsp mustard
1-2 red chilies broken into pieces
1/8 Tsp asafoetida powder
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
About 1/2 cup water
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

How do you make apple gojju? 
  • Wash, pat dry and peel apples. 
  • Core the apples and cut them into bite sized pieces.
  • Dry roast sesame seeds until they start to pop, let cool, powder them in a coffee grinder or pound them in a mortar & pestle. Keep aside.
  • Heat oil in a wide pan on medium heat, add asafoetida, mustard, fenugreek seeds and let them pop. 
  • Add the red chilies, turmeric powder & curry leaves and fry for about 30 seconds. 
  • Add the chopped apple pieces, salt and fry for a minute. 
  • Add the tamarind concentrate, red chili powder, jaggery and 1/2 cup of water and let it come to a boil. 
  • Add the powdered sesame seeds, mix and switch off the stove. 
  • Enjoy the sweet, tart & spicy gojju as a side dish.
  • Do not let the apples cook soft, they taste better when the pieces are slightly crunchy. 
  • Apples absorb the juices in the gravy even after you switch off, let the gojju sit for atleast 30 minutes before serving. 
  • The gojju needs to be sweet, tart and spicy at the same time, adjust the red chili powder, tamarind & jaggery according to your taste.
  • If you do not like the bite of fenugreek seeds, dry roast them until pink and powder along with the sesame seeds. 
  • Taste the apples before cooking to feel their level of tartness and adjust tamarind accordingly.
  • Feel free to adjust the consistency of the gojju with addition of water.
  • This gojju doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be boiled to thicken it up. It is just enough to bring it to a boil so that the tastes have a chance to mix well. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dates & nuts burfi - celebrate the festival of lights

South India celebrates Deepavali as Naraka Chaturdashi (celebrating the victory of Krishna & wife Satyabhama over the evil demon Narakasura) and Bali Padyami (celebrated as Diwali all over India). Diwali is also celebrated as Laxmi pooja in business communities where accounting starts afresh on this day of the year. No matter what it was called, the festival of lights was dear to us as kids. It meant lots and lots of food, fire crackers to burst throughout the day and deepa (or diyas) to light up in the evening. While we were in elementary school, me & my younger brother decided not to buy or burst crackers but put all our energy into lighting the Deepas in the evening. I am not sure how it started but it had something to do with the seemingly unending noise and dust that clouded the Deepavali festival for us, it was a very small way of contributing towards a healthier environment. While we did get called names by friends for the 'noble deed', I am happy we stuck to it. The few times I have broken the self imposed rule is the year I got married and BH brought home some crackers and when DD was 2 years old and we lighted some flower pots for the baby to enjoy. I try not to be a spoil sport and join in the fun but I don't go out & buy crackers myself without someone putting pressure on me :-)
Come evening, lights were a big part of the festival for us. Amma used to make lamps with wheat flour in addition to the clay lamps and get them ready with wicks and oil in the afternoon. Arranged in a wide platter, we would take them outdoors and put them at a few inches from each other all over the wall around the house and light them with a candle. Invariably, Deepavali would come with wind and some rains which used to ruin the lights but the indomitable spirit in us as kids saw to it that we kept relighting them every time a wind blew them out. In addition to the lamps, we also have started putting up our strings of electric light as everybody here gets ready for the holiday season.
May this Deepavali bring everyone lots of joy and happiness.

I have been visiting and going over the scrumptious Deepavali/Diwali treats cooked by many blogger friends for the past 2 weeks or so. While I thought I would join in and post my festive recipes, I got pulled back for lack of time and also the fact that we have been eating heavily for some time now to enjoy the goodies with visiting family and the trend will continue on for a while to come. So to keep it simple and yet delicious, I made these dry fruits and nuts burfi. If you are looking for a festive treat to celebrate the festival of lights, cooking can't get any simpler than this healthy treat.
What do you need to make the Dates & nuts Burfi?
About 10 good quality dates - pitted (I used medjool dates which are on the sweeter side)
About 4 dry figs (optional, if not using, increase the quantity of dates by another 4)
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 Tblsp pine nuts (optional)
1 Tblsp poppy seeds/gasagase
1 Tsp ghee
How do you make Dates & nuts Burfi? 
  • Chop the dates and figs (if using) into small pieces and keep aside. 
  • Dry roast the poppy seeds for a couple of minutes until they start to pop, cool and powder them. keep aside.
  • Dry roast the nuts for a couple of minutes and chop them into small pieces.
  • Heat the ghee in a pan, add the chopped dates and figs and let it soften up on medium heat. 
  • As the dates become softer, push them together into a single mass with the help of the spatula. 
  • When the dates pieces are no longer visible (5-7 minutes), add the chopped nuts and powdered poppy seeds. Give a good mix and switch off the stove. 
  • Take everything onto a wide plate/cutting board and work with your hands to ensure nuts get mixed in well. 
  • Break into 2 balls and roll them into logs, let it sit for 8-10 minutes or until it cools off. 
  • With a sharp knife, cut them into 1/2 inch thick discs, store and enjoy. 
  • I do not add any sugar in this recipe as the dates I get here are quite sweet, you may want to add sugar if you prefer it. 
  • Adding roasted poppy seeds powder gives a very nice flavor to the burfis, a little amount of poppy seeds goes a long way. 
  • If you want to make this more festive looking, get some sheets of edible silver foils and wrap the logs in them. When you cut the discs out from the logs, you have a nicely silver coated burfi.
  • Roasting the nuts is not mandatory but I prefer it for the crunch it gives the nuts. You can spread the nuts in a single layer in a microwave safe plate and zap it for a minute for the same roasted crunch.
  • You can mix & match any unsalted nuts of your choice in this recipe. 
  • Chopped dates+figs should be the same volume as the chopped mixed nuts. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Methi Mutter malai - Punjabi fare contd

So I left you all with a little teaser on my makki roti side dish in my previous post, as I promised it is not the usual suspect. I didn't make the sarson ka saag with my makki roti but made another very Punjabi side dish for the roti with my favorite greens. So why is this so special? Some fresh green methi leaves, a bowl of green peas, definitely some badam/almonds and a cup of malai. Well for now assume it is malai or cream and i will show you how to create the same creamy richness by making some tweaks.

Gather some fresh, tender methi/fenugreek leaves and a bowl of green peas, you are almost halfway done to making a delicious methi mutter malai. Almonds/Badam is so quintessentially Punjabi for me, to prove the point - remember the scene in DDLJ where Ma tells the cutesy younger chutki to eat her badam every day without fail so she is healthy, smart, brainy and beautiful. Though born & brought up in the Southern part of India and much removed from Punjab ki Mitti, I love almonds for the healthy nutrition and use them quite liberally in my cooking for adding thickness, for bringing creamy-ness, for taste & texture. So go ahead and soak a handful of almonds to lend the creamy texture to the gravy.

Now onto the third part in the name of the dish, Malai. Here is where I beg to differ from the traditional cooking. Malai or cream is nothing but boiled/thickened whole milk or in other words it is tightly packed milk fat. While there is nothing wrong in indulging in cream/malai once in a while, I do not belong to the school of cooking where everything starts with butter or cream. I do enjoy them in recipes where using something different would compromise the taste, so to cut my long rant short, I used 2% reduced milk in my gravy.
Last crop for the year in my backyard
Methi mutter malai is not a spicy dish, but its mild flavor and milky finish allows it to accompany any kind of rotis. I haven't actually seen this on resturant menus here though I have had it in the road side dhabhas in India.
Fresh picked methi leaves
What do you need to make Methi Mutter Malai?
Serves about 4 people
2 packed cups of fresh chopped methi leaves
1.5 cups green peas - fresh or frozen
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp cumin
1 Tsp finely grated ginger
To grind:
10-15 blanched almonds
2 Tblsp chopped onion
3 cloves
2 - 2 inches long cinnamon sticks
2 green chilies (adjust to taste)

How do you make Methi mutter malai?
  • Soak almonds in hot water for 30-45 minutes and peel the skin off.
  • Grind all ingredients listed below 'To grind' into a very fine paste by adding 1/2 cup of water. 
  • Heat oil in a big pan/kadai, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle. 
  • Add the ground paste, salt and milk and bring it to a boil. 
  • Add the chopped methi leaves and mutter, reduce heat to low, cover the pan and let cook for about 25-30 minutes with occasional stirring to prevent burning.
  • Add the grated ginger towards the end of cooking time and mix it in. 
  • At the end of the cook time, milk would have thickened, methi & mutter would have cooked soft.
  • Switch off, serve warm with hot makki rotis for a delicious meal. 
  • I start with milk and let the methi & mutter cook in milk so the flavors are completely absorbed and milk turns thick & creamy.
  • If using frozen green peas thaw them to room temperature, if using fresh green peas parboil them in hot water for about 5-7 minutes.
  • I add grated ginger towards the end to retain the fresh gingery smell in the curry as this does gravy not have any other overpowering spices. 
  • Grind the masala into a really smooth paste which helps the curry become creamier. 
  • You can follow the authentic way of making this by replacing milk with 2 Tblsp of heavy cream and add the cream after methi & mutter are cooked.. 
  • It is important to cook on low heat so that the leaves cook completely, raw onion smell goes away and milk turns thicker. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Makki Roti & some typical Punjabi fare in a typical South Indian kitchen

..America re-elects President Obama for a second term..

My introductions and exposure to Punjabi food is through the various dhabhas I have been to in my life. A particular one on the highway between Delhi & Agra visited about 6 years back still is at the top slot. I don't remember the exact location, our car broke down and the driver told us to go ahead and have lunch in the dhabha while he got the tire fixed and got the car ready to go. Things happen for a reason and I believe it was my destiny to eat a completely awesome Punjabi khana that day. The naans, paneer, chaas, salad and everything was absolutely lip smacking. Having been outside India for over a decade, I feel that the Indian restaurants here are far from authentic, they are adaptive yes but not authentic. When some of my American friends ask me to recommend an Indian restaurant or a dish in Indian restaurant, I tell them to try it out themselves and decide and also tell give a fair warning that the sambar served in a South Indian restaurant here is not necessarily how I would make it at home :-)

I am in love with the naans, rotis and paranthas that are so everyday in Punjabi cuisine and make them often at home. A true blue Punjabi may flinch at some of my adaptations and short cuts and almost nonexistent use of butter or cream in my cooking but that is just the cook's creative license I use to suit my family's palate and needs.

Also for all of us romantic Indians growing up with a Bollywood backdrop, there are umpteen number of movies to make us feel at home with the Punjabi, Gujarati & Rajasthani delicacies without breaking a sweat. I learnt that Sarsoan ka saag is made with the mustard greens as I watched Simran make a very reluctant journey back to her ancestral home through the cheery yellow mustard fields in DDLJ, realized the Gujarati soft corner for Dhoklas with green chutney as Rancho the idiot/scientist teaches little but important life lessons to lady love Pia by pouring the green chutney over her fiancee's expensive shoes, got to know that the Rajasthani people ate soft, warm rotis for breakfast by watching the bubbly Pallavi tell a graceful Dai Jaa as a hopelessly smitten Viren looks on with his mouth open (not at the rotis but at the equally delicious Pallavi :-)). Go back a little bit to Hrishikesh Mukharjee's times and you have the tall, lanky handsome Beeru asking for 'basan ke roti itne mote mote (ultra thick basan rotis) with baingan ka Bhurta from his mausi in the classic romance Abhimaan. If any or all of the above seem like complete non sense gibber, just watch these movies and you will appreciate the power of Bollywood :-). 

I made a couple of Punjabi favorites over the weekend and we enjoyed it very much. As I said already, if you are from the land of Punjab and have eaten these dishes made by a mom, aunt, grand mom and such others, just give me the benefit of doubt. Though they may not sound authentic, they taste heavenly. So go ahead and give my version a try that it truly deserves.

Corn as the grain is referred to in North America or Maize as it is called in many European countries and former colonies influenced by British English is known in Punjab as Makai or Makki and the flour is made from corn kernels. While corn itself is gluten free, the store bought corn flour or corn meal may have added wheat flour to help the use in baking recipes. I use corn flour purchased at Indian stores which states on the label that it does not have wheat flour. Wheat flour as many of you know has gluten which lends that unmistakable binding texture to the dough. Since corn flour by itself does not have gluten and hence does not form into perfectly round rotis like those with wheat flour, some people use wheat flour in part to make makki rotis. I personally prefer the unadultrated makki ki roti and hence follow a couple of additional steps to get good, unbroken rotis, look out for these tips in the Notes section below.
What do you need to make Makki rotis? 
Makes about 10 medium sized rotis
2 cups makki flour or corn flour
1 cup grated white radish
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 cup water (approximate, based on the water from the radish)

How do you make Makki rotis?
  • Wash, peel and grate white radish to get a cup of gratings, I prefer to use the small holes of my grater, you can choose what works for you. 
  • In a wide bowl, pour corn flour, salt and grated radish. Add hot water on top so it wets the flour, cover the bowl and keep aside for 5 minutes. 
  • Take the cover off, gently bring together the flour, radish, salt and water and knead into a dough. The dough should come together in a single mass without crumbling bits of corn flour. 
  • Take an aluminium foil, place it on a flat surface and spread a couple drops of water with your fingers. 
  • Take a big lemon sized ball of the corn dough and place it in the center of the foil and pat it with your forefingers into a thick roti.
  • Heat a flat griddle on medium heat, invert the aluminium foil on top of the hot griddle (with roti side down) and let it cook for a minute. 
  • Gently peel the aluminium foil and continue to cook the roti for another minute or two before flipping it over and cooking on the other side. 
  • The roti takes longer to cook than the traditional wheat roti and should be cooked until you see big golden spots on both surfaces without letting them turn black. 
  • Finish up all the dough similarly, enjoy the hot makki roti with a dollop of ghee or butter. I served it with a typical Punjabi side dish but not the usual combination, will be back with that recipe later this week.
  • Use fine corn flour in this recipe, corn meal does not bind into a ball at all. 
  • Addition of white radish is optional but that gives it a really Punjabi flavor and also helps bind the dough together. 
  • I have heard that expert cooks pat the makki roti beween their palms but since I am no expert, I conveniently cheated and used the same method I use for my South Indian akki rotti - pat it on a foil and turn it over the hot griddle. This works like a charm and you can tell unsuspecting friends that you have been making makki rotis in your kitchen forever :-)
  • It is important to wet the surface of the foil before you start to pat the dough so the foil peels off easily on the griddle.