Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Telu avalakki oggarane - a quick snack with paper thin poha/beaten rice

How was your weekend? Good? That means you should ask me the same question as common courtsey and since you cannot ask until you see this post, I will assume you did and will give you a response -). I had a great weekend, majorly because of a visit from a dear friend. She is someone I have known for over 2 decades now and am glad we haven't lost contact. Though she has come to US a few times before, this is the first time she was able to come home and meet up with us and that was wonderful. We did some customary sight seeing and a little bit of shopping as neither of us are big shoppers and spent the rest of the 1.5 days blabbering and chatting incessantly. People, places, schools, colleges, food, family.. nothing was spared in the chats. There are very few people I open up to in this World and she is one of them. When you meet personally and have a heart to heart talk, you realize how useless Skype, Gtalk, facebook, vonage and everything else put together is. Friends are a treasure, you laugh, you smile, you cry and you share, here is to a friend that has been in my life for more than half of my life itself.

The other day I was looking at my recipe index and didn't find many poha recipes. For a South Indian, poha or beaten rice is as much a staple as rice and used extensively in breakfast and snack items. Just like many other South Indians, I use this ingredient as it is quick, delicious, filling and easily convertible into a dish. I will not overload you all with contiguous poha related posts from today :-) but have put a sticky note to self to build my poha recipes on the blog. So you will see them as they come in the future.

Telu Avalakki or paper avalakki or extra thin poha is a variety of beaten rice that needs no cooking at all. See here for a creamy, delicious thin poha with yogurt or mosaravalakki. This recipe is precious to me because it is my dad's favorite. I think it is one of the few recipes I learnt outside of my mother's repertoire and my father enjoyed the taste thoroughly. I kind of took over evening snack making from Nammamma when I was in high school, being a very picky teenager that would not be happy with many of the things made every day. Amma would be tired and one day she told me to go ahead and make something that pleased me and that is how culinary journey began(well, that is the official story and I am sticking to it). But barring the few times I was completely in charge of the kitchen when in college, I was almost 'a chef that cooked only snack items' :-). So at that age and the inexperience abound, all I could make was small eats and nothing elaborate. Spice has been my middle name and my sister tells me that I eat too much spice for my own good but it is a habit I have not been able to resist. So needless to say that most of my creations were fast foods and savory/spicy when I emerged from the kitchen.
This Telu Avalakki oggarane (seasoned thin poha) is not my original creation, the idea came from a cousin who used to travel and I believe he brought it home from one of his North Karnataka travels. Then, we modified it with our choice of ingredients and made it our own. Served on a wide, fresh cut banana leaf or a turmeric leaf, this is one of the most delectable quick eats I make. Add to that, it is low calorie and involves very little stove time for getting the seasoning done. Perfect for a hot Summer day when you are tired. Eat it just like that for a snack or with a bowl of thick yogurt on the side for a full meal.
What do you need to make Telu Avalakki Oggarane? 
Makes 3 servings
2 packed cups paper thin avalakki (look for extra thin poha but not the glossy kind)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (fresh tastes best, or use frozen brought to room temperature)
1 Tblsp finely chopped onion
1 Tsp chutney pudi 
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tblsp chopped cilantro
1 Tblsp lemon juice (half lemon)
2 Tsp oil
1/8 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1 Tsp urad dal/uddina bele
couple of curry leaves (optional)
2 green chilies (adjust to taste)
How do you make Telu Avalakki Oggarane? 
  • Bring all ingredients listed except for the seasoning part together in a bowl and mix them well (use clean hands) squeezing a little as you mix.
  • Keep aside and get the seasoning ready. 
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, urad dal and chopped chilies. Add Asafoetida and curry leaves once mustard starts to splutter. 
  • Add the seasoning to the poha mixture, mix it in and serve it immediately. 
  • You can add a Tblsp of crisp hurigadle or chatni dal or roasted chana dal to the mixture. 
  • Onions, lemon juice  and coconut help make Avalakki soft and slightly moist. You do not need any water. 
  • Chutney pudi is my personal preference, you can skip this but I urge you to try it once before you dismiss the idea. 
  • Do not keep this Oggarane avalakki for long after mixing, it tends to become soggy and loses the texture. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Penne Arrabiata - a fuming, enraged pasta sauce, just kidding..

We don't eat out a lot as a family, it is a culture induced from BH's consulting days. He would be so bored of eating out regularly when he traveled on work that he would be craving for some home cooked meal and I loved to experiment, cook and feed, so it worked both ways. Whenever we go out, we try different cuisines almost avoiding Indian food in restaurants as they don't always measure up to our expectation of good Indian food. Then again, non Indian fare is a different ball game. Anything from American to Mexican to Italian to Thai to Chinese to Mediterranean with vegetarian choices is a welcome change. 

But things are changing as I started to cook recipes from World cuisines at home regularly especially since I started blogging. Sometimes we sit in the restaurant and the conversation gets centered around how I can recreate the recipe at home or how I can make it a tad bit healthier, spicier or anything else to make it personalized to our tastes. Case in point, we went to a Chinese resturant in town recently that all of BH's collegues were raving about and had a pretty decent Schezwan rice and an ok sort of vegetable masala noodles. DD who ordered the noodles for her main course said, 'Amma you make a much better Indo-Chinese noodles'. The narcissistic me always feels exhilarated by such praises but it also made me think if I was inculcating a habit in my daughter of not enjoying food else where outside of home. See, I worry about the time when she goes off to college in a few years and has to survive on the tight string student budget and find good things to eat in the college cafeteria? But then she turns around and tells me that her L mama made the best eerulli(onion) gojju when she visited him recently or digs enthusiastically into her Burrito roll from Chipotle or bites with glee into her Olive Garden bread while slurping her delicious Minestrone soup, I know my passion for cooking has not raised a snobbish child. I feel assured it is just a child with good taste in food who will find good eats to survive on when the time comes. All is not lost, no long term damage done and the my world is a happy place so I can get back to my cooking and blogging without upsetting the semblance of life :-).

Here is a confession, I am not a fan of pasta. Before you gasp and give me the 'weirdo, where did you come from?' look (it has happened before whenever I tell people that I don't like pasta very much), let me just state that it is a personal quirk. Everybody is entitled to one or more and I have mine too but I do not portray my eating habits on my family or insist that they follow it. So I cook all kinds of pasta & noodles dishes since both BH & DD love it. 
Arrabiata is a a very popular pasta sauce from Italy, the word means 'angry' because of the heat generated from the red chilies and the vibrant color of the sauce itself. Yep, it doesn't make the person eating it angry :-). Ok, enough of PJs. Infact the sauce is extremely delicious (according to the reliable tasters/testers at home) and a tad bit spicier than regular sauces. It gets its flavor from 2 key ingredients - garlic and basil and of course juicy tomatoes. I strongly recommend using fresh basil versus dried version as the flavor component can drastically vary. 

What do you need for making Penne Arrabiata? 
Makes 2 servings
3 cups dry penne - I used a whole grain Penne
7-8 cups water to cook pasta
For the Arrabiata sauce: 
2 large tomatoes or 4 cups chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 Tblsp tomato paste or tomato ketchup
4-5 twigs of fresh basil (about 20 leaves picked)
1-2 twigs fresh Thyme (optional but highly recommended)
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or 1/2 Tsp garlic powder (up or down based on your preference)
1.5 Tblsp crushed chili flakes (I used the kind you sprinkle on pizzas)
3/4 Tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3/4 Tsp brown sugar
2 Tblsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tblsp olive oil
How do you make Penne Arrabiata? 
  • Wash, remove stems and chop tomatoes into bite size pieces. Take them to the blender and puree, a few small pieces of tomato is good as it makes the sauce chunky. 
  • Heat a heavy bottom skillet on medium heat, add olive oil and finely chopped garlic (or garlic powder) and roast it for 2-3 minutes taking care not to burn it. The idea is to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor.
  • Add chopped onions and continue to fry stirring frequently until onion turns soft and light brown. Do not crisp the onions. 
  • Add the tomato puree and the rest of the ingredients listed except for cilantro, mix well and let it come to a boil on medium heat. 
  • Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer and thicken for another 35-40 minutes by which time your kitchen will be smelling like a pasta lover's paradise. 
  • Cook pasta per package instructions until al dente, drain the water. Add a couple of drops of olive oil and 1 Tblsp chopped cilantro, mix well to coat evenly and keep aside until ready to use. 
  • The sauce reduces and turns a brighter red. Switch off. 
  • Add the cilantro coated pasta to the sauce and give it a mix. Serve hot garnished with remaining cilantro.
  • I used fresh tomatoes as they are in season and I like them fresh. You can use canned tomatoes instead. Be sure to drain the preserving liquid.
  • Arrabiata traditionally has tiny bits of tomatoes, it is a matter of texture, I prefer to puree the tomatoes as my family likes it this way. The chopped onions still bring out the same chunky texture and we don't miss anything. 
  • Feel free to up the amount of chili flakes used in the recipe if you can tolerate the heat, after all it is an Arrabiata sauce :-), DD says, the amount I put is perfect so I stick to these measurements. 
  • Use fresh basil only in this recipe, dried herbs do not do justice here. 
  • The longer you let the sauce simmer, the herbs have a better chance to work their magic. 20 minutes is a minimum and do not hurry the process. 
  • It is important to not burn the garlic or crisp the onions in this recipe as it spoils the sauce. Manage the heat on your stove. 
  • You can make this sauce in bulk and store it in the refrigerator in a clean, dry jar for a couple of weeks. 
  • Although Arrabiata is tradiationally served on Penne in Italy, no one stops you from enjoying this delicious sauce with any other choice of pasta :-).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Zucchini Dal - fresh from the backyard, bursting with flavor

Gardening for me is therapeutic just like baking is. It is almost like bringing up a child with added perks, the plants never become teenagers and they don't grow up to get out of the home :-). Seeing the plants thrive, grow from seeds into a sapling to a mature plant capable of producing flowers or fruits is very fulfilling. Come Spring and we start planning a small kitchen garden every year. Since most of these plants do not survive after the frost in Oct/Nov, it is a new effort every year. Last year, we had loads of fresh Methi and other greens but not much of other veggies. Earlier in Spring, we spent a couple of weekends digging up a patch of land in the backyard, tilled and topped a couple of feet of top soil and made a raised bed and planted a few small tomato, zucchini, cucumber, green beans and peppers. I had some dry beans and okra seeds which I planted separately. I also have a couple of brinjal plants which refuse to grow at all. Any garden enthusiasts out there with tips on growing brinjal - what kind of soil, fertilizers, care etc?

With the beautiful summer we are having, the plants thrived and Tomatoes seem to have over shadowed all other plants and from a distance, the patch looks to be entirely filled with Tomato plants. There are a whole bunch of small green tomatoes, not yet ready for picking. We noticed a bunch of bright yellow and orange flowers on the squash plants and very soon they sprouted small, baby squashes which grew in length and breadth. Last weekend we harvested our first crop of the Summer, a basket full of green zucchinis and a yellow squash. I am preparing myself for some squashy rains from the backyard :-), so look out for recipes with squashes/zucchinis.
Today I decided not to blabber a lot like I usually do but let my pictures do the talking. I will take you on a tour of our yard and I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do. I am surrounded by a burst of colors, pretty flowers, beautiful fragrances, tiny vegetables and I am content and happy :-).
A fragrant, delicate Jaji mallige (Poet's Jasmine)
A pink Lily with a heady aroma
A bouquet of cheerful white Daisies
Pretty faced Hibiscus
Mildly fragrant, abundant blooms of Roses
A bright yellow squash nestled in the bushes among the big yellow flowers
A green Zucchini shooting out from under the branches
Zucchini or Courgette is a type of summer squash and is considered a vegetable by chefs although botanically it is an immature fruit(Source:Wiki). Zucchini with its delicate flavor blends wonderfully in many dishes and is usually served cooked. I like to add them in Dals, make pachadis or serve them grilled in salads. Cooking a zucchini is very quick and it holds the shape unlike a cucumber without becoming mushy. I made some delicious South Indian Dal (a.k.a pappu) with our home grown Zucchini, very flavorful and tasty. This dal preparation is very similar to the Andhra lemon cucumber pappu (Dosakaya pappu).
What do you need to make Zucchini Dal? 
1 cup Toor dal/pigeon peas (See notes for variations)
1 medium sized zucchini
2-3 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tsp finely chopped cilantro for garnish

2 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp fenugreek seeds (optional but recommended)
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida
1/4 cup thinly chopped onions
4-5 curry leaves
1 dry red chili
How do you make Zucchini Dal? 
  • Soak Toor dal in 3 cups of water for about 45 minutes or until the dal softens up. 
  • Wash and pat dry zucchini, remove the ends. 
  • Slice the zucchini vertically in half and chop into bite sized pieces.
  • Remove the stems and slice the green chilies vertically into half, keep aside one green chili for later.
  • Drain the water from the soaked dal, wash it once in running water. 
  • Take the dal, zucchini pieces and green chilies in a pressure cooker, add 2.5-3 cups of water and cook it for 2 whistles. The dal should get cooked completely and the zucchinis should not become mushy - See notes below for tips.
  • Let the cooker cool down completely. 
  • Heat oil in a big pan (that can hold your dal mixture also later on), add mustard, let it pop. Add cumin, asafoetida, dry red chilies. fenugreek (if using) and the curry leaves. Let them fry for 30 seconds. 
  • Add the thinly chopped onions and let it sweat and cook to become soft stirring frequently. 
  • Chop the preserved green chili into small pieces after removing the stem and add it to the pan just before adding the dal mixture. This will give a very slightly cooked but crunchy bites of chili for that added zing you find in the restaurant Dal Tadka. This is a completely optional step. 
  • Add the cooked dal & zucchini mixture, salt, turmeric powder, mix well. Adjust consistency with water (this dal is slightly thick). Garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Let it come to a roaring boil before switching off. Serve warm with hot rice and dollop of ghee or roti.  
  • You can add roughly chopped tomato pieces (one medium tomato) in to the seasoning after onion turns soft. Or you can puree the tomato, add it to the Dal & zucchini and let it cook. 
  • Soaking Toor dal expedites the cooking process, this is essential in this recipe since you cook both the dal and zucchini together in the pressure cooker. You want the dal to be cooked soft but zucchini should still hold its shape. If this sounds complicated, go ahead, cook the dal and zucchini separately and add them together later. 
  • Variation 1: Add a Tsp of grated ginger to the seasoning before adding onion for a flavor boost, I kept it minimal to showcase the fresh zucchini in my dal. 
  • Variation 2: you can use any other summer squash, cucumber, lemon cucumber, bottle gourd and such vegetables to replace zucchini in this recipe for an equally refreshing dal. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fiery & tangy Sun dried tomato chutney - A favorite from my Telugu side of the family

After eating delicious slices of the lemony, chiffon cake, we were craving for something hot & spicy. As the Sun shone happily on the horizon and my sandiges were well on their way to their dry state, my attention drifted to the succulent tomatoes in the big box from Costco. If you have been to this warehouse anywhere in the US of A, you know everything comes in one size only - Huge, from kids' diapers to dog food, from milk gallons to egg cartons, from TVs to potting soil - there is no other measure here. Yes, we(read that as half 'we') are huge fans of Costco and especially since it is on the way home from work, stopping there is no inconvenience at all :-). Although he promptly calls to ask if I have a list to purchase from when he stops at Costco, the goods that reach home later in the evening are much more than what was read out from the list and we end up with lot more tomatoes, avacados, cucumbers and the likes quite often. So I had all the justification I needed with the extra tomatoes as I plunged into yet another sunny day activity.

I had infact planned to post this recipe a while ago, a long while ago or to be precise last Summer when Amma was here. We started making it and then the Sun moved North East leaving us in NorthWest completely desolate. Some quick thinking and an oven dried effort later, we ended up with the tomato pachadi but I decided to take a rain check on the blog post until I could actually Sun dry them and give you an authentic way of making this. A year long wait, I would say totally worth it. Make this succulent, tongue pleasing pachadi during the hot Summer months and enjoy a teeny spoonful during breakfast, lunch or dinner.

There are several different ways of making a Tomato pachadi or chutney. In Telugu there is a definite word to describe the pachadis with long shelf life - these are called 'niluvu' pachadis referring to their longer shelf life. Many of the pickles also get grouped under 'niluvu' pachadis for the same reason. Then there are pachadis made to be consumed in a day or two. The Sun dried tomato pachadi according to me is one of the best niluva pachadis. If I had year round Sun like it happens in Andhra Pradesh, I would have made this pachadi over and over again through out the year. Something special gets injected in to those juicy tomatoes as you let them dry and turn crisp under the flaming Sun. If you have never tasted this, go ahead and make friends with your neighbors from AP and squeeze your way into their pantry where they store all the precious 'imported from India' pickles, pachadis and papads :-). A little bit of this fiery pachadi with a bowl of cool mosaranna (yogurt rice) cleanses your palate like nothing else can.

When we made this half successful attempt last Summer, amma showed me the ingredients and the process. I even had a few pictures taken and went on to make the Sun dried tomato pachadi this time and it was definitely a super successful effort. This pachadi making takes a few days, a bright, non cloudy weather and patience. Go grab some of those juicy summer tomatoes and let us get going on making the pachadi, shall we?

What do you need to make Sun dried tomato pachadi? 
12 large juicy tomatoes about 2.5 Lbs - I used ripe beefsteak variety
1 golf ball sized piece of tamarind
2 Tblsp fenugreek seeds
1.5 Tblsp mustard seeds
1/2 Tsp Asafoetida
12-14 dry red chilies (adjust to your spice tolerance)
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
3 Tblsp oil

How do you make Sun dried tomato pachadi? 
Day 1(evening):
  • Wash and pat dry tomatoes to remove all traces of water. Cut them into half and cut each half into 6 pieces (My tomatoes are big, the thumb rule is to cut them into bite size pieces so they dry out well). 
  • Put the pieces in a clean, dry vessel, add 1/2 Tblsp salt and mix them well squeezing the pieces in between your fist as you do it. The idea is to get the tomato juices flowing. 
  • Cover, set aside over night in a cool, dry place on your kitchen counter. 

Day 2(morning): 
  • Take handfuls of tomato pieces at a time and squeeze the juice into the vessel, separating the pieces. 
  • Spread the tomato pieces on a clean dry plate or cookie sheet in a single layer. 
  • Tear the tamarind roughly and add it to the vessel with the tomato juice and press it into the juice for it to soak. 
  • Pour the tomato juice into a shallow (low height) vessel.
  • Carry both the tomato pieces and the juice outside and keep them under direct Sun light.
  • Bring them back inside once the Sun sets or clouds move in as it happened in my case :-)

Day 3(morning):
  • Carry both the tomato pieces and the juice outside and keep them under direct Sun light.
  • Repeat this process for another 2 days until the tomato pieces become dry and crispy and the juice thickens and reduces in volume. 
  • It took me 5 full days at 80F outside temperature to dry the tomatoes. 

Day 6: (If you have planned this well, you would be on a weekend and have time in the morning :-))
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat, add the fenugreek seeds and roast them frequently stirring until the seeds turn a good shade of brown, splutter and give out a wonderful aroma (takes about 10-12 minutes, do this on medium heat and not burn any of the seeds)
  • Take the fenugreek seeds aside. 
  • Add mustard into the same hot pan and roast them until the seeds pop. Keep it aside with fenugreek. 
  • Add 2 drops of oil into the pan, add the dry red chilies and fry them for a minute or two to get them crispy. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Once cool, take all three ingredients to a spice grinder and make a fine powder (start with the seeds first and then add red chilies in batches depending on the size of your grinder).
  • Keep the powder covered. 
  • Pick the tamarind pieces from the tomato juice, squeeze them to get any juice and discard the pulp, seeds and pith. 
  • Put the dry tomato pieces in the blender and adding the concentrated tomato juice as needed, blend it into a coarse paste. 
  • Take the tomato paste into a wide bowl or plate, add the ground powder, salt and mix well until it is incorporated well. 
  • Heat a pan on medium heat, add the oil. Once the oil is hot add Asafoetida, let it sizzle, add the prepared tomato paste into this hot oil, mix it in to coat oil all over, switch off, cover and let it stand. 
  • The asafoetida flavor gets infused into the pachadi. 
  • Enjoy with yogurt rice, dal rice or use it as a spread on your roti. It just brings a Summery brightness into your food. 
  • After it comes to room temperature, store in a dry container with lid. It stays well for a couple of months if refrigerated.

  • If you are a garlic lover, skip the asafoetida, add 4-5 cloves of garlic to the hot oil and continue with the rest of the process for a garlicky pachadi. 
  • Grind the tomatoes coarsely so you can feel the texture while eating.
  • This pachadi is spicy and used in small quantities.
  • Since all tomatoes are born different, I suggest a few pointers to get the pachadi to your taste - taste a couple of dried tomato pieces to estimate the saltiness, taste a few drops of the concentrated juice to estimate the sourness in it before you use it all up for grinding. 
  • This pachadi is almost like a pickle, so it is important to make sure the containers and spoons are clean and dry. 
  • If you are really craving for this pachadi, craving so much you are willing to compromise some, go ahead and use the store bought Sun dried tomatoes. This definitely serves as an easy, quick alternative to the laborious process of Sun drying. Personally, I thought the oven baked tomatoes were no where closer to this taste - it is like making baingan bhurta from a steam cooked eggplant :-(

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lemon Chiffon cake for a celebration

I started baking recently, may be a couple of years back and have stuck to recipes that I get from reliable sources, recipes that are not very labor or time intensive, more savory than sweet recipes, and recipes that are devoid of eggs generally. Well, that is my comfort zone. I joined this group of baking enthusiasts called Baking Partners a few months back, this is infact my 3rd recipe with this group. I wanted to learn new techniques and try new recipes and the challenges from the group have made me get up and out of my comfort zone, not only get exposed to things I wouldn't myself have dared to go after but also made me a little more adventurous trying new tastes :-). For that, I am thankful. Swathi who started this group, reminded all of us that with this month's challenge, the group celebrates its 1st birthday, although I am 9 months late coming in, it most definitely is an ocassion to celebrate with sweets. So here is our July month challenge  from the Baking partners group - a delicious Lemon Chiffon cake.
When Swathi sent the details with 2 recipes, I immediately knew which one I would be making. Although the layered Honey cake looked most inviting, my heart was set on the chiffon cake. When we were in India a few years back and DD went to elementary school, we lived in a Bengaluru home and there was a bakery around the street corner from that house. I had a long commute to work and crazy hours and would vanish early in the morning and return late at night. The little girl had to get used to a new life from what she had seen so far and she was not a very happy camper, BH's travelling didn't help the situation either, it was basically overwhelming at her age. Having grand parents at home was a great blessing as she had company when she came back from school. Afternoons were a cherished siesta time for my inlaws and after the little one finished her after school snacks, they would go back to sleep for another hour or so. On one of our weekend strolls, we discovered this bakery just a block away from home and the aromas coming from the store were intoxicating. We stopped and picked up a slice of fresh sponge cake among other goodies and for my little girl it was a bite of lemony, pillowy heaven and she was hooked on immediately. From then on, for the next few months we lived in that house, she would walk up to the store in the afternoon all by herself holding some cash firmly in her little fist, get a slice of the cake atleast 2 times a week and come home. For her, it was an act of learning to associate herself with her new surroundings, making an independent exploration of her new life, making friends and enjoying good food, infact the spongy, lemony cake remains her favorite cake of all times. When I saw Swathi's challenge recipe, I knew this could bring back memories for my little girl as well as for us.
A chiffon cake is similar to angel food cake in some respects but differs from it significantly. If you are not a cake expert (I mean cake eating expert), someone can pass this slice on to you calling it either a sponge cake or angel food cake or chiffon cake because for a newbie the texture might taste similar (though not same). Chiffon cake uses oil instead of butter and also incorporates both egg whites and yolks in the recipe. The well beaten egg whites lend the airy texture to the chiffon cake but the tricky part you should know when to stop beating the egg :-).
Although I am not a vegan, I stay away from eggs and with so many like minded people out there, there is no dearth of eggless recipes if you only look in the right spot. I think my egg aversion is from childhood, my father used to insist that my sister take eggs daily as part of her 'make the girl healthier' diet. Now, I am sure my father had his reasons to trust the authenticity of this diet but a budding medico, my sister was in no way going to believe that she needed the eggs in her daily diet nor did she consider herself unhealthy by any means. Since, nammamma didn't cook, bake or scramble an egg in her saatvik kitchen, my poor father found an alternative to get the protein filled egg into my sister's system, crack it open, pour it into a glass of milk and beat it homogeneous. And that most definitely made the egg an enemy for life for my sister :-). Even after all these years, she runs miles from eggs and garlic, her two nemesis in the kitchen realm. Why is this relevant to my dislike of the eggs? When you dote on your big sister and consider her the role model for everything good and bad in life, you tend to pick up these idiosyncrasies too, so I stay away from eggs as a general rule and don't miss anything protein wise in my diet. So making a chiffon cake that called for 3 egg yolks and 7 egg whites (well, half of each in my case since I halved the recipe) was a little too much for my 'egg free' kitchen. But I braved on, got home a half dozen eggs and went on to make the recipe.
With the beautiful weather we have been having for the past few days, I am busy elsewhere and also my cooking has taken a back seat naturally and I kept postponing my chiffon cake making until the last minute. Just as you would expect, I had my questions with the recipe at the last minute and fervently hoped my group members would check the posts and respond to my queries. Thanks Chitra and Pam for your help. The cake turned out very nicely, I made some slight changes (to the proportion) of ingredients to avoid what seemed like a disaster in the making and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. It was soft and pillowy not unlike the angel food cake and tasted deliriously delicious with a scoop of ice cream and some berries on the side. If anyone has an eggless chiffon cake recipe tried and tested, let me know, I would love to bake it.

What do you need to make Lemon Chiffon cake?
Original recipe suggested by Saraswathi, adapted from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes one 9 inch round cake pan (with a ramekin placed in the center to imitate a tube pan)
Dry Ingredients:
1+1/8 cup - 2 Tblsp AP flour or 1+1/8 cup store bought cake flour- see instructions below to make your own cake flour at home
2 Tblsp corn starch
3/4 cup + 1 Tblsp caster sugar/baker's sugar - see notes for alternative
1/4 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp baking soda
1.5 Tblsp lemon zest (I upped this by 1/2 Tblsp as we love citrusy flavored cakes at home, stick to 1 Tblsp otherwise)
Wet ingredients: 
1/4 cup oil (canola or vegetable oil)
1 egg yolk (standard large egg)
1/3 cup water
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1/2 Tsp vanilla essence
2 Tblsp sugar
3.5 egg whites (standard large egg)
3/4 Tsp cream of tartar (I didn't use this) or 1 Tsp lemon juice

How to make Lemon Chiffon cake? 
  • Cake flour preparation: Measure 2 Tblsp corn starch in a cup, add AP to fill the rest of the cup, take it out into a plate and measure out another 1/8 cup of AP flour. Now sift this mixtures atleast 4-5 times for the corn starch to become one with AP flour. 
  • Preheat oven to 325F, keep a 9 inch round pan with a ramekin placed in the center. If you have the regular sponge cake tube pan, go ahead and use it instead :-).
  • Combine sugar & lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and mix them with your fingers until the sugar is completely coated with the zest and the flavor is infused.
  • Add the flour, soda & salt to the bowl, whisk it with a hand mixer or whisk a few times until well incorporated. 
  • Make a well in the center of the flour, add the wet ingredients and mix them using a hand mixer (or whisk) until the mixture is smooth (no lumps) and homogeneous. Keep aside.
  • Take a clean bowl, add the egg whites in it and start your hand mixer to beat them. They turn foamy and then start to come together. Add the sugar and cream of tartar (if using) at this stage and continue to beat the eggs. 
  • Cream of tartar is an egg stabilizer and brings out the best in egg whites and helps you reach that elusive stiff peak consistency. I didn't have this on hand and when the egg whites seemed to not solidify, I added an extra Tsp of sugar and and a Tsp of lemon juice to give it a body. I liked the resulting cake texture. 
  • Once the eggs start to form the stiff peaks (when you life the whisk up, the egg whites should form a spiky peak that holds up shape, take part of it, add it into the flour mixture bowl and mix it in by gently folding it in. 
  • Add the remaining egg whites and fold them in together. Do not beat or mix vigorously at this point, the airy egg needs to stay like that. Your goal is to gently incorporate all of egg white in to the flour. 
  • Pour the batter into the pan, run a knife around to remove any captured air bubbles or gently knock the pan on the counter a few times and bake it for 50-55 minutes (mine took 50 minutes) until the cake bounces when touched on the top. 
  • Once the cake comes out of the oven, immediately place it upside down giving it a support to raise the pan above the counter and letting air circulate underneath. 
  • The cake has to cool down completely like this before you take it out (about 50 min to an hour)
  • Run a sharp knife around the outer edge and around the ramekin and gently force the cake out of the pan. 
  • Top it with any sauces of choice or enjoy it with just a dusting of sugar on top, berries and ice cream on the side like we did.
  • The original recipe called for cream of tartar which is an egg stabilizer. My reading on this topic was dubious and there were all kinds of suggestions implying that omitting the cream of tartar was perfectly acceptable. My two cents on this topic is if you can get of hold of the cream of tartar easily, go ahead and use it. I didn't and so I ended up adding 2 additional Tblsp of sugar to get the consistency. 
  • I followed tips from a fellow baking partner and made my own cake flour by replacing 2 Tblsp of flour in a cup of AP flour with corn starch. this worked very well though I cannot make a comparison of how an actual cake flour cake would have turned out (I didn't make it :-))
  • Use corn starch and not corn meal as the corn starch is fine ground, remember to sift the two together atleast 4-5 times for them to get friendly with each other.
  • The cake is not very tall like the ones you see in the bakeries since my pan lacks height. If you use a tube pan, you will end up with a tall, majestic cake. 
  • Caster sugar is a finer ground variety of regular white sugar, it is also labeled as Baker's sugar. If you do not have this in pantry, go ahead and powder the regular white sugar in your spice grinder. Do not use confectioner sugar or powdered sugar as that has additional corn starch in it which this recipe does not need.
  • It is important to invert the cake pan and set it high above the surface allowing air circulation, else the chiffon cake apparently has a tendency to fall flat. See my pictures that look like a space shuttle landing on Earth, that is how I made this work. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Aralu Sandige - Condiment Home made and Sun dried, of heartaches, nail biting wait and a lesson in risk management

Did I mention we are were having some real Summer weather and temperatures for the past week? Our trip to the beach was glorious this past weekend and as we were driving back home, BH casually mentioned that the 90s temperature would hold up for another week. The cook in me can only think of one thing when I see abundant Sun shine and scorching temperatures. So we made a quick turn around and went to the store to pick up a few raw materials for the project that was to last a week and more :-). So here is what I have been doing for the last several days - my labor of love. But then the finicky Seattle Sun decided to play hide & seek, so I watched every morning with bated breath as the Sun rose to see if the clouds came right along too. One of the days in the midst of the cloudy skies, I was frantically picking my brains to find alternate sources of heat to dry my condiments but then all of a sudden the moving ball of heat in the sky took pity on me and decided to stay put right on top of my front yard and I came of out the project smarter, wiser and happier :-)
Flashback a few several years back, end of school year heralded a very promising Summer Holidays packed with fun and frolic. While it was a time of unending play time for us kids, nammamma would be as usual busy in the kitchen, more so since the hungy monsters with no schools to keep them away would raid the kitchen at all hours, unannounced and demand that they be fed something yummy :-). I don't know how she managed, probably had an unlimited supply of energy source hidden somewhere in the back of her kitchen. In addition to the usual cooking, cleaning Summer contrary to being a Holiday time, meant more work for her as she would get busy making the Summer delicacies like the happala (papads) and sandiges (I have not found an equivalent word to describe this delicious genre in English), it is called Wadi, vadi, pyalala vadiyalu in other Indian languages. If I were to give you a one word description of what most people would understand is that these are home made spiced 'chips' not necessarily with potatoes.

Being an educator, my father used to get Summer Holidays too though it was much shorter than ours since he had many valuation, tabulation related responsibilities and other University defined obligations. But he did get to stay home for a couple of weeks atleast every Summer. Nammamma planned her condiment preparation during this time as it was always a team work for both my parents. I believe my dad had a wonderful cook hidden inside him that came out only on certain special occasions. Two of them together made some of the best dishes I have ever had, but more than the taste of the dish, it is their team work, planning, organization and execution of things that I covet most. I can not imagine myself doing these things on a scale nammamma did year after year but I love to do a little bit of it whenever possible and relive those days.

There is a plethora of happala and sandige nammamma made and each one required different kind of prep work, some had to be started way early in the morning and be out in the Sun as soon as possible, some needed really scorching Sun while some were made in Summer though dried in shade..so she chose different days for each of the different varieties. Aralu Sandige is a special and extremely delicious condiment (if I had the rights, I would 'knight' them in the world of condiments). Aralu Sandige is made with Aralu (Paddy puffed rice) and Nammamma made two variations of it - one with ash gourd pieces and the other with onions. Both had the same exact other ingredients except for this difference. Infact she would mix everything else and then add ashgourd to one half and onions to the other half.
Huge vessels or new buckets would come out the previous evening, washed and put out for drying. Aralu would be cleaned over a week or so to remove any paddy skins (this is bad if you get it while eating the Sandige as it can poke you in the mouth and tastes like dried grass). The previous evening, green chilies would be washed, stems removed and spread on a thin cloth to dry inside the house. Coriander (Indian equivalent of cilantro) leaves would be cleaned and rolled in thin, wet towels to keep them damp and fresh.

Early morning, Nammama made a paste of green chilies and cilantro, this is a thick chutney consistency with no water added. Chopped the onions, peeled and chopped the ash gourds. A big bucket would be filled half with water and the cleaned Aralu would be dumped into it(small portions of it at a time), pushed down by hands so it soaks for about 45 secs to a minute, taken out in handfuls by squeezing out all the water and put into another big bucket. My father sat on a small stool in the kitchen and did this and as soon as she had enough quantity of the damp aralu in the bucket nammamma would mix in the chili-cilantro paste, onion or ash gourd pieces, required amount of cooked saabudana, salt and mix it all well. Then we would carry the bucket outside where a huge, white cloth would be spread in the Sun, get the mixture into our own smaller vessels, sit in different corners just outside the cloth and start putting out small amounts of the mixture into a round or oval shape on the cloth. The competition was to see who made the most number  of sandiges, whose sandiges had even shape and size and whose sandige lines were uniform and parallel. Yes, my dad taught Mathematics and sneaked in our Geometry lesson in Summer :-). Once the bucket got empty, we would head back and repeat the entire process until all the raw material was used up. This was done quite early in the morning as the sandige needs one good day of Sun to start with so it doesn't become hard in the center.
After the sandiges were put in the Sun, we were assigned the watchman's job of making sure no flying crows descended on the inviting sandige platter and eat them. We had to sit there close by in shade and keep shooing away any aspiring birds. That was a great time to read books, play board games etc. Nammamma would come out every once in a while to make sure her kids were not getting sun burnt or bring in glasses of seasoned butter milk to keep us cool and also to chide us if we were caught eating the yummy sandiges :-).

The sandiges would be carried inside the house once the Sun set and brought back the next morning, turned over and let to dry completely. Aralu sandige usually takes a good 3-4 days of drying before they can be put in oil and deep fried. That wait is torturous but becomes slightly bearable as you keep eating the raw ones which are equally yummy :-)
When my neighbors ask me what I am doing every morning infront of the garage laying out tables, wood planks, spreading aluminium foil, parchment papers, plastic sheets and putting funny looking things from big vessels, carrying them back into the garage for the next 3-4 days, I jump into a detailed and long winded explanation of what all the fuss is about in an effort to spread my knowledge of these home made condiments from Desh. I have found that it makes for a very interesting discussion especially when you are surrounded by neighbors from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I get to learn stuff from them in the process.

I have been making small quantities of these almost every Summer since Nammamma's large scale kitchen shut down a few years ago, it is just my way of reliving those Summer joys and thinking about my parents and childhood. These were lessons in planning, organizing, delegating, managing the resources, assigning tasks according to the individual's capabilities, team work - a perfect project management effort with delicious rewards.
Sandige making is a simple process - just needs some prep work. If you are making it for the first time, I suggest you do it in small quantity to get a hang of the different steps involved and then expand into large scale productions :-)
All photo credits on this post belongs to BH, he took the plate out to the garden and clicked many, many pictures among our blooming Daisies and Hibiscus. I was wondering about the enthusiasm to click for the blog and then realized the hidden motive when the plate came back empty into the kitchen :-), but the man deserves a pat on the back.

What do you need to make Aralu Sandige? 
Makes about 80 sandiges - this is not a big number :-)
1 - 400 grams packet of Aralu(Paddy puffed rice)
1/4 cup sabudana/sago (tapioca, any variety other than the nylon sabudana)
1 medium sized onion chopped into small pieces or 1 cup of chopped ashgourd/winter melon
1.5 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
20-25 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
a big bunch of cilantro
How do you make Aralu Sandige? 
  • Open the Aralu packet and pick any non-Aralu particles (usually a stray paddy skin hanging on)
  • Wash the sabudana twice in water scrubbing the pearls with fingers as you wash, add 1.5 cups of water and cook it for 20-25 minutes on medium heat until the grains are soft and mushy and the entire thing reaches a sticky ganji consistency. Cover and let it cool to room temperature. 
  • Make a coarse paste of green chilies, cilantro, salt and asafoetida - do not add water.
  • Take a big vessel, fill it half with water. 
  • Pour the aralu into the vessel and let it soak in water for about 1/2 minute. If you have a smaller vessel, do this in batches. 
  • Pick the soaked aralu in handfuls, squeeze out the water completely and put it into another vessel.
  • Add the chili paste, salt, chopped onions or ash gourd pieces, mix well. 
  • Add the cooked, cooled sago into this and mix - this makes the mixture moist and you can hold a handful without it falling apart.
  • Take spoonfuls of the mixture, lightly press it together and lay them on a plastic sheet or a thin cloth and put them out in the Sun to dry. 
  • Turn the sandige over after a day or so of drying and continue to dry for another 2 days until they reduce in size and become brittle. 
  • Store in dry containers, these stay over a year and can be deep fried any time in oil. 
How do we enjoy Aralu Sandige? 
  • Heat oil in a pan, make sure there is enough oil for the Sandiges to take a full body dip. 
  • Once the oil is hot (test by dropping a tiny piece of Sandige, if it comes up right away, you are good to go), drop 3-4 Sandiges at a time and turn them over to get an even light brown color on both sides. 
  • Take them out onto a paper towel lined plate to drain off excess oil. 
  • Enjoy the crunchy sandige with plain rice and dal, yogurt rice, sambar rice, lemon rice - you get the picture :-)
  • Cooked sago acts as a binder in the sandige mixture but use it just as needed. If you happen to cook more, add salt and a little bit of cumin to it and lay out spoonfuls on a parchment paper to dry. This gets dry sooner than the sandige. It can fried and eaten as a yummy sago papad (see the pure white crispies in the below picture)
  • You can make sandige sans onion or ash gourd pieces but these are the traditional varieties. Sandige with onion turns a little bit brighter brown when fried than the ash gourd ones. 
  • Typically sandige is in an oval shape but I flattened it a little bit to make it dry faster :-)
  • Do not keep the mixed sandige mixture for too long, prepare the sheets on which you will place the sandige before mixing in.
  • Aluminium foils, parchment paper, plastic sheets, thin cotton cloth can all be used to put sandige for drying. 
  • Keep the heat on medium while frying the Sandige, and turn them around in oil with a spoon. It takes all of a minute for it to be done. Do not let them blacken as they taste bitter, Light brown on all sides is good.