Thursday, November 27, 2014

Masala Dose (Dosa) - a food coma inducing vegetarian thanksgiving brunch

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Thornton Wilder

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers celebrating the day!

Long ago when the immigrants declared peace with the natives and broke bread together, started this celebration of oneness, giving thanks and saying grace together. The holiday itself has morphed into a cacophony of retail business with stores opening at the wee hours of dawn on Friday luring customers with promises of never before 'low prices'. This year, it is getting pushed to Thursday evenings, I personally think that is a shame! After all this research shows, these black Friday (now Thursday) sales do not really lift the profit margins that much anyways. All I would say is 'consumerism ' is good for the economy but take some time to be together with family, friends and live in the joy of the moment before you rush towards the malls :-)

Like always, the month of November brings in not only a nip into the air but also the festive jingles. Twinkling lights, bouquets of cheerful Poinsettia make their way into the living rooms. I like to slow down a little bit and count my blessings, they are many and I am extremely grateful for the life that I have. 
Many years ago, we landed here as the proverbial 'new immigrants' leaving behind the known and the familiar trying to make a life with the unknown and unfamiliar, hoping every step of the way the decisions made would stand us strong for years to come with dreams in our young eyes. Every day was a new experience, a learning as we got immersed in the new culture, people, practices. Now after all these years, it is a second home. While my home far away comes in dreams every night and I yearn for the family back home, I also love waking up every morning and take in what my second home has to offer. Things could have gone differently but for the grace of the power I believe in and for that I am thankful. I am grateful for all the rich experiences I have had in these many years of being alive, I am grateful for the love I have received from people near & far away. Thanksgiving is a special time for me to slip slightly into the years gone by as I count the happy moments and look forward to continued joy going forward. 

Being a vegetarian in a very 'meat' friendly environment is not an easy task. While vegetarianism and veganism have become mainstream now, 15 or so years back, it was unheard of and I would have spent many a get together dinners munching on just the leafy greens and filling my stomach (and waistline and then some..) with the desserts as I feared touching any of the main courses doused in non-plant based fats and showcasing different varieties of meat. I am not intolerant to non vegetarian, I have many good friends that love only non vegetarian meals, BH enjoys his share of non vegetarian too. I just have not felt a need to try or taste the stuff. 
We attended a Thanksgiving dinner once back in Michigan as part of a spiritual group and I was taken in with the ingenuity of the hostess who served major concepts of Thanksgiving in a completely vegetarian way. DD loved it too and that is how our Thanksgiving brunches have been now for many year. Did I say brunch? yep since we skip breakfast, the little girl declared holiday which means she gets up when she feels like and we go directly to our meals which is somewhere in between BF & lunch. Our main course is always potato stuffed dosas, sided with different combinations of chutneys and dips, some form of sweet potatoes (baked, roasted etc). I didn't make the corn bread this time. This meal is a great alternative if you are a vegetarian. I have had some of my friends make stuffed paranthas as another variation. 

We had this masala dosa, chutney & sambar and feeling as stuffed as a turkey (err,, tofurky may be) and as I type this away, I hear the gentle snore from a fully satiated and overstuffed BH who declared that a siesta was the best thing that could happen immediately after eating such delicious dosas and true to his words, went to lie down right afterwards :-). This is a carb heavy meal and oh I am thankful for the starches and carbohydrates in my life, they make me happieee. 
Masala dose (as we call it in Kannada) does not need any introductions to most people. They have been popularized world over by the numerous Udipi cafes, Saravanabhava restuarants and other South Indian joints. Masala dosas are so versatile that people have gotten creative and stuffed them with stuff such as broccoli, cauliflower, paneer etc :-) which goes to show that it is nothing but a concept that you can tailor to suit your taste. I come from the small town of Mysore which valiantly tries to hold on to the traditional roots (sometimes good and sometimes not so good) and you normally don't see stuffings other than the "forever in demand" potato masala in my kitchen. 

If you were to see any restaurant menu card worth its salt dosa, it will have a plain masala dosa and a Mysore masala dosa. What is unique about the Mysore masala dosa is the fiery red chutney spread liberally on the inside of the dosa before placing the potato masala. A bite of that is a step closer to heaven for spice lovers like me. Oh, btw, I have seen many masala dosa posts in the blogs which call out for a crispy thin layer of dosa. For us from Mysore, masala dose is always thick, pulpy while being crispy as it is doused with oil/ghee. 
This post is already growing long in length and I will reserve all my chatter about dosas for another post and another day but in parting, I will say this - it is very hard to get the even, golden brown color on the dosas at home. If you are trying to mimic the restaurant served dosa at home, be prepared to use inordinate (and unhealthy) amounts of oil. Another reason for that golden hue is the controlled and uniformly distributed heat in a big kitchen. However you can get a better tasting dosa at home by using quality ingredients and following a few tips. Use an iron skillet or tawa for making dosas, it not only cooks evenly but also adds to the flavor. I swear by my cast iron pans, they grow increasingly better as they age and you keep working at the seasoning of the pan. I do not make dosas on non-stick pans anymore. Contrary to popular belief, the cast iron pans are not oil guzzlers, if you follow good seasoning practices and keep the pan in good condition. And once you have a good seasoned pan, do not ever part with it :-).

So here is a recipe of good masala dose with its accompaniments, Be prepared to spend some time reading the recipe below as it has many details and tips to making a good dose at home especially if you are a newbie to this South Indian delicacy. There are many different proportions to a good dosa batter and here is mine that yields a perfectly fool proof and yummylicious dose every time. 
Let us start by making the dosa batter, this is a 2 day process so planning is crucial. You need to ferment the batter for atleast 8-10 hours or more if the weather is cold. I do not favor the short cut practices of adding cooking soda or baking powder to the batter without fermenting it, somethings in life are best when done in a certain way. So, 

What do you need for the dose hittu or dosa batter? 
1 cup urad dal (I use whole white urad)
1/4 cup toor dal
1/4 cup chana dal
1/4 cup thick poha (avalakki or beaten rice)
3 cups rice (I use sona masoori) 
1 Tsp fenugreek seeds
1 Tsp salt
1/2 Tsp sugar

How do you make dosa batter? 
  • Take all ingredients listed except for salt & sugar in a big vessel, wash them a couple of times and soak them in double the quantity of water for 4-5 hours. 
  • Drain the water and grind the ingredients together into a smooth paste (use water as needed to make a thick batter of dropping consistency).
  • Mix once, cover and keep aside in a warm corner of the kitchen to ferment for 8-10 hours or until it starts forming a nice convex layer in top with a few bubbles. 
  • Before making dosas, add salt & sugar and mix the batter, adjust with water to get a nice consistency to spread on the pan. 
What do you need to make potato palya? 
4 medium sized potatoes
1 big onion 
1 inch piece ginger
2-3 green chilies
1 Tsp chana dal (for crunch, omit if you do not like it or use cashew nuts)
few curry leaves
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp cumin 
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/8 Tsp Asafoetida
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
Optional ingredients: 
few sprigs of cilantro chopped
few cashew nuts
fistful of cooked green peas
How do you make potato palya? 
  • Wash, cut into half and cook the potatoes until soft. 
  • Let cool, peel the skin off and mash into a smooth paste. 
  • Remove ends of the green chilies, slit them vertically in half (or chop them into pieces if you prefer)
  • Wash, peel and grate ginger. 
  • Heat a pan, add oil, when the oil is hot, add asafoetida, chana dal, mustard and cumin. 
  • Let the seeds pop, add cashews, green peas if using, add slit green chilies and curry leaves. 
  • After 30 secs, add thinly chopped onion, salt, turmeric powder and mix it well. 
  • Let cook on medium heat until onions turn limp. 
  • Add mashed potatoes, mix and if too dry add a couple of spoons of water. 
  • Taste test for salt and adjust. 
  • Add chopped cilantro on top and keep aside until ready to use. 
  • You can add a spoon of lemon/lime juice if you like the tart taste, do it after the stove is switched off.
What do you need to make red chutney? 
1/4 cup of roasted gram dal (Kadle in kannada, putnala pappu in Telugu)
1 medium onion (use the red onions as they are milder in flavor)
1 small tomato
4-5 dry red chilies soaked in warm water for 10 mins
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 cloves of garlic (I do not use it)
How to make the red, fiery chutney? 
  • Drain the water from the chilies, take all the ingredients and blend them into a smooth paste. 
  • Do not use water to grind, juice from the tomato and wetness of the onion will be sufficient. 
  • Onions and tomatoes add flavor and also give volume to this chutney, if you want use a little bit more of roasted gram dal. 
  • This is a spicy chutney, use red chilies based on your heat tolerance. 
What do you need to make white/green chutney? 
1 cup coconut
1/2 up roasted gram dal
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 clove garlic (omit if you don't like)
3-5 green chilies (adjust to taste)
fistful of fresh cilantro (if you want slightly green chutney, else omit this)
water to grind
How to make white chutney?
  • Take all the ingredients in a blender and blend it into a smooth paste of desired consistency. We like it a little thinner so the dosas can be easily dipped into them. 
I made some quick fix sambar to go with the meal today, recipe in another post. 

Bringing them all together: 
  • Heat a flat (preferably cast iron) pan on medium heat. 
  • Sprinkle a few drops of water and it should immediately sizzle up. 
  • Mix the batter, take a ladle full of batter, pour it in the center of the pan and with a swift motion, spread it circularly all around the pan. 
  • Drop spoonfuls of the red chutney in different places around the dosa (do not try to spread it at this time), add a few drops of oil all around, cover (yes cover it and see the notes below) and let cook for 45secs - a min. 
  • Take the cover off, the batter would be cooked with no hint of rawness, now with a flat spatula, spread the red chutney all around the dosa. 
  • Check to see if the bottom has attained a golden brown or any desired color, put a big heap of the potato palya in the center of the dosa, fold it and remove it onto a plate. 
  • Serve it with the white/green chutney and sambar. 
  • Repeat the above steps for as many dosas as you need, eat them hot. 
  • Masala dose batter is slightly thicker than regular dosas to achieve that pulpy, crispy layer. 
  • A wet grinder works best to make good idli, dosa batters but a strong motored mixer/blender would work well too, do it in batches if you need to. 
  • We like the potato palya to be soft but not watery, use good, mature potatoes with less starch. 
  • I always make extra potato palya as it seems to somehow reduce in quantity from the time I started on it and by the time I am ready to make dosas. A very believable disappearing act :-)
  • Keep a watch on the heat and the tawa temperature, these vary from kitchen to kitchen, you will become an expert over time. 
  • It is important to cool the pan slightly down when you pour the batter or else, it will get stuck in lumps on a very hot tawa and also cooks unevenly - remember how all the restaurant chefs spray about a cup of water between batches of dosas and spread it all around with a broom :-), the idea is to control the temperature. 
  • Masala dosa is never cooked on both sides, it dries up the final product. You need to cook the dosa enough so it is neither burnt nor under cooked. Covering the dosa as soon as it is spread helps to get a nicely cooked dosa where you can easily spread the red chutney and also ensures the bottom browns up in the process. 
  • Adding a half spoon of sugar to the batter helps get a nice hue to the cooked dosa. 
  • I use a cut onion to spread oil in between dosas on the pan, this gives a nice color to the dosa too. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pineapple saaru (rasam) - soul food to keep you warm on a rainy, wet day

Rim, Jhim, Rim, Jhim .. Bheegi bheegi ruth mein.. chalte hein... so start lines of an old favorite movie song. It is the time of the year when the rains start coming down steadily though not heavily in our part of the world. I have seen rains in many places but something is magical about the pitter patter of rains in our current home. They are not destructive, not even intrusive, very much part of our lives, here now, gone in a flash kind of rains. I smile when the first thing people talk about Seattle are the rains here. It is almost like a bad rap!, but for me, it is something that defines the gorgeousness of nature around me. People that have got used to this weather pattern, learn to love it in entirety including the grey skies that accompany the rains, we walk and go about our business in the rains as if we were going out with an old friend, very familiar though a little annoying at times :-).

We had our first rains of the season this week. Temperature has dipped but seems to be playing around going all over the chart. The rains though had held back, until last week. When I say rains, this is a steady, not stormy kind of heavy drizzle which soaks you completely if you are not covered but doesn't stay long on the ground as it flows towards its destiny. I love to go out in the rains but love it more if I can sit back with a book as the rain drops play music in the background. I am inherently a home bird, while I enjoy the company of friends, the long chatters, gales of laughter, I am happiest when I am home with a book for company or walking in the woods. How many of you enjoy putting your bare feet in splashing rain water, have done it many times myself :-)

Work week has been long and somewhat stressful as we are all rushing towards some deadlines before the Holiday mood sets in. Long week days always mean things pushed off on the home front or DD front and we look forward to the 2 day break when things do not get driven by early morning alarms, bus timings, lunch box menus etc. It has been one of those catch up weekends where I didn't plan anything but took things them as they came and stopped when the time & resources ran out (perfect agile implementation :-), that is my work life creeping into weekends, will explain the joke another time). As the rains continued, I made some anna, saaru & palya (rice, rasam & vegetable side dish) and enjoyed the hot, piping saaru as an appetizer and more.
A summer & half ago, DD did her Bharatanatyam arangetram, it was her graduation ceremony in an art that she has been learning passionately for over a decade. A very proud and happy moment to us as parents, the little girl was mesmerizing and mature beyond her age. As family gathered together for the occasion, I had to outsource food for the last 2 days before the big day. With quite a few elderly grand parents, we didn't want to get the food from a regular restaurant for both health and other reasons and went frantically looking for home cooks that was palatable to all. Armed with some recommendations from friends, we ended up talking to an elderly couple here in the town who gladly agreed to cook for the entire paltan for 2 days. Whew, that was such a relief and we didn't even put a lot of thinking into the menu and asked aunty to make whatever she felt like but keep it simple, homely and south Indian.
The first day breakfast started with the unmistakable idli, sambar, pongal and vada and everyone (including those who had said they were on strict diets) loosened up and enjoyed the breakfast. As we were hurrying in & out with last minute arrangements, all that extra artery clogging vadas got digested and pretty soon we were looking forward to the lunch :-). Lunch had the usual suspects like rice, sambar, green beans stir fry but the clincher was aunty's pineapple rasam. It was simply out of the world and on popular vote, we ended up asking for the same rasam the next day too :-). A couple of us were too excited and stressed out to eat much and the day after everybody had left, with no energy left to cook or clean, we took the left over rasam from the refrigerator and fell in love all over again.
Thus began the journey to master the delicious pineapple rasam and here is a perfect blend of sweet, sour, spice to give you company on a cold, wet day or any day you feel like you are missing home. I call it saaru true to my Kannadiga roots, you can call it rasam or chaaru (but don't use the word soup please :-( )

What do you need to make Pineapple saaru?
1/2 cup cooked toor dal
1.5 cup ripe pineapple - cut into bite size pieces
1/2 medium tomato
1.5 Tbsp saaru pudi
10-12 curry leaves
1 Tbsp grated coconut
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp jaggery/brown sugar
pinch of turmeric powder
chopped cilantro for garnish
1 Tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tsp mustard seeds
1/2 Tsp cumin seeds
1/4 Tsp asafoetida

How do you make Pineapple saaru? 
  • Wash, pick any dirt and cook toor dal until it is very soft and mushy. Use a whisk to make it a homogeneous liquid.
  • Peel, remove thorns and chop pineapple into bite sized pieces.
  • Grind saaru pudi, coconut, tomato and 1/2 cup pineapple into a smooth paste. You don't need water but use it if you wish. 
  • Put the cooked toor dal in a heavy bottom pan and heat it. 
  • Add the curry leaves and remaining cup of pineapple pieces, salt, jaggery and turmeric powder and let it come to a boil on medium heat. 
  • Add the ground masala paste and let the saaru come to a rolling boil. 
  • Add milk and let the saaru continue to cook in medium heat for a couple minutes. 
  • Adjust the consistency of saaru to be pouring. 
  • Add chopped cilantro and switch off. 
  • Heat ghee in a small pan, add mustard and cumin. Let mustard pop. Add asafoetida, switch off and pour it over the saaru. 
  • Let stand for 5 minutes before serving it as an appetizer or to mix with rice. Yummm!
  • Based on the sweetness of the pineapple, you can skip adding jaggery. Do a taste test and decide. 
  • If the pineapple is not tart enough, you may add a little bit of tamarind juice (soak tamarind in warm water and squeeze out the juice) to balance the taste. The saaru should be sweet, spicy, a little tart all at the same time. 
  • I use cilantro with stalks for saaru as they retain their personality when added to boiling saaru. 
  • This saaru tastes best after a few hours of standing time, better still, reheat next day and use. 
  • Make sure to boil pineapple pieces in the cooked dal on slow heat, the flavors need to get distributed. 
  • I add the spoonful of milk to saaru for both color and taste, this is nammamma's trick. Skip if you are not used to milk. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kudumulu - a steamed snack full of healthy vegetables

When I got married into a Telugu family and started tasting delicious yet unfamiliar dishes, my thought was like, "Aha, I am going to conquer all of these recipes and make them my own" which I have done to a large extent. But the reality of it is, the Telugu food I have been exposed to represents just one facet of Andhra Pradesh only as is my Karnataka food familiarity. There is so much regional variances and some recipes being very local, you won't even hear about them unless you visit the place. So now I am more cautious when I say I cook Kannadiga and Telugu food, it is more like I cook the food from parts of Karnataka/Andhra. There is so much more to taste, enjoy, learn & blog about :-).
Visiting far away places has become so easy with our virtual tours now. I can search for any recipe and will find atleast a few hits on it on the internet. But then, how do you filter the good ones over the 'ok' ones? I usually let my gut feel guide (I do have a pretty decent gut feel :-))which recipes to go after. I came across this recipe in one of the Telugu food channel program, apparently it is a a popular dish in the Telengana region so amma has no idea and BH had never tasted it (until I made it at home). What attracted me to the recipe was that it seemed like one of those rustic dishes from the villages of India. I am a sucker for simplicity, and the rawness of old recipes. While it sounded promising, I have to honestly admit that I was a little hesitant  to make it as I wasn't convinced that steamed rice flour could result in something delicious. For me, idlis have a coarse & soft texture, I love them with either coarsely ground rice or rice rava. This recipe sounded and looked like idli (with no lentils) and I was not convinced about it the first time I heard of it.
But something with the addition of vegetables and the promise of no soak, no grind yummyness held me back from dismissing it totally. After a couple of weeks of actually churning it over in my head, I decided to give it a try as I was anyway looking for new BF or snack items. Didn't want the family to suffer or grumble if the experiment resulted in a disaster, so put it on my weekend brunch menu. With a safe bet of known khichdi as the main item, I was more than willing to take the risk if the kudumulu didn't make the taste test :-). But here is what happened, we ended up eating the kudumulu instead of the khichdi all the way. The spicy ridge gourd peel chutney on the side enhanced the experience and by end of the meal, I was left with a pot of khichdi and an empty bowl of kudumulu. With such a high rating of approval, I had to sit down and blog about it before I lost the recipe.

This may be a traditional recipe that some of you have grown up eating, for me it is new but will stay on the repertoire. It tastes good even when cold making it an ideal prep ahead breakfast item for a busy week day. I added the rice rava to the recipe since I wasn't convinced about the rice flour alone, the original recipe didn't have it and you can totally skip it. I may not even add it the next time I make this. It is not a soft idli but is very flavorful with the cooked broad beans. The texture is very much like the steamed modaka made on the Ganesha habba, a little soft and transparent but the taste is very different with the added vegetables and the fenugreek leaves. The original recipe on the TV show had the lady add chopped mint leaves but I replaced it with my favorite fenugreek leaves.
Indian broad beans are generally a winter vegetable and I get them regularly as we all love gojju or a simple stir fry with it. With a subtle flavor, this vegetable can make a simple recipe go a long way in the taste arena. These are called chapparada avare kaayi (since they grown on vines which are usually supported by a structure called 'chappara' in Kannada) or chikkudu kaaya in Telugu. These are not the papdi lilva I talk about here, here & here though they belong to the same general category.

What do you need to make Kudumulu? 
1.5 cups rice flour
1.5 Tbsp rice rava
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 inch piece ginger
1.5 cup boiled broadbeans pieces
1 cup finely chopped fenugreek leaves
1 cup finely chopped spring onion
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3/4 - 1 cup hot water
How do you make Kudumulu? 
  • String the broad beans (chikudukaaya/chapparadavare), separate ripe beans and chop the skin into small pieces. 
  • Steam or boil the chopped beans & a pinch of salt in 1/2 cup of water until they turn soft.
  • Make a coarse paste of green chilies & ginger. 
  • Take rice flour & rava in a bowl, add all the ingredients except for water and mix them well. 
  • Taste and adjust salt or green chilies. 
  • Add hot water slowly and using a spoon bring it together into a soft dough. 
  • Grease the idli plates, take lemon sized balls, flatten them slightly and place them in the grooves of idli plates. 
  • Steam for about 10 minutes or until a tooth pick pushed in the center comes out clean. 
  • Switch off, let stand for 5 minutes before removing them from the plates. 
  • Serve hot with a drop of ghee and a spicy chutney on the side. 
  • Choose broad beans that are mature (but not dry or stringy) for this recipe, more plump beans make it tastier. 
  • You can use chopped cilantro or fresh mint leaves in place of fenugreek leaves for a flavor change. 
  • Spring onions add a crunch and subtle flavor, do not use regular onions - they don't taste as good steamed. 
  • Use the water from boiling the beans as this will be rich in flavor. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mutter Paneer (cottage cheese and green peas in creamy gravy) - simple pleasures of life and a delicious side dish

How are you all doing? Hope the transition to cold weather has been easy for all. Folks back home in India were complaining about the cold, rain and morning frost when we called them this weekend. We are moving along slightly jerkily since it has been a warm day followed by cold rains :-).
Last Friday, I left work a little earlier than usual as I had to take care of stuff and got into the bus. If you are a regular commuter, you will most definitely nod your heads when I say, commuting is one of the mundane, necessary evils in life. After a while, you tend to become a zombie, routinely going over the motions of getting on & off the bus without really paying attention to the goings-on around you. Growing up in India, I was one of the privileged ones to have a bicycle and then a two wheeler during my high school and college days, never had to ride the city buses except to go to an aunt's house. Buses in Mysore at the time were few and sparse and never used to be crowded, Mysore has time, space and patience for everyone and everything :-), and hence remains forever my favoritest city in the whole wide world. My short stint as a resident Bangalorean left me gaping open mouthed at the overflowing BTS buses as people rushed back & forth from wherever it was they were going/coming.
Coming back to what I was going to tell you earlier, since I have started riding buses here, I have noticed they are sometimes crowded and at other times, easy to commute. No matter what the time or state of the bus is, everyone is so busy and hustled that they don't look around. To top it all, the hand held devices have conquered the world and lets us build our own secluded cocoons in the midst of all the hoopla of life. We don't stop anymore to look up, make eye contact, smile or say hello.

Anyways, it was a Friday afternoon bus ride back home and most of us who got in the bus belonged to the classic 'weary passengers' category, having spent a long work week and trying to get back home and have a peaceful weekend. When I got on the bus, I noticed the driver being unusually chirpy and was greeting every single person as we climbed in but most people just ignored the greetings and went past. We were all in a hurry to get in, find a seat and settle down before the seats were all taken. If you are lucky and get a seat to settle in, you will wish that the bus speeds up (safely ofcourse) and takes you home sooner.
We made our couple of stops in the downtown before hitting the long freeway stretch and as we entered the freeway, an announcement comes on the loudspeaker, "Hey, welcome aboard the non stop service to xxx, sit back, buckle up and relax for the next 4 hours as we make our way to ... " and a ..pause. People who don't even generally lift heads off their mobile devices, suddenly jolt up and look towards the front of the bus to make sure if they got on the right bus (yours truly being one of them). When, he has sufficient attention from passengers, the driver looks up, grins and says, "just kidding, this is xx on its way to the beautiful mm, we will be reaching your destination in 20 short minutes and I am your driver Kyle", a few laughs and people relax back to whatever they were doing on their devices.
A couple of minutes later as we pass the bridge, another announcement comes on, "if you would all take a moment to break the monotony of your candy crush saga games and look out the window, you will see the beautiful .. waters". Now a few more heads come up to gaze off the window and indeed enjoy the beautiful day. 

Kyle continued these one off remarks throughout the 20 mins or so of ride keeping all of us moving in and out of our secluded worlds in that bus filled with fellow passengers. It felt like we were co passengers instead of strangers stuck without a choice on a motor ride. In his own way, he was making small talk with strangers and making everyone a bit cheerful which I am sure was not part of his job description. It was a bright and sunny afternoon but more than the weather, Kyle's attitude made a lot of difference (it sure did to me). All I could do was to wish him a good evening and thank him for the ride before trotting off home humming a tune. It was a great note to start a weekend :-).
For me personally, it seemed like a BIG deal, why do some people go beyond the call of their duties and take every small opportunity to make a difference while some people despite their blessings always choose to look at only the negative side? Can more of Kyle's attitude with simple gestures of civility help us form a better society for our kids, create a safer atmosphere in schools? This is not about invasion of privacy or being 'nosey' in other's business, it is about being approachable and open if there is a need. For those of you that may not have a context of what I am alluding to, there was a school shooting recently very close to home in which 5 kids died for no reason. It is a situation that no parent or child have to go through. All I could do when I heard the news was, come home, hug DD and say thanks for my blessings. There are many issues here but we can all help create a better, safer environment for the younger generation by being there in the moment always, by soaking in the experience as it unfolds, by being aware of surroundings. Takes effort but not impossible. More of Kyle's chirpy, friendly approach than the, "life is a burden" attitude.

I am switching back to the recipe here as I do want to keep riding the cheery note. Here is very delish and 'favorite in Indian restaurants' recipe of mutter paneer of spicy cottage cheese and tender green peas in gravy. Perfect with rotis or naans but also goes well with simple rice. Green peas are summer vegetables but since we get them frozen, this dish can be made any time of the year :-), all it takes is a 'can-do' attitude.
What do you need to make Mutter paneer? 
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
1-1.5 cups paneer chunks (I used home made)
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 inch piece fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup milk
1/2 Tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek)
1/4 Tsp amchoor (dry mango powder) or juice of 1 lemon
1 Tsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp oil (use butter if you would like)
1/2 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
3/4 Tsp dhania/coriander powder
1/8 Tsp turmeric powder

How do you make Mutter Paneer? 
  • Soak almonds in warm water for 30 minutes and grind them with 1/4 cup of milk into a very smooth paste. 
  • If you are using fresh green peas, cook them until tender.
  • Crush garlic & ginger together into a fine paste. 
  • Wash, pat dry and chop tomatoes into quarters and make a puree. 
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or dutch oven. 
  • Add cumin seeds and let them sizzle. 
  • Add the finely chopped onion and fry until it turns light pink and becomes limp. 
  • Add the crushed ginger and garlic. 
  • Fry for about 30 secs before adding the tomato puree.  
  • Add salt and let cook until the raw smell of tomatoes is gone and the sauce thickens.
  • Add the dry powders and let cook for a minute until they blend well.
  • Add the almonds paste, remaining milk, mix in and adjust consistency with water. 
  • Add the peas and let cook until the gravy starts to boil. 
  • Add the chopped paneer pieces and let it come to a boil. 
  • Crush kasoori methi between palms and drop it on top of the gravy and switch off. 
  • Serve warm with roti, phulka or naans. We had it with home made naans and cucumber raita. 
  • You can use cashew nuts in place of almonds for a restuarant taste, I generally avoid the higher calorie cashew nuts. 
  • Make sure almonds are soaked before and grind to a silky paste, this is what gives the texture to the gravy. 
  • I haven't used garam masala in this recipe, I feel the solitude of coriander flavor does more justice to this dish than the combined garam masala flavors. Feel free to use it if you prefer.