Sunday, November 22, 2015

Huli Tovve - can't get any more homely or traditional than this

I had every plan of writing my post last weekend as usual and then Friday the 13th happened. I just didn't have the heart to celebrate food in the wake of such violence and spent the weekend away from all electronics. What would it take to stop this senseless violence and live a life of harmony? What would it take to provide loving homes to countless children around the world that are uprooted from the homes they knew of? Acts of love are always pure and can start small in our own little neighborhoods and they do not need to be associated with any specific group or religion. Hope the world finds the love and peace we all seek so fervently. Here is to leaving behind a more loving, respectful world around us.
I forget what it was all about but recently a friend of mine had posted the question on FB asking 'what is home'? and as with fb responses there were a multitude of opinions ranging from parents to siblings to music to love to food and other things (both materialistic and non materialistic) that brought a feeling of home. As I reflect on that question I think the closest I would come to a cozy home feeling inevitably will have something to do with food :-). A happy crowd of people around the dining table eating healthy, home cooked food has an appeal to me that is rarely surpassed by other things in this world. Maybe I am not the only one that relates food with love, relationship, comfort, safety, care, taste and ultimately home?

The other day, I sent a package of uppittu mix and pongal mix to DD. She has a small rice cooker and it would be easy for her to just measure a cup of the mix and pour in the water, switch it on before she heads out to classes. The hot stuff would be ready and waiting when she gets back to the room. While she mostly eats at her cafeteria, she sometimes needs the taste of home just to ground things back. I didn't really pay a lot of attention when she called up to say it was the best uppittu she ever had but then realized that more than the taste it was probably the connection it made to the kitchen back home. She has not been a fan of eating uppittu while at home :-) but now not only is enjoying it herself but also is sharing it with a few of her floor mates who seem to be happily eating it too.
She will be home in 2 days and I already have instructions on what she wants to eat and what should not be on the menu for those 4 days (Cheese, tofu, pasta, pizza..) :-). She is well on her way to connecting love of home with comforting food among other things.

November is the month of 'giving thanks' and the markets are already flooded with the seasonal colors of yellow and orange. The carving pumpkins of the Halloween have made way for the orange hued pie pumpkins as we near Thanksgiving celebrations. I love pumpkins as they are some of the easiest vegetables to cook and also are very versatile in nature. From warm, toasted fragrant breads to hot, spicy idlis to crispy, kurkure cutlets to soul warming soups, pumpkins can stand up to any treatment and impart their subtle, yet tasty flavors in each of these recipes. Pumpkins in India are grown easily at homes and harvested on a regular basis.
I picked up a small pumpkin the other day and as I cut it open, I was transported back to an occasion many years back. The color of the pumpkin brought up memories of a wedding where I was the star (well, one of the stars atleast) and was getting ready to embrace a new life. Ours was a simple wedding, the ceremony was very personal and limited to immediate and extended family on both sides, wedding took place in my parent's home and the lunch was served under a covered shamiana on the roof top with a view of the majestic Chamundi hills in Mysore. My new family was not entirely familiar with the Mysore style of food but enjoyed it a lot.

As newly weds, we were required to share a plate for lunch that day and my bridegroom made sure he called dibs on all the favorites in the shared plate before I even looked up to see what was being served :-). The love story was just made stronger with him accepting and enjoying the world I came from. It has been many years and we continue sharing on both sides and the love seems to grow more as we do it. Of all the things served on the plate that day, the one dish that he fell in love with was this Huli tovve (also called bisi kootu) that is served with white, fluffy cooked rice as the first course once the meal officially begins. He loves his dal, he loves his vegetables and he loves food cooked fresh and the huli tovve satisfied all 3 simple criteria.
As Oct is the month we celebrate our wedding, I thought of making the huli tovve for BH to see if the love (for the dish I mean :-)) still lingered through all these years. And when I served it for lunch, the gleam in the eye, the slurp of fingers were more than enough to confirm that the love story continued. A combination of this tovve, majjige huli and a side of ambode is the ultimate festive food and a sure ticket for sleep, something you have to experience atleast once :-). Knowing BH's simple tastes, I skipped the majjige huli and ambode and let him enjoy the huli tovve all by itself and it was a hit.

Despite the 'Huli (tangy)' in the name, this dish is not a sour gravy. It is very well balanced with tamarind, jaggery, salt and the highlight is the freshly roasted and ground spices. The consistency tends to be thicker than regular huli or sambar and is made on special occasions with different combinations of vegetables. There used to be a time a few years back when no wedding or auspicious ceremony in the Mysore region would miss this huli tovve, I am not so sure about it now as food during celebrations have become more continental now :-). See notes at the end for a list of vegetable combinations that work well in this dish.

What do you need to make Huli Tovve?
1/2 cup toor dal/tuvar dal/togari bele
1 fistful shelled peanuts
1/2 Tsp crushed jaggery or brown sugar
2 cups of cubed pumpkin
8-10 green beans
1 big carrot
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
To roast and grind: 
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp chana dal
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 Tsp Urad dal
1 Tsp black pepper corns
2-3 dry red chilies (use Byadagi variety for a nice hue)
2 pieces of 1 inch cinnamon
2 cloves
small piece nutmeg (about 1/4 Tsp when grated)
2 pieces of mace
2 Tbsp shredded coconut
key lime size tamarind
1Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
few curry leaves
1-2 pieces of dry red chilies (optional)

How do you make Huli Tovve? 
  • Take tuvar dal and peanuts in a pressure cooker, wash them in running water. 
  • Add 2 cups of water, pinch of turmeric powder and cook until you get 4-5 whistles. 
  • Switch off and let cool. 
  • Heat a small pan and add all ingredients under 'To roast and grind' except for coconut and tamarind. 
  • Roast on medium heat stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Once the dals turn light pink and the spices are fragrant, add coconut and tamarind piece. Switch off and let cool. 
  • String the beans and break/cut them into 1.5 inch pieces. 
  • Peel the carrot and chop them into pieces of the same size as beans. 
  • In a sauce pan, add 2 cups of water, beans and carrot pieces along with 1/2 Tsp of salt. 
  • While the vegetables are cooking, peel and chop pumpkin into big bite sized pieces.
  • Once the beans and carrot have about 10 minutes of headstart, add the pumpkin pieces into the pan and let them cook for another 6-8 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. 
  • Grind all the roasted ingredients along with 1/2 cup water into a smooth paste. 
  • Open the cooker, mash the cooked dal with a whisk or blender. 
  • Pour the dal into the vegetables pot, add the ground masala paste and give a good mixture. 
  • Add the remaining salt and jaggery. Let it come to a gentle boil. 
  • Heat a small pan, add the seasoning ingredients and let mustard pop. 
  • Pour the seasoning into the tovve container, cover and switch off. 
  • Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving it with rice or roti.   
  • Typical vegetables and vegetable combinations used for huli tovve - Beans, carrots, ash gourd, pumpkin, ridge gourd. 
  • Do not use egg plant, okra or radish in this recipe
  • Pumkins and ash gourds cook very fast, give a head start to the beans and carrots to soften up before adding these vegetables to avoid mushy, disintegrated pieces. 
  • You can use dry coconut (Kobbari) or fresh grated coconut in this recipe. 
  • Do not use more than specified amount of nutmeg as it tends to over power other flavors. 
  • Peanuts cooked along with dal add a great taste to the gravy, if you are allergic to peanuts skip them. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Badam Poori - A melt in the mouth, heavenly desert from Mysore for all celebrations

The other day I went to the public library after quite some time and just picked up a random book from the display. As with anything random in life, random books picked off the shelf can either make a great read filling you with warmth and contentment or leave you unsatisfied completely. This one fell somewhere in the middle - had a topic that would catch and sustain your attention and the story telling itself is good but the subject was too chilling for me to enjoy on a Saturday. It has been a while since I have found the time to sit and read books at a stretch, mostly it is a little bit every night and I have an assorted set of books on my bed stand from fiction to spiritual to DIY to cookery books all lining up there. Either I am multi tasking (pros and cons of this for another discussion ;-)) or pressed for time or really tired and ready to crash by the time I pick up the book, so it doesn't really go a long way.

This weekend, the weather wasn't conducive to any outdoor activities as it has been raining since Friday and BH was home sick with a stomach bug he caught. So, being cooped up at home with a husband who was mostly indulging in therapeutic sleep, left me with ample time to cuddle up with my book. 'The Hours really count' is an eerily chilling historical fiction related to the infamous Rosenberg couple who were subjected to death penalty in the 1950s for espionage. The writing is gripping and makes you not put the book down half way through (yes, I did a marathon and finished it at 1am last night) but it is not a subject I would recommend for a read on a cozy, rainy day, something more cheerful maybe.. Next time, I will spend some time before picking up a book for my reads :-). If you have some good reads, please go ahead and recommend.
Other than that, the weekend seemed to just fly by and we are almost at the point where I will start preparing our lunch boxes for tomorrow :-), well a few more hours anyway..

Indian festivals are countless really. If you enjoy celebrating festivals, every day on the Indian calendar can give a reason and excuse to do so :-).  Looking at it I feel that our ancestors truly embraced the concept that life itself is a celebration and everyday is an occasion to be thankful for. While I love the 'being thankful for' everything in life idea, due to practical constraints, I pick and choose the most significant festivals to celebrate. Here 'significance' only refers to what I have been exposed to from childhood and I what I can relate to even today. In India, festivals are both spiritual and cultural. The spiritual side of the celebration tends to be quiet and peaceful while the cultural angle emphasizes on sound, colors, and ofcourse food :-). Every Indian festival is laced with loads of food which I agree is the easiest way to have people participate willingly. The world of food blogging is no stranger to this concept and I really admire the effort of fellow bloggers that goes into cooking, clicking and blogging about the innumerable sweets and savory dishes for every festival. I personally don't make that many varieties every time so my contribution to the festival cooking craze is usually very light.
What I lack in numbers, I try to make up in quality. Badam poori is a typical Mysore sweet made during Dasara or Deepavali as it is easy to pack and distribute and extremely delicious. This used to be a childhood favorite at home and nammamma made them in bulk always. I am not sure why it is called badam (almond) poori when it actually doesn't have any almonds in it. I had asked nammamma about it long time back and her response was that the color of the fried poori should resemble peeled almonds (light golden). Not sure how far this is true but you have something to go on :-). This is succulent as the syrup not only is coated on the outer surface but the entire poori soaks up the sugar as it rests.

I actually made this sweet during Dasara a couple of weeks back, took a whole tray to my Balvihar classes,  sent a bunch to DD and took some to work. The resounding feedback from everyone who ate it was similar and positive. Though I missed posting it for Dasara, here it is in time for Deepavali (Festival of lights) coming up early next week.
This time when I went to India, I got a few real treasures from akka in the form of organic saffron powder and some edible camphor. I know these are not rare and you will get it if you go to the right shops in India. What made the gift from akka special was that the 2 tiny bottles I got are atleast 2 generations old (about 70+ years) and home made. As you can imagine, I use them both very carefully and with lot of respect. The saffron powder is so potent that a sprinkle will add lot of flavor and color to any dish. If you want to, use saffron strands soaked in a Tbsp of warm milk instead of the powder.
What do you need to make Badam Poori? 
Makes about 25 pieces 
1 cup All purpose flour
1 pinch baking soda
1 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
pinch saffron color
2 Tbsp yogurt
water to make a stiff dough
Sugar syrup: 
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 Tsp fresh cardamom powder
oil to deep fry
2-3 Tbsp grated kobbari (dry coconut or desiccated coconut)

How do you make Badam Poori? 

Preparing the dough for poori:
  • In a wide bowl, sieve all purpose flour and baking soda together so there are no lumps. 
  • Add saffron color and ghee and rub the flour with gentle fingers to incorporate the ghee. 
  • When the dry flour gets coated with ghee and becomes crumbly, add yogurt and mix together. 
  • Add water little by little to make a stiff dough (just like the regular poori dough). 
  • Knead for 3-4 minutes to get a smooth surface, cover and let it rest for atleast 30 minutes. 
Preparing sugar syrup: 
  • In a deep and wide sauce pan, heat the water until warm. 
  • Add sugar and mix, let it dissolve. 
  • Let the mixture boil for about 10-12 minutes or until the syrup thickens - there is no string consistency for this recipe. The recipe has to get slightly thicker so it coats well on the pooris. 
  • Add cardamom powder, lower the heat to minimum and keep it warm until ready to use. 
Making badam pooris: 
  • Take the rested dough and knead it a couple times. 
  • Pinch off small balls (marble sized) from the dough and shape them into roundels. 
  • Take a ball of dough and make a round roti using a rolling pin. 
  • Fold the roti in half and then into quarters (this is to get layers), press the edges together so they hold the shape without opening up. 
  • Gently roll out once to flatten it further. This is the size of your badam puri, adjust the dough ball to any desired size you want. I left them at single server/bite sizes.
  • Take a fork and poke gently on the surface of the pooris to prevent them from completely puffing up when dropped in oil. 
  • Heat oil on medium heat, test by dropping a small piece of dough into it. If the dough comes up sizzling then the oil is ready. 
  • Prepare as many pooris as your oil can hold - (KEEP a MOIST paper towel on the prepared pooris and also the remaining dough to prevent drying)
  • Slide the pooris one by one into the hot oil and let it cook until the underside is golden in color. 
  • Flip each of the pooris over and let the other side turn golden too.
  • Take the pooris out with a slotted spoon onto a paper tissue laden plate and let it rest for a couple of minutes. 
  • Now drop the pooris into the warm syrup, turning them over so they get an even layer of syrup all over. 
  • Take the sugar dipped pooris onto a plate and sprinkle some grated dry or desiccated coconut on top. 
  • Repeat the process for remaining dough. 
  • Make the pooris as thin as you can when you first roll out so the final product doesn't become too thick or bulky. 
  • Make sure yogurt used for the dough is not sour, this is to give the softness in texture and not to act as a leavening agent. 
  • Do not let the pooris sit in the syrup for more than 30-45 seconds. 
  • The syrup should be warm and not hot or cold. 
  • Badam poori tends to soak up the syrup as it cools down and becomes succulent. 
  • I find the water to sugar ratio is perfect for us, if you prefer a much sweeter version, use 1:1 for the syrup.