Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cranberry saaru - a wild berry hits the road towards south(India)

Do you have any funny bones in your body? let us check it out with a quick test today, shall we?
Q: What do I like best? Brexit or Thanksgiving?
A: Brexit, because it made me lose pounds :-)

Ok, I should confess that I am considered somewhat of a stand up comedian at home because of the PJs I keep cracking when in company. So far it has been my family and some close friends that have the privilege(!!) of listening to suffering through my PJs and I thought why not share some with you guys as well since you are all virtually family now. I promise I won't do it very often (nothing to jeopardize the readership on the blog) and also will release only certified & quality controlled jokes here on the blog. By that I mean, I will sift and select from my vast repertoire of 'no-good' jokes to find those rare gems that brought atleast a hint of smile on BH's face, the poor guy on the other hand has no choice but to listen to them in person and also read them on the blog :-), double whammy!! Let me know how you enjoyed the funny line (I can see BH holding his breath and hoping I won't get a lot of encouragement on this path..)
But jokes aside, I seriously ate a lot during last weekend, it seemed like the entire universe was conspiring me to just let go of all reservations and eat. DD was home, I was happy, there was easy access to good food, weekend was cold and needed to be fueled and on & on.. all good reasons to gorge on food right? This is what I call stress free eating :-). I still have a few more calorie rich, terrific items in the drafts but I needed to post something that is non greasy, plain, not too creamy but flavorful dish right now and hence the other recipes will have to stay in the drafts for a little longer until I can actually bring myself to look at all those other(mouth watering) pictures.
I have mentioned about our Thanksgiving family tradition and as always went to get some fresh cranberries for the chutney. I love the color of these berries and honestly think they are the best looking berries too. Just because it was on sale(don't judge me, doesn't the 'on sale' label get to most of us mortals?), I got 2 - 12oz packets of the fresh berries. The first packet was opened and made into a lipsmacking south indian chutney loaded with roasted fenugreek and mustard while the second one got left out in the vegetable crisper for 5 days. After DD left, BH & I wanted to try eating a lot of vegetables with no or very little rice/millet/oats/wheat etc.. We have done this a few times before as well and while I don't like to call it 'cleanse diet', it definitely is cleaner and simpler food (lot of fresh salads, lentils, flavored butter milk and loads of sauteed & seasoned vegetables) and we don't feel the need for adding rice or roti. Surely something I hope everyone gets to experience once in a while purely out of choice. Disclaimer: This diet definitely is not for all age groups and people with varying degrees of physical activity because it has missing food groups.

Every time I opened the refrigerator, the plump, pink berries would look at me and ask if I had any plans for them. As I was attacking vegetables most of the week, day after day, I kept disappointing them and ignored their plea to be out of the refrigerator. Weekends & holidays are my 'think' days as far as cooking is concerned. Weekdays are just a mad rush and I prefer to cook 'tried & tested stuff' which brings me comfort & joy in cooking and eating while avoiding any brain activity needed for new recipes or inventions. The best benefit of cooking on weekdays (other than ofcourse creating yummy food to eat) is that I unwind as I cook. I am all for improvisations as it goes with the flow and helps me relax but most days I am not upto creating something new. So come Saturday, a week after Thanksgiving I was ready to pick up these beautiful berries and play with them. And play I did. The regular chutneys and thokku would not work because there are still multiple varieties of chutneys in the fridge slowly getting finished and I had to think of something different & new.

Come to think of it, a cranberry is a sour, tangy berry with a unique flavor. I decided to make a south indian saaru (or rasam) which is a flowing liquid with or without lentils, seasoned with spice powders or fresh herbs and served as an appetizer or first course drink. I could have called this pink drink as soup instead of saaru but since I seasoned it with mustard I feel saaru is a more aptly suited name than soup. At once tangy and spicy with a faint hint of sweetness, this drink can don on multiple hats and doesn't really care how you address it. You may decide to skip the seasoning and make it truly 'soup-ey', I will leave that to you and won't even claim copyright on it :-)
I was thinking of the quintessential lemon saaru while making this one and hence ended up adding a piece of ginger. Sometimes accidental discoveries are worth more than you imagined. The combination of cranberry & ginger is unique and totally delicious, and the possibilities are endless. So do give this a try. The saaru turned out just perfect, as a drink and as an accompaniment with rice. The color reminds me of the rasam made with kokum (another tamarind substitude used widely in the Konkan regions), a very pleasing pink. Now that I know cranberries work in my dishes, I am going to use the remaining ones in Huli/Sambar today. If you look for presentation quotient in your dishes, then use cranberries for that beautiful hue it imparts to the dishes, I simply love the color.
What do you need to make Cranberry saaru?
1 cup of fresh cranberries
1 inch piece of fresh ginger
3-4 dry red chilies
1 Tsp crushed jaggery/brown sugar
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup grated coconut
few curry leaves
1 Tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbsp oil (use ghee if you like)
1 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/8 Tsp asafoetida

How do you make Cranberry saaru? 
  • Pour cranberries into a bowl of water and pick out any mushy berries and discard. 
  • Wash the remaining berries. 
  • Add cleaned berries, salt, chopped ginger and pieces of dry red chilies into a blender along with 1/2 cup of water and blend into a fine paste. 
  • Transfer the ground paste into a stock pot, add water to get it to the desired consistency. 
  • Tear the curry leaves and add it in, add jaggery. 
  • Bring the saaru mixture to a gentle boil on medium heat. 
  • In the meantime, take the grated coconut to a blender jar along with 1/2 cup water and grind into a very smooth paste. I did this to avoid extracting coconut milk and also to not discard coconut. See notes for alternatives. 
  • Add chopped cilantro (if using), let saaru boil for a couple of minutes before switching it off and setting it aside.
  • Heat oil in a seasoning pan, add mustard & cumin. When mustard starts to pop, add asafoetida. Let the seeds crackle before pouring it into saaru. 
  • Cover the vessel and let the flavor mingle. 
  • You can serve this as a appetizer or use it to mix with rice. 
  • I used dry Byadagi chilies and did not roast them before grinding. If you wish, roast the chilies in a couple drops of oil until they crisp up and use. 
  • Use green chilies instead of or in combination with red chilies if you like that taste. I wanted to preserve the color of the berries and didn't want to add specks of green. 
  • I intentionally avoided saaru pudi/rasam powder in this recipe to keep the flavors simple. 
  • If you want the saaru consistency to be very thin, extract coconut milk from the ground coconut and add only the milk. 
  • You can use store bought canned coconut milk or regular milk in this recipe. Keep the milk at room temperature and reduce heat before adding it.