Posts tagged Indian Cuisine

A pickling story…

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The language used in the label is ‘Telugu’, the main language spoken in the south Indian state I was born in which was recently cut up into two states thanks to greed, conflict and war. I was taught to write in this language since I was 10 and I was a reluctant learner. I don’t do justice to the language when I speak it but I understand it very well. I consider the state my birth place and it saddens me terribly to see it torn up.

I’ve mentioned this state because it is known for its pickles. Pickles made from vegetables, fruit and meat, pickles made to be eaten right away and ones made to last for years, pickles that are enough to make a meal and pickles that make a necessary side dish.

Summer is slowly but surely creeping up on us and Summer back home meant mangoes and mangoes meant pickles. Sunday is the day when families go shopping for the best raw mangoes - the shrill of the market vendors calling out to you, giving you a better deal, handing out a piece to taste. The sourer it is, the harder it is the better. As we kids hang around, our parents/grandparents/relatives fill up bags full of raw mangoes and head over to the next step of the pickle making process.

A bunch of people sit with a huge board and a vicious looking knife, chopping off at mangoes and trying to get business at the same time. After bargaining amidst customers yelling about how they wanted the pieces cut, we wait our turn and count away at the mangoes making sure the number is right.

Then we get onto the Vespa, snuggled between Grandpa and whoever else decides to make it to the market and reach home but not before you pocket a few pieces of cut raw mango to chew on. On reaching home the mango pieces would be washed and laid out on cotton cloth under the sun under watchful eyes lest drooling mouths wander to steal a few pieces. 

The actual pickling process itself was almost sacred. The kitchen would be sterilized, the utensils cleaned and dried, each ingredient measured and most importantly all kids shooed away. Once done, large bharanis are used to store pickles and they are stowed away on attics where they rest for two weeks after which they are brought down and mixed and returned for resting.

Only a month after the actual pickling process are we allowed to taste it and the tasting day is one I wish I could relive. All the kids in the house would gather around Grandma and she would have a huge steel place filled with piping hot steamed sona masoori rice. A generous dollop of ghee in the center and a side of the pickle - the green skin of the mango standing out against the red chilli oil. Our granny would mix it all up(all the time blowing to avoid scalding her fingers) and make balls - a size too big for our mouths but just right to hold in our cupped hands. And we would each devour them till we were over-satiated, eyes streaming, ears smoking and tummies bulging. 

Summer time is the best time ever!

P.S: I’ve never seen the actual process of mango pickling from up close and so I am still very intimidated by it. 

P.S.S: The picture included in this post is NOT Mango. It reads ‘Tomato Roti Pacchadi’ so its a tomato pickle.

I have a single picture for this simply because it was so good. period. It was devoured in less than a week!

I am a supporter of reusing and recycling whenever possible. The bottle you see in this image has been reused. And in all probability will be reused again.

Khubani ka Meetha

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Indian weddings are known for its flamboyance - the colors, jewellery, dance, music and the richness of it all. Additionally another important aspect to Indian weddings is the food. A wedding down south is judged by the number of desserts it serves it’s guests. The food is spoken about months and in some rare cases years later even after the bride and bridegroom are long forgotten.

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One of the famed desserts that used to served at a lot of the “upper” middle class Indian weddings was the shahi Qubani ka Meetha or the royal Apricot dessert. The authentic way to make this luscious and rich dessert involves using the kernel of the apricot and extracting the nut in it to add to the dessert. To be honest I never enjoyed the taste of the almost almond like nut. So in my version I skipped these altogether and went with almonds and cashew nuts instead.

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Key Ingredients:

Dried Apricots - 1 Cup soaked in 1 Cup water for about 5/6 hours. About 250 gms by weight when dry.
Jaggery - 250 gms (you can substitute the jaggery with sugar if you don’t like the taste of jaggery) (& if you prefer less sweetness, you can halve the quantity of sugar but just this once I wouldn’t advise you to)
Vanilla essence - 1/2 tsp (or any flavour you like - like say cardamom.)
Almond slivers - 1 tbsp roasted
Cashew nuts - 1 tbsp roasted
Saffron threads - 1 pinch (optional)

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In a heavy bottomed sauce pan on low flame, cook the apricots with the water that you used to soak it in. For about 25 minutes cook covered till the apricots turn soft and mushy. I used a masher to mash up the apricots to get a uniform consistency.

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Now add the jaggery/sugar(if using) and let cook till the jaggery melts for another 15 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and continue to cook till all the water disappears and the mixture has a jam like consistency. Stir in the vanilla essence. The essence is basically to neutralize the strong apricot and jaggery flavors. Add the almonds and cashew nuts and turn off heat. Garnish with saffron threads if you like.

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Recipe courtesy: Amma

Loss and Chole

Each of us deal with grief and loss in a different way. It might come as no surprise that I turn to food which is not necessarily a good thing. I decided though not to focus on the loss and instead write something about the person.

The one thing we had in common was that we loved food. I loved cooking(& eating) and he enjoyed eating. I come from a family that used to love non vegetarian food - a lot! It came as a big surprise to them when I stopped. For quite a few years after I stopped eating meat, I continued to cook it during family get togethers because people enjoyed it. 

I remember making chicken fry and having it wiped clean by the lot. I remember making baked fish and my uncle insisting on checking if it was cooked every few minutes - by tasting it. 

I have not cooked meat in a long while and have not eaten it either and so I decided to make a dish that we all loved eating and making regardless of the occasion. Chole, chickpeas in a tomato based gravy, eaten with rotis, puri or any form of flat bread or not, but always enjoyed by everyone.

I made a small modification and added a lot more fresh coriander than i usually would. The fresh greens added a flavor and color that was definitely a feast to the eyes and refreshing to the taste buds. This is not your typical chole and you will not find it at your local restaurant so if you’d like, give it a try. This recipe requires no finesse or knife skills but does require patience(waiting for the onion to almost caramelize for example) and ALL of the ingredients.

Ingredients:

Garbanzo beans - 2 cups soaked overnight, cooked and drained (You could alternatively use canned garbanzo beans)

Oil - Canola or Vegetable or Coconut oil - 1 Tbsp 

Onion - 1 Large roughly chopped

Tomatoes - 2 Cups roughly chopped

Garlic - 10 cloves

Ginger - same amount as the garlic roughly chopped up

Green chillis - 2

dry red chillis - 2 (Optional if you don’t prefer too much spice)

Curry leaves - 20-30 leaves

Coriander leaves - 2 bunches cleaned and separated

Salt to taste

How to go about it:

In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onion and garlic and ginger to it. Here is where the patience bit comes in. You need to cook it till the onion starts caramelizing about 15 minutes on medium high flame. (I put in a picture of how the onion should look, above)

This is when you add the tomatoes, chillis and the rest of the ingredients except one bunch of coriander leaves and coo till the tomatoes are real soft. Use the ladle to mash up the tomatoes and let the juice from the tomatoes cook everything else.

Turn off the heat and let this mixture cool just enough to put it into the grinder. Add the fresh coriander bunch that you kept aside earlier and grind to a smooth paste. You don’t want any unsightly lumps. Once the grinding is done add this to a sauce pan and add the garbanzo beans and cook covered for about 20 minutes and then uncovered for another 10 minutes. Make sure to taste and add salt if required. If you want this gravy to be a little less thick, feel free to add water. 

I must advise that you be careful when this gravy starts to come to a boil because it will start spluttering quite a bit. Let it boil for a few minutes and you can turn it off and serve warm. Garnish with roasted cashews and coriander leaves.

This keeps in the fridge for upto 3 days and in the freezer for upto a week (it could keep longer but I haven’t tried longer than that)

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Oats uttappam with peanut chutney

Amma has been asking me to try this recipe since forever now. I finally did and it definitely was worth a blog write up. I will also share a chutney’s recipe here because I promised a friend :)

I could never find a dosa making pan for the longest time. I wanted one which had no edges like the one in this pic. Now it’s here and it’s here to stay! This recipe is health itself - well im probably exaggerating but it really is the healthiest uttappam i’ve had.

Ingredients:

·         1 Cup oats

·         ½ Cup home made yogurt

·         ½ Cup warm Water (Substitute with ½ cup Buttermilk if you like it to taste a little more sour)

·         3 small green chilies finely chopped

·         1 Tomato finely chopped (You can strain the juices and de-seed if you like, we didn’t)

·         Spinach – ¼ cup finely chopped

·         Carrots – ¼ cup finely shredded

·         You can go on and add other vegetables…

Take a glass bowl, and mix in oats and the yogurt and water or buttermilk and let soak for about 15 to 30 minutes. We did this because this was the traditional oats and needed time to get soft. If you have the quick oats then 5-10 minutes would be sufficient. Now add the green chilies, spinach and add salt to taste.

Now heat the dosa pan and tap a drop of oil to it, spread the oats carefully to form any fun shape you like. The batter is going to be slightly gooey and not as easy to spread as dosa/uttapam  batter usually is. Sprinkle the toppings evenly and let cook for about a minute or two. The batter changes color as it starts cooking. Carefully turn over and cook for another minute or two. Do not cook on high heat because that might just end up burning your toppings and not cook the batter through and through.

Serve with some coconut, onion or peanut chutney.

Peanut Chutney:

Ingredients

·         1 Cup peanuts (I use the Indian variety because I like their taste better)

·         Red chilies – 5-10 based on your spice buds

·         Tamarind paste – 2 tbps

·         ¼ Cup onion chopped

·         Coriander -

·         Curry leaves – 10 leaves

·         Salt to taste

Roast peanuts, red chilies, curry leaves and onion for about 5 minutes and let cool. Grind together all the ingredients and add a little water to aid the grinding to a consistency you prefer. Transfer to a serving bowl. Temper using the below ingredients if you like the chutney with tempering. You can skip this step entirely.

·         1 Tsp oil (Use Canola or coconut oil)

·         ¼ tsp mustard

·         ¼ tsp jeera

·         ¼ tsp urad dal and chana dal

·         Curry leaves – about 10 leaves

Heat oil and add the ingredients in the above mentioned order. Pour over the chutney and mix before serving. Serve with warm uttapams for a healthy and happy stomach!

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Healthy(er) Idly

Cricket has been a huge part of the majority of Indian homes and from the looks of it, will continue to be. This has been one religion that marries the whole of our country. Tensions leading to heavy betting and self mutilation(nail biting included) are all part and parcel of this religion.

Fortunately or not the only exposure I’ve had to this game was when my cousin played with his friends in the little make shift playground behind our rented house. That was when I was 10. Pappa was a Tennis fan and so I grew up watching tons of tennis tournaments and having crushes on Agassi and Boris Becker and admiring Steffi Graf. I then grew some more and realized that all my friends knew so much about cricket and I was clueless. I ditched Tennis to try and understand the game that my peer group seemed to be crazy about so that I could “fit in”. I wasn’t very successful - I still dont fit in. I don’t understand the thrill behind every match and I don’t understand the lbw or the wide and I have no clue who the players are anymore - except Tendulkar ofcourse!

So I take comfort in being in my safe place and playing the game that I have come to enjoy - cooking :) One of my favourite comfort food is Idly with THenga or Ulli CHamanthi(Coconut or Onion CHutney). 80% of my school lunches has been idly with sambar or chutney. I’ve never dared to try making the idly batter myself till very recently when the greed for the fluffy steamed rice cake overcame my fear of making its batter.

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Guest post - Chakkara Pongal by Annie

Introducing my first Guest and a dear, dear friend Annie.

Annie and I go back a long way, come May this year it will be 12 years!!! Out of those 12 years we spent only 2 actually ‘studying’ together. The rest of the decade was spent having nightouts(filled with girly gossip), eating out, seeing some of us off at the airport and finally having a grand reunion in NYC in 2009. We haven’t met in almost 2 years now but somehow the 3000 miles just doesn’t feel that much.

Annie is a gentle, smart, intelligent young woman with a gift at doing whatever she does - really well! Be it cracking all those Math sums we all broke our heads over or cooking up delicious food at the blink of an eye. Through this post I want to introduce you all to a beautiful human being I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and what better than with the one dish that is festive and a universal favourite.

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Dhokla/Steamed gram flour cake:

Made from scratch. I wonder how the gujaratis made it before we had Sodium BiCarbonate(NaHCO3)

My Mom gave me this recipe after tempting me with her Dokhlas over Skype. Well, yea she does that when we chat and she’s having her breakfast :)

So I made up my mind to use the last of the besan I had and make some yummy Dokhla. I used low fat yogurt so I think I can call this a healthy Dokhla dish.

What you will need:

Besan/Gram Flour - 1 Cup

Curd - use low fat yogurt - 1/2 Cup

Oil - 1 Tbspn

Turmeric - 1/2 tspn

Sodium Bi Carbonate - 1/2 Tspn***

Tempering:

Oil - 1 Tspn

Mustard - 1/2 Tspn

Ginger - finely chopped 1/2 Tspn

Chilli - finely chopped 1/4 Tspn

Oil to grease the baking dish

Procedure:

In a big glass bowl add gram flour(besan), curd and water. Mix well to make a smooth batter. The batter should be similar to that of a cake batter. Add turmeric and salt and keep aside. Most recipes let you make this instantly but I kept this mixture overnight.

Prepare the steamer/cooker by filling it with water and letting it come to a boil. Meanwhile grease a baking dish/steel dish and keep aside.

Now mix Sodium bi Carbonate/Baking soda oil and lemon juice and immediately add this to the gram flour mixture. The mixture will start frothing thanks to the baking soda and lime mixture. Pour it into the baking dish upto 1” or 2” maximum and steam for about 10-15 minutes. Mine took 15 minutes and keep checking just the way you check a cake. Use a tooth pick and pass it through and it should come clean if its done right!

Heat oil in a small pan and add mustard seeds, ginger and chili allow to splutter. We call this tadka. Pour over the cake and serve hot with mint chutney. The dokhla I’ve had outside has always been spongy and a little wet which made me wonder if people sprinkled it with water. The wet part made sense because it allowed for the dokhla to pass your food pipe easily because when you eat this cake dry, it feels heavy and it also makes you feel thirsty. Another thing to do is drink a lot of water as you eat it ;) I’ve loved this recipe forever now.

As a kid Mom and I used to visit her Gujarati friend, Vasant Aunty pretty often. Each time it was a treat and Vasant Aunty used to make Dokhlas with different types of healthy flours(jowar/bajra). Gujaratis are known for their snacks and sweets and this aunty always seemed to have stuff in her pantry - sweet pickles, sour pickles, papads, sweets, hots and what not… I’ll always have awesome memories of visits to her place…

Off this goes to MLLA # 29 hosted by Lisa, originally Susan’s baby

P.S: My entry to the MLLA28 round up is here. 

4 notes 

Happy Deepawali…

It was simple, quiet and nice for a first time… Not much cooking but we tried to do a bit of pooja to lure Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth into our home… The lamp is still lit and the festive season is on!

We also tried to paint our own diyas, use natural colours for rangoli and make some simple food to avoid over burdening our tummies.

Natural rangoli colours: Mix turmeric with rice powder for some yellow, vermillon for some red and so on and so forth. If you have some glitter from some crafts put that in too… And you always have flowers.

A few glimpses…

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Alu Vada:

What does one do when one gets an atrocious deal like 10 pounds of potatoes for 88 CENTS!!! One gets down and dirty to make Alu Bonda(Fried dumplings dipped in gram flour with a potato stuffing), Alu Curry, Alu Fry and anything with Potato in it. (Alu = Potato) So for a very long potato filled week it was baked potato, and then thai potato curry, simple fried potato, mashed potato and I still have potato left waiting to be worked on…

What you need:

Urad Dal 1 cup cleaned well under running water twice and soaked in water overnight

Onion paste - 1 Tspn (optional as it adds too much water)

Chili paste - 1/2 Tspn (adjust to taste)

Ginger paste - 1/2 Tspn

Coriander - a few stems finely chopped(optional)

Salt to taste

Grind the urad dal with very little or no water to a really fine thick paste. You have to drain out the water and use maybe 1 spoon water while grinding -that’s how i did it and it came out pretty well. Then add all the remaining ingredients and mix really well. The batter is the same consistency as that of the Vada batter maybe just a tad bit runnier.

On the side boil and mash some potato and add a bit of garlic salt and mix really well. Make into small balls and keep aside. Drain all the water from the mashed potato. The balls should be as firm as possible.

Heat oil in a deep bottomed vessel.

Gently roll the potato balls in the batter and just as gently drop them into the oil and deepfry for about a minute or two evenly. An evening snack and lip smacking too!

2 notes 

Kala Chana fry & Green gram curry:

Another uniquely simple dish made as an offering to the Goddess on Dasera. One of the advantages of having so many festivals is the diverse cuisine you get to taste. Each part of India celebrates festivals differently. I have always been told to enjoy dasera in Calcutta and I’m still looking forward to that day. The gujaratis celebrate Navratri by dancing a special dance called ‘Garba’. Having had Gujarati friends and roommates I have heard about how fun the ‘Garba’ is for them. The attire for this dance is very pretty and so is the jewelery.

South Indians(Andhra Pradesh) celebrate this festival differently and there is dance involved called Bathukamma but its completely different from the ‘Garba’ of the ‘West’. There’s also a display of toys and idols of gods as part of the festivities. In Mysore this festival is celebrated for a month where as in other places it celebrated for 9 nights and in the extreme South(Kerala) it is celebrated for just 3 days! Read some more here. The immersion of the idol of a powerful Goddess ‘Durga’ happens on the 10th day in certain parts while in other parts the burning of an evil king ‘Ravana’ is celebrated. The uniqueness of the festival is such that the whole country celebrates - whatever the reasons.

Getting down to the dish:

Black chana/Chickpea/Bengal gram/Kala chana - 1 cup cleaned, soaked overnight and boiled in the microwave for about 20 min. Do not drain the water - keep aside.

Tempering:

Oil - 2 Tspn

mustard - 1 tspn

cumin - 1/2 tspn

dry red chili - 1

urad dal - 1 tspn

ginger - 1” slice finely chopped

curry leaves - 5 finely chopped

turmeric powder - 1/4 tspn

paprika powder - 1/2 tspn

salt to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy bottom vessel and add the ingredients in the order mentioned except for the salt. Saute well and then add the boiled chana along with the water. Cook on high till all the water evaporates. And it’s ready to be served. Kala chana can also be let to sprout and eaten jlt.

Alternate way:

Drain the water from the boiled chana and keep aside. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom vessel and add the ingredients in the order mentioned except for the salt. Put this mixture in the chana and mix well. Add salt to taste.

I did it the first way cause I like my chana to absorb all the flavours of the tempering. As I always say - do it your way, always!

As a bonus…

Green gram curry:

Green gram - 1 Cup cleaned, soaked over night and boiled in the microwave for about 20 minutes. Do not drain the water.

Use the same tempering as above. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom vessel and add the ingredients in the order mentioned except for the salt.Add the boiled green gram and mix well and let it come to a boil. Add salt to taste and your dish is ready to be plated.

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