Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Every cook has a few dishes which they can prepare blindfolded, and which they know will always turn out great, because they have mastered them over years of practice. I have a few such in my repertoire, including black-as-midnight-chocolate cake, which I will blog about at some point. Among Kannadiga dishes, my specialties are saaru and Bisi Bele bhaath. I'm not so good with huli ( sambar) and even my kootu, to my palate, doesn't taste as good as my mom's but in saaru I can say with confidence that I'm pretty good ( provided I have my mom's rasam powder at hand!)
Saaru anna is a favourite of my picky son's as well, and my non-spice eating husband too has grown to enjoy it over the years so we had a nice, kannadiga dinner of saaru anna with bendekayi ( bhindi) sabzi and mosaru anna ( curd rice). Only thing missing, because we have run out, was my mom's no oil lemon pickle with the curd rice. As always, I did take pictures and will upload them tonight, hopefully.
Saaru, Mysore style
1/2 cup arhar dal, well cooked ( should be slushy/ melting)
2 tbsp rasam powder
Lime sized lump of jaggery
Lime sized lump of tamarind, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 10 minutes
1/2 litre water
Salt to taste
1-2 tomatoes ( depending on their juiciness/ sourness)
2 tsp Ghee ( homemade)
1 tsp mustard seeds, black
handful curry leaves
Pinch heeng ( Asafoetida)
Garnish - chopped coriander leaves
Squeeze all the juice out of the tamarind into the hot water in which it is soaked. Strain the liquid so you end up only with the tamarind juice, no tamarind lumps.
Put this liquid onto boil on a high flame. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes until the sour, sharp smell of tamarind dissipates.
Add the jaggery, a few curry leaves, pinch of turmeric and the rasam powder. Let this concoction boil for 4-5 minutes until the ingredients start giving off a seasoned smell of rasam, as opposed to the 'raw' smell they started with. Now add the lentils and use a whisk to mix everything, so the lentils get smushed even further and mingle with the spices and tamarind water.
Add the half litre of water and the tomatoes and let boil for about 8 minutes. There should be an orangey froth on top. Pull out the tomatoes and mash them between two spoons/ in a mortar and pestle and add them back to the saaru. Add salt to taste.
The taste should be a balanced mix of salty, spicy and sour with an underlying note of sweetness, with none of the flavours overpowering the other. You can take the saaru off the heat at this point and make the tempering: Heat the ghee. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop. Once they stop popping, add the heeng and handful of curry leaves and switch off the burner ( else the curry leaves can catch fire!). Garnish with the coriander.
Serve hot, with hot rice ( parmal for choice as it gets softer and mixes better with the saaru).
Saaru anna is one of the staples at my mom's house and we have all grown up eating this for a meal once in two days. It tastes great with any typically south Indian palya (vegetable) - beans ( with coconut dressing), green banana, bendekaayi. It also goes well with aloo-simla mirch or north Indian style bhindi with tomatoes and onions, and needs little else to round off the meal except mosaru anna.
Saaru made like this also tastes great as a soup in winters, and we have served it that way many a time. One tip I learned from one of my aunts: if you're cooking the arhar dal specifically for rasam, cook the tomatoes alongside. For some reason, the flavour gets more pronounced, and the saaru comes out a redder colour.
Another thing - the lentils for saaru are usually not cooked until mushy and therefore they tend to sink while the top layers are clear ( tili). You can ask for the saaru tili or charata ( the dal portion), and kids are typically fed tili saaru-anna. I prefer to have a more wholesome mix of dal and tili so I came up with whisking mushily cooked lentils - it makes for a fuller bodied saaru. However if you plan to serve this as soup, don't smush up the lentils, let them sink to the bottom, and serve only the clear layers.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Well, guess what? We're still driving around in automobiles and since roads are material, unlike thin air, we do constantly get stuck in traffic jams. Clothing has moved through cycles of contricting to deconstructed and few people live in boots. And while we do pop pills, that's over and above food. Which I am thankful for, because food is just so intrinsically connected with emotion, for many cultures but particularly so in India, that living without food would be like wiping out emotions. I'm just not ready for that stage of emotional detachment yet - Nirvana can wait while I gulp down some chaat at the nearest street corner!
We all have our own versions of comfort food. For most men, I think, it tends to be the food their mothers made, as that is probably one of the most tension-free relationships they have ever had or will have. For Madhur Jaffrey, one of my favourite food-writers, it's mucilaginous food like moong ki daal which she describes as her first favourite food. For me, it has to do with starchy carbs like potatoes and arbi. Whenever I'm feeling stressed or low, I tend to turn towards these veggies and they have to be cooked in a particular way, too. When I think about it, I find it a little strange because you would think something I ate at my mother's home, like saaru-anna, would be more like it, but no, it's potatoes.
My stress-relief potato sabzi is dry and spiced, with no added fallals like onions or tomatoes to get in the way. I typically have this veggie with rotis, but it tastes great with dal chawal, curd-rice or even saaru-anna (rasam chawal). I have even been known to eat it by itself with a bowl of curd. This flexi-veg can even go into an old-fashioned sandwich the next morning - the kind made in a square contraption into which you place 2 slices of bread with a veggie or some filling in the middle and then hold over the gas stove for it to get toasted. One of the nice things about this recipe is that apart from being fool-proof it takes only about 15 minutes to make - sometimes simplicity is divine!
Potatoes, washed, boiled, peeled and cubed ( We typically count 1 large potato per head and 2 for the pot)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp/ to taste chilli powder
salt to taste
Put the oil into a wok ( preferably non-stick). When hot, pop in the turmeric and cumin seeds. When the cumin turns darker, add the potatoes and turn flame to medium-low. Cook slowly, turning occasionally, until the potatoes turn browned and crisp on the outside. Add salt and chilli powder to taste. Stir to mix and serve hot.
You can replace the boiled potatoes with boiled arbi ( colocasia) which also tastes great, though I prefer slicing the arbi rather than cubing it, to ensure it turns crisp. Even jimikand tastes good this way. If you want to jazz it up, you can add amchur (dry mango powder) and a touch of heeng ( asafoetida) and top it with coriander leaves for garnish.
My ajji ( grandma) makes a version of this beloved by all her grandkids but requiring the kind of patience only a grandma can summon up. She cuts the potatoes into really fine cubes - about 1/2 cm square - and then slow cooks them until each and every golden piece is crisp, before salting and chilli-ing them. It looks ( and tastes) great and I would love to serve this at a party but who has the patience to make it?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
On Sundar morning, I decided that we were going to have Khara Bhath (Spicy rice) with majjige huli - Kannadiga Kadhi. This is a classic combo, often made on festive days at my mother's house, where the festive meal has some staples including a spiced rice dish. Vangi is what eggplant or brinjal is called in Marathi, and I guess the Karnataka-Maharashtra border adopted the word for mutual use some centuries ago. This dish was again one of our staples when students in France, as it is quick to make if you keep the masala powder handy. At a pinch you can improvise by just using sambar powder/ huli pudi, but I like to make this and keep it around, as it is also an excellent topping to perk up something boring, like cabbage or beans sabzi.
Majjige huli, or Kannadiga style kadhi is very different from the North Indian kind, because it has no besan, for one thing. It is preferably made with slightly sour yoghurt, and with a vegetable added in, so that it is light and healthy. It tastes great with any type of Khaara bhaath, and also goes well with just plain rice, or with rotis. You can even serve it as soup, if it is thinned out a little. My favourite kind is made with palak, since I'm a green-leafy lover, but sometimes I just make it plain so it brings out the taste of the Khaara Bhaath better. The vegetables typically added are drumsticks, cut into 2-3 inch segments and boiled or white gourd ( booj kumbalakai in Kannada).
Khaara Bhath (It is called vangi bhath only if you add eggplant)
2 handsful dry coconut
1 cup dried chillies
1 cup dhania seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1 handful urad dal
1 handful chana dal
Dry roast all the ingredients, with maybe just a drop or two of oil. Let cool and dry grind, adding a pinch of heeng (asafoetida) and turmeric. This can be stored for about a month, but if keeping for longer, park it in the fridge so the coconut doesn't start smelling oily.
Carrots, cut into 2 inch sticks
Eggplant cut into 2 inch long strips ( preferably the long green variety, else the small purple ones)
Green bell peppers, cut the same way
Potatoes, cut the same way
You can infinitely vary the vegetables added in, as per your taste. To make the dish, cook 1 cup rice ( the grains should be fluffy and separate) for 3-4 people. Cook the vegetables separately in an oil + mustard seeds + curry leaves tadka. You can park the veggies in the tadka and then shut the pan for some time, to ensure they are well-cooked. Make sure the veggies are cooked but not soggy, they should have a slight bite to them.
Assemble the rice and veggies, and add the above masala to your taste, along with salt. Khaara bhath is really easy to make and throw together with whatever veggies you have in your fridge at the time. It makes a great one-dish meal for busy days, with a bowl of curd on the side and some chips for added crunch.
1 handful coriander leaves or seeds
1 small piece ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp chana dal, soaked for half hour
1/2 grated coconut, or 1 cup dry coconut reconstituted in hot water
1 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 green chillies
2-3 black peppercorns
Grind everything together till it becomes a smooth paste. Bring 1/2 litre sour yoghurt to boil on low heat and add the masala paste to this. Stir to mix and boil, adding water in case you feel the mix is too thick. Keep it boiling for 5-7 minutes. Add a tadka or seasoning of oil, curry leaves, mustard seeds and a dry red chilly for interest.
This meal can be perked up with some papads and a curd rice with lime pickle, for a wonderful Kannada style meal.
I did finally get around to taking pictures of our sunday lunch but they're still on my digicam, so you'll have to wait till I upload them. I had been uploading pics found on google but a fellow food-blogger brought to my attention that this is violation of IP ( Thanks, Anita) so I have taken off all the old pics and will have to get my lazy hiney off the couch and upload my own pics which may take a while!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Our diet has a large quantity of vegetables - green and colourful, raw and cooked - at every meal. The dals are cooked with a minimal quantity of oil. We use whole wheat and therefore higher fiber flour for our bread than the maida that westerners use. All the spices that go into our food are recently being investigated by the West as health-enhancers, be it turmeric or cloves. Our recipes, particularly the traditional ones, have an innate balance between the ingredients for taste and health - rare is the potato bhaaji or chana daal dish that does not have ginger, for instance. Cultured yoghurt is a staple of every meal too.
I found out recently that different vegetables will taste different to people because of their genetic make-up. It would be only natural to assume that food also acts differently on people because of their DNA, so while I think basic common sense should apply to food choices ( i.e. if you eat fried food all the time you're gonna fall sick/ become obese, whether it's indian fried food or not!), we are broadly ok following our traditional food habits.
I also came across some research about cultural attitudes and how they are shaped by our Stone Age past - cultures which were based on hunting and gathering have very different attitudes to cultures which were based on farming - the former tend to be more individualistic and independent while the latter tend to be more socially oriented and interdependent. If our cultural attitudes are still shaped by something which happened so far in the past, isn't it likely that our reactions to food are also shaped by our past? That would explain why the west, particularly the Northern part of the West, would have health problems with a carb-rich diet whereas the east and the Southern part of the West (Italy?) - would lean towards more vegetables and carbs.
I'm off to have my healthy indian lunch now - sprouted moong salad.
half cup sprouted green moong
1 cucumber, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato if you like, chopped
Juice of 1/2 - 1 lime
salt to taste
Black pepper powder or chaat masala
Just mix everything up and let chill for an hour. If you're a garlic fan and not in office ( as I am unfortunately), you can add a bit of crushed garlic too. Enjoy on a hot summer's day along with a glass of majjige ( double-toned home made dahi blended with coriander leaves, salt and a green chilli, and water if you like it thin, and garnished with kari patta and mustard seeds tadka ).
Sunday, August 19, 2007
A few years ago when we were visiting family in Bangalore, my uncle heard that it was one of A's favourite meals and promptly decided to make it for a family gathering. It was one of the most amazing huggis (hu pronounced like flue, and the i dragged out to sound like ee) that I have ever tasted. Of course the dish passed into family legend because A got the names of the dish and the accompaniment mixed up and called it hoggu-gujji instead of huggi-gojju. Now the whole extended family calls it Hoggu-gujji!
Last weekend our cook had taken the day off and I decided to make this for our saturday lunch, as little A and littler a love it too. As usual, it turned out great and was a testament to the fact that the simplest things are sometimes also the most enjoyable.
1 cup rice ( parmal for choice, though you can use Basmati. I like the way parmal rice softens and mingles with the moong dal)
2 cups dehulled moong dal
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black pepper corns
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp ghee (homemade only!)
1 handful grated dessicated coconut
1.5 litres water approx.
Salt to taste
1. Clean and wash the rice and drain.
2. Clean and wash the moong dal and soak it in water for 10 minutes, while you are preparing the other ingredients.
3. Put the pressure cooker onto medium heat, and add the ghee.
4. toss in the cumin seeds when the ghee is hot. Wait for them to turn toasty, then add the turmeric, cloves and pepper. the cloves typically start splitting - wait for them to finish.
5. Add the coconut and stir, then roast the coconut until it turns a light brown colour.
6. Add the moong dal and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the rice and stir to mix.
8. Add the water and stir, then add salt to taste.
9. Put the lid on and cook until 2 whistles of the cooker (about 15-20 minutes).
10. Once the cooker has cooled down, open the lid and check to see if everything has cooked properly - the moong dal should turn mushy when you stir the dish. In case the dish has turned thick and solid-ey, just add a bit of hot water. I like this dish to be mildly runny, like scrambled eggs but my mother prefers it solid - suit yourself on that.
You can top the dish with roast cashews and fried slivers of dessicated coconut if you wish. Some people also add a bit of chopped ginger to it. Huggi is usually made with equal proportions of rice and moong dal, but my uncle made it this way and it tasted divine so I've done the same ever since. The more coconut you add, the more scrumptious it tastes - so rejoice if you don't have any cholesterol worries!
1 lemon sized ball of tamarind
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 lime sized ball of jaggery, or failing that 2 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 green chillies
1 fistful fresh grated coconut
2 tsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
Pinch asafoetida (heeng)
1. Soak the tamarind in a large cup of hot water for 10 minutes.
2. Dry roast the sesame, mustard and fenugreek seeds and grind them into a fine powder.
3. Add the turmeric, chillies and coconut and wet grind the mixture till it is finely ground.
4. Squeeze the tamarind into the watr until you have extracted all the flavour.
5. Strain this liquid into a pan and put it on medium heat.
6. Let the tamarind liquid simmer for a few minutes so it loses the sharp smell of tamarind.
7. Add the masala mix to this and add salt and the jaggery. Stir to mix and turn up the heat to max.
8. Let it boil for sometime (7-8 minutes) until the liquid thickens to a maple syrup consistency.
9. Take off the heat and make the tempering - heat the 2 tsp oil and pop in the black mustard seeds. When they are done popping, add the curry leaves and asafoetida and take off the heat. pour this over the tamarind sauce and stir.
10. Taste the tamarind sauce to check for the right balance of flavours - it should be spicy, salty, sour and sweet all at once - quite heavenly.
11. If you want, you can add vegetables to the gojju at the stage when you start boiling it. Typical additions are green or small purple eggplant, cut into 2 inch segments, lady's fingers cut the same way or pumpkin segments. The eggplant or lady's fingers are cooked in oil before being added while the pumpkin is boiled. I prefer to add my own touch - green bell peppers cut into 1 inch pieces and cooked in oil, or julienned onions.
The best - and the traditional - way to eat huggi-gojju is like this: Serve a mound of huggi onto your plate. Add a dollop of ghee to it and mix well. Make it into a circle with a hole/ well at the centre. Ladle the gojju into the well. Mingle the two handful by handful or spoonful by spoonful as you eat - do not mix the whole thing at one go! Add more gojju when required. Wash down the meal with neer more or salted buttermilk.
Gojju also tastes great eaten with rotis or plain rice. A family favourite is to use it as an accompaniment with plain curd rice. We have also been known to eat it with plain curd as a snack!
I did mean, for once, to take pictures of everything but we had been running around doing errands all morning and by the time we got home, we were too hungry and tired to remember a camera!
Home made Ghee (tuppa)
Half kg unsalted butter
Put this onto medium heat in a wok or kadhai.
Wait till it melts and turn the heat down low.
Let it keep cooking away until the liquid at the bottom turns pale brown and stops bubbling. There will be milk solids at the top so you will have to blow/ swat them away with a spoon to check the liquid at the bottom.
It should emit a lovely, warm, nutty aroma by then.
Let it cool, then strain through a fine muslin cloth into a steel box.
It can stay for up to 2 months, but try to refrigerate it if you live somewhere very hot, as it is liable to start tasting a bit like vanaspati otherwise.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
- Wash the eggplant, dry it and roast it on a gastop or in an oven, turning it over from time to time, till fully cooked all the way inside. The outside skin will be charred black and the kitchen will reek - be warned! Peel off the skin once the eggplant has cooled down, and mash the inside flesh finely.
- Put the oil on to heat.
- Once hot, add the cumin seeds.
- Wait for them to brown a bit, then add the green chillies, onion and garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes until the onions are on their way to browning.
- Add the tomatoes, stir to mix and cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are mushy.
- Add the eggplant, mix everything together and cook for a few more minutes so the flavours meld together.
- Add salt to taste and sprinkle coriander on top before serving.
Bharta tastes great with rotis, mosaru anna (dahi chawal - curd rice) and even with crusty bread for a snack. I've even enjoyed it with crackers, but that could be just me! Another fun thing to do with leftover bharta is to park it in a glass dish, sprinkle mozzarella or parmesan cheese on top and pop in the oven till the cheese melts.
I also have a 'rustic' recipe for bharta that I once read in a film magazine as Jackie Shroff's recipe. It's a quick and fun way to cook and it really does make a difference to the taste of the bharta.
1 purple large, round eggplant
2-3 cloves garlic
2 green chillies
2 tsp oil if you must!
- Wash and dry all the ingredients.
- Cut 5 narrow slits in the eggplant and put in the garlic cloves and the green chillies.
- Roast the eggplant over the gas stove ( wood/ coal may be more authentic but what to do, I'm a city chick!) , turning from time to time, until charred on the outside and cooked inside.
- Remove eggplant and put the onion and tomato on to roast while eggplant cools.
- Take out the garlic cloves and green chillies and put them into the serving bowl. Peel the charred skin off the eggplant and park that too in the bowl.
- Once the tomato and onion are roasted, add those to the bowl, having first peeled both.
- Mash everything up (use your hands, this is fun!) together, then add salt to taste. At this stage you can go all slick and add the oil or some coriander. But the real joy of this is the robust flavour and smokiness of all the ingredients so I prefer not to make it dainty! At best, I slit a couple of green chillies and toss them on top of the dish.
Though it is completely non-decorative, especially as compared to other party food, I like to serve this when we have people over and it always goes down a treat. And you have the added benefit of a story to go with it!
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
My dad came across a wonderfully crisp bhindi recipe when he was working with former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. This dish was pretty much always on the menu there, and he liked it so much he asked my mom to experiment and come up with a version at home for us. My mom is a great cook, so her version (having never tasted the PM House one, can't compare) is delicious. My son eats kurkuri bhindi every single day - and it's one dish that always whips up an appetite in him. A, on the other hand, hates kurkure bhindi, so we have bhindi cooked two different ways whenever we make it for the adults in the house.
This tastes good with all kinds of things and is a very versatile dish. It goes well with roti or dal chawal. I like to add this to yoghurt just before serving, as a raita. You can even add it to a plain dal just before serving to perk up the flavour. It even works as a papad substitute with rice or pulao. Amazingly, it also serves as an interesting starter, served with a yoghurt dip or hummus!
- Half kilo bhindi, washed and dried well; topped and tailed, then sliced into 1 cm thick rounds
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 red onion, chopped small
- 2-3 green chillies
- teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp aamchur (mango powder)
- salt to taste
- coriander leaves for garnish
- 1 tbsp oil
Heat the oil in a wok.
Add the cumin seeds and wait for them to turn toasty.
Add the onions and cook until they are browning.
Add the tomatoes and cook further, until the tomatoes are somewhat soft.
Add the bhindi and stir to mix. At this stage, add the aamchur - it helps keep the bhindi from turning slimy.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bhindi is cooked through - it will turn soft, almost mushy.
Add salt to taste.
This is a regular at the dinner table, and goes well with rotis, dahi chawal, daal chawal or saar-anna. The trick is to cook the onions until they are brown - this adds a wonderful touch of sweetness to the dish.