Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Green goodness

I remember this small salad and soup place that used to exist in Vasant Vihar called Salad Chef. They used to have a salad dressing that always fascinated me, called green goddess. Being a huge fan of green leafies, I expected something that would thrill the tastebuds with the flavour of 'greenness'. Now i have no memory of how it even tasted, but I had that name in mind when, the day after our Eid Party, I decided to rustle up a simple, light but nutritious meal for us all.

I rootled around in the fridge and found a bundle of spinach - what could be better? I decided not to go with a set recipe but to just add and subtract things, and it turned out rather well - if i do say so myself, and easy to make too.

1 bunch spinach, washed, chopped roughly
1 red onion, chopped into chunks
4-5 green garlic stalks ( you can substitute with garlic pods but you won't get the earthiness that this provided), chopped
750 ml water
250 ml milk
1/2 cup well beaten plain curds/ yoghurt
Olive oil
2 tsp mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Put in a good glug of good olive oil on to heat in a wok.
Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent.
Add the spinach and cok, stirring occasionally, until wilted.
Cool and puree the vegetables finely, adding a little water if you need to.
Pour the pureed vegetables back into the pan with the 750 ml water, add the mustard and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the milk (I prefer double toned but full cream would taste rather good!).
Cook for a few minutes more and turn off the heat.
Add the salt and pepper, and then pour in most of the yoghurt and whisk the soup so it gets nicely mixed in.
Garnish each bowl of soup with a swirl of the yoghurt that is left.

It would taste great with croutons or a baguette on the side.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

These are a few of my favourite foods...

This is an interesting meme from Please answer these in the comments box here or on lulu's blog and or in your own blog and post a link back!

-> the aroma that comes to mind when you are hungry
Can't think of a specific aroma actually, but one smell that starts me craving is that of buttered popcorn - impossible to resist.

->a snack you always carry with you
khatta aam papar

-> what's on your wish-list when you are happiest?
Pasta, chaat, something exotic

-> your most memorable meal?
a five course specially pre-ordered vegetarian french meal at a little restaurant near fontainebleau

-> a dish you have cooked for a loved one
Chocolate chestnut cake for my husband's 40th birthday; chholey bhaturey for his birthday every year; eggless cake for my grandma's 80th birthday

-> a cuisine you have heard about, and are keen to sample?

-> the most outrageous food you have come across?
Deep fried beetles

-> your favourite from your mom's kitchen?
Saaru anna ( rasam and rice); kheer with saame ka chawal, coconut obbattu

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey has a great Monthly Mingle event for November, and what could be better than traditional indian food for that, eh?

We have become pretty slack about entertaining, with our busy schedules and busier weekends. But once a year we have an Eid party, on the weekend as close to Eid as possible, where we invite all our friends and family. This event has become something of a landmark because all our friends know they'll meet each other here. Our guest list has also expanded as we have gotten to know more neighbours and changed jobs. Last year it touched an all time high of 105 people, of which 92 showed up, which was incredible.

Over the years, the menu has also become more or less set. I'm vegetarian so we order in the Biryani and mutton kebabs from a place called Matka Pir. The veg stuff is all cooked at home. I usually cook up something like a spiced rice dish - pulao, puliyogare, bisibele bhath or something. We make vegetarian kebabs and every year try out something new. And the dessert has been Badaam halwa for the past 5 years since we started hosting the event. I made it the first year as something that was easy, and it became such a hit that I now get threatening phone calls from friends to not even think of skipping it.

This year we had the party a little late since I was travelling the weekend of Eid and we need a full weekend before the party to start the preparations. The task of soaking and then peeling 2 and a half kilos of badaams takes that kind of time with all the rest of the stuff we have to do. I remember one year my husband offered to help with the peeling. We both sat down after dinner and began. After about an hour at the task, he says, "Oh we must be all done" and lookds down at the pan. We hadn't finished more than a quarter of the badaams. that's when he realised how much goes into the halwa!

I try and make the bisibele powder a week ahead so that's out of the way. And our annual spring cleaning + hunt for things like strings of twinkling lights which we have usually stowed away so safely the previous year that they are now MIA keeps us busy. It's actually quite a lesson in organisation skills and management skills to pull it off, though now we have got our act down pat. We make things easy by using paper plates, spoons, glasses and cups though for the cocktails we keep out our best glassware. My philosophy is 'better enjoyed and broken than untouched'.

This year I came back to old favourite Bisi Bele Bhath ( which my father's side of the family refers to as RC - reinforced concrete - because it is so heavy). I find it pretty easy to make, as long as the spice mix is ready in advance. I find that most restaurants don't do a good job of this dish. Somehow it tastes more like plain huli-anna - sambar rice - which is not the idea. For vegetarians, I experimented with my own recipe for jimikand kebabs a month back and they turned out so well we served those. And I received the supreme compliment for the badaam halwa - one of my friends told me she dreamt about it two days back!

Of course, this year pre-party we had quite a few panic moments. The ice arrived late. We had power cuts all day. And the gardener had washed down our terrace really well so it was sparkling clean, but in the process emptied the overhead tank of water, so we literally had all the taps in the house running dry. Luckily since my parents stay a few houses away, we farmed out our bathing to their place! At the end of all the running aroung, our house was sparkling, the terrace looked magical, and everyone had a good time. What more can you ask for?

Bisibele Bhaath

1 cup dry red chillies
1 cup coriander seeds
1 tsp jeera
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
10 laung
10 peppercorns
1 tbsp chana dal
1/2 tbsp urad dal
1 tsp turmeric
1 stick cinnamon bark
Handful dessicated coconut, grated
Large pinch asafoetida ( heeng)

For the powder:
Dry roast the coriander seeds and the red chillies together, stirring constantly, with 2-3 drops of oil in the bandley (wok) until the red chillies turn shiny and the coriander seeds start giving off an aroma. Keep them aside to cool.
Dry roast the chana dal until it starts turning mildly brown, then add the urad dal and roast until both the dals are crisp and reddish. Keep aside to cool.
Dry roast the fenugreek and mustard seeds along with the cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon bark. When the fenugreek seeds turn slightly brown, add the dessicated coconut and roast until it too turns brown. By this time your kitchen will have a wonderfully warm, spicy aroma. Lastly, add the asafoetida, stir for a couple of seconds, and keep the misture aside to cool.

Powder the coriander seeds and red chillies together first. Then add the chana dal and urad dal and grind finely. Lastly add the spice mix and grind into a fine powder. Put the mixture into a glass jar and stir so that all the ingredients are well mixed. At this stage you can add the turmeric, which helps the keeping property of the powder. This powder can last up to 6 months if stored in a cool, dry place.

For the Bhaath:
1 cup arhar dal ( toovar dal)
1 cup rice
Lump of jaggery
1 lemon sized lump of tamarind soaked in warm water
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp Oil
bisibele powder - 2-3 tbsp
1 tbsp ghee (tuppa)
Half cup cut cashews
2 sprigs of curry leaves
2 tsp mustard seeds

Cook the arhar dal and rice together in a pressure cooker, with a tbsp of oil and a pinch of turmeric. I like my Bisibele bhaath to be liquid-ey rather than solid so I add extra water to the cooker.
Once the dal and rice are cooked, squeeze the tamarind ball into the warm water so it releases tamarind juice, and strain the juice into the cooker of rice + dal.
Stir and cook on a low flame until the sour tamarind smell goes.
Add the jaggery in small quantities, along with the salt and the bisibele bhaath powder, and a little oil. Stir to mix, and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Taste to check on salt and jaggery, and add more powder if you want it more spicy. Add more water if the mixture turns too thick, and cook for about 15 minutes.

For the garnish, put the ghee on to heat. I always use home made ghee which tastes and smells so much better. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to stop spluttering. Add the cashews and stir until they turn light brown. Add the curry leaves and switch off the heat.

Serve the Bisibele hot, topped with the garnish. You can serve a simple cucumber raita on the side, along with upperi ( plain potato chips) or sandige ( fried spiced puffed-rice balls) and Baalaka (fried spiced dried chillies). Bisi bele bhaath is one dish that improves with keeping, so you can actually make it a day ahead of a party, which saves a lot of bother as well. I'm just afraid to because of the bad electricity situation in our millennium city!

Jimikand Kebabs

1 yam, peeled, cut into pieces and boiled
2 tsp aam chur ( dry mango powder)
1 cup hung curds
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
2 red onions, chopped fine
4-5 garlic pods, crushed
Red chilli powder to taste
1 inch piece of ginger, crushed
Salt to taste
2-3 slices of bread, blitzed into powder
Half cup besan ( chickpea flour)

Mash the cooked yam pieces into a pasty mess. Add all the other ingredients to get the kebab dough ready, except the besan.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Make 25 equal-sized little balls of the dough and flatten them. Dip them into the besan to make sure they hold together well.
Shallow fry on both sides until nicely browned.
Serve hot with a tzatziki type dip, mint-coriander leaf chutney or ketchup.

Will blog about the halwa later as I have to rush now.

Updated to include Badaam Halwa

Badaam Halwa is a lovely and rich dessert, made only of sinful things like pure ghee, almonds and sugar. It tastes divine and anyone who has it once comes back for more despite his/ her best intentions.

1 cup almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee ( clarified butter)
a little milk ( about 1/2 cup)
5-6 strings of saffron

Soak the badaam so the peel gets loosened and peel them. Puree them with as little of the milk as you can add to still get a very fine puree.
Soak the saffrom strands in 1 tsp hot milk until the orange colour infuses the milk.
Put the sugar into a pan and add 1/4 cup water. Let it cook on a medium flame until it gets a one-string consistency. ( You can test this by dipping your index finger into the syrup and then pressing your finger and thumb together and then pulling them apart. If you get one strand of sugar syrup between your thumb and finger that's it. But be careful - this syrup can burn the skin off your hand!)
Put in the almond paste, turning the heat to low and add the saffron. Cook, stirring frequently but slowly until the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan.
At this juncture, add the ghee (clarified butter) little by little until the mixture takes on a halwa texture and stops sticking to the pan. Keep stirring throughout the process!

Serve hot or cold. This quantity would be enough for about 10 people ( it's very rich).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pizza for breakfast

I always find it interesting how our cultures influence the way we feel about different foods. For most of us from India, brought up on traditional food habits, the idea of eating something sweet for breakfast is quite odd. For Westerners, it is a source of amazement that our spice-eating starts from the first meal of the day. Our breakfasts are uppittu, poha, dosa with chutney and huli, parathas...theirs are pancakes and waffles, muffins and corn flakes...

One of the reasons that Indians have taken so well to Pizza is that in many ways it's not that different from what they eat. It's like having a naan with veggies on top. I remember, Nirula's had created this keema pizza which used to be tremendously popular. And now of course, Pizza Hut and others have gone whole hog with tandoori pizzas, pizza with paneer and so on. I'm waiting to see if chicken chettinad finds its way atop a pizza someday soon.

Naturally, pizza is one of my picky son's favourite things to eat. I think it's a reasonably healthy thing, especially if we make it out of whole wheat flour and add lavish toppings of veggies, so ordering pizza in is one of the treats he gets once in two weeks or so. It's also a really fun breakfast food, and one of the few things he gulps down without me standing over his head yelling my head off every half a second ( he is apt to forget eating and drinking when he is engrossed in his latest fad - paper aeroplanes - which he is engaged in every second of the day).

Pizza Toast


Whole wheat bread/ Multigrain bread

Finely diced tomatoes

Finely diced green peppers

Finely diced red and yellow peppers

Finely diced onions

Pizza sauce ( To keep it simple, I use Fun foods pizza topping, but at a pinch even ketchup will do)

Grated mozzarella cheese ( or Amul processed cheese - the kind out of a tin. Maybe it's habit, but I love the taste of it on these pizzas)

Assemble the pizza quickly by topping the bread slices with the pizza sauce and then the veggies and finally cheese.

Park in the oven for 2-3 minutes, until the toast turns crisp and brown.

Eat fast!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Grandma's kitchen

Growing up, we went to South India every summer to visit our relatives. In Bangalore, we'd stay with Grandma (ajji) and Grandpa (thatha), mom's parents, and then go on to Mysore where my dad's parents lived, along with his eldest brother and his family. I loved visits to Mysore, because my cousins who were of a similar age lived there and we were as close as sisters. The Mysore family was warm and lively and had a great zest for life, and we used to instantly become a part of their lives when we visited, not visitors at all.

Visits to Bangalore were more sedate, because my maternal grandparents were very different from my paternal grandparents. They were very disciplined and strict and their house was quiet. We had to be careful not to make any noise.No other kids lived nearby so it was just me and my sister who is six years younger, and not much company at that age for me. I used to raid thatha's library - and he had a superb set of hardbound books brought out by the Times around 1920, of the world's best detective stories, a condensed version of the world's greatest novels and so on. I read the unabridged version of Oliver Twist when I was around six, and reading and re-reading these books was pretty much the only recreation.

Ajji was somehow even more forbidding, even though we knew she loved us. She was highly orthodox, which meant all kinds of rules to be followed. We had to leave our slippers inside the front porch of the house. In the mornings, she'd rise very early, around 5 am, and have a bath. Every day, she'd wash out her saree for the next day, along with the blouse and petticoat and hang it up on a really high set of rods - they were set at about 8 feet high and ajji was only 5 feet tall, so she had a long pole she'd learnt to manouevre expertly to put her clothes up there. No one was supposed to touch these, because they were 'madi' or cleansed. After her bath, she'd enter the kitchen ( never before), brew coffee for everyone and then do her puja before she made breakfast. No one was supposed to enter the kitchen before they had bathed, and no one was supposed to touch her before she was done cooking for the day.

We as kids were always a bit confused about the rules, and when we could approach her and when we couldn't, which worked to put us at a little bit of a distance from her. She on the other hand was a traditional south Indian, which meant she was reserved about expressing her emotions. Her love for us kids would mostly be expressed through a series of strictures about obeying our parents and behaving well, which we found kind of boring. The other way she expressed her love, which I came to understand only much later, was through cooking.

Ajji took incredible pains over cooking for her grandkids. Inevitably when we reached their home, we'd find that ajji had made coconut burfee - a sweet concoction with fresh or dry coconut, sugar, cardamom etc. We all loved ajji's coconut burfee, and even today when she sends me a care package, this is usually one of the things she puts in. She used to make a potato palya with very finely cubed potatoes - they were barely 3 millimeters in width and height. It used to take her hours of slaving over a medium heat stove, stirring constantly to bring them to the perfect state of crispness, and she unfailingly used to make them whenever we visited - a real labour of love.

One thing she used to regularly make for breakfast was uppittu. This was thatha's favourite breakfast too, so we'd have it at least twice a week. Uppittu is made with semolina, and ajji used to find really fine grains of mustard seeds to flavour it with. The final dish the way ajji turned it out was fluffy, warm, mildly spicy and somehow tender with the love she had for all of us. Whenever ajji visits, I still ask her to make it every few days, and it has been a favourite of every one of her 7 grandchildren, and her great grandson - my son. Though I do make it for breakfast myself, somehow I feel my version lacks the secret ingredient ajji puts into it - a lifetime of love and sacrifice for those she loved.

Years later, after I'd had my son, ajji and thatha came to visit and help out with their first great grandchild. We shared stories as wives and mothers, and I came to know the person behind the name. I heard her backstory and learned to appreciate the quiet strength as well as the adventurous nature of this 78 year old who still walked or took buses everywhere. She had travelled the length and breadth of India on bus tours, all by herself, way back in the 50s. The woman who wouldn't eat watermelon because she thought it was red like meat was also the one who climbed up the mountain to Vaishnodevi on foot at the age of 65. The traditionalist who always followed the rules was first in line to dance in my cousin's baraat.

I sometimes wonder what she would have done given the freedom and opportunities we have now. Despite her quiet exterior and her fragile appearance, she's a woman of great strength, and in some way, the strength comes from the fact that she has always been about giving. I just hope by the time I get to her age I have even half her grit, her ability to give and her enjoyment of life.


1 cup slightly coarse-grained semolina ( available at any Indian store - ask for sooji)
800 ml water
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp fine black mustard seeds
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
1 tsp urad dal
1 tbsp groundnut oil
Handful grated fresh coconut
Salt to taste

1. Put the water on to boil.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a bandley ( wok).
3. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to crackle and pop.
4. Add the urad dal and wait for it to brown slightly. Quickly add the green chillies and the curry leaves.
5. When the curry leaves turn crisp, add in the semolina and salt and stir to mix. Roast for 4-5 minutes until the semolina starts giving off an aroma but before it browns at all. By this time, the water should have started boiling.
6. Working quickly, turn the heat all the way down on the burner which has the semolina mix. Pour the hot water on top of all the ingredients in the wok, stirring to mix using a long handled spoon. (The mixture will dance around the pan like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever). There will be hissing sounds and the mixture will spit - just ignore the sound and fury and make sure the water reaches through the mix to the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with a tightly fitting lid and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
7. Remove the lid and stir to mix the uppittu. Don't worry if there are grainy, uncooked looking bits of semolina in the pan. When you mix everything up together, they will get cooked.
8. Top with the grated coconut.

Serve hot, garnished with finely chopped coriander leaves, if you like. We loved eating this with homemade curds ( plain yoghurt) or sometimes with a dash of lemon juice.

This blog was sparked off by a wonderful reminiscence event by Vanilje's kitchen: Apples and thyme (

Monday, October 15, 2007

Men in the kitchen

I was watching DVDs of I Love Lucy ( as an aside, it's still side-splittingly funny all these years later and it's only now that I realise what a terrific actress Lucille Ball was) yesterday and there was this truly hilarious episode, in which Lucy is expecting so Ricky decides to pamper her by making her breakfast in bed. Only, he can't find anything he needs and has her running in and out of the kitchen constantly to help him. Eventually he turns out a waffle that could have fired a steam engine, and she tells him not to cook her breakfast, because, "I'm just not strong enough."

That led me to remember all the episodes of my husband in the kitchen. Before we got married, I made a deal with him. I'm just not a morning person and my eyes don't pop open without tea, so morning tea was going to be his responsibility - and that's one thing he managed quite well. I'm vegetarian and don't plan on cooking meat, so the other deal was that any non-veg in the house would be his to make.

While we were students in France, he once decided to make a chicken curry for our dinner guests. He considerately asked me to retire to the bedroom while he took over the kitchen ( our flat only had 2 rooms) so I wouldn't be grossed out by the sights. He had got a recipe from my mother-in-law.

About five minutes into cooking, he came running in, "Which is laung?" I had to find it for him.
Then, "Which is jeera?" I would up laying out all the spices for him and went back in.

A few minutes further and he came in to lie down because chopping the onions had stung his eyes so badly. Then one more into the fray went Horatio.

"Is this too dark?" The first batch of roasted spices had to be thrown away and the windows of the apartment flung open in deep winter, because he roasted them till they were cremated and the apartment filled with smoke. If we'd had a smoke detector, it would have had a busy day!

Then later, "How brown is brown?" He was bhunoing ( slow-cooking) the onion-garlic-ginger masala for the dish and didn't know whether he should try for a chocolatey brown colour or a sand colour!

Of course, after all his efforts, eventually the dish did turn out delicious and he was beseiged with compliments. However, since then, he hasn't felt the least yearning to head back into the kitchen!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Black bean soup

I was out of town for a business event last week and managed to combine it with a lot of foodie activity as well. I and my colleague had a lovely Chinese meal where you ticked off the kind of noodles you wanted ( thin/ udon) and the veggies/ non-veggies as well as the sauce and they delivered your order to the table. We paired that with Szechuan chilly potatoes which were awesome and which I have to try out soon, and topped it with an amazing dessert - the Brownie sizzler. They heated up a nice, moist chocolate brownie, added ice cream on the side and then poured a layer of chocolate fudge onto the hot sizzler plate in which they had served the dish. The chocolate turned molten and caramelized at the edges, and was a delicious contrast to the chewy brownie and the cold icecream. This is something I have to try out the next time I have 4-5 people over.

We also had a lovely dinner at the Taj coffee shop. They served a nice rocket salad with blue cheese ( tasted like Roquefort) and caramelized walnuts in a salt-free vinaigrette. It was a rocking combo, and my only two cribs were - less sugar in the dressing, please, and more blue cheese. My boss ordered an awesome mexican black bean soup which was so yummy that I had to recreate it for myself when I got back home. I had it for dinner yesterday, followed by fruit, and it was just right - filling but light, and very more-ish.

The soup used Kidney beans, which are a great source of fiber ( 1 cup provides 45% of the RDA of fiber) and have a low glycaemic index - ideal for anyone trying an Atkins-type diet. They are also a good source of various minerals including manganese, and a good source of protein. Interestingly, all the beans originated in one of the countries I have long been fascinated by - Peru. It seems that they came to South America via the Indians of Peru and then found their way elsewhere in the world.

Black bean soup
1 cup kidney beans ( rajma) cooked using a quick-soak method
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions
10 small pods of garlic or 3 large pods
1 tbsp roast coriander powder
3-4 fresh green/ red chillies
4 tbsp tomato puree
1 litre water/ veg stock
Handful coriander leaves, chopped fine
Salt to taste
Red chilli powder to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Soak the dried beans for one hour. Then pressure cook them for 2 whistles. Let them soak for another hour in the pressure cooker itself, and then cook them for 1 whistle with a little baking soda - this reduces the 'gassiness' of beans in general. ( or if you have access, just use pre-cooked canned beans - that's the quickest!)
2. Put the olive oil in a sauce pan and put it on medium heat.
3. Add the coriander powder first and wait for it to give off an aroma. Then add the chillies, onions and garlic in quick succession. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onions are soft.
4. Turn off the heat. Puree the beans together with the coriander powder-onions etc until it turns into a fine mush.
5. Add back to the saucepan with the water/ veg stock. I usually use water with stock cubes.
6. Add the tomato puree, salt and chilli powder and stir to mix. Cook until the soup starts to simmer. If you like, thin it out a bit more to your favourite consistency.
7. Add a bit of the lemon/ lime juice to each bowl of soup, and garnish with coriander leaves, a dash of chopped spring/ red onions ( whichever you have in store) and a bit of tomato. Serve hot.

The soup at the hotel had fried tortilla bits, and you could use that or even roasted papad, broken into bits and added at the very end. It would also pair well with a crusty wholegrain bread. The hotel had also added avocado bits, but they didn't really add much to the flavour. I'd go with red and yellow peppers, for colour and taste.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cauliflower Soup

Now that the weather is nice and wintry, I'm back to my favourite food - soup. I feel soups can perk up the dullest of meals and add interest. They are also a great way to get veggies into the kids, and a low-cal way to fill up. I often have soups as meal-substitutes, along with a crisp green salad.

Cauliflower is not one of my favourite vegetables, because I find its taste is so subtle that it tends to get lost in the flavours of whatever other veggies or spices you cook it with. However, yesterday when I got home from work and raided the fridge, I found a bounty of cauliflower and decided to try a new soup recipe. As always, I have freely adapted the ingredients to suit my cupboard, and the soup turned out wonderful. It has a lovely cheesy taste, for no apparent reason, and yet the flavour of cauliflower really comes through despite the spices. And it takes barely 15 minutes - all that takes for it to be a winner in my book.

1 cauliflower, cut into large chunks
1 large red onion, cut into large chunks
1 large garlic clove, cut into half
900 ml veg stock
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tbsp coriander powder
Handful coriander leaves, chopped fine
Sour cream

Simmer the cauliflower, together with the onion, garlic, mustard powder ( didn't have any so used a tsp of colman's mustard), roast coriander seeds powder, salt and pepper ( I used red chilli powder) in the stock for 10-15 minutes until the veggies are cooked through.
Cool and blend in batches. I'm notoriously bad at blending liquids and can't wait to batch process so I strained the veggies and pureed them and added the stock back.
Put back on heat and add the milk and bring to the boil.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot, garnished with coriander leaves and stems ( I hate to waste coriander - it's so aromatic) and a swirl of sour cream. I didn't have sour cream so added a dollop of whisked yoghurt on top, which worked very well.

This soup is going to get added to my repertoire for a wonderful mix of taste and ease of preparation. I'm sure it'll go well with crusty bread, toasted with a little butter, too.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Simple Foods

It's interesting how for most of us, comfort food has similar characteristics. It usually dates back to childhood - something that our mothers or grandmothers made, for instance. It is usually simple to make. The taste of it tends to be quite simple, too. I can't think of anyone, for instance, who claims that Bagaarey Baingan is their comfort food, great as that tastes. I guess it has to do with the memories of a simpler time that comfort food brings back - a time when other people were responsible for us, rather than us having to be responsible for other people, a time when a hug and a kiss were enough to cure any 'boo-boo'...

Usually when I cook I like to get all experimental and try exotic dishes and unusual ingredients. That is fun in its own way but this weekend, when our cook was off on Sunday, I just didn't have the energy to be all that creative. Plus we'd had a pretty filling breakfast of idlis with huli and onion chutney, with holige from Bangalore, so light and simple seemed the way to go. I decided to rustle up a typical meal from my mother's house - something that my ajji was partial to as well - good old Hesarabele Kattu with beans palya. Easy to make, the two dishes went down surprisingly well with my husband and our fussy son (my daughter, of course, eats almost anything, including black olives and whole green chillies).

Hesarabele Kattu
1 cup hulled (yellow) Moong Dal
1 handful grated fresh coconut
1/2 inch ginger, sliced into fine slivers
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 green chillies, chopped fine
Handful curry leaves
Pinch turmeric
1 tsp oil
Salt to taste
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Cook the hulled moong dal in a pressure cooker or a pan with 2 cups of water until well done.
2. In a wok, heat the oil.
3. Add the turmeric and the cumin seeds. Wait till the cumin seeds get toasty.
4. Add the curry leaves and wait till they turn crisp.
5. Add the grated ginger and stir, for 1-2 minutes.
6. Add the tadka to the dal and top with the grated coconut. If you like, you can also garnish with chopped coriander. Add salt to taste.
7. At the table, just before serving, squeeze a dash of lemon into each cup of dal. (Don't do this into the whole dal, else when you reheat it will add a bitter taste).

Beans Palya
1/2 kg beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1 cm segments, and immersed in water
2-3 green chillies
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp oil
1 tsp urad dal
Handful curry leaves
Salt to taste
Handful grated fresh coconut

1. Heat oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds and wait till they pop.
2. Add the urad dal and wait for it to turn pale brown.
3. Add the green chillies and curry leaves, and wait for 1 minute.
4. Add the green beans and stir.
5. Add a sprinkling of water and cover the dish, leaving the heat on medium.
6. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the beans are tender but still have a bit of bite to them.
7. Uncover and add the salt, and cook until all the water, if any, evaporates.
8. Turn off heat and top with the coconut.

Both these dishes taste good served hot with plain, hot rice or with phulkas. Sometimes, if the beans are a bit older, I add a tbsp of sugar to the vegetable to get that sweet flavour which is natural to young beans. The dash of lemon is the ingredient that perks up the otherwise ordinary dal. You can also add Tori ( ridge gourd/ heerekai)to the dal, cut into 1 inch segments and boiled in lightly salted water). You can also substitute one of the green chillies for a dried red chilli in the Palya, for added bite.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Childhood snack

I mentioned in an earlier post that many of my food memories center around summer holidays during childhood. One of the snacks that we loved the most was Hacchida Avalakki - something that I also began craving when I was expecting my son. I don't know whether it was because he had so much of it indirectly, but this is a favourite dish of my son's too.

Sometime that year, my cousins had come from Dharwad, and one of them had carried a delicious avalakki( poha/ flattened rice) snack which is ludicrously easy to make and low cal too. I often make it and store it during the summer, as it's light, quick to make and enjoyed by everyone.

2-3 cups flattened rice/ poha ( try to get the thinner variety)
1 cup shelled peanuts with the skin on
1 handful curry leaves
2 tsp black mustard seeds
5-6 byadgi chillies ( Karnataka chillies)
1/2 tsp asafoetida (heeng)
1/2 cup dessicated coconut cut into fine slivers
Salt to taste
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp oil

On a sunny day, spread the avalakki out on a clean paper and leave it out in the sun for 3-4 hours. It will get nice and crisp.
In a large bandley (wok), heat the oil.
Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
Then add the turmeric, the asafoetida, the chillies and the curry leaves. Fry until the chillies and curry leaves are crisp.
Add the dessicated peanuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until the skin darkens and any exposed bits turn pale brown.
Add the coconut slivers and fry until they turn light brown.
Add in the avalakki, the salt and the pepper and stir to mix everything well.
Store in an airtight jar.
I love the smell of heeng so I tend to add more of it than I've mentioned.

Hacchida Avalakki
1 cup avalakki
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp oil
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
Handful grated fresh coconut
1 cucumber, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
Handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime ( or more, to taste)
Salt to taste

In a bandley, heat the oil.
Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
Add the avalakki and stir briskly for a few minutes so it turns crisp, and turn off the heat.
Add all the other ingredients, lime juice last, and stir to mix well.
Serve immediately, and eat fast before it turns soggy!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Indian breakfasts

When my son joined playschool in Gurgaon, I was quite surprised at the habits of many of the kids and their parents. I was working part time - in the afternoons - and so preferred the morning classes, which began at 9 a.m. In any case, I believe school should start early and let the kids go early so they can rest in the afternoon and have a nice long evening ahead for play. One term, it so turned out that the morning class had very few people registered and would be combined with the afternoon class. The playschool required a parent to go with the child. I couldn't shift my work schedule, so I asked if the afternoon class ( starting at 12 noon) could be moved to 11:30 am, so that I could attend, then rush off to work. All the other mothers, who happened to be stay at home moms, flatly refused, saying that it was hard enough for them to get their kids out of bed, bathed and breakfasted by 12 and it would be too hard to move it up by half an hour. It wasn't their refusal but the fact that they saw it as perfectly natural that their kids would go to sleep really late ( around 11 pm, or even midnight in some cases) and wake up anywhere between 10 and 11 in the morning!

Anyway, this is a blog about food, so on to the second shocker - despite living in India, barely 1 or 2 kids out of the 15-20 in my son's class had anything Indian for breakfast. Most of them had a boiled egg or toast or cereal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a banner-waving purist who insists only on Indian food, but there's such a lot of variety in Indian breakfast foods that it just seems a travesty that people are disregarding them and rushing into white bread/ sugary cereals. The other food shocker was what most of the mothers saw fit to pack for school picnics/ lunches. Without exception, cookies, maida-cakes, bags of potato chips, fried potato smileys, white bread sandwiches with mayonnaise and colas would be packed, whereas I, like the ultimate nerd, would have worked overtime to make healthy whole wheat, sugar free muffins. In fact, at a recent birthday party, I saw a mother carefully helping her 2 year old child to drink a whole glass of coke. When the kid said he'd had enough after draining 3/4ths of the glass, the mother actually pushed him to finish the glass. All this while urban India, particularly among the educated classes, is going through a child obesity epidemic. I just don't get it!

Anyway, so we usually have a varied breakfast through the week, with lots of Indian dishes thrown in. A couple days of toast ( wholewheat, natch, with fake boursin - the recipe is in the archives somewhere), a day of muesli with fruit and skim milk, upma or poha a couple days. Maybe idli one day. Sprouted moong salad on some extra-healthful mornings. Besan chillas in the winter. And moong dal chillas in summer. Of course, occasionally the gourmand in me comes out and grins evilly at a plate of puris with tari wali aloo ki sabzi!

We had moong dal chillas today, and as always, I was amazed at how delicious, yet how simple and healthful they are. Moong dal chillas are a pretty filling meal too, so lunch can be as light as you like. They are quite a bit like Pesarattu which is another thing I love for breakfast.

Moong Dal Chillas
2 cups moong beans, soaked overnight
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped
Salt to taste
2 small Onions, chopped fine - optional.
1 tbsp oil
(Makes about 8-10)

In the morning, grind the soaked moong dal into a smooth paste, with water.
Add the cumin seeds, chillies and salt and stir to mix evenly.
Add the onions if you like ( I usually do like).
The paste should be of a pancake batter consistency ( thinner is better if you want the chillas to be crisp) - add more water after grinding, if necessary.

Heat a tawa ( frying pan) until it is medium hot. Use a rounded tablespoon to pour a tbsp of batter in the center of the tawa and working quickly, spread it using the back of the spoon in a spiral motion outwards.
Spread a tsp of oil ( peanut oil for choice) around the edges of the tawa.
Wait till the chilla batter starts looking dry on top, and brownish in the center.
Use a flat spatula to lift the chilla, working at the edges to smooth it away from the pan.
Flip over and cook on the other side.

When spread well, the chilla comes out deliciously crisp on the center, with mealy edges. Its spicy taste and green appearance is well complemented with roast red pepper chutney, red chilli ranjaka ( I'll blog about that later) or just plain mint and dhania chutney and ketchup.

The same chilla is also made using besan ( chickpea flour) instead of moong dal. The difference is that the besan version is instant - you just mix the besan with the other ingredients and water, cook it and serve. No soaking, no grinding. My kind of food!