Monday, December 31, 2007

Light meals

Yesterday we decided to have an advance New Year's celebration dinner with my parents, leaving today free to PARTY!!! We'd had a rather filling meal at my aunt-in-law's house at lunch time, including a wonderful Black carrot halwa which I'm going to try out asap and blog about, and was totally awesome. Keeping our full stomachs in mind, mom and dad cooked up a great but light meal for us.

That included my favourite starter - salad - with mom's famous vegetable dip. This is a scrumptious dip of which no amount is enough. In fact, yesterday I got to thinking what all we could use it for, including as a sandwich spread, among other uses, or even with hot baingan pakoras. It also works well with kids who can scarf down any amount of crunchy fresh veggies or toast with this spread on it. My kids were in seventh heaven with salad, which they love, and a dahi-based dip.

Mom's famous yoghurt dip
1 cup hung plain home made curd/ yoghurt
1 cup paneer, finely grated
Handful dhania( coriander) leaves, chopped fine
1-2 green chillies, chopped fine
Salt to taste

Just mix all the ingredients together and chill before serving with batons of crisp radish, daikon, carrots, baby corn, tomatoes, halved cherry tomatoes, lightly steamed broccoli and green peppers, raw yellow, orange and red bellpeppers and spring onions or leeks. Dad had also added lettuce as the base for the vegetables, marinated in apple-vinegar. Delicious!

Now that's a positively reeking-with-health type of last entry for the year. Just in time for me to go hog-wild partying tonight. See y'all next year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vegetarian kebabs

I first discovered I enjoyed cooking when we went to France. Before that, for years mom had tried to teach me how to cook, considering it an essential lifeskill, but I was too busy being a feminist and wondering why only girls needed to learn how to cook. The fact that my dad and all my uncles are ace cooks didn't once enter my mind. So I learnt to cook a couple of things ( you have to, if you want to impress a guy, regardless of how 'liberated' he is. For some reason, they consider cooking only slightly less impressive than nuclear fission.) Cakes and cookies, Hyderabadi dahi wadas, rajma and chole...things which couldn't have counted as a meal but worked nicely as accents and took the spotlight.

In France, it was a case of necessity. Vegetarian me was not too impressed at being confronted by an array of 'ghaas-phoos' ( green leaves) for lunch at the college canteen every day. And the health freak and weight-watcher in me wanted to be careful around the spread of cheeses, breads and desserts. So I had no choice. I had gone armed with a bunch of Tarla Dalal books, some recipes of mom's that my sister had written down and I got photocopied, a Hawkins pressure cooker, a Sumeet mixie and a few spices. Mom had even gone to the trouble of drying out curry leaves in the microwave and packing them for me, as well as a year's supply of saaru and huli pudi. I also learnt to surf the net ( google wasn't around yet) and download or print out recipes of dishes I particularly loved, like Bisi bele bhaath. During the course of the year, while whipping out an array of dishes, from khatte baingan and haak to vangi bhaath and even trying my hand at kodbale, I realised what a wonderfully cathartic and yet creative experience cooking can be. The entire chain of work - from the physical - chopping the vegetables into precisely sized pieces - to multitasking - setting the rice on one hob and stirring the sabzi on another to creativity - figuring out which spices to use or substitute - had the simultaneous effect of stimulating and calming me down. I soon found myself indulging in a cooking orgy before every set of exams, while A would lie on our bed and observe the ceiling.

We got back to India in time for Eid, and I volunteered to make the veg kebabs. My Inlaws have always had an open house on Eid, welcoming all their friends regardless of religion. Naturally therefore, the menu has to be a mix of veg and non-veg items to fulfil tradition as well as fill all their guests. Typically my MIL would make dry chholey and aloo tikkis for the vegetarians, while mutton kebabs would be made for the non-veggers. Biryani and plain rice would be available for anyone who stayed to lunch, along with her yummy Seviyan, which I have still not mastered.

MIL was a little uncertain of my cooking ability so she whipped up the tikki mix and kept it in reserve just in case. I had come across an intriguing recipe for kebabs made out of Chholia - green chickpeas - which always abound in the winter and decided to try that. It took a bit of work, but the kebabs were so delicious that even the non-veg guests gulped down as many of these as the non-veg kebabs. Thanks to Jiggs Kalra, if I remember correctly, the veg kebabs were the surprise hit of the day. Now we often have them in the winter since I love chholias and want to use them as much as possible in their all-too-brief season.

Chholia Kebabs
2 cups green chickpeas
1 grated red onion
1 inch finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch stick cinnamon
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2-3 green chillies, finely chopped, or red chilli powder to taste
1/2 cup hung plain yoghurt
Salt to taste
Bread crumbs
Oil for frying

Put a little bit of oil ( 1/2 tbsp) on to heat in a wok. Add the coriander and cumin powder and cinnamon stick and then the chholia. Cook until the chholia is partially cooked and turn off the heat.
Remove the chholia from the pan, and cook the onion, ginger, garlic until well browned.
Mash these along with the chholia until finely blitzed.
Mix with the hung curd, salt, chillies/ chilli powder and bread crumbs, checking to see if the mixture holds its shape when moulded into a ball. If not, add more breadcrumbs.
Form the mixture into ping-pong sized balls and pat them flat.
Heat oil in a frying pan.
Shallow fry the kebabs on low heat until well-browned and crisp on the outside. They will remain soft and moist on the inside.
Serve hot with sweet tomato or mango chutney and green coriander chutneys, or as a side-dish with rotis and dal.


'Tis indeed the glorious season for soups and salads here in Delhi's winter. The days are warm and sunny but the evenings grow dim early and by six at night, it feels like much later. It's quite cold, particularly once you cross the border into Haryana, with a minimum of 11 degrees C considered a warm day.

Veggies, as I have said before, really come into their own in the Delhi winter, and the sheer variety and quality of veggies we get is nothing short of heaven for foodies. Moreover, the cold weather makes it easier to munch on something, unlike the oh-so-hot Delhi summer which just leaves you gasping for water and more water. There's nothing like peeling and baton-ing a crisp white mooli ( daikon) or juicy red carrot, then sprinkling chaat masala and a squeeze of freshly sliced lime on top and downing it, out in the warm afternoon sun. I have to admit, my mouth waters every time I see a roadside vendor of mooli and gajar but sanitary considerations have unfortunately crept into my ageing mind and so I disconsolately try the same thing at home which never has the same zing. The veggies are followed by a square of chikki or Revadi. Chikki is roast groundnuts encased in a jaggery syrup, and chikki is the same thing made with white sesame seeds and sugar instead of jaggery. Both considered 'heaty' according to Ayurveda and therefore apt for cold weather. Endless cups of hot adrak ( ginger) chai or Kashmiri Kahwa are also welcome in this weather. Somehow, come winter, one doesn't think of pakoras - those seem to belong more to the monsoons.

I find it interesting how food and the veggies and fruit are arranged by nature to suit the body's needs - and a little sad when I think how easily we city dwellers in easy reach of supermarkets neglect the rules. Heaty vegetables in winter - mostly from the 'gas' sy family - cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, daikons and carrots. Cooling things in summer - watermelon, melon, tinda, tori, lauki, cucumber - all veggies and fruit with a high water content.

As part of my little bit in winter comes the great soup and salad push. Not that my family object, since they are all, from A down to Puddi, big fans of veggies. So last week I whipped up a delicious pea soup with a dash of green leafies (since I'm a big fan of green leafies), and over the weekend, a lovely, sunshiny pumpkin soup served with salsa with a twist to heat up the innards.

Jade Soup
3 cups of podded peas
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
Pinch Mace
Knob of butter
Small glug of good olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 cup of spinach leaves, cut into fine ribbons
Salt and pepper to taste
1 litre soup stock or water

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the ginger and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.
Add the peas and a quarter of the soup stock. Let it come to a boil and then cover and cook until peas are cooked.
Blend finely and put back in the pan. Add the rest of the stock and the salt and pepper and let it come to a simmer. Add the mace and simmer for five minutes.

Meanwhile, on another hob, put the olive oil to heat. (Use plain olive oil, not extra virgin). Add the slivers of garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Remove from the oil and add in the spinach ribbons. Cook at high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp.

Before serving the soup, assemble by topping each bowl with a little of the garlic and some of the crisp spinach ribbons. You can add a crisp salad of daikon, carrots and winter tomatoes topping with salt and a dash of lime juice on the side for a light meal. You could also use crisp fenugreek (methi) leaves instead of spinach for an interesting twist.

Sunshiny Pumpkin Soup
1/2 of a well-ripened pumpkin ( about 14 inches in diameter), cut into two, with the skin on
2 whole garlic
1 large red onion, sliced
1 litre soup stock/ water
Good quality olive oil
Red Chilli powder ( use cayenne if required) to taste

1 tsp cumin seeds/ cumin powder
1 tomato, very finely diced
1 green bell pepper, very finely diced
1 small red onion, very finely diced
1/2 ripe tomato, grated
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp plain vinegar or lime juice
1 green chilli, finely sliced ( reduce the chilli if you want it less spicy)

Pour a glug of olive oil into each half of the pumpkin and pop into a preheated oven at 250 degrees for about an hour to roast slowly. Pour a glug of olive oil into each garlic and wrap it up in the foil and add it to the pumpkin.

Meanwhile, pound the cumin seeds, if using, into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. I always prefer to freshly powder the cumin because the aroma is so much nicer. Mix together the diced tomato, green bell pepper, green chilli and onion, add the caster sugar, powdered cumin and lime juice as well as the grated tomato pulp and put away in the fridge.

Once the pumpkin and the garlic are well-roasted, scoop the roast pumpkin flesh out and peel the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and cook the sliced onion in it until translucent. Add the pumpkin and garlic and cook for a further minute. Let cool.

Pulp the pumpkin-garlic-onion mix finely and add back to the saucepan, along with the soup stock. let it come to a boil and then turn down to simmer, adding salt and chilli powder to taste. Let simmer for five minutes.

Before serving, top each bowl of soup with a spoon of the salsa. The nice, deep heat of the salsa is a good counterpoint to the honeyed thickness of the pumpkin soup, and the crunchy vegetables add a refreshing texture. I also like to add a dash of coriander leaves to the salsa to intensify the freshness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Eating out

Haven't food-blogged for a while, what with the camera being on the fritz, and then me being sick with a terrible viral, which left me UNABLE to TASTE!. Can you imagine anything worse for a food-crazy person like me? I was craving for some fresh, home made soup too, and didn't even have the strength to crawl out of bed. Have started hating the readymade soups ever since I discovered the home made stuff, so couldn't take substitutes, especially when my tongue was already making everything taste like cardboard. However, almost back to my old self, and in the interim have been eating out lots, to compensate myself.

Last Tuesday I was in Ahmedabad on work - which is where I fell sick - and wanted to make sure, apart from shopping for Ahmedabad sarees, that I ate authentic food. My cabbie took me to a place called Pakwan for lunch. I haven't a clue where it is located in the city. it's a relatively small restaurant, and very unpretentious. As soon as you sit down, they bring you a thali, and then start heaping things on to it like food was going out of fashion. A round pakora and plain, white dhokla for starters. followed by a papad and a variety of chutneys - red and sweet, green and tangy - and pickles. Salad. Then the sabzis - undhiyo, which is veggies and beans cooked together in a specially Gujarati sweet-sour-salty way that is sublime. Thin daal. Aloo in gravy. "Punjabi" as the waiter called it - paneer, but with a local twist that made it taste nothing like restaurant paneer dishes in Delhi, and most delicious. Moong Dal halwa. Gujarati Kadhi. Srikhand. All this deftly served by a stream of specialist bearers, each one responsible for one category of dishes. Followed by an array of tiny rotis, the size of a palm, piping hot, smeared with ghee. And teeny, tiny puris, golden and puffy, giving off steam. They served the food faster than I could eat it, hospitably urging me to have more. No sooner did a dish finish on my plate than the bearer responsible for it would materialise at my elbow to refill it. It took a positive effort on my part to convince them eventually that I did not want more. I needed two glasses of the salty chaach (buttermilk) to wash it down. The bill - Rs. 85. Need I say more - or will this picture help? ( Gah, bluetooth as usual not working so will have to upload later.)

Pakwan, somewhere in Ahmedabad.

This weekend, like most people, I made a pig of myself. The first event was our 7th anniversary - no, not itching, as yet. thanks to my being ill, we had been unsure of whether we'd be able to go out at all, and eventually left it too late for a Delhi which has suddenly woken up to Christmas as a celebration. Olive, our first choice, was all booked up. Another place, Magique, quoted the obscene amount of Rs. 5000 per head. Diva was too far on a possibly foggy night, plus it might have been equally as expensive. Finally we decided to head for old faithful Trident Hilton, which also has the advantage of being merely minutes away from home.

This hotel was apparently rated the best business hotel in the world in 2005. I don't know about business, but I will say, as someone who's visited a lot of famous hotels around the world, that this particular hotel is magical. It has the rare ability to take one right out of the world around the hotel and transport you to an enchanted place of the imagination. The architectural firm which worked on it was apparently a Thai one. Rather than simply recreate Indian architecture, they decided to take the essence of Indian architecture. So the hotel has a series of sandstone arches starting right from the entrance, beautifully lit up by dramatically tall sconces. The scale of the building is magnificent, adding an air of lavishness and drama. As soon as you enter, you see a corridor of arches stretching away towards the right and left, sporadically lit by spotlights that throw intriguing pools of shadow and light. in front is an infinity pool, reflecting the night sky, and in the center of that pool are a row of flames, reflected in the water below. The door handles are serpentine bronze curves, again larger than life. The ceiling inside the double-or-treble-height lobby is a cupola, painted in gold leaf, while the interiors are largely whites, beiges and creams. The hotel ensures that the flower arrangements placed in the lobby are equally dramatic. The night we were there, they had 2-coloured roses, deep pink and ash-grey on the same bloom.

The buffet spread at the coffee shop of this hotel is always wonderful, and has become our favourite place to take guests out. They have a sumptuous salad buffet on one side, serving a spread ranging from sushi and salmon to asparagus, hearts of palm and, I believe, truffles in season. They also have a gigantic parmesan wheel, so one of my favourite salads is the lightly steamed asparagus with a french dressing with the hint of sugar, topped by shavings of parmesan. Yummmm! They also have a pretty good cheese board, from Brie to camembert, roquefort, gouda, emmenthaler and mozzarella.

The center is given over to a live pasta and pizza station. A stack of desserts awaits us on the right side, and in the far corner are the main courses, lined up by veg versus non-veg. The main courses keep changing and have a mix of continental, oriental and Indian dishes. A variety of rotis is served up at the table.

I usually gorge on the salads, which I can never have enough of. This time, a decided to dig into sushi and decide whether he could decipher the mystery of its appeal. He came back to the table armed with wasabi paste and pickled ginger. He carefully selected his sushi roll, delicately spiked it with the wasabi and took a bite. the next minute, he jumped up as if something had stung him. "It's gone up my nose, it's gone up my nose...!"

I had to try this too, so tentatively picked a veg sushi roll. I had tried these before and been underwhelmed. I dabbed on the pale green wasabi paste a little more aggressively than A - after all, as a South Indian born, I had better tolerance for spice - and popped it in. I jumped up like something had stung me too. "It's gone up my nose, it's gone up my nose...!" Now I know! But luckily, unlike our mirchis, the stinging wears of pretty quickly. I thought wasabi curiously reminiscent of mustard in its pungent action, and my sinuses felt better for that little dose.

I had mainly Indian food, for once, for the main course, and dessert was a wonderful Ghana chocolate mousse - all cold, meltingly mushy chocolate cream dusted with cocoa powder on top and soft yet sandy chocolate cake on bottom - like a kind of symphony.

We had ordered a French sparkling wine - something asti - with our meal but found it way too sweet for our palates. the guy had told us it's a sweet wine but I didn't realise quite how sweet. It reminded me of those Californian fruit wines with which dad had begun our initiation into wine way back when I was 16. There are some things that are good only in memory. We sadly hadn't thought to taste before the wine steward poured out the glasses of wine, but later decided to order something we liked better. I chose the Sula Sauvignon Blanc - somewhat fruity and delicious with Indian food - and A picked the Chenin Blanc.

The service was wonderful, as always, while being unobtrusive. They even served us a hot pizza at our table ( which they usually don't do) which had come out of the wood oven seconds before - unbeatable. And they didn't charge us for the wine we had disliked. As usual an amazing couple of hours, and all the more reason we keep going back there.

Trident Hilton, Gurgaon

Yesterday was our day to hang out and do fun stuff. We took in an art exhibit at the Habitat centre - Indian contemporary artists - with the theme of Sacred. Jayasri Burman, Shuvaprasanna, Sujata Achrekar, Shipra Bhattacharya, a couple of wonderful pieces by an artist called Sonia Sabharwal, some beautiful Bharti Prajapatis, two very intricate and appealing pieces by Ramesh G (something, can't remember) and an absolutely haunting Radha by Suhas Roy.

After that, it was off to Khan Market - one of my favourite markets, and becoming more appealing to me by the day. We decided to eat at the Big Chill - a cafe frequently recommended to us by friends. We had a sparklingly fresh rocket salad with parmesan, cherry and sundried tomatoes. Eschewing soup for once, Chubbocks and I shared a baked potato with sour cream and chives, something only otherwise available at TGIFs. I don't know how they had done it, but the potato was delicately salted, so it went all the better with the cream and chives. I was busy mulling over a low-cal version for home, with hung curd instead of the sour cream. We had pasta for lunch - I and Chubbocks sharing a spaghetti puttanesca, while A opted for a fusilli with chicken. The Puttanesca sauce was spicier than I remembered, with broken dried red chillies and spring onions in it. Delicious, and Chubbocks enjoyed the process of learning to twirl his spaghetti round his fork and reeling it in, while liberally smearing the sauce all over his little face.

Chubbocks had a Banoffee pie for dessert - something which I had only read about in my Nigella cookbook, and which remained an indelible memory from Love Actually - Keira Knightly bakes it for her husband's best friend as a peace offering. Interesting mix of toffee with biscuits, cream and bananas, but I much prefer the bananas and chocolate combination from the crepes I invented when I worked at a French creperie one summer.

A and I shared a trifle for dessert - with rum custard and cream - a far cry from the trifles I remembered. I haven't had this since the birthday parties I used to attend as a kid, and since I was expecting that, was a bit disappointed with this. I still remember what a big thing it was when my mom learnt how to make this and served it at her party. A layer of sponge cake, soaked in juice, topped with custard ( Brown and Polson powder type, not the kind with eggs), topped with fruit and then jelly, which molded the whole structure together. How careful we were, the first time we saw this tri-coloured confection on our plates, to slice all the way down through all the layers so you got the tastes of everything together in your mouth. Little bits of jelly would always get left over in the bowl, along with small smears of the wet cake, and my sister and I would prise it out with greedy fingers, gloating over the ruby slivers of raspberry jelly.

The sour taste and smooth, cool texture of the jelly would contrast with the warm, vanilla scented gooeyness of the custard, followed by the bland sweetness of the sandy cake crumbs. The fruit would be carefully chosen for contrast - bananas for their sweet, mushy ripeness balanced by sharp, sweet-sour oranges and garnet-like pomegranate orbs. The colours too would mingle wonderfully well, and the dish was always made in a wide but deep glass bowl ( sometimes borrowed from a neighbour), so one could feast on it with the eyes first. The cream and brown of the cake at the foot, followed by the Amul-butter coloured custard, the cream, orange and ruby-red of the fruit and then the dark, glassy redness of the Weikfield jelly - always raspberry or strawberry, never something like orange or lemon which would fail to impart the necessary touch of glamour to a humdrum Delhi afternoon party.

Big Chill, Khan Market, New Delhi

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Good Old Tomato Soup

There are some dishes which are classics. Tomato soup is one of them. No matter where you have it or how it is made, you can't really find fault with it, and it will always appeal to your palate in some way. However, for some reason, my tomato soups never do turn out well and I'm baffled at getting stumped by this simple little dish.

This weekend was a cold and grey one in Delhi. It looked colder than it was but it was pretty cold all right and I haven't as yet recovered from my bad cough and cold problem of last week. Naturally, then, soup had to be on the menu. I wanted to make one of my favourite hearty soups - a thick pumpkin soup with salsa and sent out my husband and the driver separately to get the pumpkin. Alas, both of them got this pale, watery, unsweet looking pumpkin which was only good for sabzi, not soup-making. What to do?

Then I had a brainwave and decided to adapt the recipe in my own way. I had bought lots of plump garlic pods last week from the supermarket, so into an aluminum foil they went, with a dribble of good olive oil. I thought - why not experiment with roasting the tomatoes, since the ones we had to home weren't too juicy, more the fleshy kind which makes better salad/ spice. So the garlic and tomatoes were popped into the oven and roasted away all afternoon while I was busy with some work I had to carry home. After roasting for a good 45 minutes, the garlic gave off a yummy odour and the tomatoes were nicely charred.

Since I had to rush out to office in a few minutes, I peeled the tomatoes and garlic and just blitzed them together. A nice, thick liquid emerged which was surprisingly garlic-odour free, though my hands sure weren't. There was some red wine vinegar on the counter, so I poured in a splosh of that. The dry white wine we'd had with dinner Friday was also still lying on the counter, so that got added into the mix. Into the saucepan, to bubble, bubble toil and trouble until the house was redolent with the fragrance of simmering tomatoes.

Served hot with freshly ground black pepper, this was - honestly - the best tomato soup I've ever had. Wow, I impressed myself! Of course, fried croutons would have added the icing on the cake but weight-watching me isn't having croutons at the moment :(

Do try this soup - it's perfect to warm up a grey and hazy winter day.

2 whole garlics
8 tomatoes
1 red onion, roughly chopped
Handful basil leaves
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Wrap the garlic in aluminum foil, with a drizzling of good quality of olive oil. Put into the oven to roast along with the tomatoes for about 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly charred and the garlic is soft and squishes right out of the wrapper.

Pour a glug of good olive oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the torn basil leaves and the onions. Cook until the onions are soft, then add the tomatoes and garlic. Cook together for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat. When cool, blitz into a fine puree.

Pour back into the saucepan and add 750 ml water or stock ( I used water). Add the wine, sugar, salt and vinegar and let it come to a boil. turn the heat to simmer, and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Serve with freshly cracked pepper, and if liked, some basil leaves for garnish.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beans Soup

Dunno why, but I always find recipes that use beans intriguing. Many of them of course use beans that I have no clue about and it's interesting for me to try and decipher which exact bean they're talking about or to substitute what the recipes used with what I have available and see which works better for me. Down South, in Bangalore, one gets all kinds of different bean varieties, available fresh, peeled or dried up, and I'm always after my folks to bring me back some when they visit Bangalore.

Early this year, we had headed out to Himachal Pradesh on a (relaxing) family holiday. The owner of the place we were meant to be staying at insisted it was a mere five hour drive, so we set off for a 3 day break. Only to realise that far from 5 it was a 9 hour drive, with the last 2 hours or so among ba-aad, narrow mountain roads. Poor A, who drove our car, said his legs were vibrating for the next week, since he also got stuck with driving us back. Anyway, I always like to explore the local markets for new fruit and veggies and while we were there, I discovered some lovely white beans( picture will follow tomorrow). They looked so buttery and silky, how could I resist? So I lugged a good two kilos back and have been using them on and off for diverse purposes.

Now that winter's here and I read on Tigers and Strawberries about her bean and green soup, I thought, why not try that? Of course, I forgot to copy the recipe to take home ( and now y'all know what I do in office!), so wound up inventing my own version. My son, Chubbocks, insisted on helping me make the soup, which I'm all too happy with, so the greens in the soup and the tomatoes and carrots were all added by him. Sure made it taste nicer! It was actually pretty much a meal by itself, with a chunk of bread on the side.

Bean Soup
White beans ( well, whatever you want to put in), soaked overnight and boiled until well cooked but firm
1 red onion, sliced
4 spring onions, chopped including the greens
1 bunch of chopped whatever greens - spinach, fenugreek...I had Bathua so I used that.
4 garlic pods, chopped fine
2 carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, diced
1 tomato
Handful coriander leaves, minced
Juice of half a lemon
Pepper and salt to taste
1 tsp jeera ( cumin seeds)
1 tbsp olive oil ( or some veg oil)
1 litre water/ stock

Put the jeera in hot oil in a large, thick bottomed saucepan and let it turn toasty.
Add the sliced and chopepd onions and garlic and saute until pale brown.
Add the tomato and stir, cooking until soft but not mushy.
Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until somewhat soft.
Add the carrots and cook until soft.
Add the greens and cook until slightly wilted.
Add the water/ stock, beans, salt and pepper to your content and bring to a boil. Then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes while you toast bread or whatever.
Top with the coriander leaves.
Put in a squeeze of the lemon juice into each cup just before serving.

I had to improve on perfection, so I added a dash of Ranjaka ( see November blogs), to add a touch of dare-devilry to the soup. Yum...!

Monday, December 3, 2007

JFI December - Toovar Dal

Of all the dals in all the world...Yup, Toovar/ toor/ arhar dal is my favourite. Perhaps it's my South Indian genes - after all, saaru, huli, kootu and a host of other dishes in Karnataka cooking use this unassuming dal to make their point. Madhur Jaffrey refers to this dal as Pigeon peas, which is kind of cute, I think, and I believe it is also known as the Congo pea - how nice.

This humble dal is an excellent source of protein and has a mild taste which works very well with whatever combination of spices and vegetables one chooses to throw at it. Flexible, easy-going, wholesome and up for anything - if it were a person, I'd want to get to know it! So when I heard the December theme from JFI of Toovar Dal, it was like, 'Welcome home, my friend.'

There are gazillions of ways of cooking Toovar Dal ( even though, in my early culinary career, I have been known to confuse this with chana daal. Oh the shame of it!), including a sweet and simple dal which we often have on our 'simple food' mood days - Just cook the dal, add a chopped onion and tomato and a little ginger, sauteed in a little oil with jeera seeds, fresh green chillies and a sprig of curry leaves. Add salt to taste and a spoon of sugar, and a topping of fresh, chopped coriander leaves - and a perfect little accompaniment for the roti or rice is ready in a jiffy. If you want an added variation, just squeeze the juice of half a lemon before serving.

But when I really want to make the toovar dal the centrepiece of the meal, then I have to reach for my formidable arsenal of cookbooks and leaf through them, trying to figure out which one suits my mood best. One terrific dish is the Gujarati Dal mentioned in Tarla Dalal's Gujarati cookbook, and I love the combinations of flavours and the textures this dish has - sweet, sour, chilli, soft, mushy and hard. Again, it goes equally well with rotis or rice, and as always, I have jiggled around with some of the ingredients to suit my palate better. I can almost hear Ms. Dalal's stern aunty voice in my head as I follow ( or not) the instructions. Her cookbooks are very instruction manual type, but her recipes are never fail ones, so while I may not curl up in my armchair reading them to myself, they do tend to get used a lot in the kitchen, which explains the liberal sploshes of turmeric and bits of green dhaniya decorating their pages.

I whipped this up on Sunday morning for our Sunday meals, and we had enough left to pack off with my husband for his office lunch on Monday. How efficient!

Gujarati Dal
2 cups toovar dal, cooked in 4 cups of water and mashed until soft and mushy
1 cup chana dal, soaked and cooked in 2 cups water
1/2 kilo yam ( suran), skinned and cut into large pieces and boiled lightly with salt
1 tomato
8 pieces kokum, soaked in water
50 gms jaggery
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp jeera
4 small round dried red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
4 green chillies, split
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp asafoetida ( heeng)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup raw peanuts
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp oil

Heat the oil and ghee in a deep saucepan.
When hot, add the mustard seeds. When they stop popping, add the jeera, green chillies, cinnamon sticks, ginger, turmeric, red chillies, curry leaves and asafoetida and stir to saute.
Add the tomato, stir and cook until soft.
Add the kokum, the lemon juice, turmeric and the jaggery and cook for a few minutes.
Then add the dals ( including the water they were cooked in - suit yourself as to how much water depending on if you like your daals thick or thin), yam, peanuts, salt and chilli powder and stir to mix.
Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot with rice or rotis, with a cool cucumber salad, plain home made curds and a beans palya for the perfect meal.

My substitutions:
Don't like boiled yam, and had an embarassment of drumsticks ( sojne) at home, so used that instead
Don't like Chana dal much so omitted that.
Didn't have round red chillies so used the long ones.
I have to confess, I have followed this recipe to the T the first time I made it ( with the omission of the boiled yam), and it tasted equally good with my omissions and substitutions.

PS. As always, the photo sucks, even though I did take it in daylight, this time. Guess I just don't have a good trigger hand!