Monday, December 14, 2009

Zucchini & Pepper Pizza With Homemade Dough

A delicious pizza using homemade pizza dough, it can be quick too if you already have the dough prepared ahead. You could use either of the pizza doughs: the cold-rising dough or the quicker one. Pizzas using either of the doughs are equally delicious.

I like roasting the veggies a little before putting them on the pizza to not only give them a flavor boost but also make them more tender. You can add other veggies such as fresh mushrooms.

4 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 recipe Pizza Dough II or 1/4 recipe Pizza Dough
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 small Zucchinis, sliced
1 Bell Pepper, any color - thinly sliced
1/2 Red Onion, thinly sliced
Salt and Freshly ground Pepper
1 cup Tomato Sauce
a handful of your favorite Olives, sliced (optional)
4 oz. grated Mozzarella or Provolone Cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Fresh herbs: thinly sliced Arugula, Basil

Method:

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Prepare a large baking pan with a little oil or cooking oil spray.

Combine all the veggies with a little salt and pepper and 1 Tbsp of the oil and spread evenly on the baking pan.

Roast for 15 minutes stirring once or twice.

Thin or Thick crust - what type of crust is it to be? Use a 9 or 10" diameter pan for thick or a 12"x15" pan for thin crust.

Stretch or roll out the dough to fit the lightly oiled baking pan with rim.

Place the dough on the pan and brush lightly with the olive oil.

Spread the veggies, olives, and cheese on the dough evenly.

Bake the pizza for about 20 minutes at 450 F.

Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle the herbs on top.

Slide the pizza on to a cutting board and cut into pieces.

Serve hot. Buon Appetito!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms With Cream Cheese

Here is a wonderful starter which is surprisingly simple to prepare and simply delicious. I have made it for so long that making it requires no thought at all. Although deceptively simple to prepare, rich tasting, and delightfully delicious, they always elicit lots of oohs and aahs whenever these mushrooms make their appearance.

Ingredients:

8 oz. Button Mushrooms
4 oz. Cream Cheese. at room temperature
2 Tbsp Milk or Cream
1 pinch Red Chili Powder (Cayenne) or to taste
1 small clove Garlic, mashed or 1 pinch Asafoetida
about 1 Tbsp unsalted Butter, at room temperature or olive oil

Method:

Bring the cream cheese to room temperature by keeping it out of the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Mix the cream cheese, chili powder, and garlic/asafoetida with a little cream to make a soft (but not runny) spread.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms by gently twisting and pulling them off. Wash quickly and dry the caps.

Using your hands lightly butter/oil the outsides of the mushrooms and fill the stem cavity with a little of the cream cheese. Smooth the filling neatly and wipe off any smears.

Place the mushrooms on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 1o minutes.

Broil the mushrooms until the tops are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and serve hot. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Home Made Pizza Dough II (With Bread Flour)

I am sure that many a recipe owes its existence to the pure necessity of availability of ingredients as in the saying "Necessity is the mother of invention." I "invented" this pizza dough when I discovered that the only flour available was bread flour; I used it and was amazed with the results. With its high gluten content, the bread flour produces a wonderfully delicious crust.

This recipe produces dough ready for use quicker than the slow/cold-rising pizza dough. One still needs to plan ahead as it will require about 2 hours from mixing to baking. This dough will yield fabulous pizza as well as rolls too. Of course, if you wish, this recipe can be modified to make slow/cold-rising dough also; just follow the directions in my earlier post on Pizza Dough.

2 large thin-crust or 2 medium thick-crust pizzas. Each pizza contains (without any toppings) : 398 calories; 9.8 grams fat; 9.5 grams protein; 67 grams carbohydrates; 3.2 grams fiber.

Makes 16 rolls: Each roll contains: 95 Calories; 2.5 g fat; 2.4 g Protein; 16.7 g carbohydrates; 0.8 g fiber.

Ingredients:

1 package (about 2 to 2 1/4 tsp) dry Yeast
1 Cup Warm (not hot) Water
2 1/4 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
2 tsp Sea Salt
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 large resealable plastic bag (1 gallon size)

Method:

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in the container of a food processor. Add olive oil and pulse to mix.

Add the warm water (it should feel comfortably warm to your fingers, but not hot) in a stream through the opening provided with the motor running.

Pulse a few times until the dough just comes together in a ball.

Turn out onto a clean counter top or board lightly dusted with a bit of flour.

Knead for a couple of minutes; the dough should be soft, smooth, and elastic, but not sticky.

Shape the dough into a nice smooth log. Place in a lightly oiled resealable bag and seal tightly expelling all air.

Keep in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (I keep it in a large covered plastic container so it stays warm).

Remove the dough from bag, punch down and knead for a couple of minutes to expel all air. At this point you may refrigerate all or part of the dough for up to 6-8 hours; if so, allow the dough to come to room temperature when ready to proceed, about 45 minutes.

If you are using the dough right away, divide and form into two smooth balls.

Stretch or roll each ball into a 10 - 12 " circle for thick crust or into a 10 x 15" rectangle for thinner crust. Brush lightly with a little olive oil.

Cover and allow the dough to rest for 30 to 45 minutes or until puffy.

Top with your favorite toppings and bake at 450 F for about 20 minutes or the crust is golden and the toppings are done to your satisfaction.

Serve hot or warm. Buon Appetito!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Butternut Squash & Sweet Potato Curry With Gravy


Who wouldn't love a recipe that creates its own gravy? The starches from the squashes, sweet & regular potatoes contribute to the creamy gravy. Here is a wonderful Saucy Curry using winter squashes or sweet potatoes which are far more nutritious as well as tasty than the typical curry with regular potatoes alone. Use the squashes or sweet potatoes singly or in combination; of course potato lovers can include a couple of potatoes if you must :-).

All types of winter squashes (pumpkin-like vegetables) such as Acorn, Butternut, Kabocha, etc will work well; both the orange-fleshed yams or the cream colored sweet potatoes can be used with equal success. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 medium Onion
4 thin slices Fresh Ginger
1 or 2 hot Green Chili
1 small Winter Squash (Acorn, Butternut, Pumpkin, etc)
1 Medium Sweet Potato
1 medium Potato (Optional)
1 cup steamed green bean pieces or a handful of green peas
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
Lime/Lemon juice or Wedges to Serve

Thalippu/Tadka:

1 Tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 or 2 Dry Red Chilies
1 Tbsp Chana Dal
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
1 pinch Asafetida
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves, minced

Method:

Winter Squash and Sweet Potatoes: Wash well, peel, and cut into 1" chunks or wedges.

Potatoes: Wash and scrub them well. It is not necessary to peel them; cut into 1" chunks or wedges.

Onions: Cut off ends, peel, and chop finely.

Chilies: Leave stem end intact and slit the ends (to be removed from curry at the end of cooking) OR cut in half, remove seeds and membranes and mince.

Heat oil in a large pot and when hot, add the mustard seeds, red chilies, and the dals. When the mustard finishes popping and the dals turn pink, quickly add the asafetida and curry leaves along with the onions, green chili, ginger and a pinch of salt.

Cook stirring until the onions are translucent and slightly caramelized adding a sprinkle or two of water if too dry. Add turmeric, veggies, the rest of the salt and 1 or 2 cups of boiling water depending on the amount of gravy you might like. More boiling water can be added later if the curry does not have enough gravy.

Cover and simmer gently until the veggies are soft - about 20 to 25 minutes. If the gravy is not creamy enough, mash a couple of veggie pieces with the back of the spoon.

Stir in the green beans/peas and heat through.

Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 5 minutes.

Remove green chilies from the curry if left whole so that no one inadvertently bites into one thinking it is a green bean (yes, that happened much to my chagrin).

Stir in chopped cilantro before serving. Add the lime/lemon juice to the curry or serve wedges for individual diners to use if desired; the tangy citrus flavor brightens and compliments the sweetness of the squashes and sweet potatoes.

Serve hot or warm with rice, puris/rotis, or dosa.

Note: A handful or two of cooked chick peas (garbanzos) make a nice addition to this curry increasing its nutritional value as well as taste.

Roasted Butternut Squash Chowder (Roots & Fruits Chowder/Soup)

We call this soup Roots & Fruits Chowder because of the ingredients: all the root and the fruit veggies such as the yam/potato, carrot, squash, pepper, corn, etc. This delicious and warming chowder is perfect for a cool Autumn or Winter day and goes together rather quickly. All of the vegetables contribute to the wonderful flavor and color of this soup. Of course, as always, you can choose just a few or all of the veggies listed - just increase the amounts of the veggies you do choose if you eliminate some. I like using butter since we add cream to the chowder; but the oil is fine too especially if you are using soy or other non-dairy cream.

Ingredients:

1 medium white/yellow/brown Onion
2 or 3 ribs Celery with leaves
1 sprig fresh Sage (about 4 or 5 leaves) + more for garnish
3 to 5 sprigs fresh Thyme + more for garnish
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Unsalted Butter
1 small Butternut Squash, pumpkin or other winter squash
1 medium Potato
1 medium Sweet Potato/Yam
1 Parsnip
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 large Carrot, coarsely grated
4 cups Vegetable Broth or Water
2 Tbsp all purpose flour mixed with 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup light cream (any type)
1 pinch freshly grated Nutmeg (Optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Peel the onion and chop finely. Chop the celery. Place in a large rimmed lightly oiled baking pan with a little of the olive oil/butter, the herbs, salt and pepper and put in the oven while preparing the rest of the veggies.

Wash, dry and trim the vegetables. Peel the butternut squash, parsnip, and sweet potato. Remove stem, membrane and seeds of the butternut and pepper. Cut into 1/2" cubes.

Add the veggies to the onion mixture in the baking pan with the rest of the olive oil or butter and roast until veggies are tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Stir the veggies a couple of times so they cook evenly while roasting. Set aside.

Alternately, stir cook the veggies with the oil/butter until light gold.

Heat the broth/water in a large soup pot and stir in the flour + water slurry and cook until thickened.

Add the roasted veggies, corn kernels and the grated carrots and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the cream and heat gently until warmed through. Stir in the nutmeg if using.

Serve hot with freshly ground pepper; garnish each serving with sage leaves and thyme if desired.

Serve with corn muffins and a crisp fresh salad for a delicious meal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cheesy Potato Corn Chowder (Leek Potato Soup With Corn & Cheese)

Occasionally we start out to do one thing but allow ourselves to go with the flow and end up with something amazingly fantastic. This chowder is an example of one of these events. Serendipity! I started out making a 'leek-potato soup' and Chellu wanted to help. It was fun cooking together and the spirit of adventure was high. Before long Chellu was bursting with suggestions of additions or substitutions (what if we add some of this and what if we added this instead of that ... etc) which sounded pretty good to me and that is how we ended up with this Cheesy Potato Corn Chowder also known as "What If Soup". It was so delicious that Paji said we should write it down so we could make it again. So here it is. Enjoy!

Serves 8

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Fresh Leek
1 small Stalk Celery
1 tsp Sea Salt
5 or 6 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
1/4 to 1/2 tsp Dried Red Pepper flakes
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste
3 Large Potatoes
1 pkg (1 lb) frozen Corn kernels
1 Large Red Bell Pepper
1 qt Water
3 cups Milk
2 Tbsp Flour + 1/4 cup water
2 Cups grated low-fat Mexican Medley Cheese (or Cheddar type Cheese)
1/4 cup finely sliced Fresh Garlic Chives (or regular chives)
1 green Onion, (only the green part) finely sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Method:

Prepare the vegetables:

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly especially between layers where soil tends to hide. Remove root ends and cut off most of the dark green leaves. Thinly slice the white and pale green parts.

Separate the celery ribs and wash thoroughly; trim root ends and any brown or yellowed parts. Slice thinly and include any leaves.

Remove stem, seeds and membranes from the bell pepper and dice.

Wash and dry the potatoes; cube into bite size pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot; add leeks, celery, red pepper flakes, pepper, turmeric and salt. Stir cook until the vegetables soften, about 4 or 5 minutes.

Add the diced bell pepper, potatoes, corn, milk and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the soup for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft but not mushy.

Stir in the flour-water slurry, increase heat so that the soup is gently boiling and cook until thickened. Turn off the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Check the soup - the broth should be creamy; if it is thin, mash a few of the potato pieces with the back of the spoon and stir in.

Stir in the herbs and cheese and serve hot with freshly ground pepper.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hema's Yogurt Cheese Dip & Sandwich Spread

It is amazing how a few simple ingredients can turn out into something so delicious! Use this spread with your favorite veggies and bread slices for a lovely snack; or serve as a dip with fresh veggies and/or your favorite chips. If cilantro is not your favorite herb, others such as Italian flat-leaf parsley, basil, dill, mint, etc may be used.

Ingredients:

2 Cups plain yogurt
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 small bunch Cilantro, finely chopped
1 small green chili, deseeded and finely chopped
1 pinch of Salt
Squeeze of lime of lemon (Optional)

Method:

Dip a large clean square of muslin cloth such as a large cotton napkin in fresh water and wring out well; shake out and place in a colander set over a bowl. The cloth should be large enough to hang over the colander.

Place all of the yogurt on the napkin in the colander and bring the ends together and loosely tie together. Set the whole thing in the refrigerator so that the yogurt can drain undisturbed for several hours or overnight.

Check the bowl underneath and pour out periodically to insure that the whey is not overflowing the container.

Remove the yogurt bag and scrape out all the drained yogurt into a bowl; discard the whey that drained from it.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Add the optional lemon/lime juice if the yogurt has no tartness at all; the lemon/lime will brighten the flavors as well.

Allow to rest for about 10 minutes for the flavors to develop and serve with veggies or chips as a dip or use as a sandwich spread.

Sandwiches: You can make traditional or open-faced sandwiches to show off the veggie toppings.

Ingredients:

Whole Grain Bread Slices
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced
Ripe Tomato, seeded and thinly sliced
Herbs/edible blossoms of your choice
Spinach leaves, Shredded Cabbage, Romaine or Boston lettuce, etc.
Salt and Freshly ground Black Pepper

Spread the yogurt spread on one side of the bread slices and top with veggies and herbs; lightly sprinkle with salt and add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cut into desired shapes and sizes and serve open-faced garnished with herbs and blossoms.

If you wish, cover with another slice of bread spread with the yogurt mixture for traditional style sandwiches. Enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mexican Lasagna (Casserole with Beans, Veggies, & Corn Tortillas)

A slice of the Mexican Lasagna With Sour Cream

I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner; but there were leftovers taking up space in the refrigerator: some Frijoles (Mexican beans), salsa, and some roasted vegetables. I wanted to unclutter the fridge rather than add to the growing cache of leftovers. What can you do with leftover beans, salsa, and roasted veggies? Mexican Lasagna!

 I make Mexican Lasagna a day or so after I make a Mexican meal with beans and salsa; it is a great way to make a new dinner using up all the leftovers. Two birds with ...er... I mean two dinners, with one pot of beans! Amma absolutely loved it and would often request it. Once you try it, you would not want to wait for leftovers to make it as Amma would have attested. It is pretty simple and easy. If you don't have your own home-made ingredients, canned vegetarian 'refried' beans and purchased salsa or marinara sauce may be used. Buen Provecho!!

This is truly a one-pot meal - it has everything; the combination of corn, beans, veggies, and cheese provide ample protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. The optional toppings make it a feast.

This is truly a one-pot meal - it has everything; the combination of corn, beans, veggies, and cheese provide ample protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. The optional toppings make it a feast!

Note:
It might seem like a lot of salsa; if you cut back you will end up with a dry casserole as the corn tortillas literally slurp it all up.

If using marinara (prepared tomato sauce), I Mexicanize it by: sauteing 1 chopped onion and  1 finely minced  Jalapeno (remove core with seeds for a mild sauce) with a pinch of salt in a little oil and add some cumin and a pinch of turmeric, and simmer with the sauce and some water until well mixed.

Makes 12 Servings

Ingredients:

1 Dozen Corn Tortillas
6 oz. Shredded Cheese - use Monterey Jack or one of your favorite combination
4 cups Salsa I (1 recipe), purchased salsa or Marinara Sauce
4 cups lightly roasted/sauteed/steamed veggies (1 onion, 1bell pepper, 2 zucchini, a handful of corn kernels, etc)
2 or 3 cups Frijoles
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro and sliced green onions

Extra Salsa I or Salsa II or Avocado Salsa, Sour cream, shredded lettuce, avocado slices/guacamole, etc to serve

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Prepare a 9"x13" baking pan with about 2" rim - coat lightly with oil or cooking oil spray.

Spread a thin layer of salsa/sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Cut the tortillas in half; dip them one by one in a pan of warm water as you proceed.

Place 1/3 of the tortillas with the cut edges against the sides of the pan (see picture below) overlapping them to cover the bottom of the pan completely.


Drizzle 1/3 of the salsa over the tortillas.

Spread the frijoles over the tortillas.

Sprinkle a handful of cheese evenly on top of the beans.

Layer another 1/3 of the tortillas covering all of the filling and spread another 1/3 of the salsa over them.

Spread the veggies and a couple of handfuls of the cheese in even layers on the tortillas.

Place a last layer of the rest of the 1/3 of the tortillas and drizzle the rest of the salsa on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Sprinkle the last of the cheese on top and bake a little longer until cheese melts.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.

Serve hot sprinkled with the cilantro/green onions and your favorite toppings and garnishes.

Buen Provecho!!

Simple Pea Soup (Dried Split Pea Soup With Barley)

This soup has only 7 ingredients but tastes awesome. A good soup to make when one does not want to chop, dice, or mince anything.

Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 cup split peas (green or yellow)
1 small handful barley (about 1/8 cup)
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Ghee or Canola Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/2 to 1 tsp Cumin seeds, freshly crushed

Method:

Check peas for any debris or discolored beans. Combine barley and the cleaned peas and rinse well.

Place peas and barley with about 3 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Stir in turmeric and salt to taste.

Turn down the heat and simmer partially covered until soft and creamy; add more boiling water to thin soup if you wish.

Heat a small pan with the ghee/oil and add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and the coarsely ground cumin seeds; swirl and cook for a few seconds until fragrant.

Pour the aromatic ghee with the spices into the soup and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.

Serve hot with your favorite accompaniments including breads/muffins.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dried Pea Soup

The adventure of making this soup reminded me of the old Indian Tamil saying of how a woman attempting to make Dosa, a pancake, asks her husband to use a bowl instead of a plate :). Yes, you guessed it, Dosa had ended becoming mush. For those who might appreciate the Tamil original saying, here it is: "Dosa varthu koozha pochu, donnai theyyum brahmana".

I had aimed on making chundal; I soaked the dried whole peas and then pressure-cooked them for what I thought would be the right amount of time. To my utter dismay, I found porridge instead when I opened the cooker to proceed. The peas were too soft for anything but soup; so soup it became and a delicious one at that! It is so simple and yet absolutely delicious - better make plenty of it as it gets gobbled up pretty quickly; Yum!

Although I used whole dried peas, regular split peas can be used as well. Whole peas are available in Indian markets; split peas are available in most markets.

6 Servings

Ingredients:

2 cups whole dried peas
1 medium Onion, finely chopped
1 Jalapeno chili, finely chopped (remove seeds for a milder soup)
1 sprig Curry leaves
2 large Tomatoes
1 tsp Garlic Spread or 1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Turmeric
Salt to taste
1 tsp Sambar Powder
a few grinds of Black Pepper, to taste
4 T finely chopped Cilantro or Italian Parsley

1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
1/4 tsp Red Chili flakes or 1 dried red chili
1 Tbsp Oil

Method:

Sort the dried peas for extraneous materials; wash and soak in fresh water to cover for several hours or overnight.

Drain, rinse, and cook in fresh water to cover with a pinch of turmeric and a teaspoon of salt until very soft.

Heat the oil in a large pot with the cumin seeds and chili flakes. When the spices brown slightly, add the onions, green chili, turmeric, and a pinch of salt; cook stirring often for about 3 or 4 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the sambar powder and the tomatoes. Stir well to combine and cook until the tomatoes are softened.

Add the cooked peas; if too thick, add enough hot water to get desired consistency.

Simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes stirring occasionally; make sure it does not burn. Remove from heat.

Stir in the chopped herbs, cover, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Serve hot with cornmeal muffins, any kind of bread, or your favorite accompaniments.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Upma Pepperonata (Cornmeal/Polenta With Indian Spices and Sweet Peppers)

Upma Peperonata

Upma is a simple and hearty South Indian dish that can be made with coarse corn meal instead of the traditional cream of wheat - for a quick and delicious gluten-free treat! When you put Italian Polenta grains and lots of colorful peppers to make the Upma, it has to be called "Upma Pepperonata" of course! The procedure is the same as in preparing the traditional Upma. It is a versatile food great any time at all - as a meal or a nutritious snack. Upma is delicious served with cashews or other nuts and seeds to augment its protein content.

Polenta or corn meal is usually available in most markets; Chana Dal, Urad dal, asafoetida, curry leaves and mustard seeds, etc are readily available in Indian markets.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp Ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 tsp Brown Mustard seeds
1 Tbsp Chana dal
1 Tbsp Urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida (Hing)
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, 2 or 3 coin sized slices
1 or 2 green Chilies (Serrano or Jalapeno)
1 small Onion, any kind
1 sprig of fresh Curry leaves
1 tsp Salt or to taste
1 Each, small Red, Green, Orange and Yellow Sweet Peppers (or use any combination)
31/2 cups Water
1 cup Polenta or coarse Corn Meal
2 Tbsp chopped Cilantro leaves
4 Tbsp toasted Cashew pieces or other nuts or seeds (Optional)

Method:

1. Prepare the veggies: remove the seeds and membranes from the green chilies and finely mince; finely chop the ginger, onion and curry leaves. Remove stems, seeds and membranes from the peppers; cut into thin strips.

2. Heat the oil and ghee in a large pot or a Kadai (Indian wok); ghee adds a wonderful aroma and taste; but if you prefer, you can omit it and use just oil.

3. Add mustard seeds, Chana dal and Urad dal when the oil is hot and cover with a lid to keep the mustard seeds from escaping while they pop; be careful to watch that they do not burn though. This will only take a few seconds; the dals should become just pinkish golden.

4. When the mustard seeds begin popping, lower the heat to prevent burning and add the asafetida quickly.

5. Stir in the ginger, green chili, onions, curry leaves and the salt; cook stirring constantly over medium heat until onions are translucent and softened.

6. Stir in the rest of the vegetables and stir-cook for about 3 or 4 minutes or until softened and lightly caramelized; add the water and bring to a boil.

7. Turn the heat down so the water is just simmering.

8. Add the polenta in a fine stream while stirring constantly. When all the grains are incorporated and well mixed without any lumps, cover and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally to keep from sticking or burning.

9. Sprinkle with a little water if upma looks dry - add enough hot water to adjust the consistency - it can be served soft or fluffy.

10. Turn off heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

11. Stir in the cilantro leaves or sprinkle on top just before serving.

12. Serve hot garnished with the nuts/seeds. Upma is delicious just as it is or served with your favorite accompaniments of chutneys, pickles, curries, etc. Two curries we especially like are Mor Kootu and Ripe Mango Pulisseri. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Garlic Pesto/Spread

Garlic Pesto or Spread is fantastic to have on hand to spice up sandwiches and stir into pasta, soups, etc. I love to stir a spoonful of this wonderful spread into whatever I am cooking without having to stop and chop 1 or 2 cloves of garlic every time I cook. Once you try it, I am sure you will find your own special uses for this delicious spread.

Ingredients:

1 head Fresh Garlic, regular or Elephant
1/2 tsp dried Marjoram, crumbled
Freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method:

Peel, wash, and chop the garlic finely. Sprinkle a pinch or two of the salt on top and mash with the flat side of the knife blade until mashed. This can be done in a food processor as well.

Place the garlic in a clean dry jar and add the herbs, spices, salt, and a little of the olive oil - about 2 Tbsp - and mix well.

Add more oil so that the garlic spread is completely covered by a layer of oil.

Cover and keep in the refrigerator. This spread will stay fresh for a couple of weeks.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Neyyappam (Banana Muffins With Cardamom And Coconut)

Neyyappams (pronounced "Nay-up-pums") are classic South Indian sweet spherical fritters which often include ripe bananas and constitute an integral part of many celebrations. The well-loved appams are made for birth ceremonies, memorial ceremonies, various holidays, or simply as a special snack.

Appams are made in a special pan called 'appa karai' or 'paniyaram' pan in Tamil and is similar to the Scandinavian aebleskiver pan, Japanese takoyaki pan, or the Thai Kanom Krok pan which gives them their characteristic spherical shape but can also be made without any special equipment. It is worth the investment in this pan since it can be used to make wonderful treats using other muffin and pancake batters for special occasions; I use it to make savory 'Vellai appams' using leftover dosa, idli, and adai batters. The nice thing about this pan is that it won't heat up the whole house like a fired up oven especially during summertime.

Appams are traditionally made with rice; I have added the whole wheat flour and the oat meal because they make the appams a little softer and fluffier. They can be made gluten-free if the whole wheat flour and oatmeal are omitted and dairy-free as well if made with oil instead of the traditional ghee. Sesame oil (but not the Chinese toasted kind) is a good choice as is canola oil. Occasionally I like to add finely chopped apples, canned Jack fruit, etc. in place of the bananas for a variation. For an equally delicious baked version, see Baked Neyyappam.

The Last Batch! Appams in the 'appa karai'
They got a little overcooked
The rest disappeared before I could take a nice picture
Ingredients:

3 Ripe Bananas
11/2 cups Rice Flour
1 cup grated Jaggery or brown sugar
5 pods Cardamom
4 Tbsp grated Coconut (2 Tbsp dessicated)
1/4 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
Water, a few tablespoons
1/4 cup Whole Wheat Flour (omit for gluten-free)
1/4 cup Oat Meal flakes(omit for gluten-free)
1/4 cup Ghee or Oil (not Olive) for cooking

Method:

Peel the bananas and place in a large mixing bowl; mash well.

Peel the cardamom pods and discard the shells. Grind the seeds finely with a pinch of sugar using a mortar and pestle; add the ground cardamom to the bananas.

Add jaggery/brown sugar and mix well.

Mix together the rice flour, salt, whole wheat flour, coconut, and oats. If you are not using the whole wheat flour or oats, add 2 tsp corn starch.

Stir in the dry mixture into the bananas with just enough water - add a tablespoon at a time - to make a thick batter. Allow the batter to rest covered for an hour or even overnight so the flours can hydrate well.

Mix the baking soda and powder into the batter just before cooking.

Coat the 'appa karai' lightly with a little oil or a cooking oil spray and heat over moderate heat.

Test the pan by dropping a tiny bit of batter; if it sizzles, pan is ready. Pour about 1/3 teaspoon of ghee into each indentation, and fill each 3/4ths full with the batter - if no wheat or oats are used, the batter will not rise very much during cooking.

Keep the heat low to medium so the batter cooks slowly; adjust the heat as necessary.

When the edges change color and the bottom has browned, loosen edges carefully with a skewer or a small spoon and turn them over to cook the other side.

When the appams turn a rich brown or are plum colored with no uncooked batter inside (check by inserting a skewer through an appam), remove them and set aside.

Repeat the steps above to cook the rest of the batter.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Although they need no further adornments, sometimes they are dusted with powdered sugar or rolled in granulated sugar before serving.

Appams will last about 3 days at room temperature; freeze in freezable containers or zipper bags for longer storage and thaw out and warm as necessary.

NOTE: If you do not have the special pan, the batter can be cooked in a skillet. Pour small spoonfuls and cook over low/moderate heat with a few drops of ghee/oil; flip over and cook both sides until nicely browned. Although these will be shaped like pancakes rather than spheres, they will taste lovely still. Alternately, they can be deep-fried by dropping small tablespoonfuls of the batter in the hot ghee/oil. An egg poacher will work also if you have one.

Lemongrass Tea With Green Tea & Mint

Lemongrass as well as green tea and mint are known for their many health benefits. So why not combine all three for a wonderful and healthful beverage? It turns out great and is absolutely delicious!

Hot Lemongrass, Mint, & Green Tea

A refreshing beverage that can be served hot or cold, I often make a large quantity so that there is plenty left to chill for a cooling beverage later. You may sweeten the tea if you wish, but I find that it is just perfect as is whether served hot or cold. You can use whole stalks or use a few of the outer leaves to make tea. If you like the health benefits of lemongrass but not its flavor so much, add strong herbs like mint; mint works wonderfully well with the lemongrass. Would you like your tea hot or cold?

Iced Lemongrass Tea With Mint & Green Tea

Ingredients:

6 to 8 leaves of fresh Lemongrass
4 tsp Green tea leaves
6 - 8 sprigs fresh Mint
Sweetener of choice (Optional)
Lemon or Lime slices for garnish

Method:

Bring 2 quarts (8 cups) of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, wash lemongrass leaves and chop using a sharp knife or snip with kitchen scissors into small pieces. Chop the mint coarsely. Place the tea in a tea ball or tie loosely in a square of muslin if you wish.

When the water starts to boil, add add the herbs, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add tea, stir, and cover and set aside to brew for another five minutes.

Strain and serve hot or cool, chill, and serve over ice cubes with lemon/lime slices if you wish.

Serve the tea with or without sweeteners - as you wish. Enjoy in Good health! Cheers!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mulagai Podi (Dry Sesame & Lentil Chutney/Dip)

Mulagai Podi is a dry chutney that is mixed with oil/ghee and is used as a dip for dosa, idli, adai, upma, etc. Mulagai Podi means literally chili powder; but this is obviously more than just ground chilies. Traditionally dosa, idli, etc are served in homes simply with this podi and oil/ghee. Amma often packed a lunch of dosa or idlis rolled in mulagai podi mixed with a little oil - they tasted so wonderful that my friends often wanted a share of my lunch :).

I am amazed yet again to find so much similarity between Indian and Japanese cuisines. Their furikakes are similar to the Indian chutneys and curries; in fact Mulagai Podi is a close cousin of the Japanese sesame salt, gomasio. Mulagai Podi is delicious sprinkled on buttered toast, vegetables, or steamed hot rice; some people I know (who shall remain anonymous ;}) even sprinkle it liberally on their pizza!

Roasted Urad dal, Sesame seeds, Red Chilies, & Asafoetida chunk; Salt

Often called Dosai Mulagai Podi to differentiate it from plain ground chilies, it is easy to make and makes a nice table condiment to spice up any food you like. There are many variations of it and some include other ingredients such as roasted chana dal, curry leaves, cilantro, tamarind, etc. This is one of my favorite versions and since it includes a goodly amount of sesame seeds (ellu), it is sometimes called Ellu podi. Every sprinkle of this delicious podi boosts the protein content of your food since it contains both sesame seeds and urad dal (a type of legume).

Mulagai Podi

Ingredients:

1/4 cup white or tan colored Sesame seeds
1 cup white Urad Dal (skinless)
5 to 9 Dry Red Chilies, break into 2 or 3 pieces
1 small pea-sized lump Asafetida or use 2 pinches of the powder type
1 tsp Sea Salt or to taste

Method:

Roast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant; they will start to pop a little like popcorn. Remove from heat and let cool on a plate. If left in the skillet, the residual heat will overcook or burn them.

Roast the dal, chilies, and the asafetida in the dry skillet until the dal is golden brown. Let cool.

Grind all the roasted ingredients using a coffee grinder with the salt in batches - the texture of the finished podi should be like brown sugar - slightly gritty but without any whole dal.

Mix well and keep in an airtight jar in a cool cupboard.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Watermelon Sharbat (Watermelon Cooler)

Sharbats are cooling beverages made with fruits, herbs, and/or vegetables and very popular during the hot summers. Watermelon Sharbat is a refreshing and delicious cooler. As I put the fruit through a powerful blender, I did not find it necessary to strain out the pulp; you may strain if you wish though. Good and good for you :P!


2 Servings

Ingredients:

2 cups Watermelon chunks, chilled
4 to 6 ice cubes
1/2 Lime, juiced
1 pinch Sea Salt
Mint sprigs for garnishing

Method:

Place all the ingredients in the blender container and process into a fine puree.

Pour into glasses and serve cold garnished with mint sprigs. Enjoy!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Golden Roasted Potatoes With Peppers & Carrots

If you want a dish that is sure to please yet easy to prepare, try Golden Roasted Potatoes With Peppers & Carrots. And make plenty of it too as it disappears rather quickly! You can use any kind of potatoes including sweet potatoes/yams.


Leftover baked potatoes work very well also - just cut them up, add the rest of the ingredients, and bake. For a delicious variation, substitute 1 Tablespoon of Sambar or Rasam powder for the thyme, rosemary, and chili flakes.

4 - 6 Servings

Ingredients:

2 large Potatoes, cubed
2 Carrots, cut in chunks
1 Each, Assorted Bell Peppers - red, green, orange & yellow
1 large Red Onion, diced
6 sprigs fresh Thyme, strip the leaves
4 sprigs fresh Rosemary
1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Sea Salt (to taste)
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 to 450 degrees F.

Prepare a large baking pan with rim by coating with a little olive oil or cooking oil spray; the 9"x13" size works well.

Place all the vegetables in the prepared baking pan.

Sprinkle all the spices, salt, and drizzle the olive oil over the veggies.

Sprinkle the thyme leaves and rosemary sprigs over the veggies.

Stir well to mix; roast in the oven for about 40 to 45 minutes stirring every 10 minutes or so until cooked and lightly browned.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly; remove rosemary sprigs and discard.

Serve hot.

Mediterranean Style Chick Pea Salad

Chick Pea Salad

I love Mediterranean foods with their lemony, fresh flavors and the abundance of vegetables and legumes. Here is a lovely lemony salad inspired by the Mediterranean cuisine featuring the wonderfully healthy, popular chick peas/garbanzo beans which also incorporates lots of veggies. The hearty, creamy taste of chick peas are nicely complimented by the lemon dressing and the colorful crunchy veggies.

Soaking and cooking the chick peas takes a bit of planning but is not otherwise difficult; it is worth every effort. There is no comparison between freshly cooked and canned ones; canned ones are either overly salty, may have sugar added to them, and/or are bathed in preservatives. Using the pressure cooker reduces cooking time quite a bit. I like to cook a large batch of chick peas and use the extra portions for Chole, Hummus, etc. The cooked chick peas can be stored in their cooking liquid in the fridge for about 5 days. They freeze well also.

Chick peas are high in protein and fiber (contains 7 g of fiber per half-cup (cooked) serving (1/4th of the recommended daily value) and a good source of folate, potassium, magnesium, and iron. Because of the high fiber content, they are effective at reducing cholesterol and regulating blood sugar and insulin.

6 Servings; Each serving contains (without the cheese) - 196 Calories; 8 g Protein; 8 g Fiber; 27 g Carbohydrates; 5 g unsaturated fat; 1 g saturated fat.

Ingredients:

11/2 cups Dry Chick Peas (Kabuli Chana)
1 tsp Salt
1 sprig Each Oregano and Sage

1 clove garlic
Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Juice of 1 Lemon
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion
1 clove Shallot
2 carrots
1 each Red and Green Bell Peppers (Capsicums)
2 Persian type cucumbers
2 cups Cherry Tomatoes
2 sprigs Oregano
1/2 cup Italian Parsley
A handful of Fresh Basil Leaves

2 oz. Feta cheese or goat cheese for garnish (Optional)

Method:

Sort for stones or discolored chick peas, wash, and soak the chick peas in plenty of fresh water to cover well for several hours or overnight. Drain them, rinse, and cover again with fresh water. Add 1 tsp salt and the herb sprigs and cook until soft but not mushy in a large pot or using a pressure cooker. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the dressing: Dice the onion. Mince the garlic; add a pinch of salt and mash with the side of the knife until macerated. Place the garlic in a large bowl and add the olive oil, lemon juice, a couple of pinches of salt, and black pepper. Mix well. Add the diced onions.

Using a slotted spoon transfer the warm (not hot) cooked chick peas to the dressing and stir to coat. Set aside to cool. You can prepare the salad ahead up to this point. Add the rest of the ingredients on the day of serving.

Meanwhile prepare the veggies:

Dice the carrots and peppers.

Persian cucumbers do not need peeling; cut them into small bite-sized chunks.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters.

Finely chop the oregano and parsley; tear the basil into small pieces.

Stir in the veggies, and oregano and parsley; mix well.

Place on serving dish and sprinkle the basil on top along with feta or goat cheese if using.

Serve cool or at room temperature.

Chill any leftovers in the fridge; the salad will stay fresh for about 2 days.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii)

Curry leaf trees are ubiquitous in South Indian gardens as they are one of the most commonly and avidly used flavoring ingredients in practically all savory recipes. It is a small tree with highly aromatic leaves with a faint citrus and anise flavor. They are prized for their unique flavor as well as medicinal properties and are used in Ayurveda, the ancient art of medicine in India. Amma used to say that curry trees were always planted close to the house to catch the breezes and that it is very healthy to breathe the air wafting through the curry tree branches and leaves.

So, when Mae graciously offered to get me a new curry plant last spring, although I was ecstatic at having a curry plant again, I was worried too. Every curry leaf plant I had acquired before and tried to grow have perished for one reason or the other. Two died when we were on a long vacation. A few years later the beautiful curry plant which Amma had nursed into a mini tree got dehydrated completely in the scorching summer heat while I was away for just 2 weeks. Hoping to be more diligent this time, I set it up in the kitchen near a bright window. Soon I noticed little white cottony things on the branches and under the leaves. Upon inspection, they turned out to be little insects - the dreaded mealybugs - that were beginning to hatch and suck the sap out of the hapless curry plants. After a few weeks of meticulous care (washing with a mild dish washing soap solution), they sprang back to health and all was well. Or so I thought.

This spring the mealybugs came back with a vengeance with another bug in tow. To compound the situation, sooty mold fungus set in as a result of the honeydew the mealy bugs were secreting. In spite of all the care the plant started looking dreadful and started yellowing and dropping leaves as you can see :(.

Is it dying?

Apparently houseplants are easy targets for insects as they are protected from their natural predators. I had two choices at this point:
1. get some predatory insects. OR
2. get an insecticide spray.
As I did not think my family would be too thrilled to live with more bugs in the house, I settled on getting a mild organic insecticide with the hope that it would surely take care of the problem(s). In spite of diligent spraying, the plants kept getting worse; pretty soon all the leaves were gone and the situation looked grim. I placed the little plants outside in a protected area and kept constant watch over them - I sprayed every time the tenacious bugs reappeared and kept praying that they don't come back. And thankfully, I have not seen any sign of the bugs in at least a week.

Finally, just a couple of days ago I saw tiny leaf buds beginning to unfurl! And on the worst hit plant, I saw buds! There is indeed hope while there is life :). I have planted them in large clay pots with abundant soil so that they will not dry out too quickly or be affected by varying temperature conditions. They are situated in a protected but well ventilated area where they get plenty of morning and late evening sunshine. It looks like curry plants need air movement to thrive; the plants seem much healthier outside.

It lives!

If you have ever eaten South Indian food, you probably know how important curry leaves are to this cuisine. There is hardly a dish (exceptions being desserts of course) that could not benefit from a flavor boost from the curry leaves. In fact I would even go so far as to say that the curry leaf is one of the quintessential aromatic ingredients in South Indian cooking. Curry leaves are the major flavoring ingredient in Aviyal, Molagushyam, and Olan; Rasams and Sambar also are always flavored with them.

Curry leaves are used in a similar fashion as bay leaves but their flavors are not similar. And though most people do not eat them, curry leaves are edible unlike the bay leaves. When it comes to curry leaves, as with most aromatic herbs, fresh is always best. But since they are not always readily available and there is no satisfactory substitute, I often purchase more than I can use fresh and dry them.

Also, curry powder is not ground up curry leaves; it is a mixture of various spices such as coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and chilies.

How To Dry Curry Leaves

Wash the leaves well, drain thoroughly, and dry them on thick toweling in a single layer on the counter top or on a table. When completely dry, store in airtight jars in a cool cupboard. They retain most of their aroma as well as color and are wonderful to add to various curries, kozhambus, soups, and rasams when fresh curry leaves are unavailable.

Malabar Spinach Kuzhambu (Spicy Mung Bean & Basella Stew)

This is a highly nutritious and utterly delicious dal. You might want to make a double batch because it tastes even better the next day. This kuzhambu is a bit spicy; it is as it should be. Typically, tamarind flavored kuzhambus are hot with spices (the word in Tamil for this is "kara-saram" meaning spicy-hot and worthy) to wake up sleepy or numb taste buds. If Malabar spinach is not available, regular spinach or other greens such as Amaranth, Swiss chard, etc may be used instead. If the split mung beans with skins are not available, this kuzhambu can be made with split skinless mung (yellow), whole mung, a combination of the two mungs, or other dals.

Another wonderful leafy green Taro! especially if you have some growing at home. Both the leaves and stems may be used instead of other greens to make this kuzhambu.

Sambar powder, tamarind paste, mung dal with skins, & other ingredients are readily available in Indian markets. If you like, prepare your own homemade Sambar Powder - I do.

4 - 6 servings


Malabar Spinach Kuzhambu over Rice
Ingredients:

1 cup split Mung dal with skins
1 tsp Salt, divided
1 bunch Basella alba (Malabar/Ceylon spinach), about 4 cups chopped
2 tsp Tamarind paste (instant)
2 tsp Sambar Powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/4 cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro (Optional)

Thalippu/Tadka:
1 Tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds (methi)
2 Dry Red Chilies, broken into two
1 stalk Curry leaves, finely sliced (chiffonade)
1 or 2 pinches Asafetida
1 hot Green Chili, minced
1 small red Onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced

Method:

Sort the dal for debris and pebbles; wash well. Cook in water to cover with the 1/2 tsp salt and a pinch of turmeric until very soft but retains some texture. Set aside until needed.

Wash the Basella/greens well and drain. Chop coarsely - use the stems also.

Prepare thalippu in a large pan (2 or 3 quart or liter capacity): Heat the oil with the seeds and red chilies; when they start to pop, add asafetida, then the green chilies, curry leaves, onions, garlic, turmeric, and the remaining salt. Cook until the onions turn lightly golden and soften.

Stir in the sambar powder and mix well.

Add 2 cups of water to the onion mixture and stir in the tamarind paste; bring to a good rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the greens and then the cooked dal. Add more boiling water if the kuzhambu is too thick.

Bring to a boil stirring often and well. Remove from heat and let rest covered for 5 minutes.

Stir in chopped cilantro if desired.

Serve hot over rice, other grains, or with chapatis. Enjoy!!

NOTE: The kuzhambu will thicken more upon cooling; add water to thin to desired consistency when you reheat.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Instant Potato Podimas (Indian Mashed Potatoes)

We had just come back from a vacation late at night and everyone was famished and tired. Since everyone was starved for home cooked Indian food, I started making rice and a simple dal. Looking in the pantry for an idea for a side dish, I spied a box of instant mashed potatoes kept there just for an occasion like this. The rest is history; though not exactly very healthful, it was wonderful and very comforting.

The recipe as given makes a very mild dish; if you prefer a spicy version you can add chopped onions and garlic to the thalippu with a couple of pinches of turmeric and cook until softened before adding the water.

Instant Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp Oil
1 Tbsp Chana Dal
1 Tbsp Urad Dal
2 Dry Red Chilies broken into two
1 pinch Asafetida
1 Hot Green Chili, sliced or minced
1 stalk Curry Leaves

Instant Potatoes to serve 4
Water
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped

Method:

Heat the oil in a skillet or kadai and add mustard seeds, the dals and chilies.

When the mustard starts to pop and the dals are turning light gold, add asafoetida, curry leaves, and green chili. Cook until chili softens.

Add enough water to equal the amount of water and milk on the package of the instant potatoes.

Bring the water to a boil.

Turn off the heat, stir in salt, and then the potato flakes.

Stir well to moisten the potatoes and allow to rest covered for five minutes.

Mix thoroughly and serve hot sprinkled with the cilantro.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oats Kanji A La Shobhaa

Versatile and nutritious, oats kanji is wholesome and quick to make. Oats are rich in fiber - especially the soluble kind which help reduce cholesterol and the other minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals in them reduce the risk of many diseases and promote health in various ways.

Oats always conjures up feelings of comfort and love for me. I used to be the "dubbawali"* for carrying the sweet oats kanji for my grandfather's special breakfast. My grandmother made it with lots of fresh milk and sugar. As my grandfather was long gone from the house to oversee the many activities on his farm, I was usually entrusted with taking the kanji to him. The job was not without its merits - grandfather always insisted on sharing some of the delicious kanji with me ;). Mm, What a treat!!

Our other grandfather had oats kanji with milk and a banana every day too - he had it in the evening for his supper! He had given up regular food for his evening meal as a part of "vanaprastha", the third stage of life according to the ancient Indian philosophy called Sanatana Dharma meaning Eternal Righteousness. It was part of his disciplined way of life to rise every morning before dawn to do his exercises and meditations; he lived to be almost a hundred without any ailments whatsoever! He was impeccable in all aspects of hygiene and personal discipline including his laundry - he washed and ironed his own clothes meticulously even in his eighties. The only luxury he allowed himself was two Marie biscuits with his supper on occasion. And since he treated all the children present with a biscuit or two, he never lacked for company at supper time!

* A "dubbawali (f) or dubbawala (m)", literally translated as 'box person', is someone who carries lunch boxes to students and office workers. Our particular dubbawala balanced many dubbas (stacked lunch containers similar to a Japanese bento box) in a large basket on his bicycle. It is amazing to me now that the food came perfectly on time, still piping hot with nary a mix up!!

Do use regular (as opposed to instant) grains for the kanji; it really does not take much more time than the instant. The taste alone is worth the time and effort. Steel cut oats will require a little more time than rolled oats; you can also use a multigrain cereal which contains many cracked/rolled grains such as rye, wheat, and barley in addition to oats.

Once you have the basic kanji, you can choose either sweet or savory - add milk (any kind) and sugar or salt and buttermilk or yogurt. Both are delicious. Shobhaa's favorite way is to make it the savory by adding a few drops of the fiery red sauce from Kaduku Mangai Pickles (also known as Vadumangai - tiny mangoes flavored with mustard seeds and chilies) and serve some roasted papadams to add a bit of crunch - yummy!

2 Servings
Each Serving of Basic Kanji prepared with oats contains: 75 Calories; 2.5 g Protein; 1.5 g Fat; 13 g Carbohydrates; 2 g Fiber.

Basic Multigrain Kanji
Ingredients:

1/2 cup Oats,
2 cups Water
1 cup Buttermilk + Salt to taste
OR
1 cup Milk, any type + Sugar to taste

Optional Toppings/Sides:

Savory: Indian Pickles, Chutneys, Papadams
Sweet: ground cardamom, cinnamon, honey, pure maple syrup, diced bananas, berries, nuts

Method:

Make the basic kanji: Bring the water to a boil in a 2 quart/liter pan. Add the oats with a pinch of salt and cook stirring until oats are soft. Cover and let sit until cooled slightly. The basic kanji can be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated as necessary.

At this point you can choose one of the options or if you prefer, mix one half with milk and the other with the buttermilk.
  • For the Buttermilk option, simply mix salt and buttermilk into the kanji and serve with toppings of your choice. Add more buttermilk as needed. Serve warm or cool.
  • For the sweet kanji, add milk and sugar and warm to your liking. More milk can be added if you prefer a thinner kanji. Serve hot or warm with your favorite toppings.
Enjoy!!

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba & rubra) Homegrown Greens


Variously called Malabar or Ceylon Spinach, Basale or Pasalai Keerai, Pui/Poi Saag, etc in the many Indian languages, Basella is a wonderful alternate for the regular spinach. It is used in other Asian cuisines as well. 

Basella grows readily during the hot summer months unlike the sensitive spinach which bolts into seeds at the barest whisper of warmth. There are two varieties of basella - the green-stemmed alba and the red-stemmed rubra. Both are delicious and nutritious.

Lovely basella grows readily from cuttings or seeds. These plants grew from a few pieces of the stems I saved from a bunch bought for cooking. They can be rooted in water first or directly in a pot of soil; my experiments proved both methods to be successful. This particular plant is growing well in a large pot - although the vines are getting so long that they need a trellis - some of the leaves are larger than my hand! The tender vines as well as the leaves and berries are delicious.


The substantial and thick leaves of basella are somewhat succulent and slightly mucilaginous. Once cooked, there does not seem to be any evidence of the stickiness. I have used regular spinach and basella interchangeably in recipes with great results. Basella is delicious in any recipe using spinach or Swiss chard; use it in any dal, molakootal, Mung bean & Basella Stew, Chettinad Style Spicy Dal, Thai Curry, stir-fry dishes and soups; it worked very well in rice salad too. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vendakkai Masala (Stir Fried Okra With Onions & Spices)

Vendakkai (Okra) Masala

Delicious Okra stir-fry is easy and delicious. The key to cooking this okra dish is to make sure they are wiped dry thoroughly before cutting. The freshly pounded cumin seeds with the red chili, a classic spice combination in Kerala cuisine, add a wonderful nutty and earthy flavor which perfectly compliments the sweet green okra.

Okra was one of our favorite veggies from early childhood. Amma told us it was good for our brains and made it quite often - we believed her and ate it up!

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 lb Fresh Okra
1 onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 green chilies, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 sprig Fresh Curry leaves
2 Tbsp Oil
1/4 tsp Whole Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Salt
Jeera Masala: grind or pound together coarsely - 1/2 tsp cumin seeds + 1 dry red chili
1/4 cup Cilantro Leaves for garnish
1/2 fresh Lime (Optional)

Method:

Wash the okra and drain thoroughly; spread them on a thick towel to dry completely. Simply cut off the stem ends and cut them into two or three pieces.

Heat the oil in a kadai or skillet and cook the 1/4 tsp cumin seeds until fragrant.

Stir in green chilies, curry leaves, onion, salt, and turmeric. Cook stirring until the onion pieces brown lightly.

Add the okra and cook stirring often for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the jeera masala and mix well to coat.

Cover and cook the veggies for 2 to 3 minutes; remove the cover to allow steam to escape and stir well. Allowing the steam to escape helps keep the veggies dry and also retains their green color.

Repeat the above step two or three times depending on how soft you would like the okra to be.

Cook uncovered for a couple of minutes to evaporate any accumulated moisture.

Stir in the chopped cilantro and the juice from the lime just before serving.

Serve hot with rice/chapati and any lentil/bean dish for a complete meal.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lemony Rice Salad With Feta Cheese and Kalamata Olives


I had a beautiful and delicious rice salad recently - Pat had made it with Kalamata olives, red bell pepper, and spinach - very refreshing. I have tried to recreate it with the ingredients I had at hand and was quite happy with the result; here is my version with Keeshu's seal of approval!

Ingredients:

1 cup Basmati Rice
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 cup fresh Lemon juice (1 or 2 lemons)
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes or to taste
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1 small clove Garlic, minced finely
2 cloves Shallot, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh Oregano, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh chives, finely sliced
1/4 cup Italian Parsley, chopped
1 cup Leek, thinly sliced
1 cup Arugula leaves, sliced
1 cup Fresh spinach or Basella, sliced in wide ribbons
1/2 cup Kalamata Olives, chopped
1 Fennel Bulb, chopped
1 Carrot, shredded
2 cups Corn kernels, fresh or frozen defrosted
1 cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup lightly toasted Pine nuts (for garnish)

Method:

Cook the rice in scant 2 cups of water with the salt. Cool slightly - about 10 minutes.

Prepare the dressing: mash the minced garlic and a pinch of salt on the cutting board with the side of a knife until macerated. Combine the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, and all the herbs in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together well.

Fluff the rice gently with a fork, add it while still hot to the dressing and gently mix.

Stir in the leeks, spinach, and the arugula; the hot rice will wilt the veggies slightly. Allow the rice mixture to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix gently but thoroughly.

Serve right away or chill until needed.

Allow the salad to warm to room temperature if made ahead of time and chilled.

Garnish with the pine nuts before serving.

Ney Payasam (Rice Pudding With Ghee)


Ney Payasam is the offering prepared on the occasion of many holidays in honor of Divine Mother. I remember how wonderful it was when we had the annual Bhagavat Sevai pooja at home on a Friday evening. Our grandfather was busy over a huge bronze pan called 'uruli' full of ney payasam. All of us children had our jobs too; the most important one was to collect and prepare beautiful and fragrant flowers. The whole house and surroundings were cleaned thoroughly and the altar was gloriously decorated with rangoli (rice flour designs), lamps, and flowers. The warm golden glow of the oil lamps, the fragrance of the sandalwood incense, and the recitation of beautiful chants praising the divine transformed and transported our home into another plane. All who were assembled for the pooja turned our minds to dwell on the meaning of the melodious chants. Then it was finally the magical moment we had anticipated all day long - all the children were called forth to be blessed. Mere words cannot describe the enchanted and overwhelmingly grateful feelings we experienced as the elders and priests uttered blessings and showered us with a cascade of the blessed rose petals - the colorful, fragrant, soft shower brought such joy and contentment and left us feeling utterly and completely protected! Finally, when we were served the "prasad"( the blessed ney payasam), it made the special evening complete.

The ney payasam is very rich and is served in small quantities. It is a perfect example of quality mattering over quantity. Paji's father used to make the rich payasam ever so richer with a double dose of the jaggery, honey and rock sugar, that one could barely eat a spoonful!

We used to be amazed by the way the rice in the payasam turned glassy bathed in the syrup formed by all the jaggery, honey, and ghee. It is a matter of science actually - the principle of osmosis at work. The water moves from inside the rice (high water potential) to the outside of rice surrounded by the sugar (low water potential); this process makes the bloomed starch in the cooked rice shrivel a bit and makes it translucent. If you would like to know more about osmosis click here.

Ney Payasam lasts a long time as sugar is an excellent preservative. It can be kept at room temperature in a covered container for at least a week. For longer storage, keep it in the fridge and allow it to warm to room temperature before serving. The ratio for traditional ney payasam is 1 measure rice:1 measure ghee:3 measures Jaggery. Here is my lean (compared to the traditional) version.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 cup Indian Jaggery or Dark brown sugar
2 - 3 Tbsp Ghee
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped raw Cashews
2 Tbsp Raisins (Optional)
2 Tbsp Coconut, grated or cut in fine pieces
1 tiny pinch Saffron
5 pods Cardamom
2 Tbsp Honey

Method:

Wash the rice well and cook in 1 cup of fresh water until soft.

Chop the jaggery and add to the rice. Don't be alarmed when the rice becomes soupy; that is the effect of osmosis.

Cook until the jaggery forms a thick syrup and there is not much liquid left in the pan. Stir in one Tbsp of the ghee.

Remove from heat.

Heat the remaining ghee in a small pan and and toast the cashew pieces; when they turn golden, add the coconut and cook stirring constantly until golden.

Stir in the raisins if using and cook stirring until they puff up.

Crush the cardamom pods slightly and take out the seeds; discard skins. Grind the cardamom seeds and the saffron with a pinch of sugar using a mortar and pestle until finely ground.

Mix cardamom and the fried cashew mixtures into the payasam. Stir in the honey. Cover and let cool.

Serve the payasam in small quantities.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Masala Masoor (Lentil Stew With Onions & Tomatoes)



A simple lentil stew to serve with rice or roti or on its own. Chellu approved :)

4 Servings

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (whole Masoor)
1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp whole Jeera (Cumin seeds)
4 thin slices Fresh Ginger, finely chopped
1 hot green chili (Jalapeno or Serrano)
1 small onion, chopped
A couple of pinches salt
1/2 tsp ground Turmeric
4 small tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp Garam Masala (a spice mix)

1/4 cup chopped Cilantro

Method:

Sort, wash and cook the lentils with the salt in water to cover until soft. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan (2 quart/liter size) and cook the cumin seeds until lightly browned and fragrant. Add ginger and green chili and saute for a few seconds.

Stir in onions with the salt & turmeric and cook until lightly browned.

Add tomatoes, mix well and cook until soft.

Stir in garam masala and the cooked lentils. Bring to a boil stirring often and turn off the heat.

Cover and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Mix in the chopped cilantro before serving.

Serve hot over rice or with any kind of wholegrain flat bread.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lentil Salad With Walnuts


Protein and fiber-rich lentil salad is perfect for summer lunches and picnics! The walnuts provide extra protein as well as healthy Omega-3 oils.

4 to 6 Servings

Ingredients:

1 cup Lentils, green, brown, or black
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Lemon juice to taste, about 1/4 cup
A splash (2 tsp) of White Wine Vinegar
Salt and Freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
1 clove Shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced Celery
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley/Cilantro
1/2 cup sliced Leeks or Green Onions
1 cup finely diced carrots and/or Red Bell Pepper
1/4 cup Mint leaves, cut into thin slices
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Method:

Sort the lentils for debris, wash well and cook in water to cover until tender but not mushy. Drain the cooking liquids and set aside for soup if you wish. Let the lentils cool slightly.

Mix the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl and add the warm lentils. Stir gently to coat the lentils. Let cool.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix gently but thoroughly.

Serve or chill until needed. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Garden Pictures

Here are some more pictures from the garden. Don't miss the special visitor!

Blooming Beauty: Epiphyllum

Our First Harvest 2009: Elephant Garlic

You can see the small bulb-lets on the garlic - "seeds" for next crop!

Kabocha Squash from the garden

Gerber Daisy

Reincarnation lily - comes back every year!

A visitor in the garden!!
Do you see me?

Now you do!!
Watch where you tread!

A humble cabbage core has so much energy still - sprouting new plants!

After many kind admonitions and queries from friends, I feel that I must add a comment about the snake. Most were concerned for my safety; others were for the snake :). I am very, very respectful of the snakes as well as being extremely diligent - snakebite is a very serious situation as I saw when I researched the topic. I have seen rattlers occasionally in the garden and am very careful to give them (and myself) lots of space. That particular one surprised me. It did not rattle or move at my approach or when I dropped the lid of the compost bin practically on top of it without looking down! I only saw it when I bent down to pick up the stick in the picture. The snake stayed put neatly coiled for several hours. It finally crawled away towards the evening. I felt that I owed it to myself and others to post a warning.

Rattlesnakes DO NOT always rattle; they have been known to bite without any warning at all. It is very easy to overlook them as they camouflage extremely well into the background as you can see in the picture. Rattlers are not aggressive typically and bite only when threatened or irritated. So, until cool weather forces them to hibernate, be wary (if you live in rattler country) when you step outside and also before allowing children or pets to go out into the garden.