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


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


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


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


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.


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

1 clove garlic
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)


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!

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 one of the major flavoring ingredients in Aviyal, Molagushyam, and Olan; Rasams and Sambar plus a whole lot of other curries, chutneys and pickles also are always flavored with them.

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!
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.

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

Propagation, Growing, & Care

The easiest and most dependable way to procure a curry leaf plant would be to purchase one. Many nurseries carry them these days with the interest in its culinary use as well as medicinal properties. Even if they don't, they would special order them or may have information about mail order nurseries. Some Indian markets carry them as well.

Curry leaf plants may be grown from fresh seeds, stem cuttings and suckers from roots. It would take a few years before the seed-grown plant to be ready for harvest as they are very slow growers at first. Seeds have to be absolutely fresh, and not dried out; so I would not purchase seeds unless they can be guaranteed to be arriving as fresh ripe berries. When you receive the berries, check to discard any moldy or diseased berries and squeeze out the seeds gently and place in a damp pot of light soil or planting medium and cover lightly with the soil or medium and keep in a shady spot. Keep the soil very lightly moist by gentle misting so the seeds do not rot. When they sprout and grow into a small plant, gradually shift them to a more sunny spot.

Stem cuttings and suckers require a friend or a source for them. If you know someone who is willing to give you a couple of cuttings, that is awesome. The cuttings should be dark green, not too tender, and about 4-6 inches long. Remove the lower leaves with a clipper so the skin doesn't tear; leave the topmost few leaves in place. Make a clean fresh cut just below a node - where the leaves begin on the stem - and place in a pot of moistened planting medium as in the seeds, place a loose plastic bag over the whole to keep moisture in and keep in a shady spot. Mist the planting medium if it dries out but not too much. Once the top shows signs of new growth, gently transplant in a pot of regular soil.

Suckers from a mother plant are the easiest form of propagation. They should be carefully cut and removed with some roots attached, transplanted and one would have a curry leaf plant instantly! Let them settle and start growing before harvesting any leaves.

Whichever way a curry leaf plant is obtained, do not overwater them; let them dry out a bit between waterings depending on the local climate. During warm growing season, feed them once every two weeks with a very dilute fertilizer - I add about a tablespoon of it to 3-4 gallons of water. I use an organic one recommended by the local master gardner and I also add a tiny bit of compost tea (one cup of compost steeping in 3 gallons of water for a couple of days) each time I water. Every 3-4 months, a little azomite is added while watering. I also add some homemade compost with wormcastings at the beginning of the growing season. I must caution against overdoing fertilizing as well as watering as both can cause harm to the treasured plants.

Harvesting leaves: when the plant is healthy and growing vigorously, you can start harvesting leaves; remove a whole stem of leaves with a clipper so as not to tear the skin or bark. Clipping back encourages new growth; the more you clip, the more bushy the tree grows.

Preserving Curry Leaves

Some people recommend freezing the leaves and using them directly from the freezer as needed. Freeze clean leaves and use as needed.
Others recommend frying the leaves in oil for use in cooking. Fry the clean leaves slowly in oil until crisp and keep in a tightly covered sterile jar in the fridge; use as needed in your recipes.

How To Dry Curry Leaves

Although fresh is always best, since they are not always readily available and there is no satisfactory substitute, I often used to purchase more than I can use fresh and dry them. Home dried leaves are quite fragrant and are a good substitute for the fresh.

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 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.

If Malabar spinach is not available, regular spinach or other greens such as Amaranth, Swiss chard,  Kale, etc may be used instead. Another wonderful leafy green is Taro leaves 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, and 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

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 concentrated)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/4 cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro (Optional)

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


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. Papadams, veggie dishes, raita, etc make nice accompaniments. 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


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
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped


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.