Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stuffed Peppers & Tomatoes (Stuffed Veggies Turkish Style)

Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes Turkish Style

Turkish style stuffed vegetables are a fabulous addition to anyone's culinary repertoire - so perfect for parties and special occasions. My volunteer pepper plant from last year produced a bumper crop of peppers this year. Compared to the gargantuan ones sold in markets, our home-grown ones were quite a bit smaller and reminded me of the small stuffed peppers we enjoyed while vacationing in Turkey. Since I wanted to make something special with them, stuffed peppers sounded just right!

Turkey was an amazing place; besides visiting historic and scenic places, we also had fabulous food everywhere. Turkish cuisine has such a wonderful way with the fresh vegetables, we were never left wanting. The restaurants and cafes we frequented had abundant varieties of vegetarian food no matter where we went. Stuffed veggies were one of the delicious offerings that we adored eating.

Although we only saw stuffed peppers and tomatoes in Turkey, zucchinis, eggplants, and Swiss chard also make delicious cases for the flavorful filling. Eggplants will need precooking until just tender before filling.

Here is my almost Turkish stuffed veggies; I have added a few veggies to make this a more hearty dish. The filling is quite delicious by itself if you cook it until the rice is completely cooked. In fact it is so good that I plan to make double batch so that there will still be plenty left after filling the veggies. Served with yogurt, stuffed veggies make a very satisfying and filling dish. I have no doubts that I will prepare this dish again as everything was eaten very quickly including the leftover filling :D.

About 6 servings


Vegetables for filling: 8 - 12 Peppers and/or Tomatoes depending on their size

1 cup short/medium grain Brown Rice
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large Onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of fresh Garlic, minced (optional)
a few grinds of freshly ground Black Pepper
3/4 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 Carrot, finely chopped
1 Zucchini, finely chopped
2 medium Tomatoes, chopped (omit if using tomatoes as cases)
1 cup Peas, fresh or frozen
4 Tbsp flat leaf Parsley, chopped
a few sprigs fresh Mint, chopped (about 2 Tbsp)


Wash the rice and drain; add 1 cup of water and let soak.

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic with a pinch of salt until softened.

Decant the water from rice and reserve.

Stir in the freshly ground pepper, carrots, and the drained rice and cook stirring until rice begins to get a little toasted - about 5 minutes or so.

Stir in the reserved water, turmeric, tomatoes and salt to taste; if using tomatoes as cases, add the scooped out flesh and juices. When you use tomatoes as cases, just use the flesh and juices from scooping out. Cook on low heat until all of the water is absorbed - about 10-15 minutes.

Stir in the zucchini, peas, parsley and mint; leave covered until cool enough to handle.

While the filling is cooling, cut the tops off the peppers and tomatoes; save the tops. Scoop out the seeds and ribs from the peppers carefully and discard. Scoop out the flesh and seeds of the tomatoes and reserve to use in the filling. Allow the tomatoes to drain any fluids by setting them with the cut sides down.

Brush the bottom of a shallow cooking pan that will hold the filled veggies snugly with a little oil.

Using a small spoon, fill the vegetables and carefully set them upright in the cooking pan and put their tops back on. Continue to fill all the veggies and arrange them snugly in the pan.

Pour a cup of water carefully into the pan, cover and cook for about 20 minutes on low heat; most of the water should have been cooked out. Check a few times during cooking to make sure the veggies do not dry out or burn; if necessary, add a little water to the pan.

When the veggie and the rice in the filling are soft, the dish is ready. Turn off heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.

Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dal Chutney (Roasted Chick Pea Chutney)

For this delicious chutney you can use the roasted skinless chana dal (pottukadalai in Tamil) or the whole ones sold as snacks in Indian (roasted chana) and middle-eastern (leblebi) stores. If neither of them is available, then you can toast regular chana dal in a little oil yourself. This is a great chutney to serve with Idli, Dosa, Upma, etc.

Dal Chutney


1/3 cup Roasted Chana
2 Tbsp grated fresh or frozen Coconut
2 - 4 Hot Red/Green Chiles
1/2 tsp Sea Salt to taste
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves
1/2" knob Fresh Ginger, chopped
1 Lemon/Lime OR Tamarind

1-2 tsp oil
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1-2 dry Red Chiles, broken into two
1 tsp Chana dal
2 tsp Urad dal
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves, cut into chiffonade


Juice the lemon/lime; or if using tamarind, soak a small marble-sized lump of it in a couple of spoonfuls of warm water for about 10 minutes. Tamarind may have seeds/shells; when soft, check with your fingers and remove and discard any seeds or shells.

Combine all the chutney ingredients with half the lemon/lime juice or the tamarind in the carafe of a blender and process into a thick smooth paste using about 1/2 cup water.

Pour the chutney into a bowl and flush the carafe with a couple of spoonfuls of water and add to the bowl. Add a little more water if necessary to adjust the consistency of the chutney and correct the seasoning with more salt/lemon as needed.

Prepare tadka/thalippu: Heat the oil in a small pan and add mustard seeds, chile, and the dals. When the mustard seeds start popping, stir in the asafoetida and then carefully add the curry leaves. Pour the whole thing into the chutney carefully (hot oil from the tadka might sizzle and spatter upon contact with the chutney) and mix well.

If not serving right away, I like to add the tadka/thalippu just before serving since I like the occasional crunch of the dals; they get a bit soggy (but not inedible or bad in any way) otherwise.

Serve. Enjoy!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Broccoli With Coconut (Broccoli Thoran)

Kerala style Broccoli Thoran makes for a wonderful change of pace from the ubiquitous steamed broccoli. The traditional seasonings of cumin, chile, shallots and coconut typical of Kerala cuisine give broccoli a fabulous boost of flavor. It may be served hot, warm or cool as you wish.

Note: Dessicated (dry, unsweetened) coconut may be used if fresh or frozen is not available.


2 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Urad dal
1 sprig fresh Curry Leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 lb Broccoli
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
2-4 Shallots, chopped (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp Hot Red Chile flakes or cayenne
1 tsp whole Cumin seeds
2 - 3 Tbsp Coconut, fresh or frozen


Separate the broccoli into big florets, wash well and drain.

Trim the ends of the stems and remove them from florets. If the stems are very long, peel off the tough peels and then chop coarsely; include the leaves. Set aside.

Separate the florets into small pieces and set aside.

Heat the oil in a kadai/wok and add the mustard seeds and dal; when the mustard pops and the dal turns pinkish, add the curry leaves carefully. Stir well and cook for a few seconds.

Stir in the chopped stems, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and the turmeric; cook covered for a few minutes until the vegetables soften.

Stir in the florets with another pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes or the veggies are tender-crisp; stir a few times to make sure the veggies cook evenly and do not stick or burn.

While the veggies are cooking, crush the cumin seeds using a mortar and pestle until fragrant and coarsely ground.

Add the shallots if using and pound to mash them a bit; add the coconut, chile flakes, and mix well.

Mix the coconut mixture into the veggies and cook covered for a few more minutes to marry the flavors. Taste for seasonings and adjust the salt.

Serve hot with rice/roti, dal, raita, etc. Enjoy!!

Dal With Celery (Mung Beans With Celery)

Celery is not a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. Since I love the flavor of celery in soups, I thought why not add some to the dal --- I did and was very happy with the results. The fresh cilantro (including most of the stems) is the perfect final touch.

Dal with celery is so heavenly tasting, you would want to make it again and again once you taste it :D. Celery and panch phoron combine to transform creamy Mung dal into something amazingly delicious. Serve the dal as soup, over plain rice/grains or with breads. So simple, yet so delectable!

Panch Phoron is a spice mix consisting equal amounts of the following seeds: mustard, fenugreek, Cumin, kalonji, and fennel. This recipe as given makes a mildly spicy dal; if you like it more spicy, leave the seeds in the chile or use more than one.

4 - 6 Servings


1 cup yellow Mung Dal
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Sea Salt to taste
2 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds
1 tsp Panch Phoron
1 pinch Asafoetida
2 cups Celery, including leaves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 Jalapeño or Serrano Chile, deseeded and minced
1/4 - 1/2 cup Cilantro, finely chopped


Sort and wash the dal well. Cook in water to cover until very soft; add turmeric and salt and mix well. Set aside.

Heat oil in a saucepan (about 2 or 3 quart/liter size) and add the fennel and panch phoron; when they are fragrant and begin to pop, add the asafoetida.

Immediately add the onions, celery, and chile with a pinch of salt; cook covered stirring occasionally until the veggies soften; sprinkle a tiny bit of water if necessary to keep veggies from sticking and burning.

Stir in the dal and simmer covered over low heat until the dal is creamy; add a little boiling water to thin the dal if necessary. The dal may be prepared thick or thin according to your preference.

Turn off the heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro and serve hot. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Homegrown Greens/Herbs: Coriander/Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Growing coriander, Chinese parsley or cilantro is not only very easy, it is a must for many important cuisines. The entire plant is edible including flowers, seeds - mature and immature, and roots! Once you taste homegrown cilantro, you would want to keep some growing for that special taste. Store bought coriander/cilantro cannot compete with the amazing flavor of the homegrown. Even if you are not a fan of cilantro, do try the homegrown before completely writing it off.

Coriander is grown in many parts of the world and is one of the earliest plants used and cultivated by humans. According to Ancient Herbs by Marina Heilmeyer, it was used both for flavoring food and medicinally in antiquity. Coriander was an essential ingredient in cooking, baking, and ale-making as well as in various remedies for digestive tract disorders. Ms. Heilmeyer writes that "Moses compared coriander seeds to the heaven-sent manna"!

Coriander is known as Kothamalli (Tamil), Malli (Malayalam), Dhania (Hindi), Cilantro (Spanish), etc. Both the seeds as well as leaves are indispensable to Indian cooking; the seeds are important ingredients in various Indian spice mixes such as Sambar Powder, Rasam powder, and Garam Masala. The leaves and tender stems are quintessential in chutneys, salads, snacks and as a flavor booster and garnish. The seeds, leaves, and sometimes the roots are used in many countries around the globe besides India and other Asian countries, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Mexico, etc - it is unthinkable to make Mexican salsa without cilantro!

Here are a few suggestions for trying the fresh citrus-scented coriander leaves (cilantro) in various dishes: Bhel Puri, Salsa I, Salsa II, Avocado Salsa, Chopped Salad, Pesto, Dressing, Chutney, Dals, Soups & Corn Chowder. Sambar, Rasam, and other curries use both the seeds and leaves. Fresh leaves lose their flavor upon heating and therefore are added to the dishes just before serving.

Growing directions: Just throw a few seeds over good soil in a pot or in the ground and cover lightly with more soil and keep it moist. The pot/plot should get at least a little sun daily. Have a little patience though, since it might take about two weeks for the seeds to germinate. Once the plant is big enough, start harvesting a few leaves from each plant as you need. They will bolt (flower and go to seed) in warm weather so succession planting - planting a few seeds every two or three weeks - will ensure a constant supply of the leaves. Although it is an annual, it will reseed itself and grow when the weather warms again if the seeds are allowed to fall to the ground. Enjoy!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spring Rolls (Asian Veggie Wraps)

Spring Rolls are so fresh and luscious with the amazing dipping sauces. Everyone adores them as they are a guilt free food. They work great for picnics too. Use your favorite fresh veggies, the more veggies you use, the more delicious it will be. Chellu tested and approved :)!


Spring rolls:

1 package Rice Paper
14 oz. Firm Tofu
2 tsp Sesame Oil
1 clove of Garlic, mashed well (optional)
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1/2 cup green beans, thinly sliced diagonally and blanched
OR a handful of Sugar-snap Peas, thinly sliced
1 Carrot, grated
1 small unwaxed cucumber, finely julienned
1 cup beansprouts, tailed
1 small Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup finely shredded Cabbage (green & red)
1 cup fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely sliced Scallions
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, finely grated
1/4 cup Fresh Mint, Basil, or Cilantro leaves, cut into a chiffonade

Dipping Sauce I

1/4 cup crunchy Peanut butter
Soy sauce to taste
2 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
1- 2 tsp Hot chili sauce/Red Chili flakes
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup/Agave/Honey
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh Ginger
1 clove Garlic, minced and mashed
1/4 cup Coconut Milk/Water or more, as needed

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan and whisk vigorously over low heat until well mixed. Save in a covered container if made ahead. This sauce may be served warm or cold.

Dipping Sauce II

2 stalks Lemon Grass
1/2 cup Rice Vinegar
1/4 cup Honey
1 tsp Dry Red Chili flakes
1 clove Garlic, minced

Combine all the ingredients in a small pan, cover, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Strain and chill the sauce until ready to serve.


Cut the tofu into long finger thick pieces or crumble coarsely; cook in the sesame oil with the garlic and soy sauce until browned.

Combine all the rest of the filling ingredients in a bowl.

Dip each rice paper in a pan of water until softened; about a few seconds.

Lay the rice paper on a cutting board, dab a little of the dipping sauce on top, and place a spoonful of veggie mix near one end; add one or two pieces or a spoonful of the browned tofu.

Fold the end over the filling then fold both sides over to enclose the filling; roll up into a neat parcel.

Proceed with the rest of the rice papers and filling.

Serve immediately with one or both of the dipping sauces. Enjoy!!

Vada Curry (Steamed Lentil Cake Stew)

Vada curry is a rich and flavorful stew made for special occasions. Vadas are lentil fritters. I would not be surprised if this curry had its origins from another delicious instance of our thrifty mothers in action making use of leftovers - leftover vadas. There are two ways of making the vada part of this curry; it can be either fried or steamed - steaming being the healthier of the two ways.

6 - 8 Servings


For the Vada:
1 cup Toor dal
1/2 cup Chana dal
2 Dry Red Chilies
1 pinch Asafoetida
2 sprigs Fresh Curry Leaves
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 medium Red Onion, finely chopped

For the Stew:
2 Tbsp Oil/Ghee
2 large Onions, finely chopped
1 to 2 Tbsp Ginger, minced
1 or 2 hot Green Chiles, cored and minced
1/2 tsp Turmeric
4 large Tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or to taste
2 cups fresh or canned Coconut milk
1 tsp Garam Masala (optional)
1 small bunch Fresh Cilantro, finely chopped

1 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 pinch Asafetida
1 sprig Fresh Curry Leaves


Sort the dals, wash well, and soak in water to cover for 2 hours.

Drain the dals (save a little of the soaking water for grinding if necessary), reserve 2 Tbsp, and grind with the rest of the vada ingredients using a food processor into a coarsely ground paste. Do not add any water if you can manage to grind without adding water. Add the reserved dal and just pulse to mix. Mix in the onion.

Spoon the batter into an oiled pan and place in the steamer and steam for about 15 minutes or until cooked. Let cool and cut into pieces. Another way is to form the batter into tiny balls or patties.

Alternately, deep fry teaspoons of the batter into marble sized vadas. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; add to the stew.

Make the stew:

Heat the ghee/oil in a heavy bottomed pan and cook the onions and ginger with a pinch of salt until onions turn golden brown and are caramelized.

Stir in the tomatoes, turmeric and salt and cook until tomatoes are soft. Add a cup of boiling water and mash the tomatoes well. If it is too chunky, carefully use an immersion blender to puree a little.

Add the steamed vadas crumbs and all to the stew and simmer gently for a few minutes until hot but not vigorously boiling.

Stir in the coconut milk and heat through until very hot but not boiling. If the stew is very thick, add a little more boiling water. Check for salt and correct seasoning.

Sprinkle the Garam masala (if using) on top.

Make the tadka by heating the oil in a small pan. When hot, add the mustard seeds; when they pop, add asafetida and then carefully add the curry leaves. Allow the tadka to settle down.

Pour the tadka into the stew; mix well and let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Serve hot sprinkled with the cilantro. Fabulous with rice, rotis, dosas and idlis. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Paruppu Urundai Kuzhambu (Lentil Dumplings/Kofte In Tamarind Sauce)

I loved this dish as a child and no one could make it as well as our eldest aunt. It was not a recipe that one would undertake lightly as the lentil dumplings/kofte often had a tendency of falling apart and dissolving without leaving the faintest trace! Since my aunt always graciously offered to prepare it, everybody was happy to entrust it to her. The urundais/dumplings/kofte were served nestled on top of hot steamed rice - absolutely delicious with the spicy tamarind flavored sauce!

Here is Hema's foolproof recipe; her secret is to add a little rice flour to keep the urundais intact. Without the rice flour the urundais may fall apart; but too much will result in little cannon balls! If eight red chilies seem daunting, you may want to use less - try one or two chilies and/or break them and discard the seeds for a milder dish. Both toor and chana dal are yellow, split and skinless. Although you won't get the delicate taste of the dals, yellow split peas are excellent substitutes.

4 - 6 Servings


1 cup Split pigeon peas (Toor/arhar dal)
1/4 cup Split Bengal gram (Chana dal)
8 Whole red chillies
2 tbsp Oil
1 pinch Asafetida
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 medium sized Onion (chopped) (optional)
2 Green chillies (finely minced)
1/4 cup Coconut (grated)
Salt to taste
20 fresh Curry leaves
1/4 cup Fresh Coriander leaves (Cilantro), chopped
1 tbsp Rice flour
1/2 tsp Fenugreek seeds (methi)
1½ tsp Sambar powder
1½ tbsp Instant Tamarind paste

Soak toor dal and chana dal in four cups of water for half an hour. Drain completely and crush with six (I used two) dry red chillies into a coarse paste using a food processor.

Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a pan. Add asafetida, half the mustard seeds, onion, green chillies and sauté.

Add the crushed dal and salt. Cook and stir for five to eight minutes until it comes together in a ball. Cool.

Stir in half the curry leaves finely chopped, half the coriander leaves, coconut, and rice flour. Mix well and shape into small balls (kofte).

Heat remaining oil in a pan. Break the remaining dry red chillies into two and add along with remaining mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds. When the mustard seeds stop popping, add remaining curry leaves, sambar powder, salt, tamarind and one and a half cups of water. Mix well.

When the above mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat so that the curry is gently simmering and add the koftas.

Cover and simmer over medium heat for about ten minutes. Cook till the sauce is thickened and the koftas are cooked. Turn off the heat and allow the kuzhambu to rest for 10 minutes.

Add remaining coriander leaves and mix.

Serve hot over hot steamed rice. Papadams and simple veggie side dishes like Radish Greens/green beans/Cabbage Thoran or Cauliflower Upperi make fine accompaniments. Enjoy!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hummus Wraps (Flatbread Rolls With Hummus/Spread & Veggies)

Some flat bread, a little hummus and a few veggies are all you need to make fabulous HummusWraps. Put them together ... and you will be happy you did!

These are delicious for lunch or snacks. I have given the basic blueprint but you can embellish the rolls anyway you like. You can make your own hummus or purchase some from a store. I love the sweet crunch of romaine lettuce but you may add other greens like watercress, arugula, etc. Other fillings such as Smoky Red Bell Pepper Hummus, White Bean Hummus, or ChickPea Salad Spread, etc may be used instead of the regular hummus.

2 - 4 Servings


2 sheets of Flat breads (Lavash or large thin Chapati/Roti, etc)
1/2 to 1 cup Hummus
a handful of Spinach and/or Romaine Lettuce leaves
1 Carrot, finely julienned
1 small Cucumber, julienned


Lay the flat bread on a cutting board and spread with hummus.

Place the spinach and romaine (I love to stuff the roll with lots of crunchy, sweet romaine) on one end and add a few pieces of the carrots and cucumber.

Roll the flat bread tightly around the veggies into a cylinder. (If not serving right away, these rolls maybe wrapped in parchment or slightly moistened paper towels and reserved in the fridge.)

Cut the roll into pieces with a sharp knife.

Serve right away or chill until ready to serve.