Sunday, May 8, 2011

Amma's Favorite Appetizers & Nibbles

In addition to being the queen of hearts, Amma was the soul of hospitality. It was not that she was exuberant about it but very quietly in her own inimitable gentle style she made everyone feel cherished and welcome. Amma loved to make wonderful appetizers and nibbles for special occasions when we had guests. She also made sure to make some for no particular occasion for family too and prepared delicious daily munchies that were satisfying but not necessarily calorie laden. Here are a few of her favorite creations for your munching pleasure. Enjoy!!

Happy Mothers' Day and happy munching!

1. Roasted Chickpeas: A bowl of nutty roasted chickpeas or "chana" is just the thing to serve with steaming mugs of Chai or cool beverages. There are various ways of preparing chickpeas - baking, roasting, sauteing, and deep frying. Dry roasted and fried chickpeas are available in Indian as well as Middle Eastern markets. Amma also used chana dal, mung dal, or lentils (whole Masoor) to make crunchy snacks in a similar fashion.

2. Marinated Carrots: These were Amma's all time favorites! Peel 2 or 3 large carrots; slice on the diagonal into desired sized thick slices. Heat a small skillet with 1 tsp oil; add a pinch of brown mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add a few curry leaves, a sliced green chili and a tiny pinch of asafoetida and turn off the heat. Stir in the carrots, a couple of pinches of sea salt and the juice from 1/2 lime or lemon or more to taste. Mix well and let marinate for a few minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 2.

Note: If you make a larger quantity of these carrots, store the leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

3. Vegetables with Lime Juice and Chili Powder: Another favorite :D. These are best prepared just before serving. Slice veggies such as cucumber, jicama, daikon or regular radish, fennel, carrots, tomatoes, etc into circles, sticks or wedges and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with fresh lime/lemon juice; sprinkle salt and plain red chili powder(cayenne). Serve immediately. Instead of the salt/chili powder combo, use Chat Masala (a mixture of herbs, spices, and salts available ready for purchase at Indian markets) for a nice change.

4. Roasted/Baked Plantain: Choose ripe plantains which are yellow with a few black/dark spots. Roast parchment-wrapped whole plantains in a 350 F oven until soft. Unwrap, cut into sections and serve warm or at room temperature. Roasted plantains do not need any embellishments but may be lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper, chat masala and lime juice, or brown sugar and ground cinnamon/cardamoms. Plantains may also be steamed or cooked in a microwave oven. In Kerala, roasted ripe plantains are considered a super food.

5. Roasted Sweet Potatoes: A wonderful super food! Whole or sliced, roasted sweet potatoes are delicious served hot or warm with salt/pepper or Chat Masala and fresh lime juice.

6. Chundal: Chundals make a healthy, satisfying and filling snack. Various beans, peas, corn kernels, etc may be prepared this way and served warm or at room temperature.

7. Salsa & Chips: Serve some tortilla chips with any of the fresh salsas such as Salsa I or Salsa II or the Avocado Salsa.

8. Plantain Chips: Although found in many cuisines, plantain chips are de rigueur Kerala snacks - we always had them especially at the Onam festival. An Onam feast is not complete without both the traditional salted and the thick sweet jaggery-coated plantain chips. Similar to potato chips, thick or thin slices of plantain are fried and salted; sometimes they may be prepared with spices also. All are delicious. Plantain chips flavored with salt are available in most markets nowadays.

9. Sweet Potato Chips: Thinly slice the sweet potatoes and fry in hot oil until crisp. Remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt. Serve.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spicy Crisp Chick Pea (Garbanzo) Snacks

Spicy crisp chickpeas are a delicious snack with hot or cold beverages. Try Amma's original fried version or the baked; both are delicious. For another popular snack called Chana Jor Garam, smash and flatten the cooked chick peas with a heavy flat-bottomed glass or mallet, then bake or fry until crisp. Baked chick pea snacks should be consumed within a day or two as the moisture may not be completely baked out; the fried ones can last for a few days at room temperature if there are any leftovers :D.

For a delicious variation, use Chat Masala or your favorite spices instead of the spices and salt given in the recipe.

Note: I like using Popcorn salt as it is very finely ground and coats and clings to the chana rather than collect uselessly at the bottom of the bowl. It is available in most markets.

Ingredients:

1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked
1/4 tsp Popcorn salt
1 pinch Asafoetida
1 stem curry leaves, sliced into chiffonade
1/4 tsp ground red chili (cayenne)
a few turns of freshly ground Black Pepper
Oil for deep frying
1 cup roasted peanuts (optional)

Method:

Drain the chickpeas. Cook them in fresh water until tender and drain while still quite warm; make sure they are thoroughly drained and dry.

Heat the oil until very hot but not smoking.

Cook the chickpeas in the hot oil (in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding) carefully stirring a few times until crisp and golden.

Drain well on paper towels.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan and add the asafoetida; stir in the curry leaves and cook until they subside sizzling. Remove from heat and stir in the chili powder (cayenne) and pepper.

While the chickpeas and spices are still hot, mix them together along with the salt. Mix in the peanuts if you are using them.

Serve warm or cool and store at room temperature until ready to serve.

Baked Chickpeas:

For baked chickpeas, cook the soaked peas until tender; drain thoroughly while still warm.

Stir together 2 Tbsp oil, salt, and the spices in a baking pan.

Bake at 400 F, stirring occasionally until chickpeas are almost crisp. Do not let them brown though - they will become too hard to eat.

Turn off the oven and let the chickpeas cool slowly while still in the oven.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!!

Kuzhambu Podi (Spice Mix)

Kuzhambu podi is similar to Sambar Podi but the spices are not roasted. Besides from being used to make many a kuzhambu or stew, it is a wonderful spice mix to sprinkle over any veggie curry while being sauteed. This podi may be used in place of Sambar Podi and to make sambar also. Traditional kuzhambu podi does not contain cumin seeds in our homes; but some might like to include them. I make the podi in small quantities so that it is used up while it is still fresh.

Ingredients:

1/8 cup Chana dal
1/4 cup Toor dal
1/2 cup Coriander Seeds
1/8 cup Cumin Seeds (optional)
1/2 cup dry Red chiles or to taste
2 Tbsp Whole Black Peppercorns

Method:

Sort all the ingredients to check for discolored or damaged materials, stones or other debris.

Combine all the ingredients in a spice grinder and process into a gritty powder; this may have to done in batches. Turn off the motor and allow the dust to settle before opening the grinder.

Store in a sterile, dry airtight jar in a cool, dark cupboard. It should stay fresh for about three months.

Add a table spoon or more of this spice mix to your favorite dishes to make them flavorful and tasty. Enjoy!!

Cranberry Pachadi/Launji (Cranberry Sauce)

Cranberry sauce with a new twist! Pachadis or Launjis are sweet-tart relishes that often accompany simple daily or formal meals. Pachadis are an integral part of banquets and are the first dish to be served after the traditional payasam or sweets. They are typically made from fruits and veggies that are sweet or tart and often include tamarind and jaggery. Cranberries are perfect for making pachadi as they are already tart without the addition of tamarind.

Dried cranberries may be used to make pachadi; but you may have to adjust the amount of jaggery if the berries are sweetened and add a little more water for the right consistency. Pachadis/launjis are perfect served with any meal but especially with mild dishes such as simple dal, molakootal, or poricha kuzhambu.

Variation: For a nice change of pace, a pinch each of fennel and cumin seeds may be added along with the mustard seeds.

Ingredients:

2 cups Cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup Pineapple, fresh, frozen, or canned
1 tsp Oil
1 pinch Brown Mustard Seeds
1 or 3 Hot green (Jalapeño or Serrano) or Dry red chilies
1 pinch Fenugreek Seeds
1 pinch Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Jaggery or Brown Sugar
1 stem fresh Curry Leaves

Method:

Pick over the cranberries and discard soft ones.

If you are using green chilies, cut them in half lengthwise and remove the seeds for a mild pachadi; mince the chilies. If using red chilies, break in half and shake out the seeds if desired or leave them whole.

Dice the pineapple into small pieces about the same size as the cranberries.

Heat oil in a sauce pan and add the seeds and chilies; when the seeds pop and dance, remove from heat, cool for a minute, and add the berries and fruit with 1 cup of water.

Add the curry leaves, salt and sugar, cover and cook until cranberries pop and become soft and saucy, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Taste for correct seasoning and add more jaggery/sugar if desired. Stir well and remove from heat.

Let rest for a few minutes.

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