Monday, January 04, 2021

Sambaar Kaaram


Yesterday, I had a big thrill from the blog. I checked it for comments after a long time. There was a comment from someone who said she had been using my recipe of sambaaru kaaramu to make her pappucharu taste extra special but could not access the link When My Soup Came Alive: Value-Added Mix to it. Funnily enough, I've had the same problem a couple of times in the recent past but it's not broken most of the time. I decided to put it up again here with a direct headline that is easily found rather than an indirect, pun-filled one that gets lost in the ether!

It's been nearly fourteen years since I put up that recipe. I've looked high and low for information related to it but have only come up with scraps. Beyond the fact that the word sambaaru/sambaaram/sambhaaram stands for spices used to flavour food (or "provisions, preparations, collection, supplies, constituents, ingredients and requisites") and that it can be used for a range of dishes from stir-fries to dals, I know little about it. The link above leads to a discussion on the lore surrounding sambar! My grandmother would say that this sambaaru kaaram and that sambar are different, which is true, in my experience. Sambar powder contains so many more ingredients ... even if the etymology is the same. From what I have observed and read, it's used mostly in farming families of Guntur and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh. 

We used to eat it with steaming, ghee-smeared idlis as children, dipping the idli in a spoon of the kaaram served to a side on our plates. When she was alone at home, it was her dinner for the day, my mother says, with rice and ghee, like any other podi or kaaram that we make. Here's the recipe, provided by my grandmother's sister:

(I read somewhere recently that pure castor oil is added to this mixture.)

Dry red chillies: 500 gm (remove the stalks)
Coriander seeds: 250 gm
Fenugreek/Methi seeds: 50 gm
Cumin/jeera seeds: 50 gm
Black gram/urad dal: A little less than 50 gm
Salt, to taste
Garlic: to taste

Dry roast the first five ingredients separately.

Let cool, whiz to a powder in the grinder.

Add salt.

Crush garlic roughly, add to the powder and mix it with the kaaram.

Store in an airtight container.


 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Fridge-Cleaner Stew




Recently, The Spouse chanced on a gravy formula that worked well. He saw the cartons of tomato puree and coconut milk on the shelf and mixed them to make a paneer dish. I followed that formula and ended up with a hearty stew.  

On this occasion, I had a pack of mushrooms languishing in the fridge, along with some carrots and a capsicum and frozen peas. I put them to good use and came up with a stew that I'm proud of. It tasted good with rice too.

In a pan, temper 2 tsp of oil with 
1 tsp cumin
2 green chillies
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped 

Then, saute
1 onion, chopped

Then saute
1/2 cup of diced carrot

Next, saute 
1 diced green capsicum 
1/2 cup of green peas

Now add 
2 cups of diced button mushrooms 

and let them cook.

Once they've cooked and their water has begun to evaporate (or when your patience begins to run out), add 3-4 spoons (any small or medium spoons, but nothing you would use as a ladle) tomato puree and mix it well with the vegetables. 

Then add 
about 1/2 cup of coconut milk 
and mix well. Add water enough to make a gravy of the consistency you like. Or more coconut milk.

Add 
salt to taste

Mix well and simmer for about five minutes, more or less, depending on how thick or thin you want it.

I ate two cupfuls all by themselves, without any rice or other accompaniments. It was very satisfying.





Friday, September 18, 2020

Those Delicious Letters - A Review




Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook is a writer, of blog and books, after my own heart. Life's highs and lows, ironies, absurdities and anti-climaxes, all dealt with humour, and how they come to inhabit the food and recipes that she is writing about, are what made me a steadfast reader of her blog. A few years after we began blogging, I got to meet her too, and eat at the famed Bong Mom's Kitchen, specifying quite bluntly that I wanted Bengali food and nothing else. 

Those Delicious Letters is Sandeepa's second book. Unlike her first, which is a cookbook with sparkling anecdotes and commentary, this is fiction with suspense and a few recipes. Sandeepa carries the sparkle into this book too, never losing her funny bone. At the heart of the book is the protagonist Shubha, who has just turned 40, and is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. She is an architect by training but has given that up to take care of her children. When we meet her in the book, she is a partner at a small publishing firm. The days hold no mystery for her; her first reaction to a surprise birthday party is one of annoyance. She is realistic enough not to expect glamorous holidays because "we had responsibilities and mortgage and irritable bowel syndromes". To add to this, her husband has of late been preoccupied, distracted and even secretive. She can't quite believe that those are signs of an affair but has no other explanation for his behaviour and steels herself to deal with it. 

But that comes a little later. Shubha has been getting letters in aerogrammes - yes, snail mail from India - that thrill and mystify her. She has no clue who 'Didan', the grandmother writing those letters, is. After a few such missives which contain stories of Didan's life and end with a recipe, Shubha reluctantly returns them to the sender, knowing she will miss them, but they come right back, and continue coming, once a month. An erratic cook, these compelling letters turn Shubha into a willing experimenter and become the stepping stones for a turnaround in her life.

The book is an easy, breezy read that has you nodding your head in agreement at its statements and roaring with laughter. Equally, it makes you impatient to discover who is sending those letters and why.  I took a while getting to it after I received a copy from the publisher but could not put it down once I started. There are funny and endearing turns of phrase, characters and situations we can identify with and want to knock the teeth out of. I burst into great sobs reading the end of the last letter, a reaction I did not expect, having guffawed my way through most of it. I found little to complain about. 

What tickled me, among many other things, are Shubha's Facebook updates. For many years now, I've gritted my teeth and gotten through photos of food, flowers, waterfalls, sunsets, drawings, animals and what not captioned with profound thoughts. Shubha's statuses are somewhat similar - a photograph of Didan's potol'er dalma is the backdrop for 'Don't depend on others for your happiness. Find your own. (💓) (hashtags)'  Sandeepa has captured the zeitgeist alright! I don't know if she was having a joke but thinking of Shubha, I'll look on those photos more kindly from now on.

Those Delicious Letters
Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta
Harper Collins Publishers India
2020
Rs 299



Monday, September 14, 2020

This Blog's Fourteenth Birthday - and Peanut Butter Biscuits with a Twist

I started this blog fourteen years ago, in 2006, on my father's birthday as it would make the date easy to remember. It had a good run for many years. Despite my declaring publicly and privately that I would 'rededicate' myself to this blog, it has only limped along at best, in the last four or five years. I don't eat as much or cook as much anymore and I don't know what to say. My father has moved on. The blog which shares his birthday has remained alive, primarily drawing breath from Search results, from a maze of complex technology and circuitry that keeps it on the Internet, maybe from the odd regular reader, and occasionally from an older, busier me who has found other hobbies and preoccupations. Yet, Me is unwilling to let go of it. 

I've always disliked blogging about the usual things (usual to me, anyway), and preferred to discuss new or experimental things. So when I hit upon the idea of using up some near-expiry-date peanut butter in biscuits, as my generation called them growing up, I wondered how I could make them my own. I had about a half cup of chukku coffee waiting to be used up so I added that in place of brown sugar. Chukku coffee is a mix of dried ginger (sonth in Hindi), palm jaggery and spices such as pepper, coriander and cardamom. I don't suppose there is any coffee powder added in the traditional recipe. At least, the few brands that I have tried from time to time do not list any coffee in the ingredients. But I see coffee listed in many blog recipes. I assume the original spice mix was meant to be used as a tisane.
I followed this recipe. The baking took much longer than the seven minutes mentioned there, double the time or even more. The only substitution I made was replacing the brown sugar with the chukku powder. Being only an occasional baker and this probably being just my second attempt at biscuits/cookies, I have to say this turned out really well. I patted myself on the back for being imaginative with the other ingredient, but of course, all it takes is a search to find several peanut butter ginger affairs all over the Internet. Oh well, mine's not plain PBG, it's chukku coffee!

PS: I'm on Instagram as @sra.srav where I record more of my daily life, hobbies and preoccupations that I mentioned earlier on.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Things I've been Doing, Learning, Making from the Internet - 2


This fish fry picture is click bait, more on this below


I'm not an Internet video person. I still prefer text and pictures. However, all the experiments I'm recording here are taken from videos. They all had useful and clear instructions.



A couple of weeks ago, I ground a fresh batch of ginger-garlic paste. Our cook had told me there was nothing to it - and that a dash of turmeric and salt would act as preservative. Still, why have the Internet at your fingertips if not to browse it for no good reason? So I looked at recipes for ginger-garlic paste and came across several. I'm not a video person, but I was curious to see what the visual value of grinding ginger-garlic paste was - isn't it just a few whizzes in the mixie - so I clicked on them. There was little more than I imagined in those videos, but one of them had a helpful tip. The vlogger had advised roasting a bit of salt till it lost its ability to extract water from the ginger and garlic. (That's when it changes colour.) The objective: Not to dilute the paste with the water that will keep oozing because of the unroasted salt. This vlogger also recommended adding some heated and cooled oil. So I did that. 

Doesn't my ginger-garlic paste look good and undiluted? Let me know if you can see any motor lubricant in there. I seem to have ground it for too long or probably I overloaded the jar - there were streaks of greenish-black oil on the grinder which I only noticed a couple of hours later. I poked about carefully in the paste and didn't notice any contamination. I still feel a streak of concern whenever I use it, though.

I'm unable to locate the video now but will add the link when I find it.



Then, the lip-smacking korameenu fish fry that you see up there, that's from this video.


It uses just a little bit of oil relative to the amount of fish so I was very sceptical whether it would work. However, something in me pushed me to trust it and I was not disappointed. It worked like a charm. I forgot to add the sesame powder but to me, it was like the taste of home. I'm not sure, however, that the English name for this is red snapper. I think it's murrel, but I could be wrong. This is what is called 'viral' in Tamil.

This is garlic pickle, not halwa. Those are garlic cloves, not cashews. A couple of friends said it looked like that when I sent them pictures on the phone.


I needed only two cups of garlic cloves for the ginger-garlic paste. I'm finding ways to consume it before it goes all brown and black and shrivels up. I hit upon the idea of a garlic pickle the way mango is pickled in Andhra homes, tasting of chilli powder and mustard and gingelly oil, but none of the recipes I came across gave me the confidence it would turn out that way - and I know nothing of pickling to be instinctively experimental about it. So I looked for what felt like an interesting recipe and settled for this, which is a garlic pickle with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and sesame, an unusual formula for pickle.


The narration is in Telugu and there are no sub-titles. Nevertheless, the visuals are good enough - you can identify the ingredients as well as the quantities. There is a tip about how long to fry the garlic - till a fold appears, he says, but I didn't notice any fold. I did think the texture changed. Something like tiny goosebumps or a certain roughness appeared on the surface (it should not brown), and then I switched it off and left it to cool. It tasted exactly like a prawn pickle an aunt of mine had made and given us. It's an interesting taste and I'm glad to have rediscovered it.