Thursday, June 28, 2007

Shameless Display

Foreground, from left to right: Ginger pickle, Peanut Powder/Spice Mix, Yellow Lentil Powder, Green Chilli Powder, Sun-dried mango pickle
Centre, left to right: Sambaaru Kaaram (a red chilli powder mix for veggies and daals, not to be confused with Saambaar Podi), Fish Curry, Bittergourd Powder
Last row, left to right: Channa Daal Powder, Mango Pickle (two jars). At the back, mangoes.

A short trip home yielded this bounty – pickles, powders and mangoes – see that huge tub at the back?

But before you begin to get jealous, let me tell you that I lost about half a dozen of those beauties – I readied some newspapers on my worktable, a large bowl to slice the fruit into and catch the nectar dripping down, and began to lovingly peel a golden orb, and peel I did, till thin, wiggly white worms came rushing out like they’d been freed from moist mango misery! And another, and another, I lost count after four, but I suspect it ended at six. Three were wormless, but after the events of this morning, which ruined my appetite for lunch and tea, I checked each and every piece I ate at dinner!

Not sure when I'll have my Mother Hubbard moment at this rate (sigh!) but at least one of these powders is galloping towards the finish line.

Cook at home also made and froze a few dishes that will last us till the end of this week, and an aunt gave us that fish curry you see in the steel container in the centre. The mango and other pickles are home-made, so are some of the powders.

This is an impromptu post, otherwise I would have slaved over the containers, tablecloth, photos and what have you, but this trip did yield a planned blog thing – I bought some background. Yes, background. I went to a marble-and-granite seller, turned over several slabs and selected a few pieces, telling the polite but puzzled manager there I am a photographer by hobby and needed some props. You’ll see them by and by, I’ll know if it was a great idea or not only when I begin using them, but tell me, what unlikely things have you done for your blog?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Liteness of Being

When Coffee announced MBP’s theme is Going Lite, several thoughts came to my mind: At last, I can finally buy the stuff but justify the expense as going towards a good cause and make that flourless cake with an expensive pound of ground almonds and orange and pass it off as a somewhat low-carb version; I can finally make use of the nice, thick, glass cake dish I just bought at a 30 per cent off sale; I can use the slowly rotting plums in my refrigerator to make a crumble using up some more of the sturdy oats in my larder …

Then I noticed some channa/chickpeas that were somewhere in the inner recesses of the shelf and I decided to take another shot at salad – I am usually disappointed with my own attempts as the dressing never seems to come together. My friend was coming to lunch so that was motivation enough. It gave me a chance to use up some vegetables from my cornucopious fridge as well. And that was the perfect excuse to boil up some wholewheat pasta and tomato-basil sauce and bake some garlicky potatoes and have ourselves a feast. And another new acquisition from the sale, a pudding bowl, could double up as a salad bowl! I do realize the meal went way past the Going Lite theme but that was lunch, not a theme party, so I suppose we can skip the guilt this time. I’m presenting just the genuinely lite dish here. MBP, here I come!

This salad is inspired by Kalyn’s Kitchen. I didn’t have/use many of the vegetables she mentioned, nor the lime juice, nor the carrot, so I used some dill-chilli vinegar, red pepper and zucchini instead. I wasn’t able to print Kalyn’s recipe, so I just worked from memory and this is what I came up with:

Dry channa/chickpeas/garbanzo: 2 cups, soaked overnight and cooked
Zucchini – Half of a big one, diced small
Red pepper – 2, cut into small pieces

Vinegar – 3 tbsp
Olive oil – 3 tbsp
Garlic – 5 cloves, minced as fine as possible
Cumin/jeera powder – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – ½ tsp
Salt, to taste

Steep garlic and the other spices in a mixture of vinegar and oil for some time.

Put all the vegetables in a salad bowl, add dressing, mix, let chill in the refrigerator.

It wasn’t too bad for me, my friend loved it and praise be to God, it didn’t last beyond a day in my refrigerator because I had the brains to take it to work, where my colleagues too liked it. I’m hoping you will, too!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stalking in Cyberspace

Ok, ok, the title was just a piece of sensationalism! All I wanted to say was that the answer to the question in my previous post is 'stalks'. GD and Mamatha got it right. Congratulations! They are the stalks of Malabar Spinach .

As the post was an afterthought, I didn’t take any pictures of the leafy greens or the stalks but you can see a good, clear picture here. We usually make a stir-fry or gravy of this with amaranth stalks but this time, after I finished using the leaves in daal, the stalks looked too good and fresh to throw away, so I used them for this stir-fry with a bit of the daal I had soaked for the main dish a little earlier.

Funnily enough, the stalks reminded me a lot of ladies’ fingers/okra – they gave off a bit of slime when I tossed them in the pan but gradually the goo wore off and I was rewarded with a crunchy, bright, dry stir-fry that was great with curds/yoghurt but can also be used as an accompaniment with a sambar or chaaru/rasam. It can even be served with plain rice.

Stalks, chopped – 2 cups
Toor daal/yellow lentils – a fistful, soaked for about 30-40 minutes
Garlic – 3-4 cloves, bruised/chopped
Red chillies – 3-4, broken
Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Split urad daal/black gram - 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Salt, to taste
Oil – 1-2 tsp

***A frying pan with a lid.

Heat oil, add mustard seeds.

Once they splutter, add the black gram, brown.

Add the red chillies and garlic.

Now add the daal with just enough water – it should cover the daal, but barely. Lower the flame.

Cover, and let the daal cook till it’s soft but not mushy. (It should hold its shape.) The test – if it’s not done, it will have a spot in the centre – boil till that spot disappears and the colour is uniform.

Now add the stalks, sprinkle some water, saute. Add salt and chilli powder. Cover.

Keep checking to see that the stalks don’t stick to the pan – sprinkle some more water if they do. Cook covered.

I didn’t cook it too long so there was quite a lot of bite and crunch in them, you can go in for a softer version.

I’m sending this off to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Rachel’s Bite. Bon appetit!

Friday, June 15, 2007

No Prizes For Guessing :(

What is the green stuff you see in the bowl? Answer/recipe on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Flaking Out

Operation Springclean is making me eat healthy. Well, somewhat, if you ignore the peanuts I added to this dish. Those of you who read my previous post know I have a lot of healthy, organic stuff languishing in my pantry – today, I chose to deal with organic red rice flakes (poha, atukulu, aval, beaten rice).

I wanted to make a tamarind version but there was no recipe in my books, no cartridge in my printer, and no memory in my brain, so I couldn’t register when I had to add the tamarind extract to the flakes, and those recipes on the Net didn’t mention how much water I had to soak the tamarind in.

I first tasted Maharashtrian poha only last year. A couple of friends and I had gone to Matheran for a break, and before we fixed up transport to go to our resort, we had breakfast at the canteen at the local authority. It was full of monkeys, grimy and rather sparsely furnished but there was no other option and we needed breakfast after the early morning ride from Bombay. My friends, used to living in Bombay, passed up the poha and asked for toast and omelette but I opted for the poha – I’d only heard of it till then, had never had the real McCoy.

Of course, I’d had these red rice flakes even then and attempted poha from a cookbook but on both occasions it ended up tasting wrong even though I had no standard to compare it with – I just put it down to the thickness of the poha – today I realized I should have soaked it for twice as longer.

The poha at the Matheran canteen, was, of course, a revelation – it triggered off the memory of ‘atukula pulihora’ that my grandmother had rustled up for a friend and me a few years ago when we visited her but that was more like lemon rice. That was made with white flakes, as was this - with a few peanuts, a little sugar, and not much tempering. I think there was a bit of onion as well, I can’t be sure though it was only eight months ago – put it down to fatigue!

The recipe I’m posting today is a variation of that. Again, I made do with what I had at home – having a pantry bursting at the seams doesn’t necessarily mean I have everything it takes all the time, so I had to buy a few peanuts, make do with fewer limes than I wanted … you get the drift.

Here’s what you need:

Red rice flakes/poha/atukulu (the thick variety) – 125 gm/1-1/2 cups
Peanuts/groundnuts – a handful, roasted, coarsely crushed

Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Split, husked urad dal/black gram – ½ tsp
Red chillies – 3-4, broken
Green chillies – 1 big or 2 small, slit
Coriander - chopped, a handful
Curry leaves – 1 sprig
Oil – 2 tsp

Wash the rice flakes well in a colander – make sure every grain is washed and wetted through – and let it be for 45 minutes. The right consistency is when the flakes should feel firm when pressed but mash easily – I know that sounds contradictory but you will understand when the flakes yield. Check after 30 minutes, if they aren’t ready, wash them once more. But soaking, or washing in hot water, is a no-no because they break or disintegrate very easily.

Heat oil, season with mustard, urad dal, red chillies and curry leaves, in that order. Let 1) the mustard pop, 2) urad dal begin to brown, 3) red chillies turn brighter and 4) curry leaves crackle.

Add the peanuts, swish around the pan just once.

Now add the green chilli(es) and the rice flakes.

Season with salt.

Mix well, but with a light hand.

Add coriander, mix.

Eat with a squirt of lime juice or plain.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My Wild Oats

Once, just once, I want to see my pantry bare. Devoid of everything except the very basic stuff I use in normal cooking – salt, chilli powder, curry powder, some lentils, some rice. This has not happened in years, and I fear it never will, thanks to my predilection for buying all fancy and not-so-fancy stuff, under the justification of being health-conscious, gourmet, adventurous, environment-friendly, farmer-supportive, moving-towards-organic and more such labels.

I’m sure at least a few of you will identify with me and my pantry – little bundles of plastic secured with rubber bands filled with spices, bottles and jars of bran, oats, wholegrains and alternative grains such as buckwheat, bought in the hope of using that exotic cookbook which promptly goes missing, cake sprinkles and coloured sugar crystals which you hang on to despite knowing you will never ever use them, exotic spices from my Goa trip two months ago, which haven’t seen the light of day, various ready-mixes (without preservatives, of course) bought in bouts of let’s-be-prepared-for-guests (who are swiftly whisked off to restaurants as soon as it’s mealtime), brown Basmati rice fondly intended for a healthier biriyani, calming chamomile tea which only induces more stress as I discover I haven’t even opened the pack each time I see it, even an everyday pack of red chillies that refuses to get exhausted and clings on dully to the gloomy interiors of my cupboard.

Just once, I want to see all these used up – thence, there will be no well-meaning but wasteful stocking up, no unsightly reminders of my spendthrift ways, only what I need for the next few days – so here I am, with a concoction of oats which is a beginning to this noble end.

Wild oats, as the name says, because I literally threw in whatever I had in the refrigerator, soul sister of my pantry, to make this an appetizing yet healthy dish – tomatoes on the verge of rotting, a cup of capsicum chopped two days ago, shelled peas which were wrinkling because I hadn’t found a lid for the container …

I intended this to be more like a tomato bath/upma, but despite five tomatoes, it didn’t look as red as I wanted it to. But then the green in it was no mean thing – capsicum, peas, curry leaves, coriander – not to mention a pinch of turmeric.

Here’s the recipe, then:

Quick-cooking white oats – 2 cups, dry-roasted
Water – 3.5-4 cups
Tomatoes – 5, medium-sized, chopped, as fine as you can
Green capsicum/bell pepper, chopped – 1 cup
Boiled green peas – 1-1/2 cups
Green chillies – 2-3, chopped
Garlic – 3-4 cloves, bruised

Oil – 2-3 tsp
Mustard seed – 1 tsp
Cumin seed – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig

Salt, to taste
Turmeric, a pinch
Coriander/cilantro – to garnish

Heat the oil.

Put in the mustard seeds, let them pop.

Add the cumin seed and curry leaves.

Now add the tomatoes and green chillies and saute well.

Add the salt, turmeric, mix well.

Let the tomatoes get all squishy.

Then put in the capsicum and boiled peas and let it acquire a ‘curry consistency’.

Now add the roasted oats, mix well and add 3 cups of water. Check for doneness. If it’s not soft enough, add more.

It won’t be slide-down-your-throat soft, but it shouldn’t be pasty, either – you will know when you test it between your fingers/taste it.

It was a smasher, and the best part was that it didn’t even taste ‘boringly healthy’ – it almost slid down my throat, effortlessly. Now there’s just a third of the oats left in its jar – I’m tackling a jar of 3-year-old whole moong tomorrow – hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll have an Old Mother Hubbard moment!