Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Whole Masoor Dal, Some Nostalgia for Grindless Gravies, and Other Things

I recently got a pack of whole masoor dal and wanted to make misal or usal with it, as I had taken a fancy to it after seeing some picture on Instagram. Soon enough I tired of that whim as I'd have to sprout the dal and that would involve some waiting. I kept looking for brown masoor recipes but all I came across were recipes for dal (plain brown gravies) which I found unappetising. It then struck me that I could probably adapt the Kerala green gram thoran recipe to these lentils.

When I was in hostel, this dish would appear in our mess once in a while. The first time it did, I thought the cook, Mr Nair, had run out of vegetables for the day and was making do with the green gram. I was not curious about food those days so I kept thinking that till many years later I ate this at a friend's house and realised it was a full-blown dish all its own!

I followed this recipe with one change. I use very little coconut when I cook, and do not enjoy having to grind stuff, all the more so now as my mixie is in poor health. I do have a jar of desiccated coconut, though, and I needed to begin using it. So I looked for ways to make the coconut fresher, and I found this. It involves soaking the coconut and straining it in a colander but I was using only a tablespoon so I used a tea strainer. The next time I make this, I will use the desiccated coconut directly and see if there's a difference in taste.

Talking about mixies ... In 2007, I came up with a food blog event called Grindless Gravies, much to the amusement/annoyance/frustration of the participants. I guess I was pretty anal about the rules and even changed them once or twice. But many indulged me and participated. The round-up is here. So many good memories!


Then, recently, I came across this recipe for Turmeric Fried Eggs with Tamarind and Pickled Shallots by Yotam Ottolenghi. I adapted it to brinjal (eggplant) and used an extra chilli. I didn't use tamarind at all but combined a lemongrass wok sauce and hoisin sauce to make a dressing. It was very oily but good enough. It was a hit with the Spouse. You can see it in the picture below.

This salad that you see below is a combination of a few recipes for spinach-sesame salad in Korean/Japanese style. It was excellent. I saw so many recipes I cannot list them all here. I even used a couple of Guntur chillies and they smoked up my kitchen so much we coughed and hacked for about twenty minutes straight - and worried that the neighbours would wonder if we had COVID-19.

The next picture is my attempt at making a broken glass/stained glass jelly dessert. Some of the darned jellies did not set well and I could not make it more colourful than this. I found blue and green jellies too, for once. Too bad they did not cooperate!

A fruit vendor who appears at our door every few years and vanishes for the next two or three years brought some wonderful guavas at varying stages of rawness and ripeness the other day. This seller always wants me to buy two or three kilos but of course, that's too much for a small household like mine. This time he handed me a packet with many fruit and I did not feel like refusing him as he was coming after a long time. It was just Rs 50. Later on, I discovered there were eleven guavas inside! I doubled this recipe, added raisins to make up for the jaggery I fell short of and realised I had added too much chilli powder and too many chillies. I then toned it down by adding a cup of tamarind juice. It was still hot, but tolerably so.

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.

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
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.