Friday, September 29, 2006


The minute I saw the announcement for JFI-Ghee I knew what I would enter. Only, I didn't know the recipe. My friend at college used to bring out a Horlicks jar of ghee with pale pink onion bits floating at the bottom during dinnertime. Maybe there was pepper and cumin too, I’m not sure. For extra flavour, she would say, her eyes shining with anticipation as she set the jar down on the table.
I don’t remember ever tasting it because I wasn’t a fan of ghee then. I’m no fan now either, but definitely more adventurous, so when this memory got raked up, I had to somehow find a way to make it. I mulled over it, imagined it several times, trawled the Net, asked people, looked up recipe books, but finally decided on the ingredients after reading a recipe on this web site for seasoned homemade ghee.
The recipe called for a pound of butter, but as she writes, yours truly realises she reversed the kilo-pound equivalents in her fevered new blogger’s enthusiasm and ordered a kilo of butter to be delivered home. The shop around the corner only had 750 gm, and so she ended up using that rather than the kilo she wanted, and the 450 gm that she was supposed to use! The result wasn’t too bad, anyway, and it was a wonderful photo-op! How I made it:
750 gm butter
1 white onion, chopped
2 big cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp turmeric
1-inch piece cinnamon
1 bay leaf
A few cardamom
Some powdered nutmeg or mace

Method: Place the butter and spices in a heavy saucepan and melt over medium heat. Don’t cover the pot. Soon, the butter will start foaming. Once it begins, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for about half an hour. You’ll begin to wonder if your kitchen hasn’t turned into Niagara Falls - that’s the kind of noise my ghee made. At home, it was never such a big production - it was made, the solids (called Godaari) were scooped into a spoon and given out as a treat to eat, and that was the end of it. By now, you would have realized this was my first attempt at ghee-making, so I was anxiously looking for the signs the recipe specified:

Changing from cloudy yellow to clear golden colour (it never seemed to)
Developing a popcorn-like aroma (it never did, not even when I risked burning my face sniffing into the saucepan)
Stops foaming and making crackling noises (nope, it did neither, but later the foam broke up into small bits, though it still covered the surface)
Develops a thin, light tan crust on the nearly motionless surface (when did it ever stop bubbling?)
Milk solids at the bottom turn from white to tan (it was all so murky, I couldn’t see a thing till I fished for them with a fork)

You’re supposed to keep a close watch on the ghee and remove from heat when done. Signs of overcooking, says the web site, are browning and foaming (heavens, mine looked like that throughout, from foaming to finish - I'm not sure where I went wrong but I was determined to not give up, so I continued hovering anxiously over the stove.) Let cool until it is just warm. Sieve it into a jar or a container, discard the strained solids.

At this stage, mine looked fine. And it tastes nice too. Kaaram neyyi (Hot ghee), a guinea pig said, but they probably meant spicy, as nothing chilli ever went into it!
We tried it with plain rice, with various kaarams, dal and chapati, it tasted best with plain rice and plain dal. It will probably make a good base for pulaos and enhance the taste of plain basmati rice! I’ll let you know.

Monday, September 25, 2006


That’s what I said after I finally finished making today’s dish, Tomato Bread Pudding. I found it pretty time-consuming, probably because I was doing a few other things at the same time.
I’d never come across TBP earlier. A few years ago, my aunt presented me Michele Anna Jordan’s The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes but somehow, this recipe escaped my eye. I had a surplus of tomatoes this week and I needed to use some of them, so when I spied this recipe, it sounded interesting enough to put in the blog.
My experiment resulted in a moist, very slightly pinkish custardy bread when you broke through the golden-brown crust on top. The recipe asked for half a pound of bacon but since I don’t stock any, I just left it out but added an onion fried in olive oil.
What you need:
Pure olive oil
4 cups bread, torn into medium-sized chunks
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
An onion, fried till pink (optional)
3 tbsp finely minced coriander
2 ounces Cheddar
2 eggs, beaten
2-¼ cups milk
2 tbsp commercial tomato puree
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method: Rub a decent-sized but not too large baking dish with a thin coating of olive oil. Toss bread, tomatoes, cheese, coriander in a mixing bowl. (At this stage, you can pause, admire your handiwork and go on to serve this as salad with a bit of salt and pepper!) Transfer to the baking dish. Whisk eggs, milk, tomato puree and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Pour custard over the bread and make sure it is distributed evenly.

[Photo]Bake in a 325 F oven (160 C) for 35 minutes and then in a 425 F oven (about 230 C) for another 10-15 minutes till top browns. The top browned in the first stage, though a knife inserted into the centre came out wet - I baked it in the second stage, it got browner, as you can see, but the inside was still moist (notice the pale patch in the dish, I scraped off the top to see how the inside was) - it had been 40 minutes by then, so I lost patience and switched off the oven, but as it turned out, didn’t end up tasting too bad. Don’t need to tell you the aroma from the oven was heavenly![Photo]
PS: I must say this tasted rather like the Tomato Baath that is made in South India! I knew it tasted like something but it came to me only a few hours later! I heated the leftovers well today for dinner - it tasted different, like bread and pudding, maybe the trick lay in the heating.

Nimmakaaya Kaaram (Lemon Zinger, do we call it?)

Some mornings, idlis or dosas for breakfast would be accompanied by this kaaram. As the years passed, I left home, the cook took over from Grandmom, this recipe got lost, or maybe it so happened that it was never made when I was around. I only remember the lemony taste and grainy texture, which I thought came from poppy seed but as it turns out, comes from a bouquet of ingredients that doesn’t have any poppy seed in it.

What you need:
Juice of five lemons
Channa dal/Bengal gram: 1 tbsp
Urad dal/Black gram: 1 tbsp
5 red chillies
Fenugreek/methi: ½ tsp
Mustard seed: ½ tsp
Curry leaf/karivepaku: A loose fistful
Gingelly (Sesame) oil

Fry everything except lime juice and salt in oil. Allow it to cool. Grind to a paste. Add lemon juice and salt. I think this can even be made with citron (dabbakaaya) juice. For variations, you can add coriander leaves or crushed garlic, I suppose at the time of frying, I’m not sure, really. I added curry leaves as an afterthought. It is a good accompaniment to rice and most traditional South Indian breakfasts but am sure it will taste good on other bland stuff, or rather, food that doesn’t have too many flavors in it already, such as bread. Let me know when you try.

PS: This is my contribution to the You Can Feed a Hungry Child Campaign

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday lunch, and a forgetful cook(book)

Unusual it would be, I decided, and summoned ingredients for a tomato bread pudding (!) but as it turned out, ended up making Yakhni Pulao instead. This recipe’s been lying in wait in a much-used, dog-eared, spice-and-grime-stained cookbook for many years and revealed itself to be not so labour-intensive if you didn’t grudge slicing four onions fine at the outset. No masalas to be pounded/ground, no meat to be marinated for hours, just some tears to be shed.

Between slicing the onions, reading the recipe and pressure-cooking the meat, I forgot that the recipe called for one cup of beaten curds. And guess what, the cookbook went on to forget too! And it asked me to fry three onions crisp and save another, but didn’t tell me what to do with that! I realized only halfway through the procedure, but I didn’t really bother to deduce at which stage the curds and the solitary onion went in but I bet my pulao came out tasting all golden and mellow because it lacked the tartness of the curds. The onions and raisins lent it a touch of sweetness.
What you need: 500 gm mutton, 250 gm Basmati rice, 2 pinches saffron soaked in ½ a cup of warm water, a handful each of raisins and cashew nuts (I used very few) fried in ghee (clarified butter), 2 tsp garam masala (curry powder), 6 green chillies, 3-4 tbsp ghee/oil, 10 flakes garlic, 1-inch piece ginger (I used an equivalent amount of ginger-garlic paste), 2 cardamoms, 2 tsp fennel seed (saunf), 2 tsp coriander seed (I used powder), 2 pieces cinnamon, salt
Method: The meat goes into a pressure cooker with 1-½ glasses of water, the ginger and garlic, chillies, salt and the whole spices (cardamoms, fennel seed, coriander seed and cinnamon) tied in a piece of muslin. I dispensed with the cloth. (I suppose the forgotten cup of beaten curds goes in now.) Once it’s done, strain the stock, reserve it. I cooked the meat on high pressure till the cooker hissed thrice, then on simmer for about seven minutes.
In half the amount of ghee, fry the meat till it turns pink; remove. (Maybe the lonesome onion goes in at this stage, just before you pop the meat in?) Put in the rest of the ghee, add the rice, fry till pink (my rice didn’t turn pink).
Add the stock, warm water (dunno where this came from, but I warmed some) and salt — now, figure out how much water you need to use — my 250 gm of rice came to two cups, so I used four cups of liquid including the stock, the ½ cup of saffron water and the warm water, and added about 1-1/2 cup more later (as the rice hadn’t cooked completely). Once it’s done, cover the rice with the fried onions, garam masala, fried mutton and nuts and raisins, cover tightly (or put some heavy stuff on the lid so that no steam escapes) and let everything infuse for about 20 minutes. Mix and serve.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Thrilled that I'd actually got down to blogging, I came up with another attempt today. I’ve had this big jar of quick-rolled oats for a while. I was supposed to have a virtuous upma of them for breakfast once in a while, but it stood crowded and forgotten among many others in my pantry. But – I definitely remembered buying it in the recent past (four months ago) and though squinting at the ‘BB’ date gave me the sinking suspicion that it said ‘one month’ I bravely forged ahead and set about using it up.
What I did was try and replicate a crunchy coating of oats on fried nuggets I’d had at a restaurant once. I looked for some recipes on the Net till I found a few for fish and chicken rolled in oats and baked but since I didn’t have either handy, I decided to use a couple of mammoth potatoes that were just threatening to turn green.
I hadn’t really bothered to keep an eye on the quantities specified, so I threw together some random amounts for the first spud - they nearly didn’t suffice. Then I put together another batch for the second.
I dipped the slightly-boiled slices in the beaten-to-foam white of an egg, rolled it in the oats-sesame-cracked pepper-ajwain (oregano)-salt mix and baked them on a greased plate in the oven. Not a big success, they didn’t soften, and the coating tasted so-so.
However, I shallow-fried the second batch with a little olive oil in a non-stick pan, and that’s what I’ll do till I find out what went wrong with the oven batch. Better still, I’ll figure out a way to get just the coating (scrumptious!) to hold itself together and not get some humongous tuber into the act!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nutty Beginnings!

Hi, my food blog's finally cooking! I thought about the name for days and it came to me in a flash, then I got caught up with work and a holiday and then with several thoughts about what I should feature in the first post. I wasn't inspired to write about the everyday food I was making either because most of it was turning out brown, thanks to a certain masala I got from my wanderings last week. And everyday brown is such an uninspiring colour, and I wasn't sure it would reproduce well on the blog either!
So, here's a very simple, no-fuss breakfast I sometimes have and like to recommend - curds/yoghurt with nuts and dry fruit! It can double up as dessert as well, with a sprinkle of sugar or jaggery if you have a sweet tooth. And you can add any dry fruit you want - the dish in the picture contains raisins, walnuts and toasted sesame seed but other breakfasts have seen a mix of dates (makes it really sweet), pista nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, maybe even a slow splash of honey, though I've never tried that. My folks have a mixture of honey, ripe bananas and curds for dessert in a silver bowl; indulgent, but not for me. I tried it with a bit of nutmeg for a touch of the exotic, still think this nutty creation's better. There are no proportions, though I find it tastier when the nuts don't swamp the curds.
Bon appetit!