Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Aloo Dum(b), and Oil-free

Now, before anyone can indignantly wonder how the versatile aloo (potato) can be dumb, please rest assured that it’s a transferred epithet – I’m the dumb one when it comes to gravies – too lazy for the great South Indian thickener, coconut, that I rarely use, somewhat lazy when it comes to other grinding and processing, and clueless when it comes to shortcuts to achieve the same effect, but this is so simple and seems a handy formula to employ whenever I need a gravy, whatever the vegetable! And what’s more, as the title tells you, it’s oil-free!

I didn’t think I’d make it to this JFI hosted by Vaishali of Happy Burp, but wanted to try my grandmom’s recipe – in my home, and I’m sure in yours as well, certain dishes were made only for the night, certain only for the morning. Well, my grandmom’s night potato recipe was often a light curry of tomato gravy, and her lunch recipe was a heavier curds/yoghurt kurma.

I knew the kurma would take some detecting as my grandmom’s not around now to give me the recipe and I wasn’t too keen on the tomato gravy as I hate how the skins separate from the fruit and roll into long, triangular bits and float in the curry (and I didn’t know the technique to avoid that except to blanch and puree the tomatoes, which I’m not going to do for the love of anyone), so I pretty much told myself I wouldn’t put up anything for Jihva – till I chanced upon this recipe in this little book of Oil-Free Cookery by Satarupa Banerjee (Rupa & Co, 2003).
And what a discovery it was! The smell and look pre-masala-sprinkling brought back memories of that dinner recipe my grandmom would make, and gave me the base for gravies with other vegetables.

Now, about dum aloo – I’ve been scouring the Net for the history of this dish – there are as many recipes as there are potatoes – there’s a Kashmiri version, a Bengali version, a Benarasi version, a Lucknowi version, a Hyderabadi version, and who knows, maybe a Chettinad version as well! (It may then be called urulaikizhangu kulambu, or equally painstakingly in Telugu, bangaaladumpala pulusu/koora – in Telugu, ‘dumpa’ means root/tuber, and I assume the prefix ‘bangaala’ refers to Bengal. Pulusu refers specifically to a tangy gravy and less specifically to a wet dish.)

A friend in school, a Bengali-phile, would always mention this dish. “Aloo dum,” she’d cry, raising her hand enthusiastically, probably when we were discussing favourite foods. All of us in that charming small town of our childhood would stare uncomprehendingly, wondering what on earth it was, and she’d launch into how she was more Bengali than Telugu because her granddad worked in Bengal. The memory, buried deep all these years, comes back to me as I write.

When I got my first Kashmiri recipe book, aloo dum took on a totally different colour. Literally. Without ambling over to check my cookbook rack, I remember having to saute red chilli powder and perhaps a bit of curds in oil, a pinch of dry ginger and aniseed (saunf) and then putting in baby potatoes to make a thin, brilliant, red gravy.

This evening, I even saw a recipe that involved gouging a hole in the spuds, filling them with pista and walnut and making an aloo dum of them – uber Kashmiri? Not sure, it sounded fascinating, but calorific and tiring. So without further ado, here’s oil-free, fuss-free, cooking-for-dummies aloo dum(b) my way, it requires even less work than the book prescribes – no pastes/powders to be ground, just some peas to shell.

Potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, quartered – 5, medium size
Curds/Yoghurt - 3-4 tbsp
Shelled peas – 1 cup
Ginger – 1 inch, minced/mashed
Garlic – a few cloves, mashed roughly
Onion – 1 medium, chopped
Tomato – 1 medium, quartered
Green chilli – 1 (I used a bit of red chilli paste since I had that)
Turmeric – a pinch
Salt – to taste
Bay leaves – 2
Coriander seed/Dhania powder – ¾ tsp
Garam masala/Curry powder – to taste

Beat the curds. Mix potatoes, curds, salt, peas, ginger, onion, chilli and turmeric. Let it keep for an hour.

Then, heat a cup of water in the pressure cooker/pan. Add tomatoes, garlic and bay leaves. Cook till the tomatoes are soft.

Add the potato mixture, close the pressure cooker, and once the steam emerges from the vent, put the weight on it. After it hisses once, put it on simmer and cook for about 8 minutes.
*The cooker will hiss a couple of times but don’t switch it off in a hurry. (For those using pans, I would recommend a little more water and simmering the dish with a lid on.)

Once the steam escapes on its own (without you fiddling with the weight), remove the weight, check the consistency of the gravy and cook down till it’s as thick as you like.
*You can even crush a few pieces of the potato in the gravy to thicken it.

Finally, add the curry powder and the coriander powder. Check the seasoning and adjust it to your taste.

Finish off with a garnish of coriander leaves. Goes well with rice and breads.


Thursday, February 22, 2007


Will suit ovo-vegetarians too, just keep reading, don't let the picture turn you away!

This recipe is mine, he said, as she finished with the camera and put it back in its suede pouch.
It will be duly acknowledged, she said.

So here it is, the spouse’s brainwave! To us, it was a new thing but in general, not really that new.

The vegetarian version

My helper at home would always tell me to break an egg into any vegetable stir-fry that I was making, that it would be “super” – but the idea of mixing up an egg with vegetables never appealed to me. Finally, one day, I asked her to do it for me, she made it with beans and carrots, was it tasty!

Temper the oil with some mustard and cumin seeds, some onion, if you like, put in the veggies (about a cup-and-a-half), season them, let them cook after stir-frying them on 'high', break a couple of eggs into them and scramble. Add some more seasoning and curry powder if you think it's necessary, at this stage.

Somehow, I never repeated it, though, and the recipe stayed dormant in my mind till the other day when the spouse, on an impulse, whipped out a packet of frozen prawns from the freezer, thawed them under running water singing paeans to how this particular meat was oh so simply thawed, and quite without any idea of what shape the dish was going to take, started sautéing the prawns pink. We didn’t have any ginger-garlic paste ready, and neither of us was going to start skinning ginger and garlic and grinding them at that late hour, so he said, shall we break an egg into it and see what it’s like? A bit of hesitation, and then I brought two eggs and cracked them into the pan and scrambled them – and voila, a blog post was born!

Using egg (or vegetables) to stretch the curry is an old habit. If there isn’t enough potato to go around, add some pumpkin. If there isn’t enough meat to go around, add some potatoes. Or simpler still, leave the daughters out and feed those choice morsels of meat to the sons.

Before I can get any more snarky, here's the recipe:

Prawns/shrimp, shelled and deveined - 250 gm
Some salt, chilli powder, curry powder - a pinch, to taste, a teaspoon, a tbsp, take your pick of the amount
Eggs - 2
A bit of coriander
Oil - 2 tsp

Saute the prawns, season with just a little salt and chilli powder till cooked. Break two eggs into the pan, put in a little more salt and chilli powder into the eggs, add the curry powder and mix them up with the prawns, stirring constantly, till they are scrambled moist. Remove from fire, sprinkle chopped coriander. You can add some lime juice for added flavour. (I didn't think of that when we made it.)

Note: The texture of the eggs changes when you re-heat it in the microwave but it's tasty all the same. Sandeepa reminds us that the prawns/veggies made this way can be a good thing to put in fried rice!


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wedding musings

I don’t have a dish to write about, just a haze of thoughts and posts that I’ve been planning but didn’t crystallize or materialize in post-tour work. I’ve been away attending a wedding and associated events - which was hectic - but a lot of fun as well.

Pic from http://www.horton-szar.net/clipart/food.php

It’s probably been a while since the trend started but I encountered it for the first time – a live pesarattu counter at a wedding breakfast, and the ginger chutney served along with it was the yellow-green variety and not the familiar red variety that I know. I don’t attend too many weddings and even less in other cities so it’s interesting to see what the caterers come up with each time. Of course, that depends on the faith(s) the bride and groom practice (or don’t) but most wedding feasts I attend tend to be vegetarian (many non-vegetarian communities too serve strictly vegetarian meals when it involves rituals) so we’re set for veggie talk.
As a kid and teenager, my impression was that wedding meals were usually ho-hum – the mandatory muddapappu, pappucharu, a palav, maybe, a few chips, one or two vegetables (potatoes and peas, perhaps, and brinjal/eggplant in some form), curds/yoghurt, a pinch of salt in the corner of your plate, a bit of chutney, a spoonful of pickle, a banana, jalebi and mysore paak (the hard variety, not the ghee-saturated one that goes by the name of mysurpa now), paan and ice-cream, for that really special touch. Now you get all this and more. So even if you’re served only a spoonful of each vegetable, you don’t really need to ask for second helpings to feel full – only if you want to revel in the good taste once more. And again!
Even at a sit-down, served meal, you get at least three sweets from beginning to end not counting the ice-cream, and one of them could be the semiya payasam. An all-time favourite, I don’t ever remember coming across it growing up. I never thought about it then but looking back, I wonder why? Preparing it in large quantities was too complicated? Well, I’m glad to say this wedding served it in cute little tubs, and it was divine. At an associated lunch, we were also served a cutlet that would have been routine if not for the addition of melon seeds – nice twist!

Exclusively wedding fare?

And some dishes, I’ve ever seen them only at weddings and associated events – vankaya pakodi (eggplant with pakodas), vankaya/dondakaya with fried peanuts, a sour-and-spicy gravy that contains paneer (cottage cheese) or lotus seed, palav with fried bread cubes (to approximate the taste/texture of meat?) and once in a while, strange combinations of vegetables that I’d like to remember and recreate at home but always slip my mind. It’s not that the others I’ve mentioned can’t be made at home, they can, but somehow, neither mine nor my friends or relatives seem to make those dishes.

A glutton is made

What I do hate about wedding meals, though, is how the video man and the photographer zealously come to catch you at that most awkward moment when you are busy shoveling these glorious morsels into your mouth, casting you in a rather gluttonous mode in the memoirs of that family for posterity. For many years now, I make sure I don’t have my hand anywhere near my mouth when this team comes along with its long, snaking cables and interfering flash bulbs – I fiddle with the leaf/plate that my food is served in, move my food away from me to a corner, as if it’s too much for me, keep my head resolutely down, or stonily stare the camera team away into slinking off to the next batch of feasters.

Give it a thought

First, the qualifier: I’m writing about wedding meals only because this is a food blog and I don’t have a recipe ready – it’s not like it’s the main takeout for me from a wedding, so I’ll take the opportunity to preach a bit – I dislike the way guests criticize the hosts for a meal that was not up to their expectations in taste and range. Sure, the feast is something to look forward to, but don’t we attend weddings to honour the invitation, to wish the couple a good life? Why is it that so many of us go on discussing and gossiping about the food, how bad it was, and how miserly the hosts were just because some curry didn’t have enough ghee or cream in it or because there were just two sweets instead of three? Are we so badly off that we can’t afford to make/buy those things ourselves that we should feel so let down? All of us love free lunches, but shouldn’t we end our disappointment with a measured observation, if at all, rather than mean comment?


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Easy Peasy!

As it’s winter, fresh peas are available in abundance and I spent one rather backbreaking night shelling a kilo or more of peas and watching a DVD. I even started out saving the pods for a peel stir-fry but quickly tired of checking each and every pod for a blemish.
Coincidentally, Pooja announced her weekly event would feature green peas and I wanted to participate, but probably the mind-numbing job of shelling so many peas in a single sitting had its effects on me – I couldn’t think of a single unusual recipe featuring peas. Well, it has to be unusual to me, at least, otherwise I’m not too keen on putting it up in my blog.
So I started hunting through my cookbooks and finally settled on this Rajasthani curry featured in Nita Mehta’s book. What I found unusual in this recipe was the addition of mangodi (vadiyalu in Telugu, I think, and the brown bits in the photo above), dried preserves made from flour, usually deep-fried to make crunchy accompaniments to chaaru (rasam/soup). In fact, the ‘vadiyalu’ made from urad daal/black gram are used in a sweet-and-sour tamarind-and-jaggery gravy in the parts I come from, but this one here is a spicy, somewhat tart, thick gravy that is accompanied by other vegetables.

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In pic above: Home-made mangodis/vadiyalu

The books informs us that this is a typically Marwari dish and that Marwaris are very fond of mangodis. In their case, they are made from moong daal. The ones I had have been tucked away in the bottomless pit that passes for my fridge for a year or so now, and I’m not sure what daal they are made of, but I used them anyway.
Here’s the recipe adapted from the book:

1 cup mangodi
1 cup shelled peas (you can parboil them ahead)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced, mangodi-size
A pinch of asafoetida/hing
1 tsp – cumin seeds
1 tsp or less – chilli powder
½ tsp - turmeric
Salt to taste
1 tsp or less - garam masala/curry powder
A few coriander leaves
Oil – 3 tbsp + 1 tbsp

Grind to a smooth paste:
2 big tomatoes
1 inch piece - ginger
1 cup curds/yoghurt
1 tbsp besan/gram flour OR rice flour

Fry the mangodis till crunchy and brown in the 3 tbsp of oil. Add the peas and potatoes, cover and simmer till done on low flame. The mangodis have to become soft, don’t worry about keeping them crunchy.

In a larger frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Put in the cumin seed, when it browns, add the asafoetida. Then add the chilli powder and immediately add the ground paste. Let it fry/boil for a while, add turmeric and then the vegetable and mangodis. Cover and simmer till you get a thick gravy, or if you don’t have the patience, let it boil and roil till it thickens, finish off with a sprinkle of curry powder and coriander leaves, turn off the fire and get on with the rest of your day!