Friday, April 27, 2007

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Or is it? Bread pudding, I mean. As we are now told, white bread (and flour) is one of the nastiest things to ever happen to this world, we’d rather get our carbs from wholegrains. Yes, it’s soft and tasty, goes down better than breads made with wheat and oats and rye and spelt, but healthy it is not, in large quantities, of course. It’s the bread universe’s equivalent of chips or nuts – start with one, there’s no telling when you can stop.

Ever gone on a strict diet or altered your eating plan to make it low-carbohydrate? Sometimes, you’ll find yourself entertaining visions of fluffy, white bread, smelling all fresh and yeasty, slathered with butter and jam. If your resolve has weakened and you’ve found yourself reaching for just that one croissant spread with melty butter and jam, you’re well on the way to more!

And if that’s not enough, we have to have bread pudding as well! Another luscious, utterly satisfying, wicked, tempting, all-such-adjectives creation. Not only is it white bread, it’s soaked in a bath of eggs, sugar, cream and milk, showered with raisins and nuts and served with beaming smiles urging you to taste just a bit! As if that would suffice! And to think this super-rich dessert was the poor person’s way of using up stale bread three or four centuries ago!

If you’ve noticed that I don’t have too many dessert recipes on my blog, you would know this post is the equivalent of a blog binge – but what do you know, I tasted very little of it! Two scoops went into the fridge but the lion’s share went to feed a hungry friend who stays in the hostel, and our mid-afternoon tea group at work.

We had been talking about bread over tea, and I was telling my friends how an uncle of mine said one shouldn't waste the crusts on bread in bread pudding but save them to lattice the top. This was met by hoots and snorts of sarcasm and indignation - as if it wasn't painstaking enough to cut the crusts off the bread, you had to save them, glaze them with egg white and criss-cross them over the pudding too, had you?

I don't recall how the mood slipped into a more benign one but the little conclave had my hostel friend longingly ask me to make bread pudding. I promised her I would, but told her I would put some marmalade in it because I wanted to use up some that was hanging on to my pantry.

Oh yes, put in anything you want, I'll eat anything, she said.

Excitedly, and thinking of my blog, innovative recipes, Sitemeter statistics and a torrent of comments, I'll put in some fruit as well, mangoes perhaps, I said.

Oh, please don’t put fruit, that will make it healthy, she said.

Oh, okay, then, it will be truly unwholesome, I promised.

Though I went looking for sophisticated recipes in my numerous cookbooks and on Google, a bad night’s sleep and another search on the Net led me to this very simple, no-fuss, relatively light and healthy recipe with no added sugar. It seemed unusual too, in that it asked for lemon juice and no vanilla.

However, to honour my promise of making it thoroughly unhealthy, I had to fill it with sin – that involved substituting most of the milk with heavy, heavy cream and adding two tablespoons of sugar though none was mentioned. I do know that I didn’t use the ¾ cup of orange marmalade that the recipe called for, but I really wouldn’t claim it a saving grace. The method stays uncomplicated, and my tea group said it didn’t taste eggy despite the lack of vanilla, and that the lime juice added a nice flavour.

Here’s how you go about it:

5-6 slices white sandwich bread
3 tbsp soft butter
Orange-ginger marmalade - as much as is needed to spread on those slices – I only know I used 1 or 1-1/2 tsp per slice.
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk
2 tbsp sugar
3 tsp lime juice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Heat milk, dissolve sugar in it, let cool.

Toast bread, spread with butter and jam. Cube the toast (don’t cut the crusts), put in a buttered dish/casserole.

Mix eggs with cream and milk, lime juice and nutmeg.

Pour this mixture (custard) over the bread.

Bake in a slow oven at 150 C (300 F) for 45 minutes.

Try hard to ignore the sound of your arteries thickening. (G)Ulp!

PS: There are several recipes for bread pudding with alternative, wholegrain breads on the Internet.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No Couch Potato This!

It was a shot in the dark. I vaguely remember reading somewhere or someone telling me that you could marinate potatoes in curds/yoghurt and fry them later so when I found some nice-looking spuds in the store, I brought them home as they held out the promise of lasting long. Well, that was not to be, as they started sprouting no sooner than they went into the storeroom so last night found me scrubbing and peeling and dicing rather than turning into the couch potato that I love to be at that time of the day!

Potatoes processed, I marinated them in a mixture of curds and spice powders, stuck them in the fridge and went off to the Land of Nod. This morning found the marinade had become pale yellow buttermilk (well, that’s the consistency) – though it looked pretty, I was rather dismayed because I had no clue how to use it in the stir-fry I’d planned these potatoes for, until the Spouse said we could use it in the lamb he was cooking for lunch.

I acquiesced, but as things progressed, knew it wouldn’t gel with that dish as it already had gravy of its own. By this time, I had picked the potatoes out of the marinade, stir-fried them on high heat, then turned it down to simmer, covered them and softened them. I hated the idea of pouring the marinade down the drain so in sheer desperation, I poured the marinade into the potatoes and let it take its own course!

And wonder of wonders! The curds did not disintegrate into a million particles as usual but went on to thicken ever so slightly into gravy of the perfect consistency that I’ve only ever seen in other people’s homes! What an accomplishment!

Here’s how you go about it:

Potatoes – 500 gm, peeled, diced into 1-inch pieces
Mustard powder – 1-1/2 tsp
Cumin/jeera powder – 1 tsp
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1/2-1 tsp
Turmeric – a pinch
Salt – to taste
Curds/yoghurt – 1 cup
Oil – 2 tbsp

Beat the curds, add the spices. Add it to the potatoes, marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Pick the potatoes out of the marinade. Reserve marinade.

In a pan, heat the oil, stir fry potatoes on high. Turn heat down to simmer mode, cover and let the potatoes cook till half done – they should yield when you try to cut through, but grudgingly, not too easily.

Then add the marinade, mix, and cover the dish again. All through, make sure the dish is only simmering, never on high or even moderate heat.

I'm sending this off to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Sher of What Did You Eat.

Check for done-ness and turn off the fire. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Colourful Affair

Yep, all of us know this could only mean a tame vegetarian dish with lots of veggies in it. Nothing to do with anything more colourful than that, fortunately or unfortunately!

The picture of this in a Hyderabadi cookbook has had me itching to make this dish for about two weeks. However, fate had assorted germs in store for me and that meant very little cooking, leave alone blogging. And yesterday, when I did summon the energy to make this, which involved a lot of slicing and dicing, and photograph it, I ended up worse than I had felt in the past two weeks – the pain I developed from all the coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose froze into a funny crick – the only benefit was that the fumes from the onions cleared up my sinuses for the next few hours!

Should I continue with this post? It's obviously labour-intensive, didn’t do much to cheer me up and didn’t look like anything in the original illustration - but ended up being much appreciated at my great-aunt’s place that evening.

I didn’t follow the original recipe at all because it called for a lot of oil and frying first and frying next and so on, so here’s my adaptation – a mixed vegetable dish that you can adapt to your own tastes. It’s a great way to rescue the veggies in your fridge, by the way! Add potatoes, cauliflower, any vegetable that occupies space in your pantry and weighs heavily on your conscience! The result is an almost rainbow-striped dish with a light gravy that’s high on taste and low in calories? Yes, I think so, relatively speaking.

Carrots – 300 gm, cut into ½-inch pieces
French Beans – 300 gm, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
Eggplant/Brinjals – 4-5, cut into 2-inch pieces
Capsicum/bell pepper – 2 big, diced
3 medium onions – finely sliced
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
A pinch of turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup curds/yoghurt, beaten
2 green cardamom
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/4 –inch piece cinnamon
¼ tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
Salt to taste
Oil – 3-4 tbsp
A bit of curry powder/garam masala, if you like

Parboil carrots and French beans.
Fry brinjal till more than half done in a little oil, remove, fry capsicum the same way, remove.
Fry the whole spices till they turn colour, then the onions till golden brown.
Add ginger-garlic paste, fry.
Add salt, turmeric and chilli powder, mix till they blend well with the onions.
Add the cooked and fried vegetables. Put in the curds. Stir and cook on simmer, covered, till the vegetables are fully cooked. Sprinkle a little water while cooking, if required. Add the curry powder and stir. Serve.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I like 'punny' headlines and give them a fair bit of thought. Though I'd been racking my brains since morning to think up a witty title for this raita, I didn't realise the pun was staring me in the face. For my dish in this post is a mustard raita, and in Hindi and possibly certain other languages, mustard is known as 'rai'.

Well, actually it's a tomato raita but the predominant flavour is that of mustard. The idea struck me when I visited a supermarket that stocked hulled, split mustard and methi, rarities in a South Indian kitchen. The methi met its inevitable fate of infestation and dustbin before I could get myself to explore what to do with it but the mustard lent itself beautifully to this unusual raita.

So without further ado, here's the recipe, it's pretty fluid, experiment with whatever vegetables you want, proportions too. I've tried this with cucumber and grated carrot as well. Be warned, though, that it can be pretty pungent.

2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1-1/2 cups curds/yoghurt
1-2 tsp of split mustard
A pinch of salt
1 or 1/2 of a green chilli, chopped, de-seeded if you like

Beat the curds, season with salt, mustard, add the green chilli and vegetable. Let it rest for a while, chilled if you like. Consume! This tastes great by itself but will probably go well with a mild rice preparation or even a bland variety of bread.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Kut Above

Was it the original apple in the Garden of Eden? Was it the reason why it all began? Come to think of it, it’s amusing to think of this everyday, squishy vegetable as being the love apple that led to the original sin.

There is quite a bit of information on the subject and for me, this round of Jihva For Ingredients, hosted by RP of My Workshop, was an occasion to rediscover the tomato. When the ingredient was announced, I was a little disappointed – an unusual Tomato Bread Pudding was already on my blog (no picture, though, as I deleted it by mistake and re-posted it). So were Oaty Tomatoes. And a busy month ensured I couldn’t give it much more thought. I usually try to post a recipe that at least I find special/unusual as it keeps my interest alive and kicking, so after some hurried exploration, I settled for the Hyderabadi tamater kut. Which turned out to be a good choice, because it’s all tomato but so different from the everyday tomato curry or soup or gravy that’s made in our homes.

Frenzied workday cooking doesn’t always remind you that there is food waiting to be smelt and savoured from beginning to end. Though I made this on a work day that was sure to be frenzied, boiling a kilo of tomatoes with a bit of spice jolted me out of automaton mode into a brief connoisseur, reminding me this was how tomato daal smells at home, how tomato used to smell soon after it was boiled to make the day’s chaaru, which came in very handy for me to recover my appetite after a long bout of jaundice.

“Ever seen a dried tomato?” asked a school friend one day, with an I-know-you’d-never-have-seen-it glint in her eye. I hadn’t. She bent over to reach for her school bag, extracted her rough notes from it and from its pages, produced a thick and transparent slice of tomato – it has never ceased to amaze me. How did she do it? How could it not have rotted? And despite it being a dried tomato, how did it still feel so fleshy? She had pressed it much as we used to press leaves and flowers between pages, and come up with this. I tried it later, but didn't have the patience to keep a soggy slice inside my notes inside my school bag, so it must have gone into the dustbin.

I don’t have too much more nostalgia to dish out about tomatoes but do remember that there’s a song from an old movie about a hero caught between two heroines likening himself to a tomato in a sandwich!

I have searched for information on the dish but could come up with little on why it’s called Kut. I wonder if it could be a Hyderabadi variation of ‘Kattu’, the Telugu word for a kind of chaaru/rasam usually made by roasting and powdering daal. This Kut recipe involves straining boiled and mashed tomatoes into a soupy liquid, simmering it with spices and a bit of flour to thicken it and tempering it.

Here’s how you go about it:

You need
A kilo of tomatoes
1-1/2 cups of water
2 tsps of ginger-garlic paste
3 medium onions, sliced
1 tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of turmeric
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
A few sprigs of curry leaf
1 tsp cumin/jeera powder
1 tbsp sesame seeds, roasted and ground (need not be fine)
2 tbsp gram flour/besan/senagapindi, roasted and mixed with a little water to form a paste
2-3 tsp oil
Salt to taste
Six hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise (optional)

For the tempering:
½ tbsp cumin seed
½ tsp mustard seed
¼ tsp fenugreek seed
¼ tbsp nigella seed/kalonji
3-4 dry red chillies
a few curry leaves
2 tsp oil

Pressure cook/boil the tomatoes with the water, ginger-garlic paste, ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds and cumin powder. Mash it well within the cooker, sieve through a strainer – I got 6 cups of extract – I can’t bring myself to call it puree because it was more soup than puree! (At this stage, add a green chilli or two, some salt, then temper it with mustard, jeera, some pepper, curry leaves and bit of fenugreek, and you've got yourself some nice tomato chaaru. Add some tamarind extract to it if you think it's not sour enough and boil it briefly - but before you temper it.)

In a frying pan, heat the oil and fry the onions till brown. This can be time-consuming, so sprinkle a bit of salt on the onions to make them fry faster – yes, it really works.

Now add the tomato puree, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder and the ground sesame seed. Stir in the gram flour paste. Simmer for about 10 minutes on a medium flame.

To temper, heat the oil (in a separate pan). Add the mustard seeds, cumin, whole red chillies, nigella seeds and then the fenugreek seeds. Finally, add the curry leaves. Make sure the fenugreek doesn’t look burnt-brown – it can turn the whole dish bitter. When the red chillies brown, add this to the tomato soup/puree and cover. Serve hot. Add the eggs, if using.

The initial taste disappointed me. It seemed that the fenugreek was burnt and I was stuck with a bitter, gritty dish that no one would touch with a bargepole. Photo session over, I went off to work. When I returned and settled down to dinner, unloaded this dish from the fridge (grimacing at the thought of having to possibly finish it all myself), heated it and put some on my plate. Was I pleasantly surprised! There was no trace of the morning’s bitterness, and it had finally condensed into puree!