Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pearls of Health?

Ever since I tasted barley pulao at a health food restaurant, I’ve eyed the barley packets in the store with some curiosity. I’ve often seen descriptions of cooked barley as a chewy affair but I prefer to think of the grain as one that offered me the opportunity to savour its taste and texture, unlike rice which is gone in a trice!

After checking images on the Internet, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s pearl barley I used, though the pack didn’t say so. Pearl barley is a processed form of the grain, with the husk and more components (and so nutrients) removed, but I get the impression it’s still a better alternative to rice and wheat. (My barley was white enough for me to believe it was processed.) There’s more information here and here.

In any case, it doesn’t go down as easily as rice or roti, so there must be some truth that it’s healthier – the path of logic proceeding from the point that whatever’s yummy is bad for you and whatever’s not so tasty is good for you!

A recent visit to the restaurant again hastened me into buying some barley and experimenting with it. I didn’t put too many elements in it as it was the first time and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to cook and how well it would absorb the flavours. The result was a tasty and mild dish that looked pretty with all the raisins and almonds that I used to give it some crunch.

Pearl barley – 1 cup
Water – 4-5 cups

Bay leaf – 1
Cinnamon – 2-inch piece
Cloves – 2
Cardamom – 1

Onion, chopped – ½
Green chillies, chopped – 2
Almonds – a fistful, chopped
Raisins – a fistful, soaked for a while in water
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Salt – to taste

I will take you through how I cooked the barley first – as it was new to me, I first boiled three cups of water and added the barley to it. I let it absorb the water but the grain still had a hard core so I added one more cup and then another. Midway through the fifth cup, I decided the barley had cooked well enough so I drained it and added some salt to the barley.

In a pan, heat the oil, add the whole spices.

Add the onions, fry till translucent.

Add the green chillies, fry till they lighten.

Lower the heat. Now add the almonds and raisins, swish them around briefly.

Add the cooked barley, mix well.

Plain, thick curds/yoghurt makes a great accompaniment, as I was to discover last night. This could even make a filling breakfast if the idea of garam masala/curry spice in the morning doesn’t put you off.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Culinary Crossover

Tagine and couscous are as native to Morocco as lime pickle and channa masala are to India. What happens when these two come together with nothing but the intention of finishing some of the stuff in the pantry in as authentic (!) a manner as possible? It’s a glorious mess when you discover it’s easier to depend on hazy memories of the recipe rather than spend some time searching for the book on Moroccan cuisine. After all, it’s your only time off in the week, don’t you just have to get on with it, give it a snappy headline and put it on the blog too? And it can't be any worse than Pepper Paneer Pasta, can it, though deconstructing it leads you to cream, cheese and pasta, which is what go into pasta all the time!

I’m sure there’s a tagine with chick peas, though my book seems to have a chicken tagine which called for some slices of pickled lemon, the vinegary kind. And channa masala calls for a souring agent. When time is precious on a Sunday morning which you would rather spend vegetating on the couch than soaking tamarind for extract, and in the absence of an instant one such as amchur/dried mango powder, lime pickle comes in handy. I put things together willy-nilly and the result was a not-very-strange but not-very-traditional gravy.

The lime pickle I used is a traditional Andhra recipe but as haphazard was the operative note, I used three teaspoons of it in the tagine masala - now how’s that for a crossover name? It was hot, naturally, but definitely tamed by the onions, tomatoes and ginger-garlic paste that kept it company.

Here’s the recipe:

Couscous - 1 cup
Channa/chickpeas/garbanzo beans - 1 cup, soaked overnight if you’re using the dry ones
Onions - 3, chopped
Tomatoes - 3, chopped
Green chillies - 2, slit
Ginger-garlic paste - 1 tbsp
Garam masala/Curry powder - 1 tbsp
Cumin seed/Jeera - ½ tsp
Turmeric - ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Lime pickle - 3 tsp, with pieces
Oil - 2 tsp
Coriander, for garnish

Boil the chickpeas or pressure cook them till soft.

Heat the oil, add the cumin seed.

Now fry the onions till they become transparent.

Add the green chillies, saute.

Now add the ginger-garlic paste. Mix well, fry a while.

Add the turmeric, salt, curry powder and mix really well.

Now add the tomatoes, mix well, cook on simmer, covered, till mushy.

At this stage, the gravy will begin to talk to you. If it needs more water, give it some.

Add the chickpeas and the lime pickle.

Mix well, check the consistency of the gravy and add more water if you want to thin it down. Let it simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Check for taste, turn off the heat. Garnish with coriander.

Bring five cups of water to the boil, add a pinch of salt, add couscous and cook for 7-9 minutes. Drain.

I prefer to serve the couscous and the gravy separately so that whoever’s eating can decide the proportions for themselves.

I'm sending this off to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast

I've also joined The Foodie Blog Roll. You can find it in my sidebar, details when you click on it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Open Sesame

Yes, there’s the answer - those photos in the previous two posts were of sesame paste and what it ultimately became _ Nuvvula Porutu (which translates as Scrambled Sesame). This is a very unusual dish that I came across in a Telugu cookbook called ‘Kantamani Vantakalu’ by Ms J. Kantamani. This is just the second time that I'm making it - the first time, it turned out bitter, this time, not too bitter. The bitterness had to do with the time it was kept on the stove but I think I have the solution.

I'm not having fun doing this post because of various reasons. I'm agonised about whether it will go through, and I just discovered that posting through Flickr is eating up the right side of the photo. That means another round of help forums and I'm really tired of that, what with all the trouble Blogger is giving me publishing photos! So I'll go straight to the recipe.

Sesame seeds – 200 gm
Onions – 5 (big), chopped
Oil – 8 tsp
Green chillies – 6, minced
Salt – to taste
Chilli powder – 1-1/2 tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Curry leaves, chopped coriander – a little
Garam masala/curry powder – ½ tsp (optional)

Wash and soak the sesame seeds for 30 minutes or more. Grind into a fine paste (well, as fine as you can).

Heat the oil in a pan, fry the onions and green chillies well.

Now add the salt, chilli powder and turmeric and turn the heat down to the lowest setting.

Now add this paste, curry leaves and coriander to the onions in the pan, give it a quick and thorough stir (be careful) and add the curry powder if you’re using it. Remove from the heat.

Don’t ignore it or take it easy while it’s in the pan – it will go from nutty and sweet to bitter in a jiffy! The book says it is supposed to taste sweet. I, of course, took my own sweet time to take it off the fire – but it was much better than my first attempt.

The solution I mentioned above: the key words are ‘quick and thorough stir’. A couple of swishes of the ladle, and please turn off the heat, you can continue mixing it later if you feel the spices haven’t melded for a uniform colour.

I really don’t have any information on the history of this dish or where it’s made, in which part of Andhra Pradesh. Definitely not where I’m from, what we mostly see there of sesame is something called a ‘jeedi’, a hard ball of candy made with jaggery. And, of course, gingelly oil, which is extracted from sesame seed. And as a sprinkling for ariselu (adirasam in Tamil). So maybe this is from Telangana or Rayalaseema where sesame is used more widely to give body to curry bases, as in the famous Mirchi Ka Salan of Hyderabad.

I love its warm, mellow, nutty taste, but be aware that it’s one of the most notorious allergens the world knows!

This is to be eaten with rice!

I’m sending this off to Latha of Masala Magic who’s hosting RCI-AP this month.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another Chance

I was attacked by a pang of guilt - is the previous photo for the guessing game all too white and undistinguishable for it to remind people of anything but cashew paste and coconut (despite the title, but hey, isn't that the point? Oh well, no harm in being nice!) So here's the finished product, be good sports and take a few more guesses! I promise, the recipe will be next, God and Blogger willing!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Coconot! (Republishing)

coconot2, originally uploaded by sra.

Guess what this is? What it's not is clear in the title.

Folks, I'm having some trouble publishing pictures and making the comments link active - please bear with me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Swift and Simple

It’s nostalgia time again at my blog. This dish stems from the days of my first job which often involved long and late hours. My colleague and friend would take me to her house to spare the relatives I was staying with the bother of having to open the door for me at that hour.

At her place, her mom would be ready with some hot food, after wolfing down which we would sit in my friend’s room and chat throughout the night and fall asleep only when dawn broke and our throats began to rasp and our eyes fell shut much against our will. Often, another friend would join us. Then we’d be up again at 9 or 10, by which time her mom would have breakfast ready. And then we’d unwillingly go about the rest of the day.

Her mother would often make this chaaru with moong dal. I remember a couple of tomatoes and an onion going into the pressure cooker along with dal, but my variation is to include many other vegetables and finish it off with a generous dose of lime juice, which provides all the flavour.

What you need:
Mixed vegetables, chopped – 2 cups (I used carrots, drumsticks, chikkudukaya/avarekkai, radish, yellow pumpkin)
Tomatoes – 1 big, chopped into small pieces
Onion – 1 medium, quartered
Green chillies – 2, slit lengthwise
Moong dal/Split, husked green gram – ¾ cup, boiled and mashed

Chilli powder – ½-1 tsp
Turmeric – a pinch
Salt to taste
Curry leaves – 5-10
Coriander leaves – to garnish

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Fenugreek/methi seeds – 1/4 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp

Lime juice – from 2 big limes/as per taste

Pressure cook/boil the veggies till done – they shouldn’t lose their shape.

In a pan, heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds, let them splutter. Then add the fenugreek and the curry leaves.

Saute the onions till transparent. Then the green chillies till they lighten in colour.

Now add the mixed vegetables and the tomatoes. Add turmeric, salt and chilli powder. Saute for a minute.

Now add the mashed moong dal and dilute it with water till it reaches a thick soup consistency. Let cook for a couple of minutes. (I like it to be of light and flow-y consistency.)

Check for taste. Remove from heat. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Let cool completely. Stir in the lime juice.

Tastes good with papad and vadiyalu/vadams. I'm sending this off to Latha of Masala Magic who's hosting RCI-Andhra Pradesh this month.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Stewing in the Heat!

Summers are, among many other things, an opportunity to show off how much we in this (any) city are suffering the most, compared to whoever’s trying to boast of how much they have to endure in their city!

The conversation goes something like this:

Us: Ooh, it’s so hot!
Them: Here it’s torrid! You’re so much better off, look at us!
Us: Why? It’s humid and yucky here, it sticks!
Them: Yeah, but it’s searing, dry heat here, that’s worse!
Us (gripping the phone harder, how dare they assume we suffer any less?): I don’t know, it feels like hell all the same!
Them: Oh, it’s dreadful here, believe me. At least you have the sea breeze!
Us: Huh! That’s a myth! Come here and go out in the afternoon, you’ll find out!
Them: Oh, my place is the worst! Now, if only we were in (so-and-so city), things would have been different!
Us: Hey, it was 43 C here today!
Them: We have power cuts too!
Us: Yeah, well, there’s no telling when we will start having them either! And you have a nice, airy house, we’re cooped up in flats in these cities … (and I can’t even open my kitchen windows as we don’t know when the carpenter will come, he hasn’t even gotten back to us with the estimate for the rat mesh, it’s been a week, the place reeks of cooking, grumble, grumble …)
Them: Ok, ok, what else …

Isn’t this a familiar scenario? We’re always trying to outdo each other in the heat stakes, but life goes on, the heat has to be borne, meals have to be made, events have to be participated in, which brings us to the crux of this post – two stews for RCI-Andhra Pradesh, hosted this month by Latha of Masala Magic.

Colocasia and tamarind are the common ingredients, so if you have half a kilo (about a pound) of the first, you can divide it between both. Stew 1, on the left, is chamadumpala pulusu, and that on the right is a mixed pulusu which includes chamadumpa. If you have some stray and suitable vegetables crying to be used up, this is your dish!

Stew 2

Colocasia/taro root/chamadumpalu – ¼ kg, boiled but not mushy, peeled, cut into roundels
Tomato – 2 medium, chopped
Green banana – 2 medium, boiled but not mushy, peeled, diced (You can also use six okra/ladies finger, halved, but make sure you fry them in Step 2.)
Brinjal/Eggplant – 3-4 small, round ones, quartered (you may put them in water with a pinch of salt till you use them)
Onions – 2, medium, chopped
Green chillies – 4, chopped
Turmeric – ¼ tsp
Salt to taste

Tamarind – ½ a fistful (Soak in a cup of water, squeeze about 30 minutes later for the juice, discard pulp – hot water speeds up the process)

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 3-4
Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp
Oil – 3 tsp

Coriander leaves – for garnish

1 Heat oil, add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, put in fenugreek seeds and then the onions and the chillies. Fry well.

2 Now add the brinjal, green banana, salt, turmeric, saute, and then let it cook covered, on simmer.

3 When the brinjal is soft, add the tomatoes, continue cooking on simmer, covered.

4 Once the tomato cooks to pulp, add the colocasia, stir, let cook for two minutes.

5 Now add the tamarind juice, let it cook again for a while. You can add water if it’s too thick for your liking.

6 Garnish with coriander.

If it’s too sour, you can add a bit of jaggery at the end.

Now for Stew 1

Colocasia/taro root/chamadumpalu – ¼ kg, boiled but not mushy, peeled, cut into roundels
Onions – 2, medium, chopped
Green chillies – 2, slit
Chilli powder – 1-1/2 tsp
Turmeric – ¼ tsp
Salt to taste

Tamarind – ½ a fistful (Soak in a cup of water, squeeze about 30 minutes later for the juice, discard pulp – hot water speeds up the process)

Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 3-4
Fenugreek seeds – ½ tsp
Dry red chillies – 2, in bits
Oil – 2 tsp

Jaggery – 1-2 tsp
Coriander leaves – for garnish

Heat oil. Temper with the mustard seeds, curry leaves, red chillies, fenugreek seeds.

Add onions, green chillies and turmeric, fry well.

Put in the colocasia, add the chilli powder and mix.

Now add the tamarind extract and salt. Cook on simmer.

I usually add some jaggery at the end to give it a hint (just a hint) of sweetness, but it’s optional.

Now revel in these stews of your own making!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another Avatar

Three, or is it four, MBPs (Coffee's event) have gone by but I haven’t participated for various reasons, mainly because I was too lazy for the hard work that the themes demanded but as it was sweets this time, I decided I would try the simplest dessert I came across and set about making this.

That it turned into something else is entirely my mistake, or my genius, as you like it. A misunderstanding of 1 cup evaporated milk and 1/3 cup sugar as 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk is probably what changed the nature of the dessert, not to mention the fruit mix that went into it.

Nandita had recommended two cups of mango puree. I had a variety of fruit but a single unit of each – one small mango, one big pear, one medium golden apple. I’m the impatient sort, and there are so many more events I want to participate in, so without waiting to buy more mangoes, I pureed everything into a reluctant two cups.

That done, I proceeded to open a can of condensed milk, patting myself on the back for using up stuff from the larder, but that was a short-lived joy, as I discovered I’d had this can since 2004!

I soldiered on gamely – after all, who said we had to eat what we made for MBP as long as we linked to the host and the original recipe and posted a photograph –whether it went into me or my dustbin would be my secret! I pulled the ring on the can and out burbled a toffee- or was it jaggery- coloured substance! It didn’t smell but there was no way I was sullying a potentially good (ok, tolerable) photograph with this gook! Oh no, the trash can received its first bit of refuse for the day, the grocer down the street got an order for home-delivery of a tin of condensed milk (and half-a-dozen eggs as incentive), and I settled down with a murder mystery.

Two hours later, doorbell rung, transaction made, I take the condensed milk into the kitchen, and horror of horrors, things have changed since 2004! The manufacturer has decided it’s cheaper to dispense with convenient packaging (read ring) and go to the old ways, so there I was, hammering one of my biggest and best knives into the can with the handle of my Oxo vegetable peeler. Serves me right – I finally want to take a stab at MBP and this is what it entails!

Well, after the milk came sputtering out of the various gashes I managed to make, I mixed it with the puree, the 1–tbsp-china-grass-melted-in-200-ml-water solution and tenderly ladled it into ramekins, the rest into a larger bowl and went off for a much needed, long and leisurely bath.

Unhappily, the pudding didn’t set. I hadn’t expected much by way of colour, of course, as the puree’s colour got diluted by the milk, but it was still like baby food. One ramekin went into the freezer. After I returned from work, I went straight to the fridge and poked another ramekin gingerly! Tough luck, it remained soft. But the freezer had yielded results!

Dinner followed, and it was time for the photography session. A mango was diced, a plate produced, the stuff decorated, pictures taken, lessons learnt! It can only get better next time!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ever the Twain Shall Meet

Apologies to Rudyard Kipling, but this is Pepper Paneer Pasta! Does the alliteration set your teeth on edge? Or is it the combination that’s doing it? Are you thinking, ‘Oh, no! unholy combination, I’d rather go somewhere else?’ Are your fingers snaking towards the next link on a self-rescue mission?

I would probably feel the same way too, if I were to see this elsewhere. But as it happens, it’s my blog, my copy of Tarla Dalal’s Microwave Subzis, an unhealthy overdose of salt (my doing) plus a birthday gift of organic wholewheat pasta that inspired this dish. And the ingredient that gave me the notion this paneer/cottage cheese dish could be added to pasta was the Spouse, who said the cream and pepper in it reminded him of pasta.

The photo is all white and brown and singularly unattractive, but believe me, the paneer and the pasta combine well!

The cream in my pantry was fast approaching its best-by date and after the bread pudding, this was one more dish that offered me a route to its (the cream’s) salvation. And when I saw this book in the store, I had to buy it. Not only was it reasonably priced, it had several illustrations. And in the heat of the Indian summer, the promise of quick cooking in my small and hot kitchen, made all the more difficult by windows closed to prevent the visit of an unfriendly rodent, was a Godsend! (If you’re wondering why couldn’t she open the windows as she began cooking and close them when she finished, it’s because I’ve to climb on to the kitchen ledge, open the mosquito netting the rat/mouse bit into, open the windows, descend, cook, then climb back up, close windows, stick netting back in place, and climb down – that’s too much hassle and too many calories more than I can afford to lose - yeah, right!)

Now that my post is long and chatty enough, let’s cut to the chase. Here’s how I made the Pepper Paneer – the measures are mine, not the author’s.

What you need:
200 gm paneer/cottage cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
6 tbsp heavy cream
3 tbsp milk
2 tsp oil
Salt to taste

Grind to a coarse paste:
½ cup chopped onion
9-10 cashewnuts
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp peppercorns

Combine the oil and the paste in a microwave-proof bowl and microwave on High for two minutes.

Add the cream, milk and salt, mix well and microwave on High for 30 seconds.

Add the paneer, mix well and microwave on High for 1 minute.

Taste at this stage. If it’s fine, you can stop there and eat it with rotis or naans or whatever. If it’s too salty, one of the options is to mix it with pasta and not waste it, like I did.

For the pasta:
Add two handfuls of wholewheat maccheroni rigati to 2 cups of boiling water. Boil for 9 minutes, drain, lubricate with a splash of edible oil if you like (not necessary) and immediately toss with pepper paneer.

Bon appetit!

I'm sending this off to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Colour of Summer ... and a Recipe

Hot, bright, sunny, sizzling, blazing, sweaty, sweltering, baking, scorching, roasting, glowing, shimmering shining, radiating, searing – there are any number of adjectives with connotations positive and negative to describe the nature of summer. To us in tropical countries, summer is often an unwelcome quantity of heat, dust, ants, and more irritants; it is also the season of a bounty of delights that include mangoes, watermelons, jamun (Indian blackberry), muskmelon, oranges and much more.

As children, summers are a time for fun, excursions and treats, but you also had to answer those tiresome annual exam question papers all over again. In my school, at least. Summer is the time for older relatives to summon kids and ask for some chilli powder to sprinkle on green mangoes, only to discover it is kumkum (vermilion powder used to decorate the forehead)!

Summer is the time for munjalu (tadgola/ nungu/ toddy palm fruit/ ice-apples) to be sold in baskets or brought in from relatives’ villages in a conical sack fashioned from the tree’s leaves. Summer is the time when Grandfather, with his graceful surgeon’s hands, skillfully peeled these and slipped them into our waiting hands so that they could slide down our throats like silk. A time that found him diligently cutting mangoes into a steel basin and putting it in the fridge so they could make a juicy, cool treat for us later. Yes, summer is all this and more – in terms of food, its colours are yellow, orange, grey, purple, pink, red, green.

That this could make a post hit me last week when I was landed with a pile of mango skins all golden and gleaming – I set about photographing these peels after cubing the mangoes and tucking them away in little individual containers in the fridge – they make a cool, sweet, tangy refreshing treat all by themselves. Eat them plain and succulent, the juice running down your chin greedily, squished into vanilla ice-cream or use them in a variety of desserts, they rarely fail to please. I know that’s probably a sweeping generalization, but I can’t help feeling it’s true.

Of course, I’m talking about Indian mangoes. I haven’t tried the ones found outside India but family and friends complain the ones in the US are not quite the same. The newspapers last week were full of news about how the first batch of mangoes was exported to the US after years; maybe you can taste some so you know what they mean. But that was just one variety. There are several. There are some that you can’t peel, either, the rasalu – they are so fibrous and full of pulp that the only way to eat them is squeeze them slowly but surely from the bottom so that the juice finds its way up, puncture the top and ingest it.

Want to know how to cube mangoes? It’s probably old hat but I’m allowing myself to get carried away – if it’s a firm mango, just ripe, wash it thoroughly, peel it with a peeler. Make sure it doesn’t slither out of your hands. Once you’ve peeled it, score both sides lengthwise and breadthwise with a sharp knife. Now stand the mango in a plate/dish, and use the knife to sever the scored side as one half – the cubes will separate neatly by themselves. Repeat on the other side. Do the same with the bits on the side. Scrape the remaining flesh off the stone or just eat it with abandon!

If it’s squishy, don’t bother peeling it. Cut it into slices and serve. Or cut it into two discs lengthwise, one on either side of the seed, and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Cut it into two halves around the middle, from one point round to another, through to the stone, so that it forms two cups when you twist one side against another – like an avocado? – one will stay attached to the stone (which you will have to remove), the other will be hollow – fill it with fruit or more ice-cream, dig in!

And now, to come back to the present, I have a recipe that’s quite different and unconnected. It’s for mutton fry – here’s how you go about it.

Mutton – 500 gm
Onions – 3, finely sliced, fried brown (sprinkle some salt on them, fry in two tbsp of oil, in simmer mode – takes time, but worth it)
Ginger-garlic paste – 2 tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste
Chilli powder – 1 or 1-1/2 tsp
Garam masala/curry powder – 1-2 tbsp
Water – 1.5 cups
Oil – 1 tbsp
Coriander/cilantro – a little, chopped, for garnish

Apply salt, chilli powder, ginger-garlic paste and turmeric to the mutton, pressure cook with the water. Make sure the meat doesn’t turn mushy (for beginners, this is trial and error, I’m afraid) - this took me about 15 minutes after the cooker came to full pressure. Let the pressure drop by itself. Once you open the cooker, strain the stock and put it away – you can use this for soup later. Saute the meat in the oil, check for salt and chilli, add the curry powder and the browned onion. Fry some more, turn off the heat and add the coriander. The addition (or substitution) of fresh cracked pepper makes a nice variation. You can even use a green chilli in place of the chilli powder.

I am sending this off to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by creator Kalyn this week.