Friday, November 30, 2007

Au Revoir!

The planning took the better part of two months. The holiday is just a week long. Such is life. I hope to be back with a wealth of posts, lots of photos and a waist size that’s no larger than the present. Meanwhile, keep your noses to the grindstone and think up some nice Grindless Gravies for me. All will be acknowledged upon my return.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gravy Drain

It’s not often that life gives you a perfect cauliflower. Lemons it does, in plenty, but not a cauliflower. So when I got one last week, with an unblemished, uniform complexion even at the fag end of the day, I was determined to make the most of it.

As soon as I came home, I did the needful – soaked it in some hot water with a pinch of turmeric and salt, drained it after half an hour, tore it into florets and lovingly stashed it away in the fridge hoping to find a deserving recipe in the next couple of days.

It so transpired that the brown rice I had cooked that day stayed abandoned so when I came upon a Gujarati recipe that called for rice-and-besan patties in a vegetable gravy, I went to bed the day before I made this with fond hopes of my various aims being fulfilled – leftovers used up, several veggies being used up, all nutritious and novel to boot! Plus, it would be another Grindless Gravy!


Next morning saw me add several teaspoons of besan (chick pea flour), way beyond what was prescribed in the recipe, to the rice, after which I was finally able to fashion crudely-shaped patties.

As I proceeded with the rest of the recipe, I wondered if it would be thick enough to qualify for a gravy, but I needn’t have worried, for it did – the besan thickened the water and the one-pot meal was ready! Now let’s see if he can resist this, I told myself, that’ll teach him to reject brown rice.

I reached for my delicately painted but finely cracked porcelain bowl, ladled the gravy into it, took some pictures and then left it on the table while I got ready to go to work.

Back on the table, it's a lovely picture, clean table, lovely dish, fat peas playing peekaboo with the cauliflower and the beans in a rather novel, pale yellow gravy. As I reached for the dish, it split neatly into two, spilling mostly on the napkin that I used to hold the dish, but also on to my newly upholstered dining table chairs – and that, dear readers, is the story of the Gravy Drain!

The recipe I tried to follow was Tarla Dalal’s but I made many, many changes, here it is!

For the patties

Cooked brown rice: 1 cup
Coriander, chopped: 1 tbsp
Besan/Chick pea flour: 8-9 tsp
Green chillies, chopped: 2
Ginger, chopped fine: 1-inch piece
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Oil: 1 tbsp
Salt to taste

Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Asafoetida/hing: ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Oil: 1 tbsp

French beans, chopped: 3/4 cup
Cauliflower florets: ¾ cup
Green peas: ¾ cup
Coriander, chopped: 2 tbsp

Patties: Combine all the ingredients to form a soft dough.

Divide into 15-20 equal portions and roll out into rounds. Keep aside. (They wouldn’t roll out for me, so I just used my hands to pat them into shape.)

Heat oil, pop mustard, asafoetida, turmeric powder, chilli powder and 4 cups of water.

Add all the veggies and salt. Simmer till they are cooked.

Increase the flame and add the patties one at a time.

Simmer for 10-12 minutes till they are firm.

Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander.

Keep those entries coming for Grindless Gravies! Details here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On The Gravy Train

There was gravy drain too, but more about that in the next post!

As I found out, this is another great pantry cleaner – take some odds and ends, vegetably speaking, dress up some coconut milk and you have a great curry. I had some potatoes that were sprouting; sweet potatoes, all twisty and runt-like to begin with that steadily shrivelled with each passing day; a portion of the cauliflower that I had used the greater part of in the gravy drain and some beans.

Now, all I needed was some carrot to give it a bit of colour but seeing as some had gone to pot in my fridge last week, I denied myself any in penance this week! As I debated using the sweet potatoes, Musical’s Thai Curry came back to me – I had wondered about the combination with coconut milk, so this was the perfect occasion to try it. It’s an unusual taste – sweet, sour and mellow all at once. The gravy itself is like silk. And Bee has posted another dish with some of the same ingredients today.

This recipe is adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khazana of Indian Recipes. This is another entry of mine for the Grindless Gravies event.

Potatoes, peeled, diced into 1-inch cubes: 3 small
French beans, cut into 1-inch pieces: 12-15
Cauliflower: ¼ of a flower
Sweet potatoes, peeled, diced: 1 cup
Shelled green peas: ½ cup

Coconut milk: 200 ml (mine came out of a pack)
Tamarind pulp: 2 tbspn (about three dry strips soaked in half a cup of water)
Red chilli powder: ½-1 tsp
Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbspn
Turmeric: ½-1 tspn
Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tbspn
Salt: To taste

Oil: 1 tsp
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Split, hulled black gram/urad dal: 1 tsp
Curry leaves: 8-10
Dried red chillies: 2

You will need thin coconut milk to cook the veggies – I diluted about a third of the coconut milk with 1-1/2 cups of water.

In a pressure cooker, or a pan, boil vegetables with salt, tamarind extract and thin coconut milk till ¾ done. (In a pressure cooker, this took about three minutes before the weight needs to be put on.)

As that’s cooking, mix the ginger-garlic paste with the cumin, coriander and red chilli powder.

Now, add this to the vegetables and cook for ten minutes. (In a pressure cooker, this could take about 2-3 whistles. Let the pressure drop on its own before you open the cooker.)

Heat the oil, pop the mustard, black gram and the red chillies. Add curry leaves and add this to the curry.

Now add the thick coconut milk and simmer for two or three minutes. You can eat it on its own or with some rice.

Hope you've all put your thinking caps on for Grindless Gravies. The deadline is December 22, that's a whole month more!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Making the Date

Ah, at last I'm posting something for AFAM!

Growing up, dates were those rather boring, plastic, chewy fruits that came with several wrinkles - you'd find just the one in a packet of dry prasadam (food that has been blessed) sold at temples but now they are available in various forms and consistencies here in India - fruit, most often dried - full, sliced, pressed and sticky, embedded with almonds, cashews, pistachios and other nuts, as syrup, but once in a while, at certain shops, fresh too.

I recently came across some really shiny and soft dates, so sweet that I find it rather difficult to believe there is no added sugar in them - there is no ingredients list on the packet so I have to buy it in good faith and hope, but the positive side to that is that they worked well with this Qatayef recipe I found on the Internet. My adaptation of this recipe is below.

This recipe goes to the event A Fruit A Month started by Maheswari of Beyond The Usual, hosted this month by Chandrika of Akshayapatra.

For the pancakes:

¾ tsp dry yeast
¼ tsp sugar
¾ cup warm water
½ cup all-purpose flour/maida
¼ cup semolina/rava
A pinch of salt
Butter for frying

For the filling:

Lightly toasted walnuts: ½ cup
Sticky dry dates, chopped: 1-1/2 cups
Ground cinnamon: ½ tsp

Honey: to drizzle, a few tsps

Combine yeast, sugar and ¼ cup of the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes, until you notice some action – bubbles forming.

Meanwhile, in a large enough bowl, mix flour, semolina and salt. Gradually add the remaining water to the dry ingredients using a hand mixer. (I just scrubbed my hands raw and mixed it with my hands.)

When the batter begins to resemble thickened milk (or white sauce, in my case), add yeast mixture and mix well. Cover and set aside for three hours.

After three hours, when you’re ready to make the pancakes, place pan on stove, heat 1 tbsp butter and pour a scant ¼ cup of batter into the pan.

Cook until the entire surface of the pancake is covered with bubbles. This, along with the top of the pancake losing the gloss/wetness, is your signal that the pancake is ready. It should remain pale on the top.

Do not flip and cook on the other side.

Repeat with the remaining batter. Add a little more butter if you need to. (I got four pancakes of fairly similar sizes from this recipe.)

Keep aside. If you’re stacking, keep some waxed paper in between the pancakes to ensure they don’t stick to each other.

For the filling, combine the dates with the walnuts and ground cinnamon.

Place one tbsp of the filling in the centre of the pancake, unfried side up. Fold pancake in half to form a crescent. I used cloves to hold it together as pinching the edges did not help seal them.

Place filled pancakes in a plate.

Just before serving, in a skillet, heat ¼-inch of vegetable oil over medium high heat. When the oil’s very hot, fry as many pancakes as will fit easily. Fry for a minute or two till brown. Flip and brown the other side. Drizzle a teaspoon of honey over each pancake.

Here are some interesting things I found on Wikipedia about dates.

Dates can also be dehydrated, ground and mixed with grain to form a nutritious stockfeed.

Dried dates are fed to camels, horses and dogs in the Sahara.

In northern Nigeria, dates and peppers added to the native beer are believed to make it less intoxicating.

Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm.

The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity.

The flowers of the date palm are also edible.

Traditionally the female flowers are the most available for sale and weigh 300-400 grams. The flower buds are used in salad or ground with dried fish to make a condiment for bread.

Source: Wikipedia

Here's a solo, with a ball of the date-walnut mixture:

Don't forget about Grindless Gravies. Read more about the event here. Please remember that for this event, daal/lentil preparations won't count as gravies because that will make things too easy! Same goes for yoghurt-based kadhis - this is getting tiresome (for you all), I know, I know!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How Was My Diwali?

“How was your Diwali?” asked K. I was on the way out, she on the way back home from work. “Oh, nothing much,” I said, with a weak smile. “What did you do?” “The usual, cooking, frying, eating more heavy food than I should,” said K, before I cut in to ask if she really enjoyed all this.

“Yes, I do. That’s the one day I try out new recipes. I made X, Y, Z … It gives me immense satisfaction. You DO have to slog, even for the Puja, but you have to work hard to get something, don’t you?” she said, with a “this is natural” smile.

Could I feel myself cringing, even as I told her I too loved cooking but only at my own pace? Over the years, all the “How was your Diwali?” questions are something I’ve come to field sportingly – sporting not because I think it’s none of their business but because the truth is that I don’t do anything much, which amuses or surprises people – but I’m always embarrassed to own up to it in the face of such enthusiasm.

As a teenager, soon after our home got its first TV, I was surprised to hear the sound of muted sniffling. A quick glance around the room revealed nothing – there was my grandmother and a couple of others watching the drama unfolding on the screen dispassionately, there was me, and my grandfather. Whom we had never known to watch a movie before the arrival of the TV into the house. And who was now struggling to maintain a straight face, lips pursed, his red nose the only giveaway. Tatayya cried?

One sleepless morning, at 5 a.m., curled up in a dark corner of the living room, I witnessed him stir, get up, go through the darkness of the dimly-lit room and straight into the puja room, put on the light and fold his hands in prayer. Tatayya prayed?

Till then, the only person whom I had known to do anything approaching a puja at home was Mother, who lit a lamp and sat in the small puja room for a few minutes every morning and evening. My grandmother would tinkle the brass bells hung in the bell-shaped cut-outs on the room’s door and I don't remember if I prayed at all.

The only time we had a puja was during Vinayaka Chaturthi and that was only family – grandparents, brother, father, mother – we would take turns reading the story of how Ganesha was created, beheaded and restored to life, how it is considered bad luck to see the moon on that day and how performing the Puja and reading the story would prevent you from being blamed for something you did not do – till today, this is the main reason for which I do the Puja. Selfish, hardly the true spirit of worship. But … once bitten, twice shy, a story for another day.

In my home, festivals were a day for gaarelu (vadas) and payasam. Sure, each festival came with its own prescribed pujas and sweets, but Mom’s lamp in the puja room, vada and payasam it was for us! As in most other homes I was familiar with. Sankranti was the harvest festival, which we town-bred ones looked forward to only for the sights – the Haridasu, the Gangireddu, the muggulu (rangoli). Dasara was a day for the Dasara puli, of thanking helpers and worshipping the tools that helped us ply our trades and get around – vehicles would get a special wash, be anointed with turmeric, kumkum and flowers, and a few coconuts would be broken in thanksgiving. And there were gaarelu and payasam.

And Deepavali? It was a day for decorating the house with earthen lamps, one for the groove in the Tulasi stand at the rear, the nod to Goddess Lakshmi; a day of insufferable noise, beautiful, often blinding, lights and fumes, of a tour of the neighbourhood, a day that ended with a vigorous shampoo to get all the chemicals out of your hair. And gaarelu and payasam, of course.

Several years later, Deepavali is Diwali, even in the South, and is more than crackers, feasting and family time. Back home in Andhra Pradesh, I was not aware that people had to formally exchange sweets for this festival, or others, for that matter – whatever we got or sent were homely affairs from close family in steel boxes, usually because they had been made, not because they had to be made. Hopefully, those home cooks did it out of their own free will and not out of guilt, not out of I-shouldn't-deprive-my-kids-and-grandkids and associated feelings but I will never know as they will never acknowledge; only laugh and say there was nothing to it, that it hardly took them any time. So is it just staying in a different region that puts the pressure on me to buy new clothes, make stuff to eat for the festival, and observe it in some way? Nobody forces me to do anything, so why do I feel I have to commemorate this now highly commercialized festival in some way?

This year, I didn’t have the time to buy fireworks, sweets for the neighbours (so I put them on a diet with some fruit), new clothes or the fixings for a grand feast. I didn’t plan a menu for the festive lunch, though I hazily intended to do something – how could I not, it was Diwali, after all, and I’ve already forgotten how we observed Dasara, just a few days earlier. Come morning, late rising and general lethargy, and The Spouse saying Hey, let’s get out of here fast, I don’t want to spend the day sitting at home, we find ourselves sitting in the food court in the relatively deserted mall, eating Mexican rice and tandoori vegetables. Was I for real? What happened to Diwali? All my plans for a festive meal?

Then after some rounds of stores to check out the festive season discounts, we come back home with an acquisition and light some candles, only to go out again, watch the fireworks, return, and eat the cold rice that I had cooked that morning (to salve my conscience – that I hadn’t totally ignored the festival) with some pickle and leftover curry and chutney from the fridge.

Then I see Bee’s post on her blog and it only intensifies the welter of emotions I already feel – which run the gamut from guilt to vindication - from wanting to eat old favourites, light a few sparklers, hunt for the earthen lamps somewhere in the belly of my storeroom but being too lazy to do this to wondering why I feel so much pressure to observe the day when there is none, except in my own mind.

Could it be that I wanted to observe it for the memories, to recapture a bit of the past, to celebrate a day off from the routine? I think so. I didn’t want the day to slip through my fingers like every day that has its own high points but doesn’t get recorded in a diary despite the best intentions; I didn’t want to smile feebly at people who asked me how my Diwali was and tell them that it was no big deal.

Arguably, the most visible face of Deepavali, the fireworks, is fading, and I miss that, though I myself buy only a packet of sparklers, and even then, rarely. More than the vadas and payasam, I miss seeing the houses lit up with rows of lights, a popular practice back home. I dislike the commercialization, and the lurid and loud character this festival has acquired. But, somehow, despite myself, this question, How was your Diwali, did work up some angst in me this time.

Note: This was what I wrote last night and debated posting - I'm posting it anyway. And oh, we went out for a walk tonight, in the inner lanes off our busy main road, and the air was cooler than usual, and the nightqueen's fragrance continued to accompany us even after we passed the house it grew out of, and I came home, took out my big blue diary and jotted the day's high points down. I've always wondered, how do you continue holding on to a nice experience, ensure it always stays with you?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Announcing Grindless Gravies, the Event

So here’s the one-off event I’ve been mulling. Grindless Gravies stems from a day when you really aren’t in the mood for a number of procedures but also want a thick, fulfilling gravy. On some days, I find even the most mechanized of cooking laborious– be it fixing the jar on the blender, filling it with ingredients, waiting, watching and testing to see if the paste is fine enough, and then washing it thoroughly – who wants mango milkshake flavoured with idli batter? Judging from the comments to my previous post, it’s not a bad one and I’m all curious to see how the rules are interpreted and what you all come up with.

A request: Please follow the rules in the spirit rather than the letter (which means that even if you spot loopholes you should ignore them).

Since the food blogosphere is full of events, I’ve decided to give intending participants six weeks to send in their entries. So the last date for entries will be December 22. The host is also giving herself time to do the round-up sometime in the next six weeks ;-)

Here are the guidelines and what you have to do:

1. Please make a thick gravy specifically for this event. You can point to other such dishes on your blog, but the entry itself has to be fresh – just for some fun.

2. No electric grinder, mixer, (hand) blender or food processor or food mill in any form should have been used in the making of the gravy. A quick grating of cheese or onions (or other stuff) is fine but it can’t go on for … more than three minutes, shall we say? The less the labour, the better.

3. You can use packaged/prepared/frozen stuff like ginger-garlic paste, onion paste, tomato puree, spice powders and convenient stuff of that sort to make the dish, but that does not include commercial gravy/curry pastes/powders/mixes that you can just dunk vegetables or meat into to make an instant gravy (the butter masala mix, kolhapuri gravy mix, kadai whatever mix, I’m sure you get what I mean). Nor does it include homemade one-type-suits-all gravy that’s been sitting in the freezer. It can't all be lentils or all curds/yoghurt/all coconut milk (they shouldn't form the bulk of the dish because that makes it too simple and that's no fun - they should be dressed up substantially - please see my On The Gravy Train dish to get what I mean). As I said no dunking veggies or meat in a readymade curry mix and presenting it, I feel compelled to apply the same rule to something where the gravy's overwhelmingly made of one single ingredient so gravies like that are out too! {Sra flees the scene, trying to escape the brickbats and blows ...} It can belong to any cuisine.

4. I don’t mean that you should make the ground equivalents by hand, either. No, you don’t have to make ginger-garlic paste in the pestle and mortar if you don’t have it ready, just find another way to include those ingredients. Paste will take a long time in the p & m, so I usually smash the ginger and the garlic with a lentil masher or the pestle – just one or two thumps should do it. You can even crush the tomatoes with your bare hands. Violent, huh? You can even mash some of the vegetable pieces in the gravy to make it thicker.

6. You could mention the time, the (number of) implements and utensils used for this dish – the fewer the easier the recipe. The gravy can also boil away for as long as you like – if it allows you to catch up with the day’s papers or the news or give yourself a breather, that’s fine. You just don’t have to be in the kitchen watching over the pot, or washing the mixer or assessing paste consistencies.

7. You can send in your entries to srablogATgmailDOTcom. Please say ‘Grindless Gravies’ in the subject. The e-mail should contain the specific link to the dish, your name and blog name. As for photos, please send me a 75 x 75 pixel picture of the dish. I am not computer-savvy, already have a bad wrist and won’t be able to do this myself, please. Your entry will still be included in the round-up, it just won't have the picture.
A link back to this blog/event is necessary.

If you're not a blogger, please mail me the entry with the photo, I'll put it up on my blog with the details.

8. I will do the round-up sometime in the first two weeks of January.

There are a lot of questions, I will add the clarifications here as they come in:

Yes, of course, non-vegetarian, cream and international stuff is allowed

On to my own contribution for this event.

It’s an adaptation of a dish that’s quite new to me, called Gummadikaya Pindi Miriyam (yellow pumpkin with black pepper and flour). From what I understand, this is made with rice flour as one of the thickeners, the other being coconut and ginger, not to mention the mixture of freshly ground coriander, pepper and a smattering of chana daal/split chick peas.

I didn’t have rice flour, omitted the coconut and the chana dal, and used pre-ground spices to make the dish.

Gummadikaya Pindi Miriyam (Yellow Pumpkin with Black Pepper and Chickea Flour)

Yellow pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces: 2 cups
Green chillies, chopped: 3, or less
Water: ¾-1 cup-1-1/4 cups
Black pepper, ground: 1 tsp
Cumin, ground: 1 tsp
Coriander, ground: 1 tsp
Turmeric: A pinch
Ginger: 1-inch piece, peeled
Besan/Chick pea flour: 3 tsp
Salt: To taste


Oil: 2 tsp
Mustard seed: ¾ tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Urad dal/Split, hulled black gram: 1 tsp
Red chillies, broken: 2
Asafoetida: A sliver, or a pinch

Coriander/cilantro, chopped: ½ a cup

In a pressure cooker (or a pan), place the pumpkin and the water, season with salt and turmeric and boil till the pumpkin only begins to soften. If you’re using a pressure cooker, just boil it for a couple of minutes – it shouldn’t have boiled just yet.

Now season the vegetable with the ground black pepper, cumin and coriander.

Mash the ginger roughly (I did this with just one blow of the pestle on the chopping board, separated the fibres a bit) and add to the dish. Add the green chillies. Let the pumpkin cook till soft. It should hold its shape, though.

(If you’re using the pressure cooker, now cook under pressure for 3-4 minutes. Let the pressure come down on its own.)

Mix the besan with some water to make a lump-free paste and add it to the curry. Let it boil till thick. Turn off the heat.

In another pan, heat the oil, add the mustard seed, the urad dal, the cumin, the red chillies and the asafetida, in that order. You can even add curry leaves.

Once the urad dal browns and the red chillies just turn colour, turn off the heat and tip into the curry. Garnish with chopped coriander, mix gently.

Happy Deepavali and Season’s Greetings!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

If You Can't Beet 'em ... & Your Thoughts On An Event - Grindless Gravies

Chips, as we call them in India (crisps to the rest of you), immediately bring to mind the potato, but of late, some enterprising stores here in India have taken to making and selling chips made from yam, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot, okra/ladies’ fingers, and even bittergourd, which is one of the most palatable ways of downing this vegetable.

All these different chips here have their own unique taste and idiosyncracies – the yam never fails to smell fishy (literally), the sweet potato is excellent but probably doesn’t lend itself well to chipping I see it so rarely, the beetroot takes on a shine, the carrot shows some black in its grain, the okra goes out of shape and the bittergourd, stiffened by the flour it’s dipped in, holds it.

We don’t often pulverize these same veggies into chutney, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t, as I’ve been discovering slowly. In India, it’s mostly the 'watery’ vegetables such as eggplant/brinjal, gourds and greens that are used for chutney – easy to mash and influence, unlike the starchier, sturdier vegetables which will mash but also stick to the pestle or won’t submit with such ease.

It’s not impossible, though, to chutney-fy them as I have been discovering. I first chanced on a carrot chutney, probably my aunt’s invention/innovation – a tangy, orange affair to which curds and besan lent body, and this beetroot chutney, a friend’s grandmother’s, both in the last three or four years. I’ve always failed with the carrot chutney but the beetroot was a success even when I made it for the first time just recently.

In my previous post, I recounted the story of the lost opportunity in beetroot chutney, but a few of you wanted the recipe, saying it was news to you too, ergo the post.

But before that, I need your opinion on something: I’ve been planning a one-off event for months now, but between wondering how it can be at least a little different from the others going around and finally deciding on one, I am not sure if it will appeal to you all.

It will be called Grindless Gravies and the idea is to come up with a thick gravy WITHOUT resorting to the mixer or grinder or even to heavy-duty grinding by hand, if anyone does that anymore (or grating something long enough to allow it to become pulpy enough to add bulk)– the idea is to find ourselves recipes for fulfilling gravies without the elbow grease. So tell me if this idea appeals to you and help me formulate the terms and conditions and make sure there are no escape clauses and I will announce it formally.

Finally, on to the chutney recipe:

Beets, chopped, boiled until just tender: 2 cups
A lime-sized lump of soaked tamarind
Green chillies: 6, chopped (or less)

To temper:
Oil: 2 tsp + 1 tsp
Garlic: A few cloves, skinned, split
Mustard seeds: ¾ tsp
Urad dal/hulled, split black gram: 1 tsp
Curry leaves: A few
Cumin seed: ½ tsp

In one tsp of oil, fry the green chillies well. It just needs to wilt a bit so don’t worry if the oil’s absorbed all too quickly.

Temper the other two tsps of oil with the mustard, cumin, then the black gram (wait for it to brown slightly), garlic and the curry leaves.

To the beetroot, add salt, the green chillies, the tempering and the tamarind lump. Put this in a grinder and grind.

You can even do a second tempering with the same ingredients or some of them if you want more crunch in the chutney.

More chutneys here and here

Don’t forget to let me know about the event! You can even write to me at srablogATgmailDOTcom . I would appreciate any input: what to watch out for, what to add, what not to, what else I can do to make it interesting. Thanks!