Monday, October 27, 2008

A Meeting And A Holiday

While festivals and the observance or non-observance of them make me ruminative, this year, there was more than introspection to look forward to. The promise of a meeting with another blogger for the first time is always thrilling, as is the meeting itself. This past week has had me in a state of pleasant and rising anticipation as the day drew closer.

Aparna and I met in the mall, along with her vivacious daughter and delightful niece. Though it took us a while to get out of the store, we were chatting all through the time it took us to get through the queue to the counter and out. Though there was an initial inclination to pizza, we finally settled on Mexican fare at the food court, where the usually incredibly tasty Burrito Bowl was served as a deromanticised hill of rice on brown plastic/melamine plates. We talked quite a bit about blogging, photography, ourselves, our work, bloggers (aha!) and a little about many other things. The cookies she gave me, among other things, are crunchy and full of pistachios and other nuts and I'm savouring them slowly. Daughter and niece participated equally enthusiastically in the conversation, and never once did I feel like the adult I was when I was talking to them.

The next day was Deepavali (at least in the region where I live) and it came with that special feel that I notice in all holidays, even a Sunday. The roads are quieter, there are fewer people around and there's a languid feel to the day. Even the sun shines in a different way. Wake up and you know it's a holiday. It's a day to be savoured, with something special to eat if you're up to it, and I was up only to something simple. Ingredients for one special dish had been bought with lofty intentions but an indolence insinuated itself into my sleep and I woke up feeling lazy. I'd spied a couple of interesting things at the mall - kala matar [black or actually very gray-green peas, and yellow chilli powder (?) ] and I used one of them for the second special dish, which, happily, in the absence of the first, made up for it.

This is a great recipe for cleaning out your stock of vegetables. While I did have a recipe in mind, I did not have the entire range of vegetables it demanded, nor the precise daals to be soaked overnight, nor the right proportions of vegetables, so I just improvised after much dithering between this and another recipe (for which I didn't have all the right vegetables either).

It was a good risk that I took, because it tasted just fine!

To be soaked overnight and then drained

Kala matar/Any dry peas: 1 tbsp
Channa/chickpeas: 1 tbsp
Green gram (Split or whole): 1 tbsp

Potatoes: 1/2-3/4 cup, diced
Bottlegourd/sorakaya/lauki: 1/2-1 cup, diced
Drumstick: 1, cut into 8-10 pieces
Brinjal/aubergine/eggplant, the small, round and plump variety: 6-8, diced
Carrot: Chopped, a fistful
Yellow pumpkin: Diced, a fistful
Any other veggies: Chopped, a fistful

Coconut: Fresh, shredded, 1 cup

2 tsp panch phoron [A mix of mustard seed/radhuni (celery seed) + aniseed + fenugreek + cumin + nigella (kalonji)]

Oil: 3 tbsp

Ginger: 1-inch piece, minced
Salt, to taste
Dry red chillies: 2 plus another 2-3, torn up
Red chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Cumin powder: 2-2.5 tsp

Use a pressure cooker for faster results.

In a small wok, in a tablespoon of oil, fry the soaked and drained beans/peas. Add the coconut and turn off the heat just as it begins to change colour.

In a pressure cooker or pressure pan, heat the rest of the oil. Add the panch phoron and two dry red chillies.

When they crackle, add the ginger. Fry for a few seconds.

Now add the vegetables, turmeric and the salt.

Mix well, cover and let it cook till almost done. (Do not pressure cook here, just cover it.)

Add the fried beans and peas and coconut mixture, mix well. By now, the vegetables would have generated some liquid so add just a little more water (do not drown or even immerse the vegetables in water, add just 1/4-1/2 cup more) and pressure cook till you hear one hiss.

Let it cool down naturally, open it and add the torn red chillies and cumin powder and mix well. Heat it just a bit.

Great on its own or with rice or with some fresh curds/yoghurt.

Bon appetit!

Don't forget to send in your entries for My Legume Love Affair - Fourth Helping. The deadline is October 31. The details are in the sidebar.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Salad Days, And Reminding Again

Periodically, depending on the stocks in my pantry, I often take a salad to work so that we have something healthy and guilt-free to munch on during the day. It's usually made of beans and peas of one or more kinds so that it's a somewhat substantial snack. Of course, there are jokes about how it's boring to bring/eat healthy food, but every few minutes, someone or the other returns for a couple of spoonfuls and only rarely does any remain by the time I leave. I won't be lying if I say that nowadays I take it more for them than for myself.

I seem to have hit upon a no-fail recipe in my garlic, coriander and lime juice dressing but today, I had only one lime and not much energy to reach into the deeper recesses of the refrigerator to extract the coriander box or deal a deathblow to a clove of garlic, so I reached for the mint which was at the edge of the shelf.

I told myself that I would post it here only if I liked it, and not just to fill the week-long silence. I'm glad it didn't disappoint me.

Here's how I made this salad:

Rajma/kidney beans: 2 handfuls, soaked overnight, cooked
Carrot: Grated, a fistful

Lime juice: of 1 lime
Mint: 10-12 leaves, chopped
Dry ginger powder/sonth/sonthi/chukku: A pinch
Salt: To taste
Green chilli: 1, chopped, seeded, if you like
Extra-virgin olive oil: 1/2 tsp

In a container, place the ingredients under Dressing, mix and let it sit for a while, say for 15-30 minutes. Then mix it well with the rajma and the grated carrot. Chill it till you need it.

Needless to say, this salad goes to the in-house event My Legume Love Affair - Fourth Helping.

Now for the reminder. There's just 10 days to go for the My Legume Love Affair - Fourth Helping deadline. Please hurry up with those entries as well as with the e-mails giving me the details and the photos. The details are in the sidebar.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On The Sauce, And a Reminder

When I went home two months ago for a short visit, I met a cousin of mine from the US whom I had not seen for the last five years. The conversation veered round to food as it often does and we found ourselves discussing the cooking shows on TV here. This cousin grew up in the US and the shows here must have come as a big culture shock.

As the conversation progressed, her expression deepened from one of puzzlement to shock to utter disgust. She had watched a programme that morning where salad was one of the items on the menu. " ... And then she put in an entire bowl of mayo into the salad! An entire bowl. And she added apple, corn, cabbage {some other stuff which I don't remember now}, oh yes, carrots, and olives! Now tell me, Sra Akka, olives? And she (the lady featured in the programme) has the gumption to say very blithely that this mayonnaisey stuff is ideal for a weight-loss diet? No wonder these people eat like this and then wonder why they're not losing any weight!"

The less said about our TV shows featuring home cooks the better. I have nothing against the recipes involved, but find it hard to control my laughter when I hear the nutritional/weight loss advice that comes with it. As my cousin has ranted for me, I won't be adding more on that count. I only hope she's not provoked into another rant if she ever comes across this blog and reads this post - like that virtuous TV cook, I'm not going to make any claims as to its goodness or its unbearable lightness of being. It is, however, going to make her happy, I hope. And for me, it was a conscious experiment in Western vegan food - it's tofu mayonnaise and I'm sending it off to MBP-Sauces, originally conceptualised by Coffee.

What is mayonnaise?

I found the original recipe here. However, as I didn't have any sugar substitutes, I used ordinary sugar, so I can't confidently call it vegan.
Further, I had some powdered mustard seed (the pickling variety) and that's what I used in place of stoneground mustard. Even the one teaspoon that I used imparted a hint of bitterness to my mayo though that wouldn't deter me from using it.
I used a teaspoon of pepper too.
In place of the cider vinegar, I used some mirin as it has been lying unutilised in my kitchen since January.

Ultimately, the tofu mayo was made with:

250 gm silken tofu
1 tsp "strong" mustard
1 tsp pepper
Salt, to taste
3-4 tsp mirin
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tsp sugar

Put all ingredients into the food processor and process till creamy.

It's mid-October and we're at the halfway mark for My Legume Love Affair-Fourth Helping. Don't forget to send in your entries! The details are in the sidebar.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Legumes All The Way!

I know it's a month-long event, and it's only the beginning of the month, but I was beginning to get anxious when no mails announcing contributions for MLLA-Fourth Helping arrived in the first few days of this month. The only legume dishes being made, it seemed, were those in my kitchen and I was wondering if posting all of them would be seen as hogging space, and attention. After all, I'm the host, is it right for me to post so many? Funny how the ethical dilemma of a host in the food blog world plays out - a real-world host is expected to make as much as s/he can, but would that be deemed an attempt at monopoly in the virtual world? What do you think?

I tried quelling these qualms for a few days by accepting an invitation to a certain social networking site and immersed myself in locating cousins and friends, having them discover me and the messages that dot our pages, how much of ourselves we are revealing, whether I should put up a picture, risk revelation, but the call of the blog is too insistent and loud to ignore. Funnily enough, it calls out as stridently even when I don't have my usual wit-/humour-/anecdote-laden (and yes, humility-laden) pieces to say, which leaves me feeling blue and wondering how I can sustain the blog ...

A couple of these dishes are rediscoveries, and one in particular was one I used to classify as "Oh-that-same-old-tiresome-must-eat-but-why-the-hell-should-I" salad. Made with moong bean sprouts, some tomato, some cucumber, an eighth of a medium-sized onion and a simple garlic-steeped-in-lemon juice dressing, it WAS zingy, but wouldn't have featured here except for Aparna's insistence.

The other rediscovery was of tomato pappu, or toor dal made with tomatoes. I know there are a number of recipes out there for this very basic, very typical Andhra dish, those even simpler than mine, but when I cook old favourites, the standards I aspire to are my grandmothers', not out of any unreasonable, fanatical loyalty to tradition but simply because they tasted better.

All you have to do for this recipe is this:
In a pressure cooker (or pan),
- take half a cup of washed toor dal (pre-soaking will help it cook faster and softer in a shorter time)
- 4-5 chopped tomatoes (the sourer varieties would be nice),
- 1 cup of tamarind juice (extracted from a small fistful of tamarind soaked ahead of cooking time in a cup of water)*,
- some more water,
- a small onion, chopped up
- 1 or 2 green chillies, slit
- a pinch of turmeric

Make sure the dal is well covered by the water(s) but not overwhelmed by it.

Let it whistle 2-3 times and then cook it on simmer for another 5 minutes.

Let the pressure drop on its own and mash it as much as you can.

Add the salt and some red chilli powder, if you like, at this stage.

If it's too watery, thicken it down by cooking it some more on medium heat, uncovered.

Temper with mustard, cumin, split and hulled urad dal, crushed garlic and curry leaves in a teaspoon or two of oil. You can even add a tiny bit of onion to the tempering. Garnish with some chopped coriander.

* In fact, you can even cook this without the bother of the tamarind extract - you can simply plop the tamarind into the pressure cooker along with the rest of the ingredients and mash it all up together. Accomplished cooks do that but I've not had much success this way.

** I find that adding the tamarind juice after the cooker's opened and then boiling it down works best.

And now we come to the discovery of the day - a moong dalma. You may remember my Orissa posts but soon after those, I acquired a book on Oriya cuisine and adapted this recipe from there.

Green gram/moong dal: 1/2 cup
Potato: 1, peeled, cubed
Small brinjals: 2, cubed
Drumstick (the vegetable): 1/2, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
Cubed radish: A fistful
Cubed carrots: A fistful
Red chillies: 2
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 2 tsp
Water: 1-1/2 cup
Oil: 1/2 or 1 tsp
Turmeric: A small pinch
Dry-roast the dal, wash it.

In a pressure cooker, or pan, place the dal, turmeric and all the vegetables except the drumstick.

When you sense the cooker's about to hiss (or just before the dal reaches the crumbly stage), remove from fire, open carefully and add the drumstick. Close it again and let it hiss once. Temper with the mustard and red chillies. Add the cumin powder. Mix well.

Eat well! And Happy Dasara!

Don't forget to send in your entries for My Legume Love Affair - Fourth Helping, originally created by Susan. The details are in the sidebar.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dried & Tested

As much as I would like to be a gee whiz in a supremely well-stocked and efficient kitchen (notwithstanding the fact that I can do a lot to improve my end of things), one group of aids I'm learning to do without is dried herbs, which mostly smell of tea.

A thoughtful friend who knew of my fondness for cooking brought me several containers of dried herbs from the US, all well within their best-by dates. Reconstituted or not, most of them smelt of tea. It was only the oregano, I think, which retained some semblance of the original smell. I had them for years, finally gave up on them and threw them away. When I recently went to Thailand, I trawled the Net for good spice stores, went to one and brought back some kaffir lime, some lemongrass, galangal and some basil. Happily, everything except the basil performed well right from the beginning - a soup I made smelt gloriously of lemongrass and galangal, a paneer recipe to which I added kaffir lime took on its aroma and the basil smelt like tea. I haven't thrown it away, though - I'm a hopeful soul.

It's not often that I see exotic-to-India herbs such as thyme, rosemary and even parsley at my neighbourhood store, so when I saw parsley this week, I thought of the baby potatoes at home and picked up a packet. I sprinkled a bit of it over my breakfast of scrambled eggs, but they didn't seem to go well together - I hadn't chopped up the parsley well enough, but still ...

Then a couple of days later, I washed about 20 baby potatoes, boiled them with their skins on, let them cool, peeled them, rinsed them once and tossed them in a pan over fire with 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil to which 6 cloves of minced garlic had been added. After making sure the garlic got distributed evenly among the potatoes (during which process I added some salt), I added about a fistful of finely chopped parsley and sauted the potatoes some more - maybe for a couple of minutes. Then I took them off the fire and tried not to wolf them down.

Don't forget to send in your entries for My Legume Love Affair - Fourth Helping, which I'm hosting this month. The details are in the sidebar.