Friday, August 28, 2009

Salan, All Souped Up: Two In One

Though this blog is named for soup, there aren't many soups to be found here. I blame that entirely on the weather, it's too hot for soup most of the time. But, as I read in another blog a few days ago (I forget which), we don't complain about the weather being too hot to eat piping hot food, so why crib about it being too hot to eat soup? Why indeed? Food for thought, isn't it?

Then, there's the other kind of hot, the Scoville units-kind. Sweltering heat and searing spices may not sound like a harmonious combination but we do end up eating that way, especially when we are used to it, don't we?

There might be some answers here.

The other day, I noticed a pack of the nicest banana peppers ever in the store - so smooth and blemish-free, so immaculate, they almost looked like waxworks. Now, why does something have to look fake for us to consider it the most perfect specimen? Amdist such ruminations, I then had a brainwave and decided to send a souped up version of the salan to No Croutons Required but discovered just now that I'm a week late. Oh well!

But back to the heat. The weather's hot, the soup's hotter, and I had to eat it with great gobs of curds to be able to finish it.

Note to Sra: Don't take banana peppers for granted - they are as hot as any other. So when the recipe says boil the peppers first, do it.

There's an onion in the ingredients list but it disappeared by the time the method was explained, so the book shall remain unnamed. I also made a few substitutions.

Note: Read through the entire recipe, and then prepare the vegetables, otherwise, they will stay in your fridge forever, like my onion did!

Chillies: 250 gm
Dessicated coconut: 1 tbsp
Peanuts/Groundnuts: 1 tsp
Sesame seeds: 1.5 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Cumin: 1 tsp
Dry ginger powder: 1 tsp
Garlic: 5 cloves, skinned, mashed
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp
Chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Tamarind: Soak a big lime sized amount in 1.5 cups of water and extract the juice
Oil: 2 tbsp
Curry leaves: A few
Salt to taste

Boil the chillies in salted water till they change colour. Drain.

Roast the sesame, peanut and dessicated coconut. Add the coriander powder, chilli powder and turmeric and grind to a paste with just a little water.

Heat the oil and pop the cumin. Add the paste, dry ginger powder and garlic and fry till the oil separates.

Now add the chillies and curry leaves. Let them fry for a while.

Pour in the tamarind extract, and add salt to taste.

Simmer till the gravy is thick and oil floats to the top.

Now the Salan is ready.

On to the soup:

Take some of the curry, chillies and all, and pulverise it in the mixer. Your salan is all souped up and ready!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beetermilk Soup

Put some colour into your life!

I wanted to call this post Bawdy Beets (taking off on the poetic licence I could take with the colour and call it lurid pink) but there were two problems:

As my stats are wont to reveal sooner or later, everyone and his brother looking for bawdy delights will land up in my blog and curse me for misleading overstatement;

And, where, in fact, ARE the beets?

There aren't any. Their liquid is in the soup, and this soup did come alive with its addition. It's actually quite the traditional recipe for 'majjiga charu' (buttermilk soup?) which was often made to use up souring curds - just temper the buttermilk, and lo and behold, there it was!

Here, it's been turned into a bigger production with some vegetables which were threatening to turn sour as well, and liquid from boiling beets which I was turning into a stir-fry! Ingenious, no?

What you need:

Buttermilk: 2-3 cups (not too watery, though)
(I made the buttermilk by whisking some curds/yogurt thoroughly with water)

Dry ginger powder/sonthi: 2 pinches
Salt, to taste
Dosakaya/lemon (melon?) cucumber: 2, seeded and diced into medium cubes
White pumpkin: Diced - a handful
Green chillies: 2-3, slit through the centre
Curry leaves: 2 sprigs
Coriander leaves: To garnish
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Jeera/cumin: 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds/Methi: 1/4 tsp
Asafoetida: A tiny pinch (optional)
Oil:1-2 tsp

Juice from beets that have been boiled: About a cup

Add the dry ginger powder and salt to the buttermilk and whisk till it's well mixed.

Steam/lightly cook the vegetables till just cooked, with some of the green chillies. Cool it down.

The beet juice should be at room temperature too.

Now add the vegetables and their juices and the beet juice to the buttermilk. Mix.

In a pan, heat the oil. Pop the mustard, then the jeera. Add the curry leaves and the green chillies. Then add the asafoetida and turn off the heat. Add the fenugreek seeds right away. Tip all this into the beetermilk.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Shrooms With A View, Sage & Rosemary Too

Once, not long ago, I ranted about dry herbs here. I'm not about to eat crow (now that's another post) or my words, or even dried herbs, but as some of you pointed out in that post, dried rosemary is an exception, as I discovered today.

My aunt in the US, with whom I stayed in July, has several herbs in her garden - sage, rosemary, French tarragon, two kinds of basil, chives, mint and a few others. I would often pick a few leaves off the plants and pop them into my mouth, enjoying the fresh and spicy feel. When I was leaving, she picked some fresh sage for me, which held up rather spotlessly till today, and gave me her stash of dried sage and rosemary. A creative cook, she uses permutations and combinations of these herbs to flavour all her cooking, even Indian food, and I decided to do the same, though I did not employ any logic except that of the palate.

After years, I bought mushrooms recently and they blackened only a little bit after two days, unlike earlier when they would do so very rapidly. I also had two slabs of paneer/cottage cheese that needed to be used up fast so I decided to throw it all into a big stir-fry and flavour it with these herbs.

Here's what you need:

Onion: 1 big, thickly sliced
Button mushrooms: 2-3 cups, halved
Paneer/cottage cheese: 2-3 cups, cubed
Red chilli flakes: 1-2 tsp
Garlic: 10 cloves
Sage: 6-7 leaves
Olive oil: 2 tbsp + 1 tsp
Salt: To taste
Rosemary: A sprig or two

Grind the garlic, red chilli and half of the sage roughly with 1 tsp of olive oil - I did this with a stone pestle and mortar.

In a large wok, heat the olive oil and add the above ground mixture. Saute for a few seconds.

Now add the onions, saute for a minute on high flame, then the mushrooms and the cottage cheese.

Saute again for a minute, and add salt.

Lower flame.

The mushrooms give out some water, let this dry up but keep turning constantly so as not to burn the dish.

You can choose to let some oily juice remain - good to mop up with bread - or dry it completely.

Now crumble some dried rosemary over the top and mix it lightly. Serve.

This goes off to Weekend Herb Blogging, Kalyn's event, managed by Haalo and hosted this week by Prof Kitty at The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Searching For Sra? You Didn't!

Where is Sra? or at least 'Sra Break' or 'What happened to Sra?' would be the search terms that popped up, I thought, during the unannounced break I took last month. Well, naturally, I'm not too happy that most of you didn't miss me and didn't send me a flood of anxious mails or comments telling me how much you miss me, and would I please tell you I was alright and haven't stopped blogging, but as it turns out, this blogger's job is merely to alive and let laugh, even if you uncaring souls couldn't care less, so I'll just go ahead and do what I'm known for - brightening a bit of your day (now that several of you tell me I do)!

One of the funniest search terms of all time that I saw (last month) was

Caligula roasted alive

I cam (sic) alive somehow (thank God for that!)

All my wild oats (what a letdown, it's actually about oats!)

Is it correct to say I have eaten my soup Yes/No (Yes, you 'eat' your soup, you don't drink it)

Orissa modest chest thumping

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Li'l Bit of 'merica

When it became clear a few months ago that I would be going abroad, it also became clear that I would have to tell myself sternly that I couldn't come back with stuff for the pantry that I would only throw out a while later. It's quite another matter that while I shopped very little, all my purchases were heavyweights which attracted their own set of consequences on the way back home.

One of them was a packet of split peas which I've never seen in the parts of India I live(d) in. Of course, I didn't want to make anything as ordinary as green pea soup with that - I had plans for it already, which I executed once I returned. It helped that I had had a great Bengali meal at Sandeepa's place when we met - Begun Bhaja, Dal, kaancha amer ambol/chatni Jhinge Chingri Posto, Pathar Mangsho, so I knew which book to consult for a split peas (matar dal) recipe as soon as I returned.

This is a book of Bengali cuisine called Pumpkin Flower Fritters by Renuka Devi Choudhurani and has a recipe for Split Pea Lentils With Vegetables. Since it's only been a little over a week since I've returned, I don't have too many veggies crowding the refrigerator so I made do with just one of the many listed in the recipe.

And that's the result in the photo - don't miss the jaunty chilli in that bowl - it arranged itself so, I didn't arrange it that way.

Split pea lentils/matar dal: 1 cup
Drumstick (vegetable): 1
Tomato: 1, small
Green chillies: 3-4
Salt, to taste
Oil: 1 tsp
Ghee: 1/2 tsp


Red Chillies: 2, broken into pieces
Bay leaf: 1
Panch phoron with some mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Asafoetida: A pinch

Strip some of the hard skin from the drumstick and cut it into two-inch pieces. Slice the tomato into 6 pieces and slit the green chillies.

Wash the dal in warm water and rub with salt and a little oil. Set to boil in a pan of hot water (I haven't mentioned the amount as I initially used just over one cup of water and then added as and when I needed).

When the dal is half cooked, add the salt.

After it cooks a little more, add the drumstick and a few of the green chillies. When it all cooks, remove from the fire.

Heat the oil and ghee and temper with the chilli, bay leaf and the panch phoron. Add the asafoetida and tomato. Saute for a few seconds and add the rest of the green chillies. Pour in the dal and boil for 2-3 minutes.

This entry goes to Susan's My Legume Love Affair - 14.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a great day out with Susan, whom I met in New York City. She planned a day of walking for us and took me through Wall Street and several other areas. We walked from about 10 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. One of our stops was Madison Avenue - as soon as we saw this scene, we had to stop and shoot several pictures of it.

I'm not sure how good it is technically, but for me, it felt like the sight of the day.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Where I Have Been

All of last month, I was here. I was fortunate to have got the time off and I think I made good use of it, walking around the city one area a day. The following are foodie sights and scenes from my trip to New York City.

I met a few friends from the blogging world: Susan, Rajitha, Sandeepa and Paz, and spoke to a few others: Sig, Asha and Mallugirl. My operating principle was 'No Indian food' but I relaxed it in Sandeepa's case as I haven't had authentic Bengali food except in a couple of restaurants. My camera battery was dying and I used the dregs of its energy to take a picture of her rather than of the food she made.

Rajitha made all this great food for me one fine Tuesday. She picked me up at the subway station and we stopped off at the Indian store to pick up some supplies and then went on to her cozy apartment, but not before picking up some sweets. "I can't let you go without dessert, Sra, I have to buy you dessert. What will it be?" As I didn't want Indian, we opted for a Middle Eastern bakery near her place, where we picked up two pieces of each variety, and after this huge meal, steadily proceeded to demolish all but one. She has a great collection of world vegetarian cookery books, and I'm inspired to make the avocado, tomato and feta salad that you see in the foreground. Thanks to her, I tasted quinoa for the first time.

I met Susan downtown and we had a great day of walking and photographing, not to mention lunch and dinner. The crackers and biscuit that you see here are part of the meal she treated me to in one of the restaurants at Grand Central Terminal. We had different varieties of clam chowder and oysters each. That was the first time I ate oysters. For dinner, her husband Scott joined us and we ate at a French restaurant.

Paz took me on a walking tour of Harlem, treated me to some glorious cathedrals and chapels, and showed me a side of New York City that I didn't really expect. There was a wide choice of restaurants to eat in, and I picked Cuban because I had not tried the cuisine before. I must say the Zesty Corn (seen in the second tier), was the best and the most unusual.

My family and I went out to lunch at a Greek diner in Times Square where I ordered these dolmades. Initially, I didn't like these cold treats, but began to appreciate them after I tried a second one.

This and the next few pictures are from the Monday farmer's market at Union Square. I even picked up a printed recipe for peach salsa, samples of which were set out by the market organising committee. There were several other recipes available. I tried the salsa. Nice.

These are varieties of squash. I've only seen them in pictures earlier, and the ones right in the front, never before.

Peppers galore!

I never saw purple capsicum before, either. Nor for that matter, such light green ones.

Ahh! Fressshh!

I have never come across a cookie called Chop Suey before. Interesting, isn't it?

On a Sunday in NYC, there was a street fair near the restaurant in which my family was having lunch and a very involved conversation, I slipped away to see this street fair that I noticed earlier. There were several other foodie goodies on offer - kebabs, gyros, pita pockets, Italian sausage ... This was the most colourful food stall as far as I could see.