October 31, 2008

Amla Pachadi

There are some very basic differences between a standard Tamil meal and a standard Telugu meal. One of those differences, according to me, would definitely have to be the presence of a chutney or a pachadi on the menu. Where I grew up, a chutney, also called a thuvayal or thogayal, was made when there wasn't enough sambar or kuzhambu for 4 people. That's when the different podis made their appearance on the table along with a thengai thuvayal. Where S comes from, the podis and the pachadis are almost integral to every meal. Every once in a while, I try to make a pachadi to go with our meals. And totally in line with my plan to include new fruits and vegetables in my diet, I made this pachadi with fresh Indian gooseberries. A complete treat for all garlic lovers, we enjoyed this pickle like pachadi with some hot rice and ghee on a cold Sunday afternoon. This recipe has been sitting in my drafts for months now and will finally see the light of day.

250 g Indian Gooseberry (Amla), deseeded and halved

3-4 tbsp Garlic Paste

6 Red Chillies

2 tsp Mustard Seeds

15-20 Curry Leaves

1 tbsp Chilli Powder

2-3 tbsp Oil

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a pan and add the curry leaves, mustard seeds and chillies. When the mustard crackles, add the garlic paste. Fry the paste for a few minutes. Add the chilli powder, salt and the gooseberries. Cook on a low flame for about 5 minutes. When cool, grind to a coarse paste.

Hot and sour all at once, this unconventional pachadi is a real treat.

October 28, 2008

Semia Payasam

Festivals are always about food. I have always maintained that the only way I can explain the significance of any festival is through the food that is served on that day. I had heard this term, "Vadai Payasathoda saapaadu" which means a meal which includes vadai and payasam (kheer). In our family, this was sort of sacrosanct. While we didn't follow any "kitchen religion", Amma would always make vadai and payasam for any festival. And well, no one complained.

I talked earlier about why Deepavali is so special to me. Somehow, I never gave the religious significance of this festival even a thought earlier. It was about the "mangalsnan" and the goodies. I was never into firecrackers, but new clothes I looked forward to. Even if it meant that I got a pavadai chokka/ davani while my classmates got salwar kameezes. There was never a puja per se at our place for Deepavali. Also, there was no lighting of lamps all over the house on Deepavali. That ritual was saved for Karthikai Deepam. This year, we spent our first Deepavali after marriage in Gurgaon. It was just the two of us. So, we celebrated a very Tamil Naraka Chaturdashi on Monday, complete with the mor kuzhambu meal.

Lit oil lamps and placed them all over the house as is done in Konkani and Telugu homes.

And combining local traditions with what is done back home, we made gift hampers with the goodies made at home and went visiting friends and relatives.

The only thing that we hadn't thought of was doing all this with an unwell me. Winter is just around the corner and I just know it because I am down with a terrible cold and fever.

But sure as I am that night turns to day, I know that, this, too, shall pass. And I bring you a much loved payasam that is dear to me at any festival.

1/4 cup Roasted Vermicelli
1/2 can (200g) Sweetened Condensed Milk (Milkmaid/Mithai Mate)
1/2 litre Milk
½ tbsp Clarified Butter (Ghee)
½ tsp Cardamom Powder

a pinch Saffron, dissolved in some milk

For the garnish

1 tbsp Ghee

2 tsp Raisins

2 tsp Cashews

Heat the ghee in a vessel and roast the vermicelli for a couple of minutes. Add enough water to cover the vermicelli and cover the vessel. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the milk and the condensed milk to this. Keep stirring until the mixture is even (else you'll have burnt condensed milk) and bring to a boil. Add the cardamom powder and saffron mixture. Simmer the mixture for about 10-15 minutes.

For the garnish, heat the ghee in a frying ladle. Add the cashews. When the cashews turn golden, add the raisins. When the raisins become plump, pour the contents of the ladle into the simmering mixture.

This can be had hot orcold. When kept in the fridge, this payasam takes on a creamy, pudding like texture. No festival meal is really complete till you have savoured a helping of this divine stuff.

Happy Deepavali everyone!

October 22, 2008

Chocolate Banana Muffins

Happiness comes in small packages. At least that's the message that muffins and cupcakes seem to keep sending out to me. With muffins, it always seems like there's more to go around. Of course, the fact that there's no greasing and flouring, and the fact that the baking time is a lot less does tend to give muffins an edge over regular cakes.

While I can safely say that I've mastered the banana muffin, I'd been reading a lot about how well chocolate and banana go together. I really had no idea. These low fat muffins showed me how two flavours that I like in muffins can come together and create magic. This recipe yielded 18 muffins and after distributing some among friends and colleagues, we ate the remaining over 3 days.

2 cups Flour

2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

3 tbsp Cocoa Powder

1/2 cup Demerara Sugar

2 tbsp Golden Syrup

2 Eggs, beaten

4 tbsp Milk

4 tbsp Oil

3 medium over-ripe Bananas

Prepare the muffin pans by lining them with paper muffin cases. Heat the oven to 375 F.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

Combine the bananas, golden syrup, milk, eggs, oil and brown sugar in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, blend all these to a rough paste. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix until just about combined.

Pour this batter into the prepared muffin cases and bake for 15 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven, these muffins make for a great breakfast. And a great breakfast is always a good start to the day. Just as having a great birthday celebration is a good start to the year. To me, a great birthday means having family, friends and loved ones close by. All of you have been with me through the last year and a half, looking out for me when the going got rough, sharing in my joys and my excitement. And for that reason, I chose to make muffins for you all. There's always enough of them to go around. Just the way all of you have always been there for me. On my birthday, I invite you all to my little party. And all you have to do is sing, "Happy Birthday!".

October 21, 2008

Kirlayile Mugga Ambat

I had planned on posting all these konkani recipes when the RCI Konkani food was on. I was tied up with many things and didn't get around to blogging much. So, while it seems like all I've been cooking is coconut + tamarind + red chillies with a combination of other stuff, that is not the case. I wouldn't dream of cooking so much coconut at one go. And no, it is not because I think coconut is bad for health or any such thing. It is just that I bring back a limited supply of scraped coconut from a visit to Amma and I'm not scheduled to go and see her for the next 6-8 months and her trip to Gurgaon is now postponed to sometime next year. So, I have to s-t-r-e-t-c-h my stock to the extent possible.

This recipe, I am told, is made for shraadhs/devasams. So, while I've eaten this at my uncle's place, I can't remember eating this at home. I made it as it is a change from the tori/tinda/lauki routine. Moreover, I tend to do nothing with sprouts except eat them as such in a salad. This was one way of breaking out of my comfort zone.

1 cup sprouted Green Gram (Moong), cooked (until mushy)

2 tbsp Coconut, scraped

1 tbsp Tamarind Paste

2-3 Red Chillies

1 tsp Fenugreek Seeds

¼ tsp Oil

Salt to taste

For Tempering:

1 tbsp Oil

1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds

1/4 tsp Asafoetida

7-8 Curry Leaves

Heat the quarter teaspoon of oil and fry the fenugreek seeds for a minute or two. Grind the coconut, tamarind, red chillies and the fenugreek seeds to a fine paste.

Mix this paste with the cooked sprouts and add salt and a little water. Bring this to a boil.

In a frying ladle, heat the oil and add the mustard. When the mustard splutters, add the asafoetida and turn off the flame. Add the curry leaves. Fry for a minute and add this to the boiling mixture. Serve hot with rice.

My ambat didn't turn out the way it usually does and I think that's because I didn't cook the beans until completely mushy. This is usually intended to be eaten with rice and I made it to go with chapatis.

Off this goes to my dear friend, Sra, as she hosts this month's edition of
My Legume Love Affair, Susan's initiative.

October 20, 2008

Vali - Dali Sambare

This seems to be a series of recipes using vegetables that I never tried out before or dishes that I have tried out for the very first time. Many of these dishes are what I've grown up eating. Some of course are totally new to me. This dish is technically known as "Vaali and Daali ghalnu Sambare" which roughly translates into Sambare with Vaali (Malabar/Ceylon Spinach; Tamil = Pasalai Keerai; Telugu = Bachali Koora; Hindi = Poi ka Saag) and Daali (Dal, which in konkani dishes is always Toor Dal). Sambare is a sambar like dish. One more complex name for all of you to get used to.

Pasalai Keerai is what was sold in Madras for many, many years as Palak. I remember that Palak (Spinach) was not easily available in Madras and many vegetable vendors would try to pass off this as Palak to an innocent teenager (a.k.a. me). For years I hunted for the real Palak and was thrilled whenever I could lay my hands on a bunch or two. Now, it is the exact opposite. We get enough and more Palak here and I was very thrilled when I found Pasalai Keerai at my local vegetable vendor's. In all enthusiasm, I made this Sunday favourite. The picture does no justice whatsoever and since I haven't had a chance to make this again, I'll have to make do with this picture.

1 bunch Malabar Spinach, cleaned and chopped

1/2 cup Toor Dal

3-4 tbsp Coconut, scraped

1 tbsp Tamarind Paste

2-3 Red Chillies

1 1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds

1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder

2 1/2 tsp Oil

3-4 cloves Garlic, crushed

Salt to taste

Cook the dal and the spinach along with the salt in a pressure cooker.

In a small frying pan or kadhai, heat 1 tsp of oil and fry the red chillies and the coriander seeds. Grind this along with the coconut, turmeric and tamarind to a fine paste. Add this masala to the cooked dal-spinach mixture and bring to a boil.

In a frying ladle, heat the remaining oil and prepare a tempering of garlic. Add this to the sambare.

If you're looking for a no onion/garlic version, you could use this tempering:

1 tsp Cooking Oil
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
½ tsp Asafoetida (Hing)
7-8 Curry Leaves

In a frying ladle, heat the oil and add the mustard. When the mustard splutters, add the asafoetida and turn off the flame. Add the curry leaves. Fry for a minute and add this to the boiling mixture.

Enjoy this with some hot rice and ghee. A perfect meal for a lazy Sunday lunch.

Off this goes to my dear friend, Sra, as she hosts this month's edition of My Legume Love Affair, Susan's initiative.

October 19, 2008

Mantav Ghashala Bajji

A complicated name for an oh-so-simple dish. Mantav Ghashale is the Konkani name for what is known as Tori in Hindi. The Spencer's super market here calls it Smooth Gourd. I think that's because it is a smooth version of the Ridge Gourd. While I have no love for either vegetable, I have cooked both very often. Summers in Delhi/NCR mean that you eat the same vegetables over and over again. During one vegetable buying trip, I'd gone through everything and picked up nothing. S came over and said, "Are the vegetables so bad?" And I said, "No, but I just made all of these last week." As I said it, I realized what was happening. I forced myself to pick up the same vegetables. I figured that if I needed a change, I simply had to cook the same vegetables differently.

For instance, I made a thuvayal with Tori with go with idlis. I followed the recipe for Peerkangai Thuvayal. I decided that thuvayals are great sides with idlis and dosas as they have more than a decent helping of vegetables. (And don't ask for my recipe for idlis. I really don't have one and, much to Amma's disgust, continue to use MTR Rice Idli mixes.)

I remember that Amma made this "bajji" a few times. This bajji is not to be confused with the one that belongs in the bonda family. It is a simple side dish, quite like a tayir pachadi. So when you put Mantav Ghashale and Bajji together, you get this dish! The day I made it, it was a welcome change from the normal Tori sabji.

4 Smooth Gourds

2 Green Chillies

2-3 tbsp Coconut, scraped

1 cup Curd, beaten

For the tempering:
1 tsp Oil
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
7-8 Curry Leaves

1/4 tsp Asafoetida

Roughly scrape the skin of the gourds. Do not peel. Chop them into 1 inch cubes and place the in a microwave safe bowl. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes. Cool.

Grind together the cooked gourd pieces with the coconut and chillies. Mix together with the beaten curd.

In a frying ladle, heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, and when they splutter, add the asafoetida and curry leaves. Add this to the vegetable-curd mixture.

Your side dish is ready!

October 18, 2008

Sharing the excitement

I hadn't been blogging regularly, but I had been cooking. I was mostly cooking the same stuff that I'd already blogged about. When I did make new stuff, I forgot to take pictures. When I did take pictures, I forgot to load them to my laptop. And when I did load them to my laptop, I figured I didn't have the time to blog after all. Now since some of you have been missing my posts and have urged me and encouraged me to start posting again, I feel totally enthusiastic about writing here again. Who knows, I may be a regular after all!

I had a recent mishap in the kitchen when something I was frying exploded in my face as I was trying to turn it over. Fortunately, in addition to a proficiency badge in Cooking, I also hold one each in Firs Aid and Ambulance Man (slightly more advanced than First Aid). And more fortunately, S is a clinical pharmacologist and knew exactly what medication to use. A week ago, my face was part burnt and I had a series of burn marks on my face. Today I am much better and about 95% of the scabs that formed on the burns have fallen off.

Now, I shall share with you some of the things I've been cooking from your blogs.

There's this lady we all know. She lives in a cold and rainy port town with a beautiful view of the port and the mountains. While she shares pictures of lovely Seattle, she also puts up some very classy pictures that can make you drool. I don't cook any meat and yet when I look at the pictures she puts up, I feel I absolutely have to try them out. I bought a packet of fake chicken legs and I will try some of her chicken recipes soon. I had planned to recreate Sig's Chilli Chicken with paneer, but I decided to make it with Soya chunks. I followed
her recipe for most part. I omitted the tomato ketchup and added some cornflour mixed in water to the dish. It was so tasty that I ate most of it from the pan. Thanks Sig, this is a keeper recipe.

I talk with great pride about adding new vegetables to my repertoire and one such vegetable is the very humble cluster bean. Last year, just as the season for these vegetables passed us Delhi/NCR folks by, Anita put up this wonderful recipe. I never did care much for these beans, but her pictures made me want to eat it right then. This year as soon as the beans came into season, I asked Anita if I could pick up a small amount of the Goda masala she'd made, as by her own admission, it would make or break that dish. She graciously agreed and handed it to me when we met briefly in August. It just so happened that I never seemed to find tender cluster beans. When I finally did, I made it for dinner when S was returning from one more of his trips. I can't tell you all what a comforting meal it was. Thanks Anita. The recipe and the masala are both much appreciated and I'm forever grateful.

I served the nutty cluster beans with some varan-bhaat. I started following Nupur's recipe as it seemed closest to the varan Amma used to make when we were kids. But I got distracted while adding the curry leaves and ended up with a tempering of mustard, red chillies and curry leaves. So I ended up with a cross between Dali-saar and Varan. No one was really complaining.
Thanks Nupur.

My namesake, Arundathi, took some of this stuff to the Chennai food bloggers' meet. I thought it was normal mor kuzhambu with tomatoes instead of ash gourd. Then when we were discussing a party menu, she decided to make this again. I was intrigued. Though I never did ask her even once how this dish was made, I waited for her to post her recipe. I made it that very weekend. And it was a hit. S declared it "the best yogurt based dish I'd ever made. We had it with rice and vazhaikkai karumadhu just as we would have had normal mor kuzhambu (even with some yelai paruppu on the side). The next day, I made some instant idiappam and we had those for breakfast with the leftover tomato mor kuzhambu. I know, now, why she considers such a great party dish. It is bound to be a hit. The colour of this dish and the flavours are so nice that everyone will end up licking their fingers, plates and bowls. Thanks Anu.

October 17, 2008

Potato Paneer Buns

I hadn't made buns in ages. I tell myself that they're easy to make, tasty, healthy, nutritious. Isn't that list enough? Somehow I didn't get around to baking them until recently. And nothing turned out the way I'd planned or expected. It was a rather disastrous experience. While I was getting the dough for the buns ready, I decided I didn't want to bother stuffing them. So I mashed the potato I'd cooked and put it into the dough. As I was doing this, the milk that S had put to boil started to break. So, I quickly squeezed some lime juice and turned it into paneer. I had no idea what to do with the paneer, so I just added it to my dough. The end result wasn't great because it didn't turn out the way I'd pictured it in my mind. (Never mind that the changes I made were too many!) The buns were tasty and soft. In the end, that's all that matters.

1 3/4 cups Flour

1 1/2 tbsp Oil

1 1/2 tbsp Yeast

1 1/2 tbsp Sugar

3/4 tsp Salt

1/4 cup Boiling water

1/4 cup Milk

1 tsp Cumin Powder

1 tsp Chilli Paste

1 Potato, boiled, peeled and mashed

1/2 cup Paneer, crumbled

1/4 cup Coriander Leaves, chopped

Flour for dusting

For the Topping:

1 tbsp Cumin Seeds

Take a huge mixing bowl and place the oil, salt and sugar in it. Add boiling water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Add the milk now to bring the mixture to room temperature. Add the yeast and mix well. Add the flour, the potato, coriander leaves and paneer, cumin powder and chilli paste and knead into dough. Place the dough in a greased vessel and cover it with a damp muslin cloth. Allow to rise until double in size (roughly 45-50 minutes). The resulting dough will be very sticky and you will need to have to some flour to use while kneading.

Knead the dough for a minute and then divide into 10 equal portions.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Take a portion of the dough and shape it into a bun. Sprinkle some cumin seeds over the buns and place on a greased baking sheet or tray. Repeat with the other portions. Allow to rise for 50-60 minutes and then bake for 12-15 minutes.

We had these buns in several ways. I also toasted them with a little butter, recycled the morning's mixed vegetable using some pav bhaji masala and had a dinner of aromatic pav bhaji. Heavenly street food, right on my dining table. And for a change, even the "pav" was home made. Am I happy or am I happy?

Off this goes to Zorra @ 1x umruhren bitte for World Bread Day.

October 13, 2008

Egg Masala Rice

For many years, I cooked for just one person. I ate my meals by myself. No television, no radio, just myself for company. Many a weeknight, I would skip dinner entirely and have a glass of milk or some fruit. On some days, I would make a little extra lunch so that I would have food if I didn’t feel up to cooking. I would always come back not wanting to eat the same food. Sometimes, when I look back, I think I really hadn’t gotten used to the idea of eating alone. I didn’t enjoy it that much. I had no problems living alone and, come to think of it, I did enjoy my company. But the meals were a big problem. So year after year, for most part of the 9 years, I struggled with meal times. S has a job that requires him to travel a lot. I thought all those years of training would come in handy. But each time he is out on work, I struggle with meals. I have near zero interest in cooking for myself. Breakfast and lunch are fine. But dinners I can’t seem to have by myself. Of course, more often than not, it is just that there is no dinner for me to have as I can’t drag myself into the kitchen. Then it comes down to popcorn and apple milkshake. When my enthusiasm gets the better of me, I try to make a little something for myself. This egg masala rice is one such attempt to feed myself on a busy weeknight when there was just one mouth to feed. All it took was an egg, some leftover rice and an onion.

1 Egg, hard boiled, peeled and cut in two
1 Onion, sliced
1 cup cooked Rice
1 tsp Chilli Powder
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
½ tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Cumin-Coriander Powder
½ tsp Kitchen King Masala (optional)
2 tsp Oil
Salt to taste

In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds. When they crackle, add the onion slices. Fry for a minute or two and add the chilli powder, turmeric powder, Kitchen King masala, if using, and the cumin-coriander powder. Fry for 2 minutes and add the salt. Add the egg halves and fry until they are coated with the spices. Allow the egg to roast to a golden colour and then take the pieces out. Add the rice to the onion mixture and cover and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the egg and enjoy it hot with a bowl of curd on the side.

October 12, 2008

Tambda Phovva Usli

My love for upma is quite well known to you all. My love for poha is not so well known. Then again, maybe it is. I had not eaten this plain jane amchi version of poha until just before my wedding. I was staying with a cousin and she'd made this for breakfast. I was taken by surprise by the pristine white colour of the dish. I expected it to be very bland, but that wasn't the case.

A few weeks ago, a Malayali colleague of mine was about to go to Kerala to bring back his wife and newborn son. I asked him to bring back some rice flakes made with Rosematta rice. He found it in the local Kalkaji market here and brought it for me. Since then, I have been seeing packets in my local supermarket. While he told me to make the sweet coconut-jaggery dish, Aval Nanachathu, with this variety of poha, I decided to make the amchi Phovva Usli. This nice shade of pink replaced pristine white, but the dish was as full of flavour as I had expected it to be.

1 cup Matta Rice Flakes, soaked for 10 minutes and drained

1 tsp Oil

1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds

1/4 tsp Asafoetida

1/2 tsp Urad Dal

2 Green Chillies, slit

1-2 Red Chillies

7-8 Curry Leaves

1/2 tsp Sugar

1 tbsp Coconut, scraped

Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a pan and add the urad dal. When it turns light brown, add the mustard. When the mustard splutters, add the asafoetida, curry leaves and red and green chillies. After about a minute, add the drained rice flakes.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in a little water and sprinkle this water over the rice flakes. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and add the coconut. Enjoy it with a cup of tea or coffee.

October 11, 2008

Stuffed Lady's Finger

More and more vegetables get added to my repertoire every week and this is something that I am very proud of. People tell me that Lady’s Finger is the first vegetable they learnt to cook. I can’t say the same. The very first time that I cooked this vegetable was only last year. Prior to that, all I ever did with it was out it in Sambar... which reminds me of this conversation with my colleague:

A: So, you’ll make sam-burr tonight?
Raaga: Yeah. I have some bhindi sitting in the fridge. I think I’ll use that up to make sam-baar.
A: Eeks… you never put things like bhindi in sam-burr! You can use carrot, beans and lauki, not bhindi yaar.
Raaga: No, no. Bhindi, baingan etc in sam-baar are considered delicacies.
A: Oh God, no! You really are a cocktail case yaar.

I suppose that last sentence defines me. Hybrid, cocktail, mixed parentage. Any deviations from traditional cooking is usually blamed on this thing. Coming back to the recipe here and this particular vegetable in question. I never really liked Lady's Finger much. I think it was because my brother loved it so much. I will post the recipe of Amma’s famous Vendakkai Karumadhu someday soon. That was the staple I grew up with. Pachadi and Huli were never standard fare. Fried lady’s finger featured in my hostel menu once a week and I would allow it to soak in my bowl of curds, allowing my thoughts to wander home. This recipe was picked up off the internet by a friend who brought it for us one evening. I learnt the recipe from her and made it a few weeks later. That one weekend, I did a lot of work. I chopped all the vegetables for the week and froze them. I even prepared vegetables for stuffed vegetable dishes and this is the result of just that.

¼ kg Lady’s Finger

To be mixed together:

1 tbsp Chopped Garlic
1/4 cup Gram Flour (Besan)
1 tsp Coriander Powder
1 tsp Cumin Powder
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
¼ tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Lime Juice
Salt to taste

For the tempering:

2 tsp Oil

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

1/4 tsp Asafoetida

Wash the lady’s finger well and dry on a towel until completely dry. Chop the crown off and make slits in each.

Stuff the prepared mixture into the lady's fingers.

In a pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. When they crackle, add the asafoetida and the stuffed lady's fingers. Cover and cook on a low flame till the lady's fingers are done (about 15 minutes). Remove the lid and allow to crispen.

This makes for a great side with rice and dal. I'm fairly certain it would make a great snack with cocktails. Thanks Ginny. This is a keeper recipe!

October 8, 2008

Instant Karamani Sundal

Navaratri and Sundal are sort of synonymous. For me at least. One of my colleagues, D, loves sundal of any kind as she says it reminds her of her childhood in neighbouring Faridabad where a Tamilian neighbour invited her over every year for Golu. What are the chances that a very Punjabi young lady from Faridabad has memories of a dish that is so very Tamilian? It is something that I took for granted all my life. But when I see folks around me and think back about my childhood, I know that what I had was special. I can't believe that at one point, I thought everybody had parents who spoke different languages and that a different language is spoken in each house.

I come from a multicultural family. My extended family has representatives from almost all over India and some parts of the world as well. I understand many traditions. I may not know why someone follows a particular tradition, but I am aware that they do. For years, the grandmother of a Punjabi friend invited me during the Navaratri Ashtami for the Kanchak Pooja. I loved the poori-halwa-chana I got, not to mention the thrill of getting a red chunni and some money. Year after year, we got sandesh from our Bengali neighbours around Durga Pooja. And at Ganesh Chaturthi, our Kashmiri neighbours would send us Roth and some walnuts soaked in water. And I remember decorating Easter eggs with a German neighbour. One street with 18 houses had people from different states (not to forget some foreigners) and our entire campus must have had every state represented. Yet, people tell me I grew up in narrow minded, conservative, orthodox Madras.

Most people I meet these days grow up in what I would consider uni-cultural environments. And I find I have limited tolerance for people who know absolutely nothing about other cultures and talk like experts. How would you deal with this situation?

M: What did you eat for breakfast?
Raaga: I had Dosas.
M: For breakfast??? Come on yaar, dosa is a dinner item.

I told her that it was quite the same way that Aloo Parathas are eaten for breakfast in her house. Coming back to Navaratri and sundal, the only reason I can think of to postpone making sundal would be that one does not have presoaked beans. Black eyed beans, a.k.a. karamani/chawli/lobia, helps you work around this reason as well. As I discovered last year, these beans need no soaking. I pressure cook them directly and that gives them just the right amount of softness. I woke up on the first day of Navaratri this year and wanted to make sundal. I had not soaked any beans the previous night. I had some soaked and cooked legumes in the freezer. I didn’t feel like using them as I feared they had become too mushy for sundal. So I decided to make it with Karamani. On the first day of Navaratri, I made this and we ate it in the car on the way to a college for campus recruitment.

1/2 cup Black Eyed Beans
1 tsp Oil7-8 Curry Leaves
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/4 tsp Urad Dal
1/4 tsp Chana Dal
1 tsp Ginger Paste
½ tsp Chilli Paste
1 Red Chilli
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1 tbsp Coconut, scraped
Salt to taste

Pressure cook the beans with salt for 4-5 whistles. Drain when done. In a kadhai, heat oil. Add the urad and chana dals, mustard seeds and asafoetida. When the mustard splutters, add the curry leaves, ginger and chilli pastes, and the red chilli. Fry for a minute. Add the cooked beans, and a little salt. Cover and cook 4-5 minutes. Garnish with the scraped coconut and enjoy.

I hope all of you had a nice Navaratri. Wishing everyone here a very Happy Vijayadashami.

October 7, 2008

Bansi Rava Sheera

Many of you out there are good at cooking. But how many of you are proficient in the art or science of cooking? I know that I am. How exactly do I know this? Simple! I have a “Cooking Badge” and a certificate that says “Proficiency Badge in Cooking”.

I was a proud member of the Bharat Scouts and Guides when at school. I was a Bulbul before I became a Girl Guide. I am a President’s Guide, in other words, a recipient of the Rashtrapati Puraskar. One chilly November evening in 1991, I, along with many other Scouts & Guides, was invited to tea with the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan . Tea was preceded by the award ceremony. In all, it was an evening I will never forget for as long as I live. One of the things took me closer to that award was this proficiency badge in cooking.

I made this dish for the very first time when I was in class 7. In my school playground on a fire that we’d gotten going using firewood (no kerosene, no paper and just one matchstick). Thankfully, I didn’t have to memorize the recipe. It is one of the simplest recipes that I have and while I normally make it with normal semolina, this time I tried it with Bansi Rava (Samba Godumai) - a variant of cracked wheat. I must say I prefer the normal one, but this was almost as tasty. I do not make too many Indian sweets and that is something I am trying to change.

1 cup Bansi Rava (or normal Semolina)
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Milk
1 cup Water
2-4 tbsp Ghee (Clarified Butter)
1 tbsp Cashews
1 tbsp Raisins
¼ tsp Cardamom Powder

Roast the rava in 1 tbsp of ghee over a low flame till it lets out a lovely aroma and turns light brown.

In a separate vessel, heat the milk, sugar and water. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the cardamom powder. Add the roasted rava and cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.

In a frying ladle, heat 1 tbsp of ghee and fry the cashews until brown. Add the raisins and take the ladle of the heat. Add this to the cooked rava mixture. Add the remaining ghee to the sheera and mix well. Enjoy this fresh.

I have had a lot of people tell me that I must add the sugar at the end as the rava won’t cook in sweet milk. I have never faced any problems and absolutely love the texture and taste of this “anytime” dessert. Try it.

October 6, 2008

Rangoon Mochai Sundal

The festival season is on us now and I am trying to make sundal almost everyday. Not that I am particularly religious (in fact I am quite the opposite), but eating sundal during Navaratri is one more of those feelings of absolute “comfort”. The “all must be well with the world” feeling that I so seem to need these days. I don’t dress up and go visiting people. Not that anyone has invited me to their house. Of the few people we do know in and around Delhi, almost no one is TamBram. And I think we do many things when there are children in the house. Ive noticed that Diwali is a lot quieter in households where the children are all grown up. I think Golu is usually set up in homes where children are enthusiastic about the entire 9-day festival. And then you have people like me. When someone asks me the significance of a certain festival, I start reeling off the names of the different dishes that are made. I am a foodie afterall I suppose. And with this post, which I will send to Valli for her JFI, I hope to resume food blogging in full swing.

Rangoon Mochai has to be my favourite bean. Considering my love for Avrya Bendi, it is but natural. I love the melt-in-the-mouth texture that these hyacinth beans get as soon as they are cooked. I don’t get these beans here and so I tend to use them very sparingly.

1/2 cup Hyacinth Beans, soaked overnight

1 tsp Oil
7-8 Curry Leaves

1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds

1/4 tsp Urad Dal

1/4 tsp Chana Dal

¼ tsp Amchur (Dry Mango Powder)

1 Red Chilli

1/4 tsp Asafoetida

1 tbsp Coconut, scraped

Salt to taste

Pressure cook the soaked beans with salt for 4-5 whistles. Drain when done.

In a kadhai, heat oil. Add the urad and chana dals, mustard seeds and asafoetida. When the mustard splutters, add the curry leaves, and the red chilli. Fry for a minute. Add the cooked beans, amchur and a little salt. Cover and cook 4-5 minutes. Garnish with the scraped coconut and enjoy.

If you like, you can also invite some friends over; put all your dolls on display, serve them some sundal. Then find the most na├»ve of them and say, “Oru Paattu Paadu Ma” (Please sing a song!).