Showing posts with label Coconut. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coconut. Show all posts

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Idli, Dosa, Chutney: Brunch Perfection

V and I enjoy having friends over for casual gatherings on the weekends. Typically, people tend to meet for dinner on the weekends, but dinner-time is not at all my favorite time for entertaining. I'm an early bird who is up and about at 5 AM (yes, even on the weekends; especially on the weekends when there are so many fun things to look forward to). By 6 in the evening, I am pretty tired and crabby and not much fun to be around.

Brunch or lunch is my preferred social hour. You do your cooking in the morning, enjoy your friends and still have many more hours left in the day to relax or do something else.

A couple of weekends ago we had just such a gathering scheduled and I made my favorite brunch trio of idli, sambar and chutney. Our friends offered to bring along a dish. I always say yes to this gracious offer- potluck style equals less work for any one person. And I never worry too much about what-goes-with-what. We might end up eating some strange combinations of dishes but everything is always delicious. This time our pals brought over sweet french toast with maple syrup and juicy strawberries.

The camera candidly captured the table laid out with brunch- idlis, chutney and sambar. And a platter of cookies in the background for dunking into tea.
Pillowy challah french toast with sliced strawberries- brought over by our friends.
Idli, sambar and chutney is a trio that I have made so many times before (and posted so many times I've lost count), but never the same way twice! I keep tweaking the idli recipe to make them fluffier, fiddling with the sambar recipe to make it more like the kind from Udipi restaurants and varying the chutneys because there are so many to choose from.

1. The Idlis

For several years, I made idlis using recipes that call for idli rava. But there is such a difference between a good idli and a fantastic one- once you have eaten the latter you get spoiled for life. In my hands (meaning, there are surely ways to make the perfect idli with idli rava but I don't know what they are), the fluffiest idlis come about when you use a special variety of rice sold as idli rice- this rice is parboiled. My idli "aha" moment came last summer when V's aunt visited and I watched her make idlis with parboiled rice. Busy with baby and all, it was only now that I got to try my hand at it. If you have an electric stone grinder and if you have access to parboiled rice, you need to read these two posts from the The Yum Blog. I followed their proportion 1 (adding a fistful of poha for better fermentation), and followed all their excellent tips for grinding the batter. Even on that cold weekend, the batter rose gratifying well and the resulting buttery, fluffy idlis made me weep with joy. No exaggeration.

Update on March 18, 2012: In a comment on this post, Arch suggested that I try Vani's soft idlis. This weekend, I did and yes, this is an incredible recipe! The only difference is that I soaked the parboiled rice, ural dal and poha all together and ground them all together too. The idlis turned out soft and wonderful. So all in all, I think parboiled rice and poha make for successful idlis in my hands.

Idli stand- with molds to make 16 idlis at a time

2. Udipi Sambar

This time around I tried the Udipi Sambar recipe from Peppermill. A recipe from sweet beloved Miri; she is no longer with us but continues to be part of my life. Read her post for a lovely description of why this sweetish, coconut-laced version of sambar is beloved among those of us who ate at Udipi restaurants in Bombay. Here is my adaptation of Miri's recipe.
Udipi Sambar
1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.
2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste (in my case it was more like a wet powder).
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add salt, red chili powder, turmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes.
5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

3. A fresh verdant chutney
I use a coffee grinder as my "mixie" and it works for the most part but the coconut chutney made with fresh frozen coconut never seems to be quite as silky smooth as I would like. The idea for using coconut milk instead of fresh/frozen shredded coconut came from Vaishali's post from many years ago. This recipe will give you beautifully smooth chutney in any old blender.

Cilantro Coconut Chutney
1. Blend together and scrape into a serving bowl:
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 chopped hot green chili (or green chili paste to taste)
  • 1/2 cup dalia or roasted chana dal (phutane in Marathi)
  • 1 mini can coconut milk (5.6 oz. or 2/3 cup)
2. Make a tadka or "tempering" with:
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • 1 tsp. chana dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
3. Stir in:
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh lemon juice
Anyway, this brunch was a labor of love and so utterly rewarding. Our friends had never tasted idli before and looked quizzically at these snow-white steamed cakes but a few bites later, I heard things like, "Why can't I stop eating these?".

That weekend was special for another reason. It was the first time Lila rolled over, leaving us speechless with delight. So that makes it two milestones- Lila taking the first step towards mobility and me making idlis that I am proud to share. That Monday, when co-workers asked the perfunctory question, "How was your weekend?", I could say with absolute sincerity that my weekend had been just perfect.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blog Bites 9: The Holiday Buffet

Towards the end of last year, in a moment of temporary insanity, I declared that I would try 40 new recipes in 40 days and post about each one until the new year. It was a crazy and exhilarating experience. This year, I have better control over my impulsive behavior. Still, I am keen on making the best of what's left of 2010 and cooking and baking to my heart's content.

The rest of the year is packed with holidays so I expect most food bloggers will be churning out festive meals. And our last Blog Bites potluck was so much fun that I decided a good way to celebrate would be to host another potluck buffet.

I took a screenshot of the recipes bookmarked on my computer yesterday and this is what it looks like: there are about 55 recipes in here, and I'm dying to try each one. More are being added to this list on a daily basis, I might add.

Perhaps you too have recipes bookmarked from other blogs that are sitting around waiting to be made. This is your chance to try any recipe from another blog and bring it to the holiday buffet. You have almost 2 months to send in entries (yes, this is a double edition) and depending on how many entries arrive, I might do a string of round-ups or one massive holiday buffet.

The Rules
  1. From now until December 25, try ANY recipe from another blog. 
  2. The recipe has to come from another blog; that is the whole premise of Blog Bites, so please turn to other blogs for inspiration.
  3. Write a post telling us about the recipe you tried, with the following (a) A link to the recipe on the inspiring blog (b) A link to this post (the event announcement).
  4. Please write a post specifically for this event.
  5. Please do NOT copy a recipe word for word from another blog- that would be both illegal and unethical. Let's all give credit where credit is due.
  6. Please make sure your entry meets all the rules above. Then, send me the link (URL) of your entry at the following e-mail address: bukuresep AT gmail DOT com
  7. You can send in as many entries as you like.

I will kick things off with my very first entry to BB9: butternut curry soup inspired by this recipe from Not Eating Out in New York. This blog has a nice feature- it rates recipes by cost, health factor and environmental impact. If you live in or around NYC, you might be interested in the local food event listing in the left side-bar.

Coming to the recipe: For the last three weeks, ever since winter squash made an appearance at the local market, I have been buying one medium butternut squash every week. Each is large enough that I can cut it and cook it, and use it in two different dishes that week. So far, one butternut squash was made into soup and quesadillas, another went into chili and dal and so on- it is simply a wonderful versatile vegetable with a sweet buttery taste.

A whole butternut squash can look formidable- you look at it and wonder, how on earth am I going to cut this thing without an axe and without losing a digit or two? These two tutorials were very helpful, and now I've combined some of the tips to come up with a method that works for me, as follows:
  1. Cut off slivers at the top and bottom. 
  2. Stand the squash upright and carefully cut it down the middle into two halves. 
  3. Scoop out seeds and innards and discard (you can save the seeds and toast them).
  4. To cook, either use the microwave or oven. I use the former because it takes only minutes.
  5. Place the halves in a dish that will fit in your microwave. Pour in some water, to create steam. 
  6. Microwave for 8-12 minutes, a few minutes at a time until the squash is fairly tender. 
  7. Cool and store in the fridge until use. To use, peel (much easier now that it is cooked) and cut into cubes. 

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and saute a large minced onion with salt and pepper.

2. Add the following and saute for 2 minutes:
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. Sri Lankan curry powder (or your favorite masala)
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (optional, but the heat contrasts well with sweet squash)
3. Add cubed butternut squash (4 cups or so, half of a medium squash) and saute for 2 minutes.

4. Add 1 cup thick coconut milk and 2 to 3 cups water or vegetable stock. Simmer for 10 minutes. 

5. Blend the soup using an immersion blender. Garnish if fresh herbs if desired and serve. 

For something so simple, this soup has incredible flavor- you must give it a try. I served it with egg pulao. 

I'm looking forward to eating down my bookmarks by the end of the year, and here's hoping you will join me for this special edition of Blog Bites.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Self-Saucing Cabbage Curry

I love low-maintenance recipes. The ones where I don't need to hover over the pan watching like a hawk, or stir the pot constantly until my arms muscles quiver in protest. Where I can put the ingredients in, say "see ya later" and come back to something good and tasty. This is one such recipe.

It uses cabbage, the inexpensive and unassuming vegetable that can be dressed up in a hundred different ways. The idea for a no-hassle way to coat the cabbage in a tasty sauce comes from this recipe that I found via Priya, when she sent it as an entry for Blog Bites.

Dry coconut powder and sesame seeds are blitzed to a powder (this could be made in a batch and stored as a pantry basic). This powder magically turns a basic stir-fry bhaaji into a luscious curry, by combining with juices released from the vegetables and creating a wonderful sauce.

I don't bother roasting the coconut and sesame before making the powder, instead stir-frying the powder for a couple of minutes. I don't add any extra water either, because salt draws out plenty of water from the vegetables. This recipe would certainly work with other vegetables too.

Self-Saucing Cabbage Curry
Adapted from this recipe from Healthfood Desivideshi, serves 4 to 5

  1. Grind 3 tbsp. dry coconut flakes/powder and 1 tbsp. sesame seeds into a fine powder and set aside. 
  2. In a pan, heat 2 tsp. oil.
  3. Temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and 1 tsp. cumin seeds.
  4. Add 1 medium onion (sliced), 5 to 6 cups cabbage strips (about half a large head), 1 bell pepper (sliced) and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add 1 tsp. red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp. turmeric, 2 tsp. cumin-coriander powder and the coconut-sesame powder. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. 
  6. Add 1 chopped tomato, salt to taste and 1/2 tsp. jaggery/sugar (optional; do this if you like your savory curries to have a barely perceptible hint of sweetness).  
  7. Don't add water or cover the pan (but others have noted that the vegetables started to burn at the bottom so please take your own stove/cookware into account and adjust the method accordingly). Just let it cook unattended on medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes. 
Serve with rotis or yogurt-rice or dal-rice and some pickle on the side for an utterly satisfying meal.

Enjoy your Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Once upon a time...

The following is my first attempt at writing fiction, for the creative and unusual Of Chalks and Chopsticks event hosted this month at Bong Mom's Cookbook . Last month, I read the first round up with joy and amazement at the creativity of dozens of blogger-writers. It gave me the courage to spin my own yarn...

Mrs. Kumar and the Sweet Tooth

It might have started as a peaceful week, but today there was a great deal of excitement in the tiny town nestled among dense forests in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountains. The jewel thief had struck again. Mrs. Kumar set down her plate of Bourbon biscuits and her newspaper and joined the neighbors in the courtyard to discuss the latest developments.

For the third time this week, a home had been broken into, in the hours just after dusk. The thief was nimble and quick, climbing into windows or picking padlocks and looking for small valuables inside the homes-  silver platters used for religious ceremonies, cash from wallets and purses, gold chains, earrings and diamond rings placed on dressing tables and in drawers. So far, goods worth tens of thousands of rupees were missing representing the meager valuables of this humble middle-class community.

Distraught neighbors were standing and talking to the inspector and the constable, the two individuals that made up the sum total of police presence in that area. These two looked quite upset- here was their first chance to maintain law and order, to demonstrate their superior detection skills and they seemed to have no leads at all. Mrs. Kumar listened to the inspector explain that the thief seemed to hide out in the thick bushes behind the homes until darkness fell before attempting his break-ins. He knew this because as they looked around for clues after every robbery, they found discarded food wrappers and empty packets of chewing tobacco in the bushes behind the house that had been broken into.

Mrs. Kumar went home and made herself a cup of chai and finished the biscuits. This excitement called for additional snacks- she found a packet of chikki and started munching the sweet squares thoughtfully. She had retired a couple of years ago after decades of teaching high school science, and had shocked all her relatives and friends by buying a cottage in this tiny community several hours away from the city. No, I don't miss the malls or the latest movie releases or the endless weddings and thread ceremonies, and I most definitely don't miss the boorish loudspeakers and the pollution, she told everyone who asked, in her usual candid manner. Friends drove in occasionally to see her, bringing her treats from the city that she could not find there in the village, like those buttery mini coconut cakes from the National Bakery (Mrs. Kumar had a legendary fondness for sweets) and Amul cheese. They came expecting to sneer at this boring old village but instead could not help being charmed and soothed by the peace and the beauty surrounding the place.

Yes, she loved her tiny home, with a small vegetable patch out front and night-blooming jasmine outside her bedroom window. The residential community in the town was small, but there were quite a few stores, vendors and tiny restaurants to cater to the tourists and campers who passed through. She liked the down to earth neighbors and the thought of someone invading their secluded community frightened her just a little. Three homes had been broken into. The thief seemed to come here almost every day- the brazen rascal!

The next day, as Mrs. Kumar walked back from the vegetable seller carrying sweet tiny eggplants for the night's dinner, along with a small packet of gulkand burfi that she simply could not resist, she found the inspector standing at a street corner, staring thoughtfully at the ground. "Not again", Mrs. Kumar exclaimed. "Yes, yes", the police inspector replied with a mixture of tiredness and annoyance. Yet again, a home had been robbed the previous night. Yet again, no one had seen the thief and he had vanished into the night. Yet again, the discarded food wrappers were the only clue that he had been there. The inspector had plenty to do without the townspeople hounding him for answers.

Mrs. Kumar gave the inspector a withering look- the sort she saved for her most impossible students in years past. "Are those the food wrappers?", she asked, pointing to the crumpled papers in the inspector's hands, then took them in her own hands and smoothed them out. "Yes, same ones every day", the inspector said. A minute later, she was talking to the inspector in an urgent whisper and he was listening intently.

The following night, the inspector came around knocking on doors, grinning triumphantly and telling neighbors that the jewel thief had been caught; he had been wanted for theft in the big town and had recently switched to working the smaller towns where homes were less secure.

"Mrs. Kumar cracked the case. She told me exactly where I should go to find the thief. We called in extra help, staked the place and followed everyone who came there. Sure enough, one of them slunk away to hide in the bushes behind this neighborhood and we apprehended him", he told the puzzled crowd.

Mrs. Kumar beamed- "I only had to look at the discarded food wrapper. It was a page from an old FilmFare magazine, stained with small blotches of oil. And you know, of course, that there's only one vendor in town who is selling fried snacks wrapped in that particular magazine paper- the one at the side entrance of the bus depot. He sells the best garam-garam jalebis. You simply must try them".

* * *
I imagine that the mini coconut cakes that Mrs. Kumar was so fond of were similar to these coconut muffins. In my quest to eat down the pantry this month, I was looking to use up some sweet rice flour (much stickier than the rice flour we use in India, because it made from glutinous high-starch short grain rice). Compared to most recipes for Asian sweets using this flour, this recipe is an easy gluten-free cake recipe that sounded just so good. I added cardamom for an aromatic Indian touch, halved the recipe and baked in muffin cups because the reviewers of the original recipe praised the crust, and muffins have a high crust to crumb ratio.

Coconut Cardamom Muffins
(adapted from this recipe from Epicurious, makes about 15 muffins)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl:
1 12 cups sweet rice flour (I used ener G brand)
1 cup sugar (or less to taste)
1 tsp. baking powder
14 tsp. salt
12 tsp. cardamom powder

3. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl:
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp. melted butter (I used vegan Earth Balance)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract

4. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients, scoop into ungreased muffin cups and bake until golden brown.

Confession: I messed up while making this recipe and forgot to add sugar- aargh! Multitasking just does not work sometimes. I realized the sugar omission after the muffins had been in the oven for 5 minutes and yelped in horror. Neighbor Girl was visiting and came running to the kitchen and we pulled the muffins out and sprinkled some sugar on each one. Neighbor Girl tells me, "Don't look so upset. Maybe this will be like the penicillin thing where adding sugar on top is a new discovery". Yeah, right. But in the end, they tasted pretty fine, with the sugary crust. Healthier, actually ;)

If I make this recipe again (and I am positive I will), I might add some fresh (or thawed frozen) grated coconut to the batter. The muffins tasted fantastic, very reminiscent of the rice-coconut-cardamom flavors of modak or karanji. And very easy to veganize, I imagine, just by using an egg substitute. The rice flour makes the muffins light and tender with an interesting chewy texture and crispy exterior. At least this is what they tasted like a few minutes ago, fresh from the oven. I'll update the post tomorrow with how the muffins taste after a day of being made.

Have a sweet evening, everyone.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freestyle Cooking: Vegetable Kurma

As much as I love to read cookbooks the way other people read novels, and to read 200+ food blogs on a regular basis looking for new dishes to try, my daily cooking is quite free-wheeling. It is unfettered by black and white recipe instructions, dictated instead by the current residents of my fridge and pantry. Last night's impromptu creation was tasty enough to make it to the blog.

I soaked urad dal and rice to make Kanchipuram dosa from Aayi's Recipes. A crisp dosa needs a good dunking in some tasty stew, and instead of the usual sambar, I decided to make coconut-based kurma/sagu that I have been on so many blogs. With not many vegetables on hand, I used pantry staples like potatoes, onion, carrot and a half-bag of Surti lilva beans (these are similar to lima beans) lurking in the freezer.

Whenever I find small 5.7 oz cans of Chaokoh brand coconut milk in the international store (half the size of normal cans), I stock up on them. It is so convenient to use an entire small can of coconut milk for a recipe instead of opening the big one, saving half of it in a glass jar, then having to scramble and use it within a couple of days before it goes rancid.

This recipe is an example of how much I love off-label applications of spice mixes. In this case, I spiked the kurma with rasam powder. This particular powder was a gift from Manasi of A Cook @ Heart and I swear it makes everything taste fantastic. I use it often for tomato dal. If I remember correctly, her recipe for the rasam powder is in this post.

Vegetable Kurma
(serves about 4)

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 pinch asafetida
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

2. Add 1 chopped onion and saute until the onion is translucent.

3. Add the following and stir for a few seconds
12 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
12 tsp. turmeric
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. rasam powder
1 tsp. cumin-coriander powder

4. Add the vegetables
2 medium potatoes, cut into medium dice
1 carrot, cut into medium dice
1 cup frozen Surti lilva beans or baby lima beans
Salt to taste

5. Add a cup of water and simmer until the vegetables are almost cooked.

6. Stir in 5.7 oz coconut milk (1 small can) or half a regular can or 1 cup fresh coconut milk. Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Let the kurma sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

This stew would be wonderful with plenty of cilantro if you have some on hand (I did not). Another variation would be to add tomatoes along with the other vegetables.

I don't know how to explain it, but the cooking aroma of this stew was so "authentic" somehow even though the recipe clearly is not. With no grinding and only about 5 minutes of chopping involved, it is the perfect choice for busy weeknights. This stew was fantastic with dosas, but would be equally at home with some bread, rotis or rice.

What about you- do you like freestyle cooking or do you like to follow recipes word for word?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Tender Coconut Ice Cream

It was the 1980s and while the world around me was dealing with serious matters of oil spills, assassinations, industrial catastrophes, and falling walls, I was sedately making my way through primary and secondary school. The highlight of the school year was the summer break when we took the overnight train to Bombay and visited our grandmother, aunt and uncle for several weeks.

I was unaware of the terminology then, but my aunt and I were devoted foodies, and she spent a great deal of time treating me to all the good eats of that megacity. We would track down the newest bakery in town for its flaky biscuits and try all the "specials" listed on the chalkboard of our local Udipi restaurant, where all the waiters knew us and greeted us with big smiles. We would rifle through our closets for our most posh-looking frocks so we could go to the Taj coffee shop and splurge on pastries.

In the mid-80s, we took a short autorickshaw-ride from my aunt's home to the swanky neighborhood of Juhu to visit a brand new ice cream store called Naturals. The unique selling point of this store was that they would use all-natural fruit pulp to make decadent ice cream; none of the bright pink "strawberry" and bright green "pistachio" flavors here. And that's where I tasted something called Tender Coconut Ice Cream. The subtle and ethereal taste of young silky coconut wrapped in cream. It rocked my little world. Soon, my aunt and I were on such intimate terms with this particular flavor of ice cream that we just called it "TC".  I don't even want to stop and think about how much TC we consumed over the ensuing years; I am sure some of it is sitting on my hips to this day. Today, Naturals is an extremely successful brand with a gazillion stores in Bombay and neighboring cities, but remember, Naturals, we were the ones who loved you first even before you were famous!

Well, I don't have access to Naturals or TC any more where I live. On my last trip to India in June '09, Nandita made me almost weep with joy when she pulled out two flavors of Naturals ice cream from her freezer for dessert after the fantastic meal she made for us. She gave me a choice of tender coconut and mango and I admit that I ignored my good upbringing ("never be greedy") and said I would have both.

The point of telling you all this is so you can imagine my surprise and joy when I spotted a recipe for tender coconut ice cream a few weeks ago. Not just any recipe but one that calls for no cooking and can be made in a couple of minutes. Not just any recipe but one that calls for ingredients that are easily available where I live. Not just any recipe but one that was tried and blogged by that genius of a cook named Meera of Enjoy Indian Food.

Mix contents of 4 cans together and freeze, that's all there is to it.

Tender Coconut Ice Cream (Just Like Naturals)!!!

(adapted from Meera's recipe)

1. You need 1 can each of sweetened condensed milk (low-fat OK), evaporated milk (low-fat OK), coconut milk (reduced fat OK use the real thing) and tender coconut/ young coconut meat in syrup, which is sold by Thai companies in Asian/Thai/international grocery stores.

2. In a bowl, mix together the coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine.

3. Drain and discard all the syrup from the can of tender coconut. Chop the coconut meat into small bits. In the last 5 minutes of churning, add chopped tender coconut to the mixture. Freeze, then serve.

I happened to use an ice cream machine because I've borrowed one from my neighbor for a few days. I think it would be fine to just mix the components and freeze them in a bowl, beating it a few times during the freezing process to break up the ice crystals and aerate the mixture.

Even with all the canned ingredients, this ice cream was divine and very very similar to the TC of my memories. If you have access to fresh thick coconut milk, it would be even more incredible. We shared the ice cream with friends and everyone unanimously loved it. Thanks for a keeper recipe, Meera! You made a girl very very happy.

It is a very rich ice cream as you can imagine but this quantity is enough for 10-12 servings in my estimation. A little certainly goes a long way.

By being able to recreate a favorite store-bought treat in my own kitchen with the help of a fellow blogger's recipe, this post is an entry for Blog Bites: the Copcat edition hosted right here on this blog.

*** *** ***

Here's a short video of Dale talking with Tony and getting treats on demand:

Wherever in the world you live, I hope you have a fantastic week; I will be back in 2-3 days with a sweet refreshing beverage.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Singing Chef's in my Kitchen

Thanks to everyone who played along in the guessing game at the end of my last post. There were several guesses along the lines of edible stuff as one might expect to see in a cooking pot, including noodles, sevai, vermicelli, spaghetti squash and sev for falooda, which is one thing I really wish I was making!

Milli was the first to guess the correct answer, which is that I was dyeing wool in the pot. Others, including R, Pavani, Amruta, Shirley and Garden Dreamer also guessed that this was wool/yarn.

The picture indeed was of white wool being dyed with unsweetened orange kool-aid (an artificial drink mix, similar to the brand Rasna in India), a technique described in this Knitty tutorial. It is as easy as heating wool in bright kool-aid solution. The wool soaks up the dye leaving clear water behind; it is quite fascinating to see dye being pulled out of the orange water.

I ended up with this skein of yarn. I was going for a saturated orange color for a particular project so it looks like I have to buy a couple more sachets and give this skein another dunking.
It is a little scary to think that people drink stuff that can permanently dye fibers, but maybe that's not an entirely fair statement. After all, turmeric is an all-natural plant product and has terrific culinary and medicinal uses but also dyes fabric permanently as many cooks find out only too late when their favorite dishcloth or apron or outfit is adorned by a bright yellow turmeric stain. Ask me how I know.

* * *
This Sunday, I was watching PBS Create on TV and stumbled on an episode of this show called Bloggers: Confessions of the Food-Obsessed. They interviewed Pim and I turned to V and said- the pad thai that you love, I got the recipe from her blog. They interviewed David Lebovitz and I said to V- the butterscotch candy that you love, I got the recipe from his blog. It is true, most of my favorite recipes come from other blogs and I always think of the blogger with gratitude when we sit down to dinner and enjoy a particular dish.

So I was excited to see that The Singing Chef was chosen as blog of the month for this month's edition of Tried and Tasted, hosted at Dil Se. Raaga has hundreds of recipes for everything from baked goodies to everyday vegetable dishes. One of my grandmothers was Konkani and I grew up tasting some of that wonderful cuisine, so I especially like the typical Konkani dishes that Raaga shares.

The first recipe I tried was panpole, meaning leafy dosas. I have a theory that recipes that call for very few ingredients are often the most challenging to make. This one has all of two ingredients, rice and coconut, ground together to a batter. You need a bit of water for the batter, salt for seasoning and oil to make dosas, and that is it.

The dosas were just a little tricky to make in the beginning. My first two could not be called "leafy" by any stretch of the imagination. But I caught on and began making fairly good panpole after the first few attempts.

These dosas are fragrant and delicate and absolutely melt in the mouth. We enjoyed them with some incredible podi from the famous Ambika store in Chennai, a kind gift from a friend.

Another recipe that I tried from Raaga's blog was Chow Chow. I love recipes with  goofy names. Before reading her post, I had no idea what chow chow could mean, other than slang for "eating". Well, her post taught me some three different definitions for this term; talk about getting an education. It is a dish invented by a clever caterer that uses a medley of vegetables and cooks them in pickling spices. I'm sold. I adapted Raaga's recipe, so I'm jotting it down here.

Chow Chow
(adapted from Raaga's recipe)

1. Make a thick paste of
1 tsp. mustard seeds
5-6 peppercorns
8-10 fenugreek seeds
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
3 tbsp. fresh/frozen grated coconut

2. In a pan, heat 1 tbsp. oil. Temper it with
12 tsp. mustard seeds
12 tsp. turmeric
12 tsp. red chilli powder
Pinch of asafetida
Sprig of curry leaves

3. Add the following vegetables (or other vegetables that you have on hand) and saute well
1 large carrot, diced
2 Japanese eggplants, diced
1 large potato, diced

4. Add salt to taste, a little water and cover and cook the vegetables until they are barely tender.

5. Stir in
1 tsp. tamarind paste
2 tsp. tomato pickle 
Ground spice paste

6. Cook for a few more minutes.

This is an unusual and excellent vegetable dish- the mustardy paste makes the dish very tasty. What a great way to clean out the crisper.

I'll see you in exactly three days with the round-up of Blog Bites: Cookers and an announcement of the theme for the next edition.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Cucumber Curry

My bookmark folder contains many hidden gems in the form of fantastic recipes just waiting to be tried. And I've managed to unearth one of them.

I was intrigued by this cucumber curry recipe the minute I spotted it. The cookbook that the recipe comes from (Madhur Jaffrey's excellent book 'World Vegetarian') is sitting right here on my bookshelf but I completely missed this recipe until I saw it on this blog. I make cucumber dosa often, but otherwise don't cook cucumber, preferring it as a raw salad vegetable. Cooking it into a curry is very new to me.

The curry, with mellow cucumber and coconut looked just right for summer. There is a mild spicy undertone from the chilli(es), but otherwise the fragrance is entirely that of mustard seeds and curry leaves spluttered briefly in ghee to release their aroma.

The curry leaves are the star of this dish, and the ones I used came from my own curry leaf plant. Before I left for my long vacation to India, I gave away all my plants and herbs, keeping only this most precious one. This plant sits in the kitchen window and I spend many anxious moments every week counting the newly sprouting sprigs. It started as the tiniest sapling given to me by an acquaintance but has grown inch by inch. While we were packing for the trip, my green-thumbed friend Julianne came by and kindly took the curry leaf plant away to her home to baby-sit it for the month. As she was getting into the elevator, V called to her, "You know, if you kill this plant, Nupur is never going to speak to you again". The poor thing! She sent me regular messages about the plant's health all month and needless to say, returned it to me in perfect condition.

My problem now is that the plant is growing tall but not laterally- I would love to have it branching out more and now just growing upright. Does anyone know how to accomplish this? Any advice from plant experts would be much appreciated. I "harvest" 3-4 sprigs of curry leaves from my plant every week and that is enough for my cooking needs. Even with just this one little plant, I have avoided buying many packets of limp curry leaves from the store, saving a bit of money and keeping the packaging out of the trash. Oh, the joys of growing your own herbs. I'm obsessed about getting a lemongrass plant next, and want to plant some mint and basil before July is over.



Just to contrast with my baby curry leaf plant, here is the one in my parents' yard in India. It is a curry leaf tree that is 3 stories tall! My parents are drowning in curry leaves. Meanwhile, I am sitting here and rationing sprigs of curry leaves, thinking, "If I use two sprigs today, I won't have any for the sambar tomorrow".

That big tree keeps giving off saplings here and there in the surrounding soil. I have friends here in the US who would give anything for these curry leaf babies that grow like weeds in my parents' garden.

OK, I got a little carried away there. Coming back to the recipe, the only real change I made was in using whole lentils instead of the split ones (masoor dal), because it is what I had on hand, and in reducing the amount of coconut milk a little. It is the very incredible-tasting recipe I have tried in several months. Now, it does not win any prizes in terms of looks; the lentils give the curry a dull muddy color, but this is completely worth overlooking. I highly recommend it. The delicate flavor is perfect for summer.

Cucumber Squash Curry


Inspired by the olan recipe on A Life (Time) of Cooking

¾ cup lentils (masoor), rinsed
1 cup thick coconut milk
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 green chilli, finely minced (or more to taste)
Salt to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon ghee/clarified butter
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

1. In a pot, add ½ cup coconut milk, lentils and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 110-15 minutes or until lentils are barely tender.
2. Add the cucumber, squash, chillies and salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes.
3. In a separate small pan, make the tempering by heating the ghee and popping the mustard seeds and curry leaves in the ghee.
4. Pour the fragrant tempering and remaining coconut milk to the curry. Stir for a minute or two, then turn off the heat.
5. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve with freshly steamed rice, with mango pickle on the side.

Since the curry is proudly made by curry leaves growing in my kitchen, I'm sending this post to Grow Your Own #31, an event that celebrates foods we grow ourselves.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kohlrabi Sukke

Many thanks to all those who left me comments and e-mails asking if we are doing OK here in St. Louis. This region has been in the news lately because of the devastating flooding of the mighty Mississippi river and its tributaries. North of us, the swollen river breached levees/flood-banks and sent huge swatches of land under water. Many people watched helplessly as their homes were set adrift and tens of thousands of acres of farmland (that normally feeds much of the US) is now under water. By the time the river has come down to us in St. Louis, the damage has been done, the levels are under control (more or less) and we don't expect any flooding here.

All this leads me to wonder about the fate of our food supply this year. Flooding of farmland is a huge tragedy for farmers, and something that will affect everyone who eats, essentially. Last week, I was at the Farmers' Market and bought such wonderful local produce; I don't know about the coming months...

One of my finds last week was kohlrabi (called navalkol in Marathi). If I remember correctly, this vegetable was made only infrequently in my parents' home (usually as a raw koshimbir/salad) and I had never cooked with it either. I decided to tackle it one evening in the past week and decided on this Kohlrabi sukke from Shilpa's blog. If you want to fall in love with kohlrabi, this simple dish is it! Cooked kohlrabi is simmered in a flavorful coconut paste in this wonderful Konkani recipe. It is a recipe that is so typical of Shilpa's blog- home-style cooking at its very best. The kohlrabi that I bought had a nice top of fresh leaves, so I added them to the curry.

Kohlrabi Sukke

(Adapted from Aayi's Recipes)

1 bunch kohlrabi
1 medium onion, diced
1 t turmeric powder
1 t oil
1-2 t jaggery (unrefined sugar)
salt to taste
For the paste:
1 heaped t urad dal
1 heaped t coriander seeds
1 t oil
½ C grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
2 dried red chillies (or to taste)
¼ C tamarind juice

1. Remove the leaves from the kohlrabi. Discard any discolored ones, wash the rest very well and shred them finely. Set aside.
2. Wash the kohlrabi and halve each one. Pressure cook them. They don't need prolonged pressure cooking. One whistle was enough in my pressure cooker.
3. Pluck off any tough stems from the cooked kohlrabi and cut them into small dice.
4. Meanwhile, fry the urad dal, coriander seeds and red chillies in the oil. Then blend these into a smooth paste with the coconut and tamarind.
5. In a saucepan, fry the onion until it is translucent. Add the shredded kohlrabi leaves and turmeric and stir-fry them until they are almost tender. Add the cooked kohlrabi cubes, coconut paste, jaggery, salt to taste and a little water if required and simmer the curry for 5-10 minutes.

This dish is a wonderful example of coastal cuisine- using a freshly made paste of mild and creamy coconut, tangy tamarind and a few carefully chosen spices to cook flavorful vegetable dishes. I am sending this post to Suganya for AFAM: Coconut and to Sig for JFI: Tamarind.

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MBP Update: We now have one more giveaway associated with this event!! Anjali Damerla of Supreme Spice has kindly offered to send a bottle of spice extract to each of three randomly chosen participants. The spice extracts that are being given away happen to be ones that I have tried and loved- Ginger, Tea Masala and Cardamom. Shipping of these will be restricted to the US. I have updated this new giveaway in the MBP announcement post.

Knitting Crochet Update:
When I told my friend Sujayita that I have started knitting, she said to me, "If you can knit, I don't see why you shouldn't learn crochet as well" and promptly sent me a crochet book- Stitch 'n Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker (tee hee). Who am I to resist? Last week, I sat down and laboriously taught myself a few basic stitches from the book, and fell in love with crochet easily enough.

Here are my first two projects- baby steps towards becoming a bag lady!

Bracelet Purse: this is a cute pattern from Knotty Generation.

It is a tiny purse with one short and one long handle; the long handle slips into the small one and then onto the wrist as a bracelet.

It is just big enough to hold my keys and cell phone and go along on my wrist when I am out walking Dale. But my little hot blue purse had a near-death experience at the dog park the other day when a puppy thought it was a toy and snatched it from my wrist. I am happy to report that the purse survived and the poor puppy was chastised :D


I loved the pattern so much that I made three to give as gifts, including this one in "faded denim".

I also made a very big mesh shopping bag! It is a pattern that is wonderful for beginners, generously shared by Jill Chatelain. She aptly calls it the "Rust Goes Green" bag. Who needs paper or plastic when you have these nice reusable cotton bags?

Have a great week ahead!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Goan Egg Curry

Today's dish: a filling and comforting Goan-inspired Egg Curry.

I am sending this picture to CLICK: Yellow for Bri.

Goa: a sliver of a state on the West coast of India, consisting of beach after beach after beach, and some beautiful temples and churches and the winding Mandovi river as well. It is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world, with so many water bodies. Last time my parents were there, they picked up this very touristy (and cute) drawstring bag with some typical Goan spice mixes. They said it was a gift "for the blog". Friends and family have nearly stopped giving me gifts- now they keep an eye out for food-related stuff and give gifts to One Hot Stove instead! Anyway, the drawstring bag was coaxed into the luggage of their friends and winged its way to me. I was thrilled to bits, needless to say :)

Inside are four neatly packaged spice mixes, all representing the typical curries of Goa. As it happens, they are all meat/fish curries, but my mother wrote a note saying that it would not be too difficult for me to come up with some meatless versions and "show them on the blog" (blog var dakhav). So that's exactly what I plan to do. Note that none of the recipes I will be making from these spice mixes are authentic in the least; they are simply my own adaptations. Each packet has a recipe on the back. The first one that I am using today is the Goan fish curry masala.

Unfortunately, the packets don't list the spices included in the spice mix. This fish curry spice mix was a brilliant shade of red and the aroma was mostly of fiery dried red chillies. A look at similar recipes on a few different blogs shows that the predominant dry spices used are chillies, coriander seeds, turmeric and peppercorns, so those of you who want to try this at home could blend these spices and give it a try.

I converted the fish curry recipe into one for egg curry, because egg curry is certainly one of my weaknesses. My mom reminded me that fried slices of tubers (such as yam) are very reminiscent of the texture of fish (but none of the other aspects of fishiness that make me not want to eat the real thing), and that might make for an interesting curry too. I'll try that sometime when I have yam on hand. Here's the recipe, adapted from the back of the spice packet.

Goan-inspired Egg Curry

4 hard-boiled eggs
2 t oil
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
1 fresh green chilli, slit lengthwise
1 t ginger-garlic paste
1 C coconut milk (fresh or canned)
1 heaped T tamarind pulp
1 T Goan fish curry masala (or to taste)
Salt to taste
1. Using some hot water, extract the tamarind juice and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Fry the onions and green chilli until the onions are translucent and browning slightly.
3. Add the ginger-garlic paste and stir for a minute.
4. Add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, masala and salt. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
5. Peel the eggs and slice into quarters. Add the eggs gently into the curry and simmer for a few more minutes.

I served the curry with some freshly steamed rice and a bright salad (red bell pepper, cucumber, lettuce, lemon juice, freshly ground pepper, salt). This was a weekday dinner that came together in no time at all. The egg curries I usually make contain tomato, and this tomato-less one was wonderful, with the tamarind adding its unique sweet-tangy flavor. The spice mix is tasty without tasting too complicated and "busy", if you know what I mean, and I really enjoyed the simple flavors. I will be using each of the other three spice mixes in the coming weeks, so watch out for weird adaptations of xacuti, vindaloo and cafreal!

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Knitting Update...
I am convinced that knitting is an infectious disease! A few people have been sending me comments and e-mails asking me what resources were helpful as I started to knit. I am taking something of a just-in-time approach to learning to knit, picking up each stitch and method as I need it in various projects. Here are the resources that helped me immensely:
1. Learning a few basic stitches from a friend was the only reason why I even started knitting in the first place. If you don't have a friend who knits, consider taking beginner classes at a local craft or yarn store.
2. Ravelry is the most incredible resource ever.
3. Books: The Vogue Knitting book is my textbook. A friend tells me that she learned to knit all by herself from the Stitch 'n Bitch book. Your local library will have plenty of knitting books so check them out (no pun intended).
4. Knitting videos. A web search will yield many other sites for knitting videos, including several on YouTube.

There are other resources like knitting blogs (of course!) and knitting e-newsletters that I am only now starting to look into.

Want to see my latest projects? Here, I am trying my hand at simple lace designs:
Traveling Vine Cloth

Twin Leaf Cloth

After a dozen cloths, I am finally working on my first full-size garment, a summer vest. I'll show it to you when I am finished with it, hopefully in the next week or so!

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sig's Butternut Squash Erissery

Anyone who reads this blog probably knows that I love "cooking from the blogs". I treat the food blog world as a virtual culinary school populated by the most talented teachers. It was quite natural for me to jump in and participate in an event called Taste and Create, hosted by Myamii at For the Love of Food. The premise is that she randomly pairs up bloggers, and they taste-test one recipe from each other's blog. What a neat way to learn from each other.
I do have my favorite blogs that I often try recipes from, but here was my chance to perhaps discover a new blog and its hidden treasures. As luck would have it, this month, I am paired with Sig of Live to Eat, a blog that I have been reading almost since it came to life!

Sig's blog is a unique blend of many fun-loving features, including reviews of Seattle restaurants (often eye-popping fancy-schmancy ones!), some talented mixology (I could use a gitatini right about now) and tastes of global cuisines. But this is what I treasure most about Sig's blog- her posts about the cuisine of Kerala, the Southern coastal state of India that is her native land.

"Heaven must be a bit like Kerala", says Madhur Jaffrey in her book A Taste of India, completely won over by the subtle and aromatic cuisine of this land; and reading Jaffrey's words makes me even more eager to learn more about Kerala's cuisine. Sig's recipes for classic Kerala dishes such as thoran and olan are exquisitely simple, bearing the promise of authentic home-style flavor. Most of Sig's vegetable recipes have been sitting in my bookmark folder for months on end and this was my chance to actually try one of them.

This being the season for butternut squash, I chose a coconut-based curry with a lyrical name, erissery. Butternut squash is folded into a silky paste of garlic, chillies and coconut, and then tempered with aromatics to make this festive dish which is traditionally part of the harvest feast of Onam. I was pleased to get a chance to use shallots in this recipe; that is an allium that I don't use very often.

Sig's Butternut Squash Erissery

(Source: this recipe on "Live To Eat")
2 C peeled and diced butternut squash
salt to taste
3/4 C grated coconut (fresh or frozen, thawed)
1-2 green chillies
1 clove garlic
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
2 sprigs curry leaves
1-2 dried red chillies
2 shallots, sliced thinly
2 T grated coconut
1. In a saucepan, place the butternut squash and add a cup or so of water, and salt to taste. Cook the squash until tender.
2. Meanwhile, grind the "paste" ingredients until smooth, adding a little water if required to make a smooth paste.
3. Stir the paste into the cooked squash and simmer for a few minutes.
4. In another small pan, heat the oil. Add the "tempering" ingredients (all except coconut) and fry until the shallots are golden. Stir in the coconut and fry until golden. Add the tempering to the curry, mix well, heat for a minute and then turn off the heat.

As Sig directed, I served the erissery with freshly steamed rice, papad and pickles. The erissery was everything I thought it would be- flavorful and delicate all at the same time, with the sweetness of the butternut squash contrasting with the rich coconut flavor and the heady aroma of curry leaves, garlic and shallots.

Hungry for more Kerala fare?
RCI Kerala Round-Up
Essence of Kerala

Thanks, Sig, for a "keeper" recipe! Sig made Mushroom Chettinad from One Hot Stove. Thank you, Myamii, for hosting this enjoyable event.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Creamy Coconut-Tofu Rice

This recipe was born on a fridge-cleaning Friday night. We enjoyed it so much that I made it again a few times. One time, a friend joined us for dinner and asked for the recipe. I got the feeling that this dish had earned its place on the blog, so here it is. It just could not be simpler: vegetables and rice are cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water. Cubes of soft tofu are added to the simmering rice. The resulting creamy rice, mildly spiced and dotted with melt-in-the-mouth tofu, is much more than the sum of its parts.

Coconut-Tofu Rice


1 C rice (I used sona masuri)
2 C chopped mixed vegetables (eg. spinach, beans, peas, carrots)
1 t oil
1 small onion, sliced
8-10 curry leaves
1 t cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 t sambar masala (or your favorite spice blend...I used a gava kadcha (rustic) masala gifted by an aunt)
Salt to taste
3/4 C thick coconut milk
2.5 C hot water
1 heaped cup soft tofu cubes (about 1/2 of a standard block)
Wedges of lemon
3-4 spring onion stalks (green parts, sliced) or cilantro, minced
1. Heat the oil, temper with curry leaves and cumin seeds, and saute the onion until the edges start browning.
2. Stir in the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and your masala of choice, then saute the vegetables for a couple of minutes.
3. Stir in the rice, coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil.
4. Gently arrange the tofu cubes in the rice mixture, and then cover the pan and simmer until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
5. Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs and lemon wedges. This dish tastes best when it is freshly made. The picture you see here is of the leftovers, taken the next day, and by this time, most of the creaminess has been absorbed into the rice. Still tasty, though!

This rice is delicious when paired with a crunchy kachumbar, a simple salad of any combination of tomato-onion-cucumber-carrot-cabbage-radish dressed with a little salt, pepper and lemon juice. I have also served it with a medley of roasted vegetables with tasty results.

An interesting variation would be to use Thai curry paste instead of the Indian spices, to make a Thai-inspired rice. Or use generous amounts of either ginger or garlic (in the saute step) to make rice with a more distinctive flavor.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Z is for Zucchini Kofta Curry

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.
The "Z" of Indian Vegetables
The letter Z inspired twenty-four zesty Indian flavors!

First, we take a tour of the Zany Zucchini Cafe. Our menu is diverse, the choices are many, but they have one thing in common- you guessed it, Zucchini, that mild and juicy summer squash!

Let's start with the breakfast menu. We have a choice of three savory dishes today. First up, Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope serves up her Zucchini Carrot Adai, which is brimming with nutrition in the form of brown rice, dals and vegetables.

The second is another savory pancake prepared by Jyothi of Andhra Spicy. Her Zucchini Besan Puda is made with a instant batter of chickpea flour and shredded zucchini, with a touch of cumin seeds.

The third breakfast choice is a soft, spongy savory cake. Zucchini Tower is the lofty creation of Live2Cook of Live To Cook and is rich in dals and succulent zucchini, steamed in special molds.

All three breakfast choices come with a bowl of creamy Zucchini Chutney shared by Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine. The combination of hot-off-the-griddle dosas and steaming hot idlis with the cool chutney promises to be delicious.

Our lunch and dinner menu is very extensive, as you will see. For a classic Indian appetizer, we offer a crisp and golden Mixed Platter of Zucchini Bhajjis, courtesy Priyanka of Lajawaab.

As for the main course, we have something for everyone. If you are in the mood for something simple and home-style, Suma of Veggie Platter has a comforting Zucchini Tomato Pappu or dal that will warm you from the inside out.

Do we have any veggie lovers in the house today? I have a feeling we do! For you, Archana of Tried and Tested Recipes presents her signature Zucchini Zaaykedar Sabzi- a medley of juicy vegetables sprinkled with the choicest seasonings and baked to perfection.

For those diners who are calorie-conscious, we have just the thing for you too: Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen dishes up her Zucchini Koftas- tiny bites of shredded cooked zucchini, rolled in crunchy sesame seeds and baked, not fried, then served with rice and a velvety curry.

We know that some people love their dairy, and for them, the perfect choice would be Zucchini Paneer Sabzi- a combination of crunchy zucchini half-moons and creamy paneer cubes, stir-fried perfectly by Musical of Musical's Kitchen.

Finally, for those seeking good old-fashioned restaurant style richness, we present Raaga of The Singing Chef and her Zucchini Capsicum Makhanwala- here, zucchini dances a tango with a medley of colorful peppers in a rich and creamy sauce that is delicately flavored.

Ok, now that we had our fill of zucchini, we have a lot more delicious food on display today. The next Z vegetable is colored the daintiest shade of purple- the purple yam or Zimikand. Suma of Veggie Platter cooks into a sweet and creamy dessert that is the color of pale lilac- go take a look at her Zimikand Halwa.

In a burst of vegetable love, G V Barve of Add Flavour uses five Z zutaten ("ingredients" in German) to make a vibrant and colorful dish of Mixed vegetables.

Then comes a Z fruit, the appetizing Zardaloo or dried apricot. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi write a wonderfully informative post, then go on to share a vegetarian version of a traditional Zoroasterian dish- their creative stew is called Zardaloo zSali zSoy!

Coming to the Z spices...

First, a spice that has reached the zenith of expensive taste: Zafaran or saffron, the most prized spice in the world, more expensive than gold (weight for weight)! In Indian cooking, saffron is most likely to find its way into festive rice dishes and desserts.

Anita of A Mad Tea Party writes a beautiful ode to the precious Kashmiri saffron and shares a recipe for the most exquisite dessert- Zafraani Zamadud or yogurt made with saffron-tinged milk.

Dhana of Fresh Kitchen uses saffron to bring a delicate fragrance and flavor to her very unusual Zafarani Pulao, made with a harvest grain blend instead of rice.

Manasi of A Cook At Heart takes a cue from the latest Bollywood blockbuster and make a Zafrani Pulav- Amitabh-style, rich with raisins and nuts, and redolent with whole spices.

The next spice is actually a spice blend, and it has a definite zing to it: Zaatar is a flavorful thyme-based spice mix that is popular in the Middle East.

Nandita of Saffron Trail sprinkles zaatar between sheets of tender dough and turns out some flaky and golden Zaatar Flavored Parathas.

Saju of Chachi's Kitchen shares a wonderful recipe for making zatar, then uses it creatively in a Zaatari Salsa that she uses, along with roasted zucchini, in a creative chapati wrap.

Now it is the turn of a Z dish that is as non-ritzy and non-jazzy as it can get: the simple and rustic Zunka of rural Maharashtra. Sauteed vegetables are cooked with chickpea to make a simple and tasty dish.

Suganya of Tasty Palettes uses a trio of colorful peppers to put together her Zunka with Capsicum- go take a look at her gorgeous pictures jumping off the screen.

Madhuli of My Foodcourt uses tender and fragrant fresh fenugreek leaves to make this beautiful dish of Zunka with Fenugreek- and she has some interesting information about an alternative name of this dish too.

The next Z word stands for zip and is a big fat zero, as in Zero-Oil! Dhana of Fresh Kitchen tries a dish from a new no-oil cookbook, and her Zero-Oil Kebabs look 100% flavorful.

We end this last round-up with two words that represent that pizzazz which is the signature of Indian cuisine: the word zhanzhanit in Marathi, and the word zhaal in Bengali both mean uber-hot or ultra-spicy.

Aarti of Aarti's Corner pounds together roasted chillies, garlic and peanuts to make this unbelievable Zhanzhanit Thecha.

G V Barve of Add Flavour makes her Zhanzhanit Thecha with some fiery red chilli powder.

Finally, for a tasty tea-time snack, Aarti of Aarti's Corner tosses together puffed rice with lots of goodies and a generous dose of chillies to make a popular Bengali street food- Zhaal Muri.

Z is for Zucchini Kofta Curry: Ze End!

In January of this year, I found myself in a new city, recovering from a very stressful year, facing the end of a blogging break that had stretched to several months. After many years of long working hours and few days off, I suddenly had quite a bit of time on my hands while I was moving towards the next phase of my working life. Which could mean only one thing: time for a new series on the blog!

I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on. We are constantly being bombarded with findings about nutrition, and while so many of the studies remain controversial, one fact is simply undeniable: it is just a really good idea to pump up our vegetable consumption. Vegetables are almost magical- they are low in fat and calories, and simply bursting with naturally occurring chemicals that do wonders in the human body- fighting chronic disease and promoting healthier lives. The fact is, for most of the people on this planet, vegetables are simply unaffordable and inaccessible. For a well-to-do and well-fed person like me, it would be a shame if I did not take advantage of my privileged life and eat to keep my body as healthy as I can. And as I started to work on increasing my vegetable consumption, it made sense to start "at home", learning all that I could about the cuisines of India and their love for vegetable dishes. As for cooking by alphabet, it is just a silly whimsical way of going about my little journey. A way to amuse myself.

At the same time that I started this series, I completely over-hauled my method of meal planning. Earlier, I would decide to make, say, dal and rice for dinner, with vegetables as an after-thought. My new method is: Veggie-Centric Meal Planning. I keep my kitchen well-stocked with vegetables by shopping every weekend. When I want to plan a meal, I look at the vegetables that I have on hand and let the vegetables "suggest" a dish to me. Carbs and proteins are added to complete the meal. If I spy a cauliflower in there, I might (a) pair it with frozen peas and a small potato to make a stir-fry, then make simple dal and rice/ khichdi to complete the meal, (b) roast the florets, toss them with olives and caper, then make a spaghetti with soy meatballs and tomato sauce to complete the meal, (c) for a "special treat" dinner, make pav-bhaji. In the same way, peppers, onions and mushrooms could find their way into an Indian-Chinese fried rice (with some egg strips thrown in) or a Punjabi-inspired curry, or a pasta dish or a quesadilla or an omelet, depending on my mood and the time on hand. For 7 months now, I have been planning everyday meals starting with the veggies and I love it! It is not a very glamorous method, but it makes meal planning fun and easy, and it always works (for me). I vary the menu all the time, borrowing shamelessly merrily from all possible cuisines, altering dishes as I need to, to suit our taste and convenience. A couple of tips that I have found useful:
a) I keep a large box in the fridge for "odds and ends" of vegetables- a half of an onion, a wedge of cabbage that got left over from a subzi...these come in useful to fill out future meals and virtually eliminate wastage of precious veggies. For instance, one large head of red cabbage recently was served at four meals- as a "pachadi", with other veggies in a noodle stir-fry, in a "thoran" and a raw garnish for quesadillas.
b) I find that some vegetables- green peppers, green onions (spring onions), fresh herbs, fresh lemons go a long way in making easy dinners taste really good by adding a fresh note. I always try to keep these on hand.
c) Thursday or Friday nights, I plan a fridge-cleaning menu, trying to use up all perishable veggies and get ready for the shopping trip the next day. Some dishes- mixed veg pulao, vegetable noodles, vegetable soup- are just made for such occasions!

It seems that "Vegetable Love" is in the air. My Dad (I call him Baba) has recently started reading this blog...and I am sure he is quite amused by my enthusiasm about vegetables (I was a very poor eater as a child). He is a complete foodie, the sort who appreciates down-to-earth food- including fresh produce cooked at its seasonal best. As an avid gardener, he is fascinated by the biodiversity of fruits and vegetables we see around us. A couple of days ago, this is what he mailed me. In Baba's own words,
"I had been to the market this morning and bought some 'Kantoli', i.e. Raan Karli or 'Phagala' as they are called in Konkani. They make wonderful 'Kaapa', you know. We made that this afternoon. I'm sending you some pictures in case you are interested. The thin slices of the 'Kantoli' are shallow fried in rice flour to which chilli powder, dhane and jira are added with salt to taste.They make a lovely crispy dish which goes very well with Rice and Daal." (Dhane is coriander seeds, and jira is cumin this case, it is the powdered spices that are used).
This is what the kantoli looks like- a very unusual vegetable, small in size, with a prickly exterior.
Here is the fried kantoli:

Now, coming to my entry: Z came around at just the right time, at the peak of summer, when it is raining zucchinis in the vegetable markets! This is my contribution to the menu at the Zany Zucchini Cafe. I wanted to make something rich and festive for this last round. In my parents' home, a "party dish" that has always been very popular is Kofta Curry, with fried dumplings bobbing about merrily in a rich tomato-onion sauce. I hesitate to make it because the dumplings are made of bottle gourd and chickpea flour, and I don't really have access to bottle gourd. The fact that the dumplings are traditionally deep-fried puts me off even more.

Then, a few days ago, I was watching TV when I caught a commercial selling an As-Seen-On-TV kitchen product called the Pancake Puff Pan (nothing but a appey pan or aebelskiver pan or appam chatti or whatever you want to call it). Now, I don't know if you have seen these type of ads. They are very very smart ads: they sell a kitchen product that is billed as the latest and greatest invention ever. They demonstrate hundreds of uses for that kitchen product, and in the short span of 3-4 minutes, they leave you utterly convinced that the product is about to change your life forever. In any case, this ad showed a dozen different uses for the puff pancake pan- making mini ball-omelettes, and mini pizza puffs- that left me gaping with awe. A little light bulb lit up over my head, and I thought-hmm, I should try making my koftas in my appey pan. So, as you will see in the recipe below, I did make the koftas in the appey pan, with only a few drops of oil. Was the experiment successful? Well, the koftas that resulted were not perfectly cooked all the way through, and so could not be eaten just as they were. But, once they were added to the curry and simmered for a few minutes, they were cooked to perfection! This is definitely a method that I'm going to use from now on...I might have to work on it to determine the heat level needed to let the koftas cook all the way through. In fact, the next experiment is going to be- making the pakodas for kadhi-pakoda.

This time, I did not add any garam masala or other spices to the curry. I let the flavors of the coconut, poppy seeds and sesame seeds shine, and it tasted quite delicious to me. With all those ingredients, this is a very rich curry!

Zucchini Kofta Curry

(serves 4-5, adapted from the Marathi cookbook "Ruchira" by Kamalabai Ogale
1. Make the koftas: Mix 1.5 C shredded zucchini, 1/2 C besan (chickpea flour), 2 T minced onion, 1 t coriander-cumin powder, and salt, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste, and make a thick batter (you do not need water, the water from the zucchini is sufficient). Spray a appey pan with oil, then drop little spoonfuls of the batter into each depression.
Cook until golden brown on both sides. Set the koftas aside. This yields about 20 small koftas.
2. Make the onion-tomato base: Heat 2 t oil in a saucepan. Fry 2 chopped onions until lightly browned. Add 1 t ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute. Add 2 C tomato puree, salt, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Puree to a fine paste.
3. Make a seed powder: Toast together 2 T white sesame seeds and 2 T poppy seeds, then cool and grind to a fine powder.
4. Make the curry: Mix the tomato-onion paste, seed powder and 1/2 C coconut milk and bring to a gentle boil. Add some water as required to make a thick curry, then simmer it for 5 minutes. Add the koftas and simmer gently for 5 minutes more. Serve hot.

As you can see in the picture above, I served the zucchini kofta curry with fresh layered parathas, dahi kanda (sliced onions and minced cilantro dressed with yogurt) and a wedge of lemon. It made for a very enjoyable dinner!

I want to thank Lakshmi for suggesting that I convert this series into an event in the first place. Before she left that comment, I had no inkling that anyone would have the faintest interest in being part of this. Also, a big hug to Swapna for designing a logo for this event...I was so pleasantly surprised when she mailed it to me. The credit for the way things would shape up every week goes to the enthusiastic bloggers who sent in entries, whether they participated in one event, a few, several or *all twenty-three*, like the champions Asha, Bee and Jai and Suma!

I have learnt more about vegetables in the last few months than in the past twenty-some years. Writing the round-up every Sunday was also very stimulating as I tried to group the entries into an order that was informative and fun. My future Sunday mornings are going to feel very empty. A zillion thanks to the zany participants and the zealous readers who made this seriez so special for me! You galz and guyz are ze BEST :D

One last thing: many of you have been asking me, What comes next? Well, it so happens that I am starting a new job tomorrow (perfect timing, eh?), and life is about to get very hectic yet again. I have had my fill of hosting events for a while, with this weekly series and the behemoth RCI. For a few months, I will focus on the other things in my life- my job and my academic commitments and a little project that I want to do for my local community kitchen. I will keep blogging, of course, and participating in the wonderful events going on in the food blog world as much as I can. Wow, this has become a HUGE post, so I'll sign off now!

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer
L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables and Lentils
M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs
O is for Onion Chutney: Vegetables in Chutneys
P is for Pattagobi Pachadi: Vegetables in Salads
Q is for Quick Carrot Pickles: Vegetables in Pickles
R is for Radish Paratha: Root Vegetables
S is for Spinach Amti: Green Leafy Vegetables
T is for Tomato Red Pepper Saar: Soups
U is for Undhiyu: Regional Delicacies
V is for Vegetable-Cheese Sandwiches: Mixed Vegetables
W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits, Nuts
X is for eXploration: Pattypan Squash Sambar
Y is for Yam Phodi: Vegetables as Themselves