Showing posts with label Potato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Potato. Show all posts

Monday, March 15, 2010

Date Tamarind Chutney and Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat

Whew, that's a mouthful of a post title. But a tasty mouthful, I promise you.

Over my decade-long stint as a home cook, there are several things for which I have made the journey from home-made to store-bought and back full circle to home-made. The sweet and tangy date-tamarind chutney is one of these. It is one of the first things I learned to make from scratch, in Bombay. Once I was running my own kitchen in NYC, bottled store-bought date tamarind chutney had a permanent place in my fridge door. Then in the last couple of years, I was annoyed at buying something that is so simple to make at home, and I'm back to making my own. 

This tamarind chutney is a minimalist version calling for, count 'em, all of 4 ingredients: dates, tamarind, jaggery (unrefined sugar) and cumin-coriander powder. OK, salt and water too. 

In the recipe below, I have written down approximate quantities for each ingredient but the truth is that dates, tamarind and jaggery are all ingredients with unique personalities. One brand of tamarind may have a different degree of sourness than another brand, and so on. These ingredients are also not easy to measure. Try wrestling nuggets of jaggery into a measuring cup or scooping out exact quantities of sticky tamarind. The solution is to just use approximate quantities of the ingredients and rejoice in the fact that every batch of chutney you make will also have a unique personality.

All the ingredients are available wherever Indian groceries are sold. In the Middle Eastern aisle, I discovered something called "baking dates", which is nothing but pitted dates packed into a rectangular cake and ready to be used as date pulp. It is very convenient to keep on hand and I like using it for this chutney.

The chutney does need to be strained to get rid of the stringy tamarind fibers. I would suggest using a sieve with large pores (like the one below) to avoid spending a frustrating amount of time doing this. 

Date Tamarind Chutney

1. Mix together
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup soft pitted dates or 12 pack of pitted baking dates
  • 14 cup jaggery
  • 14 cup tamarind
  • Salt to taste
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Use a spatula or potato masher to press down on the tamarind and dates and extract as much of the pulp as possible. Stir well to dissolve all the ingredients. Taste and add more of tamarind or jaggery or salt to get the sweet/tangy/salty balance you like best.

3. Pass the mixture through a large-pored sieve to remove the fibers. Chutney that is too thick may be difficult to strain so dilute it with filtered water if necessary. Add cumin-coriander powder and cayenne pepper to taste. Refrigerate.

Update (Nov 2013): If you use bottled/jarred tamarind extract, you can simply blend the simmered ingredients and not have to sieve them, making this recipe even easier.

Pour on anything and everything and pretend you are enjoying chaat from your favorite vendor. I made this chutney specifically for some Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat. It is the North Indian cousin of the ragda patties. I don't know if what follows is a particularly authentic recipe; it is just my way of making it.

Chana for Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat

1. Soak 1.5 cups chickpeas overnight. Rinse them well and pressure cook them until tender.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil and fry 2 minced onions until lightly browned.

3. Add the following and saute until fragrant:
  • Ginger garlic paste
  • Turmeric powder
  • Red chilli powder
  • Coriander-cumin powder
  • Chana masala (chhole masala), the best you can find or make
  • Amchur powder
  • Salt to taste
4. Add 3-4 chopped tomatoes and fry for a few minutes.

5. Add cooked chickpeas and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Mash in some of the chickpeas to thicken the curry. 

To assemble the chaat, layer the following in a bowl: 
  • Aloo tikkis: I make them very simply, nothing but boiled mashed potato and salt (and sometimes bread as a filler) formed into patties and shallow-fried, as shown in this recipe. You can add spices to the tikkis if desired.
  • Chana 
  • Minced raw onion
  • Minced cilantro
  • Sev
  • Date tamarind chutney
  • Whipped yogurt (optional)
There you have it, chaat that feels like a special treat but packs in plenty of nutrition among the layers of flavor. 

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Back to Basics: Eggplant and Potato

"But is it blog-worthy?"

This is a question that I seem to ask myself quite often. Some of my favorites never make it to these pages because they seem too simple, somehow. Like this homely eggplant potato bhaaji (subzi, a combination of a braise and stir-fry) that I made last night. But these are the recipes I keep returning to, that I have made so often that I can cook them on auto-pilot, and for that alone, they are definitely blog-worthy.

This recipe is almost stereotypical in its use of ingredients favored by Maharashtrian home cooks. A textbook example of the Maharashtrian way to cook vegetables.

It has the typical phodni (tempering) trio of halad, hing, mohri, that is, turmeric, asafetida and mustard seeds.

It uses flavorful (but not hot) dhane-jeere pud (coriander cumin powder). Simply mix cumin and coriander seeds in equal quantity, toast very gently, just enough to wake up the spices, and grind to a fine powder. I make this powder in half cup batches and am always amazed at how I run through it in a matter of days.

It uses goda masala, which has a smoky, savory flavor that is hard to describe in English but has a Marathi word- khamang. I stock up on this black gold on trips to Maharashtra. You can find it in some US stores, or make your own.

Jaggery or gool lends a complex sweetness and a glossy finish to the sauce clinging to the vegetables. This is the stuff that elevates the everyday bhaaji to a lick-your-fingers classic.

Peanut powder or danyacha koot makes a thick and nutty sauce. I roast peanuts, skin them and powder them coarsely, you want to retain a bit of texture. I store a jar of roasted powdered peanuts in the fridge and use it in typical Maharashrian ways like bhaajis, koshimbir and for sabudana khichdi.

You can use almost any combination of vegetables in place of the eggplant and potato. The salt draws out water from the vegetables that then cook in their own steam, which results in a concentrated flavor. But if you feel like the vegetables are sticking to the pan, feel free to add a few tablespoons of water to get the process going.

Vaangi Batata Bhaaji
Eggplant and Potatoes, Maharashtrian Style
(serves 6-8)

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wide pan. Temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
12 tsp. turmeric

2. Give a quick stir and immediately add
1 medium onion, cut in small dice
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

3. Saute the onions on medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Then stir in
1 medium Italian eggplant, cut in large dice
4 medium potatoes, cut in large dice

4. Add the powders
1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. cumin-coriander powder
2 tsp. goda masala (or garam masala for a different taste)
14 cup roasted peanut powder

5. Add salt to taste and 2-3 tbsp. crushed jaggery.

6. Cover and cook the bhaaji for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Garnish with a large handful of minced fresh cilantro.

Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

We enjoyed this bhaaji with rotis and radish raita. It is also perfect with yogurt-rice and dal-rice.

Dale's Tales
Dalu is a creature of routine. His day is a regimented line-up of naps, walks, treats and social visits with Tony, the newspaper guy on the corner, which result in more treats. Most dogs are so eager to please their humans; not this one. If I call out to him while he is basking in the sun, he looks slyly from the corner of his eye to see if I am offering him a treat or reaching for his leash, otherwise he quickly squeezes his eyes shut and pretends to be asleep. Don't call me unless you have something tangible to offer- that's Dale's motto.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Crispy Dosa

The perfect antidote to dreary foggy winter days? A classic South Indian brunch of dosa slathered with potato masala and dunked into eggplant sambar.

I had my eye on Shilpa's butter dosa recipe for some time. The story of the crowded restaurant that served these dosas was so vivid, and the batter is very interesting in the way it uses wheat flour and rice flour in addition to rice and urad dal.

I made the batter exactly in the proportions described in the recipe (using sona masuri rice instead of dosa rice), and now my biggest mixing bowl is taking up half my fridge and holding enough dosa batter for the next 10 breakfasts! Not that I am complaining, but for a small family, the recipe could be easily halved. Placed in a warm oven overnight, the batter rose beautifully.

Here's how I make my potato masala. Have you noticed how vegetables taste different based on how you cut them? I like using thickly sliced onions in my potato masala, and lots of them, for a high onion:potato ratio.

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. chana dal
1 tsp. urad dal
pinch of asafoetida
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

2. Add 2 medium-large onions, cut in half and sliced thickly. Cook until translucent.

3. Add salt, turmeric, minced green chilli and a small dab of ginger garlic paste.

4. Add 3 medium boiled potatoes cut in small dice.

5. Stir around, cover and cook for 5-10 minutes.

6. Garnish with lots of cilantro.

The final ingredient for making proper dosa is the cast iron pan. I know a lot of people like using non-stick pans for dosas. Non-stick pots and pans do play a small role in my kitchen, but my dosa-making was revolutionized when I bought my heavy cast iron tawa. In the US, these are sold as cast iron griddles and are quite inexpensive and built to last a lifetime. They heats to a high temperature and distributes heat evenly helps to make beautiful crisp dosas (I also use them for rotis, parathas and thalipeeth). I wash the pan only with water and a little salt if required, and over time, it is more of a non-stick quality than any non-stick pan I have ever used.

And just as we finished eating this brunch, the sun came out of hiding. Dosa always leads to good things.

I got a sweet "Kreativ Blogger" award from Ruchikacooks. Thank you! So here goes, 7 random things I am reading/watching/doing.

1. I read a wonderful book last week- Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Sitting down to a meal no longer feels like a simple act, with issues of food safety, food politics, the environment and the consequences of our choices weighing heavily on our minds. I am struggling to work these complex issues in my head, as are so many of my blogger friends. There are many books written on these subjects, and I confess that the complexity of the issues sometimes makes me so weary and vaguely guilty that I avoid reading the books for as long as I can. And that's why this particular book, where Kingsolver writes about her family's year-long experiment with eating local, was on my "I don't want to read it so much as I want to have read it" list ever since it came out. Last week, I finally checked it out the library, only because it was the book of the month in an online reading group that I participate in. Well, I started to read it, could not put it down, and finished it in a day and a half! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is written with such gentleness and humor, I would highly recommend it to everyone who wants to enjoy a great read while also becoming better informed.

2. A book that I am savoring in small bites, one chapter at a time, is Eating India by Chitrita Banerji. Thank you for the superb gift, Bong Mom. The book has essays on trips to different parts of India and tales of the cuisines the author encounters. The essays are transporting me to different lands and are a joy to read for anyone who loved Indian regional food.

3. On a whim, I decided that one of my reading goals for 2010 would be to read all the Pulitzer prize fiction winners from 1979-2009. We talked about 2010 resolutions at a work meeting; everyone's goals were to eat healthy and exercise while mine was to read more novels! The one I'll start next is March by Geraldine Brooks. I loved Louisa May Alcott's Little Women as a kid, and this novel is the story as imagined from their father's eyes.

4. I'm also doing some lighter "comfort food" reading with At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Does anyone know of other books that are light and uplifting, like the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series?

5. V and I enjoy watching British mysteries on DVD. Right now, we are watching the Inspector Morse series (although I prefer his successor, Inspector Lewis myself) and the Rosemary and Thyme series, where the two gardeners Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme work in lush gardens that make my eyes swim and solve murders while they are at it.

6. My super-talented sister made my day by mailing me a huge package full of cute things she sewed herself. I got a custom-made knitting bag so I can tote my UFOs (unfinished objects) around town in style, another cute bag, a belt and an apron. Dale got this personalized scarf in tiger print! Whee, I love getting presents, and handmade ones are priceless.

7. Instead of directly donating money for Haiti relief, I did something that was more fun for me. I knitted a baby hat and donated it to an Etsy shop to be sold, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. Some kind person bought my wee tomato hat for 20 bucks!

If you want to buy something handmade for Haiti relief, please visit the Craft Hope Etsy shop (keep checking frequently, because cute items are added all the time and sold literally in minutes). If you are a crafter and want to donate an item you made, visit this page for details. I'll be making more items for the shop as well, as I get time.

Have a wonderful week, everyone! And if you made it to the end of this ridiculously long post, congratulations.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cashews Are the New Cream

Out grocery shopping this weekend, we spotted a mesh bag of the teeniest tiniest potatoes I have ever seen in my life. Some of them were only a little bigger than chickpeas! V's eyes lit up as he mouthed the words, "dum aloo".

So that is how recipe #32 is Vegan Dum Aloo. The inspiring recipe was this Alu Dum recipe from The Spice Who Loved Me.

There's quite a bit of butter and cream involved in the way most restaurants make this dish. Here, cashew paste takes over and contributes a rich and creamy taste and totally eliminates the need for any dairy products. Paprika is used to add a beautiful color and taste while keeping the curry mild. I chose to roast the potatoes with their skin on; the crackling roasted skin contributes a wonderful smoky flavor to the dish.

Here's my version of the original recipe:

1. The potatoes-
Wash and dry 2-3 cups of baby potatoes. Prick each one 2-3 times with a fork and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast at 425F for 20-25 minutes (I used a toaster oven to save energy) or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

2. The paste-
a) Chop 2 medium onions in large dice. Saute them in a spoonful of oil until light brown. Let them cool down.
b) Soak ¼ cup raw cashews in hot water for 20 minutes or so.
c) Grind together the soaked cashews and onions to a fine, thick paste.

3. Heat oil and temper it with 1 tsp. each of cumin seeds and nigella seeds (kalonji).

4. Add 2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste, 2 tsp. kasuri methi, turmeric, red chilli powder, paprika, salt and saute for several seconds.

5. Stir in the cashew paste and a cup of tomato puree and cook the mixture together for 10 minutes. Add water as required to adjust the consistency of the curry to your own taste.

6. Taste the curry and add a pinch of sugar if it is too tangy. Finally, turn off the heat, add the following:
1 tsp. garam masala
the hot roasted baby potatoes
handful of minced cilantro

Let the curry rest, covered, for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend in. Serve with rotis (or whole wheat tortillas masquerading as rotis) or rice.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to write in very helpful tips regarding rice cookers on my previous post! Y'all are the best!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Coriander Rosti...

...or how to kick up brunch a notch!

Last weekend, an old college friend dropped in for brunch and I got a chance to try a bookmarked recipe from Sunita. Sunita's world is a place full of luscious food, images of nature and glimpses of her family life. A visit to her world never fails to cheer me up! Sunita's recipe for Coriander Rosti called for the simplest of ingredients and resulted in the most tempting crispy nuggets (you have to go look at her pictures for yourself).

My minor tweak: I used chipotle flakes instead of pepper to give the potatoes a smoky flavor. One could make many variations of these patties by using red pepper flakes or finely minced fresh chillies or crushed peppercorns as the spice.

Potatoes + Cilantro + Chipotle = Breakfast Potato Patties that will wake up your taste buds.


(Inspired by Sunita's World)
1. Wash two large (I used the huge baking potatoes sold here in the US) potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Boil them until they are only partially cooked.
2. Peel and shred the potatoes.
3. Add 1 packed cup minced fresh cilantro, salt and chipotle flakes to taste. Mix together.
4. Form patties and place on a sprayed baking sheet. Spray the patties with a little more oil.
5. Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes, flipping over once in between until the patties are golden and crispy.

These spicy patties are going to MBP: Less is More.

I served the patties with some delicious vegetable-egg squares. You could call them crustless quiche bites- inspired by Kalyn's recipe, which in turn is inspired by another.

My only modification was that I used spinach instead of chard. This is a delicious way to start the day off with a big helping of vegetables; the recipe is endlessly flexible. I have added artichoke hearts before with delicious results.

Both recipes- the rosti and the egg squares- are wonderful to serve on a brunch buffet because they are both bite-sized and portable.

Also on the brunch menu, some hot buttered toast!



Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hummus and Kibbeh

A few people have recently asked me what I think of the vegetarian dining-out options in St. Louis. I am just starting to find out, actually. We moved here from NYC with zero expectations, and if every restaurant in town had been selling barbecue, I would not have blinked en eyelid. So it has been a pleasant surprise to find that almost every weekend, we are able to find a new place to try. I have no idea if any St. Louis residents actually read this blog, but more for my own record than anything else, I have started a small restaurant list here (there is a link in the right side-bar as well). Anyway, last weekend, we particularly enjoyed a dinner at a very cute local restaurant called "Stellina Pasta Cafe". It had been one of those exhausting weeks where the days went by in a blur, and with the rush between work and school and household chores and dog-rearing, V and I barely got a chance to have a normal conversation. A relaxed dinner with good food really cheered us up that Saturday evening! Grilled pita served with hummus and olives is probably the most common appetizer on restaurant menus in this country today, but this cafe did an exceptional job with it. I've made hummus once or twice before at home, it never really turned out well, and as we drove home, I reminded myself to give it another shot.

I happened to be thumbing through Suvir Saran's new book American Masala the next day (many thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy), and lo and behold, came upon a recipe for toasted garlic hummus. I took it as a sign, and ended up making the hummus last night for dinner.
AmericanMasala This is a very interesting cookbook- rather than focusing on one region, one course or one genre, it embraces the multifaceted nature of us home cooks. Like curious magpies hoarding shiny objects, cooking enthusiasts seem to collect recipes as they go along in their culinary lives. No matter what food we grew up eating and what cuisine we normally cook, our repertoire evolves into a unique collection that tells the story of our life- whom we met, where we have travelled, what tastes we lean towards. One recipe may be the hallmark of a local festival that we have started to celebrate; another may be learnt years ago from Grandma. Yet another may be from some out-of-print cookbook that we found at a garage sale. Well, this cookbook is essentially like taking a peek into Saran's personal recipe file- except that, instead of yellowing lined notepaper with ball-point scribblings (I only imagine his notebook looks like this because mine does!), it is a lush cookbook with vibrant photographs in jewel tones. This tendency of developing a wildly assorted recipe collection is especially true of those of us who live in foreign lands, and especially true of the US where so many cultures live and eat together. A single chapter in Saran's cookbook has dishes ranging from enchiladas to lasagna, from paella to biryani. Isn't this just the crazy way many of us eat today? Many of the dishes reminded me of the same things that so many bloggers tend to do: take a dish, apply a unique twist and make it your own. In this cookbook, for instance, I came across unusual flavor pairings such as cardamom-roasted cauliflower and chocolate-hazelnut torte with ginger, cloves and cayenne. The book has both vegetarian and meat-seafood dishes, everything from breakfast to desserts.

Coming back to the hummus: it is commonly made with canned chickpeas. In my hands, that does not work so well for some reason and I feel like the resulting hummus tastes "pasty" and "raw". This time, I soaked the chickpeas and pressure-cooked them, with much better results. I used way more (1 whole head) roasted garlic than what Saran suggested (2 cloves). Roasted garlic has a mellow flavor and I like using it generously. Also, he suggests using a broiler to toast the garlic- and I just used my toaster oven. The combination of toasted cumin and roasted garlic is so delicious here.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

(adapted from Suvir Saran's American Masala)
1. Roast 1 head of garlic until the cloves are soft (see methods here and here). Peel the skin off.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade, place 2 C chickpeas (preferably home-cooked, but canned should work too), 2 heaped T tahini (sesame seed paste), 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, peeled roasted garlic, 1 t toasted cumin seeds, red chilli flakes to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Process, adding a little water if required, to a smooth paste. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if required. Serve with olives (I bought some delicious marinated olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods) and wedges of toasted pitas.

I wanted a hearty main course to go with this hummus platter, and decided to try a recipe that had been long book-marked: Potato Kibbeh from Vegan Feast Kitchen. The post gives a lot of interesting information about kibbeh- delicious morsels of potato and bulgur wheat. The recipe is easy easy- olive oil and sliced onions layered in a baking pan, a mashed potato-soaked bulgur (uncooked)-cinnamon-herb mixture layered on top, drizzled with more olive oil and baked until golden. Cinnamom gives a unique aroma to this dish, for sure.

I halved the recipe but loved it so much that I will definitely be making it again, especially when I have hungry hordes to feed! I used coarse bulgur because that was what I had on hand- but will look for a fine one next time I make this. I was also a big bore, as usual, and reduced the oil in the recipe, but it was delicious anyway. To serve with the baked kibbeh squares, I made an impromptu tzatziki-inspired sauce with yogurt, minced garlic, minced cucumber, cilantro and salt, and the combination was delicious.

P. S. You know that fall/winter is here when my food photos take a nosedive :D When supper-time rolls along, it is already dark outside and I have to take pictures in artificial light. Hence that awful yellow glow on the pictures. I need to learn how to take pictures in artificial light. Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

One Microwave Oven, Three Vegetables

This post is being sent to Srivalli for her Microwave Easy Cooking event. The theme this month is Basics.

My favorite way to use the microwave oven for a basic cooking step: I use it for cooking vegetables in a jiffy. IMHO, the microwave oven cooks vegetables in a jiffy, saving much time and fuel in the bargain, and results in vegetables that are cooked to just the right tenderness, with a lot of the flavor, color and nutrition preserved. Here are three vegetables that I often cook in the microwave oven, with an easy recipe for each.

Note: The power of different microwave ovens varies wildly, and the power of a microwave oven reduces significantly as it ages. Mine is a relatively new one, and cooks food in very little time. The only thing to do is play with your microwave and standardize cooking times for yourself.

First up, emerald-green broccoli: I know, I know, none of the cool kids like broccoli. I happen to love it, but V, who is astonishingly non-fussy otherwise, makes it a point to wrinkle his nose at broccoli. But he does love Broccoli-Cheese soup. Here is a simple recipe for this delicious soup; I start by cooking the broccoli in the microwave oven. The soup gets made as usual on the stove-top, but with the cooked broccoli, it gets made in minutes.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1. Wash a bunch of broccoli and cut it into florets (2-3 cups in all). Sprinkle with 1 T water.


2. Microwave the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Set aside.


3. The rest of the recipe is made on the stove-top. To make the soup, heat 1 T butter in a saucepan. Saute 1/2 C chopped onion and 2 cloves minced garlic in the butter until fragrant.
4. Stir in 1 T flour and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 3/4 C milk and stir to make a sauce.
5. Now add the cooked broccoli and 2 C water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.
6. Stir in 1 C loosely packed cheese (I tend to use cheddar or Monterey Jack), salt to taste (remember cheese is salty, so go easy), pepper and red pepper flakes (optional). Blend the soup using a blender/ food processor/ immersion blender. Reheat before serving.


The humble potato: Sometimes, especially by the end of the work-week, I am almost out of vegetables but tend to have some potatoes handy. This is a side-dish that goes well with any Indian meal, or also as an off-beat accompaniment to sandwiches.

Dahi Batata (Potato in Yogurt)

1. To cook potatoes in the microwave, I simply wash them, prick each potato 3-4 times with a fork, then place it on the microwave turntable and cook for 2 minutes. Then it turn it over and cook it for 2 more minutes. In my microwave, this results in tender, delicious, non-soggy potatoes every single time (Microwave-cooked potatoes are ideal for potato parathas because they you are sure the parathas won't turn out soggy).


2. To make this easy side-dish, dahi batata, peel the potato (or don't) and cut into medium cubes.
3. In a bowl, whip together some yogurt, salt, red chilli powder and cumin-coriander powder. Stir in the potato cubes. Garnish with cilantro if desired.


The gorgeous sweet potato: I am always looking for new ways to cook this delicious and nutritious vegetable. Tarla Dalal's "Chaat" cookbook has a chaat involving sweet potatoes. That recipe involves several chutneys and a long list of ingredients, and looks nothing like this, but it inspired me to make this easy and tasty side dish/ snack. I used whole baby sweet potatoes here, but one could use the big ones and simply slice them.

Ratala "Chaat"


1. Prick 6 baby potatoes/ 1-2 medium sweet potatoes with a fork 2-3 times each. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 2 minutes on each side, or until knife-tender (time will depend on the size of the sweet potato, as well as the number being cooked at once).
2. Split the sweet potatoes open, then sprinkle with salt, red chilli powder, chaat masala, and a few drops of fresh lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. Peel and eat!

The next use of the microwave oven: Roasting Papad. A few types of papads can be roasted, but most require deep-frying. Here are two that I regularly microwave for a delicious crunchy accompaniment to dal-rice suppers. I microwave papads one at a time, directly on the microwave turntable (I tried placing the papads on a plate, but they seem to roast unevenly and take much longer). After each one, I wipe down the droplets of condensation from the turnable, which ensures that the next papad does not stick on.

Lijjat papad, which are made with urad dal and are available in lots of flavors- garlic, cumin, black pepper- need about 25 seconds of nuking in my microwave to go from this...


to this...


This one is a traditional Tamilian appalam, one of my very favorite papads. It take about 35 seconds to go from this...


to this...


Other ways I use my microwave oven: to boil water quickly for single servings of tea, or when I need a small amount of hot water for, say, soaking tamarind to make tamarind pulp. I toast nuts and spices in the microwave, which works beautifully, but needs a close watch to prevent them from burning.

Here is another use of my microwave: to disinfect kitchen sponges: I regularly get the sponges sopping wet, then microwave them for 1-2 minutes on HIGH. The heating of the wet sponge kills off a lot of the bacteria that kitchen sponges invariably collect. While it is effective, this technique can pose a fire hazard so consider yourself warned! Once microwaved, the sponge will be very hot, so let it cool down before removing it from the microwave, or handle with tongs.

Got any clever microwave tips? Leave a comment if you would like to share them. I'll be back on the weekend!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Weekend Stuff

Oh, the dog days of summer...Dale enjoys a frosty popsicle in an attempt to beat the record-breaking highs in St. Louis.

Book Love: Thanks to the recommendations shared by so many of you in this post, my summer reading is turning out to be a lot of fun. Priya, if you are reading this, I did get around to reading "Tiger Ladies" by Sudha Koul and enjoyed it very much. It is really an intimate glimpse into everyday Kashmiri life in peaceful times. I am currently enjoying Bill Bryson's "Travels in small town America" (Bee recommended Bryson's books). I did get started on Bapsi Sidhwa's "Cracking India" but it somehow did not engage me much and I didn't get around to finishing it. I still have a lot of the books on my list, and thank everyone for taking the time to point them out to me. To continue this conversation about books, I have made a page called Book Love listing some of the books that I have particularly enjoyed. I invite all you fellow bookworms to add your suggestions, comments etc. to this post if you like! A link to this post has been placed under Favorite Reads in the right column of the blog for easy access at any time.

It is award season here in the food blog world.

Many many thanks to Zlamushka, Madhuli, Bee, Lydia, Anita, Santhi, TBC, Raaga, Suganya, Mandira and Manasi for each giving me one or two of the sweet and encouraging awards listed above!

Finally, a recent experiment that turned out to be quite tasty...
Pav Bhaji burgers: the flavors of pav bhaji packaged into a handy portable form that is perfect for a lunchbox, picnic or cook-out.
1. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 medium onion (minced), 1/2 cup green peas, handful of minced green beans, 1 green pepper (minced). Cook in microwave for 4-5 minutes or until the veggies are soft (no need to add any extra water). One could add minced cauliflower or grated carrots here as well.
2. To the cooked vegetables, add 1 cup cooked mashed potatoes.
3. Season with salt, ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, red chilli powder and pav bhaji masala (all to taste).
4. Mix everything well, form into patties and grill/ shallow fry until golden brown on both sides.
5. The one pav-bhaji flavor missing in the patties is tomato, so be sure to serve the pav bhaji burgers with slices of sweet ripe tomato or a squirt of ketchup!

I'll be back on Sunday with something that is sure to give you a sugar high! Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mashed Potatoes, with Oriya Flair

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with an event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, bloggers come together and cook up specialties of one region or state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Swapna of Swad. The name of Swapna's blog means "flavor" and the flavor of this month is Orissa Cuisine!

For me, a large part of the experience of being an Indian is the humbling realization that it will take considerably more than one lifetime to know even the basic history, geography, culture and food of my land. I was reminded of this when the theme of Oriya (from Orissa) cuisine was announced. Apart from knowing Orissa as a state in the East of India, and a vague awareness of its landmarks such as the Sun Temple at Konark and Jagannath Temple at Puri, I am blissfully unaware of the cuisine and culture of this state.

What should I make for RCI: Orissa? Madhur Jaffrey came to the rescue (as she often does in my kitchen). Her wonderful cookbook World Vegetarian, contains a little section on basic mashed potatoes, and some really clever ways to spice them up and turn their creamy goodness into one of several kicked-up avatars. The use of mustard oil and mustard seed paste is a hallmark of the cuisine of Orissa, and one of Jaffrey's suggestions is to spike mashed potatoes with this piquant spice.

Because this dish is a simple side-dish, I chose to cook the potatoes in a jiffy using the microwave. Of course, one could cook them in a pressure cooker or simply on the stove. Mustard oil is an unfamiliar ingredient for me, and I don't stock it in my pantry, so I took Jaffrey's suggestion of substituting it with extra-virgin olive oil. Once I had made these mashed potatoes, I remembered a Bengali acquaintance making a similar dish one afternoon for lunch many years ago. She shaped the mashed potatoes into little balls and tucked them into a corner of each plate. It was a cute presentation, and because Bengal and Orissa share some culinary traditions (they are neighbors, after all), I chose to shape these potatoes the same way.

Mashed Potatoes, Oriya Style

(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, serves 2-3)mashP2
2 medium potatoes (I used red-skinned)
1 heaped t mustard seeds
1 hot green chilli
1 T mustard oil or extra-virgin olive oil (I used olive oil)
salt to taste
1. Wash the potatoes well. Pierce each potato 8-10 times with a fork (to vent steam while cooking and prevent the potato from exploding)!
2. Place the potatoes on a microwave-safe dish and microwave for 2 mins and 30 seconds. Let them sit for 1-2 minutes, then turn over and microwave again for 2 minutes.
3. As the potatoes are cooking, crush the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle to a powder. Mince the chilli and add it to the mustard powder. Add the oil to the mixture and let it steep while the potatoes cook and cool down.
4. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (but still warm), peel them (you can leave the peels on if desired). Mash them, then sprinkle with salt and the mustard mixture.
5. Mix well and shape into 6-8 little balls. Serve at room temperature.

We loved this simple side-dish, with the soft creamy potatoes, the warm flavors and gentle heat from the chillies and the mustard, not to mention the dash of color added by the brown and golden flecks of mustard. V remarked that this dish tasted like "mashed potatoes on steroids", which pretty much sums it up! I don't know if this dish is authentic enough to be part of a traditional Oriya meal, but I think it makes for a very favorful side-dish to any meal. You can put it together in a matter of minutes, with basic pantry ingredients, and serve these spicy little balls as an unusual accompaniment to a simple dal-chawal supper.

For a beautiful array of traditional and modern Oriya dishes, check out Swapna's neatly categorized round-up

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pan-Fried Potatoes

This is one of my entries for RCI: Maharashtrian Cuisine.
Fried potatoes. The one dish you can count on to be a crowd-pleaser. That you can conjure up from virtually nothing. Pan-fried potatoes, Marathi style, is a dish made with pantry staples- onions, potatoes, and a few everyday spices- cooked to golden brown perfection. The Marathi term for pan-frying is paratne, and potato translates as batata, hence the Marathi name for this dish is paratlele batate.

The flavoring in this dish, apart from the usual trio of salt-turmeric-red chili powder, comes from just two spices: coriander seeds and cumin seeds. This duo is used so often in Maharashtrian cuisine that I keep a coriander-cumin spice mix in the spice box, which makes it really easy to throw together quick stir-fries such as this one. To make the coriander-cumin powder at home, take equal amounts of cumin seeds and coriander seeds (I make small batches, using 1/4 cup of each spice). Combine them in a small skillet, then toast on low heat until aromatic and just a shade darker (be careful not to burn the spices). Cool the toasted spices, then dry-grind to a fine powder. Store in an air-tight bottle and use as required. For this dish, I look for organic potatoes with thin skins; that way I can simply scrub the potatoes clean and leave the skin on for extra flavor.

Pan-fried potatoes go well with just about everything- I love scooping it up with chunks of hot roti, and I love eating it with dal-rice and yogurt-rice. I have one memory of eating this dish as a small kid. It was when a bunch of neighborhood kids got together one summer evening and "camped out" in one family's backyard, lighting a fire to cook on. These pan-fried potatoes were made (by the older children) using ingredients donated by various moms, and we ate them with sliced bread. The combination tasted so good!

When I cook paratlele batate, I make sure that I'm the one serving it, because then I can put all the extra-crispy almost-burnt bits (the best part!) in my own plate...after all, it is the cook's privilege!

Pan-Fried Potatoes (Paratlele Batate)

(makes about 3 side-dish servings)
2 large potatoes or 3 medium potatoes or 6 small potatoes
1 medium onion
1 T oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t red chili powder
1 t coriander-cumin powder
salt to taste
fresh lemon juice
minced cilantro
1. Prepare the vegetables: Cut the onion into slices. Scrub the potatoes clean, then cut crosswise into thin slices (if large or medium potatoes are used, you want to first cut the potato into quarters or halves lengthwise).
2. Heat the oil in a skillet. Make the tempering with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida.
3. Stir in the onion and cook on medium heat until the onion starts browning around the edges.
4. Stir in the turmeric, red chili powder, coriander-cumin powder and salt and let it saute for a few seconds.
5. Stir in the sliced potato, then leave uncovered on medium heat. Turn the potatoes every 4-5 minutes and cook until the they are crispy and browned.
6. Garnish liberally with lemon juice and cilantro and serve right away.

Other popular Maharashtrian ways with Potato, all three using boiled potato:
A festive meal: Puri Bhaji
A tea-time snack: Batata Vada
As stuffing: Bharli Mirchi

Sunday, April 29, 2007

N is for Nargisi Kebab

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.

Welcome to the second half of our alphabetical journey...

The "N" of Indian Vegetables

The letter N inspired fourteen novel Indian flavors! Truly, the entries in this round-up are extra-creative, no two are alike, with bloggers making the most of a pretty challenging letter...

Let's start with an N flower...the Neem Flower. The neem tree is a beautiful evergreen with great medicinal value and a plethora of uses. But I had no idea about the culinary use of the neem flower! Suganya of Tasty Palettes shows us how sun-dried neem flowers can be used to make a flavorful Neem Flower Rasam. Suganya is a new blogger, and looking at her beautiful posts and pictures, I am looking forward to more of her posts!

The two N vegetables are rather unusual ones.

First up, we have the lotus root, known in Hindi as Nadur or nadru. An uncommonly beautiful vegetable (I think of it as Nature's artistic cutwork), the nadur is used extensively in some Northern regions of India, but is a completely new vegetable to me. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi share a traditional way of making the lotus root, a delicate yogurt-based preparation called Nadur Yakhni.

The second N vegetable is Nuggekayi, the Kannada (language of Karnataka) word for drumsticks. Suma of Veggie Platter uses these slender, tapering and tender green pods to make a simple and delicious curry called Nuggekayi Palya.

Next come a big bowl of N fruits...

The Nariyal or coconut is so much more than a mere fruit! Coconuts have religious significance in Hinduism, are widely grown in coastal India, and are the superstars of Southern Indian cuisine. It would take me years to list the delicious (sweet and savory) recipes in which the coconut is used. Here, the nariyal is richly represented with a very traditional preparation. Reena of Spices of Kerala uses the coconut to make Aviyal, one of the most well-known and well-loved dishes from Kerala, and also shares two lovely tales about the origin of this wonderful dish.

Next, we have two citrus fruits.

Nimbu or lemon/lime, is on the weekly shopping list of most Indian households. The tangy and fresh flavor of lemon adds zing to so many dishes. Here, Asha of Aroma/Foodie's Hope lets the lemon take center stage with her unusual recipe for some tasty Nimbu Masala.

Navel Oranges represent our longing for the sunny days of summer. Sreelu of Sreelu's Tasty Travels shares some cool-looking, dreamily creamy Navel Orange Ice Cream Cups that are sure to be a hit at your next summer soiree!

...and two rather unusual fruits, both shared by A Cook of Live to Cook. Naraththai is a Tamil word for a type of sour orange and it is added to dough and made into bright orange, beautiful Naraththai Puris. Nellimulli is Tamil for dried gooseberry, and is blended into a delicious relish called Nellimulli Pachidi.

Then, we have one N bean: the Navy Bean, a small white bean that is the traditionally the most popular bean of England and North America. Anglo-American they may be, but here, navy beans get the traditional Palakkad treatment when Sheela of Delectable Victuals flavors them with an aromatic spice mixture to make Navy Beans Paduthoval.

Coming up next, a N cereal, the pearly grains of the finger millet, known in Hindi as ragi and Marathi as Nachni. This cereal is a wonderful example of an unglamorous food that nonetheless provides inexpensive and invaluable nutrition to millions of people in Asia and Africa. Mahek of Mahek's Kitchen shows us how we can include nachni in our everyday cooking with her recipe for a soft and wholesome Nachni Roti.

The next food is a perennially popular one: Noodles! It would not be an exaggeration to say that Maggi Noodles occupy a special place in the heart of a lot of kids who grew up in urban India (certainly me!). Tee of Bhaatukli uses instant noodles in a very creative way when she tosses together fried noodles, sauteed vegetables and bean sprouts to make a tasty Noodle Bhel.

Then comes that important N quality that we are always seeking in our food...Nutritious! Aarti of Aarti's Corner gives us a recipe for sneaking in veggies and grains into our diet in a delicious way. She combines assorted flours, grated bottle gourd and a selection of spices, and then rolls our some piping hot Nutritious Doodhi Parathas.

And now, for the first time in this series, N destinations! So, let's pack our bags and hop on a plane to Southern India.

Our first stop is Nagapattinam, a small and picturesque district in Tamil Nadu with a beautiful coastline. Read about it here. Swapna of Swad uses an authentic Tamil cookbook to make some Nagapatinam Patani, a simple yet delicious stir-fry of green peas.

Ayesha of Experimenting on Taste Buds then takes us further on our N journey, going from the sandy coast to the lush and imposing Nilgiri hills. Ayesha gives us a taste of the cuisine from this region with two festive recipes for Nilgiri Korma and Nilgiri Curry.

The final entry of the round-up is probably the most unexpected...where N stands for Nylon! What could a synthetic polymer have to do with food, you ask? I'm going to let Richa of As Dear As Salt explain that to you, as she tells us how to make an Nylon Khaman Dhokla Sandwich that is not only edible, but completely delicious.

N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs

Forget the boxed mac-and-cheese, and the heat-and-eat soup. In my opinion, the greatest convenience food in my kitchen is that little cardboard box in the fridge, containing a dozen brown eggs! Now, one definitely does not *have* to eat eggs in order to have a nutritious and balanced diet, but for those of us who do choose to eat eggs, they provide an easy and inexpensive way to include quality protein in our diet. Eggs take up a lot of "culinary space", with hundreds of recipes and variations thereof. They can be boiled and fried, poached and coddled, and they certainly find their ways into sweet treats like cakes and custards.

In this series, I knew that I wanted to show-case eggs in one of the posts, and today, eggs form a pair with potatoes in some Nargisi Kebabs. Now, a kebab is a kebab, but who is Nargis? Well, it is a woman's name, and perhaps the most famous "Nargis" in the world is this beautiful actress. So, in the tradition of Caesar Salad, Fettucini Alfredo and the Elvis Sandwich, this is a food named after a person. I found a recipe for Nargisi Kebab in an old tattered cookbook, and it consisted of hard-boiled eggs wrapped in some spiced minced meat. Well, here I am using my "culinary license" and making up a recipe for something that I will insist on calling Nargisi kebab.

In this recipe, hard-boiled eggs are halved, and the halves are swaddled with a fresh green chutney in a soft potato dough, then dipped in an egg wash and fried to a golden-brown. Want to learn how to make the perfect hard-boiled eggs? See these helpful primers by Kalyn, Alanna and Cate. Want some tips on choosing eggs in the supermarket? See this post.

Nargisi Kebab

(P.S.: This is the first picture on the blog taken with my brand new camera...a thoughtful birthday gift from V last week. I'm looking forward to figuring out the features on this new toy (which is quite a bit fancier than the 6-yr-old point and shoot that I have been using all along). What can I say, I am a lucky, lucky girl! Er, and this recipe makes 8 BIG kebabs.)

1. Make the potato dough: Boil 5 medium potatoes until tender, then peel and mash the potatoes with 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste and salt to taste. Knead the mixture into a lump-free dough and set aside.
2. Boil eggs: Make 4 hard-boiled eggs. Cut them into halves lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Make the chutney: Grind together 1 packed cup cilantro, 1 tsp dried mint (can use fresh), 2 fresh green chilies, 2 tbsp onions, pinch of sugar, 1 tsp lemon juice and salt to taste, all into a thick green chutney. I like adding one tablespoon of nuts or beans while grinding to help get a smooth consistency without too much water (this time I added some canned cannelini beans because I had some on hand). You want to avoid a watery chutney here since it needs to be filled into the kebabs.
4. Assemble and Cook: Divide the dough into eight equal portions. To make a kebab: take one portion of dough and divide it in two. Pat each half down in the palm of your hand. Place 1 tsp chutney in one flat half, place the egg half on it, then cover with the other portion of the flat dough and seal the seams to make a kebab. If some filling leaks out, don't worry about it. This part is a little tricky and may need some patience and a bit of experience to get it right. Beat an egg into a shallow bowl. Dip each kebab in the beaten egg, then shallow-fry, turning until it is golden-brown on all sides. Serve with any chutney that is left over, or even with a dollop of ketchup.

How do you serve this dish?
1. Cut into neat quarters and serve as an appetizer. The kebabs can be assembled several hours ahead of time and refrigerated. At the last minute, just dip them in egg and fry them.
2. Serve a couple of kebabs as a light lunch.
3. Stuff inside a roll for an unusual sandwich.
4. Pack into lunch boxes and picnic hampers.

Variations on a theme
Use your favorite chutney recipe in this kebab. You could even use a pesto- like the traditional basil pesto, or a sun-dried tomato pesto.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many savory recipes combining vegetables and eggs. Here are some of my favorite finds:

Two breakfast dishes...
Poro: Parsi Omelet from Saffron Trail,
Eggs with Vegetable Medley from A Mad Tea Party,

Two egg curries with vegetables...
Ridge Gourd and Egg Curry from Tastes From My Kitchen,
Capsicum Egg Curry from Sunita's World,

A potpourri of creations...
Paratha Frittata from Mahanandi,
Scrambled Egg in Coriander Curry from Aayi's Recipes,
Egg Thoran with Tomatillo from My Treasure...My Pleasure.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pleasing Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Alanna is challenging us to try some new vegetables all this month with her Vegetable Contest, so here are my attempts to try some vegetables that are new to my kitchen.

When it comes to buying pantry staples like onions and potatoes, I blindly grab the first ones I can find and walk right on. So I have to give credit where credit is due: V made me buy these potatoes last time we were out grocery shopping- cute little purple potatoes. Once we got them home, I was rather excited to use them. You would think the odd color has been specially bred into the potato for novelty value. But no, this is no new potato on the block. V informed me that purple potatoes were the first potatoes ever cultivated, in Peru, and from there, they have grown and spread and become one of the world's most popular vegetables (certainly the most popular vegetable in the US). Well, after realizing that these little purple beauties are the forefathers of our white and yellow and red potatoes, I suddenly had a new-found respect for them!

On a more practical note, purple potatoes get their color from the plant pigments called anthocyanins. These pigment function as antioxidants (which perform protective functions in our cells), and that is why we are always being told to eat brightly colored vegetables. Unlike red potatoes, which are only red on the outside, purple potatoes are purple inside and out. The dull purple peel gives way to a beautiful, jewel-like purple interior. They can be used anywhere you would normally use potatoes, and end up giving the dish an interesting and unusual look. Read more about them here. I used them in two dishes, one was an experimental version of poha and the other was the popular street food sev-puri.

Experimental Poha


Poha is a pantry staple in many Indian kitchens. It is nothing but white rice that is par-boiled, then flattened into flakes. Because it is par-boiled, poha cooks up quickly and is most often used in two dishes. One is a dry, trail mix-like snack called chivda- see recipes here, here and here; and the other is a cooked breakfast dish often called simply poha- see recipes here, here and here.

This poha was experimental for two reasons:
1. I used purple potatoes instead of the usual ones.
2. I used a mixture of regular poha and flakes of multigrain cereal instead of the poha alone.

It started when I bought a box of County Choice Organic Hot Multigrain Cereal as an variation to my usual oatmeal. This cereal is nothing but flakes of whole wheat, rye, oat and barley mixed together. When I tasted the cereal, I thought it was delicious, and not as gummy or mushy as oatmeal often is. In short, it might work in a dish such as poha. Pictured: regular poha on the left, multi-grain cereal flakes on the right.

(serves 4-5)
1. Mix 1 cup multi-grain cereal and 1 and 1/2 cups poha in a large bowl. Add warm water slowly and mix into the poha mixture such that all the flakes get moistened well (don't immerse it in water, however). Cover the bowl and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Do the other prep: dice one medium onion, dice one medium/ two small potatoes, finely chop 1-2 fresh chilies, mince a few stalks of cilantro.
3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Make the tempering: 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida.
4. Add onion, chilies and 8-10 curry leaves and saute until onion is translucent but not browned.
5. Stir in potatoes, 1/3 cup green peas (frozen works great) and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Add a few tablespoons of water and let the potatoes cook, covered, until just tender.
6. To the soaked poha mixture, add 2 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Mix well, then add the mixture to the pan and stir well. Add a few tablespoons of water to generate steam. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes or until cereal/ poha is cooked.
7. Turn off the heat. Stir in 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot, sprinkled with some crunchy roasted peanuts, if desired.

Verdict: Poha is such a beloved dish of mine that I was loathe to experiment with it. But I'm glad I did! The whole grains added great flavor and texture to the dish, and made the poha more filling, so you can get away with a smaller portion size. The purple potatoes made the dish look more colorful and fun to eat, and tasted just like regular potatoes.
Two other healthier versions of poha here and here.

Now, scooting over from a healthy breakfast to a guilty-pleasure snack...

Sev Puri

Sev puri is a very popular street food (and made at home, evening snack) in India. The little tasty crunchy bites of sev puri consist of a deep-fried flour puri topped with minced onion, boiled potato, minced cilantro, sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney, spicy mint-and-cilantro chutney and garnished with sev (fried strands of chickpea flour).

I had not tasted sev puri for years, because fresh and good puris are not easy to find, and I'm too lazy to fry them myself. Last week, I came across a new product at Trader Joe's: Wonton chips. Basically, they are pieces of wonton wrappers, deep-fried, making them practically the same thing as the puris for sev puri. I used these chips to make sev puri, topped with everything I have written above, with some boiled, peeled, diced purple potatoes instead of regular ones. I can't tell you how authentic and delicious they tasted! The purple potatoes made the sev puris look quite cute, and the wonton chips are a perfect substitute for real, live puris. If there are no Trader Joe's stores where you live, you might want to try using these newly-launched chips. I'm betting they are also quite similar to the puris for sev puri.

After all this purple goodness, I'll see you in a couple of days with something green! Bye for now!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

M is for Malai Kofta

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 "M" of Indian Vegetables
The letter M inspired twenty-seven mouthwatering Indian flavors!

Off to a start with the M vegetables, two green beauties and one root vegetable...

...we have those delicate pearls, the green peas or Matar (mutter), as they are called in Hindi. Tee of Bhaatukli starts us off with a healthy and tasty appetizer: she mashes some green peas and spices together and shapes the mixture into some yummy Matar Kababs.

...and after green peas, we have a green leafy vegetable, Methi or fenugreek. Methi hold pride of place in an Indian kitchen, playing multiple roles as a vegetable, herb and spice. Pictured: Three forms of methi...fresh methi leaves, dried methi (kasuri methi) and methi seeds.
Today, the versatility of fresh methi is being celebrated with four delicious entrees:

First up, Richa of As Dear As Salt comes up with an unusual (and addictive!) combination: she cooks together fresh methi and ripe bananas into a sweet-and-savory Gujarati dish called Methi Kela Nu Shaak.

Next, methi comes to the rescue when you are in the mood for some good ol' comfort food. Dee of Ammalu's Kitchen transforms plain chickpea flour into a steaming hot bowl of Methi Pitla with the addition of a handful of aromatic methi leaves.

Dal and rice are two of the most basic dishes on the Indian vegetarian table. I'm always looking for variations on both of these. Latha of Masala Magic shows us how fresh methi can be used to jazz up our old favorites with two great recipes for Methi Dal and Methi Rice.

The third vegetable is a pungent but well-loved root: the Mooli or radish, and is usually available as either the large snow-white radish or small globes of red radishes. We have two great home-style ways of using the radish here:

Musical of Musical's Kitchen writes an informative post about the diverse uses of the radish in Indian cooking, and goes on to make a typical Punjabi dish combining radish and Punjabi masala wadis (a dried cake of lentils and spices) into one hearty Mooli-Wadi Subzi.

TC of The Cooker makes a Marathi-style salad with the radish, combining grated radish with some cilantro, peanuts and tempering to make a fresh and tasty Moolya-chi Koshimbir. This is TC's debut post, so let's give her a warm welcome to the food blog world!

An M herb that remains a favorite of cooks (for its bold and bright aroma) and gardeners (for its prolific growth) is Mint! Summer's coming, and we will see an abundance of mint from the kitchen garden, plus a hunger for lighter fare like sandwiches. Sreelu of Sreelu's Tasty Travels puts the two together and comes up with a flavorful Mint Tea Sandwich that is sure to be a hit at picnics and tea parties.

Next, an M fruit that is so much more than just a fruit: it rules the Indian psyche and holds our memories captive: the Mango! I'm so thrilled that M for Mango is coming around in mid-April, for this is the peak of mango season in India. While ripe mangoes are prized for eating out of hand, and blending into milkshakes and ice creams, the tangy raw mangoes are equally, if not more, prized for their versatility in the kitchen.

First, a mango pickle! Pickles are a tasty way to preserve mangoes for the entire year. All regions of India seem to have their own favorites. Pickles vary on the sweet-sour-spicy spectrum, in the use of different spice combinations, and in the form of the mango itself- tender baby mangoes are pickled whole, larger raw mangoes might be cubed or shredded. One such extremely tasty and popular pickle involves mixing grated mangoes with a freshly ground spice mixture to make a mouth-watering Mango Thokku -a recipe shared by Sharmi of Neivedyam.

Other dishes featuring raw and ripe mangoes are made and savored specially during the mango season, making them all the more treasured and desirable.

Sigma of Live To Eat shares a traditional way in which raw mangoes are used in Kerala, blending green mango and coconut with other aromatic ingredients (ginger, chilies and shallots) into an amazing Green Mango Chutney. Conventionally, the chutney is served as a relish with meals, but Sigma shows her creativity in using this chutney as a dip for chips.

Sheela of Delectable Victuals chooses a traditional yogurt-based South Indian salad, and mixes tradition with ingenuity. She blends ripe mango with some Mexican flair, adding pickled jalapeno and dried ancho chilies, and then folds in some yogurt to make a cool (in more ways than one!), creamy and inviting Mango Pachadi.

Bharathy of Spicy Chilly also has her own unique spin on a classic! Instead of yogurt, she chooses to use some thick, creamy coconut milk, and mixes it with sweet-and-sour semi-ripe mango and a selection of fragrant spices to make a perfectly delicious Mango Salad.

After all those delicious mango salads and relishes, our appetite is whetted for some main courses, right? Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi serve up two traditional Southern Indian recipes, Mamidikaya Annam and Mango Thokku, using the raw mango. Each recipe comes from a new cookbook in their collection. The first dish is a tempting raw mango rice, combining tangy shredded mango with cooked rice, a delicate tempering and some cool coconut. The second is a shredded mango pickle that looks just fiery and inviting: the mango thokku.

In our final mango recipe, Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook makes another main dish, the dal. The humble everyday dal is elevated to new levels of flavor with the addition of sliced raw mango, chilies and tempering, resulting in a Mango Dal, known more lyrically in Bengali as Tak er Dal or "dal which is a little sour in taste".

Next, a whole slew of M dals that are an integral part of the Indian pantry: Masoor and Moong and Matki. A example to explain the nomenclature: the whole seed is called " sabut masoor" (sabut=whole or intact) or just "masoor" and when the masoor is split by removing the skin, it turns into the "dal" form, as in "masoor dal". I love the whole lentils/ pulses because they can be sprouted to make them even more nutritious, and I love the split lentils because they cook up quickly and are very convenient to use. Pictured: Supermarket-variety whole brown lentils or "masoor", pink and skinless split lentils or "masoor dal" and a bean that I just love but that is not sold in American stores: "matki", also called "moth".
Today, we have four dishes with all these little gems, a complete meal with appetizer, two main courses and dessert:

First, a rich and elaborate appetizer: Ayesha of Experimenting with Taste Buds makes a dough with cooked masoor dal and potato, then stuffs the dough with a rich savory egg mixture to make patties, then fries and garnishes the patties with egg whites and fried onions. All this labor of love results in a Masoor Dal Kebab that is fit for royalty...or just for the king or queen in your life!

Asha of Aroma/Foodie's Hope uses the tasty little "matki" beans and combines them with rice and spices to make a Matki Pulao that looks perfectly delicious and very versatile.

Swapna of Swad intended to make the traditional moong curry "moogambat" but ended up inventing a delicious recipe of her own: her Moogambhaat has rice and sprouted moong, and tons of flavor. Very clever way to save the day!

Aarti of Aarti's Corner, a brand-new food blogger (Welcome, Aarti!), gives us the final dal entry, a luscious and nutritious Moong Dal Kheer, made by blending cooked moong dal with some aromatic cardamom and saffron.

The next M dish is a popular one in restaurants: Malai Kofta. There are dozens of interpretations of this dish, although in broad terms, "malai" is cream and "kofta" is dumplings. Here are two home-made versions...

Pinki of Come Cook With Me makes a rich and festive version of Malai Kofta, complete with nuts and fresh cream.

NC of The Good Food makes two restaurant-style dishes, a version of the malai kofta and another that represents one of my favorite "M" foods: the mushroom! See her Malai Kofta and Mushroom Matar post here. This is NC's debut post, so here's wishing her lots of fun in the food blog world!

M also stands for mixed, the more veggies, the merrier! We have two ways of mixin' it up...

Mika of The Green Jackfruit can't really decide on one single "M" vegetable, so she cooks 'em all in a colorful and tempting Mili Juli Sabzi: mili-juli is a cute Hindi word that roughly translates as "all together" or "mixed".

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine makes a festive curry studded with vegetables called Mixed Vegetable Chalna.

Some regional "M" words...

April is "Tamil Month" over at Lakshmi's regional food event, so it is only fitting that we start with four Tamil recipes.

Murungakai is drumstick in Tamil. This tasty and off-beat vegetable is cooked into a traditional Murungakai Vetha Koyamb by Ranjani of Eat and Talk.

Mor is buttermilk in Tamil. Prema of My Cookbook makes a beloved buttermilk curry called Mor Kuzhambu that is made even tastier with the addition of an assortment of veggies.

Manathakkali is quite an unusual berry, the black nightshade/sunberry that is often used in its dried form in Tamil cuisine. Santhi of Me and My Food Thoughts provides a traditional use for this berry with her recipe for Vatral Kuzhambu with Manathakkali.

The final Tamil dish is a technique rather than an ingredient. Masiyal is a way of mashing cooked greens. Nandita of Saffron Trail shares her mom's traditional technique of making Spinach Masiyal and also tells us the various ways in which spinach is cooked in the Tamil kitchen.

The next dish comes from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Mirapakaya is peppers in Telugu. Suma of Veggie Platter combines peppers and potato into a spicy and delicious curry called Mirapakaya Aloo Koora.

For the final dish (and what a finale!), we travel north all the way to Punjab. Coffee of The Spice Cafe tempts us with a Punjabi classic: Missi Roti with Sarson ka Saag. The Missi Roti is a classic roti made with a combination of wheat flour and chickpea flour, and served with some spicy mustard greens, or sarson ka saag, it is a match made in heaven!

M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings

D-U-M-P-L-I-N-G: the word itself is so cute and cuddly! Dumplings of all forms and shapes can be found in a multitude of cuisines. They can take the form of little packets of dough enclosing a surprise filling- such as some of the dim sum treats of Chinese cuisine, or the Polish peirogi; or they can be little balls of dough in a flavorful sauce or stew- like the matzo balls of Jewish cuisine or the Italian gnocchi. Fried or steamed, savory or sweet, dumplings are just plain fun to make and eat!

In Indian cuisine, dumplings stretch across the spectrum from appetizers to desserts. Some examples of dumpling dishes I can think of are...
Appetizers: samosa, with flaky dough encasing a spicy potato-peas mixture,
Entrees: kofta curry, in which shredded vegetables are mixed with chickpea flour, shaped into balls, deep-fried and dunked into a spicy tomato-onion curry; kadhi-pakoda, in which dough-based dumplings are added to a buttermilk sauce,
Desserts: modak, made with a sweet coconut-poppy seed filling inside a pillow of steamed dough...the list goes on and on.

Today, I am making a trimmed-down version of a restaurant classic: malai kofta. As the name "malai" (cream) would suggest, the restaurant version consists of deep-fried dumplings soaked with a heavy, creamy sauce. I have seen two different categories of malai kofta in restaurants: one is based on a a pale white milky curry which is almost more sweet than spicy, and the other is a typical tomato-onion based spicy brown curry. My own version is infinitely lighter than anything you would find in a restaurant, but to me, it is quite delicious and I don't think I am sacrificing any taste. Just that artery-clogging fat :)

Malai Kofta

A. The curry base:
1. Soak 2 tbsp white poppy seeds (khus-khus) and 10-12 cashew nuts in 1/4 cup of warm water. Set aside for 15 minutes, then grind together to a thick and fine paste.
2. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Saute 1 large onion, finely chopped, and 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste until golden brown. Stir in 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp red chili powder and salt to taste.
3. Add 1 cup peeled chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), 1 tsp garam masala and cook for 10 minutes on low-medium heat.
4. Add the cashew-poppy seed paste and stir well. Using an immersion blender, blend the curry to get a smooth sauce (you can use a conventional blender, but be careful as this stuff is hot; you can also leave the sauce chunky and not blend it at all). 5. Stir in 1/3 cup cream or milk (I used 2% milk). I also added 1/2 tsp of my Mom's magic masala (equal parts cinnamom, cardamom and cloves, toasted and ground together). Set the sauce aside.
B. The dumplings, or kofta:
1. Make the stuffing: Mix 1/4 cup green peas, 1/4 cup finely chopped green beans and 1/4 cup finely diced carrot. Cook until tender (I microwaved for 2 minutes). To this add 1 fresh chili, minced fine, 1/2 tsp garam masala, 1/3 cup shredded paneer, 1 tbsp golden raisins (I substituted with some dried apricot instead), 1 tbsp cashew nut pieces, and a sprinkle of salt.
2. Take 3 medium potatoes, boil, peel and mash them. Add salt to taste and knead into a dough. Make golf-ball sized balls of the potato dough. Take each ball into your palm, flatten it, add a tbsp of stuffing, then fold the edges of the potato to encase the stuffing. Flatten into a patty. Make all the patties, then shallow-fry them in a little oil until golden-brown.
When ready to serve, arrange the patties on a serving platter, pour the sauce over the patties and garnish with fresh cilantro.

How do you serve this dish?
Serve malai kofta with some parathas or naan to sop up the thick curry. Alternatively, serve it with a peas pulao or jeera rice.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many delicious dishes with dumplings. Here are some of my favorite finds:
Beetroot Kofta Curry from My Foodcourt,
Low-fat Kofta Curry from A Mad Tea Party,
Palak Kofta Curry from Sailu's Food,
Gheea Koftey from As Dear As Salt,
Marbled Minty Kofta from Mysoorean,
Punjabi Kadi from Neivedyam,
Kadhi Gole from Swaypakghar.

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