Showing posts with label Rice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rice. 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.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pressure Cooker Risotto

My sister is flying in for a vacation from Bangalore, India in just three weeks and I am giddy with excitement. My head is spinning with mental lists of all the things I want to cook for her and all the places I want to take her- we will be meeting after 5 whole years. By the way, for those familiar with food stores in Bangalore, are there any foodie must-haves I should request her to bring along? She's been asking me if I would like anything from Bangalore and my favorite gifts are always of the food variety.

In preparation for her visit, I am eating down the pantry so I can restock it properly. I especially want to finish off the ingredients that I think of as "winter" ones and also use up obscure ingredients that are taking up precious pantry space. Yesterday, I found a package of arborio rice with a little over a cup of rice in it. I also found some nutritional yeast, an impulse purchase that I never got around to using. Pairing these pantry finds with some butternut squash and inspired by this recipe for pressure cooker risotto, I was able to make a creamy and comforting one dish meal in about 10 minutes of active cooking time. The nutritional yeast adds a complex cheesy flavor (perfect because I had no parmesan cheese on hand) and this dish happens to be vegan.

Around this time last year, I visited my friend Cathy in Maryland and she cooked me dinner after fabulous dinner. One evening she made a delicate butternut squash risotto perfumed with fresh ginger and garlic. With that taste memory resurfacing, I added fresh ginger and garlic to this dish with wonderful results.

Butternut Squash Risotto in the Pressure Cooker
(Adapted from this recipe, serves 3-4)
  1. Heat the pressure cooker with 2 to 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  2. Add 1 medium minced onion and 1 tbsp. each minced fresh ginger and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until the onions are fragrant and translucent.
  3. Add 1 cup (I had a little over 1 cup) arborio rice and toast it for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add 2 to 3 cups butternut squash, cut in small cubes. Stir in 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, 3 cups vegetable stock, salt (only if needed) and pepper to taste. 
  5. Snap on the lid and pressure cook. Garnish with fresh herbs if you have some on hand.
This hands-off risotto is just as good as the one made with the stir-until-your-arms-fall-off variety. It might have been a tad overcooked mostly because my pressure cooker is sometimes too efficient for its own good. Next time, I'll rush to shut off the heat at the hint of the first whistle.

We filled up on creamy risotto and then went off to see the opening night of a hilarious musical put up by a talented group of medical school students. This week it feels like all the fun of Spring and Summer is finally kicking off.

* * *
The National Food Blogger Bake Sale is scheduled a few weeks from now, on May 14th 2011. With every brownie and lemon bar and slice of pie, this bake sale seeks to raise awareness and funds to end childhood hunger in the US. If you are interested in baking for this event, or just want to go snag a few treats for yourself, check this list to see if there are bake sales planned in your state and city.

Stef of the Cupcake Project is one of the hosts of the St. Louis edition of the bake sale. If you are in St. Louis, check her post to see how you can participate. I am planning to bake a couple of items- both with an Indian touch. More on that later. 

Happy Friday! Have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Recyled Rice

It is 5 AM this Saturday morning and V is busy watching the India- Sri Lanka cricket world cup finals. I am glancing every now and then at the score as I sip my tea, but I thought I would quickly share a very humble recipe that I made this week- a stir fry of vegetables and leftover rice.

A version of this recipe made a frequent appearance on the family table when I was growing up, called phodnicha bhaat in Marathi, which translates as tempered rice. Boiled rice was a staple at almost every meal and invariably there would be some left over. Throwing away this rice was an absolute no-no. A little ghee or oil and a smattering of fragrant spices (mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafetida) is all is takes to transform old rice into a tastier avatar. One version of phodnicha bhaat has lots of curry leaves; another version has a heady aroma with lots of minced garlic added to the tempering.

I love to make my version with thick slices of vegetables, cooked briefly so they stay crunchy and juicy. Pav bhaji masala, a store-bought mix of spices, is a quick way to add lots of savory flavor. I used vegetable juice (of which the V8 brand is best known but every store has its own, I used the Trader Joe's version) to add flavor and to wake up the dry rice.

The vegetables can be whatever you have lurking around. Onions, peppers and peas are always good. I had partial boxes of mushrooms and cherry tomatoes this time. These were offerings from Neighbor Girl. She drops in for dinner all the time, and usually brings something from her kitchen "to contribute to the dinner". It does not matter that the offerings have nothing whatsoever to do with that night's menu. I try and use them the following day! I find it very funny and touching that after dining with us on a regular basis for several months, Miss All-American Neighbor Girl craves dal and subzi and dahi for dinner.

Masala Fried Rice
(2 to 3 servings)

2 cups cold cooked rice (white or brown, your choice)
2 tsp. oil
12 cup vegetable juice (like V8) or equal parts tomato puree and water
Plenty of minced cilantro for garnish

1 medium onion, thinly sliced
12 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
Handful cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful frozen peas (optional)

12 tsp. ginger garlic paste
12 tsp. turmeric powder
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1-2 tsp. pav bhaji masala (I love Everest brand)
Salt to taste

  1. Heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables and stir fry on medium high heat for a few minutes.
  2. Add all the ingredients listed under spices. Stir fry for a minute.
  3. Add the cooked rice and vegetable juice and mix well. If the rice you are using is quite dry, you may need more vegetable juice. Cover and let the rice heat through until it is steaming- 8 to 10 minutes. The rice at the bottom of the pan should get slightly crisp and browned.
  4. Garnish with minced cilantro.
I love serving this fried rice with a scoop of chilled plain yogurt, and it gets even better if you pile on some kettle cooked potato chips on your plate, for that utterly crave-able combination of spicy rice and vegetables, cool, creamy yogurt and the satisfying crunch of chips. With the very first bite, you will forget that you're eating leftovers.

Is it just me, or are these quick and humble dinners a hundred times more soul-satisfying than any elaborate party dish you could be served?

On The Bookshelf
Lately, the winter funk has been my excuse to indulge in all kinds of comfort reading in the form of non-cerebral cozy mysteries. I love me a good murder mystery but it is not always easy to find authors who strike the right balance between high quality writing and a fast paced, juicy story line.

I need to thank Niranjana of Brown Paper for introducing me to Patricia Wentworth- I managed to find a couple of her books in the library and I agree with everything Niranjana says in her terrific review.

A Ravelry friend introduced me to a website called Cozy Mystery designed for devotees of the genre. And from the lists there, I managed to find two authors that I've really enjoyed reading.

The first is Susan Hill- her detective is the brooding Simon Serrailer.

My very favorite find has been Caroline Graham and her Inspector Barnaby. I love her style of creating a world of interesting characters and I have a feeling I'll be reading one of her books every week until the weather gets nicer or until my two libraries run out of her works, whichever comes first. It is lovely to know that cozy mystery reading does not begin and end with Agatha Christie and that there are plenty more whodunits out there waiting to be read.

What are you reading these days? Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ven Pongal and Eggplant Gothsu

Blog hopping in search of new and interesting rice cooker recipes, I stumbled on this rice cooker ven pongal from Sukanya's blog. What an enticing picture it is- definitely the sort of recipe that makes you want to run to the kitchen and cook it right after you have tried pawing at the screen. Which is exactly what I did last night, the cooking, not the pawing at the screen.

Yes, ven pongal (a soft mushy combination of rice and lentils, a cousin of the khichdi) and gothsu (a tangy eggplant curry) are traditional breakfast fare in Tamil Nadu but I have always embraced the idea of breakfast for dinner.

The ven pongal was a breeze to make in the rice cooker- simply cook the lentils and rice with some salt, then add the tempering and mix. Could it be simpler? The only slight problem was that the lentil-rice mixture bubbled and frothed ferociously as it was cooking, resulting in some clean up at the end.

Ven Pongal
(adapted from Sukanya's recipe)

1. In the rice cooker bowl, soak the following for 30 minutes:
1 rice cup measure Sona Masuri rice
34 rice cup measure moong dal

2. Rinse well. Add the following and put on "cook" mode:
5 rice cup measures water
1 tsp. salt

3. When the rice and lentils are a comforting mushy mess, stir in a tempering:
2 tbsp. ghee
1 tsp. cumin seeds
8-10 peppercorns, crushed
2 sprigs curry leaves
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
Handful of broken cashews

For the accompanying spicy eggplant, I turned to a cookbook that is full of Tamil classic recipes.

Kathrikkai (Eggplant) Gothsu

(adapted from Samayal by Viji Varadarajan)

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and a pinch of asafetida.

2. Add
1 medium onion, cut in small dice
3 Japanese eggplants or 10-12 Indian eggplants or 12 Italian eggplant, cut in small dice
2 tomatoes, cut in small dice

3. Add
12 tsp. turmeric powder
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. sambar powder
1 tsp. tamarind paste
Salt to taste

4. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add a little water if required to help the cooking process along. Garnish with plenty of cilantro.

This is the comforting khichdi meal taken to a new level with all kinds of aromatic additions.  I'll be making this again and again.

I am sending this post to the first edition of my own Blog Bites event. There's one more week left to send in your entries- to participate, simply try a rice cooker or pressure cooker or slow cooker recipe from another blog. We're already collecting tasty entries. Thank you for your participation!

Dale's Tales
When I see creatures of the puppeh and kitteh and bebeh variety, the unbearable cuteness makes me lose my grasp on normal language. I start babbling and calling them all kinds of silly names. Dale is not amused at being referred to as a sticky dessert. But it is when I call him a "baby kitty" that he gets really indignant.

My friend Bek looked at the picture above and sent me this cartoon :D

I'm trying a rice cooker dessert tonight- if it works out, I'll come back and tell you about it. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweet Comforts and Candied Treats

Last weekend, I made two desserts that are both extremely popular and simple to make, but that I had somehow never got around to making before.

It started with a conversation with a friend last month when the subject of Indian restaurant buffets came up and she confessed that she was in love with Indian-style rice pudding; enough to go back for second and third helpings whenever she found rice kheer served in the buffet line-up. When this friend made dinner for us this Sunday (a delicious meal where the centerpiece was tangy-spicy vegetarian Filipino adobo), I remembered the conversation and put together a big bowl of kheer to take over to her.


Kheer, soft and milky as baby food, comforting and sweet, is one of those desserts that features in a majority of Indian cuisines, often as the official dessert of festive occasions or a quick celebratory sweet to celebrate a birthday or a good report card.

The kheer I grew up eating and have made dozens of times is the one with seviyan/vermicelli, as in this recipe I have posted before. This was a good excuse to try something different and make some creamy kheer with rice instead of vermicelli. This is a quick stove-top dessert made with pantry ingredients.

I used the simple and straightforward recipe from Enjoy Indian Food as my guide (thank you, Meera!) and here's how I made the rice kheer. This made 4 servings (large rice kheer-fan portions, plus a tiny bit left over for a treat for my friend the next day).


1. Grease a heavy pot with a few drops of oil.

2. Add
4 cups 2% milk
13 cup Basmati rice (rinsed well and drained).
Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often until the rice is almost cooked through.

3. Add
12 heaped cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
a hefty pinch of saffron
1 tsp. cardamom powder

4. Cook for 10 min on medium-low heat, stirring often. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

5. Stir in 2 tsp. rose water. Garnish with toasted pistachios. Chill and serve.

Ever since I bought a bottle of rose water a few weeks ago, I am in love with it! In this case, it added a wonderful exotic aroma to the dessert. The rice kheer was simply divine. We enjoyed every single spoonful.

I am sending this to this month's Sugar High Friday- the 61st edition has the theme of Sweet Comforts, hosted at A Merrier World.

Here's another quick and simple dessert I made last weekend to take to a trivia game and share with my team- strawberries in a dark chocolate shell. I rarely buy strawberries, least of all in the middle of winter, but bought these when I had guests expected for a brunch that never materialized because of the kitchen repair woes (yes, it is all fixed now and life is back to normal).


I used a bar of dark chocolate, melted it in a deep bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring to melt the chocolate without scorching it. Then I dipped the strawberries (that had been washed and dried thoroughly beforehand) and placed them on parchment and then in the fridge for the chocolate shell to form. Because I was worried about the sweetness, I sprinkled a little granulated sugar on each strawberry. I wanted more chocolate per strawberry so I did not let the excess chocolate drip away, that's why my strawberries are stuck in dark chocolate puddles.


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As we go on with our normal lives, life in Haiti has been turned upside down by a devastating earthquake. Let's share a little and give what we can to help the rescue efforts. Click on the link to Doctors Without Borders on the right sidebar.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Food: Magloubeh

To all those who played along in the guessing game- thank you!

Veggie Belly, full marks to you; you are absolutely right- this is makloubeh/magloubeh. Kedar and Meera guessed correctly that this rice dish comes from the Middle East, Rainee and Manasi guessed correctly that it is upside down (the word magloubeh translates as "upside down"), and Mika guessed correctly that it involves soy "meat". Y'all are a bunch of smart people!

The recipe comes from a memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber, The Language of Baklava. I read the book last week, and with over 40 recipes sprinkled through it, each more tantalizing than the other, this memoir drove me right into the kitchen. Which is why this post goes to the Novel Food: Summer 2009 edition, co-hosted by Lisa over at Champaign Taste. This is THE event for cooks who love reading, or is it bookworms who love cooking?

For someone who loves both books and cooking, food memoirs are a pretty logical choice for a delicious summer read. Everyday mundane moments, events and experiences, sensations and smells and tastes crystallize over time into intricate, vivid memories that can be brought to life by the deft words of a talented writer. To dive into a good memoir is to be invited into a home and a life that can be very different from one's own, and to experience cultures and flavors and perspectives that can be completely new and enlightening. And like they say, "you can't make this stuff up"- I often find myself more interested in events that actually occurred in someone's life rather than in works of fiction. Although descriptions of food and meals may dominate these memoirs, it is never really just about the food. As Diana Abu-Jaber says in the foreword of this book, "...the food always turned out to be about something much larger: grace, difference, faith, love." Even as I read blog posts (and I dozens of blog posts every day), the ones that stick with me the most are the ones where memories gush forth and reveal the events, foods and people that mean the most to us.

Last summer, I read two good memoirs. One was Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I find much of her writing both familiar (raw mangoes with salt and chilli powder, discovering new foods in the lunch boxes of school friends) and enchantingly different (life in a huge joint family, the historical events unfurling around her) from my own childhood experiences. If you want to read an extract from this book, go to the NPR website. The other engaging memoir was by Elizabeth Ehrlich, called Miriam's Kitchen. As the author describes her journey to understanding and embracing orthodox Jewish customs, I gained an understanding of these rituals as never before. One food memoir that I absolutely enjoyed is Julia Child's My Life in France. It is incredible how this woman grabbed life with both hands; her charm and candor are very appealing to me (Psst: Lisa is hosting a Julia Child event next month). For all Anglophiles, a must-read food memoir is Nigel Slater's Toast. His candid childhood memories are sprinkled with mentions of British treats. Another memoir that I found to be entertaining and an easy read was Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. It contains many of her adventures as a restaurant critic for the New York Times- I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes footage that this book contains. This summer, I am hungry for more food memoirs, and found a blog post which suggests many books that might be interesting. If you have any food memoir recommendations for me, please leave a comment- thank you!

Coming back to the book on hand, The Language of Baklava was a delectable read. Every chapter talks about a certain episode or phase in Diana Abu-Jaber's life. She is a lyrical writer and I felt weak in the knees when she described the Big Market in Jordan, with the scents of "sesame, olive, incense, rosewater, orange blossom water, dust, jasmine, thyme". The lush descriptions of food are intermingled with the search for identity and home.

Out of all the dozens of recipes in this book, I was eager to make the one called "diplomatic magloubeh"- an upside down rice dish with eggplant, cauliflower and meat (that I am replacing here with a vegan meat substitute). Ironically, the author did not care for this dish as a child, and says that eating it made her feel like she was "at the mercy of the terrible sulfur-smoky cauliflower, the bitter, unrewarding eggplant". Mmm...sounds good to me! I always fall for these elaborate rice casseroles, especially the ones that involve dramatic upside down maneuvers at the end.



Adapted from the book The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

1 ½ cups rice
1 package "fake meat" (I used Beef-less strips from Trader Joe's)
2 onions, sliced
1 medium eggplant, sliced
½ cauliflower, cut into slices/florets
Plenty of olive oil
3½ cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth)
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
Salt to taste
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish

1. Fry the eggplant and cauliflower in olive oil until browned, and set them aside.
2. In a wide and deep saucepan, saute the sliced onions in olive oil until golden brown.
3. Add the fake meat and all the spices and stir fry for a minute.
4. Pat down the onion-fake meat layer. Layer the fried cauliflower on top of it.
5. Layer the raw rice on the cauliflower, add the eggplant slices as the last layer.
6. Pour the stock all over. This is the tricky part- adding the correct amount of stock so as to cook the rice properly but not leave it too soggy. I added enough so that the contents of the pot were barely immersed, and it worked out OK this time.
7. Cover the pot tightly and let the rice cook. It took me about 35-40 minutes.
8. Once you turn the heat off, let the rice rest for 10 minutes, then invert it very carefully onto a platter. Garnish with pine nuts.

I served this festive rice with cucumber tahini salad, as the author suggests. I made the salad by mixing together 1 large cucumber (shredded) with 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon tahini, cumin and salt to taste. Now, I have never tasted actual magbouleh and probably never will, since restaurants will make this with meat, but all I can say is this was a very special and tasty meal. The cinnamon and nutmeg and fried onions all combine to flavor the rice in a most extravagant way. The one thing is that the eggplant and cauliflower do get cooked twice (once while being fried and browned and the other with the rice) so they are mushy and overcooked- probably why the author complained about this dish as a child.

At the very end of this post, there is a traditional recipe for makloubeh. I was gratified that my version looked quite similar to the one shown in that post. I also found a recipe for vegetable makloubeh on the Guardian website (scroll down to the middle of the rather long page to find this recipe).

*** *** ***

Let me make a long post even longer by sharing a photo of Dale. I took this one last evening, when our resident pooch was back from a long walk in the sunshine, tired and happy, smiling and resting his feet on his much-loved blankie.

This morning, we have thunderstorms so he's not that happy any more. Dale only has to hear the faintest rumble of thunder to dive into a corner of the nearest closet. If there are storms as far away as Arkansas, you can bet that this brave dog will be quaking with fear. We have lined all the closets with small rugs for his comfort because thunderstorms are a very regular feature of summer weather in the Mid-West. Once the storm passes, he emerges from his hide-out, looks around him carefully, and settles back down on his blankie with a deep sigh.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Taste of Rajasthan

Allergies still are shaping the daze of our lives here in St. Louis, but today I managed to pull my act together. I cooked up a flavorful and spicy meal for this rainy, stormy Saturday night that we are spending in the comfort of home. I've been missing out on so many food blog events recently, so I am delighted to be able to send this meal to Padmaja for RCI: Rajasthan.

Rajasthan: a Northern state of India that I am not too familar with. Rajasthan evokes images of dry dusty deserts, harsh living conditions, camels and oases, and rugged beautiful people whose colorful and vivid way of dressing belies the difficulty of their lives. I have never visited Rajasthan but my parents were there last year for a conference. My dad, an avid photographer, sent me some incredible pictures from their trip. Here is one of them...

Maharashtra is home to a number of migrants from Rajasthan- Marwaris who are traditionally recognized as being astute businessmen and tradespeople. For instance, the master carpenter who my parents relied on for every project big and small was from Rajasthan (but in addition to speaking his native language, he spoke Marathi perfectly...not just any Marathi but perfect Kolhapuri Marathi). But the only typical Rajasthani food I have tasted was at a Marwadi wedding. It was a sumptuous lunch, and I will never forget being served daal-baati-churma with an entire katori (bowl) of ghee on the thali for dipping the baati into.

The recipes for this meal came from a book that I found in our local library. It is called Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India written by a restauranteur from California named Lachu Moorjani. The book is organized into a dozen or so menus, feasts from different (predominantly the Northern) states of India. The Feast from Rajasthan features bharwan mirch pakora (stuffed pepper fritters) as the appetizer, sufed maas (white meat curry) as the entree, achari baingan (eggplant with pickling spices) as the side dish, Rajasthani pulav (pilaf) as the rice dish, batia roti (flatbread stuffed with salt, cilantro and spices) as the bread, and rasgulla (cheese balls in syrup) as the dessert. Quite an ambitious menu it is, and I chose just two dishes, the rice and the eggplant, for our little mini-feast.

The eggplant dish calls for a tomato-onion filling that is sauteed with a delicious medley of pickling spices. This tangy and spicy filling is stuffed into long Chinese eggplants and they are pan-fried to melting tenderness. The rice is pretty much a standard pulao, but is cooked in stock to make it more flavorful, and with aromatic whole spices. The spices used in the two dishes are completely different, complementing each other and in cooking both these dishes, I made use of almost all of the whole spices in my pantry! This meal perfumed my home with such a wonderful aroma, one that managed to pierce through even to me, with my current state of near-anosmia.

Achari Baingan
(Eggplant with pickling spices)

(adapted from "Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India" by Lachu Moorjani; serves about 3)
4 long slender (Chinese/Japanese) eggplants
2 T oil
2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 t nigella seeds
½ t fenugreek seeds
1 medium onion, diced fine
1 t ginger-garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine (I used canned whole tomatoes)
1 t turmeric
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 t coriander powder
salt to taste

1. Start by making the filling. Heat the oil and add the four seeds. Saute them for a few seconds to temper the oil.
2. Add the onion and fry it on medium heat until soft.
3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients for the filling. Cook uncovered on low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is almost dry. Let it cool a little.
4. Prepare the eggplant by cutting off the stem ends. Slice the eggplant lengthwise leaving it still attached at the stem end.
5. Divide the filling into equal portions and stuff the eggplants gently.

6. In a wide pan, heat the oil. Place the eggplants and cook them on low heat, turning every few minutes, until the eggplants are cooked through and are wonderfully tender. I covered the pan in the last 5 minutes of cooking to get them completely cooked.

Rajasthani Pulav


(adapted from "Ajanta: Regional Feasts of India" by Lachu Moorjani; serves about 3)
1 C Basmati (or other long-grained) rice
2 C vegetable stock
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cardamon pods, crushed
5-6 peppercorns
5-6 cloves
1 t oil
salt to taste

1. Heat the oil. Saute the onion and the whole spices until the onion is slightly browned.
2. Add the rice and saute for a minute.
3. Stir in the stock, salt (if needed) and bring to a boil.
4. Simmer until the rice is tender.
5. Fluff with a fork and serve. Remove the whole spices before eating.

Verdict: What a wonderful meal this was! I love stuffed eggplants from all regions of India, but this dish was very different from the mostly Western and Southern style recipes that I normally use. I am thrilled to have another stuffed eggplant dish that I enjoy. It was my first time cooking with these long eggplants, and their sweetness was a wonderful contrast to the spicy pickled filling. This dish is finger-licking good in that irresistible way pickled vegetables are. As much as I loved the eggplant with the fragrant rice, I loved it even more with roti. Next time, I might make a complete Rajasthan-inspired meal with this eggplant, rotis, rice and Rajasthani kadhi.

*** *** ***

So it turns out that these days I have a new obsession on my hands- I have been bitten by the knitting bug. Cathy taught me to knit last year and left me with a ton of knitting supplies, including yarn and a superb book. Now that summer is here and I have more time on my hands, I decided to give it a go. I am hooked (no pun intended)! Knitting is so therapeutic. At one point, I turned to V and said, "Isn't it magical and miraculous how two thin sticks can turn a ball of thread into all kinds of stuff?". He looked at me warily and I am sure he thought it was just the antihistamines talking :D

Here is my first complete project- a little paw print washcloth; I found a free pattern online here. I know this is the sort of thing that people make when they are eight and a half years old, when they just start to knit, but I am excited all the same. I couldn't stop saying "whee" as I completed each line without dropping a stitch.

Well, I have way more enthusiasm than talent when it comes to knitting, so there is no danger that this food blog will turn into a knitting blog, I assure you. But tell me, does anyone have ideas for a simple and fun beginner project?

Enjoy your Sunday, everyone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cozy Kichuri Comfort

Sandeepa is hosting the Regional Cuisines of India event this month, and what theme could a self-proclaimed Bong Mom choose other than Bengali cuisine?

I have never visited Bengal, and know very little about Bengali cuisine, having lived all my life in the diametrically opposite corner of the subcontinent, but I do have two very dear friends who are Bengali. I turned to each of them and demanded sweetly asked for a home-style Bengali recipe to share on One Hot Stove. Here is the first of the two recipes.

This one comes from my darling friend Sutapa, who has been a close pal and confidante, acting as my multipurpose unpaid therapist for nearly a decade. She shared a recipe for Kichuri, the typical Bengali way of making khichdi- that medley of rice, lentils and vegetables that is made in its various glorious avatars in all corners of India.

Sutapa says, "Typically, this khichuri is eaten with eggplant slices fried in besan batter (which has a sprinkling of kalonji and red chilli powder) or fried fish (ilish) on rainy days. Also this is literally food for the gods since it is offered as "bhog" during the Pujas. Paired with tomato chutney and chaler payesh (good old kheer) for dessert, kichuri-beguni is a complete lunch on navami". Navami is a Hindu festival day.

Sutapa's Kichuri

(serves 6-8
1 C Basmati rice
¾ C Yellow Moong Dal
3 C mixed vegetables (Sutapa suggests using cauliflower, green beans, carrot, peas and potato; I used cauliflower florets, carrot, lima beans and potato)
½ t Turmeric powder

1 T oil
4 bay leaves (tejpatta)
4 dried chillies
2 t cumin seeds
1 inch piece of ginger, grated to a pulp
1 t cumin powder
salt to taste

1 t ghee
1 t sugar

1. Soak the rice in some water.
2. Roast the moong dal until golden and then soak in some water separately.
3. Heat a little oil in a pan and lightly fry the vegetables, with a sprinkling of turmeric, until they pick up a little color and are about half-cooked (they will finish cooking later). Set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T of oil in a large pot. Temper it with bay leaves, red chillis, cumin seeds and ginger and stir around for a few seconds.
5. Add cumin powder and salt and stir for a few more seconds.
6. Add the (drained) moong dal and stir for a minute.
7. Add 4 cups of water, cover and let it come to a simmer.
8. Add the par-cooked vegetables and (drained) rice, stir and cook, covered, until the water is absorbed and the rice is just tender.
9. Stir in the ghee and sugar gently. Do not overmix. Serve hot!

Vegan version: simply skip the ghee, or add a dollop of vegan margarine instead.

I served piping hot kichuri with some shallow-fried eggplant slices. One spoonful of this kichuri, and I knew I was eating something very special. The kind of food that nourishes body and soul. The kichuri is redolent with the flavors of cumin and ginger- spices that are warm and soothing. The very same qualities that I love and admire most in Sutapa. The only thing that would have made this meal perfect was if she was sitting at the table sharing the kichuri with me!

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!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Kanchipuram Idli

This is my entry for the monthly Jihva For Ingredients, an event that celebrates all the wonderful natural ingredients that form the backbone of Indian cuisine. JFI is the brainchild of Indira from Mahanandi. This month, JFI is being hosted by Sharmi of Neivedyam. Sharmi has chosen a theme that celebrates a grain that is a staple in Indian cuisine: RICE!

It is impossible to over-state the importance of rice to many of the cuisines of India- in several Indian languages, the word for "rice" (annam) is the same as the word for "food". Plain boiled rice invariably accompanies simple home-style meals. For other times, one can choose from an infinite variety of flavored rice, fried rice and layered rice dishes. The uses of rice hardly end there. There is rice flour which is used to prepare pancakes, sweet and savory snacks, and desserts. There is crunchy featherweight puffed rice (kurmura) which makes its way into tea-time snacks and street foods. Then there is the flattened rice (poha) which is my favorite breakfast ever.

Rice by itself can perform miracles, and it is no less magical in combination with other ingredients. One successful pairing that always yields delicious results is the alliance of rice with urad dal. A batter of these two ingredients, often fermented (using wild yeast) to a frothy mass, is delicious in endless forms- as fluffy steamed idli, crispy melt-in-the-mouth dosa, the sturdier adai, spongy uttapams and adorable little appams or paniyarams (with infinite variations of each dish).

I am particularly enamored by idlis. Many people I know (including a certain someone I live with) grew up eating idlis day in and day out for breakfast, and had endless idlis packed into their lunchboxes, and what with familiarity breeding contempt and all that, they don't like idlis any more. What can I say? More for me!! :D Idlis can be steamed in large batches, are nutritious and low in fat, can be refrigerated or frozen well, and resurrected to steamy perfection in a matter of seconds in the microwave. What's not to love? Plenty, as it turns out. Idlis fall into that category of foods (like bread) that call for only 2-3 ingredients and a simple-sounding recipe, but that can take a lifetime to perfect. Read Ammani's hilarious love-hate idli musings here.

Idli recipes that I have come across are more or less the same- a proportion of 1-3 cups rice to 1 cup urad dal, soaked and ground together into a fine batter, then fermented overnight, poured into molds and steamed to perfection. The rice can be bought pre-ground in the form of idli rava and this is how I have always been making my B- grade idlis. Consistently edible. Nothing to write home about. Resolutely average. Well, I am now ready for A+ idlis and this is the first variation I tried- using regular whole rice instead of the idli rice to see if it makes a difference (not much). I also made flavored idlis instead of plain ones: these are Kanchipuram idlis, containing an irresistable blend of cumin, peppercorns, curry leaves and, not shown in the picture, some ginger and asafoetida. The traditional way to prepare these idlis is to steam them in special cup-shaped molds, but I had to make do with my regular idli steamer. For great traditional recipes for this idli, see posts by Inbavalli and Srivalli.

Kanchipuram Idli

(adapted from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin, yielded 16 medium idlis and 6 medium uttapams)

1. Soak 1.5 C raw rice and 1 C urad dal separately in water for 2-3 hours. Drain off the water and grind each of these to a batter, adding some water only if necessary. Mix the two batters and let the whole thing ferment for 8-24 hours (8 hours is all I needed in this warm weather).
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 t untoasted sesame oil (gingelly oil) in a small pan and add 0.25 t asafoetida, 10-12 whole black peppercorns, 2 t cumin seeds, 1 t minced ginger and 10-15 curry leaves. Saute until spices are fragrant. Grind the mixture together to a coarse powder.
3. Once the batter is fermented, stir in (gently!) 4 T untoasted sesame oil and the spice mixture. Add salt to taste. Make idlis in a steamer.

I served the idlis with some cauliflower sambar:

The rest of the batter was saved onvernight for delicious uttapams the next morning:

These idlis tasted delicious, but I still have a long way to go. My efforts to make a soft melt-in-the-mouth idli shall continue! Two contraints that my idlis are presently faced with are:
1. The use of regular sona masuri rice in place of parboiled rice that is traditionally used to make idli.
2. The use of a food processor to make the batter, instead of a heavy-duty grinder. I suspect that the food processor fails to grind the batter as finely as it ought to be ground.

I don't foresee buying a bulky and expensive grinder any time in the near future, but I will buy some parboiled rice soon. Actually, the only reason why I have not bought parboiled rice yet is that I cannot buy "some" of it; I have to buy it in huge 10 lb sacks because that is the smallest unit that is sold in our international store. This will last me a whole life-time and the next couple as well! But I recently learned that parboiled rice retains a lot of nutrition because of the way it is made, and is nutritionally closer to brown rice than to white rice. I will be buying it soon!

My attempts to buy rosematta rice (Kerala red rice) at this very same international market have been completely futile and a little hilarious. I asked an employee if the store carried rosematta rice and explained that it is a red rice from India. He patiently led me to the Mexican aisle and pointed out a pack of "red beans and rice". I shook my head and tried to ask again. This time, he took me to the Italian aisle and pointed to "risotto rice" and was exasperated when I dejectedly shook my head again. How could I explain that just because "rosematta" and "risotto" have a couple of syllables in common, does not make them substitutes for each other? The store does carry Sri Lankan samba rice labeled as red rice, but this one is sold as a 20 lb sack! Anyway, I know I can buy rosematta rice online, but am not too thrilled with the prospect of paying all those shipping charges for a heavy commodity like rice.

Rice as my comfort food of choice...

Waran Bhaat
Dahi Bhaat

Three typical Marathi rice dishes...

Amti Bhaat
Vaangi Bhaat
Dalimbay Bhaat

Three rice dishes to feed (and please) a crowd...

Vegetable Biryani
Mushroom Pulao
Paneer Pulao

Three dishes exploring rice in other cuisines...

Lubia Polo
"Chinese" Fried Rice

Recent experiments...
Brown Rice

If experienced idli chefs have any magical tricks for making perfect idlis, please please please leave a comment! For an extraordinary array of rice dishes, visit Sharmi's gorgeous round-up.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts

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.
A reminder about the X of Indian Vegetables: Next week will be the turn of the letter X. This represents a challenge for this series, and calls for another loophole, I think! In mathematics, the letter X represents an unknown value. X is the letter of mystery, so here is the challenge for X: Choose any fruit or vegetable that is unknown to you...either you have never tasted it, or never cooked with it. Then, use it in any dish of your choice that uses Indian flavors. Here is your chance to scour your grocery store or farmer's market, or go find some exotic ethnic store in your town, and try something fresh and new, do some Xploration! It should be Xciting :) Do you have to take up this challenge for this letter? No, if you come up with something else that fits the X theme, that would be welcome too!

The "W" of Indian Vegetables
The letter W inspired twenty-two wonderful Indian flavors!

First, some wholesome W vegetables. Let's start with something bright and fresh. Green leafy vegetables are always welcome in the diet! Here are two delicious recipes using them.

TC of The Cooker uses Wild Arugula, a salad vegetable that is much more peppery and flavorful than its cultivated counterpart. The pleasant bitterness of the wild arugula forms a beautiful counterpoint to buttery potatoes in this simple yet tasty Wild Arugula Batata Bhaji.

Saju of Chachi's Kitchen highlights two flavorful power foods: Watercress and Walnuts. The walnuts are ground to a tasty chutney with cilantro, then tossed with pasta, the peppery green watercress and tomatoes to make a tempting dish of Watercress, tomato and Walnut Chutney Tagliatelle.

Next come Whole White Potatoes, a beloved comfort food for so many of us. Whole potatoes make for a delightful presentation. Suma of Veggie Platter bathes whole fork-tender potatoes in a savory sauce with her party-ready recipe for Whole White Potatoes in Spinach Gravy.

The next vegetable is a crunchy and delightful tuber. Water Chestnuts are not well known in most Indian cuisines, but are very popular in other parts of Asia. Unlike most vegetables that soften on cooking, water chestnuts retain a crisp texture even after being cooked.

Raaga of The Singing Chef uses them in the simplest and tastiest way: Butter Garlic Water Chestnuts.

Live2cook of Live To Cook boldly experiments with the nutty water chestnuts and comes up with two exciting Indian ways to use them: check out her recipes for Water Chestnut Masala and Water Chestnut Mor Koottu.

The next vegetable is very much in season right now: pearly and sweet White Corn. Manasi of A Cook At Heart cooks the juicy corn niblets, along with some rice, into an easy and tasty weeknight White Corn Pulav.

Linda of Out Of The Garden gets creative...she blends an abunadance of White Vegetables into one Warm and comforting salad. White potatoes, mushrooms, beans and cucumber combine with snow-white yogurt to make one Warm White Salad.

Come to the W Fruits...

We start with a sweet and juicy W fruit that brings welcome relief during the summer months. While the "red part" of the Watermelon is eagerly eaten out of hand, the rind, along with the bland "white part" is often just tossed into the trash. But frugal and creative cooks know that the white of the watermelon, with its bland and crisp taste, can be used as a vegetable.

Jai and Bee of Jugalbandi write a beautiful post about the many uses of watermelon rind, and go on to show us how to use the Watermelon Rind, three ways: to make delicious batches of muthia, olan and mor kozhambu.

G V Barve of Add Flavor turns the bland watermelon into a lovely fudge: Watermelon Wadi.

Next up, we take a break from the sweltering heat to take a look at the Winter Melon. Live2cook of Live To Cook enjoys a wonderful dessert, and years later, she learns to make this memorable Winter Melon Dessert and shares the recipe with us.

The next W food is a worthy addition to any diet: Whole Moong, sprouted, are a tasty and nutritious treat. Aarti of Aarti's Corner shares a recipe for a colorful and fresh Whole Moong Salad.

Now comes a food that is indigenous to North America: Wild Rice. Wild rice is not really rice, but like rice, it is the edible grain of a grass that grows in the marshy areas near the Northern lakes. Suganya of Tasty Palettes cooks the chewy and nutty wild rice into a gorgeous Wild Rice Pulao.

We now come to a W food that is one of the staple foods of the Indian diet: Wheat, often called the "Staff of Life". Different forms of wheat are commonly found in the Indian pantry: broken whole wheat and whole-wheat flour being two popular ways of using this grain.

Whole wheat flour forms the basis of some many nourishing Indian flatbreads. Raaga of The Singing Chef shares two tried-and-tested recipes for stuffed breads: the Whole-Wheat Aloo Parathas are stuffed with a savory potato filling and the Whole-Wheat Paneer Parathas have a spicy cheese mixture hidden inside.

Priyanka of Lajawaab Ahaar remembers a simple and delicious dish of cracked wheat made by her mother. She uses that time-tested recipe to turn out a Wheat Khichdi with Vegetables: it does look like the ultimate comfort food!

Raaga of The Singing Chef uses cracked wheat to make a healthier (and no less tasty) version of the popular dish "upma", with her tempting recipe for Wheat Dalia Upma.

Wheat dishes need not be lends itself to the dessert course as well!

Viji of Malabar Ruchi uses wheat flour as the base for a sweet and rich Wheat Halwa: redolent with ghee and studded with fruits and nuts.

Tee of Bhaatukli provides a detailed step-by-step route to a decadent and creamy Wheat Pudding: brimming with the goodness of milk, coconut, nuts and raisins.

The next three entries have something in common. They all rely on a wise way of traditional Indian cooks: of taking advantage of the blazing heat of summer to prepare sun-dried foods that will last all year.

One way to store potatoes for the year is to cut them into Wafers and dry them to a crisp in the sun. Aarti of Aarti's Corner gives a simple method for making sun-dried Potato Wafers. Traditionally, potato wafers are deep-fried right before they are served: but these can be microwave-cooked as well!

Another sun-dried food that is a pantry staple in the Punjabi kitchen is the Wadi: little cakes of spiced lentils. Once you have these on hand, they can be used to add a tasty protein boost to vegetable dishes.

Musical of Musical's Kitchen shares a mouth-watering home-style way with the Wadi: cooking it together with ridge gourd or zucchini into an authentic Wadi Toriyan di Subzi.

Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope creatively makes a fusion dish: she adds Wadis to a traditional tangy coconut dish called "ambat" and comes up with a delicious platter of Wadi Ambat.

The final dish is a rather whimsical one. Musical of Musical's Kitchen makes a Wagochan...err, she does not make a "wagocha" so much as cook a rustic Punjabi dish that also goes by that name. Confused yet? Read her post to find out more!!

W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits and Nuts

The W of Indian vegetables is dedicated to the non-vegetables! The botanical definition of a vegetable, as far as I know, is a rather vague one: it refers in general to the edible parts of a plant. In a culinary sense, we think of vegetables as those parts of a plant that are generally eaten cooked or in savory preparations. Fruits, on the other hand, are usually sweet and can be eaten out of hand.

Leaving these vague definitions aside, I merely want to acknowledge that non-vegetables, such as fungi, fruits, nuts and seeds add so much to the variety and taste of countless Indian vegetable dishes. Mushrooms, although not a vegetable at all, have the same properties that we seek in veggies: they are low in fat, have many nutritious properties, and can be cooked into tasty dishes. Fruits such as mango, pineapple, and oh, really all fruits as long as they find themselves in the hands of a capable and creative cook, can take the place of vegetables in a savory dish. Nuts bring a lot to the table too. The addition of nuts to vegetables does much to amplify the taste, texture and richness of the dish. Yes, nuts do add fats and calories, but "good fats" are good for you, and nutty dishes are best served as an occasional festive treat anyway.

For the W dishes, I have chosen two that are quick and easy. Or just simply lazy, depending on your point of view! The first is an easy everyday rice dish, and the second is a dessert that takes only minutes to put together.

Wild Mushrooms have an earthy, woodsy taste that is simply incomparable. Truly wild mushrooms, those foraged from the wild, are waaayyyy beyond my current culinary scope. They need a thorough knowledge of poisonous and non-poisonous varieties of mushrooms, not to mention someplace wild that you would pick them from! For a city girl like me, "wild" mushrooms are the more exotic varieties- Porcini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, Chanterelles and the like, that are acquired, rather tamely, from the grocery store or the Farmer's market. In the following recipe, I use the rich stock of mushroom to cook rice in, and the resulting pulao (flavored rice) is a mushroom lover's delight. Minced mushrooms contribute to a flavorful stock while the thick slices of mushrooms are juicy to bite into. Green onions stirred in at the end add a fresh note. In the interest of full disclosure, let me confess that I used only cremini (baby bella) mushrooms for the pulao- wild enough for me!

Wild Mushroom Pulao

(makes about 4 servings)
3 C fresh mushrooms (any combination of your favorite varieties, I used cremini)
1 C Basmati or other long-grained rice
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
3-4 green onions (spring onions/ scallions), both green and white parts sliced thin
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder
1/4 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
2 tsp oil
1. Wash the mushrooms. Cut half of them into a small dice/ mince. Cut half into thick slices.
1. Heat the oil and saute the onion and garlic until fragrant and lightly browned.
2. Stir in the turmeric, red chilli powder and salt.
3. Add the mushrooms, stir around and then cook, covered for 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms start releasing water.
4. Add 2 cups water to the mushrooms, let it come to a boil.
5. Stir in the rice and garam masala. Cover and cook on low heat until the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the green onions and serve hot!

I served the mushroom pulao with Anita's Baingan ki Boorani, a rather non-traditional combination which worked *very* well! I knew I had to try this recipe the minute I laid eyes on Anita's post...although I confess that I did bake the eggplant slices (with the turmeric-garlic paste smeared on them, a paste that I made in minutes in a mortar and pestle). The combination of the flavorful mushroom pulao and the garlicky and creamy eggplant was just exquisite!! Let me say it again: the Baingan ki Boorani is a must-try. Thank you, Anita!

Walnuts are such a special treat, they taste great, add contrasting flavor to sweet dishes, and are rich in health benefits.Here, they find their way into a delicious instant kulfi. It is just another version of the Fig Walnut Kulfi that I have posted before. The kulfi base used in the recipe comes from the book Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Cherries are in season right now, and the combination of sweet juicy cherries and nutty, bitter walnuts in the creamy kulfi base was just delicious!

Walnut-Cherry Kulfi

1. Toast 1/2 cup walnuts. When cool, break into small bits.
2. Pit and chop cherries to yield 3/4 cup. I used fresh, but frozen cherries could be used too.
3. In a large bowl, mix 1 can evaporated milk (low-fat OK), 3/4 can sweetened condensed milk (low-fat OK) and 1 cup heavy cream.
4. To this, add 1 tsp cardamom powder, half the walnuts and half the cherries. Blend together using an immersion blender/ regular blender.
5. Stir in the remaining walnut bits and cherry pieces.
6. Freeze the kulfi mixture for several hours, until solid. You could freeze in a single container, individual molds or popsicle molds. I chose to make kulfi in katoris (small bowls) for individual servings (the picture above shows the mixture ready to go into the freezer). This makes 12 or more servings!

Here are some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers, featuring...
Succulent Mountain Mushrooms from Trial and Error,
Guchhi te Paneer di Sabzi from Musical's Kitchen,
Ambe Ananas Sasam from Aayi's Recipes,
Orange Peel Gojju from Ruchi,
Kaju Capsicum from La Gourmet Chef,
Mango Peanut Chutney from AkshayaPatra.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quick "Bisibele" Bhaat

This week at One Hot Stove, it is "Q for quick"! So here is a quick post featuring my favorite quick meal. It maximizes flavor and nutrition while minimizing effort and prep time. Mixed vegetables, lentils and rice come together, and are flavored by tamarind and a ready-made spice mix. The whole thing virtually cooks itself in the pressure cooker and you are in for a treat!

Bisibele rice is a specialty from the Southern Indian state of Karnataka, featuring lentils, rice, vegetables and spices cooked together slowly and lovingly into a festive dish. In my quick khichdi, I use bisibele spice mix to approximate those flavors in a fraction of the time and make faux bisibele rice. Here's how...

1. Prepare 2 cups of mixed vegetables, cut in medium dice. Here, I have used green beans, frozen peas and carrots. Other vegetables that work well are zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, lima beans etc.

2. Prepare 1 tbsp thick tamarind paste. If you use tamarind pulp, the paste is prepared by soaking 1 heaping tsp of tamarind pulp in a couple of tbsp of hot water, then squeezing out the pulp and discarding the solids. If you are using tamarind concentrate, you can directly use 1 tsp of it instead of the paste.

2. Measure out 1/3 cup rice and 1/3 cup green (unhulled) split moong dal.

3. Have some ready-made MTR brand bisibele masala handy. It is available in Indian and international grocery stores, or in online stores.

4. Other prep: chop half a small onion.

5. Now, in the body of the pressure cooker, add 1 tbsp oil. Make the tempering with: 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, chopped onion, 5-6 curry leaves, pinch of asafoetida.

6. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, 2 tsp bisibele powder (or to taste) and salt to taste.

7. Stir in vegetables, dal, rice, tamarind and 3 cups water. Pressure-cook for the amount of time that you normally need for cooking rice (in my superhuman efficient cooker, it takes one mere whistle).

8. Serve piping hot, with pickle and yogurt on the side, if desired. Potato chips/ papads take this dish to a whole new level :) When I have time, I throw together a pachadi to serve with this khichdi.

MTR's bisibele masala is extremely flavorful and authentic (to the extent that I am able to recognize authenticity of Kannada dishes, at any rate). And no, they are not paying me anything to say this, this endorsement comes straight from the heart. Quick "bisibele" rice is stewy and soupy, and may not be much by way of good looks, but it is the one dish that I make time and again. It has sustained me through countless busy nights, and through rough times at work, and through times of illness. Last week, it fed V when he was unable to eat anything else after dental surgery. Now I have made it so many times, I can make it in my sleep!

Got a favorite flavorful quick recipe? If it has vegetables in it, and Indian or Indian-inspired flavors, you can send it in for the Q of Indian Vegetables!