Showing posts with label Vegan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vegan. 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.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies

We're still in the first week of 2012, so it is not too late for me to wish you all a good one.

Our little family spend New Year's Eve the same way we have celebrated this day for the past 4 years- at a lovely dinner party hosted by a dear friend who was a former neighbor. It was a small gathering of very interesting people- artists and historians and architects. One of the regulars at the party was a lovely lady, an award-winning textile artist who happens to be 90 years old. After dinner, she invited us up to see her studio and beautiful home and took us up to the rooftop to see the new year being rung in with fireworks. Being in her company was the most inspiring way to start the new year.

Imagine my shock and sadness when just 2 days into the new year, she suffered a massive stroke and has now passed on. Such is life- the present moment is all we have; there's no telling what tomorrow will bring. I will remember her as a glowing example of how to approach life with grace and humor, to revel in the beauty and color around us and to create good things always. I'm so glad Lila got a chance to be held and cuddled by her, and that I told her that night how much that I think she is the coolest person. Too often we wait until people are gone to say how awesome they were.

Right now it looks like 2012 might be an eventful year for us. We will likely have close family members visiting us, a few new nieces/nephews coming into this world, and perhaps even a move to a different place. And when I cook or bake something delicious, you'll definitely be the first to know.

My baking spree in the holiday season gave me a chance to try a long bookmarked recipe- vegan thumbprint cookies that I first saw on The Kitchn. The recipe is titled "life-changing cookies"- how could I resist making them and seeing if they changed my life??

I followed the recipe closely. The recipe did not specify whether the almonds were raw or roasted; I started with raw almonds and toasted them a little before cooling and grinding them. If you have a bunch of partially full jam jars in the fridge door (like I did), you can make a colorful assortment of these cookies. Along with the usual strawberry and raspberry jam, I was able to use some wonderful blackberry jam which was a sweet gift from The Cooker. Finally, I made sure the cookies were baked until they looked nice and toasty, which enhanced the flavor and gave them a wonderful crunch.

The first batch of thumbprint cookies made their way into several cookie boxes for Christmas gifts and we snacked on them. At the first time, I was a little underwhelmed. These are hardly life-changing, I thought to myself. But with a hearty taste and just the right amount of sweetness, the cookies grow on you. What really surprised me was the feedback from my friends. One friend reported that the box barely lasted until the next morning (and they had been delivered after dinner the night before). Another confessed that he could barely force himself to save a cookie or two to share with the rest of the family. A third e-mailed asking for the recipe. Suffice it to say that the cookies were very popular. I shrugged and promptly mixed another batch of dough. Try these cookies if you get the chance. They are eggless, vegan even. And the sticky, jammy centers will appeal to the kid in you.

Books for Baby

These days, this is one of my favorite books to read to Miss Baby: Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram.

It is a sweet and simple story with the most darling illustrations. The one problem is that I get choked up with emotion every time I read this book to Lila. I dare you not to cry when you read this book. It will make even the most cold and cynical heart melt into a puddle.

Having a newborn has also introduced me to the world of fabric books. Fabric books are cuddly and even the most spirited babe will find it hard to tear them! When my parents were here, we spent many happy hours browsing in craft and fabric stores, and found a fabric printed with book pages, ready to be cut and sewn into a cute little book. Of course my mother had to pull out the sewing machine and make it for her grand-baby.

Anyway, that's my little bloggy fix for the weekend. Have a good week ahead!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Zucchini Dosas

In Spring this year, V and I became the proud custodians of a 12 feet by 5 feet garden plot in our local community garden. We were hoping for beginner's luck and dreaming of bumper crops of eggplant and methi but let's just say that I am thankful we have the option of buying our food. Between our rookie mistakes and the voracious squirrels, the poor plants did not stand a chance. There were plenty of hilarious moments, like when our more experienced garden neighbor pointed out that the one plant that was growing well and that we were watering desperately was, in fact, a weed. And then we had asparagus growing, which is wonderful, except that we had never planted any. 

V remains persistent in his gardening efforts and now he has been getting us herbs from the plot, and picking a modest amount of okra every day. We saved the okra for a few days and made a delicious gojju with it this weekend, using the incredible gojju powder sent by my sister's ma-in-law. 

Generous (and more experienced and successful) garden neighbors have been sharing their bounty with us. That's how we ended up with what must have been one of the biggest specimens of summer squash in the state of Missouri. Even after using it for a couple of stir fries, I had a large portion of this monster left over.

So one morning at breakfast, a huge heap of the summer squash was shredded and tossed with salt to draw out the moisture. Then I stirred in some salt, onion and spices, and enough chickpea flour and rice flour to make a batter, and made us some filling, savory dosas in a matter of minutes.  

You can use any summer squash or zucchini in this recipe, or cucumbers, or a combination of the two. I never bother to peel the vegetables unless the peel is too tough and stringy. While making dosas, I love to sprinkle them with sesame seeds for extra flavor and texture; this is the way cucumber dosas were always made when I was growing up. 

Summer Squash Dosas

  1. Shred the summer squash into a large bowl. I started with about 3 packed cups of shredded summer squash.
  2. Add a small minced onion, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, a pinch of turmeric, red chili powder or minced green chilies, and salt to taste. Add some minced fresh herbs like cilantro or chives if you have any on hand. 
  3. Let the squash sit for 10 minutes to draw out the water. You won't need any additional water for the batter because these vegetables have a very high water content. 
  4. Add scoops of chickpea flour and rice flour (in about equal amounts) until you get a pancake like batter. 
  5. Heat a cast iron (or non stick) griddle. Ladle batter into the center. Now, using wet fingertips, spread the batter around to a thin dosa. You can spread the batter with the back of a ladle but I find that wet fingertips work much better. With a tiny bit of practice, you'll never risk burning your fingers. 
  6. Drizzle oil around the edges. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface. Let the underside get brown and crispy. 
  7. Flip over the dosa and let the other side cook.
The dosas are wonderful on their own or with your choice of a dry or fresh chutney. We enjoyed them with peanut chutney. 

I'm excited to share some personal news with you: I'm 7 months pregnant. If all goes well, V and I will have a little one in late September. Summer temperatures have been off the charts this year in St. Louis (and in much of the US) and light meals like these are perfect for me.

Have a lovely rest of the week, everyone! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tangy Salsa

One of the things I love about St. Louis is how incredibly lush and green this city is and how accessible the parks are. For instance, you drive onto a busy road lined with every big box store you can think of, bustling with malls and car dealerships and your usual urban chaos. Then you turn into a side street and exactly 5 minutes later you are in Castlewood state park which looks like this.

The forecast predicted rain and gloom this weekend but instead we were treated to two days of sparkling sunshine and cool breezes. We grabbed the opportunity and went hiking on Sunday morning.

Dale is a champion hiker- even with his old bones, he loves scrambling up paths and exploring new trails.

Living in St. Louis has been a good lesson in the fickleness of weather. The weekend did not end well for the town of Joplin diagonally across the state from us. On Sunday evening the enchanted Spring weekend gave way to angry storms and a tornado landed there causing deaths and destruction.

The story repeated itself yesterday. Monday morning was as bright and sunny a Spring day as one could hope for. Then around lunchtime, in the matter of minutes, the sky darkened to an angry shade of grey and the high winds swayed my office building until I ran into the stairwell wondering if this was an earthquake or tornado. It was only a severe thunderstorm that lashed and raged for a good hour, then moved on, leaving us sunny and dry again as though nothing had ever happened.

We've learned to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. When the weather is nice, we immediately open up the doors and windows and eat meals on the patio and go on walks and hikes because you never know when the next storm will hit.

As the weather warms, I tend to cook simpler recipes and we often end up dining on appetizers. I borrowed one of Rick Bayless' excellent Mexican cookbooks from the library and discovered that I had all the ingredients that were needed to make this simple and flavorful salsa. This cookbook is full of wonderful essays about regional Mexican cuisines.

When recipes call for minced or chopped green chillies, I often substitute with bottled green chili chutney for convenience and that's what I did in this recipe.

Guacamole with Tomatillos
(Adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless; makes about 2 cups)

  1. Remove the husks from about 5 medium tomatillos and wash them. Quarter the tomatillos, place them in a saucepan, barely cover them with water, add salt and boil the tomatillos until barely tender. 
  2. Drain the water and place the cooked tomatillos in a food processor, along with a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro, 12 small onion (roughly chopped) and 2 tsp. green chili chutney.
  3. Process the mixture to a coarse puree. 
  4. In a bowl, mash 1 ripe avocado with a fork. Add the tomatillo puree and salt to taste. Mix well and serve with tortilla chips. 
See you in a couple of days! 

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!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Blog Bites 9: The Holiday Buffet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Radish as Comfort Food

It's a's a's a dal with features of both; a totally inauthentic recipe but so tasty that you should try it anyway.

I owe a great debt to food bloggers- really I do. It is very nice to learn how to make impressive desserts and elaborate dishes for special occasions. But the coolest thing is when blogs teach me fresh new ideas for everyday meals and different ways to cook the same ol' vegetables that end up in my crisper week after week.

Radishes were mainly a salad vegetable in my life until a few years ago when I noticed wonderful ways to cook them into a main dish here on Mahanandi and here on Aayi's recipes. Over the years, this radish dal has evolved in my kitchen based on those recipes and remains one of the greatest hits on the dinner rotation.

The trick here is to work quickly and not let the dal simmer for too long. You will be rewarded with radishes that are cooked long enough to soak up all the delicious flavors but that remain juicy enough to make every bite a treat.

Radish Dal 

1. Cook 12 cup toor dal and set it aside.

2. Start with the tempering
  • 2 tsp. oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch asafetida
  • 1 sprig fresh curry leaves
3. Add 1 large bunch red radishes, sliced into coins or half moons. If the radish greens are attached to the bunch and if they look fresh, chop up the greens and add them too. White radish (daikon) will work perfectly well here too.

4. Add the spices:
  • 12 tsp. turmeric
  • 12 tsp. red chilli powder
  • 1-2 tsp. of your favorite rasam or sambar powder
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • Salt to taste
5. Stir for a minute, then add 1 cup water and let the radishes cook for 3-4 minutes.

6. Add the cooked toor dal and more water if needed and simmer for 5 minutes.

7. Taste and make sure the balance of salt, spice and tangy flavors is just right. Let the dal sit for at least 20 minutes before serving and serve over freshly steamed rice.

I finally got around to making ghee at home, and a dollop of this home made ghee transforms dal-rice into something even more special. The picture shows what little was left after V and I finished eating.

Please check back on Monday night for the round up of Blog Bites 8, where it is all about one dish meals. Entries will be welcomed all weekend. I'll include my own entry in that post.

Have a great weekend, all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Self-Saucing Cabbage Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your Sunday and have a wonderful week ahead.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freestyle Cooking: Vegetable Kurma

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

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

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

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

Vegetable Kurma
(serves about 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baking Cakes in St. Louis

Apparently this year marks the worst allergy season in St. Louis. And don't I know it. It has been a miserable couple of weeks, and the reason for my unplanned absence from the blog. Experience tells me that I should grin and bear it, because luckily seasonal allergies are, well, seasonal, and they will go away in a few weeks.

I'm here to post a last-minute entry to one of my favorite food blog events, Novel Food, co-hosted by Lisa of Champaign Taste.

The book I chose is Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkin.

I've often spoken about my taste for simple and uplifting novels, and a reader named Arati recommended this book to me in this post- thank you, Arati, I enjoyed reading it.

This novel is set in a middle class home in modern Rwanda. Angel is a loving, nurturing woman who is raising five small grandchildren (after the unfortunate demise of both of her children) while also going through a hot-flash riddled menopause. She is a cake decorator by profession, and her specialty is elaborate custom-made cakes decorated in flourishes of colorful icing. As friends and neighbors drop in to order cakes from her, we hear about the stories of their lives- their hopes and dreams and secrets- as they fill out the cake order form while drinking a few cups of tea with Angel.

What makes the novel different from other books set in cozy domestic situations is that it is set in Rwanda, a country that has gone through terrible suffering in the recent past. Now, I am certainly concerned about issues like HIV/AIDS (euphemistically referred to as "the disease"), genocide and female genital mutilation ("cutting") and do my fair share of tsk-tsking about them. But these are distant problems for me and I can only think of them in abstract terms. In this novel, these issues get a human face as the characters grapple with them on a daily basis. The book gives a vivid description of modern life in Rwanda where ordinary folks are trying to rebuild lives after the genocide, and it provides a glimpse of the culture and mores of a country that I know little about, outside of the horrific images in the news.

The descriptions of the luscious and vibrant cakes that Angel makes for her clients are irresistible- at one point, I had the sudden urge to put the book down and do a web search for cake blogs just so I could feast my eyes on some beautifully decorated cakes. All in all, I highly recommend this book as a simple but meaningful read.

The cake I baked today is the exact opposite of the elaborate masterpieces that Angel makes. It is the simplest kind, a loaf cake to use up overripe bananas that were neglected in the past week. You don't have to be a professional baker to make this. It is a recipe that can be made by any home cook, even one who is living in a fog of anti-allergy medications.

A bag of spelt flour has been sitting in my freezer for several months, and I found a great way to use it in this vegan banana bread recipe from Lauren Ulm's cookbook. I adapted it slightly by reducing the amount of sugar and adding walnuts.

Banana Walnut Spelt Bread

(Adapted from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook by Lauren Ulm)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a loaf pan and line it with parchment paper is desired.

3. Mix the dry ingredients:
  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 12 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice (or ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice)
  • 12 cup walnuts, chopped
4. Mix the wet ingredients:
  • 3 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 12 cup oil
  • 2 tsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together gently.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

We tasted a small slice of the cake and it is delicious- fragrant, dense, nutty and filling. The rest of it will be sliced and packed so V can share it tomorrow with his cricket buddies.

I am so glad I borrowed the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook from the library; it has a dozen recipes that I can't wait to try, including several ways to dress up tofu in glossy marinades and a few different ways to make vegan "cheese" sauces.

Have a good weekend, and depending on how I am faring with my allergies, I'll come back in a few days with a couple of entries for Blog Bites: The Copycat Edition. I've been getting some fantastic entries and you still have a week to send in a post if you would like to.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carrot Almond Halwa

Sometimes it is only a mental block that keeps me from trying recipe variations. For instance, I am so accustomed to dairy-based Indian desserts that wrapping my head around vegan Indian desserts can befuddle me. A few years ago, I cooked lunch for a group of vegan guests. The appetizers, main dishes, salads and sides all were a breeze but I tripped up while planning dessert and  resignedly served a platter of fruit.

Vaishali's posts are doing much to help me make vegan versions of Indian desserts- she makes delectable vegan halwas of every hue with no dairy in sight. Using her gajar halwa as my inspiration, I made this version yesterday. To mimic the gritty texture of cooked-down milk/khoya, I used some almond meal.

Gajar Halwa That Just Happens To Be Vegan

(serves 4)
  1. Shred 2 lbs. organic carrots using a hand grater or a food processor.
  2. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. Earth Balance buttery spread.
  3. Saute the carrots until bright red.
  4. Stir in 1 cup almond milk and 4 tbsp. almond meal (or finely ground almonds).
  5. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture reduces and the carrots are cooked.
  6. Stir in 1 tsp. cardamom and sugar to taste (I only needed a quarter cup or so).

The taste of the gajar halwa was wonderful. It is light and nutty and something I will be making again and again, whether or not I have vegan guests.
I shared this halwa at a cook-out last night with a group of St. Louis food bloggers. We met in the incredible teaching kitchen of the Kitchen Conservatory (candyland for foodies), and I'm so glad Alanna put in the time and effort to organize this event. St. Louis has many creative and clever food bloggers. They do all sorts of fun things like keep bees and grow garlic and match shelter dogs to families!
If you are a food blogger, have you met other food bloggers in your city?
On The Bookshelf

I read more than my fair share of novels and magazines, but one of my favorite genres will always be non-fiction. They say truth is stranger than fiction and I certainly believe that based on the non-fiction I've read.

When written with humor and expertise, non-fiction books can give us a crash course in a serious academic discipline and connect abstract concepts in maths and science and technology with real life. I recently read The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and it was a most entertaining glimpse into the role of statistics in everyday life. Another highly fascinating and riveting read was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is a great detective story of a physician chasing a microbe (and sparking off the science of epidemiology) even though he did not even know it at the time.

This morning I awoke at 4 AM to finish reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, the real story of a family in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Eggers is a talented writer. The story is written so simply but the narrative is gripping and you get deeply engaged with the characters as the story progresses. I highly recommend this book.

There are two non-fiction books that I read in recent months that had rich and meaningful content but where the writing was unfortunately very jagged and rambling, in my opinion, which took away from the reading experience. These were Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen about one man's struggle to build schools in remote regions of Central Asia and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about the life and work of Paul Farmer in bringing healthcare to the most impoverished regions of Haiti. But these are the kinds of books that are worth reading, because they make me want to do something meaningful and with my life and stop making excuses already.

Next on the non-fiction list, I'm going to start with a  memoir called In Hanuman's Hands by Cheeni Rao; I read Kamini's stunning review of the book and checked it out from the library this weekend.

Have you read any interesting non-fiction lately?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Singing Chef's in my Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chow Chow
(adapted from Raaga's recipe)

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

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

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

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

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

6. Cook for a few more minutes.

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

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Sometimes, a little vegetable goes a long way. I bought a modest wedge of pumpkin last Saturday, and sweet and nutrition dense as it is, it fed us three times over- I used a third of the wedge for pumpkin kaap (made the same way as these but using pumpkin slices instead of eggplant), a third for the excellent pumpkin dhansak from Nandita's blog, and the last portion for this soup.

The inky, muddy look of black bean soup is just a facade; underneath the surface is nothing but tasty goodness. Pumpkin adds a beautiful sweetness that sets off the earthy legume. As soups go, this one is fairly simple, with three main ingredients, pumpkin, black beans and tomatoes, and two seasonings, chipotle chillies and cumin. I debated about adding other ingredients like bell peppers and corn, but in the end, the simplicity is what makes this soup special.

The recipe below is infinitely flexible. If you don't have access to chipotles in adobo, use any chilli powder, or Mexican/taco seasoning or hot sauce instead. If you don't have pumpkin on hand, any winter squash such as butternut squash or acorn squash would be a wonderful substitute. Sweet potatoes would be equally at home in this recipe. For the stock, I used this homemade vegetable bouillon, a sweet gift from Alanna. It is wonderful stuff! 

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
(makes 6 generous servings)

1. Soak 1 cup black beans for 8 hours or so, then rinse then thoroughly.

2. In the body of a pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.

3. Saute 1 medium onion, diced, and 4 minced garlic cloves until fragrant.

4. Add the following spices and seasonings and stir for a few seconds-
1 heaped tsp. cumin powder
1 minced chipotle pepper in 1 tsp. adobo sauce (or to taste)

5. Add-
4 cups pumpkin cubes
Soaked and rinsed black beans
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock or water
Salt to taste, only if required

6. Pressure cook. Once the pressure is released, mash or puree the soup together, or leave it chunky. Adjust the consistency of the soup by adding water if necessary.

7. Stir in a large handful of minced cilantro and squeeze in some lime juice.

I loved the soup in its pure form, but you could top it with a dollop of thick yogurt or sour cream, some shredded cheese, or crushed tortilla chips.

I am sending this soup over to My Legume Love Affair. The 21st edition is hosted by Superchef @ Mirch Masala.

*** *** *** 
We enjoyed the soup with an unlikely side- pesto eggplant pizza. I had two dough balls in the freezer, and an eggplant lurking in the crisper, and just put the two together.

The pizza dough recipe is my new favorite- it is Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough posted here on 101 Cookbooks.

I made the recipe by hand and followed the instructions very closely. It is a strange recipe, in the sense that you use chilled flour and ice cold water to make the dough. The recipe made 6 pizza dough balls, and each is sufficient for an individual sized pizza- depending on the individual. I know certain individuals (who shall go unnamed) who can scarf down a couple of these in one sitting!

Another thing I learned was to place the pizza stone on the floor of my gas oven instead of on a rack. When baked at 475F, the pizzas were cooked to perfection (when I used a higher temp, the bottom of the pizza burned before the toppings were bubbly).

But, wow, the pizzas are incredibly close to what you get in "good" pizza places, like The Good Pie here in St. Louis. This recipe uses no whole grain, but for an occasional restaurant-style treat, that's OK by me.

*** *** ***
Last week, I undertook what has to be the quickest craft project ever. 15 minutes from start to finish. But it was 18 months in the making.

I had a large bolt of cotton fabric from Ikea, an impulse purchase which was sitting in a corner of the closet for more than a year. The big idea was to use it to make a tablecloth from it, and if there was fabric left over, to make some cloth napkins. But I don't own a sewing machine to make the hems and keep the edges from fraying and so the project was shelved, quite literally.

Well, your comments on this post were inspiring to say the least, and they spurred me into action. I did a web search for "no sew cloth napkins" and found this. An hour later, I ran into my next door neighbor in the elevator and asked her if she happened to own pinking shears. Minutes later, I borrowed her pinking shears and folded and ripped the bolt of fabric into one tablecloth and 16 cloth napkins. Ta da!

We had a dozen friends over for an Oscar-watching potluck party on Sunday night and I was so proud that we used regular plates and glasses (so what if they were all mismatched), metal cutlery and cloth napkins. No waste from disposables. It is the little things that make me inordinately happy.

Please keep sharing the green tips- I'm always looking for inspiration.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thai-Spiced Mushroom Noodle Soup

I feel like I am living in Sleepy Hollow. Does anyone remember Sleepy Hollow, the horror movie? I don't remember anything about it except that the village was perpetually swamped in a dense fog in that movie (oh yeah, and some headless guy was riding around in the swirling mist).

Well, St. Louis has been enveloped in a dense fog for days now, and in the middle of the sickly weather, V has a nasty cold of the sneezing, sniffling, hacking variety. Where cutting edge medical science can do nothing about the rhinovirus, the old-fashioned route of "food as medicine" often works, and we have been eating lots of soups and soupy khichdi lately.

Last night, I made up this soup as I went along and we were very pleased with the results, so I decided to write up a quick recipe here. With flavors borrowed from Thai cuisine, this pot of soup goes to the soup-and-salad challenge No Croutons Required where the theme for January is Thai cuisine.

The aromatic, soothing ingredient here is lemongrass; I have a pot growing at home that I bought from Bowood Farms last summer. A whiff of the sweet, citrusy aroma of lemongrass pierces though clogged sinuses and makes one go ahhh....

Thai-Spiced Mushroom Noodle Soup

1. In a soup pot, heat 2 tsp. oil and saute until slightly browned:
2 bunches green onions (white parts only)
1 10 oz. box of cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 small carrots, cut in small dice

2. Add 3-4 cups mushroom stock/vegetable stock/water and a tsp. or so of minced lemongrass (this post has great tips on working with lemongrass) . Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in a heaped tsp. of Thai red curry paste (or more or less to taste), 1 tsp. sugar and some soy sauce if the soup requires salt (taste first). Add a handful of dry (uncooked) udon noodles.

4. Let the soup simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the noodles are tender.

5. Turn off the heat and garnish the soup with the green parts of the green onions, cilantro and lime juice to taste.

This is such a slurpable soup! The noodles plump up with all the aromatic flavors, and add some heft to the broth.

See you in a few...

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.