Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What I have learnt from MIL

I mostly learnt to cook by trial and error and parental phone guidance. I wish I had paid more attention at home when my mother had taken care of the food side of things :) But, whoever gained anything from crying over spilt milk, right? As some of you have noticed my absence from the scene, it was because we were trying to spend as much time as possible with my parents-in-law who were visiting us.

MIL too is an ardent cook ... she loves to cook not just for herself, but for sharing with everyone. And I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that she enjoys food discussion and description! So, needless to say, I got to learn a lot many new recipes with her around. Infact she brought with her a cookbook in Hindi which I greedily grabbed. It has been such a long time (10 years to be specific) since I have properly read any form of Hindi. I used to be prolific reader of the language during my school days. Now, I will get a chance to rebuild my Hindi skills along with healthy cooking ideas. The book is titled (Translated for every one's benefit) - Health Reviving Dishes - Vegetarian Related. I also have a fresh supply of family recipes, which ofcourse I will try to share with you all in due course :)

Some other important cooking lessons that MIL has imparted on me

  • Reduce Wastage - This one is a biggie. In my daily rush to get done with dinner, I usually throw in what I find in the fridge. No proper planning into whats been there for how long or how leftovers can be used. With MIL here for these past months, I just cannot remember throwing out any edible item just because it went bad before it could be used. She had a plan of what to do with a vegetable or produce item when we bought it at the store. Also left overs were planned for accordingly. For example, today's leftover dal or cooked rice would be made into muthiya's for the next day's breakfast. Wastage also was not only in food items - I tend to be prolific in my use of plastic ziploc bags, paper towels etc. Since my habit is an easier and quicker option, it might be difficult to change. But I will certainly be concious about other alternatives before I lunge to grab another bag or paper towel :)
  • Importance of Breakfast - This is something I knew all along... that a good breakfast is a great start to the day. But, somehow never incorporated it in my lifestyle. Cooking up a hot breakfast means adding planning time, cooking time and extra washing time to the morning drill. So, I have usually avoided it in the past. When MIL was here, she would make it a point that we didn't leave without a hearty breakfast. She would make us hot jowar/bajra rotis. Just one at 8 in the morning would fill me up good until 12 or 1 in the afternoon. We have gone back to our cold cereal routine for now, but maybe I can practice speed-breakfast skills on weekends.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sev Tameta - (Tomato & Chickpea flour fritters)

Slacker? Procrastinator? Absent-Minded? What would you brand a person who posts this tantalizing teaser almost two years ago... but doesn't realize that the post providing answers to her puzzle is safely tucked away as a draft in her blogger dashboard? Well, here is the pheonix you all would have never expected to rise out of its ashes - the much awaited, the much guessed about, the minimalist wonder, the sensational - Sev Tameta!!

If you were actually waiting for this post all this time, please accept my heartfelt apologies for imposing this excruciating suspense!Without further ado, here's how you make Sev Tameta
Simple foods... that are simple enough to cook without planning give you inexplicable joy. That's what happened to us during our Lake George trip. We packed a bunch of spicy Indian snacks including the Indian Sev and Gathia. These snacks are made of a spicy chick pea flour dough, pressed out of sev/gathia presses similar to Murukku presses (cookie press) and deep fried. The stuff we carried of course, were store brought.

So we packed these snacks for tea time munchies. As we got used to cooking at the well equipped kitchen at the resort, we realized we had all the ingredients for this famous Gujarati dish - Sev Tameta, which is one of Hubbie's favorites. So we decided to be happy campers and leverage our limited supplies towards lunch.

You can use any kind of sev, gathia or even crisp puris (as used in papdi chaats)... We used a mixture of the kinds we had... Bhavnagri Gathia (Speciality of a region in Gujarat called Bhavnagar) and Spicy Sev pictured below

Sev Tameta
2-3 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch asafetida
1 tsp tumeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Heat oil, add mustard seeds. Allow to sputter, then add asafetida, turmeric powder and coriander pow
1 tomato chopped fine
salt to taste splash of water (if required)
Add tomatoes and salt and cook down until the mixture is pulpy. If the tomato is not juicy enough, add a splash of water
2 cups assorted sev/gathiasAdd to mixture and mix. Turn off heat and allow to soak until the sev is tender

You can add more water to this dish if you prefer it watery. The soaking time for the sev depends of its thickness. Serve this with chappatis or theplas. Yum!

Soaking up sun, water & wind

We are currently soaking up all the good stuff... fresh air, warm sun and breathtaking scenery! Presently, we are vacationing in beautiful Lake George located in the Southern Adirondack region in upstate New York. A perfect relaxing vacation, in a resort right along the lake. Here is a view from our lodge

And even while away at this resort, we are trying to be 'Happy Campers'... cooking us comfy little simple meals with the fewest ingredients. Here is something we cooked up the other day. Any guesses what it might be? I'll post details and the recipe in a couple of days... Enjoy!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

These are a few of my favorite things

Note to the Reader: This particular post was supposed to go up on Mother's day.. but I didn't have time then. But, now even Mom's b'day is a long way off, so I thought I would post this now anyway. Another motherly figure (MIL) is with us right now... and I can't wait to write about the excellent dishes she is making for us here. I will try to be back soon :)

10 things I miss of Mom's cooking

Try as I might, I can never enjoy my own cooking. It has been cruelly long since I've had any of mom's cooking and I thought I would salivate a little thinking of what I miss the most. Here is what I came up with...

10. Her many undocumented masterpieces... *clean up the fridge special*... with warm just ballooned chappatis. I miss the variety in taste and the incredible suspense in those meals. Oh.. the joy when we correctly guessed the secret ingredients :)
9. Badam Kheer (Almond milk pudding)
8. Fragrant Arachvitta Sambar (Sambar with freshly ground spices) with drumsticks
7. Alu Paratha
6. Rava Payasam (Semolina milk pudding)
5. Filter Coffee
4. Masala Dal Vada (deep fried, crunchy lentil fritters)
3. Lemon rasam, rice and crunchy roasted small potatoes and/or Vazhaka Podimas (Spicy Mashed Plantains)
2. Hot idlis, rubbed generously with Molaga Podi
1. Vatral Kuzhumbu with hot steaming rice, with creamy spinach kootu on the side

I am rumbly in the tummy with all that food talk.
I would love to hear what some of the readers consider their childhood indulgence!

UPDATE: Following the suggestions of some fellow bloggers, I have decided to make this into a Meme - 10 Things I Miss of Mom's Cooking. It doesn't have to be a food item, may be just a meal tradition etc. I hope you will enjoy writing it up! Here are the first few people (in no particular order) I am tagging.

1. Revathi
2. Aparna
3. Ashwini
4. Shammi
5. L.G.
6. Mika
8. Sailu

Participation ofcourse will be entirely optional. Tag 3-5 people to continue the meme. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tomatoes are to Pasta what Peas are to Carrots

Pasta and Pomodoro go together like peas and carrots (a la Forrest Gump). The sweet tang together with the chewy goodness of pasta is often a quick meal. Most pasta sauces are so forgiving that you can use canned diced or crushed tomatoes. Leftover sauces can be creatively used in any Indian gravy recipes inplace of tomatoes or tomato puree.

I remember seeing this recipe on a TV cooking show long back, I don't remember which one. Reconstructing by memory, here is Pasta with Three Tomatoes (fresh, canned and sun dried)

Pasta With Three Tomatoes
1 lb spaghetti
Plenty of water
salt to taste
Bring plenty of well salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to package directions, until al dente
2 tbsp tomato olive oil (from oil packed sun dried tomatoes)
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Heat oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds
1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes halved
Add crushed tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes, cook down for 15 mins. Then, add the halved cherry tomatoes and simmer until the cherry tomato just turns soft. Drain spaghetti, add to the sauce. Add some retained pasta water to dilute sauce if desired. Top with grated Parmesan cheese (optional).

Each tomato sauce recipe has its signature - play with herbs, add a dash of vodka or wine or in this case, work with different flavors of the tomato. If you don't like the sour taste of sun dried tomatoes, you can reduce the amount used in the recipe.

This is an entry to ARF/5-a-day at Sweetnicks.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Snack Happy!

Don't we all love to snack once in a while or several times in a while? Unfortunately, most sought after snacks in the Indian cuisine are heavy for the belly - being deep fried most of the time.
Chivda is a wonderfully crispy and delicious snack made from crunchy beaten rice flakes (Poha). It can be considered healthy with oodles of peanuts, dry coconut and seasame seeds. It is not deep fried, but you may decide to add more oil to crisp up the dish more.

The list of ingredients may seem long, but it comes together before you can say ... it's tea time. Ok not that quick, but you know what I mean :)

Traditionally the beaten flakes are sun dried inorder to crisp them. Us urbanites can achive a similar effect by roasting in the oven. I personally prefer the toaster oven, where the heat is more uniform and is faster than the regular oven. I usually divide the poha into small batches and toast in the oven for about 2.5 mins each batch

Roasted rice flakes batch

Roast them twice for an extra and long lasting crunch.

Bringing the ingredients together - Clockwise from the top - minced green chilies, dry coconut, peanuts, broken cashews, curry leaves, dalia. In the center, sesame seeds and mustard seeds

2 lbs thin Poha (beaten rice)Roast in small batches in a toaster oven. About 2.5 mins per batch.
6 tbsp oilHeat oil in a big pan (enough to fit all ingredients)
1 cup roasted chick peas (dalia)Fry till brown in the oil, remove all set aside with the poha
1 cup peanuts and cashews (together)Fry till brown in the oil, remove and set aside
1 cup thinly sliced dry coconutFry till brown on low heat, remove and set aside
2 tbsp oilAdd extra oil to the remaining oil in the pan, and heat.
2 tbsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp sesame seeds
several sprigs of curry leaves
4-5 green chilies minced
Add the seeds, allow to sputter, then add the curry leaves and green chilies. Fry till nicely browned.
1 tsp asafetida
2 tbsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
Add the spices to oil and cook for a few seconds. Add the poha and the other prepared ingredients and mix really well on a slow flame.
2 tbsp sugarAfter the ingredients are well mixed, turn off heat, take the pan off the stove and add sugar. Mix well to incorporate.

Of all wierd and wonderful food combinations, this ones seems outrageous. But Chivda makes a great side to left over cold chappatis :) Enjoy.

I'll be bringing over some Chivda to Meeta's Monthly Mingle and snack while watching the game.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dash 'n Dine Meals

Yes, how awfully long since my last post! But, I've been busy with work lately and had to resist any blogging temptation. Thanks for all your enquries while I was gone! It is certainly appreciated.

During my busy phase, several delicious quickie, dash-in and dish-out meals courtesy of fellow bloggers were presented at the dinner table. (Sorry no pictures)

1. Mango Rice , Indira - This was one of the many recipes from the decadent Jhiva for Ingredients (JFI) spread that I must try this Mango season. Preparation of this meal was less than 15 minutes (excluding cleanup, of course :) ) Keep the rice to cook while you grate the mango, saute the ingredients and finally mix with rice. Perfection!

2. Wheat Dosa, Indira - I once said that you can make a paratha out of anything. On a similar note, if you are bored with parathas, make a dosa out of that something. Check out Shilpa of Aayi's recipes fame, for her excellent collection of dosas. Back to Wheat dosas, they were delicious and satisfying. Each dosa takes about 5 mins to cook (on my electic stove, *sighing and moving on*), but that is good news if you have to multi task. Just put each dosa to cook, go about your business around the house, come back to turn it over and so on. Will be making this often. Unlike rava dosa, this one seemed to take less oil to cook too.

3. Tamarind Rice, Sailu - I've had a eye on Sailu's Bisi Bele for the longest time, but never got around to making it. Why? because the recipes asks to let the rice and spices sit together for 45 mins. One of these days, I want to try the recipe the traditional way. Anyway, another recipe that should go in the 'recipes to keep' folder is her Tamarind Rice. Simple to prepare and such a satisfying meal along with some vegetable, this one was a hit at dinner and also a thumbs up by Hubbie to pack for his lunch the next day. This was my first time making tamarind rice 'from scratch'. I didn't realize it was this easy.

4. Dahi Baingan, Saffron Hut - Simple to execute yet looks like you have slaved in the kitchen to prepare this dish! I baked/broiled the baingan, and in the mean time prepared the rotis. Now thats a 30 minute meal(cleanup not incuded)

5. Saar Upkari, Happy Burp - A ton of protein, yet so simple. I used canned chickpeas and frozen yams for this one. As Vaishali says, the recipe is so forgiving, go ahead and add your signature to it :) A simplistic meal is a perfect end to a whirlwind of a day.

Stay tuned for the next edition of Dash 'n Dine meals!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Spring Time Rice aka Tomato Rice

You know it is the end of winter when you see produce like this at the market!

But what to do with these tomatoes for a weekday meal? Something that would do justice to these beauties... Answer Tomato Rice. Another recipe from Hemant Trivedi. Don't frown at the long list of ingredients -- it's simple to put together and really tomatillicious. If not for taste, you can eat it for health reasons, Lycopene found in tomatoes, is one of the most sought after antioxidants. On that note, I would like to submit this to the weekly healthful ARF event hosted by Cate .

Tomato Rice
1 cup long grained Rice
1/4 cup peas
1/4 cup carrots, chopped
2 tsp salt
Cook rice with salt, until grains are separate. Drop in the peas and carrots during the cooking process
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
Heat oil in a wide pan. Add seeds, when they start to sputter, add tomatoes and stir fry till oil separates
1 red onion, cubed
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, grated
Add onion and cook till soft. Then add garlic and ginger, cook for 3-4 minutes
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp pepper powder
4-5 curry leaves
Add the dry spices and curry leaves and cook for 2-3 mins. The tomato mixture must be pulpy by now. Take off heat.
1 tsp oil
4-5 cloves
2 inch cinnamon stick
For tempering, heat oil add cloves and cinnamon. When the cloves puff up, add to the tomato mixture. Add cooked rice and vegetables to the tomato mixture and mix well.

Serve with yogurt or raita

Check out Sweetnicks place to see a round up of other healthy ARF entries.

Food Bloggers Around the World Meme

Wonderful Sumi tagged me for this Food Bloggers Around the world meme. Just for that, Sumi, I have decided to emerge out of my blogging sabbatical :-) I've missed blogging and visiting around!! Unfortunately, my dear readers, be prepared for more interrupted blogging from my side until atleast the end of April. After that, I hope to return in full ferver. Until then, enjoy the meme :)

1. Three recipes recently bookmarked to try

a) Tri-Colored Paneer Kababs from Sailu - With summer almost upon us, this is a great barbeque recipe. I love the colors so rich and pleasing! I do intend to try it out some time this summer.

b) Vindalu Vegetables from The Fat Free Vegan Kitchen - For some time now I've been curious about slow cooking/crockpots. I thought they were only useful for cooking meat or beans. But this one is an adaptation of a vegetable recipe cooking entirely in a slow cooker. One of my projects this summer is to find out once and for all if slow cooking is any good for our lifestyle and eating habits.

c) Rich Fruit Plum Cake from Annita - Plum cake is awesome! Annita provides such detailed explanations, that I think I might be able to manage this! And I do love plum cake...

2. A food blog in your vicinity

Most of the food blogs from the US are close to me! Distance of course, is relative :-)

3. A food blog or more that is located far away from you

Happy Burp, from Germany

4. A food blog (or more) that you've recently found

Recently? I'm going to take that as in the last two weeks.

Sumi's Kitchen
Happy Burp

5. Any people or bloggers you would like to tag

Ah... so many people I know have already taken part in the fun... But lets see..


You guys are tagged!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bharelu Shaak: Gujarati Style Stuffed Vegetables

Gujarati food is another unique cooking style in India. Majority of Gujaratis are vegetarians and their cuisine comprises of the simplest of ingredients, which combine to deliver a signature taste and texture. Gujaratis love their food. Maybe thats an understatement :) If you have ever visited a Gujarati family or a Gujju restaurant, you know. They are absolutely passionate about food! There is seldom a Gujju restaurant without a huge Thali spread, commonly unlimited. From their simplest kadhis (curd based dish, served with rice), to the multi flavored oondiyu (signature dish, mixed vegetables slow cooked with special spices), each dish can offer something new to the taste buds! Some of their preparations can come across a bit sweet (small amount of sugar added to enhance other flavors), if you are new to the cuisine. This is essentially true of the Kathiawadi (a region in Gujarat) style preparation. On the other hand, the Surati (another region) preparation is predominantly savory. While on the topic of Surati food, Surati Farsans (snacks... fried snacks) immediately come to mind! Jalebi (Indian Funnel cake) with Fafda (chick pea flour fritters) is a nostalgic brunch combination. Dhokla, Khandvi, Handvo, Patra ... all snack items!

Also, another interesting point to note is that Gujaratis are the #1 consumers of cooking oil in India! Thats what makes their food so irresistable I guess :) One of my favorite Gujju dishes is a stuffed vegetable preparation, which very suprisingly is NOT deep fried! More surprisingly, inspite of being non-deep fried, it is one of Hubbie's favorites too. Just bring up this recipe, and you will undoubtedly hear him rave about how well his grandmother makes this and sigh in foodie nostalgia! I suspect it is one of his favorite childhood memories.

Indian food bloggers have blogged about varieties of stuffed eggplant... Andhra, Maharashtrian and modern-deconstructed version. Here is another variety - stuffed Eggplant, Baby Potatoes and Onion. Kanda-Batata-Ringana Nu Bhareli Shaak (Onion-Potato-Brinjal stuffed Curry)

The trick here is in choosing the vegetable and stuffing it. Choose small baby purple brinjals, baby potatoes and small red onions. Usually you would make a plus shaped cut to stuff the vegetables. But stuffing them can be a gentle art, especially frustrating for stuffing onion. Here is are some stuffing tips directly from Hubbie's favorite chef (his grandmother)
Onion - Trim the tips, peel and wash
Potato - Peel and Wash
Brinjal - Wash and trim the stalks.

Hold each vegetable vertically and make a diagonal slit, 3/4 into the vegetable. Then turn it upside down and make a similar slit on the opposite diagonal. Instead of the cross cut of the same side, you have the two slits on the opposite ends. This enables easier and more abundant stuffing. Now here the the details of the recipe

Clockwise from left Potato, brinjal and Onion

Stuffed Onion Potato and Brinjal Serves 2
2 small red onions
4 small brinjals
4 small potatoes
Peel/wash and make slits on the vegetables as described above
1.5 tbsp chickpea flour
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
juice of one lemon
2 tbsp minced coriander leaves
2 tbsp oil
Mix all these ingredients until they form a coarse lumpy texture. Stuff generously on both slits of the vegetables. Place the vegetables in a steamer basket and steam for about 20-30 mins or until a knife goes through gently into the potatoes.
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
Heat oil in a large (wide) non stick pan, add the seeds and allow to sputter. carefully drop the steamed vegetables. Toss them around in the oil being careful. Avoid using a ladle and just shake the pan gently to move the vegetables around for 2-3 minutes.

This preparation goes best with juwar rotli. An excellent guide to the delectable rotlis can be found at the Cook's Cottage. Here is what my attempt at the rotlis looked like.
Wam, fluffy rotis also make a great accompaniment to the stuffed veggies.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ARF/5-a-Day #13: Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Feta

For this week's ARF event, I prepared a one-dish-meal rich in not one, not two but THREE ingredients from the top 10 Antioxidant foods - whole grain, spinach and garlic. Mediterranean style Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Feta Cheese - One pot meal with a side of quick garlic bread. The recipe is adapted from the book "Vegetarian Times Cooks - Mediterranean". This book by the way, is an excellent collection of unique vegetarian recipes from France, Italy, Spain and others in the region. The savory tarts, focaccia and pizza recipes are in my must try list. Many traditional recipes are modified to include vegetarian or even vegan ingredients.
Ok, on with the recipe.

Spinach and whole wheat pasta taste great together. To vegan-ize the recipe, you can replace milk with oat or soy milk, and substitute feta cheese with one cup of well drained, well pressed crumbled firm tofu which has been sauteed over high heat with garlic in olive oil.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Feta CheeseServes 6
1 lb dried whole wheat pasta (I used fusilli)
1 bag (10 ounces) spinach leaves, washed
Add pasta to large pot of salted boiling water. Cook till al dente, about 11 mins. Stir in the spinach during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup milk
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook until soft. Add flour and cook stirring continuously for about 2 mins. Remove from heat and add the milk. Return to the stove, and cook stirring continuously till the sauce boils.
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper (freshly ground)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (I skipped this one)
Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and nutmeg
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup minced dill (I skipped this one too)
Drain pasta and spinach and transfer to serving bowl. Add the sauce, feta cheese and dill. Mix well. Serve with garlic bread.

One dish to rule them all, one dish to find them, one dish to bring them all and in the heat of the stove, bind them. erm... the essential food groups (carbs, protein, fat, fibre and minerals) I mean :-)

Visit Sweetnicks place to read this week's ARF roundup!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tyrannosaurus Veg?

Presented below is an editorial by Chandan Mitra, verbatum from The Pioneer . Then I shall present my 'thoughts' on it :)

Tyrannosaurus Veg
That vegetarians are relatively docile beings is an extremely misleading notion. In my experience, they are actually quite tyrannical. Take for example dinosaurs. Even the biggest of them, Tyrannosaurus Rex was a veggie. As the name itself suggests, it must have tyrannised the rest of its tribe as well as other prehistoric beings.
I had a taste of vegetarian intolerance during the last few weeks of the bird flu hoax that swept across much of the country. The story, in my firm opinion, was a media creation and served certain interests (especially those of pharma companies with excess inventory) rather well. Of course it was blown out of all proportion and cost almost a million chickens their lives. The dreaded flu, if it was indeed bird flu, was confined to a small area in Maharashtra and did not warrant the nationwide panic that ensued. But taking advantage of the scare scenario, veggie fanatics went on the rampage, whipping up frenzy against all forms of flesh.
It is rare for such viruses to survive India's heat and dust as we saw earlier during the much more serious SARS scare. I was sceptical about the alleged bird flu epidemic especially its purported threat to human lives, from the day the story broke. In fact, I argued (unsuccessfully) with my colleagues against making it the main story on the front page. They were all petrified at the prospect of contracting the flu and insisted that it was our professional duty to scare our readers too. Faced with their fundamentalist conviction, I conceded and The Pioneer like every other paper in the country gave full play to the story while it lasted. Occasionally, I managed to squeeze in a report doubting the extent of the disease or pointing out that all blood samples had returned a negative reading.
Armed with these alarmist media reports, veggies ran riot. Non-veg food was unceremoniously turfed out of trains and planes. The few diehard meat eaters like me were compelled to furtively shop for fish or mutton, whose prices skyrocketed. As it is, I belong to an endangered minority since I smoke. With vegetarian cacophony reaching a crescendo, I faced double jeopardy. Travelling to Mumbai at the height of the bird flu hoax, I gingerly asked the airhostess what was on offer for non-vegetarians. Scowling most disapprovingly, she asked me whether I never read newspapers. Apologetically, I ventured to tell her I edited one.
Unfazed, she informed me with all the official authority at her command that non-vegetarian meals had been discontinued in view of the bird flu. Infected chicken being banned, I understood, I plaintively argued back. But what about serving mutton or fish? She didn't bother to reply. From her looks it was apparent she was a vegetarian fundamentalist - the type that drools at the mere mention of the word 'paneer' or 'gobi parantha' or worse, kaddu and arbi! Anyway, I was instantly saddled with a meal of hara-bhara kebab, cabbage-stuffed spring rolls and alu-matar.
Conventional wisdom has it that meat is bad for the heart, cholesterol and what not. Ayatollahs of vegetarianism would probably insist deep fried spring rolls, frightfully spicy hara kebabs and subzi preparations that float in an ocean of oil at wedding meals do wonders to your lipid profile or cardiac condition! Agreed, all vegetarian food is not disagreeable; in fact, Rajasthani food is rather tasty, South Indian is delicious and even Bengali veg is fabulous at times.
Still, I ardently believe that there can be nothing more offensive to the human taste buds than paneer or lauki or kaddu. Tons of paneer invade my house every week because my Canadian-origin, pedigreed Labrador finds that gruesome thing delightful, and gobbles up dollops in seconds. Needless to add, I never touch the stuff.
My suffering at the hands of tyrannical veggies didn't end with the plane journey. Rushed for time in Mumbai, I decided to pick up some fast food to eat in the car en route to Nariman Point from Bandra. Since no McDonald's or Dominos was conveniently located, my colleague suggested a croissant joint, which apparently served some super chicken or sausage croissants. We entered to find two sad-looking cheese and onion variants - the last croissants left in the shop's display cages by hungry Mumbaikars of the locality. Anything non-veg, I dared to query, undeterred by my airline experience. The shocked expression on the salesman's face was reply enough. Okay, okay, sorry I even asked, I mumbled, picked up the dilapidated remnants and forced myself to gulp them down with some diet Coke.
A week later, I took the Shatabdi to Ludhiana to be greeted by the same intolerance. Since chicken was taboo, there was no doubt about which ban came first. Eggs were nyet, nyet. The waiter, who recognised me presumably from my TV appearances, was at least apologetic. Come back next week, Sir, and we will start serving eggs again, he said as if to console. I was served me some cold vegetable cutlet stuffed with yet another subzi I happen to hate - carrots. I have never understood why carrot is referred to with such approval in the expression, 'carrot and stick policy'.
Give me the stick any day, if the alternative is carrot! I had hoped my hosts in Ludhiana would spread out a sumptuous non-veg meal, for the earthy Sardar usually finds a meal inedible without generous helpings of kukkad. Chicken is, indeed, Punjabi by nature and the vice versa is not true. But for once the reverse appeared correct. There was no chicken on the menu, although they tried to make up with lots of fried fish, which didn't quite gel with the rest of the fare.
Mercifully, the conspiracy against non-vegetarians is finally petering out. The Parliament House canteens have resumed chicken. So I gather have airlines. But I am sure the tyrants are displeased about it. This was probably the second time in Independent India's 58-year history that democracy was brutally throttled. I have no doubt that given half a chance their latent tyranny will resurface. I recall an incident when I moved to a rented house in A-1 block of South Delhi's Panchsheel Enclave. This was located just behind Soami Nagar. One day, some worthies from the neighbouring colony landed up, saying nobody was allowed to consume fish or meat in their locality. They produced a document regarding the rules of conduct in Soami Nagar. I was rather baffled, not knowing what they were cribbing about. Finally, they demanded rather categorically that we discontinue our 'obnoxious' non-vegetarian culinary preference for theirs was a 'holy' colony. Angrily, I told them to keep their holiness to themselves and not attempt to expand their zone of intolerance beyond the boundaries of their 'sacred' Soami Nagar.
I am told that a particular shop in Bengali Market is boycotted by the rest of the shopowners because it serves chicken cutlets, shami kebabs and cakes that contain eggs. But unknown to rabid vegetarians, they end up consuming vegetable oils or using soap said to contain beef tallow!
Don't get me wrong, dear vegetarian reader. I uphold your right to vegetarianism. I accommodate sensibilities by shifting to another table if a vegetarian friend seems uncomfortable looking at my plate laden with non-veg delicacies. Live and let live should be one's mantra. But the unseen hand of veggie tyranny doesn't seem to be too happy about that philosophy.

Mitra humorously lashes out his friendly frustration towards fundamentalist vegetarians in India! Mr. Mitra - Have you considered that the pharmacutical industry is behind the situation you describe and is cashing in this uproar surrounding the bird flu? Recently, I read a not so nice article about the 'self-absorbant' vegetarians. I will not even bother quoting the immature article from a juvennile college publication. Being a vegetarian, I can understand Mitra's frustration, but the second publication I mentioned is the one which is 'self absorbed'. Now that I have a wonderful medium of this blog to express my opinions on this, I will do so without further ado.

I prefer to practice a live and let live attitude towards all kinds of diets and hopefully my dealings with my diverse population of friends exemplify that. I don't appreciate infliction of opinion on others. By now, I am used to the blank stares I sometimes get at restaurants when I ask them if they can modify one of their menu items to not include the meat. Some times the restaurants oblige graciously but many times, point me towards their over-priced, wilty garden salads. Luckily for me, I like salads and steamed veggies with salt and pepper :) Lately I have taken to really read food labels and discuss about ingredients with friends and sometimes call the company. It is surprising how many ingredients can be animal derived.

I am a vegetarian due to religious and some personal standards regarding cruelty. The meat industry has become a slaughter factory today, with the most attrocious measures of cost reduction. I won't get into the details here, but there are various grim and graphic resources available, just a google search away. The same cruelty unfortunately is true of the diary industry today. I am determined to pay the extra price for kindness and make necessary life style changes to switch to organic milk and eggs. I agree with the views expressed by Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries in this article (a very well deserved 'Best Post' food blog award). If people killed their own animals for meat, there will be a lot less non-vegetarians in the world today.

I am proud to be a vegetarian, not because my beliefs are supreme, but because for once, I have been able to stand up for something. Among my resolutions to wake up earlier in the morning, complete items on my to-do list, restart abandoned projects, I have been able to continue practicing vegetarianism and stick to my beliefs, in an uninvasive way. If the above sounds fundamentalist, then, well - bring me a dictionary.

I've met my share of 'tyrannous' vegetarians - people who insist on muttering incoherantly under their breath while carrying a raw egg (with shell and all) covered in kitchen napkins, staring disgustingly at their already apologetic room-mates. I understand, and find that over bearing too! But, please, don't blame a poor unsuspecting vegetarian who screams at the sight of raw squids lying in his/her kitchen sink, left by inconsiderate house-mates! Vegetarians come in many flavors, and it is wrong to stereotype them all as 'self-absorbed' or 'fundamentalist'. They are a minority and hence a somewhat oppressed population. Think of the number of products that don't completely reveal their ingredient sources or worse mask ingredients under the two words 'Natural Flavors'. Being a vegetarian in the vast outside world is like having a food allergy, the more information you can extract about the food, the better for you.

I hope this post is not overly opinionated! I express my appreciation to many non-vegetarian friends for their thoughtful consideration every time they have us over! Also, I thank them for accepting food invitations at our place, knowing very well that they will be served boring vegetarian food. Sorry, Mr. Mitra that vegetarians have troubled you :) It is not easy being a vegetarian either (in the US). I do see the satire in your article. It is difficult being different in a crowd... a meat eater in a majority of vegetarians in India or as in my case a vegetarian in a country of mainly meat eaters. Who said life is fair :)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Frequently asked food questions - about Indian food?

How many times have we heard that India is a land of diverse culture? Experiencing diversity can be a very enjoyable experience, but learning about the nuances, names and the history of different foods can be pretty confusing and contradicting! Every region in India has a signature cuisine that uniquely identifies it. Each is unique in its main ingredients used, spices and cooking methods. Yet there is some common thread that ties them, hence the confusion. I am myself faced with some daunting questions about Indian foods and its terminology. Here is one question that has bothered me for a long time and I was determined to find the answer. Here is what I have gathered from various sources.

Is there a difference between a ‘roti’, ‘phulka’ and ‘chappati’?
On hind sight, all three terms seem to mean the same. Wheat flour mixture called ‘atta’, combined with a proportion of salt, oil and water to form dough. Small portions of the dough rolled out into thin discs, which are toasted on a griddle (tawa). This is the basic Indian bread, consumed in most Indian homes. So why the different names for the seemingly same things?

Roti is the universal term for all Indian breads. It might just be the most ambiguous term in the Indian cuisine terminology. Just plain roti can mean phulka roti, naan roti, double roti (bread make after double rising of dough), rumali roti, makki-di-roti, tandoori roti or any other form of desi bread.

Phulka is a thin roti, which is oil or grease free. The dough is made with just water, sometimes even omitting salt. Then portions of the dough is rolled out into thin discs about 6 inches in diameter and half roasted on a tawa, then on an open flame. The phulka puffs up into a ball due to accumulation of steam inside it. Once it puffs up, it is removed from heat and served sooka (dry) or without any added grease. This becomes a phulka (literally means swollen) roti.

Chappati can be a thin or a thick roti. It is called a chappati because it is traditionally made by patting the dough balls between the palms of the two hands and flattening it(chappat in hindi means flat). So some veterans would say that it is not a chappati if it is not flattened by hand, i.e. without the use of a rolling pin. A chappati may or may not puff up like a phulka. Some also cook it completely on a tawa, by applying slight pressure on the surface of the dough-disc thereby cooking it completely. But I have noticed that chappatis cooked this way tended to harden up quickly, atleast on my electric stove. I did get much better results on my gas stove at my previous abode. If you have an electric stove like me and are wondering how to puff up your chappati-phulkas, look no further. Thanks to my friend V, I am now cautiously satisfied with the quality of my chappati-phulkas! Here is what a chappati-phulka grill looks like (available under $5 in most Indian stores)

You need to have the tawa on one burner, and the chappati-phulka grill on the other, on high heat. Then once the rolled out disc on the tawa is half roasted on both sides, transfer it to the grill with tongs and watch it puff :).

Anyway, with all the above discussion, I think the ‘rotis’ I make at home are rolling-pin-rolled-chappati-phukas! I could just call them rotis - the generic term, but would that be misuse of terminlogy? I would love it if anyone can add more insight into the name origins.

Now that we are somewhat clear on that, what on earth is a Rotli and a Rotla?
If you ever had that question, congratulations, you are truly experiencing the diversity and getting into the regional terms. Rotli and Rotla are Gujrati terms. Rotli, I believe is Gujrati (Gujju) for roti. And Rotla is Gujju for the Marathi word Bhakri. Bhakri is term given to thick 'rotis' made from non-wheat flours like sorghum (jowar) and millet (ragi or bajra). These 'rotis' are patted by the palms of the hands on a flat surface and cooked on the tawa.
Any other questions you've had out cooking terms, bring 'em on. We will ponder on them together!
Another question that has bothered me is one about South Indian, Tamil food. What, if any, is the difference between a kozhumbu, kootu and sambar?

  • Kozhumbu (pronounced something like: ko-eyh-m-bu.) seems to be the universal (tamil) term for all south Indian main dishes which have thick, yet liquid consistency.
  • If any kozhumbu contains sambar powder it becomes a sambar, I guess.
  • If kootu is the name given for all dishes with contain dal and veggies, why does a dish called poricha kozhumbu (dal and veggies, spiced with coconut paste) not called a kootu?
  • If a kootu must not contain coconut, how do we explain Mor (buttermilk) Kootu (contains coconut, buttermilk and veggies)? For that matter what is the difference between Mor Kootu and Mor Kozhumbu
  • If kozhumbu must contain a dal, then why is Mor Kozhumbu (doesnot contain dal) or Vatral Kozhumbu have that name?
  • If kozhumbu must have tamarind, what about Mor Kozhumbu (no tamarind, contains buttermilk and coconut)?

    See how terminology can quickly get confusing? Please anybody out there care to shed light on this? If I get sufficient info on the comments, I intend to compile the answers for other obsessive people who might be wondering about the issue!
  • Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    ARF/5-a-Day #10: Grape Nuts Date Bread

    After my earlier post on the 'non'-Grape nuts ceareal, several bloggers kindly shared serving suggestions for this whole-grain packed cereal! While I wouldn't mind eating it just for the sake of nutrition, real victory in my opinion would be to get Hubbie to eat the cereal too. We have moved on to other cereals which are tried and tested, so the grape nuts are at my disposal to be disguised in various forms. First up, I took-up a suggestion to add this cereal to baked goods. I found a recipe for Grape Nuts bread with dates here. As soon as I saw the recipe, my first instinct was to change a couple of things like eliminate the use of eggs and the white flour. Then, Hubbie's wise words came to mind. Though he uncomplainingly puts up with some of my weird kitchen productions, he always wonders "Why I would change some recipe without knowing how it would have turned out in the first place?". So, the only teeny change I made was to substitute 3 cups of flour for 2 cups of flour + 1 cup wheat flour :) I really couldn't help myself!

    Anyway on to the weekly Anti Oxidant Rich Foods (ARF) event hosted by Sweetnicks... Sadly I missed last week, didn't get much time to blog. But I am back! Did you know that coffee is the number 1 antioxidant food consumed in America. Whether its effects are good or bad is up for debate. I would have expected chocolate to hold that top spot:)

    Dates have the high amounts of antioxidant foods per serving size, and are ranked up there with the berry family. They are also considered to be rich sources of iron. Also, they are naturally very sweet, so great for deserts without additional refined sugars!

    This bread recipe turned out great... and it quick (no double rising). Going further, I would like to experiement with using yeast to leaven the bread and eliminate egg, baking powder, and see if the recipe can withstand more whole wheat!

    Grape Nut Date Bread
    2 cups milk, scalded
    1 cup Grape Nut Cereal
    Pour hot milk over Grape-Nuts; cool.
    2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    4 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 cup sugar
    Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Add sugar to the mixture
    1 egg, well beaten
    3 tablespoons melted butter
    1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
    To the cereal mixture, add egg, butter and dates. Blend Well.
    Add dry ingredients, stirring just enough to moisten (I found it best to use hands)
    Transfer into a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan. Let STAND for 20 minutes and bake at 350F for 1 hour 20 minutes

    The bread turned out well, with a nice crumbly crust. It seemed to go dry with time, after which we toasted it briefly to perk it up. All in all a good way to use up the cereal, though the dates were the reason I liked the bread :)

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    How Far Can I Push The Pantry (HFCIPTP) # 3: Pasta sauce

    Here is another in the series of using up stuff in my pantry to whip up balanced meals. A few thoughtful opening and closing of pantry and refrigerator doors later, I had my mind made up. It was going to be pasta that day with ready made sauce. Then as I put the pot of water on the stove and waited for it to boil, I remembered Indira's recipe of pasta sauce which used peanuts. That got my mind scheming on how I can adapt that recipe to my limited pantry. After a few seconds, the answer seemed obvious.

    This is why I love blogging and blog hopping. I find myself spending less and less time pondering about whats for dinner. Thank to all fellow food bloggers for sharing the seemingly mundane details of what you had for dinner/lunch!

    On to the sauce... lets give it a name "Roasted Pepper sauce with peanuts and soy burgers". I don't have a picture of this yet, but it was delicious (for now you have to just take my word for it)! Will update with the pic soon.
    Roasted Pepper sauce with peanuts and soy
    2 cups roughly chopped bell peppers
    1/2 cup roasted peanuts
    1 frozen veggie burger, thawed and chopped
    2 tsp olive oil
    Heat oil in a skillet, add the chopped peppers and roast well untill browned. You may also use onions in this step if you have some in your pantry. Add roasted peanuts and chopped burger and cook till the the burger is slightly browned as well. Cool and process in a blender to desired smoothness/chunkiness.
    2 cups Ragu pasta sauce (Optionally, use canned or fresh tomatoes)
    2 tsp sugar
    grated parmesan/romano cheese to taste
    Return the blended pepper mixture to the skillet and add the tomato sauce and sugar. Stir until heated though.Serve over cooked pasta,topped with grated cheese and crushed pepper.

    The sauce was ready with the pasta and tasted great for a last minute meal.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    And the award for the Most Misleading Product Name goes to...

    This being Oscar season and all, I thought I would hand out of couple of awards of my own. First up, is the category of the Most Misleading Product Name. A clear winner in this category is the Post Grape Nuts cereal. The ingredients do not contain any grapes or nuts! Apparently this cereal was christened after its inventor Charles William Post, who reasoned that grape sugar is formed in the baking process of this cereal and that it has a nutty flavor! Talk about misleading... they should put that info on the box , like a statutory warning :-D. But it is supposed to be an excellent source of whole grain and therefore heart healthy.

    I bought it at our local Costco some time back, simply because we were mostly tired of the other brands and cereal types. We try to stick to 'low' sugar cereals as much as our morning taste buds will allow. Grape nuts looked interesting, so we adventurously bought a wholesale sized carton. Showing incredible courage and will to eat healthy, we poured cereal and milk into our bowls. The first spoonful tasted like gravel and it only got worse from there on. We immediately gave it a more fitting name ... 'Hindi: Ghode Ka Chaara', translation Horse/Cattle feed. Hubbie promptly stopped eating it when he couldn't take it anymore and handed his bowl to me, saying he would pick up something for breakfast on his way to work. The next morning, we both got up with the same gloomy thought... 'Oh no, we forgot to pick up some cereal last night'!

    We are still left with oodles of the un-Grape-Nuts, which we mix with other taste friendly cereals to decrease the impact of the healthy pebbles. And once again, we resolve to first try out new things in small quantities before buying bulkloads of them.

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    ARF/5-a-Day#8 and HFCIPTP #2

    Another week gone by and it's Sweetnicks' ARF/5-a-day Tuesday again! This event has truly changed the way I approach my Monday night dinners :-) I did not need to be extra creative to accomplish ARF meals on my stock-limited pantry. I had plenty of canned chick peas which formed the basis of my 'Methi Kabuli Channa (Chick peas with fenugreek leaves). Here's a great picture of methi leaves by Indira. Today's recipe is adapted from Hemant Trivedi's, specifically I substituted dried kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) for fresh ones. This is a Rajasthani (a desert in India) recipe, which is cooked without onions, garlic and other vegetables since they were hard to come by in the desert climate. Still, this is one of the best chick pea recipes I have tried, and I will definitely be making it again (with fresh leaves!)

    Chick peas are a great source of protien, and contain a substance called saponin, which can act as antioxidants. Here is the recipe for "Fenugreek Chick Peas"

    Fenugreek Chickpeas
    1 tbsp Ghee (Clarified butter) or oil
    1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    4-5 cloves
    1/2 inch sticks cinnamon
    1/2 tsp asafetida
    3/4 tsp mustard seeds
    Heat oil in a saute pan/sauce pan and add the seeds. Allow seeds to sputter.
    2 green chilies, chopped finely
    3.5 tablespoons kasuri methi
    Add and allow to sear very briefly until fragrance exudes
    3/4 tsp cumin powder
    1/2 tsp garam masala powder
    1 tsp asafetida
    1/4 tsp turmeric powder
    salt to taste
    2 tbsp tomato paste
    Add to the 'tadka' and stir
    2- 14oz cans of chick peas drained and rinsed
    1 cup of water
    Amchur (dry mango pow) or tamarind paste, to taste for desired sourness
    Add and allow to simmer. Crush a few chick peas to thicken the gravy/sauce
    1 tsp besan (chickpea flour)
    2-3 tbsp cold water
    Mix flour and water to form a thick paste. Add to the chick peas and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes

    Serve hot with warm chappatis or a bed of steaming rice.

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    HFCIPTP #1: Veggie Pizza Indian Style

    How Far Can I Push The Pantry... This is the question I have been asking myself. It has been almost four weeks since a visit to the grocery store. Most of the perishable items I have are mostly wholesale items purchased at the local Costco (carrots, peppers). We were planning of going shopping over the weekend, but the Nor'easter came gatecrashing into the east coast. We got plenty of the white stuff and sat at home with friends, sipping Leo coffee.

    Picture taken by Hubbie after about 15 in of snow had fallen

    I am prepared for this pantry stretching challenge, and to start off, I made (streched :) ) some pizza. I used a breadmaker to prepare the pizza dough. But it is really easy to make it by hand too. Here's a recipe from Priya. Be sure you have active dry yeast and some all purpose/whole wheat/bread flour in your pantry. My pizza dough from the breadmaker rose bountifully.

    Pizza Dough - risen and all ready to roll

    Like I said - no melting cheeses (I had a small amount of processed Amul cheese from the Indian store), no tomatoes for the sauce... just some peppers, chilies, my last onion and some garlic. Here is an Indian take on pizza. I think Hubbie and I like this better than regular cheesy pizzas.

    Indian Style Veggie Pizza
    1 recipe for 10-in pizza crust doughRoll out dough into a 10 in crust on a pizza tray. As far as possible try to strech by hand. It doesn't make the crust too dense, plus its fun!
    5 tbsps spicy tomato ketchup (I used the Indian brand Maggi)
    3 tbsps Garlic Chutney (Nupur's recipe, made ahead)
    Spread ketchup on the crust and sprinkle generously with the chutney
    1 onion, sliced into half-moons
    2 garlic cloves, sliced
    1 cup assorted colored peppers, sliced
    2 chilies chopped fine
    some chopped chunks of Amul cheese (optional)
    Top the crust evenly with the toppings. Bake in a 425F oven till crust is light brown. Remove from oven, cut into slices and serve. Top with crushed red pepper flakes.

    I think I am now going to turn to Rajasthani or Jain dishes in the Indian cuisine, which do not use onions, garlic, tomatoes etc.

    ARF/5-a-day-Tuesday #7: Green Tea

    It's Sweetnick's ARF/5-a-day time again! And, one the home front, this is our fourth week running without a trip to the grocery store. We are out of most fresh produce except for some sweet red and yellow peppers and a couple of potatoes. Now's the time test just how well stocked my pantry really is. I have a decent stock of flours, dals/lentils, frozen peas and corn, canned beans and tomato paste. Without further ado, I declare this week, HFCIPTP week aka How Far Can I Push The Pantry week.
    This reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld, where Kramer and Newman are test driving a car with the fuel indicator dangerously pointing at empty. After several tense hours, they get to their exit, but in a Thelma Louise moment, they dare to ask, "just how far do you think we can go? " And they continue on the freeway not sure how long they would last :) Lets see if I can last till this weekend... with different types of balanced meals everyday, without testing Hubbie's patience and understanding tolerance :)

    We usually jump start our mornings with a hot cup of masala chai (tea). Unfortunately this morning when I woke up and got to the kitchen to start up a batch of tea, I was taken aback to find that we had run out of Indian Tea. Drat, I added tea to the looong grocery shopping list hanging on the refrigerator door. Then my eyes fell upon the Green Tea (I have lost track of how long I've had it). My eyes lit up (like they do so often these days) - Green Tea! This would make a great ARF entry :) I used tea bags, but for best results, use tea leaves.

    Green TeaServes 2
    2 cups of filtered cold water
    2 teaspoons green tea (or 2 teabags)
    Bring water to a boil. Take it off the heat. Add the tea (or bags) and cover. Let it brew for 2-3 minutes. Not more or it will become bitter.
    2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
    touch of milk to taste (optional)
    Add one teaspoon of sugar and a touch of milk into two teacups. Microwave for 30 seconds to warm up the milk. If not using milk or sugar, warm the cups by filling them with hot water. When ready to serve it, empty the water from cups.
    Strain or pour tea into the prepared cups and enjoy!

    Green tea is said to have potent antioxidants (25 times the amount found in most fruits and vegetables) that have been shown to be extremely beneficial, among many others, believed to lower cholesterol and prevent cancer.

    Welcome back Sweetnicks!

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Faux Kheema Mattar (Faux Minced-meat with Peas)

    When I saw a recipe for this faux kheema on Bilbocancook's Smorgasbord, I mentally bookmarked it. Who wouldn't want to stretch their grocery visits, stock up on non-perishable items like soya nuggets and frozen peas? There will come a time in any home cook's life, when all they'd have in their pantry in terms of vegetables are some onions. Times like these don't think any further, pull out the stash of nuggets, peas, a can of tomato paste and whip up a quickie vegitarian kheema. Thanks bilbo, now I have one more thing I can make from Soy Nuggets. I am not sure what the shelf life of tofu is, but these nuggets will last a looong time.

    Soya nuggets can be used in any gravied curry or pilaf recipes. Before adding to the dish, soak in warm water (salt the water if the nuggets are added at the end of the recipe) for 5 minutes, drain and squeeze out all moisture from nuggets. Use as desired in stir fries and curries.

    Faux Kheema Muttar
    1 cup soya nuggetsSoak in hot water to cover for 5 minutes. Microwave for 2-3 minute intervals until cooked. Drain, run under cold water and squeeze out excess moisture. Process in a food processor until well minced.
    1 tbsp peanut oil
    1 red onion, chopped fine
    3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
    Heat oil and saute onion and garlic until soft and fragrant
    1 tbsp tomato paste
    salt to taste
    2 tsp fresh garam masala powder
    1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
    Add to the pot, incorporate the paste and cook till aroma exudes. Add the reserved 'kheema'.
    1/2 cup waterAdd water and simmer for 5-7 minutes

    This is a great way to add soy to your diet. Thanks Bilbo, for the recipe. Serve hot with warm chappatis, a salad and butter milk.

    A Balanced Meal

    Doodhi Aur Jowar ki Masala Roti

    Jowar aka sorghum is a gluten free, wheat free whole grain. I was blissfully unaware of the existence of this grain until MIL came into the picture. I instantly liked the bhakris (rotis that are rolled by patting), warm off the tawa with ghee and garlic chutney. The texture of the bhakri was unlike anything I had tasted before. Because the jowar flour is gluten free, it is difficult to roll out and breaks easily. One tip MIL graciously shared with me, is to prepare the dough with hot water. Add hot water to dough while stiring around with a spoon and when it forms the consistency of scrambled eggs, use both hands to form a firm dough. This makes the dough on the stickier side, which makes it easier to roll out. That said, I will be the first to admit that I have great difficulty rolling out the bakri, and end up doing patch work. As a result, the bhakris are not round, nor do they puff up ever so slightly when cooked :-( If you want to take a look at what jowar rotis should look like, you might want to visit Ashwini's Food-for Thought. Edit: Another excellent resource can be found at the Cook's Cottage. Thanks! I feel a renewed zeal to try out the jowar bhakris.

    But... No despair, MIL gave me another recipe for masala jowar rotis which is very forgiving. It tastes great - all patched up. It is sorgum roti, stuffed with doodhi or bottlegourd. It is quick, nutritious and best of all - one-dish-meal! No fuss cleanup. This roti is best eaten fresh, smeared with ghee or butter accompanied with garlic chutney and a glass of buttermilk.

    Jowar Aur Doodhi (Bottle gourd) ki masala Roti
    1 cup bottle gourd peeled and cut into large chunks
    3-4 green chilies
    3 cloves garlic
    1 small red onion, peeled and chunked
    Place all ingredients in a food processor and give it a 'whir' until the ingredients are grated. Transfer to a wide mouth mixing bowl
    2 cups jowar flour
    2-3 tbps sprouted moong or bean sprouts (optional)
    1 tbsp coriander powder
    salt to taste
    Add to the vegetable mixture.
    Incorporate into a dough adding hot water only if necessary. Most often the water from the gourd and onion would suffice.
    Break dough into 6 lumps, shaping each into a ball.
    Use extra dry flour for dusting, and roll out each lump into a thick disc with hands. Carefully remove with a spatula.
    Place on a heated tawa, press and cook on both sides till blistered.
    Remove from heat and smear with ghee/butter. Serve immediately.

    Cooking this roti tends of take its toll on nonstick coated (strongly discouraged for this recipe) or even hard anodized griddles/tava. Use a cast iron griddle if you have one. Or like me, use an old tava saving it exclusively for jowar/bajra rotis.

    ARF/5-a-day-Tuesday #6: Marinated Tofu Stir Fry Noodles

    Using a variety of veggies and antioxidant rich food is a challenge for me on week nights. But cooking and blogging about them later is a great incentive to eat right for me. So I jumped at Sweetnick's ARF/5-a-day Tuesday event. Albeit 6 weeks late, I hereby join the bandwagon. This week the event is hosted by Stephanie aka The Happy Sorceress. Thanks for hosting ladies!

    I never say no to any form of one-dish meal, this week I dabbled with whole wheat noodles. I tried to include soy protiein (tofu) and antioxidant rich, bright colored peppers and carrots. The end product looked and tasted satisfying.

    Marinated Tofu and Vegetable Noodles
    1 package extra firm silken tofu
    4 tbps soya sauce
    1 tsp ginger garlic paste
    Cut tofu into one inch cubes, place in a shallow baking dish. Add water to cover and stir in soya sauce until amber in color. Add ginger garlic paste. Let tofu marinate for 20 mins. Drain.
    2 tbsp oil (preferably dark sesame)
    2 garlic cloves minced
    1 red onion, cut into thin slices
    1 carror julienned
    3 green chillies minced or chopped fine
    Heat oil in a wide skillet, add the garlic, green chillies, onion and carrot and saute on high heat for 5 minutes.
    2 cups green, red and orange bell peppers, cut into strips
    1/2 cup button mushrooms, thinly sliced
    Add to the stir fry and cook till peppers are slightly crisp.
    1 10oz package of dried whole wheat noodlesCook noodles in plenty of salt water, according to package direction. Drain well. Add immediately to stir fry to prevent clumping.
    Cook till noodles are heated through. Top with additional soya sauce or hot sauce (sambal)

    Tuesday, January 24, 2006

    Coconut Poha (Flattened Rice)

    Breakfast is a tricky time of day. When I'm rushing out the door, I want to be able to eat something that is super-quick and dirties the least number of dishes. None preferably... but cooking without dirtying dishes is an oxymoron in itself! Most weekday mornings, we eat cold cereal... Cherios, Special K, Honey Bunches of Oats and the likes. I know they are processed and loaded with salt, sugar and what not... but better than most options out there, no? I try to avoid eating packaged cereal bars and granola bars, since most of the commercial chewy ones contain gelatin as part of their 'Natural Flavors'. The most creative I can get on winter mornings, in my cold kitchen is toast some bread and fix us a classic PB&J sandwich.

    On the weekends, we usually make it a point to start the day right with some breakfast over hot chai. In fact I get out of bed only when I have a clear picture of whats going to be on for breakfast! I love poha or flattened rice. It's quick, easy and delicious. Now thats not a combination we see that often. Poha can be flavored in many different ways, anything you put in an upma (oh no not that again) can be used in poha. Buy thick flattened rice for this as they tend to be plumper and not fall apart. To prep poha, rinse it under running water in a colander making sure all the grains are moistened. Then allow to drain.

    Coconut Poha
    2 cups thick poha or flattened rice
    salt to taste
    Rinse poha, allow to drain. Add salt, toss and set aside
    2 tsp oil
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    1 tsp black gram dal (soaked in water for 2 mins and drained)
    3 dried red chillies
    3 green chillies minced or chopped fine
    Heat oil in a skillet, add the other ingredients, allow to sputter.
    3/4 cup grated coconut (thawed if frozen)Add and fry till coconut turns a reddish brown
    Add poha and cook till dry

    Enjoy with a steaming cup of tea. If you don't have poha, you can also substitute cooked rice. Just increase the amount of coconut and you'll have coconut rice.

    Coconut Poha - my entry to From my rasoi breakfast event hosted by Meena of Hooked on Heat.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Comfort Food South Indian style

    Even though I have acquired tastes for different types of cuisines and love food in general, I enjoy South Indian food in my own way. Infact according to hubbie, I eat Southie food with the occasional trademark slurp ( Don't be alarmed, I absolutely don't). But, I agree to the extent that I really savour the taste. I made a modest but extremly heartly meal of Vatral Kuzhumbu, Vazhakkai (plantain) curry, Lemon rasam, plain rice, curd rice to extinguish the flames and salad.

    Vatral Kuzhumbu

    Every family has their own take on this. Here is one from food blogosphere's Shammi.
    Here is how it is made in the old GM house.

    Vatral Kuzhumbu

    2 ladles oilHeat
    1 tsp mustad seeds
    1/4 tsp methi seeds
    2-3 dried red chillies
    Add to oil and crackle
    1 cup sliced onion
    3 tsp sambar powder
    2 tsp rasam powder
    Add to oil and fry till fragrance exudes
    1 lime sized tamarindExtract 3 cups of juice and add
    2 tsp saltAdd
    Boil for 15-20 mins or thick consistency

    Traditionally as Shammi points out, you use dried goodies (Vatral) that you can get from the Indian stores. In their absence, you can use other vegetables (like I have) onions, brinjal, beans, okra etc, and fry them well in the cooking process. Also, keep in mind that the spices must also cook well until the raw smell is gone. In my opinion, the simplest and best accompaniment to this Kuzhumbu is simple potatoes cooked till crispy in simple seasonings like salt and turmeric. Also, Spinach is another classic accompaniment.

    I however decided to cook potato's cousin brother, the plantain.

    Vazhakkai (Plantain) Curry
    3 plantainsPeel, wash and chop into even bite size pieces
    2 tbps oil
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    1 tsp urad dal
    Heat oil and crackle seeds. Add chopped plantains
    2 tsp salt
    pinch asafetida
    Scald the plantains. Cook undisturbed for 10 mins
    2 tsp curry powder or sambar powderWhen slight browning occurs, add curry powder. Cook uncovered for 5 -10 mins more till desired crispiness obtained

    As a wise one has rightly said "Self Restraint solves all problems". I tried to practice it, and didnot harass the veggies, just let them cook in peace, and the results as promised were great.

    Lemon (Juicy) Rasam

    I love rasam. What a tangy and nutritious meal it makes. There are different types of rasam... my absolute fav is lemon rasam. Apparently when I was young (er), I coined the term 'juicy' rasam meaning lemon rasam. But my suspicion is that Mommie came up with this term, she is always making up cute names to make things sound appetizing. Rasams are also the easiest things in the world to make! Throw in the ingredients, and let the heat do the job. The only smarts needed is NEVER let the rasam boil. It must gently froth just below boiling point.

    Lemon Rasam
    5 cups water
    4-5 green chillies slit
    1 tsp turmeric powder
    2 tsp salt
    2 tsp rasam powder
    big pinch asafotida
    1 tomato chopped roughly
    Add to stockpot/vessel on medium heat.
    1.5 cups cooked toor dalWhen rasam begins to froth, add dal. Let the mixture bubble and froth
    juice of 1 lemonAdd
    1 tsp oil
    1 tsp mustard seeds
    Add tempering to rasam

    There you go. Don't forget to enjoy a nice helping of curd rice at the end of this meal. Here is a great recipe for curd rice by Raji of My Cuisine.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Cream of asparagus soup

    Asparagus is one of those 'rich' vegetables that tastes simply great just steamed and topped with melted butter. It has traditionally not been included in Indian dishes, but I would love to know if some one has tried. Here is something we always make whenever aparagus is available in our refrigerator.

    Asparagus Soup
    Serves 4


    1 lb young asparagus
    3 tbsp butter
    1 small yellow onion roughly chopped
    1 tbsp all-purpose flour
    2.5 cups vegetable stock or water
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1 cup milk
    1/2 cup light cream (I substituted 1 mashed ripe avocado... for a mild avocado taste but the same creamy texture)
    salt and freshly ground pepper

    How to proceed

    1. Cut 1.5 inches off the tops of half the asparagus and set aside for a garnish. Slice the remaining asparagus.

    2. Melt 2 tbsps of the butter in a large sauce pan and saute the sliced onion for 2-3 minutes until soft.

    3. Add the asparagus and saute over low heat for 1 minute.

    4. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the stock or water and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, half-cover the pan, then simmer for 15-20 minutes until the asparagus is very tender. (If crazy enough to use the avocado, mash and add at this point)

    5. Cool slightly and then process the soup in a food processor or blender until smooth. (You may then press the pureed asparagus through a sieve. I usually skip it as I don't mind some texture)

    6. Add milk to the mixture and heat gently for 3-4 minutes.

    7. Melt remaining butter and saute the reserved asparagus tips gently for 3-4 minutes to soften. Add to the soup as garnish.

    This recipe is adapted from the book "Vegetarian - the best ever recipe collection" by Linda Fraser. Give it a try, I assure you that you will not be dissappointed!

    For those of you who have been following my tryst with the avocado, it is finally over! I have used up all those avocados in a variety of ways. The most successful ones are mentioned on this blog :)