Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Palak Dal

I've had many friends from the land of the Gultis, as I affectionately call them. Which is interesting 'cause many others think of it as very offensive. To me personally, I had no strong parochial sentiments against people from other states and so I never used it in an offensive way. It was just an affectionate way of referring to them. But anyways, their cuisine is very rich and wonderfully flavorful. The best dishes are the various dals/lentils that they make. Having only been used the sambhar version of making lentils, I found their dals to be a treat. Totally in love with them. 

And it was such a friend who taught me this easy-breezy version of Palak Dal. It was a no mess recipe which was no wonder cause he's a guy. At that point I was living in Germany temporarily on project work and he lived in the nearby guesthouse. I got the recipe from him when we had a pot-luck dinner together. I've tried it many times and made minor changes to it depending on my taste. I've got it down to a perfect version now and it's a favorite of now just VJ but also Gabi, Marina and so many other friends who've tried it.

Tuar dal/ Moong dal - 2 cups
Spinach (frozen or fresh - chopped) - 1 cup
Onion - 1 large
Tomato - 1 medium
Tamarind paste - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Oil - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Salt - to taste

For tempering:
Oil - 1 tbsp
Jeera - 2 tsp
Green chillies/Red chillies (based upon your taste) - 4
Ginger - 2 inch piece
Garlic - 2 cloves
Red chilli powder - 2 tsp
Croainder powder - 4 tsp

1. Cut the onion and tomatoes into 1 inch pieces.
2. Defrost the spinach.
3. Wash the dal at least 3 times in clear running water and place in a pressure cooker.
4. To the above, add the spinach, onion and tomatoes with a pinch of turmeric, 1/2 tsp oil and the tamarind paste (if using).
5. Cook for 2 whistles and then on low for 15 mins. Switch off the stove and wait for pressure to release.

For tempering:
1. Finely chop the ginger, garlic and green chillies. If  using red chillies, break them into pieces and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a small kadai and splutter the jeera in it.
3. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and fry unitl lightly browned. The trick here is to get a slightly burnt taste - BUT don't ACTUALLY burn them.
4. Switch off the stove and move the kadai to a cold stove. Now add all the dry masalas and give it a quick stir so that it is mixed with the oil. Leave in the kadai for about 30 secs.
5. Add this tempering to the dal with salt to taste and mix well. Add water as needed to get it to the consistency of your choice. It's better to keep this dal thick - tastes much better that way.

Serve with hot ghee phulkas or plain rice with lots of ghee à la Gulti style :) 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alu Paratha

Remember how I told you about this hotel called Surguru in my hometown Pondichéry? And how that was where I started eating a different cuisine apart from the typical sambhar-saadham-poriyal that I was used to? Well it was also in that same hotel that I was introduced to the stuffed nan. I "hearted" it from the very first time and once I started cooking, I was always curious about how I could achieve the same results in my own tiny kitchen. The experiments started with layering a vegetable mash in between two rotis and trying to seal them and cook them all the way to rolling two rotis together with stuffing in between. It was on a lazy weekend afternoon that I came across this cookery show where I saw the step-by-step process of making a paratha. I tried it out the very next day and it was a hit! The naive 12 year old me couldn't believe that I had actually gotten it right...finally :)

So what follows is a alu paratha recipe that I have tried and perfected over the years. I still have two distinct recipes for the stuffing that I follow. Both of course are a favorite with VJ and it's also the default lunch of his choice on his b'day every year :)

My recipe is mostly going to focus on the stuffing. VJ was actually helping me, so we couldn't take pictures while I actually rolled and made the paratha. I will update this post with the step-by-step pictures once I manage to get some.

Atta - for 10 rotis
Potatoes - 4 medium sized ones

For stuffing 1:
Oil - 1 tbsp
Jeera - 2 tsp
Turmeric - 1/4 tsp
Red chilli powder - 2 tsp
Coriander powder - 2 tsp
Green chillies - 4
Hing - a pinch
Coriander leaves - 1 tbsp (optional)
Salt - to taste

For stuffing 2:
Oil - 1 tbsp
Whole red chillies - 8 (Rule of thumb: 2 chillies per potato)
Whole coriander seeds - 4 tsp
Jeera - 2 tsp
Turmeric powder - a pinch (optional)
Kasoori methi - a generous pinch
Salt - to taste

1. Wash and cut the potatoes in half - along the width. Take a vessel with 2 cups of water and cook the potatoes in it until they are cooked through. You can check using a fork.
2. Then immerse them in cold running water, peel and mash them while they are still hot enough to handle.
3. Add salt to the potatoes, mix well and set aside to cool.

For stuffing 1:
1. Slit the green chilllies and then finely chop them. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a pan and splutter the jeera.
3. Add the green chillies and fry until they are browned. Switch off the stove and place the pan on a cold stove.
4. Now add all the dry masalas and mix well into the oil. Add this to the mashed potatoes and the coriander leaves. 
5. Mix it all together until well blended. If the potatoes are too dry, sprinkle some water and blend well. The stuffing is ready. Make round patties of the stuffing and set aside.

For stuffing 2:
1. Dry roast the coriander seeds and 1 tsp of jeera in a pan along with the red chillies for about a minute or so.
2. Once they are cooled, grind them coarsely in a blender.
3. To this add the pinch of turmeric (optional).
4. Heat the oil in a pan and splutter the remaining 1 tsp of jeera. Switch off the stove, add the coarsely ground masala and give it a quick stir.
5. Add this to the potatoes along with the kasoori methi and mix well until it is all well blended. The stuffing is ready. Make round patties of the stuffing and set aside.

To make the paratha:
1. Take a large pinch of the atta and make a rough-flattened patty. A good rule of thumb is to use 1.5 times the atta required to make a normal roti.
2. Flatten the patty with your hands (or belan) to accomodate the stuffing patty. Place the stuffing patty and bring the atta around it to seal.
3. Slightly press down and dust it with some dry flour. Roll it out like you would a normal roti. But take care that the stuffing doesn't spill out or break through the atta. If there are a few weak spots, dust those areas generously with dry atta and continue to roll it out.
4. To cook the paratha, heat a pan on high until hot. Sprinkle some oil and slide the paratha in the pan with the thick atta side facing the pan first. Sprinkle more oil on the other side and round the edges. After about 30 seconds, flip the paratha.
5. Continue to flip the paratha cooking for roughly 30 to 45 seconds on each side. Add oil if it is too dry. The paratha is done when you can see it change color all over the surface with brown spots. There shouldn't be any patch in the color of uncooked atta.

Serve hot with a dollop of salted butter, plain yoghurt and Indian pickle.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Arachu-vitta Sambhar - Virundhu Saapadu Series

As a kid I never liked sambhar. I was the lone one battling it out on the rasam-team. But my tastes changed for the good and now the thing I miss the most is simple, home-made sambhar of amma. To tell you the truth, I miss my dad's version of sambhar more than my amma's - his sambhar has a very distinct taste to it and I can tell from just the aroma who made the sambhar. I miss dad :(

But one version of a sambhar that I liked even in my rasam-team days was the arachu-vitta sambhar. It has a unique flavor to it and is much thicker than normal sambhar; mainly due to the grated coconut paste that's added to it. This recipe is a typical Tirunelveli version. Usually sambhar is made with some kind of vegetable in it. My favorites are murungakkai (moringa) and mulangi (radish). Other variations include poosani kai (pumpkin), urlai kezhangu (potatoes), carrots and a very seasonal version with green mangoes...yum!

After a quick call to amma on Sunday morning, I was armed and ready with the ingredients. I had a couple of carrots completely forgotten in one corner of my fridge and I decided to put them to good use. What follows is a simple recipe of my amma's to make a sumptuous sambhar within 30 minutes.

Ingredients: (serves two)
Tuar dal - 3/4 cup
Tamarind paste - 3/4 tsp or 1/2 lemon sized chunk
Carrots (or any other vegetable of choice cut into big pieces) - 1/2 cup
Onion - 1/2 of a medium sized one
Tomatoes - 1/2 of a small one
Water - as needed
Salt - to taste

Dry masala powder:
Red chilli powder - 3/4 tsp
Coriander powder - 1.5 tsp
Sambhar powder - 2.5 tsp

For the masala paste:
Coconut (shredded) - 1 tbsp
Jeera - 1/4 tsp
Garlic - 2 or 3 cloves

For tempering:
Oil - 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 5 or 6 nos
Hing - 1/4 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves - a few

1. Wash the tuar dal at least 3 times in running water. Cook in a pressure cooker with 2 cups water, 1/2 tsp of oil and a pinch of turmeric for 2 whistles. Set on low and cook for another 10 minutes. Switch off and let the pressure release.
2. In the meantime, place the chopped vegetables in a small vessel with 1 cup water and enough salt for just the vegetables. Let it cook completely.
3. Dissolve the tamarind paste in 1/2 cup water. If using regular block tamarind, extract the tamarind juice using 1/2 cup water and filter it to remove impurities.
4. Grind the coconut, jeera and garlic with enough water to make a smooth paste in a blender.
5. Chop the onion and tomato into big chunks and set aside.
6. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the tamarind water, enough salt for the sambhar and wait for first boil. If you are using red chilli powder and coriander powder separately, add it now to the tamarind water and let it boil once more.
7. Check the pressure cooker if it is safe to open and mash it well with a thick spoon. Add the tamarind and vegetable mix to the dal and stir until well blended. Let it boil well for at least 3 minutes.
8. Now add the coconut paste to the sambhar and wait for first boil. If you are using the sambhar powder, add it not to the sambhar and check for salt. The sambhar is ready

1. Use the same vessel that was used to cook the vegetables. Add oil and once it is heated, splutter the mustard seeds, add the fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. 
2. Then add the onions and fry until edges are slightly browned. Add the tomatoes and fry for just a minute or so. DO NOT over cook the tomatoes or over fry the onions.
3. Finally add the hing and turmeric and give it a quick stir. Top off the sambhar with the tempering and serve hot with steamed rice and side.

Soon to come...rotis, alu parathas and a post on southern Indian breakfast (idli & dosa)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Green Kurma - Amma's Recipe

Kurma or Korma is a common Indian curry that is a favorite amongst many. For me, personally, the only kurma that I ever liked was amma's green/white kurma. It was loaded with all kinds of vegetables and even during the days when I hated any/all kinds of vegetables, this was one kurma that I loved to eat. What made it a favorite though was the fact that this was the default kurma that you got with the Kerala paratha (another favorite of mine) in most restaurants. That's how my love for this started and amma makes an amazing version of this that I love. My bouts of homesickness have become more frequent than before, the two year mark is inching close and I miss amma's cooking the most. When I came to the US, I was arrogant since I had survived in Bangalore for 4 years. What I forgot to factor-in was of course my once-a-month trips to Pondichery that kept the homesickness in check. So without 'that', this past year and a half has been dotted with many bouts of homesickness. Or rather just foodsickness I guess. Especially amma's.

So with a few left over green beans, a couple of sad carrots and two shriveled potatoes in the corner of my fridge...I had no choice but to make a kurma. The main reason why those leftovers ended up was the biryani that I had made a couple of weeks ago (post to come soon). A quick call to amma and I had rounded up all the ingredients I needed. I even had the kasa-kasa (white poppy seeds) with me, all thanks to amma who had sent a bunch of whole spices with VJ last December. I actually have all kinds of whole spices in my spice shelf now. All of them call out to me to experiment and cook with them more often. I hope the coming 3 weeks help me find recipes using some/all of them.

Tastes best with plain ghee rice cooked with whole spices. But rotis are an equally good substitute too, especially when you are trying to lose those extra pounds.

Carrots - 4
Green beans/string beans/french beans - 200 gm
Green peas - 1/2 cup
Bell pepper (only green) - 1
Potatoes - 2 to 3, medium sized
Ghee/oil - 1tbsp
Onion (chopped/ground into a paste) - 1, medium sized (optional)
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1 tsp
Bay leaf - 1
Cinnamon - 1 inch piece
Black peppercorns (whole) - a few
Cloves - 4
Green cardomom (whole) - 1 or 2

For masala 1:
Kasa-kasa (white poppy seeds) - 1/2 tsp
Cashews (whole) - 5 nos
Milk - 1 tbsp

For masala 2:

Perunjeeragam (Fennel seeds) - 1 tsp
Coconut (shredded) - 4 tbsp
Green chillies - 6
Ginger - 2 inch piece
Garlic - 4 cloves
Pottu kadalai (fried bengal gram) - 2 tbsp
Mint and/or coriander leaves - 1 tbsp (optional)

1. Dry roast the kasa-kasa (poppy seeds) until you can smell its aroma. Warm the milk in a little katori and add the kasa-kasa (poppy seeds) to it along with the cashews. Let it soak for at least a couple of hours.
2. In the meantime, wash all the vegetable, peel and chop them into chunky pieces. You can also chop them smaller, totally upto you.
3. If you are using an onion, finely chop it. Or alternatively, you can also grind it into a fine paste. Making a paste is recommended as against chopping it.
4. Take the oil/ghee in a thick vessel and splutter jeera in it. Then add all the whole masalas and fry until you can smell their aroma. Now add the vegetables, sprinkle some water and add salt just for the vegetables. Cover and cook on low until all vegetables are done.
4. Take the coconut, pottu kadalai (fried bengal gram), perunjeeragam (fennel), ginger, green chillies and the mint/coriander (if applicable). Make a fine paste out of it using as much water as needed. This is masala 2.
5. Once the kasa-kasa (poppy seeds) and cashews are well soaked, grind them into a fine paste using milk as needed. This is masala 1.
6. Check the vegetables if they are completely cooked. Now add masala 2 and mix well. Add water as needed depending upon desired thickness of gravy. Cook for a couple of minutes. Now add masala 1, mix well and cover and cook on low for a couple of minutes or until first boil. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT over boil the gravy at this stage. It will curdle and spoil it all. Check for salt and other seasonings.

Amma dearest...leave a comment if you have a concern with this recipe.