Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Celebration with Carrot Halwa

Wishing you all a Joyful and a Very Happy New Year!

As 2008 passes into the history books we usher in 2009 hoping for happier tidings and a little less of history.

Nothing brings memories of holidays like a train journey. In most parts of the world travel is synonymous with train journey unlike here in the US where train journey is not that common. Train journeys in India are enjoyable affairs (yes sometimes dirty, annoying and loud) when in a group. The highlight of course is the packed food, packed in a layer of banana leaf over which is wrapped a newspaper. The smell that emanates when unwrapped has to be experienced. The noise and clutter of the various vendors selling kaapi (tea) and goodies in every station is another enjoyable and often anticipated feature of the train journey. The kids were highly thrilled when we went on a train journey to Kerala during our last visit. We could call it their first long distance train trip and still think fondly of that trip. I am sure everyone remembers their first real trip on a train. I do, mine was a trip to Vijawada when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. Do you remember yours?


We have been planning on taking a train trip here in the US ever since. The problem with taking a train here is the duration of the trip. Compared to flying it is at least 6-10 times longer. We finally found the time to embark on the much anticipated train journey during the holidays. We were visiting our friends in Chicago and there was no strict schedule to adhere. It also did not hurt that the tickets on Amtrak were far cheaper than the plane tickets. Even the coach class which we chose to travel by was several measures more comfortable than the First class plane seat. With ample leg room, reclining seats, freedom to walk around, a dining car and a lounge car we did have a comfortable albeit a long journey. The kids had fun and we had a lot of family time like DD reasoned. The train travels through some of the less travelled areas. The train travelled along river valleys and mountains with a picture perfect spectacular view of the river all through the B&O route. The numerous small waterfalls along the way were just an added bonus.


If you have room on your New Year resolution sheet be sure to include a long distance train trip as one of them. You won't be disappointed.

It is traditional to start anything with a sweet. I wanted to make one that was gluten free and not too sweet. Carrot Halwa fit the bill perfectly.


Carrot Halwa
Serves : 4
1. Approx. 3 1/2 Cups of grated carrot
2. 2 Cups Milk
3. 3/4 cups of sugar
4. 2 pods cardamom powdered
5. a handful of raisins and cashews
6. 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp ghee

1. In a heavy bottomed pan take the milk and carrot and let it cook on a medium low flame till the carrot is cooked and most of milk has evaporated. (20-25 minutes)
2. Add the sugar and continue to cook till all the liquid is gone (10 minutes)
3. Now add the cardamom powder and ghee and let it cook till the ghee separates out.
4. Keep stirring thorough out the cooking process so not to stick to the bottom.
5. In a separate pan roast the cashews and raisins in a bit of ghee.

Serve with the nuts garnished on top.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bread Upma (Stir Fried Bread)

When we were growing in India bread was what you ate when you were sick. When you visited someone in the hospital you carried with you a loaf of bread, a bag of oranges and a bottle of Horlicks. To eat bread otherwise it had be dressed up to not look and taste like bread. I would like to think of Bread Upma as a dish that came in vogue in the 80s. The bread available in India at that time was invariably sweet, soft and white. In contrast now bread is such an integral part of my life. I have this feeling of missing something if I do not have a loaf of bread in the house. But of late buying ready made bread makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Ever since I started reading the food labels the number of ingredients in bread has always bothered me and reading Michael Pollan's: In Defense of Food only confirmed the fear. This is what he says about bread:

Consider a loaf of bread, one of the "traditional foods that everyone knows" specifically singled out for protection in the 1938 imitation rule. As your grandmother could tell you, bread is traditionally made using a remarkably small number of familiar ingredients: flour, yeast, water and a pinch of salt will do it. But industrial bread - even industrial whole-grain bread - has become a far more complicated product of modern food science (not to mention commerce and hope).

Then he goes on to list the ingredients found in Sara Lee's Soft and Smooth Whole Grain Wheat Bread which runs close to about 50 ingredients. Rule of thumb as stated by Pollan is not to buy food that has unfamiliar ingredients and unpronounceable ingredients. Try as I might with the dazzling array of bread available in the super market bread aisle I cannot find a loaf of bread with just the stated five ingredients. So depending on how much time I have on hand, I first avoid buying breads with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and then spend time looking for those with the fewest possible ingredients.

The ingredients from the loaf I picked up recently, Peppridge Farm - 100% Natural 100% Whole Wheat Whole Grain Bread are as follows:

Whole Wheat flour, Water, Crushed Wheat, Wheat Gluten, Sugar, Yeast, Raisin juice concentrate, Soybean oil, Contains 2% or less of - Wheat Bran, Molasses, Whole Wheat flakes, Honey, Vinegar, Lower Sodium Natural Modified Soy Lecithin and Enzymes.

Not bad! other than the Soy Lecithin part I was able to recogonize most of the ingredients still not sure what the enzymes meant. All this is leading to my New Year resolution. Bake my own bread. The no knead bread has given me lot of hope. I am not a baker by any means, successfully baking a loaf of bread and being able to do it regularly would be just wonderful.

Bread Upma can be both a snack and a breakfast item. With eggs, bread and a sprinkling of cheese it can serve as a good breakfast. If you have old bread that needs to be used this is a perfect way to dress it up.


Bread Upma
Serves: 3-4

1. 10 slices of Whole Wheat Bread (or any bread) cut into cubes
2. 3 Eggs (optional)
3. 1/2 Red Onion chopped fine
4. 1/2 tomato chopped fine
5. 1 tbsp Tomato Ketchup (or any sauce to suit your liking)
6 chopped green chilies, chopped coriander leaves (optional)
7. 1 tsp red chili powder (again optional)
8. 1-2 tsp oil /butter
9. a small slice of monterey Jack Cheese
1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and saute the onions till translucent, add salt.
2. Now add the tomatoes and saute till soft. If adding green chilies add now
3. Add the tomato ketchup and chili powder and mix
4. Add the cubed bread slices and toss so the sauce is well coated.
If not adding eggs it should be done at this stage. Go to Step 8.

5. Now make space in the center and break the eggs cook them in the heat and then toss them with the bread slices.
6. Continue to cook till the eggs have been completely cooked.
7. Sprinkle the coriander leaves if using and toss one more time.
8. Grate chees on top.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dal Chapathis and My Beloved City! - Simple Lunches 16

Home Away From Home! That is Washington D.C. is to me and my family. I do not take kindly the disparaging the city gets from politicians of all stripes. Now you know why the republican VP candidate did not endear herself to me. Sorry for bringing her up if you have already forgotten her and moved on but not so fast she might still be able to haunt us in the years to come! Bush and friends made the exact same mistake by calling themselves outsiders when they had more connections to the city than many of us would ever have even if we lived here for a few more life times. I sincerely hope the incoming Obama folks don't do it. They fought tooth and nail to get here, so they better take the city for better or worse.

For those of you not clued into US Politics. It has become a tradition of sorts to run as an outsider and call DC all kinds of names and portray yourself as an "outsider" meaning you are not part of the establishment. This apparently endears you to the rest of the country. "DC" say that in the most demeaning way possible and that's is how politicians refer to the place but fight tooth and nail to get here. What I resent most is the equating DC to everything sleazy, though the city and its people have nothing to do with the sleaze. It is the lobbyists, cronies and advisers brought in by these people from different parts of the country who are the sleaze.

The city is planning its biggest bash ever soon, so folks treat the city gently when you visit. I like the gentleness of this city when compared to say New York City for instance and the way it does not take itself seriously with so much power surrounding it. You could go down to the mall on a bright sunny or for that matter an overcast gloomy day for a game of soccer or tag or whatever. If you packed a picnic lunch no worries, you can pick a perfect spot and just hope the picnic tastes as good. You would never know you are walking in one of the most powerful places in the world. But you might not be able to take in the city and relax if you are visiting during inauguration, the city is just about to be packed to the brim.

Happy Holidays!

Visiting the city during the Holidays is always a joy. The Capitol Hill and White House Christmas trees and the decked out Union Station are all fun places to visit. If it is a moon lit night even better :)

Dal Chapathis

Just like writer's block,I get cooker's block (!?) now and then. It happened to me a few days ago. Lunch time was nearing and all I could think of was dal and I wanted a one dish quick and easy meal. The usual dal and rice did not sound appetizing. So the next best thing was to combine dal and wheat flour with some spices. I did not expect them to turn out as tasty as they did. The addition of the dal made it a lot easier to roll them out. These dal chapathis can be served as an evening snack with a dash of cream cheese. No side dish was required really but I made some onion/tomato/green chilies(sauted) raita.

Simple Lunches - 16 (Dal Chapthi, Onion - tomato raita and sliced cucumbers)

1. 1 Cup toor dal and red lentils (masoor dal) cooked with a pinch of turmeric and a dash of sesame oil
2. 1 1/2 cup of Wheat Flour
3. 1/2 tbsp sambhar powder
4. 2 tsp cumin seeds
5. 1/2 inch piece of ginger grated
6. salt to taste
1. Mix the Wheat flour, sambhar powder, ginger, cumin seeds, salt along with the cooked dal and knead to a dough resembling chapathi dough. Sprinkle water if required.
2. Now take small lemon sized ball and roll them out into chapathi circle.
3. On a hot tava, cook the chapathis on both sides, spray a dash of oil/ghee if required at the end.

Serve with yogurt or raita.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quick Sambhar for a quick breakfast

Something came to sharp focus the last few days, the fact that I and pretty much a lot of people are slave to the Internet. It has fast moved from being a communication tool to a essential utility just like electricity, water and gas.
If you say I am late in my realization then that's what it is.

Sometime last week we started having problems with connecting to secure web sites which means practically everything these days - banking, email, investing, credit card bill all of it and most importantly logging on to blogger. You must know how traumatic that must be for someone who has blogging addiction, worse was not being able to log on to my google reader! It took exactly 5 days to resolve the issue. Verizon who is our provider would not accept it was their problem to begin with "must be something with your computer". Lucky for us we have 3 Operating Systems, 2 version of IE and Firefox to test it out. We thought it was our router but a quick call to a neighbor revealed it was not that either, he was having the exact same problem. But by magic the issue got resolved by the afternoon but the relief did not last long, the issue came back Sunday afternoon. More weird as for a few of the other neighbors it was just fine depending on how their connection is routed I guess. Googling DH found a forum online and thereby a few others in the same geographic having the same problem. Finally after much frustration the problem was finally resolved this afternoon. Hopefully I have not spoken too soon!!

But the whole episode underscored a deeper problem for which I don't have a solution. I was going through my Bank statement and I noticed a check written for a big amount and no recollection of why or who it was made out to. Normally I would login to my bank and that would be that. I am glad we have not made the switch to VOIP yet. Imagine if I were a day trader calling an agent to do a stock trade is going to cost twice as much as doing it online and the munutes I spend holding for a rep is going to be bad. I am not sure how to deal with this problem but I am going to try and see if my dialup works still :)

Now on to more pleasant things like this Sambhar. Cooked the old fashioned way with old fashioned ingredients but with quick instant result. If you consider Pressure Cooker low tech that is. My mom makes these for breakfast usually and it is a perfect accompaniment for dosais or idlis. Absent tamarind or any strong spices this is the perfect start to the day. Listed are 2 different ways to cook the sambhar. I like to saute the onions so usually follow Method 1, my mom generally follows Method 2. Can't tell the difference between the two in terms of taste.

Wheat Dosai with Sambhar

Serves: 3-4

1. 1/2 cup Split Moong dal slightly roasted
2. 1 juicy ripe tomato
3. Pearl onions or shallots 8-10 peeled and sliced
4. 3-4 green chilies
5. 1 tsp sambhar powder (purely optional)
6. handful coriander leaves
7. seasonings: mustard, curry leaves
8. 1 tsp oil
9. Salt to taste

1. Pressure cook the moong dal till soft and mushy.
2. In a pan heat the oil, add the seasonings, saute the onions slightly, add the tomatoes and green chillies and saute till tomatoes are mushy
3. Pour over the cooked moong dal, mix
4. Add the chopped coriander leaves on top, sambhar powder if adding and salt to taste
5. Cover and pressure cook for 1 more sound.

1. Add all the ingredients 1-6 and pressure cook for 2 sounds
2. Now in a small pan heat the oil add the seasonings and when the mustard pops pour over the cooked dal. Add salt and mix

Ready to serve in a jiffy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Butter Beans Pulao

I read somewhere that sadness stays with you longer than happiness and I think it is the same in my experience as well. On the other hand this recent study has found that happiness spreads faster and to a larger group than misery which is slower and is not that far reaching. If you are interested in reading in detail : link. Hoping the research is true and my gloomy outlook for the long winter won't spread. I dread this cold miserable weather, gloomy and raining and I dearly miss the Sunshine. What can I say I grew up in a place which more or less had sunshine for at least 360 days of the year.

Speaking of sunshine watched this movie "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind". Though the title has a nice ring to it, a line borrowed from a poetry, it is not worth even the rental money, lucky for me I borrowed the DVD from the library. I don't remember the reviews from the time the movie was released. Jim Carey in a subdued role without his usual exaggerated facial gestures. The only feature of interest was Hindi music playing in the background in one of the scenes.

As I sit here typing I see the sunshine playing in the windows which is a good sign don't you think? My SAD has taken a back seat for the day at least.

I have always been a big fan of Beans and Lima Beans or Butter Beans as they are called are one of my favorites. When I saw this Double Bean Pulav on Masala Magic, I had to try it. With just a simple raita as side it makes a perfect one pot meal. The recipe is more or less the same with just few additions and omissions. I do not use cardamom in savory dishes only the sweet ones. I rarely if ever make a ginger,garlic paste, usually mince them. I used Sona Masoori rice in place of the Basmati. If using Sona Masoori, it is important to soak the rice for a half an hour. I like to cook the beans before using them in the rice. The beans are harder and not fully cooked otherwise.


Recipe Source: Double Beans Pulav

1. 1 Cup Sona Masoori rice soaked in water for half hour - (2 1/2 cups of water)
2. 1 Cup Double Beans cooked (if using pressure cook for 1 whistle)
3. 1 Red onion sliced lengthwise
4. 5 garlic cloves, 1 inch piece of ginger, 5 green chillies, handful of coriander leaves minced in a food processor
5. 2 tsp coriander powder
6. 1/2 tsp cumin powder
7. 2 tsp red chili powder
8. 3 cloves, small piece of cinnamon and half a flower of star anise (make a smooth powder)
9. salt to taste
10. 2 tsp of oil, 1 tsp ghee
11. seasonings: saunf, curry leaves and cumin seeds
12. salt to taste

1. In a pressure pan, heat the oil and add the seasonings. Now add the powdered whole spices (clove,cinnamon,anise) and saute for a second or two.
2. Add the onion and saute till translucent.
3. Now add the ginger,garlic,gc,coriander mince and saute till the raw smell goes.
4. Add the coriander,chili and cumin powders and mix well.
5. Now drain the rice and mix it well with the masala. Let it continue to saute while you heat the water required in a sauce pan. Add salt.
6. When the water comes to a boil, add the cooked lima beans to the rice and mix, add the water, test for salt and spice and let it cook for about 5 minutes till the rice is about half cooked.
7. *Close the lid and cook for 12 minutes. Switch of the heat.

* Do not have to wait for the whistle to sound.

Serve with raita of choice.

This will be an entry to MLLA, Sixth helping hosted by Suganya of Tasty Palettes, an event started by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Other Butter Beans Recipes
1. Bean Rice
2.Butter Beans Varuval (fry)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quick Chicken Stir Fry

Our local temple had a fundraiser last evening. It is usually a low key affair with a few cultural programs interspersed with dinner and refreshments. Yesterday actor Napolean who is a friend of one of the patrons came along according to him to see a gathering of his hometown folks. He was not an advertised attraction, just came there with his friends. He donated generously and when the light music troupe asked him join them and sing he sang a song from Seevala Peri Paandi with panache. I had no idea the guy could sing so well. What was most striking was he did all what people asked without hesitation, no airs nothing.

Anyway if you are wondering why this is a big deal for an actor and that he was just doing his job. That's was not the whole deal, he said he visits the DC area every 3 months because his software company has an office in the area besides the UK and New Zealand. That was exactly what caught my attention. Well anyway...

One dish the kids would eat without complaining it is hot or spicy is chicken. When even sambhar can taste spicy there is nary a peep when they are presented with the spiciest of chickens. I am not too fond of eating bland chicken so I am glad the kids can take heat when it is on chicken. This is a quick stir fry dish without grinding or much effort. If you have precut chicken this hardly takes more than 20 minutes max.


Serves: 3-4

1. 1 1/2 lbs of Chicken Thighs with bones chopped to bite size pieces
2. 1/2 cup shallots chopped
3. 6 garlic cloves sliced
4. 2 inch piece of ginger grated
5. 1/2 tbsp chicken masala powder (I used the readymade version but fresh is even better - recipe here)
6. seasonings - cloves - 3, small piece of cinnamon, cumin and fennel seeds, a sprig of curry leaves)
7. 1/2 tbsp of chili powder
8. 3 tsp turmeric powder
9. lemon juice from half a lemon
10. oil - 2 tsp

1. Clean the chicken and marinate in turmeric, chili powder and lemon juice. [This is not a required step, I had an errand to run so left the chicken to marinate]
2. Heat oil in a kadai or wok and when hot add the seasonings, fry for a minutes
3. Add the chopped shallots and saute for a minute followed by the garlic and ginger
4. Add the masala powder and mix
5. When they are soft and turning color add the chicken and saute for a minute or two. Close the lid and let it for about 8-10 minutes till the chiken is soft.
6. Open the lid and saute till the water evaporates.
Serve with rice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Caulifower and Peas in Coconut Sauce

Indian food and clothes have held fascination for a lot of people. These two are topics that are easy to handle and I think I have just about enough knowledge to handle these questions and provide information most of the time. But of late I have been getting some serious questions that stump me. A lady once asked me to talk about Yoga, since India is the birth place of Yoga and I being an Indian should have an answer. This was about 5 years ago, all I could manage was "Yoga is more popular outside of India than it is in India and I do not have formal training". Now that awareness of India has been steadily increasing people have been posing more nuanced questions.

Questions about why I wear a red spot on my forehead, if arranged marriages are still practised and if mine was one are all gone when finally I have devised smart answers to all these questions. A few weeks ago on a lunch with some of my ex-colleagues one question really stumped me. One of them asked me if the behavior(usually obnoxious and bossy) of a certain Indian employee stemmed from the fact she belonged to a certain caste. All I could do was open and close my mouth like a fish out of water.

Idli Success
I had success with making Idli batter with the rice that is available. Thanks Nirmala, Shn, Nupur and Kay. I used a combination of the techniques suggested and came close to what I used to do in those early days when all we got was long grain rice. Before I started with long grain rice and tried to include par boiled rice which is a big no no and what was the major problem. The batter was bloby and slimy and unsuited for dosai or idli. With the new technique, the proportion that worked for me was 1 cup - urad dal, 4 cups - sona masuri rice, 2 cups - cream of rice. I had some lovely idlis and picture perfect dosai. I craved for idli but did not realize the kids craved for them as much as I did.

There are a few cauliflower recipes that I cook very often. One is Aloo Gobi, the other is this cauliflower curry for lack of a better name. This time along with a head of cauliflower also had some fresh shelled green peas and wanted to make something with both. I used onion and coconut for the masala paste, onion can be omitted by increasing the quantity of coconut. Also reduce the water level depending upon the consistency preferred, my family likes slurpy slightly watery gravy to go with the rotis.


Serves: 4-6
1. 1 small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized pieces
2. 1 cup of Green Peas (fresh or frozen)
3. 1/4 onion chopped
4. 1 juicy red tomato
5. seasoning : cumin and curry leaves
6. Salt to taste

For the Paste
1. 1/2 medium sized red onion cut into chunks
2. 2 tbsp of fresh/frozen grated cocounut (increase to 4 if not using onion)
3. 6 red chilies (i used a combination of round red chilies and Kashmiri chilies)
4. 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
5. 2 tsp of poppy seeds (soak in warm water for a few minutes)

Saute the onions, red chilies,fennel seeds and towards the end slightly warm the coconut as well. Now mix and blend to a paste.

1. In a pan heat oil add the cumin and saute the onions till translucent
2. Add the tomatoes and a dash of salt and saute till soft.
3. Now add the cauliflower and peas and saute for a few more minutes.
4. *Add the blended paste with a cup of water, salt and let them cook till the cauliflower is soft.

* Alternately blanch the cauliflower and peas and reduce the water to 1/4 of a cup
** Do not close the lid while cooking, it makes the coconut curdle

Serve with rotis