Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brinjal curry - (a rasvangi style curry)

Recipes change a lot and also adapt to what is available on hand. Proof of this concept is my mom. Every time she visits she has these recipes learned from her friends, watched on TV and variations added to old recipes.

Brahmins in my neck of the woods back home don't eat meat. To make up for the lack of animal based protein they eat a lot of plant based proteins in the form of lentils, beans and dals. I am no expert and just guessing here to the reason. Most recipes cooked without lentils will have some some sort of beans or lentils added in a Brahmin style recipe.

A few years ago a friend (colleague) who was incidentally a Brahmin got me sambhar that she had cooked. I noticed that she had added black eyed peas which gave it a double dose of protein, a technique that I use all time now.

A very dear friend of my mom is a Brahmin mami from whom my she seems to be picking these ideas and improvising those with here own way of cooking. A situation that is a win win for me.

The recipe for today is one such improvisation I am guessing.

Brinjal Curry - like a Rasavangi
1. 8-10 brinjal washed and cut lengthwise
2. seasonings - curry leaves and mustard seeds
3. 1/2 cup of tamarind pulp from a 2 inch piece of tamarind
4. salt to taste
5. 1 tsp oil

For the Paste
1. 1/2 tbsp chana dal (kadalai paruppu)
2. 6 red chilies
3. 1 tbsp grated fresh coconut
4. a small piece of asfoetida

Roast the chana dal, chilies and asfoetida and grind to a paste with the coconut adding a little bit of water.

1. In a pressure heat the oil and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves.
2. When the mustard pops add the brinjal and saute till the brinjal starts to get a slightly brown tinge.
3. Add the ground paste, tamarind pulp, salt and 1/2 cup of water and let it cook for one whistle.

1. The amount of water to be added depends on how thick you want the curry to be.
2. Chana dal tends to make the curry thick so add water accordingly.

Goes very well with rice and a drizzle of ghee.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Green - Raw minced tomatoes Pickle (thokku)

'Oh what a week' set to the tune of 'Oh what a night!' would best describe the week that just passed [I did not come up with that, I read it somewhere and thought it was perfect]. The events of the week have not all settled yet. Irene the hurricane is a few hours away as I type this.

During an earthquake it is best to stay inside under a sturdy table or a doorway and not rush outside I read in the papers the next day. I certainly did not know and did not have the time to think, my legs involuntarily carried me through the exit and outside at the same moment everyone else came streaming out the building.

floating oil - indication that the pickle is done

Irene which was a faint rumble(no pun intended) was put aside when the earth quake became the focus. After a couple of days it is back to Irene and citizens are exhorted to move out. Different natural furies call for different reactions!. Mandatory evacuations? The freedom to move out or stay put should be made by citizens not government no? Shouldn't the government stop with letting people know what the dangers are?

Perfect on toast

As of last night the storm has been downgraded to Category 1 but the TV channels just can't seem to wind down the hysteria they started. Grocery stores in our area are briskly selling milk, bread and toilet paper, added to the generators and grills. Hopefully Irene won't live up to its hyped reputation and the damage will be limited. For most inland areas including ours the danger is in the winds and that is what worries me the most.

morning breakfast - bread, add a fried egg, spread with the delicious tomato pickle

On to the recipe,
My garden this year has not been productive. I am still not sure if it was the unrelenting heat of July or the stink bugs doing their thing. Most vegetable plants seem to bloom but fruit never set. I know the stink bugs are very destructive and damage young fruit. As for the tomatoes the fruit starting to ripen early in August were getting destroyed by the stinkbugs, thought I'd outwit them and get to the fruit before they did. I collected a good 4lbs worth of green raw tomatoes and had to use them before they rot.

Rather than wait for them to ripen decided to make some pickle with the raw ones. The slightly sour taste the raw tomatoes impart add the little something that is perfect for pickles. The pickles is great as a spread for toasts, sandwiches and even making fried rice.

1. 2lb raw tomatoes washed dried completely of moisture and chopped
2. 3 tbsp of minced garlic
3. 1/4 cup of red chili powder
4. half lime sized piece of tamarind cleaned
5. 1 1/2 - 2 cups of sesame oil
6. 1 tbsp of mustard seeds
7. 1 tbsp of fenugreek seeds
8. 1 tbsp of kosher salt (or as per taste)

1. In a thick bottomed wide mouthed pan heat about 2 tbsp of the oil and add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook. Place a lid and let it sweat and become soft. This takes about 20-30 minutes.
2. Once the moisture in the tomatoes has evaporated heat half of the oil and add it to the cooking tomatoes. Let it cook in the oil for another 10 minutes or so.
3. In the meantime dry roast the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds and make a powder.
4. When the oil starts to bubble and the tomatoes start to leave the sides add the chili powder and the roasted powder and salt.
5. Let it cook till the moisture is completely gone and the oil starts to bubble up on top (10 minutes or so).
6. Heat the remaining oil and add it to the pickle. Cook for another 10 minutes. At this point the oil should be floating on top and the bubbles should have subsided.

Cool and store in clean sterilized and dry jars.

1. Add the chili powder almost towards the end of the cooking and in the beginning to avoid burning.
2. Keep stirring at regular intervals, once cooked the tomatoes do not stick to the bottom.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blueberry and Orange Scones

We use credit cards for most payments and that means we rarely use cash for purchases. It is convenient and every dollar we pay gets us an airline mile. Pretty good because these airline miles obviously get us free air tickets. I have not given any more thought than free miles while using these rewards credit cards. We pay a yearly service charge and assumed that is fair since we get the perk of collecting airline miles.

Jump to the Recipe >>>

Everything would have been fine and nary a second thought given to it but for the fact that we had to dig deep down to figure out how these charges work. Let's say you purchase something using a simple credit card i.e one with no rewards, the merchant pays what is called a qualified charge which is a certain percentage of the purchase price to the credit card company as fees.

The rewards cards trigger a higher percentage of fee to be paid by the merchant. The fee is split with varying formulas between the issuing bank (the bank through which you get your cc) and the acquiring bank (the merchant's bank). These are collectively called interchange fees.

There is a dizzying array of price structures and most merchants bite the cost for the privilege of accepting cards. Why did I even bring up this topic? Before our forced analysis I was under the impression that the credit card companies/banks were shelling out a portion of their profits as rewards . Wrong! It is the merchants who pay the fee and hence bites the cost. Who pays the merchant? You and me! So guess who is paying for these rewards? We the customer! Merchants no doubt pass the cost of this overhead on to the customer through increased prices.

ready to bake

It is always good to remember the adage "Nothing is free"! The next time I use miles to get a free airline ticket it is not going to be as sweet.

fresh out of the oven

Here is a link to a picture if you are interested in how these charge work - Courtesy Wiki.

Now that I have made everyone a little less happy about the so called free rewards, we will move on to the recipe which is never going to displease you no matter what.

Regular readers of this blog know that baking is not one of my strengths. Winging it does not take you far in the baking department. But there is very little that can really go wrong with this particular recipe. If I can bake a flaky scone that also tasted great so can you. The recipe card like the one for these Raspberry Paletas was picked up by DD from a grocery store. She was behind me to buy the ingredients and stopped only when all of them were bought. She and DD2 did most of the measuring, mixing and I stepped in to shape the dough. Need I tell you I am proud of the results.

Blueberry and Orange Scones
1. 2 1/2 leveled cups of unbleached all purpose flour
2. 1/3 cup or 5 1/3 tbsp of unsalted butter
3. 1/2 cup of sugar + 1 tbsp of sugar
4. 1 tbsp of orange zest (the recipe called for 3 tbsp of orange rind)
5. 3/4 cup of dried blueberries
6. 1/4 tsp of salt
7. 1 tbsp baking powder
8. 1 1/4 cups + 1/4 cup of whipping cream

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt into a mixing bowl. Add in sugar and orange zest. Preheat the oven to 425F.
2. Cut the chilled butter into smaller pieces and add them to the flour and with the tip of your fingers mix the butter into the flour so it resembles bread crumbs.
3. Add in the blueberries to the flour mixture and toss around followed by 1 1/4 cups of whipping cream. Gently mix the cream into the flour so the flour is moistened.
4. Transfer the dough onto to a floured surface and gently knead it a couple of times. Separate the dough into 2-3 parts and pat it into 6-8 inch rounds with about 1/2 inch thickness and cut into equal size wedges.
5. Place the wedges on a greased cookie sheet covered. Using the remaining 1/4 cup whipping cream brush the wedges and sprinkle the 2 tbsp sugar on top.
6. Bake for 15 minutes till the top turns lightly brown.
7. Remove and cool completely.

1. Fresh blueberries or cranberries can be used.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guess and a Commentary

If you watch any kind of news you could not have escaped the spectacle that was taking place in Iowa. It was a display of all that is ugly and wrong with the Republican Party and by extension America. Why do a few places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the very few who vote in these primaries have so much power in electing the candidate for President?

While the President was taking a mid-west tour on his Darth Vader mobile the Republican candidates for President were out mouthing each other. Mitt Romney equates corporations with people, Bachmann says submission means respect and the God who asked her to run for Congress only knows. Seriously woman you got to be kidding. Read this article on Bachmann if you have the patience. As for Rick Perry who has problems with evolution and would rather secede from the Union, and write laws that support his friends in the industry as governor of the great state of Texas now wants to take that logic National. Remind me again how on earth did America become a technological leader with people like this who are supposed to be leaders?

I don't have the patience and pity all of us who have to take this nonsense for the next 15 months. The sad thing is we have no choice. We have the current president to blame for people like Bachamann and Sarah Palin for thinking they could be Presidents. If he who spent his time in the Illinois senate and the US senate doing nothing and with no leadership experience whatsoever can become the President by the simple fact he was at the right place at the right time. Why can't Bachmann or Palin dream?

America is in a serious fiscal crisis and none of these fools look like they can set the country on the right track while we have another year of the current President's term to deal with. Wall street and business just need to sneeze an he will be running to set their problems straight. You can get his ear too, if you can afford the $35,000 for a plate of food at one of his fundraisers. Or you could be rich enough to be wining and dining at Martha's Vineyard his favorite vacation place.

How does the political drama make you feel? Or you'd rather guess what plant this flower belongs to?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pasta for lunch with vegetables and chick peas

We watch PBS (public television) a lot. The kids have their shows, I have mine and there are a few that all of us watch. In the past year seems like PBS has stepped up its fundraising (I did make my contribution!). What used to be twice a year during Fall and Spring now seems to have become a every other month affair.

During these fundraisers we end up watching a lot of shows by people like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. Daniel Amen which serve as fillers. They talk about healthy eating, obesity, controlling the brain through eating and many other interesting topics.

I am all for eating healthy but I do not look at food as some part of its vitamins and minerals but enjoy it for its taste. In broad strokes we understand that all of kinds of vegetables/greens/fruits are good, eating grains in moderation is good and eating meat sparingly is the best.

We never eat a lot of meat but over time we have started to eat a lot of carbohydrates especially wheat and rice. This program helped remind us of macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, vitamins, fats, sugars and their place in diet one more time.

We are now committed to eating more greens and veggies and reducing the carbohydrates which seem to make it presence felt more and in larger quantities. Not completely cut it out but include more of a variety - white rice, brown rice, wheat, quinoa, millets regularly.

Eating right keeps the brain smarter, body healthier and diseases at bay. Like we do a family budget at the beginning of the year, having and refining a food plan every 6 months is a must I am thinking.

I am not particularly fond of pasta especially the one smothered with store bought pasta sauce. Of late I am enjoying light but flavorful pasta with vegetables and occasionally nuts and beans. Here is a version of my favorite recipe which tastes just right at lunch time. It is easy to put together in the morning for the kids lunch box or ours. For the kids I add green peas and corn their favorite veggies or broccoli or sometimes grilled vegetables when cooking for dinner.

Pasta with vegetables and chick peas
1. 1 cups of whole wheat pasta (I used angel hair pasta but any kind works)
2. 1 cups of broccoli florets
3. 1/4 cup chickpeas soaked overnight
4. 1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
5. 3-4 garlic cloves minced
6. 1/4 cup of tomatoes chopped fine
7. 1 tsp black pepper powder
8. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder (or as per taste)
9. 1 tbsp of lime juice
10. 2 tbsp of chopped fresh basil leaves
12. 1 tbsp of olive oil
13. salt to taste
14. grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook the chickpeas till they are tender and set them aside. Take care not to overcook and turn them mushy.

2.Put the pasta to cook in salted water with a few drops of olive oil and in the meantime, in a pan heat oil and add the garlic and onions and let them cook till the onions are translucent.
3. Add salt and black pepper powder followed by the tomatoes, let them cook till they are nice and soft and mushy.
4. Add in the chili powder and chickpeas and let them cook together for a few minutes.
5. Drain the pasta but preserve some of the water. Add the pasta to the chick peas mixture and a few tbsp of the cooking liquid and mix it in well with the sauce and let it heat together for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon juice and let it cook for a couple of minutes more. Drizzle a few more droplets of olive oil and add the basil leaves. Let it remain moist with a bit of the cooking liquid.
6.Add cooked or grilled broccoli on top, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

1.The tiny bit of cooking liquid is key to a moist pasta as there is not much liquid in the way of a sauce.
2. I prefer whole wheat pasta. Use the one that suits you best.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quick Lentil fritters

We make idli batter pretty much every week. I usually soak the urad dal and rice overnight and grind the batter in the morning. My mom on the other hands soaks the urad dal in the morning.

The best results are when the dal is soaked for about 20-30 minutes. The quantity of batter from the 2 different soaking methods is substantial. The shorter soaking time yields a lot more than the overnight soaking.

Last week the we had a lot more urad dal batter for the amount of rice soaked. Mom suggested that we could make some fritters with the excess. Who says no to deep fried goodness? Slightly different than the Medhu Vadai and a lot more easier and a forgiving recipe.

The medhu vadai requires the batter to be thick with a minimum amount of water. No such struggles with this one. The batter stayed in the fridge for a couple of days before we got around to using it.

No more waiting for excess urad dal batter, I will be soaking some dal just for making this.

Quick lentil fritters
1. 3/4 cup of urad dal soaked for about 20 minutes
2. 1 cup of chick pea flour
3. 1 1/2 cups of rice flour
4. 1 cup of chopped onions fine
5. 10 green chilies chopped fine
6. 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
7. salt to taste
8. Oil for deep frying

1. Grind the soaked urad dal to a smooth batter.
2. Sift chick pea and rice flours and add it to the urad dal batter. Do not add any more water than that is in the urad batter. The batter should be thick enough to be able to take some batter in the hand and drop in the oil.
3. Add the chopped onions, green chilies and ginger to the batter
4. In a deep frying pan heat the oil.
5. Picking a small quantity of the batter add it to the oil using your fingers.
6. Let them brown evenly on all sides. Slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve with chutney of choice or just by itself.

1. Variation include adding grated carrots or chopped methi leaves, coriander leaves or curry leaves.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Watermelon rind Kootu (lentil Curry)

I can't seem to walk past a watermelon without feeling guilty about not buying it. DD2 adores watermelon and eats it as fast as we can cut it. Buying all this watermelon and throwing away the rind seemed a shame. My ever sportive mom came up with a few recipes when I asked her idea for using up the rind.

The first recipe she made was a mor kuzhambu (spiced buttermilk curry). The buttermilk curry is best when cooked with ash gourd. The white portion of the water melon tastes exactly the same. The second was a kootu with Bengal gram (kadalai paruppu) which also tasted very very good. The spice paste and recipe are very simple and puts those watermelon rind to good use. This uniquely south Indian dish is just the vehicle to show case this very tasty throw away part of the fruit.

Do you cook with watermelon rind? If so what recipes have you tried?

Watermelon rind kootu
1. 2 cups of watermelon rind cubed (the fleshy portion sliced off and the skin peeled leaving just the white portion)
2. 1/4 cup Bengal Gram soaked for an hour
3. seasonings: curry leaves and mustard seeds
4. 2 generous tbsp of yogurt
5. 1 tsp oil
6. salt to taste

For the Paste
1. 1 tsp coriander seeds
2. 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3. 4-5 green chilies
4. 1 tbsp grated cococunt
5. a pinch of asfoetida

Slightly roast the coriander and cumin seeds and blend to a paste adding a tbsp of water along with the green chilies, coconut and asfoetida

1. Pressure cook the watermelon cubes with the bengal gram for 2 whistles just enough to cook the lentils but not turn them to mush
2. Add the spice paste to the cooked lentils and watermelon with a 1/2 cup of water and let it come to a boil. The consistency should be slightly thick. Add salt and turn off the heat.
3. In a small seasoning pan add oil and when hot add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and pour it over and let it cool to room temperature.
3. Whisk the yogurt to smooth and add it to the curry.

Serve with rice.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Grilled Chicken with Indian spices

A friend in my neighborhood always wonders why grilling or barbecueing is not a winter time activity. The heat from the grill would provide the warmth to hang outdoors in the chilly air. Well it does not work that way around here mostly.

Jump to the Recipe >>>


Grilling is a predominantly summer time activity starting around Memorial day(late May) and lasting until Labor Day (early September). Fire up the grill and run indoors to the cool sanctuary of the AC is how it works mostly. Nobody is going to stop you if you grill in the winter so don't get me wrong but most people don't attempt when the temperature is a few degrees cooler outside.

place a few strategic cuts

Leaving aside the season for grilling I was felled by another doubt, if what we do in our backyard is grilling or barbecueing. A little research (googling) later I learnt of the difference. I was wrong on two counts.
1. When I say "we barbecued in the backyard over the weekend" I am describing the act (like xeroxing equates to photo copying) not the process itself.
2. Barbecue has only slight connection to the barbecue sauce.

So what exactly is the difference?
Barbecue is cooking meat in the smoke/heat created by burning wood chips or charcoal or in other words indirect slow heat. Grilling is cooking the meat in direct heat.

let it all marinate in a zip lock bag

What did we do in the backyard? We grilled and that is pretty much what we do mostly.

Marinate the chicken in the secret marinade that I am going to reveal today and you are guaranteed a juicy, spicy and tasty grilled chicken. 2-3 hours of marination is a required minimum and 8 hours is perfect. I have never tried marinating over night for the simple reason I am not used to planning that far ahead.

Alternatively the chicken can be baked in the oven for more or less the same results. Reserve that for a cold winter's night.

The chicken is crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. The secret is the yogurt it marinates in. We grilled the chicken perhaps for a couple of minutes longer. If flipped at the right time the color should be golden brown without any black on the outside.

serve with some cut onions and wedges of lime

Spicy Grilled Chicken
1. 10-15 chickenmedium sized chicken thighs
2. 4 cloves of garlic minced fine
3. 1 tbsp grated ginger
4. 2 tbsp of yogurt
5. 2 tsp turmeric powder
6. 1 tbsp chili powder
7. 2 tsp salt
8. 1 tsp cumin powder
9. 2 tsp of low sodium soy sauce (see note)
10. 1 gallon sized zip lock bag
11. lemon wedges

1. Wash and clean the drumsticks (preferably with turmeric powder) and make a few slashes with the knife on either side and pat dry with a paper towel
2. Put the drumsticks in a zip lock bag and add the turmeric powder, chili powder, salt and cumin powder followed by the minced garlic, ginger and soy sauce
3. Whisk the yogurt to smooth and add to the chicken in the bag
4. Now zip the bag and flip it up and down to mix the chicken with the spices such that they are evenly coated
5. Set in the fridge for 3-8 hours

6. Fire up the grill - lightly rub oil on the grill and place the chicken and let it cook on one side, flip and cook on the other side (15 minutes on side and another 15 on the other). The outer skin should be nice and golden. Check for doneness. See Note.

7. Serve hot with lemon wedges.

1. Soy sauce softens the meat. Add just a bit so as to not overwhelm
2. To check for doneness, part the chicken thigh with a knife to check if there is any red liquid which is a sign that the chicken is not completely cooked. The meat should be white.
3.We grilled the chicken perhaps for a couple of minutes longer. If flipped at the right time the color should be golden brown without any black on the outside.
4. If baking in oven bake in a preheated 375F oven for 30-40 minutes. Broil for 2 minutes for crispy outside.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Quick and Easy Pizza

I do not know what it is with pizza and kids! Given a suggestion to eat out or order it always ends with pizza. The adults in the house are not terribly fond of the store bought pizza.

Firing up the oven to cook pizza or for that matter anything else in the oven in the summer is not appealing to me or my power bill. But all this does not mean the talk of pizza by the kids stops.


So an easy pizza with very less oven time had to be devised. Flat breads or the Indian store bought roti or naan provide the perfect base for just such a thing. The kids (and so do the adults) like it a lot and can be put together very easily with a minimum fuss.

You can be as creative as you want with the toppings. The breads are small enough to go into a toaster oven and it is easy enough for the kids to put together themselves.

We used onions and tomatoes as topping. Mushrooms, grilled zucchini, bell peppers, blanched spinach are all good. Since they are going on top of precooked bread make sure the veggies are partially or fully cooked.

Quick and easy Pizza
1. 4-6 storebough Kulcha Naan or Flat breads
2. 1 onions chopped or sliced
3. 1 tomato chopped
4. 1 clove garlic minced
5. 2 tsp chili powder/black pepper powder
6. 1/2 cup of feta cheese (or any cheese)
7. salt to taste
8. 1 tsp oil

1. In a pan add oil and when hot add the onions and saute till they are soft
2.Add in the garlic and saute for a minute followed by the tomatoes and let them get mushy
3. Add salt to taste and the chili powder
4. Set aside

To assemble pizza
5. Spread the onion tomato topping on the flat bread or naan
6. Sprinkle cheese on top
7. Put in toaster oven at 400F for 5-6 minutes till the cheese just starts to melt (with feta the color changes a little bit)
8. Broil for a minute, cut and enjoy

1. Be watchful of the bread in the oven. They tend to burn quickly.