Friday, September 27, 2013

Asari Chicken - a Kongunadu Speciality

'Asari' Chicken literally translated means carpenter chicken. Carpenters mostly worked on the construction sites where they were engaged in making windows, doors, cupboards and what not. Most often than not they were traveling to these people to work and hence did not have the luxury of going back home for a meal I am guessing. Which perhaps is what brought about this simple no fuss yet tasty recipe.

Talking of carpenters reminds me of an incident from long ago. It was when my parents were building their house and had carpenters making the windows, doors and other wooden things required for the new house. They had a thatched shed in the backyard where a few of them worked but one I remember is an elderly gentleman who never missed a day of work. I spent a lot of my free time in the shed playing with their tools. They were pretty damn sharp the tools I mean and had quite a few accidents when I tried my skills at carpentry which perhaps hid well from my parents.

Anyway one day the elderly gentleman was sick with fever and cold but he still showed up for work. I asked him why he hadn't the taken day off for which he replied it was better not to feed the sickness and just continue with the everyday activities and that it will cure the sickness faster. I always try to remember this whenever I fall sick. Asari chicken reminded me of the incident and the one asari and his advice which I will never forget. I try not to feed the illness but who doesn't like to get under the covers when you have a terrible cold and it is raining and cold outside?

Quite a few people mentioned asari chicken when we visited India this time. My aunt gave me the list ingredients for the chicken which is can be counted on one hand. Looks like this simple recipe is starting to get popular again not only in KonguNadu areas but everywhere. With absolutely no fancy spices this simple chicken tastes surprisingly delicious.

I can think of a few different modifications that would have been done by a few different people if they had cooked this recipe. My mom would have added green chilies instead of the red. If it had been my paternal grandmother she would have added black pepper. A few variations could be easily made if you prefer one form of pepper over the other.

Asari Chicken
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:20 minutes
  1. 1 - 1 1/2 lbs of chicken (I used thigh) cut into bite sized pieces
  2. 1 1/2 cups of chopped onions (I used shallots)
  3. 10-12 red chillies split in half and seeds removed or split green chilies or 1 tbsp pepper powder or a combination
  4. seasonings: curry leaves and mustard seeds
  5. salt to taste
  6. 2 tsp turmeric powder + 2 tsp red chili powder
  7. 3 tsp of oil
  1. Wash and marinate the chicken with turmeric powder, chili powder and a bit of salt.
  2. Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves followed by the chilies and onion. Saute till the onion starts to turn translucent.
  3. Add in the chicken and saute on high heat till the chicken turns white. Add salt and bring down the heat to medium and continue cooking till the chicken is cooked through and the moisture has evaporated.
Serve with steamed rice.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Backyard gardens back home!

When I was growing up in India most homes had gardens in the front or the back yard. The trees commonly found were coconut, papaya, drumstick, mango, occasionally a lemon tree and of course the requisite curry leaf tree.

Most small towns like where my parents lived did not have very many apartment buildings. Row houses - yes but not apartment buildings. So it was a given that any small space had a garden.

Every time I go back home I find more and more of these homes being razed and apartments being built which means these small backyard gardens are also fast disappearing.

Luckily while a lot of houses around DH's parents' house are being converted to apartment building theirs still stands and the garden though not very big but still attractive and the few fruit trees there producing fruit. DD2 loves pomegranates and her grandmother's garden kept a steady supply.

Bright and beautiful pomegranate flowers!

Pomegranate Clusters

Banana Plants, So familiar but now so far away. Every part of this plant is used in some way or another.

Papaya trees! I am more fond of the tree than the fruits. There was a time when no one would pay to buy these fruits but now they are sought after and people pay good money for them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vellarikkai thayir kuzhambu - Cucumber in Spiced Yogurt - Vellarikka Pachadi

Are you eating too much fat lately? It might not be your fault but the defeat of your favorite sports team that is putting you on a bad and fatty diet. Redskins our local NFL team has a history of bad performance - I do not watch too much football so I might wrong here about the record but I am pretty sure there have been fewer and fewer good days for the Redskins fans. So if you live in the DC area and have been eating too much junk you are excused! Anyway I am not making this up. Yes people do research these kind of things and it is fun to know - Diet Of Defeat: Why Football Fans Mourn With High-Fat Food.

DH's cousin brought over a huge cucumber. His aunt suggested I make kootu with moong dal. We are fond of eating cucumbers and could have eaten it as is or used in a salads but the mature ones have too many seeds. The ones with no seeds or with tiny seeds like the English Cucumbers or Persian Cucumbers where the skin is thin and edible is the one I prefer for salads and raw eating. The American cucumbers on the other hand require peeling of the skin and scooping out the seeds and a huge mature cucumber usually has a slightly bitter taste. So I was sitting on it for a couple of days whens I saw this recipe for cucumber kichadi on Sharmi's Passion. Thanks to her I now have another vegetable I can add to my favorite spiced yogurt recipe.

It was very similar to how my grandmother cooks white pumpkins but only we call it thayir kuzhambu like this recipe. In Kerala I have learned it is called Pachadi. So whatever the name the combination of coconut and green chilies in yogurt makes it tasty curry.

My friend Linda over at Out of the Garden has a lot of cucumbers and I thought I'd give her a hand in deciding what to do with them.

This would be perfect pairing for adai doasai or arism paruppu saatham (spiced dal rice) but we had them with steamed rice and that is a good combination also.

Some of the other vegetables besides white pumpkin and Cucumber would be the white rind of watermelon, bottle gourd, brinjal and even okra.

Vellarikkai thayir Kuzhambu - Vellarikka Pachadi
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
  1. 1 big cucumber peeled seeded and diced about 1 1/2 cups
  2. 2 cups of curd/yogurt whisked
  3. 1/4 cup chopped onions (optional)
  4. seasonings: cumin, mustard seeds 1/4 tsp each, 2 red chilies broken and seeds removed, curry leaves
  5. For the paste
  6. 1/4 cup grated fresh/frozen coconut
  7. 1 tsp cumin seeds
  8. 6 green chilies
  9. Blend the coconut, cumin seeds and green chilies to a fairly fine paste with a couple of tbsp of water
  10. salt to taste
  11. oil 1 tsp
  1. In a pan heat oil and add the seasonings cumin first followed by mustard seeds and then red chilies and curry leaves
  2. Add the diced cucumber and let them cook for 2-3 minutes (a little longer if you want it soft, I wanted them a bit crunchy)
  3. Add in the blended coconut paste and let cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Turn the flame to low and add the yogurt to the cucumber mixture, add salt, mix well and in another couple of minutes turn off the heat.
Serve with steamed rice, adai or dal rice.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Black Chana Chaat - Black Chickpeas hot salad

I resolve not to talk about sad things and our inability and helplessness to do anything about it. If I dwell I will cry or get angry so will quickly move on to other things ...

Evening is a difficult time at home. Everyone comes home hungry and eating junk is just not enough. Having a few quick to put together snack before dinner time is rapidly becoming a necessity. So I adapt anything I see or read that is quick easy and satisfying.

When we were in India this summer I avoided watching TV. The programming has become crass and not so fun. The long running serials the less said about them the better. Anyway the food shows were the only bright spot. The chefs are doing innovative things with mostly Indian ingredients. But me being me I have a complaint. Most of the food presented is also high fat and high calories. None of the chefs I watched took even a moment to advise people of eating a healthy diet but that is a story for another day.

Anyway a channel I watched a lot was 'Food Food' and one my favorite chefs on there was 'Turban Tadka'. Besides cooking he was highly entertaining. This channa chaat recipe is based on what I saw on one of his shows - Chana Chor Garam Chaat. I decided to up the vegetables and skip the Sev and Chana Chor Garam because I did not have them and not very fond of both.

Usually when I soak beans for making a curry I save a cup or two for a snack to be made later in the week. Refrigerate them cooked and the cooking time is even less. I had saved some soaked black chana and they even sported a few sprouts after a few days in the fridge.

Black Chana Chaat
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
  1. 1 1/2 cup soaked and cooked black channa(Chickpeas)
  2. 4-5 green chilies seeds removed and finely minced
  3. 1 tsp coriander powder
  4. 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  5. 1 tsp red chili powder
  6. 3/4 tsp aamchur powder (dried mango powder)
  7. 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
  8. 1/4 cup of finely chopped onions
  9. 1 cup of diced raw mangoes
  10. 1/4 cup of finely chopped tomatoes
  11. 1/4 cup of finely chopped cucumbers
  12. 1/2 a lime or tbsp of lime juice
  13. salt to taste
  14. 1 tsp of oil
  15. 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  16. Chaat Masala
  1. Cook the soaked black channa, drain and set aside. Pressure cooker works best for this.
  2. In a saute pan heat oil and when hot season with cumin seeds. Add in the green chilies and saute for a minute.
  3. Add in the cooked and drained black chickpeas and saute for a minute. Now add in the powders - coriander, cumin, red chili powder and aamchur powder and give a good mix.
  4. Add in the coriander leaves and salt and cook for another couple of minutes and turn off the heat.
  5. Serving:
  6. In a serving bowl add some of the cooked chickpeas, top with a few squeezes of lime, add onions(see Note:), tomatoes, cucumbers and mango pieces, sprinkle some chaat masala, mix and a filling snack is ready.
  7. Note:I do not like raw onion so I soak the onions in the lime juice.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Garden - Bitter Gourd Plants and 'the thing they do'

The larger DC area, the place we call home is hot and humid during the summer months. Indian vegetables like eggplants, okra, bitter gourd and ridge gourd thrive in this weather provided there is rainfall during the early growing weeks. I have had a good bit of luck with most of the vegetable and especially with bitter gourd. Pests like deer and rabbit and most of the insects also I guess avoid bitter gourd for the same reasons that humans do. Even one plant is sufficient for a steady supply of vegetables during the summer months.

Sprouting the Seeds
While the plant grows without major problems in well drained soil with lots of sunshine sprouting comparatively is a little arduous. Since the seeds have a thick outer covering some per-processing is required before germination is successful. A few years ago I had sown a few bitter gourd seeds but even after a couple of weeks there were no signs of sprouting. I talked about the problem to a friend who I knew grew bitter gourds in her yard with much ease. Her advice was valuble and now I am well armed with a few easy strategies that help in germination.

The seeds are set to soak in warm water for a couple of days. Start with warm water but the water doesn't have to be warm throughout. After the soaking I sometimes pinch the outer covering a little bit and then put them in seed starting soil. Keep them damp and in plenty of light and a warm place. They should sprout in a week to 10 days. If they do not, root around in the dirt and pull them out a little bit and cover them just so in the soil. All of these tricks help them sprout. Make sure you do not over soak them, the seeds might rot.

Transplant them outside once the overnight temperature is about 50F. They grown and fruit in about 20-30 days. I usually plant more than one plant and at least 2 plants so pollination happens without problems. If only the stink bugs will keep away.

So with these bitter gourd seeds in mind I was at the store looking for bamboo screen support for them to climb on. As I was checking out a few of them an Indian lady who was shopping for gardening stuff stopped by to have a chat. She was curious about the bamboo support I had in my hand. I told her they were for my bitter gourd plants and she offered some suggestion about pollinating them. If they do not set fruit she advised me to rub the male flower against the female flower and also not to look at them too closely early in the morning when they are doing their thing and that the plants needed privacy. If there are prying eyes she said they do not set fruit. I followed her advice I do not interfere in the morning when they do their thing :)

We have plenty of bees and bugs and that I figure helps in the pollination and there has not been a need to hand pollinate. For the amount of sunshine that actually hit these plants, I have had a fairly decent number of bitter gourds this season. I would also like to think that the privacy I gave them also helped a bit. So everybody remember that when you plant your bitter gourds.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had - a book review (8-12 years old)

DD2 reads a lot of books and for this age group it is not always easy to pick books that are good reads. Library is our best friend for this odyssey. Usually she finishes reading books, asks me to take her to the library and then finds herself another set of books. I rarely intervene. The last time we went to the library she picked a few from her favorite series and I did the other picking to introduce her to new genres and authors. She is in a new school this year and reading award winning books is part of the expectation.

Feeling obligated to do my part I wandered the aisles and picked a few I thought she would like by either glancing at the title or the author or genre. One among them I accidentally picked was 'The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had' by Kristin Levine. The book lay in the library bag and had to fight for reading time with the likes of Box Car Mysteries, A to Z Mysteries and the other books that she has been reading for a while and still feels a strong affinity towards. She is required to take a book to school every day for what is called 'Independent Reading'.

While a Box Car Mystery's pull is hard to resist. I had been there done that while not exactly with Box Car Mysteries but with other mystery books and finding it impossible to resist the pull. Like 'Forrest Gump' would say 'Books are also like a box of chocolates' you never know what you get until you decide to give it a try. Anyway she finally reluctantly decides to take along the 'Best Bad Luck I Ever Had' to read at school. The book kept her engrossed and unable to peel from even to do homework.

She recommended the book to her teacher and insisted that I read it. This is her first book recommendation to me and I was curious to find out what exactly interested her. The book is 'unputdownable' if you know what I mean!

Based on the story of her own family author Kristin Levine brings life in small town Alabama in the early part of the 20th century set in 1917 to be specific right before your eyes. The book is about friendship, life in the South, race tensions all at the same time but presented in a manner that even an 8 year old could understand but not be overwhelmed. The book is best for the 8-12 age group and to tell you the truth even adults are sure to enjoy it.

This country's racial history is not very pleasant and I for one am not fond of reading about them but I bet in every town in the South there were good and kind people who defied bigotry and racial customs and stereotypes of the times to do what is right and not look the other way.

Most of all children are born color blind. It is the world around them that colors their opinions and attitudes.

From the first page on I had to finish the book before I could move on. DD2 and I have talked about the book enough that DD is reading the book now.

Dear readers has any book interested you recently that you would like to share please do so. While I would like recommendations for the 8-12 age group any book recommendation will be accepted gladly.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Spicy Turkey Meat Sauce with Penne Pasta

I have looked at them with relish but unable to taste. The bright red color gives the appearance of heat and my mouth start to water. I have seen home made ones, restaurant ones and take out ones and they all look tasty and delicious. But I have never tasted them.

I figure you have guessed by now that I am talking about meat sauce. Meat sauce is usually made with beef and I don't eat them. I have watched it being cooked on TV so many times that I could do it in my sleep. So on my last visit to the Dutch (Amish) market I bought some minced turkey meat.

This is one recipe everybody should have in their repertoire for those nights when you want taste but don't want to work too hard. Substitute with any minced meat that suits you.

Spicy Turkey Meat Sauce with Penne Pasta
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:25 minutes
  1. 14oz box of whole wheat penne pasta. (for 4 people dinner + 1 person lunch I used a little less than 3/4th of a box)
  2. 3 medium sized tomatoes about 1 1/2 cups of finely diced tomatoes
  3. 4 cloves of garlic crushed
  4. 1 cup of finely chopped red onions
  5. 2 chipotle in adobe sauce (remove seeds and chopped fine)
  6. 2 tbsp of chopped jalapeno picked peppers or diced bell peppers - 1 cup
  7. 1 lb of minced turkey
  8. 1 tbsp of olive oil
  9. 1/2 tbsp of paprika
  10. Salt to taste
  11. shredded cheese - (used shredded mozzarella cheese)
  1. In a dutch oven or a wide mouthed pan heat the olive oil and when hot add the garlic and onions and saute them till they become translucent.
  2. Set the pasta to cook as per the package directions.
  3. Now add the minced turkey and continue to saute till it is almost cooked and turning white and slightly browned - about 8-10 minutes
  4. Add in the paprika, salt and saute for another minute. Now add in the tomatoes and let it become soft and mushed.
  5. Add in the diced chipotle and jalapeno and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add in the drained pasta and mix it in gently into the sauce.
  7. Sprinkle with shredded cheese before serving.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Garden - Greens and Shade - Malabar Spinach

This post is for those readers who are interested in hearing about my gardening stories. It is always a pleasure receiving messages from readers with requests. So thanks for sending those and please look at the right side bar for subscription options. Use your favorite RSS reader, Facebook, Twitter or email subscription to receive the latest updates.

Coming to my garden. Our house backs to parkland but lucky for us when we first moved here the trees in the park were not huge. They were actually reforested tress after the builder had miscalculated and razed more trees than they should have. My privacy obsessed neighbor moved in after us and in the initial years his tiny pine trees were just starting to sprout. There was plenty of sunshine for the sun loving vegetables plants to thrive provided they escaped the hungry mouths of deers, rabbits, groundhogs and the like.

Fast forward to today, plenty of sunshine is a thing of the past. Fast growing trees in the backyard combined with the gigantic 3 story high pine trees of my neighbor sunshine in my backyard has become a dwindling commodity. So you future home buyers looking forward to having a satisfying and happy garden make sure you take all of this into account.

My requirement for a house backed to park/woods all those years ago is the major source of angst today. Combined with the trees and the shade problems is the wide array of critters and animals that make those woods their home. Deer, rabbits, ground hogs, moles, voles, fox,turtles - you name it it is probably there. Added to that the numerous bugs that visit our backyard it is even a wonder that I can grow anything at all.

I have tempered my desire for growing vegetables but it is proving very hard to give up completely. The cool shady and partial sunshine provided a perfect set of circumstances for growing peas and they did grow well. I have also resorted to growing plants in pots so they can be moved each season to the perfectly sunny spot.

I also read that the rule of thumb is in partial shady areas grown plants whose leaves are the edible parts and full sun for plants that produce vegetables. Swiss Chard, night shade, amaranth and now Malabar spinach seem to be able to grow and produce enough leaves in partial shade.

I was introduced to this spinach through a seed catalog and let me tell you they are pretty plants perfect for just ornamental purposes but as luck would have it the leaves are perfect for cooking. They are creepers and need support for climbing. The also have pretty pink flowers. I harvest the leaves along with the tender stems for cooking. Make sure to leave enough leaves closer to the root and they sprout back just as quickly.

These are heat loving plants and are perfect for the hot and humid DC summers.

A couple of these plants are enough to keep you supplied with leaves throughout its growing season.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thai Basil Fried Rice

I germinated some purple basil seeds and transplanted them to pots before leaving on our month long trip. When we came back there were a lot of basil to be used. Some basil pesto perhaps? Nothing else came to mind. I was thinking more Italian than Thai at that point. Lucky for me Vani on her facebook pagehad something about basil fried rice. Bulbs went on in my head and that was exactly what I wanted. I always appreciate the taste of basil in most Thai dishes like the drunken noodles I had for lunch this afternoon at a Thai restaurant. Sad when it mattered it never even occurred to me.

Purple Basil Leaves
Fried rice and basil might have been the best match that was not made in heaven but in a kitchen wok. I found this recipe on Williams Sonoma for basil fried and suited me just fine.

Besides shrimp I also added some slender green beans and fresh baby corn. I misplaced the packet of brown rice that I wanted to use and ended up using some Jasmine rice which was not a bad choice. Brown rice is certainly not Jasmine rice! The absolute delicious smell of basil elevates this fried rice.

Thai Basil Fried Rice
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:25 minutes
  1. 2 cups of Jasmine rice (cooked and cooled or day old rice)
  2. 10-12 shrimp
  3. 2 handfuls of fresh green beans
  4. 10-15 baby corn
  5. 2 bunches of green onions chopped - green and white parts
  6. 1 cup of red onion sliced
  7. 3-4 garlic cloves smashed
  8. 2 cup of packed basil leaves
  9. 1 tbsp of sambal olek (or as required
  10. 2-3 tsp of soy sauce
  11. 1/2 tsp of fish sauce
  12. salt to taste
  13. 2 tsp oil
  1. Cook the rice and let it cool or get the old rice ready (about 4 cups of cooked rice)
  2. Mix half the sambel olek into the shrimp and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes
  3. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and add the onions
  4. In a pan heat oil and saute the onions till they become translucent. Add the green onions and garlic and continue to saute till they wilt completely.
  5. Now add the green beans and cook for about 3-4 minutes and then add the baby corn along with the rest of the sambal olek, salt and let them cook for another 4 minutes.
  6. Add in the shrimp and let them cook for a minute till they start to turn pink about a minute. Fish them out and keep them aside. (See Note:)
  7. Now add in the basil leaves and saute for half a minute. Add in the rice now and mix it in well.
  8. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and let it cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the shrimp in and if required salt and turn the heat off in another minute or so.
  • do not overcook the shrimp. Once they are cooked remove them and add them when the dish is almost done.