Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year!!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year - may we have peace and happiness!

My resolutions for this blog (considering I don't seem to have any different ones for my personal life!) are to post regularly and improve my photography and presentation. AND most important - cook some new dishes, discover new recipes and hone my baking skills!

Happy cooking!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Cake

Fruit cake jokes are a dime a dozen around this time in the syndicated cartoon strips and growing up I didn't really get the humour, since I loved fruit cakes and the home baked ones I did get to have were delicious!

When I started making them though, the "hard as rock" and "don't drop it on your foot" jokes really scared me - what if mine turned out like that!
I needn't have worried; I discovered that baking fruit cakes is easier than the usual cakes since they are heavier and are not expected to rise as much. So no "gently folding in the flour into the beaten eggs" and "no beating the eggs for eternity"......the ingredients are mostly brought together and combined with a light hand.

The only thing to take care of is that, since this is a dense cake, it is better to bake it a lower temperature for a longer time.

And as for the dried fruits - well, that's the best part - you can pretty much use your favourites and leave out what you don't like! It's even better if you can manage to soak the fruits in some good alcohol about 3-4 weeks in advance, and the cake tends to moisten up because of the fruits in it and tastes really good the more time it is kept.

This recipe was given to me by a dear friend of mine in England - we have never met but our online correspondence over the past 6 years has brought us closer than we would have ever imagined. She is a wise warm and caring woman and I hope to meet her some day.

The first time I made this was for a close friend - Christmas was always at her place but that year she was in her last trimester of pregnancy and I thought she could do with some Christmas cheer.

This year I made it for her again - we land up at her place on Christmas Day next week and will be staying with them for a bit. So as they celebrate their first Christmas with their baby, this cake will bring with it our best wishes for their wee one and a great year ahead.

This is the adapted recipe, the original contained sherry, black treacle and a few other ingredients which I have changed to my taste and availability.
It is a lovely moist cake and the flavours of the dried fruits as well as the cinnamon lingers on and makes this a beautiful way to end a lovely festive meal.

Christmas Cake


Eggs - 3 plus 1 white

Unsalted Butter - 125 gms

Flour - 125 gms

Soft brown sugar - 125 gms

Mixed Dry Fruit chopped - 350 gms (choose from currants,sultanas,raisins, dates, fig, apricot)

I used equal quantities of currants,raisins, dates,apricots and plums
The dry fruits were soaked 3-4 weeks in advance in about 1/4 cup of dark rum (brandy can also be used)

Rind of half of a lemon or orange -I used orange peel.

Chopped cherries - 30gm

Ground almonds - 30gm (Toasted in the microwave for about 90 seconds and then ground)

Whisky or brandy - 1 tbsp

Golden syrup - 1 tbsp

Cinnamon powder - 1 tsp

1. Grease an 8" tin and lightly sprinkle flour on top.Preheat the oven to 180C or 350F.

2. Cream the butter and sugar. Beat the eggs and white and add to the creamed butter and sugar.

3. Sift the flour and cinnamon powder together and add slowly to the egg mixture and combine with a light hand.

4. Add the whisky and golden syrup to the mixture and then all the dried fruit,orange peel and almond powder. Mix well; the cake batter will be quite thick.

5.Turn the batter into the prepared cake tin and make a small hollow in the centre.

6. Bake at 180 C for about 45-55 minutes or till a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

This cake goes to :

A Fruit a Month - Dry Fruits, hosted by Latha and Lakshmi over at The ‘Yum’ Blog

and to

dear Sunita @ Sunita's World for this month's edition of Think Spice - Cinnamon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jacque Pepin's Potato Lace

My book of handwritten recipes says I wrote this recipe down from Women's Day - definitely something I got from the circulating magazine library in Chennai. It was all hit and miss what you would get each month under the category of "Foreign publications"! But atleast you would get a wide variety of magazines to read each week at a fixed monthly rate.....I have yet to come across something like that in other cities.

This is a really nice pancake recipe for those lazy Sunday mornings when you feel like having something more substantial than an omelet but a little less daunting than brunch.

Some potatoes, onions, eggs and flour and you're set. This recipe is by Jacque's Pepin, a native of France who became a widely respected chef starting out at age 13 as an apprentice in the family restaurant. He was extremely popular in America with his TV shows and cookbooks.

You can see the original recipe here and also here where it also mention's the fact that this was the recipe his mother used in her restaurant! So, maybe it should be called Jacque Pepin's Maman's recipe....

Potato Lace
Recipe adapted from Jacque Pepin's recipe

Onions - 2 large

Potatoes -4 peeled

Eggs - 3 small

Flour - 3 tbsp

Coriander - 1/4 cup washed and chopped

salt - 1 tsp

Freshly crushed black peppercorns - 1 tbsp

Oil - to shallow fry the pancakes

1. Puree onions in a blender.

2. Shred potatoes in a grater using the bigger holes. Use a potato ricer if possible. S

queeze out as much of the moisture out of the potatoes as possible, using paper towels if needed. Removing the moisture removes the starch also, and that makes the pancakes crispy.

3. Mix the flour, eggs, grated potatoes, pureed onions, chopped coriander, salt and pepper in a bowl till well blended. The batter will be thick but of dropping consistency, add a tsp of milk if needed.

4. Take a deep nonstick skillet, pour about 1 tbsp oil and heat it.

5. Pour about 3 tbsp of batter in the skillet and spread immediately with the back of a spoon like a dosai, as thin as possible. It will have tiny holes and jagged edges.

6. Cook over medium heat for about 1/2 a minute to 1 minute on each side till crisp. Serve immediately.

7. Make the remaining pancakes in the same way, 1 tbsp of oil should be able to take care of a batch of 3-4 pancakes.

These need to be eaten immediately while they are still crisp to get the best taste.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chollia Aloo (Fresh Chickpeas and Potatoes)

Fresh Chickpeas(Kabuli Chana) or Hara Chollia / Green Garbanzo Beans is something I have only heard of and read in recipe books. Until I came to Delhi.

Last week as I went about the local market, I saw a packet of this and asked the vendor what it was, he said "Chollia" and a light went off in my head!

It's funny, but having seen only dried chickpeas all my life, I had to actually introduce the concept in my head of chana being something else before they were dried!I had never thought of them being fresh and like peas before.....

Nutrition wise though, they are as packed with phosphate, folates, folic acid,calcium, vitamin B and iron as their dried counterparts. They are low in fat, calories and sodium and high in dietary fibre. Read more here.

So, here I was the next morning, with the fresh green chickpeas in front of me, and not a clue about what to do - too little time in the morning to start a marathon search on the internet and the only recipe I had in my books,called for paneer. Which I didn't feel like having for lunch that day.

I figured I couldn't go wrong with potatoes, so that's what got cooked - Chollia Aloo....don't need to say much about this simple recipe, except that the green chickpeas tasted so much different from dried chickpeas and made the dish really delicious!

Chollia Aloo


Hara Chollia (Green Garbanzo beans/ Fresh Chickpeas) - 1 cup

Potatoes - 4-5 medium sized, boiled and peeled

Tomatoes - 3-4 medium chopped fine or pureed

Onions - 2 big finely chopped

Ginger garlic paste - 1 tsp

Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp

Chilli powder - 1 tsp

Coriander powder - 1 tsp

Cumin seeds - 1 tsp

Oil - 1 tbsp

Garam masala - 1/2 tsp

Chopped coriander - 1/4 cup

Salt to taste.

1. Dice boiled potatoes.

2. Heat oil in a kadai (wok) and add cumin seeds, when they change colour, add the onions and saute till golden.

3. Add ginger garlic paste and fry for 1 minute, then add the turmeric powder,chilli powder and coriander powder and fry for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add tomatoes and fry on a low flame for about 6-8 minutes, constantly stirring so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. Add half a tsp of oil if it still sticks. The mixture should come together and leave the sides of the pan and be almost brown in colour - but NOT burnt.

5. Now, add 1 cup of water, salt, the potatoes and the chollia and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low flame for about 3-4 minutes.
6. Check seasoning and gravy consistency, adding upto 1/2 cup water.
7. Add the garam masala. simmer 1 minute,then add the chopped coriander; remove from the flame and pour into serving dish.

8. Serve hot with rotis.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Warmer Casserole

Delhi's winter is really kicking in and I can't get over how cold it is! It makes me crave for hot soups and hot meals. Don't fancy spending too long in the kitchen either and too many dishes mean that one cools before the other comes to the table. Solution - a one pot meal - steaming hot straight from the stove/oven to the table!

So I set about looking for a one pot recipe and came across casseroles - something which I wanted to make for a long time but didn't seem to find a suitable recipe.I would read recipes for "Green Bean Casserole" and realize that there was actually just green beans in it with some milk and butter and some soup straight out of a soup can all baked together....we are so used to having vegetables cooked in a variety of ways with spices and tempering that this concept was a bit difficult to understand. But this time I was determined to make this dish my own.

I have a cookbook called "50 and Holding Ozark Cookbook " - sent by a dear friend in the US. It has all sorts of recipes in it, all contributed by the members of the 50 and Holding Club and the community of Climax Springs, Missouri. It is divided into different sections, with blank pages at the end of each section for you to make notes on; at the back of the book in addition to the glossary of cooking terms, there are nutrition and calorie tables, a table for cooking vegetables showing the way to prepare each vegetable(wash,cut,peel etc),cooking time; cuts of meat and serving portions according to weight and a very interesting table on what herbs and spices to use for cooking various vegetables and meats in different ways.

While most of the recipes are traditional American dishes and local homestyle cooking and include such doozies as "how to cook 'coon", I really enjoyed reading this book and all its tips and notes! None of the recipes had more then 10 ingredients and most recipes were about 10-15 lines long

Well, anyway,all of the vegetarian casseroles in it were accompaniments and not one pot meals. So I read through the cabbage casserole, the corn casserole and the winter vegetables casserole....and then I improvised.....

......and this is what I came up with - a hearty one dish meal which incorporated some cooked rice, pasta sauce out of a jar (which I needed to finish because I didn't like it enough to use in pasta), potatoes, cabbage,cauliflower,green garbanzo beans,sweet corn soup from a can (which I got free with something and will never use otherwise), cream cheese, milk and lots of crushed black peppercorns. Come to think of it, maybe it would be better to call this dish "Pantry Clean up"!

The rice really made this substantial without the heaviness of the usual baked pasta dishes.

Cream cheese can be substituted with sour cream or even cheese spread.

Pasta sauce can be replaced with tomato puree (about 4 tbsp should do).

Milk is optional and I added it to make sure the whole dish remained moist and did not dry out.

Try other vegetables like mushroom,spinach, peas,peppers and even fresh sweetcorn - they should do well in this dish.

If you don't fancy whole cabbage leaves in the dish, shred the leaves after cooking.

Winter Warmer Casserole


Potatoes - 4 medium peeled and sliced thinly

Onion - 1 big sliced

Cabbage - 4 whole big leaves washed well
Hara Chollia (Green garbanzo beans) - 1/2 cup parboiled

Sweet corn soup (tinned) - 1 cup

Cauliflower - 1 cup florets

Cooked rice - 1 cup (preferably a day old)

Pasta Sauce - 6 tablespoons (Or use tomato puree 4 tbsp)

Chilli powder - 1 tsp

Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp

Mixed dried herbs - 1 tsp

Salt to taste

Olive oil - 1 tbsp

Cream cheese - 5 tbsp

Milk - 1/4 cup (optional)

Freshly crushed black peppercorns - 2-3 tbsp


1. Take the sliced potatoes and put them into boiling water in a large vessel with a tsp of salt in it. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the whole cabbage leaves and press till they are immersed in the water and cook another 5 minutes. Check whether the potatoes and cabbage are just cooked. Drain the water and keep aside.

2. Heat oil in a pan and add the garlic and then the onions, saute for 5 minutes till the onions are transluscent.

3. Add the chilli powder and cumin powder, then the capsicum,cauliflowers and parboiled chollia and stir fry on high for 3-4 minutes till they are just cooked. Add the pasta sauce/tomato puree at this stage and cook for a couple of minutes more.

4. Add the cooked rice and sweet corn soup,mix well and cook further for 3-4 minutes, then add the dried herbs, salt and 1 tbsp of crushed peppercorns. Turn off the flame and keep warm.

5. Take a casserole or an oven proof dish and lightly grease the insides. Take two of the cabbage leaves and place it at the bottom side by side covering as much of the dish as possible.

6. Place half the potato slices over the cabbage leaves in a single layer. Roughly spread about 2.5 tbsp of cream cheese over the potato slices.

7. Spoon the entire cooked rice and sweet corn mixture over the potato slices.

8. Place remaining potato slices in a single layer over the rice mixture.

9. Spread the remaining cream cheese over the potato slices and cover with the other 2 cabbage leaves

10. Pour milk over the whole mixture and sprinkle 1 tbsp of the crushed pepper all over.

11. Bake in a pre heated oven for about 30 minutes at 180C / 350 F.

12. Serve hot with bread or on its own.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Celebration? - chocolate of course!

What better way to celebrate a decade of togetherness than with chocolate! I made this lovely Chocolate Rum cake from Jugalbandi; first time I was making a vegan cake and I was amazed at how delicious it tasted. Very chocolatey and rich.

No one who tasted it believed me when I said it didn't have flour or eggs in it!

I halved the proportions of the original recipe. Other than that I didn't change a thing. It didn't rise as much as it should have, so if you change the proportions you might want to be a bit careful. But it was just a bit denser but not chewy and otherwise tasted great.

The perfect ending to a lovely day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brinji (Vegetable Fried Rice in Coconut milk)

There are some recipes which I learnt from my MIL, like this one here, which are staples in hubby’s extended family – either everyday ones or special ones for close family gatherings (read minimum 50 people!).

Some of them are traditional recipes from her maternal home while others are popular Tamil recipes – not necessarily hoary and traditional, but just ones which are made in many Tamilian homes irrespective of where the family is from. Someone tastes the dish, likes it and asks for the recipe – soon it becomes a favourite in their home. And then before you know it; it’s on your local cookery show on TV!

This recipe is something like that. I hadn’t ever heard of it growing up in Mumbai. But in Chennai I came across many versions of it – and it didn’t matter what community they were from, so I had to assume that this is one of those rootless dishes, so to speak – all the more unique and flavourful for that!

Birinji or Brinji is basically a mixed vegetable pulao, the difference being that it has coconut and spices ground into it and fried; the rice is then cooked in the spice paste and coconut milk which gives it a creamy flavor. Which is why I think of it as a fried rice and not a pulao.

Don’t confuse this with the “Thengai saadam” or Coconut rice which is made down South, no, not the one with grated coconut and tempering made on festival days, but the one which is tempered with whole spices and then cooked in coconut milk. No other masala, no vegetables, nothing else to intrude on the creamy coconut flavor. This one is different.

I tried to figure out the etymology of the name…….but didn’t get very far. Some people say that the name comes from “birinji elai” – the Tamil word used for Tej Patta – a spice similar to Bay leaf used to flavor this dish. But I don’t think that’s correct. If anything I would think that the spice got the name from the dish! Very much a chicken and egg situation….

I did find this reference to birinji though; in a discussion on the etymology of rice and where it originated, the author of the article refers to “birinji” or “brinji” as being the Persian word for rice.
Another article on the Kirghitz tribe in Afghanistan refers to a dish they have called Shier brinji – which is boiled rice in milk.

So I’m assuming that the word we now use for this dish, originally referred to the rice used in the dish – probably a basmati kind of long grained rice which came from the North. If anyone has more interesting or authentic information on this, do let me know!

Whatever the origin, this dish is one surefire way of making an ordinary day a festive occasion. MIL turns this out perfectly each time she has guests over, making it in her electric rice cooker in a largish quantity and it’s always a hit.

I don’t wait for guests to stop by – a Sunday afternoon at home is reason enough to have this delicious dish; some pickle, pachadi, papad and we’re good.


Basmati rice – 1½ cups
Onions – 2 peeled and sliced
Mixed vegetables – 1 ½ cups cut into fingers (potato, carrot, beans, peas, capsicum)
Coconut milk – 2 cups (1 half of a medium sized coconut)
Cloves – 2
Cardamom – 2
Cinnamon – 1 “piece
Tej patta (similar to bay leaf) – 1
Oil – 2 tbsp
Salt – to taste
Spice Paste:
Grated coconut – ½ cup
Green chillies – 4
Ginger – 1 “piece
Garlic – 4-5 cloves
Coriander leaves – ¼ cup packed tightly
Mint leaves – handful
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp

1. Soak the rice in 3 cups of water for about 10 - 1 5 minutes.
2. Grind the ingredients for the spice paste, adding a little water till it is smooth.
3. Heat the oil in a large non stick wok/kadai and add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and leaf. 4. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the onions and sauté till lightly browned.
5. Add the spice paste and fry for another 4 – 5 minutes on a low flame, taking care that it doesn’t stick to the bottom
6. Add the mixed chopped vegetables and fry for 2-3 minutes.
7. Drain the rice and reserve the water. Add the rice to the pan and lightly fry for about a minute. Then measure out the coconut milk, add two cups of the reserved rice water, so that the total liquid equals 4 cups and add to the rice in the pan.
8. Add salt to taste – if you taste the liquid at this stage, it should taste a bit salty; it will be then just right after it is cooked.
9. Bring water to a boil and then cover and cook on medium flame for about 5 minutes. Open, stir the rice gently, cover again and cook on a low flame for another 5-7 minutes.
10.If the rice is cooked after this time and there is still a little more water, uncover and cook on low for about a minute or two till the water dries out.

The rice should be just about cooked when you turn off the flame; it shouldn’t be falling apart since it will cook a little bit more in the residual heat and might turn mushy by the time it is served.

Cover and keep warm till serving time. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with pachadi /raita (yoghurt salad)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spaghetti and Vegetarian "Meat"balls

Pasta is a favourite at home and both S and I love trying out pasta dishes when we eat out. I have tried making different kinds of pasta and different sauces too……risoni (rice shaped pasta) became one of our favourites till Nilgiris stopped stocking it for some reason.Pasta which looks like rice – can’t be a better thing to appeal to our South Indian sensibilities I guess ;).
Then there’s farfalle, penne and macaroni – in order of preference.
I don’t prefer the baked versions very much, since it usually calls for way more cheese than we should be having, and it becomes too heavy. Lasagne is the one thing that hubby can’t resist though when we eat out and it was his way of checking out if a new place made the grade – don’t get your lasagna right? Don’t even bother again! It’s a different matter that most restaurants in Chennai used to have chicken lasagna on the menu, is that an oxymoron I wonder…..

Spaghetti however, doesn’t get made too often, because I love having a LOT of sauce with it and I usually don’t have that many tomatoes on hand!

On one of those rare occasions when I had everything for the sauce and the spaghetti on the same day ( a cosmic event!), I decided to make a nice sauce with it to go with the spaghetti.

Then I decided to make meatballs – without the mutton, since I don’t cook mutton at home often – make that “at all”! I don’t eat mutton and hubby avoids red meat too. Chicken is my usual substitute but I didn’t feel like eating chicken either that night.

So, then my mind started wandering, which led to some internet searching…..turns out there are so many recipes out there for “meatless meatballs”, my head started spinning!! Apparently people want to make vegetarian meatballs taste exactly like meat. Well, I don’t miss mutton at all considering I wasn’t a big meat eater at any point, so I just wantedto make – well vegetarian dumplings to put into the sauce with my spaghetti!

So, I shut down all the search windows which were bent on confusing my already addled brain and keeping in mind the various things and ingredients used in different recipes, made my own version. I decided to go with silken tofu – first time I would be using it – mushrooms and walnuts.

I was amazed at how well they turned out….the walnuts and the mushrooms gave the tofu a really nice texture and “bite”. It also kept its shape very well, both while frying and in the sauce, so I think thats a great thing - no fussing to keep it from breaking!
Spaghetti and Vegetarian "Meat"balls

Spaghetti – 250gms

For the sauce:
Tomatoes – ½ kg
Garlic – 5-6 cloves chopped fine
Cumin powder – ¼ tsp
Chilli powder – ½ tsp
Mixed dry herbs – 2 tbsp
Freshly crushed black pepper – 1 tsp
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp
Salt to taste

Vegetarian "Meat"balls:
Silken Tofu – firm – 1 cup crumbled
Walnuts – 2 tbsp finely chopped
Mushrooms – 100 gms cleaned and finely chopped
Whole wheat flour – 1 tbsp
Bread crumbs – ¼ cup
Salt to taste
Oregano – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – ½ tsp
Pepper powder – 1 tsp

Oil – 2 tbsp to shallow fry or 1 tbsp to bake.

1. Wash tomatoes, microwave with just enough water for 3 minutes on high. Remove, dunk into cold water and peel.
2. Roughly chop the peeled tomatoes and scoop with juices into a vessel
3. Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic to it, sauté for a minute and then add the tomatoes to the garlic, sauté for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add chilli powder, cumin powder and salt, let it cook covered for about 15 minutes, adding a splash of water in between if needed. It should cook to a thick sauce consistency.
5. Add the mixed herbs and a bit of vegetable stock or water if it is too thick. Add the crushed pepper just before taking off the flame.
6. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti as per directions on the pack and toss it with a tsp of olive oil and keep warm. Ideally, make the spaghetti just before you are ready to eat, so that it doesn’t dry out.
7. Assemble all the ingredients for the balls in a bowl, except the oil. Mix well and combine till it all comes together, adding just enough bread crumbs as is necessary to bind the balls together.
Check and adjust seasoning. Should make about 10-12 balls.
8. Shallow fry the balls in 2 batches adding a tbsp of oil each time, till they change colour and are brown on all sides. Or bake them in an oven for about 15 minutes at 180 C, rotating them in between so they brown evenly.
9. Add them to the warm sauce and keep aside
10. When ready to serve, plate the warm spaghetti individually and pour some of the warm sauce and meatballs over it.
This dish is going to Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly event hosted by Ruth over here @ Once Upon a Feast.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Raw Banana Cutlets

While the coconut tree is often described as “kalpavriksha” (wish fulfilling tree), I think of the banana tree as the real kalpataru, with almost every part being of some use.

The ripe fruit liked by most people and probably one of the cheapest fruit available in India, is one of the first foods fed to babies being weaned and is enjoyed by children and adults alike. The raw fruit is cooked – mostly in South Indian cuisine – and eaten like a vegetable.

Ripe or raw, the fruit is packed with Vitamin B, Vitamin C and potassium while having a high proportion of fibre too and a very low fat and sodium content. It is used by people to gain weight as well as lose weight. It can help constipation as well as help in stopping diarrhea.

Maybe a fruit of contradictions, but is also a ceremonial fruit and the neivedyam (ritual offering) to the Gods, whether on festive occasions or for daily prayer, always includes it.
Pics above and alongside are from wikipedia
The flower too is cooked; vazhapoo poriyal (foogath) and vadais are quite popular in Tamil cuisine, though I hated the whole process of plucking and cleaning the flowers which used to make my hands so sticky – that no amount of scrubbing with buttermilk or Teepol (does that even exist now?) used to get them clean.

The tender core of the banana stem is also cooked (vazhathandu poriyal) and is supposed to be very beneficial for the kidney. In fact, the juice of the stem is recommended by even mainstream allopathy doctors for flushing out kidney stones.

The banana plant (often mistaken for a tree because of its tall stem) is still one of the first plants to be planted in the backyard of a house in South India. The leaves are used on festive occasions as plates for the traditional meal to be served on (completely eco friendly!) and also to adorn the threshold or puja room. No wedding preparation begins without the banana stem, complete with the flower and a bunch of unripened fruit hanging from it, being first tied to the entrance of the hall where the ceremony will take place.
The leaves were also used till recently, to carry packed food while travelling; in cooking they are used to wrap and steam food, a process which imparts a distinct flavor to the dish cooked in it.

The banana plant is also a source of fibre which has been long used in production of traditional textiles and yarns, most notably in Japan. Banana fibre is also used in making banana paper usually for artistic purposes. More on banana here

Plaintains are a starchier and coarser variety of the same genus but are different from bananas. For a delightful discourse on the differences between bananas and plantains, look here and images and more info at IFR

There was a phase some years back when I was obsessed with cutlets, I used to try all kind of cutlets – my poor guests didn’t know what they were eating half the time, but they used to put on their bravest smiles and reach for the plate being waved in their faces!
So amid, the arvi (sticky potato) tikkis and rajma patties there came a time when there appeared raw banana cutlets. This was one of the cutlets which didn’t make one wonder what it was made of – the starchiness inherent made it taste a lot closer to potatoes than the others.

I initially followed a recipe from Sanjeev Kapoor, but over time I have just followed my own preferences and made it with whatever is convenient and at hand. I usually add crushed roasted peanuts and stay away from the “potato to bind”, since it’s not that difficult to shape them and keep them from falling apart by using some breadcrumbs or flour.

This recipe goes to Weekend Herb Blogging – which is being hosted this week by Simona @ Briciole

Raw Banana Cutlets

(Makes 5-6 cutlets)

Raw Bananas – 2 medium sized
Flour (all purpose/whole wheat) – 2 tbsp
Bread Crumbs – ½ cup
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Peanuts – roasted and crushed – ¼ cup
Coriander leaves – handful – cleaned and chopped
Amchur (raw mango) powder – ¼ tsp or 1 tsp lemon juice
Salt – to taste
Oil – to shallow fry or grill

1. Pressure cook the raw banana for 4-5 whistles (15 minutes approx) till it is cooked. Just about 1/4 cup of water in the vessel is enough.
2. Cool and peel the skin, mash the bananas with fingers or back of a fork.
3. Add the chopped coriander leaves, chilli powder, cumin powder, amchur and salt. Mix well and then add 1 tbsp of flour and ¼ of the bread crumbs.
4. The mixture should come together in your hands, if it sticks, add some more flour a tsp at a time till you are able to shape cutlets with your hand.
5. Shape about 6 equal cutlets, roll them in the remaining bread crumbs and keep aside.
6. Heat a tava (griddle) and add about 1 tbsp oil to it, arrange the cutlets on the tava. Drizzle about a tsp of oil over the cutlets and cook them on a medium flame for about 3-5 minutes, turn them and cook for another 3 minutes, drizzling another tsp of oil if necessary.
7. Alternatively, you can grill them in a pre heated oven at 180C for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side, smearing oil on both sides before putting them in.
8. Serve warm with mint chutney.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

JFI December - Tur Dal - Uniquely South Indian

November was my first time participating in food blogging events and I didn’t want to overdo it, rather concentrate on two or three events which would really make me think.

Well, when I looked at Linda’s blog shouting out excitedly that she was hosting Jihva this month and the theme was Tur Dal – there were no second thoughts! I just had to participate in this event…….I love this lentil and in fact it’s been the one constant factor in my cooking and eating, no matter where I have been.

At home, sambar, plain dal with a simple tempering of mustard, Rasam made with tur dal water – all these were staples. When I went down south on holidays as a child, I was amused that we were given a small scoop of dal at the very beginning of the meal – “where is the rest of it?!” I would think, forgetting that the sambar and paruppu usli (steamed ground lentils with beans) to come all had it in varying proportions.

My next door neighbors were Maharashtrians and I used to often eat with their children who were my friends; varan bhath (dal rice) with thoop (ghee) was a given and absolutely comforting.

While in college, I practically lived at my best friend’s house and their Konkani daali thoy is something I make even today. Later when I lived with 3 flat mates, tur dal in all its myriad forms became a staple at our PG digs, easy to make and great to eat. The aspiring model who was a Punjabi made these daals which were so delicious that I used to polish off two bowls even before dinner.

Tur dal/arhar dal/split pigeon peas/tuvaram paruppu, sambar paruppu – this should be made our national dal – like one of those national integration slogans. “Ek Daal hain hum” *snort*

Though I have been waxing poetic on dals, for this event I couldn’t decide what to make, there were so many choices!
Finally (and barely making it to the event) I decided to make traditional podis; paruppu podi and rasam podi – not the usual gravy accompaniments, but something quite uniquely South Indian. We were running out of both and there weren’t any grocery shops in Delhi that I knew of, where I could pick up good quality podi.

Podi means powder, and Paruppu Podi refers to a ready-to-eat powder which is made out of dal and spices; roasted and powdered and then stored for use whenever needed. It is usually eaten with steamed rice and ghee or sesame oil. Probably the first version of convenience food!

Since I was on a roasting roll and since it also had tur dal in it, I also made Rasam powder (see some great recipes for rasam here, here and here) which when made at home tastes very different from the one you get packaged, not to mention that it also has tur dal as a main ingredient.

The roasting is the key to this; I roast each ingredient separately on a low flame, taking care to see that they are taken off the flame as soon as they change colour and give off a nice smell. You can also do this in the oven.

The ingredients for paruppu podi and the proportions vary according to each family/region’s recipe, so this is the one which worked for me after trying out various proportions. Try a few recipes out so that you can decide on which one you like.

I like the coriander and cumin to dominate in my Rasam powder, while in the dal powder the pepper quantity is the only adjustment I made to Mom’s recipe. So, what’s your preference?
Paruppu Podi (Ready-to-eat Dal powder)

Tur dal (split pigeon peas) – 1 cup
Dried red chillies – 4
Black peppercorns – 1 tsp
Garlic – 7-8 flakes
Oil – 1 tsp

1.Heat oil and roast each ingredient separately, till they change colour and are evenly roasted. This takes approximately about 2-3 minutes for each ingredient.
2.Let cool completely and grind to a coarse powder, adding salt to taste at the final round of grinding. Store upto 3 months in a tightly lidded container.
3.We have this with steamed rice, and sesame oil or ghee. Some dal or hot Rasam added to the rice makes it even more delicious.
Paruppu Podi & Rasam Powder
Rasam Powder

Tur dal – 1/3 cup
Dried red chillies – ½ cup
Coriander seeds – 1 cup
Cumin seeds - ¼ cup
Black peppercorn – 1tsp
Fenugreek seeds (methi) – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Washed and dried curry leaves – ¼ cup
Oil – 1tsp
1. Roast all the ingredients separately, till they change colour and are evenly roasted.
2. Cool completely and then grind to a smooth powder. Store in a tightly lidded container.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stuffed Bitter Gourd (kahaani mein twist)

Bitter Gourd (Pavakkai in Tamil, Karela in Hindi) is a vegetable that very few people like. But those who do, seem to like it with a passion. And in some psycho babble analysis that I have done, I have reached the conclusion that most peoplewho do like this bitter vegetable were those who were, as kids, encouraged to eat everything that was served.

Like this friend of mine who grew up in a joint family; there used to be at least 4-5 vegetables prepared for every meal, to meet everyone’s preference! Till date, he doesn’t eat eggplant, mushrooms, sticky potato and a couple of more vegetables.

I can just hear my mother laughing out loud if someone had suggested that to her! She had it hard enough trying to rustle up 3 meals a day while bringing up two kids and managing a full time teaching job and home, without having to think of different dishes for the 4 of us!

I used to hate adai – a rice and lentil pancake - as a child (without even trying it), and while I was never forced to eat it, the alternative which was offered every single time adai was made was aval (beaten rice) soaked in milk and sugar. It was edible, but not terribly interesting. Soon I decided to try adai and I came to love those crisp pancakes with a blob of home made butter on them. Maybe Jessica Seinfeld could try that instead of sneaking beet into chocolate cakes and spinach into brownies!

Of course there are exceptions to any theory, especially to theories based on a population of what? 20 people?! There are friends who eat every other vegetable quite happily, except for bitter gourd because they just don’t like the bitterness. I think it is more of an acquired taste (like beer ;)) , and where others find this vegetable bitter , tender gourds when cooked the right way, seem to me to have a really nice flavor, quite different from other vegetables.

Anyway, my mother loved bitter gourd in all its forms and her enthusiasm for it infected us too – we used to wait for the tamarind based curry (pavakkai kozhambu), the stir fry (varuval) and Pavakkai Pitlai (bitter gourd in spicy lentil gravy). Ok before you start thinking we had a freaky childhood straight out of The Adams Family, let me clarify that this was only when we were about 10 and 17 respectively, and able to actually try new things and develop a taste for them.

Stuffed bitter gourd was not made very often since it was a bit more labour intensive. Once I started cooking though, I prepared this quite regularly, since I liked trying out different stuffings. There was one with potato, another one with roasted coconut and spices ground into a paste……the easiest one was with onions, besan (chickpea flour) and spices – fried in a little bit of oil and then stuffed into the gourds.

Whatever be the preparation, I usually peel the skin of the bitter gourd and then cook it, since that removes a lot of the bitterness. My girl Friday T who helps with my daughter, told me that they never peeled the skin in her village in Jharkand and she used to then make a vegetable stir fry out of just the peel which I would have discarded; brave soul, not to mention wise, since most of the nutrition would be in the skin I guess.

So when I decided to make the stuffed version this time, she suggested that we use the peel in the stuffing. Now that seemed really interesting if a bit daunting! Ok, make that frightening....but I'm a foodie after all, drawn irresistibly to a twist in tried and tested recipes - true indications that any notions of sanity need to be left at the door. So I did.
The filling really tasted great with this new addition and it wasn't "it's HimeshReshammiya-plug-your-ears-you're-going-to-be-tortured-kind-of-bitter" like I thought it might be.
Ok, this is the point when people usually start shifting in their chair and looking around for excuses to leave - my evangelical sessions on I won't say more - try it out for yourselves you non believers! :)

Stuffed Bitter Gourd


Bitter Gourd – 6 small washed and peeled(the gourds should be dark green, not very big and with no signs of ripeness like yellow or white patches). Reserve about 4 tbsp of the peel.
Oil – 2 tbsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste

Onions – 2 medium, chopped fine
Besan (Chickpea flour) - 3 tbsp
Reserved peel of bitter gourd marinated in a tsp of salt for 15 minutes – 4 tbsp
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 tsp

1. Slit the bitter gourds slightly, just enough to scoop out the insides (seed and pith), if the seeds are very big then the gourd is too ripe and will be bitter.
2. Take a vessel of water and boil the slit gourds in it, adding ¼ tsp of salt and ½ tsp of turmeric. Boil the gourds till half cooked, do not overcook them since they will cook again with the stuffing. Keep aside to cool.
3. Wash the marinated peel in water and keep aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat a non stick pan and roast the besan and roast on a low flame till the colour changes and you get a nice aroma. Remove the besan from the pan and keep aside.
5. Add one tsp of oil to the same pan, heat it and then add the onions. Sauté till translucent, add the washed peel, chilli powder, cumin powder and salt and fry for about 3-4 minutes.
6. Add the roasted besan and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from flame and add the lemon juice. Let cool a bit and divide into 6 portions.
7. Take the cooled bitter gourd and stuff it with the onion mixture, taking care not to open the slits too wide. In case the slits have opened too wide while cooking in water or stuffing, use some clean string to tie them up. The string to be cut and discarded before serving.
8. Return the pan to the flame, heat 2 tbsp oil in it and add the stuffed gourds to it. Fry on a low flame for about 10-15 minutes, stirring carefully from time to time. Make sure all sides are evenly browned and the gourds are cooked through.

Alternatively, the stuffed gourds can be brushed with oil and cooked in an oven at 180 C for 15 minutes, rotating them in between so that they are evenly browned on all sides.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chicken Xacuti (Chicken in a Goan style gravy)

When I made Poee one chilly day on a whim, I looked for a curry to go with it and found Chicken Xacuti in Madhur Jaffrey’s book Flavours of India where I had also found the recipe for Poee.
Chicken Xacuti (Sha-cu-tee) (see this post on Jugalbandi on how the name came about and also for a great vegetarian version) has recipes which seem to change from family to family, but the mainstay of this recipe are the roasted spices and coconut which go into the masala.

The local shack versions tend to taste a bit vinegary but if made well and with tamarind instead of vinegar, this dish is redolent with the aroma of mixed spices.

I prefer the Chicken Xacuti to the Prawn Xacuti, except at someone's home, where there would be no risk of having rubbery overcooked prawns! The chicken is typically cut into small pieces for this dish, which suits us fine.
While the original recipe (which you can find here) calls for a short marination time of 20 minutes, I prefer marinating chicken for at least an hour since it makes the meat much softer and more receptive to absorbing the spices with which it is cooked. The chicken cooks in about 15-20 minutes since it has been marinated and I turn the pan off before the gravy reduces too much.

I also added tamarind to this dish, which is not in the Jaffrey's recipe and adjusted the spices a bit.

As we mopped up the last of the spicy gravy with the poee I had baked earlier, the coming winter didn’t seem so bad after all.

Chicken Xacuti


Chicken (skinned and cleaned) – 500 gms cut into 8 pieces
Onions – 1 sliced
Oil – 2 tbsp
Curry leaves – 8-10
Salt – to taste
Lime juice – 1 tbsp
Chilli powder – ½ tsp
Salt – ½ tsp

Dried Red chillies – 5-6
Coriander seeds – 2 tbsp
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Fennel seeds – ½ tsp
Cloves – ½ tsp
Peppercorns – ½ tsp
Cinnamon – 1 ‘piece
Cardamom (elaichi)– 2-3
Star anise – 1 (I omitted this)
Nutmeg – pinch
Mace - a tiny piece
Poppy seeds (Khus khus) – 1 tbsp
Grated coconut – ½ cup
Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
Onion – 1 small sliced
Ginger – 1 “piece peeled and chopped
Garlic – 4-5 cloves chopped


1. Make slashes in the chicken pieces, mix with the marinade ingredients and marinate for at least an hour.
2. Heat a kadai and roast the grated coconut and turmeric powder till the coconut changes colour slightly. Remove and keep aside.To the same kadai, add the red chillies, coriander seeds, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, nutmeg, mace, cumin, aniseed and pepper and roast on a low flame for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the poppy seeds and continue roasting till the spices change colour (another 2-3 minutes). Remove and let cool.
4. Heat a tsp of oil in the same kadal and fry the onions, ginger and garlic till brown. Remove and let cool.
5. Grind the roasted spices to a powder and then add the roasted coconut and the fried onions to the spice powder and grind again with upto 1 cup water till it makes a fine masala paste.
6. Heat the remaining oil in the kadai and add the marinated chicken pieces, stir fry on high for 5 minutes till it is lightly browned on all sides, add the masala paste and fry on medium flame for 5 minutes more.
7. Add 300 ml water, salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce flame, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes till the chicken is tender. Add the tamarind pulp midway, after about 10 minutes and continue simmering.
8.Add curry leaves and take off the flame. Serve hot with poee or steamed rice.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Vegetable Kurma (Mixed vegetables in Coconut gravy)

This is one of my favourite recipes – loved it when my mother used to make it, loved MIL’s version and now I have mine too. I hate the ones served in fast food joints in Chennai, they are an apology to what this creamy spicy dish should taste like; watered down sweetish versions with sad looking vegetables in an oily gravy! Not to mention that they serve miniscule portions (which may be a good thing in a way) barely enough to mop up about half an idiyappam or a piece of appam.

What this dish should taste like is a nice mix of spicy flavours tempered by the coconut added to the masala, the thick gravy a combination of the coconut paste as well as the boiled potatoes adding their own starchiness to it. The other vegetables (I don’t add more than 2 or 3) like beans, carrot, cauliflower or peas bring out the the rest.

Why am I going on about some dish which is not even something gourmet or unusual? Well, just because I guess; just because I can never have enough of it, love trying out other versions of this and maybe because you hardly ever get to eat it outside of home.

I also love the traditional combination of Idiyappam-Kurma ; Idiyappam is steamed rice noodles and another favourite of mine. Because it is a bit time consuming to make, it used to make a rare appearance while growing up which made it all the more attractive. Now of course, you get the instant versions, just soak the dried noodles in hot water for 5 minutes and they are ready! We usually have this combo for breakfast.

For the real thing, take a look at Viji's post on Vcuisine for step by step instructions to soft fluffy idiyappam. This particular recipe is posted on May 14th, 2007.

One evening though, we wanted a light dinner so opted for dosais (rice flour pancakes) instead of the usual rice. And I thought the kurma would be a good accompaniment. I guess I just needed an excuse! So dosai kurma it was – and it was so delicious we dumped the resolve of a light dinner and went on and on with the dosais till the batter ran out!

Some versions of kurma have whole spices like clove and cardamom ground into the masala paste, I don’t prefer doing that because of the strong flavor it imparts, which then seems to mask everything else. But try that route if you hate biting into a clove by mistake.

Also, some versions add coconut milk at the end, this one doesn’t.

Recipe for dosai batter here

Vegetable Kurma

Dosai and Kurma


Potatoes – 4 boiled, peeled and cubed
Mixed vegetables (choose 2 from cauliflower, carrot, beans, peas) – 1 cup chopped
Onions – 1 large sliced
Tomatoes – 1 large chopped roughly
Clove – 2
Cinnamon stick – 1 “
Masala paste:
Coconut – grated ½ cup
Green chillies – 3-4
Cumin – 1 tbsp
Ginger – 1 “piece
Garlic – 3 cloves

1. Grind the ingredients of the masala paste till smooth adding just as much water as is needed.
2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the cloves and cinnamon to it, when they change colour, add the onions and sauté till translucent.
3. Add the masala paste to the oil and fry for about 3-4 minutes, add a splash of water if required so that it doesn’t stick to the pan.
4. Meanwhile cook the chopped mixed vegetables in very little water till just done. They will cook further in the kurma so don’t overcook.
5. Add about 300-350ml of water to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil, add salt, cover and let it simmer on medium flame for 3-4 minutes.
6. Uncover, add boiled potatoes, tomatoes and cooked vegetables to the curry and cook for another 5-7 minutes on low till all the ingredients blend together and the curry thickens.
7. Check the salt and spice and if you need a bit more spice, you can add a pinch of garam masala powder before taking it off the flame.
8. Serve with idiyappams,dosais,idlis or chapatis.