Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Beans Poriyal (Spicy Beans Stir Fry)

Got off the phone after a long chat with my mom and as of this moment I am filled with random thoughts. First and foremost, how will life be when I am 55? The very thought of me and S sitting by the fire on a cold evening waiting for a call from one of our children, gives me shudders. Suddenly I am homesick, I want to go home and give my mom a big hug, go around the Meenaskhi Amman temple and taste the panniyaram from the raod side vendor in Madurai. So what you may ask prevents me from actually getting on the plane and shooting off to India? Apart from the family politics it is my green policy - Don’t want to contribute to the extra amount of Carbon Di Oxide. Okay that is a lousy reason. Leaving the reasoning behind and concentrating on the task at hand – What can make me feel better. A dash to Sparkhill and tucking into some of those oily samosas? The traffic on the road puts me off from going anywhere near that place. Remember I have an affinity to Traffic Jams.

Back to the present suddenly I start counting my blessings. One of them is my best friend B who is baby sitting my troops today, the whole day. Ain’t I lucky? Thanking my stars and hoping that the stars will be shinning 25 years later, I decided to cook beans poriyal for B. This is something that mom used to make often and a recipe that I had never asked her. I just simply know how to make it after eating it for ages. So here goes my recipe

  • Dwarf Beans – 200 Gms
  • Grated Coconut – 1 Tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Asafetida – a pinch
  • Slit Green chilles – 3runchy and hence don’t cook them thru.
  • Curry leaves – a twig

Chop the beans and steam them till ¾ cooked. I like the beans to have a little crunch. Grate the coconut. The easiest way is grating fresh coconut using a blender and running it till the coconut is coarse. Better still if you get hold of some frozen coconut you can use them. If using desiccated coconut, soak them for a while in water and then drain the water and use the coconut. Heat a spoon of oil in a pan and temper it with mustard seeds, urad dal, green chillies and curry leaves. When Mustard seed pops up add the steamed beans and stir fry for a minute or two. Season it with salt at this stage. Remove from stove and add the coconut. Mix thoroughly and server it as a side dish. It goes well with rice, noodles and pasta. This recipe is quick, easy, simple and yummy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Pasta Bake

Everyone has a different pasta bake recipe. I tumbled upon mine by combining two recipes watched on TV. If truth be told, this recipe was a result of confusion – one of those stories with happy endings. After a few iterations, pasta bake has become one of my camouflage dishes. You can add in any vegetable, steamed and mashed of course to evade detection. My kids love it and it doesn’t take too much effort to cook, what more could a mother want. I love it too; it’s a shame that S doesn’t like pasta. This is what he is missing……..
My troops are an undisciplined lot and could not wait until their Commander took a picture

  • Pasta – 200 gms
  • Cheese grated – 150 gms (this can be adjusted to taste)
  • Basil leaves – chopped

Optional Garnish

· Cooked Tuna steaks – 50 gms

· Cooked Prawns - 6

White Sauce

· Flour – 1 Tbsp

· Butter or Olive oil – 2 Tbsp

· Milk – ½ cup

· Grated cheese – 1 handful (optional)

Vegetable sauce

· Carrots – 2

· Potato – 1

· Any combination vegetables can be used although I stay away from cauliflower and cabbage

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. For the white sauce, melt the butter in the pan and add the flour. Mix the flour and the butter and combine it well. Start adding milk in spoonfuls and keep mixing. When the milk is combined well with the flour mixture add some more. Continue the process add milk-keep stirring to avoid lumps. When you have finished with the milk add the cheese. Stir it only in one direction (not both ways), it has some thing to do with the proteins in the cheese. The white sauce is done when the cheese is melted. The consistency of the sauce is a little thicker than single cream.

If you are one of those lucky parents whose kids eat veggies or don’t have kids then you don’t have to make the sauce, just steam the vegetables you want to use.

If you are like me then steam the vegetables and puree it in a blender. Now for the assembling bit – Place the pasta in a baking bowl and add the white sauce, vegetable sauce/or vegetables and then add the optional garnish. You don’t have to add the fish, I do, just to further the temptation for my children who happen to love fish and prawns. Alternately you could add cooked chicken or anything your heart desires. Mix them all thoroughly and cover with grated cheese. My choice of cheese is Mild cheddar (kid friendly), but Parmesan would go well too. Add the chopped basil on top and bake it for 20 mins at 200 C in a preheated oven. The basil crisps up during the baking process and needless to say is delicious. Go on give it a try, you will not regret it. Although I have presented it as a kiddie recipe, it is equally good for adults. Perfect food to enjoy on the sofa before the TV.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Sarkkarai Pongal

If there is one dish that has probably survived without much change for centuries, it must be Pongal – Tamil food can’t get any more authentic than that. The cooking method might have changed over time, but the dish itself has undergone only little change.

The finished product depends on the quality of the main ingredients used, rice and Jaggery. Par boiled rice is generally consumed in TamilNadu, it always intrigues me as to why par boiled rice isn’t used for making Pongal. I am sure there must be some significance. I make Sarkkarai Pongal for most festivals including Saraswathi Poojai as it is simple to make and delicious to eat. Hence decided to enter it for the RCI Tamilnadu festival food event. This recipe of mine is influenced by reading various tips from this place, a wonderful site for discussing food. So here goes my recipe

  • Rice – 1 cup
  • Jaggery – 1 cup (Oh yes I have a sweet tooth)
  • Cardamom – 2 (roughly smashed)
  • Ghee/butter – 1 spoon
  • Milk – 1 cup
  • Cashew nut/raisins/thinly sliced coconut strips – as per taste

Pressure cook the rice with 1 cup milk and 2 cups water. Once cooked mash it with a spoon as much as you can. In a thick bottom pan place the jaggery and ½ cup water on slow flame to melt it. Skim away any impurities that may come on the top. There are different varieties of jaggery and many people consider achu vellam the best. I use a combination of achu vellam and karupati (this gives a nice brown colour to the Pongal). After skimming away the top layer, add the cooked rice and stir well till all the water in the mixture is absorbed into the rice and the rice reaches a thick consistency. In a small pan heat the butter or ghee and add the cashew nuts, raisins and/or the coconut strips. When the cashew is golden brown and the raisins swell add this garnish to the rice and mix well. Finish off by adding some crushed cardamom. Some like to finish off with a generous amount of butter. There you have it, a dish favoured by all Gods!

P.S - a handful of moong dal is generally added to the rice in the cooker. I have found that moong flares my younger troops eczema and so I haven't included it in the recipe. I feel it doesn't make a big difference to the taste.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Chicken Tikka Masala and perfection

Just when one thought that one had enough dose of CTM, no not from the Baltis, rather from the plethora of food programs, there comes along a program from BBC (little surprise there) in its ‘quest’ to find the ‘perfect’ CTM, whatever that means.

The perfectionist in this case is the famous Heston Blumenthal of ‘The Fat Duck’. He travels to Delhi (where else) in search for the perfect Chicken Tikka Masala. Until this point the program followed the time and tested track. And then it went a step further in search of perfection. No the tandoori oven in the car park dug by the chef didn’t shock me. All the lab tests conducted to verify if yogurt really made a difference to the marinade didn’t do the trick. The double marinade and the technique didn’t move me. The way the sauce or rather what went inside got me jumping mad on the sofa – A regular tomato sauce with the usual onion, ginger, garlic and tomato paste (cooked in a pressure cooker and reduced) was underway when suddenly the chef tossed in some cashew butter that is ground cashew nut paste for you and me. The crown of the whole episode was when a can of coconut milk went in. Everything that happened after that including the butter did not matter much. And this ladies and gentleman is the perfect Chicken Tikka masala.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Prawn Pakoda

My family loves sea food and prawns are always a treat. I made these yummy little things for some friends. Who can resist some deep fried goodies especially when the goodies happen to be prawns! Prawns come in different shapes and sizes and I happen to think that the small fresh water ones we get in India (read as Madurai) are the best flavoured ones. Ah well I am partial in everything that is remotely connected with Madurai, how could I not be? Here in UK it is hard to find uncooked small prawns and so we have to settle for the bigger variety. It is nevertheless yummy and is delicious in curries, pastas and everything else they are made with. Once again this recipe is adapted from my ‘Rs 15’ cook book. What ever will I do without it!!

  • Prawns – 250 gms
  • Gram flour (Kadlai mavu) – 3 Tbsp
  • Rice flour – 4 Tbsp
  • Chilli powder – 3 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for deep frying

Mix the flours, chilli powder and salt to the prawns and let it rest for half an hour. The water in the prawns help to bind the marinade with the prawns. If using cooked prawns, make a loose paste of the flours, salt and chilli powder with some water and then add the prawns to the paste. Also reduce the salt level if using cooked prawns. Heat the oil in a wok and deep fry them. This can be served as a starter or as an accompaniment. If serving as a starter, you can make a dip using soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, minced garlic, chillies and chopped coriander to go with it. Enjoy the prawn pakodas.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Ghee Rice

Ghee rice as the name suggests is a very rich concoction and meant for special occasions. My mother who doesn’t believe in coconut milk has never cooked it. When at school my friends talked about ghee rice, I always thought that it meant white rice mixed with ghee. I can’t remember when I first tasted the actual Ghee rice or when I cooked it first or where I got this recipe from. But this is a pretty standard recipe, mildly flavored by spices and needless to say a little unfriendly around the hips.

Without much ado here is the recipe,

  • Onion – 1 thinly sliced
  • Green chillies – 5
  • Cardamom – 2
  • Cloves - 2
  • Cinnamon – 1 inch stick
  • Bay leaf – 1
  • Ginger-garlic paste – 1 Tbsp
  • Cashewnuts – 10 (optional)
  • Basmati rice – 2 cups
  • Ghee or butter – 50 gms
  • Coconut milk – 1 cup
  • Mixed chopped vegetables – 1 cup (carrot, peas and potato)

Heat the butter or ghee in a pan and add the spices. In recent years I use sunflower oil or Olive oil. Then add the onions and Chillies and fry until it is soft (don’t brown them). Then add the ginger and garlic paste and fry till the raw smell disappears. To this add the cashew nuts and the vegetables. Any vegetable can be added, to make it look nice include green and red colour vegetables like peas, beans, broccoli, carrot. I tend to add frozen vegetables, saves time on cutting the veggies. Saute them for a few minutes and then add the washed rice and fry it briefly in the ghee mixture. For 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of liquid is required. Add one cup of coconut milk (The tinned ones are very good) and add 3 cups of water. The general rule is to add one fourth of coconut milk and three fourths water. When the water starts boiling reduce the fire to the least possible level and close with a lid and cook until done. For 2 cups of rice, it generally takes 20 mins to cook thru. When done mix the rice gently with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Server hot with a raita and enjoy all the praise from the guests. If I use frozen veggies and coconut milk from a can, this rice gets ready in 30 minutes.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Sausages with carrots

Proudly presenting another successful camouflage dish – Sausages with carrots. This is strictly for kids who can eat Non-veg but would refuse to eat veegies. If someone in your house hold falls in this category read on, else well you can read on and make it a bit spicy to adapt to your taste. This recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s ‘The essesntials of Classic Italian cooking’. The original calls for red cabbage. Since my son can smell a cabbage from miles away, I tried carrots and it turned out yummy. In addition for the first time in 3 years, my older son actually ate grated carrots knowing exactly what he was eating. It is a milestone today and thanks to blogging for marking this momentous day.

This is a quick and easy recipe with stunning results (if you like sausages).

  • Sausage – 3
  • Carrot – 1 large or 3 small grated
  • Garlic – 1 Tbsp chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Cook the sausage in a griddle or a frying pan. Prick the sausages with a fork while cooking to ooze some of the fat in the sausage. Once done, slice the sausages into 1 inch thick pieces.

Heat a spoon of oil olive in a pan and add the garlic. When the garlic turns brown add the grated carrot (in the original recipe, red cabbage is recommended). Cook this until done, turning the carrots gently in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked sliced sausages and mix together. Serve it as a main course or as a side dish and enjoy. My kids lapped it up and Oh boy am I one happy bunny?

Vendakkai pachadi (Spicy Okra with lentils)

This is one of my signature dishes, mainly as it meets the elusive balance of being appreciated by S and maintaining a no-protest status from the children. This is from ‘Rs 15 cook book’ (that’s the nickname for my precious book) that I picked up in Chennai road side. S has never been keen on Okra until he tasted this. It is also one of my Veggie camouflage dish. The smaller troops don’t realize what goes down their throat and the battle is won without a war. If only mothers had a say in the decision making process, the world would be a better place. Me and my wishful thinking!

To the recipe now

  • Vendakkai (Okra) - 200 gms (sliced very thinly)
  • Onion medium size – 1 chopped
  • Tomato – 1 chopped
  • Green chillies – 2
  • Sambhar powder – 2 Tbsp (if not using sambhar powder substitute with 1 Tbsp of Corriander powder and 1Tbsp od chilli powder)
  • Tamarind – size of half lemon
  • Garlic – 1 clove (chopped or sliced)
  • Curry leaves – 1 twig
  • Mustard seeds – 1 Tbsp
  • Urad dal – 1 tsp
  • Oil for cooking
  • Salt according to taste
  • Paruppu (yellow lentils ) – ½ cup
  • Turmeric powder – ½ tsp

Pressure cook the lentils with some turmeric powder until half cooked. Soak the tamarind in little water and heat it for a minute in microwave (high) and sqeeze the juice out. Heat the oil (sesame oil tends to add a special flavour for this dish) and when hot enough add the mustard seeds. When they start popping add the urad dal. When the dal turns brown add the curry leaves and then the chopped onions and garlic. Fry until the onions are soft. Then add the sliced okra and keep frying. The pan tends to brown rapidly during this process and it is important to turn the veggie. After 5 minutes, add the green chillies (whole) and then the tomato. Add the sambhar powder and some water to avoid the browning of the pan. When the okra is half cooked add the lentils and water if necessary. Close with lid and cook until the okra and the lentils are cooked thru. Add the tamarind juice and let it boil for a few minutes. If the pachadi has too much water, increase the heat to reduce the water. The dish should be semi dry. It is generally meant to be a side dish. As a result of camouflaging, my dish turns out to be gravy that can be mixed with rice. The okra just melts (really my kids have never found out what goes through their mouth and they wolf it down) in your mouth. This is great as an accompaniment for all rice dishes and yummy with chapatti.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Karuvadu Thokku ( Salted dried fish dry curry)

It has been a hectic week so far and I haven’t had the time to post anything or to do anything else that could be labeled as leisure. To quantify it with an example, I missed the Nigella Express program (yeah it is that busy). When life gets this mechanical, the only way I keep my sanity to bearable limits is by cooking and eating, what else. So as a me and me only dish, the karuvadu thokku came into existence. None of my troops are keen on karuvadu , but hey I am the mummy. For the last 4 years (my vegetarian years), dried fish was banned in our household. It is time for a revival, what better way than this one, my mom’s recipe. Thokku might not be the right description for this dish, but then again remember I am the Mummy. So here goes the recipe…….

  • Karuvadu (salted dried fish) – about 10 small pieces
  • Onions – 2 medium size
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Tomato – 2 medium size
  • Chilli powder – 1 Tbsp
  • Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 1 twig

Heat a spoon of oil in a pan and add the fennel seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds change colour add the chopped onions, garlic and sauté till they turn golden brown. Then add the tomatoes and fry till they are mushy and combined well with the onions. Then add the chilli powder and fry for a few minutes. Now add the karuvadu (washed and cut into very small bite sized pieces) and fry into the masala. Add few spoons of water to prevent it from burning. I like the karuvadu to be cooked for a long time about 15 minutes. Add water from time to time the thokku is dry. Salt should be added last if required. It is a great for Sambhar and Yogurt rice. If made a bit mushy then it would go great with idlis too.

As expected none of my troops wanted to have anything to do with karuvadu. Ah well sanity preserved.