Friday, October 31, 2008

Arbi Style II

Flash back to that time before deep freezers and shopping malls. Before broccoli, bell peppers and avocados became commonplace in Indian kitchens. When vegetables and fruits meant whatever was grown that season within a few hundred kilometers of wherever you lived. I divide that time by vegetables not seasons. I am pretty sure there was more variety, but after you ruled out the bottle gourds and pumpkins, summer for me was arbi and bhindi. Just like winter was sarson ka saag which I would steadfastly refuse to eat and so only options were matar and gobhi. That's what comes out of being picky when you are growing up.

But what also comes out of this limited range is more variety in how you cook these vegetables. Let's start with colcassia or arbi. There's fried arbi I wrote about a few months back. Then there's this commonplace arbi sabzi, close enough to fried arbi but not the same. And there's a third one...but that one later. Featured right now is arbi in it's second avatar.



Peel 200 gms arbi and drop in cold water for some of the starch to wash away. Remove and cut into fingers. Also chop an onion lengthwise. Heat roughly a cup of oil in a pan (enough to deep fry) and let the temperature drop to a simmer. Drop the arbi and onions and cook on a low heat until the arbi is half cooked. Remove and drain as much oil as you can. Return to the pan with just the oil retained in arbi. Add 1/2 tsp each of salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder, a tsp of ajwain and 1/4 tsp amchur (dried mango powder). Add 1/3 cup water and simmer till the arbi is well done. Top with a sprinkle of garam masala.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Parantha Time

It's amazing how traditions are made. Take this one for example. For the past many years, we eat gobhi paranthas on diwali night. I think it first started because we were a bit tired of all the sweets, dry fruits and chocolates that are gifted you on diwali day. And it was 11 pm, that time after the festivities are over. You're done with lakshmi puja, have lighted up the rather huge house with electric lights, diyas and candles, bursted tons of crackers and then you don't know what else to do. So the crisp pan-fried gobhi paranthas just sounded perfect. And continue to sound perfect many years later. We had gobhi parathas once again last night after the excitement of the festival.

To make gobhi paranthas, make a smooth, elastic but not too soft a dough with whole wheat flour and water. Grate cauliflower florets. Add salt, garam masala, red chilli powder, ajwain (carom seeds) and some chopped coriander leaves. Mix, then squeeze the mixture between palms to drain out any excess water. Take a lemon sized ball of dough and roll it a bit thickly. Place 2 tbsp of cauliflower mixture in the middle and gather the flour on top to seal and form a flattish dough ball. Roll out as thin as you can. Place on a heated tawa (flat pan) and let cook for a minute. Flip, apply ghee on both sides and shallow fry until crisp and brown. Serve immediately with butter.

A fitting end to the lovliest festival of the year. Hope you also had a great diwali!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back to School

Ask any book lover what their favorite childhood read was, and chances are they would name one of the Enid Blytons. Who can ignore the charms of Noddy, or the very mischevious Famous Five and Secret Seven. Blyton must have written hundreds of books in her time. I still devour all her childhood sagas, and I know a lot of you do as well. For when Bhags first ran "This Book Makes Me Cook" in May, didn't half the participants pick an Enid Blyton as inspiration to cook from.

It isn't surprising then that "This Book Makes Me Cook" is reading a Blyton this month. The book we picked was "The Naughtiest Girl in the School", one of the several school series she wrote. With vivid descriptions, the book brings to life a quintessential English boaring school called Whyteleafe. Equally close to life is our heroine Elizabeth, the girl with a heart of gold who's pretending to be naughty.

There is plenty in the book to excite a foodie. The lunches and dinners at school, the tea times and the children's visits to sweet shop to spend their weekly allowance. But what fascinates me the most is the tuck boxes these children bring with them at the start of the term. Filled with cakes and jams, delights they then share with their friends. Elizabeth's tuck box always has shortbread in addition to cakes. And this sinfully buttery Scottish treat is what I am recreating for this month's edition of the book club.



To make shortbread, soften 100 gms butter. Mix 130 gms plain flour, 30 gms cornflour and 55 gms caster sugar. Add butter and slowly rub it in. Press with your hands until the dough comes together. Roll or pat into a square and cut into fingers (or any shape you like). Arrange on a baking sheet and make indentations with a fork. Heat oven to 180C and bake for 35 minutes. Let harden for a few minutes on the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

In the meantime, let's sneak a look into other members' tuck boxes and see what they brought to school:

- Aparna also made Scottish Shortbread
- A fancier shortbread from Curry Leaf. Sweatha made Chocolate Nut Shortbread with Stewed Apples
- Rachel made a Chocolate Cake for Elizabeth

And now on to November. Next month, we are reading Alice in Wonderland. If you would like to join us on the trip to wonderland, leave a comment here and I will get back to you with details.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Blog Picks : Oregano, Onion and Paneer Rolls



These started off as dill, onion and paneer rolls in Aparna's kitchen a few days back. I loved the interplay of fragrant herbs, paneer and crunchy onions. Plus anything that's a small roll and not a loaf is an instant hit in my view. I didn't have dill when temptation to bake this roll struck me last night, but I had a pack of oregano I didn't have instant use for. This is the only change I made in Aparna's super-easy recipe.

Start by adding a tbsp of honey and 1 1/2 tsp yeast to 1/2 cup warm milk. Leave it for 10-15 minutes until the yeast is bubbling. Mix a cup each of plain flour and whole wheat flour with 1 finely chopped onion, 1/2 cup crumbled paneer, 2 tbsp chopped oregano, 1 tbsp oat bran and 1/2 tsp salt. Add the yeast mixture and knead until you get a soft, smooth and elastic dough. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise till double in volume.

Gently deflate the dough and shape into 6 rolls. Place on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise a little for about 20 minutes. Bake at 180C for 30 minutes or till the rolls have browned.

This was my first time baking with whole wheat flour and I was pleasantly surprised with the texture. The rolls also kept well for a day, and were great for sandwiches this morning.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blog Picks : Beet Hummus



Beets are one of those super healthy foods your conscience nags you to eat every once in a while. But I don't like beets as it is. Which is why when DK made an exciting version of hummus with beet as part of the recipe marathon in May, I bookmarked it instantly.

If only I get back to my bookmarked recipes in time. But even five months later, beet hummus was a delight. The only change I made to DK's recipe was using sesame seeds instead of tahini. And it only takes 5 minutes to make as long as you remember to soak chickpeas and have them boiled and ready.

Visibly more colorful, and also more delicious than the regular hummus. I am an instant fan.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pita with Pizzazz

When I bought this pita bread, I had a bright idea for a new hummus. Then life happened. And I forgot to soak chickpeas. Which means my hummus will have to wait for another day. But in the meanwhile, I have pita in my fridge. And I have a dinner to cook.

I also have some peppers and baby corn lying around, which reminds me of my favorite sandwich roll filling. From there, it's a simple matter of putting the two together for "Baby Corn and Peppers in Pita"



To make the filling, roast one red bell pepper (see tips for roasting here). Peel and cut into strips. Halve 10-12 babycorns and cut into matchsticks. Heat a tbsp of olive oil and saute babycorn over low heat until it softens. Add peppers and saute for a minute. Next, I added 3 tbsp of red chilli sauce, but you can add your favorite pasta sauce or whatever tomato based bottle of sauce you find in your fridge. Let cook for 2-3 minutes until the filling is almost dry. I didn't need to add any salt or pepper, but go by your tastebuds.

Toast the pita bread. Halve, line with lettuce leaves and fill with the sauteed babycorn/peppers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guacamole!

I was at first a reluctant convert to avocados. The nutty flavor is very different from anything else I'd tasted and it took some getting used to. Then I fell in love with guacamole.

There are as many ways of making guacamole as the number of people who make it. I myself make a mildly spicy dip. But today, I have a salad like version with slightly underripe avocados.



Chop one avocado, one small onion, one firm tomato and a few slices of jalepenos into small cubes. Finely chop a few sprigs of coriander (I didn't because I didn't have any). Add as much salt and cayenne pepper as you like and juice of one lemon. Mix. Eat.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Homecoming

After three weeks of world cuisine, all I've wanted to eat in the past week is Indian comfort food. Like this Sai Bhaji, the Sindhi combination of lentils and spinach.



Start by cleaning a bunch of spinach. Wash spinach, remove any tough stalks and chop the leafs into small bits. Heat a tsp of ghee in a pressure cooker. Drop in 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds and let them sizzle. Add one finely chopped onion and stir fry until it is lightly browned. Add one finely chopped tomato and cook for a couple of minutes. Add add 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and salt to taste (1/2 tsp does it for me).

Drop the palak into the spices and stir for a few second till it wilts. Add 1/3 cup masur dal and 2 cups water. Close your pressure cooker and cook for 3 whistles. Add some garam masala and serve on top of plain rice.

Sai Bhaji traditionally uses chana dal (split peas), but they take longer to cook so if you want to make that version start by soaking chana dal for half an hour. The rest of the recipe remains the same but you will need more cooking time.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Sights and Sounds of Borough

And of my other favorite farmers market at New York's Union Square. Plus a snapshot of the foods I brought back from my trip. There are some pictures in the older posts as well if you want to go back and sneak a look!








Sunday, October 5, 2008

Melting Pot



I am at New York's JF Kennedy Airport waiting for my trip to end, and my flight home to take off. For all of last week, I have tried and yet not said anything to you about New York city and its foodscape. For what could I have said....in the past week I had Indian, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, new-age raw vegan, Italian and Turkish food. And I had salads and sandwiches and pizzas from the delis of Times Square. And of course, I had bagels with cream cheese and New Yorkers' favorite eggs & cheese on roll for breakfast.

How does one explain this melange, this melting pot of cultures that defines New York city. Every time I come here, I get simply awed by the foods of New York. And every trip I make discoveries new.

Yet, there's one thing I can't do without in NY. Not because it's better than anything else, but because it's what I miss the most when I get back home. We are talking about Starbucks. You can laugh if you like, but I love the way it's the same coffee, no matter where I order it, no matter when. I love the way I can walk into a Starbucks at 7 am or at midnight, when I am freezing with cold, and pick up the drink I love on my way to work or back to the hotel. I really wish I could take it back home with me.

So long New York, until next time....

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stars in my eyes

If you are a New Yorker, stop reading right now. This post is only for tourists, specially the folks crowding the Times Square looking for a bit of Broadway magic. You can obviously capture your Broadway memories at one of the many excellent plays or musicals around where I am right now. But the perfect touristy thing to do will be to head out to Stardust Diner.

Stardust is a Broadway parody of American midwest style diners, all chrome tables and faux leather booths. I am sure they have excellent burgers and fries or other diner-like food that I haven't seen as a vegetarian. But despite the awful food, I do end up here one evening every time I come to visit the Big Apple. Two reasons : one, the drinks. They do awesome grown-ups milkshakes that come in a tall metal tumbler. I only always drink malted mudslide and can vouch for it being out of the world.

The second, touristy, cheesy reason is their singing waiters. So one moment, your waitress is taking your order, the next one she is up there singing to glory. All of these are Broadway aspirants and not exactly superstars but it's a great fun way to spend an hour.