Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween, All!

For all you parents out it ok if I give your trick-or-treating kids fruit on tuesday? I dont really believe in handing out candy to kids who are probably already over-dosed on over-processed, over-sweet, over-salted food(not YOUR kids, precisely. just in general).........but according to this post on slashfood, it would make me a party-pooper! I am not!!! But I also dont think that "one night of the year you can binge" is a good message to give!


Friday, October 27, 2006

Really, what are good manners?

This is my first non-food post and I now realise how hard those are to write! Particularly when you dont know who reads your blog! But anyway, I have an issue that I would like to share. Or rather get all of your opinions.

What are manners anyway? Is it really a big deal if your guests start eating before you come to the table? If you wont do it to other people....does that mean that you cant be (a teensy-meensy little bit) mad when some one does it to you? And most importantly, if your guests were waiting for you, you would SURELY pop your head into the dining room and tell them to dig in! Then why feel wierd when they do it without you telling them? Is it cos your mom would probably box your ears (over the phone, that too!) if she knew you had started eating without the host there?

Anyway, it happened to me. And it was wierd since it was the first time. I dont know if it was a cultural thing. I assumed that in almost all cultures ( and age groups) there was this thing of waiting for the host. Not in mad, grad-student pot luck parties maybe.............but even then usually the appetizers that had been kept out disappeared....the actual food was eaten in a more civilized manner. The funny part is also that I have a friend who is exactly the other extreme and that is also disconcerting! She just wont start eating until you are eating too. Well, sometimes as a host you have to not eat, get up to serve, to get fresh bread etc etc. So the other extreme is quite uncomfortable too.

Which brings me to smthg else- is it the nature of serving Indian food that makes it difficult for the host to join in? I mean, if you ferrying hot bread (parantha, roti, puri or dosai) from the kitchen to the dining room, doesnt that automatically exclude you from the gathering? I realise that in western cuisines there are courses and the host needs to get up to bring in the salad, soup and entree. But they can eat with their guests within a course.

Which brings me to the issue of Indian cooks (all women, mostly) have managed over the ages. But if you think about the way food would be served in a traditional Indian house (say grandmom's generation) there are ways in which the person cooking and serving can feel part of the process. In the north indian households that I know, either the kitchen was large enough for everyone to sit or food was served in a area very close to the kitchen. Most old houses have courtyards and almost all rooms of the house open into the courtyard. Because its really hot in the summer, part of the courtyard maybe be shaded and that is where the family would sit to eat. So could it be that the architecture of old houses was partly designed to make sure that everyone (including women who were cooking and serving) could see and hear everything during the meal and hence felt part of it? If you have any stories about how food is/was served in your house/part of the country/country then I would love to hear those.

So.........I am unreasonable to feel a little cheesed-off? Or maybe its just unreasonable to think that there are some universal elements to manners? Or maybe I just need suggestions about how to serve Indian breads (hot and fresh) without making them right there and then. I have tried aluminuim foil+ oven, damp towel+oven, damp towel+microwave...............they dont work that well, do they?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Diwali Goodies!

Spurred on by this month's Jihva for Ingredients hosted by Vee of Past, Present and Me, I am posting TWO (and a half) Diwali goodies that are made in our home. Before I jump into the recipes, let me heartily thank Vee-- THANK YOU. I have been away from home for the past 5.5 years and I always felt that I was keeping up, remembering, not forgetting anything because I go back home every few months in a year. My frequent visits are much-needed infusions of sanity in my life, full of great times with family and friends......... and also a comfort to me because I feel that I am still totally connected with India. I can talk about a new shop opening or a new play that I saw in Delhi as well as in the US. I moan traffic laws in India and here, I watch soaps in India and here (soaps are cool! you can not watch them for 4 months, yet still catch up on the happenings in a jiffy). So I thought I was soooo cool...........until this month's JFI got posted. Then I realised that I had not been home for Diwali for 5 years. I didnt remember what we cook on Diwali. A time-and-money-pressed student existence in the US wasnt conducive to making Diwali I forgot. Dont get me wrong- we always managed to do something for Diwali like pot-luck dinner or something. But neither time nor resources ran into making anything other than entrees that would feed 10-15 people.

I have to say, it was not a pleasant realization. My little bubble of connectedness was burst.
Maybe I would become a distant 'NRI' whose idea of India is through Bollywood movies..............but maye not! In swoops Vee ( and Mom) to the rescue! So thanks Vee, for giving me the opportunity (and incentive) to re-create Diwali and all its attendant rituals in my home here.

So what I am plan to make are 2 sweets and 1 savory dish. The savory is an old favourite with pretty much everyone I know. The much loved, much eaten, much made.........Samosa! But theres a twist here. Its a SUPER-HEALTHY, SUPER-BAKED SAMOSA. Thanks to both Indira and Shammi for putting the germ of the idea in my head. And since it is a festival ( and anyway I am a good girl) I am not lying or exaggerating at all when I tell you that they came out fantabulous! They were the best samosa's that I have ever made.........and they tasted like ones that you get in the St. Stephens caffe, or the chaat-walla on Chaura Rasta in Jaipur, or Bengali Sweets in New Delhi! Funny how hard one has to try to re-create shop-made tastes at home. So here it is- my twist on home-made 'sams'.

1 Boiled, mashed Potato
1 fistful Lightly cooked Peas (de-frosted if frozen)
3-4 Red & green chilies chopped
4-5 sprigs Fresh corriander
1/4 tstp Cumin seeds
1/4 tsp Corriander powder
1/4 tsp Red chili powder
1/4 tsp Garam masala
1 tsp Corriander seeds

Sputter the cumin seeds in 1 tsp of oil. Put in all the above ingredients and roast on a gentle flame until a nice smell comes from the filling. Mash in all together nicely while this happens then set aside to cool for a bit.

Surprise Ingredient! 1 Frozen puff pastry! I let it defrost on a plate for about 30 minutes before doing anything. It becomes very pliable after that. Since it was little thick, I powdered it with a little AP flour and rolled it (just a little) thinner. Then take a butter knife and cut it cross-wise into 4 triangles..

Use one of the triangles and roll it into a triangular cup. In order to seal the edges, you can pinch the edges so that they stick together. Fill this triangle with the stuffing and seal the top part.

Line up all the little stuffed triangles on a baking sheet and put in a 400 degree pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Then turn the samosas over and bake on 400 for another 10 minutes. Serve!

These little babies are delicious! Then I got a little adventurous and tried out a store-brought frozen Malaysian paratha for the crust and these turned out wonderful as well! In fact, I preferred these over the puff-pastry but you can judge what you liked bet ter yourself. There is absolutely no need for any kind of oil in this recipe. In fact, if you want you can not use any oil at all in the filling. Just mash boiled veggies together and put in the spices- a different, earthy flavor.

The recipe from start to finish took about 1.5 hours. The most efficient order of things was to
1. Put the puff pastry/ Malaysian paratha to thaw.
2. In the meantime, make the filling.
3. At the time that you are ready to roll and cut the pastry into pyramids, set the oven to pre-heat.

So here is a Diwali treat served with home-ma de corriander chutney, tomato sauce and a piece of home-made Mysore pak! Happy Diwali everyone!

Wait! There's more! My curiostiy with what all I could do with this new, healthy, light technique to make sam's was almost unbounded! I wanted to try making Dal(lentil) Samosas. These are very popular in Rajasthan and UP particularly since they are almost indestructible and can last months. However the way to make these is a little cumbersome since one has to soak the lentils and then grind them...and then fry them. Wasted effort when someone else has already doe most of the work! Who, you ask? Why, Haldiram of course, God bless his soul!

I used Haldiram's Moong Dal namkeen and seasoned it with salt and spices. Then I used this as a stuffing. Excellent!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Home-cooked Goodness on a cold, cloudy Monday

A bowl of hot Potato & Peas curry flanked by Sauteed Radish, fresh hot 'Parantha's' and red chili pickle. In the backgroud, gourmet, all natural sea salt from Utah, courtesy of Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Practice makes Perfect

It was lovely Fall day and a saturday when I had an enlightening encounter with food bloggers in the St. Louis area (and some from quite far away). Thanks to Alanna of Veggie Venture for organizing this event. Part of the proceedings was lessons on plating by Bruno of Zinfully Delicious! And lessons in food photography from professionals! So I was dying to practice all that I had learnt and here it is.

Again, there was scramble in the fridge for ingredients. Unfortunately other than wilted corriander and some relatively fresh tomatoes and big green chillies, I didnt find anything substantial. Plus I was dying of hunger. So here is a super quick rice recipe. I think the only innovation here was using a huge block of ginger to flavor the water while the rice was cooking.

Corriander-Tomato-Pepper Rice

1.5 cups Rice
1 bunch Corriander (chopped roughly)
1/2 Red onion chopped
2 Tomatoes (chopped big)
1 Big green chili (choped big)
3-4 inch Ginger
1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Sambar pwder
2-3 cloves
2 dried red chili
3 Big cardamom pods
1/4 tsp Cumin seeds

How to?

1. 1 tsp oil+ dry spices. Once the cumin seeds pop, put in the onion. Fry on medium for 3 mins
2. Bung in tomatos, chili, ginger, corriander. Stir for 1 min.
3. Bung in the rice, turmeric, salt, sambar pwd.
4. Put 3 cups of water, cover, cook till rice is done.

Above pic shows some of my Indian cookig vessels. Beautiful, black, anodized metal, easy-to-clean, much-healthier-than-non-stick, much-cheaper-cos-I-bought-them-in-India vessels! Last spring there was this huge article in the NYT and the author was basically on a mission to find alternatives to non-stick cookware since there have been recent studies that point to some hitherto unknown concerns with non-stick vessels. It is common knowledge that once the black coating gets chipped, one should use the non-stick pan anymore. But new research cast some doubts about using non-stick on high heats. And since quite a few parts of Indian cooking are done at very high heat levels, I decided not to buy non-stick stuff anymore.

Plus the article in NYT pointed out two alternatives (these were tested on ease of cleaning as well as amount of oil required to prevent burning, among other things). One was a ceramic type material (European, super-expensive) and the other was anodized metal. I already had a gun-metal (!) vessel from India that I loved but it was really big and I was looking for cook and serve type things. So this summer when I found the two pots shown above, I was very happy! I plan to slowly buy all the pots and pans in this series (they have reduced weight allowances on airlines!!!!) They are available in quite a few places and in a variety of sizes and shapes. They are quite heavy and stable and awesome to cook in and to clean. I also got a new pressure cooker (nice shiny black anodized) to match all these.

Back to plating!!!!!!

The rice was ready. Another scramble through the fridge revealed 5-day old curry and yogurt. Thus a plate was created.......I guess it isnt that original. But it loooked darn good.
Here it is-Spicy Tomato-Corrainder-Chili Rice, flanked by hearty vegetable curry and 'boondi' raita.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Can some one tell me how I can put a blog roll on this thing?!!! I am ANNOYED!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Forget the spice box, where's the camera???!!!

Hello, hello hello! New camera! New enthusiasm to cook! Not much ingredients :( But still I tried my best and it came out WELL, even if I say so myself! I call it the One Pot East West Hot Pot. Its a mix between a curry and a hearty soup and uses some Indian ingredients in a western way.

Which brings me to something that I have always wondered. The Indian methodology of 'tadka' or seasoning a dish with mustard or cumin seeds popped in smoking hot oil......whats up with that? Why is it done? And more importantly, how come this tastes soooo different from simply putting in cumin or mustard seeds?

Another question/observation on which I would love feedback. I have noticed that sometimes for people who are new to Indian food, this seasoning can be really strong. They might be fine with the hot-ness level of the dish............but the seasoning can really push it over the edge. Has anyone else noticed that? Also, is that why you dont see/taste 'tadka' in Indian restaurants?

One-Pot East West Hot Pot

Any and all veggies (I used frozen stew veggies (carrots, celery, potato, pearl onion))
1 Jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/4 Red onion chopped (just for a fresh flavour)
3 cups Veggie stock
2-3 inch Ginger
3 Garlic cloves
1/4 cup Tomato puree
1/4 cup Yogurt
1/4 tsp Cumin seeds
1 Bay leaf (mada
2 Dried red chillie
1 tsp Olive oil
3 springs Cilantro
How to?

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in pot, put in the chopped onions and jalapeno, fry on medium for 3mins.
2. Bung in the veggies (defrosted, if frozen), tomato puree and veggie stock. Put in hte bay leaf and cumin seeds. Add water, if needed (depends on what consistency you want this surry=soup+curry).
3. Let cook for 15 mins on medium-low heat. Cover if you are using fresh veggies that need to cook. Keep adding water as and when needed.
4. Turn off the heat. Let sit for 5-10 mins. Once the surry is a little cool, add and yogurt and cilantro. Keep stirring till the yogurt is fully incorporated. Serve with old, crusty bread!
Pssssst! When I did the last step, the surry was still too hot and the yogurt started splitting. Not nice! So I added 1 tsp all purpose flour to keep it together :P

So what is east-west about this? Well, I did not pop the cumin seeds or the bay leaf or red chili in hot oil. I simply put them in. Then the addition of the yogurt right at the end with almost no cooking. To my knowledge (and DO correct me if I am wrong), this is not done in Indian cooking. Either yogurt is seved chilled as raita or pachadi or it is cooked properly in a curry (See rajasthani 'gatte' recipe on this blog). Upshot: it tasted Indian......yet not quite. Interesting.

Next post- my BEAUTIFUL cooking vessels from India! Sneak peak! Its a 'Dhania Daani'. Literally translates into Corriander/Cilantro holder. The holes are deliberate and admit the fact that cilantro needs to breathe like crazy in order to survive.