Feb 25, 2013

Eggplant Rice / Brinjal Rice

This vegan / vegetarian one pot meal is a variation of the classic Vanghibath. I have used way less spices and inserted a few features from other dishes that I like.

Eggplant Rice

  • eggplant - 1 big, about 3/4 lb
  • onion - 1 big
  • tomato - 1 small
  • chili powder - 1 tsp
  • corriander powder - 1/2 tbsp
  • black pepper powder - 1.5 tsp
  • Basmati rice - 4 cups
  • enough water for cooking rice
  • bay leaf - 1
  • black cumin - 1/2 tsp
  • fennel seeds - 2 tsp, separated
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • high heat oil, for sauteing 
  • low smoke-point oil like gingelly oil or extra virgin olive oil - 2 tbsp
To grind (dry):
  • peanuts - 1.5 tbsp
  • white sesame seeds - 1 tsp
To grind (wet):
  • ginger - 1 inch piece
  • garlic, peeled - 8 cloves
  • curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  1. Toast the peanuts and sesame seeds in a dry saute pan until the contents are warm. Do not let the sesame seeds burn. Remove from fire and let cool on the countertop.
  2. Rinse eggplant and chop off the stem and bottom.
  3. Chop into 1 inch cubes. This will make about 4 cups. To avoid oxidation, keep the cut eggplant  in a bowl of water until you are ready to use these.
  4. Peel and slice onions into thin slices.
  5. Chop tomato the same size as eggplants.
  6. By now, the toasted seeds from step 1 would have cooled. Using a mixer, grind these to a coarse powder, in the smallest jar you have. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  7. In the same mixer jar, grind ginger, garlic and curry leaves to a coarse paste. Do not add water.
  8. In a pressure cooker , add a little oil and saute the fennel seeds and bay leaf. 
  9. When the spices are toasted, add just a fistful of the sliced onion. Stir until the onions turn translucent.
  10. Carefully add enough water (I use 1:1. 5 ratio) to cook the rice. Add rice and let it cook with enough salt. I usually cook basmati rice for 1 whistle.
  11. While the rice is cooking, start making the masala by starting a wide heavy bottomed saute pan on medium-high fire.
  12. Add oil for sauteing. When the oil has warmed, add black cumin and fry it in the oil. Also add the ginger garlic paste from step 7. Fry it until the raw smell dissipates.
  13. Now add the sliced onions and wait for it to turn translucent.
  14. Add the chopped tomato and a little salt. 
  15. When the tomato has cooked through, add the eggplant. Also add turmeric powder, chili powder and coriander powder. Do not add salt at this stage.
  16. Eggplants can go from raw to mush very quickly. And there is a place and use for  mashed eggplants ,just not in this dish. So, avoid doing anything that would cause this. Cook uncovered, with no salt and no added water and try not to stir a lot.
  17. Let the eggplant cook on medium fire for about 10 minutes.
  18. The eggplant is done when the pieces are no longer spongy and are still firm.
  19. Add  just enough salt for the eggplants. Remember that you have already added salt to the rice, in step 10. Also stir in the dry masala from step 6.
  20. Let this cook for another 5 minutes, so the salt gets enough time to seep through.
  21. Remove from fire.
  22. When the rice is ready, mix the rice and eggplant masala in a bowl.  Add about 1/3rd of the rice to a wide mixing bowl. Drizzle gingelly oil / extra virgin olive oil. Add half the masala. Add another 1/3rd of the rice, in a thin layer . Top with the remaining masala.
  23. Sprinkle finely chopped cilantro on top and gently fold to mix the rice. If needed, use the remaining 1/3rd of the rice. Gently mix until there are no white rice specks.
  24. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
While this might seem like a lot of steps, this is one of the easiest rice recipes. Some of the above steps are pretty intuitive so you won't spend much time doing these steps.

Try this for dinner this week and let me know how you liked it.
Suggested accompaniments are cucumber raita or tomato kurma.

Feb 19, 2013

Pori Upma - Murmur Kichidi

This is my take on Bhelpuri. This is a cooked version, with less spices and a great way to empty that 4 pound bag of puffed rice you bought last year!
Pori Upma / Murmur Kichidi

  • puffed rice / pori/ murmur - 4 cups
  • onion - 1 big
  • tomato - 1/2
  • green chilies - 2
  • carrot - 1
  • green beans - 5
  • turmeric powder - 2 tsp
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  • cilantro, enough for 1/4 cup
  • peanuts - 2 tbsp
  • high heat oil, for sauteing
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Peel and cut carrots into matchsticks.
  2. Snap and de-string the beans. Chop the beans finely.
  3. Chop onion and tomatoes finely. Also cut the green chillies into thick slices.
  4. Finely chop cilantro. You will need about 1/4th of a cup.
  5. Take the pori in a sufficiently big bowl and fill enough water to completely soak the pori. Add salt and 1 tsp turmeric powder. After 2 minutes, squeeze out the water from the pori and keep it aside.
  6. Marvel at the gunk left behind, in the water. Try not to think of the possible nutrients lost in the process. This step is optional :)
  7. In a wok or kadai, heat oil for sauteing. Add the green chilies and saute until the chiles have blistered. Remove and discard the chilies, with a slotted spoon.
  8. To the chili-infused oil, add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splatter, add the peanuts.
  9. After a minute, add the onion and curry leaves. Let it turn translucent.
  10. Add carrots, beans, remaining turmeric powder and enough salt. Cook covered until carrots are cooked. This will take less than 10 minutes.
  11. Now add the tomatoes. Before the tomatoes are completely cooked, add the pori.
  12. Taste and adjust salt. If needed, add ground pepper.
  13. Stir in the cilantro and mix to combine.
  14. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon on top.
Pori Upma

This makes a great rainy day snack.

Feb 17, 2013

Eggless Flan with Caramel sauce for Valentine's Day

Ever since Amy extended the deadline for the agar agar contest, I had been meaning to make this dish.
But life happened, and then it was V-Day time, so I decided to combine both events with one dish.
Eggless Flan
Because  my daughter loves this flan, I let her garnish her portion. This is what she came up with:
Eggless Flan with Caramel Sauce
 Anybody else think that this looks like a crime scene where some psychopath murdered poor Mr.Teddy and streaked his blood all around?

After seeing that, I decided to just top my portion with the sauce:

  • evaporated milk, unsweetened - 3 cups
  • agar agar / china grass, powdered - 2 tbsp
  • salt - just a pinch
  • brown sugar - 1 tbsp
  • caramel sauce, for garnish
  1. In a bowl, take 2 tbsps of the evaporated milk and mix the agar agar , brown sugar and salt well.
  2. Heat the remaining evaporated milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, until thoroughly warm.
  3. Now, pour the agar agar mixture in and stir to combine.
  4. Bring this to a boil and let it stay at a rolling boil for 1 minute. 
  5. Pour this mixture into moulds and let it cool on the counter top. 
  6. When moulds are cool to the touch, refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
  7. To unmold, keep the mold in a bowl of warm water for about a minute. Then, run a butter knife around the edges of the flan. With a plate on top, invert the assembly in one fluid motion.
  8. Garnish with caramel sauce and serve.
  1. The mixture from step 1 needs to be lump-free. Run it through a sieve, if needed.
  2. Boiling the mixture long enough is pivotal to the gelling process.
  3. If you are using agar agar flakes (like I did), powder it in the mixer before proceeding with the recipe.
Linking to Agar Agar Recipe contest sponsored by Marine Chemicals , Kochi. www.indiaagar.com hosted at Food Corner’

Feb 13, 2013

Madras Filter Coffee

You already know that I don't care much for coffee. But since my husband likes instant coffee, I wanted to slowly introduce filter coffee to him. After all, South Indian Filter Coffee is the real deal, right?
Madras Filter Coffee

But, we don't have ready access to traditional filter coffee powders like narasus or even coffee day. And, I do not own one of those stainless steel 2-tiered coffee filters. Thus, majorly lacking the key ingredients, my quest for the perfect filter coffee began.
This is my coffee making arsenal now.
Filter Coffee Equipment

  • Coffee Powder: Living in the Southern US means that we have easy access to Louisiana's Community coffee. I look for their New Orleans Blend and only if it is not available, I settle for this. Not sure what the difference is, but I get complements on my coffee when I use the former.
  • Coffee Filter: The Vietnamese coffee filter which is pretty close to the one that my mom uses. The South Indian one has two parts - a reservoir and a receptor while the Vietnamese one has only a reservoir.
  • Coffee Grinder: Though New Orleans Blend tastes very similar to South Indian Filter Coffee Powder, it is a little coarser. To help it drip well in the Vietnamese Filter, I grind the powder on Fine setting before brewing the decoction.
  • 3 tablespoons of New Orleans Blends ground on "Fine" setting.
  • 1 cup fresh water
You will also need a coffee filter.

  1. On medium flame, bring 1 cup of fresh water to a rolling boil.
  2. Meanwhile, grind 3 tbsp of New Orleans Blend.
  3. Pack the ground powder tightly in the reservoir.
  4. Place the Perforated Lid on top and press down tight. This helps in getting maximum strength decoction, as the water takes more time passing through the tightly packed coffee grounds.
  5. When the water is ready, place the filter on top of its own receptor or an appropriately sized glass/cup/bowl.
  6. Carefully pour the boiling water slowly on top of the perforated lid, taking care to not disturb the coffee grounds.
  7. Close the reservoir with a tight fitting lid. Remember, the walls of the reservoir will be very hot.
  8. Walk away. Do not disturb the filter for the next 1 to 4 hours.
This decoction is adequate for 4 servings.

How to make filter coffee:
  1. Scald a scant cup of milk.
  2. Add 1.5 tbsp of the decoction prepared as above.
  3. Add sugar to taste. 
  4. Use a frother/foamer or mix vigorously to create foam.
This preparation yields a medium-strong cup of coffee.
Golden-rich filter coffee with evening snack
Next time I visit India, I plan to buy Narasus coffee and the coffee filter. Until then, this is how coffee is made a chez moi :)

Feb 8, 2013

Cauliflower Curry

A simple weeknight dish that adds nutrients to your dinner with less effort. This vegan/vegetarian dish is a frequent participant at our dinner table.
Cauliflower Curry

  • Cauliflower - 1
  • Onion, chopped fine - 1/2 cup, about 1 big
  • Tomato, chopped - 1 cup, about 1 1/2 big
  • Ginger garlic paste - 1 tbsp
  • chili powder - 1 tsp
  • coriander powder - 3/4 tbsp
  • turmeric powder - 2 tsp, divided
  • curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  • cilantro, chopped - for garnish
  • salt, to taste
For tempering:

  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • oil , suitable for high heat cooking - 1 1/2 tbsp

  1. Chop the base of the cauliflower and discard.
  2. Starting from the bottom, carve into the cauliflower's stem and chop the florets off. Try to keep the florets intact.
  3. Fill a large mixing bowl with hot water and add 1 tbsp salt to it. Add the florets to this water, along with 1 tsp turmeric.  Since turmeric powder has anti-bacterial properties, I like to give my vegetables a "turmeric bath", whenever possible. The vibrant yellow color is an added advantage.
  4.  Start by heating a heavy-bottomed frying pan on medium-high heat. Add oil and wait for it to get warm.
  5. Now add mustard seeds and cumin seeds to the oil. When the mustard seeds splatter, the oil has been adequately tempered.
  6. Now add the curry leaves and onions and cook until the onion turns translucent. Stir a couple of times to encourage even cooking.
  7. Add the ginger garlic paste and stir once to incorporate.
  8. Now add the tomatoes, turmeric powder, chili powder, coriander powder and a little salt.
  9. Cook covered for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes have disintegrated.
  10. Meanwhile, strain the cauliflower florets. Add these to the curry and stir well so the florets are coated with the curry. I wanted to say "toss to coat" but, who am I kidding? I cannot toss anything, to save my life. But, if you are good at it, please do so.
  11. Cover the pan with a lid and let the florets cook in the steam. This should take about 15 minutes, on medium low heat. 
  12. If needed, add very little water (not more than a couple of tbsp) to avoid burning the dish. If you are not really counting calories, use oil in place of water.
  13. When the cauliflower is cooked but still firm (not fork-tender) remove from fire.
  14. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rice or rotis.

Feb 5, 2013

Bell Pepper and Paneer fry

Bell Pepper and Paneer Fry

How do you cook for people whose taste orientations are totally different? My husband likes spicy stuff and my daughter likes bland stuff.  And, I like to eat with my eyes - color combination is very important for me to like a dish. This recipe here is a keeper for all three above reasons. It's got just the right amount of spice and the bell pepper adds to it. The paneer is bland enough to suit my daughter's taste and the color combination is definitely appetizing.
When I saw these vibrant red bell peppers at the grocers, I had to make this dish for dinner.

Winter Bell Peppers

  • Bell Pepper, any color - 2
  • Paneer aka Indian Cottage Cheese - 1 pack, 1/2 lb
  • Onions - 1
  • Tomato - 1
  • cloves - 4
  • fennel seeds - 1 tsp
  • Dried fenugreek leaves, kasur methi - 1 tsp
  • turmeric - 1/2 tsp
  • oil,  for sauteing
  • salt, to taste
To grind:
  • Onion, quartered - 1/2
  • Tomato, quartered - 1
  • Ginger - 1" piece
  • Garlic - 10 cloves
  • Curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  • dried red chilli - 2
  • coriander seeds - 1 tbsp
  • fennel powder - 1 tsp
  1. Grind to a fine paste, all ingredients listed under "to grind". If needed, use a little water to help in the grinding process.
  2. Finely chop the onion and tomato.
  3. Cut Paneer into 1" cubes. Lay these in a single layer, on an oiled cookie sheet . Brown the paneer cubes under broiler for 5 minutes. Ensure that the top of the paneer cubes are at least 6" away from the broiler. After 5 minutes, turn all paneer cubes and brown the other side for 2 minutes. Remove from under the broiler and let cool on the countertop.
  4. Cut the bell pepper in half. Remove the seeds and inner membrane. Cut along the ridges to make thin strips of bell pepper. Quarter these strips. This ensures that the bell pepper and paneer are almost the same size.
  5. In a heavy bottomed wide saute pan, heat oil for sauteing.
  6. Before the oil starts to smoke, add fennel seeds and cloves. Fry the spices in the oil until you get a nice aroma.
  7. Add the chopped onions and cook for 5 minutes. When the onion turns translucent, add the tomatoes and a little salt. This will help quicken the cooking time of tomatoes.
  8. Also add the paste from step 1. Add enough salt and the turmeric.
  9. Let this cook, covered for 5-10 minutes. Stir occasionally to encourage even browning. The longer you fry this masala without burning, the better it tastes. When oil floats to the top, you know you have nailed it!
  10. Add the chopped bell pepper. Stir well to coat the bell pepper's surface with the masala. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. When the bell peppers' raw smell has dissipated but it still retains its crunchiness, it is time to add the prepared paneer cubes.
  11. After adding the paneer, taste and adjust salt to suit your taste. Add very little water to bring the masala to desired consistency. Let everything simmer for 5 more minutes. This last stretch of simmering helps blends all tastes together. 
  12. Sprinkle kasur methi on top.
  13. Remove from fire and garnish with cilantro or mint leaves.

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