Apr 29, 2013

Avaraikkai Poriyal - Hyacinth Beans Steamfried with coconut

Just like the Chinese stir frying, South Indian cooking follows a healthy technique ( with no formal name) for cooking vegetables. In this method, the vegetable is first sauteed in a pan of spice-infused oil. The pan is then covered with a tight fitting lid and the vegetable is cooked in the resultant steam. This is kind of like the best of both worlds as the vegetable is fully cooked, calls for less oil and there is very little nutrition loss. For lack of a better term, I call this method as "Steam Frying" in this blog.

This is one of those multi-morphing recipes that you could easily adapt to include any vegetable. Hyacinth Bean, called avaraikkai in Tamil and Papdi in Hindi, are available here in GA, in all four seasons. Hyacinth Bean is an excellent source of iron and a good source of zinc . This translates to healthy hair and skin. For this reason, I try to include it in our menu as often as possible.

This recipe comes straight from my Little White Book with only one modification. I slice the beans very thin so it cooks fast and it feels soft ( for my daughter).
Hyacinth Beans with Rotis

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • Hyacinth beans / avaraikkai / papdi beans, sliced thin - 2 lb
  • onion, chopped fine - 1/2 cup
  • garlic, chopped fine - 2 cloves, optional
  • coconut, shredded or grated or powdered (fresh/frozen/dried) - 2 tbsp
  • dry red chili - 2
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • oil, for high heat cooking - 1 tbsp
  • salt, per taste

  1. Have everything ready before you turn the heat on. This recipe goes from 0 to 60 in the first 5 minutes!
  2. If you haven't already done so, slice the Hyacinth beans very thinly and keep aside in a bowl. Chop the onion and garlic quite fine. 
  3. In a saute pan on medium high heat, add 1 tbsp oil. When it is sufficiently heated, add mustard seeds. 
  4. When the mustard seeds splatter, add cumin seeds and the dry red chilies. You could crumble the chilies for more heat.
  5. Also add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft (about 5 minutes).
  6. Now empty the bowl of chopped Hyacinth beans to this. Add enough salt and sprinkle very little water on top.
  7. Cook covered for 15 minutes or until the beans are fully cooked.
  8. Watch the pan and give it a stir every 5 minutes or so. If the beans are starting to burn, you could add a little more water (about 2 tbsp).
  9. When the beans are ready, add the shredded coconut and remove from fire.
  10. Mix to incorporate the coconut into the dish.
  11. Avaraikkai poriyal
  12. Serve hot with rice or rotis.

If you do not have shredded coconut, you could add a tbsp of very thick coconut milk.

Apr 22, 2013

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Potato Fries and Ketchup, along with Pizza, seem to have taken over the tastebuds of all kids in America! Everything tastes good with a side of French Fries and Ketchup and any vegetable is ok if used as a pizza topping. Sometimes, if you can't fight the system, it is smart to go with the flow. That's what I decided to do here.
In the past, I have futilely tried to fight my daughter's craze for french fries. And she fought back with double the intensity. But, once I started making these "Sweet French Fries" she hasn't missed the greasy Fast Food French Fries ( alliteration alert).
Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients (Serves 4):
  • Sweet Potato -1 
  • paprika - 1 tbsp
  • salt, to taste
  • italian seasoning - 2 tsp
  • olive oil - 1/2 tbsp
  • olive oil spray 
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Scrub the Sweet Potato and remove the skin.
  3. Cut it into "fingers".
  4. In a gallon ziploc bag, add paprika, salt, Italian seasoning and the olive oil.
  5. Add sweet potato fingers to this and close the bag shut. 
  6. Squish, shake, manipulate with your hands - just ensure that potato fingers are completely coated with the spice rub.
  7. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil spray. Spread the potato fingers in a single layer and bake at 450F for 20 minutes. 
  8. Around the 10 minute mark, flip to cook the other side. I can never do this safely, so here's what I do. Instead of the cookie sheet, I use a roaster pan's tray (the one with slots in it). The slots ensure that bottom of the fries/fingers are also cooked, so you can totally skip the "flip to cook the other side" part.
  9. Remove and serve with cilantro-cumin dip.
Cilantro-Cumin Dip:
This is based on the mayo I use with my Tuna burgers.
  • low fat sour cream - 1/2 cup
  • cilantro - 5 sprigs
  • cumin powder - 1 tsp
  • salt, optional
  1. To a small mixing bowl, add sour cream and cumin powder.
  2. Finely chop the cilantro and add this as well, to the bowl.
  3. Using a fork, mix everything together. 
  4. Taste and add salt, if needed.
Sweet Potato Fries with Sour Cream Dip

This recipe helps you avoid deep frying, potatoes, highly processed ketchup and all the empty calories linked with these.

Apr 14, 2013

Ulundhu Vadai - Shaped Blackgram Fritters

To all my Tamil speaking friends, Happy Tamil New Year!
Ulundhu Vadai / Medhu Vadai is a very common breakfast accompaniment in restaurants in Chennai. Who can forget the famous Pongal - Medhu Vadai or Idli - Medhu Vadai combination? For some reason, our daily breakfast never included medhu vadai . It was reserved for festivals, as part of Padaiyal.
Uzhundhu Vadai / Medhu Vadai with Spinach Sambar

In spite of being a straight-forward recipe with just a few ingredients, this could easily become a very difficult-to-master dish, particularly in shaping the fritters. One tip I learnt from a friend of mine, is to let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes before you shape the fritters.
Whole, skinless Urad Dal is soaked anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours and then ground into a very thick batter with spices. After letting this batter proof on the countertop for some time, small round discs with a hole in the middle are made and deep fried to golden perfection.

To shape the fritters, you need a flat surface. What you use is up to you. The traditional way is to use a piece of plantain leaf. This made perfect sense when most homes had a banana/plantain tree in the backyard. The second common way is to use a piece of plastic sheeting like a ziploc bag.  Apart from these I have seen people use the back of a small plate, aluminum foil folded into a firm square etc. I just use the palm of my left hand as the flat surface and shape the fritters with my right hand's fingers.
Golden Fried Medhu Vadai

Ingredients (Serves 4 as an appetizer):
  • Whole, skinless Urad Dal / Ulundhu - 1 cup
  • Green Chilies - 4
  • Ginger - 1 inch square piece
  • asefotida - 1 tsp
  •  whole black pepper, optional - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 10
  • cilantro - 2 sprigs
  • onion - 1
  • salt, to taste
  • oil, suitable for deep frying
 Mise en Place / Prep:
  1. Wash the urad dal sparingly with very little water. Soak the washed urad dal in just enough water to cover the top of the dal. Leave undisturbed for a minimum of 30 minutes, maximum of 4 hours. 
  1.  Grind urad dal, green chilies, ginger and curry leaves to a very thick batter. When fully done, the batter will look white, fluffy and very smooth.  Sprinkle water as needed. Do not pour water; it will always be more that what's needed!
  2. Add asafetida and whole black pepper (optional) to this batter. Do not add salt yet.
  3. Let this sit on the countertop until you are ready to deep fry the fritters. This helps in proofing the batter so you get plump vadais that are easy to shape.
  4. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and cilantro.
  5. When you are ready to start deep frying,  start a dutch oven or kadai , filled halfway with oil, on medium high heat.
  6. Line a plate with paper towel and keep it handy.
  7. Mix the chopped onions, cilantro and salt to the batter.
  8. Wet a flat surface with cold water. The water acts as a lubricant and helps in removing the shaped vadai easily.
  9.  Take a Meyer lemon sized ball of dough and place it on the wet flat surface. Using your fingeres , flatten the dough to form a 1/2 inch thick disc. With your index finger, form a hole in the middle of the disc. This helps in even cooking.
  10. Wet your fingers again with a little water. In one swift motion, flip the disc from the flat surface to your wet fingeres and into the pot of hot oil. Needless to say, be CAREFUL!
  11. The vadai will float back to the surface, almost immediately. Fry the vadais till they are golden brown. Flip the vadais over and fry for another minute.
  12. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the paper towel-lined plate. 
  13. Repeat steps 8-12 until the batter is done.
  14. Serve with chutney/sambar as an appetizer or with rice as a savory side dish.
Medhu Vadai and Spinach Sambar
  1. I use the term "batter" very loosely here. It should look like a very wet dough.
  2. While frying the vadais, be sure to not crowd the pot.
  3. Ensure that the oil is adequately hot. A drop of batter dropped in the oil should float back to the surface immediately.
  4. You could optionally add about a tbsp of rice flour to get crispy vadais.
  5. If you are feeling adventurous, do not grind the green chilies and ginger. Instead chop them fine and add it to the batter when you add whole peppercorns. 

Apr 8, 2013

Baby Food Series - Introducing Vegetables as First Food

After introducing rice cereal as baby's first food, we could start widening baby's palette by introducing fruits and vegetables. I introduced a couple of vegetables first before introducing fruits. What goes first is a matter of personal preference.
Sweet Potatoes:
The first vegetable I introduced was sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are considered as powerhouse of energy and this provides the energy your baby needs as (s)he begins to crawl.
Sweet Potatoes with  garlic, in cereal

  • Sweet Potato - 1
  • garlic -1, optional
  • water - 1/2 cup
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the sweet potato.
  2. Chop the potato into 1 inch cubes. 
  3. Peel one garlic clove.
  4. Steam these on stove top, in a pan, covered with fresh water.
  5. Remove from fire when the pieces are fork-tender.
  6. Let cool and puree in a blender or baby food mill.
  7. Add the cooking water or formula or cereal to thin out or thicken the puree.
Other Combinations:
Mashed Potatoes:
Same as above, but with  red potatoes. Add a little formula to make it creamy.
Avocado is the only vegetable that can be fed uncooked to babies at this age. Cut the avocado and scoop out the ripe flesh. Blend this into a whipped cream consistency. Feed immediately to avoid discoloration. 

Creamy Avocado baby food
Spinach with garlic:
 Due to nitrate concerns, it is safer to discard the water that spinach was cooked in. Or, just use that water in your food. Steam 1 cup of spinach and 1 garlic clove in water. When cool, discard the water and blend to a smooth paste. Add formula, if desired, for creamy taste.

Cauliflower and garlic:
Steam 3 big florets of cauliflower, with 1 garlic clove. Using the steaming water, blend the vegetables to a creamy paste. If your baby is ready for texture, you could use a potato ricer to mash the cauliflower.
mashed cauliflowers and garlic - baby food

A note about home made baby food and disclaimer:
When to start solids and what to feed a baby are very important matters that you need to discuss with your child's pediatrician. Also, if you choose to make first foods at home, first follow what your family's tradition is. This is just an attempt to document  what is commonly followed in my community. I am not a pediatrician :)  . Please use extreme caution in matters of your baby's health.

Apr 2, 2013

Baby Food Series - Introducing Peach Fruit as First Food

Traditionally, rice is introduced as baby's first food. This could be any of the commercially available packaged baby cereal or home made. Once the baby is comfortable accepting food from a spoon, it is time to introduce other flavors. Fruits and vegetables are the next natural step in this. I introduced vegetables before fruits. This is purely a personal choice. The enzymes in fruits could tax a baby's delicate digestive system. For this reason, it is advisable to cook all fruits thoroughly until the baby is 8-9 months. Overripe bananas need not be cooked.

Here's how to introduce peach:

  • Peach, very ripe - 1
  • water - 1/2 cup
  • formula or cereal - 1 tablespoon, optional
  1. With a fruit peeler, peel the peach. 
  2. Cut the fruit in two and remove the stone/ pit.
  3. Chop into 1 inch cubes.
  4. Steam in a microwave oven or stove top in just enough water to cover the fruit.
  5. When the fruit is fork tender, remove from fire.
  6. When cool, use a blender , baby food mill or mini food processor to puree the fruit. You could use the same water to dilute the puree, if needed.
  7. Based on the baby's preference, add desired quantity of cereal or formula, to thicken the puree.
This puree can be refrigerated or frozen.
Peach Puree as baby food
A note about home made baby food and disclaimer:
When to start solids and what to feed a baby are very important matters that you need to discuss with your child's pediatrician. Also, if you choose to make first foods at home, first follow what your family's tradition is. This is just an attempt to document  what is commonly followed in my community. I am not a pediatrician :)  . Please use extreme caution in matters of your baby's health.

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