Monday, September 28, 2009

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Delectably crisp crepes! - The penta-grain dosa

I started this blog because I am so interested in adapting traditional Indian recipes to make them healthier, tastier and easier-to-make. During the course of my writings, I have started to solicit reader recipes, since many minds work better than one! Here is a post written by my mother, Madhuram - recipe courtesy, my sister, Indu Sundaresan, author of four books - "The Twentieth wife", "The Feast of Roses", "The Splendor of Silence" and "In the Convent of Little Flowers" with a fifth on the way.
Every culture in the world has some sort of crepe or pancake in its recipe repertoire. In South India, it is the ‘dosa.’ Served in almost all Indian restaurants the world over, the dosa is a fermented batter of rice and a dal (lentils), served usually with sambar (a stew of vegetables and lentils) and different types of chutneys.

When I was young, my brothers and sisters (I come from a family of 10 children!) would wait eagerly by the stove as our mother or grandmother made us piping hot dosas, swept off the pan, crisp, golden and crunchy. When I had children, and learned to cook, dosas were a favorite Sunday treat for them.

Now my daughters make this for their children and below is a recipe concocted by my daughter Indu—more tasty and nutritious than the usual recipe—for her daughter.

The original recipe has only two grains in it—rice and urad dal (black lentils). My daughter’s recipe has five grains to increase the nutrition content of the original dosa—white rice, brown rice, mung dal and whole urad dal and pearl barley in center (shown below, clockwise from white rice on top right corner).

Brown rice is a good source of minerals such as manganese, magnesium, also contains Niacin and has a lower glycemic index than white rice. Barley is loaded with fiber, has no sodium, is very rich in iron and has hardly any fat. Mung dal (split yellow lentils) is rich in protein, dietary fiber and minerals like magnesium, phosphorous and potassium, and urad dal is full of protein.

Here’s the recipe for this Penta-grain Dosa. This can be served with any chutney or even folded with scrambled eggs, or spread with cream cheese, or hummus, or stuffed with mashed potatoes.

Here is what you need:

1/2 cup white rice
1/2 cup brown rice
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 1/4 cup yellow mung dal (equal to the mixture of the brown and whiter rice and barley)
3/4 cup whole urad dal (husked black lentils)
3/4 tsp salt

This will make about 12 to 15 dosas of about 8"diameter. If lesser quantity is needed, use less ingredients, but in the same proportions.

Here is how you make the batter:

Combine the white and brown rice, barley and mung dal in a big bowl and fill with water. Swirl water around and drain to wash the grains. Repeat twice more until water runs clean. Then fill enough water in the bowl to cover about 2 inches above the grains, and let the mixture rest thus overnight.

Put the urad dal in a separate bowl and follow the washing and soaking instructions as above. Fill the bowl with water at the end and let it rest overnight also.

In a blender, grind the first grain mixture with a little water—should grind fine and to a thick batter consistency. Set aside in a large steel bowl or an oven-proof deep dish.

Grind the urad dal with some water also, again to a thick batter consistency. Stir in the urad dal batter with the grain batter. Mix well. Add ¾ to 1 tsp of salt and mix again.

Here is how you ferment the batter:

If the kitchen/room temperature is below 70 degrees F, heat oven to 140 degrees, switch it off, let cool awhile until inside of oven is warm and set the batter bowl inside. Make sure you cover the bowl well with aluminum foil or an oven-proof lid.

Let the batter ferment for 6-8 hours. Upon uncovering the bowl, the batter should have risen an inch or so and become foamy on the top.

This batter can now be refrigerated and used when wanted, or used immediately.

Here is how you make the dosas:
Heat a frying pan or a pancake griddle until hot (but not smoking). Pour a big ladleful of the batter and spread immediately into every widening circles with the flat side of the ladle.

Drizzle a little oil around the edges of the dosa and a little in the center. Keep the flame on a medium to medium high so that the dosa does not burn. When the edges begin to look golden and curl up from the pan slightly (about a minute or so), flip the dosa over to cook the other side for another minute or so.

Take off the griddle—the dosa should be crisp and gold on the edges, a little softer in the middle. Serve with coconut chutney, spicy tomato chutney, sambar, or any of the other accompaniments suggested above. Enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jack of all fruit!

The luscious Mango is generally referred to as the King of all fruit in India. If there is a King of fruit, stands to reason there must be a Jack of all fruit - behold the Jackfruit! This fruit is a particular favorite in India with its buttery yellow, smooth tasting, deliciously sweet sections and large oval crumbly pits, which taste really yummy when smothered in spicy sauces. On the outside the jackfruit looks like a huge prickly pear, hanging low from the trunk of a large perennial tree. Each tree bears many Jackfruit every season. And generally the fruit is so large that one family cannot consume it, so it is usually sold cut. In India, the jackfruit is eaten both ripe (as a fruit) or raw, as in a curry.

The jackfruit is native to southwestern India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka and possibly, east of the Malay Peninsula. It is said to be the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, with its diameter being at least 25 cm. There can be jackfruit measuring as much as 36 kg (80 lbs) weight, 90 cm in length and 50 cm in diameter. The best part of the fruit is that even its seeds have been found to have a high nutritional value. Jackfruits are rich in potassium, phytonutrients, isoflavones, antioxidants and vitamin C with health benefits ranging from anti-cancer to antihypertensive. It is also believed to have anti-ageing properties since the fruit can help slow down the degeneration of cells and make the skin look young and supple.

My trip to Delhi resulted in one of my favorite jaunts, a visit to the local "haat" or weekly market. These haats are the best way to get produce from market to table - direct from the farmer, something like our local farmer's markets. Only, they seem larger than the ones I have attended in the US. Not only that, the haats are almost full to bursting with so many fruit, vegetables, sundry toys, goods and other items that are sold in carts, that they become almost like a trade fair.

During one such visit to a haat, my sister-in-law Kavita, bought some raw jackfruit from the local vegetable vendor who had large, raw, jackfruit in carts. The vendor would cut, weigh and wrap portions of the fruit in old newspaper for each customer. The raw jackfruit is generally used in curries or pickled. I will post my mother-in-law's raw jackfruit pickle recipe in another post.

This is Kavita's recipe for raw jackfruit curry- I can vouch for the yummy taste. I just loved it and thought I would share with my readers so you try this if you ever have an opportunity to buy raw jackfruit.

Here is what you need:
20 2" pieces of raw jackfruit
3 medium onions (finely chopped)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil

Here is how you make this very easy dish:
Steam jackfruit pieces with the turmeric powder until soft - about 10 minutes. In a pan, heat oil. Fry the finely chopped onion. Dissolve chilli powder and coriander powder in 2 tsp water and set aside. Add the steamed jackfruit and the dissolved spice powders. Add salt and saute on slow fire for about 15 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rotis or rice.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mung dal bites - Healthful Indian snacks

I have been sporadic in posting on this blog this past month. That is because I have been planning my sojourn to India, packing and arriving first at New Delhi and then at Chennai. I have many interesting stories to relate, but I first need to get this off my chest: Indian restaurants and eateries have exploded in numbers in both the cities I am visiting. There are all kinds of eating joints: small roadside carts (with dubious hygiene, so please avoid if you visit India), small restaurants (again, eat at your own risk), medium sized ones (a definite yes, you may find a gem), large, opulent, Maharajah style restaurants complete with turbaned waiters running to fulfill your every command, starched lily white tablecloths and napkins, wonderfully cooked meals, fabulous menus....India has become a gourmet delight in all respects.

Leaving aside all those eating places, my vote for the best eating place is at the place I am staying while in Chennai. It is at the home of a friend who has a full-time cook. The cook is a young woman called Ammu, who keeps complete control of the household kitchen. She comes in each morning to whip up delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ammu's cooking has the guests and family members charging in unseemly haste to the dining table in eager anticipation of every meal. Every dish that she makes is a gourmet delicacy that leaves one feeling completely content, replete and prosperous.

In the next few posts I plan to post some of her recipes. Here is a recipe from Ammu - a very healthy snack made of ground and roasted Mung beans. This is very easy to make and is absolutely delicious. Try it - it stores well unrefrigerated for over a week and is a great snack for your school going child.

Here is what you need:
3.5 cups green Mung beans with skin (great if you can get Mung flour, otherwise, powder the beans as fine as possible in your blender)
3 tbsp brown rice flour
1.5 cups powdered sugar (white or brown, your preference)
Scant 1 cup Ghee or olive oil
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup raisins
7 cardomoms (remove peel and powder fine)
pinch salt

Here is how you make this:
Heat and pan and dry roast the Mung flour and rice flour for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool. Heat the pan again and add 5 tbsp ghee or oil. Fry the cashews golden brown and drain on a kitchen towel. Now add the raisins in the same oil. Fry until golden brown and set aside. Cool the cashews and raisins. Chop the fried cashews into small bite-sized pieces. Cut fried raisins in half.

To the roasted Mung flour, add the powdered sugar, powdered cardomom, salt, fried raisins and cashews. Mix thoroughly.

Heat the rest of the ghee or oil in a pan until slightly warm. Pour in a little at the time in the flour mix. Mix and shape into small balls. Set aside. Add more oil or ghee as needed and make the Mung bites until all the flour is used up.

Makes 50-60 Mung bites. Store in a tightly closed container for upto a week.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Green Cabbage and Edamame - Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

My guileless childhood and callow youth was spent immersed in books. Glorious home spun tales, soaring visions, untraveled lands and boundless imaginations captured my every waking moment. I remember spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom and being yelled at by my sisters who were waiting for their turn because I had a book in my hand and couldn't set it down for long enough to get out the bathroom. :)

Books, and their authors, spoke to
me in vivid pictures. My mind wove and embellished the tales I read. I saw, heard, felt and smelled every single event in the book. Thus it was, that the descriptions of the smell of cooking cabbage was always associated in my mind with poor households.

This was because then, as now, the humble cabbage is one of the cheapest vegetables you can get. Humble it might be, in terms of cost, but there is certainly nothing humble about cabbage's nutritional profile. It is the star of nutrition and you would do well to incorporate it routinely in your diet. Cabbage has cleansing and cell detoxification ability, promotes cardio vascular and gastro intestinal health and is a huge powerhouse of Vitamin K.

Regardless of its fantastic nutritional profile, the reason cabbage is generally disliked is because it is cooked so much out of recognition that it loses its texture, taste and color and ends up looking and tasting like a mish-mash of a foul smelling goulash.

So here's a well known secret tip about cabbage: dont overcook or over boil then you wont have to deal with the smell of cooking cabbage, the smell that has been described and immortalized in many many books by many many authors!

The cabbage recipe that I provide today is, in my opinion, the ultimate in culinary perfection. The taste, the color, the crunch and above all the enhanced nutrition because of being combined with fresh edamame beans makes this dish a gourmet addition to your dinner. Best of all, this is one of the easiest and quickest dishes to make. So go ahead and give it a shot. Next time you go grocery shopping, succumb to the temptation of the fresh green cabbage. Buy a whole head and indulge!

Here is what you need:
1/2 head of fresh green cabbage (washed, drained thoroughly and chopped fine)
handful fresh, frozen edamame beans
1 green jalapeno pepper (chopped fine)
1 tsp Olive oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 pinch asofoetida powder
1 tsp skinned, split black lentil seeds (optional, to provide extra crunch!)
3/4 tsp salt

Here is how you make this:
Heat olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Wait for them to crackle and add the asofoetida powder, green chili and lentil seeds. Brown lentil seeds until they are crisp and golden brown. Add the chopped cabbage and edamame beans. Add salt. Cover for no more than a couple of minutes. Remove the cover and stir fry on high heat for another couple of minutes.

Remove from pan and serve with spiced yogurt rice or spicy tamarind rice.

Cabbage: $0.60
Edamame: $0.15
Oil : $0.05
Spices: $0.10
Total : $0.90

Makes 6 servings.

Cost per serving: $0.15

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kohlrabi and lentil stew (Kootu) - Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

Austin, Texas prides itself for being a weird city. In fact, the residents even host an annual event called "Keep Austin Weird". It is a vibrant city, filled with an exotic, eclectic crowd of people. It is a fun city, because there are lots of things to do. Whether you are the stay-at-home mom, lugging around 2 toddlers or the high flyin' corporate executive used to having power lunches, or the keep-it-cool, meditative kind who is in eternal search of nirvana, you'll always find people to hang out with in Austin. The sheer cultural diversity, the fun crowd, the vast open Texas spaces, the hills and plains, the beautiful brush, the cacti, the deer, the throbbing city life, the green farmlands, the farmer's markets - there is always something for everyone in Austin.

You guessed what is in it for me: the wonderful sights, sounds, colors, aroma, the life and the fun of checking out the Saturday Farmer's markets! The opportunity to chat with the local farmers, check out their wares, admire their new recipes, buy their products and support them... all of it makes for a fantastic start of the weekend.

Last weekend, I attended the Sunset Valley Farmer's market. The site mentions that this Farmer's market has been voted at one of the top 5 markets in the US by Eating Well magazine. I believe that may well be true, because when I spoke with the Market Director, Salila Travers and her husband Jim Moore, I realized how particular she was with what was served at the market and how careful she was about reviewing all the produce and prepared food that was served at the market. The market was well-run, large, thriving and bursting with shoppers and vendors. Everywhere around me were people - people with dogs, people with children, and people with dogs and children. Most people sampled the vast array of international food, bought locally grown fresh vegetables, sat around listening to the music and generally had a fun morning in the bright Texas sunshine.

I too, bought stuff. I bought a loaf of organic bread made with spelt flour, seeds and nuts. Then I went to the stalls I love the most - the vegetable stalls. There were many farmers who brought their harvest: fresh greens, roots and tubers, milk, yogurt and meats. I bought a bunch of fresh Kohlrabi and made this very easy to make Kolhrabi and lentil stew with it. It goes very well served hot over brown rice.

Here is what you need:
1 bunch fresh Kohlrabi (cut the leaves and set aside for another dish)
1/2 cup yellow tuvar dal (lentils)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
For the masala:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh grated coconut
4 dry red chili
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
For the garnish:
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 pinch Asofoetida powder
1 stalk fresh curry leaves

Here is how you make this:

Wash, peel and cut the Kohlrabi into small cubes. Place in a pan with sufficient water, sprinkle turmeric powder and bring to a boil. Boil until the Kohlrabi is partially cooked and crunchy. Remove from the stove and set aside.

In another pan, boil the lentils until soft and cooked. Mash with a spoon. Add the boiled Kohlrabi to the boiled lentils. Add salt and simmer.

In a non-stick pan, heat the oil to fry the masala. Add the ingredients in this order: first the cumin seeds and the coriander seeds. Fry for a minute until brown. Now add the dry red chili and fry until roasted. Now add the grated coconut and fry until brown. Remove from the pan, cool, and place in a blender with sufficient water to blend to a smooth paste.

Add the masala paste to the Kohlrabi and lentil stew. Simmer.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a pan for the garnish. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Wait until they crackle. Now add the asofoetida powder, cumin seeds and the washed and dried curry leaves. Fry until the leaves are crisp. Pour over the stew.

Serve hot with brown rice.

Kohlrabi: $1.99
Lentils: $0.80
Oil : $0.50
Spices: $0.70 (including grated coconut and curry leaves)
Total : $2.99

Makes 6 servings.

Cost per serving: $0.50

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spicy Tomato Chutney - Cooking on a Shoestring Budget

There is something very basic and wholesome about tomatoes. The acidic, tangy taste, the thick pulpy flesh, the gorgeous red color, and last but not the least, the awesome nutritional profile - every single aspect of the tomato makes it a much-valued addition to every meal.

Tomatoes are known for their high Vitamin C, A and K content. The lycopene is tomatoes is cherished for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer preventing properties. Most importantly, lycopene has been known to be very beneficial in promoting prostrate, colon and pancreatic health. Regular intake of tomatoes also reduces the risk of heart disease, cholesterol, migraines and diabetes.

In the west, tomatoes are generally used in salads, as a base for soups, gazpacho, and as a sauce in chili and other dishes. In India, tomatoes are eaten during every single meal: as a base in gravies, in sambar and rasam, as chutneys to be used as an accompaniment to nearly every main course. This tomato chutney recipe is very easy to make and very popular in India. In the summer, when there is an abundance of fresh tomatoes, the Indian housewife always makes this chutney. It stores well - for a couple of weeks (if you make large enough quantities and it is not polished off the first day!), and is a handy accompaniment for any main course. It goes well with rice, chapathis, tortillas, idly (steamed rice cakes), dosa (Indian version of crepes!), oothapam (Indian version of pancake) or even smothered on a slice of whole wheat bread!

Here is what you need:
8 tomatoes (medium size)
1 tbsp red chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt
handful fresh garlic pods (peeled and washed)
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
Pinch asofoetida powder (optional, if you cannot source it, but very good for health so try to incorporate - available at any Indian grocery store)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted, chopped peanuts (optional)

Here is how you make this:
Wash and chop tomatoes into small cubes. Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seed and wait until they crackle. Now add the cumin seeds and roast for 10 seconds. Add the asofoetida powder. Immediately add the garlic pods and roast for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt and chili and turmeric powder.

Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the juice evaporates and the tomato chutney takes on the consistency of a thick paste.

Remove from fire and garnish with roasted, chopped and unsalted peanuts. Store in the refrigerator for upto a couple of weeks. Serve with any main dish.

Tomatoes (about 1 lb): $1.49 or $3.99 (if organic)
Oil : $0.50
Spices: $0.20
Peanuts: $0.30
Total : $2.49 or $4.99 (if organic)

Makes 15 servings of 1 tsp each.

Cost per serving: $0.16
or $0.33 if organic tomatoes are used.