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Vegetable Brinji / Birinji Rice

Sitting in the thinnai (a concrete sit out constructed in Tamil Nadu homes), gazing at the neighbor’s huge koolam ( a sand painting done with rice powder in front of the house), admiring those tiny ants running around it, I am sipping my hot steamy tea and savoring the moment of silence before the world wakes up. The moist early morning air gently caresses my cheeks and runs through the hair which I had left loose. The soft curls of my short hair tickles my neck every time the breeze passes through me. Inside, perched on an antic table was the 1980’s 2-in-1 radio playing the ALL INDIA RADIO (AIR)- morning news and outside, my grand father, white-haired man was busy plucking hibiscus for his morning prayers. In the dining area, my bossy grandmother, clad in a soft cotton saree, dictates the list of vegetables to be chopped to the house maid and announces the menu to us. She is as tough as an old bird and one can never win an argument with her. She is a very intelligent cook, who knows her spices and brilliantly plays around it. For a women of that age, one wouldn’t expect different cuisine every other day from her kitchen. Surprise is the word during the meal time.

We would eat our breakfast/lunch/dinner on the floor, on a bamboo mat and eat with the fingers of the right hand. The food will be served on a fresh cut banana leaf placed in the front and my granddad would carefully cut the leaves and wash them clean in the backyard before bringing it inside the house. This fresh, green organic platter as he calls it, is our alternative to use-and-throw plates.

Everyday at 10.00 am the electricity goes off and this is a routine which is done to save power for the EID-Parry factory. That’s the time when everyone in the family would gather to sit and gossip about that relative, this movie, those local news and crack silly jokes about each other. To cool herself and to stop the sweat from dripping through her forehead, she would grab a brown hand-fan, and quickly wave it across her face and also on mine. A gentle breeze of love touches my heart and salty smell of my grand mother passes through me. When the power comes back, which will be in 1.5 hours later, she would plan to re-enter the kitchen and on that day , she had planned to prepare a delicious vegetable brinji to go with her signature chicken curry.

My grandmother made my perimma’s (mother’s elder sister) version of brinji. Brinji is an intermediate dish between pulao/pilaf and biryani. The former is lightly perfumed with spices while the latter is heavily spiced. Brinji is made with mild spices and good amount of green chillies and coconut milk. Brinji generally comprises of carrots, beans, peas, butter beans and double beans. Birinji or Brinji is basically a mixed vegetable rice, the spices are ground with onions and fried and cooked in the spice paste. Coconut milk is used to give it a creamy flavor.They are served with koorma or spicy curry and onion raita. In my family, we also love to have fried poppudums/appalams with it.

My achi loves to learn new recipes from friends and family. Her enthusiasm to learn has always amazed me. She hails from a village near Chidambaram and in most Tamil Nadu homes, no one had the luxury to own a oven and baking was Greek and Latin to us. Even now my mom doesn’t have an oven in her kitchen as she doesn’t bake. But I do have one here. We grew up in homes that made spicy sambhar, steamy rasam and aromatic curries and not chocolate cake, brownies or panacotta.  She once came up with an idea to bake a cake in a pressure cooker. She understood the science behind cooking and came up with the concept of indirect heating. She would place sand inside the pressure cooker and she would place her baking pan on top of it. The heat from the sand would bake the cake. Well, that’s about her for now.

My dad’s birthday is on February 1st. Later year I wrote an emotional post on his birthday with a easy recipe for Sakkara Pongal. This year, I am celebrating his birthday with a lovely poem which conveys my love for him and delicious chocolate banana bread. Happy Birthday Appa!

“You held me up when I was weak.
You hugged me close when tears I’d weep.
When things got hard, you pushed me through.
You always showed me you loved me true.
I know there were times I made you cry, and to this day, 
I don’t know why.
For without you, where would I be?
I am thankful God gave you to me.
Thanks Dad for you are one in a million.”

Laura Phipps

VEGETABLE BRINJI / BIRINJI RICE

Source: Suja perimma (Mom’s elder sister)
Serves: A party of 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil or butter or ghee
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cardamons
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 star annise
  • 2 Thai green chillies
  • 1 large red onions, chopped
  • 1.5 cups vegetables cut into fingers (potato, carrot, beans, peas, capsicum)
  • 1/2 cup raw butter or double beans (optional) – I always like its taste in my brinji
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked for minimum 30 minutes
  • 3 cups coconut milk + 1/4 cup to cook the vegetables

For the spice paste: 

  • 2 tablespoon dessicated/fresh coconut
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Thai or regular green chilies , chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro /coriander leaves, chopped
  • 20 mint leaves, chopped

 Direction

  1. Soak the rice in 6 cups water for minimum 30 minutes. I generally soak them for 1-2 hours.
  2. Grind the ingredients mentioned under the spice paste with little water. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil/butter/ghee in a large dutch oven or pressure cooker. Throw in the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf. Sauté for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Then add the green chilies and saute for 30 seconds. Add the onions and sauté till lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  5. Mix in the ground spice paste and fry for another 4 – 5 minutes on a low flame. Keep stirring to prevent the onion mixture from getting burned.
  6. Add the mixed chopped vegetables, beans and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and cook covered for 15 minutes. Cook the veggies until 3/4th done.
  7. Pour 3 cups of coconut milk. Add salt to taste.
  8. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  9. Add the rice to the boiling coconut milk mixture, simmer the flame to the lowest flame/heat. Cover and cook on low flame for about 15 minutes.
  10. Switch off the flame and let it rest. Don’t open and meddle with the rice. After 15 minutes, using a fork fluff out the rice. Serve hot with onion raita and spicy chicken/shrimp or vegetarian kurma.

 

Kashayam: South Indian Herbal Tea / Concoction

Flu season is at its peak. Everyone known to me is down with cold and dry cough. Cold viruses and bacteria have been our regular guests since the time my son started pre-school. We have been a bad host and we try our best to kick their butts out so we don’t have them pay a visit again. My son brings in the new strain every time and we try new herbal cocktails each time to make their stay short.

I grew up in a home where my mom trusts on Ayurvedic medicines and my dad blindly follows the allopathic regime. I was always torn between the two approach. Over the months I lived in England, a cold country known for its rain and snow, I nourished by body with a spoon of “Chawanprash” (Ayurvedic health paste) every single day. I would religiously take a spoon on a empty stomach and gulp it down with a glass of warm milk. Even though the weather was chilly, I rarely infected myself with common cold or fever. My trust with Ayurvedic medicines grew stronger over the years.

During this flu season, my family is sick with running nose and sore throat. We have been drinking a lot of warm water and soup. Apart from that, I made a spicy good concoction with few herbs I brought from India. It is called “Kashayam” in my mother tongue, Tamil. This is a South Indian home remedy that has been in practice for generations together. Since common cold is a viral infection, the best known treatment is to flush it out of the body by drinking ample fluids. If you or some known in your family is suffering for a longer period of time, it is best to contact your family care physician. This drink will work for regular running nose and sore throat but if there is a medical emergency, please contact your doctor.

When in health trouble, Sukku (dry ginger), Milagu (black pepper corns) and Thippili (Indian long pepper) are three magic mantra my grandmom and mom taught me. My grandmother would sing a poem about it so we don’t the cooking steps. I should ask for the lyrics on my next call.

Ginger has been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Indian medicine to treat stomach issues and cold. Peppercorns as you all know if a good way to boost your body with immunity. I use a lot of peppercorns in my cooking. We make rasam with it and do you remember my cumin-peppercorn rice to kick start the winter? Finally thippili, it is efficient to treat phlegm and is very good for common cold and sore throat. For common cold, a smooth powder of dry ginger-peppercorns-Indian long pepper are boiled in water and taken with honey two to three time a day. It helps to loosen musuc and expels it out of your system.

I believe in herbal medicine as they are natural with minimum side effects. Using ingredients like ginger and mint leaves, also cleanses the toxins from the liver. You could take over the counter medicines like  Rhinostat or Crocin but I feel uncomfortable to stuff my body with those meds when I have alternate choices. I do visit doctor when my symptom worsens but to start with, I rely on kitchen remedy. Gladly, I have recovered from cold or stomach ailments within 3 days of starting my folk cures. This practice is called as “Patti Vaidhiyam”, “Kai Vaidhiyam” or “Nattu Vaidhiyam” in Tamil. This drink can be taken by adults and kids over the age of 2. I started giving it to my son around 1.5 years. I started with 1 teaspoon of the drink and nothing more. He now takes about 3-5 tablespoon. I make  a strong concoction and dilute it with 1 cup hot water and I drink it like tea with honey and mint leaves.

We drink it once (two times – monring and night) every 2 weeks to build immunity and if you are drinking this while down with cold/cough, then drink it twice daily for three days.

The kashayam powder can be bought in Indian Herbal Stores. I sometime buy a packet from my trip to India.

KASHAYAM RECIPE

Source: My grandmother
Yields: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Black pepper corns
  • 1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
  • 3-4 small pieces thipili (Indian Herb available in Natural Medicine stores)
  • 1 tablespoon Sukku or dry ginger powder
  •  1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 cups water
  • 10 mint leaves

Direction

  1. Dry roast them separately. Cool and grind to a smooth powder. Store in air tight containers for future use.
  2. Boil 2 cups water on medium high flame. Once they reach a rolling boil, add 1 teaspoon of this herbal powder and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Place 3-4 mint leaves and pour the steamy “kashayam” and let the mint leaves wilt like spinach. Add a dollop of honey and drink it warm twice a day.

Beetroot Stir Fry – South Indian Warm Salad

Indian cuisine is a medley of sophisticated aroma and subtle flavor comprising of spices,herbs, vegetables, legumes and rice. There exists regional dishes and cooking styles. Each region has a main ingredient. I hail from Southern part of India where most dishes comprise of rice as a major ingredient in contrast to the North, where they prefer wheat based diet. Pickles and chutneys are quite famous throughout India. Unlike in US or UK, pickles in India are the sun-dried vegetables marinated in salt, oil and spice powder. They could be stored for months together and its preparation process is a major family event. Some do have family recipes for it which has been carried from one generation to another.

Many of my non-Indian friends love spicy Indian food. I had been to a restaurant with my labmates once. There is an Indian restaurant near my lab. We were five of us, each one of us from each part of the world. To my surprise, everyone loved the food (samosa with channa masala, paneer wrap, dhal, naan) and I went bit curious to know whether they would go to an Indian restaurant again. The reply was that they started eating Indian food long time back and that they love its flavor and taste. Our conversation landed on the complexity of Indian cooking and everyone finds it difficult to whip it in their kitchen.

There is a strong belief that Indian cooking is time-consuming and complex. I am here to prove it wrong. Here is my easy ways to make exotic Indian food at home. My first advise would be to come up with a shopping list and understand the know-hows of Indian cooking. Click on the words to read more.

Here is a recipe for one of the easiest yet healthiest South Indian dish with beets. It’s called as BEETROOT PORIYAL And I have re-named it as Warm Beetroot Salad as I eat them with grilled paneer or shrimp and lettuce. Most of the vegetable stir-fries follow a similar protocol. Spices like mustard, urad dhal, dry red chilies or cumin are added to the heated oil in a cooking pan and are made to splutter. This flavors the oil and then green chilies or curry leaves are added in progression. These ingredients coat the vegetables with a wonderful flavor  Almost every Indian dish is made tasty by the addition of turmeric powder ( an antiseptic) and chilli powder. The beetroot curry is a very simple dish made by using little oil. The sweetness from beets and onions blended wonderfully with green chilies and unfolds a delicious taste out of it. This curry is made in every household atleast once a month. They are nutritious and healthy. They taste absolutely delightful with roti, naan, chapati, rice/ yogurt. You can read more about beets/beetroot in my post here.

You can mix it with plain rice and pack it as lunch for your kids. It’s sweet, healthy and packed with flavours for them to relish.

SOUTH INDIAN BEETROOT PORIYAL / WARM BEETS SALAD

Source: Amma
Serves : A family of four

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil / olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon  urad dhal
  • 10-12 curry leaves – chopped
  • 3 serano peppers or 2 thai green chilly: de-seeded and chopped (add more or less as per the heat tolerance)
  • 2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 small red onion – chopped
  • 2  beetroots, about 1 lb : finely chopped (pretty looking cubes) – discard the leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • 1000ml water or enough water to just cover the beets
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened dessicated coconut

Directions

  1. Peel the skin, clean and wash the beets. Finely chop them into small cubes. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large cooking pan that has a fitting lid. One they get heated up, throw in the mustard seeds and let it splutter. Then add the urad dhal and let it cook for a minute.
  3. Now add the curry leaves and serano pepper/green chilies  Mix in the onions and little salt and let it sweat and brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add a dash of turmeric powder and saute till the raw smell disappears. Add the chopped beetroot and give it a complete mix. Pour in the water, coconut and cook covered on medium flame for 30 minutes on medium low flame. Cook until they turn soft. If needed add another 1/4 cup water and cook for further 15minutes.

Serving tip

  1. Serve hot with rice/chappati/roti. You can also serve them as wraps with lettuce, ketchup and mayo.

Know Hows of Indian Cooking

Masala is the most common word that will be hear in an Indian kitchen. They are found either as ground or whole spices. As the name suggests, the whole spices includes cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamon, fennel seeds, star anise and cloves. These are generally fried in hot oil before adding the onions or green chillies or ginger-garlic paste. A classic Indian curry is a medley of masalas followed by turmeric, chili, coriander powder and garam masala.

Dos & Don’ts of Indian Cooking

  • Do use extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil as they are healthy. Typically, Indians love to use sunflower/canola oil. I use vegetable oil for deep drying. Always use neutral smelling oils.
  • Never add raw spices to the sauces that has been served in the dinner table. It will leave the dish with uncooked flavors  The best thing to do will be to heat little oil in a small cooking pan and quickly saute the chilli or coriander powder in it. Then mix them into your final sauce and then serve.Always taste before you serve.
  • Always buy the ingredients from ethnic Indian stores. Store them in air tight containers for longer shelf life. Some could be stored in the freezer too. I store nuts and spice powders in the freezer.
  • Never replace frozen ingredients in place of the fresh ones. The fresh ones always add a lovely texture and flavor to the dish. For instance, buy fresh okras, tapioca, drumsticks,beans instead of the frozen ones.
  • Currys taste best the next day as the masalas would have been infused well with the sauces. So plan your party well ahead of time. Also, you could prepare the dishes in excess amount and can store them in the fridge for the next day. This saves a lot of time and effort.
  • Don’t leave the pans unattended as the masalas can get burnt too quickly. If by any chance, the gravy is too dry or burnt, add little water to cool them.
  • Never replace an ingredient for another one unless you are sure about its use. The cooking time varies for lentils/legumes/veggies. So be aware of your method and cooking process.
  • There are lot of vegetarian dishes in Indian cooking. When a recipe calls for the use of more vegetables, make sure you chop them all in the same size.
  • Indian cooking leaves the cook/kitchen/living room with intense and powerful aroma. Some like it (I love its flavors and smell!!!)while other don’t. So always keep your house well ventilated and spray air freshener before guests arrive.

Indian Grocery Store

 

Spices and Aroma is a place to have fun with cooking. My blog is on a mission to make Indian cooking easy and teach food lovers cook healthy Indian dishes in a breeze. Indian cooking is no rocket science. It is simple if one follows the basic rules. The secret to the trade is all about bringing the masalas into a delicious harmony. The curries taste brilliant because of the combination of veggies or meat or sea food and different types of spices used along with it. The knowledge about the wet and dry ingredients and their usage in right proportions is all that’s needed to get started.

Before you start cooking Indian dishes, lets have a quick peep in to the list of ingredients you need to begin. The spices, lentils, rice et al are linked to Amazon website. Please click on the product and it will take you to the page. They are all PRIME eligible. So start shopping and save your time in the grocery store.

Click here to read about the list of do’s and don’ts of Indian cooking.

SHOPPING LIST

WHOLE SPICES & SPICE POWDER

    • Mustard seeds

    • Asafoetida (Hing)

    • Cumin seeds

    • Fenugreek seeds

    • Black pepper corns

    • Black gram (urad dhal)

    • Cardamon

    • Cloves

    • Bay leaves

    • Cinnamon Sticks

    • Fennel seeds

    • Tamarind

    • Dry Red Chillies

HERBS

  • Cilantro
  • Mint leaves
  • Kasuri meethi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  • Curry leaves

BEANS & LENTILS

    • Yellow split peas (toor dhal)

    • Roasted bengal gram (channa dhal)

    • Red split peas (Masoor dhal)
    • Moong Dahl

    • Red kidney beans (Rajma)

    • Mung beans / Green gram

    • Black eyed peas

    • Garbanzo Beans

RICE & RICE BASED INGREDIENTS

    • Basmati rice

    • Raw ponni rice

    • Idly rice

    • Red or white flattened rice (poha)

    • White puffed rice (bhel)

MISCELLANEOUS

    • Dessicated coconut or fresh coconut

    • Coconut milk

  • Vermiccili
  • Whole wheat rava
  • Semolina
  • Saffron

Chow-Chow Thogayal – South Indian Pesto with Chayote Squash Skin

South Indian make a lot of thogayal, a look like to general chutneys but it is little thicker and creamier in consistency. I have been cooking vegetables like pumpkin, cucumber, chayote squash (called chow-chow in Tamil) . These veggies have high water content and are ideal to eat when you want to lose weight as they have a low calorie per serving size. Water based vegetables have diuretic properties. Chow-chow is high in fibre and is easily digestible. Chow chow has zero fat or cholesterol. Other than that, isn’t it awesome to explore new veggies and make refreshing stir fries or curries with it?

I found fresh and tender chayote squash at the Indian market last week. I grabbed six of them with a plan to make a stir fry and use the skin to make “thogayal/chutney”. I use this chutney as a dip for cucumber, carrots and celery sticks. Typically chutneys are served with idly, dosa, pongal, pooris and plain rice.

The cooking steps are very similar to making a pesto. For this South Indian thogayal / chutney, I have used black gram (uradh dhal) to create nutty, creamy texture; dry red chilies for heat, tamarind to add some tangy tint to it and finally some fresh coconut for flavor and to make it rich and smooth. If you compare to the pesto recipe, freshly crushed peppercorns are used for heat while pinenuts or walnuts or any nuts are used to make it creamy and lemon juice for the tangy tint. It truly conveys that a similar tasting dish is made with ingredients they got in hand. The use of local ingredient is key and the basic six taste are addressed by using same or equivalent ingredients.  Pestos are dressed with general spoonful of olive oil and in this South India pesto, the final step is to garnish the ground paste with hot oil tempered with black mustard seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. If you notice, even hummus follows similar list of ingredients.

According to Ayurveda, a complete meal should carry almost six tastes – sweet, sour, saly, bitter, pungent and astringent. Most dishes made in Indian household will carry ingredients that can fulfill the requirement of Ayurvedic eating.

Once while shopping at Farmer’s Market in San Jose where predominant farmers are from Mexican origin. The carried chayote squash but there were little different from the ones you can fine in Indian/ Asian grocery stores. The Mexican variety has a rough, thorny outer covering which needs to be peeled and discarded. The flesh which is inside is similar to the Indian/Asian varieties. The Indian/Asian varities do carry thorns but they are less compared to the black, heavy thorns of the Mexican variety. If you are making this recipe, please make sure you buy the green colored chayote squash called chow-chow in India. The skin is pale green is color and runs smooth. The color is similar to that of green pear or green apple. Once you peel the skin with a peeler, save them to make this thogayal/ chutney.

The skin cann’t be eaten raw and hence the recipe calls in to cook the skin for 20-30 minutes in minimum oil. Once cooked and cooled, they are ground to a smooth paste with roasted urad dhal, dry red chilies  tamarind and coconut. You can use fresh or unsweetened dessicated coconut. The skin is pale green and smooth with slight ridges that run lengthwise. Many compare the color to a light green apple.

CHOW-CHOW THOGAYAL/CHUTNEY

Source: Amma
Serves: A family of four

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
  • Skin of 6 chayote – peeled (save the skin after making your dish)
  • 1/4 cup urad dhal (black gram) – available at Indian grocery store
  • 3 dry red chilies (more or less as per your heat tolerance)
  • 1/2 tablespoon tamarind pulp
  • 2 tablespoon unsweetened dessicated or fresh coconut
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water to grind

For the tempering

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Directions

  1.  Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a saucepan. Once hot, add the chayote squash skin and cook for 20-30 minutes. Remove and let it cool.
  2. Heat a clean saucepan with 1 teaspoon oil and roast the dry red chilies followed by urad dhal and finally tamarind pulp. Saute for couple of minute. Switch off the flame and add the coconut. Let the remaining heat cook the coconuts. Remove and let it cool.
  3. Grind together the cooked chayote squash, roasted urad dhal, dry red chilies,  tamarind and coconut with minimum water to a smooth paste . Add salt to taste. Mix well.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small pan. Once hot, add mustard seeds and let it pop. Then add the curry leaves and asafoetida. Pour this mixture over the chayote squash / chow-chow thogayal. A South Indian pesto with chayote squash to ready to devour.

Additional Notes:

  1. This is an ideal dip for those who are on a weightloss journey.
  2. This can be eaten in phase 1 of South beach diet.
  3. Also perfect one for women with gestational diabetes and also for those who are diabetic/ pre-diabetic.

Ven Pongal – South Indian Risotto with Lentils and Rice

It’s Pongal Festival today. It’s marks the first day of Hindu Calender. It is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil Month – Thai. Every year I host an elaborate dinner for friends and family living here. This year it was low key it was a busy week for both of us at work. We invited my husband’s uncle and cousin  for dinner. You can read more about the Pongal  festival in the post I wrote last year. 

January 14, Monday is the date to celebrate pongal as per the Hindu calender. Since its  a weekday, we celebrated it yesterday. Sunday started pretty early for me. I woke up at 7.00 am, which is actually much better than my 5.30 am wake up time.  I am thankfull for that extra sleep. So no major cribbing on that. After a quick shower, I cleaned “pooja” shelf where I have placed the Hindu Deities. I placed fresh flowers I bought from safeway last night. I planned to meet my son’s classmate and her mom at Farmer’s market at 10.00 am. Before we left, I pressure cooked equal portions of  paasi paruppu / mung lentils (not MUNG BEAN) and rice with the plans to prepare sweet and savory pongal for dinner last night.

As we shopped, the kids enjoyed walking around the stalls tasting the samples and requesting for more as the fruits were so sweet and delicious. We reached home at 12.00 pm. It’s lunch time and I had few leftovers to finish. Lunch done, son napping and husband watching football. Afternoon looked peaceful and I was ready to prepare the pongal. I placed half the quantity of cooked lentil-rice mixture in two huge bowls. In hot oil, I sauteed ginger, black pepper corns, cumin seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. The flavored oil went right into one of the bowl. Mixed it well to combine and covered the bowl  with a plastic wrap. I stored the savory pongal in one corner.

Next, I boiled little milk, water, coconut palm sugar and cruched cardamon. Once the sugar melted and reached a deep brown color, I poured into the other bowl, mixed and wrapped them tight with a plastic wrap. I placed it next to the previous bowl. I roasted a huge batch of cashews in generous amount of ghee (clarified butter) and poured them over the two varities of pongal. Tadaa! Sakkara and Ven Pongal ready in less than 20 minutes.

I soaked urad dhal / black gram for “boondas” (deep fried savory fritters) and planned to make coconut chutney and mung lentil sambhar later in the evening. I completed photoshoot for couple of dishes and watched bits and pieces of Tamil movie while I did laundry, sweeping and mopping. It was a simple meal with hot steamy vengal pongal, crispy boondas, ghee soaked sweet pongal, fresh coconut chutney and hearty sambar loaded with veggies.  Overall a busy day which ended with a prayer asking Almighty to bless us with goodness and happiness for  the new year.

Each family has their own version of the dish. Some may add ginger, some may not while some use asafoetida and many may not. The best thing about Indian cooking is that you can tweak it as per the availability of ingredients. All that’s needed is an interest and love to create delicious dishes. The dish pongal needs to be soft and mushy. It’s the best baby food (ofcourse without peppercorns and nuts) as it glides through the mouth gently and it’s can be easily digested by everyone. You can make it ghee-free too. So add the amount of ghee as per your health requirements.

You can see my sakkara pongal with brown rice recipe here. The steps are very similar and instead of brown rice, you can white rice. Even jaggery can be replaced with coconut palm sugar. Read about the goodness of coconut palm sugar here.

VEN PONGAL

Source: Amma
Serves: A party of 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw rice (I used Ponni raw rice – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 2 cups mung lentil (called as Passi Paruppu / Mung dhaal – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 14 cups water
  • Salt to taste, about 2 teaspoon
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter – bought from Indian Grocery Store)
  • 2 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper corns + little freshly crushed ones
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 10 curry leaves , chopped
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 1/4 cup ghee to roaste 1/4 cup cashews (optional)

Directions

  1. Pressure cook the rice and lentils in water and salt for 5-6 whistles. You can cook them in a dutch oven or cooking pan with a fitting lid for 45 minutes or until it turns mushy.
  2. Once cooled, remove and mix well.
  3. Heat ghee. Once its hot, add ginger,cumin seeds, pepper corns, asafoetida and curry leaves. Saute for 30 seconds. Pour this mixture over the hot rice-lentil mixture.
  4. If the rice-lentil mixture is too thick, I add hot water to get the desired consistency. Pongal needs to be smooth and mushy. So add water as per your requirement.
  5. Heat ghee in a clean saucepan. Once hot, add the cashews and cook until they turn golden brown. You can either add just the roasted cashews, reserving the ghee for future use or pour the entire mixture in to the pongal. Either way it will taste great. You can serve it with any chutney or sambhar of your choice.

South Indian Okra Curry – How to cook it right?

I decided to eat healthy foods from January 1st so that includes a lot of vegetarian dish in the menu. My refrigerator is stocked with green, red, purple, yellow and white colored vegetables. I have been cooking the right stuffs for the last 10 days.  I have been spending good chunk of my after-work time chopping the vegetables. I shopped for boy choy, methi leaves, bell peppers, carrots, beets,   lettuce, spring mix, spinach, mushrooms and lemon grass at the farmer’s market and tindora, pineapple, mango, avocados, okra, cluster beans at the Indian store to cleanse and detox my body for the next 10 days. I ate beans like mung bean in place of rice and  I made little tweaks along the way. Today after 10 days of nutritious, fibrous meals, I am FIVE pounds lighter. Isn’t that awesome? I didn’t lose anything more than my initial 30 pound weightloss. I got rid of the four pounds I gained during the holidays. That extra one pound loss is a bonus for being nice to my body 🙂

 

Today’s post is about how to make good looking okra / lady’s finger curry, ofcourse the way I love it – The South Indian way.  The green, long slender vegetable is called Okra in the US and in England and other once British invaded colonies like India, Sri Lanka, et al, they are refereed to as Lady’s Finger. Dishes made with okra is very popular in Indian households. I remember my mom forcing me to eat this sticky, viscous vegetable as everyone known to me believed that consuming okra will improve mathematics skills. I am not sure whether it’s a fact or myth but what I know is that okra is rich in fibre, vitamin C, calcium, potasium and folate content. They provide excellent source of antioxidants to the body.

During my initial days of cooking, I have never gathered the courage to cook okra as I ended up making a gooey lump of mass which no one ate. But over the years, I learnt the trick to cook it right from my mom.

Tips to cook the okras right

  • Rinse, clean and wash them. Dry the okra with a kitchen towel.
  • Chop the okra into roundels (that’s the preferred shape).
  • Place them in a colander at room temperature for 15- 30 minutes. This helps to dry the vegetable a bit.  You can leave it for a longer time but I beleive in cooking any vegetable within 30 minutes of chopping.
  • Use a flat saucepan with a wider base (a pan with a larger surface area so that okras don’t touch or crowd around eachother)
  • My mom used close to 1/4 cup oil to cook 1-2 pounds okra but I used 1 tablespoon olive oil and little cooking spray to crisp them.
  • Cook the first 5 minutes on high flame, then simmer it and sprinkle water just to rinse them and cook covered for 20 minutes. I cook my Okra al-dente.
  • I also add besan/ chana dhal flour (roasted chickpea flour) to coat them.
  • Always sprinkle water over the okra.
  • Do not pour water on one side of the pan and then use a spread the water. This is will make it break and dish will turn sloopy.
  • While cooking okra, make sure you use the spoon for a minimum number of times.

VENDAKKAI VARUVAL / SOUTH INDIAN OKRA CURRY

Recipe: Amma

Serves: Family of 3-4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil + cooking spray (canola, olive or any oil of your choice)
  • 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon white lentils (urad dhal)
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves – chopped
  • 1 teapsoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon medium hot chili powder (use it as per your heat tolerance)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 pound okra
  • 1/2 – 1  cup besan / roasted chickpea flour ( use as needed)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup water to cook

Directions

  1. Chop the okras into thin roundels and leave it in a colander or arrange over a kitchen tissue/towel and let it air dry for 20-30 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Use a heavy bottom pan with a large surface area (meaning hugely circular, spacious cooking saucepan with a fitting lid). Heat oil. Once hot, add mustard seeds and let it pop.
  3. Add the urad dhal, curry leaves and garlic. Saute for 30 seconds
  4. Sprinkle turmeric, chili and coriander powder. Mix and add 1/4 cup water to prevent burning.
  5. Add the okras and spread it to form a single layer. Don’t over crowd them. Raise up the heat to high and let it roast for 5 minutes. Make sure you don’t burn it.
  6. Reduce the flame to the lowest. Sprinkle the besan and using a spatula or flat wooden spoon, gently fold the okras with the besan. Spray cooking spray as per your liking. I did 5 single spray, just enough oil to coat them.
  7. Drizzle water over the okra and cook covered on medium flame for 15 minutes. Sprinkle more water if needed.
  8. Add salt to taste. I generally raise up the heat to high for 2-5 minutes to crisp them up further. I like the charred look.

Additional Notes:

  1.  Okra has low glycemic index and can be eaten on phase 1 of South beach diet.
  2. It is a nutritional addition to a healthy diet. It is ideal for women with gestational diabetes and people who are diabetic/pre-diabetic. I eat okra with my lentil soup (dhaal)
  3.  It can also be eaten during weightloss.

Mint Rasam to Cleanse the Holiday Tummy Hangovers

Holidays are done. January 1st has arrived. New resolutions are made.

No more chocolates. No more candies. No more cookies and cakes.

Back to routine. 5.30 AM Alarm. Work.  Cleanse and Detox.Workout. Eat Right.

 

I am sure everyone’s New year started with fresh plans and resolutions. My first plan was to cleanse and detox my body. That means eating the right stuff that would help me get rid of all the toxins and residual fat inside my intestine.

Imagine your digestive system to be a long rope. One end of the rope is your mouth and other end is rectum. When food travels from mouth to rectum, it gets digested and absorbed along the way. The solid material that is left is excreted via the large intestine and rectum.

Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits ( Yes, you heard me right! Vegetables go first as they contain less fructose than fruits) is key as they are stuffed with living enzymes, vitamins, fibre and trace minerals.

Let me tell you what happens when we eat processed food.

When a person consumes a diet high in over processed, refined, high fat and sugar, low fibre diet, the muscles that help to propogate food in the intestines become weak and ineffective. The food will get stuck in small pockets along the way and get stored in the walls of colon. These substances can ferment and become toxic. This provides optimal conditions for pathogenic bacteria to proliferate. Constipation will be the first symtom to show up. Colon is responsible for storing waste, maintaining water balance and absorbing vitamins. When colon becomes toxic, poisons are circulated and blood doesn’t absorb the required nutrients. That’s when you begin to feel hungry all the time and eat more. It’s a vicious circle. Cleansing helps with weightloss too.

I found a list of foods that help to cleanse and detox your body. There are lot of  online articles on “clean food”, “green smoothies”. You can google and read about them. One food that I love to eat often is MUNG BEANS.  It is higly recommended in Ayurvedic cooking as it helps to pull out the waste clinging around the colon wall. I started my first day with Mung Bean Salad and with its broth I made rasam.

This rasam is unique as I have used mung bean broth instead of yellow lentils. I reserved the water I used to cook the mung bean. I flavored them with mint leaves and didnot use the typical “rasam podi”. You can make it with few key spices you have in your kitchen. It’s spicy, flavorful and totally South Indian in taste. I like to eat healthy food with my desi twists to it.

MINT RASAM

Source: Self
Serves: A party of 10

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 dry red chily
  • 2 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves – chopped
  • 1 large tomato – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon pepper powder (made freshly)
  • 2 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 2 cups Mung bean broth (or use yellow lentils broth – cook 2 tablespoon yellow lentils in 2 cups water for 30 minutes or pressure cook for 5 whistles)
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp ( make a fresh concentrate with tamarind flesh in warm water)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves , crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 teaspoon salt , add more if needed

Directions

  1. Heat oil and once they are hot, add mustard seeds and let it pop. Throw in the cumin seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and dry red chilly.
  2. Add garlic and tomatoes. Saute for 3-5 minutes. Add turmeric, chili, cumin and coriander powder. Mix in with the tomatoes.
  3. Pour the mung bean or yellow lentil broth, tamarind pulp and water. Bring it to a boil, takes about 15 minutes. Add freshly crushed mint leaves.  Simmer for another 5 minutes. Cover and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Additional Notes:

  1. Since it has mung bean, this soup can be eaten in phase of South Beach Diet.
  2. It is also an ideal soup during gestational diabetes and weightloss.
  3. Mint rasam is perfect drink to cleanse and detox your body.

Quick and Easy : Chocolate Dipped Pineapples

Hello all,

How did the New Year celebration go? What did you guys do? What are your new year plans or resolution?

We had a very simple celebration with friends during the weekend. On New Year’s eve just like any other year we dined as a family in a Chinese Restaurant near our home. After a scrumptious meal, we watched two movies – The Words and Hope Springs.  I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in the house during my New Year break. My kitchen looks more organized and seems to pump up my energy to whip awesome dinners. I rearranged my pantry placing the jams, jellies in the top rack followed by oil then spices and rice, pasta were tucked in the last two rows.

January 1st started off with a special prayer at home and I cooked authentic South Indian meals just like the way my mom does. I like to follow her tradition on this and taught my son a new “Tamil slogam” (recital) which I hope that he will remember in the years to come. I have made several plans for the year and to-do list for the blog tops the list for sure.

Spices and Aroma is entering the new year with its own domain. I have said this so many times here but truly I am excited about this new beginning.  I began 2012 with a note about my year as a mother and the blog so far carries 100 posts. I wish to have more useful and handy recipes in 2013.  As I write this post , I feel elated with the number of friends I have made through this creative space; be it Kankana’s Sunshine and Smile, Prerna’s Indian Simmer, Rose’s Magpies RecipesSoma’s eCurry, Tanvi’s Sinfully Spicy, Reem’s Simply Reem, Kulsum’s Journey Kitchen and Grishma of Zaika Zabardast. Special thanks to all these lovely ladies for creating such wonderful post that inspires me to cook more and thanks to them for having me as their friend.

I have the following plans for 2013:

  • Cook quick and easy meals
  • Bake healthy desserts
  • Eat more whole grains
  • Indulge in seasonal cooking
  • Get 2 dress sizes down
  • Travel more
  • Play badminton often
  • Attend food conference/ events and make more friends

Today post is a recipe for one of the healthiest dessert ever. It is made with chunks of pineapple and feel good dark chocolates. Yes two ingredients and that’s it. Chocolate dipped pineapples is my go to dessert on days I want to cut down on sugar intake but at the same time want to enjoy some chocolate-y. This will become your favorite party dessert as it takes really less work to prepare and you guests will love it when you serve it with fancy tooth picks.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED PINEAPPLES

Recipe: Self

Serves: A party of 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 large fresh pineapple – cut into small cubes ( make sure it is large enough to hold with a toothpick)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate (either chips or bar)
  • 1 tablespoon milk  (optional)

Direction

  1. Pat dry the pineapple with a kitchen towel and let it rest for sometime.
  2. If using a chocolate bark, cut them into small chunks. Using a porcelain bowl, melt the dark chocolate chips or chunks  in a microwave at high for a minute. Check whether the chocolate has melted. If not, cook for further 30 seconds. Using a spatula, mix the chocolate. The heat from the bowl will let it melt well. If you feel it’s thick, add little milk to turn them into a smooth paste.
  3. Cover a large baking tray or any flat plate with parchment paper. Take one pineapple chunk at a time and tip in the chocolate sauce. Place it neatly on the baking tray. Arrange them next to each other and at the same time don’t over crowd them. Once done with all the pineapples, place them in the fridge for 2 hours.  Remove it right before dessert time.
  4. You can serve it with whipped cream on top.

Note:

  1. I generally make them around 6.00 PM (before the guest’s arrival) and tuck it in the fridge until dessert time.
  2. Sometimes I sprinkle crushed nuts (roasted) right after dipping it in chocolate. The nuts will stick to the surface and adds a nice crunch when you serve.