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Monday, April 30, 2012

Masala Chai

"एक cutting चाय मलाई मार के!" How many times have we heard/said this in our life! Be it at the college canteen or the office mess, this is a popular refrain. I was never a tea person. Infact, you would be amused to know that till I got married and moved to the States, my beverage of choice was Bournvita! Even at office, people would make fun of me coz I could not participate in the afternoon tea/coffee ritual! Once I started working though, I would have the occasional cup of coffee when working late hours or to ward off a nagging headache! But tea - that was never something I was tempted to try.

Then I got married! My husband drinks only tea - no coffee, no hot chocolate, nothing but tea! So, I had to learn to make tea :) The first time I tried tea was on my honeymoon. There was this road side shack on our way from Munar to Thekkady in Kerala - my first experience having "Elakkai Chaaya" (Cardamom Tea) in a light drizzle amidst all that greenery and I was hooked! I don't quite know what it was - the weather, the scenic route or the tea, but that experience stands out in my memory.

 I still prefer coffee over tea, but have gotten pretty good at making tea, even if I say so myself! I first learnt to make tea from my husband - अदरक एलैची वाली चाय or ginger cardamom tea was a staple for him. Then I gradually went on to search on the internet and try out various combinations before I settled on this masala powder recipe. Now I regularly make tea for friends and family and am constantly asked how I make it, as they seem to like it a lot.

So, I thought, why not post the recipe on my blog. Here goes my recipe for Masala Chai...

 I usually make the chai masala powder and keep it stored in a dry airtight container for a couple of months (apart from when I have friends over, I make tea mostly during weekends only as hubby leaves early for work and has tea in office during weekdays). A little bit goes a long way and they stay fresh for a couple of months - have never had it last more than that though, so no idea how long you can store them.

First let's tackle the masala recipe:

Preparation: 5 minutes                    Makes - ¼ cup

Ingredients:
Dried Ginger/Saunth - 1 inch piece
Black Cardamom/Badi Elaichi - 2
Green Cardamom/Choti Elachi - 8-10 pods
Cloves/Laung - 8-10
Black Pepper Seeds/Kali Mirchi - 8-10
Cinnamon Sticks/Dalchini - 2 small sticks
Lemon Grass - 1 teaspoon, powdered
Star Anise/Chakra Phool - 3-4
Nutmeg/Jaiphal Powder - ½ teaspoon

Method:


  • Grind everything together into a smooth powder in a dry mixer/coffee grinder.
  • Store in air tight container and use whenever you need it.

Now on to the actual tea...

Preparation: 10 minutes           Serves: 2

Ingredients:
Loose Black Tea - 1 ½ - 2 teaspoons (depending on how fresh and strong the tea leaves are)
Freshly grated ginger - 1 teaspoon
Chai Masala Powder - ¼ teaspoon (recipe mentioned above or you could use store bought as well)
Cardamom Powder (crushed green cardamom pods) - ¼ teaspoon
Water - 1 & ¼ cup
Milk - ¾ cup (I use 1%, you could use whole milk as well, though I wouldn't recommend fat free)
Sugar - to taste

Method:
  • Take water, freshly grated ginger and chai masala powder in a saucepan and bring it to a boil.
  • When the water starts boiling, add the tea leaves and let them boil for about 5 minutes.
  • Next add in the milk and cardamom powder and switch of the flame once the milk boils over.
  • Filter out the tea using a tea strainer and serve after adding sugar to taste.


Tea is best served with cookies/biscuits or scones and some savory snacks. Or if its a cold/rainy day, a plate of steaming hot crunchy pakoras is a must!


Handy Tip:
You could just crush the ginger with a mortar and pestle and add instead of grating it.
If you prefer the tea to be more milky and less strong, reduce the quantity of tea leaves and water and increase the amount of milk used.
Just remember, there is no hard and fast rule as to how much tea leaves you use or how long you boil it before adding water, just go along with the flow and you will gradually get a hang of how to go about making a cup of hot tea!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tomato Raita

Ok, so by now you know I'll make raita out of almost any kind of vegetable/fruit. I cannot help it, I just cannot eat/drink plain yogurt. I need it camouflaged, and what better way to do it than make raita. Be it with rice dishes or with parathas, raitas are wonderful accompaniments and easy to make.

I had some cherry tomatoes in the refrigerator and decided to go ahead and use those for making raita this weekend to go with my lunch of vegetable fried rice. I used Greek yogurt but you could make it with regular yogurt. Also, feel free to substitute cherry tomatoes with Roma or any other tomatoes.

Preparation & Cooking:10 minutes             Serves:2

Ingredients:
Cherry tomatoes - 1 cup
Greek Yogurt - 1 cup
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a pinch
Clove/Laung Powder - ¼ teaspoon
Jeera/Cumin Powder - ¼ teaspoon
Red Chilli Powder - ¼ teaspoon
For Tempering:
Oil - 1 tablespoon
Mustard Seeds - 1 teaspoon
Black Gram/Urad Dal - 1 teaspoon
Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch

Method:
  • Quarter the tomatoes and set them aside.
  • Whisk the yogurt along with a little water and add the salt, sugar, clove powder, cumin powder and red chilli powder and mix well.
  • Heat the oil and add the ingredients for tempering. When the seeds splutter, add the tomatoes and give it a good stir. 
  • Take it off the flame and add it to the prepared yogurt and mix well.

Quick and delicious tomato raita is ready to serve.

Vazhakai Podimas

There are some recipes that we love, but somehow don't make very often. I have no idea why that happens.I mean, if it requires some elaborate preparation or some ingredient not easily available, I can understand. But that is not the case here, its just that it doesn't occur to me to make it.

Today's post is one such recipe. My husband asked me, how come you haven't made vazhakai podimas in ages? I buy plantains pretty much every month, make curry, kootu and bhajji with it, but not podimas! So, this time, the plantains got used up to make podimas :)

Traditionally, the plantains are pressure cooked and then the skin is peeled off and the plantains are crumbled  by hand. But my pressure cooker was already being used for something else and I did not want to weight for it to be free. So, I went ahead and microwaved the plantains and then grated it in a food processor instead of crumbling it by hand. If pressure cooking, the later cooking on the flame will need only 5 minutes, but if microwaving first, you'll have to cook it on the flame for 10-12 minutes later. Feel free to make it either way.

Preparation & Cooking: 30 minutes                Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:
Plantains - 3
Green chillies - 2, slit lengthwise
Ginger - 1 teaspoon, grated
Turmeric Powder/Haldi - ½ teaspoon
Salt - to taste
Coconut - 2 tablespoons, shredded (for garnish)
Lemon Juice - 2 tablespoons
Oil - 1 tablespoon
For Tempering:
Mustard - 1 teaspoon
Black Gram/Urad Dal - 1 teaspoon
Bengal Gram/Channa Dal - ½ teaspoon
Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch
Curry Leaves - a few

Method:
  • Cut the plantains into halves and microwave them in water for 12-15 minutes.
  • Peel the skin, then grate the plantains and set them aside.
  • Heat the oil and add the ingredients for tempering. 
  • When the mustard seeds splutter, add the ginger, grated plantains, curry leaves, turmeric powder and salt and mix well.
  • Next add in the slit green chillies and a couple of tablespoons of water and let it cook for about 10-12 minutes. Turn off the flame.
  • Garnish with shredded coconut and add the lemon juice and mix well.
Serve as a side dish to rice with sambar or rasam.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vendheya Kuzhambu

When it comes to South Indian cuisine, the rest of the country tends to just think of idlis and dosas. Sure they are a very popular part of the food in the south, but there are so many other dishes, that just the variety of sambars that can be made would take up quite a few posts in this blog. There are a few kinds that I make, but there are so many others that I have never tried, and I sure do hope to eventually :)

Today's post, vendhaya kuzhambu (fenugreek seeds soup) was made by me for the first time! My mom used to make this dish and I loved it. But somehow, in the seven odd years that I have been cooking my own meals, I never got around to trying it. Then, the other day, my mom mentioned that she had made this kuzhambu for dinner, and that jogged my memory and taste buds enough for me to want to make the same :)

I have pretty much stuck to her way of preparing this dish with a couple of exceptions. My mom would use regular onions to make this kuzhambu, I chose to use pearl onions.  Also, she uses jaggery while I opted for molasses, considering its easier to just add a couple of drops rather than break the jaggery into a teensy weensy bit!

The bulk of preparation time for me was peeling the pearl onions, which I find very painful as my eyes tend to burn and water a lot while peeling.

Preparation & Cooking - 25 minutes (excluding onion soaking time)          Serves: 2

Ingredients:
Pearl Onions - 1 cup (approx 20-25)
Tamarind - lemon sized bit
Molasses - 2 drops
Sambar Powder - 2 teaspoons
Turmeric Powder/Haldi - ½ teaspoon
Salt - to taste
For Tempering:
Sesame Oil - 1 tablespoon
Mustard Seeds - 1 teaspoon
Methi/Fenugreek Seeds - ¼ teaspoon 
Urad Dal/Split Black Gram Dal - 1 teaspoon
Channa Dal/Bengal Gram Dal - 1 teaspoon
Toor Dal/Yellow Gram Dal - 1 tablespoon
Red Chillies - 2, broken
Curry Leaves - a few
Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch

Method:
  • Soak the tamarind in 2 cups of warm water for about 10 minutes. Squeeze the tamarind pulp to extract the juices, strain this liquid and set it aside.
  • Soak the pearl onions in a bowl of water and refrigerate them for about an hour. This will make the eyes sting less while peeling. If you don't have any problems peeling them just as they are, you may omit this step.
  • Peel and rinse the onions and set them aside along with the curry leaves and the broken red chillies.
  • Heat oil in a utensil and add the tempering ingredients. 
  • Once the mustard seeds have crackled and all the pulses start turning a golden brown, add the onions, curry leaves, broken red chillies, salt, sambar powder and turmeric. Make sure the fenugreek seeds don't burn as they turn extremely bitter.
  • Once the onions begin to brown slightly, add the strained tamarind juice and molasses and let the kuzhambu boil till it reduces and thickens to desired consistency. 

Tangy Vendhaya Kuzhambu is ready to be had with steaming hot rice and ghee and a vegetable dish of your choice!

 Handy Tips: 

If molasses is not available, you could just use a small piece of jaggery, but make sure it melts and blends completely. We need a very small quantity, to just get a subtle hint of sweetness to balance out the sourness of the tamarind and the heat from the spices.
If the kuzhambu feels too watery, you could make a paste with ½ teaspoon rice powder and water and add it to the kuzhambu. Bring it to a boil and then take it off the flame. This will thicken it. 
If you don't want to make the juice from the tamarind pulp, you could use ready-made tamarind paste diluted with 2 cups of water.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Quick Creamy Orzo Risotto

My little one was home sick today. So, I wanted to make something quick for lunch, at the same time I wanted to make sure it was something he liked. Mac n cheese is a very popular choice with him but I was very particular about including vegetables in his meal. Then I thought of making risotto with orzo and vegetables.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish typically cooked with arborio rice and broth to a creamy consistency. After seeing N number of cooking shows and contests where the judges typically rip the participants to shreds over the perfection of cooking a risotto, I wasn't too keen on trying it. But I had also read somewhere that a shortcut option would be to use orzo instead.

Orzo is a pasta shaped like a large grain of rice. And pasta out of a box is definitely easy to cook :) Can't really mess that! So, orzo pasta it was.

Now came the vegetables part. I would have loved to roast some spring vegetables and proceed from that, but this week has pretty much been making do with a thread bare refrigerator since I haven't had the chance to do my weekly grocery shopping! But a foray into the freezer revealed half a packet of frozen Italian vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, beans and zucchini) and my requirement was complete!

Preparation & Cooking - 15 minutes            Serves - 2
Ingredients:
Orzo - 1 cup
Mixed vegetables - ½ cup, diced chunky
Vegetable Stock - 1qt
Mixed Dried Herbs - 2 teaspoons (I used Parsley, Basil, Oregano, Thyme & Rosemary, you could use Italian Seasoning mix instead)
Fresh Cracked Pepper - 1 teaspoon
Salt - to taste
Heavy Cream - ½ cup
Parmesan Cheese - ¼ cup, grated

Method:
  • Microwave the vegetables for 3-4 minutes and set aside.
  • Simultaneously, bring the vegetable stock to a boil.
  • Add the orzo, cooked vegetables and the stock and let it all cook for 10-11 minutes (that's usually enough to cook the orzo al dente and the vegetables will be done too as they were previously microwaved.
  • Switch off the flame. Add freshly cracked pepper and a little salt if required. Add the cream and the grated Parmesan cheese. Let it all melt and thicken in the heat of the cooked risotto.
Rich creamy orzo risotto is ready! Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stuffed Capsicum

I was at my cousin's place this weekend and we experimented with a recipe that looked interesting in some cook book she had. It was a dish called sham-savera. Hope to try out that one some day and write about it. But for now, I brought it up because I loved the spinach and paneer balls in that dish. So, I wanted to play around with those same flavors but did not want to repeat that recipe so soon.

That's how this recipe was born. I have used the paneer and spinach base, then went on to add some potato flakes and sautéed onions (necessity being the mother of invention - I had very little paneer on hand and just a small bunch of spinach, so to increase the quantity, went ahead and added the potato flakes and onions!). Now, the problem is, this was a stuffing, I couldn't possibly serve it as a side dish. It needed something else. Some rummaging in the refrigerator produced three capsicums! Lo and behold - stuffed capsicum for dinner it was!

When I make this next, will probably use small capsicums for stuffing. Had to make do with these giant sized ones that I had in the refrigerator and ofcourse  I was too lazy to go down to the grocery store to just pick up miniature ones!

Preparation & Cooking: 30 minutes               Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:
Capsicums/Bell Pepper - 3, top removed, cored and seeded (if using small ones, you will need 5-6)
Oil - 3 tablespoons
For the stuffing:
Onion - 1 small, chopped fine
Spinach - one small bunch, chopped
Green chillies - 2, chopped fine
Ginger - 2 teaspoons, minced
Paneer/Cottage Cheese - 1 cup
Instant Potato Flakes - ¼ cup
Pepper - 1 teaspoon, fresh cracked
Salt - to taste

Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to  350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
  • Saute the onions, with a little salt, in 2 teaspoons oil, till they turn translucent. Set them aside.
  • Microwave the spinach, paneer, ginger, green chillies, potato flakes and salt for 4-5 minutes, stirring once in between.
  • Add in the sautéed onions and freshly cracked pepper and mix well.
  • Stuff the bell peppers/capsicums with this stuffing and fry in the remaining oil.
  • Cover and cook for a couple of minutes, then turn the capsicums around and continue cooking covered so all sides get browned uniformly. This should take about 8-10 minutes in all.
  • Pop them in the oven and bake them for 8-10 minutes till the top of the stuffing begins to brown.
Remove from the oven and serve hot with chapattis.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tandoori Gobhi

Some days you are just in a mood for something rich and spicy, never mind the time or effort that goes into the preparation. Today was one of those days. But unfortunately, all that my refrigerator yielded in terms of vegetables was a head of cauliflower! I also had some onions on hand, so decided to put the two together and come up with something.

This recipe is time consuming, but easy. Since I did it in installments, I did not exactly feel like it was too elaborate a preparation. The best part is, it pretty much cooks by itself - no baby sitting needed! So, while my dish was marinating, I was off dropping  kiddo at school and even managed to squeeze in an hour at the gym. Next, when the dish was baking, I was finishing up my cleaning and other chores! So, don't get scared looking at the preparation time :)

Marinating Time: 3-4 hours          Cooking & Preparation: 1 hour             Serves: 2

Ingredients:
Caulilfower - 1 small head, broken into florets and rinsed thoroughly.
Onion - 1 small, sliced thin
Oil - 2 tabespoons
Lemon Juice - 2-3 tablespoons
Cilantro - 2 tablespoons, finely chopped (for garnish)
For the marinade:
Tandoori Masala - 2 heaped tablespoons (I used ready made, though you could make it at home)
Sour Cream - 2 teaspoons
Ginger - 1 teaspoon, minced
Garlic - 1 teaspoon, minced
Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric/Haldi Powder - ½ teaspoon
Salt - to taste

Method:

  • Mix all the ingredients for marinating with the cauliflower florets and the sliced onions.


  • Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Grease an oven safe dish or use aluminum foil. I prefer greasing the foil as well!
  • Drizzle some oil and bake the marinated onion-cauliflower mix in the covered dish for about 40 minutes. 

  • Add some bread crumbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes.

  • Remove from oven, add in the lemon juice and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Spicy Tandoori Gobhi is ready to be served with chapathis/parathas.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lemon Meringue Cookies

I have always been fascinated by meringue pies. I thought, why not bake meringue cookies instead.  I made tiny bite sized lemon meringue cookies. They were delicious, even though I say so myself!


 I made these really small and the combination of lemon and sugar helps reduce the sugary taste. It just melts in your mouth and since its not overtly sweet, would be perfect to serve at tea!

Preparation & Cooking: 1 hour                              Makes - 20-24
Ingredients:


Egg Whites - from 2 large eggs
Salt - a pinch
Cream of Tartar - 1/8 teaspoon
Sugar - ½ cup and 2 tablespoons
Lemon Zest - of 1 big lemon, grated
Lemon Extract - 1 teaspoon

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius) and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a bowl, whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. 
  • Gradually blend in the sugar whipping continuously to form stiff peaks. 
  • Gently fold in the lemon zest and the lemon extract. 
  • Use a pastry bag/gun or just a spoon, arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Switch off the oven and open the door, let the cookies cool. After about 10-15 minutes, gently take them off the baking sheets, they should peel off without breaking. 
Cool them completely on a cooling rack and store in air tight containers.


Sending this to Vardhini's

guest hosted at Sumee's Culinary Bites

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Soya Chunks Subzi

I usually make a lentil/bean dish to cover the protein part of our diet and another side dish with vegetables. Being vegetarian, I find it really important to make some kind of dal, chole etc in addition to the subzis. But there are some days when out of tiredness or laziness or due to time constraint of some sort, I stick to one dish. On those days I will either add lots of veggies to my dal, or make a kootu of some sort or make something out of soya chunks or granules.
Today's recipe has soya chunks along with vegetables, thereby fulfilling my requirements.

Soya chunks require to be soaked in boiling salted water and then rinsed and squeezed dry before being used, but I made this subzi in the pressure cooker, so I skipped this step.

Preparation & Cooking: 15 minutes                             Serves: 2-3
Ingredients:

Soya Chunks - 1 cup
Onion - 1 small, chopped fine
Green chilli - 1, chopped fine
Ginger - 1 small bit, minced
Garlic - 2 cloves, minced
Cumin Seeds/Jeera - 1 teaspoon
Hing/Asafoetida - a pinch
Tomato - 1 small, diced
Green, yellow, orange and red Bell Peppers -½ cup, diced (you could use any 1 or 2 kinds if not all)
Carrots - ¼ cup, diced
Peas - 2 tablespoons
Cumin Seeds/Jeera Powder - ½ teaspoon
Coriander Seeds/Dhania Powder - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric Powder - ¼ teaspoon
Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder -  ½ teaspoon
Garam Masala - ½ teaspoon
Lime Juice - 2 tablespoons
Cilantro Leaves - 2 tablespoons, finely chopped, for garnish
Water - 2 cups approx.
Salt - to taste
Oil - 1 tablespoon

Method:
  • Heat the oil and the cumin seeds and asafoetida. When the seeds crackle, add the onions, green chillies, ginger and garlic and saute till the onions turn translucent.
  • Now add the tomatoes and the mixed bell peppers along with the salt, turmeric powder, cumin seeds powder, coriander seeds powder and Kashmiri red chilli powder.
Next add the carrots, peas and the soya chunks. Add some garam masala and enough water to cover everything in the pressure cooker (around 2 cups).
  •  Mix everything well and pressure cook for about 4 whistles.
  • Once the steam lets up completely, open the pressure cooker. Stir in 2 tablespoons of lime juice and garnish with the chopped cilantro.

Soya Chunks Subzi is ready to be served with chappathis.

Sending this across to Show Me Your HITS-Series#3~Soy Recipes event hosted at Prabha's Cooking
and  Priya’s ”Healthy Diet – Vegetarian Side Dishes” event guest hosted by Vardhini of Cook's
Joy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jhatpat Black Bean Chilli

You know those days when you don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen? I know what you are thinking! Isn't that everyday? For such days when I am not in a mood to cook something elaborate, I keep some ingredients handy that I can just put together quickly and serve an "instant" meal of sorts!

What would we do without canned goods? I definitely prefer dried beans soaked overnight for cooking as well as fresh tomatoes and herbs. But for those "am down in the dumps" days when you feel its a lot of effort to drag yourself off the couch, canned goods and instant mixes are the perfect solution. You have to be careful though - all those preservatives and high sodium content can prove to be quite harmful if used excessively. But once in a while, you are allowed to let things slide and take it easy :)

This black bean chilli is one such recipe, where all you do is open cans and rip open a packet!

Preparation & Cooking: 15 minutes                   Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

Canned Black Beans - 15.5 oz, rinsed
Diced Canned Tomatoes - 14.5 oz, pureed
Taco Seasoning Mix - 1 packet
Onion - 1 small, chopped
Sour Cream - 2 teaspoons
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a pinch
Oil - 1 tablespoon

Method:


  • Saute the onions in oil till the begin to brown.
  • Now add in the salt, sugar, black beans, tomato puree and taco seasoning.
  • Cover and let it cook on a low flame for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Remove from flame and add sour cream.
A quick, delicious steam bowl of chilli is ready!