Monday, April 30, 2007

Pavakkai (Karela) Chips

I know a lot of people, who don't like Pavakkai (karela) and even refuse to taste it. I was one among the lot till last month, but after much persuasion from my mom decided to give it a try for Tamil New Yr's. She said for first timers, frying the karela was a good choice. Now after tasting it I have to agree that its not bad at all. Honestly this would not be my favorite dish, but with all its health benefits I wouldn't mind having it once in a while.

Ingredients:

Pavakkai (Karela) (sliced) - 2 cups
Chilli powder - 2 tsp (can be changed according to taste)
Salt - as needed
Turmeric - 1 tsp
Oil - for frying



Method:

Discard the seeds and slice the pavakkai into thin rounds. Wash and let dry. Sprinkle all the powders on top. Add as less water as needed to coat the pavakkai slices with the powder. Let it marinate for 15-20 min and then deep fry in oil, till it turns crispy. Remove and strain on a kitchen towel. You can store this in an air tight container for up to 2 weeks. Serve with rice and sambar.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Brinjal Podi fry (Eggplant fry)

I was never a fan of eggplants back home but now I try to make it once in a while. When made well it tastes delicious. I usually make this podi fry with potatoes but tried it with brinjal for tamil new yr's and it came out pretty well.

Ingredients:

Brinjal (Eggplant) (sliced) - 2 cups
Onions (thinly sliced) - 1
Salt - as needed
Oil - 4 tbsp

To Powder:
Channal dal - 2 tbsp
Thur dal - 2 tbsp
Red chillies - 4
Dhania (coriander seeds) - 2 tbsp
Methi (fenugreek seeds) - 1 tsp
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 2 tbsp


Method:

Boil the brinjal slices in water with a pinch of turmeric for about 5min. This helps to cook it faster when mixed with the powder. Dry roast the "to powder" ingredients and grind into a coarse powder. Heat oil in a pan and add sliced onions. Once the onions turn golden brown add the ground powder, salt and boiled brinjal slices. Fry in low heat till the brinjal is cooked and absorbs the masala. Serve with rice and sambar. This can also be made without boiling the brinjal first but it will require more cooking time and more oil.

Tomato Rasam

I've noticed that most of my north Indian friends are not aware that rasam can be made with so many different ingredients - lemon rasam, dal rasam, pepper rasam, garlic rasam, tomato rasam, neem flower rasam etc etc. Each has its own predominant flavor. I like tomato rasam for its tanginess, that the tomatoes impart. Also for me rasam is a good time saver. It takes exactly 15 min to prepare from scratch. Its a good remedy for indigestion and cold.

Ingredients:

Thin tamarind water - 2 cups
Pepper - 2 tsp (can be increased if needed)
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1 tbsp
Garlic - 3 cloves
Green chillies - 2
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Rasam powder - 1 tsp (optional)
Tomatoes - 2 (ripe and juicy ones)
Coriander leaves (chopped) - 2 tbsp

Seasoning Ingredients:
Mustard seeds- 1 tsp
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1 tsp
Red chillies - 2
Asafoetida - 1/2 tsp
Methi (fenugreek seeds) - 1/2 tsp
Oil - 1 tbsp

Method:

Grind pepper and jeera in a blender to a coarse powder. Add garlic cloves and green chillies and blend again. Mix this paste with the tamarind water and add turmeric, rasam powder and salt. Tomatoes can be roughly chopped and added to this tamarind water and crushed by hand or roughly ground along with the garlic and green chillies. Let this tamarind water rest for about 5 min. Heat oil in a pan and add the seasoning ingredients. When it turns light brown pour in the tamarind water mixture. After 5 min, taste it for salt and spice and add salt or pepper as necessary. If its too sour some more water can also be added. Switch off the heat when it starts to froth on the top and add chopped coriander leaves. Rasam is ready to be served with rice or can be served as a soup.

Fresh rasam always tastes better than refrigerated ones.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Vazhaipoo vadai (Banana flower Vada)

Banana flower has lots of nutrient value - Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and iron too.
Cooked banana flower eaten with curd or boiled banana flower mixed with buttermilk is considered an effective medicine for menstrual disorders like painful menstruation and excessive bleeding. Banana flower helps increase progesterone hormone which reduces the bleeding in women.

More medicinal info from the comments left by MenakaSury :
banana flower has a medicinal value for a number of chronic ailments including dyspepsia,hook-worms in intestines, menorhoea. When taken with panan kalkandu, it is a definite cure for dysentry. Vazhaipoo combined with pasiparuppu and karunaikizhangu made into a vada (as described by you) cures peptic ulcers. But one must be careful to use the right oil for deep frying.
I am not also exaggerating when I say that the plantain flower mixed with cow's milk and plantain fruit (taken once in a week) is a good antidote for obese women. When the flower is mixed with aamanakku oil and fried, it has a good anti-inflammatory effect.



The flavor is a little bitter,but when cooked with the right ingredients it tastes really good. I like the fragrance it imparts to the vada and hence made vada with it.

To clean the banana flower, first remove the outer purple leaves. You will find a bunch of creamish yellow flowers. From each flower remove the hard stamen(with a black tip or just a thick round tip) and the cut the flowers finely.

Ingredients:

Channa dal (soaked in water for 1hr) - 1 cup
Red chillies - 3
Garlic - 2 cloves
Cinnamon - 1/4 stick
Cloves - 3
Saunf (fennel seeds) - 1 tbsp
Banana flower (chopped) - 1 cup
Onion (finely chopped) - 1/4 cup
Coriander leaves (finely chopped) - 1/4 cup
Curry leaves - 2 sprigs
Methi leaves (chopped) - 1/4 cup
Salt - as needed
Oil - for deep frying


Method:

Grind the soaked channa dal along with cinnamon, cloves, garlic, red chillies, saunf and salt to a thick coarse paste. Add very little water while grinding as this will make the vada's soak less oil while frying. After grinding add chopped onion, chopped banana flower, coriander leaves and curry leaves and mix well. Heat enough oil in a kadai (wok) for deep frying. Take a small lemon sized ball in your palm and pat it flat and drop it into the hot oil. Remove the vada's after they turn golden brown. Serve these with chutney of your choice. They also taste good with ketchup.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Green Blog Project - Summer 2007

Last year when I first read about the Green Blog Project, I was very excited as we had so many veggies growing in our backyard and this was a good event to participate in. I was a month old in the food blogging world and it was one of the first few events that I participated in. I made vegetable fried rice from carrots and beans and tomato thokku from tomatoes grown in my backyard.




After sending my entries I was eagerly waiting for the roundup and was amazed at all the other entries. I usually stick to traditional and easy growing veggies. But after looking at the roundup, I was surprised to see so many people growing traditional Indian veggies with such ease. This effort started by InjiPennu has encouraged a lot of food bloggers to grow their own vegetables either be it in small containers/pots or a big backyard.

I had totally dismissed the idea of growing anything in winter. When Mandira of Ahaar hosted the GBP winter/spring 2007 event and gave us some very good tips on growing veggies in winter, I was motivated and decided to grow some mint, curry leaves and lime in pots, indoors. My entry for the event was Curry Leaf Powder.


After seeing all the enthusiasm from fellow bloggers, I very gladly accepted to host the Green Blog Project - Summer 2007(April-Oct) event. This will be a very good motivation for me to try out new veggies this time. I have already planted carrots, radishes, spinach and lettuce seeds outside in my vegetable bed. I have a strawberry patch (a perennial for Colorado) that is beginning to flower. I have also started seeds inside for tomatoes, bell pepper and eggplant in small seed starters.


Some helpful tips for starting seeds indoors:
* Follow package directions carefully.
* Start in small 2 inch pots/dishes or use cardboard egg cartons.
* Use the seed starter soil available in most stores, as it contains pellets that
help to retain moisture, which is very important for seeds and young seedlings.
* When the right time comes to move the saplings outside, do it carefully. Try to
expose the plant to the outside in stages, as in 2 hrs a day for a few days and
then 4hrs and then 8hrs and finally either leave them in pots outside or plant them
in your backyard.

Many kinds of tropical seeds can be bought at the following online stores.
Evergreen seeds
Tropical trees
Top tropicals
Garden Web and Daves Garden answers most gardening questions. The garden watchdog feature in daves garden helps you choose online seed/plant stores based on reviews.

Please find the guidelines to the event listed below. From previous experiences (read browsing through comments in other entries to get more info about how to start the plant and tips) I have also added a few suggestions to the usual guidelines.

* Grow your own vegetable/fruit. (yes fruits are also included)
* Use the vegetable/fruit as the main ingredient and post an entry by Oct 1, 2007.
* Post pictures of your plant and the dish on your blog. (Both the plant picture and
the picture of the recipe have to be posted)
* Email the following details by Oct 1, 2007 to letzcook@gmail.com

Name of blogger:
Blog url:
Name of vegetable/fruit/plant:
Name of dish prepared:
Recipe url:

I will be doing a roundup by Oct 10, 2007.

Suggestions:

Every time I read a post about growing vegetables the first thing I want to know is can I grow it where I live, how to grow it and where to buy the seed/plant from. So along with the above set of guidelines it will be very useful if you could write a little about your place (zone/weather pattern/climate), special tips/suggestions/methods that you use to help your plant grow healthy, where you bought the seeds/plant from and if you grow it in a pot or your backyard.

I am open to suggestions from all you guys to help make this event useful and exciting for all of us.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Celebrating Tamil New Years with a traditional dessert - Semiya Payasam

Even though I live miles away from home, I still try and celebrate most festivals, just to stay in touch with the tradition. So this time when I found banana leaves (vazhai elai) in a Korean store, I was excited like a kid in a candy store. I was so happy that I can serve my complete tamil meal on a banana leaf for the first time.


Iniya Tamizh Puthandu NalVazhthukal

Some info about tamil cuisine from the web:

Tamil cuisine is known for its aromatic, flavourful and sometimes spicy food. Tamil cuisine is one of the oldest vegetarian culinary heritages in the world and on most auspicious days only vegetarian meals are prepared. Even among non-vegetarians, ceremonial feasts are always vegetarian. So for Tamil New years day, I stuck to a completely vegetarian menu.

Though stainless steel cutlery and crockery are used in urban homes, food is still served, on ceremonial occasions, in the traditional way - on a banana leaf, "vazhaillai", a freshly cut plantain leaf. It is very hygienic and also has medicinal values that have been proved for centuries. Serving always begins with salt and pickle being placed at the corners. The series of vegetable dishes and the crisp appalam, all of which go with the various rice courses, are placed on the top half of the leaf and the rice on the lower half.

The meal starts with the rice, which is generously doused with ghee. Sambhar, the highly spiced dal-based dish containing whatever appropriate vegetable there is in season, follows and this is succeeded by rasam.

After a final round of rice and curds, or buttermilk or both, a traditional meal concludes with a small banana, a few betel leaves and nuts.

More about tamil cuisine can be found here.

My menu for the day was rice, murungakai sambar(drumstick), tomato rasam, paruppu keerai masial(spinach dal), vazhaipoo vadai (banana flower vada), kathirikai podi poriyal (brinjal fry), urulaikizhangu masala (aloo masala), chow chow kootu (chayote squash curry), pavakkai (bitter gourd) fry, appalam (papad), thayir (curd), pickle and semiya payasam (vermicelli kheer). Here are a few pictures from that day. I will post the recipes soon. This is my entry to the RCI-Tamil cuisine event hosted by Lakshmik.


My rangoli for the day




Clockwise from top: Rice, Appalam, Drumstick Sambar, Spinach-Dal curry, Banana flower vada, Salt, Potato fry, Brinjal Podi fry, Chayote squash curry, Pickle, Bitter gourd fry, Tomato rasam, Curd and Vermicelli kheer

Payasam is made at most tamilian homes on special occasions. Be it a birthday, wedding anniversay, diwali, pongal or at homes like mine, just like that. Rice or Semiya (vermicelli) or jawarisi (sabudana) is usually added with milk, sugar and cardamom powder. I like mine not too thick and a little less sweet, cos then it tastes light and refreshing. This time I made my all time favorite semiya payasam.

Semiya Payasam

Ingredients:

Milk - 4 cups
Sugar - 3/4 cup (can be increased or decreased according to taste)
Vermicelli (semiya) - 1 cup
Ghee - 2 tbsp
Cardamom powder - 1 tsp
Raisins - 1 tbsp
Broken cashew nuts - 1 tbsp

Vermicelli fried in ghee

Raisins-Cashewnuts fried in ghee

Method:

Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a pan and fry the raisins and cashwenuts till they turn golden brown. Remove and keep aside. Add 1 tbsp ghee to the same pan and fry the vermicelli till it turns golden brown. Remove and keep aside. Add milk to the pan and let it come to a boil. Add the fried vermicelli and let it cook for about 10-15min. Add sugar and cardamom powder and cook for 5 min. Finally add fried raisins and cashew nuts and remove from fire. It can be served both warm and chilled.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Curry Leaf Powder

This winter we did not start any new plants as we had to go to India for about 5 weeks. We had a friend water our plants and I was worried about them. We were surprised to find all the plants hale and healthy when we got back and especially our curry leaf plant thrived well. When we bought the plant it was about 4 inches tall and now its more than a feet tall. We move it out in the summer and bring it back inside in the fall. So for the Green Blog Project - Winter/Spring 2007 hosted by Ahaar, I decided to make curry leaf powder, which when made right can be stored for a few weeks. If you keep it longer, it loses its aroma. Also this is different from the very famous curry powder. Curry powder is made by dry roasting and grinding a mixture of spices. Curry leaf powder can be had, mixed with rice and ghee. This will also be one of my entry's to the JFI-WBB: Green Leafy Vegetables event hosted by Indira.



Some interesting facts about curry leaves from here.

The curry leaf plant (or tree if you wish), is a native of Tropical Asia, southern India and Sri Lanka. Its scientific name is Murraya Koenigi. The leaves are small, pointed and in clusters, giving of a strong aroma. The aroma is delightful when added to curries and while frying spices, and lends that extra something to south Indian dishes. Contrary to popular belief, the curry leaf does not come from the curry plant, nor is it the secret behind the flavor of the curry powder. While some people may add it to their curry powder, it is largely a seasoning leaf, to be used only in specific curries to provide specific tanginess.Apart from cooking, the curry leaf has a number of medicinal uses also. Unani, Ayurveda and other systems use it to cure ailments such as piles, to allay heat of the body and are useful in leucoderma and blood disorders. In India, the curry leaf is used to prevent conditions such as nausea and stomach upsets. It is also used in treating skin irritations and poisonous bites. Its oils are invaluable as repellents and to cure skin disorders common to the tropics.

Scientifically speaking, the curry leaf contains : 2.6% oil, beta-caryophyllene, beta-gurjenene, beta-elemene, beta-phellandrene, beta-thujene, alpha-selinene, beta-bisabolene, beta-transocimene and beta-cadinene.

There are many traditional remedies for everyday discomforts that utilize the goodness of the curry leaf, and here are some of them. To help in constipation, one can soak curry leaves in hot water for a few hours and drink the water with a spoonful of honey added to it. It eases the digestive tract and allows easier motion of stools. To cure nausea, brewing a curry leaf tea helps. And here’s a nugget, to cure nausea brought on by pregnancy, one can drink a mixture of 1 teaspoon curry leaves juice with 2 teaspoons lime juice and 1 teaspoon sugar every morning.

As a skin medicine, curry leaves boiled in cow’s milk can be applied on a heat rash or a milk skin infection. It can also be ground into a paste with some turmeric and applied on acne infected skin for a few days. The result is a glowing, clear skin. Curry leaves boiled with coconut oil can be an effective hair colorant which causes minimum damage and maximum benefit to graying or thinning hair. South Indian women have, for centuries, mixed with the leaves of the China Rose and fenugreek, and applied as a paste to keep hair long, back and gleaming.

Now getting back to the recipe.

Ingredients:

Curry leaves - 2 cups
Channa Dal - 1 tsp
Toor dal - 1 tsp
Whole Pepper - 1 tsp
Dhania (coriander seeds) - 1 tsp
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1 tsp
Red chillies - 3 or 4
garlic - 2 cloves
Tamarind - size of a gooseberry/raspberry (optional)
Asafoetida - a pinch
Salt - as needed

Clockwise from top: curry leaves, channa dal, whole pepper, coarse salt, tamarind, garlic cloves, asafoetida, toor dal and red chillies and jeera in the centre

Method:

Dry roast curry leaves for about 4-5min and keep aside. Dry roast all the other ingredients till the dals turn golden brown and a nice aroma arises. It is always better to dry roast the ingredients separately as they turn brown at different temperatures. Also when you dry roast spices, you need to keep an eye at all times and they turn black pretty fast. Grind everything together in a spice grinder and store in a air tight container.

The aromatic curry leaf powder ready to be mixed with rice.

Try to eat a tsp of this powder mixed with rice and ghee just before every meal and that's the best way to get your daily dose of the nutrients from the curry leaves.

The ball of curry leaf rice ready to be popped into my mouth.

The curry leaf plant can be bought from here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter

I used to love festivals back home as it meant having friends and relatives, wearing new clothes, eating good food and watching tv the whole day. Now that both my brother and I are miles away from home, my parents hardly celebrate it the way they used to. So I decided to carry on the tradition and invited friends over for dinner yesterday.

The menu was vegetable biriyani, mutton biriyani, tandoori chicken, gobi 65, carrot-mint raitha and boiled egg. One of my friends made delicious vegetable kababs and another one got a yummy mocha cream cake. I got banana leaves from a korean store last week so served everything on plates covered with banana leaves just like the way back home.

I am posting a few pictures from yesterday and will try to post recipes one by one as soon as possible.

Clockwise from top: Carrot-Mint raitha, Gobi 65, Tandoori chicken, Mutton biriyani, Kathirikai (Eggplant/Brinjal) chutney, Pickle and Vegetable biriyani in the centre.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Grilled Vegetable Panini

I don't use my electric grill often. So i searched online for some grilling recipes and found about the panini. It's basically a sandwich that's grilled. The sandwich can be made with any vegetable or meat of choice. I decided to make mine with grilled veggies and goat cheese.



Ingredients:

Bread slices - 8
Onion - 1 (sliced)
Green bell pepper/Capsicum - 1 (sliced)
Mint chutney - as needed
Tomato ketchup - as needed
Chilli sauce - as needed
Cooking spray/oil for grilling (butter can also be used)
Goat cheese - as needed

Method:

Heat the grill to a medium temperature. When hot, spray with cooking spray and grill the sliced veggies. Meanwhile spread mint chutney on one slice of bread and ketchup on another. Add goat cheese to the slice with mint chutney and place the grilled veggies on top. Sprinkle chilli sauce and cover with the slice with ketchup. Grill the sandwich till crispy and brown on both sides. If you have an open grill place a heavy vessel on top of the sandwich to press it down. Serve by itself or with more ketchup.



Variations: Any number of veggies like zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, different color pepper can be grilled and added. Also different kinds of cheeses can be added.

Note: Goat cheese has a strong raw flavor and many people might not like it. It can be substituted with mozzarella or cottage cheese.

Mint Chutney

Ever since my binge shopping at the Indian stores I have too many vegetables stored in the fridge. I decided to use the mint to make a chutney that can be used as a spread or with chat items.

Ingredients:

Mint - 1 bunch
Coriander - 1 bunch
Green chillies - 2 to 3 (as needed)
Garlic cloves - 2
Salt - as needed
Lime juice - 2 tbsp

Method:

Clean the leaves and grind everything to a smooth paste adding very little water. At times when I am in a hurry I clean the mint and coriander bunch and cut 1 inch in the bottom and add the whole bunch to the blender (leaves, stem and all). It isn't the ideal way to make chutney but mine tastes fine. The lime juice helps retain the color and this can be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.