Monday, 29 March 2010

Mushroom Masala

I find mushrooms so interesting for many many reasons. Firstly, some people even like my mother-in-law who is a Nutritionist refuse to take mushroom due to the stigma that is not quite a plant food. Secondly because it is quite deceptive. If you are one of those sceptical about mushrooms, here is some information I gathered that may help you make up your mind. Mushrooms are reproductive parts of a fungi. They come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes. While some mushrooms add flavour to the dish some tend to take the flavour of the dish (like tofu if I could say, wherein it seeps the flavours from the dish). Mushrooms are super healthy food but just watch out as some mushrooms could even kill us and that is why I said they are deceptive. Mushroom picking is a hobby and also a means to make some money for several people in this country. My husband and I once went with a friend of ours, not in the very best season though but we did manage to pick some. Our friend was specifically looking for shitake mushrooms which are suppose to be delicious and expensive. Although I have no stigma about mushrooms, I was always wary of eating them especially in India. Even after coming to UK, I did not take mushrooms throughout my pregnancy for fear of it being poisonous. A programme on the television once showed how mushrooms we buy in the supermarket are grown in artificial environment that is controlled. Hence only the particular type of mushroom being ‘cultivated’ is sold and contamination with poisonous mushrooms is near to impossible. Silly me, should have known that before as I could have been more healthy during pregnancy!
The goodness of mushrooms is plenty. As most of the weight of mushroom is water and fibre, it is almost like free food and very good for weight conscious diet. They are said to provide relief from cholesterol, breast cancer, prostate cancer. It seems the lean protein in mushrooms help burn cholesterol when digested. I learned that they also contain natural insulin and enzymes that help break down of sugar.
With all the goodness packed, I was set to make this wonderful mushroom masala for dinner. I did get closed cup mushrooms from Tesco and did not go picking them myself!
1 packet of mushrooms(typically 250gms)
1 big red onion sliced
1 cup sliced green pepper(capsicum)
1 cup tomato puree
Pinch of turmeric powder
Cooking oil
Salt to taste
To make a paste:
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 small onion chopped
1 piece of cinnamon stick
2 cloves
3 cloves of garlic
1 small piece of ginger
2 tablespoon fresh grated coconut or coconut powder
2-3 dry red chillies
In a deep dish or kadai combine all ingredients required for the paste and fry in about 1 teaspoon oil. Allow to cool and grind to paste. If you are using coconut powder, you do not have to fry it. The heat from peppercorns goes very well with mushrooms so you could adjust the number or avoid red chillies accordingly. In the deep dish, add 2 teaspoons oil and fry the onions and green peppers. Once they are almost cooked, add tomato puree (I usually just grind the tomatoes in a food processor and use it) and allow it to cook and come out pulpy. Now add the mushrooms and cook until they are soft. As I said earlier, mushrooms contain lot of water and hence do not add extra water until the mushrooms are done as you may be making the dish runny. Add the ground paste and salt and cook until raw smell goes and nice aroma comes. Enjoy this dish with brown rice, plain rice, chappatis or naans.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Aloo Mutter Khurma (Potato and Peas Khurma)

While growing up, I remember my parents would take us out for dinner almost every weekend. Quite surely that did pinch the pocket but it certainly brought us closer and those are nice memories to cherish. My father, brother and myself had our favourite dishes and I remember mom always being unsure of what she wants to order whichever restaraunt we go to. My dad’s all time favourite is aloo mutter and I managed to make him my version of it when I was in Chennai recently. While it did come out great and I am quite consistent with that recipe, I wanted to try something different. I tried this on a day when I was exhausted by the unpacking and cleaning I had to do and was very happy with the results as my husband loved the aroma and the taste and ofcourse that the house is coming back in order. Other reason why I wanted to make this dish was coz I found a packet of coconut powder that was going to expire soon. I also used an ingredient for the first time – poppy seeds. I took the concept for this recipe from a book in my collection and modified it to suit our taste and available ingredients. I also tried to bring a more south Indian touch to this dish.
1 cup cubed boiled potatoes
1 cup boiled peas
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
3 pinches of turmeric powder
1 cup finely chopped tomatoes
Cooking oil
Asafoetida (optional)
Salt as required
For the paste just grind together:
4-5 green chillies
1 onion chopped
1.5 tablespoons poppy seeds soaked in hot water for atleast 15minutes
2 tablespoons coconut powder or fresh grated coconut
3 cloves garlic
Pressure cook the potatoes and peas. In a kadai (deep dish) heat about 1 teaspoon oil and add mustard seeds and after it splutters add turmeric, asafoetida and cook diced tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are well cooked and become pulpy, add the ground paste and required amount of water and cook until raw smell goes off. Then add the vegetables and salt and allow it to simmer for a while so the flavours get into the vegetable. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serves best with chapathi, rice and also dosas.
I remember that poppy seeds were not particularly inexpensive and it was kind of precious commodity in my household. My mom would make a delicious sweet drink with it to help us fight boils in our mouth. Poppy seeds are hard to grind so it is important that you soak them for a while. I soaked them at the start of my preparation for this dish.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Coriander Rice (Cilantro Rice)

Recent visit to an Asian cash and carry shop here was mainly to buy some beetel leaves but just as always I was on my shopping spree and bought two big bunches of coriander leaves. They are far cheaper in these stores than in the supermarket (which is not very typical though). Everytime I buy coriander I always get reminded of the days in Chennai where the vegetable vendor would always give handful of coriander leaves and curry leaves free of cost whenever you buy stuff from them. I remember being quite demanding even that young and would always ask him to give more of it for which I am not to blame coz they are so aromatic. While I always used to win in Chennai, I found it hard to believe that the vegetable vendors in Bangalore were not even aware of this practise and will not budge. I used to visit my husband over weekends while he was working there and my routine was to take a nap after a hard bus journey and buy the vegetables as early as possible. At that time it used to take forever for me to finish cooking a meal !!
Coming back to the present, I always find mixed rice more handy than full fledged sambar, rasam etc mainly coz I can get almost the same nutrition from just one dish. That being my theory behind going for variety rice, I will share my recipe with you. Before I get on with that, I would like to share my learning about the health benefit of coriander. Coriander, also called cilantro in the USA, though primarily used as a garnish is said to have quite a few health benefits like helping us fight urinary tract infection, lower blood sugar and also help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL). I was surprised to learn that coriander also helps fight salmonella infection. Like most green leafy vegetables, it is supposed to be a good source of iron and dietary fibre and also helps in digestion and relieve colic. Now for my recipe that can serve upto three people...
1 teaspoon urd dal
1 teaspoon channa dal (kadalai paruppu)
¼ teaspoon tamarind paste
1 big bunch of coriander leaves (I wouldn’t use the stems in this recipe)
4-5 green chillies
1 cup rice
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup baby corn chopped
1 cup boiled and cubed potato
Cooking oil
Spices like a cinnamom stick, a clove, a bay leaf, a piece of mace
3 pinches turmeric powder
Mustard seeds
Salt to taste
Rinse the rice in water and drain the water. In general the rice we get abroad is clean and hence I just rinse once so I minimise the loss of nutrients. In a kadai or deep dish add 1 teaspoon oil and the spices. Once the spices are half fried, add the rinsed drained rice. Fry until it turns bright white. You may want to use wooden ladle to do this so you do not break the rice grains as they become brittle while frying. Pressure cook the rice, I usually use 1:1 ratio for rice and water if I want the grains nice and separate but I think most people use double the water. While the rice is cooking, roast channa dal until it turns golden brown and roast urd dal until it turns golden brown as well and keep aside. It usually takes me longer to roast channa dal so I do not do both together fearing charring of dal. Put the coriander and green chillies in the kadai and just wilt the coriander (this will not take more than a minute). Grind the dals, coriander, chillies along with tamarind paste to yield a smooth paste. In the kadai, add about 1 teaspoon oil and add mustard seeds followed by turmeric powder and asafoetida. Add chopped onions and baby corn. I chose baby corn because it is almost bland and will not interfere with the taste and flavours of coriander and also coz it will be a bit crunchy to eat. Once the babycorn is cooked add the ground paste and cook for a minute. Now add the potatoes, stir and then add the rice. Remember that if rice is very hot, it could turn mushy easily when stirred so it is a good idea to let the rice cool for a while. As it is important to have atleast one serving of starchy vegetables everyday, I added some potatoes. Add required amount of salt and serve hot.
Though the recipe seems long, it can be done well sequentially – fry rice and while it is cooking, roast dals and coriander for the paste and while they are cooling, temper and add onions and baby corn. You could treat yourself by garnishing with fried cashews too.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Vatha Kuzhambu

Kalyana Vatha Kuzhambhu

During our trip to India, my husband and I decided to do something interesting and that was to join a cookery class. While he chose the recipes he wanted to learn I chose my own set of recipes. The person teaching was also from Kumbakonam and so I was expecting the same meticulous attitude towards cooking and I should say that she did not disappoint me that way. We usually call this dish vatha kuzhambu and when I saw kalyana vatha kuzhambu on her list, I assumed it would be different from what I do and chose to learn it. However, it turned out that the recipe was the same as my mom’s and it is one of the few items I would very often cook in my school days and would get loads of appreciation from my parents. Now I learn that my sister-in-law and also my close friend’s wife like vatha kuzhambu so here I share my recipe (with due credit to mom).
1 teaspoon channa dal (kadalai paruppu)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 ½ to 2 tablespoon kuzhambu podi
1 lemon sized tamarind
Oil preferably gingely oil (sesame seed oil)
2 pinches of turmeric powder
1 gooseberry (amla/nellikai) size jaggery
Salt to taste
2 to 3 urd appalam
2 to 3 tablespoon manathakkali vathal
In a kadai, heat some gingely oil and add mustard seeds. After it splutters, add fenugreek seeds, channa dal, turmeric powder, asafoetida, manathakkali vathal and fry until the dal turns brown. Add the kuzhambu podi and fry until the raw smell begins to fade. Now add tamarind water. You could also use tamarind paste. In general vatha kuzhambu is suppose to be quite sour and hot so you may want to increase or decrease the tamarind quantity depending on your taste. Allow the mixture to boil and come together like a thick sauce. Add required amount of salt and jaggery and dilute with water to achieve required consistency and allow to boil. Vathal kuzhambu is usually best thick so do not add a lot of water initially. Let the kuzhambu cool for a while and add broken pieces of deep fried urd appalam. It would be delicious as it soaks all the taste. Depending on your taste you could add karuvepilai or curry leaves and dry red chillies while tempering. To enhance the taste add about a teaspoon of gingely oil after removing from stove. If the kuzhambu has become watery, you could make a paste of rice flour and add to the kuzhambu and ensure you allow it to boil well otherwise the rice flour would be uncooked.
This dish can either be mixed with rice or best eaten with curd rice. It is not exactly a nutritiously rich dish so I would not do this very often but as it is hot and spicy and easy and quick to make I make it once or twice in a month. I also take this with rice mixed with dal powder (paruppu podi). It is important to have something cooling like yogurt/curd whenever you have vatha kuzhambu.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Onion Chutney

One of the good habits that I picked up from my husband’s family is to eat less of chilly powder (idli milagai podi) with idlis and dosa. Ofcourse the peril of this new found habit was to keep finding new chutney recipes so we do not get bored with coconut or tomato chutneys. I came across this onion chutney recipe in a cook book in my collection. I have not quite done it exactly as per the book but eventually my chutney turned out well.
Onions as everyone may know is an extremely important vegetable in Indian cuisine for all right reasons. It is said that onion can reduce blood sugar levels. The chromium in the onions is suppose to be an important trace element required for the body. Onions are also supposed to help reduce growth of some cancerous cells.
1 or 2 red onions grated
3-4 dry red chillies
Salt to taste
One pinch turmeric powder
Less than ¼ teaspoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon Mustard seeds
Dry roast the chillies and keep aside. In a deep dish, add cooking oil and temper the mustard seeds. Add turmeric powder and asafoetida and grated onions. When the onions are half cooked, add tamarind paste and cook until raw smell of onion goes and it all comes together. In a mixie, grind the roasted chillies and onions coarsely and season as required. Onion chutney ready!! This tastes best with idli and dosa. I had this the next day with rice and some oil and tasted great. I am also thinking of using it as a spread in bread sandwich for a snack.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Microwave Doodh Peda

Doodh Peda (Milk sweet)
As it has been a while since I posted a sweet dish recipe and also that we have successfully completed our visit to India, here comes a quick and easy sweet dish. I find this recipe ever so handy mainly because it can be done in one dish and in a microwave within about five minutes. It is quite handy if you are making a quick visit to someone’s place or having sudden guests. The first time I tried this was when my brother was visiting us the first time after his engagement. This is one of his favourite sweets and a must buy in a shop called Murari sweets in Kumbakonam. While I had very many things lined up and also had to watch my little one while my husband was cleaning, this dish was a quick hit. My husband put a peda in my brother’s mouth just as he entered. I remember looking for its recipe sometime back but unfortunately I am not very sure where I found a good one. My key constraint was that I did not have butter in stock and this recipe worked well for me.
1 tin of condensed milk (about 1and ¼ cup)
1 and ¾ cup milk powder (I used the skimmed milk powder)
Pistachio kernels/cashew nuts/almonds coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ghee (optional)
Saffron (optional)
Microwave safe dish

Mix the condensed milk and milk powder in a dish and ensure it is well mixed. When I did it the first time I thought I may need to add milk but this ratio works just fine and you will attain a gooey mixture. Cook this on high for a minute and stir. Add few strands of saffron if you like and stir. Again cook for a minute and stir. Continue the same but stir every 30seconds. Depending on the microwave, you may achieve required consistency in the third or fourth minute. Take a small pinch and roll between your fingers, if it does not stick to your fingers, then it is done. Now while it is still hot, make small balls and flatten them in your palm to make the pedas. Once all pedas are made, press pieces of the nuts on them while still warm. It is important that you do not overcook the peda as it may turn hard and also making them while still hot is important else they will not retain shape. In order to be able to withstand the heat, I greased my hands with ghee but that is optional. Doodh Peda is done within minutes !!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Mor Sambar

Thank god, I had the opportunity to visit my native place Kumbakonam during this vacation and also do my favourite activity of shopping in front of Kumbeswaran temple. This is a nice long stretch with shops on both sides selling indigenous utensils, gift articles, junk jewellery and toys among other things. While my mom was buying the ‘Pambu Panchangam’ for us, I was looking for cookery books and came across this ‘Samaithu Paar’ (Cook and See) by Meenakhi Ammal. It has some interesting traditional recipes and this was one of them. Me being me, I could not just go strictly by a book and had to do it my way while taking the idea and key ingredients from the book.
This is a very simple recipe and is slightly different from Mor kuzhambu and pachadi in terms of preparation but way different from the two by taste. Here is my version of this simple recipe...
½ cup toor dal (pigeon peas)
1 cup sour curd/yogurt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
6 dry red chillies
2 green chillies
Salt as required
1 cup cubed and cooked pumpkin
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 sprig curry leaves
Rinse the dal and soak in water just enough to cover the dal for about 20 minutes. In a deep dish add oil and mustard seeds. After it stops spluttering, add fenugreek seeds, red chillies (break them open), grated ginger and green chillies (just cut them into two pieces before adding. Also add curry leaves followed by the sour curd and cooked pumpkin. To cook the pumpkin, just boil in water or if desired add little tamarind juice to the water. In the meantime coarsely grind the soaked dal and add with rest of the ingredients in the deep dish. Allow it to boil once and cook in low flame throughout. Season with required amount of salt and serve.
You could do this dish with brinjal (egg plant) or ladies finger (okra) by just stir frying them in little bit of oil. The dal in the dish is helpful towards daily protein intake in a vegetarian diet. Due to the nature of ingredients and also because the spices are not ground, this dish will taste best if allowed to rest for about half a day with the flavours from fenugreek soaking and heat from the chillies oozing !!