Thoughts on the 31st December, 2007

It's that time of the year again when we think about the year that was and the year that will be. I'm glad that this love for food blogging has sustained its second year well. There have been the recent lows due to my regular broadband connection going AWOL, and google taking a full minute to load on my standby datacard. But that's history now. The broadband has been restored to its earlier glory and so will food blogging.

To capture all the action on Saffron Trail in 2007, I'd like to index all the recipes, category wise. The WBB round ups are all there on the left column. Saffron Trail had the honour of hosting Jihva for Ingredients in the month of July. Chillies were the chosen ingredient and the round up had 65 entries to make your mouth and eyes water!

Index of recipes blogged in 2007

Healthy Eating & Living
How to snack and lose weight
Detox diets – an overview
Weekend Detox plan
Vijaya Venkat's all natural lunch box ideas
14 ways to reduce your kitchen's carbon footprint

Breakfast Pancakes
Savoury pancakes with mushrooms and onions
Poro – Parsi Omelette
Onion Rava Dosai with spicy tomato chutney
Oats for dinner
Oats and mango in a glass
Farka – a Tunisian porridge
Vattayappam – steamed rice cakes from Kerala

Cauliflower and fenugreek greens in spicy peanut gravy
Bhindi Masala
Potato in Tamil Brahmin cuisine
Spinach mash or Keerai Masiyal
Bottlegourd in gravy or Dudhi ki sabzi
Snakegourd with lentils
Mushroom tikkis
Kovakkai Paruppu Usili
Bittergourd in spicy gravy or Pavakkai Pitlah
Chargrilled eggplant in yoghurt
Potato wedges
Potato for pooris
Instant mushroom methi currry
Cabbage curry with Bengali spices
Steamed vegetable manchurian in gravy
Thalagam – Winter vegetables Tambram style
Green beans poriyal

Soups and salads
Red Soup
Cauliflower soup
Herby tomato salad with cheese and pine nuts
Yellow lentil and raw mango salad
Gobo inspired mango salad

Whole wheat pita bread
Beet milk bread
Zaatari parathas

Rice, Pasta, Noodles, Starches
Crispy bulgur patties
Cauliflower – Spinach – Pasta casserole

Thiruvadirai Kali
Fried rice with mustard greens
Onion rice

Black eyed peas burgers
Instant green moong curry
Sambar with freshly ground spices

Sauces, Chutneys, Dips and Pickles
Homemade Marinara sauce
Mushroom & bell-pepper chutney
Tomato salsa / Instant tomato chutney
Eggplant dip and Red bean dip
Spicy yoghurt dip

Cakes, bakes, desserts
Carrot cake
Eggless beet cakes
The all Indian Strawberry Cheesecake
The easiest Brownies
Quick mango sandesh
Mango coconut icecream
Banana coconut semolina cake in 15 minutes
Seven cup cake
Cocoa ripple ring
5 minute besan laddoo
Eggless mava cake
Eggless banana cake

The most popular section week after week has been the Tamil Brahmin recipes where I jot down notes, taken over the phone (held between my shoulder and ear), while I'm hovering over the stove with a strong craving to eat food my genes are made up of. 2008 will see more of the rarer Tam-Bram recipes find their space on the blog. The piece written about Bhut Jholokia also seems to be on the top 5, at most times. This makes me wonder how many chilli obsessed people there are in the world.

Weekend Breakfast Blogging, the event started in 2006 to popularise breakfast as a meal and to get inspirations from food bloggers all around - found a different home each month from Feb 07 onwards starting with Eggs at Live to eat. The themes ranged from green leafy veggies to summer fruits, spices to oats. Breakfasts then went through Ethnic twists to leftover revivals, the most recent ones being omelettes and cornflakes.
A big vote of thanks to all the lovely hosts who spared time and effort to keep the WBB wheel moving. The event took a break in December, only to start afresh in Jan. (Watch this space!)

Here are some of my personal favourites from 2007

Black eyed peas burgers – Something so interesting from something seemingly boring

Dudhi ki sabzi – One of the best tasting zero-oil recipes ever made in our kitchen

Eggplant dip (Badenjan Dip) – Inspired from Nigella Lawson's show

Cauliflower spinach pasta casserole – my first attempt in casserole making and we fell in love with this dish

Strawberry cheesecake – First attempt and last attempt (by the time we'd eaten all of it, there was an extra inch on our waist)

Nupur of One Hot Stove has beautifully captured the year that's gone by and has asked fellow food bloggers to share the same - this section of my post goes to her.


Plans for 2008
With the Applied Nutrition degree that will be mine in the beginning on the year, the focus will be on healthier, more nutritious food. Through the blog, I hope to share info on healthier foods, cooking techniques and nutrition fundamentals with all the health conscious folks.
The focus will also be on lesser known Indian regional cuisines. I'd love to discover newer healthy ingredients to cook with, making them more adaptable to Indian palates. Another thing on the agenda is to explore the vegetarian recipes from the cuisines of the world. I've also promised myself to better my photographic skills. Any pointers towards books and websites that help one do so are welcome.

A user-friendly index of recipes blogged so far is on the cards for long now. It should be up and running by end of Jan.

I'd like to thank all my readers for their continued support, the encouragement & caring from friends I have made in the food blogging world and of course my husband who has been super encouraging about any wild combinations I've come up with or anything new I've made him try, never making me feel foolish about something gone wrong or not tasting that great. He's been a huge positive influence for this blog. After all, every cook needs patient tasters right!

We'd like to wish all of you a wonderful 2008, that brings you tons of joy, love and good health and everything else you wish for.

Signing off and see you in the new year.

Thiruvadarai Kali and Thalagam / Eazhu Curry Koottu

thalagam, 7 curry koottu, eazhu curry koottu

KaLi and thalagam are a unique combination in Tamil Brahmin cuisine. Kali is a kind of jaggery sweetened upma and thalagam is a curry made using 7 vegetables, specially on this day of the year. Generally sambars are always had with rice or tiffin items like idlis and dosais. It is quite unusual that here a savoury thalagam is made to pair with the sweet Kali.

The web portal Kerala Iyers gives a description about the Thiruvadirai ( Thiruvatharai / Thiruvadarai ) festival.
The celebration of this festival by Kerala Iyers is a mixture of the practice of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Early morning after the bath everybody tries to visit a Shiva temple. Afterwards 'Kali' a sweet made of Jaggery and fried rice powder is prepared. As a side dish (Kari) a very special preparation made out of Kavittu (Dioscorea yam), pumpkin and Averaikai (lab lab beans) is made. This is the only occasion when a salty side dish is prepared for a sweet. In Kerala homes Kali is made out of Arrowroot powder and Jaggery. In Tamil Iyer homes the side dish is similar to the usual Sambhar with large number of vegetables. They insist that a few of these vegetables must be tubers and a few born on tendrils. They call this preparation Thalagam. The chanting of Thiruvembavai common in Tamil Nadu is not observed in Kerala. In the afternoons swings made of split bamboo are hung in trees and all the children enjoy the swift swing. This practice is absent in Tamil Nadu.

Though we are not Kerala Iyers, my mother's family make thalagam as per the description above. Fresh winter vegetables like red carrots and Haricot beans along with red pumpkin, colocassia tubers, sweet potatoes and even plantains are cut into large chunks, cooked till soft and simmered in a freshly ground gravy - consisting of mainly red chillies, sesame seeds, coconut and a bit of rice and udad dal. Tamarind is used to give the tanginess and a bit of jaggery to balance it all out. The result is a thick vegetable stew, without the use of any cooked lentils for thickening as is always the case in sambar.

I have blogged about thalagam before, but I guess I have a more accurate recipe here, using the right kind of vegetables.

thalagam, 7 curry koottu, eazhu curry koottu

Thiruvadirai KaliA traditional sweet rice and lentil preparation
The prepared recipe serves 4-5 people
To prepare the base
2 cups raw rice, washed several times in water, drained and dried off for an hour on a muslin cloth
3/4 cup moong dal (green gram dal, dehusked and split)

In a wok, place the rice and stir around on medium flame till it turns golden. This can take from 10-15 minutes.
After this is done, in the same wok, place the lentils and saute them till they are golden brown too.
Remove both onto a large dish and cool off.
Once cooled, grind in a mixer till you get a coarse powder.

To prepare Kali
1 cup of prepared base powder
1 cup jaggery crushed
2 1/2 to 3 cups water
1/4 cup fresh scraped coconut

1.In a wok, place 2 1/2 cups water to boil, along with the coconut scrapings. Once it is ready to boil, add in the crushed jaggery and stir till melted.
2. After the jaggery has melted, slowly add the prepared base powder to this on a medium flame with constant stirring so that no lumps are formed.
3. Keep stirring this until all the water has been absorbed and it the consistency of upma. If it is too dry, you can gradually add upto 1/2 more cup of water during the process.
4. Once this is done, remove the entire contents of the wok into a vessel that will go into your steamer or pressure cooker. Steam for 10 minutes (if in cooker, remember not to place the weight).
5. Serve hot with some melted ghee as it is or with thalagam.

Recipe for Thalagam or Eazhu Curry Koottu / 7 curry koottuSpicy thick vegetable stew made on festive occasion - Thiruvadirai
Generously serves 6 people

Vegetables required and preparation
1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into 3/4" thick pieces
1 plantain, peeled and sliced into 3/4" thick pieces (kaccha kela / vazhaikkai)
6-8 small colocassia tubers (arbi / seppankizhanku)
1 medium sweet potato (ratthalu / seenikizhangu)
1 cup diced red pumpkin
10-15 haricot beans - stringed and snapped into half ( paapdi / avarakkai)

2 small brinjals, diced

Peel the colocassia and sweet potato. If the colocassia are very small, then leave them as it is. Cut the sweet potatoes similar in size to the carrots and plantains.
Pressure cook the veggies in 2 cups water, with a pinch of turmeric and 1/2 tsp of salt for 5 minutes. (After the first whistle, reduce the flame to SIM and pressure cook for 5 minutes)

Tamarind extract
Soak 2 packed tablespoons of tamarind in water for 15 minutes OR Microwave this for a minute and keep aside to cool. Squeeze the tamarind to prepare a concentrated extract. Keep aside.

Preparing the spice paste
1/2 cup freshly scraped coconut
2 tbsp white sesame seeds

5 red chillies
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 heaped tbsp udad dal
1 tbsp raw rice
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds


1. In a small kadai, fry the coconut until it turns very fragrant and golden brown. Remove onto a dish to cool.

2. Next, place the sesame seeds in the saucepan, and saute till they turn golden and start crackling. Takes about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove onto the dish with the sauteed coconut and let it cool.

3. Heat a tsp of oil in the same pan, add the mustard and fenugreek seeds. Once mustard seeds splutter, add the red chillies, raw rice, udad dal and saute till the rice and dal turn golden brown. Remove from flame and let cool.

Take all the above and grind to a very fine paste in a mixer adding up to 1/2 cup of water. Keep aside.

Making the thalagamIn a large pan, transfer the pressure cooked veggies with the residual water. To this add the tamarind extract, the ground spice paste. Stir well to mix and bring to a simmer. Add 1/2 tsp of salt (or to taste) and a small piece of jaggery. Add some more water if you want to thin out the consistency. Let it come to a boil. Remove and serve with steamed rice or KaLi. 

A Ready-made Wishlist for Santa

Pic courtesy NY Times

The 'tasteful giving' list on the NY Times website, has caught my eye and heart and caught it badly. Each stuff is carefully chosen and is sure to be a delight for any food & kitchen lover. I wish there was one such list of irresistible foodie stuff compiled from stores in India...I'm sure there'll be something (am keeping my eyes open)!

Can you resist a cute yet practical grater like the one above?

For dining and wine lovers in the US, consider this a ready made wish list for Santa :)

Another Banana Cake - David Lebovitz inspired

Warm pieces of cake
I never tire of making banana cakes (or bread if you like to call it that). Banana cake was the first thing I ever baked and it has remained a hot favourite. Besides, now that we are trying to avoid eggs in baked products too, it is fun to look at innovative ways to bake our favourite goodies by using interesting substitutes like yoghurt, coconut milk, coconut water, flaxeed paste etc.
For a banana cake, since bananas are a great binding agent anyway, use of adequate baking powder and replacing the liquid part of the eggs with a liquid of our choice seems to work pretty well.
I came upon this beautiful piece of cake on one of my favourite blogs, and I had to tie my apron on immediately. This was over 2 months ago and the cake turned out so moist and delicious, we simply loved it. In that one, I had sprinkled poppy seeds and arranged a sliced firm banana on the top - in addition to mashed ripe bananas in the mix. The banana slices caramelized to a yummy brown colour and deep rich taste. Unforgettable. I do remember having taken pics, but will take me a while to fish them out.
Today's version looks plane Jane in comparison, but I can already smell the sweet heady aromas, as it is baking.
Here's my recipe adapted from David Lebotitz's blog.

Dressed up BANANA CAKE
Time taken - Around one hour
Makes one loaf
1/2 cup All Purpose flour (Maida)
1 cup whole wheat flour (Atta)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup crushed jaggery
4 tablespoons coconut water or coconut milk
2 medium sized, very- ripe bananas
½ cup yoghurt (homemade dahi)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ghee or butter or canola oil plus some more for greasing baking tin
1/3 cup walnuts or mixed nuts
few thin slices of banana, tbsp of sugar, pinch of cinnamon powder and poppy seeds (optional) to sprinkle over the top for decoration, before baking
Butter a 9-inch (23 cm) square pan or a loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 350F (180 C).
1. Sift together in a bowl the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
2. In a mixer, put in the bananas, jaggery, coconut water and yoghurt. Blend into a fine puree.
3. In a large bowl, place the melted ghee. Add the puree into this along with vanilla essence.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and stir in the wet ingredients with a spatula until almost mixed. Add in the nuts and stir until just combined, but don't overstir: stop when any traces of flour disappear.
5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan - top with banana slices nicely arranged, sprinkle sugar and cinnamon with some poppy seeds over the top and bake for 40 minutes, or until the center feels lightly-springy and just done.
6. Cool on a wire rack.
This cake is very low in fat, from the two tbsp used. Sugar is replaced by jaggery which is a healthier source of sweetness, not to mention the lovely golden brown colour it imparts. Eggs are replaced by coconut water and 2/3rds of the the AP flour is replaced by whole wheat flour, adding to the fibre content.
I have also tried using 1/4th cup Semolina and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, for a cake with added texture. Diabetics can enjoy a slice of this cake too, right after lunch or dinner without worrying about shooting up their blood sugar too much.
A word about WBB for December - I was trying to contact the blogger who had confirmed to take up this month until this week, and since I haven't received a response yet, I am assuming it is quite late to start the proceeds for the month. However your hostess for Jan is in the loop and I shall request her to announce the event by end Dec / early Jan for the first edition of WBB in 2008. In the meanwhile, you can expect a recap from me about WBB 2007 soon!
Other banana delights on Saffron Trail:

Cauliflower-Spinach-Pasta Casserole

It's been a month since I last posted and the hubby has been constantly reminding me about it. The last week, whenever I made anything interesting, he nudged me to take pictures encouraging me to resume blogging saying 'Come on, don't abandon your blog!'. I have been quick to respond saying 'I'm not abandoning, just on a break' - break being the key word here. Truly speaking, I'm not comfortable with such a long break either, which can quite tend to abandonment. My slow come back is completely thanks to hubby's push and the readers who have kept me going since Saffron Trail took off...

It was after a long time, I managed to cook something new and elaborate - last night. Cauliflowers are totally in season in India now, which you might have noticed on Mad Tea Party too. While browsing through Food Network, they had highlighted some of Ina Garten's recipes, among which was a Cauliflower Gratin - a side dish baked with cauliflower and plenty of cheese. I wanted to bake something similar but heartier and not as a side dish but as a one pot casserole. So it had to involve some carbs in the form of pasta, some more veggies like peas and spinach to make it heartier and spices like garlic and chillies to satisfy our palates. That's how yesterday's dinner was conceived.

Casserole going into the oven to be baked

Cauliflower-Spinach-Pasta Casserole
Time taken - Under 1 hour
Makes 3 generous portions or 4 regular portions


1 cup dry pasta like penne, macaroni or short spirals, cooked as per directions kept aside
2 cups large cauliflower florets
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
4 cups finely shredded spinach
5 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
2 red or green chillies finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 recipe white sauce (recipe given below)

Preparing the cauliflower and peas
In a small saucepan, take ¾ cup of water. Salt it. Put it in the well washed cauliflower florets and cover with a tight lid. Let the water boil for 5 minutes. At this point add the frozen peas and cover, let boil for 1-2 more minutes. Keep the cooked florets and peas aside.

Bring it all together
In a large wok, heat 1 tbsp of vegetable / olive oil. On a medium flame, lightly saute the chopped garlic and chillies for a minute. Put in the shredded spinach, with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute till wilted. Add the steamed florets and peas, the cooked pasta. Give it a good stir. At this stage add the white sauce and stir lightly to coat all the contents of the wok.

Add the dried herbs and any salt /pepper if needed at this stage.

Baking it off
It is ready to be dug into at this stage, but you can take it up a level by proceeding to sprinkle some bread crumbs and cheese over the top and baking it off in a hot oven for 15 minutes till the top is golden brown.

Making the white sauce
Recipe adapted from here
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 tbsp flour
2 cups milk

In a glass measuring jug, heat the butter for 30 seconds till melted. Stir in the olive oil. Add the flour one tbsp at a time, mixing vigourously with a fork or whisk. Incorporate all the flour into the fat until it is a smooth lump-free paste. Next, add a few tablespoons of milk, beat till well incorporated into mixture. Gradually add upto 1 cup milk, whisking continuously so that it is a smooth mixture. Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes, till the fat separates out the mixture has thickened well. At this point, whisk vigourously to smoothen it out. Add remaining one cup milk gradually and then microwave on HIGH again for a minute till thick and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep covered.

The dish was a delicious alternative to making pasta in white sauce - much heartier and filling, the bread crumbs giving the crisp texture, the cheese giving the rich taste and saltiness - it was a perfect dish which will be made often in our kitchen, with whatever veggies are in season.

Since I've used fresh crisp, very-much in season cauliflower, fresh spinach into this hearty casserole, this is my entry for Homegrown Gourmet # 4 - Stews and Casseroles

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