25 January 2008

Kerala Vegetable Stew / Ishtew and Aapam

Whenever I visit a new city in our out of the country, I make it a point to visit the local supermarkets. Nothing reflects the local culture, food habits and buying preferences of people in that city as much as the local supermarket. You might find that crazy but major of my shopping ends up being from the food section of these stores, be it in London, or my trip to Kuala Lumpur last year...I even enjoyed doing the same during my week's stay in Hyderabad end of last year.

In Mumbai, although I regular shop in a couple of stores closer to home, sometimes it is just convenient to stop by a large store if you are on the way from somewhere to save time and fuel. That's how I chanced upon this really huge store that carries almost everything under the sun. It was fun to see them carry a whole range of south Indian 'bhakshanam' (snacks), papads and even interesting mixes like aapam mixes, puttu mixes, instant sevai etc. Being located close to south Indian localities, we find regional variations in what is stocked by these stores.



Since I had never tried making aapam before, I decided to try out this pack of Rice Paalaapam mix, which required not much effort to get it right. This packet has been lying in my 'extra groceries' shelf for over 4 months and last night I realised it is high time I brought it out, also since I had run out of aata (doesn't speak much for my housekeeping skills does it?) the aapams were a good substitute for rotis.

Kerala cuisine has a variety of aapams, all made with nearly the same basic ingredients - ground rice, coconut, yeast or toddy for fermenting, salt and sugar. The fermentation gives the final product a soft spongy texture that is perfect for mopping up gravies or liquids such as the stew. Although I used a ready mix this time over, I will most surely give the homemade aapam batter a try next time, especially since this combination received a double thumbs up from the husband. He loved every bit of the stew aapam combo and I have another quick dinner idea to cheer him after a hard day at work!

The stew took hardly 15 minutes of effort (I use either powdered or packaged coconut milk, that explains it) and the aapams are made walking around between the dining and kitchen, amidst conversations and TV and it is no effort at all. We both eat as they are getting made, hot off the pan, so this can never be a sit-down dinner for us!

This is the first time I tried something proper Keralite in my kitchen, if you minus the kootans, avials, araicha sambars we make as a part of our Iyer recipes. After going through a few stew recipes online and on the food forum, on a whim I decided to omit the shallots / onions, and use a pinch of turmeric and sambar powder. The sambar powder added a nice flavour without making the stew taste 'sambary' at all. Turmeric was just to turn the stew to a light golden yellow as I am not a big fan of milky white curries. And while we were nearly 3/4 of the way to finishing the stew I remembered reading about RCI Kerala, so managed to take a quick pic of the quickly diminishing stew :)




Vegetable Stew - Kerala style with Aapam
Category - Quick dinner, Stew, Regional Cuisine of India
Time Taken - Under 20 minutes for stew and over a minute per aapam
Stew serves 2-3 people generously

Ingredients:
2 potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1/2 cup fresh / frozen green peas

1 tsp oil
3-4 cloves
2 green cardamoms
1" stick cinnamon
1 - 2 green chillies, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger shredded
2 sprigs curry leaves

a pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp sambar powder (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coconut milk

Directions

In a pan, place over 1/2 cup water with the cauliflower florets and green peas. Cover with tight fitting lid and boil for 4-5 minutes, until both veggies are tender yet crisp. Keep aside.

In a wok, heat the oil. Stir in the whole spices and then the chillies, ginger and curry leaves. After 30 seconds, add the cubed potatoes, peas and cauliflower along with the water used for boiling. Season with salt, turmeric powder and sambar powder. Stir well. Once this comes to a simmer, add a cup of coconut milk. Let this come to a gentle simmer and then remove from flame.


For Aapams - I used the ready Rice Palaapam mix (Fine rice flour with yeast) to be reconstituted with water, salt and a pinch of sugar.

Keep this covered for over an hour.

Grease a tsp of oil on a rounded aapam pan or any non stick pan. Wipe with a tissue to spread the oil all over the surface. On a moderately hot pan, pour a ladle of the batter, and rotate the pan around to spread the batter into a circle. Cover and cook on medium flame. Aapams are cooked only on one side unlike dosas that are flipped over and cooked on both sides. Remove and serve hot with stew.



Variation: You can also break an egg in the center portion of the aapam while its cooking and cover for over 1-2 minutes. The white gets cooked fully and the yellow is slightly jiggly. Crack some pepper and salt into this and you can dip the edges of the lacy aapam into the soft egg before taking a dig into the stew.

This is my submission for RCI Kerala hosted by Jyothsana at Curry Bazaar

24 January 2008

Soya nuggets in a brunch plate

Soya nuggets have long been a favourite of mine, even before I started thinking of nutrition and eating healthy. The very fact the the boiled nuggets turn spongy, all ready to absorb any flavours you dunk them in, make them a delight to cook with. Biting into one of the nuggets and letting the absorbed juices explode in your mouth is a foodie's delight. They are odourless and tasteless by themself, presenting to every cook a blank canvas to paint on. I love using them as substitutes to eggs in egg curries, in stir fries, in pulaos and the different shapes available (such as granules, smaller nuggets) allow one to adapt them into a variety of recipes. Poha made with a mixture of beaten rice and soya granules is a favourite in our house.

Ruchi was one of the first companies to bring out and popularise these soya products in India under the brand name Nutrela. They claim to use exceptionally high quality, non-genetically modified soya beans - the nuggets have a protein concentration of 50-55%, the highest for any vegetarian source and negligible fat content. You will find a whole lot of recipes listed on their site.

These nuggets are made like our Indian vadis, using soy flour - dried out in the sun and used as per need. Here's a nice little breakfast / brunch recipe which goes wonderfully with lightly buttered and warmed pav (Mumbai special bread). You can also have this as a salad by itself, being high in protein it is extremely filling.


Note the increase in size after boiling

The dried nuggets have to be either soaked in salted boiling water for a few minutes or boiled in salted water for 3-4 minutes, until they have balooned out and become soft, before use. Follow the instructions on your pack for this. Idea is to soften them and yet keep their texture intact, or else you can end with a mushy mess.





Soya Nugget Salad with Pav
Category: Vegetarian protein, accompaniment with bread, Salad
Time taken: Under 20 minutes
Serves 2

Ingredients
14-15 larger size soya nuggets - boiled as per instructions above

1 medium onion - sliced

1 small carrot - diced

1 medium capsicum - deseeded and diced

1 tsp olive oil

1/4 cup thick yogurt

2 tbsp low fat mayonnaise ( I used Karen Anand brand Eggless mayo)

7-8 black pepper corns - roughly pounded

Dried herbs of your choice (I used parsley)

pinch of chilli flakes

1/2 tsp salt

Pav (1 slab of 6) or any other bread

Directions

Heat a tsp of oil in a wok. Add the vegetables and saute for 2-3 minutes, with a tiny pinch of salt. We want them to retain their crispness. Meanwhile, take the boiled nuggets in a colander and press down hard with a rounded bowl or so, to drain out all the water from them. Cut them into quarters or smaller pieces and add them to the wok.

Stir to mix it with the vegetables. Remove wok from flame and keep aside.

In a large bowl, take the mayo, yogurt, roughly pounded pepper, salt, herbs and beat with a fork to mix well. Once the contents of the wok are cooled, transfer them to the bowl. Mix to coat the dressing uniformly.

Garnish with chilli flakes.

To prepare the Pav, tear them into individual pieces. (They generally come in a slab of 6 or 8) Slice them into two horizontally, but not going all the way through. Apply a dot of butter on the inside and on both the outer sides, place on a hot skillet, until lightly golden and crispy on the outside.

If you do not get pav, where you live, try out this superb tried and tested recipe for home baked Mumbai-special Pav.



This is my entry to WBB - Soy hosted by Rajitha at Hunger Pangs.



3 January 2008

Low fat - restaurant style Matar Paneer


Hello and glad to see you in the new year. Trying to stick to my resolutions (to blog more regularly) - I was ready with the draft 3 days ago, but that's when respiratory infection and bronchitis caught up with me and has kept me down for over 3 days. In Bombay, the temperature difference is well over 15 degrees between day and night, leading to an epidemic of sorts in respiratory infections. The only times in the last three days I've managed to drag myself into the kitchen, is to make a huge pot of Molagu Rasam (Clear pepper soup), and keep warming it up in the microwave, sipping the spicy liquid through the day. Apart from that, my diet has generally been antibiotics, antihistaminics, expectorants and mucolytics. Sounds like quite a spread right??

Back to the topic of the post - this is one dish that is an extremely popular Indian curry - the origins as far as I know being Punjabi in nature, the land where paneer has been predominantly used since many years. If one has paneer and frozen peas, this can be made out of the stuff you'd normally have in your pantry, bailing you out, if you got a day late in replenishing your stock of vegetables.

For a person who cooks almost 3 meals each day, it's odd that I rarely make the typical restaurant style Punjabi dishes like Malai Kofta, Makhanwala and the likes, going mostly with the more earthy simple dishes, where veggies are not drowned in rich gravies and recipes which give veggies more respect than that! However on a whim I decided to try out this matar paneer curry, also since I had nothing else in my refrigerator that evening, except for the staple onions-tomatoes-ginger and garlic.

The recipe here is adapted from a food video prepared by Chef Sanjay Thumma. You'll find plenty of his videos on rediff iShare, youtube and his own site. Ofcourse, this is a much calorie cut version of the same. You could watch his video for a richer, creamier version of the same. But hey, does the title of the post - 'low fat' 'restaurant style' sound like an oxymoron? Well, if you ever try this recipe, you'll know what I mean :)




Matar Paneer ( Indian curry with green peas and cheese )
Category - Vegetarian side to be eaten with rotis, parathas or rice
Time taken - Around 30 minutes
Serves - 3 to 4 people

Ingredients

1 tsp oil
1 tbsp broken cashewnuts
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped garlic cloves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1-2 tsp coriander-cumin powder or 1 tsp each
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup frozen or fresh boiled peas
200 g paneer cut into 12 cubes
1 tsp kasoori methi - dried fenugreek leaves, crumbled into a rough powder


Directions
1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed wok. Start by sauteeing the broken cashews till lightly golden.
2. Next, add the chopped ginger-garlic and onions and cook on a low flame with a pinch of salt till they soften and turn light brown.
3. At this stage, add the tomatoes with the turmeric powder. Stir well and cook for 5-7 minutes, till mushy.
4. Remove the contents of the wok and blend to a fine puree in a blender, once cooled throughly. You may use upto 1/2 cup water to aid the blending process.
5. In the same wok, transfer the fine puree. Season with spice powders (red chilli powder, cumin coriander powder, garam masala) and salt. Simmer for 3-4 minutes till the gravy is infused with the spices.
6. Add the frozen / boiled green peas to this gravy and simmer for 5 minutes, after which the paneer cubes go in. Simmer for another 2 minutes, check for salt, sprinkle crushed kasoori methi and give it a stir.
7. Matar paneer is ready to be removed in a serving bowl.


Notes
Serve hot with rotis, parathas, naan or plain steamed rice seasoned with cumin seeds.

I personally prefer to have this with a plain tandoori roti or a phulka as the dish is quite heavy, it is better balanced by a lighter bread. A raita on the side would be nice too, or a simple cucumber salad.


Health tips

It's perfectly okay to use store bought paneer.Using paneer made from skimmed milk at home will further reduce the calories from fat keeping the protein content intact. In restaurants, this dish is made with plenty of ghee /butter, a large chunk of nut paste (almond or cashew) plus a dollop of fresh cream added towards the end to make it even richer.

This version uses just one teaspoon of vegetable oil and the small quantity of cashewnuts are enough to provide the rich creamy restaurant taste without the added calories from fat. The key to a delicious gravy is to not skimp on the onion sauteeing and make a really fine puree using a good quality blender. The pinch of kasoori methi in the end makes all the difference in giving that 'restauranty' flavour.

Vegans can substitute the paneer with tofu or boiled-drained soya chunks (sold in Indian stores under the brand Nutrela).