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27 February 2010

Chana cabbage salad with yogurt dressing - Low carb vegetarian dinner series



This one sounds like an odd combination but they hit off pretty well - something like the chemistry of the geeky Farhan Akhtar and the glamourous Deepika Padukone in the movie Karthik Calling Karthik (which I very badly want to see and end my 15 month exile from the movie-hall), though I must admit that neither the chana nor the cabbage are as glamourous as Deepika, but the end result was almost there!

I found this variety of very small chana, almost like a baby of the big brown variety (lighter in colour too) The advantage is that they cook faster, their skins are more tender and according to me they taste better in salads where they blend nicely with the other ingredients instead of sticking out.

I'm not a big fan of raw cabbage in salads, so finely shredded cabbage and chopped onions were sauteed after some tadka and mixed into the dressing along with the boiled chana. For the dressing I used hung yogurt which is simple yogurt drained of all its water to get a thick cheese like remnant. You can beat this with a few spoons of milk for a creamier taste or use it as it is. If you have no time to hang, and if your yogurt is thick enough, then go ahead use it just like that.

We had this with microwaved crispy papad strips as dinner - the papads went crunch crunch against the chew-chew of the salad and on the whole it was a wholesome fun meal. I'm focussing on high protein dinners nowadays as I want to cut out carbs at night. This is a part of that series. I will share the other stuff I make in this series.

Chana Cabbage Salad
Low carb vegetarian dinners - 1
Serves 2

1/3rd cup small chana - soaked overnight or for 4-5 hours
1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium tomato, deseeded and diced

Dressing
1 cup hung yogurt
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp frankie masala or chat masala or cajun seasoning
pinch of red chilli powder

Shredded cabbage for garnish
Roasted papad or baked tortilla chips / pita chips to serve with the salad (optional)

Directions
  1. Pressure cook the soaked drained chana with 1 1/2 cups water until soft - it took me three whistles and 6-7 minutes on sim. Since these chana varieties have a thick skin, they don't easily turn to a mush, so nothing to worry here. When the cooker has cooled off, drain chana and keep aside.
  2. In a wok, heat 1 tsp oil. Add the asafoetida, cumin and mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the onions and cabbage with a pinch of salt, stir for 2 minutes on medium flame till slightly soft. Remove from the wok and cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for dressing. Whisk well. Add the boiled drained chana, the cabbage-onion mix and toss to coat evenly.
  4. Garnish with shredded cabbage and serve chilled with papad or baked chips.

23 February 2010

How to prepare mint powder or dried mint

How to prepare mint powder / dried mint

1. Start with a big bunch of fresh mint leaves.
2. Wash thoroughly 3-4 times in a large tub of water till all the sand is washed off.
3. Shake off excess water. Spread on newspaper or any absorbent cloth in a single layer till dry.
4. Remove on a sheet pan or several trays as per quantity of mint stalks and keep under sun for 2 days, taking it indoors when sun is down.
5. In absence of sunlight or drying facility, spread it in microwave and on High power, zap for 2-3 minutes, turning them around a couple of times in between.
6. After two days of sun drying or microwave drying, the leaves will become crispy, and you can easily slide them off the stalks. With finger tips, crush this to a fine powder and store in airtight jar. One bunch of leaves yielded roughly 2 tbsp of mint powder.

5 uses with mint powder / dried mint

Sprinkle on parathas to make pudina paratha

Sprinkle of raitas instead of fresh coriander leaves

Add to salad dressings for a fresh taste

Add to Indian vegetable and dal preparations for adding a new taste dimension

Add to lemonades, mojitos and spicy buttermilk (chaas)

The same process can be used to prepare dried basil, dried oregano, dried coriander, dried thyme or any such dried herbs. It is a good way to preserve large packets of fresh herbs when in season or if the supermarket doesn't sell small bunches of the fresh herb.

20 February 2010

Tomato and mint flavoured moong dal



Moong dal or split, husked green gram has not always been a favourite - but according to Ayurveda, it is said to be lighter and easier to digest, compared to the more popular toor dal. Khichdi prepared from moong dal and rice is said to be one of the most restorative dishes during an illness. When pressure cooked, this dal tends to get somewhat slimy, which is why I wasn't too kicked about it in my early cooking days. Besides it doesn't have the kind of rich flavour that is inherent to toor dal. Add some masalas and a good tempering in ghee and moong dal turns more palatable. Cooking moong dal by the boiling method as against the pressure cooking method keeps the texture alive and makes it a much better dish, in my humble opinion.

This time I added tomatoes and flavoured it with ginger and a pinch of mint powder for a bit of mystery in the background and if I may say so, it did turn out pretty good. This is best had with rotis as it doesn't have any liquid to mix around with rice.


Sukhe Moong Dal

Serves 2 as an accompaniment to rotis


Ingredients

1/3rd cup Moong dal, washed and soaked in 2-3 cups water for at least 30 minutes, or more if possible

1 tsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp finely chopped or grated fresh ginger root

pinch of asafoetida

1-2 green chillies, finely minced

2 medium tomatoes, finely diced

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

3/4 cup water

1/2 tsp salt or to taste

1/4 tsp dried mint powder


Directions

In a pan, heat the oil. Splutter cumin seeds and then add ginger, asafoetida, chillies and saute for 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes and stir for a minute or so before adding all remaining ingredients except mint powder.

Once water comes to a boil, add soaked moong dal. Cover and cook for around 8-10 minutes, checking in between to add tbsp of water if dal is drying out.

Look for a stage when the dal is cooked, yet keeps its shape well and water is dried out. On a medium flame, this would take around 10 minutes. Sprinkle mint powder towards the end, give it a stir and remove into a bowl. Serve with rotis.


Next post : How to prepare mint powder / dried mint

17 February 2010

Beet, feta and water amaranth salad


Sometimes, one ingredient can be such an inspiration for a whole recipe to be built around it. Feta cheese for us is one such ingredient. Neither S nor I can resist the intense saltiness and rich flavour of feta. That so much salt isn't good for our health is easily forgotten when we lay our hands on this one cheese. I for one will willingly compensate with a salt free meal, if I have to, but never miss an opportunity to bite into this salty bit of heaven.
A few weeks ago we went shopping in the recently opened Hypercity supermarket in Inorbit Mall at Hitech City. This supermarket in Malad, Bombay was our favourite weekend haunts to stock up of food stuffs and we were so glad to find an outlet here. This is one place where foodies and non-foodies can easily go overboard buying all kinds of stuff to last several months.
We go in with a list of some five items, needlessly take the HUGE shopping cart thinking that we make our toddler sit in while we browse around peacefully. In the end the best laid plans go to dirt. Atri is in my arms, the shopping cart is full of items we never imagined that we wanted and three of the five simple items on my list were not in stock that day :) Such is life!

So we managed to pick some Danish brand feta cheese on that visit and with beets sitting in the fridge, the idea for a simple salad was tossing around in my mind. Later that day, some local greens called Ponnaganti / ponnanganni / water amaranth made their appearance from cart vendor and happily joined the salad party. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm only too happy to try out the local greens in all kinds of dishes - along with vegetables, in dals and in salads. So what if I don't find the endives and rockets of the world, or the ones i do find are all wilted for want of a home, I'm happy to substitute them with locally available greens, saving on all the food miles and reducing my carbon footprint . Cooking 'glocal' is the way to go, isn't it?

Here's the recipe for this very simple salad.


Beet, feta and water amaranth salad
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 large or 3 medium beets
100 grams of feta cheese
1 cup washed, picked and towel dried water amaranth leaves
Dressing
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions
Pressure cook whole beets. I generally cook it for 3 whistles and then leave it on sim for 7-10 minutes. Remove when cooled. Slide off the skins. They'll come off very easily. Dice into medium sized cubes and keep refrigerated until it's time to use them.
Crumble / dice feta into small cubes.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for dressing. I did not use salt in this as the salt in feta makes up for it. Add the beets, greens and feta. Toss with a gentle hand so as not to get the feta all mashed up. Serve chilled with soup or pasta.

Notes
More about ponnaganti koora from the ENVIS website
Useful resource - The ENVIS centre on medicinal plants has listed a huge variety of species with vernacular names and medicinal benefits making it easy for us to identify new plants.
I learnt a recipe for ponnaganti koora from my neighbour where it is cooked with split moong dal with a light tadka. This made a delicate tasting accompaniment to rotis.

A bunch of fresh water amaranth
Water amaranth also features on some other food blogs -
  • Anjali in her blog Annaparabrahma does a stir fry using these Honegone greens (that's what its called in Kannada)
  • Srivalli does a stuffed paratha with these greens 
  •  Talimpu has a recipe similar to the one given to me by my neighbour, the one with moong dal

15 February 2010

Plantain Peas Podimas - a simple yet delicious curry

I tried to think what the origin of the word 'podimas' would be...except that podi means some kind of powder or mash, I had no other clue to this. Origin apart, this is one delicious way of preparing potatoes and plantains. The potato version featured in my post detailing the ways in which potatoes are cooked in Iyer homes.
We had Vazhakkai podimas or plantain mash for lunch yesterday. The method is as simple as any other 'curry' (dry vegetable preparation) in tambram cooking - no onions, no tomatoes, no grinding and no frying.
The ingredients used in tempering are what infuse flavours into these bland vegetables. The thicker variety of plantains are more suited for this preparation while the thinner ones are good for slicing up and direct cooking in the wok. The fatter plantains are better off with boiling / pressure cooking. For this recipe, they need to be peeled and grated before proceeding with the podimas. This dish goes superbly with a simple rasam-rice or a buttermilk 'kadhi' (mor kozhambu) providing the necessary crunch and spice on the side.

I have added some boiled peas to the dish as I was short of one plantain, while it does not feature in the traditional recipe, it added a nice colour and freshness to the recipe.


Plantain podimas
Serves 4
Time taken - Under 20 minutes

Ingredients
2 large plantains
Handful boiled peas (optional)
1 tbsp oil
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp udad dal
1 tsp chana dal
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 green chillies, finely minced
1 tsp salt or to taste
2 tbsp fresh scraped coconut
1-2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Directions
Boil 3 cups water in a pan with pinch of salt and turmeric. Halve the plantains with the skins and put them in the boiling water. Let them boil for 7 minutes or until just cooked (they should not turn very soft). Drain and cool. (You can pressure cook whole plantains for one whistle and 3-4 minutes under pressure instead of boiling)
Once cooled, peel off skins. They'll come off easily with your hands. Grate using a medium grater. Keep aside.
Heat the oil in a kadai. Splutter the mustard seeds, add asafoetida, udad dal, chana dal and stir on medium flame until the dals turn golden brown. Next, add the chillies, ginger, curry leaves - stir for 30 seconds and put in the grated plantain and peas. Season with salt and stir well for 1-2 minutes mixing all the tempering ingredients with the vegetable. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Garnish with fresh coconut and coriander leaves.

Serve hot with rasam-rice or mor kozhambu-rice or with curd-rice.

Note - You can prepare potato podimas using same recipe. Boiled and peeled potatoes can be crumbled and used instead of grated plantains. The plantains can be crumbled and used too instead of grating, but the grated version looks better and mixes with the tempering more uniformly, in my humble opinion!

This recipe tried by Global Tastes and Travels

Some more recipes for Podimas from fellow bloggers -
Thanjavur style vazhakkai podimas
Raaga's version with fewer ingredients
Shammi's slightly more elaborate version and her recipe for potato podimas

10 February 2010

Roasted eggplant soup and the hate-list from my childhood

Some twenty years ago, if someone told me 'It's kathrikkai (eggplant) soup for dinner' I'd have won the 100 metre sprint. Yeah, eggplant was probably the only vegetable in my hate-list. Sometimes my tongue would itch after I ate a piece of this, so I hastily assumed that I'm allergic to eggplant and lost no time in informing all concerned about this significant development in my life!
The other two food items that didn't impress me with their strong tastes were asafoetida and gingelly oil. My grandmom would use 'katti-perungayam' (asafoetida cake) which was broken into tiny pieces, and a couple of small bits soaked in water in a small ceramic pot, ready to tip into any waiting sambar, rasam or kozhambu. Sometimes, a small chunk of this asafoetida would fall into the sambar and guess who's plate it would land into? Yours truly of course, and this bitter gooey smelly thing was enough to spoil my taste for the rest of the meal.
Gingelly oil or 'nalla yennai' - oil extracted from sesame seeds yet not exactly the taste of sesame oil used in Chinese cooking, is another favourite in Tamil homes. Used with thuvaiyals, used to light brass lamps and to mix molagai-podi, the spice powder had with idlis and dosais has a golden yellow almost amber colour and a distinct smell.  In my younnnger days, my mom / granny had standing instructions from me that there would be no gingelly oil smeared on my idlis and the molagaipodi should be mixed in regular refined oil, not the 'smelly' oil.
Today, all of the above has reversed. May be my tam-bram genes are finally expressing themselves or I'm just growing up. I love eggplant, the big variety, which I use to make at least ten different things from all cuisines of the world. Type 'eggplant' in the search field on this blog, and you'll find at least ten results (I hope)
Asafoetida I cannot live without, in fact I have some four types of these in my pantry - LG Katti Perungayam, yes, the very same I loved to hate, Vandevi compounded asafoetida, Goldie's pure asafoetida granules and LG asafoetida powder. That should say it all.
Gingelly oil, I make sure I never run out - for the lamps we light everyday, for the idli / dosais we eat at least once a week and for the kozhambu / thuvaiyals we eat around once a fortnight.
How things change!
So coming back to what I said, if someone told me Brinjal Soup - I'd say ' God's must be crazy to give you such an idea' but today, the new and improved me, is making such stuff for a low-carb, healthy soup. I must say I got the inspiration for this from a column in The Hindu, but the recipe is entirely my own.

Recipe for Roasted Eggplant Soup
Makes two generous bowls

Ingredients
1 globe eggplant, medium sized (around 350 grams)
3 medium tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
5 small cloves garlic
Some oil to smear on eggplant
1 tsp olive oil
3 cups water / vegetable stock
1 tsp salt or salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
Olive oil

Directions
Smear the eggplant with some oil and roast directly on the flame, turning sides*. In under 7 minutes, the skin will be completely charred and the eggplant softened right through. Keep aside to cool. Peel the skin, chop flesh roughly and keep aside.
One by one, pierce the tomatoes with a fork and grill on open flame, until entire skin is charred. Each tomato will take around 2-3 minutes. Peel when cool enough to handle. Chop roughly, discarding the seeds.
In a small wok, heat 1 tsp olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves and onion slices on medium heat, till golden and soft.
In a blender, puree the eggplant, tomato and softened onion-garlic to a fine paste, using water / vegetable stock as required. Season with salt, pepper. Bring this to a simmer in a pot, adding dried basil at this stage.
Remove in bowls, topping with some olive oil and freshly crushed black pepper. I topped mine with some Cajun seasoning for a nice kick.
Serve with soup sticks for a light dinner or with a nice foccassia bread and pasta for a complete Italian meal.

It was a yummy soup with deep adult flavours, a nice farewell to the lovely winter we experienced in this new city! I have a feeling, this soup will taste good chilled too.

*If you don't have access to an open flame, use the method described in the recipe from The Hindu

7 February 2010

Simplest ever yogurt muffins


Ever since his famous No Knead Bread, I have been in love with Mark Bittman. Needless to say I was so excited when S got me his 'How to cook everything vegetarian' a couple of years ago. That book is an encyclopedia and even for someone who has been cooking vegetarian stuff all these years, I discover new ideas all the time. His muffins chapter has a simple muffins recipe and all the modifications / substitutions you can make to bake your favourites. On a Sunday morning, these seemed like the perfect things to go with a cup of milk as a light breakfast to precede a heavy lunch.

This is my adaptation of his recipe, where I've avoided eggs and used some cornmeal for some a bit of crunchy texture. You can omit the cornmeal and use all AP flour. The recipe can be doubled easily, this quantity was just perfect for our family of three.


The simplest ever yogurt muffins
3/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp oil or melted butter
3/4 cup yogurt
2 tbsp - strong fruit infusion / flavoured tea [The original recipe uses one egg, I used this instead]

Handful of raisins or rehydrated dried berries [I used dried blueberries]

  • Preheat oven at 400 F or 200 Celsius.
  • Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl with a fork.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the wet ingredients (oil, yogurt and tea).
  • Make a well in the large bowl with the flour and add the wet ingredients, bring them together with a spatula until mixed yet lumpy. Do not try to over mix or beat.
  • Line a muffin tray with paper cups or oil the cups.
  • Spoon into 6 medium sized muffins and bake for 15 minutes till golden brown.
  • Eat warm.

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