Get full with fibre : Plantain pith curry

We tend to ingore things that are in abundance around us. I'm not talking of any grave issues affecting the nation, but about the humble banana. India is blessed with a rich variety of this tropical fruit - rich in potassium, - and this is the first to be banned from your life by most dieticians and weight loss experts. I do understand with the sugars and calories that a banana brings in, it can be of some concern for someone who wants to lose weight. But surely it can be better than a packet of chips, when hunger strikes! 

The banana tree is not called the Kalpavriksha without reason - and while most of us might have written essays in school, it nice to remember how each and every part of this plant is useful in day to day life. The leaves make for ecofriendly plates on which one can eat a five course meal. (well, almost!) The fruit of course needs no introduction - being one of the first things we learn to eat as humans while being weaned from the breast. The raw bananas (plantains) can be cooked into koftas, used as a substitute for potatoes by Jains, fried into the widely-loved chips. The flower whose intricate design is a true miracle of nature, is used to adorn the entrance of auspicious events like marriage, while also being cooked into delicacies in many Indian cuisines. The stem (which is actually a false stem, as it is a collection of leaf stalks) is full of fibre and when the outer shiny layers are pulled off, the inner pith is edible and that's what this post is about. 
Fibre is too important component of our diet to be ignored - some of it's key benefits put simply -
-It provides satiety or the fullness experienced after a meal, so you don't end up consuming too many calories to feel sated.
-It binds with the bad cholesterol preventing it from getting deposited in the walls of the blood vessels causing heart attacks and strokes.
-It protects from cancer of the large intestine and of course...
makes your mornings hassle free :)

Eating whole grains, beans, lentils, vegetables and fruits with their skins wherever possible, adds up to provide the 25 odd grams of daily recommended fibre intake. 

This recipe is one sure shot tasty way to get some of that daily fibre.

Vazhaithadu curry
Serves 4

1 kg stem or a cylinder 8 inches long
2 cups thin buttermilk (old and sour buttermilk is better)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder

For tempering:
2 tsp oil
Pinch of asafoetida
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp udad dal
2 broken red chillies

1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup moong dal soaked in water for at least 2 hours
1 tsp sambar powder (optional)
salt to taste
Fresh coconut scrapings for garnish (optional)

Oil hands before handling the stem as it stains the hands. 
Peel off the satiny outer layers with a knife until the inner rough part is exposed. This could be 2 layers or more depending on how thick the stem was to start with.
Keep a big bowl of diluted sour buttermilk on the side to immerse the chopped stem pieces. This prevents them from darkening.
To cut the plantain stem, slice it thinly - 4-5 slices at a time, place them in a stack and then finely dice it, immersing the chopped pieces in the buttermilk immediately. Do this until you have chopped the entire length of the stem into small bits. Any tough fibres that come in your way, peel them off and discard. Small fibre bits will remain and that's what will make this dish extremely healthy.
Once you are ready to cook, drain the chopped plantain stem and place in a vessel with 1/4 cup water and turmeric powder mixed well.
Place 2-3 cups of water in a pressure cooker large enough to hold the vessel containing the chopped stem.
Pressure cook this for 3 whistles and 3-4 minutes on sim. Once cool, remove and drain if required. You can also boil this in very little water until almost soft.

In a wok, heat the oil, saute the udad dal till light golden, put in the remaining tempering ingredients. After a quick stir, put in the drained moong dal and cooked plantain pith. Add sugar and salt, plus sambar powder if using. The pinch of sugar is offset the slight bitterness in the stem.
Sprinkle water and cook covered for 10 minutes with occasional stirring, so that the dal is quite done.
Check for salt and adjust, remove from flame. Sprinkle fresh coconut and serve hot with rice and mor kozhambu.

I was wondering if cutting off the stem of the poor banana tree, caused it to die a premature death. A bit of research reveals that the banana tree yields only once after which it is anyway cut off and fed to the cattle, or to banana-stem eating folks :)

Plantain pith, plantain stem, vazhaithandu, vazhaipindi, musa pseudostem are all the various terms of endearment of the banana stem.

Some interesting links:
How to cook a Musa Psedostem- this one is a must read by CY Gopinath

Traditional cooling food - Panakam and Kosumalli for Sri Rama Navami

The more I dig into our traditional foods, I'm amazed at how intelligently and seasonally our ancestors ate. Panakam and Cucumber Kosumalli that are offered as Neiveidyam on the occasion of Sri Rama Navami which falls in the summer season. 

As a kid, I would happily glug the Panakam prepared by my granny on these occasions, but today I like it more as I drink it mindfully, realizing how good it is for us. This ayurvedic drink is naturally sweetened using jaggery, spiced with ginger, cardamom and black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice for that balance in taste. This sweet-spicy-tangy drink can be had all around summer. It's nice if kids develop a taste for these kind of natural drinks instead of reaching out for the fizzy drinks. Having a sip of this after quite some years, I realised how much I have missed this taste!

Kosumalli is another very simple, cooling, no-cook dish except for the tempering of mustard seeds and asafoetida for a delicate yet distinct flavour. While it is a neiveidyam dish, it can be easily had on a regular basis in summers as a salad with a bowl of yogurt for a light lunch. In the salad version, you can toss finely chopped onions, peppers, carrots and tomatoes along with the soaked moong dal. However, the dish in it's simplest version here is also a masterpiece and a great example as to how delicious, simple food can be.

How to make Panakam
For 4 cups or 6 small glasses

In a large vessel or bowl, take 4- 5 tbsp of crushed or grated jaggery. This will vary depending on the sweetness of your jaggery. Stir in 3-4 cups of drinking water until completely dissolved. Filter through a muslin cloth or a fine mesh in case you see any impurities in the liquid.

To this, add -
1/4 tsp dried ginger powder (sonth powder)
1/4 tsp black pepper powder
1/4 tsp salt
Juice of one large lemon (2 tbsp or so)
Seeds from 2 cardamom pods shelled and pounded or one fat pinch cardamom powder

Stir well and serve chilled.


Cucumber Kosumalli
for 4 servings

1/2 cup moong dal
1 large or 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, finely diced*
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
Few sprigs of coriander leaves, washed and finely chopped
1 tsp oil or ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida granules
1-2 tbsp of fresh coconut scrapings for garnishing

Wash and soak 1/2 cup yellow moong dal (husked and split moong) in 2-3 cups of water for 1 hour. Drain in a mesh strainer for 15 minutes or so.
In a medium bowl, mix the chopped cucumber, lemon juice, salt, coriander leaves and toss well.
In a small tempering ladle, heat 1 tsp ghee or oil - splutter the mustard seeds, add the asafoetida, stir for a few seconds and toss this on the kosumalli.
Garnish with fresh coconut scrapings.

*Do check for bitterness in the cucumber before mixing with the other ingredients.
The same recipe can be used to prepare Carrot kosumalli by substituting two grated carrots instead of chopped cucumber.

Four years and counting

On March 12, 2006, I took those wobbly first steps into the world of food blogging, without even knowing that there was something called ‘foodblogging’. I just thought it would be cool to have a digital diary of recipes and photos for future reference. And then tracking back comments and visitors, I realized there is a whole world of likeminded people called ‘food bloggers’ out there.

The food lovers' and fellow bloggers’ comments kept my enthusiasm to keep the blog going in full steam. It was a wonderful way to make foodie friends from across the world – connecting on chat, later on facebook and some in real life. And when we did meet, it never felt like the first time. We had connected our homes and lives through our blogs and it felt like I was meeting an old friend.
I’ve been wanting to write about the three people I’ve met so far from the blogging world for a long long time – somehow it didn’t happen in my earlier posts and what better time than this post to recapture those moments.
The first one to meet was from far-far away. In June of last year, Nupur of One Hot Stove, St.Louis was in Bombay visiting family and she wrote to me asking if I would be around then. I'd always been an admirer of her and her blog (still am) and was only too happy to meet up. We had a nice evening at our place with both the spouses in attendance. We spoke about food, work and family, exchanged some foodie gifts, and I was lucky to have a precious hand-knitted eggplant cap for my little one! It turned out that Nupur’s hubby V had a good friend from childhood who was my classmate in medical college – reconfirming my faith in the fact that it’s a small small world.
After that it was my turn to meet with Raaga and her husband – she made it a point to come visiting even though she was on a tight weekend trip to Bombay. With her, it was another small world thing. On our first call to each other long ago, a lot of family connections were established – my husband’s family and her’s were acquaintances for many years – in fact I had seed her wedding card in my in-laws house when I was visiting them around then, and that time I didn’t know her – but my inlaws had even attended her wedding!!!
My third meet was with Arundati. She and me got along like a house on fire, even as we were chatting and we would imagine that we’d meet someday to sit down over chai and talk in real life– little did I know that my wish would be fulfilled in a grand way. My husband had the chance to meet A and her hubby on his trip to Hyderabad for a meeting – they ended up talking till the middle of the night, figuring out many links between themselves…at that time we didn’t even imagine we’d be moving to this city. When we decided to move here, we had only one couple to call and figure things out – Arundati and R – they were gracious to put us up with them when we came house hunting – helped us find a house of our liking, and settle us in when we finally made the move in November. They still are one of the few friends we have here and I’m very grateful for God’s designs that through food blogging I found such a wonderful friend!
I must mention one other friend, who in the earlier days of blogging sent me a big packet of yeast as I couldn’t find any in Bombay – I continue to use that same yeast with excellent results even after three years. She is an excellent writer and shares her tried and tested recipes on Mad Tea Party. I fondly remember you Anita, with every loaf of bread I bake and break :)
There are a few others I have connected to on chat over these years – and they have been a part of my life despite the distances - girls you know who you are and I sincerely hope we get to meet some day! A big hug to you all.
Apart from the people, blogging has made me aware of so many different Indian regional cuisines as well as some from around the world thanks to people like Shilpa, Cynthia, Home Sick Texan who are so passionate about their native food. It inspires me to dig deeper into my native cuisine and discover more pearls.
On completing four years and some 280 odd posts (yeah, only that many, thanks to prolonged periods of absenteeism) – I’d like to share some of the most popular recipes from the blog –
 There's a lot of work to be done on the blog now starting with an updated index, regular posts and working on reader-feedback. I hope to find some dedicated time each week on maintaining and updating the blog.
And finally a word for the most important people around - the people who read, follow and enjoy this blog - thank you for staying interested despite my long absences and writing to me, egging me to start blogging again. 

Without making this sound like an Oscar-acceptance speech, I must end by thanking all those who were a part of Saffron Trail for a wonderful journey these last four years...

Bon Appetit!

The week that was: Good Food Ideas - 2

  • Making Manisha's famous lime pickle to make use of the blasting sunlight in the mornings
  • Had to use up the rice-paper sitting in the shelf for over a year, and what better time than a hot summer night to eat these rice paper rolls stuffed with grated fresh vegetables and a dipping sauce. These make a light, no-cook dinner, in fact it's almost all salad and very little carbs (picture above)
  • Green and yellow zucchini, sauteed very simply in olive oil with some garlic and dried basil, seasoned with salt and pepper, made a yummy salad, I even filled a couple of rice paper rolls with this stuff
  • Inaugurated the Thai Hot Basil Sauce that a friend got for us, along with a whole lot of foodie gifts, made an excellent dipping sauce for the rolls
  • Sweet potato chat turned out to be surprisingly good - good carbs in the form of sauteed sweet potato slices combined with a salad and dahi made a complete meal 
  • Took off to Bangalore at the start of the weekend - had some excellent Nonbu Adai, savoury and sweet to celebrate Karadayan Nonbu on Sunday at my cousin's place. I'll post the recipes here soon. While we were there, we ate out at friends' places and some famous places like MTR :) Some pics here

The week that was: Good Food Ideas - 1

I'm starting this new series on good food ideas from the week that was. The idea behind this being, it's tough to capture good pictures and write about every good meal, but this way, I can store away the ideas for later. This will also include links to some of the recipes tried from other food bloggers.

 It's a bit late in the week this time, but should get down to posting it on Mondays, now on.

  • Cooker vegetable pulao with MTR Pulao Masala and tadka-wala raita
  • Rajma Roll ups - Cooked Rajma sauted with onions and tomatoes, salt and chilli powder, rolled up into thick rotis - a perfect TV dinner to curl up and watch American Idol
  • Pepper roti from Simply Trini Cooking recommended by Cynthia of Tastes like Home, with some modifications but tasted fab nevertheless. Our friend visiting us over the weekend loved it - it is one of the perfect eats to go along with a chilled beer in the summer evenings.
  • Made Bisi Bele Baath after a long time. I've been following this recipe I found from this blog for about 3 years now - made it innumerable times - a perfect one pot dish - try it if you haven't yet, with this recipe, you can't go wrong.
  • Have made Talimpu inspired Cabbage thuvaiyal some three times already - it featured once again on this week's menu. My aunt and uncle who got a first taste of it couldn't even figure that there was cabbage in this chutney - so this one goes for all you cabbage haters! I made it by roasting red chillies and udad dal, sauteeing the cabbage till soft and grinding it with some soaked tamarind, coconut and salt - with the mandatory tadka of curry leaves, mustard seeds and udad dal on the top- quick to make and perfect with rice.

Baked Cauliflower in Tomato sauce

Okay, so there are people who don't like cauliflower and some who don't like me posting recipes with cauliflower in them ;) If you are reading this, you'll know this is for you!

Winter is officially over in Hyd with temperatures raring to touch 40 C. At such times, I still find spotlessly white head of cauliflower waiting to be picked up and used, so what else can I do but that? The idea for this dish comes a recipe I found in the book- From Bengal to Punjab : the cuisines of India by Smita Chandra - which has a very interesting collection of recipes and most of them are available on preview in the link above.
I've tried the recipe Gobhi Mazedar from this book, which turned out superb. In fact, the hubby and me ate off the stuff from the baking dish and that was our dinner that night.

This time to pair with the pasta, I tried an Italian version of this dish - which turned out as good. In fact if you have a good loaf of bread on hand, you can dish out an excellent meal with just the bread and this baked cauliflower dish. There are two ways to do the dish - either deal with the cauliflower whole or break into large florets which will cook / bake faster if you are short of time.

Baked cauliflower in tomato sauce
Serves 4-6

1 large cauliflower roughly 750 grams - very fresh
10 medium tomatoes
2 tsp olive oil
3 medium onions
8 cloves of garlic
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated cheese of your choice (optional)

The Cauliflower
Remove the stalks of the cauliflower. Discard or reserve for another use.
If you have a pot big enough to hold the whole flower, then fill it with around 2L water. Add 2 tsp salt. Let it come to a boil. Meanwhile keep the cauliflower immersed in a large pot of salted water to remove any worms if present.
If you dont have a pot big enough or not enough time on hand, then break the cauliflower into big florets and keep immersed in salted water, until a pot of water comes to a boil.
When the water starts to boil, remove the cauliflower from the salted water and place it in the pot bottom down (if using whole). Cover and cook for around 10-12 minutes, checking until almost done. The florets will take shorter time, around 6-7 minutes, so keep a watch. Don't let them turn too soft.
Once this is done, drain, wipe thoroughly with tea towel and keep aside.

The sauce
Wash tomatoes well. Halve them and throw them in a pot. Let them cook in their own juices on medium heat. No need to add water. Stir around occasionally until they get mashed to a pulp. At this stage you could pass them through a strainer to remove the skins or keep it as it is (which is what I did). Remove and cool.
In a saucepan, heat 2 tsp olive oil. Add the cruches garlic cloves and sliced onions, stir until the garlic is light golden and onion is soft.
In a blender, place the cooled tomatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper - whir to a very smooth sauce. If you find this runny, which could happen if your tomatoes were very juicy, take this back in the saucepan and thicken with a slurry made from 1 tbsp flour and 1/4 cup water, simmer till thick and then proceed with recipe.

Grease a 9" round baking dish. Place the cauliflower in it. Reserve 1/2 cup sauce to use while serving. For whole cauliflower, spoon the sauce between all the florets and whatever sauce remains, pour it and rub it over the top, so the flavours enter every nook and cranny.
For the florets, arrange the florets stem down - neatly in a baking dish that accommodates it all - pour the tomato sauce (reserving 1/2 cup) all over and around the florets, pressing well.
The dish can be prepared up to this stage, covered well and refrigerated for a day or two, to be removed and baked just before serving.

Cover the top of the dish with bread crumbs, cheese, extra herbs, pepper and bake in a 180 C oven for around 30 minutes, unt cheese is melted and golden.

Serve hot along with a simple pasta (preferably not in a tomato sauce) or with slices of bread.

Please do try the original recipe Gobhi Mazedar. You'll enjoy browsing that cookbook online, it has a fantastic collection of recipes. Better still if you can lay your hands on it in your bookshop / library, you can see the book in its entirety. If the link does not work, you can try searching in Google ebooks for 'Smita Chandra Gobhi Mazedar'.

This is a very hearty flavoursome dish which will make a great addition to your menu for an Italian party. I served this with Penne in Spinach sauce and the green and red complemented each other beautifully.

Whole wheat penne in spinach sauce

I love penne and my husband loves spaghetti. Penne because, i like how the pasta gets the sauce inside the tubes - the ridges hold on to the sauce. Since I am the resident chef of our home, you'll find penne being the most-often cooked pasta. We love saucy sauces - well you know what I mean, more stuff around the pasta, instead of the dry pasta dish. We both love aglio-olio, where minimalism is the key, just good olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes - but that said, we do love the saucier versions better. Sometimes you'll find more veggies than the pasta in our dishes and we like it that way too.
This luscious spinach sauce was a result of me going overboard last week in the farmers' market. When you get 12 bunches for Rs.10, you can't really blame me can you? I washed, cleaned and cooked the leaves, pureed them and put the stuff in the freezer. It was a smart move, reducing a big bag of greens into a small container, besides cooking and freezing the leaves when they were at their freshest.

So when the day came to make the pasta, most of the work for the spinach sauce was already done - what remained was to pulse it with some fresh paneer and chillies and it was ready. It is indeed as simple as that.

Let me also assure you that I have not used any of my non-existent photoshop skills on this pic - the sauce is as green as it is seen in the picture and it looks like that even as I am about to eat it from the plate - no fooling you on that!

Recipe for Penne in Spinach Sauce
Serves 3-4 with a salad or a vegetable side dish

2 cups whole wheat penne pasta
Roughly 3/4 kg spinach, leaves and tender stems plucked
1 tsp olive oil
4-8 cloves garlic, peeled (4 if large, 8 if small)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
2 green chillies
1/3rd cup paneer or ricotta cheese (I made fresh paneer from 1/2 litre milk, using white vinegar)
Salt to taste

  1. Making spinach puree -Wash the plucked spinach leaves and tender stems 4-5 times in a clean sink of water or in a large tub. Dry over kitchen towels. Put these into a large pot. Add 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 cup water and let the leaves wilt. Toss around so the leaves are evenly cooked. Remove from pot, and puree along with any residual water. This can be frozen for upto a week and used as necessary. 3/4 kg of spinach will yield roughly 2 cup of spinach puree.
  2. Cook pasta according to instructions on pack, drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  3. Making paneer - Bring 1/2 L cow's milk to boil. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat and add from 1-2 tsp of white vinegar, stirring around till the milk curdles leaving a clear whey. Filter out pressing lightly. Reserve the whey for use in soups or to make dough for chapatis or bread.
  4. In a wok, heat 1-2 tsp olive oil. Throw in the crushed garlic cloves and sliced onions. Saute on medium flame for 2-3 minutes till soft.
  5. In a blender, puree together the spinach puree, paneer, sauteed onion-garlic, oregano, salt and chillies. Check for salt and adjust. This is your spinach sauce for the pasta.
  6. In a large wok, bring together cooked pasta and the sauce, mixing gently till pasta is fully covered. Use some of the reserved pasta water if you want to thin down the sauce. Add freshly ground black pepper over the top, any fresh or dried herbs of your choice and serve.
I served this with cauliflower baked in tomato sauce, recipe of which will be posted shortly.

  • You can serve with some cheese grated on the top, this will gain most kids' approval :)
  • The sauce can be made minus the paneer but I used so as to up the protein quotient of the dish. You could use ricotta cheese from a tub to cut down on the preparation time or use store bought paneer.
  • Some steamed corn added to this pasta will add lovely colour and a sweet crunch to the dish.
If you like spaghetti and your partner likes penne, by all means use spaghetti for this dish!! 

Since there is a perfect event to enlist this recipe, it's going for the Healing Foods event at My Culinary Experiments started by Siri's Corner
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