Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Legume Love Affair & A Recipe

Come October, and I will be the month's guest host for the Fourth Helping of Susan's My Legume Love Affair. I am expecting to be inundated with entries for this popular event, so don't disappoint me, please.

Legumes must feature as the central ingredient in your entry. It could be any kind, sweet or savoury. In Susan's words, all cultures and courses are welcome.

The prize on offer from Susan is Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. Those who aren't bloggers are also invited to send recipes/photos; you will be included in the round-up and drawing. Family and friends are not eligible for the prize. Neither Susan nor I have any connection to the author of the book or its publishers.

The Instructions

Please post a new recipe or a newly posted one from your archives, linking to this announcement, and to Susan's post here, with the following details to me [srablogATgmailDOTcom] by October 31. Please say 'MLLA Entry' in the Subject field.


Name and URL of Your Recipe Post

Location: Optional

Photo: Optional (400 X 300 or 300 X 400 depending on orientation. If your image is exactly square, fine tuning the dimensions to avoid distortion is encouraged while keeping in mind the general size requirement.)

Use of the logo above, designed by Susan, is optional.

I hope to post the round-up sometime during the first week of November. If I haven't acknowledged your entry either by mail or by comment in your blog, please check with me after three days to see if I've received it.

Now here's a recipe that makes use of legumes in a very creative way - this is an aunt's recipe and substitutes quite well for coconut or other nuts that come in handy when you want to make a gravy for meat or vegetables or paneer.

It uses green gram/mung dal sprouts as the base. I've used paneer to illustrate its use but my aunt uses it with chicken.


Green gram/mung dal sprouts: 2 cups
Curds/yoghurt: 1 cup
Green chilli: 1, chopped

Grind these three ingredients to a fine paste.

Onion: 1, minced
Tomato: 1, chopped fine
Green chilli: 1, slit/chopped
Oil: 2 tsp

Paneer/Indian cottage cheese: 200 gm or two big handfuls
Curds/yoghurt: 2 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tsp
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1-2 tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Salt: to taste
Coriander leaves, to garnish

Marinate paneer with the rest of the ingredients mentioned below it for 30 minutes.

In a pan, heat the oil. Saute the onion till it browns, add the chilli and fry it for a few seconds more.

Add the tomato and let it cook till it gets all soft - you can cover it and simmer it on a low flame.

Now add the paneer with its marinade, cover and let cook well - till the juices begin to dry up.

Now add the ground paste, mix it well and let it cook. It will begin to thicken very soon so keep adding a few teaspoons of water to let it achieve the consistency you like. The paste tends to smell a bit like batter initially so it's important to let it boil well.

Check for seasoning and remove from fire. Garnish with coriander leaves.

You can find the MLLA-Third Helping here, on Lucy's beautiful blog, Nourish Me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eating Crow

If you think this is just an expression, I can prove you wrong. But more about that later. During graduation, I lived in a hostel where I got acquainted with a spectacularly indistinguishable world of cooked vegetables, weekly confections which called themselves apple cakes though there was nothing remotely apple about them except the shape, dreary meals that stuck to their weekly timetable with unfailing regularity and a weekly serving of crow.

You will well guess that I’m calling a poorly nourished specimen of chicken by that name, and you are right. A scrawny wing in a dreary brown gravy in a steel quarter plate would be waiting on the counter and despite the knowledge that there would be nothing more, that was something to look forward to every week. Sad, but true. It was also the day for floury, rather uncooked and tasteless chapattis, grated carrot (salad, in hindsight), some pea/chick pea curry, the sourest, thinnest buttermilk ever found on the face of this earth, and maybe it was the apple cake day as well, I don’t remember.

Good food was available only during a festival or event that was celebrated by the college, and those were pretty rare. Even then, those serving would be asked to go easy on the meat or the paneer so that everyone could have a little. Needless to say, those with robust appetites and even more robust expectations had to go to bed still hungry and unfulfilled.

So when it was time to move to another city and another hostel, both very different from the ones above, there wasn’t much to expect. In any case, I was too apprehensive about the rooms and the loos to worry about the food but happily, neither gave cause for complaint.

This new hostel was generous with the food. Not only was there more variety, there was taste too. And even though it followed a timetable, it didn’t seem so bad. Wednesday’s tomato rice and chips would cause a run on the mess, some reserving it in dabbas so that they could eat it later, watching a favourite programme on TV in the common room. Apart from the usual idli and dosa, there would be Maggi noodles and ketchup for breakfast, toast and jam, and I’m sure it was the real McCoy, because I would see tins and bottles of those brands being opened in the kitchen and brought out straight to the mess without a detour for dilution.

Of course, the mess bill was a good Rs 200 more than the previous hostel so they could afford to be generous. We also used to get a delicious vegetable pulao with coriander chutney. Chatting with my friend from the hostel a couple of years ago, I asked her what she made for lunch, and she said she’d made that chutney because she had liked it in the hostel. Another thing unusual we were dished out was the dal with bits of unpeeled potato in it.

However, all this good food was not without its blips. My tummy took a while to get used to it, and I took a while to get used to having tiffin for dinner - something that I hadn’t ever come across, but that wasn’t surprising, because I hadn’t lived in too many places.

Idlis and dosas for dinner seemed very strange, and so did the curd rice accompanying it. Once in a while, we would run off to the airport in our backyard to have the egg and chicken sandwiches available in the canteen there, and feel like we’d had something very special.

During exams, the cooks would brew kettles of sweet cardamom tea and leave them in the mess so we could stay awake to study - there were no touches like this in the previous hostel where it was lights out at a certain time and exams would give us light for a little longer only in the common room. Of course, some of the daring and enterprising ones would cover the vents and windows of their room with black paper and continue to use the lights, forcing Warden to come by and look for stray beams of light escaping from underneath the door.

What was your hostel food like? Did any of you like anything about it? Did you too eat crow?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rooted To The Spot

My personal training classes at the gym have become just that - personal. More than I like. Every detail of what I've ingested is investigated and met with raised eyebrows, sober and solemn "Hmms..." and other trying-not-to-be despairing expressions. So when my passionate, desperate, young and charming trainer pointed to the weighing machine and pleaded with me to eat just fruit for dinner till I reached a certain weight, not brooking my arguments that it wouldn't be a real reflection of what I weighed, I reluctantly agreed. Neither she nor I are happy with my more than decent loss of inches, we want to see the kilos tumble away, and I don't want to be confronted with questions of how many grammes I've lost every day.

Now, dinner's my nemesis - contrary to all diet advice which says don't eat much at dinnertime, that's exactly what I do - I can easily forgo breakfast and lunch and not miss them but at the end of the day, I look forward to an unhurried dinner, a good book, a good DVD. An unhurried dinner also means a variety of good food and watermelon and apple alone do not a good dinner make.

As a via media between my trainer's desires and mine, and also to rescue some vegetables that have been lying around for a while, I concocted this salad.

My weight is still rooted to the spot, and my trainer's still pleading with me, so I make no claims to how healthy or filling or low-calorie it is (but it can't be, it's full of roots, and yeah, yeah, I've done the obligatory Googling for nutritional info).

It's an "As You Like It" salad, just add or subtract whatever you don't like.

Beetroots: 2, boiled, peeled, sliced
Turnips: 2, boiled, peeled, sliced
Capsicum/bell peppers: 2, diced


Limes: Juice of 3
Garlic: 2 cloves, minced
Green chilli: 1, deseeded, minced
Oil: 1 tsp
Sugar: 1/2 tsp
Salt, to taste


Sesame seed: 1 tbsp, toasted

In a bowl, place the lime juice, garlic, green chilli, sugar and salt. Mix and let it sit for a while, about 30 minutes.

In a larger bowl, place the vegetables and add the oil and dressing. Mix well but gently.

You can choose to strain the dressing too.

Garnish with toasted sesame seed. By mistake, I used cold-pressed gingelly (sesame) oil and the flavour was rather overpowering - I decided it needed some crunch to take my mind off the flavour and added the sesame seed, it was a good idea!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Okra, Tart, Sweet and Gravied!

Growing older makes me realise that many things I believed to be true about myself are not so, or are no longer so. Now, this is not the introduction to some ponderous, introspective spiel about myself and my life lessons but this past week, I discovered that I am not as lazy a cook as I thought myself to be.

A vertiginous Spouse confined to home resulted in both of us eating both lunch and dinner at home. All this consumption led to the happy consequence of very few leftovers (which in their limited leftoverness only added to the variety on the table), as a result of which we cooked five days a week. And, I actually enjoyed it - I got to make traditional stuff I haven't in a long while, or traditional stuff that I failed at and gave up on earlier came out well because I paid it some more attention. (Oh, we still got stuff from the takeaway when we felt carnivorous or needed that little bit extra to liven up the day, but most of it was home food, most of which I am so enjoying re-discovering.)

Here's one such dish, the sweet and sour pulusu (tamarind-based gravy), that turned out really well both times I made it, once with plantain and once with ladies finger. It was all about discovering long-lost tastes - my grandmother used to make these often, our cook a little less often and me, rarely.

Here's the recipe:

Ladies' fingers/okra, wiped, topped and tailed and cut into 1 inch-long pieces: 1-1/2 cups/250 gm
Onion: 1, medium, chopped
Tomato: 1, medium, chopped fine
Tamarind: 4-5 one-inch strips, soaked in 1-1/2 cups of water
(Squish to extract the juice and discard the pulp)

Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Cumin seed: 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek: 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves: A sprig
Garlic: 2-3 cloves, crushed (Optional)
Oil: 1 + 1 tsp

Red chilli powder or Sambar powder: 1 or 1-1/2 tsp
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp
Jaggery: 2-3 tsp

In one tsp of oil, saute the ladies' fingers well, till there is no stringy goo left.

Keep them aside.

In a pan, heat the other tsp of oil, temper with mustard seed, cumin, garlic, curry leaves and fenugreek.

Add the onion and fry. Sweat it till it turns pink, at least.

Then add the tomato and the salt, turmeric and chilli/sambar powder.

Cover and cook on medium/low heat till mushy.

Add the tamarind juice, ladies' fingers and mix well. Bring it to a boil and let it thicken. Check for seasoning.

Just before removing it from the fire, add the jaggery and mix well.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Year Older

Your pet."

"No, my life. My OTHER life."

(She chuckles) "Yes, your secret, wicked, other self ..."

completes two years today.


"I forgot the birthday candles. I meant to get a couple."

"Oh, to light up the computer?" The hope in The Spouse's voice is hard to miss. I can still hear him laughing himself to sleep at his own joke. A pleasant bone of contention between us on account of the time I spend on it, blogging has brought me much joy, masked a few blues, and given me quite a few highs.

Much of what I want to say is here, in my first anniversary post. Thanks to all you folks - readers, fellow bloggers, family, friends, commenters, lurkers. (Won't you de-lurk just this once at least? Just for thrills, c'mon, be nice to the birthday girl! I especially would like to know who visits my blog regularly with searches for "Chef/Indian puking" and "Malayali Chechi Kerala".) A special thanks to all those bloggers who have deemed this blog/blogger worthy of an award/a mention, I truly appreciate them even if I haven't been able to put them up here.

I will let you go now, here's to more fun times together!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Less Leguminous Affair

When I put up a picture of the meal I’d cooked for a friend recently, some of you asked me for the recipes. Most of them were standard and popular dishes, so I hesitated to put out yet another recipe for them but when I made one of them again a few days ago, I fell so in love with its looks that I have to extend the narcissism to my blog. I don't really like radish but the thin discs showing through the soup/stew looked nice and I had to take photographs. This is radish pappucharu, pappucharu (or pappu pulusu) being a lighter version of the sambar.

I could never get sambar right. A simple and standard dish that most can turn out in a jiffy eludes me. Any affection or unconcern that I may have had for it went out of the window once I came to sambar territory for a college education and joined the hostel.

Day in and day out, we would have sambar, with not too many different vegetables in it everyday. For six years, through three hostels in two different cities, there were very few days without sambar.

“Oh, it should be a breeze,” I thought, when I attempted to make sambar occasionally, for The Spouse, soon after I got my own kitchen. It wasn’t. Telling a friend had her coming over to teach me how to make sambar. It really did seem simple. The first few attempts were good - even I liked the sambar I made. Then I don’t know what happened - maybe I didn’t make it for a long time or whatever, I forgot her instructions and was back to square one.

I’ve decided I will no longer spend time trying to master it. Instead, I will make pappucharu which, as I discovered through a process of trial and error, is rather similar to what is made at home. I don’t know if any tiresome masalas are ground at home for this, I’m not bothered. I do know that this is what I like and this is what I’m comfortable with.

On with the recipe, then!

Toor dal/moong dal: ¾ cup (It’s more often made with toor dal rather than moong dal - I used moong for this)
Vegetables: 1.5-2 cups, chopped/sliced (Actually, go by instinct; You can use a single vegetable or a combination of a few, such as radish, bottle gourd, pumpkin white and yellow, carrot, onion***, tomato**** )
Tamarind: 3 strips, 1 inch in length, soaked in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes at least
Green chillies: 2
Red chilli powder: ½-1 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp (optional)
Salt, to taste

Oil: 1-2 tsp
Fenugreek seed: ¼ tsp
Cumin seed: ½ tsp
Mustard seed: 1 tsp
Curry leaf: A sprig or two
Garlic: 3-4 cloves, crushed
Dry red chillies: 2, torn up (optional)

Squeeze the tamarind in the water well and strain the juice.

Pour the water into a pressure cooker/pan (you can even make this without a pressure cooker), add the vegetables, the green chillies, the turmeric, coriander powder and the salt. Let it cook till it whistles once.

Empty the contents into another dish and in the same pressure cooker (so as not to use too many dishes), place the dal and immerse it in enough water till it’s just about soaked, just above the level of the dal. Pre-soaking the dal helps it cook faster.

The dal should be done in about two whistles, after which you can turn down the heat and simmer it for five minutes. Once you switch off the stove, let the pressure drop naturally and open it then.

Mash the dal with a masher or the back of a ladle. Add the tamarind juice-vegetable mixture to this and boil till it becomes all bubbly. Check for seasoning.

In a small wok, heat the oil. Splutter the mustard, then the cumin and the curry leaf and garlic. Add the red chillies. Then add the fenugreek and turn off the heat. Tip this into the pappucharu and cover it. You can garnish it with fresh coriander.

Best eaten with rice, and even with idli/dosa.

***Onion: Peel off a few layers if the onions are big, but let it remain bulbous.

****Tomato: It is recommended to use a smaller amount of tamarind if you’re using tomatoes but I find that only the country tomatoes are sour, the hybrids aren’t.

Pappucharu is a thick soup, more of water and less of lentils, while sambar is a much thicker preparation. Think of pappucharu as a rather transparent variety of sambar, and you’ll probably get the right consistency.

This goes off to My Legume Love Affair, being hosted by Lucy of Nourish Me for Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hello From Home!

FestiveSeason's Greetings!

It's Vinayaka Chaturthi today but at home we kept it simpler than ever and there isn't much food to train the camera on, so here are some flowers instead!

I don't know what this is called but it looks like an orchid at close quarters. In reality, it's quite a small flower!

This creeper has followed us through the years, across homes. We were told the flower's name is Jooka Malli. It has a heady scent and always has some ants or other tiny insects running in and out.

Another of those nostalgic favourites that we don't seem to see in big cities anymore! The scent can perfume a room in minutes and give you a headache as well! It's growing wild and blooming in abundance in my aunt's house.

That's a small cluster of the orchid-like flower above.

This is a popular in many homes nowadays. I think of it as a modern flower because I didn't see this growing up, have only seen this in the last few years.

This pink hibiscus keeps the yellow and red ones company. As you can see, it's a beautiful, clear - and hot! - day.

I don't know what this is called either, but I loved the colour.