Monday, March 31, 2008

Crunchy Okra: Simple but perfect

I've tended to avoid Okra - it has the awful habit of going all mushy on me. It was the veggie that filled me with foreboding...until this weekend. Friends R&V showed me how to ensure that you can get to a nice crunchy side-dish, without emptying out a bottle of oil at that! The key is to wash the okra, then pat dry thoroughly before cutting. As simple as that. I suspect my mother has told me this at some point, but I guess I just never gave the okra time to dry out properly.
Two pounds of okra
Two teaspoons of salt
One teaspoon garam masala
One teaspoon coriander powder
About three tablespoons of oil

- Start by cutting off the okra tops, then cut the okra down the middle into two long pieces
- Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet or saucepan, and toss in the okra
- Add salt and saute the okra, stirring occasionally as it browns
- As the okra gets to be uniformly brown, put in the garam masala and coriander and stir in thoroughly
- It's ready to go!
- Here's R, and the okra dish her lil' uns are addicted to!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Responses to my "Presentation" survey...what's a leaf got to do with it?

It's been interesting for me to engage in my set of online communities - to see the way people engage, interact, respond, or not. This blog has been a great way for me to maintain a web journal, and also be my version of my mom's recipe book that my kids can hopefully access some day as they decide to try their hand at their own dinner parties, perhaps.

I had set up my survey on the importance of presentation on this blog - and got some results. But the colorful commentary came through my friends on facebook -they were responding to my emailed link! One surprising result - a number of them brought up the banana leaf as the best presentation device they remember. For those of you scratching your heads at this, take a gander at these photos from my last Onam party. Onam celebrates the harvest season, and commemorates the legendary homecoming of the great king Mahabali.

The picture to the left shows us in the middle of filling the plate with the traditional meal or the onam sadhya, which can have as many as twelve elements to the meal. Says one friend: "i prefer banana leaf - it's so old school it's cool!" And says another, " Okay the Mallu in me is coming out, I suggest leaves for a light train snack, or better newspaper. But it would have to be classy, the FT or Times?" !!
[Mallu is short for Malayalee, as people originally from the Indian state of Kerala are known]
A huge positive in this approach is that this is just one aspect of a fast-disappearing culture that tried to be very respectful of, and be one with, nature. Traditional Kerala culture tends to be very attuned with nature - and these leaf plates are bio-degradable, and pretty elegant.
If you want to try this out, ask for palm leaves at any Hispanic store. The come folded and frozen. Palm leaves can also be used to wrap and cook fish. I'll try this out and write it up some time soon.
Also, here's the quirkiest response to my question: "but remember to be careful eating at Grand Central Station. you could be in the middle of an expensive meal with a great glass of wine and suddenly you may be attacked by bats. it happened to me once -- i was there with a few other folks. everyone freaked out, including the restaurant workers."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Survey: What you've told me about yourselves

I love surveys - it's been great hearing from you folks. One survey that I've run since I started this blog about three months ago was a "Tell me about yourself" survey. Here's what I got:
Visitors were friends of Roopa, from the USA mostly, and many were moms looking for ideas.

Tell me more about what you want to see on this blog (vote at the survey to the right), and I'll see what I can do for you!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Your Opinion: Spicy Options at Grand Central

My husband S and I met up after work today, and wandered through Grand Central Station figuring out what we planned to do for dinner. It struck us that a quick meal at the dining concourse would work -- and boy, were we impressed by the variety there. Mexican, American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese....the works. We landed up opting for Cafe Spice Express. As we sat there eating our delicious and reasonably priced meals (dishes average between $ 7 to $9), I wondered, would I have enjoyed it better on an elegant plate, vs. the styrofoam boxes the food was served in?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sangam: A delightful NY culinary experience

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by Ishrat and Rafat to join them for a meal at their new restaurant on Bleecker Street, Sangam. It's a lovely spot, just the right size for a family or a small party. Rafat cooks up a storm in her kitchen, with amazing Nargisi Qeema Paratha Rolls, vegetarian rolls and biryanis. These dishes are based on her own recipes, and they are "la-jawab" (without compare!) I wish them the best with their new venture - and look forward to going back soon! FYI - Israt also runs Caffe Vivaldi, just around the corner and brings a nice cosmopolitan feel to the whole eating experience.

Mughlai or Moglai Biriyani

A few weeks ago, I posted about my parents sending over a copy of all my mother's special recipes from India. It's fun to browse through, and admire the nuances that make up a perfect dish. I was drawn to the Mughlai (Mogalai) Biriyani recipe, and tried it out for my sister's Surprise Birthday party. It was fragrant, and the next time around, I'll remember to cook the rice just a bit more. Here's the recipe. (This one calls for mutton/lamb, but I found it worked just fine with chicken.)
Three cups Pulao or Basmati Rice (450 gms in the original recipe)
One pound lamb or chicken (500 gms)
One lime
Quarter cup nuts (almonds or cashews)
Mint leaves, a few sprigs
Three tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 bunch coriander leaves
Two large onions
One inch of ginger (one tablespoon crushed)
Five green chillies
Three cloves of garlic
One cup of yogurt
Half a cup of milk
One pinch or turmeric
Other spices: Saffron, bay leaves, cardamom, cumin and Cinnamon (a pinch of each)
  • Grind ginger,chillies, garlic and nuts into a fine paste
  • Fry sliced onions in the ghee or butter till golden brown and crisp
  • Remove the onion and in the hot ghee, fry the ground paste and then add the meat in that paste and fry
  • After about five minutes, add a cup of water and cook till the meat is tender. make sure to cover the meat as it cooks. I found it took about fifteen minutes, and I added another cup of water as well.
  • In parallel, start cooking rice till it is 3/4 done (I'd use a quarter less water and cook for a quarter less time than normal)
  • Once the rice is ready, add a teaspoon of salt to it and mix well
  • In the cup of yogurt, add the powdered spices (except for the saffron), and add in a sliced chilli, mint and lime juice
  • Add the yogurt mix to the cooked meat and stir in well
  • Dissolve the saffron in some warm milk
  • Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees
  • In a strong (oven-safe), deep pan lay out one layer of rice. Plan on there being at least two layers of rice
  • Sprinkle some saffron milk onto the rice. Next layer some onion and lamb on.
  • Repeat the rice/ onion/ lamb (or chicken) layer
  • Cover tightly and place in a 300 degree oven, and bake for an hour

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fat Pack

The Fat Pack article in the NYT brought to mind memories of friends of the family and relatives, who I watched as a child. Somehow, it always felt like they'd just given up. I kinda made up their mental banter "what the heck, that puri looks like it wants to be eaten. Mmm, fat..." I was fascinated, because there's definitely a gourmet/ gourmand behind one of the mystery doors in my head. I've tended to put a nicely toned guard outside that door, but the "fatty" slips out every so often. My guilty food pleasures are cheese and red wine...and puri/ bhaturas. What's yours?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paneer curry, Peas and Paneer

Earlier this week, I tried my hand at making paneer. It worked out pretty well, and taught me to be less diffident about taking on tasks that I'd watched my mother do, with awe. Today I used up the paneer in a peas, carrots and paneer curry. (I'd have liked to use up the paneer the day after I made it - it needs that time to dry - but I had a pretty hectic week at work.)

two tomatoes
one onion
about a quarter pound of paneer (from one gallon of milk) -
half a pound of peas and chopped carrots
one teaspoon chopped ginger
four cloves of garlic
a handful of cilantro
two teaspoons of garam masala
one teaspoon salt

  • The kids and I started our cooking adventure with a chopping exercise. They wanted to try their hand at chopping. So I armed them with blunt butter knives, cutting sheets and very ripe tomatoes
  • Toss the tomatoes in a mixer, and blend finely with the garlic and ginger (add about a cup of water to the mix)
  • Shop the onions into slivers. Also cube the paneer
  • Fry the onion in about a teaspoon of oil, add the garam masala. Once the onion gets to be translucent, add in the paneer and toss
  • As the paneer starts to brown, add in the peas and carrots and sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt in
  • Give the vegetables time to get about half cooked, then pour in the tomato/garlic/ginger paste
  • Let simmer for about 15 minutes, till the liquid reduces and soaks into the paneer a bit
  • It's ready to serve. This curry works equally well with rotis and rice

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cooking conversions

I was cooking up a storm from my mother's cook book this weekend (wait for the biriyani update, coming up soon!)

The metrics proved to be a challenge, given that her notes were in grams and litres. I kinda made it up, but this morning combed the web for helpful online converters. The most helpful one I found was simply called Very handy ways to swap one kind of measuring scale for another.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Make your own Paneer (Panir, or Indian cottage cheese)

Paneer is a milk-protein preparation that reminds one of tofu and is a really nice additive to vegetarian curries. It takes a while to set nicely, and I've tended to opt to just buy the cubed paneer from shops. However, some over-zealous shopping instructions from me had resulted in both hubby and bro-in-law buying way too much much milk (two gallons - or two 3.7 litre bottles).
One gallon milk
One lemon

You'll also need muslin or cheese cloth, a colander and a large pot that the colander can fit into.

Start by bringing the milk to a boil

    As the milk starts to bubble, squeeze in the juice of a lemon

  • Stir the milk and lemon concoction. The milk protein will start to separate out. Keep stirring so you don't get any inconsistent lumps.

As the mix comes to a second boil, take it off the stove and let cool

Wrap the muslin around the colander on the inside so you have an inner cloth "bowl" into which to ladle the mix. Place the whole into a larger pot so the operation doesn't get too messy!

Get the kids involved in pouring the mix into this set up. They'll love the sight of the solids emerging as the liquid percolates out

Once you have all the liquid out, twist the muslin so that you have the paneer caught in the end as a nice lump. Place it under a weight (I placed it between plates and put a heavy vase on top!) and let as much of the liquid seep out

It's ready! Try it in a peas or spinach curry. I'll share a recipe with you soon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sunday, March 2, 2008

VIDEO: Godhamba Dosa (Indian wheat flour pancakes) and chutney

[Am experimenting with something new: adding short videos from the kitchen. Using video from The Flip camera is very easy, I am learning...]

One of my favorite breakfasts as a child was mom's Godhamba dosa. It was really a good "default" breakfast, when we couldn't really be bothered with the longer process of making idli, rice-based dosa or upumma. D, my daughter, was playing sous chef today, and enjoying the flipping of the dosas...with some mess involved!

Rava Dosa
half cup chappati flour
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
half teaspoon salt
one cup water

  • In a bowl, sift the salt into the flour, then mix in the water. The flour tends to be easy to mix, with little clumping.
  • Mix in the cumin seeds
  • Heat a flat skillet or pan, and smooth a thin layer of oil on it to prep it for cooking
  • Ladle an eighth cup of the mix onto the skillet and smooth it out, working in a circular motion from center out (see the home-movie attached here!)
  • Wait for the flour to set, then flip it over
  • Take the dosa off the skillet when it gets to be a light brown

Sweet Chutney
As a child, I used to accompany the dosa with sugar. We experimented with sweet chutney today.

quarter cup coconut flakes
half teaspoon cumin seeds
quarter cup water
(Conventional chutneys would also have one fresh green or red chili, a dried red chili, ten leaves of mint, and mustard seeds)

  • Grind all the above in a food processor or mixie for about 5 minutes. It's ready to go. We also mixed in a teaspoon of confectioners sugar. See the action below!
  • More conventional chutneys would have you blend a chili and mint. Once you pour out the chutney, you would pop the mustard seeds and dried chili in a teaspoon of oil and pour it in to top the chutney