Saturday, June 9, 2012

Uppuma: A savory breakfast with Vermicelli

I had one of those stumble out of bed to figure out if an early morning trip to the store was needed to feed the family. Having rustled through the cupboard, I found the bag of Vermicelli I bought a week ago to make Payasam/Kheer and decided to make a childhood favorite of mine, Vermicelli Uppuma.

I'd usually use onions in this recipe (and will tell you how to use it here) but it turned out not to have any at hand. I did, however, decide to add a dash of vegetables that adds to the taste and nutritional value of this meal.

One and a half cup Vermicelli
One large garlic clove
(A quarter section of a medium sized white onion if you have it)
6 to 10 string beans
6 cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon ghee (indian clarified butter) if you have it, if not, use unsalted butter
One and a half cup water

  • In a large pan, roast the vermicelli till most of the vermicelli threads are golden brown
  • Set the Vermicelli aside
  • Chop the garlic into chunky pieces, dice the green beans and halve the cherry tomatoes
  • Heat the ghee in the pan, and sauté the garlic till they are deep brown
  • (If you're using onions, dice a quarter section of a white onion, and fry it with the garlic till deep brown as well)
  • Toss in the green beans and tomatoes and fry for five minutes
  • Bring water to boil in a kettle and pour it in the vegetables
  • One its bubbling, mix in the vermicelli and let cook for about 5 minutes. Mix thoroughly but gently so that the vermicelli doesn't break up, but to makes sure that you don't have clumps
  • Taste to make sure that the vermicelli is cooked (a little al dente) and you're ready to go

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cooking with a priest

Pandit Gadadhara Dasa is the Hindu chaplain of Columbia University. He's been a guest at my raucous Diwali parties, which hubby and I host each year to celebrate the symbolic victory of good over evil. Traditionally, it's a time for lights, fireworks, time spent with family, good food and some libations. We manage without the fireworks...and pack around 500 friends into our New York apartment in a steady stream from mid-morning to the wee hours!

The Pandit is always a smiling presence at these chaotic parties, and I had to check in with him post our last party to make he still counted me among the faithful! He did, and even invited me to teach with him at one of his weekly sessions at the University as part of his Bhakti Club vegetarian cooking classes. Bhakti can be loosely translated as faith - the Pandit's reverence around how he creates his meals makes them a truly pious offering to the Gods. Read more about his philosophy around the act of conscious cooking as part of a religious lifestyle in this Huffington Post article

Teaching a group of about 40 young students how to cook Indian meals without overwhelming them is an interesting endeavor. It helped me see just how much I took for granted the multi-tasking I'd learned by osmosis, watching mom, grandma and multiple aunts and cooks at kitchens in various homes in South India. While in one large pot, I brought the milk to boil, squeezed in lemons and strained the paneer, I also got a paalak panner (spinach and cottage cheese curry) going on the electric wok.

See the recipes here:
Making Panir or Paneer: Indian cottage cheese
Panner curry - in this case made with peas, but you can replace the peas with spinach or choose to use both for a nice twist

The Pandit doesn't use onions or garlic in his cooking, dictated by his deep Hindu beliefs. I was surprised to see how easily the meal came together without these embellishments, and I've cut down on the use of onions at home. The garlic is harder to let go of!

You'll see the students crowding around the table here - they loved the warm smell of the paneer coming together. Feeding a roomful of hungry students, priceless!

See Pandit here, giving a talk as part of the TEDx series:

Mango tasting: The Altaufo wins!

We have a lovely family who sells fruit at the corner fruit stand outside our apartment building. We've watched them grow as a family - the older couple brought their son in to help about five summers ago. He brought his young bride along, they then took over the stand. This year, the young lady is showing, and the baby is expected in July.

This is the family that introduced my babies to all kinds of lovely fruit - kiwi fruits were their favorite fruit as babies, they then evolved to wolfing down blackberries and strawberries. Just this past year, fresh lychees have taken on a fascination of their own.

As we walked to school this morning, the kids remarked on the multiple boxes of mangoes - each box sporting mangoes of slightly different hues and shapes. So, this evening, I staged a tasting of sorts.

The hubby, kids and I each got to opine.

  • The Altaufo (pictured on the left) won hands down: flavorful, sweet and a perfect blend of flavor, bite and sweetness
  • The one in the middle - I think it's the Kent - came second: Very sweet, almost like it was sugar-infused. It lost out because of the stringy consistency - the kids are not looking forward to tonight's flossing
  • The Tommy Atkins (on the right of this picture) scored last on all counts: it just sat there. Just enough flavor to tell you it's a mango, not enough to move you to a sigh, let alone tears of joy.

I miss the Alfonsos of my childhood!!