Thursday, April 27, 2006

a side dish not to be sidelined

A ball of rice with cabbage, now another with split mung dal and then a big ball with carrots and beans

Varavu/ upperi/ thoran
are simple, no-fuss side dishes made with a variety of vegetables. A typical kerala lunch will include one or two varavu along with the main curries. Carrot, cabbage, beans, beetroot, spinach, raw plaintain, radish, drumstick goes the list of vegetables that can be cooked into a varavu. The spices vary depending upon the vegetable you are using; the basic cooking method remains the same. The most difficult part of this dish is in chopping the vegetables, and so cabbage easily wins the popularity contests of varavu.

Cabbage varavu

Cabbage, chopped: 1 cup
One or two slices of red onion
Green chilli/ dry red chilli : 1
Mustard seeds: ¼ tsp
Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
Oil : 2 t

Oil-mustard seeds- cumin seeds – dry red chili- cabbage-salt-stir-cover-cook on low heat for 5 minutes- done!
Variants :
A pinch of turmeric will get you a nice sunny varavu. You can also add a little urad dal or nuts to the tadka for an extra crunch. Some like to add a little, about 1 T, of fresh coconut to this varavu just before taking off heat.

Carrot-beans duet
This is one of my favorites.

Carrots and beans , cut into thin strips: 1 cup
Red onion, coarsely ground : 2 T
Garlic , minced: 1 clove
Fennel seeds , crushed : a pinch
Mustard seeds: 1/ 4 tsp
Dry red chilli: 1
Oil: 2 tsp

Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, let splutter tim tim timtimtim. Add the onion paste minced garlic, and dry red chili: cook until it turns slightly brown in color.
Now let the carrot-bean strips tumble down into the pan, mix well to coat the strips with onion-garlic paste. Sprinkle salt, and cook uncovered on low flame for about 5 minutes, or till desired tenderness. I like to add a dash of crushed fennel seed at the end, to lift up the flavors.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kerala ishtyle mutton ishtu and aripathiri

Mutton Stew /Mutton ishtu

Aroma of fresh herbs and whole spices, tanginess of lime, mellow sweetness of coconut milk: this stew combines amazing flavors into one tantalizing dish. No more words, dive into a world of goodness.

Mutton pieces, with bones : 2 lb
Coconut Milk: 1 cup
Green chilli : 3-4 medium sized
Onion , sliced: a quarter
Ginger paste: 1 t
Garlic paste: 1t
Potato, cut into large pieces : 1
Cilantro, chopped: 1 cup
Mint, chopped: ¼ cup
Cinnamon : 3 to 4small sticks
Cardamom: 3-4
Clove: 3
Fenugreek: ¼ t
Corriander powder (roasted): 1t
Lime: 1
Hot water: 2 to 3 cups
Oil: 2T

Heat oil in a pressure cooker: add fenugreek seeds and fry for a minute.

Now cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to the hot oil, and fry till their aroma seeps out.

Throw in the onions, ginger-garlic, green chilies, coriander powder, mint leaves and half of the cilantro. Stir,stir,stir for two minutes so that the coriander powder doesn’t stick to the bottom. A lovely aroma should hit your nostrils now, reminding you to Thank Someone for such small pleasures in life.

Add potato and mutton and cook them in the mixture for three to four minutes. Now pour hot water, add enough salt, cover the cooker and let cook till it gives two whistles. You may whistle along with the cooker, if you please. Turn down the heat to low and cook for a good 45 minutes to 1 hour. This slow cooking under pressure gets the meat to a soft, buttery texture that goes so well with the coconut milk in this curry. Turn off the heat, let the cooker cool down and open the lid. Pour the coconut milk, and bring to a quick boil. Remove from heat, add rest of the cilantro, and lime juice and your stew is ready to be sapped up. Thank God for such pleasures!

Rice roti / Ari pathiri

As I have mentioned earlier, Keralites have gazillion ways of eating rice. Pathiri, though mostly made out of rice, can be compared to the roti of north Indian cuisine. There is a delightful variety of pathiris, some plain, some stuffed, and some layered and steamed. This recipe is for the basic pathiri with variant names like aripathiri /ari aracha pathiri/ arichu chutta pathiri / thadicha pathiri .Traditionally, soaked rice is stone ground into a thick buttery paste , and pathiris are shaped out of this dough with hands directly onto the hot pan. An art, nothing less. With no stone grinder here, we simply make a fairly thick batter in our meek food processer, and pour it out into the pan. A poor substitute, you say? The pathiris turn out to be pretty good though, and would almost pass out as the authentic one. Almost, stresses the dissatisfied pathiri connoisseur in me;)

The trick in getting these pathiris real soft is in the rice you use and in soaking it in boiling water. I stick to Ponni rice, since that is what my mother and her mother and so on have been using to make perfect pathiris. Dipping hot pathiris one by one as they come from the pan in coconut milk is a grand touch to this dish, adding a mellow taste to them. I did not follow it as the curry is a coconut milk based one, and the fat content on the can’s nutrition label always stirs up a fear somewhere.

Okay stop talking, just give me the recipe:

Ponni parboiledRice, washed, drained : 2 cups

Bring a large pot of water to rolling boil, and take the pot off heat.

Add the washed rice , cover and keep aside for 45 minutes. After this hot water soaking the rice should look like cooked on the outside, but should have a bite to it.

Drain excess water. Add salt and blend the rice into a smooth paste adding a little, about ½ to 1 cup of water. Try adding the water little by little , so that you can get your blender going using as little water as possible.

Heat a thick pan. Pour a ladle full of batter, and let it spread out on its own into a thick circle. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over and cook for another two minutes. Once this side is fairly cooked, gently press on the rotis with a spatula so that little bubbles rise up, turn over the roti again and repeat the process on this side too. This is to make sure the pathiris thoroughly cooked inside. Your pathiri is done. Tear a piece gently, dip into your stew and enjoy bliss.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Fusion gone wrong

Chicken pot pie, with their golden crust and rich gravy slowly oozing out, has always tempted me. The only halal pot pie we could find was a frozen product from Canada. A bite, and then grand disillusionment. The gravy tasted of maida and margarine, and the crust was soggy with a strange aftertaste. Yet, the temptation remained in my mind. Meenakshi's fusion theme inspired me to try out an Indian version of pot pie.

Leafing through a cookbook, a recipe for country style pot pie with baking powder biscuits instead of the regular pie crust caught my eyes. Spiced up chicken curry with crisp biscuits, that can't go wrong, I thought. Maybe I could shape the biscuits into a henna pattern. Excitement. Little did I know that a greater disillusionment awaited me.

For the filling I made butter chicken curry and added vegetables for that pot pie feeling, so far so good;just before I poured in the sour cream sauce a little voice from within told me to add some tandoori masala too, for that color and extra oomph. And I obeyed the voice. Mistake no. 1? Two teaspoons of baking powder for a cup of flour, said the recipe for the biscuits and I followed it .Mistake no.2 ? Or did I accidentally add more baking powder? Biiiig mistake.

How did it turn out? Awful.

The biscuits tasted like baking powder, they were crisp and fluffy and all, but tasted simply like a mouthful of baking powder. The stuffing proved that when playing with spices, there has to be a balance- throw in tandoori masala to a perfectly spiced up curry and you get something you don't want to swallow. It was 'modified' into a pretty decent curry the next day, but the biscuits had to be thrown away. I was not willing to see the little birds that come by our home everyday turn into baking powder biscuits, hence resisted the temptation to save the biscuits for the birds.

Such hopes! Such disaster! Life!