Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finding comfort in a bowl of Rajma Curry

Over a decade ago, one very homesick Delhiite frowned and curled her lip in disdain and declared that Mumbai did not have good food. Pshaw!
And one very surprised Mumbai girl shook here head, vigorously, as if to stop the words from ringing in her ears. Forgive her Lord, she knows not.....
Thus began a quest for 'good food' in Mumbai.


To a Mumbaiite, it seems impossible that someone can make such a bold statement, but I guess one has to make allowances for homesickness and especially, when that person is your best friend.
We began on a quest, we had to find 'good food ' for this home-sick Delhi Girl. We went to various restaurants and experimented with different Choley Bhature, Chana Masala and the like, nothing seemed to get a thumbs up from her. There wasn't even a whiff of a Rajma Chawal or Kala Chana-Chawal on the menu, then, and the poor Girl longed for the comfort food she grew up on. I was at a loss, I had never eaten Rajma- Chawal, my comfort food varied so much from hers. And then, one day, we found this small cafe, tucked away in Vashi ( New Bombay or Navi Mumbai as it is now called) Chaat Cafe. It was bright colorful and inviting. The menu to our delight, had ALL the items a home-sick Delhiite wanted needed. That day, was the first time I tasted Rajma- Chawal. Okay, so I will admit it here, I was not too excited about it, I had ordered me a good ol' chaat platter , the chaat addict that I was (and still am). But we girls loved to share and  a forkful of the  Rajma- Chawal was good enough to convince me why the room suddenly lit up as if,with a 1000 watt bulb! It was my friend's happy face. She had found her comfort food, at last. Needless to say, that was the joint we haunted in sickness and in health.
I haven't been to Chaat Cafe in years, even when I was in India. The magic was when 2 BFF's  went there and made memories.


Today we are far away from each other, separated by time and distance, by a domestic routine so demanding that even a conversation is difficult. And today, I find comfort in Rajma-chawal, just like a very home-sick Delhi Girl once did.


Serves 4-6


1 Cup Rajma / dark red Kidney Beans ( soaked overnight or 8 hours)
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp. Turmeric powder
3Tbsp. Oil
2 Bay Leaves
2 Black Cardamoms
3 medium Onions grated
2 tsp. Ginger paste
1/2 Green chili paste
1/4 tsp. Garlic paste
3/4 tsp Red chili powder
4 large Tomatoes (pureed)
1/2 tsp. Garam Masala
2 Tbsp. Cilantro chopped

Pressure cook the kidney beans with 4 1/2 cups water, salt and 1/4 tsp. turmeric to one whistle. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Turn off the heat.


Heat 3 tbsp. Oil in a pan for 30 seconds, add bay leaves, black cardamom, onions, ginger, green chili and garlic paste.


Fry until light golden brown. Add 3/4 tsp turmeric and red chili powder and mix well.


Add the pureed tomato and fry until oil separates


Add the cooked kidney beans along with the water and salt to taste, bring it to a boil.


Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes


Add the chopped cilantro leaves and Garam masala. Turn off the heat.


Serve hot over a mound of fluffy Basmati rice ( pickle and papad optional) for a complete meal.




*NOTES:  
I cut the quantity in half, used a can of Kidney Beans and 2 whole peeled tomatoes (Roma) that I blended with some  water.


I used less water than asked for, the resultant curry was  thicker and chunkier, more to my taste.


Ideally this curry is enjoyed when ladeled over hot rice, but we ( M and I) enjoy it with  breads as well ( roti / fulkas and in my case even with  a slice of crusty French Bread)

This memory got me thinking, what is 'good food'? What do you look for in good food? 
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies


There was a phase in my life when biscuits ( as we call then in India) or cookies  were a large part of my diet. In fact there were many phases like that. My parents were working and so I had the house key round my neck and  after school I could do as I chose for a couple of hours. 
My schedule did not change, I'd come from school , enter the house, fling off my shoes, throw my school bag, head right into the kitchen, gulp a huge glass of water, hunt for something to eat (though my Mother used to keep healthy and filling snacks on the dining table, I never bothered about them) open  all containers, find the biscuits - eat a few , head to the bedroom, change into fresh set of clothes ( leave the school uniform on the floor), slip on flip-flops and go straight to play with friends. 
Sometimes my friends would come home and  I was a pretty good hostess, I'd serve them water first and then  after a while I'd bring out a platter of snacks ( mainly cookies ) and most unusually, a bottle of pickles... yes, pickles. If that sounds unusual, let me give you the logic behind it. It's like this, if you eat sweet 'X' and  then sweet 'Y', it (Y) wouldn't taste as good, so in order to enjoy every variety, a bite of something spicy or salty was necessary in between  and hence, the pickles. 
Then came my MMS days, my friend ( from Delhi) had rented an apartment close to the college and I parked  myself there during exam time. There was a 'convenience' store opened in the first floor apartment , they would sell biscuits, chocolates, tea, coffee, notebooks, pen, pencil and similar stuff. We would pop down, grab packets of biscuits ( there was a Kellogg- Chocos biscuit brand we favored) and have those  for breakfast and lunch.  After exams we would grab a couple of Vada paav and rush home to prepare for the next days test paper. 

Coming to the USA opened up a world of cookies for me, there was a sea of cookies in so many flavors and I fell in love all over again. Chocolate chip cookies were my favorite and I'd pick every opportunity and reason to eat 'just one'. 
I wanted to make  them at home, I was reminded of Martha Wilson , I was addicted to comic books (still am) and loved Dennis the Menace and thought it very nice of Mrs. Wilson to bake cookies . I had never used a oven mitten and held a tray of cookies  and to me it was almost out of a fairy tale, cookies at home, unlimited supply! And now that I enjoy baking I decided to go ahead and bake cookies. It was natural that I go for chocolate chip cookies. I love them ( who doesn't!?) and my Son loves them. I can get him to do anything for a 'kiikoo', as he first called them.  M says it's hereditary, like mother- like son. Huumph! 


Source: Nestle Toll House Chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (the original recipe calls for 2 ) cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 (the original recipe calls for 1) cup chopped nuts

Directions

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.


Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. 
Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until  


creamy. 
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
Gradually beat in flour mixture. 
Stir in morsels and nuts. 
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.


BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. 
Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, remove to wire racks to cool completely. 


* Notes:

I made a few changes , I used regular granulated sugar, I did not have brown sugar on hand. 

Reduced the quantity of sugar to 1 cup + 2 tbsp.


I used 1 cup chocolate chips , M likes just a 'sprinkling' of chocolate, not an overload  :(


I used just 1/2 cup of chopped nuts for fear that little S may not chew them and then have a 

choking fit ( I was wrong, I might as well add, he can chew cookies and chips  and the like very 

well, odd how he has trouble with rice and vegetables and roti.... "heredity" M whispers)


The cookies that were in the oven for 11 mins were crisp, very enjoyable, however 

the 9 minute ones were perfect, crisp on the border, chewy on the inside . This was for my 


oven, I am not sure if oven temps. vary, but I'd suggest you check at the 9 minute mark and 


if required go to the 10 or 11 minutes


Have a Great Weekend!!! 
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coconut Overload ! Okra smothered in coconut. Simplicity and taste.

For the final 3 years of my graduation, we lived in Santacurz, Mumbai. We had moved there from my childhood home in Wadala. I was not very happy about that. I was strongly attached to Wadala and spent my formative years there and  had many memories and found it hard to let go.  On moving to the new place, I promptly fell ill and  in that fevered state of mind, dreamed that I was recovering in my old home. I still could not call the new place home, it just didn't feel like it. I would unfairly compare everything and everyone. I am surprised I ever made friends or the fact that people even looked at me, I looked like a grumpy bear most of the time.
And then, I liked something. To begin with.. there was ( and probably still is) a 'chaatwalla' on the corner from a  Temple ( behind Aarya Samaj, for those who know it) who sold *mind blowing chaat*, hands down the best I'd eaten. My regard for the new place went up just a notch.
Often, a friend and I would walk down a lane ( I cannot recollect the name, but the landmark was near 'Rakhi's Bunglow' and by that I mean Rakhi Gulzar- as in the yesteryear Bollywood actress not any other infamous Rakhi, thank you) and we would feast on the variety of dosas at the street corner there. She and I  were regulars and the bhaiyya  knew just 'how spicy' we needed our dosas. 
These  food haunts were told to me  by my neighbor's son, who was also fond of junk food and that is probably how I  first talked to him. Strange how food is connected to so many emotions. And how food connects people.
There  is this one trait in Indian families and I am sure it is spread across the nation, we like to share good food. 
What I liked about having neighbors (one of the things) is the 'food exchange' that happened. Your neighbor will just knock on the door and hand you a bowl of steaming hot food with a, " I just made this, see how you like it" and pop back home. And then, you make something and give her a sample in her bowl, when you return it.
My neighbor was a home maker and also ran a day care at home. She would often drop in and bring a bowl of something delicious. One day, we got talking and the topic was diverted to vegetables and I mentioned that okra was my favorite. And she came over the next day with a bowl of Okra smothered in coconut, I greedily ate it and loved it. The simplicity and the mild flavors captured my palette. Years later, I made this in my kitchen and no surprise, I still love this version.
 The easy part is you can completely eyeball the ingredients and  it still turns out great!
 

You need: (this is an approximation only)

2 cups chopped Okra
1/2 large Onion chopped
2 Green Chiles ( + / - to taste) slit in the middle  and left whole
Salt to taste
1 tsp. heaped  Cumin powder and Coriander powder- each -
1 Tsp Cumin seed
1/2 cup  Fresh shredded Coconut
2Tbsp Oil

Wash, pat dry and trim the cap and tail end of the okra and  slice into round pieces.
Heat Oil, on medium high, add the cumin seeds, they should sizzle on contact
Add the green chiles , stir fry for  about 15 seconds or so
Add the chopped onion and stir fry to coat with the oil and spices
Once the onion is  translucent, add the okra and  increase the heat to high.
Stir- fry and coat the okra with oil and monitor carefully   to ensure that the okra is not burnt, however, maintain high heat. This will ensure that the okra is not slimy ( though there is a stage when it will look like that and here the high heat will ensure that it goes away)
Sprinkle in the salt , cumin and coriander powder once the okra is cooked. Reduce the heat to med high
Coat the onion and okra in the spice 
Finally add in the shredded coconut and mix well. 
Cook for a couple of minutes till the coconut flavor mingles, but the coconut does not turn brown. 
Serve hot with roti/ fulkas.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pineapple Rasam


2010 has disappeared! As always I feel the year has shot past and every 31st. I wonder, how did it go by so fast?
My Mother, when I was chatting to her, said, " remember the world fretting about Y2K?, well, well, we have survived that and so much more!"
2010 was an action packed year for me, well sort of. We visited India, changed apartments, changed state, and are enjoying a family life again ( for 2 years and more, ever since little was 3 months old, M used to travel for work and was home only for the week end, which was the tough on me, but  there IS a silver lining, and I found it,  finally).
The hardest part last year was when my Grandmother passed away. It hurts even now.

On the blogging front, things were definitely slow, but I was happy that I could still manage  posting and trying many new things. Sadly, there are many drafts (pictures with 2010 mark) and I could not get those on the blog. Hopefully, I will pick up my pace this year.

This is my first winter in a state where it snows! I am still excited... really! I have enjoyed watching the snow fall, going out and playing in the snow, taking pictures like the one above, and drinking hot rasam (yes, rasam!) watching the ground getting covered in 'snuu', as my son calls it. 

Last week I was at Sams Club and they had the sweetest Pineapple on sale. I love pineapple but shy from buying it, I feel intimidated by the thought of cutting it and have visions of cutting off my fingers, ewww! 

The lady at the sample counter was very helpful and showed my how to go about slicing  the pineapple and I was happy to pick up a prickly one and happily trundle my cart to check out .

Pineapple Rasam was on my mind for a long time and I was just waiting to try it. The flavors are amazing and I particularly like biting into pineapple bits. if you are like me, try this.
This recipe makes 4 cups
Source: 660 curries


1/4 Cup Toovar Daal (pigeon peas) 
2 Cups Fresh Pineapple cubes ( 1/2 inch cubes)
1 medium Tomato cored and cubed (1/2 inch cubes)
2 tsp. Sambar Masala
11/2 tsp kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Asafetida
10-12 fresh Curry Leaves
4 Tbsp. Fresh Cilantro , chopped (leaves and tender stems)
2 Tbsp. Ghee or Canola oil( I recommend ghee) 
1 tsp Mustard seeds
1 tsp. Cumin seeds
4 Dry Red chilies- stems removed

Wash the daal thoroughly ( 3-4 changes of water) and cook the daal. I use a pressure cooker, you can cook the daal in a saucepan, it is time consuming and needs supervision.

While the daal is cooking, combine pineapple, tomato, sambar masala, salt, asafetida, curry leaves and 2 tbs. of the cilantro in a medium size saucepan. Add 2 cups of water and bring it to a boil over med-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally until the pineapple and tomato have softened but still firm looking ( 10-15 mins)

Once the daal is cooked, transfer the cooked daal to a blender and blend until smooth or if you have an immersion blender, use it to puree the daal.

Heat a small skillet and add ghee /oil. Add the mustard seeds. After the seeds have popped, remove the skillet from the heat and sprinkle in the cumin seeds and chiles. Stir in this spiced ghee mixture into the sweet- tart pineapple-tomato broth and add the pureed daal.

Sprinkle the remaining cilantro and serve.

Notes: This makes a mild rasam, I added extra sambar powder to give it a kick. This may be entirely because of the  ready made  sambar mix ( Iyengar Hot-Hot)I am using, If your sambar masala is strong, go with the recipe and taste before you make any adjustments.
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