Monday, January 30, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

U is for Usal.

The "U"s of Marathi food are small in number but absolutely delicious nontheless! It stands for ukad or boiled, and that method of preparation (boiling or steaming) is used to make a variety of foods ranging from the very humble, like ukadlelya batatyachi bhaji or boiled potato curry to the very exotic, such as ukadiche modak or rice dough pockets filled with a poppy-coconut mixture and steamed for a special festive occassion. "U" also stands for a favorite Indian breakfast dish: uppit, often called upma in other parts of India, a savory risotto-like preparation of rava (semolina/cream of wheat).
Several days of the Marathi calendar are decreed as "fasting days" or upvaas, when one can eat only specific foods; for instance, sabudana (sago), potato and peanuts are OK but garlic, onions, wheat are forbidden. These fasts have an unfortunate tendency to be gender-biased (women fast for the continuing health of their husbands, and even little girls fast so they may get a good husband later in life!) so I don't care for them much. But I will say that after one has eaten all the dozens of delicious and bountiful "fast" dishes, the spirit of pious frugality and deprivation has long vanished into thin air!
Other favorite "U"s: uus or sugarcane, a crop that brings prosperity to my region of the country; it is such a treat to gnaw on fresh sugarcane sticks! uusacha ras or sugarcane juice is delicious and refreshing, especially during unhala or summer, which covers 9 months of the year in most of India (the other 3 being monsoon)!

But the absolute monarch of "U" Marathi foods is usal, a spicy curry of sprouted beans. It is hard to believe that such a simple and nourishing food can be so delicious and addictive! What's more, usal forms the base for a wonderful dish called misal, a popular snack and street food in India and Maharashtra's contribution to the world of "chaat".
The most popular usal is made with a tiny little bean called matki or "moth", available in Indian stores. Here is a picture of matki, in its dry form, and after being soaked overnight and then sprouted in a damp cloth for a couple of days.

For a traditional misal feast, you first start by making the sprouted usal, which is a relatively dry preparation made by sauteeing the sprouts. Then there are many other "fixings" that are laid out to spoon onto the usal (I am describing the way it is made in Kolhapur, I expect that there are regional variations):
1. A thin soupy extremely spicy curry called "cutt", made with a spice mixture called "kolhapuri chutney"
2. Cubed boiled potatoes
3. Toasted peanuts
4. A medley of tiny fried snacks called "farsan" or "hot mixture", easily available in all Indian grocery stores
5. Minced raw onions
6. Minced fresh cilantro
7. Slices of fresh lemon
8. Whipped plain yogurt
9. Sweet and sour (jaggery-tamarind) chutney
10. Slices of bread

Lazy as I am, I drastically simplify the whole process. I make the "usal" soupy in the first place by adding kolhapuri masala right into the usal itself (thus eliminating the "cutt"). I also add peanuts and potatoes to the curry itself. Finally I add some jaggery and tamarind into the curry to get the sweet-sour taste in there. I feel like this really cuts down on prep time when you have a misal party. This is a great make-ahead one-pot dish, and a crowd-pleaser at that.

We start with the all-important spice mixture, the kolhapuri chutney. I get mine ready-made from Kolhapur (it is made by a women's co-operative food business and is absolutely outstanding). But it is not very hard to make and I give you a recipe below (sent by my mom).

Kolhapuri Chutney

(Kolhapuri Masala)
1 cup red chilli powder
1 cup coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup shredded dry coconut (unsweetened)
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
1/2 inch cinnamon stick
1/2 tbsp cloves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup onions, roughly chopped
8-10 garlic cloves
1 cup cilantro leaves, patted dry and minced
2 tbsp oil
1. Toast all the whole spices on a dry skillet. Set aside.
2. Fry all ingredients (except red chilli powder) together in oil till dry and browned.
3. Grind the fried stuff to a fine powder.
4. Mix with the red chilli powder.
5. Cool and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Note: This spice mixture is made with fresh onions so please take care that they get well-browned and dry, otherwise the chutney will spoil. You might want to cut the recipe down to 1/4 or so, since the quantities given are pretty large. Once the chutney is ready, usal is made in minutes.


(serves 3-4; clockwise from top left in photo: usal, bread, hot mixture, onion/cilantro/lemon, yogurt)
1 cup dry matki (moth), soaked overnight and sprouted (yields 3-4 cups)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
5-6 fresh curry leaves
1/2 cup raw or roasted peanuts
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 heaped tbsp kolhapuri chutney (adjust to taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp jaggery powder (unrefined sugar)
salt to taste
3 tbsp oil
1. Heat oil and saute the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves and onions.
2. Add the peanuts, sprouts, potato, turmeric, kolhapuri chutney and salt and saute for a couple of minutes.
3. Add 5-6 cups of water (or enough to make a curry of your desired consistency) and bring the curry to a boil. Simmer till the sprouts are tender and the potatoes are cooked.
4. Add the tamarind and jaggery and simmer for a few minutes more.
5. Taste and adjust the seasoning for the balance of salt, sweet and sour flavors.

Usal update
My mother tells me that my method for usal is a lazy, short-cut one. For misal that tastes much better, this is what she does. Instead of just adding the Kolhapuri chutney (in step 2), she makes a masala paste. In a pan, saute 2 chopped onions until browned, then add 1/2 C grated fresh/frozen coconut and 1 T Kolhapuri masala. Stir until toasty and browned. Cool this mixture and grind it to a fine paste. Add this paste instead of merely the spice powder in step 2.


To put together the misal, set out bowlfuls of any or all of the fixings listed above: fresh yogurt, minced onion/cilantro, fresh lemon, "hot mixture" and slices of your favorite bread. Let everyone assembly their own misal to their taste.
A couple of notes:
1. If you have no time to make the masala, consider simply adding the components to the usal; I think garlic paste, coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder and garam masala might be an acceptable approximation.
2. If you cannot find matki beans, try using some other ones like "moong" or even a combination of different beans (all sprouted of course).
3. I have used crushed potato chips as an alternative to the hot mixture and they work quite well to provide that "crunch".
4. You can cut down on the spice as much as you like. A mildly spiced usal combined with dollops of yogurt is an extremely nourishing meal in itself.

We meet soon for the "V" of Marathi food; as usual, I love your suggestions and look forward to them. By the way, One Hot Stove celebrates its first birthday this coming weekend, so I hope you will all join me for some cake!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

IMBB #22: Idiappam and Stew

Every month, the "Is My Blog Burning" (IMBB) event challenges food bloggers with a different theme. This month, Amy of "Cooking With Amy" (the first food blog I ever read!) has challenged us with the theme NOODLES!. Almost every cuisine in the world has its favorite noodles, and my personal favorites are the Italian spaghetti ( I love it in a tomato-cheese sauce, the way my mom made it), Chinese egg noodles (I love making huge messy stir-fries with all kinds of veggies and chunks of tofu or strands of fried eggs), and I confess, I routinely crave these ramen-like instant noodles called Maggi Noodles.

I can't resist sharing a couple of "Maggi" stories here...while I was growing up in a small town in India, there was almost no concept of instant foods. Everything was always cooked from scratch (people even bought whole grains and took them down to the local grain-mill to be ground into flour). One day when I was in primary school, some people showed up and gave away these small yellow packs to all the kids. That was the marketing launch by Nestle of its instant noodles, the first instant food to hit the shelves. Every single Indian my age is a life-long lover of Maggi noodles, so that was one successful marketing strategy. Their "bas do-minut" (only 2-minutes) ad jingle likewise is etched in my memory. Later on, when I was doing my post-grad in Bombay, there was a small "Maggi shack" on campus. It sold tea and coffee and well as Maggi noodles; and get this, "Maggi pakodas", fried snacks using cooked maggi noodles dunked in chickpea batter (instead of the usual veggies)! I know this sounds gross, but we consumed them in vast quantities. The things I ate in college...boy are those days gone forever!

But no, I am not making a batch of Maggi for this IMBB. India is not a big noodle place, I find. The only noodles commonly used are super-thin vermicelli ("seviyan") used to make a dessert or sometimes cooked into a savory dish ("upma"). In the local Indian store, I came upon these noodles in the frozen-foods section, called Idiappam. The name sounded vaguely familiar. I looked it up and found that these are nests of rice noodles made by extruding rice flour dough from a sieve-mold and steaming the resulting noodles. It seems to be a favorite breakfast dish in the coastal Southern Indian state of Kerala and in the neighboring island of Sri Lanka. The cuisines of Kerala and Sri Lanka are quite similar...both are spice and coconut-growing regions. The idiappam ( I bought the frozen ones and simply reheated them in the microwave) are traditionally served with a meat-and-potato stew. I made a stew using "Veat", a fake meat (I use fake-meat products rarely, but wanted to try this brand).
The result was a wonderful lunch...the soft bland noodles are delicious when dipped into the spicy flavorful curry! Thank you, Amy, for hosting this event. I loved trying these noodles for the first time! Recipe for the stew follows.


(serves 4-5, adapted from this recipe)
1 packet Veat gourmet bites
1 small onion, chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp clove powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp vinegar
salt to taste
2 tbsp minced cilantro
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1. Saute onions in oil till slightly browned.
2. Add ginger-garlic paste and curry leaves and saute for a minute more.
3. Add all the spices and salt and saute for a few seconds.
4. Add the potato, coconut milk, vinegar and veat bites and simmer (without boiling) for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
5. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

WCC #2: Vegetable Moussaka

Alicat and Sara host a really fun event every month, challenging food bloggers to take those cookbooks off the shelves and put them to good use in their "Weekend Cookbook Challenge" (WCC). This month's theme is Winter Comfort Food.
So many foods come to my mind when I think of comfort foods: vegetable gratins, casseroles, soups and stews, hearty pilafs. But I knew right away that I wanted to choose a dish from one particular cookbook on my shelf: Linda Fraser's "Vegetarian: The Best-Ever Recipe Collection".
The connection of this cookbook with winter is that it was a gift from my aunt T (one of my favorite aunts!) when I was visited her in upstate New York for Christmas 2001. That winter was a fairly mild one, and by December-end it had yet not snowed in NYC. Growing up in the tropics, I had never seen snow and was very excited about visiting aunt T and Uncle P, where the great lakes promise plenty of snow. I reached them on 23rd December and not a snowflake in sight! "You promised snow, where is the snow??", I whined to T. "Its coming tomorrow", she said. Sure enough, the next morning, I woke up to see soft flakes floating down lazily. I spent all morning gazing at the sheer beauty of snow, making snow angels when the ground got covered. Problem is, it kept snowing non-stop for a week. "I've seen enough, now make it stop", I wailed to T. But no, it snowed and snowed. It broke weather records. We could not open the front door any more (there was several feet of snow outside). There was no need to open the front door anyway, because there was a driving ban and we were house-bound. My flight back was cancelled. Aunt T desperately unearthed board games and videos to keep me entertained. It was a totally memorable first snow, and a memorable vacation! When it finally cleared, we drove out and went shopping and T got me an avalanche of Christmas gifts, including this cookbook that I just love.
Linda Fraser makes excellent veggie variations of classic dishes, and this is a good example. The book is beautifully illustrated and has great step-by-step directions. The recipe that I chose is "Vegetable Moussaka". This is a hearty eggplant casserole of Greek origin; sauteed eggplant slices are layered with a lentil-mushroom filling, and the casserole smothered in a yogurt sauce and baked to perfection. I splurged on some herbes de provence ( an aromatic dried-herb mixture) for this recipe, and I'm glad I did. They are the only "exotic" ingredient in this dish. I don't suppose this french herb mixture is traditional in this Greek dish, but it works in this recipe.

Vegetable Moussaka

(serves 2-3, adapted from Linda Fraser's "Vegetarian: The Best-Ever Recipe Collection"
1/2 large eggplant, sliced (about 12 slices)
pure olive oil for frying
1/3 cup lentils, rinsed
1 bayleaf
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned OK)
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tsp herbes de provence
2/3 cup plain yogurt (I used whole-milk yogurt)
1 egg
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1. Combine lentils and bayleaf with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then simmer till the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and set aside. Discard bayleaf.
2. Fry the eggplant slices in a skillet in some olive oil. Drain onto paper towels and set aside.
3. To make the filling, saute the onions and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes. Add chickpeas, lentils, tomato, herbes de provence and stir well. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. To make the topping, beat the yogurt and egg together with some salt and pepper in a small bowl.
5. Assemble the casserole: In an oven-proof dish, layer the eggplant slices and filling alternately till both get used up, ending with a layer of eggplant slices. Pour the yogurt topping over it, then sprinkle the cheese all over.
6. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden and bubbling. Serve hot.

Serve with some crusty bread slathered with good butter, and a salad on the side for a hearty meal. Thank you, Alicat and Sara, for hosting this fun event and bringing back some great winter memories!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sugar "Low" Friday: Date-Nut Slices

Do you suffer from post-dessert guilt syndrome (PDGS)? It is a condition affecting millions of people. Major symptoms include wrestling with one's conscience when the time for dessert comes around ("Death-by-Chocolate" or "Fruit Platter"..hmm??), forgoing dessert only to stuff yourself with cookies in the middle of the night, and most commonly, making New Year resolutions to eat less sugary foods.
Well, people, the lovely Sam of "Becks and Posh" has a cure for you: healthier desserts that one can feel better about eating. So this month we are keeping away our jars of refined sugar and coming up with some cool an event that Sam is calling Sugar "Low" Friday.
The problem with refined sugar is that it has "empty calories", which means that it contains only calories and no other nutrition in the form of vitamins or minerals etc. In contrast, other sources of sugar like fruits and unrefined sugars retain a host of micronutrients that contribute positively to the diet. A combination of smaller portions and healthier desserts would mean that no one needs to deprive themselves of the occasional treat.
In that sense, I like the Indian concept of "mithai" or sweets, small treats that can be eaten in a couple of bites. It is a nice way to get a sugar fix without eating a huge bowlful of something sweet. I used dates as my sugar base for this recipe. The main reason is that ripe dates have a very high sugar content, being about 75% sugar. In addition, they are rich in fiber, potassium and folate. Dates also have a rich taste that is very satisfying!
I served these date-nut slices with slices of orange. The tang of the orange sets out the sweet dates and the slightly bitter walnuts. This was a great dessert to enjoy after a lazy Sunday lunch. The slices keep well in the freezer, to be eaten whenever the craving strikes!

Date-Nut Slices

Adapted from a Tarla Dalal recipe; makes about 20 slices

10 plump juicy dates (about a cup and a half)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup almonds
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
pinch of salt
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1. Pit the dates and trim off the stems. Chop dates coarsely.
2. Toast the nuts separately (a couple of minutes in the microwave works for me, but a stove-top skillet or warm oven would work just as well). Chop the walnuts coarsely. Grind the almonds to a powder.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the dates, milk and cream. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium-low heat, stirring often, till the dates break down and the mixture cooks into a thick fudge-like consistency that leaves the sides of the saucepan.
4. Turn off the heat. Stir in walnuts, cardamom and a pinch of salt and combine well. Let the mixture cool almost to room temperature.
5. Place the date mixture on a plastic sheet and form it into a long roll. Roll the (ahem!) roll in almond powder to get it coated.
6. Place the roll in the freezer for an hour or more, then cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the slices if desired.

It is going to be a busy weekend ahead at One Hot Stove, stay tuned for IMBB: Noodles, Weekend Cookbook Challenge, and the "U" of Marathi each day starting tomorrow! I want to thank Sam for making us think out of the sugar jar!
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.


Set out some cold water, have some sugar handy, and get ready; for in stark contrast to the sugary sweet letter "S", the "T" of Marathi food is fiery hot! We start with tikhat, the Marathi word for "spicy" which is also the word generally used for red chilli powder, a ubiquitous component of every Indian spice box. Salt and red chilli powder can be used to make simple puris or fried breads called tikhta-mithachya purya, a staple snack for picnics and on journeys, for they keep well and taste good even days after being fried. "T" is also the word for the spiciest chutney of all, thecha, in which chillies (red or green) are pounded together with salt and maybe some garlic to a paste that is eaten with thick flatbreads (bhakri) for a simple frugal meal. "Thecha" is actually the Marathi word for "pounding". Another "T" spice-box component is tamalpatra or bayleaves, lending their subtle flavor to so many dishes.
One "T" food that finds its way into many savory foods is tomato. You notice that the word is exactly the same in Marathi as in English? My friend M has the sweetest grandmom who told us that tomato was completely unknown in India till only a few decades ago, when they were introduced into the Indian diet by the British who were ruling India at the time. Back in those days, M's grammy tells us, some people who were strictly vegetarian for religious reasons would not eat tomato because tomato juice was red, like blood! Despite being such a late entrant to the produce section, the tomato has successfully invaded our palate, becoming one of the most important curry bases and souring agents used today. Two of my favorite Marathi dishes in which tomatoes play a leading role are: tomato omelet, a mixture of chickpea flour (besan), chopped tomatoes and onions that is spiced and made into yummy pancakes (vegan omelets!), and tomato saar, a spicy tomato soup that is just perfect for winter evenings. Ashwini of "Food for Thought", a new Indian blogger on the block, has a wonderful recipe for tomato saar.
In the produce section, "T" stands for tondli and Indira of "Mahanandi" has beautifully described this vegetable.
After all this spicy food, we need to cool down with some taak or buttermilk, which tastes wonderful as an accompaniment to all Indian meals.
Finally, we end on a sweet note: "T" stands for til or sesame, used in this season to make tilgul, small balls of jaggery (unrefined sugar) and sesame...delicious treats! Here is a picture of some that I bought from the store last week:
Now for the burning question: What am I making for the "T" food today? The answer really was obvious to me from the beginning...I am making a very popular Marathi dish called thalipeeth. It is a multi-grain mildly spiced pancake that is simply bursting with flavor and nutrition. The recipes for thalipeeth really vary widely, but I am giving you my favorite version here. In Maharashtra, a particular flour mixture called "bhajani" is widely sold (it can also be made at home). It consists of many different types of grains...wheat, sorghum, millet, rice, some dals and spices, all roasted and ground into a wonderful aromatic flour. This can be used as a base for thalipeeth, as well as to make many kinds of savory snacks. I don't find bhajani flour in Indian stores in the US, so I simply mixed some flours that I had on hand to replicate the taste. Needless to say, the combination of so many grains is very tasty and nutritious.


(serves 2)
Total 2 cups flour mixture
{I mixed...
1/2 cup besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup atta (whole-wheat flour)
1/2 cup ragi (millet) flour}
2 tbsp rava (cream of wheat)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp minced onion
4-5 green chillies, minced
2 tbsp cilantro, minced
salt to taste
vegetable oil for cooking
Method: Mix all the ingredients (except oil) together to make a soft pliable dough that looks like this:
The dough is fairly sticky and the traditional way is to use your hands to pat it into a pancake before cooking it. A thick plastic bag rubbed with some oil is ideal as a work surface. Oil the bag, then oil your hands lightly and place a golf-ball sized ball of dough on the plastic. Use the tips of your hands to pat the dough into a flat shape. Make a few small holes in the pancake (while cooking, you can slip drops of oil into these holes to cook the thalipeeth more evenly). Heat 1 tsp oil in a non-stick pan. Gently turn the plastic sheet upside down and ease off the thalipeeth onto the pan. Use a small spoon to place tiny drops of oil into the holes in the thalipeeth. Cook till browned and crispy on both sides.

The traditional way to serve thalipeeth is with green chutney and either some plain yogurt or a dollop of butter.
See you soon, with "U" and I know what I will making! Can you guess?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Meme: Cooking Challenges 2006

A few days ago, Kalyn of "Kalyn's Kitchen", who always impresses me with her beautiful presentation and interesting posts (not to mention the focus on healthy recipes!), tagged me for a very interesting meme: my five cooking challenges for 2006? Ever since I started writing this blog (almost a year ago!), I have taken on small cooking challenges, baby steps like making custard from scratch or cooking with some novel (for me) ingredients. But I have such a long way to go towards being the kind of cook that I would like to be.

My 5 Culinary Challenges for 2006...

classic1. Learn To Cook Classic Dishes. Don't get me wrong...experimentation has its own role in my kitchen, but one of my goals is to learn to make all of the world's classic dishes really well. I want to make a perfectly creamy risotto, tasty pad-thai and a mean macaroni-and-cheese. The same goes for Indian classics: I would like to make the perfect dal makhani, the tangiest rasam and an authentic aloo gobi. Luckily, I have access to wonderful recipes from fellow bloggers as well as cookbooks and this challenge is going to be really fun!

salad2. Make More Salads. Now here is a department where I am woefully lacking! Most of the meals I churn out don't have a big salad component at all. My idea of salad usually is to make a quick yogurt-based "raita" or to put out a bowl of baby carrots and a platter of cucumber and tomato slices. That just does not cut it! I want to start planning meals around salads rather than include them as an afterthought.

WholeGrain3. Cook More Whole Grains. Again, I started working on this last year by including oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice in my cooking repertoire. But so many more grains/flours are available now, such as quinoa and teff, and I want to learn to cook them all. Whole grains have too many health benefits and learning to make some delicious dishes using these grains would make it easy to make small healthful changes in my diet.

cookware4. Equip Myself With Better Cookware. I presently own a skillet, a non-stick pan, 3 saucepans and a pressure cooker. All three saucepans are non-stick and I want to replace them with others (the lining is prone to leaking into food, studies suggest). The problem is, I am unsure what kind of cookware to buy. Any suggestions? What do you all use and how do you get around the problem of food sticking to the cookware? Any suggestions would be very welcome in helping me meet my challenge to cook in safer cookware. In addition, I would also like to buy a cast-iron pot, and a good wok. I would like to buy quality items and use them over a lifetime.

5. Generate Less Kitchen Waste.This one means a lot to me personally. I try to live an environmentally-conscious lifestyle, and in my home (and I suppose, most others), the kitchen produces most of my household trash. I would like to reduce this trash to the bare minimum. Some things I currently do are:
a) Take tote bags to the store so that I save those grocery plastic bags.
b) Buy foods in bulk to save on packaging.
c) Try to minimize food waste by planning meals in advance and buying only the groceries I know I will use.
d) Cook beans from scratch to avoid buying all those canned beans.
More challenges:
a) I want to grow my own herbs (never have to buy herbs again) and start growing some other veggies.
b) Start a compost heap with my bio-degradable kitchen waste.
Any other suggestions to reduce kitchen waste would be very welcome. I will challenge myself to keep thinking of new ways to do this.
Thanks, Kalyn, for provoking me into thinking about this was a very useful exercise!

Friday, January 20, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

S is for Solkadi and Sheera.

"S" is the Marathi letter of sugar, syrupy and sweet! It all starts with the basic pantry sweetener sakhar or sugar. The words in Marathi and English sound quite similar, don't they? The words for "sugar" seem to have ancient roots in different languages, and here is a very interesting study exploring those origins. Many Marathi pantry staples used to make sweet foods are also "S" words, such as saay or cream, which is often used to churn home-made butter, which is then clarified to ghee (and most Indian sweets are positively dripping with ghee!); shengdana or peanuts, used to make tasty "chikki" or peanut brittle; and shevaya or vermicelli, the only noodle I can think of that is commonly used in Marathi food, most often to make kheer. Another pantry staple is sabudana or pearl tapioca, used to make delicious khichdi and also to make a sweet kheer.
Other "S" desserts abound: the simplest one is called shikran, ripe bananas folded into some whole milk and sprinkled with sugar (one of those weeknight desserts that is popular with kids); shrikhand or flavored thick yogurt, and Lulu from the blog "Lulu loves Manhattan" gives a easy recipe for home-made shrikhand. More dessert, anyone? Sutarfeni is a rich besan-based dessert that vaguely reminds me of some mid-Eastern desserts; you can see a picture here.
An "S" snack is shankarpale, little fried diamond shapes that can be sweet or savoury. They are traditionally made for the festival of Diwali. "S" also stands for a whole family of beverages called sarbat, all fruit-based syrups that can be made and stored for months in the pantry, ready to be diluted with chilled water to make a quick refreshing drink. A great alternative to soda!
So what am I making for the "S" food today? Well, to be honest, all these endless desserts are cloying, and my tastebuds need a break: so I am going to make a beverage called solkadi. This is a drink made with coconut milk, flavors such as garlic, and an unusual fruit called "kokum"...the combination of which makes for a drink that has a unique sweet-spicy-sour flavor that is utterly and completely refreshing!
Now, most Indian dishes call for some sour flavor component that gives a slight tang: commonly these are yogurt or tomato or tamarind or lemon juice. The "kokum" is a sour tropical fruit. In its fresh form, it can be cut in half, seeds scooped out, the two halves of the fruit packed with sugar and stored in a jar in the sun. After days or weeks, the sugar dissolves into the fruit pulp, and the result is a tangy guessed it, kokum sarbat. This can be made into a drink that is simply heavenly on a sweltering hot summer day (which in India, is almost three-quarters of the year). But another way to use the kokum fruit is to dry the peel, packed with salt as a preservative. It is used in this form as a souring agent in many curries etc. The "sol" in solkadi comes from the fact that kokum is also called "amsul" or "sol". The dark purple color of the kokum gives a pretty pale pink hue to the solkadi. This is what kokum looks like:
The two main components of solkadi are kokum and coconut, both of which grow abundantly in the hot humid coast of Maharashtra, and so solkadi is a coastal specialty. The solkadi can be served as a cold soup/appetizer, or in a small bowl along with the main meal. Some people also like sipping it at the end of the meal as a cooling digestive. My aunt CM in Bombay often serves the cool mild solkadi with spicy egg pulao. I simply love this combination and that is how I made it today.


(serves 4)
8-10 dried kokum (about 1/2 cup loosely packed), shake off excess salt
1 can coconut milk
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3-4 green chillies, each cut into 3 pieces
1 tsp peppercorns, coarsely crushed
4 tbsp cilantro, divided
salt to taste
1. Place kokum in a bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water on the kokum. Leave to steep for 1 hour.
2. Add garlic, chillies, peppercorns, 2 tbsp cilantro and salt to the kokum-water and leave to steep for another hour.
3. Add coconut milk and mix well (either use your hands, or place the mixture in a tightly-closed container and shake vigorously). The idea is to flavor the liquid well with the spices and extract all the sourness from the kokum.
4. Strain the mixture through a coarse sieve into a fresh container. Garnish with cilantro. Serve chilled in small bowls or glasses.

That was our main course, but I just cannot end the "S" post without a dessert: so here is an easy dessert in which the amount of sugar can be adjusted to suit your palate. Sheera is a stove-top semolina pudding and is best served warm, making it an ideal winter dessert. Traditionally, sheera is made for religious events and served in little paper cups as "prasad" or an offering to the diety. I love eating it with sliced bananas as a special treat. The method of making sheera is similar to that of risotto in that hot liquid is added to grain and stirred constantly for a creamy result. You can find cream of wheat in the breakfast aisle of any US supermarket while the same product is sold as "rava" in Indian stores.


serves 4-6
1 cup rava (cream of wheat/semolina/farina)
2 tbsp ghee/butter
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup chopped mixed nuts (any combo of almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts)
2 tbsp raisins
1 tsp cardamom powder
few strands saffron (optional)
1. Heat the ghee in a saucepan and saute the rava till it is toasty and fragrant.
2. Meanwhile, heat the water and milk together till it is simmering. Add the saffron strands, if using.
3. Add the sugar to the toasted rava and stir together.
4. Add the nuts and raisins and saute for a minute more.
5. Pour in the hot water/milk ( will bubble vigorously!) and stir constantly for several minutes till the pudding is thick and creamy.
6. Stir in the cardamom. Serve warm, topped with ripe banana slices, if desired.

I hope you enjoyed this sweet letter. We will meet soon with the letter "T". As usual, suggestions are appreciated!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Blog Party: A Retro "Cheesy" Fondue!

When Stephanie announced that the theme of this month's blog party is "Retro", one word screamed out loud at me: FONDUE! For one thing, it is a retro food that I actually love to eat (The same cannot be said about some other retro favorites like jello salad and spam). For another, I own a pretty retro-looking fondue pot, a small red electric one that I bought for a few dollars at a moving sale. A fondue is a delicious way to while away a cold winter evening...huddled around a pot of molten cheese, dipping in crusty bread and potato wedges.
A real fondue consists of cheese melted into wine to make a bubbly sauce. I better announce my disclaimer right now: this is not a real fondue recipe that I am about to share with you. My first attempt at making real fondue was an unmitigated disaster of cheese separating into a grainy awful mess. I turned to Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" for help, and learned that it is the acidity in wine that makes for a smooth cheese fondue (the alcohol has nothing to do with it). Any other stabilizing agent such as flour can also do the trick. So that is how I have come up with this faux cheese fondue recipe that works for me.

Easy Cheesy Fondue
(serves 2-4)
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup finely minced onions
1/3 cup finely minced green peppers
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup brie cheese, rind removed, torn into pieces
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese/ other cheese of your choice
2 tsp plain flour
1/2-1 cup milk
Pepper to taste
1. Place all the cheese in a bowl and toss together with the flour to coat.
2. Melt the butter and saute onions, pepper, garlic.
3. Add the cheese a little at a time on low heat, stirring to melt the cheese evenly.
4. Add milk to thin the fondue to your desired consistency.
5. Season with pepper (cheese is quite salty so no more salt should be needed).
6. Pour into a fondue pot if you want to keep the sauce warm at the table.

Serve with slices of crusty bread, roasted potato wedges and fruit such as pears, apples and grapes.

These baked potato wedges are great for dipping into the fondue, or just eating on their own, maybe with a dab of ketchup.
Oven-Baked Fries
2 medium potatoes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Wash and scrub the potatoes. Cut into long wedges/fingers.
3. In a bowl, toss together the potatoes, oil, salt and pepper.
4. Spread the potato wedges in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring once or twice while baking, till wedges are crispy and golden.

Try these with other seasonings such as garlic powder, rosemary or chilli powder.

This cocktail is my idea of a tasty retro drink, salty and spicy, just the way I like it.
Virgin Mary
For each serving, mix together:
1/2 cup V8 or any other brand of vegetable juice
1/2 cup tomato juice
Dash of tabasco sauce
4-5 drops of lemon juice
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
Serve over ice, garnished with a celery stick. Delicious!
Thanks for hosting, Stephanie, and I look forward to the next blog party!

Sunday, January 15, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

R is for Ratala Kees.

We are already at the final 1/3rd of the alphabet! The letter "R" is a sweet treat in many ways. It stands for rava or cream of wheat (coarsely ground wheat also known as "farina" or "semolina"), a pantry staple in most Indian households. Although rava has many uses in sweet and savory foods, the Marathi favorite is the rava ladoo, rava cooked with ghee, sugar and cardamom and molded into little balls. Rava can also be cooked into an easy stove-top pudding called "sheera", and we shall make this for "S" in a few days.
Ras in Marathi means "juice" and aamras, simply called ras is the thick pulp of the mango. In the summer months, mango reigns supreme, and the bright orange aromatic "ras" is served at most meals in a little bowl, to be scooped up with some hot rotis, or for festive occasions, with a hot puffy fried puri.
One "R" dessert that is loved across the length and breadth of India is rasmalai, where small cheese dumplings are soaked in a sweet flavored milky syrup. I love making and serving rasmalai, and will devote a whole post to this wonderful dessert soon.
Now on to the savory "R" foods. The most popular spicy "R" food is ragda-patties, and I have posted that recipe already. From "ras" or juice comes another word, rassa or juicy curry, and the egg rassa is an example of this popular Marathi curry.
In the produce section, we have the power-house of nutrition, the ratala or sweet potato. It is unfortunate that we don't eat this amazing vegetable more the US, the sweet potato is almost exclusively eaten at the thanksgiving holiday, and in Marathi homes, it is eaten mostly on days of religious fasts. By all accounts, it ought to be a much more routine part of our diet because of its excellent nutritional profile. Religious fast days allow for some restricted foods such as tapioca, potato, sweet potato and certain spices like cumin but forbid garlic, onion and many other foods. The sweet potato recipe I chose to make today is called ratala kees ("kees" means "grated") and this is a traditional "fasting day" dish. Personally, I think the natural sweetness and beautiful color of sweet potatoes makes this a wonderful side-dish for any meal, Indian or otherwise, any old day of the year. This recipe can be made in exactly the same way with regular potatoes. I adapted the recipe from this one that I found online.
This recipe is also my entry for ARF/5-a-day over at Sweetnicks, an event geared towards helping us all to make better nutritional choices.

Ratala Kees (Grated Sweet Potato)

serves 3-4
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp ghee or butter
1 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 fresh curry leaves
2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
salt to taste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp minced cilantro leaves
1. Wash, peel and grate the sweet potato coarsely into a bowl (this can be done manually or using the grating attachment of a food processor).
2. Heat the oil and ghee in a skillet. Add cumin seeds and curry leaves and saute for a minute.
3. Add grated sweet potatoes, salt and cayenne pepper. Saute for a minute, then cook partially covered on medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, till potatoes are just tender.
4. Add the crushed peanuts and saute for a minute more.
5. Turn off the heat, then stir in lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro.

This dish can be served warm or at room temperature. The natural sweetness of the sweet potato is a very pleasing contrast to the nutty peanut crunch and the slight spicy kick from the cumin and red chillies. Note that the sweet potato tends to stick to the bottom of the pan, so I had to use a non-stick skillet to avoid this. Another note: If you work reasonably quickly, the grated sweet potato does not discolor as it sits around. If the sweet potato is grated into a bowl of water, this is one way to avoid discoloration, but you will lose some water-soluble vitamins. I would suggest getting your ingredients organized, then grating the sweet potato (not into water) and sauteeing it right away.
We shall meet in a few days to look at "S" let me know if you have any suggestions for this letter!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

5-a-day: Spinach-Mushroom Soup

If its Tuesday, it must be ARF/5-a-day over at Sweetnicks! Today, I am playing along with a nourishing soup that wraps you with comfort like a warm fuzzy scarf.
Spinach and Mushrooms are quickly cooked into a simple soup. A little bit of butter, cheese and milk go a long way in making this soup taste rich and flavorful. It is fine to use fresh or frozen spinach in this recipe. I often find that mature spinach tastes gritty and unpleasant to me, so I am going with baby spinach which has a milder taste.

Spinach Mushroom Soup

(serves 4-6)
1 bag baby spinach
1 10-oz package mushrooms (baby bella/white)
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar/monterey jack)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat butter in a large pot. Saute bayleaf, onions and garlic for a couple of minutes until transluscent.
2. Add the flour and stir it around to get it coated in butter.
3. Add 6 cups of water and bring it to a boil.
4. Now add mushrooms and spinach (it will wilt quickly) to the water and simmer for 3-4 minutes.
5. Fish out bay leaf from soup and discard. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, process the veggies to a thick broth.
6. Season with salt, pepper, oregano and red pepper flakes, if using.
7. Finish the soup with milk and shredded cheese. Continue heating for a minute or two and then serve.

Sweetnicks, thanks for hosting!

Sunday, January 08, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

Q is for Quick Bhadang.

The letter "Q" presented me with a challenge...this is the first letter for which I am unable to come with any Marathi food, so I am treating as a "wild card" to look at some foods that we missed along the journey. Q certainly stands for "quick", and here is a quick post with a quick recipe. Almost every home in India is stocked with a few sweet and savory snacks, for unexpected guests that might drop in, and for snacking on when mid-meal hunger pangs strike. We already looked at one such snack, Chivda, and this one called bhadang is a close cousin. Bhadang is made with puffed rice and can almost be considered "Indian popcorn". In my home-town of Kolhapur, fiery hot bhadang is sold in small paper cones by street vendors, and can be spiked with chopped onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice on request. It is one of life's little pleasures to eat handfuls of this spicy crunchy mix while sprawled on the couch reading a good book.
I made this bhadang today as part of the "chai hamper" that I pledged for the Menu for Hope fundraiser. The winner of the chai hamper is none other than Cathy! In my original pledge, I promised some chivda as part of the hamper, but Cathy visited me recently and I had made chivda then, so for a change, I made bhadang instead. I hope she likes it! Cathy, your hamper will be on its way tomorrow morning so please keep an eye out :)
6 cups puffed rice
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 cup peanuts
5-6 garlic cloves
8-10 curry leaves
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add cumin and mustard seeds and let them pop.
2. Add peanuts, garlic, curry leaves and saute till the garlic is lightly browned.
3. Add salt, sugar, turmeric and chilli powder and saute for a few seconds.
4. Add the puffed rice and raisins and saute on low-medium heat, stirring often till all the puffed rice is coated. Turn off heat after 3-5 minutes.

Cool and store in an air-tight tin, where it keeps indefinitely at room temperature. The garlic and curry leaves can be eaten as part of bhadang, though of course you can pick those out if you like. To make instant bhel, add some fresh lemon juice, chopped onion and cilantro to the bhadang. Come to think of it, Rice Krispies cereal could be substituted for the puffed rice, those too are very similar.
We shall meet very soon with a look at "R" so stay tuned!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Street Food: Pani Puri

A few days ago I was wandering the aisles of a South-Asian grocery store that just opened right across the street from my workplace, and my heart jumped when I saw a bag of fat little puris: time for some pani-puri! Here is a street food that is wildly popular all over India although it might be called by different names; gol-gappa in Northen India, puchka in Bengal, and pani-puri in Maharashtra. Pani-puri literally translates as "water-puri" which in itself does not sound too appetizing, but here is what it is. A firm semolina dough is rolled into little "puris" and deep fried into plump tiny hollow balls. You take one of these puris, press your thumb into one side (one side of the puri is always more fragile than the other, and a little experience will tell you which is which, so you can pierce the right side) to make a little opening, and then proceed to stuff the puri with one of several fillings. Then you ceremoniously dunk the puri into a spicy watery chutney and stuff the dripping puri into your mouth, where it explodes into a crispy-spicy treat. In most cases, it is fiery enough that tears spring to your eyes, and in that almost-masochistic moment you know that you are addicted to pani-puri.
OK then. The first requirement for a pani-puri session is good puris: perfectly puffy and crispy and intact balls. Although I have a recipes for making these at home, I find it easier to just buy the puris and then take it from there. The puris do have a long shelf-life in the store, but that often means that when you bring them home, they are just a tad stale-tasting and not quite crispy. That will utterly ruin the pani-puri experience, so here is a tip for freshening puris: Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place the puris on a baking sheet, not touching each other. Bake the puris for 5-7 minutes (they will sizzle slightly). Cool for 5 minutes, and voila, you have fresh-tasting, crisp puris.
No one eats pani-puri as a health food (unfortunately) but other than the fried puris, my recipe consists of good healthy eats: the stuffing is sprouts and bits of boiled potato, with an optional addition of whipped yogurt, and the chutney is made with fresh herbs and ginger. Ordinarily, one might make a whole array of different chutneys, one spicy, one sweet and so on. I simplified the process by making a single chutney that contains all the different flavor components.


You need
a) A packet of "pani-puri" puris (about 40-50)
b) For fillings:
1/4 cup whole lentils
1/4 cup whole "moong beans"
1/4 cup whole white peas (or any combination of whole dals)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 potatoes, boiled
c) For chutney:
1 and half cups packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
3-4 fresh green chillies
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black salt
1 tsp chaat masala
2 tbsp jaggery powder (unrefined sugar)
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Prepare the fillings.
a) Cut the boiled potatoes into small cubes and set aside.
b) Add a pinch of salt and sugar to the yogurt. Whip the yogurt, spoon it into a bowl and set aside.
c) Combine the whole dals, soak overnight and sprout them for a day or two. Cook the sprouts till tender (stove-top or microwave). Mash them slightly and season with salt.
2. Make the chutney.
a) Combine 2 cups water and the jaggery in a saucepan. Bring to a boil so that the jaggery dissolves. Set aside to cool.
b) Grind together the mint, cilantro, chillies, ginger and cumin seeds to a fine paste. Add it to the jaggery water.
c) Add the rest of the chutney ingredients, mix together and taste to see if you like the balance of flavors. Adjust as necessary. Chill the chutney until ready to serve.

That is all the preparation one needs. Set everything out in bowls and people can make their own puris. Enjoy!

Monday, January 02, 2006

P is for PITHALE

This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

P is for Pithale.

"P" is a glorious letter for Marathi food. "P" is the letter of a whole lot of foods associated with feasting and in contrast, it also stands for one of the humblest foods that I can think of...we shall look at them all. First come a plethora of flatbreads: starting with the very simple poli (another name for chapati), a bread made with wheat flour and baked on a griddle. A more complicated version of the flatbread is the parotha or paratha, in which the dough is rolled into layers, separated by strokes of oil, resulting in a flaky puffy bread. Parothas can be enhanced by stuffing cooked spiced vegetables into them, for instance batata-parotha (or aloo paratha) is a favorite breakfast and lunch dish. The most festive flatbread, reserved for special occasions, is the puri or bread fried till is puffy and golden, often served with potato curry and a sweet yogurt dessert called shrikhand. All the above breads are savory, but one sweet flatbread reigns supreme in Marathi cuisine, the puran-poli, a bread stuffed with a delicious sweet lentil mixture.
Next come more feast foods: pulao ("pilaf") which not a single dish but a whole group of rice dishes; and a Kolhapuri specialty called pandhra rassa ("white curry") which is a very unusual coconut and yogurt-based meat stew that can be adapted to a veggie version. No feast can be complete with those wonderful fried or roasted papads, of course! In fact, the Marathi word for feast dishes is pakwann, also a "P" word!
One popular "P" food is actually a drink: panha. You take raw mangoes (tart!), cook them with jaggery (unrefined sugar), season the resulting pulp with a pinch of cardamom, and mix in with chilled water to make a refreshing beverage.
Two other "P" words are staples in the produce section: paalak or spinach and pudina or mint. So which of these delicious dishes am I showcasing for this letter? None, actually. I am going to tell you about the most humble "P" food. It is called pithale and is a curry made entirely of chickpea flour (besan) which is cooked into a kind of savory custard. Traditionally this is eaten with a flatbread called "bhakri" but I like eating it with rotis or rice or even with some crusty bread. The wonder of pithale is that about a 1/3 of a cup of chickpea flour produces enough pithale to become a meal that serves 4!
India is a land of great contrasts, where wealth and poverty, feast and famine are often painfully juxtaposed. The "P" letter foods show how this contrast is reflected in our cuisine. So here I give you the recipe for pithale, a food that uses a handful of flour to feed a family.
Pithale has numerous variations, such as these three recipes. I give you my own version, with precise quantitities that have worked consistently in my hands. As one reader said in a mail to me, "Pithale is one dish that is easy to make but easily screwable" :)


(serves 3-4)
1/3 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 small onion, minced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
4-5 curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cilantro, minced
1. In a bowl, mix the besan with 2 and a half cups water until there are no lumps (using your hands helps).
2. In a saucepan, heat the oil. Make a "tadka" with cumin and mustard seeds.
3. Add curry leaves, onion, garlic and saute for a minute or two until onion is transluscent.
4. Add turmeric, chilli powder, salt and saute for a few seconds.
5. Add the diluted besan and on low-medium heat, cook it, stirring often, till the besan cooks into a thick "custardy" consistency. (you might want to taste it to make sure that the "raw" taste is gone).
6. Take off the heat and then mix in the lemon juice and cilantro.

Serve right away with steamed rice/ bread/ rotis, with a dollop of ghee if desired.
We meet in a few days with the rather difficult "Q"!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Recipe Watch 1

I'm starting the new year with a new segment called Recipe Watch. Over the course of visiting all my favorite blogs, I always come across recipes that I instantly want to try out, and over the past weeks I have actually managed to try out quite a few of them. In the style of Cathy's "Dining with the Bloggers", I thought I would share these my favorite "discoveries" with you all. Every time I have 5 recipes that I have tried and loved, I will post about them.
This time I have three Indian entrees (two eggplant preparations and one dal) and two Italian entrees. All made for wonderful hearty suppers.
1. Stuffed Baby Eggplants from Indira of "Mahanandi". This is a must-read post for two reasons: (a) Indira shares her family recipe for stuffed eggplants, and it is a recipe to die for! The creamy richness of sesame and peanuts smothering the velvety eggplants is simply phenomenal. Indira also gives a great tip for cooking the eggplants to perfection. (b) Indira also links to other recipes for stuffed eggplants and lists variations on the theme. This post is your one destination for gathering many many recipes for this favorite Indian entree.
2. Eggplant with Wadi: From Mika of "The Green Jackfruit" I finally learnt about those mysterious dried "wadis" that I had seen in Indian stores for so long without knowing what they are. It turns out that the dried wadis are perfect for jazzing up humdrum subzis. They make the vegetable taste even better the next day.
3. Kara Sambar: This recipe from Shammi of "Food in the Main" illustrates the world of difference between using pre-made sambar mixes and making your own. The few extra minutes one spends are so worth it. This sambar was simply a flavor explosion, and also the first time I used shallots.
4. Instant Potato Gnocchi: Whenever I eat out at Italian restaurants, I invariably order gnocchi. Amy of "Cooking with Amy" makes it easy to try this comforting dish at home. It worked very well and the gnocchi turned out tender and absolutely melt-in-the-mouth. An impressive entree that can be thrown together using simple pantry ingredients.
5. Penne a la Vodka: Another classic Italian favorite. Mona of "Mona's Apple" shares a versatile and simple tomato sauce recipe, and the penne a la vodka turned out to be a memorable supper for us. Another keeper recipe.
See y'all soon...Happy New Year!