Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mushroom Pulao

A few weeks ago, I fell in love all over again. With a cast iron pan this time. During a spring cleaning frenzy during which I critically appraised every single piece of kitchen ware and got rid of a lot of extra pots and pans and whittled down my collection to the basics.

Then I decided to buy one cast iron pan to replace a lot of the other kitchenware. I have been using this pan practically every single day since I bought it. You can't beat cast iron for wonderful searing and heat retention. Once you get over the fear of food sticking to the pan and learn to use and clean cast iron pans properly, I am convinced they are the most useful cookware money can buy. I used mine last week to make a long-bookmarked recipe, Chettinadu Style Mushroom Biryani from Escapades. I had no fresh herbs on hand that evening, only the pantry staples, but with some dried mint, this turned out to be the most flavorful quick biryani.

Chettinad Style Mushroom Pulao
(Adapted from Escapades, serves 3 to 4)

  1. Slice 2 medium onions. Fry until browned. A third of the fried onions will be reserved for garnish and the remaining will be used in the marinade.
  2. Take 2/3 of the fried onions into a large bowl. Add 2/3 cup thick yogurt, 1 tsp ginger garlic paste, a hefty pinch of dried mint, red chili powder, turmeric, salt, garam masala. The garam masala I used is a mixture of just three spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves.  
  3. Add quartered mushrooms to the marinade and set aside for 45 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, soak 1 cup Basmati rice in cool water.
  5. In pan, add 1 tsp. fennel seeds and 2 bay leaves. Add mushrooms along with the marinade. Fry until the mushrooms start releasing water. Stir in 3/4 cup thick coconut milk, drained rice, 1 cup water, salt. Cover and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  6. Garnish with the remaining fried onions, lemon wedges and fresh herbs if you have any on hand.

I served the mushroom rice with cabbage pachadi and tandoori tofu and somehow these dishes came together to make a wonderful meal.

* * *
Summer unofficially starts in the US with Memorial Day (which was this long weekend) and the St. Louis weather certainly got the memo. We had a heat wave and sweated it out but did head out to do lots of touristy things with my sister, including a trip to the arch and the brewery.

And a lunch at Meskerem on Grand for a delicious Ethiopian vegetarian combo meal.

And lots of crafty projects, including this one where we gathered up waste fabric scraps and made festive little note cards.

Have a lovely week, everyone! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tangy Salsa

One of the things I love about St. Louis is how incredibly lush and green this city is and how accessible the parks are. For instance, you drive onto a busy road lined with every big box store you can think of, bustling with malls and car dealerships and your usual urban chaos. Then you turn into a side street and exactly 5 minutes later you are in Castlewood state park which looks like this.

The forecast predicted rain and gloom this weekend but instead we were treated to two days of sparkling sunshine and cool breezes. We grabbed the opportunity and went hiking on Sunday morning.

Dale is a champion hiker- even with his old bones, he loves scrambling up paths and exploring new trails.

Living in St. Louis has been a good lesson in the fickleness of weather. The weekend did not end well for the town of Joplin diagonally across the state from us. On Sunday evening the enchanted Spring weekend gave way to angry storms and a tornado landed there causing deaths and destruction.

The story repeated itself yesterday. Monday morning was as bright and sunny a Spring day as one could hope for. Then around lunchtime, in the matter of minutes, the sky darkened to an angry shade of grey and the high winds swayed my office building until I ran into the stairwell wondering if this was an earthquake or tornado. It was only a severe thunderstorm that lashed and raged for a good hour, then moved on, leaving us sunny and dry again as though nothing had ever happened.

We've learned to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. When the weather is nice, we immediately open up the doors and windows and eat meals on the patio and go on walks and hikes because you never know when the next storm will hit.

As the weather warms, I tend to cook simpler recipes and we often end up dining on appetizers. I borrowed one of Rick Bayless' excellent Mexican cookbooks from the library and discovered that I had all the ingredients that were needed to make this simple and flavorful salsa. This cookbook is full of wonderful essays about regional Mexican cuisines.

When recipes call for minced or chopped green chillies, I often substitute with bottled green chili chutney for convenience and that's what I did in this recipe.

Guacamole with Tomatillos
(Adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless; makes about 2 cups)

  1. Remove the husks from about 5 medium tomatillos and wash them. Quarter the tomatillos, place them in a saucepan, barely cover them with water, add salt and boil the tomatillos until barely tender. 
  2. Drain the water and place the cooked tomatillos in a food processor, along with a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro, 12 small onion (roughly chopped) and 2 tsp. green chili chutney.
  3. Process the mixture to a coarse puree. 
  4. In a bowl, mash 1 ripe avocado with a fork. Add the tomatillo puree and salt to taste. Mix well and serve with tortilla chips. 
See you in a couple of days! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tamarind Poha

My sister is a very good cook and has been critically appraising my cooking skills ever since she has come to visit. In the usual course of things, I am accustomed to V and Neighbor Girl boosting my ego regularly by saying things like "Everything you touch tastes wonderful"- they know that flattery will get you a hot meal every evening if nothing else.

My sister is not that easy to impress. Already I've been informed by her that my pohe, the popular Maharashtrian flattened rice breakfast dish that often sets the bar for a person's cooking skills, are sub-standard. She proceeded to diagnose the problem as stinginess with oil.

But all is not lost. I made mocha madness ice cream for Neighbor Girl's birthday bash and Kashmira absolutely loved it. She was amazed that it took about 4.5 minutes to put together. We also made eggless banana bread (my sister has an egg allergy) and she liked the idea of using flaxseed as an egg substitute.

I showed her how to make my favorite candy from David Lebovitz's recipe, and she packaged it in pretty paper to take with her on a trip to the East Coast. The candy was probably her favorite from all the goodies we made together.

We've been cooking up a storm- everything from sweet potato fries to homemade pizza (the complete experience, with fire alarms going off and all), to the ever-popular pesto pasta salad with roasted vegetables. My sister has now revised her statement to say that I am an OK cook but a better baker!

In an effort to gain some pohe skills, I had Kashmira teach me how to make a new-to-me pohe dish that is popular in several South Indian cuisines: tamarind pohe. Now it was my turn to be amazed at how quickly this tasty breakfast dish came together. I have never made a no-cook dish with thick pohe (flattened rice) but I am sure I'll be making this again and again.

Tamarind Pohe 
(hunsehannu avalakki in Kannada; serves 3-4)
  1. Grind 2 cups thick poha coarsely (not to a powder!) in a spice grinder or food processor. Rinse in water and let the poha soak. It should fluff up but not turn into a paste, so be sure to drain out the water.
  2. Soak 2 tbsp. tamarind pulp in warm water and extract the juice. Make a dilute solution of the tamarind water and add enough powdered jaggery to make a sweet-tangy mixture.
  3. Pour this mixture into the soaked poha.
  4. Heat some generous quantities of oil in a small pan and temper it with mustard seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, dried red chillies and peanuts.
  5. Pour the tempering onto the poha. 
  6. Add salt and rasam powder (I wanted to taste the gojju powder so we added that instead) to the poha, to taste. Mix well and serve.
  7. For an authentic touch, fry some sandge and crush them onto the tamarind pohe. 

Coming up next, a quick and tasty salsa recipe. Happy Friday, everyone!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Fried Masala Peanuts

Among the favorite goodies that my sister got from India were my mother's batter-fried peanuts. I've eaten them a hundred times but have never made them myself. My mother makes them often, always to include in care packages for family and friends in India and abroad and in response to requests. They are addictive little treats and they showcase an important agricultural product of Southern Maharashtra (peanuts grow in abundance here).

Well, yesterday my parents decided to fry up a batch of peanuts just for themselves, and document the method with pictures so I could post it on my blog. I opened my mail and was delighted to see these step by step pictures. All the pictures you see below are taken by my Dad while my Mom fried the peanuts.

The recipe for these fried peanuts comes from my grandmother, my Dad's mother. The ingredients are straightforward; the trick is in the method of lovingly hand-coating the peanuts with the minimum of water. After frying, this results in a thick but crisp shell of spices around each peanut.

Here are the ingredients: raw peanuts, and then clockwise from the top: a small bowl of water, besan (chickpea flour), coriander powder, cumin powder, asafetida, red chilli powder and salt. All quantities are to taste. But I would suggest not skimping on spices if you are going for the addictive kick.

My mother cautions against using turmeric because it burns while frying, resulting in blackened peanuts with a burnt taste.

Notice the container that the peanuts are spread out in? That's termed a paraat in Marathi. It is like a large mixing bowl but with a flat bottom, and is an essential kitchen item there, for mixing doughs etc.

You start by sprinkling spices into the peanuts.

Next, sprinkle a handful of besan.

Now comes the part where you get right into it: dip your clean hand into the bowl of water and start massaging the spices and flour into the peanuts. Keep repeatedly wetting the hand and doing this to give the peanuts a barely moist coating.

What you end up with is this: you'll have lots of water left in the bowl (it will now be cloudy from flour and spices) and the peanuts will be coated like so.

The peanuts should be a little floury rather than wet.

Now it is time to dunk them in a bath of hot oil. My mother uses her heavy cast iron kadhai for this.

Drain the fried peanuts. Notice that there is a pot of tea being brewed on the top right burner. Tea is the perfect accompaniment for fried peanuts! Also beer. Or lemonade.


Dale's Tales

Ever since my sister has arrived, Dale gets a kiss every 3 minutes and a hug every 8.5 minutes. She brushes his coat to sparkling perfection every morning, takes him for long walks and is quite smitten by him. Dale seems to be in two minds over all this extra attention. On one hand, he needs his space and hates being smothered. On the other hand, with yet another human fawning all over him, his plan for world domination is right on schedule.

V took these pics of our pretty boy sunning himself on the back porch. Yes, I outsourced all the photography for this post.

Showing off his best side?

See you in a couple of days with a breakfast idea. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sew Gorgeous: Kala Koyree

Note: Blogger has had a multitude of problems this week. I had written this post earlier this week and it inexplicably vanished into cyberspace. Blogger reports that posts that vanished have been restored, complete with comments. But alas, this post appeared half-edited in my drafts, and the comments seem to be lost forever. But here it is, reposted the best I could manage. I am sad that of all posts, the one where I was talking about my sister's work had to be to one that ran into snags. I want to thank everyone who left encouraging comments. There were some comments which contained questions, and those are gone. But please contact my sister or me via e-mail if you have any questions. 

This post has no recipe but plenty of eye candy. Since Kashmira, my sister, has arrived, the dining table has been converted into an impromptu craft studio and the sewing machine has been humming overtime.

Until a few months ago, my sister was a finance analyst, working long stressful hours in a corporate environment for several years in Bangalore and London. While she enjoyed her job and was very good at it, she is a crafter at heart, and she yearned for more color, texture and creativity in life. She took a bold decision, to quit her job and start her own sewing business, designing and creating bags, garments and accessories.

Kashmira calls her fledgeling venture Kala Koyree. Kala is the word for art and koyree is the beloved paisley motif evoking the shape of the mango. Today, Kashmira has the joy of working with textiles and designs and colors all day long.

Our baby cousin Sanjyot (well, she's not such a baby any more, I suppose) used her graphics arts skills to help design a logo for the new business.

Here are some pictures of bags she has made. This one makes me smile every time I look at it, with its sunny hues.

Kashmira does beautiful patchwork (applique), using gorgeous Indian textiles. This bag features one of my favorite motifs, the mango. I love her eye for detail, like the deep green handles and the pretty lining. 

Kashmira made an array of kid-friendly totes, compact bags with enough space for all the little things that a child needs- books and a small toy, pencils, crayons, snacks.

This is another one of my favorites, a bag embellished with a set of colorful pencils.

Kashmira has an eye for making the best of her materials and minimizing waste. This is a good example where she used pieces of zippers left over from other projects.

After a few months of selling her crafts, Kashmira's problem (it is a good problem to have) is that she has more orders than she can sew and fulfill working on her own. Her dream is to be an entrepreneur and provide employment to other women with fair wages and safe working conditions. After all, a job and financial independence is the way to empowerment and a path out of poverty. 

Please support crafters like Kashmira who offer products that are alternatives to cheap mass-manufactured goods, that support traditional crafts with a contemporary look and where there is a potential for job formation with fair wages as the business grows. 

* * *
If you like what you see, there are several ways to connect with Kala Koyree

Latest creations, updates and announcements

Buy online

Custom orders, questions, feedback and comments
Kala DOT Koyree AT gmail DOT com

Of course, you can always contact me at onehotstove AT gmail DOT com with any questions or comments.

In the next post, we will be back to regular programming involving food and recipe (and gratuitous dog pictures). But I sure hope you enjoyed this crafty foray into my sister's world.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Freezer Cutlets, and Goodies from India

A few more weeks have slipped through my fingers- weeks filled with unwanted excitement like tornadoes roaring through our city and colds and coughs making their rounds. But here we are- my sister landed in St. Louis yesterday, I have the day off, the sun is shining and all is well with the world. I hope to capture many of her vacation moments on the blog so I hope you'll see frequent updates on One Hot Stove.

Earlier this year, you all shared so many terrific ideas for freezing Indian dishes. Several people mentioned freezing vegetable cutlets- little patties full of mashed vegetables. Boiled potatoes are a mainstay of these kinds of patties, and potatoes don't have a reputation for freezing well, so I was eager to try this for myself. If it worked, it would be a very good thing to have a freezer stash of patties, because everyone seems to love these little snacks.

I started with making cutlets this past Sunday.

  • Into a large bowl went 2 potatoes and 1 large sweet potato (all pressure cooked, peeled and mashed). 
  • In a skillet, I heated a little oil and sauteed 1 large onion, 1 large green bell pepper, a couple of small carrots (all cut in small dice) and a large handful of peas
  • These par-cooked vegetables went into the bowl along with seasoning- salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander and cumin powder, ginger garlic paste. 
  • There was a handful of parmesan cheese that needed using up so in it went. 
  • I kneaded the mixture together, then formed small patties and rolled them in fine rava (sooji or semolina).

The sweet potatoes add wonderful sweetness and richness to the patties but they do have a very soft texture and make the patties more fragile. Once coated and fried, they held together just fine but you do need to handle them gently.

At this point, I pan-fried the patties until they were barely golden on each side, then transferred them to a baking sheet and stuck the baking sheet in the freezer to get the individual patties to freeze. A few hours later, I lifted the patties off the sheet and put them all in a sealed container (since they are frozen they don't stick to each other to form a giant mass of patties) and back into the freezer.

Cut to Thursday evening when I wanted a fresh hot snack ready for when sis got home from the airport. I pulled the freezer container into the fridge in the morning to start the thawing process. Then all it took was a round of shallow-frying, this time to get the patties really brown and crispy on each side. And they tasted as good as new!

So to conclude, freezing vegetable cutlets works very well indeed. They taste great at room temperature too, making them good candidates for lunch boxes and picnic hampers.

Vacation Moment #1: Squeals of Joy

I feel luckier than the winner of the mega millions- my sister looked at the wish list (thanks for the great ideas, everyone) and brought along all these gifts for my greedy food lovin' self. Here are some pictures for you, with the names of the goodies mostly in the native language (pardon the imperfect spellings).

Specialties from Bangalore: Subamma Stores

This food store is legendary, but my sister was shocked when she visited it. The way she tells it- it is a tiny congested place, their sign-board had fallen down and there was a throng of customers clamoring outside. The store keeper kept shouting, "Swalpa Control, Madam" as a barely effective method of crowd control. My sis bought a bunch of items; the store keeper was so busy that he asked her to add them up herself and give him the money.

These two goodies are to be deep-fried- the first is a crunchy accompaniment to meals and the second makes wonderful curd rice, just in time for summer.

Savory snacks:

Why are these called Congress peanuts? Does anyone know?

Sweets: coconut roti and flaky pastry puffs

With Love from Southern Maharashtra

My mother's often-requested batter fried peanuts:

The town of Sangli is known for its fiery hot bhadang (tempered puffed rice). This is a spice mix that makes it easy for me to replicate the taste in my own kitchen.

Metkoot, a spice, grain and lentil powder to be mixed with ghee rice or yogurt rice. This is comfort food.

Peanut chutney slick and sticky with oil from the peanuts. 

Karnataka Specialties: 
Made with love by my sister's ma-in-law 

I've never even met this lady- but think of how kind and generous she is, sending me her home made spice blends. And in large enough quantities to last me until 2025, what're more.

Chennai (Madras): Grand Sweets
They are not exaggerating even a little when they call this store "Grand Sweets". Everything I have ever tasted from there is as grand as it gets. Oily as these pickles are, they were perfectly packaged and not a drop of oil was visible once they were unpacked.

I've tasted the first and last jars before- the tomato pickle and the vathakozhambu thokku- both to be simply mixed with fresh rice for a divine meal. The middle two are new to me- gongura pickle and curry leaf pickle. I have a feeling I'm going to love them.

So that's a virtual feast for you. If you live in St. Louis, drop by to sample any of these- I am overwhelmed with this bounty and would love to share it with you.

In the next post, I'll tell you about my sister's new creative venture: she designs and sews the cutest bags. Today I am teaching her to knit. Meanwhile, here's to a wonderful weekend!