Monday, February 25, 2013

As Time Goes By

Earlier this month, I remembered that it has already been a year since our blogger friend Raji (Miri) of Peppermill passed away. Manisha also mentioned it in her last post and added that she would cook and post something from Raji's blog. That's a fitting tribute for a food blogger and I wanted to join Manisha in remembering this beautiful person who gave us a glimpse into her kitchen and her life for several years. So I spent a few hours re-reading Raji's blog and thinking about her, and about what to make. In the end, I went with something familiar, a curry recipe from her blog that I've made before.

I crave meals of curry and rice as surely as the moon waxes and wanes. Rich curries, heavy with coconut, are part of my childhood Sundays and I recreate them often, in a simpler form, as a supper of egg curry with steamed rice. In fact, one of my earliest posts, nearly 8 years ago was a recipe for Sri Lankan curry powder and an egg curry using the spice. (Yes, I seem to have forgotten all about One Hot Stove's 8th birthday earlier this month.)

Raji's curry recipe is similar to my favorite recipe for egg rassa, but with a little Southern Indian touch of mustard seeds and curry leaves and the tang of tamarind. Here's how I adapted it.

Egg Curry, in Honor of Raji

1. In a pan, dry roast the following very gently, then cool and grind into a powder:
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tbsp. white poppy seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
4-5 peppercorns

2. In a saucepan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with 1 sprig fresh curry leaves and 1 tsp. mustard seeds.
3. Add 1 large finely chopped onion and fry until golden.
4. Add salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder, ginger garlic paste to taste, and the spice powder made earlier. Fry for a couple of minutes.
5. Add 1/2 cup tomato puree and fry for a few more minutes.
6. Stir in 1 can coconut milk, 1 tsp. tamarind paste and water if necessary to make a curry.
7. Simmer for a few minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors (tangy, salty) as necessary.
8. Add 6 halved hard boiled eggs and garnish with plenty of cilantro.

This curry base is easy enough to make but rewards you with incredible flavor, and would be wonderful with things other than eggs- like vegetables or soy nuggets or even koftas.

There's another recipe from Peppermill that has been on my to-do list for a while- this Punjabi pickle, and there is a link within that post to another pickle recipe by Anita that also looks really good. Now I only have to get my hands on some mustard oil and I'm ready for some pickling.

And while we're still in season for wintry meals like rice and kadhi, I highly recommend Raji's mixed vegetable kadhi. With lots of aromatic seeds in the tempering, and chunks of juicy vegetables cooked into the yogurt base, we enjoy this recipe very much. Well, Raji- or Miri, as I will always fondly think of you- you are missed. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

The January Dinner Diary

Almost every night for several weeks now, I've been scribbling a few words in a little notebook at the side of my counter. It is my dinner diary, an idea I read about in a cookbook and discussed in this post last month.

Today, I looked back on my entries to get a big picture view of my family dinner, and I thought I would share it with you. January was not an ordinary month for us. We lost a beloved pet, and due to new jobs, our household routine changed in many ways. Dinner prep was more hasty and less thoughtful than ever last month. These were big changes in January but truly, what month is ordinary? Almost every month, there's travel, visitors, special events and small illnesses that punctuate the days.

Here's what we ate for dinner all of last month. If you spot anything that you'd like a recipe for, feel free to ask in the comments, but you'll see that most of my dinners are no-recipe meals cobbled together with whatever is on hand. They turn out to be one of a kind and honestly, are often the very best food I dish out.

The pictures are just everyday recipes I've posted before, added to bring some color to this post.

Jan 1: (Tuesday, New Year's Day) Jeera rice, sweet potato vaal dal, kobichi wadi

Jan 2: Whole wheat rotini with cauliflower and soy chorizo

Jan 3: Okra sambar and ghee rice

Jan 4: Udon noodles with garlic, pepper, broccoli and Thai mock chicken nuggets

Jan 5: Mushroom lima bean pulao

Jan 6: TJ's masala burger and salad

Jan 7: Burritos with refried beans and salad

Jan 8: Maggi

Jan 9: Khichdi, aloo gobi

Jan 10: Fajitas

Jan 11: Spaghetti

Jan 12: Cauliflower zucchini soup, leftover Thai take-out from lunch

Jan 13 (Sunday): Soup and Grilled cheese party

Jan 14: Brown rice with veggies and tofu

Jan 15: Chana masala, cucumber raita

Jan 16: Broccoli frittata, Tuesday soup, croutons

Jan 17: Ate out

Jan 18: Eggplant lima beans subzi, yogurt rice

Jan 19: Frankie

Jan 20 (Sunday): Idli, dosa, sambar, chutney

Jan 21: Pasta with roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts

Jan 22: Black eyed peas with spinach and eggplant

Jan 23: Broccoli spaghetti

Jan 24: Sweet potato vaal dal with whole wheat buttered toast

Jan 25: Noodles with vegetables

Jan 26: Ragi dosa

Jan 27: Pulao with butternut squash and lima beans

Jan 28: Chickpeas with sweet potato

Jan 29: Egg curry and rice

Jan 30: Vaal khichdi, eggplant kaap

Jan 31: I somehow left out the entry for this one. Too much of a rush to get into February? 

January's menu also reflects the fact that it is winter, the time when I get into a bit of a vegetable rut. There's a lot of sweet potato and broccoli and lima beans here! One change I want to make is to include raw vegetables in some form in almost every meal. A few sticks of carrot or cucumber would be fine as would a more elaborate salad or koshimbir; just something raw to add texture and nutrition.

So, does any of this sound familiar or are your everyday dinners very different from mine?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Reader Request: Breakfast Suggestions

It is Monday night- blogging night at the One Hot Stove headquarters- and I have a bit of a weekend hangover, blinking and wondering how it got to be Monday already. Because this was an exceptionally fun and memorable weekend. Back in high school, I had a close knit group of friends and three of us were particularly close. Happily, when I moved to GA, I moved within 90 minutes of one of them. This weekend the third friend narrowly escaped the mega snowstorm of Boston and flew down to sunny GA. All of a sudden, too many years later, we were together again. And the hours flew by while we drank too much wine and dissolved in giggles and nostalgically ate a whole chocolate cake that I baked specially for the occasion. This was in loving memory of the cakes I attempted to bake in high school while these two ate most of the batter before it made it into the oven. The hosting friend plied us with wonderful food and hospitality- misal pav for breakfast, ravioli and butternut squash soup for dinner- and I came back thoroughly sated and in need of a nap.

But I committed to blogging every Monday and here I am. Promises are promises, right?

When I posted a breakfast casserole recipe a few weeks ago, Vasudha asked for some breakfast suggestions. She said, "Breakfast is the meal that I struggle most with...Could you post some more suggestions for hot, non-sweet, (ideally baby-friendly) breakfasts? The only four that I actually manage to make before we all head out the door between 8 and 8.30 are bread and eggs, poha, upma, and vermicelli upma. We are now so. very. bored. Would love suggestions, especially now that the baby wants to eat whatever we do."

Vasudha, it sounds like you are cooking fresh breakfast every morning. If you're OK with reheating food, it is very convenient to make certain breakfast dishes ahead of time. I personally find that mornings are much easier if I have breakfast ready to just heat and eat. For instance, you could make idlis on the weekend and refrigerate/freeze them; they reheat beautifully in the microwave. Or have dosa batter and sambar ready, so that a fresh uttapam can be made in minutes.

If you eat eggs, there are a multitude of options beyond fried eggs/omelets/scrambles and bread. I love making this egg-potato dish or assorted egg-vegetable casseroles on the weekend and carving out a generous wedge for breakfast all week. Another savory option: Breakfast burritos with scrambled egg/tofu, beans and vegetables all rolled into a whole wheat tortilla. I've read that these freeze well too.

Oatmeal is one of those breakfast foods which can be put together in minutes. When I don't have breakfast options already lined up in the fridge, I'll turn to the pantry and make peanut butter oatmeal (old fashioned oats, almond milk, pinch of salt, peanut butter and a drizzle of maple syrup). This is a barely-sweet breakfast that appeals even to someone like me who decidedly does not enjoy sweet breakfast foods (unless we're talking about cookies and biscotti to be dunked into chai, in which case, come to mama). I've seen recipes for savory oatmeal but haven't been brave enough to try them for myself.

Even if you are sticking to the tried and true Indian breakfast favorites of upma and poha, you can make interesting variations on the theme by adding different vegetables/beans (eg. poha with corn or sprouted peas), trying different regional recipes (tamarind poha, for instance, is very different from the Maharashtrian onion-potato poha I'm used to) and different grains- quinoa upma, anyone?

One final suggestion: write down 8 distinct breakfast dishes that appeal to you and your family and make 2 every week (during that week, you'll make a big batch and eat each one 2 or 3 times). That way, you'll have different breakfasts in the rotation for a entire month and it won't get boring.

My baby daughter eats everything that we do, but she loves this breakfast oatmeal so I make it especially for her. The apples and oatmeal are a no-added-sugar breakfast that is very filling and the prunes get the system going if you know what I mean. So, if on some days you're making a breakfast that doesn't seem very baby friendly, this might be a good option.

Lila's Breakfast Oatmeal

Never said it was a pretty food
but I know folks like to see pics of recipes so here ya go
2 apples
2 pitted prunes
1/4 cup old fashioned oats

  1. Wash, peel and dice the apples. Chop the prunes into quarters.
  2. Place apples and prunes in a saucepan and add enough water to cover the apple pieces.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until the apples are tender (test with the tip of a knife or a fork). 
  4. Add oats, stir and cook for 2 more minutes. Mash with a potato masher (or puree with an immersion blender for a smoother puree).

Cool and store in an airtight non-plastic container in the fridge. This makes 3 to 6 servings depending on the age and appetite of the baby. Warm gently before serving.

If you have any suggestions for Vasudha, please share them in the comments! What strategies are you using to treat yourself to a filling breakfast on busy mornings?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Green Peas Pulao

Do you ever get the feeling that everything you make tastes the same? I occasionally feel that way for some of the dishes I make that are of the no-recipe variety- where I'm cooking on auto-pilot and toss in the spices and seasonings most familiar to me. Which is fine, but then the dal fry and the veg pulao kind of end up tasting similar.

Last week I decided to flip open a cookbook and look for a recipe for peas pulao. This particular dish was practically the first thing I learned to make; I think of it as the "little black dress" of Indian cooking because fits into more or less any Indian meal you serve to company. I just wanted to change up the flavor of my peas pulao a little bit.

The recipe I chose is Pattani Biryani (green pea biryani from Kongunadu) from the book Simply South by Chandra Padmanabhan. This cookbook was a gift from Nandita of Saffron Trail years ago and I've spent many happy moments flipping through it, but this was my first time actually cooking from it.

The Kongunadu referred to in the recipe is a geographical region- the Western portion of Tamil Nadu if I'm not mistaken. The little I know about this region's cuisine all comes from Indosungod's essay and recipes. We'll have to ask her if this is a typical Kongunadu way to make peas pulao.

This recipe uses fennel and mint, two flavorful ingredients that don't usually feature in my peas pulao. I'm not going to go looking for fresh mint in February so I used dried mint- this is one herb that works well in its dried form, I find. I modified the recipe somewhat, using a higher proportion of peas to rice, and adapted it to the rice cooker. We enjoyed the taste of this no frills dish.

Peas Pulao, Kongunadu Style
(Adapted from Simply South by Chandra Padmanabhan)

1. Soak 1 cup basmati rice in water for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil/ghee in a heavy skillet. 
3. Add 2 tejpatta and 1 tsp. fennel seeds to the hot oil.
4. Add 1 thinly sliced onion. Fry until the onions are golden. 
5. Add 1 tsp. ginger garlic paste, 1 hot pepper slit lengthwise (optional), 2 finely chopped tomatoes, and fry for a few more minutes.
6. Add 2 tsp. dried mint, 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder and salt to taste. 
7. Finally, add 1.5 cups green peas and fry for another minute. Turn off the heat.
8. To a rice cooker, add the drained rice, green pea mixture and 2 cups hot water. Flip the switch and let the rice cook.
9. Fluff the cooked rice and add 1 tsp magic masala (mixture of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, ground), juice of 1/2 lemon and plenty of cilantro

I'm sending this post to MLLA 56. MLLA is a blog event that stands for "My Legume Love Affair" and it celebrates the use of legumes in cooking and baking, as you might have guessed. Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook started this event and has been running it for years, and this month Lisa takes over- congratulations and good luck, Lisa. Check out the archives for thousands of fresh ideas for using legumes.

Monday, February 04, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It has been two weeks since my last post on books and as usual, the comments and book suggestions in that post added several interesting titles to my to-be-read list- so thank you for sharing your reading life with me! Meanwhile, I found a few interesting reads to tell you about.

Image: Goodreads
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was a gentle and enjoyable read. It is an autobiographical novel written in the voice of a child, for children. Little Anna lives in Berlin as part of an affluent family with a father is a well known writer, until one day when Hitler's rise to power is imminent and they have to flee the country, leaving behind their toys and other belongings. (The title comes from Anna imagining that Hitler stole the stuffed toy that she left behind and is now playing with him.) What follows is Anna's story of moving from country to country, trying to fit in and create a new life each time she is uprooted. Even though the book is set against the backdrop of the ghastly war (and even as I was thinking of all the millions of children who were far less fortunate), the story itself focuses on Anna's everyday life, with small joys and tiffs and incidents in school. Anna is a thoughtful girl, wise beyond her years, and her thoughts are touching and amusing- like when she reads a book about the hardships that famous people endured as children and wonders if a difficult childhood is a prerequisite for fame, and if so, is her childhood sufficiently difficult or not? The edition I read was charmingly illustrated by the author. I'm adding this book to my Color Reading Challenge where the Pink in the title fits into the "any other color" category. PS: Thanks to reader Blog-E-Zine for recommending this book.

For adults who enjoy reading but often can't make the time or mental space in their lives for books written for adults, high quality children's literature is a good option. The language is simpler, the books are often shorter, there is a merciful dearth of sex and explicit violence (at least, one hopes) but the stories can be just as deep and touching.

Image: Goodreads
Below Stairs is the classic memoir by Margaret Powell which inspired the runaway hit Downton Abbey. I'm planning to watch the series one of these days and so I picked up this book. Set in the 1920s, Powell narrates her story of starting work at 13 as a kitchen maid and working for several years in domestic service. The story is plainly told in a very conversational style, and I felt as though I was sitting and having tea with a chatty and rather crotchety older woman talking about the good old days. Powell is very observant and very candid as she describes the stark contrast between the gentry living upstairs and the servants toiling downstairs in the basement. Powell narrates how the wealthy ladies who employed them would get together for fancy tea parties and proceed to spend much of their time gossiping about their problems with the servants. When I read this, I thought: The servants were overworked and underpaid and had reason to be unhappy but the sad thing is that these affluent ladies with their idle and stifled lives seem to be pretty miserable too.

As a child of middle class India, this memoir certainly struck a chord in me because in India you don't have to be particularly wealthy to have cooks and maids and nannies and chauffeurs and gardeners working for you. So many of the situations described in the book were uncomfortably familiar. The bottom line- this book does not have slick writing or editing, but for giving a voice to people that you don't often hear from, and for being thought-provoking, it is definitely worth reading. Have you watched Downton Abbey and do you recommend it?

This book goes towards my What's in A Name 6 Reading Challenge where it fits the category of books with "up or down" or their equivalent in the title.

Image: Goodreads
What's life without a juicy mystery? Right now, I'm sinking my teeth into A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley. This is from the Flavia de Luce series, and I must say this series gets better and better. In the first book, the pint-sized not-a-little-bratty detective Flavia peeved me so much that I'd have given up this series then and there, but luckily Niranjana stepped in and eloquently made the case for marching on and reading Flavia's next adventure or two. Strangely, now I'm enjoying these books less for the actual mystery (which Bradley tends to over-complicate) and more for Flavia, the precocious child-woman and chemistry genius. She can do a pregnancy test on a woman's hanky but wonders what an "affair" means. She helps the local police solve murders while missing the mother that she barely remembers. I want to say, "Oh, Flavia" and give her a hug. This book also goes into the Color Reading Challenge.

All my reading challenge updates can be found on this page.

So, what are you reading these days? I'm linking this post to It's Monday! What Are You Reading on Book Journey.

Come back on Wednesday, if you will, for a simple recipe with rice and peas.