Monday, December 28, 2009

Keerai Masiyal (Spinach with split mung bean lentils)

The amount of food we eat during the winter seems to be inversely proportional to the temperature; as the mercury drops, so our intake increases! Add to that all the celebrations and parties in the festive season and before you know it, the pounds have piled on by February. All this is quite new to me - never having lived in a city which could claim to have a distinct winter season, we managed to maintain our average calorie levels right through the year. It doesn't seem to help that the increasing weight is nicely hidden out of sight under the many layers that we pull on :)

So, I am trying to increase the quantity of soups that we usually consume; but its tough though when all your body craves is carbs. Salads especially, which are quite welcome during the summer months, just don't seem to do anything for us in winter. Enter the protein quotient - lentil soups, legume soups, chicken salads - now these seem to do the trick of filling us up and at the same time reducing our carb and cheese intake, not to mention being very delicious and giving me a lot of choice to play around with.

In this category then falls one of my favourite comfort foods - keerai masiyal in Tamil. Its a very simple dish which involves cooking spinach till just tender, mashing it up (not pureeing!) gently and finishing with a light tempering of garlic and red chillies.

Adding lentils to it is optional - I do or don't depending on my mood of the moment. On a chilly afternoon, the addition of split mung bean lentils (yellow moong dal) brings a creamy consistency to the dish and fills one up pretty nicely. Pair that with a spicy kozhambu and a porial (foogath) and you are set for a rather satisfying meal. or simply serve with warm phulkas and that is a complete meal too.

Keerai Masiyal (Spinach with mung bean lentils)

Spinach - 1 small bunch, washed in several changes of water and chopped roughly
Mung bean lentils (yellow moong dal/paasi paruppu) - 1/3 cup
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
half a tomato chopped
1 green chilli slit
salt to taste

Oil - 1 tsp
1 dried red chilli
urad dal seeds - 1 tsp
Asafoetida (hing/perungayam) - (pinch)
4-5 garlic cloves sliced thin

1. Wash lentils in water, drain and mix with the cleaned and chopped spinach, turmeric, slit green chilli and salt.
2. Cook in a pressure cooker in just enough water (2 cups) for 8 minutes (2 whistles), wait for the pressure to drop. Or this can be cooked on the stove top by increasing the water for cooking (use a heavy bottome vessel)
3. Drain and reserve any excess water on the top and with a back of a ladle (or a wooden masher - mathu), mash together the lentils and spinach gently till well combined. Remove the green chillies if you like and adjust seasoning.
4. Heat oil for tempering, add the red chillies, garlic and urad dal and when they start to brown add the asafoetida and immediately turn off the flame, taking care not to burn the garlic.
5. Add to the spinach lentil mixture and serve warm with rice or rotis.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chocolate Gingerbread Men

"'Tis the season to be jolly' - indeed! This year the cold has been slow in coming - or maybe its just that I have got more accustomed to it over the last two years. By this time last year, we had the room heaters on; this year I haven't even broken out the thermals! Anyhow, I have been enjoying the weather and of course my cooking is reflecting the festive spirit.

The fruits for my Christmas Cake are all marinated, there have been some great soups (sorry no pictures and so no posts!), a first attempt at Butter Chicken (turned out great - but how Da-lhi is that!), fiery kozhambus, soothing masiyals (mashed spinach with lentils finished with a simple tempering) and comforting French toast. There have been visits from dear friends and simple meals shared (not to mention a disaster of a simple casserole!), a delicious meal at Karims, the perfect wedding anniversary celebration and a beautiful evening at the Garden of Five Senses.

This weekend, after visiting the Christmas Carnival at my daughter's old playschool (was it just a year back we were going through the nerve wracking admission process for her?!) I finally got down to baking cookies with her - she has been asking for the Gingerbread Man for the whole of last month, since we have been reading the story. I didn't have molasses, which is what all the recipes seemed to call for. So I decided to replace it with dark chocolate to get the right colour and a different flavour.
They were perfect - the spices beautifully complimenting the chocolate and I even managed icing - I guess my daughter seems to know how difficult I find it, because she kept egging me on "Its great, Amma - you are doing good!" LOL :) Its not the actual work involved, but putting all the sugar in which makes me think twice! Well worth the effort though - the shining eyes and cheery smile as she devoured a gingerbread woman, was priceless!

I did other shapes which my daughter could cut out with the cookie cutters - the gingerbread people I did with stencils since I didn't have the cookie cutter shapes for them. I also made some plain gingersnap cookies (without the chocolate and with more ginger in them) for the adults in the house. The lack of molasses/ chocolate shows in the pale colour, but the taste was great and they were thin and crispy - just the way I like my cookies!

Chocolate Gingerbread Men
Refined flour (maida) - 150gms
Whole wheat flour (atta) - 100 gms
1/2 tbsp dry ginger powder (soonth)
1/2 tbsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp powdered star anise
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Unsalted butter - 100gm
Brown sugar - 40gm
1 egg
1/2 cup melted dark chocolate

Tiny black raisins for decorating

Royal Icing: (Some tips here)

White of 1 1/2 small eggs
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 cups icing sugar

1. Cream the butter (softened on its own if possible) in a bowl till smooth, add the brown sugar and mix again till shiny. Then the egg goes in and mixed for about 3 minutes till light and finally add the melted chocolate (Melt at 10 second intervals in a microwave or in a bowl over barely simmering water on the stove top)
2. Meanwhile, measure out the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and mix together.
3. Add one third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter/egg mixture and mix till just combined, add the other two thirds the same way, taking care not to over mix.
4. Use your hands at the end if needed, divide into two portions, cover with clingfilm and chill in the refrigerator for atleast one hour.
5. Pre heat the oven to 180C. Remove one portion and try to roll out on a floured surface - a rectangle 1/8th of an inch is sufficient. If it is too dry, add some milk a tsp at a time till you can roll out without sticking. If handled too much the dough may need to be chilled again since the chocolate might make it sticky.
6. While rolling out, make sure you keep trying to lift the rolled out dough off the work surface to check whether it is sticking, else you wont be able to peel of the cut out shapes.
7. Cut out the shapes with cookie cutters or stencils (search for Gingerbread men shapes on the internet, print, cut out and place on the cookie dough and cut with a sharp knife), put in small raisins for the eyes and buttons, transfer to butter paper (parchment paper) and bake for 15 minutes - check at 12 minutes and remove if it is done.
8. Cool on a rack - meanwhile, whip the egg white and lemon juice together while adding the icing sugar gradually till the mixture forms peaks when you lift the blender out of the bowl. A little less than 2 cups of sugar usually suffices. Transfer to an icing cone and decorate the cookies when cooled. Leave aside to dry completely.

The Gingersnap cookies

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Maw Gaeng - Thai Sweet Potato Pudding

I had some sweet potato as well as coconut milk left over from this recipe and just as I knew I wanted to make a nice one pot meal from those ingredients, I also knew that this had to go into a dessert. Luckily, there seems to be a recipe to match every mood of mine ;).

This Thai dessert (which seems to have several variations) is quite unusual in that it uses sweet potato (the dark pink, skinned root vegetable). The coconut milk and egg pudding combination is something I have seen in Sri Lankan cuisine too.

Very simple to make and equally easy to finish off! I imagine that it would be quite easy to make a vegan version with a substitute which can be used to replace the eggs.

Maw Gaeng - Thai Sweet Potato Pudding

2 eggs beaten lightly
Coconut milk extract - freshly squeezed from one half of a coconut (or use a cup of canned coconut milk)
1 cup sugar
2 sweet potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed.
cardamom powder - 1/2 tsp

1. Mix the beaten eggs, coconut milk and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
2. Add the mashed sweet potatoes and mix well, heat on low flame and keep stirring till the custard thickens - about 6-7 minutes.
3. Pre heat an oven to 180C and lightly grease a baking dish. Pour the custard into and bake for 45 minutes till golden brown on the sides and the top. A skewer inserted will not come out totally clean but not be sticky.
4. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream