Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rava Idli

I don't lose my cool that often (so she says!) but when I do get upset my mind can churn over it for hours. The best way to calm me down is to plonk me in a bookshop. Of course, there will be a dent in my wallet when I come out, but atleast (her South Indian sensibilities say), it won't be because of adding more clothes to my wardrobe ;).

So, some weeks back when I was fuming because of the spouse's tendency to procrastinate, I walked into a bookshop and started browsing through the shelves. And as usual ended up at the cookery section. Found two youngsters who had parked themselves right in front of the measly three shelves of cookery books and were leafing (and I use this term very loosely) through some coffee table books - one on Interior Design and one on French Cuisine. Reminded me of the episode in Friends where Ross discovers that the section in the library which has the book he has authored, is frequented by young lovers wanting to make out, because no one ever goes there. My mood had only improved very slightly by then and I was annoyed that I had to reach over them to look at the books; they weren't fazed though, kept talking about this and that, the while turning the pages quite aimlessly.
After a few more attempts at browsing, I took a deep breath and decided not to let my own surly mood interrupt these two - didn't we all catch so many stolen moments in the most incongruous of places? I smiled as I thought of my own rendevous with hubby and how we used to wait for them - so what if today that might mean I would have to wait till he actually got around to making it on time ;).
Just as I straightened up to leave however, one title on the bottom shelf caught my eye. Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin - a book I had seen praised on many blogs. I picked it up immediately and after going through it for a few pages, decided to buy it. I left the store feeling much happier. She seems to have covered most of my favourite dishes and the recipes are just the home made versions we are used to. Simple instructions, basic ingredients and no complex, tweaked recipes. I agree though that its more Tamilian recipes as compared to South Indian recipes - there's not much representation from the other states here. But what she does do is describe classic Tamil recipes very well.

Last Saturday, while wondering what to do for breakfast, I got the book out and leafed through her tiffin recipes. And found the recipe for rava idli - now I have only ever had the MTR mix version and since it is so good, I never bothered trying to make it from scratch. For the past couple of months however, it hasn't been available in the markets, so I decided to try the recipe.

The end product exceeded all my expectations - I guess I didn't think it would turn out as good as a product which had been perfected after extensive lab tests. But I can't believe I could forget about the magic of fresh ingredients! The idlis were soft and oh-so- flavourful! Though the recipe didn't call for it, I let the semolina soak with the yoghurt and other ingredients for about an hour, so maybe that helped too. Rava idlis are also my 5 year old's favourite tiffin item and I often send it in her snack box to schoo, so its great the recipe worked.

Had the idlis with a hotel style "sideish" - a lovely tangy, spicy, curry made with tomatoes coconut - recipe to follow. Nirvana on a weekend.

Rava Idli (Chandra Padmanabhan - Dakshin)

Made 12-15 idlis

2 tbsp ghee
1 cup semolina (rava/sooji)

1/2 cup sour yoghurt (beaten a bit)
2 green chillies chopped
1 cup coriander leaves chopped
salt to taste

2 tbsp chopped cashew nuts

3 tsp ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
curry leaves

1. Heat 2 tbsp ghee and roast the semolina till golden. Cool
2. Mix the semolina with green chillies, yoghurt,salt and coriander leaves. Add about 1/2 cup water to make a thick batter of pouring consistency.
3. Heat 1 tsp ghee, fry the cashews and keep aside.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tsp ghee and add tempering ingredients. After the mustard seeds splutter, add the tempering and the cashew nuts to the batter.
5. Pour into an idli mould and steam in a pressure cooker (without the weight on) or in a large vessel, for 15 minutes.
6. Remove the mould from the cooker, cool and remove idlis. Serve hot with tomato curry (thakali kozhambu) or sambar or chutney.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Warm Potato Salad - Nigella Express

One of the dishes I made for this lunch with friends - I liked the recipe as soon as I saw it in the book Nigella Express - the combination of bacon, mustard and potatoes seemed like a great idea. It helped though that I had bacon at home - its not something I usually have at home.

I used small sized potatoes, but since these were not new potatoes (which have very thin skins), I peeled them after boiling and halving them. I used spring onions instead of scallions and used the greens as a garnish.

I thought that the bacon would make the dish salty and so went easy on the salt, but it turned out a tad on the lower side. Apparently, the crisper the bacon is fried, the saltier it gets - so next time crisper is the way to go. This is comfort food - the lovely taste of potatoes enveloped in the slightly creamy dressing cut with the sharpness of mustard.....

And there will definitely be a next time - I want to try this with a lovely vinaigrette of vinegar, mustard and pine nuts I saw somewhere. Tossed with warm potatoes and bits of spinach - bet it would be wonderful!

Warm Potato Salad

3/4 kg small/baby potatoes
6 spring onions thinly sliced, greens reserved
1 tbsp olive oil
4 slices bacon
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp mustard (Colemans)

1. Cook the potatoes with skin in salted water till cooked - 20-25 minutes. Cool, peel and cut in half.
2. Heat oil in a pan and cook the bacon until crisp. Remove and keep aside.
3. In the same pan, saute the onions for about 2 minutes and remove from flame.
4. Add the vinegar and mustard and then the potatoes and mix together. Transfer to a serving bowl.
5. Just before serving, crumble the bacon and mix into the salad reserving some for garnish on top along with the onion greens.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fish Curry with Mango

Continuing with the lunch with my friends inspired by Nigella Express, I was so glad this fish curry took so little time to cook that hot, Saturday afternoon. The prawn and mango curry in Nigell's book, looked great but then I realised that the recipe called for using Thai red curry paste and since this was not particularly a rushed meal but a planned lunch for friends, I decided to do something from scratch instead. Also, using ripe mangoes in a curry is not something which everyone likes, so I decided do it a little differently.

I was reminded of a recipe on Sig's blog and went looking for it and found her Prawn and Mango Curry - replaced the prawns with fish, the kudumpalli with regular tamarind and I was all set. The fish curry was nice and creamy and went very well with the steamed rice, rasam and beans porial combination. Its a lovely dish to make at short notice and doesn't need a lot of preparation. But it was a bit different from what I had set out to make, so I will be making it again.

The raw mango I bought turned out to be quite ripe and sweet instead of sour. And since I went easy on the tamarind thinking it would turn out to be very sour what with the raw mango added, the curry was actually not sour at all. I had toned down the spice levels too, so next time I'm going to try this with more tang and spice - this version turned out a little bit too tame for my liking.

Fish Curry with Mango

350 - 400 gms sole fish (surmai) fillets - cut into curry pieces, about 1.5 inches wide
Tamarind - marble sized ball dissolved in 300ml of water (if the raw mango isn't sour enough, use a lemon sized ball)
Red chilli powder - 1-1.5 tsp
turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
1 cup sliced raw mango
5 green chillies - sliced
curry leaves
salt to taste

Grind to a paste
Coconut - grated 1.25 cup
Garlic - 2 cloves
Coriander powder - 1.5 tsp
Shallots - 2 chopped

1 tsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard
3 dry red chillies
1/4 tsp methi seeds
curry leaves

1. Marinate the cleaned fish fillet pieces with the red chilli powder, salt and turmeric powder for about 15 minutes to half an hour.
2. Extract tamarind pulp from the soaked tamarind and filter. Alternatively, use 1 tbsp of tamarind paste.
3. Transfer the marinated fish to a cooking pan - add the tamarind pulp, green chillies and curry leaves and one cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce flame and cook on low for 10-12 minutes till the tamarind loses its raw smell and the fish is cooked.
4. Meanwhile, grind the coconut, coriander powder,shallots and garlic; add to the fish curry when the fish is cooked and continue cooking for another 5 minutes on a low flame. Transfer to serving bowl.
5. In a small pan, heat the oil for the seasoning and then add the mustard; when it pops, add the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and red chillies. Pour over the fish curry and serve with steamed rice.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chocolate Pudding - Nigella Express

One of the gifts I got this birthday was Nigella Express - the book based on her show (or was it the other way round?!) which features recipes for people on the go - "quick to prepare, easy to follow".

I have been watching her shows for more than a year now, though not regularly. I like her style and the effortless ease which she seems to bring to the kitchen. It does seem like nothing is too difficult when it comes to cooking, if you enjoy it enough. And the Express series shows how you can enjoy it if you make it easier by using simple and fuss free recipes and basic ingredients. (Though I must say Nigella coming back from work by bus after shopping for a last minute dinner party seems a tad too much!)

What I have never identified with though, is the amount of fat and cream which seems to go into her cooking - especially the desserts!! A tub of cream cheese here, 2 sticks of butter there and then some whipped cream to end it all :) I guess she is also liked for cocking a snook at the New Age lean and mean recipes - it* is* refreshing in some ways though, to see food being enjoyed.

Though Nigella started out writing for newspapers and magazines since the early 90s - first as a book reviewer and restaurant critic and then as a freelance writer and even an editor - she really came into the public eye with her books How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess. Then in 2000, she really came into her own with her show "Nigella Bites" on Channel Four in the UK. Her distinctive style of presentation where she seems to flirt with food and the fact that she is not a trained chef but rather comes across as someone who passionately loves food, has endeared herself to her viewers.

So, when my friend who gifted me the book was to come over for lunch with her family this weekend, I decided to cook something from the book since I knew she loves Nigella. I ended up making two recipes from the book - this chocolate pudding and a potato salad. I also saw a prawn and mango curry recipe and got inspired to make a fish curry on the same lines for our meal.

In the midst of my Saturday morning chores, I barely had about a couple of hours to cook up this meal. But truly, this chocolate pudding was ready in no time, just as Nigella promises. As the fish curry simmered on the stove and the potatoes for the salad were boiling, I got together the 5 ingredients needed and within half an hour it was all in the oven. It helped of course, that because of the astonishing intensity of the Delhi heat this year, I didn't have to melt the chocolate and butter - it turned into a gooey mess just standing there on the counter - its a wonder that there was no puddle in place of me at the end of the two hours!

I tweaked the measures a little though - the Lindt chocolate I had was only 100gms instead of the 120gms in the book. Couldn't bring myself to add 110 gms of butter, so I pared it down by half. The sugar too was halved to about half a cup and with the dark chocolate instead of bittersweet chocolate, it was fine. Eggs were 4 according to her recipe, I used 3; and about 1tbsp less than 1/3 cup of flour.

The changes did not seem to make a difference to the pudding though - it was light and airy on the edges and a little gooey in the centre - maybe it may have been much more molten in the centre with the extra egg and butter and less like a brownie. But all in all, quite delicious and a keeper of a recipe for sure. Nigella calls these Glitzy Chocolate Puddings and glazes the top with a a mixture of butter and chocolate - I didn't use the glaze and they were still quite amazing. I might do that for a dinner party next time - as a showstopper as she calls it!

Chocolate Pudding - Nigella Express

3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
60gms butter (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
100 gms dark chocolate (Lindt Dark Coffee)
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

1. Cream sugar and eggs together, with a whisk or a blender, till pale and shiny - about 8 minutes in my hand blender.
2. Melt dark chocolate and butter together in the microwave (20 seconds at a time on Full power) or on the stove over a double boiler. Cool.
3. Mix flour, salt and baking powder, gently fold into the beaten eggs and then mix in the cooled dark chocolate and butter.
4. Pre heat the oven to 180C (350F) and grease 8 individual ramekins or one square/rectangle baking tin.
5. Pour the pudding mix into the greased ramekins/baking tin and bake for 25 minutes.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Heritage Walk -Chandni Chowk, New Delhi

After coming to Delhi, we have been to Chandni Chowk quite a few times - but mostly as foodies to enjoy a great breakfast at Karims and then back home. Once we followed it up with a visit to Red Fort, but other than that hadn't done much exploring in the famed streets of Old Delhi. Till I signed up with a couple of friends last year for a Heritage Walk organised by INTACH.

So, one February morning the three of us met up, parked our cars at the nearest Metro station and took the train to Chandni Chowk. A short cycle rickshaw ride from there and we reached the starting point of the walk - opposite the Gurdawara Sisganj. Below are some of the sights we saw - To be honest, I wouldn't call all of them beautiful, but the walk certainly did a lot to gain an insight on life in times bygone.

Below - The Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib is built at the site in the Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi, where the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal emperor in 1675 A.D., Aurangzeb, for refusing to convert to Islam. Before his body could be quartered and exposed to public view, it was stolen under the cover of darkness by one of his disciples, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, who then burnt his house to cremate the Guru's body. This place is marked by another Gurdwara, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib. The severed head ("Sis") of Guru Tegh Bahadur was brought to Anandpur Sahib by Bhai Jaita, another disciple of the Guru. It was cremated by the Guru's son, Gobind Rai, who would later become Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs. The Gurdwara at this place is also called Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib. Courtesy wikipedia

One of the many heritage buildings from a different century; and Ghantewala, the famed sweet shop - we had the most amazing ras malai ever and also packed some more sweets to take home.

Parathewala Galli - a sore disappointment after all the stories we had heard about it - we even came back after the walk ended just to have breakfast there. While we could have taken the deep fried parathas in our stride as part of an old tradition, there was hardly any stuffing whatsoever inside the parathas!

Anyway, the better part of the tour was seeing some of the remaining samples of the lovely architecture of that era - painted tiles, arched doorways, carved jharokhas; some of it had been painted over in garish colours....


But then there were the others who had lovingly added to the architecture by furnishing the inside with antique pieces.

Some more pics from the walk - including a Jain temple from the 19th century with some lovely inlay work and tiles.

We ended our morning by climbing up the stairs of the Jama Masjid for a splendid view of the Old City resplendent in the morning sun.

The guide for our walk wasn't very impressive and most of his commentary seemed aimed at the foreigners in the group. But while we tuned out most of what he said after the initial half an hour, we did enjoy the experience of being taken around one of the oldest marketplaces - something we may have had trouble negotiating on our own.

Also since we were there early one Saturday morning, most of the shops were closed - it was only when we were on our way out after breakfast, that we saw some of them open - like this amazing shop selling only bangles!

Add ImageThe harsh truth about a heritage area in a country fighting for space, is that one can't simply cordon it off to preserve it. It houses many, many people and is the workplace for even more. Its preservation is fraught with complexities and has to be balanced with the needs of the existing owners of the havelis who may want to sell out to builders of commercial buildings and shift to more spacious quarters in the suburbs.

Besides INTACH, the India Habitat Centre also organises walks to most of the important landmarks in Delhi - log on to their website and keep abreast of their planned walks. There is also this place I found quite recently - I hope to be able to join one of their walks and will report back when I do.