15 April 2014

F is for Fenugreek seeds | Recipe for Vendhaya Kozhambu

Fenugreek Seeds in Indian cuisine play the role of a character artist in Bollywood cinema. They'll never get as much attention as the lead role but the subtle flavours you'll remember well after your meal is over. It's amazing how the seeds taste completely different from the leaves, which have an intensely beautiful fragrance. I always feel how Methi Theplas have a way of telling the whole neighbourhood that they are being made in some kitchen. 

Fenugreek seeds are one of the ingredients used in sambar-powder. Coriander seeds, dried red chillies, fenugreek seeds, chana dal are roasted one after the other until aromatic and then ground together into a powder and stored in an airtight container. In case of these seeds, less is more. Add a little and it imparts a unique flavour to the dish, like a hint of complex flavours on your taste buds. Add too much, and it's bitter and quite unpleasant. 

This is also a secret ingredient regular soaked along with udad dal to prepare idlis. Word is that they make the idlis softer. Personally, I feel it's also a taste improver. It is also said that dosas turn a lovely golden colour when there are fenugreek seeds in the batter. 

While it's not a traditional Tambrahm thing to do with fenugreek seeds, I like to soak and sprout them and use a few of these sprouts in salads. These are incredibly rich in all vitamins and minerals. As they have a slightly bitter taste, they pair very well with dressings that have a tinge of sweetness in them. You can sow the seeds in a shallow tray and in a few days the small leaves that shoot out can also be used as microgreens for a salad - something very fancy from something very earthy.

Methi / fenugreek seeds are have excellent health benefits. Studies have shown that fenugreek seeds reduce fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. Fenugreek appears to slow absorption of sugars in the stomach and stimulate insulin production, both of which are responsible for lowering blood sugar in diabetics.  While it's surely not a substitute for oral medications or insulin, it's a useful food to add to a daily diet. It is also one of the natural galactogouges - ie. substances that increase breast milk production, which is why traditionally in some Indian communities, these are made into Methi Laddoos which the new mother has during her breast feeding days.

I remember once, soaking and grinding these seeds to a paste after reading that they make an excellent hair conditioner. The paste was extremely slimy but I was adventurous enough to apply it on my hair anyway. I had to spend over an hour to wash off all the husk and slime from my hair and that's the only thing I remember, which is why I never repeated this exercise in vanity again and decided it is best to use in the kitchen!

Coming to Vendhaya Kozhambu, Kozhambu is typically a saucy South Indian curry, flavoured with tamarind extract, had with plain steamed rice. Vetthakozhambu is probably the most popular kozhambu varieties - and served in some restaurants as well. Here the key ingredient is sun-dried berries or sun-dried vegetables (vetthal) that are deep fried and added to the sauce. In Venthaya kozhambu, the main ingredient is fenugreek seeds. The kozhambu stays well for a couple of days in the fridge (especially if you don't add any vegetables to it) and the fenugreek seeds soak up the liquids and take on a sweet-sour flavour. Since the flavours of a kozhambu are quite strong, it is not used in as much quantity as a sambar. Also, it is a perfect rice accompaniment to make when you are short of time or too lazy to cook dal. Do try this uniquely South Indian curry and let me know how you liked it!

Recipe for Venthaya Kozhambu | Fenugreek seeds in a tamarind sauce
Serves 2-3

1/8th cup tightly packed tamarind
1 cup hot water
2 tbsp gingelly oil
sprig of curry leaves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 dried red chillies
1 tbsp tur dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1/2 cup sliced carrots or diced yellow pumpkin
2 tsp sambar powder
1 tsp rice flour
1 tsp jaggery
1 tsp salt

Soak the tamarind in 1 cup hot water for 10 minutes. Squeeze out all the extract well-discard the tamarind parts and reserve the extracted liquid. You can use 1/2 tbsp tamarind paste instead of this, if you are short of time.
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil. Gingelly oil gives the best flavour to kozhambu but in case you don't have it, use any neutral flavoured cooking oil.
Add the curry leaves, dried red chillies, mustard seeds, tur dal, asafoetida to the oil. When the seeds splutter and tur dal turns golden brown, add the fenugreek seeds. Saute for 30 seconds or so, until they turn aromatic and then add the vegetable. Don't allow the fenugreek seeds to become brown as it will make the dish very bitter.
 Saute the vegetable being used for 1 minute or so. To this add the tamarind extract (or the paste dissolved in 3/4 cup of water), bring to a boil. 
Once it comes to a boil, reduce flame, cover and simmer until vegetables are soft- around 5-7 minutes.
Make a slurry of rice flour and sambar powder in water. Add this to the kozhambu along with salt and jaggery. Let this come to a simmer. The consistency will be a slightly thick sauce that you can pour easily. Check for seasonings, remove from flame. Let it rest for a couple of hours for the flavours to develop fully. Serve with steaming hot rice. Slurp.

Lunch menu:
Venthaya kozhambu + steamed rice + a little gingelly oil
Cabbage curry or carrot curry
Roasted papad

13 April 2014

E is for Ellu / Sesame seeds | Recipe for Ellu Saadham / Sesame Rice

Padhinettam Perukku, also called Aadi Perukku, is celebrated on the 18th day of the Tamil month, Aadi (mid-July to mid-August roughly), indicating the start of monsoons. Padhinettu means 18 and Perukku means 'rising' and on this day, the rivers are swollen with water from the rains. I've heard stories from my great-grandmother on how they would pack tiffin carriers full of different kinds of rice dishes and enjoy a picnic on the banks of the village river. The different rice varieties are prepared as an offering for the river goddess. Lemon rice, coconut rice, tamarind rice, sweet rice, curd rice and of course my favourite, sesame rice are some of the types of rice dishes prepared on this day. Of course, in smaller families in the city, families choose to prepare 2-3 kinds of rice along with meal finale-ie. curd rice. Even to this day, my family believes that on this day, there will always be heavy rainfall, and co-incidence or whatever, the rain gods do stick to their predictions!

Since when I was a child, I was a fan of all the rice varieties- or kalandha saadham as it is called in Tamil. Usually, there would be a koottu and some plain rice too along with these on the menu and of course, fried appalams and vadams to go with the kalandha saadham. Although sesame is quite a complex flavour, I have been in love with all dishes made using sesame seeds, right since childhood. Ellu-urundai or sesame seed chikki (praline) shaped as balls are prepared on the srardham (thevasam) days to remember the deceased ancestors. As a kid, I have asked my grandmother why she made this only on those special days. Needless to say, my such questions were not appreciated in those days :D Subbu's Kitchen writes more on the thevasam recipes that includes my favourite, ellu-urundai. 

A few years ago, when I was on a holiday in Hong Kong, I fell in love with black sesame seed ice cream. I had never imagined that this could be an ice cream flavour!

Sesame seeds also feature in this special dish called Thalagam, also made on specific festival day called Thiruvadharai. The toasted sesame seeds are ground to a paste along with roasted coconut, udad dal, fenugreek seeds, rice and red chillies to make an intensely fragrant masala. This makes the 'curry' really thick without any addition of dal. Think of it as a sambar variety minus the dal and completely unique flavours. The only way to taste this is to invite yourself to a Tambrahm friend's house or make it yourself. I don't think there are any restaurants that have this on their menu.

Coming to the recipe of Ellu Saadham, sesame seeds are dry roasted till they pop. This is ground to a coarse powder with some other spices, to prepare the mix. Rice is steamed and cooled and to the cooled rice, the freshly prepared podi is added and gently mixed together. The tadka of curry leaves and red chillies with some udad dal for crunch is of course mandatory :)

Recipe for Ellu Saadham / Sesame Rice
Serves 2

2 cups cooked rice
3 dried red chillies
2 tsp udad dal
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt

For tempering:
2 tsp gingelly oil or vegetable oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
1-2 tsp udad dal
sprig of curry leaves

While cooking the rice, ensure that you use lesser water and reduce cooking time slightly so that the grains are separate. Once cooked, spread out to cool on a large plate / thali.
In a small kadai, using a few drops of oil, fry the red chillies and udad dal till the dal is golden is colour. Remove and keep aside. In the same kadai, sauté the sesame seeds until they emit a nice aroma and start popping. Once the popping stops, remove them along with the fried chillies and udad dal and grind to a coarse powder in the mixer along with 1/2 tsp of salt.
Spread this powder on the cooked rice.
In the same kadai, heat the oil for tempering. Once oil is hot, add mustard seeds, udad dal, curry leaves – once mustard seeds pop and udad dal is golden, transfer on the rice. Gently toss around with a flat steel spatula (so that rice is not mashed up) until the rice is coated with the spices. Serve hot along with fried vadams or appalams (papad) and a raita on the side.

This post is a part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 

Hope you've enjoyed my earlier posts:
A is for Avial
B is for Beans Paruppu Usili

C is for Chow Chow

D is for Dosa

11 April 2014

Top 10 summer recipes from Saffron Trail

Summer is upon us in most parts of India. It's that time of the year, the best of cooking enthusiasts want to spend the least time in the kitchen. Here are some of the most popular summer recipes from Saffron Trail blog all listed down in one place for your convenience. 

Masala Moar - This is the perfect way to stay cool in the summer with a hint of spice and no calories from sugar. Prepare it in an earthen pot and keep it covered with a wet cloth so it stays naturally cool in the summers.

Panakam - This Ram Navami special, made in many South Indian homes, just at the onset of summer combines spices like ginger and cardamom along with jaggery as a sweetener. You must try this one out.

Bottlegourd Raita - Gourds are mostly water and when combined with the cooling properties of yogurt, this makes an easy side dish for summers.

Khamang Kakdi - One of my favourite from Maharashtrian cuisine, features the best vegetable for summers, ie. Cucumbers. Although it is served in one corner of the thali, i'd rather sit down with a big bowl of this for my lunch.

Watermelon Feta Salad - Watermelon makes summers more bearable - naturally juicy, sweet and delicious, what's not to love. Learn to make this salad that sounds all gourmet but is perfectly simple, once you master how to dice a watermelon without any seeds, which you can learn from my youtube video. 

Middle Eastern cold salad - Try this potato cauliflower salad, best eaten chilled in a tahini dressing. You can serve this with couscous (which again needs no cooking) and a quick chickpea stew. 

Foxtail Millet Salad - How about upping the fiber and health quotient of your salad by tossing in some super grains ie. foxtail millet? Add a good bulk to your salad and keeps you filled up for a long time.

Instant rice sevai - Summers means you want to be in and out of the kitchen in minutes. Instant rice noodles available in most South Indian grocery stores come to your help in times like these. Breakfast in under five minutes (and it's not cereal)!

Coriander Chutney - Keep a bottle of this green chutney handy in the fridge to make delicious Mumbai sandwiches with some sliced cucumbers, boiled potatoes and onions.

No-Bake Cheesecake - Although my recipe is for strawberry cheesecake, simply replace strawberries with seasonal mangos and you have an easy mango cheesecake without turning on the oven.

10 April 2014

D is for Dosai / Dosa - Recipe and tips to make the perfect dosa

I think I made my first dosai when I was in Class 9. Typically, my grandmother would make dosais for tiffin at least 1-2 days in a week. First she would prepare hot dosais for my grandfather and me and I would make for her. I'm grateful that she let practise my dosa making skills on her. 

In our home, there was no special dosa batter. The same idli batter would be used for making dosai. So the day the idli batter was fermented and fresh, it would be made into idlis for the first (and sometimes the second) day. The day old batter would be used for dosai on the following day. And if the batter was still leftover after the third day, it would end up as an 'iluppuchatti dosai' - iluppuchatti being a cast iron kadai, where oil would be poured at the bottom and then the dosa batter ladled over it. This wouldn't be spread out, so the resultant dosai would be a thicker one with lots of bubbles as the batter would be more fermented, having sat around in the fridge for over 4 days. Sometimes, some extra flour would be added to the last dregs of batter and deep fried as 'bondas' - I haven't seen the leftover batter in this avatar too many times, but the few times it did happen, I remember that it was quite a delicious tiffin item. That was the life cycle of idli-dosa batter.

I remember as a kid, once on his trip from Madras to Bombay, my grandfather lugged this huge wet grinder (by train). Those days the wet grinders weighed a ton- none of the feather weight, fancy schmancy table top brands available these days. Once a week, the mornings or sometimes afternoons were dedicated to grinding idli batter so that evening tiffin and lunchboxes (if any) for most of the week were taken care of. The parboiled rice (ukhada chawal) was soaked separately. The udad dal was soaked with some fenugreek seeds. Both these would then be drained and ground separately in the wet grinder. The udad dal until it was a very fine satiny paste and the rice batter ground a little coarser. My granny would then mix both these batters along with some rock salt in a large vessel, exclusively reserved for this purpose. It would be covered with a lid and a muslin cloth and kept aside to ferment. She also had this theory that as the batter was mixed along with the salt by hand, some people's hand had a more souring effect than the others and the batter would ferment very quickly. Well, it's all wild yeast and I'm quite willing to buy that theory today.

I never invested in a wet grinder for my kitchen. My kitchens in Bombay and Hyderabad were painfully compact and by the time I moved to Bangalore, I quite mastered the idli-dosa batter in the mixer, thanks to my neighbour aunty in Hyderabad who shared her secrets with me. Here I share the same recipe with you.

Recipe for Idli / Dosa batter [In the mixer]

1 cup whole udad dal (skins removed) 
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
2.5 cups idli rava 

Wash the udad dal and fenugreek seeds. Soak in plenty of water for 2 hours.

Wash the idli rava and soak till immersed in water, at least for 30 minutes.
Drain dal well and grind in the mixer until fluffy and soft, using upto 1/2 cup of water.
Squeeze out excess water from the soaked idli rava and grind to a coarse batter. No need to add water to this.
Remove both the batters into a large vessel. Mix well with your hand. Cover and keep aside for 6-10 hours until well risen / fermented. In summers it may take just 6 hours, while in winters, you may need to keep in a warm place like the oven, with the light turned on for extra warmth. These batters harness the power of naturally occurring wild yeast to rise.

Once the batter is fermented, either refrigerate it or use it immediately to make idlis / dosas.

I prefer not to add salt before fermentation. I take as much batter as is required for each batch of idlis / dosas and add the required salt just before using it. 
To get crispier dosas, you can add some rice flour to the batter and mix well before using, as this batter yields very soft idlis because of high udad dal ratio. For dosas, you may need to up the rice ratio slightly. 
If you have a wet grinder, you can increase the rice ratio to 4:1 - 4 parts parboiled rice to 1 part of udad dal. In the mixer, the rice to udad ratio is maximum 3:1.
Instead of idli rava, you can use special rice available for Idli / Dosa batter under the names, Idli rice / Dosa rice. You need to soak the rice for 4-5 hours at least and grindly fairly fine for dosa and coarser for idli, if you don't want an all purpose batter. 

Tips to get the perfect dosa

  1. The consistency of the batter is important. Too thin and the dosa will tear off into pieces, too thick and it will stick like a lump in your throat while eating. Dosa batter should be a little thinner than idli batter.
  2. If you are a newbie, use a non-stick pan. It's the best way to start learning the techniques.
  3. Keep the batter out at least 30-45 minutes before you prepare the dosas - chilled batter on hot tava may lead to scrambled dosas.
  4. Grease the tava uniformly, with very little oil, smeared well with a tissue paper so there are no blobs of oil anywhere on the tava. This may also lead to incorrect spreading of the batter, as it will just slip away from the oil.
  5. The tava should be hot, but not very hot. You should be able to keep your palm a few centimetres above the hot tava without getting burnt. Extremely hot tava will again lead to scrambled dosas, the extreme heat will prevent you from spreading out a uniform dosa. 
  6. Pour around 2 ladles of batter in the center and quickly start pushing it into concentric circles to get a proper, uniformly spread circle. You may now increase the heat slightly. Pour a tsp of oil all around the circumference. Once you see bubbles all around the circumference, and when you lift the dosa up slightly in one place, you see a golden brown colour, you can flip around. Pour tsp of oil around the sides and once you have a few golden spots on this side too, you can remove it on to a plate, folded in half.
I have a video coming up this month on my YouTube channel - SaffronTrail Kitchen, on all these tips above, explained on video, along with a video to make the best molagapodi at home. Stay subscribed and stay tuned!

My favourite way to eat dosai is with molagapodi and gingelly oil, another acquired taste for most people. My great grandmother used to make thicker dosais for herself, crumble the whole thing, add sugar, molagapodi, dahi and then eat the whole thing together. Trust me, this would taste so delicious that we, as kids, would finish our share of dosai and then hang around her plate to taste some of her dosai-dahi mix. 

Dosa making does take some practise. It is infinitely simpler than learning to make perfectly round chapatis though. So if the dosas crumble or don't turn out in one piece during your practise sessions, you have my great grandmother's idea to fall back on. 

This post is a part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. 

The previous posts are 
A is for Avial
B is for Beans Paruppu Usili

C is for Chow Chow


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