Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cranberry - Pistachio Biscotti

Dear Foodies,

Cranberry-Pistachio BiscottiWith the holidays close at our heels, I am sure that most of you have been busy shopping for gifts and planning goodies to make at home. This is probably the only time during the year that I want to bake. And baking not as in bread or pasta or casseroles, but cookies and cakes. I am not a baker, most of my cooking is andaza style guesswork, a lil of this and pinch of that until I get it right. I bring out the measuring spoons only when I know I am going to blog about the dish. Even when I am cooking from a recipe, I adapt it to my taste, taking just the basic essence from the original. But as the saying goes, if cooking is an art, baking is a science. Measurements are key to the outcome, and just like cooking you start off with very humble ingredients and turn them into sinfully delicious goodies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hyderabadi Bagara Baingan & Giveaway Winner

Dear Foodies,

Hyderabadi Bagara BainganA few who have read about my eggplant/brinjal love in the past will be surprised to see this recipe here. The truth is I belong to the 'eggplant haters' club, if such a thing does exist. I've never liked its texture and my mom always made an extra vegetable dish for me when she cooked brinjal at home. When I came here for my masters, my roomies did the same for me, or better yet, we never cooked with it, simple.

But there is never escaping the King, the eggplant's versatility lends itself to many many dishes. Almost every cuisine in the world uses eggplants and you can apply any cooking technique to them - roasted, deep-fried, sautéed, grilled, baked, mashed, stuffed, pickled - anything at all will work. V happens to love them too, so I couldn't get too far avoiding it the way I used too. His favorite way of enjoying the eggplant is in the quintessential Andhra guthi vankaya kura, apart from kalchina vankaya pachadi and vankaya pulusu pachadi, all of which are coming up really soon here :( :). But as for the hyderabadi in me, it has to be Bagara Baingan. The main component in the gravy are the peanuts, and if you've read the previous post, you know I love them :) My mother makes a variation of this dish by adding tomatoes or capsicum instead/along with the brinjals for us me. The ingredient list might seem long, but most of them are just roasted and ground up into a thick paste.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tamarind Rice/Pulihora - Temple-style

Dear Foodies,

Temple-style pulihoraIf I had to choose just one dish to eat the rest of my life, this might well be it. I l.o.v.e pulihora, every bit of it - the tangy tamarind, the crunchy peanuts and dals and rice, O rice! whats not to love in this divine combo. And rightly so it is served in all the temples in Southern India as the Lord's prasadam (gift). The play of textures and flavors plays a huge role in this simple dish. I used to love gobbling up the tiny handful that was passed on after the Darshan(offering prayers) at temples. I would eat up my share and then wait for my parents to give me their share too, the things parents will do for their kids! J) There is something magical about the pulihora served at temples which can never be found in the ones made at home. When I was in Cleveland, I got to visit the Shiva-Vishnu Temple at Pittsburgh quite often and after the wonderful darshan I would pick up a couple of pulihora boxes at the canteen. A perfect treat after the early morning 2hr drive and darshan.
Temple-style pulihoraPulihora, simply put, is rice flavored with a tart/sour ingredient, tempered with mild spices, roasted peanuts & lentils. The main flavor component could come from tamarind, lemon, mango or sorrel leaves - they are all fabulous. Every cook has a special recipe for it, and doing the rounds during the festival time with my mom was fun as I would get to taste quite a few pulihara and sundal recipes. My mother makes a gojju/pulikachal first that she adds to the rice along with a roasted dal powder. I would always hoard the peanuts while serving myself competing with my brother for the larger share. I don't know if I like the rice better or if it is the peanuts that I'm after ;) Most festival or celebratory lunch/dinner menus feature atleast one form of pulihora or kalandha sadham, as it’s called in Tamil. The meal would feel incomplete without one of them. They are simple to make and use very humble ingredients, but the end product you get is much larger than the sum of its parts. I think the tangy component in the pulihora also tickles the taste buds and get the digestive fluids flowing so you are ready to attack the rest of the meal ;)

When I am in a pinch and need to make something quick I use the MTR instant puliyogare mix if I have it or make a near instant tamarind gravy. Heat up some sesame oil, toast mustard seeds, chana dal, peanuts, curry leaves and green chillies. Add turmeric, hing and a watery tamarind extract with salt, cook until the rawness is coaxed out of the tamarind and its ready to envelope the warm rice grains. This will take you less than 15 mins, just enough to have some rice going in the cooker. This is a quick and hits the spot, but when you have some extra time and want a hint of the magic that you savor at the temples start off by making a thick gojju, like my mother does. Sesame oil is the key to getting the flavor right, no other oil will work here. Roast the peanuts in the oil on medium or medium-low heat, it’ll take longer but you’ll achieve even browning that’s delicious and adds ten-fold to the flavor of the pulihora.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Anjum's New Indian - Review & a Giveaway!

Dear Foodies,
If you have a wide selection of food blogs on your reader, then you've surely seen 'Anjum's New Indian' cookbook pop up on a few blogs over the last few weeks. Early last month I got an email from Wiley publishing house asking me if I would be interested in reviewing Anjum Anands latest cookbook. I really did not have to think twice about it. I've been watching her cooking show on TV and like that she showcases the variety in Indian cuisine. Anjum Anand is based in the UK and on her show she encourages her friends to avoid the greasy restaurant food and attempt cooking Indian food that is fresh, seasonal and local. And she does not confine herself to any particular regional cuisine either, you'll find a mix of recipes from Gujarati, Keralan, Punjabi, Parsi and many other cuisines from India. Its a pleasant surprise to see so many regional cuisines represented on a popular television show.

In this latest book, 'Anjum's New Indian' you'll find a collection of Anjum Anand's recipes from the show and a few others included. Its a huge book, over 250+ pages and its filled with 100+ mouth-watering recipes that are accompanied by photographs that will get you cooking immediately. I like the way the book in organized, you'll find chapters on light meals & snacks, seafood, chicken, meat, vegetables, beans & lentils, rice & breads, raita's & chutneys and finally desserts & drinks. For someone new to cooking Indian food, this book is a one-stop shop for cooking an entire Indian meal. The book begins with an introduction from Anjum Anand which is very succinct and explains briefly how Indian food differs with region and the influences that it has had throughtout its rich history.

When attempting a new cuisine for the first time, its important to know the little details like the choice of ingredients used, how they are prepped and cooked. For instance, when I see an Indian dish made on TV and the cook dumps onion and tomatoes in the pan along with all the other ingredients I know the flavor will be off. Anjum Anand has a section where she talks about just these details - how to pick the right tomatoes, seafood or meat, how to brown the onion and tomatoes to develop the flavors and preparing lentils for dals. These are the steps that make the food authentic and its extremely helpful to have them explained.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Brussels Sprouts Kootu

Dear Foodies,

I hope all of you had a joyous holiday weekend. I made my first pie and stuffing this time! We weren't planning on it but I am glad I tried, they've been on my list of recipes to try for a very long time. I love pecan pie and V's fav is apple pie, from Julian! So I made a hybrid of the two and it turned out really good. But the 2 sticks of butter needed to make one pie crust will keep me from making it again for a very long time. But the stuffing muffins I made will surely be repeated to use up old bread. I used a few slices of leftover homemade jalepeno cheddar bread and added sauteed carrots, celery, fennel and onions that I spiced with chilli flakes and garlic. I used a few splashes of milk instead of stock to moisten the bread and it seemed to work perfectly.
Over the last few weeks Brussels sprouts seem to be taking center stage at all the grocery stores here. Still on the stalks, they look like Christmas ornaments and difficult to pass by without adding a few to my shopping cart. Brussels sprouts come from the mustard family and resemble mini cabbages but have a mild bitter taste. The easiest way I prepare them is roasting them in the oven with some oil, salt and pepper - near zero prepping. I also cook it like I would cabbage but without the peas in that recipe. This time I combined them with toor dal and made a wonderful kootu that goes really well with rice.
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