Monday, March 28, 2011

Apple Thokku/Pickle

Dear Foodies,

All of you have heard the oft spoken adage - An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I have too, but the apples that I see on the store shelves all year long just don't seem worth it. For a month or so I tried eating them as an afternoon snack, but though I bought organic apples, they still did not taste great. It was eating for eating sake with no real apple flavor in those pieces. Sometimes I forget to use up the last one or two and the apples seem to look the same for weeks! I cannot put trust in fresh fruit that refuses to rot for that long and so I almost stopped buying any more apples. The only form that I have them in my pantry is as applesauce that I use for baking and in smoothies.

The best apples I had in recent times were the ones in Julian, Ca. They also make the best apple pie you'll ever eat. Fresh apples from the farm, cooked just right and served while still warm from the oven == absolute bliss. But that is not the what I want to talk about today..the reason I brought up the topic of apples is when I bit into a Granny Smith it got me excited about apples again. The tart, crisp and juicy Granny Smiths reminded me of the raw mangoes that filled my Indian summers. Cut in slivers, dusted with some salt & chilli powder, gobbled up just as soon as I got my hands on them were our snack through the summer. We had a mango tree in our backyard and the sight of the first mangoes of the season was a celebration. Their tartness makes you pucker up and no matter how much you try you cannot stop yourself from having more.

After the best raw mangoes were set aside for the famous batch of Andhra avakaya, the rest promptly got turned into fresh cut mango pickle and my favorite, thokku to satiate our pickle cravings. Finely grated mangoes are cooked to get the moisture out and then seasoned with typical pickle ingredients like mustard fenugreek, salt and red chilli powder. I could have it with rice & curd, dosa's, chapati or just by itself :) The crisp Granny Smiths brought back all those great memories and I instantly set on the task of turning them into a thokku. They work great also in terms of texture since this variety holds up to cooking. The result was fabulous, and I am thrilled that I no longer have to look for raw green mangoes in the store anymore. And even if I do, I am sure they'll be gone before I can think of cooking them.

I used my mandoline to grate the apples to get them fine enough for the thokku but still not as fine that they turn to pulp. Always use the safety holder when using a mandoline, the blades on those are extra sharp and it won't take more than a second to have your skin scraped off or worse! Unfortunately, I learned from experience :( Just a day after I had moved to SD along with V, I brought out the mandoline to grate a chunk of coconut. In my hurry, I ignored the safety holder and instead of grated coconut I had shaved off a piece of skin on my finger...very painful, so please take care.

Granny Smith Apple Thokku
Prep time: 15-20mins
Cooking time: 15mins
  • 1 nos - Granny Smith Apple, grated
  • 1 nos - dried Red Chilli
  • 1/2 tsp - Mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp - Fenugreek powder (lightly toast seeds & powder)
  • 1-1.5 tsp - Red Chilli Powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • pinch of Hing/Asafoetida 
  • 2-3 Tbsp - Gingelly/Sesame Oil (untoasted)
  • Salt to taste (~ 1tsp kosher salt)
  1. Heat sesame oil in a non-reactive saute pan, toss in mustard seeds and once they begin to splutter add dried red chilli, breaking it into pieces.
  2. Add hing, turmeric and then grated apple to the oil and cook until the moisture in the apple is cooked out, about 6-8 mins. Its done when the grated apple comes together as one mass and oil starts to separate and collect around the corners.
  3. Turn off the heat, add fenugreek powder, red chili powder and mix well. Once cooled store in a dry, airtight container and refrigerate. 
Notes: To make fresh fenugreek powder, lightly toast the seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and grind to a fine powder once cooled. I got twice the amount you see in the photographs from one apple. This is still a fresh pickle, so make it in small quantities and refrigerate. When you can find raw green mangoes use the same method to make mango thokku.
I loved it. I had it with curd rice, the absolute best pairing there could be. The next day I had it on crackers and some soft cheese spread as an evening snack. I also spread it on bread while making a burger sandwich for dinner. Its so addictive that once you make it you will come with many more creative ways to sneak it into every single meal you eat. Its been a while since I had the original thokku with raw mangoes to make an exact comparison, but this one surely wasn't lacking in flavor. With apples on almost all grocery stores shelves there is hardly any excuse to not make it.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Frames | Nature's Bounty

Dear Foodies,
life giving rain
Farmer's Market find - Cherimoya aka Custard Apple/Sitaphal
juicy, tart, freshly picked strawberries
a windy day on the beach
piercing through the winds
all bundled up!
Crocheting is addictive and from past experience I know this interest of mine will fade soon. I'm racing against time to get atleast a few projects done before I lose my fancy. So share with me any craft projects that you are currently working on ? I hope I'm not alone :) 

Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Frames | Tied up

Dear Foodies,
this was keeping me away...
Happy Weekend all :) I'll be back with treats for you next week :)

Monday, March 07, 2011

Fenugreek leaves/Menthi kura pappu

Toor dal in the cooker is like a meal made already for me. You could either add a few vegetables along with it or cook them separately, either ways you have a meal ready in about 30 mins. I usually make tomato/spinach/budamakaya (lemon cucumber) but when I can find fresh fenugreek leaves I use them to make this flavorful pappu. Fresh methi/menthi kura has a pungent flavor and when cooked its aromatic and addictive. I love it in all its forms -seeds, fresh & dried leaves.

The seeds are my best friend while making idli/dosa batter at home and also are a crucial part of pickles, the best condiment ever made. During summer, every morning my mom would force me to eat a cup of yogurt that had the seeds soaking in them overnight. This same mixture when applied to hair before washing acts a  great hair conditioner too.  Diabetics and nursing mothers are recommended a higher intake of these seeds due to their specific nutritive properties. The seeds are known to cool your body internally and even now when I see pimples peeping out, I immediately get some seeds soaking :) I always add a few seeds to the pressure cooker along with the toor dal too because otherwise I rarely use them in other recipes.

The dried leaves are that secret ingredient that adds the restaurant flavor that your north Indian curries made at home have been missing all this time. Crush a spoon of leaves in the palm of your hands and sprinkle it about 10mins before the gravy is done. The aroma that this adds and the flavor it brings will make you a want to hold the secret close to your heart when giving out recipes :) And the fresh leaves, aah, they are a delight to the taste buds. Unlike other greens, these guys have a robust flavor and are not shy to show it off. They are mildly bitter, a little sour and highly addictive :) My favorite way to use them is in aloo methi, thepla and true to my telugu roots, as pappu.

They do take some preparation when the mature plants are harvested. The stems get tough and leaves need to be picked off the stems when used for cooking. For tender plants though you can use the stems & leaves in the recipe. Fenugreek is really easy to grow at home, just soak the seeds in water for a few hours, allow them to drain and rest in a moist cheese cloth/tissue for 10-12hrs. You will see tiny sprouts begin to pop out, scatter them on loose soil and within a week you will see green stems peeking out. The plants in the photograph are < 3 weeks old. I am waiting to see how high they go before harvesting them. Not making any promises though :)
Menthi kura Pappu/Methi dal

  • 1 cup - Toor dal, washed & drained
  • 1 cup, packed - Fenugreek leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup - Onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup - Tomatoes, chopped
  • 2-3 nos - Green chillies (adjust to taste)
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp - thick Tamarind pulp extract or 1/2 tsp store bought paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp - Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Popu/flavor oil - 1 tsp ghee/oil, 1/2 tsp cumin & mustard seeds, a few curry leaves, 1 dried red chilli, sliced garlic or pinch of asafoetida/ inguva
  1. Pressure cook the toor dal with pinch of hing. In another pan, heat the oil and saute sliced onions and green chillies. When the onions soften and turn translucent add chopped tomatoes, turmeric and cook until they turn mushy.
  2. The washed, drained fenugreek leaves go in next, roughly chop them before adding if needed. Add a little salt and continue to cook until the leaves wilt and lose their rawness, ~ 6-8 mins.
  3. The dal should be done by now, once the pressure is released add the methi leaves mixture to the dal along with tamarind pulp and cook for another 10-15mins on low simmer. Taste test for salt and add more water if needed to get to a consistency that you like.
  4. Right before serving, add the popu by toasting the ingredients lightly in ghee and top it over the dal. Serve with hot rice or chapati.
You can cook all the ingredients together in the pressure cooker or, once the methi leaves are wilted in step 2 add the uncooked toor dal to the whole mixture, add required amount of water and continue cooking until done. Use a method thats convenient to you, each might have a very slight variation in taste.
I don't think I have to say how good pappu over a mound of warm rice tastes. Doing the popu in ghee at the very end will add a really great flavor and aroma to the pappu. The ghee mellows out all the high notes in the pappu and brings out the underlying creaminess of the dal. The methi is the real star of the dish though, its complex soury, bitter flavor is hard to explain and you will have to make this pappu to understand why so many of us love it.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mint/Pudina Pulao

Dear Foodies,
Pudina is one of the those herbs that I think take time to get to the favorites list. As a kid I was definitely not a fan. My mother would make a fabulous chutney with it or add it to rasam but I just could not get myself to appreciate its strong flavor. I think the only way to get some of the pudina into me was in my dad's sandwich, which is still the best sandwich ever. But over the last few years I've gradually been adding it to recipes, initially just a few leaves sneaked in which did not really exert their presence. But later my love for chaat forced to make large batches of pudina chutney to use in bhel puri & sandwiches. I have even driven 40 mins to the Indian store to stock up on pudina, the measly sprigs sold at the regular stores just don't cut it for me.
Blogging tips