Monday, August 29, 2011

Dum Paneer & Rumali Roti

Dear Foodies,

Paneer is a huge favorite of mine and in an odd way signifies a special occassion or a reason to celebrate in my mind. Whenever we eat out a paneer dish is a must on the order and being vegetarian almost an obvious choice. With its nuetral flavor and creamy texture there is hardly anyone who can say they hate it, just not possible. Made entirely from milk with no confusions about rennet or animal enjymes used in the process, its the most vegetarian friendly cheese available. Its the best use of milk thats close to its expiry date and sitting smugly in your refrigerator... but ofcourse that never happens in my place. (heh!)

Most regular north Indian restaurants here have a banal list of paneer dishes on their menu. I categorize them as Green/Orange/Red, and they progress just like the traffic signals, green you may take a chance, orange - give it a second thought, red - stay away! They taste of nothing familiar and are doused with ridiculous amounts of cream/grease and spices. The paneer also is often a chewy, rubbery mass and the whole purpose of eating out to enjoy a meal is lost right there. With such poor examples its hard explaining to the locals here that Indian food is nothing close to what these greasy/bland dishes represent. I was watching Gordan Ramsay's Great Escape on Netflix this past weekend, he sets out on a tour of India to learn about its curries and see what was done wrongly in UK kitchens. Though he does try some pretty dramatic variations of curries the show does focus on the true charm of India's cuisine. Each one has a rich culture and history associated with it based on where it comes from. Each curry has a pedigree of sorts attached to it and you can track down the various influences on the recipe. Its a shame that such rich heritage is then thrown out the window by these restaurants.

With my parents here as an excuse I got a telugu channel package installed at home and along with my mom we cover all the cooking shows on TV. Lots of new ideas with a good dose of weird combinations have filled up our recipes books, and by 'our' I mean my mom painstakingly writing them down and then re-typing them on the laptop for a soft copy! :D One of shows (Abhiruchi/Etv) now has a Iron Chef styled secret ingredient cook-off as one of its segments. The inspiration for this recipe came from one such episode that had paneer as the ingredient of choice. I have since modified the recipe a bit to suit our tastes but the basic idea came from the show. One ingredient that I think was missing in the original is Kasuri methi. It may sound insignificant but when used will surely trigger the 'aha! so this is what they use' moment when it comes to replicating restaurant favorites at home.

Kasuri Methi is regular methi leaves in their dried form. From wiki I learned that it gets its name from Kasur a city in the Punjab province of Pakistan, that grows methi in abundance. A small spoonful, crushed between your palms and sprinkled over the curry close to the very end of the cooking process will add an additional   layer of flavor to the dish. The leaves have a strong bitter/sour flavor and fragrance to them and when added to a gravy they compliment the strong spices really well.

Dum Paneer
Servings: 4
Prep Time: 30mins
Cooking Time: 30-40mins
  • 1 - Onion,large ~ 3 cups, sliced
  • 3 - Tomatoes, medium sized
  • 2 - Green chillies
  • 12-15 - Cashews, whole
  • 2-3 Tbsp - Oil
  • 1/4 tsp - Turmeric
  • 1 tsp - Ginger-garlic paste(~ 1 big garlic clove & 1" round of ginger)
  • Whole Spices - 1 bay leaf, 2-3 1" shards of cinnamon stick, 2 Green Cardamom pods, 4-5 Cloves
  • Spice Powders - 1/2 tsp each of - Garam masala powder, Dhania powder, Cumin powder, Red Chilli powder (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp - Curd/Yogurt
  • 1-1.5 cups - Paneer cubes
  • 1 tsp - Kasuri Methi
  • few leaves of Mint/Pudina (optional, I skipped it) and Coriander
  • fresh/heavy cream for garnish (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Make a shallow plus slit to pierce through the tomato skins and drop them in boiling water for about a minute to loosen the skin. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and grind them to a paste along with green chilies. Use some of the hot water to give the cashews a quick soak for a few minutes and grind to a fine paste.
  2. Heat a tbsp of oil in a pan and add the sliced onions. Cook them on medium heat until browned evenly. This takes about 8-10mins, a few charred bits is totally fine, you don't have to slow cook them as you would for caramelized onions. When cooled, blend it to a fine paste too.
  3. In a deep saucepan, heat 2 Tbsp of oil/butter and add in the whole spices and turmeric. Once they become fragrant carefully add ginger-garlic paste and cook for 15-20secs. Add brown onion paste and tomato-chilli paste next and cook on medium heat for 5-6 mins until the moisture is cooked out of it.
  4. Reduce the heat a bit and stir in the yogurt. Bring the heat back up to medium and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan as one mass. This is where you would also see the oil separate if you used more but the 2 Tbsp isn't quite enough to do that for the amount of gravy.
  5. Add in the spice powders, salt, cashew paste and about ~11/2 cups of water to achieve  desired consistency. Make it a little looser than you would want the final gravy as it will continue to thicken a bit.
  6. Taste test for seasonings now, once the paneer is added you don't want to stir it much. Toss in the paneer cubes, kasuri methi, pudina(if using) and coriander leaves and cover with a heavy lid to ensure that moisture does not escape out of the pan. (This step is crucial step in the recipe, the Notes section has more details.) Heat on the lowest setting on your cooking range for about 15mins.
  7. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with fresh cream/coriander leaves and serve hot with roti or rice.
Notes: For the 'dum' part of the cooking process, I used a cast iron lid and it did a pretty good job of trapping steam. Another option is to cover the whole pot with aluminum foil and then press it down with the regular lid. If not try the traditional method by making chapathi dough, roll it out like a thick rope and seal the edges of the pan with the lid covered. - Make extras of the browned onion paste and freeze it for a quick gravy another night. - Instead of paneer you can try other veggies like potatoes, capsicum, cauliflower.

The flavors in this dish will take you by surprise. The browned onions that form the base of the gravy add a wonderful richness and depth. Cashew paste and curd mellow out the sharp flavors of the spices with the curd adding a tangy note at the end. Most recipes that use paneer call for it to be added at the very end. In this one though, paneer cubes blend into the whole dish instead of standing out like an after-thought. Cooking it in 'dum' forces all the flavors in the gravy to be absorbed by the paneer making them wonderfully moist and flavorful. If you are feeling awfully indulgent you can add cream and khoya to the gravy, both used in the original, but to me it was rich enough without them.

Feeling really adventurous I looked for a recipe for Rumali roti to pair with dum paneer. If I had to pick just one, then rumali roti will surely top the list of Indian breads for me. Being thin as a rumal/handkerchief it is the perfect vehicle for a rich gravy as it does not over power the flavors in anyway. It's rarely found in restaurants even in Hyderabad these days. I had requested our wedding caterer to make this for the reception dinner but he refused saying it would be tough to make them fresh for the crowd. No regrets though since I hardly got to enjoy a meal that day. It would have been distracting to think about the rumali rotis while sitting through the wedding ceremonies :D

Rumali/Roomali Roti
Serving: 12-14 rotis
Prep time: 10mins
Cooking time: 30mins
  • 1 cup All purpose flour/Maida
  • 1 cup Whole Wheat flour/Atta
  • salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • Milk and Water to make dough (~ 1.5 cups total).
  • Rice flour for dusting ~ 1/2 cup
Method:  Make a moist dough and knead it for 3-4 mins until soft and pliable. Cover the dough ball with a moist cloth and allow to rest for 1-2hrs. Roll two small dough balls the sixe of a key lime and stretch them to the size of a small poori. Spread oil on one side of each round and dredge/dust evenly with rice flour. Place one round over the other with floured sides facing each other and press around the edges to form a rough seal. Using a rolling pin stretch the dough to make a very thin roti, as thin as you can get without tears. Heat a wide, shallow pan on high heat and cook the roti for 20-30secs on each side until you see little brown spots on the surface. Any longer and you'll have papads! Transfer to a covered, serving dish and about a minute later when cool enough to handle, separate the two layers to get individual rumals!

Source: barely modified from here

The roti's are soft and melt in your mouth. You are gauranteed to lose count of how many you devour so make extras! I made this combination twice this month already and cannot wait to repeat it again. I served it alongside a salad of ripe tomatoes and onions sprinkled with salt, pepper and chaat masala because chaat masala makes everything better :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Frames | Solitary

Dear Foodies,

blissfully floating around
a giant blue whale comes up to say hello!
Peoria, AZ
rising above to get the big picture
wings spread out
enjoying the golden hour in peace

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mullangi/Daikon Radish Sambar

Dear Foodies,

In most South Indian homes sambar is a dish that finds a place on the meal table almost every day. Its a simple recipe that provides vegetarians our daily dose of protein without much effort. Everyone knows that Madras is ever so popular for its Sambar but almost every region in the South has its own adaptation of the recipe and the variations are endless. Some like it spicy while others add a touch of jaggery to sweeten it, in our home sambar does not contain tomatoes as a rule while it could be common ingredient in other homes. Ground coconut, freshly ground vs pre-ground sambar powder, simple onions to a whole array vegetables - pick a variation and you have a completely different flavor profile to relish.

No matter what the version though, Toor dal/kandi pappu/pigeon peas is the lentil of choice for sambar and also the most commonly used dal in the South. During the busy week day mornings, my mom had her routine perfectly planned. My dad left for work at 7:50AM on the dot and breakfast had to be made and a complete lunch packed for him. My brother and I left at 8:30AM and she left home at 8:50AM. It was rush hour every morning and just like the famous Mumbai dabbawala's, our very own dabbawali never missed a beat either. Every move in the kitchen was streamlined in order to get wholesome meal prepared for us. The cooked toor dal served two purposes  - the thick mashed dal was added to the sambar while the dilute cooking liquid found its way into a warming rasam. My mom always adds a pinch of turmeric while cooking the dal in a pressure cooker but here it stains my stovetop and being the lazy one I avoid it altogether and add a few methi seeds and a pinch of asafoetida instead. A few drops of oil to the cooking water helps minimize foaming.

All you need for a comforting pot of sambar is a vegetable component which could be one or more of these - regular onions, pearl onions, carrots, bottlegourd(sorakaya), lady fingers (bhendi), brinjal, pumpkin, capsicum, potatoes, daikon radish (mullangi), drumstick (Munagakaya), chickpeas, fresh shelled broad beans, green peas. From the pantry you'll need tamarind, toor dal and some fragrant mom-made sambar powder! Thats it, you are just 30mins away from a bubbling pot of delicious sambar. Serve it simply with warm rice, dunk your idli's and vada's in it or serve it alongside hot upma or pongal and you have a wholesome meal to wrap your family around. I usually cook a double batch of toor dal and store it in the freezer so that on a busy week night dinner is really quick to put together.

Mom's Sambar Podi
Serving Size: ~2 cups
Prep Time: 20mins
  • 1 cup - Coriander seeds/Dhaniya
  • 1 Tbsp - Channa dal/Senaga pappu
  • 1 tsp - Fenugreek seeds/Menthulu
  • 1/2 tsp - Mustard seeds/Aavalu
  • 1" piece of dried turmeric root (optional)
  • Red chilli powder - 1/2 the amount of spice powder got from blending the above ingredients
  1. Dry roast coriander seeds on medium heat until fragrant. You don't want to brown or darken their color, once they become fragrant transfer to a plate to cool.
  2. In the same pan add the channa dal and dry roast until it begins to change color, transfer to the plate and cool. Repeat the step with fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and turmeric root, roasting each individually.
  3. Once all the ingredients have cooled down, transfer to a blender jar and finely powder.
  4. Transfer to a air-tight jar, add in the chilli powder and blend it in with a spoon. It's going to be a challenge, but avoid taking a close whiff of the powder or you'll end up in a sneezing marathon!
Notes: It you don't have dried turmeric root, skip turmeric all together and add a pinch of it when making sambar. The purpose of channa dal is to thicken your sambar.
- Don't let the fenugreek seeds turn dark or it'll make the powder bitter! Dried curry leaves can be added when preparing smaller batches.
-For my mom's rasam powder recipe check this post
Mullangi /Daikon Radish Sambar
Servings: 4-5
Prep time: 30mins
Cooking time: 30mins
  • 1 cup - Daikon radish, peeled and sliced into rounds
  • 3/4 cup - Toor dal, cooked and mashed
  • keylime sized ball of tamarind pulp or 1/2 Tbsp store-bought tamarind extract
  • 1.5 Tbsp - Sambar Powder
  • 1/4 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 1 - Green chilli, slit lengthwise (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-2.5 cups water
  • 1 tsp - Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp - Mustard seeds
  • 4-5 - Curry leaves
  • pinch of asafoetida/hing 
  • Optional - 1/4 tsp Cumin seeds & a dried red chilli
  • Coriander leaves for garnish (optional)
  1. In a deep saucepan, add a cup of water, sliced daikon, slit green chilli. Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until the radish slices soften a bit. You can use a microwave for this step.
  2. In the meantime, place tamarind pulp in 1/4 cup water and nuke it for 1 min. This makes the extraction of the pulp easier. Alternatively, soak the pulp in 1/2 cup water for 30-40mins. Using your hands, squeeze out as much of the pulp as possible and reserve.
  3. Once the radish slices are soft, add the tamarind extract, sambar powder, turmeric powder, salt and cook uncovered for 10mins or until the raw smell of the tamarind is lost.
  4. Mash the dal well and add it along with a cup of water to the sambar pot. Taste test for salt and cook for 8-10 mins more until slight foam forms on the top and you can smell the comforting fragrance of the sambar. Adjust the consistency by adding more water as needed and taste test for salt.
  5. For the seasoning, heat oil in the tadka pan, add mustard seeds, cumin and once they begin to splutter carefully add curry leaves and a pinch of hing. Pour this over the sambar and keep covered until its time to serve. Garnish with coriander leaves right before serving.
Notes: If using vegetables like onions/brinjal/capsicum start by sauteing them in a Tsp of oil instead of cooking them in water in step 1. I like a really a tangy sambar and tend to use more tamarind extract, customize the recipe to suit your taste.
Served with warm rice, a tiny drop of ghee and crispy popadams/vadiyam on the side will send me to a very happy place. Those who fear the smell of raw daikon will have no worries enjoying this sambar. The soft daikon becomes mellow in flavor and are a delight in the sambar. You can sneak in almost any veggie into a sambar and make it taste good.
                                          Now you tell me how you make sambar at home ?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Frames | Resplendent

Dear Foodies,

...and I get a year older younger today! :)
(Flower:'Tiger Eye' Rudbeckia)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peach Jam spiced with Crystallized Ginger

Dear Foodies,

When I entered the neighborhood Whole Foods a few weeks back after a long break from the store, the first sight that welcomed me was a huge mound of peaches from a local farm. I picked up a couple of pounds of the golden fruit even before realized it. I do that with almost any fruit in season, but in reality I am not a fruit eater. But pretty fruit are hard to pass up so I buy them in the hopes that they will continue to tempt me when I take them home. I've tried hard and failed to set a routine of having fruit at least once a day. For a few weeks, I made smoothies for breakfast every day & it worked like a charm. A handful of oats nuked for 30secs whizzed up with an assortment of fruits and a sumptuous breakfast is ready to be devoured. But the attraction eventually waned out and I had to find another way to use up the gorgeous fruits that fill the summer months.

Jams are a great way of preserving ripe fruits and extending their shelf life. Even better when you can make it at home tweaking it to your liking. Making small batches at a time takes the worry out of the whole canning process too. So I decided to turn the bounty of peaches into jam. The idea of toast and jam for breakfast though isn't very appealing to me, too sweet. In search of spice I also bought a jar of jalapeno jam once and it was surprisingly good! So when I made jam at home it was obvious that I would find ways to spice things up a bit.

I've been making small batches of strawberry jam over the last two years and it has been absolutely rewarding to make jam at home. Strawberries must be one of the easiest to turn into jam and I've successfully paired them with tart rhubarb, spicy black peppercorns and ripe mangoes. Now it was surely the turn of the peaches to get into a canning jar. When selecting peaches, or any fruit for that matter for a jam, don't worry about appearances, a few bruised fruit will taste just as fine or even better. If you can score a bargain on the ugly fruit, then perfect. The most important thing is to make sure they are ripe, smell fragrant and are seasonal fruit.

With strawberry jam I tried red pepper flakes and crushed black pepper in separate batches and the black pepper won hands down. The occasional bite of pepper in the ham makes it really delicious and brings out the flavor of the fruit too. The same idea did not sound good with peaches so while perusing through the vast number of odds and ends in my pantry my eyes fell upon a jar of crystallized ginger. I love to chew on these sugary bits of ginger when my taste buds need to come alive after a bad cold or heavy meal. I knew I had found the perfect spice agent to pair up with the juicy peaches on hand.

I used pectin for the first batch of strawberry jam but realized that I could easily skip that step for them. A little citrus juice, sugar and a little time on the stove will turn them into a nice thick jam. With peaches I wanted to retain the freshness and delicate flavor in the fruit and did not want to cook them longer than needed to soften them. Adding pectin immediately cuts down the cooking time giving you a jam that has a pure concentrated flavor of the fresh fruit. The amount of pectin you need depends on the brand/type of pectin available. So carefully read through the instructions and use the amount needed accordingly.

Peach Jam with Crystallized Ginger 
Serving: 2 pints
Prep time: 30mins
Cooking time: 30mins
  • 5 - Peaches, washed (~ 2 cups)
  • 1.5 cups - Sugar (depends on the fruit)
  • 1.5 Tbsp -Crystallized ginger, finely diced
  • 1 cup - Mango chunks (optional)
  • 1 tsp - Orange zest
  • 1/4 cup - Orange juice
  • Pectin - as per packet instructions
  • pinch of salt
  1. Bring water to a boil and blanch the peaches for about 30-40secs to loosen the peel and immediately drop them into ice water. You don't want to cook them at this stage. When cool to handle, peel off the skins, they should easily pull away from the fruit. Discard the pit and give the pulp a rough chop. 
  2. In a non-reactive pot, add all your ingredients except the pectin and bring the mixture to a boil. Taste test and add more sugar/ginger to your liking. 
  3. Follow the instructions for the pectin based on the brand. I tend to use about 3/4 the quantity suggested because I don't like the jam to have a thick jelly like consistency.
  4. Once the fruit mixture returns to a boil turn off the heat. Skim any foam that appears on the surface to get a clear jam. 
  5. Allow the jam to cool completely, transfer to dry, airtight containers and store in the refrigerator. If making a larger batch, be sure to sterilize your jars appropriately for canning. I usually make smaller batches and run mason jars through a dish washing cycle with heat before I use them. 
Note: This recipe makes a mildly sweet jam. The peaches were exceptionally sweet and the mango added to the sweetness. Make sure to taste the fruit before you add any sugar, if the fruit is sweet enough you can reduce the amount of additional sugar needed.
- I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, it comes in powder form along with calcium powder that is used to activate the pectin.
- flavoring ideas- cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, apricot chunks...

Peaches work wonderfully in this preparation, the jam has a stronger peach flavor that the fruit themselves. Since you end up concentrating the flavor of the fruit you are left with the very best that the fruit has to offer. The orange zest brightens the flavor of the entire jam and brings out the flavor in the fruit. The tiny bits of ginger that hit you add another dimension and break the sweetness in the jam. On a slice of freshly baked bread this jam is a joy to eat. I'm considering making jam cookies and tarts to show off this jam, but since I've made this whenever I crave something sweet after a meal I find myself reaching out for a spoonful of peach jam. Do try it out and let me know if you have a favorite jar recipe or combination.

I realized that this is a perfect entry to the Veggie/Fruit a month event created by Priya and hosted by Susan this month to showcase lovely Peaches. Looking forward to the numerous recipe ideas that will be coming our way in the round-up! Need to stock up on peaches again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Zucchini & Yellow Squash Ribbon Salad

Dear Foodies,

Things never seem to go as planned around here with me and the blog! Late last year I took a break from work when I moved to San Diego thinking that would give me all the time in the world to spend on blogging, reading other blogs and making new friends. When I was working and trying to blog regularly I would always wish for more free time, and envy those who were able to take a break and spend time doing what they love. So when I finally did reach that point I had so many more things on my list and I just got drawn into a completely different routine. I cooked a lot and interestingly managed to take some good photographs and added to my collection of food props too. But the actual time I spent on the blog or following my favorite blogs shot down to a real low. I got busy crocheting, sewing, taking craft classes, catching up on books, exploring the new city, photographing and lots of cooking.
Now I'm back to work and with it my itch to blog is back with a bang too! When I was working I had my blogging routine all worked out and it had become a matter of habit, so now I hope to nourish that routine and make it a really work. The last few weeks I worked hard to finally make the move to the new blogger beta templates from the older one that I had. Its easier now to change colors and fonts and backgrounds, but the move itself wasn't easy at all. There were some hacks and widgets that I had learned to tweak to my needs and create a personalized blog space in the older version and now I had to re-tweak them, painfully refreshing my memory and making them work with this new blogger html code. Not an easy task! After an extremely slow and frustrating process I am satisfied with the way it looks now and decided to move on before I go crazy :) And the idea behind the color scheme, if you are wondering, is inspired from a coffee mug that I fell in love with at the store!
This salad that I bring to you today is assuredly one of the prettiest plates I have made! And there was almost zero effort on my part, the gorgeous veggies handled it all by themselves. Its.summer.on.a.plate. The grocery stores are piled high with summer squash and if you are gardener then you surely are running out of ways to consume them before the next batch is ready for picking. I slice them up, char them lightly on the cast iron pan and pile them on my burger like so. Or I use the chunks in some tomato-onion based gravy spiced up with ajwain(carom) and fennel seeds. But those ideas are for later, today I share with you a very simple salad preparation.
Summer Squash & Radish Ribbon Salad
Servings: 2 ( side)
Prep time: 20mins
Cooking time: N/A
  • 1 - Zucchini, Yellow Squash and couple of radishes washed and wiped dry
  • 2 tsp - Spring onion greens, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
For the lemon vinaigrette -
  • 2 tbsp - Lemon juice
  • 5 Tbsp - Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. Cut the squash in half or thirds for longer ones to get approx 4" pieces. Using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline, carefully shave off ribbons of the squash allowing them to fall into a bowl. The radishes can be sliced as is, taking care of your fingers all along.
  2. For the basic lemon vinaigrette, I add all the ingredients into a small bottle with a tight lid and shake it well to get the emulsification going. Taste test for seasonings. 
  3. Starting with half the vinaigrette, pour it over the veggies and lightly toss them together. Add more vinaigrette as needed. 
  4. Arrange the pretty vegetable ribbons on a plate, sprinkle the minced spring onions and red pepper flakes and serve the crisp fresh salad immediately.
Notes: Carrots can also be made into ribbons in a similar fashion and added to the salad.
- Dry fruits (cranberries/ raisins) & toasted nuts (walnuts, pine nuts or sliced almonds) can be added to enhance the salad.
- Little chunks of ricotta, feta or goat cheese would also go really well with the sharp acidic vinaigrette.
This is a fantastic salad, you get to enjoy the unique tastes of each vegetable but they also blend together to form a cohesive dish. The acid in the vinaigrette adds a sharpness to the salad that makes it extremely light and refreshing to the palate. The spring onion greens and red pepper flakes add varying kicks of spice forcing you to go back for more. I had a bowlful of it and made it again the next day, and the day after until I ran of squash at home. Another great way to enjoy the salad is to pile it on top of crisp toasty bread, smear one slice with a little bit of fiery home-made harissa and dig-in. Brilliant. You will even forget you are eating raw veggies. Make this and enjoy the rest of summer.
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