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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pondicherry Sambhar

During this marathon, I learnt that I really had no idea about one more Indian region's cuisine besides the northeastern states. It was the union territory of Puducherry / Pondicherry. Puducherry which literally means new town in Tamil was a former French colony. It is also known as "The French Riviera of the East". The union territory of Puducherry is located on the southeastern coast of India and consists of four small, unconnected districts which are enclaves of three southern states.
I had visited the place during one of my childhood trips and have some vague memories attached to it but those definitely not include the regional food. I just had an idea that their food is mostly influenced by Tamil and French cuisines and when I set out in search of a region-specific recipe, I landed here. Aparna had prepared this sambhar after reviewing the cookbook called "The Pondicherry Kitchen - Traditional recipes from the Indo-French territory" by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis. 

I had no idea that I would end up with two back to back regional dal recipes when I cooked them though they are different as chalk and cheese. My yesterday post of Oriyan dalma is unique in it's own way and has east Indian cooking influence. This Pondicherry sambhar of course have traces of south Indian style cooking and in fact prepared in the same way as the regular sambhar. The only difference being that a crushed cumin-pepper combo is used in place of sambhar powder and that makes the whole difference. Believe it or not it doesn't resemble the typical sambhar in the taste/flavor department, because of the same reason. However I do advise to go easy with the peppercorn-chili quality since their combined effect is pretty strong. The original recipe had 6 red chillies and 1/2 tbsp peppercorns that seemed too intense since I am more used to the chillies than the peppercorns in a sambhar recipe. And also don't get intimidated by the long list of ingredients as the recipe is a simple one. A good regional dal recipe to have in one's repertoire.

Ingredients:
1 cup toor dal / pigeon peas
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 cups water
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp split, skinned black gram / urad dal
3 - 4 garlic cloves
4 - 6 dry red chillies, each broken into 2 
1/4 tsp asafoetida
2 big eggplants, cut into big pieces 
1 tomato, cut into pieces
1 tsp jaggery
1 stalk of curry leaves
2 big onions / 4 -5 shallots, finely chopped
Salt to taste
1 tbsp tamarind puree
1/2 tbsp coarsely crushed cumin seeds
1 tsp coarsely powdered black peppercorns
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
Method:
* Add toor dal, turmeric and water to a pressure cooker and cook for 3 whistles or until the dal is cooked soft. Turn off the stove and let the pressure subside. Once the valve pressure is gone, strain the water out and keep it aside. This water can be used to cook the vegetables. Mash the dal in the cooker and set it aside.
* Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard and urad to it and let them splutter. Then add garlic if using and toast until they turn golden brown. Next add the red chillies, asafoetida, curry leaves and onion. Fry for 3 -4 minutes and then add tomato and eggplants. Add the water strained out from the dal earlier. 
* Cover the pan and cook until the vegetables are done. 
* Add cooked dal, tamarind, salt, jaggery, cumin and peppercorns to the pan. Stir and adjust seasonings if needed.
* Let it simmer for about ten minutes and add the coriander leaves just before turning off the stove. 
* Serve hot with rice and any vegetable preparation.

Note:
1. Substitute any other vegetable in place of eggplants.
2. Garlic was crushed and added along the tamarind, jaggery and other stuff in the original recipe. I preferred to add toasted garlic cloves instead of the raw, crushed garlic.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dalma

After trying out more than a dozen deep frying / sugar laden recipes in the marathon so far, I thought it was time for some simple comfort food. And so it is dalma for today, which happens to be a popular, vegetarian home-style dal. It comes from the state of Odisha formerly known as Orissa, from the eastern coast of India. This dal was completely different to the ones I have grown up eating. The sweet-sour Andhra style pulusu or the spicy sambhar that uses tamarind or the north Indian style dals - This was none of those. It uses ginger - cumin and the panch phutana tadka that happens to be the signature seasoning of the east Indian cooking. The recipe uses no kind of souring agent, surprisingly and so I was missing the tang I naturally associate with the dals. Otherwise the dal was worth trying. 

Recipe source: Here
Ingredients: 3/4 cup toor dal / pigeon peas
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 cups mixed vegetables (Brinjal , green papaya, raw plantain, potato and pumpkin - Peel all veggies except brinjal and cut into medium sized pieces.)
1 tsp minced ginger
Red chili powder to taste
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp shredded fresh coconut
Coriander leaves to garnish
Ingredients for tadka:
1 tsp ghee / oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds / rai
1/2 tsp black cumin / kala jeera
1/2 tsp fennel seeds / saunf
1/2 tsp cumin seeds / jeera
1/2 tsp fenugreek seed / methi ke dana

Method:
* Cook toor dal adding turmeric, ginger, vegetables and about 1.5 cups water if using a pressure cooker. If not using the pressure cooker and cooking toor dal in a sauce pan, add extra water as needed until the dal is cooked soft.
* If you think the vegetables may turn mushy in the pressure cooker, they can be cooked separately on stove top or in a microwave. 
* Dry roast 1 tsp cumin seeds and a red chili in a pan. Cool and grind them fine.
* In another pan, heat oil and add red chillis and the tadka ingredients. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, turn off the stove.
* Add the above tadka, salt, sugar to the dal and stir well. 
* Sprinkle cumin and chilli powders. Garnish it with coriander leaves and coconut. Serve with rice.




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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Koat Pitha / Banana Pitha

The northeast Indian state of Nagaland obviously is the land of Nagas. The Nagas were originally referred as Naka in the Burmese language, which means "People with pierced noses". The state is covered by lush mountains and has a largely monsoon climate. 

Besides the wiki link, I found some other interesting links here  and here related to food and culture of Nagaland. One interesting link here provided me an insight into the cuisine of Nagas. I could not help from reproducing that stuff below. 

"The primary occupation of the tribes was hunting and so meat became a chief component of the Naga cuisine. The meat enjoyed by them include beef, pork, fish, chicken, crabs, frog, snail, spider, insects, bee larvae, dog, cat, rat, birds, snake, spider, monkey, bear, and even elephant. Meat of dog and other wild animals are considered a delicacy. Pork meat is highly popular in this cuisine. Pork meat cooked with bamboo shoots is a popular dish of this cuisine. Smoked meat is prepared by keeping the meat above the fire or hanging on the wall of the kitchen for 2 weeks or longer, which could last for the whole year ahead. Apart from meat, bamboo shoots, lettuce, soya beans, mustard leaves, and yam leaves are also used in cooking. These ingredients are fermented and used to make various dishes. 
Each tribe has their unique dishes and the food between any two tribes is never the same. One important feature of the Naga cuisine is that the dishes are cooked by boiling the ingredients than frying. The meat is cooked using various methods - by smoking, drying or fermenting. Fermenting food is practiced in order to preserve the food. The food item is first boiled and then dried under the sun or near the fire. It is then wrapped in a banana leaf and stored for future use. 
The cuisine of Nagaland has largely remained free from influence of other cuisines. The dishes and the food have remained same over the ages, but the use of spice has been incorporated in the cooking to offer the dishes distinct taste and flavor. Chillies have an important place in naga cuisine and the nature of the food is hot and spicy. The ginger used in the Naga cuisine is spicy, aromatic and is different from the common ginger. Various local herbs and leaves are also used to spice up the dishes.
Nagas believe that certain meats have curative powers while some others are unclean and pass on their characteristics to human beings. They believe that dog meat cures pneumonia while a snake bite is cured by consuming a fluid of earthworms. Bee larvae, snails and frogs are believed to heal the skin and bones. Women are restricted from consuming monkey meat since they think that it turns them extravagant. Pregnant women are not allowed to consume bear meat since bears are not considered smart. Tigers/ leopards were not consumed as they believed that tiger was the brother of Man when the world was created."

Now let's move towards today's recipe. Koat pitha are deep fried sweet fritters prepared using rice flour and bananas. It is popular in several of the north-east Indian states including Nagaland. In fact, it is a popular dish prepared during the Assamese bihu festival. They are subtly sweet and can be put together real quick. The  recipes I found online were almost one and the same using a cup of rice flour and jaggery each and about 6 bananas. I tried a small portion since there are not many takers for sweet dishes at home. I also added some cardamom powder for flavor.

Ingredients: (yield 8 pithas)
1 big sized banana
6 tbsp rice flour 
1/4 cup powdered jaggery
Oil to fry

Method:
* Mash the bananas well in a bowl. Add the powdered jaggery to it and mix well. Take care that no jaggery lumps are present in the mixture.
* Gradually add rice flour to the mixture and make a dough.
* Heat oil in a saute pan and drop spoonfuls of batter into it.
* Fry on medium flame until golden brown, flipping in between.
* Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent towels.



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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mizoram cuisine ~ Fried AshGourd

BM theme: Indian states
State: Mizoram
Capital City: Aizawl
Tribes: Mizos like Lushei, Paite, Lai , mara and others tribes 
Non-Mizo tribes like Bru, Chakma, Tanchangya, Arakanese
Official language: Mizo
Major religion: Christianity

The word "Mizoram" literally means the land of the hill people and the state is a land of rolling hills, rivers, valleys and lakes. I don't know how much of the information I found on wiki holds good in the present day scenario but it seems that Mizos are a close-knit society in a true sense. There is no class distinction and the village is like a big family. The Mizo code of ethics focus on something called "Tlawmngaihna" - which somewhat translates to the moral force which finds expression in self sacrifice for the service of others. They are hospitable, kind and unselfish and kind of obligated to help out each other in dire circumstances. 

The people here are basically non vegetarians. They love meat and tend to add them even to vegetarian dishes. Fish, chicken, duck and pork are the popular meats. Rice is the staple food and mustard oil is the preferred medium to cook. Bai is a popular dish served along with rice. It is prepared by boiling spinach with pork and bamboo shoots. Sawchair is another dish prepared using rice and pork or chicken. The food is mild and the vegetables are cooked simple in such a way that the nutrient value is retained. Most of the dishes are served on banana leaves, a traditional way in most of the Indian states and naturally recyclable.

Now to my recipe for today. I found this northeast Indian tribal dish under the name "Mai Kan or Fried Ash Gourd" in Pushpesh Pant's India Cookbook. I had seen earlier a northeast Indian recipe online that called white pumpkin / ash gourd as "Mairen" in the native language. Though the cookbook really has a good collection of Indian recipes, it is hard to not notice the errors regarding some of the recipe names. Some of the recipes with Telugu names have been associated with the neighboring state of Tamilnadu. And there are spelling mistakes too when it comes to the names of dishes - I guess due to the errors that may have occurred during compilation or printing processes. And so, I think this dish may be mairen not maikan.
I guess the dish can be a generic one to the whole region and belongs to no one particular state owing to the fact that the northeast Indian vegetarian recipes are kept basic and pretty simple. It doesn't include even the panch phoran seasoning. Chayote / green papaya or any other vegetable can replace ash gourd. Use a little water if cooking green papaya. 

Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
2 - 3 dried red chillies, broken into bits
1 onion, chopped fine
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
2 cups peeled, de-seeded and cubed ash gourd
Salt to taste

Method:
Heat oil in a pan. Add red chillies and fry for few seconds. Add onion and turmeric. Fry until onion turns light brown. Then add ash gourd and salt. Fry until the ash gourd is tender.





Friday, April 18, 2014

Khasi Roasted Tomato Chutney ~ Meghalaya Cuisine



BM Theme: Indian States
State: Meghalaya
Capital city: Shillong
Chief tribes: Khasi, Garo & Jaintia
Principal languages spoken:  Khasi and Garo
Official language: English
Important food crops: Rice, wheat & Maize

Meghalaya literally means "The abode of clouds". Not surprising considering the fact that it is the wettest place on earth. The town of Cherrapunjee holds the world record for most rain in a calendar month. While the village of Mawsynram holds the record for the most rain in a year. 
While exploring the cuisine, I came across an interesting fact about the role of women in Meghalayan tribal societies. This state stands apart in the patriarchal Indian society. The tribes here follow a matrilineal system where lineage and inheritance are traced through women. The youngest daughter inherits the property and takes up the responsibility of aged parents and any unmarried siblings. Especially in the Garo lineage system, in the absence of a daughter, a chosen daughter in law or an adopted child inherits the property. Kudos to them!

Now moving towards the cuisine. The people predominantly are non vegetarian here and so at first glance, I thought every recipe revolved around pork. And even thought of making a vegan jadoh using tofu. I figured out later that there are many rice based sweet dishes after spending sometime online. However the search kept on leading me to just the names but not the recipes. It was like the Bhopali namak chai recipe I was looking for while doing the Madhya pradesh state. The people kept on praising the chai on Youtube videos but there was no recipe to be found. Similarly there was a mention of pukhlein - supposedly a breakfast bread made with rice flour. All I could get was it was supposedly sweet and deep fried. By the time I found the recipe, I had cooked two other dishes. Similarly there was a mention of a rice flour crepe called putharao and a steamed rice dish called pumaloi which turned out to be the equivalent of Assamese tekeli pitha.
I had prepared earlier the mixed vegetable dish that seems to be a generic online version for all the northeast Indian states. However I decided to try another one instead that I had earlier noted down to try. It is a quick tomato based mish mash kind chutney. Not a lot of seasonings going by the standard Indian chutney recipes. It was like an unusual Indian version of the popular Mexican salsa. Tomato and green chillies are directly roasted on the flame and then coarsely mashed along with the other ingredients. It is prepared by the Khasi tribe and therefore obviously is a basic, rustic version. My kids who are attuned to more refined versions of salsa, didn't like it. My husband liked it though he mentioned that the garlic flavor was too intense even for him who happens to be a garlic lover.

Recipe Source: Here
Ingredients:
1 tomato
2 green chillies
1 garlic clove (1/2 clove is enough.)
Salt to taste
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 tbsp lengthwise, thinly sliced onion

Method:
* Poke holes in the green chillies, to prevent them from bursting. Put tomato and chillies on a wire mesh and place directly on the flame. Roast until the skin is slightly chartered.
* Let them cool. Peel the skin of the tomato and mash it lightly.
(I broiled them in the oven instead until the skin charred on all sides.)
* Pound garlic, chillies and salt together in a mortar. Next add the mashed tomato, cilantro and onion to it and mix gently.
* It is served with along snacks like pakodas and samosas. I served it with tortilla chips.