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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Baigun Bhaja

Baigun bhaja is a fried, yummy dish, which serves as an accompaniment to rice - dal meal in Bengali households. "Bhaja" literally means deep fried and the common vegetables used to prepare bhajas are eggplants, potatoes, pumpkins or parval. There are several spice laden versions online with besan / poppy seeds / rice flour / sooji coatings. However after going through recipes online by Bengali cooks, I realized that this is supposed to be a simple delicacy. The eggplants are marinated just in a simple, salt-turmeric mixture and are deep fried.
I eat eggplants but not a great fan of them. This one however was particularly hard to resist. Earlier I had tried a chili powder smeared version too and it was a mess. The spice mixture seeps into the oil and particularly the chili powder keeps scorching in the oil while frying. This version was simple and sensible. If one prefers to eat it spicy, they can sprinkle some chili powder after the frying is done. 

* Wash the eggplants and wipe them dry. Slice them into thick rounds or vertically. Smear them with a small quantity of turmeric and salt and keep them aside for about 10 minutes.
* Heat oil in a pan for deep frying. Traditionally, mustard oil is used but I used canola oil here. Gently slide the slices into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on absorbent towels and serve them warm.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Uttarakhand Cuisine ~ Aloo Ke Gutke

Indian state: Uttarakhand
Capital city: Dehradun
Original inhabitants: Kols
Official languages: English and Sanskrit
Native languages: Hindi, Garhwali, Kumaoni, Jaunsari
Widely Grown Crops: Wheat, Basmati rice, sugarcane and others
Commercially grown fruits: Apples, oranges, plums, pears, peaches and litchis

The word "Uttarakhand" literally means the northern part. It was also the ancient Hindu name for the central stretch of the Himalayas. The state, formerly called as Uttaranchal is relatively a new Indian state formed by splitting the state of Uttar Pradesh into two. The state is 93% mountainous and the northern parts are covered by Himalayan peaks and glaciers. Uttarakhand is composed of Garhwal and Kumaon divisions and the native people of the state are generally called either Garhwali or Kumaoni, depending upon their origin in either the Kumaon or Garhwal region.

The state is important for Hindus from a religious point of view as it is the home for the holiest Hindu shrines. Hindu pilgrims have been visiting the region over centuries, in the hopes of attaining salvation and getting rid of bad karma. Two of the most holy rivers in Hinduism - the Ganga and the Yamuna originate in Uttarakhand at Gangotri and Yamunotri, respectively. Uttarakhand has many tourist spots due to it's location in the Himalayas. There are many ancient temples, forest reserves, national parks, hill stations and mountain peaks that attract tourists. While places like Haridwar and Rishikesh are important for Hindus, Hemkund is an important pilgrim center for the sikhs.

The food here is simple and tasty. Traditionally, the food of Uttarakhand was primarily cooked over charcoal / burning wood. Vegetarian food is mainly preferred and rice is the staple food. Different varieties of lentils are consumed. The medium of cooking is mustard oil / ghee. The Kumouni region sparsely use dairy products in their cooking. Fannah, kafuli, arsa, phaanu, ras, badi, gulgula, mandua ki roti are some of the popular dishes of the region. And if you are looking to add a new potato dish to your repertoire, here is a tasty and simple dish from the Uttarakhand state called "aloo ke gutke".

4 - 5 potatoes, peeled and cubed / sliced lengthwise (About 3 cups cubed potatoes)
3 tbsp mustard oil (I used canola oil.)
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 red chillies
2 pinches asafoetida powder
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp red chili powder
Salt to taste
Minced cilantro to garnish

* Mix coriander, turmeric and chili powders in about 2 - 3 tbsp of water and keep it aside.
* Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds and red chillies. When cumin starts to turn brownish, add asafoetida and the above spice paste. saute for about 30 seconds and add the potato cubes. Combine the whole mixture well with a spatula. Add salt and a small quantity of water if needed. Cook until the potatoes are done.
* Garnish with cilantro and serve hot along with steamed rice / rotis / puris.

1. Usually I don't add this much of oil while preparing potato curry and so I found the quantity of oil in the recipe was enough to cook potatoes and didn't add any water at all to the recipe.
2. I added the chili powder and the coriander powder just at the end, without mixing it with water.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Uttar Pradesh Cuisine ~ Dal Lucknowi

I was going by alphabetical order and assumed that it was the turn for Uttarakhand recipe today. I posted the recipe only to realize later that I had to do Uttar Pradesh first. :) It is locally 11 pm here and I have no energy left to write the introduction to the region and so directly going over to the recipe.
I have seen this "Dal Lucknowi" recipe several times over the years and have always wondered how does the addition of milk to a dal recipe taste. I have never added milk to a dal before and so naturally my interest piqued when I first saw the recipe. After trying this out, I can assure you that one wouldn't even notice the milk in the dal unless you choose to tell them. The final result is a simple, yummy and creamy dal that would suit little palates too. 

1 cup toordal
2 green chillies, sliced or chopped
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup milk
1 tbsp oil
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 red chillies broken into bits
A pinch of asafoetida powder
salt to taste
Minced cilantro to garnish

* Wash toor dal with two exchanges of water and drain. Add toordal, turmeric, green chillies and 2 cups of water to a pressure cooker and cook until the dal is cooked fine.
* Heat oil in a medium sized pan and add garlic cloves. When they start to turn golden brown, add cumin seeds, red chillies and asafoetida. Turn off the stove when cumin starts to turn brownish.
* When the valve pressure is gone, mash the cooked dal and add it to the pan. Add salt, milk and about 1/2 cup water to the dal mixture. Mix well and cook for about 3 - 4 minutes. Turn off the stove and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Panch Phoron Taarkari

Indian State: Tripura
Capital City: Agartala
Official languages: Kokborok & Bengali
Dominant ethnic groups: Bengali, Manipuris, Tripuris, Jamatia and others
Chief crop: Rice
Name: The name "Tripura" have variants like Twipra, Tuipura and Tippera. One of the suggestions is that the name "Tripura" may have come from two Kokborok words - "Tui" and "Pra" which mean water and near respectively, referring to the boundaries of the region that were once extended to the Bay of Bengal.

I found an interesting link here about northeast Indian tribes, while searching online for the region's cooking. Check it out if you are interested.

Now lets move to the last northeast Indian state left in this marathon, the state of Tripura. My assumption that Northeastern Indian cuisine is relatively unknown among other Indian regions got strengthened when I went scouring for recipes online and in Indian cookbooks. Surprisingly, there are not many bloggers who are native to the region that can share authentic local cuisine, especially the vegetarian stuff. I already knew that the people from the region are predominantly non vegetarian but my notion that vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism go hand in hand in most of the Indian states was proved wrong as I kept learning more and more about their cuisine for this marathon. It was shocking to note that the native tribes of most of the regions consume anything that once walked, crawled or flew. As the rest of the Indian states use spices in their dishes, their recipes tend to add fish / meat in even vegetarian dishes. 
Keeping that aside, the vegetables and the ingredients used in their cooking are pretty much available only locally. For some states, I could only get the names of the dishes rather than the recipes itself . They all seemed so alien and it was hard to guess what went into them. And so even though I am not a great planner when it comes to these cooking marathons, I searched for recipes and finished cooking for 5 of the northeastern states well in advance and bookmarked for the rest. 
This panch phoron taarkari - a simple and tasty vegetable preparation using the panch phoron mix was one of them. Taarkari means vegetables and panch phoron mix being a whole spice blend using five ingredients - mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and nigella seeds. The mix is typically used in east Indian cuisine and since ethnic majority of Tripura happens to be Bengalis, I thought this dish would be more suited to Tripura post. Even though it sounds cliched, I must admit that I had zero expectations when I cooked this but surprisingly it turned out very yummy. I liked manipuri khichdi and this curry the most among the northeast Indian cooking I have tried during this marathon. 
1 - 2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (rai)
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1/2 tsp nigella seeds (kalonji)
2 dry red chillies, broken into bits
2 bay leaves
2 green chillies, chopped
1 cup peeled and cubed pumpkin 
2 potatoes - peeled and cubed
1 brinjal - cubed
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
2 tbsp milk
* Heat oil in pan and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves and red chillies. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add green chillies and saute for about 20 seconds.
* Next add the vegetables, sugar, salt and turmeric to the pan and mix thoroughly with a spatula.
* The recipe said to add enough water and milk at this stage to cook the vegetables but I didn't find the need to add any. I cooked the vegetables in a non stick pan, covered it and found the oil I added was enough to cook the vegetables. I added the milk at the end.
* Simmer until the vegetables are done and the water/milk is absorbed.  
* Serve it with rice / rotis.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Kanchipuram Idli / Kudalai Idli / Koil Idli

Kanchipuram / Kanchi is a city in the south Indian state of Tamilnadu and according to Hindu beliefs, it is said to be one of the seven cities to reach final attainment. Located on the banks of Vegavathy river, this city is famous for it's magnificient temples and gorgeous handwoven silk sarees. And for today's post of "Tamilnadu Cuisine", I chose to go with something associated with this city - the famous Kanchipuram idlis. 

These delicious, healthy, easily digestible idlis were first prepared in the kitchen of Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple and so they are also known as the koil idli or the temple idlis. The tradition of cooking these idlis have continued to this day and they are offered as prasadam to the devotees. The idlis look different from the regular idlis and are a foot long. Temple cooks place mandharai / bauhinia leaves on the idli tray and then pour the batter, which impart their flavor to these idlis. (These leaves are commonly used in south India to make leaf plates that are naturally recyclable). The idlis are cut into wedges while serving because of their huge size. They stay good for about a week if refrigerated. 

Recipe source: Here
1 cup raw rice (I used idli rice instead.)
1 cup idli rice
1 cup urad dal / skinned black garm
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds / methi seeds
Salt to taste
2 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp cashews (optional)
Few curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black pepper corns
1/2 tsp ginger powder / grated fresh ginger

* Wash and soak rice, urad dal and methi seeds in sufficient water for 3 - 4 hours. Drain and grind them fine into a thick batter adding water as needed. Transfer the ground batter to a container big enough to allow the fermented batter to rise. Add salt, mix well and place it in a warm place to ferment for at least 8 hours or overnight. I live in a cold place and so will leave the batter in my convection oven overnight with the light on for 10 - 12 hours. (Do not turn on the oven.)
* Heat ghee and add cashews and curry leaves. When the cashews turn golden brown, turn off the stove. Add ground ginger, slightly crushed black pepper, cumin seeds, asafoetida and toasted cashews-curry leaves to the batter and mix well. 
* Grease idli plates and fill the moulds with batter. I used a plate idli stand. 
* Place the idli stand in a idli cooker / pressure cooker without the weight on. Steam them for about 20 minutes or until done. Leave them for about 5 minutes, gently run a sharp spoon around the edges and remove the idlis from their moulds.
* Serve them hot with chutney / sambhar / chutney podi. I served them with onion chutney and roasted chickpeas chutney.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sikkim Platter ~ Chambray, Kodo ki Roti, Til ko Alu & Tamatar Chutney

Indian state: Sikkim 
Other names: Shikim / Sukhyim
Capital city: Gangtok
Predominat religions: Hinduism and Buddhism
Original inhabitants: Lepcha

This landlocked northeastern state of India is located in the Himalayan region and has the only open land border between India and China. I was surprised to learn that this state has 11 official languages - Nepali, English, Sikkimese, Limbu, Lepcha, Tamang, Newari, Rai, Gurung, Magar and Sunwar. 

According to wiki, the name "Sikkim" is supposedly combination of two words in Limbu language - "Su" meaning new and "Khyim" meaning palace / house. Besides, the different groups of Sikkim have different names for it. The Tibetian name is Denjong which means the "Valley of Rice". The Bhutiyas (Sikkimese and Nepalese of Tibetian ancestry) call it Beyul Demazong, which means "The hidden Valley of rice". The Lepcha people, the original inhabitants of Sikkim called it Nye-mae-el meaning paradise. Hindu religious texts referred it as Indrakil - the garden of the God Indra.

Sikkimese are traditionally rice eaters. Nepalese cuisine is very popular in Sikkim as it is an ethnic Nepali majority state. Noodle based dishes such as thukpa, chowmein, thanthuk, gyathuk and wonton are common. Momos are a popular snack. Tongba, a millet based alcoholic beverage is popular. Local breads include kodo ki roti - a pancake made from finger millet and phapar ki roti, made from buckwheat. Interesting vegetarian preparations include til ko alu, Nepali-style potato curry with sesame seeds and sishnu, a nettle leaf soup. 
Ingredients (3 - 4 servings)
1 cup rice
1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
2 -3 bay leaves
1 tbsp. ghee / oil
1 tsp black cumin seeds
1/8 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste

* Soak rice with bay leaves and cinnamon in water for about 15 - 20 minutes, such that rice is submerged in water. After the soaking period, shift rice to a colander to drain the water completely. 
* Heat ghee in a wok / non stick sauce pan or a pressure cooker directly. Add cumin seeds and sauté for about 30 to 40 seconds. Add the drained rice along with the cinnamon piece and bay leaves. Sauté for a couple of minutes.
* Next add salt, turmeric powder and about 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a simmer, set the heat to the lowest setting and cover the wok / pan so that no steam escapes.
* Cook until the rice is done and each grain stands separate. It takes about 18 - 20 minutes to get the rice cooked. Don't be tempted to peek and stir in the middle.
If using a pressure cooker, cover it with it's lid, put the whistle on and cook for 2 -3 whistles. Or you can transfer all the contents into a stainless steel container and place it in a pressure cooker and cook as directed.
* Serve chambray hot with til ko alu.

Kodo ki Roti: 
I found a recipe here and thought it was easy to prepare this roti style instead. I added some green chillies also for some spice but it is optional.

Ingredients: (Yield 3 rotis)
1 cup finger millet flour / ragi flour
1 tbsp. ghee / oil
Salt to taste
1 green chili finely minced (optional)
Oil to make rotis

* Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Gradually add warm water and form a stiff dough. The ragi dough usually would be non sticky and somewhat elastic compared to the regular roti dough prepared using wheat flour. There is no need to rest ragi dough to make rotis but I let it rest for about 30 minutes since I was busy with other things in the kitchen.
* Divide the dough into three portions and shape them into balls. While working on one portion, keep the other balls covered to prevent them from drying out.
* Pour a tsp of oil at the center of an iron griddle / a nonstick pan. Place the ball and gently pat it into a thin circle of about 4-5 inches in diameter, using your right hand fingers.

It is common for the dough to break at the edges. Just gently pinch with your fingers and fix them. However if there are cracks around the edges, don't fret over it. It is common with ragi rotis.
* Pour a tsp of oil around the edges and cover it with a lid. Place the griddle over medium heat and cook until the bottom side appears cooked with a few brown spots over it.
* Flip it and pour another tsp of oil around the edges. Cover and cook again until it appears cooked. This side takes less time than the first side getting cooked.

Remove the roti from the griddle and let the griddle cool down a bit to pat the next roti. If in a hurry, just place the griddle under running water to cool it down.
* Repeat the steps with the remaining dough balls.

Til ko Alu:

This Nepali version of potatoes seem to be quite popular in Sikkim. I have never combined potato-sesame seeds in a curry before and this was a new dish to me. As a non-local, this was a mediocre one compared to the standard aloo fry.

Ingredients: (yield 4 servings)
1 - 2 tbsp. oil
2 onions, chopped
3 - 4 green chilies sliced lengthwise (I used 2 long, hot Serrano peppers )
4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 tsp white sesame seeds
Salt to taste

* Chop the onions. Slice lengthwise or chop fine the chilies. Peel and cube the potatoes.
* Dry toast the sesame seeds in a small pan until they start to crackle. Cool and grind them fine.
* Heat oil in a pan / wok and add green chilies and onion. Fry until onions turn golden brown.
* Next add potato cubes and 1-2 tbsp of water to the onion and cook until done. Or if preferred, potatoes can be cooked in a microwave until done and can be added to the cooked onion.
* Next add the ground sesame seeds and salt to the potato mixture. Cook for about 3 - 4 minutes and turn off the stove. 

Tamatar Chutney:
I am guessing this must be a rustic dish, By pounding in a stone mortar-pestle, it will turn out into a coarse paste but my blender turned out it into a puree.

* Cook a tomato and peel of the skin. Grind it along with 2 chillies and salt in a stone mortar and pestle.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moong Dal Puri Chaat

Today we are moving to the desert state of India, Rajasthan - The land of kings. This western state of India is home for some of the beautiful palaces of India. The desert region, the arid climate and scarcity of fresh vegetables have largely influenced Rajasthan's cooking style. Food that could be stored for longer and which needed no reheating were preferred. Some of the famous dishes from the region include dal bati choorma, ghevar, mawa ke kachori, malpuas, pyaz kachori, Bikaneri bhujiya, ghatte ki subzi and papad ki subzi.
After going nuts over whether to cook ghevar or mawa ke kachori for months, I ended up preparing a chaat instead. I was looking for an evening snack and happened to see this at Sanjeev kapoor's website. We love chaats and so naturally enjoyed this.  

1/2 cup yellow moong dal
2 cups wheat flour / atta
Salt to taste
1/2 inch piece ginger
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
2 green chillies
2 tbsp oil + extra for frying
2 potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled
1 cup yogurt
Sweet date-tamarind chutney
2 tbsp green chutney (I added extra.)
Red chili powder as required
Black salt / kala namak as required
Cumin powder as required
Making pooris:
* Soak moong dal in water for about 30 minutes and drain.
* Grind together moong, ginger, green chillies, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and salt. Transfer the ground mixture to a bowl and add wheat flour and 2 tbsp oil to it. Knead into a stiff dough adding water as needed.
* Divide the mixture into marble sized balls and roll them into small discs. Make a few slashes on the discs so that they won't puff up while frying.
* Heat oil in a small kadai / deep pan. Gently slide the rolled out disc and fry till brown and crisp. Drain on absorbent towels. Repeat the process with the remaining discs.

* Add green chutney and yogurt to a bowl and mix well.
* Arrange the puris on a serving platter. Put a few potato pieces on puris. Sprinkle salt, chili powder, black salt and cumin powder. Drizzle yogurt chutney, sweet chutney, cumin and chili powders, sev and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Methi Missi Roti & Aloo Tamatar

We will move to the land of parathas and paneer today - the north Indian state of Punjab. The word "Punjab" literally means the five rivers. The rivers referred here are Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej and Beas (Byas/Vyas) that happen to be the tributaries of the Indus river. Punjab has a long history dating to prehistoric times. One of the four earliest known civilizations of the world, the Harappan was located in the Punjab region (which happens to be a part of Pakistan now). The epic battle of Mahabharata was fought in historic Punjab or modern day Haryana. I got to visit Punjab and Haryana last summer when I visited India and even saw the tree where Lord Krishna supposedly gave geethopadesh to Arjuna in Kurukshetra. I did not have the energy to look for the pictures or could have uploaded some of them today. May be I will do on a later date.

Thanks to dabhas and Indian restaurants worldwide, Punjabi cuisine has become synonymous to the north Indian cuisine. It is another thing that fat laden restaurants' menu doesn't represent true Punjabi home style cooking. Some of the popular dishes of the region are
* The combo of makki di roti (unleavened corn flour flat breads) and sarson da saag (mustard greens gravy)
* Tandoori oven based kulchas/ naans
* Rotis and parathas with various stuffings
* Paneer based curries
* Rajma (kidney beans gravy curry) - Chawal combo
* Chole (chickpea curry) - Bhature
* Dal makhni (Creamy, buttery curry made with kidney beans and blackgram)
* Kadhi pakora (chickpeaflour fritters in spicy yogurt gravy)
* Samosas
* Sweets like gajar ka halwa (sweet carrot pudding) and phirni 
I always associated the word "dabha" to the road side eateries in the rustic and basic settings until my recent visit to Punjab. I was surprised to notice that even the beautiful and spacious restaurants (located along the highways) with elegant settings that serve yummy food for a fortune are attached with the suffix "dhaba". Our friends' daughter was mentioning that they add the word "dhaba" more out of a habit and to make it catchy. The one food that my kids and I enjoyed most was the Amritsari kulchas that we ate in a small restaurant in Amritsar and we literally hated the sweet lassi though I love the sweet nannari lassi, it is an acquired taste I guess.

I wanted to try Amritsari kulchas for this marathon but was not sure whether I could create the same magic in my kitchen and gave up the idea. Instead went with these methi missi rotis found in Sanjeev Kapoor's website. I always thought that besan was used in a small proportion but instead it turns out that these rotis are basically made with besan and a small portion of wheat flour is used. Add water little by little while preparing the dough or else would end up with a sticky dough. If one is preparing rotis for the first time, then these are not the perfect candidates for the trial, in my humble opinion. These are kind of homely, rustic rotis and it is hard to achieve the smooth edges as the regular wheat rotis because of the besan used in the recipe.   
Ingredients: (About 10 rotis)
2 cups besan / chickpea flour
1/2 cup wheat flour + extra for dusting
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 cups roughly minced fresh fenugreek leaves / methi leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp anardana / dried pomegranate seeds
8 - 10 peppercorns
Oil & butter for cooking
Chaat masala

* Dry roast coriander seeds, anardana and peppercorns in pan. Let them cool and grind them fine.
* Combine the flours, turmeric , salt and the ground masala in a mixing bowl. Next add methi, onion and chillies to the bowl. Knead into a dough using water as needed. Just make a note that very little water is needed for this besan based roti. A little extra would make the dough sticky. I added a tbsp of oil as well.

* Divide the dough into equal portions and roll them into small lime sized balls. (Probably you will have around 8 - 10 balls.)
* Dust each ball with flour and roll into a thin disc.
* Mean while, heat a tawa / shallow pan on medium flame. Place the disc on the hot tawa and cook. When little bubbles start to appear, flip and apply 1/2 tsp of butter / oil around the edges. Flip again and cook while turning sides, until evenly golden on both sides of the roti. Transfer the roti onto a serving plate and sprinkle some chaat masala on it. I skipped this step. 
* Repeat the steps of rolling and frying with the remaining dough.
* Serve the rotis hot with a vegetable side dish of your choice or some pickle and yogurt.
I served these rotis with chole and a Punjabi style aloo tamatar curry. I found the aloo-tamatar in a cookbook  and surprisingly the recipe didn't contain the mandatory stuff found in the most north Indian curries - onion, garlic, ginger or garam masala and that is the reason I tried it. The recipe mentions one potato and 4 tomatoes which is a disaster in my opinion. I eat tomatoes but that quantity of tomatoes gave the curry an intense flavor which we really hated and I had to fix it by adding more veggies. I just used the ingredients mentioned but went with the quantity that worked for us.

Heat 1 tbsp mustard oil in a pan and add 2 dry red chillies, 1 tsp coriander seeds and a pinch of asafoetida. Stir fry for a minute and then add 2 chopped tomatoes, 1/8 tsp turmeric and cook until they turn mushy. Add potato cubes cut from 2 potatoes, 2 green chillies, sliced lengthwise, chili powder to taste, salt and about 1 cup of water. Cook until the potatoes are soft and the sauce is thick. Garnish with coriander leaves.

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.

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
* 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.

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


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

* 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.


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

* 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.


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. 

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

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.