Friday, November 30, 2007

Eggless Date and Nut Cake

I always thought of dates as those yucky, sticky things young children were forced to eat in winter. I loved their dried version (known as chuara in Hindi) and my mom had to warn me against eating too many! I must've been weird! Somehow, packaged dates available in the US don't have that stickyness and I have learnt to love them :)

I would have loved to make a date relish I used to love. Its pretty simple - slice dates, add lime juice, rock salt and black pepper, shake shake, put the container out in the sun for a day. This relish is so yummy my mouth is watering as I write about it! I did not have rock salt on hand or this was definitely going to go to AFAM- Dates!

I am no baker - cook I can, bake I can't! Still I decided to make a date cake for AFAM (A Fruit A Month) - Dates from very talented Shilpa's Aayi's Recipes. Her recipe looked easy and quite doable. I had tried an eggless moist chocolate cake using her recipe, the cake had come out very good but I could smell baking soda in it, which kind of messed up the taste totally. This time instead of using the same baking soda I used 'khane ka soda/saajji na phool' that my mom-in-law brought me from India. I think they are one and the same but somehow the one I had used before was just not right!

You can check out the recipe here. I also added a handful of raisins and lots of chopped walnuts to the batter. I reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and still the cake was a tad sweeter than I would have liked. The dates I used were too sweet.

I am very impatient when it comes to cooking, when it comes to baking add anxiety to my impatience! I am almost in a 'praying' state as long as there is stuff inside the oven! More so when that 'stuff' is supposed to rise up to perfection and taste light, fluffy and moist!

I am glad to say in spite of my 'suck' level at baking the cake came out very good! It tasted great warm as well as cold. Next time I might add some cocoa powder to make a chocolate-date cake. Its a great tea-time cake and could work as a lovely dessert with ice-cream. Vanilla should be great with it (we had coconut-pineapple on hand :) ).

This Eggless Date and Nut cake is my entry to AFAM (A Fruit A Month) - Dates hosted by Chandrika of Akshayapatra.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Daal Makhani

Updated on 11/25 for 'Think Spice - Think Ginger'

Daal makhani, better known as Kaali daal (black lentils, literally) to me has always been a favorite. It features on the menus of almost all North Indian restaurants, I think it's a place well deserved :)

This is a very simple and easy recipe for daal makhani. Does not require too many ingredients and is one of those things where you can taste every single ingredient :) I normally don't use any butter/creme to make it. I believe correctly cooking the daals is the key to its texture.

Ingredients(Serves 4):
1. 1 Cup Urad daal (whole black gram, not the split one)
2. 1/4th Cup Rajma (red kidney beans)
3. 1/4th Cup Chana daal (split bengal gram)
4. About 1 Tbsp ginger juliennes
5. 2 tomatoes chopped
7. 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped fine
6. 2 Tbsp ghee
7. 2 tsp cumin seeds
8. Red chilli powder and salt to taste
9. A few dry red chillies
10. A big pinch of asafoetida

1. Wash urad daal, chana daal and rajma well, mix them and soak overnight(about 8 hrs) in lots of water.
2. Add salt to taste and pressure cook the soaked daals. I put the cooker on high flame and after first whistle lower the flame to medium-low. Let it cook for about 5-6 more whistles. There should be enough water or the daal will burn due to the long cooking time.
3. Once the cooker cools down, mix the daals well with a ladle, urad daal should be very soft , chana daal should almost dissolve, rajma will be as it is. This is how you get the creamy consistency, long cooking time is the key. If you can see the water separated from the urad daal, you probably need to cook for one more whistle.
4. Then add ginger juliennes (more the better, but depends on your love for ginger).
5. Now for tempering/tadka - heat ghee (or butter), add hing (asafoetida), cumin, dry red chillies and chopped garlic.
6. Fry a little and then add tomatoes.
7. Once tomatoes are soft, add some red chilli powder and then add the daal. Let it simmer for a while (10 mins or so on medium heat).

If you want you can add more butter/creme at the end. Its up to you how rich you want to make it. Since my mom makes it very frequently, she doesn't add any
butter/creme. Garnish with creme/butter and fresh cilantro.

Serve with parathas/naan/jeera rice and don't forget to serve some onions soaked in lime/vinegar (and salt) on the side :) Baingan ka bharta goes hand in hand with this daal. It tastes best the next day with fresh, crisp parathas.

Thoughtful Bee of Jugalbandi suggested that I send this as an entry to Sunita's (of Sunita's World) 'Think Spice' event. The theme this month is 'Ginger', a spice I love. A ginger relish made with lemon juice, green chillies and salt used to be a regular feature on our dining table in my parents home (talented Passionate Baker made it for this event :)). Another favorite is adu-limbu nu sharbat or ginger lemonade. Parthiv and I love it during the summer! And of course cannot fail to mention the importance of ginger tea, the comfort of tea combined with therapeutic ginger fills you up with warmth and soothes sore throats. My favorite mix is grated ginger mixed with black cardmom powder, a pinch of black pepper and honey. This used to be my mom's home made remedy for sore throat and cough.

Coming back to daal-makhani, this is one of those recipes where my love for ginger is quite evident. Ginger juliennes are added raw after the daal has been pressure cooked. It brings out the flavor of the ginger and I love all the spoonfuls that have a little gingery crunch in them!

So with thanks to Bee and Sunita, this post is off to Sunita's 'Think Spice - Think Ginger' event.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Street Food (Dabeli, Ragda-Patties, Bhel-Poori) and a Meme

Street food is an integral part of the quintessential Indian life. While the variety of food varies all over the country, there are certain things that find their way in some form or the other practically everywhere. Some of the street foods that I associate with certain regions are -
- Vada pav, pav bhaji, misal pav, bhel poori, sandwiches in Maharashtra
- Sabudane ki khichdi, dahi vade, bhutte ka kees, garadu, aaloo ki kachori, matar ki kachori, samosas, patties (potato balls stuffed with coconut and raisins) etc. in M.P. especially in Indore.
- Chole-tikki, Chole-kulcha, pakodas in North India
- Daal vadas, dabeli, pizzas and sandwiches in Gujarat

Dosas, Indian-Chinese, Paani-poori are some items that feature all over the country. I remember this paani-poori I had in Shimla very well, it was special because thanks to the low Shimla temperatures the paani was very cold. It tasted just so good on a sunny afternoon!

Parthiv is a street food lover in the true sense. And this time on his birthday I decided to make just what he loves - ragda-patties, bhel-poori and dabeli. I wanted to make dahi vadas too but couldn't manage to do it in the time I had :)

Some of the ingredients needed in almost every chaat item are -
1. Green Chutney (recipe below)
2. Meethi (sweet) tamarind chutney(recipe below)
3. Jheeni sev (very fine sev - deep-fried chickpea noodles if I may). I bought it from Surati Farsaan. You can find it in almost every Indian store. This is what it looks like
4. Finely chopped onions and fresh cilantro.

Green Chutney
Grind together 2 cups of cleaned cilantro leaves, a small piece of ginger, 1 cup mint leaves (optional), 1/2 cup onions (or you can use peanuts or roasted black gram/daaliya instead), 2 green chillies, salt and lime juice to taste. Add water to get a thinner consistency.

Meethi (Sweet) Chutney
Soak 1 Cup pitted dates/pind khajur in warm water till soft. If you don't have time to soak, cook the dates in a little water in a covered sauce pan.
In a pan, add soaked dates, 2 tbsp tamarind paste and bring to a boil. Run in a blender and sieve. Add 1/2 tsp sonth (dry ginger powder), 1 tsp red chilli powder, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp roasted and ground cumin. I normally taste the chutney to make sure its very sweet and tangy at the same time. If you feel the chutney is not sweet enough instead of soaking more dates, add jaggery to taste.

Boil, peel and mash potatoes. 1 large potato will yield two small patties.
Add a handful of cooked peas and a cup of chopped spinach (optional - I add peas and spinach to reduce the guilt associated with all those potatoes :P)
Add salt and red chilli powder to taste. Shape into balls and flatten them.
Heat a non-stick tava/griddle/flat frying pan. Apply cooking oil and place the patties on the pan. Maintain a low-medium flame. Flip the patties after 5 minutes or so. Keep doing this till they turn golden and crisp on both sides.
Note: If you plan to eat the patties with just yogurt or ketchup (without any chole or ragda), add some fresh coriander, chopped green chillies and dry mango powder (amchur) to the potatoes.


Ragda ( 1 cup dry peas serves about 4 people/8 patties)

I learnt making ragda from my mother-in-law. This recipe uses tomatoes and other spices and I just love it with patties. My friend H who is from Bombay does not use any spices in her ragda, probably just a tempering of mustrad seeds and heeng, and that is really tasty too.
1. 1 Cup Dry yellow peas (vatana)
2. 1 tsp mustards seeds, a pinch of ajwain (carom seeds), a pinch of asafoetida, 2 dry red chillies, a few curry leaves.
3. 2 tomatoes pureed ( or 1 tbsp tomato paste).
4. Red chilli powder and salt to taste and a 1/4 tsp sugar.

1. Soak dry yellow peas (vatana) for about 6 hours. Do not use the dry green peas for ragda, yellow peas taste very different. Pressure cook for 3 whistles with salt to taste and a pinch of turmeric.
2. Heat oil, add all the tempering ingredients in #3. Let the mustard splutter.
3. Add pureed tomatoes and saute till tomatoes look cooked.
4. Add everything in #4 followed by cooked peas. Add water if necessary and simmer for 5 minutes. Some peas will be totally mashed by the time you are done simmering. Note: Ragda has to be thick but of a flowing consistency. It should be spicy with a touch of sweetness. You can add garam masala if you wish. I normally don't.

To serve:
Place two hot patties in a bowl, pour piping hot ragda over it. Now add 2 tsp of green chutney, about a tbsp of sweet chutney, chopped onions, cilantro and tomatoes (optional). I like to sprinkle a tiny amount of salt and red pepper after this. Top with sev. Ragda-patties is ready to eat, it is very important that it is served very hot.

I normally let the guests assemble their own ragda patties plate. I love it with a dash of beaten yogurt too.

This picture is just to show you all everything that makes up ragda patties :) Check out the actual plate below.

Dabeli is a very popular street food item from Kutch region in Gujarat. I had never eaten it till I got married. Parthiv made sure I got a taste of it, but I ate it as a part of a sampler and quickly forgot what it tasted like :p My mom-in-law brought us 6 packets of dabeli msaala in her trip here and we have been putting them to good use :) I do not have a tried and tested recipe for making the masala itself, but I found one here.

Ingredients (makes 10 dabelis)
1. 10 burger buns
2. 5 large potatoes
3. 5 tbsp dabeli masala (this is for the masala I used, you would probably need to taste the masala once added to potatoes to decide on the quantity)
4. 2 tbsp oil
5. 1 cup fresh pomegranate
6. Chopped onions
7. Peanuts (I used the Planter's salted and roasted variety)
8. 1 tsp roasted cumin powder, 1 tsp red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp black pepper powder and a tsp of oil (for seasoning the peanuts).
9. Meethi chutney
10. Garlic chutney (I used Sriracha, works out well for me). If you want to make your own chutney, roast 10 garlic cloves in a little oil, grind with 20 dry red chillies, salt and lemon juice) .
11. Salt to taste

For preparing the peanuts
1. Coarsely chop the peanuts (I used my chopper).
2. Heat oil, add red chilli, black pepper and cumin powder.
3. Quickly add peanuts, mix well and let them cool.

For the filling
Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan or kadahi. Add boiled and mashed potatoes, salt and dabeli masala to taste. Mix till the mixture is uniform (I do it for about 10 minutes, brings out the flavors of the masala). Taste and add more masala if needed. You need a little muscle power here, especially if the quantity is large (the potatoes tend to stick to the pan). You can add a little water while cooking if the filling feels too dry.

Assembling the dabelis
1. Mix garlic and sweet chutneys together. Apply on the lower half of the bun.
2. Place a big helping of the filling on it. Top with the other half of the bun and roast on tava with a little butter (I like to toast the buns with the filling to make sure the filling gets warmed up).
3. Remove the top half of the bun. Sprinkle a good helping of peanuts, onions, pomegranate seeds and sev on top of the filling. Place the top half back and press a little before serving. You can add more sweet chutney if you prefer.


Dabelis are supposed to be very spicy with the sweet chutney adding the much needed sweetness. Yumm!


1. Puffed rice/murmure. Dry roast the murmure in a heavy bottom pan if they are not crisp.
2. Sev
3. Crispy pooris/papdi (crushed), you can buy them in any Indian store or make some yourself :)
4. Fried spicy chana daal (again, bought from Surati farsaan)
4. Finely chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, boiled potatoes, carrots (optional), pomegranate (optional)
5. Lemon juice
6. Chaat masala (optional)
7. Green and sweet chutneys, garlic chutney (optional)

This is easy :) Mix together #4 to #7. Just before serving add #1 to #3 and mix very well. Serve immediately.

This time around, I used bhel-poori mix from Surati Farsaan :). It contains a mix of murmure, sev and papdi.

And now is the time for a meme, sweet and Talented Ms. Musical tagged me for a "Life in fours" meme :) Here we go!

Four places I've lived:
Bhopal, India
Indore, India
Arlington, Texas
San diego, California

Four jobs (Thank God!) I (never) had:
Working in a candy shop(I would've eaten them all myself!)
Working in a Dentist's Office (All Dentists out there, I respect your profession, but you scare me! Ref: Comment above :P)
A juggler! (I am so clumsy I can't even handle my cell, my car keys and my purse at the same time... add sunglasses to that and I am DONE!)
A Librarian (I would get so busy reading that I'd forget I am supposed to be on a job!)

Four favorite places I've holidayed:
Kodaikanal, India
Big island, Hawaii
Pattaya, Thailand
Kulu Manali, India

Four favorite foods:
Mom's rajma-chawal and kadhi-chawal. Also bhindi ki sabzi, arbi ki sabzi, baingan ka bharta, alu ke parathe and her ROTIS
Masala dosa and sambhar
Thai Spicy noodles
Paani-poori, chole-tikki and samosas!

Four places I would rather be:
Eating paani-pooris at a thela with my brother
Driving all over Big island with Parthiv
With my direct-dil-se group (that is what we call our group of friends from college days) at our college canteen
Golden Temple, Amritsar (this came to me thanks to Ms. Musical's mention of Amritsar in a comment she left me) :)

Four bloggers I would like to tag:
Mona of Zaiqa
Passionate Baker of Passionate About Baking
Bindiya of In Love With Food
Swapna of Swad

Please take it up if you have the time and inclination :) And please ignore if you've been tagged already!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Chole

I feel my search will never end. I make chole in at least 5 different ways, I keep experimenting, adding or removing ingredients, tweaking the procedure one way or another to get the taste that you get in the not-home-made chole. But the search continues. If you have ever tasted 'Havmor' (in Ahmedabad)'s chana-poori, you will know what kind of chole I am talking about. Chole in a dark thick gravy with some mysterious spices, each little chick-pea bursting with flavor to its seams. I know one thing - they use a barrel of fat in them! And I also know that I turn out to be a chicken when it comes to using a lot of oil in my cooking. Not that I don't love deep fried food - kachoris, pooris, my mom-in-law's deep fried farsaans like chakri, sev, farsi poori, peas kachoris, my mom's shakkarpaare, bread pakodas, bread rolls, samosas... bring it on! I'll never say no! :D

So, here we were, eating home-made chole, thinking about a plate of Havmor's, living in perpetual want for the perfect chole... and then we went to a pot-luck party where this lovely girl A (who I met for the first time) brought in some killer chole. It looked like the search had ended :) She sweetly sent me the recipe next day and I didn't waste a day in trying it out. The result - pretty good chole, but still in the same cadre as my other recipes. I just couldn't get mine to taste like hers! Most likely reason - my tendency for avoiding oil!! I then started tweaking her recipe and now we have moved a notch up. Our friends love those and so do we, but the search continues....

I just realized the above paragraph is good for nothing as this post is not about that recipe :D One week-night, it was pretty late by the time I got to the kitchen to cook. Saw these two chickpea cans, opened the freezer to find some frozen parathas. All set for a tasty meal! :)

My colleague Mr. K who is also an Indian (and from Delhi) knows what I mean when I say I need to get my chole right. He is a foodie like me :) He and his wife try several ways to make chole and he always brings me some to taste! A few days back he brought me a packet of 'Shaan Punjabi chole masala'. He said it’s a Pakistani brand and may be worth a shot for a different flavor. The ingredients for this brand of masala are quite different and include Baking soda and garlic. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try out the brand new masala when we were so hungry and this was the only thing I was cooking. So I decided to mix it up with other masalas. Armed with Shaan Chole masala, MDH chole masala and my home made mix of spices, and two chick pea cans I set out to make chole.

Here's the recipe-
1. 2 cans chickpeas, wash and drain. Or 3 (cooked) cups kabuli chana/chole/chickpeas soaked for 6 hours and pressure cooked with salt to taste.
2. 1 Medium onion (grated or minced)
3. 1 tomato sliced lengthwise
4. 2 tsp chopped green chillies
5. 1 tbsp ginger (grated/ground into a paste)
6. 2 cloves garlic ((grated/ground into a paste)
7. 1 bay leaf
8. 1 tsp cumin (jeera) seeds
9. 0.5 Tbsp Shaan chole masala
10. 1 Tbsp MDH Chole masala
11. 0.5 Tbsp mix of roasted and ground cumin, pomegranate seeds and coriander seeds (1 part of coriander, 1 of cumin and 1/2 of pomegranate seeds - I made this masala for one of my experiments and just happened to have some left over).
12. 1 tsp red chilli powder
13. Salt to taste
14. 1 Tbsp cooking oil

Heat oil, add bay leaf, cumin, let them get fragrant and a little brown and then add green chillies-ginger-garlic. Sauté and enjoy the aroma :) Now add grated onions. Sauté for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat. If the onions stick to the pan, sprinkle few drops of water once in a while. Let the onions turn golden brown. Once you feel onions are cooked (make sure they are, half cooked onions can mess things up totally) add everything from #9 to #13. Be careful with the salt, canned chickpeas already have salt. Sauté for a minute. Turn the flame to high and add the chickpeas. Mix well to make sure the chole are coated with the masala. Now add a cup of water, bring to a boil. Add half of the sliced tomatoes, lower the heat, cover and let the chole simmer. When chole get to the desired consistency, add a few thinly sliced onions, rest of the tomatoes on top, turn off the flame and cover.

When ready to serve, mix the chole with the onions and tomatoes on top. Onions and tomatoes would have slightly cooked with the steam. Onions lend a nice aroma when you do this. Add more water if the gravy has dried out. Bring to a boil again, garnish with onions, chopped green chillies and fresh cilantro and serve with pooris/bhaturas/parathas.


I kept tasting the chole and added masalas as I thought necessary. You can use any one of the three masalas I used or even garam masala. I think the mix of roasted and ground coriander, cumin and pomegranate seeds is the most important ingredients.

I made a quick salad to go with the chole. I had bought this bunch of different colored carrots from Whole Foods. I tasted them and was disappointed, they had no flavor, just the crunch! I assumed the dark purple carrot would be the same as 'Kaali gajar' that we used to get in India sometimes. Mom would make a Kaanji out of Kaali gajar. Its a tangy drink made with mustard, red chilli powder and these carrots. Long slices of carrots are mixed with mustard, red chilli powder, salt and lots of water. This concoction is then allowed to sit in the sun for a day or two. The result is beautiful maroon colored water with a solid tangy flavor... yummm, gotta make that someday! So back to the purple carrots - When I cut them I found only the skin was purple, I felt cheated :(( Ha ha! So after lamenting for a while, I decided to make a quick salad.

Sliced 2-3 carrots in long thin slices, did the same with 1/4th cucumber and *very* little red onions. Mixed it all with salt and lime juice to taste. Warmed 1/2 tsp oil, added 1 tsp raai ki daal (split mustard seeds) to it. Added this tempering to the salad and mixed it well. I would have loved to add slit green chillies as well, but I thought the salad might get too hot for Parthiv :)

This crunchy salad made a perfect accompaniment to the hot chole and parathas.

If you read this, I would love to know how you make chole. So do leave me a comment! I will post the other recipe I talked about, soon :D