Thursday, May 15, 2008

Layered Mexican Dip

I had prepared this dip for a Super Bowl Party. Imagine how long its been! My blogger self made sure someone takes pictures of this dip that was most certainly blog-worthy (its a different thing that these hurried pics at the party didn't come out that great!) When I read about A.W.E.D Mexico hosted at DK's Culinary Bazaar I figured this would be a good time to brush the dust off these pics! A.W.E.D is a celebration of World Cuisines and I feel it is a great way for us to try a variety of food and get to know kitchens throughout the world better! :)

I got the idea from Nupur's 3 layered Nacho dip. I made some changes here and there, added some layers and here it is. The problem is that it's been so long since I made this that I am totally lost on the measurements, thankfully this dip is pretty forgiving, measurements don't matter all that much and you can add/remove ingredients as it works for you :)

I made mine for about 12-15 people (there were other appetizers too) and everyone did enjoy it. I will list the ingredients and method layer by layer or the list will look way longer than it should :)

Layer 1 - Handful of chopped onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 2 Tbsp tomato ketchup, 1 tsp butter, 1 tsp cumin powder, salt to taste and 2 cups of cooked red kidney beans. Heat butter, saute onions and garlic, add salt and cumin powder. Saute for a minute, add ketchup and beans (I used canned - removed the liquid and washed the beans)and mix well. Cook till the beans are slightly mushy. I just used my pressure cooker and cooked to 1 whistle. Make sure most of the liquid is dried out. If in a time crunch, you can skip the cooking with onion garlic part. Simply mixing up beans, salt, cumin, red chile powder and ketchup works very well too.

Layer 2 - Mix very finely chopped bell-peppers (all the colors work out well, a mix looks really pretty), onions, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos. Add a dash of lemon juice and salt to taste and set aside.

Layer 3 - Heat 1 tsp butter in a non-stick pan, add chopped jalapenos and a cup of frozen corn (washed - its ok if it is not thawed), toss till the corn begins to turn golden. Add a dash of salt.

Layer 4 - Here is the most fun layer. Grind a handful of cilantro and jalapeno with a little salt, cumin powder and a dash of lemon juice to a paste. Fold this in sour creme (light sour creme works just fine) and mix well. Add a tsp or two of milk if the sour creme mix doesn't feel very 'spreadable'.

Layer 5 - Shredded Mexican cheese mix (or any cheese of your choice - cheddar and jack work well), chopped spring onions.

1. Make sure the beans mix is dry and cool, spread it in a glass bowl. Lightly sprinkle some shredded cheese.
2. Remove the juices released from the veggie mix and spread on top of the beans mix. I didn't have the heart to do that, but if you let the juices remain, the dip tends to get very watery.
3. Spread the corn-jalapeno mix. Add a few dashes of Tabasco/Chalula or any Mexican hot sauce all over the layer. It seeps into the bottom layers too.
4. Spread the flavored sour creme.
5. Finally, sprinkle shredded cheese and spring onions.
6. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to blend.

Serve with Tortilla chips! You can add more layers - this dip leaves a lot up to your imagination. A layer of guacamole should be great! Thanks Nupur for the lovely idea! :)

So this Mexican dip is off to Culinary Bazaar for DK's "A Worldly Epicurean’s Delight – In short A.W.E.D." event! Thank you for hosting DK, this is a great concept!

Some other Mexican recipes on my blog - Veggie Quesedillas with guacamole and fresh salsa and Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ma's Kadhi

There are many things in my ma's cooking that I crave for almost everyday. But there is something really special about her kadhi. There have been more than several incidents when I would be thinking of ma's kadhi at work, and when I would call her the next day and happen to ask what she cooked/plans to cook for lunch - her answer would be kadhi-chawal! Also there were innumerable times when I would come home from college hungry and craving for kadhi-chawal and it would be on the table! I don't know how that happens but it has happened enough number of times that I don't get surprised any more :)

I normally like any kind of kadhi, but this one is my favorite - pakode wali kadhi with aromatic ginger and garlic. I believe each ingredient makes a difference as you can taste each and every single thing that goes in this kadhi. Here is ma's recipe -

For Pakoda (about 10 pakodas) -
Besan (chickpea flour) - about 5-6 Tbps
Very finely chopped onion - 2 tbsp
Very finely chopped 1-2 green chiles and handful of cilantro
Salt and red chile powder to taste.
Water to mix.
Oil to deep fry.

Mix all of the above very well, don't make the batter very thick or the pakodas will remain hard even after adding to the kadhi. I like them soft and juicy after they've been cooked in the kadhi. Let the batter stand for 10 mins (if you have the time). Deep fry the pakodas in hot oil and keep aside (read - hide! or there won't be any left for the kadhi!).

For Kadhi (Serves 2) -
Besan (chickpea flour) - 1.5 Tbsp
Plain Yogurt (low fat, no fat anything is fine), slightly sour yogurt works the best - 3/4th Cup
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/4th tsp
Turmeric - 1/4 tsp
Red chile powder - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida - a pinch
Garlic (sliced thin in rounds) - 2-3 cloves
Ginger (grated) - 2 tsp
Green chile (slit lengthwise) - 1 or 2
Curry leaves - a few (IF you can find them!)
Salt to taste
Cooking oil - 1 Tbsp

Whisk together yogurt and besan with a cup of water to get rid of lumps if any.
Heat oil, once it is warm enough add mustard seeds. As the first ones begin to crackle add fenugreek seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves. Saute for a few seconds and add green chiles, ginger and garlic.
Saute till ginger-garlic turn golden. Add red chile powder, turmeric and salt and add yogurt-besan mixture quickly and mix well. It is important to be quick here or the spices will burn. Its a good idea to pre measure and mix them.
At this point the kadhi wouldn't look yellow, if its of thickish consistency, add more water as the kadhi will thicken on cooking. Simmer till it begins to boil and look yellow. The objective is to make sure the kadhi is close to done before adding the pakodas. Boiling too long after adding pakodas will cause them to break (specially if you succeeded in making them soft :)) And adding them too late will leave them dry. Add pakodas and bring to a boil, simmer for a few more minutes.
Garnish with fresh cilantro (it adds a lot to the flavor, mom doesn't make kadhi if she doesn't have cilantro at home :))

Serve with hot rice (cooked with a little salt). I love radish on the side with kadhi-chawal but onions and mango pickles work well too! This kadhi is great on its own too, I usually finish a bowl before even reaching for the rice :)

I was hoping to post this on Mother's day for my dearest Ma who is so far away from me but still knows everything that I feel even without asking me about it. Love you Ma!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dressed up Dhokla!

It's high time I get back to my blog :) Initially I was actually occupied with worldly matters, but I don't think I have an excuse now! I've just been out of touch with my little blog world out here! Can't wait to get started again!

I never knew the difference between Gujarati Khaman and Dhokla. To me there were yellow dhoklas and white dhoklas. I did discover in time that Khaman or my so called yellow dhokla is made with chickpea flour or ground bengal gram (chana daal). Where as the 'white' variety could be made with rice or sooji/rava/semolina and is called Dhokla :). Both of us prefer dhokla over Khaman for some undefined reason! Both are equally delicious! I have always used Gits instant mixes to make dhoklas but this time I tried making them with sooji. I got the basic recipe from Trupti's 'The Spice Who Loved Me'. A beautiful blog with a ton of great recipes. A great tutorial blog for someone like me who is still a novice at Gujarati cooking! This dhokla recipe is perfect, its as simple as it gets and the result is light, fluffy, absolutely delicious dhoklas. Thanks Trupti!

Sooji/Semolina - 1 Cup
Besan/Chickpea flour - 1 Tbsp
Yogurt (preferably sour) - enough to bring everything together
Asafoetida (heeng) - a fat pinch
Turmeric (haldi) - a tiny pinch
Salt and Sugar to taste - don't skip the sugar, a tiny bit rounds off the flavors very well :)
Baking Powder - a pinch
Lemon juice - 2 tsp
Eno/Fruit Salt - 1 tsp

Mix everything except lemon juice and eno together to idli batter like consistency. Let stand for 10 mins. In the meanwhile heat water in a steamer. Grease plates for steaming the dhokla. I used two plates, you can use one if it is large enough to leave room for the dhoklas to rise. Just before steaming, mix lemon juice and eno to the batter and blend lightly using your hand. The batter will turn a little frothy. Pour in the steaming plates. I sprinkled red chile powder over the batter in one plate and freshly ground pepper on the other. Steam covered for 15 mins. Insert a fork and if it comes out clean, dhokla is ready. Remove plates from steamer and let cool for 5 mins.

Chutney -
Cilantro leaves - 1 Cup
Fresh mint leaves - a handful
Green chiles - 2
A tiny piece of ginger
Peanuts - 1 tbsp
Salt and lime juice to taste.

Grind everything together to a smooth chutney.

Assembling -
Remove one layer of dhokla on a plate and apply green chutney liberally. Cover with the other layer of dhokla.

Tempering -
Heat 2 tsp oil, as it warms add a tsp of mustard seeds (rai) and a slit green chile. When mustard begins to crackle, add a tsp of sesame seeds. Pour this mix over the dhokla and sprinkle chopped cilantro.

Cut the dhokla in square pieces and serve warm! Cold coffee made a great accompaniment to these dhoklas for a summer weekend breakfast! If you don't have time to make chutney, ketchup works very well too. You can spice up the ketchup with a dash of hot sauce for that extra kick :) These dhoklas are great even if you skip the whole layering business and just temper them with mustard and sesame seeds. We usually have dhoklas without any tempering - with just red chile or black pepper sprinkled on top. In that case, adding a little ginger-green chile paste to the batter (like Trupti did) would be a great idea!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baked Pineapple Spaghetti

For whatever reason, cheesy, creamy things never attract me! Stark opposite is my dear hubby :) He ensured there was a baked vegetable in white sauce kinda dish in our wedding feast. If you've had an Indian wedding you must be aware what eating at your own wedding is like! I could *see* how good the food was, but not a morsel went down my throat! But yes I did manage to taste that creamy baked vegetable dish and in spite of all the wedding nerves I couldn't help but appreciate it :)

A few days later we went to this restaurant called "Bawarchee" in Ahmedabad. They serve some wonderful Punjabi food. Parthiv ordered this Baked Spaghetti with pineapple, and as my disposition goes, I was quite wary! No marks for guessing that it was amazing! For once I had found something creamy and cheesy that I liked :)

Once we returned to the US loaded with lots of Amul cheese we tried to reproduce our beloved pineapple spaghetti - doesn't come close to the original, but we love it anyways! (Amul is an Indian brand -read phenomenon, with a wide variety of dairy products)

Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 Cups (of cooked) Spaghetti (I also throw in some tri-color rotini sometimes)
1 cup mixed vegetables - I use peas, diced carrots, frozen corn (optional)
1 cup pineapple chunks (I use canned)
2.5 cups milk (1% reduced fat works just fine)
1 tbsp Butter/Margarine
2 tbsp all purpose flour
Salt, black pepper, sugar to taste
1/2 cup shredded white cheese (Amul cheese works the best. I use Monterey jack normally, any cheese that melts well will do)
1. Cook the spaghetti with salt (per instructions on package). When half way through, add all vegetables too.
2. While spaghetti is cooking make the white sauce. Heat butter in a sauce pan. Add flour to it and saute till it turns light pink and fragrant.
3. Add milk and stir constantly. If lumps are formed, blend the mix.If you use a lot of butter the chances of lumps are lesser, but I prefer to blend the mix rather than adding more fat.
4. Simmer the sauce stirring constantly till its thick. Add some sugar, salt and black pepper. Stir and taste. The sauce should taste milky and smooth. A little sugar kicks up the flavor.
5. Drain spaghetti as soon as its cooked . Mix with the white sauce. Add pineapple chunks.

6. Now prepare a baking dish. Grease the dish and spread some grated cheese at the bottom. Now spread the spaghetti mix. Top with another layer of cheese
(you can top this with some thin pineapple and bell pepper slices - looks good and both these things bake well).

7. Preheat oven to 350 F or so. Bake for 15-20 mins. You need to bake till the cheese on top begins to turn brown. Increase oven temperature if it looks like its
gonna take forever!
8. Serve!!

We enjoy this with a bit of ketchup :) Makes a hearty meal by itself or with some bread on the side. Cooks really fast, as you can do a lot of things in parallel. Put the spaghetti on the stove, chop carrots in the meanwhile, if you have frozen corn and peas, no more work required there. You will have enough time to prepare the sauce before the spaghetti cooks. And while its baking, you can clean the kitchen and set the table :) Which makes me think I could send this over to Ruth for her Presto Pasta Nights event. It is an ongoing event at her blog with roundups every Friday! Thank you for hosting Ruth.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Parsi Dhansaak

JFI which stands for Jihva For Ingredients celebrates an ingredient every month, it is the brainchild of very talented and thoughtful Indira of Mahanandi. This time around it is being hosted by sweet and generous Linda of Out of The Garden. Every time I look at her passionately cooked Indian food I have to remind myself that this energetic lady is not an Indian! Linda chose Toor daal as the theme for JFI - December.

Toor daal is the backbone of Indian food. It is an omnipresent feature of Indian main course. This is how toor daal is normally made in Indian homes:
1. The basic cooking of this lentil requires cooking it with water and salt (and turmeric many times) till 'done'. The definition of 'done' varies. Some people like their daal to be so mushy that you can't distinguish the grain where as some people prefer it to be firmer. For the large part I think the former is more common.
2. The consistency of the daal varies again! Some people cook it to be very thick whereas in some homes its more diluted and thin.
3. The seasoning - I think daal in every home tastes different thanks to the variation in texture, consistency and mostly the tempering. Tempering/tadka/vaghar is normally prepared with hot ghee/oil, mustard/cumin seeds and asafoetida (basic ingredients), then there is no end to what you can do - use fenugreek (methi seeds), cloves, cinnamon, dry red chillies. Different combinations of fresh ingredients like - tomatoes, tamarind, lemon, green chillies, cilantro, curry leaves, ginger, garlic are quite common. Many versions of toor daal have a hint of sweetness by means of sugar or jaggery. Gujarati daal also contains cooked peanuts, which adds a wonderful flavor and fullness to the normally thin daal.

Toor daal is cooked in combination with a variety of vegetables which adds up to some great nutritive properties and makes some fantastic dishes!
1. Sambhar (that Linda *loves*) is Southern India's delightful gift to the rest of the country! It is made with a special spice mix made with common Indian spices like cumin, coriander, fenugreek etc, fresh vegetables and coconut (sometimes).
2. Daal-palak (Spinach and toor daal) is another lovely combination cooked in a thousand different ways. Silken toor daal works very well with all green leafy vegetables like fenugreek, amaranth to name a couple.
3. Dhansaak (Dhan = Daal + Saak = Vegetables)is a Parsi delicacy made with a variety of daals, vegetables and meat. It can easily be adapted into a vegetarian version. Read more about Parsi cuisine here.

I make toor daal in various ways and just love Sambhar. But I wanted to cook something different for this event and Parsi dhansaak seemed like a good choice!

I used a recipe our sweet friend N sent me and tweaked it to suit our taste and the ingredients I had on hand. If I still remember correctly her recipe was inspired by Tarla Dalal's.

Serves 4 easily
1/2 cup toor (arhar) dal (split pigeon peas)
1 tbsp yellow moong dal (split yellow gram)
1 tbsp masoor dal (split red lentils)
1 tbsp urad dal (split black lentils)
1-2 cups butternut squash chopped
1 tbsp fenugreek (methi) leaves, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp tamarind paste (mine is quite concentrated, if making your own increase quantity to 2 tsp)
2 tsp oil
salt to taste

To be ground into a paste
1 green chilli
3 whole red chillies
2 large cloves garlic
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
A small piece of ginger
1 green cardamom
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
Handful of chopped coriander

1. Clean and wash the dals.
2. Combine the dals and butternut squash with 3 cups of water and pressure cook for 3-4 whistles. Keep aside.
3. Heat the oil in a pan, add chopped onions and sauté till translucent. Add chopped methi and tomatoes and sauté for 2 mins.
4. Add the prepared paste and sauté for 2 minutes.
5. Add the dal and vegetables, tamarind paste and salt and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Sprinkle a pinch of cardamom powder (the original recipe called for cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder).
7. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with hot rice.

Dhansaak is traditionally served with brown rice. I did not have time to make it but I can imagine the combination would be wonderful. A delightful kachumbar (salad) made with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, carrots, coriander and seasoned with lime juice, red chilli powder, salt and roasted cumin powder is served as an accompaniment to dhansaak and brown rice.

I think dhansaak is supposed to be made with more vegetables - the original recipe called for potatoes, eggplants, pumpkin and bottle gourd. I just increased the amount of butternut squash. Zucchini, carrots would work well too. Spinach should be a great addition!

Also, according to the recipe - the cooked daal + vegetables were supposed to be pureed, I just couldn't get myself to do that! I'd rather overcook my daal and veggies to a mush :D

Dhansaak was bursting with flavors. Tasted better the next day! I loved it with roti too. We found the taste of garlic a little overbearing, but that is just because we don't like it much. All in all a very healthy, balanced dish with some amazing combination of flavors!

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.