Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Orange Dwarf Coconut (Gendale)

Orange Dwarf Coconut, is a beautiful yellow and orange colored variety of Coconut commonly grown in Konkan region of India. In Konkani, this variety is known as Gendale. Many of my family members who own farmlands and ancestral fields take great pride in harvesting this variety of Coconut.

I have vivid memories of sipping farm fresh coconut water drawn from freshly plucked Coconuts from my Grandfather's farmlands. In those days, Coconuts were an easily available commodity and paying for a bunch of them was certainly unheard of.

The Orange Dwarf coconut tree grows to about 10-15 metres in height as opposed to conventional Coconut trees which shoot anywhere from 20 to 50 metres in height depending on the soil, climate and type of nutrition provided to the tree. When I was a child this variety was a common one. However now with less forest regions and dwindling green fields and farmlands this Coconut is becoming a very rare and precious variety. A chilled glass of this coconut water is by and far the best and tastiest one I've ever had. Many agro and horticulture based initiatives are currently being undertaken to propagate and multiply this rare and precious variety of Coconut.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seared Baby Brinjal (Vaangi Talaasana)

Vaangi or Vaingana is Brinjal/ Eggplant in Marathi and Konkani respectivey. Growing up, we preferred soupy parboiled rice few days in a week for dinner, it is also called as Paej or Ganji Utaa. I love to combine Paej with Vegetable side dish of different sorts.

When I was a yuppy fussy teeny bopper, Mom delegated the task of preparing and planning dinner side dish to me. I discovered cooking wasn't that difficult if one had the relentless pursuit pepped with creativity to keep trying. It was much of a training period for me in disguise. As much as I vehemently protested, spending time in the kitchen discovering the otherwise alien sort of spices and vegetables certainly pleased my senses!

I also began to respect the effort which every individual puts in the meal preparation process be it for family dinners, lunches or large gatherings for that matter. I learned to perfect this recipe and over a period of time everybody used to relish this preparation, especially my Daddy. For best results, use tender Brinjal. I used Kokum, the tangy sour konkan fruit to neutralize and balance the spicy flavour.

~ Vaangi Talaasana ~

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Brinjal/ Eggplant (diced into 1/4" pieces) - 2 cups
Garlic (crushed) - 2-3 jumbo pods
Red Chilli powder - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - 1/3 teaspoon
Green Chilli (optional) - 1
Kokum (wet) - 2 shells

Wash the Brinjal and dice them into thin 1/4" slices. In a deep dish pan, heat few spons of oil, temper with crushed garlic and green chillies. Saute till they are seared. Add the diced Brinjal pieces now. Add the spice powders, salt and stir for couple of minutes. All the Brinjal pieces should get an even coating of spice powder. Add the Kokum shell now and stir. Sprikle handful of water and cover with a lid and simmer on low flame. Brinjal steam cooks in it own juices. Cook till completely done. The pieces wilt and reduce in size upon cooking. Remove Kokum shells while servings if required. Serve warm as a side dish.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saffron Flavoured Milk (Masala Doodh)

As we slowly move into colder days and darker twilight's, I walked down the memory lane to recall some of my cherished memories of chilly winters spent with family.

One such event which I recall is Kojagiri Purnima. Growing up, we used to enjoy a fun potluck evening at our friends place on this day. Every year this day comes during late October and is observed in a symbolic fashion with friends and family. Everybody gathered for an entire night by staying awake and singing hymns in praise of goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. This was many many years ago.

As generations have progressed, so have the cultural ethos & practices. Large cohesive families have converted to smaller nuclear units. Practices adapt, evolve, change and bear a relative meaning based on lifestyle, profession, personal interest and priorities. Now its limited to the food alone and a small ceremony to praise the goddess and if possible a small effort to get your loved ones together. The delicacy served that night on this occasion was mostly Masala Doodh and some light snacks like Bhadang - a dry Bhel version. Masala is a dry concoction of spices & choicest herbs; Doodh is Milk in Hindi. This along with a splash of Saffron and the milky flavour took on a whole new meaning. As a nonchalant kid the rituals and religious practices did not make much sense to me but the food certainly did. :)

I love this recipe because it doctors Milk, the simple snow white docile pantry item in a very tasteful manner. Saffron, the spice which was weighed in gold in olden days, is still quite expensive one in the world by weight. Addition of Saffron adds extra warmth and zing to the milk. Interestingly, Saffron strands are extracted from the stigma attached to the Crocus flower and thrives and flourishes in the Mediterranean region. This also goes to explain its wide usage in various Persian, Moroccan and Spanish dishes. Sip it warm and you are on an odyssey to heaven!

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

Whole Milk - 2 cups

Masala -
Saffron - 1/3 teaspoon strands
Almond powder - 2 teaspoon
Pistachio powder - 2 teaspoon
Cardamom powder - 1/4 teaspoon

For garnish - Rough chopped Pistachio pieces - 2 teaspoon

Soak the saffron strands in Milk and leave aside to steep for 1/2 hour. The milk catches the light orange hue of Saffron. Crush it gently after 1/2 hour along with the milk. Pound Almond, Pistachio and Cardamom to a powdery consistency without any water. Bring the milk to a gentle boil. Add the powder, sugar and stir well for 3-5 minutes. Garnish with rough chopped Pista pieces. Turn off the flame. Let the beverage rest for few minutes. Serve warm with snacks.

Note - Boiling the milk is an essential step which enables sweet flavour to the milk. Do not skip this step.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seared Masala Pointed Gourd (Parvalaa Talasaana)

In India, we get fresh, tender Pointed Gourds which are palm sized, bit sweet flavour and very tasty. They are also known as Parval. In US, the ones we get are slightly smaller, less sweet and tender as well. I made Talasaana, a Konkani style stir fry. To omit the chewy texture of these Gourds, I peeled the skin off. A good side dish to rejoice during chilly winters.

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Pointed Gourd (peeled and chopped) - 1 and 1/2 cup
Garlic pods - 1-2
Red Chilli powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - 1/3 teaspoon
Coriander powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Cumin powder - 1/2 teaspoon

Wash the Gourds and peel the skin. Chop them into thin strips and keep aside. In a sauce pan, heat a teaspoon of oil, season with crushed garlic. Once garlic gets seared, add the chopped vegetables. Give a good toss to get a good coating on all the vegetables. Next add the spice powders and lower the flame. Mix gently and cover with a lid. Since the Gourds are tender they'd cook fast with just little water. Sprinkle a generous hand of water and cover with a lid. Allow to cook completely. This process takes around 5-8 minutes. Once completely cooked, turn off the flame. Serve warm as a side dish.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rum Balls - A Popular Indian Christmas Sweet

Rum Balls are a very popular Christmas sweet made during the festive eve. Some of the sweets I remember eating during Christmas are - Rose Cookies, Plum Cake, Marzipans, Jujubes, Bebinca, Bolinha, Coconut Barfi, Angels Ribs, Snowball (Naan Katai), Kulkuls, Nevri and Guava Cheese. Guava Cheese & Plum cakes are my favorite treats amongst all.

Rum Balls being a sweet, sinfully rich treat is prominently made amongst Anglo-Catholic communities in India during the festive eve of Christmas. These are also available in local patisserie & confectionery shops during the season. Use aged Rum for good results. I found the recipe here and was a good discovery! I've adapted it to befit our taste and improve the texture of the dish. I gave the goodies a generous coat of Cocoa powder and Coconut powder. Both were decadent and very flavourful. This is a no cook recipe and can be made very quickly. If making these for festival platters, prepare couple of days ahead thereby providing some sitting time for the flavours to mingle and mix.

~ Rum Balls ~
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Processing time: 10 minutes
Recipe: Adapted from Joy Of Baking
Yield: 15-18 Rum Balls

Walnut/ Pecan/ Almonds/ Pistachio - 1 and 1/2 cup
Cocoa powder - 3 tablespoons
Light Corn Syrup or Glucose Syrup - 2 tablespoons
Crushed wafers (Vanilla/ Chocolate) - 1 and 1/2 cup
Powdered Sugar - 1/2 cup
Aged Rum - 1/4 cup
Topping/ Coating - Cocoa powder/ Dry coconut powder/ Chopped nuts

Follow the basic process of mixing as observed in baking - dry and wet ingredients separately. First toast the nuts (I used Walnut) lightly till warm. Allow to cool completely. Remove the skin if desired and crush to a coarse powder but not a pasty one. Else, chop them into small pieces and keep aside. Crush the wafers to a fine powder. Preferably match the flavour of your wafers with the flavour of Cocoa powder.
In a mixing bowl, mix the chopped nuts with Cocoa powder. Add the crushed wafers and mix thoroughly. Add the Rum now and slowly mix in Sugar and the Corn Syrup now. Add more Rum now if desired. The dough will be a sticky dark collective one. Set in the fridge for 1/2 hour. Remove and make balls of 1" in diameter. Coat them with a topping of your choice - Cocoa powder or Coconut powder or powdered nuts. Store in the fridge in an air tight container and consume within 1-2 weeks. Thaw and bring to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coriander Leaves Side Dish With Chickpea Flour (Kothmir chi Peeth Perun Bhaaji)

Recently a bargain buy of Coriander leaves compelled me to try the recipe of Kothmirichi Peeth Perun Bhaaji. Peeth Perun is a Marathi style of cooking vegetables thereby coating them with a nice spicy coating of flour and spice powders. Mom apart from her busy schedule took time for various social welfare and development projects, one of it being - participating & hosting volunteer lunches and dinners. Once Mom cooked some yummy dishes for a crowd of 100 for a charity banquet! Mom's friend who was part of this project group got this dish for her weekend Lunchbox. We loved the taste & Mom quickly got the recipe from her friend and frequently has been making this for all of us. Mom added her own twist of a snow white garnish of grated Coconut which aids as a good accent for the dish. The good thing about this recipe is it makes use of Coriander leaves and stems as well. A good way to reduce & reuse kitchen waste and maximize resources.

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Servings: 2-3

Coriander leaves and stems (finely chopped) - 3 cups
Cumin seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
Red Chilli powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - 1/3 teaspoon
Coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Chickpea Flour - 3 tablespoon
Grated coconut (fresh or frozen) - 2 tablespoon

Wash the Coriander leaves and stems thoroughly. Chop them finely and keep aside. In a deep sauce pan, heat few spoons of oil, temper with Cumin seeds. Once they begin to pop and crackle, add Chickpea flour spoon by spoon and saute. The flour will now mesh with oil to form tiny globules. Add rest of the spice powders. Toggle between low to medium flame. The Chickpea flour should be properly sauteed and should not be raw. This process takes around 5-8 minutes. Once completely done, add chopped leaves and stir well. Adjust salt and spice levels. Cover with a lid and steam cook for 5-8 minutes. Once done, turn off flame and garnish with coconut powder or fresh grated coconut. Serve hot with Chapathi or Phulkas.
Note - Its very important that Coriander leaves are dry before use. Wash them and pat dry to remove any moisture and then use for the dish. Else, the entire dish will turn lumpy and soggy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Simple Butter Cookies (Naan Katai/ Narayan Katar)

The first cookie I ever had in my life - Naan Katai or Narayan Katar. The name sounds funny and used to tickle the funny bone in me as a kid. Simple, delicious melt-in-mouth cookie with irresistible flavour and simplicity personified! These are made during Christmas and are also known as Snowballs.

I have quoted the exact proportion so that its easier for anyone to follow this recipe. This is a recipe demanding lot of ghee so don't get petrified with the amount of ghee being added. This recipe takes me back to childhood days. My mom made these when we were tiny tots. Those days cool, sleek Ovens cosily adoring one corner of your kitchen were unheard of, forget about owning one; she slogged in the kitchen for hours, made a huge mammoth batch and carried them all in a large aluminum tin to the local bakers. The whole bakery would have the redolent aroma of clarified butter (ghee) wafting all around. I still remember rushing to the baker with a sense of glee and excitement just to collect our cute looking cookies. Fast forward, decades later, I find myself baking these goodies on a crisp, cosy autumn evening in my humble kitchen in US. There is a brimming sense of nostalgia and I happily reminisce the joys of an exuberant childhood that was full of memories, mommy's love and good food. I only wish my Mom and Dad could sample my cookies and I could be with them to celebrate the festivities. I certainly miss home today and vow to enjoy the festivities with my family and friends out here.

Happy Diwali To Everyone!!
All Purpose Flour - Maida - 1 and 1/2 cup
Melted Clarified Butter (Ghee) - 1/2 to 3/4 cup
Powdered Sugar - 3/4 cup
Cardamom powder (optional) - 1/2 teaspoon
Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon

For Garnish - Almonds, Pistachio, Tutti-frutti bits.

Melt the ghee and allow to cool. Mix the sugar with ghee. Sieve the flour along with baking powder. Mix well and slowly add the flour-baking powder mix spoon by spoon. This will form a dough which is malleable. The dough is not stiff but not loose either. Add ghee spoon by spoon to form a ball. Leave in a cool place for 3-6 hours. Make cookies which are 2" in diameter. Flatten them and spread them on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet. Plonk a tutti-fruitti, almond or pistachio bits. Pre-heat the oven for 10 minutes. Bake them at 350 F for 15 minutes. Bake till the crust is done and light cracks are formed. Transfer to a cooling rack and store in air tight containers. They remain good and fresh for a week and little beyond.

Note - Do not tamper with cookies once baking is done. Transfer to a cooling rack in a cool place, let them cool down and the cookies come together to form a perfect tasting one. Do not compromise on Ghee, as its the chief binding agent for the flour and other ingredients. Use good quality Ghee for best results.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Stuffed Bitter Gourd Fry With Peanut Powder (Bharlela Kaarla)

I had eaten this yummy way of cooking Bitter Gourd (Karela) many years back at one of my friend's place. The spicy stuffing is sauteed abundantly with Peanut Powder (Daanyaachey Koot) and stuffed in the parboiled Gourds. The Gourds have occasional bites of Peanut which is a highlight of this recipe. Go easy on oil else you will not enjoy the real flavour of this recipe. The taste of this recipe is an acquired one; however I enjoy the flavour of Gourd cooked in this fashion. Pass it off if you are not friendly with this gourd. Use tender Bitter Gourds for best results.

~ Bharlela Kaarla ~
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

Bitter Gourd Melon (small to medium size) - 2-3
Onion (chopped) - 1 cup
Peanut powder (coarse) - Daanyachey Koot - 1/3 cup
Turmeric powder - Just a pinch
Cumin seeds - 1/2 teaspoon
Green Chillies (split) - 1
Cumin powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Coriander powder - 1 teaspoon
Red Chilli powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Ginger-Garlic paste - 1/2 teaspoon
Kitchen Thread - 1 metre

Wash the gourds and scoop off the inner membranes and seeds. Do not discard the inner membranes, keep them aside. Sprinkle salt and turmeric powder all over the Gourd and keep them aside for 10 minutes. You could also par boil them in water and then keep aside. Since the gourds I used were tender, I skipped this step.
In a deep sauce pan, heat few spoons of oil, add cumin seeds and once they proliferate, add onions, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste and sweat them in oil. Allow the onions to get charred, add the spice powders and adjust salt. Add Peanut powder now and give a good stir. Cook on low to medium flame all the time else your spices could burn off. Once the mixture becomes an even consistency, turn off the flame and allow the stuffing to cool. Stuff the Gourds one by one. Tie them with a kitchen thread to prevent them from oozing the stuffing out. In the same pan previously used, heat oil and fry the gourds together. You could also add rest of the stuffing masala on the side and cook it along. The Gourds will get seared on all sides. This will take around 3-5 minutes. Once that's done, add 1 cup of water and cover with a lid. Steam cook till the gourds are completely cooked. Garnish with some peanut powder on top. Serve with the seared masala and steam cooked rice. Chop them into blocks or serve them as they are.