Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rice and Mung Dal Khichdi

These days I am besotted with Khichdi. Plain, nutritious yet tasty mushy mess full of goodness.

A dear friend asked me if I am into spring cleaning diet with a focus on cleanse. I explained that it was a sheer coincidence. Eat sensibly, be happy and take time out for exercise and activities you enjoy is my mantra. Many of my American friends follow a spring cleanse routine during the switch in weather from winter to spring. For those who are clueless, spring cleaning is an activity undertaken in US where a lot of cleaning activity happens on the home front. This is more applicable if you live in geographies that have a relatively colder climate. Much before I could even think of spring cleaning, there was a weird snowfall with freezing cold weather couple of days ago.

Pure home made Ghee is a must for Khichdi. In my opinion, its a match made in heaven. The Khichdi recipe has many variations with respect to Indian kitchens. I am very picky about my Khichdi and do not like too many spices, vegetables intervening in the recipe. Ma makes this Khichdi for us regularly and I adore the simplicity of this dish, although my Dad dislikes rice based foods unless its an authentic Konkani recipe. :-)

Rice and Mung Dal Khichdi
Simple mushy Rice and Mung Dal with ghee and spices 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Rice (Jeeraga Samba Rice) - 1 measure
Mung Dal (split variety) - 1/2 measure
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Black Pepper Corns (whole) - 1/2 tsp
Pure homemade Ghee - 1 tbsp
Sea Salt 

For Garnish -
Homemade Ghee - 1 tsp
Coarse Black Pepper powder - a pinch

Rinse the rice and mung dal in multiple changes of water, till the water is clear. Drain the water and keep aside.
In a non-stick pan, heat a tbsp of Ghee. Once the ghee melts and is hot enough, season with cumin seeds. Once the seeds bloom in ghee, add the pepper corns. Give a good stir and add the washed rice and lentils. Mix gently and add three times the quantity of warm water. Add sea salt to taste. Give a taste test. Bring to boil. Simmer away and let it cook for 20-25 minutes with the lid on. Check after 25 minutes, the rice and lentils will be mushy and cooked completely. The consistency will be like that of a porridge. Turn off flame and serve hot. Garnish with homemade ghee and coarsely crushed black pepper powder.

Note - Use good quality of rice which carries a nice aroma. I prefer not to use Basmati rice for Khichdi. Add three times the quantity of warm water to the rice and lentils ratio [3:1].

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sabudana Khichdi

Khichdi is known as elixir of the gods in ancient hindu scriptures. Eaten piping hot, bit mushy with very simple flavors if you consider the everyday khichdi made in Indian homes comprising of lentils and rice. This is one dish where excess of any sort is omitted. No wonder for any great tasting khichdi everything needs to be in moderation. There are days when I like bold, pop flavors and there are days when I yearn for a warm bowl of khichdi. With festivals demanding long hours of fasting, its an Indian tradition to cook Khichdi and observe a Sattvik diet with no garlic and onion. A good warm bowl of Khichdi is also filling. Few regular khichdi recipes made at my home are Sabudana Khichdi, Rice and Mung Dal Khichdi which is my personal favorite served with a dollop of ghee dunked atop while its hot.

The Sabudana Khichdi made at my home is inspired by the easy and simple khichdi recipe followed in Marathi homes. I add Daanyachey Koot and few whole Peanuts for garnish, may be a little more than required because I like the crunch. It took me a while to master this dish because there are many failure modes (for lack of any word) possible in the process. Couple of things gone wrong and the whole dish can be messy. 

Sabudana Khichdi
Tapioca Pearls Khichdi with Peanuts and Peanut powder

Prep Time: 5-6 hours 
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Tapioca Pearls (Sabudana) - 1/2 cup
Potatoes (thinly sliced, MW par cooked) - 1/2 cup
Peanut powder (Daanyachey Koot) - 3/4 cup
Toasted Peanuts (whole or split) - 1/3 cup

For Seasoning -
Green Chillies (slit lengthwise) - 2 
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves - 1 sprig

1. Soaking - Rinse the pearls in multiple changes of water. Soak in enough water to submerge the pearls for about 6-8 hours. The water will also get absorbed in the process. If the pearls look tad bit dry, sprinkle some water, fluff gently with a fork and cover again.After the time has elapsed, they will proliferate in size and you can easily squish them under the thumb and index finger. If its squishes well, its ready. The water will also get absorbed in the process. If the pearls look tad bit dry, sprinkle some water, fluff gently with a fork and cover again. If its squishes well, its ready. The pearls almost double up in volume once soaked and ready. Drain the water completely, ensure that Sabudana has no water content before you proceed. Typically, there is no need to drain the water as it gets absorbed.
2. Toast the Peanuts (about a cup) in a small frying pan. Save about 1/3 of the cup as reserve once toasted. Allow the rest to cool. Make Daanyachey Koot. MW peeled Potato with little water and cook for 2-4 minutes till its partially cooked.
3. In a non-stick pan, heat ghee. Once the ghee melts and the pan is hot enough, season with cumin seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add curry leaves and slit green chillies. Add the MW cooked potatoes and sear the potatoes for couple of minutes.
4. The Potatoes will get a light sear by now, add the soaked Tapioca Pearls. Give a good toss, follow with crushed peanut powder. Add salt and sugar. Balance the taste so that its neither salty nor sweet. Give a taste test. Cover with a lid. Lower the flame and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes.
5. Once cooked, the pearls will turn translucent to almost opaque shade of color. Give a gentle toss. Check if done, turn off flame and enjoy while its hot. Garnish with reserve toasted peanuts.

Note - Cook in a non-stick pan. The pearls could at times stick to the pan. Avoid fiddling with it too much while its getting cooked, else it could turn mushy.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wheat-Finger Millet Phulkas

The husband is fond of exotic grains like Quinoa and Couscous and he enjoys the flavor in light salads. I like to explore and dig deep into my Indian heritage to find gems which I might have missed or forgotten, for e.g Millets. I distinctly remember High School Geography class drill on Kharif crops and Rabi crops. Kharif crops are sown during monsoon time and harvested during autumn. Common ones being - Jowar (Sorgum), Bajra (Pearl Millet) and Nachni/ Ragi (Finger Millet). Rabi crops are sown during winter and harvested during summer season. Common ones are Wheat, Mustard and Barley. Phulkas have been part of regular diet for quite some time now. For past few days I have been wanting to fortify the Phulkas to enrich the flour.
One of our close friends family hails from Hosur village in Karnataka, India. This amazing lady whom I fondly call Kaaki is very simple, easy going and down to earth person. Kaaki is shy and abhors the city life. She comes to visit her kids in the city, complains of boredom, misses her friends and gossip from village. In her family, they grow their own vegetables and even the grains they consume. Most of all she misses her plants, creepers and massive fields. She loves the company of grasslands, nature and prefers pollution free life. She often tells me that village people have more heart, smile often and are more compassionate than city folks. I smile and patiently listen to her stories from the village, her friends and her farmland. She is an epitome of simplicity and her persona is devoid of any pretense.

At the crack of dawn after finishing her morning chores, she diligently draws rangoli made out of rice paste once a week after cleaning and mopping the floors, apparently a tradition in Hosur. Kaaki wears saree with large temple borders, a dozen of glass bangles always on her wrist, her hair is neatly adorned with colorful flowers and her nose gleams with multi-diamond nose studs, much like the famous Indian singer MS Subbalakshmi. A cute thing Kaaki does is when she is doing her household chores she sings songs which are folk based from her region. Most of them are stories about farmers, crops salvaged and joy of harvest. Her lunch wraps by 12:00 noon and dinner wraps even earlier by 7:00 in the evening. The preferred choice is mostly Ragi Mudde, a round steamed and cooked Ragi Ball served with vegetable and beans curry. Her family also enjoys Jonnada Rotti, a Roti made of Jowar and Bajri Roti, a roti made out of Bajri flour. Their food habits are well rooted to their region and they eat according to season and climatic changes. Often during cold winters in Hosur, they drink Ragi Malt and relish the taste. No wonder her kids do not enjoy modern branded drink mix and enjoy home made concoctions. They also consume lot of greens and vegetables.

I recall asking her the significance of Ragi and its relevance to their life in village. She informed me that people in her village own large farmland and often labor is a big issue. So more often than not, they end up tilling the fields, sowing and also harvesting the crop if labor is not available. Ragi also known as Finger Millet is high in Calcium and is a preferred food for her family because it strengthens the bones and keep the stomach full for a long time. The farms are vast and far off, so the energy from Millet keeps them going for long hours. The sugar release process is slower with Ragi hence one does not feel hungry for long hours.

I tried Ragi Mudde but did not like the flavor. I believe its an acquired taste. I stumped upon the idea of Wheat-Finger Millet Phulkas. Kneading the dough out of 100% Ragi is not easy and takes time to master. I made Phulkas with 4:1 of Wheat and Ragi proportion. If Finger Millet flour alone is used, then the Phulkas are gluten free and good option for people with gluten intolerance. The Phulkas puff well and one feels full for long hours. Good for office lunch box and very portable.

Wheat-Finger Millet Phulkas
Phulkas made of Wheat and Finger Millet flour

Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 20-30 minutes
Yield: 10-12 Phulkas

Wheat flour - measure of 4
Ragi (Nachni/ Finger Millet) flour - measure of 1
Warm Water - 3/4 to 1 cup
Oil/ Ghee
Salt - same as the amount of sugar
Sugar- same as the amount of salt

Warm water till its lukewarm. In a mixing bowl, add wheat flour and finger millet flour in 4:1 proportion. Measure here determines either your standard measuring cup or the regular Vaati which I use for measuring flour. Add salt and sugar in equal proportion. Mix the dry ingredients well. Make a hole in the centre of the flour. Add warm water and oil/ ghee. Slowly pull in the flour and knead well. Spend good 5-8 minutes kneading the dough. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth.
Heat a Tava. Take a cup of wheat flour in a small plate (to dip the dough at regular intervals). Divide the dough into small portions, about the size of a tennis ball. Using the rolling pin, flatten the ball and dip in the dry wheat flour in the plate. Roll with a rolling pin to about 6" in diameter. The drier the dough, the easier it is to roll the Phulka.
The Tava will be hot by now. Slam the Phulka on Tava and let it cook on one side. The Phulka will be partly fried on one side. On another open flame place the part cooked Phulka with a pair of kitchen tongs and let it puff up. Tiny black spots will appear on either sides. Cook well on both sides. Transfer to a hot box and cover with a lid. Serve warm with Dal/ Sabzi of choice.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sabudana Vada - A Popular Maharashtrian Snack

Mumbai - a name which spells nostalgia, home, Bollywood, glitz, glamour and cozy dreams to many. For various reasons, Mumbai is second home for me. I've spend countless holidays on this island exploring every alley and neighborhood. The Bombay I knew is far different from the Mumbai of today. People can call it by any name for me it will always be - Bombay. Its not a surprise that most of the foods cooked in my home represent Goa, Maharashtra apart from GSB Konkani food.

I love Maharashtrian cuisine because most of the foods are highly portable and stay well for a longer period when coconut is not added. The humble Vada Pav is the favorite on-the-go meal for majority of the working population, Pav Bhaji is my go-to recipe when the fridge is over stuffed with vegetables of all sorts, spicy and fiery broth of Usal is a regular at my home.

I am very fond of Sabudana Vada, a yummy patty made of Tapioca Pearls also known as Sabudana. These white pearls are balls made out of cooked starch sourced from Cassava root and is gluten free. Sabudana Khichdi is also popular during Navratri and on days when long hours of fasting is observed. The biggest advantage of eating Sabudana is one feels full for a long time, hence more preferred as stomach filling foods. Whenever I visit Mumbai, I make it a point to visit the local restaurants selling these fried goodies. The first time I had them as a teenager I recall the waiter telling me that more often than not, only two patties are served along with Dahi (Yogurt). They go a long way in beating unexpected hunger pangs. 

If I were in India, I would probably never cook these patties. Why bother when the experts can make the best ones for you? Anyhow, I decided to take the plunge and made these on a chilly, snowy winter evening. Making these patties demands lot of patience and time, a rare treat but very tasty. Do not bother to make them in a hurry. The pearls ought to be soaked in water for atleast 6-8 hours and then mixed well with mashed potatoes and spices to make a firm patty. The fresher the quality of Sabudana, the better the Vada. There are two varieties of Pearls available in the market - the tiny ones and the large ones. I use the large ones and soak them for good 5-6 hours. If the patty is not forming well, there is a high chance that the patties will break open in oil ruining your hard work. Daanyachey Koot, a coarse nutty powder made of peanuts without skin also determines the binding and adds the extra crunch. I shallow fried them with more oil almost coating 1/2 of the vada at all times. 

On a different note, Konkani Foodie turned 6 last week. It feels good to have come this far. The blog combines two of my favorite activities - Writing and Food. When I look back, it feels good to have so many memories all born out of food, people I love and the strange situations under which a certain recipe was discovered. Sometimes its a long forgotten aroma, a taste I've longed for or simply put a desire to reach out to familiar tastes and aromas long lost in the alleys of a memorable childhood. 

Many of my family members are aware of my blog. The blog is accessed by my family - immediate, blood, extended. Friends, ex-friends, co-workers, acquaintances all read every line I write, every recipe I document. It feels great to have so much love coming for my Foodie blog. I've also made friends who are food lovers like me and make the learning process very easy. Many people know me more through my blog. At the same time, I write with my first name which comes with fair share of judgements, opinions and assumptions. Looking at the larger picture, I am glad to have traversed a journey for such a long period. The biggest high is when I receive emails from all over the world from people informing me that they found the content useful. Ah, the joys of writing world!A big thank you for all the love shown.

A small note from me - If you have a passion, make sure you nurture it and protect it. Stay positive and persevere. There is an ocean of like-minded people who will really know where you are coming from.

Sabudana Vada
Tapioca Pearls and mashed Potatoes patty 

Prep Time: 6-8 hours (including the soak time)
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 8 Large 1/2" Vadas

Sabudana (Tapioca Pearls, rinsed and soaked) - 1 cup
Potatoes (boiled, mashed) - 2 cups
Peanut powder (toasted, skin removed) - 3/4 cup
Green Chillies (paste) - 1 tsp
Coriander leaves (fine chiffonade) - 3 tbsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Lime juice - 2 tsp
Sugar - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste

1. Soaking - Rinse the pearls in multiple changes of water. Soak in enough water to submerge the pearls. After the time has elapsed, they will proliferate in size and you can easily squish them under the thumb and index finger. If its squishes well, its ready. Drain the water completely, ensure that Sabudana has no water content before you proceed.
2. Scrub the potatoes well. Boil in a pressure cooker. Remove soon to prevent water retention. Peel, mash to form a mushy paste. Avoid any lumps as this will cause the Vadas to break.
3. In a small frying pan, toast Peanuts lightly. Allow to cool. Gently roll them between the palm to remove the skin. Ensure all the skin is removed otherwise the bitter flavor will render itself into the Vada. In a coffee grinder, coarsely grind the peanuts to a powder. The powder should be grainy and should retain bits and pieces of peanut. This is called Daanyachey Koot.
4. In a mixing bowl, mix the soaked and drained Sabudana, mashed Potatoes. Add the green chillies paste, cumin seeds and lime juice. Add the salt and sugar. Toward the end, add chopped coriander leaves. Give a taste test - the Vadas are not salty but not sweet either. Balance the taste. Mix well to form a flat thick patty. The patty should remain firm and not break open, otherwise there is a high chance that the patties will break open in oil.
5. In a Kadhai, heat oil. Pinch a small portion of dough and drop in hot oil. In the ball rises, the oil is ready for frying. Deep fry or shallow fry depending on the size of the patty. Toggle between low-to-medium consistently while frying. Do not fry on high flame as the inner mass will remain uncooked. This process takes 5-8 minutes for each batch of 3-4 Vadas. Once crispy and golden red, transfer to a paper towel. Enjoy hot Vadas with Tomato Ketchup.

Note - The Vadas are very filling. I make a batch of large, thick vadas just the way they serve in Mumbai. The Sabudana and Potatoes should be considerably dry before mixing stage. Enjoy them while they are hot, they turn soggy fast. If making for the first time, make a small batch to start.