Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aajichi Purchundi (Grandma's Little Purse)

Like most kids in India, I grew up around my grandparents. Although having 'parent' attached, they have a special function in the family. They tell you bedtime stories, make goodies for you, teach you important lessons and leave the 'yelling' part to your parents :). My aaji (grandma in Marathi) pampered us to no end (pampered, not spoiled!). A very industrious woman, she always kept herself busy cooking, cleaning, gardening or reading. There were always goodies waiting for us when we got home from school and were ready to gobble whatever came our way. They were truly unique eats and almost every other thing added nutritional value to our diet - ajwain leaf bhaji, ambil (porriage made from finger millet),  whole wheat laddu and other fun stuff. Along with the good food and occasional "Kha ga raanu" ("Eat my little princess" or something to that effect), she told us why the ingredients she used were good for us. Being so informative, she knew lots of simple home remedies. One of her quick ayurvedic powders or steaming hot teas never failed to make me feel better when I was down with something. Her knowledge still doesn't cease to amaze me. I call this post Aajichi Purchundi (Grandma's Sachet/Little purse) because any time I need some comfort, I know she can pull out a little recipe from her bag of knowledge :).

My husband and I were a little under the weather last couple of weeks thanks to the ever changing spring weather. Craving for something hot to drink I thought of one of my aaji's recipes. Lemongrass tea. Lemongrass, known as Gavati Chaha in Marathi (Gavat = Grass, Chaha = Tea), grows in most backyards in India and is used to treat common cold and cough. My grandma had her own concoction which I resort to when I have a cold.

Lemongrass Tea/Gavati Chahacha Kadha

5-6 Lemongrass leaves
2-3 Cloves
3-4 Black peppercorn
1 Inch cinnamon stick
1 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder (You can use the whole seeds, crush them slightly)
2 Tablespoons fennel seeds
7-8 Leaves of Indian basil/Tulsi (I skipped this as it wasn't available)
1 Cube of jaggery (Can use brown sugar or regular sugar instead)
4 Cups water
  • Heat water and add all the ingredients as the water starts boiling.
  • Keep on medium heat and boil the tea for a good 10-15 minutes.
  • Cover and let it sit for 10 minutes. Strain the hot tea and it's ready to sip. 
The combination of lemongrass and fennel seeds gives the tea a sweet-citrusy flavor. Although my grandma can't make this for me sitting thousands of miles away, it's comforting to know she's just a phone call away when I need one of her home medicines or just want to hear "Kaay re majhya raja".
One steaming hot cup of this tea before bed and you are ready for sweet dreams!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nature Inspired

Now I know why artists flock to California. Not that I count myself in the category, but the abundance of natural beauty inspires you to do something creative. Many of the beaches in Central CA are full of unbelievably smooth naturally formed pebbles. I picked up a bag full of them on a recent trip just because I loved the shapes. While gardening on a sunny Saturday morning last week, I knew how I could add a special touch using these pebbles. The best looking and largest three pebbles + some oil paint = my simple, cheap, and personalized garden decor :). I spread the remaining pebbles in the pot of cactus. Not only do they give a natural look, but also help the cactus stay healthy by retaining heat.

Need to erase the pencil marks! Click on the picture to see the details.

Isn't it amazing that these shapes weren't machine carved?

There's so much joy in simple things :).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Holi Re Holi, Puranachi Poli - II

Katachi Amti - soup made from the broth of chickpea lentils cooked to make Puran.Katachi Amati is our special occasion daal and every woman prides in her own version of it. I decided to cut down on the efforts a bit and make a simplified version using all the same ingredients.

Katachi Amti/Amati

4 Cups chickpea lentil (chana daal) broth
3/4 Cup cooked and mashed chickpea lentils
Khada masala (whole spices) - 1 bay leaf, 1 inch cinnamon stick, 2-3 cloves, 3-4 black peppercorn
Fodani/Tadaka - Mustard seeds, pinch of asafoetida, turmeric powder
5-6 Curry leaves
2-3 Tablespoons fresh grated coconut
2 Teaspoons Maharashtrian Goda Masala - My mom makes it fresh at home and sends me a big packet every year :)
1 Teaspoon cumin-coriandar powder
Red chili powder
2 Teaspoons tamarind pulp
1 Small pice of jaggery (~1 inch cube)
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnishing
  • Cook chickpea lentils in lots of water when making puran. Drain this broth to make amati. Save some of the lentils as well.
  • Heat oil in a cooking pan and add mustard seeds. Add the whole spices and curry leaves when the mustard seeds splutter. Add asafoetida and turmeric powder at the end so they don't burn.
  • Add grated coconut and roast the spices along with it for a few minutes on low-medium heat.
  • Once the coconut it nice and toasty, add the lentil broth and mashed lentils and the rest of the ingredients - tamarind pulp, jaggery, goda masala, cumin-coriander powder, red chili powder and salt. Let it boil on medium heat for a good 20 minutes. This is what makes it taste good by bringing out all the flavors and making amati a little frothy. *There's a difference in the taste when you add goda masala & chili powder first instead of adding it to the broth. This recipe calls for adding it later and letting the flavors come out in the boiling process*.
  • Turn off the heat, garnish with lots of chopped cilantro and serve hot.
Although not a big amati person, I love this sweet-tangy-spicy combination of flavors. It's great to drink by itself as soup or wonderful with some rice. You can use this recipe with toor daal/split pigeon pea lentils when you don't have chickpea lentils and I'm sure it'll taste wonderful.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Holi Re Holi, Puranachi Poli

Holi is popularly known as the spring festival of colors celebrated mainly by Hindus. This festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of new life, rejuvenation. I feel the varied colors played on Holi celebrate the transformation of nature as spring arrives with new blooms and colors. Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day of the Hindu calendar month Falgun. Traditionally, Maharashtrians did not play colors on the day of Holi aka Dhuli Vandan. The large influx of non-Maharashtrians has made playing with colors a long 5 day celebration. Growing up, we only played color on Rangapanchami (ranga=color, panchami=fifth day), the fifth day from full moon. Holi day was celebrated by burning a bon-fire called Holika. 
This festival brings back memories of childhood when we celebrated Holi along with our neighbors. The teenagers (mostly guys) in the neighborhood would team up to go around and collect donations to buy firewood. There was haggling, occasional fights and yelling from parents if they wasted the money. On the day of Holi, everyone gathered in a central location, did a small pooja and lit the Holika. Kids ran around the fire yelling ‘Bombala re bombala, khacchun bombala’ roughly translating to ‘Scream on top of your voices’ (girls were strictly forbidden from doing this considering it indecent). I had never understood why the kids screamed like that, and the real reason is still a mystery to me. I think it had something to do with ‘burning all evil’ but I may need to research a little.
The ladies made various offerings to the Holika among which Puranpoli(a sweet roti made with jaggery-chickpea lentil filling) was the most important one. Important to them because it was customary to make it and to us because we looked forward to the treat! Kids tried to save some puranpoli from burning completely in the Holika and shared it with everyone as ‘Prasad’ (offering made to deity and later consumed). This was the best part because a. it gave us immense pleasure if we successfully ‘saved’ the puranpoli and b. it tasted even more amazing after charring a little.
Although we cannot celebrate Holi by burning the Holika here in the US, I tried to relive some of those childhood memories by calling friends over to have some home-made Puranpoli!  Puranpoli by default goes with some batata bhaji (potato sabji) and katachi amati (soup/daal made from the chickpea lentil broth). There are quite a few recipes available online to make Puranpoli, but the most difficult part of making puranpoli is actually the rolling of poli/roti. I took a shortcut to Katachi Amati by simplifying the original recipe. It had (almost) all the ingredients and the same wonderful taste but much less efforts. I won't go the whole nine yards and write the Puranpoli recipe but will share some pictures of the making. Katachi amati recipe in a separate post. 

A good puranpoli is not too thick, has lots of puran inside and doesn't stick to the pan. It should literally melt in your mouth. Many find it difficult to roll the poli as the filling starts coming out, or they end up with something very thick. My grandmother always says, "Mulagi baghavi othat aani poli baghavi kathat" meaning "Judge a girl's beauty by her lips and a roti's beauty by its edge (the edges should be thin)". To make puranpoli thin on the edges, do not start off the poli by putting puran in between two balls of dough. Instead, make a small bowl like shape of dough and fill it with puran and close it on top. This way, you start off with a dough ball that's thick on both sides and thin on the edges. Also, it holds a lot of puran.  

I was making Bhadang on side and just loved the colorful spice box; hence sharing it.
Puran - chickpea lentils, jaggery, cardamom powder, nutmeg and a pinch of salt
Mash the puran in a Puran Yantra aka food mill

Make a katori/bowl like shape of the dough. Keep it thick on the bottom. The puran filling should be almost 3/4th size of the dough ball you take. This is the most important part, else the poli will not be sweet enough and will taste too much like dough.

Stuff the filling in and close the ball.

Ready to roll - literally :D

Take plenty of flour so the roti doesn't stick to the surface



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wool Works

I have an impulsive need to feel productive most of the times. Even on my day off from work and home chores, I need to be doing something while curled up on the couch. I've found just the thing that satisfies my artistic side and keeps me engaged without doing much thinking - working with wool! Grab a yarn of fuzzy wool, keep working through patterns and you are sure to end up with something pretty. I have been knitting on a very amaturish level since the age of 10 and have been dabbling in crocheting the last couple of years. My crocheting is self taught with the help of internet(I finally bow down to technology for making learning easy). I know some basic stitches and patterns useful to make items I can use in the house. Being a scarf obsessed person I crocheted quite a few of them and went on to some more complicated(sill at a beginner level) patterns. As I got the hang of it and my work started looking cleaner, I made some scarves to gift my sister and cousins. What a great feeling to gift something made with your own hands! They are filled with love and have a personal touch J.

A doily I started working on last winter before I had some 'getting married' to do- finally finished y'day!

Chopstick holders! Just made these today..cute little something to display the chopsticks

One of my first works - a scarf or a belt!

A curly scarf - got the pattern online. It's quite long!

I visit Michael's on one of those 'me' days and roam around for a couple of hours getting ideas for new craft projects. Picking up a few colorful yarns and practicing different patterns is sure a fun way to give your hands something to do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Bithday Celebration

While going to the moon and plucking stars from the sky remain bollywood movie favorites, I haven't found a better way to make someone feel special in real life than cooking for them! What's more special than having a whole meal cooked with some love? It was my husband's birthday last week and I decided to go for a surprise dinner that was quick to make and fit for a celebration. It was a work day and I wanted to be able to cook, plate and be ready before my hubby arrived from work. Having visited a few really great tapas places recently landing on the decision was pretty easy. Although originally meaning appetizers from Spanish cuisine, tapas has become synonymous to small plates or snacks. Some fun tapas along with a few drinks to keep us going through a long night of board games was the plan. That's the way you  to do it into the thirties! 

*The recipes being quite simple do not have any specific measurements. Use your own judgement*

Cheese plates are quite standard in tapas restaurants. This was my attempt at recreating the cheese and fruit plate from a restaurant in Pismo Beach, CA. 

Cheese 'n' Fruit

Brie cheese - your favorite brand
Green apple
Almonds - you can experiment with other dry fruits
Honey - I used apple honey
  • Make simple syrup using sugar and water
  • Glaze the almonds with syrup
  • Slice the apple thinly and cut a couple of wedges of the Brie. 
  • Plate the cheese, apple slices and glazed almonds and drizzle some honey. 
For the perfect bite, spread cheese on a cracker, add some honey and top it with an apple slice. Take a bite and eat an almond. Brie is my favorite cheese and the combination of it with honey and fruits makes me say 'cheese' :).

Next up, Mini Pizza Thins. I saw the recipe for these in some commercial. Amazing where we can learn cooking!
Mini Pizza Thins

Onion-chive cream cheese
Sun-dried tomatoes
Whole Wheat thins
Brown mushrooms – sliced
Garlic – finely chopped
Italian herbs
Olive oil
Salt for seasoning

Preheat oven to 300F. 
  • Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes. You can use your knife skills, but I chose to chop them in the mixer.
  • Mix the cream cheese and the sun-dried tomatoes. This will be the spread for the pizzas.
  • Heat a couple of spoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add garlic to it.
  • Add sliced mushrooms to the pan, sprinkle some Italian herbs mix and salt to taste and sauté for a few minutes until the mushrooms are tender. I cut the mushroom in small pieces since the wheat thins are quite small.
  • To get the pizzas ready, spread some cream cheese prepared earlier on the wheat thins and top off with mushrooms. Put them in the oven for a 4-5 minutes and the mini pizzas are ready to serve!

The next recipe was inspired by Flautas I had at a Mexican restuarant. Flautas are corn tortillas filled with some kind of meat or cheese and crisp fried. I decided to go healthier and grill them instead. My alternative to cheese - creamy avocados. 
Flautas with Cilantro-Lime Aioli 

White corn tortilla
Low fat Mayonnaise
Lime zest of one lime
Lime juice
1 Large avocado
Sweet corn
  • Grind cilantro, jalapeno in the mixer.
  • Combine mayonnaise, cilantro-jalapeño paste, lime zest and some lime juice for extra punch and salt and mix well. The aioli is ready.
  • Mash the avocado as you like it. I like it a bit chunky instead of extremely mushy. I use a traditional mortar –pestle to mash the avocados.  Anything pounded/mashed in mortar-pestle always tastes much better :).
  • Add the corn, finely chopped jalapeño(remember, there’s some jalapeno in the aioli so don’t OD it), salt and lime juice to the avocado. This is the filling.
  • Roast the corn tortilla on one side using a regular flat pan. On the roasted side, spread some aioli and add the avocado-corn filling in the center. Roll the tortilla and grill it well until the tortilla is roasted on the outside. You roast the tortilla on the inner side so that it’s done well on both sides and you don’t bite into a tortilla that’s crispy on one side and not done on the other.
  • Cut the flauta in half with a slanted cut in the center. Serve the flautas with some more aioli on the side.
The corn kernels plum up after roasting the flauta and are fun to bite into. Along with the lime juice, they cut the heat of jalapeños. Yummy!

The last course, a semi-dessert. I had made this at a BBQ party a couple of years ago and has become a favorite since. 
Grilled Balsamic Glazed Nectarines

Balsamic Vinegar
  • Reduce the balsamic vinegar over medium heat until it thickens up like maple syrup.
  • Glaze the nectarines/peaches with the BV reduction and let them marinate for 15-20 minutes.
  • Grill the fruit for a couple of minutes on each side.
A sweet ending to the meal!

We enjoyed the tapas with some yummy drinks. Below, gin and olives stuffed with habanero concocted by my husband! Mmm...mmm...good!!! 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's In Your Pantry?

Into the oven

Ready to eat!

Wonderfully chewy date bars!
While organizing my pantry today (finally after 3 weeks of moving into the apt), I found an unopened packet of chopped dates my hubby had bought and never touched! Not using it soon enough would mean it would end up in the garbage (ouch!). I’ve used dates in Indian sweet dishes with other dry fruits, but using up a whole packet meant I needed to make dates the main ingredient. I'm quite a fan of date bars and cookies and other chewy delicacies of the Arab land. I looked up some recipes I had to pass as I was missing some important ingredients. Buying something else to use up the dates would’ve completely defeated the purpose of finishing ingredients from the pantry. After looking up a few recipes I found this that seemed delicious and modifiable using what I had in the kitchen. Here's my modified version. 
Oatmeal Date Bars

1 Cup chopped dates – the dates I used had a little bit of sugar sprinkled
¾ Cup water
3 Tbsp honey
¾ Cup all purpose flour
2 Packets Quaker's maple brown-sugar oatmeal
2 Tbsp powdered jaggery – you can also use brown sugar
1 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 Tbsp oil
Milk as necessary – I used low fat milk

*I do not own a measuring cup - I used a ramekin which is about the same size*
  • Combine the dates, honey and water in a saucepan and cook until it has jam like consistency. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  • Beat ghee, oil and powdered jaggery with a mixer. I used half oil half ghee but you can choose to use all butter, all ghee, all oil (whatever you have/like).
  • Mix all purpose flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt and stir into the jaggery mixture. Add a few tablespoons of milk-just enough to bind it together into thick dough. It should not be too loose else the bars will be too mushy to cut. Using milk, I got away with only 2 tablespoons of oil/ghee together instead of using ½ cup of butter.
  • Grease a baking pan and pat down ½ of the batter forming approximately ¼ inch layer. Spread the date jam and another layer of the flour. You should be careful not to press down the top layer else the date jam will ooze out. You may want to press the remaining dough in between your palms and then put it on top and press down gently.
  • Sprinkle some more oatmeal to create a crunchy top. Bake for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the baking pan from the oven, let it cool down and cut the bars. I cut them into 12 pieces.
Home run! Even after modifying the original recipe quite a bit, I got perfectly thick and crunchy from the outside and chewy on the inside bars. A great snack for afternoon hunger pangs or a grab-n-go breakfast.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I prefer buying whole mushrooms and slicing them myself instead of getting the sliced ones - fresher!

Yum yum...

I spent three years of single-hood in Utah. Being in a small place had its perks - I made great friends and spent most weekends with them eating good food. My close friend (also my neighbor) and I often started the weekend celebration with a dinner date on Friday night. It was our way of pampering ourselves by either going to a nice restaurant or cooking some great restaurant style food at home. The calorie count was out the door when we needed something comforting after a long tiring week. Needless to say, there was lots of gossiping(the good kind) during dinner, occasionally followed by long walks to feel 'less guilty' about the gluttony :D. 
I don't get so much of 'cooking together and chatting' any more, but I decided to pamper myself last Friday just like the old days. I cooked a rich yet easy dinner while my husband sat in the kitchen listening to my blabber and loud singing! On the menu: Mushroom Masala with brown basmati rice. I tried to mimic a dish from one of my favorite Indian restaurants. Every person may have a different preference on the amount of spices/garlic used. Change it up your way.

Mushroom Masala

2 Cups sliced brown mushrooms
1/2 Medium onion finely chopped
1-2 Garlic cloves finely chopped
2 TablespoonsTomato paste
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch of asafoetida
1 Bay leaf
1/2 Inch cinnamon stick
2-3 Cardamom pods
1 Teaspoons cumin-coriander powder
1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
Red chili powder - per taste
1/2 Cup heavy cream
Cilantro for garnishing
2 Tablespoons oil

  • Heat oil and add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and let the flavors infuse. Make sure the stove is on low-medium flame so the whole spices don't burn. 
  • Add onion, garlic, turmeric powder and asafoetida and saute until the onions tun golden and you can smell the wonderful garlic. 
  • Add tomato paste, cumin-coriander powder, garam masala and the redi chili paste and saute the mixture on low-medium heat for 5-6 minutes until you see oil separating and the masala pulling away from the pot. The majority of cooking time will be in sauteing the paste.
  • Once you have the paste masala ready, add the mushrooms and a little bit of water to mix everything well. 
  • Let the mushrooms cook for 3-4 minutes until the water starts boiling and then add heavy cream. 
  • Bring this to a boil and turn the heat off. 
  • Garnish with some cilantro, lemon juice if you like it and serve with roti or rice. 

A toast to the good ol' days!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Joy of Cooking!

Bhendichi bhaji - in the process of cooking.

I've been deprived of cooking for the past week or so. As much as I enjoy eating out, one week away from the kitchen was enough for me to start craving some home cooked food. The good part is, I have a new bigger and better kitchen to play around! We just moved into a new apartment and I'm loving my kitchen with an attached patio opening to the garden. A perfect place to make some snacks and enjoy them with a cup of tea sitting in the patio listening to the birds chirping.
The Indian grocery store is just minutes away from my new place which means easy access to the otherwise hard to find vegetables! One of the rare vegetables in the US is Bhendi or Okra. This was going to be the first vegetable to be cooked in my new apt when I found fresh okra in the store yesterday. I hope this sets the trend and ensues good cooking in the new house :). The most important part of making a good okra sabji is finding fresh okra. How do you know if it's good? Always look for the dark green okra as opposed to the pale green color, small in size and supple. If it's hard, it'll most likely be very chewy and tough once cooked. It should not break easily/pop if you try to press.
There are a number of recipes for making okra sabji. I went for a simple recipe I learned from my mom.

Bhendichi Bhaji/Okra Sabji

2 Cups of cut fresh okra
1/2 Medium onion
1 Small tomato OR 1/2 medium tomato
3 Cloves garlic
3/4 Teaspoon tamarind paste
1 small cube of jaggery/couple of teaspoons of sugar
1/2 Teaspoon mustard seeds,
Pinch of asafoetida
1/2 Teaspoon turmeric powder
2 Teaspoons cumin-coriander powder
Red chili powder
1 Tablespoon oil

  • Cut the okra in small pieces about 1/2 inch thick. I cut them slanted holding the knife diagonal to okra to make it look pretty.
  • Slice the onion thinly, chop the tomato and chop the garlic.
  • Heat oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. 
  • Once the mustard seeds splutter, add asafoetida, turmeric, garlic and onion. Stir until the onion is tender. 
  • Add the tomato, tamarind paste (the tamarind paste enhances the tangy taste of tomato - alliteration, ha!), jaggery/sugar and stir for a couple of minutes. 
  • Add okra, cumin-coriander powder, red chili powder, salt to taste and mix well. Cook on medium-high heat for 7-8 minutes until the okra is tender and cooked thoroughly, stirring occasionally. The okra will be slimy initially, but it starts to separate as it cooks. Don't add any water as the moisture from the okra is enough to cook it. 
  • I keep the heat on high for a couple of minutes towards the end to let the okra get charred a little. This is my favorite part of the dish! Once cooked, it's ready to serve. 
Eat the sabji with some roti. I know many people hate okra for the sliminess, but when cooked right it's absolutely delicious! 


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